Positive Changes to Keep in a Post-COVID World

Sometimes it feels easier to focus on the negative, especially these days when it seems as though negativity is flying at you from multiple angles and sources. Our world has never seen anything like this and the media continues to do everything they can to remind us that we should be fearful of our neighbors, nervous to run to the grocery store, guilty for visiting with our family, and that there’s no clear end in sight. While caution is warranted, it is important to stay positive through it all and to find the silver lining.

Over the past month, I have noticed and enjoyed several positive changes in our daily lives as well as the many gaping holes that this virus has brought to light. There’s much for us to learn, a tremendous opportunity for growth, and it would be a waste if we did not take advantage of the momentum and positive changes we’ve made.

A few weeks ago, I started casually composing a list of positive changes that I believe will be necessary to keep in a post-COVID world. These likely only scratch the surface of what’s possible and I would love to hear your ideas as well. As we keep hearing, “We’re in this together”, so let’s push these important and positive changes forward together to turn this difficult time into a moment in history that was necessary for our collective growth as human beings.

Information from the UN System | United Nations

Improved Cleanliness

  • Wash. Your. Hands. Enough said? It truly amazed me that this was the message being spread around when the virus first broke. Do we truly not know this? Do we really not do it? There are many more illnesses to avoid just from a simple hand wash. This is a no-brainer.
  • Grocery stores wiping down shopping carts for customer use or, at a minimum, offering cleaning wipes upon entering the store. See previous point. Germs are always abound and wiping down the cart handle can make us all a little healthier. I’ve always kept a mini bottle of hand sanitizer in my car as well and use it before pulling out of my parking spot after any shopping trip.
  • Higher cleaning standards for modes of travel including airplanes, subways, trains, cruises. It’s actually embarrassing that we didn’t have these standards in place prior to the outbreak. Have you ever wiped an airplane seat, tray table, or armrests upon boarding? If so, it’s likely that your wipe turned black. I think having airline staff spend a few extra minutes to actually clean the plane rather than simply picking up trash and crossing seatbelts is worth it every time. And let’s get rid of that awful middle seat, too. Am I asking too much?
  • On that note, let’s push for higher cleaning standards for public spaces in general, including retail stores, restaurants, schools and government buildings (DMV, I’m looking at you!). Back in early March, we all received emails from every single company we’d ever given our email address to informing us about their new standards and policies in response to COVID-19. While some of the emails felt very unnecessary, it was clear that companies wanted their customers to feel safe so why not continue to pursue this affirmation, even when we’re out of the woods with the current virus.

Building Community & Togetherness

  • The beauty of Instagram Live. From tuning in to my favorite chefs hosting live cooking demos to virtual workout classes with fitness friends from around the world, I am so grateful for this technology tool! What was once merely a place for “influencers” has become a source of joy with these free community activities. I joined Christina Tosi’s daily Baking Club and worked out with ladies around the globe as part of the at-home fitness classes offered by Women’s Health Magazine and PopSugar Fitness. For a while now I have been someone who enjoys working out at home so this shift wasn’t tough on me but I have truly enjoyed attending a virtual group class each day and would love for this to continue.
  • Talking with and getting to know your neighbors. With limited places to go these days, I’ve spent a lot of time walking around my neighborhood and, apparently, so have my neighbors. It’s been nice meeting “new” people and saying hello to those I’ve already met. Americans have moved away from getting to know their neighbors and have shifted into keeping more to themselves but lately, passing by a neighbor while on a walk around the block may be the only human interaction you’ve had all day so it’s no wonder you’re more willing to stop and talk. Turns out, they’re not so terrible (joke – I never thought they were) and worth chatting with. This seems like something we can easily maintain.
  • Using technology to stay in touch. From virtual happy hours with fellow travelers from around the world to my cousins’ hosting a live DJ set from their basement, technology has allowed us to stay connected during this time in ways that we have never done before. We are more creative and more willing to make time for each other. The technology isn’t new but we’ve used it sparsely until recently. Instagram Live, FaceTime and Zoom have brought me a tremendous amount of joy lately and I do not ever want to let this go.

Improved Work-Life Balance

  • Employers offering more remote working options. This last month has revealed a truth many of us have known all along – there are many jobs that CAN be done from home. I realize this is not the case for every job these days and that not everyone wants to work from home but, for those that can and want to, hopefully employers will be more likely to allow employees to #WFH. Working from home allows employees more flexibility, can potentially save the organization money, and certainly cuts down on the traffic and air pollution created by hundred of thousands commuting to and from work each day. If the work is getting done, who cares where you do it from??
  • Sick pay for all + employers encouraging their employees to stay at home when they’re sick. This is vital. Americans are often filled with immense guilt when they miss work, even when they’re sick, but if there’s one thing this virus has taught us, it’s necessary for the health and safety of everyone to allow employees to stay home when they’re sick. For those who don’t have the choice, either from guilt or lack of pay, we must do better. Every employer must offer their employees sick pay and encourage, not just “allow”, their employees to stay home when they’re sick. Will the company survive without one person? Yes! Do the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term consequences? Absolutely! We can do this.
  • Credit companies and utilities offering deferred payments when a customer loses their job. What a gift this has been for many recently! This empathy and generosity has been appreciated and important in our current climate and one that should extend beyond today. There are often situations outside of our control that lead us to be in difficult financial situations and, if companies are willing to make exceptions now, they can continue to do so when unemployment returns to a more normal rate as well.
  • Increased amount of money for unemployment and allowing freelancers to qualify for unemployment. This is one of those glaring holes I mentioned earlier. How were we only paying people $250 a week for unemployment?? And now we can suddenly pay the millions of people filing for unemployment $600 a week?? Hmmm… Also, how about those who freelance? They finally qualify for unemployment benefits. If we can do this now, when there are millions more people in need, we can do this all the time.
  • Grace for parents with young children. This point equally aligns with employers providing sick leave. In our current times, we have simply laughed when a child is running around in the background of the Zoom call or pops in to the room while their parent is leading a meeting. It’s okay! We have all extended extra empathy for parents trying to juggle working, parenting, and homeschooling their children 24-7 these days, so surely we can continue this in the days ahead. Hopefully we won’t need to homeschool beyond the current school year but, regardless, the empathy and grace we’ve extended to parents should always exist. Period.

New Societal Norms

  • Appreciating teachers, healthcare workers, and first responders. These are the real heroes. We’ve survived just fine without wasting our time with the latest celebrity update or worshiping of our athletes. We are finally focusing on the people who are truly important, making them stars, and thanking them for what they do. Now, let’s talk about their pay…
  • Incremental preparedness to avoid panic purchasing, including food, toiletries and ammo purchases. Did you get sucked in to the panic buying and hoarding that occurred in early March? If so, it’s time to start making incremental bulk purchases to avoid a similar grocery store rush again. There was no reason for toilet paper to go flying off the shelves and there remains no reason for it being nearly impossible to purchase flour, canned goods, eggs, and cleaning products. If we continue to purchase what we need when we need it and have a back up supply prepared in the absence of chaos, we can avoid these situations altogether. Additionally, if you’re someone who would want to be prepared with firearms and ammunition in the midst of a national or worldwide emergency, take the time to build up the supply before everyone shifts into panic mode and demand outpaces supply.

While there are many aspects of this pandemic that are difficult, frustrating and even confusing, one thing for certain is that we must take advantage of this unique opportunity to make lasting positive changes. We cannot allow our weeks of social distancing and self-quarantining to be in vain. Now is where we truly “do our part” by continuing to identify what’s positive and push for these changes to become a permanent part of our lives.

6 Family Fun Things to Do in South Florida


Growing up in South Florida, I spent a great deal of time at either a beach or a pool and was completely content to do just that. However, now that I’m an adult, I have become interested in exploring the local community when I travel, including when I’m back in South Florida for a holiday.

This past Christmas, Andrew and I spent a full week in South Florida with my family. Prior to our visit, I researched a list of fun things to do both with my family and for just Andrew and I. We chose to rent a car for this trip – which I would highly recommend – and had a great time exploring several new things and visiting some of my childhood favorites as well. This list is no where near exhaustive but includes six fun things to do when in South Florida.

1. Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden

An unexpected find in Delray, Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden is the result of a century-old connection between South Florida and Japan. In the early 1900s, a group of Japanese farmers settled in what is now Delray to form a farming community. While the crops weren’t super successful, the desire to provide a cultural experience for visitors was, thus resulting in a museum with rotating exhibits and a 16-acre garden filled with native and Japanese plants, zen rock gardens, statues, and a bonsai collection inspired by Japan. It’s a super unique and tranquil oasis tucked in among the trees; a true gem that’s also an escape from the city life.

2. Take the Tri-Rail to Miami


When you think of Miami, several things probably come to mind – beaches, music, fabulous dining restaurants, all night partying, colorful homes, cars and people – but one thing it is not is affordable. Unfortunately, I can’t change the cost of business in Miami but I can definitely recommend something to help cut down on the cost and stress of traveling into the city…take the tri-rail! Tri-rail is a local train offering stops between West Palm Beach and Miami. On a weekend, a round trip ticket will cost $5 or less (!!) and take you about the same amount of time as it would to drive yourself. You’ll likely need to find an Uber or Lyft to take you from the train station to your final destination but the simplicity and lack of worrying about parking makes it worth it in my mind.

During my most recent trip to Miami, Andrew and I spent the afternoon eating, walking along Miami Beach, and bar hopping in the Wynwood neighborhood. We could have easily spent several more hours exploring, as Miami has much to offer, but the train schedule limited our time. During this day trip, we made it to Sweet Liberty for a few fun cocktails and J. Wakefield Brewing, a local brewery that’s an incredible tribute to Star Wars. We also tasted several dishes among the stalls at the Time Out Market Miami, including grilled oysters, octopus, alligator bites, plantains, and key lime pie. It was a perfect day!

3. Pinball Museum & Mini-Golf in Delray Beach


A true family past-time is the excellent mini-golf course known as Putt’n Around. What makes it so great, you ask? Several things! For one, players can choose between two 18-hole courses or choose to play the full 36. Upon checking in, players can also grab a drink (alcoholic or non) to take with them and – get this – can place orders for additional drinks as often as you’d like. The staff will deliver your order directly to you while you play. You can’t beat this service and my family made sure the staff made their money that day. The courses are fun, affordable, and can involve drinking, if you so choose. Great for dates, friends and family outings.

We recently discovered another fun spot nearby called Silverball Pinball Museum. For the price of $15, guests can play unlimited pinball machines throughout the space or, for just $5 more, can play all day. The museum boasts over 80 pinball machines, some as old as 1920, as well as other arcade games to play. Its a great place for all ages and close to several other fun things to do (see mini golf above) so you can buy the day pass and return as often as you’d like throughout that day.

4. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center & Boca Beaches

Florida is famous for its plethora of beaches and Boca Raton is no exception. Situated between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale on the east coast of the state, Boca offers multiple great beach spots, both private and public. One stop my family often pairs with a trip to the beach is visiting Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Gumbo Limbo is an education, research and conservation center that’s free to visitors with a boardwalk, butterfly garden, marine aquariums, and a sea turtle rehab facility. The center offers educational programs throughout the year as well as events including turtle walks and hatchling releases. I have many fond childhood memories of joining a group of volunteers to release the new turtle hatchlings into the ocean. There’s lots to explore here and the center is conveniently located across the street from a public beach.

5. Everglades National Park

We didn’t make it out to the Everglades this trip but have been in the past and it is incredible. Journey down to Everglades City or Shark Valley for an unforgettable adventure. You can book a seat on an airboat and glide across the water, scouting for gators, otters, egrets, and several other local critters. As a Florida native, I’ve seen more than my fair share of alligators and often forget how unusual it is for the average person to see one in person. Making a trip to the Everglades almost guarantees that you’ll see at least one in its natural habitat and will be worth the trip. While in the local towns, you’ll also find tram tours, bike rentals, and board walks to make for a full day of activities.

6. Attend a Local Sports Game


My family has become avid fans of the Florida Panthers hockey team and, considering the team isn’t that great, tickets are often super affordable to attend. As a Nashville resident, I can expect to pay $65 for the “nose bleed” seats but at the Panthers’ arena, I pay half that price for the same, if not better, seats.

We grabbed tickets to a Saturday night game against the Detroit Redwings and were pleased to watch the Panthers take the W by the end of the game. Given that we had a large group, we ended up purchasing different sets of tickets which led to us all sitting in different sections. This is important because there really isn’t a bad seat in the place so you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Go Cats!

Regardless of what you get into, South Florida has lots to offer for people of all ages. From the beaches to the restaurants, large cities to smaller towns, and several things in between, you’re guaranteed to find more than just a string of beaches and pools to enjoy.

Vancouver in 72 Hours


As I divulged the details about my recent adventure with family and friends, a question I often received was, “How did you decide on Vancouver?” The first half of my answer is frequently the same for any new travel destination: good food and a beautiful destination. The second half of my answer was less common: I found a flight for $275 USD roundtrip. Yep! You can rarely find return flights between neighboring states for that price let alone across the country. With only one brief layover in Calgary, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I shared my findings with a friend and we were booked! Next up, get to know a little more about Vancouver. 


Vancouver is a large, west coast city located in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The city serves as a major seaport in the Pacific NorthWest (“PNW” for those in the know), and boasts the largest Asian population outside of Asia. While Vancouver is often a quick stopover for those en-route to Alaska, my 72 hours in the city proved there’s plenty worth exploring. 

My friend and I decided to split each of our days in half to get the most of our time. Each morning was spent outdoors and the late afternoon and evening was spent happy houring and dining. Vancouver is known for its natural beauty as well as its stellar food scene, so making time for both each day made sense to us!

The PNW is famous for its temperamental weather and Vancouver is no exception. The average temperature is 42 degrees F and the average annual rainfall is 50 inches. For perspective, the average rainfall in Portland, Oregon is 43 inches and Seattle has an average of 38 inches per year. However, a visit during the summer months often yields significantly more sunshine, higher temperatures, and less rainfall. Each morning of my visit began with cool temps and misty air but the sun burned the clouds off by noon and the afternoon temps hovered in the mid-70s until almost 9pm. The sun sets super late in Vancouver over the summer as well. Another reason to go during the drier months!  

Day One – Stanley Park and Soup Dumplings


One of the biggest draws, in my opinion, of Vancouver is its proximity and seamless integration with nature. There are buildings with rooftop gardens and vines crawling up the sides, parks all around, and an endless view of mountains, forests, and waterways. It’s hard not to fall in love with the city simply because of the natural beauty alone. The city limits of Vancouver are actually quite small with the west end of the city comprised of a giant urban park named Stanley Park. This natural oasis is almost 1,000 acres and is larger than Central Park in New York City. Visitors and locals alike enjoy the park for hiking, biking, walking, and recreation, with many people using the park’s seawall for a 9k lap around the perimeter. If you’re looking to bike the seawall, head there early to avoid the crowds. There are several bike rental companies just outside of the park – no reservations required. If you’d like to view more of the trails and sculptures inside of the park, plan to head in on foot or via a tour. Regardless of how you explore Stanley Park, make sure it’s on your list. It’s definitely worth your time. 


As Vancouver is home to a large Asian population, there are several glorious Asian restaurants including Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cantonese, and Thai. I have not yet traveled to countries in Asia and, outside of my time in Melbourne, Australia (where I’ve had the most amazing Asian dishes!), I know I am missing out on delicious Asian food. Knowing that Vancouver would have a variety on offer, I was most excited to get my hands on some soup dumplings as quickly as possible. After a bit of research and confirmation from our AirBnB hosts, we found a popular Chinese restaurant called Dinesty Restaurant serving all the dumplings you could want plus several other delicious Chinese dishes. While waiting for the table, we watched as the kitchen staff delicately folded each dumpling; it is quite the art form. We decided to try a few different dumpling variates, including the soup dumplings, as well as a rice dish and vegetables. Everything was fantastic and, while my stomach was full, I wanted to stay and order more. I knew if every meal was like this one, the trip was well worth it. (P.S. it was!) 

Day Two – Deep Cover and Sushi

The second day started out much like the first, cloudy and cold, though the plans this time included a trek out to Deep Cove in North Vancouver to kayak. I grabbed my raincoat on the way out the door and was glad I did because, as soon as we arrived at the kayak rental shop, the sky opened up, pouring large water droplets on us. The rain would come and go over the hour we were kayaking but it didn’t stop us from exploring the cove. As we paddled out beyond the cove itself, the water opened up to reveal gorgeous views of the mountains and a forest tree line for miles. 


We cruised around a smaller island, parking our kayaks on the shore for a little while to see what existed inland. This island happened to be where someone had built a home so we didn’t stay long once we realized we were “trespassing”. The island’s shores were covered with seaweed, shells and giant purple starfish. I was so excited to find the starfish, many of which clung to rocks waiting for high tide again to place them back in the water. After returning to our boats and continuing to paddle around the remainder of the island, we began to notice a colony of starfish sticking to the sides of the stone that bordered the island. With each wave of water, you could see hundreds of these giant purple starfish piled on top of one another and lining the exact spot where the water met the stone. It was incredible. Here I was excited about the few smaller starfish I’d found on land and just a few paddle strokes away existed a giant colony of starfish tucked in to each and every crevice they found along the waterline. 


As we paddled back toward the cove, I noticed a larger animal pop up out of the water. My friend, at first, thought it was an otter but, in fact, it was a harbor seal curiously checking us out. The seal, with its giant round eyes, watched us for a moment and then began blowing bubbles and stretching its neck out of the water before diving back down below. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. 


After our close encounters with nature, we headed back into the city, stopping at the Granville Market to explore the local shops and indoor market. From there, we freshened up for another glorious dining experience, this time opting for a traditional Japanese restaurant near our AirBnB apartment called Hachibei. We knew we’d found a good spot when we realized we were the only English speaking customers in the small restaurant. Using images on the menu and glances at the food people around us were enjoying, we selected several sushi rolls and a few dishes that we weren’t quite sure what they actually were – egg or tofu, perhaps? Everything was delicious, including the order of sake, which was larger than both of us realized and left us feeling a solid buzz afterward. Another successful day! 

Day Three – Lynn Canyon and as much food as possible


The third and final full day in Vancouver included a subway ride to the seaport, a ferry ride to North Vancouver, and bus trip into Lynn Canyon Park. While the journey to the park was lengthy, it was also incredibly scenic. The PNW really is beautiful and we were so lucky to have the amazing weather that we did. The public bus dropped us off about ½ a mile outside the park entrance and we followed a few others who knew their way through the neighborhood and into the park. We spent several hours hiking the trails, stopping to taste the wild blackberries and spend time sitting along the shores of waterfalls. The park is gorgeous and lightly trafficked, but as we moved closer to noon, the tour groups began to build with several of them bumping up against one another to catch a glimpse of a waterfall we were visiting. As we moved away from the gaggle of people and headed toward a different end of the park, we stumbled upon what we considered to be the “locals” entrance with several people entering the park with a dog. With more and more people pouring in to the park, it was about time for us to leave. I often find that getting places early is the way to go, especially when traveling. 


As we headed back into the city, we stopped at a local brewery next to the seaport in North Vancouver to grab a pint and plan out the rest of our afternoon. It was nearing 3:00pm which meant it was time for happy hour. Vancouver has several restaurants offering killer happy hour specials, including $1 oysters, which was top of our list. We spent the remainder of the afternoon and well into the evening trying out happy hours as we made our way toward Vancouver’s Chinatown. We grabbed a table for dinner at Bao Bei and enjoyed our final meal. By the end of the meal, we were feeling incredibly full and decided to walk back toward our apartment rather than finding the subway. On our way back, we stumbled upon another cute neighborhood called Yaletown and stopped at an ice cream shop, Mister Artisan, because it looked too good to pass up. It was very indulgent and very worth it. The perfect end to a glorious 72 hours in Vancouver. Until next time…

Get to Know the Real Nashville


It happened seemingly overnight. ABC’s television drama, “Nashville”, premiered in 2012 to 8.93 million viewers followed shortly thereafter by a New York Times piece crowning Nashville as the new “it” city. Fast forward to 2019 and the city continues its rapid growth, averaging 90 people moving to Nashville a day. This record-setting population boom has brought its share of successes and challenges. For one, Nashville has an endless array of top chef worthy restaurants with new spots opening each week. But then some of the downsides include a downtown that caters to tourists and an infrastructure struggling to hold the increased volume of traffic.

However, regardless of the challenges we locals might experience, Nashville is an exciting city to visit with lots of great dining options, fun drinking spots, and plenty to see and do. Planning a trip to Nashville? Read on to see my recommendations for truly experiencing the real Nashville, the city that exists beyond the neon lights and honky tonks of Broadway.


As with most “hip” cities these days, Nashville is filled with colorful and interesting murals. Some of these murals are designed to attract tourists (who will willingly wait in line to take a photo in front of them!), while others are simply created to brighten up a local street or point customers to a business.

One of the first Nashville murals to gain instagram fame popped up in neighborhoods around the city with the words “I believe in Nashville” painted in brick lettering in a red, white and blue color scheme. While there are several tall tales as to who designed it and why, the real answer is that a graphic design artist coined the phase, and shortly after, a mural, to celebrate all there is to love about Nashville. You’ll find this gem in several neighborhoods today and if during your visit you begin feeling a sense of joy for all things Nashville, feel free to snap a quick pic to commemorate your time here. No judgement from me on this one.

Eat & Drink


Now, moving on to more important things…where should you EAT?! If you’re any bit like me, you believe that one of the best parts about traveling is enjoying the local cuisine. If I’m being honest, food is one of my main predictors in choosing a travel destination. If this is true for you as well, I’m here to help.

We’ll start with Downtown since it’s where you’re most likely to start. Downtown has become so overrun by tourists these days it’s rare to find a local cruising around the watering holes and restaurants along Broadway unless they have a visitor in town. However, Downtown is a neighborhood you have to experience at least once with all of its honky tonks, neon signage, live music, cowboy boot stores, and rooftop bars. Generally speaking, the bar scene is much stronger than the food scene but, should you find yourself looking for a good place to eat while Downtown, I’d recommend Acme Feed & Seed for solid bar food, Martin’s for tasty barbecue, and Etch for an upscale dining experience.

As you move outside of Downtown, the city really begins to open up. The map above (courtesy of Nashville Guru) presents a visual of all the major neighborhoods beyond Broadway. The two that I spend the most time in are Germantown and East Nashville and, in my opinion, are home to some of the best dining options in the city. My top picks overall for each neighborhood are as follows.


  • City House – James Beard award winning chef, Tandy Wilson, helms this Italian gem with a Southern flair
  • Henrietta Red – American restaurant with an oyster bar and several seafood dishes on the menu
  • Butchertown Hall – Wood-fired Tex-Mex with brisket, tacos, and a killer happy hour

Eat Nashville:

  • Five Points Pizza – Hot Pizza. Cold Beer. Enough said.
  • Rosemary – Technically this is a bar, but they do have a delicious food truck permanently parked in the backyard
  • Two Ten Jack – Japanese small plates, ramen and sushi

Notables Outside of East Nashville & Germantown:

  • Barcelona Wine Bar – Tapas and wine. You can’t go wrong!
  • Chaatable – Indian street food from Executive Chef Maneet Chauhan
  • DeSano – My favorite Napoletano-style pizza (see photo below)

See & Do

Stomach full and looking for something to do between meals? I feel you. As I said before, I’m here to help. Below is a curated list of my favorite Nashville activities to pass the time. *insert winking smiley face*


Cruise Along Broadway. This really is a must-do for every first time visitor. Broadway is the main drag downtown and changes dramatically between day and night. Hit up the famous row of honky tonks during both times to get the full experience. But, visitor beware: Broadway caters to tourists so prices will be higher, crowds will be thicker, Bachelorettes will be woo-hooing, and bands will be accepting the multiple requests a day to play Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”. This is not the local Nashville experience but it is a staple of the city and somewhere you have to visit at least once.


Get Outdoors. Nashville is home to several beautiful parks filled with outdoor spaces and multiple hiking and biking trails to keep you moving. Bicentennial Park (pictured above) is a downtown favorite of mine as it offers great views of the capitol and is located next to the Nashville Farmer’s Market. Other awesome nearby parks include Shelby Bottom in East Nashville (rent a bike and cruise the paths), Beaman Park just north of the city, and Percy Warner in Belle Meade.

In addition to all the great hiking and trail options, Nashville also has several rivers nearby for your kayaking and canoeing adventures. Make a reservation with Foggy Bottom and spend the day paddling/floating along the Harpeth River. You’ll need a car to access most of the nearby parks and trails but they’ll offer a great break from the city.


Catch Some Live Music. Nashville isn’t called “Music City” for nothing! The thing I love most about the live music scene in Nashville is that it isn’t limited to country, as one may initially think. Nashville musicians love to collaborate and the result is unique sounds and styles that can be found throughout the city. Of course, you can’t walk more than a few hundred feet without finding another super-talented musician on stage, but a venture outside of the downtown area can be even more rewarding. Check out the local venues including Exit/In, The Basement and Basement East, and 3rd and Lindsley, to name a few.

Brewery Hop. In addition to all the favorite activities already listed, I would be remiss to leave out our awesome breweries. Nashville’s breweries continue to grow in popularity both locally and nationally and the city currently boasts 19 craft breweries. Located in almost every neighborhood around the city, there’s a brew for every beer lover here. Several breweries are located within walking distance of each other and many are pet and kid friendly as well. A few of my favorites include East Nashville Beer Works, Yazoo Brewing Company, Smith & Lentz, Jackalope Brewing, and New Heights. Cheers!


Support the Local Sports Teams. Nashville is home to several professional sports teams ranging from hockey to minor league baseball, football, and, most recently, a soccer league. Whether a fan of the team or not, Nashville locals love spending time with friends and family at the sports parks. Here’s the teams we have to cheer about:

  • The Tennessee Titans, football
  • The Nashville Sounds, minor league baseball
  • The Nashville Predators, hockey
  • Nashville Soccer Club, soccer

Nashville offers something for everyone and though it may be the new “it” city for many, it’s where I call home. If you’re heading to Nashville for a visit, take the time to explore outside of downtown. You’ll have a chance to experience the true Nashville and I’m confident you’ll be glad you did. Enjoy, y’all!

Kentucky Derby Tips for First Timers


The hats. The dresses. The horses. The roses. This what comes to mind when you think of the Kentucky Derby. But how do you prepare for actually attending the Derby? How do you know what to wear, bring, or expect? Step One – ask a veteran! This year I had the privilege of attending the 145th Kentucky Derby and, while I won’t proclaim expert status, I learned a lot in my first year’s attendance and am happy to share a few tips for first-timers.

Tip 1: Choose Your Tickets Wisely

Your ticket dramatically dictates the type of experience you will have. The amount of money you drop on a ticket will determine what you should wear, what you should bring with you, and what you can expect. For example, a $75 general admission ticket, designed with the budget-conscious attendees in mind, grants you access to the paddock area and in-field. If you haven’t been to the Derby, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that sounds great”, but it may not be the right option for you.

The paddock and in-field of Churchill Downs are open to all Derby-goers and are where you’ll find plenty of opportunity for great people watching. However, budget-conscious buyer beware: there are no seats in either area and you have zero protection from the elements. For a seat and protection from weather, you’ll need to purchase a higher priced ticket to the Derby.


Tip 2: Plan Your Outfit Accordingly

“You’re going to the Derby? That’s so cool! What are you going to wear?” This can be a stressful question for a first-timer; it was for me! After doing some research online, I narrowed in on a hot pink dress from Rent the Runway. I knew it would be perfect but, after checking out the weather forecast, I began to worry. This is where the ticket options really come into play.

If you’re rocking a general admission ticket, I would not recommend wearing anything you wouldn’t want to get dirty. Given that a general admission ticket grants you access to the in-field, you’re exposed to all the elements as well as the dirt, mud, grass, and gravel of the in-field itself. As it typically rains at some point during the Derby each year, I would not have been comfortable staying in the in-field while wearing my rental. The in-field is where you’ll see attire of all kinds including t-shirts, shorts and jeans. But what about all those fancy pictures of well-dressed people in their massive hats and beautiful fascinators? Yeah, those people do not have a general admission ticket. Nevertheless, if you purchase a general admission ticket, do yourself a favor and wear something you’re okay with possibly being a little roughed up by the end of it.

For those willing to spend a bit more money on a ticket, plan to spend a bit more money on your attire as well. Hats or fascinators are the best accessories for women along with comfortable shoes (or a second pair!) and a classy dress. For the men, slacks, button down shirts, bow ties, and blazers are the typical style. Fashionable and comfortable is key!


Tip 3: Know What You Can and Cannot Bring

Churchill Downs offers strict guidelines as to what’s allowed and what’s prohibited at the Derby. Ladies, plan for a purse no larger than 12” in any direction. Period. Here’s what I shoved in mine: travel-sized sunscreen, cash, credit cards, ID, chap stick, a poncho, Band-Aids, a portable phone charger, and my cell phone.

The 12” purse rule can be tough but, on the flip side, you are allowed to bring in a clear plastic bag of food. I saw several attendees opting to pack their lunch (or order from a local restaurant) instead of buying food on site. Attendees can also bring unopened water bottles as well. Unfortunately, no alcoholic beverages are (legally) allowed. Instead, plan to throw down $12-15 a drink inside the gates instead. Commemorative cups, anyone?

For those heading to the in-field, plan to bring a blanket and/or chairs. Trust me, with no other seating options beyond the grass or concrete itself, you’ll want to bring these along. Check the Kentucky Derby’s website for an updated list of prohibited items prior to the big day.


Other Important Need-to-Knows

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Derby day is a long day. Arriving early is smart to avoid the crowds but will also mean that you’re spending more time on site. We arrived at 10am and left closer to 9pm to avoid the crowds. Plan to be there a while by wearing (or packing) comfortable shoes and slow rolling your alcohol consumption. For those enjoying the suite life, be especially careful. Those free drinks can creep up on you fast!

Do some horse-betting research ahead of time. Planning to make some bets? There are a lot of options for how to bet that are worth researching before you go. You can always bet on the horse you think will win but sometimes choosing more options will increase your chances of winning. There are booths, staffed windows, and an app available for you to place your bets; the first two require cash so plan ahead.

You’re going to have a great time. Rain or shine. Hot or cold. General admission or box seats. Regardless of the situation you’re in, attending the Kentucky Derby is a memorable experience. Make the most of your day by checking out all there is to see and do around the grounds and remember what made you excited to attend in the first place.


Here’s to another tick off the bucket list! Happy Derby Day, friends!

5 Reasons to Visit Porto


Within the last five years, tourism in Portugal has absolutely exploded. The country is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, investing its new tourism dollars back into the infrastructure, renovating and restoring the architecture that has long been ignored. Portugal is full of European charm and a growing food scene and, all the while, is still affordable to visit. Often when travelers talk of Portugal, they immediately focus on Lisbon, but there’s another city that’s equally worth your time.

Porto is a coastal city located along the Duoro River in northern Portugal. Known as the birthplace of port wine, Porto is the second largest yet far less traveled Portuguese city with an interesting history and much to offer. In an attempt to sum up everything that’s great about this sleeper hit, I’ve narrowed down 5 reasons to visit Porto. Once you go, I’m sure you’ll be able to add in some of your own reasons as well.

1. All the Port Wine


Let’s just start here. Prior to my travels to Porto, I knew almost nothing about port wine. I’d tasted tawny port before and always thought of it as an expensive after dinner drink, and now I am an expert. Just kidding – but I have expanded my knowledge of this particular variety of wine significantly because of my visit.

Port wine is made from grapes grown in the Duoro Valley. Though a trip to the valley isn’t too far, each vineyard has conveniently set up a tasting room along the bank of Gaia, a small village located directly across the river from Porto. A quick walk across the Luis I Bridge leads you to all the port wine you could ever want. Wineries and tasting rooms stretch for over a mile along the riverbank and for several blocks deeper into the village of Gaia as well. It would be extremely difficult to tasting them all but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.


I spent one afternoon in Gaia, stopping in at Sandeman for a tour and tasting followed by some time admiring the views from Porto Cruz’s rooftop bar. In a attempt to sample as many different port wines as possible, I tried the white, ruby, and tawny with several variations within including reserved and vintage. I was surprised by the difference in taste between them and found myself particularly enjoying the tawny 10 and 20 year vintage wines.


What was even more surprising though was, once in Lisbon, it was difficult to find a lot of port wine options like this again. When asked why there were so few ports on the menu, one bartender said you had to go to Porto for port wine. Huh? It’s a regional wine for the country and you don’t really have much on offer? Strange. So, spend some time in Porto if for no other reason than to try all the port wine.

2. Easy to Navigate / Walking Friendly

Much to my boyfriend’s dismay, walking is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I love “getting lost” in a new city, walking along the streets from one end to another and I can do this for hours. I’ve realized that I tend to plan trips, not vacations. On a trip, I want to see and do it all whereas vacations, in my mind at least, are meant to be relaxing on a beach somewhere. I probably should squeeze some vacations in every now and again, too.


Either way, I got my steps in while exploring Porto and found it to be a walking-friendly city. Something I always do when I travel is find a free walking tour to join at the start of my trip. Walking tours give me a good lay of the land, an opportunity to learn more about the city and its history, a local’s perspective, and a chance to meet fellow travelers. It’s the ideal way to start exploring a city. For Porto, I joined Porto Walker’s classic walking tour, a three-hour jaunt through the city. Porto is a relatively small city with the river bank at one end making it easy to navigate. The walking tour set me up for the rest of my time there. Highly recommend.


3. Rich History

Education in the United States includes a superficial dive into the brave European explorers who introduced our country, and several others, to the rest of the world. Their names ring familiar in our minds but the average American can’t tell you much about these explorers beyond that. As I prepared for my trip to Portugal, one explorer I expected to hear about was Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea. Embarrassingly, there really wasn’t too much I knew about Portugal’s history beyond that.  However, through the walking tour, I learned significantly more about Portugal and Porto’s rich history as told through the eyes of the people who live there, Vasco da Gama not included.


Porto is a city with deep ties to the sea. Situated along the Duoro River, the locals tell tales of how, in the days of exploration, the women were often left alone for months at a time, ever wondering if their men would return. In an effort to lift their spirits, they painted the buildings in bright colors, a detail that makes photos of Porto identifiable still today.


Another part of life along the river is the frequent flooding that the city has endured. Buildings closest to the riverbanks have lines etched into them marking each of the major floods over the last 100 years. This unfortunate consequence has impacted the local community in many ways, including forcing many locals to abandon their homes and move further inland.


One noticeable architectural detail in Porto is the abundance of churches. There seems to be a church in every square and all within close proximity of one another. According to the history lesson from our guide, the frequency of churches was intentional. The tour guide shared a story about a king and a bishop at odds regarding what building should be at the center of the main square. The bishop argued for the church but when the king took power, he began knocking churches down and placed a building of the same size and shape directly in front of the main church of the square, perfectly blocking it from view. The building remains there today and the architectural battle explains the incredible size of the main square. Oh, and he added a statue of himself for good measure, too. Check mate!


4. Undergoing a Revitalization


With an increasing amount of money pouring in from tourism, the city has begun to reinvest in its architecture. Porto has many abandoned buildings as a result of locals heading further inland and now many of them are being restored. It’s challenging to take a photo of the skyline without capturing at least one crane in the shot. Several historic buildings, once neglected, are now at the center of the revitalization planning. Restoring these beautiful buildings will likely help continue to draw in visitors and preserve the city’s rich history for generations to come.


In addition to the building work, you’ll also find several unique spaces in Porto with rooftop bars offering killer views and parks serving up more than well manicured gardens. One bar in particular, Base, was a favorite of mine. Base is a little difficult to find, as it sits on a park space above the ground level buildings, but is worth your time. This outdoor bar has plenty of comfortable seating options with a super laid back vibe, DJ spinning tunes, and great views of the city. Perfect for a sunny day.


5. Beautiful Azulejo Tiles


To be fair, azulejo tiles can be found throughout Portugal, but I’m going to highlight them as one of the many reasons to enjoy Porto. I loved these! Each ceramic tile is hand painted and fired in an oven, like pottery, and used throughout the city both as interior and exterior decor. Blue is the traditional color but you can find these tiles displayed along the walls of buildings in many different colors and designs. Two major factories still operate today, continuing to create tiles the traditional way.


This beautiful artwork has become iconic for the country and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways including tile making classes, tile souvenirs, and a tile museum in Lisbon. However, should you choose to skip all of these tourist-focused tile options, you’ll still see your fair share of azulejo tiles walking around. The Sao Bento train station is the most iconic in Porto, with azulejos designed to retell Porto’s history, but it seems as though every church and at least one building per block also uses azulejos in their design. They are truly amazing works of art!


Have I convinced you yet? The city less traveled is one that should not be missed! A visit to Porto is one that you will cherish forever. Happy travels!

A Weekend in Lisbon

The word is out on Lisbon and the city is now frequently sitting at the top of the travel destinations list every year. Having been eyeing it for a while, Andrew and I planned our Portugal adventure in 2019 and spent three days each in Lisbon and Porto.

Lisbon is a hilly, coastal city (emphasis on “hilly”) with gorgeous weather and beautiful architecture. Even the ground tiles are well designed here! Lisbon is also the capital of Portugal and is home to 2 million people throughout the metropolitan area. Lisbon’s international airport, LIS, makes it easily accessible and the iconic yellow trams or street cars allow visitors to explore the many neighborhoods throughout the city. We spent a weekend exploring Lisbon and would recommend at least including these activities in any Lisboa itinerary. 


Though we arrived in Lisbon at the start of the week, we booked a train up to Porto first and planned to spend time in Lisbon during the second half of our week. Traveling by train again, we arrived into Lisbon on a Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb to drop our bags and began exploring the city. We were hungry by this point so we headed straight to a local restaurant called A Cevicheria for a late lunch. Located in Barrio Alto, this restaurant serves causal Peruvian cuisine with an Asian twist. We ordered several seafood small plates to try and loved it. Plus, the decor is especially interesting with a giant octopus hanging from the ceiling and a large raw bar that calls for your attention as soon as you enter.

From there, we continued walking through the neighborhood, popping into shops and a few bars as we made our way south toward the water. Portugal has a great gin and tonic scene and we enjoyed several at bars such as Gin Lovers and Pensao Amor. As we neared the coastline, we found musicians playing in a small park and enjoyed the music and people watching for a while before continuing our walk.

When it was time for dinner (I basically find ways to kill time between meals when traveling), we made our way to the Time Out Market Lisboa which was among my favorite meals of the trip. This market is packed with local restaurants and chef stalls, bars, and lines of long tables to encourage community. There were so many delicious options that we ended up selecting different items from multiple stalls – mussels from one, tuna tartare from another, a slice of pavlova, and a glass of port. You really can’t go wrong here. Here’s what we tried:

  • Port wine from Pap’Açôrda
  • Mushroom and proscuitto pizza from ZeroZero
  • Pork fritters from Cafe de Sao Bento
  • Mussels from Chef Marlene Vieira’s stall
  • Tuna tartar from Tartar-ia
  • Berry pavlova from Nos e mais Bolos


The next morning we joined a free walking tour with Lisbon Chill Out at 10am. We booked in advance to ensure it didn’t sell out and spent the next three hours walking around the Barrio Alto, Chiado, Baixa, Alfama and Graça neighborhoods. Our tour began at the Praça Luís de Camões (Luís de Camões Square) where we learned about the history of the square and several key figures memorialized with statues. From there we began our walk through the various neighborhoods and heard stories about the people who lived there, including the older ladies in Alfama who make their own ginja, a sour cherry liqueur. Our group stopped to purchase samples for a euro each (though it’s debatable if the samples we had were actually homemade – they were great nevertheless) and learned about the traditional custom of creating a selling this liqueur in the neighborhood.

Our tour continued on through the winding streets back toward the coastline and then up the hill for more history, architecture and great views. I always love these free walking tours. They’re a great way to become acquainted with a new city and to meet a few fellow travelers, too. Don’t be deceived by the word “free” though. While the tour itself is free, you’re expected to give your guide a tip (usually 10 euro or so per person) that represents how valuable you believe the tour to be. Either way, it’s a great deal and a perfect way to learn more about the city you’re in.

For lunch we popped in to a taverna near our Airbnb that was small, filled with locals and only offering one dish for the day. The chef had made a stew with meat and vegetables and that’s all there was. We were happy to agree and so thankful we stumbled upon this spot as it was flavorful and satisfying. Though I don’t know the name of the restaurant, I will say that it’s often a great idea to stop into restaurants based on the atmosphere rather than only selecting places you’ve read about online.

From there we visited the Lisbon Cathedral and grabbed an afternoon cocktail in a nearby park. After more walking, we paused for a wine tasting at By the Wine. We were super spoiled in Porto with all of the amazing port wine and were actually surprised to see that there weren’t many port wines on offer in Lisbon. Instead, we opted for tastings of other local varieties. We weren’t complaining.


Our final day in Lisbon was also my favorite day. In the morning we boarded a tram to Belém Station to spend the day exploring Lisbon’s Belém district, home to the Belém Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and the famous Pasteis de Belém. We purchased combined tickets to the tower and monastery and really enjoyed exploring both of these historic sights. The monastery is absolutely beautiful and an example of Portuguese gothic-style architecture. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and contains the tombs of the royal family, Vasco de Gama, and Luís de Camões. Next door to the monastery is a smaller chapel that’s free to enter and also worth your time.

After the monastery, we checked out the line for the pasteis. This pasteis is famous for the pastel de nata, an egg tart pastry that’s common in Portugal. Being common, one would think there wouldn’t be a line to try one but no, this is THE place for the pastel de nata as it’s become super famous for their secret recipe. Honestly, the line went on for ages and was not moving quickly so we took a lap around the inside to see if there was a to-go option (there isn’t) and decided to move on. You can grab one of these pastries at just about any coffee shop throughout the city so there are plenty to try and while they’re good, they aren’t worth waiting in line for hours IMO. I’ll take another slide of pavlova please and thanks!

Pastries, fresh juice, and coffee from a local cafe. The famous pastel de nata is on the right.

After passing on the line, we walked over to visit the Belém Tower, a 16th century monument that served as the gateway to Lisbon and as a defense against possible invasions. The tower is surprisingly small and narrow for such a large purpose though it’s a very interesting visit. There are several ideal vantage points for spotting incoming conflict making it easy to imagine what it might have been like to be stationed here. The tower stands tall at the bank of the Tagus River which opens up to the Atlantic Ocean.

As you walk along the shoreline back from the tower, take the time to stop and admire the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument. This incredible monument stands at 170 feet (52 meters) tall and has the sculptures of the famous explorers and figures who played a significant role during Portugal’s age of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument is so large that it will take you a few minutes just to walk around it with figures flanking both sides of the structure. There were several whom I recognized and many more I had to research; all of which was impressive either way.

Our final stop for the day required us to board the tram again and begin to make our way back to the main part of Lisbon. When we were about halfway between the district of Belém and downtown Lisbon, we hopped of the tram to visit the LX Factory, a large industrial complex with shops and restaurants. Sundays are their flea market days so the cobblestone paths were buzzing with people and vendors when we arrived. The complex is massive and has a lot going on without the flea market already so we were a little overwhelmed with navigating the place. After eventually finding a map, we picked out a few restaurants and bars we wanted to try and browsed the vendors along the paths on our way inside. Within the complex are multiple levels filled with shops, restaurants, and bars, some of which do not open until the early evening, as we learned.

We selected Rio Maravilha as the location of our final dinner in Portugal and it did not disappoint. While waiting for dinner service to begin, we began chatting with American doctors in town for a conference. Enjoying the conversation, we opted to dine together and selected several different dishes for everyone to try. We ate everything from vegetable curry, octopus and bone marrow to steak and several desserts, all of which were equally amazing. I did not take any pictures during this meal which I think is evidence of how perfect the evening was. I could not have asked for a better dining experience to end our weekend in Lisbon and our weeklong adventure in Portugal.

Eating (& drinking) my way around Portugal

Port wine tasting at Porto Cruz in Gaia (with views of Porto behind me)

I don’t typically like shirts with phrases on them. Is there ever a shirt that really represents who you are regardless of the setting? Perhaps I’m thinking about it too much but I often find the sayings pressed across a shirt to be unnecessary, rude, or dumb. Therefore, what I’m about to share is a departure from my norm.

I recently purchased a t-shirt that reads, “Travel Eat Repeat”, from a website that publishes videos about tasting delicious eats around the world. Considering the fact that eating is one of my main pleasures and purposes for travel, this shirt made sense to me; I purchased it. I mostly wear it to bed but I own it nevertheless. I share this anecdote because it is the topic of conversation for this post – traveling, eating (& drinking) and repeating through Portugal.

Continue reading “Eating (& drinking) my way around Portugal”

Ali in Peru: My trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World


Viewing images of Machu Picchu has always sparked a complexity of emotions for me. The ancient ruins atop a sea of mountains stirs up feelings of curiosity, awe, inspiration, with a hint of jealousy; jealousy for all those who have made the trek ahead of me. It was a destination that felt out of reach for me but one that I always wrestled with in my mind. When I finally ceased on an opportunity to travel to Peru, I knew Machu Picchu would be the driving force behind my trip.

Hola, Lima!

I arrived in Lima, Peru and made it to my hostel, the Flying Dog, just shy of midnight Friday night. The hostel borders John F Kennedy Park and is surrounded by several restaurants teeming with people. I’d selected a good location! The room was comfortable with a small table and chairs, queen sized bed and private bathroom, a must-have for me these days. I dropped my belongings and went in search of bottled water. As I exited my room, I met two fellow travelers, one from Costa Rica and another from Venezuela. We spoke briefly about my love of Costa and they pointed me in the direction of a market. Either because I was too distracted by bustling nightlife outside the hostel walls or the directions I’d received weren’t quite right, I did not find the market but instead popped in to a Subway shop to purchase water. Tempted to grab a snack, I ultimately decided to get some rest in preparation for my full day the next morning.


[DAY ONE] My first stop was Sky Kitchen’s cooking class. The class was filled with mostly Americans and instructed by a German man who moved to Peru 7 years ago to learn Spanish and never left. We prepared and enjoyed four courses, beginning with Causa Rellena. This dish is a layered appetizer comprised of mashed potatoes, avocado and chicken. I tried to be decorative with the mayonnaise on top, attempting to design the P from the national tourism logo. It wasn’t as much of a success as I’d hoped but it was delicious nevertheless. After preparing each course, we ate as a group at a long table while the staff prepped for the next course. Each of the dishes required multiple steps and ingredients, many of which the staff prepared for us ahead of time. We, as participants, didn’t actually have much to do for this cooking class.

Trying to be fancy

Up next, Pisco! The owner blended Pisco, simple syrup and passion fruit pulp to create this drink. It was strong and rather different from the Pisco Sours I’ve come to love. I picked up a bottle of Pisco at the end of my trip to Chile and now have my boyfriend crafting these cocktails for me; what we had today was not the same nor would it be something I would necessarily desire again.

Our second course was a fresh ceviche made with Mahi Mahi. Fish is rarely on the menu for me but I knew I had to try it. We first cured the fish with salt and then added fresh lime juice, condensed milk, cilantro, and fish stock. All the different flavors and the freshness of the fish made this dish refreshing and light. Very enjoyable!

Super fresh and flavorful ceviche

After eating our ceviche, we began preparing our third course, Lomo Saltado. I had never heard the name before but, upon hearing about the ingredients, I realized it was a dish I’ve made at home and really love! The class was separated into three cooking groups, with my group being selected to cook on the open rooftop with the wok. The wok would cook everything quickly and give it an extra smoky flavor. While I’ve watched many Asian dishes being cooked in a wok, I had never used one myself. Shifting the pan to allow it to bring the flames up from the bottom is what gives the dish its smokiness – not as easy as it looks! Peruvians dishes are loaded with carbs and our meal today was no different. This dish alone features meat and veg with sides of fries and rice.

Cooking up some Lomo Saltado. Terrible views though, yeah?

Grateful for the courses being split up, I was able to enjoy each dish and still leave room for our fourth course, Picarones. Much like a donut, we fried the dough in vegetable oil on the stove and poured a sugary syrup on top. The syrup was made of molasses and heated with fig leaves, cloves, anise, and citrus. By this point I was quite full so I only tasted one. It was good but not my favorite. I think I would have preferred powdered sugar on top instead.

Time for dessert!

After class, I wandered the surrounding streets, making my way to the beach. Miraflores is a well manicured neighborhood, filled with flowers and beautiful buildings, and a quick walk to the ocean. The coast is lined with parks and my first stop was Parque de Amor (Park of Love). This park was quaint, filled with statues and people lounging in the spots of shade cast down from trees.

All roads in Lima lead to the ocean.
Beautiful mosaic art in Parque de Amor

Shortly after I noticed a series of hang gliders floating across the sky. I watched for several minutes debating whether or not to join in. I listened to the employees repeat the price over and over again in Spanish and, even with my limited language proficiency, it sounded reasonable. However, when I heard someone say it was cash only, I knew I didn’t have what I needed to participate. I could have gone off in search of bank but my feet were tired, my knee was beginning to ache, and I was wearing a dress. All of these reasons pointed me back in the direction of my room.

Sadly not me up there.

After resting for a bit, I ventured out again in search of a craft beer bar I’d read about. I was having difficulty finding this specific spot though so I wandered around the neighborhood instead. Several restaurants were either empty or touristy with waiters shouting in Spanish to come inside. I walked around for a while not finding anything of interest and, instead, ended up at the sandwich shop next to my hostel that was always busy; tonight was no different. I ordered a chicken, pineapple and cheese sandwich and a beer and found a table with plenty of space for people watching. I headed back after dinner and called it a night.

Arriving in Cusco, Peru

[DAY TWO] The next morning I began my travel day, making my way up to Agua Calientes, the town just outside of Machu Picchu. A quick flight up to Cusco and I was soon standing at a rental car counter, price bargaining for a reasonable fare on a two-hour taxi ride to the train station. In the rainy season, the closer train station is closed so I had to put my faith in a man who didn’t speak English to take me to my next destination. The drive through the Sacred Valley was a beautiful one and, if I’d had more time, I would have gladly accepted my drivers many offers to stop and see some of the sights. However, I had a train to catch!

Upon arrival, I checked in, stored my larger luggage at the station, and boarded the Inca Rail. Large luggage is not allowed on the train so I opted to downsize and trust that my luggage would be safely stored in a small wooden shack outside the train station in Ollantaytambo. One of my favorite things about solo traveling is the higher likelihood that you’ll make new friends. My 1.5 hour train ride granted me one of these opportunities as several of the travelers seated around me were close to my age, solo travelers themselves, and open to meeting new people as well. Over the next few days, I spent much of my time in the company of at least one of these new friends. 

Agua Calientes, gateway to the ruins of Machu Picchu

As the train roared into the station at Agua Calientes, I quickly realized the room I’d booked for the night overlooked the station. Not my best reservation. This small town’s sole purpose is to exist as a landing place for travelers heading to Machu Picchu. It truly is packed with travelers nightly and operates like a well-oiled machine with people knowingly waking up at 4 a.m. to get in line for the bus up the mountain. Yep, including me. I joined the line at 4:30 a.m. to await the 5:30 a.m. buses, about two full bus loads of people were already in line ahead of me. The bus ride lasted about 30 minutes and was in complete darkness – probably for the best given that these roads are narrow and twisty, winding their way up the mountain side to the gates of Machu Picchu.


[DAY THREE] I finally made it to the site just as the sun was rising and anxiously trekked up the steps leading to a better view. It was a foggy morning with several misty clouds covering the site. I had anticipated this though and my first view of the ancient ruins were nothing short of amazing. It was difficult to believe I was actually there, I had actually arrived and was standing at the site of such great mystery and wonder. Rain or not, I was taking it all in and enjoying each moment. It was a true gift to be there.

Made it!

Just beyond the first vantage point lay several levels of fields with grazing alpaca. I’m not sure where they spend their nights but these furry friends were up as early as we were to take advantage of the freshly laid dew and time to eat before the larger crowds of visitors arrived.


One of the famous vantage points at the site is the Sun Gate which is said to be the best way to see the city from above. The Sun Gate was originally designed to help its citizens determine the time as the large stones at the Gate were cut specifically to allow the sun’s ray to pass through and down to the city center at precise angles depending on the time of day and year.

A hike up the Sun Gate takes about an hour and is a moderately difficult trek up along stone cut steps. The trail is actually the last bit of the Inca Trail and, on the way up, my new friends and I passed several exhausted and exuberant hikers, thrilled to be nearly done with their 4 days of travel. When we reached the top, we perched ourselves on the wet rocks to wait out the clouds, hoping they would eventually clear, allowing us to see down below. Unfortunately, after about an hour’s time and no end in sight to the dense clouds around us, we opted to head back down toward the ancient city again.

Traffic on the Inca Trail
Wishing and waiting for the sun to burn off these clouds

As we made the hike back down and the sun rose higher in the sky, the clouds began to dissipate and more of the ancient city was revealed. This time we found a view point filled with newly found sunshine and a few more tourists as it was now about 10 a.m. The site is truly amazing. Surrounded by other majestic mountains, Machu Picchu is the only sign of civilization as far as the eye can see. At nearly 8,000 feet high and in total isolation, it’s a wonder how it came to be.


In an effort to preserve the historical site for generations to come, the Peruvian government has set time limits for visitors with two options, morning and afternoon. I opted for the morning shift which meant my “required” exit time was noon. I can’t say that I ever saw anyone checking tickets or ushering people out at their specified times but the closer it came to noon, the larger the crowds became. Heading toward the exit takes you through the city itself, ancient stone buildings creating what one can imagine was the homes and businesses of the former Incan people who lived here centuries ago.


The town of Agua Calientes lies down below the mountains with two options to reach the ancient site. Travelers can choose between taking the bus or about an hour long hike. I opted for the bus ride up because it was completely dark out at 5 a.m. and I wasn’t sure how long it would actually take me to arrive but, on the way back down, I chose the hike.

The trail back to town is all stone carved steps varying in width and steepness, if that’s a word. I think hiking back down was the better choice because going up all those stairs would have been tough. Stairs are stairs though and no matter the direction, you’re going to feel it later and this trek was no different. It took me about 45 minutes to make it down, passing by several weary hikers struggling up the mountain along the way. I felt great in the moment but for the remainder of my time in Peru, my calves were tight and sore, suffering through every step. Next time, maybe more water and stretching?


Visiting Machu Picchu was easily the highlight of my trip and the true driving force behind my decision to travel to Peru but I was incredibly impressed with all of the beauty, generosity of people, pride, and delicious food this country has to offer. Upon returning to Agua Caliente, I made my way back to the train station to begin the return to Cusco, this time reserving a bus to shuttle me between the train and the town.

Spanish influence in Cusco
P4030183 2.jpg
Can I keep him?

[DAY FOUR] Cusco is a lively city filled with a deep history and significant Spanish influence visible throughout. I booked myself a spot on a free walking tour to get the lay of the land, sampling Peruvian cuisine and a Pisco Sour along the way. I also explored the largest local market in town, San Pedro, bargaining with the natives over an alpaca blanket and appreciating the opportunity to practice my Spanish. My day of exploration rolled by quickly and soon I was waking up again for another full day of tours.

Learning about the ancient civilizations local instruments

[DAY FIVE] Knowing that I had limited time but wanting to experience more of the Incan culture, I joined a tour of the Sacred Valley with Sam Travel Peru with stops in Pisac, Moray and Ollantaytambo. Just viewing pictures of these destinations made me excited to visit but I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy each one. The tour guide was great, sharing stories of the ancient Incan civilization and how culture has evolved today. I learned a great deal about Peru on this trip and would have loved to spend even more time exploring the Valley; there is much it has to offer.

Overlooking the Valley
A local artist describes the process of creating her beautiful designs at the Pisac market
The Salt Mines of Moray, one of my favorite destinations on the tour
Exploring the unfinished Incan ruins in Ollantaytambo

Unfortunately for me, Cusco sits at just over 11,000 feet up and I was feeling the altitude. Altitude sickness can manifest itself in many ways and thankfully mine was mild compared to other travelers I met but my head was pounding and no amount of slow walking, deep breaths, plenty of water or cocoa tea leaves would soothe it. I was ready to head back down to sea level and soon departed for Lima.

[DAY SIX] My final day in Peru was spent exploring more of Lima, this time the neighborhood of Barranco. I popped in to the Barranco Beer Company for lunch and then joined a free walking tour with Lima by Walking. Barranco is known for its collection of murals throughout the neighborhood, a project commissioned by the local leaders to showcase local artists. I loved the colorful images and messages painted throughout the streets.


After the tour, I settled in to a spot along the seaside cliffs to watch the sunset. My flight was delayed so I found a nearby nail salon for a manicure to kill time and was thrilled to learn the cost was only $8! I asked several times if that was the correct amount, thinking I had just misunderstood but no, $8 it was. From there I returned to the airport, reflecting on not just a great day but a perfect week in Peru. Every trip leaves me longing for more but also brings a feeling of gratefulness to be able to travel and explore more of our world. Until next time, Peru!


5 Reasons to Add Chile to Your Travel Bucket List


Chile is absolutely stunning and, for many of us, it’s not often at the top of our travel bucket list — but it should be! I traveled south to Chile for a week and was endlessly impressed by the natural beauty of this country. The majority of my trip was centered around Patagonia, though I did not do a multi-day hike, as many travelers seek out when in this region. While still in the planning stages, I quickly realized getting down to Patagonia was a hike in itself and would take up several full days of my singular week. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t make sense to add in the physical hike as well.

This trip took me through the country’s capital, Santiago, as well as down even further south to the region of Patagonia (the farthest south I’ve been!). There’s much to love and explore in Chile but I’ll try my best to narrow down my experiences to my top five reasons to visit. I’ll begin with what I’m calling a “pre-reason”: it’s not super packed with tourists and for many of us travelers, this is enough of a reason to visit. And now, here are my five reasons to add Chile to your travel bucket list.

Continue reading “5 Reasons to Add Chile to Your Travel Bucket List”