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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Baggage Check: My Favorite Travel Bags

The only kind of baggage I’m letting into my life, is the kind I’m checking or putting in an overhead bin —¬†Boy, bye — and through my travels, I’ve collected a few of my favorites to take along with me.

Personal Item

My current obsession: DIAPER BAGS!¬†This is what happens when all your friends are moms, and you start getting jealous of the amount of snacks those things can hold. As I’ve mentioned in my packing tips post, it’s best to make the most out of your personal item for on your flight, and I’ve found backpacks to be most useful. More specifically, diaper bag backpacks.¬†All the pockets, oh man. For starters, they are¬†twice as deep compared to a standard backpack.¬†Plus, the side pocket is usually significantly larger to hold a baby bottle, so your refillable water bottle can fit more easily without ripping the pocket as it has on all my previous backpacks. The spot for the changing pad? The perfect size to fit a laptop or iPad. Not to mention, since it is made for messy situations, the fabric is easy to wipe clean.

Left to right: Skip Hop Greenwich Diaper Bag (Dusty Rose) |Itzy Ritzy Boss Diaper Bag (Coffee and Cream) \ Parker Baby Diaper Bag

Carry on

This one can go a few different ways, and not gonna lie… I try to avoid a carry-on bag as much as possible. I’m too short to reach the overhead bins and am already embarrassed at the thought of me dropping my things on a stranger’s head.¬†Unless he’s cute. In that case, can’t wait to tell this¬†story at our wedding. For the few times I do take a carry-on for luggage, I have a couple I’ll rotate between.¬†Depending on my destination determines which I prefer. Mostly, I go with the smallest suitcase in my 3-piece set, though — Ain’t nobody trying to carry all that weight around an airport when you can roll it instead — but for the few trips that specify to not bring hard luggage (i.e. The Yacht Week), I’ll bring a sturdy duffle bag and just complain the whole time I walk through the airport with it instead. (Tip: Go with a duffle bag that has a shoe¬†compartment to keep things from getting your clothes dirty.)

Left to right: Herschel Supply Co. Novel Duffle Bag (Raven Crosshatch)| American Tourist Moonlight Spinner (Marble) | MyMealivos Canvas Weekender Bag

Checked Luggage

When I’m shopping for luggage, I¬†always opt for the 2- or 3-piece set. It just makes sense because you usually end up paying almost the same price for one piece when buying them separate. Plus, it’s always good to have the option to go bigger or smaller. I always aim for the smallest luggage I can take, but sometimes Iceland-in-the-middle-of-winter has a different agenda, and I’m thankful to have the bigger option to fit my 3 pairs of boots and 4 jackets. I also like hardside sets because it makes me feel like my things have extra protection as they get thrown around and stuffed underneath the weight of other 50-lb. bags.

Top to bottom: Coolife Luggage 3-piece Set (Ice Blue) | Rockland Hardside Spinner 3-piece Luggage Set (Rose Gold) | HyBrid Travel 3-piece Luggage Set (White)

Packing Cubes

I swear by these little things. They are so easy, and I don’t waste an hour every day I’m on vacation reorganizing my suitcase anymore. I love just about everything that has to do with organizing, so I was all about these as soon as I discovered packing cubes existed.¬†They were one¬†of the only things¬†I asked for on my¬†birthday even.¬†I like to keep underwear in one, tops in one, and bottoms in a separate one. And you’d be surprised how many outfits you can roll up and fit in them.

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Lonew 7pcs Packing Cubes

Traveling so much over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of trial and error with what works best for me, and I’ve finally collected a solid group of bags. So I hope some of my favorites can be as useful for you as they are for me. And if they’re not, we’ll just forget I ever wrote this then.

Ready for takeoff? Find my favorite travel sites here.

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Hawaii: The Big Island

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The Big Island, Hawaii – May 2018
Hotel: AirBNB (Kona)

Having one of the world’s most active volcanoes erupt 10 days before you leave to the very island it’s unleashing itself on, isn’t the most ideal beach vacay situation. Especially when the only reason you were headed there — sorry, friends — was to helicopter over it to get that sweet lava view. Or maybe now I can get that closer view on the ground… kidding. Maybe.

What’s even worse? Having your plane push back from the gate at LAX, but abruptly stopping because the volcano has once again erupted… shooting “ballistic chunks” into the sky. Sounds safe.

Can’t tell ya how thankful I am that happened before¬†we took off. So after getting clearance, we finally departed towards our destination.

Day 1: Kealakekua Bay and Kiholo Bay

We spent our first day exploring the beautiful beaches around Kona. We set out in the morning to Kealakekua Bay, but upon arrival realized this might not be the best spot for swimming and relaxing since there was no open shore and tons of rocks. We noticed a sandy area down the shoreline, so we headed back that way. (Basically if you’re taking directions to Kealakekua Bay, turn left at the end of the road, instead of right.) What we found, hidden behind a small village, was a completely deserted beach with crystal clear water. I’m still unsure if it’s deserted all the time or because the erupting volcano scared away everyone. Either way, it was a perfect spot to spend our morning.

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*Flower bikini linked here¬†— and it’s under $10!*

 

After lunch, we headed out to another beach north of Kona, Kiholo Bay. There’s tons of warnings online to wear proper footwear here, but I thought this applied to the hiking spots surrounding the area. They def meant to get to the beach. It was quite the trek — easy but super rocky — and sneakers would have made this way easier than the flimsy $15 sandals I was wearing that I had bought from a street vendor in Bali over a year ago. Once again, we found ourselves all alone, aside from the few people who passed by. (Tip: Head right down the shore after leaving the parking lot.)

Everyone spent the afternoon relaxing, while I spent it getting hit by a wave in the face. You guess who had more fun, though. Oh, and yes, we did all do an outfit change halfway through the day.

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Also, I should mention, everyone was glad I was adamant on getting a Jeep as the rental car since both locations required mild off-roading. (And I was glad my best friend Rebeca had taught me all the best lessons in life, like how to take the tops off Jeeps.)

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Day 2: Polou Valley and Waipio Valley

Since heading south was out of the question due to the toxic volcanic air — apparently that’s not good to breathe in or something. Weird¬†— we headed to the north side of the island for the day. After an hour-and-half drive, we reached our first stop right outside of Hawi at Pololu Valley Lookout. I, once again, ignored all the warnings for proper footwear and showed up completely out of place for the hike down to the water. Because fashion is life. Ironically, I managed to make it safely through the entire 30-minute climb but ate shit opening the car door back at the top. Of course.¬†The view down was stunning, and the river at the bottom made me feel like Pocahontas. A gorgeous black sand beach tucked away between these cliffs, but with dangerous wave breaks and strong currents, this isn’t the place to stop for a swim.

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Next stop was Waipio Valley for another lookout. This stop had the option to 4×4 down to the shore, but after reading that it’s the steepest road in the USA and mixing that with the rainfall that was happening, we decided against. I didn’t think the view could get any better than the last, but with the sun setting in the background, Waipio’s lookout was an absolutely breathtaking view to end our day.

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That night we found ourselves at La Verne’s, which apparently is the only — and I say this loosely — club on the island. A local’s description of the place, not mine. It’s more along the lines of your typical beach bar, but they got drinks and music, so when you mix that with good friends, you end up with a fun time no matter what.

Day 3: Akaka Falls and¬†Mahai’ula Beach

After a 2-hour drive across the island, we found ourselves in the pouring rain outside Akaka Falls State Park. With only my snowboard mask to keep me warm — because why would I pack that and not a jacket — we headed in to see the waterfalls. At least I wore proper shoes this time around, and a dry face was gonna keep me from becoming completely miserable. It’s a short paved walk past both falls — both of which were completely blocked by fog and unable to be seen. Total fail. When we looked up the weather back in Kona, it was sunny and 84. Someone please get me to a beach ASAP.

On our way out, we stopped at Bri’s BBQ, and that food alone made this trek worth it. Almost.

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Back on the sunny side of the island, we spent our remaining few hours at Mahai’ula beach. All of which I spent in the water soaking in every last bit of sun. To reach the shore required quite a bit of driving on a dirt road, but it was the perfect beach full of white sand and blue waters to end our last day.

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Another weekend filled with sun and fun that I wouldn’t trade for the world, but you can bet your ass, I’ll be back one day to set my eyes on that volcano. Just wait.

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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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.

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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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