Seven Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo (At Least Once)

You love traveling with your friends. The jokes, the memories. It’s those times wandering through Time Square or getting lost in Barcelona that you’ll remember for a lifetime. But you will also remember the first time you successfully navigated the London underground by yourself or sat on the Spanish steps eating some delicious gelato pondering the meaning of life. Traveling Solo is an incredible experience and one that everyone should try at least once.

Build Self Confidence

If anything is going to help you build some self-confidence it’s traveling solo. You have to make all your own travel plans and ensure they are carried out. If you want to talk to someone, you’ll have to break the ice. If you get lost, you will be the one to find your way. There is something empowering about traveling solo – especially in a foreign country. I will always remember my first solo journey in New Zealand and my first adventure in the country. I took a ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island. I ventured around the island visiting wineries, finding hidden beaches, and devouring the most delicious burger I’ve ever had.

Mt Cook NZ

What You Want

This is a big one. No more agreeing on what sites you want to see or what hikes you want to do. You don’t have to worry if one friend wants to go rafting, but the other wants to zip line. If you are on a road trip, you create the itinerary and even better you are in control of the playlist. When you travel solo, you can do whatever you want, no questions asked.

Quad Ride Peru

When You Want

What you want, when you want. I was on a water taxi crossing Lake Te Anau getting ready to hike the Kepler Track. There were two other guys in the water taxi and we were all traveling solo. The driver asked if we liked traveling solo and in unison, we said, Yes! We can do what we want when we want. If your alarm goes off, and you want to hit snooze (for a few more hours) you can do it. You set your own schedule and you choose if it changes. There is truly something liberating about traveling solo.

Make New Friends

Either someone will see that you are by yourself and approach you or you’ll be craving for a conversation that isn’t on your phone and you’ll strike up the conversation. I believe it’s almost easier to make new friends when you are traveling solo vs with a group, and especially with other people also on their own. While traveling through New Zealand, I sat down for breakfast at a table with two girls and we started a conversation. I mentioned how I would be traveling to Ireland soon, and one of the girls said she lived in Ireland, and I should hit her up when I was there. Not only did I see her in Ireland, but I was headed to Scotland in a few weekends and she also had plans to go to Scotland with some friends, and we met up again! It was so much fun!

Rose and Keelie Ireland

Learn About Yourself

When you only have yourself to rely on, you tend to learn a lot about yourself. Like if you are good at directions, what type of activities you like the most and how you want to spend your time. You learn your limits like how long you want to spend exploring a city or how adventurous you are willing to get with the local food. There is no one there to persuade you in a direction and every choice in one you made.

No Expectations

Timon and Pumbaa said it best – “It means no worries.” When it’s just you, you are forever on island time living the island lifestyle. You might have some bad days, but no one but you will know. And tomorrow will be a brand-new day filled with brand new adventures. Create your own schedule and go with the flow. It’s relaxing when the only needs to service are your own and there aren’t any expectations to meet.

New York Skyline

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I always thought of myself as a shy person. The new people I would meet were through friends or we would be paired together somehow whether it was school, work or a sporting team etc. And I usually took the safe route. I went to the safe school, took a safe job. But when I was in a foreign country all on my own, I had to broaden my horizons a little. Eat foods I wasn’t used to eating, jump off rocks I thought were a little high, and strike up a conversation with countless strangers. I love traveling with my group of friends, but I think we tend to be complacent when we are around people we know. When it’s just you, the limits tend to get pushed and you step out of your comfort zone.

Vatican Rome

So what do you think? Have you traveled solo before and it changed your life? Do you have an reservations about a solo trip? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me at @keeliec5 and let’s get the conversation started!

Until next time….

Cheers!

Keelie

Four Reasons You Should Plan a Trip to California’s Eastern Sierra

I had lived in Reno for almost 8 years. I’d been to Gardnerville countless times, but never any further south on Hwy 395. One day I randomly came across a picture of Bodie, a mining ghost town located just south of Bridgeport, and instantly became infatuated. I convinced a few of my friends to head down there for a weekend getaway and instantly fell in love with the area. Here are 4 reasons why you should plan a trip to the Eastern Sierra.

Hot Springs

The land along Hwy 395 is loaded with hot springs perfect for soaking those sore muscles after a long day of skiing or just relaxing and enjoying the breathtaking views. You can either pay to enjoy a natural hot spring that has been funneled into a man-made pool like at Grover’s Hot Springs or David Wally’s, or you can venture into the unknown and find a natural hot spring. If you decided to go the natural route, please read this blog on hot spring etiquette. Finding them is always the tough part. You can definitely google “Eastern Sierra Hot Springs”, but I think the best thing to do is adventure out and find one on your own!

Natural Park Areas

We’ve all heard of Yosemite, turn right at Lee Vining from Hwy 395 to see its granite cliffs and magnificent waterfalls. If you’d like to read more, check out my blog on Half Dome. However, there are plenty of great parks located in Eastern California without climbing Tioga Pass. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is located near the Yosemite turnoff. This shallow saline soda lake is considered prehistoric and filled with large Tufa Towers or limestone towers. Bodie is a California Historic Landmark and a preserved mining ghost town. Rumor has it that during the gold boom Bodie was the 3rd largest city in California. The mines started to close, and by the early 1900s, the once-booming city was now considered a ghost town. The people left so abruptly, that they left behind vehicles, clothes, dishes among other items now on display in the historic town.

Skiing

You can’t write a blog about Hwy 395 and the Eastern Sierra without mentioning skiing and Mammoth Mountain. With over 3,500 skiable acres and an elevation of over 11,000 ft, Mammoth Mountain is often the training mountain for Olympic winter athletes. If you want to avoid the long lift lines at Mammoth, you can give June Mountain a try. With 1,500 skiable acres, June is a much smaller mountain, but still great to ski and a local’s favorite after a storm. Backcountry skiing is also really popular in this area. I was camping in the Bridgeport area Memorial Weekend after the epic 16/17 ski season. The mountains were still deep with snow and backcountry skiing was a popular activity. We were hiking a trail near Twin Lakes, and we were the only group not hiking with skis on our back. We saw the bowl everyone was hiking too and a couple of my friends started drooling.

Outdoor Recreation

Basically, if you are looking for a weekend getaway and love the outdoors, you should plan a trip south (or north if you’re coming from Southern California) on Hwy 395 and explore the Eastern Sierra. Here you can camp, hike, fish and play on or in the water with the beautiful Sierra as your backdrop. Paddleboard on Lake Mary or cast your line in the East Walker River.

For more information check out VisitMammoth.com or MonoCounty.org. Have you explored much in the Eastern Sierra? Where is your favorite place to go or thing to do? Tell me in the comments below!

Until next time…

Cheers!

Keelie

Your Guide to Nevada’s Ruby Mountains

Known as the Nevada Swiss Alps, The Ruby Mountains are located near the town of Elko in eastern Nevada. Home to Big Horn Sheep and steep jagged mountains, this place was made for the adventurist. The Ruby Mountain are about 5 hours east of Reno and right of I-80, which makes this the perfect weekend getaway if you’re coming from Reno, or a great pit-stop if you are road tripping along I-80. So, what should you do in the Ruby Mountains? Where should you stay? Keep reading to find out.

Where to Stay

If you prefer a hotel, you can stay in Elko and drive in, but there are plenty of great camping options in the Ruby Mountains. Popular places include Thomas Canyon Campground in Lamoille Canyon or South Ruby Campground located near the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. There are around 10 different camping areas nearby, so visit recreation.gov and take your pick.

What to Do

The area is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. They have hiking trails galore. I would start inside Lamoille Canyon. If you are staying at Thomas Canyon Campground, there is a hiking trail inside called Thomas Creek Trail. This trail is an out and back and follows the creek to a vast meadow and a waterfall. I went in August, so the waterfall was a trickle, but I imagine it’s much larger in the spring. This trail is not well traveled, so do keep an eye out for the path. My sister and I got lost a couple of times. She decided to turn back, but I was determined to find this waterfall (and I did).

Another great hiking area is at the end of Lamoille Canyon. This out and back trail will take you by alpine lakes, granite cliffs and rocks, and you’ll even find some patches of snow. The trek is part of a hike through called the Ruby Crest Trail. The Ruby Crest Trail is 42 miles longs, so you could hike a part of it as a day hike, or backpack the trail in a few days.

Hunting and fishing are also popular near the Ruby Mountains. When I went with my dad and sister, we didn’t catch any fish but did see a rather large marmot.

In the winter you can heli-ski! I don’t know much about heli-skiing in the Ruby Mountains, but you can read more here.

Insider Tips

Whether you are staying in Elko or camping out, if you get a chance to go out to dinner one night, you have to try the Star Hotel. This place has some of the best Basque Food you’ll find in the U.S. Another great tip is beware of the altitude. If you are coming from Reno, you probably won’t have an issue with the altitude, but if you’re like my sister and coming from sea-level, it might take a bit to get used to. Adjust, take it easy and try to wait a day or two before doing anything strenuous. Also, the nights will be cool! So, come prepared for warmer days and cool nights, but most importantly remember to have fun!

Did you know Nevada is the most mountainous state? You’ve probably heard of the Sierra Nevada, so now it’s time to check out the Ruby Mountains. Have you been before? What were some of your favorite trails or camping spots? Tell me in the comments below.

Until next time…

Cheers!

Keelie

The Complete Guide to Sun City Resort: South Africa

Located off the typical tourist path (but still a tourist destination) is Sun City Resort. The resort is located about 125 miles northwest of Johannesburg near Pilanesberg National Park. This place is truly a city within a city and popular among UK residents wanting to escape the winter cold. The resort has 4 hotels, 2 golf courses, a waterpark, a casino, safaris and a variety of other adventure activities.

So, in the middle of an English winter, I flew from London to Johannesburg to meet some family and enjoy a wonderful stay at the exotic Sun City Resort.

Hotels

I stayed at the Palace of the Lost City. This place was magical – everything from the decor to the amenities – you instantly felt relaxed and submerged into an African jungle escape. The hotel was built on a hill so you could see its beautiful architectural design from anywhere in the resort. Of the 4 hotels, Palace of the Lost City is definitely geared towards a more luxurious stay, but you will feel right at home in any of the hotels in Sun City. 

Food

All diets and food limitations go out the door at Sun City Resorts. The food is delicious and there is A LOT of it. Each hotel has about 2-3 restaurants you can choose from, and the resort offers an inner-city shuttle to help you get around. Bocado, inside the Cascades hotel, is set alongside their main swimming pool amid tropical gardens and offers Mediterranean cuisine. The Crystal Court, inside the Palace of the Lost City, is your go-to place for breakfast and high tea.

Activities

This is why you come to Sun City Resort. Have an activity you want to try? They probably have it. Zipline just over a mile 900 feet in the air, cruise around the resort on a Segway tour, or get a little dirty with a quad ride. The Valley of the Waves is their onsite waterpark, and it’s complimentary to overnight guests. Relax on the lazy river or their sandy beaches, or get the adrenaline going with one of their water slides. But watch out for the monkeys! These tricky creatures are waiting for you to leave something behind they can grab. Only in Africa are their monkeys at a water park!

Safari

Definitely the highlight of my stay at Sun City Resort. Book the early morning safari at the nearby Pilanesberg National Park. Famous for its sightings of the Big 5, this safari is perfect for the first-timer or the seasoned safari goer. I saw rhinos, monkeys, giraffes, lots and lots of zebras and wildebeest. We came across a family of elephants, hyenas, warthogs and even saw a Black Mamba!  If you love animals, you will love this safari.

Bottom Line

Go to Sun City Resort. The grounds are beautiful, the food is amazing and the people are unbelievably friendly. You will have the time of your life during this one of a kind holiday! So now that you are done reading all about Sun City Resort, I have a task for you. Go and re-watch the Lion King. When I saw my first herd of wildebeest, I couldn’t help but think, “Mufasa Killer.” Even though I know Scar was the real murderer, but that’s a different blog!

Until next time….

Cheers!

Keelie

Hiking to Machu Picchu – The Lares Trek

Machu Picchu is a household name and considered one of the Seven Wonders on the World.  The site was built around 1450 by the Incas just before the Spanish Conquest. When the Spaniards invaded Peru, they tore down all of their places of worship and built Spanish Churches on top of them. The reason why Machu Picchu still stands, is once the Incas heard of the Spanish invasion they fled their sacred city and covered up the trail so no one could find it. It wasn’t until 1911 when an American Historian stumbled across the Lost City that Machu Picchu rose to international fame.

How do you get there?

The largest city closest to Machu Picchu is Cusco, and from there you have a couple different options. You can take a train to Aguas Calientes and from there a bus to Machu Picchu, or you can hike. The three most popular hikes are the traditional Inca Trail, Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. The Inca Trail is the most popular; you travel the same road as the ancient Incas and enter the ruins through the Sun Gate. The Lares Trek will take you through a remote part of the Peruvian Andes where you walk through villages, breathtaking scenery and get a sense of a less touristy Peru. However, the trail does not end at Machu Picchu, it ends at Ollantaytambo and you take a train to Aguas Calientes. The Salkantay Trek is a longer hike, and from what I’ve heard a little more difficult than the other two. The trail offers views of snowy peaks such as Huamantay and Salkantay and ends at a town called Santa Teresa which is just a few kilometers from Aguas Calientes.

I completed the Lares Trek and absolutely loved it. Everyday there was a new scenic gorgeous view, and the trail wasn’t overly populated with other tourists. Sometimes when we would break for lunch, we would see other tourists, but most of the time it was just my small group of five, our guide and the Sherpas. We had donkeys and horses with us that carried our belongings, food shelter etc. So, we hiked with just a small backpack of supplies. The donkeys and horses cannot make it up the steps of the Inca Trail, so you have to carry all of your own gear on that trek. The Salkantay Trek also has horses that can carry some of your supplies.

The benefit of the Lares and Salkantay Treks, is you get to spend a night in a hotel in Augas Calientes before headed to Machu Picchu. This means your first proper shower in days, a real toilet, a bed, all the comforts you might have missed over the last couple of days. Do check the weather and bring appropriate clothing. The days can be very warm and the nights very cold. Plus, you might experience rain, wind and sun all in one day.

Elevation

The elevation of Cusco is 3400 m or 11,200 ft. Guides recommend you spend a couple of days in Cusco to adjust to the elevation before heading the Machu Picchu. The Lost City itself is only 2400 meters, but during your hike you will reach great summits of around 4500 meters. Coca tea is a popular drink to help with altitude sickness, but the coca leaf is also how the narcotic cocaine is made, so it can deliver a false positive on a drug test.

Machu Picchu

We arrived in the Lost City just in time for sunrise, and I am still in awe. To think something was built so long ago and still in such incredible condition, but the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. After a morning tour and history lesson with our guide we parted ways for a little free time. My group chose to hike up to the Sun Gate for lunch (you cannot eat in the ruins) and another incredible view. Another thing I liked about the Lares Trek, is it’s such an intimate group that you become really good friends with everyone you traveled with. To help with overcrowding, Machu Picchu now limits the number of visitors to the site each day, so make sure you buy your ticket ahead of time.

My time on the Lares Trek and visiting Machu Picchu was an adventure I’ll never forget. I loved the history, the culture, the food! Some of the best food I had during my stay in Peru was on the Lares Trek. If you’re thinking about visiting this sacred site – do it! If you have any other questions about Cusco, Machu Picchu or the Lares Trek ask me on twitter at @keeliec5 or leave me a comment below!

Until next time…..

Cheers!

Keelie

Five of New Zealand’s Greatest Day Hikes

New Zealand is an adventure seeker’s dream. The country offers everything. Boat life, beaches, Heli-hiking into glaciers, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, mountain biking you name it. Another activity the country is famous for is its plethora of “tramping” or hiking trails. Here is a list of 5 must-see day hikes in beautiful New Zealand.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Know as one of the greatest day hikes in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is just over 20 km one way and takes you through the volcanic land of the North Island or Mordor for Lord of the Ring fans. Mt. Ngauruhoe is a site to see on this trek and doubles as Mt. Doom. Booking a shuttle with a tour company from a nearby town is recommended. And bring layers! You will go through about 3 microclimates during this amazing journey.

Abel Tasman

Located along the coast on the north side of the South Island, Abel Tasman is a tropical paradise full of golden sandy beaches and marine life. There are a few different ways you can enjoy this beautiful park.  You can explore the shoreline via kayak, boat or on foot. For the day hike option, you can hire a water taxi or book with a tour group to take you up the coast and you walk back. I stayed in Nelson when I hiked through Abel Tasman. I took a bus to Kaiteriteri and hopped on the water taxi from there. Just don’t do what I did and miss your water taxi on the way back!

Hooker Valley Track

This out and back trek is one of the most popular hikes in the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. The trail is 5km long one way and will take you across swinging bridges, by roaring glacier rivers and to Hooker Valley Lake which offers a picturesque view of Mt. Cook – the tallest peak in New Zealand. The walk from the town center to the trailhead can add about 40 mins to your hike, but you might be able to stick out your thumb and catch a ride there, or someone might just pull over like they did for me. This is one of my favorite hikes on this list and for good reasons. The views are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Roy’s Peak

Probably the hike you’ve seen the most on Instagram, Roy’s Peak is a steep 16 km trek. The trailhead is about 3km away from the city center, but with the popularity of the hike, you’re bound to find someone driving your way that can give you a ride. The start of the hike goes through a sheep farm, but if you’ve spent any time in New Zealand, you already know there are sheep everywhere. You’ll wind up the mountain for a picture-perfect view of the glacier-carved Lake Wanaka. The hike is fully exposed, so bring appropriate cover, sunscreen and water.

Kaikoura Peninsula

Located in the small coastal town of Kaikoura, the Peninsula Walkway is almost 12 km long and takes you along the scenic peninsula. Here you can get up close and personal with a seal colony, see whales and dolphins from the shoreline, and take in some of the best views on the South Island. This walk is easily accessible from the city center and the perfect way to explore an incredible coastline.

You really can’t go wrong with any day hike in New Zealand, but if you find yourself there and looking for a hike, these 5 are a great place to start! Now I want to hear from you, where is your favorite country to hike? Tell me in the comments below! I’m always looking for new destinations to explore!

Until next time…..

Cheers!

Keelie

That Highway 20 Ride

There is something magical about the Northern California Coast. Its rugged coastline, windy roads, crisp air, and that golden sunshine. North of San Francisco you have fewer tourists. The coastline starts to look more like something you would find in Oregon, but you can still have gorgeous sun rays and that vibe only found in California.

My parents were invited to join some family friends in Fort Bragg for the weekend. Everyone would have their fancy camper and the campground had full electricity, flushing toilets, showers and even WiFi. Basically glamping. I decided to tag along because I can’t pass up an opportunity to explore a new place.

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Puppy Kisses ❤

I had only been to Fort Bragg once before. I was in the 8th grade, and it was for a friend’s birthday. However, Fort Bragg is an extremely popular travel destination for everyone in my hometown. I’m sure most of our town folk consider the coastal town a second home. The family friends we were joining have been spending their weekends on Hwy 1 since the early 70s. Obviously, I like to travel (hence my travel blog), and I really like to explore and see new things. So as soon as I found out I would be spending time in Mendocino County, I began researching what to do and see.

My journey started by taking Hwy 20 in California from beginning to end. I pick it up off the 80 just passed Donner Summit and got off at Hwy 1. I journeyed through the mountains of Gold Country and made my way to the valley floor. From there it is farmland as far as the eye can see until Clear Lake. It is slow going around the lake, but it provides nice scenery. You cross paths with the 101 and enter Willits. The quaint little town situated on the crossing of Hwy 20 and 101. This is the start of Mendocino County and the beautifully rugged Northern California Coast. The drive from Willits to Fort Bragg is windy, steep at some parts and exceptionally picturesque. The whole drive was scenic. And it truly shows you how diverse the state of Califonia really is.

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Family Photo Opt

I spent 3 nights there, and during that time we ate a lot of seafood, drank a lot of beer, and walked on a lot of beaches. We ate at North Coast Brewing Company, Sea Pal Cove, and Cafe Del Mar. All were great and unique in their own way. I am also an avid hiker, and I found quite a few hikes I would one day like to try. I suggested we go to Russian Gulch State Park and look around. We found a secluded beach to let the dogs run wild on, and I looked for this hike to a waterfall on the park map. I was alone on the ‘hiking business’ which is why I said I would like to one day try them. We continued down Hwy 1 and stopped in Mendocino. You can walk around the town in probably half hour. The area offers some great coastal views, pathways for short strolls, shopping, eating, and of course a few watering holes. There is a river inlet that was perfect for the dogs and looked like a great place to catch some summer rays.

After learning I would be visiting Fort Brag, and starting my research, I came across a place called Bowling Ball beach. The beach is covered with small round boulders that well look like bowling balls. Some photos had the water just covering the bottom of the boulders, and the place looked magical. It was an hour from where we were staying, and on our last full day in Fort Bragg, I convinced my company to go on a road trip. I will be upfront with you. We made it to Bowling Ball Beach. It was beautiful, but I did not see the bowling ball boulders. Pretty sure you have to go during low tide. See I am just destined to return to Mendocino. Even though our initial goal was not met, the day was not wasted. Our road trip down there provided some of the most secluded and untouched coastline the West Coast has to offer. We made a pit stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse, and of course, the second I climbed to the top, the cloud cover rolled in and I couldn’t see a thing. We had ‘linner’ at the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room in Point Arena. Everyone loved it. The restaurant was situated in a harbor, and we could watch people surf from the window. Overall Fort Bragg was outstanding. I recommend exploring the surrounding area. Glass Beach is a popular town attraction, but it was under construction when I was there.

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Where are the bowling balls?!

 I will definitely be going back to that part of the California coast. I must see Bowling Ball Beach! There is so much to explore in that area, you just have to get in your car and go!