Travel Tuesday: Top Travel Websites

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! It’s strange to think how much can change in just one week – this time last week I was packing up for an impromptu trip to California to meet my niece (which I will probably mention as often as possible for the foreseeable future – smile). This week I’m back in the office wading through contracts for a new project (also good news, if slightly less exciting). Tuesdays really are becoming one of the best days of the week! It seems like I’ve been booking quite a bit of travel lately, so today I wanted to share my top travel websites and why I like them so much. I also want to hear about your favorites as well – knowledge is [travel] power! (Sorry, couldn’t resist – smile)

TripAdvisor - I remember back when TripAdvisor was a new – and radical – concept. Today this website is a great resource for chatting with other travelers, finding new experiences and restaurants (both local and foreign), reading up on all the need-to-know details about your chosen destination, booking hotel rooms, and (possibly most importantly) referencing tons of reviews on all of the above. Although I may not use TripAdvisor directly to book an excursion or hotel, I do check the reviews before booking – especially for trips outside of my own country. I have found several off-the-beaten-path destinations through TripAdvisor, not a few of which I literally wouldn’t have found without detailed instructions in the reviews! TripAdvisor doesn’t necessarily book hotels, etc directly through the website, but its a great resource for other (sometimes more localized) booking sites, which I’ve definitely found useful in certain countries. I’ve really tried to get better recently about posting my own reviews on TripAdvisor – seems only fair to give back!

Trip Advisor Review

Power of the Review

Kayak – I use Kayak mostly for plane tickets and rental cars. I really appreciate the fact that Kayak offers the option of booking two one-way fares vs. round-trip only. Sometimes it is surprisingly cheaper to go one-way! I think the site is pretty user-friendly and it certainly makes a show of comparing all of your options (sometimes too much so). I’ve also found that since Kayak sends you to the actual carrier/hotel website to book, you can occasionally get better service/upgrades than booking through a discount service. Kayak Explore is also a great option if you’re looking for quick trips or just day-dreaming (smile). Explore allows you to see airfare prices from your city to destinations worldwide. It’s a great tool if you have some flexibility in your schedule.

Kayak Explore

Kayak Explore = Dream, dream, reality!

Hotwire – Hotwire is my go to destination for hotels in the U.S. If you aren’t tied to a loyalty program, you can book based on price and general location for great deals! I’ve always felt that I got exactly what I paid for, and thus been satisfied. Hotwire is also a great resource for rental cars if you aren’t picky about the chain.

Booking.com – I remember using Booking.com long before they started airing those obnoxious commercials. It was – and is – my favorite place to find accommodations outside of the U.S. Originally found through TripAdvisor, Booking.com has definitely become a more legit name in the business. I like the fact that you can find all types of accommodations using various search options. And I really appreciate that the reviews always seem candid and honest. I’ve also had really good interactions with their customer service, no matter where I am in the world (smile).

Google – I know, I know – but the above are only four examples of literally thousands of travel sites out there. They’re definitely my go-to staples when I’m planning a trip, but sometimes it pays off just to Google a destination. You can find photos, reviews, and localized travel sites that might offer a more specific experience for your adventure. I do, however, highly recommend searching for reviews on anything before you book. Chances are if you can’t find any reviews and it looks pretty sketchy on Google Street View, you probably shouldn’t do it – a lesson learned the hard way!

When in doubt...

When in doubt…

What are your favorite travel sites?? I always like adding to my list so please share below!!


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for more adventures!!

Travel Tuesday

On Becoming An Auntie

You guys – September is a day away from being half over! How did that happen?? I feel like this past week has been one long, continuous day – but for one of the best reasons possible! I’m a god-mother (aka Auntie)!!

welcome baby girl sign

She’s finally here!!

My “niece” was born Tuesday morning out in California. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a couple of photos from the week. The new mom is my best friend, but also my family. There’s something about those friends that make up the family you choose…they have a way of shifting your priorities without the necessity of guilt trips or obligations, which makes these moments all the sweeter. I promised my friend I would be there when the baby was born, and frankly it was all I could do to wait until baby was here to go (smile).

The last three years have been quite transformative for my friend. She went from a romantic skeptic to a newlywed to a mom. She changed careers, changed locations, and grew in amazing ways. It’s been so inspiring to see her move forward and shift into all these new roles. What’s been even more incredible is that we’ve both managed to stay so close despite our lives going in such widely different directions. To me, that’s the mark of a true friendship (smile). I am so crazy proud of her for all that she’s accomplished – and for making it all seem so natural!

Now, on to the important stuff – the baby! Baby T (as she shall be known) was born on the morning of September 9, in perfect health, to two very ecstatic (if somewhat tired) parents (smile). Her maternal grandmother was there to witness the momentous occasion and to help out with all the traditional grandmotherly duties – including, but not limited to, much cuddling and sharing of wisdom. I tried to remain as unobtrusive as possible sticking with my new Auntie duties of running errands, dog-sitting, and taking a gazillion photos (smile). Everyone was a bit exhausted but ridiculously happy.

Baby feet

Beautiful Baby

Baby T is the first child born to one of my close friends and quite possibly the youngest baby I’ve ever had the pleasure of snuggling with myself. I was the first person to know she was coming (aside from her parents, of course), and one of the first family members to hold her. As a self-admitted not-really-a-baby-person, I came to the stunning realization upon first seeing her that love at first sight really does exist – and babies are the purest example of that phenomenon. I can’t imagine there’s anything I wouldn’t do for the beautiful baby girl – so I can’t even begin to comprehend how her mom must feel, or her dad for that matter.

The first days were, of course, very busy. But by the time I left Friday afternoon, it felt like everything had already settled into a rhythm. It was unsurprisingly difficult to leave, but I knew they all needed time to settle into their newly expanded family. I miss her already, of course, but I look forward to seeing plenty of photos, finally learning how to use video communication, and future visits (smile).

On a personal level, this whole experience has been especially inspiring. The temptation to either stay in Phoenix or move to southern California is undoubtedly present, but somewhere in there I encountered an overwhelming certainty that I need to live my life now. I love my friend and am so happy for her and her growing family; but I’m not envious. She made the choices and changes necessary to get there, and all I feel is the motivation to do the same – on my own path. Suddenly all of the topics I’ve been so apathetic about previously now matter more than ever. I want to live a life that can one day inspire my niece. I want her to grow up surrounded by women who made good – and brave – choices so that she can see just how much the world has to offer. I want her to understand that different isn’t bad and that no matter which way she wants to go, the option is there right along with a huge family of support. I want to be an inspiration for her. As it turns out, this gorgeous baby girl is the motivation I didn’t even realize I’ve been missing all along! Now that Baby T is finally here, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all (smile).

My sincerest congratulations to the new parents!! You guys are going to be so great!

Tips for Finding Local Adventures

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that adventure is truly a state of mind. Whether I travel 5 miles or 5,000, there’s always something new to see and learn about. It’s easy to get caught up in the big trips to foreign lands, but Arizona has taught me that “foreign” can be a relative term (smile). This one state alone has rocky plains, sprawling deserts, deep canyons, high mountains, trees, cacti, waterfalls, wildlife – and that’s just scratching the surface. I’ve really had some wonderful adventures in this state over the last several years. But I’ve met so many people that insist that you must leave your “home” to get that true sense of adventure – they’ve simply never taken the time to look around or even consider what might be waiting for them just beyond their backyard. They’re always so surprised when I start naming various oddities to see around the area! So today I thought it would be fun to share some tips and tricks for finding your very own local adventures.

travel guides, arizona1. TripAdvisor or similar travel website. Pretend you are visiting your state or local area for the very first time. What would you normally do? Type your area into the TripAdvisor search (or the website of  your choice) and see what you come up with. Sometimes it takes seeing your local area through the eyes of a non-local to truly appreciate the beauty and variety all around you!

2. Local travel books. Check your local book store for specialty books. I have a couple myself for Arizona – both Weird Arizona and Arizona Curiosities. I also have a photography book specific to this state/area, which has great photography tips and tells you where to go to get the shot – win/win (smile).

3. Search “__ attractions” in Google. Much like TripAdvisor, you can type in the name of your town, county, state, etc. in any search engine to find all sorts of information. It can be slightly less reliable than travel specific websites, but I find searching through the image results usually yields some interesting finds. Another Google trick – open Google Maps or Earth and just scroll around! I’ve found parks, monuments, etc. that I never knew existed before my little Google Maps adventure!

open road, highway4. Ask your grandparents, parents, friends, or other locals. Sometimes there’s no substitution for experience. When I was younger, I was too busy playing or being “cool” to pay much attention to the stories my elders liked to tell. Now I realize just how fascinating their first hand knowledge can truly be. For instance, I personally like to visit old cemeteries. My grandparents usually know the cemetery, the church that used to be there, all about what happened to it, and why there is or is not a new one now in its place! And sometimes I even get a story about a resident of that cemetery – can’t beat that with a book! If you don’t have anyone specific to your family, ask some of the older locals – you’ll get a story and they’ll get a kick out of telling one (smile).

5. Get lost. Not in the mood to put in the research? Or simply don’t have the time? Get in the car and just drive! Get “lost” and follow your instincts. Some of the best finds are the places we don’t even know we’re looking for (smile). Keep an eye out for signs and/or historical markers. Usually where there’s one, there’s more! Just make sure you have some way of finding your way back to civilization at the end of your trip!

What’s your favorite way to find local adventures??

Travel Tuesday: Weird Arizona [A Book Review]

Happy Travel Tuesday guys! It’s what they call “monsoon season” here in the desert right now, and we had a pretty major rain storm Sunday night/yesterday. It was lovely (smile)! I even got a “rain day” out of it extending the weekend a bit, but unfortunately my office also flooded so that’s been…fun. It’s truly amazing and weird how Arizona can go from dustbowl to perpetual river so very quickly – and also quite dangerous for those not expecting a turn in weather! So with Arizona on the brain, I thought today would be a good day to review one of my favorite local adventure reference books – Weird Arizona.

I feel like the all-important inside flap pretty much sums this book up (as it should) in the first few sentences -

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying the Grand Canyon isn’t a great place to visit. But you haven’t really seen Arizona until you’ve strolled through the jaws of a rattlesnake on Diamondback Bridge in Tucson or tried to score a hole in one in the vintage outhouse in Jerome or spent a night in the haunted caboose in Williams.

That’s just the beginning of the weird – and fun – side of the state, the side you won’t hear about in most guidebooks.

I purchased my copy of the book not long after I moved to Phoenix. Since then it’s been my faithful companion in finding the weird and wonderful sights of this prismatic state. If I’m feeling adventurous or merely bored, it’s nice to pull this little tome off the shelf and head off into the sunshine in search of some small piece of mysterious history. The writers do a great job in pumping up the curiosity and a decent job of telling you where to find those curiosities. A little manual side sleuthing is usually necessary to find the more off-the-beaten-path attractions, but overall I find that usually adds to the adventure (smile). There’s

Looking through the book, I’ve managed to venture to quite a few places on their list of weirdness, such as…

Even with all these (and several others) ticked off the list, there are still so many more to see! With cooler weather coming up, there are simply no excuses not to go exploring!! (smile)

Interested in more weird specifically for your area? Check out Weird U.S. to see what oddities are near you!

Do you have a favorite local travel book??


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for more fun travels!!

Travel Tuesday

 

Guest Post: 5 Most Desired Tourist Attractions In Australia

Australia is definitely in my top 5 places to visit next. In fact, it’s also on my list of potential countries for relocation! (I have a habit of leaping before I look, but it makes for some fun stories – smile.) Today I’m happy to feature a guest post on some of the top tourist attractions in Australia. Can’t wait until I can visit these for myself!

Australia is the driest and smallest continent and the world’s fifth largest country. In addition, it is the lowest stretch of vast flat land. The deserts no longer have a wild look because the largest part of the vast unknown of this country has been tamed. This continent is an extremely beautiful paradise that is filled with unique animals such as the Kangaroo and the Koala bear, deserts, an abundance of plants, mountains, and tropical forests. Its main attractions comprise of a series of galleries, national parks, museums, and lush forests. If you are planning a trip to Australia, the following are its 5 most desired tourist attractions that you should see.

AustraliaTasmania

This is Australia’s smallest state and it is situated on an island that has a similar name. The Bass Strait separates it from the mainland. It is formed by 17 national parks, pristine landscapes, mountains, and abandoned beaches. Intrepid travellers consider Tasmania one of Australia’s best attractions. If you like being in touch with nature, you should note that it is famous for the extremely clean atmosphere that it has something for everyone. The central plateau regions boast of hundreds of lakes, forgotten beaches that have a unique mystical feel and forests that are home to numerous species of animals.

AustraliaBlue Mountains National Park

National Parks are Australia’s best tourist attractions. The Blue Mountain Reserve is one such park. It is in the region of New South Wales, 81 km West of Sydney. The geographical location of this park is in an area that has high plateaus that are crossed by many valleys and rivers. Mount Werong, which hikers consider an interesting destination, is the highest mountain in this area.

AustraliaGreat Coral Reef

This is part of the Patrimony of UNESCO and it is the most renowned marine protected area it stretches more than 2300 kilometres across the coastline in the north-eastern part of Australia, to Cap York from Bundanber. Its Barrier is the world’s largest coral reef system, which houses 4000 mollusc species, 1500 fish species and more than 400 various types of corals.

AustraliaSydney Opera

This House, which is built near to Bennelong’s promontory, is nowadays the city’s symbol and one of Australia’s most popular attractions. Art lovers visit the country every year specifically to see this unique monument. Jorn Utzon, who is a Danish architect, designed the structure and built it in a unique modernist style. This Opera House has six auditoriums that house ballet shows, theatres and operas. It also has an open-air amphitheatre where visitors can hold outdoor representations.

AustraliaFraser Island

You should visit this island if you want natural tourist attractions in this country. It is the world’s biggest sand island and it is situated in Queensland’s eastern coast. It also forms part of the Patrimony of UNESCO. The island’s relief has numerous white sandy beaches, sweet water lakes, rivers, colour sand stones, and a very rich tropical forest that will make your visit memorable. The aforementioned attractions make Australia the perfect destination for your holiday. Hence, you should get an Australian visa so that you can head there as soon as possible!


Jane Robert is a Passionate blogger. She works on behalf of Australian Visa she has been writing contents on the web professionally since 2010. As an avid reader and blogger she shares her experience through her articles on Travel, Culture, History, Lifestyle and many more.

Weekly Photo Challenge: [Seattle Seaplane] Adventure

This week’s photo challenge is all about adventure! One of my favorite adventures was going up in a seaplane for the very first time. You see, I’m not overly fond of flying – it’s a necessary evil – so the thought of going up in this tiny plane seemed crazy! I’ve never been so happy to have stepped out of my comfort zone – such an amazing experience! And a great way to see Seattle (smile)!

Seattle Seaplane

Such an awesome adventure :)

Happy weekend everyone!! 

Pondering September [Goal Check-In]

Wow – hello September! I have a bit of a confession to make here…I don’t really like September. As a whole, it’s always seemed to be an odd transition month with nothing particularly eventful to break up that strange feeling of being in between. However, this year promises to be an exception to that rule as my best friend is due to have her first child any day now! She’s my first close friend to have a baby and I am super thrilled to be part of the journey – and to be a first time (pseudo) Auntie!! This baby girl is going to be loved beyond all reason (smile). Suddenly this month seems so much more exciting already…

August Recap

1. Organize all my photos. I did get all of my photos onto one external hard drive. And I backed that drive up with another external hard drive. I call that progress given the number of photos I was working with (over 35k – a lot for this amateur photographer!).

2. Finish blanket for baby shower. Done! And I couldn’t be more pleased with the result! My friend loved it and hopefully I’ll get to take some pictures of my new niece with it very soon (smile).

3. Order a PMP Study Guide. I did rent a PMP study guide from Amazon. I’ve never rented a book from them before, but for the savings it was worth a shot. I have the book through December so I really need to start studying!

Rainbow

Much better view driving back this weekend :)

September Goals

1. Categorize/tag photos. Now that I have all of those photos in one place, I would like to start cross-categorizing/tagging them. Right now they’re all sorted by date, but I think I can take it a step or two further. Clearly this may be an ongoing goal, but I’m hoping to at least get a good start this month!

2. Study, study, study. I ordered my PMP Study Guide last month but didn’t have much time to really study as I was finishing baby blankets, etc. This month I’m hoping to integrate studying into my daily routine so I can start working my way through the book quickly.

3. Budget better. For several reasons both expected and unexpected, my budget has gotten a bit out of hand these last couple of months. In order to meet some upcoming larger goals, I really need to focus on being more aware of my spending habits and save, save, save!

4. Meet my niece! Okay so there’s not much I can do about this one besides drive to California, but you best believe I’ll be doing that as soon as she arrives! I’m so excited for my friend and her husband – they’re going to be great parents! And I plan on being the best (pseudo) Auntie I can be (huge grin)!

 

Travel Tuesday: Salton Sea

Happy Tuesday everyone! I’m still recovering from the long weekend, but I just keep reminding myself that it’ll be a short week (smile). This month’s Travel Tuesday prompt is about “unexpected destinations.” I actively seek out the strange and lesser known destinations as often as possible. I’ve found that each of those destinations often come with their own lesson – some historical, others social. As I was driving back from California yesterday, I saw the signs for the Salton Sea and instantly knew that had to be my unexpected destination for today’s post!

The Salton Sea is a salt water “sea” located in southern California near the Coachella Valley. In the early 1900s, the California Development Company created a series of canals in the area in an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming. Due to an engineering error, the water fed to the canals overflowed for a period long enough to create the Salton Sea. With an estimated shoreline of approximately 130 miles, it is the largest lake in California. At 226 feet below sea level, it’s also one of the lowest points.

During the 1950s and ’60s, the Salton Sea was the place to be. Celebrities came to race boats or sun along the shores. Unfortunately, the Salton Sea has no outlet. It depends on rainwater and agricultural runoff for it’s survival, and it’s salinity increases every year. As of now, the salinity of the sea is greater than that of the nearby Pacific Ocean, but less than that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This salinity makes the Salton Sea a less than hospitable environment for most fish and a walk along the shore these days involves more fish bones than sand.

I first heard of the Salton Sea when Anthony Bourdain made a stop on an episode of No Reservations. Once I saw the show I knew I had to go see this place for myself and I’m glad I did. When you first drive up to the lake, it looks like nothing short of a ghost town on a movie set – the buildings are falling into disrepair and there’s often no one in sight. The water, however, appears almost as a mirage – deep blue with the sun sparkling along the top and giant pelicans floating gently on the surface. It’s one of the eeriest places I’ve ever seen. Walking along the shoreline only confirmed this feeling – there were tiny fish skeletons everywhere! As it was late afternoon, my friend and I didn’t stay too long before heading out. We didn’t see another person during the entirety of the couple of hours we spent cautiously exploring the neighborhood. I think we were just waiting for someone to jump out with a chainsaw and yell “BOO!” (smile)

For all that it is a weird destination, the Salton Sea is also unexpectedly beautiful. It does take some quick mental adjustment to see that beauty once you spot/smell the dead fish, but it is there buried in the desolation. The area has a truly fascinating history and you can’t help but wonder how a place riding so high could fall into disrepute so quickly. There are talks now about how the Salton Sea could play a role in easing the drought plaguing the nearby farmers; perhaps it may yet see another 15 minutes in the limelight.

Personally, I plan on scheduling some time on my next leisurely California trip to stop in again and explore further. The Salton Sea has developed a reputation as the “crown jewel of avian biodiversity,” boasting over 400 species of birds. There’s also a state recreation area that I missed on this first journey. Despite the eeriness, there was also a pervasive peacefulness once you acclimated to the quiet. I also happen to know firsthand that it makes for a gorgeous location to watch a sunset (smile).

Have you ever heard of or been to the Salton Sea??


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for even more fun!!

Travel Tuesday

 

How Blogging Has Changed My Life

Monday was my one year (official) blogging anniversary! It’s crazy how time works – in some ways it feels like yesterday I started this adventure and in others it feels like I’ve been doing this for years. Looking back at the posts from this last year, I’m overwhelmed at how much can happen and how much can change in a mere 365 days. In truth, it gives me hope for the future (smile). I’ve also realized how much I’ve learned and grown from my blogging experience! I had no idea how multi-faceted this “hobby” can be – I thought it was just a matter of writing words and adding a photo here and there. Little did I know about hosting, coding, social media, emails, and all the other lovely aspects of blogging. It’s a little amazing to look back now and see how many areas of my life this little blogging habit of mine affects on a daily basis.

Cactus, Arizona, Sunset

New Horizons

Social media. Before I started blogging in earnest, I had a Facebook page and an Instagram account I rarely used. Now I have a blog specific Instagram, a Twitter account, and accounts on several other social media sites that I had never even heard of! I thought I hated the idea of social media, but now I’m completely addicted!

Photography. I’ve been interested in photography for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only invested the time to truly learn the technical side in the last few years. Reading other blogs and participating in various photo “challenges” has really opened up new levels of creativity for me and my camera. In addition to the technical aspects, I catch myself looking at objects and angles in ways I never would have before. I also find that I’m much more willing to make the extra effort to capture really cool shots to share (smile).

Writing style. I was afraid that law school had condemned me to a lifetime of technical writing. I loved writing fiction and “fluffier” pieces when I was younger, so it’s been really nice to learn to relax a bit and enjoy the process again. Lifestyle blogging has allowed me to combine non-fiction and a more relaxed writing style in a way that I feel comfortable sharing. It’s also allowed me to give myself permission to start writing poetry and fiction in my personal life again, which has been so liberating! Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to share (smile).

Motivation & Awareness. Whether it’s traveling, visiting a local attraction, trying a new recipe, finishing a DIY project, or simply completing my goals, this blog has proved to be a great motivator to get s**t done! There are quite a few days when that editorial calendar gets me off the couch and in motion – and that’s a really good thing! I’ve been able to accomplish so much that it inspires me to keep going. I also find myself on the alert for fun things to share with you guys – on the blog but especially on social media. Now I’m always on the lookout for a fun story or cool snap to share!

Community. I always say that I really started blogging to be part of the community, but I don’t think I had any true idea of what that meant. I’ve met some really amazing people from literally all over the world through blogging and learned so much from those people and their own blogs. I’m a relatively shy blogger person, but I can’t tell you how reassuring it’s been to receive such positive responses when I reach out to others. There’s also a wealth of encouragement and support that I never could’ve expected. Now I know that community doesn’t just mean “people with similar hobbies,” it means friends. Thank you to everyone that’s a part of my community – you guys are all so awesome! (big grin)

Has blogging had any impacts on your life??