Category: Travel Thoughts

Four Tips for Auckland Day Trips

So dear reader, you’re telling me that you’re having a grand old time in Auckland, New Zealand, but you’d like to venture outside of the city a little bit.

Do you have time to drive to NZ’s south island? It could be an 8-12 hour trip depending on where you go. No?

Well, luckily for you, I have some wonderful day-tripping options for you to choose from. Keep on reading, you intrepid traveler.

Things I recommend for day-trip travel:

  • A vehicle, preferably a car (if you’re looking for a place to rent a car, I recommend GO rentals)
  • A good sense of direction OR access to GPS navigation
  • PocWifi – so you can use wi-fi at any time, at a relatively affordable price
  • Cash, just in case
  • Snacks??? I mean, it’s up to you, I just very snacky when I roadtrip.

I’ve given you some one-way travel times from Auckland to all of the listed destinations below, but take these with a grain of salt. Traffic, road work, your own driving speed, etc. will all flex these times.

Hobbiton

Travel time from Auckland: About 2 hours

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or even if you aren’t, Hobbiton is beautiful venture in the countryside to the movie set where scenes from the Shire were filmed for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

During the tour, you’re able to walk through the actual set and take photos, while a guide tells you all sorts of movie trivia (a delight for any nerdy heart). If you’re lucky, the weather will be sunny and light up the green hills of the Shire, making you feel like you might ACTUALLY be a little hobbit. (Shoot for summer or maybe late spring.)

I recommend that you book your ticket online in advance, because the time slots can sell out and you can only visit the set if you’re on a tour. Also, since you book a time and they ask you to check in 15 minutes before your tour, you should give yourself enough time to get there. Even if you arrive early, they have a gift shop and a cafe where you can kill time.

Rotorua

Travel time from Auckland: About 3 hours

Rotorua is an excellent place to visit for nature and culture fans.

Whakarewarewa Forest

The Whakarewarewa Forest is only about 5 minutes from downtown Rotorua and is a great place to stroll, hike, bike and even ride on horseback. For travelers from the U.S., the huge trees that the forest is famous for might look a little familiar, and that’s because they’re actually California Redwoods!

Geothermal Activity

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone resulting in a ton of geothermal activity! We visited Hells Gate – both a geothermal park and spa. When you visit and find yourself encompassed by the warm steam and surrounded by volcanic rock, you’ll understand how it got its name. I recommend choosing the tour and spa package, so you can take a self-guided tour through the sulphur and mud pools that make the naturally-heated spa pools possible.

Lake Taupo

Speaking of Taupo, if you have a little more time in Rotorua, Lake Taupo is just about an hour’s drive away. It also has a lot to offer! Apart from a HUGE natural lake that you can take boat and kayak tours on, there’s also Huka Falls, known for its beautiful icy blue water. Huka Falls has a few different hike trails of its own – including the Spa Walk, which actually leads you to a natural hot spring.

Maori Villages

If you’re interested in learning more about Maori culture, there are a couple different Maori villages that you can visit in Rotorua. If you’re not sure which one you’d like to visit, ask the locals. Some of them are actual living Maori villages and others are a bit more… tourist-y. We had planned to visit the living village, but after freezing our buns off on a brisk Lake Taupo boat tour, we opted to warm ourselves up at a local pub.

Waitomo

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

One of the big attractions in Waitomo is their cave system. You can visit Ruakuri, Aranui or their Glowworm Caves – all of them offering a different experience. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try black water rafting or tubing through the caves (we were a little too chicken to try this – plus, it was already pretty chilly OUT of the water)!

However, if you’re finding yourself short on time like we were, I would make the Glowworm Caves your Waitomo stop. When you’re in the sitting in the darkness of the cave, only illuminated by the soft blue lights of the thousands of glowworms – you forget you’re in a cave. It’s almost like looking up at a bunch of little stars. It’s truly beautiful, and honestly, my words do do it justice. You can’t take photos in the cave because the glowworms are very sensitive to lights and sound, so it’s really something you have to see for yourself.

Tauranga

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

Tauranga is for lovers – beach lovers, that is. The Mt. Maunganui Main Beach has been voted New Zealand’s best, and I can totally see why. The long stretch of beach is a great place to stroll, relax on the soft sand and swim.

If you want to get a hike in, the beach is also conveniently located at the base of Mt. Mauao. If I recall, there were a couple main hiker trails – one that loops a bit more gently up the mountain and one that’s a shorter, but steeper climb up to the summit. We took the steeper climb, which was QUITE the haul, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the way and at the top.

If you can believe it, I cut this day trip round-up short for you, dear reader. There’s just SO much to do and see in New Zealand. That’s why I’m definitely going back in the near future and why I’m creating these helpful guides for travelers. If you’re looking for a place to start in Auckland, check out my budget traveler’s guide.

Happy travels to you!

xoxo,
Katie

Eat Your Way Through L.A.: Places to Try

I visited Los Angeles for New Year’s shenanigans and proceeded to eat my weight in, well, basically everything. I’ve listed a few of the places I liked the most – give them a try the next time you’re in the City of Angels.

Disclaimer: I’m 99% sure that I’ve got the locations right, but I don’t travel to L.A. much, so maybe double check their Yelp/websites/social media pages before you go.

Quick Breakfast

Sam’s Bagels

Location: Main St., Santa Monica

If you love bagels (and really, who doesn’t?), then you’ll be a fan of Sam’s Bagels. Even though it’s along Main St. in Santa Monica, it’s a bit of a hidden gem, tucked between a tavern and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Its own sign is pretty high up on it’s brick wall that you won’t notice it and the window signs won’t really help you either. You’ll know it’s Sam’s when you walk in and there’s a just a strange, inexplicably large bagel on the wall for decoration and not much else.

In case you thought I was lying about the large wall bagel.

Bagels are big and toasty, schmear is excellent (I got a strawberry spread that was perfect) and the place is small and quiet.

Extra perks:
1) It’s a stone’s throw away from the beach.
2)  Window seating to bask in the morning/afternoon sun and people-watch.

Not-So-Quick Breakfast (Or Brunch)

Nick’s Coffee Shop

Location: Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson

Breakfast is 100% my favorite meal of the day, so obviously Nick’s is my pick for best place. What you’re looking at here is a delicious waffle combo.

I would move to L.A. for this place, I’m only half-joking. I only had breakfast at this diner, but it was SO good. And the people were so nice – surprisingly jovial in the aftermath of New Year’s Eve and always checking to see if we were happy with our food and needed anything else. They seemed to know and have a great relationships with their regulars and the walls look to be chock full of “celebrity” diner portraits, even locals.

It’s not a big establishment, being a diner, after all. So if you’re thinking about dropping by, you can actually call ahead an ask to hold a table.

Extra Perks:
1) A few outside tables if the weather is nice or if you have a furry companion.
2) Perfectly crispy hash browns.
3) Did I mention that the staff is lovely?

Lunch/Dinner

Tatsu Ramen

Location: Sawtelle Blvd, Little Osaka (other location available)

Their Old Skool ramen with Tonkotsu broth – ’cause you can’t go wrong with a classic.

Little Osaka has a TON of restaurants in the area. Even the complex Tatsu is in has like four or five of them packed in there. But if you’re in the mood for some tasty Ramen, go to Tatsu.

Portions are generous, especially if you order extra noodles for just a couple bucks more. Space is limited, because of the small size of the restaurant (even with the extra seating outside) and because of Tatsu’s popularity. You won’t have to wait to order, thanks to the tablet ordering system out front, but you’ll most likely have to wait for a table. Just give your number to the hostess and they can send a text when your table is ready, meanwhile, you can pop into the other little shops nearby.

Extra Perks:
1) A true vegan/vegetarian ramen bowl for your veggie/vegan friends.
2) I say lunch or dinner, but this place is open until 2 a.m. (sometimes 3 a.m.) for your late-night ramen cravings.

Dessert

Honeymee

Location: Sawtelle Blvd., Little Osaka (other locations available)

You definitely won’t BEE sad when you eat this ice cream.

Once you’re done with ramen or some other savory goodness in Little Osaka, stop by Honeymee for a sweet treat. Not only is their ice cream swirled into a perfect dessert, it’s accompanied by a delicious little honeycomb from a local bee farm.

Extra Perks:
1) After you’ve had a heavy meal, it’s a great light dessert.
2) Particularly picture-worthy (I’m looking at you, food bloggers).

For the Trip Home

Bibi’s Bakery and Cafe

Location: Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson

Bibi’s is a great place to stop for reasonably-priced neighborhood baked goods for the drive (or plane ride) home and to take back to family, friends and co-workers.  Gentleman working the register was extremely helpful/patient as I figured out what I wanted and then inevitably came back to buy more, and seemed to be the bakery’s owner, Dan – which is always a good sign.

This chocolate rugelach might be TOO good. I bought three of these to share… and I ate most of them myself.

Extra Perks:
1) Kosher!
2) Also excellent bagels and schmear.

Well, I think that’s enough for you to chew on. Can you tell that I love to eat?

Bon appetit,
Katie

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Budget Traveler’s Guide to Auckland

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Auckland has a lot to offer – and many of its great attractions cost little to no money to see. This humble guide will help you explore the city without breaking the bank.

First things first, though. If you weren’t thinking about renting a car in New Zealand, I urge you to reconsider. There are so many places to explore and driving will give you the most freedom. If you haven’t driven on the left side of the road before from the right side of a car, I promise you, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Just drive carefully (and more slowly, if you must) and follow ALL road signs/rules. Roundabouts and one-way bridges are kind of a doozy, but you’ll figure it out – you’re smart people.

If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable rental place, I can’t recommend GO rentals at the Auckland Airport enough (I swear, I’m not a plant, I just had a really good experience). They’re conveniently located just about five minutes from the international departure terminal, they have long hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate almost any pick-up or drop-off time and they have a shuttle to get you to and from the airport terminals. Plus, they’re just NICE. And if you’re driving in an unfamiliar country, you don’t want a crap car. Don’t forget to ask them about their GO Play discount card- it comes with a map of attractions around NZ that you can get discounted prices on.

Once you’ve gotten all settled, here are my recommendations of places to go:

Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill Domain

In the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park has it all – you can drive through it, jog or walk. You can marvel at all the precious sheep just wandering around without a care in the world (don’t try and approach them though, they are not a fan).

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

And if you make it to the top of One Tree Hill, you can see some great city views, as well as the obelisk put in place to honor the Maori people

This One Tree Hill is NOT the American TV drama series – so if you were hoping to see Chad Michael Murray, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But not really, because this One Tree Hill and surrounding Cornwall park is SO much cooler (sorry, Chad).

Mission Bay

If you’re a beach person (like I am), then you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Mission Bay. Like most beaches, it will get crowded as the day goes on and the temperature rises, so if you want peace and quiet, I would go in the morning.

Here you can stroll along and enjoy the beach views, go for a swim and have a fish-and-chips picnic on the sand or the park grass. Once you’re done having fun in the sun (maybe, depending on the time of year – we went at the end of spring/vert beginning of summer, so weather was cloudier and cooler), you can head into the City Centre. It’s only about a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic.

Central Business District/City Centre

I like checking out the downtown areas of each city I visit, so for me, visiting the City Centre was worth that alone. But it’s also a good place to go for food and shopping – both luxury, local and tourist gift shops are all located here. It’s also close to the University of Auckland if you’re curious about that, and it’s an easy way to hop on a boat tour or ferry and get to Viaduct Harbour.

Viaduct Harbour

The harbour is right smack dab in the middle of the City Centre. With a bunch of bars/restaurants to choose from right on the waterfront, it’s an excellent place to wind down your day. Ferries seem to come in and out of here, if you’re interested in a ferry trip. Plus, there’s a park down way for kids and apparently a summer movie series shown here, as well. It’s also home to the New Zealand Maritime Museum – free entry for Auckland residents and about $10-$20 for visitors.

Botanical Gardens

Let it be known that I love gardens – so naturally, we ended up going to THREE botanical gardens here in Auckland.

The Auckland Botanic Gardens is just under 15 minutes away from the Auckland Airport and admission is completely free. The crazy thing is not only how beautiful the gardens are, but they span over 150 acres of land. If you go, prepare to get a little lost inside – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eden Garden is a much smaller, but equally gorgeous botanical garden located on the side of Mt. Eden and just a stone’s throw away from the City Centre (about a 7-minute drive). For only $6-$10 (children 12 and under get free admission), you can wander around these stunning blooms to your heart’s content. You may see some goofy-looking chickens also mucking about. And if you’re feeling ambitious, one of the trails in the garden leads you further up the mountain to a great city view.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think it would be the Domain Wintergardens. I had never seen or been in Victorian-style greenhouse gardens before, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough. The flowers inside are ridiculously pretty and enhanced by the pool/fountains set in the middle of the two greenhouses, surrounded by statues. It almost made me want to pop on a corset and bustle and sit down for high tea – ALMOST. Wintergardens also is free to see, just outside of the City Centre and across from the  Auckland War Memorial Museum.

So really, this barely scratches the surface of things to see in Auckland, but it’s a quick round-up of some of my favorites! And I know traveling isn’t cheap, so I hope this guide helps you jump-start your planning and save some dough, so you can treat yo’self in other ways. New Zealand is worth it!

With Much Aroha (Love),
Katie

Nightborn’s Essential International Travel Checklist

My latest trip to New Zealand really challenged me to use all my travel-planning skills and know-how that I’ve acquired through my own (sometimes haphazard) experiences and advice from more-seasoned travelers. I thought I’d do you a favor, dear readers, and compile a checklist for you here to help tick off the boxes when you’re planning your next great adventure.

1) Save yourself a lot of trouble and look up any specific travel requirements for the country(ies) that you’ll be visiting.

  • Agriculture/Souvenirs- Many countries are very strict about what you can bring in and what you can bring back.
  • Visas – Do you need to apply for a visa to travel here? No joke – some countries require a visa just to pass customs and enter the country to collect your baggage for a connecting flight.
  • International Driver’s License – Pretty self-explanatory. Check if you’ll need one to drive in your destination.
  • Passport – DON’T FORGET IT. Also, make sure you’ve given yourself enough time, in case it needs to be renewed.

2) Put some thought into where you’re going to stay.

This is really at the traveler’s discretion and depends on what you have planned for your trip.

  • Affordability – Hostels are often the cheapest, and are a good choice if you don’t plan to spend much time in your room and don’t mind communal spaces.
  • Experience – I really can’t recommend AirBnB enough. You can find some really neat spaces for a excellent prices if you do your research ahead of time. If it’s your first time AirBnBing (or really, every time), you should check the reviews that people have left about the location and its host(s) and make sure that you review the amenities included, house rules/guest requirements and refund/date change policy.
  • Location – It’s a given that if your accommodation is in a city center/downtown, it’s going to be pricier. I find that being 10-15 minutes out puts you close enough to most attractions, without paying the same prices. But once again, it’s traveler’s choice – just think about how much walking/driving/using public transportation you want to do.

Speaking of which…

3) Know how you’re going to get around.

Planning ahead will help you get to places safely, on time and also use the most affordable mode of transportation. Is there:

  • Reliable public transportation – Do they have buses, train, light rail, etc. and are they safe/clean/easy to use? Remember that with public transportation you’ll either need to carry a good amount of cash with you or purchase a transportation pass.
  • Rental cars – When renting, consider more than just getting the cheapest car. Is it automatic or manual? Does it have USB/other outlets to charge your devices if you really need to? How old/reliable is it? The last thing you want to do is be driving in a strange place and break down.
  • Planes – I know people don’t always want to hop on another airplane after they’ve taken that big international flight, but sometimes domestic flights are cheaper than driving, and they’ll definitely save you the time.
  • UBER/Lyft/Taxis – Useful option when it’s not feasible or unneeded to to use the other options above. Just always use your discretion and be safe – know where you’re leaving from and where you need to go.
  • Good old-fashioned walking – If areas are walkable, always an enjoyable way to see your destination. Wear those comfy shoes and be prepared for weather.

4) Know your mobile device options before you leave.

Traveling to another country no longer means being completely cut off from communications (which can be both a great and terrible thing). Here are a few things to consider:

  • What your carrier already offers –  Do you have free/unlimited texting? How much do calls cost? Do you have data usage without an extra charge for roaming?
  • Purchasing an international data plan – find out if you can and if it’s worth it.
  • Mobile hotspot – if you already use your phone as a hotspot, this is a good and secure substitute for wifi, plus you won’t need to rely on another device for internet. Check the rates out with your carrier.
  • PocWifi – It’s a basically what it sounds like – a pocket wifi device you can carry with you for internet access. We were able to rent one at the Auckland airport for a pretty affordable rate, with unlimited data usage. Like any wifi device, connection got fiddly at some points (especially in high mountain areas or on the outskirts of town) but we were always able to connect and it was life-saver when it came to connecting to the internet to use our phones to navigate.

5) Annnnd most importantly, be flexible!

Weather, flight changes/delays/etc., and other unforeseen challenges will pop up when traveling. And yes, it is a bummer when your day doesn’t go as planned, but you’ve come all this way, so try to make the most of it. It’s not a bad idea to do research some ideas for what to do on these off-days, and, you can always ask locals for their advice.

Travel well,
Katie

5 Things I’ve Learned from Getting Stuck at Airports

I’ve gotten stuck waiting at a LOT of airports, so naturally I’ve picked up a few things that have made it a little easier for me when faced with traveling inconveniences.

1) Travel delays are less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when’, so try to plan accordingly.

These days, it feels like a delay at some airport is almost inevitable, if even for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, sometimes even the slightest delay can throw everything off schedule. I know it’s not always possible, but for big events (usually weddings), it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple days leeway before the occasion to account for any hiccups.

For example, I was traveling from the U.S. to Manila for a cousin’s wedding. All of my connecting flights went smoothly, until the very last one at the Narita Airpot. I was supposed to board at six, which turned to seven, eight and nine and when we finally boarded the plane, they herded us back off because by the time we would arrive in the early a.m., there would be no crew to welcome us. Oh, and the next available flight? Not until 1 p.m. the next day.  I lost nearly an entire day, making me extremely glad the wedding was later in the week.

2) Travel as light as you can…

Good advice for when:
a) Your gate suddenly changes after your last flight delay made you late, and you have to haul your butt across three airport concourses to make it to you connection in time.
b) You’re traveling solo and need to drag your bags everywhere with you. There’s nothing like trying to cram yourself into an airport bathroom with a bunch of luggage.
c) Your connecting flight, for whatever reason, doesn’t transfer your bags with you and you have to go through the whole rigmarole of baggage claim and check-in AGAIN.

3) … But, bring back-up essentials in your carry-on.

This has come through for me AT LEAST twice. I mentioned my sweet stay at the Narita Airport up above – after spending more than 12 hours at the same airport gate, I’m SO glad I had clothes to change into and toiletries to refresh myself. The second time, having learned from Narita, I was flying to Manila again with maybe two or three days worth of extra clothing in my backpack. It served me well after my having to switch flights – I arrived fine, but my baggage took three days to find me, having flown on my ORIGINAL connecting flight.

Things to Keep Handy:
– Extra clothing (especially undies)
– Toothbrush/toothpaste (just remember to keep that tube small enough size for TSA approval)
– Face wipes (good for make-up removal/other face gunk and generally TSA-approved)
– Small stick of deodorant
– Portable phone charger/power bank (in case you’re faced with full or broken outlets)

4) Learn about the airport beforehand, especially if you have multiple connections.

It’s just a great idea to know the layout of the airport(s) you’re traveling to you’re not surprised by what you’ll find when you arrive. If you have the time, then you’ll know where you want to eat, shop and relax. If you don’t have time, then you can move around with ease and book it to your next destination. It also helps to know some other miscellaneous details like if the airport has wi-fi (and is it free?), what currency the airport will accept if you’re traveling to another country (Narita actually accepted USD, which was pretty convenient) and if they have places to stay inside the airport should you need a rest (Narita actually had hotel rooms available – but when I was delayed we were asked to remain by the gate – booooooo).

5) Don’t panic.

If delays happen, if you get stuck in an airport like I did, try your very best not to freak out, take a deep breath and then figure out your next steps.

When I ended up chillin’ like a villain in Narita I:
a) Used the wi-fi to use my messaging apps to see of my family members was online so I could get in contact with them and let them know what’s up and not to worry.
b) Didn’t get mad or berate the staff for a weather delay they couldn’t control, but stuck around, listened to what updates they had and did what they asked of us.
c) Made the best of it. I got to try consommé-flavored Pringles (which I didn’t even know existed) and learned how to make a curry MRE (which actually tasted pretty dang good), I talked to an extremely nice missionary couple that ended up watching out for me while I got some nap time in (still using my carry-on as pillow so I would know if anybody was trying to mess with it) and explored the Narita Airport while purchasing enough green tea Kit-Kats to keep me happy.

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Mmmmm. Soup.

Really, my hope for every flight and for you is that you don’t get stuck with your buns warming an uncomfortable airport gate seat for hours. However, if you do, remember my advice and perhaps it’ll make things a bit more bearable.

Bisous,
Katie

Happy Blogiversary to Me: Celebrating a Year with Nightborn Travel

In case you couldn’t tell, you know, from the title, it’s my first blogiversary with Nightborn Travel!

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From our trip to Bisbee. Is it a mine cart? Is it a toilet? NO – IT’S TOILET CART!

Instead of receiving gifts on this most special of occasions, I thought I would give a gift to YOU, dear readers, by sharing some of my learnings over the past year.

1) Open yourself up to traveling more.

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GIVE THE GRAND CANYON A HUG. (Safely.)

But you may say, Katie, I’m afraid of flying (well, I kind of am, too) or Katie, traveling costs too much money and even Katie, I don’t have anyone to travel with (I’ll address this in point number two).

Well, what you need to do, my friend, is broaden your definition of “travel”, I know I have. Traveling doesn’t always mean jet-setting across the globe, it doesn’t always have to be big. If you check out some of my other posts, you’ll see that most of them are about exploring my home state of Arizona and how I love every minute of it.

In fact, some of my favorite trips have been just a couple hours outside of my city.

Which brings me to my next nugget of wisdom.

2) Don’t feel weird about solo travel.

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When you travel solo, you can wear whatever hat you wanna wear.

 

I think we’re finally starting to shake off the stigma that doing activities by yourself like going out for a meal, seeing a movie and more recently, traveling, doesn’t make you a loner or anti-social, etc., etc.

Which is great, because it DOESN’T. Every person has a different idea of what makes them happy, especially when it comes to travel. And I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy company, I also enjoy me-time.

There are definitely benefits to solo travel too, like choosing what you want to do, when you want to do it. Super beneficial for someone like me who’s going to be stopping every five seconds to take a photo of something. Plus, it pushes you out of your comfort zone – I know I stop and chat with people a lot more when I’m traveling alone, something that I do less of when I’m with a group.

And guess what, solo travelers? People are doing it more, particularly millennial women, inspiring not only more women to travel but for travel-related businesses to think of safer ways for women to travel. A total win!

I mean, there’s still a lot of things that are hard to do alone, like an escape room or a three-legged race so keep those friends around because…

3) A good travel buddy makes any trip worth taking.

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Friends that cave together, stay together.

I’m gonna get sappy(ish), but you’ve already come this far so you might as well see it the whole way through.

I’ll spare you the whole “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” cliche, but if you’re traveling somewhere with folks, isn’t half the fun the people you’re with? Like when I think back to some of my trips with my Nightborn Travel pal, Aireona, a lot of my favorite memories are the goofy things that happened or that we said or did.

And while we’re just going full speed down that sappy road, I’m going to have to thank Aireona for inviting me on this blogging adventure! Without her, I wouldn’t even HAVE  a blogiversary to celebrate. Plus, she is an endless supply of travel wisdom and inspiration and I am SO glad to to call her one of my travel buddies.

So thanks for sticking with me for a year, reader dears. I hope you stay stuck, because I have so much more to share!

Travelers gonna travel,
Katie

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