A Day in Delaware

I kept a promise to myself that I would travel at least once a month by doing a solo road trip to Delaware last weekend. I honestly had this trip planned for weeks, but because of the constant bad weather (and bomb cyclones) that have consistently hit the East Coast I had to keep postponing my trip. Originally I even wanted to stay overnight in Wilmington so I could maximize my time there and see more things, but it just wasn't meant to be. I definitely plan to return one day (in the summer) to explore the state's gorgeous beaches and the Nemours Mansion (which was closed when I went).

Ironically, the day I was (finally) able to hit the road turned out to be a clear sunny day, albeit cold, but still a rare "good weather" Saturday. I guess my weeks of waiting through snowstorm after snowstorm finally paid off and I was rewarded with amazing roadtripping weather. Delaware was a lot more beautiful than I expected. Actually, I didn't even know what to expect because its not a state that many people talk about or visit so I wasn't sure what was out there. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how plentiful Delaware is not only in beauty, but also in activities. It turns out Delaware is a mix of natural beauty and old American glamour. The French American du Pont family dominated Delaware for over a century and a lot of their homes and factories are still standing today. I constantly braved the cold wind and had my windows rolled down during the drive just so I could snap pictures of the passing scenery because everything I saw was amazing. Wilmington, Delaware is only a 2 hour drive from New York so it was perfect for my first solo road trip and it became the perfect day trip as well since it wasn't hard for me to get back in time for a late Manhattan dinner.

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Breakfast @ Scrumptious

I started my day out with brunch at Scrumptious, located in downtown Delaware. The food was simple American brunch fare- scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, and eggs benedict. But the cafe also has a huge section for frozen yogurt! It was too early in the day for dessert for me (yes even I have limits), so I'll have to put this on my next time list. The only thing I wish I had known before was to take a table near the front window of the cafe so I could glance out into the streets, but I instead chose a table towards the inside of the cafe where my only view was the frozen yogurt topping selection.

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Winterthur Mansion and Garden

Winterthur was breathtaking. That's basically the best word I could come up with to describe everything that I saw there. The estate of Henry Francis du Pont is located about 15 minutes from downtown Delaware and lies on around 1000 acres of open land and pure beauty. I still can't believe that one family (with only 2 children!) lived on such a large area of land and in a mansion with 175 rooms. Taking the mansion tour was one of the highlights of my day trip- I was able to see how the family lived during their time. The Winterthur house tour changes every few months to include a different set of rooms so visitors get to see a new side of the mansion every time they visit. Included in your house tour ticket, is a garden tram tour that takes you around the grounds and provides even more information into the du Pont family and their life at Winterthur. My tram guide (who was dressed like a leprechaun in honor of St. Patrick's Day) was so delightful and knowledgable about every tree and building on the grounds. He also drove extremely slowly so I could capture all the scenery!

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Hagley Museum

The Hagley Museum was kind of hard for me to find (thank goodness for Google Maps) because its literally located at the end of a small nondescript road with only a sign to distinguish it. But behind this sign was another 235 acres of gorgeous du Pont land. Hagley was the gunpowder manufacturing site and mills of E.I du Pont around the early 1800s. The tour guide informed us that although it was considered dangerous to build a house so close to an area where explosives were being created, E.I insisted on doing so to show his employees that he was as invested in the work as they were. This devotion made E.I du Pont one of the most successful businessmen of his time and his home one of the most historical in Wilmington. Their is a shuttle bus that takes you to all the sites in Hagley, such as the schoolhouse, the steam engine room, the mills, and finally the bright yellow mansion. The house tour takes you on the first and second floors of the house and also to the massive barn where the actual conestoga wagon used to transport gunpowder in the 1800s is stored. I loved soaking in the 1800 lifestyle and imagining the grounds filled with people running a gunpowder facility.

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Coffee @ Brew HaHa

To prep myself for the drive back home (I was pretty tired after all the sightseeing), I stopped by Brew HaHa, a local Delaware coffee shop, for a delicious Snickers iced latte and a peanut butter brownie. All their lattes sounded delicious (german chocolate, creme brulee, brownie mud) so I can't wait to come back!

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Have any of you guys been to Delaware? What are some places you've been so I can add them to my list?

Best of Atlanta

I hopped on a plane to Atlanta for President's Day weekend and spent 3 glorious days in the South with my friend Rita. We ate at mouthwatering restaurants and toured famous Atlanta tourist sites. Although I had previously been to Atlanta before for a work trip, I immediately got into a car and drove to the suburb of Alpharetta for the week so I never really had an opportunity to explore the city. A few years back my sorority had a convention in Atlanta (which I missed) and all the girls came back with tons of good things to say about the city so I knew I had to visit some day. Luckily, direct flights from New York to Atlanta are cheap and frequent (thank you Delta) and I was easily able to find a flight that suited my schedule and my budget despite it being a holiday weekend. In my opinion, Atlanta is one of those underrated cities that people don't know too much about, other than that its home to the Coca-Cola headquarters. Many people asked me if I would even have enough to occupy my time, but I felt like it was the perfect weekend trip. I felt like 3 days in Atlanta was an ideal amount of time and that I accomplished everything I wanted to do. I do wish the weather could have been warmer for a hike to Stone Mountain, but that wasn't meant to be this time around. Darn you winter! Personally, I thought Atlanta was slightly similar to Austin, Texas (but less weird) so if you love Austin I would strongly recommend checking out Atlanta as well.

Side Note- I ate at too many wonderful places so my Atlanta food tour will be detailed on a separate post- otherwise this one would have be LONG.

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CNN Tour

CNN.com is one of my go to sites to stay updated on current events in the U.S and around the world so touring the CNN headquarters was one of the top things I wanted to do in Atlanta. I strongly recommend purchasing timed tour tickets in advance online (even a day in advance is enough) because they sell out quickly if you arrive day of and attempt to sign up for a tour. Or you would have to arrive pretty early in the morning and then come back later for your assigned tour, which can potentially be a waste of time if you're on a tight schedule. The tour starts at the top of the world's longest continuous escalator (close your eyes if you are scared of heights because it is HIGH) underneath a giant globe that apparently use to be part of an amusement park. The tour takes you behind the scene to how news is produced and edited as well as how its researched and fact checked. Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of news these days, all viewing is done behind glass windows at a distance and no pictures are allowed. Security was tight on the tour with security guards following our group everywhere and posted at every turn. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the tour as the guide only offered basic information about CNN (that I could have researched on Wikipedia) and didn't tell any interesting stories about the headquarters or go into specifics. It was a very high level generic tour and the type of thing I would only do once. Also- I did not see Anderson Cooper! Apparently, he records in New York, although I've never seen him here either...

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MLK Historical Site

I arrived early (around 9:30am) to the MLK Visitor Center to claim the highly sought after MLK Birth Home tour tickets. Beware- these go FAST. They were actually sold out for the day when I came back from my tour. While the tickets are free, they aren't available for booking in advance or online so that was the main reason why I wanted to arrive early. The Visitor Center opens at 9am, which is when tickets can be claimed, and the first tour of the day begins at 10am. The tour is about 1 hour and highly interesting. Our tour guide was so knowledgable about MLK and his childhood life and told many stories that were actually passed down through the King family. MLK lived in the house until age 12 and the tour painted him as a normal little boy who loved school (and excelled at it by graduating high school at age 15), had fun playing with his younger brother, and hated doing chores and playing the piano. I loved walking through the house and imagining a young MLK and his family doing everyday things in the different rooms.

Also part of the historical site, but ticket-free were the museum exhibits inside the Visitor Center, visiting the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where King and his father and grandfather were pastors, and also paying respects to MLK and his wife's burial tombs. I really enjoyed learning about MLK's life and his passion for nonviolent protest and his drive to make a difference in the world.

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World of Coca-Cola

Definitely a must see one of a kind experience! I don't even like or drink soda, but I thought the World of Coca- Cola was amazing. Located in Pemberton Plaza, across from the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola isn't just for kids! I had a lot of fun walking around and soaking in the long history of our nation's most famous drink. Don't let the long line to enter faze you because it moves relatively quickly and the sheer amount of people doesn't detract from the experience. Inside, there is a section for photos with the adorable Coca-Cola polar bear (be prepared to wait for this), museum exhibits about Coca-Cola's history, a 4D movie ride, and an opportunity to see the vault where the famous secret Coca-Cola recipe is supposedly stored. I always knew that Coca-Cola was founded by John Pemberton, but had no idea the lengths he took to prevent his soda recipe from leaking to the public. He was the only one who initially knew the location of the recipe and was the only one who knew how to create it from scratch, which was one of the main reasons why he used the bottling and distribution method (a new method during his time) to get Coca-Cola out to the world.  The museum portion has so much Coca-Cola paraphernalia that I was completely in awe.

The most popular area in the center is probably the tasting pavilion where visitors can taste soda from all around the world, including interesting drinks that I had never even heard of from Africa and Asia. I also really enjoyed the many different themed Coca-Cola bottles placed around the building- there was even a series designed by modern fashion designers such as Fendi and Moschino. Make sure to save time to shop in the gift store because its simply overwhelming. 

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Emory University

I briefly toured Emory University as part of a admissions information session and found it to be a very modern and convenient campus. While I'll always believe my own alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, has the best campus ever (#longhornpride), I think Emory is a beautiful school.

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Carter Presidential Center

Although I've always known that U.S Presidents have libraries/museums built in their honor after they leave office, I was never interested in exploring their museums since I feel like I'm alive while they were in office and thus aware of their accomplishments and failures. However, since President Carter's term was before I was even born and before my parents came to the U.S, I was curious to learn about how he shaped America during his four years in office and how he influenced the world after he left office. I found the Carter Center to be a wealth of information about President Carter and his family (especially his wife Rosalynn Carter), the policies he championed as President, and his international peacekeeping affairs he participated in after retiring from public office. Inside the Center, there is a replica of the Oval Office as it looked when Carter was President. Many of the artwork and gifts he had decorating his office are on display. I especially loved learning about his beautiful wife, Rosalynn, and how she championed mental illness and made huge efforts to lessen the stigma associated with it. She was a true partner for President Carter and I enjoyed reading about their love story and the life they built together. The Center itself is beautifully built with a gorgeous Japanese garden in the back and a fountain in the front. Visiting here actually made me wonder about the other presidential libraries and museums out there and I'm excited to see how the Obama museum will turn out (its going to be located in Chicago). Currently, the Carter Center is used to continue President Carter's work and beliefs.

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Ponce City Market/ BeltLine

If you know me, you know that I love street food and night markets where a variety of food is available and I have the opportunity to try a little of everything. The Ponce City Market is basically a giant food hall with tons of food and boutique shopping. I loved wandering around the Market and and enjoying the variety. Bonus- the Market is connected to the Krog Street Market (similar) and Piedmont Park but a long walkway where people are able walk or bike. The Market and the BeltLine is something that reminds me of Austin and made me fall in love with Atlanta even more. The building which houses the Ponce City Market actually used to belong to the Sears, Roebuck & Company, and renovating it was one of Atlanta's largest development projects to date. I found out later that you can even live here! Their are several apartments located directly above the Market.

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What are some of your favorite spots in Atlanta? If you haven't been before, what are some spots you want to visit?

Postcards from the New York Travel Show

Since moving to New York one of my major regrets thus far is never having gone to one of the many conventions or conferences that have come into town. It seems like there is always something new going on- BeautyCon, Comic Con, Brunch Con (yes its a thing), KCon, etc... So when I discovered that The New York Times was hosting a travel show I knew I needed to buy a pass and check it out.

The Travel Show ended up being such an amazing experience. Overwhelming, but definitely amazing. There were so many interesting booths that I actually got a little dizzy in the beginning because I didn't know where to start and everywhere I looked there was just something else that was new. I had to spend a few moments orienting myself with the exhibits map because I knew I wanted to see EVERYTHING. Luckily, I had glanced over the seminar schedule in advance (thank god) and had already planned out my day so I wouldn't have to waste a moment and possible miss a great speaker (yes I definitely have a Type A personality). All in all, I benefited so much from attending the Travel Show and I strongly recommend checking it out in future years if you're in the New York area. I know I'm already counting down the days until the next conference!

TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A CONVENTION

1. Buy your tickets in advance and not at the door. You don't want to be stuck wasting your time in some long line and miss half the day. I purchased my badge well in advance so I was even able to get it in the mail and skip the badge registration line and breeze right in. If you decide last minute you want to attend, definitely come early to beat the crowds.

2. Remember to bring your badge! Otherwise, its pointless that you registered in advance because you'll still have to wait in line...

3. Plan your day out in advance. If you're really excited about lots of speakers and exhibits, then chances are so is everyone else. You'll want to look at the schedule in advance so you aren't wandering around trying to figure out last minute what you want to do while the speaker sessions fill up.

4. Learn, Experience, and Explore! This is your chance to find out about things you've never heard about or didn't know existed. At conventions, you're literally paying for the knowledge and the experience so don't waste your time by gravitating towards things you're comfortable with.

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SEMINARS

One of my favorite seminars, The Frugal Traveler, gave me some good ideas on how to find the best deals out there without lowering my travel standards, but also without breaking the bank. Here are some tips The Frugal Traveler spoke about: 

  • Sign up for price alerts on deal websites, like Travel Pirates, so you're in the know whenever cheap prices appear.
  • Travel is all about experiences now and some of the best websites that provide these experiences abroad are: Ifonly.com, Vayable, Visit.org, and Airbnb.
  • Look into hotel alternatives such as Airbnb, Guest to Guest (home exchange), private rooms in hostels, and Tripping (aggregator of vacation rentals) as that really lowers the cost of a vacation.

He also clarified the myth that certain days offer "better" plane ticket prices. I've always believed that buying tickets on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings around 2 months in advance provides the best chance at getting the best prices, but apparently not... It's just luck I guess! One thing he said that really stood out to me was that most people earning a modest salary have can afford travel (at least to somewhere), but its a matter of priority for most people. If you are serious about wanting to go to Florida or Cuba or China, then maybe consider eating at home more instead of dining out or saying no to a bunch or nights out on the town or putting that $300 bag back in the store where it belongs.

I also had the opportunity to hear Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods speak about his experiences traveling and eating all over the world. Truthfully, I was filled with envy during his entire talk because who doesn't want to travel the globe and eat unique foods while getting paid for it! I wish it was my job!

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I ended the day with a talk by Anthony Falco, the "pizza guru" who is the head chef from Roberta's in Brooklyn. If you've visited New York and you haven't eaten pizza at Roberta's then you're seriously missing out because its delicious. To hear Anthony's inspirational story of how he got into pizza making (it was mainly because he wasn't doing well working a tech job and just couldn't compete with the thousands of talented techies out there) and how he managed to become an international pizza consultant (another envy worthy job!) made me realize that there is truth in turning your passions into a lifelong successful career as long as you work hard. Anthony travels around the world now advising different chefs and restaurants on how to make the best pizza- he flew to Japan for months last year to study how the Japanese make their pizza just so he could properly advise his client who was based in Kuwait. If that doesn't sound like an amazing job, then what does?

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EXHIBITS

The booths were set up to discuss new travel opportunities and give us a sneak peek into all the difference places that people can now vacation at. I loved talking to representatives from Belarus and Rwanda and learning all about what their countries offered in terms of tourism. Both countries were places I had never previously considered for travel and it was interesting to find out the different points of interest located in each country. I found out about some awesome tour opportunities to Cuba and that while its still possible for US citizens to travel there, going on an "educational" tour is now mandatory (there is no more freedom travel). I spoke to Intrepid Travel about the possibility of going on a 6 day food tour to Jordan and made promises with myself to add it to my long list of must see countries.

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There were many cultural performances put on by different regions and exhibitors throughout the day. These performances gave a sneak peak into what travel to those countries might be like and offered a different type of travel education insight. I loved the Japanese ninja performance and the Irish traditional dance!

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If you're interested in learning more about the New York Times Travel Show, more information can be found here.

Food Adventuring in Austin, Texas + Thoughts on Travel Anxiety

I recently went back to Austin for my sorority's National Board Retreat and got to eat at some of my favorite college spots as well as try some of the new eateries to hit town. Being in Austin reminded me of 5 of the best years of my life. I loved my school (Longhorn pride!) and I loved living in such a vibrant young city. Since I wasn't in town to tour or really see the sights, I thought I would let you guys in on my 2 days of foodie life. One of the few things I do regret about my college career was always pinching pennies and was never really being adventurous in exploring new restaurants. Back then, I preferred to either eat or home or stick to chain restaurants that I was familiar with. It wasn't until towards the end of my college years that I started to fully appreciate what an amazing food city Austin is and that I had a lot to catch up on. Now, every time I visit Austin I take every opportunity I can to try new places to eat and truly explore the Austin food scene. So before I even arrived, I already had an idea of where I wanted to eat and my Sisters were kind enough to let me make all the decisions when it came to meals!

Side Note- This was technically my first weekend trip of the year since my Quebec trip was cancelled. Because of the horrible experience I had (spending 7+ hours at the airport filled with constant false hope only to turn around and go home and pray that my money would be refunded) previously, I was filled with anxiety and panic the few hours before departing for my Austin trip. I was so nervous that something would go wrong with this flight that I constantly checked my weather app for any slight change in good weather and when I noticed that rain was predicted for Austin on the day I was to return to New York I even decided to bring my work laptop with me just in case I couldn't get back home. Even after I had boarded and was just waiting for the plane to push back from the gate, I kept wondering if the flight was even going to take off (I sat on my Delta plane to Canada for 3 hours). What if something was wrong with the plane? Or what if the airport was having issues again? These thoughts just couldn't leave my mind no matter how hard I tried. When my departing flight finally took off on the runway, I breathed a tiny sigh of relief and was able to relax and have fun on my trip until the last day when I began to worry about my returning flight (if the rain would have an impact, whether or not I would make the connecting flight). It just seemed that my memories of my failed trip would never leave my mind and would continue to cause me stress every time I had to prepare for a flight. This type of behavior has honestly never afflicted me before- I generally don't find travel to be a stressful situation otherwise I wouldn't love it so much- so I wasn't sure how to deal with it at first. I know that from all my bright photos it always seems like all I do is have tons of fun when I travel, but I just wanted to be honest with some of the down sides of traveling. That being said, if anything this whole experience has made me want to push forward and keep taking flights and keep going places. The only way to get rid of fear is to confront it head on until it doesn't bother you anymore. I'm not going to let a little bit of anxiety stop me from traveling to far flung places or from completing my 2018 plan!

Now back to my Austin food adventures!

Cafe No Se - My first official Austin meal was at this bright and airy cafe located inside the South Congress Hotel on the touristy South Congress Avenue. I had high expectations for this fan favorite brunch spot, but was sadly disappointed by the dish I chose. I did, however, order takeout instead of dining in their cute restaurant so that potentially could have affected my view on their food. My friend and I both ordered the sausage and egg on a roll with a side of potatoes. We were surprised that "roll" was actually just a hamburger bun as we were expecting something a bit smaller and more unique. Additionally, the sausage patty had a strong similarity to ones that lie in a sausage McMuffin so we felt like the overall sandwich was nothing special. Needless to say, despite the warm and inviting atmosphere, the food wasn't what we were expecting.

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Jo's Coffee- What tourist (yes I considered myself a tourist this weekend) can go to Austin and not visit Jo's? If only for the famous graffiti sign, "I love you so much", its a common attraction on South Congress! The iced latte I ordered was what I expected from a tourist place- overpriced and very generic. But Jo's is basically an Austin icon so I'll cut it some slack (aka its a must see regardless of the quality of food). On the plus side, its one of the few places on South Congress that has a relatively large free parking lot so its easy to experience and there is a nice little patio on the side!

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Tapioca House - Tap House was my favorite bubble tea cafe in Austin throughout my college years and despite the 3 years that have passed since graduation, it's still one of my favorite spots in town. Over the years, however, it has clearly been renovated and the menu has been extended to include a wider variety of teas and slushies. My strawberry milk tea was delicious! The cafe is located on Guadalupe Street (otherwise known as The Drag by my fellow Longhorns) and is a convenient walk from campus.

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East Side Tavern - A bbq spot I was very excited to try out, East Side Tavern is located in East Austin, a once sketchy neighborhood that has in recent years been gentrified and now has many hipster cafes and good restaurants. While I would recommend the brisket and cheddar tater tots (yes its a thing!) as well as many of the other appetizers and meat plates, their main dishes were only alright. I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich with pulled pork and a side of herb fries. The sandwich itself was a little dry, although the fries were decent. The vibe here was of a typical sports bar- loud, dark, and fun.

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Spun Ice Cream - Slightly expensive, but delicious! Spun is a liquid nitrogen ice cream cafe- they use nitrogen to freeze their liquid ice cream mix right in front of you. They have a constant rotating list of flavors and a long list of toppings. My salted caramel ice cream with pecan praline topping on it was the perfect way to end my night. Spun is located about a 5 min drive away from East Side so its a great place to grab dessert after dinner.

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Grizzelda's - Beyonce ate here! If that doesn't convince you, then just know that Grizzelda's is a Southern brunch buffet complete with a giant queso bowl (who doesn't appreciate unlimited queso) and tons of bowls of Mexican chocolate pudding. The buffet line was filled with fresh guacamole, enchiladas, pulled pork, scrambled eggs, home fries, and many other yummy options to choose from. There's also a cute patio in the back of the restaurant that is awesome for eating in when the weather is nice outside. I loved it here just because I was able to eat to my hearts content for only $20!

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Vintage Heart Cafe - Probably very underrated as its located in a small nondescript house, but their iced vanilla latte was so well made. The cafe would have been the perfect place to study had i discovered this place back in college. There were plenty of tables and comfy chairs set up and even a nice outdoor patio. The line for coffee moved slowly as they only had one person working, but it gave me time to enjoy their homey environment. Bonus- they have a variety of syrups that you can add into your coffee! 

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Have you guys been to any of these Austin eateries or cafes? Are there any other places you would recommend?

A Day in Hartford, Connecticut

As you've seen in my previous post, I was very disappointed that I was unable to go to Quebec City- a trip I had been planning for months. Instead of wallowing in self pity and disappointment, I decided to go on a last minute day trip to Hartford, which was a city I had been thinking about touring for a while now but never had the time. I bought the bus tickets at noon on Saturday and on 5:30am Sunday morning I was on my way to Connecticut. 

Upon doing some research of the city, I knew that Saturday would have been a better day to go since more activities would have been open, but as I had no other option I decided to make the best of it. Overall, I really enjoyed myself in Hartford- a lot more than I expected. I originally thought I would run out of things to do and would have to read in a coffee shop to kill time so I brought a book along. But instead, I discovered that the 3 museums I visited were so much more interesting than I had expected! In hindsight I wish I had bought a later return bus ticket than my 4pm because towards the end of my day I had to start rushing in order to make the bus time.

How to Get There- I usually travel on Megabus since that was the bus company I was familiar with back in Texas, but since Megabus doesn't go to Hartford I had to look for other options. The Amtrak trains were my first choice since it's faster than a bus, but the tickets turned out to be way too expensive ($60 one way!). So in order to take the best advantage of the bus times and the ticket prices, I bought a one way ticket to Hartford from Port Authority from Greyhound Bus Lines ($17) and a one way returning ticket from Peter Pan Buses ($17). Both buses had two stops before reaching the destination I needed, but Greyhound was significantly better than Peter Pan and now I know to prioritize that company over others.

Sarah's Coffee

Due to the timing of the bus schedule, it was either arrive in Hartford at 8:30am or 11am when half the day would be over, so I chose the earlier arrival which meant that I would have around an hour to kill before the museums opened. I found this adorable coffee shop in downtown Hartford and ordered myself a raspberry mocha and a banana nut muffin. While the coffee and food was nothing too special, I loved the sunny and quiet vibe. It was the perfect place to read! It was also located a convenient 6 minute walk away from the bus station and a short walk away from my next destination.

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Bushnell Park

I can imagine this park being beautiful in the spring or fall time, but since it was winter (and freezing), the lake was frozen over and the trees were leafless. It was still a peaceful environment and I was able to get a good view of the State Capitol Building and the surrounding downtown skyline. Unfortunately, I couldn't wander around the park for too long because pretty soon it felt like my fingers were about to freeze off.

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Mark Twain House

I loved my 11th grade American English class and kept most of the required books we read throughout the year. One of that year's standout books was Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which instead of being a sequel to Twain's other novel, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, actually became commentary on racism in America. Since reading the book (I also really enjoyed The Prince and the Pauper), I've been fascinated with the author whose real name is Samuel Clemens. Upon choosing Hartford as my day trip destination, I was most looking forward to touring Twain's home and finding out more about his life. This was actually the home where he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and I imagined him writing furiously at his little desk in his billiards room (he was forced to write in there as his original office was turned into a school room for his 3 daughters). In addition to viewing him as an author, I learned so much about his marriage to his wife whom he met through her brother and fell in love with at first sight and his 3 daughters, only one of whom outlived him. Located in the affluent Nook Farm neighborhood, this was the first house Twain built for his family and the family lived there until they went bankrupt and was forced to move to Europe. Visitors are only able to view the home through scheduled tours, which are led by a trained and highly informative tour guide and last about 1 hour. The guide told us that about 85% of the furniture and items in the house actually belonged to Twain and the remaining items are from his time period. Sadly, no photos are allowed in the interior of the house, so you'll have to go there yourself to experience the magic that is Mark Twain. Don't forget to leave time for the informational movie and the exhibits that are located in the adjacent visitor's center.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Next door to the Mark Twain House is another author, Harriet Beecher Stowe's home (yes the 2 authors were neighbors). Stowe wrote the famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which went on to become the 2nd most popular book of its time (only exceeded in popularity by the Bible). The book is fiery rebuke against slavery in the US and was written to motivate Americans to rethink their opinions on the topic of slavery. Thousands of UK women ended up signing petitions against slavery and sending volumes of their signatures to Stowe (pictured below). Stowe was inspired to write the book after being traumatized when she accidentally saw a slave auction while visiting a friend in Kentucky and witnessed a slave mother forcefully separated from her child. Stowe's feelings against slavery was magnified when she lost her own child a few years later and began to empathize with what the slave mother's must have been feeling. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a revolutionary book of its time, not only because of its strong commentary on slavery, but also because it was written by a woman (women at the time didn't have many rights). It was actually Stowe's husband, whom she met at a literary club, that encouraged her to pursue her passion for writing and to continue writing her book. Stowe lived in this house towards the end of her life. The House can also only be toured with an official tour guide and also lasts at least 1 hour. Where this tour differed from the Mark Twain one, is that there was much more emphasis on the current events and social issues instead of Stowe's life in the home. The tour starts out in a discussion room and the guide asks a lot of thought provoking questions. Bonus- if you tour both the Mark Twain House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House on the same day, you can get a $3 discount on the second house tour. Pictures inside the house are allowed!

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Wadsworth Athenaeum

Make sure you have lots of time here because the museum is bigger than you think. This was around the time I started to feel rushed due to the fact that I still had to eat lunch and walk back to the bus station, so I was unable to explore a vast majority of the museum. Although it is named Athenaeum (and there is a tiny researchers only library inside), Wadsworth is actually mainly an art museum containing all types of art from many different periods. From my brief tour, I saw Monet Water Lily paintings, modern art (Andy Warhol), and even odd sculptures. It reminded me of a mini Met Museum! If you enjoy wandering museums by yourself and getting lost among amazing artwork, I would recommend checking this one out. Admission is $22, but if you have a student ID admission is only $5.

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Bear's Smokehouse Barbecue

This bbq gem is located behind the Wadsworth Athenaeum and is DELICIOUS. Like many bbq places, you stand in a line to order and your food is prepared immediately and ready right when you reach the end of the line to pay, Coming from Texas, I have high standards when it comes to bbq so while I felt like the meat wasn't the best I had ever had, I thought that the food was overall very yummy and menu very creative. I ordered a brisket sandwich and fried mac and cheese balls that were actually infused with pieces of brisket.

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Have you guys done solo day trips before? Where have you gone?

Thoughts On My Quebec City Trip Cancellation

I was prepared to write a post after this weekend on my adventures in Quebec CIty and what was suppose to be my first foreign city of the year. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions in both New York (heavy fog) and Canada (winter storm) I was unable to take the trip. The type of disappointment I felt after being forced to cancel (after waiting at the airport for 7 hours) was something I hadn't experienced in a long time. I had been planning for the trip for months now and was really looking forward to a weekend full of dog sledding, cheese fondue and walking around Old Quebec. Instead, I was faced with calling two separate airlines and Airbnb to try and get refunds for everything I had already paid for and I had to deal with the reality that my first trip of the year was a fail. Not only was the experience very stressful (airlines don't really care about you...), but it was also sad because I hadn't traveled in a while so I had wanted to fulfill all my wanderlust on this one trip.

The day we were suppose to leave, there was heavy fog and thus poor visibility in New York so our Delta flight to our layover in Montreal was delayed 3 hours. We actually boarded the plane a first time only to discover that the plane did not have a pilot aboard and we deplaned to the news that we had to wait for pilots to arrive. Upon boarding the plane the second time, the crew realized that gate checked bags had not been loaded and we were forced to wait on the plane for an hour while the airport figured out how to get an employee to our gate. Something that should have been a simple task took the airport so long to deal with. After the bags were finally loaded, the pilot broke the news that an American Airlines plane had arrived at the wrong terminal and was stuck behind our plane until a taxi crew could come and tow it to the right terminal as it was too big to move on its own. Because of the additional 2 hour delay this mistake caused, I would have definitely missed my connecting flight in Montreal to Quebec City, which was also the last flight of the day. Faced with the fact that I had to spend a night in the Montreal airport and that the winter storm would hit Canada the next morning (which made getting a flight out the next day extremely unlikely and perhaps getting back to the US impossible), I made the difficult decision to get off the plane and cancel my vacation. It was a huge mess of weather and airport inefficiency and a waste of my time, thus leading to my initial anger and eventual disappointment.

Luckily, Delta refunded my flight and my Airbnb host was kind enough to refund my money after hearing my story even though his refund policy was listed as strict. I'm also grateful that an airport manager gave both my friend and I vouchers for a car service home after listening to my lengthy complaints. It can be easy to place blame on the people that work for the airline and airport (and I definitely succumbed to that), but at the end of the day these people (however slow or confused they may be) are still people who are just trying to earn a living just like you and me. It was probably just as stressful for them as it was for me to deal with the situation.

As I'm not usually such a negative person, I tried my best to look on the bright side of things. I was able to attend my friend's birthday dinner at the best speakeasy in the city, Beauty and Essex (there's a free champagne bar in the bathroom). We've been friends since middle school and since she lives in Texas and was only visiting New York for the weekend, I was really happy I got to spend time with her and celebrate with her (something I would have missed out on had I gone to Canada). I believe that everything happens for a reason so I felt that there was no point to wallowing in my regrets. The only thing I could do was move forward.

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I also turned the weekend around by traveling somewhere else so stay tuned for my next post!

My 2018 Travel Plans

The new year is right has officially started and that means a whole entire year filled with endless travel opportunities! Because of my work schedule and different family obligations throughout the year, I try to plan my entire year's worth of travel at the beginning of the year just so I can properly allocate my time and money. Obviously, I have the spontaneous small trip here and there, but for the most part my bigger trips are set. This way I can take full advantage of any holidays and use my limited paid time off days to the fullest. People are always asking me how I travel so much and still have a full time job. This is my secret! I plan everything way in advance, utilize my vacation days wisely, and combine travel plans with holidays and weekends. While travel plans can change (life happens) throughout the year, at least I have an idea of what my goals are for the year.

My new year's resolution is the same every year- to travel to at least 3 foreign countries. I've been very lucky to be able to have accomplished this for the past 4 years. In 2016 I did a small tour of Europe so I hit 7 total countries during the year- Vietnam, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. For 2017, I actually went to a total of 4 countries- United Kingdom, India, China, and Canada. I hope 2018 is no different and I can visit at least 3 countries successfully! Obviously nothing besides my January and Feburary plans are set in stone yet, but here is a sneak peak of the travel blog posts you can hopefully look forward to reading about.  Also, these are the trips that I'm about 90-100% sure that I will be taking, but there are defintiely going to be more trips than the ones listed here happening.

January

Quebec City, Canada- The plan is to visit my first foreign country early on! I've always wanted to try dog sledding and I've heard that Quebec City is one of the best places to do it.

Austin, Texas- Back to my good ole' college town I go! Since I am on my sorority's National Board I will be attending our annual National Board retreat here. I can't wait to taste all the delicious barbecue and eat those spicy kimchi fries!

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February

Atlanta, Georgia- After reuniting with my friend, Rita, in DC this past summer and having so much fun, I've been itching to go to Atlanta to visit her. Luckily, I get President's Day off which allows for a 3 day weekend and trip to the South.

March

Wilmington, Delaware- I've discovered the joys of car rental and will be going on a solo trip here the first weekend of March. Delaware is the perfect distance away from New York (2 hours) and will give me the chance to explore a different state, but still feel safe. I haven't done a solo trip since Vienna, Austria in 2016 so I'm excited to be by myself and see everything I want to see on my own time.

April

Philadelphia, Pennslyvania- A sorority sister is getting married here and one of my best friends is a bridesmaid, so I'm looking forward to the wedding! Philly is one of my favorite weekend trips to take because of all the history and food- I went there 4 times in 2017 alone.

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Charleston, South Carolina- My friends and I have been talking about how beautiful Charleston would be in the spring and are seriously considering a trip down there for a weekend.

May

Miami, Florida- My best friend is (finally) graduating from Pharmacy school! To celebrate, we will be going to Miami and spending some quality time lying on the beach, drinking mai tais, and exploring the Cuban cuisine. We rarely get to see each other so this will be a good time to get a cute girl's trip in.

June

London, England- Although I had a brief stop in London this past year where I got to take photos with Buckingham Palace, it only ignited my thirst to see the city. I plan to spend a week here exploring the giant city and also taking day trips into the countryside to see Stonehenge and Oxford University. Afternoon tea is on my list too!

Galveston, Texas- My sister is having her white coat ceremony (she's going to be a physicians assistant!) and I wouldn't miss for the world.

July

Seattle, Washington- My best friend recently bought a house in Seattle and I've been itching to see it. The only thing that has kept me from visiting so far is the 6 hour cross country flight... but I think this will be the year I take the plunge and just go. He's completely enticed me with all the hiking and sushi!

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts- The Junior League girls and I have been in discussion over when the best time would be to visit the glamorous Martha's Vineyard and get the chance to wear our Lilly Pulitzer dresses. We feel like a summery July time frame would be ideal.

August

Chicago, Illinois- I'll be heading back to the city of the shiny bean for our sorority's annual National Convention. Can't wait to be reunited with this gorgeous view and all my sisters.

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New Orleans, Louisiana- My sorority sister, Bobbie, is getting married and asked me to be a bridesmaid last year. We'll be hitting up NOLA for her last vacay as a single lady!

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September

Houston, Texas- Heading back home to Texas to host Bobbie's bridal shower!

October

Dripping Springs, Texas- I'll be reporting for bridesmaid duty in this cute little country town outside of Austin for Bobbie's wedding.

December

Singapore and Malaysia- I've been wanting to go to these two countries for the longest time, but the stars have never aligned for me. 2018 will be the year! I'm very excited to try out that famous infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Family Vacation- We haven't set a specific location yet, but our annual tradition of traveling for the holidays is back on. Taking recommendations for the perfect spot!

 

Where are you planning to travel next year? Any wishlist spots?

Blogmas Day 25- Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!!! I can't believe its finally Christmas! I also can't believe I've been able to write and post for 25 days. I can tell you this Blogmas thing has been kind of draining and stressful (somedays there was just nothing to write about!), but overall it was the kind of experience I was looking for. I got to celebrate Christmas on my blog in my own way and now I have memories of how I spent the 25 days of Christmas in 2017. If you missed any days, links are below! Remember to stay warm and make lots of joyous memories today :) See you all in 2018!

Blogmas Day 1 - DIY Ornaments

Blogmas Day 2 - Miss Lily's Review

Blogmas Day 3 - 5 Restaurants with Parental Approval

Blogmas Day 4 - NYC Christmas Markets

Blogmas Day 5 - Postcards from Yankee Candle Popup Shop

Blogmas Day 6 - Kathleen's unique Gift Guide

 Blogmas Day 7 - Best Christmas Vacations

Blogmas Day 8 - Travel Lover's Gift Guide

Blogmas Day 9 - Five Tips to Packing the Optimal Carryon

Blogmas Day 10 - Ugly Sweater Season

Blogmas Day 11 - Maison Pickle Review

Blogmas Day 12 - Postcards from NY Botanical Gardens

Blogmas Day 13 - Top 5 NYC Eats

Blogmas Day 14 - NYC's Most Inventive Ice Cream Desserts

Blogmas Day 15 - Postcards from NYC Department Store Windows

Blogmas Day 16 - Rosemary's Review

Blogmas Day 17 - Dessert Potluck Ideas and Recipes 

Blogmas Day 18 - Chaan Teng Review

Blogmas Day 19 - Kathleen's Travel Bucket List

Blogmas Day 20 - Annabel's Review

Blogmas Day 21 - Tsurutotan Review

Blogmas Day 22 - The Butcher's Daughter Review

Blogmas Day 23 - Home for the Holidays + Thoughts on Reunions

Blogmas Day 24 - Christmas Eve in Texas + KDrama Recommendations

Blogmas Day 24- Christmas Eve in Texas + KDrama Recommendations

Its so nice to be back home in Texas with my family. Everytime I come back I feel like its just a huge break from the hustle and bustle of New York City and my busy life. I love living in NYC and wouldn't trade it for the world, but it can definitely sometimes be overwhelming and tiring. Having the opportunity to step away occasionally allows me to rejuvenate and refresh myself, and it honestly makes me appreciate my life even more. There isn't too much to do in my Houston suburb so I enjoy the simple things in life that I often overlook living in a big city- waking up later with no set agenda for the day, breakfast in bed, watching TV all day in pajamas.

I've been asked several times to do a post on my favorite Korean dramas since I'm always watching them. I've been addicted to Kdramas (and I'm not even Korean!) for years now ever since my mom introduced them to me senior year of high school. They differ from American TV shows in that they typically don't continue on past one season (there are a select few that do have a season two at most) and range anywhere from 12 to 100 episodes. The story lines are usually less sexualized and more dramatic. I personally enjoy the romantic comedies because the stories are always so cute and it allows me to step away from my own life for a few hours. If you haven't seen any, I highly recommend checking one out. Below are a few of my favorites!

My Girl- This was my very first Kdrama and it was life changing! It was funny and cute, but touching at the same time and the leads had amazing chemistry. The plot had lots of ups and downs, but I loved every single minute of it. This was the drama that started my addiction!

Goong- Every girl's secret dream is to fall in love with a prince and become a princess and this drama makes that dream come true! The drama also explores the inner workings of palace life and the intracacies that comes with being a member of the royal family.

City Hunter- To this day, City Hunter is one of my favorite dramas. The story line is revenge driven (a common theme), but the specifics are different and unique. The fight scenes were good and having an attractive male lead definitely helped too!

Boys Over Flowers- Sometimes this drama made me cringe over its cheesiness and over the top scenes, but I became so enthralled by the character's relationships and emotions. It's based on a pretty popular manga and remained mostly accurate. If you think having one attractive male actor was nice, imagine a team of 4 of them!

Queen Inhyun's Man- This drama was highly overlooked in my opinion, probably because it came out around the same time as another similar drama that had more a popular cast (Rooftop Prince). But to be honest, it shouldn't have! I was hooked on every episode and wouldn't leave the house for days until I finished. The story line isn't too unique (time traveling), but the lead actor and actress had some of the best on screen chemistry that I've ever seen. They went on to date as well :) 

My Love from Another Star- This was the drama that made chicken and beer insanely popular. It launched super fans from all over the world, including myself. The characters had such strong personalities and their Romeo and Juliet style love story was beautifully portrayed. If you're looking for laughs, this is a good one.

Mask- A thriller with a romantic twist. This drama sucked me in every step of the way. I actually felt emotionally invested in the characters' relationship. I can't say more otherwise I'll ruin the many twists and turns, but I highly recommend!

Ojakgyo Brothers- One of the best family dramas to ever come out, in my opinion. It won tons of awards the year it was released and catapulted its main actress, Uee, into drama stardom (she was a singer before). It portrays the family dynamics well and with so many characters, it was able to remain interesting throughout the 50 episodes.

School 2015- The School dramas is one that has reoccurring season, although the cast is usually different and the plots are never connected to previous seasons. The series has been going on for a while now and portrays students in different genres (1988, 2017, etc...). School 2015 casted an amazingly talented lead, Kim So Hyun, who had to play two characters and did such a great job. The story was intense and heart felt.

Blogmas Day 23- Home for the Holidays + Thoughts on Reunions

It is Day 23 of Blogmas! In other words, Christmas is almost here! I'm traveling back to Texas today to spend the holidays with my family and reunite with some old friends. Although I've had the chance to go home several times this year, nothing beats coming home for Christmas time and seeing the house brightly decorated, eating homecooked meals, playing with our 3 puppies, and doing crafts with my sister. Since my family is not traveling this holiday for the first time in a while, I'm excited to get to open presents under the tree on Christmas morning and drink tons of homemade hot chocolate. I'm bringing back a DIY photobooth I had created for my ugly sweater Christmas party and I can't wait to force my family members to take pictures with all the props!

Another bonus of being home for the holidays is getting to see some of my oldest friends again. I went to elementary, middle, and high schools with some of these people and I haven't seen many of them since graduating college 2 years ago. As soon as I get off the plane today I'll be having lunch with 3 of my high school besties. We live in Houston, Dallas, Detroit, and New York, but we've stayed in close contact over the years and followed each other's lives faithfully. I love reunions like these because it gives us the opportunity to catch up and pick up like we were never apart. I'm excited to hear about their many achievements in life (switching jobs, getting married, raising a puppy, moving) over some delicious food! Because I live all the way in New York and I don't get to see a lot of my old friends often I truly appreciate the opportunities I get to meet up with them (whether in New York or in Texas) since I'm able to understand the value of old friendships. While there will always be new friends, there is something special about having friends who knew you when you were growing up through all those awkward phases. We're able to reminice about embarrassing high school crushes, senior prom, and how hard academics were back then. It all makes me so nostalgic! Even though we lead different and separate lives now, I know we'll always be there for each other.

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Do you guys have reunions with old friends?

Blogmas Day 19- Kathleen's Travel Bucket List

A new year means that new travel opportunities are just around the corner! I always have a long list (and I mean LONG) of all the places I want to visit and the experiences I want to have. There is never enough time or money for it all, but someday I hope I can do everything on my travel bucket list. Since I'm wallowing in a case of the travel bug right now (I have not been truly traveling since October), I thought I would share some of the items on my list. They aren't listed in any particular order since I really would like to go to all of them.

Iceland- There is a lot of hype around the famous green Northern Lights, but what I really want to go to Iceland for is to scuba dive between two techtonic plates. In other words, snap an insanely cool picture between two continents.

Abu Dhabi- Who doesn't want the opportunity to try drinking coffee with 24 carat gold flakes in it? Plus, I've never been to the Middle East and am very curious what it's like there.

Bermuda- This little island is only a 2 hour flight from New York and offers some pretty cool diving opportunities (shipwrecks) so its no surprise why I want to go here!

Galapagos Island- Blue footed birds and giant tortosies? You see why this island made my bucket list. Because no humans permanently reside here, the animals and their habitats are not disturbed by outside factors. The animals are suppose to be very approachable since they aren't afraid of people.

Alaskan Cruise- My family and I have wanted to take a cruise to Alaska for a while now. The gorgeous scenery is suppose to be uncomparable.

South Africa- One of my coworkers recently returned from a 2 week trip here and could not stop talking about her trip and the many safaris she was able to experience. I've never been to the African continent so its definitely on my list.

Salar de Uyni Salt Flats- Located in Bolivia, this salt flat is the largest in the world (there is actually one of a smaller size in Utah). Its a tad expensive and hard to reach, which is the only reason why I haven't gone here yet. Some of my friends went last year and their pictures looked AMAZING.

Hong by Starlight Kayaking Tour- This breathtaking kayaking tour takes place in Phuket, Thailand and lets you explore sea caves and paddle through some of the clearest water ever. Its been on my bucket list for the longest time and I'm desperately waiting for the chance to go to Thailand to try this.

Prince Edward Island- Ever since I was a little girl, I've been obsessed with the book, Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to have red hair and braids and wear gingham dresses so badly! This Canadian island is where the author, Lucy Maud Montegomery, based her novel off of since its her home town. There are lots of Anne themed attractions now, such as Avonlea where Anne lived. Coming here would be a nostalgic trip for sure.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park- Located in the middle of China, this Park was one of the filming locations for the movie, Avatar, and is beyond beautiful. We just don't have this type of scenery in America.

What places are on your bucket list?

Blogmas Day 9- Five Tips to Packing an Optimal Carry-on

So many airlines these days charge extra fees for a checked bags so budget conscious travelers like myself are forced to only use a carry on luggage instead. Plus, there's always the worry that the airline will lose your luggage (this has sadly happened to me before) or you'll have to wait forever for your bag to come out on the luggage carousel. But there are two main downsides to only using a carry on: needing more space (especially because the clothing for winter destinations tend to be thicker) and needing more than 3 oz worth of liquids (lotion, contact solution, etc...). I’ve compiled this list of tips I’ve learned over the years to help with these carry on luggage concerns.

1. Roll your clothes up instead of folding them - This helps save a lot of space in your suitcase because it essentially makes your clothes as tiny as possible. Packing in an organized manner will free up unseen space so instead of throwing clothes into your luggage, roll and stack your clothes up and squish them together as much as possible.

2. Wear your thickest clothes and your heaviest shoes on the plane - If it is 80 degrees where you live, but you are heading to a wintery destination, still physically wear or hold your coats and sneakers. These items will take up the most room in your luggage and you want them out of it so you can add in other important items like mittens or scarves. Suffering in your heavy coat for a short while will be worth it!

3. Use Olay’s Daily Facial Cloths to wash your face and remove makeup instead of liquid alternatives - If your makeup remover does not fit in the 3 oz liquid limitation rule, then pack these facial cloths in your makeup bag to help cleanse your face after a long plane ride or on your vacation. It can do double duty as a makeup remover as well. The cloths are basically sheets of cotton paper that turn into foamy soap after wetting.

4. Scoop your irreplaceable lotion into empty contact solution cases for plane use - If you just can't find your favorite body lotion or facial lotion in a travel size container, then simply scoop out some of your lotion into a contact case and you'll be able to continue using it. This is a trick I learned from the beauty YouTuber, Michelle Phan, and its worked like a charm for me. It's how I keep my skin from drying out on the plane.

5. Use a soft case instead of a hard shell luggage - Soft cases expand more than hard cases and are usually much lighter. If you happen to fly on an airline that weighs carry on bags (Porter Airlines, China Southern), you will want your actual suitcase to be as light as possible so you can pack more. Also, a hard case packed to the max won't let you stuff that extra neck pillow or that comfy sweater in there!

Happy packing! And most importantly, Happy traveling!

Blogmas Day 8- Travel Lover's Gift Guide

Happy Blogmas Day 8! If you've been racking your brain trying to find that perfect gift for that friend who loves traveling more than anything (aka me!) or you just want to treat yourself (no judgement), here are a few ideas!

1. Sleep Eye Mask- If you've ever taken a redeye flight or a long haul you know that, getting good sleep on the plane is a must. Block out those pesky reading lights your seat mate is using or those harsh overhead plane lights with a blackout eye mask.

2. Swell water bottle- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Planes are very drying and it can be annoying to always get up to ask for a cup of water, so ask the flight attendant to fill up your water bottle when you board the plane. The water bottle will come in handy again during your explorations when there are no convenience stores to be found or when you don't feel like dropping another $4 for a bottle of water.

3. Passport holder- Protect your passport! I learned a lesson while studying abroad when rain dampened my passport, which had been in my non-waterproof backpack without a protector on, and went through a moment of panic that the passport would be unusable for my travel home. Luckily, that wasn't the case, but after that I consistently store my passport in a cute holder at all times.

4. Tumi Backpack- I've been using this Tumi backpack for about 2 years now and its my travel go to bag. There is a strap at the back of the bag that conveniently allows you to hook the bag on suitcase handles without falling. The backpack also has a built in laptop sleeve and miscellaneous pockets all over. 

5. Giant Toiletries Bag- You'll want to get one that can hold larger items, such as contact solution or lotion. Just in case spills happen while your bag is in motion, at least its contained within just the toiletries bag (I've learned this the hard way).

6. Nike Sneakers- Forget beauty, comfort is #1 to me when on a vacation where I have to walk a lot. The worst thing that can happen to you is getting blisters (that bleed) and having to cut your day plans short so you can go back to the hotel to bandage up. My Nike sneakers are the most comfortable shoes I own and a must for when I travel. Whether its an 8 hour walk around Paris or a hike up the Yellow Mountains in China, my Nikes have never betrayed me!

7. Sunglasses- It doesn't matter where you go, the sun is everywhere. But you definitely don't want it in your eyes. Investing in a pair of good sunglasses (and remembering to pack it) can be a lifesaver.

8. Sony Alpha A6000 Camera- Sadly, a vacation doesn't last forever. But luckily, pictures do! My tech saavy friends all recommended this camera because of its high quality picture taking abilities, but also its small convienent size.

9. Selfie Stick- Traveling by yourself? Never fear! You can still have great photos without having to bother that sketchy or annoyed stranger. The selfie stick has also helped me capture those photos that require a higher angle. I'm able to see above the crowds!

10. World Map- This is something that I've always wanted to have, but currently don't have the space for. I've seen on giant maps on walls where travelers will put a star or pin on the locations they've been. Its just an awesome visual reminder of all the places you've experienced and all the other places you have left to explore.

 

 

Blogmas Day 7- Best Christmas Vacations

Every Christmas it's been my family's tradition to go on a family vacation instead of ringing in the holidays at home. So far on past Christmas Days we have swam with the sharks off an island in Belize, posed for photos with Mickey and Minnie in DisneyWorld, skied for the first time in Vail, and sipped hot chocolate from a cabin in New Mexico. This will actually be the first year in a while where we will simply be enjoying Christmas at home in Texas and while I'm looking forward to finally putting Christmas gifts under a tree and eating a homecooked holiday meal, I'm also kind of bummed that we aren't traveling. ALTHOUGH, we are in family discussions as to where to go for 2018 Christmas! The issue with traveling during the winter time is that many placend feels somewhat less enjoyable when there is high winds whipping your face or you're so bundled up you can't even see your face in photos. That then leaves the classic island vacation, which in my opinion, can get kind of old after a while (especially if you have an active family like mine). I've been racking my brain trying to find the perfect Christmas vacation spot and here is what I've come up with. Disclaimer- These are the types of vacations I feel is best for my family based on our personalities. You may enjoy snow related activities that we typically stay far far away from.

1. Edinburgh, Scotland- I watch the Youtuber, Zoella's vlogs religiously and every December for her Vlogmas videos she always makes a trip to Scotland for the giant Christmas market, Edinburgh's Christmas. This Christmas market honestly looks like the most amazing thing ever. There are a variety of food vendors (think churros dipped in chocolate with coffee), tons of shopping, Christmas themed rides, and even a Christmas tree maze! Despite the freezing weather, I would love to go to Edinburgh one day and experience Christmas at its fullest.

2. Sydney, Australia- Since Australia is below the equator, it's actually summer there when it is winter in the US, which equals the perfect winter time destination. Plus, who hasn't heard of the gigantic New Year's Eve celebration that occurs at the Sydney Opera House? Add that to the fact that there are plenty of opportunities to interact with cute koala bears and kangaroos and you've got yourself a wonderful vacation.

3. Cancun, Mexico- If you aren't looking forward to a 15+ hour flight to Australia or simply don't have that many PTO days left, Cancun may be a much better suited destination for you as its only a 2 hour flight from Texas and a 4.5 hour flight from New York. Just imagine all the margaritas you could be sipping on those perfectly white sandy beaches and the colorful fish you could be snorkeling with in those clear blue waters.

4. San Diego, California- Don't have your passport ready? This even temperatured California city may be your perfect fit. It doesn't have the crazy traffic of LA nor the crazy weather of San Francisco. The city offers the beautiful Balboa Park, adorable pandas at the Zoo, and a stunning waterfront. What more can you ask for?

5. Bahamas- If you are looking for a vibe similar to Cancun, look no further than the Bahamas because this tiny island country also offers beautiful beaches and lots of water activities. You can also swim with wild pigs! Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

 

Have any of you guys ever visited any of these spots? Or did this list spark future vacation ideas?

Thanksgiving in Texas + What I'm Grateful For This Year

Happy belated Thanksgiving! If you couldn't already tell from the post title, I was back home to Texas for Thanksgiving! Last year I didn't accrue enough vacation days yet from starting a new job so I was unable to fly all the way home so I ended up just visiting a friend in Toronto (which wasn't celebrating Thanksgiving at that time) and it turned out to be the most miserable thing ever. I spent Thanksgiving Day looking at pictures on Facebook of my family and other families eating giant meals of turkey and mashed potatoes and pie and spending time with each other and I truly missed it all. So this year I made sure I had enough vacation days left over so I could be home for a week this Thanksgiving. And yes we did have two Thanksgiving meals because... why not?

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2017 has been a hard year for many people (including myself), so I wanted to take time to give thanks for what I have in my life and remind myself that I shouldn't take things for granted. This isn't everything I'm thankful for this year because then this post would be way too long, but these are just the ones that I wanted to highlight.

Job Security - While the recession and high unemployment rates have been over for years now, I'm still so grateful for my job and the financial security it provides me. My job allows me to pursue my passion for traveling, it allows me to eat at all my favorite restaurants, live in a safe neighborhood, and treat my family. It's not always stress free to show up for work and get through the day, but I appreciate the life I'm able to live because of my job.

Pets- This year in July our family lost our longtime dog, Furry, due to old age. Furry first joined our family when I was 11 and he was a part of us for 14 years (over half my life). When we were forced to put him down because his arthritis made his daily life basically unbearable, it was extremely hard letting go. In fact, I'm positive that without the help of our 3 puppies that the recovery period would have been even harder. It made me realize the simple joy and happiness that pets can bring into human lives. Our dogs aren't the smartest or the most well trained, but they know how to love unconditionally. They don't care about your appearance or how successful you are in life or how popular you are. They just love us because we take care of them and they brighten up our lives with their presence.

Friendship- Two years ago when I moved to New York I was very nervous about my ability to not only make new friends in a new city where I basically knew no one, but also my ability to retain all my old friends who I wouldn't be able to see on a daily basis. 2.5 years later I can say that friendship is definitely one of the things I'm most grateful for. I wouldn't have made it through these past few years without both my new and my old friends. I'm so grateful for the way my old friends have been there to support me through the hard times and just lend a listening ear when I feel the need to complain or cry. I'm also grateful for my new friends who are always willing to explore New York with me, eat brunch with me (and trust me I'm always eating brunch), and keep me company in this big and busy city.

 

What are you grateful for this year?

Deep Dish Pizzas, a Shiny Bean, and Second Chances: My Chicago Adventures

The first time I went to Chicago was senior year of high school for an Orchestra trip and I was so tired from the excitement of going out of the state with my friends that I felt like I missed out on the actual trip. I also felt like I wasn't as interested in traveling back then and as a result, didn't fully appreciate my time in the city. So when my work trip perfectly aligned with a girls' weekend two of my sorority sisters had planned, I knew I couldn't waste a single moment of my second chance at Chicago. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Chicago, I was already impressed by their amazing airport!

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We started out our girls weekend in Millennium Park at the shiniest and biggest bean that I've ever seen. Although the sheer amount of people there was definitely overwhelming, I still managed to sneak in a few fun photos. I would suggest coming here earlier in the day though to avoid the crush of people (and photos always look better with less people milling about anyways). The weather was gorgeous that Saturday and I throughly enjoyed my walk through the park. Don't forget to check out the Buckingham Fountain, which is just a 10 minute walk from the Bean! The Fountain reminded me of a smaller scale Versaille style fountain.

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Next up on my Chicago bucket list was to drink bubble tea in Chinatown. And even though I do have a major obsession with bubble tea, the giant bottle of tea we received was even too big for me! I did really love the bottle it came in though because it was reuseable and could be put in your bag easily, which means I could take my time drinking the tea without feeling pressured to finish it quickly so I wouldn't have to carry an open cup. One thing that surprised me about Chicago Chinatown was that there weren't too many people walking around. If you've ever been to Chinatown in New York, the sidewalks are packed with people (local and tourists) taking in all the sights and smells or doing their grocery shopping. I thought Chicago's Chinatown would be a similar vibe, but it was pretty much empty on a Saturday afternoon.

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As a pizza lover, I wasn't going to leave Chicago without savoring the famous Chicago deep dish pizza. I wasn't 100% sure that the thick crust would taste good to me over my usual thin and crispy crust pizzas. but both Giordano's and Lou Malnati's was delicious! And yes I did eat two different brands of pizza! Although, I found it weird that the tomato sauce would be on top as I personally prefer tons of cheese over sauce, but nevertheless, I still enjoyed the thick crust and various toppings.

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Sunday morning we rushed to the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) to be one of the first people in line to take those iconic sky ledge photos, but sadly there were TONS of people already in line waiting for the 10am opening. But we weren't going to give up! My friends and I actually waited in 3 separate lines to take photos in 3 separate boxes. Definitely #dedication. The photos were worth it though! In the future if I were to come back, I think I would definitely come on a weekday instead because the number of people there was even more overwhelming that the Bean.

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I stayed in the centrally located Hyatt Centric The Loop hotel and absolutely loved it. It was modern and serene and offered the peaceful getaway I needed from the hectic city below me. To be honest, I wasn't use to all the space after being cramped in my tiny New York apartment! Tip- There is a snack and coffee lounge on the 3rd floor of the hotel if you need a quick pick me up.

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I'll be posting a separate post detailing all my Chicago food adventures so stay tuned! I ate a LOT when I there.

Keep Calm and Drink Wine: A Weekend in Long Island Wine Country

I've wanted to visit the Long Island wine country for a while now, but wasn't old enough to rent a car for the longest time. So the first thing I did once turning 25 was to book a trip with my friends to the North Fork region of Long Island for a winery adventure. I know there were several wine tour options where a giant bus brings you from winery to winery, but after much research we didn't feel like the nicer wineries were the ones that were being chosen for the tours so that's why we decided to go our own path.

First up, we toured the beautiful and classy Macari Vineyard where we had the opportunity to taste a flight of 5 wines with their gorgeous grape vines in the backdrop. While I enjoyed the white wines immensely, I found the red wines to be a little too dry for my taste. Although in general, I usually prefer sweeter wines. Macari also had a food truck in the back serving savory looking pizza, but we were already full from brunch so... definitely saving this for next time! The 5 wine flight costed $20, although there were other options for $25, $30, and dessert wines.

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Our second winery for the day was the family friendly Baiting Hollows Farm Vineyard. In addition to creating wines, BHFV also rescues horses! A portion of its proceeds goes towards the caring of these horses, which is simply amazing. This winery allows you to choose the amount of wines you want to taste and allocates the cost accordingly. I chose to taste 3 wines, which ended up being $9. The Reisling 2014 was by far my favorite wine of the day and I even went home with a bottle. If you are looking for a peaceful wine setting, BHFV definitely isn't for you as there are kids running around, people dancing, and live music playing.

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The best part of having your own car is that you get to stop whenever wherever you feel like it. We passed by the cutest little sunflower farm and decided to jump out for some epic photos with giant sunflowers! Later, we also passed by what we thought to be a Christmas tree farm, but turned out to be just a garden nursery with trees meant for landscaping. Still, it was interesting to see and smell all the trees!

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One of the items on my East Coast bucket list has always been to do apple picking as that was something Texas never offered (probably because all the apples would die in the intense heat). Since we had some extra time, we decided to stop by Lewin Farms on our way home for some fruit picking (and eating). It was $8 to enter but the amount is credited towards the end cost of your picked apples. Picking the apples was an interesting experience and definitely made me appreciate Mother Nature and all the hard working farms that deliver fresh crispy apples to my neighborhood market.

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Which photo was your favorite? Have you done wine tasting in the Long Island area?

 

3 Days in Montreal

Because of all the recent happenings in the news and in politics, there's been so much talk about how appealing Canada is. Personally, I don't know too much about our Northern neighbor. The last time I visited was when I was 8 and my parents forced me on a plane to Vancouver in the middle of winter for a reunion with family friends (definitely not my favorite memory). Since moving to New York however, I've realized that the eastern coast of Canada is only a 1-2 hour flight away, thus making it the perfect weekend getaway. So when my sister came to visit I immediately suggested we head up north to see what Montreal is all about. Here are the highlights from our trip!

OLD TOWN

The influences of Europe on this city are obvious. There were French signs and French inspired architecture everywhere. But both my sister and I felt like the cobblestoned streets of Old Town with its tiny shops reminded us of Prague the most. Take your time strolling around because there is so much to see here!

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ST. JOSEPH ORATORY/ BIOSPHERE

Our two most favorite places were the St. Joseph Oratory and the Biosphere. The Oratory is simply beautiful to wander around (there is a gorgeous Journey to the Cross garden that is a definite must see) and best of all, it’s free! The Oratory and all its sites took us around 2 hours to explore so make sure you have time to wander around. The Biosphere is a museum all about the environment and is located inside a giant golf ball looking structure. If you like to learn while traveling, this museum is a good choice. It's actually located on its own separate island, but luckily there is a subway (yellow line) to take you there.

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PARC DU MONT ROYAL

All the guide books said that hiking up to the top of Parc du Mont Royal to observe the view is a must and I can tell you from personal experience, the view is gorgeous! Tip- if hiking is not for you, there are a few buses that will drop you off close to the peak and you can just walk along a path for about 10 minutes instead of hiking for 45 minutes.

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NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL

While the Montreal Notre Dame is not as magnificent as the Paris one, it’s still worth a visit. The outside facade appears to be an exact replica of the one in Paris and the inside is breathtaking as well. Make sure you bring cash as the $6 entrance fee is cash only. Bonus- we went during an organ concert and had the opportunity to hear their organist play several classical pieces.

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CHINATOWN

What is a trip to Montreal without stopping by their famous Chinatown? Chinatown is located within walking distance of the Notre Dame so its the perfect place to stop for a quick snack or lunch after touring the Cathedral. It was not as big as I thought it would be (just a few streets), but it was packed with delicious Asian bakeries, tiny restaurants, and tons of pedestrians. Look how cute these Keroppi matcha buns are!

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Have you guys been to Montreal? What was your favorite thing?

Best of Savannah

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Labor Day Weekend. On one hand we have a free day off from work, but on the other hand Labor Day signifies the end of summer and the closure of a bunch of my favorite NYC summer activities (free kayaking, beach, seasonal rooftop bars). As a result, I rarely travel over this weekend because I want to soak in the last feels of New York summer life.

This year, however, my friend and I decided to make plans to visit Savannah, Georgia because we had seen photos of the charming Southern town on Instagram and instantly fell in love. The vacation was everything we dreamed of and more (even though I did forget my sunglasses and my iPhone officially went to heaven). Savannah was so cute! But fair warning, there was a lot of walking involved. Savannah did not have a good public transportation so it was either walk or Uber everywhere.

We relaxed by the pool of our amazing hotel, The Westin Savannah Resort and Spa (its actually located on its own island across from downtown Savannah!), and had an amazing view of the river. Tip- look for hotels on discount websites such as Priceline or Hotwire. That's actually how we ended up with The Westin! The hotel even provided a free ferry service to bring us across the river to downtown.

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We took Instagram worthy photos at the Wormsloe Historic Site. I loved smelling (and seeing) the giant Spanish moss trees. And yes, my friend and I did bring our hats to Savannah! The site is huge and the road of trees actually last over a mile. The first mile is a working road so cars are coming in both directions. Its suggested to have your Uber drop you off at the end of this 1 mile road for photos of the trees without the disruption of cars passing. We didn't know this in advance (and we weren't going to walk the 1 mile) so we ended up jumping in and out of the road to take photos and avoid cars.

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We toasted our Southern vacation on The Bohemian rooftop, where we again had amazing views of the river. My blueberry vodka lemonade was delicious!

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We toured the beautiful Owen Thomas House and had the opportunity to learn more about Savannah’s history. I would recommend coming here earlier in the day to reserve your tour time. The tours book up fast and you're only able to view the house through a guided tour. They also only allow same day tour reservations so you can't pre-book.

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We meandered around downtown Savannah and saw all these gorgeous squares and Forsyth Park.

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I fell in love with the beautiful houses!

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Which picture of Savannah was your favorite? Have you guys been to any of these sites?