Breckenridge

Breckenridge

It has become a bit of a tradition for us to go skiing over New Years. For 2018, we planned another road trip to Taos but, unfortunately for us and Taos, they barely got enough snow to open a major run. Considering the 11 hour drive time, hotel, ski rentals, and lift tickets, the hike to Taos was simply not worth the effort for one ski run. But of course, we couldn’t go without our ski trip, so we decided to look else where for snow! We began our search in Colorado and, after pro-con-pro-ing Vail, Beaver Creak, Copper Mountain, and a few other locations, we landed on Breckenridge.

We loved the ski-in / ski-out resort luxury that we had in Snowbird, Utah (I mean, who really wants to lug their equipment all over town) so we tried to narrow our hotel search to those close to the slopes. We found the Beaver Run Resort at the base of one of Breckenridge’s ski lifts. It was ski in / out, had hot tubs all along the runs for after-ski relaxation, looked great, and the price was right, so we booked it!

The flight from DFW to Denver was a little over 2.5 hours. We had bulk head seats so Ryan could stretch out his 6’2 legs, and we were feeling pretty good after some wine and a light dinner at Vino Volo in the airport. I have to say, airport food is getting much better and Vino Volos goat cheese, chicken salad is definitely a winner!

We landed in Denver around 8 PM and hopped on the Summit Express shuttle for the 2 hour drive to our resort. The shuttle was warm (thank gosh!), and we stopped at a gas station half way through to grab some snacks and energy drinks before we got to the resort since they were $5 on property! We always bring some Quest Bars for a mid-ski day snack too, so hitting a store before reaching the resort was a must. Highly recommend!

The shuttle took exactly 2 hours and our driver, Charlie, was super nice. I have to say, Breckenridge at night is gorgeous with all of the snow and twinkle light covered pine trees! The Beaver Run Resort had a bunch of glittering pines to greet us as we pulled up. We were exhausted and quickly checked in to head up to our room. At first, I was a little nervous about the room since the bed room was super cramped upon entry, but then I saw that we had a massive tub area, mini-kitchen, and huge living room. In the morning, we opened the blinds to uncover a beautiful view of the slopes / ski-lift. Total win on our part!

After an early wake up, we walked to the Coppertop Café and got some to-go breakfast tacos to enjoy by the fireplace. It was such a relaxing way to start the day.

Breakfast tacos in Breckenridge, Colorado

We then set off to the rental shop to get our gear. Someone who was supposed to look / book this stuff in advance did not do their job prior to our trip … so at 12:05 AM I started looking up rental places and we found that the shop at our resort gave 15% off if you booked in advance. Apparently, I could still do so at 12:05 AM on the day of our rental-need, so we not only saved a bunch of money on rental gear, and it was ready and waiting for us when we walked into the ski shop. Travel tip: Always book in advance. The further in advance you book, the more you will most likely save too.

We were quickly fitted and ready to roll! The ski lift was right next to the rental place, so we were up and away in no time. We started with some green slopes and got our ski-legs back quickly. Breckenridge slopes are actually pretty easy. After 3 green trial runs, we were ready for some blues. Breckenridge is a series of 5 peaks and you can ski from peak to peak, using the various runs to travel wherever you want to go. Our hotel was at Peak 9 on the far left side of the mountain, but we found that our favorite blues were on Peak 8 and Peak 7.

We skied until around 10:30 and went to one of the base run restaurants for some water and Quest Bars. The key to a good ski session (not to mentioned feeling at all OK on the mountain) is hydration. Breckenridge had hydration stations all over the place so we drank lots and lots of water.

The Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado
The Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado

We took back to the mountain for another hour and a half before getting peckish again. This time, we went to the restaurant at base 8 called Vista Haus.  The food looked great and Ryan and I decided to share a pizza. On a cold day when you are burning tons of calories, a warm, cheesy pizza really does the trick! We had quite the company while enjoying our pizza as well. The 4 people next to us were all part of a 70-year-old plus ski group! The oldest member of their clan was 96! Can you believe that? They travel the world together skiing and we had quite a conversation with a NYC couple who were gushing with stories of their 50+ years of worldly ski adventures. Talk about relationship goals!

After saying goodbye to our new friends, we took off to the slopes for a few more hours. We were actually pretty happy with our runs. Skiing is really all about confidence. As soon as you start to lose that, you are bound for a yard sale!

Skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado

Our legs were starting to give out on us so we made our way, slope by slope, lift by lift, back to Beaver Run. We were totally pooped. It’s one thing when Ryan needs a nap for recovery, and totally different when I need one too – I am usually the energizer bunny! We slept until 5ish and got ready to explore Breckenridge’s town. Another perk of the Beaver Run Resort is that they have a free shuttle system with over 20 pick up locations all over town. We called down for a shuttle and one arrived to take us in no time. Little did we know, town was only .04 miles away so we totally could have walked it!

We heard about the yearly snow sculpting competition and had to check it out. We walked down Main Street until we saw the various counties participants flags – it was so cool! The statues were massive and each country had a different theme that their sculpture was trying to portray. Just the detail alone was incredible. The sculptures had to be done by the next day, so they were busy at work finishing their master pieces.

Ryan’s favorite was China’s work which was a monkeys face with a hand holding an apple coming out of the snow. I have no idea how much architectural planning went into that piece as all of the legs had to hold the heavy monkey’s head in place. The detail on the face and fingers was pretty incredible as well!

About half way through our trek, I saw a hot coco stand with do-your-own toppings and just had to get some! There is nothing like hot coco to warm up your hands and soul on a cold day!

We finished up the show and decided to walk main street and explore the shops. There were tons of cute boutiques, Colorado souvenir shops, restaurants, and knick-knack places. Ryan bought a new beanie and we couldn’t say no when we passed the Mountain Top Cookie Shop. We got the cookie dough, cookie sandwich and a toffee cream sandwich to save for an after-dinner snack. Yummmmmm!

Eventually, we got hungry and wandered around to various menus until we came to Flipside. It had a very cool vibe and even better burger-aroma when you walked in. The burgers on the menu all sounded divine and I ended up with the Red Door burger that had brie and bacon fig jam with truffle fries and a glass of red wine. What a great dinner!

Behind Flipside was a little grocery and liquor store. Ryan wanted to get lunch / breakfast stuff since we had a kitchen at the resort and I was all in, until I realized they didn’t have or were out of a bunch of things we had in mind. Ryan ended up getting strawberry toaster strudel, raisins, and Gatorade and I decided to stick with the resort’s breakfast tacos. (If you know me, I cannot resists tacos in general, so that is always my go-to option!). With bags in hand, walked back to the resort. It was a short walk and, at our usual elevation / incline, would have been a breeze, but it was steep and we basically almost died huffing and puffing back up!

To cap off the night, we decided to hit up the outdoor jacuzzi by the slopes. It was surrounded by snow-capped pine trees and we had the giant hot tub all to our selves – very romantic! We relaxed in there for a or so before freezing our way back inside and warming by the fireplace.

We got back to the room, took a warm shower, and decided to share my chocolate chip cookie dough sandwich as a night-cap before heading to sleep.

Breckenridge Day 2 –

We gave ourselves a little later wake up this morning at 8 AM. All we had to do to get on the slopes was walk downstairs to grab our gear and then another 10 feet to the door! Waking up was made so much easier since it was snowing too! We got ready in not time and ate the strawberry toaster strudel that Ryan bought us for breakfast the night before. We grabbed our boots and our skis and were on the slopes by 8:30.

My legs were pretty shot from the day before. Knowing that skiing is all about confidence, I tried to “positive self talk” my way down the mountain, but all of the fresh snow made skiing a little more tricky.

There were some blue runs on the far left side of the mountain, so we made our way over there one lift up, and strategic run down to the next lift. We ended up skiing around slopes 6 and 7 for a few hours, even accidentally trying a blue run that should have been label a black!

Even with all of the squats and lunges I did in preparation, my legs were dying and my skiing was getting a bit sloppy. We decided to head back to the hotel, one slope at a time, and I ended up catching my ski on something, got turned around, skied backwards for a few seconds, falling on my back, and hitting my head hard enough to hear a crack in my helmet. Thank gosh I was wearing one! I was so winded and it took all I had to raise my hand up to alter Ryan that I wasn’t dead! Thankfully, I was ok and was able to ski back to the resort, but I knew I was going to be sore and needed a good deep tissue massage ASAP!

After another dip in the hot tubs and a freshening up, we headed back down to the ski town to check out the final results of the snow sculpture competition. It was amazing to see the transformation of some of the finished work and sad to see some of the others that didn’t hold up over the final night of creation! The ballet one we loved the day before didn’t make it – the before and after is below:

After the sculptures, we decided to grab some wine and charcuterie at an adorable little shop, and then we headed to the Blue Stag Saloon for some delicious smoked salmon dip and venison pot pie.

 

Breckenridge Day 3 –

Our last day on the slopes was amazing. While the sun was out, it was only 9 degrees, but we had lots of great slopes and our bodies are ready for a full day! While my epic wipe out gave me some serious whiplash, I was cruising down the slopes with ease.

We decided to stay on slope 9 which closest to our hotel since we had not attempted those runs yet. There was one particular blue run at the very top of the mountain that looked like it would be the perfect long run to cap off our ski day. On the map, the first part of the blue mirrored a black and looked pretty steep, but we foolishly said it wouldn’t be tough! The joke was on us! We got to the top and our blue run was the only blue around – but it was literally three separate levels of long moguls and we were not mogul people! The reason I say “were” was because we somehow made it down with only one minor fall! We were so proud of ourselves and the picture below does not do the steepness of the slope justice.

 

We made it down the moguls on peak 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado

Talk about a great way to end our ski trip!

After we returned our rental gear, we hit the spa for one last time. We had our own private hot tub and it felt great against our sore muscles while we watched people ski down the slopes.

After the hot tub, we walked down to town and found the perfect dinner spot – a Vietnamese pho place. I swear, pho soup on a cold day can relieve any stress cure any illness (*note I am not a physician so it probably wont do anything but warm your soul and taste delicious!).

Breckenridge, Day 4 – 

Today was “D-day” aka departure day. We had a few hours before the Summit Express shuttle was picking us up and, with the state of my whip-lashed neck, a deep tissue massage was all we needed. We made an appointment for a couples massage at Simply Massage, just a quick walk from the resort, and had one of the best massages of our lives. Not only was the place decorated like something I would Pinterest for our apartment, the staff was great and very knowledgeable. My masseuse gauged my neck’s range of motion before the massage and knew just where to apply pressure. I felt a million times better afterwards. I highly recommend their services and they are much cheaper than the $150 massages on resort property.

After our massage, we went back to the hotel, got picked up, spent 3 hours on the shuttle to the airport, and were up and away back to Texas.

Breckenridge, Colorado

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Rome, Day 1

Rome, Day 1

Today was “explore Rome via bike” day! After such an amazing breakfast spread in Split, the breakfast was pretty underwhelming the Spagna Royal Suites, though it was good to eat lightly after such a big meal in the night prior. We had some coffee to pick us up and were off to the bus stop to ride our way over to the Coliseum. Taxis are very expensive in Rome and the public transit in is amazing so we decided to give the bus a go. Our hotel actually gave us a phone with free calling, wi-fi, and location services to help us get around without using our data and that basically saved our lives. We were easily able to find our way to the bus, the right station, and then over to the TopBike Rental & Tours shop.

Check-in for the bike tour was quick and they had a wide variety of bikes. We had electric assist motors on ours just in case the 4-hour trek got difficult, but I ended up turning that off for the majority of the ride (maybe all of those cycle classes were paying off?). Our guide, Muana, was from the Netherlands, and we had a New Zealander, two Australians, and an American guy in TopBike training also accompanying us.

Muana guided us out of the shop and to the Coliseum first for a quick recap of its history. We had a detailed tour of the Coliseum scheduled for the next day, so her quick overview was perfect and a nice rest before biking over to the “Wedding Cake” building, aka the Altare della Patria, nicknamed after its opulence and resemblance to a massive, tiered cake.

We then rode over to one of the most famous fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain, for another pit stop. The fountain is massive and the sculptures are breathtaking. So much talent and effort went into its creation.

We then biked down to the Pantheon and got to go inside. If you have never been, it has a huge dome with an open center. I can’t even begin to describe how large it is and how astonishing the architecture to stabilize such a dome is.

We then rode across the Tiber river to Piazza Navona, which used to be a horse racing stadium. It is now a massive square surrounded with shops and restaurants and has another gorgeous fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi).

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After some gelato in the square, we ride around the Roman Forum and to the Coliseum. Overall, we had 4 hours of scenic views, interesting factoids, and perfect biking weather. If you are heading to Rome for the first time, TopBike is a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land before doing other sections in-depth.

Our tour was over around 1 PM and we were famished! The area around the Coliseum has pretty expensive restaurants, so we took Muana’s suggestions and walked deeper into the city. Ryan was in the mood for pizza and we were starving, so we stopped at the first place with pizza we came across – Urban 47. It was cute outside and ended up being quite large and cool inside with a very modern kitchen and appetizer room. I had some delicious ravioli with shrimp scampi and Ryan had another perfectly delicious pizza.

After lunch, we wandered through the streets back to the hotel, took a quick nap, and reemerged to find a place for Ryan to do laundry. After 1.5 weeks in a suit case, it was time for some freshening up! The nearest laundry mat was right by the Spanish Steps in the most expensive shopping area of Rome with stores like Gucci, Channel, Louis Vuitton, and tons of other glorious designers that make closet sing and my wallet weep.

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We strolled down the shopping mecca until finally coming to the laundry place where a really nice Canadian couple taught us how to use the machines. Ryan decided to risk his laundry so we could take a walk to the North entrance of Rome. We walked to and around the square, and up to a look out point with an amazing view and some live music courtesy to the street musicians. The path at the top lead back to the top of the Spanish Steps, so we walked to that and back down – boy was it packed! When doing tours, I always recommend going to sites early in the morning because the crowds just keep growing as the day goes on.

Thankfully, Ryan’s laundry was still there 30 minutes later and we swapped it over to the drier, took another walk around the town, visited some shops, and returned to great smelling, clean clothes! We dropped those off at the hotel and set out to find a spot for dinner.

After walking 10 miles already today, Ryan was not wanting to go on a journey to find the perfect restaurant, so we walked up to the first one we saw. The restaurant’s “hype-man” out front was in top-convincing-mode. He walked us through the menu, showed us where they were making the fresh pasta, and offered us free champagne, so we were fully enticed into dining there.

We were the only patrons so far, so the host sat us right in the window so other passers-by could see the restaurant had people in it – talk about strategy! Within a span of 5 minutes, the entire restaurant was full. Ryan ordered fettuccine alfredo and I got a mushroom sausage dish with thick pasta noodles.

The dishes were as they looked… OK. They did not have a ton of flavor but they weren’t bad. I probably should have stuck with my traditional favorites and not branched out to try something new but. .. when in Rome right?

We got our fill pretty quickly, especially after I accidentally poured out ½ of the bottle of balsamic vinegar on my bread plate and tried to cover it up by eating a ton of balsamic soaked bread.

After dinner, it was a quick walk back to the hotel and early night for our big walking day tomorrow.

Continue reading this adventure…

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After 11.5 hours of much-needed sleep, we woke up at 8 AM to get ready for our Dubrovnik city tour. We had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus for a 15 minute ride to the Pile Gate to meet our guide, Tomislava. She grew up in Croatia and was born in 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence  against Yugoslavia. She told us all about the war and its effects on the city. Apparently, a good portion of Old Town was destroyed in the war by grenades, but UNESCO donated money after the war to restore and protect all of the old buildings. You can still see the shrapnel damage on quite a few of the buildings and the effect the war had on the people there 25 years later. Hearing Tomislava’s stories and seeing the war’s impact on the walls in front of us was so surreal and hard to comprehend considering how sheltered we are in the US.

Tomislava guided us into and through the streets of Old Town, telling us interesting factoids or historical tidbits as we walked. For example, many of the arched doorways are shaped like a “P” so that the owner could lock one side of the door and sell goods outside of the waist-high ledge of the other door. A lot of the merchants we saw sold jewelry specific to their region out of these doors. It is tradition that mothers give their daughters earrings in the style of their region so that the bride can proudly indicate where she is from by wearing the earrings.

We also got to see some areas where Game of Thrones was filmed, including the Red Keep, Tyrion Lannister’s secret entrance to Kings Landing,  and the “Shame” scene path.

We toured with our guide for a little over an hour before she said “Chow” and we were on our own to explore. We opted to buy a City Pass so we could walk the wall along the border of the city and gain access to the various little museums. It took us a while to find one of the four entrances to the wall, but once we were up, we had an awesome view!

We walked about 1/4th of the wall before we opted to stop for lunch at this cute sea food place that our guide recommended. Ryan tried an octopus burger, which was so legit as the octopus was only caught a few hours beforehand, and I had tempura shrimp and oysters (yum!). We even marked our visit with a personalized “we were here” fork declaration for the wall.

After lunch, we took a water taxi to Island Lokrum. The waters were quite wavy, but we got to the island quickly and without any seasickness (thank goodness). Apparently, the island was cursed by monks centuries ago. After years of living there, the monks were kicked off of the island. Before they left, the monks circled the island three times with candles facing down and dripped wax on the ground, placing a curse on the island for anyone who decided to live there until all of the wax eroded from the island. Because of that curse, no one lives on the island and everyone leaves it before night fall.

During the day, the island is a beautiful place! There are wild bunnies and peacocks running around everywhere. I definitely had, as Ryan put it, my “Disney princess moment” while petting some of the wild bunnies.

We walked up to the cliffs and were blown away by the view and the insane wind!

It even started to rain on us and, since we didn’t have an umbrella, we had to follow the peacocks under a tree to shield ourselves from the rain. Fortunately for us, the rain only lasted about 5 minutes, so we were quickly back on our way to hike the island. We walked up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever come across and up to the top of the fort in the middle of the island to see an amazing view of Old Town…

The view of Old Town on the Island of Lokrum, Croatia

After taking in the view for a while, we headed back to the water taxi and across the bay to attempt the monorail up to the top of a near by mountain for another spectacular view of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately for us, the tram was closed because of the wind, so we opted for some cookies and cream gelato instead. The gelato was black and made for some messy faces after eating!

We decided to walk the streets for some window shopping before dinner and took a quick Rosé break at a little wine room down one of the many alleyways. Finally, hunger took us over and we browsed about 15 different restaurants before settling on Spaghetteria Toni. The restaurants in Old Town are pretty expensive and tourist oriented. While I wanted to get something “Croatian”, Ryan was in the mood for pizza, so Spaghetteria Toni had the best of both worlds. Ryan got a giant pizza loaded with everything you could ask for, and I got a Mediterranean gnocchi – pesto gnocchi with tuna and shrimp in a creamy white wine sauce. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten!

After dinner, we hit a grocery store for some take-home Rosé and candy, and hopped back on the bus back to the hotel for a relaxing evening with another amazing view.

Continue reading this adventure..

Phuket – Day 3

Phuket – Day 3

Another early morning for our next day in Phuket. Even though we had to get up at 6:45 AM, we managed to get a solid 10 hours of sleep – much needed after all of the long days on this trip so far!

We had another amazing buffet breakfast and were picked up outside of The Slate hotel right at 8 AM. We ended up going to the exact same marina as the day before for our James Bond Island tour, but it took half the time since traffic was nonexistent. Not only that, but the sun was peeking out of the clouds and it didn’t look like we were going to have rain – Woohoo! Or so we thought…

We checked in, grabbed some snorkeling fins and coffee, and were introduced to our very loud and super energetic guide, Latte. All of our guides have had very generic English “thing” names that they tell tourists, like Latte, Kiwi, Coco, or Miss Boy (the later two were very flamboyantly feminine men), to make it easier for their tourist groups to remember. Bold, but effective, strategy!

We went down to the same dock as the day prior and hopped on another speed boat of the same variety. Since it has the best view and makes for the most fun experience, we sat in the front of the boat for the 40-minute ride to our first stop – Maya Bay. About 15 minutes into the ride, we looked behind us and saw huge black storm clouds pouring rain down onto the land we just left. The wind was heading our direction, so we were literally outracing the storm. The monsoon storms were no joke and made a sunny afternoon look like it was midnight. The storms had huge drops of whipping rain and winds that would blow you over. Needless to say, we were cheering our captain to go speedy-fast and were bouncing up and down during the bumpy ride in the front of the boat.

Heading into Maya Bay of the Phi Phi islands in Thailand

We finally made it to Maya Bay where there must have been 50 other boats and hordes of people. The actual swimming area was way too small and the boats and tourists took up every inch of space – and we were there in the off-season! Again, I would rather have gone to a less famous and less crowded place, but we enjoyed it anyways.


We got off the boat, took maybe 2 pictures, and then the rain hit. We ran under the cliffs for shelter and it actually worked pretty well. The wind picked up the sand hit our exposed skin like little bee stings. With everyone off the beach to find shelter, we were actually able to see its beauty without all of the people!

The rain lasted about 15 minutes and then, one by one, the rays of sunlight came back.

We had about 5 minutes to enjoy the scenery before getting herded back onto the boat so we could continue our tour.

We cruised around the island to a cove with teal blue water and tons of snorkelers, and then rounded the outside of the island to a beach with monkeys on it. The monkeys were used to being fed by the boat’s passengers, so about 6 of them came out to say hello in hopes of a treat. The laws recently changed at the Phi Phi Island State Park, so we could no longer feed them. Despite knowing that, this one awful tourist threw a little plastic covered lollie at one of the monkeys. The monkey picked it up, bit it, and then spit the hard-candy out. We were appalled at that guy for 1) giving a monkey something plastic and hard that it could easily choke on, especially when we were specifically told not to feed them anything and 2) for littering! I couldn’t look at him without disdain for the rest of the trip.

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Anyways, after that we motored for another 5 minutes to an area where we could snorkel. Unfortunately, the reefs that had once lived there had died off, so it was more rocky than anything. On the bright side, the water temperature was perfect and there were some pretty fish so Ryan and I had fun swimming around exploring the area.

The next stop was for lunch on yet another island. We climbed ashore and walked to the buffet of rice, stir fried veggies, dry chicken, and spaghetti with marinara sauce. The best thing was the pasta, so we filled up on that and chatted with a really interesting newlywed couple. The husband was from Germany, the wife from China, and they both had interesting stories and perspectives about how they met and about US politics. I swear, everyone from around the world has opinions about US politics and they are not afraid to share. Always an interesting conversation topic!

After that, it was back on board the ship, off to another island for more snorkeling, and then to our last stop, Khai Nai beach. Both places were filled with other boats, tourists, and places to shop.

 

The last beach didn’t have snorkeling, so we just walked around the beach for a bit, took some pictures with our tour guide Latte, and then we spotted the cats… well, more like older kittens. They were super cute and we watched them pounce around. One cat started to dig in the sand which was endearing, but then he pooped in the hole in the middle of all of the tourists, sniffed his droppings, and then covered the hole back up with sand. We found it hilarious and I exclaimed that “at least the cat was polite enough to cover the mess up”. Our laughter faded when we saw 3 other cats do the same thing, all along the beach where tourists were building sandcastles, laying out, and walking along the beach. We were struck with the realization that this island was literally the largest litter box we had ever seen and that, judging by the sheer number of cats roaming around, there were hidden treasures everywhere on the beach – YUCK! Ryan was beyond amused with this and I couldn’t help but laugh. With this knowledge, we hurried to the water-side and opted to sit on some rocks to people watch until it was time to go.

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We were so lucky that the rain held off after the brief downpour in Maya Bay. It stayed nice out, with just a few sprinkles, all the way up until our ride back to the marina. We had initially sat up front, but the waves were so high that we were getting bounced 2-feet into the air each time we hit a big wave, so we moved inside. As we maneuvered to our seats, I slipped and ended up gashing my foot on a pair of goggles someone left out. Everyone saw me fall and everyone saw me get hurt. I shouted out to see where the first aid kit was, but no one budged to help or ask me if I was ok outside of Ryan which was I found a bit strange. It wasn’t until one of the crew noticed that I some antiseptic and a Band-Aid. I am definitely one of the “how can I help” types, so I was a little surprised by how different the rest of the passengers reacted in that regard.

After I got my foot fixed up, I donned my handy-dandy rain jacket as it started to downpour once again. We were back at the marina within 15 minutes and it didn’t take us long to find our transport back to The Slate hotel.

I can’t begin to describe enough how good it felt to shower the salt water off and to change into dry clothes after being damp all day long! We got fixed-up and headed down to the beach road outside of our hotel property to find another beach-side restaurant for dinner. It ended up being quite a nice night and all of the vendors were on the streets, the restaurants and shops were open, and the personality of the whole area changed from the rainy-day before.

We found this cute little place with tables on the beach to eat at. I had an amazing panag chicken curry and Ryan had sweet and sour pork. The view and the sound of the waves combined with the perfectly cool breeze was heavenly and made us tired. An Australian Shepard walked up to our table and cuddled up on the ground next to us for some extra-cute company during our meal. Ryan gave the dog a piece of pork and then tried to give the dog a pet on the head. He definitely made us homesick for our puppy back in Texas!

The dog wanted to stay by the beach, so we said goodbye before heading back to our hotel. When we got to the staircase up to our room, we heard mewing and a young cat walked right up to us! He wanted attention so, in a germaphobe / didn’t want worms type of way, I stroked his back with my flip-flop. He was so cute and affectionate! We started walking up the stairs to our room and he followed us – uh oh… In an attempt to beat him to our room without him entering, we picked up the pace, and he fell behind us just enough for us to make a break into the door. I felt so bad leaving him out there meowing morosely but we did not need a cat in our nice clean room. Of course, Ryan was guilt tripping me afterwards (“you’re leaving him out there all by himself? What it he is cold and lonely?”) so I had to throw an empty water bottle at him to stop so I could get some piece of mind and sleep.

Trip Planning 101

Trip Planning 101

While planning an adventure is the beginning of your journey and a very exciting peek into your travel possibilities, it can be stressful. The very first step of figuring out where to go can be a whole process in and of itself and then, once you have picked a place, you have to go through the daunting process of choosing flights, hotels, excursions, and booking everything… all of which can take a while. To save you time and some tension, I have put together some tips to make your travel planning process easier!

Step 1: Figuring out where to go!

  • First, figure out how many days you have to play with. If you only have a 3-5 days, consider places within a 1-5 hour flight-time radius (non-stop) so you do not spend the majority of your vacation time in airports or on a plane. The further you go, the longer you should stay. For me personally, I try to have at least 1.5 – 2 weeks anywhere with flight times +15 hours so I can overcome any jet lag and really make the most of the high dollar flight amounts.
  • Once you know how far you can go, determine what locations are good during the time of year you can travel. I had fully planned an Iceland adventure before I realized the ice-hotel we wanted to stay at in September couldn’t be built until December when they had ice! If there are must-do’s in a location you want to go to, make sure they are available at the time you can go. Also, tropical locations have monsoon seasons you will want to watch out for.
  • Next, determine your budget. Compare your budget to the travel costs involved in the general location you want to go. Make sure the flight is less than half your total budget so you have money left for hotels, food, and experiences.
  • Once you have done all of these things, you should have a pretty good idea of where you should go!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Step 2: Booking

There are two ways to book your trip. The first is to take the easy way and find a travel service that will book all of those things for you. The second is to book yourself. I will go through each option below as both have their pros and cons.

Travel Services:

  • Travel services are great. I had AMAZING trips to both Italy and Peru and all I had to do was show up to the airport with my passport and luggage in had. Everything from flights, tours, transportation, some meals, and hotels were booked for us. The Italy trip was good because I was a solo traveler and the EF College Break tour group I went with provided me travel buddies and new friends. Peru took all of the stress off of my shoulders for our family trip. However, when looking for a booking service for our Thailand trip, the average cost was $3K per person without the $800 international flights. That seemed high, so I researched on my own and got better hotels, flights, and excursions for $2.1K per person – that’s over $3.4K in savings for the both of us! Overall, if you go through a booking agent, make sure you do your research so you don’t pay too much.
  • Once you find some tour agencies that service your destination, check reviews on those agencies. People love to talk about their trips, good and bad, so do your homework on your agency options to make sure they are trustworthy and will provide the best experience possible.
  • Another option is to look at sites like Groupon Getaways and Apple Vacations which have great deals on hotels and hotels + flights as well. The sites help you easily book the shell of your trip but the details are up to you so its more flexible. Just be careful to check blackout dates and participating airports that the deals fly from to ensure the details work for you.

Hanging with some alpacas in Peru

Booking yourself:

  • The best place I can lead you is to TripAdvisor.com. It has every excursion idea, hotel option, and restaurant suggestion you could need on your trip, all with thousands of peer reviews and ratings. Other people’s experiences will really help you shape the best trip possible.
  • Once you start Googling and looking at TripAdvisor, you probably open multiple tabs with all of the things you like and want to save as options. I suggest logging all of your options in an excel document categorized by flight, hotel, and excursions with pricing and the URL to each thing. That way, you have an organized list of options that you can pick from once you are done exploring the web. An example of my Thailand trip plan is below:

Trip Planning Guide

  • Check your credit card companies rewards platform for deals. Cards like Amex and Chase Sapphire will give you get double points, travel insurance, trip / baggage protection, and other travel benefits by booking through the credit card. Amex even has a Hotel Collection program that gives you guaranteed best rates, a $75 hotel credit, and an upgrade (if available) when you book 2+ nights through Amex. You don’t want to miss out on those perks – not to mention all of the points you will rack up!
  • Booking flights always scares me – mainly because I am impatient. Once I find one, that annoying “only 2 seats left” sign in the corner of the booking site always makes me paranoid that I am going to miss out on my ideal flight! The truth is, that is not the case. For the most part, I have waited on flights, the cost went down, and my seats were still there. Flights are typically cheapest to buy on Tuesdays and you can save your flights in programs like Hopper to compare relative flight prices from your airport to destinations or Airfare Watchdog which will monitor your preferred flights and alert you when the price drops.

Overall, take a deep breath and relax! Your journey to your perfect trip within your budget and time frame is calling you and will be here before you know it! Don’t forget to check out my packing tips, road trip prep list, Alaska cruise guide and more to get additional ideas for your get-away.

How to plan for a vacation