7 Days in Tennessee

Here is a suggested itinerary for Nashville and Memphis for a weeklong trip.

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Nashville

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♥ Day 1 –
 Music Day 
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Grand Ole Opry House

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Ryman Auditorium

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Country Music Hall of Fame

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Musicians Hall of Fame

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Johnny Cash Museum

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George Jones Museum

Bluebird Cafe

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♥ Day 2 – Family Fun ♥
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Gaylord Opryland Resort

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Nashville Zoo

Adventure Science Center

Opry Mills Mall

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♥ Day 3 – History Day ♥
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The Hermitage

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Belle Meade Plantation

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Belmont Mansion

Lotz House

Carnation Plantation

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♥ Day 4 – Tourist Attractions ♥
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Centennial Park

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Tennessee State Museum

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First Center for the Visual Arts

Cooter’s Place

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Memphis

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♥ Day 5 – Music Day 
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Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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Sun Studios
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Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

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Gibson Guitar Factory

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Music Hall of Fame Museum

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♥ Day 6 – History Day 
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Civil Rights Museum

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Graceland

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♥ Day 7 – Tourist Attractions 
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Beale Street

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Peabody Hotel

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Pyramid Lookout

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Crystal Shrine Grotto

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St Jude

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Soulsville

Memphis, Tennessee is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the home of the Blues.  It is also very popular for the barbecue, amongst other notorious things which is why in May they host the World Championship Barbecue Contest. The city is also home to Graceland, the residence of the legendary Elvis Presley.

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The mansion sits on a 13.8-acre estate where Elvis lived for over 20 years. You have to take a bus across the road and up the hill to the house itself. The house is beautiful and you are given an audio guide upon boarding the bus. The audio guide comes with an interactive iPad that is hosted by John Stamos and features commentary and stories by Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie that helps you tour the mansion. In total the building consists of twenty-three rooms, including eight bedrooms and bathrooms, and was renovated by the Presley’s. Most of the rooms are decorated out it in a very 70’s style.

During the self-guided tour you are able to see the living room, kitchen, dining room, tv room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father’s office, trophy building, racquetball building, and the meditation garden. Elvis Aaron Presley, his parents Gladys and Vernon, and grandmother Minnie Mae are all buried there. There is also a memorial of Elvis’ twin brother Jesse Garon who died at birth.

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Elvis loved cars and the Car Museum displays some of his favorites. You can also enjoy viewing the outside and inside of two Elvis’ private planes. The Lisa Marie, named after his daughter, includes a living room, conference room, and private bedroom. It also had very unique features such as gold seat belts and sinks.

 

Now after a long day at Graceland, the place you want to go to experience great food, nightlife and music, all on one street – is Beale Street. It is full of shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. You will find just about everything you need here.

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Memphis has several fascinating museums where you can learn about the music history of the city. There are many different styles that became popular and emerged. The museums will give you an inside look at the start to present day of many musical icons.
One museum that is a bit different than the rest is the Gibson Guitar Factory. They offer daily tours showing you exactly how they make guitars and all the steps in the process.
You can’t miss a visit to Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Stax Records was founded in 1959 by two siblings, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. They combined the first two letters of their last names in order to form the company Stax, one of the most popular soul music record labels of all time. It launched the careers of many great artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T. and the M.G.s. Other artists to record at Stax were Isaac Hayes, The Stale Singers, the Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. Stax Records is to soul, what Sun Records is to rock ’n’ roll.
Sun Studios was founded by Sam Phillips in 1952 when he rented a small studio space for himself. The label Sun Records, started to gain momentum in Memphis because of how respectful and non-judgmental they would treat local artists. Sun Studios is where legends like Elvis Presley, Johnnie Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded their music.
From Sun Studios you cantake a free shuttle to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This museum is one of the few Smithsonian museums that is outside of Washington DC. Upon arrival you are presented with an audio guide so that you can go at your own pace. You will learn about the complete story of the music scene in Memphis.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame is another wonderful museum. It honors many of the greatest musicians of all time, who created the city’s music legacy. It began as a trbute to legendary musicians and then transformed into a museum. You can see a lot memorabilia, rare video performances, and there are area to answer some trivia questions.

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FullSizeRender-2The Peabody Hotel is a grand old hotel in downtown Memphis and it has some unusual guests – five ducks live in a suite on the penthouse floor. Apparently this bizarre tradition started in the 1930s – the ducks were placed in the fountain of the Peabody Hotel as a practical joke (after a night of drinking), however it somehow stuck, and in the 1940s they enrolled a circus animal trainer to start the “Duck March”. The animal trainer is now known as the “Duck Master”. Every day at 11am the ducks come down the elevator with their duck master, walk down the red carpet and go into the fountain in the hotel lobby, where they swim for half the day. In the evenings at 5pm, the cycle is reversed and they walk along the red carpet back to the elevator in order to take it up to their suite.  It is definitely a fun attraction to see in person!

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Memphis, Tennessee was named after the ancient capitol of Memphis in Egypt due to its location on a major river. Throughout the city you can see different icons that resemble Egypt, such as the pyramid. Inside the pyramid is the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop. You could easily spend hours looking around as the interior is HUGE. The observation deck is the main attraction and its definitely worth the view! It costs $10 to go up the elevator (free if you are staying inside the hotel) however if you decide to eat at the restaurant they take $10 off your meal. Inside you will also find a delicious fudge factory that makes fresh fudge daily as well as some crocodiles and fresh fish.
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One hidden gem to discover in Memphis is the Crystal Shrine Grotto. It is a beautifully created cave that dates back to the 1930s. Natural rock and quartz crystal collected from the Ozarks form the background for the nine scenes from the life of Christ. The art recreates history and literature. The cave is located inside a cemetery so please be respectful when paying a visit.

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There is no complete trip to Memphis without learning about the Civil Rights Movement and knowing how important this city was. The Lorraine Motel is the current site of the National Civil Rights Museum. Inside you can spend many hours learning about the history and struggles of African-Americans. It is designed to take you on a journey through time – from the earliest days of slavery to the present-day Black Lives Matter Movement, with everything in between. You learn many things from the founding of our nation, the civil war, reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, Montgomery Bus strike, the Freedom Riders movement, college sit-ins, and much more. The museum is very interactive making you feel as if you are witnessing everything first hand. It is a very emotional experience but far more educational than any history class could ever teach you. It is great to set aside a whole day for the museum as there is a lot to read and learn, and it is a self-paced walk through. The last part of the museum you are able to see the room that Dr King stayed in the night before he was assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr’s words hang proudly on the Lorraine Motel marquee. He had traveled to Memphis to lend his support for a sanitation workers strike. He gave his last speech at a church not far from the hotel the night before. This very place is where he was shot. May we always honor his legacy.

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Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

– Dr Martin Luther King Jr

 

Music City USA

One destination that captured my heart was Nashville, Tennessee. I was very excited to visit the city known for cowboy boots and country music.  Along with country music, Nashville is also home to genres like Bluegrass, Classical, Blues, Contemporary Christian, Americana, and Jazz. With over 130 music venues throughout the town, visitors and locals alike can enjoy live music 365 days a year. Nashville also is a city full of history.

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On arrival it is best to take some time to get acquainted with where everything is located. The main street in downtown Nashville is called Broadway and is filled with venue after venue playing live music day and night. Most of the venues have a bar and/or restaurant inside making it very easy to grab some food while listening to local artists perform. At one end of Broadway you have the riverfront, where you can easily take a stroll by the water or walk above the Mississippi River along the pedestrian bridge. At the other end of Broadway you have the Bridgestone Arena home of the local hockey team, the Nashville Predators.

Near Broadway there are plenty of museums that you can visit during the daytime. Two museums that are very close to each other are the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both of them you can easily spend hours in while learning about the history and influence of great country legends. Often times you can find discounted admission to one or both of the museums online.

Centennial Park is located a bit outside of downtown but is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. The 132-acre park features an iconic Parthenon, historical monuments, a lake, volleyball courts, a dog park, and walking trails. The parthenon is world’s only full-scale replica of the one in Athens. Inside the Parthenon is a beautiful gold 42-foot statue of Athena. It is the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere

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No visit to Nashville can be complete without a vIMG_5871isit to the famous Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. When there are no scheduled evening shows you are able to take a behind-the-scenes tour. The first part of the tour is a very interactive showcase displaying the history of the Ryman and how it has evolved over the decades. Afterwords you are able to go inside the main auditorium in order to see the seating and stage. Along the way are different displays and videos informing you of events that have taken place at the Ryman.

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Another great place to visit is the Musicians Hall of Fame and Grammy Museum. It takes about an hour or two to tour the museum learning about all the musicians that have made it into the hall of fame and even seeing some of their original artifacts. From the Musicians Hall of Fame you are able to walk to the Tennessee State Capitol, Tennessee State  Museum and the War Memorial.

IMG_6665If you are able to go I highly recommend a visit to see the Grand Ole Opry, which is the longest-running radio broadcast in the world. The Opry House is located in an area called the Music Valley which is a little outside of downtown but there is plenty to do out there if you want to spend the day exploring. There is a huge Opry Mills Mall which offers a shuttle service to the breathtaking Gaylord Opryland Resort nearby.

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the incredible 4.5 acre resort. It is proud to be known as the largest non-gaming in-hotel exhibition space in the world. The resort is filled with beautiful indoor gardens and waterfalls. There are many different sections of the hotel, such as the Delta section where  you are able to take a boat ride on the river. In the evenings beginning at 6pm there is a water fountain show with lights and music that is fun to enjoy.

From the resort you are able to hop on a similar shuttle to take you over to the Opry House. The venue is very big and there is not a bad seat in the entire auditorium. In my opinion the Opry House is not as beautiful as the Ryman Auditorium, however it is a MUST to visit and watch the Grand Ole Opry. The shows are fantastic and get you singing and dancing along to the music.

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In order to learn more about the history of Nashville you need to wander a bit outside of the city. The first place I recommend is the Hermitage which was home to our seventh president, Andrew Jackson. You are able to go on an interactive tour of the mansion and see the different rooms. Once outside you are able to see the original cabin, the gardens, and where both the president and his wife were laid to rest.

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Another historical landmark is the Belle Meade Plantation. You are able to select from several different tour options to view the mansion and grounds of the 24 acre estate. The workers are all dressed in costume and give you a great detail about the history and present day use of the area. Belle Meade Plantation’s history is full of farming, a period of slavery, and thoroughbred horses. The most notable horse was named Bonnie Scotland. Almost every horse that races in the Kentucky Derby today is a descendant of Bonnie Scotland. Her descendants include Secretariat, Sea Biscuit, and California Chrome. During the tour you are able to explore the grounds including a horse stable, carriage house, dairy, various gardens, a mausoleum, smokehouse, and a log cabin. Afterwords they offer free wine tasting in the gift shop.

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Kia Ora!

New Zealand is primarily made up of two main islands, the North Island and South Island. It was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893. There is so much to see and do in New Zealand that no matter how long you go for, it still wouldn’t be enough to see all that the country has to offer.

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I was fortunate enough to visit last year with my boyfriend towards the end of November. However due to limited vacation time our trip only lasted 7 days. It took some time to create the ultimate itinerary for our visit to New Zealand, however I am very excited to have accomplished everything we set forth to do. We chose to focus on the north island due to our stay lasting only a week. Of course, we plan to return in the future to spend more time exploring the beautiful country along with the southern island that we have yet to see. Our itinerary is shared below and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have!

Auckland

Day 1

We had a nonstop flight overnight and were extremely tired when we arrived as neither of us caught much sleep on the plane. Due to traveling often I know that its always nice to have a day of rest on arrival, which is what I planed for. I had booked the Hilton Auckland hotel right on the water as the pictures online were stunning. Upon check-in we were told that our room was not ready yet, however the kind gentleman said he could upgrade us to their nicest suite if we were able to give them about an hour to get the room ready. Not a problem at all – as we were starving so we went upstairs to eat lunch in their restaurant. The food at the restaurant was mediocre however the view of the water was breathtaking! We finished eating and went up to our beautiful room which was far more stunning then either of us could have ever imagined. Most of the day was spent taking a nap until we woke up for dinner and decided to walk around the city a bit. The view from our balcony is pictured in the panoramic below.

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Wellington

Day 2

The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. We knew we wanted to see the capital city even if it was for a day trip, so we woke up early in order to take a flight down to Wellington. Once we got into the city center of Wellington we wandered around the streets and found a place to enjoy a nice lunch. The city center was filled with a lot of cute cafes and shops. We finished up lunch in perfect time for the 2pm sightseeing tour we had pre-booked. We located our guide and were told it was just going to be us along with one other couple. That was pretty great as the driver was willing to alter our stops to our preferences whether we wanted to stay longer or shorter in one place or another. Our tour guide was extremely friendly and did a fantastic job pointing out all the highlights, historic landmarks, and iconic buildings.

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We explored the 62-acre Botanical Garden which also has a beautiful Rose Garden inside. Next we drove just a few minutes to get to the bottom of the Historic Wellington Cable Car. We were given the option to either ride the car up or stay on the bus and drive to the top. Of course we chose to take the cable car. The views at the top were surreal! You could see the city along with the ocean. It was so peaceful and such a beautiful day. We then drove along the coast admiring the beauty until we reached Mt Victoria lookout. The lookout was out on the entire city so the view was magnificent, however it was extremely windy up there. That is when we learned that Wellington is nicknamed the windy city as there are hardly any days of the year the city doesn’t get wind at all. Overall I was very pleased with the three hour sightseeing tour as it gave us a great overview of Wellington, New Zealand’s dynamic capital. It was a great introduction to the city as we were short on time. We then head back to the airport in order to return up to Auckland.

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Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton

Day 3

We were up extremely early this morning i15110525_10207458570596579_742933102718499000_on order to hop on a bus down to Waitomo Caves. The morning drive gave us a beautiful sight of the countryside. Today was probably the day we were most excited about on our trip as we were planning to see two of New Zealand’s top attractions. There are three caves available to visit in Waitomo however we chose the Glowworm Cave as it had always fascinated me. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but thanks to Google I have included a picture below. The glowworms light up the caves when it is pitch black and it is an incredible sight to see. Inside the caves we first did a short tour followed by a boat ride to see even more of the Glowworms. The outside of the caves are very green and tropical as you can see in my photo above.

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From Waitomo we drove towards Matamata, home of one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, the Hobbiton movie set! It is built on a family’s private farm. Peter Jackson thought this particular farm would be perfect when they were scouting locations for the film, so he approached the family and was able to build the set there. I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan (I honestly have never seen the movies), but I absolutely loved visiting the set.  It’s such an incredible place and I found the amount of work and detail that went into building it was fascinating. The whole set has been left intact since  filming, and you feel as though you’ve stepped into some sort of magical place. You are required to book a tour in order to explore inside however it is well worth it! Most of the hobbit houses you are not allowed to go into, however there are a few you can. The tour gives you lots of information about the land, the building, and the movies. We then went to the Green Dragon, where we were offered ginger beer, cider, and a few other drink choices. I chose to have some cider (freshly made there, I believe) and it was DELICIOUS. Following drinks we were escorted up to an enjoy a wonderful feast. Following the conclusion of the tour we hopped back on the bus in order to head to Rotorua.

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Rotorua

Days 4-5

15940708_10207798901264633_2124772013628958139_nRotorua is the city to go to if you want to see New Zealand’s geothermal activity and learn about the Maori life. We were greeted with the  overwhelming scent of sulphur. Rotorua is home to steaming hot springs, impressive geysers and mud pools amongst other attractions. This morning we woke up in order to go ATV Riding. I’m someone who loves adventure and adrenaline so the moment I heard you can go quad biking in New Zealand, I already had my heart set on it. It took a little convincing to get my boyfriend to join, but he had a great time as well! We were the only ones that morning so it was a very private15966114_10207798898984576_8759798703523208276_n ride with two tour guides. We rode up a huge mountain and into the forests on the other side. The scenery was stunning as on one side was Lake Rotorua while the other side was forests and mountains.

Following our morning ride we decided to go up to Skyline Rotorua. On arrival you purchase tickets to take the gondola to the top and choose whether you want to Luge your way down. We were both starving and wanted to get some food up there so we figured doing Luge after eating may not be so great. The views of the lake while going up the Gondola are stunning. You are able to see the entire city on your way up. At the top they have two options for food – a full service restaurant or a cafeteria with plenty of different food stations. We opted for the cafeteria as there was quite a bit of variety. We ate our food at one of the tables outside while enjoying the scenery. It was such a calm place and made a great afternoon to relax. After a few hours we went back to the hotel in order to get ready for our night activity.

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Several years ago there was a rift within the main Maori tourist attraction, which resulted in it being split in two. On one side is Te Puia and on the other side is Whakarewarewa Village. We chose to go to Te Puia as many people recommended it and they had a free shuttle from hotel. The villagers showed us around and told us about their way of life and the significance of all the thermal activity. We were able to see a kiwi bird, which is the national emblem of New Zealand. We were then brought to Pohutu, a geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day. Upon arrival it had just started erupting which was pretty interesting to watch and take pictures. Following the activities we were invited to see Maori cultural performances, featuring traditional storytelling and entertainment. My boyfriend even went on stage to learn the Haka! We were then escorted to a dining room where we were able to taste an exquisite Maori feast prepared in the traditional Hangi style.15259637_10207458571196594_6113233218788427596_o

The following day we woke up early to take a morning cruise on the Lakeland Queen. It is the only stern wheel paddle boat and large cruising vessel on Lake Rotorua. Upon boarding we noticed that we were the only ones that were not part of a large group of Chinese tourists. We were given our own private area and sat separate from the large tour group. We thought this would interfere with our experience as their guide was not speaking English however the captain came over to great us and told us he could answer any questions that we may have. He also provided all the commentary for us in English. Since we did the morning cruise, we were provided with a breakfast buffet. It was a very nice and enjoyable way to experience Lake Rotorua.

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15977529_10207799076269008_4451643597456734969_nFollowing the cruise we decided to go explore the Redwood Forest. We got quite a bit lost on the way there and wandered around through several restricted areas. Eventually we found a sweet guy that told us to hop into his car because he could give us a ride there. The redwood forest itself was beautiful though once we finally made it. It was a lot cooler than the hot sun we had been walking in, which was very nice. We managed to find our way to the Redwood Tree Walk which is what initially brought us to the forest. It is suspended from 100-year-old majestic redwoods and features a series of suspension bridges and decks, elevated from 6-metres to 12-metres. We did the entire walk which is 553-metres. It was fascinating being so high up without the necessity of any harness or gear. Even more of a bonus is that it is eco-friendly. In the evening we flew back up to Auckland. Since it was Thanksgiving Day back in the US we decided to go out to enjoy a nice dinner. We found a Michelin-star restaurant and had a very luxurious dinner.

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Auckland

Day 6

We decided to do a city tour since we had yet to discover what the busiest city in New Zealand had to offer. Unfortunately it started raining, which was a bit of a bummer – however it did not stop us from exploring! We visited the Auckland Domain which is the oldest park in the city. We then stopped by the cute village of Parnell which had lots of little shops and cafe. Moving forward we came to explore Queen Street, which is probably the busiest shopping area in the city. There were many stores, restaurants, and hotels all along Queen Street. We found a cute little cafe and enjoyed an afternoon snack.

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Waiheke

Day 7

Our last day of the trip we decided to have a nice and relaxing time unwinding. We woke up early in order to explore the island of Waiheke. It was a short ferry ride from Auckland (about 30 minut15965190_10207799082149155_554103599114537231_nes). Waiheke is known for its fantastic local food, dozens of vineyards, and beautiful beaches. On arrival we hopped on a city bus in order to tour the island. The bus made many stops  along beaches and vineyards. A few of them we got off at in order to absorb the beautiful scenery. After a few hours we decided to head up to a vineyard called Wild on Waiheke. It was a huge place that was near two other vineyards (forgot their names). Once you enter their vineyards you instantly see all the amazing activities they offer. They have archery, clay shooting, giant chess, a trampoline, volleyball, and a playground for kids amongst other fun things. We got a cute little table and decided to have some lunch. Their fish and chips was outstanding. One thing we loved about Wild on Waiheke is not only is it a vineyard but it is also a brewery as well. They have a huge selection of drinks including some delicious cocktails

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Overall we had an incredible vacation visiting New Zealand, even if it was just a short week. Some things to take note – yes, having a car is more convenient but it is also more costly and you lose the opportunity to mingle with other people on the bus. For our trip we went with the Intercity bus, which runs frequently and is great on getting you to your destination fairly fast. There is also another service that runs less often (but is cheaper), the NakedBus. The locals of New Zealand are some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on my travels. They go above and beyond to welcome everyone to their remarkable country. I cannot wait to return to one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited!

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Money-Saving Tips

Wondering how to save some extra money for a trip you have coming up? Well there are the obvious ways such as cooking at home, stop paying for services you don’t use, use coupons whenever possible, cut down on socializing, etc. However, there are several other options that help cutting back costs. Here are a few of my favorites.

For online shopping there are three sites that I love. You can accumulate either cash-back (Ebates) or points back (Swagbucks or MyPoints). You then choose to receive either a check or convert the points into a gift card for redemption. You are also able to complete surveys, watch videos, play games and print coupons which all help your balance accumulate. Easy way to save money on purchases you are already planning to make!

For hotels there are two apps that I love. Hotel Tonight is a company that lets you book last-minute hotels within the week for an extremely discounted price. If you use my promo code (DKOTOVETS) you can save an additional $25 off your first stay. The second is another great app to save money on accommodations. Airbnb is a website where people rent out their rooms or houses for a significantly lower price compared to a hotel.

For everyday grocery rebates I love both Ibotta and Mobi Save. You simply look at what items they have listed for rebates and if you end up buying any of them, be sure to upload your receipt in order to receive the cash back.

For daily deal sites these are my two favorites. Groupon has so much variety of deals around the world and has saved me money numerous times on restaurants, spas, getaways, etc. The same goes for Gilt City. Although it is a smaller selection of deals, they often offer a bigger savings with better companies.

For transportation these two are HUGE, especially since taxis are usually expensive. Uber has spread to many cities and countries around the world. Lyft I have not used out of the country but it has been a great help within the United States. Both apps are great even for comparing rates simultaneously with one another. 

Solo vs Accompanied

For some, venturing into the world alone is an intensely liberating experience, for others it’s a nightmare. So, should you travel solo, or with others?

Both ways have their own benefits, yet equally they both have their downsides. Having done both, here’s my take on the pros and cons of solo travel, along with tips.

First of all, let’s start with the negatives.

Loneliness – It is sure to vary from person to person, but every solo traveler will experience a lonely moment or two. Its inevitable. Traveling alone for long periods of time with no constant in your life can be draining. Not having someone to share all those amazing experiences with can be disheartening and lead to depression. Homesickness is something every long term traveler deals with, and the effects can be amplified when you’re alone. There are ways, however, to deal with this. During these times you can strive to be a little more proactive. If you are in an area filled with many tourists then booking a tour for the day my be beneficial. Also checking into an accommodation such as a hostel or finding local bars where people your age spend the nights could prove to be helpful.

Money – A term close to every traveler’s heart. Traveling alone nearly always works out to be much more expensive than traveling as a couple or a family. As a couple or family, you can share meals, stay in private rooms and split many of your expenses. You’ll also often find that for private tours you’ll be charged a lot more if you plan on taking it alone, same goes for cruise ships. It’s far too common for places to charge by the room, not the amount of people.

Safety – Solo travel isn’t unsafe, but it’s definitely less safe than traveling with other people. You’re more vulnerable when you’re on your own, because you only have you looking after you. When you’re in a group, you’ll have other people to look out for scams, to steer you away from danger, and make you less likely to get lost. It’s indisputable that traveling alone may involve slightly greater risk than traveling with others – but we must keep this in perspective. A few extra precautions taken on the road will reduce the risks significantly. For instance, if avoidable, don’t plan to arrive in a new location at night, travel on busy public transport – preferably with other people you have become acquainted with – and attempt to blend into your surroundings as much as possible.

Now it is time for the positive.

Independence –  Traveling solo forces you to become independent, make decisions and step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis; something you wouldn’t necessarily do if you weren’t traveling alone. You are free to go where you want, when you want. No debates, no compromises. When you travel solo, you have nobody to rely on but yourself, and it’s that that pushes you to learn how to function in the world.

Make new friends – If you are on your own, you will meet more people. It’s as simple as that. A solo traveler is infinitely more approachable than an established group. In addition  – those on their own will be much more likely to strike up a conversation with others than if they were already participating within their own group.

Adding on – Full buses? Full trains? Full tours? Not a problem. With a little encouragement, transport staff will be generally more likely to allow one more to hop on than if there were at least twice as many people with twice as much baggage.

Grow – This one is huge. Traveling solo will play a key role in your own personal development. Not only does the solo traveler have greater time to reflect and learn more about themselves, but this enforced self reliance will ignite a great personal confidence as you learn just how much you are capable of achieving.

When you travel solo, you have nobody to rely on but yourself, and that is what pushes you to learn how to function in the world. There’s no better way to get to know who you are as a person than by spending time with yourself away from the distractions of life. Solo travel has many benefits and it has definitely helped me to grow as a person.

 

My Top 6

I am often asked where my favorite places I have visited are. It is pretty difficult to narrow it down to one specific place as I have fallen in love with quite a few. I have decided to compose this list of my top six favorite places I have visited. I realize these can be ever changing the more that I travel however as of today these have been my favorites.

Iceland

Without a doubt Iceland is on this list. Lately it has been getting a lot of tourists as WOW Airlines has been offering $99 each way flights. If it is on your list of places you want to visit, I highly suggest taking advantage of the airfare deals.

I visited Iceland in September of 2014 right when it was barely starting to get a craze. I was exploring Europe at the time and it was a fairly cheap flight from Manchester, UK on IcelandAir. Now as for why Iceland is one of the top of my list, I’m sure you can see from the pictures above. The stunning scenery and nature are beyond break taking. From the caves to the waterfalls, to the geysers, and the natural baths, there is not a dull moment while exploring the country.

     Also a huge bonus if you’re a Game of Thrones fan is they have a tour in Northern Iceland where you can check out filming locations such as the cave that John Snow and Ygritte went into, Lake Myvatn where scenes for “North of the Wall” were filmed as well as several other locations.

New Zealand

I had to update my list to include an extra destination due to my recent trip to New Zealand. From the moment I arrived I was blown away with the country. New Zealand is a lot bigger than most people may assume. Also another interesting fact is that is is broken up into two main islands: the North Island and the South Island.

Renting a car is a must for getting around unless you want to take buses (which is what I chose to do). Although I had a week for exploring, I only made it around about half of the north island. The breathtaking scenery is more beautiful in person than a picture could ever show. There are a lot of fun places to visit throughout the North Island. I had a great time exploring Hobbiton (filming site for Lord of the Rings), Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Te Puai (Maori Village) and several other tourist attractions.

From the amazing food to the sweetest people and the stunning scenery, there is no question about why New Zealand is one of the top of my list. I highly recommend everyone to add it to their bucket list and if you happen to need a travel buddy, you know who to call!

Portugal

Another favorite country of mine is Portugal. From the moment you arrive you immediately are stunned by the beauty of the city and the friendliness of all the locals. I absolutely loved how cheap everything was as well! An uber ride almost anywhere in the city wasn’t more than $10. Plus the metro and bus system is fantastic as well. I have been to Lisbon on two different trips and can’t wait to be back in the future again. Everything in Lisbon is very easy to get to and you can easily spend several days in the city just stunning at everything around you.

However another reason i love Lisbon is that it is fairly close to many other cities that you can take day trips to. My absolutely favorite would be to head to Sintra and check out the Pena Palace. It is the colorful palace in my pictures above. The entire palace is absolutely stunning and it is enclosed in a forest. You can easily spend an entire day exploring. When I went I wanted to check out several royal palaces along the way, so I stopped off at the Quelez Palace and the Sintra Palace as well. Both the two palaces along with the Pena Palace were easily able to see during a one day trip.

Another great day trip would be to take the train out to Cascais and Estoril. They are cute little fishing villages by the beach. The food is fantastic and it is stunning to walk along the boardwalk by the water. You can take the train all the way down to Cascais and then walk along the boardwalk to Estoril in order to take the train back from there.

I definitely plan to return to Portugal in the future in order to explore more of the beautiful country. The city of Porto is top of my list for a future trip.

South Africa

South Africa took me by complete surprise. I spent time in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Kruger National Park. I arranged transportation through my hotel when I landed in Cape Town and was shocked to see I was getting picked up in a Porsche! My hotel was across the street from the beach so the views were stunning, especially at night with the sunsets.

Cape Town has so much to see that I truly which I had a longer stay. First, I am obsessed with penguins so when I found out there was an entire beach filled with them I knew it was the first thing I wanted to see. Boulder’s Beach did not disappoint. I spent nearly four hours playing with the penguins and they truly are everywhere. The second most exciting thing for me was heading down to the Cape of Good Hope. It is the dividing point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and is one of the most southern points of Africa.

Now Kruger National Park was probably the highlight of the entire trip. I stayed at the Mala Mala Game Reserve and had transportation arranged from the airport. From the moment I arrived the staff made sure I felt very welcomed. The itinerary is pretty simple you wake up, have breakfast, go on a game drive, have lunch, go on another game drive, and then come back for dinner. I was only there for three days as it is quite expensive however the experience is worth a lifetime. I would wake up every day with giraffes peering on my balcony waiting for food. The animals are all wild so you never knew what you could encounter on the balcony or outside your room. The rooms were these cute suites built up on a cliff. Seeing all the wildlife on the game drives was so surreal. We saw lions attacking a buffalo, had an elephant charge at me, and got our jeep invaded with baboons, however the entire trip was so fascinating.

This was definitely an experience I recommend everyone to try at least once in their lives if at all possible. Cape Town and Kruger National Park are both must see places.

Malta

Now Malta was interesting place because I had never heard of it before Game of Thrones. I was researching filming locations as I love the show and have visited many of the cities where they have filmed. The pictures and reviews I read definitely made me add it to my itinerary for a trip I took last summer. Plus I couldn’t pass up a visit to Popeye’s Village!

I stayed in St Julian’s Bay, which I highly recommend if you want to go out at night and have a very cool scene to be. I felt very safe each night I went out and there was a huge area of bars, restaurants, and entertainment. Everything was walking distance to my hotel so it was all very convenient. My first day there I took the hop on hop off bus in order to get acquainted with the island and learn some history. Both Valleta and Mdina were filled with historic places such as cathedrals and buildings.

On my third day I took a city bus for several hours to reach the port in order to take a ferry over to the island of Gozo. This is where the Azure Window is (arch above) and is where Daenerys and Khal Drogo had their wedding during Game of Thrones. This island also had a number of place of historical significance especially around the capital of Victoria.

Galapagos

Last but certainly not least is the Galapagos. I always wanted to go there ever since learning about the islands in middle school. Luckily I was able to add this onto my trip when I was in South America in 2014.

I flew in from Guayaquil, Ecuador and was transported to the island of Santa Cruz where I had a hotel as the home base for my entire trip. The hotel was very nice with a restaurant, pool, lookout on the water, and a seal that always hangout with guests.

Each day I arranged to take a ferry out to the different islands. By far Isabella Island was my favorite due to all the penguins you can hangout and swim with in their nature habitat!  Santa Cruz Island was also pretty cool because of the giant tortoises. The Galapagos Islands had more iguanas and seals than I hd ever seen in my life. It was such a great experience to see so many animals that you would never see anywhere else in the world!