Adventures Abroad

Adventures Abroad
Machu Picchu

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Everlasting Love

In honor of our 1st anniversary, here is a recap of our wedding day at Molon Lave Vineyards and Winery.
"Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours." -Ludwig Van Beethoven
 August 2, 2014 
Our wedding video by Eidetic Memories (my sister's fiancé!).
I couldn't bring myself to buy my girls the cliché robes, so I went with fun rompers!

I think he looks quite dashing in a tux!
My brother-in-law, T.J., walking our mothers to their seats.

Dapper little ring bearer, Trey!

One of the flower girls playing with her rose petals.

Kaitlin and Sadie being escorted by the groomsman, Blaine.
Officially man and wife
Trey looking quite fly with the flower girl and train-bearer.

The wedding party!

My beautiful Mother

"Now a soft kiss - Aye, by that kiss, I vow an endless bliss." -John Keats 

Nothing like ending the night with sparklers!
Our next big adventure for our 2nd year of marriage:
Ezra Riley Wilcox
due November 20, 2015

Cheers to many more wonderful adventures with the love of my life, Brian. May our life be filled with happiness and never-ending adventures! I cannot wait for our next big adventure to arrive in November--Ezra will fill our hearts with more love than we know how to express.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Review of Russia

As promised, let’s discuss the trip to Russia. Where to begin…yes, I suppose just the basics will do for today.

B and I booked tickets from home-Moscow, Moscow-St. Petersburg, and then St. Petersburg-home. We also managed to get 2 amazing 5-star hotels in the deal for $1,300 per person! (Words of Wisdom: always take advantage of an economy that is struggling.) We went during March, which is the off season because it is quite cold. However, I loved seeing it snow in Russia! It was so magical to see snow covering St. Basil's Cathedral!  


It was a stunning hotel right near the Kremlin and Red Square! The staff was extremely nice and helpful during our whole stay. The rooms are nonsmoking, but you can smoke in the hallway, so it is a little smokey smelling. One of my favorite things about this hotel was when we came back from walking around in the freezing cold Russian air; we sat in a beautiful parlor and had mulled wine! Uh, hello, we call that perfection! Overall I would recommend this hotel just for the location alone! 
Hotel National
Our dinner after being indecisive-wine, cheese, meat, and fruit! 
The inside of this hotel was just as stunning as the last if not more stunning! This hotel is the only place that offers a caviar bar in St. Petersburg, which B and I had to try out—expensive! There is also a bar located downstairs, which offers live entertainment but it is also expensive (think $12-15 per GLASS of wine). The Belmond is definitely more expensive than Hotel National.
The Belmond's entry to the bar
Airport travel: One thing I hate about travel days is when you get off the flight and finally get your luggage only to be bombarded by a ton of taxi drivers. Miserable! Well, we took a taxi to our hotel for a bit more than it should have been--around $80 and yes, it is a lot more than it should be! My advice is to go to the official taxi counters and pay for your taxi there. It should cost you around $20-$30 to get to the hotel. Yet, we did not know this until we arrived for a tour of the American Embassy in Moscow days after. Never trust a random taxi driver even if you are exhausted and want real food and a hot shower!
Walking around: Moscow is one of the most amazing underground cities! Yes, everything is underground!! For one thing, you cannot and I mean absolutely cannot cross streets in Moscow! Not only would you get hit by a crazy driver, but you may get ticketed! Always use the tunnels that lead to the malls, grocery stores, and subway. They are not scary at all! You will notice the real hustle and bustle of a big city and see police officers monitoring the areas. Oh, did I mention they are spotless? There is no trash littering the streets or tunnels of Moscow! It is amazing how quickly the clean-up crew comes through.
Metro: The metro is a little confusing to navigate, but it is cheap and efficient to get around to places not in walking distance. We received a map and directions from our concierge who spoke fluent English. Also, do not be alarmed if you get on the wrong train. It happens. And never forget that people are much nicer than you think. Ask a local for help! They may not speak English, but they understand maps and destinations.
St. Petersburg:
Airport travel: After getting ripped off in Moscow, we definitely learned our lesson. We went to a legit taxi stand and paid about $20 to get to our hotel. However, our driver was a madwoman! She truly reminded me of Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. I got so car sick during that drive, but it may have also been the fact that I was unknowingly carrying a wee-little-Wilcox in there!
Walking around: We walked a lot. St. Petersburg is almost like Venice. The streets are filled with canals and bridges. It is not an underground city like Moscow. Cross the streets when the lights change!
Metro: We did not attempt in this big city!
Taxi: We did arrange for taxis from our hotel to the ballet and Catherine's Palace. The taxi rides were quite affordable.
Moscow: We went to a few legit Russian restaurants in Moscow, but mostly just cheap places we found when we were exhausted from walking in the cold. Most of the food you eat will be a huge surprise since some of the places do not have English on the menu. Don't be scared! After all, it is a huge part of the big adventure!
$70 worth of caviar and vodka
St. Petersburg: B and I had the most amazing Asian food here! We were both cold and exhausted and wondered into a tiny Asian restaurant that I did not catch the name of (it is across the street from a McDonald's). Best people watching ever! My next suggestion would be a chain called две палоцки, which has a symbol of what looks like two seagulls on their logo. The restaurant means Two Pilots. The restaurant offers everything you could want--Asian, American, Italian, etc.--and all in one giant menu! Pure deliciousness!  
Bottom line, all of the food in Russia is delicious! Be adventurous and try something new!
Wine & Cocktails:

Moscow: You must go to the Four Season's bar and lounge for some of the best cocktails you will ever have! The bar specializes in mixing vodka with everything...including champagne! Yes, I tried a $30 cocktail that had champagne and vodka and it was delicious! The bar is quite expensive, but hey, you only live once!
St. Petersburg: BUY your own wine! The hotel bars are nice, but pricey! We paid like $15 for one glass of wine. After that night, we went right down to the corner grocery store and bought our own wine for like $5 and it wasn't too bad. However, the wine carafes at the Two Pilots is quite affordable and huge! We paid $15 for more than a standard bottle of wine in one of their carafes. As for vodka, you must try the caviar bar at Belmond. B and I split a vodka and caviar plate for $70. Again, you only live once!  
Wine and Chocolate!

A Tradition You Need to Know:
 Ladies, ALWAYS cover your hair upon entry to a church. I would explore the city with a big shawl-type of scarf and then pull it over my hair to wrap it up. Never show too much skin! You must remember to wear skirts past your knees or pants and appropriate shirts. It is a church after all!
Men, please dress appropriately and remove your hat upon entering the church.
Everyone, cameras are not allowed in most churches, so be respectful or you will be denied entry into the church. If a camera is allowed, remember to turn off your flash. Again, this is a place of worship and that is what a lot of people are there doing. I cannot stress how important it is to be respectful!

Remember to click here to check out my post about getting into Russia!

My next post will be pictures of Russia! Check back soon!

Happy travels!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New Adventures in Traveling Cheap

Hello, fellow travelers!

As the days grow longer and summer nears, I’ve realized I have had so much on my plate the last few weeks. We have recently ripped up our carpet and installed hardwoods/laminate, started gardening, and even found out that B and I are expecting. Yes, it has been quite an adventure without ever leaving our hometown. Yet, this is not the post to discuss all of those things, but instead a post to inform you of some new things to check out. And yes, don’t fret; I will eventually post about my Russian adventures.

As a marketing manager, part of my normal routine in the mornings is to check for new and exciting things happening in the world. Occasionally, I find myself with a case of wanderlust and look for great travel advice. Today the travel advice was not for me, but for you all looking to travel abroad, but perhaps too scared to look at the possibilities of exploring the world around you. Did you just say you have a budget and/or can’t afford to travel? Wrong.

Here are a few great websites that I stumbled upon:


Vayable is a great website to book daytrips in new cities for super cheap with a REAL local as your guide! Now, if you ask me, it can’t get much better than that! And hey, maybe you will realize that this is your dream job. Check it out, book it, and let me know your thoughts!

Camp in my Garden

Camp in my Garden is a website that offers a private garden as your very own campsite. How cool is that? Have you ever wanted to go camping in the English countryside? Well, now you can!

Norwegian Air

This airline may not offer too many airport destinations from the U.S., but they sure do offer cheap flights to the UK, Europe, and more. Has London been on your list for a long time? How would you feel if I said they offer a flight from JFK to London, one-way, for $249? Uh, hello, go check them out and start booking your next adventure!


If you would like to read more about traveling on the cheap, please check out this Time article!

Happy travels!


Friday, February 13, 2015

So You Want To Go To Russia: The Verdict!

“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.”
-Andrew Zimmern
As promised, I am writing this post to give you the follow up on my Russian visa. Did they or did they not grant B and I access to their country for 9 days?

The 12th day arrived and I sent B to D.C. with a notarized letter from me stating he had permission to pick up my passport. This was the moment of truth. After all, we only spent 12 days sweating and biting our nails hoping that Russia would grant us access into their country.  And before those 12 days, we went through hours of tedious assignments to prove our worth. B and I spilling the contents of our wanderlust filled lives onto paper--hoping the Russians would not question the locations we have gone. After all, a traveler just wants to see the world, new cultures, and fall in love with things that are familiar, yet not familiar. And to someone looking at our paper, it must come off as either we are crazy or we are interesting.

The verdict is….

Our hard work paid off—we are going to Russia!! Здравствуйте  Российская Федерация! I think that is "hello, Russian Federation!"

Check back in a few weeks for reviews on Russia!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Plan a Girls' Trip to Iceland!

Name the first thing that comes to your mind when I say Iceland. For me, it is hard to say just one thing because I think of a land full of mystery, adventure, fire and ice, horses, puffins, elves, and The Oswald Girls. Yes, you have guessed correctlyThe Oswald Girls are taking on Iceland for an all-girls trip! So, how did a bunch of girls decide to head to Iceland? Well, read on to figure out why Iceland was chosen and how to plan your own girls' trip!

Why Just The Girls?
For the past 7 years, my family has been through one hell of a roller coaster ride. We have experienced very painful years like when we lost my Father and Grandfathers, and then, quite a few wonderful years of children being born and B and I getting married. Yet, year 8 approached and showed signs of being another testing year for my family. So, we decided it was time for just us girls to have a vacation.

How Did We Pick Iceland?

My Mom and Steph!
The Travel Jar!
While the winos, I mean us girls, sipped wine near a fireplace one night we decided to fulfill a bucket list entry. There will be 4 of us going—Steph, Kim, my Mom, and I. So, with that in mind, I had everyone tell me 3 countries that they wanted to visit, which included Italy, Iceland, Switzerland, Scotland, Austria, Hungary, and Germany. I gathered the data and wrote it on dark paper and taped each one shut—I couldn’t have anyone cheating! I took the folded pieces of our bucket list and placed them inside a mason jar. We waited a full week with anticipation until my sister could get in from Cali. Once in, we toasted and each chose 1 piece of paper out of the jar. Then, each piece of paper was announced with a smile. I passed out 4 new pieces of paper and asked everyone to write down their top pick and 3 things they wished to find, accomplish, or wanted out of the trip. Well, majority vote ruled—The Oswald Girls will be heading to Iceland! Come back in September to find out what we each wanted to fulfill and if we succeeded. Also, follow me on Instagram @BrownEyedTraveler for updates on all of the adventures I go on.

Our 2 locations!
How Did We Book?

First, you always want to research! I had a list of places for my family to see, but it got narrowed down quickly based off of availability. I called American Express and spoke with a travel agent because we needed 4 plane tickets, 2 different hotels with 2 rooms each, and 2 different cities—like I have said in previous posts, sometimes travel agents are easier and cheaper to work with! Anyways, The Oswald Girls will be flying only 5.5 hours to get to Iceland from the DC area! Not bad, right? Next, we found two hotels in Reykjavik and Akureyri.

How Do We Plan To Get Around?

Yours truly! No, but seriously, we will be renting a car upon our arrival. I am looking at a Jeep Grand Cherokee for some off-roading for the 12 days that we are in Iceland. Also, the estimated time between the two cities is about 4.5-5 hours by car.  Did I mention that I will probably be driving since most of the time car rentals in other countries are manual?  

Where Do We Want To Go?

Iceland is more of a country for driving and exploring. It would not be the best idea to spend 8 full days in Reykjavik and 4 days in Akureyri. With that being said, we will also be visiting Gulfoss, Jokulsarlon, Vik, Snaefellsnes, Heimaey, Dettifoss, and...anywhere the road may take us. We plan to off-road a little and check out the roads less traveled. 

Snaefellsnes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty!
Now, you wait for updates on my trip to Iceland and start planning your own trip immediately!

How Do I Plan My Own Girls' Trip?
  1. Find a few close friends or family members.
  2. Create a budget.
  3. Create a list of 3 countries you want to see.
  4. Create a jar full of all the countries everyone wants to see.
  5. Have each person choose a piece of paper.
  6. Have everyone vote for their favorite. Majority rules!
  7. Now, get to researching!
  8. Take your time. Do not expect to get this accomplished in a month if you are strapped for cash! Take your time to plan and build up your funds. For example, Iceland is not too pricey to fly intoless than $700 round trip! However, renting a 4x4 car is about $1600 for 12 days. So, you can see that small things may add up depending on what you are looking to do. Be smart!
  9. Book it and start reading about activities you want to do! Sometimes it is worth booking activities in advance so that they do not fill up before you arrive. Go to Barnes & Nobles and pick up a travel book...I recommend making sure it is from at least 2014.
  10. Good luck fellow travelers!
Check Back For:

-How to Save Money For a Trip
- A Review of Moscow
-A Review of St. Petersburg
- Russian Cuisine

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

So You Want To Go To Russia?

As I mentioned in my last post, I will be heading to Russia in March. After a long and tedious process to follow all the rules, I decided it was time to share the 7 steps for a smooth sailing to Russia. Word to the wise, follow these steps because I went through a much more difficult process to get my visa submitted and trust me, you do not want to follow that path.

Step 1: Passport

Please make sure your passport is up-to-date and has at least 2 side-by-side visa pages. This is a requirement not just for Russia, but almost any country you may step foot in. If not, order a new passport and have it expedited for about $180 and you will receive it within 2 weeks.

Step 2: Flights

Book your flights! As of right now, Russia is not too pricey to fly to. I think B and I are flying 12-14 hours with a layover in another country. Tickets alone are roughly $750. Best to book a package deal (flight + hotel) with Expedia or Travelocity. I think B and I are paying about $1300 per person for flights and hotels--not to bad, huh?

Step 3: Lodging

Backpackers be aware that this is not a country for spontaneity! Russia requires that you be INVITED to their country. Yes, you read that right. Russia has a two-step process that I will go into details about in step 4-6. Like I said in step 2, try to book a package deal. I suggest calling Expedia or Travelocity and ask them for assistance with booking if you plan to bounce around like B and I. We called Expedia and booked flights and two fabulous looking 5 star hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg—I will give you the names and reviews upon my return to the states. B and I are flying into Moscow and out of St. Petersburg—we plan to book a train between the two cities.

Step 4: Requesting Your Invitation

The best part about booking with a proper hotel is that they will send you an invitation to Russia. Once you book your hotel(s), please email the hotel(s) and ask for the proper documents for "Visa Support." Yes, if you are staying at more than one hotel, then you will need multiple invitations. The hotel(s) will either send you a Word document that requires extensive information and copies of your passport or they will just ask you to fill in your information on an online application. The hotels in Russia are quite quick at returning emails. I think the longest I waited for a reply was 48 hours and that was due to a weekend. Once you receive the invitation, please review that the information is correct and print a copy out.

Step 5: Visa Photos

Get 2 passport photos for your visa! This will probably cost you about $12-$13 at a photography place or CVS.

Step 6: Requesting Your Visa

This process is a little more tedious and nerve-racking. Please make sure that you are careful and detail oriented when filling out the online visa application: Click for Visa Application . Okay, once you spend about 20 minutes to an hour filling it out, submit and print it! Next, you will need to figure out the rules for the embassy or consulate you have chosen. The Russian Embassy requires that you book an appointment and bring a money order with your documents. However, the consulate is considered an expedited process and may cost a little bit more ($30), but they do not require an appointment. Also, you can pay with cash or a money order at the consulate—No credit cards are accepted at the embassy and/or consulate.

Step 7: The Waiting Game

I wish you luck! I find out next week if I really will be entering Russia. (Stay tuned for an update!)
**Total Expected Cost For 2 People in Russia for 10 Days: $3012 USD
-Flights and 5 Star Hotels: $1300 pp
-Passport Photos: $12 pp
-Visa Support/Invitation: Free
-Visa Expedited: $194 pp
-Passport if needed: $180 (not included in price above)

 Check back for the following posts:
  • How to Plan a Girls' Trip to Iceland!
  • A Review of Moscow
  • A Review of St. Petersburg
  • Russian Cuisine

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Traveler's Guide to Money

Hello fellow travelers!

I was recently asked how a seasoned traveler like me deals with money 
abroad—fantastic question, right? Now, before I get started, you are probably wondering how this Virginian could be considered a seasoned traveler. Well, as of today, I have been to 15 countries and stepped foot on 4 continents. By March, I will be adding Russia to my list, which will put me at 16 countries and 5 continents. I am not saying that I am any kind of expert, but I have gained quite a bit of knowledge while traveling that may be useful. Are you still reading? Good, let’s get started! 

First thing first, a seasoned traveler should always ask themselves two very important questions before they embark on their journey: 1) where am I going? And 2) how much time do I have to plan and save? Duh, right? The reason you should consider these two questions is because each country is different (e.g. Europe is more expensive than Central America).  The answers you provide to those two questions will affect your budget. ***Tip: Planning is a great thing, but do not be scared to be spontaneous and show up at the airport for a last minute trip! 

Next, how does your bank work with traveling abroad? For instance, I have one account with a military bank thanks to my Dad. Military banks do not charge much for international transactions, which is vital to my existence! I don’t want a bank charging me excessive fees for doing something I love. My suggestion is either plan for transaction fees or look for another bank specifically for travel. ***Tip: Check with your bank about international travel! 

What is your budget after you book the airline ticket(s)? Now, take out at least two hundred dollars in cash. After the $200 is removed, what do you have left for travel expenses like food, lodging, and fun? I would suggest considering a hostel, which is full of travelers from all over the world! Not for you? Okay, well then I suggest trying to CALL Expedia or Travelocity because they offer a much better deal via the phone then booking online--this was recently discovered by B and I when we booked our tickets/hotel to Russia. Keep reading to understand what you should do with that $200 in cash.***Tip: Look around for a week or two at different sites before you book--flight prices change constantly. 

When you travel to other countries, please, I beg you not to get sucked into any of those money exchanges they have in the US, other countries, at the airports, and even outside the airports. Why? Well, let me tell you my first real experience with a money exchange place…it was my first time to Europe and I had only been to countries that took US currency (like Nicaragua) beforehand. Now, I arrive in Italy with my $200 in cash and wanted to exchange it. I found a place in one of the many crowded streets of Venice and walked up to the exchange counter. I will be honest; I did no research about the euro and went to Italy, which was the worst thing I could possibly have done! So, like I was saying, I walked up to the counter and gave the man running the exchange $200 USD and he gave me less than 110 in euros. I was like okay and signed the paper. Hello, where was that lightbulb that should have been going off? I got ripped off and they got a nice chunk of change for that exchange. Lesson learned!  Wait, what do you do with the $200 in cash if not exchange it? Keep reading!***Tip: Read about your travel destination beforehand and understand the exchange rates. Take advantage of drops in currency from other countries—makes for more affordable travel! Hence why B and I are heading to Russia. 

This brings me to my next suggestion; please take at least 1 debit card and 1 emergency credit card—American Express does not charge for international transactions (Something I recently heard from my Mom)! ATMs in other countries offer the best exchange rate because it is current at the time of the transaction! Voila! You will never need to worry about the exchange rate again! That $200 in cash is your emergency money so tuck it away in a shoe or safe. Also, now you don’t need to carry around your passport because you don’t need a passport to go to an ATM. ***Tip: Alert your banks that you will be abroad. Do not let them cut off your lifeline because you neglected to tell them it isn’t fraud.

Better yet, if you are quite interested in where technology is taking us, then I dare you to take a gander at Bitcoins while traveling to Paris or Tokyo. Bitcoins are a digital currency that is not regulated by any government. Sounds scary, huh? Well, Xapo is a company that will offer you a secure, convenient place to maintain and spend your Bitcoins. One of the many benefits of becoming a member of Xapo is that you will never have to worry about exchange fees while paying for something abroad. Xapo offers a vault and a wallet for the upmost security of your account. The vault is insured for any fraud and/or bankruptcy that Xapo may experience. Now, the wallet is like your checking account that you access from your phone. So who actually takes Bitcoins? This is a growing trend amongst small businesses due to no fees, but you can also order a debit card and use it at MasterCard or Visa accepted locations (Xapo has not officially released which card they will go with). Bitcoins could be the future for traveling! Always remember that like any bank, Bitcoins can be hacked, too. ***Tip: Check your finances while traveling abroad. Being proactive will ensure that you have the best trip and stay on top of any possible fraud!

B and I at Machu Picchu
Lastly, these are opinions that I have gained from experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly side of traveling. I want you to find what works for you. If you like the fact that you can exchange money in our US airports and then come back to get the same exchange rate with no fee, then great—do it! (Keep the exchange receipt to do so!) Please just be smart about how much money you take with you while exploring the city you chose. Lock the rest of your money up in a safe or get creative and hide it. Don’t take all your lifelines with you to explore either—lock up that $200 emergency cash and at least one credit card. Keep your cash and credit cards safe and always check after you get back from exploring to ensure that your lifelines are still locked up. Being cautious is a necessary survival tool while traveling abroad. Consider embracing technology while traveling and try Bitcoins. Like I said, find what works for you because my advice is simply derived from my own experiences abroad.
Be smart, be safe, and be adventurous.
Me walking in the streets of Peru

Happy travels!