A 21-year-old chick from Sydney who sometimes tends to think that her life is pretty average, when in reality, her life is actually pretty awesome (I'm just yet to realise it). Hopefully writing about my life will make me realise how lucky I really am.
If you’ve travelled before, you understand what it’s like. It’s something that truly can’t be described unless you experience it for yourself. Growing up, I would constantly hear the travelling adventures that my parents went on. My mother’s experiences across Europe constantly came up when we were watching Getaway in our living room. A monument or a scenic location would appear on the screen which would be quickly followed with my mum shouting to the room “been there”. Oh how I envied her. The stories about America though were something else. I got to hear two sides, two versions, both with the same outcome. You see, America means something different to me. A lot of people just see the States as the patriotic country constantly screaming how free they are or as the place where many of their favourite shows, movies and characters are located. For me though; I know it as the location where my parents met and it's a piece of the travel pie that I always wanted a thick slice of.
New York City 1991. My mother boards a plane from Sydney, for a whirlwind trip around Europe, followed by the States. My father from Invercargill New Zealand to NYC, to take what is better known as a rite of passage in Australia, a Contiki. Contiki is a travel company that have pre-organised tours for you. It's a company that has been around for over 50-years and this wasn’t my dad’s first rodeo. Dad had done this very same trip before when he was 19-years old and was doing it again at 24. My mother though? A very dewy-eyed 22-year old excited to see what the States had in store for her. The trip was the Grand Southern. Starting in NYC, travellers make their way down the east coast and then all the way across the south to finish in LA. Who would think that 28 years later, I too would be doing the very same trip that my parents met on.
Let it be known that I didn’t plan for that to happen. Since the age of about 15, I always wanted to go to America. Hearing my parents talk about it, it was always encouraged that I travel solo and discover it for myself. So I did. One day I walked into my local travel agent, brought my Contiki book with my desired trip circled in bright pink highlighter, with coloured bookmarks on all other potential trips that just didn’t make the cut. An hour later, I had spent my time and all my money on a 5-week holiday that would take me across the ‘land of the free’. I arrived home and dumped all the paperwork and booklets on the kitchen bench where my dad suddenly walks over with a keen interest and starts flicking through.
“Booked America have you”, he asks with a smirk.
“Damn right I did”, I reply. “What Contiki did you book?”, “Oh, the Grand Southern. It goes for 26-days”. “Yeah, I know. It’s the one your mother and I met on”. *Internally screams. “WHAAAAAT!”
In that very moment, I felt empty. Not because I wasn’t excited to be going any more but because I didn’t know what to feel. What will this trip entail? Will there be pressure to meet someone? Will I enjoy it just as much as my parents did? Those questions and more suddenly washed over me and then I realised... I didn’t book this trip because my parents did the same one. I booked it because that’s what I wanted to do. My parents and I just happen to have great taste! I wanted to experience everything America had to offer. I wanted to see everything that my parents did and suddenly I knew it would be something that would connect me with them as an experience that the three of us could share.
October 2018 rolled around faster than you can imagine and there I am; 22-years old and standing in front of the departure gate at Kingsford Smith Airport. The very spot my mother stood in 1991 when she was 22-years old. She’s crying, I’m getting teary as she gives me a massive hug for a good minute and a half. We let go, I wave goodbye and turn around to what is now the 20-hour journey to the big apple!
The city that never sleeps was definitely one for the memory bank. I ticked off so many bucket list items. I saw the Knicks at Maddison Square Garden. I enjoyed a show on Broadway. I went on an open-door helicopter flight over the entire city, but one of the last locations that I went to was Ground Zero. A memorial set in place to remember those who lost their lives during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Standing there at Ground Zero was one of the most surreal experiences of my life because it was a totally opposite experience to what my parents would have had. Walking towards the site I could feel a change. A change in my surroundings, the atmosphere. I could feel my heart beat as everything around me started to slow down. For me, standing there looking around, it suddenly hit me. There I am taking in this gorgeous memorial, reading all the names of the people that lost their lives. But my parents would have had a totally different experience. 1991, they were looking up at the World Trade Center. 2018 was me looking down at what was and all that was lost.
It was these moments in New York that made me realise; I wasn't going to have the same experiences that my parents did. They didn't go to Maddison Square Garden. They didn't sit in a helicopter having their hair blown across their face and they didn't see Ground Zero, at least the same way I did. This trip was going to be exactly what I planned for. A trip for myself and a trip for me to enjoy and no one else. My parent's got their all-American apple pie, but I was going to make mine a deep dish with lashings of cream and covered in decadent butterscotch sauce.
My eyes sparkled and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Years of working hard and saving had paid off. I thought that one day I would wake up and suddenly see that I was just waiting for my train to arrive to take me to work. But instead there I was. Amongst one of the most famous cities in the world.
There were many highlights of my trip. Rainbow Row in Charleston, sunny Miami, living out my Harry Potter fantasy in Orlando, celebrating Halloween in New Orleans, flying high in a hot Air Balloon in Albuquerque, livin’ it up in Sin City; the list could go on and on. But the greatest highlight of all (you may want to grab some crackers for the amount of cheese that I am about to serve) I got to share something with my parents. I finally got a piece of good ole' American pie only, my parents took a piece in 1991 and in 2018 it was my turn to have a slice. And if there's anything that America does well, it's pie.
Daytona Beach, Miami and Orlando. Three cities within one massive State in the south of America. Each known for something different, they all bring something different to the buffet table. Daytona Beach, known as a hub for college kids as they spend their Spring Break. Miami, the closest you'll get to Cuba without actually going to Cuba. And Orlando; the wonderful world of theme parks that bring your childhood dreams to life.
Each city is so different, that it makes it hard to believe that they are all located in the same State of Florida. First stop in the sunny state was Daytona Beach. Whilst it was a just a quick one-night stopover, we got to walk around in the main strip of the city including a stop at the world-famous theme park where my limits... may have reached new heights. Have you heard of this thing called the sling shot? Here, let me enlighten you. Essentially, you and a partner sit in a sphere that pulls you down closer to the ground only to be flung 100ft in the air. It was great! After about 15 minutes of my sitting on the fence of will I, won't I; I finally grew the balls (pun intended) and sit in the circle of fun! No, seriously it was one of the best things that I have ever done. It is such a shock to the system, but once you get used to the feeling, you sit and take in the whole city. And since I did it at night, it was perfect. Oh, and you get a cool t-shirt for your efforts at the end.
Suns out guns out for Miami baby! Miami is like a Cuban version of Australia. There are beaches, it's hot and laid back. It's got everything Australia has except people will literally be driving around in their Lamborghini's wearing a white thong. It's weird, but hey; that's Miami! Our first day kicked off with a speed boat ride checking out the glorious mansions of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin while simultaneously realising that I'll probably never be that rich. The bright lights of Cuban flavour were met again with another kind of boat ride with a party cruise. Only give girls an hour to get ready for a night out? Challenge accepted! For some reason, a lot of us girls dressed in all red dress and a black jacket. Consistency is key, I guess!
The next night, I got to watch the legend that is Dwayne Wade take the court for the Miami Heat. just another day, another NBA game and another day that 15-year old Kayla got to live out all her sporting fantasies. This included being able to go on the court and take a free throw! it was such an exciting game... The Heat were down by about 30 points at half time and brought it back to the second half only losing by one. DJ Kahlid also made an appearance courtside, which was also quite hilarious as he spent most of the game just scrolling on his phone and eyeing off the cheerleaders.
Now to Orlando. Where Mickey Mouse's main mansion resides along with the magical and mystical world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Rolling into Orlando I already knew what I was doing that night. Universal were holding their Halloween freight nights where they transform one half of the park into a hot spot of haunted houses and spooky characters.
As we rolled into our hotel, our manager was giving some advice to the people who were undecided on whether to go to Disney World or Universal Studios. Phil (our tour manager) to which then uttered these words, "if you love Harry Potter, you've already made your decision". And he was absolutely right. Harry Potter was the only place I was going to on my second day of Orlando so I made sure I didn't stay too late at the Halloween Horror Nights so I could get a good night sleep for what I'm hoping will be one of the greatest fun-filled days of my life!
Can you tell how excited I am? The above photo totally doesn't give anything away! That's me and Lisa. She's from Germany and we quickly discovered that we are both in Ravenclaw and that we have a deep obsession with Harry Potter. The first Harry Potter related thing you see id Diagon Alley and I shit you not... I cried. Yes! Literal tears came from my eyes at what I was seeing.
The first thing I do is grab myself a butterbeer, pass Gringott's Wizarding Bank and walk to platform 9 3/4 and catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. HOT TIP: When you walk through the station to get to the station, you have to walk through the "wall" just like the movie. Before you do, there's this little gap where you can watch people "disappear" through the brick wall; just like the movie. If you're with a friend, ask them to film you going through and it'll look just the way that it does with Harry and Ron! When you sit on the train, the lolly trolly pays you a visit, but also the dark dementors. All worth it though as you arrive at Hogsmeade! Make sure you check out Honeydukes and grab yourself a chocolate frog and a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans! You walk through Hogsmeade and then suddenly around the corner, you see it. There it is. Everything that your childhood could have imagined. HOGWARTS!
As mystical and magical as you could ever imagine! Also, inside is one of the best rollercoasters/rides I have ever been on! So well designed and you're secured to your seat so you're dangling off. It's a blast! Don't forget to go to Olivanders and get yourself a wand. I got Nicholas Flamels. Unfortunately, they haven't figured out how to have the wand choose you but, I'll take what I can get.
Whilst Harry Potter was a complete and utter blast, another great addition to Universal Studios is inclusions of Springfield from The Simpsons. You thought 15-year old Kayla was happy at Madison Square Garden? Well, 10-year old Kayla is a whole other ball game and holy cow!
We divulged in a classic Krusty Burger, had a Squishee from the Kwiki Mart, oh and I had a 'Flamin Moe' from Moe's Tavern. Even bought myself a giant 'Doh-nut' (haha, see what I did there?).
Universal Studios was a great experience and such an exhausting day! Which definitely means I got everything out of the park that I could have with the one day that I was there. We were there on a Monday which was perfect timing which meant the longest that I ended up having to wait to go on a ride was only about 20-minutes. Universal Studios also included the themes of Superheroes, there's a water park and also an entire section dedicated to the Jurassic Park Franchise. If you're only in Orlando for one day, I highly suggest going to Universal Studio instead of Disney World. You can smash one whole day at Universal, no problems. Disney World, however? There are four parks and you need to dedicate one day to each world. Going to Disney World is an entire holiday within itself and if you want to get the entire Mickey experience, you'll definitely need AT LEAST four days to do so!
Overall, here are my top tips for Universal Studios:
1. Get there as soon as it opens, so you get the whole day to get around
2. Definitely, invest in getting the two park ticket. This will give you access to both worlds of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Superheroes, the Water Park and everything else!
3. Catch the Hogwarts Express. Even if you aren't the biggest Harry Potter fan, it is the quickest way to travel between the two parks.
4. Leave your shopping to the end of the day. The last thing you want to be doing is walking around with hundreds of bags. LEAVE IT LAST
5. Download the Universal Studios app. This app is great as it shows you the estimated wait time for each ride as well as an interactive map.
6. List out your priorities for the day. My top priorities were Harry Potter and The Simpsons. If you have more list them out and look at the map and concisely go through the best way to get around and see everything you want.
7. Try and go on an off-peak day. This wasn't planned on my part, we were just very lucky that we arrived on a Monday and that it wasn't the school holidays. If we didn't, I probably would have invested in a fast pass for rides.
8. Don't let your mates hold you back. I was very clear in what I wanted to see. I had a couple of friends that weren't the biggest Harry Potter fans but were happy to tag along as they didn't really know what else they wanted to see. I was more than happy to go around myself though and see everything. There are plenty of people that are there just doing their own thing. You are there for you and no one else.
9. If you're going on a water ride, be prepared to get wet! I know this sounds obvious but the water rides there are not just little splashes of water. You will undoubtedly get drenched. Without question. Head-to-toe wet. There are body dryers around but be prepared for the $5 charge to use them.
10. Souvineers are important but they aren't cheap. Check out the Universal Studios website so you can get an idea of what you want to get and budget accordingly. I easily spent $200 on merch and gifts for friends and family at home.
New York. A concrete jungle that can be hard to navigate. This I can assure you though, it is where dreams are made of. From Times Square, Manhattan, Brooklyn and everywhere in between; New York will leave your eyes glistening with joy.
Day one I went across all over the city, setting my eyes on all the places that I had only seen in movies. One of the first things you'll discover is that there is a Starbucks literally every 200m. Another thing about Starbucks (and I don't know how this is possible) is that they're all full! And yes the rumours are true... the coffee is shit. My first day was a day of discovery. I walked around, caught the subway and gaged my internal compass so I knew what I was doing and where I needed to go in days to come. This day was a very special day for me. Something that I had been wanting to do since I was 15 and I literally bought tickets to about seven months before jet setting halfway across the world. It was tickets to see the NY Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Before arriving at the world famous venue, I pushed my way through thousands of tourists to get to Times Square.
You know that quintessential shot from movies where this small town girl moves to New York and she sees Times Square for the first time. She's looking up at everything around her, spinning and taking everything in. That is literally what it's like. Everything slows down as you absorb the atmosphere around you and you take a mental picture that'll last a lifetime. With plans to return the next day, I made my way to Madison Square Garden. I sit out the front on the stairs waiting for my friend to arrive at what I only hope will live up to all my expectations.
And those expectations were definitely met! 15-year old Kayla's dream of watching the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden was completely fulfilled. What many people don't know about me is that I am a complete sports fanatic. Rugby League, Netball, Basketball, Ice Hockey, and anything else really, I am all over it! This of course came with a NY Rangers game just a couple of days later! There's nothing like the NY Rangers fans, let me tell you!
One thing that I never thought of or ever planned to do was this... an open door helicopter ride over the city. This was the most spontaneous thing I booked for my trip! I follow a page on Instagram called NY Bucket List and they had a 50% discount code for the experience with FlyNyon. HOT TIP: * They always have codes for these rides, so never pay full price! I can honestly say that this was one of the best things that I have ever done. It is a surreal experience that (as cheesy as it sounds) I will never forget. And being in NYC in Autumn made my Instagram feed all the more prettier ;)
The next highlight on my Big Apple bucket list was to watch a Broadway show. As a girl who grew up hearing the voice of John Cusack play Dimitri, I was more than obliged to watch one of my favourite childhood movies come to life on the theatre stage. Broadway is a hectic place. It's a common item tick for a lot of people and there are plenty of ways to get cheap tickets for locals as well. I bought mine months in advance though... I just didn't want to risk missing out. This sounds bad but it could also be a good thing... I may or may not have nodded off during the production. It wasn't that it was bad! No, no, no... I was just super tired from walking around all day and from my earlier helicopter ride and the seats inside are seriously some of the most comfortable seats you will ever sit in!
Many other sites hit included; Sax Fith Avenue, The Plaza Hotel, Tiffany's, Brooklyn 99 Precinct, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and all other customary things to do in the city that never sleeps. This, of course, included a city food tour of NY Cheesecake, Pizza, Bagels and a cup of the worst coffee I have ever had in my entire life... It was amazing! I even ventured out to New Jersey to get a bite of an Italian Cannoli from the famous Carlos Bakery, you know, the one from TLC's Cake Boss (highly recommend!)
Here are my top tips for travelling New York:
1. Purchase an unlimited train ticket for the Subway. This comes in super handy and the NYC train system is very easy to navigate and trains are coming every two to three minutes, so it isn't a big deal if you miss yours.
2. Have a bucket list of everything you want to do. While it's nice to think that you can always come back, this thing called "life" can happen and get in the way of you making a return.
3. Make an itinerary. Or at least look one up. You can literary Google 'NYC itinerary' along with the amount of day that you're staying and so many will pop up.
4.Do your research. Read blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Read maps. Do everything you possibly can so you are as prepared as possible. The last thing that you want to do is waste your time. e.g. I didn't think to research how to get to the Statue of Liberty. I honestly had no clue that you needed a ticket and had to go through a security system to get on a ferry and go to the island, and apparently many others don't know either. So, I ended up waiting in line for about an hour for a ticket. You want to go inside the Statue of Liberty? Tickets need to be booked and paid at least four weeks in advance! You didn't spend all this money to go over there to waste your time and be disappointed. Invest time in doing your research.
5. Buy Sporting tickets MONTHS in advance. Tickets to the NBA and the NHL can be in high demand, especially if you're going near finals time. Don't risk it and purchase them from official websites online.
What was my takeaway from NYC you ask? It's a location that is much more than the Empire State Building and the home of NBC today. Its a place filled with history, diversity and smiles that can't be missed.
America is one of those places in the world where you think you know it. You think you know what it's going to be about. Aided by having one of the biggest cinematic and television industries in the world; people often think they know America and therefore know everything that it's about. Well, let me tell you something... There is more to the U.S of A than just huge food portions and the Hollywood sign. It goes far past that. America is a country steeped in history and culture with a hundred and one things to do and learn.
Last year I spend over five weeks travelling the land of the free, discovering everything the South, East and West Coast had to offer. Travelling over each State came with different experiences and learnings. As you travel through the States, the feeling changes. From the weather, the pace, even the political views of the people. You can just feel it. Nothing in a bad way. It's just there. Like this lingering unconscious thought that follows you around. Travelling America definitely changed my life and writing about my experiences only feels fitting. Travelling this amazing place lead me to make some pretty life-changing decisions (all to be revealed shortly). So here I am. Laying it all out there. Just like Childish Gambino gave his version of 'This is America", here's mine!
"A treat a day keeps the binge away". That's the philosophy of a cafe in Sydney called the Clean Treats Factory. Created by Charlie de Haas, this cafe produces Instagram worthy foods that are gluten, dairy and refined sugar free; leaving you guilt and regret free!
Having the pancakes and some of their decadent caramel slice, I certainly had more than one treat. Oh and of course I had to grab one of their famous coloured brewed coffees. I went for the Butterfly Blue Latte which was absolutely divine; both in colour and in taste.
When you walk into this loft-style cafe, you are immediately greeted; with beautiful treats immediately to your right and by a hostess who will walk you to your table. You take a quick look around and look at the high ceilings, the bright lighting and this framed full length mirror which kind of reminds you of the secret door that get's you into the Gryffindor common room in Harry Potter.
Want to take a photo on the steps of this magical mirror with some greenery right beside you? Go right ahead - it's encouraged! Settings aside; the food is actually amazing! The pancakes certainly surprised me. Every version of 'healthy' pancakes that I have tried have always disappointed. Never fluffy, always tasteless and sometimes resembled the texture of cardboard. Not these ones. These had a great texture, packed full of flavour and left me feeling satisfied. What about that caramel slice though? If you are going to get anything when you are at Clean Treats Factory, this is the one thing that I definitely recommend.
I've labelled the headline of this post Is there such a thing as clean treats? In short, YES! It's 2018 people! There are plenty of ways to include your favourite sweets without all the nasty preservatives and refined sugars that often make us feel sick and gluggy. Don't think that you have to travel all the way to this cafe just for a clean treat. They have take home packets so you can make your very own right at home! So grab one and get baking!
Finally! Since the age of about 12-years old, I have wanted to go to America; and after a lot of planning, I'm finally on my way to the USA. People have no idea how much this trip means to me. how excited I am. I literally cried when I booked it.
Ahhhhh, even writing this right now can't truly encompass how I'm feeling. After going to Greece by myself last year on my first true overseas trip, the travel bug has definitely bit me and I want to see the world. So what better place than the country I've been dreaming about since I was 12 to continue my travel journey?
There are so many things that I want to see and do on this trip! The big apple is my first stop on my whirl-wind adventure. A whole five weeks I'll be away from home seeing everything America has to offer. Let the good time roll and the memories flood in. This is going to be the best experience of my life!