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:
- Barcelona Cathedral: entrance was free after 5PM so it was worth a visit as we did a quick tour and lit some candles.
- 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.
- 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.
- Park Guell: A stop I am glad I made as I saw some of Antoni Gaudi’s work and some beautiful sights surrounding it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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?!
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- $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!
- $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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!