Further Up & Further In: Cusco, Peru

Well, I live in Cusco. And though it's been harder to breathe at over 12,000 feet, I'm confident this is where I'm supposed to be this summer. The risk feels great, but the reward greater. As I sit here in a little coffee shop in San Blas, I'm reminded of how much of me comes alive in the context of new cultures. My little explorer heart feels as though I can truly exhale and pioneer like I was made to do. 

To me life often mirrors the ascent up a mountain, as if I'm constantly climbing toward the next season, the next stage or next step. I've read and re-read Hinds Feet on High Places so many times my copy is torn in several places, but this allegory resonates so deeply with me. 

I heard a friend once speak of this same allegory. She said the higher you climb, the thinner the air and the fewer the companions. And as I've nestled into my little home in the Andes for the summer, her words have been ringing in my ears as I realize how right she really was. 

As I climb higher, step forward, going further up and further in, the air certainly gets thinner. It's as if my body is responding to the next level and I must learn to compensate for the new altitude. The companions grow fewer as well. The crew that started at the bottom is no longer together and yet I find myself thankful for the unlikely ones beside me.

This summer I have the privilege of climbing with a team of 35 interns and co-leading with some of my dear friends. We've already trekked into remote villages in the Andes (and interacted with some of the most precious people who had never seen foreigners before), served an orphanage outside of Cusco, picked avocados, walked all over Cusco, and even attended a Peruvian salsa dance class. See below for some pictures and highlights from my time so far and keep up with me on Instagram

A Light-Filled Weekend in Fredericksburg

A few weeks ago a dear friend and I took a weekend road trip through Texas Hill Country to Fredericksburg. This little town had been on my bucket list for a long time, and since I'm moving in a few weeks (cue the tears), we made it happen! One of the best ways I get refreshed is by exploring new places - especially when time is free and there's no agenda or to-do list. 

We jumped in the car without much direction and hit the jackpot in local gems! Below are some of our favorite spots and maybe by the end of this post, you'll be convinced to give Fredericksburg a try. :) It's the perfect little girls' weekend vacay. 

Grape Creek Vineyard

There are so many wineries along the highway heading into Fredericksburg - wish we could have stopped at all of them! From the road, this one looked classy and the parking lot was full, so we knew it'd be a win. 

The grounds are beautiful - you could spend hours walking around and enjoying wine on the patio. There was a sweet little shop inside and both Laura and I tried a glass of wine and purchased some cheese, sausage and crackers to snack on, too. I tried the Cabernet/Syrah and was definitely pleased. 

Wildseed Farms

This place was magical! The poppies and wildflowers on the property are beautiful and there's lots of pathways you can take to walk the grounds. The selection of plants is also impressive and there's even a biergarten and winery on site, as well! 

Magnolia Pearl

If you make one stop on your way into town, this needs to be it. This hidden gem contains a beautiful, light-filled showroom and shop with high-end clothing made with vintage fabric. The prices were definitely steep, but the space was unreal. The shop girl told us the owner constructed the barn from the ground up and told us a little bit of history about the brand. I could have stayed for hours just looking around and taking it all in - even the bathrooms were gorgeous!

Otto's German Bistro

We knew we wanted to try something German on our first night in town and Otto's did not disappoint. We both ordered cocktails and split the rest of our meal. There's a full service bar and the cocktail and First we ordered Brot und Butter, which sounds simple, but the beet jam was amazing. We also split the Flammkuchen off the appetizer menu, which is a really yummy flatbread with gorgonzola cheese, caramelized onions and lots of veggies. Lastly, our waiter gave such a great rec for the Ricotta Gnocchi that we had to try it as well; it was delicious. Highly recommend this quaint little dinner spot, especially if you can snag a table outside!

Carol Hicks Bolton Antiques

This spot was recommended to us by Magnolia Pearl and it was another highlight! I'm not much of an antique shopper, to be honest, but this space is stunning and there are so many pieces to see. It's pretty big, so you could spend a few hours here. There's also an added room to the right when you walk in full of nuetral shades and natural light - it's amazing. Allow yourself plenty of time to peruse and shop. 

Woerner Warehouse & Cafe

Hop on over next door to the Woerner Warehouse to see more beautiful antiques and sit down for lunch! We were so pleased to find this little cafe next door - not only is it beautiful inside, but the food was very good as well. I ordered a salad / sandwich combo with the BLAT sandwich and the house special salad with sun dried pears and candied pecans - you can't go wrong with that kind of combo. The service was a bit slow, but the environment made up for it, to be sure. 

Das Peach Haus

Das Peach Haus was such a happy little stop! We had no expectations going in, but it was one of my favorite spots we found! When you walk inside they have little tasty treats to try and sample - we nearly consumed a second lunch. :) The jams and jellies were incredible and we even tried a complementary sample of their peach wine. There's a little patio outside with a pond out back and there's a kitchen space behind where you can take cooking classes. If I come back to Fredericksburg, this will definitely be on my list! 

They are also opening a tasting room next month and you can sign up online for live cooking demonstrations. The staff was also incredibly kind and friendly - all around win!

Jack's 1742

We stopped here on our way out of town to get our caffeine fix. I tried the vanilla tea and the sweet barista made me an almond milk vanilla tea latte. The macarons were also a sweet treat to take on the road. I'd recommend the Earl Grey flavor. 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was our little cottage rental home. I found the listing on AirBnB and the host was so helpful and accommodating. Upon walking in, it felt like we were entering a storybook. It's beautiful and clean and the space was perfect for two guests. Warm, peaceful, lots of light - can't go wrong, here. There's even a little private patio out back and little kitchenette inside. Next time, though, I'd like to try the little cabin on the property - it looked beautiful and had a hot tub in the back! 

Overall, we enjoyed our stay so much and loved hunting for the best little local spots. Other things worth mentioning include walking down Main Street, Vaudeville (shopping and bistro) downtown, and I wish we had had the chance to take advantage of the hiking trails in the area and explore Enchanted Rock! I suppose there's always a next time. 

La La Land & Beyond

Driving through Pasadena last month my dear friend Claire suddenly pointed to the right as we passed the bridge one of the iconic La La Land scenes was filmed. I saw the film over Christmas break and remember having mixed feelings after the movie ended. 

Colorado St. Bridge courtesy of Travel & Leisure

Colorado St. Bridge courtesy of Travel & Leisure

I was inspired and entertained, to be sure, but I left with an empty feeling, unable to reconcile the ending of the movie with the hopeful emotions I experienced toward the beginning. I've heard people say this movie describes the "millennial plight" and now that I've had some time to think about it, I think they hit the nail on the head. 

As a classic millennial who wants to do and see it all, the thought of limiting my options, choosing one path and saying no to others is harsh and depressing. Yet if I'm being realistic, I know not all endings end up happy, and I'm grieved watching peers end up places they never thought they'd be ten or even five years ago. We must make choices, and our choices end up defining us in ways we typically like to avoid thinking about. At least for me. 

I for one want my choices to mean something, even if I don't end up exactly where I thought I'd be. Over the last year I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about where I wanted to go next. In many ways I consider this time a gift from God as I've discovered more of who He created me to be. And yet I realize I must choose; I cannot have it all. But I do feel more confident than ever of where I'm headed next (more details coming soon). 

The tipping point for me culminated in a trip to LA to visit a friend and participate in a training with the Cultural Intelligence Center. I had been anticipating this trip for months and it did not disappoint. Below I've included a few highlights. 

1. Hiking at Castle Peak

My friend Claire and I researched hikes in the LA area and settled on this 3 mile hike up through some caves and along a crest up toward Castle Peak. The caves were fascinating and the view beautiful! I'd recommend this as nice hike with some difficult / steep sections. 

2. Cafe Gratitude

The minute we walked in, I was obsessed with this place. Not only is the space beautiful, the food was amazing. I'm not a vegan, although I do appreciate a healthy meal. Claire ordered the "Invincible / Brain Boosting Mocha" smoothie and I had the Rose Water Lemonade. The lemonade was delicious - not too sweet and very refreshing. And the smoothie - I'd go back just for that! 

For lunch I ordered the "Magical" sandwich with black bean patties and vegan gluten-free bread and sweet potato fries with truffle hempseed aioli. I had a hard time choosing - the menu was so big! I suppose I must go back and try something new.  

3. The Last Bookstore

We walked in, and at first glance, the place looks like a normal bookstore. But when you go upstairs, it feels more like an art museum! There are little shops above with several book displays and photo ops that we could have spent several hours exploring. 

4. Bottega Louie

I could have tried every flavor of macaron cookies in this place. The atmosphere is beautiful and inviting and the staff so kind and friendly. My favorite cookie was the Earl Grey - it was also painted with gold dots, so what's not to love?! 

5. Sunny Spot 

This little restaurant was close to the training in Marina Del Ray and provided the perfect lunch stop on my way to LAX. The outside patio is bright and fun and the menu a good mix of classic favorites with a few more adventurous items. They serve breakfast all day, so I ordered the "Two Egg Breakfast" with braised kale and avocado. 

If I didn't have to get on a plane right after my meal, I would have stayed for a cocktail or two. But I did order a Jamaican Grapefruit Soda, which was delicious. Any restaurant that serves breakfast all day is a win in my opinion. 

6. The Cinerama Dome

Over the weekend Claire and I along with two of her friends from Pasadena went to see Beauty and the Beast at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. It was such a fun experience! I'd recommend seeing a movie here if you can afford it. :) 

Image courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy 

Image courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy 

I can't wait to visit some of the other filming locations for La La Land in LA. If you find yourself traveling to LA soon, check out some of the recs above! And if you haven't seen La La Land, do yourself a favor and see it! 

Travel Tips for the Millennial

 

Research tells us millennials are the most global generation yet. The desire to explore seems to surface in many of us as we seek to understand the world and contribute in some way. Almost every time I open my Instagram feed I see someone traveling some place new or dreaming of where to go next. Simply put, millennials love to travel. And I'm definitely one of them. 

What follows is series of travel tips and resources written by a close friend of mine. If you do any sort of travel, you are sure to glean some helpful insight and tips about the traveling process from beginning to end! 

Meet Mike: a small business owner in Waco, Texas who started making business deals when he was in high school and ordering his toilet paper from Amazon. Mike's one of the people I call when I have a question about real life or being an adult. He's just knows stuff. He travels often, so I asked him if he'd consider answering some questions for me to include in this post. By the time I finished reading his responses I definitely felt as though I had gotten smarter. Read on my friends if you wish to be enlightened. :) 

1. How frequently do you travel and where have you visited? Where are you going this next year? 

Way more than I should, but not nearly as much as I want to!

Once every few months I'm going somewhere, even if only for a short weekend trip to visit friends. This year I have a lot of really fun international trips. I just got back from Japan in January, and I am visiting Boston, Cape Town, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Tokyo and Osaka (again), Singapore, and Hong Kong.

2. What's your favorite place you've ever visited? Why?  

Cape Town is my favorite city overall, but my favorite big city is Hong Kong. I had never been to a big city I liked before I visited Hong Kong. 

It's been several years since I've been to Hong Kong (I'm excited to return!), and it's hard to put exactly into words all the things I like about it. Super efficient subways, stunning skyscrapers, beautiful people... It's just nice. Really nice. You walk down a public sidewalk where the handrail is polished metal with glass partitions and lush manicured greenery all around and you realize that the people of Hong Kong live differently than the rest of us. It's as if moderation isn't a value or the bar is just set much higher than I'm used to - everything is nicer than it needs to be and that makes for a very enjoyable city.

Cape Town is near and dear to my heart because some of my best friends live there, it's absolutely stunning visually, the people are amazing, and your money goes a really long way. It's got something for everyone - it's a good sized city with tons of great restaurants, wine estates, beaches, and mountains. 

I did really enjoy Tokyo, so I'm actually considering bumping Hong Kong from it's top spot... I'll know for sure after I revisit Hong Kong later this year.

3. When preparing for a trip, what's the first thing you do?  

Book flights! I love flying. Plus, it's way easier to nail down everything else after you figure out flights, because you know your dates and know that you can even make the whole trip work. I book a lot of trips because there is an amazing airfare sale or because I can redeem miles on a particular route. 

4. Do you plan an itinerary ahead of time? How do you begin researching? Any websites you visit or resources you reference?  

I typically don't plan very many activities or restaurants ahead of time, but I do nail down hotels, flights, and transportation as early out as possible. In some cases waiting can actually get you better pricing, but it's not guaranteed and the price can as much as double if the airline or hotel is mostly booked up by the time you book. 

For airfare, I really only use Google Flights. I also keep an eye on thepointsguy.com for airfare sales. I enjoy flying different airlines and so my criteria includes either flying an airline I know I love or one I'm excited to try. For most people, the cheapest flights with the best dates are probably sufficient ... :)

Once I have airfare, I look for hotels. Hotels take the most time for me, as there are typically 3-5 that look good in my price range that all seem to be really close quality wise. I am a huge believer in TripAdvisor for both finding the best rate a hotel has as well as seeing which hotels are best. If I still need help deciding, I'll look at the ratings for my top picks at booking.com, which breaks down the scores by different amenities and has a 1-10 rating instead of 1-5 like TripAdvisor. Location is something I've learned to get better about looking at especially in big cities - being in a good or bad location can make all the difference. You can't just rely on the map though - your hotel may be a little out of the city, but it may also have a subway stop in the basement. Those things are hard to tell just by looking at a map, but hopefully some friendly reviewer has mentioned it in a recent review.

5. What's your favorite thing to find when traveling? Good wifi? The best coffee shops? Men's footwear? You tell me. 

I work a lot when I travel, so coffee shops with good wifi and comfortable seating is number one. Comfortable seating is maybe the bigger deal than the wifi or the coffee.. I'll take somewhere that's comfortable to work with okay coffee and internet. I always get a local SIM with a lot of data so I can tether my laptop if need be and not have my productivity tied to someone's $25 router their cousin setup in their coffee shop. 

I also love things that are hard to find in other places. Tokyo had a really unique coffee shop / cafe / motorcycle repair shop called Deus Ex Machina that I really loved. The food and coffee were great, but just being there was the best part. In Cape Town you can eat lunch overlooking a beautiful wine estate. I try and take advantage of the things I can't do elsewhere. And also Starbucks :)

6. Let's talk about the packing process. Can you share some of your favorite packing products with us? What are your non-negotiables? Anything you can't travel without? 

In general people pack too much. I checked in for a really nice flight in New York recently and the checkin agent said "This is all you have? This is the lightest bag I'll check all day." Only take what you need. Do you need five pairs of shoes? No way! Tennis shoes cover a multitude of sins. Take those Clarks only if you have insoles or love back pain. Boots or Chacos, maybe, weather dependent. 

Everyone needs a great spinner carry-on and checked bag. TravelPro makes really high quality luggage that will also last forever. Amazon's pricing is typically about as good as anywhere. Spend a few extra bucks and get the spinner - unless it gets sucked into the plane turbine, your TravelPro luggage should last a decade or more.

Five days or less I can do in a carry-on and my life will be much better because of it. There is zero chance they will lose your bag, it's free, and you don't have to wait for it when you arrive at your destination. 

I don't pack anything besides my laptop, tablet to read on, clothes, and dopp kit. 

I can't travel without my Schwab debit card - there are no fees to use it internationally and they refund any fees that the ATM owner charges you with no limit on how many refunds you can get. Opening a Schwab checking account is essential for anyone doing a lot of international travel. Rather than carry a bunch of cash with you and pay to convert it when you land, just withdraw cash from your account at an ATM in-country.

7. When purchasing your flights, what do you look for and what websites do you use? Is there a better time to look and buy in your opinion? 

As mentioned, I really only use Google Flights. I'm looking at the airline, stops, and total flight time. I don't typically care much when it leaves and arrives if it is international; domestic trips over a weekend obviously arriving really late may be a bummer since you have to buy a night at a hotel whereas you could have just gotten there really early the next day.

Knowing what is 'typical' for the price on a route really helps. I think waiting to trying to pay less than what is typical is not a very good strategy as it very well may only go up; if there is a sale I'll take it but otherwise will just shoot to pay a 'normal' price on a route.You can usually figure out what is normal pretty easily by looking at a few different months of fares in Google Flights. If the price for the dates I want is too high, maybe I waited too late and may want to try and find other dates that work.

Booking award flights is totally different and depends on the airline. Some airlines release all the available seats a few weeks before the flight and so the best time to book is either immediately after the flight becomes bookable or just a few weeks before it departs. You can learn this by googling "booking american airlines award travel" (or whatever airline you have miles with OR want to travel with) and looking in the results for a travel blog or website other than the official one. This is also good because you can use your miles to book with partner airlines that may not be available on the airline's website. For instance, American Airlines doesn't list Etihad on their website, but you can learn where to find Etihad's availability by Googling an Etihad award travel booking guide and then after you've found a flight you call American Airlines to place the reservation. You may even learn that calling a different country will get you through faster or better in some ways - when I booked the Etihad flight with my AA miles, I called AA's call center in Australia as they are able to see Etihad award availability that US based agents can't for some reason. Welcome to the knowledge of the internet!

8. Best flight you've ever been on? Why?

Best service was on Singapore Airlines - I was flying in business class and Singapore is a league of its own in regards to service. The seat is very unique too, which is cool.

Qatar Airways is probably the best overall business class in terms of perfect seat, perfect food, and amazing business class lounge. However, the service leaves a bit to be desired sometimes - it can either be great or it can be very robotic and dismissive. 

Best economy flight was also on Qatar Airways several years ago, though I was impressed with the great service on my recent United Airlines flights to and from Europe this last summer. Fly the Friendly Skies.

I've flown what's widely considered to be the world's ritziest first class product, which is the Etihad First Class Apartment on their A380. It was cool, but the concept was way better than the execution in my opinion. I've had better food on Qatar and I've had better service on Singapore. The seat itself was the only thing that set it above...well, that and the in-flight shower :) I paid for that and most of my other 'premium' flights using miles.

9. When navigating a new airport or settling in for a long layover, what do you do first? 

Finding a good seat next to a wall outlet is usually tied for first with locating a Starbucks or some other coffee shop. I have a free Boingo account thanks to my SPG AMEX credit card, so if the airport wifi isn't free Boingo will usually allow free access to the paid service.

If the layover is longer than 8 hours, some airlines (Emirates, Qatar, and others) will provide a free layover hotel and transportation. This is usually not the case, but it's worth checking!

I sometimes have lounge access, in which case the first thing I want to do is take a shower, and it's sometimes also something I'll do again right before I leave. The low humidity of the airplane causes your body to produce a ton of oils, and nobody likes feeling oily.

10. How do you stay organized for your trip? Any travel tools or apps you'd recommend? 

I keep all my trips organized via Kayak. It's free and all you do is forward your booking confirmation emails to trips@kayak.com. You don't even need to setup your account first - just forward your any booking confirmation to that email. They can automagically read just about anything you send them, and will keep your itinerary all in one place and organized. Plus, they'll let you know via their iPhone app and/or email when there are flight delays, checkin reminders, etc. It's really the best and only travel tool I use other than the sites I use to actually book the travel.

11. What about jet lag? What's the best way to beat it? 

Drink a ton of water and when you arrive at your destination, don't sleep until it's evening!

12. Lastly, what would your advice be to a first-time traveler? As a seasoned traveler yourself, is there anything we should know ahead of time? 

I always have more fun going with a friend or visiting a friend. I travel solo occasionally, but the best memories are made with others! Also, travel credit cards can be really helpful, but there is enough to say about them that it would require a whole separate post. Lastly, Europe is just okay! Asia and other places are way underrated travel destinations for Americans. Europe is barely more interesting than Austin in my book.

The Explorer: Cool But Hype

As I stepped into the black Toyota Camry I was instantly surprised by a cloud of air freshener or cologne, I couldn't tell which. A kind man greeted me and asked to confirm the location of my destination. Although I had never been to Phoenix before, I had read about a sweet little coffee shop not far from the airport. 

My Uber driver asked why I was in Phoenix, assuming I was attending the Fiesta Bowl in a couple days. At the time I wasn't aware there was a bowl game in the area, which tells you how much of a football fan I am. After pointing out a few sights (with Drake playing in the background), he explained to me that Phoenix was "chill and cool" but could also "get pretty hype." I laughed and told him I looked forward to my visit. 

Toward the end of my trip, I thought back to that man's honest assessment of his city and smiled to myself. I think he was right. 

I had been looking forward to our New Years trip for months, and although I had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my travel mates. My college roommates and I hadn't spent quality time together in nearly four years, and it was a sweet reunion to say the least. 

As our little posse of four settled into our Airbnb for the weekend, we started putting together an itinerary and a grocery list. At first I was a bit reluctant to rent an Airbnb, but by the end, I realized our little vacation home was a highlight of the trip. We decided to split meals, cook some at the house, and also leave room to explore some local spots. After all, I do love exploring. The four of us together living under the same roof again for 4-5 days was both refreshing and nostalgic. 

Multiple music videos created, meals cooked, coffee brewed, and local adventures found. I think each of us would have been content to linger at the dinner table with a glass of wine after eating a home cooked meal and catching up on life for hours on end. We stayed up noticeably past my normal bedtime chatting (and dancing) into the wee hours of the night and let ourselves sleep in an extra hour or two. 

Now we live all over the country - from California to Tennessee and a couple places in between. Although I'm not exactly sure how we decided upon Phoenix as our destination of choice, the city exceeded all of our expectations. If you're looking for a weekend getaway spot, Phoenix is a great option! See below for some of our favs and list of recs. 

1. Luxe Central

The moment we walked into this coffee shop meets bar and local bakery, I was obsessed. The vibe is very eclectic and cool; I felt as though I stepped into a scene in a magazine or some sort of local club or collective. I ordered a soy latte and vegan lemon poppyseed donut - 10/10 would recommend. And if you're debating whether or not to get a treat with your coffee, just get one. You won't be sorry. 

2. Songbird Coffee & Tea House

When I first arrived in Phoenix, I was several hours ahead of my travel mates, so I sought out this sweet little local coffee shop near the airport. It feels very homey and airy inside - the perfect place to spend an extra few hours. The baristas were very friendly and even offered me several other recommendations in the area. My friend Megan and I stopped there again on our way out of town and enjoyed it just as much the second time. 

3. Camelback Mountain - Cholla Trail

Everything I read about Phoenix before we went referenced the amazing hiking trails in the area. After researching a couple different options, we landed on the Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain. The hike was only a couple miles, but it definitely escalated toward the top. There's another trail on the opposite side of the mountain, but we were told it was slightly more difficult / intense. The scenery was amazing and afforded us an incredible view of Phoenix. I thought the duration of the hike up and down was perfect, although we ran into the whole Clemson marching band on the way up! 

4. La Grande Orange

My friend Claire recommended this little joint and it did not disappoint. When you first walk in, it's as if you are entering a market, but to the side, beyond the pizzeria, there's a little room and bar where they serve brunch. I ordered the Madame Croque and was very pleased. If we had more time, I would have loved to explore the little market, but I suppose that leaves something for my next trip. 

5. Scottsdale Art Walk

Our little crew happened upon this event our first night in town. We ordered tacos from a local restaurant and bar and then decided to walk around and explore downtown Scottsdale a bit. After walking into one of the galleries, we learned each Thursday night galleries and artists open their stores for visitors and guests. Although none of us purchased anything, it was fun to walk around and peruse. 

6. Chelsea's Kitchen

This restaurant is owned by the same people that run La Grande Orange, so we knew it was going to be good. We came here for dinner on New Year's Eve and definitely splurged a bit. I ordered the Swordfish tacos, which were delish, and also helped myself to a bit of my friend Megan's brussels sprout salad. The cocktails were spot on, the service excellent, the vibe was classy and a little mysterious - overall great choice. 

7. Postino's

A friend in Waco recommended this little restaurant to me, and I'm so glad she did! The restaurant is also a wine bar and the service was incredible. Each person we met was so friendly and helpful and offered to customize the menu however we wanted. I ordered a glass of the house merlot and my friend Megan and I split several bruschetta dishes. Our favorite by far was the apple, brie, and fig bruschetta - 5 stars, people! 

8. Futuro

This coffee shop is very minimal and modern and the coffee did not disappoint, ya'll. I was a bit skeptical when I walked in and saw some interesting art pieces on display. Yet after ordering my cold brew coffee with coconut almond milk, I was sold. I'm not sure this would be a place to socialize (I didn't quite get the same homey feel as Songbird) but it's definitely worth a try. 

There were so many other great options and places to explore - I wish we had time for them all! Other things worth mentioning that were highly recommended are The Desert Botanical Gardens, Paniq Room, Bink's Midtown, Liberty Market, Cartel Coffee & Brewery. There's always a next time!