Category Archives: Travel

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The Real Jurassic Park | Kauai, HI

Happy January, my poor, abandoned bloggy friends! I may have taken a good month off from writing, but that month included plenty of travel. I spent my two weeks off from work in Hawaii and California, enjoying the sunshine, taking pictures, and gathering plenty of ideas for new #content. Apparently I can never give myself a real break.

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My parents and I started out our adventure on Kauai, one of the most lush islands of the Aloha State. After some rest to get over the massive jet lag (8 hours of flying is no joke), we got a real Hawaiian welcome at the Smith Family Garden Luau. The evening featured a tour of their gorgeous gardens, an amazing and authentic Hawaiian meal, and a show featuring the music and dance of the Polynesian islands. If you’re looking for a more classic luau, Smith’s does a fantastic job.

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We spent our next morning at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, a site in the hills of central Kauai frequented by people of all faiths. The monastery is definitely worth a visit for its lush views and general sense of peace. There’s plenty of people on site who are happy to talk to you about the Hindu faith, show you around the grounds, and answer any questions you may have.

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From there, we drove down to the town of Kapaa for some lunch. Kapaa is home to plenty of great restaurants, but some friends of ours highly recommended Mermaids Cafe. It totally lived up to the hype. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the BEST TACOS OF MY LIFE, but just take my word for it. They were awesome. The hibiscus lemonade wasn’t bad, either.

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You may have seen a little dinosaur movie last summer by the name of Jurassic World. The real Jurassic Park happens to be on Kauai, namely on the Na Pali Coast. A lot of the exterior shots from the Jurassic Park movies were shot in these incredible seaside mountains, and no wonder why. This place is unreal. We took a sunset catamaran cruise with Holo Holo Charters and saw some of the most incredible sites. Plus, they fed us. Shout out to food.

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Much of the next day was spent kayaking and hiking our way up to Secret Falls in Wailua River State Park. I’m still impressed that I actually made it back to the hotel without dying. Four miles of kayaking and two miles of hiking in ankle-deep mud is much more physical activity than I’ve had in…a while. But it was all worth it for the view. You don’t see that every day in Manhattan. And if you do, you should probably call the fire department.

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We spent our week at Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club, right on Kalapaki Bay. The whole property was lush and gorgeous, with lots of open-air spaces. The lobby/courtyard area, with its manmade waterfalls and stocked koi pond was one of my favorite parts of the resort. Plus, occasionally this cockatoo would make an appearance, shouting “Aloha” at the guests passing through. He was the best.

Kauai, you were good to me. Mahalo for your incredible hospitality to those of us just passing through. I know I’ll be back soon enough.

Looking for some more visuals of the Aloha State? Check out the video I put together with some of my favorite moments from my Hawaiian adventure!

 

5 Places On My Travel Bucket List

We’re closing in on winter, the season where my wanderlust is at its worst. When the temperatures drop, there’s nothing I want more than to hop on a plane and get the heck out of dodge. I don’t necessarily need to travel to a warmer spot, I just need to get away from the dreary mess that is a New York City winter. This wanderlust has got me thinking about my travel bucket list, all the places I’d love to go before I retire in Monterrey and build my army of sea otters. Here are a few of the spots that are currently high on my list.

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Madeira, Portugal

This small island off the coast of Northern Africa may be a popular tourist destination for Europeans, but it holds a special place in my heart. From what I’ve been told, my mom’s family is originally from Madeira and lived there for years before coming to America. I’d love to explore this island and learn more about how my ancestors lived. Plus it’s just freaking gorgeous.    

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’ll blame my middle school obsession with the musical Evita for this one. Buenos Aires is a truly global city with a rich culture and diverse population. To be honest, I feel like I don’t know that much about the city aside from its history. I definitely want to check out the theatre scene, maybe check out an opera at the Teatro Colon. Maybe I can improve my dismal Spanish skills while I’m there, too.

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Australia

I can’t really choose one city in Australia that I absolutely need to visit. Ideally, I would make a longer trip out of it, visiting the Gold Coast, the Outback, and cities like Sydney and Melbourne. The landscape there is so totally different from where I live now and just so amazing. I’m willing to risk getting eaten by any of the million animals that can kill you if I can hang out with one koala. 

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Stockholm, Sweden

Cool design! Herring! Ridiculously hot people! What doesn’t Sweden have? As an avid Eurovision fan, I need to know what it is about this country that keeps them churning out pop stars. I love the way the city blends old and new and remains on the cutting edge while respecting its rich history. Plus, flights are pretty cheap on Norwegian Air. Maybe I can make this happen sooner rather than later.

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New Orleans, LA

Bringing it back stateside for this last city. Over the last ten years, New Orleans has showed the world that nothing can keep her down. This city is very much alive and I want to be a part of it (at least for a few days). I’m yearning to listen to some jazz and eat po boys until I become one myself (literally and figuratively). Seeing as New Orleans is the closest city on my list, I should probably get on this one soon.

 
Bloggy peeps, has the travel bug bit you recently? Where are you itching to go? Let me know what’s on your list in comments!

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Brunch and Bowling | A Weekend in Minneapolis

When Minneapolis was announced as the host city for the inaugural Nerdcon: Stories, it didn’t seem like the most obvious choice. I’ve traveled to more “destination” cities like LA and San Diego before for conventions, but never anywhere too far north. Regardless, I was excited to spend some time in Minneapolis during the con. I haven’t traveled extensively in the midwest, so Minnesota is some uncharted territory.

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Unfortunately, thanks to the nature of conventions, we didn’t have a ton of time for sightseeing. We still managed to find some cute places to eat, though. One of my favorite spots in town is Hen House, a bar, bakery and breakfast joint just a few blocks from the convention center. My friends and I had some killer omelettes and mimosas between sessions on Saturday morning. Hen House is known for their giant cinnamon rolls (which are heavenly), but the crown jewel of the menu in my mind is their hash browns. Crisp, delicious, and very filling. I’m a sucker for some good potatoes. Our first breakfast was so good, we decided to come back for more on Sunday.

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On Saturday night, we headed over to Brit’s Pub for dinner and drinks. Most pubs in America are pretty interchangeable in my mind, but Brit’s local charm and great selection of pub grub sets it apart. They have a great selection of local brews and to sip on their awesome roofdeck. We had some great weather all weekend and were happy to take full advantage of it.

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Brit’s also has a super cool green rooftop for lawn bowling and the occasional screenings. Sadly, no one was out bowling that night, but I would happily go back for a round the next time I’m in Minneapolis. We did get to catch an amazing sunset on our way out, which perfectly complemented the old-timey streetlights on the rooftop.

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Of course, what would a weekend in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area be without a cheeky trip to that great monument to Capitalism, the Mall of America? My friends and I actually did a good deal of shopping between MoA and the the flagship Target in downtown Minneapolis. Although we decided to pass on the amusement park, we did score some pretty great deals (no sales tax on clothing in MN!) and put a few miles on our boots. Nick Cannon also happened to be shooting a segment for TeenNick at the mall that afternoon, so we were in good company.

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Sure, most of my non-convention time in Minneapolis was spent eating or shopping, but I still had a great time. I’ll most likely be back next year, hopefully with a bit more time to explore the city.

Have you been to Minneapolis? What are some of your favorite spots in the city? Give me some recommendations for next year in the comments!

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5 Amazing Moments from Nerdcon: Stories 2015

After 6 Vidcons, I can count on Hank Green and his team to run a great conference that caters to both fans and creators. Their events manage to be equal parts variety show, public forum, master class, and party, which always leads to a good time. While Vidcon centers around the more specific world of online video, Nerdcon: Stories tackles storytelling, an artform as old as…well, people. I was curious to see how this event, the first of its kind, would play out, so I bought a pass and headed to Minneapolis.

What I experienced at NC:S was a celebration of how stories are created and how they connect us all. “We are all made of stories,” was the general refrain of the weekend, and both attendees and presenters brought stories to share. I left on Sunday feeling emotionally energized and inspired to create, albeit physically exhausted from three days of walking around the giant Minneapolis Convention Center. Here are some of my favorite moments from this year’s conference.

Paul Sabourin’s Opening “Why Stories Matter” Keynote

Throughout the conference, several special guests were invited to give their take on why stories matter. Paul Sabourin, one half of Paul and Storm, kicked off the first morning session on Friday in his hilarious and high-energy fashion, running through a (very) brief history of storytelling. Sure, it mainly focused on storytelling in western civilization (as most history classes in America do), but it gave us all a good idea of why stories have been so prominent throughout history. Ultimately, we tell stories to feel less alone in the world, to relate to each other. Whether their true or not, stories have the power to connect us. 

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Leslie running the story circle like a champ.

Leslie’s Story Circle

Have you met my friend Leslie? Aside from being a fabulous human and great friend, Leslie created and curates “One Time Stories“, a storytelling web series in the vein of The Moth and StoryCorps. It’s truly amazing and I suggest you check it out and submit if you’re so inclined. As a featured guest (#proudmama), Leslie hosted a storytelling circle on Friday night which drew a huge crowd. People shared heartfelt and hilarious stories of firsts: first kisses, first times crying in public, first poop explosions (go with it). There’s something so simple and great about just sitting in a huge circle, kindergarten style, and listening to people sharing their truth.

“Honing Your Craft” Panel

As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to embetter my word-doing, so I jumped at the chance to listen to a panel of great writers talk about their process. The panel featured several novelists who write across several genres – including Lev Grossman, Stephanie Perkins, and Nalo Hopkinson – whose processes are as diverse as their writing styles. They were each brutally honest about their struggles to get words on the page. Nalo spoke in particular about working with ADHD, which was incredibly important to me. Once again, I had a moment of feeling less alone.

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From left: Paul Sabourin, Paul DeGeorge, Cecil Baldwin, Sarah Mackey, and Leslie Datsis on the “Communities and Fandom” Panel

Dylan Marron’s “Why Stories Matter” Keynote

Speaking of representation, Dylan Marron’s take on why stories matter was one of the most powerful moments of NC:S. Marron, known for his “Every Single Word…” video series and for playing Carlos on Welcome to Night Vale, touched on how storytelling helps us build empathy by showing us how we fit into the world. When we tell universal stories with only white faces, we essentially deny the existence of people of color. The fact that hundreds of (mostly young) people got to hear this in the convention center’s main auditorium gives me hope for the future. You can check out a video of the speech here.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Sometimes, you have to fly to the midwest and attend a major conference to see a show that’s performed twice a week in your own city. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is an ever-changing show by the New York Neo-Futurists, in which a group of actors attempts to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. They introduce new plays each week, and the order of plays is determined by the audience, so you never know what you’re going to see. I was incredibly excited to see TMLMtBGB, and the Neos did not disappoint. Each play managed to be poignant, true, and funny within the limited time. Above all, the Neos are genuine, and I love that. Kevin R. Free is a delight. I want to be best friends with Desiree Burch and Kate Jones. And Jeffrey Cranor brought me close to tears more than once over the weekend. I’m now determined to get to a Neos show in New York before the year is out.

It’s safe to say I had an amazing time this weekend at NerdCon: Stories. I’ll definitely be back next year, hopefully with some stories of my own. In between all this awesome, I learned that Minneapolis is a wonderful city that we should all move to (6 months out of the year). Stay tuned for more on my Minneapolis adventures next week!

Image via Hernán Piñera

Four Practical Tips for Calming Travel Jitters

I’m heading to Minneapolis on Thursday for Nerdcon: Stories, and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous. I’ve traveled a ton over the years (thanks, parents), but have only been on a handful of flights by myself. While some people freak out about the actual flight, I worry more about just getting myself on the plane without a responsible adult nudging me along. I worry I’ll oversleep and get to the airport too late, I worry about over-packing my carry-on, I worry about missing the boarding announcement once I get past security. Just writing this all down is making me anxious. *gulps*

Despite this laundry list of anxieties, I haven’t missed a flight yet. I’ve gathered the following tips over the years to help ease my travel jitters. Try some of these out for smooth sailing on your next trip.

Start packing two days in advance

I like to have all my laundry done two days before I fly (if possible) so I can start putting my outfits together for my trip. I try not to push myself to have everything packed that night (I will need my toothbrush again), but I like to at least put a few things in my bag. This way, I’m not in a mad rush to get everything together the night before and can actually get a good night’s sleep before my flight.

Lay out your flying outfit the night before

I’m sure you’ve heard this tip before, but it’s definitely key for me. Who wants to pick out an outfit in the dark at 5am? I sure as hell don’t. That’s how you end up flying in your pajamas (although, if that’s your style, no judgement). This is a super easy way to make your morning go a little faster, giving you a little more time to catch your breath before heading to the airport.

Plan airport transportation ahead of time

Chances are you don’t live within walking distance of an airport, so you’re going to have to figure out a way to get yourself to your gate on time. If you have a family member or an incredibly gracious friend who can give you a ride, take advantage of them. Public transportation is always a cheap and (generally) reliable option for getting there, but make sure to look up how long it takes to get to the airport and leave with more than enough time. Since I am incredibly lazy and don’t always trust the MTA, I booked a car to the airport in advance via Gett. Which is a thing you can do! I learn something new everyday.

Pack light

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while. I like to have ~options~ when I travel, but I also LOVE saving $25 by not checking a bag. As I mentioned earlier, I like to plan my outfits for my trip in advance and make sure I’m bringing items I can wear a few times. For a four day trip, I’ll usually bring two pairs of pants, a shirt for every day, and dresses/exercise clothes/swimsuits as needed. Hey Nadine, one of my favorite travel vloggers, made a kickass video on packing for a carry-on if you want a more specific approach.
I’m sure none of these tips are particularly new to you, but they’ve helped me rest easy before many an early morning flight. How do you deal with travel anxiety? Share your top tips in comments!

Image via Hernán Piñera
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Five Amazing Spots in NYC

According to Timehop, one year ago I was preparing to move to New York to start yet another round of internships. At the time I was excited, but pretty apprehensive. Everything seemed so temporary: I was living in a privately-owned dorm with mostly college kids, my internships ended in December, and I had four months to find a “real job” or move back home. In hindsight, I was putting way too much pressure on myself (as I am wont to do).

I guess it worked out, though. Here I am, a year later with a full-time job in the entertainment industry, a big-girl apartment, and some semblance of a life and routine.

Now that I’m not constantly freaking out about my future (the operative word here being “constantly”), I’ve had some more time to explore the city. Here are five of the best spots I’ve found over the past year.

1. Perk Kafe

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There are tons of cute, bespoke coffee joints in New York, but most of them aren’t in Midtown. Luckily, Perk Kafe fills that void in Murray Hill in a decidedly unpretentious way. They offer awesome coffee in a very aesthetically-pleasing (albeit small) environment. And they don’t balk when I order decaf! It’s a nice alternative to grabbing Starbucks for the 10th time in one week.

2. The Bell House

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Confession: I don’t love going to Brooklyn. It’s a long train ride, I don’t know the neighborhood that well, and I never feel cool enough to be there. However, I will gladly endure the G train for a show at The Bell House in Gowanus. Their calendar is filled to the brim with comedy shows, live podcasts, concerts, dance parties, and more. Once a warehouse, the space has an old-timey feel to it, and almost reminds me of the rec hall at my summer camp (in the best possible way). A few months ago, my friends and I attended Shipwreck, a night of erotic fan fiction from some of today’s best writers. That night’s theme was Moby Dick, and featured Cecil Baldwin of Welcome to Nightvale as the designated reader. Although I’m not super-familiar with the book, I still laughed my ass off.

3. Strand Bookstore

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Yeah, yeah, everyone loves the Strand Bookstore, with its miles of books and fun tote bags. There’s lots of hype around this Union Square institution, but for good reason. If you have a favorite literary niche, they have the books you want to read. I usually find myself in their (extensive) drama section, checking out new plays and the classics I haven’t gotten around to reading quite yet. You can also trade in your books, CDs, and DVDs for cash or store credit. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

4. Sheep Meadow, Central Park

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If the last place on my list didn’t make me sound basic, this one totally will. The Sheep Meadow may be one of the most visited spots in Central Park, but it’s so vast that I’ve never had trouble finding a spot in which to read and soak up some Vitamin D. The open space also allows you to see how nature meets metropolis as the trees give way to fancy apartment buildings for gazillionaires. It’s a great spot to vedge out on a Sunday. Just remember to bring your own water.

5. Fat Cat

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I fell in love with Fat Cat after stopping by for a round of pool on my friend’s birthday. Located in the heart of the West Village, Fat Cat is a jazz bar/gaming center with a little something for everyone. Grab a soju cocktail, listen to some great tunes, and challenge your friends to a game of pool, ping pong, or even checkers. That night I remembered that I’m pretty terrible at pool, so next time I think I’ll opt for Scrabble. The prices are reasonable and the vibe is awesome, so I’ll definitely be back.

Fellow New Yorkers, tell me some of the best spots you’ve found in your adventures around town. My goal for year 2 is to explore as much as possible, and I’m always looking for new recommendations. Cheers to another year of fun!

From a Window Seat

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I spend a lot of time looking out the window when I’m traveling by plane or train. I like to guess where we are in the journey, make up stories for the towns we’re passing through or over. I try to play the same game on car trips, but the road signs kind of take the fun out of it. Plus, 2 hours on the interstate will make you think that the world consists solely of trees and Roy Rodgers restaurants.

I’m currently coming to you live* from the Amtrak Keystone line between Philadelphia and New York. I’ve taken this route several times over the last few months and it’s starting to lose its charm. The tracks are mostly lined with warehouses, junkyards, and unfortunately-placed apartment buildings. Tonight, I don’t seem to mind it as much, though. The skies are mostly clear and there’s a brilliant sunset to my left. It’s the kind of lighting that makes even the most industrial scenes seem idyllic.

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Sometimes I joke that my childhood took place along I-95. With most of my family in the New York area, my parents and I spent many weekends on the road visiting them. Was it an ideal situation? Probably not. But I never really had a problem with it. I spent those hours in the backseat listening to music, making up stories to go along with the songs. It was a kind of meditation, a time for me to be still and let my brain just kind of go. Heaven for my introverted side.

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I’ve included some photos from my most recent flight back to New York from Savannah, GA. I’ve traveled a lot, but I’m not quite jaded enough to lose my fascination with clouds. By some miracle of science, we are able to see these kinds of sights AND NOT DIE. I mean, that’s crazypants. I don’t take for granted the fact that I can step into a metal tube and come out 5 hours later on the other side of the country.

And then I get stuck on the Tarmac for an hour at LaGuardia. I could do without that part.

In other news, thanks to the magic of WordPress, A Suitcase Full of Pens is a real-ass website now! I’m super-excited about this, but please bear with me as I get things up and running and looking nice. It’s all a work-in-progress and a learning process and blah blah blah. However, I’ve got lots of new content coming your way, so watch this space.

*This is a previously recorded broadcast. Voting has now closed.

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How to Cruise Like a Pro – Bermuda Edition

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Every summer, I join my dad’s side of the family (all 22 of them) for our annual family reunion. This usually consists of a few days in Upstate New York, but every couple of years we’ll venture out of the northeast. This year we decided to return to the high seas with a five-day cruise to Bermuda on Royal Carribean’s Explorer of the Seas. This was my fourth cruise and second time in Bermuda, and at this point I feel like I’ve gotten the cruise routine down. So how does one cruise like a pro? Read on, dear traveler.

1. Pick the right port.

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The port you depart from is almost as important as the one to which you’re sailing. You’ll probably end up staying a night or two in that city before or after the cruise, so you’ll want to make sure that that place is somewhere you’d like to visit. This all depends on where you’re going, of course. Port Canaveral, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale are pretty common departure points for Carribean cruises, and I, as a 20-something, would personally much rather stay the night in Miami. There are also departure ports around the world, and there may be one within driving distance of your home. I’m lucky enough to live near New York City, a common departure port for cruises to Bermuda and transatlantic voyages. The first time we sailed out of New York, my parents and I drove into the port a few hours before go time and parked at the dock. That’s pretty damn convenient if you ask me.

2. You’re gonna want a drink package.

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While you can eat til you burst on a cruise and not pay a cent extra, drinks (aside from tea, coffee, water, and some juices) are unfortunately not included in your fare. And believe me, you’re gonna want a drink or five when you’re at sea all day. To save cruisers a little bit of a heart attack when they receive their bill, a lot of cruise lines are now offering prepaid drink packages. For a few extra dollars a day, you can drink to your hearts content. Royal Carribean offers a few different levels of drink packages to accommodate everyone’s thirst. I went with a package that gave me unlimited beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages, and I’d say it was definitely worth it.

3. Get off the boat, dummy!

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This probably seems like a given, but a lot of folks on my cruise actually never set foot on the island once we arrived in Bermuda. If that’s what you want to do, go for it, but I’m a fan of exploring. Definitely look into the excursions your cruise line offers. When you have limited time in a new place, it’s nice to have someone guiding your adventures.

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My family decided on a snorkeling excursion with a local tour company. We cruised around the island on a small boat and stopped near a reef for some snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding. It was a nice, relaxing day out and the weather was fantastic. It also helped that they were serving complimentary Rum Swizzle all day.

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Since we were in port overnight, we decided to take it easy the next day with a trip to Horseshoe Bay. We laid out, did a little exploring, and took advantage of some excellent photo ops.

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Cruising definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, crowded, and sometimes a little too structured. But I’m a fan of seeing the world on a full stomach, so I’m definitely into it. Now to plan the next journey.

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P.S. If you want to see a silly video I made while I was in Bermuda, click here.
P.P.S. If you like what you see, consider following me on Bloglovin!

A Weekend in Sutton, Quebec

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little thrown by the cultural shift I felt upon arriving in Sutton, Quebec a few weeks ago. From the French signs to the quaint farms along the main road, I felt like I had just stepped off a transatlantic flight rather than a two-hour road trip from the Burlington, VT airport. It really didn’t help that I had just returned from a trip to California the night before. Not exactly the best travel decision on my part.

Once the momentary culture shock wore off, I fell in love with this little town. It’s a great place for a weekend getaway if you live on the east coast. The beautiful Mont Sutton is open year-round for skiing, hiking, camping, and more. My parents and I hiked up to Lac Spruce on our second day in town and somehow managed to beat the rain. The trail was challenging for someone like me who hasn’t hiked in a while, but definitely worth it. I mean, look at those photos. That’s a lot of green, y’all.

If you’re not into the whole nature thing, Sutton still has a lot to offer. There are a bunch of cute shops and galleries full of fantastic local art. There are also plenty of dining options, from cafes to pubs to more high-end stuff. I personally recommend Bistro Beaux Lieux. The food was fantastic and we had an awesome view of the Sutton sunset.

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IMG_3098We stayed a few minutes out of town at the Auberge & Spa West Brome, which happens to have it’s own farm. It’s really cool to see a hotel growing its own food and I just had to capture the symmetry of the tomato garden. And of course I couldn’t leave without a few shots of the cows. Man, I love cows.

P.S. Oh hey, I have a new blog title and theme. Let me know what you think of it!

The Road to Monterey

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I may have traveled a lot over the past four years but my “vacations” have been few and far between. You know, vacations? Those trips where you have no responsibilities and the primary goal is relaxation? Ringing any bells? Probably not.

Prior to last September, my folks and I hadn’t taken a proper family vacation since 2011. We traveled a lot over those two years, but those trips were always riddled with work meetings and looming schoolwork deadlines, and they were always far too short. When I decided to go out to LA for the summer, my parents decided it was time for another Dow family road trip. I had three weeks between the end of my program and the start of my senior year, so we took one of those weeks to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco.

One of my favorite stretches of the journey was our drive between Ojai to Monterey. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch and to check out the city. We were only there for two hours, but it was just enough time for me to fall in love with the town. I also may have made some seagull friends.

After that, it was on to Big Sur. Aquatic mammals are kind of my thing, so I just about died when we pulled over to see a bunch of elephant seals just chilling on the beach. I broke out the macro lens and caught a few of these guys in action. We hit Big Sur just as the sun was setting so unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the forrest. It did make for some excellent photos, though.

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