Travel: Oahu, Hawaii

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I’ve been chasing summer this whole year, and December is no different. About a month ago, I got a cheap flight alert - PDX to Honolulu round trip for just $280. I sent a screenshot to my friends Candace and Dillon, and we were all kinda like… wow, what if we just booked that and went to Hawaii? So we did.

I haven’t been back to Hawaii since I was about 12, when I went to Kaua’i with my family. I remember playing with geckos in the beach house we stayed at, watching the summer olympics and eating shave ice with my dad, attending a local luau and best of all, snorkeling. That Hawaii trip was a total highlight of my childhood, and it made me so excited for this trip! I was wondering how Oahu would be different, and what kind of experiences Hawaii had to offer for no-longer-kids.

Where To Stay:
For the first 4 nights of our trip, we got an Airbnb on Waikiki Beach. It was super cheap and the location was incredible - a 5 min walk down to the ocean, right next to tons of amazing food spots and the main strip of shops there. However, the Airbnb property itself was kinda underwhelming. It was fine, but I think we only put up with it because we were gone all day every day.

The last day we were in Honolulu, Dillon had left so Candace and I decided to splurge a lil and ditched the Airbnb for the Surfjack Hotel + Swim Club down the street from our first place. We found this place on IG and it looked SO cute! The rooms were amazing and it’s got a chic little bungalow type pool area, plus a trendy coffee shop called Olive + Oliver and upscale restaurant, Mahina and Suns, on site. I also loved that they bring in local artists and musicians every day to sell their work or provide entertainment. It really gives that Hawaiian vibe and I love seeing larger businesses support their community.

Some other lovely hotels in the area are the Laylow, the Modern Honolulu, the Alohilani, the Mariott Waikiki Beach, and the Royal Hawaiian. Hotels in this area honestly are not cheap (why we went with an Airbnb for a few nights) - the best deals we saw were definitely for the Surfjack and the Modern on HotelTonight.

Shameless plug, but if you use code “NEDANAN” on HotelTonight, it saves you $25 off your first booking. No, this isn’t sponsored, I wish it was haha. Just a little traveler tip, since some of the best deals are on there!

What To See:
There is SO much to do on Oahu. Although we did quite a bit of baking on the beach, we made an effort to see as much of the island as possible. The first day there, we hung out on Waikiki Beach, wandered around trying some of the local food spots near our place, and seeing what was cool for photos. The second day, we checked out Hanauma Bay on recommendation of an Uber driver and we were not disappointed! The nature preserve there is stunning and really popular for snorkeling because of all the reef wildlife, and it was probably one of my fave beaches we went to.

Dillon also got up at 5 am and hiked every morning. He did Koko Head, Diamond Head, and Waimea Falls! I was not a part of these hikes but I support his athleticism lol. The photos were amazing, and if hiking is something you’re into, Oahu has tons of good ones.

We rented a car and drove up to the North Shore the next day, stopping along the way at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. This is a must-see! The views here are just breathtaking, and you can get that iconic middle-of-the-road IG photo (although there are literally signs everywhere saying no photos on the road, so don’t get caught!). These botanical gardens are home to thousands of rare tropical plants and trees exclusive to Hawaii, and they’re surrounded by this gorgeous mountain range.

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Once on the North Shore, we beach-hopped and ate everything in sight. For beaches there, we stopped by Laniakea Beach to see the turtles (we saw some in the water but an annoying tourist in, you guessed it, cargo shorts, scared them away), and then laid out and spent our day at Kawela Bay Beach Park. The beaches here are so serene and quiet, definitely a welcome change from the bustle of Honolulu. Besides us, the only other people around really were surfers.

For breakfast we got açai bowls at Sunrise Shack, which is a cute lil spot in Haleiwa - really popular with the surfers. After the beach, we did açai bowls literally again at Haleiwa Bowls, which was better in my opinion! We also got the famous fresh poke bowls at the grocery store Foodland for the drive home.

Where To Eat:
I already mentioned some of our favorite picks from the North Shore and the restaurant in our hotel, but there was no shortage of amazing food in Honolulu. Arvo is a cute little Aussie coffee shop in the art district area, serving up lavender lattes, charcoal lattes, matcha and the like, as well as avo toast, smoked salmon toast, and any number of cute breakfasty items with a floral accent. Absolutely loved the food and coffee here - I wish we went back! It’s also in a cute shopping center with other local businesses like a boba shop, a florist, and a vintage Hawaiian shirt retailer.

Maguro Spot is an unsuspecting hole-in-the-wall poke restaurant that you can NOT miss. The poke here was insane - the type of fresh that melts in your mouth! We found it from it’s rave reviews on Yelp. Across the street is Musubi Iyasume Cafe, which was the best spam musubi I’ve had in a long time - again, crazy good Yelp reviews led us here. Aloha Kitchen is a lovely little breakfast spot with an island twist on traditional diner items - think Kahlua pork benedict and coconut souffle pancakes. Island Vintage Coffee - get the honey latte and the lilikoi açai bowl here! - was also a great breakfast/lunch stop and reminded me of Urth Caffe :) Rainbow Drive-In was the best traditional Hawaiian food we found. Love some good old fashioned shoyu chicken with 2 scoops of rice and creamy mac salad.

Also, if you’re looking for a chic bar, check out the Laylow’s outdoor bar Hideout Waikiki - super cute drinks and great service.

This trip was such a welcome vacation from all the work I’ve been doing and the stress I’ve been under lately. Sometimes you really just need to convince your best friends to go to Hawaii with you and take photos and veg out on the beach. Ugh, I can’t wait to go back.

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Travel: Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is one of those places I never thought I’d end up going. It’s a small, landlocked country in Southeast Asia that’s almost completely jungle. When I got the opportunity to go to Luang Prabang and shoot at an ethical elephant sanctuary, I jumped at the chance, even though I hardly knew where I was going. Truth is, I love traveling - I’ll go anywhere. I want to see things and eat new food and experience different cultures. I was so pleasantly surprised by my experience in Luang Prabang. Not only was the nature completely stunning and the people are so wonderful, but Lao food is now some of my favorite cuisine! So glad I took this opportunity.

Where To Stay:
Luang Prabang is not the capital of Laos (that would be Vientiane) so it’s definitely a smaller city vibe. That being said, there are still great accommodation options for tourists and visitors. The hotel we stayed at was called Sada Hotel, and I really loved it for several reasons: 1. most of the staff spoke some english which was helpful when asking for directions 2. it’s on a main road so you can walk to markets and restaurants and easily grab tuk-tuks, and 3. the grounds and rooms are so cute! The food at our hotel was also great - we had the complimentary breakfast every day, and got pad thai most of the days we were there for lunch as well.

Nearby there’s also a Sofitel, Villa Maly, and Mekong Riverview Hotel. Beautiful, 5 star hotels in Laos are so inexpensive - I’d recommend splurging and enjoying your time here :)

What To See:

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Our main focus while in Luang Prabang was spending time at MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary, taking photos and getting to know the beautiful elephants they’ve rescued. MandaLao is Laos’ first ethical and observational elephant tour, showing people how they can be close to elephants and learn about them while maintaining respect for these wild animals. Most elephant camps in Laos are ones where riding is the main attraction, which is so harmful to elephants and a brutal process for them to go through. MandaLao really stresses the importance of education on elephant welfare - a tour there includes learning about elephants from an expert, meeting all the elephants and feeding them bananas, and then going for a jungle hike!

Laos is such a vibrant, culturally rich place. When we weren’t at the sanctuary, we spent our time going to the night market, checking out cute shops and restaurants in town, and some of the Buddhist temples. There’s also Mt. Phousi for a quick hike and a stellar view, and Kuang Si Falls for an amazing swimming/hiking spot. I’d honestly recommend just walking around - there’s so much to see at every turn.

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Where To Eat:

pictured above: the noodle soup that changed me forever.

pictured above: the noodle soup that changed me forever.

Normally in this section of my blog post, I’d give you recommendations on some good restaurants to check out. But the thing I discovered about Luang Prabang is that most of the best restaurants were unmarked hole-in-the-wall places we stumbled into by accident. Probably the best meal we had the whole trip is about one block away from Sada Hotel - we walked in and I asked for a menu. The woman said, “No menu. Only one thing. Noodle soup. Ok?”

So I said, “Ok.” and we sat down. When she brought us the noodle soup I quickly realized why it was the only thing on the menu.

The street food in Luang Prabang is also amazing- be sure to try the coconut pancakes. For those ACTUALLY wanting some restaurant recs - we really loved Bouang and Dyen Sabai.

 

Here are some more photos from my time in Luang Prabang!

I hope some of this inspired you to maybe travel to Laos one day. I feel like this country absolutely doesn’t get enough credit - it took my breath away from the moment I landed. The people here are also some of the kindest I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to go back someday and see more of it. If you’ve been to Laos, let me know in the comments!

Freelance Lifestyle + Mental Health

I’m currently at home in Portland for a couple days after a 3 week travel stint and getting ready to leave again on Friday for another one in SE Asia. Life is so so busy lately, and I can’t complain that I’m #BookedtAndBusy but it’s honestly a LOT. The intersection of being a full time freelance photographer and being a full time human being is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. I used to not notice the toll my job took on me, because I do ultimately see myself as living a dream life; I work for myself, I get paid to travel and take photos, I work with the most amazing brands and artists! It honestly is the best, and I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything. But recently, I’ve been paying closer attention to how I feel after overworking myself (as I have these past few months): exhausted, uninspired, drained, somewhat depressed, and most of all, lacking a lot of meaningful connections.

Don’t get me wrong, I have friends, I love being booked, my life is great, etc. But for example, I have a super hard time dating or meeting guys since I’m never in a city for more than week. And I love my friends, but they live all over the place and I only ever see them in short bits here and there (I have constant FOMO). Also, I’m paying rent for a beautiful apartment that’s basically a glorified storage unit since I’m rarely home. Learning to balance these things and take care of myself has been hard, since not many people I know live the same lifestyle I do, and can’t relate. I wanted to make a blog post about this though, for freelancers like myself; photographers, youtubers, bloggers, touring crew members, digital nomads, and anyone else who might be feeling a little lost about how to deal with burnout and balancing your work and social life. Here are some things that have helped me so much!

  1. Exercise + Sleep + Water
    These things seem basic, as they should, but they literally can improve your entire day. When I’m regularly working out (whether it’s at my spin class/gym at home, or a hotel gym on the road) my body feels better and I can literally notice the endorphin rush affecting my mood. Yoga, spin class or a good weightlifting session are my faves. I try to get a workout in every morning when possible, even if it’s quick, to prevent bloating and energize me for the day. And drink so much water!!! Water is life. Clears your skin, flushes toxins, and being well-hydrated combats any coffee/alcohol consumption from ravaging your body too badly.

    Admittedly, I don’t sleep as much as I should when I’m on work trips (sometimes ya girl really do be running on like 4 hrs of sleep for a 14 hr day), but catching up on my zzz’s at home is a sweet recovery and always has me feeling refreshed for whatever the next trip is. When I’m home, I try to get 8-9 hrs.

  2. Put Down Your Phone
    It’s literally SO hard for me to get off my phone. Instagram is like 50% of my job, and Twitter is the only thing that makes me laugh, but taking a break for a few hours, or just cutting down on screen time in general has really improved my mental health so much. I find that when I’m on social media too much, my FOMO really hits because I miss my friends, or I start comparing myself or my life to some random insta-baddie which is just ridiculous. Staring at my own Instagram posts for too long also makes me become critical and hate everything about my work, which is just not a good mindset to have and contributes quickly to periods of burnout. If I want to stare at something, I’ll put on a TV show or read a book for a few hours to chill out and clear my head.

  3. Managing Deadlines and Work
    I normally set “working hours” for myself when I’m home, so I get things done efficiently, but I don’t fall into the freelancer “i’m available 24/7” trap. To-do lists are also amazing and really help keep me on track - I write all of mine out with a pen and paper, because I feel like it makes me remember everything more and plan more efficiently. On a typical in-home work day I write invoices, shoot brand campaigns, and answer emails from 10 to noon, take a break to work out and eat, and go back to editing photos, answering more emails, and doing whatever else needs to be done for my day from about 2 to 6pm. This schedule varies based on if I have booked portrait sessions, errands to run or anything else to do, but it’s pretty standard. After 6 it’s dinner, going on social media, going to events, hanging with friends, or watching Netflix. Remember not to over-commit yourself: saying no is okay!

    Setting time limits is SO important for freelancing. I only recently started doing this because I was overbooking myself to the point that I would have so much to do and not enough time, or I found myself doing all my emails at like 4pm on a Friday. Now my workflow is way more manageable and efficient, and I don’t feel like a crazy person.

  4. Spend Time with Friends
    I always, always, always, make time for my friends. I honestly do get pretty lonely when I’m home by myself or on work trips by myself, so my friends keep me sane! I have 3 distinct friend groups in the places I live and spend the most time, all of which have such a special place in my heart. My Portland friend group is small, but I have probably the best connection with them since I see them IRL the most - we go out to eat a lot, go to events and grab drinks together, and my best friend Candace helps me shoot a lot of my IG photos. My LA friends really “get” my lifestyle and what I do, and they’re always supporting me and letting me crash at their houses when I’m in town, which I appreciate beyond words. We definitely party hard (and we brunch harder), and a lot of my LA friends are models and influencers that I shoot with as well, so us spending time together is super productive. My NYC friends are my closest soulmates but I definitely see them less - maybe 4-5 times a year. However, we have a wildly active group chat that’s thriving 24/7, which keeps us all updated on each other’s lives.

    These moments I have with friends are often kind of fleeting, but it’s so nice to know that wherever I am there are always supportive people in my life that I can text, call and come home and hang out with. The FOMO is definitely real but I have to remind myself that I’m doing what I love and sometimes that means missing some moments - but there will always be more! My friends and I will often schedule vacations together or set aside certain times to hang out, which keeps a great structure so I know it won’t be too long until I see them. I’m also always meeting new people through work and I try really hard to make those connections solid. Drake said no new friends but I’m ignoring that one.

  5. Treat Yo Self
    Last point, and the most important: take care of yourself! Self-care is one of the most grounding things I apply to my everyday. Beyond drinking water and sleeping, think face masks and body scrubs, silk pillowcases, a glass of wine or pint of ice cream, educational podcasts, sitting down to read Cosmo, getting your nails done, a healthy meal, going for a walk and getting some sun. Sometimes I get so lost in my whirlwind of shooting, hours of editing, and feeling like shit after long plane rides that I get out of this routine and just become a messy blob. I’m wired to work and hustle all the time and I also find it REALLY difficult to spend money on myself, but I always have to remember that A) a lot of these things don’t cost much and B) I deserve it! I work hard and taking the time for a treat here and there is absolutely merited.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful to anyone living some weird out of the box life like myself. Even if you work a 9-5, I feel like these general tips can be applied to anyone’s life! Moral of the story is pay attention to your feelings, and take care of your body + mind cause it’s the only one you have.

Travel: Tulum, Mexico

This past March, my best friend Candace invited me to crash her family trip to Tulum for her birthday. Tulum is one of those places I'd always seen on Insta and dreamed of going to, so I was super excited at the chance - and I'd NEVER been to Mexico before (somehow I've been literally around the world and never gone to Mexico wtf). Needless to say, it was so, so magical and everything I'd hoped it would be. I fell in love with Mexico's vibrant culture, nature, and people. This little town is such a hidden gem, and it's truly one of those places everyone needs to visit.

Mermaid vibes at the Grand Cenote in Tulum, Quintana Roo.

Mermaid vibes at the Grand Cenote in Tulum, Quintana Roo.

One of the many cute little corners of Tulum.

One of the many cute little corners of Tulum.

Getting There:
I booked my ticket through Delta - the flight was Portland to LA to Cancun. Simple enough, and it was only $495 round trip (actually it was free for me cause ya girl had some Delta credit stacked up, but even if I'd paid for it, that's a steal for an international flight that far). It took about a day to get to Cancun, and once I got there we spent the night at a cute little hotel in the center of the city before venturing to Tulum the next day. 

To get to Tulum from Cancun, there's a 2 hour bus ride which you can take from the Cancun Bus Terminal (or, from the airport, as we later learned). It cost roughly $20 USD, and the bus was pretty nice, air conditioned, and was full of tourists just like us. The buses are scheduled the same time every day, so you can also buy advance tickets for your return back to Cancun.

Where To Stay
There are two main options when booking accommodations in Tulum - the beach, of course, and a new development called Aldea Zama. While the beach is ideal for relaxing and taking instas, most of the beachfront hotels do not have wifi and cost an arm and a leg. Aldea Zama however, is right down the street from the beach (it was roughly a 10 min drive every day), and all of these hotels are fancy AF apartment-style hotel suites with wifi, A/C, and private pools and they're way cheaper than beachfront accommodations. We stayed in an awesome hotel slash apartment-building-for-traveling-artists called Arthouse Tulum and it was literally one of my favorite hotels of all time. Gorgeously decorated, spacious, full of quirky art, and there was a whole jungle behind the hotel with a secret path to a giant hot tub and a massage/spa area. All of the staff working in our hotel spoke great English as well, and were able to give us recommendations and directions to tons of places.

Some popular beach hotels to consider are Azulik Tulum, Be Tulum, Una Vida Tulum and Nest Tulum. Again, these are always a little more spendy, but if you're looking to have a luxurious beach vacay nothing beats Tulum beaches. These are also way closer to the popular food spots and little markets. Some of the great hotels in the Aldea Zama area are Prana, KASA, and of course my number one recommendation, Arthouse!

What To See:
Most people go to Tulum to take a relaxing beach vacay, but since we're photographers, Candace and I planned out a whole ass itinerary of everything we wanted to see/do/shoot every day. We planned one activity for each day, and spent the rest of the day chilling at the beach or the hot tub at our hotel! One day we went swimming in the Grand Cenote, the next day we visited Ruinas De Mayas, the next day we wandered down the beach street and took a peek into Casa Malca, and the next day we beach-bar-hopped between some of the hottest spots in Tulum. Definitely recommend the cenotes - they're basically semi-exposed caves filled with fresh water. Amazing for swimming, seeing wildlife (there were BATS) and taking photos. Pro tip: go early to beat the afternoon rush! The ruins were also amazing - it's the remains of a Mayan city on a cliff overlooking the beach. I'd never seen anything like it! Again, going early is key here too because it does get super packed.

The classic Matcha Mama photo op!

The classic Matcha Mama photo op!


Where To Eat:
There's so much amazing local cuisine in Tulum. Almost everything is traditional Mexican with a bit of tropical/seafood flair. I had the best fish burrito of literally my entire 23 year long life at Burrito Amor. We got breakfast at both Matcha Mama and Raw Love Tulum, which are both acai bowl joints that cater to the plant-based nature of the food in Tulum. Both places are great but I definitely liked Matcha Mama better and they have the cutest outdoor seating space for photo ops. Candace had her birthday dinner at Gitano, which is one of Tulum's most upscale restaurants actually owned by two New Yorkers. The atmosphere is amazing (come before sunset for those fire IG pics) and the food was to die for - we had fresh tuna tostadas, shrimp ceviche, grilled avocados, pulled pork and local vegetables, guava cheesecake, etc. Some other places we loved were Mateo's Mexican Grill (touristy, but their happy hour is LIT and the food is so good), El Pez Nativo (stumbled across this place on a day where everything else was closed, we had lobster tacos that changed us as people), and El Sudaca (empanada stand with the most wonderful staff and some fire empanadas). 

Beach Club Hacks:
Beach areas in Tulum are kind of sectioned off by the hotels and restaurants that line the coast. At some hotels, only guests can access their portion of the beach, but there are several hotels that will just charge a small fee or ask you to buy a drink each hour you stay at their beach. A lot of the inland hotels also have deals with beach clubs though that let their guests go to a certain one for free, so be sure to ask about that at your hotel. Arthouse had a deal with a beachfront restaurant and juice bar called Posada Margherita, so we spent a lot of time lounging in the cabanas there since it was free! Our other fave was Coco Tulum - the drinks and food were bomb and it was such an instagrammable beach. See below for beach club photos :)

Hope these tips inspire some of you guys to travel to Tulum or the surrounding area in Quintana Roo! Seriously one of the best vacation spots. I also felt incredibly safe as an American woman, and we had literally no issues regarding language barriers or cultural situations. The locals in Tulum are so nice and really helpful to tourists, so don't be afraid to ask your cab driver or server for recommendations. :)

Girl Power! x UBER

Growing up, I had some awesome female role models. My mom, teachers, professors, friends and un-problematic celebrities instilled in me not only the idea that women can do anything, but also how to live with positivity and kindness in a way that leads to success. I try to be the best role model I can myself - young girls interested in photography always tell me that I inspire them on the daily, and that warms my heart! I've talked about this countless times, but the way women are STILL marginalized in so many industries can be super unfair and discouraging, especially for girls trying to get their foot in the door. The world could use more positive female icons right now, and lifting up the women in your community is the first step to making that change.

As someone who uses Uber multiple times a day, I'm stoked to know about the internal initiatives, such as Women of Uber and UberHUE, they have instituted to help bolster the careers of underrepresented voices within the company. Their advocacy for the advancement of women and people of color is cool, because the values behind it align with my own and shows me that they also care about people like me. Inclusivity and empowerment is something we should all strive for. 

 

This post was made in partnership with Uber.

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