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Traveling Iceland Solo and Female

 

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I decided to ignore TLC’s advice and go chasing waterfalls.

 

I haven’t written too extensively about my solo adventures in a public forum, mostly because they are so deep and personal. Every trip provides the exact therapy and soul-searching that I need for that specific point and time in my life.

Getting started:

Flights:

WOW Air all the way. You can do a stopover in Iceland on your way to many European destinations. I got mine for $70 on the way to Dublin and trust me, you’ll want more than just a layover. Flights are also much cheaper to Europe and you can get a flight from $99-$500.

Check for flexible dates to get the best deals.

Packing:

I’m a BABY when it comes to the cold (and I’ve been in Florida too long), so a good, warm jacket was top priority on my list.

This heated jacket was like a warm hug from Olaf as I gazed off into the wonders of the mystical Aurora Borealis…get it here.

Pack LIGHT. Especially if you take WOW Air because you are only allowed one carry-on and one personal item.

Pack clothes that are versatile (plain colors, pants, sweaters to layer).

Pack one heavy jacket and one light (put it on top of your personal bag to save space in your suitcase).

Ski pants and waterproof boots/sneakers (this one helped the most when I was at the Glacier Lagoon and had to sit on the wet boat. Everyone else was freaking out and trying to find a dry spot when I didn’t feel a thing!).

They are STRICT about this ($100 per bag). Luckily, I was able to stuff everything into my big bag or I would have racked up hundreds of dollars per flight.

You’ll want to pack light to make room for some souvenirs and so that you don’t tire yourself out while hiking.

Go pro or some waterproof case (for the rain and waterfalls).

Lots of snacks—food is expensive!

Bring a water bottle! (Iceland has some of the purest water in their faucets. Take advantage of the free water).

Tips:

  • Want to do a quick conversion of Krona to US dollars? Take off the last 2 digits. EX. ISK 500 is about $5. (It’s actually $4.80 but pretty close, right?! Helps to round up because then you can ask yourself if something is worth the higher price and have a little extra change at the end if you tally the expenses).
  • Keep track of spending throughout and budget
  • Cook meals with people
  • Stay at hostels (KEX is the best)
  • Couch surf
  • Play music, draw or write poems for people (very creative culture and can help you afford the trip without going broke).
  • Do tours that go to multiple places to save time and money
  • Go Sept-March to see the northern lights
  • Compare tours and your level (I used Greyline but usually hostels can plan them too)

Sites:

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

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cool

 

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Holding part of the glacier.

 

This place was beautiful. I highly recommend taking the boat ride and getting right in the middle of the glaciers. Pure Icelandic beauty.

The Church

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close church

inside church

great church

The focal point of Reykjavik.

Waterfalls

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They are literally everywhere!

Food:

 

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  • Cook with others (one person buys pasta, the other sauce, etc.)
  • Take advantage of the food left behind in hostels and whip up a meal
  • Get food from a grocery store or bakery (fill up on bread)
  • Don’t go to restaurants
  • Only get drinks during happy hour (a beer will run you about $13 so during happy hour, it’s half-off, which will come to the price of a beer at a higher-class American bar. But hey, who needs to drink when you have all that natural beauty right?).

Things to know:

  • Icelanders are very nice but can come off cold (haha!) because at work they are generally professional and do not engage in small talk or personal conversation. Don’t take this the wrong way. There are plenty of other Icelanders you can interact with. Tour guides are one of the best since they are used to dealing with tourists and love talking about their beautiful country.

Don’t:

  • Keep your phone with you during the Blue Lagoon. I went in with a Lifeproof case and was careful but the second I got too relaxed, it fell off the ledge. The sulfur seeped through the case and completely corrupted my phone. Thank god for the automatic sync feature on Google Photos.
  •  Take some pics with a camera you don’t care about or if you use your phone, have someone take the picture from outside or put it back in your locker.
  • Try to capture the northern lights with flash (you can’t capture light with more light—it just doesn’t work
  • Keep your phone out the entire time (immerse yourself in the experience)
  • Stay in a hotel room by yourself (go to a hostel and meet people)
  • Let your guard down too much (it’s safe but there are always people who will take advantage of that)
  • Walk by a musician without getting their social media and striking up a conversation about life (trust me, it will be worth it)
  • Exclude people in a group (Iceland is a very inclusive and happy place. Everyone wants to be included so don’t be that rude person)
  • Ignore people who don’t speak English well (have patience and use translate, pictures and music)
  • Sleep (part of me is for this and against. Main point is make the most of your trip but self-care is important too)
  • Spend too much on souvenirs
  • In my experience, everyone took cards so don’t transfer all your money to Krona since the exchange rate will most likely not be in your favor

Do:

  • Try to speak some Icelandic. The locals will find it amusing and will appreciate you going through the headache
  • Go on tours
  • Rent an RV if you’re with friends

 

Writings:

Reykjavik

happy little fool

 

Here I sat upon a little hill in Reykjavik; looking out upon a mountain and ocean that nourished my soul. I took out my little notebook and did what I did best—wrote my heart and soul on to paper.

Deep in the heart of this wonderous city, I find myself wrapped in the love that the universe so obviously wants to give me. In the form of smiles or fresh cinnamon rolls on the street. It’s shouting, yearning for attention and I am just now opening my eyes and widening my heart as I gaze upon this city from a hill. Reykjavik, you are a marvelous soul wanting to enrapture everyone you meet in your natural beauty

Journal Entry

I am currently fulfilling my dream of going to Iceland and back to Ireland! I’m having an amazing time and thinking about how you all have helped inspire me to have the courage to do this for myself and by myself. I have met the kindest people and have allowed myself to do what I want and heal in so many ways. I feel stronger and more capable than ever before.  I loved the fact that I felt this while traveling and doing something I’ve always wanted that proved to me that I am worth it. After walking around all morning, I was exhausted and went to sit in a little park. I put down my phone and watched the bees buzz by. I relaxed myself when I started to become afraid they might sting me and thought about how proud I am of myself and how happy I am right now.

Although it’s not easy traveling alone, I’ve managed to do it and feel more empowered than ever before. Last night, I met a ton of new friends and we all cooked and ate dinner together, went out, and stayed up all night talking. Many of the people in the group were guys, which is something I always need to stay vigilant about and can become scared of something happening again. The guys listened to me speak and we all talked about our lives, what we’ve learned and shared crazy stories. They actually treated me like a human being which sadly is not something I get so often.

There was a guy who liked a girl at the bar who was too drunk. He wanted to go home with her but he decided against it because he knew it wasn’t right. When some of the people at the bar made fun of him, I told him that he did the right thing and was a good person. The cool thing is that I was fully prepared to step in if it looked like something would happen to her. I got the feeling from her conversation that she had some history with sexual trauma and I was prepared to explain to the guy just how much sex without consent can affect someone’s life. I felt confident and even walked the girl to her hostel to make sure that she was safe. Although it felt nice to do that for her and it was my instinctual need to take care of her, it took a lot out of me because I began to worry about her safety when she traveled to London the next day. I was fully feeling the responsibility of taking care of everyone else.

Today I got to do a little more for myself and am carrying all of your spirits in my heart as I travel through this mysterious and beautiful land. I find myself making audible moans and wows as I am fully turned on by this landscape. It makes me feel small and powerful at the same time.

The Black Beach: Stones of Truth

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I knew it was going to be a transformative experience the moment I saw it. I looked at the powerful beast they called the ocean and saw that the waves were much bigger than me. I was told that if I did choose to go down to the beach, do not go near the shoreline. The waves are too powerful and the current will take you away. It doesn’t matter how strong or how big you are—they will take you out. That was when it hit me. This beach is just like trauma. It hits us where it hurts and makes us small. The first thing I noticed was the sand and how it felt on my skin. I exfoilated myself with it a little bit and walked closer, venturing into unknown territory. I walked toward the crashing waves and admired them. I voiced my wows and let my entire being be in awe of the sight my eyes were on.

The tide rushed in quickly and I ran away, remembering that it was dangerous and I could get carried away by the current. I laughed with relief as I made it out of harm’s way. I looked to my left and saw a young woman running from the current as well. We both laughed and I told her how beautiful the beach was and she nodded. I asked her where she was from and she said Japan. I told her that I went there last year and she said she was from Osaka. I smiled and remembered the amazing people I’ve met in Osaka. I asked her to take some pictures of me and I was going to take one of her. She turned the camera around and took a picture with me. I smiled, knowing the beauty of meeting a stranger and it turning into a memory and a friend. She was also traveling alone. I asked her for her name and she agreed to send me the picture. Another woman saw the interaction and offered to take a picture for us and we threw up the classic Japanese backwards peace sign. It reminded me of when the schoolgirls I met in Japan interviewed me and wanted to take a picture with me. I smiled as she walked off and went back toward the beach.

At first, my heart just wanted to spread love. I admired the beauty of the beach and then started to write in the sand. I started with a basic heart and then wrote Iceland underneath. I figured it would be a cute spot for tourists to take pictures. Then I wondered what words I would need written among the black sand. I chose WARRIOR, the name of my current chapter of my memoir and my life. I took pictures with it and felt strong, remembering all I’ve been through. I saw a couple people and wondered if they would think I was weird but didn’t care. Then I thought about what would feel good in this moment and what would other people would need to see if they are also struggling. I wrote if you are reading this, you are loved.

Then the beach was clear and I knew it was just me and the powerful ocean. No one could hear or see me so I was free to let out what I wanted. As I wrote the previous phrases, I picked up the most beautiful smooth stones and gave a meaning to it. After I wrote the heart and Iceland I picked up the first stone that called to me and said it was for me doing this for myself. It was gratitude. The next one was warrior and it represented my strength.

After I wrote the last phrase, it was kindness for others. These are all things I know I possess. I began to think about things that I possessed that I didn’t like. I found two beautiful but heavy rocks that I couldn’t carry with me even if I wanted to. I named one I’m a burden and the other I am bad. These are the two core beliefs that hold me back and make me miserable. I wanted to throw them into the ocean but I wasn’t ready yet. I stared down that ocean as if it were a demon. I was ready to face it and I was stronger than it, even if people were telling me that it was much more powerful than anyone on the planet. Not me, I said to myself, not me.

I was cautious yet firm in my steps. I knew how close I could get without getting swept away but I also knew that I needed to let go of this rock that was holding me down. I closed my eyes and thought about what I went through. It was not my fault and I am not bad. I approached the ocean and swung back my right hand like a baseball pitcher. I’m done! I said to myself as I threw that rock into the ocean with all my might. I started to feel satisfied for letting it go but I still had the other rock holding me back. I asked myself what kind of strength it would take to let go of the last rock and I said that I could let go of it gently and watch it float away.

I kept approaching the ocean slowly but firmly but the foam would not get close enough for me to gently let go of the rock. I had to keep approaching carefully, making sure I didn’t become too overconfident and overestimate its power. No. You stay away. I said and the tide obeyed. I kept doing this until I could get close enough to let go of the rock without risking my life. It felt amazing to feel that I could control something so scary and powerful. I knew that I could trust myself enough to keep myself safe from the current but also get that rock in there. After several tries I finally accepted that I could not let go of it easily. I got closer and threw it gently in. It washed away and I turned my back and walked away. I gave a smirk and laughed. I’m done, I said.

I turned back around and decided to tell the ocean everything I’ve ever felt. I’m not letting you have power over me anymore. You can take your lies back. I am not bad and I am never a burden. I felt chills down my entire body and my heated jacket provided me comfort. I felt as if I were enwrapped in a warm hug with a dear friend who was telling me that everything was going to be okay. What I did not realize until now was that I was always that friend. I was always capable of loving myself if I just let it happen. I felt fulfilled.

I saw another rock and picked it up and called it truth. I felt that it was time to go back and I did what I needed to do here. I saw another rock and I asked myself if I wanted to pick it up. I said no. It would be too heavy and I don’t need to pick up all the rocks that call to me. I took a picture of myself after and felt strong. I looked for the words that I wrote before but could not find them. It was okay. Hopefully someone will stumble upon them in the future.

I noticed a small volcanic rock lying on the beach and remembered how I admired it before but I couldn’t figure out why. This rock was small but it didn’t get carried away by the tide despite being close to the shoreline. It stayed there unphased. I immediately identified with that rock. I have been able to stay stable through all of the turmoil that life has given me. I’m still here. I’m still here. These words that once produced such sadness made me glad. I felt glad to be alive.

I thanked the beach for what it gave to me today. I noticed that I only had ten minutes before we were leaving and wondered why there wasn’t another soul on the beach. I then remembered that the point was to grab dinner and the beach was sort of a plus if you happened to have time. I figured that people were probably shopping for souvenirs from the beach and buying rocks that they could pick up for free on the actual beach.

Although I knew I should eat dinner, I knew that this was an important experience and this was not me trying to avoid eating. I knew that I wasn’t hungry and I had snacks with me so I could eat on the bus if I really had to. I was shocked that people would actually buy souvenirs from the beach without even stepping on it. I was proud of myself for not worrying about shopping because I know that it is a problem for me. I promised myself a memento with the rocks to remind myself of those stones. I need to remember to hold onto the truth stones and let go of the lies.

Gullfoss: Golden Falls

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She met me at the top of Gullfoss. It was raging like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She was powerful and beautiful at the same time. She was full of capacity and pleasure. She was not afraid to say what she wanted. She encompassed my entire being and her power roared within me. There was no more obligation to take care of others. It was now purely what she wanted to do. I looked over out at the waterfall, which was thundering beneath me, and cried as I finally realized I had let go of my rocks and allowed myself to get what I want. I picked up my last rock and found my truth—my grown goddess—I’ve been her the whole time but I wasn’t able to see it.

I picked up my perfectly imperfect rock and it said that it wanted to be let go. I chucked it into the waterfall as tears ran down my face. It was the most genuine and honest moment I’ve ever had in my life I forgot about everyone else and it was just me and the waterfall. I made a promise to do what I want even if it makes someone else unhappy. It never served me to push myself down for everyone else. I thought about how nice it would be to have a picture of this moment but was glad I experienced it fully, without my phone. Pictures could never do that moment justice.

Tears streamed down my face as I was no longer afraid. I stood with all my ages and we knew we could walk down with the strength of all of them. The once raging waterfall began to die down a little bit. It was calmer and my tears fell with it in unison. I finally found myself in such a beautiful way. I let myself relax and then turned around to face some more of the waterfall. As I thanked myself for the trip and thought about the transformation I had made, two children, a boy and a girl stood right in front of me! My original vision with my grown goddess had two children holding her hands. Tears cascaded down my face as I looked at the lovely sight and appreciated the beautiful metaphor and how absolutely perfect this trip has been.

Aurora Borealis

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Dancing dream

Green

Flutters through the sky

Wavelengths of wonder

Of passion

Of great, great light

How beautiful!

How lucky am I to witness you in your true essence

And on my last night

I was patiently

Waiting for you to arrive

Deep in my eyes lay disappointment

You weren’t bright enough

Colorful enough

Beautiful and wonderful enough

I set my expectations too high

You saw that and you conjured magnificent hues of goddess green and threw them across like sky like ribbons

You were a shark

Then an eagle

Your beauty capturing my being

How am I worthy of you?

I stopped and just was with you

Not questioning my worth

And just enjoying who you truly are

 

People tried to capture you with lights and cameras

You wouldn’t allow it

You were too beautiful to capture

You needed to be witnessed in your truest form

It’s sad that even though you are so so undeniably beautiful

People still take advantage of you

 

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Should I go on a Cruise?

(Disclaimer: I apologize for the morbid cover picture but my sick sense of humor made me do it.)

So you are planning a vacation and wondering whether or not it would be best for you to go on a cruise. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

How much time do you want to spend in each place?

Would you rather try to see as many places as possible in a short amount of time or to take your time and try to get the most out of each city?

How much time does the cruise spent in the ports?

Sometimes the cruise will go to a port that is far away from the main city. The ride there could be costly in itself and could only leave you with a few hours to explore before you have to head back. Take Paris for example. It takes about 5 hours to get to and from Paris from the port Le Havre. That means you might have only a few hours to actually explore the city which puts many limits on what you can do. Not to mention the long lines for the popular sites and the fact that you will probably want to get something to eat. I would highly recommend getting a fast pass for these attractions and checking to see when the cruise will be at the certain port and when certain attractions are closed. I saw one cruise to Paris that docked there the only day during the week that the Louvre was closed, which was a big deal-breaker.

It is also good to know whether or not the ship will stay in that port for the night because that means you could have more time there to explore.

Do you care whether or not you spend the night there?

If you are looking forward to seeing a place for it’s nightlife, you are most likely not going to be able to experience it on a cruise, since they usually leave the ports before nighttime. However, there are some exceptions to this.

What does your budget look like?

Cruises are known for being more economical if you are leaving from a port close to home. This way, you can avoid paying for plane tickets, hotels, and even food. These are all huge expenses that can hike up the price of a vacation very easily. It also allows you to save some money so you can put them toward fun excursions.

What would you like to do on vacation?

If you want to relax for the most part, party, and do a little exploring of the city, then a cruise is probably better for you. You’ll get a ton of free entertainment on board which will allow you to skip the expenses of finding things to do within a city. If you would rather spend time in the city exploring, seeing museums, and eating, then it’s probably best for you to stay at a certain location.

Would you like to stuff yourself to outrageous proportions without paying for it?

Cruise all the way!

Do you have kids? Do they make you want to drink a lot?

Three words: unlimited drink package (because I care about your sanity).

Do you like heading to the front of the ship and screaming “I’m the king of the world!”?

Um, do it.

Do you need to buy nice gifts but want to buy something on sale or without tax?

Go to a duty-free shop on a cruise!

Do you have any fear or anxiety of boats?

If it is to the point where you cannot get past it, then I would spare your family and friends the headache and skip the cruise.

Do you like cheesy, loud, and somewhat obnoxious parties, shows and karaoke?

I’m looking at you cruise entertainers.

Do you want to be able to drink without getting lost or having to drive?

Then a cruise is perfect for you!

Is your name Jack and did you win a cruise of a lifetime in a bet that you could never afford on your own?

Yeah, I would skip it.

Is your name Rose and you don’t like sharing your space with anyone and make promises that you cannot keep like that you won’t let go?

Don’t you dare get on the ship.

Yes, it had to go there. I hope this has helped you make your decision on whether or not a cruise is for you! In all seriousness, please post any additional questions below in the comment box.

Guide to Traveling Chicago Solo

Chicago. Chi-town. The windy city. There’s no wonder why it’s referred to as the “Jewel of the Midwest”. The shiny and reflective structures, mind-blowing architecture and sophisticated museums make it one of the best cities to visit in the U.S.

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare completely on my own, as I had a conference for the American Association of Suicidology there. My biggest blunder was booking my flight way in advance without realizing I would be spending Easter there—meaning I would be completely alone and almost everything would be closed very early. Nevertheless, I used that extra time to finish up some school work since I knew I would be arriving about an hour before class started. I also did some research on where I should visit first and what to put on my priority list. Here are some things that I was able to see:

University of Chicago

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I didn’t originally plan on visiting but the university is right next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House. The wait was about an hour, so it gave me enough time to explore the university. I try to explore as many universities as I can so that I can see what campus life is like around the world. Since my boyfriend is going to be a future architect, his passion has definitely influenced me to want to see more art and famous buildings around the world. The school reminded me of what an Ivy League school would look like—castlelike structures, old chapels, and strands of ivy draping over every side of the buildings. They also had two beautiful libraries that I could not wait to get a glimpse of. One of the libraries reminded me of something you would find in Hogwarts—spacious and incredibly ancient and prestigious. The other library was extremely modern, much so that I did not know it was a library until I looked further within the structure. It was entirely made out of glass and you could see students working and reading. It was not open to visitors but I was glad I got the chance to see the exterior in person. My favorite campus surprise was the food trucks. I ended up going to the truck with the most people in line (usually means it’s the best) and I had a spicy kimchi taco which was delicious and extremely affordable. Overall, it was a great way to kill time and see some new things.

Robie House

This is a house that has a lot of history and is now part of the University of Chicago in order to keep it preserved. It is actually one of the first “modern” homes and inspired so many other similar styles that are still used in homes today. When you go in, they will tell you that you cannot take pictures unless you pay for a photo pass. Play dumb. Don’t waste your money on this and wait until your guide turns around or the group leaves so that you can take as many pictures as you want. They are just trying to get more money out of you, which isn’t right.

The Bean (Cloud Gate)

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Nothing is more iconic than the famous Chicago Bean. This structure allows you to get amazing pictures of yourself and the Chicago skyline. The whole point is for you to interact with the sculpture and create something unique.screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-12-56-35-amIf you go underneath, it becomes even more abstract. You can lie down and take pictures or take a video around the bottom perimeter to get some cool views.

Millenium Park
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This park was absolutely perfect for taking a leisurely walk or a morning run. I would come here to eat breakfast (a healthy one consisting of donuts and hot chocolate) and stare at the magnificent views of the city and of the Bean.

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There’s even a gorgeous silver bridge that takes you from one side of the park to the other.

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This amphitheater is perfect for performances and springtime picnics. They would also show free movies here and have events so the public can gather together. It’s literally a small town feel in a big city.

Let’s get to the most important part…

THE FOOD

You obviously can’t leave Chicago without trying the deep dish pizza or Garrett’s Chicago style popcorn.

Garrett’s popcorn: Chicago Mix- cheddar cheese and caramel. Sounds very strange but it goes together better than peanut butter and jelly. Trust me.

Lou Malnati’s: Giordiano’s is also a very famous contender here but they do not offer personal pizzas. I prefer a smaller, thinner crust so this pizza was absolutely perfect for me. There’s a bit of a wait but it’s totally worth it.

Donuts: Stan’s, Firecakes, and the Donut Vault are some of the most famous donuts in the Chicago area. I personally only tried the last two and I preferred Firecakes for the funky flavors. The presentation is also gorgeous making them pretty much Pinterest famous.

The Girl and the Goat: This is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Chicago. Although I did not get a chance to go here due to my limited budget, it is highly recommended and I will go there when I visit again.

Beatrix: Very upscale yet affordable and great service. I met up with a friend here and the waiter even gave us a free drink since he saw me looking at her engagement ring and thought we should celebrate. The food and dessert were both delicious. I got the salmon with mole sauce and the chocolate cake.

Where to Stay

I stayed in a quaint Airbnb apartment which was really affordable, but I wish I would have realized that anyone could rent out the other private rooms. That made things a little uncomfortable but I was completely safe and had a lock on my own door. I stayed near the University of Illinois at Chicago and it was super close to the train station which made traveling a lot easier.

Transportation

I went back and forth from using the train, Uber, and cabs. Once I was downtown, Uber was extremely cheap and efficient for getting to all of the sights I wanted to see quickly. I also did Uber Pool which made rides even cheaper (about $5-7).

Sights

Get the Chicago GO Pass and you are free to see many popular sights such as the John Hancock Observatory, the Willis Tower and skydeck, as well as many museums. You can’t miss the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses many famous paintings and is where Ferris Beuller and his friends share a deep moment looking at the art. The pass also included a beautiful architecture cruise along the Chicago River, where I learned about the history of the architectural boom after the Great Chicago Fire. Who knew that fire could pass through a river?

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The Art Institute. The Chicago GO pass got me to the front of this line.
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Walk over the city on the glass SkyDeck
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Tilt over the skyline at the John Hancock Observatory (P.S. Don’t buy the photos. Just pretend to talk to the lady and take the pictures on your phone since the screen is at hip-level. It already costs extra to do the tilt so might as well get more out of it.)

Where to Shop

Magnificent Mile- The Rodeo Drive/5th Avenue/Grafton Street/Oxford Street/Worth Avenue/Bal Harbour/Ginza of Chicago. This was the only area I walked alone at night.

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If you have more questions about visiting Chicago, feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible! I was only here for a week but I was able to get a lot done considering a lot of my time was also spent at a conference.

Solo Travel to Japan

Japan 1

Traveling to Japan alone (especially as a woman) can sound intimidating at first but it is actually a lot easier than you would think.

It’s super safe

For the most part, the Japanese are very polite and proper. You don’t have to worry about pickpockets as much as you do in Europe. The crime rate is also under 1%, so chances are that you are probably living in a city that is much more dangerous than Japan.

It’s super clean

Do not litter but do not expect to find trash cans everywhere either. I do not know where the trash goes, but keep a plastic bag for your trash with you at all times because you never know when you’ll actually find a trash can. You will usually have to wait until you find a bathroom. Oh yeah, and there usually aren’t paper towels or air dryers either so keep a small washcloth or hand sanitizer with you.

Speaking of clean, the locals do not like germs, so many of them may be wearing masks around their nose and mouth. This does not mean they do not want to talk to you if they are a worker but it is an extra precaution since it is frowned upon to take off from work. Always make sure you are polite and courteous if you need to sneeze or cough.

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The train system is easy and efficient

The trains are always punctual and there is usually a train coming within the next 10-15 minutes. The train stations also have signs in English and the workers can usually point you to the right destination.

If you want to travel around Tokyo, get the Pasmo Card and put about $20 on it. You can get this pass at any train station. For travel outside Tokyo, get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This will allow you to take the bullet train (Shinkansen line) to cities all over Japan. You need to make sure you buy it before you get to Japan. You either won’t be able to do this once you are there or it will be a big pain.

Don’t use cabs or even Uber, as it is much more expensive in Japan.

*I was able to use Google Maps by renting a Pocket Wifi. It cost me less than $100 to use for the whole time I was there (10 days). I was able to see where I was going and it even allows you to figure out what train to take.

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Be adventurous with the food, but know what you are eating

Google Translate is very helpful for this. You can take a picture of the text and it will tell you what is on the menu. Sometimes there are things on the menu that you would not normally eat at home (horse meat) and would care not to. Either way, it’s good to know.

As far as recommendations go, my personal favorite was walking through the Nishiki Market and sampling all of the fresh food they have to offer. Be sure to get the Okonomiyaki and try some sushi. Supposedly, the Tsukiji Market is the best place for sushi.

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Where to stay

The hostels in Japan are immaculate and will cost you about $30 per night. They also have strict rules, security and a safe in each room. Air BnB is also a great option.

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Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura)

Sakura means that Spring is here! Don’t expect to see these beautiful views unless you go during a very specific time of year. Prime time is late March-April but see specific guides for each area.

Key places to see 

TOKYO

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Harajuku District: Filled with creative and fun outfits and people. A haven for anything Kawaii (cute) including Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and anything cartoon or anime-related. Check out the colorful food like crepes and be sure to visit one of the cat, rabbit, owl, or even snake cafes! The cat cafes are adorable and allow you to relax and play with cats while enjoying some coffee.

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Senso-ji Temple

Japan New Year

Meiji Shrine

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Tokyo DisneySea

This was definitely one of the coolest experiences. If you love Disney, this will surely be a treat because it’s everything you think you knew about Disney in Japanese! Be sure to go to DisneySea because DisneyLand has rides that are very similar to the ones in the US. They have live shows, new and exciting rides, and exotic food. Be prepared to get lost and go through a few workers to find someone who speaks English.

Don’t miss the Big Band Beat like I did. You have to go to the “lottery” to win tickets and if you don’t, you have to wait in line. Be sure to line up early because the line will probably be full by fifteen minutes before the next showing.

Watch the late night show because it is just phenomenal. Seriously. My mouth fell wide open and I’m 23.

Take a ride on Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ride the Indiana Jones one too if it’s open.

Ah, yes. The food. Frozen beer, flavored popcorn, and character mochi. Just check out this awesome blog for details.

A ticket to DisneySea will cost you about $70 which is a deal when you compare it to the $100+ tickets in the US parks. I suggest you make a day of it instead of wasting your money at one of the swanky hotels.

KYOTO

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Kyoto is undoubtably one of the most beautiful spots in Japan. Spots to see are Nijo-jo CastleShimogamo-jinja ShrineThe Golden Pavillon, and Ryoan-ji Temple. I missed the Monkey Park but that is on my list for next time.

OSAKA

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend a lot of time here but I went to Osaka Castle which I really liked. I also missed the Osaka is famous for its nightlife and food as well.

NARA 

I did not have enough time to go to Nara but there are a lot of cool temples and deer here.

Tips:

If you are going to be staying in someone’s home (a friend, airBnB, an exchange family) it is polite to bring a small gift from your home country

To easily calculate Yen to Dollars without taking out a calculator or converter, take off the last 2 digits of the price.

For example, if something is 5300 yen, you know that it will cost you no more than $53. It will not be completely accurate, but it is pretty close (actual price is $51.15). By using this method, it makes it more likely that you will stick to your budget because you are actually calculating the higher price.

Eat where the locals eat

This is usually where you are going to find the best and most authentic cuisine. Check out one of the rotating sushi bars. They are very fresh and delicious. You only pay for what you pick up and eat and it gives you a chance to try many new things for a very small price.

Stay in a hostel

This is the best way to save money and meet new people. Most hostels have a curtain and a nice sized bed with lockers to keep your space private and secure. They also have strict rules about noise, safety, and cleanliness.

If you make the journey to Hakone to see Mt. Fuji, bring a bag and do not drink heavily before the ride

I do not get car sick easily but this was one rough ride. I could barely keep my lunch down and I was so glad I didn’t drink too much the night before. A bag would’ve made me feel a lot more relaxed.

Also, don’t expect to actually see Mt. Fuji

A lot of times, it can be covered by fog. Make sure you check the weather in Hakone beforehand to maximize your chances of seeing the majestic mountain up close. The cruise and skytram are the best ways to see it.

Organize your coins before you go up to pay at a store or on the bus

Don’t be that tourist who holds people up by not counting their change or having the correct amount beforehand. Put your coins in a place where you can easily access them and if possible, have specific areas for different coin amounts.

Common blunders:

Don’t be late for your train

The train system is very efficient and when it says it’s leaving at 5:04, it leaves at that very moment. They usually have another train within 15 minutes if you are in a large metropolis but if not, it could be a longer wait.

Never use a driving service

The trains are usually faster than traveling by car and a lot less expensive. Take the bullet train to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo or risk a $200+ fare.

Do what the Japanese do

If they bow, bow back. This shows a sign of respect, even if you are not familiar with their culture or language.

Do not talk on the phone near shrines, temples, or on the train

This is seen as extremely disrespectful

Watch out for bikes!

They are everywhere and you can easily get hit if you are not paying attention

Skip the Robot Restaurant

It’s an extremely cheesy tourist trap. Especially if you are going alone and have no one to laugh at it with.

Don’t get off the toilet until the spray feature is turned off

Do I really have to explain this humiliating story?

Allow extra time to get to your flight if you are traveling from other cities

If you use Google Maps, it might be tracking the faster bullet train which is more expensive and mainly just for Japanese locals and business people. Give yourself more time than you think just in case.

Don’t ignore other tourists who speak the same language as you

This is a great opportunity for you to get to know other people and learn different things about Japan from their perspective. I’ve had the best conversations by speaking to strangers and it has enriched my travel experiences immensely. It also helps prevent you from getting too lonely in a place where you are the foreigner.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes before stepping into a temple, someone’s home, or onto a tatami mat

The Japanese are very strict about this rule because they believe that germs are carried in from your outside shoes. Some places will have slippers you can borrow inside but it might be more sanitary to buy your own and carry them in your bag with you. They also make for a very cute keepsake.

Don’t buy too many gifts

Chances are your suitcase is already full if you are traveling alone and you will probably only be able to easily roll around a carry-on. Don’t make life hard on yourself to the point where you can’t bring everything back or you have to spend a bunch of money shipping everything back home.

Never ever tip

It is considered extremely rude and implies that the workers do not get paid enough.

Before I actually did it, I never thought that I could get around Japan on my own. You learn a lot about yourself and meet very interesting people along the way. It also teaches you to have patience and become tolerant of others and yourself. It was a tough experience but I am glad I got to play the role of a foreigner. It definitely teaches you what being in a new country that doesn’t speak your language is like.

The Truth Behind Wanderlust

If you know me a little bit, even at all, you know that I am always busy dreaming about my next trip or places I want to go in the future. There are many wonderful reasons to travel, but there are some things you need to be aware of as well.

Don’t use travel to escape from your problems at home

I’m sure we are all guilty of going away on vacation and just completely forgetting about responsibilities at home. This will start to creep up on you fast and make things much worse for you when you come back.

The post-trip depression will hit you like a brick

You will want to be back on your trip as soon as you come back home and you will notice every single thing you hate about your hometown. Don’t let the negativity get to you. Instead, try to appreciate the fact that you got to get away and look for little things to appreciate about where you live.

Don’t spend your life just waiting for the next time you’ll get away

Unless you are getting paid to travel, you will have to spend time in the same place for a while. Learn to enjoy being where you are, instead of just thinking about how great other places are. Explore new places in your area and make that new place your getaway or sanctuary.

You’re not always going to have the time or the money to travel

This is true in so many instances. We have to pay for school, rent, food and eventually a wedding, kids and a house. We will have to work hard and save up to have these things, so traveling may not happen as often as we want it to. This needs to be okay.

It’s better to save up for a dream trip rather than taking a bunch of mediocre trips

It’s tempting to try to get away as soon as possible, but it’s a lot better to wait to go somewhere you can really enjoy and do it right.

How to See California

San Diego

Palm Springs

Joshua Tree

Malibu

Los Angeles

Santa Barbara

Death Valley

Sequoia

Yosemite

Big Sur

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Monterey

San Francisco

Napa Valley

Redwood Forest

California Trip Tips

So you’re planning a trip to (or just fantasizing about) California. I did a trip from San Diego to Napa earlier this year, since I wanted to confirm my belief that I should move there. It was confirmed big time. Here are some things that are helpful to know before you go:

Driving

A car is necessary for getting around California, so renting one or driving your own is your best bet. Being from Florida, the intense curvature of the California roads and the mountains were difficult to acclimate to. You may also need to parallel park and there are a lot more one-way roads than in South Florida. I routinely complain about and avoid Miami’s traffic, but L.A. makes it seem like a party. The average amount of time one spends stuck in L.A. traffic during rush hour is 40 minutes out of an hour. If you are driving the Pacific Coast Highway, be wary of cliffs, reckless drivers, and rockslides. There also is no indication that another lane is merging, such as a sign on or near the freeway. It just kind of gets bigger and you have to be cognizant of other cars. People tend to switch lanes or make turns without using their signal, so watch out for that as well.

Tax

Tax is extremely high here, so make sure to plan for it. It can range from 6.5% to 10%, depending on where you are and what you are buying.

Gas

Gas prices are known to be higher than most other US states, so be sure to plan for this expense as well.

Beaches

The beaches are known for being gorgeous and perfect for tanning or surfing, but be careful before you decide to jump into the water. The oceans are usually very cold and no matter how hot it may be outside, it can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant.

Time

Make sure to plan out places you want to see on your trip according to how much time you have to spend here. It takes a while to get to each place and you will want to spend a certain amount of time in each area, or even find a random area that you want to see. Be sure to plan for impromptu stops if you can, or stick to a strict itinerary to make sure you can fit it all in. Decide if you want to spend time hiking, checking out a national park, exploring a theme park, taking a vineyard tour, or walking through cities. Be reasonable about how much time you expect to spend in each spot and plan to travel to and sleep in a different city at night so you can make more progress traveling. Have a priority list of places that you have to see and places that you would not be upset about missing, but would like to go. If you are with a group of people, make sure to compromise so that everyone can accomplish the top priority on their list.

Most people recommend staying in California for 2 weeks. Personally, I did a trip from San Diego to Napa Valley in one week, but there were a lot of things I missed. We did make sure to have a set itinerary and have some wiggle room for extra places to see.

Highlights

Invest in a travel guide of California or stalk Pinterest for the best places to visit. Be sure to plan these in advance to prioritize and maximize your time. Make sure to research events, activities and food to make sure you don’t miss anything important. There’s nothing worse than realizing something awesome was happening after you’ve already left.

Budget

Have a set budget for activities like tours, wine/beer tastings, surfing lessons, museum fees, etc. These are some things that are last minute decisions and they are usually not included in the initial budget. Think about how many activities you think you will participate in and stick to the budget. Plan out how much you want to spend on food, hotels, and items as well. Make sure you discuss the budget with your fellow travelers and update them the budget each day. This will help keep the group accountable and prevent overspending.

Did I miss anything important? Be sure to add it in the comments below!

How to visit Disney

Disney World is one of the most popular destinations in the US. It can also be one of the most expensive vacations you will take…unless you follow these tips.

Hotels

If you stay onsite, stay at a low-medium rate hotel. You will be able to take advantage of the transit system without having to spend a fortune. There are many places offsite that are cheaper and may even have transportation from/to the parks or the airport.

Dining

Invest in a dining plan. If you are staying at a hotel that includes breakfast, make sure to fill up before you get to the park to save some money. Everything is overpriced in Disney, so it’s best to try to eat offsite as much as possible. Save your money for the things you can’t find anywhere else, like Dole Whips.

Tickets

Pay attention to yearly deals. There is a promotion around April-June that allows you to get 3 days for $120 and add additional days for $20. This is a great way to take advantage of all of the parks and even spend time at some of the water parks.

Fast Pass

Disney’s Fast Pass system has changed within the past couple of years. Putting it bluntly—it’s terrible. Meaning if you don’t get your fast passes early, you will be stuck with passes for the rides that have a wait time of 0-15 minutes. This is basically pointless. Your best bet is to download the My DIsney Experience app and plan ahead. With the app, you can make reservations for rides and restaurants. You can even use it to bypass long character lines, which can be brutal if you are waiting to see a certain Ice Queen. Make sure to do this a day in advance if you can in order to get the best rides and times.

Why the U.K. is better than the States

As a resident of the U.S., I understand how lucky I am to live here. It really is a great place, but there are some things that the U.K. has over us.

The economy is better.

The U.K. has the 5th best economy in the world and the 2nd best in Europe. The value of the pound is worth about $1.50 in the U.S.

Healthcare is free.

Everyone who lives in the UK is entitled to health care, which is paid for by their taxes.

There is a low rate of gun-related incidents or deaths.

One of the lowest rates in the world, thanks to strict firearm laws. (And I’m just going to leave this here…)

The accent.

If you have ever heard a person with a British or English (however you want to say it) accent, you know just how dignified and classy it sounds. Like honey drizzled all over your words. Seriously. Try saying anything with an English accent. Try saying the worst insult you can think of and it still sounds like you are highly educated.

* Disclaimer: I do acknowledge the Cockney accent, but that is clearly not what I am talking about here. (However, it still sounds better than a Boston accent and most Southern accents.)

The rich history.

Many great things have come out of this island. Movies, music, literature, art, education—you name it. No matter what you are interested in, the UK probably has a long history of success in that specific area.

People seem smarter.

Going back to my previous points about the rich history and glorious accent, people here just seem so much smarter. Whether or not this is actually true, I won’t be able to say for sure, but people seem to be better versed in literature and education as a whole. They are also more likely to be well-traveled and know about different cultures, since they are in close proximity to many amazing countries. The UK ranks 6th in the world for education, where the US falls much lower on that list.

Stonehenge and the White Cliffs of Dover.

One of the world’s oldest mysteries.
White Cliffs of Dover.

They also have Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Two beautiful countries that are also part of the Kingdom. Take a look.

Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Isle of Skye in Scotland.

Easy access to many different countries.

You can reach many other beautiful destinations using the train or a cheap flight.

Like I said, I love the U.S., but the United Kingdom is definitely doing something right.

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