Favorite Cities in New Zealand

Favorite Cities in New Zealand

I LOVE New Zealand. I spent almost three weeks traversing both islands top to bottom, from Auckland to Invercargill. I was blown away by the nature and wonder around every corner and equally impressed with the cool communities nestled alongside the scenery. Here’s a look at city life from my top three spots in New Zealand:

WELLINGTON • North Island

It’s easy to see why Lonely Planet called Wellington the “Coolest Little Capital in the World,” in 2011. Hip and trendy pubs, bars, restaurants, and craft breweries line the serpentine streets, and every neighborhood seems to have a unique and colorful vibe of their own.

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HAWKE’S BAY • North Island

The southeastern coastal region of Hawke’s Bay is a favorite holiday destination for Kiwis, and for good reason! The neighboring cities of Napier and Hastings welcome tourists with black sand beaches, delicious food, bountiful orchards, and exquisite vineyards. Plus, Napier is home to more than a dozen little blue penguins, found in the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

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QUEENSTOWN • South Island

Ah, the beauty of Queenstown! Located between sculpted mountains and crystal clear waters, this resort town offers thrill-seeking adventure and jaw-dropping wonder for people of all ages. Skyline Gondola provides picturesque views of the city, Kiwi Birdlife Park allows visitors to get up and personal with the country’s national animal, and if you’re daring enough to try, Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge is the world’s first permanent commercial bungee site.

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Four Islands in Fourteen Days

Four Islands in Fourteen Days

Well, I survived! Four Hawaiian islands in fourteen days all by myself over the Christmas holiday. I wasn’t sure what to expect — would it be easy to travel between islands, would it be as expensive as everyone warned, would I find places to stay, and the big question — would I survive Christmas by myself!?

The answer to all is, yes! I survived Christmas, found lodging, spent money (but also saved money by reaching out to friends of friends), and easily explored each island with the help of rental cars and flights with Hawaiian Airlines. There were some emotional ups and downs, of course, but it’s all part of the journey and I’m thankful and delighted I went through with the trip, tried something new, and made the most of my Hawaiian journey!

Here’s a look at the Hawaiian sights from my perspective — and don’t forget to check out my Instagram feed for daily photos from my travels! Mahalo!


THE ISLAND OF HAWAII 

 

MAUI

 

KAUAI

 

OAHU

 

Solo Road Trip across America

Solo Road Trip across America

12,575 miles, 53 days, 31 states, and 1 little Subaru — what a great way to see and celebrate Fall in America! Last week, I made it back home to Austin, Texas, after spending the better parts of September and October on the road by myself. I loved the adventure—the open road, the changing of the seasons, the new sights, and the freedom to go wherever I wanted. It was everything I had hoped for and often dreamed of!

Julie Road Trip Map -SEPT AND OCT
My solo road trip route! The thinner west-looping line is my two-week September trip, while the thicker east-looping line is my Fall Foliage route.

My first trip started-off on a whim — I arrived home a little early from Ireland and had two weeks before my high school reunion, so I hopped in my trusty little Forester, opened the map, and said, “let’s just see where the road takes me!” The adventure took me to 10 states … up and out of Texas into the Midwest, across the beautiful open-spaces of Nebraska and Southern Wyoming, and into the gorgeous, prehistoric-looking lands of Utah and Colorado.

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My “fall foliage” trip was something I had wanted to do for years and was a big reason I didn’t take-off across the globe for months-on-end. Growing up in Texas, where Autumn consists of “brown and down,” I’d always dreamed of seeing the vibrant colors in New England — and my goodness, they did not disappoint! 36 days, 21 states, 7,845 miles, and endless landscapes of gorgeous color. From Austin to Albuquerque, across Route 66 to the Great Lakes, through fall colors of New England, down the rugged coastline of Maine to the crazy streets of NYC, across the Appalachian Mountains down the Blue Ridge Parkway, back to my home state of Texas! It was truly an epic road trip and my head is still swimming with visions of red, orange, and yellow leaves fluttering in the daylight.

And now, I’m in Austin for a few weeks—sorting through thousands of photos from the last few months, updating this blog (because I discovered it’s difficult to pull yourself away from the in-the-moment beauty to sit in front of a computer screen), and preparing for my next big adventure, which starts mid-December in Hawaii!

Also, a big thank you to everyone for following along on Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to check out my photography site for the high-quality, sellable images — ready and uploaded by Thanksgiving — and stay tuned for more content right here on Workday Wanderlust!

Photo Editing at Spider House
Sorting through TONS of photos at my favorite Austin coffee shop, Spider House. Stay tuned for more great images!

 

The First 100 Days

The First 100 Days

Today marks 100 days since I quit my job to travel full time! Even though it’s only been a few short months, it feels like an entire lifetime by since I was stuck in the 8-5 grind, trying to decide how to make a bold move in life.

And now, I wake up every day — usually in a different city — thankful and amazed that I have the opportunity to live the life I always imagined. Each day is a completely different routine and there are definitely ups and downs along the way, but somehow it feels like the perfect fit. Many days I’m not sure where I’ll be sleeping that night, and most days my travel direction is based only on a gut feeling or desire to see something new — and while that may sound crazy to some people, it’s been absolutely liberating. So far, I’ve traveled to 4 countries, 21 American states, and driven more than 14 thousand miles by myself! Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite places and sights along the way.

 

Launching-Out with a Group of Friends

Launching-Out with a Group of Friends

Let the adventure begin! What better way to set-out on a world adventure than to start the trip with friends. I’m blessed to have a group of travel companions who venture out each year to international places like Italy, Iceland, Canada, and Mexico … and this year’s trip was scheduled for Scotland! As I started to craft the details to my hair-brained idea of traveling for a year, it dawned on me that I could couple my group trip to Scotland with a few extra weeks in the U.K. — someplace “easy,” English-speaking, relatively safe, and an environment where I wouldn’t really stand out. My initial idea was to start in Morocco, but after a mild panic attack, I came to the conclusion that as a single, blonde, female, starting in a third-world Muslim country during Ramadan might not be the best idea. So, Scotland it is!

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I met-up with my travel group in New York and we flew to Glasgow on one of our favorite airlines, KLM. The ticket was a little pricier than some of the low-budget airlines I’d researched through Google flight tracker but it was important for me to fly over on the same plane as my friends — a little bit of comfort and security in the midst of ongoing change. It was already a big difference for me to pack clothes, makeup, meds, and shoes into a 36L backpack and carry it around like a pack mule. The least I could do was splurge a bit and sit next to my friend on the seven-hour flight over the pond.

We arrived in Glasgow and it was gorgeous! We were warmly welcomed by our hired driver, Robin. The U.K. drives on the opposite side of the road as the US, and just to be safe, we left the right-side, roundabout driving to a local professional. Robin was excellent! He was extremely knowledgeable about the country, laid-back in nature, and truly cared about our well-being and happiness throughout the journey. We contracted with him through Skye Tours in Glasgow and I would highly recommend him, and the company, to anyone who’s interested in exploring Scotland!IMG_0115

The town of Oban was our first destination. This quaint little bayside town was the heritage site of one of our group members and it was neat to see from where her ancestors originated. The beauty of traveling anywhere — especially for an extended period of time — is learning the nuances of a new country and discovering sights, sounds, and local flavors along the way. On the way to Oban, we stopped at Sterling Castle for photos, snacks, and a tour of the castle. A few things I quickly learned about Scotland … the landscape is absolutely stunning with its rolling green hills covered in black and white sheep and hairy brown cows, there are castles and churches and VERY old buildings everywhere, British people typically drink tea instead of coffee and they take it quite seriously, the food is fantastic and often times made up of seafood, and the language is similar…but oh, so different.

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We stayed in Oban one night and enjoyed the local cuisine, 60 degree temperatures on the last day of July, and a little time to recuperate from jet lag. Then it was time to head north up to the Highlands and the beautiful Isle of Skye. But photos and stories from that leg of the journey will have to wait … stay tuned for the next posting!

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Ahh, the beach. The sound of the ocean, the feel of the sand in your toes, and the fruity little drinks with umbrellas—what’s not to love!? I recently traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, with a close group of friends for a little relaxation and adventure. There’s something wonderful about traveling with female friends that makes the experience richer, more adventurous, and somewhat freeing. Maybe it’s that conversations have no barriers and that every topic is fair game—from kids and husbands to boob jobs and botox!

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What I loved about this particular trip was the relaxation mixed with adventure. The photos do a great job of capturing the moment and I had so much fun renting old Volkswagen Beetles and cruising the entire island of Cozumel. The thrill of driving a convertible stick shift, the open road in a foreign country, and the hilarity of the missing parts on our 1960s bugs: one license plate, two rearview mirrors, a headrest, and a hubcap! But it’s Mexico—and all part of the adventure!

As with any good trip to the beach, there were also endless hours of sun and sand—and plenty of beautiful things to photograph. Hopefully, a few of my images will serve as an inspiration to start planning your own beach vacation today!

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A Winter Trip to Iceland

A Winter Trip to Iceland

Apparently, Iceland is all the rage now! When a friend suggested a trip to the small Nordic island in Winter, I thought it was a bit random and a little crazy, so of course I said yes.

As with any trip to unfamiliar territory, I started my research and brushed up on my geography. I was delighted to discover Iceland is home to glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal springs, geysers, and lava fields—plus, it’s located so far North it actually touches the Artic Circle!

Since Iceland is the new hot-spot for tourists (and there were A LOT of tourists), the recommended way to traverse the island is by double-decker tour bus. My travel group opted for two tours: a full-day bus excursion around the Golden Circle, and an evening adventure with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Both tours were wonderful and I quickly discovered why people visit in the winter—the breathtaking landscape and the Northern Lights!

In addition to the natural beauty of Iceland, I was enamored with the charm of the largest city and capital, Reykjavík. There’s a certain quirkiness about it with its vibrant colors and unique architectural design. I had fun trying to pronounce and decipher the Icelandic language on street signs and buildings—all part of the unique experience when visiting a new country.

Anytime you visit a new city or country, valuable lessons are learned along the way—either from your own experiences or from the people you encounter. Here are a few tips I’d like to share … for when YOU take the plunge and check out Iceland for yourself!

Tips and tricks for the future:

  • Expect high prices. Iceland was ranked the World’s 4th most expensive country in 2015 and the cost to visit keeps going up! Costs aren’t high enough to be a deterrent … but make sure you plan for New York City prices.
  • Rent a car. The large tour buses are nice, but if you’re looking for a little more freedom and authenticity, rent a 4×4 vehicle, block-off five days for adventure, and drive the entire Ring Road loop.
  • Pay attention to details. If you are going the tour bus route (which is the main mode of tourist transportation), make sure to pay extra attention to which bus is going where. Large crowds of tourists plus dozens of double-decker buses with similar destination signs in the window, equals getting on the wrong bus!
  • Northern Lights are not guaranteed. It may sound silly, but a lot of tourists think the Northern Lights happen all night, every night in the winter months. I learned that a lot of factors influence the Aurora Borealis forecast, including cloud coverage and solar activity. Be sure to check the forecast before you go!

kyla and NLights

Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota

Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota

It’s amazing how many quirky events take place throughout the U.S. on any given day. One of these unique events is the Buffalo Round-Up, held annually for more than 50 years in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

I had the pleasure of attending the Round-Up this fall with a group of friends from North Dakota. I wasn’t sure what to expect—being from Texas I was familiar with cowboys and longhorns and rodeos … but rounding up buffalo!? What in the world would that entail? Well, I definitely found out … and I discovered it was great!

It starts with a beautiful drive into Custer State Park during the magical season of Fall. Cowboys greet car-packed tourist with a smile and a tip of their hat. The event is free and open to the public and allows young and old to get up-close and personal with the historic beasts.

Thousands of people line the rolling hills with chairs, binoculars and cameras, waiting for the stampede to begin. The purpose of the event is to corral roaming bison for inoculation, sorting and branding, to help the dwindling population find its foothold again.

As the anticipation builds, children squeal in delight, adults move closer to the flimsy fence, and photographers secure their tripods. And then all of a sudden—there they are! Cresting the hill and traversing the valley—a stampede of hooves and dust, fur and horns. The electricity builds as people whoop and holler, cowboys crack their whips, and the ground vibrates with magnificent force—and for a moment, everyone is transported to another time when these beasts roamed wild and free on the open planes.