Holidays of a lifetime

For most people, myself included, holidays are the highlight of the year. A lot of time and money goes in to planning and paying for the perfect get away to create experiences we will never forget.

I’m extremely lucky that in the past couple of years I’ve had two of the best holidays I’ll probably have in my life.

 Vietnam and Thailand

Planning started about six months in advance when we gathered a crowd and planned the dates. Then it all became real when we finally booked our flights and had something to look forward to! We headed off to Bangkok for the start of our six week trip not really having a notion what to expect.

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At the Top Gear spot on the Hai Van Pass

Beforehand we had planned a route and had a rough plan as to how long we were staying in each place. First up was Hanoi. Hanoi was absolute mayhem. It is constant madness with so many motorbikes about that you could barely cross the street. While we were here we went to Ha Long Bay for the hyped up Castaway Tour which is a must do if your ever in that neck of the woods! From here the plan was to go to Hue and stay for a couple of days.

After arriving we quickly realised it wasn’t really our cup of tea, so found locals who ran a bike touring company. So we rented bikes and had a guided tour through the Hai Van Pass to our next stop Hoi An. The Hai Van Pass, which some might recognise from Top Gear, was hands down one of the best days of my life and will take a lot of beating!

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Was quite proud of my handywork at bandaging

Next up was Nha Trang where we rented our own three story villa. For the equivalent of around £10 a night it really is true that you can live in luxury for the next to nothing! From there we planned another bike tour to Da Lat. Unfortunately for myself this one wasn’t as successful as the first for me as I ended up putting the bike into a ditch. I’m still maintaining that it was the bikes fault and not mine, but it sort of put a dampener on things! Pretty sure the place we ate that day also served us dog instead of pork, but the less said about that the better. From there we went to Mui Ne and then Ho Chi Minh and got ready to meet up with the other 10 of our group that were flying to meet us in Thailand.

We had 6 different stops in Thailand and so was a lot to squeeze in with a lot to do at each one. It consisted of a lot of boats and buses to get from island to island. Everything was planned around the full moon party in Koh Phangan, which I think should be on everyone’s bucket list. Absolute chaos.

My favourite place was probably Phi Phi, where you would think half of Ireland was there at the time. The elephant sanctuary and white water rafting in Chiang Mai and the Slip N Fly in Koh Phangan were probably the other highlights.

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West Coast of the States

Never having been to America before I was absolutely buzzing to be heading off here for 3 weeks. The plan was to do San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Yosemite.

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Probably looking a wee bit too happy than I should have been after the incident

However, the bad luck from Vietnam seemed to follow me when I was held at knife point in a bar in San Francisco. It really wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my first night out in the states, but that’s what I got. Don’t think I put my mum’s mind at ease either writing “Lol some boy just put a knife to my throat” into the family Whatsapp. On the upside it’s a good story to tell (because I’m not dead) and was usually greeted with “Welcome to America” by anyone we told.

We also had to fork out twice for our rental car as, being as stupid as we are, we didn’t realise you needed a credit card to put on file. Eventually we got sorted with the company saying, “You’re lucky you’re Irish” as the reason they helped us out.

Not everything was all doom and gloom but. In fact everything else we did was unbelievable. We did the usual touristy stuff like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the San Diego Zoo.

The highlight for me was definitely Las Vegas. We were there the week before the McGregor Mayweather fight, and so the buzz around Vegas was unreal. We went to Wet Republic when DJ Tiesto was playing which is something I’d say everyone should go to if they get the chance. Seeing all the different hotels was absolutely mad and people really don’t lie about how hot it is (all the time) there. After Vegas, Yosemite was the perfect spot for a chill out, with the dogs at our AirBnB greatly assisting in our recovery.

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All in all two absolutely once in a lifetime holidays (which have left me skint) that I don’t think will be topped. But I have learnt that you probably shouldn’t ever go on holiday with me as something bad is bound to happen!

Wonder what’s going to happen next year…

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The car that our Irish charm got us… not much but did the job

Daniel McGrenaghan is a Final Year Public Relations student at the University of Ulster Jordanstown. He can be found on Twitter @danielmcg132

Road Tripping the West Coast of California

Travelling the West Coast of California was the most incredible experience I have had to date and I’m excited to share it all with you in the hope that it is on your bucket list by the time you finish reading this post.

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First things first, when booking flights, accommodation and car hire set yourself a budget in advance and this will make it much easier to manage and save your money.

TIP: Book all accommodation through booking.com (cancellation up to 24 hours), look out for car hire deals on Rentalcars.com on a daily basis (if you are under 25 it will be more expensive), luckily, we got a deal which included the young driver fee.

On 28 August, we arrived in beautiful San Francisco or ‘Fog City’ as some prefer to call it, where you are surrounded by stunning architecture, parks, VERY steep streets and the gorgeous bay area.

 Three of my favourite days in San Francisco

  1. Hop-on-hop-off tour bus, I know what you’re thinking… tourist central, but it is honestly the best way to see the city and after all, you are a tourist!
  2. The Alcatraz Tour, this will take up most of the day and is worth every penny
  3. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are beautiful areas to walk, eat and people watch

TIP: 5-7 days is enough time to explore the city, bring comfortable footwear, it is chilly so bring jeans and a jacket and I assure you, this is the only time you will need this attire on your trip!

During our time in San Francisco we allowed 2 days to travel to Yosemite National Park, where we reserved a camp space ($18) 5 months in advance. Yosemite gave us the full camping experience, from cooking dinner & breakfast on a campfire to having zero phone signal.

TIP: Hike to Nevada Falls, it was unbelievable. The route is ranked ‘difficult’ but is definitely doable and took us 4.5 hours.

 

 

Back in San Francisco, we picked up our little blue racer and headed for Highway 1, not before Cathal almost drove into the side of Walmart, the sound of the American woman’s voice is still ringing in my ears ‘WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, DUMBASS.’

Our next stop was Avenue Inn and Suites in San Luis Obispo (SLO), a small ‘student’ sort of town, although we didn’t get to a sorority party it was the cutest town EVER. A one night stay was perfect!

TIP: Stop in Monterey on the way down for lunch at any restaurant on the pier. In SLO look out for ‘Bubble-gum Alley’ it is disgustingly cool.

Next up was Santa Barbara, the quirkiest town with beautiful houses, cobbled streets, unique shops and restaurants all within walking distance from our accommodation, the Orange Tree Inn.

TIP: There is a handy bus stop every 200 metres down the strip, the open bus comes every 10 mins, this will take you to the beach for ($1.50).

Hi View Inn & Suites in Manhattan Beach was by far the best accommodation of the whole trip. We chose to stay just outside LA and used Uber which was cheap and cheerful. Manhattan Beach is a relaxing area with very few tourists which we loved!

TIPS: Stop in Santa Monica before you reach Manhattan Beach, hire bikes and cycle the boardwalk to Venice Beach it is SO much fun!

Hike to the Hollywood sign, it takes about 2 hours and you will get amazing views of LA.

Visit Rodeo Drive, the more luxurious side of LA with a strip of designer shops.

Finally, have a coffee break at Alfred’s Coffee House (490 N Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, USA).

 

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San Clemente was our second last stop, this was really only to ‘rest our heads’ for one night. There isn’t much to do here except chill on the gorgeous beach which is walking distance from San Clemente Inn.

TIPS: Stop off at Laguna Beach before you reach San Clemente, parking is cheap, it is a beautiful place to have lunch and a walk around the town.

In San Clemente, dine at The Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar with the sound of the waves crashing right below you.

Last but certainly not least of our West Coast (‘best coast’) experience was San Diego. We stayed in the amazing Kings Inn, it is 10 minutes out of the city centre but easily accessed from Highway 1, driving into the city was super easy (says me in the passenger seat) but Cathal agreed! It was comfortable, spacious and had a great pool and Jacuzzi.

TIP: Visit the zoo (we are children at heart), it is the rated the No.1 in the world and I couldn’t agree more!

Pay a visit to Fashion Valley outlet shopping mall for all the best deals

Dock the boat from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island for $5 and cycle around the 84.6km island, the 15-minute boat ride provides breath-taking views of San Diego’s skyline.

I mean… you can’t fly all the way to the states and not pay a visit to the big apple. New York was our very last stop before heading back to Dublin.

TIP: The trusty hop-on-hop-off tour bus, in just 4 days we were able to see the city under no pressure.

Our favourite places where Brooklyn Bridge, Top of the Rock (go during the day), Central Park, 230th Roof Top Bar on 5th Avenue, 911 memorial… I guess all of it was pretty amazing but those are the ‘must-dos’

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GENERAL ‘MUST KNOWS’ FOR THIS TRIP:

  •  All accommodation SO easily accessed from Highway 1
  • Do not pay extra for a GPS from the car hire company, your iPhone is just as good
  • You’ll notice that there isn’t much negativity in this post, that is genuinely because everywhere we visited and stayed was amazing
  • If I have been successful in inspiring you to book a trip to palm tree paradise & spectacular New York City, I hope you enjoy every minute of it!

 

Laura Duffy is a final year Public Relations Student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Instagram @laura_duffyy and on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-duffy-8803b7105/