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!
Both in my experience and from what I’ve heard from others, the two most common reasons preventing people from traveling are time and money, and not having enough of them. As far as time goes, I don’t have too much more to offer other than saying that there is never a perfect time to plan or book a trip. You can always find a reason not to go or to put it off, but truly, there is no time like the present, where there’s a will there’s a way, and all the other cheesy cliches that encourage you to make time for the things you love, and figure out a way to get out there and see the world.
As for the money, though, that’s something that can be dealt with with a bit of planning and expert-level budgeting tips. As a someone who has worked extensively in the travel industry, the mantra I never tire of hearing is that, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”! While that is yet another wonderful cliche it really is true. There is no amount of money that could buy up the experience of traveling. That said, for most of us, being strapped for cash is a reality and we have to take that into account when deciding whether to pay rent this month or buy a flight to some across-the-world destination! Though my heart sometimes pulls at me to get out there and travel, my bank account doesn’t always agree. As a result, I’ve developed some tricks and tips for how to travel on a budget, making seeing the world manageable regardless of how much you think you can’t afford it!
Here are six great tips for wanderlusters facing the same dilemma:
1. Stay In Hostels
My number one tip for travelers trying to keep costs down is to stay in a youth hostel instead of a hotel or Airbnb. If your parents ever made you watch the movie Hostel like mine did, you might be a bit turned off to the idea of staying in one, imagining hostels to be sketchy or unsafe. However, in reality that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most hostels these days are centrally located, clean, well-kept, social hubs for young people traveling on a budget. Some hostels are truly unique and can have you staying in a treehouse in the Amazon or in a pod in Amsterdam. Depending on where in the world you’re traveling to, hostels range from just a few dollars a night (in places like Southeast Asia or South America) to around $20-40 per night in more expensive regions, like Europe or the United States. Typically breakfast, and sometimes another meal too, are included with your stay as well. If you’re freaked out by bunking with 4-24 other strangers, there are typically all-female or all-male dorm options or you can pay a little more to get your own private room, which is nice if you’re looking for some privacy but still want to travel cheaply and use the social advantages of staying in a hostel. There are always security measures in place to keep travelers safe and there are almost always lockers for you to stow your valuables during your stay (though you typically have to bring your own lock). Your hostel will also likely have free WiFi, a cheap restaurant or bar, free or cheap laundry, 24-hour front desk, and can provide you with a map and directions to local supermarkets and attractions.
Aside from being cheap, hostels are one of the best ways to meet people while traveling. Hostels usually offer bar crawls, free or cheap walking tours, and off-the-beaten-path excursions to nearby attractions. Typically they have a bar which is a great, casual way to meet other travelers or chill out after a busy day of exploring. Personally, I’ve used hostels to see the best of the place I’m in, especially if I haven’t done too much research as far as figuring out what to do in a particular city or place. For example, when I was in Patagonia, in the very south of Chile, the night I arrived I booked a 10-hour hiking excursion through Torres del Paine National Park for the next morning. I knew I wanted to go hiking in Patagonia but I was alone and didn’t know how to go about doing it myself or where to even start. The tour was recommended to me by the person working at the front desk (a local Chilean, close to my own age), and took care of everything, from picking me up and dropping me back off at the hostel to dealing with my entry permit into the park, selecting the hiking route, and providing me with friendly faces of other hikers staying at my or neighboring hostels to hike the trail with. This was a cheap and comprehensive way to see Patagonia, which I planned and booked literally upon arrival. I recommend taking advantage of everything your hostel has to offer, as they are made specifically to cater to backpackers like you!
2. Eat Like A Local
One of my favorite ways to experience the true culture of the place I’m in is to eat like a local and try the regional foods. Ask the locals you meet or the people working at your hostel for their favorite hole-in-the-wall spots, or recommendations of where to go and what to order there. Usually this will be the cheapest and most authentic food you’ll have your whole trip. However, when seeking out these places it’s important to be mindful of the sanitary conditions that may not be up to the standards you’re used to in your home country. For example, in places like India and South America, always take extreme care not to drink the water, eat lukewarm soup, or have drinks that come with ice cubes, which are usually made from the local tap water...I have personally been burned by not taking my own advice on this one several times!
However, if you’re careful of the sanitation differences, you shouldn’t have a problem in most places. A great example of cheap and delicious (and huge) local meal options is ordering the “menu del día” in Ecuador. This is a two or three-course meal which usually includes a soup, a main dish of meat or fish, some rice and vegetables, a small dessert, typically some type of freshly-squeezed juice, and ranges from $2-4 USD. Similarly, in Bali, a popular local concept is to go to a buffet-style restaurant called Nasi Campur, where you can pile on as many traditional Balinese delicacies as you want and pay based on its weight. These types of restaurants are popular amongst locals and savvy travelers alike, and definitely won’t break your bank.
3. Take Advantage of Your Hostel: Cook Instead of Eating Out
While eating at local dives is a great way to keep meal costs low, another cost-effective option for feeding yourself is to take advantage of your hostel amenities and cook instead of eating out. Usually your hostel will include either a free or very cheap breakfast option, but for lunch and dinner cooking is a great way to eat on the cheap. Going to pick up ingredients at the local supermarket then cooking in the hostel kitchen can save you time and money and be a great way to have some healthier options which can be hard to come by when eating out for every meal. Pack a sandwich to eat for lunch and bring it with you while you’re out and about and buy a box of protein bars to keep in your backpack and eat for a snack when you’re hangry and there are no shops nearby. You might also consider cooking a meal together and splitting the cost with other travelers you’ve met at your hostel, which is a great way to get the most bang for your buck and share a meal with new friends from all over the world.
For drinking and going out, the hostel bar is typically where you’ll find the cheapest drinks, as hostels know most backpackers are balling on a budget. Take advantage of the hostel happy hours and pub crawls too, which usually come with free drinks and are a great way to meet people and see some cool spots in the city as well!
4. Take Public Transportation Instead of Taxis, Ubers, or Flights
This one may seem obvious, but taking public transportation is an economical way to see a country, get a feel for the real people living there and have an adventure along the way. Opting for public transit can at times be stressful, but will certainly turn you into a well-seasoned traveler. Taking the local bus or metro, walking, or renting a city bike are all ways that allow you to see a lot of a city and cost a fraction of the price of taking a taxi or Uber around.
If you’re “directionally challenged” like me, make sure to download a map of the city when you have WiFi (I prefer using the Google Maps app on my phone) so that you can continue to track your location offline; this is very helpful when exploring a city on foot. If you’re still worried that you’ll get lost using public transportation, remember that sometimes the best way to experience a place is to get lost in it! Some of my favorite memories are of the kind and interesting strangers I’ve met who’ve helped me through my public transit mishaps (a shy boy on the metro in Berlin, an aggressive Italian bus driver in the Amalfi Coast, a kind and patient woman at the train station ticket counter somewhere in the middle of Poland). These situations work to remind us that goodness and kindness transcend all cultures, no matter how stressed out, overwhelmed, or lost we may feel, and offer us the most authentic (and cheap) ways to experience the places we’re in.
5. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle or Invest in a Portable Water Filter
In countries where the water is safe to drink from the tap, such as in Israel or Spain, it pays to not have to buy bottled water. Especially if you’re traveling during the summer or to a particularly hot destination it’s important to stay hydrated, and bringing along a good-sized reusable water bottle will help you do just that. As someone who drinks a ton of water, bottled water is something I hate to spend a lot of money on when I travel so I love to take advantage of destinations where the tap water is drinkable (and free!) by bringing my own water bottle.
If you plan to travel extensively through a region where the tap water is not drinkable or if you’re doing a lot of hiking or camping, it may also be beneficial to you to invest in a portable water filter. These are small, portable devices that purify any source of fresh water, making it safe for you to drink. Portable water purifiers are usually very easy to use and work quickly, saving you both time and money when your best alternative is buying bottled water.
6. Take Advantage of Free and Public Activities
One of the best and cheapest ways to experience a place as well as immerse yourself in the local culture is to take advantage of the offered free and public activities, many of which offer student discounts with a student ID card, or offer discounts for people under a certain age. Examples of these types of activities could be public beaches, free museums, public events, parades, and fairs, or temples which you can enter for free, or pay a small donation. In each of these instances, it’s important to be respectful of the cultural customs by dressing and acting accordingly, especially when it comes to temples or religious sites. Going on a hike, destination permitting, or checking out free concerts or street performers are great ways to relax and be entertained as well as get a feel for the local culture. Buenos Aires, for example, is one of those great cities that always has tons of free things going on. One of my favorite things to do when I was living there was to walk through the famous Sunday market in the San Telmo neighborhood, which was filled with incredible Argentinian food, art, music, and handicrafts being sold by local vendors. Popular with Porteños and tourists alike, the San Telmo Market is always lively with tango street shows and music. It is completely free and is an ideal way to soak in some traditional Argentinian culture.
Oftentimes the distinguishing landmarks of a city are free or inexpensive to enjoy, such as the Taj Mahal or the Golden Gate Bridge, so make the most of your time in those places. One of my best memories is of being in Paris with a friend of mine who I’d met traveling, sitting out on the Champ de Mars with a cheap bottle of wine, a baguette, a brick of French cheese and a plastic knife, listening to La Vie en Rose playing on her iPhone, gazing up at the Eiffel Tower. Touristy, yes, but also an unforgettable experience that I will cherish for my whole life. For me, that moment really felt like “Paris” and though I’ve been back now several times, it’s that memory that will always stick in my mind as what that city feels like, sounds like, and tastes like to me. Hey, sometimes the best things in life are free!
So there you have it. You now have six tips that can make your travel dreams a little bit more attainable. You don’t need an excess of money to enjoy the world; sometimes it’s the simple moments that can be the most defining. I hope this list helps to optimize your travel funds and encourages you to get out there an explore the world, regardless of what’s in your wallet!
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!