Adventures in Florida: Central Florida Zoo


Squad goals.

My inner child had the time of her life over the weekend when I took my very first trip to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. As some of my blog readers know, I’ve been dying to visit this zoo for quite some time — it’s practically in my backyard and it made its way onto my 25 at 25 Bucket List! (To see my progress so far, click here.) I was overcome with excitement when I convinced a few friends to tag along, and I enjoyed every minute of my visit. :)

Total disclosure: I’m an unapologetic nerd when it comes to my love for animals. I know there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to zoos, but there’s no denying that zoos can instill in us an empathy and love for all creatures from a young age. You gain exposure to species you’ve never even heard of from areas of the world you’ve never been. If you live in Florida, a giraffe is probably not going to wander in front of your window one morning, so seeing one in person can be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, I had a great time at the zoo. :) It was Lemur Conservation Day, which meant that we learned little factoids about lemurs throughout the day and even observed part of a zookeeper talk on lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur at Central Florida Zoo

Aside from lemurs, the Central Florida Zoo features a cheetah, leopard, cougar, dromedary camel and many other animals, as well as a fairly extensive herpetarium and a variety of birds. The adorable otters were swimming when we arrived in their area and were possibly the happiest animals in the entire zoo, followed closely by this boer goat (who just might definitely be my spirit animal).

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

I was also enamored with these two Indian rhinos, Jahi and PJ, and compared them to two of our family dogs throughout the visit based on their proximity to one another. :)

Rhinos at Central Florida Zoo

For those of you who live in the Orlando area or are making a trip out here, the Central Florida Zoo is well worth the visit. I’m so happy I was able to finally experience it after years of living only a few miles away! It is a relatively small zoo, but it has a good variety of animals and plenty of activities for children as well.

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

25 at 25: My Birthday Bucket List

10642782_10154513491505627_1672977676_oIt’s hard for me to believe this, but tomorrow is my 25th birthday! :) The last year, with all of its ups and downs, truly flew by, and it’s so weird for me to say that I’ve been around for a quarter of a century. I still think of myself as a college student, half worried that I have an exam that I forgot about — not as a professional who has been in her career for two and a half years. Where does the time go?

In order to get a little more excited about my birthday this year, I decided to put together a bucket list of things I hope to do while I’m 25! I am looking forward to trying some new things and visiting new places in the next year, and can’t wait to share my adventures with readers. :)

I plan to blog about some of these experiences as they take place, but I will also be tracking them on the 25 at 25 page on my blog. Here are the things I hope to accomplish at 25!

  1. Leave the state of Florida for a vacation.
  2. Go to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford.
  3. See a local performing arts show.
  4. Visit my sister in her new apartment once she leaves for graduate school.
  5. Go to the planetarium.
  6. Pursue public speaking opportunities.
  7. Roam around Leu Gardens in Orlando.
  8. Take a wine and painting class.
  9. Spend the day in St. Augustine.
  10. Visit the Morikami Museum.
  11. Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Magic Kingdom.
  12. Apply to MBA school.
  13. Start a small side business for career coaching and resume writing.
  14. Ride the swan boats at Lake Eola.
  15. Take a Spanish class.
  16. Tour the Lakeridge Winery in Clermont and attend a wine tasting.
  17. Go berry picking.
  18. Attend a class at the East End Market.
  19. Try a meal from a food truck.
  20. Host a murder mystery party.
  21. Embark on another round of Whole30.
  22. Drive out to New Smyrna Beach.
  23. Watch a mob movie.
  24. Eat a macaron for the first time.
  25. Treat myself to a spa day.

What’s on your bucket list for the next year? Share your goals in the comments section below!

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True

A much-needed gelato run on a hot summer day in Rome!

Exactly three years ago, I was having the time of my life in Europe. It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I had embarked on a short-term study abroad program focused on international events and festivals in London, Paris and Rome.

Rereading that paragraph, Post-Grad Val is incredibly jealous of College Val right now.

Studying abroad was an amazing experience, and my only regret was not doing it sooner and for a longer period of time. Once you graduate from college and begin working in the real world, finding time and funds for travel can be a lot more difficult, and you’ll find yourself wishing you followed your wanderlust when you still had the time and scholarships.

If you are currently in college and have a healthy thirst for adventure, you’ve probably already added studying abroad to your university bucket list. After all, it’s a great opportunity to travel the world and immerse yourself in a culture that may be different from your own!

For those considering studying abroad in college, check out my fifteen tips for choosing the right program and making the most of your experience.

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True1. Talk to friends and classmates who have already been there.
One great thing about college is that you’ll likely cross paths with people who are either: a) well-traveled, b) from another country, or c) all of the above. Because of this, if you’re interested in participating in a language immersion program in Spain this summer, it’s likely that you already know someone who has been to Spain or participated in this type of program. Talk to those people and ask them questions about what to expect and how their experiences were. Chances are, they can give you a lot of information that you won’t read in the program description or travel guide book. If you can, try to get as much information as possible from a peer’s point of view.


2. Evaluate your needs.
Before signing on to a particular program, think about what you’re looking for. Can you commit to a semester-long program, or would you rather do something shorter term? Do you want to receive class credit? Do you need a program that will fulfill an internship requirement? Ask yourself these questions ahead of time to help pinpoint the right program for you.


3. Consider the costs.
Your program description might include a set cost, but does that cost include airfare, lodging, travel within the country, or food? Is the program part of a university course? Will you be paying tuition as well? Factor in all of these possible expenses when deciding if the program fits your budget.


15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True4. Look at other colleges and universities in your state for options.
If your university doesn’t offer a program that interests you, another one might. Check the study abroad websites for other colleges in your state to see what programs they have and if the credits can be easily transferred to your school.


5. Seek out scholarships.
Many universities offer study abroad scholarships for those who seek them. The trouble is, many students don’t realize that these scholarships are out there! Through a little research on my own, I was able to secure a small study abroad scholarship through one of the departments on campus. All you have to do is apply… worst case, you’re no worse off than when you started!


6. Consider a program that relates to your major or career goals.
Studying abroad is an awesome travel experience, but don’t forget that a key part of studying abroad is “studying.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck in a classroom all day, but keep in mind that the study abroad experience should be educational. For the amount of money you’ll be shelling out, you probably want to look into programs that will either be applicable to your degree program (or grad school goals) in some way or that will make you more marketable in the workforce.


Tips for Studying Abroad7. Research the country and its culture ahead of time.
It’s important to have some knowledge of the history and culture of the place where you will be living for the next few weeks or months. Not only will this help you to determine whether or not this program is the right choice for you, but it will also be helpful information for you once you arrive. Have a basic awareness of the country’s current events, its famous dishes and its customs.


8. Learn the language.
Do I expect you to become fluent in French by the time you arrive at the De Gaulle airport? No. However, it’s important to learn some of the basics — hello, goodbye, please and thank you are a great place to start. My French is atrocious (I’m much more fluent in Spanish, but my French accent is only passable if I mumble), but every day, I made sure to say a cheerful “Bon jour” and “Au revoir!” to the kind staff members at the hotel where we stayed in Paris. Attempting to use the country’s native language is a sign of respect, and it makes you more of a gracious guest. Of course, some programs do require proficiency in the country’s language, so be aware of that when you compare programs.


9. Get to know your program administrator.
Contact the faculty person in charge of the program before signing up with any questions you may have. This person has likely been through the program before, and he or she will be able to help guide you through the process or help you determine if the program is right for you.


Tips For Studying Abroad | So it Must Be True10. Figure out your mode of communication.
This was something I neglected to do prior to my study abroad program, and it was a major source of stress for me. (It was also before I had an iPhone, so I couldn’t rely on WiFi and iMessage like the rest of my friends.) Talk to your family and figure out how you’ll communicate overseas throughout the program. Through email? International SIM Card? Skype? Determine the best mode of communication for you and your family, and figure out how you’ll get in touch in case of an emergency.


11. City dwellers: don’t forget about transportation!
During my study abroad trip, I had metro passes for each of the three major cities I visited, and this was a huge weight off my shoulders! This allowed me unlimited travel throughout those cities during a set period of time, and it was definitely worthwhile for me. If you’re staying in one city for long, consider investing in metro passes as well. It will make life a lot easier.


12. Call your credit card company beforehand.
As a financial services professional, I’d be crazy not to mention this one. Make sure your credit card companies are aware of when you will be out of the country so that they don’t freeze your accounts while you’re away! I made the mistake of booking Versailles tickets online while I was still in the states, and found that my account was frozen almost immediately after for suspected credit card theft. Make sure your financial institutions are aware of your whereabouts to avoid any mishaps once you leave the country – it will be a lot harder to solve these problems away from home!


15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True13. Have an open mind.
Study abroad is the perfect time to experience things for the first time. Order a meal you wouldn’t normally try, explore the city’s cultural centers and historical sites, and get out of your comfort zone! Immerse yourself in the culture. After all, when will you get another chance to do so?


14. Document everything!
Whenever I travel, I cannot be found without my trusty digital camera. During my study abroad trip, as well as during a separate trip to Israel a few months prior, I took pictures of everything! At night, I used a notebook to keep track of what I had photographed, as well as to journal my experiences and feelings thus far. I also blogged a bit during my study abroad trip (see here, here and here). Remember to take tons of pictures, and feel free to blog about your experiences as well! Years later, I still enjoy looking back at those photos, journals and blog entries to relive those amazing trips.


15. Believe in yourself.
I know this sounds cheesy, but bear with me! While I loved my study abroad experience, one of my biggest regrets in college was not taking a summer-long internship opportunity in London. The main reason I didn’t fully pursue that program was because I feared I wouldn’t be able to get around the city myself and I doubted my ability to navigate. When I finally did visit London for the first time, I learned how to use the metro very quickly, and immediately regretted my decision not to participate in an internship there. Whatever doubts are holding you back from a program, cast them aside and just go!


What questions do you have about studying abroad? Any tips or resources? Share yours in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Post Valentine’s Day Bliss

Link LoveHope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful Valentine’s Day or, for many of us, Day-To-Eat-All-The-Things! I’ll admit that my Whole60 went off the rails around the holiday, with a few nights out to dinner and more chocolate temptation than I knew what to do with. Thankfully, my junk food honeymoon period is reaching its end, and I’m ready to start trying new healthy recipes again. How did everyone else celebrate the holiday?

As you recover from your own sugar comas, take a look at the latest and greatest in Link Love! :)

What are some of your favorite links throughout the week?

The Weekend Five: Travel Essentials for the New Year

Friday-Friendly-Funny-Dave-Blazek-Friendly-Planet-Travel-Airline-Seat2015 is here, which means it’s time to dust off those New Years Resolution travel goals and make our vacation dreams a reality! I was especially spoiled to take two trips out of the country during my junior year of college, visiting both the Middle East and Europe (see my posts on London, Paris and Rome!), but my love for travel has taken a backseat since I graduated from college almost two years ago. This year, I hope to go on a few more adventures to reawaken my wanderlust and explore something new!

As part of RelayRides‘ travel essentials campaign, I’ll be sharing five must-haves for your next trip. Keep these on your list as you plan out your own 2015 adventures, and keep RelayRides in mind for future airport car rentals, which you can access at airports all over the country! :)

The Weekend Five: Travel Essentials

camera_funny_never1. Camera.
I’ll never forget the joy I felt as a child when my parents bought me disposable cameras before we went on vacation. In fact, on one trip, I went through three disposable cameras throughout the course of a week, snapping photos all over New York City. Bringing your camera is an important (if not slightly obvious) way to capture each moment of your trip. Whenever I go on vacation, I always bring an extra memory card in case I get a little photo-crazy. Make sure you bring something you don’t mind carrying around!


2. Lip balm and moisturizers.
Chances are, if you’re traveling anywhere that has even a slightly different climate from where you live, the new environment will have an impact on your skin. If you’re flying to your destination, your lips are sure to chap on the airplane, so make sure you pack your favorite lip balm (guys included) and a moisturizer for your face. After spending 10 days in the desert and then flying home, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked in the mirror in the airport bathroom. I will never again travel without sufficient moisturizer and a consistent regimen!


travel essentials for the new year3. Itinerary.
I am a firm believer in the value of a good itinerary. Planning what you want to see and do ahead of your trip is essential for making the most out of your vacation! Allow room for spontaneity – you never know what you’ll stumble into along the way! – but have a basic schedule for where you want to go and what you want to see.


4. Chargers.
Make sure you pack chargers for all devices that you plan to use on your trip. If your camera dies on Day 2 out of 5, you don’t want those photos to be your last! A phone charger is also important, especially if you’re traveling within the country and will be using your phone to regularly communicate. Pro tip: To avoid leaving your charger at the hotel, leave a note for yourself to remember your charger, and keep that note by the door. My dad, a pilot, taught me that before my first overnight trip without my family, and I will never forget it!


travel must haves5. Journal.
On my past few trips, I decided to bring a journal for a few reasons. One: it allowed me to create a chronological list of the attractions I’d photographed throughout the trip (so I wouldn’t forget what they were a few days later when I returned home). Two: it was a great way for me to record my personal observations and experiences throughout the trip, in a way that was private but still meaningful. I kept my journals from my most recent trips to Israel and Europe, and two years later, I still enjoy reading them on occasion and remembering some of the nuances of the trips.


What are your travel essentials? Share your must-haves in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!


Yup, you read that title correctly… today marks what may be the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare! This calls for some celebration in the form of clever sonnets and iambic pentameter. :) How will you be celebrating the Bard’s birthday?

Enjoy! Feel free to add your own links to the comments section below.

The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Wandering around a Kibbutz!

Wandering around a Kibbutz, 2011

As many of my readers know, I have always loved visiting new places. Whether I’m traveling across the Atlantic or simply a few miles to a local attraction I’ve never visited, I’m constantly looking for ways to broaden my horizons and see something new. Although I don’t foresee any far away trips in the near future, I do hope 2014 brings plenty of exciting adventures and opportunities to explore!

Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and many of the wonderful states right here in the U.S. During that time, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks for having a better travel experience. Let’s kick off this weekend with a few tips to help you plan your upcoming vacations. (Tweet this!) Bon voyage!

 The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Dinner in West London, 2012.

Dinner in West London, 2012.

1. Do your homework.
Research and planning are two of the most important things you can do prior to any trip! If you can, talk to people you know who have been to the place you’re about to visit, and get their advice for the best sights to see. For most popular destinations, you can find guidebooks at your local bookstore, where you can flip through and learn more about some of the hidden gems. (This also allows you to avoid showing up at a museum on a weekday when it is closed!) Browse travel blogs as well – you can find a lot of good information and photos from those who have already been! (You can check out my blog for some suggested destinations in London, Paris and Rome.) Plan out a basic itinerary or list of must-see attractions for your trip, but allow for changes along the way as you make your own discoveries!


2. Find a hotel slightly outside of the city.
If you’re visiting a city with good public transportation, your best bet is to stay in a hotel near the metro but slightly outside of the city. These hotels tend to be less expensive but still very accessible. I picked up on this trick through some of the organized trips I’d gone on, once I saw that there were still some exciting things to do and that a trip to the more bustling tourist areas was only ten minutes or so by train. Buy a temporary metro pass if you can to avoid long lines and travel with ease throughout the city!


Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

3. Keep your chargers handy.
My biggest regret when I went to Israel was not charging my camera enough. After spending the night in a Bedouin tent in the desert, we woke up at the break of dawn to climb a nearby mountain, and as the sun rose, the battery in my camera died. I was all set to take a beautiful sunrise photo at the top of the mountain, but because I hadn’t been charging my camera at the hotel in the days leading up to our desert trip, I had to settle for photo-bombing my friends’ pictures instead. Even if your camera dies, of course, you still have your memories – but the photos are definitely great to look back on once the trip has long since passed. Bring extra batteries just in case!


4. Eat normally when possible.
For many people, food is one of the more exciting aspects of travel. However, when you’re adjusting to new time zones, it’s a good idea not to stray too far from your normal diet. In France, for example, many of my friends and I were tempted to start the day off with lots of pastries, but after a while, too much indulgence slowed everyone down. Because I eat a lot of scrambled or hard-boiled eggs when I’m at home, I tried to gear my breakfast toward those when possible, enjoying the occasional croissant here and there. Don’t be afraid to try new things and treat yourself every now and then, but don’t stray too much from your usual diet, either. You don’t want to let unhealthy food choices take away your energy to see the sights!


Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

5. Be kind and respectful.
This may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how few people truly remember to say “please” and “thank you.” I’m always shocked to see how some people will behave in another country or when dealing with the staff at airports, hotels and attractions. Remember that you are in another person’s home state, country or city, and treat him or her with the same courtesy you would expect in return.


Travelers, what are some of your tips? Where do you hope to visit in the new year?

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel


Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Bastille Day, 2012

First of all, for those who celebrated on Wednesday, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! :)

Because my father travels for a living, I learned the importance of flexibility around the holidays early on. If he was out of town for an important birthday or holiday, we simply celebrated on a different night and had just as wonderful of a time! As I grew older, I began to experience my own interesting travel adventures that overlapped with holidays, which gave me a few fun memories along the way.

This week, I’d like to share some of my holiday travel experiences with you. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

1. Flying to London on the Fourth of July.
What better way to celebrate America’s independence from Great Britain than to fly out to the very country we are commemorating our freedom from? In the summer of 2012, I left for a short-term study abroad program on Independence Day, and the irony was not lost on me. (Of course, I actually arrived in London on the 5th and was able to barbecue with my family a day early, but I still will never forget this very strange and unique 4th of July, which was mainly spent on a plane!)


Selfie on the Champs de Mars

Selfie on the Champs de Mars, 2012

2. Celebrating Bastille Day by the Eiffel Tower.
On that same study abroad trip, I traveled to Paris for Bastille Day, which celebrates France’s freedom from the monarchy and the storming of the Bastille. My friends and I watched the parade from a hotel room with mimosas in hand, and were able to peek out the window to watch the jets fly by. Later in the day, after climbing the Eiffel Tower, we grabbed an early dinner and then camped out by the Eiffel Tower early so we could watch the fireworks that night. Music played and as people from all over the world sang along, I felt more connected to complete strangers than I would have ever expected. (I also witnessed more marriage proposals than I had ever seen in my life!) It was a beautiful experience, one that I would recommend to anyone traveling to France in the summertime. (I also wrote an article with tips for celebrating the holiday abroad.)


Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

3. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel.
When I was a junior in college, I traveled to Israel for ten life-changing days. The trip, which took place in December, spanned across the entirety of Hanukkah, and so it was the first year that I didn’t spend any of the holiday with family. However, being able to spend Hanukkah in a country where a greater percentage of the people celebrate it, I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. One night, when my friends and I perused the night life in Jerusalem, we were approached by rabbis who gave us sufganyot (a Hanukkah food similar to a jelly donut) in celebration. Of course, in America, if a bearded stranger approaches me with free jelly donuts, I’m not as likely to accept so readily, but on that night, it seemed more than appropriate. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel gave me a unique perspective on a holiday that I had been celebrating for my whole life, and it is a memory that I have carried with me every year since.


4. Spending Christmas in the Philadelphia International Airport.
My very exciting Hanukkah was followed by a very lonely Christmas Day. My group returned from Israel on December 25th, and because we came from different parts of the country, everyone had different flights to catch from Philly. My flight wasn’t until that evening, so I spent the day reading, walking around, calling family members and people-watching. I wound up celebrating Christmas with my family on Boxing Day that year, but the experience gave me even more of an appreciation for those who work on the holidays, especially in service-based professions.


sophisticated-ignorance5. Falling asleep early on New Year’s Eve.
When I was fourteen, I went on a family trip to the Netherlands. The trip was a blast – and my first time ever in Europe – but I came down with a nasty cold that was worsened by the flight home (which took place on New Year’s Eve). Because of this, I ended my year in bed, surrounded by tissues and drifting off to sleep before the clock struck midnight.


What interesting holiday experiences have you had, abroad or otherwise?

Blog Spotlight: Tales for Scout


Copyright Megan Lierley,

Not long ago, I exchanged blogs with Julie Kesti, a Minnesotan ex-pat artist living in Shanghai. I am happy to say that the experience led to a blog swap with Megan Lierley of Tales for Scout, a blog I will now be reading regularly! Tales for Scout focuses on especially on Megan’s travel adventures in San Francisco, where she lives, but is also a fantastic read for twenty-somethings.

Here is a round-up of a few of Megan’s wonderful blog posts. Definitely check out her page, especially if you plan to visit San Francisco any time soon!

So what are you waiting for? Check out Tales for Scout and let her know what you think!

Interested in a blog swap? Email me at and we can get started. :)

Link Love Wednesday: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

iphone-5-apple-generations-sympathy-ecards-someecardsWhat do you get when you take a very full work calendar, a birthday and a series of federal and religious holidays? A blogger who forgets to post Link Love for a few weeks! :) Hopefully today’s round-up of posts about topics ranging from Generation Y to jet lag won’t disappoint.

Read anything interesting lately?