A Thank You to All My Travel Friends

My life changed for the better the first time that I left the United States: my mind was opened to realities I hadn’t considered before, I was humbled by how much I didn’t understand about the world, but I was instantly ready and anxious to gain that understanding. I figure now is the best time to make such a reflection since the second leg of my South American adventure this May was back to where it all began. ¡Viva Chile!

Arrived in Chile yesterday exactly 4 years after I left my first adventure abroad! Look how far we've come.🙂 #tbt

A photo posted by Alexa Verink (@alexa_verink) on

If you’re one of those detail-oriented types, you’d notice that I went through Chilean customs 4 years to the day after I first left! How fun is that?

My first trip abroad was to Viña del Mar, Chile, as many of you know since that’s where Abi, Maddy, and I met. We had a blast roaming the relaxed beach town and actually spent only one day in the big city capital, Santiago. This time around, my entire stay was in Santiago, so I had a much different experience.

I’m not going to focus on the differences, though.

Instead, I’d like to highlight all of the lovely perks there are to having friends scattered throughout the world in order to encourage those who are nervous to take the plunge into international mingling and also to thank those friends of mine who have enriched my travels throughout the past 4 years.

1. You have somewhere to crash that doesn’t dent your budget and doesn’t keep you sleeping with one eye open at night. Two of the Chilean students, both conveniently named Javier, that helped with the Pitt program we did in Viña del Mar ended up being my hosts when I passed through Santiago. (One pictured above!) I’ll be forever grateful for having my own room with clean sheets and a friendly face nearby. Gracias a los dos!

Also, I'm pretty sure a hostel couldn't beat this view.

Also, I’m pretty sure a hostel couldn’t beat this view.

2. Getting a sightseeing recommendation from a local friend is a lot easier to trust than a guide book. Since I was on my own while the chicos were at work, they threw a few ideas my way to keep me occupied. I had some beautiful walks through the city, people-watched while shopping, killed a few hours in the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), and (I’ll publicly admit this) did some work-related research in a Chilean Walmart. They obviously understand my interests!

Neighborhood walk

Neighborhood walk

Never know what you might stumble upon.

Never know what you might stumble upon.

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Just hanging out at Lider. Look familiar?

Just hanging out at Lider. Look familiar?

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3. You automatically have someone to hang out with (and make plans for you). I had some pretty lazy days (read: woke up at 11am) while I was in Santiago, but the Javiers had plenty of other things in mind for when they got home. I tried my first CrossFit class, got delicious Indian food, crashed a work party, strolled through the biggest park in Chile, and went out in the trendy Bellavista neighborhood.

I was told this is "THE shot" to take of Parque Bicentenario. Check.

I was told this is “THE shot” to take of Parque Bicentenario. Check.

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A view from my last night walking through "Sanhattan", as they like to call it.

A view from my last night walking through “Sanhattan”, as they like to call it.

4. You don’t feel so out-of-place even if you are alone for a stretch of time. Those times I was sitting on a bench outside stuffing my face with empanadas or lugging my gawky backpack through a residential neighborhood, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my gosh, everyone’s definitely staring at me. I look like SUCH a foreigner right now. Please don’t question me on what I’m doing,” which is what I’d normally do on my own. Knowing you have some friends who are “in” with the local culture can really put your mind at ease. If nothing else, you know you can tell them an awkward, hilarious story when you see them later in the day!

... Like your struggles in using a Chilean espresso machine.

… Like your struggles in using a Chilean espresso machine.

Don't mind me carrying my whole life around.

Don’t mind me carrying my whole life around.

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You might make some new friends in the process.

You might even make some NEW friends!.

The main point I’m trying to make is that although it’s hard having to be apart from people who you’d like to spend more time with, knowing those people in far-away places is a privilege and absolutely indispensable when traveling. I couldn’t have had even half of the experiences that I’ve had without the wonderful humans I’ve met from all over the world.

So thank you to everyone that I’ve met so far… for opening your schedules and your doors to make me feel at home, for putting up with my language errors, and mostly, for being awesome people. Know that I’ll always return the favor!

PROOF: Both the Javiers in Pittsburgh along with a Frenchy and a Spaniard that I've seen in their home towns!

PROOF: Both the Javiers in Pittsburgh along with a Frenchy and a Spaniard that I’ve seen in their home towns!

– Alexa

How to Do Cusco, Peru in 5 Days

Back in May, I took advantage of my first bonus check (thanks, Hershey!) and, unsurprisingly, threw it at an airline or two. A friend of mine was graduating from Pitt and wanted to check out Peru before WWOOF-ing for a month in Chile. Guess who she called to join her! I take pride in my “yes woman” reputation for others’ travel plans.🙂

Rather than go through every single thing we did every day, I thought I’d make a little suggestion list for how to make the most of Cusco, Peru…

– Accept the absolute lack of road laws and hope for the best. South America is known to house some fast and furious drivers, but the ride from the Cusco airport to our hostel was probably the scariest one of my life. People essentially honk a lot and just go where they feel like going. We survived, anyway.

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– Be wary of altitude sickness, but don’t let the fear control your trip. Alexis and I were worried we’d get altitude sickness after all the warnings we read, so we planned to relax and stay hydrated our entire first day. That plan got thrown out 15 minutes after we got to the hostel and someone asked if we wanted to sign up for horseback riding. YEP!

Chug chug chug!

Chug chug chug!

Better idea

Better idea

– Get outside!

View while horseback riding

View while horseback riding

Get right in those ruins!

Get right in those ruins!

Explore the Plaza de Armas by day.

Explore the Plaza de Armas by day.

... and at night.

… and at night.

Explore all the little markets and stalls with souvenirs.

Explore all the little markets and stalls with souvenirs.

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Try finding a rock climbing gym and end up being the only tourists in a random tiny town instead!

Try finding a rock climbing gym and end up being the only tourists in a random tiny town instead!

– Get ideas from those around you. We had restaurant suggestions ready from a woman who used to live in Cusco. Other travelers suggested a chocolate-making class (no complaints here). Go clubbing with the hostel employees while you’re at it. Whatever floats your boat.

That would be a chunk of alpaca right there.

That would be a chunk of alpaca right there.

Best veggie burger I've ever eaten

Best veggie burger I’ve ever eaten



Keep an eye out for creepers!

Keep an eye out for creepers!

– Do I even have to say it? MACHUPICCHU! We did a quick day-and-a-half trip, but I’d suggest spending more time in the area to get extra hiking in.

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If you're going to walk up, know that this will be your view for a solid hour.

If you’re going to walk up, know that this will be your view for a solid hour.

It's worth it, though!

It’s worth it, though!

Wear layers up in the mountains!

Wear layers up in the mountains!

Alexis and I had a great 5 days in Cusco and Machu Picchu. A lot of that is thanks to our lovely hostel, Pariwana, that had tons of activities planned at all times and attracted a lot of awesome people that we got to hang out with. Someone recommended it to us while we were planning this trip in a café in Pittsburgh, and now it’s my turn to do the same! Other recommendations are below.

Although Alexis and I both flew into Santiago, Chile for the next leg of our trip, it was time for us to part ways. It definitely made for a different experience. I’ll recap that next time!

– Alexa

Places We Ate:
Papacho’s – hip burger place, very English-friendly
Marcelo Batata – slightly upscale traditional Peruvian food
Paddy’s – the highest Irish-owned pub in the world!
– Any little stand in the Mercado Central de San Pedro

– The hostel Pariwana can get its own dance floor going late at night
Mama Africa – well-known club that a lot of tourists go to
Mythology – more Latin influence but definitely still a club

When in Pennsylvania

Have you been waiting in anticipation to figure out WHERE I could have possibly gone after being in Hershey all week? No, I didn’t think so, either, so we’ll just let it out.

Obviously I had to go back to the ‘burgh!

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As soon as I found out I was going to be a mere 4-hour drive from my first home-away-from-home, I told everyone I could think of to make sure that they’d be around. I even convinced Erin to fly in from chilly New Hampshire!

We were really happy to be together again.

We were really happy to be reunited.

After finding her roaming around on campus and completely freaking out about being back, we remembered that we had a last-minute Friday Night Dinner to throw together. Off to Giant Eagle!

Erin works for Lindt at the moment, so we joke about our career rivalry sometimes, but I think I still got her trained…

Hershey love in Giant Eagle

Hershey love in Giant Eagle

Our next stop was to our friend Wes’s new place to 1. see what the hell everyone has been up to, and 2. make some delicious things! Apparently, Texas has worn off on me more than I thought it would because we chose to make my new favorite: fried pickles.

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And, I mean, if you have a bunch of pickle juice left over, might as well do some pickle juice shots, right? The Midwest boys were troopers and humored my request for something Southern.

Look at that concentration.

Look at that concentration.

We went bar hopping in the neighborhood of Bloomfield for the rest of the night, which was a first for me. With so many nooks and crannies, Pittsburgh neighborhoods leave a lot to be explored! I think I could have lived there for 8 years and still had things left to discover. (There’s my aside for why everyone should visit Pittsburgh at least once.)

The rest of the weekend was spent strolling through campus, eating our way through Pittsburgh’s quirky food offerings, and catching up with whoever we could find.

Pittsburgh popcorn: MUST have

Pittsburgh popcorn: MUST have

My go-to for anything Mediterranean. The place I got both of my tattoos is just left of this picture's frame!

My go-to for anything Mediterranean. The place I got both of my tattoos is just left of this picture’s frame!

Rain in Shadyside calls for a stop at Iron Cactus for happy hour.

Rain in Shadyside calls for a stop at Steel Cactus for happy hour.

Unsurprisingly, our happy "hour" turned into a happy marathon.

Unsurprisingly, our happy “hour” turned into a happy marathon.

I found an Abi!

I found an Abi!

It was strange enjoying the city from such a different perspective. Erin and I stayed with our friend, Nick, in South Side, so we didn’t have our own cozy apartment to go back to whenever we wanted. It was nice that we didn’t have to worry about classes or homework, but that meant that we also didn’t really have any purpose to be in Oakland, which was the center of our Universe for 4 years. That pushed us to try a lot of new places, which I hadn’t expected! It’s just an odd sensation feeling slightly out of place in a city where you belonged and called home.

The last activity before having to fly back to San Antone was to meet up with my friend, Alexis, to plan our trip to Peru and Chile!

Trip planning over coffee and baked goods has to be one of life's greatest pleasures.

Trip planning over coffee and baked goods has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Bold coffee fuels bold ideas.

Bold coffee fuels bold ideas.

We hit a point in our brainstorming when we kind of decided we would just wing it and do what we felt like once we got there, which is RIGHT when a girl sitting at a table behind us turned around to ask, “are you planning a trip to Peru? I travelled through there for 6 weeks. Do you want some suggestions?” LIFE SAVER! I love when strangers come out of nowhere and are awesome people.

After all that excitement, I had to grab Erin and head back to the airport. It felt like the weekend had flown by and we didn’t get everywhere we wanted to, but I was so appreciative of being able to get a different view on “my city” and spending time with some of my favorite people without any distractions. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my short time as an “adult”, it’s that mini trips will save your sanity!

Speaking of, next on the blog brag list is quite a bit more than just a mini trip. Back to South America we go!

– Alexa

If you actually listen to me, and go to Pittsburgh, here’s where I ate and drank my face off on this last trip that I’d definitely recommend:

Pittsburgh Popcorn
Steel Cactus
Espresso a Mano
Big Dog Coffee

The Sweetest Thing

Inspired by a friend’s trip back to PA this week for an interview, I thought it was about time to write about my week in…

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Tons of people I met in college had been to Hershey Park before (being native Pennsylvanians), but I never got to visit the Sweetest Place On Earth until about 8 months into my job when I got sent for training. I use “training” loosely; we mostly just got to meet awesome people in the company and have a lot of fun. It didn’t hurt that I had Jordan, my Hershey partner-in-crime, with me, either.



After waking up super early on a Sunday, grabbing our first flight out of Austin, transferring to a puddle jumper full of Penn State students and staff going to Harrisburg, then getting a ride from a cute old Milton Hershey School graduate once we landed, we finally arrived at the Hotel Hershey. This is where I got the BEST greeting I’ve ever heard in my life:

“Would you prefer milk chocolate or dark chocolate?”

Obviously, this place and I were meant to be.

We THEN were told that we’d be staying in the brand new cabins built behind the hotel.

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Complete with a personal stone fireplace, I might add!

Complete with a personal stone fireplace, I might add!

We made ourselves at home before meeting the whole group for dinner. All details after that are kind of a blur, but the week looked like this…

Chocolate World

Chocolate World

The Hershey Story - What the first machines that made Kisses looked like!

The Hershey Story – What the first machines that made Kisses looked like!

Old ads

Old ads

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Getting advice from ol' Milton himself

Getting advice from ol’ Milton himself

Factory visits (I went to the Reese's plant!)

Factory visits (I went to the Reese’s plant!)

Tasting fresh Reese's cups

Tasting fresh Reese’s cups

Having an awesome(ly catered) game night

Having an awesome(ly catered) game night

And, my favorite, visiting the Milton Hershey School!

And, my favorite, visiting the Milton Hershey School!

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Seriously, this places is better than some colleges I've seen.

Seriously, this places is better than some colleges I’ve seen.

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I have to say, Hershey’s rock-solid CSR reputation is what drew me to the company in the first place, but getting to actually see where the success of the company goes, in the form of that school and the children it’s helping, made my job instantly worthwhile. I’m not sure how many people know this, but Hershey is aiming to hit $10 billion in revenue for 2017, yet the Milton Hershey School is sitting on over $12 billion right now and has a majority stake in the company. aka we’re not getting sold any time soon, which were exactly Milton’s intentions!

Activities aside, my favorite part of the whole week was getting to connect with people from all over the company – “all over” referring to both departments, geographies, and hierarchies. I met other reps from all over the country (and Canada!), who I keep in contact with to this day. Senior leaders were present at our workshops every day we were there, as well, which was both an honor and an indicator as to how much the company cares about its employees and its future.

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Hershey girls

Hershey girls

If you didn't get a chance to read The Hershey Press that week, we went to Egypt, too.

If you didn’t get a chance to read The Hershey Press that week, we went to Egypt, too.

All in all, it was an informative and inspiring week that I wish I could participate in every single month. It was hard having to say goodbye to everyone, not knowing when I’d see them again!

What DID help was a little side-trip I had planned…

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Can you guess?

– Alexa

RTM: Urban Cowboy

I don’t have to go too far out in the middle of nowhere anymore because of a change in my territory for work, hence the end of Rural Texas Mondays. I told my boss about it, though, and she was considerate enough to get this shot in downtown Austin for me. It’s not a rural setting, but it’s about as unexpectedly country as Texas can be!

Cheaper than a cab, too.

– Alexa

This may be a bit of a rant.

Hi. I’ve been pretty quiet lately, huh? At first, I thought it was because I didn’t have an interest in writing anymore. I just couldn’t make myself sit down and tell you about the amazing time I had being in Hershey, PA for the first time or the spectacular things I’ve done around San Antonio or the once-in-a-lifetime trip I took to Peru and Chile. They sound like pretty brag-worthy events, right? They were. And we’re pretty good at bragging on this blog about the awesome stuff that we do. Even so, I just didn’t get excited about chronicling those experiences to share with everyone.

Seriously, though... Peru has some cool things to look at.

Seriously, though… Peru has some cool things to look at.

I’ve had a list of “blog topics” piling up in a note on my phone. Things like…

  • What I actually do at work
  • Hipster San Antonio
  • Week in Hershey
  • Wine tasting in Fredericksburg, TX
  • Austin mini-excursions

There’s one at the top, though, that I think was holding me back from writing all of the others. It reads,

  • Transition from being college kids to real people – expectations vs. reality

When I first typed it in, the meaning was pretty light. I was still figuring out my job, wandering San Antonio, learning what kinds of trips a salary could actually buy me (or not buy me), and trying to find some new friends in this place.

All is not lost. People play volleyball here.

All is not lost. People play volleyball here.

The truth is… I’m not very happy. I can brag about events I’ve attended and places I’ve been, but if, at the end of the day, I’m not ecstatic about my life status, I can’t bring myself to feign enthusiasm about those things.

Obviously, the best way to express that is through the very public space that is the Internet because it feels more anonymous than the complaining I’ve already done to the people who know me well. Whatever. It feels like home.

I’ll lay it all out at once: My job isn’t glamorous. I’ve learned how miserable and rude people can be. I miss Pittsburgh. San Antonio is made of roads and strip malls (*sing* these are not some of my favorite things). I miss my friends. Set vacation days mean that gone are the months of roaming around a foreign country. Texas is hot as hell and full of conservative meat-eaters. It’s just… This life is not me.

Whine, whine, whine… #FirstWorldProblems. I’m spoiled. I know.

The honest truth is that I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunities that I was given over the past year. I mean, I have a job. Not everyone my age can say that. Hershey has fueled my chocolate addiction for years, and now its taking a chance by bringing me in as one of its own.

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Try to find me!

I’ve moved across the country and met people that I hope to know for the rest of my life. I have learned, from my experiences here, what I truly want and need to be happy, and now I’m on a mission to get it.

Being thrown into “the real world” has probably been the biggest culture shock of my life, which you know is really saying something. Without the doubts and worries and hard days, though, I’d have nothing pushing me forward into the next big thing. Patience is being forced upon me, which isn’t a very “millenial” trait to have, but it’ll pay off. OR AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TOLD. (Patience is hard, y’all.)

Anyway, my rant’s over. I apologize for the stretch of silence. Now that I’ve been about as open as I can be about the current situation, I’m hoping to move on to the usual pretty pictures and airy anecdotes. If anyone has some sage life advice they’d like to throw my way, though, feel free!

– Alexa


Argentina has come to Fitchburg, WI. Recently, an argentine sandwich shop named Chimmies opened near my house. The menu isn’t extensive, but my parents were both quite pleased with their sandwiches; I stuck with the humita empanada (corn). The filling was quite different from the humita empanadas from good old Lo de Fercha, but it was still very tasty. They seemed to be fried, but were not the least bit greasy, and were nice and crunchy. Overall, definitely a place to visit again!

Empanadas (humita and beef)!

Empanadas (humita and beef)!

– Maddy

California Love

We went to San Diego!


Why, you ask? Well, first I’d ask you, “why not?”, but “Groupon” would be the easiest answer. Thanks to some distracted browsing at work (ON A BREAK, obviously), we were able to stay at places like this…

… and this…

… without breaking our still-humble bank accounts!

Since we’ve been back, I’ve noticed how many other people I know are going to California for one reason or another (answer: A LOT), and I told Abi and Robby, “I think our generation has Cali fever.” I’ll be the first to admit I’m right in there with everyone else. We had a blast on our trip, and now there’s a 5-year plan in place to all get to the Best Coast SOMEHOW. Because of that, I’m going to show you our trip in the form of a daydream for the future that’s on a constant replay in my head, anyway.

DISCLAIMER: I stole a bunch of pictures from Abi & Robby. Nice job with an iPhone camera, guys.

A Day in the Life

GOOD MORNING! Happy Sunday. Ok, I’d be a *little* happier if I wasn’t so tired from going out with Abi and Robby last night, but the concert we went to was AMAZING! When a band like New Politics is going to be at the House of Blues, you go. End of story.

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Anyway, it’s a freaking gorgeous day out (as usual), so I need to get out of this place. Meeting the kids for breakfast at our favorite place near Mission Beach.

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Would you like some avocado with that?

That's non-negotiable.

That’s non-negotiable.

ATE. SO. MUCH. Need to walk it off.



We had enough fuel to get us to Pacific Beach. Might as well chill on the pier and watch the surfers, no?

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… and shamelessly document it because YOLICO (you only live in California once?).


Robby and Abi wanted to run down and touch the water – because that never gets old…


… but my attention is getting pulled elsewhere.

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Oh wait, I know them! VOLLEYBALL BREAK.

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My team managed to win 21-6 without much of a struggle (hey, this is a daydream, remember?). We’re going to head back towards Mission Beach to clean up and get ready to go downtown later tonight.

Everyone's out!

Everyone’s out!

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Don’t mind boat shopping along the way!

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Ummm… and making a mimosa stop?

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I did my own thing at home for a bit. Started getting ready until I noticed the sun was setting.

Un. Real.

Un. Real.

Once the magic died down, I ran out to hop in my Uber car to get to rooftop happy hour! My driver is a total hippie. His music is super chill, and he’s giving me sandwich shop recommendations, so I can’t complain.

We stopped to grab the other two on the way, and Robby points out that the driver sounds like a Californian.

(That was your cue to go watch that clip because it’s hilarious.)

BOOM. We’ve arrived. Wine, stat. The fried pickles are calling me from my Texas days. Can’t resist.

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After some chats about how awesome college was, how awesome our current lives are, and how Abi sent me a Facebook message a year before we ever met that I apparently never answered (oh wait, that actually happened), we head to a different place to meet up with some friends and hang out.

Some handsy friends*

Some handsy friends*




You know a place is college classy when there’s a machine that makes vodka/Red Bull slushies.


We’ll end it there.

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Takeaway of this story: This needs to be our lives.

– Alexa

Where We Stayed:
Embassy Suites San Diego Bay
Bahia Hotel Resort

Where We Ate/Drank/Played:
House of Blues San Diego
Saltbox – GOOD tapas bar near the House of Blues; tons of sangria options!
Olive Café – really local feel; cool patio
Swell Café – yummy veggie options; super chill
PB Shore Club – college classy (= not classy)
McFadden’s – Irish party bar. I was a little scared.
Pacific Beach AleHouse – So good, we went twice.
Funky Garcia’s – Good, cheap Mexican food. I got SOYRIZO tacos!❤
Barleymash – bar in the Gaslamp Quarter
Henry’s Pub – Outdoor seating made for great people watching!