Alex In Wanderland Working and playing around the world Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:21:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Going Greek: The Allure of Imerovigli Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:30:00 +0000

Greece. It’s just one of those places that calls to me. A few days in Athens and a week cruising the islands with my mama the summer I graduated college didn’t even come close to sating the hunger I’ve always seemed to have for all things Greek. If anything, that perfect tease of a trip only made my desire to return stronger.

So when Heather and I started brainstorming places to recover post-Tomorrowland, and a casual flight search from Brussels to anywhere revealed Athens as the cheapest choice? There was no convincing needed.


While I’d spend just under a month in total traipsing through gorgeous Greece, Heather had a week to spare. And there was only one thing on the agenda for it — recovering from the four nonstop days of festival intensity we’d just put our bodies through.

While I can’t say it was on purpose, serendipity led us to stumbling upon the world’s most perfect place to do it. While Santorini is far from a hidden gem, its two top draws, Oia and Fira get most of the attention — and most of the tourists. So allow me a moment — or a thousand words, give or take — to obsess over the dreamy village I fell in love with, nestled between the two: Imerovigli.

Imerovigli Village

Considering our plans for Santorini involved an extensive rotation of napping, floating in the pool, staring out at the ocean, casually grazing on snacks, more napping, and occasional unconscious meditation (also know, to some, as even more napping), we weren’t going to stray very far from home base. Where to stay was critical.

I had never even heard of Imerovigli when I discovered Hara’s Houses. But the five bright and colorful studios, the charming interconnected balconies, and the poolside caldera views left me swooning. We were sold.

Hara's Houses Santorini

Hara's Houses Santorini

Santorini Crater View

I mean, can we talk about that view for a minute? I was hypnotized, completely. Every morning I’d wake up, blink into consciousness, and suddenly remember where I was. Then I’d rush out of bed and fumble to fling open the door, somewhat skeptical that my memory must be deceiving me about what lay beyond it. But no — there it was, that endless cobalt ocean and that beautiful ancient caldera, just waiting to be dreamily stared at all day long.

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses Santorini

I know much of the travel world had this revelation a few years back, but I am in the midst of a great love affair with renting apartments instead of staying in hotels. As someone who is on the road constantly, it’s such a luxury to stay somewhere that truly feels like a home. But for any traveler, you can’t beat the treat of having a homemade breakfast in bed, making a simple dinner and watching the sunset from your balcony, or being able to keep a bottle or two of white wine chilled for emergency toasting situations.

Five nights? I could have stayed five weeks.

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses Santorini

Hara's Houses Santorini

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses Santorini

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

And actually, the best part of Hara’s Houses can’t be shared through a photo. Even warmer than the light on the cliffs at sunset was the hospitality of the property manager Stamos, who treated us like old friends. When Heather needed antibiotics for a raging sinus infection, he personally drove her to the hospital and stayed with her the entire time, translating and keeping her spirits up.

He refused our money but we paid him back the Santorini way — with a bottle of the finest Vinsanto we could find.

Imerovigli Crater View

We did, in fact, leave the comfortable clutches of Imerovigli a few times, to go diving, to do a grand winery tour, and to take in an infamous Oia sunset — but those adventures will get posts of their own. For the vast majority of our time, however, we could not have been happier kicking around Hara’s Houses, or taking one of the winding knot of paths that makes up Imerovigli, and seeing what surprises awaited us around the corner.

It is possible to walk all the way to either Oia and Fira in opposite directions, never losing sight of the caldera along the way.



Not that we really needed to ever leave the village, technically. Everything we needed was just a white-washed stroll away. Need a massage? We made our way to the neighboring Avaton Resort, where Heather treated us to an indulgent afternoon at the spa.

Avaton Spa, Imerovigli

Kapari Natural Resort

Need a good meal? Imerovigli is home to some of Santorini’s finest restaurants. I had the best meal of my entire month in Greece at Kapari Restaurant, where every single course, backed by one of the most famous sunsets in the world, made me feel like I was losing my actual mind. Heather and I just spent the entire dinner wide eyed, mouths full, gesticulating wildly between our plates and the horizon, unable to speak.

We are excellent dining companions.

Kapari Natural Resort

Kapari Natural Resort

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

My favorite course was an appetizer made entirely from ingredients found on Santorini’s fifty-six square miles. Fava, white eggplant, capers, and lots of love went into those bites. From the homemade bread still warm from the oven to the carmelized banana dessert, we were still talking about this meal on the ferry back to Athens.

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Another favorite was La Maison, which was as hospitable as it was delicious. The waitstaff was sweetly accommodating of our particular dietary needs (I eat meat but no fish, and Heather eats no meat but does eat fish, but only after a ten minute interview on ethical sourcing), they handed out pashminas when it got a bit chilly, and they also had a seriously bumpin’ playlist. When they saw us waving our phones in the air trying to Shazam various songs, they brought over a handwritten list of what had been on rotation.

I can say from personal experience that I highly recommend you come here and order every dessert on the menu.

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Yes, overall, Imerovigli was enchanting. It even inspired Heather, who is a professional photographer and arrived in Europe in the midst of a bit of a creative burnout, to pick up her camera again. And I’m seriously glad she did — look at these beautiful shots she captured!

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

We left Belgium broken after pushing ourselves to the limit in every capacity at Tomorrowland. We crawled our way onto Santorini  — I mean, okay, technically we flew in an airplane but crawling more accurately depicts our mental state — and Imerovigli healed us. It’s a special place, and it captivated me completely.

I think it was the view.

Hara's Houses, Greece

Hara's Houses, Greece

Hara's Houses, Greece

Hara's Houses, Greece

Greece, you got me again.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Hara’s Houses and Kapari Restaurant for their generous hospitality. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 175 Mon, 20 Oct 2014 17:30:00 +0000

Oh hey! Remember me? That blonde blogger who used to post so much you were basically like, shut up already? Ahem. I didn’t really plan to go so radio silent this week, so sorry about that. As usual, I forgot how all consuming it is to travel in a group, and so between that and a few behind-the-scenes projects, I barely eked out this Photo of the Week today!

But it’s been a blast. Since leaving Koh Tao seven days ago, I’ve traveled over a thousand kilometers north through Thailand. I spent a blissful two nights in Koh Samui with an amazing group of friends at the gorgeous Ban Ling Noi villa, a base so gorgeous we never left the grounds, followed by five days of mayhem in Bangkok with another fabulous crew. Today, the herd thinned to just Heather and I, and we’re looking forward to a few days of serenity up here in the north.

I have so many beautiful stories and photos to share with you this week — I’m finally covering Greece, my final stop before Thailand! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these…

Photo A

Ban Ling Noi Koh SamuiThe beautiful grounds of Ban Ling Noi

Photo B

Ban Ling Noi Koh SamuiThis girl knows how to sing

Photo C

U Sukhumvit BangkokOur deliciously modern digs in Bangkok

Photo D

Chatuchak Market BangkokCatching up with my old friend, Chatuchak Market

Photo E

Bangkok Muay ThaiMuay Thai madness in Bangkok’s original stadium

Which photo is your favorite?

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Surviving Tomorrowland Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000

The Survival Series is a resource highlighting my favorite festivals and parties around the world. Previously I’ve featured Burning Man, an epic week-long social experiment in the desert, Sunjam, an intimate annual rave on a deserted Central American island, and The Full Moon Party, Southeast Asia’s most infamous monthly blowout.

I’ve got festival fever, and Tomorrowland was an itch I just had to scratch. Read on for the complete Alex in Wanderland guide to Tomorrowland. This post refers exclusively to the original Belgian event, though there are now sister festivals in the US and Brazil.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland


Tomorrowland is an whimsically over-the-top EDM (that’s Electronic Dance Music, dad) festival. But Tomorrowland is about much more than music — it’s an event that prides itself on user experience and creating an extravagant and eccentric playground for ravers to go down the rabbit hole in.

The year I attended Tomorrowland, 2014, was its tenth year anniversary. As one music blog describes it,

Tomorrowland is bigger, louder, harder and most definitely crazier than any other festival I’ve ever been to. Fireworks synced with the drops of the tracks being played, floating stages in the middle of a lake, dancers dressed as fairytale characters next to the DJs, helicopters dropping flowers over the dancing crowd, soap bubbles in the air everywhere, ferris wheels and poker casinos – Tomorrowland has it all. Source.


Electronic Dance Music devotees, festival fanatics, and whimsy lovers from over 220 countries around the world. A total of 60,000 revelers per day over the three day weekend belies the oft-quoted number of 180,000 tickets sold per year. DreamVille, Tomorrowland’s fantasy land onsite camping and glamping village, holds up to 35,000 people.

How to Get to Tomorrowland


The aptly named town of Boom, Belgium, a small town of about 16,000 about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels. The festival takes over the De Schorre recreation area, a lush park with lakes, beaches, forest, and a natural ampitheater all incorporated into the various stages.


Tomorrowland typically takes place towards the end of July. For the tenth anniversary in 2014, two weekends were held, July 18-20 and July 25-27. In 2015, Tomorrowland will be held over the weekend of July 24-26.

Those camping in DreamVille can arrive on Thursday and leave on Monday, and enjoy an exclusive pre-party on Thursday night known at The Gathering.

Tomorrowland Guide


Tomorrowland is a full scale production with a ticket price (€237.50/$300) to match! Yet overall costs will vary wildly — from those traveling in from other parts of Europe and pitching a tent in general camping to someone flying in from across the world on a full service Global Journey package, the difference could be thousands of dollars.

I wrote a full post on my own personal cost breakdown from Tomorrowland, which totaled around $1,500.

Getting Tickets

Demand for Tomorrowland tickets is ridiculously high. Billboard reports that the 360,000 tickets available for 2014′s two weekends sold out in under an hour.

How I Got Tickets

Personally, I lucked into tickets in a very unexpected way. My Tomorrowland partner-in-crime Heather lives in the Cayman Islands, and on January 31st she received an email telling her that she was one of the first ten people to pre-register in her country, giving her entry into an extremely exclusive International Invites pre-sale designed to ensure the diversity of the festival’s audience. Obviously, not everyone has the benefit of having their festival buddy based out of a small Caribbean island nation. But if you live in a very sparsely populated country, it’s worth it to make sure you’re at your keyboard the moment pre-registration opens. You might just get lucky.

Still, even this was not without hiccups — when we received the link to buy tickets, all the DreamVille choices we were interested in didn’t even show as options. We didn’t know if they were sold out, or perhaps just unavailable for International Invitations. This seemed odd and so we hysterically tried to reach out to customer service for the next twenty four hours, panicking the entire time that we might lose what few options we had entirely. At one point, in response to a detailed, multi-paragraph email, we received the following –  We have received your email and we are working on it. We will contact you and give you further information. Gee thanks! About two days later, magically, the Dream Lodge appeared as an option, and we pressed purchase. That launched a whole other drama to do with Paylogic, the site that processes all ticket orders, rejecting Heather’s various credit cards multiple times. And I’m not even getting into the drama over the fact that Tomorrowland won’t deliver tickets to PO Boxes, which is the only way of receiving mail in the Cayman Islands.

Buying tickets to Tomorrowland? Not for the faint at heart.

Tomorrowland Ticket Orders

How You Can Get Tickets

There is no way to guarantee getting tickets, though Tomorrowland proved their money making genius by arranging ticket sales so that ticket panic would motivate festival hopefuls to spring for the obscenely overpriced Global Journey packages, which include plane or train transfers plus accommodation in either DreamVille or a hotel, and go on sale two weeks prior to general sale.

This was the timeline for 2014′s ticket sales:

January 13: Pre-registration

Feb 1: Global Journey tickets go on sale

Feb 3: International Invites on sale

Feb 8: Belgian Pre-sale tickets go on sale (You must have a Belgian bank account and Belgian home address to be able to order tickets in the Belgian presale.)

Feb 15: General sale tickets go on sale

March 16: Final date to complete personalization (After this date, tickets cannot be transferred or resold except through The Exchange Desk, Tomorrowland’s official outlet for transfer.)

Despite extensive research, I was unable to determine how many tickets were allotted for each of the sales. One thing is for sure — in order to be eligible for Tomorrowland ticket sales you must complete pre-registration. This will give you a unique access code in order to enter the ticket shop when the sale opens. So the steps to getting tickets to Tomorrowland include:

STEP 1: Pre Register

STEP 2: Purchase Tickets — if you are lucky! Up to four tickets may be purchased at a time. Once payment goes through, you will receive a confirmation e-mail. This e-mail is not a ticket — when the personalization process starts, you will receive an e-mail with a special link to personalize your tickets.

STEP 3: Personalize tickets. There is a one month period for personalization — during this month is when the black market for ticket resales will go crazy. Once the final date for personalization has passed, it becomes significantly harder, if not impossible, to transfer tickets.

STEP 4: Receive tickets. Tomorrowland tickets come in the form of color-coded, light-up wristbands. These arrive in the last two weeks of June or beginning of July.

STEP 5: Use tickets! Make sure to bring photo ID matching the name on the tickets.

There are all kinds of crazy theories about how to game the online lottery system in order to ensure tickets. Forums and Facebook groups are bursting with theories about reloading the page, using various IP addresses, and speed testing your connecting before sales start — some super-smarty pants coding geniuses even figured out how to hack into the system during the Belgian pre-sale this year! (The organizers caught on before general sale.) Personally, I wasn’t planning on taking any extraordinary measures other than setting my alarm for an hour before the sale to remind myself to get in front of my laptop.

One thing you can do to prepare? Call your credit card the day before sales let them know you will be making a large international purchase and to decrease the chances they will block the sale.

What if You Don’t Get Tickets?

Exercise extreme caution in buying tickets second hand. Message boards, Facebook groups and ticket resale sites are flooded with Tomorrowland tickets at vastly inflated price, but there are no guarantees of their veracity and plenty of heartbreak scam stories. One site that seems to get consistently good reviews for second hand tickets is Viagogo, though I have no personal experience with them and Tomorrowland maintains they do not recommend using any ticket resale sites. Tomorrowland’s own Exchange Desk is the only officially sanctioned outlet to resell tickets.

Tomorrowland Guide

Getting There

You can reach Boom by car, by train, by Tomorrowland shuttle, or by Global Journey. International travelers will most likely fly into Brussels Airport (airport code BRU).


There are directions (don’t use your GPS!) and paid parking for those who arrive by car — parking vouchers are cheaper to buy ahead online than at the gate. If you’re thinking of driving an RV and bedding down in the parking lot at night, time for Plan B — camping in the lots is strictly forbidden. There are free shuttles from the certain parking lots to and from Tomorrowland.


There are also free shuttles from the Boom train station to and from Tomorrowland and DreamVille. For those staying in DreamVille, extra trains will run to Boom on Thursday, with the last free shuttle bus to DreamVille leaving at the railway station in Boom at 9 pm. On Monday, the free shuttles will be leaving from around 7am to 2pm. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be free shuttles to and from the train station and both DreamVille and Tomorrowland.

Generally we found information about train service to and from Boom to be confusing and often conflicting, even within the official Tomorrowland site. On Sunday, employees at the DreamVille information desk seemed baffled by our question of how to reach Brussels by public transportation the next day. After come coaxing they pulled up the train schedule for us online, which involved at minimum one transfer. You can check schedules and ticket fares here.

Tomorrowland Shuttles

Airport shuttles go to DreamVille from both Brussels’ two airports on Thursday, and return on Monday. Prices are reasonable at €27 or $34 round trip. Be sure your shuttle driver knows where in DreamVille you are staying — we didn’t know to mention we were staying in the Dream Lodge village and were dropped off clear at the opposite end of the campsite, a full forty minute walk away with all our luggage. Whoops! There are also shuttles that run to and from the festival and several cities within Belgium, the Netherlands and France on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. These range between €20-24 per day.

On Monday, we wanted to go to downtown Brussels rather than the airport as we were spending a night in the city decompressing before flying out the next day. When we went to the information desk to find out our options, we were happily surprised that we were quite easily able to sweet talk our way into two Global Journey bracelets, which allowed us to hop on a Brussels station-bound shuttle for those connecting to their Global Journey package trains (despite bold-lettered signs declaring shuttles were strictly for Global Journey guests only!) This made us cheer with joy — our hotel was a five minute taxi from the train station as opposed to the hour it would have taken us to reach it from the airport. While this was a bonus for us, I would love to see Tomorrowland add in DreamVille shuttles on Thursday and Monday to and from Brussels and Antwerp — make it easier to explore the rest of the country, rather than just b-line to the airport!

Global Journey

If you are on a Global Journey package, everything will be arranged for you from door to door. Shuttles will bring you from your flight or train directly to your hotel or to DreamVille. If you are on a hotel package and staying in Brussels, a free shuttle will bring you to and from the festival grounds each day. More on Global Journey below.

Tomorrowland’s guide to how to get to and from the festival is found here.

Tomorrowland 2014

Staying Alive

In comparison to other festivals and events I’ve covered in this series, like Sunjam, The Full Moon Party, and Burning Man, staying literally alive is less of an issue. The festival is highly organized, security and medical teams are at the ready, and the grounds have been heavily rookie-raver-proofed.

However, there are the usual risks of overindulgence and dehydration. All the sinks in the restroom areas have potable water — no signs indicate this, though if you ask at information or security they will concede it, and every single time I made a trip to the toilets there were several people filling up. You will not be able to bring even empty water bottles into the festival and I received mixed reports on whether or not Camelbaks were allowed. Additionally, any water bottles you buy inside the festival will be handed to you with the bottle cap off. So your best bet is to bring a few bottle caps in your pocket, buy a bottle of water, and use the caps you brought to allow you to refill and drink as necessary during the day, cutting down on both costs and plastic.

Drugs are taken fairly seriously at Tomorrowland. Pat downs are par for the course getting through the gate, and there were drug sniffing dogs accompanying the row of stern-faced Belgian police that waited on the other side more than once. “Amnesty bins” at every festival entrance allow for those with a last minute change of heart to dump contraband with no consequences.

DreamVille, on the other hand, is fairly anything goes.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland

Staying Sated

Tomorrowland is known for its culinary highlights from around the globe — you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty at this festival. We enjoyed sampling many food stand specialties throughout the weekend, from Chat Hills Smokehouse pulled pork sandwiches to stir fried Asian noodles. There were also plenty of local treats, from cheap waffles and croquettes to a luxurious “chocolate experience” from Belgian chocolateier Callebaut. Vegetarian and gluten free options are available. Learn more here.

Food and drink are paid for with tokens purchased at special “ATM machines” using cash or credit cards. For more on costs, see my Tomorrowland budget breakdown.

There are three specialty restaurants and one specialty bar at Tomorrowland, each of one requires a reservation and a pre-purchased voucher. Wout Bru is the namesake pop up restaurant of a star Belgian chef with a mainstage view. BEAT features Beats by Dre headphones and a menu matched to the music and atmosphere of the current headliner. And Belgian Steakhouse features — you guessed it! — Belgian steaks. Bubbles with a View is a specialty bar serving full bottles of champagne, accompanied by a bowl of strawberries, with kick-ass mainstage views. Because we didn’t want to be tied down to a special reservation time, and because they sold out fairly quickly, we skipped the specialty restaurants. We did, however, splurge on Bubbles with a View, and it was fabulous!

You can bring unlimited amounts of your own food and drinks into DreamVille, though no glass is permitted — alcohol must be transferred into plastic bottles. Also be aware that ice is not sold on site.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland

On the DJ festival circuit, Tomorrowland is the enigmatic mecca of holy rave magic. Any raver worth his or her untz must make it there at least once, get muddy and praise the bpms. Source.

Alex in Wanderland’s Tomorrowland Tips

Tomorrowland is not easy to prepare for! In comparison to Burning Man, where I felt almost overwhelmed by the amount of helpful tips and planning information available, Tomorrowland was much more of a mystery. Here’s what I wish I had known –

1. Build in Time In Belgium

If you’re traveling internationally to attend Tomorrowland, don’t make the mistake of missing beautiful Belgium outside Boom! For me, Brussels made the perfect base to rest off any travel fatigue in an amazing hotel, stock up on supplies, and see a bit of the country. Civilized highlights like my Brussels chocolate walking tour and day trips to Ghent and Bruges perfectly complemented the hedonism of Tomorrowland.

Regardless of whether or not sightseeing is on the agenda, be sure to plan ahead. There are supermarkets in Boom, but it’s best not to rely on them, as liquor and bottled water will be sold out quickly. The city’s population is 16,000 – Tomorrowland’s population is 60,000 per day. Stock up ahead of time.

Whatever you do, don’t book an early morning flight or train on Monday. If you are staying in DreamVille, getting packed up, checked out and back to Brussels is quite the process. We were so grateful for our extra night in Brussels to get organized, repack, mail home our festival souvenirs, and buy one last round of Belgian chocolate. And don’t assume if you book Global Journey they will choose you an ideal flight time — our Dream Lodge neighbors had to leave at 5am to catch their flights back to Norway, a hassle they had paid a serious premium for!

Tomorrowland Guide

2. Pack Properly

Think carefully about what to bring to Tomorrowland, as you’ll pay a premium for any essentials you forget. Sunscreen and chapstick, (the festival is open from noon to 1am — most of it takes place during daylight!), tokens and a backup credit card or cash, the key to my locker, my camera or iPhone, and bottle caps (all water sold in Tomorrowland is handed over sans cap) made it into the festival with me every day.

For DreamVille, don’t forget earplugs for sleeping or a towel for showering. I made a rookie festival mistake of thinking I’d be comfortable in flip flops during the day. In addition to my rainboots, I wish I’d brought a pair of lightweight day boots, Keds, or other close-toed shoes. Things got messy — and muddy!

Also bring physically printed copies of any and all vouchers (festival tickets, shuttle transfers, Bubbles with a View, exclusive dining experiences, etc.)

3. Download the Tomorrowland App

I don’t know what I would have done without the Tomorrowland App! Available two weeks before festival on Android and iPhone, this beautifully designed app allows you to scroll through timetables, maps, FAQs, and even place your tent on a map of DreamVille should you find yourself lost when stumbling home late at night. Be sure to download the app before you arrive — there’s no wifi at Tomorrowland, and it’s available in only one tucked away corner of DreamVille (which I didn’t visit the entire four days!)

Tomorrowland App

4. Don’t Get Stuck on the Mainstage

I was absolutely shocked when I talked to other festival-goers on Saturday who had barely left the main stage. Tomorrowland is a playground, go explore it! Discover hidden stages, ride the ferris wheel (night and day!), taste test different treats, and go discover new artists you’ve never heard of. While we stuck to the mainstage for the last few hours of each night, some of my favorite moments and sets (namely, Kygo on the BlueFlame stage and Diplo on Mad Decent) happened elsewhere in the festival grounds.

5. Join Facebook Groups

I joined a few Tomorrowland Facebook groups once I started looking into attending, and they were immensely helpful in planning. While they were occasionally flooded with ridiculous memes and posts desperately searching for tickets, there was also plenty of useful information being exchanged and I received answers to some questions that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

6. Protect your Wristband

Be careful with your wristband — the faces (the part with the Tomorrowland logo) fell off easily and unless the wristband would no longer scan, you could not get a replacement. Mine broke the first hour I was at the festival and I was extremely irritated that after all I’d spent to be there, I was expected to walk around all weekend with a broken wristband. Thankfully a sympathetic employee at the Dream Lodges broke protocol and gave me a replacement part from another discarded band. Be careful!

How to Get to Tomorrowland

7. Pace Yourself

On of the things I loved most about staying in DreamVille was the ability to enter the festival as it opened, spend a few hours playing during the day, and then go back to the campsite to relax, regroup, and then get ready to rage again at night. Four nights and three days was the perfect amount of time for this festival — but I don’t think I would have made it had we attempted to stay inside the gates for the full thirteen hours they were open.

8. Get Swept Away

Sure, some of the sentiments are a bit cheesy. Some of the “peace, love, unity and respect” stuff rang a tad hollow and some of the sets seemed a tad manufactured. But the bottom line? Tomorrowland is a blast. Grab a friend, unplug from the world, and enter the technicolor wonderland that is Tomorrowland. Get swept away in the madness.

Tomorrowland 2014

Also in this series: The Cost of TomorrowlandOnce Upon a Time at TomorrowlandDreaming of DreamVille

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Photo of the Week 174: Koh Tao Sun, 12 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000

Where did the past seven weeks go? I can’t believe that tomorrow I’m back on a ferry, waving goodbye to Koh Tao again. However, I have a suspicion the next seventeen days traveling around Thailand are going to fly by. I am really looking forward to the trip ahead, which is going to be filled with friends, favorite old destinations and one very highly anticipated festival. There’s something special about the exotic becoming the familiar, and that’s very much how I feel now — like Koh Tao is home, and I’m taking off on another road trip around my big beloved backyard that is Thailand.

And um, no, those aren’t sentimental tears you guys! I just had some salt water in my eyes from the ocean!

It’s been a beautiful week here on Koh Tao, with moody storms, gorgeous drives through the jungle, more sunset paddleboard sessions, live music at treehouse rasta bars, and one stunningly technicolor beach day.

Photo A

Driving in Koh TaoVisiting a friend’s house up in the hills — love how small my girl Anna looks in the big jungle

Photo B

Beautiful Koh TaoPretty much a postcard paradise, no?

Photo C

Baby Rasta Bar Koh TaoLive music at Baby Rasta Bar

Photo D

Stand Up Paddle Koh TaoSunset with my paddle pals at SUP Koh Tao

Which photo is your favorite?

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Inside My Bag: Packing For Europe Fri, 10 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000

It’s no secret that packing is on the list of my least favorite aspects of travel, ranking somewhere between sleeping in the terminal during overnight layovers and being seated behind a teething infant on twelve hour suspension-free bus rides. Even a weekend trip to Vegas can reduce me to a puddle of packing misery, so imagine what a multiple-month, several-stop, varying climate itinerary could do to me. Or maybe don’t — it’s fairly unflattering.

My summer in Europe consisted of (1) a week in London with plans of hitting the town and predictions of lots and lots of rain, (2) a week in Malta with lots of sunshine and salty swims on the agenda, (3) a week in Belgium to attend Tomorrowland and (4), three and a half weeks in the height of Greece’s steamy summer. I overpacked — I’ve lived with this addiction for so long now, I think I’d be lonely without it — but was overall happy with my choices.

As usual, clothes, shoes, toiletries and accessories went in my Osprey Aether 85L Backpack, while gear and electronics went in my Eagle Creek Afar Backpack. A nice canvas purse “borrowed” from my little sister functioned as my day-to-day travel purse, and my personal item on the plane. My checked bag, the Osprey, varied between 33-37lb (as you’ll see, some stuff got tossed along the way and I made a few small purchases) while my carry-ons combined varied between 26-30lb — camera gear is heavy!

Clothes and Shoes

• 3 dresses + 1 romper (ditched the white dress in Greece after it came back from a laundry with irreparable stains)
• 11 tops + 2 t-shirts (mildly excessive)
• 4 skirts + 3 shorts + 1 pair of jeans
• 4 layering tops (one Lululemon jacket, one light sweater for evenings, one thin long sleeve t-shirt and one shoulder-covering shrug)

• 1 pair leggings + 2 workout shorts + 2 workout tops + 2 sports bras
• 6 bikinis
• 12 pairs underwear + 3 bras
• 3 pairs socks

• …and a full set of packing cubes to keep them all organized! I use two Eagle Creek Pack-It Half Cubes, a Pack-It Specter Cube Set and a Pack-It Specter Compression Cube Set. I would never travel anywhere without them.

Packing for Europe

Packing for Europe

• 1 pair running shoes
• 1 pair fake Keds (these literally fell apart upon arrival in Belgium and were promptly ditched)
• 1 pair dress sandals
• 1 pair flip flops (these cheap ones from Target barely made it through Malta before needing to be replaced — not a good purchase!)
• 1 pair black pumps (debated whether or not to bring these and then never even wore them — I brought them with nights out in London in mind, but it was cold and rainy nearly the entire time and I ended up wearing boots every night)
• 1 pair black boots (debated whether or not to bring these as well and so glad I did — they were a must in both London and Brussels)

Packing for Europe

Diving and Beach Stuff

I knew I’d be diving in Santorini and Malta, which was reason enough to bring my snorkel set but not my full set of dive gear. I also got excited about two new wetsuit purchases and decided I just had to have both with me as well!

• Mask + fins + snorkel 

2mm Billabong wetsuit jacket + Rip Curl G-Bomb Spring Suit

• Sarong

Packing for Europe

Festival Stuff

I mailed myself an entire packing lists’ worth of costumes and camping supplies for Tomorrowland, which was tragically held hostage by Belgium customs — and now it seems is lost forever! Note to self: never mail anything to Europe ever again. From now on, if I can’t carry it with me, it’s not coming.

Packing for Europe

Toiletries and Accessories

For more details on my toiletries, check out my in depth post on the subject (which, granted, is in serious need of an update considering my new solid shampoo obsession, plus other minor changes.)

• Toiletry bag

• Medicine bag

• Jewelry bag

• Makeup bag

• Shower bag

• Sunglasses (a few pairs!)

Sun Bum Continuous Spray Sunscreens + Sun Bum Face Stick + Sun Bum SPF Lip Balm + John Frieda Sheer Blonde Lightening Spray (how I keep my hair blonde, salon-free!) + leave in conditioner (a must for trips involving sun and sea)

• Tote bag

Eagle Creek Packable daypack

• Evening bag (necessary for nicer nights out in London and in Greece)

• 1 Flight001 Go Clean Laundry Bag

• Umbrella (hello, London!)

Packing for Europe

Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo + Lonely Planet Belgium + two novels (I didn’t bother bringing guidebooks for England or Greece as I’ve been to both before)

• Work and travel documents + notebook + backup credit card and cash pouch + calendar

• Wallet + passport

Travel pillow + eyeshade + earplugs

• Headlamp + combination lock + personal alarm

• Clearly Filtered Water Bottle

Packing for Europe

Gear and Electronics

MacBook Pro + charger + laptop sleeve + portable mouse + portable laptop stands + backup hard drive + laptop lock*

• Headphones + headphone splitter

Canon PowerShot S100 + charger + spare battery + leather case + 16 GB memory card + Canon Underwater Housing

Dive Computer

Canon Rebel T2i + charger + 15-85mm lens + 70-300mm Lens + 32 GB Memory Card

Mini Memory Card Reader

• iPhone + charging cord + Lifeproof Waterproof iPhone Case + Mophie Battery iPhone Case + Mophie cord + USB charger + USB car charger (I knew I’d have a rental car and be using map apps heavily in Malta, so this was a must)

• Cheap disposable phone for locals SIM cards + charger (actually didn’t end up using until I reached Southeast Asia)

GoPro + charger and accessories (in white bag) + XShot GoPro Arm*

• UK and Europe adapters

* Lesson learned! I didn’t use either of these items, because I didn’t test them before I left — and they didn’t fit my new laptop/my GoPro edition. Next time I give something precious space in my bag, I’m going to make sure I can actually use it first.

Packing for Europe

Do you find it as challenging as I do to pack for multi-stop trips?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Please note that all Amazon and Eagle Creek links in this post are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from anything you buy at no extra cost to you. I truly appreciate your support in keeping this site running! I was also provided with the following items in this post by the manufacturers: the waterproof iPhone case, the travel pillow, the wetsuit jacket, the water bottle, and the laundry bag.

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How Much Does Tomorrowland Cost? Wed, 08 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000

There’s no denying that this new festival fetish of mine is quite the expensive hobby. But what can I say? I’ll hostel hop for months and play the credit card points game all day if it means that once a year I can splurge on a magical experience like Tomorrowland. While costs will of course vary wildly from person to person, I know that when I’m planning for a big expenditure like a major European music festival, I like to have at least an inkling of what’s coming.

So exactly how much does Tomorrowland cost? Here’s my own personal euro for euro breakdown. I decided not to include flights into the total because first, Tomorrowlanders fly in from over 200 different countries, meaning that figure will be largely irrelevant, and second, I flew in from one European country and out to another and enjoyed a bit of Belgium along the way, as this was part of a much larger trip.



Ticket: €237.50 or $300

Tickets are available in a few different packages. Day passes are 88/$111 each, while a Full Madness pass covering all three days of the festival is €237.50/$300. Comfort passes, which all access to seperate viewing decks, are 165/$208 per day or 437.5/$552 for the Full Madness comfort pass.

The week before the festival we panicked wondering if we should have splurged on comfort passes and tried fruitlessly to find a way to upgrade. In the end I’m so glad we didn’t bother — we never felt we were missing out.

My final Tomorrowland post will cover the most oft-asked question – how to get those damn tickets!

Tomorrowland 2014

DreamVille Camping: 525 or $661

This was, obviously, my biggest expense. We chose to splurge on camping in the Dream Lodges, and it was our best decision of the festival. The cost included four nights. Camping at the Dream Lodges was a such a big part of my enjoyment of Tomorrowland, I can’t imagine my experience had we done another direction.

Dreamville Dream Lodges Tomorrowland

Random Fees: €56 or $70

When it was finally time to check out, there were surprise “service costs” of €8 per person, “payment costs” of  23 per person, and “fulfillment costs” of 25 per person. So in total we paid 56/$70 each in mysterious fees. While the “service costs” fee is clearly stated on the Tomorrowland website, the other two were not — and my emails about them went unanswered. Not thrilled.


Tomorrowland Shuttle: €27 or $34

As Boom is not exactly a booming tourist destination the rest of the year, getting there is not so straightforward (see what I did there?). Taking the train from Brussels or Antwerp involves a transfer, though Tomorrowland does arrange free shuttles from the Boom train station to the festival grounds. As Heather was flying in to Brussels late on Thursday and we were anxious to arrive to the festival as quickly as possible, I met her at the airport and we took Tomorrowland’s shuttle to the festival. The price was for a round trip ride to and from the airport.





Campsite Food and Alcohol: €48 or $60

I spent €48/$60 on food and alcohol to bring into DreamVille. While we didn’t plan to cook, a stash of apples, bananas, nuts and granola bars went a long way, and our array of booze and mixers was a much appreciated break from the overpriced drink stalls inside the festival. You can bring anything into DreamVille except glass, meaning all alcohol had to be transferred into plastic bottles ahead of time.

While we couldn’t get a clear answer on this leading up to the festival, there was drinkable water at the campsites. All water coming out of the sinks in the bathroom areas was clean and safe to drink, which saved us a ton on buying the bottled stuff. However, any water or drinks you buy in the festival will be handed to you with the top off to encourage you to drink faster and thus consume more. I collected a few bottle caps in the days leading up to the festival and always had a few on me.


Costumes: €75 or $95

Considering my hefty collection of costumes and dress up clothes, I didn’t have to add to much to prepare to go all out at Tomorrowland. Back in the US I spent $62 on a festival-ready backpack, a patriotic headband and flag top, and the obligatory flower crown. Unfortunately all those items, along with dozens of other beloved camping and costume items, are still missing thanks to the Belgian postal system. Once I accepted my box wasn’t going to show I ran out and bought a pair of €8/$10 rain boots and 18/$23 worth of emergency accessories at Claire’s in Brussels. I ditched the rain boots but assuming (praying!) I get my box back, this whole category is an investment in future tomfoolery.


On Site Purchases

Tokens: €165 or $208

When we purchased our tickets, Heather and I each bought a 50 Booze Bag containing 25 tokens and surmised it should last us most of the festival. Ha!

But at least you get value for what you are buying. Tomorrowland is known on the festival scene for its gourmet food and we were impressed by both the variety and quality. Each token had value of €2, and inside the festival mixed drinks cost 5 tokens, sodas and soft drinks cost 1.5 tokens, cheese toasties cost 2.5 tokens, and a meals like a pulled pork roll from the Texan BBQ stand or a noodle stir fry from the Asian booth cost 6-10 tokens. A great list of food and drink prices for 2014 can be found here.

We ate breakfast in our tent each morning with the food we’d brought, and pre-gamed with our own booze in DreamVille before entering the festival at night. Otherwise I didn’t really make an effort to restrict myself in this area and happily indulged in overpriced strawberry mojitos and frozen yogurt galore.


Splurges: €77 or $97

I had a few fun splurges along the way. I treated Heather and I to a bottle of champagne at the Bubbles with a View bar overlooking the main stage for 36/$45, I treated myself to a Tomorrowland t-shirt for 35/$44, and I made one trip to the oxygen bar for 6/$8. The t-shirt I could have lived without.


Total Cost for four nights:
1,210 or $1,525

While there are those who spent half what I did and those who spent triple (hello Global Journey!), I’m fairly certain Tomorrowland comprised the most expensive four days of my life. I knew it would be though, and I’m grateful for both the experience I had and the fact that I’m at a point in my life where I can make a massive annual splurge on something like this.

That said, I hesitated to post this breakdown. I had a few commenters that were shocked by what I spent on Burning Man last year, which was the same amount for more than twice the time. But alas, I’m owning this one — I had a killer time, and annoying mysterious fees and drunken t-shirt purchase aside, I don’t regret a single cent.

Was that more or less than you expected? If you’ve been to Tomorrowland, please share your own experience in the comments below!

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Photo of the Week 173: Koh Tao Mon, 06 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000

It stopped me in my tracks today to realize I have just one week left in Koh Tao before I take off on a little mini-trip around Thailand. As much as I’m looking forward to hitting up Koh Samui, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai again, I’m quite hesitant to be strapping my backpack back on. And for once, I listened to that little voice inside my head telling me to slow down — instead of spending the rest of my time in Thailand up north as I originally intended, I’ll be returning back to Koh Tao once again. It’s just where I need to be right now.

The past week was filled with tons of stressful deadlines balanced out by beautiful sunsets, a morning of diving with the rockstar dive crew over at Roctopus, and giggle-fueled dinner with friends.

Photo A

Dive Boat Koh Taoblessed shrine on the font of a dive boat

Photo B

Diving with Roctopusgorgeous textures of the sea

Photo C

Diving with Roctopusa shy new friend

Photo D

Koh Tao Sunseta sunset that stopped me in my tracks

Which photo is your favorite?

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Dreaming of DreamVille Fri, 03 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000

If there was one chorus that Heather and I couldn’t stop repeating to each other during out time at Tomorrowland, it was how insanely overjoyed we were with our decision to camp at the Dream Lodges in DreamVille. I mean, can you blame us for occasionally tossing around the idea of foregoing the festival altogether and just chilling here all day?

Dreamville Dream Lodges Tomorrowland

It had been a decision fraught with a fair amount of hand-wringing. Part of the reason I’m writing this in-depth post is to help others looking for DreamVille information in the future. Trying to find clear information about Tomorrowland and/or DreamVille is like attempting to get a live person on the phone regarding your flight rerouting during a major storm at JFK on Thanksgiving weekend — you might as well just light yourself on fire now and save yourself the frustration. Oh, and unless your goal is doubled over laughter at the the true depths of failure to which customer service can sink, don’t attempt to reach out to anyone at the Tomorrowland help desk.

So, we were somewhat in the dark about our choices. While of course there is always the option to stay in a hotel in Brussels or Antwerp and shuttle into the festival each day, or even take advantage of one of the handfuls of rooms rented by enterprising Boom residents, we were set on staying on site with 35,000 of our fellow ravers. Here are the options in DreamVille.

• General Camping: This option allows you access to the general camping zones of DreamVille. You must bring your own tent and camping gear. This is the only option available for solo travelers who don’t want to pay double — all other packages are sold by tent or by room rather than by person, and are meant for groups of two or four. You can buy a group camping pass which will allow large groups of friends to stay together in a special area. We did not consider this option as we were traveling internationally to the festival and did not want to deal with acquiring the necessary supplies upon arrival in Belgium. Cost: €52.50 or $67 per person.

• Easy Tent: This option allows you to rock up to DreamVille with a Tomorrowland-branded tent all set up and ready to go — there’s even a light inside. Easy tents are contained in their own special area slightly closer to the festival grounds than general camping. Tents are available for two or four people. We considered this option, but were concerned about how we’d feel either leaving our valuable unlocked or trudging to the campground lockers every time we needed something, and as two photographers we were concerned about charging our devices. Cost: €137.5 or $175 per person.

• Relax Rooms: Relax Rooms and Dream Lodges are contained in their own luxury compound in DreamVille’s closest edge to Tomorrowland. Strangely similar in appearance to storage containers, the Relax Rooms boast comfy beds, lights, power outlets and a clothing rack with hanging shelves — and of course, a lockable door. We considered this option but were concerned it would be stuffy inside once the sun came up. Cost: 475 or $603 per person.

• Dream Lodges: In the same plush suburb of DreamVille as the Relax Rooms, Dream Lodges were a new option in 2014 and so we were made somewhat nervous by only being able to reference digital renderings. Still, they promised plush beds, lighting, power outlets, a locker, and a cozy looking porch with two relaxing chairs and a table. Dream Lodges are available for two or four persons. Cost: 525 0r $661 per person.

• Mansion: There are no prices listed and as my Dad always says, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Didn’t consider.

Note that it is impossible to buy a DreamVille pass without a Tomorrowland ticket, the price of which is not included here. Specific bracelets meant only those registered to the special camping zones — Easy Tents and Relax Rooms/Dream Lodges — were allowed in those areas. Security was tight.

Dreamville Dream Lodges Tomorrowland

Relax Rooms Tomorrowland

Eventually we narrowed it down to Relax Rooms or Dream Lodges — we realized our enjoyment of the festival would be multiplied tenfold if we could lock up our laptops (we both work online and were on long-term trips so having them there was non-negotiable), charge our cameras and phones, and sleep on a real mattress at night. After roughing it at Burning Man I was ready for some creature comforts and considering how hard it is to get tickets, we realized this was probably a once in a lifetime experience and thus something to splurge on. We were a bit confused however since the online descriptions indicated that the Relax Rooms had access to better facilities, despite being cheaper. In the end, though, fate made the decision for us — by the time we got through to the purchase page, only Dream Lodges were left as an option.

And we couldn’t have been luckier for it.

From the moment we checked in with a pink-toga-and-flower-headdress wearing receptionist we knew we were in for something special. Dream Lodges and Relax Rooms shared the same reception and communal spaces, including a private gourmet dining room, an on-site masseuse and hair team on call for pampering, bathroom areas boasting warm water showers and flushable toilets, and a friendly — and flamboyantly costumed — staff and security team.

Dreamville Tomorrowland

Dreamville Tomorrowland

So how much did I love camping at the Dream Lodges? Let me count the ways.

1. Home Sweet Home

While a few things weren’t quite as implied — the promised power plug was not a socket but just a USB port and the locker was laughably too small to fit dSLR cameras — we were pretty wildly in love with our little tent. The beds were insanely comfy and the set up was very communal, which meant we made fast friends with our neighbors over long chats in our deck chairs.

Every morning we woke up to a Tomorrowland newspaper on our porch, often accompanied by a little gift, like burlap bags of chocolate-covered almonds or cold bottles of Tomorrowland-branded water.

Dreamville Tomorrowland

Dreamville Tomorrowland

Dreamville Tomorrowland

2. The Middle Party

All three days of the festival followed the same formula for us — venture in during the day and have a few hours of sun-filled fun, retreat back to DreamVille for what we quickly dubbed “The Middle Party” (who needs after parties?) and then head back out into the night, recharged and ready to rage. Goofing around at our campsite and getting silly with our fabulous neighbors — we couldn’t have lucked out more in that department — ended up being some of my favorite memories of the weekend.

Dreamville Tomorrowland

Dreamville Tomorrowland

3. All The Small Things

There were so many things I loved about our Dream Lodge that I didn’t even know to appreciate until a few days in. When I heard general camping residents complain of endless lines for cold showers — that they had to pay extra for — I said a silent thanks for our free warm showers, free shampoo, and never having to wait a single second before waltzing into one. We also didn’t have to pay extra for lockers, since we had our own (albeit small) ones in our tent, and security in our ‘hood was tight.

One benefit I didn’t even consider until we arrived was our commute. From our tent to the Tomorrowland gates was under a ten minute walk — for those in the far reaches of the sprawling general camping area, that walk could be almost forty minutes. This map gives an idea of the general layout — you don’t want to be in the pink camping!

And while I realize to many this would be a bummer instead of a blessing, I loved that our neighborhood was nice and quiet after hours. If we wanted an after party, we could easily venture into general camping, but when we needed to switch off, sleep came easily.

Dream Lodges Dreamville

4. The DreamVille Marketplace

Tomorrowland wasn’t the only place full of surprises. The adorable DreamVille Marketplace boasted a supermarket, a bakery, Dreamville Radio, Tomorrowland boutiques, frozen yogurt stands and more all with matching false shop fronts. Regrettably I have none of my own photos of this twee-ness because, hangover, but here you go. While we did have our own fancy catering options going on in the Dream Lodge village, the prices in the communal marketplace leaned more towards standard-festival-ridiculous than the this-is-just-insulting levels we were talking.



Best part? Oxygen bar! For a mere 6, we exhaled away all our bad decisions from the previous days. That is how it works, right?

Dreamville Oxygen Bar

Dreamville Oxygen Bar

Dreamville Oxygen Bar

Dreamville Oxygen Bar

5. The Gathering

One of the biggest benefits to camping at DreamVille is extending the Tomorrowland experience by an extra night. While for some the festival may be a Friday through Sunday affair, DreamVillers start on Thursday night an exclusive but informal little rave right in the campsite. It’s quite the way to celebrate unpacking. Being in the Dream Lodge village meant we had access to the VIP stages for The Gathering.

A fun detail about The Gathering is exclusively features up and coming Belgian acts — a nice nod to the festival’s host country.

Dreamville The Gathering

Dreamville The Gathering

Dreamville The Gathering

Dreamville The Gathering

Room for Improvement

As I’m sure the higher ups at Tomorrowland and DreamVille are waiting with baited breath for my suggestions on how to improve the experience for next year, I’ve compiled a convenient list!

• Clear up confusion about the facilities between Relax Rooms and Dream Lodges — it should be made obvious that these are shared communal spaces. Also give more details about the details of the rooms — make clear the locker size, and explain that the power plug is a USB port (thank goodness we arrived with cameras fully charged!). Finally, consider adding some form of storage or organization in the Dream Lodges — the hanging shelves in the Relax Rooms were the one major benefit we saw to that option.

• Our first night at the campsite we were pretty horrified by the condition of the porta potties closest to us. It changed our lives weekend the next day when we discovered that every single other bathroom area in the Dream Lodge village had gloriously flushing toilets. When we mentioned this to a security guard, he sheepishly admitted that it had been a mistake on the part of the set up team. Also, on the topic of toilets, I personally think I would have wept if after paying so much for a luxury camping experience I was in the row of tents directly facing the toilets! Surely there must be a way to arrange things so no one had to sit on their porch and watch people do the potty dance.

• Sell ice! While we were overjoyed at being able to bring in as much food and booze as we pleased into DreamVille (the only no-no was glass containers), we were not so thrilled at serving our mimosas warm. We were pretty shocked that ice wasn’t sold anywhere in DreamVille, and our neighbors couldn’t find it in Boom’s local supermarket when they ventured out, either. A few times we lucked out and got a friendly bartender from the dining tent to dole us out a few cubes.

• We loved that every trash can in DreamVille had a twin recycling bin right beside it, and that a trade-in token system for re-usable cups reduced plastic waste. We also appreciated that security handed out trash bags to us every morning and picked them up at night while we were sleeping. Personally, we were careful to separate our recyclables and carry them outside to the recycling bins ourselves, but it would be great if along with the trash bags, recycling bags of a different color were handed out to ensure that no one tosses their cans and bottles out of convenience.

• Throw an opening night cocktail party before The Gathering on Thursday night! While we immediately bonded with those in the tents around us, it would have been nice to have a mixer to get to know those who might be staying on the other side of the village.

Dreamville Tomorrowland 2014

Dreamville Tomorrowland 2014

DreamVille exceeded our wildest dreams! Now tell me, are you more of a camper or a glamper — or an I’ll-see-you-at-the-hotel-er?

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Click here and use the code tbs25 to 25% off memberships. Sale ends at 11:00 PM EST on Friday, October 3rd. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!


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Earning Abroad: Working at Disney World in the United States Thu, 02 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000

Earning AbroadWelcome back to Earning Abroad! In this series I’ll introduce you to some inspiring and ambitious friends I’ve met on the road — friends who have found viable work away from their home countries.

Many years ago, I spent a summer in Scotland, soaking in a country full of haunting landscapes, hairy coos and unbelievably hospitable people. Back when Earning Abroad was just a seed of an idea, and I made out the long list of friends I wanted to interview for this series, I realized there was a category missing — non-Americans coming into the United States to work. Considering my home country’s notorious stinginess with visas, it’s not exactly known as a working holiday destination among the backpacker set.

And then I remembered Lindsey Claire Riddell, one of the lovely girls I met and partied with all those years ago in Scotland, who had spoken so fondly of her year working in Florida at Disney’s EPCOT. Bingo! Having re-drank the Disney Kool-Aid myself recently, I threw on some mouse ears and got in touch with Lindsey to share more about her experience with us. And the results couldn’t have made me a smile more. Talk about a girl who loved her job and made the most of her time earning abroad! Over to Lindsey…

Working at Disney

AB: Walk us through a typical day on the job.

LR: Everyone that works in Disney’s International Program lives in a large apartment complex about five miles from Disney World called The Commons. The program employs people from eleven different countries and these participants all work in the World Showcase in Disney’s EPCOT theme park. Everyone has a roomate — my first was from Germany, then half way through my year she left and a Norwegian girl moved in.

Epcot’s World Showcase is set around a lake with eleven pavilions, each representing a different country. So one minute you could be in France and a few hundred yards away you could be in Japan. Everyone on the program works in pavilions that represent the country they are from in either a food and beverage location, on an attraction, or in my case in a merchandise shop. The UK pavilion where I worked had a restaurant, a fish and chip shop, and several merchandise stores selling everything from Twining Tea to chess boards to Manchester United football strips.

Working at Diney's EPCOTI was quite lucky to be on a late rotation, so on a typical day I usually started between 12 and 3pm and shifts were between 6 and 10 hours. Disney has regular buses to transport international cast members from The Commons to Epcot, which are all free and take around 30 minutes one way. Once in Epcot, we had to pass through security and show our ID to prove that we were employees and allowed to enter the backstage area. There you’ll find everything from lockers to showers to the costuming department. Once through, you board another bus which takes you through the backstage area to the back of the UK Pavilion.

The company uses a computer system that rotates cast members around the various merchandise shops so nobody is stuck anywhere for too long. When you sign in you get a receipt print out that will either tell you to relieve another cast member for a break, or you initiate a ‘bump’ which basically rotates everyone round a position.

My duties on the shop floor weren’t your typical retail tasks. We created quizzes, played chess, had sword fights with children and spoke to people about our customs and traditions. My job was basically to entertain and educate (as well as doing the usual things you’d expect in a store like processing sales and replenishing stock).

Every night Epcot puts on the most spectacular fireworks show at 9pm called Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. The beginning of the show kicks off with a huge fireball being shot over the UK pavilion and so due to health and safety we would have to put up barriers to stop anyone walking through the pavilion for a few minutes until the show had started. This meant we got to see the start of the fireworks EVERY NIGHT! You’d think I’d get sick of it – but I think that would be impossible. I still can’t hear that music without welling up — I really was so lucky.

Working at DisneyThe World Showcase closed every night as the fireworks started so we would be finished work by 9.30pm. That was one of the best things about working in merchandise – we finished a lot earlier than the food and beverage cast members, who often weren’t home until midnight – we were always home by 10:30, so we had time to socialize at night.

The Commons was a very social place to live. Whether your thing be parties (there were plenty), going out to bars/clubs, shopping, or just sitting in and watching a film, there was always something going on. Sometimes we would finish up our shift and go over to one of the other Disney Parks or Downtown Disney to watch the fireworks, hit the cinema or check out the newest attraction. Epcot was generally one of the earlier closing parks, so even if we finished at 9pm, we could head over to watch another fireworks show at one of the other parks.

How long did you work for Disney?

Unfortunately the program only lasts a year — or I’d probably still be there when I’m 60!

When I left you couldn’t apply to go back to do the program for a second time – I believe that has since changed and you can now do the international program more than once though. They also now have summer programs if you didn’t want to go for a whole year.

How did you come to work in Orlando? What inspired you to find this job?

I’ve always been a bit of a Disney geek. I was very lucky that I’d racked up a fair few visits to the Sunshine State by the time I was twenty. To me it seemed a natural progression to want to work there. One of the previous years I’d been there I’d met a cast member that was from my home town. He had explained to me how I should go about applying, so I made sure I had some good customer service skills on my CV and went for it!

Working at Diney's EPCOTKeep in mind this was nine years ago, so things may have changed slightly since then. After the first step, the online application, I was contacted for a phone interview with my recruiter, Yummy Jobs. It’s fairly laid back and informal and just allows Yummy to get a feel of the type of person you are and the way you react to situations. If that goes well you are invited to attend a face to face interview. Here you get a presentation on the day to day life of what you should expect as a Disney Program participant. I actually really enjoyed this day and it only made me more sure I wanted to be a part of it all.

Your job acceptance is subject to your visa being approved. It is quite a lengthy process and I’d say from application to departure I was probably waiting for about a year.

How did your family and friends react to your initial departure?

I think many were fairly shocked that little old me was leaving for a year in the States when apart from a short stint in dance college, I’d never been away from home. But to most it made sense – everyone knew I was destined to live in Orlando and work for Disney.

How much money did you make? Was it enough to live on?

I worked for Disney in 2006, so things will have changed, but I made a fairly low wage — around $7 an hour for between 30 and 50 hours a week (we were allowed to specify within reason how much we wanted to work). After we had paid our rent we were left with around $120 to play with per week. Some took the approach of working a lot to save for trips to places like the Bahamas and New York. Personally I chose to work the minimum I could so I had lots of time off — I was only there for a year and I loved my job, but I didn’t want to spend all my time working.

The Disney CommonsWith time off I went to the Disney Parks (we got into the theme parks for free and had discounts on the water parks), went to Downtown Disney to the movies, or went to the beach. The nearest beach is Cocoa Beach and was only about an hour away – some of my friends owned cars or we rented them – Disney employees get a discount on car hire in Orlando. I also had an annual Universal pass – Orlando residents get a discounted rate on this too.

The apartment complex we lived in also had a swimming pool and a tennis court, and a five minute walk down the road was Mickey’s Retreat – a club house for Disney Cast members that had a lake, a beach, volleyball courts and barbeque area. Disney also had lots of events and parties on throughout the year.

What kind of legal hoops do you have to jump through?

To work in the States, I needed a J1 Visa. The company that does the selection process for Disney here in the UK helps you out with the forms and any questions you have – then you have to go to a US embassy for an interview. There isn’t one in Scotland so I had to go to Belfast in Northern Ireland – but there’s also one in London.

Working at Diney's EPCOTThe paperwork was actually harder than the embassy interview. Because Disney has ‘petitioned’ for your visa, and you will have proof of this with you, it is a lot easier to get it. People around me at the embassy were getting their visa denied but that was because they didn’t have a secured job – as long as Disney has offered you the job and you don’t have any reason to be denied a visa (a criminal record, for example) you should be fine.

What skills did you need for this job?

The most important thing you need for working for Disney is an outgoing personality and great customer service skills. You need to be able to treat everyone like a VIP and make sure they get the most out of their visit. You only need to be fluent in English but other languages are a benefit.

What were the best and worst things about working for Disney in the United States?

The list of good things is endless – you get to meet lots of people from all over the world and learn about different cultures and customs, free entrance into all the Disney Parks, living in the entertainment capital of the world and of course the fantastic weather to name a few.

Disney International ProgramThe recruiter I went through, Yummy Jobs, does lots of hospitality/tourism recruitment, and have lots of opportunities to ‘learn and earn’ in the States through various well respected companies. There are opportunities with Starwood, Hilton and other programs in Universal Studios and Loews hotels in Orlando too. The opportunities you get from having trained with some of these big names and having them on your resume are fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job interview since leaving Disney where they weren’t fascinated that I’d worked for The Disney Company.

If I’m honest the job at times could get a bit repetitive, and you could be asked some fairly silly questions and have to smile and explain how you don’t commute from Scotland every day, or that the 3pm parade in Magic Kingdom was surprisingly at 3pm. But it is what you make of it and you just have to shrug it off, laugh (never AT the guest!) and remember how many people would kill for your job!

The worst part of the program for me was having to leave the amazing people I’d met when it was time to go home. I’m very lucky to have made such amazing friends that almost ten years on I still speak to almost daily, but it is never easy that they live in Norway, Canada, Italy and England — its not like you can just meet them for lunch!

What would your advice be to someone seeking to do the same?

My advice would be to apply for it! It was hard at times and no matter how much fun you’re having you’ll always have your homesick days. There were even times where I contemplated leaving, but the worst that can happen is that the program’s not for you and you decide to go home, and I can honestly say that the experience is so fantastic that I can count on one hand the amount of people I know that decided it wasn’t for them and left. Doing a program like this one is probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It has made me more confident, taught me life skills and made me life long friends.

Working for Disney International ProgramYou also do need to be careful about your behavior and how you are being perceived at all times. Drinking laws are a lot stricter in the States than the UK and the legal drinking age is higher. A lot of people found it difficult as they had been partying back home and had this freedom taken away from them when they moved to Orlando as they were under the legal drinking age there. Getting caught underage drinking by the security team in the apartment complex is cause for immediate dismissal or ‘termination’ as Disney refer to it.

Also, Disney has strict standards on personal appearance. Make up and hair needs to be natural, no logos on glasses, guys can’t have long hair or facial hair and definitely no facial piercings or tattoos.

What do you know about the US that you wouldn’t have learned as a tourist?

Working at DisneyI think personally I learned more about other cultures and customs than I learned about the United States. The experience broadened my horizons and made me want to see more places. I think if I hadn’t done this program I’d probably have continued going to Florida every year — but now I have people to visit all over the world, and I want to go see what makes them love where they’re from. I’ve visited friends I met that year in France, Norway, Canada and Brazil — Spain and South Africa are next on the list!

You’d think that working for Disney would take the magic out of it a little bit, but I’ve been back twice since I moved home for holidays — and I love it all just as much. It really is a fantastic location and it has something for everyone.

Are there differences between working in your home country and in the US?

Working in Disney World can’t really be compared to anywhere else. It’s its own little world! The attention to detail and care of service really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before but that’s what makes it the success it is

Was it difficult to transition home and re-enter the mainstream work force?

Disney International ProgramI found it very difficult coming home. I was coming back to start university and a part time bar job and life seemed very beige after working in Orlando for a year. You come home with so many stories from your time away and nobody understands them except the people you’ve had to leave behind because it’s such a rare experience. My poor friends from home having to listen to all those stories — I bet they wished I would shut up! Eventually you do acclimatize but it definitely takes time.

What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m working in travel — funnily enough as an American Specialist — often selling holidays to Orlando!

And one final question for fun – would you ever try Disneyland in California, or are you loyal to Florida for life?

Florida will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I truly believe as a vacation option it’s fantastic because with so many different parks/restaurants/shopping options there is something for everyone. It’s also a lot closer for families travelling from the UK so I can understand why it’s so popular with the UK market.

I would LOVE to go to Disneyland California again. I’ve been when I was a lot younger but would love to go back now as an adult. My dream holiday is to do the West Coast highway from LA up to San Francisco, of course with a couple of days in Anaheim at Disney. I don’t think I’ll ever be too old for a Disney vacation.

Working at Disney

Thanks a million for sharing, Lindsey! Let’s leave this girl some love in the comments! Readers, would you ever work at Disney?

Great news! My dear friends and mentors over at Travel Blog Success are having a sale this week! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Click here and use the code tbs25 for 25% off memberships. Sale ends at 11:00 PM EST on Friday, October 3rd. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!


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Once Upon a Time at Tomorrowland Tue, 30 Sep 2014 13:57:00 +0000

Once upon a time, a blonde-haired wanderer heard of a magical place called Tomorrowland, in the faraway land of Boom, Belgium. She listened to dreamy tales and watched, transfixed, a beautiful thing called The Aftermovie, and she knew that someday, somehow, she too would join the sweaty, flag-swathed masses for her own Tomorrowland experience. Though many obstacles stood in her way, she slayed them mercilessly in pursuit of her goal. It can only be described as a magnetic pull, that thing which inspired this fairy tale sojourn to Tomorrowland; an irresistible urge that began with pressing play.

. . . . . .

I hope you guys read that in an appropriately wistful, Brothers-Grimm-narrator-style voice.

I mean come on, I can only keep up the third person fairy tale speak for so long! Yet it seems inexplicably appropriate, because from the moment I stepped foot in Boom — yes, the name of the town holding the festival is, indeed, Boom — I did feel that I was in some sort of magical fantasy land. This sensation was aided, no doubt, by the almost surreal lengths we’d gone to get there. Not surprising, we weren’t the only ones captivated by Tomorrowland’s charms.

Reportedly there were almost 1.8 million people pre-registered for ticket sales for Tomorrowland 2014 — the infamous EDM festival’s highly anticipated tenth anniversary. For those 1.8 million people, there were just 180,000 tickets up for grabs. So, statistically speaking, Tomorrowland is harder to get into than an ivy league university. After flirting with the idea of attending for almost a year, eventually wrangling fellow Yes Girl Heather into signing on board, and then spending months in an over-excited planning frenzy, I had more than a few sleepless nights in the week leading up to general sale wondering what I was doing hinging an entire summer in Europe on odds like that.

Well, Heather and I must have aced our karmic SAT scores, because pretty soon we were on our way to Belgium to take part in what I can only describe as a harmlessly hedonistic Alice in Wonderland-esque playground party.

Tomorrowland 2014

Tomorrowland 2014

Our planning and ticket purchasing saga — and trust me when I say that is was a saga that you’ll be hearing all about someday — involved choosing where to rest our heads during the three day festival. The choices ranged from pitching our own tent in the slums of DreamVille to staying at hotel in nearby Brussels or Antwerp to glamping in an affluent neighborhood of luxury tents. After much reflection on the merits of financial responsibility versus unrestrained indulgence and perhaps a glass of wine or seven — which, keeping in mind we were in different countries for the entire process, took place over Skype — we decided it was go big or go home. And going home wasn’t really an option.

Which is how we became the proud temporary residents of our own little yellow Dreamlodge on Sunset Boulevard, in the DreamVille Campground. The happiness we felt camping — okay, glamping in our case — alongside 35,000 of our fellow festival goers was such a profound part of our experience that it deserves a post of it’s own.

Dream Lodges at Dreamville

Camping in Dreamville

But if we thought we were ecstatic as we checked in to Dreamville on Thursday night, we had no idea the wide-eyed giddiness that lay ahead of us for the next three days as we passed through the rainbow-arched gates of Tomorrowland. With a maze of fifteen magical stages, a star-studded DJ lineup, a drool worthy list of edible experiences and smile-inducing surprises around each corner, it’s no wonder Heather and I spent the majority of the weekend sprinting around the festival like over-caffeinated toddlers at an attention deficit symposium. We quickly coined a catchphrase for the festival that summed up both our dumbstruck excitement and our insatiable appetite for more.

This is awesome… let’s go!

And go we did. To an almost transcendent set by Kygo at the intimate BlueFlame stage.

Kygo at Tomorrowland

To mail tipsily-composed complimentary postcards to our loved ones around the world.

Post Office at Tomorrowland

Post Office at Tomorrowland

To giggle at the so not-actually-naughty Chapel of Love. (Sorry Tomorrowland, but Burning Man has you beat when it comes to orgy tents.)

Chapel of Love

To marvel at the innovation that went into creating the various stage environments, from the nest-like Qult structure to the ever so intimately sized and hilariously named Rave Cave.


Rave Cave at Tomorrowland

To be pampered at the giggle-inducing Refresh Stations, which achieved the amazing feat of somehow making porty potties bearable.

Refresh Station Tomorrowland

To stumble on tucked away surprises like a mystical palm reader, a forest of trees made for hugging, or a Wall of Love photobooth for our camera-hamming pleasure.

Tomorrowland Fortune Teller

Tomorrowland Tree Huggers

Tomorrowland Wall of Love

Tomorrowland Wall of Love

To feast on a shockingly high-quality array of cuisines of the world, from Texas-style pulled pork sandwiches to soy sauce-slathered Asian stir-fries to a particularly indulgent Belgian chocolate dessert.

Tomorrowland Food

Tomorrowland Food

And finally, over and over again, to make our pilgrimage to the epic main stage.

Bubbles with a View

While we often made our way up to the front to get lost in the mosh pit of mayhem, on one occasion we treated ourselves to Bubbles with a View. For the mere price of a ridiculously overpriced bottle of champagne, we were spoiled with VIP views, a bit of breathing room to recharge in, and a bowl of strawberries to toss in our bubbly.

Bubbles with a View

Bubbles with a View

Bubbles with a View

Bubbles with a View

And recharging was often what we needed. Four nights and three days of hard partying is not for the faint of liver heart, and so with the festival open for thirteen hours a day, we often returned to DreamVille for a few hours of what we dubbed “The Middle Party” before re-entering Tomorrowland after dark with a group of our new camping friends in tow.

And upon return, we’d find a completely different universe to explore. If things were playful and lighthearted during the day, it was safe to say a bit of chaos seeped in as the sun set.

Tomorrowland at Night

Tomorrowland at Night

Tomorrowland at Night

Riding the Ferris Wheel that marked the far side of the festival and looking out in awe over a video game-like explosion of fountains, fireworks, neon lights and color was a moment of euphoria that I won’t be forgetting in this lifetime. But while our days consisted of endless exploring and wandering, our nights belonged to the mainly belonged to the mainstage.

Can you blame us?

Tomorrowland Main Stage

Tomorrowland Main Stage

Tomorrowland Main Stage

This year, Tomorrowland tickets came in the form of electronically-chipped bracelets, and at certain special moments throughout the nights, a selection of them would start to pulse light in unison with the music. Then there was the time Steve Angello made 60,000 people crouch down on the ground and hold, hold, hold, just so we could all spring up together in roaring unison as the beat dropped.

These were moments that again, I fail at finding words to describe.

Tomorrowland 2014 Main Stage

Tomorrowland 2014 Main Stage

Tomorrowland Main Stage

And while wild dancing, uncontrollable stomping and general raging made up a fairly impressive portion of the evenings, there were a few moments where Heather and I made our way to a relatively quiet spot on the more sparsely populated section of the hill, took a seat, and just let the insane sensory overload sink in.

I have lots more to tell you about Tomorrowland — practical stuff like what it cost, what Dreamville was like and how to get tickets — but first, I wanted to start with a story.

Because once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of going to Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland Guide

And this fairy tale had a very happy ending.

Marvelous news for a magical day. My dear friends and mentors over at Travel Blog Success are having a sale this week! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Click here and use the code tbs25 to 25% off memberships. Sale ends at 11:00 PM EST on Friday, October 3rd. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!


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