• The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel

    The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel

    The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel // From transportation to accommodations and dining, check out this guide for resources + tips!

  • West Coast

    Next Stop: West Coast, USA

    Heading to the West Coast + vowing to experience it as a tourist.

  • Anguilla, BWI

    Anguilla: A Sunday Farewell

    A Sunday of goodbyes with a farewell boat trip to Little Bay, Scilly Cay & Sandy Ground.

  • Discover St. Kitts

    Discover St. Kitts

    Heading to St. Kitts? Get the inside scoop on activities, accommodations, and best kept secrets from the island!

  • Anguilla Carnival, Beach Party, Meads Bay

    Meads Bay Beach Party

    Photos plus a live concert during Thursday's private beach party on Meads Bay.

The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel

Big travels on a little budget

Before I moved to Europe and really began traveling, I had always associated a jet setting lifestyle with the global elite; people who could afford to buy a ticket to a far-flung locale and somehow afford accommodations for days, weeks or even months on end. Following that logic, I reluctantly accepted that ticking off all of the boxes for my bucket list adventures may never happen. Keep in mind, as an American, young adults are not encouraged to go on gap years — the traditional university route is widely accepted to be the more socially appropriate course.

I had been familiar with hosteling, of course, and in college knew people who headed to Europe or Asia for a summer experience, but it wasn’t until I moved and met many European globetrotters that I understood the real depth of budget opportunities. So, if you’re dreaming of setting out on a big travel experience – or a round the world trip! – here are some resources and tips to keep in mind for traveling big on a tiny budget.

Budget Travel Tips

Transportation {Flights}

There’s no doubt about it, flights can be a huge expense when you’re budgeting for travel. Where I find I can often times book hotel rooms the day of and secure a discounted price, flights are not same. A study done by CheapAir.com shows that buying 54 days prior to a flight is optimal, with flights booked further in advance for international flights. I typically book international flights 3 – 6 months in advance to find the best deal.

Fly on Miles // For The Loyal Flyers

1For a long time, I steered clear of being loyal to an airline. I flew whichever airline was cheapest and didn’t think twice about it. Then I got sucked in to American’s program and have since scored free flights using miles. For folks that fly frequently within the US, don’t discount airlines like Southwest who have great ‘Wanna Getaway’ fares that can be secured for minimal miles.

SkyScanner + TravelZoo // For Single Destination Travel

2I’ve written before about how much I love SkyScanner, and my love has yet to dwindle. I scored my parents a roundtrip ticket from California to the Caribbean (St. Maarten) for $505 roundtrip. We’d previously paid in the neighborhood of $750 – $800 or more for that same ticket. This isn’t for those that are tied to an airline but when it comes to scoring a deal, I’ve found some great options. The same can be said for sources like TravelZoo. I subscribe to their Top 20 newsletter and have found some incredible deals on airfare. A great example? When I moved to London, I flew direct from San Francisco for $250. Remember, if you know where you’re looking to fly – a main hub, perhaps – engage an alert so you’re notified when prices drop!

One World Explorer, et al. // For RTW Trips

3Many airlines offer round the world ticket options for those looking for a truly global experience. Star Alliance offers their Round the World Fare and One World Alliance offers their Global Explorer or One World Explorer options (One World Explorer allows you to choose how many continents you’ll be visiting, with up to 16 segments booked). They work in roughly the same fashion: you put in your point of origin and then select ongoing destinations that will be part of your itinerary, with the terminal point being the same as your starting point. Prices will vary, and aren’t cheap, but do provide a bit of incentive for those hitting many locales.

Regional Airlines // For Regional Explorers

4So, you’re not up for a RTW trip but are looking to explore a region. In this case, keep your eyes peeled for regional flight deals. For example, One World offers an Asia pass that allows you to fly around the continent on Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian and others using a simple rate structure. The folks over at Family Travel Forum talk about their $1200 ticket that granted them entry into 8 countries within a 30 day period. Considering what single legs can cost, that’s a steal!

Likewise, Seabourn Airlines is currently offering a Caribbean island hopping pass for $699. Traveling within the islands can be very expensive despite the short distances so package offerings like this can represent a huge savings. There is a time frame within the flights must be used but you can fly to any island serviced by Seabourn.

Other airlines and groups offer Air Passes for different regions so dig a bit deeper and find out what’s available. Some of the promotions aren’t ongoing so keep yourself looped in by following airlines on social channels so you can learn about deals when they arise.

Southwest, AirAsia, EasyJet // For No-Frills Short Flights

5If I learned anything while traveling within Europe, it was how to pack light. I flew EasyJet almost exclusively (unless there was a cheaper, more convenient flight on a line like AerLingus or Alitalia) and quickly learned that their restrictions on weight and dimensions are no joke. The airlines are pretty basic and are strict about the luggage requirements but they’ll get you from Point A to Point B pretty inexpensively.

Know of other great budget airlines to score cheap flights? Share them in the comments below!

Transportation {Ground Transportation}

Peru, IncaRail

Perhaps flying from destination to destination is not your style. Instead, maybe you want to see the landscape while traveling from Point A to Point B (to Point C, to Point D…). There are lots of budget travel options for bus and train travel if you’re looking to go that route. Some are cheaper than others but your choice will depend on how budget you want to be and where you fall on the time vs. money continuum.

Eurail, Amtrak, etc. // Long Distance Travel by Train

  • For US travel, look at Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass options which allow you to choose from 15 days/8 segments, 30 days/12 segments or 45 days/18 segments depending on the trip you have in mind.
  • In Europe, train travel is a common option for budget travelers as it represents one of the better values for longer rail experiences and can allow for more flexibility. A Eurail Pass is a famously good option and allows you to choose from single country passes, two country passes, 4 country passes or a custom itinerary for trips that go beyond that (the Global Pass is good for up to 24 countries). I’ve had a number of experiences with European train travel and have had great experiences each and every time.
  • In South America, train travel options exist in many countries with varying degrees of efficiency and comfort. Check out Seat61′s guide to South American rail options for greater details depending on which countries you’re interested in visiting.
  • In Asia, it will largely depend where you’re going as investment in infrastructure is hugely varied. In China, you can  check out China Highlights for tickets within the country. As an example, you can get a second class ticket from Beijing to Shanghai for $94. For a broader, albeit much more expensive, option, check out the Trans-Siberian Railway which connects China with Mongolia and Russia.
  • From what I’ve seen in Africa, many of the longer distance train opportunities are focused on the luxury experience (Blue Train for example, which is roughly $1300 for a ride from Cape Town to Pretoria).

If you’re familiar with any great train options in South America, Africa and/or Asia, please leave your thoughts and insight in the comments below!

Eurolines, Mekong Travel Pass, etc. // For Travel by Bus

Buses, while not the most glam of options, can certainly be a great route for budget travelers looking to explore many great locales without having to worry about flights or more expensive train travel. Buses can be an extraordinarily good value but do be aware that trips can be very long and roads can be very rough in developing areas. Certain regions with larger backpacking population are a bit more well worn and buses are a bit more versed in getting around. Here are a few options, depending on which region interests you.

  • In Europe, check out the Eurolines pass which gives you access to 41 cities across Europe and total flexibility with travel destinations. You can choose from 15 or 30 day passes and prices are available for youth (under 26). A 30 day youth pass is around $330 in low season and $500 in high season.
  • In the US, Greyhound is your best bet if you’re looking for bus travel across many states. They have Web Only Fares that are significantly less than in-person rates.  You can go from San Francisco to LA for around $15, or SF to Vegas for around $35. As far as I can tell, you have to book each leg independently (there’s not a US pass). Also, check out Megabus which now serves many areas in the United States for shorter legs of travel (it’s less prevalent on the West Coast). For example, you can get from DC to New York for as little as $3 one way (rush hour is typically 5 – 10x as much).
  • For Central America, check out Bamba Experience’s ‘Complete Central America‘ package. The packages are super flexible so you can make changes to your itinerary before or during your trip so it follows the path that’s best for you. This particular option starts in Cancun and ends in Panama City with stops in Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica and more.The recommended time is 23 days and the cost is around $1350.
  • In Southeast Asia, check out Stray’s Mekong Travel Pass which grants you access to what is essentially a hop on – hop off bus in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Entry to a number of sites is included with the $1368 pass. You can start and end anywhere on the route since it’s situated in a loop! Country-specific options are available as well if you want something less broad.
  • In South America, Bamba offers a number of routes depending on which areas pique your interest. You can choose a route that starts in Lima and ends in Santiago with their Pacific Ways South trip, stopping at other coastal cities along the way (it’s $899 and they recommend around 22 days to complete the trip).
  • In New Zealand, Flexitrips offers flexible bus passes for exploring both the North and South Islands. You can choose options that allow between 5 and 30 trips, and an option that includes the interislander ferry.
  • In Southern Africa, check out Intercape, the largest intercity passenger transport operating in South Africa, Namibia, Malawi and other countries. BazBus is a good option for bus travel within South Africa specifically.

Accommodations

Hostel

Couchsurfing // Free Stays in Local Homes

1Couchsurfing (here) has become wildly popular for budget travelers and the community represents 7 million people that are traveling the world and staying with locals. Though I haven’t personally gone this route (and, to be honest, I’d be hesitant as as lone female traveler), I’ve had friends who have done this with wonderful experiences to share. Accommodations often represent a huge expense when traveling; to be able to cut this cost entirely can make traveling more extensively a much more feasible option.

WWOOF // Room & Board for Services

2WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it’s actually something I looked into when I was coming to the end of my graduate school stint. Knowing I’d be headed back to the US (womp, womp), I wanted to find a way to continue seeing the world without having to spend loads of money. With WWOOF, opportunities are available worldwide in a number of environments (think olive farms in Italy and coffee farms in Peru), and typically require 4 – 6 hours of work in exchange for a place to stay and a full day’s worth of food.

Had experiences with WWOOF? Please feel free to share your thoughts + experience in the comments section below!

Housesitting // Free Stays for Week-plus Stays

3I first was really introduced to the concept of housesitting after communicating with the team at Suitcase Stories, a blog focused on housesitting experiences. The concept had me a bit skeptical, but it’s all totally valid. There are people around the globe seeking out trustworthy sitters for their house and/or pets. With a quick glance, I spotted opportunities from London to Costa Rica, with thousands of listings around the globe.

HomeAway, VRBO, et al. // Inexpensive Group Lodging

4When I began brainstorming ideas for an upcoming milestone birthday, I headed to HomeAway to find a house that could accommodate 8+ people in my desired location. What I quickly discovered was that the results span the gamut. Yes, there are drool-inducing estates but there are also incredibly affordable villas that provide a great deal for groups (or even just a pair traveling together). Look outside of a central city area if you want lower rates (and are okay with having to rent a car or call a cab for transport). You can find deals around the world and rates are often seasonal. If you’re flexible, you can score homes in places like Tuscany for the equivalent of around $25 per person per night. Bonus: remember that staying in a house will help you save on food costs since you’ll have a kitchen at your disposal!

Hosteling, International // For Hosteling Around the World

5Lest I skip the most obvious of choices for budget travelers, I can’t discount the ever-present hostel. Hostels are a famously good option for those traipsing around Europe but they’re found around the globe from Algeria to Vietnam. Often times, hostels are well situated and offer great additions like free wi-fi and inexpensive dining options. Sign up for Hosteling International’s membership to get discounts on hostels and activities while traveling. If you’re not concerned about having your own room, most hostels offer dorm-style setups with bunk beds and rooms for up to 16 people or more. Rooms of 10+ are not uncommon. I once stayed in a place called The Tent in Munich which housed dozens of people under one massive tent.

Obviously price is hugely dependent on where you’re going, but rates are generally very inexpensive in comparison to local competition. For example, a hostel in Bolivia costs $4.50 per night for a shared room with 4 other people. If you want a private space, you’ll fork over $8.90 a night. Not too shabby. By comparison, in a major developed city like Sydney, your entry level rate in a shared room is around $33 per night.

Are there any other accommodation options that I’ve neglected to mention that work for budget travelers? Do you have any experiences with the options I’ve just listed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Activities

Checking out the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Youth works on your side when it comes to scoring deals on must-see sights and popular attractions. As I mentioned above in the hosteling section, showing your Hosteling International card will have benefits when it comes to cultural immersion experiences. Don’t forget to bring your student ID with you, either. Many places around the world offer great discounts or free entry (or designated freebie nights) to individuals bearing a valid student identification. A few examples based on my personal experiences: free entry at the Acropolis in Greece, discounted entry to the Louvre, discounts on European rail tickets, and incredibly inexpensive tickets to musicals across London (I once scored Grade A tickets to a performance of Wicked in London’s West End for £15 instead of the typical £60+).

You can also check out the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) which is internationally recognized and offers global benefits to card carriers.

Dining

Food trucks FTW :)

When it comes to dining, I always found it a plus if my chosen accommodation had breakfast included. What that means will differ based on the accommodation and the destination, but I’d be happy to start my day with a cup of coffee and something light before heading out to explore. Some hotels boast an extra large buffet option (this was the case when we were in Prague) where you can load up in the AM and sometimes not be hungry again until around dinner time.

I have never eaten at an American chain when traveling though I realize some American fast food spots can provide inexpensive options. Instead, I’m a fan of street food where I’m nearly certain that it’s safe (I suppose you can never be 100% certain). In Turkey, that was hummus and pita at a hole-in-the-wall spot; in Paris that was an inexpensive crepe at box-sized kiosk. There are options, and you don’t have to give up local flavor and a cultural experience just because you can’t splurge on a fancy dinner by a famous local chef.


Now it’s your turn to share your experiences and best-kept secrets! Is there anything that I’ve forgotten on this list? How have you managed to experience great travels on a little budget?

West Coast

Interestingly enough, I’ve realized that I sort of skim over my time in California rather than showcase the incredible destination that it is. I was just in Lake Tahoe for a bachelorette party, and spent two and a half weeks in San Francisco, Napa, San Diego + Tahoe last September, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at this blog.

That’s what happens when you’re revisiting a place that you call home; the sights tend to seem less brilliant purely because you’ve seen them before and/or you know you’ll see them again. Despite the iconic elements – the Golden Gate Bridge, the endless vineyards, the quintessentially Californian beachside towns – I rarely take photos unless they’re pictures of friends and family. When I’m in a foreign locale, even something as simple as a street sign or a weathered bench captures my attention. It’s knowing that I may never be in that same place again that makes me pause and take mental snapshots (a good habit, in my opinion), and it’s perhaps that same line of thinking that causes me to take my trips ‘home’ for granted.

But let’s be honest, the place we called home is a pretty great place; something that I’m starting to really understand now that I’m no longer there. That’s how it always happens, doesn’t it? You manage to remember the little details of what makes a destination captivating when you’re not living in it. It takes a seriously conscious effort to take mental snapshots of all the little moments that make up every day life. This go around, I’m vowing to take in our time on the West Coast. We have adventures ahead and I’m going to log each experience as I would any other memorable getaway. On our September agenda:

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

1Santa Barbara is one of my favorite cities in California, if not the world. It’s the ultimate blend of small town feel, a laid back beach town vibe with a serious splash of luxe. If I could live in any city in California, Santa Barbara would probably be it. It’s essentially all things great packed into one picture-perfect package. We’ll be in Santa Barbara for five days, celebrating a wedding and catching up with friends from the Bay Area.

Las Vegas

S&S-Paris

2Vegas wasn’t supposed to be part of this trip but it snuck its way into the itinerary. We knew that September would take us to California to celebrate not one, but two weddings, during back-to-back weekends. The timing was superb so we booked our tickets for the 12-day stint which allowed us to watch our nearest and dearest friends tie the knot. Then we looked at each other and began brainstorming what we would do with the weekdays separating those two weekends. We could stay in Santa Barbara (expensive) or head up to San Francisco (even more expensive) or we could do neither of those. We could go to Vegas. It sounds extravagant, but here’s the truth: it’s cheaper to stay in Vegas than it is in most cities in California. A lot cheaper. On top of that, we’ve accumulated an endless amount of Southwest miles which allows us to fly to Vegas for virtually nothing (except for a nominal tax). I like to think we’re saving money by going this route. Reasonable justification, right?

Plus, it’s Vegas. 

San Francisco

San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf

3Last, but certainly not least, we’ll be heading to San Francisco, our former home and one of my favorite cities in the world. We’ll be heading to a family wedding in the city, and will have five days in town to relive the magic of San Francisco in September. As a bonus, we get to toast to my grandma on her 89th birthday with a celebratory lunch in the City by the Bay. Location TBD — we’re still in brainstorming mode.

I’ll be recapping my adventures here, but you can also follow me on Instagram to stay up to speed with my upcoming journeys on the West Coast!

We’re still figuring out where to stay in Vegas! We’ve previously booked the Palazzo (great) and the Trump (meh). Any recommendations on new hotels that we should experience? Vegas will be a partial scouting trip – we’re on the hunt for the perfect experiences for my grandma’s 90th birthday bash in LV!

xo from the Caribbean,

Shannon Kircher

Anguilla, BWI

Little Bay, Scilly Cay + Johnno’s

If you can’t tell from my previous Sunday posts from Anguilla, Sunday is the ultimate day for live music and activities on the island. Johnno’s has their afternoon jazz, Scilly Cay is open with live music, Gwen’s has a string band in the afternoons, and Omari Banks serenades the crowd at da ‘Vida during lunchtime. Experiencing all of it in one day is impossible, but we were on a mission to make it a day of memories, including as much as we could without spreading ourselves too thin.Little Bay, Anguilla

This trip marked my in-laws last full day on the island, and also marked my last day with out-of-town houseguests that had been visiting us from DC. We wanted to end the trip with a bang, and bring a memorable conclusion to an already jam-packed trip. First up: Little Bay.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.35.10 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.35.19 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.35.29 PM

Lest we float empty-handed, we cracked open a jeroboam of rose that we had gifted to my in-laws for their anniversary. If ever there was a time to drink it, this was it. Drinks in hand, we floated in the calm cove without any other visitors in sight.

Floating in Little Bay

Perfection.

I’ve talked about Little Bay time and time again (here, for example), but it’s a place that’s truly awe-inspiring; dramatic and unique. As I explained to my mother-in-law during our time there, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit, I can’t help but take pictures. While we’re idling there with no one else in sight, it feels wrong to not capture the moment and take in all of the colors and depth. As a result, I have about a thousand of the exact same photo taken on different days, but you know what? I’m okay with that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.35.41 PM

From Little Bay, we made our way to the wondrous Scilly Cay. I just talked about how much I love Scilly Cay a few weeks ago so I won’t go into detail about why it’s amazing. Suffice it to say, it is amazing and in my book it’s a must if you haven’t been. Even if you don’t want to splurge on a crayfish lunch, pop in for a rum punch and take it all in. When you’re planning your itinerary, remember that Scilly Cay is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays with Sundays offering live music.

ScillyCay Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.36.01 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.36.12 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.36.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.36.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.37.09 PM

Typically a Scilly Cay Sunday is plenty in and of itself, but we had a next step involved. Since it was the final day for a number of passengers, we concluded our boat trip by pulling into Sandy Ground to listen to jazz. Sprocka, a veritable living legend on Anguilla, was serenading the crowd with his covers and upbeat originals. If you remember, Sprocka played the cocktail party for our wedding so we have a particularly soft spot in our heart for him! As usual, he was fabulous.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.37.24 PM

It was a bittersweet Sunday with some incredible memories and some sad premature goodbyes. Still, I can’t think of a better sendoff than a mini island tour with friends and family.

For those that have spent time on Anguilla on a Sunday, what are your go-tos? Why?

xo from AXA,

Shannon Kircher

Discover St. Kitts

A few weeks back, I worked with the St. Kitts Tourism Board to host a weekly Twitter chat, #CaribChat, with a focus on St. Kitts. When I first started #CaribChat, we talked a bit more generally about travel in the region, but I thought it may be valuable to host chats that were a little more focused and island-specific. Those that have an interest in potentially visiting can gain insight from travel pros and lovers of an island, while frequenters to a given locale can share their best kept secrets and musts for newbies. By all accounts, it’s a win-win, and our first island-focused chat on St. Kitts was an overwhelming success. Lovers of the island came out en masse to share their thoughts and everyone who hadn’t yet visited the island was thoroughly convinced that St. Kitts is, in fact, a destination worth noting. Check out the recap from our conversation to learn more from others who contributed. We talked about accommodations, dining, beaches, activities and more, and everyone was bursting with ideas and excited to share. A big thank you to the St. Kitts Tourism Board for co-hosting and to all the St. Kitts lovers who participated and shared insight.

Activities in St. Kitts

Activities in St. KittsActivities in St. Kitts Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.45.51 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.46.06 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.46.18 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.46.31 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.47.03 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.47.17 PM Activities in St. KittsActivities in St. KittsActivities in St. Kitts Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 12.56.16 PMACtivities in St. KittsActivities in St. Kitts Read More

Anguilla Carnival, Beach Party, Meads Bay

Private party at the Frangipani Beach Resort

After the madness of August Monday had come to a close, we were gearing up for Thursday’s events. The Meads Bay boat races takes place on Thursday, making the Frangipani – and other hotels that line the beach – the perfect place to watch the races while taking in the energy of onlookers.

In honor of the races, the resort hosted a private party for in-house guests, complete with live music, appetizers from Straw Hat restaurant and a DIY bar to whip up rum cocktails. In hindsight, this was the highlight of the week for me. Having friends and family at the property, floating in the pool, watching the boats take off, and listening to the Mussington Brothers play while the sun began to set was absolute perfection on every level. Check out this quick video of the Mussington Brothers in action – absolutely incredible:

Here’s another quick clip that I captured on my iPhone:

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the day’s festivities, including my sister debuting her new blue braided extensions that she wore in the Grand Parade of Troupes on Friday. I’ll be honest, I was shocked by how good she looked with blue hair — such a rock star!

IMG_2176

IMG_2191

Meads Bay, AnguillaIMG_2243

IMG_2217IMG_2239

Frangipani Beach Resort, Anguilla, BWI

IMG_2245

How great are the Mussington Brothers?! We were all floored by their performance. I had imagined live music to complement the bar, the beach and the people but it ended up feeling like the best private concert imaginable. A huge thank you to the group for bringing such an incredible vibe to the resort on Thursday!

 xo from Anguilla,

Shannon Kircher

August Monday, Carnival, Sandy Ground

Anguilla’s Carnival/Summer Festival is a week-long celebration that involves pageants, Band Clash, the Grand Parade of Troupes, sailboat races, a street fair, and the famous August Monday beach party in Sandy Ground. For me, the festivities of August Monday have become synonymous with Carnival.

August Monday, Anguilla, BWI

The typically tranquil Sandy Ground of daytime is completely transformed on the first Monday of every August. A stage is setup for bands that play through the day and the beach is lined with BBQ stands serving up chicken, ribs and the occasional dose of fish. Heineken has a massive tent set up smack dab in the middle of the beach to dole out Carnival-themed tees and hats to folks buying rum punch in quantity (there are lots of takers).

Carnival, Sandy Ground, Anguilla

If you’ve never been to Anguilla during Carnival, it’s certainly a different side of the island – it’s one of the biggest beach parties in the Caribbean, and the beach is buzzing from morning until night. Check out the pictures from the festivities:

August Monday, Sandy GroundCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaAugust Monday Beach Party, Sandy Ground, AnguillaCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaCarnival, Sandy Ground, AnguillaAugust Monday, Anguilla, BWI

Have you been to a Carnival celebration in the Caribbean? Was anyone in Anguilla for this week’s festivities?

Love from Anguilla,

Shannon Kircher

SCilly Cay, Anguilla

Scilly Cay Sunday is a tradition. Before the madness of August Monday ensues, we head down to the miniature island for a day of sunning, sipping, and gorging ourselves on Scilly Cay’s famously delicious food. I feel like I’ve talked about Scilly Cay before a thousand times (here‘s one example), but it’s one of those places that never seems to disappoint. When you think of paradise, this is it. And while I now know what to expect when we pull into this little conch shell-lined segment of sand, stepping foot on the island still seems to transport guests into a different realm.

Scilly Cay, Anguilla, BWI

Scilly Cay, Anguilla, BWI

The island is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays, but Sundays bring the full experience with the incorporation of live music. You can simply go for lunch or pop in for a rum punch if you’re looking to take a glimpse, but we typically end up making a day of it. There are beach chairs strewn about the island, so bring a towel so you can find your space to marinate. Yes, the food is pricey (you’re in about $75 for the crayfish or lobster), but when we chat with guests about whether or not it’s worth the expense, we always go back to the experience of Scilly Cay. In my opinion, if you haven’t been before, it’s a must. For photographers out there – professional or not – it’s a haven for artsy islandy shots.

It’s worth noting that the portions are huge and absolutely splittable (Scott and I typically share a chicken/crayfish combo). The rum punches are no joke, either. At $5 a pop, you can’t help but want to get your rum punch fill, but they creep up on you! Watch the proprietor, Gorgeous, pour a rum punch and you’ll see what I mean – 3/4 rum, a bit of punch and a signature splash of amaretto.

Scilly Cay, Anguilla, BWI

Scilly Cay, Anguilla, BWI

In honor of Carnival, the group put together some fun shirts for the occasion:

Group

Anguilla Tank Tops

We said our goodbyes to Scilly Cay and headed back to the main land while the sun was setting. Our boat was full of happy travelers singing Caribbean tunes as we made our way back to Island Harbour.

Sunset-Boats

Sunset Tiff

As per usual, it was another fabulous Sunday soaking up the sun at Scilly Cay!

Have you been to Scilly Cay? What are your thoughts?

Shannon Kircher

Lake Tahoe, Zephyr Cove

An impromptu three-day trip to California

I had zero intention of being in California last weekend. Seriously.

Lake Tahoe

My cousin, who will be getting married in San Francisco in September, was having her bachelorette party in Lake Tahoe last weekend. She sent out the date eons ago, but I sadly had to decline. Considering time and financial constraints, it didn’t seem plausible to hop on a plane for a three-day weekend in California. The travel time to the West Coast is around 13 hours from Anguilla (plus the ferry to St. Maarten, plus transport within California), so the logical part of my brain was screaming that this was impossible.

Fast forward to last Monday, just a few days before I would have been departing had I opted to go on this trip. Scott and I were having a heart-to-heart with my in-laws where they emphasized the importance of moments like this, and inadvertently reminded us of our current views on spending: we’ll (hopefully) always make money, but we can’t have the time and memories back. After our conversation, I hopped online the next morning and booked a ticket to Northern California.

I would be leaving on Thursday afternoon, arriving in CA Thursday night, heading up with the rest of the girls for a weekend in Lake Tahoe on Friday morning and then flying out of CA on Sunday night. It was destined to be a whirlwind, but I was excited.

She was totally surprised by me being there, of course. I surprised her at her house and she was in utter disbelief (the kind where you can’t formulate a word). Success.

We spent our weekend on Tahoe’s South Shore, with a day soaking up the sun at Zephyr Cove. The weekend, with its smoke-filled casinos, cover bands, gambling and festivities, was wonderful from start to finish. Check out some pics from my three quick days in Tahoe:

South Tahoe, California

South Shore Tahoe Bachelorette PartyTahoe Bachelorette PartyBridesmaids

Bachelorette GiftsMorning After

As a super bonus, I got to see my favorite person in the world, and she looked better than ever:

Reunited

xo from the islands,

Shannon Kircher

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

A St. John Photoshoot + Tips for Vacation Photos

Amidst this surprise trip to St. John for the weekend, I also booked us a 30 minute shoot with St. John-based Flytographer, Savanah Loftus. I chatted with Savanah over the phone before we arrived to get her thoughts on our options for a quick thirty minute shoot. She gave me a few thoughts on circuits that she typically does: 1) A focus on Cruz Bay using the vibrant colors and fun qualities of the island’s main town; 2) a beach shoot; 3) a shoot playing off of the ruins near Caneel Bay in St. John. I’ve seen photos from all three settings and all are pretty incredible for different reasons. Before meeting with her, I had my mind set on a beach shoot. I wanted something playful but still romantic to capture the essence of our first wedding anniversary.

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

When the day arrived, the skies were hazier than they had been the previous days. We had heard about this ‘Saharan dust’ and were finally understanding what it was: it left this bizarre hazy layer on the island, muting the colors which was especially noticeable at the beach. When we met up in Cruz Bay, I mentioned it to Savanah to ask for a bit of direction. She quickly pointed us to a Cruz Bay shoot where we could play off the colors in the town instead of relying on the colors in the sky.

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

Tips for Vacation Photography

No question about it, Scott and I both felt awkward to begin with; having your photo taken in public with people quizically looking on makes the whole thing feel even less natural. With a thirty minute shoot, you have to get comfortable pretty quickly to take advantage of the brief time that you have with the photog. Savanah did a great job of trying to make us feel natural and put us in situations that didn’t seem too forced. All in all, we both thought the photos turned out fairly well. I chose to have a vacation photographer primarily to have a few photos from our first anniversary that we were both in. We always end up leaving trips without more than one or two decent photos together and I was determined to make this trip different. Keep reading for a few tips for getting the most out of a vacation shoot based on our experience and what I think I could have done better. Read More

VIbe St. John

Enter to win a necklace from Vibe Collection

During my time in St. John, I found myself utterly amazed by the amount of shopping available on such a tiny island. Beyond St. John-logoed tees, magnets and cover-ups, there were shops doling out spices, interesting art and most notably, jewelry. Vibe Collection caught my attention immediately. There are two separate shops in Cruz Bay: Vibe Collection and Into the Blue, both selling stunning handmade jewelry with stones like larimar, green quartz, citrine and blue topaz. As a major bonus for women that have a hard time finding bracelets that fit: their jewelry is sized so it actually fits you properly. Such a simple but brilliant idea, right?

I’m excited to kick off a giveaway in conjunction with the team at Vibe Collection. One of their most popular pieces, the Jost Van Dyke pendant, is up for grabs for one lucky winner (a $348 value)! As a bonus, you’ll get to pick the stone that best reflects your style and personality: blue topaz, white topaz, citrine, amethyst or onyx. To enter, connect with VIbe Collection through their social channels (Facebook, Twitter &  Pinterest) and let us know that you’ve done so using the widget below.

The contest closes August 7, 2014 at 12PM EST and winners will be notified shortly after!
a Traveling Scholar Giveaway

Good luck to everyone!

Shannon Kircher

This giveaway was made possible by The Vibe Collection. Winner will be randomly selected and pendant will be sent directly from the team at Vibe St. John.