Book Review: Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

I have never been so inspired to quit my 9-5 Monday through Friday job as I do after reading this book. Janice takes you through her journey of living the 9-5 life as an advertising agency copywriter and associate creative director, and hating every second of it. She spent her days dreaming about her next vacation and about what she could do to never step foot in another advertising agency again. She made decent money but always felt like there was so much more to life than what she was getting.

Paris Letters is a memoir all about a young woman trying to find her way through life by spending a year writing in a journal and saving money to travel around Europe for a year. After hard work and determination, Janice found that if she stopped spending money, found ways to earn a little extra cash, and sold what she currently owned, she could afford her lengthy adventure abroad. She thought it was impossible, but she decided to go for it anyway; she stopped buying new clothes and items for her home, she stopped going out to dinner every time she was invited because the cost added up so quickly, she painted new paintings to sell, give as gifts, or give to charity to auction off instead of just selling her art supplies, and instead of going to salad bars she cut up her own vegetables and made her own. After doing all of this, she ended up being able to fit most of her belongings in one suitcase before taking off on her trip of a lifetime.

Janice’s first stop on her venture was Paris, where she ends up falling in love with Christophe, the local butcher (you will find this funny once you read a bit more into who Janice becomes before her travels). She spends her days in Paris falling more and more in love through Franglish and charades trying to communicate with one another. Nonetheless, they enjoyed each other without saying much of anything; they formed a relationship based on simple conversation and a lot of love.

Janice found that her funds she worked so hard to save up were almost gone, so she went into a panic because she had no idea what she was going to do. She knew she that going back to Los Angeles or Canada and slipping back into the 9 to 5 life was simply not an option. With a little inspiration and a lot of creativity, Janice fulfilled her dream of becoming an artist in Paris through a painted letter series that turns into a subscription service. Each month, Janice paints and writes a letter and sends a customized (just by name) copy to each subscriber. By continuing to explore Paris, she  was able to find the best scenes to use for her next letter. Janice found that she was not only falling further in love with Christophe, but she was also falling more in love with art and the City of Love.

Janice made her dreams a reality with dedication, and she made it look so easy! I found myself dreaming about my own escape to achieve my life goals. I could not put this book down as it was the perfect combination of everything that I enjoy in a book; humor, adventure, love, and dreaming. She made what feels like the impossible seem more than possible all while falling in love, traveling around Europe, and achieving a goal that made her truly happy. She found her Mona Lisa smile.

My Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List – South Island

My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.

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In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the South Island and everything it has to offer.

Christchurch

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Going to Christchurch was quite an interesting experience because this city endured a lot of damage from the 2011 earthquake, a lot of which you can still see while you are driving and walking around. Due to the damage, there is not much to do except just walk around the city, but it is incredibly fascinating; there is beauty surrounded by destruction. The whole city is a piece of art.

  • Walk the Streets – You will find yourself in awe and shock walking through the city’s streets because not only will you see all of the pain and suffering this city and it’s people has gone through, but you will see how they are trying to pick themselves back up. While walking through the streets, you will see buildings that once were home to large companies and corporations with the windows missing and graffiti covering the buildings, you will see storefronts that have graffiti on the windows and inside you see the remnants of what used to be in there, and you will walk by you will be surrounded by beautiful street art that has covered abandoned buildings. It is quite sad to walk around and see all of this, but at the same time it makes you realize how our earth and the people living on it can endure so much pain and suffering and yet they can still pick themselves back up.
  • Re:START Mall – A small outdoor shopping mall made out of shipping containers. All of the decorations and physical buildings are made out of recycled materials, which makes this especially fascinating. This is a great place to look for souvenirs, but also a great way to support the local economy. This little mall is the only part of the city we found to be lively while they work on rebuilding the rest of the city, so make sure to check it out!

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  • 185 Chairs – This art installation is a beautiful tribute to those that died in the 2011 earthquake. Each white chair represents a person who lost their life, with each chair being unique to each person; there were high chairs and car seats representing the babies and children, rocking chairs representing the mothers, and so on. The visit here is a little solemn but I think it is important to pay respects to those that were involved in such a terrible disaster.

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  • Cardboard Cathedral – Just around the block from 185 Chairs, you will find the Cardboard Cathedral with its vibrant colors and unique architecture. A lot of the cathedral is made of cardboard and was built for those to have a place of worship since the Christchurch Cathedral was destroyed during the earthquake and was too expensive to fix.

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  • New Regent Street – This street is for pedestrian use only and is absolutely adorable! The street is lined with shops and cafés, which are below colorful buildings that look like houses. It is very small and quaint, but it is a great place to walk around for a bit while you get acquainted with the area.

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Lake Tekapo

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I am not even sure where to start with Lake Tekapo as it was hands down my favorite place in New Zealand. It is about a 3-hour drive from Christchurch and a MUST VISIT during lupine season! I knew before we went on this trip that this would probably be my favorite part and I couldn’t have been more right; I can’t even put into words the beauty of this place! Prime lupine season is mid-November to end of December and if you can, plan your visit to New Zealand (especially the South Island) during this time frame.

  • Lakeside at Dusk – We happened to arrive into Lake Tekapo as the sun was setting and the colors of sky mixed with the colors of the flowers, and it was stunning; I fell in love with Lake Tekapo at first sight. We stayed there and took tons of photos and it happened to be the night that my fiancé found his proposal location. This leads me right into my next point…

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  • GET ENGAGED HERE (If you can help it) – Your friends and family will talk about it for months, and you can’t help but brag and want to show everyone a picture, including people you first meet! Make sure you have someone around who can take pictures for this special moment because I promise you want it captured. I have the best sister ever who can keep secrets and take amazing photos!

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  • Take a hike – there are quite a few trails in the area and I could not tell you which one we did, but it was still beautiful. This was not the trail I planned on us doing, but it still turned out to have amazing views!
  • Stay at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park – If you are lucky, you will get the perfect view of the lake to wake up to and it will make your day start off in an amazing way. If you are renting a campervan, they provide a picnic table for you to use, electricity, and running water. When renting an RV, this is SUPER important. The park itself not only had very clean facilities, but like I said before, the location is very convenient.

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  • Stay up to see the stars – We were so exhausted and did not stay up to see the stars, and I regret it so much. I have seen so many incredible pictures of the stars in Lake Tekapo and months later I am still mad at myself.
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Photo Credit: Concrete Playgound
  • Church of the Good Shepherd – Unfortunately we missed this too, so don’t make the same mistake! We got so wrapped up in the beauty of the lake and its surroundings (and the engagement!) that I completely forgot about the church! This is an icon in the area and you shouldn’t miss it.
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Photo Credit: Dream Weddings New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

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Another picture perfect spot to spend some as little or as much time as you want. It can be a place for you to spend the night or a stop along the way. For us it was just a stop but it was worth every second. Crystal clear blue waters make for unbelievable pictures. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen as although it may not be hot, the sun is still shining and you can get some color in a matter of minutes.

Queenstown

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Queenstown is the definition of perfect; it is not overly crowded and it has so much to do. You can enjoy the shops, restaurants, and cafés downtown or you can book an adrenaline rush. There is a feeling of belonging in Queenstown, no matter where you are from.

  • Be Adventurous – There are endless opportunities to live on the edge in Queenstown; you can bungee jump, swing over a canyon, zipline, skydive, hang glide, paraglide, do the Shotover jet, the list is endless! My fiancé and I booked the Nevis Swing (largest swing in the world) and it was amazing! This is good for someone who isn’t quite ready for the bungee jump but still wants an adrenaline rush. My sister and her friend Jessi, on the other hand, bungee jumped and said it was crazy. No matter what you decide to do, the team at AJ Hackett take really good care of you and make you feel safe.
  • Hangout Downtown – As I touched on a bit already, downtown is full of life and is right on the water. It can make for a fun evening with the family or a romantic evening for you and your significant other. When the sun is shining, there are plenty of spots to soak up the sun and enjoy being in the moment.
  • Check out The Remarkables – This is the iconic mountain range that surrounds Queenstown. It makes for great photographs and allows you to be one with nature while still being in a city.

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  • Stay at Pounamu Apartments – This would be a splurge when it comes to accommodations, but it was worth every penny. It is a full apartment with 2 bedrooms that have king size beds and private bathrooms. It also has a full kitchen, a living room with a fireplace, and floor to ceiling windows with a view of The Remarkables. Shout out to the staff for leaving a bottle of wine, chocolate, and a card congratulating us on our anniversary!

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Milford Sound

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Magical. That is the best word I can use to describe Milford Sound as it looks like you just stepped into a scene of Jurassic Park or Avatar. The fjords shooting straight out of the water creating this perfect view. There are a few ways to get to Milford Sound, but let me tell you the best way to experience Milford Sound:

  • Fly – Through Air Milford you can fly Queenstown to Milford Sound round-trip and get stunning views; you fly through the mountains that are covered with snow, and you fly so close to the mountains that sometimes you wonder if you can touch them. It is totally worth the extra money you pay for it because you save a lot of time so you can explore more of Queenstown while still getting the experience of Milford Sound. Air Milford is owned by a father and son and they do such an incredible job; they are friendly, outgoing, and make the whole experience perfect.

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  • Cruise – if you go to Milford Sound, you have to take one of the cruises. Through Air Milford, they book the cruise for you, reserve inside seating, and give you a complimentary drink and cheese platter on board. Fortunately for us, we had amazing weather, but apparently that is extremely rare so make sure you are prepared for bad weather and high winds. Toward the end of the cruise, the staff will tell you to go outside and go to the front of the boat to see a waterfall, DO IT! Make sure you don’t have any electronics exposed, though (hint, hint).

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

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There is not much to see or do here, but it makes for a quick stop while visiting the South Island. Here you can see some fascinating rocks that look like limestone pancakes stacked on top of one another. You can do the loop in about 20 minutes and it is worth your time.

Abel Tasman National Park

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I have to say I wasn’t super impressed with Abel Tasman, but the weather was also miserable. Before we left on our trip, I saw all these beautiful photos of the water being so crystal clear to the point of it being transparent. I am by no means saying don’t visit because I would have loved to have spent more time here.

  • Kayak – We booked a 3-hour kayak/hiking trip with Kahu Kayak for our time in Abel Tasman. I was banking on sunny and warm weather, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Unfortunately the water was a bit choppy, but the experience was still a ton of fun thanks to our guides and the other people on the trip; our guides were full of humor and down to earth. Be ready to kayak for 1.5-2 hours and then prepare to walk for about another 2-3-hours back to the kayak base. I wasn’t expecting the hike to be so crazy and the weather to be so awful so we were extremely unprepared. We ended up having one of the guides book us a water taxi back to the main island, so if it is raining that day, remember this because the taxi wasn’t a promise.
  • Eat a burger at The Fat Tui – SO GOOD. The burgers are huge, the prices are great, and the staff members are incredibly friendly. Our guide from the kayak tour actually recommended this place to us, which was great because this place was conveniently located right next to Kahu Kayaks and we were starving by the time we got back to our RV.

New Zealand’s South Island surpassed all my expectations I had. There is still so much to see and do and the day I get to go back to the South Island will be a dream come true. I cannot thank the universe enough for creating such a beautiful country.

Since I have posted about our adventures on both the North & South Islands, who is ready for a North vs South?! Stay tuned for that post.

Ready to plan your adventure to New Zealand and need some help or someone to do all the dirty work for you? Contact me here and I am happy to help you out!

20 Photographs That Will Make You Fall In Love with New Zealand

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Lake Tekapo
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Hobbiton, Matamata
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Lake Tekapo
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Air Milford Flight: Queenstown to Milford Sound
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Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
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Lake Pukaki (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Air Milford Flight: Milford Sound to Queenstown
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Lake Tekapo (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Milford Sound
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Arrival into Auckland
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Lake Pukaki (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Stingray Bay, Coromandel
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Christchurch
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Hobbiton, Matamata (Photo Cred: Dan Forde)
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Lake Tekapo
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Coromandel (Photo Cred: Dan Forde)
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Lake Tekapo
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Lake Pukaki
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Gemstone Bay, Coromandel (Photo Credit: Dan Forde)
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Milford Sound (Photo Credit: Dan Forde)

 

Barcelona with Nabeeda

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I just got back from my first visit to Barcelona! I went with a hand luggage filled with excitement and a diary filled with plans. The city of wonders was at my feet and I was ready to go.

Upon arrival, I remember quickly leaving my stuff at my hostel and being ready to explore the city. I started the day with a walking tour of the Gothic City area. I am glad I went on the tour because I managed to make friends (surprises me too).

After the tour, I went to grab some lunch from the main market in Barcelona (La Boqueria). The market was amazing; my food choice was terrible.

After sneaking in a quick nap and charging my phone (the struggle of team iPhone), I left to tour the city on foot with my new friend. We visited the following locations:

  1. Barcelona Cathedral: entrance was free after 5PM so it was worth a visit as we did a quick tour and lit some candles.
  2. Parc de la Ciutadella: This park was amazing and some of the funniest things happened to us here; a strange man came up to me and my friend and said ‘Barcelona is so beautiful but dirty’ and then he cleaned the floor in front of us with a cloth and said have a good day and walked off. Didn’t ask for money or anything. So, for a laugh and to see a mixed range of people, this park is a must do.
  3. Las Ramblas: the main street and the busiest one as we walked along with beautiful sights all around us. It was amazing to see how engrossed people were in their worlds. Each living their own story and life.

Exploration continued late into the night but we did not find many remarkable sights. We just immersed ourselves into the Spanish culture rather than just being a tourist. You always learn more when you let the traveller/tourist label go. The next day was even more exciting as I started the day off alone with a quick breakfast and a bit of getting lost.

  1. Park Guell: A stop I am glad I made as I saw some of Antoni Gaudi’s work and some beautiful sights surrounding it.

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  1. Bunker del Carmel: This was on my list forever as I had seen many people post breathtakingly amazing pictures of this place. Due to my struggle with maps and directions, I ended up getting lost for an hour! One bus and a taxi ride later, I managed to get to this place. Trust me, the view left me speechless. It was one of those moments that made me realize what a little part of this big world I am.
  2. Barcelona Castellenos: This was an interesting stop. Not many people know but in Barcelona they have a competition where people create people towers to beat the world record. I managed to get to the place where they were having a practice run and it was amazing to see how high they managed to get. I was slightly worrying for the little girl on top.
  3. La Sagrada Familia: now this is a well-known sight and the one I was really looking forward to. I went with one of my friends and it was as beautiful as they say. Tip: book your ticket in advance because otherwise you will never get a chance to go in. I learnt from my mistake and unfortunately I couldn’t go in but the outside was enough to leave my mouth wide open.

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  1. Last and final stop; which was the reason I went to Barcelona was the Ed Sheeran concert. All I can say is one of the best nights of my life.

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Over 72 hours with 5 hours of sleep, I had an amazing experience of Barcelona. I missed some things but I will definitely be going again because Barcelona makes you fall in love and you can’t get enough.

 

To follow my journey and trips, follow my blog at https://worldofnabeeda.com.

My Top 3 Credit Cards for Travel

Credit cards can be your best friend or your worst enemy. For me, they have proven to be both! Before this past year, I had the most basic credit card that had its perks and was great for someone who had never owned a regular credit card.

I know looking at all the credit cards out there can be a bit intimidating, so I wanted to offer some insight on the credit cards I have personally owned and what their pros and cons are. There are a million other cards out there, but a girl can only have so much plastic!

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Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus World MasterCard

Before this past year, I only had this credit card in addition to all the store cards that I got sucked into. I figured why not get rewarded with money back every time I spent it?!

Pros

  • 1.8% cash back on every single purchase. Go to Starbucks all the time or fill up your gas tank? You get 1.8% back on it. It builds up in this rewards account so you forget you are letting these savings build up and then you get this glorious e-mail telling you the points you have.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee
  • 0% APR for the first 15 months

Cons

  • No rewards directly related to travel
  • No major travel protection

Now don’t get me wrong, this card is pretty awesome. I have redeemed a ton of cash back but I wanted something more. With all the traveling I do, I figured it was time to invest in a card that would reward me for traveling. I have used two but I will start with the first one.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred

I researched the card for about six months before taking the plunge and applying. I was ecstatic when I got approved just knowing all the trips I could potentially take for free in the future.

Pros

  • 2 points per $1 spent on travel and restaurants and 1 point per dollar for all other purchases
  • 50,000 point bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • Points redeems for travel get 1.25 points (25% more) per 1 point redeemed
  • Included travel insurance (cancellation, interruption, delay, and baggage delay)
  • Primary car rental insurance included
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Annual fee is $95 per year
  • High APR (16.74% to 23.74%)

Being rewarded for spending money on food and travel?! I did not think that there could be a better credit card for me! The APR is a bit high, which I am not a fan of, but the perks were amazing. SO MANY POINTS! If you are interested in applying for this card, make sure to contact me here.

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Chase Sapphire Reserve

This card was released within a week of me getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred and I was devastated as this card was so much more of what I wanted in a credit card. I waited and waited and waited to make sure I ‘liked’ the Preferred before applying for the Reserve. The crazy thing is, I loved the Preferred before I even used it so the Reserve was love at first sight. I became obsessed with wanting the card until one day they announced that it was the last day of the 100,000 sign up bonus.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel can (flights, car rentals, hotels, parking)
  • 3 points per $1 spent on travel and restaurant purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Points redeems for travel get 1.5 points (50% more) per 1 point redeemed
  • Access to over 900 airport lounges where there is free food, drinks, and adult beverages
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Included travel insurance (cancellation, interruption, delay, and baggage delay)
  • Primary car rental insurance included
  • Full access to the Visa Infinite Concierge who can book music or sporting events, dinner reservations, and so much more!

Cons

  • $450 annual fee
  • High APR (16.74% to 23.74%)
  • Same bonus points incentive as the Preferred (50,000 points if $4,000 spent in first 3 months)

One more thing I just want to throw out there for the Chase Sapphire cards; they are made of a heavier material so you feel like a boss when you hand them over to a cashier. You just feel like you’re getting richer (even though this is not the case) every time you use these cards.

So with these three cards in mind, here is how I would determine which one is best for you:

  1. If you travel a lot or plan on doing a lot of travel in the near future, Chase Sapphire Reserve would be the best route for you to go. If you are traveling a lot, why not take advantage of all these amazing reward opportunities!
  2. If you plan on taking a couple domestic trips, maybe one international trip, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred card would be your best option as you do not have the high annual fee, but you still get some great perks that will be good for when you do travel.
  3. If you are not big on traveling (get on a plane once a year), then the Citizens Bank Cash Back would be the best option. There is no annual fee and you are still rewarded for using the card with cash back. I have not found any other cards with a higher cash back rate without it being a monthly or quarterly incentive (ex: 5% cash back January-March on groceries).
*None of the photos in the post are mine.

Company Review : Glazed Over Donuts in Beacon, NY

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Congratulations Glazed Over Donuts! You earned the first company review on my blog!

Beacon, New York is not a huge trip for me since I come here multiple times throughout a year to visit my Grammy. However, I will say that even after 24 years and probably hundreds of trips, Beacon never gets old. There is always something new to try and somewhere new to explore. I remember Beacon being nothing like what it is today and I mean that in the greatest way possible. This is where Glazed Over Donuts comes into play!

I haven’t been in the area for a few months so I was shocked to find a new donut shop opened. If you are reading this and you know me personally, I LOVE DONUTS. I knew I had to try at least one before my time in Beacon came to end. I did no research about the shop and instead just looked up the address and showed up.

Glazed Over has a unique approach to donuts. You pick up a clipboard at the counter and create your donuts based on this list of glazes, toppings, and drizzles:

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You put how many you want of that specific donut and they make it fresh in the back while you wait. There is even a glass wall for you to watch them complete each of the customized donut orders. This was all really impressive. I have never had a donut with customized toppings made fresh for me.

Once I got my dozen donuts (yes, I went all out) I tried each one and they did not disappoint. They were ready within 5 minutes which I was not expecting considering they are custom to each customer.

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Top: Glazed, Chocolate Chips, & Salted Chocolat/Caramel, Top Middle : Maple, Bacon, & Chocolate, Bottom Middle: Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chips, & Chocolate, Bottom: Lemon, Almond, Raspberry

I did find that I was a bit overwhelmed with all the options I had to choose from when customizing each donut. I REALLY enjoy this concept but I would like to see some ideas already completed for customers that may be super indecisive or in a bit of a rush. I was just standing there trying to figure out what glaze would go well with this topping and that drizzle wishing there was a bit more guidance when picking each important piece. They do have a donut of the day (which I did not try) but that would be along the lines of what I am looking for.

Make sure you like Glazed over Donuts on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (I know I did)!

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The atmosphere of the shop was really down to earth and clean. I want to stress the cleanliness because these donuts are super messy and the shop was still clean.

Overall, I was not disappointed in Glazed Over Donuts one bit. The variety, the efficiency, the transparency, the taste; it was all great. As I mentioned, the only thing that would have made this perfect was the options to choose donuts that are already customized to avoid one’s brain from hurting too much. I will be back next time I am in town and I am already looking forward to it!

You can find Glazed Over Donuts on 315 Main St, Beacon, NY.

Have a company you would like me to review? Comment below!

My Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List – North Island

My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.

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In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the North Island and everything it has to offer.

Hahei, Coromandel

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Hahei is locate on the Coromandel Peninsula is located just a short 2.5 hours away from Auckland and the perfect beach paradise. White sand beaches, incredibly pleasant people, and beautiful weather will make sure that Coromandel will not disappoint. We spent an entire day exploring Hahei, one of the most popular towns on the peninsula.

  • Gemstone Bay – Rent some snorkel gear from Cathedral Cove Dive & Snorkel and head down to the Gemstone Bay to have a chance at seeing some of the sea creatures of New Zealand! We unfortunately did not see much but we were able to spot some sea urchins. It was still Spring so the chance of it being too cold for a lot of the sea life is increased.
  • Stingray Bay – Spot some stingrays swimming near the shore and enjoy the beautiful beach that is secluded from the rest of the attractions.

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  • Visit Cathedral Cove – A rock formation that looks like…you guessed it!… a cathedral! The beautiful spot makes for some dramatic photos and a place you just can’t miss if you visit Coromandel. It is quite the walk/hike as it takes about 40 minutes from the car park but I promise it is totally worth it. Pack a snack and water!

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  • Hot Water Beach – Rent or buy a spade and head over to Hot Water Beach on either side of low tide. The rule of thumb is 2 hours prior or after the low tide time. You can find that information online. You dig a hole in the sand and feel the naturally hot water. It is like a hot tub without the bubbles! Be sure to have good timing as it gets crowded and you also don’t want to miss the opportunity to soak up all the heat! In addition to the hot sand baths, the views from the beach are beautiful.

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  • Stay at Tahiti Lodge – the perfect accommodations for those staying a night or a week. The woman who owns the lodge also takes really great care of it. She keeps everything very clean and perfect and from what her staff was saying, she would not accept anything less! They have mostly 2 bedroom accommodations, which are great for couples or friends traveling together. They also provide a spade to use at Hot Water Beach!
  • Eat at The Pour House Bar & the Coromandel Brewing Co. – They brew their own beer and they have magnificent food. We ate here our first night in New Zealand and it was fantastic.
  • Grab Breakfast at Colenso. It is a family owned café with the most delicious food and the cutest gift shop. If you are one that cannot disconnect from the world while traveling, they offer complimentary WiFi too!

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Hobbiton

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For any Lord of the Rings fan, this is a must do. I am not a huge fan as I watched the trilogy weeks before we left (should I even admit to this?) but Hobbiton was incredible. If you just close your eyes, you can imagine the scenes being brought back to life and you are standing right there. Who wouldn’t want to visit “Middle Earth”?!

  • Take a movie set tour – it is the only way you get access to Hobbiton as it’s protected by the tour guides and there are strict rules about where you can and cannot go. Whether you are a big fan of the movies or not, the tour is really interesting. This movie set is so well done and permanent! They have real plants that sometimes need to be replaced on a regular basis during seasons when those plants can’t survive. They want the set looking just like it does in the movie and you can see the amount of care and time they spend to do just that.
  • Have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn – Included with your admission ticket is a drink from the Green Dragon. They brew their own beer and have some delicious apple cider. If you aren’t a drinker, don’t worry! They have a non-alcoholic ginger beer.

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  • Take a picture with/of Bilbao Baggin’s House – You can’t go on this tour and not take a picture with the infamous green door. Since you are with a tour everyone else wants their picture taken too, so just be patient… Your turn will come!

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Waitomo

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Photo Credit: Around de Globe
I do not have a whole list of things to do in Waitomo, but you can’t miss what is available.

  • Book a Glowworm Cave Tour – We booked the Black Labyrinth tour, which was 3 hours long and involved tubing through a cave. We got all geared up in super smelly wetsuits with squishy shoes and then got into a van that brought us to our tubing location. You MUST be in decent shape to do this particular tour. You also must be okay with tight spaces and listen to the tour guides as parts of the tour can be dangerous. With this being said, this was one of the highlights of our two week trip. These glowworms illuminate the caves and it’s breathtaking. Not to mention the tour is a lot of fun; you get to jump over waterfalls and tube through a cave. The tour is well worth the time and the money. For those who want to see the glowworms and do not want to tube and walk through the caves, you can take a little boat and see the glowworms without much work.
  • Buy the photos taken by your guide – Don’t plan on bringing any type of camera with you as you will more than likely lose it. They take photos for you that you can buy at the end.

Rotorua

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You can do and see so much in Rotorua. Culture, education, and adventure awaits you. Rotorua is a city you could spend days doing all there is to offer.

  • Whakarewarewa Forest – A redwood forest offering a few different trails that you can hike. The trail you choose should depend on your activity level and time. We chose a moderate trail that was expected to take about 3 hours. We ended up finding some shortcuts as the forest turned into a mountain bike trail and looked like a dead forest. There are aspects of the forest that are breathtaking and worth the visit. If you have time to kill and want to get some hiking or mountain biking in, this is your place, but if you are there just to see the trees, you don’t need to go far once entering.

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Photo Credit: Mallory Van Ness
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  • Skyline Luge – SO MUCH FUN. This is one way to get in some excitement without too much work. You have to buy a lift ticket and then a luge ticket based on the number of times you would like to ride down the mountain. We did 3 and felt like it was not enough but time was also limited. I don’t want to say too much because this is something you would need to experience for yourself, but just know it’s a lot of fun by yourself or with friends.

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  • Visit a Geothermal Park – This is why the city smells like rotten eggs (or Sulfur). There are multiple parks throughout the city but the one that will be most convenient is Kuirau Park, which is located right in the city center. You will be able to get your fix of bubbling mud. You can also visit Waimango Volcanic Valley. I personally did not visit a park with thermal activity as we already experienced a lot of it while visiting Iceland! If you have never seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to visit a park.
  • Go Whitewater Rafting with Rotorua Rafting – The crew was excellent and the fun was never ending. Never in a million years did I see myself whitewater rafting, but it was such a great experience. You even get to raft down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! You can purchase photos taken by professionals at the end of the tour that capture some of the best moments of your time on the raft.

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All Photos were taken by Rotorua Rafting

  • Tamaki Maori Village – This is a must-do if you are interested in learning about the Maori culture and history. While the Tamaki Maori Village is a bit touristy, they could not do a better job of educating you on everything there is to know while giving you the Hangi Dinner experience that is so important to their culture. They do a traditional dance and song performance, teach you the games kids played, and tell you the meaning behind their tattoos that cover their faces & bodies.
  • Eat at Terrace Kitchen – We had the best breakfast and dinner here. It was close to our hotel, which is how we stumbled upon it, but the food was also amazing. The acai breakfast bowl was incredible and had so many flavors; I am still craving it 4 months later! For dinner, we each got something different and we all enjoyed what we ordered (the french-fries are delicious!).

Auckland

  • Devonport – Take the ferry from Downtown Auckland and walk the streets of the quaint coastal town. From cute little cafés to independently owned shops, it makes the perfect day trip on a beautiful day. You also get the perfect skyline shot of Auckland from a distance, and unfortunately it happened to be foggy and ready to rain when I was able to capture this shot.
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Photo Credit: Visit Devonport
  • Queen St – Walk the main street in the city and check out the shops and restaurants. You will find a lot of the country’s chain stores that you won’t find in most others.
  • Stroll on the North Wharf – Create a relaxing aspect of your day by admiring the beautiful boats in the harbor and eating at one of the best restaurants in the city. Not to mention you get to eat with a view of the water.
  • Visit the Sky Tower – Auckland’s tallest building that you can suit up and jump off! We already had quite our adrenaline rush in Queenstown so we did not take part in this but it is one of the top attractions. If you do not feel like jumping, they also have the SkyWalk where you walk around the outer room and see all of Auckland below your feet. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can even dine in the rotating restaurants towards the top.
  • Eat at Depot – Known for the oysters but has delicious food in general. They offer small plates to be shared with friends or family. This works out for those who want to try different things off the menu. You really cannot go wrong with anything you order as everything was delicious. The staff was efficient and super friendly. Make sure you get there earlier rather than later as they do not take reservations.

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Photo Credit: Heart of the City
I wish I had the opportunity to spend some time in Wellington and to hike Tongariro National Park, but with New Zealand, you have so much do and so little time. The North Island had so much to offer and soon you will see what the South Island brought to the table. Stay tuned for part 2 for all must-do’s on the South Island!

Book Review: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristin Newman

I’ve discovered that travel books based on real stories are far and few so I wanted to give this one some credit. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristin Newman is good for a laugh, giving you the travel bug, and reminding you that it is okay to make your own decisions regardless of what is expected of you.

A little background on Kristin Newman first; she was a writer for shows like That 70s Show & How I Met Your Mother (you see where the comedy aspect of this book comes in already). She spent her work breaks traveling the globe rather than sitting at home and preparing for next season of writing.

I am not going to give too much away but this memoir is about a woman who thought she had her life figured out in her early 20s until life happened and flipped everything upside down. She traveled the world and found herself a bit older and still not married or with kids. She accepted that she wasn’t meant to be that person…at least not for awhile.

Even in today’s society, women are expected to have children. Period.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t want what a lot of women my age want; kids. The thought of having someone solely depend on me does not sound appealing, it is actually terrifying. I feel I am still a kid and I have so much to see and do before the time to have one of my own comes. Kristin really put my feelings into perspective. My passion in life is to love and to travel. Traveling with kids is not impossible but trust me, I have seen those parents in airports and on the city streets. They look nothing short of stressed and overwhelmed.

This book is all about Kristin living life without children and having the time of her life traveling around the world sleeping with whomever she wanted and doing whatever she wanted. Through her story, she proves you can live the life you want and still end up exactly where you belong. Your story is your story for a reason. You are in control of the end result.

Not every woman is going to want kids and this books proves that is OKAY. Women should not be shamed for being selfish and wanting to travel the world instead of reproducing. Having or not having kids is a decision every woman should be able to make on her own without judgement. She can always change her mind down the road but that should always be her decision.

Regardless or whether or not you think her lifestyle is the one you have chosen for yourself, the book is well worth the read. You can be married or single. You may love to travel or stay home. I happened to read this book as me and my very new (like a week) fiancé were flying back to the US after a two week trip in New Zealand. Kristin made me giggle through the entire story and made me feel like I am not crazy for not wanting kids just yet. She takes you to Amsterdam, Argentina, Brazil, Paris, Iceland, New Zealand, and even a few more destinations. Kristin lets you you into some of the deepest secrets of her life. I am not going to say anymore, now it’s your turn to read it!

You can pick up a copy of the book at your local bookstore, download it to your tablet, or purchase it from Amazon. *I have no affiliations with Amazon and any of its content (I’m just a huge fan of Amazon Prime)

Credit to The EveryGirl for the featured photo

Top 5 Trip-Planning Tips

I have planned two incredible trips in the past six months. One to New Zealand for 13 days (posts Coming Soon!) and one to Spain & Portugal for 10 days for a family friend. I started planning trips when I was studying abroad and I have since advanced in learning what works (and doesn’t work) when planning a trip. A lot of my family and friends always question how I know what to do and how overwhelmed they would be if they had to plan a trip. Now, I can’t give away all my secrets but let me give you a few tips to get you started.

  1. Know the general time frame you want to travel. The more flexibility you have, the more options that you will be presented with. If you have strict travel dates then you may be limited but it will take a lot of guess work out of your whereabouts.
  2. Determine your budget. You may have all these tours and activities you may want to complete but you need to make sure you are not going to break the bank. Once you have a budget, STICK TO IT. You do not want to find yourself in tons of debt when you get back. With this being said, keep an open mind because you do not want to give up something you were really looking forward to because you went $20 over. Track ever dollar you spend.
  3. Book your flights first. A lot people think this is obvious but you wouldn’t believe the number of people that book their hotels first. Once you book your flights, you know the dates of travel and can plan anything and everything from there. If you book something else first, you are confining yourself to that date, in that specific place. I recommend watching travel deal websites for flight deals (which will also help with your budget).
  4. Use Pinterest and travel blogs to research where you are traveling. You will get firsthand accounts of people who already traveled to this region or locals who may have some insider tips. The big travel tip companies are great but those tend to lead you towards the most touristy things possible. Thousands of people are reading the same thing which means you are not the only one to have this “idea”. Obviously visiting the major landmarks is part of a trip but you can still get into a local mindset and find hidden gems by avoiding these sites. Make a Pinterest board for each trip to keep everything in one place and allow you go back if you need to for more information.
  5. Plan the bare bones of your itinerary before booking hotels and activities. Make sure you are seeing the most important things before allocating your time to the next stop on your trip. You do not want to travel to a specific city or country and not see the one thing you went there for in the first place all due to bad planning (or lack of).

This is just a start to all the tips that go along with planning a trip. It can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Your trip can be as planned out or as bare boned as you make it. Traveling is a passion, a way of life. Everyone has a different way of preparing for a trip but knowing the steps to make the most of your time is extremely important.

Booking your next trip and still need help? Contact me here and I will be happy to assist. I can plan an entire tour start to finish or fill in the blanks and make sure nothing was missed.

Travels with Carlie – 5 Places to Visit in Latvia

It was 2015 and I had never been to Europe. My international travel experiences to that point included a cruise to the Caribbean, Jamaica, a cruise of the Panama Canal, Canada and a cruise to Bermuda. You may be thinking – “That’s a lot of cruises!”. To which I respond- “Get Out”. I don’t need that kind of negative thinking in my life. But in all honesty, yes, I was ready to take a break from cruises, despite how fantastic I think they are, and venture to somewhere a little more east and not on a continent that ends in America. Europe here I come!

Europe. I know what you’re thinking. London! Paris! Venice! There are endless options of cities and countries to visit in Europe, and I cannot wait to visit them all, but I would not begin my travels at any of these popular tourist destinations. Allow me to enlighten you on the great country of Latvia. Latvi-what? Latvia. This is the country you never knew you have to visit and I will share just five places and things you can do while you are there.

  1. Riga- Riga is the capital of the country and a very beautiful city. There is the old city you can walk around with it’s historic buildings and beautiful architecture. You can venture over to the market and experience all the culture, foods, and….smells (the fish building). I highly recommend taking a free walking tour to learn about the history and culture from a local university student.You will see Freedom Monument, St. Peter’s Church, the National Opera, the list goes on and on. All of this information can be found on Trip Advisor. And before you leave the city, stop by the Radisson Blu Hotel, take the elevator up the the Skyline Bar and enjoy a delicious hot chocolate while you enjoy the gorgeous views unparalleled to anywhere else in the city. 
  2. Liepaja- On the western part of the country is a beach city named Liepaja. Since I was there in the winter, I didn’t get to swim, however it was still beautiful. You can find tons of amber and there is swimming in the warmer months.
  3. Bauskas- Did someone say castles? Get away from the cities and drive south of Riga to Bauska. Here you will find the gorgeous castle Bauskas Castle. And just a short drive away is Rundale Palace. Prepare yourself to wear some nifty plastic booties over your shoes and take a bajillion photos.
  4. Jekabpils- Now let’s venture over to the eastern part of the country to Jekabpils. If you didn’t know, Europeans love spas. Jekabpils has a wonderful little spa with multiple pools, saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. Prepare to relax and enjoy being in a completely new country that few take the time to travel and experience.
  5. Cesis & Sigulda- These two towns are near each other and you really shouldn’t miss either one. Cesis castle is absolutely amazing. Sigulda also has a beautiful castle, and you can see Turaida castle from the back of Sigulda Castle, so double win! While in Sigulda I also recommend taking the cable car transport over the Gaya river. Even if you just ride it over and then back. The views are breathtaking.

Latvia has been the most memorable trip I have taken. I would argue it was better than any of the cruises I’ve been on, and I looove my cruises. Do yourself a favor and venture over to eastern Europe. You will not be disappointed. And eat at a Lido for me, because if there’s anything better than castles, it’s food.

Carlie writes about travel, weightloss, and military life on her own blog http://www.listfiveblog.com/ Please go read more about her travels and ramblings there!