9 reasons why you should travel with a group

I’m Rachael – Nutella lover, binger of Netflix crime documentaries, and ardent solo traveller. I did an epic 2.5 years of travelling solo between 2014-2017, and on my way around the world I joined on to some group tours (because who wants to do everything alone?!) So I’ve compiled a list of 9 reasons it was amazing travelling as part of a group – as much as I’m an advocate of going off on your own…

I had people to take photos of me

 

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Top 8 things to do in Transylvania

Transylvania, it’s a real place, and Dracula is a real person – sort of. Stories of the creepy Count were inspired by the real life of Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) – a little pub quiz trivia for you, if you ever need it. So, what can you get up to in this mysterious town of bloodthirsty vampires in the heart of Romania?
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15 lessons we’ve learned from travelling the world, as told by Queer Eye

If you haven’t heard of it or watched it already (who are you, and what are you doing here?) Queer Eye is about 5 fabulous gay guys driving around the southern part of the USA, making over straight guys. And now we, at STA Travel HQ, have a total obsession with them. Watching it gives us happy tears, warm fuzzies, and has taught us 101 new ways to use an avocado.

So, we thought what better way to celebrate Pride, the release of Queer Eye Season 2, and our love of Antoni, Jonathan, Bobby, Karamo and Tan than a travel-related Queer Eye blog. So here are our 15 lessons:

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24 hours in Khasab, Oman

In a region that’s often thought of as flashy and expensive, Oman is a country where you can still experience authentic Arabian culture.

I jumped at the chance to visit when my friend and her friends spontaneously organised an overnight stay on a traditional dhow boat while I was visiting them in Dubai. It was my first time in the Middle East, and I’d just got back from travelling Asia, so I was keen for a totally new experience. I had no idea what to expect, and it ended up being one of my best travelling experiences so far.

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Work, travel and play in the Northern Territory

So, you’re thinking of heading out to the other side of the world to see what this working holiday fuss is all about? You may have considered the usual suspects on the East Coast, but what about The Top End… Darwin? It’s closer to the UK (hello cheaper flights), it’s got year-round sunshine, it has next-level national parks, and it’s the perfect place to start your adventure Down Under.

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10 food havens of NYC

Amber Dacres is a Newcastle University student, total foodie, and lover of NYC. She’s combined the latter two into one tasty blog about her ultimate food stops when in the city.

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If you don’t live under a rock you will have seen the many ridiculous, coma-inducing, beyond-delicious-looking food videos on Facebook. My ultimate goal is to visit every single one of those insta-worthy restaurants – call it a foodie road trip round the world. But seeing as I’m not rich (and let’s be honest, bikini body season is right around the corner) I shall take you on a virtual food tour instead, of one of the foodie hotspots of the world – NEW YORK NEW YORK! (If you’re not singing the song right now I’m disappointed in you).

1. Katz Delicatessen – lower east side.

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Apparently, you’ve not been to New York unless you’ve had a pastrami sandwich with mustard, and Katz are known to be the best of the best.

Katz Delicatessen is a family business and has been knocking around since 1888 so they obviously know what they’re doing.

Where: 205 E Houston St, New York
Hours: 8am – 10.45pm
@katzsdeli

2. Raclette NYC

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Anyone that knows me will know that cheese is my pride and joy.

Seriously, anything with a mass of cheese on it sounds good to me and when it comes to raclette, what a thing of beauty. If you’ve never had it, raclette is a special kind of French, super melty cheese, traditionally eaten over potatoes and cured meats – dreamy right?

At Raclette NYC, choose your meats or salad and then your cheese to be lovingly poured on top. Or, don’t fancy meat and salad? Get yourself one of their legendary raclette burgers with crispy sweet potato fries. Cheese is a beautiful thing ain’t it?

Where: 511 E 12th St, New York
Hours: 12pm – 11pm
@raclettenyc

3. John’s of Bleecker Street

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Who doesn’t like pizza?!

New York’s John’s of Bleecker Street has been churning out legendary pizzas since 1929. Before you say ‘surely you should go to Italy for pizza’ well in this case, Italy came to New York! The pizzeria is the business of an Italian family that immigrated and perfected the recipes to their standards, and to this day it is still a family owned business and their pizzas look unreal! Get yourself there for a coal-fired homemade pizza – you can’t go wrong!

Where: 278 Bleecker St, New York
Hours: 11.30am – 11.30pm
@johnsofbleekerstreet

4. Trapizzino

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I know, pizza again – but, hear me out because this is pizza with a difference!

Trapizzino is home of the deep-filled pizza pocket. A freshly baked Roman bread stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness for you to choose from. From oxtail ragu to chicken, white wine and garlic and seasonal greens, chilli and garlic for the vegans – you can’t possibly not find something that tickles your fancy.

Where: 144 Orchard St, New York
Hours: 11am – 11pm
@trapizzino

5. Russ & Daughters

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You cannot, I repeat, cannot go to New York and not have a classic New York bagel.

What is the flavour of New York? Salmon and cream cheese – an absolute classic and the best bagel filling that there is.

At Russ & Daughters they have 9 different types of cream cheese (Yes, I said NINE!) and 15 different kinds of salmon – didn’t know that was possible? Me neither.

Russ & Daughters has been a staple in New York for over 100 years, so it’d be rude not to visit!

Where: 179 E Houston St, New York
Hours: 8am – 8pm
@russanddaughters

6. Avocaderia

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I kid you not this place literally makes burgers out of avocados.

Instagram worthy avocado toast, stuffed avocados, salad and smoothies are the order of the day. Healthy but doesn’t taste healthy – just what you want.

Where: 238 36th St, Brooklyn
Hours: 11am – 4pm
@avocaderia

And because I’m that person that will glare at you if you tell the waiter we don’t need to look at a dessert menu. Seriously. Don’t do it. Its rude, unacceptable and a crime against food. Onto the sweet stuff…

7. Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop

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This place makes donut ice cream sandwiches (?!!!!)

Homemade warm gooey donuts loaded with a massive dollop of ice cream of your choice, it doesn’t get much better. Mmmm…..

Where: 727 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn
Hours: 4.30am – 8pm
@Peterpandonut

8. NYC Cookie Dough Shop

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Cookie dough? Good.
Sprinkles? Good.
Chocolate? GOOOOOD.

So obviously the three combined make for a magical treat. There is nothing more to say other than get yourself a big old lump of cookie dough slathered in sprinkles.

Where: 550 LaGuardia Pl, New York
Hours: 10am – 9pm
@cookiedonyc

9. Union Fare

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This place is home of the snap-worthy birthday cake croissant with sprinkles baked into the dough itself and filled with sweet cream and yet more sprinkles. Heaven in a croissant.

Where: 6 E 18th St, New York
Hours: 8am – 11pm
@unionfare

10. Levain Bakery

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Allegedly the best bakery in New York according to Foursquare, this place does gooey cookies the size of hamburgers. Massive lines out the door but definitely worth it and of course, busyness is the sign of deliciousness.

Where: 2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York
Hours: 8am – 7pm
@levainbakery

Now I’m hungry, you’re hungry and we all really want to go to New York – so get on a city break with STA Travel…. yes please!! Get your butt to New York and start your food journey. Want general USA inspiration? Head to our destination guide!

48-hour fling with Bruges

Beer, chocolate, waffles – three of the most beautiful words (and foodstuffs) in the world, in my opinion. That’s why a weekend getaway to Bruges sounded like a dream – and it was. Here’s how I spent 48 hours soaking up those magical medieval vibes (prewarning: a lot of this involves food and drink – I’m not sorry).

Free walking tour

I kind of avoid these like the plague when I visit a new city, but after this walking tour I have no idea why! Bruges is steeped in history, legends and old tales and the best way of learning about it all is with a local guide, so I 100% recommend it – we saw so much. And it’s a beautiful city to wander around – the Gothic architecture is next level! Although, by the time we hopped on the canal tour, we actually already knew the majority of the information the guy was saying, it was still a pretty way of seeing the city though. Plus, the walking tour is free, and the boat tour is €8 – so it’s not like you’re spending a lot of money.

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Thailand Cheat Sheet

Time and time again you’ve seen friends come back wearing baggy elephant pants you wouldn’t dream of wearing in the UK, arms full of rope bracelets and a cracking tan, musing about their fabulous trip to Thailand, how much they’ve learned about themselves/the culture and most importantly, how bloody cheap it is. It’s all strangely endearing isn’t it? So, if you’re thinking about travelling to Thailand and experiencing this amazing country for yourself, you might want to arm yourself with our Cheat Sheet – telling you everything you need to know about this little Asian paradise.

When to go | Phrases | Food | Where to go | Packing tips | Transport | Budgeting | Top tips

Seasons in Thailand:

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Top 5 phrases:

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We’re all used to being told to use our manners by our parents, so if you want to sound more polite when greeting someone in Thai, you need to add ‘khap’ to the end of the greeting if you’re a guy, and ‘kha’ if you’re a woman.

Sa-wat dee (hello)

Used for both hello and goodbye.

Khop koon (thank you)

How to show your appreciation once you’ve been handed your Singha beer and pad Thai.

Gee baht? (how much)

Essential for all the shopping you’ll be doing, or when haggling with tuk-tuk drivers.

Yoo tee nai…? (where is…)

Invaluable when lost! Just point at a place on your map or in your guidebook and say ‘yoo tee nai’. Also useful when you are trying to find the right bus to go to Phuket or otherwise.

Mai ow (don’t want)

Useful for fending off persistent street vendors.

Top 5 foods to try:

A snapshot from our visit to Khao San Road. It is the street for backpackers in SE Asia. It’s perfect to start your trip here with a good party and delicious food

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Pad thai

A tasty noodle dish with egg, peanuts, veggies and your choice of meat (if you want it), you’ll find this dish absolutely everywhere, but you can snag great ones from street vendors from as little as 30 baht (approx 70p).

Thai green/red curry

Where else to try this creamy, spicy curry than in its native land?! You’ll never be able to buy the sauce in a jar again…

Massaman

If you sweat at a korma then maybe a Thai green curry isn’t the choice for you, however the Massaman curry is a mild but equally delicious local curry made with potatoes, coconut milk and peanuts.

Mango and sticky rice

On a hot day there’s nothing like a ripe and juicy mango to cool you down – pair it with some cold, sticky rice mixed with coconut milk and you’re on to a winner!

Fried insects

Tourists flock to fried insects like moths to a flame – we still have no idea why, but when you walk down Khao San Road you’ll be inundated with great offers of fried spiders, scorpions, frogs, and various insects. Thailand, you do spoil us.

Top 5 places to visit:

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Bangkok

The cosmopolitan side of Thailand, Bangkok mixes the modern with the ‘authentic’ Thailand. In some places, like Koh San Road, you’ll find a lot of tourist traps, but go for a wander and you’ll find temples, landmarks and markets dotted along the streets. Take a taxi to a floating market, visit Wat Arun temple or the Grand Palace.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is about a 6-hour bus ride north of Bangkok and is well-known for its elephant sanctuaries. Stay for a little longer and you’ll discover temples and shrines around every corner, a famous night market in the Old Town, and lush jungle and waterfalls as part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.

Pai

A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, Pai is located about an hour north of Chiang Mai, with accommodation nestled into fields, nightly food markets, beautiful natural surroundings and calming hippy vibes.

Koh Phangan

A little slice of heaven by day, a crazy party scene by night – at least when the Full Moon Party is happening. If you enjoy chilling on a beach but also appreciate a good party, Koh Phangan is the place to go.

Koh Phi Phi

This island south-west of Bangkok is well-travelled by backpackers, probably due to the diverse lifestyle that you can enjoy while being there. On the one hand, there’s a lot of bars and clubs that cater to a crazy night out, on the other hand there’s some incredibly chilled bars, secluded bays and beaches, and it’s home to the famous Maya Bay (aka the beach from ‘The Beach’).

Top 5 packing tips:

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Pack light

It’s so hot you’ll barely end up wearing much, plus you’ll need all the space in your case to stock up on all the elephant pants and beer-branded vests your hearts desires. Don’t forget your plug adaptor though!

Pack a good pair of flip flops/sandals

You’ll walk, a lot. So, get a decent pair of shoes to do it in – none of this £1 nonsense.

Camera with waterproof casing/GoPro

Thailand will turn you into a mermaid with all its swimming, snorkeling, waterfalling and diving activities. You want to make sure you capture the footage!

A good book

You’ll tally up a good number of hours on coaches/trains/planes or just chilling on a beach – pack a good book to pass the time, then look out for the book swaps around Thailand so you can switch it out for free when it’s done!

Tampons

We’re sorry about this one guys, but girls, if you’re going to need them – pack them! It can be hard to track them down in Thailand.

Top 5 transport options:

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GrabTaxi/Uber

Uber is becoming more and more popular in Asia, but GrabTaxi is just as good – essentially it does the same as Uber, but it hooks you up with registered taxi drivers who don’t rob you blind. Download both apps and use as you want.

Sleeper train

A great way of saving on a night’s accommodation, and one of the most fun ways to travel – you’ll get a little bunk with your travel buddies as opposed to busses where you’re constantly struggling to find a comfortable position.

Bus

Although it might not always be the most comfortable, it’s often the cheapest way to travel the country and they’re really regular. Plus, you get to see a lot more of rural Thailand this way.

Ferry

The only option of getting about especially when it comes to the islands in the south of Thailand.

Plane

You can fly domestically at cheap prices in Thailand – sometimes you just don’t fancy a 6-hour coach when you can get a 1-hour flight!

Top 5 budgeting tips:

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Don’t go crazy just because it’s cheap

We’ve all been there – completely disregarding how much money you have because you think you don’t need to worry… food is like, 40p right?! Sure, you can go a little crazier in Thailand due to their insanely low prices, but it’s still handy to give yourself a daily budget.

Haggle

Thailand is the perfect place to practice your haggling skills – almost everywhere the prices are negotiable. Just don’t take the piss – the people selling still need to live!

Get a travel money card

Get rid of those annoying bank fees and avoid getting screwed over by commission and exchange rates by getting a travel money card. Loads of them don’t charge you for using your card/withdrawing money from an ATM.

Hostels are super cheap

You can find some amazing hostels in Thailand for as little as £5 a night – no joke. Do some digging around, read the reviews and you could be saving tons of money, which means extra for eating your body weight in delicious food/diving activities/buying a ridiculous amount of elephant pants/volunteer projects with elephants.

Eat like a local

Everywhere you go you’ll find street food stalls lining the pavements selling everything from banana and Nutella roti’s to mouth-watering curry, usually less than half the price of what you’d pay in a restaurant and it’s usually just as good, if not better.

Top 5 Thailand tips in general:

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Be spontaneous

Thailand is a really great place to decide things last minute, whether that’s a tour, a hostel, a coach journey or a totally new destination! Don’t get bogged down sorting everything out before you go – just sort out what you need for the first week and give yourself the chance to travel spontaneously.

If you want to see elephants – do your research

Elephants are beautiful and majestic creatures, so it’s no wonder that most tourists want to see them when they go to Thailand. But just double check the place you’re going to first – if they let you ride them, they’re a no-go. Make sure no elephant suffers for the sake of your enjoyment. Sanctuaries are the way to go.

Travel as much of it as you can

Thailand is so diverse, one moment you could be relaxing in paradise, the next you could be trekking in the jungle – if you’ve got the time, travel the length of the country, you could find somewhere you’d never even heard of before (and they usually end up being your favourite!)

Negotiate costs, especially when it comes to travel

If you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, the locals will pick up on it, especially the taxi drivers. Never accept the first price and always try to haggle/ask them to put their meter on. It gets easier to gauge how much you should be paying the longer you travel.

Download maps.me – it’s amazing anywhere you go

Maps.me is an app which allows you to download the map of the area you’re currently in and then use it offline – no pesky data charges for you!

Now we’ve armed you with your survival guide to Thailand are you ready to book your flight? Head over to our flights page now, or if you’re just looking for some more destination inspiration have a look at our Thailand travel guide.

Highlights of the Pacific Northwest

This summer, STA Travel’s resident Frenchman, Marketing Exec and designated driver, Hugo Peurois, drove two super talented filmmakers, Lars Timmerman and Felix Zehender, around America’s Pacific Northwest to shoot a film for our “Go Beyond” Visit The USA campaign. We grabbed Hugo for his top five highlights.

1. Cliff jumping in Crater Lake (Oregon)

Why: “A stunning caldera lake in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, formed from a volcanic eruption almost 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA, and one of the purest. Fed by melting snow, the water quality is one of the best in the world, and gives it an incredible deep blue colour that I’ve never seen before. The water temperature was a bit chilly… but the adrenaline rush from jumping off the cliffs definitely warmed me up!”

2. The sea plane from Seattle to San Juan Island (Washington)

Why: “It was just a really special experience, with incredible views over Seattle on take off and landing. We took an early morning flight which gave us plenty of opportunities for beautiful sunrise shots of the water and the islands around Seattle.”

3. The batting cages in Bend (Oregon)

Why: “I think this was probably one of the most ‘American’ activities we could have done. We were three Europeans playing baseball for the first time – it must have been very entertaining for the locals to watch!”

4. Toulouse Vineyard (California)

Why: “Based in California’s Anderson Valley, the winemaker shared his wine tasting expertise with us before taking us around the vines and up the hill in his buggy. The view over the valley and Navarro River from the top of the hill was stunning. We were amazed at how high the redwood sequoias are (among the tallest trees in the world). The wine was pretty perfect too!”

5. Horseback riding around Smith Rock (Oregon)

Why: “Smith Rock is an American state park in Oregon’s High Desert. With its huge rock spires, sheer cliff faces and 30 million-year-old geology, it’s famous amongst rock climbers around the world. We swapped climbing ropes for reins and went for a more Old Western approach! The ride took us down into the canyon and we got to feel like proper cowboys.”

Ready to road trip? Cliff jumping, batting cages and Old Westerns? The Pacific Northwest – sign us up! Watch the film on our Youtube channel.

 

Our guide to the Texas food & music scene

Home to the rodeo, Willie Nelson, the Wild West, and finger lickin’ BBQ food, the Lone Star State is not to be overlooked. So, in true STA Travel style, we’re here to delve in to the food and music scene in Texas, giving you the low-down on where to go to soak up all those warm and welcoming Texan vibes…

SAN ANTONIO

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If you’re a lover of food:

Big Daddy’s Eats & Treats – colourful shaved ice, hot cheetos with corn in a cup, or HUGE cucumbers with tons of toppings?! Sounds oddly intriguing…

Mi Tierra Café and Panaderia – this little family run café was opened in 1941 by Pedro and Cruz Cortez, who wanted to serve the hard-working early risers in San Antonio. Nowadays it’s world-famous, run by the same family, and serving up authentic Mexican food (and margaritas) with a warm Texas welcome.

If you’re a lover of food AND music:

County Line River Walk for proper Texas country roadhouse vibes and a plate of legendary Texas BBQ. Hit the BBQ house on a Thursday or Friday and you’ll be treated to some damn good live local music.

AUSTIN

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If you’re a lover of music:

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – you don’t even have to leave the airport to get a taste of Texas’ music roots – the airport hosts Music in the Air, which delivers 23 shows a week in six different venues in the airport.

Continental Club – one of Austin’s oldest clubs opened in 1955 and since then it’s lived through a few refurbs (swanky supper club, Austin’s first burlesque club, a working man’s blue collar bar, punk rock ‘n’ roll venue) all the way through to what it is today – a retro club dedicated to roots, rockabilly, country and swing music, and refurbed to its original 1950’s style. You’ll find a classic neon sign out front, murals on the walls, and an old-school interior – it’s easy to see why it’s often been named one of the best bars in America.

Antone’s Nightclub on East 5th Street – for the music lovers who really want to catch some great Blues music, head to this oldie but goodie. The club opened in 1975 and has hosted legendary artists like BB King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton & Stevie Ray Vaughan.

If you’re a lover of music AND food:

Gospel brunch at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q – slow smoked Texas BBQ and live gospel music on a Sunday. We didn’t know we needed gospel music while eating BBQ food… until now.

Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park – a huge annual festival that’s made up of 8 stages over two weekends. The October 2017 lineup included the likes of Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, Martin Garrix, Vance Joy, and The Killers. Like any festival that’s worth its salt, ACL also has a banging food court – ‘ACL Eats Food Court’ brings in all the surrounding area’s best restaurants and lets them set up shop to ensure their customers are well fed and watered.

FREDERICKSBURG

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If you’re a lover of food:

Vaudeville Bistro in downtown Fredericksburg – devour artisanal wood fired pizzas and charcuterie boards, wash it down with some tasty local wine, and then browse home furnishings and the contemporary art gallery upstairs. Oooo, fancy.

If you’re a lover of music:

Luckenbach Texas – this little gem was made famous by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson (aka the bad boys of country). If that’s not enough to draw you in, then maybe the promise of a quirky country hangout with a daily dose of live music will. Make sure you’re there for the pickers circle at 4:30pm, where local singers jam together under the old oak trees. Ahhh, country life.

STATEWIDE

If you’re a lover of food:

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Torchy’s Tacos – what started as just a taco-loving guy with a red Vespa scooter, quickly became a Texas sensation; a well-loved taco heaven located in stores and trailer parks all over Texas. Mike, his team and his customers are now living the taco dream across the state. Try them out and you’ll quickly see why Torchy’s Tacos have won awards… I mean, LOOK at that shot! *Drools over the cheese sauce*

Local food trucks are a serious trend in Texas, and you can find them almost anywhere. If you’re a big fan of casual street food, some of the best bites are served up in these vans. From BBQ platters to desserts…

Feeling the Texas inspiration right now? We sent two amazing film makers, Abigail Green and Philip Eder, along with our very own Nicholas Cooper as chaperone, to experience all this state has to offer, and they made a film about it! Head to our Youtube channel to give it a watch.