Mia goes M.I.A: Making the most of a short trip

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Trying to explore a country but don’t have a lot of time? Well I have some tips for you About 9 years ago I took the trip of a lifetime with my best friend. Two weeks exploring eight countries in Europe. As you can imagine 14 days and 8 countries didn’t leave us a lot of time to explore the beauties of each one but instead get little sample sizes.

Yet despite being in some of the most beautiful places in the world like Switzerland or Austria for approximately 24 hours, we truly made the most of each experience and had the opportunity to see some of the main attractions these countries had to offer. We also had a chance to experience local culture and lifestyle. Planning a short trip? Here are some of my tips on how to make the most of your time.

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1) Have a game plan 

When we were in Rome for less than 48 hours we wanted to see the Vatican, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum, seems like a lot right? Not if you plan ahead. We bought skip the line passes ahead of time. Despite going on a busy Saturday, we waited less than 20 minutes.

If you have some “must not miss” places on your list, plan ahead. See if you can skip the line, or if there are tours because they will always get priority access. Try and research to see if some attractions or places are less busy early in the morning or late afternoon. That will save you time which is precious when you are on a short trip.

2) Don’t be afraid to go with the flow

When we were in Paris for one night, I really wanted to see the Eifel Tower sparkle at night time, but my friend didn’t want to spend our whole 20 hours at the tower, so we compromised. We climbed the tower during the day and saw some stunning views of the city, and at night time we went to see a show at the Moulin Rouge. The show was incredible and I really got to experience even more of the Parisian culture in a short time.

Things are always going to come up, whether it’s a group disagreement, closures, or bad weather. Be ready to not get your way especially if you are only there for a few days. Instead make the most of what you do get to experience.  Hey, if you didn’t get to see the Eifel Tower sparkle, just means you will have to take another trip to Paris someday. At least that is what I tell my boyfriend.

3) Don’t Rush 

You aren’t going to see everything, unless you have found a way to clone yourself (If so, show me your ways). For example, when I was in Amsterdam I really wanted to see both the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum. Instead of rushing through the museums in hopes of seeing both, we decided that Anne Frank was more up our alley. We were really able to explore the entire museum, listen to our guide, and appreciate the history. I was so glad we had a chance to explore one museum to the fullest.

When you have a limited time, you may feel the need to rush around town in hopes of seeing everything, but if you do that, you won’t really het to see anything. By making compromises you will really get to enjoy what you do see. You will get to truly explore and learn about the areas that you do make time for.

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4) Logistics, logistics, logistics 

On our trip, my friend and I made sure we took the first train or bus out every morning. This ensured we would have a full day and night exploring cities.  We purchased our tickets ahead of time, and would check to make sure everything was on time. When you have a short amount of time every minute is precious, and you don’t want delayed transportation to affect your trip.

Make sure to do your homework ahead of time. Make sure everything is running on schedule and what will be the quickest way to get to your next destination or attraction you are visiting. The more you know before you go, the less time will be wasted on figuring things out.

5) City tours are your friend

When we were in London for just two days we decided to plan a trip on a hop on hop off bus. We had a chance to see all the major attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. in only a few hours. Plus we had a knowledgeable tour guide giving us information.

With so much to see and do in such a short time period, it’s nice to have someone else do the work. They know the best routes and the history. You get to sit back, relax, and take all the pictures your finger can handle.

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6) Plan to return 

There is an old myth that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome you will return there one day. I made sure to do that because a day and a half in Rome was just not enough, and guess what, I will be going back there this summer and I cannot wait.

The best part of a short trip is you get a little taste of what the incredible city has to offer, and it just makes you want to come back for the whole meal. You get to see which parts you really loved, and find out more about cities that you would love to go back and visit for a longer time. Let’s just say it is an appetizer ahead of a main course.

I hope these tips help you plan a short trip of your own. No matter how much time you have, you can make the most of any vacation and get a glimpse of the beauty this world has to offer. So get out and explore. Bonne Voyage!

Mia goes M.I.A: Pacific Coast Highway

I had always heard how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 1 was,  so I had to experience the drive for myself. My roomie and I decided to rent a car and drive down the coast of California for a long weekend. The three-day trip started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, and let me tell you, it exceeded any picture, any story, any expectation. With the beautiful seaside cliffs and ocean line views we truly experienced California.

I wanted to share with you some highlights of this three-day adventure. Places we stopped, towns we stayed in etc. I also felt like we learned a lot from this experience and wanted to share some do’s and don’ts if you are thinking of doing the drive yourself.

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Day 1: San Fransisco 

The first stop on our trip was San Fransisco. Since neither one of us had been here before we decided to spend the full day exploring. We decided to be real tourists starting the trip with a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the overcast skies, the view from the bridge was beautiful.

Next up a ride on a trolly. I mean with the up and down hills I didn’t feel like walking that is for sure. We first took the trolly to Chinatown (the largest of such outside of Asia) and then we hopped on again to head to Union Square for dinner. My highlight in both of these places was the various local art. Really take the time to look around Union Square and check out the local work.

Since I am from Canada, dinner was pretty basic, a trip to the Cheesecake Factory (hey we don’t have those up here).

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Day 2: San Fransisco to Long Beach 

On the second day of the trip we started the actual driving portion. I am not going to lie it didn’t start off smoothly. I have trouble parking as is, try parking on those steep San Fran hills. It was pretty smooth sailing after that near accident. Once we made it on to Pacific Coast Highway 1 I was speechless. The views were spectacular. Cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, it definitely isn’t for the fearful drivers.

Pit stop #1: Big Basin Redwoods State Park 

What is really amazing about this drive is you start off in forest before you get to beach so we really wanted to take advantage of the different landscapes. We decided to take a quick stop at Big Basin Redwoods Park which offers some beautiful hiking trails. Giant trees, beautiful wildlife, and waterfalls made for some great pictures. While we didn’t have time to hike any full trails, it was great to get some fresh air.

california4Pit stop #2: Carmel By the Sea 

Carmel by the Sea is a small beach town surrounded by fairytale like cottages and plenty of art galleries. The drive through this quaint town was what made us stop. We were told about the picturesque Senic Bluff Path which runs from the surf area of the beach to Carmel River State Beach which is known for its wildlife. Since the weather was a little chilly we decided to take a stroll on the path and trust me the views were amazing.

Pit Stop #3: Big Sur 

When we decided to do this trip, I said the one place I absolutely needed to see was Big Sur. Our whole road trip revolved around a stop here. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of the coast with some of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen. In fact, it has been described as the greatest meeting of land and water in the world, and I tend to agree. Again it was a little chilly so we didn’t get in the water, but we walked around some of the beaches in the area. The red rock formations were incredible. And of course there were some great waves perfect for the surfers that were a lot braver than us.

We stopped for a delicious dinner at Nepenthe, which has some yummy American cuisine with one of the best view points in the area before continuing our trip to Long Beach.

We learned a valuable lesson on night one, and that was to map out our overnights a little better. We didn’t realize the distances from San Fransisco to Long Beach was over 6 hours on the coastal drive. By the time we started making our way to the hotel the sun was setting. Trust me, not only is driving along PCH in the dark disappointing because you are missing out on some spectacular views, but also super scary. I do not recommend this whatsoever.

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Day 3: Long Beach to San Diego 

We woke up nice and early to get a good start on today’s drive. Because we covered most of the previous day, we knew this meant we could spend a longer time at each pit stop.

Pit Stop #1: Huntington Beach 

The first stop of the day was at a small surf town known as Huntington Beach. It was outlined by adorable beach cottages and cute coffee shops. Of course there was the white sand beach and crystal clear blue water. Again it was a little chilly ( I guess June gloom is  a real thing) so we didn’t get in the water but was a really adorable town to stop bye.

Pit Stop #2: Laguna Beach 

Well this was a childhood dream come true. After plenty of hours binge watching the MTV show Laguna Beach I needed to visit. The town consists of gorgeous mansions on top of rolling hills. We packed a picnic for the day and headed down to Aliso Creek County Beach ( less crowded than Main Beach). We grabbed a spot near the water and took in the smell of the ocean.

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Pit Stop #3: La Jolla 

Alas we made it to San Diego region and we were told we needed to check out La Jolla. La Jolla is considered the regions jewel by the sea and it was just that. I have never seen such a breathtaking town before. Cliffs down to the the calm and clear waters. We grabbed a coffee and then decided to take a cave tour. With the various rock formations, La Jolla has some amazing caves. On our tour we got really close to some of the locals aka seals that have populated the area.

Pit Stop #4: San Diego

All good things must come to an end right? We finished our drive in San Diego, which is one of my favourite cities in the world. Since we only had one night in San Diego we decided to make the most of it. We went to Florent for dinner which is a restaurant and nightclub combined into one. The modern American food menu is delicious and they have some awesome cocktails. My personal fav is the Maui Mule. california5

We capped off the night at a rooftop bar  ( a must in San Diego). We decided to go to The Rooftop at STK at Andaz. Grab a drink and then grab a spot to overlook the breathtaking city views.

This marked the end of our incredible road trip. While it was an amazing experience, there were definitely wish we had done some more planning ahead of time and wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with you in case you are planning a PCH road trip. So the following are some of my do’s and don’ts

Do: Stop when you want to

One of the points of a road trip is to experience what is along the way. We had such a set map of the places we wanted to visit that I feel like we missed out on some really adorable towns on the way. If you see something that catches your eye stop and take a look

Don’t: Book a hotel too far away 

This we definitely learned the hard way when we were forced to drive PCH at night time. Really map out the route and figure out how far apart the hotels are. This way you won’t feel rushed at your stops and you will really get to experience the beautiful drive.

Do: Get a convertible (if you can afford it) 

One of the biggest regrets of the trip was not shelling out more money to drive with the top down. While a convertible seems cliche I think it is totally worth it. Especially with the views of the ocean that you sometimes miss with the windows up.

Do: Pack layers 

Here I was thinking California was always sunny and hot, I was wrong. Only later did I find out about this June Gloom. It was overcast and chilly for the majority of the trip and I was so upset I didn’t pack a cute sweater and pair of jeans.

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Don’t: Speed 

Driving PCH is scary, the road is winding all the time and there is only one lane of traffic on each side. You don’t want to lose control at any point and you really don’t know what is around each corner. Plus you may miss some amazing views if you are just speedy through.

Do: Drive North to South 

I didn’t think of this before, but while on the trip I realized how smart we were. By driving from the North to the South means you will be on the ocean side of the road.

Do: Research for booking your car 

There are so many car companies out there that you want to find a good deal but also a reliable dealer. We booked with Hertz and didn’t have any issues. I highly recommend checking them out.

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Have you driven PCH? I would love to hear about your experience or I hope you find these tips helpful if you are planning a trip out there.

Happy traveling and can’t wait to share my next Mia goes M.I.A adventure with you

xo

Mia

Why Traveling Solo is a Must

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Early this year I had the opportunity to write an article for DailyHive about my personal experience of traveling to Thailand all on my own.  As I continue to share travel tips, I feel that this is an important one to pass along because this was honestly one of the most life changing experiences.

So why did I decide to pack my bags and travel half way across the world all by myself? Well in all honesty it was a last minute decision. After making a career as one of the youngest national news anchors in Canada, my station shut down and less than 24 hours alter I was dumped. So I did what any logical single and recently unemployed girl would do, I booked a solo trip to Thailand.

I regretted the decision the moment the ticket was booked. Nerves took  over and I called my dad in tears. He reassured me that everything was going to be ok and that this would be the trip of a life time.

I regretted the decision again after 20 hours on an airplane when I arrived in this foreign land with no luggage (Thankfully 7-Eleven’s carry every thing you could ever need or want).

As soon as I woke up the next morning to the beauty of the mountains and the white sand beaches, the regret washed away with the tide and I was ready for whatever adventure was waiting for me.

My ten-day trip included stops in Phuket, Phi Phi and Krabi. I visited the incredibly beautiful Ao Phang Ngo (aka James Bond Island). I partied at a ladyboy cabaret show. I fed wild monkeys. I swam with sharks. I visited the beach from the movie the Beach (even more beautiful in person). I overcame my fears and rode an elephant. I danced my butt off at a full moon party. I prayed for the first time at the Big Buddha. I ate my weight in Thai food.

But the most important thing I did was find myself again.

Travelling by myself was truly the best thing I ever did. And here are five reasons I think everyone should travel by themselves at some point in their life.

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You are the master of your itinerary10455655_10205702136488630_2935447828426095752_n

Sure, traveling with a group can be a blast, but it can also be a pain because you all have to agree on what to do and when. Traveling solo you can do whatever you want whenever you want no permission or compromise needed. I am a morning person, so I could wake up at the crack of dawn and see the sunrise, and I didn’t have to party until 3 am because of peer pressure. You truly get to do you.

You have chance to connect with yourself10953900_10205724079357188_7011318694399846369_n

Maybe this is the trip to the big Buddha talking, but traveling on your own allows you plenty of you time. During that time you can dig deep and figure out what makes you really happy and what you want out of life. There are no distractions.  It is an amazing opportunity to connect with the most important person, you.

You become more independent

I found myself constantly singing that really catchy tune from Kelly Clarkson, you know “Ms. Independent” because that is how I felt.  You have to make your own decisions, you have to solve your own problems, you have to learn how to use a real map, you know, that’s made from paper and you can’t update with every new destination (yes, they still exist and are hella useful when data is like $100/GB). You only have one person to rely on and that person is yourself.11070515_10205717261626749_5157240473514403247_n

You feel more satisfied at the end of the trip

It seems that whenever you travel with a group no matter how close you are there is always some drama, some fights. When you are on your own it is just peace and quiet. The only thing you have to worry about is if your margarita is near the bottom.

You make a ton of new friends

Traveling on your own can be scary. Will you be lonely and miserable the whole time? Only if you want to be. You have the choice to connect with other people, get tips from the locals or learn from like-minded travellers. You may even find a travel buddy for your next adventure!

I know, traveling on your own can seem pretty scary, so I also have a few tips for planing that solo vacation.

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 Tips for traveling on your own: 

  • Plan ahead of time. I felt pretty safe on this trip because I had my hotels and transportation booked ahead of time instead of worrying last minute and putting myself in a potential unsafe environment
  • Always carry good identification on you
  • Don’t draw attention to yourself with flashy clothes or jewellery, don’t make yourself a target
  • leave a copy of your itinerary and contact info with a friend so someone knows where you are at all times
  • keep to open and public places especially at night time 984297_10205709531953512_2372907246794993417_n

So what are you waiting for? Grab your passport and go explore the world. It is your oyster after all.