Travel

A while back, sometime during my childhood ha, I got this idea in my head that I needed to go to Hawaii. Late last year, I was going through a long-term creative block, and I thought, I need to go somewhere completely opposite of New York City. So after years and years of it being a thought in my head, I decided it was time. I booked a one-way ticket earlier this year with intentions of staying for the longest amount of time I possibly could, but as they do, work commitments and life took over. I settled on 10 days; which were 10 days I would end up loving more than I could’ve guessed.

People will tell you, “Hawaii is for honeymooners!”. So let me tell you, that is one big, giant, enormous lie. When I first decided to go on this trip, I knew I wanted to spend some time there alone. I wanted to explore and take it in without interruption. Sometimes my mind can get clouded when I’m around other people in certain situations, and I wanted to refresh my mind. I wanted to stare at the ocean without talking or paying attention to anyone. I wanted to fully immerse myself in this mystical place. I feel the same way when I go to art museums! The space you get while being alone is a wonderful thing. 

imagining Hawaii on the plane before I arrived

It was the biggest trip I’ve done alone since Big Sur a couple years ago. I won’t say I wasn’t nervous at all. I had days where I felt a little anxious about what it would be like to explore somewhere I’d never been, completely on my own – especially in the more remote areas. I had read that Hawaii was one of the safest places to travel solo, and I can confirm that it felt completely safe the entire time (with some common sense). The Hawaiian people were incredibly kind and helpful. Once you go, you quickly realize that the Aloha Spirit is a very real thing.

When you decide to go on a solo adventure, a few questions lurk in your mind. Will it be safe? Will I be lonely? Will everyone be staring at me saying “poor girl traveling alone”? Well, I didn’t feel lonely even for a second. I was so consumed with exploring the island and trying new things that I didn’t have time to be lonely. Noone stared at me with a pity. If anything, people were more willing to talk to me, curious to hear what my experience was roaming on my own. I met other solo travelers as well. It was refreshing and inspiring. Listening to all the movie soundtracks I could ever want to (can’t say Jurassic Park didn’t pop up), going to some of the same places more than once (some even three times) with no one to argue against it. It was the most wonderful, inspiring time. I can easily say it was the best trip I’ve ever been on. It opened my eyes to how powerful traveling alone can be… and now it’s a problem because I want to do it all the time. 

The catch22 of traveling solo is that you have to plan the entire trip on your own. This is one of the best parts but can also be overwhelming, especially in Hawaii. It took me a long time to decide which island I should go to… whether or not I should go to multiple islands, etc. I settled on the Big Island because it was the largest, most diverse landscape. It has active volcanoes. It has a winter climate at the summit of Mauna Kea (I’m a cold weather fanatic). I really wanted to see Kauai (The Garden Isle) as well, but I didn’t want to rush anything while I was there. And I’m glad I didn’t. 

‘Akaka Falls State Park during the rain.

It was 10 days of pure adventure, and I can’t wait to return again someday.

If there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, just go! Explore. You’ll often meet likeminded people along the way. It’s the absolute best feeling when you’re returning home and realize you just went and did it (and survived). 

Now for the details! (I apologize for the length!)

I spent a full ten days on the island and could’ve spent much longer. The island is large and has so much to offer (it has 10 of the earth’s 14 climates!)… so I wouldn’t recommend visiting the Big Island with less than 5 days (unless you just want to see one or two specific things).

I flew from NYC to Honolulu (Oahu Island) direct, and immediately hopped on another flight to Kona International Airport (Big Island). I’ve heard nice things about Honolulu, but I had no desire to spend time in another city. I went to see Mother Earth in all her glory!

Once arriving in Kona, I picked up my 4×4 Jeep that I had booked ahead of time – I had read that you need a 4×4 to visit certain locations on the island (true). The car rental itself was semi pricey, but not horrible in comparison to other places. The most expensive part of renting a car in Hawaii is the gasoline.

I loosely planned my trip the week before arriving (procrastinator here), so I probably didn’t create the most efficient itinerary, but traveling alone, it didn’t bother me. I wanted to drive around and explore, so the three-hour drive straight through the middle of the island to reach my Airbnb on the other side was a plus in my book.

My first stop on the island was only a few minutes from Kona airport – the Akamai Art Supply shop, naturally. I like to travel with carry-on luggage, so I didn’t have a ton of extra space for supplies – and I wanted to buy some large rolls of paper that would’ve been hard to bring on a flight. I brought the basics with me (gold paint), and purchased what was hard to bring. The one problem with art supplies in Hawaii (and a lot of other things) is that it is insanely expensive compared to the mainland. Some items were double the usual price. A roll of masking tape was $25. Very cool shop nonetheless.

From there, I drove across the island via Saddle Road. It was so bizarre and incredible. At the airport in Kona, it was sunny and 85F… but as I drove, the temperature dropped to around 50F in less than an hour. The weather changes were pretty amazing – hot and sunny, to cloudy and cool, and then through a tropical rainstorm and back out to sunshine again. At one point it felt like I was on Mars as the landscape shifted between lush tropics to fields of volcanic rock. I fell in love with the island pretty immediately. It felt like some wild adventure. One where I was constantly shifting between AC and heat in the car ha.

The first night was pretty terrifying on my own. After driving across the island, I picked up some groceries to bring to my Airbnb, and by then it was pitch dark out. The closer I got to my destination, the more remote it became. It’s funny and slightly unnerving when you wake up the next day and discover you were driving right along the cliff of the island overlooking the ocean… but had no clue it was there in the dark. 

I arrived at the Lil Red Farmhouse Airbnb during a rainstorm. As I drove up to the lush green property, I saw giant Cane Toads hopping around in the rain. It felt like I drove straight into a magical, slightly less terrifying, Jurassic Park.

The Airbnb was perfect. It was a little farmhouse on a property with another farmhouse and a studio. The bathroom, shower, and tub were all outdoors, which was really nice actually. The rain poured down while the coqui frogs sang (just like in Puerto Rico) and it was the most beautiful music. The house itself was nothing fancy, but it was perfectly rustic, comfortable, and felt unique. My host would leave me fresh eggs from the roaming chickens and fruits from the trees each morning. There was a hammock and a fire chimney just outside which I took full advantage of. I spent most of my mornings swaying in the hammock with my morning *Kona* coffee while the cats, geckos, chickens, and dogs roamed around me. That’s one thing you need to be okay with in Hawaii, geckos! They are everywhere (inside and out) but so cute and beautiful. It reminds you what geniuses the Geico Insurance marketing team are because I kept thinking about Geico whenever I saw one haha. 

The farmhouse was in the Kalapana SeaView area, near Pahoa, which was just about 3 minutes from the coast. It was set along the most incredible scenic drive on the island- Highway 137. 14 miles of volcanic tropical beauty colliding with the ocean. I took this drive about five or six times during my stay on this side of the island.

Now that I was settled into a home base for the next five days, I could go explore! What I loved most about spending ten days on the island, was that it didn’t feel rushed. I had time to relax a bit. I won’t carry on with every detail of the trip… but here are some of my must-see highlights. Shoot me questions in the comments if you have any! 

Mauna Kea Summit

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I loved everything I did on the island, but the Mauna Kea Summit is one I will never forget. Honestly, I was pretty nervous about doing this one on my own. I had read so many intimidating things online and the warnings they give you when you arrive only make it worse.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano standing nearly 14k feet above sea level. It’s technically the tallest mountain on earth (but most of its base is under the ocean). It’s also an incredibly sacred place in Hawaiian culture… which has become a much-debated subject since it is also one of the best astronomical observation sites on earth. Science vs religion.

Anyway, I talked to a friend (who’s an amazing nature photographer) about his experience going up alone which gave me some courage! The reason I was nervous is because 1) I had never driven in four-wheel drive before 2) there are nonstop warnings about altitude sickness being intense 3) the road up is very dangerous; steep and rough… with no railing. Before I arrived, I booked a guided experience up the mountain from my nerves… but ended up canceling it because I really wanted to do this on my own.

Halfway up the mountain, they make you stop at the visitor’s center for at least 30 minutes to acclimate to the altitude. It suddenly felt like autumn outside. After exploring a bit, I went back to the car and googled ‘how to put a Jeep in 4 Wheel Drive’ haha (don’t judge me haha). I somehow managed to figure it out in a next few minutes and the guard checked my car and let me proceed up the second half of the mountain. Terrified, I saw a bunch of young college age kids waving me down – trying to catch a ride to the top for sunset. I agreed to give three of them a ride and was so happy I did because they made the ride up a little less frightening.

Making it to the top felt like a small feat. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Easy to see why the site is so sacred to Hawaiians. It felt like you were standing at the top of the earth looking down at the clouds below and you could just reach up and touch the stars. It’s where the earth meets heaven, the stars, and the moon. I sat here watching the sunset in the now freezing cold temperature… and all I have to say is, I hope you get a chance to experience this like I did. Did I mention it was free to go up to the Summit?

The way down was rougher but I was on a high after witnessing that sunset. Once reaching the halfway point, I stopped and had hot chocolate while the astronomists showed the visitors live footage of stars and the moon, now that the stars were fully out. It was beautiful. This is a photo of the view outside my car window on the hour and a half drive back to my Airbnb in Kona.

I know this post is incredibly long, but when I was researching I couldn’t find a good guide to all of these things so I hope it helps some of you!

Volcano National Park – Mount Kilauea

Going to Volcano Nation Park to see the active Kilauea Volcano was another unforgettable experience. So much so that I went three times in one trip. There’s not much to tell, other than it’s a beautiful place where you can go watch the earth being created before your eyes. My one tip is to go before sunset to see it during the day (maybe around 5pm). Do the crater and everything, and then go have drinks or dinner at the Volcano House (within the park) while you wait for the sun to go down. Go back out (the park is open 24 hours a day) and see it glow. It was such an incredible thing to see. The third time, I went a little path away from the crater museum so that there was no one around me while I watched it (and also played with some night photography, the photo above). Just remember to bring a flashlight. There aren’t really any lights in the park when you’re walking. The first night I went was cloudy and the stars weren’t so visible… but the next night was clear and it was one beautiful night sky.

Night Snorkeling or Diving with Manta Rays

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To keep this short (laughing at that yet?) I’ll just say go and do this. No Manta Rays showed up when I went, but it was still so worth going. The scene underwater was AMAZING. Also, it felt less scary than I had imagined – swimming in the ocean at night. It was mysterious and beautiful. I did night snorkeling with Big Island Divers and they were great. I rented one of their ready to use GoPro’s to film this.

Captain Cook Snorkeling – Kealakekua

Saw those little yellow fish in my Hawaii video above? Those were here. I booked a boat cruise out that docked and let you spend a few hours exploring under the water and it was perfect. It was mostly families and couples – but everyone was super friendly and they had some great BBQ for lunch in between swimming. They also took you to the best spot to see the sea life at Captain Cook. Go in the morning if you can for better light. I just slipped my iPhone into one of these and it took great video!

Red Road / Highway 137

14 miles of Hawaiian beauty along the coast. At the end of this road is Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market which turns into a huge party on Wednesday nights. I, unfortunately, arrived on Thursday. There’s also an ‘alien landing site’ here.

Carlsmith Beach Park

A beautiful park and beach worth stopping by. The water was perfect. Drive just past it to an unmarked parking lot and walk through the jungle entrance!

Airbnb #2 in Kona below.

Doors Off Helicopter Ride

I had mixed feelings about adding this one. I kept hearing that the best way to see the island was by helicopter, so I decided to take one. I did the doors off helicopter which was super fun and thrilling… but it went by so quickly and I only had good views half the time (since someone was sitting next to me on the other side) that I’m not sure it was worth it. Then again, it was incredible seeing the crater of the volcano and fresh lava flowing into the ocean from above. I recommend everything else above before this (also because it was expensive) – but if you have some extra cash and time, it’s worth the experience. Also, if you take one from Hilo it will be much cheaper than Kona. I flew with Paradise Helicopter Tours.

I’ll leave it at this or I’ll go on and on for pages (also props to you if you made it this far). Moral of the story, go see Hawaii!

If you have any specific questions ask in the comments and I’ll get back to you!

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The second part (PART I here) of my trip to Zurich was so refreshing after spending a few days running around the city center. We packed our bags and headed out for some nature. Although, this nature was really just within the city itself…

We took a short boat ride (maybe 15-20 minutes) from the city across Lake Zurich to a little campground called Fischer’s Fritz. We arrived in the late afternoon and the campground was glowing with golden light. Fischer’s Fritz was an eclectic mix of traditional camping tents, RV’s and yurts. It was our last night in Zurich, so we booked a group of beautiful yurts – my first time staying in one and I loved it! I remember sitting on the bed sketching while the golden light and tree shadows played on the canvas around me. Magical! It was such a peaceful place to be, right on the water with a sunset view just in front of us.

Inside the tent, I took some time to paint with my Winsor & Newton field box set (comes with me everywhere!). Then got crafty with a Swiss Army Knife I picked up along the way. I created some paper cutouts to play with shadows on the tent by placing them on the outside and photographing them from the inside.

 We spent the evening at the campground and had an amazing dinner outside at the Fischer’s Friz restaurant filled with plenty of wine. Afterward, a few of us took our wine over to the firepit and had some fun well into the next morning. While we sat there, we were visited by a wild hedgehog!

The next morning was rough, but we all headed straight for the airport to part ways. I’ve always loved extra long flights, so I was excited to settle into a seat on Swiss Airways and turn off for the next 8 hours. It was the perfect way to end our time in Switzerland, complete with a beautiful in-flight cheese plate!

I can’t wait to get back to Switzerland… especially to experience the Swiss winter on the Glacier Express! A dream trip.

*My trip was sponsored by the Tourism Board of Zurich. All opinions and views are my own, as always!*

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Earlier this summer, I was lucky to find some time to travel through Europe for a few weeks. Beginning in Spain, then Italy, over to Croatia, and eventually ending up in Zurich, Switzerland. It was my first time in Switzerland, a place I’ve wanted to visit forever! Must’ve been all the tales of cows, watches, dadaism, cheese, and of course chocolate I’d heard ;)!

After flying from Florence to Frankfurt, Germany for a night, I took the early morning train straight to Zurich. Over the four hour ride, the windows displayed a beautiful shifting German to Swiss countryside view. Trains really are my favorite way to travel…there’s something great about the sounds while you’re staring at the passing scenery as the classic uniformed train attendant paces the aisle punching each passenger’s ticket. Also, unsurprisingly, the coffee is much better on Swiss trains than the US trains!

My first day in Zurich, I spent exploring the newer more modern parts of the city. Wandering through a beautiful market, and stopping in to see the Freitag shop constructed of stacked shipping containers (if you climb the stairs to the top there’s a nice view on the roof!). The area just around the Freitas shop was filled with lots of cool shops and outdoor bars.

The modern areas of cities are nice, but rarely what I come to see, especially in a place filled with history like Switzerland. The second day I spent exploring the old town in Zurich, which was straight out of a storybook. My kind of town. One charming building after another placed neatly next to each other, painted in beautiful color combinations and accented with contrasting wooden shutters. You must go see for yourself!

I wish I had had more time to spend in the old town of Zurich. It was spotlessly clean (as the majority of Zurich was) and full of a Disney-like charm. Old ringing clock towers, bridges over the swan-filled Limmat river that runs through the center of Zurich, the scent of Sprungli’s chocolate and fresh cheese fondue make the city effortlessly magical. On that note, I had an amazing cheese fondue experience at Swiss Chuchi.

On an overcast afternoon, I took the Swiss metro train (the best way to travel in Switzerland) up to Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain. Once you arrive, you walk a short uphill hike to the peak of the mountain. At the top, you can then climb the antenna tower for a view that makes the many flights of stairs and 2 euro fee well worth it! A 360º view of Zurich with the Alps in the distance.

Arriving back in downtown Zurich, I went to dinner at the first vegetarian restaurant in Europe (which is quite famous in Switzerland). The Haus Hiltl convinced my carnivorous self to enjoy everything set in front of me. Definitely worth a visit!

Zurich, Part II tomorrow! #PaperTravels

My trip was sponsored by the Tourism Board of Zurich. All opinions and views are my own, as always!*

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Ever since I was little, I have always loved going places. Whether it was somewhere local, or somewhere far away; it made no difference. I was curious about traveling outside of what I knew.

The first time I went to Europe, I was leaving for a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I can’t remember an ounce of fear or hesitation… I knew I wanted to go before I had taken the opportunity. The moment I stepped on the plane for Italy, I loved it. I instantly fell in love with long distance plane travel – it was such a different experience than domestic flights. A moment I’ll never forget, is when I looked out my window while most of the cabin was asleep, and seeing the big dipper the brightest and closest I had ever seen it. It was dreamlike to lift the window shade and suddenly be immersed in the stars.

BigDipper

Fast forward to today, and I am still in love with traveling. I obsessively peer out of the window to see the stars on overnight flights (a window seat is a must). I feel lucky to be able to travel as much as I do. Not only to see the stars but to see new places and experience new things.

Of course, there are a few not so fun things that can happen when you travel, but I’ve learned to just have a relaxed mindset about things. You can’t get too stressed when things are out of your power- to me, that is the key to happy travel. However, here are some of my favorite tips to travel smarter!

PACKING

I only travel with carry-on luggage. It alleviates the possibility of your luggage being lost, it forces you to pack less, and you avoid having to wait at a baggage carousel when all you want to do is get to where you need to be.

No one ever wishes they had more to carry when traveling; so packing less is key. I keep my clothes pretty simple when I travel. Comfortable, versatile, neutral. If I can’t wear a piece of clothing in more than one situation, I don’t need to bring it. A simple black dress goes a long way. A great carry-on suitcase makes a huge difference too. Here are my favorites:

Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Hybrid 21″ – This one is pricey, but will last you forever. It’s sturdy, thoughtful, durable, and beautiful. My favorite part is that there are expandable external pockets- which keep things extra organized. I always pair it with my Lotuff sling backpack – the best multifunction purse for travel.

Away Carry-On – This one is more affordable than the Rimowa. It is still a great case, and also includes an internal battery charger – which can be super helpful when you’re stuck in the airport with a dead phone. The quality and details are not on the level of Rimowa though.

Ultra Olive Folding Bag – This one I love for a few reasons. For one, it fits a lot more than you would think since it’s a soft duffle-type bag on wheels. The other thing I love is that it folds flat when not in use (which is amazing when you live in a small New York apartment!). Fits right under my bed.

Packing Cubes – I’ve recently started using packing cubes. They keep things extra organized. Sometimes I’ll bring an empty one to pack with clothes I’ll need for the next day in my purse. That way I don’t have to unpack my suitcase when I’m moving locations frequently. They are also great for shoes.

FOREIGN CURRENCY

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Especially when I’m traveling to places with more than one currency, I like to order a little bit to start with before my trip. Bank of America allows me to preorder currency online and they ship it before my trip so that I’m ready to go. I never get very much, but sometimes it’s nice to arrive to a country with a little bit of cash just in case you need it right away. Especially since some countries aren’t as credit card friendly as others.

SQUARECASH

SquareCash

When I travel with friends, there are lots of times when we’ll book different parts of the trip for each other, cover dinners under one card, etc.  Instead of dealing with paying each other back in cash, well just pay each other with the SquareCash app. It’s super easy and convenient when you’re on the road. Just a few taps and the money is sent. My friend Valentina and I used it pretty frequently when we were in Europe the past couple of weeks.

WiFi

The most annoying thing about traveling in a foreign country is not being able to use your phone as you would at home. Mainly in case of an emergency, or if you get lost. Luckily, I’ve come across a few tricks!

TEP WIRELESS & XCOMGLOBAL

TepWireless

I never travel without one of these devices! They have changed the way I travel. Both companies have small devices you can order based on the countries you’ll be visiting for a low cost per day (typically around $8/day). The devices allow you to have a personal wifi hotspot with unlimited data wherever you go, allowing you to use your phone as you normally would- preventing you from getting lost, and allowing you to share your travels as you go. It also gives me peace of mind if there’s an emergency. My wifi device even worked in the Sahara Desert!

Another new thing I’ve discovered is AT&T wifi calling. They are covered under your normal plan, you just have to turn the wifi calling access on within your device. If you’re connected to wifi, you can make and receive calls internationally as you normally would- without incurring any additional charges.

Okay, those are all the tips I have for now… will share art supply travel tips with you soon!

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