Annie

About Annie

Annie was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, she graduated from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon with her Bachelors of Science in Psychology. She has travelled to over 20 countries including the UK, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, Fiji and Argentina. Most recently in 2012, Annie spent three months travelling around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. With a passion for helping people, Annie is interested in international humanitarian aid work and hopes to eventually pursue a Masters Degree from Portland State University. When she is not off exploring the far reaches of the globe, Annie enjoys riding her bike around Portland, drinking tea and attending music festivals.

12 Things You Won’t Find in Hawaii

Hawaii is full of natural beauty, stunning beaches and the Aloha spirit, but there are a few things that you won’t be able to find on the Hawaiian islands. While we usually define a place by the features it possess, sometimes it’s just as important to list off what it lacks.

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Photo copyright Skyseeker

  1. Billboards – Hawaii was the first state in the U.S. to outlaw billboards in 1927, thus preserving the natural beauty of the islands for decades to come.

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Photo copyright Drew Stefani

 

  1. Snakes – Because of the threat they pose to native birds, snakes are banned from entering the Hawaiian Islands.  

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Photo copyright Debs

 

  1. Rabies – While this makes it a pain to transport your pets to and from Hawaii, it’s comforting to know that it’s a rabid-free state, in fact it’s the only state in the country without rabies. 

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Photo copyright Marco Verch

 

  1. Private Beaches – All beaches in Hawaii are public and developers are required to provide public access and parking for anyone to enjoy the shorelines.

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Photo copyright Chris Murphy

 

  1. Loud Car Horns – Even in Honolulu rush-hour traffic, the streets are quiet, the drivers are patient and the Aloha spirit is alive and well.  

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Photo copyright Nick Mote

 

  1. Major U.S. Banks – None of the country’s major banks have branches in Hawaii, instead Hawaii residents are loyal to local banks, like Bank of Hawaii, and First Hawaiian Bank.

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Photo copyright Teemu008

 

  1. Daylight Savings Time – Hawaii’s proximity to the equator means that the length of a day doesn’t change dramatically throughout the year and so daylight savings time simply doesn’t matter here. 

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Photo copyright Harly504

 

  1. Affordable Housing – The cost of living in paradise is astronomical, the average cost to rent an apartment in Honolulu is $1,750-$2,000/month plus parking fees and utilities. 

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Photo copyright Rennett Stowe

 

  1. An Ethnic Majority – Hawaii is truly a melting pot of ethnic diversity and is home to the most multiracial residents in America.

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Photo copyright Horschmology

 

  1. Good Mexican Food – Hawaii has a huge variety of diverse international cuisine, but sadly the state is not known for having high quality authentic Mexican food.

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Photo copyright Alex Archambault

 

  1. Popular Mainland Chains – Starbucks and McDonalds have made their way across the islands but if you’re craving breadsticks from Olive Garden, a Chipotle burrito, or even Dunkin Donuts, you’re out of luck. 

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Photo copyright Mike Mozart

 

  1. More than One Area Code – Hawaii residents are very proud of the 808 area code that is shared throughout the islands and serves all 1.4 million residents of Hawaii. 

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Photo copyright Eli Duke

 

What else have you not been able to find in Hawaii?

 

Original post by Megan Shute

What’s Better than a Honeymoon? How about a Buddymoon?

What’s better than a honeymoon with the person you love? How about bringing your closest friends along with you? This relatively new trend has been dubbed a buddymoon, and a lot of people are on board. A recent Priceline survey of more than 1,000 Americans found that 12% of people said they’d attended a group honeymoon (or buddymoon) in the last five years. In fact, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux decided to opt for a buddymoon when they invited friends like Chelsea Handler, Jason Bateman, and Courteney Cox to the Four Seasons Bora Bora for their honeymoon in August 2015.  “We had thought about it; we could just do a normal honeymoon or we could go with friends, keep the party going, relax, and have fun,” Theroux told Extra.

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Photo copyright Velas Resorts

Velas Resorts in Mexico have decided to jump on this trend and are now offering buddymoon packages for couples hosting their destination weddings at four of their resorts – Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Grand Velas Los Cabos, and Casa Velas.  Each of the four Velas Resorts in Mexico have their own version of the buddymoon, including activities such as private cocktail parties, eco-tours, picnics, meditation retreats, private cooking classes, golf trips, spa days and many more. 

So where would you go for a buddymoon?

 

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Photo copyright Antonio Rivera

The Islands of French Polynesia

When people think about French Polynesia, a tropical paradise comes to mind – but not all tropical paradises are the same.  Do you dream of sunbathing on beautiful white sand beaches? Or SCUBA diving through magical underwater reefs? Perhaps catching a wave on the Tahitian surf is your idea of a good time?  For some people the dream is hiking through lush jungles on remote islands, for others it’s learning the secrets of ancient Maori cultures. Whatever’s your definition of a tropical paradise, French Polynesia has it. But with 118 islands and atolls, stretching over 1,200 miles (2,000km), deciding where to go in French Polynesia can be overwhelming.  If that’s how you’re feeling right now, you’ve come to the right place!

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Photo copyright Daniel Chodusov

 

French Polynesia is divided into five groups of islands: the Society Islands Archipelago, the Tuamotu Archipelago; the Gambier Islands; the Marquesas Islands; and the Austral Islands.  Knowing about each of the island groups can help you narrow down your search for the ultimate vacation getaway. In this post, we will take an in depth look into each one to help you make the decision that’s right for you.

 

SOCIETY ISLANDS

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Photo copyright dany13

 

The Society Islands are the most well-known islands in French Polynesia, and include Tahiti, Mo’orea, Bora Bora and many others.  Tahiti was born when two volcanoes erupted and formed an island so large that it represents almost 30% of French Polynesia’s landmass and 68.7% of the population of all of French Polynesia. It is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs.  On the island of Tahiti, you will find small towns dotting the parameter of the island and the cosmopolitan city of Papeete in the northwest. The population drops as elevation rises inland, bringing you majestic peaks like La Diàdeme, and a stunning thousand-foot waterfall. Tahiti’s quieter side, Tahiti Iti, is on the southeastern end of the island and is home to the world famous surfing wave, Teahupo’o. Surfers, kiteboarders, and swimmers dot the shore and add color to the exotic black sand beaches that ring the island.

Just off the coast of Tahiti is Mo’orea, a heart shaped island with two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore. It is encircled by coral reefs which provide a tranquil refuge to a wide variety of exotic and iridescent fish. Bora Bora is a 12 mile-wide island group consisting of a main island surrounded by a lagoon and barrier reef. The center island is known for its towering volcanic spires which disappear into the clouds, adding a touch of mystery to the island’s remote beauty. Bora Bora is famous for its aqua-centric luxury resorts and overwater bungalows.  

 

TUAMOTU ISLANDS

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Photo copyright Alessandro Caproni

 

With their unparalleled beauty, the low-lying Tuamotus island chain is a scuba diver’s dream. Rather than volcanic activity, these island atolls relied on coral reefs to form.  The heavenly lagoons are so precious and rare that many of them have their own unique ecosystems. In fact, the pristine Fakarava, is deemed a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  

 

GAMBIER ISLANDS

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Photo copyright Kyle Pearce

 

The Gambier islands is well off the beaten track and offer the perfect mix of cultural treasures and natural scenery.  The mountains on the island of Mangareva rise above the surrounding lagoons and neighboring islands, in fact Polynesian mythology tells of the demi-god Maui lifting the island of Mangareva from the ocean floor. Famous for their pearl farms and historic churches from the 1800’s, travelers to the Gambier Islands get the sense that they have been transported back in time.  

 

MARQUESAS ISLANDS

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Photo copyright Mustad Marine

 

The fierce Marquesas Islands have the hottest and driest climate of all the island chains in French Polynesia. Surrounded by deep, navy colored sea and cold currents of the Pacific Ocean they’re not known for their beaches; but these wild, wonderful and barely populated islands are a dream destination for hikers. Not only are the Marquesas islands home to exotic species of bird and plant wildlife found nowhere else in the world, you will also have the opportunity to experience the rich Maori culture. Pick up a handmade pareo from the local markets of Nuku Hiva, or a protective tiki amulet made by the expert Maori craftsmen of Tahuata.  

 

AUSTRAL ISLANDS

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Photo copyright Montereydiver

 

The inhabitants of the Austral Islands are as friendly as they are artistic. Visit the colorful, picturesque villages to discover the craftsmanship of the islanders who make a living off of their hand-made goods. Plan your trip to the Austral Islands between August and October and you will see the mesmerizing humpback whales who migrate to the islands each year and frolic in the waters just offshore. 

 

So what will it be?

With so much diversity and natural beauty, a trip to French Polynesia is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime. Hopefully this post has helped you narrow down your perfect French Polynesian destination. For those of you who have already decided where to go, or for those of you who are still needing help deciding, contact one of our French Polynesian travel experts for assistance. Their free, no-obligation help will bring you closer to making your dream vacation a reality, and as a bonus they have access to exclusive discounts to save you money on your trip.

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Photo copyright RDPixelShop

10 Things to Know Before Going to Fiji

Your flight and hotel are booked, your bags are packed, and you are ready to go! Before you head out to the beautiful islands of Fiji, it’s important to know a little bit about the culture.  We’ve done the research and gathered 10 helpful tips for you to have the best possible vacation! So read on:

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Photo copyright Duncan Odds

 

  1. Get To and From the Airport

You don’t want to be stranded after your long flight, and if you’re in a pinch there are taxis for hire, but the best course of action is to have a driver waiting for you when you land.  Most hotels, especially those on the outer islands, will offer an airport service. Double check with your travel agent that this has been arranged before you set off on your trip.  

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Photo copyright Roderick Eime

 

  1. Fijians Drive on the Left

This can come as a shock to people who are accustomed to driving on the right side, and it’s all the more reason to hire a driver if this is something you’re not used to. You’ll probably adapt to it quickly enough, but if you’re nervous about the prospect of driving, it’s best to sit back, relax and to hire a local.  

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Photo copyright Kyle Post

 

  1. Forget About Vibrant Nightlife 

Fijians generally go to bed early and wake up with the sun, so if you plan on partying until the sun comes up, you might be on your own. Instead, plan to enjoy your drinks by the pool or on the beautiful beaches by the light of day and save partying for another time.

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Photo copyright Chris Isherwood

  1. Go Hiking with a Local Guide 

Fiji is full of wonderful natural beauty and hiking is a great way to experience the gorgeous tropical rain-forests. However, it’s important to know that many of the paths aren’t well-maintained and the terrain can be hazardous, so hiring a local guide is going to be the safest and most enjoyable option.  Ask your travel agent for help on finding great deals on local tours.  

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Copyright Pablo Marx

 

  1. Be Mindful of Your Attire in the Local Villages

Sundresses, shorts and tank tops are fine in and around the resorts but if you decide to visit a local village it’s best to dress a little more conservatively in order to show respect. Visitors should plan to remove all hats and sunglasses while in the village and plan to wear clothing that covers both shoulders and knees.  

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Photo copyright Kanaka Rastamon

 

  1. Visit the Outer Islands 

Many people have the impulse to stay on the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu on their trip to Fiji but the real magic is on the outer islands.  Steer clear of the urban areas and opt for a seaplane or speedboat ride to places like the Mamanuca Islands, known for their scuba diving, snorkeling and coral reefs or check out Yasawa, known for its pristine beaches and jungles.  With more than 300 islands, there is no shortage of places to explore. 

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Photo copyright Joyce T

 

  1. Embrace ‘Island Time’

It can be difficult to slow down when you’re used to fast-paced living but that’s why you’re taking a vacation from the hustle and bustle, right? In Fiji, like most of the South Pacific, people live by ‘island time,’ a slowed down, relaxed mentality and they are happier for it. So relax, take a load off and embrace the slow pace living, you might just learn to love it!

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Photo copyright MickiTakesPictures

 

  1. Attend a Kava Ceremony

Kava is a legal and traditional herbal drink made from the ground root of a spicy pepper plant and is used for medicinal and cultural purposes throughout the Pacific. It has relaxing effects similar to alcohol, but without the risk of intoxication or hangover.  In Fiji, a formal kava ceremony will often accompany important social functions, usually involving drinking kava and a ritual presentation of bundled roots as a gift. If you have the opportunity to attend a kava ceremony, I highly recommend it. 

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Photo copyright Melody Tan

 

  1. Respect the Locals

Fijians are some of the most welcoming, friendly people I have ever met, and are quick to greet you with “bula,” (meaning hello) and a huge smile on their faces.  Just know that while they are making sure your vacation goes smoothly, they are often away from their families for weeks at a time. It should go without saying to treat them with the respect deserved to all people, but especially those in the service industries. 

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Photo copyright Tomas Maltby

 

  1. Watch the Sunrise

Vacations are for sleeping in, right? Yes, but we recommend devoting at least one morning to watch the magnificent light reflecting off the tropical waters. The colors in the sky will make waking up well worth it, just don’t forget to have your camera ready!

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Photo copyright Kyle Post

Travelogue: 3 Months in Southeast Asia

Visual Itineraries’ marketing coordinator, Andrea Zenn, recently returned from a 3 month trip through southeast Asia. Here’s the story of her adventure…

Sunrise in Cambodia

Sunrise in Cambodia


I flew into Hanoi and stayed overnight to adjust to the time, weather and cultural changes. The biggest culture shock came from the traffic, which would be so dense with cars, buses, and mopeds that people would drive on the sidewalks.

traffic in Saigon — in Vietnam

Traffic in Saigon — in Vietnam

My number one piece of advice: when crossing a busy street in the city, watch what the locals do. The traffic is not going to stop for you so you have to just start walking very slowly into the street while the cars and motorcycles go around you. It definitely got my adrenaline going every time, but there is no other way to cross the street. Hanoi is an extremely dense city so I took the first chance I got to leave the city and head for Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site is worth the three hour bus ride from Hanoi. I booked an overnight cruise through my hotel which included a hike around Cat Ba Island, and a kayaking trip. When I returned to Hanoi, I stayed one more night and then booked a hop-on/hop-off bus ticket heading south down the narrow country. This was definitely the cheap way to travel, and only recommended for the adventurous soul.

The positive side of this was that I got to meet some other awesome travelers and gather tips from them. For the less adventurous, I would recommend hiring a car. From Hanoi, I made stops in Hue, Hoi An (one of my favorite towns in SE Asia), Nha Trang, Da Lat (another one of my favorite towns) and Ho Chi Minh city. Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, is another big city but it is a utopia for those interested in the history of the Vietnam War. From Ho Chi Minh, I booked a cruise around the Mekong Delta and had the opportunity to stay with a host family and visit the floating markets, which I highly recommend if you get a chance.

Floating Market - in Vietnam

Floating Market - in Vietnam

Continuing clockwise around South East Asia, I made my way to Cambodia.

traditional Cambodian dance

Traditional Cambodian dance


Make sure to hire a guide who takes you all the way across the border as it is fairly common for drivers to take you five miles from the border and then ask you to either pay double or walk. Thankfully this did not happen to me.
Rabbit Island - Cambodia

Rabbit Island - Cambodia

Another tip is to always have American currency on hand. Even though the countries in South East Asia are so close to each other, they will often not accept currency from a neighboring country.

Kep — in Cambodia

Kep — in Cambodia


In Cambodia I stayed in a treehouse hotel in Kep, just outside of Kampot. Kep was the ultimate relaxing oceanfront town, if you want to spend a couple days in a hammock in the rainforest, than this is the town for you!

Fast food in Phenom Pen

Fast food in Phenom Pen


After leaving Kep I headed to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh has a fascinating history and I would recommend everyone to educate themselves about the Pol Pot regime before going. Other recommendations for Phnom Penh would be to visit the Central Market, Evergreen Vegetarian restaurant and Friends the Restaurant (a non-profit restaurant that offers training for local youth to get involved with the hospitality industry).

Paddling down the Mekong Delta — in Vietnam

Paddling down the Mekong Delta — in Vietnam


From Phnom Penh, I headed to Siem Reap to visit the world famous Angkor Wat. Depending on your interest in ancient ruins, you could spend three to seven days just walking around temples. My advice is hire a local guide to take you around in a Tuk Tuk (a bicycle powered carriage).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat


Get there early to see the sunrise over the temples and beat the heat (and crowds) of the afternoon. From Siem Reap, I returned to Phnom Penh and flew into Bangkok, Thailand.

Monks riding a Tuk Tuk in Thailand

Monks riding a Tuk Tuk in Thailand


Bangkok was a world wind of western influence and ancient South East Asian culture. If you like to shop than you’re in luck! While I was there I visited the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the famous Khao San Road, the Grand Palace, and Wat Pho. I then booked a trip to Kanchanaburi where I visited an elephant sanctuary, the Tiger Temple, Erawan Falls, and stayed in a floating guesthouse.

Tiger temple - Thailand

Tiger temple - Thailand


I decided to continue further north-west to Sangkhlaburi (on the border of Myanmar) to get away from the tourists.

elephant in Thailand

Elephant in Thailand


From there I returned to Bangkok and took an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was beautiful, and a great opportunity to do some outdoor activities. If you have time I would also recommend a trip to Pai, a quiet little mountain town, but remember to bring some motion-sickness medicine with you for the winding mountain roads.
Rope swing in Laos

Rope swing in Laos


After about a week of exploring Chiang Mai and Pai, I got on a bus and headed east towards the Laos border. I stayed overnight in Chiang Rai before making the 3 hour trip to the border and then a short boat trip to Huay Xai in Laos.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang


To get to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai, you have to options 1) go by bus; or 2) go by “slow boat.” There is also a third option for a speed boat, but these are extremely dangerous. I chose the slow boat (which takes two full days) because I was not short on time and I was tired of riding on buses. If you go this route, make sure to get to the boats early because they can get crowded. I thoroughly enjoyed floating along the rainforests of Laos, but you may want to bring a book for the trip. At night you stop at a riverside town whose main source of income are travelers from the slow boat.

beautiful slow boat ride to Luang Prabang

Beautiful slow boat ride to Luang Prabang


After another full day on the river you arrive in Luang Prabang which was my favorite town in all of South East Asia. The entire town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is filled with old French Colonial buildings and Buddhist temples. While I was there I did some kayaking down river rapids and visited the night market. From Luang Prabang I took a bus back to Hanoi, if I did this trip again I would have preferred to fly directly into Hanoi instead. If you have more time (and money), I would recommend exploring northern Laos as I hear it is beautiful and there are a lot of eco-tourism options.

In Hanoi, I spent another day wandering the city and then decided to spend my final week in Sapa, which you can get to by train. If you get to visit Sapa, watch out for tourist companies who advertise homestays as they often exploit the local populations.

Kuli and I in Sapa, Vietnam

Kuli and I in Sapa, Vietnam


I met a local woman named Kuli who offered to be my guide and invited me to stay with her family for a fraction of the price that the tourist companies were offering, (enough to provide her family with dinner that night). Kuli was the highlight on my trip, she taught herself English so that she could walk 10 miles a day to sell her handmade goods at the market. She was an extremely knowledgeable guide and was happy to teach me about her culture. She introduced me to some of the other women in the village and explained to me what life was like for her and her husband, her children and grandchildren, and relatives in other villages.

Cruising....Vietnam style

Cruising....Vietnam style

Overall I had an amazing trip, met a ton of fascinating people, learned a great deal about the different cultures, and gathered enough memories to last a lifetime!