Tag Archives: vacation

The DR: the best budget vacation

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Need a beach getaway that won’t break your bank? The Dominican Republic is the place for you. Mexico is overplayed—not to mention, right next door—us Texans basically consider Mexico as part of our home state, am I right? The DR is cheaper and just as beautiful, if not more. Plus, it’s an entirely new country to explore!

Groupon and Travelocity are ready to book your tropical vacation to Punta Cana—both sites are filled with various DR resort specials. There are so many to choose from—all right on the sandy shore with all-inclusive meals and drinks. What’s not to love?

We stayed at Breathless Resort and Spa, which besides being all-inclusive, is also adults only. That was a nice twist for me—not having any kids around at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids. But after teaching ninth graders all day, it’s a welcome change to not have a single child in sight (splashing water on you from the pool, kicking sand on you at the beach).

Picture walking a few feet from your comfortable, spacious hotel room to one of the many pools and soaking up the sun for a few hours, sipping a piña colada (that the waitress keeps refilling) until it’s time to transition to the gentle waves of the ocean. You’ve already had a complimentary room service breakfast (because, obviously, you were too lazy to walk to the buffet), but you still grab a snack from the beachside bar. Later, you shower and get ready for a delicious dinner at one of the many on-site restaurants. You go to the hotel’s nightly show (we saw a couple dance performances, a hypnosis show, a lingerie show, and a Great Gatsby musical). After a couple days of this blissful routine, you decide it’s time to leave the peaceful bubble and sightsee. The DR is gorgeous—the countryside, the coasts, the culture—for such a small island, there’s so much to experience!

Zip-lining, fishing, four-wheeling, speed-boating, horseback riding, hiking, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, adventuring through a cave—you name it, The DR’s got it. There’s even an excursion that’s literally just a day of massages and floating in the middle of the sea on giant, padded beds (yeah, I definitely almost booked that one). Your resort will help you book whatever your heart desires—whether you want something a little more physical and active, or just a Dr. Fish pedicure (tons of tiny garra rufa fish nibble on your dead skin—don’t knock it until you try it).

All of this said, however, don’t expect a 5-star European hotel experience. The DR, although stunning, is still a struggling third world country. The people are excited to make money from your tourism—so expect the usual haggling over jewelry, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. Plus, while out and about on the island, it’s always a good idea to travel with a tour group of some sort. Close by to the sparkling blue waters is poverty and crime, not unlike some of the most striking spots in the U.S. The DR is very similar to the nearby country of Jamaica—beautiful, affordable, but not problem-free. It’s just always good to be aware and safe—no matter where you travel.

Again, next time you’re planning a holiday, consider Punta Cana. I barely scratched the surface of The Dominican Republic, but I loved everything I saw. It combined my need to relax in a serene, stress-free environment with my need to see a completely unique place on this earth. Sip a mai tai, reapply sunscreen, and forget your worries.

 

 

 

About the author: Alysha Kaye is a high school English teacher in Kyle, TX and recent author—her debut novel The Waiting Room is available on Amazon and at BookPeople. When she’s not wrangling 9th graders, she’s blogging, reading, or exploring Austin.

For more, follow her on Twitter @alyshakaye7 or check out her website: http://www.alyshakaye.com

Peru, Tomorrow!

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my trip!

Checking off my 21st country mañana, and my first time in South America!

Peruuuuuuu, I’m ready for you!

Except not really.

First of all, I have officially waited too long to get any vaccines or prescriptions…which was highly recommended by my friend Tara, who spent months in Peru. She had three different vaccines and popped malaria pills like candy (along with Imodium and Pepto Bismol…those I DID purchase…Peru apparently can really eff with your tummy tum tum). She AND my friend Johanna both came back to the States with some sort of parasite. Cooooool.

Secondly, this is my second Contiki tour, but first time I haven’t really known anyone beforehand. On my first Contiki, we all talked on Facebook months before our trip, and we became fast Internet friends. When we all finally met in person in London, it was like we’d known each other for years. This time around, I’m not really sure what the deal is—no one is talking on our online forum, no one has started a Facebook group… I’m definitely feeling apprehensive about traveling alone.

Then there’s the packing. But that’s an issue every time I travel. I just work better in high-stress, last-minute situations sometimes. Packing is the pits and I intend to put it off for as long as possible, every single time. Today, instead of packing, I went to Krause Springs for a swim and then Carino’s for some skilletini and then I saw Magic Mike XXL. Yeah, my priorities are on point like that.

Lastly, this is my first trip away while in a serious relationship…I know, I know, I don’t want to be that annoying girl who’s like I’M GONNA MISS MY BOO! But I am. I am that girl. I was in Ireland just four months ago, and really, really missed him then. But we weren’t too serious then either…so much has changed in four months, wow! I even pathetically bought cutesy cards and wrote cutesy (disgusting) things in them, for him to open every couple days while I’m gone. Gross. Gag.

Anyway. Hopefully, I’ll post something awesome after I get back—maybe about Machu Picchu, maybe about Lake Titicaca, maybe about how impressed I was with my rusty Spanish skills (fingers crossed), but hopefully not in any way about my bowels.

The Sweeney’s and Beer: One More Week!

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SPRING BREAK IS COMING. This teacher is definitely more excited than her students about the one week countdown. Oh goooooodness, I can’t wait. I’ve had itchy feet for a while now. Dying to “get outa town” as they say. Took a quick trip to Fredericksburg recently, but that didn’t really do the trick.

Six more days and it’s NYC (purposely lengthened our layover so we could squeeze in Aladdin on Broadway) and then Dublin for Saint Patrick’s Day!

Apparently if you go overboard with green and leprechaun mentions, you will be judged and shunned, hard. Glad I learned that. Who woulda thought that Americans have warped other culture’s traditions into their own versions… Strange.

Anyway. Guinness tour, Jameson distillery, St. Paddy’s parade, Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, and more. GET HERE, SPRING BREAK, GET HERE NOW.

I should also mention that this intensely awesome and affordable Groupon deal comes with a rental car—so we will be driving ourselves all around the Irish countryside. What the. I know. I’m not very good at driving here in Texas so I can only imagine the danger we will surely be in with me behind the wheel in a foreign country.

But then again: beer.

Not to be combined with the driving, geez. I’m just saying: beer.

It’s going to be in the 40s and 50s and rainy the entire trip: beer. That one makes more sense I guess.

Also, it is imperative to tell you that we will be staying at B&B’s across Ireland, most of which are your average European hostel-type stays, HOWEVER, one of them is a legit farm overlooking the sea, owned by the cutest old couple named The Sweeney’s. I cannot express how excited I am to meet The Sweeney’s. I also may ask them to adopt me, if they’re as adorable in person as their picture and description portray. Isn’t it crazy how some people’s “norm” is feeding their donkeys, drinking coffee while gazing over the Cliffs of Moher?! Just, ya’ know, another day in the life. Meanwhile I’m over here in Austin, scraping myself outa bed and shuffling out of my crappy apartment complex onto I-35, realizing that I put in my left contact but not my right.

You know what, though? Even if The Sweeney’s turn out to be super creepy Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady” types: beer.

Turkey: The Country and the Lunchmeat

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Istanbul

In three days, I’ll be traveling to Europe 🙂 Rome–>Athens–>Santorini–>Mykonos–>Istanbul–>Capadoccia! One of the things I’m most excited about is the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (the beautiful thing shown in the picture).

I’m not sure what I’m more nervous/anxious/thrilled about: this amazing summer trip or my new teaching job starting as soon as I get back. I am officially moving from 7th grade English to 9th grade English. I accepted a position at Hays High School, my alma mater! To top it off, I’ll be teaching alongside my mentor, my real-life Dumbledore, the guy who’s responsible for me writing and teaching (thanks a lot, I’ll be poor forever). My novel is actually dedicated to him! So hey teachers, feeling down? You never know, maybe a student will dedicate a book to you one day.

I’m really gonna miss my squirrely middle schoolers though. Not to mention my coworkers here in Del Valle that I’ve come to deeply love and respect.

Hence my clever title…lunchmeat, cafeteria….high school? Ok, so maybe the dots aren’t as easy to connect as I’d like to think, but whatever.

Why am I writing one blog to talk about two completely different topics? I’m lazy, y’all.

In fact, I’ve said all I wanted to say already.

Let me sum up (I just love making lists, to be honest):

1. Rome- I guess that coin I threw into the fountain a few years ago for “returning” worked. Now about that other coin…

2. Greece- Was anyone else obsessed with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants when they were younger? Yeah, I’ll be on the lookout for Kostas.

3. Turkey, the country- Please send good, safe vibes since it’s not exactly a prime time to travel there… Also: we’re going on a hot air balloon ride. Be jealous.

4. Turkey, the lunchmeat- Bring it on, freshmen.

 

Sidenote: it’ll be really nice to get away from all the book marketing exhaustion. THE WAITING ROOM is my baby and I love her…but she has been a real pain in the ass! Sorry to my WordPress/Twitter amigos- if I’m silent for a few weeks, it’s because I’m tanning on a Greek island. NBD.

Sandfest

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Sandcastles pretty much never stop being cool, am I right?

At least that’s what I was raised to believe—I didn’t say building your own sandcastle; I just said sandcastles. This obvious fact is proven by Port Aransas, TX—a seemingly unremarkable Texas beach. I mean sure, the Gulf of Mexico provides somewhat…shall we say murky waters and its coast is anything but “powder white sand”…but Port A has its own charms! Sandfest is one of those charms.

Every April, sand sculptors from all over travel to “that tiny beach next to Corpus Christi” and they create pure magic. Masterpieces like these:

Sand Wars?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to go every year as a kid, and honestly, I have had more fun the older I get. Obviously, now I can combine drinking with sunbathing, which is a major upgrade. But also, I think that the art is more meaningful now. At this age, I feel like I can fully appreciate the sculptures. Don’t get me wrong—kids are just as enchanted. But I remember seeing them and just being blown away that there was a castle in front of me, ten times my size, made completely of sand. Whereas, this year, I found myself in all kinds of psychological debates (in my own head…hmmm…normal?) about the possible messages. Such an English teacher. But seriously, ponder over these for a while:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alas, I still bought a toe ring from Ring Around the Toesies. Don’t judge me, I like foot bling.

My friend Brian spent many hours digging a hole that my friend Pete would later ecstatically build a campfire in. Johanna was over the moon about Winton’s, the local candy shop known for their “Good”. Stephen even checked out our condo’s gym (Sandcastle Condominiums are right on the beach and pretty dang awesome). Some people preferred lounging by the pool and hot tub; others just sat on our balcony and relaxed. My mom and her friends were there too—getting sunburned and sipping vanilla rum.

It was an amazing trip. So start planning now for next April—hotel rooms fill up fast! And next time you’re building a sandcastle, try not to feel too inferior.

Yeah, Mon!

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You know you’re officially old when you opt out of going to the Ochos Rios Margaritaville with college boys and instead head up to your room, piña colada in hand, to read and pass out by 11 pm.

Ah, Jamaica. I’ve never had so much fun doing so little. Let me tell you, I didn’t get hit on ONCE. My younger self would’ve thought a vacation without vacation romance would be no vacation at all. Pft, who needs a man when you’re at an all-inclusive resort, sipping on rum from morning til night?

Don’t get me wrong, we swam with dolphins and climbed Dunn’s River Falls, but we spent the majority of our spring break working on our tan, our appetite, and our alcohol tolerance. I gained about six pounds and three shades of brown.

Jennifer, my co-teacher/co-captain/co-pilot/co-whatever else you can think of, DID get hit on. Hard. I literally thought they were going to kidnap her (and by they, I mean every Jamaican man in sight). The man driving us to the airport grabbed her arm and said, “I don’t want you to go. Stay here with me.” I thought I was going to have to go all BACK OFF SHE’S MINE on his ass. But most of the men just smiled and winked at her, gaping at her curvy figure. Our tour guides at Dunn’s nicknamed her Shakira (I definitely called her that for the rest of the trip). Then they’d glance at me and occasionally offer to sell me weed.

Conclusion: Jamaica is amazing. Side note: I do not recommend going “off the beaten tourist path”…as amazing of a country as it is, it’s still extremely impoverished and therefore, well, just scary in parts.

I dedicate the rest of this blog to random highlights that I typed in a note on my phone. Feel free to stop reading here.

-Jennifer hadn’t been on a plane in ages and was also a little sleep deprived. She rambled on and on when we were landing…it went something like this: “I feel like we’re floating. You know how when it speeds up and then it stops? Now I feel like we’re on a bungee rope. This would be a lot harder to park than my truck.”

-We witnessed a random drunk man stand on top of the hotel’s fake waterfall and throw his flip-flops into the pool below. He wound up walking downstairs to retrieve them and I said, “Excuse me, why do you hate your shoes?” He slurred that he just did it to do it, considered jumping in the pool to get his flops, then said, “Fuck it,” and stumbled back inside, barefoot.

-We went out on a small sailboat one day and the driver kept repeating over and over, “I’m going to get you ladies so wet.” Yeah…awkward.

-There was a snake in the ocean one morning! Freaked us out. The workers said, “No problem, mon, they don’t bite. They’ll just wrap around you.” Cool.

-We had an omelet man who we absolutely adored. As in, the same man made us a gourmet omelet every single morning. My breakfasts will never be the same.

-Jennifer was too lazy to keep walking back to the bar, so she would usually show up with four drinks in her hand. Then she discovered what a Hummingbird was, and all hell broke loose. Crazy lady. She would also frequently order in interesting fashions like this: “Can you just make me something blue? I want something blue.”

 

Conclusion #2: Jamaica is the most affordable paradise I’ve ever been to. Highly recommend! And all-inclusive is definitely the way to go. I can’t even explain how awesome it feels to walk up to a bar, order a beer (Red Stripe, mon!), and not have to even think about presenting an ID or money OR tip—tips aren’t allowed! They win coolest accents, yummiest jerk chicken, and most rum-filled island.

Acceptable Tourist Traps

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5 Oahu Tourist Spots that are Worth a Visit

Living in Hawaii has its ups and downs, just like any other area. One major con? The tourists. They crowd beaches, cause traffic, and definitely overdo the floral print. Honeymooners are easy to spot and hard to avoid during peak season. These bright-eyed people snapping photos of every plant and sign flock to a few standard “tourist spots” on Oahu and I have to admit, I completely understand why. These are the spots that locals would love to stay away from, but most can’t—they’re just too beautiful or amazing or fun or all of the above.

When friends or family or strangers on the plane visit Hawaii, I always recommend hitting up the lesser-known locations on the island. The beaches  are less crowded and more beautiful, the restaurants are less expensive and more authentic, and the bars are filled with great people and great drinks instead of coconut bras and grass skirts. However, these five major tourist spots are irresistible—for anyone! My friends and I, and other locals as well, gladly surf through waves of sunburnt travelers for another experience at one of these attractions.

Turtle Beach: One of the first stops along North Shore, Laniakea Beach is extremely unique because multiple Hawaiian green turtles can usually be seen casually basking on the shore or swimming in the calm waves. The huge turtles, or honu, aren’t shy at all here. However, this became a problem when some people didn’t treat the creatures with respect, causing a group to band together to protect the turtles all day, every day. The Honu Guardians place red rope around the turtles so that people won’t disturb them. They also know everything about the honu, and happily dole out interesting facts and pamphlets to visitors. I was blown away to learn that the green turtles swim 500 miles to lay their eggs on another island—and then the newborns find their way to Laniakea Beach and the process starts all over. It’s an amazing spot on Oahu that offers an incredible up-close interaction with an animal that is absolutely fascinating.

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Diamond Head: To call Diamond Head a hike is a bit of a stretch. There are plenty of real hikes on the island, and this one is more of a “trail” in comparison. But that’s one reason why so many people love it—it’s easy and the view is an exceptional pay-off for the little amount of physical exertion applied. The entire path is paved, some of which consists of actual staircases. You’ll definitely break a sweat, but more so because of the sun beating down upon you. The breathtaking view is hidden until you reach the very top (which only takes about 45 minutes at a normal pace). It’s been bustling with all kinds of people every time I’ve been, but it’s worth it—nice work out, fantastic weather, and a gorgeous view of downtown Honolulu wrapping around the ocean.

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Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck: You haven’t had shrimp until you’ve had this $13 plate of pure heaven. And yes, it’s out of a truck. Tucked in Haleiwa, a small town in North Shore, this truck attracts an eclectic mix of people every day. I’ve never been and not had to stand in a line. But the buttery, garlic-filled platter of a dozen shrimp and two scoops of rice is well, well worth the wait.

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Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice: Open since 1951, Matsumoto’s sells one hell of a shaved ice. You can opt for something common, like coconut or strawberry, or you can explore some local flavors like lilikoi or li hing mui. Even the small size is huge, but you won’t have a problem finishing your frozen treat. Like everything on this list, be prepared to wait in a crazy line. But again—worth it. Make sure to pay an extra 25 cents for a plastic holder, which catches any drips or spills—you won’t want to waste one drop!

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Hanauma Bay: The best snorkeling that I’ve found on the island yet. Unfortunately, you do have to pay to get in to this nature reserve area, and again with the lines and crowds, but the wildlife in the bay is a sight you can’t miss. The reef offers some of the most beautiful fish species, turtles, and coral on the island. Plus, the bay is calm and safe, and a great beach area to just relax on after you snorkel.

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So there you go—five spots on Oahu that are super touristy, but also can’t help but attract locals like myself as well. It’s hard to avoid any parts of the island, honestly, because it is just as beautiful as the postcards. I still say that you’ll have a much better trip if you experience the lesser-known spots, like Stairway to Heaven, but these five sites have to be crossed off of your list as well.