Aloha Maui: The Feast at Lele

First, let’s state the obvious: luaus in Hawaii are expensive. However, Brandon and I knew that this was one area where we wanted to “splurge” during my birthday trip to Maui. Because we knew that this would be one of the major expenses of the trip, I wanted to make sure to find the absolutely best luau experience. In researching the options, The Old Lahaina Luau was one that was consistently mentioned as the best, most authentic luau on Maui. However, I also learned that the same company who produces Old Lahaina also produces a more upscale luau, The Feast at Lele. At $125 per person, The Feast was a bit more expensive than Old Lahaina, but after comparing the two, we decided that The Feast was perfect for us. It was worth every penny!

First, the location. Located in Lahaina, it was within walking distance of our hotel. Which meant a lovely pre-dinner walk through town and not having to worry about finding a taxi after the luau. Given how easy it is to lose count of the mai tais and lava flows, being able to easily walk back to the hotel was perfect.

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Second, the vibe. From the moment we arrived and were greeted with leis and mai tais, we relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Located on the beach, the sunset provided the perfect backdrop for the early part of the evening. Plus, rather than the typical buffet and group tables at luaus, we had a private table where we were served dinner.

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IMG_0639 Third, the service. Incredibly attentive, we felt pampered from the moment we sat down. From ensuring timely delivery of the (many) food courses to making sure our drinks never ran out, the wait staff was fantastic and friendly.

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Fourth, the performance. One thing I especially loved about this particular luau was the approach they took to the dances. Each course was accompanied by a dance corresponding with that particular place of Polynesian heritage. So not only did we get to see traditional Hawaiian dances, we also saw dances from Samoa, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The closing act was Samoan fire dancing. It was absolutely wonderful and perfectly executed.

Hawaii:

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New Zealand:

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Tahiti:

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Samoa:

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And last, but not least, the food. This is probably what ultimately swayed the decision to attend The Feast at Lele over another luau. The dinner consisted of 4 courses plus dessert, each inspired by the traditional foods of the various Pacific islands. For instance, we enjoyed Hawaiian pork while watching Hawaiian hula dancing. I will say, this is not the ideal place for a picky eater. Personally, we thought the food was delicious and I loved getting to try all kinds of new foods. However, it could get a bit adventurous at times. Oh, and drinks were unlimited. In addition to the typical tropical drinks one would expect, there was a suggested wine or beer pairing for each course.

Hawaii:

We were greeted with "Hawaiian starches" and a mango, seaweed salsa
We were greeted with “Hawaiian starches” and a mango, seaweed salsa

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Kalua Puaa – pork roasted in the ground
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Lomi lomi salmon
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Bamboo pineapple rice

New Zealand:

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Fern Salad
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Braised short ribs in a kiwi au jus
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Stewed mushrooms and purple sweet potato

Tahiti:

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Poisson Cru (similar to ceviche, but made with coconut milk)
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Baked scallop
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Mango ginger chicken

Samoa:

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Seared fish
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Coconut cream corned beef (intriguingly delicious)
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Rolls in coconut milk

And because there had obviously not been enough food, dessert:

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Pineapple upside down cake

We loved The Feast at Lele. We still talk about it as one of the favorite things we did while in Hawaii and something we would certainly splurge on again. The entire evening was lovely, delicious, and oh-so-fun. If you are looking for a unique luau that is a more sophisticated and gourmet experience than others you might find, I cannot recommend The Feast at Lele enough!

Aloha Maui: Sometimes Travel Hurts

What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.

Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.

But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.

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We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.

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Perfection!

Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.

And then my arm started to hurt.

A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.

Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.

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Small but surprisingly painful

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So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.

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Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.

In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.

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Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.

The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.

Aloha Maui: Lahaina

After two nights in Kahului, we spent the last two nights of our Maui vacation in the charming, although sometimes crowded, town of Lahaina.

Things I love:

Cute small town – Check

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There is a banyan tree covering an entire block in downtown Lahaina.

A great happy hour – Check

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Captain Jack’s
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Crab cakes
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Mai tais and lava flows

Ocean views – Check

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A lovely hotel with impeccable service – Check

The Plantation Inn was perfect! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.
The Plantation Inn was perfection! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.

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My room was gorgeous!
My room was gorgeous!
And there was a balcony
And there was a balcony
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Because a gorgeous room with a stained glass window, a balcony, a pool, and personable service (seriously – upon checkin, the front desk clerk gave us an individualized tour of the property ensuring we had everything we needed to be comfortable) were not enough, there was even a delicious poolside breakfast each morning. The menu was small, but I’m not going to complain about homemade granola, POG juice, and fresh pineapple.

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And most of all this guy – Check

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How could I not love a place with so many lovely things?

Aloha Maui: Come Sail Away

I could imagine it: a morning spent relaxing on a sailboat as it gently moved through the waves resulting in perfectly windblown hair; being surrounded by colorful and bounteous fish while snorkeling in the cool and salty water made perfect by the sun shining down and warming my back; sitting next to Brandon while sipping mai tais and resting my head on his shoulder as we watched the waves. It sounded perfect. Usually when I travel, I like to enjoy a splurge or two. For my birthday trip to Maui, we decided that one of those splurges would be a sailing and snorkeling trip. After extensively researching the options, because that’s what I do for fun, we decided that Trilogy was the way to go. After another stop at Maui Coffee Roasters before leaving Kahului, we made our way south to Ma’alaea Harbor.

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Things to Know: 

  • You will not wear shoes (they get dropped off at the dock at check-in) and you will wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. But not the spray kind because that makes the deck slippery. And you should definitely reapply. Did I mention that you should reapply sunscreen? Because you will get sunburned.

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  • The company provides all of the necessary snorkel gear. I was especially excited to learn that they even have prescription masks available. Because otherwise I totally couldn’t see, which is kind of the point of snorkeling. They also have wetsuit tops available to help with the whole sunburn thing. The pain is real, y’all.

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  • The Trilogy tour to Molokini Crater is $129 per adult. The tour involves two stops for snorkeling. One at Molokini and then a second stop in a spot where sea turtles are often spotted. Of course all of this is dependent on the weather and can vary slightly .

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This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn't exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn’t exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
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Our second stop was off the coast near Makena Beach and Wailea.
I got to see a turtle. I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat.
I got to see a turtle! I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat. You can kind of see the turtle.

 

Things I Liked (aka why I chose this company):

  • The crew and the opportunity to actually sail. The crew was enthusiastic and went out of their way to make the day fun. And this trip is not just about the snorkeling. One of the unique things about Trilogy is that they use true sailboats. Although the tour motors to the snorkeling sights, the day ends with the opportunity to sail. The crew even lets you help out if you want.

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Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
  • The smaller size of the tour. We might have been running a bit late thanks to the coffee stop, so I rushed ahead to check-in while Brandon found a place to park and paid (Side note: there were spots muuuuuch closer and far less muddy than the one we ended up in. If you’re leaving from the far pier, keep driving around – there should be plenty of spots on the pier). On his trek he noticed another boat, from a company which shall remain unnamed. At first, he was horrified to think that said boat was ours – overloaded with tourists with inadequate space for everyone, it did not look like a good time. Thankfully, he was much happier when he finally arrived at the Trilogy boat. There was enough space for everyone to have a place to sit and there were trampolines at the front you could hang out on. The crew to passenger ratio was great.

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  • The food.  If you have read my blog, like, once, you know that food is high on the list of my priorities. So there is at least a chance that, despite what I said above, I chose this particular trip based primarily upon the reviews mentioning the delicious food. Maybe.
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
And mai tais
And mai tais
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And more mai tais
And more mai tais

It was a really fun day that was worth every penny. The sailing was fun, the food was yummy, and the snorkeling was great. You know you’ve had a good day when at the end of the day your hair looks like this:

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The day was almost as perfect as I had imagined.

Aloha Maui: The Road to Hana

First, let me state the obvious. I am sooooo behind on this little blog of mine. I one hundred percent, absolutely, and completely blame the Oregon summer. I have been spending most of my spare time outdoors in the sun and usually on the water. I can’t wait to share more about how I’ve been having all kinds of fun camping, hiking, and relaxing this summer, but for now, let’s return to Hawaii. Because Hawaii.

For any first time (and possibly anytime) visitor to Maui, driving the road to Hana is a must.

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This curvy, quite popular drive with waterfalls around (almost!) every curve in the road is famous for a reason. I know there are approximately a million articles out in the world about where to stop and what to do (we relied heavily on the Maui Revealed guidebook). This will not be that post. For one, it was rainy, so as much as we absolutely enjoyed the day, there were times when we simply did not want to get out of the car and thus probably missed some of the “must see” sights. But I will share some of the pointers I found helpful.

  • Get an early start. We left our Kahului hotel before 8 am to beat the rush. We intentionally chose a morning when we were staying in Kahului to take our drive. We stayed at the convenient Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport our first two nights. It was incredibly wonderful to not have to drive far after a long day of flying and an 8 pm arrival on Sunday. And it made an early morning start that much easier the following day.
  • Bring supplies, a.k.a snacks and coffee. There are plenty of fruit stands along the way, but if you’re in need of coffee before you can be functional (not that I know anyone who could be described that way…), then Maui Coffee Roasters is worth a stop. Coffee = happiness = I become tolerable to be around. Also in the supplies category is gas. Start with a full tank.IMG_0558
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Whole wheat bagel with guava butter
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Now I’m ready to have a good day
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Love him. Especially because he did not hold anything I said before coffee against me.
  • Don’t let a rainy day keep you from having a good time. If you keep driving long enough, you might even find the sun!

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  • Find a decent guide and stop where you want to. There are even audio guides available that you can play while you drive. In a single day, there is no way to see every scenic or interesting spot. Spend a little time doing some research and prioritize what you want to see. But also, allow yourself the chance to stop if you find something intriguing. For instance, I knew I wanted to see the black sand beach, but the choice to stop for coconuts was completely impulsive. In other words, plan, but don’t plan too much.

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  • Do not rush. Listen, this road is curvy. And trafficy. And scenicy. That is a combination that equals slooooow. Do not feel pressure to drive fast, but if you are holding up traffic, be courteous, pull over, and let the cars behind you pass. There will also be many one-lane bridges. Take your time and enjoy the journey. Honestly, with an early start and not feeling pressure to go at a certain pace, we did not find the traffic troublesome.
  • At least consider driving all the way around. Most people will turn around in Hana, or just past it, and then drive back the way they came. This is largely due to the belief that the road after Hana becomes more rugged and dangerous to drive. It was no more curvy, in fact, often less so, than the road to Hana. Although the road was narrow, brief moments of bravery and a willingness to honk around blind corners were all that was needed. Even the gravel portions of the road were in good condition. Speaking from personal experience, if you have ever driven on a non-paved road in Oregon, you will be fine. We both loved getting to see another side of the island that was a marked departure from the lush scenery of the first part of the day. And there was much less traffic. And much more sunshine. I would say give it a go if you feel comfortable with even the smallest amount of risk taking.

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Using these tips, we had a lovely day viewing waterfalls

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swimming in the rain

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taking in the views while eating mangos and wearing flowers found along the way

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hiking Pipiwai Trail

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and checking out the remarkable O’heo Gulch, even if it was closed to swimming that day.

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We chased the sun and made some random stops along the way.

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We found a delicious spot for a Thai food lunch in Hana

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and stopped for fresh coconuts when we “needed” an afternoon snack.

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Most of all, we repeatedly stated how lucky we were to spend a day together in such an incredible place. And really, I think regardless of where you stop and what you do, that is what the road to Hana is all about.

Aloha Maui: Happy Birthday!

Let’s get real for a sec. Sometimes birthdays can bring about some rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s your birthday and you get to celebrate and eat cupcakes. On the other hand, well, it’s your birthday and you have acknowledge that you are a year older. Even if you’re turning 29. Again. I’m working on embracing getting older, appreciating that being in my thirties means no longer spending my days toiling away in the basement of my grad school years, that every year I learn a little more, and that I am increasingly comfortable in my own skin. But when all of that mature, responsible train of thought does not quite ease the distress of being another year older, might I suggest Hawaii?

Although perhaps spending your actual birthday traveling is not the most fun way to spend the day, I celebrated the small things along the way.

There was Dutch Bros. coffee
There was Dutch Bros. coffee
And breakfast burritos
And breakfast burritos
And a practically empty airplane
And a practically empty airplane
And a sunset over the ocean
A sunset over the ocean
Let's not forget the mai tais
Let’s not forget the mai tais
And really good sushi. At a sport's bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night
And really good sushi. At a sport’s bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night. But the sushi was delicious.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special every day. And who doesn't hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special even when it’s not my birthday. And who doesn’t hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.

Whether you are turning 32 or 92, your life is a gift. Your unique, crazy, hard, beautiful, sad, joyful, wonderful life is your chance to become and do and live. That, my friends, is worth celebrating. Hopefully in Hawaii.

Aloha Maui Giveaway

This giveaway has now ended. The winner of the giveaway is Terri B. Congrats, Terri!

Aloha! I am back to talk about my incredible birthday trip to Maui. I wish I could celebrate with a trip to Hawaii every year! Being in Hawaii certainly eased the sting of being one year older. It may have been my birthday, but I want to give you a gift. Usually my giveaways are something I pick up from the place I visited, but I thought I would change it up this time by giving away something I bought for the trip and absolutely loved.

In searching for the perfect beach towels (because every beach trip needs the perfect beach towel, obviously), I ran across recommendations for Turkish towels. Because Amazon Prime is my BFF, I eventually found and ordered these: http://amzn.to/1RVV9qG and http://amzn.to/1UbdvtQ, orange for me and blue for Brandon.

I know it may be weird to get excited about a beach towel, but this one is seriously the best! It’s thin and lightweight so it’s easy to pack, the fabric is soft and you can easily shake out the sand, it dries quickly while also being absorbent, it’s a great size, and let’s not forget the most important thing, it is stylish and colorful. I did, after all, find the towels because my initial internet search was “cute beach towel.” A girl’s gotta have priorities.

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The towels held up wonderfully at the beach, in the wash, and in subsequent trips to the river. It could also make a great picnic blanket or even a sarong.

If I haven’t already sold you on how awesome a Turkish towel is, today I’m giving one reader a chance to win one! For this giveaway, the winner will get to choose a Dandelion Textile Turkish Towel from Amazon in any available color (up to a $25 value). There are so many options: Yellow, Turquoise, Purple, Green, Blue, Pink, or even plain old Gray if neutral is more your thing. Seriously, there are well over a dozen color options. Check out all of the options here. To enter the giveaway, comment on this post with your must have beach essential(s). Or your favorite Turkish towel color. Or your favorite beach. Or even why you hate the beach, although in that case I might think you are crazy! The giveaway ends Saturday June 18 at 11:59 pm PST. A winner will (probably) be announced the following day. Good luck! And if you don’t win, you should probably buy one anyway!

 

How Do You Travel So Much?

The question is often asked (or implied…), “How do you travel so much?” I think that generally breaks down into two separate queries: how I afford to travel and how do I have the time. So I thought today I would answer the questions!

First, how do I afford to travel.

1. The circumstances of my life. I am a young professional with no children. This is not necessarily helpful advice, because you can’t exactly send your kids back once they’re in your life, but it is a significant factor. At this point in my life my disposable income goes toward travel, although I am perfectly aware that these circumstances could change at some point. Thus, my other tips might be a little more practicable.

2. I save and budget. Each month begins with me spending a few moments putting together my budget for the month. One item on that budget is “travel.” I save money, even a little bit, every single month. Whatever you’re able to save will eventually add up to enough to go somewhere!

3. I stay tuned to travel deals and take advantage of them when I can. For real, I am probably subscribed to just about every travel deal list that exists. Some of favorites are Budget Travel, Travelzoo, and Tripalertz. You can set flight alerts using websites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Smartertravel.com for notifications when certain routes are on sale (for instance, I have an alert for flights to Arkansas – a recent alert I received led to me booking a trip home in September) and there is even a Groupon for travel deals.

4. I take advantage of opportunities. Last year, both my trip to China and to South Korea came about because I took up a friend on an offer of a free place to stay. Be warned, if you say, “Come visit sometime,” I will probably be sleeping on your couch at some point. Especially if you live somewhere cool. I also extend work trips by a day or two when possible, taking advantage of the fact that I’m already visiting somewhere to explore a bit.

5. I try to use points when I can. I am by no means an expert on this particular area of travel, but I am learning.

6. I spend a significant amount of time researching places I might want to go, finding budget options when possible. I find enjoyment in looking for that chic but affordable boutique hotel or finding the best cheap food a city has to offer. I balance splurges like a massage at a spa with free or inexpensive activities such as hiking or exploring a city by foot.

7. I unabashedly ask for the gift of travel.

8. I work extra jobs to earn extra money that I set aside for travel. It is not unusual for me to work well more than a typical 40-hour workweek, all for the sake of being able to go more places.

So how might this look in real life? Well, let’s take my recent trip to Hawaii for example.

  • Flights: I used 50,000 British Airways points I had previously earned through a credit card sign up bonus to book two roundtrip tickets from Portland to Maui. I paid a grand total of $22.40 in taxes and fees.
  • Hotel: I used 70,000 Marriott points, also collected through a combination of a credit card sign up bonus and spending on that credit card, for two nights at the Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport ($0). The next two nights were spent at the Plantation Inn in Lahaina, which cost $500 total for both nights. This rate also included breakfast, adding extra value to the cost.
  • Rental Car: My birthday present from my parents was a rental car for the trip, which meant it cost me $0! We used one tank of gas during the trip, so the entire cost of transportation was about $35.
  • Activities: After careful research, we decided to splurge on a luau ($260, for two people) and a snorkeling and sailing excursion ($290, for two people). The rest of the time, we did free things like relax on the beach and hike.
  • Meals: Okay, this is one area where I tend to spend more than average. I estimate that between the two of us, we spent about $600 on food, which includes the tip for the luau and some really, really delicious meals in a place not exactly known for cheap food.

All together, I spent less than $900 (because costs were split with my boyfriend) on an incredible, awesome, amazing few days in paradise. I know the “give up Starbucks” analogy is ridiculously overused. But seriously. Give up your coffee habit for 6 months, sign up for a couple of credit cards (and pay them off every month!) and you’ve got yourself a trip to Hawaii! In my book (and obviously in my book, travel is the best thing ever), that’s a pretty great trade.

The second part of the question, is how do I have time off? I am, after all, early in my career and have close to the minimum number of vacation days offered by my company (which, to be fair, is generous for the US).

1. I sometimes take trips no one else would take in a short amount of time (cough, South Korea, cough).

2. I plan out my vacation days to the hour months in advance. Just ask my boss 🙂

3. I take advantage of holidays and long weekends, sneaking in short weekend getaways or tacking the days onto longer trips.

4. I sometimes get to earn extra days off through attending conferences that require me to work weekends and working the occasional holiday. I also advocated for a 4-day work week, which gives me more time off to go places without taking any extra time off.

Taken together, I do everything I can to maximize my time off and travel as much as possible in the time available to me. Sure, sometimes that means being anything but well-rested, but again, for me the chance to travel is worth it.

Although the answers to the questions of how I travel are hopefully useful, the question I think is even more important is why I travel.

It’s not always easy and fun, after all. Returning from my recent trip to Iceland, I was again reminded of the stress and fatigue that come from travel. Cancelled flights, days of jet lag, a suitcase that takes days to unpack – all of these things are avoidable sources of stress that are directly related to my choice to travel. And yet, I continue to do this thing that, while incredible, is also stressful and exhausting. So what makes it so important to me? What makes the challenges of travel worthwhile?

I know to some my choice to travel as often as I can, sometimes alone, can be baffling. I work extra hours and make sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to afford to travel. I squeeze trips between work weeks, often exhausting myself, and use my time off of work down to the hour, not the day. It is not always easy and relaxing, but I do it anyway because it is something that is important to me, something that I see as essential to myself. I travel for many reasons. I travel simply because I enjoy it. There is nothing I love quite as much as waking up on the other side of the world to a day full of possibilities and unfamiliarity. I travel because I love to learn and because eating new kinds of weird and wonderful food is what life is all about. I travel to make memories and see the places others have only read about. I travel for many reasons.

But most of all, I travel because it challenges me and it changes me. It makes far off places in the world mean something in a way nothing else can. When I read a headline about something terrible or wonderful happening in another place, there is something powerfully personal about saying, “I’ve been there!” I can recall what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the people I’ve talked to. I have connections with people and places that allow me to think in nuances, not in black and white. To look for the good and acknowledge the evil, just as I do for my own place in the world. Through travel I am reminded that I am connected in ways both big and small to others in the world who live lives that seem so different from my own. This connection, this knowing, makes me desire to make the entire world a better place, not just my piece of it. I travel because it makes me a stronger, kinder person – someone who strives to understand when it’s hard and to care when it’s easier to turn away. I travel because this place, this world, that we live in is incredible. It’s beautiful and powerful and ultimately unknowable. And yet, I continually yearn to know more. This answer, these reasons, the why behind the discomfort, that is so much more than the how.

Let’s Go Back to February

So in all of the hubbub about Iceland, which, to be sure, certainly deserves all of the love, I never got a chance to discuss Valentine’s Day and the new progress on my Oregon Bucket List.

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily a Valentine’s Day kind of gal. I don’t expect flowers and romance and gifts just because it is a certain day. I do sort of expect those things at other times, but because they come from the heart, not from some sort of weird pressure to win the unspoken competition that occurs on Valentine’s Day to have the “best” boyfriend, husband, partner, etc.

That being said, when your boyfriend has been out of town for three weeks because of work and he just happens to be back the weekend that it just happens to be Valentine’s Day, it is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.

In typical Brandon and Cora fashion, the weekend mostly centered around food. Really, really good food.

We kicked off the weekend by trying one of the restaurants on my bucket list: Ned Ludd.

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The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.

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With a focus on locally sourced ingredients and homestyle craft cooking using the restaurant’s brick wood-fired oven, the experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The menu changes regularly to reflect the season.

Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That's all I've got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what's in it.
Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what’s in it.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy - the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did subtly under the table in the restaurant) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream was just a little too, well, peppery.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy – the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did, with my phone hid subtly under the table) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream (in keeping with the red and pink themed Valentine’s menu) was just a little too, well, peppery.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Maybe my vegetarian diet is rubbing off on him?
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert - a warm chocolate cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert – a warm chocolate chocolate chip cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name. Did I mention that we were in Portland?

Ned Ludd is not my favorite restaurant in Portland (more on that in a bit), but it was an excellent meal in a restaurant committed to every aspect of the food that they serve.

You can’t spend a weekend in Portland without doing brunch. It’s just what you do in Portland. After deciding we didn’t want to wait for two hours to get a table at Tasty n Alder, we found ourselves at Cheryl’s on 12th, which had a much more reasonable wait.

Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of handsome brunch date
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of my handsome brunch date
It's not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
It’s not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes

And the delicious food did not stop there. Saturday evening, we ate at our favorite Portland restaurant, where we had first eaten back in October. Lechon is just plain amazing. Serving food inspired by South American cuisine, Lechon simply gets it right.

This is the Mediterraneo - a drink inspired by the classic Peruvian cocktail - the pisco sour
This is the Mediterraneo – a drink similar to the classic Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour

On this particular evening, we decided to order the special Valentine’s tasting menu. Every single bite was amazing. And by that I mean I want to eat it all again. Right now.

Salad with goat cheese, toasted nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
A salad with creamed goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
This is what food should always taste like - burrata on toast with roasted salsa
This is what food should always taste like – burrata on toast with charred salsa
Lobster beignets
Lobster beignets
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
After all of that, we finally got to the main course - swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
After all of that, we finally got to the main course – swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cakes for dessert.
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cake for dessert.

Okay, so we obviously ate a lot of really good food. But we actually did other stuff, too. A walking tour is the perfect after dinner activity to burn off at least some of the calories consumed. I had taken a tour with Portland Walking Tours a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try one of their other tours. After looking into my options, I settled on the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, which offered a combination of history for me and the potential for scariness for Brandon. With a 10 pm start time, there was plenty of time for a late dinner before meeting for the tour at the former Merchant Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted (said in my most mysterious and scary movie voiceover voice).

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Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.

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Our guide was fantastic – funny and informative!

What I like about this type of tour is that you get a side of history that you don’t normally hear. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing (and it’s not really mine), we got to learn about the darker side of Portland history – essentially legalized forced prostitution and the horrors associated with it, a period of time when anyone could be kidnapped and forced to be a sailor, floods and murder and mayhem.

We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.
We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.

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Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.
Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.

Toward the end of the tour, our guide surprised us with a stop by Voodoo Doughnut (also on my bucket list, although I had previously been there).

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Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.

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So much for burning those calories…

The other fun thing we did was OMSI After Dark. This adults only event is a (usually) once a month event when the museum stays open late. There are themed events, vendors, and exhibits with a different focus each month.

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Appropriately, the theme this night was related to love and relationships. I thought the concept was great – extra museum hours and the opportunity to spend those extra hours perusing exhibits, glass of wine in hand. However, the execution was somewhat lacking. It was just so darn crowded. Every single thing had a line to the point I felt like we spent the whole evening waiting in line. I would have gladly paid more for the tickets (I think they were $20 apiece) if it meant that entry to OMSI After Dark was capped after a certain number of people.

If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
Sexy
I think it’s a good look

Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: The Northern Lights

So after all of the posts and pictures of my fabulous trip to Iceland, the ultimate question remains: Did I see the Northern Lights? That is, after all, why I decided to brave the Icelandic winter and travel there in February.

And the answer is…

…weeeell, sort of.

Anti-climactic, I know.

During my overnight flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, during which I got a grand total of an hour of sleep, I spent some of my moments of wakefulness resting my head against the side of the airplane, looking out of my window into the inky black sky. Sometime around 2 am, I saw the faintest, most whispy of Northern Lights from the plane. They were faint enough that my eyes could not consistently capture their presence. And, although I was able to get a couple of pictures, even then the lights were ephemeral and transient, difficult to photograph. But see them I did, in the quiet moments of the early morning, in a plane full of sleeping people. For a few moments, I felt like they were all my own, the magical Northern Lights putting on a show just for me as I raced across a silent and dark planet.

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And that was it. The rest of the week, as each night approached, the clouds gathered, obscuring any opportunity to see the lights. Each day was tinged with a hint of disappointment as each night I lost another opportunity to see the lights. In that disappointment, I was reminded that travel is not always predictable and that there are certainly no guarantees. In fact, there are almost always things that go wrong, disappointments, and hard days. But that is also the beauty of it. Travel makes you choose: choose to see the beauty in the less-than-beautiful places, choose to enjoy the amazing parts of a day rather than dwelling on the things that do not happen (I’m talking about you, Northern Lights), choose joy in what you do rather than regret in what you do not. Travel, like life, is about the choices you make, especially when things get hard.

I say that to make the point that, despite not seeing the lights, I had a fantastic time. Of course, as I pondered this on the plane ride back, little did I know that my sense of peace in the face of challenges would be put to the test.

This has nothing to do with the Northern Lights, but it makes an amusing end to my stories of Iceland. Once back in Seattle, I had a 6 hour layover before my last flight home to Medford, where my boyfriend planned to pick me up at midnight. After burning time, it was finally 10 pm, time to board my plane and the announcement is made: my flight has been cancelled. Mind you, by this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, spent the day in two different countries, flown across several time zones, and eaten airport food for what seemed like days. I was not in an ideal emotional state. Apparently no flights were landing in or taking off from Medford.

As I waited in the line to rebook my flight while alternately calling my boyfriend and the airline, I felt like the best I could do was try to have a conversation without crying. This was complicated by the fact that I could not reach the person who was supposed to be picking me up from the airport. Despite my somewhat frantic calls and texts, my boyfriend, who, at that particular moment, I had to remind myself is actually a person whom I love, was apparently sleeping and unable to have a conversation about what I should do. You know, since he was the one picking me up from the airport and all. When I got to the ticket counter, I learned I had been rebooked on a flight. Tomorrow at 5 pm, almost 24 hours later. To put this in context, I could rent a car and drive home in about 6 hours. Option 1: Cancel my flight, rent a car and drive home (technically option 1 was the aforementioned flight, but as I said, not actually an option). Option 2: Catch a flight to Portland leaving in approximately 20 minutes (which my bag that I had checked on the way back due to liquid souvenirs a.k.a alcohol would not make), sleep in the airport (yuck!), then catch an early morning flight to Medford (which I later learned was also cancelled – I would’ve been stuck in Portland). Option 3: Catch a flight to Eugene in about an hour. Now Eugene is obviously not where I planned to be. Or where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. But it is closer to home (honestly slightly closer than Medford) than either Seattle or Portland. So in my jet-lagged, exhausted, unable-to-talk-to-anyone-about-this-decision state, I chose option 3. Not necessarily the most logical choice, but the one that in the shortest amount of time got me the closest to home. I left a final voicemail detailing when and where I would be landing, confident that by the time I landed he would have some suggestion about how to get me home from Eugene.

The following text conversation occurred upon my landing:

Me: I’m here. In Eugene. Not sure what I’m going to do – I’ve thought about just taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, getting some sleep, and figuring out in the morning.

Boyfriend: Liar

Me: What??? (As I took deep, calming breaths to calm the quickly rising rage I was suddenly experiencing)

Boyfriend: You can’t trick a trickster.

Me: (emotional silence)

HE THOUGHT I WAS JOKING.

By some stretch of the imagination, he thought I was playing an elaborate prank on him, preying upon how much he had missed me the previous week.

I quickly disabused him of this notion with a mildly hysterical phone call, during which I outlined that I was, in fact, actually walking across the tarmac of the EUGENE AIRPORT while he was waiting for me at the (strangely silent, he realized) Medford Airport. Which was approximately 3 hours away. Did I mention it was midnight and that I had been awake for a really long time?

I just wanted to get home. So I decided to take a taxi. I had thought (hoped?) that my missed airport shuttle fiasco in Minnesota would be my most expensive taxi ride ever. I was wrong. At $250, this now became my most expensive taxi ride ever. Not really a record I want to break. But, I finally made it home around 2:30 in the morning with all of my belongings and my physical and emotional health generally intact. Plus, Brandon made up for the, um, misunderstanding, by picking up my dog so I could sleep in the next morning.

Perhaps my trip did not end in the best or most fun way. Travel is not always easy and certainly does not always go as planned. And yet, I love it. Less than a week after getting back, I was already planning my next trip (to Hawaii, for my birthday!!). Even when it is hard and exhausting and comically terrible, travel is worth it.

Learning to fully experience life through travel