Hawaiian Travel Tips

While I don’t have a ton of experience in tropical areas (Mexico, the Bahamas, and Florida are pretty much the extent of it), after this weekend I can say with confidence that Oahu, Hawaii is so far my favorite tropical locale. I have a lovely friend who showed me around for the short period of time I was on the island, and we packed a lot into the day and a half I was there. After my experience in Oahu, I compiled some tips on how to make the most out of a short (or long) period of time on this beautiful island.

Be Adventurous with Beach Activities

The beach is usually the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Hawaii, myself included. My favorite thing to do at the beach is relax and admire the view (which is exactly what I did in Kailua at Lanikai Beach). However, there are numerous  more audacious activities at the countless beaches in Oahu. Snorkeling, surfing, kite-surfing, and paddle boarding are just a few exciting beach endeavors you can partake in whilst in Hawaii.

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Lanikai Beach, Kailua, 2017. c. Leah Putz

 

Explore the Waikiki Strip

Waikiki is the main area in Honolulu that tourists tend to gravitate to, and understandably so.  I decided to check out the International Marketplace- which turned out to be more like a mall filled with high-end shops such as Saks Fifth Avenue. What struck me about this ‘mall’ though was that it had pavilions and trees in the middle of it and everything was open air. A lot of the shopping centers and buildings in Hawaii are built like this, winding around nature rather than building right on top of it. Complete with a large beach, copious shops and malls, restaurants, and tourist shops, there isn’t much to be missed in the main strip next to the beach in Waikiki.

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Inside the International Marketplace on the Waikiki Strip, 2017. c. Leah Putz

 

Go Hiking

It’s difficult to choose which hike to go on in Oahu, considering there are a mulitude of them and they all have something unique to offer. If I had had more time in Hawaii, I would have done a different hike every day. Some of the most common hikes on the island are the Lanikai Pillboxes hike, the Diamond Head hike, and the Koko Crater Arch hike. My friend and I did the Waimano Trail hike, which I loved because it felt like I was in ‘Lost’ or something on a trek through the jungle. We didn’t have enough time to complete the hike (I had to start heading to the airport), but what we saw was strikingly beautiful and it made me want to go back to finish that hike and try some of the many others that the island has to offer.

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On the Waimano Trail, 2017. c. Leah Putz

 

Rent a Car

I was lucky enough to have a friend that was able (and willing) to drive me around the island, but I you don’t know anybody who lives in Oahu I would highly recommend renting a car. Simply driving around the island and admiring the scenery is a wonderful experience. We drove from the Leeward (west) side of the island to the Windward (east) side to visit Kailua and the drive through the mountains was nothing short of incredible. From the lowest valley to the highest peak, everything was covered in the riches of green, creating a landscape that felt like it came right out of a movie. Renting a car would allow you to travel through the mountains and see what I’m talking about, as well as making it a lot easier to access the many beaches and hikes I mentioned earlier. Overall, it will allow you to see and experience the most of what Oahu has to offer.

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Entering the Mountains on the Highway, 2017. c. Leah Putz

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15 Things to do in London for Free

London can be expensive. In fact, I’ve heard it called the most expensive city in the world. However, there are countless things to do/see in London without spending huge amounts of money and still managing to make the most of the city. One couldn’t possibly put together a list of everything  to do in this vast and magnificent city, but you have to start somewhere. So, without further ado, here are 15 things you can do for free in London!

 
   15. St. Dunstan-in-the-East

St. Dunstan-in-the-East, a cathedral built in approximately 1100 A.D., has seen its fair share of turmoil. Throughout numerous repairs and rebuilds, the church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 A.D. only to be nearly destroyed in the WWII Blitz of 1941. Only the north and south walls remained in addition to Christopher Wren’s tower and steeple. Rather than rebuilding yet again, the City of London made the brilliant decision to turn the cathedral ruins into a garden with a fountain in the center of the Nave. This site is one of the most striking and peaceful areas in the city and serves as a reminder that beauty can endure even after such destruction.

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Cathedral Window at St. Dunstan-in-the-East, 2016. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Sample Global Foods at the Camden Market

Exploring the numerous shops, restaurants, and markets of Camden Town is an adventure in and of itself. The market is open every day, and there are countless food stands featuring food and drinks from all over the world. A lot of the small stalls offer samples as you stroll along, and it easy to end up feeling like you’ve eaten a full meal for free after meandering through the markets.

 

  1. Explore Greenwich

The borough of Greenwich is renowned for its maritime history and its location on the Meridian line at 0 longitude. This area in the eastern half of London south of the Thames has a lot to offer. The National Maritime museum, established in 1934 offers free entrance and sits on the edge of the beautiful Greenwich park. At the top of the hill in the park is the Royal Observatory and marks the Meridian line. From this vantage point, you can see a wonderful view of Greenwich Park and the skyline of London.

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View from the top of the hill at Greenwich Park, 2016. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Chinatown

Located near Soho, London’s Chinatown is jampacked with authentic shops, restaurants, and culture. Grabbing a bubble tea and strolling through this area is a wonderful way to see a historical and rich part of the city, complete with a Chinese gates and a pavilion.

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Chinatown, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Piccadilly Circus

A good way to describe Piccadilly Circus is to say that it’s like the Times Square of London- complete with giant advertisements and an insane amount of tourists. Near this area is a plethora of tourist shops where you are sure you find the perfect souvenir to commemorate your time in London.

 

  1. Visit the many parks

London is full of green space. No matter where you are in the city, you’re probably within walking distance of a public park or garden, which can’t be said for many large cities in the world. Some of the most popular of these parks are Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St. James Park, and Green Park. All of these parks, and many more, provide natural beauty and scenery to contrast the city landscape.

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Hyde Park, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Buckingham Palace

While it costs money to go inside Buckingham palace, it is free to admire the face of the Queen’s home, complete with a magnificent fountain and palace guards. I would recommend planning your visit to coincide with the changing of the guard, which takes place daily at 11:30 am during the summer months and on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday between 10:15 and 11:45 am during the winter.  This is spectacular to witness.

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Buckingham Palace fountain, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Southbank

Southbank is one of my favorite parts of London. Complete with music, pubs and history, a lot of what is amazing about London can be found in this area beside the river. One of the most well-known staples of Southbank is Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The theater is unmistakable as it is the only thatched-roof building in the city after the Great fire of London. The theater is still active and you can see shows performed there in the traditional Renaissance style if you’re willing to pay the ticket prices!

 

  1. Delight in one of the many museums

One of the things London does best is its museums. There are too many to count, and almost all offer free admission. My favorite is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is full of fantastic art and historical artifacts. The British Museum is also incredible and houses the Rosetta Stone and statues from the Parthenon in Greece among others. Some other honorable mentions are the National Gallery, the National History Museum, and the Museum of London.

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Natural History Museum, 2015. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square sits in the City of Westminster and is a tourist must-see. No matter which direction you face when in the center of this square you’ll be looking towards a major monument. In the center of the square stands Nelson’s Column complete with four guarding lion statues and a large nearby fountain. There are also four pillars that mark the corners of Trafalgar, each with a statue of a figure from British history, with the exception of the fourth pillar which is reserved for commissioned pieces.

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Sitting on the fountain in Trafalgar Square, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Westminster Abbey

Like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey also costs money to enter. However, the exterior is a romantic mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and, quite honestly, breathtaking. The architecture of the Abbey is incredible and worth visiting even if you decide not to pay the ticket price to go inside.

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Westminster Abbey, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Stroll along one of the city walks

London has countless paths that make for fantastic city walks. My favorite is the walk along the Mall stretching from Buckingham Palace through to Trafalgar Square. Another great walk is along Fleet Street, which is one of the oldest streets in London and makes its way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. As I said, there is a plethora of these walks to choose from, and they all offer a great way to see and explore the city.

 

  1. The Gardens of Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace is most well known for being the London home of Prince William, Duchess Kate Middleton, and their two adorable tots. The palace is also known for its beautiful front gardens. The Sunken Garden was inspired by a similar garden at Hampton Court Palace and is complete with numerous flower beds and a pond. Surrounding the Sunken Garden is what’s called the Cradle Walk, which is a shaded arched walkway with window-like cutouts that allow you to admire the beauty of the colorful Sunken Garden.

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Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, 2016. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Parliament and ‘Big Ben’

The Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower (known incorrectly as Big Ben, which is actually just the name of the bell inside the tower) are possibly the most recognizable landmarks of London. If you’ve ever seen a movie taking place in London, or a poster of the city, or a photograph, the majority of the time you’ll see these picturesque buildings. Visiting this area is a good way to pinch yourself and allow it to really sink in that you’re in London!

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‘Big Ben’ and the Houses of Parliament, 2016. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Admire the city

Stop a minute and really take in the sites, sounds, and culture of the capital of the United Kingdom. London is one of the oldest and richest cities in the world, and it’s a privilege to be able to meander its ancient streets, see the sites, and discover what makes this spectacular city so amazing.

‘Over the Sea to Skye’

The Isle of Skye isn’t exactly easy to get to. The best way, in my opinion, is by car. If you’re reliant on public transport, you have to get a bus or coach from Inverness or Fort William. There is also the option of a ferry. It’s a long journey to Scotland’s largest and most northern of the Inner Hebrides (or Inner Isles), but it’s definitely worth making the trek, no matter how you choose to get there.

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Scottish Highlands, 2016. c. Leah Putz

If you’re traveling by car or bus, you’ll most likely cross over the Skye bridge connecting the island to Eileen Ban. The bridge, thin and high over the sea, provides incredible views of the Highlands as you roll into the village of Kyleakin on Skye.

After arriving in Skye, my friend and I decided to hop into the car and drive with no particular destination, but just pulling over whenever we saw something interesting. Even just driving around aimlessly in Skye is breathtaking. The narrow, winding roads prevent you from going too fast, so it’s easy to admire the Highland views of the island. Our first stop was Kilt Rock.

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Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Kilt Rock is a rock formation on a cliff edge that is said to resemble a pleated kilt (hence the name). The long section of coastal cliffs offer impeccable views, especially with the added nearby Mealt Falls tumbling from the cliff edge into the sea. The view from this vantage point presents one of the most breathtaking instances of natural beauty that I’ve seen as of yet in the world. Photos can’t do it justice, you’ll just have to journey to Skye to see what I mean!

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Coast of Skye, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Our next stop was the famed Old Man of Storr. This site is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. It’s not visible from the road, there is just a sign signalling that it’s nearby and that if you stop and park, you can begin the hike to find it. It’s a vigorous hike- though there is a clear path it’s super steep at times and covers a distance of almost 4k. Without the proper shoes it could be very difficult. It’s well worth the extra effort, though. The unique rock formation comprised of stony pinnacles is one of the most sought after destinations on the Isle of Skye, and understandably so. The congregation of stones and their thin, tall towers seem almost other-worldly- like something from Middle-Earth or some other fantasy land.

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Old Man of Storr, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Last but certainly not least, we swung by the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle. Regrettably we don’t have any pictures of this last stop, but it’s was pouring buckets (in typical Scottish fashion) and we didn’t want to get our cameras/phones wet. The fairy pools are a collection of small waterfalls in the Glen that empty into a clear pool. On a nicer day, it’s popular with swimmers who dare to brave the freezing water.

We only had a day to explore, so didn’t get the chance to see more of the numerous sites. Some of the things that we missed that will make certain to check out next time are the Quiraing, Neist Point Lighthouse, and Boreraig, among others. Full of natural wonders and breathtaking beauty, the Isle of Skye is not to be missed.

Top 5 Must-Dos in Chicago

Chicago is a hot spot this winter, especially after the Cubs won the World Series, and many people are scrambling to spend a few days there. I myself spent the weekend there recently visiting a friend and, though it was absolutely freezing cold, I had a wonderful time exploring and seeing bits of Chicago I hadn’t seen on my previous trips there.

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My friend Joe and I trying to stay warm in front of Willis Tower, 2016. c. Leah Putz

Now, after having visited the city three times, I’ve compiled a top 5 must do’s if you’re spending the weekend in Chicago!

  1. Stroll along the Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile is a stretch of Michigan Avenue that runs through the heart of downtown Chicago. Running along the mile are numerous historic landmarks (the Chicago water tower, Wrigley Building, and Tribune Tower to name a few) and high-end shops that make the area Chicago’s largest shopping district. Even if you aren’t a big shopper, strolling along the mile simply to take in the scale of the buildings and the architecture is quite an experience.

  1. Visit the Bean

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The Bean and I, 2013. c. Leah Putz

Okay, I know that technically this large sculpture is called Cloud Gate, but who actually says that? Everyone, tourists and natives, refer to it lovingly as ‘the bean’ because that’s what it looks like. A giant, reflecting bean. The bean is the focal point of Millennium Park and it has become a signature part of Chicago in the past 10 years that it has existed. It’s incredibly interesting and a bit surreal to experience, especially if you stand directly underneath it and look up to see your reflection warped by the irregular shape of the sculpture. The bean is definitely a must-see, especially if it’s your first time in the city.

  1. Willis Tower

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Willis Tower, 2016. c. Leah Putz

With 110 floors, Willis Tower, formerly (and more commonly) known as Sears Tower, is America’s tallest building and the staple of Chicago’s skyline. The building has an observation deck with a clear floor that allows you to feel like you’re standing on top of the city with nothing beneath you, but this comes with a price tag. I haven’t journeyed to the top of the tower in any of my trips to Chicago because the $23.00 admission fee seems a bit too steep to me, but I’ve been told it is an incredibly surreal experience!

  1. The River Walk

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View of Chicago from the River walk, 2016. c. Leah Putz

One of my favorite things about Chicago is how beautiful the Chicago River is. In every other major city I’ve been to, the river is brown and looks really dirty. In Chicago, however, the river is alluringly blue. There are paths leading along both sides of the river, littered with cafes and restaurants, that allow an easy stroll taking in the sites of the city.  

  1. Navy Pier

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Navy Pier, 2016. c. Leah Putz

Navy Pier is my favorite part of Chicago for a few reasons. One, it offers an extraordinary view of the Chicago skyline and of Lake Michigan. Two, it takes you out of the concrete jungle atmosphere of the downtown Loop area of the city and surrounds you with beautiful azul waters and a seaside-like atmosphere. There’s a lighthouse in the distance, an anchor sculpture, a ferris wheel, and a beer garden. What more could you want in an area?

 

Honorable mention: Don’t forget to try Chicago-style deep dish pizza and/or a Chicago-style hot dog. If there’s anything Chicago is known for- it’s food!

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Chicago style hot dog, 2013. c. Leah Putz