Melbourne Day Trips: Wilson's Promontory

Wilson's Promontary National Park is probably one of my favorite surrounding Melbourne destinations. At a 3 hour drive out of the city, and with so much to explore, you could easily extend a long daytrip to a overnight camping trip! I plan on returning and doing just that. There's so much to take in but here's the highlights of my day.

Hike to Oberon Summit: This hike is no joke! It is endlessly beautiful, but about an hour up to the summit itself. There are points near the end where the trail is extremely narrow/rocky so it's not for the faint of heart. At the top, covered in sweat you'll be rewarded with crystal clear views of the blue waters and forest below. Not to mention the forestry on the hike up is well worth it too!

Squeaky Beach: Named for it's pristine white sand, so pure, it squeaks when you walk on it. Listen for it, it really does! This was the perfect place to watch the surf, and take some golden hour photos. Australia's beaches are unlike anything else I've ever seen before. 

Spot the surfer!

Spot the surfer!

The famous white sands

The famous white sands

I definitely plan on returning to Wilson's Promontary, as the park itself is huge and I only went to a handful of places inside. There are many trials that lead to hidden or secret beaches(about 10k or so) for the hiking enthusiasts. There is endless beauty in this place and I will definitely be back to capture it!

Solo Travel In Egypt??

I went to Egypt in February and I got lots of questions from friends and family about my trip. One of the biggest questions was Why Egypt? Well, why not? I've been fascinated about Egyptian history and myths ever since I was a little kid, and I always knew that I wanted to see the pyramids. I knew it would happen when it was meant to, so when I found a cheap flight, I hopped on the chance. Everyone was scared of me going alone. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive at first but my worries went away once I arrived. I was determined. Egypt may not be for everyone, but if you like an adventurous side of traveling and to see a place rich in history, read on to hear about my experiences and tips!

How To Get A Visa?: I got a visa on arrival at Cairo airport, for 25$ USD. Make sure you have USD for this exact amount. There are a number of booths that will do this at the airport. Takes only a few minutes.

Giza Daytrip: My highlight of the trip was a day trip to the Giza Pyramid complex, as well as Saqqara pyramid complex, and Memphis. To be honest, I would've skipped the Memphis stop as it's really a small outdoor museum, and stayed longer at Giza if I could've! The trip was organized through my hostel which made it so much easier. Basically you have your own private driver for the day, but not a tour guide(I believe you could probably book this at an extra price). There are additional costs for everything. It was about 80$ equivalent to get a camel and tour guide for the Giza Pyramids, I paid more for the longer tour. This also includes entrance to the pyramid complex. My tour guide was FANTASTIC and basically played the role of "instagram boyfriend" for me and took snaps of me on my phone, camera, even took video clips when I asked him. I never felt like I missed out on a photo op, and as we know traveling solo this can be incredibly hard to capture the memories. It was an hour and a half time for the tour, but I honestly could've spent all day there if they let me. The next stop was the Saqqara pyramid complex, there were some tombs here and it was cool to go inside and see the hieroglyphics. This stop did not include a tour guide and I believe I paid about 20-60 Egyptian pounds for entry here, which is maybe a dollar or two. The one thing about this stop and being a blonde haired petite woman(or any woman here) was that I got hassled. A LOT. It's to be expected. I had one guy want to take photos with me multiple times, he asked if I had a husband and how many camels I wanted for him to be my husband. At first I was trying to chuckle it out, but by the end of the day with similar things happening with different men at the different historical sites, I just learned to ignore them or pretend I didn't speak english. It was annoying, it happened often, but I didn't want it to put a damper on my day or my trip. If you ignore them, they'll stop talking to you eventually, or yell after you as you walk away. Let me be clear, there was no threat of physical danger. I never felt like I would be attacked, robbed or mugged. I felt safe, but uncomfortable by the unwanted attention. It's like dealing with a creepy guy at a bar that won't leave you alone. The other thing with this unwanted attention, is that Egypt has a very big "tipping" culture, or baksheesh. Basically if you have a tour guide, or driver you are expected to tip, even a little bit. When one of these guys comes up to you at the sites and wants to show you something, or even to take a picture of you, he wants a tip for it. That's how they work, they're not trying to rob you or run away with your purse, they're trying to get tips out of you and they will keep talking to you until you give them money essentially. I'm usually a very nice patient calm person but I am on a budget and don't have money to give to these random guys(I did tip my driver and tour guide) so as I said before I walked away or pretended I don't speak English. They get the hint and move on to the next people. 

Did You Feel Safe?: As I mentioned before I never felt unsafe. No one threatened me in any way. The most I got on the street was lots and lots of stares, although I expected this. It can be a little off putting to be on your own and be the center of attention, but I think the eye contact was more curious than anything malicious. Wondering why a girl would choose to come here on her own or what she was doing perhaps? The only thing would be to be careful of people taking advantage of your foreignness, for example raising prices for things like taxis or in the markets buying souvenirs. This is to be expected as well, this is fairly common in most places, even SE Asia.

Is It Affordable?: Easily the most affordable place I've ever been to. There are flights to other parts of the country for 50-100$. I got a private room in a hostel for about 8$ an night. I took an uber and got stuck in crazy Cairo traffic for about a little more than an hour and it was still only 4$! Read on and you'll see some of the food I tried, where I spent less than 75 cents for a meal!

Was There Enough To Do?: Yes and yes!! I could've done more trips outside Cairo, but I found even Cairo was a bustling city with enough to explore, the old and new parts were so different and so fascinating! 

How Do I Dress?: Egypt is a more conservative culture so as long as you aren't wearing short shorts or crop tops, you're fine. It's more about being respectable. As I went in February, I wore pants and jeans most days because it was actually not very hot and a little chilly wind! I think it is the more bearable time of the year to visit as summer gets scorchingly hot.

How Do You Get Around?: In Cairo, I took Uber everywhere! It's cheap, and you don't have to deal with a language barrier in Arabic when telling your driver where to take you, or have to negotiate a price. You can just plug in the address and go!

My camel, Ramses

My camel, Ramses

Yes, you really can get this close!

Yes, you really can get this close!

My guide insisted on the cheesy photos

My guide insisted on the cheesy photos

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Thankful to my new Egyptian friend Maram for taking me to the night market. We got there just around midnight and it was still very lively!! It is a hub for late night tea and hookah, as well as a bit of bartering and shopping! I felt very safe when I was with her and we had a lot of fun exploring.

FOOD: Cause food is everything right? Honestly I had no prior knowledge or expectations of Egyptian food, so arriving and finding vegetarian options were part of a few main meal staples here was very comforting! My favorite new dish I tried(more than once!) was koshary(apparently it is the national dish of Egypt) which consists of lentils, rice, pasta, tomato sauce(it's a little vinegar-y and sometimes a touch spicey) and dried onions to top. There are places that exist that ONLY serve koshari, and you just pick, small medium or large portion. Beware the food coma with this one as it is insanely filling but so deliciously tasty! 

Another classic food I ate a lot of was falafel in pita, as well as a new one I tried, foul, which is mashed fava beans(reminded me of the taste and texture of mexican refried beans, yum!). I could get one wrap sandwhich of each of these for a total of about 5 egyptian pounds, something like 25-50 cents. That is the cheapest dinner I've ever had. The restaurant, Gad, is all over Cairo, you order from a guy at a small counter then you take your receipt and hand it over to the guys cooking. I never had to wait longer than a minute for this fast food! 

The new Cairo Museum is awesome and a must visit! Very cheap entry, I believe around 5-6$ USD

The new Cairo Museum is awesome and a must visit! Very cheap entry, I believe around 5-6$ USD

Would I Go Back?: Yes! Egypt was the most eye opening place I've ever been. It's crazy, it's chaos, it's cheap, it's exhilarating. If I went back, I'd go to places other than Cairo-Dahab for example and do some diving in the Red Sea! Egypt is insanely affordable, and if you exercise general precautions as you would while traveling, it is safe! Would you go to Egypt?

Hanging at Hanging Rock

photos above-Joshua Pujol. Below-myself

photos above-Joshua Pujol. Below-myself

At just about an hour outside of Melbourne, Hanging Rock just outside Woodend/Mt Macedon makes a perfect stop to get some nature outside the city. Leisurely hiking trails and amazing views can be found if you make your way to the top of Hanging Rock, it's only about 15-20 min to get up to the summit. You can see views from 360 degrees at the top; all the surrounding farmland and forest.

I highly recommend making the scenic country drive out to Hanging Rock! It is an easy hike and well worth it for the unique view of the rock formations. Another Melbourne Day trip off the Australia bucket list!

Autumn Reflection

While the other hemisphere is enjoying a beautiful spring, Melbourne's weather is slowing transitioning to one of my favorite times of year, autumn. The leaves put on a color show, the rain brings a gentle still to the air; and a time to refocus and work on creative projects. The other day I took a fun roadtrip about an hour outside Melbourne to Mount Macedon, to explore the cute town, the mountains, and, another reason I discovered people visit, to view the beautiful autumn foliage. 

Although the weather is changing, I still try and dress as much like summer as I can get away with. That's why I love this romper from SheInside. It's a great transition piece, as in this weather I have paired it with tall boots, and a leather jacket in between shots. In the summer and spring it's perfect with a cute pair of sandals and flats. It's just so flattering, as it ties in the back with a bow to really define your waist, and I love the vintage inspired floral print. It's my motto I can never own enough floral pieces.

What inspires you about the changing seasons? I'm so excited to spend autumn with a cup of tea and a cozy blanket and crank out some new blog posts and exciting projects coming soon!

romper: SheInside

Chance of Sunshine

Melbourne's weather touted a 60% chance of rain the day Ollie and I were shooting. If living here for two months has taught me anything, is to never trust the weather because it will be all over the place! We decided to meet a few hours before sunset to try to beat the rain. We ended up at Carlton Gardens and shot and wandered, making the most of the unexpected sunlight. Can't get over the grove of trees, and all those beautiful fall colors. Melbourne is truly putting on a show as I'm watching the seasons change here.

I'm trying to be more sustainable, and budget conscious with my clothing lately so this shoot is styled from all thrifted items, except for my shoes. The denim jacket came from a stall in Camden Market in London, the top from a sweet lady's small store in Thailand, skirt from one of my favorite resale chains in Tokyo(Don Don Down!), and the necklace came from a op shop across from my place here in Richmond, Melbourne. Arriving to Melbourne with one suitcase and styling shoots from that has been a challenge, but one I am up for, as it allows me to bring fashion I've gathered from all over the world together, and also succeeding at being a "bitch on a budget" as I lovingly call it. 

Check out Ollie on instagram here

Facebook.com/OllieHolderPhotography
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Melbourne Day Trips: Phillip Island

Phillip Island is a perfect day trip, just about 1 hour and 45 minutes outside Melbourne. You'll cruise through farms and wineries, as well as coastline on your way down there, which also make for fun stops. The island is actually much larger than I anticipated and has plenty of beaches for surfing as well. 

First stop was the Penguin Parade at the far end of the island. We didn't know the Penguin Parade was a nighttime activity, so when we arrived at 3pm, they told us it was free to go in and wander around! This beach was beautiful, deserted, and windy! Truly took my breath away. There are many little boxes all over the inland area where the penguins rest during the day(did you know they're nocturnal?). We did manage to see about 3 during our time here but it is not gauranteed. Plenty of wild wallabies though! 

Next stop was the Nobbies Center. This was the most beautiful stretch of coastline ever! Reminds me back home of California so much! Again very windy but worth it to walk along and admire the scenery. A few penguins here as well.

We managed to make it to Phillip Island Nature Park 45 minutes before their closing. They have many animals native to Australia all throughout the small park, from emu to wombats, koalas and more. My favorite part was feeding the kangaroos and wallabies. The kangaroos were much more assertive than I thought, they all wanted the food! Watch out for their little claws! Some of them will gently grip your hand while they eat the food out of it, so cute! Saw many adorable babies in their mothers pouches!

All in all a beautiful Aussie day, a lovely excuse to get out of the city and truly see what Victoria has to offer!!

Great Ocean Road

I have been living in Australia for a little over a month now and finally made a trip to Great Ocean Road, something I wanted to do since my last visit to Melbourne. It was truly stunning, worth the wait. I do plan on doing it again, I would love to stay longer and do some camping along the way. Here's some of my favorite spots and highlights:

Bells Beach: The first stop I wanted to see on the way to Great Ocean Road, located just shy of 2 hours outside Melbourne, was the beautiful Bells Beach. This is a popular surf spot, not so much of a chill hangout beach, but could be if you really fancied it. The views are incredible, This place at sunset must be stunning!

Teddy Viewpoint: A must see, the water is beautiful from above, the most unreal teals and turquoises! It is located near Lorne, and near the next stop, waterfalls! 

Erskine Falls: I love this spot, its a short hike down some steep stairs to get there, then climbing over the rocks in the riverbed, but the view is totally worth it. Would love to go back after some heavy rainfall and really take it all in!

Twelve Apostles: The most infamous and notable Great Ocean Road destination! Sadly only a fair few of the apostles remain, due to erosion. Also probably the most crowded spot, as many tour companies drop off bus loads of tourists at all times of the day, whereas I hardly saw more than 10 people at any of the other stops. Despite the crowds, this natural beauty is well worth seeing and still a marvel to take in. I would definitely come back.

Loch Ard Gorge: This stop just a few minutes past the Twelve Apostles was one of my favorites, and also the last stop. It's a stunning little bay with clear blue waters and mild waves. Again, lots of people here too but still nonetheless beautiful and worth the stop. Would totally love to swim and picnic here!

After these pictures, I'm sure you can see why I'm in love with Australia!

London Calling...I Always Come Back to You

London, no matter how many cities or countries I go, something always draws me back to London. This city enthralls me and pulls me in deeper; I always find something new and exciting going on, something I didn't quite see or hear about last time. Here's some of my latest discoveries and a recap of what I experienced in my favorite city. 

Where to Stay-My home base, Astor Hostels

As always, Astor is the perfect place to make my home base in London. I stayed at their newest location, Hyde Park in the luxurious South Kensington neighborhood. This hostel felt so glamorous, very fitting in this prestigious area. The inside is gorgeous and has a massive kitchen. The Friday night I was there, there was a big indoor karaoke party in the kitchen with guests and staff from all the other hostels coming together! It was such a blast and a great way for other travelers to mix and interact.  This hostel is also a short walk to the museums in South Kensington which make it a must to stop at any of those(they're free!). My favorite is the V&A. 

Feelin' fancy in South Kensington

Feelin' fancy in South Kensington

The latter part of my stay in London, I stayed at the familiar Astor Museum location(you may recall from my previous London post I stayed with them before). Again, the staff here really make the experience. Every single one of them are like a family and they really go above and beyond to make your stay in London fun and exciting. I did many events with them at the hostel, they always have something going on during the day or night, just check the board near reception and in the kitchen! Everyone is so welcoming and it's been the most social hostel I've been to! Some of my favorite outings were the free comedy night(see below) and the Camden photo walk. Again, I wish I could live here permanently as it is so central to everything in London, including walking distance to Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, and even Camden. 

 

Free Comedy Night

Astor Hostels had an outing Tuesday night to a free improv comedy show at Top Secret Comedy Club. Just a short walk away from the Museum hostel location. I was sold on the words "free" and "improv". It was a great night out and we had a group of 15+ people from the hostel! I have never laughed so hard in my life! The show is an hour and a half to two hours, with a small intermission in the middle. I would highly recommend going!

Drinki

A friend of mine recommended a new app in London. The app, Drinki, allows you one free cocktail in selected bars, each with their own cocktail pre selected for the app users. You also get one cocktail for every friend you invite to the app! For our night out, we chose a bar close to Astor Museum-Holborn Grind. A espresso bar and cafe by day, and coffee infused cocktail bar by night, this place was intriguing. We sampled the espresso martini and I was amazed by how delicious and effortless it was, even though I'm not much of a coffee drinker. The atmosphere was calm, dim, but sultry, with a neon sign in the back. Perfect for a Monday night aperatif. The app itself is simple to work-make your way to the bar of your choice(there's plenty all over the city), select the bar, select the drink, then it will prompt you to show the bartender the next screen and they will confirm, then, wait for your drink! This is a great way to get out to explore new bars and neighborhoods in London. 

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Lights of Soho

This gallery in Soho is the sister gallery to Gods Own Junkyard(will have to go next time!) and features a bar/cafe, neon signs, artworks, and overall the perfect place to snap some instagram photos. It's incredibly photogenic and just nearby the oxford circus high street!

Winter Lights Festival at Canary Wharf

This was a temporary exhibit at Canary Wharf in east London, it ran from January 16th to the 27th. I believe this event re-occurs every year. Many artists had created stunning light displays, or LED sculptures and they were all over. Canary Wharf during the day is very much a business center, but at night, with this exhibit, was fun to explore, and almost desolate. 

Shoreditch

A fun neighborhood to explore during the day, but even better at night. I wish I had more time for bar hopping here but I did enjoy seeing the street artwork and tasting the street food during the day. You will catch me spending more time here on my next trip!

"Like Nothing Else"

"Like Nothing Else"

Street Food

Let's talk street food! Probably my favorite thing about London dining as its so affordable and tasty and endless options. My two places for go to food trucks/stalls are Camden Market(especially Kerb market near the canal) and Shoreditch(Boxpark). I ate most of my meals at these places. 

Voodoo Ray's in Shoreditch Box Park

Voodoo Ray's in Shoreditch Box Park

Club Mexicana vegan nachos in Camden Market

Club Mexicana vegan nachos in Camden Market

Maize Blaize Columbian Steet food in Camden Market

Maize Blaize Columbian Steet food in Camden Market

Vegan doner kebab at What The Pitta, Shoreditch

Vegan doner kebab at What The Pitta, Shoreditch

And that wraps up another fabulous week in London. I'll be back, always!

 

check out Astor Hostels and book your next trip to London with them here;)

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I Fell In Love With Iceland

Iceland is definitely going to be one of the hottest(er...coldest?) destinations of 2017. With WOW Air and IcelandAir offering stopovers and cheap flights, it's hard to resist making a trip out of it. This country has so much to offer, and explore. Here's a bit of what was on my itinerary and what I did in Iceland!

Where I stayed: Hlemmer Square. Cannot recommend this place enough! Really chic and cozy lobby, with a bar and restaurant(although I did not eat there). Some of the nicest and most spacious hostel dorms I ever encountered. Free coffee and water and sometimes snacks in the lobby. The nicest and most accommodating staff. Very central location, on the main street in downtown. Overall, just a big win in my book.

Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik. My WOW Air flight arrived at Keflavik airport at 4am. The airport was easy to navigate and I made my way to my pre-booked flybus to Reykjavik. That took about 45 minutes. Boarded another shuttle from their bus terminal in town to my hostel. Arrived in my hostel around 6am. Again, major props to Hlemmer Square for letting me check in early, as I passed out on my bunk for an hour 'til I got up to get ready for a tour I had booked.

South Coast and Waterfalls

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara

town of Vik

town of Vik

Skogafoss...more photos to come later!

Skogafoss...more photos to come later!

I had booked this tour through Grayline with the intention to visit the waterfalls which were high on my agenda. The first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, and it was truly spectacular. Next was the black sand beach, Reynisfjara. The waves are VERY strong and VERY big here so I did not go near the water. The rock formations along the cliff are almost otherworldly. We stopped in the town of Vik for lunch and I managed to grab a few photos there. After, was our last stop Skogafoss, the waterfall I was most excited about seeing. By this time, around 4pm, since it is winter, was already starting to get dark, so I don't have many photos of this waterfall. I did go back here on another tour so I was pretty happy about that. The only issue I had with the whole day was the rain(which lasted all day) kept getting water all over my camera lens, but it was worth it to see all these things in one day! We were returned back to Reykjavik around 6:30pm.

Day 2:

Reykjavik Grand Excursion

Hallgrimskirka

Hallgrimskirka

lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes

lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes

Sun Voyager

Sun Voyager

lovely street art off Laugavegur

lovely street art off Laugavegur

This tour, while only 3 hours, packed in a lot of what I wanted to see in Reykjavik city center. I could've done my own walking tour but this was so quick and easy to see what I wanted to see in the perfect amount of time. The guide gave us a lot of history about the city and an insight into Icelandic culture as well. I love the unique style of buildings, the older look along with modern buildings and sculptures. We arrived at Sun Voyager at the perfect sunset time and I was so happy with those pictures! That, and Hallgrimskirka were probably my favorite spots on tour.

Later:

Northern Lights Tour

This late night tour was really fun! Seeing the northern lights is a bit of a gamble. It depends on a few factors, like weather, cloud cover, visibility, etc. If you book a northern lights tour keep in mind it may be canceled if the weather is poor. We headed out towards þingvellir National Park in hopes of a gap in the clouds that would let us see the aurora. I was able to pick up some of the lights on my camera at this spot but wasn't able to see it with the naked eye. We stopped here at the park also and had hot chocolate and a traditional Icelandic pastry called Kleina, kind of reminded me of a less sweet non-glazed donut. We kept driving and stopping, the guide looking on the weather maps to try and get the best place for us to see it. Towards 1:30 am we had started to drive back towards reykjavik when we saw the lights again, more visible this time. This was the first time I could truly see them with the naked eye and not just picking up the light on my camera. A tripod is essential for this tour if you plan on getting pictures. 

Day 3

Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle

pingvellir

pingvellir

Strokkur Geysir

Strokkur Geysir

Gulfoss 

Gulfoss 

I booked this tour through Grayline again because these 2 destinations were a must for me, and I didn't have enough time to do each on their own seperate day. In hindsight, I'm happy with my choice because I felt it was the perfect amount of time to do everything. Departing Reykjavik at 7am, we arrived to the Blue Lagoon right when they opened at 8am. The facilities are very nice and futuristic almost, with a magnetic type bracelet to unlock your lockers. I was a little nervous here because I knew I would want to take pictures but didn't want my electronics to get wet. I felt a lot better knowing you could get in and out of the locker as many times as you wanted. It was so surreal to be there in the pitch black darkness of a winter morning-almost like being on another planet. It started getting lighter around 10:30 am and that's when I was taking all my pictures. I could either get the shuttle at 11am or 1pm back to Reykjavik and I rushed to get the 11am shuttle as I did not want to wait 2 more hours to join the Golden Circle tour. I did have an hour to grab lunch in between. Then for the Golden Circle we stopped first in pingvellir national park. Stunning views, as well as you can walk between the fissures that have ruptured due to the split in the European/American tectonic plates under the earth. Next was Strokkur geysir; I wasn't as interested in this stop, but still nonetheless beautiful. After it was followed by a stop at Gulfoss, another waterfall I badly wanted to see. We managed to get there just before it started getting dark, and there were a couple different viewpoints from which you could watch the massive falls. Our guide was incredibly knowledgable, and I love that all the larger companies have wifi on board!

Day 4:

Glacier Hike and Waterfalls

Okay, hiking Solheimajokull glacier was definitely one of the highlights of my trip(I mean, it's hard to chose when every day is amazing!). I love how Arctic Adventures has small group sizes for this, it was me, our guide, and a couple. We were the first group out on the ice and I just looked around at the vast space and all the snow. Iceland definitely feels so surreal all of the time. We were given a lot of information and instructions on how to use the ice pick(mostly for balance), and how to walk in crampons(metal spikes to attach to your boots). The actual hike was mostly flat, except for some areas where we actually had to walk upwards to enter the glacier. I think some of the highlights were exploring the caves and crevices formed in the glacier. It was a little claustrophobic but so amazing to see the ice so blue and swirled into that formation over time. It truly took my breath away. We were on the ice for an hour and a half/an hour and 45 minutes, and then our tour bus came and picked us back up for some stops on the way back to Reykjavik which means...

BONUS WATERFALLS

Skogafoss, covered in a blanket of snow

Skogafoss, covered in a blanket of snow

behind Seljalandsfoss

behind Seljalandsfoss

We stopped at Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss on the way back. I'm SO glad we did because I got way better pictures at each versus the other day when we stopped there in the rain. They looked completely different covered in snow. At Seljalandsfoss I even hiked around behind the waterfall, which I would have not been able to do on my first tour there due to the rain making it too slippery. It truly was the most stunning to see and to hear the roar of the crashing water. Our guide was very nice and provided crampons again so we wouldn't slip, so necessary!

Overall, Iceland was just a magical experience that is hard to find just the right words to describe it. I made new friends, explored so much nature, took about a million pictures, got lost in the moment, smiled uncontrollably, and was filled with so much joy. I plan on coming back again to this beautiful otherworldly place.

Desert Rain

A little rain can't stop me from exploring. Grateful for the abundance of unique beauty here, it's like a feast for your eyes if you're a fellow cactus lover like me! Got to test out my new 50mm 1.8 lens as well and was loving it!

New Years Lessons & Reflections

As 2016 came to an end, here are some of my important lessons I learned throughout the year and how I am going to make the most of 2017 with them:

1. Do what you want & Do it for you

It's not necessarily selfish to put yourself first. I definitely learned this year that there's a balance involved with making yourself happy and making others happy. I over exhausted myself multiple times trying to make plans happen to make other people happy but in the end I just was too emotionally and physically spent I wasn't able to be 100% there. If you take care of yourself you will be better equipped to meet other's needs too and be there for them. It's like in the airline safety videos-put on your air mask before helping others!

2. Do something that scares you(as often as you can)

Take risks, put yourself out there. Whether it means traveling alone or taking a new class or meeting new friends, you won't know how it will go until you try!  Despite traveling alone this year with social anxiety, I was surprised how "easy" it was to make friends. You simply go up to people, say hi, and talk to them about traveling. Talking to new people still intimidates me but the more I do it, the less it worries me. 

3. Don't do so much. Just Be

I am prone to being a workaholic and trying to get as much done as I can. Days planned from start to finish with little or no time for a break. This year I am learning the magic of saying "no" and taking a much needed break when I deserve one. 

4. Go somewhere new

Even if it's just a few towns over or a few countries over, get out there and see something you don't see every day. Make memories, new friends, take photos to look back and smile on. 

 

With 2017 a few days in, I'm ready to make this year my best! I'm setting goals that aren't so specific-more like ideas. I don't want to set something too specific only to not see it come to fruition. My goals for 2017 is to keep working with my blog, putting myself out there, traveling as much as possible, make and keep meaningful friendships, and live in the moment. 

 

 

Heart & Seoul: What to do in South Korea

view from the roof of my hostel, G House in Itaewon!

view from the roof of my hostel, G House in Itaewon!

I spent 4 days in Seoul and I loved it! It reminded me a lot of Tokyo, with something new and edgier and just "younger". While Japan may be tied in tradition, South Korea was bursting with a new youth culture and urban advancement. Here's some of the places I explored in my few days here. I know this visit will not be my last!

Myeongdong: This was one of my favorite areas to come to at night. Shops stay open pretty late, and there's plenty of amazing street food as well as vendors in the street as well. Not many vegetarian options, so I always ate dessert for dinner here. The croissant taiyaki pictured above was a unique twist on one of my favorites but I think too sweet for me! If you're interested in Korean makeup or skincare, there are plenty of stores here that will give you free samples at the door or with purchase! You can tell this area is definitely meant for a teen crowd.
 

Hongdae: Okay this was my favorite place to walk around in Seoul! The best variety of food(had some amazing tacos here!) as well as reasonably priced fashion and accessories. It is right near Hongik University so stores here cater to student budgets as well as the latest trends. I added a few fun new summer tops to my wardrobe for probably the equivalent of $10 USD or less. This is a great neighborhood for people watching, there's also live music shows on the weekend. I found myself coming back to this neighborhood almost every day.

Dongdaemun: This was just from a long walk I took near the Dongdaemun market. Probably the best market if you're looking to buy anything in bulk, plus it seems you can really haggle here. I loved the really urban buildings in this area.

Cheonggyecheon: Different parts of this stream/river are fun for people watching as well as a nice stroll.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: On my last full day, I made it up semi early to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The rain and early time(around 9:30-10) helped me beat the crowds for the most part. Truly stunning and I believe it was free to walk the grounds and explore. The rain and the dramatic view of the mountains in the back was breathtaking.

Ddo-ong Cafe(Poo Cafe): Okay this cafe I went to for laughs but it was so good I came back twice! Tucked away on the 4th floor of the Ssamziegil Mall(don't worry you'll see the signs for it), this cafe was not crowded at all when I went. I opted for a rose latte(hands down the best in my life) But they also had a mojito mint flavor as well as the standard. The poo pancakes can be purchased from a stand downstairs and brought up, they were less than $2 USD. SO TASTY, warm with liquid chocolate on the inside. I will probably crave these forever. Don't get this place confused with the "poo museum" on the other side of the mall. It is on the second floor and charges admission, although they kindly redirected me to the cafe.

view from the Metro going to Gangnam

view from the Metro going to Gangnam

Seoul Forest Park: The "Central Park" of Seoul. While not quite central in location, this park is big and beautiful and has much to offer. I came here on my last day with about an hour of sunlight left, all because I saw a picture of the deer online and knew I had to go see them! Little did I know the deer where located on the furthest possible location in the park, but so worth it. You can buy deer food from the vending machine(seriously, how cute is that?) for about $1 USD. So worth it, and these guys will be all over you. It seems recently they have put up a fence, before from the photos it seemed you were able to walk in the enclosure with them. I believe you can do this if you come earlier in the day. The rest of the park is lush and green and the perfect place for an afternoon picnic or a long walk!

Cat Cafes: I went to 2 different cat cafe's in Seoul, one in Hongdae and one in Myeongdong. Both run by the same company, Cat Attic. The drinks are reasonably priced and there's no hourly fee for sitting there. The only problem I find at cat cafe's is most of them really just want to mind their own business but I love just going and watching them play or sleep. I also went toa dog cafe in Gangnam but was utterly disappointed as it was only small dogs, drinks were overpriced, and the dogs weren't much interested in playing and were being hogged by other cafe goers. So I definitely recommend Cat Attic!

Bucket List: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

After seeing so many photos of Ha Long Bay, I knew I had to make this part of my SE Asia itinerary. I secured my visa to Vietnam at their embassy in San Francisco, paid $80(Sadly i believe prices have gone up to 150!) and came back 3 days later to pick up my passport. My first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi! I loved the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter, and the rich history there. I picked Hanoi as my first stop mostly because of it's proximity to Ha Long Bay. Before I left, I was doing so much research online about Ha Long Bay tours but was overwhelmed and still felt I didn't have a clear answer. I am glad I waited until in Vietnam to book because there were so many more options! In Hanoi, you can't walk more than 100 feet without seeing another tour shop selling you tours of Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Motorbike tours, and more. It's better, cheaper, and easier to just wait til you arrive in Vietnam to book. I felt reassured that there were so many possibilities, but I booked my Ha Long Bay overnight tour through the hostel I stayed at(Flipside Hostel). They had two options: chill out cruise or party cruise. Both cruises had the same itinerary, except the party cruise provided you with more alcohol...I ended up opting for the chill out cruise for 1 night(there is a second option for 2 nights, where you sleep on Cat Ba island for the second night). You leave early from Hanoi around 6-7 am. The drive is about 3 hours but you stop halfway through at a small indoor mini mall-many tours in Asia do this in hopes you will buy something. After that, you will arrive at the docks in Ha Long Bay. We took a smaller boat our to where our overnight boat was anchored.

The accomodation was really nice, and each room had its own shower/toilet. Definitely nicer than some of the hostels I had been in!

The tour also included food, and it is practically buffet style. They will keep bringing sharing plates until you are so full you cannot possibly eat anymore!

There is so much time spent just cruising the bay, admiring the sites. Our boat had a rooftop deck for sunbathing and hanging out. I just could not stop looking around as everything was so gorgeous and felt surreal to finally be there. It was so nice to have time on my trip to simply relax and just be, rather than feeling rushed to go go go to all the sites.

Seriously, pictures don't even do justice to how stunning it is in person!

Towards the end of the first day, we made it to a spot for Kayaking. This was probably the most fun part! After we got out of the kayaks we had some time to swim around as well.

beautiful sunset the first night!

beautiful sunset the first night!

We had another amazing buffet dinner on the ship after anchoring for the night. They offered a lot of activities and an on board bar. My new friend Sarah and I sat at the back of the boat with our drinks and just talked for hours staring out into the black sky and dark water. We saw so many jellyfish pass by the boat, huge, with long tentacles up to 10 feet long! I also saw the most trash I have ever seen in my life. So many things in the water made me so sad, unsure whether it was all tourists, or I've heard sometimes it's locals too. We tried to use the fishing poles on the boat to remove plastic bags, etc. It was only semi recently that Ha Long Bay has become a world heritage site.

The next day was only a half day and we spent most of it cruising. They took us to a pearl "farm" as well and we learned about how they grew pearls here in Ha Long Bay. It was interesting but I think I would've skipped it if I had the chance, or gone kayaking again. It was just another stop where they try to sell you something that the end.

I seriously still can't get over the beauty of Ha Long Bay. It is true that it has become more filled with tourists and tourboats in the recent years, but when you are out there cruising you really don't notice any boats at all, sometimes I just marveled in the serenity as it felt like we were the only ones there!

Gili Trawangan: Island Paradise

I had heard a lot about the Gili islands and their beauty before my trip, and was determined to make them part of my Bali itinerary. The speedboat from Bali was about an hour and a half-2 hours. As soon as you arrive at the Gilis, this blue water is surrounding you. Literally jaw dropping as I climbed off the boat into the water. I was in love from the first sight!

Shoutout to the other solo female traveler I met who helped me take this photo! We both bonded over the struggle of lacking a photo buddy while traveling alone. There are many bungalow or "resort" style accomodations with these famous swings!

Shoutout to the other solo female traveler I met who helped me take this photo! We both bonded over the struggle of lacking a photo buddy while traveling alone. There are many bungalow or "resort" style accomodations with these famous swings!

Gili T, where I stayed, is the largest of the GIli Islands(Air and Meno being the others). There are no cars, or roads, so the main transport is biking, as well as walking. Upon arrival I started walking into town looking for accommodation. Many places were booked up already as it was the high season but within 20-30 minutes I was able to find a private bungalow for 25$ a night.It is definitely an island for the younger crowd, and the beach bars are really fun! I was mainly looking to dive here, and I did indeed! There's a plethora of dive shops on the island(I counted 10 in a 5 minute walk radius), but I chose Manta Dive due to the fantastic reviews online. After securing the accomodation I went to their dive shop and booked my dives for the next few days. They were so friendly and introduced me to all the dive masters and made me feel welcome. Also their cafe and restaurant is delicious!

Boarding the boat to go dive...love that clear water!

Boarding the boat to go dive...love that clear water!

The first few minutes of the dive I knew I was in heaven. The water was clearer than anything I had ever experienced! My dive instructor was fast to point out a shark, turtles, and rays on the dive, knowing I was eager to see all those. Other the course of 3 days I did 4 dives on Gili T. Living was easy; wakeup,dive, lunch, dive, chill, sleep. I could get used to that routine!

no better way to describe my Gili T experience!

no better way to describe my Gili T experience!

I would go back to Gili T and the other islands, Gili Air and Gili Meno in a heartbeat. The locals were friendly, the beaches beautiful, probably the best food I had in Indonesia as well! If you want to relax, get away from the busy/touristic feel of Bali, please come to the Gili Islands!

Bucket List: Great Wall of China

So buying flights in a somewhat spontaneous order landed me with 4 days in Beijing. China had never really been a destination that was urgent in my mind-more of like, "when I go, I'll go". But the $200 flight from Beijing to London was what really sold me on this short stopover there. That, and the Great Wall of China.

I am so glad I got to experience it, and walk on it. I booked a tour to the Mutianyu section through my hostel, as they said it was the least crowded spot to walk it(surely you've seen pictures online of the Great Wall covered in people!). I believe I paid around 60-80 dollars for this tour, which included a guide(who didn't climb with us, but gave us a lot of history during the drive), driver, and a lunch after the wall. When we got there, after a 2.5 hour ride, we had to ride in a lift to get to the actual wall. Our guide gave us another option, to hike up, but after seeing the hill, no one argued to hike.

Beautiful views going up!

Beautiful views going up!

Our guide says the busiest section of the wall is when you get off the lift. There's a bunch of stalls and such with snacks and drink. The further you go away down the wall, the less and less people there are. I joined two guys from my group, one from Amsterdam and another Californian, and we made it our mission to go as far as we could in our allotted 2.5 hours on the wall(sounds like a lot, but with all the walking-it goes by quick!).

These were the steepest steps we climbed. I definitely tripped on the way down. I was wearing sandals(I had ditched my only closed toed pair of beaten up boots at my previous hostel in Seoul, as my backpack was too full), so I felt a little daunted and unprepared. I was fine but I would highly HIGHLY recommend sneakers. Don't be like me.

Many brave people set up stalls on the Great Wall daily to sell food and drink and snack. Prices are raised because they carry their merchandise up daily! So much dedication though.

Our guide also explained that there is a point where the great wall is "closed". He said. "The Chinese government doesn't want you to go on the old wall. It needs repairs and may be dangerous. But I do this tour every day and I recommend the old wall. You should do it" We didn't need anymore convincing and definitely kept going after seeing this sign.

As you can see from the state of the surface, the old wall isn't maintained. The ground is uneven, but still walkable. We kept going a little further. It was great to be there with no one else around and just us. This was where I got most of my pictures. The only thing that made me sad was a lot of trash on the Great Wall, especially the older part. Filled me with sadness like seeing the trash floating in Ha Long Bay.

All in all, it was a beautiful, once in a lifetime moment, and I could not recommend it more. Not only was it the best hiking workout I've ever had(hello, leg day) but I got to share travel experiences with others in my group. I heard a lot about Chinese culture from other expats who now lived in China for various reasons(teaching or on business) so that was really cool to hear their perspective, or funny stories they'd accumulated since traveling.

Winter's Advancing

Was so excited when Romwe sent me a little message asking to collab. I picked out this so so soft faux suede skirt with laced up detailing. Even though it's cold in California, you don't have to cover up completely. I wanted to showcase a statement fluffy jacket(I can never get enough of these) that I thrifted in Australia, my signature hat(seriously, when am I never not wearing this?), some thigh highs, and a cute sweater tank I picked up in LA a year ago. I would totally wear this to a holiday party, going out, or maybe with tights and a sweater for more of a daytime look.

Bucket List: Scuba Dive Certification

After the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, I found myself with some extra days before I had to head back to Bangkok. I headed to Koh Tao, famed diving spot of budget backpackers. I have been a snorkeler ever since I was little; my dad taught me how to breathe through the tube when I was about 7 years old in Hawaii. Ever since then I was hooked. I thought that was it-there was nothing better. Scuba intrigued me, but also, scared me since I didn't know much about it and you hear the horror stories of not being able to breathe or coming up too fast. I decided to book the Open Water certification mostly on a whim. My hostel had a dive shop inside, and since they offered a discount if you stayed there, I was in. I went with DPM Diving. Usually the Open Water certification was around $250 USD, but with the discount I got mine for $218 roughly and was so impressed with the dive shop and instructors. Small group sizes of 3-4 meant we all got individual attention, you looked out for everyone in your group, and you got to spend more time actually diving! We spent the first half day watching the safety videos which included "homework"-aka working in groups and looking up the answers in the dive handbook while drinking beers in the hostel cafe. I mean this is Thailand after all....I learned a lot that first day, especially about dive safety. What I can say is, a lot of it will be common sense, but it is still very important! If you are considering diving, pay attention to all this. I never once felt scared while diving, doing the training, or anything. My dive instructor was so helpful, knowledgeable and never let anything potentially dangerous happen to us. I felt well looked after the entire time and had a blast. She kept it very real with us-everything was according to handbook, but explained in a applicable way. The next 2 and a half days were filled with 4 dives total. Each one thrilled me and made me even more addicted to the underwater world.

I was not disappointed with my decision! After the first test dive, I was hooked! I can never go back to snorkeling on the surface, I have an unstoppable urge to go deeper and deeper. I wanted to stay down longer; time seems limitless down there, but also goes by so fast! An hour could feel like fifteen minutes-there's nothing quite like turning yourself over completely to getting lost in wonder. There's just so much life down there, so much to take in. I love that it feels like the fish are observing you as much as you are observing them.

Diving is a gift and a skill I can take with me wherever I go. Pushing myself outside of my original comfort zone has introduced me to one of my newest passions and hopefully a lifelong hobby. So far I have dived in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I want to dive in Iceland, Egypt, Fiji and the Phillipines next!

all smiles diving near Cham Island, off Hoi An, Vietnam

all smiles diving near Cham Island, off Hoi An, Vietnam

My fave dive spots have been off the coast of Gili T, Indonesia. Manta Dive is the nicest shop and the staff are so friendly and helpful. My very first day and dive there, I saw a massive shark, turtles, rays...everything! It was the clearest visibility I have ever experienced, and my dive master took me out every day and showed me everything. He pointed out every unique fish or creature I never would've seen by myself. I hope one day I get to that point where I can spot even the smaller or harder to see rare fish.

SE Asia Recap Video!

Okay I finally got around to editing all the gopro video footage I had. Sadly I didn't seem to take any videos in Australia, South Korea, England, or France, but here's most of SE Asia. Excited to try more video in the future, this is so new to me since I have previously focused only on photography!