Greece: Land Of Party Time, Views, And Rich History…Opa!

Greece has always been at the top of my bucket list.  It was #2 on my list to be exact.  I assure you that I can not accurately describe in words how over the moon excited I was to take this trip!  I will say this right off the bat: this certainly was not the cheapest vacation I have ever taken.  I started out with a budget and went way over.  I had to take side job after side job to cover this dream of mine, but it was worth every penny.

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Map of the Greek Islands.

Greece has so many islands, all which are very spread apart.  Unless you are taking a cruise or traveling for a long period of time, you need to plan what islands you want to see.  It isn’t one of those places that you can island hop day by day and see all there is to see, like my trip to the British Virgin Islands or Croatia (which is next up on my list to do a barbeboating trip).  I had two weeks in Greece so I chose the Cyclades Islands .  I decided on three stops:  Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens.  I was so happy with these choices!  Each stop was so polar different from the other, and it really mixed things up.  Mykonos was party time, Santorini was relaxing time, and Athens was a beautiful city.

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My route for my trip to Greece.  Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens.

MYKONOS:

My stay in Ornos Beach

San Francisco to Mykonos is quite the journey.  Long travel days are not ideal, but if that’s what I have to do to get to places like this, then that’s what I have to do.  I will never skip a place to see in the world because the flight is too long.  After a long day and night of travel, I arrived at my Ornos Suites Airbnb  in Ornos Beach, Mykonos at about 2:00am.  I was about 90 feet from the sand, which is why I chose Ornos Beach.  It was really difficult to find Airbnb properties that were oceanfront on Mykonos.  I was excited to check out my surroundings, anxious for my first Greek cocktail, and feeling a little hungry.  I assumed I would have zero options at that hour.  Wrong!!!  All the bars and restaurants stay open super late, and are straight up crack-a-lackin all night long.  Ornos Beach was beautiful and actually ended up being my favorite after I had explored the entire island.  Mykonos beaches are filled with beach clubs that thump music played by world renown DJs from the day to the night to the morning.  It doesn’t stop.  I wouldn’t call this island the most relaxing.  It was party time….all the time.  Ornos Beach was just the right amount of party mixed with the ability to unwind and relax.  I would say it is one of the more quiet beaches on Mykonos.  It is a beach cove lined with amazing restaurants in the sand.  The bars play music here, but they don’t have that beach club vibe that most of the other beaches had in Mykonos.

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Ornos Beach.
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Ornos Beach at sunset.

Scorpios

Being that I enjoyed my first meal and cocktail at 3:00am it was safe to say that I was sleeping in the next morning.  A bit of an understatement as I woke up at 4:00pm panicking that I would miss my sunset table reservation at Scorpios Sunset Party.  Scorpios is said to be one of the best beach clubs in Europe, and I can see why.  This is by far my favorite beach club I have ever been to in my life!  And it is the ONLY place to be on a Sunday.  They throw their weekly sunset party on Sundays, and honestly it is a “must see” when visiting Mykonos.  The music and vibe at this club were so good!  Dress to impress in your sexy beach wear and get ready to see a very beautiful crowd of people.  I danced the night away, which turned into dancing the morning away back at one of the bars in Ornos Beach, and then lead to watching one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen.  I’m not much of a morning person so this was a huge perk of not being adjusted to the time difference just yet.

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Dancing at Scorpios on Mykonos.
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Perfect seats to say goodbye to the sun before Scorpios turned into a full blown raging dance party.

Lohan Beach House

On day two I slept half the day away, and I rented an ATV to explore the island.  I landed at Lohan Beach House.  Lindsay Lohan went from Hollywood star to Beach Club Owner in Greece.  Talk about reinventing yourself!  This beach club has a sexy boho chic vibe with a great DJ on a beautiful beach.  I want to copy her decorating style and make my home look exactly like her club.  It was beautiful…you go girl!!

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Lohan Beach House.

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town is filled with all the classic white and blue traditional Greek homes.  Wandering around here truly makes you fall in love with Greece.  It also has tons of shopping, and lots of bars and restaurants.  I visited Mykonos Town once  in the day and once in the night.  Just exploring the streets of Mykonos Town is worth the trip to Greece alone!  While here, you can also check out the Windmills  and Little Venice.  The entire area is pretty small and walkable.  At night you can choose from an array of amazing restaurants (OMG the food in Greece is so good) and do…what else…shake your booty all night long at any one of the fun bars that are everywhere.  I chose to eat a seafood dinner at Nice and Easy Restaurant .  It’s right on the water and the seafood was to die for!!

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Wandering around the streets of Mykonos Town.  Can you imagine this being your front porch?
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Windmils of Mykonos Town.

More beaches to see exploring on a quad.

We wanted to see every square inch of Mykonos, so we rented a quad to do more exploring.  Honestly, this is a “must do” recommendation of mine.  Riding a scooter or quad in Mykonos is extremely common, and it is how most tourists get around on their own.  Of course you can rent a car, take the bus, or call an Uber but I really encourage you to explore on a quad at least for one day…if you are experienced enough to drive one of course.  Most people don’t wear helmets, and although this was a bit scary to me, I went with it.  Not only did I go with it, but I ended up getting comfortable enough to cruise around in a bikini.  LOL.  Driving through the mountains and seeing the most beautiful views of Greece would have been enough of an adventure, but we beach hopped the day away.

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Cruising through the middle of the island on the mountain tops.
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Typical parking lot at Mykonos beach clubs.

Elia Beach:  This is the most beautiful beach on Mykonos (IMO).  It was also the most relaxing on the island.  Definitely the most family friendly as well.  The water was crystal clear!  It was absolute paradise.  There is a restaurant and bar here, so you can post up for the whole day in total relaxation mode.

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Floating in the most beautiful ocean water at Elia Beach.

Psarou Beach:  This beach is where the world famous beach club Nammos is located.  We had planned on spending an entire day here, but the locals talked us out of it.  Although it is the most famous club in Mykonos, it is also crazy expensive.  We were told to expect to spend $1,000 in our afternoon there.  Although an experience to dance on tables, spray champagne on each other, and stare at multi-million dollar yachts sounded amazing…we opted to save our duckets.

Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach:  These beaches are right next to each other but are separated.  Seriously, these places were wild.  They had world famous DJ’s thumping the beach while everyone, and I mean everyone, danced their butts off.  I’m sure it has become clear through this blog by now that coming to Mykonos means sleep when your dead!!

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Always a dance party.  Sleep when your dead!!
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Super Paradise Beach.

ON TO THE SECOND LEG TO THE ISLAND OF SANTORINI

We took the ferry from Mykonos to Santorini, which took close to three hours.  The ferry was really nice and fast.  That baby was cookin’, and it was so beautiful to see all the little Greek Islands along the way.

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Catching a ride to the next island, Santorini.

I can’t even put into words (again) how magnificent the views on this island are.  This island is straight up and straight down, but truly the most beautiful views I have ever seen.  Santorini was so different from Mykonos!  It is so incredibly romantic, scenic, and relaxing.  I was ready for this after all that hooting and hollering in Mykonos.

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Twirling on the rooftops of Santorini.
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So romantic in Santorini.

My Stay in Oia

I chose to stay in a traditional cave Airbnb property in Oia.  It is called Armenaki.  It was awesome!  It was a true cave room that had the most postcard worthy view of any other place I have ever stayed in.  A cave room is exactly what it sounds like…a room that’s a cave.  It was sort of a studio tube in the mountain with a bedroom, full kitchen, bathroom, and breathtaking porch.  It was perfect for a couple.  I love staying in hotels, but this Airbnb property was a genuine Greek experience.  Let me just say that this is one of those vacations that I am so thankful I took while I am able and in shape.  The hike up/down from our cave room to town was no joke, and would never work for anyone with any sort of disability, elderly, young children, or someone who isn’t in decent shape.  If you fall into any of these categories, I would suggest staying away from the mountainside properties in Oia, and recommend going to a hotel.

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Eating breakfast on my beautiful porch in Oia, Santorini.  Pinch me!
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Making some coffee in our cave in Oia, Santorini.

Hike Oia to Fira

The hike from Oia to Fira is a must!  You need to be in good shape, but it is just breathtaking!  The hike is around 8 miles (one way).  It is much more challenging from Oia to Fira, as it’s all uphill.  If you were going Fira to Oia, you can count on a pretty easy walk downhill.  I can officially say I sweat out all of those Mykonos toxins on this day.  Ha ha!  But you don’t do this hike for the work out, you do it for the views.  These words come to mind:  grandiose, magnificent, stunning, unbelievable, and scary.  Again, just the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life.  Fira is much more laid back than Oia.  Oia is filled with romantic restaurants, art galleries, and very high end hotels.  Fira is the Capital of Santorini, and has bars, cheaper eats, great souvenir shopping, and cheaper stays.  It is a really great place to stay if you don’t want to pay the Oia prices, but still want to be close by.

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Hiking Oia to Fira.
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The most magnificent views on the hike from Oia to Fira.

Exploring Santorini by road.

Next up was exploring the other side of the island.  We rented an ATV and ventured out to explore.  I wore a helmet everywhere in Santorini.  The roads were nothing like the back road feel of Mykonos, and felt much more like highways.  Although a lot of people went without helmets, I did not feel safe.  You’re welcome mom!  😉

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Exploring the other side of Santorini.

Astarte Suites:  I was invited to stop at the Astarte Suites to have a drink and enjoy the beautiful hotel.  Huge perk to writing a Travel Blog!  I initially wanted to stay at this hotel for my Santorini leg, because it simply looked like the most beautiful hotel on the island from the internet.  I decided to go Airbnb, but if I had chosen a hotel, this would have been my dream place to call home for my time on the island.  It was everything I imagined!!!  It starts off with a stairway to heaven.  It’s true!  These steps have become pretty Instagram famous, and I see the stairway entrance to this hotel everywhere on the internet.  Astarte Suites had a very boutique feel, yet so luxurious and high end.  It was relaxing, while still playing great music that was loud enough to create a vibe, but not too loud to disrupt the peacefulness of the property.  The best part was the most beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean.  This is the definition of pool goals!  And of course, the cherry on top was the swan floatie.  You can never go wrong with a swan floatie!

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Stairway to heaven at Astarte Suites.
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You had me at swan floatie!  Pool goals at Astarte Suites.

Red Beach: The road to Red Beach feels like you are headed to no where.  If you feel like you are lost the entire time, you are on the right path to Red Beach.  After questioning our directions for quite a while, we decided to ask Siri for help.  Believe it or not, she got us there.  This is an absolutely beautiful beach with red rock and sand.  It has a restaurant and bar too, so you can post up.

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Surprisingly on the right path to Red Beach.

Parissa Beach: This is a very laid back beach lined with restaurants.  Most of the restaurants own umbrellas on the beach in front of their places.  After a meal, they will set you up with an umbrella and chairs, and serve you drinks in the sand.

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Parissa Beach, Santorini.

Exploring Santorini by sea

OOOOMMMMGGGG!!  Exploring Santorini by sea was my favorite day of the entire Greece trip!  It was the one thing I wanted to do that was somewhat of an “excursion”.  The problem (which is always the problem) was that my husband hates group activities.  So that leaves us always having to do days like this privately which is usually four times the cost.  We knew we wanted to rent a boat without a captain.  A boat in Santorini without a captain is so over the top expensive.  So I found the absolute cheapest option possible.  I kid you not, this boat looked like a big dingy with a motor.  It was a total piece of crap.  Piece of crap that cost $400 for the day!  But it didn’t matter.  It was all ours for the entire day to explore the beautiful ocean around Santorini.  Old Betsy did the job, and we had the most amazing day!  Having the freedom to explore at our own pace was the best.  We swam in caves, bobbled in the water at the volcano eating cheese and drinking wine, went to lunch at a private beach club that you can only get to by boat, and watched the sunset before heading back to the marina.  It was a full day at sea, and we swam in the ocean all day long.

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Looking for our cave room from below.
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I swam in the warm waters ALL DAY LONG.  Paradise!

THIRD LEG IN ATHENS

The ferry ride from Santorini to Athens is about 5 hours.  We opted for first class, which is not much more, but it was very nice to have a bit more plush of a ride for that length of time.  As we arrived at our Airbnb by cab we unloaded our bags to the sidewalk.  We couldn’t locate the apartment right away, and apparently weren’t paying enough attention, because bam….we got robbed.  Our backpack was plucked within minutes out of our pile of stuff sitting right next to us.  This bag had our computer, Ipad, credit cards, batteries, money, and worst of all, our passports.  What do you do when you loose your passports and you are out of the country?

Step 1 – Call your parents for advice.  LOL.

Step 2 – File a police report so that you have proof of your loss and you can hopefully make a claim through your insurance back at home.

Step 3 – Head down to the US Embassy to have emergency passports issued.

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Anything for a photo shoot!  LOL.  New Passport photos!
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Proud to be an American in a sticky situation.  The Embassy treated us like gold!

We only had three days in Athens and one of them was now designated to spending it at the Embassy.  I was really thankful this happened at the end of our trip!  This was completely our fault and we know better!  We consider ourselves to be very aware travelers but this goes to show you, anything can happen.  Lesson learned…never again!  On a more positive note, the US Embassy treated us like gold.  I have to say, in a bad situation such as this, it felt pretty good to be an American.

Enjoying our final days in Greece

Athens is an absolutely beautiful city!  Our Airbnb property was a penthouse apartment with a view of the Acropolis. This was the cheapest leg of the trip, and I got this penthouse for just over $100 per night.  So cool to sit out on our patio enjoying some wine while staring at this beautiful site.  Right below our apartment, the streets were lined with little alleyways of great bars, coffee shops, and shopping.  We loved roaming around this area and getting lost in these alleys.  Besides getting our bag stolen upon arrival, I never felt unsafe here.  We roamed around into the wee hours of the night, and I never felt threatened.

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Drinking wine on my patio. What a beautiful front row seat to the Acropolis!

With one day left to spare, we decided to head up to the Mont Parnes Casino  on the recommendation of my aunt.  I had planned to spend an entire day at the Acropolis, but we decided to sacrifice that day for the day spent at the Embassy, since we were able to stare at the Acropolis from our balcony.  So we headed to the Casino to see if we could get a stroke of good luck.  The gondola ride up to this casino was a bit scary, but wow what a view!  Athens is huge, and we got a bird’s eye view of just how big the city really is.  Once up there, we didn’t hit it big, but we ended up winning a couple hundred bucks to pay for our day of fun.  It felt good!  We finished our trip off with a huge shared plate of seafood spaghetti at the harbor in Athens.  We cheersed a lot to how every moment of this trip was different.  Opa!  As always, I was feeling like I wanted a couple more days to spend here.  This truly was the trip of a lifetime.  Check off number two on the Bucket List for Jessica Lynn!!

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Gondola ride up to the Mont Parnes Casino in Athens.
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Enjoying a huge shared plate of seafood spaghetti at the Athens harbor.  Final meal in Greece!

Belize: You Betta Belize It!

Jungle or Beach???  Why not both??

Belize is located in Central America.  It is a tiny country on the western edge of the Caribbean Sea.  Belize is located below Mexico, east of Guatemala, and north of Honduras.  Half of Belize is covered by dense jungle.  Belize also has many coral reefs, cayes, and islands in the Caribbean Sea.  Most of these form the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere.

When I first began planning my trip to Belize, I read that most first timers break up their trip between the jungle and the beach.  I’m very glad I listened to these reviews!  Fast forward through an 8 hour plane ride, and a 2 hour drive into the jungle and I landed in the middle of the Belize rainforest in a city called Belmopan.   I chose Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge to call home for this leg of the trip.  It was a larger lodge in comparison to others in the area with 25 rooms and casitas, pool, bar, and a restaurant where you eat every meal.

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Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge

I’m typically a beach baby, and was nervous about spending time in the remote jungle.  Would it be boring?  It was a bit of an adjustment upon arrival….no TV, no internet, and no phone in the room.  I’ve never been on a trip where I was forced to completely disconnect.  I gulped down my rum welcome cocktail and went to unpack.  Now what?  That first night I explored the grounds, ate ridiculously amazing food, and closed down the lodge bar.  The next four days were filled with adventure, mind blowing food and cocktails (all made fresh), and forced restful recharge.

My activities included a hike through the thick jungle, a bike ride to the orange orchards, paddle boarding on the river, relaxing by the pool, a massage on the river, and a full day of adventure exploring the famous ATM Cave of Belize.  ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal.  The ATM Cave was the top rated tour to do for adventure and it did not disappoint.  I hired a private guide for this tour which I highly recommend.  If you can’t swing private, definitely ask how many people will be on the tour with you, and go with a smaller group.  I saw large tours with 10 people going through in a line.  They just weren’t getting that much attention from their guide.  If you are 10th in the line, how can you learn anything from your guide who is leading?  Plus, I had very heightened nerves on this tour.  Being the 10th person in line of a tour would have been terrifying (for me).  Our guide led us through 6 miles of adventure.  We crossed the river (neck deep) six times, hiked, and explored the ATM Cave which you have to swim into.  Once in, you climb and swim your way through two miles of total darkness with only a headlamp for sight.  I literally had a minor panic attack going on for about three hours.  But just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the only way out was through.  It was pretty amazing learning about the Mayan people, and what this cave meant to them.  We came across many artifacts and skeletons that were human sacrifices to the gods.  Our guide was Gonzo from River Rat Expeditions.  He was so knowledgeable, and actually spends about three months per year living in these Belize caves doing research.  He took his time educating and calming my nerves all the way through.  Once out of the cave, I was on an adrenaline high.  I was so proud I finished but I’m in no rush to do it again.  Ha ha.

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Vino break in the orange orchards.
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Paddle boarding on the river.
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Pool time!
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Just completed the six miles of adventure exploring the ATM Cave.

For beginning my adventure in the jungle with the question of “will I be bored here?”, I actually began to freak out by day three that I wouldn’t fit in all there was to see.  I fell in love with the jungle!  I’m usually pretty attached to my phone and staying in touch with my family.  For this leg, I had to forget about all of that, and it was all about exploring and recharging.

Once my stay at the jungle lodge had come to an end, I was ready to put my toes in the sand, and have more than one dining option.  Five days in the jungle was perfecto but now it was on to the beach for another nine days.  I decided on Ambergris Caye.  It is the largest caye (island) of Belize.  From the jungle, it was a 2 hour drive to the ferry station and a 1.5 hour boat ride to Ambergris Caye.  I chose Captain Morgan’s Retreat as my hotel on Ambergris Caye for the sole reason that they had true beach huts in the sand for much cheaper than your average hotel room.  However, we were still part of a huge resort with all the amenities including the only Casino on the island.

OOOOHHHEEEMMMGGGEEE!!!  Opening my porch door and stepping into the sand was truly paradise.  When I arrived I was warned how bad the bugs were from another guest.  He told me to soak myself in bug spray every day.  After four days of literally getting eaten alive, I accidentally forgot my bug spray and didn’t get any bites.  I ditched the spray and never had a problem again.  Thanks for that sweet advice bro!

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Relaxing under a palm tree off of my beach hut porch on Ambergris Caye.

The  coolest thing about Ambergris Caye is that there are very few cars and the mode of transportation is by golf cart equipped with off road tires.  Oh hells ya!  Look out for me!  I drove that golf cart up and down and back and forth.  We mostly only ate breakfast at our resort and spent the rest of the days beach and bar hopping our way around.  Ambergris Caye is so lively!  Whether you are eating pizza or the abundant fresh sea food they have to offer, it was always a party.  Live music was everywhere.  My favorite drive was a 40 minute golf cart ride to Secret Beach.  It was a bumpy adventure through the center of the island to a beautiful beach with food and music.  A must see (or drive) while on Ambergris Caye.

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Beep beep!
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Beach bar hopping.

Belize is famous for it’s ocean life.  I’m sadly too big of a wimp to dive but the snorkeling was the best I have ever seen with my own eyes.  Belize has the second largest coral reef system in the world, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being the largest.  If you like diving and snorkeling this is truly a wonderland, or wonderwater I guess.  Our captain took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve .  As soon as you get in the water there are a gazillion fish around you.  I saw huge spotted eagle rays, eels, large puffer fish, endless schools, oh ya….and sharks!  Our second stop that our captain took us to was Shark Ray Alley where he chummed for sharks to come right up to the boat.  My crazy husband jumped into the water to swim with them.  I volunteered to be his photographer from inside the boat.  😉  The day was perfect.  I wish I had spent more time exploring the reef of Belize because (not to be lame) it was magical.

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Well after exploring every nook and cranny of Ambergris Caye, pigging out at all the fresh seafood restaurants, bar hopping to every bar, and hearing every live band on the island, I jumped on the ferry to explore the sister island of Ambergris Caye….Caye Caulker.  It’s a 30 minute hop to this tiny island that has a super laid back vibe.  There were a lot of backpackers and simple people who love to party.  If you bring more than a bathing suit, cover up, and flip flops to this island, you have over packed.  You walk everywhere on Caye Caulker, and I spent most of the day at a place called the Split.  A hurricane split this island in half, and they turned it into the largest place to party with a picture perfect setting.  They have a bar there called the Lazy Lizard that has everything from hot bodies to grannies with fanny packs twerking and taking shots.  I took the last ferry ride home to Ambergris Caye which was a very fun ride home at night. I wished I packed a backpack and stayed overnight.  One more day would have been fun to run back into the friends I made there in such a short time.

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The “Split” on Caye Caulker.
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Swinging away at Caye Caulker.

One last day on Ambergris Caye to stuff my face with fresh seafood, drink too many fresh squeezed margaritas (the ice was safe and I didn’t get sick once), and listen to one last performance of live reggae music (my favorite).  The people of Belize are so incredibly friendly and I always felt safe day and night.  Belize was a great trip and mixing in the jungle with the beach was a twist I enjoyed more than I realized I would.  I also brought home five dread locks!  Lol.

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Italy For A Month: How To Plan From Scratch.

So, let’s start from the very beginning…straight-up from scratch.  Probably the most common question that I am asked is how I plan my trips on my own.  Where do I start? Well it usually involves me staring at the computer scratching my head with a glass (ok a bottle) of vino in hand.  And little by little my trips take form.  I hope to write multiple blogs from this 30 day trip to Italy but for this blog, I’m going start with how to plan it.  I did all of this planning on my own and felt so overwhelmed when I started.  This is my story on how my Italy trip came to life.

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I rarely take big trips in the summer.  I always get my big break right after Christmas.  I’m running out of new places on my bucket list to explore in a bikini at Christmas, so this year I opted for a summer vacation.  I chose Italy.   I didn’t know where the heck to start as I really had never vacationed there.  I went about 20 years ago but I just drove across the boarder and ate lunch.  Doesn’t count.  As always, I was on a budget for this trip and I knew one month in Italy isn’t cheap.  Hotels were out!  I went VRBO and Airbnb all the way through, and kept my budget at $200 per night.  If you haven’t traveled through these two sites, you are missing out.  Click on this link to join for free and get a credit for your first reservation:  Airbnb They are awesome!

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I was traveling with my husband and two children (ages 8 and 3).  I knew it would be nice (and less expensive) for us to have a kitchen, and cook at our rental vs. being in a hotel and having to order room service for every meal. When I’m vacationing, I’m usually planning my next trip so the more I save from one trip is more I bank for the next.  Also, hotels in Italy don’t work like they do in the USA.  In the states you can get a “double” room and have two double/queen beds.  It is easy to stay with two small children in one room with that bed setup.  In Italy, a “double” room means two twin beds.  If you have four people, you need to upgrade to a suite, and I quickly found that my budget of $200 per night in the areas I wanted was simply not going to fly.  VRBO and Airbnb was the answer for me!

Step 1:  Plan your route.  When you think of Italy, what do YOU want to see?  Me personally… Venice, Rome, and Positano were at the top of my list.  Then I thought, I’m going to fly all that way and when will I get to Italy again?  Maybe I can do one extra week and see more?   I decided on 30 days to explore but you can do this in three weeks if you are ambitious or just choose a few places and go for two weeks.  There is SO much to see in Italy.  So much history  that you feel guilty sleeping in.  You have to go, go, go, so you don’t miss a thing.  I booked a longer trip to really work in relaxing too.  I wanted one day to explore for every one day of relaxing.

When traveling through Italy it is best to go top to bottom or bottom to top.

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I decided to go top to bottom because I knew this would be a busy trip, and I wanted to finish it off on the beach relaxing on the Amalfi Coast.

Step 2:  Once you have an idea of your route, you have to check flights to make sure they will work with your itinerary.  At the time of my planning, AirBerlin was the cheapest ticket from San Francisco to Italy.  They were actually $500 cheaper per ticket which is a lot when traveling with four people.  I later found we paid the price for that cheap ticket but we will get into that later.  AirBerlin flew into Milan (top of map) and they flew out of Naples (bottom of the map).  The flight out of Naples only went on one day per week so I had to plan for that. Once I figured out what my flights were I broke the trip apart leg by leg.  I decided on this route:

Lake Como: 5 nights/ Venice: 4 nights/ Florence: 5 nights/ Cinque Terre: 6 nights/ Rome: 4 nights/ Amalfi Coast: 6 nights.  One month in Italy!!

Step 3:  Find the VRBO/Airbnb to stay at sticking to my budget of $200 per night.  This was the fun part to me.  How did I choose which places to stay at?  I read review after review on the the VRBO/Airbnb sites….like hundreds of reviews.  I hate the reviews that say “it was a nice place…I highly recommend!”.  Ok well thanks for those riveting details, but you didn’t say crap about the property.  I want to know things.  How far to restaurants and bars?  Do you need a car?  How does “this” area compare to “that” area?  I want details people!  If I can’t find exact answers to my questions through the reviews on VRBO/Airbnb, I usually Google the exact question I have with the word “Tripadvisor” after the question.  If I’m between two areas to stay,  I will Google “Positano vs Amalfi, which is better? Tripadvisor”    Most of the answers to my questions come right up on Tripadvisor which is where I read hundreds more reviews.  Tripadvisor, Oh How I love Thee!  None of my trips would come to life with out the reviews on this site.

Step 4:  Plan transportation.  I did not want to rent a car in Italy.  Many people do, and give reviews about their days explored with the freedom of their own schedule in their own car.  Not for me.  First off, the roads are pretty wicked in Italy.  I consider myself to be a very bad driver on the safe roads in California.  We are talking about a girl that totaled her car 3 times during her 16th year of life!  Oopsie!  So, driving on these winding roads that seem like they have one lane, honking as you approach a sharp turn to warn oncoming traffic that you can’t see.  Hmmm, yes I don’t think this blog would have ever come to life because I probably would have died attempting to drive these roads. Another reason?  When I travel, I tend to eat and drink my way through for most of my entertainment.  I wanted the freedom to indulge in lots of great food accompanied but lots of great vino.

I chose all accommodations to be in the heart of the action in each destination so that I could walk everywhere or take a cheap cab ride.  To get through the country we rode the Trentitalia train.  One month of traveling through Italy on this train cost me less than the cabs to/from the airport.  The train system is so easy, so affordable, so comfortable, so reliable, and such a nice way to travel!  You get to see the country as you travel through, which was just lovely.  Each ride was only about two hours with the exception of one four hour train ride.  Tip:  Get to the station early to buy some snacks and wine.  More important tip: Have all the electronics charged for the littles so that you can enjoy those snacks and wine while riding in style.

train
Training to Cinque Terre.  Sipping on vino while the kiddos play electronics.

I sprung for three long and pricey cab rides (transfers).  One from the Milan airport to our  first property in Lake Como.  After flying for 13 hours with two small children, we just wanted to get there.  The train from Milan to Lake Como isn’t as convenient as the other legs as the train we needed only left every three hours.  Just didn’t want to hassle with that after a long flight.  The second transfer was taking us to our last leg of the trip, Naples to Positano.  When heading south to the Amalfi Coast, the train won’t take you any further than Naples which is about an hour from Positano/Amalfi (see map).  We got off the train in Naples and took a private transfer (cab) to Positano.  Not very cheap at $130 Euro but it beat getting off the train and walking to the nearest bus stop which was reported to be incredibly crowded.  You may have to stand the entire hour plus ride on the bus and deal with pick pocketers.  It was so worth the private transfer!  Last high priced ride was Positano to the Naples airport.  This flight left once per week, so we could not have anything go wrong and risk missing the flight.  We also had to leave at 4:30AM, so the transfer allowed us to sleep the entire ride to the airport.  And that’s a wrap on transportation!  It was right around $700 for four people to travel through Italy for 30 days.  You certainly can’t rent a car for that.

Step 5:  Plan to pack.  Please someone tell me how in the heck I am supposed to pack light traveling to Italy with a toddler and 8 year old for one month?  There are things you need when traveling with kids…car seat, stroller, toys, electronics, etc.  I have to share with you the biggest find for packing light if you have a toddler.  It is Care’s Fly Safe safety restraint system. Cares Kids Fly Safe Airplane Safety Harness.  This gem is FDA approved and buckles your toddler into the airplane seat just like a car seat except it’s a just a belt.  Not only does it keep your little one safe but it also keeps them from running all over the plane, all while packing up into a small little carrying bag that fits in your purse.

seat belt
Little guy all comfy for his 13 hours of traveling, and I didn’t hit 20 people in the head carrying a huge car seat onto the plane.  Winning!

I then purchased an airplane stroller that is specific to traveling and folding up small for planes and trains.  I bought it off my Facebook for $10!  Tip:  I made $2,700 selling things out of my garage on Facebook that went directly to paying for this trip.  I also allowed my kids to pack a scooter each.  With as much walking as we planned to do in each location, I knew they would get so worn out and our days would be shortened due to exhausted kids.  Instead of walking everywhere, they scooted the days away and we were able to explore as much as we wanted.

scooters

Lastly, I got three pieces of luggage that were the largest we could go without going overweight, and incurring fees on the airline.  There is soooo much debate online about how big of a bag is too big of a bag to travel through Europe with.  It’s really a simple answer…you can pack as large of a bag that YOU can handle.  There is no one to help you up the many many stairs in between changing trains.  There is no one to help you load your bag onto the train.  No one to help you load the bag on ferries or cabs.  And if you plan on walking after getting off the train vs. taking a cab, you will be the one lugging that bag through town.  You get the point.  Luckily, I married a man with big muscles.  My bag was a big one, and I got to pack as many bikinis as I wanted.  I don’t recommend this for everyone but it worked ok for us.

luggage
The scooters were so easy to throw on top of our bags.  Piece of cake!

This brings me to my final plug of the trip.  Remember that great deal I got on my airline tickets that was $500 cheaper per ticket than all the other airlines?  Well, you get what you pay for.  The airline ended up loosing our son’s bag on the way there.  Thank goodness it wasn’t mine!  Ha ha.  I can’t tell you how crazy it was to see how long the lost luggage line was at the airport in Milan.  It took us about 30 mins to get through the process of reporting our lost bag and we were 2nd in line.  Can you imagine how long it took the 20th person in line to get through this process?  What a terrible way to kick off your trip!  We were very hopeful that our bag would arrive any day on our trip, but in fact…it never came.  My kids went all the way through a 30 day trip in Italy with nothing but the clothes on their back.  This lost bag also had all of our liquids, including all of my beauty products.  Of course we bought things along the way but it was such a pain in the butt!  I later heard that this is actually a common problem when traveling to Europe (explains the super long lost luggage line) and in actuality, your bag is just sitting in the airport waiting to be delivered.  Due to under staffing, there is just no one attending to these lost bags.  In fact, no one even answers the phone in that area of the airport.  Trust me I called a million times.  Horrible!  How will I make sure that this never happens again??  GPS in my luggage…DUH!

LugLoc Luggage Tracker – The Worldwide Smart Lost Baggage GSM Locator – Track The Exact Location Of Your Bag Globally (not just bluetooth like others) – Rechargeable battery that lasts 15 days

OMG, what a genius idea!  You never loose track of your bag and you know where it is at all times, even if the airline claims that it is lost.  I will never travel without one again! My kids bag was found and delivered to us two days after we arrived home in California…32 days after it was lost.

lost bag

Loosing the bag was devastating at first but in the end we had so many laughs about my son going all the way through Italy with one pair of underwear and them wearing the same outfits in all our family photos.