Australian Adventures: Chapter 5 – Blue Mountains National Park, Introduction to Cairns

Greetings readers! Taking some time tonight to capture some thoughts on the next installment of our journey through Australia. This chapter will focus on the Blue Mountain National Park Range as our “last day” in Sydney (we come back to Sydney at the very end for a day trip before home), and then our journey onward to Cairns.

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Day 3 – Blue Mountains (Sydney)

For this day trip, we opted ahead of time to do a guided tour for this option. Located about 2 hours outside of the Sydney central downtown area, there were really only two ways to get to this destination – either by a guided tour, or by renting a car and making our way there. We were a little too nervous to drive a car in Australia for the main reason that you drive on the opposite of the road, so we felt a guided tour was best. Looking online, I can’t pinpoint the exact trip we chose on Viator, but there were several to choose from that pretty much did the same thing — full day trip of a scenic drive through the park, a few bush walks, and then a cruise back to Sydney.

The morning of the trip, we woke up a little after sunrise to wait for the tour bus to pick us up at the hotel. While waiting we learned a few other hotel guests were also on this trip for the day, and got the chance to have some light conversations with them. Once the bus arrived, we hopped on for about an hour drive to stretch our legs at an Australian Trading Post (it’s basically like a Walgreens), and then another hour to our destination. At the Trading Post we tried some unique junk food AKA chicken-flavored Lay’s Chips. Another fun oddity – in AUS, Lay’s Potato Chips are actually called Smith’s Chips. They had pretty much the same flavors as we have back home in the states, but there were a couple out-there flavors. Trying them out, you’ll probably be disappointed to hear that they didn’t really capture the chicken flavor – it really just ended up tasting like sour cream and onion (still tasty).

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Once we got to our destination, Mother Nature started playing some games with us by providing on and off downpour. As result, we actually never got to go out to our first destination because the storms created a lot of fog and our scenic view was pretty much…unseeable. Our tour guide was smart enough to call a few other drivers to see which areas had at least half visibility, and headed over to another scenic view that was deemed visible.

When we got there, it took a few minutes for the fog to roll through, but finally got a clear look of a side of the mountain and a reaaaaallly tall waterfall. An interesting fact – the Blue Mountain Range got its name for the sheer fact that when people look at the range, the mountains emit a blue hue. We tried looking for the “blue” in the mountain range but the fog made that really hard. I have to imagine on a clear sunny day it’d be much easier to see.

Waiting for a raincloud to pass, we then went for a bush walk. Prior to this trip, I thought a bush walk was something special…but I probably should have googled what a bush walk was (lol) because there is no difference between a bush walk vs. a normal walk. It’s just that when you walk in the Australia forrest scenery, it’s just automatically a bush walk (figures). We took a short (bush) walk to another scenic view, snapped some photos, and then the bus pulled up and took us to the next destination, which was lunch. We were taken to a close-by town for a bite to eat, where we got to try a kangaroo burger. This was the first time we’ve ever had kangaroo, and in reflection it was good, but it’s not beef. It tasted more like turkey in my opinion; the restaurant we went at did a pretty good job dressing it up though with veggies and sauces (beets pair really well with roo meat).

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Another fun fact – exiting lunch, our tour guide provided an insight that apparently Australia has a major camel overpopulation problem (wait for the connection here). A while back a bunch of camels were brought into the country, and like what all animals do, they reproduced resulting in a lot of camels living across the lands. Aussies, however, don’t want to just killing camels for sake of population control, so they have been creative in the last few years on how to control numbers and to utilize the animal as a resource:

  • The first one is of course for transportation (utilization)
  • The second one is for textiles (common utilization)
  • The third is actually for food (the tie! Camel burgers apparently are popping up as a meal option around the country. Our tour guide said it was good, but he needed a lot of BBQ sauce to finish the job)

And then finally (and the weirdest one), people have been getting really into camel-based fashion competitions. Apparently there are extremely popular beauty pageants held annually where individuals choose their prettiest camels and head them against other camels (the contest is held in Abu Dhabi and Aussies will bring over their competing camels). They focus on things like the hump size, how plump the lips are, etc. What’s even crazier is that our guide said apparently a couple years ago some camels were involved in a scandal for their owners injecting cartilage into their lips, disqualifying them from the pageant. Talk about cut-throat!

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Anyway…back to the day details 🙂

After lunch we made our way to the main attraction of the day, which was a scenic world package to see the blue mountains in a couple unique ways. The first way was a scenic skyway several thousand feet above one of the main valleys. At this point, fog had pretty much cleared and with having some intermittent rain we were lucky to get a good view of the area as we cleared the gap.

Hopping off, we then took a scenic railway into the actual valley. At the time I thought this was going to be an easy ride down, but was definitely mistaken the second they put on the Indiana Jones theme music. Hearing that classic line we immediately were rolling down like a roller coaster into a mine shaft. It was a heart pumping 5 minutes! I really should have paid more attention to what was going on, because inside the car, you had two choices of seating angles – relaxed, and cliffhanger. We did not put two and two together, and was closer to the cliffhanger seating…which pretty much meant i was holding up my arms against the next seat in front of me while trying not to drop my backpack. Mom – if you’re reading this, I’m fine and nothing was lost. I promise I’ll read the instructions more closely next time.

Once we got to the valley, we had a short scenic “bush” walk, and then a slow-moving cable car back up to the visitor center. Once off, we took a few minutes to gather everyone and headed back home. A nice treat to end the day, our guide got everyone Tim Tam biscuits to share. A couple things to note on this:

  1. Biscuits in AUS (and England, and anything British related) are cookies. For example, we noticed in a couple stores that Oreos were called “Oreo biscuits”. Tim Tams are the same – they are chocolate covered cookies with chocolate filling inside.
  2. Tim Tams are delicious and if you go to AUS you have to try them. Seriously.
  3. We learned (but never got to try) that if you bite one corner of a TT and then the opposite corner on the other side (so it makes a diagonal) it’s supposed to create an easy pathway to drink milk through the cookie like a straw. I’m very tempted to buy very overpriced Tim Tam’s on Amazon to try this out at home.

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Overall, I think we had a few things out of our control with the weather, so for what the day was, I think it was a pretty good trip. In retrospect, however, I personally felt (Ted will probably disagree with me) that we should have just bit the bullet and tried driving. This was just a kind of trip that I wanted to spend more time in certain places than the tour guide wanted us to. Being frequent hikers, I’m a big fan of walking and smelling the flowers (or in this case…bush wildlife), and this day trip was just not for that.

One thing I always do appreciate about guided tours though is that if you have the time (and people are friendly enough), you get a really unique opportunity to connect with individuals around the world. During this trip we got the time to get to know an older married couple from Chicago (not too far from home), and a young backpacker from Germany. The Chicago couple was taking 6 weeks to travel all around Australia, so it was cool to talk with them about what they had already done, and what they were planning to do after Sydney. The biggest insight I got from them is that they started their trip with the 3 day Indian Pacific train tour from Sydney to Perth, which is apparently a very iconic ride. We didn’t do a lot of research about it back when we were planning this trip because taking 3 days out was a lot for our already tight schedule. Hearing about their experiences, however, it’s on the top of our list when we return someday.

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The young backpacker (let’s call her Mia) was a definite pleasure to talk to. On the ride back to central Sydney, we had the opportunity to chat with Mia on the bus as we ended up sitting together. Getting to know her, she was taking a gap year between her primary school and university, which is apparently a very common tradition for german youth today (and maybe in the past too). She was currently in month 6 of her 7 months total we was planning on backpacking, and had spent all of her time traveling across all of Australia. To keep her going, she would stay at working youth hostels and of course share common dorms. She told a few stories of her experiences, from her times working in Tasmania, to even dealing with being stranded on one of the remote island for a few days during the monsoon season.

Something that was the most insightful from taking with Mia, however, was getting her perspective on the world today. I’m always interested (and a little scared) on hearing what outsiders perceive the environment/temperament of the United States. These questions always come up organically in conversation, as I asked her at one point in the conversation if she had ever considered backpacking in other countries that Australia, such as the US. Her response to that question was that there is a very clear fear of her and her friends and classmates of traveling to the US when there are so many violent gun shootings with little to no regulations. I don’t blame her for that reaction, as it’s extremely frustrating and at the same time deflating that we live in a country where there are so many mass shootings with no progression forward resolving the situation.

For example (citing source – http://time.com/4965022/deadliest-mass-shooting-us-history/) since 1982, there have been 91 documented “mass shootings” that have occurred in the US (and i’d like to note that this is a dated article from 2017, sadly this does not include documented shootings in 2018/19 such as the Tree of Life incident and the Jackson Landing Video Game Tournament Incident). And due to the volatility of our government and heavy involvement of the NRA, there just hasn’t been a major bi-partisan agreement that has moved forward on handling this issue. A couple small victories, which is always a good step in the right direction, was the banning of bump stocks after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and certain states raising minimum age of purchasing a gun (as well as large business chains removing specific guns from purchase in their stores), but my personal opinion (not fact), is it’s not enough to stop there.

The idea of banning ownership of any automatic rifles is a primarily strong direction I feel we need to take, though I’m not sure how realistic that choice will be given the balance of members on our Supreme Court. A positive direction towards this concept being theoretical is that with New Zealand’s prime minister effectively banning all AR’s after the tragic mosque shooting could create a case precedent to be taken into closer consideration by the court. Individuals may argue that it’s lawful to own these types of machinery for hunting, target practice, and other field based scenarios. However, the biggest argument I always hear is for sake of self-defense, which I feel may be either the barrier or tipping point for our country.

The most iconic case tied to this argument is the Heller case in 2008 that was deliberated and eventually voted to retain the belief that the Second Amendment aligns to the practice of possessing firearms to protect oneself in their home, specifically for self-defense. The ruling does not provide much criteria on types of guns, however, other than handguns being constitutional, so that’s where that grey area exists and if another landmark case comes in the upcoming year(s) it may either overturn or strengthen the precedent this ruling has created. (Other cites for reference — http://time.com/5556964/assault-weapons-ban-us-new-zealand/)

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Getting back on topic, it’s just overall sad to hear that our newest generation that is moving into adulthood holds this image/heuristic/whatever you want to call it of our country. This could hurt us in the long run from a tourism standpoint alone if individuals are too afraid to visit, which if you boil it down, is a $ impact and impacts our economy (to the simplest of simplifying things). And above all, I personally love our country and the natural beauty it has to offer. So my immediate knee-jerk reaction was to tell Mia about all the amazing National Parks we have across the country. Hopefully she will someday feel safe and comfortable enough to journey here and make it to Yosemite or Shenandoah to see it for herself.

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OK back to the fun travel stuff! I hate to get all political sometimes in these posts, but again a major benefit of traveling internationally is the essence and value of human connectivity and community. This is just something invaluable to the wonders of travel.

Getting back to our hotel, we grabbed a quick bite and packed for our early flight out to Cairns in the next morning. One last thing to note because I can’t remember if I stated this in the last article — the morning of the flight, I finally got another real coffee at the local coffeeshop. In our walk along the rocks the day before stopping for an afternoon coffee, I learned that drip coffee doesn’t really exist in AUS. There’s also like no Starbucks (It’s kind of eerie, but somewhat freeing). The closet thing they could give me was a long black, which is essentially an Americano. I also learned that it’s pretty common to not put a lot of caffeine in their coffees, so it was a lot weaker than what I was used to. This time around, I opted for a cappuccino with two espresso shots. It was the correct balance, and have been drinking cappuccinos for the rest of the vacation.

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I took this picture solely for the insta (and the fact that the lion face in the coffee is adorbs)

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Day 4 – Travel/Introduction to Cairns 

I’m going to make this section pretty short as I spent a lot of type on the day before. Just a couple interesting things on our travel day.

  1. We got to try that other unique chip flavor in the airport – Spag Bol (which is Spaghetti Bolognese for short). This really tasted like spaghetti
  2. We discovered the Spirit of Australia – JetStar. If you ever use them, make sure you read all their fine print. On the night before in our check in I had to finagle my baggage to avoid any overweight fees. It’s not as bad as Spirit…but it’s up there.

Driving into Cairns, it was a stark contrast from Sydney. Located in Queensland, it was an incredibly small city that prided itself on tourism. The city was majority hotels and summer home/apartment rentals, and many tour shops were open for your pick of reef, rainforest, wildlife, etc. tours. We came right at the end of the season so not everything was open, but the main attractions were, so we had a nice blend of quiet atmosphere with open attractions. As well, we got a great deal snag for a nice hotel on the esplanade and moved up to a bigger room and a King Size bed to spread out for a few days (Mantra Esplanade) We mostly spent our first day walking around and getting acquainted with the area, stopping at a couple local breweries for a long sit. My personal favorite was Hemmingway’s Brewery – we frequented it during our time in Cairns.

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During the dinner time, we opted for some local seafood cuisine as well, which was pretty fantastic. I tried for the first time, coral trout, which was a very tender white fish with a pop of citrus-y flavor due to its garnish accompaniment. The waiter said it was his favorite dish on the menu. Ted tried barramundi, which was another local white fish to try. His was much more seasoned, so it was a more peppery taste. Overall, both were fantastic and if you ever get to the region you need to try both.

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That’s it for tonight’s chapter. Hope you enjoyed this chapter, or interested you in starting any thoughts. I welcome any dialogue. I believe I stated this above, but again, the views in this blog are entirely my own. I referenced a few sources above for reference, but I am a sole individual that has formed her own opinion from her view of the world. You may agree or disagree with me, which is the beauty of opinion – it is individualistic. Cheers!

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Australian Adventures: Chapter 4 – Continued Sydney Journeys

Hi readers! This is the next chapter of our Australian adventures. This is a quick chapter, as I’ll be focusing on the the second day in Sydney.

Day #2 – Bondi Beach, The Rocks, Chinatown

Waking up from a really long sleep, we set out fairly early in the morning for our first destination of the day – Bondi Beach. To make things simple, we just grabbed an Uber from our hotel, as it wasn’t incredibly expensive. In Sydney there is public transportation called “Opal,” but we were a little hesitant to use it, as we didn’t completely understand the routes. As well, we didn’t want to spend a bunch of time towards commuting so Uber was the way to go!

We rolled into the beach for a quick breakfast (note – we totally played a tourist card and had breakfast at Hungry Jack’s, which is the Aussie Burger King. I don’t care; it was great, greasy food) and then started the coastal walk down the beach. The walk spanned a total of 6 miles (out and back) and provided us extremely picturesque portraits. It was, however, a very hot walk and was thankful for a quick sprinkle at the end towards our next destination – The Rocks. An interesting thing to note – Aussies are really into lawn ball, which is a mixture of bocce ball and bowling. During our time walking on the coastal walk, we passed by a couple lawn ball courts, where several individuals were indulging in a quick game.

The Rocks is a central shopping district that acts as a layover stop for major cruises. Nothing super unique to write home about, other than good food, pretty scenery on the other side of the harbor (opposite from the Sydney Opera House), and moderately affordable souvenir shops. We took some time walking around and grabbing lunch (Spicy Noodle – really tasty fast casual pad thai spot), and then starting a further walking tour of our own. After exiting the initial tourist area, we took a quick walk around the harbor to walk by all the major hotels on the pier as well as their centralized mall. It was nice to walk around and smell the sea air.

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Awesome pad thai!!

We continued walking, taking a quick coffee break at one of the pier docks due to a pop-up shower. Once the rain cleared we continued walking around the Oceanside through Barangaroo Park, and then eventually snaked our way to Chinatown.

Chinatown was a cool spot that centered on their main building, Paddy’s Market. Paddy’s Market was a really cool spot that spanned over four floors of shops, restaurants, and arcade games. The bottom floor acted as a no-frills flea market, which was really fun to walk through and pick out cheap gifts for friends and family members.

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Entrance to Paddy’s Market

At this point we were pretty tired, and made our way back to the hotel. We stopped for a quick bite at a close-by Irish pub, and then got some early sleep for our first tour of the trip. In total, we ended up walking 17 miles across the city that day – we were exhausted, but very satisfied with our own walking tour.

Till next time readers!

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Happy Husband 🙂 

Australian Adventures: Chapter 3 – To the other side of the world!

Greeting Readers! It’s taken a little while to write this post as I’ve been in and out of available Wi-Fi. Finally having a couple free hours before night, I am sitting down to write about the wonderful experiences that Ted and I have had over the last several days. As an easy way to organize, I’ll be breaking up this trip into several posts, mostly by city and/or specific excursions.

So first…let’s talk about the flight. I’m not going to lie; it was a jaunt of a ride, but it was doable. This is how our flights were broken out (as a reminder):

  • Flight #1 – Ohio to Toronto (1.5 hours)
  • Flight #2 – Toronto to Vancouver (4.5 hours)
  • Flight #3 – Vancouver to Sydney (14.5 hours)

With layovers, we totaled about 30 hours of travel. And as you know, in reality flights are never on time. This was the case with our experience as all our flights were delayed about an hour. We assumed that it must have been an Air Canada system issue because ALL of their flights were delayed for the day by 1 hour.

So what worked and what didn’t?

What Worked:

  • Downloading Netflix episodes on phone – We got lucky that the international flights offered free movies to watch; however, it’s really helpful to watch a show that you’re engrossed in. It makes the time go by quicker.
  • Coloring Book – This really helped in the last 2 hours of the 3rd flight to keep my sanity!
  • Eye Mask (Serious help to get some sleep on the plane)
  • Having Noise Cancelling Headphones – they are the best purchase I’ve ever made for myself. Hands Down.
  • Brining a refillable water bottle – Being able to have extra water with me at all times was very helpful. Being hydrated I feel is especially important to maintain a feeling of vitality
  • Standing in entirety of the layovers – We restricted ourselves from sitting during our layovers. I think this really saved us. The longest layover we had was about 2.5 hours and being on your feet walking/standing/stretching was really helpful.
  • Walking on the plane every hour (on the hour) – This really helped prevent long lasting back pain. Because I did this every hour, I didn’t start to feel sore until about hour 10 on the 3rd

What didn’t work:

  • Books – I must have picked the wrong books because it was really hard for me to concentrate on planes to read. This worked well for Ted though as he was deep in his nook for several hours
  • Expecting to get a lot of sleep on an overnight flight – No matter how much we planned, I only was able to get 3 hours of sleep across the flight time. Ted was able to get about 6 hours, but he had a good spot on having a window seat where he could lean across a wall. I had some issues getting comfortable, which played into the lack of sleep.

I think overall, the flight was more manageable that I expected. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s really a mental thing; if you can stay positive and break out the trip into manageable pieces, then it will go a lot easier. Hopefully the flight back will be just as successful.

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Sydney Love! Day #1 – Sydney Harbor and Checking out the City

We landed into Sydney about 11 AM of their time (which FYI was about 8 PM the previous day in Ohio). We were able to get a pretty quick exit out of customs and onto the road to make it to the hotel right around lunchtime. Our hotel (Cambridge Hotel) was a cute, mid-budget range offering in the Surry Hills section of Sydney. It sat right off of the very busy Oxford Street (comparable to High St in Columbus or OTR in Cincinnati), and was about a 2 mile walk to the Sydney Harbor. The hotel gave us a central air room with a full sized bed (we are luckily able to do this because we’re not necessarily big people), attached shower, and enough room for us to lay out our suitcases.

I personally felt this was a gem that we found, as we were able to snag a really clean, friendly hotel for about $100 a night and was in the heart of the city. We looked for hotels by the harbor but was met with pretty steep nightly prices; and on the flip side, we found extremely affordable hotels by the airport, but then you’d have to take a 20 min. taxi ride into the city (and taxi rides are expensive!).

After checking in, we headed straight to the harbor for the two things we wanted to hit on Day #1: Sydney Opera House, and the Royal Botanic Gardens. We passed through Hyde Park to get to the harbor, which was a beautiful city park that provided lush greens, exotic birds, and shiny statues for us to look at. At the end of the park we took a quick dip into the city to then be greeted by the harbor front.

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If any city has made a perfect first impression, Sydney takes the gold. It gave me a similar feeling to when I remember my first vivid experience walking through the New York Times Square. The area just overwhelms you, but it also excites you because you feel like a tiny spec into something larger than yourself. Sydney Harbor gave me the same feeling. The blue sky overlooked a sparkling set of water that was wrapped around this bustling hub of people and activities. The Sydney Opera House presented a compliment to the scenery with its unique architectural appearance. My hair whipped back and forth as a cool breeze met the warm day and every breath I took had a hint of the sea. All – I just fell in love.

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❤ ❤ ❤

We started exploring by attending a guided walking tour of the opera house. Although the price was a little steep for a walking tour, it was worth the money to get the opportunity to see the intricacies of the building partnered with history to attain a fuller picture.

We also got very lucky during our tour as we got to listen to one of the traveling organists practice while we were visiting the central room. Our guide was very excited that this happened, as apparently the organ is barely played. A really unique instrument, their organ contained over 10,000 pipes, which took them about 7 years to build. There are only a couple other organs in the world that are close to resemblance of this build, so as result barely anyone can play it! Our guide stated that only about 50 musicians across the world are able to adequately play their organ, so the fact we were able to see one in action was quite a lucky strike.

The tour lasted about an hour, which meant lunchtime for us. We walked over to a close-by restaurant for a quick steak sandwich before heading to the gardens (the restaurant name is escaping me and I forgot to write it down). It was a quick bite where we were able to get a hot meal overlooking the harbor while other couples sat around us engrossed in their meals and seagulls fought over scraps of food in front of us.

Something to note – a lot of restaurants that we came to learn quickly was that there weren’t really any servers. More often than not you go up to a counter and order your full meal, pay up front, and then one of their staffs will deliver the food to you. We also learned that price of food was typically inflated, but for good reason. In their culture they don’t tax their food, and tipping isn’t a thing. So in my mind, even though the price tag was higher, it really was about the same back home. I actually quite liked this because I knew how much we were going to pay at looking at the menu, rather than having to add in my head how much a total would be with a tax % and a 20% tip.

After lunch, we walked over to the Royal Botanical Gardens for a nice walk. The gardens were one of the major free activities in the city, and presented a lot of opportunities for some pretty photos. We ended up walking for a couple of hours before I started to feel really tired from jet lag. We made our way back to the hotel for a hopeful nap, then dinner; however, after taking a nap I was pretty zonked for the rest of the night. We went out for a walk to the grocery store and to see if Ted could get some extra shirts (because he forgot to pack some extra shirts during our hurry of packing), but ended up coming back to the hotel without dinner to sleep at 9 PM. We ended up getting 12 hours of sleep with no interruptions that night and woke up feeling like new people the next morning.

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Me taking a picture…of him taking a picture…

 

That’s the end of tonight’s post. Hope to write the next entry tomorrow – until then readers!

Australian Adventures: Chapter 2 – Packing and Preparing to Fly

Greetings readers! Writing to you the standard, obvious, “yes I am writing that” sort of blog post on packing. I thought I would take a moment to share how this weekend has gone for packing for the weekend, and what things we’re trying to combat the long flight commute.

The 411:

  • Traveling from Columbus to Sydney
  • 2 Layovers (2-4 hours in each layover)
  • Flight to Sydney is an overnight trip
  • Total Travel Time – 28 hours
  • AKA….Yeeeeesh!

When I’ve been talking to a lot of friends about this trip, I always get the same response, which is “Wow going to Australia is once in a lifetime! I don’t think I could make that flight though.” Well friends…my goal is to change your thinking 🙂

But first – packing packing packing!

 

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IT BEGINS.

For those who know me, I’m a total Type A personality; therefore, what better way than to start with a list? Ted and I started on Friday on looking at our itinerary, and analyzing what we would need on this trip. Since we’re going to highly populated cities, I felt already a bit of comfort knowing that if I forgot something, there would have to be a store somewhere where I could easily grab something. This wasn’t like Alaska (a blog post for another time) where if I forgot something I’d be SOL.

Making this list, I started from the bottom up. I tackled these penultimate questions:

  1. What shoes should I bring? What sort of activities will we be doing?
    1. This is probably the only vacation where I have packed a lot of shoes. We are going to ranging from beach activities, to indoor tours, to rainforest hikes. As result, I’m packing 5 pairs of shoes including hiking boots.
  2. What types of outfits should I pack? Will I need to change during the day/night?
    1. This where you have the most risk of forgetting something. I ended up with a heavy mix of outfits where I can switch bottoms to dress up/down. We have made a formal decision that we will not go to any extremely fancy places, so the dressiest outfits are what will fit with my walking sandals.
  3. What’s the weather like? What type of eye/head protection do I need?
    1. Since this will be the end of Australia’s summer, we’re expecting a consistent 75 degree and sunny weather. That means sunglasses, hats, and bandanas!
  4. What accessories are needed as I travel day by day
    1. We learned this the hard way on our honeymoon that forgetting to pack accessories can really impact a vacation. Always pack a stringed backpack for your day trips. Other great options include a mini-umbrella, a stringed purse, a light coat, and a rain jacket/poncho.

Once we got out of the way of those questions, then we tackled toiletries and medicines. This pretty much resulted in us ransacking the target travel toiletry aisle, but are packing a couple other things as precautions:

  1. Ear plugs
    1. I never pack ear plugs, but I think this is going to be helpful for us in the long run, as we’re going to be on many plane rides this trip.
    2. Ted opted for just standard pharmacy CVS ones; I ordered a higher-line option as before this trip I was looking for a good plug option while performing live (as I play violin with bands outside of work). These plugs are called Vibes Hi-Fi and I can already tell that they’re going to be at least helpful while performing at shows. Not sure about flights yet, but we’ll see.
  2. Sleeping pills
    1. Because the longest flight time is our last layover to Sydney and it’s an overnight, we are packing an option for some sleeping pills. Talking with the pharmacist at our local store, she recommended to take a Benadryl as a best option. I’m not sure if this will work well, but worth a try!
  3. Nausea Medication
    1. This is a must for me as I get pretty seasick on small boats. One of our days we’ll be on a small boat for snooba (scuba-snorkeling). You best believe I bought 2 packs of Dramamine just in case.
  4. Allergy Medication
    1. My allergies are in full swing this time of year so packing essentials in case it carries over in the first couple of days. This includes the standards like sudafed and Afrin.
  5. Compression Socks
    1. This is a must for long plane rides, especially if you’re at risk of getting blod clots. Ted is at a low risk, but since I take daily birth control I do have an elevated risk. In talking with my OBGYN she highly recommended compression socks, but as well to drink a glass of water and get up and walk for 5 minutes every 2 hours. This helps bring the risk way down.
  6. Eye Mask
    1. I’ve never had an eye mask before but this was the item I was really missing in our long flight to Spain for our honeymoon (another blog post for the future!). My brother recommended to get this particular brand called Alaska Bear Eyemasks. They are incredibly soft, and already know they were a good investment!
  7. Neck Pillow
    1. Duh. Nuff Said.
  8. Foot Rest
    1. This is something new we’re trying for this trip. Ted and I got them as christmas presents from his family. How it’s used is you attach the foot “hammock” to the back of the chair in front of you and allows you to kick up your feet. No idea if this will work or be a total bust. Risking very little space, however, in our carryon so worth trying it.
  9. Refillable Water Bottle
    1. I would say this is a “duh” thing, but I actually didn’t start packing a refillable water bottle for trips until as of late. This really isn’t for Australia but for long layovers and flights. Water bottles are expensive and I feel bad ringing the flight attendant every hour for a complimentary water can. This is a way to fix that. I even got a cool water bottle with a BRITA filter in it, in case the water fountains at any of the airports don’t have a filter already installed.
  10. WIFI Hotspot
    1. This is a must for international travel, and it’s surprisingly affordable to rent a hotspot from the country you’re going to. You pay a flat or daily rate and you get a very small box that pumps out high speed internet while you’re vacationing. This has been helpful for us in the past as it gives a way to stay in touch with our parents to let them know we’ve arrived safe, and as well use Google Maps, look up information real-time, etc.
  11. Adapter converter and backup batteries
    1. Another duh.

Finally…entertainment. This will be how I’ll get past the long flights, and hopefully instill confidence that you can too:

  1. Neftlix Netflix Netflix
    1. I love that we live in the age of technology and will shamelessly use this to my advantage. I downloaded a couple full seasons on my phone through Netflix to watch online.
  2. Bose Headphones
    1. These headphones were a christmas gift to myself and i’m so glad I bought them because they’re AWESOME. They’re noise cancelling, blue-tooth headphones and I can probably have these on the entire 28 hours and its battery life wouldn’t run out. When getting them, I tried seeing how long it would last since purchase; since December, I’ve only had to charge them twice (once in February, and then today for the trip). Best. Purchase Ever.
  3. Spotify on Phone
    1. Again, love technology. Use the donwnload buttons on Spotify to download your favorite albums and podcasts. I downloaded all of John Mayer and Coldplay albums (yes I’m that basic), but also grabbed some new recommended playlists and my favorite NPR podcast, Planet Money.
  4. Movies on Ted’s Laptop
    1. Ted and I downloaded the entire LOTR trilogy for us to watch over the flights. If you’re traveling with a buddy make sure to get a headphone splitter to share.
  5. Books
    1. A timeless classic – Ted and I have downloaded a bunch of books on our respective Kindle/Nook. I like to pick a series that is fully out so I can immerse in its universe while vacation. This time I’ll be reading the Crazy Rich Asians book series.
  6. Adult Coloring Book
    1. You laugh, but I’ve heard that having something like coloring is actually a great way to practice mindfulness on flights. It gives an opportunity to shut your brain off and focus on something very simplistic. I’ll be using this in pinches where I’m feeling really restless.
  7. Foldable Yoga Mat
    1. This is not for the actual flights (I promise) but actually for the layovers. While I may look kind of stupid in the moment, I think it’s really important to stretch out between flights. Be sure to find me in the wings of Vancouver doing my sun salutations.

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      (Stock photo – i’m not that flexible yet)

Once this list was written out, then we got to packing. We ended up with 1 checked bag each (ranging 35-45 lbs), 1 carry-on duffel bag, and 2 backpacks for under-the-seats. A couple insights:

  1. Use those Ziploc packing bags – they do wonders with packing and help with organization
  2. Pack to only half of your carry-on. We’re doing this to bring back souvenirs
  3. Check weight and size requirements of alllll your planes. One time we didn’t do that and didn’t realize that the airline had a 40 pound checked bag requirement. Hidden Fees suck right?
  4. Wear your light coat/jacket on you, and your heavier/bigger shoes — it’s kind of common sense, but still worth saying. It’s like free luggage!

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Coming to a close on this chapter, we are geared up and ready to go now for this trip! Looking forward to sharing our experiences with you all as we go through this adventure. Until next time readers!

Ohio Love – OTR and Yellow Springs

Greetings readers! Took last week off due to a busy weekend and no time to travel or even think about traveling. Back in the saddle, I want to spend some time on describing some fun events that happened this weekend on a couple road trips with two of my close girlfriends. When you think of road trips, you probably think of something outside of your state, but I have to say both trips were extremely fun, and continued to surprise me on how many cool things there are in Ohio to check out. Ohio Love baby!!

Friday – Over the Rhine (OTR) – Cincinnati, Ohio

This weekend started out with a quick drive down to Cincinnati with my girlfriend Chloe, to see a favorite musician of ours – Iron and Wine. I&W (real name – Sam Bean) was doing a limited tour across the US celebrating the 15th anniversary of his first album, “Our Endless Numbered Days,” which brought him to the Taft Theatre down by the river. We planned the evening to be around this show, by leaving work and driving there immediately, catching a quick bite, seeing the show, and then heading back up.

Cincinnati always impresses me when you first come in through the highway. In contrast to Columbus, Cincinnati is surprisingly very hilly; as you drive into the city on I-71, you come over a hill and the buildings that shine through the setting sun.

We made our way to Over The Rhine (OTR) complex, which I would say is just like our Short North….but better. This place reminded me of how the Short North was like in 2012; busy enough with shops and amenities for everyone, but unique where you didn’t feel like you were going to a strip. OTR gleamed this cool, hipster vibe that basically stated “Hey yeah we know we’re Cincinnati, but we’re much more Nashville when you get to know us.” Oh and the parking was wonderful because there was tons of free street parking and flat rate garages, which is so not SN now. C’mon Short North you used to be cool.

For dinner we checked out this local spot called Quan Hapa. This was a cool joint that offered Japanese and other asian-inspired foods. We got lucky being right at the end of happy hour and scored $2 beers (tiger lager ftw), split a Japanese pancake (ah-mazing), and ordered some fantastic ramen and pork bowl entrees. Chloe pointed out that a lot of restaurants that start in OTR seem to come up to Columbus eventually, so am hoping that Quan Hapa makes its way up to our town. QH – please come to columbus – take my money!

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Chloe, modeling with beer 🙂

After food we headed over to the Taft Theatre to make the I&W performance. This show was amazing. Below is a recorded video that someone actually recorded from the show (not myself…we had nosebleeds up in the upper balcony – but promise me it was just as beautiful up there). The first half of the show presented him with the Cincinnati symphony orchestra, and a row of female harmony singers. The second half was the setup with the orchestra removed, but beautiful nonetheless. The only thing that surprised me was how people were so pumped for this show. I’ve never seen so many cheers in this type of theatre setup; folks were really excited to listen to some really sad songs 🙂

 

Once the show was over, we headed back to our car for columbus. With total time, we arrived back in Columbus a little after midnight. This trip was insanely cheap, and totally doable, and I highly recommend anyone that needs a little adventure to mosey down to this pretty little city.

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Girls Trip! (Part 1)

Saturday – Yellow Springs, Ohio

After adjusting to late arrival from the previous trip, I headed out with my girlfriend Megan for a day trip to Yellow Springs. We could not have asked for a better day for this trip. Typically march is a crapshoot for weather, but we really lucked out and had a sunny, 60 degree Saturday, which let us leave the coats in the car and embrace the sun for what it was – BEAUTIFUL.

We arrived in the town a little after noon, and started walking around checking out the local spots. I bought a beautiful kimono jacket a stored called Kismet, as well as a couple fancy headbands from there and the Import House. What I loved about these stores was the relaxing vibes they gave off, and as well the unique items they had to offer. Especially Kismet, in talking with the employee, she stated that they bought the majority of their garmets through designers from California, Europe, and Turkey. There were some pieces that really stood out to me, and just gave this boho chiq vibe that I was really digging.

For food, we grabbed lunch at Wind’s Cafe, where I ended up getting this awesome cheeseboard while Megan ordered the wonderful kung pao fish. Afterwards I grabbed some coffee at the Spirited Goat Coffee House, and on our way back home we stopped at Young’s Dairy Farms, where I probably found the best homemade ice cream. ever. I have made a decision in my head that I will drive 40 minutes for this ice cream again, sometime in the summer.

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5/5 will come back for more

Making it back to columbus, I am really feeling the local Ohio love. I’m always amazed as to what this state has to offer, and what I’m going to discover every single time I head out to a new destination. And, needless to say, I’ll so be back for these places again this summer with Ted (cause I know he would love both these areas). Till next time readers!

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Girls Trip! (Part 2)

Have you been to OTR or Yellow Springs? Would love to hear your favorite spots! Comment below to share your fun memories.

 

Virginia is for (food and drink) lovers

Greetings readers! This week’s blog post focuses on Ted and I’s quick trip to the Virginia/DC area. It was a quick stop to visit my brother and sis-in-law and to celebrate his birthday. Although there are a lot of historical and educational sites to check out, this weekend ultimately became a restaurant and bar crawl, which was pretty cool to taste some local brews and cuisine. As result, this post will feel like a Yelp review 😛

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FRIDAY

We flew in Friday evening and kicked the weekend off with a trip to The Block in Annandale, VA. This place was an asian-inspired food hall that had three standing fast casual options, two sweet shops, and a small bar, accompanied by picnic-bench seating. Ted and I had the chance to taste things from two of the food places and one of the sweet shops, which gave us a great variety of items to try:

Foodie Stop #1 – Pokeworks

  • What we tried — a poke bowl, which is essentially like a deconstructed sushi in a bowl. We got a mixture of salmon and shrimp accompanied with some seaweed salad, cucumbers, jalapeños, mango, crispy wontons, and a chili-glaze sauce.
  • Thoughts — After trying this (first time for us) I am HOOKED on poke, and plan to check out some local poke shops in Columbus for sure.

Foodie Stop #2 – Balo Kitchen

  • What we tried — Fried chicken cutlet with rice and curry
  • Thoughts – The serving size was HUGE and could have easily stopped eating after this. I wish the curry had more vegetables, but overall was very tasty.

Foodie Stop #3 – Munch

  • What we tried – ICE CREAM DONUT SANDWICHES
  • Thoughts – They are as tasty and unhealthy as the naming provides; definitely a “once in a while” sort of treat. What I liked most about this was the ice cream, as the flavors were slightly unconventional. I ended up getting white chocolate cake while Ted ordered matcha Oreo. The concept is very cool, but after about 5 minutes it becomes very deconstructed and ends up just being ice cream with donut in it (still very delicious).

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SATURDAY

We started this day by walking around the mall complex by their condo, which was a really cool outdoor mall complex. This place had it all — walkable grocery stores, local restaurants, yoga studios, wine and cheese bars, you name it. What I really loved about this place was the incorporation of local art on sides of the buildings. It made the complex have a chic, aesthetic look.

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It’s a giraffe!

On the way back to their condo to change and head out to DC for the day, we made our first local stop at a cool place of the day:

Bar Stop #1Caboose

  • What we tried – I had a Vienna (VA) Lager; Ted had a Citra Session IPA. These were locally brewed beers in their shop.
  • Thoughts – They provided a really light crisp taste and really affordable, especially for Virginia. The ambience of Caboose was also just, really cool. Reminded me a lot of the environment BrewDog provides; it’s just that kind of place where you go in and just want to spend hours to sip and chat.
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Note – reppin’ our Hot Chicken Takeover love (yes we matched; no it was not planned)

Afterwards, we took the metro into the city and headed our way to the District wharf for some good ol’ fashioned bar crawling. On the pier they were having a St. Patrick’s Day celebration with live music and a whole lot of Guinness. We didn’t stick around too long just because of the wind/cold, but it was nice to see people out and about, especially with their dogs!

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DOGS

Over the next couple hours we checked out a place along the wharf:

Bar Stop #2Tiki TNT

  • What we tried – Some mixed cocktails with some snack foods (coconut shrimp, tater tots, chips and guac)
  • Thoughts – This place was PACKED – for a small place they were able to cram a lot of people into the location. What surprised me though was the level of service was really strong considering how packed it was; we only had to wait about 5 minutes until a waiter came up to us and were able to get drinks and food in a pretty timely manner.
    • The aesthetics of the place was probably one of my favorites too; it was enough Tiki where it gave the bar a lot of fun color, but without going over the top. I would definitely check out this place again the next time we visit.

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After spending some time at the wharf we grabbed a lyft downtown to another district where we finished our night with some last drinks and a late dinner:

Bar Stop #3 District Distilling Co

  • What we tried – Ted had a whisky flight (3 house-made, dark whiskeys). I had a Pilsner made by Denizens , locally brewed in Silver Springs, MD.
  • Thoughts – This was not the place for me, and that’s mostly because i’m not a huge whiskey fan (sorry!). The menu offered mainly whiskey based drinks and other mixed cocktails, so if you don’t like that type of stuff it was fairly limited. As well, just in the point of the night I wasn’t really feeling to get much drunk-er, so a cocktail was off the table at this point.
    • The environment was also much quieter than the other places we had checked out earlier. The benefit to that was we were able to get a table pretty quickly and it wasn’t very loud; however, it wasn’t hopping either. I think a main reason for the “down-ness” was that their second floor was closed for renovations and their first floor (as told by the sibs) is mostly open for tastings. We will have to come back and try this place again when their actual bar floor is open.

(Our Favorite Pick) Foodie Stop #4Busboys and Poets

  • What we tried — I got a fried chicken meal with mashed potatoes and asparagus, with a light cream sauce. Ted got a spicy chicken and chorizo pasta
  • Thoughts – I LOVED this place and want it to come to Columbus.
    • Walking into B&P, the place is presented as a mixed use area, with the waiting area as an actual bookstore, and then the seating for the restaurant.  I really like the concept of having a bookstore in your waiting space as it gives you something to do to pass the time, while checking out new and recommended books by the staff. The business, being socially conscientious, set up sections of recommended reading materials on gender and racial equality for people to peruse. I picked up some new titles that I haven’t seen before and definitely will be searching for them to check out at the library soon.
    • From a food perspective, their menu was mainly “classic” dinner entrees, but they were well spiced and had some really great flavors. The service was friendly, and the ambience was very relaxing. There’s only good things I can say about this place from my experience. Please come to Columbus!

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Summary

Overall, it was a fun weekend getaway. I believe I have gained a couple pounds from this trip but it was so worth it. This week will be focusing on definitely hitting the gym – till next time readers!

Have you ever been to any of these places? Do you agree or disagree with our experiences? Let me know in the comments!

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Memory Box: Great Smoky Mountains & Mammoth Cave

Hello readers! This week’s post is a walk down nostalgia lane for me. Prior to the start of this blog, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of our beautiful world and would love to highlight some of my favorites! Today’s “memory box” entry comes from one of my first road trips with my husband (then-boyfriend) to two of our wonderful National Parks: The Great Smoky Mountains (TN) and Mammoth Cave (KY).

Circa 2014, we just graduated from college and were a few months into our first jobs. A goal of Ted’s (which quickly became mine as well) was to visit all of the National Parks in the United States. Growing up through the boy scouts and camping, he was a avid fan of being outdoors. I was…quite the opposite. I loved being indoors, preferably with air conditioning….but I also like trying new things so at the time I was thinking “what the hey why not go camping?” (fast forward I’m really glad I did!)

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Our first road trip together!

Considering we didn’t have much funds, we opted for finding a National Park we could drive to instead of fly, and reasonable enough accommodations at a camp site. We didn’t really want our first NPS experience though to be Cuyahoga (that’s for another post), as we wanted to get out of Ohio for a weekend; therefore, our main two options were the Smokies or Shenandoah in Virginia. We opted for the Smokies because Mammoth was sort of on its way, and the idea of hitting two parks seemed like a fun challenge at the time.

Stop #1 – Onward Smokies!

We reserved our campsite for the Smokies many months in advance (as we were going over memorial weekend), and settled on Elkmont Campground. Elkmont was recommended as a great campsite due to its centralized location in the park, and that it was fairly big so you’d be around enough people in case a black bear shows up.

May finally rolls around and we are on our way! A “quick” six hour road trip from our house with scenic country sides and passing a ton of “SHONEY’S” billboards, we made it to the Smokies in the blazing heat of the afternoon. I remember the campground being as nice as described on the internet, and our site was right by a creek. It served us a nice water white noise for the couple nights we were there.

After dropping our stuff off, our first day consisted of checking out the area by car, and then a short hike to Abrams Falls. The scenic car route was beautiful and gave us a few awesome mountain shots.

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Adventure is out there! You just have to go find it 🙂 

Abrams Falls was a sweet little hike, but it was no walk in the park. As an in-out trail, you hike in and then hike the same trail out. The half-way point ends at a waterfall (aka Abrams), and to get there is a somewhat downward decline. The total mileage is approximately 5 miles, so you go 2.5 miles downward, and then you hike the remainder back up (about a 700 ft elevation).

At this time, I would consider myself in pretty bad shape during this trip; I gained the “freshman 15” in my senior year of college and was still hadn’t shaken it off from the past few months thanks to a sedentary desk job and not really knowing how to cook good food at home (which resulted in probably a little too much takeout). I remember how surprised I was that this wore me out, and gave me a heads up that the next day might not be a peaceful walk like I was originally thinking. Needless to say, after getting home from this vacation I started putting together a more regimented workout schedule!

The second day was a full day hike on Mount LeConte. This hike made Abrams Falls look like an elevator ride, with a total mileage of 11 miles roundtrip (up and down), and total elevation gain of approx. 27000 ft. We really wanted to do this hike though because at the summit of the mountain resided a campsite with an awesome lookout point AND a cafeteria (so we could get some food or coffee if we wanted at halfway) AND restrooms. (At this time I still wasn’t super comfortable with using nature as my toilet).

Reading more about the lodge, what was very interesting was that a person would have to hike up the mountain to get to the site; there was no other way other than hiking. As well, if you were interested in booking a campsite there, you would have to submit a reservation request about a year in advance. The LeConte Lodge is considered a very popular attraction at the Smokies, and once we got there we could tell why. They even had t-shirts and other paraphernalia you could buy at the top (we have our shirts tucked away somewhere in our PJ drawers)!

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Picture of the lodge’s dining room with date/elevation height

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View from the summit with a couple of the campsites

Overall, the hike did take us the whole day to get through. I remember starting at dawn and ending right at dinner time. It took us a total of 11/12 hours, mostly as we had to take a few breaks on the last 500 ft to the summit, and then a very long break at the summit. There were portions of the trail that were not very secure as well, so we had to take our time crossing a log or a long and winding staircase. It was so worth it though; the view from the top was astounding. I hope to go back someday with my future kids, and hopefully will be in MUCH better shape at that point.

When we got back to our car, the last memory from the Smokies was a short black bear sighting by our campsite. Many cars had pulled over to witness a mother bear and her cubs walking around. We didn’t get a very good picture, but it was fun to see a bear in the wild for the first time ever.

Final Note — On the way down from LeConte, I stubbed my toe over a tree root in the ground and ended up with a bruised toenail for a few months. This was a rough lesson to learn because it could have been prevented if I had worn thicker socks (aka hiking socks). I had a cheap hiking shoe that was a little too big for my feet, so when hitting the root, my foot shifted forward and hit the hard cap of my boot. That could have been prevented if I didn’t have that space.

So for you first time and newbie hikers, make sure you get the proper footwear, which includes SHOES AND SOCKS. Having a bruised toenail doesn’t prevent you from working out, but your feet end up not looking so pretty during pool season 😦 . After this trip, I went to REI for some more education and they were really helpful in getting me the right socks. 

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Stop #2 – O Great Mammoth

The trip to Mammoth Cave was a lot shorter than our time at the Smokies. We only did this as a day trip because of bad planning and the desire to spend more time at the smokies. We opted to go for a hotel with a working shower instead of a campsite at the park because after a couple days we really needed a hot shower 🙂 .

When we got to Mammoth, the only walk we could do was the main non-guided route into the central part of the cave. I remember how cold it was in difference to the outside. Walking down a couple flights of stairs the humidity dropped immediately. It was a cool spot to check out for a couple hours. There are plenty of things to do at Mammoth, but a lot of it involves spelunking and excursions with hard-hats. We may go back in the future, but it’s not at the top of our list.

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It’s a little hard to photograph a cave…

We ended our trip with a night in Louisville at a minor league baseball game and a walk around the heart of the city (Go Bats!) It was a fun way to end the trip and the overall weekend and resides as a great vacation memory ❤

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In Summary:

  1. The smokies was an amazing national park and is still in my top 5 today. We need to go back someday because we probably saw about 5% of the park and there is so much more to do there.
  2. The road trip was extremely affordable. Here was our cost breakdown (approximate):
    1. Gas/Transportation: $150 (this is a guess from the mileage from our house. I can’t remember everything from 5 years ago)
    2. Camping: $50 (for 2 nights)
    3. Food: $100 (We packed for most of the trip and ate out twice. We pretty much ate trail mix for lunch, and spaghetti-o’s for dinner)
    4. Hotel: $100 (1 night at a cheap hotel in Louisville)
    5. Other/Entertainment: $100 (t-shirts at LeConte, patches at the visitor centers, cheap bench seats at a Louisville Minor League Bats Game)
    6. TOTAL: $500 for a 4 day road trip (for 2 people)
  3. This trip convinced me that being outside can be better than being inside, and fostered my beginning love for the NPS ❤

Till next time readers!

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Have you been to either of these parks? I’d love to hear about it! Tell me about your favorite memories in the comments below. 

Australian Adventures: Chapter 1 – Itinerary Planning to the Max!

Greetings! This Sunday’s weather isn’t cooperative with us to go for a road trip (high winds warning of up to 60 mph winds – yeesh!), so Ted and I are staying in for the day. I thought this would be a great start to introduce one of our larger trips that we will be doing this spring:

*Drumroll*

This spring we will be going to Australia and New Zealand (ah!!!!!!), which is actually probably one of the biggest vacations I’ve ever been on in my life. As I write about this, I’ll be breaking this trip into many chapters, as I feel there will be a lot to talk about.

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What I’m focusing on this week is to provide our planning process and high level itinerary as to where we’re going and what we’ll be doing. I know a few friends of mine are traveling to the great down under a little later in the year as well, so friends (if you’re reading), here are some ideas for you to consider as well if you’re still figuring out what to do while there.

Disclaimer — our planning and decision styles are of our own as I’m speaking from personal experience. What we do may not fit for you and that’s totally cool!

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The Starting 411:

How many days? 15 days. That is the most we’ve ever been out of work, and was only able to take that much time off this year as we both got an extra week of vacation from our companies (thank you service awards!). A lot of people that I’ve talked to say 2 weeks isn’t really even enough, but after doing our research it was the most we felt comfortable taking off and still get a good experience of the area.

Where are we going? Sydney, Cairns, and Auckland (New Zealand). We are not sure if we’ll ever come back so checking out New Zealand was a must on our list.

How did we budget for this trip, and why Australia? Last year when we started planning, we didn’t have Australia initially in mind. We knew we wanted to take an international trip and had several options we were considering in addition to Australia/NZ including Japan, Italy/Greece, and Ireland/England. Our priorities in mind were that we wanted to take a trip that would be perfect for where we were in our lives – individuals in their late 20s with still a considerable amount of energy, and no kids yet.

We started actually by using a handy app in our phones called “Hopper” to help us make a decision. Hopper is a really cool piece of software that lets you watch trips based off of desired destinations and the timeframe you’d want to go. The tool will then watch when there are price drops for those destinations for the initially picked timeframe, as well as flexible dates around the time and nearby airports that could offer a price cut (so for example, instead of flying out of Columbus the hopper app could recommend you to fly out of Cincinnati).

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Seriously, this app is super awesome and it’s free to download.

Note – The one disclaimer I will say with this app is make sure you read the fine print when looking to purchase the actual tickets. This tool works awesome as a data aggregator/analyzer, but when you buy the tickets I would recommend to actually purchase on the airline’s website. We were about to buy through the app and then saw at the bottom fine print that purchasing tickets through hopper made them non-refundable, which is a big NO for us. If you’re going on a huge trip like this you need to make sure there’s some wiggle room (and travel insurance/protection) because you never know what may happen!

We segmented Australia and Japan as favorited destinations in April/May and the European countries in early fall (September/October) and watched for the right price alerts to appear. And sure enough, after a few weeks we had two price alerts for Japan and Australia at about the same airfare price.

At that point, we started contemplating our options – which one was the best for us? This was really a gut feel, and at the end of it we were split with Ted on Australia and myself on Japan. The tiebreaker was essentially the argument for the Great Barrier Reef – due to rising ocean temperatures, half of the reef’s coral has been unfortunately destroyed, and as we age in our lifetime it will most likely continue to get worse. We felt if we had the opportunity to see the natural environment’s beauty before even more of the coral died, we would be very lucky.

Therefore *ding ding* Australia was the winner. We grabbed the plane tickets quickly before the price increase and started planning our trip. We used a previous budget tactic from our honeymoon to help us plan further, which was to dedicate a first budget of $ to airfare, housing, transportation, and tours, and then a separate budget for food and other expenses. We expected to pay up from 100% of the first budget within the first 30 days of planning, and then section of a portion of our monthly incoming savings for the food/other budget.

In my experience, it’s most important that when you start planning for a large trip, you know you could pay out of pocket the majority of your trip expenses the day you say “yes” to the trip. The two main questions in mind when planning is

  1. If I remove X from my savings, what’s the risk I assume?
  2. If I do this trip how does this effect my cash flow?

These questions are incredibly important to answer, as they help you determine if it’s really the time to take a trip or sit back and let your financial health grow. Per the first question, I feel it’s dependent on your gut check to your savings — if you take out X, what’s remaining? Do you feel comfortable taking out 25% of your liquid savings? 10%? Less than 5%? Dependent on your answer, that will help you dictate as to how much you could pay upfront when planning for a vacation.

To the second question, if you don’t understand your short term liquidity position, then you shouldn’t go on a vacation until otherwise feel comfortable. To get a simple feel, I just look over your last three months to understand what your fixed (mortgage or rent, bills, etc.) and variable (groceries, gas, etc.) expenses were and compare to your fixed/variable income to determine your net cash flow. Once calculated (and hopefully positive), it’s a gut check as to whether your current liquid savings could support you after taking a X% out of your liquid savings.

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Piggy bank planning at its finest!

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The Golden Itinerary

Travel – 3 days

Part of the “fun” in a vacation is getting there itself. Coming from the midwest, we’re expecting a very long flight time to get to our destination, which unfortunately takes a few days out of our schedule. As well with the time zone change, we will lose a day going there. The only silver lining is the day we leave to come back home, we will leave 10 AM in Sydney and land in our hometown at 11 PM on the same day (even though it’ll be about 26 hours of flight time – crazy, right?)

Sydney – 4 days

The way we like to do trips is a blended mix of guided tours and unguided exploration. During our time in Sydney these are our two guided activities that we’ll check out:

  1. Guided tour of Sydney Opera House
  2. Day trip to Blue Mountain National Park

For our own exploration, here’s a highlight of a couple things we’ll be seeing in Sydney:

  1. Bondi Beach
  2. Bangaroo Reserve

Cairns – 4 days

Guided Tours:

  1. Daintree Rainforrest
  2. Great Barrier Reef – Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

Unguided Exploration – Unknown! The world is our oyster at this point.

Auckland – 4 days

Guided Tours:

  1. Rangitoto Island
  2. Winery tour on Waiheke Island
  3. Hobbiton (to get second breakfast of course)
  4. Glow Worm Caves

Unguided Exploration – Unknown! The world is our oyster at this point.

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That’s it for this week’s post, but we are really excited to experience this trip and hopefully inspire you to potentially check out these destinations as well. Australian Tourism seems to be really pushing individuals to come check out their cities so there are still pretty good deals to view if you’ve always wanted to go.

Until next time readers!

P.S. – Have you been to Australia/NZ before or currently living there? Please let me know in the comments on any good food/brewery places we should check out while there! 

Ohio Love – Madison Lake & John Bryan State Park Adventures

Happy Sunday! In today’s adventure, we took a short day trip to a couple state parks in our beautiful home state. Since the fall of 2015, Ted (husband) and I have made it a personal goal to check out every single state park in Ohio. We’ve been chipping away park by park on free weekends, and it’s been really interesting because we get a chance to see some really cool things that we normally don’t see in our urban setting of Columbus.

 

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Surprise – there’s a lot of state parks!

As of now, I would say we are about third complete of this goal. We have been able to check out almost all of the Central section parks, and then sprinkles of parks from day trips across the other quadrants.

Today we didn’t feel like making a super long trek, so we settled on two parks that were less than an hour to reach from our house — Madison Lake State Park and John Bryan State Park. We planned on being out of the house for a few hours, so we definitely bundled up for this experience as we were going into a consistent 25-30 degree temperature range.

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Double the pants, double the fun!

First Stop – Madison Lake State Park

We started this trip with this park as it was a little quicker to get there, and we also had the opportunity to go through some London, which we haven’t really gone through before. The closet we ever got to London was through the Ohio to Erie Trail last summer; however, by the time we got to the city we were exhausted and decided to turn back before proceeding any further.

This was nice to go through the city because we were able to point out the trail from our car, which gave us the idea of where the trail goes past our stopping point. What was also cool was that we saw some shops along the way have signs on their windows with a cycling icon. This made us believe that they were restaurants and other stores that welcomed passing cyclists that were on the trail. I have to imagine those businesses get some attraction in the late spring and summer as the Ohio to Erie trail is a popular attraction.

After a quick drive, we arrived at our destination, which was not to our surprise not heavily populated. The park’s main attraction looked to be its lake for water activities (boating, kayaking, etc.). There was a small campsite, but was blocked off for the winter. We parked at the “beach” section (which didn’t really exist at this point), and took off for a short hike around the water.

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My travel partner in life 🙂

Short is probably the best way to describe this experience. We unfortunately didn’t get far due to limitations of getting around the lake perimeter as well as there still being a lot of ice on the ground. We were able to see a few geese puttering around the water and an uncommon sight of a flying crane; however, that was about it from a sight-seeing perspective. I have to imagine this park gets a lot of traffic from the surrounding community in the summer, but during the winter no one is looking to boat around in this weather! 🙂

 

In summary:

  • How was the drive? Drive was pleasant and fairly easy to get there. Take rural and state routes for a better view of rural Ohio
  • What did we do there? We hiked, but it’s better to kayak. The lake stretches farther than we could see so have to imagine there’s a lot of space on the water
  • What amenities are there? Not a lot. You can tell this park gets the lower tier of funding for state parks. There’s a couple outhouse bathrooms, and an outdated playground for kids. This is a no frills kind of park.
  • Would we come back? Most likely no. Although we could bring our kayaks, there are better metro parks around our house that we would go to rather than making the trip.

Second Stop – John Bryan State Park

This park definitely had a lot more to talk about, and if the weather would have held up we would have been there much longer. Due to our luck (bad luck this time I guess), it started raining when we arrived at the park. We hesitated about whether we should continue, but call it stuborn-ness or stupidity, we wanted to check out the park after driving that long!

We chose to go on a fairly flat trail, which was actually their mountain biking trail. We felt comfortable doing this as the trail was actually restricted from bikers getting on the trail as the ground was still fairly soft from previous rain-fall; however, it was completely fine for foot traffic. A family with a young girl also just entered the trailhead, so we thought that was the best option at the time as we knew other people were around us.

 

The scenery of this trail was fairly mono-tone (brown), but beautiful nonetheless. Five minutes into the walk, however, the rain turned to tiny hail. It was a very interesting experience as we we weren’t getting necessary very wet, but the hail around us was making an incredibly loud sound around us. It would only occur for a few minutes though, and then would turn back to rain. We were experiencing essentially the fence between freezing and unfreezing rain and this happened throughout our walk. This did a crazy number on my hair too, as by the end of the walk my hair was completely frozen!

About half a mile in, we saw a sign titled “Abracadabra.” We weren’t sure what this meant, but quickly learned it was a magical way for us to get really lost in the woods. Like reaaaaaaallllllyyyy lost in the woods. This trail started having numerous switchbacks and before we knew it we were in the middle of the forest with not a clear direction of where the entrance/exit point was.

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One step and poof! You’re gonna get lost

So we kept walking, and walking….and walking. What was nice at this point was that we entered a section of the woods that was cluttered with pine trees. It was a nice contrast to all the brown we were seeing. And after a couple of miles the trail finally snaked around to the beginning, which allowed us to use a little cut-through walkway to get back to the trailhead.

Before leaving, we took a little drive around the park to see what else was around. We found a large second section of picnic tables, and a major trailhead to a bunch of routes down to the riverbed. We grabbed a quick shot of the river before taking off. I definitely want to come back when it’s not so icy to explore a little more.

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In summary:

  • How was the drive? On the way there it was pretty cool because we saw a lot of farmland and a historic town, Clifton, OH. The drive back was pretty boring as we just hopped on the interstate, and the only interesting thing to look at were the billboards.
  • What did we do there? We hiked a flatter trail. There are plenty of trails to go around with varying degrees of elevation, and seems to be a main attraction at this park especially with the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh Stagecoach road.
  • What amenities are there? A fair amount of amenities were at this park, but all closed during the winter. There are tons of picnic areas, a day lodge, and an observatory to check out.
  • Would we come back? Definitely! We plan on returning in the summer to check out some of the harder trails alongside the riverbed.

Till next time readers!

What’s your favorite state park in Ohio? I want to hear about it in the comments!

I’m an ordinary person motivated to have some extraordinary adventures

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Hi, I’m Kristen! I’m a person trying to live her life to the fullest.

Like you, I have a full time job and about three weeks of vacation. But that can’t stop us from seeing the world and its many adventures, right?

Let’s knock out some basics:

1. Really, I have a normal job and work-style like you.

Whenever I read travel blogs or Instagram posts about cool destinations people visit, I get some serious FOMO (fear of missing out) because these folks that post are able to travel anytime during the year and they can do it off of either their mysteriously deep pockets, or through their glamorous careers as a social media superstar.

I am none of those things. I have an average job in Information Technology. I work 40+ hours a week and take home money to go towards daily life expenses, a little too much chipotle, and savings for future adventures.

46510501_10157320981023488_6154751722158817280_oI swear I work really hard – this was on my coffee break 🙂

2. If I can go on this trip, then so can you

What I hope to provide you in my blog posts is that going on adventures is realistic and isn’t just a “someday I’ll go” dream. It’s all about evaluating all your options and doing the right amount of planning!

3. It’s not just about me

I am hopeful that this site will not be about not just my adventures. I would love to hear about yours and share them here as well! My goal is to interview friends and family members here as well to hear about their experiences and inspire me to check those places out as well.

4. No adventure is too small

Some of my upcoming (and past adventures) are halfway across the world. Some are 15 minutes away. They’re still worth capturing and talking about their beauty.

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I hope that you’ll enjoy my stories during my time here on this blog, and I hope even more it’ll convince you to check out these places yourself. Safe and happy travels!