Which Island In Hawaii?

As you probably already know, Hawaii is a small chain of islands in the Pacific, so don’t plane on booking any train tickets for your visit. The easiest way to get there is by air, but you can also get there via boat in some cases. If you’re one of the very lucky people who gets a chance to visit Hawaii one of the “troubling questions” can be, “Which island(s) do I visit?” While you’re stuck pondering this horrible and tragic question, I’ve compiled a list of the islands which give you the best ways possible to differentiate the islands according to your traveling style!

Photo by Flickr User justin.donnelly

Choose Kauai if:

  • You want to go to a beach and relax without tourists jam packed (not all the time but it does happen)
  • You consider yourself an entrepreneur of movies (over 100 motion pictures and TV shows have been filmed here)
  • You are hungry for dramatic landscapes that prove exciting (the most obvious reason for it being a prime spot for filming)
  • Outdoor adventures are your key to survival
  • You like the small town feel and enjoy the country side

Choose Oahu if:

  • You like to watch live surfing competitions
  • You were born a walker but not a marathon runner, everything is in walking distance
  • Crowds are not a problem to you
  • You’re a history buff (Honolulu’s Historical District)
  • You’re flying with family and are looking for kid-friendly activities (and sanity for you)
  • You’re hungry and want options (there are a great variety)
  • Nightlife is what you seek
  • You can’t go home without some shopping done
  • A direct flight is a must (HNL is the main airport for all the islands of Hawaii)

Choose Maui if:

  • You like seclusion (Hana)
  • You have a fantastic swing and want to golf
  • Ocean life is your desire (snorkeling and scuba options galore)
  • You like small, boutique towns
  • Whale watching sounds like a perfect time for memory making or picture taking (whale speaking optional)
  • Your cup of tea is drinking it and perusing art galleries

Choose the Big Island (Hawaii) if:

  • You’re looking for the heat of lava (active volcano Kilauea)
  • Your hiking boots need mileage
  • You want to do the nearly impossible, see snow and the beach all in one day
  • Deep sea sport fishing is your thirst
  • You want to check out the astronomy at the observatory
  • You want to be the first of your friends to stand at the southernmost US town (Southpoint)

5 Tips for a Trip to Boston

Boston is a great city to visit. It’s the perfect mix between old and new. Old as in you can visit Paul Revere’s house and new as in you can grab a slice of pizza right after. Here are a few tips to ensure you have a wicked good time in Beantown.

 

Everything is a One-way

If you ever make the decision to drive in Boston, know that it’s a stupid idea. The roads make no sense and the Bostonians who surround you will teach you words you never knew existed. My suggestion get a T-pass. It is better for everyone.

Take a Swan Boat Ride

Does it sound stupid? Yes. Is it the most fun you will ever have? Yes. The Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden are long boats powered by a swan, and by a swan I mean a kid sitting behind a swan cut out biking his heart out.

 Avoid Hotels

Hotels in Boston are expensive and impersonal. To get the true Boston experience get a vacation rental. They are cheaper and the owner knows the area so they can suggest things to do. Take a look at these Massachusetts vacation rentals to get thinking.

Cross the River

Cambridge is like Boston’s slightly cooler cousin. There are tons of shops, great restaurants, and ivy league schools. Before you take your trip see if any bands you like are playing in Cambridge, you’d be surprised who plays there.

Get your Sports On

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Boston is pretty good at sports. No matter what season it is you can probably see a sports team that has recently won something. So go see the Celtics, the Red Sox, the Bruins, or the Boston Cricket Club.

 

Have you been to Boston? What would you recommend doing?

Tell me what you know about Baltimore!

The title says it about all…what do YOU know about Baltimore? I’m probably moving there in August, and want your thoughts! In the spirit of full disclosure: I will be commuting several times per week to attend a graduate school program in Philadelphia (YAY!), however, my significant other will likely be working Washington, DC.

What do you think? Where should I live? Prices? Restaurants that are mouth-wateringly delicious and must not be missed?

:-)

How could I forget?

Yesterday, I realized how close I came to transforming back into a my past self. A self whose life revolved around my credit score and the cleanliness of my office desk. What I was like thirteen months ago.

Thirteen months ago, I embarked on a journey which took me through seven countries, three of which I called home. During this time, I witnessed poverty, death, post-colonialism, and racism. But I also experienced love, joy, friendship, and laughter, and I shared this with locals and expats, the rich and the poor, the black and the white.

It is a vast understatement and an injustice to these cultures to claim that I was “changed forever”; the truth is, I was ripped from my comfortable, western ideals and thrust into a conflicted understanding of life that I have yet to fully understand. I don’t really think I have the writing skills to explain the full range of emotions I worked through, but I suppose you understand.

I did attempt to convey these feelings to my readers, but the fact remains: how could I explain the vastness of emotion to an outsider, when the deepest of thoughts were barely understood by the active participants…namely, me.

In any case, I returned to America more wise and knowlegeable than ever before, intent on changing the world. I know, the thick layer of cliche smeared on that previous statement makes me want to cringe; I’m sure it wasn’t easier to swallow by my state-side friends and family. In their eyes, I left as a normal college graduate and returned with nothing but two bags of dirty, hole-ridden clothing and, thanks to my housing in Madagascar, a weird phobia of rats.

As the months passed, I worked tirelessly on my two African-themed novels (still a work in progress, by the way); reliving snapshots of my past over and over again. Reminding myself of why I was driven to write these books in the first place…to show what I had not been able to tell. To write, free of censorship, and imbue people with a sense of wonder for the world and a feeling of global civic duty.

Writing late into the night, I would think in French, breathe African air, and yearn to be back in Malabo, side-stepping potholes to visit with friends and lunching on plantains and chicken. But dreams don’t pay the bills, and so I accepted a fantastic job offer. A massive career boost, the wave of which carried me away from Africa and back into America. Not that America is bad. I love it here.

But I forgot. I forgot what it was like in Africa. I forgot all the lessons I had learned.

And then, I watched the movie “Biutiful”. I had no idea I was signing up for a 148 minute heart wrenching, soul beating, journey where I would see harsh reminders of the friends I left behind. The movie, which touches on everything from gay relationships to illegal African workers in Mexico, prostitution, cancer, child abuse, and alcoholism, is an expertly crafted piece of film history that is nothing short of miraculous.

A club scene filled with prostitutes and rich expats echoed of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. A police chase and subsequent story-line involving illegal Senegalese workers reminded me of the Africans hawking goods just a few minutes from my home in Paris, France. The dialogue between the main, cancer-ridden character and an inept nurse holding a possibly contaminated needle tugged at my heart and I remembered the deplorable health care in Equatorial Guinea, and my five week illness in Madagascar.

Driving home, I was strangely quiet. I couldn’t stop thinking about why I’d traveled in the first place, and moreover, why I’d ever stopped. Obviously travel takes money, money takes work, and well-paid work appeared in America; but, why did I stop remembering Africa, why did I stop reading travel blogs, or stop seeking out like-minded friends?

The answer? I think I felt a little stupid talking about something that so few people could relate to. And so I just stopped! I re-focused my energies on thoughts that other people could understand, and lost track of a part of myself which was only just developing.

So, here I am. I’m back…I’m really back. I started writing this travel blog two years ago, so that I could connect with like-minded individuals intent of traveling the world. On helping the world. On opening lines of communication between cultures to facilitate understanding and cross-cultural interest. And now…I’ve made a full 360, and I’m back for more.

I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I just needed a reminder of what I was missing, and why I left in the first place.

The Backpacking Chica is BACK!

Holy Hell!

It’s been way too long since I wrote a post on here…but never fear, you haven’t been far from my mind! In my “absence” I was working behind the scenes trying to get more exposure for this site, which got me more readers…and more spammers. I do apologize if random posts of mine have weird comments attached to them; I do not endorse or condone any viagra websites or russian dating agencies at this time :-)

The last time you heard from me, I was chilling in North Florida working simultaneously on two books about my time in Africa. Nowadays…about a month later, I’m still in North Florida, but wonder upon wonders, yours truly got a J.O.B.

Yes! A job.

In fact, please imagine me putting on shades, raising my right hand, and wagging my index finger as I say, “I told you so!”

Why?

The sole reason I got hired, beating out dozens of other applicants who were definitely more qualified than myself, was because I went to Africa. Because I could confidently say: “I’ve run a blog, I know how Twitter works, and I promise I will get attention to your cause.”

It sounds stupid, but it worked! When I left on my trip fourteen months ago, there were more than enough people who swore I was doing the wrong thing: the money spent, and the time wasted could be better invested in my future.

Fourteen months later, the ONLY reason I beat out nine lawyers for my position was because, “if (you) can go backpacking around Africa by yourself, you can definitely work here!” In fact, my boss loves my whole little “crazy” story so much, he calls me the “Backpacking Chica,” whenever he’s particularly happy with my work.

In any case, my transition back to civilization is more or less complete: I’ve been able to vault my trip (and the accompanying work and blogging experiences) into an awesome job, an awesome boss, a great salary, and a new career path. Even BETTER is the fact that I get to accumulate 400 overtime hours to be used as paid vacation time…per year. How much does that ROCK? What this means to you, blogosphere and universe, will get more travel stories and no pesky advertisements on my site!

In addition, I’m finished with the first draft of my first book! I spend about six hours each weekend working on it, so while progress has slowed, my resolve definitely hasn’t! I am actually hoping to gather up the courage to post a few pages on here in a few weeks…just to see what you guys think!

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your great comments and uplifting support on my twitter and facebook. There are now more than 900 of you guys tracking my blog’s movements, and, without you the transition back to American life would have been much harder. While I have become more jaded, and I’m sad that the Paris portion of my trip wasn’t the disney wonderland I’d dreamed it would be, I am happy that I grew as a person, and could honestly not ask for anything more in life right now.

Cheers (and thank eff for American beer selections),

Backpacking Chica

How four girls climbed a mountain and survived.

This last summer, a small group of my friends (all girls, by the way) decided to climb up Mount Wittenburg in the New York Catskills.  Preparing for our adventure the night before, the only Wittenburg veteran quickly assured us that it was a “fun walk”, “not very hard”, and rounded off the conversation by concluding that “if I can do it…so can you guys!”

Morning dawns, and we’re all in various states of excitement. I, myself, am fairly excited; the prospect of nature is generally appealing to me. Most of all, I know I will have cell phone service at the very top and any modern-day cell phone addict knows that dead zones (such as the one I had been staying in for at least three days) will drive one to do absolutely crazy things. Like climb a mountain.

Driving to the trail, spirits are high. Myself and a good friend (we’ll call her MBA…she’s structured, analytical, and generally in much better shape than the rest of us combined) are about a 9 (on an excitement scale of 10). A third member of the tribe, Charlotte (as in Charlotte from the Sex and the City) is nervously pulling on her Vera Bradley bag and wondering aloud if wearing designer jeans is the best idea. A fourth friend, the Veteran (and local), is going mostly because the third person on our expert mountain climbing team would do just about anything to avoid nature in general.

We navigate the car into the parking lot and worry about the parking costs (no one is there – should we pay? Should we leave? What on Earth will happen if we don’t pay this $5 fee?!??!?), and take some obligatory facebook pictures. We gasp; the trail begins with a beautiful log bridge spanning an equally dazzling and clear mountain stream. More facebook pictures are taken. We climb a few steps and start to look out for the trail notebook; the notebook each group signs to ensure that no one gets lost on the trail overnight. We don’t immediately see it, but that’s OK. Life is good. Sunlight dances through the trees. We walk a few more steps. More facebook pictures.

And then the first sign of trouble: “Can we take a break?” says Charlotte…Veteran agrees. Pep-talks ensue. MBA looks a little ruffled but it’s all good. We keep walking. Another break.

Soon we make a pact that I will climb ahead and wait for Veteran and Charlotte to catch up (MBA chasing them up from the rear), and that we can rest at each one of these points. This works…for some time. We reach the sign-in book. Hurrah! We’ve finally made it to the “official” trailhead. Adrenaline rushes, and we are motivated to continue. We decide: No more turning back.

Another hour passes. I run ahead. They catch up. Facebook pictures are periodically taken. Having packed a million granola bars, I thoughtfully chew them on our various breaks…part of me wonders why no one else is eating either. Never mind, they must have food  – who would leave on a day-long hike without it?

Pretty soon we start to look for the half-way marker. Apparently there is a sign which should point us in the right direction and according to Veteran, it can’t be far off. I squint my eyes trying to see ahead. After a couple of false alarms, even MBA is telling me that I’m mistaking weird-looking trees for the sign.

The first one to go is Charlotte. First it’s a few words here and there (mostly pertaining to what exactly the mountain could do with itself, if it were given a choice), but soon it’s a downright mutiny! “Enough!” says MBA: “We’re too far up to stop now…we’re getting our girl’s trip photo-op or else!”

Good. We’re in for the long haul. I start to walk ahead – the stop and go pace is tedious. I soon walk out of hearing range, but I imagine the beautiful mountain top that awaits me and it propels me forward. I climb, and climb, and climb. But it just keeps going. Where the hell is the top of this mountain? I run last-night’s conversations through my head, trying to remember specifically what Veteran mentioned about the trail, but a lot of what she said seems wrong. The trail gets pretty rough. The last hour involves at least five areas where I literally have to scramble up the rockface to get to the next segment of the trail. A few times, I only know where the trail is because of the markers. Clearly this isn’t hiked often.

Finally, after four and a half hours I notice the vegetation getting thinner and shorter. I round a corner, and I yell with joy about the beautiful view stretching out beneath my eyes. A bright blue sky is dotted with clouds, whose shadows play over the lush, green landscape in all directions. The top of the mountain is a worn, grassy area – almost like three large, flat steps that lead down to the edge, where rocks plunge into the forest below. Two large birds of prey fly over my head. There is no sound except for the wind. The sun shines on my face, and I am happy. That is, until I am attacked by dozens, if not hundreds, of little flies.

Flies? On a mountain top? How and why are they here? It’s a mystery to me. All I know is that hiking through the forest, they were no problem. They are only on this sunlit platform, exactly where I had planned to nap the time away until the rest of the group got there. Unable to take the flies, I walk back into the forest. I sit on stone for a while. It gets to be too uncomfortable, so I move. I walk a little further down. Then back up to see the view. Then back down to get away from the flies. Forty minutes goes by. An hour goes by. Could I have really been that far ahead of them? Where are they?

I call their names. No answer. I walk further down. I walk so far down that I’m about twenty minutes from the top. Of course they have no cell phone signal. And my phone is dying; I can’t even waste the time by chit chatting.

Finally, I call out and I get a reply. It’s the girls – they yell out and ask whether I’m at the top. I answer “no, but I’m close”. Silence. They slowly come into view. It’s not a pretty picture. Charlotte is cursing like a sailor. I never would have guessed it, but coming in at 100 pounds, she is one feisty girl! The Veteran is wishing evil on pretty much the entire New York mountain range and looking a little guilty about last night’s amnesia-like predictions of how our walk would go. MBA is looking professionally irritated; great for business, extremely funny in this situation. Trying not to laugh at the picture we paint, I don’t mention the flies. I furtively hope that they are perhaps an imagination; maybe altitude sickness manifested in a strangely real way.

Alas, altitude sickness is not to blame: the flies are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. This is not good.

Everyone retreats to their corner of the mountain top and recovers. Out come the cell phones. But no food. Everyone’s hungry, except for me. I’m just sick of my granola bars. We take more facebook pictures. We climbed all this way, we at least want decent pictures to show for it. I figure out the self-timer on my camera and prop it up using my fleece sweater. The picture looks great; we all check it for double-chins, bad smiles, closed eyes, bad hair. Everyone is happy with it.

Having spent less than fifteen minutes at the top, we gather our items together, happy to be leaving the cursed mountain. Charlotte gets happier and happier the more we walk. She literally has a bounce in her step. We call dibs on who gets the first hot shower. The happier Charlotte gets, the more upset Veteran is. She hurt her hip climbing up, and walking down is tough. We slow down. Light seems to be fighting to peak through the thick canopy, and it starts to get dark. Whispers about staying in the forest overnight echo in our minds.

Gradually, we start to see familiar objects. If only we make it to the sign-in post, we will be just a ten minute walk from the car. Finally, we see it. There are no words in the English vocabulary that can fully describe the joy we all feel. Hobbling down the last few steps, cursing the brown stream with the ugly wooden bridge, and collapsing in the car, we all agree: No More Hiking. Ever.

Driving home we console ourselves with the thought that we at least got lots of good memories captured on film. That was, until I realize that my fleece sweater-turned-camera stand in fact blockes out half of our only group picture.

In total, we hiked eight and a half hours. Although we absolutely hated, hated, hated the entirety of the day, it was the most memorable day of the trip.

In the words of Charlotte; “Remind me to never marry a mountain man”.

First “live” post :-)

Hola!

I’m proud to say that this is my first “live” post…reporting from Orlando international. A few comments on my travels today:

1) I saw a woman try to carry FOUR pieces of luggage onto the plane. FOUR.
2) I wanna do a shout out to Google for sponsoring FREE wireless in both airports (Fort Myers & Orlando) that I’ve been through today. Apparently it’s for the holidays…ten brownie points for a good marketing ploy.
3) Thanks to those of you who called me or showed up at my door last night to wish me happy travels. You all deserve snazzy souvenirs.

Last night was pretty nerve-wracking. Packing, re-packing, and making checklists (please…a collective groan in honor of the to-do lists worldwide).

I got an unexepected but AWESOME gift/sponsorship/what-have-you from some good friends over at Adventures in Paradise (Sanibel, Fl). I’ve been doing tours with them since 1996 (yep…that would be for more than half my life), and they are like family now. Of course they couldn’t resist the chance to outfit me with their awesome, awesome gear. Apparently, shirts can be wrinkle-free, 30 spf, bug repelling, and fashionable. Either way, I’m happy to say that because of their generosity, I’ll be fashionable and functional…while trekking through the jungle :-)

Ok, time to finish my reasonably tasty breakfast sandwich and catch the next leg of my flight to Philly. :-)

The capital of Florida – a place to witness political scandal, attend university, and…Royalty?

Tallahassee.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, whichever way you want to look at it), I’ve spent the last three years living in and around the greater Tallahassee area. As a proud Florida State University ‘Nole, I’ve had the student perspective of the place. In the true nature of a hard-partying turned biology nerd, I have a varied list of things to do.

Tallahassee Greek Food Festival

Tallahassee Greek Food Festival: hosted every October by the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church.

Political Scandal

Come January, every major (and minor) political figure heads up to this northern outpost of 300,000 people and attempts to become a big player in Floridian legislative hoopla. It’s not a rare site to observe a handful of anti-war protesters, senators schmoozing each other for votes, and inter-office scandal all in one lunch sitting. If you’re more of an evening creature, you get the added benefit of watching this all happen, again, except now on booze and off the clock.

Places to observe politics in action:

1) Capital building: walk the walk and talk to the talk all the way up to the free observation deck on the 23rd floor. Come prepared for the best views of Tallahassee, and for a lot of suits. Ask a local what body part the building resembles…just out of earshot of young children.

2) Jasmine’s Cafe (best sushi place in town), 106 College Ave.: smack dab downtown. The place to watch the lunch crowd mingle.

3) Sharkey’s (106 College Ave.): Directly across from Jasmine’s, this breakfast/lunch place is owned by a local lobbyist and definitely caters to its crowd.

4) Governor’s Club: It’s unlikely that you’ll get in here (membership only, by invitation only) but if you get invited…GO. Traditionally exclusive, you will see the biggest political players hanging out here after a hard day’s work.

5) Governor’s Mansion: Just north of downtown Tallahassee, this mansion sure looks fit for a Governor. Free!

Seminoles

Yep, I’m a fan! Unfortunately our team has been a little lack-luster of late…but that doesn’t make games any less exciting to attend! The best place to information on football and basketball games is right from the source. Not in town during game time?

1)Be sure to check out the stadium, for free: Just go inside to the help desk (University Center A, which is in the stadium) and they will direct you to the third floor, where you can enter the stadium directly,

2) Check out the free museums on the Florida State University campus, or take a self-guided walking tour – information available at the visitor center.Free!

Royalty:

Yes, royalty…in Tallahassee! For those of you interested in local history, one of the best places to start your search is the local graveyard, where Prince Murat (Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew) and Catherine Murat (great-grandniece of George Washington) are buried.

Other things to do in Tallahassee:

1) Wanna see an 18th century vampire killing kit or the original Bat mobile? Check out the Tallahassee Car Museum.

2) Eat fresh, locally made food and enjoy downtown Tallahassee at the Saturday morning farmer’s market, downtown Tallahassee.

3) Here the day before a Florida State Seminole home football game? Check out the downtown getdown…a Tallahassee sponsored block party complete with music, drinks, performances,  food vendors, and child activities.

4) Visiting around halloween? Take the child-friendly haunted walking tours of Tallahassee for a fun introduction to the creepier side of local history, or check out the Terror of Tallahassee Haunted House (definitely NOT child-friendly).

Yes, Tallahassee may not be the most exciting place in the world, but it’s a nice enough stop for those of you heading out west :-)

Anyone ever stopped by here before?