Moab, Utah is a bike rider's paradise. Those who brave the rough terrain, unbearable conditions (we're talkin the desert here, people), and seemingly endless trails, all for the love of it. I closed out the month of February by taking a road trip from Denver to Moab with a few girlfriends to celebrate one of my best friends as she turned another year wiser. We had the best time and found so much to do and explore in Moab in the winter, other than biking. If you've thought about going in the off-season but thought, "whatever will I do?!," look no further. Here's how to experience "life elevated" in one of Utah's best cities during the wintertime.
Explore the State and National Parks Near Moab
There are three main parks nearby, each of them perfect for hiking and exploring at whatever pace suits you. End of February this year #blessed us with absolutely beautiful weather - during the daytime, the sun was beaming and we enjoyed a comfortable 50-60 degrees. This was perfect for hiking through various short trails, taking photos, and just soaking it all in. I can't imagine what the same hikes would feel like in the blazing sun of summer. Visiting Moab in the winter could be your ticket to more comfortable and pleasant hiking! These are the must-experience parks:
Arches National Park // Y'ALL. This national park is just minutes away from downtown Moab and it's so wonderful. Learn about the way the arches form and get to see all kinds of examples for yourself. The best arches in Arches National Park? Delicate Arch, the Windows (North Window and South Window), and Turret Arch. Going in the winter meant being able to take photos without tons of people in the background, and getting some extra personal time with these incredible examples of nature.
Dead Horse Point State Park // This is a state park in Utah not far from Moab. If you're not in the mood to hike, or if the temp in winter is a bit too cold, this is a great place to drive through and take the short trails to the overlooks. The view from Dead Horse Point is the iconic image you'll want to capture, but be sure to also stop to get a view of the Monitor and Merrimac Buttes.
Canyonlands National Park // Canyonlands is a massive national park featuring amazing landscapes and views like no other. We made a point to get to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands for sunrise, and it was so, so beautiful. While there were some other fellow photographers and nature-appreciators, the area would be undoubtedly more crowded during the high season. While we watched the sun greet our piece of earth for the day, we basked in the complete silence of the morning. It was such a sweet moment to reflect, and I think everyone should have that experience if you can.
Enjoy the Local Eats
I've gotta be honest - there's not too much on the food scene in Moab. But, sometimes less options means an easier choice. Be warned that some cafes and shops aren't open in the off-season, but most are. On the plus side, during the winter season you have the chance to dine amongst locals instead of competing for a table with the other tourists in town.
Below are the restaurants in Moab that I had a chance to try:
Drive a Dune Buggy
While there are plenty of things to do besides biking in Moab, the list is much more limited in the wintertime. During the summer, you can do scenic boat tours on the Colorado River, river rafting, helicopter tours, hot air balloon rides, and more. During the winter, what stood out to us in terms of adventure travel opportunities was dune buggying with Moab Tour Company. We decided on a whim and they actually had to call someone in to be our guide!
Led by a local expert, we rented a 4-person dune buggy (officially called a UTV - utility task vehicle) and took turns riding through the Hell's Revenge trail. At first I was a little apprehensive, but it was so fun to do and exciting to get the hang of it. We made stops along the way to take photos, see where we'd been and where we were going, and our guide even pointed out a preserved dinosaur footprint along the way (another thing that Moab has a lot of - dinosaur artifacts!).
If you go to Moab in the winter, you won't regret having the chance to drive a dune buggy on this trail and catch some amazing views along the way - they even give you blankets if you get cold :)
Where to Stay in Moab
When you look for places to stay in Moab, you'll find a lot of options. We opted for an Airbnb called Moab Digs, which I really can't recommend enough. It's right off of the main street and so thoughtfully designed. It had everything we needed and made our stay extra enjoyable!
If you'd like to try somewhere a little more remote, you could glamp with Under Canvas Moab (but not in the winter) or splurge on a stay at Sorrel River Ranch Resort. We had dinner and drinks at Sorrel and though it's about 30 minutes from Moab proper, the drive is really wonderful and it is such a sweet spot right on the Colorado River. If you go, make sure to stay for the bonfire and have some s'mores.
No matter where you stay or what you do in Moab, you really can't go wrong. Life is simpler and nature is more grand. You have the chance to immerse yourself in a community of active people who conserve and appreciate the world around them. Moab was never a place I had thought about going, but I'm so glad that I did. I hope you will too. Embrace the beauty that our world has to offer. The history that's so visible and permanent. The lessons we can learn from it. Moab in the winter is the perfect opportunity to take it all in.
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
Anxiety is something that I have been struggling with for a long time. This time last year, I hit my breaking point. Just a few days before I was due to travel across the country from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit one of my best friends for her birthday, I found myself at the hospital, hopeful that someone would finally tell me what was wrong with me - with my heart, my lungs, or some organ that was making me feel this way. I felt like I wanted to rip out of my own body. Like I was going to pass out at any moment. Like I couldn't shake the feeling. It was a feeling I felt every day. But it wasn't until that day that I finally accepted that the problem was in my brain. It was, quite literally, all in my head.
I went back to my apartment and I went to work the next day like nothing happened. I resumed the role of the upbeat, smart, attentive, savvy young woman I had been playing my entire life. I embraced a new realization to cope with behind the scenes. And the day after that, I got dropped off at the airport and I went on that trip.
If you're like me, you have this kind of internal battle with yourself every day. You constantly put things into perspective. But you know that no matter what, you won't let your anxiety run the show, or keep you from doing the things you love. When there is an opportunity to see and experience this world, ain't nobody got time for it. As I approach the anniversary of a low point in my life, I thought it might be cathartic for me and for you if I shared my travel anxiety tips and the ways in which I cope. Whether this is a daily challenge for you, or just one when you go to a new place, I hope my perspective will help.
I'm currently living in the same city as that best friend, and we're taking a trip together for her birthday this weekend. Time is a funny thing.
How to Cope with Airplane Anxiety
I get it. Whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, all the same thoughts go through my head on an airplane. What if the engine stops working? What was that sound? Why did the lights flicker like that? What if we crash into another plane in the sky? Did I pay enough attention to the safety video?
When I find myself thinking those thoughts, I turned to my dear old friend, probability. You know, I used to be really good at math. I like to remind myself about the very, extremely low probability that anything bad will actually happen. I take a moment to appreciate all of the flights that occur successfully every single day all around the world. I trust the technology, and the people. I think about if I were a flight attendant or a pilot, how casual a flight would be, and I try to adopt that attitude. And I basically try to fall asleep as quickly as possible to pass the time. No matter what, I know that statistics are on my side, and I'm on my way to a wonderful destination.
Try out this perspective the next time you're on a plane and that uneasy feeling starts to creep up. It may not go away completely, but "debunking" your anxious arguments to yourself can really help. And if the person next to you seems like the type, strike up a conversation with them. I remember totally random people and our conversations on airplanes more than I remember any of the anxiety I ever felt. Don't underestimate how powerful human connection is.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Traveling to New Places
When you really think about it, every place was new at some point. But you could find yourself going to a really different place from the places you've been used to. Maybe the people there speak a different language, or dress differently, or behave differently. If I find myself feeling anxious about something, I turn to my other old friend, research. Learning about a new culture or country in advance is the best way to calm any uneasy feeling you may be having. If you know the important things, you can't be taken off guard. You can still embrace new experiences and be surprised at how wonderful it is when you get there, all the while knowing left from right in your new environment. Learn the basics of the language. Study a city map to get your bearings. Your brain is racing through the "what if?"s and highlighting all the potential downfalls - a little research can go a long way in setting your mind at ease. Then you'll be able to make the most of your adventure and enjoy every moment along the way.
Another thing to practice, always, no matter where you are, is mindfulness. If you're worried about being pickpocketed, remain aware. Be mindful of your surroundings and your body language. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety is like a hyper mindfulness, so I spin it into a positive. There's a big difference between being a careless traveler and a carefree one. Practicing mindfulness can help you and your belongings remain safe and sound so you can feel that carefree travel high.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Being Away From Home
If it's your first time traveling somewhere by yourself, you may be faced with tasks you never had to handle before. You have to keep your important papers organized. You have to be on time and at the right place at the right time. You have to communicate with other people. You have to navigate buildings and transportation. It can be overwhelming, and it can seem so overwhelming that you may not even want to do it. But I urge you to take the leap. When I start to have those feelings of anxiety like I can't do something, I know that the only thing to do is the exact thing that I'm scared of - because it will be so worth it.
When I was in college, I studied abroad with Forum-Nexus as a solo traveler, hopping on a plane headed to Europe without knowing anyone and trusting that people would be there waiting for me, that I'd make friends, and that I'd have the summer of a lifetime. Here's the cliché - I did! I had the most amazing, exhilarating, life-changing experience that summer, and it set the tone for the rest of my life thus far. My family was absolutely terrified for me - I was the first person to leave the country since our ancestors came to the country. It was a big deal. I had traveled to Spain in high school and I knew what that feeling was like, and I knew that I wanted it again even if it meant going by myself. Sometimes all we need is to turn our anxiety for us instead of against us. What will you miss out on if you don't go? Get that FOMO on your side. You are strong. You are capable. And you are worthy. Being away from home is only temporary. And it can only become home when you leave it.
I'm proud to say that the person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago. Don't get me wrong - I still have that same brain. I still feel hyper mindful sometimes and I still get overwhelmed by things that wouldn't be overwhelming to someone else. I think - a lot. But I can recognize when I'm psyching myself out. I've learned to trust in myself and in my faith. I'm caring for my physical and mental health in ways I wasn't before. I'm opening up to you, who has read this all the way to the end - thank you for doing that, by the way. This space to express myself is never taken for granted.
I want you to know that you are fully you and your anxiety is a part of you that you can control. Use all that thinkin' to create your own strategies for how to cope with travel anxiety. You are able to make things better for yourself. You can travel near and far and live the full life you desire. I'm rooting for you.
Just like that, our time living in Baltimore, Maryland was up. My husband Brandon completed his very first travel nursing assignment and we were back home in Pittsburgh for belated holiday celebrations and lots and lots of family time. Up next was Denver, Colorado. No matter how much we tried to set aside the items we were going to pack throughout the two weeks we were home, nothing could prepare us to fully pack up and move across the country until we were just a day away. Not to mention Brandon took a long weekend trip to Salt Lake City, I had a ton of work going on, and we bought a new car! But hey, how can we really complain? We made it work and packed up everything we thought we needed and started our journey. Keep reading for a recap of our trip to Denver and our first impressions after almost two weeks in the Mile High City.
Day 1: Man, I wish you could have seen us. We scrambled to finish packing, wash the car, pack the car, visit Brandon's grandma, and run back to my mom's house to grab a few things we forgot. We finally left Pittsburgh around noon but we weren't in too much of a rush, thankfully. There are two main routes from Pittsburgh to Denver, one north and one south. The north route goes right near Jackson, Michigan, where two of our friends just recently moved. We had the opportunity to stay the night at their home and experience a local favorite: Klavon's. The highlights were a veggie stuffed pizza and local wine.
Day 2: We hit the road early driving south to get into Indiana and sort of merge into the southern route, eventually. We knew a snow storm was coming through, but we didn't realize that we'd find ourselves right in the middle of it on a highway that hadn't been plowed/salted/touched yet. It was one of those moments where you have to admit that you made the wrong decision and leave your pride out in the cold (literally) to make the rest of the experience better. As Brandon drove through the still-dark, snow flurrying sky, I found an alternate route that, if we just backtracked about 30 minutes, would put us on the right track for smooth sailing out of that snow storm. So, we turned ourselves around and escaped the storm that plummeted the East Coast that day. 15 hours later, including a stop in Pontiac, IL, we had made it to our goal destination of day 2: Topeka, KS. I used Hotels.com to set us up in the Hyatt Place and everything was groovy.
Day 3: Kansas. That's really all there is to say about this day. The journey was barren and beautiful and boring, too. But about 8 hours later we finally arrived to our new home: Denver. Reflecting back on our trip, the drive really wasn't that bad and frequent stops helped break up the monotony. Brandon and I took turns driving and we took a few naps when passenger to pass the time. My two favorite travel accessories that I brought along for the ride were my plane hat from Serengetee and my inflatable neck pillow from Sleeper Scarf. My hat helped shield my face from the sun and my Sleeper Scarf helped make my snoozes so much more comfortable - seriously! It's an infinity scarf with a secret neck pillow inside. All you have to do is unzip, inflate, and deflate when you're done. I'm definitely taking my Sleeper Scarf with me for my next flight, too - I'll be out like nobody's business before the plane even leaves the ground.
Favorites - So Far
We've now only been in Denver a little over a week and a half, but I feel like we've seen and done so much already. As far as first impressions go, this city is pretty cool. It's outdoorsy, casual, liberal, and fun! Not to mention there's a brewery on every corner. The people are friendly and really my only complaint is that the roads are a little funny - sometimes you have stop signs, and other times you don't. But that's just a matter of something to get used to. I'll be sure to do a round-up of my all-time favorite Denver do's and eats, but for now, here's what we've had a chance to experience so far:
There you have it, folks. Do you think we'll make it through the winter? A common misconception about Denver is that it's the most winter-y place on earth. While we've been here less than two weeks, it's quite the contrary. We've had several days in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. And every day is always better because the sun is shining. I'm so excited for the rest of our time in Denver and to share our favorite experiences and memories with you. Thank you for reading, and I hope you find something new to explore today!
As 2017 comes to an end, I'm reflecting on all of the trips and memories I've been lucky enough to have this year. It was by far the year of my life with the biggest trips, the most adventures, and the best photos. It never seemed so crazy in the moment, but I'm feeling really thankful as I think back to each experience and the people I've shared them with. Here's a recap of some of my favorite moments with a brief lil ditty about each place. Cheers!
January 2017 - Killington, Vermont
I'm really, honestly, truly not one for winter weather. But when my then-fiance, now-husband was planning a snowboarding trip to one of the top winter sport destinations in the height of the season, I said, "why not?!" Though I didn't hit the slopes myself, I had the opportunity to work from the lodge and catch views like this one. I loved being able to ride the cable car all the way up and gaze at the snow-covered, well, everything.
February 2017 - San Diego, California
Ahh, that's more like it. Feeling the warm sunshine in San Diego was such a treat compared to the freezing cold back home in Pittsburgh. I visited one of my best friends and got to explore Pacific Beach, watch the day's end at Sunset Cliffs, shop in Old Town, and brewery hop in North Park. We even made a little trip to Temecula for one thing and one thing only - wine! My favorite part of the trip (besides the wine) was salsa dancing at Tango Del Ray. I absolutely LOVE any Latin style of dance, and we had the best time there.
April 2017 - Chicago, Illinois
My sister and I took my dad to Chicago to go to a Cub's game, since he's a huge baseball fan. We also incorporated some touristy activities into our trip, like visiting the Bean. The weather was mild and I enjoyed wandering about the city. In all our wandering, we stumbled across the theatre district and took a chance at getting Hamilton tickets for that night. As luck would have it, we got there right on time (which was about 4 pm if I remember correctly), the gentleman in front of us took just 1 ticket, and we got the remaining 3 available for that night's performance. We were giddy. And not only that, but when you buy tickets day-of and get basically the unclaimed tickets for that night, they are all the same price and can be anywhere in the theatre. Ours were in the fourth row. It was UNREAL. Honestly, if you have the chance to see Hamilton, do it. The soundtrack may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it's so worth it.
May 2017 - Berlin, Maryland
The next month, we went with my mom on vacation to Berlin, Maryland, just outside of Ocean City. This was a familiar place for us - it was the place almost two years prior where Brandon and I got engaged, when we went on vacation with both of our families together. This time, the weather was not in our favor, but we made the best of it and had a great time relaxing in our little cottage, walking the deserted beach, and checking out the antique shops in the town of Berlin. Brandon and I took a few moments to sneak away to the spot on the bay where he proposed. We may or may not have re-carved our initials into the wood while taking time to reflect on our engagement and re-ignite our excitement for our wedding in just a few months.
July 2017 - Rome, Italy
This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to the Eternal City for the first time through my work with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. (There were actually a ton of people all around us at this moment, but with a little angling we were able to get a clear shot!) Each year with Forum-Nexus, we take about 60 students to cities across 5 countries in Europe as they take a variety of different courses and participate in visits to international companies and organizations. Studying abroad with Forum-Nexus was the best decision I've ever made, and I'm lucky to have continued to be a part of the organization ever since. Traveling is such a huge part of my life and I feel like I'm really fulfilling my purpose by helping other students have the experience!
August 2017 - Miami, Florida
By the time we returned home from Europe our wedding was right around the corner, which meant only one thing: my bachelorette party! I had always wanted to return to Miami after only traveling there briefly once before. We spent most of our time in South Beach, soaking in the sun, eating good food, and most importantly, DANCING. There are only a few things that I love more than salsa (see February in San Diego). But I think our favorite night of the trip was a Sunday night when we went to Tapas y Tintos for tapas, sangrias, and a flamenco show. We were there all night and had the BEST time - shout out to Patricia our waitress and the entire staff for being so amazing! Unfortunately the next day I did not feel so amazing, but we had to check out of our hotel and we had planned to visit Wynwood before flying back home. When I look back on my photos at the Wynwood Walls, I laugh at how awful I felt on the inside, while trying to play it cool on the outside. Now you know and can LOL with me!
September 2017 - Split, Croatia
My favorite memory from September (and ever) was getting married, but my favorite travel memory from this month is from our Heritage Honeymoon! We traveled to Wales, Croatia, and Italy to explore some of the countries our ancestors have come from. In Croatia we spent 24 hours in Zagreb on our way to Split. In Split we really felt like locals, staying in an apartment, shopping at the markets, strolling along the water, and relaxing out at sea. We got a taste of what it would be like to live there, and honestly I really loved it. I could see us living there or somewhere similar for a time. It was a low-key lifestyle that felt just right, and when I look at this photo I smile thinking about how wonderful it felt to be there.
November 2017 - Boston, Massachusetts
We moved to Baltimore at the very end of September and had the opportunity to explore nearby areas like Frederick and Washington, D.C., and also travel to Boston in November. I had never been there before but really wanted to go! We planned it at the last minute, and it was really nice to have the freedom to do that. I was able to use my Hotels.com rewards for our stay at The Verb Hotel, right near Fenway Park. This hotel is amazing! It has a retro vibe with music inspirations from the lobby to the hallways to the guest rooms, and there is so much attention to detail. Each room has a record player and there is a selection of records in the lobby to choose from. Even though it was freezing cold, we took some photos out by the pool. I loved the way the retro windows matched the bright closed umbrellas, and Fenway looks like an extension of the hotel in the background. The staff were super friendly and it was overall such a fun experience.
Whew! 2017 was so amazing - I hope yours was, too. But the best part about today is the excitement of what's to come in the new year. I love New Year's Eve and I can't wait to celebrate! Time passes and years change no matter what, but we have to be HERE for it. I feel so ready to do more, feel better, and live harder in 2018. What are you looking forward to most?
It's amazing how seasons of our lives change so rapidly. As you might be preparing for the upcoming holiday season, I'd like to share some of my favorite holiday gift ideas that pack a little more meaning and celebrate what it means to give and receive.
The Five Minute Journal // This isn't your average journal. It prompts you to practice gratitude and mindfulness as the first and last things you do each day. Each week there are additional challenges to complete, plus every day you can read an inspiring quote. It's small yet durable enough to take with you when you're on the go, and it puts every day into perspective. This could be the perfect gift for someone who wants to journal but doesn't have a lot of time, or for someone who longs to adopt a posture of thankfulness and thoughtfulness. BONUS: Intelligent Change sends a weekly email every Tuesday with extra tips + inspiration.
Cost = $23 / Buy here.
Greetabl // This compact gift is the perfect present to send to faraway friends or family. How it works: You pick the print, pick a tiny item to put inside, upload 3 photos, and write a greeting. The Greetabl forms into a cube that unravels when the recipient opens it up, and the photos can tear off from there. I love sending Greetabls for birthday gifts, but there are plenty of holiday prints and presents, too! It's totally customizable and such a fun surprise.
Cost = $11-$42 / Buy here.
Packed With Purpose // This is an organization with a mission to provide curated gift boxes containing items that have a social impact, each in their own unique way. I backed Packed with Purpose on IndieGogo and received a box, pictured above. It contained various items like dark chocolate, lip balm, a dip mix, and a sweet smelling soy pumpkin candle from Bright Endeavors, an organization that supports young mothers. Packed with Purpose provides a meaningful gift for friends, colleagues, or relatives.
Cost = $55-$115 / Buy here.
The Bouqs Co. // Alright, I'm a sucker for flowers. I love the colors, the shapes, and the gorgeous nature that they bring indoors. And The Bouqs Co. is one of my absolute favorite ways to send some love from afar! They have incredible artisan bouqs sourced from farms that practice sustainable, eco-friendly farming. Choose from a wide variety of arrangements and add a personalized message for an extra special touch.
Cost = $40-$75 / Buy here and get $15 off.
Other notable mentions:
This just a quick holiday gift guide for something a little extra special. Have other awesome, meaningful gift ideas? Share them in the comments below!
Happy holidays! Remember that in the end, it's all about love.
Buongiorno! Here we are at the very last stop on our Heritage Honeymoon - Benevento, Italy. This is the city where my husband's family originated, and it's not far from Potenza, where my maternal grandfather came from. Benevento is inland from Naples, and it is by no means a tourist destination - which made it both exciting and complicated to travel to. But honestly, we were up for the challenge, and the opportunity to visit someplace so meaningful outweighed any complication.
We ended our trip to Split, Croatia and flew to Rome, Italy. There are several SPU>FCO flights, which made that route most convenient. From Rome, we took a Trenitalia train from the Roma Termini station to Benevento. This required a lot of planning in finding the best train times that would work with the flight times, but we were able to create an itinerary that worked. Trains in Europe and Italy in particular are frequent, fairly reliable, affordable, and safe. We opted for first class (which wasn't expensive at all!) on the way to Benevento and it was a very pleasant 3-hour trip.
The fact that Benevento is not made for tourists made it the most authentic travel experience I've ever had. We really felt like locals by the time our stay was complete! What was so charming about the city was that it was modern only in the necessary ways. Otherwise it was like we stepped back into a simpler time, between the ancient ruins, tight cobblestone streets, hanging clotheslines, and the silence and absence that occurs during siesta time mid-day. If you ever find yourself in this Italian city, I hope you'll reference my recommended to-dos and to-eats below!
All in all, our mini trip to Benevento was a relaxing way to end a whirlwind Heritage Honeymoon, and it brought us even closer to our roots, which was the core goal that we wanted to achieve. This city may be unknown to tourists and travelers but it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Where will you go where no one else does? What can you discover about yourself through travel? If you are interested in planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, I would love to help. Click here to learn more.
And if you're interested in reading about the other stops on our Heritage Honeymoon, please check out the links below!
Stop 1: Cardiff, Wales
Stop 2: Zagreb, Croatia
Stop 3: Split, Croatia
Thank you so much for following along in our journey.
Ahh, Split, Croatia. This was a stop added onto our Heritage Honeymoon purely out of the desire to go somewhere coastal in one of the countries that our ancestors had come from. I had been hearing more and more about Croatia and we decided that it would be the perfect country to explore, both inland with a quick trip to Zagreb, and on the coast with a visit to Split. We found the perfect tour that began in the capital city, traveled through the country with a stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park, and concluded in Split.
We fell in love with Split and I now think of it as one of my favorite places. Most of why it's so charming to me can't be explained; it needs to be felt. But I'll share about our favorite experiences here in the hopes to inspire you to one day visit and feel it, too!
Another tip: Avoid the restaurants along the Riva promenade - they're more touristy and less authentic.
Spending a few days in Split was relaxing yet exciting, and while we felt like we were on vacation, we also got a chance to feel like a local, staying in an apartment and going to the supermarket, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc. The ability to walk to so much was so welcomed, and not once did the city feel unsafe or uncomfortable. If you have the chance, get yourself there. And soak in all the sunshine for your soul that you can find in Split.
The second destination of our Heritage Honeymoon was Zagreb, Croatia. I learned that my family from Croatia lived just outside of Zagreb, so I was extremely excited to get there. We had a less-than-perfect arrival (our plane was delayed leaving London because it had been struck by lightening on its way to London, and then our baggage took forever to arrive once in Zagreb) but hey, we all know that travel isn't perfect! We, and our bags, made it safely, and I knew it was a good sign when "I Got You Babe" was playing in the taxi on the ride to our hotel. We checked in and went straight to the bar for food! We only had the following day to explore the city before we traveled onward, so we made the most of it by seeing, doing, and eating as much as possible. Check out the list below for everything I recommend for a quick 24 hours in Zagreb.
Outside of all of this, one of my favorite experiences in Zagreb was seeing my very Croatian maiden name, a name I will probably never see on much of anything ever again at home. It was on a car plate because there is a dealership group by that name just outside of the city. Are they family? I'll probably take a Heritage Holiday to find out.
We didn't get a chance to have too many meals in Zagreb, but here's what we liked best:
If you couldn't guess, we stayed at the Esplanade. It's a remarkable building that's in just about every list of best hotels in Zagreb. Opened in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express, the hotel has become known for housing famous guests ranging from movie stars to politicians to music artists. It was a mix of beautiful and creepy that made us feel fancy and important, even if just for a day.
Our next destination from Zagreb was Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Rather than flying there, we opted for a tour through Portal Travel Agency in which we were picked up at the Esplanade in Zagreb (at which time we loaded our suitcases onto the tour van), toured through the country with a few hours stop in Plitvice Lakes National Park, then dropped off in Split. In our opinion, this was the best way to travel between the two cities!
It poured rain the entire day, which made our photos from Plitvice Lakes less-than-glamorous, but the advantage was that the park was less crowded, and still just as beautiful! There are 16 lakes to explore via wooden pathways, surrounded by waterfalls, limestone, and genuine, untouched nature. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can't swim in the lakes. This is a must-see during a trip to Croatia, and one that you will never forget.
Here is a link to the tour that we booked in case you want to go for it yourself! Stay tuned for more about our stay in Split. And for help planning your very own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, click here.
And just like that, we were off. Our whirlwind wedding weekend was beautiful and wonderful in so many ways, even despite a little rain. Just a few days later, after gifts were opened, leftovers consumed, and family members back at home, we finally embarked on our Heritage Honeymoon. First stop: Cardiff, Wales.
Why Cardiff? // To be honest, Cardiff wasn't our ideal destination from the start. What we discovered through our Ancestry.com research was that my husband's family was from the north of Wales, from Wrexham. What we discovered through hours of logistical research was that it would be a little difficult to go directly to Wrexham and later to our other destinations in other countries. So, the next best thing in our minds was to visit the capital city of Wales - Cardiff. We wanted to get a sense of the history, culture, and lifestyle, and we knew this South Wales city would give us just that. It's also the perfect base city for day trips and excursions to other places, not to mention its proximity to London for travel purposes. So, we boarded our planes to Detroit > Amsterdam > Cardiff, a rare route directly to Cardiff airport (most visitors fly to London and take a train to Cardiff) and had a beautiful stay in one of the most friendly cities/countries I have ever been to. Here's a few recommendations based on our days wandering through the beautiful Welsh countryside.
We were able to see most of these things through a WhereWhenWales tour. If you have limited time in Cardiff, I recommend booking a day tour to really get the most out of your stay and see more more of the country. There are plenty of tour operators in Wales, but I can say that this one was very special. You'll learn about things like the history of the Welsh flag, why the royalty isn't actually from Wales, what a "window tax" and a "free house" are, how many kinds of sheep there are in Wales (and what their markings mean) and so much more. Plus, Jan is a delightful human and very knowledgeable tour guide.
And that's a wrap on Cardiff and South Wales. I'd love to go back someday to explore the rest of the country and interact with those sweet, friendly Welsh people that we met at literally every turn. But for our Heritage Honeymoon, we were on to the next stop: Zagreb! Since there aren't too many major flights out of Cardiff airport, we decided to take a train to London Paddington from Cardiff Central, which was super easy and took just about 2 hours. From London Paddington we left the train station just for lunch and then hopped on the Heathrow Express train directly to the London Heathrow Airport. V convenient.
And hey, thanks for following along so far. It really means the world to me to have the opportunity to share about this very special experience that we worked so hard to create. For help planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, drop me a line here, and stay tuned for more highlights!
Earlier this year, I shared some info about my upcoming Heritage Honeymoon and how my now-husband and I planned out where we would be traveling to. As we sit in the Detroit airport waiting to board our flight to Europe, I’m excited to share more about exactly how all of the plans have come together:
Creating a Rough Itinerary // When I originally had the idea for a Heritage Honeymoon, I knew that it would involve a lot of planning because of how unique and specialized the itinerary would be. So, once we determined the cities and countries we would visit, I started by laying out the basics, considering how many days/nights we would stay in each place, ideally. This, of course, changed as we actually got down to booking hotels and transportation, but having a rough outline gave us a guide to work with, and a starting point.
Being Flexible // The first things we booked were our flights to and from Europe so that we had a Heritage Honeymoon shell to fill in with all of the details. But, this required a certain flexibility in order to get to a price and plan that we were comfortable with. See, our last destination was to be southern Italy, to the towns of Benevento and Potenza. The nearest airport to this region in the direction of home is Naples, but I knew that we would need to take a train to Naples before flying out, and that that could take time. So, I considered how the logistics would actually work, and how we could make it more comfortable for us. We ended up booking a flight home from Rome, which was cheaper and required less flight connections. And, I decided to give us an entire day to take the train from Benevento to Rome, sleep one night at a hotel in Rome, and wake up the next day to fly home. The priority of flexibility helped us with booking most of our trip, and it paid off when it came time to make the big decisions.
Looking Ahead in the Itinerary // This is MAJOR KEY to planning a Heritage Honeymoon. As mentioned earlier, we had the **ideal** itinerary set, but we were flexible to make changes – and we did. After booking the main flights, we looked to secure the rest of our transportation between cities, knowing that we would find hotels that suited our stay no matter what. But I knew it wouldn’t be wise to just follow the itinerary and book it exactly. I had to look ahead to future cities/travel days before booking earlier ones, to make sure that everything lined up correctly. For example, I had originally planned 3 nights in Split before heading to Italy. But when I took a look at flight options, and also train options throughout Italy, I realized that it would be better to stay one extra day in Split and transportation options would be more abundant the following day. Looking ahead and considering the chain reaction of decisions was so helpful in making plans.
Touring it Up // Something that I really love when traveling is participating in day trips and day tours. I love these types of excursions because they allow you to see and do more, hear from local guides, ask questions, and spend time with other people from different places around the world, sharing in a travel experience together. For our Heritage Honeymoon, we set out to book at least one tour or excursion in each place that we were planning to visit. These are the details of our trip, planned out after flights, trains, and hotels, but they will ensure that we make the very most of our experience!
We are so very excited to kick-start our adventure with one of the biggest adventures of our lives so far, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share it with YOU reading this right now. I hope you feel inspired to take your own Heritage Honeymoon. And if you’re not sure where to start or feel intimidated by the whole thing, don’t worry! I am here to help you. Write me about Heritage Honeymoon consultations and I would be happy to offer my advice, feedback, and encouragement.
Lover of life.