This past Christmas my family and I traveled to Cuba for the first time. We toured three of the island’s major destinations, Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad, on a private tour intended to show foreign tourists “the best of Cuba". Upon my return, everyone kept asking me, “How was Cuba, was it amazing?!” expecting the answer to be a resounding “of course, it was incredible!” and then move on to other topics. However, when confronted with the same question time and time again, I found myself unable to honestly offer the simple answer everyone was expecting to hear.
The truth of the matter is that Cuba, a country that was clearly once beautiful and brimming with culture and passion, is not the dreamy Caribbean fairytale that I had imagined. Instead, it’s a country that’s simply been frozen in time, a destination permanently stuck in yesteryear and under the total rule of modern communism. As tourists, we were only intended to see the shiny, gilded version of Cuba that the government and tourism ministry wanted us to see, while supposedly being shielded from the reality of crumbling buildings, crippling poverty, and complete lack of both physical and financial mobility. And while we enjoyed the sanitized vacation we were supposed to have, it was absolutely impossible to deny the bleak reality.
Now that I’ve returned from Cuba and have had some time to reflect, the experience I want to share with you needs to delve beyond the typical “I went to Cuba and had a great time” narrative, and instead expose the truth about the day to day circumstances of current Cuban life. It’s time the world took notice and gained some awareness about what’s going on in this seductively mysterious, and for Americans, somewhat forbidden destination, because the truth of the matter is that many people really just don't know.
Though it wasn’t as I expected it to be, I’m grateful to have had such a unique and worthwhile experience in Cuba and I would encourage all that want to venture out and explore the country do it, though in a mindful and responsible way. It's important to note that though the country has fallen on hard times, the spirit of the Cuban people is still very much alive and their culture lives on and thrives regardless of the circumstances.
It's worth it to connect with the people, immerse yourself in the culture, push yourself to see what’s actually there instead of just what the tourism ministry and government want you to see. Share what you have, bring small but useful gifts, learn from the people and let them learn from you. Let your visit become a necessary and eye opening cultural exchange on both sides and think critically about what you are experiencing. It’s time for the world to look beneath Cuba’s thinly gilded surface and discover the truth about what is really going on there.
The rest of this article will expand on my experience in Cuba, the logistical process of visiting Cuba as an American tourist (it’s much easier than you think!), and my tips on how to visit the country in a responsible and meaningful way given the current political climate in Cuba and it’s rocky relations with the US. If you’re considering a trip to Cuba, I would 100% encourage you to go, but go as an educated and informed visitor who can experience the country through a more culturally and socially appropriate lens.
My Experience in Cuba
We arrived in Havana on Christmas Eve to experience our first taste of Cuba. We stayed in a casa particular, a Cuban version of a bed and breakfast sanctioned by the government. As we drove into the city, I was immediately shocked by the state of disarray of the buildings and infrastructure. Havana is a city of crumbling 1950s-style buildings in faded pastel colors alongside the coast of a stormy sea. It was clear that at some point in history, this must have been a spectacular place, bright and full of life, but that it had been left that way and its beauty and vibrance had been worn away by time. Though our casa particular was a gorgeous old colonial home with plenty of rooms, high ceilings, and stunning colonial furniture, just outside our door were tons and tons of crumbling one-room apartments packed together and filled to the brim with people. We discovered that the house we were staying in actually belonged to a close friend and colleague of Fidel Castro. That was my first indication that the tour we were on was designed to be a facade for us, to show us the Cuba that the government wants tourists and the world to recognize, and to encourage us to ignore the crumbling, jam packed buildings the locals are living in just outside our door.
There was no WiFi or really any way for us to make contact with the outside world once we arrived in Havana, and we were forced to be genuinely present and experience what was all around us. I took a stroll down the Paseo del Prado, a wide, tree-lined pedestrian walkway through Old Havana. I breathed in the warm, tropical air while a salty breeze tousled my hair, and I looked on as locals and tourists alike enjoyed the fading light of the afternoon. Classic 1950s-style cars cruised by on either side of the paseo and I was totally at ease. It may be crumbling, but for what it's worth, Havana sure is beautiful.
During the rest of our time in Havana, we took a tour of the city's main sites in a vintage American convertible, strolled through the streets of Old Havana, and admired the Spanish-style colonial plazas throughout the city. At night, we dined in paladares, which are essentially government sanctioned restaurants where people use parts of their homes as restaurants to serve tourists. Some paladares even serve food on their own family's antique china and silverware. I loved the idea of this, especially because I knew that eating at these types of restaurants would directly benefit the local families when we paid in CUC, the tourist-only currency. However, I was disappointed to discover that there were never any local Cubans dining at paladares or restaurants, and there were often few, if any Cuban dishes served on the menus, since restaurants were catering almost exclusively to foreign visitors and opted for basic international dishes, like pizza, spaghetti, and burgers instead.
We stopped into bars with live bands playing and dancing to traditional Cuban music which finally brought to life the Cuba I had always dreamt of. The passion and joy of Cuban music and dance exposed a fire within the people, and I realized that despite the state of things, the Cuban spirit is still vibrant and bright. As we explored the streets of Havana a bit on our own, just a block or two outside of the main tourist areas, we were suddenly thrown into the real, authentic Cuba, frequented exclusively by locals.
It was hot, so people left their doors and windows open and we were able to peak in as we walked by which gave us a unique sense for what it's like to really live there. We were totally ignored by the locals as they went about their lives, happily talking and laughing and playing without a worry in the world. They live humble lives, but they make the most of what they have.
We took a walking tour of Havana with a wonderful local tour guide who, without much prompting at all, decided to ditch the scripted, government approved tour of Havana he was supposed to give, and instead shed light on the actual situation in regards to day to day life in Cuba. His depiction of the reality surrounding us was shocking to me, especially since I knew he faced serious repercussions if the police, army, or any government official caught him speaking out, and particularly to foreign tourists. When I asked why he wasn't afraid to be telling us all of these things, he said that he was so fed up with the government and the communist system that he no longer cared what happened to him...I did notice he stopped talking while we walked past a police officer, though. Another of our tour guides in Havana had joked that if there are two million people in Cuba, there are one million police officers. Though he said it in jest, it did reveal the genuine local sentiment...that people feel like the government is everywhere, watching them and policing them at every turn; that they're there to control the people instead of to protect them.
What I failed to understand before visiting Cuba is that it truly is a communist country, something I don’t think I realized actually still existed in the modern world, having grown up in an American democracy. The communist propaganda and messages that bombard you everywhere you look, from the bustling streets of Havana to towering billboards in the desolate countryside, promote the communist revolution of the 1950s as though it's a modern accomplishment. Signs and slogans everywhere praise figures like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as "heroes of the revolution" and the "saviors of Cuba". To me it seemed absurd that a conquest of over 70 years ago still plays such a major part in Cuba’s day to day existence. Our Havana guide painted a picture of an overwhelming sense of disillusionment and frustration with regard to communism. He suggested that the older locals seem quietly disappointed, especially those who initially believed that the revolution would bring prosperity to their beloved country and who had worked hard towards that vision, have now been left behind and forgotten by the government who swore to improve their lives.
I was surprised to learn that modern day Cuba utilizes a double currency system, which means that locals use and earn in Cuban pesos, also referred to as “moneda nacional” or “CUP” and tourists visiting the country deal in “CUC," or the “convertible peso.” The primary difference between the two currencies is that the value of the CUC is equivalent to the US dollar, while the CUP is worth much less, the current rate being about 25 CUP for 1 CUC. The big issue with this double currency system is that only Cubans who work in the tourist industry have any financial mobility within the country. People who get paid by the government receive their monthly earnings in CUP, and professions like doctors, lawyers, and accountants will earn less than $20 USD per month, according to our guide, who had studied at Havana University and had previously been a lawyer. For him and others like him, it's more valuable to work in the tourist industry than in any other government-paid profession because they can at least earn money that has some value on top of tips from foreign visitors.
As I spoke with more locals throughout the country, I learned more and more details about civic life in Cuba. In regard to the shockingly low salaries of most non-tourism industry jobs in Cuba, it’s important to remember that the government is communist and therefore does take care of things like housing, healthcare, and basic food through a rationing system. However, Cuban healthcare is in shambles, with many hospitals operating without running water and electricity and insufficient supplies. So basically, if you get sick in Cuba (which we actually did), you’re screwed.
As far as food provided from the government is concerned, every household receives a ration card with a certain allotment of the absolute basic necessities, including rice, grains, oil, sugar, salt, coffee, and a small ration of meat. In order to receive these basic rations, Cubans have to wait in long lines and show their card, but if the ration stand has run out by the time they get to the front of the line, they have to go find another stand and wait in that line to try to get what they need. All other things beyond the basic necessities, including things like toilet paper, soap, beer, etc. must be paid for out of pocket at local bodegas or found on the black market, which is a necessary risk many Cubans must take. These are just some of the things I learned from locals who were gracious and courageous enough to talk to me, and they’re things that can’t be ignored in any discussion regarding Cuba.
The last leg of our trip was spent in the seaside town of Varadero, where we stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Though the resort was similar to something you might experience in any other Caribbean island, it was a bit more run down and had its own set of difficulties. Though it was all-inclusive, there were two specialized restaurants at the resort that you could make reservations for ahead of time. Though the restaurants themselves had the capacity to host many of the resort's visitors, they would only allow around 10 people to dine there each night, as there wasn't enough food available to serve more than that amount of visitors.
It was this lack of food in a presumably "all-inclusive" resort along with the lack of Cuban diners and cuisine at restaurants throughout the country that brought me to the sad realization that in some ways, true Cuban culture is actually being better preserved outside of Cuba. The Cuban expat community living outside the country has more of a capacity to maintain their rich culture due to the lack of resources necessary to preserve it from the inside. .
Before personally visiting Cuba, I had conjured up images in my mind of this untouched, exciting, fascinating place, which had largely been derived from Instagram influencers and movies like Fast and Furious; I had no idea that there is so much more to Cuba's story than what meets the eye. When confronted with the reality, I was shocked and somewhat disappointed by my own ignorance. I felt guilty visiting Cuba as a tourist; guilty enjoying all the luxuries of a touristic vacation with my family while the people serving us likely won’t make enough money to ever become tourists themselves, or even eat at the restaurants they are serving in. That said, it's clear that tourism is a necessary evil in Cuba, as it does benefit the people directly and the country as a whole, so visiting Cuba as a tourist is a bit of a double-edged sword.
Despite all of that, traveling to Cuba opened my eyes to a different culture, way of life, and human experience that has expanded my world view. I'm grateful to have had such a unique and enriching experience, and would gladly encourage others to explore Cuba for themselves, though to do so with a more socially and culturally conscious perspective.
The Process of Visiting Cuba as an American Tourist
Due to Cuba's rocky relations with the US, it's normal to think you may have a difficult or near impossible time traveling to Cuba as an American tourist. In reality, though, it's actually much easier to visit Cuba than you might think.
As far as logistics go, we took a direct flight from Atlanta to Havana on Delta Airlines without a problem, and we were able to book our ticket online the same as normal. Delta also sells you a Cuban Tourist Card at the counter when you check-in at the Atlanta airport and it costs USD $50 per person. They also have you fill out some forms which specify the purpose of your trip (there are 12 possible accepted "purposes" to visit Cuba which include journalism, family visits, professional research, educational activities, and a few more, but pure "tourism" from America is not allowed). We marked that the reason for our trip to Cuba was "support of the Cuban people," which is one of the authorized categories.
At some point in the process at the airport you also fill out a visa form with your name, birth date, and passport number, and take that with you to Cuba. It is all very easy and the airline provides what you need at the airport, there is nothing you need to do in advance. You should call to double check with airline if you're not flying Delta, but it was a pretty easy process for us. Once you arrive in Cuba it's completely like entering any other foreign country at the airport and no problem at all. Your boarding pass from the airline serves as your health insurance card while you are in Cuba, so make sure to hold onto it. However, you will not want to use the Cuban medical system unless you're literally dying, so don’t get sick and come prepared with things to cure yourself. Also make sure you get the appropriate vaccinations before your trip if you don't have them already.
Your American credit cards will not work at all anywhere in Cuba, nor will your ATM cards. Bring Canadian cash with you to convert on arrival and bring enough to fund your entire trip. Every meal that is not included, every drink, every purchase, must be made in cash. Americans are not used to this, so you'll need to prepare for that. It's better to bring Canadian cash to convert to CUC because there is a 10% "screw you" tax if you bring American cash to exchange in Cuba. Exchanging money should be done right away when you enter. There are two currencies in Cuba – local (CUP) and tourist (CUC). You will use CUC. It is 1 CUC for every U.S. Dollar. A Canadian dollar is worth less than 1 CUC.
Trying to exchange currency at the Havana airport is not ideal as there are long lines and it's just not worth the wait. If you have a guide or taxi driver picking you up from the airport, have them bring you to a less crowded local currency exchange in Havana which will be much more manageable. Once you've exchanged money for the first time and you've got the hang of it, you'll be able to exchange cash as you go much more comfortably. Be sure to separate your funds into different secure parts of your luggage to avoid having all your cash getting lost or stolen, because then you'll really be out of luck!
Note that when in Cuba, you will basically be completely "off the grid" the entire time. There is minimal access to WiFi throughout the island, and even when you have it, it's very spotty. You can purchase WiFi cards at designated shops throughout the country but they can only be used in public WiFi zones, which are few and far between, but will be marked by signs or by groups of people all using their phones in a certain area! This is something I definitely wasn't used to and thought I would be much more uncomfortable with, but in the end it was actually nice to just unplug and let myself live in the moment. We had a phone with a small amount of data to use for emergencies, which was provided by our tour company and which actually did end up coming in handy.
We had a set of tours and guides set up before we left and we used Anywhere Inc. to organize everything, which was great; they were reliable, efficient, and helped us with anything we needed. Our itinerary gave us a good overview of Cuba and we got to see several different parts of the country in a short time. Some of the classic touristy highlights that were fun and worthwhile were touring the major sites in an old convertible in Havana, taking a walking tour of Old Havana, walking along Havana's infamous Malecón, exploring the smaller town of Trinidad, driving through large parts of the Island and experiencing the small towns and villages there, and visiting a beach resort in Varadero. This was a good mixture for us to get the general flavor of the country.
Tour guides and drivers can be very informative and honest about Cuba, or just give you the standard government approved tour. Both are interesting and worth noting. The last few days we spent at an all-inclusive beach resort in Varadero, on the north side of Cuba. It was beautiful and there was good service, but the resort was a little run down and not especially Cuban...I felt a little guilty vacationing there as a foreigner. We noticed that almost no Americans are in or visiting Cuba, and we mostly ran into people from Canada, Russia, Europe, and China.
We stayed in casas particulares, which are like home stays with local Cubans who rent out some of the rooms in their homes and run it like a bed and breakfast. Americans may be required to stay at these places instead of hotels, but truthfully they're much more interesting anyway and make you feel like you are part of the place. These casas particulares are basically large old homes that have been divided into rooms, and the caretakers and owners live in some of the other rooms. They provide a good breakfast each morning, which may be your best meal of the day. The people are local, interesting, friendly and offer a much more personal experience than a hotel stay would.
Though relations are tense between the US and Cuban governments, once you arrive in Cuba you won't feel any hostility from the Cuban people when they find out you're American. This was something I was a little bit worried about before visiting, and I was considering telling people we were from Canada instead to reduce tensions. However, I quickly realized, both from the general attitude and from Cuban people literally telling me, that it's really just the Cuban and American governments that have a problem with each other but the people have no issue at all, and they were nothing but friendly and warm to us regardless of our nationality.
My Tips for Visiting Cuba
There are a few things you should note to help make your time in Cuba as meaningful and easy as possible. Here are my top suggestions for your trip:
1. Bring small gifts! It's no secret that communism leaves Cuba's general populace without much of what it needs. Items like simple medications, socks, shoes, granola bars and non-perishable foods, candies, and kids games and toys are seriously lacking throughout the country and are really appreciated whenever you can give them. That said, Cubans are a particularly proud group of people, so you'll need to be sure to offer your gifts in a polite and dignified way. Form relationships with the people you choose to give to, such as cab or private drivers, homestay hosts, and tour guides. I'll say that the exception to that rule is with candies (dulces) and little games (juegos) like jacks or bouncy balls; pass them out to kids on the streets or as a kind gesture wherever you go. Oftentimes adults will see you offering candies and games to kids and will ask you for a few for themselves and their kids and grandkids. It's not a necessity, but it's a novelty and fun way to brighten someone's day and have some nice interactions with the locals. Also be sure to leave actual cash tips in CUC for drivers, housekeepers, and service people at hotels, restaurants, and on tours. As a general note, always be respectful and try your best not to waste food.
We are Jewish, so we visited a local synagogue in Havana where we were able to donate a lot of items, like socks, bandaids, Ibuprofen, toothbrushes, shaving materials (any type of medication is particularly useful and appreciated). If you are Christian or are just looking for a place to feel more comfortable donating items you've brought, I'm sure churches and religious organizations would be happy to take them and will disseminate them to their respective communities in need.
2. Learn some Spanish before you go. You will have a muuuuch easier experience in Cuba if you take the time to learn even just a few basic phrases in Spanish. Not only will you be better received by the locals just for trying, but you'll need it to get by as the majority of Cubans speak little to no English. Do yourself a favor and learn the basics!
3. DO NOT drink the water and be careful with the food (especially meat)! Though you'll be fine showering and brushing your teeth with the tap water in Cuba, don't drink it, opt for bottled water instead. The food can also be dicey, even in crowded restaurants. My best advice is to keep your diet simple while there to avoid eating anything funky.
My brother, sister, and I all got a horrible case of food poisoning in the city of Trinidad and the running water in our homestay wasn't working...you can imagine what a rough couple days that was! It turned out to be the meat we had at a relatively nice restaurant. Red meat is a bit of a luxury in Cuba and not a terribly common thing to eat there due to the lack of supply, so we probably should have avoided it in the first place. (Pro-tip, if you end up getting food poisoning and don't have any electrolyte powder pouches to help your body absorb the water you're drinking, make yourself a mixture of salt, sugar, and water to help rehydrate you. Shout out to my sister who learned that in college and saved all of us in Cuba!!)
You'll want to bring anything you might need in order to take care of yourself medically, don't plan on there being any reliable medical care at all. Hospitals often don't have supplies or running water, so if something happens to you, you're kind of on your own. Useful things to bring are electrolyte powder packets to mix with water to rehydrate you if you get sick, activated charcoal pills, Ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, Tums, motion sickness meds, cough drops, emergency medications and extras, etc.
4. Watch how you dress. Cuba can be a little confusing as far as what to wear because on the one hand, skimpy outfits and thong bikinis are commonplace at the beach and along the coast, but with the country's Catholic roots, as in many Latin American countries, it's better to dress relatively conservatively. This will also decrease (but not eliminate) the catcalling and excessive unwarranted attention from men on the street.
5. Embrace the lack of WiFi and communication with the outside world and become truly present. Take this unique opportunity to live in the moment and let yourself just appreciate a genuinely real experience, which can be hard to come by in the modern age.
Cuba is a beautiful and complicated place. If you plan to visit, I urge you to look beyond the country's thinly gilded surface and take note of what is really there. Cuba is relatively safe, but filled with poverty and a crumbling infrastructure. People whose family's have found favor with the government live marginally better lives than those with no communist ties at all. Freedom of speech is restricted and it's nearly impossible for Cubans within the country to make social and financial progress. Though all of these issues undoubtedly plague this sun drenched Caribbean nation, the heart and resilience of the Cuban people is as strong as ever. These people's spirit will not be broken, no matter what types of hardships befall them; from a simple visit, that much was made clear to me. The people dance and sing and smoke cigars and enjoy life regardless of their circumstances. I am impressed and proud of the Cuban people for not allowing themselves to be broken by the system, and I'm hopeful that one day Cuba will be truly free. ¡Viva una Cuba libre!
Italy is an incredibly popular destination for travelers from around the world, and with good reason! If you're planning to visit Italy for the first time, check out these 7 basic but useful tips to make sure your time spent in this fantastic country goes smoothly:
1. Take the Train
Italy is renowned for its extensive and easy-to-use train network, so there’s no need to rent a car when traveling through the country. Trains in Italy are clean, straightforward, and relatively inexpensive, making them the perfect transportation option. Some of the main rail companies include TrenItalia and Italo, which each have schedules that run throughout the day.
2. Invest in a Power Adapter
When you visit Italy, expect that some of your appliances from home likely won’t work without a power adapter. However, Italian power adapters are typically inexpensive and abundant at convenience stores throughout the country. If you plan to use appliances that use more power such as hair dryers, you may consider purchasing a voltage adapter as well.
3. Bring Comfortable Walking Shoes
Prepare to do a lot of walking and sightseeing between bites of pizza and gelato! Be sure to bring comfortable footwear that can withstand a day of exploring. If you’re traveling in the summer, bring light, breezy clothes that are trendy and won’t overheat you. In other seasons, bring layers to easily adapt to changing weather. If you plan to visit the Vatican or another holy site, make sure to bring something to cover your shoulders and knees like a lightweight shawl or pashmina afghan.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Pickpockets
Though Italy is considered to be a relatively safe country, you’ll still need to keep an eye out for petty theft and pickpockets. Bring a money belt to wear under your clothes and keep your valuables secure by opting for an over the shoulder bag across your chest rather than a backpack.
5. No Need to Tip in Restaurants in Italy
One of the best parts of dining in Italy (besides the food, of course!) is the fact that tipping is not required in restaurants. You may see a “coperto” charge added to your bill of around one to three euros per person which acts as a “cover” charge and includes bread for the table.
6. Try Not to Overpack
Italy is a country with endless things to do and discover which means you’ll likely be doing a good amount of moving around. Many hotel accommodations don’t have elevators and will require you to walk up flights of stairs. Make sure you can carry and easily transport your own luggage by bringing versatile clothing and only packing the essentials!
7. Make Time to Explore Off the Beaten Path
Italy is often crowded with tourists rushing to visit the country’s iconic sites, especially during the summer. Though you should certainly make a point to experience some of these noteworthy gems, be sure to set time aside to explore the lesser-known areas of Italy and take a break from the crowds, you’ll thank me later!
Though I would consider myself to be a fairly seasoned traveler, ironically, I am actually horrible at the physical act of traveling. I can’t count the amount of times something goes terribly wrong while I’m abroad and I end up sprawled out on the bathroom floor of a plane with a menacing Australian flight attendant threatening to “divert the aircraft,” or intensifying my Ecuadorian water poisoning by naively continuing to drink from the defective water filter. I thought I was “soooo authentic” when I sat down at a table full of locals in a hole in the wall food stall at a Bolivian market. Of course I accepted all four courses of the two-dollar “Menu del Día,” naturally starting with the lukewarm soup made with local water...you can guess how well that ended. Constant illness seems to be my punishment for the crime of travel addiction. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever stop!
For as often as these horrible things seem to happen to me, shockingly I am never less dramatic about it. I just can’t help myself, I truly think I am going to die every time and my survival instincts take over...I definitely cannot just be “chill” about the whole thing. In the moment, my thought process is typically “survive now, apologize later," and though they probably always hate me, I am so grateful for the friendly strangers who have saved me on several occasions!
If you have ever been sick abroad or fear one of these heinous incidents could happen to you, not to worry, I have already been through it all and can offer some helpful tips! Because I have been disastrously sick so many times in six of the seven world continents, I will highlight the very worst of the worst of my experiences, breaking them down by category and sharing my advice on how to avoid having these things happen to you or what you can do if they should occur.
Dehydration on the Plane
Getting dehydrated on the plane is one of my main and most frequent causes of travel illness. As someone who knows this, I still often forget to properly hydrate before and during the flight and it always comes back to bite me in the worst way.
Let’s start at the very beginning of my travel career when all of this began…little did I know dehydration was to be a permanently recurring issue! I was in college and about to spend the summer in Ecuador volunteering in a little village outside of Quito. I was really excited to get there as I was (and still am) a bit of a “Latinophile." The flight was two parts. The first leg was from my hometown in Detroit to Miami, and then Miami onto Quito. I was all set and ready to go, waved a teary goodbye to my parents, and boarded the plane for my flight to Miami. It was only a few-hour flight and I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. Unfortunately, that naivety was where it all started. The flight took off and about halfway through I started to feel a little bit unwell. I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong but I knew it wasn’t good...it was horrible, in fact. I had never felt anything quite like it and I didn’t know what I needed. I kept buzzing for the flight attendants telling them that I wasn’t feeling well, so they kept trying to give me ginger ale. I quickly realized it was actually water that I needed, and for whatever reason they wouldn’t give me more than a small cupful, half of it filled with ice.
Now, don’t judge me for the next part, as I said before I really thought I might die there! In an act of desperation, I leaned over to the complete and utter stranger across the aisle from me and frantically asked if I could drink from his permanent, personal water bottle. At this point I was breathing heavily and my eyes were rolling back in my head so he reluctantly handed it to me, a bewildered look on his face over my barbaric faux pas. I quickly drank the entire thing and tossed it back to him. Immediately following, I went on to fill four consecutive paper bags with my vomit before the plane finally landed. It was not one of my proudest moments!
After deplaning I called my mom in a panic, not knowing what to do. I was completely alone and terrified of getting on another plane, no less the following flight to Quito. She told me that I would definitely be boarding my next leg, as the flight was expensive and I was going! She instructed me to purchase Pepto-Bismol to calm my stomach, Dramamine for motion sickness and to help me sleep, two Gatorades, and a big water bottle (my own, this time). She directed me to buy a day pass at one of the airport’s private lounges for around $25 and sleep for a few hours before boarding my next flight. She told me to calm down and start slowly drinking the fluids, and it would all be okay. I followed her directions to a T and I am happy to report that my next flight went off without a hitch. I even met a handsome Ecuadorian man on the plane who didn’t mind that I had just been throwing up for several hours, go figure!
Becoming dehydrated on a plane is no joke. A word to other travelers to avoid making my same mistakes: ALWAYS hydrate as MUCH as you can the entire day and night before a flight. Don't forget to bring a full water bottle on the flight itself to avoid an embarrassing and unpleasant situation!
Food and Water Poisoning
You would think at this point I would be prepared for anything and know how to avoid these types of situations but sometimes they just sneak up on you! Typically for me, it’s doing what I think will help me that actually ends up being the cause of my ailment. Usually when I’m trying to figure out what’s making me sick, the answer is right under my nose hiding in plain sight.
I have had a lot of these types of incidences. The worst include eating infected mangoes to excess in Mexico City thinking my body could use a healthy alternative to never-ending tacos, accidentally drinking the local water in the form of Bolivian soup, and constant underlying nausea associated with drinking from the overused water filter in my Ecuadorian home as I mentioned previously. However, of all my experiences, perhaps the worst and most dramatic of my food poisoning episodes happened on my flight(s) back from Bali.
This was a four-part flight which should have indicated right away that something was bound to go awry. I was traveling alone flying from Bali to Bangkok to New Delhi to Abu Dhabi and then finally back home to Chicago. I was going backwards through a million time zones with a thousand layovers and I was already sick with a cold from Thailand...what could go wrong?!
I was relieved when I made it through my first two flights smoothly and foolishly allowed myself to think that maybe this time everything would be fine! Well. The worst was yet to come. I had, I kid you not, a 45-minute layover in New Delhi, the shortest possible time for me to do anything stupid, and yet, I still managed to squeeze something in! I had always been intrigued by India and was excited to have touched-down in the country, if only for less than an hour. I was hungry so I grabbed an “authentic” Indian snack from one of the airport kiosks before running to the gate to catch my flight. Loving the fact that I was eating true Indian food in India, I boarded the plane with a big smile, ready for a quick flight to Abu Dhabi. It was then when it all started to go wrong.
About mid-way through the flight, I started to feel that familiar gurgling in the pit of my stomach which I had come to know all too well. But this time, it was different. I instinctively grabbed my water bottle and started taking small, slow sips, hoping that this could resolve itself quietly, but after a few minutes I knew that something else was going on entirely. I started to get up to make my way to the bathroom but when I thought I was going to collapse I retreated to my seat. My face was flushed, I was covered in a sheen of cold sweat, and I had no idea what was wrong with me. I buzzed for the flight attendant and tried to explain what was going on before vomiting into a paper bag and blacking out. The attendants began to call out to my fellow passengers asking if there were any doctors on board (the drama!), and when someone finally stepped forward and stuck a spoonful of sugar in my mouth to raise my blood sugar, I opened my eyes. Someone put a cold washcloth on my forehead and they moved me to first class to lie down.
By the end of the flight I was in pretty rough shape. I was a lone female traveler, scared and nauseous in the middle of Abu Dhabi, but I had made it. I spent the next few hours in the airport bathroom, which is where I discovered that the root of my illness was, in fact, that “authentic Indian food” from before. Amazing! By the time I was ready to board my final flight back to Chicago, I was skeptical but prepared and luckily made it back without any further problems. After that, I pledged never to go back to India. Of course, India ended up being my very next international trip a few months later when the horror of my incident had finally faded. Fortunately, I did not get sick at any point during that entire trip, what are the odds!
To avoid food and water poisoning while traveling, my best advice would be to be careful about what you eat, remain hydrated with safe water, and bring Imodium and other medicines from home and have them easily accessible just in case. I always bring my own paper bag on long flights and bus rides because let’s be real, it will most likely end up coming in handy! As always, I urge you to remain calm and try to work through whatever is happening. Oftentimes, food and water poisoning is unavoidable and quite miserable, but remember that it does always eventually pass!
Wearing Your Body Down
Too much partying, not enough sleep, a new destination every day, and constantly eating cheap, greasy foods is bound to exhaust your body to its absolute limits. When I travel alone, I tend to grab the quickest, cheapest option for food which always seems to be a kabob or some combination of bread and cheese in different forms...after your third kabob and twelfth slice of pizza or bagel with cream cheese your stomach isn’t really about it anymore! Not taking proper care of yourself while traveling is any easy way to wear yourself down and let me tell you, your body will not appreciate it!
I have certainly had my fair share of physical wear and tear while traveling and out of necessity have had to discover the best local methods for recovering. When I suffered an intense throat infection in Greece after a week-long music festival in Croatia, I bought cheap local antibiotics (which were effective!) from the corner pharmacy. In Bali, I searched out the local remedy “Jamu Juice” to clear up my stuffy nose, clogged ears, and a throat full of mucus...my roommates in the shared hostel dorm room really loved that! Of my experiences, perhaps my most horrifying encounter happened when I was living in a homestay in Madrid, Spain.
It was a typical case of study abroad overexcitement, I went out every night and woke up early every morning for class. I was exhausted. My body was begging me to stop, but I didn’t. With the classic “you only live once” mentality, I grabbed some cold medicine from the neighborhood pharmacy and then went to enjoy a standard night of Madrid debauchery. I came home relatively early and went to sleep without a problem. I had had a few drinks but really not enough to be drunk, and yet a few hours later I woke up with a start. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what. In a state of delusion, I started running frantically through the halls of my homestay calling out desperately for my elderly host, “Miriam! Miriam!,” before opening the door to her room and collapsing on her bed. She was frightened, obviously, but once she realized it was only me, she guided me back to my room to lay down, made me some tea and I went back to sleep. Oddly enough, I did not get kicked out of the homestay program, but I was thoroughly teased for my performance during the rest of my time in Madrid. Needless to say, I will not be mixing cold medicine with alcohol ever again!
Wearing yourself down while traveling can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially when you want to go everywhere and experience everything. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is always worth it to slow down, take care of yourself, and rest when you need to. If you do end up getting sick abroad, local medicines from the corner pharmacy in your destination are typically cheap and effective, and if you’re sick and alone, trust me, this is your best option. Another option is to ask what the traditional remedies are. Oftentimes the local people have been using natural alternatives like Jamu Juice for generations, and they can really help.
As an avid traveler, I have come to terms with the fact that something will almost always go wrong on my trips and that I will probably get sick, no matter how I try to prepare. It will definitely be dramatic and will likely be embarrassing, but no matter what, the destination, the people I meet there, and the (non-health related) experiences will always be worth it. I have also realized that despite the inevitable difficulties, I love travel. It makes me feel whole, it opens my mind and heart to the world, and I will never stop.
That said, the best advice I can offer to you, a kindred traveler, is that when something does go wrong, try to stay calm. It can be really scary when something goes physically bad abroad, especially if you’re alone and don’t speak the language. The best thing to do is to take a breath, recognize that “this too shall pass,” and try to figure out what you need and the best way to get it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (but try to be less dramatic about it than I am), and in the end, the worst that typically happens is that you come away with an incredibly embarrassing story to tell after the fact. I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and I wish you good luck and safe travels!
If you’re visiting Australia on a tight schedule like I was, Melbourne is definitely one of the places you should make time for. More recently known as the trendy alternative to Sydney, Melbourne is known for its cultural diversity, street art and music, coffee culture, funky vibes, and for being one of the most livable cities in Australia.
With little time and so much to do, here are my recommendations for spending one day in Melbourne:
For backpackers and budget travelers, stay at United Backpackers Melbourne hostel, which has been voted not only the best hostel in Melbourne, but in Australia as a whole. It’s located on Flinders Road, right across from the Flinders Street train station, directly in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD). The hostel is social, clean, has lots of great amenities, and serves free pancakes for breakfast! It’s also just around the corner from the lively Degraves Street, which is where we’ll begin our day in Melbourne.
If you’re not in the mood for pancakes, head just around the corner from United Backpackers to Degraves Street or Centre Place laneway for brunch at any of the cute restaurants on either of these popular streets. I’d recommend ordering avocado toast and a flat white (coffee), because you’re in Australia and that’s just what you do there!
After exploring the area’s unique cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, continue through the CBD on foot or take the free (and easy to use) Circle Tram. Head over to Bourke Street where you’ll find impressive street performers on every corner and the world-class shopping that’s earned Melbourne the title of Australia’s shopping capital.
From Bourke street, continue onto Chinatown, another distinguished neighborhood of the CBD. There are lots of cool and interesting things to try here, as Chinatown’s extensive reach includes tons of authentic shops, restaurants, and hole in the wall food stands with lines out the door. If you’re hungry, grab a tasty uncut sushi roll and eat it like you would a burrito...I found this to be a strange and wonderful take on sushi for a quick on-the-go snack!
From there, take a stroll around Queen Victoria Market, the biggest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. Explore endless stalls filled with food, handmade jewelry, clothes, and much more. The market is open five days a week starting at 6am, and on Sundays at 9am, but check online to be sure of the daily schedule.
Once you’ve exhausted your shopping funds, it’s time to relax a bit over in the Queen Victoria Gardens. This picturesque park filled with ponds, sculptures, and a massive flower clock is the perfect place to sit with a book, a picnic, or with friends and take some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
After you’ve had a chance to relax in the gardens, it’s time to slowly make your way back to the hostel via Bourke Street, where I recommend stopping for dinner at Isan Soul, Thai Street Food. This restaurant is known for having the most authentic Thai food in Melbourne (we heard this from the locals, but I can definitely vouch for it myself!). Here you can expect great food, good vibes, and you’ll feel like you’ve transported straight into northeastern Thailand.
After dinner, head back to the hostel to get ready for your night out! Start with a drink and some live music at the hostel’s popular bar, then take the tram over to super cool, hipster-infused Fitzroy, one of Melbourne’s trendiest (and my favorite) neighborhoods. Take a walk down Brunswick Street, Fitzroy’s main drag, to take in the funky shops and thrift stores, outdoor patio bars, and restaurants ranging from every nationality you can think of. This culturally diverse area is full of colorful street art, live music bars, and young, stylish, beautiful people, making it the perfect place to start a wild night out in Melbourne!
Once in Fitzroy, head over to Naked For Satan (don’t worry, this place isn’t as hardcore as the name suggests!). Go up to the rooftop bar for an espresso martini (their specialty), fantastic views of the city, and good vibes with beautiful people.
When you’ve had your fill of espresso martinis, either stick around Fitzroy to explore the quirky bar scene, head back over to the CBD area to check out what’s happening on Swanston Street, or hit the clubs over on King Street.
Once you’re completely wiped out and can absolutely take no more, end your night at “Macca’s,” (Australia’s favored nickname for McDonalds) for some late-night eats you’re sure to regret in the morning. Finally, go back to the hostel and GO TO SLEEP! You’ve definitely earned it after a seriously full day in Melbourne.
For me, I’ve just described an ideal day spent in Melbourne, which is by far my favorite city in Australia. But if you have more than one day in this vibrant place (which I would certainly recommend making time for), or your interests are a bit different from mine, not to worry, the city has much more to offer! Check out the National Gallery of Victoria art museum, take in phenomenal city views from the top of the Eureka Skydeck, watch a match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, see Koalas in the Melbourne Zoo, or take a dinner cruise along the Yarra River.
If you have a bit more time, make your way over to Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood for beaches, surfing, and a more laid-back feel, take a drive out to the Great Ocean Road and admire the world-famous Twelve Apostles, or take a day trip to explore the Yarra Valley vineyards. With something for everyone in this wild and wonderful city, Melbourne definitely will not disappoint.
For me, Ecuador is one of those quintessentially “Latin” countries; it’s exactly what I picture when I think of “South America”. The country lies right along the Equator (hence its name Ecuador, literally “Equator,” in Spanish) and boasts some of the highest peaks in the world. Home to the vast Andes Mountains and rich traditions of the local people, Ecuador should not be overlooked on any trip to the region. The country’s national motto is “Ecuador: Ama La Vida,” or in English, “Ecuador: Love Life!”, and that’s exactly what you can’t help but do in this beautiful and eclectic country.
My first time visiting Ecuador was on a mission trip with volunteer organization Manna Project International, where I lived and worked with the local community in Valle de Los Chillos just outside of Quito. The trip was my first real exposure to a Spanish-speaking country, and was the experience that made me fall in love with travel and with South America in particular. I was captivated by the culture which centered around fútbol, dancing, cooking, and enjoying life with close-knit friends and family. Over the course of several months, I was able to travel throughout the country quite a bit, discovering the best that Ecuador has to offer.
For anyone planning a trip of their own, here are my recommendations for Ecuador’s top destinations:
Quito is a massive city which sits in a valley among the Andes Mountains. From the endless parks, art galleries, churches, museums, shops, restaurants, clubs, and bars, you will never be lacking for something to do here. If Quito is your first stop in Ecuador, make sure to take things slowly as the city’s (and country’s) incredibly high altitude can take some getting used to. Take a gondola ride on Quito’s Teleférico for incredible views of the city, wander through the picturesque colonial streets and plazas, drink a Canelazo in Plaza Foch, and grab brunch at Lucia Pie House and Grill.
I’ve visited many cities throughout my life and to this day, Quito is still one of my absolute favorites. It was here that I had my first mini-taste of solo travel when I spent the day wandering through the city alone; needless to say, I was hooked!
Quilotoa is an enormous crater lake which was formed by the ancient eruption of Quilotoa Volcano, and is now one of Ecuador’s most important tourist attractions. The small village of Quilotoa sits at the top of the lake and is run by the indigenous community there. Hike down to the lagoon where you can kayak and take in the extraordinary views, though remember that the hike back up is very challenging due to the high altitude and you may want to hire a horse or mule to take you. Spend some time in the little village having lunch or enjoying the handicrafts market there, and dinner will most likely be provided by your hostel or hotel accommodation (there aren’t too many options as the village is quite small).
Quilotoa is one of the most magnificent sites I have ever seen and neither words nor photos can properly do it justice. Though the site itself is truly incredible, the journey to get there was an experience in itself. We took the local bus from Quito to Latacunga and from there another bus the rest of the way, neither costing more than a few dollars. Both busses played hours of cumbia songs on the radio, showed Spanish-dubbed American movies, and showed little concern while racing through the winding Andean roads. Passing through the tiny, isolated mountain villages of local indigenous people while taking in breathtaking views of the Andes is something I will never forget.
Baños de Agua Santa (Baños for short) is definitely one of the more touristy places you’ll visit in Ecuador, but nevertheless, one that certainly cannot be missed. This town is known for its extreme sports, thermal baths, exciting nightlife, and of course, La Casa del Arbol, the “swing at the end of the world”. The town itself is filled with cute bars and restaurants and it’s very easy to mix and mingle with the locals and other travelers.
For me the highlight of Baños was La Casa del Arbol. This treehouse is a rickety little shack at the top of a mountain with a rope swing attached at the side. If you’re brave, the old man working there will give you a push and you’ll swing out into the sky overlooking the Andes and the Tungurahua volcano. It’s best to go on a clear day, but in the Andes the weather is always luck of the draw. On the day that I went fog completely obscured the view, but swinging into the foggy abyss was still an other-worldly experience.
Otavalo is a town renowned for having one of the largest artisan markets in South America. The market is a wild and chaotic place, filled with all the colors, sites, smells, and foods of Ecuador. Vendors are friendly and walk through the streets chanting whatever it is they’re selling; “frutilla, frutilla!” (strawberries) or “sandia, sandia!” (watermelon) and the whole place is buzzing with energy and excitement. Be sure to go on a Saturday, when the market expands throughout the streets of the entire town.
Otavalo is a town built on history and tradition, and with that comes the element of ceremony and spirituality. During my time in Otavalo, my group of "gringo" friends and I got caught up in a local parade which we quickly realized was actually a ritual ceremony. At the time, none of our Spanish was good enough to understand what was truly going on, so we marched and danced with the local people through the village by candlelight until the parade culminated in a plaza where everyone gathered for the final ceremony. I later discovered that the festival had to do with celebrating the seasonal harvest. It was absolutely incredible to be included by the local people and experience some of their traditions firsthand.
Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador’s most notable symbols. This active, snowy volcano is the second highest peak in the country and lies just south of Quito. Besides the volcano itself, there isn’t much else in this area, allowing you to truly connect with the land and the spirit of Pachamama (Mother Earth). I recommend staying at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi hostel, located among vast, empty fields with Cotopaxi visible in the distance. Spend the day hiking the volcano. The hike up is difficult due to the high altitude and can get very cold, but it’s a totally surreal experience that is absolutely once-in-a-lifetime.
Tena is a city located in the Amazon rainforest and is a hub for whitewater rafting and adventure activities. The town has many shops and restaurants, several of which offer the traditional “menu del día,” which is a set three or four course meal consisting of soup, a main dish of fish or meat, rice, vegetables, a dessert, and usually a glass of freshly-squeezed local juice. The menu del día is very common in restaurants throughout the country and you’ll rarely find one that costs more than $4 USD. In Tena in particular, a whole fish, usually Tilapia, is typically included as one of the courses and is absolutely delicious!
On a whitewater rafting tour I took in Tena, we pulled over to the river bank and walked deep into the rainforest where we were met by a group of local indigenous people living there who hosted us for lunch in their village. That was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had and opened my eyes to the many different cultures and ways of life existing in every corner of the world.
Montañita is a coastal city known for its surfing and rowdy parties. Though you’re sure to have a great time here, be careful to watch your back and keep your belongings close, as the city is also known for being a bit seedy. I didn’t personally have the chance to visit Montañita but its reputation is known throughout Ecuador for being one of the country’s wildest destinations!
The Galapagos Islands are arguably Ecuador’s most famous feature. The islands are world-renowned for their superb beaches and incredible marine and wildlife. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit myself, as getting to the Galapagos can be a bit difficult and quite expensive, but I’m told it’s completely worth it. Go diving and snorkeling, soak up the sun on pristine beaches, and see sea turtles, Blue-Footed Boobies, penguins, and some of the most impressive nature in the world.
For such a small country (relative to the rest of the continent), there are endless things to do in Ecuador. The places I’ve mentioned here are just a few of my absolute favorites, but other destinations like Mindo, Cuenca, Guayaquil, and La Mitad del Mundo, among many others, are also worth a visit if you have the time! If you are lucky enough to spend any time at all in Ecuador, make sure to live it up in true Ecuadorian form; Ecuador, ¡Ama La Vida!
As a Midwestern girl, born and raised, it’s no surprise that post-college I ended up here in Chicago. Now, after having lived in this wonderful city for nearly two years, I feel well-equipped to share my knowledge for any travelers passing through or for anyone considering making Chicago their home.
This city has a distinct feel, characterized by a beautiful architectural aesthetic with friendly, down-to-earth people. You’ll never be lacking for things to do, no matter the season, as Chicago is known for its food, sports, nightlife, festivals, restaurants, and museums.
If you’re looking to spend some time in the Windy City, this guide will give you all you need to know.
Chicago is made up of many neighborhoods, each with its own character. The city is laid out from south to north, hugging Lake Michigan to the east. This is good to know, because realizing that the lake is always east no matter where you are in the city will help you get your bearings right away.
The best way to explain each of Chicago’s prominent neighborhoods would be to start south and work our way north…
The South Side
Chicago’s infamous South Side is often recognized for its intense poverty and street violence, but truly it is much more than that. Go visit Hyde Park, The Museum of Science and Industry, and the University of Chicago, or go see a White Sox game, the set where the hit show Shameless was filmed, or the Pilsen and Chinatown neighborhoods, which are nearby.
Just north of the South Side is Chicago’s Loop neighborhood, which can be considered the true “downtown” of the City. This is where you’ll find Millennium Park and some of the best shopping and restaurants in Chicago. West of the river is referred to as the West Loop, which is an up-and-coming area known for its chic restaurant and nightlife scene.
Moving north, you’ll come to the River North neighborhood, named this way because it’s the neighborhood just north of the Chicago River! Here you’ll discover the Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place shopping mall, and the Chicago Riverwalk, which is especially beautiful at night. River North is also a hub for Chicago nightlife, and this is where you’ll find some of the most notorious nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in the city.
Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood is a wealthy residential neighborhood, as its name would imply, just north of River North. It’s characterized by larger homes and high-rise apartment buildings which offer fantastic views of the lake. This area is known for upscale restaurants and shopping as well.
Moving north and a bit west, you’ll come across Chicago’s historic Old Town neighborhood. Old Town is one of my favorites, as its picturesque, tree-lined streets are beautiful year round. This is where you’ll find plenty of cute boutiques, restaurants, pubs and bars. Wells Street is Old Town’s main strip, and it’s the heart of the area’s nightlife. Old Town is one of the most popular neighborhoods to live in in the city.
Lincoln Park is my absolute favorite neighborhood in Chicago, as it’s the neighborhood that I call home! Lincoln Park houses the Chicago Zoo and plant conservatory, which are both completely free to the public. It is very near to the lake and is filled with picturesque cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Popular with families, Lincoln Park is a relaxed place to live and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Just barely north of Lincoln Park, you’ll come to Lakeview. Lakeview is one of the more lively and fun neighborhoods in the city, typically attracting a younger crowd. It is also home to Chicago’s Boystown which is especially exciting during the Pride Parade in the summer. This neighborhood has lots of funky restaurants, bars, comedy clubs, and shopping, and if you don’t stop for late night macaroni-stuffed grilled cheese at Cheesie’s, you’re missing out!
Continuing north past Lakeview, you’ll come to Wrigleyville, named for the Wrigley stadium which is home to the Chicago Cubs! The neighborhood is mainly characterized by sports bars, nightclubs, and restaurants relating to the team, and is an absolute blast for a night out or during a Cubs game. If you’re looking for cheap hot dogs and beer, this is the place.
Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park
Paralleling the lake-hugging neighborhoods I’ve just mentioned, Chicago’s west side has a several up-and-coming neighborhoods as well. Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park are all becoming more and more gentrified, which tends to attract a more hipster and artsy crowd. In these neighborhoods, there is no shortage of quirky bookshops, art galleries, speakeasies, and local theaters. In Wicker Park especially, you’ll find some great trendy bars and restaurants, such as Big Star and Paradise Park. All three areas have a variety of patios, craft cocktail and rooftop bars as well.
One of the best and worst things about Chicago is its seasons. Winter can be bone-chillingly cold, as exhibited by the Polar Vortex we’ve experienced this winter, but there is a silver lining. The city has plenty of fun winter activities that will help you forget how absolutely freezing you are! For example, ice skating in Millennium Park or Wrigleyville, drinking hot chocolate (or spiked hot chocolate) in one of the many bars and cafes, and visiting the wintertime Christkindlmarket downtown. It also helps that the city covered in snow is an incredibly beautiful sight.
On the flip side of that, Chicago’s summertime is unlike anything else you have ever, and probably will ever experience. There is a buzz in the air, an excitement, and everyone in the city feels it. When summer comes, we don’t waste a minute of it. From sunbathing at North Avenue Beach to drinking craft cocktails at rooftop bars and patios, watching outdoor movies in the park, going to free outdoor concerts, strolling through farmer’s markets, and of course, attending acclaimed music festivals such as Mamby on the Beach and Lollapalooza, Chicago is the absolute best place to be during summer.
If you’re a sports fan, Chicago is a great place to be year round, and especially in the fall if you’re into college sports. Chicagoans pull from many of the surrounding states and the city is a huge draw for many Big 10 university graduates. The city is such a magnet for Big 10 grads that many neighborhood bars throughout the city are specifically university-themed, such as a University of Michigan bar or an Ohio State or Wisconsin bar, showing that school’s big games and bringing out tons of alumni as a result.
Things To Do:
I touched on it briefly before, but if you’re in Chicago during any time of year, here are some highlights of the best activities the city has to offer:
Go check out The Bean and several other of Chicago’s most famous sculptures, go ice skating during winter, and attend free outdoor concerts and movies in the park during summer.
Go see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, or if you don’t have tickets, watch at one of the many sports bars in the area. Though Chicago’s other sports arenas aren’t located in Wrigleyville, stop by a Chicago Blackhawks, Bears, or Bulls game to get a taste of the city’s sports scene.
Chicago is known for being home to some of the best museums in the country. Be sure to check out The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and many more.
The Magnificent Mile is the city’s primary commercial and shopping district, with upscale restaurants, hotels, and shops. Here you’ll find Chicago’s Water Tower Place shopping mall and can also access Chicago’s Riverwalk to enjoy an architectural boat tour, rent kayaks, or walk along the river, stopping at various bars and restaurants along the way. One of the area’s main attractions is the 360 Chicago Observation Deck at the John Hancock Center, which offers panoramic views of the entire city.
No trip to Chicago would be complete without taking in the city’s wild nightlife! Experience some of Chicago’s many pubs, live-music, speakeasy, patio, and rooftop bars all over the city. For trendy nightclubs, the River North neighborhood will be your best bet.
North Avenue Beach
During the summer especially, North Avenue Beach is a can’t-miss destination. Sunbathe at the beach, play volleyball, go swimming in the lake, and walk or rent a Divvy bike and ride along the boardwalk.
As a tourist, you’re required to stop by Chicago’s Navy Pier. Take a ride on the iconic ferris wheel and watch the fireworks Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summer.
Other great things to do in the city are going to see a comedy show at the world-renowned Second City theatre, a Broadway show or a local theatre show, The Chicago Theatre for rotating stand-up comedians, concerts, and speakers, or the free Chicago zoo, which hosts ZooLights during the winter.
Classic Chicago Food and Restaurants
No matter what brings you to the city, you absolutely cannot leave without trying some of the foods and restaurants Chicago is famous for. Possibly the most famous and most important Chicago food to try is our Deep Dish pizza. Love it or hate it, Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s are the two best places to give it a try.
You’ll also need to make sure to try a classic Chicago hot dog, preferably at The Wiener’s Circle, which is open late and has several locations throughout the city. Garrett Popcorn Shops gourmet popcorn is another must-try while in the city, and I would definitely recommend trying the traditional Garrett Mix, which combines their popular cheesecorn and caramel corn. Other notable restaurants to try are Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company, Au Cheval for incredible burgers, BIG & Little’s for some of the city’s best tacos, and Sweet Mandy B’s if you have a sweet tooth.
If you’re looking for a beautiful American city with something for everyone, Chicago should definitely be high on your list. From food, to sports, to music, to nightlife, you’ll never be lacking for something exciting to do. Come check out Chicago and see what the Windy City is all about!
Buenos Aires is a magical city. The people are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the accents are seductive. I had the privilege of living there for about six months and it was one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had.
I had just graduated college with no clue what I wanted to do with my life and no true desire to join the real world just yet. The only thing that seemed right to me was to travel more and work on my Spanish language skills (Spanish had been one of my majors in college and after graduating I still wasn’t fluent), so naturally, I looked to South America. As I started doing some research, Buenos Aires immediately stuck out as the perfect choice. To me, it was a modern, westernized city with all the culture and spice of traditional Latin America.
I became certified as a TEFL English as a second language instructor and set off on my way, with no job, no place to live, no friends or family, and only a basic knowledge of Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole. In the end, I was able to build a life there for myself and became immersed in everything that Buenos Aires has to offer. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever accomplished, and it wouldn't have been the same in any other city.
For other travelers planning to make a move to Buenos Aires, or even those just passing through, here are 10 things I wish would have known before visiting:
1. Argentinian Spanish is Different From Spanish in Other Latin American Countries
Argentinians are known for coming off as a bit snooty. This is largely due to the fact that Argentina differs greatly, both culturally and linguistically, from other countries in the region. In Buenos Aires, the Spanish is spoken with almost an Italian cadence, which makes sense as a good part of the population is descended from Italian immigrants. People from Buenos Aires are referred to as Porteños, and you can expect to hear a lot of slang words specific to Argentina, like “che” and “boludo/a”, thrown around regularly.
2. Buenos Aires is Pretty Far From Everything Else in Argentina
One important thing to note about Buenos Aires is that it is isolated from most of the other noteworthy places in Argentina. It’s easy to forget that Argentina alone covers the majority of the southern part of the continent, and as a result distances to get from place to place are very far and it can be quite expensive to travel between them. Most of the places that are worth a visit in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires, such as Mendoza, Patagonia, Iguazu, Bariloche, and Salta, are along the country’s borders, while the interior of the country is mostly farmland (hence the country’s capacity for amazing beef!).
3. Steak And Wine
That farmland we just talked about occupies the majority of central Argentina and is referred to as Las Pampas. This area is responsible for Argentina’s reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world. Argentinian steak and wine, particularly Argentinian Malbec, are absolute staples in Buenos Aires and in Argentina as a whole. One of the most popular dishes is the Bife de Chorizo steak, which often comes with a fried egg on top and is served with papas (french fries). Beef in Buenos Aires isn’t typically too expensive and is known for being some of the highest quality meat there is. If you’re looking for a great steak in Buenos Aires, definitely head to La Cabrera or Las Cabras, both in the Palermo neighborhood. Empanadas are also hugely popular in Buenos Aires and you can get them fast and served basically everywhere. The only food I would recommend avoiding while in Argentina is the pizza which is truly awful, ironic due to the majority of the population being Italian, go figure!
4. Cafe Culture
One of the best things about Buenos Aires is the cafe and coffee shop culture. If you want to feel like a true porteño, the most authentic thing you can do is go to a cafe with a friend and charlar over a cafecito (chat over a coffee)! Buenos Aires is made up of many barrios (neighborhoods), each with its own distinct flavor. One of my favorite barrios is the hip and trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood, which is characterized by cute cafes, boutiques, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, art galleries, and open-air markets. Cafes and coffee shops you can’t miss in Palermo are Ninina, La Panera Rosa, and Libros del Pasaje.
5. Buenos Aires Gets HOT!
It’s important to note that because Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are flipped, so their summer ranges from December to March. In the summer months, Buenos Aires is very hot and humid, and unless you know someone with a pool, there is no place to swim! Buenos Aires is situated on a river, but as it is a port city, you’ll have to drive a few hours outside the city to find the nearest beach. However, rooftop pools are not uncommon and gathering with friends and family for asados, or barbeques, is fun and very typical during these warm months.
6. La Bomba de Tiempo
If you’re looking to party like a true local, you won’t want to miss La Bomba de Tiempo. Monday nights the percussion group La Bomba de Tiempo puts on a huge improv concert at Ciudad Cultural Konex. It’s always packed with locals and travelers alike partying to the rhythm of the drums. Buy tickets ahead of time or at the door and enjoy a mix of drums, dancing, and culture.
7. Feria San Telmo
A can’t-miss activity when you’re visiting Buenos Aires is a stroll through the famous Feria San Telmo Sunday market in the San Telmo neighborhood. This seemingly endless market starts at Plaza Dorrego and extends for many blocks. It’s filled with traditional Argentinian food, art, music, antiques, and handicrafts being sold by local vendors. Popular among porteños and tourists alike, Feria San Telmo is full of free tango shows and live music, and is sure to give you a taste for the best of Buenos Aires.
8. PM Open Air Concerts
One of my favorite things to do while I was living in Buenos Aires was to go to the PM Open Air electronic music concerts on Saturday afternoons, just outside the city. Dress for a casual music festival and go with a group of friends to see new DJs perform in this chic open-air live music venue. The concerts have a very cool vibe and you’ll mix and mingle with young people from all over the world who are living or studying in Buenos Aires.
9. Bosques de Palermo
One of the best ways to escape the city is to delve deeper into it. The Bosques de Palermo is like Buenos Aires’ version of Central Park, right in the middle of the city. A massive, beautiful park oasis filled with lakes, rose gardens, and wide open spaces, the Bosques de Palermo is a welcome change from the bustling crowdedness of the rest of the city. The park also includes attractions like the Buenos Aires zoo and planetarium, and often houses food trucks and outdoor festivals.
10. Can’t Miss Things to Do and See in BsAs
Buenos Aires is an incredible city with a million things to do and see. If you’re only there for a short visit, some of the highlights include seeing a tango show, visiting Teatro Colón opera house, Puente de la Mujer bridge in the Puerto Madero neighborhood, the famous Floralis Genérica sculpture in the Recoleta neighborhood, and the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s version of the White House. If you have a bit more time, I would also recommend visiting the Recoleta Cemetery, where many notable Argentines such as Evita Perón, are buried. Finally, the neighborhood of La Boca is a can’t-miss destination if you’re traveling to Buenos Aires. On the main strip, Caminito, you will discover traditional Argentinian steakhouses, tango shows, and colorful houses and buildings that will give you a true feel for Buenos Aires.
Anyone who travels to Buenos Aires is sure to fall in love with it. Many people associate the city with steak, wine, and tango, and while those things certainly are incredible, Buenos Aires is truly much more than that alone. I hope these tips will help to guide you on your next adventure and that you enjoy everything that Buenos Aires has to offer.
"This is indeed India, the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty...the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues...the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”
If India isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. From food, to culture, to religion, India is easily one of the most interesting and beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to. This past October, I explored what is commonly referred to as India’s “Golden Triangle,” consisting of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Traveling through that northwestern circuit, I felt like I got a pretty good sense for the country and its overall character.
India had been on my bucket list for a while, and when the company I worked for offered me the opportunity to go, I jumped at the chance. Though I’d had a vague idea about what I expected India to be like, truly I didn’t know what I was in for. As I started to research the destination more and more and speak with people who had been there before, I began to grow increasingly apprehensive. I was hearing all sorts of troubling things about the intense air pollution, lack of hygiene in food and water, crippling poverty, and manipulation of tourists. As a traveler my mindset has always been not to fear the world, but to explore it, so luckily none of this was enough to actually scare me out of going, but it certainly came close!
Now after having gone and returned, I am so glad that I ignored the negative hype. I can honestly say that India is one of the most special places I have ever been. It’s loud, chaotic, overwhelming, crazy, colorful, beautiful, and alive, and is home to some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. Though I did and saw a lot during my trip, one memory is particularly striking and seems to sum up perfectly India as I experienced it...
Riding in a hot air balloon had always been something I’d wanted to try and when I realized I could do it in India, I knew I had to go for it. The idea was to wake up at 3:30 AM, drive out of the city into the countryside of Jaipur, and float through the sky on a hot air balloon as the sun began to rise. It sounded nice enough, but beyond that, I really had no idea what to expect. In the end, what started as an aimless adventure turned out to be an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
It was 3:30 AM in the middle of Jaipur, India, as I waited outside the hotel lobby for a shuttle to come pick me up for my “hot air balloon ride experience”. The van pulled up to the hotel with the logo for the hot air balloon company “Sky Waltz Balloon Safari” displayed broadly on its side and though the driver spoke no English, only Hindi, I decided I should get in. It was pitch-black and the city was still asleep as we drove out of town, a shocking contrast to the lively hustle and bustle of daytime life in India. After about an hour of driving, we pulled up to a massive, open field surrounded by mountains as we were met by a big group of westerners all standing around in the dark. Our group waited eagerly as the hot air balloon attendants filled up the balloons, blazes of ignition fire lighting them up in the darkness.
My group of eight westerners and our Spanish balloon conductor boarded our balloon as they briefed us on the takeoff and landing procedures, and then all at once, we were airborne. At first it was terrifying as we rose quickly up into the sky, with nothing but the balloon’s basket as a barrier between us and the open air. We started floating up over the countryside as the sun was beginning to rise and the villages were starting to wake up.
We weren’t flying, but floating, rising high above the earth, above everything else, taking in the world from a totally new perspective. It was so quiet and peaceful up there, unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were nine of us total on the balloon but none of us said a word. We just stood there taking the whole thing in, in total awe of what surrounded us. It was completely silent but for the sounds of the villages below; only birds and crickets, the occasional motorbike, and then kids and families rushing up to the roofs of their little houses waving and yelling “Hello! Good morning!” to us, could be heard.
We sailed up over the mountains and glided above the clouds. As people began waking up and starting their morning routines, we could hear the call to prayer in the distance. People would catch sight of the balloon and without hesitation, every single person, regardless of age or gender, smiled up at us excitedly and waved, or waved back when we did first. This trivial action of waving hello was such a foreign concept for me as a westerner; the idea that an utter stranger would go out of their way to recognize me for no reason at all other than simply to be friendly was unusual and exciting. The pure innocence of such a small but meaningful gesture, repeated constantly by every person we encountered, was just so strikingly beautiful to me. How excited we all were to wave and acknowledge each other combined with the rarity and amazement of people in hot air balloons drifting over the country fields was like something out of a fairytale.
People from several of the surrounding village fields watched as our balloon finally began to descend, and came running towards the field where we were sinking down to meet us. Once we had landed, we were met by a group of at least a hundred villagers, all dressed in the most vivid red, yellow, pink, and orange-colored saris I have ever seen. They shyly gathered in front of the balloon, all of us giggling and waving and smiling and taking pictures of each other and together, though still we remained divided by the confines of the balloon’s basket. None of us knew what to do with each other and we were all so interested in the other group. It was like neither the westerners nor the locals even really had any idea that the other existed before that moment and we were all pleasantly curious about each other, wanting to be able to do more, say more, learn more, about the other but just didn’t know how. The humanity in it all was so powerful that I started to cry and laugh at the same time, I was so overcome with emotion brought about by the purity of the encounter. It was the most human experience I’ve ever had.
The longer we stayed there the more people gathered from the surrounding fields to see us. We couldn’t communicate at all, not even the balloon conductor spoke Hindi or the local dialect as he was from Spain, so we tried to gesture to each other by smiling and using body language. We were all very shy with each other, especially some of the other girls that were around my age; it was like we came from two completely different worlds but somehow we were also exactly the same. Everyone was buzzing with excitement and the novelty of it all was overwhelming; it was so unusual to feel so connected to another group that we couldn’t even properly speak to. The villagers standing closest to me indicated that they wanted to invite me to their homes to eat and drink something, which was shocking to me as we couldn’t even speak a common language. I was a complete stranger seemingly from another life and these lovely people still wanted to invite me to come to their homes to feed me and offer me warmth and hospitality. Of course I had to decline and go back to the city with the balloon tour, but the gesture was profoundly touching. I was so moved by that, I can’t even find the words to properly describe the feeling. Despite our differences, we’re all humans, and whichever walks of life we come from, we can still find common ground in basic humanity. Friendliness, warmth, hospitality, and kindness can be universally communicated without any need for language.
I was warned a lot before coming to India about all manner of things; the food, the people, the hygiene; I was prepared for the worst, but in the end my experience was nothing but wonderful and genuine. If I learned one thing from the people in India, I realized how easy it is to just make the first move to be friendly. It’s such a small gesture to smile or say hello and it’s always immediately reciprocated with a wave and a big smile. It was like that all over India, everyone so friendly, kind, and warm, everywhere I went. From walking the streets, to being stuck in traffic, to standing in a hot air balloon amidst a group of strangers; I just smiled or waved, and was always received with the hugest, warmest, friendliest smile, and it was like we had been friends all along. Nowhere else I’ve been have I felt like that. I smiled so hard in India that my cheeks hurt; I still cannot stop smiling just to remember it.
The kindness and beauty shown to me in India was truly overwhelming. Yes the landscapes were expansive, the cities exciting, and the food delicious, but for me, the most extraordinary part of India was the people. Experiencing a culture that breeds this sort of innate warmth opened my eyes to the beauty of the world in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Though my entire journey in India was incredible, it ended up being something as whimsical as a hot air balloon ride through the countryside that turned out to be an experience so profound that I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.
As a solo female traveler myself, I know firsthand how intimidating it can be to get out there and see the world on your own. There are so many factors to take into account, especially if you’re not sure where to go or what you’re in for once you get there. Bearing in mind things like safety, friendliness of the locals, activities and attractions, ease of travel within the destination, and overall general vibe of the place, I’ve put together a list of destinations that makes for a great starting point for solo female travelers to begin (or continue) their adventure!
Here are my picks for the top 5 best destinations for solo female travelers:
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen may seem a bit off the beaten path as a travel destination, but it’s certainly worth the visit! The people are beautiful and friendly, they love having a big, delicious breakfast (which is rare in European countries), and the preferred method of transportation throughout the city is by bike, which is a cheap and fun way to cover a lot of ground in a short time. This city is very clean and safe, is an easy place to navigate, and lends itself well to solo female travelers. Can’t-miss things to do here would definitely be Nyhavn, which is the colorful waterfront, canal, and entertainment district of Copenhagen, stopping into any of the plentiful and cute Scandinavian cafes, and taking a trip over to Freetown Christiania, which is a cool hippie commune within the city.
2. Bali, Indonesia
Another great destination for solo female travelers is the island of Bali, Indonesia. Though still part of Indonesia, Bali has its own distinctive culture which varies both religiously and spiritually from the rest of the country, offering a more laid-back, spiritual vibe. A hub for surfers and yogis, Bali is the perfect place for travelers to unwind with like-minded people, reconnect with nature and the self, and enjoy the beautiful beaches, people, and culture surrounding you. The best way to get around the island is either by motorbike or tuk-tuk, and I would recommend seeking out Jamu juice, which is an ancient Balinese remedy made with Turmeric.
There are several truly can’t-miss places in Bali. In Seminyak, experience great beaches, shopping boutiques and restaurants, and of course La Favela nightclub, which is popular among tourists and locals alike. Ubud offers more of a cultural feel, where you’ll find many places for yoga and a heavy emphasis on natural and health foods. Here you will also find Hindu temples, the renowned Monkey Forest, and the beautiful rice terraces Bali is famous for. Canggu is another funky little town not far from Ubud, which is known for great surfing beaches and has a very laid-back vibe. If you have time, Gili Trawangen island is only a ferry ride away, and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok has something for everyone and lends itself especially well to solo female travelers, who likely won’t remain solo for long! Thailand in general has become a classic destination for intrepid backpackers, and in Bangkok in particular it’s very easy to meet people if you’re traveling solo. Bangkok is characterized by its lively nightlife, friendly locals, rich culture, and great food. The city’s magnificent temples and cultural sites, along with amazing day and night markets make for an exciting cultural experience that you won’t want to miss. The best way to get around is on foot, by bus, or via tuk-tuk, which are typically very cheap and convenient. I recommend staying at Mad Monkey Hostel here; it’s got great vibes for meeting people, amazing food and a fun bar, and a swimming pool which is essential in the Bangkok heat! Can’t-miss things to do in Bangkok are getting a Thai massage (a bit of an odd experience but feels amazing and is incredibly cheap), Khao San Road (great for nightlife, street food, and to get the overall feel of Bangkok), and a trip to both the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which is a massive temple complex home to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand.
4. Miami, USA
Miami is an amazing place for solo female travelers, but is a bit more expensive than some of the other places on this list, so plan for that before you go! Miami is a very international city, so you can expect to hear a mix of languages, ranging from English to Spanish to French and beyond. The general culture here is very flashy; the people are beautiful and they love to show off their wealth with fast cars and luxurious yachts. The city is characterized by a great nightlife scene, phenomenal Cuban food, and gorgeous beaches.
As far as where to stay as a solo female traveler, South Beach in particular has some nice centrally located hostels which offer free airport transfers, breakfast and dinner, and free club crawls to some of the most famous clubs in Miami. When traveling alone, this is a great way to meet other travelers as well as get a taste of the wild nightlife Miami is famous for! As a female, going out abroad can be a little tricky, especially when there is alcohol involved and you’re in a foreign place. Taking advantage of an organized pub crawl like this can be a fun and safe way to ensure you’ll have some friendly faces looking out for you who are all staying at your same hostel and can give you a bit more peace of mind during after-dark activities. The can’t-miss destinations in Miami are South Beach (must visit Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, streets which are both classic Miami), the Wynwood Walls (a neighborhood of ever-changing street murals by artists from all over the world), and Little Havana (a hub for Cuban culture in Miami). The best way to get around Miami Beach is via their free trolley system that loops around to the main sites in the area, but beyond that, I would recommend taking Ubers or taxis.
5. Rome, Italy
Finally, Rome is a wonderful place to visit as a solo female traveler. A city renowned for its history, food, culture, and overall air of romance, you will never run out of things to do here. The best way to get around the city is on foot or via metro or bus. Some of the main attractions in Rome include the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, numerous parks and museums, and the list goes on and on. Of course, you can’t leave the city without filling up on endless pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine. Make sure to try a glass of Limoncello, a traditional Italian lemon liqueur, here as well! The people are warm and friendly, but as a woman you may be a bit put off by the catcalling, which is very much part of the Italian culture. I’ve found that it’s more annoying rather than threatening, and in time you learn to just ignore it. If you’re concerned about visiting this city on your own, I can assure you that it’s often much easier to meet people when you’re traveling alone, and it can be even easier in a city as romantic as Rome!
Though the thought of traveling the world as a solo female can be scary, once you put yourself out there, there truly is not a more empowering feeling. Exploring the world on your own terms is liberating, and you’ll realize that there is no limit to what you can do. Getting started, it helps to have some great destinations in mind, so I hope this list will help motivate you to kickstart your next solo adventure!
When you’re scrolling through Instagram and every other photo is of someone lounging in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, or drinking a tiny cappuccino at a picturesque cafe in Italy, it seems like everyone you know is out having the time of their lives exploring the world. If this is you, you’re certainly feeling like you’re ready to get out there and have your own adventure. There’s only one problem: you have no idea where to start.
The task of planning a trip to a foreign place, whether it be for a long weekend, two weeks, or an entire year, can seem daunting. As with everything in life, it’s always best to take things step by step. The most important part of planning any trip is to identify what that first step is and then get started! As a seasoned traveler who has also worked extensively as a travel agent and concierge, I have plenty of experience working to make travel accessible to anyone who is inspired to get out there and see the world.
Here is a quick, step-by-step guide to helping you plan and then go on your dream trip!
Step 1: Decide What Type of Trip You Want And Where You Want To Go
The most important part of planning your trip (and the best place to start) is deciding where you want to go. The world is a big place, and for those who are eager to see the whole thing, it can be hard to narrow down your options. First, figure out how much time you have for your trip. This will determine what’s reasonable as far as how many different places you can visit and how far away your destination can be. Next, decide what type of trip you’re looking for. How active do you want to be? Do you want to move locations every day or do you just want to chill? Think about what types of things you’re hoping to see and experience on your trip; whether it be mind-blowing natural landscapes, world-famous bustling cities, or beautiful beaches.
Step 2: Do Some Research On The Place You’ve Picked And The “Can’t-Miss” Things To Do There
This part, for me at least, can be the most intimidating. It’s hard to know where to start; there’s so much to learn and sometimes you don’t even know what you’re looking for! Remember that you’ve picked this particular destination for a reason, so focus on why you want to go there and start from there.
Step 3: Decide Where You’re Going To Stay
At this point you’ve already done a bit of research into the destination, learned about what neighborhood or area is best for you to stay in, and what you want to be close to based on your interests. You’ll need to decide what type of accommodation you want, whether it be a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Personally I prefer to stay in hostels, especially when I’m traveling alone, because they’re cheap, social, and are always located in great, central locations. I almost always use Hostelworld.com, which gives a quick and comprehensive description of what the hostel is like (more quiet and relaxed, more for partying and going out, great for solo travelers, yoga or theme-based, etc...), where it’s located, how to get there from the major airports and train or bus stations, and what’s included in your stay (towels, breakfast, free WiFi, etc...).
Step 4: Make Your Purchase
By far the most essential part of planning your trip is to actually buy it! This takes your adventure from an idea to a reality and will likely be the quickest part of your entire process. For me, once I’ve mapped out my route I’ll lock in my flights first, as flight pricing is always unpredictable. Then I’ll move onto buying my accommodations, trains, busses, or flights in-destination, and any tours or excursions I feel like I need to buy ahead of time. If your itinerary is flexible and you want to give yourself the opportunity to be more spontaneous, I would recommend at least buying your flight to the destination and booking your first (and maybe second) night accommodations, so you’re secure that your trip is 100% happening and you have somewhere to go right when you get there.
Step 5: Figure Out Your Packing List And Prepare Any Pre-Travel Requirements For Your Specific Destination
Before you travel, you’ll need to make sure to that your passport, visa, and vaccination requirements are taken care of. Find out what the weather will be like during your travel dates and what the cultural norms and expectations are in your destination to put together your packing list. Finally, make sure to print out or have your travel documents with you and easily accessible to take on your journey.
Step 6: Get Freaking Excited And GO ON YOUR TRIP!
Congratulations, you did it! You’ve successfully planned the trip of your dreams, and now it’s time to revisit those envy-inducing Instagram posts from earlier and start getting excited that your own trip is now a reality! Take a deep breath, realize that if anything goes wrong it’s all part of the experience, and get ready to have the time of your life. Be open minded, flexible, and enjoy the adventure you created, you’ve earned it!
My name is Sophie Mendel, and I’m an American travel writer and editor currently residing in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I have traveled to 42 countries and lived in 5, am fluent in English and Spanish (and always in the process of learning more languages), and love lugging my guitar around the world with me! Follow my travels on Instagram @theunboundedtraveler!