Escaping Hurricane Florence

…and we ended up in New York City.

Some of the best adventures happen when you’re not expecting it.

The start of the fall semester seemed to be going normally, as I was finally getting settled into my routine.

Then, out of nowhere, there were rumors about a Category 4 hurricane ravaging the Carolinas. Everyone panicked—buying cases of water and stocking up on canned goods—and eventually we were told by the university to evacuate.

But to where?

For students that lived on the coast, they were definitely safer in Chapel Hill than at home. And for someone like me, who only lives 20 minutes from campus, it really didn’t make a difference where I was.

Many people escaped to other parts of the state where the hurricane was not supposed to hit as hard. Some had no choice but to stay in Chapel Hill.

My best friend Jaein jokingly suggested that we should go to Villanova University, where the majority of her friends she met from studying abroad in South Korea went to school. I didn’t know a single thing about Villanova, except for the fact that their team shot a last-second three pointer and stole our chance at a national championship title in 2016. I didn’t even know where Villanova was located until I pulled up Google Maps.

Seven hours away, I thought to myself. The drive can’t be too bad. 

What Jaein thought was a joke quickly became a plan that I was devising in a matter of minutes. We called up her friends about coming up for a few days, and they welcomed us with open arms.

So that’s where we decided to go. Not to Charlotte, or Boone, or Atlanta like the majority of students did. But to Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, September 11

Jaein’s study abroad roommate Tori, who is a senior at Carolina, also decided to accompany us on this adventure. We packed up our bags, loaded them into my SUV, and left that Wednesday evening, just hours after we got the alert to evacuate.

And so we drove. Instead of driving for seven hours straight, we decided that DC would be a good place to stop and rest. While this trip had no limits at this point, we made the smart decision to take care of ourselves and to slow down time a bit. And we also wanted to do some sightseeing while we were at it.

The three of us split a budget-friendly hotel room at the Hampton Inn, which was located in the middle of the city and had free breakfast. We explored downtown, walking by the White House and the National Monument.

After just three more hours of driving and passing through Maryland and Delaware, we made it to Pennsylvania. It was a state that I had never been to before. We pulled up to a dorm where Jaein’s friend, Tim, met us and helped us unload our bags. We moved my car to the guest lot, in which we had to explain to the parking attendant why exactly we were visiting from North Carolina.

Tim was extremely kind and selfless to let us take over his single bedroom in the dorm while he slept in his other friend’s room. Then we met the rest of Jaein and Tori’s study abroad friends, such as Ivan and William. Even though I knew none of them, I immediately felt as if I had been friends with them for a while too. They were all so eager to host us, even though it was a completely random occurrence.

It’s weird to spend time on another college campus. Especially at Villanova, which is a small private school that has about a third of the undergraduates that Carolina does. The dorm where Tim and William lived in also housed the main dining hall and many classrooms. There was no “Franklin Street,” as Villanova is tiny and is certainly not a college town. Instead, the students had the city of Philadelphia in their backyards.

While the school itself was not too interesting, the guys took us downtown for dinner, and we ate at an amazing dim-sum restaurant in Chinatown. In North Carolina, authentic Asian food is hard to come by, nevertheless dim-sum. We feasted on our food.

The hurricane was getting worse at home, and the university also canceled classes for Thursday and Friday. We were stuck in Pennsylvania anyway, so there was no way we were coming home before then.

Thursday, September 12

Tim and Ivan skipped their classes that day to continue hanging out with us. Tim is a huge foodie, so he knew the best spots to go in Philly. We went to Chinatown again, eating the most amazing dry hotpot. They customized our orders, so we got to pick all the different kinds of meats, vegetables, and noodles we wanted. Another round of food coma for us.

After walking around the city for a bit, we visited Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, an indoor and outdoor mosaic art gallery. It was beautiful to walk around.

For dinner, we ate at the best Korean barbecue restaurant that I’ve had in the United States. We could grill unlimited meat, vegetables, and had all of the side dishes we could ever want. This whole trip was basically defined by us obsessing over Korean food, as there really are not many options back in Chapel Hill.

While all of this was happening, Ivan was having difficulties with his bank account over at Chase Bank. After talking to a customer representative, Ivan needed to go to NYC to the headquarters to resolve the issues he was having.

We all looked at each other, knowing exactly what each of us was thinking. Let’s go to New York together.

So we booked an Airbnb for the five of us and a $14 Greyhound ticket for the next day to New York, which was less than two hours away.

Friday, September 13

The Greyhound bus was a pleasantly comfortable ride, and it dropped us off right at Times Square. I had just visited the city last month, so I still had my MTA subway card. We first took care of Ivan’s business with Chase bank of course, and then it was time to explore.

We spent the rest of the day shopping and dining in SoHo, and afterwards we decided to check out some of the nightlife. After an extremely long day, we crawled into bed at 5AM.

Saturday, September 14

After rushing to check out of our Airbnb, Ivan brought us to his cousin Danae’s apartment, who lived in Midtown and works for Yves-Saint Laurent. We also met Ivan’s other cousin and younger sister. Danae’s apartment and lifestyle was everything I wanted for myself in ten years.

The eight of us went to brunch at 11AM. We figured that we had plenty of time to eat and chat, given that our bus was departing at 2PM. But instead, we got lost in conversation. At my end of the table, Danae, Tori, and I were having a serious heart-to-heart as we talked about our lives together. We laughed–and even cried–by the end of the brunch. We almost missed our bus back to Philly.

Back home, the hurricane was thankfully not as severe as we had all anticipated. Class was going to resume on Monday, which meant that it was time for Tori, Jaein and I to make the seven-hour drive home.

We packed up our bags and left Villanova that same night. We said our goodbyes, and hoped that Tim and Ivan would be able to visit us at Carolina sometime soon.

How I Got Tickets to Good Morning America

They say New York is the city that never sleeps.

Well, neither did my best friend Emily and I, when we were sleep-deprived the entire weekend we visited last August.

As I was planning our trip, I had to think about what we hadn’t already seen in the city. We had both been countless of times, so we definitely weren’t interested in any of the tourist attractions. But we were also trying to sightsee on a college student’s budget, so our options were limited.

Somehow, I stumbled across an opportunity to be in the audience of the Good Morning America show. I applied on a whim, and I was able to get Emily and I tickets for the last day we were in New York.

Several random people texted me that they saw me on their TVs while they were eating breakfast that day, which I thought was pretty funny.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can have your shot at being on the show!

Three weeks prior

GMA has live tapings Mondays through Fridays, and they schedule tickets through 1iota.com, where you can see available dates for the next month. By clicking on each date, you can also see who the guest stars will be. Slots fill up quickly, so signing up as early as possible will guarantee you a seat. If you have a large group of friends, you can even book tickets for up to 10 people. Reserving tickets is completely free.

The application process is quick and easy—there is a box where you can explain why you love Good Morning America. I made sure to be as personable as possible. I explained that we not only grew up watching the show, but we were both students at the University of North Carolina majoring in journalism. We wanted to see the live taping to also see the behind the scenes of a full production television show.

I received a confirmation email that I had been placed on the waitlist for tickets shortly after.

Two weeks prior

I received an email from 1iota saying that my ticket request status changed from “Waitlist” to “Available.” I immediately confirmed and printed my tickets, which gave us priority seats for the show!

Three days prior

I received another email confirming my check-in time as a priority ticket-holder. We were told to “dress as if we were going to a nice dinner.”

The Day of the Show

The check-in time for the show started at 6:45AM, but we had to be in line by 7:15AM. However, Emily and I wanted to be towards the front of the line, so we decided to get to the studio much earlier than we were supposed to.

After a mere two hours of sleep, Emily and I got up at 5AM. We took an Uber from her cousin’s apartment in Chelsea and got to the studio in Times Square shortly after.

When we arrived, there were only four other people in line. As the time got closer to check-in, the line grew longer and wrapped around the curb.

The show assistants finally let us in at 7:15AM, where we were escorted upstairs and checked in our jackets and bags. The wait was worth it, as we were sat up at front row.

Before the show started, the MC got to know everyone in the crowd and got us excited to be there. He even coached us on the expectations of being a part of GMA’s audience, meaning that we had to smile constantly, laugh at all of the jokes, and clap excessively.

The coolest part of the show was meeting the hosts, who I had seen on my TV screen for years. They walked around the entire show floor, talking to everyone as well as taking pictures. We got to meet Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, and Ginger Zee!

The guest star of this episode was Nick Kroll, an actor featured on “Big Mouth” and “The League.” I was sitting right behind him, so I got lots of camera time while he was being interviewed by the host.

After the intermission, there was a segment about easy and healthy cooking on a college budget, based on a cookbook called “100 Days of Real Food on a Budget.” The author, Lisa Leake, demonstrated two different recipes. It was completely coincidental, but it seemed like the perfect episode for us, as two broke college students. Everyone in the audience also got a copy of her cookbook for free!

The taping was over by 10AM. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience, and it makes me want to apply to be a part of other audiences in other shows in the future (Dr. Phil? The Ellen Show?).

A Week in Amsterdam

If you were asked to take a week off from classes to travel across the globe, would you?

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Amsterdam with THE rAVe Agency. While this was a business trip and we were working in a convention center for most of the days, we still tried to see as much of Amsterdam as we could. Here are some of my favorites from the trip.

Heineken Brewery

Amsterdam: a place where there are more bikes than cars and the winters are wet and windy. I also learned that the Dutch are extremely proud of their Heineken beer, which is served on tap pretty much everywhere.

The group and I visited the Heineken Experience, an interactive brewery tour.  The tour guides were dressed in spiffy green suspenders and bowties as they took us along the museum. We each received two tokens to redeem at the very end to enjoy two refreshing glasses of Heineken.

MAXIM Piano Bar

The piano bar had an intimate and cozy vibe, with the lights dimmed and barstools surrounding the grand piano. The pianist of the night was actually American, and he was playing at various piano bars across the world. He could play almost any song and had request cards all over the piano.

As the night progressed, more people entered the bar. I requested about 15 different songs, so my friends and I got to hear our favorites, such as “Sweet Caroline” and “American Pie.” Everyone in the bar was singing along joyfully as he played all night long.

We didn’t have any Euros on us, but thankfully we had a $20. He was returning back to the United States the next day, so he didn’t mind at all.

Bloemenmarkf

Amsterdam is also known for its many canals and beautiful historic buildings. Down one of these streets, we found the flower market that floats on top of one of the canals. We found everything from cheap souvenirs, beautiful tulips, and cheese shops with tons of samples.

I only wish that I could have bought flowers for myself with them making the whole nine hour flight back!

Amsterdam is definitely a city I look forward to returning to soon, as I know there is so much more I could explore. Everyone was extremely friendly and spoke English so well that I often forgot that I was in a different country. I am grateful for the chance to have visited Europe, even if it was for just this short amount of time.  

Venturing into the Pacific Northwest

How it started:

For fall break, my best friend Harrison and I decided to travel to the other side of the country. Back in mid-June, we had found a direct, nonstop flight on Delta from Raleigh to Seattle for only $164 roundtrip. We had both never been to Seattle—all we pretty much knew about it was that it rained a lot. But it was certainly on our bucket list of places to visit in the United States. We immediately booked our tickets the day we found the ridiculously cheap flight. Over the next couple of months, we had booked our Airbnb and planned a loose itinerary of places we wanted to visited and see.

But exactly 12 hours before our flight departed, I had a crazy idea—on top of going to Seattle, what if we went to Canada, too?

After doing some research, I found out that Vancouver was only a two-hour drive from Seattle. I proposed this idea to Harrison—quite possibly the most spontaneous person I know other than myself—and he was on board. We were going to Seattle AND Vancouver in just four days. It took some pivots to our plan, such as canceling a couple of days of our Seattle Airbnb and setting up a rental car. But Harrison and I thrive off change, so it was no big deal.

Here’s a rundown of our epic adventure across the Pacific Northwest.

Day 1: Tuesday, October 16

Our flight departed early in the morning, at 7:30 A.M. I slept through the entire 4.5 hour long flight, and because of the time change from East Coast to West Coast, we arrived at 10:30 A.M. We had the entire day ahead of us!

At the airport, we got the keys to a cute little red car from FOX, the only rental car company that rents out to 20-year-olds. Although there was a hefty fee for being under 21, it was completely worth the freedom of being able to drive wherever and whenever we wanted to.

The first thing I noticed about the state of Washington was how beautiful it was. The air was crisp and the leaves were various hues of orange and yellow. And best of all, there was no rain in the forecast for the entire week. It was 65 degrees and sunny every single day.

We parked in downtown Seattle, and Harrison and I grabbed coffee from Starbucks (I mean it’s Seattle—we had to) and wandered around the city. We immediately did what we know how to do best—go shopping. We popped into random stores as we went along and tried to restrain ourselves from draining our entire bank accounts.

Afterwards, a quick walk took us to Pike Place Market, the most well-known public market in the country. There were hundreds of stands of beautiful flowers, artisan soaps, and interesting foods. We stumbled across this jewelry stand that sold the most eye-catching rings and necklaces. The artists explained that they were a couple that handmade them from copper and rare gemstones. Harrison and I bought matching rings to symbolize our friendship and the spontaneity of this trip.

It was already nearing dinnertime, and we wanted to get on the road before it got dark. We got in the car and started driving. We listened to lots of Florence And The Machine, admired the scenery around us, and kept each other laughing. Before we knew it, we were showing our passports to the border patrol officers in Canada and entered a new city.

As if we hadn’t already packed the most someone can possibly do in one day, we decided to explore downtown Vancouver. We were old enough to drink in Canada so we went to different lounges and had a beer. The nightlife wasn’t too exciting because it was a Tuesday night, but we still managed to make it fun.

Day 2: Wednesday, October 17

Good morning, Canada! Vancouver was a bit chillier than Seattle was, but we still enjoyed the same autumn breeze.

The backyard of our AirBnB.

The Canadian dollar is worth less than the American dollar, so we felt like we were really getting our money’s worth in Vancouver. We had a delicious breakfast at Nemesis Coffee, where artsy professionals gathered with busy young professionals.

We continued to explore downtown Vancouver with no real plan in mind. We shopped, snacked, and saw some cool stuff. This exact day in Vancouver happened to be the same day that Canada legalized marijuana across the entire country, so we even saw people celebrating in the streets.

After a few hours, we decided to check out Stanley Park, a huge park that reminded me of Central Park. At first, we really didn’t know how big it was. We walked the entire park, which took us about four hours. I was carrying multiple shopping bags with heeled booties—I was definitely not prepared to go on a hike. We finally got to the main attraction, which was the Lions Gate Bridge overlooking a huge body of water and mountains.

By the time we got back to our Airbnb, we felt the height of our exhaustion. We wanted to go back into downtown at night, so we decided to recharge with an hour-long nap. An hour turned into five hours, and we woke up fully confused at 11PM. We decided to listen to our bodies and call it a night by ordering Domino’s and going back to sleep.

Day 3: Thursday, October 18

We checked out of our Airbnb around 9AM, but we couldn’t leave without doing one last “Canadian” thing—go to Tim Horton’s. It reminded me of Dunkin Donuts, but the quality was definitely a lot better. I got a coffee and egg and cheese muffin for only $3.

We got back to Seattle and checked into our next Airbnb, which was located in Capitol Hill, a hip and trendy neighborhood. We then visited the Space Needle, another must-do. The views were absolutely phenomenal.

At 7 P.M., Harrison and I went to the Hozier concert! It was held at Paramount Theatre, which was a really cool venue with decor from the twenties. We were in the standing room section, so we were only about fifteen feet away from Hozier. He sounded even better than he does on tape.

Day 4: Friday, October 19

Harrison and I had a late start to this day after letting our bodies get the rest that it needed. We had brunch at Glo’s Cafe in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which was the best breakfast that I ever had. I ordered a Southwestern-style breakfast with a bowl of fruit. If I ever go back to Seattle, Glo’s is the first restaurant I want to go back to.

We spent the rest of the day thrift shopping and wandering around the city. Today was the last full day before we had to return to North Carolina, so we wanted to soak in the last bits of Seattle as much as possible.


Afterthoughts

Overall, this trip was one of the most fun and jammed-pack adventures I had ever been on. I am so glad that I had Harrison to accompany me. Our personalities are so similar: we are extremely risky, spontaneous and carefree. Sometimes it can be dangerous, but most of the time, it makes for some awesome memories.


Why (+ How) I Travel

I get asked often why (and how!) I travel so often. In 2018, I traveled somewhere new almost every single month of the year.

The answer may surprise you. In fact, I don’t magically have more free time than others or a dispensable bank account. At the end of the day, I am just your typical college student. I have a full course load, a part-time job, and outside involvements that keep me busy every single day. Outside of paying for my tuition, I am and have always been financially independent ever since I was 15 years old.

So, I travel often because I prioritize traveling, sometimes above other things people my age are concerned about. Seeing the world when I am young and able is one of my core values.

But isn’t it better to travel after college, when you have a salaried income and are able to make more than minimum wage?

While I believe that I will always continue to travel every chance I get, I would argue that college is actually when you have the most free time as a young and able-bodied adult. Winter break is almost an entire month long, summer break is a full three months long. And don’t forget fall break and spring break and all those mini long weekends scattered throughout the year. I know that I won’t get these many vacation days when I have a full-time job.

Of course, classes and exams are important, but that’s not what I want to recall when someone asks me about my time in college. I want to talk about memories and experiences that I shared with the people that I love. And even though UNC is a large school with plenty to do, I find the campus suffocating at times. I don’t want to spend every free weekend being in Chapel Hill. The classes are difficult and the everyday routine becomes mundane and repetitive.

So if any opportunity rises to catch a break, I’m going to travel.

On this portion of my blog, I’ll discuss travel advice and any past and future trips that may come my way.