What Traveling Somewhere You Don’t Like Can Teach You

As I scroll through Instagram everyday, I’m bombarded with photos of places I’ve been lucky enough to travel to already–London, NYC, Australia, Nicaragua to name a few. I find myself saying: “London is everything”… then I scroll to a picture of New York: “NYC is the best city ever”… I see a photo of Australia: “nowhere is better than Australia”… a picture of Nicaragua comes next: “Nica has my whole heart.” I feel so strongly about all the places I’ve been able to travel to. These locations will be special to me forever.

After realizing I’m head over heels in love with basically everywhere I’ve traveled to, I started to wonder if I’ve been somewhere I didn’t like. I racked my brain for a couple minutes–I was drawing blanks and even had to ask my husband if he could think of anywhere. I finally remembered that I’ve never been particularly fond of LA. It feels a bit fake to me and it’s smoggy and its trash seems to be everywhere. For whatever reason I don’t mind the trash in NYC, but I can’t stand seeing it in LA. I think overall LA is such a scene that I just don’t vibe with. I did, however, really like Griffith Park, and I’m hoping to go back a couple more times to give other areas a shot for redemption. But it got me thinking about what we learn when we travel somewhere that we don’t connect with. Is it pointless to return? Is precious time being wasted while there? What gems of wisdom can we learn from traveling somewhere we don’t like?

Be open minded even when you feel like you can’t.

I had been to LA multiple times before this past visit and was disappointed each time. If there’s a place you don’t particularly like, it could be because it’s sooo different from what you’re used to. Living outside your comfort zone is definitely not a bad thing. Keeping an open mind and trying to find out for yourself why others find a place beautiful will almost always end on a positive note.

Enjoy the little things.

Whenever I go to LA, even if I’m not completely feeling it, I still try to be present in the moment. Simply recognizing that I’m free from responsibilities and have time to explore is enough to make me happy. It’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted no matter where you are- your favorite place in the world or somewhere that’s just alright in your mind.

Take time grappling with what you don’t like to further understand what you do value.

I really had to take the time to think through what I didn’t like about LA. It doesn’t make you mature or gracious to dismiss a place without articulation. Being able to work through why I wasn’t feeling LA actually allowed me to accept it for what it is and enjoy my time there anyways.

Embracing what a place is known for can be fun regardless.

For example, twirling around like a wannabe model in front of a pink wall surrounded by groups of other people vainly doing the same thing was actually fun. All I had to do was let down my guard down and stop judging and just get into it.

Giving somewhere more than one chance is a good thing.

I don’t want to be the type of person who writes a place off because life is much more complicated than that, and there are always more layers to uncover. Getting time to better discover a place and more of ourselves is the greatest gift.

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Getting our acai bowl on @ Backyard Bowls
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Pink wall twirls in Melrose, Los Angeles
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HoLlYwOoD!

Have you ever been somewhere you didn’t like? What did you take away from that? And would you return?

How We Found Ourselves on Catalina Island

There’s an island off the coast of Los Angeles and we haven’t gone yet?! Once I found out about Catalina Island I was instantly intrigued. Ollie and I would be able to enjoy the perks of island life without taking time off work or breaking the bank (I’m looking at you Hawaii). I knew I’d have to make it happen. I saw an open weekend on our schedules and started looking for accommodation. The hard part was finding somewhere to stay for just one night (most guesthouses on the island require a two night stay over weekends). I felt discouraged. We might not actually be able to make things work as I planned. We didn’t have the vacation time to stay two nights, but I didn’t think it was worth just going for the day either. My dreams of strolling around an island without a care in the world were starting to feel out of reach, but luckily I don’t give up too easily.

I was browsing through more accommodation options and stumbled upon the Hermosa Hotel. They didn’t have online reservations, so I decided to call and check their availability. Once again they told me what I feared–two night minimum required for weekends. The defeat start to set in when the lady on the phone told me she could check if anyone happened to be leaving on Saturday which would free up a one night stay Saturday night. It looked like our island escape was meant to be because there was one room free for Saturday night! I made a fast decision to book it right then and there without asking Ollie.

Things I’m good at: daydreaming about travel, researching options, and booking. Things I need to work on: considering Ollie’s opinion before pulling the trigger. I walked into the living room with a sweet smile on my face. “So I booked us a room on Catalina Island…we’re going July 15.” In my defense I have to take advantage of weekends during the NFL off-season because come Week 1 we can’t do anything. 😉 He seemed a little shocked but quickly accepted our upcoming plans.

On July 15 we woke early to make the hour and a half drive from Solana Beach to Long Beach where we’d be boarding the Catalina Island Express, a one hour ferry. There’s something special about taking a boat to an island; the excitement started to set in. As we drifted away from mainland California, I could already feel the stress of real life being left behind.

We got off the ferry, dropped our bags at the hotel, and headed to Original Jack’s for a hearty breakfast. It was my first glimpse at what I would keep noticing the length of our stay: being on Catalina Island was a bit like stepping back in time. There are a lot of Old Hollywood influences. Ollie was in bar crawl heaven when he saw the number of options  that sprawled out before us. We went to the Marlin Club, Luau Larry’s, The Locker Room, Catalina Island Brew House, Catalina Cantina, and even had drinks on the pier. It was true vacation mode. We ended our first day with an amazing seafood dinner at Bluewater Grill. The lights of the sailboats dancing through the darkness and reflecting off the bay added to our love of that restaurant, and we went to sleep full and content.

The next morning we had breakfast at Pancake Cottage, which is right next to the company we were renting a golf cart from. Catalina Island allows a limited number of cars, and seeing the island via golf cart was apparently the way to go. We drove all around Avalon for 2 hours and took in the gorgeous coastal views. We also saw the Wrigley Mansion (yes- the Cubs and chewing gum Wrigley). It was definitely a highlight of the weekend. We finished out our time relaxing at the bars on Descanso Beach which ended up being my favorite bars of the trip.

On the ferry home we chatted about what we thought of Catalina Island. Ollie had mentioned earlier that it was weird being somewhere where everyone was on vacation. In my opinion I agreed with that statement: the island is very touristy, crowded, and honestly a bit cheesy at times. But despite all that, I think it’s beautiful and a lot of fun. In Ollie’s opinion, he f*cking loved it–it’s the perfect place to go on a laid back bar crawl and enjoy impressive views. Good thing I forced him into going, he ended up liking it more than I did 🙂 Next time we go, we vowed to do something on the water whether that be renting a boat, kayaking, or SUPing. They also have a museum that I was interested in checking out if we ever go back.

Anyways, thanks for reading along and here are the pictures from our time there! I also made a YouTube video you can check out here.

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Boarding the Catalina Island Express in Long Beach, CA
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On board the Catalina Island Express
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Views of Long Beach
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The main street of Avalon, CA
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Admiring the bay
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The Casino
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SoCal succulents
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Beautiful Catalina
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Enjoying a Modelo on the pier
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Happy hour drinks at Catalina Cantina
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Catalina Island Brew House

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Trying new Mexican beers–love.
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Views from the golf cart drive

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Thanks wind for making my hair look stupid.

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Enjoying farewell beers at Descanso Beach

 

Strange in the Best Way: Iceland Through Stories and Photos

I knew Iceland would be an adventure. That’s why traveling there captured my attention in college and remained a priority years later. When that dream became a reality and I stepped off the plane, despite exhaustion and jet lag, that excitement was palpable. What epicness would the next 10 days bring? What would we discover as we drove around the whole country? I met my friend Jasna at the airport and we set off into the unknown.

Day 1: Mom leaves baby outside coffeeshop like dog

If we had any fears about traveling as a female pair with no scary, strong man to fend off imaginary predators, they were quickly silenced within hours of arrival. We were in search of caffeine and carbs and stopped at the closest option. As we approached, we saw a mom park her stroller by the door so she could leave her baby and its baggage outside while she went in for a coffee. Jasna and I exchanged a knowing look. This country is safe enough to leave your most prized possession unattended. Everyone must be honest and trustworthy.

After fueling up and verifying the baby was indeed not stolen, we started walking around Reykjavik towards the church with a stop along the way at the Sun Voyager statue. The view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja is breathtaking and should not be missed. We wandered some more, high on the feeling of being in a brand new country and culture, and ended up in the Laundromat Cafe–so cute.

We had an evening session booked at the Blue Lagoon, so we made our way there, ready to relax after a long day of walking. The Blue Lagoon is expensive but definitely worth the splurge. We swam around and soaked for FOUR HOURS. I’ve never been so pruny in my life but felt amazing afterwords.

Day 1 Highlights and Photos

  • Sun Voyager
  • Hallgrimskirkja
  • Laundromat Cafe
  • Blue Lagoon

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Day 2: That time Jasna walked in on FuckJerry’s friend taking a slash

This day was jam-packed! It was the day we did “the golden circle” (possibly the most famous tourist route in the country), connecting Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Strokkur geysir. But more importantly, we went to lunch at an amazing greenhouse called Fridheimar, and FuckJerry (Instagram celeb) was at the next table over with his huge bro squad. We kept it low key and didn’t pay them much attention, but when Jasna went to use the bathroom, she accidentally walked in on one of the guys because he forgot to lock the door. After making what I assume to be extremely awkward eye contact, he apologized to her! We couldn’t stop laughing.

There was also a girl riding around on an Icelandic horse looking very professional in her outfit while sophisticatedly controlling the horse lap after lap. The next thing we know she directs the horse to the barn, gets off, walks inside, comes out with a glass of beer, mounts the horse, and keeps riding beer in hand! The laughs kept coming. “Only in Iceland” became a phrase we would say again and again to put language to the quirky and strange things we kept experiencing.

Day 2 Highlights and Photos

  • Thingvellir National Park–the place where law was first made
  • Strokkur
  • Gullfoss
  • Fridheimar
  • Kerio Crater
  • Seljalandsfoss
  • Skogafoss

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Day 3: Are we on another planet?

The landscapes we saw on day 3 were epic. We just kept asking ourselves how is this possible? We literally had to google how everything formed and came to be. It was just so unlike anything we’d ever seen. Later in the evening we had quite an embarrassing run in with some locals…I shared the story on Instagram if you’d like to read about what happened. 🙂

Day 3 Highlights and Photos

  • Vik’s black sand beach and basalt columns
  • driving through a lava desert to Skaftafell National Park
  • Fjadrargljufur Canyon
  • Svartifoss waterfall hike
  • Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
  • Hoffell hot pots
  • tasting our first Gull

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Day 4: Losing our fjord virginity

Jasna and I had both never seen a fjord before, which is “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs,” and they are freaking magical. Needless to say we drove around the east coast with jaws dropped full of disbelief at what we were seeing.

Day 4 Highlights and Photos

  • east coast fjord views
  • small villages that used to be trading posts
  • Seydisfjordur

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Day 5: Hearing the next gas station is 60 km away when you’re almost on empty

How isolated we were began to sink in. At this point in the itinerary we were pretty much as far from Reykjavik as you can get, and we definitely noticed. We spent the day exploring the capital of Elves’ world (many Icelanders believe in elves), drinking kaffis at the most isolated and high up farm in the country, plugging our noses at a smelly, sulphurous geothermal area, and marveling at lava formations near Lake Myvatn.

Day 5 Highlights and Photos

  • Alfaborg, where the Queen of the Elves lives
  • Modrudalur Farm
  • Namaskard geothermal area
  • Dimmuborgir lava formations

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Day 6: We’re heading to the big city!…kind of.

We were so excited after spending days in the countryside to be headed towards the second largest city in Iceland–with a population of just 17,000. Along the way we stopped at a couple of amazing waterfalls. It felt like there were amazing waterfalls everywhere during this trip!

Day 6 Highlights and Photos

  • Dettifoss
  • Husavik
  • Godafoss
  • Akureyri

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Day 7-8: I basically have a PhD in geology now

After a week in this fascinating country, we thought we’d for sure seen it all, but we were blown away (literally) yet again by the peninsula. This was one of my favorite days despite being the windiest place I’ve ever been. We now had more geology terms under our belt and felt pretty badass coming up with explanations without the help of google when we saw something crazy. The cliffs of Arnarstapi were breathtaking (and kind of gave me Cliffs of Moher vibes). We also tasted mineral water straight from the earth which is supposed to have a ton of health benefits, and it was the nastiest thing I’ve ever drank (see my absolute disgust in the photo below).

Day 7-8 Highlights and Photos

  • basalt column wall
  • Olkelda mineral water
  • Budir
  • Arnarstapi
  • Djupalonssandur
  • Ondverdarnes
  • Stykkisholmur

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Day 9-10: Iceland, I hope to see you again one day although never in my life will I be able to pronounce any words in your language

It was official. After 10 days driving all over the country we still couldn’t pronounce anything…have you seen the names of these places?? Our last couple days were perfect, slowly roaming around Reykjavik and really getting a sense for its quirkiness and artistic influence. The trip ended in the best possible way for me. Going to Iceland in itself was on my bucket list, but snorkeling the silfra fissure in freezing water between tectonic plates separating two continents was something I couldn’t believe I was able to do. An epic trip with an epic ending.

Day 9-10 Highlights and Photos

  • shopping in Reykjavik
  • stumbling upon street art
  • snorkeling the Silfra fissure

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See all the highlights on my YouTube video HERE 🙂

Jasna and I decided to book a self-drive tour and couldn’t have been happier with that decision. There are a lot of blogs out there sharing what to do in Iceland which is why I didn’t feel the need to write a post like that. Instead I wanted to share the stories and impressions that resulted from having 10 days of freedom to explore this beautiful country. I cannot recommend doing a self-drive tour enough. It was the perfect way to experience whatever we wanted at our own pace (and we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking accommodation, car rental, insurance, etc.–it was all handled for us). If you want to read a bit more about what it’s really like driving around Iceland, I didn’t find much covering those details, so I shared my thought and advice here.

Where’s the most unique place you’ve been??

 

What It’s Really Like Driving Around Iceland

Here’s what you need to know before embarking on an Iceland road trip:

(here’s a vlog of our whole trip on YouTube)

It’s a good idea for everyone. Iceland is a great destination for basically any type of traveler. It’s great for experienced travelers because it has so much to offer that you just can’t find in other places. It’s perfect for less experienced travelers because it’s really easy to navigate (they speak English, have lots of wifi available, and it’s really safe). It works for couples, groups of friends, families, and solo travelers. They even have handicap access at most of their popular sights!

Gas is expensive. Iceland in general is expensive, so the budget travelers out there will have to do some extra planning and research to cut down on costs anywhere possible. Gas costs will be unavoidable on a self-drive tour so factor accordingly. We rented an eco 4WD car and spent AT LEAST $30 per day on gas. We were driving about 4-5 hours each day.

Rent a car you feel comfortable driving. Icelanders typically drive manual cars, so if you require an automatic make sure you specify with your rental company ahead of time. I also highly recommend getting a car with 4WD because the weather can be so unpredictable and powerful. We went in May and just barely missed a snowstorm that led to a major road closure. You don’t want to get stuck in a bad situation, especially in the more remote areas. Also, you will be driving on a lot of gravel roads, so 4WD helps.

The max speed limit ANYWHERE is 90 km/hr. That’s right, you aren’t allowed to go faster than 56 mph. Anywhere. Even though there’s hardly any cars on the road. It might be tempting to speed, but beware– there are speed cameras out to get you. The limit also makes sense because the roads hardly ever have guard rails, and they quite often turn into one-lane bridges.

They drive on the right side of the road and have lots of roundabouts. Just FYI.

Drinking and driving is not allowed at all. No one drink exception. You can’t drive at all after having any drinks. So plan accordingly.

Your car will get messy. Thanks to all the gravel roads and crazy weather. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the dirt, most gas stations have a washing station if you know what to look for (brooms with water shooting out of them).

Get a Garmin or navigation system with Icelandic letters. Unless you’re comfortable using a map, Garmin will be your best friend. Our rental company included one in our package which we used religiously. Even though everyone speaks English, the signs are all in Icelandic, and Garmin can’t find locations using just the English alphabet.

It’s the best way to explore at your own pace. We loved having the freedom to make random stops and to stay somewhere as long as we wanted. It was also nice to be able to wait until the hoards of tour buses left the scene at the popular stops. We were on our own schedule, which is one of the best feelings you can have while being on vacation.

The scenery is incredible. We drove for 10 days and not one day looked the same as another. Even my wildest imagination couldn’t have dreamed up the combinations of landscapes we saw. Iceland, you are so strange and beautiful!

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Have you ever road tripped around Iceland??

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Here’s Why You Should Visit the Grand Canyon in February (with photos)

When my eyes laid sight on the Grand Canyon for the first time (and to be honest, every time at all the different viewpoints), my mind could not comprehend its beauty and size. It was instantly clear why so many people flock to visit from all over the world, and to this day, I still can’t put its vastness, colors, and geological significance into words. So I’m not going to try. I’ll just say: go see it for yourself.

I went at the end of February with a friend and highly recommend visiting around that same time. Sure it was a bit nippley, but it was crisp & clear and the hoards of spring & summer tourists hadn’t arrived yet. At one viewpoint I had the platform all to myself. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip and made the canyon feel that much more grand. Having to deal with extreme heat and tons of people would definitely have had an impact on the trip, so I couldn’t have been happier with our decision to go in February. Just make sure you bring a warm jacket, hat, scarf, wool socks, and gloves.

Practical info: I visited the South Rim since the North Rim is closed during winter. The South Rim is about a 3.5 hour drive from Phoenix. I was super impressed with how user-friendly the national park is. There are free shuttle buses that take you around to most of the viewpoints, coming by every 15 minutes. If you go before March, you will need a car to drive the red route to Pima Point as the shuttles do not run there during low season.

Four hours or so is enough time if all you want to do is marvel at the canyon from the various viewpoints. If you want to do any hiking, you’ll need a full day minimum. You could fit the Canyon in as a half day stop during a road trip; however, my friend and I opted to stay the night in the park at Yavapai Lodge. Despite its outdated decor and lack of wifi, we were really happy with the convenient location and price.

Here are my favorite photos of the day 🙂

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We visited the Grand Canyon during a 4 day road trip throughout Arizona. Watch the vlog to see it all in action.

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