French Polynesia on a Budget

A place where honeymooners flock to stay in extravagant overwater bungalows that can run up to thousands of dollars per night. It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but French Polynesia can be a budget-friendly destination.

Of course, going on a budget trip is not the same experience as going on a luxury vacation, but you will still get to enjoy the beauty of French Polynesia, which I can promise you is more than fancy resorts.

I traveled to Tahiti and Mo’orea with two other people for a week. We shared accommodations and rental cars. My total cost for the trip was $1,620.43.

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Islands to Visit

We visited Tahiti and Mo’orea, which I believe are the most budget-friendly. Even getting to some of the outer islands can be pricey.

Flights

I flew United, which now offers direct flights from SFO. A round trip flight from DC cost me $1,170.

Getting Around

The ferry from Tahiti to Mo’orea is relatively cheap and convenient. It costs $15 each way, so $30 round trip.

Car rentals are expensive, but I highly recommend having a car. The car in Tahiti cost $199 for three days. The car in Mo’orea cost $242.53 for three days.

Accomodations

We found that Airbnb is the the most affordable way to book accommodations. Our Airbnb in Tahiti cost $219 for three nights. In Mo’orea, we stayed at a cute Airbnb called Mark’s Place that cost us $237.76 for three nights.

Food

Food can be expensive or cheap. I’m a vegan, so my options were somewhat limited. We mostly got our meals from the grocery store. I spent $121 on food for the week.

Total = $ 1,620.43

Flights = $1,170

Ferry = $30

Car rentals (199 + 242.53) / 3 = $147.18

Airbnb (219 + 237.76) / 3 = $152.25

Food = $121

Safety First in Working with Brands: Things to Think about as an Influencer

We all know the excitement of getting an e-mail about an interesting campaign. “Hi! This is [ ] from [Company/tourism board]. We saw you on Instagram and think you would be a great fit with our brand. Would you like to [try our product/go on a trip]? Please let us know what your rates are.” When it’s a company or a destination you’re excited about, or when you have it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and immediately respond “YES!” then soon after give away personal information such as your address (to receive product) or personal information for flights/visas. Even when you’re not necessarily excited, sometimes it’s second nature to quickly respond “Sure, I’ll try the product and if I like it we can discuss working together” followed by an address.

I’ve been in this situation plenty of times myself, and one day as I started responding to an e-mail, I started thinking “what if…?” These days, I’m pretty careful when working with brands. Here are a few questions to ask and thoughts to consider when considering working with a brand:

Who are you really talking to? Can you confirm the brand’s identity? If you were approached through a DM on Instagram, is the account that approached you verified? How many followers does the account have? Did you do a search for the brand to see whether there is another account out there? Check the contact email on Instagram. Is it a company email address? If you receive an email from a brand, is the email a company email? Does it match the email on the brand’s Instagram account? Did you google the sender’s name to see whether they have a LinkedIn that says they work for the brand? If you are approached through a reputable Influencer platform or thorough a reputable PR firm, you can probably feel safe – but don’t forget to vet platforms and PR firms before working with them!

Who are you giving your address to? So what if you aren’t dealing with the brand you thought you were dealing with…and you give your home address to a random stranger on the internet? Yeah, not good. Always, always vet brands before telling them where you live. And if you can avoid using your home address, please do. Maybe you can have products shipped to a P.O. Box or to your office. I’ve always felt safer having products shipped to my home because I live in a condo building with a 24 hour front desk.

Are your travel plans really what you’re told they are going to be? If you’ve been approached by a tourism board or travel agency, or are for some other reason going on a press trip, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to verify your travel plans. Do you remember hearing about the scam luring influencers to Indonesia? If you’re going on a press trip, get an itinerary beforehand. Independently verify the details of that itinerary. Call the rental car company, call the hotels. Make sure they all have a reservation under your name. Consider speaking with influencers who have worked with the brand in the past.

Are you protecting your money? Be careful with your money. Don’t ever give money to a brand that reaches out – whether it’s to get a visa or for anything else. Be skeptical about promises of reimbursement. Be careful about information you give out to get paid. Don’t give someone the information needed to hack into your bank account. Also, make sure you get paid. Keep track of who you’ve worked with and what they owe you.

I wish there were a hard and fast rule for verifying the identity and reputation of a brand you are considering working with, but unfortunately there is not. Take into account the advice I’ve given in this post and ultimately trust your gut – if something seems off, it probably is.

The Perfect Five Day Cuba Itinerary

I know from experience that planning a Cuba trip can be intimidating. If you want to travel to Cuba but haven’t done much research yet, check out a few general tips here. Figuring out the travel logistics can be complicated and confusing, and itinerary planning isn’t much easier. There is not much information out there on Cuba. Websites are sparse or nonexistent. Figuring out just how to get from point A to point B isn’t easy. After A LOT of research, Britton and I went to Cuba and had an incredible time during our five day trip. From a show in Havana to waterfalls near Trinidad, we got a great taste of what Cuba has to offer. Here is our itinerary:

Day One: Arrive in Havana and stay the night.

Day Two: After breakfast in Havana, drive 2.5 hours to the beaches of the Bay of Pigs. Go scuba diving with a local dive company. There is beautiful shore diving and you’ll get a chance to see deep blue water and a vibrant reef. If you have your own mask, I highly recommend bringing it, as most of the dive shops have worn out gear and the masks are scratched and not easy to see out of. Stay the night in Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos is relatively small, and food options are limited.

Day Three: Drive one hour to El Nicho waterfalls. Spend a few hours hiking and swimming around this lush, tropical paradise. There are several spots where you can take photos and go swimming, and I recommend taking your time and visiting all of them. Try to get to El Nicho early, as it is a popular tourist spot that gets very crowded by mid morning.DSC09543 After El Nicho, drive one hour to Trinidad and stay the night. Trinidad is my favorite city in Cuba! The colonial old town and cobblestone streets have a historic charm and I could have easily spent hours aimlessly wandering around. For dinner in Trinidad, go to Cafe Bistro Madeley. It is hands-down the best food we had in Cuba. The chef told us that he developed his menu by asking guests what they would like to eat and working with the limited ingredients available in Cuba to come up with something similar. The food options are diverse and creative, which is hard to come by in Cuba. Better yet, there are labeled vegan options!img_1649-1

Day Four: Drive back to Havana. Have a late lunch at El Cafe – an open-air cafe in Old Havana with healthy food and vegan options. In the evening, go to a show at Buena Vista Social Club. Buy your tickets as soon as you get back to Havana, as shows often sell out. Buena Vista Social Club is a world-famous ensemble of Cuban musicians established in 1996 to revive the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba. The show is excellent; the food, not the other hand, is subpar. But the exceptionally talented performances will make you quickly forget how terrible your dinner was.

Day Five: Start the day driving around in a 1950s convertible in the morning, before it gets too hot.

Spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon wandering around Havana before you fly out.

Six Things You Should Know About Cuba Before You Visit

  1. If you plan on paying for anything, bring cash. Cubans do everything in cash. And I mean everything. Want to buy a car? Better bring bags of cash. A house? Cash. So don’t plan on using your credit card at any restaurants, hotels, or stores.
  2. Cuba is communist. Almost everything – from hotels to restaurants to stores to taxis – is owned by the government. Government rations are low, and often not enough to live comfortably. Therefore many Cubans count on tips for a better lifestyle. Despite this, many Cubans are highly educated and very intelligent, even, and in some cases especially, in what would usually be considered less desirable jobs. While a lawyer or a doctor will work for the government on a government wage and can be sent to live wherever, a tour guide has more control over his or her life and because of the ability to earn tips, will likely be better off financially than a lawyer or a doctor. Therefore you can expect to meet incredibly intelligent tour guides.
  3. Grocery stores have about 6 items. if you’re looking to buy liquor, milk, water, tomato sauce, beans, or rice…you’re in luck! If you want anything else, sorry, but Cuban grocery stores probably won’t have it. I expected to at least find soy milk, but had no such luck. Markets sell tomatoes, avocados, onions, garlic, and peppers. And most restaurants have menus based off of this very limited food selection. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a few bars and maybe some hot sauce for added flavor.
  4. WiFi is difficult to come by. It’s not like other countries where you’re likely to have free WiFi in your hotel, hostel, or bed & breakfast. No such luck in restaurants and cafes either. WiFi is relatively new to Cuba. There are certain areas throughout the cities that have WiFi connection, typically town squares and hotels. However, WiFi is controlled by the government and you’ll need a WiFi card with a username and password to use the WiFi. You can buy a WiFi card at various stores for about 1 CUC for an hour of connection. The card will only work on one device. The WiFi is slow. I highly recommend doing the majority of your research and planning prior to arrival.
  5. Hotels are expensive, and most tourists stay in Casas particulares. Expect a nice hotel in Havana to put you back about 500 USD per night. An average hotel – and I really do emphasize the word “average” – will cost about 300 USD per night. Casas particulares are bed & breakfasts that range in price from about 20 USD to 50 USD. Casas particulares can vary greatly in terms of cleanliness and comfort; however, they are much more reasonably priced than hotels. And if you’re from the U.S., you need to be careful with hotels because staying at certain hotels is a violation of OFAC sanctions. I’d recommend staying at casas particulares because it’s a great way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture and hotels are just so expensive. Having said that, be aware of what you’re getting into and don’t expect high-end accommodations.
  6. The U.S. has sanctions against Cuba. While travel to Cuba is at the time of this post allowed under twelve categories of general licenses, it is restricted and you do need to make sure your trip is allowable based on current regulations. As an attorney in the US, I’m going to refrain from interpreting the law or giving legal advice on my personal blog, but make sure you do your research.

If you decide to go to Cuba and want some advice on what to do when you’re there, check out my five day Cuba itinerary here.

Hiking Mount Rōtui in Mo’orea

If you’ve heard of Mo’orea, you probably associate it with beautiful beaches, sting-ray filled lagoons, and fancy resorts. But you may not have heard about the rugged mountains and stunning views they offer. During my visit to Mo’orea, we decided to hike a mountain and chose Mount Rōtui – a magnificent mountain that overlooks Cook’s Bay and offers a stunning view of the amphitheater of an old volcano. Fun fact: In Polynesian mythology, Mount Rōtui is purgatory for dead souls before their rise into Paradise.

About Mount Rōtui

Mount Rōtui is an 899 meters/2949 foot high mountain located on Mo’orea. It is the second highest peak on the island and, though challenging, is possible to hike (many of the mountains on Mo’orea are not hikeable).

Mount Rōtui’s narrow ridges ridges and steep sides can be intimidating, so you should be comfortable with easy scrambling and a lot of exposure. There are fixed ropes in two places, but they don’t look well-maintained so don’t rely solely on the ropes. We hiked Rōtui on a dry day and there were some very slippery areas, so be extremely careful if you hike after or during the rain.

Be prepared for a full day – it takes about 5 hours to get to the summit and 2 or 3 to hike back down.

How to Get There

From the Hilton, walk west on the road toward Opunohu Bay and walk down the third driveway, which has a sign that says “Art Deko.” A bit down the driveway, there is another sign which says “Rotui.”

At this sign, walk to the right along a fence next to a house. Once you pass the fence, the trail will become apparent and is easy to follow for the rest of the hike.

You can hire a guide, which I highly recommend if you are not experienced or are uncomfortable with scrambling and/or exposure.

What to Wear

Choosing the right clothing is crucial for hiking Mount Rōtui – there is a lot of growth on the trail that can scrape your legs if not covered and the heat is brutal.

I wore my Vast Terrain Excel 7/8 Leggings in Black and Aeris Technical Tank in Purple.  Vast Terrain’s premium activewear is perfect for hiking in the tropics because the technical fabrics wick away sweat and are soft, stretchy, and easy to move in – a necessity when scrambling! Vast Terrain’s fabric also reduces odor with EPA registered silver salts that are embedded at the fiber level and kill 99.99% of odor-causing bacteria! I’m sure my hiking parters appreciated that 😉 An added bonus is that Vast Terrain is entirely made in the USA!

Wear hiking boots or sneakers with good traction. The ground can be slippery and the hike is exposed.

I also recommend bringing a hat and light long-sleeved layer for sun protection.

What to Bring

Mo’orea can get VERY hot and the sun is strong, so be prepared! Below is what I brought on my hike:

 

I partnered with Vast Terrain in writing this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

Two Perfect Summer Days in Vail

I had always thought of Vail as a winter destination, so when I was invited to spend three summer days in Vail, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I can now confidently say that Vail is an excellent summer destination, offering fun mountain activities and stunning views. I will definitely be back.

We stayed at the Sonnenalp, which is a gorgeous, conveniently located hotel with four restaurants, a golf course, and a spa. I could have spent three days at the hotel alone!

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Arrival Night Dinner – Bully Ranch

Bully Ranch is one of the restaurants in the Sonnenalp. We got in late, so it was easy and convenient to have the restaurant right there. The restaurant has a cowboy vibe and the portions are large and filling.

Breakfast at the Sonnenalp

Staying at the Sonnenalp, heading downstairs for breakfast is easy. The buffet is filled with options – from hash browns to waffles to smoothies to açaí bowls. Yum! I enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice every morning. It didn’t hurt that the breakfast room looks out over the pool and hot tubs – what a view!

I loved that as a vegan, there were plenty of options for me. I had freshly squeezed orange juice, mini açaí bowls, and dairy free oatmeal to which I added raisins, cherries, chia seeds, almonds, goji berries, and soy milk.

A Day at Piney River Ranch

We spent our first day at Piney River Ranch and it was wonderful. Everyone at the ranch is so friendly. It’s such a hidden gem.

We had lunch then went horseback riding with NuNu. The horses were incredibly sweet and well taken care of. NuNu was knowledgeable and her love for the horses was apparent. She talked to us about the personality type of each horse and matched us with horses based on our experiences and personalities. We had a great ride and she even let us go on a little trot! Plus, the view of the mountains was fantastic.

After we finished riding, we went for a canoe ride on the lake. The stunning mountain backdrop combined with the serenity of the isolated lake made for an unforgettable ride.

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Although we didn’t get to stay at the cabins or glamping tents at Piney River this time, I highly recommend staying for a night or two if your schedule allows. We already have plans to go back next summer and stay overnight!

Dinner in Vail

Vail is a cute town with a European vibe. We walked around after our day and ended up eating at Tavern on the Square. We started with freshly made artisan bread that was fluffy and delicious. They even had a vegan menu, so ordering was easy for me. The food tasted fresh and the restaurant had a cool vibe. Our server was friendly and talkative. He gave us great recommendations for our trip.

Second Morning

We started our morning with a quick walk around the town then had breakfast at the Sonnenalp again. It was just as good as the first day!

Rock Climbing with Paragon Guides

We spent our second day in Vail rock climbing with Paragon Guides. We requested “easy climbing with good views” and Jim, our guide, delivered. It was clear that Paragon put safety first – we wore helmets and although we knew how to climb, Jim explained all of the safety equipment. He also checked with us the night before and made sure to bring food we liked for lunch the next day.

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We talked with Jim about some other tours Paragon offers – including mountain biking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and multi-day backpacking. Needless to say, we’ll be seeing Paragon again!

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Climbing photos by Caroline Foster

Dinner at Matsuhisa

We had dinner at Matsuhisa, an upscale sushi restaurant in Vail village. We enjoyed cocktails, wine, and sushi in a hip environment. Our waitress was very helpful and gave us great recommendations. There were plenty of vegan options (yay) and the food was delicious. The portions were perfect for sharing and we got to try a bunch of different dishes.

It was an excellent finish to an amazing trip, and we can’t wait to get back to Vail!

 

What’s in My Backpack – Photography Gear

I should start with the disclaimer that I am NOT a photographer. But I’ve been asked by a few people what I use to take and edit my photos, so the list is below, with examples of photos I have taken with the gear:

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photo by Rex Kuhn

 

Sony

Sony Alpha A7II Mirrorless Camera Body

Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS E-Mount Lens

Sony SEL1018 10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

What I use it for: All of my adventures when I’m looking for something lightweight.

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photo by Rex Kuhn

 

Nikon

Nikon D750 Camera Body

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras

Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras

Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2 for Nikon FX Digital SLR Camera (6 Year Tamron Limited Warranty)

What I use it for: I learned photography on my Nikon, so at this point, I’m still more comfortable with it. I use my Nikon whenever weight isn’t an issue, or when I’m taking zoom photos because my zoom lenses are for my Nikon.

 

Drone

DJI Spark with Remote Control

What I use it for: Aerial photography…but only where it is legal, of course.

 

GoPro

GoPro Fusion

What I use it for: 360 photography

GoPro HERO 5 Black

What I use it for: Underwater photography.

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GoPro Dome

What I use it for: Over/underwater photography.

 

Editing

Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan

What I use it for: I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos.

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My Audible Summer Listening List

I’ve always been drawn to books. I like things that make me smarter. I like being exposed to new ideas. I like thinking. I like the quasi-meditative state my brain enters when I’m reading. I like the way I feel refreshed after finishing a book.

When I was younger I read all the time. Then I went to college and I didn’t have much free time anymore. I was busy taking as many credits I could squeeze into a semester, working, and having a social life. Things didn’t change once I graduated either. I got a job, went back to school at night, studied for various certifications. I lost the time I once used to read. I always told myself I’d get back into reading one day, but I always make myself so busy that I rarely have time to sit down and read a book.

Then I discovered Audible. Audible allows me to get through all the books I want to read – except I don’t need to actually read them. So I can live my busy life and still get my healthy dose of books. Listening while driving. Listening while hiking. Listening while running. Listening while on the metro on the way to work. Listening on the plane. Listening while my eyes are closed. I LOVE Audible and I’m so happy I’m able to go through books like I used to.

If you’d like to sign up for a free 30 day trial, to go to audible.com/christinexploring

Below is my summer listening list (thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions!)

Call Me by Your Name – Link to Audiobook

Deep – Link to Audiobook

Into Thin Air – Link to Audiobook

Into the Wild – Link to Audiobook

Born to Run – Link to Audiobook

North – Link to Audiobook

The Hidden Life of Trees – Link to Audiobook

Sapiens – Link to Audiobook

Born a Crime – Link to Audiobook

The Defining Decade – Link to Audiobook

Grit – Link to Audiobook

A House in the Sky – Link to Audiobook

On the Road – Link to Audiobook

Turtles All the Way Down – Link to Audiobook

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Link to Audiobook

The Alchemist – Link to Audiobook

Salt – Link to Audiobook

I’m so excited to listen to such a wide variety of books suggested by you. Please send me more suggestions!

Disclosure: I received compensation in exchange for writing this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

Havasupai Packing List

I’ve had a few people ask me what to pack on a trip to Havasupai, so I put together my suggested packing list. Hope this is helpful!

  • Overnight backpack: the 10 mile hike to and from the campsite isn’t easy, so don’t overpack and make sure your heavier items are closer to the bottom of your backpack.
  • Daypack: a backpack you can carry around during the day. If you have an overnight backpack with a removable top, even better!
  • Water bladder: there is a spring at the campsite where you can fill up.
  • Water bottle
  • Water filter: if you’re going on long day hikes and don’t feel like carrying all of your water for the day.
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Sun hat
  • Hiking shoes
  • Water shoes
  • Flip flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking poles: the hike in/out is hilly and rocky, so poles can be helpful.
  • Bathing suit
  • Shorts
  • Long durable quick-dry pants: especially if you want to do a long hike with river crossings.
  • Short sleeved shirt
  • Long sleeved shirt: to shield from the sun
  • Socks (bring a few pairs)
  • Tent or hammock
  • Sleeping bag
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Food: snacks, and meals if you want. The village that sells food is two miles from the campground.
  • Cooking system
  • Camera
  • Solar charger: if you want to keep your electronics charged

Enjoy your trip! If you want to see some pictures from Havasupai check out my Instagram.