Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

If you’re a millennial on Instagram this rope bridge is a must see. I mean… it is your typical touristy photo that you see your favorite bloggers visit when in Ireland. And, that you’ll be disappointed to know is near impossible to get a photo of just you walking, unless you are there right at open (9:30a), but it is a must see… I’ll tell you why!

Photo 2

Yes, the view is near perfect. Crystal blue waters, beautiful sand, cliffs in the distance, but from here you are only 15-miles away from Scotland with their mountains in view! Additionally, there are spots once you cross over the bridge that provides good yoga, meditating, sightseeing, and relaxing places to get away from the noise and to hear the ocean. Which I had found it hard to find while visiting Ireland. But my opinion comes at a time when tourism is high, July.

Photo 1

Side note: If you are contemplating this visit or Cliffs of Moher, I recommend this stop! There are cliffs in the distance, far fewer people, and a nice bridge to cross! And for some history, supposedly this bridge was made by salmon fisherman over 350 years ago… if you want to trust Wiki.

 

 

15 Things to Know if Visiting China

The stresses of planning for any trip can be a lot. Considerations to hotel, flight, food, and transportation are all things to consider prior to leaving. Especially, in China where the required visa forces you to have your trip booked in advance. Often times we forgot of the little nuances and cultural changes once we get to our destination. Below are 15 things to know if visiting China if you’re planning a trip.

15. No One Speaks English 

I used to think there were two universal languages, a smile and English. That was until I visited China. English is rarely spoken by most people, in fact asking for help is almost pointless unless you have the translation in the Chinese language, thank you Google Translate. I thought this language barrier would make it hard place to visit, but pointing and asking for a “photo menu,” in most places gets you where you are trying to go, or eat. To help, I recommend you bring a map that has the places you are looking to go before adventuring out because all road names are in Chinese & if trying to limit the use of your phone the good old fashion map works great. I found, most hotels have English & Chinese version of their maps, which was a huge help. 

14. Cell Service and WiFi 

Before leaving for this trip I was happy to find out that I would have, with Sprint, free 2GB of cell speed and texting in China. Call costs were minimal costing $0.20/minute. Researching AT&T for my mom, we found that cell service with the company was about $10/day. Needless to say, the costs are quite minimal if needing to connect. 

If you are looking for free, Wifi was available at most common areas, but when hopping on was extremely slow. 

*Tip: Bring a charging stick, or port. It was rare to find any charging stations when visiting places. As a result, when you did find them they were always packed. 

13. Don’t Rely on Your Credit Card, Bring Proper Chinese Currency

It is rare that I bring cash with me at all. But, after reading some blogs before I left on this trip I discovered that American credit cards are rarely accepted in most places. In fact, the only places that accept them we had found were in the shopping areas the tour groups would take you; and trust me you’re paying a premium for it; the cost of the products in these areas are a lot more than you can pay in the markets. 

If looking to transfer monies at the airport, the cost typically to do so is a $10 service fee and the exchange rate difference. To get more, this requires you planning ahead and knowing how much you want to take with you in advance and getting the currency exchange with your local bank. Estimated time to get the monies back is 7-days, for it to be guaranteed in time. By me waiting until I got to the airport I ended up losing $70USD in fees and exchange rate, where my mom only had $10USD with Chase. 

The Chinese money can take you a lot further than anywhere I’ve visited. Normally, I would say bring $50USD/day for food, transportation, and misc. costs. But, food on average is 50RMB/meal ($7USD). I’d say 650RMB ($102USD)/week would be comfortable (food & transportation). 

*Helpful Tip: The common currency in China is WeChat & UnionPay (credit card). Both of these require a Chinese bank account be established with pre-paid funds in order to make purchases. 

12. Get Comfortable in Bartering, or Accept Losing Money 

I’ve never been too comfortable in trying to find what something is worth. Maybe because I have been so used to the American culture where everything is fixed, where the value has been pre-determined and where supply/demand seems to have worked. In China, you’ll find it an easy place to barter especially when choosing to walk away and the price you were getting comfortable in paying is slashed in half, and has you again question the value. 

My suggestion is before buying anything walk around and understand the varying prices, this also helps with buyers remorse. 

From my experience food should never be more than 40RMB (and that’s for a full meal including drink), and gift goods should be no more than 50RMB. In one instance my mom and I were haggling for cheap earrings, she started at 100RMB, by the time we were walking away for the 4th time she was down to 20RMB, and we finally negotiated at 15RMB (Yu Garden). Same place, different store we were interested in potentially getting a necklace that would have the English name with Chinese translation next to it and she started at 150RMB, and when walking away negotiated herself down to 20RMB. That’s right. You’ll know which places allow you to barter, because whenever you walk away they will lower their price and the places with fixed pricing usually have it listed in the door way (almost none of them). 

And, if looking for real jade. Ask for the Jade of pearl. The ones with lighter green are worth more, and on average are around 80RMB (for 1 inch by 1 inch), and can go up to 3300RMB. In the Yu Garden you’ll find the best in what you’re looking for, and because there are so many vendors they are willing to take a lot less so they have your business rather than their neighbor. I ended up getting a Jade of pearl Buddha for 15RMB. 

11. Don’t Bother Renting a Car if Beijing or Shanghai is Your Destination

Typically, I like the option to leave, and feel liberated by having a car. However, due to many affordable and abundant public transportation options, and the high traffic & aggressive drivers I’d say using public transit would be more relaxing. 

By far, the most cost effective way to travel is by bus. It is 2RMB ($0.03USD) for each bus transfer. This allows getting around to be extremely cheap! The most difficult part of taking the bus is figuring out which bus to take and what stop to get off at. This is where going to the nearest hotel and pointing using your map becomes quite handy. 

If you elected to use your cell service, you can always use Google maps to find where you’re going and just hop off when you know you’re nearing. 

*Mindful Tip: If using the bus you must have exact change. If needed, your hotel can provide you small change. 

**We found that costs for taxi cabs started at 20RMB, and based on the distance went up from there. To best estimate we found it is approx. 5RMB/5 mins.

10. Booking at Hotel Near the City Center Pays its Benefits

By now, most of you know that I love AirB&B and prefer a more authentic cultural stay, than to stay at hotels. This trip I chose to book a hotel because (1) the tours I booked would pick-up/drop off from your hotel, very convenient, and (2) I wanted to visit many of the tourist attractions which most in China are near the city center and within walking distance of the “first ring” of hotels. 

The best way to find your hotel for your stay can be using booking sites like Hotels.com, and sorting by distance and cost to the city centers. 

If visiting Beijing I would highly recommend the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel it was $100/night + breakfast. Because we were staying more than 4 nights they upgraded us to a suite with no additional cost. And, the breakfast…FABULOUS. All you can eat food, they had a pastry section, cereal, fruit, egg, lunch/dinner food area, tea, and coffee areas. The hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the Time Square of Beijing, which was full of high-end stores, as well as from the outside market(s) with authentic Chinese foods and stores. 

If visiting Shanghai I would recommend the SSaw Boutique Hotel. Right when you walk in it smells like an Abercrombie store, that was a great start. The hotel was the cheapest hotel within a 15 min walking distance to Yu Garden (a must see if looking for the Chinese style buildings, food markets, and handmade gifts). The cost was $89/night. Upon entrance they welcomed us with tea, recommendations based on the weather (raining) and time (since it was a holiday). Additionally, they went as far as booking our massage for us, and provided us a map and directions to the nearest bus stop in order to get there. Unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed, they had an online app that helped lay out unbiased opinions of where to go and what to see including estimated costs, open/close times, and feedback from their guests who have tried the places. This was a treat as this leg of our trip was not as planned as Beijing.  

*FYI: The beds are not mattress-like, what you expect in the US and other places. They are more of a box-spring. At home I have a plush and soft bed, so this was quite different. After the first night, I realized this relieved a lot of back pain. 

*Mindful Tip: Be prepared to have them put a hold on your credit card for incidentals, similar to what they do in the states. They run your card and pull the amount, and when you check out, they run it again to provide a refund. The first hotel we stayed held 1200RMB ($189USD), and the other held 400RMB ($63USD).

9. To Be Early is to Be on Time, and to Be on Time is to Be Late- BYE!

We found that in the Chinese culture, being early is to be on time. Most of our tours had hotel pick-up at 6:30a, and almost always showed up 15 minutes earlier. Keep this is mind because it goes for the use of bus, trains, and scheduled appointments. And, if you show up exactly when you’re supposed to then you’re too late and they leave without you. My mom and I watched many trains and tour guides leave without their necessary people. Maybe we Americans should start doing this to get people to value each others’ time just a little bit more. 

8. Second Hand Smoking, Expect It

I am convinced that the Chinese don’t wear the masks due to the smog/air pollution, but rather because of all the people smoking. I have never been in a place where avoiding walking next to a smoker was nearly impossible. Beijing was full of smokers. I ended up buying perfume to spray my clothes at the end of each night. 

7. Get Pushy, or Get Behind 

I used to think the asian women at the grocery stores in the states (weird saying because I’m asian, but I consider myself Americanized) were rude because they pushed you without saying excuse me. Well now, I believe it to be culture. People here push their way through to get from point A to B. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many people, or if because the value of time is so important in their country and they don’t want to wait on someone who isn’t ready. 

When my mom and I went to the zoo, we thought we were waiting in line for the cotton candy to find out a women with her money ready pushed her way to the front and got service. 

Because of this, I recommend planning out meeting points throughout the trip in case you get lost in the shuffle. Especially since when the “walk” line turns green it’s a free for all on how you make it across the street, and if you aren’t forceful enough you will be bullied behind everyone. 

Also, just know that people in China stand closer together, and personal space may not be what you’d be used to. Again, I think this goes along with saving the time.

6. Where’s the Toilet & Toilet Paper?

You better start learning how to squat before you leave. In most places there are no toilets as we are used to seeing them. They are holes in the ground. You use them facing the door, and when you’re done usually they auto flush if they have a sensor, or it will auto flush when you open the door. Also, bring/buy toilet paper before you need to go. Most places don’t have the luxury of carrying the paper for you. 

When on a tour your guide will generally lead you to the nicer “10 star rated” toilets. But, most of the time you’re on your own. 

5. No Tissues, No Problem, They Spit  

I read a lot before I came to China that a lot of people spit. Come to find out when visiting it is because they don’t use tissues instead you’ll see them plug one side of their nose and blow. Sounds unsanitary for us, but you’ll notice it quite a lot. For peace of mind, you’ll find in midnight hours the streets are thoroughly washed. But, keep this in mind if you ever drop something if it’s worth picking it up. 

4. Book a Tour Guide 

In most English speaking places it is easy to create a self guided tour. But, in China finding anyone who speaks Chinese is difficult, so best understanding significant places, is truly best by planning ahead through various travel agencies and travel sites. If you need recommendations just ask me! 

In Beijing, we had two tours planned, (1) Great Wall of China, Ming Tombs, Jade Palace, and a Tea House and (2) Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Chinese Doctor & Foot Massage, a Silk Shop, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and a Pearl Store. These tours gave us an overall understanding of culture, understanding of customs, and historical significance of places seen. 

These tours in Beijing are quite cheap compared to tours I’ve booked in other countries. For an 8 hour tour, including lunch and transportation we paid $40-$70 per person. 

In Shanghai, we elected not to take any guided tours. Instead, we elected to do a hop on/off bus, that had English speaking recordings that are sensored when passing certain buildings. My mom and I have historically found these quite fun to give a good lay of the land when we are unfamiliar of where to go. 

3. Authentic Chinese Food is Different than American Chinese Food

Many people before visiting China told me not to expect the food to what we are used to having in the US. In my opinion the food was comparable, just not filled with salts and heavy sauces. The sauces were quite light. 

On one of our tours we found that based on the region of China you visit, the food varies. In the north (Beijing) the foods are more salty and fried, in middle/east region (Shanghai) the foods are more spicy, and in the south region the foods are more filled with rice and organic veggies. All of which were palatable and tasty. But, not what we are used to tasting in a US Chinese restaurant.  

2. If You Plan on Visiting More than One Chinese City, Use a Train!

Prior to visiting we knew that we were going to visit three different places throughout China. Similar to the US there are methods of airplane from one part of the country to the next, but can be quite expensive. We found that taking the train was the most cost effective and time saving option. 

We took a train from Beijing to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Guangzhou. From Beijing to Shanghai the train was about 4 hours and cost approximately $200USD, and from Shanghai to Guangzhou took about 8 hours and was about $300USD. 

1. Arrive to the Airport Early, I Recommend at Least 3 Hours

To have more peace of mind I recommend that before you go to your flight make sure you call your airline and retrieve the ticket numbers, and your airline carrier name. Most people at the airport only speak Chinese so figuring out that these are the two things you need before you arrive will save you an hour; or at least that’s how long it took my mom and I. 

My mom and I had booked our flight to/from using Delta, however, when arriving to the Guangzhou airport we found out that “Delta” did not exist. Instead the carrier name was China Eastern. Once we found this out we thought our hurtles were past us. Come to find out that the American flight confirmation is not enough, the ticket number is also needed; which isn’t known until seat assignments have been arranged. Calling your flight carrier to retrieve this information is easy, so long as you have cell service. 

*Helpful Tip: You can not check-in if you are within 45-minutes of your flight, you are too late. And, you can’t board if you’re within 15-minutes to your gate.

Guest Blog- Italy!

All About Italy!

Guest Blogger: Jen Elmore

Ever since Pinterest was created in 2010, I have spent countless hours scouring through the travel boards and daydreaming about the picturesque images of Italy. Every village looked like a postcard, every meal looked divine, and every dreamy little beach screamed romance. My husband and I finally booked our dream vacation to Italy and traveled there in 2016. The trip was perfect, however, the planning and preparation getting to that point was less than seamless just because there was so much to see! Therefore, I could not be more excited to be a guest blogger and put together my ideal itinerary if you want to try to see all of Italy on a tight timeline and do not want to spend hours on research.

Capri

JenO1Capri

Capri came highly recommended to me by multiple friends, and after spending three days there, I PLEAD with anyone going to Italy to please spend time there. I have been very fortunate to travel to amazing places on this earth, and Capri is by far the best place I have ever been. To get to this beautiful little island, fly straight into Naples and take a 40 minute high speed ferry into the island. The island itself is small and you can explore the entire place in a few days, however I would spend a week there if I could. We stayed in Capri 3 nights today – spent 2 days in Capri and then took a day trip to Positano.

Where to stay:

The island is split into two parts: Capri and Anacapri. Capri is full of nightlife, shopping, and fun town squares. Anacapri is quitter and more laid back. We stayed at an exquisite Airbnb in Anacapri, which is on the far side of the island and away from all of the touristy crowds. I have never seen sunsets so vivid and views so beautiful that I have from the front door of our Airbnb. The owner Genny and his family live in the main house and built the entire home from hand. They were exceptional hosts and I am so happy to have met such a wonderful Italian family.

http://www.villadalessandro.it/

What to do:

Capri is an island of relaxation and romance, but there is still plenty to do and explore.

  • The Blue Grotto: This is world famous and something that was at the top of my list and was conveniently just steps away from our Airbnb. It is a cove with white sand on the bottom so the rays from the sun make it appear bright blue. The waves are crazy so you need to take a boat into the cove but then you can get out and swim around. It was one of our favorite memories together!
  • Private boat rental: We got a cute little private boat (http://www.giannisboat.com) and absolutely loved it. It was an adorable boat with pillow beds, coolers full of wine and beer, and an extremely knowledgeable captain. This is by far the best way to see the entire island and its secret coves. We did lots of swimming and snorkeling and saw some of the bluest waters either of us have ever seen!
  • Hike and get lost in the winding streets: One of our favorite things was just walking and exploring the beauty of this island. You can take a chairlift to the top and take in the views, or you can hike it yourself I you are feeling adventurous.

Where to eat:

Pro tip – Italians eat LATE. We never made reservations because every time we ate around 7 or 8pm, we were the only ones there! Also, Italian house wine is GOOD and cheaper than water. So don’t be shy, indulge!

  • Da Paolina: This was the best meal of our life. The restaurant itself is the definition of romance and is in the middle of a lemon tree forest! Their specialties are lemon sauce and lemoncello! We also had the best caprese salad of our life here (hint…caprese salad was created here)
  • Da Digiorio: This was steps from our Airbnb and overlooked the ocean and sunset. They had extremely fresh seafood and it has just come in from their fisherman, so we got to go into the kitchen and literally pick our fish out!
  • Ristorante Matertita: We loved this adorable restaurant. It was right in the Anacapri square in front of a beautiful church. We ate vodka sauce gnocci here that was out of this world and had some of the best Rose we had in Italy.

Positano

JenO2Untitled

When I close my eyes and imagined Italy, I imagined Positano. We knew we wanted to go to Positano, but we didn’t have the time to stay everywhere, so we ended up making Positano a day trip out of Capri and it ended up being perfect! You can take a 30 minute ferry out of Capri in the morning, and then take a ferry back in the evening. It ended up being plenty of time to see everything and truly feel like we got the Amalfi Coast experience. In a lot of ways, I preferred this because Positano is a major hub for cruise ships, so it was extremely crowded with tourists and it was just a chaotic feeling. Also, it is extremely expensive to stay there, so a day trip was the best of both worlds.

What to do:

  • Wander the streets: If you are a big shopper, you will love it here although it is very high end. The streets wind like crazy so we loved just getting lost and exploring. Walking around was the best way to take in the sights and see the beauty.
  • Have lunch at Le Sirenuse Hotel: This place is PRICEY…however, it is very well known because it has the best view of Positano so tourists flock here to take pictures. It was worth it. When I walked out on the balcony of the restauraunt I literally gasped in awe….there in front of me was THE Pinterest picture I had seen so many times and imagined how awesome it would be to see it in person. Well there I was, seeing it, and it was so special.
  • Rent a beach bed and relax: Laying around people watching was one of our favorite things to do. Completely surrounded by beauty and drink in hand, we spent hours just doing nothing and it was the best.

Rome

Rome

Rome was an absolute must see for my history obsessed and very catholic husband. Even though Rome is a big city and there is a ton to do there, I recommend spending only 2 days in Rome as it is more than enough time to see everything you want to see.

Where to stay:

The best neighborhood to stay is a cute little area called Trastervere which translates to “the other side of the river.” While it is pricier than most areas, it is very quint, trendy, and has some of the best restaurants in Rome. It is also centrally located to most of the big sites to see.

What to do:

  • The Vatican: This is an obvious one, but if for some reason you feel like it might be overrated and not worth the hype, wrong. It is worth seeing. My husband loves the catholic church so we went all out and did the 3 hours tour which takes you through the basilica and the museum. It is very long so if you are not extremely interested about the Church, I would skip the tour and just walk around yourself through the church and the square.
  • The Colleseum: Another “worth the hype” experience. It was unbelievable to see the ruins and imagine how the romans were able to build such massive structures.
  • Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon
  • largo di torre argentina: This is a ruins site that Caesar was murdered at, but now it is an actual cat sanctuary for the city cats. I am obsessed with cats so of course I had to see it, and there are literally hundreds of cats who live in the ruins and are fed and vaccinated by the city. Even if you don’t like cats, it was actually a really awesome sight to see!

Where to eat:

  • Dar Poeta: Our favorite pizza in Italy!
  • Ristorante Della Ricciotta: This was the cutest boutique restarautant in Rome. Very small and it felt so personal, we also had some of the best pasta here.

Florence

JenO3JenO4

Florence is the definition of an Italian city. We spent 5 days here total, however only 2 of them in Florence but then 3 of them as day trips out of Florence. It is a great home base for day trips because it has a great central location. I recommend doing day trips to other cities because that way you don’t have to deal with the hassle of packing and checking in and out of hotels so much.

What to do:

  • Ponte Vecchio
  • The Duomo: This is the giant church in the main square, and by far the prettiest church in Italy. Make sure you climb the tower all the way to the top for INCREDIBLE views of Florence.
  • The David: I hate museums, but wow. David really was overwhelming. The statue itself was MASSIVE and extremely intricate, it is absolutely worth it to see.

Where to eat:

  • Bucca Mario: Florence is very well knows for Florentine steak and this place does it the best. The steak itself was bigger than my head and it was worth the price.

Day Trips!

Day Trip- Tuscay

Wine.png

I am a huge wine lover so I knew I wanted to see Tuscay, however we just didn’t have the time to really do it, so a day trip was the perfect solution. I recommend using Viator.com which is a website that has a tour for anything you could think of. We ended up doing an entire day tour that took us to multiple wineries in Tuscay where we could tour and taste the wines (https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Taste-of-Chianti-Tuscan-Cheese-Wine-and-Lunch-from-Florence/d519-5070CHIANTISAFARI)

This was one of the highlights of our trip and I am already planning on coming back just to spend time in Tuscany.

Day Trip– Cinque Terre

Day Trip

Okay so I know I say a lot of things are my favorite part of my trip, but this is one of my favorite parts of our trip! Cinque Terre translates to “5 towns” and essentially is exactly that. There are 5 towns all lined up along the coast and each one is the cutest Italian village you could ever imagine. We took a tour to see it all (tours are the way to go) and were so happy we did. Each town is connected by a train or a hike. The views were absolutely spectacular and I highly recommend you add this to your trip! https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Cinque-Terre-Full-Immersion/d519-6274P35

Day Trip– Venice

DayTrip1

I always knew we wanted to go to Venice, but I had friends actually tell me they didn’t like it so I worried scheduling it into our trip. Again, that is why day trips are perfect. We booked a train ticket and it was about 2 hours to Venice. I literally want to stop being friends with the person who told me not to go to Venice, because it was the absolute best way to end our trip. We had nothing planned in Venice, you simply go to get lost in the streets. There are no cars there so no streets. Streets are canals and the entire town is a maze full of turns and dead ends. We explored for a full 6 hours and stopped as cute cafes for lunch and drinks. PLEASE GO TO VENICE. Every corner was cuter then the next and I constantly had to stop for pictures, I wanted to gag it was so cute. I am so happy we got this memory, especially and it may not be around in the future as it is actually sinking.

We trained back to Florence that night and flew home the next morning. All in all our trip was 10 days. A lot to squeeze in, but it can be done. Italy is magical and if you have the opportunity to go there, do it!

 

2017 Top 10 Trip Countdown

At the end of each year, I have spent the time to reflect back to my personal growth, and a lot of it comes with lessons learned through trips, people I’ve met, time spent, and memories made.

That said… here is my top 10 trip countdown!

10. Washington D.C.

If looking to do a weekend trip to see the most popular memorials DC has to offer this can be a weekend trip. I recommending seeing: Lincoln Memorial, then White House, Washington Memorial, and Martin Luther King Memorial. For me this trip made the top 10 because it was a nice reminder that although I have a lot I want to fit in a weekend trip, that being in the moment is most important. This trip I remember dragging on from arrival until 1-2am in the morning, and although all stops on most itineraries were met, there wasn’t a particular spot that I just lived in the moment. For 2018, I’m going to get where I want to go, and spend time there being present. Well, there is a moment with red,white, & blue popsicles that sticks out, and playing at a game bar, but besides the point… haha.

9. New Haven, Washington and Milford, Connecticut

If a Gilmore Girls fan, or just trying to marvel over expensive homes, perfect roads, and quiet beaches, then Connecticut may be for you! This is a fun weekend trip, especially if only for a weekend. The entire state spanned over just three hours, and had lots of cute boutiques and small-town feels.

8. San Francisco, California

I left my heart in San Francisco. This was another city toured by the Big B Bus Tour, which was perfect given that getting nearly anywhere here was hilly, and time consuming! This particular trip stuck out in my mind because I had seen a few things that I hadn’t seen in years, or at all: The Painted Ladies (more commonly known as the Full House, house), Alcatraz, and the downtown Pier area, where there was many small shops and museums. Additionally, the many scenic views from many perspectives reminded and humbled me that although I’ve seen many pictures of the beautiful city, that my vantage point by being present is most valued (for me, so travel on!).

7. The 2017 Eclipse, Simpson Illinois

Never have I ever…been a place where half of America drove to, in order to share the same experience at the exact same time. After going directly to Illinois from work, to camping with work colleagues… this trip is an unforgettable one. This made the top list, as I remember the moon covering the sun and the whole sky go dark, everyone go quiet, and then being humbled that as important as our every day lives are… that we are just a small piece of this entire universe.

6. Miami Beach, Florida

This is definitely a place one must visit… during the day the city has miles of beach that welcomes you to natural beauty, and at night the calm beach vibes turn into a salsa/reggae tunes. There has not been such as a place that has both business, beach, and nightlight moods in one place. On this trip a Big B Bus Night Tour was taken, which I would definitely recommend as it acclimated tourists to hidden areas where celebrities live and guides you through the Havana District where many movies were created.

This trip made the top 10 as nothing went as planned, but ended up being one of my most memorable nights in my travels. The only goal all weekend was to hit the beach and soak up the sun, but a part of planning ahead is the unknown if Mother Nature will cooperate. This time, she did not with there being LOTS of rain that particular weekend. But as the saying goes, “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.” So! That is exactly what happened, fun in the ocean with rain sprinkling. Then ending the night with a evening walk, and the best food and drinks at Mangos!

5. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park is the perfect place to visit if looking for scenic drives and HUGE sequoia trees. If you’ve never seen one it is certainly worth the day trip over to this national park. My fear, is not seeing things I’ve always wanted to see because I chose to wait too long. These trees were a must! To see photos and read in books the huge trunks of these pieces of nature I could only imagine, but now can envision from personal experience! P.S. Take the General Sherman stop, preferably visit before the sun fully rises to enjoy the quiet paths and the sound of your breath as you make it to the biggest tree in the country.

This trip, similar to Miami Beach, reminded me to go with the flow and to accept what can’t be changed in the moment. After a long drive, from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park, with many detoured roads due to forest fires, the destination was made. But what happens when you’re ready to take a first camping experience and you have everything except tent polls. Yes, this happened. Admittingly, my first reaction was not pleasant, and throwing the tent over the windows while the warm 100+ degree weather heated the car causing periodic middle-night car starts, it made for an experience. If not, at minimum a lesson for the basics… I mean who forgets tent polls.. this one. All-in-all it was funny looking back at it, and after spending the next night in Fresno to purchase a cheap Walmart tent and extra tent polls for the following nights in Yosemite.

4. Yosemite National Park, California

This was definitely top 5 worthy due to its beauty, challenges, scenic stops, late night fire talks, and nummy s’mores. What stands out most to me was the 8-mile North Dome trail. Having never really hiked a trail, this was quite the challenge what I found was the journey to the desired location was quite wonderful, and I’ve always been one for the motto “it’s the journey, not the destination.” If you’ve never been to Yosemite and looking for a day-trip hike that isn’t too difficult, I recommend this hike! A helpful tip would be to carry a liter of water for every two miles walk, especially if the weather is hot. When visiting it was about 90 degrees. The nice thing about this hike, was a lot of it was shaded until the last mile, when you overlook the Half Dome. And, when you’re at your destination weather doesn’t matter… you take it all in!

3. The Big Island (Kona), Hawaii

Okay I’m going to be honest. I don’t know how Hawaii made it as a (U.S.) state, I need to read up on the history. The length of time to travel from Michigan to Hawaii, was just as much as it was to go to the Philippines and Europe. That’s a crazy thought! Now, I’ll tell you this was the first trip in my travels that challenged me in planning, because I have to: learn that there are many islands, that cost differently to get to each, and each provide different terrains and activities to do that are vastly different. Once I figured out the different islands, and considered the various costs my mom and I decided on the Big Island. Flying into Kona was certainly a memorable experience watching the plane land to rugged land, when I had always pictured luscious greens and beautiful birds. Landed, got “laid,” and took on this annual trip with my mom that was unforgettable. The Big Island provides: traditional late night luaus, beautiful volcanoes, rocky beaches, macadamia nuts, exotic flowers, fresh fruit, submarine tours with WWII ships, GORGEOUS waterfalls, and cave tours.

2. Iceland

Can you believe the idea of visiting Iceland came from a country song? Yes! “Die a Happy Man,” by Thomas Rhett. I remember hearing this beautiful song, and thinking “this guy is willing to give everything up he wants to see for a woman?” One line said, “if I never get to see the northern lights…” and I thought… one day when I meet my future man and maybe I will have to give up some moments I’ve always wanted, and before that happens I better see these Northern Lights! I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is so very true! So, needless to say, I started doing some research of cheaper places to visit in February that allowed this experience, with the symbolism of February being my birthday. And, well Iceland didn’t disappoint! And, the Northern Lights dancing along the sky was something I’ll never forget. The beautiful country provided MANY different experiences.

The southern part of the country is historic, rooted from the Viking days, and from volcanoes that changed the geography of the country. The eastern coast has beautiful and unforgettable black sand beaches and glaciers to hike. The northern region of the country is known for taking a snowmobile to the tops of glaciers, and you can’t visit Iceland without visiting the city of Reykjavik, that was quaint, quiet and walkable offering many mini shops, seafood, and iconic buildings and landmarks, and the infamous Blue Lagoon.

I definitely recommend this trip for 20-30 somethings, but as a helpful tip, be prepared to spend a lot of money on food, due to everything needed to be imported into the country. I would say the average meal was about $40 USD.

1. Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

My favorite trips have mixed in: historical symbolism, road trips, family, loved ones, and new experiences. This trip provided all of these! This was the first time for all those who had come on this trip in taking an RV across the country. I am long overdue to share some of the RV experiences, but for those considering a visit to Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota not only has a mountain with four presidents on the side of the mountain, but is home of Bear Country, the antique Drug Store (that is comparable to a mall with country antiques and fees), Crazy Horse, Falls Park, and Railroad tours that allow you to take the beautiful state all in.

This trip is for all ages! If you want to be ambitious, I challenge you take it in an RV!

Where to go next Thanksgiving?

I’d like to consider myself as a glass half-full type of gal. That said, I’ve found comfort in traveling around the holidays. Yes, there are delays, yes there are some unplanned bumps in the road, but what other time of the year do you see loved ones excited to leave to aboard a plane and tackle the challenge at the airport for companionship, love, and family?! That reason, accompanied by a week off work generally means I am spending the time on an international trip!

Below are a list of my top 3 international trip recommendations for the holidays!

3. Manila, Philippines

What better place to go than where it is 60-80 degrees during winter months, city centers are filled with Christmas decor while in flip flops, and where Santa Clause looks like he is on vacation with sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, and open-toed shoes… the Philippines! 

Those who know me, best, know that my family origins are rooted in Manila, so that in and of itself it makes the list, but something past all of that are the Filipino lanterns on nearly every neighborhood porch, Christmas lights on many whomping willow (think Pocahontas trees), and of course the traditional pig roast (nasty, but unique to see!).

2. New Zealand 

The nerd in me comes out. One of the most memorable trips was having a Thanksgiving feast at Hobbiton in New Zealand. Imagine, spending the day touring Hobbit houses, learning about the making of the Lord of the Rings film, and then capping the night off with a Thanksgiving style dinner. Book your Hobbiton Feast here!

Even if the J.R. Tolkien books are not among your favorite, the rolling hills, Milky Way across the whole skyline, and a night latern tour is worth the 20+ hour flight to make it New Zealand. 

This is definitely family friendly, and care free– the New Zealand residents are amongst the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve come across in my travels!

1. Paris, France

My most memorable Thanksgiving is hand’s down my first international trip with my mom. The backstory is that when she was younger a physic told her she wouldn’t live to be past 50. As I was growing older I began fearful of this time, being somewhat superstiscious, so before her 50th birthday I had my mom write down a list of things she wanted to do in her lifetime; for hope. So, for her 50th Thanksgiving we went to London & Paris. 

Paris is a stand-out in my mind for Thanksgiving, not only because of what her 50th birthday meant to me, but because the city was illuminated in Christmas decor throughout the city and streets. I recall many memories, but of them was walking at night up to the Arc de Triomphe, where there were hundreds of small tents with local shops, scents of s’mores and maracroons, fashionable residents, and many songs of Christmas. Walking through were rush of emotions, all positive, and the epitome of what holidays symbolized to me: family, love, happiness, and a whole lot of Christmas. 

Enjoy!

A Gilmore Girls Weekend Q&A

Never did I think that in my 20’s I would visit the hometown inspirations of a show I used to watch as a kid. My show of choice throughout middle school & high schoool was Gilmore Girls. There was something witty and funny about watching the relationship between mother & daughter (Lorelei and Rory), while experiencing similar experience and life changes with my own mom. We could have definitely worked on our dictionary and historical references, but I will credit that to the writer of the show, which obviously my mom and I didn’t have the opportunity in hiring for our own chapters. 

About 4 months ago a former co-worker, Katie, and I, were discussing states we needed to check off of our bucket list and what better way to marry our favorite tv-show as a kid, and Connecticut. A Gilmore Girls inspired trip!

To start I will say I was somewhat disappointed in realizing the the show was filmed in a Hollywood Studio. I didn’t realize shows like this had sets built for years while the seasons unfolded. Quite remarkable when you think of it. 

Random questions people have been asking:

Q: Can you do this trip in one weekend 

A: Yes! Who would have thought the ritzy state of Connecticut could be driven in just a 3 hours from the two furthest points. This can definitely be done in a weekend, and with no rush! Katie and I even had time to visit an apple orchard, and the first half of the Michigan football game on Saturday (#GOBLUE).

Q: Did the places of inspiration truly look like the show? 

A: Some were a stretch. There was no doubt that the Independence Inn, Dragon Fly, and Gazebo were inspirations pulled from New Haven, New Milford, and Washington, Connecticut. But the others involved a little imagination and some re-watching of a few episodes.  Especially, the spot for the Kim’s Antiques, which the inspiration has been converted into a modern retail store. And with two girls with messy buns looking for Lane, did not feel welcomed; with a belt in the store costing nearly $300. 

Q: Was it easy to find affordable hotels to stay in Connecticut? 

A: I have mostly traveled alone, and so I have grown accustomed to rooming with strangers through Air B&B. On this trip Katie and I rented a room at an Air B&B in New Haven. I would recommend this location, as it is near Yale University and provides a serene unique setting. You could stay at the inspiration of the Independence Inn, or Dragon Fly, but the difference in price would be approximately $80 more a night.

Q: Were the cities bigger or smaller than you anticipated? 

The cities were quite small, with those living in them knowing our exact purpose for visiting. One store owner told us “our small town of Washington has many girls joining to find the Gilmore Girls inspiration. I don’t think some realize how small our town really is.” The towns inspiring the show of New Haven and Washington, were quite small- but quite refreshing. I mean Kirk had 30 jobs, so it’s not like Stars Hollow could have been that big. Just saying. 

If you have additional questions, please leave a comment and I will answer back! 

The Perfect Weekend Travel Book

I am geeked to share, yet another, book that I have enjoyed while on a trip. The book, The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. 
Jackie’s Summary: This book takes you on a journey through a man’s story while he learns 7 keys to success. The catch… the lessons being taught are from people in world history. Each person who teaches their lesson explains their experience and how they became relevant to both you and I today.

I have read only a handful of books that made me truly step back, and re-evaluate who I really am, the purpose I have, and where it is I am going. No matter where you are both personally and professionally, this books sheds light to new ways of viewing day to day actions/thoughts, and what to consider going forward.

Spoiler: I am going to spill the beans in sharing the seven keys, because the true value of the book is who is telling the lesson and why. As I read the book, it truly spoke to me, and although fictional made me gain a new appreciation for how heroes can be in every day people who choose to be conscious of their thoughts and actions. 

7 Keys to Success:

1. The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past.

2. I will seek wisdom. I will be a sergeant to others.

3. I am a person of action.I seize this moment. I choose now.

4. I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured.

5. Today I will choose to be happy. I am the possessor of grateful spirit.

6. I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive myself. 

7. I will persist without exception. I am a person of great faith.

If you read this book, which I HIGHLY recommend, I would love to hear what you thought and which people and/or lessons best applied to where you are in your life. This is a deeper way for us to know each other. 

Personal: To share a piece of me with you. The key that stood out most to me was “I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured.” I felt that I could most relate to this character, to where I am professionally. I’ll share more when you share yours 🙂

 

P.S. This is not a paid advertisement. I have just found that the book recommendations from those I follow and share similar desires with are generally the books I most enjoy– so why not continue to share my favorite books.

Finding Your Inner Child- BSB!

Unlike my other posts, this one is to remind you that we all have those memories we had as kids. And, when opportunities present themselves, take life by the horns and go for it! Life is short, and it’s in those moments reflecting back that we can find, again, purpose and the important things in life: to live, laugh and love. 
Isn’t it funny that when we are younger we aspire to be the adult, be allowed to do the things our parents can do: drive, drink, ride roller coasters, etc. Then, when we are older we want to relive our childhood memories.
I’ve found that a lot of what I like to do roots back to when I was younger. What I’ve found interests me the most is learning about places I’ve never been, understanding people native to those areas, and adjusting to things that I don’t know. Often times, this comes with many museums, audible tours, and reading. The irony, history was my least favorite subject up until 11th grade (thank you Mr. Miloser). 
My 2017 trip back to my childhood… the Backstreet Boys. I take you back to my first concert as a 10 year old to their Black and Blue Concert and the (R.I.P) Silverdome. Yes, I was one of the many girls that flooded arena thinking that one of the boys would one day be my boyfriend. With all the screaming I am surprised that I didn’t lose my voice… for good. Nevertheless, I remember it was one of my highlights in my childhood: dancing, singing, loving life, surrounded by both my parents, and living in every part of the moment. No phone, and no worry in the world.
Fast forward, now 26 years young excited and willing to pay the $180 concert ticket to relive that memory over again. And, let me tell you… it did not disappoint. There’s a feeling when you’re belting out on the top of your lungs with 20/30 somethings that remind you, life is as good as we choose to make it. 
High level highlights: 

– Average ticket prices $180/per ticket (when purchasing 3 months ahead) 

– Concert held at Axis in Plant Hollywood, Vegas

– No acts before the concert 

– 20 minute intro before the actual concert starts, honestly found this part quite annoying…I was there to see the actual guys and the first 20 or so minutes was recap on all the music videos they became famous for

– Concert lasted about 2 hours 

– If you want the best seats, I’d recommend the last row in the lower level; those sitting here pretty much got serenaded for at least half of the concert

When It Rains, It Pours- Learn to Dance in the Rain (Miami)

When trying to travel on a budget, sometimes planning in advance is necessary. The risk in planning ahead is the unknown nature of the weather. And, let’s be honest even if the Weather Channel anticipates good weather 2 or 3 months out, it’s best guess. The key, though, is learning to dance in the rain.

Miami Beach, the first trip with both mom and boyfriend. I didn’t know how that was going to go, and how I would appropriately split my attention to make everyone feel included; luckily that wasn’t an issue– the nice thing when they both respect and like each other. 

So for why you are reading this blog…. you’re planning a trip (or going to, you just don’t know it yet) to somewhere warm, and because you’re on a budget you need to plan ahead. But what happens when you arrive to that place and it’s raining? Make the most of it. For us, we walked around the beach (yes while it rained in 30 minute intervals) and enjoyed what Miami Beach had to offer, and then walked along the shops/food venues that run parallel to the beach. After walking back, feeling like a wet dog– Matt and I decided that we were wet any way, so we decided to go to the warm ocean water for a swim. Let me tell you… I have yet to feel in tune with nature than that day… in the ocean, with rain falling. Little people around and letting the waves push and pull us closer to the depths of its beauty. A true experience, and nothing that we had to pay for… can’t beat that! 

If you are planning to go to Miami Beach and it still is raining, I would recommend their Big B Night Bus Tour (separate post coming). It is worth the $30/per person to get the back ground, tour and insight on not only Miami Beach, but the city of Miami. And, for you celebrity followers, you get to see some of the rich and famous’ homes. 

Despite the unplanned weather, that caused for impromptu planning, Miami/Miami Beach is a hidden gem and quite the melting pot. Although we only spent the weekend there, the culture, food, and relaxing beach environment is something that I would recommend to come visit. And if you’re wondering if it’s worth the cost from Michigan for just the weekend, it is. Even if Mother Nature decides rain is on the schedule.

Hawaii Underwater

Motivational Rant:

I am deeply motivated by learning, which has been my motivation and drive toward visiting new places and meeting new people. Each place I visit is an opportunity to become more educated on the places unknown, unseen and with people I haven’t met. 

Although some know my travels as tackling this endless bucket list of places I want to see… it is as equally rewarding to try new things in the places I visit. 

Life. An opportunity to know everything we want to know. For me, learning comes in forms of understanding and hearing new perspectives, and viewing the world from a new vantage point. Each place I visit is a piece that lives and continues on in the blogs I post, pictures I take, videos I create, but most importantly the memories I keep with me. 

This brings me back to the beautiful state of Hawaii. And, let’s marinate in that thought… Hawaii is a state? Hawaii, located in the middle of Pacific was closer to New Zealand, Australia and Asian islands than my home state of Michigan. Yet, it is a part of the U S of A. What a thought! 

Before this visit, when I had thought of Hawaii I pictured luscious, greener palm trees, white sand beaches, deep blue oceans, sweet songs of birds, etc. But little did I know that the memory that would live on would be seeing Hawaii underwater, from a submarine that is!

The Experience:

Imagine, cradling back and forth in the Pacific Ocean in a tank, small face sized windows, hard McDonald-style seating, shoulder to shoulder with strangers and no seatbelt. Then, the captain of the ship telling you that it is about that time to descend in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. You take one last peak at the shore line that is about 2 miles away and begin to question if this quest is for you. As you descend downward your ears pop and you see the meter to the left of the captain increase in 5 feet every 15 or so seconds, indicating how far below surface you are submerged. Anxiety releases when you see the first fish. Meek water, dull colors, and just silver fish. 

50 feet under… you notice that the ocean floor is a ways down, but in view, you see more fish swimming. Why here? 

60 feet under… you grab the one you are closest to and start to appreciate a world you never knew. You swam in it, but this is new life, a different life. 

80 feet… coral. No, the coral is not the color of that you see on Finding Nemo, instead it is gray and white, impacted by the pollution we humans have done. Light bulb, you are important, but is nature too is and we need to respect it. 

100 feet… ocean floor. Quiet, no one talks. A calming sense of appreciation, success of reaching the bottom, you look out. And, to your surprise you near a ship wreck. We did that… but there’s hope. Many fish have claimed this ship as home, coral has grown, fish are playing. To the fish the best home is the mess we humans left behind… ironic right? 

The Lesson:

We all have our preconceived notions of what it is we see, or I should say… what we choose to see. But we should spend the time to frequently reflect on seeing things from a new perspective. In positioning ourselves with a new point of view we can truly appreciate our world and all walks of life (standing, or swimming), and more importantly, learn. In learning we can become more than what we are, and help more than we think.