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Travel tips from Stef!

14 Mar

Check out this interview with world traveler, Stef!

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What is your favorite place you have traveled to?

My favorite place to travel to was Santorini, Greece. I first saw it on a calendar and then on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I knew I wanted to go there. I found a picture online that I loved of Santorini and I put it as my wallpaper on my computer. It was so awesome to go to that exact place and take my own picture. It was so amazing to be where I had always dreamed of being. I have since chosen another number one, because it was such a great experience.

What is your favorite travel memory?

One of my favorite travel memories was in Instanbul, Turkey. We went on a boat with all the teams from my Folk Festival. Teams from Belgium, Taiwan, England, Portugal, etc. We rode down the Bosphorus Strait. On one side was Instanbul in Asia and on the other side was Instanbul in Europe. We had a dance party with music blasting and the most amazing view of Turkey and its big buildings and mosques.

What is your worst travel memory?

My worst travel memory ever was one I am glad I lived to tell the story. My team and I went to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. However, we did it the totally wrong way, have learned from our mistake, and would advise friends to do it differently. We were dropped off at 8PM with nowhere to stay. The Running of the Bulls is a party all night with food, music, fireworks, carnival rides, dancing in the streets with everyone, but when you don’t drink, there is only so much you can do. At about 2:00/3:00ish we were sooooo tired. You could not enter the stadium until around 6:00 AM the next morning. (We were going to watch everyone run into the arena because we were not allowed to run with the bulls since we were on tour dancing). So, we literally found cardboard boxes and slept on them until 6:00 AM . We really felt homeless. It was awful. The worst was finding one of our directors, an older man in his 60s, curled up in a ball on some stairs. We all felt homeless and it was bad. It was so cool when the actual Running of the Bulls happened at 8:00 AM. We recommend people to go at night and do the fun activities and get a hotel room and then go at 6:00 to the arena.

What are some travel tips you would offer to other travelers?

Travel tips: some of my favorite moments are when I have stayed at hostels. In New York City, we had roommates from all countries. We even spent the day with our roommate from Germany. She was alone and spent the day with us, went to church with us, dinner with us, etc. It was a memorable day. She was living in DC at the time doing an internship. We were able to meet her there and she showed us around our own capital.  Our hostel in Lisbon, Portugal was a trek to get to. Up lots of hills, dragging our luggage, but when we entered our room it was the most BEAUTIFUL view!

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I Reek of Russia and I Love it!

12 Mar

Time for a little throwback travel post. I found this journal post about my 3rd visit to Russia, and it gave me the giggles. This was back in 2009.

Highlights from Russia so far:

1. Told everyone in Tula I was coming to visit them on Saturday…Jeni and I BOTH thought it was Friday (freaking time change), so I managed to accidentally ditch the Russian friends I haven’t seen since 2007, while having a nice gulyat’ (stroll) in Moscow.

2. Saw Faberzhe egg special collection at the Pushkin Museum. AWESOME. I want one for my birthday.

3. Asked someone to take my picture on Red Square and it turned out to be Alice Cooper’s band. They got flirty with us and asked us to come to their concert. Alice Cooper is a bit scary, so we’ll have to see about that.

Jeni and Ashley on Red Square

Most people take pics of Alice Cooper’s Band. No, Jeni and I ask them to take pics of us.

Lenin's tomb

By 2009, I had been to Red Square DOZENS of times and had not seen Lenin. I finally saw him in 2011 when I returned with my sweetie, Brandon. It was both creepy and cool.

4. Sloshed through barf on the metro. I feel asleep for like one station and I got up in a panic and as it turns out…someone else had a panic and managed to barf right on my standing place, and I literally had slippery throw up feet. Was wearing flip flops. Had to pay 39 rubles for “gas water” that Jeni poured on my feet while I winced in grossed-out-edness.

5. Meet up with my friend, Larisa, and some grossies tried to pick up on us. One of them pinched Jeni’s butt. I punched him in the shin.

6. Missed the last bus to Rosinka (a place no one in Russia knows about)–missed it NOT because we weren’t there on time, but probably because we were not on the correct side of the street. Yeah, then we sat and twirled our hair and smiled at boys who naturally asked us if we wanted a ride. Turns out they were from Georgia (country, not state) and their dads were in another car giving us the mafia/creepster look. We didn’t know the address (totally RUSSIAN SELO type of place where it’s just Rosinka and a house number…no address), so we call the emergency number and find out it’s close to a place called Mitino. We pray in our hearts. God sends Russian guardian angel driver, who doesn’t know where Rosinka is either, but finds it and doesn’t charge us anything for the ride, because it was so “priyatno” (nice) for him to be with us. Wow! I love being cute.

7. I smell like chimney just from being here. No really…I do.

“Carry Less, Blend In, See More”

8 Mar
Enjoy the awesome pointers from this interview with world traveler, Nathan Green.
Camping in Europe
What is your favorite place to travel and why?
 
I would say anywhere I haven’t been yet.  Going back to the same place is fine, but there is such a huge world out there to explore.  If I have to pick a place…Can I say anywhere overseas? The ability to hop from country-to-country is so easy and cheap.  In two weeks, you could hit up 4-5 different countries.
What is your best travel memory?
 
Backpacking Scotland, England and Northern Ireland with friends.  No one ever talks about Northern Ireland when they talk about Ireland, but it is an amazing place.  Visiting the Giants Causeway was spectacular.  Setting up camp wherever you could find space for a tent was also great.  We were able to see so much of the local culture by walking everywhere and sleeping in tents.  Not to mention 7 days of backpacking cost us $100 each.
Backpacking in England
backpacking in Ireland

What is your worst travel memory?
 
That same trip, it got down to about 33° one night and we had freezing rain up in the mountains.  I only had a 45° sleeping bag with me and froze all night.  I was wearing every layer I brought and I was miserable.  Perfect weather the other 9 days and for some reason it just dropped that night.

Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).
 
I’m probably a bit jaded on this one since I usually camp if I’m traveling, but if it doesn’t fit in carry-on with you, you don’t need it.  I don’t care how long you’re going to be somewhere, it can all fit in a 40L backpack.  This weeds out what you really don’t need and allows for quick movement, be it through the airport to catch a connecting flight, or through public transport without being a royal pain to others around you.  And nothing says tourist like three rolling suitcases.  Carry less, blend in, see more.
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What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without.
 
I would never leave for a trip without my camera.  I don’t take a lot of pictures with me in them or friends in them.  I try and sell my photos so I focus on the landscapes, the buildings, the interesting facial features of people in a different environment than the one I am used to.  On a recent trip to Singapore, I found my Peak Design Capture system invaluable.  It’s basically a metal piece that you can wear on a backpack strap, belt, sling strap, etc and your camera wears the mating piece.  It slides in and locks in place.  When you want your camera again you simply press a quick release button and it slides back out.  Not having to hold the camera constantly is a lifesaver.  And not looking like a tourist with a camera hanging around your neck is just a bonus!
travel to Singapore

New York, New York! Let it be a gamble!

4 Mar

New York is one of those places you can visit every year, and find something new and interesting to do every time you go. To me, it seems like I get more bang for my buck in New York than almost any other place, because the city is jam packed with fun.

Of course, if you’re headed to New York, you want to see the regular travel guide book stuff like the Empire State Building (preferably with your sweetie), Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, the Met, the Guggenheim, Ground Zero, and eat a New York Street Dog, but I think one of the best ways to experience New York is to let things in New York find you.

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My bro and I seeing the regular fun stuff in NYC.

My favorite way to travel to New York is on a short vacation, and not to make any actual plans beforehand. I know that sounds kinda nutty, but there is so much to do in New York, each time you go, you will experience something new and interesting.

There are so many great restaurants in NYC (both hole-in-the-wall, and fancy), so just stumble in one whenever you get hungry. Check the local guides for what art exhibits are happening where, and check it out whatever sounds interesting. Also, check out what is happening in Soho, Chelsea and other fun districts. Walk down the streets of Chinatown, Little Italy, or Russian-themed Brighton beach, and get some culture. Show up at the TXTS booth and get tickets to whatever show is on sale. Pick out what kind of dancing sounds fun, and then find any club that matches your groove for the night. Really, you can’t go wrong.

Mary Poppins on Broadway in NYC

TXTS brought us to Mary Poppins on this NYC visit.

The only thing I would say to plan on is a place to stay and transportation schedules. Hotels/hostels book up fast, and there are rats on the street at night, so sleeping on the streets is gonna bum you out if you don’t plan in advance. Also, figure out when the subway runs. The last thing you want to do is be stuck somewhere expecting to take the subway, only to find yourself gated out of the station. I’ve experienced that, and it’s not fun.

Fire Island

Once upon a long time ago, Zach and I thought we found an Octopus on Fire Island. Great place to visit on an NYC trip, btw. Just don’t waste your time chasing sea animals.

 

Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

25 Feb

First things first, Mexico is not my favorite place for vacationing for one major icky reason: Montezuma’s Revenge. You can read more about THAT from my post about my honeymoon in Cancun. Anyway, when traveling to Mexico, it’s important not to be too cavalier about where you eat. Here are some guidelines I recommend following:

  • Skip the street food.
  • Stay at a decent resort and only eat at the resort.
  • Pack your own snacks.
  • Pack your own bottled water.
  • Don’t drink soda from a bottle; drink it from a can. Also, wipe off any can you will be opening with a Clorox wipe before partaking of your cool beverage.
  • If you want to go on a vacation and eat good food, then go to Italy, not Mexico. Mexico is about Pray and Love, but not Eat. MmmKay?  Mmmkay!

While this may seem extreme, I promise you will be thanking me when you are not spending every waking moment with the toilet moaning “why me, why-oh-why?” between barfs and poops. You’re welcome.

That being said, let’s get onto the good stuff.  Cozumel, Mexico has some of the best diving ever. If you’re even thinking about getting into scuba diving, you MUST visit Cozumel. If you’re worried about getting sick (can you tell my experience with getting sick in Mexico affected me just a tiny bit?!?!), then consider taking a cruise that stops off in Mexico and spending your day in Cozumel under the sea with a professional dive master. If you’re not too concerned, then seek out a decent resort and a hook up from one of the dive shops around, and dive your guts out.

Some of my friends and I got a great deal on a decent resort in Cozumel, and a great diving deal with Papa Hogs in Cozumel. We pretty much spent the entire time diving awesome ship wrecks, reefs, and some of us experienced our first ever night dives!

Scuba Diving in Mexico

Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

If you’re new to diving, you must go on a night dive. Make sure you have a great flashlight, so you can see the night sea creatures. Prepare yourself for some wild lobster, crab, and octopodes. It’s awesome to see what sea creatures come out during the night.

scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico

Getting ready for our first dive in Cozumel, Mexico

Not only is Mexico beautiful under the water, but there are some awesome things above the water. Julie and I rented scooters and visited different beaches around the island and even found a fun festival with live music, a cool market, and Mexican food (again, don’t eat it). While we were exploring the island, the rest of our group took a day trip across the island to Tulum and Chichen Itza. If you’re into amazing beaches and wonders of the world, this is a great option. If you’re not into that, you’re weird, and probably hate fun, or hate getting up early…one of the two.

Enjoy your trip to Mexico! Don’t get the runs!

Sundance Film Festival Warning!

22 Feb

In honor of the Sundance Film Festival (and yes, I know I’m a bit late on this topic this year), I thought I would share a personal story with you…you know, to help you prepare better for when you come to the Sundance Film Festival (a very good idea, if you like fun). Holy long sentence. Whatever. Moving on.

Okay, there’s something you should know about Utah in January before getting hyped up about traveling here. It snows here. A lot. And it’s cold. Not only does it snow here, but the air quality gets super-duper gross in January. And, I mean gross as in go ahead and order one of those intense air masks with a filtration system from China to help you breathe. As a result of the January weather monster we refer to as “inversion” (I refer to it as “joy killer”), it’s extremely foggy in January. Legend of Sleepy Hollow foggy. Driving through milk foggy.

Foggy.

One year, my BFF and I decided to see a film (FYI: you have to call it a “film,” instead of a “movie” at the Sundance Film Festival, or people won’t think you’re hip). After the film, we hit up a party and rocked out till about 1:00 am. That’s when we decided to brave JOY KILLER and head home to Provo.

There are two ways to get to Provo from Park City–you can either head through Salt Lake City, or head through Heber. The roads through Heber and the canyon are a bit scary, so SLC is probably a safer idea in January, but it takes less time to go through Heber. Anyway, we decided to go the Heber way, because we were super tired, and a few hours later, we ended up in…

….

…not Provo. In fact, not even Utah. We landed our sorry butts in WYOMING!

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Welcome to Utah! Photographic proof of said event.

Because the fog monster was so thick we managed to completely miss the turn that takes you to Provo and ended up in another state. While Wyoming has its own charms, it was 4:00 in the morning, and we had already had our fun.

Anyway, moral of the story is this. If you’re coming to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, which you should, plan on snow, cold weather, and fog. Don’t be a dummy and use a GPS if  needs be. Also, pack a few Red Bulls in your car, in case you end up in the same situation.

Visit the Homestead in Midway, Utah

20 Feb
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Homestead in Midway, Utah

Utah is full of surprises. One of Utah’s great surprises is a little city in the middle of the mountains called Midway. You’ll know you’ve run into Midway when you start feeling like you’ve stumbled upon an area that looks more like Switzerland than any place in the United States. Midway is quaint, beautiful, and there are a lot of fun adventures to be had here in this small town.

Last week, it being Valentine’s Day and all, my husband stole me away to a nice getaway at the Homestead in Midway. The Homestead is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a fun, romantic, and moderately priced staycation in Utah. Besides enjoying the gorgeous town of Midway, here are some fun things you can do at the Homestead.

Swim – Of course, they have the regular indoor pool and hot tub, but the fun doesn’t stop there. They also offer snorkeling and scuba diving in…get this…a natural cave, similar to a Mexican cenote. The water is warm, the dive is fun, and it’s a great way to enjoy a bit of scuba diving in the middle of nowhere.

Hiking/Snowshoeing – There are a lot of amazing places to hike, or snowshoe, depending on the season. You can either find an empty trail yourself, or ask the front desk what trail they recommend.

Other Activities – There are a few ski resorts that aren’t too far away, if you’re planning to make a weekend out of staying at the Homestead. If not, check out some of the cool ice sculptures around the area. If you’re visiting during the summer, consider golfing, or visiting the spa. Oh yeah.

The Homestead is the perfect little place for a fun getaway in Utah.