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)

 

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.

Iceland: 19 Tips & Tricks

Iceland is so diverse in terms of weather, temperature, and activities that you can’t just pack a basic bag and leave. There is so much thought that goes into planning the perfect Icelandic trip that I wanted to make sure I was spreading the knowledge as best I can. Our trip was amazing and I want to share my tips and tricks with you in hopes I can make your trip just a little bit better!

  1. Stay in a hostel or AirBnb that will allow you access to a full kitchen. Eating in Iceland is incredibly expensive so if you are trying to save money, eating in is one of the best ways you can do it. Shop at Bonus (Icelandic grocery store with the creepy pig) for the best deals. The food is still great quality but you are shopping at a discount. We ended up staying in an AirBnB which was so clean, welcoming, and convenient.
  2. Rent a car. Do not rely on day trips or others to drive you all over the country. Renting a car is easy and you are in charge of everything. Gas is expensive so be mindful of the car you are renting. It cost us about $120 USD to fill our 14 gallon tank. We had a Mazda 6 which was great on gas so in our 5.5 days we were in Iceland, we didn’t spend too much money filling up.IMG_2237 2.jpg
  3. Get out of Reykjavik. Spend a day there but the countryside has so much to offer. You have glaciers, geysers, and mountains everywhere. You have national parks with waterfalls and tectonic plates that you can see.
  4. Plan to wear layers everyday. We would start our days early and end them relatively late. It is chilly in the morning and evenings but would often find ourselves getting a little warmer as the day went on. We did go in May so we had 24 hours of sunlight which was helpful when attempting to get all our activities in but would throw us for a loop with the change of temperatures. The top articles of clothing I brought were my North Face hiking boots, my fleece-lined Columbia leggings, my Columbia fleece jacket, my North Face Tomales Bay rain jacket, and my Columbia waterproof pants. Don’t forget wool socks and thermals, especially if you plan on snorkeling in Silfra.13161875_10153364707452574_9063047029956274330_o.jpg
  5. Bring lotion! The air is incredibly dry in Iceland so make sure you pack a bottle of lotion, you WILL need it. I am not one to use lotion on a regular basis and I used it multiple times a day while traveling.
  6. Bring your own reusable water bottle. The tap water is clean & pure. To buy bottled water is relatively expensive. Just fill up before you leave and fill up at different stops along the way. You will save money and drink some of the purest water ever.
  7. Book your excursions in advance. There were a few times when we were so thankful we planned our days out to ensure we could do everything we wanted. Even Blue Lagoon needs to be booked in advance.
  8. Pack your own snacks. We brought about 50 granola bars with us and had maybe 10 left and the end of the trip. They come in handy often. They do add weight to your bag but the more you eat, the more you have room for souvenirs on your return home!
  9. Take a walking tour of Reykjavik. Yes, the city is small but you learn so much by going on a tour. You learn of places to eat, shop, and go. If residing in Reykjavik for more than a day, knowing your way around the quaint city is going to be helpful.
  10. Bring credit and debit cards only. No cash is needed unless you want to tip (which is not required or requested but appreciated). Make sure you know the PIN for your credit cards as some of places (especially gas stations) require a PIN.
  11. With the amount of international transactions you will be making, I highly encourage you to have a credit card that voids international fees.
  12. Gas stations and stores close relatively early so make sure you get your grocery shopping done and the car filled up with gas.
  13. Fill up on gas whenever you can when venturing out of Reykjavik. You never know when you will see another gas station.
  14. Do your research in regards to the season in which you are traveling to Iceland. It could change your mind in the type of car you rent, the clothes you bring, and even your accommodations. You also don’t want to go to Iceland during midnight sun if you want to see the Northern Lights (cause you won’t see them).
  15. Everyone speaks English but it is nice for you to say thank you in the native language. A simple ‘takk’ will do.
  16. Keep in mind you are on an island where cows are not common and you see sheep and water everywhere. Common Icelandic foods include lamb, fish, and seafood. If you are picky, bring your own food or make sure you have a kitchen to cook what you like to eat. You will be able to find burgers but they aren’t common so they don’t taste as good.13161759_10153361500342574_8371216029416906389_o
  17. Go to Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. It ends your trip in a relaxing manner and allows you to leave Iceland feeling refreshed even after a long active trip. I recommend upgrading to the next package they offer as it  will give you a robe, a towel, and flip flops. There are showers with frosted doors for those a little concerned with being naked in front of other women. It is extremely common and there are other Icelandic people there who will be walking around naked. img_9251
  18. Put conditioner in your hair when showering before you enter the lagoon. Do not rinse it out until you shower off after you have spent your time in the Lagoon. Put it up in a bun or ponytail. This will avoid any part of your hair getting super dry and hay-like because the minerals in the water destroy your hair.
  19. Always travel with an extra SD card. I unfortunately learned this while on my trip but my sister happened to have an extra card! I would have missed about 2.5 days worth of pictures!
  20. You don’t have to try Brennivin. It’s pretty awful and makes you feel like your throat might have a hole in it.
  21. Look up from your camera. Take the time to take a picture or two but no matter what you do, the picture will never look like the real deal. Just enjoy it. Take a deep breath and be thankful that you get to experience so beautiful.img_5766

I am sure with each trip to Iceland one would learn something new. How to do something better, what to avoid for future trips. The thing is, all we have is now. Enjoy your trip to Iceland!

All the Feels of Traveling

I often find myself dreaming of my next adventure and most times even the adventure after that. I come up with a million different places I want to visit and in an instant can back up my idea with a million reasons why I want to go.

The culture. The people. The food. The natural beauty. The landmarks. The language. The unknown. The smell. The shops. The atmosphere.

Traveling is so much more than that though. It’s the planning of each adventure. From the flights, to the accommodations, to the excursions. Even where you are going to eat and mapping your day-to-day down to the hour. It’s so exciting and you learn so much about your passion for travel through the simple act of just planning.

After all of that is done, it’s the anticipation. Knowing you just spent so much time carefully choosing your flights and making sure you can do everything you want within your budget. It’s knowing you just planned the trip of a lifetime and having to wait months before it actually happens.

Then you have the stress of packing. Making sure you have everything you need but also making sure you are not over packing. You end up over packing anyway and ripping through your suitcase and having a life or death conversation with each article of clothing or accessory. Making sure your bag is not overweight is really that breaking moment, especially when packing the night before.

Then, it’s the day of departure and you’re an anxious mess. Worrying you forgot something and checking for your passport and camera a million times before leaving the house. If you’re like me, coming up with a million scenarios why you might miss your flight and causing yourself to pretty much have an anxiety attack.

Getting on the plane and realizing you are finally embarking on the adventure you had spent hours, even days planning is actually happening. Excitement and happiness flood your body.

And the best part of it all, actually exploring your destination. Experiencing all those feelings that makes you want to travel forever. Feeling like you found your place in the world when you’re in a place that is brand new. All the stress from your everyday life is lifted and replaced with a sense of peace. A sense of wanderlust.

Top 5 Things To Do in Beacon, NY

My grandma lives in Beacon, NY so I like to visit when the busy schedule permits. Beacon is probably one of my favorite places in my home state because it has grown into this vibrant city with so much to see and do. Being located in the Hudson Valley is also very convenient; you can take the MetroNorth train right into Grand Central Station in New York City, you can take a day trip to the state’s capital (Albany), or you can explore the city itself.

I figured I would write a “Top 5” post for those who may want a decent day trip or a city getaway to a place that is not in the middle-of-nowhere, but will give you the satisfaction of not being in the middle of a city.

Below is a list of some things I would recommend you do should you visit Beacon! There is:

  1. Walk Main Street.

Main Street is filled with local businesses, spas, and restaurants. This is a great way to interact with locals because just like any other Main Street, it is where the heart of the city is. The best time to go is second Saturday of the month as the stores are open later and tend to have some sales or deals happening! You will find antique stores, gift stores, clothing boutiques, outdoor stores, blown glass, and galleries. Each one of them unique and nothing like any other store on the street.

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Main Street, Beacon, NY

In general, Beacon has a lot of art scattered throughout the city but you can find a lot of it right on Main Street! It takes a minute or two to admire but all of the art really brings some color to the city.

We can’t forget about the restaurants and cafes! I have not had the chance to try even a quarter of them, but what I have had the chance to try is amazing.

For breakfast I would recommend Beacon Bagel or Beacon Falls Café. Beacon Falls Café is the perfect place for a mimosa and a formal sit down breakfast. Beacon Bagel has some of the best bagels I have ever had and you cannot go wrong with the flavor you choose!

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Beacon Falls, Beacon, NY

For Lunch I would recommend Poppy’s Burgers & Fries, Homespun, or Max’s on Main. Poppy’s has delicious, 100% grass fed beef burgers that go great with a beer (which they serve). Homespun has delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups, which are all homemade. Lastly, Max’s on Main is a great place to catch a sports game or grab a drink. Their food is pub food but it is delicious!

For dinner I would recommend Brother’s Trattoria hands down. This restaurant happens to be my grandma’s favorite restaurant, so anytime I am in town, this is where we go. I order a different dish every time and I have never had a bad experience. Make sure you ask for the garlic knots! (If I ever get a picture of my food, I will be sure to update…absolutely delicious)

If you thought I was done with the foodie part of me, you are WRONG. If you just want to make sure everyone is happy with the food options, head over to The Yankee Clipper. It is a family-run diner that has amazing food for any meal of the day! You are instantly brought back in time to the diner days as soon as you walk in the door. The service is great and the food is incredible. You cannot go wrong!

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The Yankee Clipper Diner, Beacon, NY (Photo Cred: Yankee Clipper)
  1. Walk along the Hudson River at Long Dock Park.

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This is a great location to rent a kayak to head out into the historic river. The Mountain Tops Outfitters Kayak Company will help you launch your kayak and explore the area. You can find their schedule at http://www.mountaintopsoutfitters.com/pages/kayaking-on-the-hudson-river.

Long Dock Park is also a great place to go fishing, walk a rock beach during low tide, or even capture a beautiful photo of the surrounding mountains. It almost looks like another country! I have fond memories as a kid at this park as it was relatively new and the dock was built to allow water to flow through the middle of it and create an artistic element to something so standard. Over time, people have become more and more aware of the location and it’s typically crowded with families on a fishing excursion, but nonetheless still worth a visit. It is also a great location for a jog as they have a river trail!

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  1. Hike Mount Beacon.

It is a steep but quick and easy hike. I am by no means an avid or experienced hiker, but I enjoy hiking this mountain. You just need a good pair of sneakers and a decent set of lungs! It took me about 45 minutes to get to the top so this can easily be squeezed into your day. Once you are at the top, you will have incredible photo opportunities of the Hudson Valley; you can capture images of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge or ones like pictured below.

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As a lover of food, make sure to grab a sandwich from Bob’s Corner store at the base of the mountain. Anything you order will be delicious, but I recommend the Bacon, Cheddar, and Avocado. So yummy.

This mountain is not just an ordinary mountain. During the Revolutionary War it served as an early warning and signaling system for the Continental Army. An incline was built to bring people up and down to enjoy a beautiful natural setting and a cool summer breeze. Once the incline was built, a casino and hotel followed shortly after to keep those that went to the top entertained. In the late 1920s, a fire destroyed the hotel and casino and the entertainment was gone. The casino was quickly rebuilt, but due to the Great Depression, the hotel was never rebuilt. Due to the economic crisis that would take place for the next 2 decades, the incline and casino struggled but nonetheless kept going. They had more fires and more hard times and eventually in 1983, a fire destroyed every aspect of the incline and no repairs were made. You can still see the incline from miles away where the tracks used to be and you can see the powerhouse once you reach the top of the mountain.

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  1. Visit DIA: Beacon.

The DIA Center is an Art Foundation’s art collection that has pieces from the 1960s to present. The actual building used to be a Nabisco box-printing facility that was turned into this museum! The museum features temporary exhibitions and monthly Gallery talks. They have a ton of different events each year so be sure to check out their website. Another thing you must do before visiting is to check their hours as they change often throughout the year.

http://www.diaart.org/sites/main/beacon

  1. Visit Bannerman Island.
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Bannerman Castle (Photo Cred: Flickr User gaz)

This is such an incredible, history-filled, beautiful place. The island is only accessible by boat and there are many stories that go along with such a small piece of land.

Like Mount Beacon, there is a connection to the American Revolution. The island was set up with defense mechanisms to protect the Hudson Highlands from the British fleet in 1777, but the attempt was unsuccessful and the British still invaded.

Francis Bannerman, a Scottish-born man and ammunition dealer, bought the island in 1900 from the Taft family. His purchase was a result of New York City authorities forcing him to move his historical equipment and ammunition (his business) out of the city. He wanted a safe storage place for his stuff and built Bannerman castle as a result. The castle was not only a storage space but also a simple residence which he and his family would reside.

My papa was so involved with this little island and I had the opportunity to visit during a special event a few years ago. This island is not technically in Beacon but a guided tour departs from Beacon and you can buy tickets for $35 per person. For more information regarding the island or purchasing tickets, go to their website: http://www.bannermancastle.org/index.html

Beacon is the perfect day trip filled with history and so much to do!

 

Never Stop Traveling…Ever

I woke up Tuesday morning to a text from a co-worker telling me about the attacks on Brussels. At that point in time it was still unraveling and the death and injury count was continuing to climb. I first felt saddened and then I felt angry.

It’s not just Belgium that is being threatened and attacked, it’s all over the globe. You have Paris, the Ivory Coast, Turkey, Beirut, Baghdad, California…the list could go on forever. The entire world is living in a constant state of fear thinking, “Who is next? Will I be a victim of one of these attacks?”

With these questions comes the question that I want to touch on: “Should I be traveling with everything that is going on?” 

Let me answer that question for you…YES!

These attacks can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Every time they occur, we feel a sense of concern and sadness for the victims of these events. We question how do the families deal with this type of situation? What did these people do to deserve this? How could people be so cruel in a world that is naturally beautiful and so full of hope and wonder? When all of that concern goes away, another feeling or two kicks in; fear and anger.

We fear that we may potentially be in harm’s way due to recent events and have an instinct to just stay in our house. We fear that if we do anything out of the ordinary, we can be killed because we just happened to be enjoying the one life we have to live. We worry about our safety to the point where stepping out of the house is a risk.

For people like myself, I feel the fear but I also feel the anger. What motivates people to think its okay to take the lives of innocent and vulnerable people? What makes your life so awful that you attack cities for attention?

Traveling is one of the brightest lights in my life. It exposes me to everything new. I feel if people traveled more, there would not be so much hate. Each culture and country has their differences but we are all human. If we took a moment to really experience and absorb the differences in the world, there would be a bigger sense of understanding and equality.

Being so involved in the travel industry (I work for a tour operator based in Boston), I see the thought processes of all types of travelers. The adventurous ones, the scared ones, the cranky ones, the thankful ones. You name it, I have talked to them. What surprises me most is when people cancel the trip of a lifetime due to terrorism. By not traveling, you are letting the terrorists win. They want you to be afraid. They want you to stay home. They are looking for the power that you give them. I am not saying you are wrong for being fearful but do not let that stop you from living the life that you dream of. Keep your head up and your eyes open. The media will do everything in their power to make a bad story even worse. You need to follow your instincts. Do not ignore travel warning, we aware of them. Most importantly, do not just hop on a plane because you feel like it. Do your research. Read the news but take it lightly. Use locals as a resource and talk to them!

While there is so much hate and violence in this world, just think of all the greatness and love that is also present. Think of feelings you get when you step off the plane in a city you have never been or a place you love. It is one of the greatest feelings of all time. A feeling of wanderlust. There are people in every inch of this world who want to do, be, and see great things. Just think about the people who have helped you through your journeys whether it’s giving you a place to stay or directions to a great cafe. Think about the friends you have made in the places you have visited. At the local pubs, on the streets, even on the subway. These people allow us to really experience what it is we live for.

Those people and those experiences is why we cannot stop traveling. Do not let them win. Live out your dreams as we are only given one life. You do not know what tomorrow will bring so live your life the way you WANT to, not the way you are expected to. We need to continue to meet new people and experience their cultures and lifestyles.

My goal is to continue to understand other cultures as much as possible. In a way, it is kind of like a responsibility more than a hobby to know the world we are apart of. It is evident in everyday life there are so many different cultures throughout the world and the only way to understand them is to be curious and adventurous. To get on that plane and just go. To have the patience to interact with the locals, to be open-minded, and to be there for those that are there for us.

Traveling is the only way for us to really understand the world we live in. We cannot live in fear or the world will never change. Be cautious but if you have a dream, just live it. Do not cancel your flights, your train, your rental car. You would rather live a life full of excitement, fear, and learning experiences than not live at all. In a world full of hatred, find love, compassion, and kindness. Those things go a long way when reflecting on your travels. They are the things you remember most. Traveling right now, in this moment in time, may be one of the most important life decisions you will ever make.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -Anonymous

xoxo,

Amy