Repatriating: An Honest Confession of How I Feel About My Impending Move Back Home

I have lived abroad for a little over 5 years now and I have finally made the decision to move back home – permanently. I made this same decision a year and a half ago, however, I never actually pulled the trigger and committed to it. I made the announcement I was coming home, tested the waters, but then got cold feet and bailed on the idea. Of course my family and friends back home were disappointed, but I also knew that I had to do what was right for me and at that moment in my life, I just wasn’t ready to go back.

I made the decision again to move back home in April of this year, however, I didn’t actually announce it and resign until July. I wanted to be sure that I was confident in my decision and avoid being “the boy who cried wolf” but once I gave my notice at work, everything set in – I AM officially moving back home.

Why I am Moving

I am often asked why I decided to move home. Well, I will be completely honest and there are several reasons. First, I want to start saving money and life in Dubai sure ain’t cheap (Shocker? Probably not.). Sure I could cut back on my spending, social habits, and travel lifestyle but life here is just too tempting to go big, or go home. So yup, it’s time to go home. Another reason is that I basically haven’t existed in the U.S. for the last 5 years. When I want to apply for a credit card and they want to verify my employment history or previous addresses, well, I don’t really have any of that. I moved abroad still pursuing higher education and therefore I have never had a “big-girl” job that would be of historical relevance while residing in the U.S. The final reason I am moving home carries the most weight of all… I want a family.

I always dreamed of falling in love and having a family at a young age, and although this did not happen as I originally planned, I am thankful that this is how it happened since I have had other major life-changing moments: obtaining two master’s degrees, living in Monaco, living in Dubai, globetrotting to over 44 stunning countries, the blessing of making friends from all walks of life, and grasping spontaneity when it arose. My life over the last decade did not go as I whatsoever imagined (I mean, I never thought I would be in THIS place of my life right now!), but at the same time, I am utterly grateful that my plan failed. My life has been so blessed, unique, and fulfilling – I feel incredibly full thinking of all that I have accomplished and experienced. I grin knowing that some of my life’s greatest moments have yet to come.

Dating in Dubai is a whole other topic (it’s a total disaster) – and ironically enough I’ve been planning weddings here – but after 3 years, I have yet to find anyone of emotional significance who I could seriously date. At 29 years old, I am ready to start prioritizing my future family. Obviously I cannot force this to happen, or really even search for it since that lessens the odds of allowing things to naturally happen, however, I look at my move home as aligning my chances to meet someone who wants the same things as I do. I’m ready.

My Fears

Living an expatriate life is something that cannot be understood by many. Unless you’ve backpacked aimlessly for a decent period of time or actually lived abroad, you may not understand what I am about to say…

I am American. I will ALWAYS be American, however, I also consider myself a bit of a mutt. Life outside of the U.S. has obviously changed me, shaped me, and influenced me. People say my accent has changed. My taste for foods has acquired to new things and delicacies. My perspective is no longer domestic; I look at things with a global viewpoint, taking into consideration all of the stories of the beautiful people that I have met along my journey. The things I have experienced through the last five years of my amazing voyage make me wonder if my life back home will be stimulating enough for me. Of course I hope so, which is why I have committed to make this big move, but only time will tell.

As I have lived the expatriate life, I now have to repatriate and adjust to life back home. Obviously when I was gone, the world didn’t stop. My family and friends carried on with their lives, getting married, buying homes, having babies, and making memories together that I missed out on. Naturally, being absent from all of these moments in their lives is a sacrifice that I had to make. For my friends who have had to repatriate and moved back home, they have told me not to expect people to go out of their way and accommodate my new, permanent presence. People will obviously be happy that I am home, welcome me back, but that excitement will quickly wear off and I will have to adjust to my “new-normal” without all of the hype.

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When I first moved abroad, I obviously experienced culture-shock; both when I moved to Monaco and again when I moved to Dubai. Anytime when you’re in a new environment for a long period of time you eventually adjust and that’s exactly what I did. After three years in Dubai, in the Middle East, this has become my normal. Shawarma has naturally become a favorite meal of mine, I often am telling people “yalla” and “inshallah”, and strangers and friends alike are now referred to as “habibti” and “habibi.” Now I will need to process myself through “reverse-culture shock” (yes, this is a real, legit thing) and adjust back to being a full-time American. It’s the adjustment period where you’re not sure where exactly feels like home and you just don’t fit in. I am definitely not an alien, but after moving home, I assume I will temporarily feel like one since I’ve basically missed out on five years of being immersed in American Culture. I mean, I have not kept up with the Kardashians, have zero idea as to who’s been on Dancing with the Stars, missed all major sporting events, and have not watched American news or TV… and arriving home a few days after they announce who will be our next President will probably be a chaotic time, no matter who wins. Perfect timing, ha!

My Excitement

Aside from my fears, there is obviously a huge amount of excitement building up within me as the day nears when I will get on my one-way flight home. That day will be tough; absolutely bittersweet to say the least as I say goodbye to my closest friends but look forward to reuniting with my family and friends back home. I have so many mixed emotions going on inside of my head and heart.

I am excited to finally be present for family events that I have missed out on (this will be my first Thanksgiving home in 6 years!). I am excited to finally be present for big moments in my friends’ lives like engagement parties, bachelorette parties, baby showers, and so on. I am excited to be the “fun aunt” and run around playing with the little ones. I am excited to be present in the daily lives of my elderly family members as age is slowly creeping up on them. I definitely don’t want to miss the last moments in their lives, whenever they may be.

I am excited to finally explore my own country. I am tired of meeting people abroad from other countries who tell me how much they “love Boston” or how “beautiful San Francisco is”, yet I can’t relate because I have never been there. So perhaps I won’t be geographically close to other countries that I have yet to roam through, but there will be other beautiful places that I will soon discover within my own borders.

I am excited to finally establish myself. Yes, I have somewhat lived a gypsy-inspired life but at the same time, I am reaching thirty and have almost zero assets to my name. I don’t own a car; I don’t own any furniture or anything of substantial value besides a computer – heck, in a few weeks I probably won’t even own a hair dryer if my luggage is too heavy to move! I am ready to start making a real life and creating a home for myself. I dream of where I will live, what type of home I will have, how I will decorate it, and what I will name my dog that will be running around it.

My life thus far has been so amazing and blessed, but life’s greatest blessings are yet to come.

What’s Next

Ah, the million dollar question that everyone is asking me! Well, for once in my life – I don’t have a plan. Yup, you read that right. No plan. All I know is I have a one-way ticket booked home on November 17th and I will live with my dad in Orlando until who knows what my next move is. I am not sure what I will do for work but I do know that I want to enjoy being home, take my time adjusting, and relish in the upcoming festive season and holidays. Plus, not many companies will be hiring until after the New Year and thankfully I won’t be pressed to find a job ASAP since I will be living at home. I do have a project that I plan to pursue once I am back, which if all goes well, I won’t need to look for a job and can hopefully work fulltime with that but there is always a risk (details will come later but I believe in jinxing good things and I don’t want that to happen).

What I do hope is that my family and friends back home who think this move isn’t that big of a deal besides packing up a few bags and getting on a plane, will realize that this will be a hard time for me. I am saying goodbye to my life abroad, to some of the most amazing friends, and something that’s been my “normal” for a good bit of time. I need support, I need encouragement, and I need to be checked on. Please don’t forget that I moved home. Please invite me out and try to incorporate me into your normal so that it can soon, hopefully, become mine again too.

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48 Hours in Jordan: Petra & the Dead Sea

One thing that I love about Jordan aside from all of the impressive history immersed between their borders is that when I am there, I actually feel like I am IN the Middle East (compared to the U.A.E. and other Gulf countries where it’s very westernized). I have been to Jordan two times before since the company I work for is based out of Amman, but sadly, it was always work and no play during my visits. Luckily, the third time was the charm to finally experience what I have been waiting so long for…

Nadia and I bolted to Amman for a quick 48 hour-weekend trip which I highly recommend to those who can get there easily. Since time was of the essence and we needed to cover around 550 miles of driving to see all of the hotspots, I arranged a private tour for us with Jordan Private Tours & Travel and Mustafa, the owner, was our driver, tour guide, professional photographer, and everything else you can imagine – he was the full package and made our trip absolutely perfect!

We started out bright and early on Friday morning with a 3-hour road trip south to Petra. The walk into the “Lost City of Petra” is very underwhelming until you get in between the huge rock formations and are surrounded by natural rock walls hundreds of feet high. Along the shaded path are various carvings of inscriptions, camels, water paths, etc. As we entered into the area where the Treasury was (the most iconic photo spot in all of Petra), the feeling of being in front of something so grand and detailed that was hand carved over 2,000 years ago was just awe-inspiring. It’s quite shocking to take it all in and comprehend what went on here centuries ago – I tried to imagine hundreds of men in an assembly line picking and chiseling away at the rocks to create this stunning masterpiece. The creativity in design and innovativeness that they used to carve this was just wow, wow, wow. Words can definitely not describe it enough, this is simply something you have to experience first-hand and see to believe.

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Image: Just taking it all in.

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Image: Wedged in the walkways 

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Image: In front of the iconic Treasury

We kept walking past the Treasury and there are many other areas to see along the way but the second best was the Monastery. Apparently only 10% of visitors in Petra make it up to see this beauty either because they didn’t know about it or they simply cannot complete the hike up 900+ steps in the heat and the sun. Thankfully Mustafa advised us that the hike is worth it and he was absolutely right. All of the breathless moments on the way up justified the glory moment of reaching the top and standing in front of this massive, larger-than-life artwork. Again, just a lot of take in. A few plus sides to reaching the Monastery were that the higher we climbed, the more amazing the views were. Another was that because only minimal people make it up here, you can have an unobstructed photo opportunity in front, plus there is a lovely café situated perfectly in front with optimal seating facing the mountain side so you can just relax with a refreshing drink and soak in the moment (and recover from the hike!).

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Image: Hiking up to the Monestary

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Image: Nadia and I in front of the Monestary

After walking all through Petra, hiking up and back down, we decided that it would be fun to ride camels back towards the front of the city. We negotiated a low price (over 60% less than the asking price) and hopped on our humpback beauties. I have had the pleasure of riding camels numerous times before but never have I ridden one that wasn’t being guided (my camel was the lead and I was driving him) and never have I ridden on one that was RUNNING (camels can race up to 25 mph but usually you wouldn’t see this with tourists – I guess since we paid so little they wanted to make the ride quick)! The locals and other tourists moseying around were quite entertained from seeing me and Nadia busting through crowds of people on runaway camels just hysterically laughing along the way. That was easily the most exciting camel ride I’ve ever had in my life (camels -> running-> excitement. I never thought those words would ever have such a strong correlation haha)!
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Image: Riding our camels through Petra.

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Image: Us in front of the Treasury

We left Petra mid-afternoon and drove another hour south to Wadi Rum, a massive desert area surrounded with enormous sandstone mountains that have existed since prehistoric time – being here makes you realize that photos just don’t do it any justice. We rode about 15 minutes into the Wadi out to our camp and set up before climbing to the top of a nearby rock to enjoy the piercing sunset falling behind the mountains. Nothing was in sight and no sounds could be heard aside from the sheep wandering in the valley which made the experience so surreal. Following sunset, we used Mustafa’s telescope to stargaze under the open skies. I have used a telescope before but NEVER in my life have I seen what I witnessed this night: we saw Saturn WITH the ring distinctly around it and the deep craters on the moon. They even took our PHONES and took pictures of the moon through the telescope. It was absolutely incredible to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains that are millions of years old, and just enjoy God’s beautiful creation in absolute still silence.

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Image: Me enjoying the sunset. 

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Image: A panoramic view of our camp (bottom left) in Wadi Rum

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Image: The moon taken from my phone, through Mustafa’s telescope. You can see the craters!

While waiting for our dinner (which we could not figure out why it was taking a considerable amount of time), Mustafa made us a homemade fire outside of the camp so we could just lay and enjoy the stars and silence even more. I could not imagine a more serene moment than what I just experienced. Stillness. Nature. Open Skies. Silence. Shooting Stars. Moonlight. Blazing Fire. Life is so good and I am so blessed.

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Image: Us in front of our fire under the moon and stars. 

We were finally called for dinner and let me tell you – we were in for a HUGE surprise and the wait was totally worth it! I’ve been told many times before that the Bedouin’s used to cook their food underground and use the earth as an oven but I have never seen it actually done before. The reason why our dinner took so long was because it was cooking 1.5-2 hours under the ground with a fire built directly on top. We were brought over for the presentation and watched as our dinner was dug up from the ground. When it was opened we were greeted with an amazing view of delicious food. Little did we know that they would then pull a 3-tiered contraption from the ground that was FULL of vegetables, rice, and chicken. I have no doubt that Bedouin children had any issues eating their veggies because I could certainly be a vegetarian if they always tasted this appetizing! I literally ate until my stomach could no longer take the pain and I had to stretch out and lay down right there at the table (LOL, sorry mom).  Obviously after that meal and our exhausting day of walking, all I wanted to do was hit the hay and pass out.

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Images: Our dinner being dug out of the ground and what was served. Yumm!

We started our next morning with a 2-hour tour through Wadi Rum and Mustafa took us to every perfect photo spot that they had. A lot of them took exercise and effort to reach (hiking up the highest dune I’ve seen or climbing rocks) but each spot was more stunning than the previous one. Some of the views we had seemed endless and a few of our photos seem fake because it was just that beautiful!

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Images: We had way too much fun exploring and hiking through Wadi Rum!

We left Wadi Rum mid-morning and drove 3 hours to the Mujib Water Trail (Wadi Mujib) which is a natural flowing river that is squished between two large mountains and flows into the Dead Sea. The drive there was stunning as we winded through the mountains and stopped to enjoy the gaping valleys below us. When we arrived at the Water Trail, I questioned if we needed to wear life jackets as it seemed to only be a river, however, I am very thankful to have had one on even though I would consider myself a fish when it comes to my swimming strength. When we started, we were walking through ankle-to-knee deep high water and as we neared deeper into the river, we were battling small rapids and climbing up waterfalls. It was so beautiful to experience, a fun challenge, however, we only made it 75% down the trail because my stress level was too high (and you know me, I am a dare-devil so this is rare). We came upon a particular waterfall that was very narrow and high and all I imagined was me slipping on my way up and breaking my leg and the only way down was to slide down and we didn’t have helmets on. As I waited in line for my turn to attempt this, I imagined how on earth I would finish my last 2 weeks of work, enjoy all of my upcoming trips, and move my life half way around the world with a broken leg. Yup, it ain’t happening! I told Mustafa to take Nadia up and I would wait but I have too much on the line to risk any injuries (you would be proud of my smart decision, mom!). Oddly enough, Nadia agreed that she didn’t want to participate in that either because she had a pedicure in 2 days hehe. I LOVE fun and wild adventures but when they become stressful, the fun is taken out of it and I no longer enjoy myself so I am glad that I drew my boundary line so I could just relish in the beauty of the Water Trail.

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Images: The trail seemed simple until we realized it would take teamwork!

We drove about fifteen minutes from the Water Trail and the moment I have been waiting for so long had arrived… I was finally at THE Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth at 1,407 feet below sea level! We raced down to the water’s edge and I was so shocked to see how crystalized the beach was from all of the salt build-up – even the furniture was covered, similar to how rust takes over, but crystalized salt. I didn’t waste a moment to go in the water and when I walked in, it initially didn’t seem like anything different to me than any other sea water, however, when I tried to float, I couldn’t stop bobbing up and down. Floating has never been so effortless! I actually had to work to stay upright because if you turn one way or the other a little too much, the density of salt will flip you over without notice and trust me, you do NOT want even the smallest splash of this water to reach your eyes! Of course while there we had to cover ourselves in the mud but… SPOILER ALERT: it’s very hard to get the actual mud from the sea so you have to buy it and put it on. For the rest of the afternoon, we floated around, relaxed, and enjoyed the pink and orange creamsicle sunset that was bowing before us glistening on the water. What a fabulous way to end our 48-hour adventure before we sadly headed back to the airport.

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Image: The crystalized beachfront of the Dead Sea.

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Images: Enjoy the Dead Sea and beautiful sunset!

Honestly, I couldn’t imagine a more ideal tour or trip – it was exhausting because of all of the physical activity it included but I wouldn’t change a thing as all of it was totally worth it. Having a wonderful tour guide, driver, and photographer like Mustafa made the trip unforgettable because we could accomplish so much and leave with stunning photos documenting our every move. I’ve been to 44 countries thus far and hands down, this is easily one of my top trips. If you are ever in Amman and want to experience this, PLEASE contact Mustafa so he can help you experience the beauty and history of his amazing country, the Kingdom of Jordan (jordanprivatetours@gmail.com).

Eye on Dubai? Here’s the PERFECT Trip to See it All (Reviewed by a Resident)

I have had the pleasure of calling Dubai my home for the last 3 years and throughout this time; I have been privileged to have countless visitors come visit me here in the sandpit. Most recently, I had a blowout trip with SEVEN friends of mine visiting me at all once so of course I had to plan the most spectacular trip as they all had high expectations for their visit – and apparently I blew them away with all the activities that I planned. According to them, each day topped itself so I wanted to share in case you want to visit Dubai, too. Below is the itinerary of what we covered in seven days:

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Image: In front of the Burj Al Arab Hotel at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

DAY 1 – Dubai is the only place in the world where you will pay more to get into beach clubs than into nightclubs. It’s very common to pay from the equivalent of $70 USD and even up into the hundreds of dollars just to ENTER if you pick a super exclusive and luxurious beach club. My absolute favorite one and place I recommend the most is Zero Gravity which is conveniently located directly next to SkyDive Dubai and offers stunning views of the Marina skyline. They recently just did a massive renovation and added an infinity edged pool overlooking the ocean. The service is phenomenal so don’t expect your entrance fee to go to waste – it’s common to be given chilled wash clothes to freshen up, complimentary popsicles, someone offer to clean the grease off of your sunglasses, or a refreshing complimentary mocktail. On the weekends, expect to arrive early as the chairs fill up fast since the ambiance is chill and fun (but not too ostenatatious). They often have a DJ accompanied by a live saxophone player and industrial bubble machines spraying bubbles over the pool area. Obviously because you pay to enter, it’s best to plan to spend the entire day because happy hour starts at 5 P.M. and that just makes the sunset that more beautiful to watch.

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Image: The group at Zero Gravity

If you are looking to Skydive, you must book usually around 1.5 months in advance on SkyDive Dubai’s website as they book up very far in advance. If you spend the day at Zero Gravity, this would be the day to jump because any of your friends who don’t want to jump can literally watch you land right over them while they get a head start on their tan at the beach club (they’re right next door to each other). A few notes about skydiving:

  • Don’t jump without the photo/video option (it’s like 300 AED more) because you get to keep a nice USB with about 60 high-res photos and a really nice video of your experience.
  • If you visit Dubai and didn’t get to sign up but still want to jump you can still go there and either watch or go early morning and get on the waiting list as they are always turning away jumpers due to age, weight, or they simply missed their jump time.
  • Check that you’re within the BMI limit, they will check this there if they question it at all.

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Image: I had to go skydiving again. It’s just too incredible in Dubai!

DAY 2 – The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest mall and it’s connected to the Burj Khalifa which is the world’s tallest building. Go spend the day here wandering around the mall and seeing everything that it encompasses all under the same roof. Some things not to miss in the mall:

  • See “The Waterfall” (located near the ice rink) – fun photo spot
  • See the Aquarium (no need to go in, just go see the world’s largest piece of plexiglas and all of the beautiful shark’s and fish swimming around). Don’t forget to look up to the ceiling when you’re here.
  • Watch “The Fountains” – This is the famous dancing fountain show that is located at the base of the Burj Khalifa. They only have 2 shows during the daytime (1:00 and 1:30 P.M) and the rest of the shows resume at night time. Personally I would recommend seeing them at night instead because they’re that much more beautiful to watch in the darkness. Don’t be late for show times because it only lasts 2-4 minutes depending on which song is playing.
  • Go into Souk Al Bahar – “Souk” means market in Arabic and although this is not a market, it’s beautiful to see and they have some great restaurants located along the fountain show if you arrive on time to get a booking on of their terraces.
  • See the world’s largest LED screen on the side of the Burj Khalifa – in between fountain shows at night, the entire building changes patterns nonstop with different graphics.

To actually visit inside the Burj Khalifa, there are several options and each has their pros, cons, and price points:

  • Book tickets to go to At the Top which is the observation deck on the 124th You can learn a lot of information regarding the engineering and genius behind the construction of this building while also being able to enter onto the observation deck which is both inside and outside. In a snapshot, this is touristy but educational.
  • Book tickets to go to At the Top Burj Khalifa Sky which gives you access to the regular observation deck on the 124th floor but you can also go higher to the 148th floor and have access to an exclusive and luxurious lounge with butler and refreshment service. In a snapshot, this is touristy and educational with a touch of luxury with the lounge access.
  • Book lunch or dinner at At.Mosphere restaurant which is located on the 122nd There is no observation deck here but this is definitely the less touristy way to experience the building. Make sure you book in advance, know the minimum spend amount per person (window seat vs. non-window seat spends vary), and the dress code as the ambiance is very classy. You can book for high-tea, lunch, or dinner and there are 2 sides to choose from: the lounge and the restaurant. Personally, I recommend the lounge side as its views are over the ocean, the world, and downtown Dubai. The restaurant’s side is more expensive per person to book and the views are over the desert and inland. In a snapshot, At.Mosphere is not touristy but a fun and chic way to experience the Burj Khalifa.

DAY 3 (Dubai Cultural Day) – Start your day down in “old-Dubai” to see the areas of Deira and Bur Dubai. You can find countless guides online that are more specific of each detail not to miss here but to give you an idea, you can start at the famous Gold Souk to see the opulence and excessive amount of gold displayed throughout the windows, walk to the Spice Souk where you can see all the different spices available for purchase, and then take a traditional “Abra” boat across the Dubai Creek to explore the other side. Boat rides across are 1 AED per person but you can also negotiate a private boat ride up and down the Creek for however long you prefer if you want to cruise around. Once you take the 1 AED ride across the creek, you can walk along the souvenir shops, check out the Dubai Museum, and then end at Fahidi Fort.

A Dubai cultural day would not be complete without booking a desert safari. Trust me, I have been on 14 desert safari’s with 8 different companies… there is only ONE company that you should book with which is hands down the best: Platinum Heritage. I have gone with them a total of 4 times now and they are the only company who are not there just to make a quick buck but actually want to show you an authentic experience. Yes, they are more expensive than the other companies but it’s worth it for the quality of experience and food that you are provided. Many of the companies that I have been with are rushing people out to the desert, showing them non-authentic performances (whirling dervishes and belly dancers are NOT authentic to the UAE/Bedouin culture), and providing cheap Indian food on styrofoam plates. With Platinum Heritage, you will ride in a 1950’s open-air land rover, have an interactive falcon show, learn some Bedouin culture at the camp, be provided a 3-course meal (with food that I still crave, it’s THAT good!), and watch authentic shows where the performances are culturally appropriate to the history of the country. I don’t want to share too much but trust me, Platinum Heritage is the only company that has access to the Royal family’s private desert conservation for a reason. Make sure you book this in advance.

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Images: Our desert safari was too much fun!

DAY 4 – For this day, keep it more flexible to cover what you haven’t yet or won’t in the coming days. I suggest some of the following activities, all of which are possible in one day if you book each in advance and optimize your time:

  • Take the 22-minute scenic flight with HeliDubai over all of Dubai. With this ride, you will fly over Dubai Creek, the World Islands, Palm Jumeirah, and then around the Burj Khalifa and over downtown. It’s a fantastic way to have an aerial perspective over a city that has so much to offer from a bird’s eye view. Advanced booking and your passport is required.
  • Go to Mall of the Emirates and ski at Ski Dubai – Where else in the world can you be in the desert and then ski within the same day? Only Dubai! Ski Dubai is a unique experience because they have literally figured it down to a science to where you can pay and be suited up with your ski’s and gear and be on the slopes within 20 minutes. If you don’t want to ski, they also have a snow park, penguin experience, and other options available as well. For skiing, advanced booking is not required (but for Penguin’s, yes). Expect to spend about 2 hours here.
  • Experience a world renowned spa at the Jumeirah Zabeel Sarray hotel located out on the Palm Jumeirah. If you look online at their website and see the photos of the facilities, you will understand why I recommend that you should plan to spend an additional hour (at least) on top of the time required for your treatment that you book. You will want to enjoy their amazing facilities and get your money’s worth.
  • The only way to see the world’s only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, is to book something there. Security will not allow you to access anywhere on property without verifying that you actually have a reason to be there. If you insist on going inside the hotel and are not afraid to spend a pretty penny, book high-tea, business lunch, or dinner. Be sure to check about the dress code because they won’t hesitate to call you out and turn you away if you are not dressed properly.

Regardless of how you spend your time on Tuesday during the day, you have to reserve Tuesday night to experience “Ladies Night” in Dubai. It certainly pays off to be a lady in this city as every night of the week there is some restaurant or bar offering deals and discounts on food and/or drinks for ladies (up to hundreds throughout the week). Tuesday is the most popular night of the week offering the most deals and the best one that is a can’t miss is China Grill. Ladies can avail 50% off of all food and unlimited free drinks until 11:30pm. Because of the amazing offer and unique venue, this is a dress-to-impress night. Be ready to drink and dance the night away as it will stay busy until quite late!

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Image: Ladies night at China Grill at the Westin Hotel

DAY 5 (Abu Dhabi Cultural Day) – You cannot come to the U.A.E. without visiting a mosque, especially the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. This mosque reminds me of Aladdin’s palace but obviously on a much larger and opulent scale. This mosque is open to the public almost every day but check their website just to be sure (especially on Friday’s). You will be in awe at the pristine and stunning details that every crack and crevice entails – anywhere you walk, don’t forget to always look UP towards the ceilings because you don’t want to miss anything. A few things to note about visiting the mosque:

  • Tours are available but not necessary unless you want to learn details about the mosque.
  • Men and women – wear something that exposes your legs because then they will force you to wear the national dress (kandura for men and abaya for ladies). This makes your experience and your photos more authentic.
  • Do NOT touch anyone when taking photos. Naturally you want to group together and put your arms around each other but do not do it here.
  • If you have the option, going at sunset or night time is easily the most stunning time to see the mosque lit up at night.
  • Without a tour, plan to spend maximum one hour here.

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Image: You cannot visit the U.A.E. without seeing the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi!

After the mosque, go to the Emirates Palace Hotel for high-tea, lunch, or dinner. This hotel is unbelievable to witness in person (inside and out) and the architecture and details are so awe-inspiring as they splurged on every detail. Make sure you book in advance if you want to experience high-tea as it’s subject to availability but other than that, you can just show up and go have a drink in their lobby area. Note: Men cannot enter the hotel without pants on and closed toe shoes.

There are other things to see in Abu Dhabi but these are the 2 highlights that I recommend. Feel free to squeeze more into your day trip if you have time to.

DAY 6 – Rent a boat or yacht for a few hours and cruise around the Burj Al Arab hotel and the Palm Jumeirah. This is one of the best ways to appreciate the skyline views of Dubai while also enjoying the endless ambiance provided by the glistening sea. There are countless companies who offer different packages available and the rates are always negotiable. Also, you can always check Groupon for discount packages available (be sure to check the T&C’s). If budget isn’t an issue, take a boat with Xclusive yachts as their service is unrivalled. They offer an amazing fleet, don’t let you lift a finger, and pamper you all throughout your time with them.

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Image: Our yacht party was too much fun in the sun!

DAY 7 – You have NOT seen Dubai if you have not had brunch in Dubai on a Friday. Think you know what I am talking about? Imagining something similar to what you have back home? I guarantee you that whatever you have in your head, you’re wrong – 100%. Brunch in Dubai is a culture and an experience that cannot be missed. Basically brunch here means all you can eat and all you can drink for a specific time period (usually 3 to 4 hours so you can imagine how sloppy it can get). There are brunches of ALL types, budget ranges, and concepts (some are family-friendly, some are NOT) so do some research for what fits your preferences. Some of the best brunches in Dubai are Saffron at Atlantis (ridiculous food, drinks, and party) and CandyPants at the Habtoor Grand Hotel (mediocre food but ridiculous alcohol and crazy party). You can check brunch review websites such as http://www.mrandmrsbrunch.com for reviews and feedback to find a brunch that you’ll love.  If you see people stumbling out of a restaurant around 4 P.M. on a Friday, now you will know where they were at.

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Image: The brunch bunch dressed to impress (Saffron at the Atlantis hotel)

Once brunch is over, it’s hard to go home in the middle of the day so you can continue the party at an “after-party” venue such as Ndulge at Atlantis, XL at Habtoor Grand, and WetDeck at the W Hotel. Don’t be surprised to see scantily clad dancers dancing on top of bars or bottle after bottle coming out to tables. Friday is Fri-YAY!

This is the BEST way to end your blow-out trip to Dubai!

Throughout the week you will have time for dinner and drinks out. Dubai is home to endlessly amazing dining spots, but below are some suggestions of my favourite, can’t miss places (be sure to always try and book in advance plus check the dress code and door policy):

Recommended Restaurants/Bars:

  • Zuma – This was voted the best restrauant in Dubai for the last several years. It’s Asian fusion food and very trendy. Booking required several days in advance (located in DIFC).
  • Pier 7 – There are 7 restaurants located in Pier 7 so you have 7 to choose from. Regardless, pick one and come enjoy stunning views over the Marina waterways (located in the Marina).
  • 360 – Just getting here is an experience. You go to Jumeirah Beach Hotel and ride a golf cart around their marina to get out to 360 while having up-close views of the Burj Al Arab hotel (located at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel).
  • Vault – This bar is almost a hidden gem as not many people know about it but it’s worth not missing. You take an elevator to the 68th floor and then take another elevator to the 71st floor where you’re greeted with doors that look like the entrance to a bank vault and 360 views around Downtown Dubai and happy hour deals daily on food and drinks (located in the JW Marriot Marquis).
  • Mercury Lounge – This lounge is strictly outside so beware if it’s hot outside. The scene is posh and chic with epic views from afar of the entire downtown Dubai skyline (located at the Four Seasons Jumeirah).
  • Level 43 – This bar is located on Sheikh Zayed Road in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city. Located 43 floors up with a large terrace overlooking downtown, the views from here are unparalleled (located in the Four Points by Sheraton).
  • 40 Kong – This bar is completely isolated outdoors, up on the 40th floor with 360 views around Dubai but focused more on the ocean and old-Dubai. It is quaint and cozy but with an ultra-chic atmosphere (located at the H Hotel).
  • White – This is more of a club so it doesn’t get busy until after 12 A.M. but the views and party atmosphere are worth the visit (located at Meydan).
  • Pier Chic – If you are looking for an uber-romantic restaurant, this should be your pick. It is basically a long dock leading out to a boat house out in the middle of the ocean, situated perfectly under the Burj Al Arab hotel (located at the Al Qasr Hotel).
  • Pure Sky Lounge – This lounge is located 35 floors up with a large terrace overlooking the ocean and Palm Jumeirah. It is quaint but very nice to unwind with a cocktail while admiring the piercing sunset (located at the Hilton in JBR).

Conquering Kilimanjaro

I am known for committing myself to crazy activities and getting myself so far involved that it’s not possible to turn back unless I want to face the ultimate humiliation for bailing and being lame. As it seems, this is how I became committed to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro…

I had to be in Kenya for my best friend’s wedding and I figured, while I’m over that way, I might as well have a fun adventure – why not climb to the roof of Africa; the highest free-standing mountain in the world? Obviously I am an avid hiker with loads of experience – NOT! Maybe I’ve hiked a few hours here and there but nothing to this extreme that involved camping for a week.

I originally had about three friends who were committed to trekking with me, however, when push came to shove, the timing didn’t work out and I found myself committed with my deposit paid and facing this adventure alone. Luckily, a few weeks before I set off, I spent hours trying to find another company who were climbing the same route (Machame – the 2nd hardest out of 6), on the same dates, since my flights were already booked and I didn’t want to incur change fees. Sometimes things work out even better than they should’ve because I found an AMAZING company that was locally-based with 3 other Americans signed up to trek all right around my age range. Genius!

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Image: Will (Pennsylvania), Me (Dubai/Florida), Samir (Texas), and Anna (Tennessee).

When I flew into Moshi, Tanzania, there was a moment on my flight that everyone started whispering and rumbling, rushing over to the left side of the plane. I snuck over the aisle and took a peak to see what the chatter was all about – Mount Kilimajaro was towering high over the clouds, our flying altitude seemed to be at eye-level with the peak of this scary beauty. It was that moment when reality hit me of what I signed up to do; it was that moment that I actually started to get a little freaked out. Ummmm… I am not the grueling-hiking type and I really enjoy my comfy bed and hot showers! Eeeekk!!

The next morning was the big day to officially start our week-long climb. We had a total of 20 porters to carry our gear and supplies, a chef, a waiter, one toilet-crew (yes, his job was to take care of our portable toilet), an assistant-guide, and our lead-guide. You never realize how much behind-the-scenes support you need for only 4 people to trek the mountain but it all comes to realization throughout the trip once you see the caliber of what is needed and provided by the company.

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Image: Anna and I on the bus with our amazing crew.

We unfortunately got a late start the first day and it was also drizzling and misting the entire afternoon which was not exactly the most ideal way to begin, but we were off! Because we were running late, we had to pick up the pace and complete what should’ve been a 6 hour trek, in only 4 hours to beat the sunset. I struggled big time, I cried and wondered, “Why did I think I could conquer this crazy feat?”, and contemplated turning back before it was too late.

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Image: Me at the start gate of the mountain. Here we go!

I couldn’t really consider going back even though I wanted to. You see, my roommate, Felix, tragically passed away 6 weeks before my trek. When his mother and sister came to clean his room, she gave me a photo of them and asked me to take it with me on my trip because they knew he was consulting me and morally supporting me pre-hike. I promised her I would take a photo holding it at the top. At the close of the first day hiking I realized it was going to be much harder than I thought. I cried and told my guide, Ibby, that I made a mistake and I wanted to go back but I couldn’t because of the promise I made Felix’s mother. He then promised me that he would get me to the summit to take that photo.

All throughout the next 5 days I kept pushing. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I definitely pushed myself to my limit. The tears didn’t stop but my strength only got stronger. I was battling sleepless nights because I was shivering and freezing all throughout the night. It’s so cold that when you want to go to the bathroom from drinking so much water, you lay for a while debating if the pain of the piercing cold and hassle of getting dressed to go outside in the pitch black is actually worth it.  Include lack of sleep with physical exhaustion, pure dirtiness (you don’t shower all week), and fighting altitude sickness, and you get one cranky woman – but a determined, cranky woman for sure!

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Image: Contrary to what some think, it’s not always a smooth, easy incline. 

On summit night, it’s really an awe-inspiring experience. There is a lot of prep before bed, including emptying your backpack to include only the absolute necessary items – the bare minimum. We also spent time mapping out our clothing strategies since the higher you go, the colder it gets but also the harder it is to climb. I settled for 4 pairs of pant layers and 7 layers for the top – and I realized later that even that wasn’t good enough!

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Image: Although my summit photos are much cuter, this is what I really looked like going up – a giant, miserable marshmallow!

The moment had arrived where it was time to conquer the ultimate challenge. We woke up at 11:30 P.M. – yes, at night – as the trek to the summit is always done in the darkness for many reasons: you don’t see how high you really have to go, you don’t see others struggling and getting sick, and you should arrive to the summit at sunrise which makes the experience that much more fulfilling and breath taking.

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Image: Anna and I going up to the summit in complete darkness. 

When it was time to rock n’roll, I got my game face on. I decided that since I had already surprised myself and made it this far, there was no possibility of turning back. As instructed by our guide, Ibby, we all lined up in a single-file line and switched on our head lamps. This moment is really hard to explain but it was absolutely stunning to see the entire camp, hundreds of hikers, who had made it this far and are all beginning the same final feat together. You look up the mountain and all you see are lines of headlamps with faint twinkling stars in complete blackness – it seems as if it’s never ending. You don’t look up, go at a snail-slow pace, and only think about putting one foot in front of the other. At this point, nothing else matters except “one step at a time.”

No matter how determined you are or how much you’ve prepared for this moment, anything can change because you don’t know how your body will react to the weather, altitude, or just physical exhaustion. About one hour away from the top, I was becoming delirious and losing my footing. The higher we got, the worse the wind was and I was freezing; I couldn’t feel my fingertips and toes. I told Ibby that I just couldn’t go anymore. Because I wasn’t sick, he refused to let me give up and took off his down jacket and linked arms with me to assist me up, each of us with a pole in the other hand to climb together, arm-in-arm. We went higher but it was still too much. Eventually Ibby and our porter, Juma, were both physically pushing me on my back and doing everything they could to make sure I made it. When I finally saw the famous sign in the distance where everyone takes their glorious summit photos, I cried. I cried not only because I made it but because these two men were so determined to make my experience memorable and fulfil my promise to Felix’s mother in his honor.

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Image: I made it to the top to take my photo with Felix’s photo for his mother!

One thing that amazed me the most about my climb aside from these two men pushing me to my limit, but also the sense of team-work and encouragement that I was overwhelmed with from complete and total strangers. As I was fighting my way to the summit and reaching the last bit, hikers who already had their glory moments were passing me on their way back down. As they passed me and saw me struggling for energy and breath, many of them shared encouraging words to me like, “You’re almost there” and “Don’t give up.” This sense of comradery during this moment was just absolutely unbelievable, it was honestly hair-raising.

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Image: Me with the summit in the background.

Overall, the experience was without a doubt life-changing, challenging, and showed me how far I can push myself if I put my mind to it. It was something completely out of my comfort zone but I am so proud of myself for conquering Kilimanjaro and I highly recommend those who even blink at the challenge, should jump at the opportunity and attempt to join the “summit club.” Only those who have been through the same journey can truly understand the experience.

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Image: I wasn’t always the best hiker but I definitely tried to always look the part!

Thinking of Hiking Kilimanjaro? Below are tips and tricks that I picked up from my experience:

  • Train on incline only to prepare. If I could redo my training, I absolutely would. I read on so many blogs and company websites that if you can run 30 minutes without stopping, then you will be fine. Yea, right! I couldn’t run longer than 5 minutes without stopping so I trained hard to reach the 30 minute goal which I was so proud I did, however, 30 minutes on a flat surface is nothing like going UP a mountain. If you do any training at all (which I recommend), then all I would say is climb stairs or get on a stair-master for hours at a time, and build endurance while going up. If you can handle incline training for long periods of time, then you’re set!
  • Pick your group carefully as they will make or break your trip. A large group can be fun but remember that every time someone needs to go to the bathroom, un-layer, layer back up, or get something out of their bag – everyone stops. Also, Anna, who climbed with me had an unbelievable amount of energy, which was fantastic to pump me up during the long, gruelling days. When it came to summit night, her energy was just too much for me to handle as I was struggling for each little step and breathe so I had to kindly ask her to put another person in between us so I could focus more in silence. Thankfully she didn’t take offense to it (as she shouldn’t because I adored her) but she understood the situation.
  • Be prepared to lose your dignity. I can’t imagine taking on this challenge with a significant other as you honestly lose your dignity in regards to being feminine and maintaining some sort of manners with natural bodily functions. Be prepared to become one with nature and use the bathroom wherever and whenever. Be prepared to discuss your bowl movements with your hiking mates – everyone compares their frequencies as a check-up to mark your progress since constipation is common with high altitude levels. And be prepared to accept that…
  • You will get dirty, very dirty, and then even dirtier. The mountain is very dusty and no matter how hard you try, things will get covered in dust, you will smell, and your tent will accumulate dirt inside from going in and out. Just accept it and get over it. Again, be one with nature and just embrace your natural beauty.
  • Once you reach the summit, don’t underestimate the trek back down to the final gate. This part is just as painful as the trek up and very hard on your knees, shins, and ankles. Be prepared to be very sore upon your return.
  • Aside from the usual recommendations, you should also bring:
    • Lots of baby wipes. You will need these for the obvious but it will also be your “shower” for the week. You really can’t have enough.
    • Tissues for summit night. Your nose will constantly drip and become so raw, anything touching it is painful. The lesser of all evils is a nice, soft tissue.
    • A small travel toothbrush strictly for cleaning under your nails. Both the ladies and the gents appreciated that I brought this along as the build-up becomes excessive.
    • A high-quality sleeping bag, good enough for sub-zero temperatures and conditions as quality sleep is crucial.
    • Don’t forget to use sunscreen on the top of your hands. They will constantly be facing upwards towards the sun while using your trekking poles and they will burn very quickly and become very painful with your pole straps rubbing on them.
  • Be ready to tip – a lot! You will read online about the tipping culture since the team supporting you are usually paid the bare minimum yet they work the absolute hardest and make your trip possible. Prepare to tip a little extra because once you spend a week on the mountain with these people, your heart-strings are tugged at and it’s common to want to give more (each of us tipped around $400 which made it $1,200 total tip for the entire crew for a week – and that was right around the recommended daily amounts per role). If you cannot tip more than what is recommended, then…
  • Try to donate what you can. The porters and crew are not always well taken care of by the companies. Their supplies, gear, and clothing are often in such bad shape, that you would never consider climbing in what they’re wearing. Try and donate what you can – anything helps. I bought the most amazing Saloman hiking boots that were easily the best on the market but my final day, I knew I would never attempt such a serious hike again where I would need these type of boots. My guide’s boots had holes in the toes and I can’t tell you how grateful and excited he was when I offered them to him, even with how dirty they were! Anything from thermals, socks, gaiters, jackets, altitude sickness medicine (Diamox), they are more than happy to accept as a donation.

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Image: Us with our amazing crew on the last morning. 

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Image: Anna and I brushing our teeth, becoming one with nature. 

 

12 Carry-On Essentials

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When I have a flight I have a list of my “essential” items that I always travel with in my carry-on. Below are the items that I can’t live without, especially when it’s a long-haul flight:

  1. Passport – I think this one is a given but always keep it close by just in case.
  2. Fuzzy Socks – Not usual cotton socks but the soft fuzzy ones, preferably the ones infused with aloe vera. Who wants to ride on a plane for hours on end with their feet swelling and shoes on tight? Going barefoot is just gross…
  3. Sleeping Aid – I can’t sleep in public places but since I don’t want jet-leg delaying my fun, I try to adjust to the timezone that I am traveling to. I never take anything strong or usually even a whole pill but I use either melatonin or ambien, usually just enough to get me over my fear of sleeping in public so I can get some shut eye.
  4. Eye-Cover – I can’t stand sunlight, especially if I am trying to adjust to the next timezone and it’s still light outside so I always use an eye cover that will convince me that it’s time to sleep.
  5. Headphones (full ear covering, not ear buds) – I use these for more than just music; sometimes I need them to drown out the noise on the plane so I can sleep in peace and quiet.
  6. Scarf/Pashmina – The temperature on a plane is always unpredictable so it always good to have an extra method of warmth. I like scarves because I can use them as a full blanket or as a light neck scarf.
  7. Phone(s) & Charger(s) – We all know we can’t live without our phones whether it’s for work, socializing, playing games, etc. God forbid your luggage is lost or your plane has major delays on the runway, we all know we never want to be without communication. Plus, many planes now have charging outlets at each seat so you can keep it ready to go for landing.
  8. Basic Toiletries –  Some planes provide this but having your own is just so much better… deodorant, toothbrush/paste, lotion, and perfume are a must. No one wants to come off the plane smelling like sweat and exhaustion with dehydrated skin!
  9. All Electronics – I mean, why on earth would I ever check my iPad, computer, or camera? That’s just asking for trouble. Ummm, no thanks!
  10. Pillow – I always need extra back or neck support and the pathetic-quality pillow that we’re given on the plane just doesn’t do the trick. It’s always good to have extra support.
  11. Disinfectant – Flying can be downright gross and unsanitary. You never know how many hundreds of passengers have sat in your seat before you and how poorly it was “wiped” just to look presentable – but was it really disinfected properly? Probably not. YUCK!
  12. Souvenirs – Once I have traveled to my destination, I always put my souvenirs in my carry-on to bring back. God forbid that my bag gets lost, damaged, or the items are mishandled, I want to know that my priceless items that remind me of my trip will make it back in one piece.

Before You Go…

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As I am a personally certified travel-junkie I have gained some insight along the way that I think may help you when planning your next trip, no matter where it may be. Check out my tips below.

  1. Travel with people who have a similar “travel-style” to you. – Everyone has a travel style whether they’ve realized it or not. Perhaps you love spending hours in museums? Or hours shopping through the local market? Or maybe you prefer to do trips that relate more to nature than to the bustling city? Regardless, everyone has their preferences and it’s best to acknowledge those and travel with like-minded people. For example with me, I can’t stand museums unless there’s something interesting for me to see and touch. If it’s just reading signs and wandering around, I would rather be out exploring the city and reading the details later online. Some people may be baffled at this which is why it’s important to discuss with those that you’re traveling with on how they want to spend their time and what they want to accomplish. Trust me, I have traveled with people before who don’t have the same style as me and although it doesn’t exactly ruin it, the complaining and moments of difference won’t allow for a productive and enjoyable trip.
  2. Be efficient with your time – Do some research beforehand on what you want to see and where you want to go. Being spontaneous is great, however, having a general idea of major attractions and sites you want to see will allow you to map it out and follow some sort of a path and create a method to your madness. This will optimize your time and make your trip efficient so you can accomplish more. For me, I am passionate about planning every detail before a trip and the one time I was challenged by my friends to not do any pre-trip research, I went to Istanbul, spent 4 magnificent days there, however, I missed so much. Did you know they have a stunning underground tunnel system? Yea, I didn’t know that either until after I flew back! Obviously I will never do that again…
  3. Research average costs and rates – When you travel, you don’t want to waste unnecessary money so do some research for a few things beforehand. So many people ask me when they are traveling, “Should I exchange at the airport or should I withdraw back in my home country?” The answer to this question would be, “It depends on what the exchange rate is.” Some credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire card, have 0% international purchase fees so obviously using something like this is a smart choice. But check the rates before – check the exchange rates at your bank, possible fees for swiping your card, and rates at your destination. Another important cost that I believe should be researched beforehand is the average cost of taxis. This could mean checking online beforehand or simply asking your hotel when traveling somewhere, “What’s the average taxi cost from here to X?” Oftentimes, taxi drivers hike up the prices and rip off tourists, not because they’re bad people, but because they know tourists can be naive and are usually more laid back when they travel, meaning they will avoid confrontation. I made the mistake when I went to Shanghai and I took a taxi that I paid 300 RMB  for ($45 USD) whenever our hotel told us upon arrival that it should’ve costed 30 RMB ($5 USD). What a waste of good money!
  4. Check the weather and seasons – You may have a good amount of vacation time built up and you want to take it in December to visit a beautiful country like Australia and explore the coast. As many people automatically assume December is the Winter time, it’s actually polar-opposite since it’s in the Southern Hemisphere of the Equator. You may be expecting chilly, wintry air to greet you but be very surprised when you realize that Aussies spend their Christmases outside by the barbecue, grilling and working on their tan. I made the mistake of booking a last minute trip to Nepal (one week’s notice) and I had no idea that I booked it during monsoon season. Thankfully we were very lucky and only endured a few hours of rain over a 4-day period, but this was of course the exception, not the rule.
  5. Pack smart by day and digitally document what you’ve included – Ladies definitely have a challenge with this as we always want to bring extra, “just in case.” Well, we all know that half of those items won’t even be touched during our trip but we still insist to drag it along anyway. When I pack, I usually already have an idea of my activities and weather expectations so I plan outfits per day. This helps me avoid bringing anything excess, although sometimes I do bring some options for flexibility. When I travel to multiple locations, I always take a photo on my phone of every outfit option that I have packed so instead of rambling through my bag and creating a disaster, I instead flip through my photos as if it’s a digital closet. Once the outfit is dirty, I delete the photo so I know that it’s no longer an option. Viola!