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.

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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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.

Ready for takeoff? Find my favorite travel sites here.

‘The Yacht Week’ Packing Guide

As summer is quickly approaching — and as I’m pressuring friends into joining me another week at sea — it’s time to break down my The Yacht Week¬†survival kit¬†packing guide. Girls, you’re gonna need this for reference. Heck… I’m gonna need this for¬†reference.¬†

TYW Must-haves:

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A super Instagram-able floatie: Duh. Have you ever seen a picture from The Yacht Week that didn’t involve an inflatable pizza or flamingo? I didn’t think so. (Bonus: A huge floatie to fit your whole crew. It cost more to fly with this “checked bag” than the actual float cost, but being able to chill as a group with room for an ice chest full of drink refills, so worth it.)

Country Pride: This is huge at The Yacht Week so bringing a flag to hang on the boat is a must. Throw in some flag shorts, bandanas, coozies, sunglasses, swimsuits, etc. If you can print a flag on it, you should bring it.

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Boat Decor: Think battery-powered and waterproof, so disco balls, lights, streamers, more flags, etc. Coming home drunk and trying to find your boat in a lineup of 30 boats becomes way easier when you’re the only boat with flashing lights hanging from the overhang. That is, if you remember to turn them on before heading out.

Custom Crew Memorabilia: Tank tops, another flag — seriously, you can never have enough flags¬†— we even had a custom stamp made with our boat’s name on it so we could leave our mark on everyone who passed by.

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Group Costume: The last day is a regatta where group costumes are more important than the actual boat speed. The more original and unique costume and the higher energy your group has, the better chances of winning.

Extra Party Swag: A few extra props never hurt nobody. Unless, of course, you’re out of room in your suitcase. Water guns, neon¬†sunglasses, inflatable beer pong tables, glow sticks and body paint will all come in handy throughout the week.

Clothes:

Swimsuits: I know what you’re thinking. 7 days on a boat means you’ll need at least 7, maybe 9, bikinis, but, trust me, this is far from true. Most days you’re sailing, and once you reach the marina, the last thing you’ll want to do is get in that dirty water. Instead, use the extra space for cute outfits to walk around and explore in. I probably only used 3 – 4 of the swimsuits I brought. 2 for the different big raft parties, and another 2 to rotate between tanning and swimming.

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Shoes: I read every blog I could before this trip, and every single one recommended bringing boat shoes, so, naturally, I searched high and low for a pair and ultimately borrowed a friend’s pair to take — Thanks, Reb!¬†But as useful as boat shoes might seem on a boat, I never actually wore them. Comfy sandals and a pair of sneakers should be on your list, though. Stick with cute sandals for at night, since most party venues are outside, and old stone paths won’t mix well with heels.

Clothes: Read through your The Yacht Week itinerary to prepare for any parties that require themed attire. Athletic wear came in handy for during the day when it wasn’t warm enough to be tanning as we sailed to the next destination and also at night for when we got back to the boat after parties and continued hanging out. A lightweight sweater for colder nights should also be included on your packing list, along with a beach coverup for during the day. With minimal space for luggage, bring outfits that can be interchangeable to save space while packing.

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Avoid Denim: You’re on a boat, and sometimes things get wet, so you don’t want to be waiting around on your denim pants/shorts to dry.¬†Stick with light weight and cotton materials that will dry faster and keep you cool.

Odds & Ends: A good pair of polarized sunglasses are recommended to protect against the sun’s glare reflecting off the water and some super trendy sunglasses¬†straps to save them from slipping off your nose onto the bottom of the ocean. A hat to shade from the sun, a refillable water bottle, and a beach towel — which can be purchased in the marina to save baggage space — are also handy items to have.

Duffle Bag:¬†A small boat and lots of hard suitcases don’t go well together. A duffle bag or collapsible suitcase is highly recommended. Don’t make the same mistake as I did because my suitcase didn’t even fit through the bedroom doorway.

For more help on packing check out my Packing Tips for Any Trip.

Beauty and Health:

Makeup: Waterproof mascara. Obviously!

Small mirror: Yes, there are mirrors on the boat, but it gets so hot in there that I could barely stand it long enough to change my underwear, let alone apply a full face of makeup before I sweat it off. A small portable mirror will be convenient for applying makeup on the deck with an ocean breeze to cool you off. (Side note: Some boats have AC. I was uninformed about how highly to prioritize that while choosing a boat, though.)

img_6435Showers: I wish someone had explained to me that there are¬†showers at The Yacht Week, but they are public showers in the marinas.¬†Gross. Take shower shoes and a small bag to carry your toiletries/clothes in to the shower. Towels are provided on the boat, but investing in a bigger towel might be worth it — I’m not sure who they actually expected to be able to dry off with the napkin-sized towel they gave us. Bringing a pack of wipes will also be useful for a refresher during the days spent completely at sea.

Sunscreen: Lots of it, and for your lips. Can’t be having cracked burnt lips when that foreign cutie goes in for a kiss.¬†Know what I’m saying? And if you forgot to apply — and reapply — bring a bottle of aloe vera for after sun care. Ouch!

Medicines:¬†Advil is completely necessary, even though I’m convinced that hangovers are non-existent while sailing the Adriatic, and if seasickness is a thing for you, look into motion sickness medicines or patches. Clorox wipes aren’t a medicine, but I always keep some in my bag while traveling, and they were perfect for wiping down tables after a hungry crew devoured whatever Savannah and I made for breakfast and dinner.

img_6457Travel Insurance: Get it. I, thankfully, didn’t need it, but alcohol and slippery boat decks could have ended badly, and I couldn’t imagine having to pay for a foreign medical bill. I luckily made it out of The Yacht Week with nothing more than a few hundred bruises that I’m still trying to figure out where exactly they came from.¬†Allianz has an affordable plan that’s good for a whole year, so you’ll have protection for any other daring adventures you embark on in the near future. Plus, certain plans will reimburse you for any flight or baggage delays too!

Electrical Essentials:

Outlets: I can’t speak much on the outlets inside of the bedrooms, but in the kitchen where my bed was, there wasn’t a standard wall plug. A car charger or USB plug were available, though. It seemed everyone was always charging here, so either the plugs in the bedrooms were non-existent or they didn’t work, so a car charger with multiple USB outlets would be the most efficient.

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Waterproof: Things happen, and if you’re someone who takes pictures of everything, then highly consider a lifeproof case for this trip. You’re near water all week long, and you can’t predict when or prevent water from destroying your phone or camera — which reminds me. Don’t forget to charge the GoPro, and don’t forget to bring an extra battery. I’m still crying that I only have footage from the first day.

Music: Don’t show up disappointed when your boat isn’t equipped with an aux port but, instead, a CD player. Prepare a few mixed tapes beforehand, so you’ll never miss a beat.

Extra, and still very important:

Cash: Always cash. Many places on the islands won’t accept cards, so cash is important. There are ATMs all over, but I paid $20 per withdrawl when I needed extra, so exchanging currency through your bank back home prior to arriving would be more cost-effective.

Valuables: Leave them at home. People are constantly passing through your boat, and you don’t want to risk damaged or stolen valuables putting a damper on the rest of the trip.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This is such a long list, Tara, and you’re expecting me to get this all in a duffle bag?” Honestly, I haven’t tried yet, so I’ll get back to you all at the end of summer, but spending another week like this, is worth at least trying… And if all else fails, I’ll just shop when I get there.¬†Bon Voyage!

Ready for takeoff? Flights | The Yacht Week

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A Quick “Toast” to Iceland

It was our first day in Iceland. We woke up that Tuesday morning — or Wednesday morning. I’m not sure. That time change had me jacked up. — but THAT morning, we woke up. We were full of cheer, full of energy, and ready to get our adventures started.

We had a 2-hour drive ahead of us, and since we were staying outside of the main city of Vik, we planned to stop for breakfast in town along the way. The first stop was a black sand beach, and¬†perfect, because there was a restaurant too. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was only 8:30 am and the restaurant wouldn’t be open until 10, but since town was technically still up the road 15 minutes, we decided to keep driving.

In the time it took you to read this sentence, I drove through the whole town. That’s it. I blinked, and I missed it. Clearly, finding a restaurant wasn’t going to be possible that morning. No biggie, though. We had snacks. We¬†always have snacks. We’d eat lunch once we reached the next town.

Well, we eventually reached our destination… on the other side of the country. My options were eating a postcard from the souvenir shack or something I found in the porta potty. I’m just still thankful that, by some miracle, I stopped 20 miles back and filled up the car’s gas tank. Otherwise, we’d be stuck¬†and hungry at this point. Do these people not eat?

After some exploring, we started our long drive back to the AirBNB. Surely, we must have missed something. Then we saw it. A restaurant sign. “Breakfast and Dinner.” “Imagine if they don’t serve lunch,” we laughed. Plot twist: They didn’t serve lunch.

So back on the road once again, this time in the middle of a snowstorm. How it was even possible to have to use the bathroom after all that deprivation, I’m unsure, but there we were, on the side of the road, me peeing in a bush, both of us freezing, and so damn hungry.

We continued down the road and eventually pulled into the parking lot at the national park. We were exhausted. We had the intention of hiking but could barely pull ourselves out of the car. I’m relieved. A cafeteria! Could have practically peed my pants again out of excitement.

Oh, but look again. A sign that said the cafeteria was closed for the winter. Are they bears? Do these people hibernate in the winter and not need food?

We ended up inside the gift shop, standing in front of a fridge full of yogurt. At the bottom, one sandwich. More specifically, the grossest looking ham and cheese sandwich I had ever seen. If you know me, you know that I take my food very seriously, so the selfishness in me wanted to grab that sandwich and run, but I agreed to split it with Sarah.¬†Bless my soul. I’m such a great friend.

Maybe I was really hungry — definitely really hungry — but that was the best half a sandwich I’ve ever had in my whole life. At this point, my hangry level had gone from a 100 to a 99.7, and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of how skinny I’d be coming home from vacation.¬†Sorry ’bout it.

We finished our hike and continued towards home. Luckily, we knew about the restaurant at the beach for dinner. We pulled into the parking lot and headed up to the door, ready to put an end to this series of unfortunate events.¬†Why is everyone standing outside, though? It’s freezing.

The restaurant closed at 6 pm. And are you ready for this? It was 6:15 pm. Coooooooool.

Eventually, we were able to find something on Google. It required some backtracking and turning down some tiny little roads, but we found food. Hot food. I’d survive until tomorrow.

The next morning came.¬†Here we go again… We headed east. “Caf√©,” we saw. Perfect. Breakfast. But, apparently, caf√© means “gas station,” and you could choose between a sad looking apple or a stale muffin.¬†No, thanks.¬†We headed east, again.

The problem in Iceland is that stores look like houses. Hotels look like houses. Everything looks like houses, and I was a few minutes away from knocking on someone’s front door to ask for a bowl oatmeal.

A “Restaurant” sign.¬†Finally! I pulled in, eagerly jumped out of the car, and we found ourselves standing in front of a locked door with a key pad.

This can’t be it. So I walked towards the other side of the building but only stumbled across a dumpster outside of the kitchen’s back door.

Confused, we looked at each other. Sarah shrugged and tried the door. To our surprise, the door opened. Inside, a cute — extremely small — open seating dining room.¬†Food! That’s all that mattered.

We quickly found an open table, and I headed to the bar to pay for this precious slice of heaven we had found.

“Hi. I want to pay for two breakfasts.”

Even more confused than I was, the waitress responded that breakfast is included with our room.

I processed this, slowly returned to Sarah, carefully deciding how I was going to relay this message.

“Breakfast… um.. is included with¬†our room,” I finally said. We sat there quiet for a minute.

At this point in our friendship, Sarah and I have been through a lot together, but were we really ready to take the next step? Were we really going to steal breakfast? Were we really that desperate?

Sarah broke the silence. “I’m so hungry.”¬†Thank goodness. Hallelujah!¬†Turned out, we were that desperate. With limited options — Go figure. The hotel probably couldn’t find food either¬†— we scarfed down two pieces of toast. I skipped coffee, so I was miserable, but my heart was pounding off all that adrenaline, so who even needs caffeine.

We got out unnoticed and deserving of Oscars for those performances and started our day. That night when we reached the city, we treated ourselves to the biggest dinner ever and an even bigger ice cream donut dessert. Duh.

Looking back, these are always the memories I end up cherishing the most months later. So in the moment when we found ourselves knee deep in a mud pit while exploring The Golden Circle the next day, all we could do was laugh and blame karma for the time we stole a piece of toast.

Ready for takeoff? Find my favorite travel sites here.

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.)

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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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Weekend Road Trip: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon & Zion

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I’ve been a lot of places, but exploring what the world has to offer near my hometown is something I’ve slacked on. So when a free weekend came up, we decided to head out on a road trip to experience some natural beauties that can be found only a few hours away.

If you’ve been following the blog and read how Sarah and I met, then¬†I’m happy to report that awkward car rides are no longer an issue. We were 4 hours into¬†the drive before I even realized I had the radio turned off because of our nonstop chatting. Another 2 hours later, and we arrived at our first destination.

The Grand Canyon

We stayed in Valle at the Grand Canyon Inn and Motel, mostly because it was the only option left when I booked. If there’s more of a choice, though,¬†I’d recommend to stay either in Williams, located an hour¬†away from the¬†Grand Canyon,¬†or Tusayan, being right outside Grand Canyon Village with shuttles into the park available. There wasn’t much aside from the hotel in Valle, and we had to drive a good half hour to Tusayan to reach an area with more than one restaurant option at night.

Before leaving for this trip, everyone kept telling me how we needed to take a shuttle or train into the park because cars weren’t allowed inside, but I was able to drive right in and park my car along the street inside the park. Entrance is $30 per vehicle, but if you plan on¬†visiting multiple National Parks throughout the year, it’d be more beneficial to purchase an “America the Beautiful” pass for¬†$80 to cover entrance to all parks.

We didn’t really have a plan for once we got here. We had looked up hikes during the¬†long drive the night before¬†and found that most of the trails are intended for overnight camping and require a permit. We found our best two options for day hikes were either doing half of Bright Angel¬†Trail or South Rim Trail. We started our day early, so we did part of¬† Bright Angel down into the canyon, but since it was¬†going to reach¬†close to¬†100 ¬įF that day, and hiking back uphill in the heat sounded miserable, we didn’t go very far down. Such a grand few, nonetheless.

We continued onto Rim Trail,¬†where I¬†continued with my obnoxious “grand” puns. Since it’s an easy path, I was expecting it to be heavily populated, but for the majority of the time, it was only us. We even spotted a few deer along our way, and ventured off the path a couple times to admire the amazing grand¬†views into the canyon.

With the heat continuing to rise, we finished up our time at the Grand Canyon with a late breakfast in the village, where we spontaneously decided to head to Sedona for the rest of the afternoon.

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Sedona

I had no idea what to expect in Sedona, but after a quick Google search, we saw a hike that ended with a swimming area. So we grabbed some bikinis from our hotel and headed out.¬†It’s about a 2-hour drive between the Grand Canyon and Sedona and such a beautiful view along the way. We ended up going to Slide Rock State Park, which is apparently quite popular since we had to wait for cars to leave before we were even allowed in the parking lot. As far as it being a hike? Not so much. A short path that’s easily accessible, which resulted in large crowds. The rocks are slippery (Duh. That’s why it’s called sliding rock.), so be careful while walking along the side of the water, and try to go in as far down as possible since the crowds will become smaller. I’m¬†sure for kids, this is a great place to have fun sliding down the natural formed waterslides or jumping from above into the freezing cold water, but for¬†two 25-year-olds, it felt like a public swimming pool. Obviously, still had to take a picture, though.

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We headed towards what I imagine to be Sedona’s downtown area for some lunch. I had never wished harder that I wasn’t lactose intolerant because, boy, did walking around with an ice cream sound so amazing in the heat. I settled for a cookie, and we peeked in all the cute little shops along the street before heading back to our hotel in Valle.

Antelope Canyon

The next day we got up early and headed to Antelope Canyon, another 3 hours away. I was probably most excited for this stop on our road trip because, hellloooooo, amazing Instagram picture.

Since the slot canyon is on an Indian reservation, a tour guide is needed to enter. There are two different canyons you can visit, either the Upper or Lower. Upper Antelope Canyon is the easier of the two, and there are a few different tour guide companies¬†to choose from that will bus you over to the canyon. It’s recommended to visit around noon to capture the best lighting while inside.

We decided on visiting Lower Antelope Canyon for our trip. It’s¬†the narrower of the two and involves descending¬†and climbing a few¬†flights of stairs/ladders as well, so it’s typically less crowded. There are two different tour groups that you can book a spot with. They are owned by brother and sister, so there are no big differences between the two when choosing. We did not book ahead, but if you choose to, the company we used is Dixie Ellis. The 9:30 am tour was full, so we bought tickets – $33 – for the next tour at 11:30 am. (Note: Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time, but the reservation totally does. Confusing! Use the time in Page, AZ, as a guide since this is where the main office is and the time the tour companies will go off of.)

Horseshoe Bend: With two hours to spare, we drove down the road about 15 minutes¬†to Horseshoe Bend. It’s only a mile in and out, so it’s the perfect place to pass the time until your Antelope Canyon tour.

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When we got back for our tour, we met Kyle, our guide. He was awesome, and I joked that I’d give him a shoutout on my blog, so Hi, Kyle! On the¬†short walk down to the opening, your guide will tell you all about¬†the canyon¬†and answer any questions you might have — like “who actually lives in those little towns you drove through?” Surprise, he and his family do. There¬†might be a¬†long wait before you actually get to enter the canyon depending on which group number you are (we waited 1.5 hours), but the good news is that some canopy-type shade covers¬†have recently been installed above the stairs to help shield from the burning sun, and other guides will come by with free water periodically. (Tip: Kyle told me if you book a kayak and Antelope Canyon tour package, you get to skip all the waiting.)

Once inside the canyon, I took almost 300 pictures! And by almost, I mean exactly 299. The guides will help you set your phone or camera¬†to the proper settings to capture the best photos (The “chrome” filter works best for any iPhones). We had read that lighting was best in the morning for the Lower Canyon, but the amount of pictures I took confirms that the lighting will be fine at any time of day.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get through the canyon, but is, maybe, only a mile long. Again, this wasn’t much of a hike. More of a slow-paced tour since your guide will stop to point out all the best photo spots, take photos for everyone in the group, and share some interesting facts about the canyon. Don’t forget to tip your guide once your tour has ended!

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And here’s the other 298… just kidding!

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Zion National Park

After leaving Antelope Canyon, we made our way to St. George, UT, where we stayed at the Quality Inn South Bluff for the next two nights. St. George is about an hour away from Zion, so we started our day extra early to try and avoid any long lines for the shuttle into the park. We were able to find parking on the street directly outside of the main gate into¬†Zion and walked down to the shuttle. Even though parking is “free,” there is a still a $30 vehicle fee that needs to be paid before¬†walking into¬†the park and hopping on the shuttle.

We chose to hike through the Narrows during our visit to Zion, a trail through the Virgin River between a giant slot canyon. The full trail is 16 miles and requires a permit,¬†but for a day hike, can be easily accessed by taking the shuttle to Stop Number 9 and following the Riverside Walk until you reach the water. (Tip: There will be many “River Access” signs soon after entering the trail, but continue past these for about a mile for the trail start.)

I highly recommend renting a walking stick for this hike, especially if you’re clumsy like I am. I didn’t think I was going to need it, but that stick saved me from an unexpected swim many times.¬†One can be rented for¬†$8 in the store right before entering the park, along with a pair of waterproof boots/socks. We opted to hike in our regular sneakers, but I did pack an extra pair of socks to change into after we were done.

The majority of the hike is spent in the water, but there are a few areas that open up and can be hiked next to the river. Since the trail is so long, you can go however far or little you want on the hike. We went in about 2 miles before turning around and returning to the shuttle.

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With the evening free, and not much to do in Utah — like nothing to do. Chili’s was listed on Yelp’s top nightlife list for St. George. Ha! — we decided to head to Vegas, but too bad I can’t blog about that because¬†what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Am I right?

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