To Check or Not to Check Luggage

Each time we begin packing for a trip, Justin and I always have this question: do we check our luggage or carry-on?

While it seems like a simple decision to some, we usually struggle. When I was younger, I never thought twice about checking my bags. I didn’t want to lug around my huge suitcase anyway. After my first trip to Europe, my opinions drastically changed. During my layover and customs inspection, I waited so long for my bag to arrive that I almost missed my connection!

Looking at the big picture, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I lost my luggage or continued on without it. Obviously, the contents were just material items that could have been replaced; however, I would have been disappointed to lose some of those sentimental souvenirs.

For a few years after this instance, I didn’t want to gamble with my time or belongings. I started to bring my bags into the cabin. Even though this forced me to learn how to pack a lot lighter, carrying-on gave me peace of mind. In addition, it also saved me money. Most airlines have started charging additional fees for customers deciding to check their bags underneath the plane.

I will say that there are some challenges with cabin luggage as well. When we choose this option, we always stress about our boarding. We want to make sure there’s room for our belongings above our seats. We have been on several flights where bags have had to be checked last minute. When this happens to us, I always think that our suitcases are going to remain on the jet bridge.

We have also learned that sometimes it’s just not possible to carry-on. For example, during our trip to Iceland, we needed so many Winter clothing items and accessories. We just could not feasibly pack all of our puffy gear into such small suitcases–even though I REALLY tried! I knew this was the right decision, but I was still incredibly ambivalent. So, Justin placed a Tile locator in our bag. This eased a lot of my anxieties! We had a few tight connections, and we knew our luggage arrived with us each time. I also noticed during this trip that we didn’t have to wait long for our bags to drop onto the carousels. These airlines have definitely improved their processes!

Overall, I believe that this decision is different for every person and trip. I think if I had to choose, my preference would be to carry-on due to cost and ease of convenience; however, if I do decide to check, I will always utilize my Tile and bring a few essentials in my purse–just in case! Whatever I decide, I always make sure to have extra room for new clothes or souvenirs. For this reason, it’s imperative that I pack a collapsable backpack. You never know what you’ll find out there!

Do you prefer to check or carry-on?

What I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Italy

As I’ve stated before, I like to do a ton of research on new destinations. I especially like to read articles regarding what other people learned on their trips; therefore, here is what I wish I would have known before our adventure to Italy.

First and foremost, I learned that it is possible to eat too much Italian food. Italian is one of my favorites, and I didn’t think I could ever be tired of it! We enjoyed the local cuisine, but we really needed a change of pace near the end of our stay. While exploring the area around the Vatican, we stumbled upon a great burger place. It was our favorite meal in Italy! Unfortunately, we ate there on a Friday during Lent… oops. On the other hand, I will say that there can never be too much gelato! The frozen treat totally surpassed my expectations, and I ate a lot of it.

I also wish I would have known how busy the Vatican Museum gets. Luckily, we booked early entry tickets. When we first arrived, the museum was pretty empty and enjoyable. After our first time through, I really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel again. So, we started to head in that direction. At this point, it was maybe a half an hour after the official opening time, and the museum was flooded with people. We could barely move! As Catholics, we were really looking forward to visiting; however, I think the craziness took away from our experience there.

In addition, I wish I had heard about the sales people lingering around the popular attractions. While it is common to see this practice in Europe, I felt that some were pretty assertive in Rome. We tried to politely decline their tours, selfie sticks, bracelets, etc, but a few of them made us feel a little uncomfortable.

We also learned on our trip that tourists have to pay city taxes each day. While the fees aren’t incredibly expensive, they are per traveler and can really add up. One night we had overlapping hotel reservations, and we had to pay for both cities.

We also discovered on our trip that Venice is incredibly walkable. As we were planning out our stay in the City of Canals, we purchased a pass that provided us transportation to and from the airport as well as unlimited water taxi rides. It was difficult to decipher walking paths from maps online; so, we weren’t sure what to expect. We only really needed the bus portion of our tickets, though.

Finally, I’d like to talk about our rental car. After we booked our trip, I was really having second thoughts about Justin driving in Italy. Most articles I read strongly discouraged tourists from renting cars. While the different language/culture required us to more observant, Justin didn’t think that driving was all that terrible. To be honest, we thought that the conditions were worse in Iceland. While we utilized the freeways to get to the majority of our destinations, we also tackled the dreaded Amalfi Coast drive. There were definitely some tight corners, but the roads were similar to those here in the mountains of AZ. I think it’s important to note that we decided not to drive in Rome. We kept our rental car at the hotel and used the MyTaxi App to get into the city center.

I guess we never really know what to expect of a new destination until we arrive! 🙂

Beach Trip Packing List

Summer is quickly approaching, and a few friends have asked me what I bring for those trips to the beach. For this reason, I have listed my essentials below.

First and foremost, a good sunscreen is imperative for any summer trip. I have really sensitive skin; so, I like to use Avene Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen. This is the only product that doesn’t give me acne afterwards. As for the rest of my skin, I like to use the Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion. While it’s easy to grab the spray, I feel like the lotion provides much better coverage. Don’t forget to reapply, though.

In addition to sunscreen, proper attire is also important to a successful summer trip. I always pack 2-3 swim suit options, a few cover-ups, a baseball cap, and cheap Old Navy flip-flops for the pool/beach. I also like to bring a couple of sundresses, a cardigan, and nicer sandals or wedges for night time. Other clothing items that I have with me include: shorts, flowy tops, a pair of jeans, and sneakers for activities.

Finally, if there’s room in my suitcase, I like to have a few additional accessories on my packing list. For my seaside vacations, I like to take a beach bag and possibly some water toys. While most resorts will offer a towel service, I sometimes pack my own or a small blanket just in case. One of my favorite “extras” to pack, though, is my dry bag. I like to use this water-resistant pouch to contain any wet items for the trek back home. It’s so nice to not worry about my luggage getting damp!

Summer 2019 is almost here, and hopefully you are going somewhere exciting. 🙂

Weekend Trip Ideas

Weekend trips are a great way to travel without having to take vacation time. With my work schedule, I can block my days so that I don’t always have to use my hard-earned PTO; however, Justin’s schedule is a little different. To maximize our time away and minimize his time off of work, we like to plan trips over the weekends. Holiday weekends–especially those over the summer–are usually peak travel times. This means more tourists and higher prices. So, to avoid crowds and save money, we usually decide to plan our own long weekends away.

Here are a just a few weekend trips that we have taken recently.

Las Vegas

Justin, myself, my brother, and my sister-in-law trying out a restaurant in Vegas!

Las Vegas is one of our favorite places to go for a weekend trip. The drive is only about five hours for us. We love to walk the strip and try new restaurants. Even though I’ve been a few times, I feel like there is always something new that I want to do while I’m there. Some ideas for activities include: The High Roller, The Neon Boneyard Museum, one of their many shows, The Fremont Street Experience, zip-lining, and so forth! While it’s a little pricier, my favorite place to stay is the Encore at the Wynn. I highly recommend it.

San Francisco

San Fran is an hour and a half flight from the valley. There are a lot of sights to see, including The Painted Ladies, Lombard Street, and The Golden Gate Bridge. We loved riding the trolley to the shopping district. I will say that the hills here are NO JOKE. We stayed at the Marriott Marquis during our visit, and we really enjoyed it.

Los Angeles

We love going to LA! It takes about six hours to drive from the valley, but the traffic there is brutal. So, if we can find a good deal, I prefer to fly. Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Santa Monica Pier are just a few of the great attractions in the area. My favorite activity, though, is definitely to visit DISNEYLAND! I am always down for a trip to The Happiest Place on Earth!

Sedona

Sedona is such a beautiful city. It’s about a three hour drive from Phoenix. Sedona is a nice place to relax and enjoy some cooler weather. When Justin and I go, we like to hike and watch the sunsets. In the past, I did one of their famous Jeep Tours with a few of my friends. It was fun and scary all at the same time! Overall, I definitely think the city of red rocks is worth visiting at least once.

San Diego

View from our room at the Hilton Bayfront!

Lastly, San Diego is also a great weekend destination for us in AZ. It is only a six hour drive from the Phoenix area. I love that there is so much to do there! We like to visit to Coronado Island or Mission Beach during the summer. Last year, we went to a Padres game for the first time. The stadium was really nice! We stayed at the Hilton Bayfront during our trip. The hotel was nice and close to everything we wanted to do.

Group vs Independent Travel

Lately I’ve been seeing travel advertisements plastered all over the Internet. Several of these agencies provide “guided group tours.” This means that the company will arrange major transportation, accommodations, and events at each destination. Customers can go alone or with friends/family; however, there will most likely be others traveling along in the group as well.

Although it may seem challenging, “independent” travel is always an alternative option. With these vacations, a person–or even a group–can explore the destination without a tour guide or “required” scheduled activities.

I have done both types of trips. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my perspectives on each of them.

My Experiences with Group Travel

When I was younger, group travel worked well for me. I didn’t know anything about planning an international trip. It all seemed so overwhelming. Booking with these companies is so simple. I basically just showed up for an amazing experience abroad! I also ended up seeing places that I would not have originally planned for myself.

My first trip to Europe with a tour!

When choosing to go on one of these tours, customers are signing up to an adventure with strangers. This is a gamble. On one trip, I met amazing people and created close friendships. On another, my companions barely spoke to me. Luckily, I have always traveled with at least one friend. So, others never really put a damper on my personal experiences. However, I don’t know if I could say the same for those who come to the trip alone.

On every tour, a guide leads the group though the itinerary. This person can definitely make or break the vacation. They provide insight into the culture and history of each destination. They are also utilized as resources for restaurant recommendations or free time activities. A personable leader is imperative. On the other hand, a mediocre guide can really affect the trip’s dynamic.

Although the guide will not hold up the entire cohort for tardiness, I feel like there is still a lot of waiting with this type of experience. For example, at the beginning of one trip, we sat in the hotel lobby for hours as the others in our group continued to trickle in. This was brutal after a long flight.

My Experiences with Independent Travel

Justin and I have always explored on our own. Even though it requires extra efforts researching and booking activities, I really think it’s worth the work!

First, it is usually much cheaper for us to travel independently. With discount travel sites, we have discovered some great deals. I recently compared prices on a trip we took. I found that we paid HALF as much as the group rate for the same itinerary! So crazy.

In addition, I love the flexibility of independent travel. We have the freedom to explore at our own pace. If desired, we can choose to find a tour guide for certain events or places. On the other hand, we can skip activities without feeling like we’re wasting money or missing out.

My recent trip to Europe with Justin!

Final Thoughts

Overall, while the convenience of group travel is enticing, I think that traveling independently is a much better experience for us. By doing the work, we can use the money saved for extra excursions or even another trip entirely. I feel like we can see more of the world this way! In addition, with the influx of travel sites and blogs, online planning is so simple these days. For these reasons, I definitely don’t believe that a guide is necessary for an amazing and unforgettable vacation.

Have you ever gone on a group trip? If so, what do you think about them?

Disneyland Maxpass Review

When Justin booked our Disneyland tickets a few years ago, he discovered an upgrade option for the Maxpass. I hadn’t heard of Disney’s Maxpass before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; however, it was only 10 extra dollars per person each day, so we figured it was worth a try.

I LOVE Disneyland, but I do not care for large crowds or lines. I mean, who does? Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that the amusement park is going to be at least somewhat busy, if not packed during peak seasons. For as long as I can remember, the Happiest Place on Earth has offered guests their FASTPASS service to help alleviate these long wait times.

Every guest has the ability to obtain a FASTPASS with a valid park ticket. Guests have to place their admission tickets in the ride’s kiosk and return to the attraction at the scheduled time. This reservation service is great for those rides with exuberant lines, because FASTPASS guests basically walk right on! While utilizing this amenity requires some strategic planning (and maybe some running), it’s totally worth it!

From my perspective, Disneyland’s Maxpass is an extension to this original park perk. When we purchased the Maxpass, we were able to view current wait times and book our FASTPASS selections from the Disneyland app on our phones. This is so incredibly convenient! In addition, the app allowed us to schedule multiple–up to 3 I believe?–reservations at once. We mapped out our day during the few times we waited in line. With this upgrade, we were also able to download all of our ride and park photos. No more horrible screen shots!

Taken by a photographer at California Adventure. I downloaded it with the Maxpass!

Unfortunately, only a select number of attractions provide the FASTPASS service. For this reason, there are rides, such as Peter Pan, that will probably have long wait times throughout the day. In addition, FASTPASS offerings are NOT guaranteed. This means that reservations may fill up quickly! I also believe that the price of the Maxpass has increased to 15 dollars now. While that amount doesn’t seem like a whole lot, every cost adds up quickly at Disney. Despite these disadvantages, I still truly love the Maxpass. During our last two visits, we arrived right at opening and were able to ride everything we wanted by lunch time.

Now that I have used the Maxpass at Disneyland and California Adventure, I don’t think that I can go back standing in line for hours. This service has immensely enhanced our experiences! I’m already saving for our next visit!

Our Tastes in Thailand

Discovery

When Justin and I were on one of our many flights to Thailand, we met a young businessman, and he recommended that we book an excursion with Bangkok Food Tours. We grew curious after hearing him rave about this experience. Once we finally landed and arrived at our hotel, we looked up the company’s website and decided to purchase tickets to their Midnight Food Tour.

Ready to Go

On the night of our tour, we ventured to their predetermined pick-up location. Once everyone in the group had arrived to the site, our guide discussed the itinerary and introduced us to our tuk tuk driver. Before we knew it, we were off!

For those who may not know, a tuk tuk is a popular mode of transportation in Thailand. Although I have seen locals riding with them, I think that tuk tuks are mostly utilized as taxis for travelers. I saw these three-wheeled, motorized vehicles everywhere!

Our driver was incredibly friendly, and his tuk tuk even had strobe lights. I thought this was a great way to see the city.

Our Tour

Our tour included six stops. When I heard this, I became worried. I didn’t know if I could eat that much, and I definitely didn’t want to miss out on anything! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Our first two stops included local cuisines. At the first location, we enjoyed a variety of family-style dishes, and I really enjoyed that. I could try a little bit of everything without getting too full.

At the second, we created our own noodle bowls with various spices and egg options. After finishing our dishes, we were able to see how they prepare the food behind the scenes.

Next, we ventured over to Bangkok’s Flower Market. We walked around and appreciated the beautiful bouquets and street vendors. At this stop, we were able to eat some locally grown fruit. In addition, our guide also offered us some deep-fried crickets. While I passed, Justin ate one. He said it wasn’t bad. We still talk about those crickets.

The fourth place is probably my favorite one from our tour. We were able to explore the Wat Pho Temple at night. Our guide explained the significance of the temple as well as some of Thailand’s history. This was truly an amazing experience.

After our stop at the temple, we then traveled to a rooftop bar overlooking the river. Here, we were able to relax and learn more about some of our travel companions. We were excited to find out that there were two fellow Arizonans in our group! In addition, I loved that we could see the beautiful glow from the Grand Palace. This view was stunning.

Finally, we were off to our last destination for the night. Our tour guide stated that this restaurant made the best Pad Thai in Bangkok. I love Pad Thai, but I was skeptical at first. Although, after this experience, I would have to agree with her. This Pad Thai was my favorite dish of the night as well as my entire trip!

Final Thoughts

Overall, I loved this adventure with Bangkok Food Tours. I will forever cherish my memories and daydream about that Pad Thai. If I ever have the opportunity to return to Thailand, I would love to do another!

At the Top of the World

Anytime I travel somewhere new, I love to admire the city and its skyline. Where is my favorite place to go for a good view? Well, I love to look from above! If the destination I’m visiting offers a tacky touristy attraction that involves heights, you better believe I’m buying myself a ticket to the top.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Reunion Tower Observation Deck in Dallas, Texas

This spherical building provided us with sweeping views of Dallas! In addition, once we reached the top, we found various interactive devices that offered great information regarding the city and its history. I loved that I could enjoy the gorgeous scenery from indoors as well as outside. When we visited, it was cold and windy. I’m an Arizona girl, and I can’t stand temperatures under 80 degrees. I did manage to stay outdoors long enough to get a great photo, though!

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

After seeing this image plastered all over Pinterest, I wanted to see it for myself. At the top of Hallgrímskirkja, there is an outdoor viewing area that offers great scenery of Reykjavík’s city center. I love these buildings and their colored rooftops.

The High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada

The High Roller is a ferris wheel that has amazing sights of the Las Vegas Strip. This is one of my favorite things to do in Vegas, because I love seeing these buildings shine!

Guiness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

At the end of the Guinness factory tour, we were treated to this panoramic scene. The picture above doesn’t compare to my wonderful in person experience. While visiting, guests may also choose to sip on a pint of Dublin’s signature beer.

The London Eye in London, England

My first time in London, I skipped this ride. I thought it was just an average ferris wheel. Once I got home, I immediately regretted my decision. So, during my second visit, the London Eye was at the top of my must-see list! I love this view of Big Ben.

The Seattle Great Wheel in Seattle, Washington

I guess you could say that I like ferris wheels. Unfortunately, it was raining during our visit to Seattle. However, I still enjoyed the scenery! Seeing the Space Needle from afar was a surreal experience for me.

Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois

This is an amazing attraction! Anywhere I looked, I had breathtaking perspectives of Chicago and its architecture. In addition, the Willis Tower also has several protruded areas with glass floors that we stood on. It’s a little nerve racking, but I really enjoyed looking down below.

Skybar in Bangkok, Thailand

After seeing this bar in the Hangover II, I wanted to experience it for myself. Bangkok is seriously stunning. I love this city and all of its unique buildings! The Skybar is a SUPER busy place, though. We arrived immediately after opening, and I still found it difficult to get a good photograph without a someone blocking my camera.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Aside from my mediocre photography skills, the Eiffel Tower is an amazing sight to see. Just like the Observation Deck, we were able to enjoy the scenery both inside and outdoors. I also liked that there were multiple levels for those who may not want to go all the way up. Even though it can be a bit crowded, I still think the tower is worth a visit!

Rooftop bar at Marriott Marquis in San Fransisco

Finally, I’d like to talk about the Marriott Marquis. What a wonderful hotel! One night, we ventured up to their rooftop bar, and we realized that this was also an incredibly popular tourist destination. I couldn’t get close enough to the window to get a great snap, but here is a photo, of the same view, from our room just a few floors below. Not too bad!

iFly Experience: Dallas, TX

After Justin and I went skydiving a few years ago (on a Groupon of course 😉 ), I had been curious about what the indoor version would be like. I loved the free fall feeling of jumping out of an airplane, but I have never had a great experience with parachutes. For whatever reason they make me dizzy and nauseous. Yuck.

Getting Ready

So, when visiting family friends in Dallas, we decided to try out indoor skydiving at iFly for the first time. We pre-booked the group package, and we got there shortly before our scheduled time. After filling out our forms, we headed upstairs to begin the fun!

Once we were near the flight zone, we attended a quick safety lesson with our instructor and got geared up to fly.

Time to Fly

Our guide lined us up and walked us into this indoor loading zone that leads up to the wind tunnel for flying. With the package we purchased, each participant flew two times for 60 seconds each with the instructor. On the second flight, the participant had the option choose to fly higher in the chamber for a small additional fee.

When it came time for my turn, I found it difficult to enter the area. I tried leaping out into the air, but the pressure from the wind strongly resisted. The instructor guided me out.

He stressed the importance of relaxed muscles during the class, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds! Because I was nervous and felt a little awkward, I encountered difficulty with my positioning. When I went real skydiving, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what to do with my arms. I just knew I wanted out of the sketchy airplane.

When my second turn approached, Justin and I decided that we were both going to do the flying higher experience. This was my favorite part of the activity! While it doesn’t exactly feel like actual skydiving, I really enjoyed myself.

However, I was a little embarrassed about how much saliva I produced from all the wind on my face. Also, I may have screamed a little… or a lot. The guys taking photos were definitely laughing with me.

Thoughts on the Experience

Overall, I had a great time at iFly in Dallas. The instructors and workers are hilarious and fun to be around. The only downside? This activity is a bit expensive. So I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it again. I’ll never say never, though!

When in Waco

When Justin and I were in Texas this past November, I begged him to take me to Waco. I had to see the Silos and eat a cupcake from the Gaines’ famous bakery.

Upon arrival, we could tell how popular this attraction was. As we drove around looking for parking, we could see the large amount of people exploring the grounds. I figured it would be busy, but I wasn’t quite expecting THIS craziness for a Friday morning.

The site is beautiful and a lot bigger than I anticipated. The silos stand tall as the main attraction. In addition to the Magnolia Market and Silos Baking Co, there is a large lawn area for gathering and a beautiful garden for guests to wander through. By the lawn, there are plenty of food truck options for drinks and snacks. I could tell the Gaines’ family put a lot of thought and love into creating this space, and I adored all of the details. For example, there are outdoor games and various photo opportunity stations for visitors to enjoy.

While the Silos were aesthetically pleasing, I really couldn’t look around or peruse the shops much as I wanted to. Anywhere I turned or walked, I saw crowds of people. Honestly, this marketplace reminded me of Disneyland because of how crazy busy it was.

Luckily, I purchased my long-awaited cupcake without having to wait in line forever, because we found a Silo’s Baking Co food truck on the lawn. Maybe if we visited during the week or later in the afternoon it would have been less congested with crowds. To be honest though, I don’t think I’ll be returning to Texas anytime soon to find out.