A Bucket List Adventure Among the Clouds

There’s something whimsical about going on a hot air balloon ride — the massive colorful balloon, the small wicker basket, and that weightless feeling as you soar high above the ground — it all feels so playful and dreamy, and ever since I attended my first festival as a young girl I’ve been fascinated with the idea of floating among the clouds.

The Autumn Aloft Hot-Air Balloon Festival is held each fall at one of my favorite mountain locations in Utah and when I first learned about the event my excitement could barely be contained. I immediately added the festival to my calendar and I couldn’t wait to spend my Sunday morning watching those giant, colorful, hot-air balloons launch high into the September sky.

What I didn’t expect was that we’d have the opportunity to fulfill that childhood dream from so long ago.

Hot Air Balloon Festival

Frost covered the ground and I shivered as we walked around the park — next year I need to remember to bring more than just a light hoodie for this early morning mountain activity — and whenever a giant flame was released into one of the hot-air balloons nearby I slowed my pace in order to warm my face and hands with the residual heat emanating from the balloon.

It wasn’t long into our walk that I discovered an incredible opportunity which made me forget all about the way my hands hurt from the cold and the way my face stung from the frigid wind.

Hot Air Balloon Festival

As a line began to form near one of the hot-air balloons, I wandered over to learn what all the excitement was about, and that’s when I discovered an opportunity that had this adrenaline junkie grinning from ear to ear: this hot-air balloon was offering rides for FREE! Without hesitation I scribbled our names onto the ride list — Wait… uhhh, I mean, I first read the entire liability waiver and then added our names to the list. ;-) (Safety first!)

I never imagined that I would cross off a bucket list item that day, and before we knew it the time had come: it was our turn to climb into the wicker basket and prepare for lift off. The sun had risen high into the sky and as they fired up the flame located just above our heads any remaining icicles from our face and hands were instantly dissolved.

Hot Air Balloon

Our first hot-air balloon ride!

While our time in the air wasn’t nearly as long as your typical hot-air balloon ride, it did give us our first experience of weightlessness as we floated higher into the bright blue sky, and I’m already looking forward to another opportunity to climb back into that tiny wicker basket to see where the wind blows.

Hot Air Balloon Festival

Would you go on a hot air balloon ride?

The Month of Aloha

Aloha, lovely readers!

One. I published one measly post during the month of January.

I can’t even begin to fathom how quickly the month of January passed, and I am hoping to get back to a regularly scheduled publishing routine here soon. 2016 has started out a little rough —  even though we spent one-third of the month at one of my favorite places in the World. Don’t get me wrong, our time in Hawaii was fabulous, however, the time before and after our trip has been a little stressful and full of time spent at the hospital, doctors office, or veterinary office — my little family has been strugglin’. Yet, I’m a firm believer that, “You have to sometimes experience the bad to really appreciate the good” and there’s always a whole lot of good around these parts, so we will continue to look at the bright-side. I’m just thankful that January is behind us.

Ah, Hawaii. There’s just something special about those islands in the Pacific, and every time we book a trip, I’m almost more excited than the trip before.

Over the years Hawaii has been a place where I’ve been able to hit the reset button. I’ve spent time dreaming about my passion and planning my future. It’s been a place of healing –emotionally, mentally, and physically — and it’s been a place where my husband and I put aside the stresses of every day life and play without a care in the world. So when my husband pointed out that in a typical year, we spend more time in Hawaii than we do in the town we grew up, it was a little surprising, but also a fact that I’m completely content with (of course the one drawback is that Hawaii doesn’t have my mom or dad :) ) Disclaimer: I unashamedly earn those brownie points for the favorite child at every opportunity. ;-)

So here we are. A new month. Another chance to get it right. And I’m whole-heartedly looking forward to making the most of this Aloha-filled month.


Where is your happy place?

Year Four: A Bucket List Recap

Happy 2016!!

December 16 marked my fourth anniversary of dipping my toes into the travel blog-o-sphere. These last four years went by in the blink of an eye and I love looking back to see how far we’ve come; we’ve experienced more than I could have ever imagined and have met so many incredible people along the way. 48 adventurous months packed with exploring, planning, island hopping, plane catching, scuba diving, personal growth, incredible memories, and much, much more; and while it’s been an eventful four years, I can’t help but feel excitement to think about where we’ll be four years from now.

Four short years ago, we started off this adventure with a travel-heavy schedule as we explored seven different countries, traveled to three U.S. territories, and checked off a handful of bucket list items, including: snorkeling with sharks, traveling to St. Lucia, swimming in Trunk Bay, and attending a football game in Cowboys Stadium.

2012 Collage

Top left (clockwise): Beautiful Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Swimming with Sharks in Nassau; Sailing around St. John for our first anniversary; Lovely St. Lucia; Lucky shot in St. Maarten

In Year Two we checked off another two countries from our never-ending must-visit list--including a visit to my family’s homeland of Norway. I waited 26 years for that adventure and am so grateful that my sweet grandmother and I were able to take this trip together. Cody and I made our annual visit back to our beloved Kauai where we completed two more bucket list items–skydiving and whale watching, and that Fall we celebrated Cody’s birthday with a football game down South.

Clockwise: Exploring a Stave Church in Oslo, Norway; Cheering on the Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia; Enjoying a beautiful morning on Poipu Beach in Kauai

Our trend of “living the Aloha spirit” was in full force during Year Three when we explored three different Hawaiian islands throughout the year. We checked off even more bucket list items as we flew above the Kilauea volcano and its bright orange lava, and went on a manta ray scuba diving adventure. Cody and I have now explored five out of the six main Hawaiian islands–Molokai, we’re coming for you soon :) Though we have a lot of great memories there were also some inevitable lows, and my cancer scare last fall was one of them. However, this scare helped me to put life into perspective and reminded me of our limited time here on Earth. After surgery we gave ourselves a chance to relax, unwind, and to recover on one of our favorite islands in the world. This trip came at a much-needed time and helped me bounce back mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Top Left (clockwise): Having a great time at the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui; Our first flower Leis; An early morning in Kona-on our first visit to the Big Island; Making new friends while volunteering with the Kauai Humane Society

All is not right in the world if a visit to Hawaii is not in our yearly plans at some point, and the beginning of Year Four marked our third visit to beautiful Maui. I’ll never forget our incredible cottage in the middle of the jungle; we loved it so much that I’m already trying to coordinate another stay. Last summer we added another new continent to our travels, and our visit to Southeast Asia was just what we were looking for–an adventureThailand was incredible and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have explored this beautiful corner of the world. While year four was relatively quiet on the travel-front, we were able to check off some personal goals by staying close to home this past fall. We did have plans to explore more of our home state but they fell through, however, that means we are adding these adventures to our plans in 2016 and we couldn’t be more excited.

Top Left (clockwise): The beautiful Road to Hana; Loving our time in Maui; The incredible pool in Koh Samui, Thailand; Celebrating our fourth anniversary in Koh Tao, Thailand

So what’s ahead for year five? Well, Hawaii, of course. :) We are so excited to show off our favorite islands to some of our favorite family members and I’m looking forward to creating memories that we will cherish forever. This spring we’re seeking out adventure close to home with a few different local adventures planned, and we’re welcoming summer by going on an incredible five-year anniversary trip to check off one of my “ultimate” bucket list items. (Can you guess where it is?) If we play our cards right, hopefully in the fall we’ll do some country-hopping, and I’ll be working to complete all of the goals on my 101 in 1001 goals list by September.

Maui Coastline Road to Hana(source)

Another amazing year in the books, and I’m looking forward to another happy year full of adventures with my best friend. Thank you for following along on this adventure! Your comments, insights, recommendations, and active discussion make this whole blogging thing a lot more fun. :) Cheers to an adventurous 2016!


What do you have planned for 2016?

A Traveler’s Christmas List

Last week I re-blogged some of my favorite gift ideas for the frequent traveler in your life, and today I wanted to share a few more items from my personal wish-list this year:

Meet Me Under the Sea shirt
“Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter… Under the Sea…” I am a mermaid at heart, so this shirt is absolutely perfect. I think it will be a great cover-up for the beach.

Meet Me Under the Sea

Pineapple Necklace
Because who doesn’t love dainty necklaces? And this Gold Pineapple necklace has me daydreaming about those bright, sunny, Maui afternoons…

Pineapple Necklace

Inflatable Donut
This gift is definitely on the silly side, but I can tell you that my summer days at the neighborhood pool just got a LOT more interesting. :) I thought about packing this float for Hawaii but then I realized my silhouette could possibly resemble a giant sea turtle to all of the hungry sharks below–so clearly, I won’t be taking this with us.


Mele Kalikimaka
One of the happiest–and most exciting–feelings is knowing that a trip to Hawaii is just a few weeks away. Our Christmas trip tradition began during our first Christmas married. Cody and I decided that instead of spoiling each other with a lot of Christmas gifts, we would save our pennies and enjoy a trip together shortly after Christmas. This year, some of my family members are coming with us and I am overjoyed for the opportunity to show them around two of our favorite places on Earth. Kauai and Maui, the Olsen Ohana is coming for ya!

Heart Rock in Maui

Wishing you a happy Christmas. What is on your Christmas List? :)

The Roundup: Thailand Style

This post marks my last in our fourth anniversary adventure to Thailand. I love that through this blog I feel like I get to go on not one vacation, but two, as I relive the trip (and every excruciating detail) :) here on the blog. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures and found some helpful tips along the way.

It’s time for “The Roundup” which was a series I started last year to recap each destination in our adventures. It includes location tips, lessons learned, and things we will change on our next visit.

I’m notorious for packing too much into our vacations, however, if things don’t go exactly as planned we end up with places and experiences that get bumped to the next vacation. (Which is completely okay by me, because that means we get to go back sometime, right?) :)

For our trip to Thailand I spent an enormous amount of time researching as we were traveling half way around the world, and for the most part, everything went off without a hitch. We explored a famous National Marine Park, witnessed incredible sunsets, searched for whale sharks, pampered ourselves at the spa, checked off another bucket list item,  and found adventure on our fourth anniversary. This trip was full of fond memories, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, hilarious moments, and some spiritual enlightenment, yet (as always) there are a few things that I would change on our next trip.

The Weather

I’ve already mentioned this a few times already but Thailand was HOT! And if we weren’t by the pool or near the ocean, the heat was almost smothering. I was okay with this warm weather but my dear husband prefers it just a tad bit cooler, and while I didn’t know it at the time, one of the hottest months in Thailand is June. Oops! On our next visit to Thailand we’ll try to go in March or April to avoid the extreme heat. (So much for all of my researching, huh?!–You live and learn!)

BoPhut Resort

Andaman Sea

Now that we’ve explored the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, I’d love to spend a week on the Andaman Sea on our next visit. Back in June the coast along the Andaman Sea was soaked in the summer Monsoon, so we chose to skip this location entirely and instead stay on the sunny Gulf side. I’ve heard that the diving is incredible over on the sea, so it’s definitely on my list for “next time.” Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket are all places on my “must-visit” list.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Northern Thailand/Elephant Sanctuary

I planned, and strategized, and contemplated, and did my best to fit in a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary, but in the end we just didn’t have enough time. Looking back, we made the right choice as our trip would have felt rushed any other way, however, on our next trip, I’d love to spend a few days in Northern Thailand before heading to the sunny isles in the South.

Elephant Nature park


Our Favorites:

  • You already know this by now, but we LOVED–absolutely LOVEDour time at BoPhut Resort and Spa. I would recommend this resort to all of my friends and would love an opportunity to go back for a few days of rest and relaxation. While on Koh Samui, I’d look for more diving opportunities around this beautiful island, and I just recently learned about the local brewery and booze tour. (Sign me up!)

BoPhut Resort

  • I don’t think about Thailand without thinking about the incredible water found along its shores; I still daydream about the hypnotizing color and its hot-tub warm temperature. One of our favorite dive shops was located on the tiny island of Koh Tao, and Roctopus Dive made us feel like instant friends. They run an awesome shop, so if you’re looking to get certified in one of the most inexpensive places on Earth look no further than Roctopus Dive.

Roctopus Collage

  • Before we left for Thailand we heard all about the fantastic food–recommendations poured in about certain foods to try, and drinks to sample, and we happily indulged in as much as our bellies would hold.
    Since we’ve been home, Cody and I talk about the delicious Thai food on a weekly, and sometimes nightly, basis. Some of my favorites included the vegetable fried rice, garlic shrimp, and the spicy Green Curry, and Cody loved the Sweet and Sour Chicken, jasmine rice, and vegetable rolls.
    Luckily we have a favorite Thai restaurant here in Salt Lake to minimize our cravings, but it still doesn’t compare to the dishes that we enjoyed on the beach in Thailand. (I mean let’s be honest, everything tastes better on the beach). :)

Dinner on the Beach BoPhut Resort

What did I miss? What else should I add to our next Thailand Adventure?

A Thrill Seeker Limitation: Controversy in Thailand

If you’ve read Pictures and Plane Tickets for a while, then you know that I’m a thrill seeker. Swim with Sharks in the Bahamas? Yes, Please! Jump out of an airplane? Can’t wait for my second time! (just kidding Mom and Dad…) ;-) Cliff Jump? One of my favorite past times. So when I started researching all of the adrenaline-inducing, once-in-a-lifetime activities in Thailand, Riding an Elephant was presented time and time again.

Most of those close to me know that I’m a softie when it comes to animals. Sarah Mclachlan damn near brings me to tears every time I see one of her ASPCA commercials ;-) and over the last two years I’ve been on a personal journey to change my lifestyle towards that of a Pescetarian and hopefully one day, a Vegetarian. With this transformation, I am trying to be more conscientious of the impact that I have on those who cannot speak for themselves, although I am far from perfect. It’s a complete lifestyle change and I’m constantly trying to learn and deepen my understanding in order to make smarter decisions in my daily life.

So, back to that elephant riding thing… when you think about it, riding an elephant sounds fascinating, right? Perched atop a ten ton wild animal as you trot through the jungles and rivers of Thailand… who wouldn’t deem that bucket-list worthy?

Elephant Nature park

As I began researching opportunities to ride an elephant, I found many articles discussing the horrific abuse of elephants in Thailand. As babies, these animals are sometimes stolen from their mothers out in the wild; they are then tortured, abused, starved, and placed in tiny cages and holes in order to mentally “break” the animals so that they will obey. And as someone who is incredibly afraid of small, confined spaces I cannot even imagine the mental anguish they suffer. (If you’re interested in more detailed information, Google: “Riding an Elephant in Thailand” and you’ll find many articles about the abuse).

I asked myself: What is the difference between riding an elephant in Thailand and riding a horse back in the ‘States? Is there a difference?

A few years ago while visiting St. Maarten, I decided to skip a bucket list activity of “Riding a horse on the beach” due to the many reviews about the poor treatment of the animals; however, when I lived in Idaho I rode horses quite often–horses which were well cared for and looked after. For me, it all comes down to the ethical treatment of the animals. And at the end of the day, my love for animals drove me to pursue an alternative to supporting an unregulated tourism industry with so much abuse.

Elephant Nature park

I still dream of interacting with these majestic creatures and on our next visit to Thailand I would love an opportunity to see Elephants up close at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. This park is a rescue and rehabilitation center located in Northern Thailand which offers many volunteer opportunities for those looking to interact with these fascinating creatures.

I guess when it comes to experiencing all that an area has to offer and trying to push the adrenaline junkie limit, I finally found a limit. Not because it was too dangerous or too scary, but because I did not want to contribute to the abuse (perceived or actual). I am not political here on the blog as I like to keep things happy and uplifting, and I completely understand that another traveler may have the opposite stance on this subject. At the end of the day, I realized that while riding an Elephant could be a beautiful experience, this time around it was not for me.

Elephant Nature park

**All photos in the post were found on the Elephant Nature Park website. Go check out this amazing website for yourself.**

How cute is that baby elephant in the last photo?