Ice Ice Baby

f12  If vast mountains, beautiful ocean scenery and exquisite landscapes are what you are looking for, search no further.  Iceland is the place for you.  Home to many of the worlds natural wonders including the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon, Iceland has something to offer everyone.i

i3Iceland’s capital and largest city, Reykjavik, is home to roughly 120,000 people and is often regarded as the country’s most popular tourist destination.  Surrounded by stunning views of Faxa Bay and marked with quaint, winding streets, Reykjavik does not disappoint. Aside from sampling traditional Icelandic dishes such as hangikjöt (smoked lamb) along the picturesque roads of the city, Reykjavik, offers an abundance of art and culture.  One main attraction is the sculpture, Sun Voyager, nestled along the seaside and boasting iconic views of Mt. Esjan.  Another impressive architectural structure is the Harpa Concert and Conference Hall.  While this is a remarkable glass building situated by the old harbor of Reykjavik with amazing inside and outside structural content maybe even more amazing is the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra which you can find playing inside.i1

While the colorful city of Reykjavik is striking, the main draw to Iceland as of late has been the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa located in a lava field of Grindavik.  The warm milky blue waters of this spa are rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur leading many people to believe bathing in it offers a curative component to various skin diseases and proves to be beneficial for all skin types.  This extravagant spa offers two different masks made from the mud of the hot springs and free with the purchase of your entrance ticket.

i2With Iceland relying heavily on imported goods, be aware that this is one of the most expensive places to visit in Europe.  While food and lodging are on the pricier side, one positive to consider is that when flying with Iceland Air, free stopovers in Reykjavik are offered.  For example, I was flying to Paris and had a 15-hour layover in Iceland.  I was able to extend that layover for three days so I could explore at no extra charge.  This allowed me to visit Iceland and Paris for a ticket cost of only $400.

With its culture, landscape and multitude of activities Iceland is a highly coveted travel destination for 2017.

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Safe Travels

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               As I write this, reports of gunshots and explosions from the Resorts World Manila complex in the Philippines (a popular tourist haven of hotels, restaurants, bars and casinos) are flooding in.  Sadly, this isn’t even news anymore.  We don’t flock to our televisions, hold each other and cry at the news of another act of human brutality like we did only five years ago.  No, today these acts of hatred are so commonplace we barely even flinch.  We go about our days as if these treacherous acts of violence aren’t happening because we are so used to it we have become desensitized to the horror of it all.  It’s almost like some sort of warped exposure therapy.  Though, while we remain numb to the emotion of it all, it somehow manages to instill a fear of traveling in many of us.  I urge you not to let these horrendous acts of terrorism deter you from traveling.  It could happen (and has) just as easily in the U.S. as it can anywhere else in the world.  While tourist hotspots are of a higher risk to terrorism, you are more likely to be hit by a bus on your morning jog. So, go. Travel.

             Aside from keeping a diligent eye and being wary of your surroundings and anything unusual, there is not much you can do from stopping a large-scale terrorist attack.  What I can help you with is to make you less of a target for individual muggings and pickpocketing.  As I said before, even these minor muggings can happen to you in your home country.  Although, I do tend to feel safer in my town, maybe because I constantly have a .38 special strapped to my hip or maybe because I have grown accustom to the ins and outs of U.S. living.  Regardless, this is what I have learned throughout my travels…

You’re a tourist.  It’s often hard to mask that from the constant picture taking to your horrible accent to the dazed and confused look that has permanently set up shop on your face. While you may look like a bumbling idiot, you do not have to act like one.

  1. Get a passport pouch.  These are small pouches that go around your neck and will hold your passport, cards and money.  They can then be hidden under your shirt.  Have you heard of the saying “Out of sight, out of mind?” Exactly.  If they can’t see it, they won’t take it.
  1. If a passport pouch isn’t your style and you insist on using a purse then buy a slash proof, RFID blocking purse. RFID chips are used in your credit cards and passports and can be read using electromagnetic waves.  Criminals with the right devices can now simply stand next to you and steal all of your information.  RFID blockers interrupt the electromagnetic fields and prevent communication between your chips and RFID scanners.  The slash proof part is for, well you guessed it, preventing someone from slashing your purse straps off you.  Trust me, this happens, I’ve seen it.
  1. DO NOT wear a purse across your body. If someone comes up to grab your purse and the strap is around your body…guess what? You are going with them.  I have been caught in the middle of this exact situation and trust me, it is not ideal.  This is particularly dangerous if it is someone on a motorbike driving by and trying to snatch your purse, they will drag you down the street.
  1. Always keep a hand on the zipper of your purse or if you are a guy with a wallet in your pocket, keep a hand on it. This will make it less likely for someone to go for it or at the very least you will feel it and can fight them off.
  1. Guys, never keep your wallet in your back pocket. This makes you an extremely easy target.
  1. Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. I have seen men, women, the elderly and children of all genders and races steal.  It’s actually an art, they are amazing and crafty at it.  I’ve seen various kinds of schemes and even been with people who have had watches stolen right off their wrists and not even known it.  Many pickpockets have different ploys where they seem weak and vulnerable and you think you are helping them until 3 minutes later you reach into your pocket and low and behold you are out $500.  BE WARY OF EVERYONE.  That’s hard for me to say but if you want your trip to go smoothly it’s a good motto to follow.
  1. While most pickpocketing happens and you don’t even know until the thief is long gone, there are occasions when you catch them in the act or it instantaneously turns violent. I have been in both situations and the absolute best thing you can do is cause a scene and fight back.  DO NOT just let it happen.  Immediately start screaming, hit, kick and scratch.  Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself and your belongings safe.  Often times if you cause a scene, bystanders will rush to your aid as well.
  1. If the person happens just to pull a grab and run. Chase that bastard down!! These ones are the cowards and will likely get scared and drop what they stole OR you will catch them and then well…I guess that’s Fight Club rule number 1 and 2…you don’t talk about it. I have literally jumped on a grown man from behind…not my proudest moment but I got my friend’s and 2 other peoples’ wallets back that he stole from a café sooo.
  1. Depending on the country you are in, when it comes to theft, the police won’t help you so don’t waste your time (Asia, Central and South America and Africa…this does not stand true for ALL of the countries in these places).
  1. While you can’t bring a gun to other countries, I always make sure to bring a knife. Try to bring something that you can use to protect yourself with if need be.

This article was not meant to deter you from traveling but to help ensure your safety while doing it.  I have been to over 20 different countries, mainly by myself and have managed to stay relatively safe.  I have never been pickpocketed or mugged because I have followed these rules.  I have been in the middle of many muggings and pickpocketing’s because the people I have been with have NOT followed these rules! Travel smart and you will be fine!

Please contact me with any questions and as always, stay fickle in flight!

I Dreamed of Africa

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          The summer before my final year in nursing school I decided I wanted to get a tasteof foreign medicine and use my skill set for a charitable cause.  I chose to spend 6 weeks in Tanzania, Africa volunteering in an ER or “casualty unit” as they call it.  I’ll get into those six weeks and my time spent there at a later date.  For now, I will tell you about my week BEFORE those six weeks which I spent on a camping safari through the Northern safari gateway which included the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.  I mean, you can’t go to Africa and not go on a safari.  I couldn’t let my inner child down and skip out on seeing Simba.    A5

I booked my safari through Good Earth Tours.  While they do offer luxury lodging, I opted for the camping Safari. 1. Because I thought it would be amazing to sleep under the stars in the Serengeti and 2. Because at the time I was 23 and it was way cheaper to rough it.

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Camping in the Serengeti

My Safari included all meals, camping equipment and came with a personal tour guide/driver and a cook.  The vehicle provided was a 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof which permitted you to stand up and look out at the animals and scenery for a better view.  If you don’t absolutely love camping I wouldn’t recommend a camping safari for you. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, Good Earth Tours did warn me that this type of safari was not for the faint of heart.  In an email they sent to me before I officially booked my trip they stated, “Camping safaris in Tanzania are adventurous and rudimental. No showers. Outdoor bathrooms. The camping safari experience is very intense as you are right in the middle of the jungle and not there for just the day.” Obviously, that email only heightened my excitement and I went ahead and booked it.

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Sunset in the Serengeti

I, along with two other people who happened to be going on this safari at the same time, were picked up by our driver, Benedict and our cook.  We then began the 3-hour trek to Ngorongoro Crater, our first stop.  On the way there, we made stops in rural villages for the cook to gather food for our trip.  During these stops we were swarmed by the villages’ inhabitants trying to get a look at the “mzungus.” Mzungu is a Bantu term for tourist which loosely translated means “one who wanders in circles.”  A4

During our trek, down one of the long, desolate dirt roads we were stopped by men with machine guns.  While still trying to gather my bearings in this foreign land, I was not prepared for this.  I don’t think the other two people were either as we all fell silent.  Our driver, Benedict, told us to keep quiet as he showed these men his license and paid them.  After being paid, the men stepped to the side of the road and let us pass.  To this day, I am unsure of who the men were or worked for, but something tells me they weren’t park rangers or police officers.

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Ngorongoro Crater

Once we arrived at Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we stopped on the rim of the crater to set up camp in one of the most aesthetically stunning places I have ever seen.  On the rim was lush grass and big baobab trees, one of which we camped under.  Stepping to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater you can look down and see the largest unbroken caldera in the world.  This is home to and one of the only places in the world you can find every member of the “big five” (rhinoceros, lion, cheetah, leopard and elephant) on a single game drive.  For the record we did, we saw every single one.

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Circle of life

We spent two days exploring Ngorongoro.  Along with the big five, we saw droves of wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebras and warthogs.  While I spent my days exploring and taking pictures, the nights were just as interesting.  Our first night camping at Ngorongoro Crater, I was woken up at about 2:00 in the morning by my tent mate quietly hissing my name and saying, “do you hear that?”  At which point I heard a loud crunching sound right outside of our tent.  I immediately panicked and we stayed extremely quiet, lying as still as stone, heads covered by sleeping bags staring at each other, eyes as big as saucers.  I half expected a T-rex to stick its head through the doorway of our tent.  For the next four hours, every possibility of what that could have been ran through my head and I ultimately decided that Benedict and the cook had been mauled by lions and that the crunching sound I so clearly heard was Simba chewing on their bones. Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink.A9

At first sunlight we ran out of our tent to find that everyone was still alive.  When we asked Benedict about the noise he reported that it was just an elephant passing through camp.  At that moment I learned two things. 1. that elephants do not know how to tip toe and 2. Africa came with a huge learning curve and I needed to be prepared to reevaluate everything I have ever known.

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This lioness snuck up behind us

As much as I loved Ngorongoro Crater, my three days spent in the Serengeti were my favorite.  For three days, I gained insight into a side of the Animal Kingdom I only ever dreamed of.  I watched lions stalk and kill, hippos splash around, crocodiles bask in the sun and giraffes lazily look for leaves.  I came entirely too close for my liking to baboons, lions, cheetahs and killer bees.  I was astonished at Benedict’s knowledge and his ability to spot a jaguar’s tail lolling from a tree branch 150 yards away.  I had some of the most amazing times and also the most frightening times out there but I loved every second of it. A8

The evenings in the Serengeti hold some of my most beloved memories.  While the lantern cast shadows of rats and packs of mongoose scurrying by, I spent those hours practicing my Swahili and swapping stories with Benedict.  The stars shone brilliantly out there in no man’s land.  When it was time for bed it was almost hard to fall asleep as the sounds of the jungle came to life and were nearly deafening.  If we kept the light on in the tent you could see the silhouette of the hyenas walk by and hear them cackle as if they knew something we didn’t.  Those were more of the frightening times, but what a rush. A18

Even with the dirt, scorching sun and moments of imminent danger, that safari will always be one of my most treasured adventures.  For a moment, I got to experience life without all the materialistic perks and just be an animal on the food chain, in our natural habitat. And that, well that was everything.

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As always, if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact me.  For more travel tips and stories subscribe to my site and follow my page on Facebook.  Happy travels to you all and don’t forget to stay fickle in flight.

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Pathway to a Passport

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I’ve heard it a million times,” I wish I could travel but I don’t have my passport.”  You’ve all used it as an excuse one time or another.  Hell, my Mom even said it when I surprised her with a trip to Italy.  You look at other peoples’ trips and hear about their experiences and say, “I wish I could go there.” Well, you can! All you need is a passport! Which brings me to today’s article…a step-by-step process on how to get your passport.  So, no more excuses people! Go on your adventure!

Step 1.  If you are applying for a passport for the first time you will need to fill out the DS-11 form found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/forms.html

Step 2.  Find your birth certificate, make a front and back photocopy of it on 8 ½ by 11-inch paper, as you will have to mail this in with your DS-11 form as identification and proof of citizenship. **Don’t forget to bring your original birth certificate with you to present to the designated acceptance agent**

Step 3.  Get your passport photo.  You will need one 2×2 inch photo of your face. These can be taken at any Walmart Photo Center for $10. No pictures with hats or glasses are accepted.  **You can primp and preen all you want, but let me just warn you right now, you will inevitably look like an UNSUB from the next Criminal Minds episode no matter what you do. It’s practically law that passport photos must be the most unflattering, and often horrifying, picture of you to ever exist…yes, even worse than your driver’s license**

Step 4.  Whip out that wallet.  The application fee for a passport book (which is what you want) is $110 and the execution fee is $25.  So be prepared to have $135 ready to hand over when you bring your application into the acceptance facility or passport agency. It routinely takes 6-8 weeks to get your passport.  If you need it faster than that, you can opt to expedite your passport.  Expediting costs an extra $60 and will take 2-3 weeks for you to receive it.

Step 5.  Submit that sucker! Once you have all of the above items mentioned you must find a passport acceptance facility to go to.  To find a facility near you go to this website, https://iafdb.travel.state.gov/,simply type in your zip code and voilà! Now that you have found an acceptance agency in your town, bring all of your items (DS-11 form, photo, birth certificate, copy of birth certificate and money) with you and turn them in to the agency.

There you have it. Five simple steps to finding adventure!  If you have any questions feel free to contact me! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and share with your friends! Good luck on your new adventure! Stay fickle in flight!

Phuket, Let’s Go To Thailand

    

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     A couple of months ago I was feeling a bit restless and felt like it was time for another trip so I hopped on Skyscanner, typed in “everywhere” and up popped some of the cheapest international flights available.  One of these flights happened to be Phuket, Thailand.  This was excellent news since I have been dying to go to Thailand for the last few years but flights had always been outrageous!  This flight was roundtrip from San Francisco to Phuket, under $500 and happened to fall over my spring break from grad school…so basically it was fate.  I shot a quick text to my boyfriend saying I found a cheap flight, which to him translates into “pack your bags, babe!” Within minutes I purchased the flights and just like that a new adventure was born. T4

     Within a couple of weeks we had 5 other friends sign on to go with us because who could pass up a red hot deal like that?!  It was awesome going to Thailand with a group of friends but for any of you solo travelers out there, Thailand would be just as safe going it alone as it is a well beaten path for backpackers.  As always, just be aware of your surroundings.

T2    If you’ve never been to Thailand I urge you to go! The most expensive part about your trip will be the plane ticket.  After that food, drinks, accommodation and tours are insanely cheap there!  While we dabbled in the more spendy side of things because we were with friends, you could easily spend 10 days in Thailand on less than $500.

T3 The seven of us rented out an amazing three bedroom, three bathroom high rise apartment with its own balcony pool overlooking Patong Bay for 6 nights for about $230 each.  Obviously, cheaper hotels and hostels are an option.  Hostels will run you anywhere from $6 to $80 depending on how fancy you want to get.  Remember, if you are feeling adventurous, Couchsurfing is always an option and it is FREE!

     As far as food goes you can eat great for next to nothing! Street food costs as little as 50 cents, but if you want more substantial food, plan on spending between $1 to $1.50.  If you stick with local street food you can plan to budget for about $5.00/day for meals. At the Western restaurants, you can expect to pay about $5 to $10 per dish although prices can be higher at the swankier eateries. WARNING: “Spicy” in Thailand is the equivalent of eating an atomic bomb full of ghost peppers in America.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

     If you’re looking for transportation, as with everything else in Thailand, it too is cheap.  Bus tickets can cost as little as 25 cents while taxi rides range from about $1 to $3. Tuk-tuks don’t have meters and tend to be more expensive costing anywhere from $3 to $7.  If you want to catch a thrill, motorbike taxis are also available for about $1.00 .  Keep in mind that for anything unmetered there is room to negotiate the price and bargain it down.  We mainly stayed in the Phuket area but coach busses are well priced if you are looking to travel around the country a bit more.  A ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai runs about $15 to $20 and from Phuket to Bangkok about $16 to $30.  Boats to and from the islands cost about $7 to $15.

   T  Tours can vary in price depending on what type of adventure you are looking for.   An all day tour of the Phi Phi Islands, hitting seven different destinations including snorkeling and a visit to the renowned Maya Bay and Monkey Beach, costs about $45.  If you want to go elephant trekking you can do this for about $35 in Phuket, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these elephants are abused.   Another option to get up close and personal with the elephants is to volunteer at the Elephant Conservation Center by Chiang Mai which costs about $80 per day.  You can also visit Big Buddha standing at 45 meters tall and sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills offering panoramic views of Phuket, Kata, Karon and Chalong.  Oh, and let’s not forget about the full body massages you can get for just $5/hour. T5

Overall I would suggest a daily budget of about $50.  This budget can of course be decreased or increased depending on the level of luxury you are looking for.  While Patong Beach is better suited for party goers the southern beaches of Kata and Karon produce a more peaceful atmosphere.  It doesn’t matter if you are traveling in a group, with your partner or solo, Thailand will not disappoint.  I never travel to the same place twice but between its jaw dropping beauty, gracious people and delicious food, I may just have to make an exception for Thailand.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.  Check in next week to learn how to apply for your passport! As always, stay fickle in flight!

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Apache Pine: Wooden Watches

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    So I’m usually not a big fan of watches.  They feel cumbersome and uncomfortable.  But I just got a new watch for my travels from Apache Pine and I have to tell you, I am completely in love!  It’s a wooden watch made of renewable bamboo. The strap is made from authentic leather giving a comfortable yet snug fit that doesn’t rub or chafe.  It’s also splash resistant and scratch resistant so I know that it will be able to endure any adventures I encounter.  My favorite part about this lightweight, eco-friendly watch is not only is it reliable but it’s fashionable as well.  The tiffany blue accents give it a bit of a wayward gypsy flare.  Whether I’m traveling, at work or at school one look at this watch and it’s unique wooden structure has me yearning for another adventure.

    To tell you the truth it was hard for me to pick just one watch.  Apache Pine offers a variety of exquisite wooden watches.  Thanks to nature, every watch is exclusively individualized due to the variations and grain of the wood.  From sandalwood to maple, these meticulously crafted wooden watches are one of a kind and a perfect accessory for every traveler at heart.

Costa Rica: An Adventurer’s Paradise

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A few years ago I took a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate my graduation from nursing school. It was one of the most unique places I have ever been.Whether you want to relax at a spa or zip line through the rainforest, Costa Rica can meet all of your vacation needs. This Central American country’s vibrant culture and Caribbean fusion cuisine will make you consider canceling your return flight home.  Costa Rica flaunts beautiful beaches, lavish rain forests, some of the world’s most exquisite hot springs and it’s cheap to boot!

If adventure is what you’re after head to the Pacific side to explore Monteverde’s Cloud Forest. Here you can zip line at 700 feet through the canopy of the rainforest, breezing past wildlife and waterfalls.  This activity is sure to get your heart racing.

b2 Hiking, horseback riding and coffee tours are also offered in this exotic, biodiverse ecosystem.

Perhaps relaxation is more your style, make your way to the Caribbean side and lounge on the beautiful beaches where the ocean meets the jungle.  Bask in the sun on the beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca where you can rent a beach front property starting at just $60 USD.

cr-beach-houseVenture into the vibrant, small town of Puerto Viejo to be immersed in the Costa Rican culture.  Here small shops, beach bars, dancing and traditional food and drink await you.

Looking for a mix of adventure and luxury? Never fear, just head up to the northern rainforests of Costa Rica. Find beauty with an exploratory hike through Tenorio Volcano National Park to see The Rio Celeste, a river boasting an unimaginable, sparkling turquoise color that will leave you awestruck. For relaxation and stunning views take a soak in The Tabacon Hot Springs.  These hot springs are centered in Tabacon’s lush botanical gardens and lie at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  A visit to Tabacon Hot Springs will ensure your vacation is nothing less than divine.

With the low cost, serene landscapes and a never-ending list of activities Costa Rica is one of the hottest places to visit in 2017.

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