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Life is GOOD. 

Travels :: San Francisco + San Jose :: August 4-8, 2016

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“No matter how many countries you’ve traveled to or where you’re going, Prague will sweep you off your feet.”

I’ll let the pictures of Prague do the talking…. but we walked over 35 miles in just Prague ALONE. Please do yourself a favor and go here. Immediately. #biketours #getlost

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The most underwhelming clock tower… but it was built in the 1500’s and quite impressive animation for back then!! But thousands of people crowd around it every hour to see it change around. I am more fascinated with people watching… Ha. Praha is absolutely stunnnnnnning, yes?!

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Brunchin’ in Prague with macaroons – which FYI – are NOT my thang. I repeat: GO GET LOST within these city walls. <3
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I always get to hang out with the most lovely travel companions; so much laughter with this crew. SO much. <3
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We randomly decided to stroll down this road b/c it resembled my last name so much… and BOOM! I see my last name on the wall. Fyi – I am NOT czech. My grandfather died when my dad was only 5 years old and was adopted by his stepfather who bore the name “Tomasek” – My real last name should be Foust (which is insanely German), but alas my dad really never rocked it and therefore neither will we. 🙂 2015-09-23_0021 2015-09-23_0022

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Bike group photo courtesy of our wonderful travel mate, Leslie.

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Every trip I take, I make an effort to watch the Sunrise at least once… I thought it would be perfect to do so in Prague. Prague had other ideas, but I was still stoked to be able to cartwheels across an EMPTY Charles Bridge (which past 7 am… would NEVER happen). Major props to Grania and Jessie for walking the trek back down to watch the sun “rise” that day. <3 2015-09-23_0027 2015-09-23_0028

“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed…  and that changes everything.”

Oh travel, I adore theeeeeee.  Friday, August 28 marked the start of my latest wanderlust adventure (Berlin, Prague and Vienna). Due to the excessive amount of photos I took in each city, this trip will be broken into 3 separate posts. So with that, let’s chat about BERLIN! Berlin was not a city that was necessarily on my bucket list, but I was super excited to have the opportunity to check off a new country whilst planning this adventure. Particularly one that my lineage hails from… Crazy.
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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial consists of a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 slabs in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 7 ft 10 in long vary in height. They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew. An attached underground holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.(Source: wikipedia). It is quite humbling to stand amongst these towering slabs and kinda leaves you a bit speechless.

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A few of us set out to explore Berlin on our own before our group (of 50 people) met up later that night! Jetlagged and aiming to stay awake all day, explore we did. <3
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The Berlin Wall was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic/East Germany in 1961, the wall completely cut off  West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until it was opened in November 1989. The first version went up OVERNIGHT. Let’s just say it was definitely WAY taller than I pictured, but also not what I pictured. I had no idea that there was something called a “death strip” between the walls. I thought it was literally just ONE wall, but nope it was actually TWO – with varying space between it. Anyone that crossed would be shot and killed. The history of this city is shocking, revolting and mesmerizing all at the same time.

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Walking tour of Berlin: FYI – You always know when you’re in East Berlin, b/c the street lights feature Ampelman – the cute little guy with a hat.

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FYI – The building on the lower left is where Michael Jackson hung his son over the balcony… Our entire group, flipped around and snapped this shot too. Haha. Speaking of my group…. bam! There is all 50 of us. Primarily Aussies and Americans – but a fun group of like-minded travel folk. Thanks for sharing your stories, lovelies. Mad props to our Tour Manager, Katie who wrangled us all up from place to place. 
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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp // “Saxon’s Houses” was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. Camp punishments could be harsh. Some would be required to assume the “Sachsenhausen salute” where a prisoner would squat with his arms outstretched in front. There was a marching strip around the perimeter of the roll call ground, where prisoners had to march over a variety of surfaces, to test military footwear; between 16 and 25 mi were covered each day. Prisoners assigned to the camp prison would be kept in isolation on poor rations and some would be suspended from posts by their wrists tied behind their backs. In cases such as attempted escape, there would be a public hanging in front of the assembled prisoners. Some 30,000 inmates died there from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia, etc. due to the poor living conditions. Many were executed or died as the result of brutal medical experimentation.Sachsenhausen was intended to set a standard for other concentration camps, both in its design and the treatment of prisoners.

On the front entrance gates to Sachsenhausen is the infamous slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” // Translation: “Work makes (you) free.” (Source: wikipedia)

When we pulled up, a somber mood overtook the bus. However, it was sunny and it felt a bit weird.However, within an hour the skies turned black and the sky opened up…  and we all got drenched (like drowned rat, drenched). We all pretty much chose to walk the grounds on our own // Taking it all in. Getting lost in the stories on the walls. Let me just tell you this place is MASSIVE. I barely covered even half of it before we had to go.  It felt even more somber and raw with the weather change // It was an experience I’ll never forget.

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Night Street Art Walk // After drying off and getting changed, we were taken on an Street art walk through Berlin (Was this East?) by a local guide. Street art can be found everywhere in Berlin. On screens, façades, doorways and on walls, but also in places where one might not expect to find art. Corners of houses, bridge piers and the roadside become canvases for art that often has a political message. Unconventional forms of art such as urban knitting and guerrilla gardening offer new options for aesthetic expression that serve the common good. Public art inspires Berliners and visitors alike. It makes the cityscape more colourful and is clearly appreciated by everyone. (Source: www.visitberlin.de)

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Wandering around Berlin // Our last day in Berlin we were free to do whatever we wanted — so a few of us set off and explored the churches, domes, street art and even went up in the Berlin Flyer (Basically a hot air balloon tied to the ground… but goes up 400 feet in the air) – which FYI… terrified me for some reason. In my defense, a little girl was running around on it and the weight shifted enough that we tilted a bit. AHHH! Hoewver, once we got acclimated – we were able to take the sights in. FYI – Berlin is absolutely GORGEOUS.
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On our final night in Berlin, we went on a Progressive Dinner crawl via bike through the “Middle” of Berlin. We stopped at 2 restaurants and participated in a massive ping pong tournament in a hole in the wall pub (which I apparently forgot to take photos of – dang it).  Note: I did not bring my good camera, so iphone pictures will have suffice. I wasn’t sure if I could pedal and not fall off my bike while battling the cars of Berlin. <3 Super fun way to wrap up our travels in Berlin! WOOT! 

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Confession: I fell in love with Berlin.

Up next? Prague, Czech Republic – which blows pretty much every city I’ve ever visited OUT.OF.THE.WATER. Wellllll maybe not Switzerland, but darn close. Stay tuned.

I think you’ll quickly understand why South Thailand takes the cake when it comes to Thailand.  The south is fullllllllll of beaches, blue water (ok, clear water), white sands and just generally emotes peacefulness and happiness. When we first got on the ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan I was pretty pumped – the water was sky blue (which is pretty, but I know now pales in comparison to the rest of the south). Cue: I’ve entered my happy place. After two weeks of temples and walking, I was ready to just relax and take some time by the beach. But as always, trips are never about where you are… but who you are with and I was with a pretty fabulous group of people.

Where we went:

  • Bangkok
  • Surat Thani
  • Koh Sok National Park
  • Koh Phangan – Bottle Beach
  • Koh Phangan – Haad Rin Beach
  • Koh Tao
  • Krabi – Railay Bay
  • Krabi – Phuket – Patong Beach
  • Krabi Phuket – Panwa Cape/Bay (On my own)

Tour
TruTravels – 18 Day (link )

When I first got to the hostel/hotel to meet up with the group, I am not gonna lie — I was a little worried. The hotel was a bit of a step down from what I had just come from (i.e. mattresses on the floor, door was ajar upon walking in), but I had to quickly remind myself – the whole point of this journey was to get outside of my comfort zone as much as possible. I was backpacking and I had to embrace the backpacker life… so onward I went!  Within an hour of arriving, I was greeted by Luke, our tour charming British tour guide. Long story short – 18 days is a long time to spend with people, but when you do it right… it all just works out. We met up with the entire group that night at an Indian restaurant nearby (uhhhhhhhhhhmazing) and had a fun night out on Koh San Rd (Vegas for backpackers). I didn’t last terribly long, the week of traveling in the north caught up with me pretty quickly.

We had a few days in Bangkok to get to know one another and explore parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet – the JJ Market – whichis like the biggest farmers market in the entire world. Massive, crowded and pretty cool to experience. I had seen fish spa’s before, but I kinda wanted to try out… so I somehow got my two new friends (Lili from the UK and Sarah from New Zealand) to experience it with me. Let’s just say it was the the weirdest 15 minutes of my life… but I can check that off the bucket list! Ha.

As you can see, I quickly jumped into thai aparrel. Elephant pants? Elephant tops? LOVED THEM ALLLLLL. Plus, it was too hot to really wear the random stuff I had packed. For real, if you’re going to Thailand – pack the essentials and just buy things there ($3 tees, $5 pants). Everything is lightweight and you can toss/donate when you’re ready to leave. Plus, things disappear in the laundry all the time. Tip: Cheapest clothes are in Bangkok. Pack more dresses!

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Let’s just say these were terrific. Kinda like a crepe, but betterrrrr. Didn’t have them too often, but they were delIIIIISH.

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Traveling South via Sleeper Train: Koh Sok National Park (COH-Sock)

Koh Sok was an absolute highlight. All 23 of us fit on this little longtail boat. Luke took us on an hour boat ride, along with some cliff diving and swimming off the boat. Buuuuuut then we arrived at our adorable floating bungalows for the night. While we had no hot water, electricity (till after 8pm) or wifi – it was a wonderful experience. We kayaked, chilled out, read and just veggggged out. The food here was absolutely ridiculous as well – Massaman Curry is my [now] faaaavorite and these peeps did it RIGHT. Yummmo!


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Bottle Beach // Koh Phangan (COH-Pan-YANG)

After spending a few days on the road (overnight train, sleeping in bungalows, little to no showering) – our group took off further south to Koh Phangan – a small island widely known for the “Full Moon Party” – aka this insane rave that I have absolutely zero interest in. Hahaha. Thankfully, we were not on the island when this party was going on. Typically 30,000+ people come from various islands and crowd the place. There is always some sort of party happening, but thankfully we got to experience a very chilled out version of Koh Phangan.

After a 3 hour ferry and an hour truck ride through the Thai jungle, we were brought to a stunning beach… where we were once again staying in a bungalow. LOVEEEEEEE. This time we were sleep steps from the beach…. we could hear the waves crashing all night. Man on man, I was in heaven. Again, we had no wifi, water or electricity in our bungalows – but it was a very unique experience and I was very lucky to be there! Plus we knew it was temporary.

I introduced the group to s’mores (Only the North Americans knew what they were)…. crazy! So on the drive out I was able to track down marshmallows, Hershey’s and a thai substitute for graham crackers (not that easy in a Thai grocery store, FYI). Later that night, we had a pretty epic group party that involved releasing lanterns, roasting s’mores and just generally having a good time.

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Koh Phangan- Part II. 
After 3 days of not being able to take a warm shower, we were brought to the other side of the island and stayed at this amazing little hotel – which to us felt like a 5star resort (But it’s only $30 US a night). Things in Thailand are insanely cheap, but this one just blew my mind… and we were so happy to have warm water. Ha! A group of us took a boat ride to the northern part of the island and did some snorkeling, waterfall hiking and kayaking. A long but relaxing day.

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Koh Tao (COH-TAH-O)

I swear the islands just kept getting prettier and prettier each day. Koh Tao was NO exception… honestly, this might have been my favorite thai island. I would go back in a heartbeat. We had four wonderful days here to do whatever we wanted. And after 15+ days of traveling at this point, I wanted nothing more than to lay around and do nothing. Soooooo that’s what we did.

Note: I also got one of the best massages of my life on this island – right next to the beach. Nice find, Sarah.


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Overnight Ferry (Koh Tao to Suri Thani – 2 hour van ride to Krabi)
So this was a bit of a shock…. and a huge reality check. We were told we were taking an overnight ferry and I pictured something similiar to a cruise ship. HA – I did not picture us all sleeping side by side (along with a bunch of random people, mostly backpackers) with only squatter toilets as a bathroom option. FUN TIMES. We boarded at 9pm and docked at 4am, but it got us to Railay Bay faster than if we had done it during the day. The overall ride wasn’t too bad, the only thing that really stunk was that I had a drop of water drip on my leg all night. Needless to say, this was an experience. One I’ll never need to repeat again. 🙂 <3

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Railay Bay // Krabi (RAYLAY)
Soooooooo yah, Railay Bay kinda takes your breathe away. THIS is the Thailand you’ve seen in pictures and we got to spend four fabulous days here. However, some of the group got pretty sick… and I mean SICK. Supposedly there is some dreaded illness that just takes hold for 24-48 hours and there is basically nothing you can do to prevent it (Luke suggested we skip chicken and veggies – but it didn’t work). 15 out of 16 people were hit by the bug by the time the tour was over. I got it whilst in Koh Phi Phi…. and it was the most miserable thing I’ve ever experienced. However, while on Railay Bay (east and west), I spent my days either learning how to cook Thai food (Mango sticky rice? Massaman Curry, Chicken Satay – alllllllll delish) or laying by the pool/beach. A few of us (most of the group was just not healthy at this point), spent the daily sailing around from island to island on an old japenese sailboat. Snorkeling, cliff jumping, swimming with glow in the dark plankton and jumping off the boat. It was absolutely magical.

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Koh Phi Phi (COH – Pee-Pee)

Oh man, I waaaaaaanted to love Koh Phi Phi —- buuuuut this is the point where I got horrrrribly sick. And I mean SICK. Fortunately, it didn’t hit me till day #2 – so I was still able to hike to the lookout point, but this illness took me OUT. It unfortunately hit just as we were heading out on the boat for the day. A day that was taking us to Maya Beach – aka where the Beach was filmed. I HAD to go… but I quickly wished I just had skipped it. I was literally puking at every stop we took. Basically I fed a lot of fishes this day. A LOT. I might look happy at “The Beach”- but I was constantly running to the rocks to puke. Mad props to my travel mates (Rosie and Alex), for trying to help me along the way. Once we got back (late that night), I spent the next 12 hours in bed and onwards to Phuket we went.


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Phuket // Panwa Cape

Soooo our 18 day tour wrapped in Phuket, I sadly said goodbye to my travel mates one by one. I’ve made the mistake in past travels, by not staying a few extra days to mentally detox before boarding a long haul flight home… so this trip I decided I wanted to splurge on my last few days. I had the opportunity to do so in a place that wasn’t terribly expensive… EVERYTHING in Thailand is crazy cheap – this hotel (which would easily cost me $1000/night in the US, cost me $150). One of my awesome travel mates, Lili (who was spending the next month working with rescued elephants— aka she is amazing), joined me for some laughs and excellent conversation. We laughed a lot, pampered ourselves, ate thai delicacies (which I thought were incense) and got a few shades darker. Excellent end to a wonderful 32 day trip. When the time came, I wasn’t ready to go… but I was at peace was heading home. I laughed a lot, lost track of days and felt wellllll rested. Couldn’t ask for more than that.

“…there’s no way to reach it unless you slow down, get quiet and stop for a little while to notice.”

Accommodation: Bandaras Villas Phuket

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Until next time… 



Having just returned from an amaaaaaaaaaaaazing 6 week sabbatical – I am getting asked quite a bit about the “how’s, where’s and what’s” of my Thailand trip. Sooooo to answer a lot of questions all at once (and some unasked questions), I thought I would help push others to travel on their own by sharing my knowledge/experiences. Note: I am NO expert and I am sure there are a million other ways to do things, but this is what has worked for me over the years.

First of all, I travel solo quite often and it always seems to shock people. But let’s get this out of the way now — I am RARELY ever alone.  It is amazing and it just works. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone, it challenges me in the best ways and it also allows me to choose to be as involved as I’d like… or not at all. There have been countless (amazing) bloggers that have chimed in on the subject. I am not out to recreate the wheel, but I am just here to share how I make something like this a reality.

Growing up, my family took advantage of our summers off and we were lucky enough to see most of America as children.  I’ve been to every US state (except Alaska) and have been to most of the Caribbean and all over Mexico (in my 20’s). My overseas travels began shortly after college and it was a wonderful introduction to life outside of the “American” mindset. However, my “solo” travel adventures began in mid 2008 with a 14 day trip to the Mediterranean (Spain, France and Italy). While it was slightly terrifying, it was even more exciting to be totally on my own. I’d say my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner…

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Traveling Totally Solo
Again, while yes —- technically you’re alone, you’re not really by yourself. You just haven’t met your new friends yet. Granted, I am a very outgoing (and independent), but it isn’t about that. You just have to step outside of your comfort zone for a minute and trust it will all work out. On my Thai trip, I spent 5 days in Bangkok by myself.  I used the hotel concierge and a website I’ve used in the states (Viator.com) to find unique things to do. Not only do you meet people on these fabulous day adventures, you get to explore off beaten paths with them. Sometimes this leads to evening adventures, but mostly it means you have new friends. 🙂

  • Talk to everyone. Ask questions. Be kind and respectful. Learn a few basic words in the native language. Respect their culture. Try local food. Just be OPEN. But naturally, just use common sense. 
  • Take time for yourself. When was the last time you just sat in silence (without checking your phone)? Read a book? When were you last alone with your thoughts? Listen up!! It’s good for you! 
  • Check Viator.com for day adventures in practically any city in the world. They basically work like a travel agent of sorts? I like it because there are hundreds of ideas (most I would never think about) all in one site. Bonus: They have an app! 

Funny story: My sister had text me whilst I was solo in Bangkok and said that she felt bad that I was all alone. (Awwh sweet). Buuuut, I laughed and told her not to worry — I was perfectly happy! I was taking this break knowing what was to come. I knew I’d have alone moments and I would welcome them. It was only a matter of time before I met up with my travel groups and would meet new friends from all over the world.

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Traveling with a Group
Travel groups tend to have a stigma – retired folk, older singles, couples and long bus rides… or at least I thought that is what they were all about. I always wanted to travel, but it got harder to find friends that could take off the same time and/or friends that want to see the same parts of the world. I didn’t know there were others ways to travel. Then everything changed in 2008:  I learned about Contiki.com – a travel group specifically tailored to 18-35 year olds. Naturally my first concern was that I was going to be traveling with a bunch of 18 year olds. Or worse, that no one would be my age?! Ahhhhhhhhh!

  • STOP. No matter the group age… It’s fine. Something funny happens when you’re with like minded people – age melts away. You’re all there for the same reasons: To explore. To live. To learn. 
  • Are you going to be the only solo one? NO. In my experience, over 85% of people on my tours ALSO travel solo. Even if you travel with a friend (or a significant other), you’ll all blend together no matter what. My closest friends on my last trip were a 20 year old Brit, a couple from England and a 25 year old Kiwi. Age means nothing. Everything… just works. 
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Money
Yessssssssssss – we all want it and we all need it to do the travel thing… I get it. Personally, I work a lot; Something I am cutting back on this year. I have a second job/business where I earn a “disposable” income. But working a lot definitely has adverse side effects. I put my business ahead of social gatherings, dating (oops), ahead of my mental health and to be honest (while I love it), I end up being tired allllllllll the time. It was just easier to stay at home and do nothing on my “off nights” and edit to stay on top of my workload. But all of those sacrifices = savings.

Ways To Save (even without an extra income):

  • Pay yourself first. A chunk of every paycheck (and photoshoot), always goes into my savings.
  • Mint.com – Set up a mint.com account to see where your money goes each month and cut back on the things that don’t benefit you long term.
  • Automatic transfers. If you don’t have automatic transfers bi-weekly — start doing this NOW. Whether its $25 a week or $250. It ADDS UP.
  • Separate Savings account: Create a new savings account in a separate bank. It makes it harder to touch your savings. Personally I use a Capital One 360 savings account for this. It usually takes 2-3 days for money to transfer into my checking account…. which deters me from making impulsive purchases.
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Travel Groups
Most of these companies cater to people OUR age – aka lots of fun and social experiences. Sommmme more than others (I am looking at you, TruTravels). The good news… every trip I have taken has been amazing and unforgettable.

Tip #1: Most of these companies have catalogs of their adventures for the year. Go on their websites today. Order their book(s) (Hint: They are FREE) and in a week you’ll have a pile of travel catalogs awaiting you at home. Having something tangible to flip through (and tab)? Helps the planning become a reality.

 Tip #2: Tours typically do NOT include airfare and airport transfers… but typically everything else (transit, food, FRIENDS).

www.jordanntomasek.com

Airfare
This will always be the most expensive part of any trip (unless you’re going to Australia/New Zealand – which is a VERY expensive place to visit). Personally, I LOVE the planning stage – it’s a game and it gets me excited to see what’s possible. Then when I have a base price, I try and beat it. (Insert: I am soooo not competitive at allllllll).

Where to start:

  • Kayak.com – I price out tentative dates (based on my tentative travel plans) and finding the fastest route (1 stop at the most and short layovers) and put together an excel spreadsheet. I check the pricing daily (or every other day) for months. Then when it comes to booking I know the price I am getting IS the best one. Sometimes you win… sometimes you lose a little bit.
  • Travel Credit Cards: See here.
  • Airfare Loyalty: MAKE sure you have travel miles or a credit card that offers rewards. Try to get on codeshare flights so that your miles count towards future flights. Personally, I am an AAdvantage member and love the kickbacks!

Other websites to stalk for flights:   

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Length of Time
Sometimes, all you have is a week. I get that. Hell, a week is still AMAZING. But please note when traveling to the opposite side of the world, jetlag is gonna take you OUT for a few days. So if you’re only there for 8 days… 3-4 of them will possibly pretty hard…. unless you’re a rockstar and jetlag doesn’t hit you. If so, can you share your secrets?!? 

I’ve done 1 week, 2 week, 3 week vacations and more recently 6 weeks (partially unpaid). Hands down, if you can somehow negotiate at least 3 weeks off or more… DO IT. ((Of course… who wouldn’t want to?)) But that first longer trip was the first time I felt myself truly relax, I stopped thinking about work and just BREATHED. Again, I know it’s not always possible… especially if you’re an American. So remember that ANY break is a good break. See your state, the US… the world. Whatever it is for you — but just make that first step and GO.

www.jordanntomasek.com

Let’s talk a little about Thailand
2014 was a year that propelled me towards some massive change and it all stemmed from that damn achilles rupture. Talking is therapeutic for me and sharing the little milestones of my recovery with my “fb world” helped. But contrary to what social media presents, it was a really rough year emotionally and mentally. We all have ups and downs in life, but I had never felt anything like that. I was crying all the time, felt stuck and due to the injury – I had lost a lot of my independence. But the crying… gah!? That I couldn’t stop. I rarely cry!! Of couuuuuuuurse, I didn’t want to feel that way… but I didn’t know how to start to feel better.

So I first started by talking to a therapist… weekly. Something I had never done regularly (even when my dad died). This was, hands down, the best thing I could have done whilst in that situation. It was the first of MANY changes, but it was the most important first step.  Fact: I am not the same person I was a year ago (before my injury) –  Not even in the slightest bit. So in retrospect, I can hate the injury… but I am thankful for it. There are very few things that can slow me down the way that did (literally and figuratively).

A huge part of my journey forward was planning this trip. To get totally uncomfortable and shake things up (yet again). Soooooo with that goal in mind, I officially decided I’d explore Thailand with just the items on my back (i.e. Backpack). Having always been the “overpacker”… my family and friends thought I was crazy. But.I.was.so.excited.

Thailand trip itinerary.
If you’d like to see more photos, I’m still working on the blog posts… but they are coming soooooooon. Six weeks worth of memories is a lot to encompass in two posts!

  • Arizona – (7 days) Note: My entire family lives in Arizona now… soooo I spent the holidays with them and had my first taste of winter sunshine. Great start to my 6 weeks off!
  • Travel (2 days)
  • Bangkok – Solo (5 days)
  • Pattaya

G Adventures Tour (Northern Thailand Discovery)
This was my first G Adventures tour (really my first tour besides a Contiki trip). It was a good, slower change for pace of me. Contiki’s can be filled with those “party, party, party” kinds of people – but I wasn’t looking for that on this journey. I wanted culture, experiences and down time… and that’s what we got. I think 2 weeks in the North was plenty. I saw more than my share of temples and had a really chilled, good time. Highlight: Releasing my first Thai lantern into the sky? #bucketlist

  • Bangkok
  • Sukohthai
  • Lampang
  • Chang Rai
  • Golden Triangle
  • Laos
  • Chang Mai

TruTravels (Thai Island Hopper – 18 day)
This tour company is unlike any other tour I’ve taken… in a good way. The dynamic is verrrrry laid back and there is a schedule, but it’s not insanely strict. We experienced TRUE backpacking in Thailand, without the hostels. We took every form of transportation possible (buses, ferrys, overnight trains, tuk tuks, klong boats… you name it? We were on it). Additionally, we experienced some of the coolest little known Thai spots (Koh Sok, anyone?!). It truly was a wonderful 18 days… minus getting the dreaded Railay Bay bug — that had made its round through 15 other people before it hit me in Koh Phi Phi. Worst stomach flu everrrr.

  • Bangkok 
  • Surat Thani
  • Koh Sok National Park (2 days)
  • Koh Phangan – Bottle Beach (1.5 days)
  • Koh Phangan – Haad Rin Beach (1.5 days)
  • Koh Tao (4 days)
  • Krabi – Railay Bay (4 days)
  • Krabi – Phuket – Patong Beach (1.5 days)
  • Krabi Phuket – Panwa Cape/Bay (Solo)

Note: Thailand, as whole, is a very poor country. Everything is VERY cheap (food, clothes, you name it). Ex: Clothes are $2, Bottled water is $.10, Two HOUR massages are $15; Meals cost $2-$3. Soooo once you’re there your expenses are very minimal. It’s the number one backpacking country in the world… for good reason.

Travel Details

  • Flights: Etihad and Korean Air
  • Airtime: 25 hours to Thailand and 18 hours back to Chicago
  • Days: 32 days in Thailand (2 days of travel) and 8 days in Arizona
  • Visa: 32 day Visa required (My first travel visa)

There are far more adventurous people than me and there are certainly better ways to do everything. Ideally, I’d love to take a year off of work/life and travel – but THAT kinda terrifies me. I have a great job and a great boss… I am not ready to walk away from all that. Maybe one day, but for now I love my trips and all the fabulous people I meet along the way. After all it never is about the location you visit… it is about the people. 

I’ve been back for just about 3 weeks and I am still in that euphoric state that I cannot really describe. I am happier, lighter, confident and I keep making little changes that get me closer to my goals.  Things that keep me movin’ forrrrward. <3

Best of luck in your travel planning and feel free to leave some travel tips below – I am always eager to know what works for others!!

Yesterday was a BIG day. HUUUUUGE!  Something I didn’t think would happen for another 5 months… but I am absolutely, positively thrilled to share that I have been cleared to start running (okay… jogging) again!

Prior to my injury, I was borderline obsessed with Shred 415 and Orange Theory. I was running close to 3-4 miles A DAY. While I am not a huge fan of running, it’s the ONE thing I can do to kick my butt into optimal shape. Exercise makes me happy (and everyone else) and to be unable to move and burn some stress off? My personal nightmare.  So when I learned I couldn’t run for a year, I was devastated. Nevermind, all the other stuff I wasn’t able to do (‘ehem… walk, shower, haha). I’ll be honest, these past 7 months have been incredibly eye opening and without being too dramatic, they’ve been life-changing in the most unique ways.

  • Free-Time: Ohhh how I treasure thee… Many of you know that I work full-time in addition to doing photography, so as my business has grown, I’ve become overwhelmed with trying to find a balance between social, life and my jobs. I realllllly had to sit down and think about how to find BALANCE. I’ve cried, talked my plan on with other photographers, friends, family, attended workshops and then cried some more. Hey, I am an emotional person!! Haha. But in all honesty, the changes (and all future changes) are necessary for me to continue to grow not only professionally, but personally.
  • Family: With my family moving PERMANENTLY to Arizona next weekend, I am the lone family member in Chicago and I am not sure how I feel about that.  While, I LOVE Chicago with all my heart… the California coast keeps calling my name. The funny thing is I never intended to return to Chicago after college. But here I am 12 years post college… standing solo. We’ll see where the next year takes me, but for now I am staying put. Working on me, my business and all things to move forward.
  • A few changes:
    • I moved! And will be moving again in November, which is crazy stupid – but alas, I need to cut my commute down a bit to my full-time job. It’s just temporary, but one that I need for a bit to get back to ME.
    • I’m feeling almost 100% back to me (aches and pains in the foot, but it’s getting there). This whole running thing will be AMAZING, even if there is some pain… I’ll take it.
    • My tendon straight up REATTACHED itself over the past 7 months. Whaaaa?! The human body is simply amazing. See below if you wanna see my foot journey in photos.
    • I CHOPPED my hair for the first time in about 12 years. About 8 inches off my mop and I’ve never been happier with a haircut. It’s short (for me). I feel LIGHTER. All around. See below for a photo of how short I actually went! If you follow me on instagram,this is nothing new. I posted my first (and only) selfie earlier this week of the new do.

What’s Next? 

  • This weekend, we are saying an official goodbye to my dad. After 12 years, we are finally spreading his ashes in his absolute most favorite place in the world: Lake Geneva.
  • I am gonna attempt my FIRST run in 7 months tonight… if I have any sort of sharp, burning pain, I will have to resume walking and wait another 4 weeks before I can try again.
  • My family leaves for Arizona on Monday, September 15. I will probably be a hot mess, but fortunately – I have a shoot scheduled that night and should have an awesome distraction! Yay! 🙂
  • Upon return, I’ll be rocking and rolling the rest of fall seaoson with 50 shoots… But believe it or not – this is less than I normally shoot. BRING ON FALLLLLL!!!

Just a sneak peek at my foot journey (some are gross -hahah) and a few summer favorites:

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2014-05-28_0001Achilles Tendon Rupture (Non-Surgical) Week 16:

It’s official — After FOUR MONTHS, I am back on two feet FULL-TIME (except for photoshoots)! Per my ultrasound, my tendon is about 85% reattached and I am now 100% weight-bearing. I am re-learning how to walk normally (aka… roll my foot, push off), but long gone are the days of crutches and casts. Wooohooo!

Yes, I am still rocking a little limp, but I am making it work. Another 6 weeks (at least) of physical therapy, but I am one step closer to being able to workout again! 🙂 Happy Wednesday, everyone!! Wooooooot!!!



Seriouuuusly, my favorite person in the world. <3

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1048124_10101398346644095_702605067_oIt’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my Achilles Tendon Rupture/Recovery. There has been MUCH progress since I last blogged about it. Therefore, I figured I’d update all of you! I haven’t mentioned it much on this end of things mostly because it’s been so much a part of my every day life now I am pretty used to it! Crazy, but true.

To recap my injury:
On February 7, I went to dig a volleyball and in the process I ruptured (completely tore) my achilles tendon – rendering my left food basically useless. It honestly felt like someone just kicked the back of my foot, nothing huge. Not a lot of pain and not much I could do. I was unable to have surgery due to the location of the tear and have been waiting for this bad boy to heal up the all natural way ever since.

  • February 7 – Initial Rupture (Full tear at base of calf muscle)
  • February 9 – Initial Ortho Appt
  • February 10 – MRI Scan (aka confirmation I fully tore the AT)
  • February 11 – First cast (Black)
  • February 27 – Second cast (Purple)
  • March 18 – Purple cast comes off and walking boot goes on (with crutches)
  • April 15 – Follow up Ortho Appt (Cleared for REHAB/Sans crutches)
  • April 17 – 1st Rehab Appt with Athletico in Arlington Heights
  • May 28 – Follow up Ortho Appt

Getting the second cast off was pretty exciting, yet terrifying. I was soooo ready for the next step and I was just so happy to be able to shower/shave my leg (yes, I cheated and showered without the boot once or twice), but ummm it hurt. I have been in little to no pain throughout most of the process, but putting my foot in the walking cast was the worst day for me – It burned and felt all sorts of wrong. I actually cried in the doc’s office when this was going down – I was in a LOT of pain for a few days, but eventually it just went away and I’ve been rocking the boot ever since.

I think what has surprised me most about this whole process is the ever changing timelines. Initially I was told 8 weeks (or maybe I imagined that) and I am sitting at week 10 and I am only a little more than halfway healed back up. Basically I am unsure of anything at this point… I just have to be patient. That being said, I am thankful that this injury happened during winter time, although the crutches on the snow/ice of Chicago wasn’t fun – I’d much rather be trapped inside during those months (along with everyone else) than have to deal with this during the summer months. Hands down!

Fun Facts about my recovery thus far:

  1. My Ortho called me “middle aged” (sweet – I am 32). Thanks! Bhahaha.
  2. I most definitely cried once (or twice) when I saw someone parked in a handicapped spots without a pass/permit. Just don’t do it. 🙁
  3. Target go-carts are the slowest. Whole Foods has really narrow aisles and makes the go-carts near impossible to go down.
  4. Not everywhere is handicap accessible… Opening doors with crutches is NOT easy. Lend a hand.
  5. People ask you all sorts of questions when you have a cast on – I welcomed the conversation.
  6. Netflix is truly a wonderful thing – I mean…. I already knew that, but I took it to a whole new level with this experience.
  7. Breaking Bad is an AWESOME show (I watched the entire series in EIGHT days).
  8. Depression definitely can hit you pretty hard if you have nothing to do for more than a few days. Friends and family are the absolute bestest.
  9. Walking casts take a long time to get to the “Walking” stage… it took me 10 full weeks to get to the point of walking without a crutch.
  10. I will not be able to run for about a year (so they say)… but that means my obsession with Shred 415 and Orange Theory is over. 🙁
  11. My mom is amazing. Not only did she put up with me for 6 weeks, but she did my laundry, cooked/brought me food, fashioned me a sweet pulley system to get my crutches up and downstairs, baked cookies every night (hahaha) and even massaged my smelly/gross foot when my cast came off. Best. Mom. Ever.

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I still have bad days and good days – my foot still swells up if I work it too much. But it’s hard not to enjoy the newfound freedom of being able to walk on my own. So when I DO push it too much, I definitely take some time to rest/ice/elevate it.  I still have quite a ways to go, but I am making progress and that’s all I can ask for at this point. Side note: If you know of anyone on crutches – send them a little note, you’ll brighten up their day. Crutches are NOT easy and not really all that fun and can definitely take a toll on you.

Mostly this whole experience so far has taught me that I need to SLOW down. I am so used to working all the time, traveling every free second and doing everything else a million miles a minute. During this, I just couldn’t. I’ve just had lots of time to think. Think about where I am going and what I want to do with my life/business/travels. Lots of fun and exciting things on the horizon to say the very least.

But for now, I am rehabbing my butt off (aka trying to spell out the alphabet with my foot) and taking it day by day and most definitely still rocking photoshoots in between.  <3

What I DO know:

  • I will not be able to run for at least a year.
  • Volleyball is definitely out for awhile.
  • Swimming and biking will be happening a lot this summer.
  • I am outtaaaaa shape.
  • My physical therapist rocks.

 

You guuuuuuuys, my niece is already THREE months old!!! Last Tuesday night, my sister-in-law and my bro flew into town and we got to spoil their little nugget every second of the day.  Last time I saw her, she couldn’t hold her head up and I thought I’d break her. Not so anymore.

Laine Elizabeth is just about 14 pounds, starting to smile and is soooooooo curious about the world around her — She was obsessed with watching our dog, Max run around the room. Although a little delayed – she was tracking his every move.  She’s got cheeks (and chins) for days and I love cuddling with her in the mornings and just chatting with her. Her curious, sweet personality is starting to form and I am quite honestly, obsessed with her.

My sister had to head out of town for a volleyball tournament, so she unfortunately only had a day with Laineybug – so we got a few photos with her before she took off. We also rocked out a 3 month session (more photos on that later – just a few below). It was a busy weekend… but one full of family time and the ever glorious sunshine.

On Easter, Laine was baptized and we celebrated the day with Meg’s LARGE family down in Hamilton, IL – a total of 70 people!!! A day full of laughter, 82 degree weather, Easter bunny visits, delicious food and squirt guns – it was a blast. Hope you all had a great weekend as well. <3

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25805_693966778035_2737769_nSaying goodbye to my parents when I would head back to college always ended the same way. We’d hug at the airport check point and I would take off towards security and look back every few steps, smile and wave. I’d do this three times. That was our weird, little unspoken tradition.

My last visual memory of my dad is in this moment. I was 20 years old, heading back to Towson, Maryland (Towson University) a few weeks before Spring session to enjoy some class-free, volleyball-free, college LIFE. In the middle of airport, we said our goodbyes and down the ramp towards security I went. I looked back and waved. Walked a few more steps, looked back and waved again. On my third and final wave, my dad tightly grabbed the bill of his white Towson hat, lifted it a foot above his head and with a huge smile, waved it back and forth just high enough above the crowds so I could see him. That was the last time I saw him.

Four weeks later he died. He went to the hospital for a simple test, something went horribly wrong and within 10 hours, he was gone.

We all have our own crossroads in life and this is mine. This was the moment my life changed… not immediately, but it shaped who I am today. I often wonder who I’d be if he was still here, if he didn’t go to the doctor that day, if they had stopped and saved him sooner. I wonder the what ifs; but it only causes heartache. So on the anniversary of his death, I just think about all the good times and the laughs we shared and how I changed after this day.

I’m independent because this moment taught me this the only life I’ve got and that I need to experience it in every which way.  I am a photographer because I want to capture the little moments not only for my family… but for others. I’m a designer because I decided to follow my heart and just CREATE.  I travel every chance I get because he didn’t get to (and it’s then I feel alive and free). I’m blunt, because I don’t believe in wasting a minute of honesty. I laugh hard because he taught me what it means to have a sense of humor. But mostly, I know what it means to lose a part of yourself, pick up the pieces and start again.

We all have that one moment (or more) that changes our lives. Mine just happens to involve a goodbye that I didn’t know was coming.

Rest in peace, Dad. Thank you for all the moments we did get to share. Forever and ALWAYS missed. 2.26.02

Friday, February 7th three friends and I played in a competitive 4’s volleyball tournament. During our second match of the night, I went to dig a ball, as I have done at least a million other times in my life. I stepped back and went to step forward into the dig. Right as my body hit the floor, it felt as if someone stepped on the back of my left foot. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. It mostly felt like a sting of pressure, but mostly it just felt numb. I tried to get up and I couldn’t… Insert: Pure panic.

In less than 6 days, I was due to get on a plane to Hong Kong, crash there for the night. Then on to Bali for 10 days and then on to Thailand for another 10 days. A trip I had been planning for MONTHS. A trip that I had paid in full. A trip in which I was meeting a friend – who was ALREADY in Indonesia.

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With a quick stop at my apartment to grab my insurance card, Ingrid, one of my bestests, drove me to the ER. After about two hours, we were seen by a nurse. A quick exam, drug test and another 30 minute wait, the ER doc came in. While she couldn’t do an MRI that night, she informed me that I likely completely tore OR partially tore my achilles tendon. Super.

I was put in a splint, given a pair of crutches and sent home. She recommended that I follow up with an Ortho and get an MRI ASAP.  Gotta love 1 am ER visits on a Friday/Saturday morning – nothing was open till Monday. I had two days to wait and wonder.

I was able to get into an amaaazing sports injury doc first thing Monday at Castle Orthopedics in Aurora. They fitted me with a walking cast/boot and I quickly realized how hard this was going to be. I discovered that a walking cast is not exactly that. I couldn’t actually put much weight on it – without my foot/leg hurting. The boot was HEAVY. Crutches were difficult for me to manage. If I was planning on going on this trip, I would need to find ways to make it happen. I spent much of the afternoon researching knee scooters, per the doctor’s recommendation… thinking I could just scoot my way through airports and the streets of Bali. But seriously, WHO was I kidding??? My head knew what I had to do… but my heart hadn’t fully caught up.

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Traveling and seeing the world is a drug to me. I LOVE new adventures. I love the thrill of feeling lost in a new place. I love experiencing new cultures. It was so close… I wasn’t ready to give it up. But once I had some time to actually sit down and think, I started to process what was happening. I really thought about what I was about to get myself into. From boarding the plane, getting from the Hong Kong Airport to my hotel… on crutches. Getting ANYWHERE. Not being able to run along the beach, jump in the pool, swim in the ocean, etc. I slowly realized it wasn’t going to be the trip I had imagined.

And that is when reality set it – late Monday night. Where I had a good, hard cry that my trip was going to be cancelled… by me. I next to never cry, but I straight up sobbed my eyes out. Not only was this trip not happening, but more importantly, I realized this wasn’t [in general] going to be an easy road.

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The MRI showed that I completely tore my achilles tendon… aka a complete rupture. But I tore it at a point that I was not a candidate for surgery (I didn’t even know that was possible). I would need a cast right away; for which I need to wear for 3.5 weeks and then I’d be back in a boot for another 5 weeks. I cannot put any weight on either cast/boot for the next 8 weeks. Super.

It takes 4-6 months to fully recover from an achilles tendon tear. I could re-rupture it again and be in the same situation a year from now if I don’t let this heal properly. The timing sucks, but there are so many worse things out there that could have happened.

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I am only a week and a half into my recovery, but I am BEYOND grateful I have family close-by. I have had to move home for the next month. My apartment in Bucktown is a bit too tricky to get in and out of with crutches. But mostly I have help at my mom’s house. My mom (and sister) have been amazing and step in whenever I need an extra hand… which is about every two feet. As an extremely independent person, it is very hard to ask for help. But there is a lot I just simply cannot do. So I am beyond thankful for all the little and big things people are able to do for me. Thank YOU.

There are several positive things I’ll choose take away from this. 1) I’ll be back to 100% in about 6 months (hopefully) and those locations aren’t going anywhere. 2) I don’t have to have surgery. 3) I had trip insurance and I am 100% covered. 4) Most importantly, my arms and abs are gonna be RIPPED from rocking these (sheep-skin covered) crutches for 8 weeks. All I can do is look forward and work on getting better. In the meantime, I get to rock prime parking, Target scooters and watch a lot of Netflix.

If anything this is an eye-opening and humbling experience all around. I’ve stumbled, slipped and tripped. Not only in reality and metaphorically-speaking as well… but let’s be honest, that’s life in general. We all trip up, we all fall a little – it’s how you handle those types of moments that defines who you are. So as far as my injury is concerned, it’s just one little bump in the road. #bringit

 

Youuuuu guuuuuuys!!! I am gonna be an AUNT!!!!!! I am a first timer, so I am beyond thrilled to showcase my baby niece!!! She is due January 19 and I cannot be more excited to meet this little nugget. My bro/sis in law live in Arizona, so sadly I’ll only get to snuggle on her a few times a year, but you can best bet with 5 aunts and 3 cousins this little girl is already incredibly loved! Over Thanksgiving weekend, we showered Jay and Meg (and baby T) with lots of loving and goodness, but we also made time for a quick maternity session. Hiiiii BABY GIRRRRL! <3

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Meet my BEAUTIFUL new camera bag…. isn’t she GORGEOUUUUUS?! I’ve been using the same camera bag for the past three years – that thing has been whipped around, filled with leaves, gotten wet and tripped over 100 times over. So it was time to upgrade. I needed something that was functional, didn’t look like a camera bag and easy to carry. This puppy hits.them.all. Not only does this bag feel awesome, I feel pretty great wearing it. <3 So I splurged a little and picked up the new Kelly Moore Songbird Bag. I adoooooooooooore it.

Hellllloooooooo Daaahlin’:

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Two months of planning… and it WORKED! 🙂 I have to admit, I am not the best at keeping secrets or hiding anyyyything… so this surprise birthday weekend was a HUGE success.

About two months ago, I received an email from Stacie, Lisa (my BFF)’s other BFF about meeting up in NY to surprise Lisa for her birthday. Welp, you don’t have to ask me twice. After running the weekend by her husband, Kevin, and getting the official OK – plans were in the WORKS. Since Kevin is a NY police officer and works nights (and needs to sleep during the day), we needed to reinforcements to help us steal her away for the day. Kevin enlisted her in-laws to take care of their two little munchkins (4 and 2) so that we could give her a weekend full of relaxation and girls time. Reservations were made. Plans were coordinated. My plane ticket was booked. This was happening!!!

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