Australia, days 8 and 9: The mountains and the music

Wow! I’ve been decidedly not-so-good at keeping up with you guys. However, I want to assure any concerned parties out there that, no, I was not eaten by a shark, accidentally locked inside the Opera House, or knocked on the side of the head with a didgeridoo. I am, in fact, intact and back in sunny(ish) Santa Barbara for a wedding with my partner this weekend! He’s the best man, so I’m helping him with his speech even though he would do splendidly without me. I think he might even give me a run for my money writing-wise. He could easily take my job as Master of IC if he were so inclined.

Anyway, let’s see what I need to fill you in on. Wednesday and Thursday were my last full days in Sydney. Wednesday consisted of an incredible all day tour of the Blue Mountains with the very appropriately-named Blue Mountains Tours and Thursday consisted of getting in some last-minute beach viewings and miraculously being able to see David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed, an exclusive 3-day show at the Sydney Opera House.

That said, this is going to be THE most picture- and word-heavy entry of this trip, so hang in there. I’ll try and separate everything with headings for once.

Blue Mountains Tour

The tour began just after 7:00 am on Wednesday. I had gotten up at 6:00 and had responsibly headed over to McDonalds to load up on an, uh, filling breakfast prior to our departure. I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that the bacon that came with my bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich was the floppy, thick Commonwealthy kind I had seen in England and Scotland. I don’t eat meat, but I’ll be danged if I can’t occasionally eat something with crispy, black bacon on it. However, given that this was one of the only complaints I have about Oz, I think I’m doing okay.

I ended up chasing – literally, chasing – a bus that turned out to be from a different tour. Thankfully, I spotted the correct bus shortly afterward and hopped on. Though I felt like a nimrod, my tour guide was thankfully uber-nice and quelled my fears of looking doltish.

Our first stop was Featherdale Wildlife Park about 45 minutes outside of Sydney. Although it seemed a touch smaller than the Wildlife Habitat of Port Douglas, it seemed to have a little more diversity animal-wise and it was easier (and free) to see the koalas up close. At WH, you must pay for such encounters.

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And once again, I fell in love with a kangaroo. Or, at least I think this was a kangaroo.
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Yes, they have penguins in Australia! How cute are these guys?
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I just loved the intense stare of this owl. Not sure if she was as happy to see me as I was her, though.
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“Oooh, hey human! You look nice, what’s your name? Hey, do you have food?”
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“No food, then? Oh…”

I’m telling you, these koalas were hysterical.

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*gratuitous chewing sounds*
koala eating
Nyamnyamnyamnyam.

I was also pleased to see macaws, dingoes, bats, dingoes, and wombats here. Though, fair warning, the wombats were pretty shy and it was tough to get just one good picture of one. There were echidnas, too, but they were all sleeping. I think I would have died of cuteness overload had they been awake.

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After the park, we headed to the mountains themselves, which were an additional hour and fifteen minutes away. People aren’t lying when they say the Blue Mountains are like a greener (and, of course, bluer) Grand Canyon. It certainly has the same vibe and it’s much drier up there than in Sydney proper. There are some rainforests, but they’re not as wet and populated with creatures as the ones up in Northern Queensland. The mountains are a sight to behold and I can’t imagine visiting Sydney without making the journey to see them.

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The Blue Mountains’ premium viewing center, or Katoomba Scenic World, is the ideal way to experience a 360-degree view of the mountains. Here I am on the gondola, which has a glass floor to look down into the canyon. ‘Twas dope.

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The tour also included an Aboriginal show and a trip to a nice little mountain town called Leura, a small, garden-like village known as the “Jewel of the Blue Mountains”. There, we went on a mini hike and had some lunch. Well, other people had lunch. I had quiche, cake, and sourdough bread. My kind of meal.

After the hike, we headed back into Sydney’s Olympic Park and took a ferry back to Circular Quay. The day was basically over by around 5:30 pm.

Is it possible to see the Blue Mountains without a tour? Absolutely. You can take a bus there yourself and while it will take a little longer to get there, you will see the same sights as the people on tours. However, getting a full-day experience with the trip to Featherdale, the trip to Scenic World, the Aboriginal show, the trip to the town, and the ferry back to Circular Quay (Sydney’s city centre) was well worth the approximate $130 USD price tag. Plus, we got to travel in a new Mercedes-Benz bus that had USB charging ports in all of the seats. That kind of can’t be beat.

The Last Beach Hurrah and the David Bowie Tribute Show

This last day was pretty self-explanatory. I, embarrassingly enough, had not been to Sydney’s most famous beach (Bondi) during the entire trip, so we decided to do the walk from Bronte to Coogee Beach then take a taxi back to Bondi. While most people opt to walk directly from Bondi to Coogee, we did things a little differently because we first wanted to stop for lunch near Bronte. As one might expect, there are some amazing sights on this walk.

I had only my iPhone during this walk, as I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of protection/weather for my big-girl camera. However, these will hopefully still do the walk some justice.

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The park near Bronte Beach.
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Bronte Beach.
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More Bronte – I was a fan of these rocks.
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The pool next to Bronte Beach. They have quite a few of these pools here, which siphon water from the ocean.
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A pool overlooking the ocean.

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Bondi itself, at last!

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We ended the day at the famous Icebergs Club at Bondi, then bid farewell just a few short hours later to my brother and his friends. They headed off to Thailand that evening and will be going on to Shanghai and Tokyo thereafter for the next three weeks. So, they weren’t exactly jealous of my dad and I just because we got to stay an extra night.

Although, they were jealous of my dad and I’s final Sydney activity: the David Bowie tribute show at the Sydney Opera House. I didn’t get very many pictures because, again, I had only my iPhone and I felt like photos didn’t do it justice anyways. I did, however, snap one photo each of the inside of the lobby area during intermission and the end of the show.

Although all the performers were spectacular, one in particular, iOTA, stole the show. His costume, his mannerisms, and especially his voice were filled with Bowie’s aura and spirit, and when he sang “Let’s Dance”, “Fashion”, and “Is There Life on Mars?”, the crowd confirmed that he just might have been the low-key star of the show.

Inside the hall. The drink line was unreal as people gathered robotically into lines to ensure they could top off their champagnes.
Inside the hall. The drink line was unreal as people gathered robotically into lines to ensure they could top off their champagnes.
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Long live the Thin White Duke.

Reflections of the Trip

Going to Australia was something that, given my job situation and the generally high cost of visiting the country, I did not think I was going to be able to do for quite some time. I feel incredibly thankful that my dad just so happened to have some required business there and even more thankful that he graciously invited us to the trip.

Australia is unlike any other place you will ever visit. It is chock-full of mountains, deserts, rainforest, and beaches, all within close range of each other. It has more endemic flora and fauna than almost anywhere else on earth. The people are relaxed and laid-back, to the point where you could swear you’re hanging out with San Diegans or Angelenos. The Australians have a language all their own, and I’m not just talking about how they call ketchup “tomato sauce” or appetizers “entrees”. Being Australian is absolutely a way of life.

Will I be back? Absolutely, although I’m partial to exploring the more barren, sparsely populated, and desert-like Northern Territory next time around. I loved Australia and you will, too – but you have to go there to find out what it’s all about.

Until next time, my cornsnakes. I’ll be in touch. Need to go get this contour on fleek. After all, I have a wedding to go to.

-H

Travel tip: Sometimes, paying more for something while you’re traveling really is worth it. Remember that when you’re deciding between a $20/night hostel room that you share with five people and a private hotel room for $100/night.

Australia, days 6 and 7: Sydney city-slickin’

Oh, man. My calves are feeling these last two days.

Yesterday (my Monday, Sunday-ish for you statesiders) was my designated museum day. I ended up hitting up two museums (which was actually a lot, okay?!) and exploring the city for the rest of the day. I was actually amazed that any museums were open on a Monday here. For being in a workaholic country, U.S. museums have a whole lotta blackout dates (including Mondays for some of them, oddly enough) that are sure to enrage art-lovers the country over. But, I digress. Yesterday was fun.

I was very responsible with the big girl camera on day 6 and took some pictures of my favorite pieces from the two museums I visited: the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. While the latter was, well, contemporary and somewhat small, the Art Gallery of NSW had both contemporary and classic art and was yuuuuge. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here on out; both of these places are a must visit, basically:

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sydney museum of contemporary art
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Now, day 7 saw a less-responsible side of me. As we ventured towards the Laguna Beach-like Manly Beach, I instantly regretted not bringing my big camera. Thus, I have but a few iPhone pictures to show thee.IMG_1725 manly beach manly beach IMG_1730 IMG_1731 IMG_1733 IMG_1739

The water was cold and the sand was soft, just like home. I smelled the same coconutty suntan oils I smell back in California. The teeny little waves reminded me of the summer trips my family used to take to Maui, where the ocean is like a giant, mellow jacuzzi. Except instead of being surrounded by pure touristic infrastructure like we were in Maui, we were surrounded by some of the most stunning residential architecture in Sydney. Seriously, I didn’t get enough pictures of it – the apartment buildings (like the one above) and homes were out of this world. Again, for me, Sydney is a place that is so foreign yet so comforting. I’m 17 hours away from my job and my apartment and my snake and my boyfriend and my friends and all the normal things in between, but pieces of home are scattered everywhere.

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a day-long tour to the Blue Mountainswhich is sure to be a much different view of Australia than anything I’ve seen so far. As my eyelids are currently falling down my face, it is best that I catch some Zs so that I actually wake up for this tour tomorrow. We leave at 7:00. I won’t be on my A game at first, but I have to pretend like I will be.

Till tomorrow, my cornsnakes.

-H

Travel tip: I cannot stress this enough. If you really want to do something that involves limited space (i.e., getting on a tour, seeing a certain show, or visiting a certain museum that has limits), book that stuff in advance. Like, now. Otherwise, you’re either going to miss it or pay way too much for it. Not that I have any experience with that on this trip…

Australia, days 4 and 5: Sleepless in Sydney

I couldn’t resist. I got up at 5:00 am today and 6:00 am yesterday. Corny as it is, can you tell me it’s not an apt title?

So, as promised, I’m getting reeeeeeeal picture-y up in here, especially since I am combining two days of Sydney-ing into one. While Day 4 was largely a travel-slash-Queensland withdrawal day, Day 5 was a day that we got to enjoy an impressive number of Sydney’s highlights. We opted for a 2 hour morning cruise around the harbor, followed by lunch at the Opera Kitchen at the Sydney Opera House. While the afternoon left room for some solo exploring, we all reconvened later for dinner at Doyle’s, a restaurant about five times as old as I am with terrific seafood. Seafood which, I promise, is not five times as old as I am. It’s actually quite fresh, I assure you.

Behold, photographic evidence of the days!

Right before sunrise.
Right before sunrise.
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During sunrise.
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A little after sunrise. Captured the three stages, I did! I gotta be thorough with y’all.

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An interesting building in the city of Sydney. Anyone know what this is?
An interesting building in the city of Sydney. Anyone know what this is?
More pleasant city walking.
More pleasant city walking.

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Pretty fountain.
Pretty fountain. That’s all, really.
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A solid view of the Opera House. Because it wouldn’t be a post about Sydney without that, TBH.
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Brother’s friend, Ethan (23) and little brother (9). Little brother looks like he’s about to bungee jump off of the Opera House.
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Brother’s friend Grant, dad, brother’s friend Brandon, brother, brother’s friend Ethan, and tiny brother looking like an appendage of one of the older boys.
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Another view of Circular Quay from the Opera House.
Some boy band I met in front of the Opera House. Heard they're bigger than One Direction.
Some boy band I met in front of the Opera House. Heard they’re bigger than One Direction. 
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Detail of the Sydney Opera House. Per an older gentleman on our cruise, “they could have done a better job”. Someone’s a shady lady!
This restaurant at the Opera House looks like it came out of my wildest design dreams.
This restaurant at the Opera House looks like it came out of my wildest design dreams.
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Another picture of this restaurant (which is called Bennelong, btw) because it’s just that amazing.
A picture my brother took of my other brother.
A picture my brother took of my other brother.
Da crew.
Da crew.
Seagulls in Sydney are cleaner, but meaner.
Seagulls in Sydney are cleaner, but meaner. Trust me on this.
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Fort Denison in the harbor. Fun fact: supposedly this is THE place to be to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Who’da thunk?
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More Sydney skyline.
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I…think this is Manly Beach? Don’t judge me guys – it was our first real day!
A view into the open ocean. AKA, the path the sharks use to get into the harbor.
A view into the open ocean. AKA, the path the sharks use to get into the harbor.
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I WANT to say this is Watson’s Bay. Someone correct me if it’s not. All I know is that sharks are present here.
Quarantine Bay. Eery name, beautiful beach.
Near Quarantine Bay. Eery name, beautiful beach.
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We were utterly fascinated by this house. If you live here and are reading this, can we visit?
Gorgeous beach near the Taronga Zoo.
Gorgeous beach near the Taronga Zoo.

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Another fun fact: these concrete pillars have NO structural value and were only built to assuage peoples’ worries about the integrity of the bridge. 
The Sydney Harbor Bridge. People spend ungodly amounts of money to climb this thing. I can only imagine.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge. People spend ungodly amounts of money to climb this thing. I can only imagine.
Gotta show you all the views of Sydney.
Gotta show you all the views of Sydney. I got you, fam.
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Near Circular Quay at dusk. We are still pronouncing it “Kway”. Somebody correct us, PLEASE.
The man who made this whole trip possible: my dad.
The man who made this whole trip possible: my dad.

Sydney obviously has an extremely maritime feel, but it also is uncanny for how similar to the U.S. it seems. Little green hills remind me of Washington or Oregon. The clean, tall, stone buildings set against slightly chilly weather downtown remind me of Minneapolis. The people’s casual attire and friendly, “no worries” demeanor reminds me of Southern California. I’m convinced that Australia, or at least Sydney, might be the closest thing to Southern California you can get outside of my home region. At least that’s what I have heard and have seen myself so far.

Today marks the one day this week that I get to do that which nobody else in my group wants to do: museums. Maybe a zoo visit. I know, how could anyone possible not love zoos or museums? But alas, I respect their desire to go to the beach. That is, after all, kind of what Sydney is known for.

You guys will forgive me for using a picture of the Opera House as my featured pic, right? Catch you on the flip.

-H

Travel tip: If you are looking for a little more variety in your trip wardrobe but also need to buy souvenirs, buy cute clothes that you know your friends will also wear. Wear the stuff on the trip while you’re on it, then wash and give the stuff to your friends as souvenirs. They’ll love it, and you’ll look cute on the trip, too.

Not that I’m doing that or anything.

Australia, day 3: The day Haley almost went to live with the animals

I’m going to keep this short, not because we leave for our flight back to Sydney in two hours or anything, but because we got to see animals yesterday at Port Douglas’s amazing Wildlife Habitat. Not only did we get to see animals – we got to cuddle with kangaroos. And as anyone who knows me knows, getting to cuddle with animals is my own personal version of heaven.

So, enjoy these pictures, everyone! Because that’s what 90% of this entry is. I’m still speechless from yesterday.

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Our first little greeter.

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My brother’s new headshot.
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This was Shrek, the adorable male eclectus parrot who followed us on our mini-tour.
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Cassie, the cassowary. Aptly named.
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My brothers and my dad’s girlfriend got to take a picture with this Koala. His name is Samson.
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Some cute tawny frogmouths relaxing.
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A beautiful female eclectus parrot.
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A sweet little rainbow lorikeet.
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Yum, yum, yum!
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My little brother’s headshot. I was on fire with those yesterday.
Not sure what species this guy (or girl) is, but they were super cute.
Not sure what species this guy (or girl) is, but they were super cute.

For dinner, we ventured to Bel Cibo in the main stretch of Port Douglas for some fine, Italian-infused fare. I think we had a little too much fun playing Odds Are, but if anything, we provided some entertainment to the bystanders who aren’t as used to people like our rowdy, awesome American family.

If you’re unfamiliar with Odds Are, the game goes like this:

  1. Person A says to Person B, “Odds are you won’t (insert something daring and/or embarrassing).
  2. Person B says a number between 1 and 100 that symbolizes how unwilling they are to do that thing. 1 is the lowest, meaning they would do that regardless, and 100 means that they would rather jump out of a moving can than do that thing.
  3. At the count of 3, both Person A and B say a number between 1 and the number chosen by Person B. If they choose the same number, Person B is on the hook to do the thing they were dared to do. If not, then they’re in the clear.

Take this game on your next trip. You won’t regret it. Actually, you probably will. See you guys tomorrow to recount our first real day in Sydney!

-H

Travel tip: If you’re intent on reducing your packing load, try to find a place to stay with on-site laundry. Assuming you can sure that the laundry facilities work, you can save yourself from a massive amount of packing bulk.

 

Australia, day 2: Under the sea and into the flames

Oh, wow. That’s kind of an intense title, isn’t it? But I actually found it a bit poetic, so I’m keeping it.

As I mentioned yesterday, yesterday’s adventure included some exquisite Great Barrier Reef-ing. Sadly, most of the pictures I took were on one of our newly-purchased disposable underwater cameras, so I tried to capture a few moments on the boat. I DID manage to capture how stunning all of us looked in our snorkeling suits, however, so no regrets there:

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Father and GF Christi photo-ceptioning is us before departure.
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My brothers Bo (23) and Declan (9) getting pumped.
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A sneaky little ocean about to lose its temper.

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I’m conveniently missing from the last picture. 😉

While the water was misleadingly calm in the harbor and just outside it, we ended up traversing through the angriest, choppiest waves we’ve ever experienced to reach the outer reef. I experienced my first ever bout of feeling seasick and ended up in the back of the boat trying to meditate myself out of it for dear life. Rather than throwing up and succumbing to the utter chaos in my stomach, I closed my eyes, curled into a ball, and repeated the same mantra over and over again: “Snuba.” Weird? Yes. But did it distract me from barfing for 90 minutes? Somehow, miraculously, yes.

However, watching a giant sea cucumber being picked up, patting a giant fish named Angus on the head as our guide fed him, and swimming within inches of an adorable sea turtle made the long journey worth it. While the reef waters were a little murky and we weren’t able to visit some of the planned reefs due to weather conditions, we were all still awestruck just to know that we were in the reef at all.

That said, we are aiming to get our disposable pics developed within the next few days. I’ll be sure to update everyone when these are added to this entry. Please forgive me! I’ll make it up to you by showing pictures of our dinner shindig.

For our second adventure of the day, we paid a visit to the dinner extravaganza, Flames of the Forest, situated in an old rainforest clearing just a few minutes from our hotel. It was basically a large, multi-course, family-style meal with interludes of Aboriginal music playing and story-telling. Now, THIS is where the big girl camera finally came out to play. We listened to the calming, foresty sound of the didgeridoo, learned the Aboriginal origin story of the playpus, and…may or may not have tried kangaroo. All in all, it was an experience that definitely seemed to encompass the history and indigenous culture of Northern Queensland. I highly recommend it, though other vegetarians may find themselves eating mostly bread as I did. Hey, for someone like me who loves bread regardless, I’m cool with that.

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My attempt at trying kangaroo…’twas a little steaky. Not that I really eat meat or know anything about meat.
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Dad, Christi, and my little brother’s waning life force.
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Mandatory group pic.

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Our next adventure that we’ll be taking today (remember, it’s currently a Friday morning here in Oz) will be to the wild animal park near our hotel. Since we have only today left in Queensland, we are going to make it count, dang it. Fair warning: the next entry might break the internet with animal cuteness. I am not responsible for any damage done as a result.

-H

Travel tip: Go to the GB reef between June to November for the best visibility and conditions.

 

Australia, day 1: A triathlon of a trek (+ an announcement!)

It’s 5:00 am on a Thursday here in Australia. My body thinks it’s noon on a Wednesday in California and that I should either be at work or devouring buckwheat pancakes at brunch (if only). Alas, here I am, hunched over my brightly lit laptop and likely the only non-beach jogger awake right now at this hotel.

Oh, right. It might be good if I mention what’s going on with the trip in the title. Yes, I will be in Australia for the next nine days! The last time I wrote about traveling was some fourteen months ago and, since then, I’ve been inundating you with hypothetical letters to teenage girls and job search pep talks. What can I say? We’re not known for having a niche market over here at IC. I write what my frantic little mind deems appropriate to write at the time and I cross my fingers that you guys get something out of it each time. Knowing that I have 2 or 3 of you who do just warms my heart, let me tell you.

Now, I’ve experimented with different types of travel blogging in the past – some more review-focused, some more story-focused – but I think the approach I’m going to take this time is going to be much more visual. After all, I have a big-girl camera now. One does not complain about camera crappiness for so long and not buy a new one to take nice pictures with. Especially in freaking Australia. Australia!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a logophile if you’ve ever met one. Words were my first love and I want to write hundreds of them on pages all the time. But I’m learning that so much can be said with so little. I will likely put a funny/interesting story or two in each entry, along with a few travel tips, but I’m really hoping that you get a new desktop background out of one of my entries. I’ll try to blog every single day, though it’ll always be 14-17 hours ahead of you stateside homies. Yes, I’ll be writing to you…from the future!!!!

Anyways, since today was our first day in Port Douglas, Queensland, and the five of us (my dad, my dad’s girlfriend, my two brothers, and I who are on this trip together) are the real-life embodiment of the walking dead, we didn’t go crazy today. Sadly, the big-girl camera was too tired to come out, so these are pretty Snapchat-esque. As in, directly from Snapchat (with some ethical saturation editing to match what my little eyes actually saw, of course). Voila:

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We found a tiny blue jellyfish on the beach in Port Douglas. He was too cute, even if he wasn’t with us anymore. Is that disrespectful?
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Sorry in advance for keeping the geotag intact.
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The beach near our hotel, the Pullman Resort, in Port Douglas.

I didn’t eat dinner last night, because I figured I had begun my day with Ruffles and ended it with french fries and that I’d be good. A mistake was made there. I’m about to eat my lampshade.

Up ahead in just a few hours: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (yeah, I never thought I’d say that in my life. Ever). Hopefully, tomorrow’s entry will NOT put you to sleep like this one might have.

Speaking of sleep, before I go catch, like, 30 more minutes of it, I have a special announcement. I am starting a new blog! It will be called Building Your Bold and will be focused on helping women (or anyone, really) find confidence in their twenties and beyond. I know that confidence has been my biggest issue for the majority of my life and the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier on me (or, rather, us). We tend to think these issues will subside after teenagedom, but we are more often than not sorrrrrely mistaken about that. Since I know many of you feel the same way, I think it’s time that we have a safe space specifically to deal with and talk about this issue. I hope to launch the site by the end of the month, so I’ll keep you posted! Yay for building confidence!

That said, IC will, of course, continue in full swing, but I might be narrowing my niche back down to experience/lifestyle/travel blogging. My goal is to try to return to my roots by focusing on local (as in, LA area) adventures as well as outside travel, but we will see how that works out (don’t you love how sure I sound??). In addition, I will try and post at least once a week consistently on here from now on. Yay for goals!

Until tomorrow (er, 15ish hours from now), my cornsnakes! If you’re stateside, have a fantastic rest of your day. You’re in for a treat tomorrow.

-H

Travel tip: For long flights, pack a small, easy-to-access bag in your carry-on with a toothbrush, a razor, deodorant, face wipes, moisturizer, a hairbrush/comb, and a change of at least some of your clothes (I like to do a new shirt, new underwear, and new socks). You won’t just look way more fabulous, you’ll feel a lot better. Go on, girl (or boy, or however you identify)!