Plan the Perfect Bachelorette Party in Las Vegas

My bachelorette party in Las Vegas was everything I wanted it to be. It was the perfect mix of bachelorette party fun and girlfriend getaway. I wanted to relax at the pool while enjoying the nightlife of Las Vegas. We decided on a long weekend in June when the weather wasn’t too hot and tickets to Magic Mike were available!

Tips: 

  • I recommend going from Thursday to Sunday. Everyone arrives on Thursday and relaxes during the day on Friday before going out big that night. Everyone recovers on Saturday before leaving on Sunday. Flying with a hangover is the worst—I wanted to avoid it.
  • Our Lyft driver from the airport took us to a liquor store to stock up for the weekend so that we didn’t pay higher prices near the strip. It also saved us a trip.
  • Use No Cover Nightclubs to put your name on the guests lists of clubs without having to pay covers.
  • I rarely gamble (same with most of the girls on the trip), but we had a lot of fun playing Pai Gow Poker. Up to six people play at a time, which is great for a large group. Look for tables with a $10 or $15 minimum bet at the less expensive casinos for your first time. You can sit for a fairly long without losing much money (and sometimes winning) even if you are a first-timer. The dealers tend to be friendly and will help you play.

Must Do’s:

  • Go see Magic Mike! You have to book early though because it’s a big hit. If you have at least 10 people in your group, you can book through group sales for a discount. It was a great show. I recommend getting the seats along the aisles to the stage.  The performers move on and off the stage a lot.
  • Get a cabana for your relaxation day. You don’t want to have to get up early to get good seats at the pool.
  • There’s a ton of clubs to choose from. We really enjoyed the Marquis because it had an awesome outdoor space as well as a busy dance floor.
  • Get fake tattoos! It was a great surprise to see one set had a picture of my fiancé. You can get them from this Etsy store. It was a big hit!
My fiance’s face on my arm!

Do overs:

  • No. I had the time of my life.

Tips for a Bachelorette Party in Nashville

I planned a bachelorette party for 20 women in Nashville. Yes, 20 women. We had a great time and all returned in one piece!  Here’s what we did.
Where to stay:
Hilton Nashville Downtown: The suites sleep six people comfortably. The price per person ends up being reasonable, especially for its location. It’s less than a five minute walk from Broadway.  The only drawback is that the brunch buffet is expensive. I recommend bringing breakfast snacks to keep your hunger at bay before lunch.
Where to drink:
Tootsie’s: This bar is a Nashville institution. It’s been operating since 1960 and many up and coming country music stars drank there before hitting it big. You must stop by for at least one drink, but its fame draws a large crowd.
Big Shotz: This is off the Broadway strip so the drinks are cheaper. The music is still awesome.
Bootleggers Inn: I loved this place for day drinking. Make sure to try the different flavors of moonshine–the best drinks I had all weekend.
Other Nashville classics include:  Legends, Honkey Tonk Central, The Stage, and Tin Roof
What to do:
Pedal pub: The pedal pub is a great group activity and will introduce you to a ton of bars in Nashville. We had a great time with Nashville Pedal Tavern. It’s definitely not an easy bike ride so be prepared!  It’s also a popular activity–book it as far in advance as possible.
Buy boots:  Visit Boot Country where you can buy one pair of boots and get two pairs free!  The one pair of boots costs around US$300, so the average price is around US$100. Even if you don’t buy a pair, it’s fun to window shop.
Where to eat: 
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant:  This was a great restaurant to handle a large group reservation.
Rippys Bar & Grill:  Great BBQ on the Broadway strip.
Did I miss anything about Nashvegas?  Please comment below!

Argentina, Antarctica and Uruguay…Oh My!

Since I was traveling far to cruise around Antarctica, I decided to spend a week in Argentina before the cruise and a week in Uruguay after the cruise. You can learn more about my Antarctica trip here. This was at the end of January 2016.

Tips:  

  • Give yourself a couple of days in Ushuaia before the cruise in case of travel delays. One cruiser’s luggage didn’t show up before our departure time. She had to quickly run around Ushuaia to buy all of her gear.  The cruise will leave without YOU or your luggage!
  • Buenos Aires is a city of distinctive neighborhoods. I had difficulty figuring out where I wanted to stay. Based on recommendations and research, I decided on Palermo,  which was fun–lots of good bars and restaurants. It was easy to take taxis to the other neighborhoods.
  • Speaking of taxis, scams are common in Buenos Aires. You should have ask your hostel, hotel, waiter, etc to call you an official cab. Here’s a great list of tips. I mostly did that, but occasionally, I had to flag down a taxi on my own. It helps that I speak enough Spanish to give addresses and directions. I didn’t have any issues. One of my taxi drivers did express concern that I was traveling by myself. I was as cautious as I would be in any big city.
  • The tourist office in Ushuaia is amazing!  Everyone is very friendly and knowledgeable. There are a ton of free resources to make the most of your trip, including hiking trail maps.  And you can get a stamp for your Passport that says “Fin del Mundo” (End of the World) since Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world.
  • Everything, especially accommodation, is expensive in Ushuaia. I got a dorm room at Hostel Yakush. I had a great stay there–the owner is very friendly, the guests are awesome and the location is perfect.
  • Aside from bus transport, I found Uruguay to be as expensive as traveling in the United States.  Prepare your budget accordingly.

Must do’s

  • I was surprised at how much there is to do in Ushuaia. You can hike Glacier Martial. There are several trails of varying difficulty in the Tierra del Fuego national park. The museums about the city’s history are small, but quite interesting. You can easily fill up two days, if not more, there.
  • Even if you don’t go to Uruguay, take the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia for an amazing day trip.  The city has beautiful architecture, great food and interesting history.  Plus you can rent a golf cart to explore!
  • Get to the iconic El Mano (The Hand) sculpture early in the morning to get tourist free photos!
  • In Punta del Este, go to the Museo Taller de Casapueblo for sunset. I had a cloudy sunset but it was still scenic. The museum is really cool too.
  • Eat lots of beef, pizza and gelato!

Do overs: 

  • Most of my do-overs have to do with Uruguay. I did a bus tour around Montevideo. It gave me a good sense of the city, but I would have liked a bit more time to explore the old city. However, that part of town is not the safest.
  • The other big do over is that I would rent a car to drive along the coast (the bus system isn’t really set up for that type of exploring). I’d see Cabo Polonio, La Pedrera, and Punto del Diablo to name only a few. 

Download my itinerary and packing list here.

Recommended Reading:

  • And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out) Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina
  • Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
  • Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors
  • Tres hombres y una batalla: Historias desconocidas que rodearon a Millington

Pet a Panda in Chengdu, China

Petting a panda was the highlight of my business trip to China. But Chengdu has so much more to offer than just pandas though.

Tips:  

  • Book your tour as soon as possible if you would like to get your picture taken with a baby panda. There’s a limit to how many people can do this per day. I took this tour with the add on to hold the baby panda. The photo is more expensive, but worth it.
  • You only have 30 seconds with the panda. A staff member will take photos of you. I recommend that you ask one of the others in the group to take a video of you with a different device (camera, phone, tablet, etc).  Try to look in both directions!
  • I pet the top of the panda’s head. You can put your arm around its shoulders, which makes for a cuter photo.
  • Chengdu is a foodie’s dream…if you love spicy food. It is the home of the Sichuan pepper.  My stomach can’t handle spicy food. I was able to find food to eat though–there are a lot of western options.
  • Make sure to have all of your destinations written out in Chinese to show taxi drivers, including your hotel’s address.

Must Do’s:

  • Get your photo taken with a panda!
  • Spend the evening at the Sichuan Opera. The Shufeng Yayun Teahouse is the best place in Chengdu. I recommend getting the VIP tickets so you can sit up close and try on the costumes after the show.
  • Go to the Wuhou Temple and stroll along Jinli Street.

Do overs: 

  • There are a lot of day trips from Chengdu. I narrowed my choice down between Mount Qingcheng and Leshan Giant Buddha. I chose Mount Qingcheng. It’s incredibly beautiful with gorgeous temples and a scenic view at the top. But I wish I had had time to go to the Leshan Giant Buddha.
  • I tried to walk to the various sites in Chengdu, but I got lost. It’s much better to take taxis or public transport. Both are relatively inexpensive.

Recommended reading: 

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Tips on How to Travel to Antarctica

It was a lifelong dream to visit all seven continents. I made that dream come true in January 2016. I spent 11 days sailing around Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. Since I was going so far from home, I added time before and after the trip to explore Argentina and Uruguay.

Tips:  

  • I recommend Quark Expeditions.  Two of my friends, and now myself, have traveled with them on separate occasions. Each person had an amazing experience.  Before the trip, I had a personal travel agent who answered all of my questions via email and phone promptly. The entire crew on the ship was amazing–knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
  • When choosing a voyage, I recommend looking at the length of the itinerary, the boat’s capacity and the activities available. I think that 11 days is the minimum amount of time that you should have.  Crossing the Drake Passage both ways takes almost four days. You want a small boat because only 100 people are allowed on Antarctica at a time. My boat was the Sea Adventurer, which only has capacity for 113 people. Since people kayaked during the excursions on the ice, we did not have to take turns to go on shore. I definitely wanted to spend one night on Antarctica, so I made sure that the itinerary included the camping option, which was an additional fee.
  • The boat will leave without or your stuff!  Make sure to give yourself enough time to get down to Ushuaia in case you have problems with your flights. On our trip, a woman’s luggage was delayed and she had to scramble to buy warm clothes the day before we left.
  • You will likely get seasick. Most seasickness medication won’t work once the seasickness sets in–you need to take it before you set sail. I got a prescription from my doctor for a scopolamine patch. Please note that this is not available in all countries. The water is calm once you reach Antarctica so I removed the patch and put it back on before we went through the Drake passage again. If you get the patch, be aware that it can fall off easily.  Bring extras and make sure that the fallen patch doesn’t attach itself to other parts of your body.
  • Sending postcards from Port Lockroy in Antarctica is a great souvenir. Make sure you have all of your addresses. I recommend buying postcards in Ushuaia (they’re cheaper and have more options).  Fill out the postcards while on the boat so that it’s easy to get them stamped and mail.  You don’t want spend time in a line at the gift store!
  • You will get wet when you are in the zodiac.  Quark Expeditions gives you a waterproof jacket, but you need to bring your own waterproof gloves, pants and daypack.  I rented these waterproof items through Quark and everything held up just fine. People who bought “waterproof” gloves at home did not do well. It was difficult to dry those gloves out. I recommend going the rental route, but if you want to bring your own, bring a few options that you can cycle through when going on excursions.
  • In the Google file below, I have my full packing list for Antarctica. I wore base layers under my ski pants and my fleece shirts. I had a thin pair of gloves, a big pair of gloves and the waterproof mittens. To take photos, I often had to take my gloves off–make sure not to lose them. I wore two pairs of socks with the silk liner. To complete the outfit, I had my waterproof pants and Quark’s jacket.  Quark provides boots, which were quite comfortable. With all of all of these clothes, I was fine on the ice.
  • If you camp on the ice, the toilet is simply a bucket dug into the ice. I recommend bringing adult diapers if you want to avoid using the bucket. Also, be very careful when getting into your sleeping bag–do not get any snow into the bag otherwise it will be an even more uncomfortable night. Ice is hard!
  • I’m beginning to learn more about photography. I don’t have a lot of the equipment so I called Borrowlenses.com to see what they recommended based on my trip.  I rented a Nikon 70 – 200 mm lens that worked well.  I didn’t bring a lens cloth or a UV filter (rookie mistake), but you may want to consider those items for Antarctic conditions. I stocked up on an extra battery in case the cold shut down one. Because I was backpacking around Argentina and Uruguay, I rented the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW Backpack.  It made traveling with all of my camera equipment and extras very easy.

Must do’s

  • Do the polar plunge!  It’s cold but worth it.
  • If you’re physically capable, climb all the hills.  The views are breathtaking.
  • Camp on the ice.  It’s a magical experience.
  • Spend as much time on the boat’s decks. The scenery is always magnificent.

Do overs: 

  • I have no do overs for Antarctica. It was the best trip of my life.

For inspiration, you can watch all of my videos here.

Itinerary and Packing List:

Download my itinerary and packing list here.

Recommended reading: 

  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
  • Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman To Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice
  • Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole
  • The Storied Ice: Exploration, Discovery, and Adventure in Antarctica’s Peninsula Region

A Week in Bali and Singapore

Here’s how I split a week between Bali and Singapore. To my surprise, I fell in love with Bali. I can’t recommend it enough.

Tips:  

  • If you are short on time in Bali, like we were, you can jam a lot in on one day. We hiked Mt. Batur to see the sunrise, went to a coffee plantation, saw the Tegalagang Rice Terraces, explored Ubud and saw Tanah Lot. We customized this day trip with Bali Jungle Trekking, which was a great tour operator.
  • The climb up Mt. Batour is fairly tough. It’s loose volcanic rock on a steep incline. I recommend trekking shoes/boots, but it can be done in sneakers.
  • The current is very strong around Bali.  Be careful at the beach and when snorkeling and scuba diving.
  • There are many areas to stay in Bali–it really depends on what you’re looking for.  We wanted a relaxing area next to the beach and near restaurants so we stayed in Legian. Our hotel was amazing–the Bali Niksoma Resort.
  • For Singapore, if there’s no price for its famous dish, the chili cab, negotiate a price before you order it. At the time of writing, a medium sized chili crab was about US$60.
  • The MRT transit system in Singapore is inexpensive and easy to use, but Uber and cabs are also cheap.
  • The Helix Bridge and Merlion Park provide excellent views of the city skyline and Marina Bay Sands respectively.  Merlion Park is especially fun at night.

Must Do’s:

  • Scuba dive or snorkel at Manta Point in Bali
  • Hike Mount Batur to see the sunrise
  • Eat in Singapore! The country is a foodie’s paradise with its numerous hawker centres.
  • Explore Singapore’s neighborhoods, especially Chinatown
  • Wander around Marina Bay Sands and its Gardens
  • Have a very expensive Singapore Sling at the famous Raffles Hotel

Do overs: 

  • I wish we had more time in Bali.  You can do a lot in Ubud alone (read about nine activities here and all of the waterfalls nearby here.) There’s a ton more to Bali and its surrounding islands–here’s a top ten list.
  • For Singapore, I would like to have done the night safari at the zoo.  You can see the animals when they are most active.

Itinerary and Packing List:

Download my itinerary and packing list here.

Recommended reading: 

  • Snowing in Bali
  • Love and Death in Bali
  • Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation
  • Raffles and the British Invasion of Java
  • Singapore Noir
  • Tanamera
  • From Third World to First:  The Singapore Story 1965 – 2000
  • The Defense and Fall of Singapore 1940 – 1942

Bachelorette Party in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

A long weekend in Playa del Carmen to hang out with the bride-to-be and the girls in August 2016.

Tips:  

  • Take the ADO bus from Cancun International Airport to Playa del Carmen. The buses are in great shape, run frequently and are inexpensive.
  • If you rent a home, make sure to get clear instructions on how to arrive there from the bus station. The taxi drivers may not know how to get there since the home may be in a gated community and only have a name as an address.
  • If you’re not renting a car to explore the area around Playa del Carmen, I recommend hiring Tino Gutierrez. He took us around for the day and was amazing!

Must Do’s:

  • Rent a house on the beach
  • Listen and dance to incredible salsa music at La Bodeguita del Medio (the mojitos are amazing!)
  • Snorkel in Akumal Bay with the green sea turtles
  • Swim in the Gran Cenote
  • Mayan Ruins in Tulum
  • Eat at Mateo’s in Tulum (seriously, the best fish tacos in the world)

Do overs: 

  • I wish we had gotten a slightly earlier start on Saturday so that we could have seen the Mayan Ruins from the beach within the park–beach access closes about a half hour before the park does.
  • Four days in Playa del Carmen is not enough! There’s so much to do in the area, such as releasing baby sea turtles, swim with whale sharks, etc. I would love to go scuba diving in the cenotes.
  • I would have loved to explore Las Coloradas (the pink lagoons–super instagrammable!). And I’ve heard that Isla Mujeres have great beaches.

Itinerary and Packing List:

Download the itinerary here.

Recommended reading: 

  • Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens
  • A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
  • Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs

The Best of Chicago for Tourists

It’s always wonderful to host out of town guests in Chicago. I’ve compiled my full list of activities and recommendations for you to make the most of your trip.

Tips:  

  • Chicago is a foodie’s dream. Make reservations for the best restaurants weeks or months in advance for the best times, but if you don’t have reservations, arriving around 5 pm usually means you’ll get a seat.
  • The best place to take photos of the skyline (aside from being on a boat in Lake Michigan) is on the Adler Planetarium’s peninsula.  It’s easy to get to using the lake shore path.
  • Many of the boat cruises and kayak tours have sunset or firework options. You may want to consider doing that–booking in advance is recommended.
  • During the summer, the Shedd Aquarium has Jazzin’ at the Shedd Nights. There’s live music, cocktails and a great view of the fireworks.
  • A hidden gem is the Chicago Cultural Center. Upstairs is the largest Tiffany stained glass dome in the world. The center is free to explore (it used to be a public library) and is right across the street from Millennium Park.
  • Go to the Signature Room for a cocktail and an amazing view of Chicago.
  • Garrett’s Popcorn is a wonderful souvenir.

Must Do’s:

  • Eat Deep Dish Pizza (I recommend Lou Malnati’s, but Pizzeria Uno claims to have invented the style of pizza)
  • Eat at Portillo’s
  • Eat a nice steakhouse
  • Visit one of the many amazing museums
  • Take a river cruise
  • Enjoy the view from the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock building
  • See a show at Second City’s mainstage
  • Do a shot of  Malort!

Download the activities here.

Activities:

Recommended reading: 

  • The Devil and the White City
  • The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream
  • Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul
  • The Warmth of Other Suns

Fellow Chicagoans, did I miss anything?  Please comment below:

Samba in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval!

A week in Rio de Janeiro to celebrate Carnaval in February 2009.

Tips:  

  • Stay in Leblon. We stayed at the Hotel Ritz. It’s a beautiful hotel close to the beach, restaurants and bars.
  • Do the cablecar to Sugerloaf Mountain an hour before sunset and watch the sunset from the bar at the top, drinking caipirinhas
  • Sector 5 is the best value for money for seats in the Sambadromo

Must Do’s:

  • Hang glide
  • March with one of the schools in the Sambadromo

Do overs: 

  • Spend time in the neighborhoods of Santa Teresa & Lapa
  • Visit one of the nearby beach towns (Angra dois Reais or Buzios)
  • Explore more of Brazil!

Itinerary and Packing List:

Download the file here.

Recommended reading: 

  • The War of the End of the World

Scuba Diving in Belize

We went scuba diving in various places in Belize with the aim of seeing whale sharks in May 2016. It’s one of the best places that I’ve gone diving.

Tips:
  • You can snorkel or dive with the whale sharks in Placencia, Belize but don’t get your hopes up. It’s very hit or miss.  It seems that the 2017 season is cancelled because of a lack of sightings. If you see them at the surface, you only have a few seconds with them so be prepared!
  • When they are in the area, there’s only a certain time when they are there to feed. Reserve your space well in advance.
  • Reconfirm your boats’ departure times the night before as they may change.
  • In Palacencia, we loved staying at the Dolce Cabana Waterfront Suites. It’s off of the main street, so very quiet. It has a great back deck with wonderful hammocks. The owner is amazing.
  • The Blue Hole is a great attraction.  We loved diving it, but it is a two hour, rough boat ride to get there. I’m not sure it’s worth it if you’re just snorkeling and it’s definitely not worth it if you get seasick easily. Instead, you should check out flights to view it from the sky.  I recommend Tropic Air.
  • All businesses accept dollars but list prices in Belizean dollars. The exchange rate is 2 Belizean dollars to 1 US dollar.  Bring small dollar bills to pay for things in cash.
Must Do’s:
  • Snorkel or dive around the country, Turneffe, Hol Chan and the Blue Hole are great dive spots all accessible from Ambergis Caye
  • Tour the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave
  • Rent a golf cart in San Pedro to explore Ambergris Caye
  • Eat fryjacks and try Marie Sharp’s hot sauce
Do overs:
  • Spend more time inland, particularly San Ignacio, Belize to visit Tikal in Guatemala (do either the sunset or sunrise at the ruins) and the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave
  • Make sure to leave a day at the end for some rest and relaxation
  • Stay north of the bridge in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. It’s likely cheaper to stay at a nicer resort and rent a golf cart to get down to the city center.
Itinerary and Packing List:

Download the file here.

Recommended reading: 

  • The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird
  • Pataki Full