Travel Mementos

 Modern Map Art

Modern Map Art

Over the last few months, I've been reminiscing about my trip abroad. I have many wonderful memories of our time in South America. My favorite way to remember is to look back at my mementos I collected throughout the trip. I have a lapis lazuli ring from Santiago, an alpaca sweater from Cusco, and slippers from Buenos Aires. Whenever I wear those pieces I am transported to a moment in time. I also collected some wonderful art pieces during my trip, including my vintage travel posters from Torres del Paine, a piece from a local street artist in Valparaiso and a gorgeous map of Buenos Aires.

I'm so fascinating looking at a map of a city like Buenos Aires because the city feels so big while you are there. It's crazy that a map is able to capture the magnitude of Buenos Aires small enough to fit in my apartment! It is seriously mind-blowing and I'm so grateful to be able to look at it and remember one of my best adventures in life.

If you are interested in your own beautiful map of Buenos Aires, check out my friends at Modern Map Art


What are some of your favorite mementos from your travels? 

This is a sponsored post, however the opinions are 100% authentic and my own.

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I'm back! Life update

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post! I’ve really enjoyed blogging but if I am being honest, I got burnt out. I felt responsible and overwhelmed with moving a business forward on top of nonstop traveling with my spouse and our dog. I knew I needed to take a step back from blogging in order to enjoy the moment and focus on myself. Our trip has given me a lot of time to reflect on what I want my life to be like and recently I’ve had to answer some of life’s biggest questions.

My life has changed drastically since coming home from South America and moving back to my apartment in San Francisco. One decision I have recently made is in my career. I am starting school in June to become a school counselor! In the meantime, I am waitressing again, which has been great money, a little rough on my body, a fun social atmosphere and most importantly, a flexible schedule. While I love doing event planning, the hours are brutal and barely being able to get two weeks off to travel was not something I could mentally wrap my head around. During my soul searching, I knew I wanted a job that would give me flexibility in my schedule to have a family and travel, but that offered good benefits and retirement (I’m an adult!), and most importantly was able to make a small difference in someone’s life. My mom Audrey, who is a school nurse, has been suggesting I go into school counseling for a few years. After researching a career in school counseling and looking into graduate the program requirements, I decided to trust my gut and start a new path.

Now that the trip is over, I have also been struggling on what direction to take Tip Top Planning in. I will forever be planning my next adventure and I am definitely going to keep writing about my travels. However, now that I have stepped away from a full-time job in event planning, I am hoping to use Tip Top Planning as my creative outlet. I am excited to share that my blog post “12 Redwood Venues in the Bay Area” has started to get a lot of attention, especially on Pinterest. I’ve started booking clients through my blog for virtual event planning and day of coordinating here in the Bay Area. I will be writing more about event venues, in order to expand my business. Who knows, one day I might be able to travel the world reviewing event planning venues!

I certainly hope you will continue to follow along on the next chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to sharing more adventures and life changes soon!




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How to Survive the Inca Trail

 How to Survive the Inka Trail - Machu Picchu - Tip Top Planning

Be Prepared


The Inka trail is no easy feat. We hiked 52 kilometers in 4 days, ascended to a height of 13,828ft (4,215m) and then descended another 5,905ft (1,800m) to Machu Picchu, all on very little sleep. Being physically fit enough to take on this challenge is important. I’m not in the best shape of my life right now but I did condition myself a little bit by doing cardio, walking a lot and hiking.


Wow! The altitude really kicked my ass! We flew into Cusco on a Tuesday and took a bus to Ollantaytambo which rests at 9,160ft. (2,792m) altitude. I had heard that it’s easier to acclimatize at a lower elevation first then move higher. I started taking the altitude sickness pills that night and for a few days afterward. Take caution when taking altitude sickness pills. They are a diuretic, which makes you dehydrate faster. They also accelerate the symptoms of acclimatizing so they make you feel the worst symptoms right away instead of 3 days later. I ended up getting dehydrated which brought on its own set of problems. My best advice is to stay really hydrated, protect yourself from the sun and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate. We spent 4 nights in Ollantaytambo and 2 nights in Cusco before our hike and I still felt some altitude sickness symptoms throughout our hike. I don't know if I could have finished if I didn't give myself plenty of time to adjust.

Hire a Porter (Chasqui)

If you don’t think you are capable of hauling a backpack filled with all your stuff, then I highly suggest hiring a porter. In Quechua, the local Inka language, they are called Chasquis. I hired half a porter, who can carry up to 13kilos and boy was it money well spent! My Chasqui carried my sleeping bag, mat, all my clothes, toiletries and an extra pair of shoes, leaving me free to focus on getting through the hike.

Do your Homework

Since you are reading this blog post, clearly you are doing just that. Keep it up!

Book with a Good Company

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the company we booked our trek with (Peru Treks) but like I’ve said before, not all tour companies are the same. There are a lot of good trekking companies to choose from in Cuzco. What I really liked about Peru Trek is they were friendly, compassionate, helpful, and our guides were knowledgeable. The food was excellent, they provided good equipment, good campsites, and they take care of their chasquis.

Book Early

When I started researching the Inka trek in APRIL, the first available dates were mid-October. Everything before that was completely sold out because they only issue 500 hiking permits a day. Seriously start looking at least 6 months in advance.

  How to Survive the Inka Trail -   Machu Picchu - Tip Top Planning

Right Equipment

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is scarce on the trail so bring 1-2 rolls.


Having small change is nice for a Gatorade and the roadside toilets. You should also bring some money to tip the porters, cooks, and guides.

Fanny Pack

It’s nice to have an easy to reach place to store a snack, camera or sunblock.

Right Backpack

If you don’t hire a porter, then it’s important to have a backpack with good support. We didn’t bring hiking backpacks on our trip. My husband didn’t hire a chasqui, so he needed to rent a backpack. There are a lot of supply stores and rental shops in Cusco, but we ended up renting a pack from Perk Trek for $20usd.


The weather can be unpredictable because you hike through 6 different microclimates including desert, cloud forest, and jungle. The poncho was perfect because it was lightweight, easy to put on, and fit over my backpack. Ponchos are easily found in many stores in Cusco.

  How to Survive the Inka Trail - Dead Women's Pass -   Machu Picchu - Tip Top Planning

Care for Your Feet

Cut Toe Nails

Do you know how painful it is to have your toenails cutting into your toes or being pushed on by the front of your boot? Cut your toe nails nice and short for a more comfortable hike. You will thank me!

Hiking Boots

Your feet will love you if you wear a good worn in pair of water-proof hiking boots. Since it rains on and off, it’s important to protect your feet from moisture. If you buy a brand-new pair of boots before your trek, I suggest breaking them in beforehand or buy a pair that doesn't need to be broken in.

Good Socks

Thick hiking socks will help prevent blisters and wet feet.

Bag Balm

This is my secret weapon for taking care of my hands, feet and lips. Some parts of the year can get so windy that your skin chaps. Bag Balm is great for healing dry chapped skin and is also great for massaging sore feet at the end of the day.

Protect Your Body

Hand Sanitizer

Finding soap & running water along the trail is few and far between, so hand sanitizer is typically your best option for disinfecting.

Walking Poles

I probably wouldn't have made it through our trek without my walking poles. We did a one day trek at Torres del Paine without poles and our legs suffered the consequences. On the Inka Trail, at least half the trail is stairs (up and down) and poles were especially helpful descending. The steps are narrow and steep which can be scary at times. The poles kept me steady and help soften the impact on my feet, ankles, and knees. You can either rent really nice ones or buy cheap ones, both for about the same price. We bought the cheap ones and they worked great. I suggest bringing an extra set of rubber tips, we each lost one of our tips and we were glad to have spares.


The sun is strong on the Inka trail. You will burn easily without sunscreen and it will hurt. I was diligent about reapplying and I still missed a few spots including the tops of my ears and the backs of my arms.

Bug Spray

Going in October was fantastic because we missed most of the wet season’s bugs & mosquitoes. We only used our bug spray a few times but at other times of the year the bugs are out of control. Our guide told us that June, July, and August, the mosquitoes are ruthless including those who carry malaria, dengue and zika viruses. If you are going that time of year, use a clothing spray and insect repellent like Sawyer.


Did I mention how strong the sun is? I ended up braiding my hair and wearing a baseball hat to protect my scalp, eyes and face. Back in Cusco, we spent a day with Drew's parents hiking throughout the Inka ruins and I didn’t wear a hat. My scalp was literally scorched and scabbed up for about a week. Gross


Another great way to protect your head, neck or chest from the harsh sun.

First Aid

  • Tape/Band-Aids – Good for scrapes or rolled ankles.

  • IB Profin – For headaches and sore muscles

  • Travelers diarrhea meds – Nothing worse than uncontrollable bowls on the trail. That was me!
  How to Survive the Inka Trail -   Machu Picchu - Tip Top Planning

Get Through It


To maintain your nutrition, replenish your body of essential salts and minerals that get depleted when workout and sweat. You can bring Gatorade or get it straight electrolytes in tablet or liquid form. We got electrolyte drops off of Amazon and poured it in with our water bottle.

Agua de Florida

This was used by our guide to help combat altitude sickness symptoms including headaches but also helps with purification, cleansing, and healing. Agua de Florida can be found in Cusco at the San Pedro market. Rub some on your temples and forehead and smell the oil on your hands for fast relief.


Coca is found all over Peru and is used by many for an extra boost. We bought coca leaves and coca candy. You can chew the leaves or make a tea. Chewing the leaves didn't agree with me but I liked the candy and tea.

Good Snacks

Cookies are a good snack because they have carbs and sugar, which will keep your energy levels up. I brought some Oreos and fresh chocolate chip cookies.


One of the best ways for me to stay motivated is to listen to music. I pay monthly for Spotify, so that I can listen to my playlists offline. I switched my phone to low battery and airplane mode so that my phone lasted the entire four days.

Good Mental Attitude

Before we started the trek, I almost dropped out. I didn’t handle the altitude sickness well and got dehydrated. I was afraid that I wasn’t strong enough to do it. After talking to my parents and husband, they encouraged me to at least try before quitting. They helped boost my confidence in myself which stayed with me throughout the hike. Being confident in yourself and having a good mental attitude is key to getting through those moments of self-doubt and struggle.

  How to Survive the Inka Trail -   Machu Picchu - Tip Top Planning

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7 Different Day Trips In and Around Torres del Paine

 7 Different Day Trips in and around Torres Del Paine - Patagonia, Chile - Tip Top Planning

Our trip to Patagonia was incredible. Many people we met during our time in Puerto Natales were gearing up for the famous “W Trek”, a 5-day hike around Torres del Paine, or even longer adventures like the “O” or the “Q Trek”. As much as we would have liked to trek out into the woods and camp, we were not prepared for the excursion. If you are like us and want to see the beauty of Patagonia but aren’t ready to commit to a multi-day backpacking trip, here are 7 different day trips you can take from Puerto Natales.

1. Bus Tour of Torres del Paine Park

The first sight of Torres del Paine park took my breath away. It is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Since we wouldn’t be able to hike most of it, I decided to book a day tour with Patagonia Adventure. We were picked up at our hostel at 8:30 am along with 12 other travelers. On our way, we stopped at a cozy roadside café serving coffee and breakfast as well as selling local goods like knitwear, lapis lazuli jewelry, and stuffed animals. We arrived at the park around 10:30 am stopping at several lookout points to take in the views and snap photos. Throughout the day, we did a few short hikes to more lookout points and stopped for lunch. With our tour came a gourmet boxed lunch with scones, fruit, and a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Our day tour was a great way to get a first impression of Torres del Paine and understand the lay of the land.

2. Perito Moreno Glacier

El Calafate, Argentina and Perito Moreno Glacier is only 4 hours by car from Puerto Natales. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the world’s largest glaciers and the third largest reserve of glacial fresh water. The glacier is one of Patagonia’s top destination’s due to its impressive size, reaching over 3 miles long and a height of over 197 feet above the water. Once at the glacier, walk out to the large viewing platform or take a boat ride to see the fracture of ice blocks of different sizes at a short distance, hear the roaring they produce, and then watch them turn into wonderful floating icebergs. If you have more time and money, you can book an all-day hike onto the glacier.

3. Biking or Kayaking to Estancia Puerto Consuelo

Just 20 minutes outside of Puerto Natales is Estancia Puerto Consuelo, a local historical cattle ranch, founded in 1893. Estancia Puerto Consuelo can be reached by car, bike or by kayaking up the fjord. Once on the farm, you can hike or ride horses around the property for beautiful views of the landscape and local wildlife. Afterwards, enjoy a BBQ lunch of lamb, fish and other classic Chilean dishes.

4. Hike to Base of Torres del Paine

This is one of the few day hikes in Torres del Paine. Though you can do this hike as a group tour, we decided to do this on our own. We arrived at the train station early in order to catch the 7:45 am bus to Torres del Paine park. Our round trip costs $15,000 CLP pp ($22 USD). Once we arrived at the park, we had to catch another shuttle ($3,000 CLP pp each way) to the trail head. We started our hike at 9:45 am and had until 7:00 pm when the shuttle returned. Though I am not much of a hiker, I would consider this hike to be moderate to difficult. The first and the last quarter of the hike were the steepest parts but we were rewarded with a once in a lifetime memory. When we reached the towers at around 2:00 pm, we relaxed, had lunch, and took photos of the incredible view. We started heading back around 2:45 pm. I thought the remaining hike would be a breeze, but it was actually more painful. Going down was tough on my ankles, feet, and knees. We made it back to the shuttle around 6:30 pm, hiking for a full 8 hours and more than 20 miles. The next few days, we could hardly walk up down steps without our legs wanting to give-out, but overall it was an incredible experience and would immediately do it again!

5. Milodon Cave

Milodon Cave is a vast cavern created millions of years ago. The cave once housed the remains of nomads, milodons, saber tooth tigers, and other ancient animals. The Milodon Cave was rediscovered in 1895 by Hermann Eberhard, a famous German explorer of Patagonia. Today the cave is a popular tourist destination because of the size and the life size replica of the milodon. The ancient milodon is a relative of the modern-day sloth and was bigger is size than a polar bear. The milodon cave tour was included in our tour to Torres del Paine. There is still much left undiscovered in the cave due to the difficulty of excavation and precision needed for archaeologists.

 7 Different Day Trips in and Around Torres del Paine - Patagonia, Chile - Milodon Cave - Tip Top Planning

6. Day Hikes

Both the Condor’s Nest and Mirador Cerro Dorotea are short easy hikes near Puerta Natales. The Condor Nest hike, in Torres del Paine park, offers great viewing of the Andean Condors and theirs nests. Stunning views of Lake Pehoe with Torres del Paine (Chile) mountains behind. The slab-like Cerro Dorotea gives scenic views of the Puerta Natales and whole Seno Ultima Esperanza. Both hikes can be very windy so dress appropriately.

7. Glacier Grey

Located in Torres del Paine, Glacier Grey is famous for its size and stunning blue floating ice. Glacier Grey is a part of the Southern Patagonia Ice field, the second largest connecting ice field outside of the poles. Depending on your activity level and budget options, there are several day trip possibilities to Glacier Grey including hiking, kayaking or cruising. 

What is your favorite national park? 

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Atacama Desert 5 days, 4 nights

Before our trip to Chile, I was aware of several big attractions in the country; Patagonia, Andes Mountains, Santiago, Valparaiso, but Atacama was new news to me. After investigating more, I learned that Atacama is one of the biggest, if not the biggest tourist destinations in Chile.  We were able to find cheap flights and an inexpensive hostel near the heart of the town in San Pedro.

The night before our departure, we dropped our dog Posey off with our friend and dog-sitter, Gabriela. Our flight was around 2 hours and we arrived in the small Calama airport around 9 am. When researching this trip, I learned that San Pedro is about an hour drive away so I scheduled a shuttle from the airport to take us directly to our hostel.

After dropping our bags off at our hostel, we headed to the Whipala Tours Office in San Pedro to pay for our tours and finalize our plans. We learned quickly that we would have to be flexible with our tour dates because many companies change the days/times of your tours in order to maximize their group size. On two occasions our tour company actually sent us with a different tour company for our trips.

We found a nearby restaurant that offered a great lunch deal for $4000 CLP ($6USD). I had ceviche, ribs with mashed potatoes, and dessert. Drew had a chorillana, a typical Chilean meal of fries, grilled onions, steak, and fried eggs. There are a lot of restaurants in town and many offer daily fixed priced menus. 

Valle de la Luna

Later that afternoon, we met back at the tour office for our first tour of Valle de la Luna. Only 15-minutes outside of San Pedro, Valle de la Luna is known for its rugged moon-like landscape. On our first stop, we wove through jagged salt lined caves where you can actually lick the cave walls! Next, we hiked to the top of the area’s largest sand dune and received spectacular views of mountains, massive salt flats, a natural coliseum and both sides of the dune. Our last stop in the park was at the “Three Marias”, which are natural formations that emulate three holy figures. Next to the “Three Marias” is another formation of a T-Rex head popping out of the earth. To finish the tour, we arrived at a lookout point to watch the sunset. The Valle de la Luna was one of our favorite tours and was the cheapest!

TIP: It was really windy and sandy at the dunes, so a scarf or bandana comes in handy. We arrived back in town after dark and walked back to our hostel. Most streets outside of the main part of town do not have street lights so bring a headlamp or flashlight to help you navigate your way back in the dark.

Lagunas Altiplánicas 

The following day we were picked up early at our hostel for the Lagunas Altiplánicas tour. We drove about an hour and a half to the highlands which are almost at the Argentine border. When we arrived at the Lagunas Altiplánicas, we were served a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, avocado, ham, cheese, bread, and coffee overlooking the Miscanti lagoon. After breakfast, we hiked near the lake and took pictures. Our tour guide picked us up and drove us to the Meñiques lagoon for more pictures and bird watching. The highlands were stunning and filled with wildlife including desert foxes, tiny mice, and guanacos. We stopped at two small villages, Socaire and Toconao, to visit old churches and buy souvenirs. Our last stop was at the Salar de Atacama and Laguna Chaxa in the Los Flamencos national reserve. Seeing hundreds of flamingos in their natural habitat was a once in a lifetime experience. We learned that there are actually different types of flamingos in the area including the Andean, Chilean, and James flamingo.

TIP: It’s very cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon so wear lots of layers

Puritama Thermal Baths

On Tuesday, we headed to the nearby Puritama thermal baths. As we drove down the dry and rocky canyon, we were met with an oasis of turquoise pools, huge reeds, and wooden walkways. We changed into our bathing suits and headed to the first pool. The Puritama hot springs have 8 pools ranging from 25º to 30ºC. We spent a romantic morning relaxing, swimming under waterfalls, and enjoy the sunshine.

TIP: It’s a little chilly in the morning, but that doesn’t mean that the sun won’t get you! Wear sunscreen.

Geyser del Tatio

Our second to the last tour was our earliest day, with a 5:30 am pickup to the Geyser del Tatio. Since it was a long 2-hour drive to the geysers, I was hoping I would get some sleep, but it was actually too cold to sleep! We arrived just after sunrise, when it’s the coldest (-10º C) and the geysers are most visible. I was surprised that there were so many geysers. We walked around and took pictures for about 30 minutes and then had breakfast. After breakfast, we went to another thermal bath in the geyser park. The thermal bath was much colder than I anticipated but had pockets of hot water that came and went. 

TIP: It was SO cold, especially during the car ride there. I would suggest bringing lots of layers including gloves, hat, scarf, and a thick jacket.

Afterwards, we headed back towards San Pedro and stopped a few times to take pictures of the wildlife. About 45 minutes outside of San Pedro, we stopped at a small village, Pueblo de Machuca, known for its 94-year-old church. When we pulled up, there was a small stand grilling guanaco skewers. Drew and I split a skewer, which was tender and delicious. We then walked to the top of a hill to visit the church and gave a small donation. Although the geyser tour was an interesting experience and one of the area’s most popular, it was one of my least favorite tours.

Cejar Lagoons

Our final tour was to the Cejar lagoon. But before we could even take off, we were informed that one of the roads was under maintenance for a few days.  We weren’t going to see two of the attractions, so we were offered a small discount. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with the Cejar lagoons, not only because it was a partial tour but the park entrance fee was really expensive. We walked down to the salt water lagoon and struggled to get in because the water was so cold! We only hopped in for 10 minutes to float in the salt water and snap a few pictures. Then we had to rinse off in a cold outdoor shower. The silver lining, my skin was very silky smooth afterwards! Since the rest of the tour was canceled, we had to kill a few hours. We walked around, chatted with other couples, drank pisco sours, and had snacks while waiting for the sun to set.

TIP: A comfortable change of clothes is nice to have for after the cold salt lagoon.

Atacama has many options for travelers. It’s easy to fit in several excursions in a few short days. My favorite tours were Valle de la Luna, Lagunas Altiplánicas, and Puritamas thermal baths. For travelers with more time, there are longer trips to Bolivia and Argentina. Be sure to check out my 10 Tips for Visiting the Atacama Desert here.

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10 Tips for Visiting the Atacama Desert

Chile’s Atacama Desert runs 600 miles from the Pacific Coast to the Andes Mountains and is the 3rd driest place in the world, behind only the North and South Poles. It is quickly becoming Chile’s main year-round tourist destination with several attractions including natural geysers, salt flats, salt lagoons, interesting wild life, thermal baths and more. It is a short flight from Santiago and is also a great jumping off point for trips to Bolivia’s Sal de Uyuni (salt flats) and Argentina’s rainbow mountains in Salta.

…Here are my 10 tips for visiting the Atacama Desert

1. One way in, one way out

All flights arrive and depart from Calama, however the main town is San Pedro de Atacama about an hour drive away. Taxis were expensive so we booked a shuttle bus with Trans Licancabur. Our ride with Trans Licancabur was terrible. On our way to San Pedro, I had to sit in the back and several pieces of luggage kept falling into my lap. The driver stopped at a nice look out point and we snapped a few photos. After a few minutes most of the group expected to be on the road, however some of our fellow passengers were not so thoughtful. They took over 30 minutes snapping selfies and the driver didn’t say anything! On the plus side, I was able to book the shuttle several months in advance. Knowing we would make our early morning flight back to Santiago on time helped me keep calm.

2. Pick your tour company wisely

There is a lot to do in Atacama and there are a lot of tour companies offering daily tours to all of Atacama’s attractions. Not all tour companies are created equally though. Some companies only offer guides who speak Spanish, some are with larger groups, some are more expensive, and some have no accreditation. If you are a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of person, you can just show up, walk into one of the many tour group offices and figure out what you want to do. That’s is too overwhelming for me. I would have a hard time feeling confident that we were working with a reputable company and that I was getting a good deal. Since that’s not really my style, I researched companies and pricing beforehand. I found Whipala Tours to have positive reviews and fair pricing. I booked our tours online and we received a 10% discount when paid in cash.

3. Prepare to be flexible

In Atacama, you may book with one company, but that doesn’t mean you will actually tour with them. If the tour company does not have enough people booked, they will outsource you to a different company. They also may try to change the days/times of your tours in order to maximize their group size. Thankfully, we had enough days in Atacama that we were able to move our tours dates around. If you are short on time in Atacama, you may have to book with several companies in order to fit in multiple tours. We actually had two of our tours outsourced to different companies (Thermal Bathes and Geyser Tour). We really enjoyed the tours we had with Whipala, but were not as impressed with the other companies. Our guide with Whipala was very friendly, knowledgeable about the region, remembered to repeat things in English, and went above what other companies offered for breakfast and snacks. We also liked that Whipala offered smaller, more personal tours. Unfortunately, our last tour to the Cejar Lagoons was only a partial tour because the road to the Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebenquiche was under construction.

4. Park entrance fees add up

Expect to pay entrance fees to all parks. The tours do not include this cost. They range from $3,000 CLP - $17,000 CLP per person which adds up quickly.

5. Pack for hot and cold weather

Even though you are in a desert, pack a lot of warm clothes including gloves, warm socks, a jacket and a hat. We also used bandanas to protect ourselves from the sand during the Valle De La Luna tour, from the -20F cold on the Geyser Tour, and from the strong UV filled sun midday. Bring a bathing suit, flip flops, sunglasses, hiking boots/running shoes, layers, moisturizer, and a lot of sunscreen. I brought a pair of jeans that I wore once because I felt I needed to wear them. Most of the time I wore workout leggings or sweats. I did make the mistake of wearing shorts and my legs paid the price with a major sunburn. Even when it was hot, I typically wore a light long sleeve, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.

6. Look for the specials

Take advantage of the restaurant’s daily menu specials. Often times they offer a pretty good menu including a small appetizer, choice of entrée and a light dessert for around $5000 CLP. I enjoyed several nice meals including ceviche, ribs, and salmon.

7. Steal sleep

Sleep when you can because you don’t get much. Between the early morning flights, early morning tours, and the barking dogs at night, I didn’t get much shut eye in our hostel. I typically get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night, so running on 5-6 hours of sleep is not really my thing. Most of the morning tours leave between 5 am – 6:30 am because the destination is 1 to 2-hour drive from San Pedro. Luckily, I am the type of person who can sleep anywhere, so I slept on the bus rides and took afternoon naps between tours. Hey, sometimes a girl just needs to sleep!

8. Lodging prices depend on location

The hostels can be expensive. We stayed at Domos Los Abuelos hostel for around $65 per night. I picked it was because I wanted a place that was walking distance to the main part of San Pedro. Many of the hostels located in the town are expensive and less expensive hostels are farther away from town. Overall, I was happy with our hostel. The staff was friendly, the rooms were cool, and they had a pool!

9. Prepare to go unplugged

Okay, maybe not the entire time but there will be long stretches without Wifi. Our hostel didn’t have Wifi in the rooms, only in the common areas. We also didn’t have a TV, which was okay for me but my husband got pretty bored.

10. Expect a bumpy ride

Most of the roads are unpaved or under maintained. It is a booming tourist area and things are getting better, but there are still a few rough patches.

Let me know what your favorite desert destination is by leaving a comment below. 

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When Your Expecations Don't Meet the Reality

Our last few weeks in Buenos Aires went by so quickly. We were busy visiting veterinarians getting Posey vaccinated and completing the necessary paperwork for our travel to Chile. Although we had a lot of on our plate, we still managed to squeeze in some of our favorite activities, including our trip to Iguazu Falls and a day in the La Boca neighborhood.Iguazu Falls and a day in the La Boca neighborhood.

In total we spent 3 months in Buenos Aires and leaving was a little bittersweet. I enjoyed my time in Buenos Aires, although it was a difficult few months. As I mentioned in previous posts, I struggled a lot with our AirBNB apartment. I also had to deal with personal drama back in the states. It was very stressful and upsetting, especially since I couldn’t address the issues head on. Thankfully I have been able to put most of this behind me and I am in a much better place.

In addition to struggling with the external forces out of my control, I also struggled with Buenos Aires itself. I had built up this image of Buenos Aires in my head, that it would be this magical place and experience.  I was told and expected to see “Paris of South America”. Unfortunately for me, Buenos Aires didn’t live up to the hype I had created. I thought it would be similar to many European cities due to its heritage, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t what I imagined South America to be either.

Please don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Buenos Aires and I will be forever grateful for my time there. I just didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I can always tell how much I like a place when I can picture myself living there permanently. For me, Buenos Aires is just too big a city and is too far from other destinations (beaches, mountains, wine country). I am also grateful that Buenos Aires was not our only destination.

Since leaving Buenos Aires, we have been in Santiago Chile and we love it! It has been such a different experience than Buenos Aires. We took a month of Spanish classes, met tons of friends from all over the world, and have been able to explore Chile. We are also really happy with our apartment and the location, which is a huge plus!

While in Argentina, we met a couple from New York, who relocated to Buenos Aires for work nine months earlier. They asked us about our first impressions and we were candid with them saying plainly, “It’s not what we expected”. They told us they felt the same way when they first moved there. They too were in a rundown apartment and struggled to like their new location. The couple told us it took them over six months to warm up to Buenos Aires and now they really enjoy their time there.

I remember when I first moved to San Francisco, it took me a long time to really fall in love with the city. The first few months were really fun but after the excitement wore off, I had a hard time. I didn’t have many friends, I didn’t like my major, and I hated having to walk alone at night after class in the cold from the bus stop to home. I didn’t give up though. I changed my circumstances. I joined a sorority, changed my major, and brought my car to the city.

Similarly, the New York couple living in Buenos Aires had to change their circumstances in order to be happier. They moved apartments, joined “Meetup” groups, made friends, and started to build their life there. For us, we changed our settings by moving to Santiago, cashing in the “authentic” housing for a new high rise, and assimilating more into the culture by making an effort to learning the language. These factors have had a positive effect on our current situation.

I think big changes are difficult for a lot of people, especially when the reality doesn’t live up to the expectation. My best advice it to be honest with yourself about what is making you unhappy. It’s sometimes easier to sweep your feelings under the rug and pretend like everything is okay, but that is not the healthiest way to live your life.

Once you’ve figured what you are struggling with, find out how you can change your circumstances. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the “mountain” in front of me and I feel stuck. If you can break it down into smaller pieces, it’s much easier to achieve. After that, it’s all about taking proactive steps to make your situation a better one! Because no one is going to save you and the only person you can change is yourself. Once you become your own advocate in life, things will get better! 

Has the reality of a situation ever not met your expectations? 

Please leave your comments below! I look forward to hearing from you!

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10 Budget Friendly Activities in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires was the first stop on our South American adventure. We spent our first THREE months there! The tough part about our time in Buenos Aires was finding inexpensive or free activities. Since it was our first stop, it was important to watch where our money was going. The thing about Buenos Aires is that it felt like every time we stepped out the door that money would fly out of our wallets. A lot of activities geared towards tourists are super pricey and not authentic. I started looking for inexpensive and authentic activities. Here are my favorites! 

1. Eating Choripán con Provoleta in Puerto Madero

Choripán is a typical South American sandwich made with grilled chorizo sausage served on a crunch bread roll. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried it with grilled provolone cheese (Provoleta). I like to add chimichurri sauce and fresh jalapenos, but different places have a variety of toppings to choose from. The best places to get choripán is from a food truck. We liked to visit the Puerto Madero neighborhood across from the “Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve”, where one can find dozens of food trucks serving cheap choripán and other local sandwiches. Puerto Madero is an awesome port neighborhood that has been revitalized in recent years and is a fun area to explore. 

2. Tango Show

No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without seeing a tango show. Tango was born in Buenos Aires’ working-class port neighborhoods. Today, you can still sit in Plaza Dorrego sipping a latte and watch the tango dancers perform. There are dinner tango shows all over the city and from what I’ve heard, it is a sort of tourist trap. The experience is expensive, the food is not that great, but the tango performances are breathtaking. If you would rather skip the dinner and just see a wonderful show for a reasonable price, check out Centro Cultural Borges for their Bien de Tango Show. It is a fantastic experience that many locals enjoy for just a fraction of the cost of the other shows.

3. Fuerza Bruta

This show cannot be missed! Fuerza Bruta is a mesmerizing live music performance and aerial show that is truly unique. Fuerza Bruta originated in Buenos Aires, is running Off-Broadway in New York, and has been performed all over the world. Besides the incredible immersive experience Fuerza Bruta offers, it’s also easy on the wallet, only costing about $20 USD a ticket. Afterwards, we grabbed drinks at a nearby speakeasy called Florería Atlántico, which looks like a cute little flower shop from the outside. Once in the flower shop, you walk through a hidden door that looks like cooler and into the basement to find a awesome little nautical bar serving good drinks, food, and atmosphere. 

4. Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery is one of Buenos Aires most known attractions. Stretching over several city blocks, The Recoleta Cemetery is a well maintained, massive and magnificent burial grounds for Argentina’s former rich, famous and military elite. As we wandered through the labyrinth of mausoleums, we noticed that tombs ranged from simple to lavish. Crafted out of granite, bricks, and stone, many of the mausoleums feature beautiful wrought iron gates, sculptures and stained glass windows. If you are ever visiting Buenos Aires, I highly recommend visiting the Recoleta Cemetery, especially around dusk. It is free to visit the mausoleum and they offer free tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 am in English. For free tours in Spanish, visit on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 am and 3 pm.

5. Parrilla Asado

Argentineans love their meat, especially steak! They eat it with almost every meal. In Argentina, steaks are mostly cooked Asado style, on a parrilla grill. The meat is top quality and the cooking technique creates such a depth of flavor in the steak that only chimichurri sauce accompanies such a tasty steak. If you are a steak lover, then you will be in steak heaven in Buenos Aires. Best of all, the cost of steaks in Argentina are very inexpensive, even at nice restaurants.

6. La Boco

La Boca is working class barrio (neighborhood) situated at the mouth of the Matanza-Riachuelo River. La Boca is also known for its brightly colored building and street art in the Caminito and their fútbol stadium ‘La Bombonera’. La Boca is worth the visit even though it’s jammed with tourist and the restaurateurs can be a little pushy. Though this neighborhood is a major tourist destination, it’s important to not to stay there too late. It can be dangerous at night.

7. San Telmo Market

Every Sunday on Avenue Defensa the  Feria de San Telmo takes place.  Feria de San Telmo is an outdoor street fair with hundreds of vendors selling beautiful antiques, unique souvenirs, and art. At the Plaza Dorrego, there are typically tango dancers and other creative street performers including windblown living statues and reggae bands. Throughout the fair there are street food vendors selling tasty treats likes churros, burritos, roasted nuts, dulce de leche filled crepes, grilled sausage sandwiches and empanadas. It’s definitely a fun way to spend your Sunday in Buenos Aires and find some inexpensive gems.

8. Argentine Cooking Class

One of the best experiences I had in Buenos Aires, was taking an Argentine Cooking Class with Norma. We learned how to make and eat traditional food like empanadas, lentil stew and alfajores. We got to drink Mate tea and two Argentinean wines, Malbec and Torrontes. Overall it was a fun afternoon learning about Argentine’s food culture. It might be a little bit more of splurge that the other things on this list, but it’s worth every penny.

9. Opera Show at Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Tickets to the opera range from $15 USD to $500. We only had a partial view of the stage so if I had to do it over again, I probably would have spent the extra money for better seats. If the opera is not your thing, you can still tour the theater during the day.

10. Explore Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is an international and local art museum in the Recoleta neighborhood. We spent the afternoon taking in the renaissance, baroque, impressionism, and naturalism paintings, statues, and artifacts from all over the world including famous works of art from Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt. A great way to spend a rainy afternoon and best of all it’s free! Also check out the nearby Floralis Genérica statue.

What's your favorite budget friendly travel activity? 

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Iguazu Falls...Is It Worth It?

The answer is yes, although it wasn’t an easy decision to make. For those of you who are not familiar with Iguazu Falls, it is the world’s largest waterfall which spans across three countries including Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. When I say largest, I mean most volume of water per second and it’s massive!

Though Iguazu is straight out of a postcard, my husband and I debated if it was worth the high price tag. Two-hour flights were going for $250 each and a seventeen-hour bus ride was not much cheaper. We always have to factor what we are going to do with our dog Posey before booking these side trips. When we’ve traveled in the past, we have learned that Posey prefers to stay home rather than being uprooted to somewhere new. Since she is potty trained on potty pads, we feel comfortable leaving her for a few days alone. 

After chatting with many locals about their must see places in Argentina, Iguazu Falls repeatedly came up. So we decided to go for it. Thankfully, Drew received an early 30th birthday present from my parents, which helped cover some of the costs. We booked our trip for 3 days and 2 nights in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

We decided to focus our time on the Argentina side of the falls for a few reasons:

  1. We only had a few days.
  2. There are expensive reciprocity fees to visit Brazil & Paraguay. We aren’t planning on visiting those countries throughout the rest of our trip, so it wasn’t worth the added cost.
  3. The Argentine side of Iguazu is more extensive and one can get up close to the falls. 

After our flight was delayed for a few hours, we finally made it to Puerto Iguazu. The first thing I learned about Iguazu is taxis are not cheap! Unlike in Buenos Aires, taxis in Iguazu don’t offer a mileage/minute flat fee, this allows taxi drivers to set their own prices. Expect to pay premium taxi prices for popular locations like the airport and the park.  You may want to look into renting a car if you plan on staying for longer than a few days.

After a 20-minute ride, our taxi pulled onto a dirt and cobblestone road. We had arrived at our hotel, La Aldea De La Selva Lodge, a rustic jungle lodge. I was immediately impressed with our hotel, which I found through I like to book my hotel rooms through for a few reasons including free cancellations and “genius” booking perks. Once you become a “genius” booker, you get discounts on rooms and access to other promotions. I was able to upgrade us to a junior suite at La Aldea De La Selva Lodge for only $2 more! Read here to learn more about which other travel apps I like to use. 

We were escorted by staff to our room on a elevated wooden walkway. Our room backed into the jungle and featured a large porch with a comfy hammock. Because we arrived in Iguazu later than expected, we decided to explore the town and have lunch.

The town Puerto Iguazu is pretty small, and other than the park, there is not a whole lot to do there. They do have a casino, nature and animal reserves, and La Aripuca, a replica of the native Guarani people’s customs and natural habitat.

Early the next day we took a cab to Iguazu Falls park, which is only about 20 minutes away. We purchased our entrance tickets (around $22 USD each), grabbed a map of the park and set off. Even for a weekday, the place was packed! You can take a guided tours through the park although it didn’t seem worth it for a few reasons.

  1. The park is so easy to navigate without a guide.
  2. There are at least 50 people in each group.
  3. They move like molasses so if you like to walk quickly a tour is not for you.
  4. If you are interested in a tour because you want to learn more about the culture and environment, I would suggest a private tour. With that many people in a group, it’s almost impossible to be within earshot of the guide.

Instead of a tour, we spoke to staff at the information desk who were incredibly helpful. They gave us suggestions about which routes to take and when. Following their direction, we started our hike on the upper trail. To be honest, I was expecting it to be like a real hike with uneven terrain and steep hills. It’s not like that at all. In fact, most of the trails are raised platforms navigating you above the jungle floor, rivers, and waterfall ledges. There are a few staircases to help get the heart pumping but overall it’s a pretty mild hike. 

The upper trail of Parque Iguazu takes you on top the falls to overlook the force and scale of this wonder. The lower trail gets you up close so that you can feel the magnitude of the water literally hit you in the face. Iguazu is so incredible among the turquoise waters, lush jungle setting, natural rainbows, and the grandiose waterfalls that words can’t describe how truly spectacular and beautiful it is.

While walking through the park, we encountered monkeys, birds, and coatis, an animal similar to a raccoon. The coatis are adorable but like the raccoon they can be ferocious, stealing food, biting tourists and attacking each other. We decided to have lunch at the park, which was sort of a mistake. The options for food is pretty limited which included Subway sandwiches, empanadas, and other fried snacks. We settled for a small sandwich. During our lunch the coatis were up to no good, stealing unknowing tourist’s food when several monkeys came along. The monkeys ended up stealing the food from the coatis, who were not too happy. 

We finished our day with a boat tour to San Martin Island. Other boat tours are available that will take you up close to the falls, but the steep price tags discouraged us. You can also get soaked, and I wasn’t prepared to have my camera and cellphones destroyed. The one thing we did skip was the train that takes you up to "Devil’s Throat". The line for the train was at least an hour long and our feet were tired, or as Drew likes to say “Our kitten’s are mewing”. We also had scheduled to have our morning taxi driver come pick us up, which was stupid because he never showed up. I do regret not going to "Devil’s Throat" especially since we waited around for 45 minutes for our driver that never came. 

We were at the park for a total of 6 hours which was enough for us. It is certainly doable to see Argentinian side of the park in one day. 

We ended up taking a very expensive taxi ride from the park to our hotel and resting the rest of the afternoon. I even took a nap in our hammock! We had dinner at La Terraza, which was excellent. We split our favorite, grilled provolone and chorizo. I also had grilled shrimp with risotto and Drew had a tenderloin and fries. I would highly recommend this place. The service was outstanding and the food was delicious. We turned in early for our early morning flight back to Buenos Aires the next day. 

Overall Iguazu Falls is incredible and should be on everyone’s bucket list. The town is nothing to write home about but the park is worth the visit. You don’t need much time to experience the falls but do expect to pay a lot for your visit. 

If you are planning a trip to Iguazu, feel free to email me or comment below for more information. Be sure to check out the Globe Trotter Girls post "Things Nobody Tells You About Iguazu" for more dos and don'ts for visiting Iguazu.  

What is the one place you have on your bucket list? 

Please leave your comments below! I look forward to hearing from you.

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Argentine Cooking Class

I love cooking! Food plays a big part in my life. I am the type of girl who plans my day around my meals. What am I going to make for dinner? Where am I going to eat for lunch? When I travel, I make food bucket lists, plotting out all of the restaurants I want to try. After my Week One – Buenos Aires post, my good friend Kathryn from San Francisco suggested we take a cooking class. She said it is a fun activity, a great way to experience the culture, and a skill you can apply back home. I began researching Argentine cooking classes and found several options including Tierra Negra Cooking Classes, Cecilia D’Imperio, and Cook Abroad. Eventually, I stumbled upon Norma Soued’s Argentinean Cooking Class through The Travel Chica’s blog. The location, menu, and the price that Argentine Cooking Class offers fit exactly what I was looking for. After reaching out to the Norma, she was quick to respond and offered a winter discount. Score! I begged Drew to come with me and we signed up for the following weekend. 

On a chilly Saturday morning, Drew and I arrived in Belgrano, a northern neighborhood of Buenos Aires, for our Argentinian cooking class. Those who know me understand I am not a morning person so, of course we were running late but we were able to hop into a cab and managed to make it on time. We arrived at a well maintained 70’s style apartment building and were ushered upstairs by our host. We were greeted by Norma, a sweet woman in her mid-50’s who told us her phycology practice pays the bills but sharing in Argentinean cooking classes two times week is her passion. We were introduced to Maud, our cooking classmate originally from France and currently living in Buenos Aires. She has been working in the city for almost a year as an apartment finder for expats. 

We sat down and started class with a glass of water and briefly reviewed the recipes we were to prepare. The menu included carne (beef) empanadas, traditional lentil stew, and alfajores, a lemon sugar cookie with dulce de leche filling. We washed our hands and headed into the kitchen. Norma told us we would be working on the lentil stew and the empanada filling at the same time since they shared many of the same ingredients. Norma had prepped in advanced some of the menu items including soaking the lentils, chopping the chorizo for the stew, dicing the white onions and measuring out the raisins. Drew started chopping red and green peppers and I sliced green onions, squash, and hard boiled eggs. Maud sautéed all the onions and peppers in one pan. Once they were soft/sweating, Maud added half the mixture into the pot of cooking lentils and then the squash and chorizo. We cooked the ground beef in the original pan and finished by throwing in the raisins and hard-boiled eggs.

We let the carne mixture cool while the lentil stew cooked. We moved into the study to start making the alfajores cookie dough. Norma explained the different ingredients and we measure out the dry and wet ingredients into separate bowls. Drew was in charge of mixing and I slowly added the dry ingredients. When the dough was set, Norma brought out the carne empanada filling and chilled empanada wrappers. Norma walked us through the process of filling the wrappers, sealing and braiding the edges, and then we attempted to recreate the same process. After we finished all the empanadas, we brushed the outside with an egg wash which gives that distinct empanada shell. We moved back into the kitchen and put the empanadas in the oven. 

While the empanadas cooked and the lentil stew slowly simmered, we took out the alfajores dough from the fridge. Norma split the dough in half, floured the surface and rolled out the dough to a quarter inch thick. We took turns cutting the cookie dough and placing it on a cookie sheet. While the cookies cooked in the oven, Norma brought us back to the study. She explained that the cookie we made would be for the next class and the cookies we would fill were made by the previous class. We spread sweet and sticky dulce de leche onto a cookie and placed another cookie on top. To finish, we rolled the alfajores in grated coconut. 

After our cooking lesson, we sat down in the living room for our feast. We tried two Argentinean wines, Malbec and Torrontes. Malbec is one of my favorite red wines! Norma and her assistant brought out the lentil stew and poured everyone a bowl. The stew was hot, thick, hardy and perfect for our chilly afternoon. It was so tasty that I had a second bowl. After the stew, we tried our empanadas, which were hot, flakey, and rich. Norma said she liked to dip her empanadas in chimichurri, a dry seasoning mixed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. It helped cut some of the richness and added extra spice and flavor.

After having too many empanadas, Norma brought out her Mate (MAH-tay) cups and thermos. Yerba Mate is a highly caffeinated tea containing several vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Mate is social activity in Argentina. According to Guyraki “The first step of the ceremony is the preparation of the gourd. Typically, the cebador (mate server) prepares mate for a friend or a group of friends. The cebador drinks the first one or two gourd-fulls, testing the waters to ensure that only a smooth running mate is shared. Then the gourd is refilled with water and passed counter-clockwise with the bombilla (straw-filter) facing the recipient. Each person drinks the entire gourd: "you share the vessel, not the liquid."  The recipient of the gourd has as much time as needed to finish the gourd-full. After the last few sips of the mate are gone, the gourd is returned with the bombilla facing the cebador.  The gourd is refilled with hot water and follows around the circle, continuing in this fashion until the mate is.  If someone has had enough mate, they simply say gracias (thank you) to indicate that they are finished.” 

At first, I didn’t really like the taste of Mate. It was bitter and grassy tasting but it grew on me after the second cup. Mate was especially good with the fresh alfajores! What I do like about mate is that it has similar amount of caffeine to coffee, but it doesn’t make me feel jittery or upset my stomach. Since our class, Drew and I have each gotten our own Mate cups from the San Telmo market.

Overall, cooking Argentinian food was fun and a wonderful experience. If you ever visit Buenos Aires, I would highly recommend booking a cooking class with Norma. She is friendly, speaks English well, the class is affordable and the food is delicious! Not only did I enjoy cooking each dish, but I also loved learning about the culture and traditions of Argentina. I am looking forward to making all of the dishes again for my friends and family!

Have you ever taken a cooking class while traveling? What is your favorite international dish to cook?

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June 2016 Buenos Aires

The saga continues with our AirBNB apartment. The apartment strikes back. Here’s a quick recap of what’s been happening. After a month in Buenos Aires we decided to have a cleaning lady tidy up our rental apartment. Afterwards, she accused our dog of urinating on the hardwood floors, which actually turned out to be a water leak in the plumbing. We also found A LOT of mold in the apartment. To get the whole scoop, check out my post Week 4 & 5 Buenos Aires.

We informed our host about the situation and after a few days a contractor came over to assess the apartment’s condition. He determined the water leak was not a big deal and they could wait to fix it after our stay was done in July. About a week later we noticed that the water leak was spreading to more areas within the apartment. When we stepped on some of the floorboards water was actually shooting out of the floors! We demanded the contractor come over again and address the issue immediately. They got to work quickly by breaking open walls, tearing out the bathtub, replacing pipes, and fixing the water pressure in the bathroom sink. After three days of dusty and noisy construction, the bathroom was fixed and the apartment was a messy disaster. One day after the contractor left, the hot water tap in the bathroom sink came undone, spewing water all over the bathroom. This forced us to turn out off the hot water, and the contractor couldn’t come back for several days, meaning no showers or baths. The contractor came back and “fixed” the bathroom sink, and within only about 5 hours for the sink to broke again. After a scathing email to our host, the contractor came back the next day and replaced both sink taps. Hopefully, this is the end to our current apartment drama, although the massive amounts of mold still pose a threat. Thankfully we are leaving this apartment in about 3 weeks and moving on to a new, modern apartment in Santiago, Chile.

Despite the issues with our apartment, we have been having a fantastic time in Buenos Aires. We attended several InterNations events, including beer at Cerveza Old Mule, fish and chips dinner  at an English speaking event at Chipper, and mingling about at a happy hour event at Snatch Bar. Being a part of InterNations has opened us up many new experiences and we have met a lot of wonderful people from all over the world.

One night we decided to go see an opera at the world famous Teatro Colon. Neither my husband or I had ever been to the opera and Buenos Aires was the perfect place to experience it. We were lucky to buy our tickets online the night before. The tickets were pretty cheap (around $30 USD) even though we only had a partial view of the stage. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have spent the extra money for better seats since we were basically leaning over the railing to get a good view. Although we didn’t have the best seats, we still had a great night. We picked up our tickets an hour before the show and decided to grab drinks at a nearby hotel bar, Patio #378. Obviously a Manhattan for Drew and a Pisco Sour for me.

The opera was incredible. Setting was in ancient Greece, Dido and Aeneas is a story about love and loss. The Queen of Carthage, Dido, is forsaken by the Trojan prince, Aeneas. Overcome by the grief of her loss, she dies of a broken heart. The performance was gripping from the very start. At one point the singing performers were floating and swimming in a large tank of water while their gauzy clothes glided around them, creating beautiful ethereal movements. The rest of the performance was filled with stunning costumes, beautiful dancing, and incredible voices. In case you are interested in learning more about Dido and Aeneas, here is a preview.

After the theater, we had dinner at La Estancia Asador Criollo, a traditional asador restaurant just a few blocks from Teatro Colon. An Argentinian Criollo Spit, a large standing barbecue, stood in the window roasting three large racks of ribs. Once we were seated, we were greeted by a sweet older man. We ordered a 5 course special that included a bottle of wine, carne empanadas, salad, grilled provolone with chorizo sausage, an assorted platter of grilled meats, and of course, dessert. The food was amazing and we were impressed when our meat platter came out on a sizzling grill. My favorite was the grilled provolone and chorizo sausage. It was so rich and flavorful! Everything was even more flavorful with Argentine chimichurri on a crunchy toasted bread roll. We were so full that we boxed up most of our entree meat platter although I still managed to eat my dulce de leche flan.

The following day we decided to escape the rain and cold by visiting the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.  It is an international and local art museum in the Recoleta neighborhood. Before the museum we had lunch at a nearby burger restaurant called Dellepiane. The food was okay but it was no comparison to our favorite burger joint, La Cresta.  We spent the afternoon taking in the renaissance, baroque, impressionism, and naturalism paintings from all over the world including famous works of art from Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt.

One weekend we looked into seeing a tango show. While doing research online, I saw that prices for a dinner tango show were upwards of $150 USD per person and the reviews for the food were terrible. Through my investigation, I found a small list of the Top Tango Shows in Buenos Aires from Travel and Leisure. On the list was Centro Cultural Borges, which offers inexpensive, yet world class tango shows 4 nights a week. The show doesn’t include dinner but the ticket price was a fraction of the cost at only $25 per person. They don’t sell tickets online, so the day of the show we walked to Centro Cultural Borges to purchased our tickets. Once we had our tickets we decided to window shop in a beautiful mall connected to the cultural center on Floridia street. Later in the evening, we came back for our tango show, Bien de Tango. Our seats were great and the show was filled with mesmerizing dancing, extravagant costumes, and a live orchestra including a very talented accordion player. The accordion player might have been the star of the show. It was an incredible experience I will never forget.

 Centro Cultural Borges - Buenos Aires Argentina - Tip Top Planning

To finish up June, I took a salsa lesson with a small women’s group from InterNations at La Viruta. Though our trip has been amazing, it’s also been difficult being away from our friends and family. My girl’s night out was the perfect medicine. Afterward, Drew met me for dinner at Nola, a Creole restaurant in Palermo. We ordered spicy gumbo and the daily special, chicken and waffles. It was the most incredible and delicious meal we had so far in Buenos Aires, especially the sweet and salty chicken and waffles. We will definitely be back!

What is your favorite form of entertainment when you travel?

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Dos and Don'ts of Professional Event Planning

Before leaving it all behind to travel in South America, I was a professional Event Planner for several high-end, fast paced venues in San Francisco, CA. I learned a lot about dealing with clients, navigating the business world and the event planning process. I had some amazing highs and some painful low moments in my career, but I came out the other side stronger with a new found love of sharing my passions and knowledge. Here are my dos and don’ts of professional event planning. 


Respect peoples budgets

I started as an event planner in the height of the recession. The hospitality industry definitely took a hit. Regardless, it seemed like people were choosing to spend their money on a great experience. Companies were still hosting holiday parties, meetings, and business dinners. People were still celebrating major life events such as weddings, birthday parties, and baby showers. I learned fast that although these events were still happening, the “purse strings” weren’t as open as they may have once been and every event is going to have a different bottom line. This is especially true for social events. You are often working with a host who is paying for the event with their hard earned, hard saved money. It’s important to be respectful of their budgets and help find ways to cut back if needed.


Be afraid to stick to the rules

Clients will sometimes want to push the rules. Whether it’s extending their party members, hanging decorations, congregating in the lobby, or not wanting to pay for service staff, it can put you in a difficult situation. I try to understand where they are coming from, but my job is to enforce the policies. I do it to protect myself because I know that if I stick to the rules my bosses will back me up. If I don’t enforce the rules, then I could jeopardize my job, the safety of our staff, and the success of the event. If a client ever has a strange request, I always involve my superior. It shows that I am going to bat for my client and takes the heat off of me for making the ultimate decision.


Be patient

As an event planner, you will often work with clients who are not professional event planners. It could be an Executive Assistant who is helping their boss plan a company dinner, a bride planning her special day, or a Groom’s Mother planning a rehearsal dinner to impress her guests. It’s important to be patient throughout the planning process. You will get the same questions asked a million times and some odd requests. Some days it will make you want to tear your hair out as your cry and laugh hysterically like a maniac. Trust me, I’ve been there! Take a few deep breaths, take a walk around the block, and center yourself before going back to work. If you understand that they aren’t professionals, you’ll have an easier time walking your clients through the planning process.

Be unresponsive

Nothing is more frustrating for clients than working with a planner who never responds. I’ve been on both sides of event planning and I am amazed at how unresponsive people can be. It’s downright unprofessional! If you really want to make your clients happy and impress them, communicate in a timely manner. If I am ever too busy to get back to someone right away I will write them a simple email saying “I wanted to let you know that I received your email. I am having a very busy day today working on an urgent matter. I will get back to you shortly. Is there a good time we can schedule a time to discuss this further?”. They often appreciate the honesty and are happy to know that you’ve seen their request and have it on your agenda.

Give clients alternate options

Sometimes your client's first option is not available. When this happens, don’t turn the business away; Often they are flexible on the date of their event. Look at the dates that surround their choice to see if another day would work for them. Luckily I worked for venues that had multiple rooms so I was also able to give them other venue options. Even if the client is not able to move dates or has to have a specific room in mind, telling them about other options and availability showed you are trying to accommodate them. I would often receive requests from a potential client months or even years later for a different event.


Assume you know everything

I had been in the Event Planning business for about 3 years when I started working for a yacht club and thought I was a pro. Boy was I wrong! I had a lot to still learn, especially when it came to Audio Visual. The first company I worked for used an outside AV company who worked directly with the client on their needs. At my next job, we provided the AV in-house. I started getting complicated requests, like having multiple TV’s playing or using multiple microphones at the same time. Sometimes it would be easier to just say, “yes, we can do that” or “no, that’s not something we can do” but I had to learn. In order to understand our AV capabilities, I reached out to my set-up team to explain the logistics. After a while, I started to have a better grasp. By using my set-up team as a learning resource, I became a stronger planner and communicator for both my clients and staff.

Keep your clients aware

Like I mentioned before, many of my clients are not professional event planners, so it’s important to keep them informed of your policies. When I sent my clients the contract, I always included an email detailing the timeline requirements; such as the menu selection due 1 month prior, final details due 2 weeks prior and a final head count due 1 week prior. Since most people forget, I also followed up about 2-4 weeks prior to the first deadline to remind them of their specific due dates and request to schedule a time to finalize their event details. Food and beverage minimums are also important to keep track of. Once the details are finalized, I would send my clients an estimated cost breakdown. This would give them an understanding of the overall price but also gave me the opportunity to remind them if they aren’t meeting the minimum costs.

Overbook yourself

The prospect of booking new business can put a “blind spot” on what your facility can actually handle. One of the biggest issues my with companies’ was having enough banquet staff to service all of the events I booked. It wasn’t only the servers that struggled during busy times, the kitchen team struggled to put food out on time and our set up team would make mistakes. Some months I had a huge financial budget to meet, so I would book everything that came across my desk. During these times, I learned to turn down business that was not worthwhile.  My Pro tips: Leave plenty of time between events for your set up team to flip the rooms. If you have multiple parties on the same day, try to have your clients select similar menus. Have your chef create a smaller menu for the high season (ie. Holiday menus). Hire temporary staff or seasonal staff well in advance. Having three dinners starting at the same time puts your kitchen staff in an impossible situation, so try staggering event start times helps alleviate problems.

Be detailed and communicate

Having a detailed event order, sometimes known as a Banquet Event Order (BEO), is key to a successful event. Each event has their own specific needs and communicating these requirements is a significant part of an Event Planner’s job. You should take this a step further by communicating the specific details of the BEO to different departments. Most venues have a weekly or bi-weekly BEO meetings to discuss the basics and details of events with department leaders. This is a great time to ask questions and delegate tasks. The day of the event, the execution falls into the hands of other departments like the kitchen, set up and service staff. It is  important to interact with each department during this time. I always check the setup of the rooms, test audio visual equipment, and confirm any fine details with the team. I talk to the Chef to make sure we are running on time and remind the kitchen of special requirements like dietary restrictions and vendor meals. I also check in with the front desk staff to make sure our reader board is correct and communicate delivery details. When the service staff is onsite, I go through the BEO in detail. This gives me a chance to answer any questions and recap specific details of the event. Sometimes it is hard to trust that other people will do the job right. If you have an accurate detailed Banquet Event Order, clearly communicate the client’s needs to each department, and follow up the day of the event, you will create a positive occasion for the client, the company and yourself.

Get defensive

Issues will arise throughout the planning and execution of events. Often times they are out of your control; the room wasn’t set up correctly, a staff member was rude, or the food was late. It’s easy to get defensive and make excuses, but once it’s at this point the client doesn’t care about your explanations. It comes back to understanding your clients want to feel heard. If you are apologetic, empathetic, take responsibility and offer a fair refund, your client will have a higher chance to come back. According to a study by the Carey Institute of Business at Arizona State University in 2013, when businesses offered an apology with fair compensation, the customer satisfaction doubled from 37% to 74%! Clearly, empathy over defensiveness is the best way to deal with problems. 

Are you interested in becoming an Event Planner? Do you have any event planning tips?

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Week Four & Five - Buenos Aires

We’ve been getting out more and more the last few weeks even though winter is definitely upon Buenos Aires. It’s been raining a lot and the temperature has dropped to the low 50’s.

Drew wanted to find a grocery store that sold turkey deli meat. After some research online, he found Jumbo Supermarkets. The nearest Jumbo is in the nearby port-side neighborhood of Puerto Madero, about 25 minutes away. One late afternoon we set out in the drizzling rain to find the upscale supermarket. We found more than we expected! A Wholefood style store on the bottom floor of a brand new high-rise. We loaded up on deli meat, gourmet cheeses, fresh sandwich rolls, canned black beans, peanut butter, and craft beer. We wandered each aisle for an hour & half and loaded up on over $100 in food!

A few days later, we attended our second InterNations event, a small dinner at Siamo nel Forno, a Napolitano style pizza restaurant. Check out my recent post to read about our first InterNations event.

We arrived at Siamo nel Forno in Palermo and were warmly greeted by the group. After introductions, we learned that our dinner companions came from all over the globe including Argentina, Italy, Israel, Chile, and Brazil. As the beer started flowing, the group chatted about work, our world travel experiences, and hometowns. It got pretty confusing when our group started conversing in multiple languages including English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, though they made a conscious effort to speak in English for us. They even gave us some great advice about our upcoming trips to Patagonia and Atacama.

Drew and I ordered the “Margherita con Salsiccia”. The thin crust pizza was topped with tangy marinara sauce, rich pork and fennel sausage, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil which came piping hot out of the Italian wood fire oven. Siamo nel Forno’s pizza stands out among Buenos Aires’ saturated pizza market with its traditional and unique pizza toppings. Each pizza is made with high-quality ingredients imported from Italy. It is certainly on par with some of our favorite pizza places in San Francisco like Tony’s and Gioia and is by far the best pizza we have had in Buenos Aires.

A few days later, Drew and I decided to have a date night. Earlier in the week, we explored the Westside of the neighborhood. We found a cute tree-lined street full of restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream parlors and decided to head there for our night out. After viewing the menu at a few bistros we chose to have dinner at a charming restaurant with an old world vibe called Club Social. We were greeted by our friendly and stunning waitress, who helped us decipher the menu. We split a Caesar salad to start. I ordered a pisco sour and oso bucco with creamy risotto. Drew ordered a beer and ribs with a baked potato. We had ourselves quite the feast and had the leftovers boxed up.

After dinner, we decided to have a nightcap at our neighborhood speakeasy bar called Doppelgänger. They had a huge list of specialty cocktails broken into categories like martinis, whiskey cocktails, creamy cocktails, sparkling cocktails, unique cocktails, and citrus cocktails. Drew ordered an old fashion and I had myself a vodka citrus cocktail. Doppelgänger delivered awesome cocktail and interesting people watching with lots of PDA.

The rest of the week was slow for us as we dodged the rain, cooked, and watched YouTube. I caught up on my guilty pleasures, Dancing with the Stars and the Bachelorette. We decided to hire a cleaning lady our AirBNB host recommended to tidy up our apartment. For $20 she would clean the apartment and water the plants for 4 hours. While the cleaning lady came, we put Posey in her Sherpa and set out for happy hour at a local brewery, Antares. We drank a few pints and shared an order of nachos. After the brewery, we decided to go to dinner. Though it was early for dinner by Argentina’s standards, we found an open nearby Indian restaurant called Delhi Masala. I ordered Masala tea with milk, which is made with cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, star anise, ginger, and cinnamon. We split an order of chicken masala, saffron rice, and garlic naan bread. We told our waitress that we wanted the chicken to be muy picante (very spicy). When our food arrived, we dug in. The food was pretty good although the chicken was not spicy. Luckily, we were given a few sauces including Raita, a cucumber and yogurt sauce, and a spicy paste. The paste helped kick up the spice level a few notches.

We came home to clean apartment and a sleepy dog. Unfortunately, a few days later our AirBnB host sent us a message saying that the cleaning lady complained about the condition of the apartment. She claimed that Posey had peed and we had ruined the apartment. She even accused us of stealing her sheets and couch cover! We were totally flabbergasted by these allegations. We have been diligent about taking Posey out to go to the bathroom and the apartment was spotless after the cleaning. I took photographs of the “condition” and of all the sheets and couch cover. I wrote her back disputing the claims and sent pictures. Later that night, we received a message saying she still believed that Posey had peed and that she was taking it to AirBnB. I asked where the cleaning lady claimed to find the dog urine and I was told it was under the desk in the office/closet area. Our host told me the area had been cleaned with bleach. Then she hit us with a $300 fee to have the cleaner come once a week and pay for the bedding and rugs cleaned twice throughout our stay. We had 72 hours to counter or pay.

Before responding, we decided to examine the area where the “urine” was found and what we discovered truly shocked us! We didn’t find any evidence (smell or stains) of dog urine. However, we did realize there is a ton of mold, water damage, and water leaking! The entire wall under the desk was, and still is, bubbling with mold and water damage. There is water leaking through the seams in the floor and into the bookcase resting against the wall. I took pictures of the evidence and wrote my response. We then wrote AirBnB our side of the story detailing of the current situation. We offered $40 to have the cleaning lady come two more times throughout our stay. Then we waited…

Have you ever had a bad experience with an AirBnB host or landlord? Please leave your comment below.

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9 Tips to Survive Abroad Without Knowing the Language

Traveling to a foreign country is always so exciting but it can also be incredible intimidating if you don’t know the language. Nothing is worse than feeling completely lost and alone while being so far away from home. Though English is spoken worldwide by 1.5 billion people, you are still likely to find yourself in a situation where no one understands you while traveling abroad. Whether it's ordering food at a local café, telling the taxi driver your destination, or asking a street vendor the price of that amazing leather handbag, knowing how to get by can be very useful. Here are some tips I have picked up throughout my travels in Europe, South America, and Middle East to help me survive abroad without knowing the language.

1.    Carry a small notebook and pen

This has saved me so many times! When I was in Athens, Greece my friends and I were taking a ferry to a smaller island and needed to get to the port. Our taxi driver couldn’t understand us or where we were trying to go. I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the port name to show the driver. It was easier for him to visually see the words than it was to try and understand our sad attempt at the Greek language. Ever since then, I always travel around with a small notebook. I also use my notebook to draw simple and universal symbols like a toilet or dollar sign to communicate the bathroom or bank. A cross or waves can help you communicate local sites such as a church or the beach. Playing Pictionary might be an easier and less painful way to get your point across.

2.    Have a few key phrases in your back pocket

Learning a few common sayings before your trip is a great way to feel confident while traveling abroad. I like to know how to say a handful of basic phrases such as “yes”, “no”, “where is…”, “how much is…”, “please”, “thank you”, “sorry” and “Do you speak English?”. Making an effort to speak in the native tongue will get you very far in most countries and help you survive your trip abroad. Speaking of in your “back pocket”, carrying a travel size phrase book is very helpful, especially if you aren’t great with languages. If you prefer the digital route, check out the IStone app. IStone is a digital phrasebook that teaches more than 300 everyday phrases involving all the aspects of traveling. It is limited on the number of languages, however they have recently added Spanish and German.

3.    Download travel apps

Speaking of apps, when I studied abroad almost 10 years ago, having easily access to unlimited information wasn’t an option. Now when I travel, I have my smart phone loaded with handy apps to help me communicate and understand the country I’m visiting. I recommend Google Translate, which interprets words and phrases in over 50 languages. Here in Argentina I am constantly using Google Translate, especially at the grocery store and when eating out. Narrowing down 15 types of “crème” to find sour cream is next to impossible without Google Translate. Some other travel apps I constantly use are TripIt, XE Currency, Skyscanner, Hopper, TripAdvisor, Rome2Rio and WhatsApp. Keep an eye out for my future post about my top travel apps. 

4.    Hire a local guide or book a tour

Hiring a local guide can be relatively inexpensive in some countries and is a great way to learn about the culture and history of an area. When I travel, I enjoying doing touristy things but also I like to see how the natives live their day to day lives. A local guide can give you a glimpse of the local life and help communicate for you throughout your visit. As a woman with fair skin, blond hair and green eyes, there are some countries that it might be necessary to hire a guide for safety reasons. I also recommend booking an English speaking tour group. Often inexpensive and usually including transportation, tour groups are a fantastic way to learn about the history and culture of the area you are visiting. When I was visiting my family in Jerusalem, Israel, I paid for an English speaking tour of the old city. Though I could have explored the area by myself, being part of a group tour made me feel secure. I learned so much about the history and culture of Jerusalem from my guide and I even got to try fresh pita bread right from the oven!

5.    Hand Gestures

Non-verbal communication is the most universal language and unbelievably helpful when traveling abroad! Whenever I am in a foreign county, I use hand gestures all the time. Nonverbal communication, like pointing, can help to decipher directions from a helpful local or assist in communicating a menu order. Miming or charades can also be a great way to get your point across. Be sure to research hand gestures prior to your travel because some hand gestures have unique meanings that are specific to the culture. This leads me to the next tip.

6.    Understanding cultural etiquette

As mentioned above, some hand gestures such as the okay sign or thumbs up can be seen as offensive in some cultures. It’s important to investigate the national response to certain hand motions and socially acceptable communication styles of the country you are visiting. While traveling in Argentina, we learned that their definition of personal space is a lot closer than Americans are used to. They also give a kiss on the cheek to say hello and good bye. Japan is known for being very conscious about etiquette and manners whereas Brazil is very laid back. Knowing the basic cultural etiquette will keep you from getting yourself in a sticky situation.

7.    Talk with a concierge

Whenever I travel and stay in a hotel, I always talk with the concierge. They have incredible insight to the area and are always friendly. They are knowledgeable about local attractions, nearby restaurants, and booking tours. I’ve even gone into hotels that I’m not staying at to ask their concierge for directions when I am lost. The concierge often speaks English and is happy to help point you in the right direction. They are also great with arranging transportation. When we were in Dubrovnik, our flight was leaving incredibly early the next day and we needed a ride to the airport. We went and spoke with our concierge about our transportation possibilities. She offered us a variety of options including a black car, taxi, and shuttle bus with pricing for all options. We opted for a taxi. Our concierge not only arranged for the taxi pick up but also an early morning wake-up call so we didn’t miss our flight.

8.    Maps

First thing I do when I arrive in a new city is grab a paper map. It’s super old school and you may stand out as a tourist if your obvious about using it, but it can come in handy. When I travel, I like to take public transportation. Paper maps illustrate public transportation routes, indicating direction and stops. You can usually find free maps at airports, tourist information offices and train/bus stations. If you prefer to go with a digital map, Google maps now offers offline map downloads. TripAdvisor also features downloadable offline map of major tourist area. I like to use TripAdvisor because you can save local restaurants, hotels, and things to do which show up on their offline map.

9.    Figure out transportation from airport

Nothing is more stressful than arriving at the airport or train station and not knowing how to get to your hotel. Before coming to Argentina, we decided to hired a taxi driver to come pick us up from the airport and take us to our Airbnb. Usually we would take public transportation or pick up a cab at the airport, however we felt hiring a taxi driver ahead of time would be best for our circumstances. Partially because we read to be cautious about taking random taxis from the airport and we had just traveled 35 long hours with a dog (read about our first week here). When we went to Amsterdam on our honeymoon, I was much more relaxed about transportation because I had been to Amsterdam once before while studying abroad. I knew that public transportation from the airport to the city center was extremely easy to navigate. Of course, I grabbed a free map which helped us navigate the metro system to our hotel. When arranging for transportation from the airport I always consider the following: public transportation accessibility, taxi costs and safety, the day and time of arrival, and distance. If you are arriving late at night or on a holiday, it may be best to take a taxi because sometimes public transportation is limited at night, on weekends, and holidays.

I hope these tips come in handy for you as much as they have for me! How do you get by without knowing the language? 

Please leave your tips and comments below! We look forward to hearing from you! 

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Week Two & Three - Buenos Aires

After an exciting week one, Drew and I have started settling into life in Buenos Aires. In our former life, we were sort of homebodies and to be honest, not much has changed. We love to cook together, watch TV, & play with Posey. I know what you are thinking, this “shut-in” is writing about her adventurous travel experiences?

Fun with Posey

Determined not to fall into a similar routine, I started researching expat groups in Buenos Aires. The first result on google was a group called InterNations. I signed myself up and began searching through the site’s features. InterNations has chapters worldwide and offers smaller subgroups based on your interests. The subgroups meet up about once a month all over the city, however when I clicked to find out where the events were being located, I realized you have to pay a monthly or yearly fee to be an active member. Not ready to commit to payment, I moved onto my usual internet activity of Facebook, twitter, and TMZ.

A few days later I check out the website again and noticed that InterNations was hosting an “official” event the following day. The official events allow basic members to attend these events for a small fee. I signed us up and looked for the best way to get there. Located in Palermo SoHo, Borges 1975 calls itself a bar, theater and bookstore. We decided to walk from San Telmo to Palermo, even though it said it was an hour and half walk. I thought to myself, it’s a great way to get to know the city, but in reality I was feeling anxious about trying to navigate the subway system during rush hour.

I am not sure why I’ve been feeling more intimidated on this trip than I have on any other trip. I am very comfortable using public transportation. In fact, there have been long stretches in my life where public transit is the only form of transportation I have. While studying abroad in Florence, Italy and throughout my time in San Francisco, I was limited to riding the bus or Muni (in SF). I rode the Eurorail throughout Italy and even took an overnight train to Paris. I’ve ridden the subways in NYC, Paris, & Rome. For our honeymoon in Croatia I hardly planned our transportation before getting there. We boarded ferries and took bus to get from one location to the next, figuring it out along the way. So why am I scared to ride the subway in Buenos Aires? I have read countless articles and blog posts about how easy it is to navigate but for some reason I didn’t feel like pushing myself into an uncomfortable situation.

So we walked, a long, long ways. After 2 hours of walking, we arrived sweaty and our feet hurting. We both wished we wore different shoes but I was determined to have a good time and put myself out there. We were greeted at the front and were given a drink token. About 20 people had already arrived and were mingling in the brick courtyard. We went straight inside to the bar for our free glass of wine to loosen up a bit. We sat inside at a table as more people arrived for the mixer. After about an hour of working the room inside and we still weren’t getting any friend action. Though our legs and feet were tired, perhaps sitting down wasn’t the most approachable way to meet people so we decided to stand outside in the courtyard.

After a few minutes of standing around, the group behind us made a comment about the terrible pizza in Buenos Aires. We turned around and jumped in the conversation. We had our in!

We were immediately introduced to the group and asked about our time in Buenos Aires. We told them that we had walked from San Telmo to Palermo and they all laughed, saying “that’s how American’s like to get to know a city”. We quickly exchanged Facebook information with two guys. The first was from Vancouver, Canada, had residency in London, and was living in Sao Palo, Brazil. The other was from Buenos Aires and had just moved back from Santiago, Chile to venture into the startup world. They had met through InterNations years ago while both living in Santiago, Chile and had stayed connected over the years. We also met a stunning beauty from Poland who had also just arrived in Buenos Aires and was traveling throughout South America by herself. She had a great job that allowed her to work remotely.

Later in the evening we got to chatting with an older woman, who was from Colorado. After her divorce, she bought an apartment in Buenos Aires and has been living here for 10 years. We also got to chatting with a charismatic Australian girl, who has been living here on and off for the last 3 years. She was completely fluent in Spanish and credited it to intensive language classes the second time she moved here. The first time she moved to Buenos Aires, she taught English, which made it difficult for her to learn Spanish. She gave us a list of restaurant recommendations in our neighborhood and a good pizza place in Palermo.

We decided to call it a night and left the event around midnight. We found a radio taxi and attempted to give the driver our destination who was unable to understand us. After a few minutes of trying to communicate, we successfully gave him cross streets to more well-known streets in our neighborhood. 30 minutes later and only getting lost once, we arrived close to our house. We were so surprised that our total fare was around $10USD.

The following week, I came down with a cold. Most of the week was spent inside except for a few walks around the neighborhood. After a few days of R&R, we ventured out in search of good pizza.

Before moving here, I learned that Argentina is the third highest pizza consumer in the world per capita, trailing behind USA & Italy. Needless to say, we had high hopes for great, unique Argentinean pizza. Unfortunately, after a few attempts, we have been pretty unimpressed. While the Argentinians are happy with their style of pizza, it’s pretty bland to us. The dough is thick and not very crispy. There is hardly any marinara sauce which is then covered by a copious amount of flavorless cheese. They usually throw on some ham and my least favorite, tomatoes! They add an olive on each slice, which is really the only flavor bite you get. They top it with a bit of seasoning but I still find myself having to add salt on top, which something I’ve never had to do before!

So after a few failed attempts at stumbling into any old pizza place, Drew started searching for the best pizza in Buenos Aires. Filo was the closest, about a 45-minute walk. It was also relatively nearby the famous La Recoleta Cemetery, which I suggested we go to after lunch.

Our walk took us through the downtown district of Buenos Aires. I loved seeing all of the business men and women chatting and laughing with co-workers on their lunch break eating at trendy fast causal restaurants.

Once we arrived at Filo, where we were quickly seated. The place is quirky with bright murals, yellow table clothes and a sexy women statue. We flipped through the menu and ordered some beers and the Escotia pizza, which included yummy tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, serrano ham, pepperoncini and fresh parmesan.  It was thin, crispy, rich and packed full of flavor.

After lunch we started our walk towards the cemetery. It was farther than I thought, but on our way we walk through several parks. As we walked through the gates of the cemetery, we were immediately transported back in time. The Recoleta Cemetery is a well maintained, massive and magnificent burial grounds for Argentina’s former rich, famous and military elite. As we wandered through the labyrinth of mausoleums, we noticed that tombs ranged from simple to lavish. Crafted out of granite, bricks, and stone, many of the mausoleums feature beautiful wrought iron gates, sculptures and stained glass windows. It’s incredible to see how people have honored their decreased ancestors with the finest materials.

Our trip to the cemetery actually brought up the conversation of how Drew and I would like to honored after we died. We both agreed cremation would be our preference however Drew also told me about this concept of being buried in a tree. You place your remains in an organic biodegradable pods or biodegradable urns which feeds the tree. I think it’s an eco-friendly option and wonderful way to be remembered.

If you are ever visiting Buenos Aires, I highly recommend visiting the Recoleta Cemetery, especially around dusk. It is free to visit the mausoleum and they offer free tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 am in English. For free tours in Spanish, visit on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 am and 3 pm.

There are many famous graves at the Recoleta Cemetery, however none are more notable than actress and first lady of Argentina, Eva (Evita) Peró. The story of how her body came to be at its final resting place is fascinating. After her early death in 1952, her body was embalmed and Argentina began constructing a massive monument, where her body was intended to be laid to rest. During the creation of the shrine, her body remained in her office at the CGT building, however military dictatorship overtook the current regime and her body was lost for 16 years! In 1971 the military revealed that her body was buried in Milan, Italy and finally brought back to Argentina in 1974. You can now visit her at the Duarte Family tomb.

Do you know of any fascinating afterlife stories? Have you ever visited a cemetery on a vacation?

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12 Redwood Wedding Venues in the Bay Area

I can’t believe it has already been 2 years since Drew ask me to marry him on a foggy day in San Francisco! As soon as we were engaged, I started planning our dream wedding right away. Being an event planner for a wedding venue, I knew the destination would set the tone and style for our wedding, impacting our decisions throughout the planning process. Drew and I grew up in Northern California and both love the majestic redwoods surrounding our hometowns. We were living in San Francisco and narrowed our search to venues in the greater Bay Area that featured redwoods. We agreed on a Fall wedding, so I wanted a space that would allow us to have an outdoor ceremony with cocktail reception and indoor dinner and dancing. Price was an important factor for us during our search, as well as corkage fee prices, vendor requirements, and inclusions. Here is a list of some of my favorite redwood venues we found.

*Please note that the prices and policies mentioned are based on information received for 2015 and may have changed since then.

1.  The Outdoor Art Club - Mill Valley, CA

We had our wedding at the Outdoor Art Cub (OAC) in October 2015 and it was an amazing day. The OAC is not only beautiful but it checked most of the boxes on our list. Upon first visiting the space I fell in love with the enchanted garden courtyard, the historic Arts & Crafts style of architecture and of course the giant redwoods surrounding the ceremony space. The main building features a library which we used for our cake & photobooth area, a kitchen, bathrooms, and the main hall. The main hall is stunning with hardwood floors, original chandeliers and sconces, a large stone fireplace, and stage. Built in 1904, the Outdoor Art Club has been serving as a non-profit women’s club. The town of Mill Valley is absolutely adorable and is only 20 minutes outside of San Francisco. Though the OAC is in the middle of downtown Mill Valley, it is completely private. The space can hold up to 160 guests, however, that does not include an indoor dancefloor for guests. The Outdoor Art Club is ideal for events with guest counts between 100-120 people. The rental price is under $4K, which is a rare find in the bay area. The chairs (which are actually beautiful) and tables are included in the rental fee. You have access to the space from 10 AM – 11 pm (clean up and out by midnight). Since there wasn’t an event the day before we were able to arrange with the grounds keeper to set up the day before, which was so helpful! Another great thing about the OAC is you get to select all of your own vendors, except they do have a required list of caterers. This list includes at least 30 caterers to choose from at all price points. I highly recommend working with Terry with CaterMarin! A few things to consider are the noise ordinance and parking. They don’t allow for super loud or outdoor music after 9 pm, though this really wasn’t an issue for us. There is no dedicated parking, however there is plenty of metered parking that ends at 6pm. We just told our guests to arrive a ½ hour early to give plenty of time for parking. It was an incredible day that I will never forget and the Outdoor Art Club was the perfect setting for my dream wedding.

2.  Piedmont Community Hall - Piedmont, CA 

While scrolling through my Facebook feed one day, pictures of the Piedmont Community Hall caught my eye. I saved the space in my memory and when I got engaged, it was the first place I reached out to. I loved the character of this place within a pretty park setting. The Piedmont Community Center features a large brick courtyard, Mediterranean architecture, beautiful chandeliers and an adjacent Japanese tea house. Behind the hall is a small redwood grove that can be used for a ceremony, however the space can be a bit awkward. It seems like most couples had their ceremonies in front of a nearby fountain, however I didn’t like how open the space is to the public. The indoor hall can hold about 120 guest without a dance floor and the outside courtyard hosts up to 200. The circular courtyard is beautiful with a large tree in the center. Most of the photos I saw, showed events with dinner set up outside and the indoor space used for cocktail reception and dancing. Since the bay area weather can be unpredictable and temperatures drop quickly at night, I preferred to find a venue that offered dinner and dancing indoors, which is the main reason why we didn’t choose the Piedmont Community Hall as our wedding venue. The price is right though for at around $3,000 for 8 hours and it too included tables and chairs.

3.  Sequoia Retreat Center - Ben Lomond, CA

Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sequoia Retreat Center offers plenty of redwoods. After reaching out, I learned that this venue has a (3) day minimum and a price tag of almost $10K. Outside of my budget, I quickly nixed this one but it’s worth mentioning. They can host up to 150 guests for outdoor events and offer 12 cabins and onsite camping (at an additional fee). They do include tables, chairs, glassware, silverware, and plates if you select their caterer, which is a plus. Their award winning caterer is actually fairly reasonably priced. It seems like a very special place but it just didn’t fit out needs.

4.  Nestldown - Los Gatos, CA

This place is a stunner! The ceremony location is in a beautiful redwood grove amphitheater and the reception and dinner are located on a grass area and well maintained barn. The grounds feature acers of ponds, meadows and gardens. Nestldown is truly is a special place however the price tag is a hard one to swallow, ranging between $10K-$17K for a 9-hour event on Saturdays (including set up and breakdown). They do offer discounts for Thursday, Friday & Sunday events and their pricing does include tables and chairs. They can host up to 200 guests and have some required vendors. A few unique features of the venue include use of a vintage London taxi for the bridal party and mini train that can take your guests on a ride around the grounds during cocktail hour. It’s definitely worth viewing if you are looking for a fairytale wedding and have deep pockets!

5.  The Mountain Terrace - Woodside, CA

Located on the edge of Woodside, CA the ceremony at The Mountain Terrace takes place in a large meadow surrounded by redwoods overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Does it get any more perfect than that? The Mountain Terrace can accommodate up to 130 guests seated in either the indoor lodge or the outdoor two level deck. The lodge features a large antique bar, two stone fireplaces and an area for dancing. The rental fees for a Saturday are around $5,500 for 8 hours (including set up and breakdown). They do included tables, chairs, and an arbor for the ceremony. They are a full service facility, meaning they provide the food and beverage, however they do have the option to use another pre-approved caterer at an additional fee. Since my in-laws generously provided the wine and beer for our wedding, we were looking for a location that offered free corkage. The Mountain Terrace charges a $20 corkage fee, which is one of the main reasons we didn’t move forward with the venue.

6.  Deer Park Villa – Fairfax, CA

Originally owned by the Ghirardelli family, Deer Park Villa is set amongst towering redwoods and can accommodate 150 indoors and 350 outdoors. A Saturday wedding cost around $6,000 for a 6-hour event plus 2 hours to set up and 1 ½ hours for break down. The price includes a bridal room, tables, chairs, bridal suite and complimentary parking. They are full service facility, meaning they provide all the food and beverages. Something unique about Deer Park is they offer full wedding planning services for an additional fee.

7.  YMCA Camp Campbell - Boulder Creek, CA

Located in the Santa Cruz mountains, Camp Campbell will bring you back the simpler times of summer camp. They have a preferred 2-night minimum for events and overnight accommodations. The camp features bunk style cabins that can accommodate up to 225 guests. The rental for Friday night – Sunday morning events is $8,000 and includes tables, chairs, flatware, and silverware as well as access to activities like an archery range, basketball courts, and hiking trails. They also offer the use of a swimming pool, rock climbing and rope courses for an additional fee. They are a full service facility and the price for overnight accommodations includes breakfast & lunch on Saturday and a Sunday buffet. One thing to keep in mind with Camp Campbell is that they do not have a liquor license, so in order to offer beer and wine your event insurance must include an alcoholic beverage clause. The venue itself features an outdoor chapel which can accommodate up to 150 seated guests, and two log cabin style lodges seating between 150-250 guests. One thing to keep in mind for Camp Campbell is that they book multiple events a weekend, so you may be sharing meals with other campers, with the exception of the rehearsal and reception dinner. This place is loaded with rustic charm and nostalgia and is great for a full weekend event!

8.  Sand Rock Farm - Aptos, CA

Sand Rock Farm is a bed and breakfast providing exclusive access to ten acres of trees, gardens, meadows and fountains. They offer several indoor and outdoor venue options including a multilevel deck looking over the Shade Garden, the Redwood Grove, Walnut Grove, the Historic Carriage Barn (indoors), the 1885 Barrel Aging Cellar, an expansive Winery Meadow with a Redwood Heart Pavilion, and a renovated Redwood Milling area called the Wine Pavilion. Sand Rock Farm can accommodate up to 200 guests outside and 100 guests inside. Their pricing is based on a per person price of around $125 for a 5-hour event and includes site fees for a ceremony and reception, buffet dinner, and rentals including, tables, chairs, linens, silver, china, and glassware. Beverage pricing is separate and they have a reasonable corkage fee of $12 per bottle. The bed and breakfast has 5 guests room and all 5 can be rented for $1,000 per night. Sand Rock Farms is a very beautiful venue that offers many different venue options that practically no two weddings are the same.

9.  Amphitheatre of the Redwoods at Pema Osel Ling – Watsonville, CA 

Pema Osel Ling is a retreat outside of Santa Cruz, featuring groves of colossal redwood trees and is surrounded by rolling lawns and beautiful views of Monterey Bay. They offer multiple locations for ceremonies and receptions including Amphitheatre of the Redwoods, Bay View Meadows, Gallery Meadows, and Celebration Hall and Lawn. The highlight of course is fairy ring Amphitheatre of the Redwoods, a circle of redwoods born from one “grandmother” tree. All the roots are intertwined, creating an incredibly strong bond. The perfect metaphor for the start of a marriage!  Accommodating up to 110 guests indoors and 300 outdoors, Pema Osel Ling also has required onsite lodging for 52 and 24 camping spaces. Pricing is based on time of year and day of the week which is around $7,000 during the peak season. They offer organic onsite catering and allow hosts to provide their own alcohol at no additional fee. Meal prices include table, chairs, linens, glassware, china, and flatware. Pema Osel Ling also offers no curfew for events, which is great for late night bonfires! 

10.  The Union Hotel - Occidental, CA

Off the beaten path is the Union Hotel in Occidental California, a family owned Italian eatery, with amazing food! Ceremonies take place in a nearby redwood grove and the reception is in the Bocce Ballroom at their nearby downtown restaurant. The Bocce Room is eclectic and retro. Since weddings are not their main focus, they don’t feature their capacities or pricing online and didn’t include any of this information during our correspondence. From what I can recall, there was not a rental fee just food, beverage, and labor charges and their food pricing was incredibly reasonable. It also included tables, chairs, linens, glassware, flatware, and china. They could accommodate our guest count of 120, but the Bocce Ballroom seemed like a better fit for 75-100 people with a dancefloor. Another great feature the Union Hotel is their many properties they own throughout Occidental, which are required to rent for an additional fee nightly fee. Each property is unique, charming, and historical. The Union Hotel was actually our second choice for our wedding venue, but the ceremony and receptions locations are about ¼ a mile apart, which was for me the biggest downfall. I also really wanted to have the reception at the main property at the redwood grove, which unfortunately not an option since the food is prepared onsite at the Union Hotel. I highly recommend this location for anyone who is looking for a unique and inexpensive venue with excellent food!

11. Stones and Flowers - Ben Lomond, CA

This place is straight out of a fairytale! Stones and Flowers offers 48 hours of exclusive use of a stunning rustic barn for wedding reception and 21 cabins for your guest accommodations. The price tag for 48-hour use is around $13,000, however they do offer discounts for booking early and for booking all 21 cabins, which are an additional fee. The rental fee includes tables and chairs, bride/groom suites for getting ready, and 12-hours for set up and an 8-hour event. Ceremonies typically take place on the Ceremony Patio which features mossy curved rock wall with colorful flowers and towering redwoods. The cocktail reception take place under the redwood fairy ring and the gorgeous barn is the setting for dinner. The barn can accommodate up to 150 guests seated and features a small kitchen and a spiral staircase leading to a Juliet balcony, perfect for the bouquet toss! 


12.  Trocadero Clubhouse at Stern Grove – San Francisco, CA

Stern Grove is a fantastic venue for anyone looking to have a wedding in San Francisco and are on a budget. Located on the corner of 19th Avenue and Sloat, Stern Grove features a beautiful redwood grove perfect for a ceremony location, a large meadow, and the Trocadero House. The house includes grand room which can seat up to 120 guests with a working fireplace, a saloon room with a built in bar, an industrial kitchen, and an upstairs bridal suite. Built in 1892, the Victorian style has a large wrap-around porch, great for overflow space and cocktail receptions. The rental fee is around $2,500 for all day use and includes some tables and chairs, but you will have to rent additional chairs to accommodate a ceremony and reception. You select your own vendors including food and beverages. During our venue search, we visited Stern Grove and found the Trocadero to be a pretty run down and the restrooms smelled pretty bad. Since it is a public park there are a lot of rules and hidden costs, but it’s still a very affordable option for San Francisco. 

Did you look for something specific in your wedding venue search? Do you have any recommendations for other redwood wedding venues? 

Please share your comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Week One - Buenos Aires

Our trip from San Francisco to Buenos Aires was a lengthy one. It included two long layovers in El Salvador and Lima, Peru. When we arrived in Buenos Aires after 35 grueling hours, we experienced our first South American perception of “on time”, when our scheduled driver arrived an hour and half late to pick us up. Posey was so tired from our journey (or waiting for the driver) that she took a solid nap in her Sherpa. As we drove into the city we could immediately tell there was a celebration. There were happy Argentinians in buses being escorted by the local police.  We saw about 15 buses driving down the freeway with people hanging out of the windows, waving Argentina flags and chanting. Later we found out that they were local futbol fans.

When we arrived to our apartment, we were greeted by a neighbor who showed us the logistics of the apartment and made us sandwiches. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or if they were made with love, but those sandwiches were so good! We skyped both of our parents and went to bed. Lying in bed on our first night in our apartment, I cried. Fear rushed over me and I couldn’t hold back my emotions. What had I gotten us into? Would the money we saved be enough? Would we actually be able to generate some income through blogging and virtual assisting to keep us a float? My tears made me even more tired and I drifted off to sleep.

Also on our first night it rained! When I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I realized that our power had gone out. Without power meant no internet, so we couldn’t reach our landlord for help. Luckily, I brought a headlamp and after 15 minutes I found the circuit breaker hidden behind a large poster in the kitchen and turned the power back on.

The next day our goals were to find a bank, set up our new cell phones with international Sim Cards, and get groceries. We found a small grocery store right away only to find out they only take cash. One of the clerks pointed us in the right direction of an ATM. When we found the bank, the door was locked and the security guard waved his finger “NO” at us. Frustrated and confused, we went across the street to a tour group office we just found. One nice guy from the office spoke English and gave us directions to a few other banks close by.

After getting money out, we passed by a small bodega that sold sim cards or “chips”. I had done research on Argentina sim cards to get a sense of what each company offered and decide what the best company was for our needs. There are three companies that offer cellphone and data service, Movistar, Claro, and Personal. We decided to go with Movistar and put $50 Argentine pesos on each of our phones. We later found out (the hard way) that $50 only lasts for 1 week. 

Finally, we made it back to the grocery store. I love grocery shopping; however, it is a different experience in Argentina. Sometimes it feels like a game trying to figure out what some items are and at other times it can be stressful and annoying. In the States & especially California we are very fortunate to have beautiful produce year around.  So far we’ve only found very small selection of produce. In the future we’ve decided to shop at specialty stores to find better quality and wider variety of items.

I had a pretty positive first impression of our neighborhood and of Buenos Aires. It feels like you are in an Italian or French city with the very neoclassical architecture and cobblestone streets, though the vibe is a little bit grittier and more colorful. It’s not the cleanest city and there are a few stray dogs running around. There is also a lot of graffiti and street art on all the buildings. The people have been very nice and are understanding of our very broken Spanish. Our neighborhood is filled with restaurants, bars, and bodegas. There is a mix of classical antique shops and funky stores selling interesting and vibrant clothes and trinkets. The city feels very much alive especially after dark. We’ve adjusted pretty well to having a late lunch, usually around 2 or 3 pm and going out to dinner around 9 pm.

The rest of our week was pretty low key. I was busy working on my blog post, His, Hers & the Dog's Packing List and the cold Fall temperatures discouraged us from doing too much. We also wanted to be cautious about spending too much money. We did enjoy a few nice meals out including a fantastic steak dinner at a nearby restaurant called Babieca Parrilla. Though it was a great meal, our waiter seemed to make several mistakes including bringing me a different entrée and charging us more for certain items. I wish my Spanish was stronger so that I felt confident to say something. Drew suggested in the future we keep a menu in Spanish with us so that we can order our food in Spanish and double check the bill.

On Friday, we woke up to loud drumming, motorcycles, and firecrackers, which lasted from about 10 am to 5 pm. We had no idea what was going on so we went to out rooftop deck to find out. Later in the day we walked around the neighborhood to learn that the "marcha" was happening on almost every block and there were different groups representing their own flags and colors. Some streets were so crowded that we couldn't cross. It seemed as if everyone in the city had the day off and took to the streets. At first we thought it might be a protest or something to do with football. Later we found out that it was a political march of the five unions in Buenos Aires. Poor Posey was so scared from the loud noises!

On Sunday we decided to check out the famous Feria de San Telmo, an outdoor street fair with hundreds of vendors selling beautiful antiques, unique souvenirs, and art. At the Plaza Dorrego, there were several people dancing the tango and other creative street performers including windblown living statues and reggae bands. Throughout the fair there were vendors selling tasty treats likes churros, burritos, roasted nuts, dulce de leche filled crepes, grilled sausage sandwiches and empanadas. I bought a packet of incenses & a geometric sports bra and Drew got a bracelet & a wallet. It was a fun way to explore our neighborhood and end our first week.

What's your favorite way to explore a new city? 

Please share your comments below. We look forward to hearing your thoughts! 

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His, Hers & the Dog's Packing List

Our lives packed into a suitcase and backpack each!

Packing up the last 6 years of our lives was difficult but not as tough as packing our new lives into a suitcase and backpack each! Our biggest struggle was making sure that our suitcases weighed only 50 lbs. I’ve read several travel blogs that shared their minimalist approach to packing and I’ll be straight with you, that is not our case. Since we are “slow traveling”, meaning we are spending several weeks or months in one location, I didn’t feel it was necessary to pack ultra-light. Don’t get me wrong, we have downsized considerably compared to our apartment that was packed full of clothes (mostly mine) and storage filled to the brim with our “stuff”. For our trip, I found it beneficial to bring everyday items like a blow-dryer for myself and packets of Sriracha for my hubby. Here is what we decided to take with us on our adventure:

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