Tips for attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

This past weekend we flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Not only is the fiesta the largest balloon event in the world, it’s also the most photographed event in the world–and once you go, you’ll understand why!

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So, what is there to do at the Fiesta? There are activities in the morning and at night, with a break in the day when the thermals make it challenging for the balloons to fly. Our favorite events were:

Dawn Patrol
First thing in the morning, before the sun has risen, a handful of hot air balloon inflate and take to the skies to check weather conditions. It’s beautiful to watch as they lift into the air and you can still spot them in the dark as they light their burners, often in synchronicity.

Mass Ascension
The mass ascension is not to be missed! During the mass ascension, all balloon participating in the fiesta launch with dozens of balloons taking flight simultaneously. Balloons start to launch at 7 a.m. (weather permitting), led by a balloon flying the American flag. Over the next couple of hours, roughly 600 balloons will fly over the event space. It’s an incredible sight to see!

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Evening Glow
Once the sun sets, balloonists begin inflating their hot air balloons to participate in the Evening Glow. After all of the participating balloons have been inflated, “all burn” is called where all balloons fire their burners at once creating a truly magical moment–photos don’t do this one justice.

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Having never been New Mexico or the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before, Drew and I had a lot of learning to do to ensure we maximized our time there. Here are a few tips and tricks that we hope will help make your Balloon Fiesta an awesome experience:

Tips

  • Get there early. The first morning we left our hotel at 5 a.m. to make the 20 minute drive to the balloon park. On the way, we hit insane traffic and didn’t roll into the parking lot until 7:30 a.m. We learned our lesson and on the second morning we set our alarm for 3:30 a.m., departed the hotel at 4:00 a.m., and rolled into our parking spot at the balloon park at 4:35 a.m. Gates opened at 4:30 a.m., so we got in early, grabbed a hot chocolate, and go to really soak in all the festivities before the 6:00 a.m. dawn patrol and mass ascension at 7:00 a.m.
  • Use the Park and Ride. Parking at the balloon park isn’t for the feint of heart–you will endure tons of traffic and pay $15 to do so. I recommend looking into the Balloon Fiesta Park and Ride service, which is $15 including the price of admission to the fiesta (typically $10).
  • Dress warmly. It’s chilly at night during the glows after the sun sets, but it’s even colder in the morning. Dress in layers and be sure to wear warm, closed-toe shoes with good socks as the balloon park grass is damp and covered in frost early in the morning.
  • Plan to attend a few days. If you have the time, I recommend planning to attend at least two mornings and one night. Since flight is dependent on weather, there are days when the mass ascension doesn’t take place due to wind. Give yourself a couple days as a contingency plan so you don’t miss out!
  • Bring snacks. Our hotel was awesome and provided to-go breakfasts in paper bags every morning. Having granola bars, muffins, an apple, and a bottle of water was super clutch as we had something to nibble on throughout the morning, but were able to go get a real breakfast outside the park after the mass ascension around 9 a.m.

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Mediterranean Cruise Pros and Cons

This summer, Drew and I went on a 10-night Mediterranean cruise where we visited Greece, Malta, and Italy. Each of us had only been on short Caribbean cruises many years ago, so a 10-day Mediterranean cruise was something entirely different for us.

We didn’t initially plan to take a Mediterranean cruise this year or to travel around Europe this summer, but Norwegian Cruise Line had a pretty good deal, so we jumped at the opportunity. Our cruise was scheduled for July 20th through July 30.

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Oia, Santorini, Greece

To stay on budget, we selected an interior cabin as the only time we planned to spend in the room was to sleep and shower. We did not upgrade our meals and found the standard food options to be diverse and delicious–we were never disappointed. Additionally, we did not purchase drinks on the ship–we stuck with water and juice, but splurged on alcohol, soda, and tasty treats while at ports. Lastly, we researched every destination beforehand and made our own plans without having to purchase expensive excursions through the cruise line

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Athens, Greece

Below are the stops and the length of time we were at each port:

Day 1 – Ship departs Civitavecchia (Rome), ITA – 5 p.m.
Day 2 – Ship at sea
Day 3 – Mykonos, GRC – 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Day 4 – Piraeus (Athens), GRC – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Day 5 – Rhodes, GRC – 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Day 6 – Santorini, GRC – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Day 7- Chania, GRC – 7 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Day 8 – Valletta, MLT – 1 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Day 9 – Messina, ITA – 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Day 10 – Naples/Pompeii, ITA – 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Day 11- Ships arrives in Civitavecchia (Rome), ITA – 6 a.m.

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Chania, Greece

Pros:

  • Cruises allow you to maximize your vacation time–we were able to visit 5 destinations in Greece, 3 cities in Rome, and we got to spend a day in Malta all in 11 days/10 nights. That would be a very rigorous travel schedule if you weren’t on a cruise. It was great to see so many beautiful places!
  • We were able to island hop through Greece with ease. Visiting multiple islands quickly can be challenging and expensive, but going via cruise made it simple and hassle-free.
  • For solo travelers, cruises can be one of the safest options. You can relax on board, participate in group excursions, and the ship monitors when you leave and return to the ship, so someone will notice if you’re missing.

Cons:

  • Some of the ports were far away from attractions we were interested in seeing or not very tourist-friendly.
  • Our time was tight in each location due to the time it took to disembark the ship and return to the ship, limiting what we could see and do. It was a bit of a tease to visit these amazing places, but not get to really experience and explore the place.
  • Since your meals are already paid for and provided on the ship, we missed out on opportunities to try local cuisine.
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Rome, Italy

Overall, we enjoyed our time on the cruise and we are glad that we did it. A cruise made sense for us to see Greece and Malta, but I don’t think cruises will be a preferred method of travel moving forward. When we travel, we want to don’t want to be confined by time or to small locales–we like to wander and see as much as we can.

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Mykonos, Greece

If you have any questions about a Mediterranean cruise, please reach out–I’d love to share more about our experience. Safe travels!

Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Over 4th of July, Drew and I flew to Phoenix to catch an Arizona Diamondbacks game, visit Sedona, and explore the great outdoors. It was hot as hell (109°), but we made the most of our long holiday weekend in Arizona.

Lower Antelope Canyon

To visit Lower Antelope Canyon, you will need to go with a guide. A friend recommended Ken’s Tours, but they were completely booked the date we wanted to go, so we ended up going with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. We were advised to arrive 30 minutes before our tour, but that was completely unnecessary as they were super behind schedule and we ended up having to wait over an hour past our tour start time. Once our group was called, we walked 100 yards or so above the canyon to the staircase entry to Lower Antelope Canyon.

The canyon was a welcome reprieve after standing in the heat for so long–it was much cooler down there and it was great to escape the sun. Our guide slowly led us through the 1 mile lower canyon, assisting with photos and teaching us how to best capture the light and color on our digital cameras and phones. Before going down, I was concerned that we would be rushed through the canyon and wouldn’t get to enjoy the experience and capture the images we wanted. However, I never felt rushed. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared history and highlights of the Lower Antelope Canyon, while giving us ample time to take photos and enjoy the canyon’s natural beauty.

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Overall, we enjoyed our time at Lower Antelope Canyon and we would recommend visiting and using Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. Be sure to dress appropriately (since we went in summer, moisture-wicking materials and good sneakers were clutch), eat beforehand (Lower Antelope Canyon has very limited food options nearby), and to hydrate (we each filled our Camelbak bladders to the brim and we crushed them.)

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Horseshoe Bend

If you’re visiting Lower Antelope Canyon, then you definitely need to check out Horseshoe Bend, too. Horseshoe Bend is a quick 15 minute drive from Lower Antelope Canyon and it’s truly a breathtaking sight. It’s also great because it is a stunning location that’s accessible to people of all hiking levels.

Park in the Horseshoe Bend parking lot and make the half mile walk out to the overlook. Since the hike is short and easily accessible, don’t expect to have the overlook to yourself. However, there are plenty of vantage points where you can walk over to the edge to stare in awe and get tourist-free photos.

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If you’re in Arizona or southern Utah, I implore you to visit Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Drew and I loved this day and were so glad we planned to see both locations while in Arizona. If you go, let me know what you think–I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Labor Day Weekend in New York: Yankees, Mets, and the U.S. Open

For those of you who don’t know me, not only do I love travel, but I absolutely love traveling for sporting events. There’s nothing better than exploring a new city by day and attending an exciting sporting event by night. This past Labor Day weekend, Drew and I visited New York City for the long weekend where we had the pleasure of attending Red Sox v Yankees at Yankee Stadium (Go Sox!), Phillies v Mets at Citi Field, and watched Federer v Kohlschreiber in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open–and all of it was amazing!

Red Sox v Yankees at Yankee Stadium

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it was a real treat to see a Red Sox v Yankees game. Drew and I visited Yankee Stadium back in 2015, so it wasn’t our first time at the ballpark. Compared to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium is absolutely massive–and on this day, it was completely packed. We waited in a wicked long line to enter the park, but once we were inside it was pretty easy to find our seats and enjoy the game. Yankee Stadium offers the typical ballpark food, nothing special and a little overpriced. The in-game entertainment and music selections have a dated, nostalgic feeling. Overall, we had a good experience at Yankee Stadium, though I wish the Red Sox could have pulled out a win.

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Phillies v Mets at Citi Field

Citi Field may be the best ballpark I have visited. Opened in 2009, it still looks super new and the layout is really fan-friendly. A friend told us to go hungry to Citi Field because the food is amazing…and they weren’t lying! There are so many great options and a lot of diversity. Drew and I split some Arancini Bros. risotto balls,  a chicken parmesan sandwich from Nicoletta, and cookie dough from –all were delicious! And while we loved the food, we enjoyed the game and the ballpark even more.

Roger Federer v Phil Kohlschreiber at the U.S. Open

We’re fortunate that we’ve both attended the U.S. Open Tennis Championships before, but that didn’t make our excitement any less. We were thrilled to score last minute tickets to the Federer v Kohlschreiber. Federer won in straight sets, but it was still cool to see a tennis great at his best. This was our first U.S. Open with the new retractable roof. Though the roof was open, the perimeter of the roof provided nice shade before the sun started setting. If you are considering attending the U.S. Open, I highly recommend it–tennis is such a fun sport to watch live and the New York crowds make it even better.

48 Hours in Berlin, Germany

Berlin is an amazing city, rich with history and culture. With so much to see and do, you need to make the most of your time in Germany’s capital city. Here’s my list of how to best spend 48 hours in Berlin.

Day 1

Sightseeing:
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie is the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point from the Cold War era. Foreigners and diplomats would cross between East Berlin and West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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Brandenburg Gate
Erected in the 1730s, this visually stunning monument that has witnessed a great deal of history and come out unscathed.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, the memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of various height. There is a visitor’s center below which contains approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims.

Dinner: Fame at KaterschmausHolzmarktstraße 25, 10243 Berlin, Germany
A cozy, intimate little spot with amazing food. Everything on the menu is reasonably priced, which is good since you’ll want to try a little bit of everything. Fame is one of those spots you want to bring your friends to because it’s such a unique, fun spot.

Accommodations: Hilton BerlinMohrenstraße 30, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Centrally located and very clean, the Hilton Berlin is an easy place to stay when checking out tourist spots like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. The staff is very accommodating, and you can’t beat the convenience of the location.

Day 2

Sightseeing: East Side Gallery
A memorial to a section of the Berlin Wall. The gallery features 105 paintings that were completed in 1990 by artists from all over the world. Restoration efforts were made in 2009 to help eliminate some of the graffiti covering the original artwork.

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Lunch: Kimchi PrincessSkalitzer Str. 36, 10999 Berlin, Germany
Surprisingly good Korean BBQ in the middle of Berlin. Picnic table seating ensures you will make new friends as you indulge in an awesome meal.

Sightseeing: Tempelhof Feld
Berlin converted Tempelhof Airport into a public park. On a sunny day, this place is great for outdoor recreation and people watching. A wonderful spot to unwind and enjoy the great outdoors in the middle of a bustling city.

Dinner: FreischwimmerVor dem Schlesischen Tor 2, 10997 Berlin, Germany
Waterside dining with excellent indoor options in addition to an over-the-water patio. It’s a little tricky to find, but once you’ve made it, you won’t be disappointed with the food–lots of variety!

Accommodations: Michelberger HotelWarschauer Str. 39-40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
If you’re looking for a trendy hotel in a hip neighborhood, look no further. The rooms have a minimalist feel, but the true heart of the hotel is in the lobby where there’s an awesome bar, roomy couches, and a great atmosphere.

No matter what you end up doing, I know you will enjoy your time in Germany’s capital. There are so many great restaurants, museums, and events that I know you’ll be wishing you had more time to spend in Berlin. Safe travels!

Solo Female Travel Tips

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Traveling solo as a female can be intimidating. But with a sense of adventure and a bit of cautious common sense, you can confidently travel as a solo female nearly anywhere in the world.

After planning many international trips in my early 20s with friends and family that never came to fruition, I finally decided that the only way I was going to see the world is if I stopped waiting for it to be convenient for everyone else and just traveled by myself. I’ll admit, I was a little worried at first, but ultimately it ended up being one of the best, most liberating decisions I’ve ever made. My first solo trip was to England and France–since then, I’ve traveled to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Russia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, as well as many spots in the continental United States.

If you’re considering exploring the world as a solo female traveler, fear not! With a bit of careful planning and some common sense, you’ll be able to travel anywhere your heart desires and feel completely confident and comfortable.

Plan Ahead

Before all of my solo trips, I had my airfare, transportation, and hotels arranged well in advance. For hotels, I looked to friends and family for recommendations and guidance in cities where they had familiarity. For cities where I didn’t have someone to guide me, I looked to Rick Steves and Fodor’s for budget-friendly options. When possible, I book trains that depart and arrive during daylight hours, making it easier to travel to and from the train stations. Usually I’m a fan of walking as much as I possibly can, but when arriving to unfamiliar places I usually summoned an Uber or arranged free transportation through hotels to ensure I safely arrived to my destination.

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Packing

Do not overpack. Lugging a heavy suitcase around train stations and buildings without elevators is not fun, and since you’re traveling alone, you won’t have anyone to help you. Pack appropriate clothing–err on the side of caution and pack modest, casual clothing. Educate yourself on the country your visiting and the things you’ll be doing because this will help dictate items you will need. For example, in Italy and Greece, you need to cover your shoulders in most churches and holy spaces, so I always pack a lightweight scarf or shawl. On hiking trips, I always pack a pair of flip flop or strappy Chacos to wear after the hike to let my feet breathe and relax.

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Keep In Touch

As mentioned, my family and friends were all concerned when I started traveling abroad alone. To ease their minds, I typically send trip update emails every couple of days throughout the trip. This assures them that I’m safe, but also gives them a glimpse into my adventures. Sharing with loved ones seems to enhance the experience.

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Won’t I Be Lonely?

Absolutely not. You can be as solitary or social as you would like. Traveling alone has opened me up to conversations with strangers I never would have met had I been traveling and chatting with friends. I’ve found that many people are curious about female solo travelers and are eager to chit chat and provide help when needed.

Additionally, I’ve also found pleasure in being able to do what I want, when I want. Being able to control my entire itinerary and call all of the shots is fun! I have learned to embrace the quiet and allow my mind to wander and to be okay sitting alone at a table in a restaurant or on a bench in a park.

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General Safety

  • Walk confidently. Review your map or phone before leaving and try not to use either while en route. Walking around with your phone in your hand makes it easy for someone to snatch your phone or to target you as a tourist.
  • A cross-body bag with zippers is my travel must-have. It’s less likely someone will be able to steal your bag or pickpocket your purse with it wrapped around your body and zipped closed.
  • Don’t wear headphones when walking alone at night or in less crowded area. Headphones make it easier for people to sneak up on you.
  • I always keep a photocopy of my passport in my travel luggage. Additionally, my parents, fiance, and friends have digital copies of my passport that they could email if I ever got in a pickle.

Listen to your instincts, use common sense, and make good decisions and you’ll have no issues traveling as a solo female. Your bravery and sense of adventure will be rewarded with memorable travel experiences and stories to share with family and friends. Safe travels!

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Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park

This year I spent Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park. With the snow finally melting, Memorial Day is a great time of the year to visit Yosemite to see the raging waterfalls and beautiful views…if you can handle the crowds.

For Memorial Day Weekend 2017, Yosemite National Park estimated about 100,000 park visitors. Fortunately for us, we had booked a VRBO property that was located inside the park, eliminating a lot of driving time. Below are the highlights from our trip:

Sunset at Glacier Point

An amazing overlook with a view of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. On the evening we went for the sunset, the valley was covered in clouds, but the panoramic view was amazing even when cloudy.

Tip: During the summer, Yosemite park rangers hold sunset talks at Glacier Point. Lots of great information and stories–don’t miss it!

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Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

In order to get our bearings within the park, we hiked the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail on our first day. We started at Bridalveil Falls and then caught the loop around the valley. This is a great hike because you get to see all of the Valley highlights (El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks) while hiking along the Merced River.

Tip: The best part about this hike is you can make it as long or as short as you want, as you’re able to catch the park bus along the route. We ended up grinding out 14 miles on the trail in total and it was totally worth it.

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Mist Trail

One of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done–highly recommend! On the Mist Trail, you get to hike up nature’s staircase right next to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Bring a raincoat and waterproof boots because you will get wet.

Sadly, I was recovering from a hospital stint with viral meningitis, so we took the John Muir Trail after reaching the top of Vernal Falls. Others in our group continued up to Nevada Falls.

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Sunrise hike at Sentinel Dome

For a 360 degree view of Yosemite Valley, head to Sentinel Dome. We went for a sunrise hike and had the trail to ourselves. From Sentinel Dome, you can see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Nevada Falls.

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Tunnel View

For those of you who prefer not to hike, but want to experience an amazing view, head to Tunnel View. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls within Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome in the background.

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Unfortunately, Mariposa Grove was closed during our visit, so we didn’t get to see some of the most famous trees in the world. We did visit the Tuolumne Grove and got our Giant Sequoia fill, but I plan to go back to visit Mariposa Grove sometime in the coming years.

You are in for a treat no matter when you visit Yosemite National Park. The scenery is breathtaking and the hikes will also take your breath away…from exertion.

How to Plan a Trip to the Olympics

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If attending the Olympics is not on your travel bucket list, it absolutely should be. I’ve had the opportunity to attend 4 Olympics, some as personal travel and others as part of my career, and I would encourage anyone with even a remote interest in travel and sports to attend. The games are an event unlike any other!

How to Get Tickets

In most countries, CoSport is the official ticket distributor. Register with the site to receive ticket lottery and sale notifications. Typically, CoSport does the first round of tickets through a lottery request system about a year and a half before the games. I advise you team up with your travel buddies and submit requests for as many tickets as allowed (there is usually a maximum number of tickets that you can request–it should be about 40-50 tickets, so plan accordingly). This will increase your odds of getting tickets.

If you don’t receive many tickets during the request phase, do not be surprised or discouraged. Instead, continue to check CoSport daily for ticket releases where you can buy individual tickets to specific events with ease. In the past, this has typically been where I’ve secured more popular events like swimming, gymnastics, snowboarding, and figure skating.

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Lodging Options

Once you’ve decided you’re going to the games and you have an idea of when you will be attending events within the two week window, I advise you start considering your accommodations options. Unfortunately, unless you’re with a sponsor or National Governing Body (NGB), securing a hotel room will be nearly impossible. I recommend looking at AirBnB, VRBO, and local bed and breakfasts to try and find somewhere with vacancy–book as early as you can, because selection will dwindle the longer you wait. If you get desperate, you can book ticket and accommodations packages through CoSport, but the prices are astronomical.

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Getting to the Games

Booking flights is typically the easiest part. Once I’ve identified the dates I need to be in the Olympic host city, it’s just a matter of finding a flight that suits my needs. I haven’t seen much of a cost increase in flights to Olympic locations–expect to pay typical international airfare.

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How to Get to Events

Once you’re on the ground at the games, getting to events can be a little tricky. There is always ample signage and volunteers to direct you, but budget extra time to get from one venue to another.

Do a little research beforehand to see the venue layout and plan how you will get from one event to the next. For London and Sochi, your event tickets allowed free access to their transit systems, easily transporting you around the Olympic city. In Rio, there were private metro lines for Olympic ticket-holders, but you still needed to purchase a transit card to use throughout the games.

I hate to harp, but be sure to give yourself enough time to get to and from venues. Crowds can be dense, slowing your pace. You will have to go through security before entering the Olympic Park as well as individual venues. Buses and trains sometimes take longer than expected. If you give yourself some extra time, then there’s less of a chance you’ll miss that awesome athletic event you flew halfway around the world for!

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Embrace the Experience

While at the games, throw caution to the wind and embrace every experience. At every turn you will meet someone from a different country and who is just as excited as you are to be there. Grab some pins and do some trading, try local foods, explore landmarks and hidden gems of the host city, soak it all in!

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I hope this helps as you begin planning your own Olympic adventure. Traveling to the Olympics has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had–hopefully you love it as much as I do. If you have any questions or need any guidance, let me know! To relive my Rio and Sochi escapades, click the links!

48 Hours in Northern Ireland

It would be easy to spend a week or more exploring the beauty of Northern Ireland. But if you’re looking to visit Northern Ireland for a weekend, below are some of the can’t-miss highlights.

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Giant’s Causeway
To best experience Giant’s Causeway, choose one of the many available walking paths. I ultimately selected the red trail which went along the clifftops overlooking the shore, before connecting to the blue trail which brought me down to the waterfront and onto the rock formations. Be sure to pop inside the on-site center as it really helps explain how these rock formations came about and how old and remarkable this World Heritage Site truly is.

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Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
A quick drive from Giant’s Causeway is the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. This short, shaky rope bridge connects the mainland to a tiny island aptly named Carrickarede. The bridge is suspended 100 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and it’s sure to get your heart racing. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, but I had to experience the bridge for myself!

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Dinner at the Distillers Arms or Ramore Wine Bar
For dinner, I have two great options. If you want to stay close to my suggested lodging, I would visit The Distillers Arms restaurant. Originally the home of the Bushmill Distillery’s owners, it has been converted into an amazing restaurant that will give you a night to remember. If you want to dine by the water, visit the Ramore Wine Bar. Located in the Portrush Harbour, it offers great waterside dining with an extensive wine list.

Causeway Lodge
The Causeway Lodge is a lovely bed and breakfast in a rural setting. The home offers contemporary rooms, a great breakfast, and a peaceful night’s rest all at a very reasonable price. Plus, the owners are incredibly hospitable!

Bushmills Distillery
Known for being one of the oldest licensed distilleries in the world, you should definitely stop by the Old Bushmills Distillery for a quick tour and tasting. The tour will run you £8, but it’s fun to see the production process and the tasting at the end is great. I suggest getting a hot whiskey!

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Belfast
No visit to Northern Ireland would be complete without a visit to the country’s capital and largest city. There’s plenty to see and do, but I recommend walking along the peace walls to check out some of the interesting graffiti as well as visiting the Titanic Museum.

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No matter what you end up doing, I know you’ll enjoy Northern Ireland. There is so much natural beauty and rich history that by the end of your trip I’m sure you’ll be wishing you had more time.

Best Hikes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a place I dreamed about traveling to for years before I finally had the chance to visit. After seeing pictures of the glacial lakes and beautiful mountains, it quickly moved to the top of my “must visit” list. During the summer of 2015, Drew and I visited and experienced the trip of a lifetime. Banff National Park offers so many incredible ways to connect with nature, including some amazing hikes. If you’re looking for some of the best hikes in Banff, lace up your boots and strap on your pack and hit the trails below.

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

This hike is a doozie, but totally worth it! Starting at Lake Louise by the Fairmont, you walk the perimeter of Lake Louise on the lakeshore trail into the mountains in the distance and ultimately into the woods where you’ll find the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

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The trail is ~7 miles round trip with a 1200 foot elevation gain. Along the trail you will see Lake Louise from the mountains, several glaciers, and great alpine scenery.

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The tea house offers basic food and drink which are helicoptered out to the tea house at the beginning of the season and supplemented by horses and hikers throughout the season. The tea house doesn’t have any running water or electricity, but does offer a nice place to rest before completing your hike. Even though the hike was a little challenging, we really enjoyed it and I felt like a champ afterward (and finished wearing substantially less clothing since it was hot hot hot.)

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Johnston Canyon

This was Drew’s favorite hike on our trip and it’s one of the most popular day hikes in all of Banff–get an early start. Seriously. If you can start hiking between 6 and 7 a.m., you will be able to beat the crowds and truly enjoy the canyon.

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Inside the canyon, the trail is comprised of raised walkways and bridges with safety rails that hug the wall and overlook the river. There are two major waterfalls (Upper Falls and Lower Falls) along the path before you hit a dirt path that takes you to a meadow at the top of the canyon. In the meadow, there are numerous ink pots–bubbling water in turquoise pools.

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If you start early, you should be able to make it to the ink pots quickly and without running into too many other hikers. By the time you turn around, you’ll likely run into mass crowds at Upper Falls that will stay with you the entire walk back through Johnston Canyon to the parking lot.\Canada6.jpg

Lake O’Hara

While Lake O’Hara is technically located in Yoho National Park, if you’re in Banff, it’s definitely worth visiting as it’s just a stone’s throw away.

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The best way to enter Lake O’Hara is by making a bus reservation through Parks Canada. Reservations open in April and fill up pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, your only other option is to hike the 7 mile access road into Lake O’Hara…I definitely recommend the bus!

Since Lake O’Hara essentially requires reservations to access the park, there are typically only a couple hundred people hiking within the park at any given time, making this a nice, intimate experience.

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Take the Lake O’Hara trail to the Oesa Lake trail for picturesque views of both lakes and the surrounding mountains.

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Moraine Lake

I know this list is supposed to be the best hikes in Banff–and what I’ve listed so far shouldn’t be missed. However, I’m going to switch things up and recommend you get off the beaten path and hit the water at Moraine Lake. While there are plenty of trails around Moraine Lake, the true beauty of the lake can be best appreciated from a canoe.

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Check in at the dock and rent a canoe for 60-90 minutes. If you’ve never canoed before, fear not! It’s pretty easy to figure out and the water is super calm on the lake.

Wandering Kathleen

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I hope you enjoy exploring Banff National Park and the surrounding areas as much as we did. It’s so stunning there that sometimes it doesn’t seem real. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back because we loved it so much. If there’s something you think we need to try next time we’re in Alberta and British Columbia, let me know in the comments!