Category Archives: Travel

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5 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer | BEDA Day 27

Summer is nearly upon us, my friends. While I’m more of a spring gal, I still look forward to all the travel and outdoor fun summer brings. Here are five things I’m particularly looking forward to this season.

  1. Vidcon! Vidcon is always a staple of my summer. It’s become this annual pilgrimage where I’m reunited with old friends, surrounded by likeminded people, and have the opportunity to learn new things about the always #changing face of #newmedia. While the conference has grown substantially in the last few years, there’s still something great about spending 3+ days with people who share your passions. I’m incredibly excited to go back for my fourth year.

  2. A Return to LA – I’m planning on spending a few days in LA ahead of Vidcon to catch up with friends and eat a ton of In-N-Out. I have a bit of a fraught relationship with the City of Angels, but I always enjoy my visits. I know I’ll be spending at least some of my 36 hours in town listening to Kanye in my rental car and drinking iced coffee from Intelligentsia, so it’ll be just like the summer of 2013.

  3. Central Park Hangs – Central Park is a bit of a trek for me in the winter, but I’m so looking forward to spending plenty of weekend afternoons there this summer. I bought a picnic blanket last year and used it all of two times, so I’m determined to get more use out of it in the coming months. I also have a ton of reading to catch up on. Maybe I’ll actually finish The Catcher in the Rye this year (don’t judge).

  4. Shakespeare in the Park – This is the year, guys. One of these weekends, I’m going to wake up super early, bring my aforementioned picnic blanket to the park, and camp out outside the Delacorte for free tickets to one of the Public’s productions. I’m particularly excited about the all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew running in May and June. Donna Lynne Champlin is in it. What more do I need?

  5. Governor’s Ball – So I did that thing a few months ago where I bought a pass without asking any of my friends if they planned on attending. As such, I’m facing the prospect of going to (what used to be) the New York version of Coachella by myself. The lineup is way too good for me to pass up, though. Between The Killers, Haim, Chvrches, and Death Cab for Cutie, I’m pretty much in musical heaven. Now to find someone to tag along…

What are you looking forward to this summer? Let me know in the comments!

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An Afternoon at Chanticleer | BEDA Day 26

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I went home for about 24 hours this weekend, which has become a common occurrence over the last year or so. I was in town for my mom’s choir concert and had a lovely few hours hanging out with my folks, snuggling with my dog, and sleeping in my own bed. The weather was absolutely stunning on Sunday, so we decided to take a ride to Chanticleer, a world-renowned garden right in my hometown.

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The flowers of Chanticleer were out in full bloom and we enjoyed a nice walk around the grounds. The Chanticleer Foundation has added a bunch of improvements – including new bathrooms and walkways down the hill from the house – since I last visited, which make the garden even more visitor-friendly. With these new paths we were able to explore areas of the garden we’d never seen before, like a pond full of giant carp.

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There’s a little shed down the hill from the main house that is just darling. It must have been used as a playhouse for the original owner’s children, as it’s decorated with these amazing murals right out of a children’s book. Somehow I was able to fit through the door without any problems, which shows you just how tiny I am. I should really stop acting surprised when I get carded at bars.

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Overall, it was a lovely – albeit allergy-ridden – afternoon. I managed to get all these photos on my iPhone, as I left my DSLR at home. I did some quick edits in my favorite photo editing app, Afterlight, and I’m really happy with how they turned out. Every time I visit Chanticleer, I can’t believe it’s always been right in my backyard. I can’t wait to visit again.

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A Culinary Tour of DC and Arlington | BEDA Day 21

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Last weekend, I joined some of my favorite ladies in the world for a weekend of adventures in Washington, DC and the surrounding area. We were there to celebrate Leslie’s birthday and finally hang out like real adults, outside of a conference setting. It was an amazing three days filled with great talks, near-perfect weather, and lots of food. Seriously, by some happy accident most of the weekend revolved around eating and drinking.

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After checking into our AirBnB in Arlington, we made our way down to U Street to check out the scene. The U Street Corridor has been experiencing something of a renaissance in the last few decades, and is now home to lots of cool shops, bars, and clubs. While wandering the neighborhood, we found this gorgeous mural and had to do a bit of a photoshoot.

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If you find a mural in a city alley and don’t take an OOTD photo, where you really ever there?

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The lovely Allyson

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At the suggestion of Amanda, we stopped into The Saloon, a no-frills bar and restaurant on the main drag. The Saloon is all about social interaction – you won’t find any TVs here and cell phones are highly discouraged. Their beer selection is top notch, though. I fell in love with a fruity wheat beer called Ruby Red that I will probably never be able to find again. I guess it’s better to have loved and lost, than to not have tasted Ruby Red at all.

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Remember when I said this was our first time hanging out outside of a conference? Well, we managed to find one anyway. After a breakfast of beignets at Bayou Bakery, we took the Metro down to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to check out the USA Science & Engineering Festival. While the exhibitors geared their booths more towards kids, it was cool too see all the innovation coming out of the participating organizations. Seeing so many kids, particularly girls, get excited about STEM and STEAM work was particularly heart-warming.

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We all managed to sleep in on Sunday and met up for brunch at Ragtime, a casual spot with Cajun flair. Ragtime is particularly well known for their Sunday brunch menu, featuring waffle and Bloody Mary bars, live music, and plenty of other goodies. As a Leslie Knope-in-training, I went straight for the waffle bar, piling on all the fruit and syrup my heart desired. Between that and several cups of coffee, I was highly content.
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All in all, it was a really great weekend. We may have laid pretty low, but it was so nice to have a few days to recharge and catch up with great friends that I don’t get to see that often. Sometimes just having a few beers in someone’s apartment is better than seeing everything a city has to offer. Plus, look at the sunset from our AirBnB. Why would I want to miss that?

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DC, thanks for a great few days. I’ll be back before you know it.

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Three Cheap Things to Do in Philadelphia | BEDA Day 20

Philadelphia is kind of the middle child of the mid-Atlantic region. Quite literally. Philly is located in the middle of two of the most influential and populous cities in the country, New York City and Washington, DC. We’re sometimes overlooked when bands schedule their nationwide tours and we’ve only been featured in a handful of travel shows. Did you all forget where the Declaration of Independence was signed? Sheesh!

Philadelphia is so much more than a historic site or a stop between New York and DC. It’s a cultural hotspot with tons of museums, theaters, and music venues, and has a great energy for a young traveler to latch onto. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Philadelphia that won’t break the bank.

 

Philadelphia is home to a treasure trove of art museums and galleries. The most famous of these (thank you, Rocky) is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The PMA houses a huge variety of art, from ancient works to more contemporary pieces. Admission to the museum includes access to the Rodin Museum, the largest collection of Rodin’s work outside of Paris, and the Perelman Building. Three museums for the price of one isn’t a bad deal in my book. If you’re on a budget, the PMA offers Pay-What-You-Wish admission on Wednesday nights after 5 PM and every first Sunday of the month.

On the quirkier side of Philly’s art scene are the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. Created by Isaiah Zagar, the Magic Gardens are a series of outdoor mosaic murals made out of tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors and other recycled objects that cover a half block of South Street. For a small fee you can stay in the gardens for as long as you want, exploring their quirks and taking in Zagar’s art. PMG also hosts events throughout the year that showcase Philadelphia’s local talent. After you finish up at the Magic Gardens, continue down South Street and check out the funky boutiques, bars, and venues located there.

Philadelphia’s theatre scene has grown exponentially in the last few years, and the city has become a hub for world-class theatre. You can find listings of all of the shows currently running in Philadelphia on theatrephiladelphia.org. Many theatre companies offer student rush tickets or discounts for patrons in their 20s. If you’re visiting Philly in September, make sure to catch some of the shows at the FringeArts Festival. FringeArts features cutting edge performances from up-and-coming companies and is one of the best places to scope out new talent.

As you can tell, the City of Brotherly Love has a lot to offer a young traveler. It’s a necessary stop on any trip to the East Coast and a must for lovers of the visual and performing arts. For more information on Philadelphia travel, check out visitphilly.com.

Photo Credit: Michael Righi. 

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How to Survive Convention Season | BEDA Day 17

Summer is an exciting time to be a nerd. We have more time to catch up on the movies, video games, and books we’ve been neglecting all year. Summer also brings something many nerds like myself look forward to all year long: Convention Season.

San Diego Comic Con, GeekyCon, Vidcon, Anime Expo, PAX Prime, Dragon*Con…a nerd can rack up some serious frequent flier miles in the short summer months. Attending lots of conventions in a short period of time is awesome, but how do you avoid feeling totally burnt out by Labor Day? As a (somewhat) seasoned con attendee I’m here to share some of my tips and tricks for avoiding TCSE – Total Con Season Exhaustion.

First off, pace yourself. Try not to attend two conventions back-to-back if you can avoid it. Give yourself at least two weeks between conventions to recover and ready yourself for the next round. At each con, don’t run from one panel to the next. Take plenty of breaks just to sit down and get away from the crowds for a few minutes. Go to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee or go take a power nap in your hotel room. If you schedule your breaks well you won’t miss anything important.

On a similar note, SLEEP. Sure, you want to party in your friend’s hotel room all night, but you probably won’t have any fun at the con if you’re a zombie the next day (unless you’re cosplaying as that chick from iZombie). No amount of coffee can measure up to a good night’s sleep. Try to get at least 5 hours of sleep in a bed. Your back and your brain will thank you for it.

Pack accordingly! You will probably be on your feet for most of the day at any given convention, so comfy shoes and clothes are necessary. If you’re cosplaying, keep an extra pair of shoes in your bag in case your platforms give out on you or your ankles need a break. Also, bring plenty of snacks that will hold up well in your bag. This will save you money (food on the floor can get pricey) and will keep you from trying to eat the person in front of you in line Walking Dead-style.

Know where you’re going. Read up on the host city ahead of time and find out where the nearby hospitals, pharmacies, restaurants, police stations, etc. are located. If you don’t have a car, figure out how you’re going to get to and from the convention before you even get on the plane. Program the number of a local cab company and the convention center’s security department into your phone. You never know what’s going to happen while you’re away, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible.

Finally, set a budget for the whole summer and for each specific convention. Between registration, hotels, flights, and all the awesome stuff sold on the floor, cons can get pretty pricey. Figure out how much money you plan on spending ahead of time and keep track of how much you spend when you’re there. This way you’ll get what you want out of the convention without having to hitchhike home.

What are some convention season tips you’ve picked up over the years? Let me know in the comments. Have a safe and fun convention season, and I’ll see you this year at Vidcon!

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#TBT: Memories of London | BEDA Day 7

Around this time four years ago, I was gallivanting around London as one of the many study abroad students who arrive in the country each year. Studying abroad was always part of my undergrad plan, but I wasn’t sure where (or when) I would go. In the end I went with what now seems like the safest option in retrospect. I didn’t have to learn a new language, I was familiar with the culture, and the time difference wasn’t as bad as somewhere like Australia. The safe option turned out to be the best choice, though.

My 11 weeks in London were some of the best of my life. I know how typical that sounds: “I studied abroad and it changed my life! OMG I’m so CuLtUrEd!!!” Seriously, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. There were challenges along the way – I did get homesick and the classes were difficult. I came home feeling much more independent, though, and ultimately felt really comfortable in the city. Plus, I had the best group of flatmates around.

In honor of #tbt, here are a some of my favorite memories of my time abroad, in the form of crappy photos pulled off of Facebook.

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My parents did a bit of traveling of their own while I was abroad. They met up with me in London for Mother’s Day weekend before heading off on a two week tour of Ireland. While they were in town, we decided to take a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, because you can’t go to Southern England without visiting Bath and Stonehenge. My folks don’t do anything half-assed, so we booked a tour that allowed us to get up close and personal with the stones after the park had closed to the public. This is definitely the way to go if you can swing it. Of course you can’t actually touch the stones, getting so close to something so ancient is really freaking cool. Also there are lots of sheep.
elephant house edinburgh london study abroadI so wish you could actually see out the window in this photo. One weekend in April, a couple of us took an overnight Megabus (not recommended) to Edinburgh to see what Scotland had to offer. We arrived around 7am, before most shops and cafes in Old Town opened. After some frustrated wandering, we found The Elephant House, empty and just opening for the day. I believe Jo Rowling herself was shining her light on me at that moment because a) I was starving and exhausted and b) as the “birthplace of Harry Potter,” The Elephant House is almost always packed. We got an amazing seat with a view of Edinburgh Castle and stuffed our faces with eggs. As you can tell from the above photo, I was very content.

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Sometimes your favorite band announces that their first set of shows in a few years will take place in Ireland. While you’re studying in London. And your friend (also a huge fan) is living in Glasgow. You have to go, right? Right. That’s exactly what I did. I spent a total of 48 hours in Ireland, 4 of which were spent on buses between Dublin and Limerick, the site of the concert. It was so worth it, though. Dolan’s Warehouse is a much smaller venue than the ones Franz Ferdinand typically plays in the states, and we ended up standing just a few rows from the front. The new songs, which eventually made up their 2013 album “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action,” sounded great. I saw them again when they headlined the Field Day festival in London a few weeks later, which means I’ve officially seen them play in three different countries. Does that make me a groupie? Who knows.

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Everyone has to climb a lion in Trafalgar Square when they come to London. It’s a rite of passage, apparently. On my last night in London, a friend of mine invited me to help him shoot something for his webseries in the wee hours of the morning. We ended up staying up all night and found ourselves in Frafalgar Square at 4am. It was far from deserted, but as I was flying home in about 8 hours, I figured now was my chance to ride one of these majestic iron creatures. With a little help from my friends, I conquered the beast. Later, we watched the sun rise along the Thames, perfectly lighting up Parliament. Somehow I still made my flight.
I’m ready to go back to London right about now. If anyone has a job for me over there, or a couple thousand dollars lying around, hit me up.

Photo Credit: Sigmama on Flickr

TSA Pre-Check: A Review | BEDA Day 6

I may pretend to be a travel expert on the internet, but in reality I don’t fly all that often. I don’t travel for work and I can only scrape together so many vacation days (and so much cash), so I only average about 6-8 flights per year. Despite this, in a hopeful attempt to manifest some more travel into my life, I decided to register for TSA PreCheck ahead of my trip to Hawaii and California last December. I had watched my family and friends abandon me in the airport security line for their shorter, more streamlined TSA PreCheck screening one too many times. It was my turn to be one of the traveling elite. Registering for PreCheck was..a bit of a process, but one I believe was worth it. Here’s how it all went down.

Registration

The application process for TSA PreCheck comes in two parts: an online application and an in-person interview. The online application mostly consists of personal information and I found it pretty easy to navigate. Once that was complete, I was asked to schedule an appointment at a local ID center. Of course, the center closest to me was booked for a good month, so I went with the next best option: Brooklyn.

I’ll be honest, the ID center in Brooklyn was so nondescript, I was sure the security guy in the lobby had misdirected me. I actually went downstairs again to make sure I was going to the right place. I eventually found some signage and didn’t have to wait too long to be seen. The woman conducting my interview wasn’t particularly cheery, but after several trips to the DMV I wasn’t expecting much. She basically asked me the same questions from the online application (you can actually do both in the office), scanned my license, and took my fingerprints. I was also recovering from getting stitches in my thumb, so this took a few tries. Overall, the process was shorter than my actual trip to Brooklyn and I was approved a few days later.

Flying With PreCheck

I’ll be honest, I was pretty pumped to see the words “TSA PreCheck” on my boarding pass when we checked in for our flight to Kauai. The line at security wasn’t that much longer than the standard one, but it did move a bit faster since we didn’t have to take off our shoes, belts, pants, etc. Of course, I got “randomly selected” for a pat-down my first time out the gate. There wasn’t much I could do there, I guess. At least I still didn’t have to take off my shoes.

PreCheck was extra helpful on our flight from Kauai to Honolulu, as the tiny Lihue airport was packed with post-Christmas travelers. As a major American airline, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Hawaiian Airlines opting in to the PreCheck program. We were able to get through security with a little extra time to grab some last-minute Kauai gifts.

Overall, I’d say that TSA PreCheck is worth the $85 fee. I’m set for the next 5 years, and I plan to get as much travel in as possible in that period of time. Though the program isn’t available everywhere, it does make the whole security process much easier, and the flying experience generally more pleasant.

You can find out more about the TSA PreCheck program here.

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Christmas at Disneyland | BEDA Day 3

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to watch was this video about Christmastime at Disneyland. I’m not entirely sure if this was one of those vacation-planning videos you could send away for or just a special that had aired on the Disney Channel at some point, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t remember it having a distinct plot or anything. It mostly consisted of Mickey & Co. galavanting about the park, getting ready for the holidays. Something about that video was incredibly comforting, and I always dreamed of visiting the park that Walt built during the festive season.

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In a stunning turn of events, this dream finally came true this past Christmas. I somehow convinced my parents it would be a good idea to stop by Disneyland on the way home from Hawaii, so we decided to spend New Years in the park. Now, if you know anything about Disneyland, you know that this is the busiest time of the year. The park was packed to the gills with locals and tourists alike looking for prime spots for the midnight fireworks. Nevertheless, it was all worth it when I got to see the Christmas Parade.

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The parade hasn’t changed much since the 90s, save for the addition of a few new characters like Elsa from Frozen and Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. I pretend to be cool, but when I saw the toy soldiers marching down Main Street USA, I teared up a little. The thing I had dreamed about for 20 years was real and right in front of my face. I had made it home.

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I may be an East Coast girl, but ever since I first visited in 2011, Disneyland has always felt like my place. The park has a much more laid-back vibe than Walt Disney World in Florida. So many locals visit Disneyland on a regular basis, that it never feels like people are putting pressure on themselves to have the best time ever. It’s just a place to hang out, like Central Park here in New York (albeit with a much higher admission fee). Plus, Disneyland is Walt’s park, the only one he saw completed. Walt Disney is a very problematic figure in history, but his ingenuity was undeniable. I guess I feel like I’m soaking up the remnants of his creative energy while I’m there. I may come home feeling physically depleted, but I always leave inspired.

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Want to see some more of my Disneyland shenanigans? I made a video of my culinary journey through Disney’s California Adventure a few months ago. Check out what I ate in the park below!

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Confessions of a Broke Travel Points Junkie | BEDA Day 2

I signed up for my first travel credit card this year.

I’ve always been wary of credit cards. The idea of “free money” always seemed attractive, but growing up in the recession, I’d heard so many horror stories of people ruining their finances with them. Considering I had no credit after graduating from college, I figured it might be time to give one a try. A year later, I found they weren’t so scary after all.

Now that I’m settled in NYC, I want to get some more travel under my belt. Which can be pricey. I might not be traveling on The Points Guy’s level, but if I can offset some of the costs of travel with points and miles, all the better.

I started with Amtrak Guest Rewards. I travel home to Philly at least once a month on Amtrak, and with their rewards program, I earn 2 points per dollar spent. They recently changed their redemption system, so it costs less points to get a ticket. I haven’t earned quite enough points, though, and when I do I may just hoard them for a bigger trip or tickets to a show via Audience Rewards.

When I decided to bite the bullet and get a travel credit card, I decided to go for the card with the lowest possible risk (in my eyes). I’m still broke after all. My bank offers a card with a decent point-per-dollar-spent rate and no annual fee. These general travel credit cards let you redeem points for any number of travel costs, from airfare to hotels to taxis. I’ve found this to be the easiest way to earn points as it doesn’t depend on how much you actually travel. Plus, I got a big old points bonus for spending a certain amount of money (and paying it off) within the first 3 months. Win.

I’m not particularly loyal to any airline. I like to go with whoever offers the best fare and flight times for my trip. Despite this, I did recently join the American Airlines AAdvantage and JetBlue TrueBlue programs. This was kind of a “screw it” move. These airlines fly out of my main travel hubs (Philadelphia and New York respectively), and have decent programs with lots of brand partners. If I’m going to fly on either airline, I might as well make the most out of it. It was free to sign up and I’ll at least get a magazine subscription out of it.

How do I keep track of all these points (ha)? My favorite tool at the moment is AwardWallet. This site automatically keeps track of your awards points in a variety of programs (including retail loyalty programs like Sephora Beauty Insider) and lets you know when points are about to expire. No need to log into each site individually to check your point balance. AwardWallet has you covered.

I may be earning slowly right now, but eventually I’ll have enough points to at least fund half of a trip to one of my bucket list locations. What are your thoughts on award travel, friends?

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Flora, Fauna, and Food Trucks | Oahu, HI

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A trip to Hawaii – at least for a first-timer – isn’t quite complete without a visit to the Aloha State’s capital, Honolulu. After a week of relaxing in Kauai I was really looking forward to visiting this legendary city and seeing a few more faces. I got all that and more upon arriving in Waikiki Beach.

Waikiki Beach is constantly buzzing with tourists from all over the world exploring the many shops, restaurants, and hotels that line the shore. The vibe is at once laid-back and upscale, with buildings housing both five-star restaurants and flip-flop shops. I had some of the best Japanese and Korean food of my life (so far) over my three days in town. My beefy lite bowl from the Kamitoku Ramen truck was better than some of the fancier meals I had over the trip.

 

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Speaking of food trucks, if you’re on your way to the North Shore and love shrimp, make a pit stop at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa. There’s only a few items on the menu (three styles of shrimp and a garlic hot dog) but it’s all fantastic. After waiting in line for about 20 minutes and fighting off fruit flies, I started to wonder if it was worth it, but that plate of shrimp scampi was a revelation. Go there.

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After stuffing our faces with shrimp, we stopped by Waimea Valley, an amazingly lush botanical garden and cultural site that brings visitors closer to nature and Native Hawaiian history. Walking down to the waterfall, you can see why its considered such a sacred place. It’s absolutely stunning even in winter, when most of the flowers aren’t in bloom. I can’t even imagine how it will look a few weeks from now.

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A trip to the North Shore isn’t complete without a stop at Sunset Beach, one of the top spots in the world for big wave surfing. You can’t really tell from the photos, but the surf was out of control that particular afternoon. I’m used to baby waves on the Atlantic. These swells were at least three times the size of the waves I’ve seen before major storms back home. Despite that, plenty of people were paddling out. I salute you, crazies.

Oh, there was also a double rainbow. So intense.

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Hawaii, you were good to me. I can’t wait to see you again soon.

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In case you missed it, check out the video I made of my Hawaiian adventures. While you’re in the neighborhood, I made 2 other somewhat travel-related videos during my blogging hiatus – one on moving to New York and the other on the people of Amtrak. Join me, won’t you?