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Day 1

Arriving in Buenos Aires

Logistics:

Firstly, most people only need to have a valid passport and a return ticket to visit Argentina for up to 90 days for tourism. There is a USD$92 fee for Canadian nationals and a USD$100 fee for Australians that must be pre-paid prior to entry. You can pay it here through the Argentine Immigration Department website.

 

In all likelihood you're going to be arriving on an overnight flight like my husband and I did unless you're already in South America. Even though you're going to be so desperate for sleep that you'll be considering a nap on the terminal floor, try to stay up for an early dinner to adjust to the time zone and fight that jet lag!

Sleep:

Check-in to The Glu Hotel, a boutique hotel in Palermo Soho (after all you want to be in the nicest area near all of the best restaurants and shops). It's a 3.5 star hotel, but felt like so much more. Incredibly comfortable rooms, kind staff and a great breakfast included in the rate in addition to wifi and air conditioning. It's no wonder that it's topped hundreds of Buenos Aires hotels on TripAdvisor. It only has 11 rooms so make sure to book in advance.

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You've made it! Now enjoy the sights, smells and artistic graffiti of the city by getting yourself properly lost. Wander the streets of Palermo until it's time for a snack.

 

Once you've gotten a taste of the city, grab your dancing shoes for a tango lesson with Lucia and Gerry, the kindest and most patient dance teachers you could hope for. I opted for a private lesson with my better half, but they also do group lessons. They kindly filmed a dance at the end of our lesson on our camera and that footage is now locked in a safe...forever. The important thing to remember here is that it's a lot of fun to try something new! The best thing to do is to email Lucia and Gerry directly to sort out a lesson or find out if they're doing group lessons at a nearby tango club. Luciaygerry@gmail.com 

Eat:

Barring any dietary requirements, it's recommendable to proceed to the first parrilla (steakhouse) that strikes your fancy (we didn't have one bad meal in Argentina) and order a steak and savor a glass of Malbec. Make sure to come hungry, the steaks are the size of your face. They don't mess around when it comes to meat. 

Top tips:

1. Establish the taxi fare and how you're going to pay before getting in wherever you are in Argentina. This will save a lot of angst on both sides at the end of the ride.

 

2. Make restaurant reservations: Parrillas that have high ratings on TripAdvisor book up fast, so make sure to make a reservation even on a week night. I found out the hard way, but ended up having some great meals at whatever we stumbled across. Here's a few parrillas I wish I had made reservations for in advance: Steaks by Luis, Don Julio, Calden del Soho and Rio Alba

3. Fly business class, free: Yes, you can get a free round-trip business class ticket to a far flung place like Buenos Aires with a little discipline and planning. I did! Find out in this blog post.

 

4. Get cashWhile you can pay with credit cards in Buenos Aires and at most hotels, you may find that you'll need cash for taxis, food and entrance fees so be prepared. Most places accept USD, but you should carry some pesos just in case!

Day 2

Buenos Aires By Foot

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Start your morning by stopping to smell the roses...literally. After a 30 minute walk you'll find yourself in Paseo El Rosedal on Avenue Infanta Isabel, a stunning park of manicured lawns lined with rose bushes.

 

Then, head over to Recoleta, the most affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires filled to the brim with beautiful European-inspired architecture. However, the real sight to behold is the cemetery which is a miniature city of ornate mausoleums open 8am-6pm (free entry). It's about.a 45 minute walk from Paseo El Rosedal to the cemetery, but you probably won't mind as the best way to take in the city is by foot.

Continuing on toward the city's center for another 20 minutes or so, you'll pass Plaza San Martin to walk down Florida Street, the well-known pedestrianized shopping area on your way to  Plaza de Mayo to see Casa Rosada. This pink palace is an imposing colonial mansion housing the President's office. Every Saturday and Sunday there are free English guided tours at 12:30pm and 2:30pm (tour lasts about an hour). All you need to do is sign up through this link, bring identification and be willing to have all your belongings x-rayed.  While roaming the plaza, also check out the Cabildo, a Spanish colonial building of arches and the city’s main cathedral. In the center of the plaza is the Pirámide de Mayo, a white obelisk marking the country's independence from Spain.

Exit the plaza to walk down Defensa Street, the pedestrianized walkway through the heart of San Telmo (runs to Avenue San Juan) while browsing craft stalls and indulging in some street treats. Plan to go on a Sunday during the weekly street fair from 9am-6pm.

Start heading back to Palermo and take a guided tour of Teatro Colon along the way (about 45 minutes walk from Avenue San Juan). The city's main opera house was fashioned after the opulent Versailles Palace and is considered one of the best acoustic concert halls in the world. 50 minute guided tours are every 15 minutes until 5pm. If you're lucky, you'll get to sit in a  box and see part of an opera rehearsal. However, tours are cancelled depending on show performances so make sure to check the website to avoid disappointment. Although Casa Rosado is the most photographed building in Buenos Aires, Teatro Colon was my favorite sight to behold.

It's about an hour and 20 minutes to get back to the hotel on foot or 30 minutes by underground. Get on the D train at Tribunales and exit eight stops later at Palermo and then walk another 15 minutes to the hotel. 

Top tips:

1. How to ride the underground: Make sure to buy a SUBE card and then load it at a kiosk in the station to travel. Also double-check which platform you need as I don't think you can walk by through the turnstiles without losing your fare.  A ticket to anywhere on the network is ARS$7.50 (40p / USD50¢). 

 

2. What to do at night: Try to score some opera tickets at Teatro Colon for the evening or follow my lead and check out a tango show. I caught an 8:15pm show at Tango Porteno. You can eat dinner during the show, but I chose to eat at a local parrilla to get some more reasonably-priced steak instead!

Day 3

Patagonia & Penguins

Logistics:

Hopefully, you're a morning person even after a late night out because you're going to want to grab an early morning flight to Trelew (REL). We took a 6:40am Aerolineas Argentinas.  

 

The best way to get around Patagonia is to drive so remember to pre-book a rental car to pick-up at the airport. Some of the terrain can be challenging so if you know how to drive a manual, definitely rent one. We rented the cheapest option from Avis  with all of the insurance added on. I always get all of the insurance because the extra few pounds or dollars is worth the peace of mind that if something happens to that car, you can just walk away.

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You could check-out Trelew while you're there. It's steeped in Welsh heritage, but it didn't look particularly scenic and my priority was penguins. Thus, it's recommendable to head out of town and drive two hours south to Punta Tombo. Punta Tombo is a natural reserve with thousands of Magellanic penguins swimming, mating, nesting and hanging out. The walkways and boardwalks have no fences or barriers and go directly through the colony so you can get up close and personal with more of these wild birds than you've ever dreamed of. They're pretty low key animals and don't mind being stared out, but obviously the last thing they want is to be petted by human hands. You'll need to control the urge to cuddle these sweet creatures! Make sure you go between late September and April otherwise the birds will have moved on.

Sleep:

Drive three hours north past the airport to Puerto Madyrn and check-in to Hotel Territorio, a quirky, but modern and chic boutique hotel on the edge of the town which is convenient because you want somewhere easy to park the car. Most people visiting Puerto Madyrn aren't renting cars and don't want to stay here because it's not really walking distance to the town center. Take advantage of this situation and get a 4-star hotel for the price of a 3-star with breakfast, wifi and parking included. However, if you'd rather stay in Puerto Madryn, check out TripAdvisor for alternative hotel options. 

Eat:

Take a drive into Puerto Madryn where you have your pick of restaurants (mostly seafood). We parked on the street and headed to Cantina El Nautico, a traditional Argentinian choice. I don't eat seafood so it was a good choice because they had alternative options (like more steak). 

Top tip:

It's better to plan to take early morning flights because the domestic flights are often delayed and uncoordinated which can leave you waiting in the airport for hours. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to have part of the day at your destination. However, since flights can be unpredictable, it's probably best not to book any excursions on the same day as a flight.

Day 4

Patagonian Safari

Logistics:

Peninsula Valdes was much larger than I thought; however, we were able to see all the animals in one day. If I was to do the trip again, I would still only leave one day for this Patagonian safari. It's an hour and a half to reach the start of the peninsula so getting an early start is critical. 

At the start of the journey, make sure to fill up the gas/petrol tank and check that you have enough food and water before leaving Puerto Piramides (the only town on the peninsula) because once you get out into the Patagonian wilderness, there's nothing but you, animals, gravel and flat wilderness as far as the eye can see. 

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While near Puerto Piramides, look out for pods of Orcas October through December and head toward Punta Norte if you want to get the best views of whales and crowds. Punta Norte is where all the excursions go from Puerto Piramides.  After experiencing the challenges of the gravel road we decided to head to Punta Delgado which was a slightly shorter drive. At Punta Delgado, we saw loads of lazy sea lions sunning themselves, aggressive elephant seals trying to tear each other's noses off and there were also penguins in some nearby areas. The penguin population was disappointing after seeing the massive colony at Punta Tombo so make sure to make time for that excursion.

 

On the drive back, we saw families of Choique running by (flightless birds that look like miniature ostriches) and guanacos (which look like large llamas). The marine animals were easy to see because they tend to group together in specific areas whereas the land animals were much more challenging to spot. However, the road is pretty desolate so my other half would just stop the car in the middle of the road and we'd jump out and try to get as close as we could to watch the animals. Don't you just love it when you feel like you're in a nature documentary?!

Top tip:

When we rented our car from the airport, the guy handling our paperwork said to me if you roll the car over your insurance no work. Okay, I admit my Spanish is muy mal so surely I must have misunderstood? Roll my car? I was looking bewildered and my husband was looking annoyed watching me flip through the Spanish dictionary so I could string together a question as to what circumstance would I face in Patagonia to roll a car over. Firstly, the problem with looking up words to ask a question in a different language generally leads to an answer you also can't understand. However, in his response I heard the words Peninsula Valdes. 

 

Fast forward to Puerto Piramides and we're on the gravel road. The terrain is flat, but the road was cambered and our brakes were useless on the gravel because there was such limited traction. We then drove by a pyramid of wrecked cars. It looked as if a giant squeezed their sides just enough to break all the windows and then neatly stacked them. We then connected the dots. Lose control on the top of the road and the car will drift into the gutter-like side and flip over. Needless to say, we drove pretty slowly. My husband is a very confident and controlled driver and this drive did stress him out even though we brought the car back without a scratch.

 

You may want to consider hiring an off-road vehicle (we rented the cheapest tin can available), get a private guide with experience on the peninsula who can drive you or take a small group excursion. 

Day 5

Head South

Logistics:

After sleeping off the stressful drive the day before, we head for the airport to give back our rented tin can and hop a flight to El Calafate (FTE). We took an early afternoon flight on Aerolineas Argentinas.

 

As previously mentioned, delays are rampant and the one we caught on our way to El Calafate was epic and included us having to take a flight to Ushuaia, the southern most tip of Argentina before landing in on our final destination. You just need to be patient because customer service is not the airline's strong suit and they aren't going to compensate you.

After examining the limited bus options, we booked a taxi through our hotel to pick us up at the airport and despite the extended delay, the driver was there waiting for us.

Sleep:

There's slim pickings in hotels, but we were happy with Los Ponchos Apart Boutique. Our room was a comfortable (enough) duplex with a small kitchen downstairs. Since we've gone prices have significantly increased to stay here, but the rate does include wifi, parking and breakfast.  Availability is also limited so make sure to book in advance. Otherwise, check out TripAdvisor for other hotels in the area. 

Eat:

We went to the local grocery store and picked up some beef mince, onions and avocados and cooked it up into burgers topped with sautéed onion and avocado. It ended up being a great meal. Alternatively there was many permutations of ham and cheese if sandwiches is more your style. 

Day 6

Glacial Cruise

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No trip to El Calafate would be complete without seeing a glacier calve off into the sea. We took the Rios de Hielo Express, a full day boat tour of the glaciers with Solo Patagonia. The trip leaves from Puerto Punta Bandera a half hour away from El Calafate so make sure to pay the extra few dollars for the transfer when buying the ticket. We bought our tickets in person the day before in town, but you can reserve them on the website or email the company directly at contacto@solopatagonia.com. The cruise was what you would expect--a tired boat with a huge crowd. However, seeing Glaciar Upsala, Spegazzini and Perito Moreno glaciers were worth it--they were nothing short of stunning.

If budget wasn't a constraint, then we would have taken a MarPatag cruise for £245 / USD$315 / €281 per person (paid in USD) which looked a lot classier and got great reviews

Eat:

We chose to eat in the room to save money after having a rather expensive lunch on the boat, but check out Trip Advisor's top restaurants in El Calafate if that's not your style. 

Top tip:

Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and dress in layers. It's colder than you think. Remember to hold on to your hat! As soon as I put my hood back for a photo, I lost mine to the wind. Nothing a trip to the local shops couldn't fix!  

Day 7

Perito Moreno Glacier Mini Trek

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Seeing the glaciers was magical, but climbing one was a real hoot (and quite the splurge). We hike quite a bit, but knew we were not hardcore enough for a proper ice climb. Enter Hielo y Aventura which has a 1.5 hour mini trek that let's you get your crampons on and feel like you're hiking a glacier with limited danger and effort. It even ends with a caramel cookie treat and glass of Scotch on the glacier. They do have more advanced treks for adrenaline seekers if this all sounds a bit too relaxing.The trip takes most of the day so be prepared to be picked up from your hotel around 7:30am. After the transfers, we were broken up into small groups with a rather charismatic guide. Normally, I loathe anything that looks or feels like a group tour, but for a small group excursion it was well-done and we had a great time. After the trek they also take you to a stunning viewpoint where you can take National Geographic quality photos of the glaciers. 

Top Tips:

1. You are required to bring a packed lunch on this excursion so remember to make one! And I also recommend bringing some additional snacks.

2. Wear hiking boots, bring sunglasses, gloves and dress in layers. Similar to the glacial cruise, you're going to get cold being outside so dress appropriately. The sunlight reflecting off the glacier is painfully bright so make sure to bring some dark sunglasses. Obviously, leave the Prada ones at home and invest in a cheap pair that won't ruin your day if you accidentally lose them down a crevice. 

Day 8

To El Chalten

Logistics:

Seeing only one part of the National Glacier Park would not do it justice so hop on a 3 hour mini shuttle bus, Zona Austral, to El Chalten, a small mountain village on the opposite end of the park. Don't worry, this reliable shuttle provides a hotel-to-hotel service but there is only one service early in the morning and one in the evening. We took the 7:30am bus and pre-paid by credit card. Buy a roundtrip ticket as you're going to need to go back to El Calafate airport for the next leg of the trip.

Sleep:

Check-in to Hotel Destino Sur, a lovely little spa hotel with stylish and comfortable rooms. It is sublime to slip into a hot tub after a long day of hiking. Just remember to book your slot for the hot tub at the front desk. It's free but by reservation only. Rates are reasonable considering how nice it is and includes breakfast, wifi and parking (if you needed it). 

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Once you smell that fresh mountain air, the first thing you're going to is the hit trail (okay, well I did!). We took a short 2 hour hike around Condor Mirador and Eagle Miradors. It's an easy climb that begins behind the National Park Office and provides some stunning views of Mount Fitz Roy.

Eat:

I have a confession to make...we ate one lunch and two dinners at El Muro and we had the lomo (steak) all three times because it was outstanding, really inexpensive and a short walk from the hotel. Yes, we ate steak twice in one day which is a bit much! Apologies to the veggies out there, but don't worry, there's other things to eat.

Top Tip:

Try to get an early check-in wherever you end up staying because you're going to be arriving in the morning. Otherwise just have the front desk hold your luggage while you're out and about.

Day 9

Hike to Laguna Torre

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Get ready for one of the most rewarding hikes you'll ever go on. There's a stunning panoramic view of Cerro Solo, Adela range, Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy mount 15 minutes in. You don't even have to work for it!  Overall, the terrain is not difficult until it gets a bit rocky and steep at the end, but it does take time, so leave yourselves 6-9 hours to hike to Laguna Torre and to return to El Chalten. Check out this link for more info about the hike.   

Top Tip:

Bring more water than you think you need: It's mild outside and you're going for a day hike so how much water do you really need? The answer is double whatever you just packed. We brought a 2 L bottle of water to share between us and I told my husband that was not going to be sufficient, but he didn't want to carry any more weight in the backpack we were sharing.

 

By the time we got to Laguna Torre we were parched. I felt like my organs were sticking together. Laguna Torre is a glacial lake so just drink that, right? I wouldn't recommend drinking any random still water even if it is glacial unless you boil it or have water treatment tablets (which also makes your water taste gross by the way).

 

So what did we do the entire hike back (aside from admire the amazing scenery with awe)? We shared our dreams of finding gatorade in the town and fantasized what flavors would be available. When we did get back to town, we did find a shop selling gatorade in glass bottles which we guzzled so fast we gave ourselves brain freezes. We then each had a chaser of a 1 L bottle of water. In the end this was a humourous memory that taught us a lesson, but dehydration can have VERY serious consequences. Always bring more water then you think you will need. 

Day 10

Head North to Iguazu

Logistics:

Rise and shine! It's time to hop back on that early 3 hour mini shuttle bus, Zona Austral, to go back to El Calafate. This time, have them drop you at the airport so you can catch a early afternoon flight to Iguazu (IGR), land of the waterfalls. We took a 2pm flight without issue. Unfortunately there aren't non-stop flights, but you can get a flight with one stop that will take about 6.5 hours including the layover. However, knowing the delays with domestic carriers, it's bound to be longer.

Whichever hotel you end up booking, contact them ahead of time to arrange for a late check-in and for an airport pick-up that will track your flight and be there when you land despite delays. We got caught out and almost got stranded if it wasn't for an off-duty tour bus that saw a lucrative opportunity and dropped our entire flight off at their respective hotels. Alternatively, you could rent a car to avoid all this, but it will be a bit of roulette if your flight gets in while the rental car counters are still open.

Sleep:

We stayed at Grand Crucero Iguazu Hotel. It was perfectly comfortable and it's ranked highly on TripAdvisor, but I didn't love it. There was a lack of character and charm. It's not walking distance to anything (like most of the hotels) so you have to take the bus or taxis to get anywhere. However, it's affordable which is a plus at and includes a pretty good breakfast, wifi and parking (if you need it). The hotel also has an outdoor pool.

Had budget not a factor, I would have booked at the Sheraton located inside Parque Nacional Iguazú where guest have their own private entrance in addition to rooms with waterfall views. The hotel runs about £250-320 / USD$325-415 per night for a standard room that includes breakfast, wifi and parking. The price would become steeper if you wanted. a window facing the falls.

Eat:

You're probably going to want to plan to eat at the airport, but if you get in early enough, you may catch the hotel restaurant or lobby bar with quick snacks to get.a bit to eat before bed. 

Day 11

Iguazu Falls

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After a well-deserved lie in, walk a block to take the bus for a few pennies or be lazy like us and grab a taxi to head over to the Argentine side of UNESCO World Heritage site, Parque Nacional Iguazú. The park is open 8am to 6pm in case you're an early riser.  The park is huge and it takes most of the day to walk around it; however, a guide is not necessary. 

 

The waterfalls are stunning and powerful and you'll be shocked by the sheer noise of the water. The subtropical climate will be a welcome change from the cold of El Calafate and you can practice you're bird watching skills. There's supposed to be over 450 different species on the Argentine side of the park alone! 

Lower Circuit: Plan to spend about 2 hours on the path even though it's only a mile long because it gives you the best views of the waterfalls and you're going to want to stop a lot to take in their beauty and take photos. You can extend the walk by climbing down a staircase at Salto Bossetti falls to a small pier to catch a free ferry to San Martin Island to hang out on the beach of the river and swim. We chose to forego this part so we had enough time to walk the Macuco Nature Trail.

Upper Circuit: It's about a half mile long and takes half the time. The path crosses the top of the canyon to look down over the edge of the falls which is spectacular. We also saw rainbows over the river which was quite magical. 

Devil's Throat: After the circuits take a leisurely walk over to La Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), one of the biggest attractions in the park. Unless your camera has waterproofing, you may want to make the photo opps quick on the viewing platform because there is a lot of spray

 

Depending on how much time you have left, you may want to consider a 3.75 mile walk on the Macuco Nature Trail which is much more low key and less crowded than the circuits. The trail ends at a waterfall with a pool you can swim in. Much cooler than the island!

However, if you decide to forego tomorrow's activities to return to the park, you can fit it all in. Just remember to get your ticket stamped on the way out so you only have to pay half the admission on the second day.

Eat:

We grabbed lunch in the park and you'll need to watch your food. There's coatis (Argentina's raccoons) wandering around looking for tasty opportunities. 

For dinner, we took a taxi into the town which is very small and quiet and ate at AQVA Restaurant, a parrilla. We  just couldn't get enough of the country's delicious steak! Although, I have to admit you'd be hard-pressed to find a highly rated restaurant in the town that wasn't a steakhouse.

Top Tips:

1. Taking the public bus: The bus takes about 20-30 mins and runs about every 25 minutes (check with the hotel/inside the park to double check times), you have to have exact change and when you take the bus home from the park (you'll find it outside the entrance--it looks like a coach bus), don't plan to take the last one around 6pm because you may not fit on it! We got lucky that they let us stand.

2. Argentina side of the falls was enough: I considered spending an extra day around the area to go to the Brazilian side of the falls as well (the waterfalls are split between Argentina and Brazil). However, after seeing the volume of stunning and massive waterfalls Argentina had to offer, I really got my fill and didn't feel like I was going to miss out by not going to the other side.

Day 12

Mas Animales

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We had gorgeous weather at Iguazu Falls and then the next day was a torrential downpour. We stuck close by and caught the bus to Güirá Oga  (although its only a 30 min walk down the same road the hotel is on), a local rehabilitation centre for animals. It's open from 9:30am-6pm, but you only need an hour and a half for the tour. The guided tour is a must because you're not allowed to roam around unaccompanied.. Make sure to get an English speaking guide or the tour is going to feel like eternity. We had a rather charismatic young woman with great English and she helped us hop from overhang to overhang (we got soaked anyway) to tell us about the animals they've rescued and nursed back to health. 

Eat:

After Güirá Oga, we headed back to the hotel for lunch and just ended up whiling away the rest of the day in the lobby bar playing cards. 

Top Tip:

Make a rainy day plan: Since Iguazu is subtropical, rain is not uncommon so plan to go to the falls one day and then plan an alternative activity that won't be ruined by a cloudburst or in our case a torrential downpour the entire day. Remember to check the weather after you check-in to the hotel to figure out which day has the driest weather for the falls!

Day 13

Back to Buenos Aires

Logistics:

Sleep in and fill up on breakfast before heading to the airport (use the hotel transfer or taxi for a mid-afternoon flight to Buenos Aires.

Sleep:

Check back into Glu Hotel or you could be adventurous and pull a different one off Trip Advisor's list

Eat:

After more flight delays, we got in late and Glu made us some dinner to eat in our room while we filled up our jacuzzi tub. Hopefully, you'll get in earlier and can have a nice dinner out.

Day 14

Adios Argentina

Play & Eat

Hit up anything you didn't get to see or eat, but desperately wanted to. We  hung out in La Boca most of the day and had one last steak before heading to the airport. 

Logistics:

You're probably going to be taking an overnight flight home and your flight will depart after dinner. Ours was at 9:20pm, although it was severely and almost unforgivably delayed. Despite a lot of complaining at the airport, we got very little compensation. Essentially, enough to take a roundtrip taxi back to Buenos Aires to hang out until our flight departed around 2 in the morning.

Top Tips:

1. Take out travel insurance before you travel to make sure you have coverage for severe delays or baggage loss.

2. Give yourself an extra day at home. You're going to be exhausted and jet-lagged so this is not one of those trips where you want to drop off your suitcase and head into work. Be kind to yourself by planning a full day at home. I was so grateful we did! Plus, then you have time to flip through all your pictures and re-live this amazing experience.

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