It’s my Golden Birthday!

on June 26, 2017

Today is my Golden Birthday!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, the “golden birthday” occurs when a person turns the age of their birth day. My birthday is June 26th and today I am 26 years old!

I never did an intro post when I started blogging. I just jumped right in because, as many of y’all know, this blog began when I returned from our Icelandic honeymoon and had a dozen people asking me for travel advice. I figured that a blog was a great way to document it all, and it just took off from there!

So I’m going to take a few minutes and share 26 fun facts about the Katy behind!

  1. I grew up as an Army brat, and split my childhood mainly between Hawaii, California, and Germany. I moved to Texas shortly after my 16th birthday and have been here ever since!
  2. So far I have been to 31/196 countries and 3/7 continents.
  3. I just found out that I share my birthday with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and I am so stoked about that! The Harry Potter series is my favorite of all time. I am a huge Potterhead. #Ravenclaw4Life
  4. I’ve mentioned in passing that I am a “full-time career environmentalist.” In a little more detail: I work at an environmental non-profit focusing on coastal conservation. I do outreach and marketing for a few water programs at this non-profit, focusing on the common goal of reducing bacteria pollution. My favorite part of my job is teaching rain barrel workshops! And I occasionally get to turn the barrels into works of art, which is fun too!
  5. My favorite color is sea foam green!
  6. looooooove Hamilton. I have never seen the musical in person but it’s definitely my favorite. I know every word to every song and have watched the bootlegs dozens of times. I really hope I can see it sometime soon!
  7. Reading is my favorite hobby, other than traveling. I always have a book in my purse, and a few more in my car just in case I finish that one.
  8. My favorite band is Lord Huron and I’m so pumped to see them live in concert in August!
  9. I have three piercings and one tattoo (shhh, don’t tell my dad about that one!)
  10. The first half of my name (Kai) means ‘ocean’ in Hawaiian, and the ocean has always been a huge part of who I am.
  11. I am obsessed with my dog. Her name is Gracie, and she’s a 7 year old German Shorthaired Pointer rescue. I actually made her an Instagram of her own because she’s so hilarious and photogenic. If you need an overload of cute spotty dog photos, go follow her!
  12. I wear sandals. Every. Single. Day. Seriously, I hate closed toe shoes. If I could wear Chacos every day for the rest of my life, I totally would.
  13. I am a total adrenaline junkie. If it involves jumping off of tall buildings (like my uni’s football stadium) or bridges (shoutout to my favorite bungee spot, Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, NZ), or anything of that sort, you can believe that I will be all over it. Blame my dad, he made his living off of jumping out of airplanes in the Army so I guess it’s in my DNA.
  14. I always keep a hammock in my car, because you never know when the perfect opportunity to have a hang sesh will arise!
  15. My favorite movies of all time: Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, Grand Budapest Hotel, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I watch these movies at least once a month.
  16. I love National Parks! I have my own NPS passport, and I obsessively get stamps from every national park, monument, etc. that I visit. I also have to get a photo with every park sign.
  17. I went through weird stages of obsessions when I was a child. One of these weird stages was a fascination with Chinese culture after watching Mulan. I made my mom take me to Chinatown in San Francisco to buy me kimonos, then I wore these kimonos to school all the time. Which is why I have two school pictures like this:
  18. I have watched every episode of Parks & Rec at least four times.
  19. My favorite trip so far was when Matt and I roadtripped through New Mexico and Arizona! I love the American Southwest, and all the National Parks in that area.
  20. During my travels I collect patches and postcards. I write on about our adventures on the postcards and want to compile them into a book one day. And I want to put all my patches on a backpack sometime soon.
  21. I also collect vinyl records. Matt actually bought me a new record player for my birthday this year and I’m super excited about it!
  22. Goats are my favorite animals! They are absolute joy and goofiness. I adore them.
  23. I’m currently trying to learn Japanese for my trip to Japan in December. I hope to be at least conversational by the time I go. So far I’ve made really good progress on hiragana, and Matt and I are enrolling in classes at the local uni for the fall semester.
  24. I love school! I would like to either go to law school or get another master’s degree in the next few years. We will see!
  25. Winter is my favorite season! I love cold weather. As much as I love Texas, I really don’t know how I live here and survive the heat.
  26. Blogging is my creative outlet and I really enjoy writing about our adventures. I used to have a different blog all through college that gained a pretty large following but I stopped writing in it and transitioned over to this one, which is much more fun to write. So shank y’all so much for reading!

Cheers to 26! With New York City, Mexico City, and Japan on the horizon, I’m already so excited for what this year has in store for me!

Revisiting the Pentagon After 9/11

on June 24, 2017

I’ve always been very hesitant to write about this, and I think this is finally the right time. It’s taken me nearly two months to write this post because every time I sit down to write it, I lose sense of my words. So here goes.

Those of you who know me personally or have read my previous posts may have picked up on the fact that I’m an Army brat. In September of 2001 I was living in Fort Irwin, California. My mom was working as a wildlife biologist for a local archaeology curation. In this position she traveled occasionally for conferences, and upon returning from one in Washington DC, she told my dad how much she loved it and wanted to take us for a family vacation.

My parents pulling me out of school was not a rare event, especially during the years we lived in Europe. I probably missed way too much school as a child, always taking off on long weekend trips to Venice or Prague with my family. Sure enough, my mom found out she was going to another conference in DC, so she and my dad made arrangements to pull me out of school for a week. It was the week of September 9th through the 15th, 2001.

Our intention was for the trip to be a father/daughter bonding time while my mom was doing conference-y stuff. We planned on doing the tourist thing by visiting all (well as many as we possibly could) of the Smithsonian museums, and all the memorials and national monuments in town.

One of my dad’s good Army friends from a former duty station lived in DC at the time. We got in contact with him and he offered to give us a tour of his new workplace, the Pentagon. I wasn’t too excited (what 10 year old girl would be excited?), but I knew my dad was, so I got over it because I knew it was happening. It wasn’t like I realistically had a say in it anyways.

The next morning we woke up much earlier than we had all week. It was a Tuesday. People were all on their way work as we took the yellow line to the Pentagon station. My dad’s friend met us at the entrance, where we were to receive our visitor’s passes. I remember the lady working at the visitor center being very friendly. She had a big, joyous smile and told me how beautiful my eyes were. We headed into the Pentagon to receive our own little private tour. We ran into a few former colleagues of my dad’s, stopping to talk for a few minutes here and there.

The tour was uneventful for me, until we came upon a crowd of people standing around a doorway. There was a table holding the door open, and on the table was a little television playing the news. We stood there in disbelief as we all watched the footage twin towers falling. I knew what I was seeing was wrong and terrifying, but I had no real grasp on what this meant. I was 10 years old, and I was just confused.

A man emerged from the room, pulled the table and television inside, and shut the door. We turned and continued on down the corridor as normal. I don’t know how much longer we walked, but it didn’t seem like long at all.

Then it happened.

Section of the Pentagon where the plane made impact

It was like the building shuddered very violently. I have no words to explain the noise I heard and the way I felt the building move. The doors along the hallway began to slam open, and people were running out of their offices and flooding into the halls. There were so frantic people all trying to get out as fast as they could. My dad tried his best to keep me calm in the midst of all the panic. He put his hands on my shoulders and guided me through the crowds. We walked, letting all others run panickingly past us to the nearest exit in sight. It seemed like forever before we could get outside. We walked away from the building quite a bit before we were able to take in the sheer amount of smoke that was surrounding the Pentagon.

And I’ll never forget how it looked.

The city was a mess. We desperately tried calling my mom from every phone we came across (cell phones weren’t really a thing yet, so we didn’t have them), but every phone line was busy and couldn’t connect. All the metro stations were closed and the lines weren’t running. The cars on the streets were all at a standstill. We walked for what seemed like hours trying to find our way back to our hotel. Since traffic was so horrible, some people had just given up on any hope of leaving the city. Cars were pulled over on the sidewalks, with their windows rolled down blasting news from their radios. We stood around a white flower van parked haphazardly on the sidewalk, doors all open, radio turned to max volume, and listened to the broadcasts that confirmed our fears. The Pentagon had been hit in an act of terrorism.

We got back to our hotel and sat at the bar downstairs to watch the news. We waited for my mom to come back and tried to wrap our minds around everything that had just happened.

Even 15 years later it doesn’t feel real. It was just such a bizarre experience for me, and I was so young. Definitely too young to really understand just how much of an impact this would have on my life, my the lives of my parents, and every American.

My dad tried his best to make sure that we proceeded with our vacation and did not let this ruin our trip. The rest of the week we had the Smithsonian museums to ourselves. We explored a desolate city, and spent most of the days feeling like we were the only two people in the world.

I didn’t go back to DC until I was 24. This time with Matt when we were engaged. I was thankful to be there with him and to try to build new, positive memories. Being able to see it in a different energy and time, I really fell in love with the city. But I didn’t make it to the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial that time for a combination of reasons.

In April of 2017 I found myself back in DC once again. 15 and a half years after my first encounter with the city, I decided to prioritize a visit to the memorial.

We took the metro to the Pentagon station, and it immediately brought back so many memories.

There’s an audio tour available, but it’s accessed via your cell phone. You can call a phone number that’s posted on their welcome sign and it will give you a very informative guided walk. The tour was very insightful, and I’m so glad we did it. It brought so much meaning into the architectural details of the memorial.

Visiting the Pentagon was an emotional experience for me, but it was much easier than I had imagined it would be. It certainly brought back some unwelcome memories, but I was glad for the opportunity to confront these feelings of fear and sadness head on.

The benches in the memorial correspond with a person who perished in the attack on the Pentagon. They start from the youngest person at the front of the memorial, to the oldest in the back. The first bench is Dana Falkenberg’s bench. She was born in 1998. The second is Zoe Falkenberg’s, she was born in 1992. There are three benches for the year 1990, for Bernard Brown, Asia Cotton, and Rodney Dickens. All five of the aforementioned children were on American Airlines Flight 77.

I had to pause between the year lines for 1992 and 1990. I know it sounds dramatic, but I couldn’t help but stare at the blank space between those two years and think “There could have been a 1991 line right here, and there could have been a bench with my name on it.” But praise God there is not.

Before leaving, I sat on Dana’s bench, prayed quietly for the all the lives who have been touched by this tragedy, thanked God for keeping me safe, and that I would one day be courageous to share my story with the world.

Itinerary: A Long Weekend in Chicago

on March 30, 2017

So Matt and I wanted to plan a big trip for April/May of this year, but we made the decision to purchase a home instead, which meant we had to put trip plans on hold. But we knew we wouldn’t be able to make it without some kind of getaway to satisfy our wanderlust. We decided a long weekend in Chicago would be the perfect solution!

We flew in early on a Saturday and flew out on Tuesday afternoon, giving us about 3.5 days to explore this amazing city. Here’s how we spent our time.

Sidenote: Once again, I won’t bombard you with photos. But if you’d like to see all of our photos from the trip, you can view them here.

Day One

We took a 6am flight out of Houston and arrived in Chicago around 8:30. After dropping our suitcase off at our Airbnb, we set out to explore the city. We stopped by Portillo’s for some lunch, then walked the Magnificent Mile. There was a lot of amazing architecture and cool history to gawk at. And I was pleasantly surprised at how much knowledge Matt has about the city!

Our first big stop of the day was the Hancock Center to check out 360 Chicago. We purchased the CityPass a few weeks before our trip, and redeemed it at 360 since it was our first stop. (The CityPass ended up being the best decision of this trip! We got VIP and fast pass access to five amazing attractions around the city. Those attractions are noted with a * on this post.) From the 94th floor we got a great view of the city! We paid $7 extra each to the do the “Tilt,” which was actually pretty thrilling!

Next we headed over to visit the Shedd Aquarium, another CityPass attraction. There was a loooooong line to get in, but luckily we got to bypass that with the VIP entry from our CityPass. The aquarium was pretty crowded, but it wasn’t too bad. I’m pretty spoiled because I grew up going to the best aquarium in the world (Monterey Bay), but I still really enjoyed the Shedd. I nearly missed seeing the belugas, so make sure you don’t miss them either! Included with our CityPass was a ticket to a 4D film in their theatre. This was a hilarious experience, but that’s a story for another time.

For dinner we stopped at a bar called Flo & Santos for dinner because I loooove me some pub food! I tried pirogis for the first time and now I’m obsessed.

Day Two

We walked the city for most of the morning, got some delicious pastries at Stan’s Donuts, explored Grant Park, ventured into some interesting buildings to admire the architecture, then went to see Cloud Gate. I was excited to cross “the Bean” off of my travel to-do list!

Next we used our CityPass to get into the Art Institute of Chicago. I had wanted to visit this museum for as long as I can remember. It has one of the best Impressionist collections, which is my absolute favorite art movement. Matt had fun spotting the pieces featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and we had a Cameron Frye moment while looking upon A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

As the museum was closing, we made our way to the Willis Tower. We took the long way around because we stopped for food at the Flat Top Grill (pick your own stir fry ingredients! SO COOL!) and ended up getting distracted by the Trump Tower. We decided to walk over to get a closer look at the building. During this walk, we ended up on the Irv Kupcinet Bridge, where we got an amazing view of the river and some of the coolest skyscrapers in the city.

Our CityPass really came in handy when going to the Skydeck! We got to skip a huge line, saving us about 45 minutes of waiting time. But then we just stood in line for about 45 minutes to get out onto The Ledge. Which, in my honest opinion, was so overrated and not worth the wait.

We got to see the sun going down over the city from the Skydeck, and as it began to get dark outside, we decided to explore the city some more. We went to see the famous Chicago sign, and on the way we stumbled upon the PrivateBank Theatre AKA the home of Hamilton in Chicago. It took me great amounts of strength to keep from bawling my eyes out because we couldn’t get decently priced tickets to see Hamilton during our trip. Or ever.

One day I will see you, Hamilton. One day.

Day Three

We spent almost an entire day at the Field Museum nerding out over rocks, minerals, ancient artifacts, totem poles, and taxidermy. This museum was by far the least crowded of all the CityPass attractions. With the CityPass we had access to all the special exhibits and tickets to one of their 3D films (which was a much better experience than at Shedd). This was definitely in the top 5 museums I’ve ever visited.

After the museum, we went to Devil Dawgs for dinner (another one of Matt’s favorites) and binged on sliders and milkshakes. We needed to walk it off after, so we took a stroll down the street and happened upon the Chicago Public Library. We went in to look around and somehow ended up participating in one of their free classes in the Maker Lab. We learned how to make designs to be cut on vinyl, which we then made into bookmarks of our own!

When the class was over, we went to check out the Chicago Jazz scene. We visited a bar where some local college musicians were playing. The Jazz was a little too “avant-garde” for us, so we didn’t end up staying long, but it was still an interesting experience.

Day Four

  • Exploring the Pilsen neighborhood
  • National Museum of Mexican Art

Our last day in Chicago was really more like a half day, so we decided to stay around the neighborhood where we had been staying. I really loved this part of town. There were a lot of Mexican cultural influences in this area. The National Museum of Mexican Art was actually just down the road, and entry is always free, so we decided to visit. We got to see lots of the Pilsen neighborhood as we walked to the museum, it reminded me a lot of the Mexican neighborhoods where my grandparents live. It felt almost like a version of home. The museum was nice, and was filled with lots of thought provoking pieces. I love the way their exhibits explore the evolution Mexican-American identity.

We stopped into La Catrina Cafe for some food and coffee, and I fell in love with decor. I love anything and everything catrina or calaca.

At the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we visited Pilsen Community Books. It was the most amazing bookstore I’ve ever seen. The walls were lined with books from floor to ceiling, throughout the entire store. And the best part? Nearly all the books were under $10! I had to fight the urge to throw out everything I brought in my suitcase to make room for books instead. I settled for one book. But maybe one day I’ll be back for more…

There are many more attractions I would have loved to visit during this trip, but just didn’t have the time for. No worries though, it leaves plenty for my next trip to Chicago!

In Defense of the Selfie Stick

on March 23, 2017

People love to hate on the selfie stick.

This past weekend we took a short trip to Chicago. We spent a day at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is something that has been on my list for a long, long time. I was so excited to see some amazing works by some of my favorite artists, like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Renoir. I’m a huge fan of the Impressionism style, and I knew this museum has one of the best collections in the US. My husband is not as big of an art fan as I am, but he was really excited to go see some of the pieces they featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (his favorite movie of all time), specifically the Chagall’s America Windows.

When we made it to the windows, we were the only ones in the room. So we decided to take the opportunity to get a few seconds of GoPro footage for our vacation video. We pulled out our selfie stick mounted GoPro, and took about 10 seconds of video. In the last 3 or so seconds, a couple in their mid 30s walked up into the little alcove. The woman saw us taking a video with our GoPro and selfie stick, and as Matt is putting it back in his bag and walking away, she scoffs and very rudely mutters “Ugh, f*ing idiots with their selfie sticks” in the most disdainful tone you can imagine.

I have a fiery temper. So I was immediately enraged at this remark, which was so obviously directed at us. I was so angry, I couldn’t even think of something to say. Which is probably good, because in the end I don’t want to stoop their level. I was going over the situation in my head. Was I bothering anyone by using my selfie stick? No. I wasn’t obstructing anyone’s view of the windows. I certainly wasn’t close to hitting anyone with it, since there was no one in the room and it wasn’t extended more than a foot and the couple was about 12 feet away.

So I took a final look at the windows, and crossed the alcove, pausing briefly right in front of this couple to give them an overly cheery smile. Kill ’em with kindness I guess. From this exchange. they knew I had heard them, and I could tell they were embarrassed. As I walked away, I could see them lean in to whisper and shoot looks back at me.

This kind of attitude is not something I, personally, have encountered in my travels before. But I have heard many of my travel blogger friends complain about people making similar remarks to them, which is why I feel like it’s something worth writing about.

I, personally, am a huge fan of the selfie stick. Why? Well I’ll tell you.

I like being able to take pictures of my husband and I without having to ask someone else to handle my phone/camera.

Because, you know what would seriously suck?

If I asked someone to take a photo of me, they dropped my phone/camera, and it broke. Another possible scenario? If someone ran off with your phone/camera. Yes, that’s a legitimate fear of mine.

What if you’re off hiking alone and there’s no one around to take a photo of you?

Or say the pleasant looking stranger you asked to take your picture has absolutely no photography skills, captures none of the scenery you wanted in the photo frame, in bad lighting, gives you back a series of blurry photos, etc.

The solution to all these dilemmas? Selfie stick. I purchased this selfie stick from Amazon and have had it for the past 3 years. It is sturdy, durable, yet still a good size for travelers, and I can mount either my phone or GoPro on it. The selfie stick is one of those products that I swear by, and bring on every trip.

That being said, I can see why selfie sticks have garnered a bad reputation to some and have been banned in a few locations. But I do my best to always be considerate of the travelers and people around me when I use my selfie stick. I make sure that I’m not obstructing people’s views in an obnoxious way. I am conscious of where my stick extends, so as not to whack anyone in the face. I make sure I step out of walkways or paths of people before I try to snap a selfie, so as not to cause or worsen any traffic jams.

Some people hate selfie sticks and point to narcissism as the reason why. But you know what? Who cares. If you want to take a picture of yourself from time to time, do it! It’s OK! Before we all had smartphones with front facing cameras, we were just bothering other people take our pictures. Now it’s just more convenient.

So, in conclusion to this rant, selfie stick users and lovers all over the world: It’s up to you to change this negative perception. Be courteous, conscious, and respectful in the use of your selfie sticks.

And yes, all of these photos were taken by either my husband or me with our amazing $9 selfie stick.

A Quick Trip Home

on February 15, 2017

It’s been about two weeks since my last post, I’ve definitely been slacking on my blogging. But for [kind of] a good reason. I was visiting home for a little over a week! The other week I was just straight slacking, so yeah. Work has been crazy for me lately, so can you really blame me?


I went home for a little over a week and it was wonderful. I hadn’t been home in over two years, so I really needed it. But while the trip was a nice little getaway, it definitely wasn’t a vacation. My parents and I both had a lot of family business to take care of, but we still found time to do/see our favorite things around the bay.

For me, there a few absolutely necessary itinerary items for when I go home:

  • Quality time in the redwood forests
  • A scenic drive down to Bixby Creek Bridge
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium

This visit I made 3/3 and then some, so I’d call it a success! Here are the highlights of my trip.

The Forest of Nisene Marks

I may be a island girl by birth and live by the beach right now, but I will choose redwood covered mountains any day. Luckily my hometown has both, and in very close proximity to the other! I got to spend an afternoon
exploring the Forest of Nisene Marks during this trip, and it really filled my buckets with redwood forest quality time. My dad and my aunt wanted to go trail running, so I strapped one of my aunt’s mountain bikes to the back of the Jeep for myself.

I’m an avid mountain biker here in Texas, but the thing is… the Lone Star State doesn’t have mountains. Well at least the Houston area/all the areas that I’ve lived. What makes “mountain” biking in Texas fun is the rocky trails, and technical runs. Occasionally there will be some hills, but they’re brief. So, when I got to Nisene, this transplant-Texan was put to shame. Big time. The incline was so gradual, I really thought the trail was flat, but I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so tired so fast! By the time I reached the turnaround point (the Loma Prieta epicenter sign), I was exhausted. My legs were burning, and even though it was super cold outside, I was sweating. It was definitely a good ride.

And don’t get me started on the scenery. I’ll just say that there are lots of beautiful redwoods, fern covered mountainsides, and a beautiful, blue river to provide you with some easy listening. If you’re lucky you may even run into the coolest college mascot, the Banana Slug! Yes, that’s a real thing. Both of my parents went there for undergrad and got the best college mascot ever. #GoSlugs


Monterey Bay Aquarium

I have no words to describe how much I love love love this place. I grew up coming to this aquarium on school field trips, after school with grandma, and weekends with my parents. After we moved away I always made sure to come visit every time I visited home.

This place is one of the main reasons I chose to pursue a career in environmental conservation. I fell in love with the idea of preserving and protecting all of these special creatures and resources in the Monterey Bay, and now I’m doing exactly that [but in a different Bay]. This aquarium has such a special place in my heart.


Scenic drive down the 1

Occasionally I’ll take the 1 from Santa Cruz up to San Francisco, but I don’t make it up to the city every trip. I do, however, make it a point to drive down to Bixby every time I come home. The drive is breathtaking in any kind of weather. The coastline is rocky and the ocean is tumultuous.

We always stop to eat at California Market at the Highlands Inn. The food is amazing, but the views are 100x better! No exaggeration there.

Bixby Creek Bridge is about a 15 minute drive south from the Highlands Inn. There are several great scenic overlooks to stop at along the way.

Seacliff Beach

This beach is cool to visit because of the sunken cement ship that sits right off the shore. There’s a boardwalk that goes right up to it, but after the recent storms it’s been closed. The same storms caused the cement ship to basically break in half. It’s a really interesting sight.

Family Time

I love coming home and being able to spend time with my family.

I was super lucky to be able to celebrate two birthdays, one baby shower, and meet some new family members during this trip.

It was the first time in over six years my parents and I were all in California together, and the first time I’d seen my parents about two months. I was so happy to get all of that family time.

I had an amazing visit home! Sometimes it’s nice to go on a trip that you don’t really have to do any planning for. You just go with the flow, hang out, and enjoy the change of scenery.

But lots of planning for the next trip is happening now! Chicago, I will see you in 25 days!

Happy wanderlusting, friends!

Favorite Travel Memories: Wedding Dress Shopping in Mexico

on January 31, 2017

Today I’d like to share the story of one of my more unique travel experiences. The time I went wedding dress shopping in Mexico. So here goes…

Like most women, I knew pretty much exactly what I wanted in my wedding dress. I wanted a lace dress, with minimal bling, flowy and not fitted, possibly with sleeves. But I had a surprisingly hard time finding this dress of my dreams.

I went to six bridal salons around the central Texas and tried on 70+ dresses before I found the one. The consultants kept trying to put me in silhouettes that I didn’t want. Apparently my body type is perfect for a mermaid or a trumpet silhouette, but I just didn’t feel comfortable in these styles. I felt so restricted, like I couldn’t breathe and I definitely couldn’t dance. So after 70+ dresses, I took a chance and tried on a dress that was waaaaay out of my price range but appeared to be perfect. It checked [almost] every box on my list. Chantilly lace. Minimal bling. Flowy. But no sleeves (which could definitely be fixed should I decide to go with that style).

As soon as I put it on, I knew it was the one.

But there was a huge problem. This dress was over twice the top of my price range. This dress seriously cost more than my wedding venue and catering combined. I was crushed because I knew the chances of finding a better dress were very slim. I offered to split the cost with my parents, but it was the principle of paying that much for a dress I would only wear once. After a lot of thinking and stressing, I decided to take some time and think about it. I still had more than enough time to make my order. Plus I still had a family trip to Mexico on the horizon and my mom kept telling me that I had to buy my dress there for the sake of family tradition.

So I packed my bags and flew to Mexico, where I met up with my crew. My mom, her sisters/my aunts, and my cousin.

We had a lot of family business to take care of, but we found a few hours here and there to go to Vallarta, a street lined with beautiful bridal shops. I tried on a dozen more dresses, none of which I was crazy about. Everyone was pushing me towards styles that I didn’t want. I tried on one satin dress that fit me very well, looked great, and was below my price range. I was tempted to just call it a day and settle because I was so over the process.

No matter what I tried on, I couldn’t get that dress from Fort Worth out of my head. So I pulled out my phone and went to the designer’s website to see if there was a boutique selling his designs in Guadalajara. And there was! Baracci Novias, right down the street. We headed over to the boutique, walked in, and immediately started searching the racks.

I couldn’t find the dress anywhere, and was about to have a serious break down. My mom showed the bridal consultant a picture of the dress and asked if they had the dress in the store. The consultant said they did but they stored it in the back since it was an older style and no one had ever wanted to try it on. She brought it out, and I tried it on. The sample was exactly my size, and it was perfect.

It was a little bit cheaper than at the boutique in Fort Worth, but it was still way over my price limit of $1000. We decided to just throw out an offer on the dress. They would never sell the dress if I didn’t buy it from them. No one had ever expressed interest in the style. It was either they sell it to me, or they take a complete loss on the sample and never sell it at all. So we offered $1000 for the dress and left for the day so they could get in contact with the owner about the offer.

The consultants called us back the next day to let us know the owner declined the offer, and that point I was ready to give up and just buy whatever dress I came across next. But my mom and aunts weren’t ready to let it go. So we went back to the store and I sat in the car as they went inside to “negotiate.”

At one point they even got my abuela on the phone. She was supposed to come on the trip with us, but due to some health concerns had to stay at home in California. My abuela told the consultants how she had always wanted her daughters to buy their wedding dresses on Vallarta, but they had all eloped, and now I might be the only granddaughter she’d be able to see get married and all that sob story.

I sat in the car watching them talk. I was so worried, I started sweating. Then finally my mom waved at me to come inside. She proudly announced that the boutique decided to give us the deal and let us take the dress for $1000! I was able to take my dress home to Texas with me. It all worked out perfectly. I was even able to purchase my veil at the boutique. It was extra special to be able to purchase my mantilla veil in Mexico as a nod to my culture and heritage.

It was a successful trip!

I decided to add sleeves to my dress much later because I kept looking at photos of sleeved dresses and feeling this pull towards that style. But that story is not nearly as fun to share.

Happy wanderlusting, and may your wedding dress searches be much easier than mine!

Itinerary: 7 Days in Banff

on January 25, 2017

So once again, I won’t bombard you with photos in this post because I know you’re most likely here because you honestly just want itinerary ideas. I’ll keep photos to a minimum, just a few to highlight the itinerary items, but for those of you wanting to peruse my the rest of the photos from this trip, here’s the link.

Day 1: Arrival in Calgary

We flew in to Calgary at 8pm, so we didn’t do much other than picking up our rental car and heading to the Airbnb.

Our Airbnb was very close to the airport and also close to the downtown area. Our host was friendly and the house was cozy and cute. As always, if you’d like me to send you the link for the accommodation, just shoot me a message!

We tried to get dinner at a trendy pizza place we found online, but they were still closed for Christmas holiday, so we just ended up eating at a pub called Rose & Crown downtown. It was there that I ate the best sandwich ever (turkey, strawberry, and brie yummmm). Downtown Calgary was also pretty cool to see at night when it’s all lit up.

Day 2: Calgary to Canmore for check in, then exploring downtown Banff

We woke up early to get breakfast at Tim Horton’s and head out west to Banff.

The highway was well maintained and the drive was easy, even in the middle of the winter. We arrived in Canmore and checked in to our Airbnb before heading on towards the national park.

We took the afternoon to explore downtown Banff, walked along the Bow River, poked around the Banff Fairmont Springs, and went souvenir shopping on Banff Avenue.

Day 3: Skiing at Mount Norquay

If you’ve read my post about all the snags we had on this trip, you’ll know that this is where our plans started to fall apart. If not here’s the TL;DR version: I have really muscular calves, couldn’t fit in ski boots, had to switch to snowboarding.

Anyways, this was a day that was [supposed to be] dedicated to skiing. Pretty self explanatory.

Norquay was a quaint ski resort. It’s where the locals go, since it’s the closest resort to the actual town of Banff. It has the most limited amount of runs and lifts compared to the other resorts, but the prices are also cheaper for lift passes as well as lessons.

Day 4: Ice skating at Lake Minnewanka, hiking at Johnston Canyon

Here’s where life started to deviate from our planned itinerary. We were supposed to spend this day on the slopes at Sunshine Village, but life had other plans.

We ended up trading in our ski and snowboard gear for ice skates and heading out to Lake Minnewanka. The drive out to the lake is magnificent! The scenery is picture perfect. And the lake itself is just amazing to behold. It’s framed by mountains all around, and the ice is a dark blue color with lots of frozen methane bubbles trapped in it. It was the coolest thing we did on this trip.

After skating we headed up to Johnston Canyon to do some hiking. We only made it to the lower falls before the sun started going down and we decided to head back to the car because it was getting dark and too cold for us.

For dinner we chose a spot in Canmore called The Grizzly Paw Pub & Brewing Co. We tried poutine for the first time (10/10 would recommend) and got a beer flight to try out some of the local brews. You’ll notice that half of the flight is dark (mine) and half is light (his), we obviously have different tastes in beer. The food at Grizzly Paw was just as amazing as the beer. It was my favorite restaurant on this trip.

Day 5: Snowshoeing and ice skating at Lake Louise

This was the day that we were supposed to spend on the slopes at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

We still headed up to Lake Louise, but rented ice skates and snow shoes from Wilson Mountain Sports when we arrived, and then headed for the lake.

We snowshoed to the scenic overlook to get the best view of the Chateau Lake Louise. And also just to cross snowshoeing off our bucket list…

Then we headed down to check out the Chateau, as well as grab lunch before going out to explore the frozen lake and ice skate as the sun set behind the mountains.

Day 6: Exploring the town of Banff

We chose to spend New Year’s Eve exploring the town of Banff a little more. We visited Cave & Basin National Historic Park in the morning, which I really enjoyed. I learned a lot about the history of Banff, the Canadian Rockies, and the Canadian National Parks at the museum, and I got to explore the cave and hot spring system. And it was super cheap to get in, about $4 per person! We missed the whole free national parks thing by a few hours, but for that price I can’t really complain.

After that we headed up to Surprise Corner to get the best view of the Banff Fairmont Springs. You can either hike there from downtown or drive up the mountain then walk down a much shorter distance to get there. We tried to hike there, but it was a cold, windy, snowy day, so we gave up and did the scenic drive.

We also visited the Vermilion Lakes and did some sightseeing there. There are also lots of beautiful trails to hike around the lakes and enjoy their beauty. You can also walk out onto the lake in some spots and ice skate, but we didn’t see any people when we were out there.

We ate dinner at the Grizzly Paw once more before heading out to Lake Minnewanka to try catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. It was too overcast, but the experience was definitely interesting. That’s a story for another post though.

To celebrate the New Year we went downtown to check out the festivities. Banff Avenue was closed off to traffic and there were lots of tents and activities set up. We listened to the bands that were playing music to the crowds, we test rode some fat tire bikes, we learned about Japanese New Year traditions, got to hang out in a giant teepee, danced in the street, and nearly froze because it was so cold. I was excited to count down to the New Year, but there was no actual count. Just a bunch of fireworks going off and everyone screaming “Happy New Year” in whatever the opposite of unison is. It was still a great way to celebrate 2017!

Day 7: Canmore to Calgary, exploring the city

Once again, we had different plans for this day but they changed. This time it was due to the weather. Tubing at Mount Norquay and an ice walk at Grotto Canyon were on the itinerary for the day, but it was a windy day with lots of snow flurries, so we knew we would be miserable spending a few hours outside. We decided to hit the road earlier than planned and find a museum or something in which to seek sanctuary from the cold.

After checking back into the Airbnb from our first night in Canada, we did a little research into a good place to visit.

We decided to visit the Calgary Tower. I was very pleasantly surprised by this attraction!

We chose to do the audio tour that comes free with regular admission, and it taught us a lot about the city of Calgary’s history and urban geography.

Day 8: Depart Calgary to go home

We woke up to the coldest weather since we had arrived in Canada over a week prior.

Luckily all we had to do was throw our suitcases in the car and drive to the airport. We enjoyed our trip but we were happy to leave the -11 cold for the 78 degree warmth at home in Houston!

Changed Plans and Such

A few things we wanted to do but weren’t able to…

  • Ski at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resorts: Y’all know all about this by now.
  • Tubing at Mount Norquay: We wanted to do this on New Year’s Day, but it was just too cold. It’s also kind of pricey. We knew that if we did pay to do it, there was a big chance we would just get so cold that we would give it like 30 minutes before giving up and going inside to get warm. It didn’t seem like the best use of our money.
  • Grotto Canyon: We really wanted to do an ice walk here, but the day we planned to do it was so cold, snowy, and windy. We knew it would be miserably cold to us, so we decided not to go.
  • Jasper National Park: I wish we could have gone a little further north to visit another one of Canada’s most famous national parks.
  • Columbia Icefields: I would have also loved to see a glacier in Canada, since glacier hiking is kinda my thing…

Happy adventuring, friends!

Mini Adventures: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir of Houston

on January 18, 2017

Sometimes the best cure for your in-between adventures slump or post-trip blues is a mini adventure.

With our Canada trip in the past, and no real plans for our next destination in the future, I was in need of an adventure this past weekend.

So I decided to spend my MLK holiday exploring Houston, with the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir as the main event.

I’ve always been captivated by India; it’s actually at the top of my travel wishlist. At a young age I fell in love with the culture, architecture, language, music, film, and food of of India.

So when I saw one of my Houston friends post a picture of herself in front of this amazing temple, I was immediately jealous that she was getting to explore India. But then I realized she was a mere 30 minutes from downtown!

I knew I had to add this place to my Houston to-do list.

I’m so glad I did because the Mandir is absolutely amazing and unlike any place I’ve ever been.

This was the first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America. It’s made of over 33,000 pieces of Italian marble and Turkish limestone. All of these pieces were hand carved in India, and then sent to Houston to be assembled. The Mandir was inaugurated in 2004 after 16 months of construction time, which utilized 1.3 million volunteer hours.

The outside is stunning, but it doesn’t compare to the beauty inside. But in respect of the religious worship space, people are asked to refrain from photography inside the temple, so I didn’t take any photos of my own inside. I was able to find a few photos online to give y’all an idea of the atmosphere.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

There is so much detail in every aspect of the Mandir’s architecture. I could spend days there, admiring every statue and every carving. I just can’t believe that all of it was made by human hands. Amazing!

Visitors of all faiths are welcome, entrance is free, and you can walk around all the temple and its grounds admiring the intricate carvings and holy statues. If you time your visit right, you can catch a few worship rituals. Check the website for schedules.

In order to go inside the Mandir, proper ettiquette must be followed.

  •  You are required to leave your shoes in cubby rooms outside and to go in with bare feet or socks.
  • You must cover shoulders and legs from the knee down, but they provide wraps for anyone who isn’t following their dress code.
  • No photography is permitted inside the Mandir.
  • Cell phones must also be switched to silent.
  • To maintain the spiritual atmosphere, visitors must observe silence inside the Mandir.

I can’t wait to go back to this gorgeous place! I’m hoping to attend some Diwali events later this year. Stay tuned!

Happy travels, friends!

4 Things No One Tells You About Visiting Banff

on January 16, 2017

I did a lot of research for our trip to Banff, but there were still some pretty important things I never found online and had to learn for myself the hard way. These are four things I think are important for anyone planning a winter trip to Banff.

1. You have to buy a park pass to visit.

The town of Banff and pretty much everything you’ll want to do and see, even the ski resorts, are in the National Park. Which means that you’ll need a park pass. Luckily, you’ll pass through an entrance station where you’ll be prompted to purchase one before you officially enter the park. But the prices are pretty steep if you plan on making a week long trip out of it. For one person it costs about $10 per day, and for two or more it’s about $20 per day. Definitely factor this in when you’re budgeting for your trip because it’s a sizeable chunk of change.

And don’t try to get away with not buying one thinking no one will check. In the parking lots of the ski resorts and around town you can see officials checking windshields and writing tickets for cars without passes.

If you’re visiting in 2017 you don’t have to worry about this since Canada is waiving national park fees in celebration of their sesquicentennial!

2. There’s not much to do after dark.

img_7419At least in the winter, once the sun goes down there’s nothing to do. I feel like a good portion of our trip was kind of wasted because we couldn’t find activities to fill our time at night. We would go eat dinner and then wander around aimlessly before giving up and going back to our room to hang out. We really struggled to kill time until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The shops on Banff Ave are open decently late so if you need to do some souvenir shopping, you can do it at night. And there are lots of places to grab some drinks if that’s your thing.

I think this is really just a symptom of being a winter visitor. I’m here for all outdoors activities, and once the sun goes down I can’t really do anything. I’m sure in the summer, since the days are longer and the night temperatures are much nicer this wouldn’t be a problem.

3. The ski resorts are BUSY.

This is partly our fault for [apparently] visiting during the busiest week of the year, but Lake Louise and Sunshine Village were insane. Like traffic backed up 10 km down the entry road to the highway exit ramp and beyond.

If you are interested in Banff as a ski trip destination, plan for February or March. Not for the week in winter when basically everyone in Canada has holiday break. Oops…

I couldn’t capture the craziness of the crowds at Sunshine, so this picture doesn’t do it justice. But just take my word for it. There were hundreds of people lined up to take the gondolas up to the ski area. It was a madhouse.

4. Stay in Canmore.

Don’t be afraid to stay outside the park!

Accommodations in Canmore are much more affordable and there’s a better selection for food, hotels, etc. The town also has a charm that’s very similar to Banff. It’s not far from the entrance to the National Park, so the drive to the town of Banff isn’t bad at all! It’s actually shorter than my daily commute to work in Houston.

We saved hundreds on our trip by staying in an Airbnb in Canmore. The neighborhood had the best views! Actually, I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a spot in the whole town that doesn’t have an amazing view like this one.

Happy travels, friends!

Our Canada Video is Here!

on January 14, 2017

Matt finally got tired of me bugging him and finished our Canada video! So let’s keep this simple. Here it is!

You’ll probably notice that my clumsiness is a common theme in these videos. We joked that the best way to portray our trip in an honest way would be a video compilation of all the times we slipped on ice patches or fell in the snow. Oh, Canada.

Happy wanderlusting, friends!

P.S. If you haven’t seen our Iceland video, you can watch it here.