Stamp Collected: Malaysia

img_9316Malaysia – April 2018
Hotels: Little Gaya Hotel (Kota Kinabalu)
Sepilok Jungle Resort (Sepilok) | ParkRoyal (Kuala Lumpur)
Vaccines: Malaria & Typhoid

*At the time we visited, Uber was in its last week of operation. Grab App is now servicing as its replacement.*

Getting to Malaysia was no easy task (See: Shanghai), but after only one day in this breath-taking country, it already all seemed so worth it. I had been asking for an adventure, and, boy, did I get one.

Day 1: Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

Since we lost one of our days on the island due to the airport fiasco, we arrived pretty bummed. Hello! I had islands to visit! But we still left early our first day eager to explore. Our first stop: Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. This is a group of 5 small islands off of the main island of Borneo, accessible by a 15-minute boat ride from Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu. Jetty tickets can be purchased in the marina from any of the many vendors, but since we weren’t trying to be on anyone else’s time schedule after the previous few travel days, we rented a boat to ourselves to take us island hopping – 315 RM or about $80. Worth it. (Note: You’ll need to return to Jesselton Point by 4 pm regardless of renting a private boat or not.)

We trekked through the jungle of Manukan, had fresh coconut water in Mamutik, snorkeled the waters of Sapi, and ran from wild monkeys on Gaya. Could’ve done without that last stop. And on all the islands? Got asked to take selfies with pretty much everyone. Being blonde in Asia is what I imagine Justin Bieber must feel like. No photos, please.

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Day 2: Mount Kinabalu National Park

We started our day at 4:30 am — not because we needed to get there early or anything; that just happens to be when our internal clocks woke us up that day. So after calling an Uber and him telling us, “Big problem. Can’t go there,” but still continuing to drive, he eventually dropped us off at a bus stop, which turns out to be the better option to get to the park. We paid 25 RM – roughly $6.50 – each for a seat in the minivan for the 2-hour drive up the mountain. (Side note: Our driver was nice enough to offer to come back for us later that day too, so that saved me the stress of figuring that out. Double side note: He also asked for a selfie after dropping us off but didn’t even give us a discount for the ride. Ugh.)

We hiked a few different trails through the National Park. Starting with the Kiau View trail and finishing with the Silau-Silau trail. There’s also a “snake hill” trail somewhere in there, so I made sure to stay far away from that one. Reading online, people were estimating these at 2-4 hours long… each. Sarah and I finished walking the majority of the park in 3 hours total…. and thank goodness we did, because as soon as we went inside, it started pouring rain. Both trails are pretty easy and well maintained, Silau-Silau being more flat and Kiau containing more sections that involved climbing up stairs — stairs that I was hoping would lead to a view of the mountain… a view very similar to the one I noticed at the main gate soon after we had finished the trail and were already drenched in sweat. Oh, well.

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Day 3: Jungle Cruise

We reached our next stop by a short plane ride into Sandakan, followed by a shuttle ride arranged by the jungle cruise company, Sukau Greenview Bed & Breakfast. When I heard we were booking a ‚Äújungle cruise,‚ÄĚ I instantly imagined a real life version of Disneyland‚Äôs world famous ride — corny puns provided by me, of course. There were 3 different river cruises they took us on during our stay with them, and only 2 minutes into the first one, I was completely blown away by the beauty of it all. No one was blown away by how good my jokes were, however. We were also lucky enough to see an elephant that afternoon, which they said is extremely rare and only happens something like 5 days a year. Then at night during our second cruise, when we spotted a baby crocodile and the guide said we couldn’t get any closer, I assumed it was for our safety, but he informed me it was actually because of a tree branch and that we physically could not get any closer. Thank you, tree branch.

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Day 4 & 5: Sepilok

After the 5:30 am wake-up call from the jungle cruise, we started our journey back into Sepilok. Completely drained from such an early morning, we took a relaxing stroll through the Rainforest Discovery Center followed by pina coladas by the pool.

After some much needed R&R, we headed out to see the Puu Ji Shih temple in Sandakan, only to arrive 30 minutes after its 4:30 pm closure. Although the view was still incredible from the outside, we reluctantly turned right back around and returned to our pina coladas to comfort our defeat.

The next day we headed to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to catch the morning feeding. (Tip: The sanctuary is only open in two hour increments, so check times before visiting.) Sadly, we didn’t see many on the trails in the wild, but still were able to catch a few of the babies playing around in the nursery. One of the guides said the cool weather makes the monkeys lazy, so they don’t always come to the feeding. Confused what “cool weather” she was referring to, since I was currently standing in a pool of my own sweat.

Not realizing we’d be able to accomplish everything in less than a day, we were left with a few hours to kill before our flight later that night, so we headed into the city of Sandakan again, where we stumbled across Balin Roofgarten, the cutest rooftop garden perfect for enjoying the ocean view and enjoying a few more pina coladas before heading to Kuala Lumpur.

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Day 6: Kuala Lumpur

I’m all for roughing it, but when my bougee ass pulled into this hotel the night before, I had never been so excited to see marble floors and indoor water fountains. Finally a shower and normal toilet!

This technically isn’t in Sabah, but chances are your flight is connecting here on your way in or out of the country, so I highly recommend spending a day — or a few — here. (Tip: I heard the nightlife is worth having time to¬†check out too.)

Our first stop that morning was to the Batu Caves. With almost 300 steps of stairs to the top, we wanted to get there early enough to get back to our hotel before check out so we could cool off and freshen up from all the sweating we would endure. The cave is quite impressive, that is, if you can relax for long enough to enjoy it while trying to avoid all the wild monkeys.

Next we headed to KL Forest Eco Park to check out the sky box on top of Menara Tower. Surprisingly, for someone who freaks out over floor to ceiling windows in Vegas hotel rooms, I didn’t even think twice about being in a complete glass box. This might be because I was too busy being freaked out by everyone walking around barefoot. Ick.

Since our flight didn’t depart until late that night, we spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering the streets. This is usually when I end up wandering into a mall, getting myself in trouble and completely blowing my budget for the trip. (I’m talking 4 handbags, a wallet, 2 pairs of shoes, 3 belts, 2 sweatshirts, and a hat kind of trouble — but when I got all that for under a $200 price tag, I literally just¬†couldn’t stop.)

Thankful to be leaving, seeing as I couldn’t possibly squeeze one more thing into my suitcase, we headed back to the hotel where they let us use the showers (even after we had already checked out) before our long flight home. Luxury life. I could get used to it.

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With another stamp in my passport and my heart full of adventure, I am thankful for all the amazing opportunities I’ve had to explore the world so far. And although I enjoyed all the rice, fresh fruit, and tasty milkshakes,¬†my love for Del Taco will always bring this So Cal girl back home.

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Shang-High & Dry

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I’m a planner. Some might even say I’m an over-planner. But, hey, it makes me happy. And when we accomplish 3 days worth of things in one carefully planned day, you’ll be happy too.

So this always involves me feeling the need to get to the airport early. Like I made Sarah wake up at 3 am once, and we were so early that we had to wait outside the airport for an hour because it wasn’t open yet. Oooops. And like any other trip, we were early to LAX, once again.

Normally not a big deal, but had I known the day ahead of us, I probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry.

As we sat in LAX at our gate, an hour after our scheduled takeoff time with no word of boarding, we started to question if we had made a mistake. I knew I didn’t because of how carefully I plan, but ya never know too.

Soon enough, boarding begins and we make it to our seats. Our connecting flight was departing only two hours after our first flight landed, so I was starting to prepare myself for a sprint through the airport once we touched down in Shanghai.

Like I always do on flights, I doze off, but only to awake an hour and a half later to find us still on the runway…. IN LOS ANGELES. So now I have no service, no way to change our connection, and have a very anxiety-filled 15 hours ahead of me.

I sleep, I read, and I stress eat my way through almost all my snacks as I try to make a game plan — which doesn’t work out too well when you have no internet access.

We eventually land, and only 20 minutes past our connection’s departure time. Maybe it was delayed too? We hurry towards the door for our gate, only to be turned away and sent to a long line of others who have also missed their connections.

I told myself it’d be okay. It was a full moon, after all. And if there’s one thing about full moons, it’s that I’ll always be positive during them. So we waited, and I didn’t even cry despite the fact that this was a very typical “Tara’s gonna cry” situation, as Sarah has learned over the years of traveling with me.

And we waited. And we waited. And the calm, cool, and collected girl I am made sure to inform the much taller and buff guys trying to cut us in line to not even play this 5’3″ hungry and sleep-deprived blonde. Because I may have been worry-free, but I still ain’t no push over.

And after 4 hours in line and a new set of friends around us — sans buff guys — we reached the front.

At this point, we were well aware we’d be missing our next connection in Kuala Lumpur the next morning, since the next flight out of Shangai wasn’t for another 17 hours, so I had done my research of flights while in line and prepared my speech to ask to be put on the direct flight to our final destination instead of what our boarding pass stated. I had the flight number ready for the attendant and everything.

Now, I’m the one who’s been traveling for the last 24 hours, and this fool is the one who has the mental breakdown when I ask to go to a different city. Whatttt?

We eventually get our new flights, stand in another hour long customs line, find our abandoned luggage — thankful I didn’t have the Valentinos in there because no full moon would’ve stopped those stress tears — and proceeded to the bus stop, where we waited another hour before reaching a hotel provided by the airline.

Nothing quite like your head hitting that rock hard pillow at 3 am after the longest day ever. Sweet relief. Ahhh!

The next morning we wandered our way down to breakfast where we had our choice of rice or noodles — and no matter how hungry I am, I can’t find any reason to eat either of those for breakfast — so instead, we chatted with all our new comrades to see what everyone’s plan was for the day.

Hanging out at the mall seemed to be the general consensus for passing the next 6 hours, but we just couldn’t get on board with that.

We were in a whole new country, and we needed to make the best of this situation.

After a quick Google search, it appeared that there really wasn’t much to do in the surrounding area. So we dug a little a harder… and just down the street, we found our answer… Disneyland.

At only $79 for a day ticket — a bargain compared to the Disneyland we have back home — we happily entered the park. Being barely a year old, everything was still so new and beyond cute. We were able to race around the park in about an hour, since it’s also smaller than the original Disneyland, and without a whole day available to spend there, we chose to ride Tron and Pirates, neither of which disappointed — and¬†neither of which I could understand the commentary during, aside from the occasional “Jack Sparrow.”

So after passing the time until our flight at the happiest place on earth (uncertain if this catchphrase applies to all Disney Resorts or not?), we boarded our flight to Malaysia. Thankful for the misfortune that turned into a grand adventure.

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Stamp Collected: Italy

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Italy – August 2017
Flight: $629* (via Norwegian)
Hotel: AirBNB Rome ($79 /night) | AirBNB Florence ($93 /night)

*Price only reflects a way one ticket from LAX.

I knew I was going to like Italy, but I didn’t think I’d be coming home Googling “hairdressing jobs in Rome for English speakers… but also 9% fluent in Italian.” (Side note: I had spent the 3 months prior to this trip learning to speak Italian.) I fell in love with this country that is filled with tons of history… and just as much gelato — that didn’t make me sick. Not even once. Lactose intolerant who?

Even though I did end up getting sick — stress related, not dairy — I loved walking the streets and admiring all the gorgeous buildings, each city so uniquely beautiful. During our 5 days in Italy, we explored Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre. (That means 5 lands for all you non-Italian speakers. You’re welcome.)

Rome

Rome was definitely my favorite of the 4. Our AirBNB was in the absolute cutest neighborhood ever. Everrrr. Look at this street. Bellissima!

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We spent two days in Rome, and since we had tours booked for the second day, we went and visited all the typical tourist attractions during our first, starting at the Trevi Fountain.

Being the super-incredibly-single-nowhere-near-finding-a-boyfriend girl that I am, obviously, I had to throw the traditional three coins into the fountain. The first guaranteeing you return to Rome, the second a new romance, and the third ensuring marriage.

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The drunk text from a boy back home that I received seconds after wishing for love was the complete opposite of just that… so naturally I dove back into the fountain to reclaim my coin and took myself to Valentino to purchase a new pair of shoes instead — because, let’s face it, shoes over boys any day.

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With my new precious cargo in tow, we continued our sightseeing at the Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. Obviously, I had to include my shoes in the pictures before I tucked them safely in my suitcase for the rest of the trip, away from all the dangers of gelato spills and annoying British girls (See: Croatia).

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Later that¬†night, we headed out for some drinks because… wine not? We ended up becoming friends with our waiter who showed us around the nightlife, which was great for me because, not only did I get free wine, I also got to use my Italian… The. Whole. Night.¬†Either I’m secretly fluent, or I was too drunk to notice I wasn’t making sense. Pretty sure it’s the former, but¬†I¬†do know I accidently¬†called some guy’s girlfriend a sweater. My bad, girl.¬†

With an early tour booked the next morning, it didn’t take long for me to regret all the free wine, but there was no way I was skipping¬†anything on the¬†itinerary. So, like the good Catholic girl I am, I got my — still slightly drunk — self out of bed and headed to the Vatican. Oh, forgive me Father for I have sinned. I was on my own for the first part of the day, and although wandering the empty streets in the early morning was oddly quite peaceful, it was also the moment I realized I’ll never be a solo traveler. Who am I supposed to talk to? Who’s supposed to take all my Instagram pics? Who’s supposed to make me feel better about having gelato for breakfast?

We had pre-booked a Vatican and Colosseum tour through City Wonders since this would allow us to skip the lines at both. Not waiting 5 hours in line, cool.¬†The guy that wouldn’t stop talking, not cool. I understand this is the whole point of having a tour guide, but I would have preferred wandering Vatican City on my own. He spent too much time telling me why there was a bee on the wall drapery and not enough time letting me relax under a tree in the gorgeous courtyard.

After walking through all the museums, we entered the Sistine Chapel. It was way smaller than I had imagined, and more just a room rather than a chapel. I actually had no idea I was even inside the Sistine Chapel until I noticed everyone looking up. This is when the guide decided to stop talking?

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we continued into the stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. The guide provided us with some brief history of the church before ending the tour and, finally, allowing me to wander on my own. Amen!

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(Tip: Although the tours are booked together, they are two separate tours.¬†You’re required to find your own transportation between the two locations, which unknown to me when booking, are on opposite ends of the city. Be sure to leave an adequate amount of time to reach the second meeting point.)

After¬†my nap and picking up my adventure partner, we headed towards the Colosseum.¬†Walking around this part of Rome is almost unreal, being surrounded by so¬†much ancient architecture. This tour will take you around the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill¬†while your guide¬†tells the stories of¬†all the history¬†that surrounds you. Since there’s a lot to see, there won’t be much time to stop and look around, so be prepared for constant walking.

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Tip: When we first visited the Trevi Fountain around noon, we found the place completely packed. Before leaving Rome, we went back early morning around 7:45 a.m., and this is when we were able to snag all our pictures since it was practically deserted.
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Florence

Our next stop was Florence, and since the Italo train leaving from Rome takes about 1.5 hours, we made sure to catch the first departure in the morning. (Tip: I highly recommend purchasing these in advance. We had waited until we arrived at the train station that morning and ended up not only not having seats together but also in different train cars.)

By the time we reached Florence, we were exhausted, mostly because we had woken up at 6 a.m., and I was too busy guarding my shoes that I couldn’t take a nap on the train ride. So after grabbing a much needed caff√®, we headed out to explore the gorgeous city.

Our sightseeing started at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Since we weren’t dressed modest enough to go inside, we had to admire this beauty from the outside only. Can’t say I was disappointed, though.

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Next, we headed towards the Duomo, which came highly recommended by my friend Brenda, and she’s Italian, so I was going to do anything she said. She could’ve told me to drink water from the Trevi Fountain, and I’d be like, “Well, if this is what Italians do….”¬†

Anyway, Brenda was right. The Duomo is gorgeous, but make sure you buy tickets in advance if you plan on going up inside. They were sold out until gioved√¨, which means Thursday, and I don’t know what day we were there on, but Thursday wasn’t anytime close, so, unfortunately, we were only able to admire this beauty from the outside.¬†However, Brenda reassured me the outside is far prettier than the inside.¬†Phew!

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Continuing on through the city, we headed towards Piazza della Signoria. Here you’ll find Neptune’s Fountain and a fake Statue of David — the real one is in a museum with a line going down the street. Pass. Sadly, the¬†Statue of David was under construction, but that didn’t stop me from taking a super mature Snapchat zooming in on his privates. Oops.¬†

After stopping for another gelato, we made our way to Ponte Vecchio,¬†which literally translates to old bridge — the oldest¬†in¬†Florence¬†to be exact — and is known for the many jewelry shops that line it. Too bad I had spent all my souvenir money on shoes, so window shopping would have to suffice.

Once crossing the bridge, we continued down the street until we came to Boboli Gardens. There are a few different entrances to the park, including the main entrance at Pitti Palace, but our GPS took us to a smaller entrance a little farther down the road. Being so hot, we found a shaded bench to rest under before exploring the gardens, eventually heading up a hill and finding ourselves in Piazzale Michelangelo with a view overlooking the city. (Tip: We exited the park through Pitti Palace and noticed a rather long line at this entrance, as opposed to walking straight in at the smaller one we used.)

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We finished up our day exploring this beautiful city with dinner at Quattro Leoni, another recommendation from Brenda. Duh! All I have to say is to order the pear pasta. It sounds bizarre, but trust me. Delizioso!

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Venice

For our 4th day in Italy, we booked a round-trip train ticket to Venice through Italo. With not many huge tourist spots in this unique little city, we were able to just walk around without a list of things to get done, which was a nice change for me, the self-appointed tour guide of every trip.

However, there was one thing we needed to get done, though, because you can’t go to Venice and not take a gondola ride through the canals. No matter where you are in Venice, a gondola ride is the same set price – 80 EUR. So this means that when you find the one cute young gondolier in the sea of old men, you chase him down and ask for a ride. Those arm muscles — swoon! Too bad I noticed a wedding ring, so guess I’m still waiting for that whole Trevi-Fountain-will-find-you-love thing… Fingers crossed he’s Italian.

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The rest of the day we walked around exploring the streets, stopping in stores, avoiding all the dirty pigeons in Piazza San Marco, and, of course, eating gelato. After wandering aimlessly all day, it was quite the journey to make it back to the train station. I’m the queen of GPS, but I could not figure out how to get us out of those canals; what looks like a through street on the map, ended up being cut in half by a canal of water. Eventually,¬†we made it out without having to swim upstream. On second thought, maybe we should’ve found the cute gondolier to row us out.

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Cinque Terre

On the last day, we finally headed to Cinque Terre. To reach this region of Italy, requires a 2-hour bus ride from Florence, so we booked an all-day tour through Ciao Florence. I had read mixed reviews, some saying it’s great, others saying you need more than a day to explore all the towns, but since the towns are small, there actually isn’t much to do in each one, aside from walking around or swimming… or eating gelato, so a day trip sounded perfect for us.

We started in Manarola and had maybe 15 minutes to wander around. Good thing it only took 7 minutes to walk from one end to the other, so we sat by the water for a while before catching the train to the next town.

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When we reached Vernazza, we headed up a path on our right side that would overlook the town. We were able to walk right through, but on our way out, we did notice a ranger-type guy taking tickets, so perhaps we lucked out by walking by when no one was working.

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The next stop was Monterosso. This was one of the bigger towns and where we would spend the most time. Here we were able to have lunch and take a swim in the ocean — the very salty ocean. We spent our extra time lying by the water, while others hiked up to the castle above the town.

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Following our relaxing lunch break, we took a boat to the final town, La Spezia. This town is rather tiny and has a super steep hill to get to the church at the top. Considering it was the end of the day and we didn’t have much energy left, we skipped the hike and sat and people watched for the few minutes we had before the long ride home.

It didn’t take much for Italy to become one of my favorite countries, between all the gelato, pasta and, of course, menwine… I mean, history. Everything about this trip was magical, and as I continue to sit here searching for new jobs, I’ll be dreaming of Italy and counting down the days until I can return again. Arrivederci, Italia.

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For Ships & Giggles: The Yacht Week Croatia

img_2509-1Croatia – August 2017
The Yacht Week

When I was told this would be the best week of my life, I didn’t quite believe it. I’ve had some pretty amazing weeks in my life so far, but as I sit here, literally crying on our flight home writing this, I can hands down say it’s been the best week yet, and I’m not sure if another trip can top it. (Except maybe our Yacht Week reunion that we made a pact to do when we’re 60.)

I’ve left with bruises, I’ve lost my voice, tons of sleep, and even maybe some of my dignity; but there’s something magical about spending a week on a boat with 8 people you’ve just met. I’ve left with memories I’ll never forget and with new friendships I’ll cherish forever.

Would I do this all over? In a heartbeat — even if I’m stuck with the dinner table as my bed again.

For those that don’t know what The Yacht Week is, it’s a week you spend on a yacht (duh), sailing alongside 20 – 30 other yachts. My crew and I sailed through the beautiful islands off of Croatia, which is the original route started by the company. Each town¬†offers a¬†new adventure, a new party, and a chance to meet new friends. TYW sets up an itinerary that your skipper will follow throughout the week,¬†like swimming in the crystal blue waters and meeting up at night to dance under the stars.

Everything is booked through The Yacht Week website, and you¬†can choose to book a cabin on a yacht with complete strangers or gather a group of friends to book your own boat. I did the latter, except we didn’t initially all know each other, but all had one mutual friend that brought us together for this experience. You’ll be assigned a skipper through the website and also a hostess, if you have signed up for one. We requested one too late, which meant we’d be on our own for the week cooking meals and cleaning the yacht. It wasn’t so bad, but with how often other boats confused me for Diridonda‚Äôs hostess (our boat’s name), I’m confused as to why no one left me a tip at the end — Ha ha. Just kidding.

More booking info here. | Find my TYW packing guide here.

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(Note: There’s two different routes for Croatia, so not all itineraries will be the same.)

Day 1: Setting Sail

Our crew all arrived in Split, Croatia, the night prior to The Yacht Week check-in. I highly suggest getting an AirBNB or hotel for Friday night to catch up on your post-travel Z‚Äôs before getting minimal sleep over the next week. You’ll need it.

Check-in won’t be until the afternoon on Saturday, but we, luckily, were able to have a later check-out at our AirBNB before we headed to the marina. Access to your boat won’t be available until 6 pm, so this is a good time to grab groceries, floaties, beach towels, or anything else you may have forgotten.

After loading our boat, by crossing the scariest little plank of my life (Side note: It didn’t get less scary over the week), we set sail to Supetar, where we had dinner and kicked off the week at the opening party. Our skipper let us know there was a pool, so a few of us went prepared for a midnight swim.

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Day 2: Hvar

Most of you know I’m not a morning person, but waking up with the sun and setting sail each morning quickly became my favorite thing. I was even the first one awake most mornings — probably because I slept in the kitchen and didn’t have a¬†way to block out the sunlight, but still. So we set sail early towards Hvar and stopped midmorning for a swim along the way. You ever pin drop off the side of a yacht into¬†the Adriatic Sea? ‘Cause it’s the best.

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Once we reached Hvar, we had some time to explore and use the, ahem, public showers before getting ready for the party that evening at Hula Hula. This party is open to anyone, not just Yacht Week goers, so be ready to make even more new friends. Following the party, we stopped for dinner before checking out a few other bars and, eventually, heading back to our yacht where we all stayed up and laughed the night away together.

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Floaties are a must at The Yacht Week, and that was our favorite, Alvin, who we eventually lost later in the week post-raft party. RIP Alvin.

 

Day 3: Hvar

With all day partying being the main agenda for the trip, I had drunkenly agreed to sky diving the night before. Once sober, I wasn’t quite sure this was the best way to spend the day, but, nonetheless, I had already paid and was on the water taxi to the airport. I may have cried, but nothing can compare to the bird’s-eye view of the island that you could only see by jumping out of the tiny plane with a large Croatian man strapped to your back.

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The uncool, safer options for the day include a morning yoga class hosted by The Yacht Week, hiking, a beach club, and other water sports, like jet skiing or paddle boarding, but make sure you’re ready to party¬†that afternoon¬†because you won’t want to miss the famous White Party at Carpe Diem. This party ends early, so there’s time to get dinner before heading over to the after-party held on a little island off Hvar.

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Day 4: Komiza

We started the day by meeting up with the other boats to create the iconic circle raft. This is when all the boats tie up together creating a floatie party in the middle. So grab your beer and your float and get ready to party. (Tip: Dont be the guy who tried jumping off the top of the boat and missed the water, though.)

img_2510Not pictured: Our¬†awesome Relaxation Station that all 8 of us could fit in, along with a cooler for instant drink refills. Also great for standing up in and calling out other floaties for not being as cool as ours… I had great pride in everything Diridonda did.

 

The sail to the next destination is a long one, and, in our case, a rough one too. Half the crew got sick due to the rocky waters on our 3-hour trip to the next stop in Komiza. Since there’s no dock here, you’ll stay on the boat all night and take a water taxi to the party. Boat hopping drunk to get home sounded like a disaster for someone clumsy like me, so I used this as my night in to catch up on some sleep.

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img_2514I can’t even take credit for these awesome pictures. I came home with 15 pictures total from the whole week. Good thing Jay sent me all 654 from his phone. @alayonroams

 

Day 5: Vis

We headed out early, again, and this was by far my favorite morning. By the time I woke up, we were already in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. Sitting alone in silence watching the waves pass by was, on its own, enough for me to claim this as the best week ever. We made our way to Vis before 9 am and had the whole day to explore. Some of the crew opted to book a tour to explore the island by Jeep, while the others stayed in town to just wander and lay by the beach.

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Later that night, hosted at Fort George, is what’s considered to the best party of the week, the Tropical Retro Party. Per recommendation of our skipper, we had dinner near the boat, opposed to at Fort George, i.e. over-priced food for what is being served.

This location was magical and definitely the prettiest of all the venues for the parties, but like most nights, our crew left early — more specifically, I left really early because lots of alcohol at once¬†wasn’t the best idea. Sorry, mom.

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Day 6: Green Caves and Float Party

I might be a little biased, but I really think we had the best skipper of all of The Yacht Week because he always got us places at the perfect time. We started our 6th day at the Green Cave, completely alone. Only our crew and our floats inside swimming, and we were ready to leave just before the tour boats full of people started pulling in. Such an amazing experience.

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After, we headed back towards Hvar where we stopped for awhile to swim before heading to the huge raft party.

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Luckily, we were one of the last boats there, so we were able to be on the end away from the crazy. In the middle, it was full of people on¬†floaties in the water, boats packed with people dancing on top, and a DJ in the middle on his own boat. Everyone is yacht hopping from boat to boat and swimming across the raft to meet people on the other side. It had started to get chilly by this time, and our skipper had told me¬†all the boats’¬†bathrooms drain into the water (Can you say poop water? Gross.), so I gave myself a 2-hour period of partying before taking my fat ass¬†back to the boat to make dinner — a¬†decision I don’t regret at all.

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img_2930There’s an app for The Yacht Week that only people who attended your week have access to, and you can message and share pictures. So shout out to the guy with the drone who posted this for me to steal. Our huge float made our boat the easiest to spot. We’re on the far right heading in.

Day 7: Regatta

Personally, I think this event needs to be at the beginning of the week because our crew was so dead, we barely managed to put our costumes on. The idea is to race all the boats, and those with the best energy and costumes win a table for the closing party. It has nothing to do with who crosses the finish line first, but we did; and, therefore, we were the winners in my eyes. We also may or may not have left the motor on and technically weren’t even sailing. Oops.

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img_2935Like, we couldn’t even pull ourselves together enough to get a decent picture.

Following the regatta, we stopped for a final swim on the way back to Split for the last night. Although it began to drizzle on our way, it was the perfect final sail home before ending the best week of our lives dancing the night away at Club Vanilla. And the best part of the night? Half the crew left to stay in an AirBNB, so I got to sleep in an actual bed instead of the table bed again. Holla!

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Even as the best week of my life, there are a few things that I would do differently next time.

Only go to The Yacht Week. We had spent the week prior in Italy, which resulted in more clothing, a bigger suitcase, and me constantly¬†kicking strangers off our boat so no one would accidently spill a drink on my new Valentino shoes. Sorry not sorry to the annoying British girl. When I read to only bring a duffle bag, I should’ve listened. By adding another stop to the trip, I was forced to pack more than just bikinis and take the suitcase that was bigger than the entire boat. Big mistake.

Skip the food package. We had opted to purchase the food package to minimize our grocery shopping, but, the truth is, I still did daily grocery store stops, and although the package comes with alcohol and 4 apples (that actually ended up being nectarines), we were left with food we didn’t use, and we probably could’ve bought it all on our own for cheaper. (Side note: If you get a hostess, it might be helpful to purchase the food package, though.)

Stay an extra day in Split. I can’t express how much I wish I stayed a night in Split before leaving.¬†I slept maybe 8 hours total throughout the week, and def needed to catch up on some more before conquering that long flight home. *Cue meltdown number 4 of the trip.*

This one week of my life felt like¬†10 years. It lasted forever, and still wasn’t enough. We started the week as strangers and ended as family. Every day was filled with new memories that will stay with me for a lifetime — especially that time Keith used pepper instead of instant coffee in the morning. That’s one way to wake you up. Yuck.

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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Fly High for a Low Fare

Traveling so often, people question how could I possibly afford all of it.

Am I secretly¬†rich? Far from it. Do I work more than one job? Nope.¬†Do¬†I still live at home with¬†my parents? Well, yes, that one is true, and¬†it helps tremendously that I can put my “rent” into my travel savings account. But, no, my parents don’t give me money either, no matter how hard I give my dad puppy dog eyes while asking for extra cash. Puuuhhh-leeeeeeeze.

So now here I am, finally explaining to everyone how I’ve managed to keep my trips so inexpensive by sharing tricks on where to find the cheapest flights.

Picking a destination:

The first step, obviously, would be to pick a destination. On the off chance that¬†you have no idea where you want to¬†go, or if you¬†want a¬†last-minute, cheap getaway,¬†Skyscanner¬†has the¬†option to “search everywhere.” It’ll bring up the cheapest destinations from¬†any selected departure airport.

But…. If you have a long bucket list of destinations like I do, then you’ll want to spend less time finding cheap destinations and more time finding the cheapest¬†flight to reach¬†those destinations.

Finding the cheapest time to fly:

IMG_9785With my job,¬†I’m lucky to have the perk of being able to leave whenever, so I’m able to work with when flights are cheap, rather than being limited to a certain time frame. This does mean that I’m sometimes traveling during the off season, though. Was trekking across Paris in the pouring rain ideal? No. But those will forever be my favorite memories.

The first stop on my cheap flight search engine checklist is Skyscanner (again…). They have a variety of different explore options, including being able to use “cheapest month” as your dates of travel. If you already have a specific time in mind, it’ll be good to know that it’s typically cheaper to fly on a Tuesday or Saturday, but if you choose “whole month,” Skyscanner will provide a day-by-day price comparison¬†for your destination, so you can see the high and low days during that time of year.

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Once I have a timeframe in mind,¬†I always “fact-check” with Google Flights. What I like most about Google Flights, that other search engines don’t do, is that Google will suggest¬†changes in your flight plan to make it cheaper. Sometimes, leaving the night before or flying into a nearby airport will produce cheaper flight prices, so I always like to be aware of these options before making a final decision.

Tip: Southwest’s¬†flights¬†aren’t shown in search engines, so don’t forget to check their website for prices.

I was typically booking with Google Flights in the past, but I recently discovered JetRadar. When I compared a search between the two, JetRadar produced results up to $150 cheaper for my upcoming trip. This is because of the “self-connect” option, meaning that not only will I switch planes on a layover, I might also have to collect my baggage and switch airlines as well. For long flights that¬†are broken up by layovers regardless — since I can’t afford a $2,000 one-way ticket for a non-stop —¬†this option was super useful. However,¬†I did notice it brought up flights with an unnecessary amount of stops for¬†shorter flights, turning¬†6 hours of travel into 20.

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If I plan on making multiple stops on a trip, I’ll¬†take all the destinations I plan to stop at along the way, and search¬†for one-way tickets to and from each location, making the cheapest two options my starting and ending point. Flights within Europe are typically cheap (like I flew from Ireland to Paris for $14 cheap), so I never do as much research for all the little connecting flights. Instead, I refer to a good ‘ole map and plan those flights off the route that makes most sense geographically¬†rather than¬†cost.

Usually, I’d be the first one to¬†urge you to make that purchase, don’t waste any time, what are you waiting for? Go. But it may be beneficial to wait a few days to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

When to buy:

Flight prices change often, so before you hit “purchase,” make sure you’re not buying during the high. Flights are often cheaper when purchased at the beginning¬†of the week, opposed to being bought closer to the weekend. i.e. The same flight that was $600 on Friday, might only be $400 when you search again on Monday.

Other tips:

IMG_9792[1]Don’t wait too long to buy, though. I’ve never actually tested the theory that the Tuesday 6 weeks before the trip is the cheapest a ticket will ever be, but I do always book all my flights at least 6 weeks in advance.

And if you’ve chosen to fly on¬†with a¬†budget airline, be sure to read all the fine print. If you make sure you’re aware of the extras beforehand, even with add-ons, your flight can still cost less than with¬†other airlines. It’s cheaper to add/pay for a checked bag¬†online rather than at the check-in desk, and¬†some airlines will¬†require boarding passes to be printed prior to arrival at the airport to avoid additional fees.¬†I¬†strongly encourage¬†to also pay¬†to reserve a seat. Not because it matters if you’re seated next to your travel buddy, but flights are almost always overbooked, so reserving a seat will guarantee that you will get on the flight¬†over a passenger who opted to not pay for reserving one, saving you from an unexpected sleepover at the airport. (Of course, in the event of flight vouchers being offered, though, you know I’m the first one running off that plane to claim one. Free flight? Yes, please!)

Ready for takeoff? Check out my useful packing tips before you go.

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Stamp Collected: Singapore

Singapore – September 2016
Flight: $692* (via AirAsia/Philippines Air)
Hotel: Fragrance Hotel Imperial ($72 /night)

*We flew from Bali, so this doesn’t reflect a roundtrip price from LAX.

Singapore, aka The Lion City, which is really a state and also its own country; and there were actually never any lions that lived there. Wait. What?

Now, first things first. Singapore is expensive, and we were warned by fellow travelers in Bali during the days prior, but I sure wasn’t expecting to go from my $2 Bintang beers to $26 Singapore Slings. We spent 3 days here, and my expenses were close to the amount I spent for 8 days in Bali — so be warned. The good news is that there are a lot of free things to do, and I’ll share where we were able to save some money during our visit.

Day 1: Botanic Gardens and Marina Bay Sands

The day we arrived we started our trip by checking out the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Entry into the gardens is free, but you will need to purchase a ticket to walk through the National Orchid Garden – $5 SGD (Tip: Bring a student ID for a discounted entry – only $1 SGD). There weren’t as many orchids blooming as in the pictures I saw on Pinterest, but, nonetheless, it was still extremely beautiful.

 

At night, we went to Marina Bay Sands. It’s a huge hotel and is the best place to see Singapore’s skyline. You have to be a hotel guest to visit the infinity pool, but there are a couple different restaurants/lounges/bars that you can visit for the amazing rooftop city view. When we found out that Wednesday was “Ladies’ Night” at C√Č LA VI Club Lounge, we knew that was our best option, because not only did we get free entry and a free drink, but it also meant that the minimum age for girls was 18 but 25 for guys; and Hello. Can we start that in America?

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Day 2: Tree Top Walk and Gardens by the Bay

It didn’t take long to find out that it randomly rains in Singapore quite often, which is also the reason I don’t have many pictures with me in them. Can you say “frizzy hair”? Why we thought our next stop was a good idea in the rain is beyond me, but we headed to Singapore’s Tree Top Walk anyway. I think in my head, I saw this bridge that you just walked off the street and crossed and it was super easy, and that was it — even though all the pictures clearly depicted a vast jungle. So here I am, in a dress and sandals, unknowingly starting a 4.5-mile hike… in a thunderstorm… and let’s not forget about all the wild monkeys. It’s also highly recommended to not cross the bridge if there are any signs of lightning. Hearing thunder isn’t a sign; right? I figured someone would stop us if it was that unsafe, except there wasn’t anyone around to do that even if it was. We, eventually, made it out alive, and the view along the way was absolutely breathtaking. Just remember to dress accordingly and be safe. (Tip: Here’s a guide to help you get there.)

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Later in the evening, post-thunderstorm and an attempt at fixing my hair, we went to see the Gardens by the Bay. I have no idea what these weird “Supertree” things actually are, but I would describe them as electrical trees, and they put on a crazy light show every night at 8:45 p.m. There are many different things to see here, including another suspension bridge and a flower dome. The show and wandering the gardens are free, but you’ll need to pay an entrance fee for the other attractions – ranging $8 – $28 SGD. Most paid attractions close at 9 p.m., so plan ahead.

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Day 3: Sentosa, Tanjon Beach Club, and Raffles Hotel

We had a mission to swim with some dolphins during this trip, and since it didn’t happen in Bali, it needed to happen in Singapore; so we headed down to Sentosa, a small island resort filled with beaches, shopping, and a Universal Studios. Being an island, I assumed we’d be swimming with dolphins in, ya know, the ocean, but that wasn’t the case at Resorts World. Raja the Dolphin was cool and all, but we were, basically, at a SeaWorld/water park crossover.

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After paying for some very overpriced pictures, we took the free monorail from the resort to the beach. We walked along the coast until we found Tanjon Beach Club. Daybeds usually have a $375 SGD minimum, but if you’re lucky, you might score one for free on a slow day like we did. Naps, tanning, and cocktails. Doesn’t get much better than that. (Tip: Ubers are not available in this area. You will need to return back to the resort before requesting one.)

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On our last night, we headed to Raffles Hotel. How could we go to Singapore and not have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel? Don’t worry… I hadn’t heard of it either, but over 100 years ago the bar captain at the hotel created this drink, and now it’s a thing. Next round of Slings on me! Just kidding. Those bad boys are $26 each; so anyone trying to split one?

Food Recommendations:

Antoinette – I am not exaggerating when I say we ate every meal here. It’s the cutest little French-themed restaurant/caf√© and was located right outside of our hotel. The food was amazing, especially all the macaroons. I did a lot of research on this one, so I can accurately report to you all that every single flavor is delicious.

Nightlife Recommendations:

Attica – This club can be found in the Clarke Quay area. You’ll find a few different options for bars and clubs to bounce between here.

Canvas – My absolute favorite club that I’ve ever been to… ever. I can’t explain it, but it was awesome. Everyone is dancing, everyone is having fun, and everyone is so trendy.

(Tip: Tons of clubs have “Ladies’ Night.” Check websites beforehand for details.)

I’ll admit, when we were first headed to Singapore, I wasn’t thrilled. I was by no means mad, but it just wasn’t on the top of my bucket list. Come on. What kind of place makes chewing gum illegal? I didn’t know what to expect, but sometimes that’s when you end up with the best memories, and, let me tell you, I’d take all the surprise rainstorms, terrible hair, and expensive drinks all over again and again. Party on, Singapore.

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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Packing Tips for Any Trip

I’m often asked by everyone how I’m able to always pack¬†so effortlessly, and by “everyone,” I really just mean my mom. I do have a few tips that I always follow when it comes to packing, though, whether it’s to fly halfway across the world or¬†a drive down the street to my best friend’s house¬†for the night. So to make your suitcase¬†troubles a little less stressful, follow some of my tricks below:

1. Don’t wait until the last minute.

My friends will ask me before a trip if I’ve packed, and I’m pretty sure it’s so they can make fun of me when my answer is not only yes, but that¬†I’ve been packed for a week, maybe two. Waiting until the last minute means you’re going to forget things, and I’m the queen of forgetting things…. Seriously, I’ve forgotten to pack underwear before. I’m not saying to be as¬†dramatic as I am, but pack at least a few days prior to leaving. This leaves you with time to remember items you may have missed during a rushed last-minute job…. or you can continue to pack as you’re walking out the door. If that’s the case, then¬†use my favorite checklist to help make sure you remembered everything (or download the digital version¬†here.)

2. Keep a travel-friendly toiletries bag packed.

img_9270I always keep a toiletries bag packed. There’s nothing more annoying than getting somewhere and not having a toothbrush or deodorant, and who wants to do that awkward let -me-put lotion-on-my-armpits-and-hope-that-works thing. To save myself the trouble of forgetting anything, I keep a makeup bag full of my favorite everyday products, but travel-sized (Tip:¬†Take advantage of free samples from Sephora to¬†fill this bag). It’s easy to grab and throw in your luggage, and it leaves more time to worry about the real important things that need packed, like shoes.

Don’t forget to keep your liquids inside a plastic bag to prevent leaks, or screw a piece of plastic between the bottle and cap.

3. Use shower caps to cover shoes.

Covering the bottom of your shoes will help prevent the soles from causing any unwanted dirt marks on clean clothes, and it will especially come in handy if your trip involves any sort of hiking and mud. *Flashback to those muddy boots in Iceland.* 

4. Don’t take the large suitcase.

No matter how long¬†the trip is¬†or if there’s the need to pack huge coats, I always try to fit everything in a medium-sized suitcase or smaller. If you’re travelling to multiple destinations, you won’t have to worry about dragging a heavy oversized suitcase to each stop (or up three flights of stairs when you find out your¬†Air BNB doesn’t have an elevator.) Here are¬†a few¬†ways I¬†save space:

Roll clothing instead of folding it¬†and place vertically in your suitcase. Since everything you have packed will be visible, this will also keep¬†your luggage organized throughout your trip¬†because digging for items won’t be necessary.

Choose items that can be mix-and-matched. You were probably wondering how a fashionista like myself keeps her¬†clothing¬†packing to a minimum. Well,¬†I’ll pack clothing items that all fall into the same color familythink all neutrals or cool tones – so I’m able to turn 5 items into 10 different outfits. Plus, if it’s a cold weather trip, no one is going to see anything besides your jacket anyway. So instead of packing an extra sweater, grab a scarf for¬†a pop of color. Be sure to pack garbage bags to keep smelly socks and dirty underwear separate from clothes that will be worn again.

If there is the need for some extra layers this trip, wear your coat on the flight. Airplanes are cold, so skip packing the heavy jacket and carry it on with you to double as a blanket.

Use the space inside your shoes to pack a curling iron/flat iron, umbrella, socks, snacks, etc. You get the picture.

Leave the giant vitamin and prescription bottles at home. Instead, take the exact amount of daily vitamins/medicines you’ll need in a plastic bag. This will help¬†keep track¬†of how many days¬†you’ve taken them if your regular schedule is thrown off by a time change.

5. Use your personal item wisely.

img_9271Instead of bringing a small purse as your personal item, opt to take a larger tote or backpack. I like to move my wallet and essentials into my backpack, pack the empty purse in my¬†suitcase¬†and switch back over to my purse once I reach my destination. If you’re flying on a budget like I do, chances are your flight doesn’t come with wifi, so use the extra baggage room to bring along your iPad, a book to read, coloring books, or, my favorite pastime, snacks. A pen will also come in handy for any customs forms that need to be filled out¬†on international flights.

If you are headed overseas, make sure you keep an adapter easily accessible too because you’ll need it to charge your devices during those long layovers while abroad.¬†I like to use this one here because you can charge 3 devices at once, and it’s universal, so you won’t have to buy a different one for each country you visit. (Note: You cannot plug your curling iron/flat iron into this. You will need a voltage converter for that.)

Now that you’re all packed, hopefully you’ve saved enough room to bring home some souvenirs. So make sure to keep¬†a luggage scale handy to help prevent any surprise overweight fees at the airport.

Ready for takeoff? Find my favorite travel sites here.

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