My most recent trip to South Africa (and a brief stop in Zambia), was a long time in the making and certainly one with a lot of high expectations. All of them were exceeded. Within my first 24 hours in Cape Town, I already found myself gazing down over a hazy Cape Town from atop Table Mountain. After, a stroll through the beautiful V & A Waterfront confirmed that Cape Town is a special place. A winery is a must while in South Africa. On a whim, we found nearby Beau Constantia. The wine tasting in a beautiful, serene glass room featured a variety of amazing wines (my favorite was the Lucca Merlot) overlooking the vineyards. The next day, a scenic coastal drive through Table Mountain National Park brought us to the Cape of Good Hope, where visitors from around the world lined up to get a picture by the famous sign. Check out my travel video for highlights from the trip:
A highlight was a shark diving excursion through Apex Shark Expeditions in Simon's Town (45 minutes from Cape Town). Our original shark diving excursion with another company was cancelled (due to "weather," but I'm not sure I believe it). Apex organized a special mid-day tour, but informed our group that shark sightings were not guaranteed and there had been limited activity this season. After arriving to our spot off the coast of Seal Island, we suited up and waited. About 45 minutes in, the crew started to shout and point "right over there, right over there!" as they saw a shark swim in view of the boat. When it was my turn in the cage off the side of the boat, I waited about 15 minutes before the crew, once again, yelled "to your left!" As I dunked my head back under the cold, salty water, I was greeted about 5-10 feet away from a massive Great White Shark headed towards the bait thrown from the boat. The shark took a giant bite from the bait, and kept swimming into the distance. It was amazing to see such a powerful living creature, one that many fear, so close and real.
A short flight to Johannesburg plus a 3 hour drive brought Mabula Game Lodge in the Limpopo Province as the next destination. After arrival, I quickly settled in and boarded the vehicle for the first game drive. Over the next few days, we came across a family of cheetahs who just caught their next meal, a rhino family grazing, giraffes eating leaves from the tall trees, lions lounging in the shade, and plenty of buffalo seemingly watching our every move.
Next, a brief stay in Sandton permitted some rest before flying to Livingstone, Zambia. For me, I'd wanted to visit Victoria Falls ever since seeing it first on The Amazing Race. Our group arrived, checked into the bed and breakfast, and then visited the absolutely stunning Victoria Falls. The sheer power and force behind the water is breathtaking and captivating. The night ended with a Zambezi River Cruise showcasing a sunset of a caliber I've never in my life seen before.
As a final highlight on the last morning in Africa, I arrived to Maramba Aerodrome to ride a microlight through Batoka Sky over Victoria Falls. I first asked my pilot , "So how long have you been flying?" "Ten years," he assured me. Words cannot describe this experience. The moment you lift off from the ground, a weightlessness feeling takes over and you forget about everything else going on. You can see for miles into the distance and the town below your feet. I look up a bit further, into the direction we're headed, and see the mist rising into the sky from Victoria Falls. As we get closer, you can see elephants and hippos playing in the river banks below. We flew directly through the mist of the falls, up and around to capture every view, and then landed softly back at the runway. If there's one thing to not miss on your visit, it's a microlight flight with Batoka Sky.
With time to reflect back on the trip, I'm so thankful for the group of friends who joined me, and Gate 1 Travel for being exceptional travel organizers. If you're interested in booking your own dream trip, I just launched a travel counseling and planning agency focusing on custom & specialty travel for millennials. We can book everything and plan out as much or as little as you'd like. Visit www.TravelSwoon.com for more information.
One of the hottest (well, in demand) destinations today is Iceland. An island that was seemingly overlooked as an adventurer's vacation is now getting the time of day it deserves. This volcanically active island has numerous activities that will leave you feeling like you've stepped into another universe where you can explore city life one moment, or be in a snow tundra the next.
With newer and affordable options in air travel, Iceland is more accessible than ever. Icelandic WOW Airlines provides low-cost fares from the United States and Europe, to Iceland's Keflavik International Airport (KEF), just 45 minutes outside of the capital city Reykjavik. An easy shuttle transfer through Flybus provides a ride from KEF into the city, on a warm, wi-fi ready, coach. Check out the video I made while in Iceland:
Here's an overview of my itinerary:
A 5:00 am arrival to Iceland calls for a priority coffee run. Head over to C is for Cookie for fantastic lattes, sandwiches, and you guessed it - cookies. The Sunna Guesthouse is incredibly close to the landmark church Hallgrímskirkja, which I strongly encourage to visit the top of for a spectacular view of Reykjavik.
Become acquainted with the city very quickly with the FREE CityWalk tour. Just tip what you can at the end. With a full day in the city, be sure to check out The Sun Voyager sculpture and the shimmering Harpa Concert Hall. If you enjoy museums, the Saga Museum and the Vikin Maritime Museum are well worth your visit. Star Wars fans should check out the bathroom at Café Babalú. My visit here coincided with the great loss of Carrie Fisher. For a unique dinner spot, find the hidden pizza restaurant at Hverfisgata 12. It's not exactly "hidden," but you'll feel like you're sneaking into a private event when you go up the left stairs and through the black door. It's best to simply wander the streets of Reykjavik and explore new shops and restaurants.
A full day Golden Circle tour will take you a few hours outside of Reykjavik on a fascinating scenic tour of beautiful geographic sights. Stops include the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, the Strokkur geyser, and Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
Finally, your trip isn't complete without taking in the Blue Lagoon. Wade into 98 - 104°F water, sip on a cocktail, and be sure to stop by the Silica Bar for your complimentary Silica Mud Mask. While you can visit during the day or night, my visit at night made for an exceptional experience.
Unfortunately, the Northern Lights could not be seen during my visit due to the cloudy weather. How could I be disappointed? Now I just have a really good reason to go back...
Let's talk travel! Comment below!
It's been a busy summer, but the highlight was a long-awaited journey to Thailand & Cambodia! I've been yearning for this trip since 2011, when Thailand was added to my destination bucket list while on, yes, another trip.
This trip was booked through Gate 1 Travel. For my first experience with the company, I was super impressed and thoroughly satisfied with the entire trip! Everything was well-planned, organized, and jam packed with tours, shows, excursions, and fantastic recommendations for local activities in each city. At the end of the tour, I felt I saw far more than I would have had I booked the trip on my own and planned everything myself. While the spontaneity of planning your own trip and "going with the flow," is thrilling, I also see the high value of an organized trip to see the most while visiting the destination.
Flying from Nashville > Los Angeles > Shanghai, we arrived iin Bangkok to begin the tour. Visits that day included Wat Po, the Reclining Buddha, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace. We then drove to Ayutthaya to see the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The next stop was Sukhothai, where the Old Town of Sukhothai, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provided a serene experience walking through ancient ruins. The northern city of Chiang Rai provided a gateway for a short visit into Myanmar and Laos, together known as the Golden Triangle. In Chiang Mai, we enjoyed a cooking class, an elephant sanctuary, an up-close-and-personal experience with tigers, and some spectacular temples. Two short flights later, we arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The highlight was the breathtaking Angkor Wat! Additional stops included Angkor Thom and a boat ride through a floating village. See the entire day-to-day activities here: Itinerary.
Check out my tour video!
Let's talk money. If you've ever felt that traveling, especially internationally, is too expensive for your budget, I'm here to provide some advice. Let's face it, travel is expensive. There are many ways to keep costs down while traveling (hostels, driving instead of flying, vacation bundles, reward programs, etc.), but it's really a mindset that can allow you to live out your dream. It's possible, and quite practical, for you to visit a place you've always wanted to see.
The key is to think long term. Suddenly coming up with the funds a month before you want to travel is unlikely (unless you win the lottery- in that case, please remember me). Think a year out. Yes, a year. Start saving money now, make better financial decisions, and sell unused stuff for the next 12 months and you can find yourself with the ability to go anywhere in the world. While everyone's situation is different, start small by setting aside a monthly travel fund. This will grow faster that you'd expect. Reconsider how many times you eat at restaurants each week. Maybe start a meal prep plan so you aren't always going out for lunch. Is a movie theatre visit every week necessary? Maybe consider a Netflix night instead. Sell clothes you haven't worn in a year, electronics you no longer want, and hold off on buying those $100 jeans. Hey, it's a sacrifice, but it'll be worth it when your travel departure date arrives.
Travel is the most rewarding investment in myself. I feel like I learn so much not only about the destinations I'm visiting, but about myself, my desires, my interests, and my passions. I'd love to chat travel with you! Comment below or reach out via Facebook or email! :)
I visit restaurants and retail stores weekly (sometimes even daily) and I think it's important to always understand the perspective of cashiers, retail associates, kitchen staff, servers, and all of the other roles that are important for the success of the service industry. One can easily forget what it is like to work in a role of serving others, whether it be folding the clothes on a shelf after a customer is browsing through it or taking an order over a headset in a fast food drive thru when a customer is talking on the phone.
Here are some of the restaurants and stores where I have worked over the years. I'm going to share the lessons I have learned from each job in hopes you can 1) relate if you've worked in a similar position, 2) remember the worker's perspective next time you go to a restaurant or store, and 3) realize you can learn from anyone and in any situation.
Lessons: Service. Chick-fil-A, regardless of your viewpoint of company executives' personal beliefs, has done an outstanding job of providing a level of service never before experienced in the quick service restaurant industry. Another major lesson is to be nice to those in restaurants. There is no reason to become enraged because your sandwich has pickles and you requested no pickles. Not only is that a trivial matter that should be examined from a broader perspective (such as world hunger), but never be disrespectful to someone that has power over making your food.
Although my departure from the company was questionable, I learned a lot from working here and it provided me a foundation for moving forward while serving others in various aspects.
Lessons: If you pick up an article of clothing and unfold it to look at it, DO NOT JUST THROW IT BACK ON THE SHELF IN A HAPHAZARD, CARELESS FASHION. Even today, many years after working at Kohl's, I have been mistaken as an employee because I would re-fold clothes that I unfolded to look at. Perhaps this is also due to me still wearing many of the clothes I purchased there because of the sweet discounts. Regardless, attempt to not be so messy when shopping. Oh and when you randomly put an item from one department in a department across the store because you no longer want it, yeah employees hate that too.
Lessons: If you own a small restaurant, take the time to learn the names of your employees. At Firehouse Subs, the owner never knew my name.
Lessons: As a copy and print center associate, I learned a lot about document formatting, types of paper, laminating, binding, and I found a new appreciation (or obsession) for pens and which are good versus bad. Additionally, I became protective of my pens (more on this later). I can also assemble office chairs in record timing. Similar to Kohl's, I urge you to be a bit more respectful of property when you're shopping in a retail store. If I find Sharpies behind the calculators, then we have a problem. One time there was a live snake on the pencil pouches during back to school. That was scary.
Lessons: A large cup of frozen yogurt with lots of toppings is a perfectly acceptable dinner. I really enjoyed working at Sweet CeCe's. I met many wonderful friends, great bosses, and could be a positive part of someone's day. This is a no brainer, but if you really take care of the people who work with you, they'll likely perform better and stay for a long time.
Buffalo Wild Wings
I truly believe everyone needs to be a server working solely for tips at some point in life. There is no reason to not tip your server. Even if you do not feel like you had "good enough" service or if your order was incorrect, you still need to tip your server a minimum of 15%. Also, just because you racked up a bill of $60 does not mean that you can tip based on what you "meant" to spend or what you "feel" is an adequate tip. The math doesn't lie. For $60, you should be tipping between $9-12. Period.
I made $2.13 an hour on my paycheck, which completely went to taxes. Therefore, my only income was tips. At the end of the night, I would tip out the bartender based on my gross sales for the night, not the total of my tips. Servers are essentially renting out "table real estate" and trying to turn those as quickly as possible into tips. If you cause problems in a restaurant, you can be sure the entire restaurant is talking about you. Again, do not upset the people handling your food. Finally, do not take a server's pen. They are precious commodities valuable in such a line of work. (See Office Depot above)
Aside from the tipping aspect, serving in a restaurant truly is a humbling experience. No one is better than anyone else and everyone has a story as to why they are working in a restaurant - whether it's what they love to do or it is a stepping stone to where they want to be. If you can serve others in a restaurant, you will have a deeper level of respect for any hard working person trying to get ahead.
Well, there you have it! Whether you agree or disagree on any of my key takeaways from my job experiences in restaurants and stores, I'd love to read your comments on this blog.
Thanks for reading!
The past 72 hours in Nashville, Tenn., have been a whirlwind experience true to it's nickname, Music City. When you live here, you already know how special and unique Nashville is, but every now and then, you get that extra reminder that Nashville is still THE key location for music.
On Thursday, July 30, Eric Church officially opened up Nashville's newest venue, the Ascend Amphitheater, part of a $52 million expansion to Riverfront Park along the winding Cumberland River. Eric lead the sold-out crowd of nearly 7,000 to singalong to hits including "Give Me Back My Hometown," "Love Your Love the Most," as well as a never-before-heard song about his son, "Three Year Old."
The very next night, Friday, July 31, was very special. Exactly 370 days prior to that night, I was in Las Vegas to see Shania Twain's "Still the One" residency show at Caesar's Palace. Unfortunately, Shania had to cancel the show last minute due to illness. Tickets were refunded and there was not another show to reschedule until that October. When I found out she was going on her "Rock This Country" tour, I knew I had to be there.
Shania Twain is a freaking superstar. She commands the stage as the crowd sings every word of every song. When she performed "Any Man of Mine," she was pulled through the aisle around the arena on a moving cart. I ran down from where I was sitting just in time to high five Shania as she sped by.
Then is was Saturday. I had seen a modern day country music hitmaker as well as a superstar. What could be next? A global musical ICON, of course. Yes, the one and only Dolly Parton played two special benefit shows at the historic Ryman Auditorium and I attended on Saturday August 1. As we waited in the back alley for Dolly to walk from her bus to the artist entrance, we were given VIP passes by an industry connection (thanks!!!!) and we walked up the steps and were instantly backstage as Dolly graced past us to take her spot on stage. It's Dolly, so how do you describe her? She's more than funny; she's a comedic genius of one liners. She is more than talented; she is gifted beyond compare. She is more than smart, she is a focused, driven, hard working woman who still is a world class entertainer.
Eric Church. Shania Twain. Dolly Parton.
Doesn't get much better. Thank you Nashville.
Home is where the music is.
I recently returned from my latest trip - Peru! I've been eyeing this destination ever since I found out that Machu Picchu was in Peru. I booked the trip nearly a year in advance and budgeted to the point that I'm behind on many movies from the last twelve months. I recently graduated from Belmont University in Nashville and this trip was, in a way, a graduation gift to myself. (Please note: All monetary graduation gifts I received from friends and family went 100% to my tuition for law school in the fall. I paid for this trip on my own.) Check out the montage video I created which features special moments from nearly every portion of the trip in four minutes.
EF College Break has always provided amazing travel experiences for me. I book the trip and they arrange all of the flights, hotels, transfers, admission tickets, and several meals. (If you want to save $100 on any EF College Break trip, use my code: WAL032). Seriously, you will not regret traveling. The best money I have ever spent has been traveling. It has truly opened me up to the world, made me passionate about new experiences, shown me other cultures, allowed me to sample unique foods, and introduced me to people who practice different daily lifestyles.
Our trip began in Lima, Peru, where we learned that pisco sour is no joking matter. After bonding with our group during the walking tour around the beautiful Miraflores neighborhood, we visited a dinner show where many of us made our Peruvian debuts on-stage.
The short flight to Cusco introduced us to an altitude change of over 11,200 feet. Oxygen does not like to be in areas of 11,200 feet above sea level, so we took a full day to relax and acclimate to the changes. We hit the ground running the next two days on tours of cathedrals and ancient Incan sites such as Sacsayhuaman (pronounced a bit like "sexy woman") and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where Ollantaytambo provided a stunning view of the Andes.
Then, Machu Picchu. One of the Seven New Wonders of the World. This place is absolutely stunning. The nauseating bus ride, filled with dozens of 180 degree turns, winds up the mountain for about 25 minutes as peeks of the famous Incan city appear just outside of the bus windows. Once arriving, you feel the power of such a global wonder, one that was "discovered" in 1911 and remains 70% intact. (I say "discovered" because there were local families supposedly living there when American explorer Hiram Bingham mistakenly found Machu Picchu while searching for another city). The town of Aguas Calientes served as our gateway to Machu Picchu as well as the train depot to travel back to Cusco, then Lima, where we boarded a boat that took us off the coast to swim with sea lions, which was a beautiful experience.
Where is my next trip, you ask? How much time do you have for me to tell you?
Theodore Roosevelt said that. I saw him last night in the musical Newsies at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. If you're looking for a high energy, fast faced show with an important message and great music, go see Newsies now!
Based on the real life Newsboys' Strike of 1899 (when Roosevelt was governor of New York), the story follows a group of young New York City newsboys who organize a strike after major newspaper publishers begin to charge more money per paper. On a quest to resume a fair selling price per paper, the boys meet new characters and inadvertently learn life lessons about taking on challenges even when they seem bigger than yourself.
I saw this show at the perfect time. This summer, I'll be taking on some challenges and pursuing projects that might seem a bit crazy. However, after looking at how I've aligned myself in Nashville and with the support team around me, I understand that this is exactly where I need to be. I have some major meetings and phone calls in the near future and I've prepared myself for years to embrace what is about to happen.
My excitement and nerves are working together to help me focus, plan, and wholeheartedly embrace these opportunities and turn them into something great.
I hope to have some announcements in the next few months. :)
But first, Fleetwood Mac! I had the priveledge this past week in Nashville to see Fleetwood Mac's On With the Show tour. I'll admit ... there was a long period of time that I was unaware that the Dixie Chicks' version of Landslide was in fact not the original. I recently knew Stevie Nicks as a guest witch on American Horror Story: Coven. However, I appreciate legendary music - Fleetwood Mac's sales history proves they're the real deal. It's a safe bet that there were people sitting at the top of the arena who knew every lyric as I sat just feet away from stage right only knowing a handful of their biggest hits but still thoroughly enjoying each one.
KEEP READING FOR THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!
Stevie Nicks told the story behind Gypsy. The "Velvet Underground" was a store in California where Janis Joplin, and many others, shopped. Stevie walked in during the early days of her career and could not afford any of the clothing. She mentioned the ornate floor and decor throughout the shop which left a permanent vision in her mind . When she left, she told herself that one day she would be able to go back and buy anything she wanted.
And it all comes down to you
Well, you know that it does
Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night
And you see your gypsy
You see your gypsy
I've experienced first hand how the power of manifestation works along with the forces of the universe. If you just ask for something and you work hard at getting it, you just may be surprised when things happen and you hear the gears of the universe working in your favor. Combined with kindness to others, yourself, and the Earth, you will have empowerment and clarity for whatever direction you want to go.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT REALLY IS COMING. BUT LOOK HOW CLOSE I WAS TO FLEETWOOD MAC!
Ok, here we go! In seven weeks from today, I will be graduating from Belmont University in Nashville with my Bachelor of Business Administration in Music Business. For about the last year or so, I've been considering the possibility of attending law school after my undergraduate degree. After months of heavy preparation for the LSAT (and three LSATs later), I have news.
I have been accepted to Nashville School of Law! I'll begin the four year program in August 2015 and I couldn't be happier! A legal education combined with my music business studies will prepare me as I continue my endeavors in the area of entertainment entrepreneurship. Nashville has always been my home and I do not have intentions to change that. I feel my opportunities are here and this is where I want to grow personally and professionally.
Thanks for reading and please continue to visit my site!
Instead of the typical "this is my first blog post...here's what I'll be talking about" initial blog entry, I'm venturing to NYC soon for an exciting long weekend! I'll have much to share about my trip when I return, so check back soon for that!
I'll be seeing "Chicago the Musical" lead by country music's own, Jennifer Nettles, of Sugarland. Additionally, I'm planning on visiting the Statue of Liberty, United Nations, The Meredith Vieira Show, Times Square, and of course some classic New York City eats.
After this trip, I have less than 10 weeks until I graduate college. Repeat: GRADUATE COLLEGE. What? Is this real? Well sure it is. These several weeks will be filled with presentations, coffee, final papers, paper cuts, studying, coffee, and more of the like. Gimme that degree, Belmont!
Jesse is a Nashville native and avid traveler.
Follow me on Instagram: @jessehwalker
Send me mail and I'll always return it with a handwritten postcard.
PO Box 433
Hendersonville, TN 37077