Stamp Collected: Greece

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Greece – September 2018
Contiki Greek Island Hopping
Hotels: Poseidon Hotel (Athens) | Paradise Beach Resort (Mykonos)
Nikos Hotel (Santorini) | Far Out Village (Ios)

“Why alone?” The first thing out of everyone’s mouth when I told them about this trip. Usually followed up by an “Absolutely not. I won’t allow it. That’s not safe,” until I’ve explained I’m not entirely by myself. (These are the kind of things your friends start to say after they’ve all become real-life moms, but you’ll always be their adopted third-wheel-on-every-weekend-date child.)

The simple reason: timing. I had a lot going on this summer, travel schedules weren’t matching up, and I was happy to finally start saving money to buy a house. You know — until Greece happened. Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll move out one day… Maybe.

But after the idea of a solo trip started floating around in my head, and the more excited it made me — while also completely terrifying me — I knew I had to go. And, like I mentioned before, this wasn’t entirely alone. I was booking a tour through Contiki, which means I’d be alongside other solo travelers and pairs throughout the duration of my time in Greece. I just had to get myself to and from Athens. Easy peazy. I got this.

So after two whole days of thinking about this — because that’s how long it takes to make big decisions in my life — I booked it. And 3 hours after that, I had already ordered a whole new wardrobe to take with me.

As the trip quickly approached, the nervousness started to set in, but as soon as I arrived at the airport — way too early once again, even though I tried to get there at a decent hour like a normal person — I became insanely calm.

What exactly was I worried about? Not sure. The last two years have prepared me beyond belief for this experience, but the thought — I kid you not —¬†what if I forget how to check in to a hotel crossed my mind. A HOTEL. Obviously, I figured that one out and moved on to more important worries, like will these people want to stop and eat as much as I do during the day? Will they be okay taking 100 pics of me at each stop? WILL THEY DRINK AS MUCH AS I DO?!

But soon after checking into the hotel — like a pro¬†— and a quick nap later, I realized I was in for a trip of a lifetime.

Athens

The first night, we all gathered in the lobby for our first official meeting. At this point, I had already met my roommate earlier in the day when I got to my room, so we headed down together where we’d meet the rest of the group for dinner, followed by rooftop drinks and lots of laughs. Our trip manager, Webby, explained how the rest of the trip would work and what we should expect in the following days. Very similar to The Yacht Week, your guide was more of your friend and would be adventuring and partying alongside the group the whole week, and since I was with a tour, we’d have a schedule for most days, with options to add on different activities at each stop.

Our first full day in Athens we spent exploring the ancient buildings around the city. Per usual, the guide was pointing out history on the left, but I was too busy looking in the windows of Hermès and Gucci on the right.

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After returning to the hotel later that afternoon, we gathered on the rooftop for drinks and pool time before we all headed back into town for a traditional Greek dinner. This was considered an “add-on” and would include dinner and wine (like most of the add-on activities), so for the price, it made it worth it to pay for all the extras.

By this time, we had all bonded pretty well as a group, especially me and my new instant bestie, John. Nothing bonds people better than a mutual love for shoes and the need to be extra AF. We even snuck off during dessert to have matching friendship bracelets made. Goals.

The group I was with was rather small (12 people) compared to other Contiki group sizes that can be up to 50 people, which was amazing for us since we all got to know each other quickly and became a huge family. At the end of the night, I thought to myself how silly I felt fearing whether I’d get along with everyone. We were so comfortable together, I forgot that only 24 hours before, I had no idea who these people even were.

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Mykonos

Since the next day was an early start, we all tried to get some sleep so we could enjoy our first day on the islands. After a 5 a.m. wake-up call, me debating to cancel the whole trip for making me wake up so early, and what felt like an eternity — but was really a 6-hour ferry ride later — we found ourselves on the island of Mykonos amongst the picturesque white and blue buildings. After settling into our adorable hotel and enjoying some time by the water, we headed into town for dinner, where we learned about the town’s history, saw views of the windmills, and, of course, dancing. Don’t worry. John and I still found time to sneak off to shop for matching hats. The two of us disappearing from the group quickly became a reoccurring trend for this trip. Attached at the hip would be an understatement.

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The following day, thankfully, started much later. After breakfast, we all gathered down on the beach to begin our day of sailing through Mykonos. We stopped to enjoy some swimming in a secluded bay, checked out the beautiful views and crystal clear water, and ultimately ended up at a beach club on the southern side of the island before heading back to the hotel for pool time and drinks. Always with the drinks. Our hotel was located at Paradise Beach, which is the big beach party spot, so in typical Tara fashion, I went too hard at the day party and fell asleep long before the night party started, which would lead me to having an early morning the next day, whether I was ok with it or not. Goooood morning, Mykonos.

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Our last day on the island ended up being a free day since none of us chose to opt in for the historical add-on tour. These are my kind of people. And a trip to Mykonos wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Lindsay Lohan’s new beach club, so off we went. *Cue the horrible dancing.* Soaking up the sun was exactly how I wanted to end exploring this island before heading on to Santorini. Unfortunately, we ended it with getting lost and a 3-hour walk to find the bus stop instead. Ughhh.

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Santorini

Bright and early the next day, we headed to Santorini where we’d have 3 days to explore the island. The first day we spent relaxing by the pool followed with a nice dinner at Argo overlooking the water, which was a good contrast that prepared us for all we endured the following day.

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It started slow by heading into Fira town to explore and enjoy some wine tasting at a local winery, Santos Wines, which was accompanied by another incredible view. Next, we hopped on a ferry to the volcano island. I was quite disappointed when we got to the top because, apparently, tops of active volcanos aren’t open craters you can look down into and see lava. Talk about needing a refund. As if hiking wasn’t enough working out for the day, next up was swimming through the ocean to a secluded hot spring cove for mud masks. I really thought spa days were supposed to be more relaxing than this.

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Our day ended at the Old Port with the iconic donkey ride back to the top of the island. Me and my little guy bonded quite well. He didn’t like anyone passing us, so we somehow were in a race to the top, getting terrifyingly too close to the edge and cutting off any donkey that tried to go by. 10/10 would not recommend. The views on the way up are breathtaking, but there is also a cable car option if you opt out of the donkey ride. Because, honestly, I felt more like the “ass”¬†making him carry me up the 600 stairs.

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Before this trip, when I imagined the free days, I saw myself wandering the streets by myself, exploring beaches and shops. In reality, we had all become so close, we would make sure we had a van big enough to to fit everyone so we could all still stay together and explore. For our Santorini free day, we first headed to Akrotiri red beach. It’s quite rocky and very prone to mud slides, so we only viewed this colorful beach from up above. If you plan on heading down to the shore, I’d really recommend bringing sneakers. The rest of the day we chose to spend relaxing at Perissma black sand beach. If you buy food or drinks from any restaurant, they let you lounge on their chairs or bean bags out on the sand. We were really lucky to be there at the end of season, so the mass amounts of tourists had already disappeared, making it easier and more empty for us to do things and enjoy.

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That night, we headed into famous Oia town to take pictures at the famous blue domes and watch the sunset. There are tons of rooftop terraces to grab a drink or dinner at that will allow you to have prime seating for the sunset. If not, be sure to get there early to claim space along the city’s walls to get a good view.

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Ios

The next day, we left for our third and final island to explore, Ios. We all made sure to rest up plenty the night before since the next few nights were set to party until sunrise as this was the big party island — with each of the 50 bars on the island having their own 7-shot challenge. Our hotel was located right on the beach, and being the end of season, daybeds were free to use. This also meant the sushi bar was closed for the year. Booooo! We spent the afternoon soaking in the sun — trying to get more tan than our fellow Contiki friend, Hayley — and also played a few rounds of volleyball. This hotel was definitely the best we had stayed at thus far. It was on a great beach, had an amazing pool, and the restaurant served amazing food… plus you can’t beat those 10‚ā¨ pitchers — I mean “jugs” — of beer that they even let you take out to the beach.

Our second day in Ios, was the day I was looking forward to most, the sailing day, because of how clear I had heard the water was around the island. Sometimes I realize how spoiled I really have been in life when I get bummed that we’re on an average boat instead of a catamaran when I’m in the middle of Greece swimming in some of the clearest water I’ve seen so far on a private beach we have all to ourselves. Don’t worry. I checked myself real quick on that one. #blessed

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When planning our free day in Ios, we had seen that Mylopotamos was supposed to be the best beach in town, so before setting out, we checked the map for how to get there, only to realize it’s the exact beach we had been on the last 2 days. Oooops. There’s a water sports company right on the beach that offers anything from paddle boarding to scuba diving (this is also where we rented a volleyball from a few days before.) Since I was feeling under the weather —¬†I had heard of the dreaded ‘Contiki Cough’ before this trip, but no amount of vitamins kept me from catching the bug floating around the group —¬†I opted to lay in the sand and hopefully sweat out the cold before my long flight home.

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After one final dinner together back in Athens, we all said our goodbyes. I used to think those girls on The Bachelor were crazy for falling in love after 2 weeks, but now I totally get it. These were some of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had to make yet, but I now have a new set of homes to visit across the world… and I may or may not have already bought a flight to visit John. Obviously.

This really was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far — a journey I think everyone should have once in their life — and I’m beyond thankful for all the amazing people I’ve met along the way.¬†So as I get ready to board my plane, I remind myself that these aren’t actually goodbyes, they’re just “see you laters.”

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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Budgeting 101

“Tara, how do you afford to travel so much?”

IMG_2905The number one question I constantly get asked. Well, for starters, I work a full-time job. Okay, I lied. I actually only work 3 days a week, but they’re long days, so I’m still gonna call this full-time. Secondly, this might come as a huge shock, but I still live with my parents. And you can say what you want about a 26-year-old still living at home, but you’re gonna have to say it to my back as I’m hopping on that next plane to Europe.¬†Byyyeee, haters.

IMG_7851So think about that for a second. Then think about what you pay in rent for 2 months, and you’re gonna end up with all the extra money I have available for a trip. But when you add in an uncontrollable habit for shoe shopping, (like other people I know.. totally not talking ’bout myself here), a financial plan still needs to come into place.

Over time I’ve built a simple guide I use to create my budget as I’m preparing for my next adventure, and so far, it hasn’t failed me — aside from the time I overspent while buying shoes in Italy…I mean, the time¬†my friend bought those shoes.

Airfare: (Flight price + Round up to nearest 100) + Any connecting flights = Total

Hotel: $130 x (Number of Nights) / 2 = Total

Spending Money: $100 x (Number of Days Traveling) = Total

Phone Bill: $10 x (Number of Days out of country) = Total*

*This is based off Verizon Travel Pass. Check with your cell provider’s international coverage charges for accurate total.

Airfare:

If you’re taking more than one flight, list a price for each flight. The reason I round up is to cover any additional baggage or seat costs that some airlines charge. I do a super basic search of flights to find these prices. Meaning, I don’t do any of this, or try to find the cheapest airport, the cheapest flight time, or the cheapest day to leave. This way I have a starting base price to budget for, and if I find the flight cheaper when I actually go to book, then¬†score!

Hotel:

Over the years of booking hotels, I’ve found that $130 typically seems to be the average cost I’ve paid. I really don’t remember how I came to this number as a conclusion, but since I’ve started using it as the budget number, it’s worked, so I’m not gonna question it. I divide the total by 2 since I’m always sharing a hotel room with someone else, but even when I’m sharing with more than 1 person, I leave the budget the same. Better to save more than scramble for extra cash in the end.

Spending Money:

When I first started traveling, I would take all the cash I had saved with me to spend while gone, and this one particular time that I went to NYC, it averaged out to $100 a day. By the end of the trip, I came home with around $5 left, and with how expensive New York can be — and my spending included shopping and drinking every night — this seemed like a good amount to budget off of. Now,¬†disclaimer: this budget always fails me. I usually overspend by $200 – $300 depending on where I went and whether I shopped more or decided to add a skydiving ticket on to the trip — or both…¬†Hello, the summer I went to Italy and Croatia.¬†But having the majority saved before I leave takes a lot of stress off of me — and my credit card bill — for once I get home.

Phone Bill:

This one is pretty straight forward. Verizon charges me $10 a day to use my phone out of the country, so I save $10 for every day I’m gone.¬†Duh!

Here’s an example for reference from a recent trip…

Malaysia

Airfare: 1st Flight $500 + 2nd Flight $100 = $600

Hotel: $130 x 8 Nights / 2 = $520

Spending: $100 x 10 Days Traveling = $1,000

Phone Bill: $10 x 8 Days out of country = $80

Budget Total: $2,200

IMG_4955Typically, I’ll start planning my budget as soon as we start talking about the next trip — aka the day my plane lands at home from the last adventure — so I can divide up the total as much as possible throughout the paydays I have coming between now and the trip. In my case, this ends up being weekly (i.e. $2,200 divided by 10 weeks). In the end, I spent about $200 less than what I budgeted for hotels and airfare, allowing me to have extra money available for spending while away, on top of what I saved already.¬†Yasss!¬†(Side note: Malaysia ended up being so inexpensive that I had enough left over from my budget to cover my flight for a last minute trip to Hawaii the following month.¬†Are you starting to understand how¬†I do this so often? Always¬†staying 2 trips ahead.)

So I hope as you start to plan your next adventure, these tips will help make your dream vacations seem more obtainable, as they have made traveling for me. There’s a great beautiful world to explore, and I know I won’t be stopping until I’ve seen it all.

Ready for takeoff? Find my favorite travel sites here.

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San Francisco: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

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When you spend your free time looking up flights, you sometimes use your friend’s birthday to justify buying plane tickets two days before the weekend hits, which is exactly how I found myself in San Francisco this time. Because what’s life without a little¬†a whole lotta spontaneity?

The last time I found myself visiting was for my birthday almost 5 years ago — which means I was excited to have pictures with the Golden Gate Bridge that didn’t require me to Photoshop my ex out anymore. Holla.

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Do I remember much from that trip to give any detailed recs? No. But I do remember the bike rental guy whispering, “Oh, shit!” under his breath as he saw me struggle trying to take off. So it’s safe to say that¬†I went ahead and crossed that activity off the list for this time around — for the rental guy’s sake, of course. (Side note: Riding bikes across the bridge, actually,¬†was the best part of that trip.. even in my drunken struggle.)

Nonetheless, if you enjoy not making a fool of yourself — unlike me — there’s still plenty of things to do to enjoy the weekend!

Union Square

We stayed in a cute and old — but not in the feels-dirty-old type of way¬†— hotel near Union Square. So we started our morning walking through this area, filled with tons of shopping and just as many brunch spots. For the first time in my life, I skipped doing any shopping, but instead doubled up on breakfast for the day. I love me some second breakfast.

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China Town

Next we headed down towards China Town to walk around and pick up a few souvenirs.¬†Okay, so I didn’t completely skip the shopping.¬†We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the red lantern lined streets admiring all the unique stores and interesting architecture.

Lombard Street

Before heading down to Fisherman’s Wharf, we diverted our path to pass by Lomard Street. I really wonder what went through someone’s mind as they built this entirely crooked path. With 8 switchbacks down this steep one-way road, it has become a popular tourist spot in San Francisco to walk or drive. We watched all the cars wind down the brightly colored street that was lined with blooming flowers and beautiful Victorian homes. I was thankful that I wasn’t behind the wheel for once because tears would definitely have been present during that. (Side note: I Googled it. Apparently, it’s designed this way for “safety reasons,” and although I ain’t no architect, it still looked pretty unsafe to me.)

Fisherman’s Wharf – Pier 39

You can’t go to San Francisco without a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf for a nice big bread bowl of clam chowder, so don’t even think of skipping this one — even though I went to SF the first time and didn’t do this… but we’ll let that slide. Filled with tons of bars, restaurants, shopping, and live performances, there’s always something to do. And when you need to sit down and take a rest, you can get in some quality people watching too.

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Golden Gate Bridge

I guess this next stop is like kind of a big deal or something, so we took an Uber down to the Golden Gate Bridge. If you take the path behind the ‘Welcome Center’ building, you’ll find yourself in a little rest area with a good view of the bridge. A great vantage point can also be found at Crissy Field, a recreational park filled with picnic areas and beaches, but since the bridge is rather large, you can’t really miss it from any angle.

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Food Recommendations:

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse РThis is where we stopped for second breakfast, so I only ordered a croissant, but Savannah later gave me a bite of her butter toffee cookie, and I have no words. OMG. Guess I actually had three words. Oops.

Nightlife Recommendations:

A birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete without checking out the nightlife. Obvi.

Sabrosa – My friends always joke that we can’t go anywhere without me knowing someone, so why would SF be any different? Totally normal for the bouncer to be a friend you made that time you went to Cabo for your best friend’s bachelorette, right? We came here off a recommendation from a friend, but were skeptical since online it appears to be a Mexican¬†restaurant. Since it was Cinco de Mayo, though, it seemed fitting either way. At night, they clear the tables, and it becomes a lively bar with a DJ and dancing.

Del Mar – A cool tiki bar with great dancing music which was recommended by my man Big Jerry I mentioned above. Not sure why they’d let my friend in for free and not me — I’m sure her birthday crown had nothing to do with it¬†— but the bouncer outside joked that since he’s from Italy, if I could speak Italian, he’d let me in for free. Joke’s on you, bro. Perch√© io vado dentro la bar per gratuito poi… Grazie.¬†So for that reason alone, I’ll give you 5 stars, Del Mar.

It may have been a quick trip, but it surely didn’t lack any of the fun. Life’s better as a constant adventure, so if that means dropping everything to catch a flight the next day, you can always count me in.

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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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
Hotel: AirBNB Rome | AirBNB Florence

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.

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