Adventures Abroad

Adventures Abroad
Machu Picchu

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