Iceland in November? That’s insane.

When I told people I was going to Iceland in November the general response was “oh my god, you’re going to freeze your ass off.” And I did. Was it worth it? You can bet your ass it was.

My Iceland trip couldn’t have come at a better worst time in my life. Feeling the strong onset of the “winter blues” mixed with stress at work, I needed a break. Per my usual method I booked my Contiki tour in July with intension of paying in increments up until my November departure. However, the summer turned into fall and I hadn’t made a dent. So dropping the final payment put a serious jam on my finances and turned my trip into a zero budget adventure. That being said when it came to pack, I realized that I was grossly under prepared for Icelandic winter weather and had no money to purchase the proper attire. So I set about packing as many layers as I possibly could into a very tiny carry on and prayed for a mild winter.

Recommended packing items:

  • Hot Hands
  • A decent camera for photos of the Northern Lights (I brought my Sony A6500)
  • Waterproof Gloves
  • Thermal Leggings and Top
  • Facial moisturizer
  • Sun Glasses

Tips for Packing:

  • Don’t be to stressed about different “cute” outfits. You’ll be wearing a jacket the whole time! No one will no that you’ve worn the same thing for four days. :p

 

A New York 24 Hours

I travel for work A LOT. The production company I produce for has an office in Manhattan so I’m in and out of NYC pretty regularly. However, I’m always working so it’s all work and no play. However when I scored an amazing flight deal to Iceland out of NYC I took advantage of being able to work from Manhattan and decided to treat myself to a mini pre-vacation in the Big Apple.

How I got there: 

Flying in to Newark the most economical way to get to Manhattan is the Newark Airport Shuttle. You can book one way or round trip for just $30, a taxi or Uber depending on the time of day could cost double or triple that.

Where I stayed:

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I LOVE this little hotel. For it’s location it was very reasonably priced. I cashed in some of my hotels.com  rewards and managed to snag a room for less then $100 a night. If you’re looking for an amazing park avenue suite, bell boy and in room jacuzzi. This is NOT the hotel for you. The rooms are super tiny, but very clean and modern. I loved that each bunk bed had it’s own little TV. It was exactly what I need to rest after a busy day in the city. Plus there’s an amazing Mexican bar/restaurant downstairs.

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After checking in the hotel I headed down stairs to Salvation Taco . Which is a cool cantina attached to the hotel. I had TWO spicy margaritas and some delicious tacos before tipsy strolling to the subway to get to my broadway shot at 8pm.

By the way, being tipsy in Time Square is AMAZING. However being tipsy at the start of your favorite broadway musical is a recipe for an unnecessary amount of tears during the opening number.

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I’ve been singing the Waitress soundtrack non-stop for the past six months. So when I had a free night in NYC I had to go and  get front row seats. The perk of seeing a show solo is that tickets are so much cheaper. Instead of getting my front row isle seats for double the cost, one ticket was only $175 (instead of two for $250). Another bonus of “Treat-yo-self” to broadway solo is you can do whatever the F*!k you want. I got there early, had a drink at the bar and bought myself a key lime pie. It was magical. I laughed, cried and hummed along. PLUS Jason Mraz was headlining that night! Which was an unexpected surprise.


The next morning I joined the hoards of commuters on the subway and begrudgingly went to work. After a few ours of office work (AKA chatting with my best co-worker friend) I decided to head out to the city to shoot some “B-roll” footage (AKA explore).

Of all the time I’ve spent in the city I’ve never been to Ellis island or the Statue of Liberty! So that was the days mission.

First stop Battery Park. I HATE HATE HATE talking to ticketing agents. So I’d did the millennial introvert route, bought my ferry tickets online. Roughly $30 for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

I happened to get there just as a ferry was boarding so I had no wait. The cruise over to the Statue of Liberty was very nice, even in November we had great weather. The Statue of Liberty was much more impressive from a far. Visiting the island itself was underwhelming. I was more excited to visit Ellis Island.

I’ve always loved “coming to America” books and movies. So I was super interested in visiting Ellis Island and its museum. There’s so much to see at Ellis Island you probably could spend a whole day there. But I only had a hour to kill so I sped through each exhibit. The Island has so much history, historical impact and culture attached to it that the stories are never ending. I loved hearing and seeing how immigrants passed through customs and the trials they faced.

After speeding through I grabbed a hotdog and re-boarded the ferry back to Manhattan.

In total my round trip took about 3 hours, but I really feel like I saw everything. Plus I got my Instagram’s and that’s what matters most right?

Fearing I’d miss my bus back to Newark I basically sprinted back to my office to collect my suitcase and get to the bus stop. As predicted the Newark Airport Express was exactly on time and I made it by an inch. I squeezed in my bus seat next to a very loud Indian couple and settled in for the 45 min ride back to Newark Airport. Next stop, Iceland!

 

 

 

The Perks of Traveling Christmas Day

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My journey to Mexico was one of the smoothest and most relaxing travel experiences I have ever had. The ease can be credited to United Airlines.

I started my trip in Richmond, VA. At 5am on Christmas morning the airport was a ghost town. I was the only person in line for security and my flight to Houston from Richmond was only half full.11205578_10153712355145813_6853964298982777333_n

In Houston I spend my three hour layover in the United Club Lounge. I used free passes earned from Visa travel credit card. In the club they provided free breakfast, wifi, private corners and comfy couches. The Houston club is humongous! It’s three stories, there are computer nooks, offices, showers, two bars, two buffets and a storage room. The lounge was crowded but it was much better then schlepping around the actual airport.

I headed to my gate about 45 minuets before boarding. While waiting the airline made several announcements that my flight was overbooked and they were looking for two people to give up their seats. They began by offer just a $200 certificate. But as time grew closer to boarding they upped the ante. At that point it was also announced that my original flight was delayed one hour.

So I offered up my seat. In return I received a $500 certificate, two meal vouchers, another United Club pass and a first class ticket on the next flight to Mexico city (only 45 minutes later). My original ticket only cost $190 so I profited $310!

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I had never flown first class before so I was super excited to have earned a free upgrade. I felt like a total ballllllller $$!$. My seat was huge and upon boarding I was offered wine and a hot towel. Throughout my flight I had three glasses of wine…hey it was free! Then dinner was served. Oh my goodness it was delicious. First class was absolutely fabulous.

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As a Christmas preent my dad bought me a car service transport from the airport to my hotel. He used a website called Blacklane to book the car. So upon exiting the terminal I was greeted by a chauffeur holding a sign with my name. He escorted me to the car and I was off to Mexico city center!

The eight hours of travel from Richmond to Mexico City were without a hick-up. I felt so refreshed when I finally arrived to my hotel that I was ready to take on Mexican nightlife right away!

Thank you United Airlines!

How letting my guard down led to my biggest travel misadventure and self realization

I want to tell this story in hopes that it provides inspiration to my fellow travelers. This is a cautionary tale about a girl traveling alone and a big mistake that could have been fatal. In this story the girl gets really happy, a little sad, then a little scared. Ultimately she discovers something deep about herself and has the best night of her life. Last December I was at a low point. Coming off of my life changing trip to South East Asia I had post-travel depression. Most of my friends already had travel plans for New Years and it looked like I would be ringing in 2015 alone. One morning in a daze I was scrolling through the Contiki Last Minuet Deals site when I saw an amazing discount on a 12 day tour of Italy. I debated for a bit and then pulled out my credit card. It was booked. In just a week I would leave for Italy! The day after Christmas I was on my way. Flying to Europe, getting a cab and exploring Rome was so much easier and less scary than Asia so I felt like a travel pro. When I saw the suitcases my tour mates brought (for just 12 days) and compared them to my tiny carry-on I knew I was (a pro traveler). The first couple of days were so flawless, simple and easy that I quickly began to let my travel guard down. When in Asia I had my guard set high. I limited my drinks (although my limit was very high…), always traveled in a group, wrote my hotel down, paid in cash, ect. But Europe is so safe! Or so I thought. On New Year’s Eve our tour rolled through Napoli and to the charming town of Sorrento on the Almafi Coast.

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My roommate and I pre-new years festivities!

As the sun began to set my Australian friend Mollie and I explored the markets where we came upon the beginnings of the New Years parade. Without a thought we decided to join the parade! We danced with the musicians and chanted alongside costumed characters. We followed a large papier-mache Donkey to the town square where Donkey was set on fire using fireworks!

Afterwards our group met up for a traditional Neapolitan pizza feast! Then toasted with Aperol Spitzers at this swanky restaurant right in the center of town. For dancing and more drinks we went to Americano. A Kareoke night club near the festivities.

After a few strong martinis bells rang out to single midnight’s approach. So we stumbled out of the club (stolen martini glasses in hand) and joined the masses in the piasa. Before midnight the locals started shooting fireworks at each other and throwing glass bombs on the pavement. It was noisy, hectic, scary and invigorating!

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Street fireworks!

Finally the countdown began. 3,2,1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! The crowd went wild. I felt more emotion, energy and happiness in that tiny Sorrento piassa then I did in New York City!

Music filled the air, laugher, chanting and love engulfed me. Streamers flew and confetti fell. I kissed my neighbor and he kissed my friend. It was all in good fun. Then in Sorrento tradition we broke our stolen martini glasses on the pavement. 10906166_10152891595005813_1466665417180988046_n Then the piasa stage lit up and the DJ started spinning. We dance in a large mob and I made friends with some touchy Armenians. They shared their Grappa and I shared my awesome dance moves.

After dancing for what seemed like an eternity I began to notice that much of 40 person tour group was dispersing. I searched and found a couple of stragglers to join. We celebrated for a little longer before they decided it was time to head to the hotel. It was only 115AM. Our local guide told us that in Italy the party really doesn’t start until 2AM. So I tried to convince them to stick around. But they were done. So reluctantly I began to follow them back to the coach. On the way to the coach we passed tons of Italians who were just heading out for the night. They looked magical and majestic in their sparkly dresses and tailored suits. As we continued towards our bus I got sadder and sadder. I didn’t want to go home. The night was young. I wasn’t ready for bed! I tried again at no avail to get someone to go back with me. “YOLO” I aurgued. “The night is young, no regrets” I pleaded. But they were committed to retirement. As we began to round the last corner I cursed myself. “What was I doing?” I questioned myself. “Why am I following these people? I don’t even know them!” I asked. “I don’t need them to have a good time!” I convinced myself. “Why am I using them as a shield? Don’t be a follower Becca!” I cursed. “Do you! Do what you want!” I boasted. Without another thought I bid farewell and sped back to the town square. On my own.

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When alone you take Selfies to occupy your time.

Back at the the piasa I felt a hint of loneliness and timidness. I swallowed my fear and joined the dance floor where I shook my worries away. I found my Argentinian friends again. We danced the mambo, YMCA and the electric slide. Eventually they retired for the night and I was left alone again. At this point it was around 230AM. So did what all good American girls traveling alone in a foreign city should do…I took a walk. I ventured away from the busy piasa where I found myself alone in a maze of cobblestone streets. I was fascinated by the peacefulness that was just blocks away from chaos. I wandered back to the once crowded market and found myself surrounded by twinkling christmas lights. I was alone, but never afraid. In Sorrento on a mild winter night, I felt at home and at peace. As I walked I reflected on the past year. I wished I could see my mom again. She loved Italy and I remember her recounting her wild adventures in Rome. As I stopped to make a wish at a century old fountain I felt her there with me. I wandered back towards the town square and was met by hoards of drunk young Italians on their ways to after parties and other bars. Their laughter and enthusiasm was contagious. “Happy New Year!” is universal and it chimed throughout. I was got my second wind and wished I could find another party to join. I made my way back to the Americano Bar. I only peaked inside. I thought it was dead, so I turned back. I wish I had gone inside the bar. Apparently the three other Americans on my tour were still partying it up at the Americano! I often wonder what my night would’ve become had I found and joined their party. But I turned away. I went back to the DJ and the main stage. I settled down on a bench and listened to Opera singers and local celebrities belt Italian showstoppers. Around 330AM the festivities began to die down. So I decided it was time to head to my hotel. I pulled out my phone and found that it had died. Stupidly I didn’t write down my hotel or it’s address. I only had the information on my phone. I had no option but to hope that someone would know where my hotel was. So I hailed a taxi. When it comes to Italian Taxi drivers I think I won the lottery.

  • First stroke of luck: Rafael spoke perfect English. Second: He was young and enthusiastic. Third: He was charming and handsome. Forth: He thought I was hilarious.

I flat-out said “I have no idea where my hotel is”. He couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what my hotel was called. I felt like an idiot. He thought I was super funny. I told him that I knew it used to be a nunnery. That it might be called “Sister’s Hostel”. He hadn’t heard of a hotel like that. So we googled it. Nothing. He called his friends. They didn’t know. So I was up creek without a paddle. I knew I couldn’t lose Rafael. He was the answer. If I walked away and tried to find someone else, they might not have been as eager to help me. So I said “I will pay you anything, just drive and I’ll try to figure out from memory!” He agreed. I hopped in the front seat and we drove. I think we drove all around Sorrento and maybe into Napoli. We navigated the winding streets and whisked past the cliffs and ocean. Rafael asked me to describe the hotel and it’s surroundings. I said “It’s in a very old building, surrounded by orange trees and gardens. It’s on a cliff and has a view of the ocean.” He chuckled “that describes every hotel in Sorrento!” I asked him to drive alongside the ocean. At least we would be in the right area. Finally we turned down a cobblestone path that I recognized. We continued onward. Then I saw a sign for “Phoenix Bar” and I remembered riding in the coach earlier. My friend Molly had asked “What’s a Phoenix?” I knew then that we were close to the hotel! Only moments later I saw what I thought was my hotel. But there were no hotel signs and the large wooden doors were closed. Rafael wasn’t sure so he got out of the cab and went with me to investigate. The doors were locked and my heart sunk. I thought I was wrong. Rafael knocked vigorously and luckily the attendant answered. Once the door opened I saw the lobby and knew I was right! Rafael chatted with the attendant briefly in Italian and they laughed. Rafael told me the hotel was brand new! This was its first weekend open and that it was called “Sister’s Hostel” (I was right!). That explains why we couldn’t find it.

I walked with Rafael back to the cab to pay him and say goodbye. In stereotypical Italian style he begged me to stay with him. I shyly declined. Then he invited me to brunch in the morning. He said “I want to introduce my family to the giggly American”. I was flattered and reluctantly said “I’m sorry, no.” My tour was departing early that morning. I gave him a generous tip (I think I paid like $200 for only an $80 trip). But it was worth it. Rafael was a perfect gentleman and I don’t like to imagine what might have happened if I had been with a different cabbie. My biggest regret was that I didn’t get a photo with Rafael. But my phone was dead so I had no camera. Finally at 430AM I was safe and sound back at my hotel. I passed out fully clothed in my bed. But not before soaking in the extraordinary occurrences on my wild night.