5 Tips For Making Traveling Cheaper

IMG_8417

When you think Paris, Rome, London, or Barcelona, do little dollar signs dance in your head? International travel is notoriously expensive, and we (being North Americans) often announce these trips years before they happen so we can save up for two weeks in Italy. Some people save these trips for their honeymoon. International travel is seen as so luxurious and upper-crust that we save it for the most special of occasions.

I am not like these people, if you cannot already tell. My reason for traveling was, purely, to go experience some things. And, when you’re gone for as long as I was (three months!) you start to pick up some tips that make traveling abroad a little less expensive. Because honestly, folks – had I traveled the way we imagine traveling in Europe to be, I would be dead broke. Here are some things I picked up along my trip that may help you out as you plan your next one.

Traveling is as cheap or expensive as you’d like to make it.

I’ve said this a few times now in other posts, but if you only take one thing from my blog, take this point: You do not need hoards of money to travel. If you are hoping for a glitzy Paris vacance with night and day trips to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Michelin-star dinners, France is going to cost you. But, if you’re like me – it’ll cost you less than $75/day, lodging included. Great news, right? You are in control of how much you’re spending in these places. You may have to sacrifice a little glamour, but who doesn’t still love the idea of being in Paris? Baguettes are $1. Live your fanciest life without completely blowing your savings.

Walk.

Public transportation is awesome, and can be really helpful if you need to make it from Point A to Point B with a deadline. If you don’t have a timeline, however, I would *highly* recommend walking. Not only will this save you a butt-load of money (that is the scientific term, yes) – you will find places along the way that you didn’t even know existed. But, back to the dollar signs. Public transportation can still be a little pricey if you’re going somewhere for an extended amount of time. In Switzerland, a one-way trip 20 minutes into Zurich costed us 10 Swiss francs (about $10). In Germany, a day pass in the inner ring of Munich is 7 Euros. A week will run you about 20 Euros. Vienna had similar prices, if not a little more expensive on the metro. The tube in London was incredibly expensive. I went through 40 pounds (about $50) in under 4 days – and I walked almost everywhere.

I didn’t use public transportation at all in Barcelona, Rome, or Prague, and we used it very sparingly in Paris (you can get 10 tickets – a carnet – for about $14). Although the cities are big, they are almost all walkable if you map out where you’re going and what you want to cover. Don’t just automatically splurge for public transportation tickets if what you want to see is in walking distance.

Be aware that some things we know as “free” actually cost money.

In France, tap water was free and there were a few free restrooms. In Germany, no water is free at restaurants and all of it will cost you a good chunk of change. In Italy, water is relatively inexpensive but it’s totally delicious (and you could get a carafe of wine for a similar price!). In each place, there are different common standards and rules. Most places will make you pay for a bathroom break. I paid as little as 20 cents and as much as $2 (thanks, Switzerland!). All this means is that you have to be a little more strategic about your liquid intake, and always, always use the bathroom if you go somewhere for lunch.

Many of the major cities also have public fountains with potable water, so I carried an empty bottle almost everywhere I went and filled it up when I had the chance. If you’re sitting outside at a casual restaurant (and you don’t make it obvious), you can sip out of your water bottle and avoid that crazy expense for water.

You also should be aware of table fees. First of all – most cafes in Italy and in the UK had two prices listed: the stay-in and the take-out price. Take-out prices were cheaper, as you weren’t taking up a spot in their (usually small) dining rooms. If you know you’ll be on the go and don’t desperately need to sit down, it can be, like, a dollar cheaper to take something to-go.

The other expense specifically in Italy that we weren’t expecting was a table service charge. Tipping isn’t as common in European countries as it is in America, but most countries just leave it at the bill. Most restaurants in Italy, however, charge a per-person table service fee that kinda doubles as what you’d tip. We paid anywhere between 1.50 Euros and 4 Euros per person for table service, and this fee is higher if you choose to sit outside verses inside (because outdoor dining spaces are so limited). If you’re sticking to a budget, it’s just a good thing to know – you may be spending an extra 5-8 Euros on dinner.

The food on the streets is just as good (if not better).

Don’t be so quick to pop into a restaurant if you’re feeling peckish. In almost every city I visited (less so in Spain, but especially in Holland), street vendors are selling meals, local delicacies, treats, and drinks for a fraction of the restaurant cost. And, we’re not talking rubbery hot dogs here, folks. The food is delicious (think peanut sauce on fries and mini pancakes in Rotterdam, spiced nuts and cheese noodles in Germany, döner just about everywhere you go, trdlnîk – fried dough cones – in Prague… the list goes on) and, sincerely, will save your budget. We opted for a larger meal at lunchtime, which is more customary for many of the cultures anyways, and then picking up a street-food snack along the way. Eating from street vendors also gives you a better taste of the local flavor (and you won’t have to pay pesky take-out or table service fees).

Prioritize your experiences.

What means the most to you? If you’re visiting a new city on a low budget and all you care about is exploring from morning until night, it’s not worth it to splurge on an expensive hotel. If you’re wanting to relax inside, don’t get tickets to an outdoor attraction with a two-hour tour. If you’re budgeting, you may have to pick and choose what matters to you and what you actually want to see.

For me, this meant choosing to see the Louvre in Paris instead of the other handful of art galleries that were on my list, and checking out the gardens of Versailles instead of waiting in the long lines to get inside the mansion. You don’t have to visit something just because it’s famous or just because you’ve seen pictures of it. What do you enjoy? What do you actually want to experience? Check out the prices of tickets online before you visit so that you don’t get all the way up to the gates and then splurge on something you didn’t care that much about. You may also need to reserve a spot in advance – like the Anne Frank House tour in Amsterdam or the Harry Potter studio tour north of London.

What are your money-saving tips while traveling? I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment below!

My Top Trip FAQs

IMG_2580

Hi everyone!

I wanted to compile a list of some of the most common questions I’ve gotten as I’ve been traveling. If you’re new to my blog, a little context for you – I’ve recently returned from a three-month trip around Europe, visiting 11 countries (and traveling through a few others). So, if you’re hoping on planning your own little excursion, here is a little wisdom from my recent experiences:

#1 FAQ: How much did this cost?

I’ve gotten several versions of this question/comment. Yes, it does take saving money to do a trip like this on your own. In total, I spent $6500 for three months including my airfare, lodging, food + all my gifts. Although it sounds like a lot as a lump sum, it only comes out to about $72 per day. Here was how I broke it down:

Flights + transportation = 25%
Food + activities = 20%
Lodging = 20%
My regular bills (that unfortunately don’t disappear) = 15%
Gifts/souvenirs = 15%
Travel insurance = 5%

But, honestly, I could’ve done it for less. Here’s the thing about traveling abroad that I wish I would’ve known before – you can make it as expensive as you’d like it to be. You can stay in really nice places and take Übers and eat out every night, and that trip is going to cost you a heck of a lot more than getting an Airbnb or a hostel and eating street food once a day. You have to prioritize where you want to spend your money and what’s worth it. I brought granola bars everywhere I went. I didn’t go to every museum or tourist attraction; the entry fees add up really quickly. Instead, I picked one or two spots in each city that I really wanted to see (and, most historic landmarks are free). For me, the Louvre was worth 20 Euros. But, you may want to visit Disneyland Paris instead.

Also, a hot tip for you: If you still have a student ID card that resembles you, you should absolutely use it. I saved probably $100 off of admission fees by getting a student discount. If you’re under 26, you may also qualify for young adult discounts. So, if you’re right on the edge of that age group and you need something to encourage you to go travel now, let it be your age; it’ll be more expensive next year.

I get that it’s not feasible for everyone and sometimes in our stages of life, we can’t go travel for long periods of time or afford it. Honestly, the only reason I could afford to go for a full three months was because of the generosity of friends in the UK and family in Germany who let me stay free of charge. However: If you have on your heart to go on a trip – or maybe you just need a week away – traveling internationally is totally possible. I have a friend who gets round-trip flights to Germany for $300. SERIOUSLY. If you are willing to have a crappy layover, you can travel for very little money.

#2 FAQ: Which city was your favorite?

I’m hoping to do a whole blog post on the cities that I fell in love with along my trip (which, plot twist, weren’t all the major ones) – but in the mean time, here’s a summarized version. In no particular order, because I can’t commit to which I liked best:

Prague, Czech Republic
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Portovenere, Italy
Oxford, England

Each of these places had their own distinctive culture, vibrance, and experience that made them stand out amongst their many, many competitors. You can check out my Prague blog post for some recommendations, and I’m hoping to get an Oxford post up soon. (Good intentions!)

#3 FAQ: So you just, like, quit your job?

That I did, friends. Several people have said things to me like, “Wow, you’re so brave” or “I would never have the courage to do that.” Honestly, people, it was terrifying. But it wasn’t about me trying to be courageous. When you have something on your heart and you can do it, you absolutely should. I left my job with a small glimmer of hope that a future employer would look positively on my three months abroad instead of as a gap in my employment. And, as I’ve been looking into new positions, that has been the case with almost everywhere I’ve applied. Employers like to see that you’ve experienced and grown as a person, not just in an office (which I am totally thrilled about and works in my favor).

#4 FAQ: Would you do it again?

Three months is a long time, people. Around month two, I started wishing I could just pet my dog – which was crazy because I was getting to walk around places like the Colosseum. We all process these things differently. I picked a three-month window because that’s how long you can be in Germany (my home base) without a visa. But, when you’re gone for so long, it quickly starts to become less of a vacation and more of a, “Oh, I guess this is my life now.” I was tired of living out of a suitcase with mini toiletries. I craved the structure that my work life gave me. Turns out, I wasn’t as “carefree gypsy spirit” as I thought I was. But then, you run into some people at hostels who have been traveling for 6 or 7 months, and have no end in mind to their trip. Most of them are Australian, funny enough. My advice to you is that if you do decide to do a longer trip, give yourself an end date to preserve your sanity (and, frankly, your budget).

That being said, I got to see some of the world’s most incredible sights. I would never, ever give that up. But after doing a three-month trip, I think I’ll be perfectly content with two-week vacations.

#5 FAQ: What now?

I have gotten this “What are you doing next?” question from 98% of people who find out I’ve been traveling. It’s been really interesting for me to go to places where the culture doesn’t revolve around working/careers or being busy – a stark contrast to our American culture that preaches the “go, go, go” model of everyday life. In Italy, you could have a thirty minute conversation with someone and still have not gotten to, “So, what do you do?” Because, it doesn’t matter as much to them.

However, because I was brought up in this culture, of course I have a plan. I have recently accepted a new position in Nashville, Tennessee with an organization whose mission I totally believe in. You can stay tuned for updates, but for now, that’s next – I’m Tennessee’s newest resident!

Only Have A Day In Barcelona? Here’s What You Should Do

IMG_9287

I was really excited to go to Spain because, in my mind, it’s all red dresses and passionate people and midnight tangos. And, honestly, it’s still kind of like that in my dream world.

I went to Spain for all of 48 hours. It’s a quick flight from Paris, and Barcelona has been on my heart ever since Aqua, Galleria, Chanel, and Dorinda took it over in Cheetah Girls 2. Don’t judge me; we’ve all thought about this.

My trip to Barcelona was certainly not the gold standard of trips that you should follow, as we were strategizing on a budget and walking ourselves all over town. But it was, however, well researched. We covered almost everything that we wanted to, minus a mountain that neither of us felt like climbing at the end of the day. So, if you’re planning a trip to this fun city, I hope that our path through Barcelona will be helpful to you.

Have some tapas.
I didn’t have a bad meal in Spain. We stopped by an awesome tapas joint and drank red wine. Tip: Drink red wine with every meal. Spanish wine is spicy and inexpensive.

Check out Gaudí’s work.
Gaudí is one of Catalonia’s best-known artists, and his work is all over the city. We saw Casa Batllo, which is a topsy-turvy house in downtown; the Sagrada Família church, which is honestly the coolest church I’ve ever seen (minus the construction); and Park Guell, which is a whole park that Gaudí worked on designing for some wealthy businessmen back in the day that wasn’t finished – but it’s colorful and cool to explore. All of these things are free but you can buy tickets to Park Guell for some bonus access, which I thought was worth it.

IMG_9103

Go down to the beach.
We stumbled on the beach by accident, but it ended up being my favorite part of Barcelona. There is a long pier, tons of boats, and a surprisingly clean stretch of beach with little cabana restaurants. You can even walk out onto some broken rocks at the end of the pier and just sit. The water is blotchy blue and teal. It’s beautiful. I’d also recommend a frozen lemonade at this point.

IMG_9283

Watch a fútbol game.
Barcelona is known for having an incredible soccer team, with highly publicized players like Neymar. Camp Nou – the area where the athletic teams play – is a whole campus of training facilities and arenas. While watching the actual FC Barcelona team can be a little expensive (and, hard to get tickets!), the FC Barcelona B Team also plays at Camp Nou. This is a group of younger guys (maybe 18-20) who are scouted for the A team. They are fantastic players, and the stadium is small, inexpensive to get into, and a really cool experience. If you’re a soccer fan, this is totally worth the trip! There is also a fútsol team, which is closer to indoor soccer, that fans can support.

IMG_9272

Eat paella.
You may as well get some paella while you’re down in Spain, because that’s the best you’re ever going to get. If you’re not familiar, paella is a savory, spicy rice dish that usually contains chicken, shrimp, or seafood. It’s hearty and the ultimate Spanish comfort food. There are restaurants that advertise paella all over Barcelona, but be careful – you’ll start to see the exact same menu pictures at multiple spots. These places get their paella from one central company, so it won’t be as fresh. We ended up at one of these spots. And, it was good – but, I can imagine that a Mom-and-Pop Spanish restaurant could do it better. I’ve heard great things about Restaurante Arume and Gaudim Restaurant.

IMG_9284

The locals are friendly if you try to speak in their language. Out of all the cities we traveled to, folks in Barcelona spoke the least English. Memorize a few key words before you go (hello, bye, please, thank you, can I have the bill?) and people will be nice.

We also heard before visiting that Barcelona is one of the least safe cities in terms of pickpocketing. While places like the Sagrada Família are totally packed with tourists, we never really felt unsafe in Spain, even at night. Make smart choices, and you’ll be fine.

Rome vs. Florence – What’s Worth It?

IMG_0648

Whenever someone brings up Italy, Rome isn’t usually far behind. It’s the city that most tourists associate traveling with, and I’d argue that a lot of people would consider it their dream trip. It was certainly mine.

Just north of Rome, however, is Florence – a second, smaller city that doesn’t get as much attention from tourists as Rome, but is buzzing nonetheless with many similar happenings.

When I brought up that I was visiting both regions, some people asked me which I was most excited for – or, why I was choosing to visit Florence instead of just going to Rome. And, honestly, I didn’t know very much about Florence. I didn’t even really realize that it is in the Tuscany region, as I’m a new red-wine lover. But, my good friend who was meeting me in Italy said that she had heard Florence was the place to be. So, we went for about a week. Then, after our trip, I headed down to Rome to meet a second friend for a week. It was a lot of pasta, folks. A lot.

IMG_1264

So, if you only have a week to spend in Italy, what’s worth it? I’m not here to tell you which city is better, because you really have to make that judgment for yourself. But, I can tell you what I loved and what I didn’t like so much about both cities, and maybe it’ll help you out as you’re planning your next Italian vacation.

Florence

Pros:

  • It’s very walkable
  • It’s in the Tuscany region which means you are crazy close to Cinque Terre (my favorite part of Italy, honestly) and wine tours in tiny vineyards in Chianti (totally worth it)
  • There are tons of small cobblestone roads that are straight out of a fairytale
  • The Uffizi is a huge art gallery that has tons of notable pieces, like Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus
  • There are sculptures everywhere, including replicas of Michaelangelo’s David
  • The food alone is worth the plane ticket
  • It feels pretty safe
  • People are generally very nice

Cons:

  • Things are a little more expensive here
  • There is a lot of art, but there is less to see
  • You can explore Florence itself in about two full days
  • Almost every restaurant has a “table fee” where you pay 2-3 Euros per person to sit

IMG_0792

Rome

Pros:

  • There is so, so much to see. Almost everything is beautiful and historical
  • The gelato is seriously the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve now eaten a lot of gelato)
  • Food is a little cheaper because there are a million restaurants
  • There’s a sparkling water fountain by the Colosseum
  • Everything about the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
  • You can get free tickets to hear the Pope speak
  • All of the churches are literal works of art
  • People are so friendly, especially if you learn a few words in Italian

IMG_1201

Cons:

  • It’s a bigger city than Florence, so it’s not as easy to walk around. The metro and transportation was always super crowded, so that wasn’t a very appealing option
  • There are so many people and tourists everywhere
  • It doesn’t feel as safe as Florence because of all the people. You have to be extra-diligent in crowds and people are always trying to sell you things
  • Parts of Rome are pretty dirty, and the air kinda smells like New York City
  • There are always lines to wait in

If you like smaller cities (or maybe aren’t as into walking), I’d choose to go to Florence. It is smaller, but it’s Rome’s charming younger brother that doesn’t get as much attention (i.e., less lines). If you love history, you should go to Rome. It’s a beautiful city if you’re willing to walk it, and it has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Go have gelato at Frigidarium.

IMG_1468

And, Italy’s Italy. You’ll never regret choosing either place.

Why Prague Should Be At The Top Of Your Travel Bucket List

IMG_9699

When I came to Europe, Prague wasn’t even on my radar. I’d been looking at the map at spots that were kind of in proximity to Munich – where I’ve been spending a lot of time – and both Prague and Vienna popped up as four-five hour trips that could be cool.

I mentioned the possibility of Prague to a few travelers I know, and every one of them who’d been enthusiastically reassured me that Prague was one of their very favorite cities. I don’t speak Czech and I can’t count korunas, but why not?

My brother and I only spent about two full days in Prague, but this city has been in my top two ever since. It’s an underrated European gem, and everyone should visit. Here’s why:

1. It’s inexpensive.
One Euro is worth about 25 Czech korunas. This coupled into account with street food and vendors makes it pretty cheap to eat and shop your way around the city (although don’t use the term “cheap,” as it’s offensive to the locals). There’s an Indian buffet called “Dhaba Beas” that does a huge discount after 7PM on their food, and we ate there two nights in a row for about 2-3 Euros per person. It was incredible.

2. The architecture is amazing.
On one side of the river, in Old Prague, you have an ancient castle that overlooks the water. You can walk through the area without tickets (although if you want to tour, you will need to purchase admission) and you’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, a stunning piece of art that any building lover should witness. The Jewish Quarter is also beautiful, with lots of gilding on the archways, and “The Dancing House” is a famous work of architecture on the main drag that tourists love to take pictures of. If you walk a little father south in the city, you’ll come across a second castle, Vysehrad, that has a view to show off all of Prague. Plus, it’s much less crowded than the larger castle.

IMG_9951

3. There is art everywhere.
And I’m not just talking about physical art. You should definitely keep an eye out for the hanging Sigmund Freud, Frank Kafka’s shimmering head, the arch at Charles Bridge, and sculptures everywhere – but we also stumbled across musicians, fire-breathers, watercolor painters, illusionists, and graffiti artists. There is something around every corner.

4. It’s a very diet-friendly city.
This was interesting to me because I wasn’t expecting it at all. Prague has a ton of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, much to the sheer joy of my plant-based brother. And, the food is good. You can find vegan gelatos at almost every ice cream shop, which was an excuse for me to try all of the exotic fruit flavors, like dragonfruit and passionfruit.

5. The markets are just really cool.
Havelske Market is full of people with really cool products – i.e., souvenirs that are unlike anything else you’ve seen in Europe for very little money. You can buy everything in Prague, including bunches of fresh figs (which is honestly the most appealing thing I see in every foreign market). There are vendors set up along the castle to sell you Czech trinkets and trdelnik, a cone-shaped pastry that tastes like a cinnamon sugar pretzel. They can fill it with whipped cream, ice cream, Nutella, whatever you’d like.

IMG_9650

6. It’s completely walkable.
Prague was one of the only cities where we didn’t need to figure out the public transportation system because it is so damn walkable. You can get anywhere you need to go in about 30 minutes, and you’ll find all sorts of cool nooks and crannies along the way. You don’t need trains or buses or metros, which also makes it a cheaper visit.

Prague is a new favorite for me. If you are into beautiful things (of all varieties), this Czech city is definitely worth a couple days. It is inexpensive, delicious, and very, very memorable.

Bonus tip: Get the Brie and apple croissant from BakeShop. It’s so good.

IMG_0196

 

How To See Paris In Three Days

IMG_8993

I knew I’d love Paris before our train even pulled into the station.

I’ve been speaking French since the sixth grade, when my family moved to New Brunswick, a bilingual province in Eastern Canada. French has been a love of mine since I started using it. I went to French camp; I minored in French in college. Outside of my educational experience (and, my siblings), I didn’t have a chance to actually use my French – ever – in the real world. All of my French professors would tell us that we had to get ourselves to France. I missed out on the Study Abroad opportunity in college, but Paris was always at the top of my list.

And, let me tell you – it did not disappoint. A few nay-sayers told me before my trip that Paris was dirty, overrated, and underwhelming. For someone who’s always loved the romantic idea of the Eiffel Tower, the accordion music, and the baguettes, this was a downer for me. If you take anything from this post, take this – form your own opinions. No one can tell you how your experience will be, because you shape it.

IMG_8684

Paris doesn’t have to be an expensive place to visit. Like all the European cities I’ve visited so far, Paris can be as cheap or as pricey as you make it. If you’re hoping to stay in a gorgeous hotel in the center of Paris and eat at upscale restaurants every evening, yes – it’ll cost you a good chunk of change. But, if you’re willing to modify those plans a bit, Paris is actually pretty affordable. My brother and I stayed for about three full days, and our costs weren’t more than about 50 Euros a day (not including lodging). Here’s how we spent our time, and it ended up being an awesome, awesome experience:

Get yourself an Airbnb. We stayed in Alfortville, which was about a 30 minute commute on the Paris metro into the city every day. But, Alfortville is charming and residential, with so many authentic Parisians (because, the locals aren’t the ones affording the high rent of the inner city) and incredible food. It was honestly one of our best choices, and our Airbnb cost us about 70 Euros a night (35 each). We even took an evening to wander around just our little area, which happens to have a walking path down the Seine. Yes, really. If you end up in Alfortville, get some schwarma at Eli’s Lebanese Restaurant. He also has 1 Euro baklava.

IMG_8666

Day 1:

Take the train into the Eiffel Tower.
Train tickets aren’t too expensive in Paris – you can get a “carnet” (car-nay) of ten tickets for about 14 Euros. This is the perfect amount for a three or four day visit (if you walk the majority of the time).
Stop for a croissant.
Visit the Champs Elysée.
Stop at Ladurée for a world-famous macaron.
Visit the Trocadero.
Stop at the Parc Monceau.
This is an adorable park with sculptures, a bridge with lily pads, and couples literally having picnics on the ground. It’s awesome.
Walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg.
This park is also worth it. There is a little pond where kids play with model boats and some beautiful flowers.
Eat a baguette.
It’ll only cost you 1 dollar.
Pop in a French bookstore.
There are a ton of old bookstores around Paris and they’re just really cool. They usually have a cart of books outside that are between 1 and 5 Euros, so that’s a neat souvenir to take home if you don’t want an Eiffel Tower keychain.
Finish the day at the Jardin des Plantes.
There’s a cool maze here and a ton of flowers. It’s also free (yay!).

IMG_8853

Day 2:

Time for more sightseeing! Start the day at the Place de Concorde.
There are two palaces across the street and the Jardins of Champs Elysées are close.
If you want a good vegan restaurant recommendation, try Hank Burger for lunch.
I’m not a vegan, it’s just really good.
Visit the Louvre!
You do need a reservation in advance for the Louvre, where you choose a thirty-minute time slot to enter the museum. It’s a little pricey, but – in this writer’s opinion – the Louvre is totally worth it. It’s absolutely massive, with several very famous pieces and hundreds of other just really interesting works of art. If you have a student ID, you can also get a discount.
Enjoy pain au chocolat, a palmier, a chocolate baguette, or a crêpe.
Or all four.
Stop at Notre Dame Cathedral.
It’s beautiful and it’s by the river.

IMG_8982

Day 3:

Take a train to Versailles.
This famous spot takes about thirty minutes and a special train ticket to get to, but the gardens are incredible. If you want to go inside the actual palace, you should definitely reserve tickets in advance because lines are incredibly long. Plus, if you went to the Louvre the day before, you’ve probably already seen some of Marie Antoinette’s famous furniture so you may want to skip it. A ticket to the gardens alone is cheaper (about 8 Euros).
When you get back into Paris, walk up to Montmartre.
There is an iconic white basilica (Sacre Coeur) at the top of this hill that has an overlook of the whole city. The area is really artsy and cool, and it’s just a beautiful way to see the sun setting over Paris. This is a must see!
Take a ride on the carousel.
At the bottom of the hill near Montmartre there is a little park with a carousel. It costs 1 or 2 Euros to ride and it’s just fun to ride on a carousel in Paris.
Visit the love wall.
Walk over to the love wall to see the words “I love you” written in just about every language on this tourist-loved photo opp.
Finish off your trip to Paris with dinner at a French restaurant and some luscious red wine.
Any house red is the best red you’ve ever had. You may also want to order the crème brûlée.

Bon voyage!

Here’s How To Explore A City In Just A Day

IMG_8991

I’ve now gotten a lot of practice in mapping out a city and seeing exactly what I want to see in the amount of time I have to see it. We spent just one full day in Barcelona, Prague, and Vienna, and I’m about to head to a full day in Amsterdam.

With cities that have so much historical value and so many sights, one day might not seem feasible. But, if you’re willing to strategize, I promise you – you can fit it all in.

The first trick to conquering a new city in a short amount of time is be willing to walk. Thankfully, I’ve been with some fellow walkers along my trip, because let me tell you: you will begin to stumble upon things that you A) didn’t even know were in that city and B) were trying to eventually find but forgot you wanted them on the list. In Paris, we stumbled on so many landmarks just because we were trying to walk ourselves to another side of the city. Walking is totally worth it.

Next, Google Maps will be your best, best friend. Before each city (usually, the night before exploring), I look up the things in each city that are worth seeing. There are usually a couple of lists (at least for major cities) that’ll get you started on things that people have recommended taking a look at – and, things that other travelers have deemed as overrated or not worth the price of admission.

Make a list of those places that you want to go, and then set your Airbnb or hotel location as your “home.” Open directions in Google Maps, and set “home” as your starting and ending spots. On walking mode (once you hit directions, click the walking man next to the car and bus symbols) you can tap the three dots next to your location and “add stop.” Add in all of the places that you’ve listed as your top destinations. Then, you can drag and drop the places. Create a circle out of your list. This way, you’re not doubling back on any places that you’ve missed, and you’re creating an efficient walking path to see everything. It’s an awesome trick. You can also download an offline map of the city that you’re going to so that you aren’t using so much data while you’re mapping.

IMG_9285

You also want to pay attention to the day of the week that you’re visiting the city. Sometimes, sights and locations are closed on Sundays or Mondays. You don’t want to walk a kilometer to a spot on your list only to find out that it’s not open to the public. Do a little research beforehand so that you can avoid any surprises (and cut out any unnecessary trudging) while you’re exploring.

But, as I mentioned, the absolute best part of walking around a city is finding the places that you didn’t even know you wanted to see. In Paris, this was an incredible botanical garden that was free to the public that we happened to find. Take a little time to explore these hidden gems, because the big stuff isn’t always where the best memories are made. If you see a church that looks interesting, stop. Go up the hill for a view of the city. Sit in the park for a few minutes. Absorbing the culture of a new place is much more authentic when you step aside for the smaller stuff.

When it comes to food, research any special dishes or treats that the area is famous for, and make that a priority. Although pasta in France is fun, it’s not pasta in Italy. And, although Germans love their bread, it doesn’t compare to a Parisian croissant. Stop for these special items when you find them or when you see them on a menu, and supplement any expensive meals with cheap (and delicious) street food, like döner (gyros).

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, you don’t even have to use public transportation (we skipped it in Prague, Florence, and Rome). Just take thirty minutes to plan the day before, and maximize your time. I promise, it’ll be totally worth it as you’re hitting all the Colosseums and Eiffel Towers and ruins that you wanted to see and stumbling upon incredible murals along the way.

Happy trails!

Grave Reminder

purple crocus in bloom during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This may sound a little dark, but I’ve been sitting in a lot of cemeteries lately.

I’m fascinated by how people have chosen to commemorate themselves (and, often, how others have chosen to commemorate them). There are headstones that reach fifteen feet into the air, with marble columns and a clay bust of the deceased. There are mausoleums and gardens. And, there are old, broken headstones on which you can barely read the name and date.

The cemetery almost feels busy, like you’re standing in the middle of a big crowd of people. It also feels like you’re intruding, in a way, to very private moments of someone’s life and legacy.

In graveyards, I am continually reminded that no matter how huge or opulent the headstone, all of these people are gone. They’re dead. These people could have had all the money in the world, with their massive graves and bundles of fresh flowers, but – at the end of the day – they’re in the ground.

So, let my sitting on a bench in a cemetery in Vienna remind you that we only have one short life to live. And, every day is important to that short life.

I bet each and every one of the people behind these gravestones – and their families – wish they had another 24 hours to just be with each other.

So, be present with the people you’re around, and love everyone fully. Don’t waste time living to your happiest, fullest potential, because I imagine all the headstones in the cemetery would rush to tell you the same thing.

9 Things That Ground You When You’re Feeling Anxious In A New Place

IMG_9988
A stunning view of Vienna from a (very) steep hill

It’s fun to roam around and explore a new city, but it also can be the source of some anxiety. If you’re in an unfamiliar place and don’t know where things are (or, how to get there), it can be incredibly stressful to navigate. I’m speaking from personal experience, of course. It’s also difficult if you don’t speak the language; there’s a third obstacle to add to the list. So, when you get that wave of fear or a moment of loneliness, here are a few small things that I’ve noticed help keep me grounded.

Smiling at a stranger and having them smile back at you
This tends to work best with middle-aged moms. Young people don’t have time for you and older people tend to frown back because, I think, they’re not used to having young people smile at them.

Finding food that reminds you of your childhood
For me, this is a falafel joint or any kind of Mediterranean spot that serves hummus and/or baklava. Sometimes a little taste of something that spurs nostalgia can warm your heart if you’re feeling isolated.

Smelling flowers
Honestly, it’s just really comforting to stop and take a minute to appreciate what’s around you. Smelling flowers grounds me because A) it’s comforting to realize that these little guys can bloom in the place they’re at, so you can too and B) it brings self-awareness. I recognize the senses I’m using to smell the flowers and my focus is brought to the nature around me.

Finding a view that makes you forget how hard it was to get up there in the first place
I know Miley was all about the climb, but sometimes that climb is tough and sweaty (physically and emotionally). It’s encouraging to get to the top of a hill or mountain and look out over the city or place you’re in. Then, you’re seeing how beautiful the view is, or how small everything looks, or how far the river runs – instead of focusing on fear.

Touching the bark of a really old tree
Similar to smelling flowers, this connection to nature is surprisingly relaxing. I like to stare up into old trees and run my hands along the rough bark, trying to think about how old the tree is or what it has seen. They’ve been standing peacefully for a long time with the earth under their feet.

Seeing a dog playing in the park
This may be more geared towards pet lovers, but nothing brings joy to my heart like seeing a pup loving their life. It makes me so happy to see them playing, or jumping, or licking their owners, or wagging their tails. We get to be responsible for some of these beautiful creatures. And, it also reminds me of my own sweet dog who loves unconditionally.

Stepping on a crunchy fall leaf
Nothing grounds me more than a physical reminder that all of life comes in seasons, both literally, with our four seasons, and metaphorically, with chapters in our own stories. Sometimes the moment it takes to bring your anxiety down is to feel and hear that sensation of autumn, reminding us that this, too, is just another season. And, you can manage it.

Watching people from a park bench
I am a big fan of pausing and sitting, especially in some of the incredible green spaces that you’ll find in bigger cities. Watching people can be fun, but it is also grounding to remember that we as humans all want the same things, and our goals are similar. We want love, dignity, respect, and protection for ourselves and our families. It doesn’t matter who you are or what language you speak – these core values connect us to people wherever we are. It’s also encouraging to think about the goodness in these people; it has been proven to me time and time again while I’ve been traveling that people are willing to help. People are inherently good.

Doing something in your normal routine
Traveling is a whirlwind of new things, so sometimes the thing that helps out an anxious soul is to do something that you know. Go for a run, read your favorite book, have a cup of tea, or lay in the grass. You are not losing yourself in this moment of being lost or fearful; you have the capacity to do whatever you’d like to do.

Do you have something that you’d like to add to this list? I’d love to expand it to help fellow travelers. Tweet me @abbiwilt with your suggestions!