The Best Warm Weather Destinations for Spring Break

Spring is finally here! We’re just starting to feel a change in the weather here in New York City but if you know me, you know I’ve been escaping to warm destinations non-stop for the last few weeks. Five countries in five weeks to be exact. My birthday is in March so for the last decade or so, I’ve been vacationing for spring break and can say with full confidence I’ve been to every destination I mentioned in my most recent article for CBS, the best warm weather destinations for spring break. There’s plenty of great places to go for spring break, but in my opinion, these destinations have so much more to offer than just a nice beach. From jungles to mountains to beautiful reefs, you can’t go wrong with any of these six destinations! You can read the full article on any CBS Local, here.

 

The Best Warm Weather Destinations For Spring Break

 

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Happy Spring,

Riss

A Weekend Guide to Baltimore, Maryland

If you ask me, charm city is READY for its close-up. In recent years, Baltimore has been working hard to build up what was once dubbed the “greatest city in America.” My long weekend to Baltimore was nothing short of delightful! There’s so much to do there and the locals are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a big city in quite some time. If you have a few days to spare, especially if you’re on the east coast, check out my weekend guide to Baltimore, Maryland, for CBS Local, here.

 

A Weekend Guide to Baltimore Maryland

 

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Happy traveling,

Riss

The Best Romantic Destinations in America

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I’m headed to the beaches of sunny Jamaica this morning but not without giving your my favorite romantic recommendations first. Europe typically tends to get all the attention when you think of romance, however, the U.S. is home to some amazing cities that rival the best of them. From sunny Miami beaches to the romantic streets of New Orleans, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites in my most recent article for CBS Local, which you can find here. Check it out, let me know what you think, and send me your recommendations!

 

The Best Romantic Destinations in America

 

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Xoxo,

Riss

The Best Ways to Detox for the New Year

Do the holidays make anyone else feel the need to hibernate for a month straight? After running around trying to find the perfect gifts, hosting guests, and eating like it was your part-time job over the holidays, you could use some time to devote a little TLC to yourself. After all, what are all those visa gift cards for if not to spend on yourself? As a huge self-care advocate, I decided to compile a list of New York City activities for those of us who need a little me-time to reflect or connect. Or maybe for those of us who are still unsure of what day/year it is! I made this post New York City specific but if you don’t live in New York you might be able to find similar ideas in your own hometown.

 

Spa Day

Of course, I was gonna start with a Spa recommendation. Seriously, the Sojo Spa Club is just a quick stop over the river in New Jersey, they provide a complimentary shuttle bus. You will then arrive at what I call the adult playground of relaxation. I went as a plus one with my bestie who’s a beauty writer and this place was HEAVEN! For the small price of $60-55 dollars, you can purchase a day pass which includes access to an array of amenities including pools, hot tubs, saunas. Plus, you can get buried in volcanic ash, an ancient Japanese beauty practice that feels like what I would describe as a messy gravity blanket sauna. Of course, you can purchase other spa packages, at an additional cost, ranging from massages to acupressure, facials, and my personal favorite, the Korean body scrub. They also have a café so you never have to leave the facility and get the most out of your spa day!

 

The Wrecking Club

This one is a little out there but honestly some of the best good-ol fashioned fun I’ve had in a while. The Wrecking Club is essentially a place where you rent a room with x amount of stuff to smash. Yea, you read that right. I bought the “double dip” package which included two electronics and one bucket of dishes. In the room, we had crowbars and baseball bats to smash our goods and an aux cord to play the music of your choosing. You can also add more to your package via “à la carte” should you destroy all of your electronics too quickly. I ended up purchasing another bucket of dishes and felt that was enough. This was a great way to blow off steam post-holiday stress. Maybe even cheaper than therapy, just saying.

 

Mountain Escape

Escape to the mountains. You won’t find Wifi but you will find a better connection. Getting in touch with nature is a great way to decompress from the everyday chaotic city life and a great way to just unplug/relax. I’m planning a trip up to Hudson, NY and plan on doing a day ski-trip to Hunter Mountain. Even if you don’t ski, there’s plenty of fun to be had at the lodge with cozy fireplaces and plenty of cocktails. Hunter Mountain is only a few hours from the city and is easier to access than you might think. I’ll update this post after my trip with more details of course, however, highly recommend you get into the upstate New York vibes. You won’t regret it.

 

Yoga to the People

So for those of you who don’t know, although you probably do, Yoga to the People is a donation based yoga studio that offers a variety of yoga classes. If you’re like me and have a love-hate relationship with the gym or find juice cleanses appalling, this a great way to move your body, detox some sweat, and clear your head. I’m not a yogi by any means but this place is truly a gem. The recommended donation amount is $10 dollars but their policy is “give what you can.” Perfect if you’re on a budget or don’t know if you want to commit to the yogi life yet. Plus, they have several locations around the city so it shouldn’t be hard to hard to find one in your area. Na-Ima-stay in the realm of positivity/sunshine as should you.

 

 

The Best Tips for Finding Cheap Flights

After a recent Instagram poll, you guys mentioned that you wanted to see more travel tips on the blog for the new year. If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning you might remember I used to do an annual tip of the week. I got great feedback from this feature, however, when I went back to working full time the extra weekly posts proved to be quite the challenge. These days a post once a week is all I have to give. Although, my posts are much more detailed oriented and I thought about bringing back the weekly tips, however, I figured it would be better to post one detailed post where you can find all the info you need as opposed to dragging it out over weeks. So with that being said, when I first started traveling, I’m convinced I read every article about finding cheap flights in the history of the internet. I’ll often post about a cheap flight on my Facebook or Instagram page but these are the methods I use and find the most effective. I’m always still learning but any info I don’t know chances are I know someone who does, so after extensive research and interviews, these are my best recommendations for finding cheap flights.

 

Use a search engine

When looking for a flight it can be intimidating trying to look up what airlines to fly with beeing that there are so many options available. If you’re not loyal to a specific airline, i.e you don’t use miles and just want the cheapest flight, use a search engine. I’d recommend Google Flights or Skyscanner. I’m more partial to Skyscanner though because if I know I have time off and want to plan a vacation I’ll use the explore option and search for the cheapest flights then plan my vacation accordingly. The search engine will scan ever website for you and then provide you with every option available. You can search by, time, date, airline, layover preference, etc. Which leads me to my next tip…

 

Be Flexible 

Are you flexible on time or dates off? Flights are always cheaper if you leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Sunday is the most expensive day to fly back so if you can avoid it and fly back on Tuesday you can save hundreds of dollars. Be mindful of peak seasons. Traveling in the summer months are more expensive than in the offseason. Tropical places can still be enjoyable in the offseason and colder destinations can be just as nice in the Winter. Another good general rule of thumb is to avoid traveling during popular holidays. Everyone travels during Christmas time and airlines know that hence a larger than normal price tag.

 

Search incognito

It’s not necessary for every website, but in general, it’s a good idea to search incognito when you’re looking up flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. Several websites will use “cookies” to track your search history. Websites like Expedia will see that you are searching flights based on your history and will raise the price of flights because they know that you are looking to buy. By searching incognito, you’ll hide your search history so companies won’t have access to this information. You can open up an incognito window by opening up your search engine, I use google chrome, clicking on the “file” tab and then by clicking on “new incognito window.”

 

Embrace the Layover

Flights with long layovers tend to be lower in price than direct flights simply because most people hate them. If you’ve ever had to sleep overnight in an airport or book a stay in an airport hotel than you definitely know why it’s awful. However, sometimes long layovers can work to your advantage! For example, I recently found a $400 round-trip ticket to the Philippines from NYC with a 13/15-hour layover in Shanghai, China. Shanghai has been on my list for a while now so I was more than happy to entertain the idea of a quick pit stop. I arrive in Shanghai at 6 am and depart at 10 pm, giving me a full day of exploring Shanghai on the way there and back. I don’t need to book a hotel since I can sleep on the plane for my next flight and I can always check my carry-on luggage at the airport or check a bag and just take essentials in an easy to carry carry-on. This is a great way to explore a city and get a, as I like to say, “flavor,” to see if one day you’d like to come back. Sometimes airlines will even offer you free layovers as a special promotion to entice you to visit their country like Iceland air in Iceland or Etihad in Abu Dhabi.

 

Fly into a city outside of your destination 

Have a destination in mind but flights are expensive? Do some research on Skyscanner and see if there’s an airport a bit outside of the main city that you can fly to and take a cheap train or bus to the main city. Popular budget airlines will typically do this but you could fly into Frankfurt, Germany for example and rent a car and drive to Paris. It’s not always that easy of course but definitely worth investigating if you are looking to save some money. When I flew to South Africa, for example, I flew into Johannesburg and rented a car and drove 8 hours to Kruger National park instead of taking an expensive connecting flight to Kruger.

 

Price difference refunds

This one can be tricky. I’ve personally never been able to pull this one off but I certainly know people who have. Essentially, if you are stalking airline tickets and see that a price has dropped you can call the airline and see if they’ll refund you the difference or negotiate a full refund and book a new ticket with the cheaper price. If you go through a second party agency website they might not refund you but a major airline might honor it, especially if you’re a loyal member.

 

Get alerts

Have a destination in mind that you’ve been dying to visit? Sign up for flight alerts! Google flights and Skyscanner offer this option for specific destinations that will email you when prices have gone up or down. This also works well if you are interested in negotiating for a price difference refund. Typically the best time to book a flight is three months prior to your planned departure. As you get closer to your departure date prices will start to increase. That’s not always the case in the wild west of flight booking but generally, that’s the most common trend.

 

Skip the last leg of your trip

To be honest, I haven’t personally tried this but know many people who have and they’ve saved tons of money. For those of you not as familiar, skipping the last leg of your trip refers to booking a flight with a layover and missing the second flight. The idea is that the layover is actually your intended destination and you simply miss the second flight. Now, this only works for the second flight as once you miss the first flight your whole itinerary gets canceled. Not to mention, you can’t travel with a checked bag as it will continue on to your final destination. Overall, this method provides a lot of finesse and would only recommend experienced travelers do this. Websites like Skiplagged are great for looking up these flights with their homepage alma mater saying, “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us…but we won.”

 

Budget Airlines

If you travel, even a little, you know exactly the kind of budget airlines I’m referring to…Spirit airline, Frontier, EasyJet, Ryan Air, etc. So let’s break down the pros and cons. Are you traveling in luxury? Absolutely not. Does everything cost extra? Sure does. So when is it beneficial to fly on a budget airline? If you’re traveling a short distance, as in anything under three hours, it’s worth it, in my opinion. If the trip is broken up with a short layover, it’s worth it. Some tips when flying budget airlines are: buy a checked bag as soon as you purchase the ticket. Checked bags are cheaper in price when you book in advance and carry-on’s typically aren’t included. Bring a snack with you. Snacks and food are extra so come prepared and buy a water bottle before you board. Print your boarding pass before your flight. Some budget airlines will charge you for this and it’s better to have it printed and not need it than get hit with an extra 15 dollar fee for printing the boarding pass.

 

Credit card points

Credit card points and miles are a great way to get credit towards flights from everyday spending. Of course, you have to be careful with credit cards as they can end up doing more damage than good, however, if you use them responsibly for everyday purchases you could earn a significant amount of miles and credits towards flights. This method is best for frequent travelers and long-term use but if you have one dream destination in mind and want to use those free sign-up miles this is a good option.  The Points Guy is a great website for finding out more info on travel cards.

 

Have any other tips? Any questions? Leave a comment and let me know! Hope this helps you on your next vacation.

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Happy Traveling,

Riss

New York City’s Best Hotels for the Holidays

This holiday season I got so many questions about what hotels are great to stay in during the month of December in New York City. There’s so many to choose from in Manhattan, however, my favorites vary based upon the type of experience your craving this Winter. If you’re a foodie, check out the Innside by Mélia, if you have kids, stay at the Peninsula, and so on and so forth. Of course, most hotels will have decorations but if you’re gonna do it once, do it right and choose a hotel that caters to your style. I tried to include suggestions that had a little something for everyone but of course if you have any other recommendations or thought I missed something, let me know! You can read the full article at CBS Local NY, here.

New York City’s Best Hotels For The Holidays

 

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Wishing you a happy holiday!

Riss

 

The Best Italian Restaurants in New York City

This past month, October 17th, marked the official National Pasta Day. Of course, October also happens to be dubbed Italian heritage month here in NYC. Kicking off the biggest Italian celebration in NYC is the famous San Gennaro feast, one of the cities longest running street fairs on Mulberry St. As an Italian-American myself, I go there for the best sausage and pepper sandwiches and zeppoles. Although I grew up on fried dough and chicken parmigiana, I’ve been lucky enough to make it to Italy several times. Not to mention, it’s my favorite cuisine to whip up on a Sunday night. I can’t say I make it to Italy as often as I’d like for authentic Italian cuisine, however, New York City is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in the nation. If you’re in town, I’d highly recommend checking out a few of my favorites…

 

L’Artusi

228 W 10th St
West Village

 

This West Village restaurant is a favorite for pasta lovers. Although it’s hard to come by reservations on a weekend, you can always hang around for seating at the bar. When at the bar, I’d recommend ordering a starter followed by two pastas to share and an olive oil cake to finish. The staff is also extremely knowledgeable on wine pairings so I’d say ask away when it comes to recommendations. Regardless, one night at this sleek West Village stop and you will see why everyone’s saying A’more.

 

Bella Gioia

209 4th Ave
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Probabl the only restaurant I’d travel for! Italian-American chef Nico uses his Sicilian background and old school family recipes to bring new life to Sicilian classics. Bella Gioia had the best calamari I’ve ever had in awhile. I went for an Italian-American heritage night, which was just as delightful but on a typical night you can find dishes like, deep-fried burrata, charcuterie, pappardelle pasta, truffle fries, and Sicilian style pizza, to name a few. Not to mention the incredible wine pairings and charming decor that make you feel like you’re in a cozy alleyway in Sicily amongst friends. When I was there they had live music featuring a vocalist and guitarist playing a mix of classic beatles as well as classic Italian numbers. I was a BIG fan! The live music was such a great touch and would be a great choice for a first date or family outing.

 

I Sodi

105 Christopher St
West Village

 

I stumbled upon I Sodi as most do, through a recommendation through a friend of a friend. Italian food is my favorite cuisine and I always like to ask foodies where they go for their favorites. I Sodi was one that kept coming up time and time again. I couldn’t figure out what was so special? Simple Italian dishes with few ingredients and very straightforward menu items like fresh bread, fried artichokes, and lasagna. After a visit to see for myself, it was clear why New Yorker’s kept raving about this place. Here you won’t find over played flavors all competing to be something revolutionary. What you will find are delightful combinations of fresh ingredients, classic to the point menu items, and an explosion of flavors. Even the decor is to the point and crisp lending a pleasant atmosphere to the restaurants biggest star, the food.

 

Spaghetti Incident

231 Eldridge St
Lower East Side

 

To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and have a meal at Spaghetti Incident. I have, however, gone to experience what they’re Insta-famous for…the take out spaghetti! It’s served up nice and hot in a big cone. GENIUS! The pastas, are rich, creamy, and the flavors are delicious. Simple pasta comfort dishes like pesto, pomodoro, and carbonara. It’s cash only but these prices are worth trading paper for. Perfect for grabbing and walking around the streets or to the park. Talk about ambiance!

 

Palma

28 Cornelia St
West Village

 

Another West Village gem, this little Italian restaurant is what Instagram dreams are made of! After walking through the entryway, which I would describe as a picturesque rustic italian kitchen, past the bar you’ll enter a beautiful courtyard. With gorgeous tiles, plenty of greenery, flowers, and a retractable rooftop this place is like an escape. So you already know summers at Palma are a warm weather must! And the food? Delicious Italian classic just the way grandma used to make it. I’d recommend the Ravioli’s with a side of broccoli rabe. Caio Bella!

 

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Happy Italian Heritage Month,

Riss

 

 

 

Iceland on a Budget

The One with Fire and Ice

 

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…and they are not joking about that tag line. I rented a car on the last leg of my Iceland trip and on our drive from Vik to Reykjavik we experienced sun, hail, partly cloudy, rain, wind, everything within an hour! Which made driving through one car bridges, over mountains, through big snow storms quite challenging. I’m happy to report this was the only “hiccup” on this trip and for that I’m grateful.

 

On my first visit to Iceland, I went right after I moved back to NYC from Germany. Apparently, I couldn’t stay away from Europe for very long. I once bought a coffee table book called “Make the most of your time on earth,” which I highly recommend. In this book, one of the things they recommended was snorkeling with wild Orca whales in Norway. If you’ve been following along on my journey you know how much I love the ocean! If I wasn’t a writer, I would have went to school for marine biology.  So naturally, I put this as a top priority on my bucket list. I’ll do a separate post on Norway but when I knew I was traveling to Scandinavia again, first time was Sweden, I immediately thought of Iceland. It’s been a dream destination of mine for quite some time.

 

I remember hearing through the grapevine that Iceland Air was offering free layover stops, in Iceland, if you were flying to a neighboring European country. I believe they still have this deal so if you’re interested definitely check it. Of course, you know I am the cheap flight guru and I found a great deal through Wow air, $250 round trip from NYC. However, I decided to keep my plan the way it was for the best deal so I spent two days in Iceland, then flew to Norway for three days, then came back to Iceland for another 3 days. It wouldn’t be a vacation for me unless I took an obscene amount of flights to a remote, hard to reach destination halfway across the world.

 

If you’re thinking of planning a trip, you’ve probably heard by now that Iceland isn’t the cheapest place to travel to. The US dollar doesn’t stretch as far with the Icelandic króna. Of course, it’s still possible to visit this beautiful country on a budget. Here are some of my tips and recommendations. In addition, to everything you may need to know about beautiful Iceland.

When to Go

 

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The most popular times to visit Iceland are during the summer months from May to September. The sunlight is almost 24/7 as Iceland experiences it’s summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. I went in January during the Winter months, from November to April, where I experienced significantly less sunlight. It was snowy and much colder in the winter months but I personally don’t mind the cold. When packing, definitely bring snow appropriate attire. The summer month’s are warmer ranging around mid 50’s so layers and rain gear are a MUST.

 

If you’re trying to catch the Northern Lights, the best time to go is during the Winter months, however, you need complete visibility to see them aka no clouds. So it’s best to leave yourself at least two weeks to see them. Most people would recommend going to see them in September or March/April. Gray Line bus offers Northern Light tours that allow you the opportunity to re-book if you don’t see them the night of your scheduled tour so it’s a great question to ask before you commit.

 

Lastly, bringing important camera gear is crucial for capturing the Northern Lights. You won’t be able to capture a good picture on an iPhone so a DSLR camera is recommended. My best advice would be to get as far away from the city as you can. You need complete darkness with minimal light pollution. I’d also recommend bringing a tripod, although some tours provide them, and, most importantly, a shutter release for steady pictures. To capture the lights you’ll need to adjust your camera settings manually. Your ISO should be set to 800+ and your aperture should be set to the widest setting, between f/2.8 anf f/5.6 with a shutter speed between 15-30 seconds.

Getting There and Getting Around

 

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As a small island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, your only option to getting to Iceland is to fly. As I mentioned before, Icelandic Air runs a deal that allows you to book a long layover in Iceland at no additional cost. This a great option to explore the main city of Reykjavik and get a quick feel of this beautiful country. Although I’d highly recommend staying for a while and checking out the rest of the country. I ended up flying with Wow Air who offers great deals to Iceland.

 

From the airport we used the Gray Line bus from the airport to our hotel. We then booked our tour for the next two days through Gray Line buses. The first day we did the Golden Circle Express tour and the following day we took their bus to the Blue Lagoon. Tours are a great way to get around if you don’t want to drive yourself.  You can even find tours that schedule everything for you and include your own private driver.

 

Of course, if you’re looking to stretch your dollar, you could always rent a car. We did this on our second time back to Iceland. I booked through enterprise care rentals. Our car was fine and we drove during winter and although we had some crazy weather, we had no problems. I choose Enterprise because you don’t have to put a deposit down, which is not the norm for renting cars in foreign countries. We used to kayak to book, very simple. At the end of the day my best advice would be to choose the cheapest options with the best reviews.

 

Accommodations

 

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Wether traveling alone or just looking for a great budget option? Try staying at a hostel! Hostels are my go-to when visiting expensive cities. I stayed at the Reykjavik City HI Hostel just a few minutes away from the downtown area. I stayed in a four person mixed dorm, which I thought was perfect. The hostel was conveniently located in front of a public bus stop that you could take to get downtown, which was fairly easy to navigate. The staff was helpful, the rooms were clean, and the common room and breakfast was lovely. So I’d highly recommend this location. They even have a campsite in the back if you really want to rough it.

 

For my second portion of the trip, we rented a car from Reykjavik and drove down to Vik to see the black sand beaches. It’s a great hop off point on the southern coast to go see the glacier, the lagoon, and the beach. Of course, you could always do a day tour from Reykjavik as it’s only a few hours away. Vik is a popular destination and can get pricey during peak times. Even in Winter, a lot of accommodations were booked up and we ended up staying at the Puffin Hotel. Basic accommodations, great service, and great breakfast. We stayed in a two person private room which was lovely.

 

What to See

Iceland is a beautiful country with vast landscapes tha offer everything from stunning waterfalls to glaciers to volcanoes. Hence the popular coined term, “Land of fire and ice.” As I mentioned, I started my trip in Reykjavik. On our first day, we took the Golden Circle Gray Lines Express Tour. You can always rent a car and drive this yourself as well.

 

The Golden Circle

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The Golden circle tour we did consisted of three attractions: Thingvellir National Park, The Geysir, and the Gullfoss waterfall. The Thingvellir National Park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault. The landscapes are absolutely stunning! If you’re really brave you can even snorkel the Silfa, between the two tectonic plates. Dry suit anyone?

The Blue Lagoon

The next day we took another bus over to the infamous Blue Lagoon. The day we went to the Lagoon, it had been raining on and off, however, we didn’t mind since we were already in the water. The Blue Lagoon is a bit on the pricey side. There are tons of other spa’s and hot springs in the area if you’re looking for a more budget friendly option. To justify the bigger price tag, I decided to spend the entire day there to really get my moneys worth. This would be a great option in combination with the golden circle for a quick day or layover in Iceland. My number one tip would be to buy tickets in advance to get your desired entry time before it’s all booked up.

 

Vik, Reynisfjara Beach

Formed from volcanic rock, the black sand beach offers miles of dramatic coastlines as far as the eye can see. From staggering columns to volcanic sea caves, this beach is an adventurer travelers dream. In the summertime, you may even be able to spot a puffin or two. I went during the winter, so no puffins and definitely no sun. It actually snowed. First time I can say I’ve been to the beach while it’s snowing. Something to keep in mind, the water at this beach can be deceiving and quite rough. In the week I was in Iceland, someone had passed away because they got too close to water and unfortunately couldn’t recover. Look for signs regarding safety and always be respectful of mother nature.

 

Jökulsárlón  & Diamond Beach

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Also known as the Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. I could have sat there for hours listening to the sounds of glass breaking as one glacier collides with another. On the other side of the bridge, after the melting icebergs exit into the ocean, you’ll find remnants of shattered ice scattered all over this shoreline at diamond beach. Another notable mention, which comes highly recommended from friends, is the boat ride onto the lagoon. There you can get a up close and personal view of the lagoon and, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to spot a seal or two.

 

Vatnajökull Glacier

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Although home to several glaciers, the Vatnajökull glacier is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland, it’s the biggest in the world. From ice caves to ice hikes, this glacier offers everything. I did a tour with Glacier Guides  and had the best time! I did the half day glacier hike combined with an ice cave tour. You must go with a guide to hike the glacier as it’s extremely dangerous to go on your own.  You can even do a full seven hour extreme ice climb. I didn’t do this here but I did in Alaska and it’s a lot of fun. In the summertime, I’d also recommend a stop to the Fjaorargljufur Canyons for a great “non-ice” hike and stunning dramatic landscapes.

 

Waterfalls

Some of the best I’ve ever seen, Iceland is brimming with waterfalls as far as the eye can see. As I mentioned earlier, in the golden circle you can find the Gullfoss waterfall. The most famous one, would be the Skógafoss waterfall. In the summer, when the light reflects onto the fall it creates rainbows. You can even walk behind the waterfall and climb up to the top. Other notable waterfalls would include the Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, and Goðafoss.

 

Where to Eat

Although Iceland is not the cheapest country in the world it’s not difficult to find a decently priced meal. One of my favorite budget bites is the Icelandic hot dog, at the famous chain Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Doesn’t taste quite the same as the American hotdog, I actually think it’s better, and you can customize and choose your toppings. My second favorite meal was a Nordic classic, Icelandic Fish and Chips. Freshly caught fish with a flakey buttery crust and deep friend potatoes, yummy! Of course, if you do plan on indulging a bit, definitely check out the Grillmarket, try the trio of Reindeer. I had my first taste of Reindeer in Sweden and it’s delicious. It tastes like a cross between venison and veal, in my opinion. Highly recommend!

 

Any other suggestions or questions? Drop a comment below! Hope you enjoy as Iceland as much as I did!

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Happy traveling,

Riss

 

 

 

 

5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York

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Labor Day is only a few weeks away! Start planning your weekend vacay with this article I wrote for CBS Local New York, 5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York. My top three picks would be the Montauk Yacht Club, the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, and Hunter Mountain. I love long hike’s up to Hunter Mountain and nothing beats a nice relaxing beach day in Montauk. Not to mention a nice day on the boat, preferably wakeboarding, at the Chautauqua Lake. If you’re staying local and plan to throw your own party, I’ll do a post rounding up past LDW article’s that cover everything from food to entertainment. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to make the most of these last few weeks of summer. Clink the link below to check out the article I wrote.

 

5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York

 

Happy traveling,

Riss

 

Kruger National Park On a Budget

Kruger National Park On a Budget

The One With the Canceled Flight…

 

Travel blogging isn’t always as glamorous as it appears on social media. Things go wrong ALL the time. I always say there’s no such thing as a perfect trip. Of course, I would consider myself an adventure traveler, meaning my vacations typically tend to have a greater margin for things that can go wrong. On this trip, not only did I book my ticket for the wrong day and have to change it last-minute thus paying a hefty fee (rookie move), but my flight was canceled due to snow storms. South African Airways, insert eye roll here, not only didn’t tell me my flight was cancelled but couldn’t fly me out till three days later.  My perfectly strategic plan, that took months to create, of a 5 day safari in Kruger National Park was diminished to a mere 8 hour visit. To add salt to the wound, our new flight getting into South Africa was delayed leaving Brittany, my travel buddy, and I with an 8 hour drive. An 8 hour drive that needed to be accomplished in 5 and a half. The gates located inside the park close at 6:00pm at Kruger. Fortunately, we were able to make it to our rest camp with 5 minutes to spare, thanks to my lead foot. We spent the night at Skukuza and did an amazing night Safari.  Although, to be honest, Brittany and I slept for most of it, we were so jet lagged. The next day we drove around the park searching for wildlife and let me tell you, mother nature did not disappoint! We saw almost everything on our safari bucket list. Although, no trips complete without a little stress! I had to film video content for Travel Zoo. I managed to film a few quick shots in an African bone graveyard museum, yes that’s a thing, a few minutes before we had to race back to the Johannesburg airport to catch a flight to Cape town. Which we almost missed because of traffic! Murphy’s law, right? Overall, our time at Kruger was incredible. The hardest part of planning this trip was tracking down all the information and figuring out how to plan your own self driven Safari. I combed through every article on the internet for months. Luckily, I love my readers and I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Kruger National Park below. You can also check out some more photos of my trip to South Africa on my Instagram, @citygirlriss.

 

When is the Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park?

 

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Generally, Kruger is a great place to visit year round. The winter months, from April to September, tend to be drier. The lack of vegetation during this time makes it easier to spot wildlife. Of course, we were there during a terrible drought so the grass was sparse and the animals were always close to the rivers considering it was the only water source. The South African summer months, from October to March, are wet and rainy supporting an abundance of vegetation meaning less chances to spot wildlife.  However, during the beginning of the summer months, the new babies arrive at the park. We saw a lot of babies, in March, including a special moment with a mommy zebra while she was feeding her calf. You can check out the San Park Average Temperature Charthere, for more specific temperature quotes. We went in March, during spring break, booked months in advance, and still, most of the accommodations were already sold out. So booking as early as possible is highly recommended.

 

How Long Should I Stay?

 

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The correct answer to this question is to do what makes your heart happy. I personally could have spent months exploring Kruger. It’s honestly so big! As I mentioned, my original plan was for five days. Although, I only ended up staying for one, I would say 3-5 days is sufficient if you plan to do day tours and self drive. If you plan to stay at a luxury lodge I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a few weeks more.

 

Getting There and Getting Around

 

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Rent a Car

After extensive research, the cheapest and most effective way to explore the park is to rent a car and do a safari on your own. We flew into Johannesburg, rented a car off of Kayak, picked it up at the airport and drove 4 hours to Kruger. Now its four hours to the lower section of Kruger, entering through the Malelane Gate. There are several gates throughout the park and they’re all a considerable distance apart. So it’s best to google how far it is from the airport to where your first nights accommodation will be.

 

From Malelane Gate to the Skukuza Gate is about another two hours. We spent our first night in Skukuza and had to book it from the airport to our rest camp. When we entered through the Malelane Gate, the guard gave us a suspicious look and said, “You know the gate closes at 6 and you have a two and a half hour drive and it’s 5 o’clock, RIGHT?” I replied, “Yes sir, I know,” and shrugged. Kruger has strict speed limits, and a “no getting out of the vehicle policy,” as well as strict open and close times. Failing to comply with these rules can result in hefty fines. You can read more about the park rules, here.

 

Fly and/or do a tour

The most popular option for Kruger is to fly into Skukuza Airport. Skukuza is located between the lower section of the park and the beginning of the central section. From there you can either rent a car and drive to a rest camp or arrange to be picked up by a lodge. Many lodges and game reserves offer tours and include daily Safaris. The benefit of having a guided tour by a park ranger is the expertise of knowing how and where to spot animals as well as a large elevated vehicle that makes spotting animals easier. The rest camps also offer day tours for an extra charge and offer a wide variety from day time safaris, sunset safari, bush walks, night safaris, etc. We did a  night safari from the Skukuza Rest Camp and had a great time. The park is closed to visitors at night, only a park ranger via guided tour can take you out. This is to protect the animals and limit wildlife interaction. We were lucky enough to see several animals on the night tour including a mother and baby white rhino, who are now considered an extinct species. Your other option is to stay at a lodge or private reserve where you can customize an itinerary/game drives through them. You can even do a few nights at a luxury lodge and then spend an extra few days doing a self driven tour and stay at a rest camp.

 

Getting In

 

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To get into Kruger National Park you have to pay a daily conservation and entrance fee. You can choose to either pay per day or opt for a yearly membership, the wild card. You can find prices by going to the Sans Park website. If your going to be there for 5 or more days the wild card might be a better option for you even if you’ll only be visiting this one time. You can purchase these online or at some of the gates.

 

The Lay of the Land

 

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Kruger is a massive park, broken up into three sections. The lower section is located in the South, from Crocodile Bridge to Skukuza, the central section, from Lower Sabine to Ollifants,  and the Northern Section, from Letaba to the border of Zimbabwe. The most popular area of the park is the lower section. Accommodations book up the fastest here. It’s the smallest section of the three but it has plenty of rivers and is great for seeing the “Big 5” if your time is limited. The central section is great for game viewing. Lions tend to hang in prides more in this area, I’m told. The Norther region is the largest of the three and is hailed to be a haven for birds. When planning your trip, it’s best to ask yourself what interests you the most, where your coming from, and how much time you have. From there, you can start to formulate a plan for your itinerary.

 

Accommodations

 

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There are many factors to consider when choosing the right  accommodations. For me, during my original plan, I chose to do a self driven safari and to stay at multiple camps. Throughout the park, there are several park run rest camps, think gated community. Every rest camp varies, but generally most offer options to either camp (bring your own tent), rent a safari tent (canvas tent bedrooms), huts (single room units), bungalow (single bedroom units with kitchen and private bathroom), cottage, family cottage, guest cottage, guest house, or luxury lodges. Accommodations are based on availability. The earlier you book the better. We stayed in a safari tent at Skukuza, which was perfect for a quick stay. Of course, you get what you pay for so I highly recommend doing some research to find what works best for you and your budget. You can check out the San Parks website for accommodation availability. Since we did a self guided tour, the original plan was to stay at a different rest camp every night. Keep in mind the distances between the camps when planning your rest camps. Kruger has a strict speed limit but you typically end up going below the limit to stop and view animals. In other words, the google map times can differ from the actual time it will take you to get from point A to B. You can plan and view accurate time tables by heading over to the parks website, here. Don’t forget, gates close as early as 5 o’clock depending on the season. Driving at night without a guided tour is prohibited.

 

My original plan for the five-day safari was to fly in, drive to the park, enter through the Malelane Gate, finishing the day at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp for the first night. The next day, we would travel to Lower Sabine and spend the next night there. Then, we planned to head all the way up to Ollifants, Satara would work well too, for some elephant and lion viewing. As I mentioned earlier, this is the only night we were able to stay, our final destination was Skukuza.

Your other option would be to stay at a Luxury Lodge or a private hunting game reserve in or outside to park. You could even combine the two and do both options, camp and lodge. I do this on trips sometimes when I really want to stay at a nice hotel for the experience but know I can’t afford to stay there the whole week.

 

Park Facilities

 

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The main rest camps typically all contain restaurants, shops, and gas stations. The best restaurant, in my opinion, were the Mugg & Bean chains, which feature a wide variety of options. You can find locations and menus, here. If you plan to camp, or want to make your own food, be sure to bring cutlery, plates, cookware, etc. All campsites and accommodations have barbeques.  Just be sure to lock up your food as the monkeys have built up a highly accurate reputation for theft. Many camps have swimming pools with the exception of the smaller satellite camps. They also typically don’t have restaurants or shops. You can find ATM’s at Skukuza and Letaba although almost everywhere we stopped took cards. You can only get WiFi at Skukuza and Berg en Dal. The camps themselves have decent 3G but no service between camps unless you have an international plan. All the rest camps have “sighting boards,” that use colored magnets to show where certain types of animals have been spotted. I was in a Whatt’s App group with “Latest sightings-Kruger,” that gave me live, updated, and accurate sightings. you can also check out their Facebook page, here. They have an app as well!

 

Hope this helps! Working on a master list of Safari Do’s and Don’ts. If you have any other suggestions or tips drop a comment below so that other travelers can stumble upon it too!

 

Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss