British Virgin Islands

All I could think during my 9-day sailing trip around the British Virgin Islands was "wow." 
Let me set the stage for you.
You wake up on a sailboat, bouyed in the harbor of a near-deserted Caribbean island. The sun is out, warming your skin all over, but the breeze and passing clouds make the temperature nothing short of ideal. All you can hear for miles is the slightest calm crashing of the waves, and maybe a few seagulls flying. The water is aqua. Not blue, not green, not even turquoise. It is a bright, almost neon, aqua. You see the outlines of coral reefs surrounding the islands, and you can't wait to get your snorkel mask on.  On shore, there is little to nothing except maybe a few beach bars scattered around. Your days are filled with snorkeling, sailing, swimming, paddle boarding, and drinking delicious tropical cocktails. The nights are filled with dinners on the beach, stunning sunsets, and late nights at bars that you have to dinghy to because they are nothing but a decked-out pirate ship in the middle of the ocean. This is the life. This is the life I lived for a week in the British Virgin Islands, and I'm telling you all, this place is paradise.

So, you want to visit the BVIs? Here's your guide to where to go, how to get there, and what to do when you're there. You really can't go wrong here. The British Virgin Islands are a trip of a lifetime. I highly recommend planning your vacay to this sailing fantasyland (and bringing me along with you) as soon as possible.

know before you go
The British Virgin Islands are hard to get to, which is what makes them so stunningly unspoiled. Cruise ships can't dock in the harbors, so sailboats and private yachts are the only ones who enjoy the islands. I'm almost positive you can't get anywhere without a boat, so if you're planning a trip, you're going to want to look into sailboat rentals. Don't know how to sail? You can even rent one with a captain, or, if you're feeling the splurge, a chef! Many of the sailboats are more like yachts. Ours fit 10 people comfortably and had a huge back deck for eating/drinking/playing cards & liars dice. Our boat was a catamaran, which I loved, not only because of the smooth sailing, but because we loved lounging out on the hammock in the front of the boat. 
So how do you get there? We flew into Puerto Rico, and took an island-hopper teeny tiny airplane from there to Tortola (the biggest BVI). From Tortola, we picked up our sailboat and started our itinerary around the Islands.
The weather is key for the BVIs, so do lots of research. We went in May and it was PERFECT, but our friends had gone in the middle of summer and said it was deathly hot. 

the islands
The BVI's consist of the main islands Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 smaller islands (about 15 of which are inhabited). Tortola, the biggest island, is only 12 miles long and 3 miles wide. Also a fun fact, Richard Branson (CEO/founder of Virgin Group) owns two BVI's himself, Necker Island and Mosquito Island)

where to go
Let's break it down by island
Yes, this place is real. Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

jost van dyke
My very favorite island of the whole trip. If you're in the BVI's,you have to go here. No I mean it. You have to go to Jost Van Dyke. Right now. 

white bay
White Bay, as if the pictures don't do it enough justice, could not be more unreal. Pristine white beaches lined with beach bars, such as the famous Soggy Dollar Bar, make this bay a hotspot for anyone and everyone in the area. We came into White Bay during the day when the whole beach was hopping with boats blasting Jimmy Buffett, people paddleboarding and swimming into shore with beers in hand, and groups of sailors coming in for their mid-afternoon painkillers (a boozy coconut, pineapple, and OJ rum cocktail Soggy Dollar is famous for). This picturesque little slice of heaven was gorgeous, surreal and so much fun.

soggy dollar bar
We spent the entire afternoon at this bar and I can say, without a doubt, that it is the best bar I've ever been to. The bar is named the "Soggy Dollar" because there is no way to get there except to swim in, leaving travelers like us with our soggy dollars to pay for drinks. It is such an experience, and the painkillers (their famous drink) are to die for. They also have yummy food and some competitive ring-toss bar game that the guys loved.
If you're in the BVI's, don't even think about missing out on the Soggy Dollar. Day drinking followed by an afternoon nap on one of the hammocks that line the beach? It just doesn't get much better. 

foxy's beach bar
Located in Great Harbor, just down the island from White Bay, Foxy's is another famous beach bar experience. Whereas Soggy Dollar takes the cake on the daytime scene, Foxy's is your nighttime go-to. They serve a great dinner, have lots of TV's for sports, and have DJs or bands playing at night. So much fun! 

have some pizza in paradise
I'm not even sure this pizza place on the beach has a name.  Look for the awning that says "pizza" down the beach from Soggy Dollar and you'll find it. This place is amazing. The owner, Joe Cazik, a Colorado ex-pat, had just taken over the restaurant and was so awesome to us. We showed up for dinner, to the deserted beach (white bay is a daytime hotspot, but is beautifully quiet at night), and he re-opened the entire restaurant and turned on the pizza ovens for the ten of us. We talked with him for a while, ate our DELICIOUS pizza at a table on the beach and enjoyed what was definitely one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. We were lead here by word of mouth from a couple we had met at the Bitter End Yacht Club, who said they had been around the islands at least once a year for the last thirty years. (THE LIFE!!!!) Anyways, they told us this was the spot, and it is! 

the bubbly pool
If you're looking for a day trip on Jost Van Dyke, the bubbly pool and lunch at Foxy's Taboo is a great option. The bubbly pool, kind of like a natural hot tub formed by rocks in the ocean, are really cool but you have to go at the right time when the tide is high, or else it is underwhelming. Around the pool, you can climb up the rocks on the back side of the island and see some great views. After this, grab lunch at Foxy's Taboo, owned by the same Foxy we met at Foxy's, this place has some GREAT food and drinks for lunch.

virgin gorda
Virgin Gorda, one of the largest islands, is full of pristine beaches, luxury resorts, and great sailing. It's definitely a must-do, and here's why.

bitter end yacht club
I'm not sure what heaven looks like, but if I had to guess, it would look something like this. One look at this Yacht Club Resort's website and you will understand why I was in awe at every turn here. Located at the bitter end (fittingly) of Virgin Gorda island, this STUNNING resort has some of the best views I have ever seen in my life. Everywhere I looked, I couldn't believe my eyes. Talk about sensory overload. The food could admittedly be better here, as could the service. But you won't get any better views, so it's worth the trek to the bitter end.
Yep. Lounged here and felt like I was walking in a computer screensaver. 
the baths
This gorgeous area on the southwest coast of the island is unlike any other beaches in the Caribbean. White sand beaches framed by HUGE granite boulders create caves and grottos with amaaaaazing snorkeling and some of the prettiest sights you'll ever see.  I could have easily spent the whole trip here. Heavenly. 

tortola island
the last resort
This restaurant, on an island in the middle of Bellamy Cay in Tortola, serves up delicious local seafood and caribbean fusion cuisine in a fantastic unique island setting. Fitting that it's called the Last Resort as we went here on our last night in the BVI's! The restaurant is really close to the airport, so if you're looking for a last lunch or dinner hoorah, this is your place. 

We ate at this local dinner place and loved it. Great vibe, outdoor dining, and delish caribbean lobster. Just beware they may take over an hour to make your food, but that's pretty normal in the BVI's--- everyone is on island time. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the islandey atmosphere.

norman island
Norman was another one of my favorites!!! We had a great day snorkeling here, and moored in The Bight. 

pirate's bight restaurant
We loved this place!! Gorgeous setting, good food, and an awesome dinner on the beach looking out onto one of the most scenic harbors in the BVIs.

Willy T's
A pirate ship bar in the middle of the bay that you have to dinghy to get to. Known for it's wild parties where the bar gives free drinks all day to any girl who jumps off the top of the boat topless. This floating bar and restaurant is fun, crazy and so unique. We loved it. Definitely a must-do, day or night, if you're on Norman Island. 
peter island
A chic luxury resort island in the middle of the Caribbean? This is my kinda place!! Yes- the whole island is one resort! We pulled in here for the day and had a lunch looking out onto their picture-perfect beach. The drinks were amazing (I had a champagne and white wine sangria with fresh island fruit!) as was the food. This is definitely a honeymoon-type spot, with gorgeous quiet paradise beaches and amazing landscaping and resort facilities.

If you're like me and live for sun, sand and snorkeling, you just found your paradise. I know I did-  I've got the tan lines to prove it. 


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Embrace the Chaos: In Travel, and Every Day

You hear people say it all the time. Don't take any moment for granted, enjoy the journey not the destination, live in the moment.  We all KNOW all of these old adages, but do we truly live by them?

When I went abroad on Semester at Sea, I learned very quickly how easily time slips away from you. We would have only 5 or 6 days in a country, and that was it. Five days to see an entire country. We were thrown into port with little planning and preparation, armed with nothing but an open mind and high expectations. If you didn't take advantage of every moment, every opportunity, every sight to see, you missed out. We were going to countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and China.. places I wasn't sure if I would ever have another opportunity to get back to. I had too many places to go, too much to see, too many memories to make.

Life isn't so different from traveling in that way.  We're thrown into this life, which is always going to be too short. We have too many places we want to go, too much to accomplish, too many memories to make. We can prepare, plan, and create a fool-proof itinerary for the rest of our lives, or we can just live. The happiest people, in my opinion, find somewhere in between. A blend of preparation, long-term goal planning, and spontaneity. I think the happiest of us all learn to embrace the uncertainty that life brings, and live every day no different than as if it's a vacation in a new destination. 

And so I challenge you. Can you take advantage of every opportunity that every day presents? Can you see all there is to see and leave every day, and every destination, with no regrets? Much like travelers do in a new place, people can, and should, live every day with the mindset of, if I never get another opportunity, if tomorrow isn't guaranteed, if my long-term itinerary isn't set in place, would it make me happy in this moment to do this? Living for the moment, instead of constantly making our life decisions based on how we think we'll feel in the future or how we think we should feel right now, is, in my opinion, the key to happiness. It seems to me that after all is said and done, we actually don't want the plain, perfect life we set out to create at a young age. We want the mishaps, the risks, the chances we take, we want the mistakes that make us who we are. Just like on vacation, it's the flat tires, the last-minute itinerary changes, the storms, the adventures, the spontaneous times that make the best stories.  It's simply about embracing the uncertainty, and flexing with the twists and turns that life throws at us. 

I wish every day could actually be a vacation. But, then again, can't it?

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Next week, I'm headed down south to the land of the pines to my alma mater. So, I thought it only fitting that I dedicate this post to the best college town in the world. The town that holds a huge part of my heart and the best four years of my life:
Chapel Hill

Going to school across the country was the most challenging, exciting, and life-changing thing I have ever done. As an out-of-state student in a 80-something percent in-state university, I got the question "why'd you choose UNC?" at least a hundred times. So why did I choose it? 

It could have been the academic ranking of being a top 5 public school in the nation and top 30 overall, or it could have been the size, as I knew I wanted to go to a big school with a lot of opportunities. Maybe it was the weather, mild and similar to the California weather I grew up with. Or it may have been the social life, with countless bars and gorgeous greek houses. It probably had a lot to do with the college town, whose Southern charm swept this California girl right off her feet. And it probably had a lot to do with the people, too, who, even on my first visit, seemed like the happiest college students I had seen anywhere. Of course, it didn't hurt that Carolina blue was definitely my color. But, even with all these logical decision-makers floating around in my seventeen-year-old mind, I can't say that any one of them were the real reason why I made that final decision to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

As many alumni will tell you, there was just something about this place. An unbelievable, overwhelming feeling you get the first second you step on campus that really never goes away.  Suddenly, from the first time you drink from the old well or trip on the uneven bricks that cover the campus, you're a part of it. A part of arguably the tightest-knit family of any university and the best college basketball program in the world. You're a part of a campus that keeps you saying "Wow... I live in a beautiful place" every single day. You're a part of something so much bigger than you, the first public university in the United States that, with so much history, has shaped so many legends before you, from CEOs and presidents, to senators and broadcasters, to famous actors and authors, to Michael freaking Jordan

Anyone who's heard of the school, visited the school, went to Carolina or knows someone who went to Carolina seems to get it. Their eyes light up when I tell them I'm a Tar Heel, and they'll talk to me for hours about everything from basketball to bojangles to He's Not.  I'll never fully understand the feeling that drew me to Chapel Hill from 3,000 miles away. But, every time I hear James Taylor sing "Carolina in my mind", I'm completely overcome with it all over again.

OK OK, I know I know, enough with the sappy college throwback. Let's get to the point. Chapel Hill is a must-see if you're in North Carolina. And here is your guide to everything you can't miss while y'all are taking on tar heel town.

for the tourist
see a basketball game in the dean dome
You can't come to the University of North Carolina and not experience the sheer mayhem that is a Carolina basketball game. If you have dreams of going to a Carolina/Duke game, prepare to spend your life savings getting one of the prized tickets. Students are placed in a lottery for games, with seniors getting priority for the home Duke game. If you ever have the opportunity to watch the Battle for Tobacco Road, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think I'd rather go to another Carolina/Duke game than the super bowl any day. 

the basketball museum
If you can't tell, we love our Carolina basketball.  Ranked the #1 most successful college basketball program in the last 50 years by ESPN, we are more than proud of our 18 final four appearances (nobody has more) and our five national titles (one of which was the 2009 win my freshman year). This museum, located right next to the Dean Dome, is a beautiful tribute to our amazing program. My favorite exhibit? Michael Jordan's letter from Coach K writing his apologies that Jordan has decided to not pursue Duke Basketball. Definitely worth checking out.

franklin street
Franklin Street is the main street of Chapel Hill. It lines the northern border of the college campus and is home to the best bars, restaurants and shops. I have to say that Franklin Street is probably the first thing I fell in love with about UNC. I remember being on my first visit and thinking about how adorable Ye Olde Waffleshoppe was, and how I could see myself sitting outside under the blue striped awning of Carolina Coffee Shop. It's a one-of-a-kind street, so definitely take sometime to walk up and down it.

where to stay
the carolina inn
This hotel, located steps off of campus, is full of luxurious southern charm. If you're visiting your student, coming for a football weekend, or just visiting town, it's by far the best place to stay. It also boasts a five star restaurant with delicious brunches. Located right in the heart of Chapel Hill, you'll feel right at home in the South. From April and through the beginning of October, the inn also hosts "Fridays on the Front Porch" with live bluegrass music, dinner, and cocktails outside on their huge porch. It's so much fun. Also noteworthy: in the hotel's fitness center is a huge DUKE logo'd punching bag. Gotta love it. 211 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill

for the foodie

Top of the Hill
Top of the Hill is arguably one of the best college staples in the country. With its prime location looking out onto Franklin Street, its delicious food, its amazing brewery, its prime sports-viewing patio, and its famed blueberry wheat beer, it's tough to beat Topo. Their lunch & dinner is delicious, and they can accomodate big groups. Call ahead for a res, and prepare for a long wait if it's a football or basketball weekend-- everyone wants to go to dinner here. 100 E Franklin Street, 3rd Floor

Sutton's Drug Store

Suttton's is famous in Chapel Hill for it's greasy lunches, amazing milkshakes, and it's rich history. Having been in the center of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill since 1923, this grill and drug store is filled with photos of all their favorite customers. Most noteworthy on the wall? Every UNC basketball player, who are known to frequent Sutton's probably more than they frequent class. Our basketball players are bigger than celebrities in this town, so if you see one, prepare to be starstruck. 
159 E Franklin Street, Chapel Hill

Merritt's Store & Grill
Merritt's is a casual grill and country store a short 5 minute drive from campus. Known by anyone who's anyone for their world-famous BLT's, this is another must-do in Chapel Hill. Like Sutton's, Merritt's is full of history, having had its doors open since 1929. One bite of any of their amazing BLTs on one of their outside rocking chairs and y'all will justa died n' gone to heaven.

Ye Olde Waffleshoppe
Oh, Ye Olde. I'm proud to say the waiters know my order here, considering my friends and I went at least once a week pretty much my entire 4 years of college. It's been on Franklin Street for forty years and has the most delicious breakfast, and some hard to beat biscuits. Enjoy a great casual southern breakfast, and don't forget to order some grits :) 

411 West
The best date night dinner in Chapel Hill. Delicious food in an intimate Italian bistro, with reasonable wine prices.  They also have a great brunch! 411 West Franklin Street

Angus Barn
Located in Raleigh about a 25-30 minute drive from Chapel Hill, the Angus Barn is a huge steakhouse-in-a-farmhouse unlike any other. Country chic to its core, with the juxtaposition of picnic tablecloths, expensive melt-in-your-mouth steaks cut in house, and one of the best wine lists I've ever seen.  If you're in town for a special occasion, or just want a meal to remember, Angus Barn is your place.

The Pit
What could be better than good ol' BBQ and booze? The Pit is also in Raleigh, but it's most definitely worth the drive. This upscale NC barbecue restaurant is consistently ranked one of the best barbecue places in the country. My mouth is watering just thinking about their incredible all-day pit roasted pork, brisket, ribs and delicious cornbread. Not to mention I've been given free shots of NC moonshine twice while at dinner there. Gotta love Southern hospitality. One of my favorite restaurants of all time. 328 W Davie Street, Raleigh  (919) 890-4500

Foster's Market
If you're a college student looking for the perfect place to study and spend the afternoon, Foster's is your place. Amazing gourmet food, lots of seating, and a great ambiance make this place one of my Chapel Hill faves. If you go for breakfast, get their breakfast biscuit with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. They also have delicious smoothies all day!
750 Martin Luther King Blvd, Chapel Hill

for going out
blue cups at He's Not
He's Not Here  Pretty much everyone's favorite hangout, especially on the patio in the warm weather. Named for the amount of times the bar used to answer the phone and have to say "He's not here" when asked if Michael Jordan was there tonight when he was in school. Famed for their HUGE "blue cups" of draft beer, that hold at least the amount of 3 or 4 beers, and come at college-student-approved prices of only about 4 or 5 bucks a pop. Karaoke nights and live bands are frequent on the He's Not patio, making it even more difficult to ever say no to a blue cup. 

Top of the Hill The restaurant makes the swift turn to bar around 10pm, and the alumni start pouring in. Yes, it's definitely still one of the most popular bars while you're in school, but this place is definitely an alumni (and out-of-towner) hot spot. Topo is also home to Back Bar, a separate part of the same building full of darts, a pool table, and lots of TVs.

Pantana Bob's Bobs. The frattiest bar in Chapel Hill. The day drinking on the porch. The mechanical bull that occasionally makes an appearance. The trivia. The line down the block. The dancefloor. One of the best college bars anywhere.

for late night
late night is a Chapel Hill tradition, with the majority of places on Franklin Street staying open as late as 4am to cater to hungry drunk college students.  Here are some places to cater to your late night cravings

View of Topo/Franklin St during the 2009 National Championship.. Do you see me???
time out Dubbed a "Chapel Hill Right of Passage" by Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel,  this 24 hour southern fried hotspot is just what you need. Fried chicken, huge homemade biscuits, mac n cheese, pulled pork. It's late-night perfection.

artisan pizza (formerly artichoke basil) My go-to late night when I was in school. Delish pizza that will hit the spot after all those blue cups. Try the artichoke slice, it's like having spinach artichoke dip on a pizza. UNREAL.

bskis delicious wraps any way you want them. always a great option due to their free delivery. Highly recommend the AKski and the Caesarski. 
Tailgating at Frat Court

know before you go
The best times to visit this gorgeous town are in the fall and the spring. it snows only about twice a year, but the winters get pretty cold. Summers are deathly humid and hot, in typical southern fashion. Fall is beautiful, with colorful leaves everywhere, and spring is equally as stunning, with a million flowers blooming all over town. 

my thoughts on the rivalry
You don't know a true rivalry until you understand the hatred that exists between Duke and North Carolina. Separated by only 8 miles (called the Tobacco Road), we can't stand each other. It is anything but a friendly rivalry. "Go to hell Duke" is actually a PART of our alma mater fight song that we sing no matter who we are playing, and no matter what sport. Will Blythe wrote an amazing book on the Rivalry called "To Hate Like This is to Be Happy Forever". So why do we hate each other so much? Why is this rivalry SO much better than any other? Bleacher Report, in an article on why the rivalry is the best in college basketball, notes that it has a lot to do with the consistency of both of our elite basketball programs. The two teams have played a total of 235 games against each other, of which UNC has won 132 to Duke's 103. We also have also had two of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, with Dean Smith and Roy Williams. Duke has had Coach K. He wins a lot, too, despite his resemblance to a rodent. We are continuously both ranked in the top teams in the nation, year after year, and we both are renowned for our intense fans, which keep the fire in this rivalry flaming year after year. 

I'd give anything to re-live my four years in Chapel Hill. It truly is a gem of the south, and a one-of-a-kind college town. Just don't wear a Duke shirt... you might never be allowed back.

Go heels,

The Best & Worst Parts of Traveling

This has got to be the worst part of traveling. First, you spend months counting down the calendar anticipating that amazing light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel day your vacation finally comes. Then, the day finally arrives. This is it! So long, stress... Sayonara work! Arrivaderci real world, I'm going off the grid! But... wait. You get to wait some more! Airports are one big waiting central, with ticket lines, security lines, lines to get your 10 magazines, lines to board the plane, the annoying wait to deplane, the never-ending wait to 10,000 feet so you can finally turn on TaySwift on your iPod.... It's all one big waiting scam. But the worst has to be when you're forced to watch that stupid metal carousel circle around and around and around for what feels like hours. "YES! There it is! My bag! Finally!!!!" Oh wait, some lady grabs it... not your bag. Keep waiting. Finally got your bag? OK! The wait is over! The wait is over! You can finally start relaxing!..... As long as you don't have to wait for a train, your car rental shuttle or drive a whole other hour to your hotel only to wait more for the 4pm hotel check in. Traveling is exhausting.

Relaxing is the tradeoff to all that exhausting waiting. Although it may seem that you have to jump through a million hoops to get there, by the time you're on that beach lounge in the sand, margarita in hand, we seem to easily forget about all the hassle that travel ensues, as all that waiting begins to pay off. So, whether you're relaxing with bronzing skin and melting margaritas, a bottle of wine and a warm fireplace, a gondola and italian music, or simply a good book on the cobblestone streets of Charleston... make time to enjoy the quiet break away from reality, wherever you are. After all, relaxing is what vacationing is for. 

freaky foods. 
hmm.. no thanks
I'm gonna go ahead and say most of us don't love to be surprised when it comes to the food we eat. OK OK, I get that sometimes this can be one of the best parts of traveling, tasting some exotic foods that truly represent a culture... I get that. But, I personally would like to find a balance between exotic/unique and full-on Fear Factor.  I don't really want to mistakenly find out I've eaten bear tongue or fried alligator feet (both have happened, in Finland and Africa). There are some pretty gross foods around the world, and props to you if cow eyeballs become your new favorite office snack...but I think I'll stick to my american string cheese. 
Now this is the kind of cultured food I like. (in Mykonos, Greece)
Although I'm not the most adventurous when it comes to all the local 'delicacies', I must admit that the sushi I've had in Japan was the best in the world, nevermind that I didn't know what I was ordering, aside from asking for anything with "abokado" (an actual japanese word for avocado) and watching them create these gorgeous raw masterpieces that featured god-knows-what along with my abokado.. but dang was that sushi delicious. So my travel advice to you is this: definitely step out of your comfort zone a little, don't pass over a foreign authentic place for a McDonald's anytime soon, but take a pocket dictionary with you just to make sure you know if what that Spanish bar is serving you is some good ol' chicken wings, or if it's "criadillas".....bull testicles (yep, they're really popular.. ole!).

doing things you can't do at home.
Why not?
This may seem a little contradictory to my don't-go-eating-things-you'll-regret paragraph, but I believe doing things we can't do at home is one of the best parts of traveling. If you go to a new place and immediately fall into your same old at-home routine, you're not doing it right. Traveling is all about trying new things! Whether that's learning something new, like surfing or scuba diving, or doing something adventurous, like skydiving, ziplining or parasailing. Take advantage of your time in a foreign country or in a new city to take yourself to new heights of experience. It's an amazing feeling to learn something new, even if it's something small like how to make a lei in Hawaii  or something lifelong like an Italian cooking lesson.  These are unique experiences that will shape your travels, so, in the wise words of nike, just do it

Sorry. Too busy daydreaming to unpack. 
Unpacking is by far my least favorite aspect of traveling. I dread it an unhealthy amount. I will usually put it off as long as possible, just eyeing that suitcase in the corner of the room and wishing I could go back to the excitement of packing instead of the annoying chore that is unpacking all my dirty clothes. My bikini still has sand on it... My coverups still smell like the favorite dress has a mai tai stain on it. I'm gonna go cry and look at pictures of my trip for over/under three hours now. OK bye. It's inevitable that unpacking is going to remind you of the trip-that-was, and when your vacation is over and it's back to the real world , this is the most annoying reality check ever. 

Packing, on the other hand, is an amazing part of traveling. It's full of excitement for your trip... and, of course, shopping.  I would be lying to you if I said I didn't start packing for vacations weeks before them, at least in the form of planning my outfits in my head. I already have all my outfits picked out for my trip to Hawaii in two weeks, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  I read somewhere that women, on average, spend more money on clothes for a trip than on the actual trip, which, honestly, didn't surprise me at all. New bikinis? New travel bag? New floppy hat? Travel sized beauty products? Passport cover? Maybe a new suitcase? check, check and check.  A vacay is, first and foremost, an excuse to shop. And who doesn't love the feeling of packing all those adorable new clothes you can't wait to wear? 
I have a love-hate relationship with airports. On the one hand, they are the waiting, waiting, and more waiting hells that I described earlier in this post. But, on the other hand, they are centers of excitement and chaos that you can't help but love. I've had my best people-watching moments in airports... wondering where everyone is going, what each of their stories are. And I've met and had the best conversations with the most interesting people in the airport, from army men coming home to their families after 3 years, to honeymooners, to couples traveling together after 50 years of marriage. I've met people from different countries, and I've had kind strangers help me navigate new cities. Airports connect people from all over the world, taking you to new places, or simply bringing you home. They will never cease to amaze me, even if they're sometimes the most irritating places on the planet. 

facing fears. 
Yep, that picture is me in Mauritius, Africa... hanging out with a wild lion (see that stick in my hand- that's for protection!). Something you could never do in America, and something I never thought I'd do in my life. Walk with a wild animal known for it's viciousness? Sure, why not. The the beauty of travel is that it lets you let go of your fears, trust things you wouldn't normally trust and challenge the comforts and fears you left at home. So, whether it's an uncaged lion, a sky-high zipline, a snorkel trip to Sting Ray City (awesome place in the Cayman Islands), or a 100 mph vespa ride through the crazy bustling cities of Vietnam (scariest moment of my life probably), traveling can scare us, but our memories will be all the better from those fear-facing moments. 

Yes, there are some downsides to traveling... but no matter where your travels take you, you will see things you've never seen before, experience things you never thought possible, and feel more alive than you ever have. Still sitting on your couch reading this? Get out and see the world!


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San Diego, California

San Diego. Famous for Ron Burgundy, the Chargers, and the very best Mexican food you'll ever taste. One of the most sought-after places to live in the US and a top vacation destination for all you sun-seeking travelers.  My grandparents have lived oceanfront in La Jolla for 45 years and, because of them, it has become my second home.  As a kid, it was all about the fact that this amazing metropolis had the five things any kid would want... SeaWorld, the zoo, waves, sand and Legoland.  As I got older, it was still about the waves and the sand,  but also the adorable downtown La Jolla, the Pacific Beach nightlife, and the countless water activities, from jet skiing, to paddleboarding, to biking the boardwalks. San Diego truly has something for everyone, as long as you like sun, surf, sand and sea. Which is everyone.

 The mild 75-and-sunny weather year round brings the people in to this coastal California paradise, but it's the unique SD lifestyle that keeps them coming back. The people are easy-going, friendly, and affluent. The beaches are picturesque, full of surf-worthy Pacific waves, and aren't overcrowded. Located just 2 hours south of Los Angeles, San Diego could not be more different from it's neighboring CA metropolis. Whereas LA has the bustle of a busy city, complete with traffic 24 hours a day, cutthroat careerists and a huge lack of open space, San Diego seems to have taken that city way of life and thrown it right out the window.   I don't think there are many people who wouldn't want to live in this amazing city  with it's laid back vibe, stunning ocean views, and incredible weather. 

So, even if you can't afford to retire to a 15 Million Dollar Oceanview mansion in La Jolla just yet,  you can plan an awesome trip!
Everyone in San Diego has a dog...
for the tourist
San Diego Zoo
If you have only been to small zoos, you're missing out. The huge San Diego Zoo is one of the world's top ranked zoos, and it's no question why. You can't possibly see everything in a day, but you're guaranteed to have a great day trying. Whatever you do, don't miss the famous Giant Panda Exhibit, as the SDZoo prides itself on having the most successful breeding program outside of China for the endangered species, and they are making huge strides in saving the pandas from extinction. My favorite things to do at the zoo are see the panda cubs, feed the giraffes, and watch the polar bears swim. Feeling adventurous? Sign up for the Ropes Course Safari. It's new and looks awesome!
Sea World
Sea World is Disneyland for ocean lovers. Full of awesome water rides and even better sea animal shows, SeaWorld is a family vacation must-do. Feed the dolphins, touch the starfish and the stingrays in the tide pools, and don't miss the Polar Bear exhibit! So much fun.  

Seal Beach
Taken this summer in La Jolla
If you find yourself in La Jolla, don't miss Seal Beach, also called Children's Pool. Here you can watch and get up-close-and-personal with hundreds of seals playing and sunbathing in the cove. 
Del Mar Racetracks
Del Mar, located 20 miles north of San Diego, is a really cute seaside town and is home to one of California's best horse racing tracks. If you're looking to win big or just have a good time at the races, this is definitely a fun adventure. And the horses are gorgeous. Check the schedule before you go, and of course study up on those thoroughbreds to know who to bet on!

Old Town San Diego
This historic center prides itself on being the "Birthplace of California". Lots of authentic mexican restaurants, museums, shops and great history.  A tourist fave in SD. 

for the foodies
Maitre D
One of my very favorite special occasion restaurants I have ever been to. The 'Maitre D' owner, who gives the restaurant its name and it's fame, is an 80-something year old man whose energy and charisma make this restaurant the gem it is. As soon as you walk into this small, 10-table restaurant, the maitre d and his staff do everything possible to make your celebratory night a night to remember. The menu is full of decadent tableside-prepared dishes such as bananas foster, baked alaska, and the finest chateaubriand steak.  The live piano music combined with the gorgeous antique furniture makes you feel like you've stepped back into the roaring 20's for dinner. The atmosphere, the service, and the food are all incredible. Don't miss out on their famous "infused vodka" which comes to your table as a bottle in a cube of ice, infused with fruit or flowers.  There are also Ice swans between courses that hold your sorbet. Every bit of this restaurant is an amazing experience. It's quirky, crazy and elegant all in one, but the best part has to be the night has to be the owner and how he takes photos of every table with his little camera, then develops them and will give them to you when you return. He wants to make sure your special night is remembered! He remembers every single diner that comes into the restaurant... it's incredible.  I guarantee you your night at this hidden gem will be a night to remember.  Maitre D. 5523 La Jolla Blvd. 

Phil's BBQ
best sandwich in america? you gotta try it
Phil's Barbecue is less of a hidden gem and more of a you're-going-to-be-waiting-in-line-for-two-hours-if-you-want-a-table San Diego staple. But, have no fear, they do take out and you can call ahead and pick up your order with no wait!! Definitely the way to do it! Winner of Travel Channel's best sandwich in america, you have to try the El Toro Tri-Tip Sandwich. It is heaven. And I'm a North Carolina Tar Heel who loooves barbecue and although I would never imagine that my favorite barbecue would be found in CA, Phil's definitely takes the cake.  Also try the pulled pork Broham and their incredible beer battered onion rings. I don't even like onion rings and I could finish a whole order myself.  Phil's BBQ 3750 Sports Arena Blvd 619 226 6333

Harry's Coffee Shop

La Jolla's breakfast hot spot. Harry's has been around in downtown La Jolla since 1960 and it's red leather booths, loyal local diners and classic delicious breakfast haven't aged a bit. I'm not kidding you when I say I dream about Harry's cinnamon rolls, a delicious warmed donut roll that I get every time before my omelette. They also have great benedicts, waffles, pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, omelettes and anything else you could possibly want for breakfast or brunch.  Harry's Coffee Shop 7545 Girard Ave La Jolla CA 92037

Old Town Cafe
Admittedly, this is a very touristy place. But, if you're into touristy mexican margaritas, sombreros, and delicious authentic mexican food, I highly recommend it. They handmake their tortillas right there which is awesome, and the margaritas are muy delicioso!! Old Town Mexican Cafe 

Roppongi Sushi
Located on Prospect Street in the heart of downtown La Jolla, this sushi bar, complete with outdoor fire pit dining for CA summer nights, was awarded Zagat's Top World Restaurants Award as well as Wine Spectator's Award for Excellence. With its contemporary vibe and stunning decor, it's a great place to grab drinks or dinner. 

Dos Pedros Taco Shop
Shhhhh. This place is a local secret. It is literally a 100-square-foot little shack that serves up the best Mexican food I have ever tasted. Get the carne asada fries, a carne asada burrito, or just the quesadilla and take it to the beach. Best. Mexican. Ever. 723 Turquoise Street, San Diego, CA and 6990 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla

My favorite view, taken this Summer in La Jolla
for the adventurer
snorkel with leopard sharks 
Yes, sharks. But they're small and harmless, so don't be scared. Here at the La Jolla Cove, you can snorkel with them! Pretty cool. 

jetski in mission bay
Mission Bay hosts some great water for jetskiing. SO much fun. Check out Mission Bay Sportcenter  for prices and reservations. 

kayak the caves of la jolla 
Rent a kayak or do a tour and see the caves of La Jolla Cove! 

golf at torrey pines
Famous for being Phil Mickelson's go-to course and the site of the 2008 US Open, golfing or sightseeing at Torrey Pines is a must for any golfers coming to SD. Situated atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific, it's a stunning course. 

for the beaches
La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores is your catch-all California beach. It has huge waves and a gorgeous stretch of white sand that spans for a mile. Go to a nearby surf shop if you want to rent a surfboard for the day or take a lesson! They also rent boogie boards, paddleboards, skimboards, and more! One of the most famous is Mitch's Surf Shop
Pacific Beach
Rent a bike and ride along the whole boardwalk lining Pacific Beach. This beach can get crowded, but is definitely a fun one to people watch. Great restaurants also line the boardwalk! (and my favorite shaved ice place, a popular little stand you won't miss)
Coronado Island
Coronado island is one of my favorite places in the world. It is this gorgeous island ten minutes from downtown San Diego that is home to a naval base. The town itself is so great. Full of cute shops, dining, and one of the best hotels in the world, Hotel Del Coronado. The beach outside of the Hotel Del is a great place to go for the day. 

for the nightlife
Pacific Beach bars
Pacific Beach is packed with beachy bars, full of tank-top clad college kids looking to have a good time. The casual atmosphere among all the PB bars is so much fun, and completely different from the bars in downtown San Diego. Check out Typhoons, especially for dancing.

where to stay
Hotel Del Coronado
One of my favorite hotels in the world. Site of Marilyn Monroe's movie "Some Like It Hot", this hotel has incredible history but is gorgeously refurbished to be a top notch modern resort. The pool area, restaurants, and shopping are amazing, and the beach is fantastic. Not to mention you're on the cute island of Coronado, a gorgeous section of San Diego. This is definitely my pick for where to stay! You won't be disappointed.

The Omni Downtown
This Omni Hotel is connected via a skywalk to Petco Park, the home of the Padres. So, if you're planning on catching a game while you're in town, there's no better place to be.

La Valencia
If you want to stay in La Jolla, this downtown hotel is my favorite. It's beautiful iconic pink architecture and overlooking ocean views make it a top tourist spot for the city.

If you can't already tell, you're never going to get bored in San Diego. The people here are super active, and you'll adapt well to their awesome way of life. Jetskiing, paddleboarding, surfing, boogieboarding, and soaking in the sun... who's with me?

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