Survival Guide for SLEEP in First 3 Months: The Products That Help

Taking care of a baby is the hardest thing I have ever done. I thought the delivery was the hard part, and trust me, that was no walk in the park. But actually taking care of a baby, all day and all night, every single day is so much more than I could have ever imagined. You are worried that you aren’t doing everything right. You are worried that the baby needs something more. You are worried in general because the baby is so new to the world. You read conflicting advice on the internet. You hear completely different advice from friends and family. Basically, it’s a full on, all consuming, life altering task that there is no avoiding or delaying. And you and maybe your significant other, are going at it blind.

What you are going to worry most about during those first three months is sleep and eating. For us, eating was a bit easier but sleep was our big challenge.

Sleeping baby wubbanub

I did a lot of research during my 10 months of pregnancy (yes, it was just about 10 months!) and I have to say that some of the ways that I prepared truly saved me in those early weeks.I had absolutely no time to do research when she was born, so I’m very glad that I planned ahead!  I’ve included links on where to find all of these on my Amazon page.

Here is what absolutely helped our family, including Aurora, get some good rest. 

 

  1. DockATot

Who knew that this cute little baby bed/lounger with fun printed patterns would be an absolute life saver. Aurora didn’t know day from night, as most babies don’t right away, so she was sleeping and waking at all odd hours. The DockATot gave me a safe place to let her rest, let her play or just to put her down when I had to run to the bathroom. It is lightweight and very easy to move from the bedroom or the couch (where we slept a lot!). The covers come in a variety of patterns and can be removed and washed. I suggest buying an extra cover and the toy arch for when your baby gets a little older and needs more stimulation!

 

  1. Under the Nile Swaddles (0-2 months)

We tried every swaddle out there–Halo, Miracle Blanket, Woombie–and for us, the only thing that worked was a good, old fashioned swaddle. But not just any swaddle: we needed one with a bit of stretch so we could get a very tight wrap. Aurora could bust out of everything so the Under the Nile swaddles were a lifesaver as we could wrap them so tightly and keep them snug, her little legs and arms rarely escaped. All that changed by month 3, when nothing could keep those limbs in but by that time it was when she should stop being swaddled anyway.

 

  1. Halo Sleep Sack (1-3 months)

Finally, we realized we couldn’t keep her feet bound so we started using the Halo Sleep sack. This was great to keep one or both arms secured but allow her feet to move. She did manage to get out of it most nights, but at least it helped her fall asleep. I preferred the muslin variety as it was much less hot than the cotton or velour ones, but that is only because we live in Southern California and she was born in the summer!

 

  1. Rock-N-Play

rock n play Aurora didn’t take to this right away, but we kept trying and all of sudden, it was magic. The inclined position helped her with any reflux and it was cozy on all sides so she slept very well on it. I found that the rocking motion was not always necessary but sometimes did prolong sleep. I didn’t like music though so I always muted that. She did quickly grow out of it and it is not something that I’d recommend for long, but in the interim when you just need your baby to nap or sleep a few hours at a time, it was so worth the inexpensive price.

 

  1. Hatch Rest Nightlight & Sound Machine

This small, nondescript night light has a lot going on. There is a lovely variety of colors (you can even make your own color) as well as sounds like white noise and waves and  even songs. But the biggest win of the Hatch is that it syncs to your phone. This means that in the middle of the night when you need to turn it on or change the volume, you aren’t blindly fiddling with it in the dark. You can open the app and adjust easily. This was great for turning it on and off from different rooms too!

 

  1. Smilo Pacifiers

Smilo pacifiersWe started with the Wubbanub Animal pacifiers since they were not only cute, the animal actually helped keep the pacifier in her mouth as it gave some balance when placed on her chest. We graduated to Smilo Pacifiers which were also easy to keep in her mouth and developed by orthodontists to promote a healthy palate development. We’ve so far continued with the Smilos.

 

  1. Infant Optics DXR-8 Video Baby Monitor

Infant monitor optixWe decided not to get a monitor that linked to our phone as we know that phones run out of battery or have bad service. The Infant Optics has been great as it has a very clear image quality, especially in complete darkness. It also has a moveable head so you can move it from the display monitor and even zoom in. It also says the temperature of the room which we liked. The only negative is the display battery does die frequently so have that charger handy and it keep it plugged in often.

  1. Boppy

Like the DockATot, the Boppy is a place to let your baby relax, rest or even sleep (if you are watching). It is slightly inclined and has an indent to allow the baby to big snug and cozy. It was helpful when she was awake as she was a little more upright than lying flat and could see more. She grew out this after 2 months as she wanted to be more upright but it was very helpful for those first few months and very portable too. Get a cover so you can wash it when the inevitable blow out occurs!

I will be including an updated “Sleeping Survival Guide at 4 Months: How to Handle Sleep Regression!” soon! If you have any recommendations of your own, please share!

 

xoxo

Kelley

What I Wish I Knew Before Going to the Hospital

 

  1. Your Birth Plan Will Totally Change

Okay, maybe some of you will have this easy delivery and all your wishes on your birth plan will come true. However, from my own experience, and what I’ve heard from almost all other women, doulas, doctors and nurses; your birth plan goes out the window no matter how hard you to try to plan it.
I had a very detailed one page birth plan that basically said I wanted the most natural birth possible with the least interventions. I didn’t want an epidural, no pitocin, I didn’t want to use forceps or suction, I only wanted intermittent fetal monitoring and I definitely didn’t want a C-Section.

Well, as I was induced at 42+ weeks, I ended up having to get pitocin, fetal monitoring and eventually, an epidural. After 2 days of labor and 36 hours of pushing, I don’t regret it! In the end, I got a healthy baby out of it and I’m glad I knew the options, even if I wasn’t able to have my ideal birth. 

  1. Some Nurses will Suck

I had a few that just plain sucked. They were probably very knowledgeable and experienced, but I just didn’t like their bedside manner. They’ve seen ALL this before and some aren’t as sympathetic as they should be, at least for terrified first timers like myself.

You know what? You can request another nurse!

I didn’t like one nurse because she kept telling me all the worst case scenarios, unsolicited, and she also was very rough while putting in my IV. I didn’t send her away at first but when we had her AGAIN on her next shift, I told my husband that we needed someone else ASAP.

 

  1. It can take WAY longer than you think

I had heard these lovely birth stories from my mom, mother-in-law and close friends that they went into the hospital and had their baby a few hours later! I  surely did not. I went in on a Saturday and didn’t hold my baby until 1am on Tuesday. I also didn’t leave the hospital until Thursday. Not exactly the week away I’d hoped for but still, we got a healthy baby out of it!

 

  1. EVERYONE will see (all of) you Naked

There was no curtain. My room basically had a revolving door of nurses and doctors, and nothing was… um… hidden. This was not what I had pictured. I thought it’d be more discrete and only my nurse and my doctor would be permitted. Nope. I think the entire hospital must have seen my private bits. It was embarrassing at first but as things progressed, I stopped caring!

  1. Epidurals can help you avoid C-Sections

I really didn’t want a C-Section because I had heard rough stories about the recovery from close friends. I also knew that my husband had to go back to work soon and if I couldn’t take care of myself and the baby, we’d be in trouble.

I also didn’t like the idea of an epidural. I HATE needles. I also had broken my lower back when I was a teen. I also didn’t want any drugs getting into my baby. Well, after 24 hours of contractions and excruciating pain, I had to get one if I were to have enough strength to deliver the baby without help.

I requested an epidural at 11pm and was asleep by midnight.

Yes, it was super painful during the administration (and I couldn’t even look at that needle) but as a result, I was able to then sleep for 6 hours.

After two days of not sleeping a wink, this allowed me the energy to handle the following 24 hours.

 

  1. Epidurals Don’t Numb Anything when Pushing

What!? Seriously? Contractions are terrible and they do help there, but the REAL pain comes from pushing. And guess what, epidurals don’t do anything for that. Maybe it is good I didn’t know that. Sorry for spoiling it!

 

  1. Room ambiance doesn’t matter much

I wanted to create this super calm, positive space with inspiring music, soothing scents and chill vibes. And we did! My doula and husband helped to make my room so zen and cool. I really appreciated it in the hours leading up to labor, and since we had an induction, we had many of those. But guess what, on hour 12 of pushing did I even hear what music was playing or could I even think about scents? Nope. Didn’t matter.

 

  1. You Can’t Eat!

I had heard this that’s true. And I brought in an epic snack bag with healthy granola bars, gummi bears, pureed fruits, smoothies etc. However, once I got that IV, they didn’t want me to eat. And not eating for a few days made me very ‘hangry’ and very weak. I had my husband and doula sneak me some crackers and gummi bears but next time, I am not listening to the staff and I’m going to eat. I think it would have been a lot better if I did!

  1. Your Body will do Crazy Things

When those contractions start to get intense, you will lose all connection to anything else. I know all I could do was focus on getting through each contraction. I could barely speak, think or even process anything else around me. I had to just focus on the task at hand.

I also started shaking uncontrollably. This lasted for hours.

It was unfortunate as it was tiring in between contractions but it could not be helped. I think it terrified my husband.

 

  1. Meeting your Baby makes it all Better

After the hell that I went through for 3 days, I honestly started to think that I wasn’t ever going to get my baby out. We faced a lot of challenges, from a fever, shaking, and to her getting a bit stuck.

But when she did enter into this world and was handed to me, it all faded into the background.

The room was chaotic, the doctor was stitching me up, the nurses were yelling things–but it all disappeared. I didn’t even see or hear it. All I saw was her. She was healthy, beautiful and finally here. All the trauma and pain that I had been experiencing was gone and I felt like I had all the energy in the world. I finally had my baby. 

 

I HAD A BABY!

Sorry for the pause on activity here! I have a lot to share but these first 4 weeks with a newborn have kept me quite busy (and away from my computer).

Here is the quick rundown on what happened:

I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl on June 12th, 2018 at 1:05am.
She was 8lbs 10oz, 20.5 inches in length and completely perfect.

Her name is Aurora Blake Lee, in honor of the goddess of the dawn.

My labor was not perfect–I had to get induced at 42 weeks and this process too 4 days until she arrived by natural delivery. Let me tell you, it was very painful and very long. I don’t know how I endured it, but I give lots of credit to my husband, my amazing doula Karla and the team at UCLA Santa Monica. More on this later!

The past 4 weeks, we’ve been figuring out how to become parents! I’ve gotten to know my little girl, understand how to soothe her, bathe her, breastfeed her, change her and entertain her! It’s not been easy and I’ve slept VERY little, but my husband and I getting a little better at it every day.

Aurora is adorable. She loves to snuggle, is growing very fast for her age (in the 99th percentiles), is very alert, follows us with her eyes, holds her head up and makes me laugh all the time. She is getting better at napping, but so far that has been a challenge (for all of us).

We are also planning our first trip with Aurora at the end of August! Will be writing a lot more about that adventure as it approaches!

 

xoxo

Mama Kelley

 

Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

Where to take a Babymoon

Let’s face it. Of all times in your life when YOU (or your partner, bestie, sister, daughter) deserves a vacation, it is when she is carrying around another human life in her belly. Babymoons are necessary and relieve a lot of pressure, put mom-to-be in a great mood and can be a unique way to see a destination in a different way.

For me, it meant slowing down. Not the action-packed itineraries, with lots of outdoor pursuits, physical adventures and the evening wine or cocktail hour. Babymoon meant relaxation, early bedtimes, delicious foods and a more nurturing approach to travel. Honestly this change of pace was great! I feel like I experienced each location in a whole new way.

Babymoon Kauai

Whom do you take on a Babymoon?

So, who is coming? The most common person to escort you on this babymoon is obviously your partner. (They got you in this mess in the first place right!? KIDDING) It is an important time away from the routine of normal life to really focus on the two of you. If you are first time mom-to-be like me, it’s especially important to take to appreciate your remaining weeks together as a couple before you become a family. Your partner also knows you best and will pamper you, which is what you need now more than ever.

I also recommend babymoons with close friends. You won’t be able to take time like that away from your newborn to hang out with friends the way you used to so it can be very rewarding to spend that extra QT with those close friends that are important in your life.

I also LOVED going on a babymoon with my Mom. What better person to help me transition into motherhood than my own mother! Plus, I knew it was one of the last times that I’d get to travel just with her, even though bringing my daughter on our yearly adventures will be just as fun too. Consider bringing a supportive family member that you want to spend time with and whom will enjoy the slower pace that babymoon offers. 

And as much as I love company, solo babymoons can be very personally fulfilling. Sometimes you need time to yourself, to read, get a pedicure, talk to the new life growing in your belly and appreciate the remaining quiet moments before your bundle of joy arrives.

babymoon ojai

Where should you go?

Babymoons also tend to be closer to home. Most pregnant ladies don’t want to sit on an extended plane journey so keeping it under 5-6 hours by plane is usually the most comfortable. Ideally, the closer the better!  (I didn’t follow that advice entirely and did fly to Europe for a 3 week trip while 20 weeks pregnant as well as Japan for a 2 week film shoot at 16 weeks, but you can read about those two trips here.)

Driving distance or short flights are best in the earlier stages of pregnancy. When you get to the third trimester, I’d suggest limiting your babymoon destinations to those within an hour or two home.

 

If you only have time for one babymoon, make sure it is the type of trip that you are craving now. Those pregnancy cravings can even apply to travel, ladies! I outline 5 types of babymoons in this post and where you can go to get your FIX!

 

If you are craving…something TROPICAL?

Go to KAUAI!

Lush, quiet, healthy and untouched: Kauai might be the most perfect of the Hawaiian islands for an expecting mother. The rhythm of nature dictated our stay here, with early mornings spent snorkeling Poipu Beach, leisurely days shopping in Kailua, picking shells on a secluded beach on the North Shore and grabbing fresh açai bowls topped with pineapple and passion fruit. By evening, the islanders stop to hold their breath as the sun sets in a dramatic fashion, sending up a fiery finale before nightfall.

Hanalei Beach Bump

My mom and I traveled to Kauai when I was at 23 weeks and I felt great. It was the right pace and I had a lot of energy in that second trimester to handle full days at a leisurely pace. The 6 hour flight didn’t bother me at all and I made sure to stay hydrated and walk the aisles frequently. There’s a lot of “mother energy” on this island too so it felt like the right place to be!

Where to Stay:  Ko’a Kea Resort

This intimate, boutique hotel is classy but cool. You won’t feel pressure to grab a pool seat and staying on the property to eat will result in some of your favorite island meals. Poipu’s famed calm waters are perfect for floating with sea turtles and catching those all-star sunsets.

Tip: Get a prenatal massage in their waterside cabana!

Where to Eat

Java Kai, Kailua: Healthy salads, delicious coffees & teas and Instagram-worthy breakfasts

Little Fish Coffee, Poipu: Fresh smoothies, pitaya bowls and bagel sandwiches bring in the customers but linger with the chickens at this rustic, local favorite.

Fresh Bite Kauai, Hanalei: Seek out this Hanalei food truck to grab a to-go organic salads, hearty sandwich and side of sweet potato fries.

Plantation Gardens, Poipu: Set inside a resort without feeling commercial, this restaurant is laidback but top quality, serving up local fish dishes like banana leaf snapper and coconut shrimp.

Postcards Cafe, Hanalei: A charming Hawaiian bistro feel with pastas, fresh catch and great salads. Grab one of the outdoor tables for an intimate feel.

 

What to Do

Snorkel with sea turtles in Poipu, stop at a crafts market in Hanalei, get a drink at the St. Regis Princeville, see a luau and take a boat tour of the Na Pali coast.

 

If you are craving…something NATURAL?

Go to OJAI, CA

As a Santa Monica local with a serious travel addiction, I cannot believe it took me 4 years to get to Ojai. It is only an hour and a half drive away into the valley of the Topatopa Mountains but if felt like a whole different world. My husband surprised me with a midweek Mother’s Day getaway and even though this babymoon was only one night, it was exactly what we needed!

The quaint village has delightful bookstores, ice cream shops, hippie boutiques and mom & pop restaurants. There are easy walks, creekside (paved) bike paths and just so much lavendar scented fresh air, mom and baby bump will feel the benefits of all this healthy energy.

Ojai Valley Inn Babymoon

Where to Stay: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Not the most affordable option, but if you want to splurge, I highly suggest this resort. Their adults-only pool is where I posted up for the majority of the day, alternating between a pool floatie and a mountain facing lounge chair, with my cucumber spa water in hand. The expansive grounds are lovely for strolling or biking and their spa is like a mini village wiht a juice bar, free yoga classes and all the treatments. While our room didn’t stand out, it was the location that really made this place special.

Tip: Grab picnic supplies in town and pull up an adirondack chair by the fireplace to watch the “pink moment,” Ojai’s famously hued sunset magic hour.

Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

Where to Eat

The Nest: We almost went back the second day, it was THAT good. Whether you want fish tacos or a fried chicken sandwich or a salad, this outdoor hotspot is the place for lunch. Order the meaty Tireman if you are ravenous.

Osteria Monte Grappa: Talk about locally sourced! The menu here features salads from local farmers, handmade pastas and wood fired pizzas, plus excellent friendly service.  

Ojai Deer Lodge: Fun for a beer (for your travel partner) and live music, this is a kitschy, cowboy stop with some wild decor located a little bit outside of town.

Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

What to Do

Browse the boutiques, relax by the pool, take a bike ride, have a honey tasting at the local honey shop Heavenly Honey and explore the outdoor Bart’s Books.

 

If you are craving… something ALPINE?

Go to Northstar at TAHOE

My husband and I took our LAST flight together before the baby to have a wintry weekend. Just an hour flight from LAX or Long Beach and you are in the heart of the snowcapped peaks of Tahoe.We landed in Reno and took a 40 drive over to Northstar Resort, one of the most luxurious of the Tahoe resorts. The village is completely self contained, making it a one stop destination and easy for a weekend escape. We spent time exploring the village, doing yoga and even taking the gondola up to the slopeside Ritz Carlton Tahoe to indulge in some complimentary s’mores at their outdoor fire pit.

Note: Our babymoon fell during the winter but Tahoe is amazing in the summer, spring or fall as well!

Tip: Plan your weekend escape for a Mountain Table Dinner to enjoy an incredible, multi-course meal at the peak of Zephyr Lodge.

Where to Stay: Northstar Lodging

I loved our mountain chalet which we reserved through Northstar Lodging. It had a balcony, fireplace, kitchen and cosy living room. It was exactly what we wanted for a babymoon weekend!

 

Where to Eat

Inxpot Cafe: Grab a breakfast burrito at this village hotspot next to the gondola. It is best enjoyed outside by the firepit!

Rubicon Pizza Co.: An easy lunch in the village right next to the ice skating rink. It might not be the best pizza you’ve ever had but it is a solid choice and moderately priced.

Tavern 6330′: We loved dinner here with its live music and classic menu choices like iceberg wedge salad and steaks. Definitely split that lobster mac n cheese!

Babymoon Northstar Tahoe

What to Do

Take a guided snowshoe tour, grab a stick and roast marshmallows at the Ritz’s “Marshmology,” curl up by the fireplace with a good book, do yoga in town at Tahoe Yoga.

 

If you are craving… something Mediterranean?

Go to Catalina Island, CA

I enjoyed this babymoon with a group of friends in early March. It was so nice to go on a group trip like this so everyone could do exactly what they wanted to do. Since I was the only one pregnant, my activities were more mild compared to the parasailing, ziplining and jeep tour options.

Selfie View Catalina

However, I still had a blast exploring this incredibly unique island that is just about an hour off of the coast of Southern California. The main town of Avalon is the ideal hub with seafood restaurants, shops and lovely walking streets. I am so happy that I rented a golf cart, the main mode of transportation, to cruise around the rolling hills that surround Avalon Harbor.

I also spent time at the Descanso Beach Club, a secluded, sandy area of beach which also offers kayaking and SUP.

Tip: Definitely do the Frog Rock Kayaking tour if you have time!

Where to Stay: Pavilion Hotel

Located on the main street, across from the water, this gem of a hotel offers an ample daily breakfast and evening wine & cheese hour, both complimentary. The rooms are clean, nautical and cute, plus the courtyard area has quiet lounge spaces and firepits.

Where to Eat

The Lobster Trap: A local favorite with no-frills fish dishes and a lively atmosphere. We all loved the ambiance here.

Bluewater Grill: Great for a light lunch and lemonade out on the water, this is the most waterside restaurant you will find in Avalon!

Avalon Grille: Excellent dining with a fun bar scene, this is definitely THE place for dinner on the island.

Kayaking Catalina

What to Do

Cruise around in a golf cart, book a prenatal massage at the Island Spa Catalina, rent a kayak at the Descanso Beach Club

 

If you are craving… EASY.

Go to Santa Barbara, CA 

It’s not just because it is easy, Santa Barbara is a beautiful coastal California city with a stunning beachfront. But it also is easily accessible by train, meaning NO CARS NEEDED! That is what sold my husband and I on this one night, weekend trip. We hopped on a train in the morining from LA and enjoyed the ocean views before we disembarked just a couple hours later in the heart of SB.

We stayed near the water, kayaking with sea lions, eating at a beach bar, hanging by the pool and exploring the Funk Zone. Great food, great sunshine and just an easy, breezy, stress-free getaway. Isn’t that what you want for a babymoon?

Where to Stay: Hotel Californian ($$$$) or Harborview Inn ($$)

The swanky Hotel Californian is brand new and just steps from the water. The service, the style and the location make it hard to beat.

But if you want something more affordable, just next door is where we stay: the Haborview Inn. We loved the pool and water views and how convenient it was to the beach!

Lucky Penny SB

Where to Eat

Lucky Penny: Sister to The Lark, Lucky Penny is an order at the counter/sit outside at communal table pizza joint. Spoiler: this is some of the best pizza in California!

Shoreline Beach Cafe: Located RIGHT on the beach, the classic California food and sand-in-your-toes location made this an A+++ for me.

Sambo’s: A perfect spot for huge pancakes, egg burritos and even more. The menu is huge, the coffee is flowing and the atmosphere is what you want from a popular diner.

surrey bike SB

What to Do

Rent a Surrey Bike and cruise along the beach path, take out kayaks in the marina and see sea lions, go to Figueroa Brewery* for live music, explore the eats and wineries* of the Funk Zone, pack a picnic for the Amtrak train back!

*(your partner can enjoy the booze for you but it is still fun sober, trust me!)

Kayaking Santa Barbara

***

Most of my babymoons favor the West Coast since that is where I am based, but I have other recommendations for East Coasters! Here is my short list: 

  • Charleston, North Carolina
  • Chatham, Cape Cod (MA)
  • Vero Beach, Florida
  • Woodstock, Vermont (my hometown!)
  • Greenport, Long Island (NY)
  • Skaneatles, NY

 

Traveling While Pregnant: Where I Went, What I Avoided & When I Stopped

I have not set foot on a plane… since March! This is the longest stretch of time that I have not been airborne (10 weeks and 1 day but who’s counting…). It’s kind of an odd feeling! Last year I clocked in at 39 flights to over 25 destinations and 12 countries. This year, I had a strong clip in January and February with Italy, Kauai, Tahoe and Philadelphia (for a wedding) but limited my air travel as I progressed in my second trimester.

Sky high

Looking out over Tahoe

For the first 29 weeks of my pregnancy, I didn’t slow down on my travel, whatsoever. I had a lot of shoots for my video series already schedule and that, couple with my  insatiable urge to travel all the time, made me want to just GO GO GO. I knew that I’d listen to my body (and my doctor) and if I needed to slow down for my baby and my health, I would. However, I had a lot of energy and felt invigorated to keep at it. I wanted to pursue all travel projects and aspirations that I could, while I was still able. I knew that when my baby girl arrived, my whole world would become focused on her little being so the clock was ticking. 

 

1 Week Pregnant: China

Suzhou China Canals

Canals of Suzhou, China

I am PRETTY sure that I was pregnant while on assignment in Suzhou, China. But, I had NO idea that I was pregnant because it was so early on (think like days after conception). Baby was just a few cells at that point so of course, it didn’t affect me or my travel at all. Still, pretty cool to know that baby’s first “trip” in utero was to China!

 

10 Weeks Pregnant: Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

Surf & Sand Resort, Laguna Beach

At this point, only my husband and I (and our families) knew that we were pregnant. Since it was so early on in the pregnancy, we didn’t want to shout it from the rooftops just yet. The terrifying statistic that 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage kept us very quiet until the 20 week mark.

However, it was an exciting little secret to have! My husband and I did a weekend film shoot in Orange County, exploring the delicious food of Anaheim, biking in Irvine, beaching in Laguna and overall seeing the world through different eyes.

 

14 Weeks Pregnant: Japan

Setouchi Miyajima

Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, Japan

A lot of people were surprised to hear that I spent 15 days in Japan, filming my series for Setouchi Tourism. I honestly didn’t find the pregnancy held me back whatsoever! If anything, it opened my eyes to all the children, babies and cute families that I saw along the way. The one truth that I always find when I travel is that we are all more the same than we are different. A mother kissing baby on the street, a father lifting up his daughter over his head, a family feeding their fussy baby at the table–its the same everywhere in the world. And it just made me more confident that I could do it too.

Arima Hot Springs, Japan

Arima Hot Springs, Japan

Of course, the flight is long. My OB-GYN gave me the confident go-ahead, citing that I should just walk around a lot and drink plenty of fluids on board. Since I always drink tons of water, that works out well on flights since I have to check out the bathroom quite a bit. The flight over was completely fine and comfortable. The return flight was another story but it had nothing to do with pregnancy… (If you saw my Instagram stories from it you know what I mean, but that is for another post…).

Being pregnant while in Japan was not all that difficult. I didn’t feel much fatigue so I was able to keep up with our very rigorous schedule of early 6am mornings and being “on” for the camera all day, up until evening. I did not stay up any later than our dinners and since I wasn’t drinking, I got good nights’ sleeps and focused on catching as many Zzzz’s as possible so I could keep up with the pace. However, this is what I do on all my travel shoots so I didn’t find that my being pregnant changed anything.

kaiseki in Kurashiki

Kaiseki Tasting Menu in Kurashiki

When I told people that I was going to Japan, so many people said “Well what can you eat?” That question is based on two over-generalizations about Japan. The first is that the Japanese only eat sushi. Actually so much more than just sushi.  We had lots of wild game, kobe beef, so many types of noodles, tempura and lots of vegetables. It was actually rare that the only option was sushi. We mostly had meat and noodles! The Setouchi region is famous for its udon and since it is the home of Kobe, you can bet that the beef is pretty incredible.

The second generalization is that you cannot have sushi. This is not entirely true. I did a lot of research and found a lot of articles written by doctors that support that sushi is not bad for pregnant women. The fear with sushi is that it can lead to food poisoning because it is uncooked. However, food poisoning from sushi will affect a pregnant and non-pregnant person the exact same way. It is no worse for your baby or you if you are pregnant and you have food poisoning. Trust me, food poisoning is the WORST and you don’t want it no matter what state you are in, but in terms of it being off limits as a pregnant person? It poses the same risk to a non-pregnant person. My OB-GYN confirmed this before I traveled there as well.

fugu setouchi

Fugu, the deadly blowfish sashimi (I did NOT eat this)

That being said, there is a big concern for pregnant women around sushi and actually all fish for that matter. It has to do with MERCURY. The predominant fish in sushi happens to be tuna, which has one of the highest mercury percentages of all fish. The larger the fish, the higher the mercury. I have avoided any tuna: canned, cooked or raw, throughout the pregnancy. I know that small amounts of tuna is deemed to be safe but I didn’t see the need to take any chances. I also avoided the other high mercury fish, which you can find here. Sadly, these fish includes some of my favorites like halibut, mahi mahi and snapper (makes you think twice though right, pregnant or not?!). 

But fortunately, salmon is also a popular sushi staple and salmon is GREAT for your developing baby and has very low mercury content. If I did have sushi while in Japan, I made sure it was from a reputable place and I only chose salmon or other low mercury fish.

 

18 Weeks Pregnant: Europe

Costa Brava Spain

Roadtripping in Costa Brava, Spain

I also spent 22 days traveling in Europe when I was 18-20 weeks pregnant. This extended trip was part work and part fun, traveling with my husband over the holiday season. We visited Spain, France, Monaco and Italy–and had so many adventures in each. We road-tripped through Costa Brava, we had Christmas Morning in our hotel room in Barcelona, we voyaged with Viking Ocean Cruises to seaside cities, biked in Marseille, ate our way through St Tropez, played games at the Christmas fair in Montecarlo and we drove all through Tuscany in Italy. We stayed a few days extra in Rome, to take in the Colosseum, the Vatican and lots of pizza and gelato.

Christmas Morning Barcelona

Christmas Morning in Barcelona

The challenges of being pregnant in Europe? No delicious soft cheeses and no wine. I managed to substitute my love of stinky French cheese with Spain’s delicious hard cheeses and Italy’s mozzarella and parmigiano.

Bolognese in Lucca

Bolognese in Lucca

But there is no good substitute for wine. I had sips here and there, just being able to taste the incredible wines of all these regions was satisfying. I didn’t even need a whole glass. (But next time I go to Europe, I plan making up for it…)

 

24 Weeks Pregnant: Kauai

Sailing the Na Pali Coast in Kauai

Sailing the Na Pali Coast in Kauai

Kauai was another fabulous trip that I took while 24 weeks pregnant. This island is so natural, rugged and breath-taking, it made my soul happy, which I can only assume translated to making baby happy too. Besides having to avoid a lot of the delicious local Hawaiian catch (no red snapper, no opakapaka, no tuna, obvi), I didn’t have any negative effects of being in Kauai while pregnant. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t hike the Na Pali Coast or go river rafter in the jungle, but those are things I am looking forward to doing on my return trip! Besides, relaxing on beaches, drinking fresh fruit smoothies and snorkeling with sea turtles is quite fulfilling as well.  

29 Weeks Pregnant: Tahoe

Northstar Tahoe

Taking it Easy in Tahoe

My biggest concern with travel to Tahoe was the altitude. I had heard that altitude can have adverse affects on a baby in utero due to the pressure and not being acclimatized. Since I was traveling from Los Angeles (aka. Sea level) and going to Northstar, which is 6000 ft, I was nervous. I reached out to my contacts in Tahoe, asked my OB-GYN and did my own research. Luckily, I found that some altitude is okay. I should really avoid 10,000 feet or higher. Since we weren’t skiing and only went up to a mountain lodge for one dinner of about 3 hours at 8000 feet, I was mostly at 6000 feet.

During this 48 hour trip, I did find that I ran out breath more than usual–which is already quite a lot more than a non-pregnant person– and I was very, very thirsty. Dehydration at altitude affects everyone and I was extra cautious to drink lots of fluids and have water on me at all times.

Why I chose to stop Air Travel after 30 weeks

Rome The Roman Forum

Loving Roma, at the Roman Forum

At 32 weeks, I had as assignment in London. I was really eager to take this trip as I hadn’t been to the UK in a while, it was a luxury focused trip so I would get to experience a lot of my dream hotels and restaurants and I really believed in the brand sponsoring the trip. However, the flight to London from LA was direct, and it also was 13 hours. My OB-GYN, whom normally is pretty easy-going, did express some hesitation on this one. She said that if anything went wrong mid-air, not only would have to derail the entire flight, but we’d be flying over areas in the far Northern Hemisphere that do not have medical care on landing (think like Canadian tundra, Greenland and a lot of Atlantic Ocean).

This of course, scared me. I had felt very capable and my pregnancy was progressing really well, but the “what if” scenario really got me.

Seaplanes in Setouchi

No more Seaplanes like this one in Setouchi, Japan

My doctor also informed me that babies are born at 32 weeks. Though it is 8 weeks early and not very common, it does happen. If it happened in London, I’d be going to the hospital London and not moving my newborn for quite a long time. Though the idea of getting her dual citizenship was pretty appealing (LOL), I knew that giving birth in London was not a great option for me or my family. I had to politely decline from this trip and decided that I would no longer be flying after 30 weeks.

Trust me, pausing travel was a tough pill to swallow.

St Tropez

Giddy in Saint Tropez

It is in my nature to crave the adventure, the spontaneity and the freedom of hopping on a plane and landing in someplace totally new. But I had to put my little girl first, and to me, it was the right decision. While there is no hard and fast rule of when you HAVE to stop air travel, it is advised to stop around the end of the second trimester. I pushed it a bit just because I am so used to travel and it was part of my job.

Just because I didn’t take any more flights, it didn’t mean my local traveling stopped! My next post will be about all my favorite local trips and where I recommend for a Babymoon! Do you have a favorite babymoon spot? 

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xo,

Mama-to-be Kelley

 

Catalina Island Avalon Harbor

Escapes from LA: Catalina Island

I have to be honest. If you asked me to hop on a plane anywhere for a quick getaway, I’d say ‘take me to the Mediterranean!’ Who doesn’t love indigo water, crystalline shorelines, charming villages, locally made food and abundance of outdoor cafés? However, European destinations along the Med tend to be quite pricey, not to mention a long flight for us Americans (especially for other Californians like me). But that’s why I couldn’t be more surprised, delighted, and borderline obsessed with this European-esque destination that I recently discovered in my own backyard.

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

Catalina Island is not exactly “new.” It’s been inhabited for at least 8000 years, originally by the Native American tribe, the Pimungans. More recently, William Wrigley (yes, like the chewing gum) owned the island and brought his baseball team there for their annual spring training from 1921-1951. And of course, Hollywood also fell in love with Catalina, using it as the location for many early films as well as the playground for the stars and show biz elite. After visiting for myself for the first time, I can see why this island has been so popular for so long.

 

WHEN TO GO

I visited with a group of friends in early March, far outside of Catalina’s high season, which typically runs from June through September. Off season, or shoulder season travel is one of my all-time favorite travel hacks. It generally results in a much better experience overall because you aren’t battling crowds, lines and high prices. My tip would be to travel in either March through May or late September through November, to maximize best weather and least amount of people. However, don’t forget that it is Southern California so even December or January could have perfect weather!

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

We also opted for a weekday stay as opposed to the popular weekend trips, arriving on a Monday and departing on a Wednesday. Like off-season travel, weekday travel usually means better rates and less people so you can focus on enjoying the destination without as much hassle.

Catalina Express Ferry

GETTING THERE

Catalina Express

Catalina Island is visible from Santa Monica all the way down to Laguna Beach, but this large SoCal island is actually much further away than it looks. The Catalina Express offers daily shuttles via high speed catamaran that whisk you out into the Pacific and get you onshore in about an hour. It’s also a fun ride! We departed from Long Beach and I sat outside, enjoying the salty breezes and the watery views. We even had a dolphin sighting! Note: there is a full bar for those that want to start the party the moment we leave the mainland.

Luxe Tip–> For those that have less time and the itch to splurge, there are helicopters that can bring you over in just 15 minutes!

 

WHERE TO STAY

Though it is possible to experience Catalina for the day, I would recommend staying at least one night, ideally two. During the day, the main town of Avalon is usually busy with other daytrippers and the cruise passengers. However by night, the town empties out and you can enjoy the calm, quiet beauty of this island gem.

Pavilion Hotel Catalina Island

Pavilion Hotel

As I am the “Hotel Snob,” where I stay is very important and I would stay at the Pavilion Hotel again in a heartbeat. The well appointed property is located right on the main street, in the center of Avalon. It has water views, as well as a sunny complimentary breakfast and daily wine hour on the patio.  I particularly loved all the outdoor seating areas, fire pits and secluded loungers in the garden. This small hotel felt tranquil and private, even though it is just steps from the hustle and bustle of downtown Avalon.

 

The rooms are crisp and sea-inspired. New and clean, I wouldn’t call them extravagant in any way, but I wasn’t left wanting for anything. The separate sink and vanity area also served as a mini kitchenette with coffee and mini fridge. Of course, I would have loved it if the hotel had a pool but that is a rarity on Catalina Island in general.

 

WHERE TO EAT

Avalon Grille Catalina

Avalon Grille

This is one of the nicest options on the island and I’d recommend that you book it for one special dinner. The elegant menu has everything from well cooked steaks to local seafood to a mouthwatering burger. Definitely order the fried green beans to share! Also, as I’m always all about the atmosphere, I felt that the classy interior makes it work for a romantic night but the wraparound bar also makes it accessible for cocktails and appetizers. It was even busy on a Monday night, proving that the islanders love this spot as well.

 

The Lobster Trap Catalina

Image courtesy of Catalina Chamber of Commerce

The Lobster Trap

Another great dinner option at a lower price point is The Lobster Trap. This seafood joint is an institution in Avalon and you will be overwhelmed by the local “Cheers” vibe the minute you walk in. The owner was handing out shots, our makeshift table was on top of a pool table and there was a live lobster running across the table. However, the service couldn’t be friendlier and the no-frills seafood plates were fresh and delicious. I could see how a dinner here might turn into an all night affair as the bar was hopping, even on a Tuesday at 7pm.

Catalina Bluewater Grill

Image courtesy of @darinainwanderlust

Bluewater Grill

This one wins for best location as it is set on top of the water. We came for a sunny lunch and had a tremendous view of the Avalon Bay as well as fun, casual fare like shrimp caesars and fish tacos. I’d definitely go back for dinner or to check out their bar in the evening. Just like Europe’s sunny outdoor patios, the Bluewater Grill is a place you’d want to hang out for a few hours with a coffee or a cocktail.

 

Lloyd’s of Avalon

You have to give a lot of credit to a candy shop that’s been in business since 1934. They make all their own chocolates, salt water taffy and fudge, and even claim to have served Marilyn Monroe.

 

Scoops Catalina Avalon

Image courtesy of Scoops Instagram @scoopscatalina

Scoops

As always, I sought out the best local ice cream on Avalon and all locals pointed here: Scoops. This is the place to go for the best homemade ice cream and gelato. Beware though, in the summer the lines can get long!

 

WHAT TO DO

There is a LOT that you can do on the island, ranging from outdoor exploration, hikes, shopping, scuba, water sports and more. Normally the adventurer, I toned it back to focus more on relaxed, soft adventures as I was 7 months pregnant and I am happy that I did.View of Avalon Harbor Catalina

Golf Cart

Not only is the golf cart THE mode of transportation on the island, I find driving them to be so fun. It feels like you are on vacation! There are self guided routes that you can take to access the best vistas of the island and to take in a variety of landscapes.Golf Cart Catalina Island

 

Island Spa Catalina

Island Spa Catalina

This secluded hideaway is located at the end of Avalon’s main drag and it really is an oasis. When you step inside, the private courtyard has sun deck, a beautiful pool, a lounge area with sea views, and even a spa café. Take a class in their Wellness Studio or indulge in a massage at their spa. Or just grab a day pass for a day of R&R.

Descanso Beach Club Catalina

Descanso Beach Club

Just a 15 minute walk from the center of town along the water, the Descanso Beach Club was probably my favorite experience in Avalon. The sandy beach is bookended by natural cliffs on one side and the Catalina Casino on the other, making it feel like your private beach oasis for the day. If you come early, you’ll have it all to yourself but as the day wears on, the beach club kicks it up a notch. The outdoor bar and restaurant definitely becomes the place on the island to party!

Kayaking Catalina

The crystal clear water is not just perfect for swimming, you can hit up Descanso Beach Ocean Sports to rent an SUP or kayak. Take it a step further and go on a kayaking tour. I highly recommend the guided 2 hour kayak tour to Frog Rock. Our morning paddle out on the glittering water was breathtaking and I loved learning more about the life under the water from our knowledgeable guide. We stopped on a beach only accessible by kayak to rest, take photos, and enjoy some freshly made cookies. Pebble beaches, giant rocks, arid cliffs and glittering ocean–were we sure this wasn’t the Mediterranean?

 

Catalina Casino

Catalina Casino Tour

I am not going to lie, this walking tour was a bit a slow for me as it is geared towards an older set. But if you are a history buff, you will definitely appreciate the access to the first theatre in America that was “designed for talkies” as well as the pink art deco ballroom. From the top of the Casino, the views of Avalon and the bay might be some of the best on the island, so for me, that was the highlight. Plus, the Casino is the icon of Catalina so it important to understand its significance.

 

And More Adrenaline-Pumping Adventures

Many of my friends were able to partake in the more adventurous activities and the best reviews came from the East End hummer tour where my friends saw the island’s famous wild buffalo, parasailing 800 feet above the water, ziplining through canyons, and tight rope walking along the tree top ropes course.

East End Adventure Catalina

Image courtesy of the Catalina Island Company

Though I’ve mentioned the popularity of Catalina Island, I am actually most awed by the fact that the island is mostly untouched! 88% of the island is a nature preserve and the town of Avalon, the main hub of Catalina, is only home to 4000 residents. The rest of Catalina belongs to the bald eagles, the bison, the fox and the rest of the flora and fauna that live on or around its shores. For an island that is in plain sight of one of the US’s busiest cities, I am so impressed that it has retained its natural landscape and retro charm. Though you don’t need a passport to get here, it surely feels like you step off of the ferry into another world entirely.Selfie View Catalina

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Stay tuned for my video of this incredible island oasis COMING SOON!

 

xoxo

Kelley

Best (and worst) Food in Setouchi, Japan

I am not ashamed to admit that the quality and variety of food factors greatly into my overall impression of a place. As someone that seeks out groceries and restaurants that are as clean and close to the source as possible, I have high expectations when I travel. To be honest, I often find that international destinations actually do have less processed cuisine than use over here in America.

Miyajima street eats

Well my experience in Japan took local food to a whole new level. I had been to Japan once before, exploring the Tohoku Region with CNN. It was there that I realized that Japanese food is not just sushi. However, the sushi still is really good but on this 2 week exploration in Setouchi, I had two very good reasons to push the boundaries of the culinary side of Japan.


Firstly, we were shooting one entire episode just on the best local food and local drinks in the Setouchi region. Secondly, I was pregnant during the entire shoot, which greatly limited my fish intake to those with low levels of mercury (and I hate to say it, a lot of seafood around the world is very high in mercury). So I was ready to dive into noodles, tempura, local game, river fish and various wild looking snacks that I grabbed from street vendors on the way.

You can watch the video to go deep into all the top dishes, restaurants and traditional cuisine of Setouchi. However below, I’m going to recap my personal favorites.

 

Udon Noodles: Thick and Thin

I got quite the education in Japanese noodles. I had no idea how many types of noodles this country could lay claim too! Also, many of the regions in Japan have their own signature noodle. In Setouchi, it was udon. To understand the intricacies of this chewy, satisfying, slurpy noodle, we went to the source: the Nakano Udon School.

Nakano Udon School

 There, classroom style, we learned about udon, from the ingredients to the finished product. Our very entertaining teacher was strict, in a funny way, and she required that after we prepared our noodle dough out of flour, salt and water, we had to wrap it and dance on it to make it soft. Yes, dance. She blasted “YMCA” and other 70s dance hits, all while yelling at us to keep dancing.

I definitely burned off the calories to eat my creation, which we did at the end. After the dancing, we flattened and then folded the noodles so we could cut into long, even strands. Mine weren’t as perfect as hers, but they did taste good!

Hiroshima Udon

We also ate super thick, gelatinous Shinsho-ji Udon at a Gokando, a beautiful garden in the Hiroshima prefecture. The was a whole different style of udon, rolled as thick as 3 straws and placed in a communal hot water pail. From there, we used wide chopsticks to fish out one long noodle strand and place it in our own bowl. There was a selection of delicious toppings, which you can add to your taste. I loved the salts and chilis!

Shinshoji udon

 

Soba Noodles (Handmade by a singing mountain local)

I love all sorts of noodles but I think that Japanese soba noodles are my favorites. I love the buckwheat flour used in them, giving them that earthy flavor and grainy texture. I also usually love the salty broth that they are served in. 

My favorite soba noodle award goes to the lovely woman below, who cooked a lunch feast for us in her home/restaurant in the Iya Valley.

Handmade Soba in Iya valley

Located on the edge of a cliff road, we took off our shoes and walked into what felt like her home (her home actually was attached). She watched us with delight as we ate all the deliciousness that she had prepared for us, including heaps of these soba noodles.

Our dessert? A song! She was a famous singer and unprompted, she stood up and starting singing a ballad in Japanese. Now that is a memorable way to end a meal.

 

Matcha Tea

Matcha tea iyaI drank copious amounts of tea while in Japan–it is served at every meal! But I developed a new love of matcha tea when we tried it at a roadside stop of another tiny mountain town in the Iya Valley. We were welcomed in with song, dance and costume by the proprietor, a spry, smiley older woman that is known for her enthusiasm.

Matcha Green Tea Iya Japan

She showed me how to grind the matcha using a traditional grinder, then she placed heaping spoonfuls in my cup, covering them with hot water.

As I sipped this rich, green liquid, she pointed out the window at the verdant mountainside across the river. That was where the tea leaves of this same matcha were grown. It only made it taste that much better.

 

Tempura

I’d had tempura before in the States so I thought I “knew” tempura. Well, I was wrong. Tempura in Japan is not the thick or greasy style that I’d had before. It is instead, delicately battered and just lightly fried, which only brings out the flavor of whatever delicious vegetable, starch or meat that was lucky enough to be “tempura-ed.” I loved all the tempura vegetables that we tried specifically the lotus, pumpkin and squash.

Tempura Shrimp Onomichi

However, I think my favorite was the tempura shrimp which we enjoyed in Onomichi (see above). The most exotic? Tempura wild deer. It was actually delicious!

 

Shabu-shabu

What a perfect meal! Shabu-shabu is also known as hot pot. It is when a large pot of lightly seasoned broth is served boiling with various raw vegetables, starches and meats. The meat is usually very thinly sliced beef to make for quick cooking. Not only does everything taste so flavorful, it is prepared exactly as you like it! And I love that it felt relatively light since no oil is used!

Shabu Shabu JapanWe enjoyed Shabu shabu feast up in the mountains of the Iya Valley, at our kominka. A local woman prepared so many dishes, in addition to the shabu, all from locally grown, raised and hunted sources. I never wanted to stop eating!

Shabu Shabu Japan

 

 

Kobe Beef

Of course this beef has international acclaim but I have to say, it lives up to the hype. I enjoy a good steak every now and then, but the grass fed, tenderly aged kobe beef is a totally different dish.

We went to Kobe Misono, the restaurant that launched the worldwide chain known as “Benihana.” It was fun because we were able to watch the expertly trained chefs prepare and cook the kobe beef right in front of us. What was impressive was how little was need to transform these perfectly cooked morsels into some of the best meaty bites I’d ever have. Just a little salt, a drop of oil, a sear on all the sides and done. Pop that in your mouth and you’ll know why kobe beef has such a big fanclub.

kobe beef kobe misono

 

Arima Cider Teppo Water

Arima Cider Teppo Water

In the hot spring town of Arima, everything revolves around the legendary hot springs. Not only do you soak in these therapeutic waters, but you can DRINK them too! Grab a bottle of the Arima Cider, made from the local hot spring water, and you’ll feel like a kid again with that bubble gum flavor! I don’t love soda but I did love this drink!

 

Favorite Meal: Kaiseki at Ryokan Kurashiki

There wasn’t one dish that I loved here–it was all of them. The whole 4 hours of this tasting menu experience was made memorable by the exquisite service and talented chefs behind each bite. I shouldn’t be surprised, the Ryokan Kurashiki is known to be one of the most luxurious ryokans in Setouchi! There was no detail overlooked.

Ryokan Kurashiki Kaiseki

The menu is seasonal and since it was late fall, early winter, we enjoyed root vegetables and wild game, as well as locally caught fish. The presentation of each course was mind-blowing. Tiny personal grills allowed us to grill our own meat, individual shabu hot pots and ornate bites displayed in fruits. There was even a wasabi root on the table with a grater so we could grate our own fresh wasabi!

 

….Dishes that I did NOT love:

Just for fun, I wanted to include a few things that I tried that I did not love so much. Every culture is bound to have food that you don’t like (see you later, France’s foie gras) and there are many American dishes that I despise too. But in Japan the list was short. Here are a few.

Kakiwai Miyajima

Fermented Oysters

Miyajima is known for having fresh oysters and you see them in every style. While I don’t go crazy over an oyster, I don’t mind them. However, I found out that I do not like them fermented. We went to a lovely coffeehouse overlooking the slope down to the sea on this magical isle. It was there that I tried their signature fermented oyster. Not only was the visual not appetizing to me, I did not enjoy the taste. I ate it to be polite and of course, for the camera, but to be honest, I did not go back for another bite. Those I was with did like it a lot so clearly it was just a matter of taste.

 

Salt Ice Cream with Red Bean

Salt Ice Cream Red Bean Paste Japan

Ice cream is everything to me so I had to try the popular salt ice cream with red bean paste when we stopped at one of Japan’s roadside food marts (they are incredible by the way!). So the verdict? It definitely looks better than it tastes. This soft serve ice cream is extremely salty–so much so that it was hard to swallow. The slightly sweet red bean paste had little flavor and was an odd textural combo with the ice cream. I didn’t despise it but I definitely didn’t see the appeal, particularly with how much sodium must be in each lick!

 

Calpis Water

Don’t be fooled, this is not water. This opaque, white drink is actually made with milk and lactic acid, so it is fermented milk water. It has a strange, slightly fizzy feel on your tongue and the flavor was not enjoyable in my opinion. I prefer the green teas or sparkling waters that I found at the food marts instead!

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Have you tried any of these before? Tell me what you thought!

 

xo

Kelley

torii gate

Top 5 Adventures in Setouchi, Japan

Japan might be synonymous with gardens, temples, sushi and cherry blossoms, but did you also realize that it is home to a wild variety of adventures? I spent 2 weeks exploring the Setouchi Region in Southwest Japan, which is famous for its breathtaking landscapes so it’s no surprise that outdoor adventures are plentiful here. I had no idea that Japan looked like this! We explored beaches and coasts, clear waters, rugged mountains, sweeping valleys and iconic cities throughout this region, and it is the adventures that stand out to me most. Here is a list of my favorite experiences throughout the region. Note that since Setouchi is all about the Seto Inland Sea, each of these experiences have to do with water in some way.

  1. Kayak the Floating Gate

torii gate

 

You’ve probably seen images of this incredible gate, the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. Itsukushima is a Shinto Shrine and World Heritage Site, and I think it is a marvel unto itself. Built to honor the gods of the sea, it has been a popular place of worship for sea travels ever since the Edo period. This outdoor shrine is located on the shores of the sacred Miyajima Island, constructed near and even in the water. But this particular torii gate might be one of Japan’s most iconic images. The gate is built right on the water so during high tide, when the water surrounds it, it appears to be floating. High tide is the perfect time to see it up close, by kayaking!

Itsukushima Shrine

We rented kayaks from a small shop, right in the center of town. They helped us bring the kayaks out to the shore and provided a guide to help us paddle and navigate the two-seater kayaks. It was helpful to have help paddling since I had to stop a few times to take photos! I couldn’t believe how stunning the gate was as we passed through it. The vermillion color, the ornate carvings and the striking backdrop is even more tremendous when you experience it on the water. I will cherish the photos I took of this kayak adventure forever.

 

2. Fly in a Seaplane

Setouchi Seaplanes flight seaplane

The Seto Inland Sea is home to thousands of islands and it is probably the most dramatic part of this entire region. To take in the breadth of the sea as well as the beauty of the terrain, a seaplane gives you an incomparable perspective.

Setouchi Seaplanes

I couldn’t recommend Setouchi Seaplanes more. This company has an ultra hip, ultra modern checkin counter and lounge, complete with complimentary drinks and snacks. Check out their cute selection of souvenirs from their gift shop.

From there, you are guided onto the dock for a quick security check and then onto the seaplane. With one seat on either side, and 3 rows behind the pilots, our group of 6 had plenty of room. There are two amphibious aircraft available and I was excited that we flew in the bright red and green “L’ala Rossa.” As we took off from the water, it was exhilarating to see the islands, roads, and bridges get smaller and smaller. What I didn’t expect was how photogenic the landscape would be from this angle. I was captivated by the glittering sea, the uninhabited islands and the miniscule speeding boats as are we soared for 50 minutes. The pilots pointed out highlights along the route and I felt the entire service was very professional and the planes were very well maintained. Let’s not forget, it definitely pumps the adrenaline too!

 

3. Bike the Shimanami Kaido

Shimanami Kaido Biking

With over 37 miles of paved bike paths, it is no wonder that cyclist flock to Setouchi for their biking vacations. Not only are the paths very well constructed, they are extremely scenic as well! We picked up our bike at our homebase, the Hotel Cycle in Onomichi, and from there we biked along the coastal paths. This allowed us to stop at beaches, admire water views, cross some of Setouchi’s many architectural bridges and hop from island to island. We biked to Ikuchijima Island to explore the vivid Kosanji Temple. And if you are hungry, check out the delicious tempura restaurants in town!  

 

4. Cruise the Oboke Gorge

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley Boat

Yet another water adventure can be found away from the Seto Sea, up in the mountains of the Iya Valley on Tokushima Island. Surrounded by what seems to be endless, wooded peaks, this region is already spectacular. But try experiencing it by boat.

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley

We embarked on a sightseeing boat to explore the Oboke Gorge, a crystal clear part of the Yoshinaro River. The cruise was very relaxed and peaceful. It was such a lovely way take in the fresh air and surrounding nature of the Iya Valley. Plus the water is so clear, you are can see wild koi fish splashing about under the hull.

 

5. Cross the Kazura Bridge

Kazura Bridge Iya Valley

You wouldn’t expect a bridge to be an adventure, but this one is! The Kazura Bridge is a hanging rope bridge that spans 50 feet above a river. It is thought to have been built by the samurai that lived in these mountains, who chose to built it out of vines and ropes so they could cut it down in case they were being trailed by attackers.

Standing on the Kazura Bridge

Now it is a picturesque tourist destination for it’s Iya Valley views but also for the bragging rights of crossing it. I am not going to lie, I was a little scared when I stepped on it. I had not expected the vines to be so far apart, making me very aware of the 50 foot drop between each step. The bridge also sways with movement and with the wind, so hold on!

 

The best way to understand these adventures is to see them!

Check out my Adventure video where I dive into all these Setouchi experiences and even more that I didn’t mention! 

Kauai Sheraton Aulii Luau

Top 5 Things to do on Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii and I are in a serious relationship. We just met last spring, when I first landed in Maui with my husband. We spent 10 days roaming her grassy hills, sand swept beaches and lush jungles. Eager to return and explore more of Hawaii’s shores, I returned to Oahu, just a few months later. This time I was on a film assignment so it was I was accompanied only by my camera. Together with our rental car, we saw all ends of the most populated island–from Waikiki to Kailua to the North Shore.

Maui sunset

Just recently,  exactly one year from my first trip to these paradisiacal islands, I flew back to Hawaii yet again. This time I was visting Kauai. What made it even more special was my mom was joining me. I couldn’t wait for her to experience the state that I loved so much. An added bonus was that since I am pregnant, this was a little mother/daughter babymoon!

Babymoon in Kauai

I’d heard all the rumors that Kauai was “the best” and I assumed that there was a reason that this verdant island was the top pick for honeymooners. But I thoroughly loved Maui and Oahu, both for different reasons; how could Kauai really compete?

From the moment I stepped outside of Kauai’s Lihue airport, I felt a big difference in just the air! The air was fragrant and more humid than other islands. As we drove to the South Shore for our stay at Ko’a Kea Resort, we passed through many lush landscapes which could have been out of Jurassic Park (it was filmed here after all!).

Koa Kea Resort Kauai pool

Our resort was a stylish boutique and it was small–which I loved. It felt totally laid-back and manageable–not a huge box style hotel. Poipu Beach was calm, clean with a good amount of sunseekers, but it not packed to the gills. There was even room for the seals that nap on the beach just about every afternoon.

Driving on Kauai

To me, Kauai is the more rugged, natural and chill version of the other islands. I’d maybe describe it as the hippie little sister with a lot of wild beauty and spiritual depth. In just 6 days, my mom and I put over 1000 miles on our car so it’s safe to say, we covered a lot of ground. However since my mom and I were not in a condition to hike, we limited activities to those accessible by easy walks, drives or boat rides. The following were the five highlights of our trip that I’d recommend to everyone–suitable for all ages and abilities. And next time I return, I plan to embark on some epic hikes, cruise the rivers on kayaks and take to the skies by helicopter.

 

  1. Snorkel with Seals 

Underwater snorkeling Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach is located in the sunny south of the island, which has the least rainfall on the island and thus the best conditions for snorkeling. It also helps that the waves are generally mild, making it family friendly and easy to see the world that is brimming with life just under the water.

Seals on Poipu Beach

I was staying just steps away from this beach at the Ko’a Kea Resort, so it made it easy to head out there each morning when the water was at its glassiest. To my surprise, the schools of brightly colored schools were just steps from the shore. I was barely standing in 4 feet of water and all I had to do was look down to see hundreds of multi hued fish! To be immersed in the marine life, snorkel between the shore and the small island off of the beach. But definitely try to get there early as many tourists know about this spot as well.

Since the seals seem to love to sunbathe on this beach, you might get lucky and be in the water as they pass by. These graceful creatures are still wild and respect them by giving them their space. If one comes near you, don’t try to touch it or swim near them. We are the outsiders in their home so we need to be good guests.

 

  1. Experience a traditional Hawaiian Luau

Aulii Luau Kauai

I love how Hawaii’s history, traditions and stories are still such a strong part of the islands today. The vibrant culture unlike any other state in the USA, let alone any other place in the world. It is so special to see how it is still alive and I think one of the best ways for mainlanders to understand it is through a luau.

Aulii Luau Sheraton Kauai

It was our first night on Kauai, we were lucky enough to attend the Aulii Luau on the South shore. My mom was giddy –this would be her first luau ever and she’d always wanted to experience one. The outdoor party was taking place at the Sheraton Kauai, just steps from their pink sand beach, in a prime spot for one of Poipu’s signature sunsets. The gold, pink, purple and orange of the sunset was just the opening act for a memorable, Hawaiian evening.

Sunset at the Aulii Luau Kauai

We had Premier seating, which allows you reserved seats at one of the front tables. General seating is at one of the long tables further back and it is first come, first served.  I recommend the Premier if you are most interested in dancing. You might be the farthest from the food, but you are closest to the stage and thus can appreciate all the details, especially the expressions on the dancers’ faces!

Kalua Pork Buffet Aulii Luau Kauai

The buffet dinner included a lot of fresh, local dishes and Hawaiian specialities. I tried the purple poi for the first time and enjoyed the kalua pig. Following the meal, there is a whole dessert table. The pineapple upside down cake was the winner there for me! We had to walk to get our own drinks which included mai tais, blue Hawaiian’s and beer and wine options. As I was pregnant, I did not indulge but my mom enjoyed a mai tai and the white wine.

But not surprisingly, the show itself was the best part. The talented dancers gave skilled, emotional performances, each one very different from the one before. The bright and wild, costumes and the tiki stage design was a sensory overload. I particularly loved the coed performance with the grass skirts. And of course, the fire dancer brought the audience to gasps, oohs and ahhs. What a way to spend our first night in Kauai!

 

  1. Cruise the Na Pali Coast by Boat

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo

This might be one of the most well-known areas of the island but no one lives here and there are no roads. The 15 miles of coastline is nature at its most beautiful. Sheer, jagged cliffs, soaring mountains and rocky coves meet the swells of the sea along this magical stretch. It is no wonder that it is such a sacred part in Hawaiian legend.

We chose to explore the coastline by boat. We embarked with Holo Holo Boat Tours, a highly rated  boat tour company that operated out of nearby Port Allen harbor. Our vessel was a 65 foot power catamaran– the island’s fastest tour boat. It was very spacious and had plenty of spaces to sit, which came in handy on this 4 hour tour.

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo Charter

The route was up to the coastline and then back, but along the way, we had quite a surprise show. Whales were jumping out of the water, slapping the surface and diving down deep, showing off their tales. I have been on whale watches before I’d never seen so many whales, so close!

Na Pali Coast tour with Holo Holo

Once we made it to Na Pali, the boat slowed down so we could fully appreciate the drama of this place. Our captain told us more about the landscape, pointing out sites of importance for the Hawaiians and even spotting a sea turtle swimming in a cave. As we cruised back down, the sun was setting and an onboard dinner was served–chips, guacamole, cheese and crackers and some delicious kalua pork tacos. This was a memorable way to spend an afternoon on Kauai and we were happy to have sailed with Holo Holo. Just note, it is a bumpy ride so be prepared for a roller coaster style ride and to get wet!

 

  1. Wake up with Waterfalls and Breakfast Bowls

Acai Bowl Kauai

The island has hundreds of waterfalls in its rich jungles, but there are five that are the most well known for their grandeur and convenience. Since we were not hiking on this trip, we chose the easiest one to drive too: Opaeka’a Falls. Located just near the cute town of Kapaa, you drive just off the main Highway 56 to a convenient parking. From here, you can view the falls from above. The 151 foot falls are 40 miles wide and lovely for a photo opp.

Opaekaa Falls Kauai

After, make sure to stop for breakfast or lunch in Kapaa. I strongly recommend the salads and coffee at the trendy Java Kai. Or if you want a cute back patio vibe with banana trees and chickens running around, EatHealthy Cafe was as delicious as it was adorable. My coconut bowl there was very memorable but their entire vegan menu looked great.

EatHealthy Cafe Kauai

 

  1. Explore the North Shore

Hanalei Bay North Shore Kauai

We stayed on the South Shore, but I had to check out the legendary North Shore of Kauai. My mom and I drove up early on a Saturday, knowing that it’ll take over an hour and it did! We headed to the town of Hanalei, nestled at the foot of vibrant green mountains and next to the surfer’s paradise of Hanalei Bay. The town had a laid-back, slightly touristy vibe, with charming shops, cafes and restaurants. We snagged a few t-shirts and some coffee before settling on a food truck for picnic lunch to go.

Fresh Bite Kauai Hanalei

Don’t be fooled, the Hanalei food trucks are excellent and we loved Fresh Bite, which served up locally grown greens and organic meats in their salads, sandwiches and poi bowls. I highly recommend grabbing your lunch to go so you can enjoy it on the sand of one of the nearby beaches. (Need more info on the food trucks? Go here.)

Mai Tai at the St Regis Princeville

After your beach day, check out a hotel icon and have drinks at the St. Regis Princeville. We were hit with a sudden rainstorm, a common occurrence on this side of the island, but that didn’t dampen our outdoor happy hour! We had a dry seat overlooking the bay and were delighted to witness a complimentary Hawaiian song and champagne sabering just before sunset.

Happy Hour at St Regis Princeville Kauai

 

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Kauai is a stunning island and for us, it was restorative, natural and just uplifting. It has an overall ambiance that is very positive if you are open to it. For a babymoon and a mother/daughter trip, it was PERFECT. But I would recommend it to all sorts of groups of friends, families, couples and adventurers! If you have any tips, please let me know for my next trip!

 

xo

Kelley

Kelley Ferro Los Angeles Travel & Adventure

Speaking at the LA Travel & Adventure Show: Where to Go NOW!

This past weekend travel lovers descended on Downtown Los Angeles for two days of world exploring without leaving the convention center. The Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show attracted hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees, the show was bustling and energy levels were high. I totally can understand it–I get excited when I’m planning my next trip too!

 

Both Saturday and Sunday offered a full schedule of speakers, and each gave compelling and useful travel advice based on their own expertise. I enjoyed learning how to better take advantage of my travel points from Brian Kelly of The Points Guy, and of course, learning about travel trends from Pauline Frommer. Other notable speakers were Rick Steves, Samantha Brown and good friends Juliana Broste, Sarah Dandashy and Angel Castellanos.

I was very honored to be asked to lead a session of my own and I was eager to share the top destinations to visit now. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been able to experience many so many incredible, life-changing places all over our world, many of which I’d love to return too. But recounting my favorite experiences wouldn’t be helpful since I find that to be so subjective. My impression of a city would be affected if it were rainy, if I was tired, if my travel companion was cranky, if we were hangry, if we didn’t have a guide… and none of those situations are the fault of the destination! So instead, I took a step back and looked analytically at the 69 countries and hundreds of cities that have impacted me and determined where I think the average traveler should visit SOON.

Certain places are enduring and there’s less of a rush to see them right now. But some may be drastically changed in the next few years and discussed ten locations and types of trips that I think are important to take within the next year or two.

Here I’ll give you a few highlights of where I recommend and why. Note: this presentation was given at the LOS ANGELES Travel & Adventure show so it is focused on the LA based traveler.

 

  1. Eco Friendly Safari

Singita Castleton South AfricaWhy? Your dollars can go to wildlife conservation, land preservation and community development in safari destinations.

 

How? You need to do your research to find camps, lodges and tour operators that are sustainable, responsible and give back to the community.

 

Suggestion: Check out “Africa’s Finest” listing here.

 

  1. EgyptEgypt Giza Camel

Why? The definition of “life changing” and it is safer now than it has been in recent years. The State Department has it at a Leve 2 and it is recommened to “exercise caution.”

 

How? Go with a trusted tour operator.

 

Suggestion: I went with Abercrombie & Kent and not only are they very luxurious, they employ over 300 local Egyptians so their ground operations are on point! They will keep you safe and their guides are excellent.

Watch this video to see why I loved the local guides and traveling with Abercrombie & Kent. 

 

  1. China

Suzhou China Wanjing Garden

Why? With the largest population in the world, China has and will have an ever increasing global impact. Also, with better travel infrastructure, it is now easier to see places outside of the well known, touristy spots.

 

How? Fly to Shanghai for the modern side of China. Get adjusted to the time change, then hop on a 30 minute bullet train to Suzhou for a transporting experience back in time. Suzhou was the capital of culture thousands of years ago and this well preserved, canal city is the ancient China that you imagine.

Check out what Suzhou really looks like in this video!

 

  1. Japan

Itsukushima Shrine Setouchi Japan

Why? With the 2020 Summer Olympics on the horizon, there’s a palpable energy in the country that is about to put itself on display.

 

How? Fly to Tokyo then take a high speed train to see the countryside. I’d suggest going South to the Setouchi region if you want to taste great food (soba, sake & kobe beef), sleep in ancient farmhouses and experience old Japan by visiting their well preserved historical towns like Kurashiki. There’s also so many water adventures, beaches and bike paths!

 

  1. Croatia

Brac Croatia Boats

Why? It is still on the kuna, the local Croatian currency, but this is expected to change by 2020. With rolling hills, incredible islands, historical cities and breathtaking coastline, this truly is some of the best of Europe on a budget!

 

How? I’d recommend looking into Istria, the region that borders Italy if you like food and wine. If you are interested in the beaches and coastal cities, small ship cruises and even charters are a wonderful way to experience Croatia.

 

Suggestion: I also thoroughly recommend a bike tour as the landscape is stunning by bike!

Watch my bike tour experience in Croatia with VBT.

 

  1. Mediterranean Cruise

Viking Star Monaco Cruise

Why? You can see some of Europe’s most famous locations on a budget! It’s great for multi-generational travel too–from children to grandparents!

 

How? Look into the itineraries and be mindful of the distance between ports. If you want to maximize your time on land, opt for itineraries that have shorter travel distances.


Suggestion: If you want some exceptional cruise lines in the Med, check out: MSC Cruises, Viking Ocean, Crystal Cruises and Silversea.

 

I recently sailed on the Viking Star and had a fantastic time! You can see the ship and our ports here.

 

  1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Sunrise

Why? This world wonder is NOT overrated. It is beyond belief to see it in person, and up until recently, there were very little restrictions. Now, new regulations actually allow in 2000 more visitors per day so this iconic location might change…

How? Fly into Cusco and enjoy this vibrant city and its history as you get used to the altitude. Get up EARLY to take the first bus up to the site. You won’t regret exploring without the hordes of tourists and your photos will be better too!

Suggestion: Hike up the peak across from Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu for a unique vantage point on the city.

See how we explored Machu Picchu & our Shaman experience here.

 

  1. Mexico

Zihuatanejo La Ropa Beach

Why? It is a quick flight for us LA folks and it is a world away!

Plus, in light of the recent earthquakes, Mexico City is depending on tourism income to help rebuild the city. Spend your travel dollars to impact change! And your money will go far since now there are deep discounts at many high end hotels.

 

How? Check out Mexico City and a plan a trip outside of the very hot summer season. Need a beach getaway? Check out Zihuatanejo or Sayulita for laidback, bohemian vibes and more authenticity than some of Mexico’s more famous beach towns. Zihua even has a direct airport!

You can take a peek at Zihua in this local guide video that I made!

 

  1. The Immersion Trip

Maui Road to Hana Coco Glen's

Why? This one is the easiest to put off as it is less about checking off an itinerary and more about finding a local community and staying put. The goal of this trip is to LIVE in a place, versus just seeing it.

How? Use Airbnb or a similar home rental site to book a home for at least a week. Go to local markets to pick up food to cook, establish a routine based on where the locals go and talk to people!

Suggestion: Hawaii is a great option for an immersion trip. As a US state it offers so many little comforts like same currency, cell phone service and Uber. Also, it is one of my favorite tropical destinations in the world, and for the West Coast, it is not too far!

 

  1. The Road Trip

Joshua Tree Cowboy Town

Why? It is too easy not to take this trip! Weekends are perfect for a quick getaway–even a day trip!

For those based in LA, we have way too many amazing options not to take advantage.

 

How? In LA, you can go to beach towns along the coast, camp in the desert, ski in the mountains and hike in hills, all within a couple hours or less. If you don’t feel like driving, check out Amtrak to see nearby stops and enjoy a car-free escape.

Another idea is to rent a JUCY Campervan and drive to any scenic destination you’d like! We took ours to Big Sur, California. See the Big Sur Road Trip experience here. 

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Where do you want to go now? I’d love to hear where has caught your eye. Leave comments below.

 

Happy Travels,

Kelley