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.

fullsizeoutput_615.jpeg

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

fullsizeoutput_801.jpeg

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!

fullsizeoutput_805

  • 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.

fullsizeoutput_5fa.jpeg

  • 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.

fullsizeoutput_803fullsizeoutput_804

  • 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.

fullsizeoutput_5c8.jpeg

Lake Tekapo

fullsizeoutput_5f7.jpeg

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…

fullsizeoutput_4ad.jpeg

  • 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!

IMG_2930.JPG

  • 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.

fullsizeoutput_802

fullsizeoutput_5ca

  • 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.
Lake-Tekapo-Stars.jpg
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.
Church-of-the-Good-Shepherd-Lake-Tekapo-New-Zealand-Weddings.jpg
Photo Credit: Dream Weddings New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

IMG_3176

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

fullsizeoutput_654.jpeg

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.

fullsizeoutput_6db.jpeg

  • 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!

fullsizeoutput_6e3fullsizeoutput_64d 

Milford Sound

fullsizeoutput_6ab.jpeg

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.

fullsizeoutput_6a8

fullsizeoutput_6e6

fullsizeoutput_683

  • 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).

fullsizeoutput_6f1fullsizeoutput_870fullsizeoutput_877

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

fullsizeoutput_748

fullsizeoutput_74b

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

fullsizeoutput_890.jpeg

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!

Barcelona with Nabeeda

IMG_1910

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.

IMG_2002

  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.

IMG_1889

  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.

IMG_2151

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!

ctz-oct2015-creditcard.png

 

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.

cardart_sapphire_nr.png

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.

sapphire_reserve_card.png

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.

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.