GPSmyCity: Travel Articles turned Apps

I’m not sure about you, but when I am planning a trip one of the first places I go to is the blogosphere. I get on bloglovin’, pinterest or travel link ups and start looking up my destination in order to plan out all of my must-see, do and eat locations. Even my non-blogging husband is always finding travel blogs to help map out our trips.

The problem with this though is once we have planned out where we want to go we either have to go through the process of adding all the places to our google maps or (if we forget or don’t have time) we end up trying to find wifi to pull up the articles again only to realize we are nowhere near our next attraction. Now there is an app that has found a solution to that problem and allows you to use blog posts to help guide you as you explore a new city…

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Farewell Travel Tuesday

If you have been reading the blog in the past year, you might remember a little link up I helped host called Travel Tuesday. I’m not exactly sure how I first stumbled upon the link up back in my early blogging days, but I distinctively remember that it was the first place I found other blogs and bloggers that I felt like I had something in common with.

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Tuk Tuking through Thailand: Bangkok Highlights Tour

** Heading to Bangkok soon and want to have this information at your fingertips? You can download this post on the GPS My City App here.**

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone! Today is my first week as a co-host for the link up, so make sure you add your travel/expat posts add the bottom of this post. 

bangkoktitleTwo days before we were set to leave for Bangkok, I woke up to the news that a bomb had gone off in a heavily populated tourist area killing more than 20 people. After calling around to our hotel and travel agency we were reassured that we should go on with our plans, but I won’t lie the news put a dark cloud over the beginning of the trip. Continue reading

How to Survive the Longest Flights in the World

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When I say the longest flights in the world I am not exaggerating. Next Saturday I will be boarding a flight from LA to Melbourne, which is on the list of the world’s longest flights. This will be my ninth long/ultra long haul flight in the past six months. A long haul flight is considered 6-12 hours whereas an ultra-long haul is anything greater than 12 hours.

I definitely would not consider myself an expert in this field but I am getting quite a bit of experience in not losing my sanity while sitting knees to chest in a claustrophobic airplane cabin (doesn’t that sound appealing- who wants to come visit?!). Here are my tips of the trade…

Where to Sit

First class, duh. BUT for those of us regular folks who don’t have that luxury we have to turn to other means of comfort in the dreaded economy cabin. Depending on how much you spent on your flight, upgrading to economy plus for a couple hundred dollars can be worth it for those extra few inches of leg room, especially if you can get in the bulk head or exit row aisles.

If I am alone then I always try and get a window seat so I don’t have to worry about creepily falling asleep on a stranger. If I am flying with Travis, I try the whole ‘book the aisle and window seat’ trick and cross my fingers a stranger doesn’t want to sit in the middle. This works the majority of the time and if it doesn’t then you just have to ask them to switch with one of you.  Even when it’s just me I try and pick rows that have someone already sitting in the aisle seat so there’s a smaller chance of someone joining you.

If you are a heavy sleeper, try to avoid the aisle seat or you might trap your neighbors who need to get up or go to the bathroom.

What to Pack

Typical items in my carry-on include:

  • snacks (depending on the airline carrier- some are much more generous than others)
  • empty water bottle that can be filled on the plane
  • headphones, ipad, phone and charger for entertainment purposes
  • lightweight change of clothes, tooth brush, toothpaste and moisturizer to freshen up when we land
  • neck pillow, eye mask and natural sleep aid to ensure a bear-like hibernation will occur
  • blue or black pen to fill out customs forms

What’s Going Down

Once I get on the plane, I like to get out my necessities and chunk my carry-on in the overhead compartment so that it doesn’t take up any of the precious, little leg room I have. I get settled in, watch a movie or TV show while I wait for dinner to be served.

This is NOT the time to pass out. Nothing in the world is worse than falling asleep in the first hour of the flight only to wake up and check the flight path only to find that there are TEN more hours to go, or worse TWELVE more hours. There is plenty of time to sleep and it will be much more enjoyable after a full belly of gross airplane food.

If you time it out correctly, when you wake up it should be breakfast time and possibly enough time to squeeze in another movie or tv show. Also, make sure you fill out any customs or immigration paperwork you have been given so you are prepared when you land. Some people also choose this time to freshen up or change in the airplane bathroom but I prefer to do this routine in a slightly more spacious environment aka the airport bathroom. Depending on how much travel I still have left, I typically brush my teeth, change clothes, moisturize and touch up my make-up.

What To Do

  • Wear lightweight, loose clothing- I stick to maxi dresses or workout clothes that can be layered. Bring a scarf or cardigan that can be used as a blanket as well.
  • Don’t wear tight shoes, your feet will swell. Just ask my grandpa about the time he wore cowboy boots on a flight to Australia. Spoiler Alert: he disembarked the plane with them in his hands.
  • Hydrate!!! Drink water and bring chapstick to counter the dry lips that tend to be unavoidable.
  • Walk around and stretch as much as you can. Ain’t nobody got time for blood clots.

What NOT To Do

  • Recline your seat all the way back- nobody likes that.
  • Go to the bathroom barefoot or in your socks- for obvious sanitary reasons.
  • Put your bare feet on the armrest in front of you. Yes- people do this.
  • Talk loudly. People are trying to sleep.
  • Bring any sort of smelly food on board, your neighbor will not be pleased
  • Don’t ask if you can have anyone else’s food they didn’t eat (this has happened to my sister multiple times and it is odd)

Hope these tips help you on future travels, let me know if there’s any I forgot!

Linking up with Travel Tuesday

Bruges Basics

If you are like me you probably have little background knowledge of Bruges, I honestly knew nothing about this place until we began planning our trip. If you are interested in visiting Bruges or just learning more about this mysterious little town I have put together a short informational guide based on our trip last month.

Hope you enjoy 🙂

Where is Bruges?

Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is the capital of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish region of Belgium. Lost you yet? Here’s a map…

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A canal based city, Bruges is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North.” It is about an hour drive from the more popular city of Brussels and only thirty minutes from the Netherlands. You can get to Bruges by train, car or flying into Brussels. Once you are in the historic centre of Bruges you can easily get around on foot or bike.

Where We Stayed

If you are planning on staying in Bruges (it can also be done as a day trip) make sure your accommodation is within the city walls, in the historic city centre. That is where all of the tourist attractions, shops, markets etc. are and once you are in there you can walk everywhere you need to be.

As I mentioned before my parents actually booked this trip, so all accomodation credit goes to Randy Rhoads (that’s my dad). We rented an apartment called De Drie Koningen, which I just discovered is actually ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for speciality accommodations.

My family loves renting apartment instead of staying in hotels, usually the price is comparable if not cheaper, it’s much more comfortable (for five people that’s pretty important) and you have the luxury of preparing your own meals if you want.

This particular apartment was awesome. It was a three bedroom, two bath with two floors. When you check in the owner, Niko, gives you an iPad that has all of the necessary information for your stay on it, including all of his recommended restaurants saved on google maps.

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I think my favorite part was the Christmas tree since we don’t have one in our apartment.

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I think my dad and Travis’ favorite part was the Honesty Bar where you could choose a beverage (and coordinating glass, this is important) and mark on your check out sheet. When you check out you just hand them your sheet (the owner called it the Sheet of Shame) and pay for what you drank. In this same room they also had a huge selection of DVDs (in English too!) that you could borrow. This was great for cozy nights on the couch after adventuring out in the cold.

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What To Do

This is just what we did during our stay. We spent two full days in Bruges.

Christmas Market 

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As I said before, we were there during the week and so the market was a little less hopping on a Tuesday night than it was later in the week. It was still fun to walk around, look at the shops, Christmas lights and enjoy a warm (adult) beverage.

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The Belfry

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The Belfry is a medieval bell tower that was built in 1240. You can pay to climb to the top (336 steps) and get a 360 degree view of the town. The steps are really, really narrow and steep so they only allow 70 people in there at a time. The trek is broken up with different levels where you can see how the bells are wrung and historical

 Also, it closes at 5 so you have to go during the day.

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Church of Our Lady

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Not only is the historic church beautiful but it also houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child- the only one of his works that left Italy during his lifetime. The church itself has no entrance fee but to see the sculpture you have to pay a whopping 2 Euros. Other sites I have read have said there were long lines to get in but when we went there wasn’t a line at all (another benefit of traveling during the week I suppose).

Basilica of the Holy Blood

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Basilica of the Holy Blood contains what is believed to be a relic of Jesus’ blood. The church is located off of the corner of the main square, entrance is free but a small fee is required to go into the (very small) museum and to see the vile. Definitely check the times they are open before going because they are open very strange hours.

Museums

Brugge is full of museums. My dad and Travis visited the Beer Museum while my sister, mom and I hit up the Christmas shops. They were impressed and we ended up being the ones waiting on them to finish after almost two hours. Your ticket into the museum includes two beers and they give you an iPad to guide you through (Bruges loves iPads). They were enthralling us with their beer trivia the rest of the trip.

My family had visited the Historium (which is right off of the main square) on their last visit and were none too impressed. If I were to go back again I would be paying a visit to the Chocolate or French Fry (Friets) Museums.

Where To Eat 

La Trattoria

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The first evening we got into Bruges we were tired and VERY hungry after our drive. It was only 5pm but we went and when we went out searching for a place for dinner we realized many places didn’t open until 5:30. We also realized due to the small seating capacity in most restaurants, reservations are a must. As we were looking (and shivering) at the menu outside La Trattoria, the manager (or possibly owner) came out and told us we could come in and sit and warm up until they opened. Clearly that sold us on where we were eating. The hospitality did not stop there though, the staff was very friendly and gave us suggestions on everything from the food and drinks to where to go in Bruges. Once the food came out, it was delicious. We also got various pasta dishes that were on special and my sister got a pizza, all of which we would order again. We even noticed they had a takeaway menu and discussed getting food from their later in the week, it was that good.

The Olive Tree

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The Olive Tree was an easy choice considering it is voted #3 on Trip Advisor for Bruges restaurants, and my mom had been told by several friends that we needed to eat there as well. It’s Mediterranean cuisine with a twist. Everything on the menu is made from fresh ingridients and they provide a mix of fish, meat, and vegetarian options. I ordered a greek stuffed chicken breast that I have been trying to recreate ever since. My family also ordered the shrimp and pork dishes that were all amazing. We weren’t sure what the hype was about this place at first but we definitely get it now. It’s also conveniently located right off the square.

Restaurant Bistro De Shilder

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We stumbled upon this spot during one of our walks around town. It was cold and we were hungry and I saw a fire through the window. Sold. It was right off one of the smaller squares and was perfectly quaint. Also their spaghetti bolognese (that I ate as a snack, stop judging) was delicious and under ten euros for a large portion. It’s the perfect place to escape the cold and have a Belgium beer or two, plus they have a “snack menu” and I am all about that.

Gingerbread Tea Room

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When I googled “Best Belgium waffles in Bruges” this place kept popping up so of course we had to try it out. My mom and I both got the Belgium waffle with fruit (seen below) and it was so delicious. I am not a big sweets for breakfast person but I knew that I had to have at least one Belgium waffle while I was in Belgium. This was the perfect choice- not too rich or sweet since they don’t put syrup on their waffles. They also have an extensive coffee and tea menu. Below is my mom’s hot chocolate and not pictured is my delicious macaroon latte (I didn’t even know they did that!).

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I read online that you should make a reservation but it was too late at that point. We were ok finding a table but during a busier time you would probably want to call ahead. Also, like a lot of places in Bruges it is cash only so bring your Euros!

Tea-room De Proverie

A lot of places claim to have “the best hot chocolate in Bruges” but this place takes the cake. They get their chocolate from the chocolaterie across the street and then you mix it with the hot milk your self. It also comes with a few pieces of scrumptious chocolates.

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Travis ordered an Irish coffee which also came with chocolates and cream.

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It is the cutest little tea room with fire places to keep you warm and homey decor. A great place to duck out from the cold and warm up. They take credit cards and we went twice without a reservation and didn’t have a problem getting a table.

Well I think I covered everything, let me know if you have been to Bruges and I need to add anything else in.

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Whitsunday Coast Part 3

Disclaimer: This post is mostly pictures. All taken on my crappy iPhone camera.

Saturday morning we headed back up to the Cruise Whitsundays port to take a day long cruise to Whitehaven Beach. We left Airlie around 6:30am and headed toward the island. Whitehaven is located on the the uninhabited Whitsunday Island. The island consists of the national park and the beach only, so it is very remote. It’s the only beach I have been on where there are no restaurants, hotels or shops in sight.

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Once we got there, our group boarded a small boat and went to the hill inlet. Our tour guide Craig might be one of the most interesting characters I have met. His likes include: nature, “being one” with crocodiles, Steve Irwin’s father and aborigine culture. His dislikes: Matthew McConaughey, technology, Candy Crush and Channel 9 News. He was definitely passionate about the area and was extremely informative. He made our trip fun and entertaining. He took us on a short hike to the top of the hill where there was a lookout point.

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It was the most beautiful view I have ever seen. We took about 100 pictures but they all pretty much look the same.

After we hiked down back to the beach, we got back on our little boat and went around the island to Whitehaven Beach.

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Whitehaven has been named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sand is 98% silica which makes it so white and pretty. It also doesn’t retain heat, so even on the warmest days your feet don’t hurt walking on it.

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Part of our day package was lunch- that was actually quite delicious. So we got to enjoy a little picnic on the beach.

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After lunch we took the little boat around to a small coral reef to snorkel. Although it wasn’t the same as the Great Barrier Reef we were still able to see some really beautiful coral and fish. After snorkeling we went back to hang out on Whitehaven before it was time to head home.

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They also have boats you can go on where you spend the night of the shores of Whitsunday Island. So if you want to come visit us we already have our next trip planned out 🙂

As much as I loved the Great Barrier Reef Adventure, the views from the hill made this my favorite part of our trip. It’s amazing that a place this breathtaking exists just an hour and half plane ride from our little apartment.

Whitsunday Coast Part 1 and an #HonestInsta

Before I begin a recap of our weekend getaway with breathtaking views and crystal clear water I want to show you a glimpse into our real, everyday, not picture perfect life. My friend (and blogger) Ali does a thing on Instagram called #honestinsta where she shows photos from her everyday life that may not be pretty or “instagram worthy.” I love that idea because we all know that nobody’s life is as perfect as their instagram feed makes it appear but sometimes we forget and it’s nice to know that other people have days without the perfect #ootd or imaculately plated meal.

Well here is my #honestinsta taken the morning we left for our mini vacation.

IMG_0458Rewind to the day before this picture was taken. It was Wednesday and I was packing, cleaning and getting ready for our trip. I was in the middle of doing laundry in our laundry room (which also doubles as our master bathroom) when the door on the washing machine got stuck. That’s the washing machine to the right of Travis and our shower to the left. There’s not much room to get in there and pull. I tried for approximately ten (maybe five) minutes with no success, so I did what I do with everything else in my life and I decided to wait until Travis got home from work to fix it.

Well Travis is super strong and opened it right away (after I remembered it right before we went to bed) but then water started gushing out of the machine onto our floor. After multiple google searches and a helpful Bristish you tube tutorial we thought we had successfully drained the machine. We patted ourselves on the back, threw in a test load and headed to bed.

Sure enough I woke up to get ready to go to the airport and walked into the bathroom to the above picture. DIY fail. As I mentioned in our apartment hunting post the units here are all privately owned. Which means we couldn’t just call the maintenance man to come out and fix it. So here I am, Monday morning, still waiting to hear back from the apartment leasing company.

Alright, so now that you know the Alkek life is not all beaches, koalas and sunshine I will tell you about our weekend at the Great Barrier Reef.

We arrived at Airlie Beach on Thursday around lunch time. Airlie Beach is a town on the mainland that is easily accessible to the various Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. We figured that would be the best home base for us. Our plan was to check in to the hotel and then spend the afternoon lounging on the beach since the next two days were fully booked with excursions.

Our hotel room was actually an apartment that Travis had booked. At first I was skeptical of the place after reading mixed reviews online. After aimlessly walking around (and up and down hills) around the building that needed a fresh coat of paint, I was still not sold. BUT we walked into a very clean, nice apartment with this view from the balcony…

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I have never seen water so blue. It was gorgeous. We changed and went to go to the beach.

That’s when we found out that Airlie Beach doesn’t have much of an actual beach.

We were very confused. We did find this one sandy bank.

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But nobody was on it. Everyone was at “the lagoon” which we found was just a man made beach and pool like Streets Beach in South Bank or the Cinco Ranch Beach Club in Katy. Only there were some topless sunbathers, I don’t think they have those in Katy. We spent the afternoon laying by a fake beach with a real beach only meters away. We were glad the we had booked trips for the next two days. Airlie Beach is cute little backpacker, port town but not much past that.

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It does have some beautiful scenery though. After our low key afternoon we headed back to the apartment to enjoy a beer and watch the sunset from our balcony.

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At dinner Travis ate the Australian plate (crocodile and kangaroo) while I ate a sub-par steak. I think the reason we were told KC’s is the best steakhouse in Airlie is because it is in fact the only steakhouse. Also, we waited over thirty minutes for our check, sometimes I miss a tipping culture.

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After an interesting start to our trip, we went to bed excited for the next day’s adventure of scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 to hear how I conquered another fear and checked something off my newly created “30 before 30” list. You can click the “Follow” button at the bottom of this page to get e-mail notifications of new posts or follow along on Blog Lovin’ (my newest addiction) the link is also at the bottom.

Upcoming Adventures…

Well life hasn’t been too exciting over here lately. The past two weekends it has poured alllll Friday and Saturday and without a vehicle that tends to limit our options of things to do. BUT we do have some fun things coming up on the calendar.

This weekend we are going to the horse races with another couple. My friend Emily Anne (another former teacher from the south whose husband works for Halliburton) and I spent all day today looking for the perfect race hat/fasinator so we don’t stick out like a sore thumb or a clueless American. In case you are wondering what a fasinator is (because I was) some of them look like this…

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Or this…

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Or sometimes like this…

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We really have no idea what to expect from our day at the races but we’re excited to do something different and Australian.

Another upcoming adventure we have in the books is a weekend trip to the Whitsunday Islands in a few weeks. The Whitsunday Islands are a group of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland almost 600 miles north of Brisbane (that’s close by Australia standards). Here is a map in case you are a visual learner like I am.

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My plan is to relax on the beach all weekend BUT if you know my husband there will probably be little of that. He is currently looking into scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef and any other activities we can squeeze into three days.

If you are friends with me on Instagram you probably already saw my announcement about our Christmas plans… Sorry Victoria, Texas this year the Alkeks are spending the holidays in Fiji!

I am SO excited about this trip! We leave from Brisbane Christmas Eve and will be staying here for six days…

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So… even though it’s been a slow last couple weeks we have a lot to look forward to. Hopefully I will have plenty (or heaps as the Aussies say) to report back on next week! 🙂

My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Once again I am blogging at the airport. My 26 hour journey home has turned into a 50 hour journey due to some light showers in Houston.

If you didn’t already know I returned to “the States” after only three short weeks in Australia. I did this so I could stand next to my best friend on the top of a mountain in Aspen as she married her best friend. To say this wedding was beautiful would be an understatement. Every little detail was perfect. On top of that- look at this stunning wedding party (bride and groom included, duh).

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The scenery isn’t so bad either.

The weekend was so much fun and went way too fast! We started Friday off white water rafting and for many of us girls that meant conquering our fears. It turns out the nauseating car ride to the drop off point was actually the most frightening part. It was so much fun and not scary at all.

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That’s us after rafting. We smelled like the sick rainsuits we were wearing before. I’m glad you can’t smell through the internet.

Here’s some more pictures to enjoy.

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Our awesome house we stayed in.

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The view from our patio was alright.

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The gondola ride to the top of the mountain for the ceremony.

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Oh, and the second best part of the weekend was when we saw a bear just creeping in the middle of the road.

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There he is running away. Apparently bears are a very big problem in Colorado, who knew? I sure didn’t.

Overall I had a great visit back to Houston and I’m so glad I got to see so many people in a short amount of time. I am definitely ready to get back to my new home though. I miss my husband and it’s about time to get back to real life mode.

If anything, this whole moving across the world and traveling alone experience has taught me a lot about myself. I have always really depended on my parents (shoutout to Kimber and Randy- love you guys) and Travis. Having to go out on my own in Brisbane and wherever else I have wound up has taught that I’m actually a lot more independent than I realize. I’ve also learned to be positive, things aren’t always going to go by plan and some days are harder than others- the least I can do is look for the bright spot in each day.

This experience has also taught me to give myself more than an hour and a half layover time in between flights especially before an international flight that only goes out once a day. That’s a lesson I had previously ignored from my husband.

Hopefully next time I write a post I will be on the other side of the world. Cross your fingers, luck has not been on my side.