My North America Itinerary & Goals


The final countdown is officially on and I'm going on my first ever trip to North America in just over two weeks!

As you can imagine I'm extremely excited and I'm also very busy during this time - February has been the busiest month for me. I flew to Auckland twice, spent a week in Tauranga and my best friend is coming to stay for a week soon.

We only received our shipping container full of household stuff at the end of January, so we still haven't fully unpacked yet or completed setting up our new place.

All of this while organising my big trip and searching for work in each place has unfortunately left writing for my blog in the backseat.

But I thought I could at least update you a bit before I go away and tell you what I have coming up for my next big travel adventures, including goals for each place.

Here is a map of everywhere I'm going to over the space of four weeks in March and April:


Itinerary


• Thursday 8 - Sunday 11 March (4 nights)

Los Angeles, California 


On the Agenda:

- Disneyland!
- We Love LA full day tour
- Museum of Art
- Farmers Market
- Soak up Cali vibes
- Try all those iconic American food places (Shake Shack, Taco Bell, Cinnabon etc.)


Goals:

- Get a photo with the Hollywood sign
- Walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Visit Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier
- Have a blast at Disneyland



• Monday 12 - Thursday 15 March (4 nights):

Las Vegas, Nevada 


On the Agenda:

- Grand Canyon day trip
- Cirque du Soleil show
- Hike in the Valley of Fire (with Outdoor Travel Tours)
- Visit Hard Rock Cafe
- Las Vegas food tour (with Taste Tours)


Goals:

- Gamle in Las Vegas!
- See the Bellagio fountain show
- Get a photo with the LV sign 
- Helicopter over the Grand Canyon
- See a show in Vegas



• Friday 16 - Monday 19 March (4 nights): 

Chicago, Illinois 


On the Agenda:

- St Patrick's Day celebrations
- Pizza tour
- River skyline tour
- Walking city tour


Goals:

- Get a photo with the Bean
- See the green river on Paddy's Day
- See the amazing skyline from the river
- Eat aaaall the pizza



• Tuesday 20 - Saturday 24 March (5 nights)

Ottawa, Ontario 


On the Agenda:

- Stay with friends
- Visit Parliament Hill
- Museum of History
- Parc Omega
- Stay for the weekend in Quebec City (unconfirmed)


Goals:

- See Canadian animals
- Stuff yourself silly with poutine and maple syrup
- See snow?
- Learn some Canadian history



• Sunday 25 - Friday 30 March (6 nights)

New York City, New York 


On the Agenda:

- Central Park
- Top of the Rock
- Full day NYC tour with New York Tour 1
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play Parts 1 & 2 (woohoo!)
- Empire State Building
- Times Square
- One World Trade Center
- Statue of Liberty
- Ice skating at Rockefeller Center
- Greenwich food tour
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Gossip Girl tour
- Natural History Museum


Goals:

- Do all of the above
- Get some amazing photos
- See Harry Potter on Broadway!
- Eat NY pizza and hotdogs
- Master the subway
- Visit iconic sights from Home Alone, GG, Friends etc.



• Saturday 31 - Wednesday 4 April (4 nights):

Orlando, Florida


On the Agenda:

- Universal Studios Florida
- Drinking cocktails by the pool


Goals:

- Have a blast at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Drink Butterbeer!
- Go on the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster
- Relax before your long flight home


I am flying home via Houston, Texas where I have an 8-hour layover, so I'm not quite sure yet if it's worth venturing out or if I will just stay put in the airport and catch up on some work.

At that is basically my trip in a nutshell! I know it's a lot of places jam-packed into four weeks but I really wanted to make the most of my first time there and tick off everywhere that I've dreamed about for so many years.

It should be an absolutely amazing trip. Two countries, nine states (ten if I pop over to New Jersey), nine flights in total, two buses and 7 jobs lined up (so far).

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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into my trip.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any advice for me at all and any recommendations for things to do and best places to eat if you have them for anywhere I'm going to! I would really appreciate it.

If I have time I am hoping to write up a packing list like the one I wrote for Southeast Asia. Packing this time will be a bit trickier as I'm going to places where it could be still very cold on the tail-end of winter (Chicago, Ottawa, New York) and places where it will be a lot warmer (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Florida). I like to travel super light so layering will be key!

As always I will also be making travel vlogs over on my YouTube channel and posting plenty of photos on my Instagram, so follow along if you would like to keep up.

Stay tuned for plenty of North America blog posts too!

Happy Travels,

*This post contains images that are not my own.

A Guide to Visiting Hobbiton (A Must-Do in New Zealand)


It was my birthday on the weekend and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than at my favourite place in New Zealand: Hobbiton! This was my second visit to the famous movie set, the first time being over five years ago, and I tell you - it was just as magical as the first time around!

I know Hobbiton is on many people's Bucket Lists when visiting New Zealand (as it rightly should be!) so here is a quick guide of what to expect and everything you need to know when visiting, accompanied by some wanderlust-inspiring photos of the set.



WHAT:

As you will find out on the tour, the Hobbiton Movie Set was first created for the Lord of the Rings trilogy way back when filming first started in 1999. Back then it was only temporary and created out of flimsy materials such as polystyrene. It was mostly all torn down afterwards and only the shells of the hobbit holes remained.
Fast forward ten years and Peter Jackson was back to film The Hobbit movies and decided this time around to rebuild the set out of permanent materials so that fans could continue enjoying the magic of The Shire long after the films were released.


On the tour, you will be told exclusive facts and fun stories, such as filming tricks, on-set accidents (like when Bilbo’s 111th birthday cake caught on fire), and how 200,000 fake leaves were imported and hand-sewn onto the giant oak tree sitting atop Bag End.


You will be shown by your expert guide around the 12-acre set; past the many Hobbit holes - all uniquely hobbit-themed with their own immaculate gardens, stopping at each one for the countless great photo opportunities, past the Party Tree, the Mill and into the world-famous Green Dragon Inn, where you can sample a complimentary and specially brewed beverage to conclude your own Middle Earth adventure.


There are different options of tours on offer, including private tours, tours in Chinese, tours with a meal included and evening banquet tours. For the standard Hobbiton Movie Set Tour, they run for approximately two hours and costs $79 NZD ($58 USD) per person.


WHERE:

Hobbiton is located in a small rural area called Matamata, which is in the Waikato region in the North Island of New Zealand. 


It is located only a two-hour drive from Auckland (the largest city in New Zealand or a one hour drive from Rotorua (a tourism hot-spot).
Daily bus tours and transfers are available from Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua. Check their site here for more info.


To get there from Matamata you have two options of where to be picked up for your tour - from the Matamata I-Site (information centre) in the town, or from the Shire's Rest - about a twenty-minute drive into the countryside and very close to the set. Both sites have free parking and it is the same price to be picked up from either place.


I personally prefer to be picked up from the I-Site, as you are the first to be on the comfortable coach and you can sit back and relax while listening to the bus driver's commentary, and then watch the exclusive videos played on board with greetings by Peter Jackson himself. 


You learn all about the history of the set and how it came to still be there today. The bus stops at the Shire's Rest and picks up more passengers along the way for the tour.


WHEN:

Tours depart daily from 9 am - 3 pm, rain or shine. 

(If it does rain - like it did for most of my recent visit, large umbrellas are provided for you to use).

During the summer months which tends to be peak season, additional tours are put on:

4 pm & 4.30 pm operate 01 Sep to 30 April and
5 pm & 5.30 pm operate 27 Dec to 28 Feb.


WHO:

All ages are welcome from every corner of the globe!
I honestly believe every visitor to New Zealand would enjoy this tour. My partner is not a fan of the books or movies at all and was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. He even willingly offered to come with me the second time!



WHY:

Hobbiton is one of those places that doesn't seem real. It has been painted straight from a fantasy book and come to life before your very eyes. 


The surroundings are absolutely mesmerising; multiple shades of rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, walking around amongst the Hobbit holes where the same actors once stood, where the movies were created, it is so well done and purely enchanting to be amongst it. 


I am one of the biggest Lord of the Rings fans you will ever meet and it still blows me away that this is here in my country, and actually only a 40-minute drive from where I grew up. 
I'm so very proud to be a Kiwi and I highly recommend visiting even if you aren't a fan - the location and scenery are astounding.


Tips:

፨ Try to stick to the front of your tour group to be able to hear all of the fascinating facts and stories and be first in to get that shot!


፨ If you're feeling peckish at The Green Dragon you won't be disappointed by ordering something off the menu - I had the Pork Pie and it was delicious!


፨ Wear sensible walking shoes as you do go for a decent walk up and down hills.


፨ On a similar note - wear sunblock if you go during the warmer months - I still remember getting burnt the first time I went! (New Zealand sun is harsh).



፨ You get 15 whole minutes allocated at the end of your tour to spend in the Hobbit Store - bring some extra pennies if you wish to take home some exclusive memorabilia.
(I couldn't resist buying my own "No admittance except on party business" sign and a special The Green Dragon mug.



That is my little guide to visiting Hobbiton in New Zealand aka Middle Earth! Let me know if you have any questions below and if it's on your Bucket List!

Keep scrolling to see more photos below and a little video I made.


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Video:


Best Places to eat in Hoi An, Vietnam


Following on from my Top Things to do in Hoi An post, here is the promised best places to eat. This is my third post of my where to eat in Vietnam series, the first two being in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

I spent a wonderful week in Hoi An and finding the best local food on offer has to be one of my favourite activities while travelling. I certainly wasn't able to try everywhere and I don't claim to be a food expert. However, I did a lot of my own research as well as stumbled randomly across some of these fine gems while exploring.

Here are my top recommendations of some of the best local dishes that are a must-try (some are special to the region) that I thoroughly enjoyed if you are heading there yourself.


The Best Banh Mi



This famous Vietnamese baguette is an excellent option for lunch (I had one almost every day!). The sandwich is packed with a choice of fillings including meat, pate and greens.
The perfect Banh Mi should have slightly warmed and crunchy bread and fresh, flavourful fillings. I specifically looked up on Trip Advisor to see where I could find the best.

Pictured above, one of the best Banh Mi I've ever had was at French Bakery and Restaurant, located at An Bang Beach. I had the special pork with chilli jam which was incredibly tasty! For only 40,000 VND ($1.70 US) it was also a great price for the location.

One of the top-rated ones, I just had to try Phi Banh Mi and it did not disappoint.
I had a traditional pork and pate and it was one of the cheapest at 15,000 VND (US 0.66 c).
It was a slightly smaller size, perfect for a snack or light lunch but the flavours were all there.



I also heard that Banh Mi Phuong is 'the best place for Banh Mi in Vietnam,' however the long lines every time I walked past kind of put me off! Also, some of their reviews said it was way too overhyped and touristy now. Feel free to wait in line and check it out yourself though if you're game!


The Best Cao Lau


One of the most famous dishes, this noodle speciality has been eaten in the city since the 17th century. The hand-cut noodles are tossed with sliced pork, crunchy rice crackers, spices, big handfuls of fresh herbs and a small amount of super-tasty broth.

I tried this dish special to the region a few times and the best I had was at a hole-in-the-wall type of place called Com ga Ba Nga. They also specialise in chicken rice, which is what the name means. I was walking past and noticed the place packed with locals and a big sign saying 'Cao Lau' which drew me in. The service was definitely not the best and the floor wasn't the cleanest but the food was exceptional.


 The Best White Rose


Banh Bao Vac (White Rose) is a popular symbol of food in the ancient town and only found in Hoi An. These are special shrimp dumplings made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. It takes three years to learn how to master them and apparently, there is only one family in Hoi An that produces them and distributes them to all the local eateries.
So the answer to where is the best place to get them - anywhere! Because they are all the same and come from the same place.


The Best Places for Lunch/Dinner

My favourite restaurant in Hoi An was Morning Glory, where it was so good I ate there twice. It is very popular and busy in there, and that's because it has a great reputation and the food is always good.


I forgot to write down the names of what I ate specifically, but they have an extensive menu with so many options, full of local specialities. Here is what I ordered the two times pictured below:



It is very reasonably priced too for what you get. On our final night, my husband and I's order was: three large beers, one large bottle of water, 1 shared entree, 2 mains and 1 shared dessert. All of that came to a whopping 519,000 VND ($22 US) - not bad at all!

(Tip: Call or go in earlier and make a reservation to avoid waiting in a line).

Another restaurant I highly enjoyed was called Cafe 43. I had a delicious chicken and lemongrass curry and chilli chicken and pork fresh spring rolls.



They made their own fresh beer which was only 3000 VND a glass! (US 0.13 c). All up our two mains, entree, water and beers came to only 189,000 VND ($8 US) - incredible! The service too was excellent.

Another spot I would recommend for dinner or even an after-dinner snack is from the Night Markets across the central footbridge to An Hoi islet. Here you can find an abundance of street food carts selling Banh Mi, fresh fruit, chocolate pancakes etc.

One bite I particularly enjoyed was called Banh Trang Nuong, a Vietnamese style pizza, folded in two. It is made with grilled rice paper and lots of fun and delicious toppings.
For only 20,000 VND (US 0.88 c), it makes for a perfect budget meal or snack.



The Best Cooking Class

I normally love doing street food tours and did in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, however, I found the ones in Hoi An to be far too pricey. I instead invested in my first Vietnamese cooking class and researched the best place to do it.
It seems like every other restaurant is offering one, but I went for one that was one of the first original family cookery schools in Hoi An, Gion Cookery Class, who had an excellent reputation.

I had the best day learning how to make all my favourite things including fresh Vietnamese spring rolls with dipping sauce, Banh Xeo, chilli chicken and lemongrass stirfry and beef Pho.



With the included trip to a local market, full recipe book and a funny and easy-going teacher, it was one of my favourite things I did in Hoi An and the feast we got to enjoy at the end was incredible!
I highly recommend doing this cooking class and it is a great investment learning how to make all of these wonderful dishes yourself at home.


There we have my top favourite things to eat and where to get them in Hoi An. I'll throw in a couple more extras just for fun:

Best Places for Coffee: 11 Coffee and Mia Coffee, both do excellent traditional Vietnamese ice coffee.

Best Sports Bar: If there is a game you just can't bear to miss, head to 3 Dragons Sports Bar & Restaurant. We watched an All Blacks game here and the atmosphere was amazing! There is also a really nice riverside view for even if you don't want to watch the telly.

Best Party Bar: If you are a fan of Mr Bean (like me), then don't miss the Mr Bean Bar! Wildly and accurately themed, it's an amusing place to have a drink to say the least.

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Let me know if you are heading to the lovely Hoi An yourself or if you have any other favourite places of your own to add - I'd love to check them out next time!

Happy Travels,

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