A Thousand Photos

Hello Dear Readers!

Before I get deep into my Vietnam posts, I wanted to show you guys all these extra photos that I have. They span from the month or so after Cairo and before Hong Kong, during which I spent two weeks in Edinburgh and two weeks in California visiting family.

Enjoy!

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When I got back to Edinburgh I tried to do all the things I hadn’t yet done.
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These are from my visit to the cat cafe.
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Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
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Celebrating post-exams at the Dome (and Eleana’s birthday!)

 

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Shahnaz’s birthday at the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival
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Took the first train out of Waverly Station. Ended up at Sir Walter Scott’s house in Tweedbank
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Business class back home to California, for which I squatted overnight in an airport like a hobo.
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The Hotel Del Coronado!

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My little sister, Jill, whose baby Charlie is almost due!
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One of my best friends, Monica, came to visit. I will literally never live this karate photo down.

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-Carissa “Help Me I Have a Travel Addiction” Rawson

My (Almost) Birthday

One more round of family photos! These are from the days spent in Northern California, where we celebrated my (almost) birthday by heading to a pizza parlor and playing arcade games. Yes. I swear I’m an adult.

We also opened approximately all of the Christmas gifts, courtesy of Grandma, who circles her tree with dozens of bags every year and loads us all up with entirely new wardrobes. Thanks Grandma!

Enjoy!

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My little brother being a ham

-Carissa

New Year’s At Tahoe

Hello Dear Readers!

Does anyone want to know what I did for New Year’s?

No?

Let me tell you anyway!

A couple months ago, I planned a nice three day trip with my grandparents (and PJ) out to Lake Tahoe for New Year’s Eve, to thank them for watching my dogs while I gallivanted about and subsequently studied in Scotland.

They are now the most spoiled dogs in the world. No really, she buys them deli meat by the pound. By the pound!

But I digress.

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Tahoe is known as a really excellent place to spend New Year’s, and prices for hotels raise accordingly. Luckily, I had some Hyatt points stashed away from a return on a trip earlier in the year (do you guys remember the Miraval?), so I splurged on the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, spending a total of 60,000 points and avoiding the crazy holiday pricing.

 

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Too expensive!

Unfortunately, both my grandparents were unable to come, buuut PJ did, so we spent the three days hanging out in Tahoe, eating, drinking, and skiing.

Well, PJ skied. I rode the bunny hill once and then almost fell out of the chair lift so I had a beer and called it a day. End it on a positive note, right?

We had a blast. And I most definitely did not throw snowballs at PJ’s head. I swear.

– Carissa “Master of the Bunny Slope” Rawson

Christmas in California

Hello Dear Readers!

Playing catch-up now, so I’ve got some Christmas photos for you all today. I spent three weeks in California visiting the fam, so I hope you guys are ready for copious amounts of me hanging out with my goober-y family.

I swear we don’t live at Disneyland.

-Carissa “So What If It’s March” Rawson

Holiday Greetings!

Hello Dear Readers!

A late Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope everyone is having a happy holiday. I’m home right now, spending some decent time with my family before heading back to Scotland. This obviously means copious trips to Disneyland and wine, though not necessarily in that order. (Sometimes even simultaneously!)

It’s been an interesting past few weeks, with my friend Katie coming up to visit (of Australia fame), my other friend Chrissy coming to visit, (all the way from the States!), and my exams at Uni, followed by one very…sober…celebratory evening with my classmates.

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“Sober”

And those posts are coming!

But for now I’m going to go spend some time with my family.

Happy holidays, everyone.

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-Carissa

Where Are You Going? The Best and Cheapest Airports for International Flights

Hello Dear Readers!

As I continue to write, I realize that a lot of things I take for granted, a lot of people probably don’t know. Things like: where do I get cheap flights? What’s the best way to look up airfare? Are all airlines created equal?

To that end, I’ve decided to make a list of the best/cheapest airports to fly out of, depending on where you want to go internationally. I know when I first started, I had no clue, so here you are:

Europe:


1. New York’s JFK is by far the cheapest airport there is, often flying to/from Spain for less than $400 roundtrip on full-service airlines (think Delta, American Airlines, and United). There are frequently price wars here, and I’ve seen itineraries as low as $300 for these trips.
2. Washington D.C. is another cheap one. Though not as common as JFK, you can still often find flights for less than $500 on full-service airlines.
3. Boston can often be had for as nearly cheap as D.C. and JFK. Specifically, it often flies to Dublin, Ireland, for around $400 on full-service airlines (Aer Lingus). Flight routes mean that this flight path is the (one of?) the shortest to Europe, mileage-wise.
4. Chicago will pop up occasionally, though not as often as the above two.
5. Miami handles a lot of international traffic, and before flight prices got so low, was the cheapest I was ever able to find ($700 Miami-London in 2011).
6. Atlanta will also have some pretty good deals to places like Paris and Amsterdam, though these are sporadic and you need to jump on them quickly.
7. WOW Air and Norwegian are budget airlines, which have begun launching flights across the country for ridiculously cheap prices. For example, San Francisco-Edinburgh can be had for as low as $69 one-way. A return ticket will run you $250, though, and these airlines add fees on for everything. Checking a bag will cost you about $60 each way, but may be worth it if you find a cheap enough ticket. I flew WOW from D.C. to Paris last September for $500 roundtrip and found their coach seats to be quite roomy, and their planes are all new, which is nice.
8. As mentioned above, Norwegian is also really cheap/ new, and has awesome deals around Europe and Scandinavia. Last December, I scored a roundtrip New York-Oslo ticket for $335 and spent an amazing few days in Norway. It’s always worth looking at their price calendars, as prices change drastically from day to day.

Asia:


1. San Francisco is one of the best for flying to Asia, with roundtrip flights to Japan and China running daily for $500 or less. (They also go other places, but I most often see cheapest flights to these two countries) I flew Japan Airlines from here last May (using points), and absolutely loved their seats. International airlines will always best US airlines for legroom and recline, so if you can find one with a good price, take it.
2. Oakland, the sad smaller sister of San Francisco, has far fewer amenities but can also run really cheap flights. It’s also an easier drive and is better to park at than San Fran.
3. Los Angeles, similar to San Francisco, has tons of daily flights to Asia, which can be had for $500 or less. It’s also usually the cheapest location for Australia, which usually runs about $1000 (or more) roundtrip. I recently snagged a seat on Virgin Australia for $700 during a price war, and it’s a nonstop 15 hour flight, which should be fun.
4. Houston, as strange as that may seem, can have some pretty good deals too. In May, I flew roundtrip to Bali for ~$500 on Singapore Airlines as part of a celebration sale. Word of warning, though- flying from Houston takes you the long way around the world. We went Houston-Manchester (UK)- Singapore- Bali, which totaled 24 hours of flight time. It was too long.
5. Seattle and Portland will pop up at times, though not nearly as often as LA and San Francisco. Their flights tend to cost a little bit more, say $600 or so roundtrip.
6. New York’s JFK also has flights, though far less often. You’ll find JFK a lot on this list, as I find that overall they’re the cheapest for international flights.

Africa:

1. JFK is one of the few to offer sale or otherwise affordable flights to Africa. I’ve seen some go for around $700-$800. This isn’t common, though.
2. Another option, if you’re not averse to connections, is to fly one of the cheap flights to Europe as outlined above, and hop down to Africa from there. I often see flights from the EU and the UK for very cheap- anywhere from $300-$500.
3. London, Zurich, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam are the ones I see popping up most often with discounted flights to Africa.

Middle East:

1. Los Angeles runs a surprisingly large amount of flights to places like Dubai that aren’t too expensive. On a regular day, I snagged a roundtrip flight Los Angeles- Dubai for less than $700. They’ll even have fares going as low as $500 on occasion.
2. Seattle, which is where my flight to Dubai connected to, can be one of the cheaper options as well.
3. JFK, of course, is on the list. Flights can cost between $500-$700 here. A flight from JFK to Amman, for instance, was $700 in April on Royal Jordanian, which is a pretty decent airline.

Central and South America:

1. Though I’ve never been to South (or Central) America, there are regularly cheap flights down that way. Los Angeles in particular has flights to Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, etc. for decent prices- say anywhere from $400-$800, depending on your tastes. Southwest will even fly you to Costa Rica, with roundtrip flights often less that $300.
2. Dallas, Southwest’s home field, serves Southwest’s cheapest flights to Central America. This is a new area for them, so they’re priced very competitively. Additionally, expect to see expanded flight options in the future, as Southwest has already stated that they’re making this area a priority. Here’s the link to their flight map, which will show you all the routes they fly.
3. Boston is one of the cheaper ones too.
4. JFK, as always, makes the list.
5. San Francisco, though not as often as Los Angeles, will have decently priced flights. The same holds true for much of California. Overall, it’s usually the cheapest state to fly from.
6. Atlanta, every once in a while, will have good stuff.
7. Orlando is a major airport and often has sales.
8. So does Miami.

The Caribbean:

1. Many of Florida’s airports run very cheap flights to the Caribbean and back- think: Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami.
2. Atlanta, Delta’s home base, will often have discounted flights across all the Caribbean islands. Delta’s competitor’s, American Airlines especially, tend to start price wars over these fares, and it’s not uncommon to see a roundtrip flight from, say, Atlanta to St. Maarten for around $200.
3. Washington D.C. is one of the more common ones for sale flights to down to the Caribbean as well.
4. As always, JFK makes the list.
5. Charlotte, NC is also often an easy one to find flights from.
6. Dallas, using Southwest, will have good prices as well.
7. Boston, specifically flying JetBlue, which runs fare sales every month or so.

Ok! So I think that covers most places you’d want to get to from the U.S. Keep in mind, if you aren’t near any of these hubs, it’s often still worth it to look at prices for these flights and then book separate tickets from your nearest airport to these hubs. This is called positioning, and is used very often in order to keep prices down on airfare.

I follow many different sites to track airfare prices, but my favorite is Secret Flying. They post throughout the day on all sale fares that they find, and have gotten me some of my best prices to date. I follow them on Facebook too, so it’s always a part of my news feed.

As always, being flexible on your dates is the easiest way to get cheap airfare. Even within the span of a week there will be very different prices on flights, so if you can, (I know, a lot can’t between work and kids), try to maintain a window of open time rather than set-in-stone dates. When searching for flights, I almost always start with Google’s Air Matrix, which shows month long blocks for almost every airline (minus Southwest).

I hope this has helped you all! Let me know if you have any questions!

-Carissa

Miraculous Miraval- Bacon Meditation

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, final post on the Miraval, and then we’ll get to explore a whole new country. Which one? You’ll find out! *Ooh mystery*

Remember how I mentioned Miraval was an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, this meant that all the food was included. Here’s the thing, though. This place is super focused on wellness, which meant that while you could order an alcoholic beverage, it was discouraged, but there were free unlimited smoothies available. Obviously I had to try every single type.

And the food. Oh man, the food. Like, I always gave celebrities serious props for being thin and beautiful because they have to eat lettuce all the time, but the food here was amazing and healthy. I’m pretty sure this is how famous people eat and don’t end up starving to death.

We did floating mediation while we were there too, which meant we literally wrapped ourselves up in silk hammocks and swung suspended in the air while a woman rang bells at us.

I’m not the best at meditation, so I was like “….prayer….gratitude…inner peace…bacon…”

It was a pretty neat experience.

We also pampered ourselves with 80 minute massages at the spa. I don’t know about you guys, but if I’m not getting beat up in a massage then I don’t feel like it’s worth it. Put some elbow grease into it, man! This was definitely one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The poor masseur was sweating by the time he finished, which equals A+ in my book.

We spent time at the pool, me in the sun and Jill in the shade because her delicate flower skin hates sunlight.

We got up at an ungodly hour and went for a hike through the mountains, which we didn’t want to do and tried to cancel but it cost money so we went. And it was awesome.

Finally, we did what was called “a swing and a prayer,” which is where you get hoisted up thirty five feet in the air and voluntarily drop yourself, swinging through the air as you scream like a maniac. (Ok, I was the only one who screamed).

To my credit, I also hung upside down like a Cirque-Du-Soleil performer because I’m fancy.

I’ve got to tell you guys, I wish we had so much more time here. The Miraval Resort is like a little slice of heaven in the middle of the scorching hell desert of Arizona, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I could afford it again (lol), I would totally go back. One day?

-Carissa “The Acrobat” Rawson

Miraculous Miraval: Terrifying Ziplining

Hello Dear Readers!

I promise I haven’t died- I’ve just been really busy. (As per the usual).

So, where did we leave off? I’m pretty sure I had just told you guys all about traveling to the Miraval Resort with my sister, Jill. Like I said, redeeming the points was a no-brainer, and we had an absolutely awesome time.

In addition to all sorts of wellness classes, (like yoga, meditation, and spiritual healing), the resort also had challenge courses. Of course Jill and I signed up to go ziplining.

Now, I’ve ziplined once before. I was on a cruise and one of the shore excursions in Dominica was this crazy rope walk through the trees with ziplining. The issue there was that, well, it was Dominica, which meant there were zero safety codes. Which is how I found myself zooming towards a tree on a duct-taped cable with no brakes and a mattress at the other end.

Suffice to say that my first time was a little scary. However, since this was in the good old US of A, I had high hopes as to the safety standards of our course.

And yes, it was safe, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. 

Like I said, this was considered a ‘challenge course,’ which meant apparently that in order to get to the zipline, you had to scale a fifty foot telephone pole.

Like, with your hands. And your feet. There was no nifty basket to haul my carcass up there.

Someone help us

I’m not that bad with heights, really, but the last time I tried crawling up a sheer surface with my bare hands I got so scared that I straight fell off.

Jill, also, has a horrific time with this concept.

So it was with no little amount of trepidation that we watched the first couple people scale this pole, looking like monkeys as they hopped from rung to rung. I told Jill I’d go first, so I wouldn’t have time to psyche myself out, and began climbing as soon as I was told.

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Pictured: not that bad

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Really. But right at about twenty feet, I realized the ground was really far away, and the rungs were super tiny, and also ohmygod what am I doing.

Ohgod ohgod ohgod

I didn’t fall, at least, but I panicked and raced the entire rest of the way up to the platform, arriving and nearly collapsing with relief.

Just kidding. I was hanging onto the pole for dear life. The employee eventually had to pry me off, assuring me that I was securely connected to the cables hanging around the platform.

Then it was Jill’s turn.

You guys.

You guys. 

It started simply enough. Here comes Jill, crawling up this pole, with all the rest of us shouting encouragement and urging her to come up. I stood at the top and berated her, as any good older sister does.

And there she was, a mere two rungs from arriving at the platform. Her head was even peeking over- all she needed to do was grab this rung.

It was at this point that she looked down. And oh, the panic was real.

It was like a movie. She hung there, hyperventilating, convincing herself she couldn’t do it.

There we all were, calling, calling, encouraging her to reach, just one more, and there she went- one arm outstretched- grasping for the rung.

She caught it with the tips of her fingers, and in slow-motion they slipped, her petrified face dropping out of view as she fell.

The air stopped moving but for her terrified yelp as- thwack- with a stretch, her rope caught her and she swung back around to the pole, clinging to the rungs and sobbing.

She was back several feet down and as red as a tomato, (she’s a ginger, you know), trying to gain control of herself and overcome her panic.

And she did. Scarcely a minute later, she began climbing again, this time her face filled with resolve as rose up.

Finally, she crawled up over the platform, and we all cheered wildly, congratulating her on making it.

After that, the zipline was cake.

-Carissa “Badass” Rawson

Miraculous Miraval: Chakras and Zen

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the gorgeous Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona. My sister, Jill, and I have been staying here for the last few days, doing all kinds of awesome things. I’ll write about those later (ziplining!), but first I want to tell you how we managed to stay here, because this property is absolutely incredible, and you all need to come here. 

Secluded in the desert

The Miraval Resort is very unique- it’s one of few all-inclusive resorts in the United States, and its rooms can go for as much as $2000/night. However, as of June 29th, Miraval has teamed up with Hyatt in order to allow points earning and redemptions at the resort.

Us with our driver, cheesing before we left the airport. (The ride is included!)

The Miraval exceeds the normal category 1-7 chart, costing 45,000 points/night for the first person, and 20,000 points/ night for the second person. That’s an awful lot, and speaks volumes about the quality of this resort. The Ellen Degeneres show even came here, and did a segment about it:

However, in order to celebrate their new partnership, Hyatt is offering 50% of your points back if you stay here between June 29th-September 15th. As soon as I saw this place, I knew I wanted to come here. And with 50% off, why not?

So I went ahead and booked two nights for Jill and I here, costing a total of 65,000 points (after the 50% back). Now, I had that amount already in my Hyatt account, but the rub here is that you’ll need the full amount of points in your account when you book, totaling 130,000, and they refund the points back to you after you complete your stay.

This kind of sucks, but is definitely worth it. Chase is a transfer partner of Hyatt, so I went ahead and transferred 65,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points into my Hyatt account. (You can earn Ultimate Reward points with many different Chase cards) I’ll have that many left over when they refund me, so I’ll have to use them somewhere else (the Park Hyatt Maldives, perhaps?)

This trip has truly been once in a lifetime. Jill and I don’t get to spend much time together, so getting some sister time has been really awesome.

We were…a little tired after our 6am flight

The Miraval is a wellness resort, so it’s full of classes offering all kinds of different things to do. We’ve been super busy, what with all the meditation, hiking, and spa treatments. When you book with points, your package also includes a $175/ per person/ day credit that you can use at the spa, or on different, extra classes, like horseback riding and ziplining.

I’ll write about that next! Until then, I’m going to go meditate and ponder chakras.

-Carissa “Zen” Rawson

F is For Family

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve been spending the last few weeks with my family, enjoying every moment. To that end, here are some classy family photos, which I know you guys are dying to see:

Disney love runs in the family

Celebrating Fourth of July like real Americans: with beer and fireworks!

Speeding down the river in Branson, Missouri, with my cousin and grandma.

And finally, last but definitely not least, my very own babies:

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I’ve missed them so much!

-Carissa “Ants in my Pants” Rawson