Ah Greece. The country that surpasses all others. If I could choose a place to start over and grow some roots, it’s here.
I stayed 2 months until my European visa ran out and the icing on top of my already unbelievable life.. parents and the lil bro came for a family vacation to celebrate mom’s and my birthdays.
Get ready for a gigantic post 😜😜😜
One of the perks of Greece is fresh, high quality, affordable and healthy food. And their coffee is to die for.
Some say it's overpriced, overrated, and overhyped, but naaah!! it truly is one of the most beautifully picturesque places I've been. I'll let the pictures speak for itself.
I've heard in the wintertime, you can find plane tickets from Athens for just 5 Euros. Can't help but wonder how the city would look in December..
Definitely a different experience than last year's!!
Santorini was a photographer's paradise but what about beaches?? I chose to take everyone to Crete to check out their food scene and hit up a couple beaches like these...
Good times :)
My journey through Croatia began in Zagreb, where I was feeling desperate to see something other than old buildings and cobblestone streets. I heard rumors about the beauty of Plitvice Lakes and shut my eyes as I clicked “book” on a pricey small group tour. Turned out to be totally worth it.. just look at the electric blue waters!
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
One of my favorite things while traveling is finding people who like to play model while I practice portrait skills!
But sometimes it’s that unexpected capture after waiting around for the perfect moment..
It’s photographs like this that make me go to bed with a satisfied smile on my face (weird what makes one happy!)
Then at times I like to capture the surroundings and atmosphere of an interaction 😍
Now I’ve had a taste of Croatian water, I wanted to check out their best beaches.
I always do my research after arriving in a country and never really beforehand.. It’s just my way to eliminate expectations. And Bol completely blew them out of the water.. cold blue water! Look!!
Because.. Game of Thrones. Duh.
In Zagreb few days ago I met a girl who was trying to fit not one.. not two, but SIX mugs she had bought from a GoT gift shop into her luggage. She spent 200 euros on them and was proudly showing them off to me one by one. I thought, what could possibly be a worse way to spend your money, and lugging those on your back across the continent.. 😩😩😩
I didn’t buy six mugs... but I did buy 2 haha. I take all my judgement back honey!! You do you LOL
A cousin of mine recently asked, what do you do when you’re traveling alone and you get sick?? Do you go to the doctor? Who takes care of you?
I’ve been fortunate to stay relatively healthy throughout my travels, but those times I did get hit with a virus I remember clearly... The week in Beijing where my bed was hard as rock, and the only food around my place was oily street food. The 2 days in Lombok I was hit with food poisoning and couldn’t even drink water without vomiting it up.
In Dubai. In Athens. In Semarang.
Each of those times I had angels with me, whether it was a roommate, a host, or some friends who just made sure I wasn’t dying.
But in Kotor, it was just me, alone, when I felt a bug coming.
And there was no doctor, no mother figure to take care of me. I knew my body was telling me to slow it down. I was approaching day 54 of straight hostel hopping, so I had no qualms about booking a 4 star hotel and bunkering down for a few days.
Imagine climbing up to get this view while it's 33 degrees celcius, and you didn't realize half the heat was from your rising fever... #worthit-ish
A quick stop just to feel the vibe of the city. Not my type, but then again I only stayed two days in a private room while catching deadlines, and only went out to shop or eat 😅 it's so damn expensive there!
Another seemingly random city to stop in. But guys... I had the BEST time all thanks to my hostel. I've slept in so many hostels big and small, and I've never truly felt at home in any of them until this. Everything was set up to make it super easy to meet everyone.. nightly dinners before the pub crawl, a common area that multifunctions as beer pong and card game area, small size (40ish bunks i think), bad wifi so we'd socialize and even Game of Thrones for us who try to keep up!
A few snapshots of the city...
I took a break with my camera, but here's proof that I was there 😜
After a month at home I knew I had it bad when I was already itching to book another ticket. And this time, it was a one-way, indefinite trip. First stop, Warsaw!
If you're ever wondering what's in Poland, you're definitely not alone.
My experience there was a bit.. meh. The highlight: DREAM Hostel. Where do I even begin to describe the beds? I got the best sleep of my entire year in this hostel. Deep, rejuvenating sleep, the kind where you wake up and look in the mirror saying, DAMN I’m glowing!
I also saw these Trump posters everywhere, and as I was exploring the city, I came to the Main Street. It was completely blocked and everyone was stranded on one side or the other. Turns out that my “president” was in town, and he was about to do a drive-by. That was as close as I’ll ever get to Donald Trump.
Then I made my way to Kraków, a seemingly random city on the map en route to Prague. What a pleasant surprise! I loved it so much I extended my stay a few extra days. Met some lovely people at the hostel and soaked in the lively atmosphere of the old city.
Prague, Czech Republic
To be honest I felt a bit disappointed with my second visit.. the crowds were at their peak and many of the buildings around the old clock under construction. I was eager to see someplace new...
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Welcome to the honeymoon destination for .....Koreans!!! Whaaaa... Seriously though, I had no idea. Came through to relax and was shocked by the swarms of Koreans as I dragged my luggage across the cobblestone streets. Apparently this city was made famous by one of their movies/dramas??
Highlights include the people I met in my small hostel, watching Game of Thrones in the kitchen alone (GoT fans would understand this need), sunset on the bridge. AND this photo ❤️
If North Island was good, South Island is better. At least, that's the opinion of almost everyone I asked. More epic nature. More remote locations.
I finally got into the groove of this trip. Surface friends fell away. And the handful of travelers I truly clicked with stuck around and made the experience a thousand times better. I stopped stressing about money. and about image. about trying to be a best friend to everyone I talked to. I slept if I was tired or went out if I felt like it. I kept up with work and put it out of my mind when I'm not dealing with deadlines. I let go of trying to control my surroundings.
Abel Tasman (Marahau)
The signup sheet for activities was making its way around the bus. There was at least 5 to choose from but one form was empty. It was the most expensive: Canyoning. I didn't even think twice before writing my name down and it was well worth the money!!
This face aint attractive. cuz who has time to look pretty when in reality they're sliding down a boulder + trying not to drown + scared af. you can't fake that kind of thing.
It was insane in the best way possible. Took all I had to not pee in my wetsuit.
And shoutout to our guide Lee who was in Survivor New Zealand!!
Stopover at a historic coal mining town. At the hostel, my little girl group bonded over hot chocolate and movies in the common room. On our ride out, we visited Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks.
The sun finally came out for a bit in this glacier town. Many opted for the expensive helicopter ride that takes you on top of the glacier but I wanted to save that experience for somewhere more epic like Iceland 🤞🤞Instead, Mara and I took the day to hike from the town center to the bottom of the glacier. To this moment I can say it was absolutely one of my top New Zealand highlights – Fo' freeeee.
Yes, the water in this river looks like milk! It's super-fine powder from glacial erosion that flows down and mixes with the water, making it cloudy. #science
Closer to the glacier though, there was fresh, ice-cold water that was pure enough to fill up our water bottles.
Either love it or hate it, but Stray makes several stops along the way to show off beautiful landmarks. Sometimes the driver surprises you with a hike first thing in the morning when I couldn't be bothered with anything. It definitely pushed me to see things that I would never have seen otherwise.
And then came Wanaka. It was so beautiful and peaceful here, they it was just like Queenstown before it blew up with commercial tourism - and became the "adventure capital of the world".. I'd take Wanaka over Queenstown any day.
While we were chilling on a small dock at the lake, a random old guy was desperately trying to form a crew for a regatta happening in 30 minutes.
Do you girls know how to sail?
ummm *looking at each other* no
that's fine do you wanna come on my boat to help me out?
*everyone looking at me* go! ... (me) ok! Elsie come with me!
Best decision ever.
Funny thing though.. if you're familiar with the show Friends where Rachel teaches Joey how to sail, it was like that at some moments 😂
I had sky high expectations for this city. But comparing it with the incredible experiences prior, it was kind of a letdown.. So I spent a couple days resting and working, laundry, eating good food again, and enjoying the nightlife. Mara and I took a hike up to see the city from above:
As we scampered up some steep parts of the trail, we knew we'd have to hike down in complete darkness. Wasn't the safest idea but it was worth it for that twilight view!
It was the last nights of our little group being together 😢
I decided to hop off Stray bus at the gateway to Fiordland National Park (my DREAM come true) to properly take in this beautiful destination..
I knew Milford Sound was a bucket list item, so instead of taking the average cruise I felt like turning it up a notch and signed up for a sea kayaking tour. and it. was. amazing...
Being able to look into the water, touch the water, hear the birds and come inches from the foot of these giant cliffs exploding out of the water made me feel so much more connected to the fiords than any cruise ship could..
Some stops we made on the way back to town:
Gunn's Camp/Invercargill and surrounding areas
By this point (as you'll judge by my lack of photos) I was exhausted from constant Stray-ing around and couldn't wait to reach the end of my itinerary (Christchurch). Arriving at Gunn's Camp I heard there were glowworms so a group of us took a mini outing to see them in their natural habitat. Def quite an adventure finding them under the moonlight 🔦
Other than that.. it was starting to get really cold as the seasons changed. The sun made spotty appearances.. I was lacking vitamin D big time :(
Excerpt from my travel journal:
very tired and weather was still shit, didn’t do anything at all, everyone was annoying me, shitty beds and skin flaring really badly.
Looks like Jessica was just not having it 😂
So throughout our Stray travels most of us brought around these cooler bags to store food, because 90% of the time we'd all have to cook in order to eat. My meals usually consist of lentils, potatoes, carrots and celery. Then oats and fruits for breakfast. sometimes bread and hummus. Because of the constant moving around, lack of sleep, lack of space, and this ridiculous diet (I was trying to be ... errr.. healthy), I lost nearly 10 pounds and was borderline underweight at 13% body fat after two months. Sure I would eat at restaurants when I had a chance. What I didn't realize is that I was doing all these hardcore physical activities and putting myself really far out of my comfort zone but didn't take care of myself properly. I saved money but at the expense of my physical health and mental well-being. Crazy!
Ultimately, New Zealand is a nature lover backpacker's paradise. The people are proud to take care and preserve their land. What a thrill for the child in me to experience the entire country in such a way - hardships and all. Two months around New Zealand: check.
Do you have any outstanding experiences with Stray? Let me know!
Turns out it doesn't matter how much I prepare and plan for a trip. Somehow, stepping off the plane with little to no expectations and fresh eyes, always shatters my world - only to leave me putting together a new one.
I was overeager to book with Stray Travel - a "guided hop-on hop-off adventure bus" as they call themselves. It was perfect in concept.. I can meet people, not worry about transportation to remote areas, and hop off to do my own thing if I needed a break. Sometimes it takes a period of time to put things in perspective. Here are some pros + cons to my own experience and lessons I've learned on how I like to travel.
Arriving in Auckland to catch the bus, I was so pumped and ready to meet, greet, and befriend anyone I came across. BUT I completely missed my bus the next morning. Fortunately, I got to meet some awesome bunkmates the next day, making my time in the city short but worth it. I legit almost missed the bus AGAIN the next day, and after only 20 minutes to pack up and run to the bus stop, we headed to our first official Stray destination --
Lucky for us, we were gifted 1 perfectly sunny day on the waves and hot springs before a cyclone hit us - marking the wettest day in 58 years... womp. Being stranded for an extra night from floods helped us to bond with one another by learning jiu jitsu moves, doing yoga, and even going to the beach together while sand blew in our eyes 😂
On our way to the next stop we had a chance to join a white water rafting activity. Given that the big storm just filled the river with the best rapids possible, I couldn't pass it up!
One of Stray's perks is they reserve a bed for you at each stop (usually Base Hostel or YHA) so that we're guaranteed a place to sleep. If we hop off, we can find a different hostel and do our own thing. I wanted to hop off and booked what became one of my favorite hostels: Funky Green Voyager. We also played tourist and went to Hobbiton.
Here is when I started to see how potentially awkward things can get. I had hopped off for an extra two days in Rotorua and all the original friends I made left before I did. There I was alone, joining a new bus with new people. It was a sudden realization that the people I come across will come and go in a flash. So, do I grab a beer and attempt to make friends? or take a nap? (i chose nap..#introverting)
Whakahoro: Blue Duck Station
This place left me speechless...Super remote classic NZ.. no wifi, no signal, lots of nature. I joined the horse trekking tour of the farm, one of my favorite memories of the trip. I've never seen so much wildlife - I'm talking about galloping herds of different animals off in the distance. It felt like stepping into a Nat Geo documentary. I didn't take much photos! That's the downside of going with a group and guide (and on a horse), but upside is I got to be totally present in all the amazing moments.
There was one moment we were all just getting use to managing our horses ("remember, they are animals with their own minds.. NOT robots" as the guide said), when the lead horse suddenly stopped and acted all suspicious, and bolted backwards, causing the entire pack to freak out and scatter like a bunch of flies. We all hung on for dear life screaming "helpppppmeeeeeehelpp" til God put his hand over us and calmed them down 😂😂 we laughed about it after, anyway it's much harder to stop them from bending down to eat when we wanted them to keep walking!
Tongariro National Park
After the Blue Duck Station we left before the sun came up to the famous Tongariro National Park, location of the famous Mt. Doom from LOTR (Mount Ngauruho in real life). I was slightly not prepared for a 19km trek when they annouced that they'll drop us at the trailhead by 8am. There was a buzz of half awakened confusion and questions, but I filled my water bottle, bought a pack of bagels, and we all started on our way.
Again, one of the best things in travel is going into a situation with absolutely no idea what you'll see, then being blown away by views like this...
We were blessed with amazing clear weather!
Thanks Liz for helping me take some of these bomb photos 🙌
Excerpt from my travel journal:
"The more acquainted I get with a city, the harder it is for me to leave it. With memories of sitting on one particular bench for hours while eating an entire bar of chocolate, discovering cafes with free WiFi, knowledge of where all the public toilets are, and the way its streets smell after the rain. I won't forget the uphill road that made my lungs burn, the bar with weak tequila shots, the slide I chickened out on halfway, and the pain I felt on the first night of sleeping alone. Sometimes a city is kind enough to wrap your memories in a perfect little box with a ribbon on top. Wellington was one of them."
I'm one of those who like to walk around with my camera, hoping that i'll be somewhere at the right moment. I dont know about you, but this was it...
After a couple days catching up with work, it was time to keep going. I popped my ferry cherry with a scenic ride from Wellington to Picton.
On to the South Island!