About Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
Latest Posts by Megan McDonough
This past summer, I went on a cruise through the Mediterranean with Regent Seven Seas Explorer. It was their preview voyage, kicking off in Barcelona and concluding in Monte Carlo. All in all, the ship was gorgeous and the destinations, fascinating. That said, I didn’t have my hubby in tow like I had planned, which meant navigating the world of seasoned cruisers solo.
While my experience aboard the Regent was top notch, I did have moments when I felt out of place or over-exposed and it made me ponder whether fellow introverts dealt with the same emotions. We all have our social challenges but that doesn’t mean you can’t thoroughly enjoy being around hundreds of other people. Here are five tips for getting through a cruise if you’re a bit of an introvert.
Choose your ship wisely
This is probably the most important tip of them all. Having only been on one cruise prior to the Regent Seven Seas, I wasn’t expecting much. I was excited, sure, but I remember my first experience feeling over-crowded and not culturally immersive enough. Similar to tours and hotels, different cruises appeal to different people. Many house several thousand passengers at once while others attract a young and wanna-get-drunk crowd. You need to do your research and set clear expectations.
One of the reasons I decided to embark on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is because it was the opposite of my former experience. There are a maximum of 750 passengers on board, an impressive staff-to-passenger ratio (there are 552 crew), gourmet meals at several elegant restaurants, complimentary shore excursions, and perhaps best of all, an endless flow of top tier liquor. Sure, 700 people still might be more than you’re used to, but it sets you up for success.
Find your happy place
Feeling overwhelmed already? Trust me, I’ve been there! Cruises are large and with the exception of shore excursions, there’s only so far you can feasibly go. In the case of the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, I was in luck. There was an on-site spa and it proved the perfect way to relax before the ‘real’ cruise really began. Most ships will have spas and if not, consider taking a dip in the pool early in the morning when most guests are sleeping.
For me, my happy place was the spa but if you’re not in the mood to pamper yourself silly, consider retiring to your room early. The rooms in the Regent were fairly spacious and all were equipped with an en-suite balcony, so that definitely made it easy to eat breakfast there or spend an hour or two catching up on work without the constant buzz of chatter. If you don’t have a balcony, which is likely the case for more cruisers, consider planning your meals outside of “rush times.”
In the case of the Regent Seven Seas, our journey included unlimited shore excursions. That said, doing more shore excursion in one day is not recommended (I tried and it was exhausting). For the first two days at port, I happily went along with the group but by the third, I was too tired for another guided tour. This isn’t to say that the excursions weren’t great (they were) but I needed more “alone time” to charge my batteries.
For our final day, we docked at Saint-Tropez and instead of going along with my scheduled group tour, I decided to hit the beach with a few new friends. This was the BEST decision I had made in awhile. Sure, I wasn’t alone, but I felt way more independent and relaxed than I had on the guided tours. For my fellow introverts, I’d listen to your gut. If you feel like safety is an issues, you better stay with the group but remember that you can also explore with a buddy or two.
Take baby steps
As an introvert, I sometimes find my shyness crippling. On top of that, I was traveling aboard the Seven Seas Explorer solo (my plus 1 had to back out at the last minute). Upon boarding, my insecurity of traveling solo on a cruise that’s about as romantic as they come came at me full-throttle. Surrounded by couples, I felt not only out of place but a tad pathetic. Of course, this was all in my mind, but the mind is a very powerful thing.
Most cruises arrange dinners within a certain time span so while you can avoid the breakfast and lunch crowds, dinners are more tricky. If you’re traveling alone as I did, swallow your pride and start talking. I soon learned that everyone seated at my table, despite being in a couple or friend group, was eager to mingle outside their circle. If nothing else, make a point to chat with your neighbor to your right or left. It might feel awkward at first but these “strangers” soon become familiar faces!
This is really a tip for everyday life but it’s something that can really help turn an uncomfortable situation into something much less stressful. As someone who suffers from anxiety, practicing gratitude can literally turn my frown upside down. On the Regent, I had so many “wow” moments, that I really had no time to feel anxious. Everything from the polite staff to the delicious cuisine and the gorgeous vistas felt magical…so magical, that I felt like an out of place pauper.
Granted, the Regent is billed as the “most luxurious ship ever built” but that doesn’t make one immune to negative thoughts. If you’re traveling with a friend or family members, try to block out an hour or two to yourself. For some, it might mean reading a book on the rooftop; for others, savoring a salt-rimmed margarita while answering emails by the pool will do it (yup, was me!). Whatever it is, make time in your day to find that balance.
Have you been on a cruise before? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with Ketchum and Regent Seven Seas Explorer. All opinions are my own.
If you hadn’t inferred yet, I’m mildly obsessed with Utah! One of my goals this year has been to explore more of my own country rather than jetting across the globe. Don’t get me wrong; I love traveling to far flung corners of the globe but I also don’t want to forget about my own backyard.I participated on a Skyscanner and Visit Utah roadtrip to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service and truth be told, I’ve been using Skyscanner’s platform since 2012. Besides yielding flight, hotel and rental car results, they also give users intel on traveler behavior, which is invaluable info for when you’re planning your trip and unsure of where and when to go to save money.
Our first big adventure was…I kid you not…an 11-hour canyoneering adventure with Chris of Get in the Wild. In a nutshell, the sport of canyoneering is a combination of hiking, rappelling and climbing through canyons. It’s not easy but it is something I’d recommend to active travelers or those wanting to push your limits. Despite being challenged mentally, physically and at times, psychologically, I somehow powered through it. For my first repel, I literally imagined I was going into the Hunger Games and two minutes before, I practiced my power poses. Well, it worked, because that “fight or flight” mode kicked in and I kicked butt. My fear turned into adrenaline and adrenaline turned into fatigue. Repeat. Reverse.
Having just met my fellow travelers less than 24 hours before, I wasn’t quite sure how this would go down. It’s strange how all-encompassing challenges like these really bring people together. At the 11th hour, I felt like I had known these ladies for a lifetime. It also helped that our guide was beyond phenomenal. Not everybody can lead a group of canyoneering newbies through an otherwise deserted park but he did…magnificently. My next “Mighty Moment” came quite unexpectedly. We had just visited the Anasazi State Park Museum when the museum’s Park Ranger invited us over to his farm. Fast-forward five-minutes and I’m driving down a dirt road, surrounded by gorgeous, white horses and skies for days. It’s almost as if I’d stepped onto the set of a country music video. The next half-hour was pure bliss as I visited his animal friends: two majestic horses, one very wide-eyed caged bird and a dozen chickens.
Up next was one of the best views I’ve ever seen. We drove to Capitol Reef National Park, aka the evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion National Parks in a less crowded setting. If you’re wondering if most of Utah looks this gorgeous, the answer is yes. The state’s landscape is truly one of a kind. Much of it is covered with sandstone goblins, arches and hoodoo formations. As such, it’s often compared to Mars. So, if you don’t think Utah is “far enough away” for you, remember that! Utah is the closest you’ll get to Mars without launching a rocket into space.
Despite giving up coffee earlier this summer, I indulged in a local favorite en route to our next stop. This Salt Lake City-based brand doubles as a Barista Academy and Store, which is pretty awesome IMO. With a “simple, honest and handcrafted” approach, they bottle up their best brews for people like me to enjoy. Okay, back to Capital Reef. Our group opted for a leisurely hike so I roughed it in my maxi dress to get the perfect shot. While I’m sure I looked wildly out of place, I felt a bit wild myself. At this point we were in the heart of Red Rock country, at a different motel each night and at some points, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. My life coach once said how it’s ironic that people go to nature to enjoy a bit of silence, because nature has so many sounds that it sounds like a symphony. I couldn’t agree more.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of my Utah road trip was one that wasn’t planned. But, aren’t those always the best kind? As we headed to our hotel in Escalante, it almost felt like we were chasing the sun. Streaks of yellow, orange and purple dripped from the sky and before we knew it, the mountains were shielding our view. So, we booked it back to Kiva Koffeehouse, where we had a unrestricted, 360-degree view of the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. The cafe was closed but we weren’t there for coffee anyway. I bet we stood there for a good 15 minutes but nobody was counting. Time both stood still and sneaked by us in a blur of beauty that slipped through our hands. Before we knew it, nightfall crept in.
Last but certainly not least, was our visit to Bryce Canyon. Utah is known for having some pretty cool looking “hoodoos,” which are essentially rock pillars standing solo and caused by erosion. You’ll see hoodoos in every continent of the world but Bryce National Canyon has the largest collection of these curiously fascinating structures. While we didn’t hike this one, I actually preferred it that way. Despite being a major tourist attraction, the lookout point was not crowded at 10am in the morning. I didn’t have to fight for a view or wait my turn for a solo photo. There was no boisterous group making a scene; instead, it was one of those unexpectedly quiet moments when you realize just how small you are…and that that is okay.
If I had to sum up my experience in a few words, I’m not even sure I could do it. It was more than the raw beauty of the landscape that did me in; It was every bit as much the people I met, the adventures I had and the challenges I faced. It’s amazing how you can literally be off-the-grid for a week and yet feel like you’ve gained tremendous knowledge and heightened your awareness.
Disclosure: This trip was hosted by Skyscanner and Visit Utah.
Ready for an epic road trip? I’ve got just the thing! After spending a week in southern Utah, I’m officially obsessed with the “Beehive State.” As someone who grew up taking road trips up the east coast every summer, I couldn’t wait to get in the passengers seat and stare out the window. Maybe it’s because I love fantasy novels but I kind of felt like a girl in a snow-globe—everything around me moved in a perfect blur and I was looking out at it all. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service so if there’s ever a time road trip it up in Utah, now is it! Home to five national parks, 43 state parks, seven national monuments, two national recreation areas and “The Greatest Snow on Earth®,” Utah is a must-see for any bucketlist-obsessed traveler.
Getting there was pretty easy, especially coming from San Francisco. The flight was about 1.5 hours and as mentioned above, Skyscanner, one of my hosts, secured a fair deal despite it being a last minute trip. I flew into Park City rather than Salt Lake but it’s completely up to you where you want to begin and end your journey. Personally, I think Park City is a smart starting choice, because you get to experience a big city with a small-town feel. I’d also recommend renting a car, as you’ll be driving quite a bit. Some of the roads have some rough spots, so I’d opt for a compact SUV rather than a small sedan. Also worth noting is that aside from the Washington Schoolhouse boutique hotel in Park City, don’t expect to see luxury hotels along the way. Don’t worry though; the motels do begin to grow on you.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Get Assimilated in Park City
Ok, let the games begin! We spent less than 24 hours in Park City and I really wish we had more time. Main Street is super cute and definitely worth a wander. Here you’ll find farm-to-table restaurants, cafes serving artisan coffee and independent designer boutiques. Having not eaten on the plane, I was starved come dinner time. Luckily, the High West Distillery & Saloon did not disappoint. I ate more than I ever thought possible—from braised ribs with whiskey butter grilled corn and smoked gouda & local Gold Creek Cheddar mac ’n cheese to jalapeño deviled eggs—I was in foodie heaven.
Before leaving, swing by their distillery to pick up a bottle of bourbon. Believe me, it will be your reward after a long hike and sore muscles. If you’re up for an adventure, consider spending the next day at Olympic Park, where travelers have a wide range of activities to try, including a whirl on the Olympic Bobsled course or whizzing down an alpine slide. Personally, I didn’t do this, but would have if given more time.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Canyoneer at Robbers Roost
The “Robbers Roost” might sound a tad ominous but trust me, it’s a seemingly endless stretch of natural beauty. Robbers Roost is an outlaw hideout most often used by Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch because of rugged terrain, but now known for its stunning scenery. We spent most of Day 1 here, learning (and barely) mastering the challenging art of canyoneering. More on that here. Thankfully, we had the BEST guide. Chris was not only skilled in the sport but was patient throughout the 11-hour trek.
If you want to go canyoneering like I did, make sure to book a tour with Get in the Wild because Chris is one of only a handful of guides that can lead groups in the canyon solo. Essentially, that means you have the entire “roost” to yourselves. Canyoneering— a combination of hiking, rappelling and climbing through the canyons—is no easy feat (even for what I’d consider beginners) so keep that in mind before committing. That said, I highly recommend it and it was THE highlight of my entire trip.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Hike Capital Reef National Park
After an overnight in Hanksville, we were off to Capitol Reef National Park, which is about a 1.5 hour drive away from our humble motel. Here you’ll see evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion National Parks in a less crowded setting. We took in the view two different ways. First, we mustered up the strength we had left from our canyoneering adventure and hiked to the exact spot shown below. Before leaving the park, we snapped some photos at one of the scenic viewpoint spots marked along the road. This is definitely one excursion that is ideal for beginner hikers.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Indulge at Hell’s Backbone Grill
A girl’s got to eat, right?! When in Utah, you must, must, MUST dine at Hell’s Backbone Grill. Everything here is worked organically on their farm, employing principles of sustainability and Buddhist values of right livelihood. They use no chemicals, all weeding is done by hand (or by their two rescue goats), and they rely on companion planting and relocation to deter pests. This spot is special for so many reasons that it’s hard to list them in order of importance. For one, I loved meeting one of the owners, Blake, who has so much positive energy exuding from her that I felt lighter simply by sitting in my seat.
Their restaurant follows Buddhist principles, with a focus on sustainability, social and community responsibility and environmental ethics. Everything you eat is organic, locally produced and reflective of the seasons. In fact, many of the fruit and vegetables you see are plucked from one of two gardens from the restaurant’s very own six-acre farm. The food aside, I loved the ambiance of Hell’s Backbone. The space is circular, with open-air windows all around, thus allowing lots of afternoon light to roll in. Since this is such a popular spot, especially for passerby, make sure to make a reservation in advance.
Horseback Ride at Kodachrome Basin
Kodachrome Basin is home to 67 monolithic stone spires, called sedimentary pipes, accentuating multihued sandstone layers revealing 180 million years of geologic time. The color and beauty of this place even prompted a National Geographic Society expedition to name the area Kodachrome, after a 1948 film. If you’re an animal lover like me, I’d recommend signing up for a horseback ride through the basin. There are plenty of other activities offered here as well, like boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking and more.
While I can only comment on the horseback riding tour, I will say that gave me a completely different perspective of the landscape than canyoneering or hiking. The horses (at least on the day we arrived) were a little fickle and didn’t always obey our commands but it’s mostly a walk/trot kind of tour. Also worth noting is that it’s “Western” saddle, so take note my fellow English saddle equestrians. I’d also suggest not wearing a hat, as I did, because if and when it falls off, it can spook the horses. Oh, and girls, keep you iPhone in your bra so you can easily grab it and snap some photos without fumbling around for your DSLR.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
SUP at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
When you’re all “hiked” out, cool off with an afternoon of Stand-Up Paddle-board in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. This was actually one of our more relaxing mornings and one that we all appreciated. As much as you want to see and do it all, it’s important to listen to your body and slow things down a little. Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, which is where you can SUP. Alternatively, rent a boat, canoe or bring some fishing rods and wait for a big catch. Whatever water sport you choose, the view is the real treasure. I’ve never paddled through the water that wasn’t a beach, so getting to see the rocky mountains in the distance was honestly surreal. I found myself alternating between rowing around the reservoir to laying down on my board and letting the water drift me away.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Snap a Selfie at Bryce Canyon National Park
Visit Utah and Skyscanner saved the best for last and you should too! Bryce Canyon has a main lookout point similar to the one you see at the Grand Canyon and it’s the perfect way to end your epic road trip. The first thing that stuck out to me…literally…are the seemingly countless hoodoos. Hoodoos are basically these odd-shaped pillars of rock that jut out of the main rock. You’ll find these on every continent but they are most highly-concentrated here in Utah. To avoid the crowds, I’d suggest planning a morning visit. Alternatively, stop by in the evening just before sunset to see the sky change colors and cast shadows across the rock. No matter when you visit, you can count on magical views like this.
Copyright: Utah Office of Tourism
Have you ever been on a road trip? If so, where? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with Skyscanner and the Visit Utah. All opinions are my own.
Puerto Rico might technically be part of the United States but it’s easy to forget that little fact. Upon arriving at San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, I knew I was someplace special. At the time, I was flying from San Francisco, where the temperature rarely rivals the hot summers of the east coast…and definitely not of the Caribbean. The hot sun on my face and a cocktail at hand, I geared up for four days in paradise. Whether you’re a serious foodie or an adventure seeker, here are 5 ways to get cultured in San Juan.
1) Hit the Streets
If you read my post on the magic of Old San Juan, you probably need no further convincing. First off, San Juan is the oldest city in the entire U.S. and its territories, having been settled in 1521. Before that, in 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the island and called it San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist.) It wash’t until 1520 that it was renamed Puerto Rico, which literally translates to “rich port.” While summer in San Juan can get pretty hot, don’t let that deter you from getting lost in the Old Town. Pale blue cobblestone streets paired with every-color-of-the-rainbow homes and buildings makes for a wonderful wander.
2) Find the Perfect “Home” Away from Home
Truth be told, there are a LOT of hotels in San Juan. On one hand, that’s a good thing, because you have plenty of options…but on the other, too many options can seem daunting. Our group stayed at the Four-Diamond San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. While it’s not uber luxurious like a few other offerings, it has everything you need and at a fair rate. My room overlooked the beach, which gets and A+ in my book. That, on top of a pool, swim up bar, restaurant, lounge, spa and fitness center, make it a safe bet. There’s even a cute gelato shop to boot! In terms of getting around, Old San Juan is a short cab ride away, as are additional dining spots.
3) Get your Hands Dirty
This is true of any destination and Puerto Rico is no exception. After stuffing my face with traditional fare (more on that later), our group decided to take things to the next level. We headed to local hotspot Cocina Abierta, located right by the Marriott hotel, for an interactive cooking class. The restaurant’s chefs, Chef Krystoff Czartozy and Chef Martin Louzao, regularly host interactive activities like this so make sure to arrange pre-trip. Alternatively, you can venture a little ways away to El Rancho Original, otherwise known as, the “Pork Highway.” Between greasy yet delicious pork and Mafunga, you will definitely get your hands dirty.
4) Indulge your Sweet (or Savory) Tooth
When in San Juan, a little indulgence goes a long way. Food is one of my favorite ways to get cultured and luckily, you’ll have plenty of opportunities here. For starters, the Marriott serves up flavorful cocktails (try their signature Dragonberry Mojito) and a wide range of local fare. Their La Vista Latin Grill specializes in traditional Puerto Rican dishes, many of which include freshly caught seafood. Post dinner, head to their Coral Lounge for a crash course in salsa. Beware, there are some pros on the dance floor that might just put you to shame! I’m only half serious though; the environment there is super friendly and welcoming.
5) Try Something New
Puerto Rico’s beaches are known for their waves and are home to some of the best surf in the Caribbean. As such, a surfing lesson is a must, regardless of your skill level. Our group signed up for a class with WoW Surf School located on Playa Isla Verde. This was my third class so naturally, I was the first one to catch a wave. For the beginners out there, don’t be discouraged. Our instructor made the class extra fun. Regardless if you stand up or not, the baby waves here are perfect for testing the waters and giving this island sport a try. Not interested in surfing? Try another water sport instead or hop on a jet ski.
What’s your favorite old / new city? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with Diamond PR and the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. All opinions are my own.
If you read my first post on Turtle Island on how I transformed a typically romantic destination into an epic girls trip, you probably already know that Turtle Island stole my heart. I’d say it was a gradual feeling that crept over me but in truth, it wasn’t; it was immediate. As soon as my toes touched the soft, white sand, I knew I was someplace special. Just like the countless turtles they save and nurture each year, I felt a little bit of that healing power, too. In short, Turtle Island was nothing I expected and everything I needed.
The “Bures” Have Character
Turtle Island has 14 “bures,” to accommodate the 14 couples (or friends) visiting the island at any given time. These authentic villas are eco-friendly and built by skilled Fijian craftsmen. While I can only speak to Bure #5, I’m told that all the bures feature the same design elements—separate sleeping, dressing, and bathing areas to name a few. That said, there are small differences among them in terms of layout and furniture arrangement. In true romantic fashion, there was a bottle of bubbly awaiting us inside, freshly plucked flowers on the bed and a gorgeous “Welcome Home” arrangement on each of our beds. There’s also a stocked refrigerator, a hot tub that you’ll never need and oddly charming side-by-side toilets in case can’t stand a moment apart.
The Islanders Are Angels
Oh, my! Where do I even begin with the islanders? Knowing that this is a 5-star resort and a popular spot for celebrity honeymooners (I’m looking at you, Britney Spears), I wasn’t quite prepared for the niceties that awaited me upon arrival. Most staff members live right on Turtle Island so they’ve really formed a bond that is like a family. Each couple has a “Bure Mama” who caters to your every whim, no matter how serious or spoiled it may be. At first, I was hesitant to ask our Mama for anything but my independent nature eventually gave way. Best of all, there are themed cultural performances slated throughout the week. My favorite? On our first day, we had the pleasure of listening to a children’s choir from the nearby village.
The Beaches are out of a Movie…Literally!
Not that I have much experience with private beaches but the ones on Turtle Island did not disappoint. First off, there are 14 of them total, which means plenty of “alone time” for couples. Beaches vary in size and scope, with some located near a few of the bures and others in complete isolation. Getting is easy, thanks to little go-carts and should you run out of wine like we did, another is just a walkie-talkie call away. Turtle Island’s beaches are even more special because several of them served as the backdrop for “Blue Lagoon.” Some of the beaches are even named after the beloved characters.My friend and I opted for a few beach picnics, which is about as lovely as it sounds—fine wines, organic fare and sweet treats—the works.
The Environment is Protected
Speaking of the food on Turtle Island, it’s top-notch. I’ve stayed at other resorts where, due to demand, the kitchens had to source food from other continents. Being so remote, I wondered if Fiji did the same. Lucky for the guests, that’s not the case. Most (but not all) of the fruits, vegetables and herbs served at meals grow in the gardens. Spanning more than 5 acres, it takes three full-time staff members to run this operation. With 152 raised concrete block beds, the chef has his pick of ingredients—from sweet corn and asparagus to pumpkins, peppers and melons. In keeping with their eco-friendly focus, there’s also a solar panel farm on the island and on the neighboring island where many staff members live (a gift from owner, Richard).
It Feels Like Home
Is it strange that I felt right at home half-way around the world from my real home? Maybe, but my good friend and wellness trainer recently repeated her mantra to me it’s everything: “I am home in me.” From the minute the seaplane doors opened and I was carried to the beach, I felt a deep sense of love despite not knowing a single face in the crowd. That feeling grew stronger throughout my stay. Even our Bure Mama adapted to our personalities, giving me the space I craved and catering to my friend’s vegetarian meal requests. Best of all were the nightly cava ceremonies where the whole staff sings for the guests. On two such occasions, I swallowed my pride and belted out a few songs of my own. To me, that was the ultimate sign I was letting go.
What far-flung corner of the world wowed you beyond belief? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with Turtle Island who hosted my stay and sponsored my flight. All opinions are my own.
Ever since learning about Turtle Island last year, I’ve been scheming a way to get there myself. The island, which is one of Fiji’s 330+ islands, seemed to be the things that Disney “happily ever afters” are made of. It also looked insanely romantic and like the perfect setting to re-connect with my husband.
Well, sometimes life happens and alters our plans, right? First, a cyclone hit many of Fiji’s islands, causing significant damage to various communities and making it nearly impossible to visit in late February. So, we re-booked our dates for March, instead. Then…another hitch.
Long story short, one of us made it to Turtle Island and the other didn’t. While I was bummed that my hubby had to stay back and work, my best friend jumped at the chance to go in his place. She literally booked her flights within 48 hours, putting my own spontaneity to shame. The rest, shall we say is history.
Here’s how I turned a romantic vacation into an epic girls getaway!
1) Arrive in Style
Getting to Turtle Island is all part of the adventure. After arriving in Nadi, Fiji’s capital city, it’s off on a seaplane. I’ve never been on one before and despite my slight fear of heights, I was hooked by the thrill of it all. The ride is about 30 minutes or so and the view, even on a cloudy day, is spectacular. That’s not even the best part, though; once you land on the island, there are staff members to whisk you away to the island. These lovely gentlemen (pictured below) carried me from the sea to the sand. Then, it was lots of singing and dancing from the crew and crazy smiles coming from our stunned faces. Even though I’d never stepped foot on this island before, it felt like home.
2) Keep the Cocktails Coming
As soon as our toes hit the sand, our hands went straight for the welcome drinks. Then, it was the bottle of champagne awaiting us in our bure (bungalow). Turtle Island is an all-inclusive property but it’s unlike any all-inclusive I’ve ever stayed at. For one, there are only 14 couples (or in our case, your bestie!) at any given time. That means a whole lot of personalized services and special treatment. Despite the slew of cocktails, wine and rum-spiked coconuts we consumed during our six-day stay, we made sure to stay hydrated with our Fiji water…am I the only one who thinks drinking Fiji water in Fiji is the coolest thing ever?
3) Hit the beach. Strike a Pose!
There are fourteen private beaches on Turtle Island, which means plenty of “alone time” with your SO. The staff does a good job of breaking these up among all the bures so that everyone gets an immersive experience. The iconic “Blue Lagoon” was filmed here, so naturally, there are some beaches more popular than others. Romantic walks on the beach didn’t apply to us but we made the most of our time away from the rest of the group. After chowing down on gourmet food (they have their own gardens) and topping off our bottle of wine, it was time to hit the beach…wanna-be model style. Who needs props when you’ve got this tree?
4) Test your Limits.
Whether you’re on a luxury hideaway like Turtle Island or at the watering hole in your own backyard, breaking out of your comfort zone is key. Our days in Fiji went by remarkably fast. In between meals, whether with the group or on our own, we soaked up the sun anyway we could. There are lots of activities offered on the island—horseback riding, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, scuba diving and more. On my quest to test my limits, I discovered “Wing Fin.” I don’t actually think that’s the official name but it’s basically a mix of snorkeling and water skiing with your hands. To me, it felt like flying underwater. See? I told you I was a mermaid!
1) Smile because it happened.
For the first day or two of our trip, I kept thinking of how “special” it would have been with my husband. I’d look at the other couples and feel a pang of hurt instead of enjoying the moment. Luckily, this brief bout of FOMO didn’t last long. Before I knew it I was smiling ear to ear without a care in the world. In fact, in some ways not having my romantic partner with me might have helped. If you’re feeling in a funk, try to silver lining. Think of it as a blessing in disguise because, in some ways, it is. I made a conscious effort to get to know the staff and the other guests where I could have easily retreated. Besides, who better to lift your spirits than your best friend?
What’s the best ‘bestie’ trip you’ve ever taken? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with Turtle Island who hosted my stay and sponsored my flight. All opinions are my own.
Medellín is one of Latin America’s most progressive and innovative cities so, of course, I wanted to be in the heart of the action. The Charlee Hotel definitely has an appealing location but just the icing on the cake. As a fairly low-key traveler, it was refreshing to find a hotel that had all my criterion for a perfect stay: central location, easy access to culture, eco-friendly and boutique in size. The Charlee blends into the city so well that I actually thought we had pulled up to posh restaurant when we first arrived. Surrounded by art galleries, quirky bars and luxe design studios, I was in my happy place for sure.
As if that wasn’t enough, I learned that the Charlee is both rooted in the arts and dedicated to eco-friendly initiatives. The hotel commissioned local street artists to paint murals in both the garage and in the stairwells so if you arrive sans car like I did, make sure to take the stairs! Considering how high-end the property is, I was pleasantly surprised how well graffiti and avant-garde art is integrated into the overall design. Pay close attention to the artwork on the various floors, too, as these exhibits feature both established and up-and-coming talent.
Okay, on to the rooms! As a 5-star boutique hotel, the real beauty is in the details. There are 42-rooms in total, all of which have private terraces (see above and below).Rooms are spacious, with sleek design accents and pops of vibrant color set against a classic white palette. If you’ve ever been to Medellín, you know that the parties are pretty epic so it can get loud at night. Personally, I didn’t find the noise to be an issue; on the contrary, I enjoyed sitting on my terrace with a glass of wine and feeling the energy of the city below. That said, come bedtime, make sure to slide the terrace door shut for some shut eye.
I’m usually one to hit the ground running when I’m exploring a new city but I managed to strike a good balance at The Charlee. Breakfast (along with lunch and dinner) at Lucia Restaurant was always a treat…sometimes literally! And, since the hotel is right in the thick of Medellín’s hip fashion and arts scene, it was easy to spend an hour or two wandering and then take a breather back in my room. While I opted to dine at nearby restaurants, I also quite enjoyed Envy rooftop lounge (pictured below). Sure, drinks are steeper than what you’d find a few blocks away, but the views make it worth every peso. Oh, and you can go swimming!
For the Charlee, Medellín is just the beginning. The company is not stopping there; instead, they’re getting (dare I say) a little ambitious in a big way. Currently slated for openings in the next few years are hotels in Cartagena, Galapagos Islands, Prado Tolima, Cali, Carpurganá, Barranquilla, Quito, the Amazon, Pearl Islands, Lima, Bogota and Alto de las Palmas. Having experienced the Charlee once, I have no doubt that these properties will be equally as stunning as the flagship hotel in Medellín.
Speaking of new openings, our group had the chance to visit the soon-to-open Guatapé, aka Pueblo de Zócalos. It’s about a two-hour drive from Medellín (slightly less coming from the airport) and yet it feels worlds away from the bustling city center. I arrived at night so I didn’t get the full impression until the next morning, when I literally woke to floor to ceiling walls that overlooked the Antioquia’s green hills and fresh water lakes. Right now, only the guest houses are in working order but the hotel rooms are well on their way.
Here’s the skinny. The Charlee Guatapé (opening summer 2016) will boast 116 rooms, tqo tennis courts, one multifunctional convention hall, a spa, gym, and pool. Praia restaurant and beach club will anchor the property’s social offerings along with a pier and a unique aquatic center. Pictured below is a preview of what is to come. Similar to the Charlee’s Medellín location, the highlight of the property will be the surrounding nature, with dining options, the gym and other amenities featuring views of the lake and distant mountains.
Curious about Guatapé? You should be! In all honesty, I knew nothing about the countryside outside of Medellín but now that I’ve seen the adorable town of Guatapé, I’ll never forget this Colombian gem. While our stay here was short, we made the most of the time we did have. I definitely recommend a trip to El Peñon de Guatapé, a 650 foot high rock with over 600 stairs that can be scaled to the top. It looks daunting from the bottom but there’s no rush to reach the top. In fact, it took me a good 30 minutes because I was taking so many photos.
We also took a boat tour of the Viejo Peñol, a town which was submerged by the creation of a reservoir. I suppose this is “old news” for local Colombians but I found this fascinating. Blame it on my wild imagination and my love of make-believe, but I started day-dreaming about scuba-diving below and uncovering an ancient city. Of course, I’d need to get scuba certified first.
My mind is still reeling from my recent trip to Colombia – so much creativity and so much color. If you didn’t get a chance to check out my Fashion Guide to Medellín, I highly recommend giving it a glance. There are so many talented local designers that are shaping the city into a fashion capital and the same can be said about the local artists that call Medellín home.
Thanks to the insider knowledge I gained by being a guest at The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel, I learned that the street art scene is quite vibrant, even in comparison to other graffiti “capitals” throughout South America. In fact, the Charlee commissioned several artists to create graffiti-esque murals along the stairwell of the hotel and in their outdoor parking garage. There’s even a mural of a monkey on the building’s facade. Today’s post, however, is all about Comuna 13.
Comuna 13 might be one of the poorest neighborhoods in Medellín but it’s full of personality and spirit. A lot of the deterioration started during the reign of drug lord, Pablo Escobar, thus causing many people to head to the hills…literally. Overpopulation led to other problems like electricity outages, sewage leaks and the like. That, and the fact that Comuna 13 was at one point the most violent area in the city.
Fast-forward to today and the characteristically tough neighborhood has a much softer shell. Sure, it’s still gritty and a little dirty but it’s bursting with color and local flavor. There have been several developments in recent years, including a massive escalator that heads up the mountains. Having just lived in Hong Kong for six months, I felt right at home. The hills super steep (about the same as climbing 28 stories and a ), so I can only imagine how helpful this innovation is for the local community.
With a troubled history but a bright future, the murals reflect a bit of both. For the most part, though, our guide led us through more of the politically-charged murals. At first glance, it’s easy to get caught up in the vibrant colors or the cute animals being depicted, but once you remember the context for many of these pieces, the artwork comes to life in a whole new way.
While Comuna 13 still has somewhat of a bad reputation, street art is acting like an open door for travelers who might otherwise avoid the barrio entirely. Not only do the murals act as a history guide to the previous decades, but it speaks to the future generation. The local government has even recruited artists to paint murals throughout the neighborhood, much like artists are commissioned in other major cities across the globe. In return, artists are paid for their work and can continue spreading their visual message to the world.
I have to say, I’m a little embarrassed by the picture of me by the elephant and here’s why. As an avid street art fan, I (understandably) got overly excited with every new mural we passed. That, combined by my adoration for elephants, resulted in a smiley-face Megan posing with artwork she knew nothing about. That’s the thing about murals though; if you don’t know the story behind the art, you might not get the full picture.
Five minutes post-photo, I learned that the elephants are crying and that the whole mural reflects how the people felt after a gang shooting. They are even holding little handkerchiefs in their trunks. Upon hearing that, my face crinkled up in confusion. But then I took another look and yes, it all made sense. Having that insider insight forced me to open my eyes to the reality of a former time. Anyway, lesson learned. Next time I will listen first and pose for the camera second.
Now might be a good time to mention that our tour was led by an actual street artist. Here he is (above) posing next to his mural. PerroGraff is both a talented artist and the founder of graffitourc13 so, it’s safe to say that he knows what he’s talking about. More so, he’s truly passionate about the neighborhood’s past and excited about the future. I’m not just saying that; it was obvious. I’ll also add that I found him extremely humble and kind of “too cool for school” but in the best way possible.
When we arrived to his mural, he spoke for five minutes about other work before casually mentioning that this one was his…like it was no big deal. Except, YES, this is a big deal. I proceeded to humor him by snapping his photo. I’ve never been one to fan-girl over Hollywood celebrities but when it comes to fashion designers and street artists, I’m in awe. Case in point: the picture below! All in all, it was a very good day in the hood.
What’s your favorite city for street art? Tell me in the comments below!
This post is in collaboration with ext. 54 and The Charlee Hotels. All opinions are my own.