Mastering the Art of the (Travel) Selfie

This is a selfie.

So is this.

And this.

I love traveling and once I learned how to travel solo, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.  I know I get a bunch of critiques on taking selfies (I've heard it all - so narcissistic, so basic, so Millennial...please find something original to say) but I really love taking my own travel "selfie" images because:

1) I can capture the moment as I'm experiencing it in my head much better than someone else could. Take a look at this image versus this image. One of them is taken by someone else and the other is a much-critiqued "selfie". In my eyes, one of looks much better because there was a lot more care and effort taken into the photo versus a quick snap done by a stranger.

A "Selfie"
Taken by someone else

2) You will always find better photos of places and things on the internet. But only YOU can get a photo of YOU in that place, in that moment. That fact alone makes it worthwhile for me to try to get an image of myself in each place, capturing the moment in a photograph as I see it in my head.

3) There are a lot of places where I don't trust giving my phone/cameras to strangers. Please don't give your phone/camera to someone random in Paris, Rome, Barcelona or other touristy places with lots of pick pockets. You may not get it back.

4) As a solo traveler, taking your own photo gives you a challenge and a reason to explore more closely the area you're visiting. I've been in places where I traveled solo and didn't take my own photo and I find I'm much more self conscious about being along and I tend to rush through places.

Ok, enough on the what. What does one need to take a travel selfie? I've bought a bunch of photo gear over the years and these are the items I use now to take my photos:

1) Sony A5000 with this selfie stick/tripod
This is my "bigger" camera setup when I want higher quality photos. This tripod goes up pretty high, so I can set it on the ground and the camera gets up to my mid-section, which is pretty good for this lightweight tripod.

Tip: Put your purse/water at the base of the tripod to steady it. Having that extra weight prevents the tripod from tipping over with your camera on it. Be careful - I've had my camera drop more than a few times from my tripod tipping over.

2) GoPro Hero 5 with this selfie stick/tripod
This is the lightweight/waterproof version of my other setup. Same setup as the other one, but both the tripod and the camera are significantly smaller.

Taken with my GoPro

3) GorillaPod with both my iPhone and Sony A5100
I have one of these but I rarely use it. The idea is that you can stick it onto your camera and this grips anywhere to make anything into a tripod, but I found I spent too much time fumbling with the tripod and trying to get it to stick in a steady manner. I prefer my other two setups instead but I do like having this one as a backup or for places where selfie sticks aren't allowed.

4) iPhone
My iPhone is my remote for both my Sony and GoPro and it lets me frame and preview the shot before taking it. It also puts the image directly on my phone immediately, so I can go straight to editing and posting the photo instead of getting home and transferring from my camera to my phone, etc.

So how to take a selfie?

1) Find a steady spot for your tripod, stick your camera on and frame the shot

2) Open the app on your phone and connect it to your camera. Make sure you can preview the frame

3) Run in front of the camera with your phone in your hand

4) Preview your shot with your phone, hover your finger over the remote button and then hide your hand with your phone from the camera's view (you'll notice in most of the shots on this page my hand is hidden. I'm hiding my phone!)

5) Run back to your tripod setup before the wind knocks it over or someone steals it!

6) Repeat as needed

And that's it! You're now a selfie-pro.

LA Life: Vasquez Rocks and Exotic Animals in Agua Dulce

Raise your hand if you've heard of Agua Dulce.

(Crickets? Yeah me too)

But in this little town that's 30 minutes north of Burbank sits one of my favorite places in the world - Animal Tracks. Animal Tracks is an exotic animal rescue that provides a sanctuary for exotic animals that dumb people bought on the black market (and then decided they couldn't keep because they're wild animals) and is also a sanctuary for former film and TV animals. Like the dog from Marley and Me is there along with the porcupines from one of the Night at the Museum movies.

If you haven't been there and you love animals, you will love this place. If you do the Ranch Tour, you'll get a 2 hour "tour" of their animals, which consists of lots of hands-on play with their animals, ranging from monkeys to kangaroos to snakes and porcupines (by the way, if you've ever seen them eat, they are the cutest things in the world). At a mere $35 per person, it's well worth the price of admission and the money goes directly back to helping take care of the animals.

In order to visit, you'll need to buy tickets in advance on their website. After you purchase the tickets, they will send you the address of the ranch. Bring closed toe shoes and water to drink; because it's in the Valley, it tends to get very hot during the summer. Also make sure your camera is fully charged, as you'll want to take pictures all day long with these guys.

After your two hour visit with the animals, right around the corner from the ranch is Vasquez Rocks, a natural park with these gorgeous rock formations. You can climb on the largest ones and it's pretty fun (and slippery) to get to the top. Little kids climb it all the time, so if you're in decent shape and have sure footing, it's a fun place to climb.

If Vasquez Rocks looks familiar, it's probably because it's been featured in a ton of movies and TV shows. Check out the Wikipedia links here.

After all of that outdoor time, I'm always exhausted. There's a Mexican food restaurant nearby Vasquez Rocks and Animal Tracks and I sometimes stop by for margaritas, but more often than not, I'm ready to go home to nap. It's a good 45 minutes - 1 hour drive back to West LA, so pace yourself accordingly.

Have you been? Share your experience in the comments.

How To Go on a Luxury African Safari Under $3000

While there's something I love about every place I've gone to, visiting South Africa and going on a safari was one of my all-time favorite memories ever. But when I talk to everyone about it, there's this misconception that it's an extremely expensive, especially for a private reserve camp.  My trip for flights and stay at a luxury safari resort that was all inclusive of meals was under $3000 for 5 days/4 nights. If I can do it, you can too.

Round Trip flight from LA to London: $450 (error fare that British Airways honored but I've gotten a number of LA to Europe flights for under $500 so it's completely doable)
Flight from London to Johannesburg (cheaper to fly into than Cape Town): $0 (only miles)
Flight from Cape Town to London : $750
Transfer and flights within South Africa: Approx $400
All inclusive luxury safari costs for 5 days/4 nights: 32,000 Rand or $2600 for 2 people (so $1300 per person)

Total:  $2900 per person

How to book a safari on a budget:

1) Contact a safari agent to help you book (but get the right ones)
I NEVER use agents to book anything, but in this case, it was really helpful to have someone guide me since it's pretty hard coordinating transportation to get to the middle of nowhere. I used Jacqui Sive from Lodge Trackers (tell her hi from me if you use her!) and she was AMAZING to communicate with, plus I actually saved money versus booking on my own, as she was able to find cheaper transportation costs.

2) Don't feel obligated to splurge for the most expensive safari camp
I stayed at Arathusa camp in Sabi Sands, which was "luxury" but "affordable" luxury. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I also didn't want to significantly up my budget, since mostly wanted to see the animals and they were available at all of the camps. I was absolutely shocked when I arrived at how luxurious the experience was - and I've stayed at a number of 5 star places around the world. I stayed in a huge "room" with an outdoor and indoor shower with a perfect view of the watering hole. Meals were fantastic and there were only 15-20 guests staying at my camp at any given time, so we each got a ton of attention from the staff, as it was almost a 1:1 staff to guest ratio.

I also saw all of the Big 5 animals up close and the rangers and animal trackers are insanely talented.

3) Play around with your departure and arrival cities to get the cheapest air flights
You can get to South Africa a number of ways, but the more direct and fewer connections, the more expensive your trip becomes. For me, it was cheapest to fly from LA to London, London to Johannesburg and then a flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, and then a drive from Hoedspruit to the safari. It took me a total of 36 hours to get from LA to the safari, but 1) it's hard to get to the middle of nowhere however you look at it and 2) those extra hours were worth saving hundreds in flights

4) There's an even cheaper way to see the animals
If you don't want to stay in a luxury private reserve camp, you can actually see the animals for a fraction of the cost by camping and driving through Kruger National Park yourself. Admission to the park is a mere $24 (or 300 rand).

But you have to stay on the per-designated roads and you don't get the benefit of a tracker, so there's no guarantee you'll see animals and when you do, there will likely be a huge crowd around as well. The thing that swayed me toward a private reserve is that you'll go on game drives in an open Jeep with both a ranger and a tracker, you'll drive off-road and you'll get up close and personal with animals without large crowds around. So for me, it was worth the extra expense, but YMMV depending on how you like to travel.

More questions about going on safari or staying on a private reserve? Let me know in the comments below.

Things I Wished Someone Told Me Before Entering UCLA Anderson

I'm halfway through the Fully-Employed MBA program at UCLA Anderson (we call it FEMBA for short) and I always get a ton of questions on what it's like being in a MBA program, how I juggle school and work, what the social life is like, how admissions work and more. My goal is to create a series of MBA posts to answer all of those questions and to help people like me, who, prior to coming into the program scoured the internet for any blog posts from people themselves (and not from the schools who may be a little biased). So here's my top 5 things I wished someone told me before I started the FEMBA program at UCLA Anderson:

1) Brush up on your math skills
Everything in an MBA program is calculating numbers. Strategy class? You'll be tearing apart income statements and balance sheets to compare numbers to find a company's true strategy (and not what they say they do). Marketing class? All about ROI calculations. And if you think you're already good at math, your first core class for the FEMBA program will be managerial statistics so hahaha good luck (kidding - I actually really loved statistics and aced that class).

But seriously, brush up on your math and Excel skills. Find that TI calculator you threw in the back of a miscellaneous box after college. Bring graph paper with you everywhere. Tap into that inner nerd. It will become such a part of you that you'll start talking in group texts about probabilities, variance and outliers, like the real text conversation below.

2) Never underestimate how overachieving your classmates are
So you think you're a type-A overachiever and you were always at the top of your class and you'll do just fine in a MBA program, right?

Guys, prior to my MBA class, I:
  • Started college classes at 15 and went full time by 16 
  • Scored in the top 12th percentile in the GMAT on my first try
  • Already worked and retired from a 10 year career in the entertainment industry AND had 6 years of work experience AND had my own revenue-generating startup business 
  • Got offered a merit-based fellowship (pretty rare for part-time MBAs)

Well let me tell you, all of those achievements and all of my "Type-A" tendencies mean NOTHING when you enter the program because EVERYONE is a ridiculous overachiever. Oh you know, Emmy winners, doctors, astronauts, Olympians - those are just some of the students you're going to school with.

So stay humble and work your butt off, because everything is on a curve and you're always compared to your fellow classmates.

With that said, UCLA Anderson has an amazingly collaborative culture, so while you are compared to your classmates, everyone is extremely supportive and helpful of one another and it's not a cutthroat environment at all. You'll always find groups to study with and classmates who will share notes and tips and resources. UCLA Anderson's motto is "Share Success" and they really cultivate a culture that shows that.

3) The MBA grading curve
And speaking of curve, let's talk about the MBA curve because this was one of my favorite findings when entering the MBA program.You're required to maintain a 3.0 GPA to stay in the MBA program. But 99% of students who enter the program graduate from the program.

How does that math work out (remember point #1 on brushing up on those math skills)? Many top MBA programs grade on a curve, meaning you're compared to your fellow classmates. I don't have (and refuse to disclose) the exact grading curve, but a lot of people will get A's, a lot of people will get B's and a few will get C's. That's it. No D's or F's (generally, but I have heard rumors about someone getting a failing grade). You'll find it pretty easy to keep a 3.0+ GPA but because it's on a curve, it's extremely difficult to get the A's in the class (look to point #2 on those overachievers).

Just to give you an idea, because of the curve and all of those competitive students, a 93% in accounting class was a B+. But a 70% in accounting was also a B. So you can't really fail but you'll have to work really hard to do well.

4) Detox and get fit BEFORE the program
This is the one thing no one told me before starting my program. You will gain weight. Almost everyone in my program did.

Why? Because now you'll have no time to work out, especially if you go to the part-time program. Between school and work and networking events and happy hours, you'll spend all your days working and all of your nights studying and drinking networking and you'll have no more time or energy to work out.

So get super fit before the program. Now that I'm in the program,  I ramp up my workouts and diets during school breaks and that helps undo all of the damage from the networking events and catered snacks at school.

5) It's an amazing experience I wouldn't change for the world
I'd be doing everyone a disservice if I didn't rave about how amazing my MBA experience is. When I was debating on whether or not to enroll in the program after being admitted, especially when calculating all of those MBA tuition fees, I talked to my friend (and Anderson alum) who told me there are just a handful of things in life that you spend your money on. You work hard for your money to get experiences - and the MBA experience is 100% worth it. I was skeptical, but once I entered the program, I found it to be 100% true. It's an incredible experience that has changed who I am as a person for the better.

Weekend Trip: 6 Palm Springs Activities

Palm Springs - land of shopping outlets, mid-century homes, desert sun, old Hollywood and Coachella.

For the uninitiated, Palm Springs and it's surrounding cities (Palm Desert, Indio, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs) are one of the go-to getaways for those in LA, as it's a whole different world just a two hour drive from Los Angeles. For this former Las Vegas resident, the desert climate feels like home. I typically go to Palm Springs 3-5 times a year for work conferences, weekend vacations and Coachella. Here are a few of my favorite things to do there:

1) Feed giraffes at the Living Desert Zoo
Have you ever wanted to see desert animals in their natural habitat? This zoo only features desert animals and desert vegetation and their animal enclosures are spacious with lots of room for the animals to roam (check out the photo below). Plus you can feed giraffes! Admission tickets are a super reasonable $20 each - just make sure to arrive early in the morning before the heat sets in.

Pro Tip: If you CAN handle the heat, Palm Springs is dead in September when it's crazy hot out. That's when I went to visit the zoo and there were probably 10 visitors in the entire zoo. It's how I got the giraffes all to myself and animals would come by to look at ME when I passed by, since it was so dead.

2) Take photos with the Cabazon dinosaurs
File this one under "Weird road trip pit stops". On your way in or out of the area, there is a little area by the highway with gigantic dinosaurs. There's really nothing to do there except take pictures of the dinosaurs and go on your merry way, but it's worth a stop if you like to see odd things. It's free to take pictures outside and according to Yelp, not worth the admission fee to go inside.

3) Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
In the middle of the hot, sandy desert lies the world's longest rotating tram car that will take you to the top of the San Jacinto Mountain. Without the tramway, you'd have to do a grueling hike up to the top of the mountain - and according to friends who have done it, it's a challenging all day hike, in the dark, in snow. I'd rather just step onto the tramway and take the 12 minute ride up there to play in the snow, thank you very much.

Pro Tip: If you do go up there, bring cold weather gear. I don't care how hot it is on the bottom. It is cold on top and you will need that jacket.

4) Eat, eat and eat some more
There's no shortage of yummy foods. There's too many places and I think Palm Springs restaurants deserve their own post. Basically, go and eat.

5) Shop the Desert Hills Outlet
I don't really like shopping in person or malls, so I can't speak too much to how "good" of an outlet this is. But if you like to work out, there is a Lululemon outlet store out here and I once picked up my favorite sports bra for a measly $15. Win.

6) Lounge by the pool
When I think of Palm Springs, I always picture golden desert sand and blue swimming pools. Pretty much every hotel and Airbnb has a pool. You are in the middle of the desert. Bring your favorite floatie and lounge all day long with a drink in hand.