My mom and I traveled to Orlando on Thursday, February 24 for the 2022 runDisney Princess race weekend. While I have been doing runDisney races since 2017, this was my first time doing Princess Weekend which is held every February. It is a four day event that includes:
While I had fun and am glad I went, I absolutely prefer Marathon Weekend. My last visit was in 2020 when I did the Dopey Challenge. When I have money to spend on this luxury, Marathon Weekend will be my go-to. I would like to do Wine and Dine one day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my first Princess weekend was my last.
My usual hotel is Pop Century, which I think is a really great hotel. There are nice rooms and a cafeteria with more affordable food options. It is on a lake with walking paths, the Skyliner to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and another hotel called The Art of Animation.
The Art of Animation is so cool. I always go there to walk around because there are areas themed in Cars, Nemo, Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. It is more expensive than Pop, so I haven’t stayed there previously. My mom was up for it, so what a better weekend to stay in a Little Mermaid room! The rooms were so cool, and it was neat to walk around the themes everyday.
Overall, I will stay at Pop again in the future. I liked staying here, but (and I know how bad this sounds) but it was full of children and crazy. The cafeteria was overwhelming. I’m not sure if it’s a function of the weekend in February or the hotel. One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy Princess Weekend was there were a lot of “normal people” whereas Marathon Weekend is all runners or their supporters. Whenever I talked to anyone in line or on a bus, they were there just to visit Disney World. I rarely spoke to someone there for the race. On Marathon Weekend, everyone is there for the races.
The Princess Weekend Expo
After flying and taking the Mears bus to the hotel (a new process), we took a Disney bus to ESPN Center to get our bibs and see the merchandise at the Expo. It was so busy! Everyone was really excited to be there. Essentially, there are 3 buildings/stops. The first and furthest back was where you got your bib. Instead of printing your waiver form, it was done digitally now. Then you go to your group’s check in. Since the 5K is not part of the challenge, I had to check in at both the Cinderella 5K with my mom and then again at the challenge booth. Here you get your bibs and shirts. I really liked these shirts! they were short sleeves and soft. The 2020 Dopey shirts were really scratchy, and Marathon weekend shirts are always long sleeve.
Next it was time to visit the expo with external vendors. This always overwhelms me because there is so much, and I’m not sure what to make of it. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it is great to see so much business support of this event and the sport. I’m sure there are many things to help make running better. The 2017 Marathon Weekend is where my friend told me about Features socks, which I now swear by.
Our final stop was the Princess Weekend merchandise. I’m not a big shopper, but a lot of people there are. People go crazy! Some even get there hours early so they have first choice of things. It’s crazy. Being that I am not that person, I go to browse and maybe pick out one thing.
Pricing was really high, and I didn’t see a lot that I liked, but my mom did encourage me to get this pretty blue challenge zip up with Moana. It has been a good purchase, and I wear it almost everyday.
The big reason to go to the Expo is all of the photo opportunities. There are all kinds of fun signs and stops to take pictures with your bib.
After the Expo, we went to Disney Springs, by way of the hotel. My mom hadn’t been there before, so I wanted her to see it; plus, I made us a dinner reservation at Raglan Road, the Irish restaurant. It was really good and fun, but we called it an early night because of our early wakeup call.
Today was our first event where we were gong to do a 5K around Epcot. You can read a full race recap here, but we had a lot of fun!
This was definitely my favorite park day. My mom enjoys cooking and different foods, so I made a lunch reservation at Tutto Italia in Italy and a dinner reservation at Chefs de France in France. I really enjoyed the food at both places.
We did several rides and attractions. This was the first time I did some of the attractions around the world like the movie in Canada and the singalong in France. We were going to try to see the evening show, but were exhausted after waiting in the Ratatouille ride for over 2 hours. It was a cool ride, but I was tired and had an early morning the next day.
2:30 am came quickly, but I was ready for the 10K. It was a lot of fun! For a full race report, visit here.
Our big highlight in Animal Kingdom was Flight of Passages. This is one of the coolest rides I have ever done. My mom really enjoyed it, but we waited in line forever! Disney usually does a good job with their estimated wait predictions, but between this and Ratatouille, they were way off. This wait was ridiculous!
There isn’t always a lot in Animal Kingdom, but we did Bugs Life and the Lion King before heading back to the hotel for dinner and bed.
The final event! A half marathon from Epcot to Magic Kingdom and back. I was able to do several character stops and still finish in a decent time. For more highlights read here.
It is always fun to celebrate in the Magic Kingdom! We brought all of our medals so we could take pictures in front of the castle – it is the most magical place in all of WDW. I made two dining reservations: lunch at Be Our Guest and dinner at Tony’s Italian Restaurant. These are two of my favorites, and I think my mom liked them, too. Last time I went to Be Our Guest, it was a quick service place with not great food. Not this time! It’s a formal dining experience, and I was surprised how good the food is. Make sure to try the gray stuff…it is delicious!
We spent a lot of time in Fantasy Land. It is probably my favorite area, and there are so many fun rides. There is a new Genie Pass option at Disney World. I didn’t buy it for the other parks because it is expensive, and I didn’t understand exactly what it was. I did buy it for our last day, and it really did make a difference in getting on more rides in the Magic Kingdom. I’m not sure I would do it for my whole trip, but to have it in Magic Kingdom was definitely worth the money. We weren’t able to get on the Mine Ride or other roller coasters, but it did get us on Peter Pan, Small World, and a few others without such a long weight.
Because of pricing, we had a later flight out which gave us time to relax and walk around the hotel. It was a nice, leisurely morning where we took the Skyliner to the Boardwalk for lunch. Overall, it was a very nice trip. I’m glad I was able to experience Princess Weekend and also had a trip to Disney World with my mom.
Not to mention I earned 4 more awesome medals! I’m looking forward to coming back in January 2023 to earn 6 more in the Dopey Challenge.
One of the biggest goals I have ever accomplished is traveling to all 50 states by the time I was 30. This crazy thought came to me in 2013 when I was 28 years old living in NYC. The problem was I didn’t have an interesting fact. Whenever people introduce themselves at work events, you had to say your name and an interesting fact. I didn’t have anything, and I needed one. Urgently. I love traveling and visiting all 50 states was something I had on my list of life goals; why shouldn’t I put a timeline on it and do it?
I love to plan things. That’s usually some of the best parts of doing something. When I’m stressed, I can calm myself with a spreadsheet, a calendar, and now my budget. This endeavor to visit 26 states in a year and a half would require some major planning! Fortunately, I was living in the Northeast for the first time, so I could take advantage of easier traveling to all of these northern states.
But what would the criteria be? Everyone has different definitions of what counts. None are right or wrong. I decided my criteria would be, if someone asks, “what did you do in _______?”, I needed to have a good answer. A story was required, and it wouldn’t be cool to say “I flew through the airport” or something.”
On May 25, 2015, I stepped foot off a cruise ship in Juneau, Alaska! I was so happy I cried; I couldn’t believe I actually did it at 30 years, 1 month, and 14 days old (cruises don’t travel in April). That night at dinner on the cruise ship, my dad ordered a few bottles of champagne and made a toast about my accomplishment with my friends and family who made the trip. It was a wonderful end to the adventure.
I love looking back on these trips since I learned so much about myself and traveling.
There is so much to say about this experience. I get lots of questions about the experience since I think people want to visit 50 states for themselves. Everyone’s journey will be different but everyone can complete the journey.
What was your favorite state?
The short answer to this question is North Carolina since it is my home and the best place I can think of to be. I love it here. Of course, that is not what people want to know when they ask that question. I use NC as the answer because I don’t have another answer. Each state has its own uniqueness that I appreciated.
What places stood out to you?
This is a much easier question to answer. The first place I visited that threw me off my feet was Seattle. I had never been somewhere so naturally beautiful. Until I visited there, I didn’t even know what that term meant. I had never been to natural places before then, but the beauty was stunning. Subsequent visits took me to Maine and Alaska, where I saw the same natural beauty.
Was anywhere surprising?
South Dakota was the state that surprised me the most. I didn’t know what to expect but it was my second national park experience (I didn’t realize that at the time – I just wanted to see a buffalo and Mt. Rushmore). There was so much to do there, and it was so beautiful! I wish I would have stayed for longer, but it far exceeded my non-existent expectations.
How did you pay for all of the travel?
I am very fortunate for this, since I had visited almost half of the states already, and one was Hawaii. For the remainder, I was lucky that I was able to visit friends, had friends interested in traveling who split the cost, and was able to get gift cards from spending money on a corporate card for work. I also saved my money and used these trips as my main form of entertainment.
Why do this?
As I mentioned before, I did this so I could have an interesting fact about myself; it was as shallow as that. I always loved traveling and wanted to cross off 50 states as some point, but I accelerated it so I had a fun fact. Consider that done!
Are you glad you did this?
For many reasons, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was struggling emotionally, and this experience helped me come out of that. It gave me purpose and something to plan and work towards. Even if it was just for the chance to have an interesting fact, it helped me become a stronger person. I learned that I was capable of accomplishing big things, and I could do those things by myself and with people who care about me.
I’m going to document my trips over time and will link them below. This is a goal anyone can accomplish, and I think everyone should! It’s an amazing way to see the great country of America and how vast and unique it is from sea to shining sea!
In researching my trip to Peru, I decided to follow Instagram accounts to learn more about the country. I knew about the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but I wanted to know what else we should see.
Something that appeared regularly on the feed was Rainbow Mountain. A beautifully layered mountain that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I didn’t realize how close it was to Cusco or that G Adventures had a day trip to see it. For $50 USD, I decided to sign up for the trip; five members of our group from the Lares Trek were also going before their jungle adventure. When I travel, I take the all-or-nothing approach. I might as well live it up while I have the opportunity! Just worry about recovery later when I get home; I never want to miss an experience.
Apparently, the hike to Rainbow Mountain used to be a very strenuous 6-day hike because of the altitude. About 3 years ago (hello, Instagram!), they opened up a way to drive there and hike a much shorter distance. It increased tourism to the area, and now these pictures advertise that Peru has more than Machu Picchu. It worked on me!
We took a 4-hour bus ride (so not really close to Cusco!) southeast of Cusco. It was very remote; there weren’t big highways and eventually, we were on dirt roads. Even though it was desolate, we did hit a traffic jam – of alpacas! I was asleep when we got there, but I’m so glad I woke up! It was the funniest thing because I think they are so adorable!
Once we parked, we had a 14-kilometer hike to the top of the mountain which reaches 16,500 feet! I had no idea it was that high. When I got there, I could feel the altitude and started to struggle at the beginning. I knew I couldn’t keep up with the group, so I paid around $20 USD to ride a horse. They didn’t explain that the horse didn’t take you all the way…
Once my horse dropped me off halfway up, it was time to keep moving. It was so cold but slow and steady. I met some Americans who joined our group and we just went slowly. I had no idea how strenuous the hike would be because of the altitude. Eventually, I made it!
We followed our guide and came down the backside. That was much better because it is a steep hike up and there were a lot of people. My whole experience in Peru convinced me there are trips when it is a good idea to have a guide. They know the local culture and what to do, which will really improve your trip.
Rainbow Mountain is quite a sight, and you can’t find many places like this in the world. It blows my mind to see these pictures and know that I made it there! While I still wrestle with whether this trip was a good decision, I at least have the pictures to treasure! This probably confirms my travel philosophy of taking advantage of every opportunity you have while you’re there!
Trekking to Machu Picchu is an adventure many people want to complete at some point in their lives. It was on my bucket list for a long time (can’t quite remember when I added it!), but it was more strenuous than I expected. Because so many people do it, I assumed it was easy, but as you’ll see, day 2 was a challenge for me!
My friend, Ursula, and I went with a travel company called G Adventures (full itinerary), and I can’t say enough good things about the trip. This company was recommended to us by several friends who traveled with them in the past. Communication prior to embarking could be better, but the actual hike surpassed my expectations. Packing is an important component to making any trip go well, and this hike is no exception. It is best to be prepared and pack light!
Day 1 – 2: Solo in Lima
Since this was our first visit to Peru, we thought it was important to spend time exploring the capital city, Lima. To save on costs, we booked an Airbnb where we could walk to Miraflores, which from my reading, was a safe place that was popular with tourists. The Airbnb was very affordable – only $118 USD for two nights! It was a nice apartment just outside of Miraflores. The host was very nice and helpful.
To get around Lima we either walked or took an Uber. We would go somewhere with Wifi then order an Uber on our phone. Our Uber trips were usually $3 or less because of the exchange rate, and I read it was safer to use this than getting ripped off in a local taxi. One day, we took a bus tour to see more of the city. The tour was enjoyable, and I would recommend it. The roads were just too crazy for our comfort level, and since I had not heard many positive things about Lima, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring the city.
You can read more details about our Lima explorations [here].
Day 3: Lima to Cusco
We met up with our tour group in Lima and flew together to Cusco. We spent a day touring Cusco together. Cusco is a big city. I expected it to be a small town, but it is massive! I think I thought it was small because it doesn’t have an international airport. We learned that Cusco wants an international airport, but the government will only let Lima have international flights.
After visiting both cities, I understand their concern. Cusco is much better than Lima, so if they had an airport, no one would visit Lima. Since that is the capital, they need people to visit there. I would suggest forgoing Lima if they ever have a flight to Cusco. Some people in our group booked a flight straight through Lima, which is another option. We changed our plans after the hike and stayed in Cusco because we enjoyed it more than Lima.
We stayed at Hotel Prisma and left most of our luggage here since we could only bring a light load on the hike. It’s really important that you pack correctly. Our tour company gave us a bag to use that the porters would carry. Everything else had to stay in Cusco!
Day 4: Sacred Valley & Ollantaytambo
The next day, we took a [tour of the Sacred Valley] and stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo. I loved Ollantaytambo. It’s an outpost town filled with adventurers going to or coming from the Inca Trail. A few of us hiked to Incan storehouses, and then we met our group at a pub before going to dinner. Just like in Lima, service at a restaurant is very, very slow. It took well over an hour to get our food. For an American, this is very annoying because we are used to servers trying to get you in and out. For some reason, I was always the very last person to get my food. Everyone was done eating before I got my dinner!
We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Inka Paradise, which was really nice and had a beautiful garden in the middle courtyard.
Day 5: Inca Trail – day 1
We took a 45-minute bus ride early in the morning to the start of the trail. We left our Scared Valley souvenirs at the hotel since we could only fill a small bag of 8 kg for the porters to carry. I had a daypack with important things and my raincoat. I was so incredibly excited! A few years ago, I recently started going “hiking” which I classify as an outdoor walk not in a neighborhood. I really enjoy doing that, but this would be real hiking! I was so excited!
We hiked for about 5 – 6 hours on the first day to our first campsite (I think about 9 miles). We stopped at a nice spot for a formal lunch that the chefs prepared for us. The meals were not at all what I would have expected. I would have thought they would give us a sandwich or a protein bar. Nope, it was a full out meal with three courses!
The Day 1 hike is very simple. There are no dramatic inclines or anything. It starts in a very desert-like landscape. It is very dusty, and there were lots of nats. You’re in the Andes, so you see the mountains all around you, as we walked along the river in the valley. There was a beautiful snowcapped mountain behind us the whole time.
Once we made it to our campsite, it was green and lush. We actually camped on someone’s farm, so there were all types of farm animals: chickens, dogs, horses, donkeys, and more. It was an idyllic place to stay. The porters had our tents set up when we arrived, so we went inside to change, and they brought us hot water to rinse off and coca tea. It was amazing!
After we changed, we had all of our team introduce themselves – both the travelers and the porters. It was really interesting to hear about where they were from. This is a very hard job, but it pays well compared to other things in the area. They do this week-in and week-out. They are away from their families, and some of them do this for years! I can’t say enough great things about these men and what they did to make our journey wonderful.
After our picture, it was time for tea. We had tea time after each day’s hike, and then we had dinner. This was a fun time to engage and get to know our fellow travelers. I was the only American, so it was really neat to hear from the others on the trip and their perspective and thoughts! We had an amazing group. After a wonderful dinner we retired to bed.
Day 6: Inca Trail – Day 2
This was the first time I slept in a tent since I was a child, and to say it went poorly is an understatement. I didn’t sleep at all! This did not set me up well for the hardest day – the hike to Warmiwañusca (or Dead Woman’s Pass). Essentially, we started our hike early around 6 am after a delicious and hearty breakfast. The hike started through the beautiful jungle with lots of greenery and flowing water as we ascended the highest peak of the excursion.
We hiked up, and up, and up. My friend, Ursula, did a wonderful job! She was speedy, though she said it was challenging. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me. Luckily, one of my new Canadian friends was moving at my pace, so we struggled together. At times, I had a very hard time catching my breath! I was really surprised since my Dopey training was going very well at that point. Luckily, our guide, Victor had “llama pee” with him to help. Essentially, this is a perfume that has lemongrass and other fragrances. You pour some on your hands, rub them together, clap your hands twice, put your hands over our nose and mouth, and then breathe in deeply. It helps to clear your nose and allows you to breathe better.
Getting to the top was a real struggle. We would take five steps then stop to break. Towards the top, I put some music on my phone so Tea and I could dance our way to the top. It’s the only time on the trip I listened to anything on my phone, but it was required! I felt rude, but I don’t think I would have made it without some country party songs. But we did it – we made it to the top which was 13,769 feet! That was the hardest part, but it was done!
We had a two-hour hike down, which was great. It wasn’t difficult at all. Around 2 pm, we found our campsite and were welcomed with cheers from our porter team. They let us change, gave us hot water, and then we had lunch. We had the rest of the afternoon to relax before tea time. I took a little bit of a nap and wrote in my journal where I wrote “Wow. We just finished Dead Woman’s Pass, and I’m about to become a dead woman!” Tea and dinner were nice (as usual), but then I took a Benedryl to help me sleep and went back to the tent for bed.
Day 7: Inca Tail – DAy 3
That Benedryl was a huge help and allowed me to sleep a little bit. We woke for breakfast (quiche) and then set out for what our guide said would be a beautiful day. He was quite right! Day 3 was my favorite day of our journey. Throughout the other days, we saw Inca sites (a lot of them!) in the distance, but we didn’t stop at them. This day, we stopped at several and saw many more. It’s amazing how vast the Incan empire was since I thought it was mostly just Machu Picchu before I arrived. Day 3 was the longest hike, but it didn’t have the altitude challenge Day 2 had. We hiked for about 9 hours and covered over 9 miles.
The views were just spectacular and we had a lot of pictures! At midday, we stopped for lunch and had a [feast]! On top of the feast, the chefs prepared a cake for us that they made in the tent. Then we kept on hiking where we stopped at another beautiful ruin with an amazing view of the valley.
Our campsite was very busy, as lots of groups camp in the area. We had a more simple dinner, decided we would have cheese sandwiches for breakfast so we could have more sleep, and then went to bed. It would be an even earlier morning…
Day 8: Arrival at Machu Picchu
We had to wake up at 3 am so the porters could pack up everything and move quickly to get the first train home. The trail doesn’t open until 5 or 5:30, so we had to wait for this. All of the groups lined up – I thought we were moving quickly, but it turns out there were lots of groups up even before we were! We were all hoping to get to the Sun Gate at sunrise!
It was dark for most of the hike, so you had to be careful about where you stepped and make sure you didn’t get to close to the edge. There are no railings on the trail – it’s every man for himself, and if you fall, that could be a very bad end. We hiked between 2-3 hours (about 3 miles) through the beautiful jungle. We had one spot that was basically climbing straight up a rock, but otherwise, it was an easy hike. Alas, we finally made it!
It was very cloudy when we got to the Sun Gate, and I was sad. We waited for the rest of our group to get there and was patient. At last, the clouds parted and we could see Machu Picchu in the distance. We made it! Another life goal was completed! We were tired and smelly, but it didn’t matter.
We took a lot of pictures and took our time getting down the mountain to the actual site. Once we got there, it was a madhouse! Since there is a train directly to Machu Picchu, many people come to the ruins through the town instead of on the trail. It is very touristy when you get there, so there was a cafe with food and, most importantly, coffee. All I wanted was a cappuccino, and I got it! It was glorious. I was smelly, but at least I had some caffeine.
There are lots of stray dogs at Machu Picchu, and we saw many dogs on the Inca Trail. As a dog lover, I wanted to be friends with them and take them home. Victor explained to us that tourists feed the dogs, so the dogs will follow them to Machu Picchu, and then they can’t get home. This is really bad because if they make their way into town, they will be killed since there are so many strays and not enough homes for them. It’s awful. He warned us at the beginning of the trip – do not feed the dogs. For anyone visiting, please make sure not to feed them; make sure they stay near their home.
Once we got ourselves together, we met with Victor and he gave us a tour of Machu Picchu. There are many theories of what Machu Picchu was – a religious site, a retreat for the Incan Emperor, and other theories. Before coming, I read a few books that said there is really no way of knowing what this place was, but it is important in the system because of its location and because the Spanish never found it. Victor believes that it is a vacation retreat for the emperor.
Once we saw everything, we endured the crowds and made our way to a bus down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, the neighboring town. This was the scariest bus ride of my life! You go down a curvy mountain on a narrow road with no guardrails. The Peruvians don’t have the same safety standards as America, so all I could do was pray for our safe arrival.
Thankfully, we made it down okay and went to a restaurant for a sitdown dinner and to say goodbye to our guides. The town was very lively – full of tourist and tourist attractions. They had a lot of restaurants, a large market, and the train station to take you back to Ollantaytambo.
The train was incredibly comfortable and had amazing views of the river! It was a 2-3 hour train ride. We got off the train and followed Victor through a busy area to our bus. The bus took us to our original hotel (Inka Paradise) to get our souvenirs. We loaded up quickly for the two-hour trip back to Cusco. We survived, and we made it! Most importantly, our hotel was comfortable and had showers waiting for us!
Once I finished the most amazing shower of my life, I got dressed and met up with several of our groupmates to go out for dinner and hanging out in Cusco to say goodbye. Several people were flying home the next morning, so we probably wouldn’t get to see each other again. In typical Peruvian fashion, it took FORVER to get our food. Four others and I finally left around 10 pm because we decided to embark on another very early morning excursion.
Day 9: Rainbow Mountain and Recovery
At 3 am the next morning, I went with five other group members to Rainbow Mountain. We took a four-hour bus ride to the start and then began our hike to see this amazing view.
We arrived back in Cusco in the early afternoon exhausted! I arrived back at the room to see Ursula lounging in bed reading. She looked comfortable and content. She said she had a great day visiting the markets and got a fantastic massage for under $30. There are massage parlors on every corner in Cusco (you need it after all of that hiking!), but with all of the choices, how do you know which ones are good and which ones may be a little seedy? Ursula found Relaxing Time Massage on Trip Advisor from its good reviews. I needed to know the details, so she walked me to the “spa,” and I was able to get a massage on the spot. This was absolutely the best massage I’ve ever had.
In the States, you make a reservation for a massage by type and time. You can have a deep tissue massage for 60 minutes or something – not in Cusco! It is possible it is because I can’t speak Spanish, but I said I wanted a massage and a girl took me to the private room.
I think I was there for almost 2 hours, and she worked out every knot in my body. It was absolutely amazing! The massage was 80PEN which is about $20 USD. I only had 100PEN cash, so I gave the full amount to include a tip since she did such a good job. I wish I had more because it was only $5 USD. What happened next topped that experience since tipping isn’t common in Peru. The masseuse was called out so I could give her the tip and she started crying. I wished so badly I had more cash because I don’t know how this impacted her life. It was very little to me, yet it meant so much to her. I will never forget that.
Ursula and I met up with our new friends Sarah and Jen for our last dinner in Cusco. We had dinner at Rucula, a fancy restaurant with vegetarian options. It again had wonderful, well-deserved reviews on Trip Advisor. After enjoying some girl time, it was time to head back and get a well-deserved good night’s sleep.
Day 10: Sightseeing in Cusco
On our final day in town, Ursula and I woke up naturally before heading downstairs for breakfast. We then walked around the city to take pictures, see the architecture, and visit the markets. I’m not a fan of markets, but we tried to find Pisco as souvenirs but then decided we probably wouldn’t drink it. Cusco is a lively, (I think) safe city. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or nervous like I did in Lima. Cusco has a lot of tourists, but it is also a big city where Peruvians live. We saw children going to and from school, people going to work, and just living their lives in general.
Around midday, we stopped at a coffee shop to people watch and sat in the square. Randomly, we ended up seeing a parade where people were dancing and playing instruments. We don’t know what it was for, but it was a really neat thing to see. After an okay lunch, we got our bags and ordered an Uber to the airport. It was time to go home.
We had a long time to wait in Cusco for our flight to Lima, and once we got to Lima, we couldn’t check our bags for our flights home. We sat at a food court until the 3-hour time window started. I had a flight from Lima to Toronto. It was interesting because I went through US customs in Toronto and then flew back to Charlotte.
This was an amazing experience, and I am so happy I had the opportunity to take this adventure. While I won’t plan to return anytime soon, it was a wonderful experience. I would recommend the Inca Trail to anyone who enjoys hard, physical challenges. If you don’t enjoy or are not in somewhat decent physical shape, you can always take the bus to Machu Picchu, if you are passionate about visiting it. Personally, I think the three-day hike is what made the arrival so magical, so I think arriving via the bus wouldn’t be as exciting.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but today I finally jumped and took the plunge! I’m going to figure out how to maximize using reward points to help me travel. Since I make less money than I used to, but my desire to travel is as big as ever, I need to find a way to make it happen. When I bought my first house, I used my credit card points to buy towels, pots/pans, and other decor. It worked out nicely!
First off, this world is pretty complicated. I mean, there are probably thousands of credit cards out there. It’s not like you can sample cards and figure out which one works best. You can’t continue to open and close cards either because it can affect your credit score. Two big sites helped push me over the edge – Mint.com and The Points Guy. I’ll have a separate blog post about Mint.com, but I’ve been a fan of The Points Guy for a while. He has a beginner’s guide that I found very interesting and helpful. Stay tuned as I start to learn more, but so far I decided to take the following steps…
Applied for Chase Sapphire Preferred card (crazy how fast you can get approved!) which is supposed to be great for travel. Plus, it doesn’t have foreign transaction fees which I need for my trip to Zurich in February.
Made an account and started linking my reward programs to AwardWallet. It’s a free site (there is a Plus version), but essentially it tracks all reward programs (airlines, food, hotel, etc). I had tried TripIt Pro‘s program in the past, but I didn’t like it. One day in, and so far I like AwardWallet. More to come!
Researching other ways to save or grow money. Currently looking at Acorns, Wallaby, Mint.com, and general budgeting techniques.
Once I start to figure things out, I’ll keep you posted. Any tips or experiences would be appreciated! I have some big goals…I can’t wait to turn these clip art pictures into my real pictures! Switzerland, Paris, and Machu Pichu – here I come! Until next time, happy wanderings!
Sorry it has been so long since I last posted! I wasn’t well last week, and this week completely got away from me. I’m excited to conclude my three day jaunt to middle America with you today. From my start in Kansas City to Omaha and Abilene, I finished my trip in Oklahoma City. I didn’t do much research for this stop at all. Several people that I met on my journeys mentioned that the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial was one of the best executed memorials, so that was on the agenda, but not much else. My brother drove up from his home in Austin to meet me, so at the least, I would get to see him. I figured it was a big city, there should be something to do. I was pleasantly surprised.
It was a good ride from Abilene to Oklahoma City. The rolling hills of Kansas started to flatten and get dry. Then I saw something weird in the distance, but I couldn’t quite make it out. Then, it hit me. I think that’s an oil pump! I had never seen one in real life, and it made me excited! There were many of these throughout the rest of my drive into Oklahoma, and I continued to see them on my other trips out West. I didn’t even think to research the rise of oil and oil tycoons. One sign mentioned there were mansions for oil tycoons that you could visit as historical sites. That has done so much to affect their economy and culture, I bet it would have been really cool to see.
Once I got to OKC, I met my brother at our hotel downtown and we went to the state capitol. I love to visit state capitols when I have a chance. To think that is the center of the state’s government and all of the things that happen there. Funny enough, I still haven’t been to the North Carolina capitol, and I lived in Raleigh for almost 6 years. The curse of not visiting your hometown…this will change in the future. Oklahoma’s capitol was very impressive. Since it was a weekend, we weren’t able to go inside or take a tour, but we did get a good luck of the outside of the building. We had an absolutely PERFECT fall day. There were Carolina blue skies way out there in OK!
After visiting the capitol, we decided to explore the city. There was an Ohio State football game on, so my brother found a local OSU bar so we could watch. Following that, we walked around and “discovered” this fantastic riverwalk area of the city. I believe it was relatively new, but it was a great find! The area around it is called Bricktown. I can’t believe that wasn’t one of the first areas mentioned in sites where I researched. Since I have visited, I see it more, but for whatever reason it wasn’t readily apparent to me. Basically, a small, man-made river (creek?) was created through the city, and it was lined with bars and restaurants. It doesn’t go anywhere; it just is in the city. I believe they fill it up manually when it gets low. OKC has done a lot of revitalization efforts over the past few decades. One of my favorite podcasts is Travel with Rick Steves, and I heard an interview about OKC many months ago. I think it’s wonderful to see these improvements! They have done an amazing job making OKC what it is, and it now rivals Tulsa in offerings and coolness. After dinner and drinks, we went to bed.
The next morning we each needed to leave early to get home, but we took a morning walk to the other side of the city where the memorial is. OKC is very walkable. The city has a hip and shiny part of the city and an older part with sandstone colored exteriors. The Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial was as well done as people say it is. The memorial was created to remember the 168 people who were killed in 1995. I remember this happening as a kid. We planted a dogwood tree in our backyard, which President Clinton suggested families do as a memorial. The whole scene was still, somber, and peaceful. I think the pictures tell the rest, but I would highly recommend a visit.
Oklahoma City isn’t somewhere most people think about visiting, but I think it should be. I believe there is a lot more to explore in the city and the surrounding area. Whether it is native Americans, ranching, or oil, that area has a rich history that we are not usually exposed to if you’re from either coast.
Overall, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma may not be as sexy as dog sledding in Alaska, partying on South Beach, or eating lobster in Maine, but it was a huge treat and provided more appreciation for this great country. Flyover states have their own unique charms and are home to millions of Americans. Even though it was hard to recruit someone to meet me, I suggest you have an open mind if you’re present with an opportunity to visit. Happy wanderings!
For this week’s #TBT (Travel Back Thursday), I bring you Alaska. One year ago, I made it to my 50th state. It was a major accomplishment for me in my life. A year and a half before, I made a goal to visit all 50 states by the time I was 30 with only 25 under my belt. A month after my 30th birthday, I made it to Alaska. The accumulation of planning and commitment, I achieved a goal that I thought would take me the majority of my adult life.
Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau, AK! WOW!
There are two ways to do Alaska: 1. by sea, 2. by land. I’ve heard land is amazing and what is highly recommended. Unfortunately, timing and the logistics wouldn’t work for for what I was planning; I opted for sea. As a victory celebration, I thought it would be fun to invite family and close friends to join me on an Alaskan adventure. A cruise ship would be the easiest way to plan this, as well as give each person the flexibility to design the trip to their interest. We could meet up for dinner in the evening and talk about what we experienced that day.
Life Lesson: when you have a chance to drink local – do.
In the end, we had a group of 13 brave the great Alaskan Wilderness. I mean, it was much more adventurous than you think. We survived a bear attack, a sinking ship, and an earthquake.
Be Bear Aware! We survived a “bear attack” when we had to walk past the grizzly to get from the Musher camp to our bus. The first bear sighting of the season.
I’d say we roughed it. The Crown Princess (Princess Cruise Lines) took us from Seattle, WA, to Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria (Canada). It was absolutely amazing! We didn’t have long at each stop, so that is one reason to do a land trip. Just be careful, Juneau is the only US capital that is not connected to the rest of the state by a car. You can get there by air, sea, and birth canal (thanks to our tour guide for that funny joke!) It’s a big state, so make sure to plan any driving trips prior to arriving…
I didn’t realize it when booking, but May was a wonderful time to go. The mountains still have snow on the top; if I got to Alaska and didn’t see snow, I know I would have been upset. I originally wanted to go in April for the birthday, but cruises only leave from May until September. I imagine fall is a beautiful time to visit.
One of the most mind-blowing experiences about Alaska has sunk in more since I returned home than I could process while I was there. In most of the continental US, we are used to very populated areas. There are buildings, signs, roads, and other man-made items almost everywhere we look. Alaska is virtually untouched. There are no man-made items for our mind to recognize to put size in proportion.
What kind of blue is that? Windex Blue! They don’t look that big until you see the boat next to it.
Driving down the road, you see other cars, billboards, and buildings to show you how big a hill or mountain is. In Alaska, you don’t have that to scale. Sailing down the Inner Passage, there are rolling hills on either side, but it wasn’t until we passed an equally large cruise ship that they looked like mountains.
I’m really glad we did Alaska by sea for the first trip. We didn’t see much of the state, but we saw amazing landscapes, and it gave us the flexibility we needed for the trip. The inner passage is gorgeous, and I hope to visit it again.
Two lessons learned (besides staying longer):
Get a balcony window. There is too much to watch in the inner passage. It’s not like sailing to the Caribbean where you see ocean for most of the time. This cruise provides opportunities to watch for animals and the shore line.
The water was as clear as glass throughout the entire voyage.
On the visit to Tracey Arm Fjord, do the excursion to take a boat to the glacier. I can only imagine how amazing that would be from sea level.
Tracey Arm Fjord. This was something that I didn’t even know existed! We were lucky to get so close.
Some more pictures for fun..
Even though it was May, it definitely wasn’t a warm-weather adventure.
I desperately wanted to see a puffin, but no such luck. I LOVED this sign!
I am not a big beer drinker, but I love flights at microbreweries. It’s always great to sample! (This is from Skagway Brewing Company)
MUSH! Sitting on a dog sled. I almost packed my winter boots for this…good thing I didn’t!