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. 

IMG_5617.jpg

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!

Explore Your Own Backyard pt. 2: California Coast

I've always felt incredibly lucky to have grown up in California. We have it all: snow, beaches, moutains, and desert. So when faced with a free afternoon in December and beautiful weather, sometimes you just have to take advantage of all the beautiful beaches just a little over an hour away! Northern California coastline along highway 1 never ceases to amaze with its captivating beauty.

All you need is a day with clear skies and you've got views that go on as far as the eye can see. Highway 1 has plenty of beaches and you can stop at any (or all) that you choose! These photos are taken at San Gregorio Beach.

You Can Do Santorini On A Budget??

When Santorini comes to mind, many people think of luxury resorts nestled in those famous blue-and-white decked hills. Most tend to immediate discard this as a place to visit because they perceive it to be out of their budget. I went to Santorini following my graduation from college on a summer backpacking trip. If I can do it on my measly budget, so can you! Read on for tips and what I did on this beautiful Greek island!

Rent an ATV: It's a whole lot easier than renting a car, and wayyy more fun! Just be sure to wear sunscreen, then enjoy the day driving around the island, wind in your face! So refreshing and what a rush. The island is small and you can drive around in an hour or two! I stayed near Fira, and was maybe 30+ minutes to Oia, and 45 or less to Perissa(black sand beach, more on this later). The cost of the ATV rental(we rented through our villa but the shop was about a block or so away) was worth around 20-25$ USD per 24 hours. Totally worth it in my opinion as there is no real public transport!

taking the scenic route to Oia...had to keep stopping the ATV to take photos! Gorgeous views!

taking the scenic route to Oia...had to keep stopping the ATV to take photos! Gorgeous views!

Oia: Okay pretty sure this is what everyone pictures when they think Santorini. Let me tell you it is just as stunning in person as in pictures! Also, understandably crowded. I am reminded of trying to catch that classic "Oia sunset" photo and not being able to see for all the crowds of tourists! Go for sunrise instead. I think depending on your taste level and budget you can find affordable food in Oia, most of my dinners(pasta, vegetarian) were around $12-13 equivalent. It is comparable to what I would pay back home for food and eating out.

Perissa Beach: The sand is actually black at this black sand volcanic beach. I enjoyed lounging here so much! There's a lot of beach chairs and umbrellas that are free to use if you order cocktails on the beach from one of the restaurants. I really liked Tranquilo bar! Best vegetarian options and fun vibes.

Where to stay: Stayed at Stavros Villas, private room, for about 25$ USD a night. walking distance to some cute restaurants and amazing hospitality by the owners. Felt like you were part of their family while staying there. Also, they have a pool!

I think budgeting is key here, there is plenty to do(or not do, this island is great for relaxing!) on Santorini. You can still see everything and take in that beauty! Opt for accommodation that includes breakfast,or has a kitchen available to use and you'll save on meals! Pack snacks or even a picnic lunch and take it to the beach! Island hop and go to the neighboring island of Mykonos as well, I really wish I had. I hope you find Santorini just as easy to do on a budget as I did!

 

Kyoto Favorites

Fushimi Inari Shrine: This was number 1 on my list to see in Kyoto, after seeing so many photos of it on instagram! In fact, I was so excited we went the first day we got there. It is most noted for its hundreds of torii gates, in warm golden red hues. These cover a myriad of trails all over Mt. Inari. All of the shrines are dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and since foxes are believed to be the messenger of this god, there are plenty of fox statues all over the shrine grounds. The walkway leading up to the shrine grounds is loaded with street food stalls, the sights and smells will be overwhelming in the best way; you'll want to snack before or after you hike the trails anyway! I got some taiyaki from one of the stalls, a favorite treat of mine to eat in Japan that I can hardly ever find back home.

Kiyomizu-dera: There's handfuls of temples in Kyoto, it can be a little overwhelming to decide which ones to go to. We chose Kiyomizu-dera as it was easiest for us to get to! I loved the walk up the hill, it is lined with cute shops, restuarants, and souvenirs. The temple itself is stunning and vibrant.

Arayashima Bamboo Forest is a beautiful place of peace and tranquility. I have never felt so calm as I have there, hearing silence and nothing but the wind rustle through the bamboo stalks. Despite it being crowded at times, I feel like the bamboo has a sound blocking quality(lol) as it was always very peaceful there. I couldn't resist a matcha cone for 300 yen on the walk over!

Tenryuji Temple: Worth the entry price for the beautiful gardens and temples. This place is massive and you could easily spend hours here. Love the idyllic pond adding to even more tranquility. This place is in close proximity to Aryashima so make a day of it! Rachel and I really wanted to dine at the zen vegetarian restaurant(shojin ryori) Shigetsu, located inside the temple but we didn't make reservations prior. I would gladly return to Kyoto to visit this beautiful place and try the food.

 

Nishiki Market: Our hostel was right down the street from this place! Very convienient. Loved all the food stalls here. Many evenings were spent snacking and shopping, everything was very affordable. This seemed to be a prime spot for younger people to hangout, and we did meet a few other backpackers in this area. In the market you can buy anything from food(ingredients & ready made meals), clothing, and souvenirs. One of my all time favorite desserts purchased here was fresh warm melonpan (bread) with matcha ice cream. Still get teary eyed thiking of how I wish I could eat that every day.

Nara Park: One of the first pictures I ever saw that made me realize "Wow, I have to go to Japan!" was a picture my brother took at Nara Park while he did a student exchange trip there. Deer are one of my favorite animals and I was just amazed one, at how many there were, and two, how freely they roamed around! I thought it would be so magical to be there. My first trip to Japan I did not make it to Nara, but i did have deer encounters on Miyajima...another post on that to come! This trip, we barely squeezed it in while we were in Kyoto! It was the end of the day, the sun was due to set in about an hour; Rachel and I had already done Aryashima and Tenryuji, but did not want to return to the hostel yet. We decided to "race the sun" and try to get to Nara before dark. The train ride was about an hour, and I think we both passed out from all the walking(I don't know why, but Japan's trains always lul me to sleep. They're so comfortable!). The town in Nara was so cute and we seemed to run all the way from the train station to the park. The sun was starting to set and I was a little disappointed not to have seen any deer when we happened upon a lady with a "deer cookie" stall. We bought some in hopes of finding the deer as she was closing up shop. Not long after that did we run across some deer! Even in the dark I was spellbound by how nonchalant the deer were, very bold and brazen to get anything in your hands they deemed edible. One tried to eat the drawstring on my coat! I very much enjoyed the few hours I got to spend in Nara and it was definitely worth it for a last minute addition. I will definitely try and return on my next trip to Kyoto, as I feel like we just scratched the surface of what the park has to offer!

Italy Overview

This post was recently suggested to me by a friend. Although I haven't been to as many cities in Italy as I like, I have been to quite a few, and one more than once so I do feel incredibly grateful. Here's some of my recounts and tips for the few I have visited.

ROME: Rome has so much history! Also, I have seen the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn so many times I definitely fell in love with Rome in real life and the movie. I feel like everything you touch there has some meaning to it. This city is easy to get around, just watch not to trip on the cobblestone streets...speaking from experience on that one. Must see sights include the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum(go early and avoid the lines), and the Vatican(again, early). Please keep in mind the first 3 of those are free, and the other 2 I really recommend the ticket price as being worth it!One of my favorite new areas to explore on foot is Trestavere. One night in the summer we discovered a beautiful open air market along the river. So many handmade goods for sale as well as fun small bars and open air restaurants. Perfect way to take in the city and watch the sun set, turning the sky on fire. If you go in the summer, beware you will melt as there is not much air con anywhere in the city as well as a lack of shade(old buildings=not tall=no shade). But don't worry, just eat lots of gelato to cool down!

MILAN: Milan is very beautiful! I only spent a total of one full day in Milan, so my "tips" are rather limited. I really enjoyed the Duomo and going to the top of the cathedral; the view was breathtaking! Be prepared for the dress code, you will need to keep your shoulders and knees(i think) covered. If you aren't prepared(like I was) you can rent a little fabric "robe" to wear there. It is probably the most awkward thing you will ever wear, but the church is a holy place and it is required. I enjoyed walking through the city, and eating lots of gelato! In the afternoon we went to Parco Sempione which was gorgeous, and kind of reminds me of Dolores Park in SF. Many people lounging in the lush grass, playing various games/frisbee, picnicking, and they even sell beer in little stands there. A great way to people watch and relax.

VENICE: Venice seems to be busy no matter what time of year you go. The water taxi's and buses can get really crowded so plan your route strategically and walk as much as possible. I had a not so fun experience dining at a restaurant on the water, and turns out they can charge you extra for all sorts of things, like a seat with a "view" and be sure to get tap water only! They will charge for a bottle(this goes for everywhere in Europe). I found better(and more authentic) food and restaurants on side streets and alleys, anywhere on the main streets seemed to have signs mentioning frozen food on the menu which made me extremely grossed out...but I digress. On the positive side, it's a beautiful little place to get lost, stroll around, go out for drinks at night...but since the area is so small it doesn't need to be more than a day or two here! On some of the side streets you'll find a lot of handmade crafts. I got the coolest swirl painted leather bound notebook here, and there's plenty of "masquerade" masks anywhere and everywhere. You'll want to stop all the time to get a picture that is better than the last, and that is the magical beauty of Venice.

CINQUE TERRE: Okay this is just one of those places you see on Pinterest or Instagram and you're like "How is that real?!" and you go there and it's exactly as you imagined if not better! I found out about Monarola and the Cinque Terre sometime in 2009-2010 after finding a photo via StumbleUpon. I was instantly captivated by the city on the hillside and showed a picture to my parents and tried to persuade them to make this place part of our next vacation. After seeing the picture I think my parents got even more excited to visit than I was! We took the train from Rome, about 4-5 hours or less. We were supposed to stop in Pisa(for the leaning tower) but there was a train strike and we had to divert our plans...save that for next time! Anyways, we stayed in Monarola, at a hostel on top of the hill. And I mean the very top! There are no cars, just cobblestone roads, and a hiking style trail linking the 5 little villages. Each are beautiful and different in their own way. These photos are circa 2010, but even though this place has become more known to travelers it still has not lost its charm and beauty. I would gladly go back here in a heart beat.

next up on my Italy wishlist: Florence, Amalfi Coast, Pompei!

How Do You Afford To Travel?

Probably the number one question every travel blogger gets asked. It's definitely what all my friends and family are wondering. I think the main thing about traveling, if you want to do it bad enough, you'll make the "sacrifices" necessary to do it. So many people tell me, "you're so lucky to be able to travel so much!"  Eyeroll. Well let me tell you, luck has NOTHING to do with it. It all comes down to hard work, saving, making "sacrifices", and putting my needs and wants to explore this world before everything else. I'm going to give some tips about how I save for travel; it may not be easy, but it's what works for me.

First step to saving: Open a savings account. As I mentioned in my previous post, I started putting money away into savings when I was 17 at my first job. If you haven't started a savings account, there's no time like the present. It's good to have in case of emergencies, and of course for this post, travel expenses. It's a nice little cushion to fall back on if something happens on your trip, like a medical issue, or even a spontaneous outing or activity that you can't resist.

Motivation: I strongly believe in the written form. Lists, or even just writing down/reading mantras daily really gets me amped up to meet my goals. Plus, after watching the Secret, I definitely believe seeing your goals expressed daily will help you "manifest" that in your life, in whatever way you believe that. For example, if you want to go on a trip to Mexico for spring break, make a list of what you need to do to be able to go. I.e. buy tickets, secure accommodation, figure length of the trip, determine any costly activities, etc. That helps me figure out how I should estimate the cost and how much I would need to save. Also what I do is make another list at the start of the year and pick a few destinations I want to go to that year. I look at this list almost every day and seeing it makes me "finalize" it in my mind and motivates me to work harder. You can also make a "vision board" as well, seeing pictures of future destinations is a great way to imagine yourself there and keep you in check.

Income: Without money coming in, you can't save! No brainer, there. Assuming you already have one job, take a look at how much you are making. Last year, since I was done with school and had the extra hours to fill, I got a second job for extra income. That helped me save up not only for a 3 week trip to Japan, but also a 3.5 month SE Asia backpacking trip. I worked and saved about 4-6 months for each trip. Both trips had a budget of about $3,000-6,000.If you have the time, a second job is great because you can (hopefully) cover all your necessary expenses with your main job, and save for travel with the income from your second. This is the part where willpower comes in again. Now with 2 jobs I am working minimum 55-65 hours a week. It is exhausting, and due to saving money, I don't go out much or spend money on myself. But to me, it is worth it, if I can take a trip whenever I like. If the end result is worth it for you, then it will make it easier.

Budget and Spending: A big factor is your spending. Once you work on the income, the next is figuring out how much you can live on and your budget to save. For tips on avoiding unnecessary expenses or splurging read my shopaholic post. If you can, start by putting a portion of your paycheck into savings. Start with what you can and add more if there's still some left over by the time your next check comes through. I aim to put at least 25-50% of my checks into savings. You can reduce your spending in a myriad of ways. There's so many articles on this online already I feel it is better stated than on this post but here's some examples I follow: Cut back on eating out and eat only meals from home; I always bring meals to work in Tupperware! Super healthy for you too. Don't buy new clothes, and if you do buy only what is essential. I cover a lot of this in my other post. What's going to play a big part in this is you making a budget for your life. I can't tell you what that is cause everyone is different, but figure out the essential things you need to pay for versus non-essentials, and find ways to eliminate the non-essentials(or at least purchase them less often). What it comes down to is, no blog post or advice will come make you change your mind about cutting down things in your life if you're not motivated enough from within. Its the difference between spending 5$ a day for coffee versus making it at home and pocketing that change for your savings. Buying a bottle of wine and having a girls night in versus an expensive dinner and bar hopping night out. Thrifting or mending old outfits versus buying brand new clothes every week. This is just a small example of how I rationalize my purchases towards saving.

Reverse Budgeting: I saw this mentioned in a travel forum I am a part of and couldn't not share it(but I can't take credit). Say for instance, buying a Starbucks coffee. You are suddenly craving a hot beverage at 5$ a cup. But,if you decide to say no, you transfer that 5$ to your savings instead. If you wanted a manicure at a spa but did it at home instead, transfer that $20 over. It's a great way to convert money you already had into savings. It just involves a little ingenuity and tricking your brain! The savings will add up before you realize it.

How much do I need to save? Figure out how much you need to save for the trip, factoring in flights, accommodation, food, and misc spending. Then find out how many weeks (or paycheck periods) you have left to meet the goal. I am currently working to go on a trip/spend a year in Australia and looking to make $4,000 minimum before I leave. If i had 12 weeks to save, I would need to put away $333 approx each week to meet my goal. If you can't afford to meet your goal and still meet your base daily needs for survival, don't take the trip! It is always better to go slow and steady, don't rush into a trip that you can't afford. Why do it half-assed when you can save more and put that money into your trip. Also what style of traveler are you? This will factor into your budget: Are you wanting to travel budget backpacker style or upgrade and go luxury? Calculating expenses will help you see how soon you can meet your goal and make your trip a reality(see weekly plan above).

If you don't have the willpower and motivation to travel strongly enough, you will find yourself making more excuses than anything else. And that's okay, if that's not your goal. But if it is, it is up to you to make it a priority. My goal here is to make everyone realize travel can be within your means, no matter how long it takes for you to save up! You can get out there and travel!

Paris In 2 Days On A Budget

Paris in 2 days? Am I crazy?! Probably. While I had 9 days to spend in London, I used 2 of those days to hop over to Paris. With the Eurostar running trains all hours of the day and night, the two hour ride is extremely do-able, and comfortable. I even got to experience one of their newer trains with wifi on board! If you are in London, Paris is only a short trip away! You could even go for a day trip if you like! Take it from me, you will never regret taking the extra time to go to Paris. Despite having been a few times before, the city never gets old nor any less beautiful! In fact, I find each time better than the last in new ways. I always find exhilarating places to explore, a new neighborhood to stroll through, and some scenic sites to soak up. There's nothing like revisiting the classics(they're classics for a reason) but I always try to add a few new things as well.

Must do:

Have a picnic in front of Eiffel Tower. The view is great and you can save money instead of splurging at the fancier cafes nearby. Get a mini wine and maybe a baguette or salad to go and you're all set. Don't buy booze from the guys selling it in the park, you can probably find it cheaper in the corner stores nearby. I love the lawn to the left of the tower(if you're coming from Ecole Militaire metro station). Weekday mid afternoons are the best time without much of a crowd.

Carbs don't count if you're in Paris;)

Carbs don't count if you're in Paris;)

Go to the "Classics". I think these are a must and depending how much time you spend at each you can really do them all in a couple hours. Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and the Notre Dame. I think those are the ones that are a must if it's your first time in Paris. You can walk or take the metro to these! I was able to do 2-3 of those in one day with the afternoon to spare.

Go to a museum. Paris is stock full of them. I try to go to one I have never been to before. Louvre is massive and could take a full day to go through; plus having been before, I couldn't justify the entry price this time. If you haven't been to the Louvre and have more than 2 days in the city of love, I fully recommend it as there's so much to look at. I chose Musee de L'Orangeriethis time instead and marveled at the Monet!

Walk with no destination in mind. This is possibly the easiest to do and the cheapest. I highly recommend the Montremarte & Le Marais neighborhoods. Montremarte has an amazing view of the whole city and cute cafes and street art. Le Marais has a wonderful selection of secondhand boutiques, street food, and probably the best falafels of my life!

An unplanned stroll in Montremarte led to free glasses of wine and conversations with locals. Embrace spontaneity! Go with the flow.

An unplanned stroll in Montremarte led to free glasses of wine and conversations with locals. Embrace spontaneity! Go with the flow.

If you have a little more time here are some other places I recommend:

-Père Lachaise Cemetery (a beautiful walk year round and many celebrities buried here)

-Take a day trip to the Palace of Versailles. I really wanted to squeeze it in this year but unfortunately the 2 days was not enough to do so. I have been before years ago and it is so stunning! It is about a little over an hour or so on the train out of Paris, and you really need a full day to deal with the entry lines(!!!) and to take in the scope of how massive the grounds and palace are.

- Go to the top of the EIffel Tower. My tip: Go later at night. We went around 11 pm, no lines, and even had a french speaker barter with the ticket takers to let us up to the top for half price since they were closing soon! Nothing beats being on top with the clock strikes midnight! This can be done if you have only 2 days, but don't go during the day, the lines will take time away from doing other things nearby.

If anyone ever offers me a trip to Paris, I will always make it work. This city I will never get tired of its endless beauty, history, and culture.

Explore Your Own Backyard

I think seeing and exploring places nearby are just as important as traveling around the world! The travel bug has got me good, but while I'm saving up for my next trip/moving, I like to scratch the itch and go somewhere local. This is me trying to follow my own advice, living minimally and "less is more" while still making the most of what you have! All you need is a car, or maybe public transit, and either go with a friend or go solo! I love bringing my camera to take landscape shots. Even though this location was only an hour or so away from where I live, it reminds me that beauty is everywhere you look, so stop and take a moment to appreciate where you live!

These photos were taken in Napa Valley, CA. I am stunned by the amazing autumn colors and couldn't resist making the day trip up there!