Authors Posts by Laura Smith

Laura Smith

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Laura is a 20-something who can often be found writing, running, commuting anywhere and everywhere by bike.

Following airlines on social media pays off sometimes. Like when a major airline has a giant sale on round-trip tickets and you spontaneously purchase a ticket to explore a new city. Thanks, Southwest! Last weekend the boyfriend and I jump aboard a 90-minute flight to St. Louis and hung out in the city for three wonderful days. Here’s some St. Louis attractions we found to fill our 72 hours.

Schlafly Brewery Tour

st. louis attractions

Flickr photo via clio1789

Every Saturday and Sunday Schlafly hosts free guided tours from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Schlafly Tap Room. Reservations for tours aren’t required and are booked on a first-come basis. Best part – besides the hilarious brewery guides – each tour goer gets a free brew afterwards.

halloween night ideas

I love Halloween. I blame my mom for this obsession. Each year our house would get decked out in everything Halloween starting in September. I’d fall into bed with a skeleton lying next to me. Dressed-up potato heads lined our banisters. Old school horror movies would be playing on repeat on the TV in the basement. You name it, and we probably had it – even candles that melted blood.

That probably explains my intense fear of fire and walking alone in the dark. But I digress.

If you’re anything like me, and already have your costume picked out, then you’ll definitely be planning your Halloween night out now – or if you haven’t,  I’ve rounded up a few ideas to help you get started.

Village Halloween Parade

New York’s annual Village Halloween Parade is a street pageant presented in Greenwich Village. This mile long celebration draws over two million spectators and over 60,000 costumed participants. Originally started in 1974 by Ralph Lee, this spectacle of live bands, floats and musical acts has been around ever since. Make sure to look for the signature feature – giant rod puppets articulated by teams of puppeteers.

The London Dungeon

The London Dungeon is a walking spectacle of an amazing cast, hilarity and a little bit of spooks. The Dungeon is a 360 view of 1,000 years of history portrayed in a black comedy atmosphere. For 90 minutes viewers walk through London’s murky past, guided by professional actors. On Halloween, the Dungeon gets heated up a few notches by putting on a special play to really scare the pants of people. Tickets sell out fast, so make sure to grab a pair early!  

The Queen Mary Dark Harbor

Make sure your balance is on-board before boarding the Queen Mary on halloween. Docked off Long Beach, California, the Queen Mary is the place to be on Halloween. Visitors venture through six mazes populated by 200 monsters and ghosts. The festive experience runs through the month of October and includes food, beverages and frightening entertainment.

Terror Behind the Walls

Set in the old Eastern State Penitentiary, this Halloween attraction actually inhabits an authentic prison complex. Built in 1829, the ESP grew a reputation of being a pretty nightmarish place. The prison housed, and employed, some messed up individuals. Dogs, children, you name it – they were locked away there. Heavy amounts of paranormal activity have also been reported there, which is why, every Halloween, the long-closed ESP opens its doors for the public to enjoy. The Terror Behind the Walls is a “low gore” walk though that features gory historical facts, insane ghost stories and masked actors.

Hocus Pocus

Being scared is great right? Nightmares, spontaneous shivers and losing your voice for a few days are just a few of the things that make Halloween great. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little less, daring, then dress-up but stay in and grab a copy of the ever popular (and my favorite) classic: Hocus Pocus. You can also tune into ABC Family – I hear they run everyday from October 19 – 31.

What are some of your favorite spooks during Halloween?

Long-distance relationships are hard. There’s always a time difference and spotty internet problems. There are new friends to be made and adventures to be had. And then there is just, life, that happens.

Currently, one of my best friends is serving in the Peace Corps for two years in the Dominican Republic. We haven’t gotten to talk to each other much and my letter to her should be there by Christmas (of this year, I hope), but we still care about each other and try to keep up via WhatsApp and Facebook as much as possible.

This post is dedicated to her and her (and someday your) crazy adventures in the DR. Say hi to her if you venture that way.

Surf Lessons

dominican republic attractions

Flickr photo via Miles Gehm

Who doesn’t love fun in the sun? An item on many bucket lists, learning to surf, can be crossed off while touring the DR. Head to the California Surf School on Playa Bonita for a $60, one-hour lesson. Lessons are taught by expert surfing coaches and ran by Carolina Gutierrez. Classes are offered year-round. Surfs up!

Damajagua Falls

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Flickr photo via Brent

Waterfalls are amazing. You can easily hike to them, (naturally) cool off and snag some fantastic photos. Damajagua Falls, located near Puerto Plata, offers 27 waterfalls ready to be explored. Guides are required, but they encourage, and lead you, to fun. Plan on four hours to make it to the 27th waterfall and back.

Boiling Lake

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Flickr photo via UWI Seismic Research Centre

The Boiling Lake, located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a world heritage site, is a flooded fumarole 6.5 miles east of Roseau, Dominica. Grab a guide who knows the way and launch at Laudat, the usual starting off point for locals. The eight-mile walk takes around three hours and will require a good pair of hiking boots, a camera and good friends.

Cave of Miracles

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Flickr photo via Emilio del Prado

If you’re into history, the Cave of Miracles (Cuevas de las Maravillas) is perfect for you. Located in San Pedro de Macoris, and discovered in 1926, this cave system is decorated in hundreds of Taino Indian cave paintings. Opened in 2003 to the public, explorers can wander through 200 meters of footpaths that wind through the galleries in the cave. Tours are strictly controlled and take around an hour.

Whale Watching

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Flickr photo via Stan Lupo

Each year, thousands of humpback whales travel to the Peninsula de Samana to mate, give birth and get observed by boatloads of locals and tourists alike. For those looking for an even more intimate experience, week-long live-aboard excursions in the Silver Bank offer rare opportunities to snorkel alongside these magnificent creatures.

These are just a few of the wonders the Dominican Republic has to offer. I highly encourage you to go see for yourself – I know I’m going to try and see my old pal before she heads back home. Maybe I’ll beat the mail and hand deliver my next letter.

Have you visited the Dominican Republic?

Airports can be a bit of a drag. The outlets are over-crowded, people are running every which way and you just get this feeling all over your skin. It isn’t dirt, but it sure makes you feel dirty. While heading back from Tanzania, we had a 12-hour layover in Amsterdam. While the Amsterdam airport does feel like a glorified mall, we took this extended-layover as an excuse to extend our vacation: By heading out to the city to explore before heading back stateside. We made the most of our time and dipped our toes into the canals of Amsterdam. I’m definitely heading back soon to jump all the way in. Here are a few of the Amsterdam attractions we visited to make that layover not seem so daunting.

The Westerkerk

amsterdam attractions

Flickr photo via Jonathan

The Westerkerk is known as the largest church in Amsterdam. Built between 1619 – 1631, the Westerkerk is a Protestant church and its bell tower, the Westerkerk Tower, remains the pride and city symbol of Amsterdam. While my travel mates and I just wandered in to have a look see, tours for the church (Westerkerk proper) are available all weekdays except Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guided tours for the Westerkerk Tower are available June through September from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on all days except Sundays.

Grab a Heineken

amsterdam attractions

Flickr photo via viZZZual.com

150 years ago, Heineken opened up a small brewery in Amsterdam. Today, Heineken is the world’s most international brewer. They really hopped to it, if you know what I mean. I’m not the biggest fan of Heineken stateside, but it sure hit the spot after being cooped up in an airplane all morning. The view of the canals, bikes and Dutch folk milling about didn’t hurt either. Fresh off the tap and served alongside a plate of caprese made this Heineken one to savour.

Canal Tour

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Flickr photo via Dennis Jarvis

I fell in love with the canals of Amsterdam. Ever since that visit I’ve been coming up with ways to befriend a resident of one of the canal houses. Ideas pending. The canal tours are offered daily during the summer and winter seasons. The 75-minute option was the perfect length during our layover. It was relaxing, informative and only cost 14 euros. Different companies offer different styles of cruises and rates, but no matter what you choose – it’s a great way to get a quick glimpse at Amsterdam by water.

Bikes!

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Flickr photo via Ricardo Liberato

As an avid biker, I got a little starry eyed when I saw the bike capital of the world. Bikes were everywhere! Bike stop lights. Bike lanes. Just – BIKES! I wasn’t just seeing things though, according to The Guardian, the Netherlands has 22,000 miles (and growing) of cycling paths. In Amsterdam over 38 percent of all trips are make my bike – ja graag!  Sorry Lincoln, this writer knows where she’s sending her resume. If only I knew Dutch.

These are just a few of the things Amsterdam has to offer, I mean c’mon it’s Amsterdam!

What are some of your favorite Amsterdam attractions?

It’s that time of year where I’ll admit I’m a bit, basic. I love pumpkin beers and donning elbow-patched cardigans. I love PSL and have ‘grammed my fair share of sunset photos as the leaves change colors. Another thing I’m guilty of? Spending the day at the pumpkin patch. Sure, I take my nephews or a big group of friends, but let’s be honest, I’d go by myself if I didn’t feel so awkward. If you’re a little braver than me, venture to one of these patches solo before the temperatures get too cold. Or take your friends, it’s easier to navigate the pumpkin patches with two-brains anyway.

Vala’s Pumpkin Patch

pumpkin patches

Flickr photo via Katatonic28

Vala’s is a personal favorite of mine, and one that I’ve visited many times – from a young tot on a fieldtrip to a big kid pretending adulthood wasn’t happening to me. Vala’s is located in Gretna, Nebraska, and opened daily during the fall season (Sept. 18 – Oct. 31). Attractions include train rides, bouncing pillows (that’s where you can find me), pig races, corn mazes and so much more. Eat a couple caramel apples and ride that sugar high for a full-day of fall fun.

Nash Ranch  

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Located in Redding, California, Nash Ranch has been home to Shasta County’s original pumpkin patch since 1991. Some quaint attractions to get excited for include a 15-acre pumpkin patch, the Dreams of Darkness haunted house, a corn maze and an antique tractor show. Get out of the city for the day and get back to your country roots.

Craven Farm

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Flickr photo via Sam Lee

Known for its beautiful wedding venue, Craven Farms, in Snohomish, Washington is also a fun place for those not tying the knot. Open from Sept. 26 – Oct. 31, Craven Farm’s boasts a 20-acre pumpkin patch, 3-D adventure center, hay rides (weekends only) farm animals and make-your-own-scarecrow station. Brain not included, you’ll need to go to Oz for that.

Pumpkin Hollow

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Located in Piggott, Arkansas, Pumpkin Hollow is the largest commercial gourd grower in the mid-south area. Say that 10x fast. Pumpkin Hollow specializes in wholesome family fun with a dash of educational activities. Attractions include Friendly Forest, duck races, corn mazes and new this year – County Bumpkin Playground. Keep calm and gourd on.  

Great Pumpkin Farm

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Flickr photo via Lee Ruk

If you’re into growing the biggest pumpkin possible, then you’ll fall in love with The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York. Each year the farm does the world pumpkin weigh-off (Oct. 4 this year) where the winner gets $10,000. Maybe money grows on vines? If smaller pumpkins are more your scene, the farm has attractions for you as well, including amusement rides, magic show, donuts and cider and the ever-popular corn maze. The best part? Weekdays are free.

Pumpkin patches are all over the USA. What are some other ones you’ve fallen in love with?

spinlister

I believe that the best way to explore a new city is by bike. It’s healthy, usually easier and it’s a great way to find hidden gems. A few months ago I flew to Boise, Idaho sans my trusty bike. Being one who hates wasting money on cabs and Uber (they are great when you have to use them though), I began to research ways to rent a bike for the long weekend. After ruling out a couple bike shops and the local University, a friend of mine told me about Spinlister.

spinlister

I located a couple cruisers in the area and was nearly about to request when I was gratefully offered up free bikes from the house we were staying at. But, if you don’t get that lucky, here’s a quick spin down of Spinlister – I know I’ll be using it in the future.

Spinlister was founded in 2012 by Will Dennis and Jeffrey Noh out of California. The idea behind the concept is simple yet genius. Dennis and Noh aimed to provide local bikes, by people actually living in the cities you’re visiting, for a low price. Dennis was quoted as saying, “There’s something pretty cool about going to a site and being able to rent a bike from someone in Australia, Romania, Paris, or Austin, Texas.”

And I 100% agree – it is cool. 

Bikes are available for rent in most big cities around the world and slowly migrating to smaller ones. The type of bike available varies from city to city as well. Everything from high-performance road bikes to vintage cruisers are listed – ranging in cost from as little as $4 a day to $50 plus.

Bikes aren’t the only thing Spinlister has for rent though. Snowboards, skis, surfboards and SUP boards are also available in some cities.

Those looking to make some cash by renting out their bike/other equipment can do so with ease by using the Spinlister mobile app or desktop site. As an added piece of mind, Spinlister insures all damages to bikes up to $10,000. How’s that for a trusted business plan?

The next time you’re heading to a new city, I highly encourage you to check out renting a bike from Spinlister.

Or rent a SUP board – I hear it’s what’s up this summer.

Have you tried out Spinlister?

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Pumpkin Spice Lattes are great, but when I want something pumpkin flavored I go for a pint of something a little hoppier to make me happier. Pumpkin Beer, to be exact. And, pumpkin is a vegetable, right? So basically I’m drinking vegetable juice – so therefore it’s health in a glass?

(Only in moderation)

These brews are best enjoyed after a long day, around a bonfire or just when you feel like you deserve it. It’s fall after all. #treatyoself

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

pumpkin beer

Brewed in Easton, PA

Tastes like a caramel and pumpkin mash-up sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of cardamom and clove.  

ABV:  8%

Let me admit a truth here: This post will shine a light on the fandom I feel towards the travel blogger known as Nomadic Matt. I’ve never met the guy and yet he’s vacationed with me (bare with me, that sounded super creepy). Well, not him – I doubt he’d fit in my backpack alongside an abundance of pocket t-shirts, but his tips on South America budget traveling sure did. My travel mate and I printed them out, poured over them while we sprawled out in the Florida airport and carried them all over Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.

I first stumbled upon Nomadic Matt’s site when I began traveling back in 2012. After returning from summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and hanging out with a cheetah for an afternoon, I joined the grid again and saw someone had retweeted this guy who called himself “Nomadic Matt.”

I clicked on the article and did one of those things where you get really excited about the words in front of you and you scroll down to the end of the page and then realize you didn’t even finish the first paragraph. It’s a good thing, I promise Nomadic Matt.

Anyway – I’ve followed him ever since. I devoured his book one rainy afternoon at the local coffee shop in town and then again while my lamp flickered on and off when I was supposed to be finishing a philosophy paper (are they ever really done anyway though)?

And then, a few days ago I saw it: Matt (can I call you Matt?) had opened a hostel. As a microadventure enthusiast, I knew I had to add HK Austin to my weekend adventure list.

nomadic matt

 

According to Nomadic Matt’s blog, the HK Austin is co-owned by him and his friend, Brent. Located on a historic property in the east area of Austin, near the famous 6th Street, HK Austin opened its doors to guests in August.

HK Austin is listed as a co-living space on its website, and is intended to provide creative minds and wanderers a comfortable environment to stay. And who wouldn’t be comfortable when you’re staying in a Victorian mansion with dual wrap around porches, gated backyard and free pancake breakfast on Sundays?

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For the artists out there, HK Austin also has accommodation packages available. If interested, check out their site for more details.

I don’t know about you all, but if you want to find me, I’ll be hanging out on one of those dual porches. Brb.

This post is brought to you by an uber-fan of Nomadic Matt.

Opinions are my own.

Do you follow Nomadic Matt?!

Described as the “alternative to the sugar-coated tedium of the average family day out,” Dismaland, also coined the “anti-theme park” opened Aug. 22 (closing Sept. 27) in Weston-super-Mare, a seaside down of Somerset, England. Dreamt up by British street artist Banksy, this humorous, dark-natured pop-up exhibit is only open for five-weeks – so you better book a ticket today.

The theme park is basically a festival for all things art, amusement and entry-level anarchism, according to the Dismaland website. While it’s mostly a spoof of Disneyland, it also layers a coat of paint on some societal issues of today.

The theme park features displays from other comrades of Banky’s as well from all over the world – Damien HirstJenny Holzer and Andreas Hykade to name a few.

dismaland

 

Flickr photo via Sleeves Rolled Up

While you may be able to find and see Banksy’s work, he himself is an elusive artist who has built a reputation for his politically and socially revved graffiti displayed in surprising locations.

Luckily for all of us, Dismaland is in plain sight for all to see. Displays to look forward to include a “fantasy” castle, grim reaper on a bumper car, a worker holding “I’m an imbecile” bouquet of balloons, Willy jumping out of a toilet and an “oil caliphate themed” mini-golf course.

Booked your ticket yet? If you’re still on the fence, take a peek at a recently introduced commercial for the park. Advisory: those unimpressed with sarcasm may want to avoid.

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Flickr photo via Sleeves Rolled Up

Ironically, the commercial follows a normal, American family through the park. Even though the kids seem to love it, Bansky described his wonderland as a “family theme park unsuitable for children.” Maybe those two were old souls.

The park is made to make you think creatively about society issues and allows a way for your mind to exercise in art interpretation, especially in the interpretation of art your strangest dreams had never imagined.

Banksy even managed to capture the true essence of today’s society– a selfie hole in the middle of an all-white canvas – no hidden meaning required.

Has anyone been to Dismaland? Thoughts?

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Walking up to see the wonder that is Machu Picchu was on the top of my list when I backpacked South America. The history, the town, the distance and lengths to go to get there, the pictures – there is no doubt that visiting Machu Picchu is a must-see for every traveler. But, once you get to Peru I challenge you (highly encourage) you to check out these two Peru attractions too. Who doesn’t want more than just one amazing travel experience to add to their memoir?

Sand Duning in Huacachina 

peru attractions

 

Flickr photo via Christopher Crouzet

Located four hours south of Lima and 10 minutes from Ica, Huacachina is a desert oasis, composed of a small lagoon surrounded by miles and miles of sand dunes and enormous palm trees. Most travelers hop aboard a dune buggy for an afternoon of sliding down some epic sand dunes. There are many options for tours – while walking the streets one out of three vehicles I saw was a dune buggy. A beginner sand boarding, I chose to lie flat on my stomach – the more expert riders in my group rode down the sand like it was snow, slicing through the fine ground below them. The dunes range in height and length, most tours saving the most daring for last. An added bonus? Running up sand, while carrying a board, is quite the workout.

Visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos

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Flickr photo via Martin Garcia

Located four hours from Lima is the small-town of Paracas. A lesser known travel destination, Paracas became one of my favorite destinations of Peru. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, fresh Ceviche and locals who enjoy showing you around, Paracas is an easy boat ride to the Isla Ballestas, also known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos. For $11, my travel mates and I rose early to view warm-weather penguins, sea lions, seals, pelicans and boobies. Jutting out from the ocean are giant rock formations completely covered in these exotic animals. Cruising around the formations before heading back to land is an experience that left a lasting impression, it was spontaneous, foreign and it didn’t feel like something everyone else was doing – which is something I hope any traveler is longing for.

These two cities have more to offer than just sand boarding and penguin sightings. The food, the Pisco sours, and bike rides to the Paracas National Reserve are also experiences to explore and indulge in while visiting.

But don’t take my word for it, book a ticket and wander for yourself!

What are your favorite Peru attractions?

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visiting wales

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Wales is often overlooked when planning a trip to the UK, but it shouldn’t be!