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Five Mistakes Travelers Make When Visiting Antelope Canyon

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Antelope Canyon is a destination that has exploded in popularity over the past few years – and rightly so. This canyon in Arizona is, despite its rather small size, one of the most remarkable canyons in the entire United States. The increase in popularity and visitors means that more and more travelers are arriving at Antelope Canyon unprepared.  If you’re planning to visit Antelope Canyon, give this article a read to make sure you don’t make mistakes like…. 
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1 Not booking tickets in advance

Antelope Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in the American West. People come from all over the world to see the beautiful slot canyon, and many travelers feel that a trip to Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon is incomplete without a visit to Antelope Canyon. The problem with that is that the number of people that are allowed to enter Antelope Canyon has a daily cap. To ensure that you don’t get shut out on your trip to Antelope Canyon, it is extremely important to book your tickets in advance.  This will guarantee that you get access to the wonder and that you get to see it at the time you desire. We recommend booking your tickets as early as possible, particularly if you are going to visit Antelope Canyon over a holiday or the summer.  It is recommended to book direct with a local tour company, check out this list of Antelope Canyon tour operators.Antelope Canyon rockIf you end up visiting Antelope Canyon during a busy holiday and you didn’t plan ahead, some online travel agents have started listing tickets on their sites, beware as the reviews are mixed for these Antelope Canyon tickets sold via a third party.  Another option if you are shut out of Antelope Canyon tickets is to book a tour to Antelope Canyon, and the tour operator will provide the tickets for tours they lead to Antelope Canyon.Antelope Canyon

2 Not wearing the right shoes

Antelope Canyon is a hike—there is no getting around it. There is over a mile’s worth of walking and millions of grains of sand you will encounter along the way.  The right shoes are essential for a great tour. Open-toed shoes should be avoided. Wear something that can keep sand out and will help you navigate stairs.  Something comfortable and athletic is advised, but full-on hiking boots are not necessary. We like to wear trainers (tennis shoes, athletic shoes, sneakers—whatever you want to call them). These will keep you comfortable, safe, and the majority of the sand will stay in Antelope Canyon and out of your shoes!antelope canyon arizona

3 Not following the rules

Antelope Canyon tours are offered by a local tour operator.  These tour operators run tours with permission from the Navajo Nation Parks service.  The Navajo Nation Parks service has a set of rules that must be followed while inside Antelope Canyon. It is the job of the local tour company to make sure its guests follow these rules. Without tight control over their guests’ behavior, they risk losing their right to lead tours at Antelope Canyon.  For this reason, they can be very strict when it comes to rule enforcement. 

The two rules that guests most often come up against are that there are no bags are allowed, and no photos are allowed on the stairs.Antelope Canyon outside

We have witnessed hundreds of guests make a mad dash from the tour waiting room back to their cars to put their bags away before the tour begins. Slower ones don’t make it back in time and miss their tour. Despite the numerous and clear warnings at multiple stages before the tour starts, there are always a few people who think they will be the ones to get a bag into Antelope Canyon (or, more likely, they just didn’t pay attention to the signs along the way). Don’t risk missing your Antelope Canyon tour; don’t bring a bag with you.

Another rule that often trips up a visit to Lower Antelope Canyon is the “No Photos on the Stairs” rule. There are a few sets of stairs throughout the canyon, but guests are most likely to break this rule when they first enter. There are four flights of stairs when you first enter the canyon, all of which are a bit steep and require all of your attention and both of your hands.  The problem is that this is the first time guests enter Antelope Canyon, and it is gorgeous! And what is most people’s first reaction when they see something gorgeous? That’s right, they grab their phone to take a photo of it! The problem is: if you’re caught taking photos while you’re on the stairs, they will simply kick you out of the canyon! We tell our guests that it isn’t worth the risk.  Follow the rules, and focus on the stairs.Antelope Canyon Stairs

4 Not paying attention to time differences

Time zones are generally pretty easy to follow within the continental United States. There are four major time zones, and your phone automatically detects them and adjusts accordingly. There is one place where this strategy does not work, and that is northern Arizona. Let’s talk about why cell phones get tripped up on time in the region and what you can do about it.

Warning! The next three bullet points may make your head spin. If you want to know how to get the time right when visiting Antelope Canyon, skip these three bullet points and skip to “An Easy Fix” below.antelope canyon1

  • Arizona is located in the Mountain Time Zone, but unlike almost everywhere else in the United States, Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time. That means that while most Americans change their clocks in spring and fall, Arizona does not. Therefore, during the winter months, the time in Arizona is the same as the rest of Mountain Standard Time, Utah included.  During the rest of the year, the time in Arizona is the same as the Pacific Standard Time, Nevada included. Visitors who drive from Nevada or Utah can easily get tripped up by this situation. It doesn’t help that some very popular technology also get tripped up by the time zones.  Be careful using Google Maps. When driving from Nevada to Arizona in the summertime, it may show your arrival time as one hour later than your actual arrival time.
  • Antelope Canyon is located on the Navajo Nation. Unlike the rest of Arizona, the Navajo Nation does observe daylight savings time, meaning for half of the year, the time on the Navajo Nation is different from the rest of Antelope Canyon.  Fortunately for visitors, Antelope Canyon doesn’t observe Navajo Nation time, they observe Arizona time. This can still confuse your phone.  See “An Easy Fix” below to remedy this.
  • Antelope Canyon is located fewer than ten miles from the Utah border. When you are visit Antelope Canyon and the surrounding areas, it is not uncommon for your cell phone to ping a tower that is actually in Utah, which will change the time on your phone.

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An Easy Fix

There is an easy fix for the above problems. When entering Arizona, set your phone for a manual time switch and set the city to Phoenix—that’s it! Do this and you won’t have any time troubles while visiting Antelope Canyon.

5 Expecting to see light beams outside of light beam season

Before visiting Antelope Canyon, the iconic image that everyone thinks of is a beam of light shooting down through Antelope Canyon. It is natural that people hope to see this when booking a tour.  What many people don’t know is that the light beams aren’t as frequent as photos make it look; you must plan carefully if you want to see them.

To start, light beams are only visible between March and October. Any tour booked outside of these months won’t be able to see the light beams. Additionally, the light beams can only be seen from approximately 11 AM to 1 PM. Finally, the light beams can be seen best at Upper Antelope Canyon, it is important to know the difference between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. If it is light beams you are looking for, Upper Antelope Canyon is the one you want to choose.antelope canyon light

The biggest mistake people make is showing up in a month like November expecting to see the light beams. This isn’t going to happen, so it is best to be prepared.  The light beams may be overrated; we don’t recommend planning your entire trip to Antelope Canyon based on the chance of seeing a light beam.  The canyon itself is many magnitudes better than the light beams and looks beautiful year-round.antelope canyon entrance and exit

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Polaroid of the week: Running Horses in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona horses tucsonI’ve visited the Southwest five times over the past few years, but it took me until my 6th visit this year to finally visit a ranch, a real working dude ranch with a bunch of cowboys, horses, cattles – and all that back-dropped by the spectacular Southwest scenery: the barren Sonoran desert with its countless giant Saguaro cacti, dusty desert roads and rugged mountains.

It might have taken me six years to finally experience ranch life in the Southwest, but when I eventually got a glimpse of it, it was the finest of the finest: the fabulous White Stallion Ranch just outside Tucson, where my friend Lynn took me one morning to take photos of the horses as they were gathered in one huge enclosure and herded into another one by a group of wranglers.

The 5am wake-up call for this photography outing was painful, but the scene that unfolded when the cowboys entered the enclosure to bring the horses down together was incredibly beautiful: the morning sun was just rising above the mountain peaks, bathing the ranch in a warm, golden light. Then the horses started running slowly, getting faster, and finally galloping right by the gate where we had set up our cameras.

Afterwards, I toured the 3,000-acre cattle ranch which has been run by the True family for decades. I felt as if I had walked onto the movie set for an Old West movie, and I had to remind myself that the cowboys that were walking past us from time to time weren’t actors in costumes, but actual working wranglers and farm hands!

The ranch has 41 guest rooms, and people from all over the world come here for a true Old West experience: not only watching the cowboys and wranglers going about their daily duties, but also riding the horses, of course. After hearing there was a wine and cheese ride, during which guests are served a selection of cheese and a glass of wine right in the middle of the desert, I wished I hadn’t waited until my very last weekend in Arizona with my trip to the White Stallion Ranch – I was dying to get on the back of a horse!

While I didn’t get the chance to stay on the ranch this time around, I know that I’ll be back in Tucson and I hope I’ll get to experience the White Stallion Ranch again – and then I’d like to stay in one of their rooms right on the ranch, go out on rides through the desert and get my cowgirl on!

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Polaroid of the week: PowWow in Phoenix, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona powwowAfter spending my first weekend in Tucson with Katie, I had a surprise visitor in town for my second weekend, and VisitArizona had listed an event online that piqued our interest: a PowWow in Phoenix. A PowWow is a gathering of several Native American communities who perform their traditional dances and showcase their communities’ costumes, and not knowing much about Native American culture at all, despite several visits to the Southwest, including various Indian reservations, I decided that it was time to learn more about their culture and so we headed to Phoenix for the day.

A PowWow is traditional held so that Native Americans of different communities can meet, dance and sing together, make new friendships, and of course: preserve their heritage and culture. But there is usually a dancing and/or singing competition, in the case of the PowWow we went to, there were competitions for both. And so you don’t just get to see their incredible, elaborate outfits, but you’ll also hear the traditional songs and see them perform indigenous dances. I was wowed by all of it – the voices I heard, the grace and glory the dances were performed, and the intricate design of each tribe’s clothing, headdresses and ornamentation. There were buckskin dresses with hand-stitched designs, feathered bustles, breechcloths, colorful moccasins and bead work. Both men and women were wearing feathers in their hair, braids, roached hair (usually artificial), feather headdresses (men), fancy handmade shawls, breastplates, and each tribe had their own unique features that told them apart from the others.

Most of the dancers train all year for these powwows, and it was fascinating to watch them dance almost trance-like, to interact with each other, and to see them preserve their culture in a way I didn’t even know existed.

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. April 2016

Where I’ve been

I began April in Mexico City, road tripped around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and finished my month-long stay in Mexico on the tiny Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres. After a short stop in New York City (just enough time to say Hi to a dear friend and to stuff my face with a bagel, something I’d been craving for months!) I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I am ending the month – but I am actually packing up my stuff right now, about to head out on a mini road trip to my next destination, but more on that below.April 2016 Mexico Arizona

What I’ve been up to

This month was supposed to be a relaxing one, at least the second half, but somehow I never slowed down.. Story of my life, I guess. I ended my time in Mexico City with a near disaster (more on that below), but also with a great weekend that involved a return to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, and a fun day in Coyoacan, market madness and lots of craft beer. Then I flew to Cancun where I met up with my favorite travel buddy (again, after traveling together in Colombia a couple of months ago) to road trip around the Yucatan, which just so happens to be one of my favorite parts of Mexico. For eight days, we swam in cenotes (underwater sinkholes), beach hopped along the Caribbean and got our culture fix by visiting several Mayan ruins before a chilled out island getaway in Isla Mujeres. And with that, my 3-month winter escape to Latin America came to an end..MexicoMid-April I found myself in New York for a minute before I jumped on a plane to Tucson for my fifth visit to southern Arizona since 2010. While I usually use these weeks of housesitting to catch up on work, this year it seems like I had much more ‘play time’ than work time.. First, my friend Katie came to visit me and I found myself frolicking around old western towns, hiking in between giant Saguaro cacti, revisiting the beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission and sampling all the craft beer Tucson has to offer (well maybe not all of it, but quite a lot!) and then I had a surprise visitor distracting me with a visit to a PowWow (get together of Native American communities) in Phoenix and a sweaty canyon hike. Plus, I also finally made an effort to meet some new people in Tucson and caught up with friends I made on previous visits. And just like that, my three weeks here are over.. But I hope this wasn’t my last visit, because the more time I spend in Tucson, the harder I fall for the city, discovering more and more cool stuff.

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Highlights

Road tripping around the Yucatan

I spent hours planning this road trip, but in the end it was so worth all the sleepless nights and the effort that went into it: the road trip couldn’t have gone any better. Beginning with a fabulous stay at the exquisite Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen to accident-free driving to introducing my favorite girl to really good Mexican food, not the stuff you get in the States!yucatan road trip
Desert hikes in southern Arizona

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love the desertscape of Southern Arizona – and I was happy that I had several visitors who got me out of the house to hike some of my favorite trails here and explore some new ones. Bonus: it’s spring, which means the cacti are blossoming, making the dessert look extra pretty.arizona desert hikes

Returning to Isla Mujeres

I fell in love with Isla Mujeres when I first visited the tiny Caribbean island in 2010, and I decided to spend an entire weekend there after our road trip – even though I had no idea if I’d still like the island after all these years of travel and all the places I’ve seen since then. Moreover, I didn’t know if Isla Mujeres had changed – had it become just as touristy and crowded as Playa del Carmen, a place I used to like a lot but that doesn’t do much for me now? I had nothing to worry about: Isla Mujeres was as charming as ever, and yes, it had become more touristy, but just look at these pictures… what’s not to love?!isla mujeres

What went right

Great publicity

Bild Der FrauThis month was an awesome month for publicity – An article about me appeared in one of Germany’s biggest women’s magazines, and I was featured by Lonely Planet! Being included in a list of the Top 50 Travel Bloggers was another pleasant surprise yesterday.

My first Mexican road trip

As I said above, my Mexican road trip was a blast, but it was also my first time renting a car in Mexico for longer than a day and driving on roads I hadn’t driven on prior to this visit. The only reason I was confident enough to sign up for this trip was because I remembered from living on the Riviera Maya in 2010 and 2012 that driving was a breeze in this part of Mexico, but I was still nervous if everything would go okay with the rental, if the route I had mapped out was too ambitious and if the car would be safe everywhere we parked it (sometimes with all our belongings inside). I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and without a glitch – and this road trip is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the Yucatan, so I’ll be writing about it in more detail soon.Mexico road trip

What went wrong

The almost robbery in Mexico City

My time in Mexico City almost ended with a tragedy – on my very last day in the city my friend and I were strolling through the big Saturday market that sprawls out into the streets surrounding La Merced, the city’s biggest market.

I was happily snapping some pictures and munching on a mango when all of a sudden I felt someone grab me from behind, wrapping his arms around my chest so that I couldn’t move my arms, while a second guy tried to rip my dSLR camera out of my right hand. Luckily I had strapped it around my wrist tightly and he couldn’t just grab it, and I started screaming like crazy. My friend pushed the guy who was holding me, and we both fell to the ground, I was holding my bag and camera tight to my body prepared to defend them, but they decided to run. My friend ran after them, not sure if they’d gotten anything from me or not, and saw them disappear into a courtyard right off the market. Knowing where these thieves lived we decided to get the police involved but they seemed a bit lackluster about the situation. They still came with us to the house, but told us they couldn’t go in without a permit / order.

I can’t believe how lucky I was – this could’ve ended much worse. I had my passport in my bag (required to go inside the National Palace which we had planned for that day), my Kindle, and a chunk of cash. However – I wasn’t entirely lucky during the incident: in the fall, I smashed my camera lens which died a slow death after the incident and had to be replaced, and I hit my big toe so hard that I was sure it was broken.

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This picture was taken minutes before the attack happened…

The credit card scare

At the beginning of the month, I logged into my account to check the balance on my credit card. But what was that? In my ‘Account Summary’, my credit card didn’t show up! Where was my credit card balance?? I looked everywhere in my online banking account, but there was no sign of my credit card. No message either about it being blocked or something. It was midnight in Mexico, so I had to wait until the next morning to call my bank in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. How could my credit card simply disappear from my account?!

When I finally got hold of my bank the next morning, it took an hour on the phone with them to resolve what had happened – the card had been blocked after I the rental car company I rented with try to charge a $2,000 deposit for the car. Yes, these high deposits are customary here in Mexico.. And so my bank put a flag on the account.

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Dealing with British banks makes me want to RUN.

I lost more things… And this time, really expensive things.

The ‘lost items’ section seems to evolve into a running segment in my monthly round-ups, much to my dismay. After losing clothes and my Sennheiser headphones last month, and my Kindle charger as well as camera charger the month before, this month’s loss was very tragic: I left my beloved $300 JBL headphones on the flight from New York to Chicago on my way to Tucson. When I realized what had happened while waiting for my connecting flight, I immediately ran back to the gate I’d arrived on, but I was told nothing had been handed in. Oh well, I guess somebody else is enjoying these amazing headphones now.

And not only did I lose my headphones in transit, I also managed to leave my belt behind in Cancun when I took it off to go through security in the airport. Only on the plane did I notice that I was suddenly belt-less! I really hope May goes by without me losing something.

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If I lose anything next month, I might jump off a cliff

What went almost wrong

The almost missed ferry & almost missed flight

For my last night in Mexico, I had booked a hotel near the airport in Cancun, because we were leaving on a super early flight the next morning. The plan was to spend the entire day on Isla Mujeres and head back to the mainland just to sleep there – why waste a day in Cancun when we can spend it in this island paradise? I had seen online that ferries were running until late at night, which was perfect for us – that way, we could even have dinner on Isla Mujeres!

But when we, happily stuffed with tacos, made our way to the ferry terminal around 8pm, we arrived to complete darkness – the terminal was closed! I panicked immediately, knowing that the first morning ferry wouldn’t run until 5am – too late for us to make it to the airport and to catch our flight. I started to hyperventilate, because neither my friend nor I could miss that flight the next morning. In my head, I already saw us pay for a private boat to the mainland, and ran over to a taxi driver to find out if there might be a car ferry or another way to get off the island that night, and he simply pointed to the ferry terminal next to the one we were at. Yes, this one had closed for the night, but the main one was still open. I almost suffered a heart attack in that near-travel fail, thinking I had screwed up and maybe ferries weren’t going late on Sundays. Luckily, everything went according to plan when we finally boarded the ferry.

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The sunset was worth missing the ferry for

As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we then nearly missed our flight even though we were at the airport two hours prior to our flight departure – and just because we were chatting at the gate waiting for the flight to board.. Our conversation was so deep that we forgot to pay attention and somehow missed that everyone had already boarded – they were ready to close the doors! Luckily we noticed that we were the only ones left in the departure area before the plane departed.

What’s next for me

I am finishing up my housesit in Tucson and am almost on my way to the next housesit: a month in Austin, Texas! I’ve been wanting to visit Austin for years, so when this opportunity came my way, I didn’t have to think long.

And because my travel plans aligned with those of a travel buddy I am finding myself now road tripping from Tucson to Austin, stopping along the way at one of the most remarkable places I’ve visited in the US, the stunning white desert of White Sands in New Mexico (which I hope I’ll get to photograph at sunset this time around) and in Big Bend National Park for a day of hiking before eating my way through Austin for the next few weeks. If you know Austin and have recommendations for restaurants, food trucks, craft beer bars and things to do, please share them in the comments!tucson cowboy hatsYou can follow along in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Polaroid of the week: San Xavier del Bac – a Spanish colonial mission in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona san xavier del bac missionReturning to Arizona felt as glorious as ever! As usual, I am housesitting here – but this time, for different homeowners. I’m enjoying the company of a different dog and a different pool, but I am in the same neighborhood in the Catalina foothills which I love, and funnily enough it is just as hot as it is when I’m here in May. Tucson is experiencing unseasonably warm weather at the moment, I’ve been told.

I usually come to Arizona for a month of peace and quiet, and to catch up on work projects that I don’t get around to when I’m on the road, but this year, I’ve been busier than usual. I’ve been more social than I was on previous visits, making more of an effort to make new friends here, and have them show me some cool spots around town, because Tucson’s restaurant scene keeps growing. I also got to catch up with old friends over wine and cheese and have been taking advantage of my well equipped and spacious kitchen which almost makes me want to stop traveling and set up a home base. Almost.

The highlight of the week? Katie came to visit me for a few days and I introduced her to some of my favorite spots around here: we hiked in Sabino Canyon and in Saguaro National Park (and after finding this website listing all the hikes around Tucson I think I’ll never get bored here – so many hikes I haven’t done yet!), and we visited the beautiful San Xavier Del Bac Mission, pictured above, which is the oldest European structure in Arizona, filled with striking original 18th century statuary and mural paintings.

Katie and I even made it to the famous western town of Tombstone (Boothill Graveyard visit included, of course!) as well as Bisbee, a former mining town close to the Mexican border that reinvented itself as an artist commune, which I love to visit, not only for the little town itself, but also for what can be best described as ghost town: Lowell, where you find an entire street with empty store fronts and vintage cars parked out front. I wouldn’t have gone all the way down there by myself, so yay for visitors!

And especially fun visitors like Katie, who is up for hiking even when it’s over 90°F (32°C) out, who loves craft beer even more than I do (maaaaybe!) and who insisted we visit a county fair. Both of us not being from the U.S. meant this was our first introduction to deep-fried everything (deep-fried Oreos or cheesecake I might be able to get behind, but deep-fried butter.. really?) and other not-so-healthy fair snacks (funnel cake!), but which also turned out to be a fascinating anthropological study. I didn’t go on any of the rides, but I tried a deep-fried Snickers bar (so not worth $6, if you ask me), and it was a fun way to end our time here in Arizona together.

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Polaroid of the week: Road tripping in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona road tripThis week’s Polaroid is coming a little earlier than usual because I have two more posts coming up this weekend – including my monthly round-up on Sunday!

Having a visitor in town was the perfect excuse to do a lot of sightseeing, hiking and road tripping in the past seven days. Showing a first-time visitor around Arizona was a great way to see this beautiful part of the US with new eyes and our itinerary included revisiting old favorites of mine, like Saguaro National Park, road tripping to nearby towns such as the Old Western town Tombstone (including its hilarious cemetery) and the charming mining-turned-artist-town Bisbee, and escaping the hot desert summer to cooler temperatures up on top of Mount Lemmon, where I hadn’t been since 2010.

I find road tripping through the barren desert scenery both liberating and calming, the wide open plains and big skies that imply the land in front of you is yours to discover, evoking a true feeling of freedom which fills my heart with joy. Driving down the empty country roads that cut through the land like a never ending straight line made me wish I’d be road tripping for longer – I am dreaming of an epic road trip across the entire U.S., lasting at least three months. While I won’t have enough time to do it this year (and after a scary accident yesterday I am not sure if I’d have the guts to do it right now – but more on said accident in Sunday’s post), I am hoping to make this dream come true in the near future… I am dying to see the Pacific North West, drive across Texas, see Mt Rushmore, Montana and drive down the Florida Keys. Plus, I think a return trip to my favorite canyons in Northern Arizona is long overdue, combined with the National Parks in Utah I’ve been wanting to visit for years. So who’s up for a road trip?

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona tucson street artWhen I came to Tucson the first time back in 2010, I went downtown one or two times. That’s it. Why? Because there just wasn’t anything to do there. Barely any eateries, no good coffee shops, no stores – like in so many cities, the downtown retailers had shut down after more and more malls had opened closer to the ever growing suburbs. By the late 70s, downtown Tucson was basically abandoned. Only in the mid-2000s plans were made to revive the city center, and I am impressed about the successful revival this part of Tucson has seen over the past few years.

Every time I come back, more coffee shops, bars and restaurants have opened, buildings have gotten a facelift, a couple of years ago the tram route was reintroduced. This year, I’ve been to the city’s core more times than ever before – maybe even more often than all my previous visits combined! There are now more restaurants that sound like they are worth a visit than I could fit in my stay, breweries that serve local craft beer and a pizzeria serving craft pizza that rivals New York City pizza. Nearly 50 eateries and bars have opened downtown in the past five years! My favorite coffee shop in town, Cartel Coffee Lab, has just opened a giant new downtown branch that could fit right into Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Every time I am downtown, I am in awe about how much the city’s changed and how different it feels from my first visit with buzzing bars and restaurants now – it is as if the Tucsonians had just been waiting for this resurgence. My three-year old Tucson guide is in urgent need of an update!

What caught my attention immediately weren’t just the beautifully restored old facades, but also the new murals and street art pieces that were commissioned on some walls. 4th Avenue, where lots of restaurants and independent shops are located, has several flower pots with iron heart sculptures specifically designed to hold love locks, which were only introduced this year, but have seen lots of use by lovers already.

While on previous visits I was never sure if I’d return, this time around I have no doubt that I’ll be back. The revival of the downtown and historic center are nowhere near finished yet, and I can’t wait to see how the city will evolve over the next few years.

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Polaroid of the week: Spring in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona saguaro cactiAfter 19 months away,  I am back in Southern Arizona, one of my favorite places in the world and probably the place I’ve returned to the most since starting traveling full-time in 2010. I couldn’t be happier to be housesitting in Tucson again, spending time with the dog I love so much, taking advantage of having a well-equipped kitchen (I’ve been baking and cooking up a storm), explore more of the area and eat fabulous Mexican food. I love being here in the spring when the cacti are blooming and can’t wait to return to Saguaro National Park to photograph the giant Saguaros while they’re still in bloom.

The photo above was taken on a hike through Catalina State Park, where narrow hiking paths wind through a beautiful, saguaro-filled landscape at the bottom of the Catalina Mountains. Next week, I’ll try out more hiking routes, revisit old favorites, check out new restaurants around Tucson and go on a scenic ride up the Catalina Highway into the mountains, where the scenery changes from the lowland desert to alpine forests as the roads ascends 6,000 feet over a span of 27 miles.

How did you spend your week?

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Goodbye 2013: Our year of travel in pictures

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I remember leaving for the airport in London like it was yesterday. Dani kept looking at me with my big, funny backpack, and I at hers (and the extra bag she had filled with magazines she just had to finish before we left the U.S.) as we walked to catch the bus to the airport. We were filled with exhilaration that we were actually free – like high school seniors on the last day of school.

2010 brought us from Europe, through the US and Mexico to Central America, it was an unforgettable 2011 through Central America, Europe, Canada, the US and then Thailand. In 2012 we spent time in South East Asia, India and finally to South America.

Now here we are, this is the FOURTH time that we’re looking back at our year of travel. 2013 was as much a year of city-hopping as it was spent in some of the least populated areas of natural beauty on Earth. Our travel style was mostly on four wheels overland and technically slow, visiting only seven countries, but we covered a huge portion of this planet this year across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Bolivia and Peru.

Follow along as we look back at what we are still able pack in, nearly four years after setting off on this nomadic adventure. Click through on the dozens of links to read in more detail about each of these stops along the way.

The year began in Santiago, where we housesat for two months. We still think often about our two adorable Scottie dogs there.

1 january santiago de chileWe were practically becoming locals, so we had to rip ourselves away at the start of February to start our travels through Chile. We began in Valparaiso, and fell in love with this colorful city on the Pacific.

colorful houses in valparaisoFrom there we headed to the Lake District and the island of Chiloe, before returning to the Argentine side of the Andes to explore Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous black glacier. Then it was time to hit Patagonia.

2 bariloche cathedralAfter that infamously long 27 hour bus ride, we landed in El Chalten, where Dani set off on some solo hikes, and continued to El Calafate, where we visited the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier.

2 argentina perito moreno glacierThen it was back over the border to Chile to see Torres Del Paine. We opted for a full day tour of the National Park, and it became one of our favorite places in all of Patagonia.

3 chile torres del paineAfter a few days in Puerto Natales, the base town for Torres del Paine, we continued our journey south and traveled to Tierra Del Fuego via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas before finally reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, after hitchhiking from Chile back into Argentina.

UshuaiaOur next stop was Uruguay, a quick flight from Ushuaia, where we visited Montevideo (and almost got robbed!) and the dreamy colonial town Colonia del Sacramento.

3 uruguay colonia del sacramentoOf course we couldn’t leave without visiting some of Uruguay’s famous beaches!

3 march uruguay punta del este3 uruguay beach dayAt the end of March, we went from Uruguay to the north of Argentina and spent a lovely week in Rosario, before we made a 48-hour bus detour to the Iguazu Falls – a detour that was well worth it!

4 argentina dani and jess iguazu fallsWe continued our journey through Northern Argentina to Salta, a city we didn’t love as much as we thought we would, but we fell for the small wine town of Cafayate four hours south of there.

4 cafayate streetThe road took us back north through Salta to Jujuy, where we rented a car to road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca for two days.

4 purmamarca street and seven color hillHere we also stopped at the first of three sets of salt flats we’d see this year. 4 argentina salinas grandes salt flats salt rainAfter returning the car, we took a bus to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

4 san pedro de atacama streetIt turns out that we seriously love this town and the surrounding scenery on this first of two visits to San Pedro in 2013, and were actually excited to know we’d be making our way back up here again later in the year to continue our travels to Bolivia from here.

4 april northern chile atacama desertDuring this first visit, we took a tour that showed us some of the breathtaking landscapes around San Pedro…

4 april chile atacama desert… including salt flats #2.

4 salt flats chile atacama desertBut instead of heading north to Bolivia from here, we broke our South America journey to fly to New York City for a two-month housesitting gig that made our dream of living in New York come true (at least temporarily!). We landed in New York just in time for our third anniversary as nomads and loved ‘our’ two cats and ‘our’ apartment, just a five-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

6 brooklyn bridge new yorkIn June, we flew straight to Germany to test out five weeks living in Berlin, which is now one of our favorite cities in the world.

7 alexanderplatz at nightWe couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer in Germany, where we were featured in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of the national newspapers and interviewed by a major radio station about our housesitting book before flying back to the US in August.

sueddeutscheIt felt great to jet set in the summer as we flew from Berlin to New York to spend the weekend. We were mainly on a quest to find the best pizza in NYC, but also had time to revisit some of our favorite places off the beaten path and cycle through Manhattan on the Citibikes.

8 best pizza in williamsburg brooklyn new york city white pizza5 dani roosevelt islandOur next stop was Tucson, to a housesit we’ve done three times now for homeowners and a dog, Miss Millie, who we just love! We enjoyed some quality time by the pool and the desertscape that we love so much.

8 Jess and Millie in TucsonIn September, we took off on one of the best adventures of this year: a road trip through New Mexico, which would finally bring us all the way back to Chicago via Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

We started at the amazing yet little-visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, followed by the otherworldly White Sands…

9 white sands jess & daniThen we spent Jess’ birthday at Carlsbad Caverns before moving on to the aliens of Roswell, Las Vegas (the small New Mexican town) and Albuquerque…

9 carlsbad cavernsThen we hit Santa Fe, explored Georgia O’Keeffe country, the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings, various Pueblos and then finally spent time in magical little Taos, our last stop in New Mexico. Here we got to trek down into the Rio Grande gorge with llamas and our wonderful guide Stuart of Wild Earth Llama Trekking.

9 bandelier monument new mexicoAfter 19 incredible days on the road, we reached Chicago, where we visited friends and family, hit plenty of our favorite sightseeing spots and ate our way across the city.

10 bean reflections at night chicagoChicago is where Dani got to experience her first ‘real’ Halloween in the U.S.! Look at what we did to her face! 🙂

10 globetrottergirls halloweenIn what now, looking back, seems like our year of New York City, we spent another long weekend in Manhattan before hopping onto the return leg of our flight back down to Santiago, Chile – but not without eating more pizza, spending time in Williamsburg, meeting up with quite a few good friends and watching the New York Marathon.

11 New York sunsetFinally we flew down to enjoy all the things we love about Santiago – and just in time for the perfect spring weather (and escaping the freezing cold New York weather that hit the day after we left!)

11 santiago lastarria churchInstead of pushing through on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro De Atacama, we visited three new places on the way: La Serena, a quiet though sizable colonial town with a wide beach seven hours from Santiago by bus. This is the jumping-off point for the beautiful Elqui Valley, which became one of our five favorite places in all of Chile.

11 la serena street with churchThen we traveled 19 hours through the narrow piece of land between the Andes and the Pacific to Iquique, a beach city in the north of Chile. The town grew on us slowly, and we ended up enjoying our fourth visit to the Pacific in 2013. This was our last beach visit of the year, too.

11 sea lions in iquiqueThen we went on to San Pedro and made sure to visit the Tatio geyser fields – an incredible piece of desert nearly 5,000m high where geysers explode, gurgle and spurt. It was well worth the 4am wake-up call to see the geyser field at sunrise.

11 geyser de tatio chileAfter a few days of an obsessive amount of research on good tour companies, we finally jumped on our three day off-roading tour through Bolivia’s South West, otherwise known as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. Our first ever border crossing in a jeep, on a tour and in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was so much more than the salt flats. We saw more otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, flamingos, lagoons and rock formations of just about every shape and color imaginable.

11 Bolivia laguna verde11 laguna hedionda flamingos bolivia11 arbol de piedra and mountain boliviaOn the last day of the tour we spent sunrise out on our third set of salt flats for the year, which also just so happen to be the largest salt flats in the world, the Salar De Uyuni.

11 Bolivia salt flatsThen we started our travels through Bolivia, with our first stop in the 4000m-high colonial town of Potosi. For those of you who think in feet, this is 13,500 ft high, or almost three ‘mile-high’ Denver cities stacked on top of one another. This is officially the highest city in the world, and we enjoyed the beautifully maintained historic town center which was a great introduction to the country – although just walking its hilly streets was a massive challenge at that altitude.

12 potosi viewsNext were three weeks in both of Bolivia’s capitals: first in Sucre, the official capital (and a city we spent two weeks battling a massive stomach bug that practically laid us flat for half the time)…

12 sucre street bolivia…and then La Paz, the de facto seat of the government. It was from here that we signed up (read: Dani signed US up!) for the mountain bike trip down the world’s most dangerous road – and survived (barely 🙂 ).

12 death road boliviaOur final stop in 2014 was Lake Titicaca, first on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent Christmas, then followed by a couple of days on the Isla del Sol and then crossing the border into our first stop in Peru – Puno – where we are celebrating New Year’s Eve.

lake titicaca with boats copacabana bolivia

This was a big year for us as The GlobetrotterGirls as well!

We released a second and much, much sexier version of our book, The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting – check that out here if you want to start housesitting in 2014.

We started the Break Free podcast, where I interview globetrotting women who have created the incredible life balance of running successful businesses while traveling the world. You can listen on the website or subscribe in iTunes.

Then there was the launch of our Escape Route travel planning and consulting service. We seriously love helping people make the most of the travels, and we’ve loved being able to help readers and clients plan their perfectly customized holidays.

Perhaps most exciting for us is the launch of our GlobetrotterGirls Getaways – starting with our seriously epic overland trip from San Francisco to Seattle in May 2014. If you’re interested in joining us on a seriously unique trip (in a custom-converted American school bus!) read more about the Getaways here. Early-Bird pricing ends today, December 31st, so if you’re interested, save $150 and put down your deposit today!

Dani and Jess in Argentina

Thanks so much for following along on our journey in 2013. Stick with us in 2014 for even more epic adventures through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, Europe and who knows where we’ll end 2014!!

Happy New Year!

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Polaroid of the week: Goodbye, Arizona!

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polaroid of the week arizona tucson saguaro cactiTime flew by this year in Tucson. Our housesit has come to an end and we spent one last day enjoying the desert landscape we love so much. Last week, our friends Dave and Lauren passed through town on their South West road trip, and we took them on a drive through the Saguaro National Park and a 3-hour hike through Sabino Canyon, ignoring the fact that it was 102°F/39°C outside!

We’re actually now following in their footsteps, and our New Mexico road trip starts tomorrow! We’re sad to leave our dog, our friendly neighbors, this gorgeous pool and the Saguaros that tower over us high into the sky, but we couldn’t be more excited for this next road trip phase. We’ll stop at Gila Cliff Dwellings, board down the White Sands dunes, see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of bats flying out of and back into Carlsbad Caverns, lunch with aliens in Roswell, explore Albuquerque and the Turquoise Trail, have a sophisticated stay in Santa Fe, trek with llamas in Taos and so much more!

We can’t fit you all in the car with us, but you can follow along on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at the hashtag #2girls1chevy and stay tuned for next week’s Polaroid of the Week to see the best thing we experienced during Week 1 of our trip!

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