Luna Park in Coney Island, NYC

Luna Park adventure at Coney Island, NYC!

It’s still cold outside but warm weather is coming. I repeat: Warm. Weather. Is. Coming! There are so many fun things that we’re all dying to do when we don’t need to wear our ski coats and fuzzy socks just go cross the street to the local bodega. One of the things I’m excited to do is go down to the beach and maybe visit Coney Island!

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Is Kyiv, Ukraine Safe to Visit?

Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live.

Although the media has a short attention span and has long forgotten about the ongoing war in Ukraine, tourists have not. Nor reporting on the situation has led to some people worrying even more than they would if they were up to date on the situation.

What is going on in Ukraine right now?

People are still dying as they fight for the country every day. Crimea is impossible run by Russians and two eastern territories are now “independent” and the Ukrainians there are struggling to regain the territory. Pro-Ukrianian locals are often persecuted and we hear crazy stories about teenagers getting killed by other teenagers for wearing a Ukrainian flag on their backpack.

These terrible stories are terrifying and I understand why they would deter tourist from traveling to Ukraine. However, there are perfectly safe areas that you can visit without having to worry. For example, Kyiv.

I’ve visited Kyiv, or as some spell it, Kiev, six times since Euromaidan in November 2014. Each time I stayed in Kiev, during the beginning I even went to the protests. All evidence of the barricades and destruction of the revolution are long gone – replaced with memorials for those who died, etc. It’s been completely safe to visit for years.

Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live. This past trip, my mom, my husband and I took a very exciting day trip to Chernobyl! Now that comes with a very different kind of safety questions.

But I’ll be writing about that next time!

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Jane’s Carousel: 100 Years in NYC

For $2, you can ride a 100 year old carousel with a view of New York City!

We moved to New York City this past August. Before looking for an apartment or job hunting, we dived head first into exploring and local travel! We ran into Jane’s Carousel accidentally while enjoying the views of the city from Brooklyn’s Dumbo.  For only $2 we could ride this historic carousel. Who said that carousels are just for children?

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Vegan Meals on Flights

Obviously, different airlines have different standards. On our Chinese flights, there was a little less creativity in the meal. There was no vegan butter and the dessert was a simple fruit salad. On our more recent Singapore Airlines flight, on the other hand, there was not one but two meals with a different fancy dessert each time.

People frequently ask me how I manage to eat vegan food while traveling. It isn’t always easy to find vegan street food and it can be disappointing to not have an opportunity to try a traditional meal. The easiest part of vegan travel is the flight, 1. because the food is delicious and 2. special meals get served first!

Any flight that includes a meal will accommodate to the passengers needs. In the past year and a half of being vegan, we’ve been on dozens of flights and where there was food, there were vegan options! All it takes was a quick phone call a few days in advance and they will provide you with the food you request free of charge.

Obviously, different airlines have different standards. On our Chinese flights, there was a little less creativity in the meal. There was no vegan butter and the dessert was a simple fruit salad. On our more recent Singapore Airlines flight, on the other hand, there was not one but two meals with a different fancy dessert each time.

Earlier, I mentioned that airlines would accommodate your dietary needs which is only slightly misleading. The vegan meal is often also the same one that is served to vegetarians, people with a gluten allergy and sometimes also halal/kosher. On fancier flights, each category will have a different meal but you pay for what you get.

So once you make the call and book your meal, all you need to do is get on the plane and wait for the flight attended to come by before take-off to double check with you about the meal. If you want to be extra sure, you can ask at check in if it is in their system. Sometimes, mistakes happen but if you let them know two hours in advance it can still be salvageable!

Last tip: don’t expect your vegan meal to be particularly healthy. Sometimes you will get fancy steamed veggies but you may also get fried rice, saucy pasta or a perfectly roasted eggplant smothered in oil – which was one of my favorite and most fattening flight meal ever!

Don’t forget, when you get a special meal, they bring it to you first – with the exception of first class. No more waiting hungrily in row 50 after hours of travel with delicious food smells filling the stuffy plane! Prepare for angry stares by hungry meat-eating passengers. But as a vegan, you’re probably already used to it 😉

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What to Expect from Reykjavik in December?

4 hours of sunlight, below zero temperatures but very few tourists…

My first trip to Iceland was far from ideal. First, it was just a 52 hour layover and second, it was in December. Don’t get me wrong, there are many positives about visiting Iceland during this time including fewer tourists seeing the rolling hills and waterfalls frozen in a winter wonderland.

Unfortunately, December is also the month when Iceland is freezing and there is only 4-5 hours of sunlight a day! Luckily, the roads are well lit so you can safely drive in the dark even if it is snowing. But it does take some planning around to make your trip worthwhile.

First of all, you need to keep in mind that when the sun doesn’t rise until 11-12 am, neither do the locals. We landed at 8 am and tried to get something to eat and drink. We ended up in a grocery store because everything else was closed including bars and cafes.

It took a lot of driving around for us to find a hotel by the port where we could warm up (it was unpleasant to spend more than 10 minutes outside). Unfortunately the tiny coffees were overpriced much like everything in the touristy areas of Iceland, but at least we had a place to wait for the city to wake up.

For the two days that we were there, we had to schedule our sightseeing around the darkness. To visit to Golden Circle, we got up early to drive 3 hours from the city to arrive right when the sun started to rise. We had to rush a little but we had enough time to see all three sights – the two waterfalls and the geyser – with some time to spare for lunch before heading over to the Blue Lagoons.

Due to our lack of time, we had to visit the Blue Lagoons during the evening and made an appointment for two hours before closing. We were worried that this wouldn’t be enough time, but it was hard for us to stay there too long because you start feeling faint after just 20 minutes in the water. It would have been cool to see the place during daylight, but it was magical at night too.

The biggest perk of visiting in the winer was definitely the lack of tourists. There were handfuls here and there, but the parking lots that were normally overcrowded were empty and we got to enjoy the sights in peace. So I definitely recommend a short trip to Iceland in December, however, I’m dying to return when it’s warmer and sunnier for a completely different experience!

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Rockaway Beach NYC: Better than Coney Island

Did you know that New York has 14 miles (22 km) of beaches? Check it out!

Most people who visit New York spend most of their time exploring Manhattan, hitting the tourist spots in Brooklyn, occasionally they even set out to Queens or the Bronx, sometimes to the beaches on Long Island. Not every tourist knows that New York has many beaches to visit during the summer! In face, New York has 14 miles (22 km) of beaches!

Brighton Beach and Coney Island are the more popular and crowded ones. There is also the popular Manhattan beach and the more out of the way – yet our favorite has been Rockaway Beach. Unfortunately for us, we live in Brooklyn so it took us over 2 hours of subway delays to get here, because the subway lines in New York are mostly horizontal.

We had to go into Manhattan then grab a train down to Rockaway. It would have been faster to drive or better yet, take the ferry. You can take the ferry here from New York and from Manhattan. The ferry ride is the same price as the train, just $2.75 and it’s fast, breezy and offers a unique view of the city!

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Why You Should Order Pet Supplies from Chewy.com

This past week, I was picking out a new food for Smiley on Chewy.com because I wanted something with fewer ingredients. Amazon had it for $10 cheaper, but here is why I chose to buy it from Chewy…

This is not a sponsored post, although from the amount of money they have refunded us over the past few months, it might as well be.  But let me start at the beginning!

We adopted Smiley just over three months ago and like any crazy dog parents, we began spoiling him with toys and chews. We try to limit our Amazon shopping because we are morally opposed to their business tactics but all other websites, like Petco, had expensive shipping fees and overall prices.

That’s when someone recommended Chewy.com. They offer free shipping on orders over $50 and for most dog foods. When shipping isn’t free, it’s very cheap and with all of their sales on doggie sweaters and chews it’s worth paying the fee.

In addition to being cheap, they also ship quickly within a day or two and we’ve never received an order later than 4 business days and that was once when it got lost in transit. All of their products come packaged sustainably in paper boxes with crumpled up paper to protect the items. They use as little plastic as possible which is another reason I love them!

Finally, unlike Amazon recently, Chewy takes responsibility for lost packages. Even when it was 100% not their fault. We don’t live in the best area of Brooklyn and so far, 3 packages have gone missing. One of these I later found outside in the trash, unopened. So I managed to retrieve it. The other two, however, were re-shipped at their expense.

Calling Chewy customer support is a completely unique experience. They pick up the phone within two rings, they don’t play calming waiting music, there is no line of people waiting ahead of you. They always answer right away, it is always a human and they are incredibly friendly and helpful. Again, unlike Amazon.

When Smiley’s new sweater went missing, they simply re-shipped it without hesitating or asking questions. The second time, it was his food that went missing. This was a bigger problem because he is severely allergic to chicken and will break out in itchy hives. We mentioned it to Chewy and they not only re-sent the food but they also refunded us $20 to buy him something else in the mean time. What other company does that?

During the holidays, unfortunately it didn’t happen to us, but they sent presents to a lot of their customers. They commissioned artists to paint the customer’s doggies and sent the art out as Christmas presents! They also send flowers and condolences notes if a beloved pet dies.

This past week, I was picking out a new food for Smiley on Chewy.com because I wanted something with fewer ingredients. The variety of their products is impressive and quite overwhelming. I used their filters and found the perfect food that also happened to be cheaper than his current one.

Finally, just to check, I decided to see if Amazon sold it for cheaper. They did. But did I buy it from Amazon? No. Could I save over $10 a month ($120 a year) by shopping from Amazon instead of Chewy.com? Yes. Would I stray from a business that is caring, treats their employees and customers with respect? Never!

Thank you Chewy, for being amazing and for showing us what companies and customer service should be like. Also, thank you for caring about us and most importantly, about Smiley. If you haven’t already, go to their website and see for yourself. If you have any questions about anything, just call them and see just how different from other companies they are.

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Flying Cheap from NYC to Europe

Consider layovers, free trips from the airport and booking long in advance, forget 6 weeks.

My most recent trip, the last of 2018 and the first of 2019, was an 18 day adventure to four amazing countries. It was a little hectic and we were exhausted afterwards, but it was surprisingly affordable!

Did you know that everyone sitting on the same plane with you paid a different price for their ticket? The world of traveling is full of injustice, I know. One of my skills that I am most proud of is finding great flight deals, and I love to share my tips!

The flights we took on this trip included: NYC to Reykjavik, Reykjavik to London, London to Kyiv, Kyiv to Prague and finally Prague to NYC via Frankfurt. The total cost for these 6 flights was just over $1,700 for two people! If you google flights from America to mainland Europe right now, the average cost will be around $1,000, so how did I manage to get such a great price for so many flights?

Layovers:

Before I book any flight, I always check where the layovers are. If many different airlines have layovers in the same city, I will create a new search and check for independent flight going though that city. When I did this for New York to London, I discovered that Iceland is a popular layover spot. When I searched for independent flights through Iceland, the price dropped by $100 per ticket.

When booking flights independently, please keep in mind that if there is a delay that makes you miss your flight, you will not be reimbursed. That’s what makes booking flights independently risky. But there are plenty of websites that will give you information on the statistics on how often similar flights are delayed and by how long. Of course it’s not 100% reliable, but it’s still a good indicator. I try to allow for at least 10+ hours between flights just in case!

Some countries also offer special layover trips/layover extensions for free. Seoul and Reykjavik for example offer free tours of the city during your layover. You can find out more online or by calling the airport.

Book well in advance:

There are plenty of great last minute deals out there, or so I have heard. Personally, I have never found one so I like to book up to a year in advance. There is supposedly a formula for the cheapest ticket and that’s too book 6 weeks in advance, but when it comes to trips during busy flight seasons and holidays, the sooner you book, the better!

Don’t overdo it:

I’m the queen of fitting lots of travel into a short period of time. However, I don’t remember the last time I returned from a trip relaxed. Before you book layover upon layover for your two week trip, consider the time you have and whether the quality will be compromised by the quantity of places you stop over in.

My trip was amazing and I wouldn’t have done things differently. But next time, I will definitely try to spend more time in one place even if it costs me a little more. I’m getting too old to sleep on airport floors while lugging heavy suitcases around the world!

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Exploring Buffalo, New York

Road trip time!

In 2018 Isaac and I visited 10 countries! After moving to New York and getting a dog we didn’t have as many opportunities to hop on too many flights, but we did take many exciting road trips.

In 2019 our travel goals are definitely more local and will hopefully involve Smiley! Can you say road trip? Right after the move, we visited Niagara Falls for my birthday with included exploring Buffalo. We’re hoping that our future trips go as well as this one!

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New Year, New Me! Kind of… Maybe.

At the end of every year, I always sit down to reflect and write new year’s resolutions. I don’t care that it’s cliche or that some things won’t change no matter how much I work for it. It’s nice to have goals no matter what!

Anyway, one of my goals is to get back on track with this blog and my videos. From now through the end of the year, you can expect a blog post or video on here ever other day. If you see me slacking or falling behind, feel free to send me a comment or message!

In the next few weeks I will be focusing on reporting back from my trip to Iceland, London, Kyiv and Prague! Wish me luck and let me know what your resolutions are in the comments below.

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