How To: Using Instagram to Plan the Perfect Trip

I love social media and I love to travel, so it probably isn’t much of a surprise when I say that I always use social media when planning a getaway. Instagram is particularly helpful, because people share the most beautiful place they saw during their day, which usually means it’s worth your time as well. This was really helpful in Costa Rica (check out all the highlights in this post) because it was a shorter trip, which meant less time to wander and happen upon the coolest places on our own. Here are 3 ways I used Instagram to make our trip extra-amazing:

1. Research Local Hashtags Before You Go

Start with basic location-based hashtags (like #costarica, #sanjose and #manuelantonio) and let Instagram’s suggestions lead you down a rabbit hole. Collect a list of 15 or 20 of the the most promising, based on how the photos look, how many posts there are and how relevant they are to what you want to do on your trip.

How To Use Social Media to Plan a Vacation | Succulents and Sunnies
There are 3 reasons you should do this:

  1. Take a look at what people are already posting to discover unique must-dos and restaurants.
  2. Post pictures of your own trip with these hashtags for more likes AND to help future travelers.
  3. Help local attractions find you. Cafe Milagro in Manual Antonio commented on a photo I posted and we ended up going 3 times. We would have never chosen it on our own, but the craft beer, live music and local coffee were all amazing!

2. Search the Cities You’ll Be Visiting

Instagram’s “Places” are also really helpful when you’re looking for things to do. I like this feature because it not only lets you scroll through all the photos tagged as in that city (Quepos, Costa Rica for example), but also at locations within that city (like Playa Manuel Antonio).

How To Use Social Media to Plan a Vacation | Succulents and Sunnies
This really helps when you’re trying to figure out which must-dos are where, especially when they’re not in a book or on Google Maps (like the can’t-be-missed Playa Biesanz). Plus, Instagram’s new location stories make this easier than ever!

3. Follow Local Attractions You Want to Visit

This goes for local businesses you’re planning on patronizing too. To stay up to date on hours, special events and even coupons, give places you really want to visit a follow. Their posts could help you decide what day you stop by or other nearby stops you should make. This tip can also be applied to Facebook and Twitter, depending on where the attraction or business is most active. If you’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, Facebook’s native translation will do a good enough job to get the point across.

Now go and plan a killer vacation! And let me know how you use social media to find the coolest places on your next trip.

The Cornell Plantations

Last weekend our family was in Ithaca for Paige’s graduation from Ithaca College. We had a delicious meal at Madeline’s on The Commons and needed to walk off our dessert. Ithaca has a plethora of hiking options, but we were staying near Cornell’s campus so we chose The Plantations.

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

The Mundy Wildflower Garden and Herb Garden were beginning to bloom and looked downright magical in the golden hour light.

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

We spent a long time watching the dozens of turtles and goldfish in the Houston Pond from the bridge. There were some massive creatures living in there!

We were far from the only visitors, with students having picnics and local high schoolers taking prom pictures in various picturesque locations throughout the grounds. For anyone looking for an Ithaca hike that doesn’t involve hundreds of stairs or slippery slate, I highly recommend The Plantations!

Quick Trip: Ellicottville, NY

Cody and I took a quick trip to Ellicottville this weekend to visit Ellicottville Brewing Company and wander through a few of the small town’s shops. It was a perfect spring weekend – a little grey, but warm – perfect for a getaway to this cozy ski resort town.

Our first stop was the brewery tour at EBC. The old building is beautiful and the tour did a great job of not only explaining this history of beer and the Brewing Company, but also the building. The taproom’s bar is from the 1983 World Fair and is the second oldest bar in the area, which I found so interesting. Cody really enjoyed how knowledgeable our tour guide Kevin was on beer history and the making of beer.

Ellicottville, NY | Quick Trip | Succulents and Sunnies

Ellicottville, NY | Quick Trip | Succulents and Sunnies

The tastings at the end of the tour were delicious: Blueberry Wheat (already one of my favorites), Juicy Juice, Mosaic Sunrise and 1/2 Baked Porter. The tasting room is part of the brewery’s addition, framed by giant wooden beams and overlooking stainless steel beer tanks. We stayed for lunch and a flight, to try the beers on tap but not in the tasting room.

Ellicottville Brewing Company was the biggest reason we chose Ellicottville for our trip, and it turned out to be a good decision. We left educated and full, which was a nice combination.

We checked into our hotel and spent the next few hours watching HGTV (Fixer Upper marathon for the win!) and getting hungry enough to walk to our next meal, dinner at Villaggio. This is another place with a great atmosphere, full of rustic-eclectic decor, string lights and laughter. The Sabres game (which we actually won!) was on the big screen as we ate. There were definitely groups in Ellicottville for a Saturday night out, so I’m sure it would have been fun to stay out and visit a few of the town’s bars, but Cody and I headed back to our hotel to take advantage of the pool and hot tub.

Ellicottville, NY | Quick Trip | Succulents and Sunnies

Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel and walked back down Washington Street. We poked around in ski shops, home goods stores and Watson’s Chocolates before heading home. And how can you not stop and pet the dogs at Adventure Bound every time you walk by?

While our trip was short, Ellicottville was a perfect weekend escape. With the ski slopes still covered in snow but temperatures warming, wandering around the village was a great way to spend a day!

Bienvenue à Montréal

Paige spent last week home on spring break, so we planned a quick trip to Montreal. If you live in Buffalo (or anywhere else in Upstate New York), Montreal is perfect for a long weekend getaway. While the 6 hour drive is a bit long, it’s decidedly shorter (and cheaper!) than a flight to a European city, which is what Montreal feels like.

Buffalonians know that the US dollar has a good advantage over the Canadian one at the moment. That makes right now an especially great time to visit our northern neighbors! We spent about $250 USD each for gas, food, a hotel room and a museum visit, and you could definitely spend less (or more) with a little strategic planning.

We arrived Friday afternoon after a pleasant drive and very easy border crossing. The one hiccup on this trip was the terrible condition of our Airbnb. It was a beautiful apartment and a great location, but it was about as clean as a college frat house, so that was a no-go. Sometimes Airbnb is great (like that incredible view in Costa Rica), and sometimes not so much. We packed up our bags and drove down the street to a hotel, where we were greeted by clean towels and vacuumed rugs, thank goodness. I highly recommend staying near the UQAM campus, between The Gay Village and Quartier des Spectacle, which puts you within walking distance of both downtown and Old Montreal.

By this time Friday night, all we were able to do was find a restaurant downtown and turn in early to make the most of Saturday. We were impressed by Burger Bar‘s burgers and poutine, which we paired with Guinness, because it was Saint Patrick’s Day after all!

Saturday started bright and early with a walk to Old Port to see the Clock Tower and Molson factory. We wandered through Old Montreal along Rue Notre-Dame, stopping in galleries along the way. We had planned to stop at an art museum Friday afternoon, but with the Airbnb/hotel debacle, we didn’t have time. Checking out the galleries was definitely a good (and free) substitute.

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

We also explored the Bonsecours Market and really enjoyed the exhibit at The Fashion Museum, located inside the market. Right now the museum is featuring “Blue Spectrum,” an exploration of the color blue in fashion. It only took about 20 minutes to walk through, but it was interesting and out of the cold!

For lunch we headed up a block to Rue Saint-Jacques, which definitely helped bring down the cost of a sandwich. After lunch, we walked back to the hotel to change our cold, wet socks (there was a lot of snow and ice on the sidewalks, the result of Storm Stella) and admired the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica on the way.

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

Our next stop was Le Cafe des Chats, where we drank coffee (complete with kitty latte art) surrounded by 9 adopted cats. This is the kind of place you can spend hours, and we did. We took the time to write in our travel journals about the trip thus far, pet cats and take pictures of cats. It was great and I highly recommend adding it (or another of Montreal’s cat cafes) to any Montreal itinerary!

Next, we found our way past McGill University and up the hill to Chalet du Mont-Royal, which provides an excellent view of the entire city and the St. Lawrence river beyond it. We made it just as the sun was setting, and were glad for the extra hour of light that daylight savings time the weekend prior gave us. The snow made hiking tough, but the view was worth it!

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

We walked downtown for dinner and drinks at Parma Cafe and Fiddler’s Green Pub, respectively. The Cafe was adorable, with a menu of pizza, pasta, soup and salads, along with coffee and wine. Fiddler’s Green was a relaxed Irish pub we felt right at home in, with both Guinness and local brews on tap and hockey on the flat screens. It was a welcome break from some of the more uppity restaurants we’d walked by and eaten in.

Sunday morning we had brunch at the most adorable bistro/home goods store I’ve ever laid eyes on. Le Magasin General du Viex is in Old Montreal, right across the street from the science museum. Both the atmosphere and the food were top-notch. If either Paige or I had a home to decorate, we would have bought out the store. I almost did anyway! *Stay tuned, because there’s a whole blog post coming on Le Magasin General du Viex.

Bienvenue a Montreal | Succulents and Sunnies | Taylor K Flynn

Both Paige and I are so excited to go back to Montreal in warmer weather. There are a few things we didn’t get to do, but are definitely on the list for next time, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Centre d’Histoire de Montreal, Botanical Garden, Hotel de Ville (City Hall), Underground City and going into the Basilica.

Sunny, Sunny Costa Rica ☀️️

Cody and I spent a week in the beautiful country of Costa Rica, celebrating our college diplomas and a break from the grey weather at home. We planed the trip ourselves, reading countless blogs, guide books and hotel reviews. We ended up splitting our time between the capital city of San José and the coastal town of Manuel Antonio.

San Jose is a bustling city, and it deserved the full day we gave it. Our hotel was near both the beautiful Parque Metropolitano La Sabana and a bus stop. We took the bus downtown (we decided not to rent a car, thank goodness!) and wandered the car-free Avenida Central before spending time at the Museo del Oro Precolombino. Our favorite part was The Numismatic Museum, an exhibit on the history of the Costa Rican monetary system.

Our second day started with a Nature Air flight to Quepos, a small town on the Pacific Coast. The flight over the mountains was bumpy, but beautiful, emerging out of the clouds into a sunny ocean view. The plane landed on a driveway-sized strip of blacktop in the middle of a field of palm trees and we had arrived at the Quepos Airport, a building the size of our garage. We traveled by taxi and bus to our Airbnb in Manuel Antonio in the 85° heat, which we welcomed.

Our apartment was in the perfect spot, in the hills with a beautiful view of the National Park. We loved the nearby restaurants, and when we opened our windows at night, we could hear music and laughter, and chants of “Green Bay, Green Bay” from the sports bar full of Americans. We could walk to the National Park and the beautiful public beach, and shared our view with monkeys, toucans and a giant iguana.

In Manuel Antonio, our days started with the sun and we were sound asleep, tired from a day in the sun, before 10 pm every night. This is without a doubt my favorite sleep schedule and I felt so rested by the end of our trip.

Our day in Manuel Antonio National Park was hot and sweaty, but also really cool. We saw spider, white-faced and howler monkeys, deer, raccoon and a sloth! While in the park we swam at every beach: Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Las Gemelas. The next day, we followed questionable instructions to Playa Biesanz that actually worked really well (turn off the road after Shana Hotel – there’s a gap in the fence) and were treated to incredible views and delicious drinks.

We read a lot about what our weekend in Manuel Antonio was going to be like, but we were so pleasantly surprised by so many things. Firstly, the humidity is high, but not suffocating, and it didn’t rain at all! The ocean water was the same temperature as the air, and in the cove beaches (Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Biesanz) the water was incredibly calm. Everywhere we went, but especially in the beautiful beach town, people are so kind and so willing to help you get wherever you need to go!

Manuel Antonio was incredible, mesmerizing us so fully that we attempted to change our flight to have one more night there. It didn’t work out, but that was okay, because our last night in San Jose changed my perception of the city. Our first day was fun, but I was still wary in this big Central American city. After a long weekend on the beach, I was more able to enjoy the details that make San José a beautiful place.

It didn’t hurt that our dinner at Tenedor Argentina was delicious. Frozen yogurt in San José isn’t the same as home though, which was slightly disappointing. The traditional Costa Rican breakfast at our hotel and two hours by the pool before heading to the airport the next morning more than made up for the frozen yogurt.

We arrived at home refreshed and sunburned, with a new stamp in our passports and the burning desire for even more. We even dared to talk about where to next (after our bank accounts recover). Possible upcoming trips: the Pacific Northwest, Yellowstone National Park, Germany and Italy!

Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? I highly recommend these resources: Nomadic Matt, Lonely Planet, Two Weeks in Costa Rica and our Airbnb in Manuel Antonio.

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Melanie was my “dance friend” in high school. We didn’t go to the same high school, but we spent just as much time together as if we had. The last few years, I’ve been in Ithaca while she was in Buffalo and then Boston. Fitting in a coffee date while we’re both home is always nice, but spending a few hours a year with someone you used to see for four hours a night just isn’t the same.

We’ve been trying to coordinate a weekend in Boston for what seems like forever and it finally worked out this month. I knew it was going to be a good weekend when Miss You Much, the song we danced to our junior year in Disney, was playing on the radio as I pulled into Melanie’s driveway. I’ve never heard that song anywhere but the dance studio. It might sound silly, but that song was our everything for at least seven months.

Most of our weekend was spent just hanging out, catching up on new jobs, new cities, and new and old friends. Saturday we spent in Boston. Melanie was the best tour guide for my first trip to the beautiful city. From Granary Burying Ground to Fenway Park and back to Little Italy, we had the best day wandering through the city.

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Quick Trip: A Wicked Good Weekend | Boston | Taylor K Flynn

Melanie, thank you so much for letting me stay with you, watching Netflix instead of going out, showing me the beautiful places you love and reminding me that with some friends, anything is fun.