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Best Places to go in Budapest

June 28th – July 1st, 2018 | June 11th – 14th, 2019

I went to Budapest with my roommates from Barcelona and a few other girls from my program. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing but it ended up being great. I stayed at a hostel because there was no room in the airbnb with my roommates and ended up meeting so many great people. 

Highlights:

Walk up and down both sides of the river. The river is definitely one of the most beautiful parts of the city. It is the easiest way to see all of the most beautiful buildings. You are able to see all of the buildings on top of the Buda side and the Parliament building on the Pest side of the river which can only be truly grasped from the other side of the river. If you want to not walk back and forth start at the Parliament building and walk up past the shoes (please don’t take pictures in front of them smiling that was my biggest pet peeve both times I was there – it’s not a light topic) and across the chain bridge then you can walk all the way down the other side and take the metro back to the center of the city that way you avoid walking back and forth like you’re pacing. 

Dog that lives next to the Hostel

Hostel One Basilica is the best hostel I have ever stayed in. I stayed there twice once alone and once with a friend and both times I met great women who I went out with and both times I had an amazing night. There is also an amazing view from their common room of the Ferris wheel where they have drinking games every night and a kitchen where they have dinner every day.

The thermal baths – The first time I went with my roommates who were the types who only wanted to get a good picture so we spent the hour and a half we were there taking pictures. I was miserable. The second time I went with my best friend and a girl we met at the hostel and we took maybe 5 pictures and then swam for an hour, definitely worth it! All of the outdoor and indoor pools are different temperatures and even if it is hot outside it is worth it to try all of them. Also the whirlpool might make you dizzy but it’s a lot of fun. 

Bars and clubs – After playing drinking games in the hostel each night we would all as a group go to a bar. The bars and clubs in Budapest are so much fun! You get to meet people from all over the world and get to hear different types of music. Instant was our favorite there are many rooms with many different types of music and dancing in each. There was another rooftop bar we went to called 360 Bar which allowed you to see the other side of the river (Buda) with all of the buildings lit up. If you don’t like the sound of either of these any of the ruins bars are worth your time they all have a great atmosphere and most of them have pretty cheap drinks.

Walking around the quiet streets in the morning and looking around the shops. There is the Main Street with the high shops but if you wander off a couple streets there are some really nice shops. There are also nice shops near the Ritz Carleton next to the park with the Ferris wheel (Oysho is my favorite).

Best experience:

Playing drinking games with the people from my hostel, going out to a club and dancing all night, leaving the club at 2:15 to collect my things, taking the bus to the airport and taking a 6am flight back to Barcelona (surrounded by screaming babies may I add). It was definitely a night to remember.

Other things to do (that I didn’t try):

Explore the Buda side of the river, take a hop-on hop-off bus, go to one of the many museums, Gellert Baths, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Fisher’s Bastion, Central Market Hall, Buda Castle Hill Trolly, sunset river cruise, etc.

Transportation:

Metro – The metro in Budapest is a little tricky. There are no signs that indicate which stops are where and some places don’t have places to buy tickets so make sure you are traveling through the main entrances so you can buy your tickets. Also make sure to keep track of Google Maps (or whatever mapping app you use) to keep track of how many stops you have until your destination. Another thing about the metro that you need to know is you need to stamp your ticket on the way into the metro. There are a few machines near the entrance down into the metro, use them! If you don’t you can get in major trouble and police occasionally wait to check at certain stations. That being said make sure not to throw out your ticket until you get to your final destination (I once had to dig mine out of the trash to show a police officer).

Bus – I haven’t taken the public bus in Budapest other than taking the airport bus from the center of town. We caught the bus at 3:30 am on our way to a 6am flight and it ended up working really well. It is definitely the cheapest way to get to the airport from the city, and considering you shouldn’t take taxis in Budapest, one of the safest.

Taxis – DO NOT TAKE TAXIS in Budapest unless you have someone call it for you from a restaurant or hotel. Taxi drivers there know you can’t speak the language and are known to make tourists pay outrageous amounts of money.

Next Up: New Zealand

Disclaimer: I do not in any way claim to be an expert on the cities I am traveling to or the countries that they are in. I would love to hear if you have other recommendations that differ from mine. Please be kind, I am new to blogging and sharing all of my life online.

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What I Want This Blog To Be

I want this blog to be a place where I share my experiences in different locations around the world but I also want this to be a place where people share what they have experienced while traveling in their lifetime. I want the comments to not just be an empty space under my writing but a collaborative place where people can share their tips. I want the post on Barcelona to not just be my view on what it’s like in Barcelona but a collaboration on what Barcelona is like for everyone.

I have ideas for what I want to begin writing about so I want to start that here. Please comment if there are ever more topics you want to hear from me or if you want to hear more (aka a step by step of my journey).

Here is a list of topics to expect in the coming weeks:

  • Top 10 things to do in many cities
  • How to travel alone safely
  • How to meet people when traveling alone
  • Tips on staying in hostels
  • Tips on saving money while traveling
  • How to cope with moving to another country
  • How to move away for college
  • How to manage when you don’t speak the language
  • What metros are the easiest to navigate
  • Which cities are the most female friendly
  • What to watch out for in Europe
  • Etc

Four Beer-filled Days in Dublin, Ireland

May 30th – June 2nd, 2019

Summer of 2019, my best friend Katie and I went on a European adventure before I interned in London. Our first stop was Dublin, and though we both loved the city, we didn’t have a great experience to start. We had booked an Airbnb with no reviews, which should have been a red flag, but the place was reasonably priced compared to all of the expensive Airbnb’s and hotels that we looked at. It ended up being a huge mistake that we will never make again. We went straight there after getting off the red-eye flight we had taken from New York. We hadn’t slept and were looking for a place to lie down and get some rest. When we got there, the Airbnb was not as pictured. It was really dirty, smelled extremely strongly of cats, stains on the furniture, bed, and not somewhere we were going to stay.

We luckily thought very quickly on our feet and looked up hotels in the area with vacancies and called one. We asked if we could pay extra, and they would let us check in when we got there, and they agreed. We paid €20 and got to check-in and go right to sleep. The hotel ended up being a little further outside of Dublin than we would’ve liked, so we ended up staying around there on our first day then moving to Generator Hostel, which was right in the city center, so we were able to begin exploring Dublin. Below are some of the places we went to.

Highlights

Guinness Storehouse – Guinness is one of my favorite beers, so this was the entire reason I wanted to go to Dublin. The storehouse was cool. It had many different levels in which they explained all the various steps of making the classic Guinness. Every ticket to the tour comes with a free beer and a room where they teach you the proper way to pour the beer. You can then take the beer up to their bar on the top floor. You can see pretty much Dublin notes on the glass that tells you what you’re looking at from the top floor. It was so worth it going to Guinness that it was worth every penny of the ticket price to see where my favorite beer was made and try it as fresh as possible.

Temple Bar District – One of the main highlights of our trip was going out each night. The bar scene in Dublin was one of the best on our journey. We went out to the Temple Bar District each night. All of the bars had their design and quirk, which made bar hopping extra fun. We liked Bad Bobs because we love to dance. If you aren’t looking to dance, we also went to Fitzsimon’s Hotel bar and a few other casual bars (Stags Head and Oliver St. John Gogarty) that were great as well. Most of the bars have live music. You can hear bands everywhere playing different types of music as you walk down the street. I heard more American/ southern music in Dublin, Ireland, than going to school in Tennessee. Take Me Home, Country Road by John Denver, played at every single bar we went to.

Stags Head

Grafton Street – if you are looking for shopping in Dublin, you should check out Grafton Street. We spent the afternoon of one of our days walking up and down, exploring the stores. They had international stores like H&M and Zara as well as more regional items such as wool and your typical souvenirs (shot glasses, t-shirts, etc.). They also have some popular restaurants if you want to grab some food while you’re shopping.

Where We Ate

Nandos – As I’ve mentioned in a few of my past posts, I have many eating restrictions, and Nandos is cautious when it comes to that. The UK and Ireland locations have large binders with all allergens in them and check every single part of the meal to make sure you are safe. They also clean the grill extra carefully before cooking your food to make sure there is no contamination. I make sure to eat at Nandos whenever I have a chance, and Dublin was no different.

Murphy’s – If you are in Dublin and want some ice cream, you should check out Murphy’s. My friend loved the ice cream she got at Murphy’s and would recommend it to anyone visiting Dublin.

Where We Stayed

Generator Hostel – This was my friend’s first experience staying in a hostel, and I was glad it was at a hostel that was this nice. We shared a room with eight other women who were friendly and relatively quiet. We had our bathroom off the room, so there was no hallway/ communal bathroom situation. Compared to the hotel, it was so close to the city and so much less expensive. If we went back, we would’ve stayed at the Generator Hostel from the get-go.

Red Cow Moran Hotel – the hotel we stayed in the night after we arrived (after the horrible Airbnb incident) was the Red Cow Moran Hotel. It was really nice and reasonably priced for what we got. The only problem was how far from downtown and all the landmarks it was. However, it was a great place to sleep off our jet lag and have a relaxed night before going to Generator Hostel.

Review

Dublin ended up being a fantastic place for us to begin our journey around Europe. If you are looking for some of the best bars in Europe, Dublin is a good stop. The bars were some of the best we experienced though they don’t have a real “club scene” they have great live music, beer, and the people were just as lovely as you would expect. I can’t wait until I can go to Ireland and see more of the beautiful country.

Labor Day Weekend in Newport, Rhode Island

This Labor Day my friends and I decided find somewhere on the water in New England to get away and have some relaxing time before the summer comes to an end. Knowing there weren’t going to be a lot of rooms available everywhere I took a day to look all around New England and came up with 3 options. We all decided that Newport, Rhode Island where we found a nice, reasonable priced hotel right on the beach that fit everything that we were looking for. I met them Friday night, we ate dinner in Connecticut and then headed up to Rhode Island. Newport and the area around it were insanely beautiful I wanted to share what we did, where we ate and what I would do if I came back.

Highlights

Newport Beach – The hotel we stayed at was just a 5 minute walk from the town beach, Easton Beach or First Beach. We were able to avoid parking fees by being able to walk to the beach. We went everyday to get as much beach time as possible. Be warned that the sand on the beach is really fine which feels amazing when you’re walking on it but the second the wind picks up you are covered in sand. We must’ve brought half the beach back with us. There was a huge pile of it when we checked out of room on Monday and none of us were that surprised.

Cliff Walk – One of the most famous and popular things to do in Newport is the cliff walk. This is a walk along the cliffs next to these huge mansions that were built in the late 1800s by very prominent families in the area. During normal times you can also tour the mansions which I’m sure are just as beautiful inside as they are outside. The walk is about 3.5 miles so bring your walking shoes if you intend on doing the whole thing.

Bellevue Avenue – If walking isn’t your thing but you still want to see the mansions and the beautiful views drive down Bellevue Avenue. This is one of the main streets into Newport and it connects the beach with Ocean Drive.

Ocean Drive – if you are looking for another beautiful drive with beautiful houses you should check out Ocean Drive. There were a few sailing clubs off ocean drive as well with activities like tennis that looked interesting as well.

Thames Street – Thames Street is what I would describe as the main street in Newport. This where you will find all of the shops and most popular restaurants. At one end there are chain shops such as Gap or Banana Republic and the other end has a lot of boutiques. There are a lot of restaurants, bars and Newport themed shops in the middle. It is a great place to walk around and get a feel for Newport you can really feel the vibe and energy of the small city here.

Bowen’s Wharf – This is the area of Newport

Where We Ate

When we made our plans to go to Newport meals and reservations weren’t the first thing to come to mind but maybe they should’ve been. When we arrived we quickly realized that almost every restaurant within a 30 minute drive was fully booked for the entire weekend. Some of the more popular ones were booked for the entire month. Make sure if there is somewhere you want to eat or if you want to eat out while you are in Newport that you book tables for your party the week or two before. We ended up getting takeout the first night and eating in a park and the second night we ate at a bar slightly off the beaten path. Both of which ended up being good but it would’ve been nice to have a traditional dinner on one of the patios overlooking the ocean. These are some of the places we did eat that I would go back to next time I’m in Newport.

Tickets – This restaurant was right across the street from our hotel and it came in handy as a way to eat a quick breakfast before heading over to the beach. They had good, reasonably priced food and very quick service making it the perfect place to fuel up before the beach.

Pasta Beach – Saturday night after a long day at the beach we decided to get dinner from pasta beach, fitting right. They had no seatings the entire night so we picked up takeout which was equally as good. We all loved our meals and it was great to be able to eat in a park on a blanket with a nice bottle of wine. We were able to make a nice little picnic which made up for not being able to eat there.

Roots – Vegan restaurant near downtown with great bowls, breakfast sandwiches and smoothies. If you like vegan food this is a good restaurant to try it has creative meals that have a fair amount of protein and spice. Some vegan restaurants are just meatless food this was more creative than that.

Drift Cafe and The Panini Grill – Great places for a quick lunch in the downtown area Panini Grill is exclusively paninis like the name may suggest and Drift Cafe if more healthy food with vegan options but they are both good, quick options for lunch on the go while exploring Newport.

Clementines – This was a very popular ice cream place right next to our hotel. They had really great homemade ice cream. Newport had tons of great ice cream chains like Ben & Jerrys and Kilwins so this is a nice more local alternative. I was happy they had two dairy-free flavors so I was able to get something as well. Ice cream in Rhode Island is always reminiscent of my childhood when we used to spend every summer in Rhode Island. We would always get ice cream at the stands that you can find all over the coast.

Where We Stayed

Atlantic Beach Hotel – We really liked this hotel it was the perfect location, great amount of space and not too expensive split between the three of us. I would definitely stay there again if I went to Newport since it was more reasonably priced than more upscale places but was still within walking distance of the beach and the cliff walk.

Places to go Next Time

Restaurants

  • The Landing – Restaurant
  • The Black Pearl
  • White Horse Tavern
  • The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar
  • Diego’s

Activities

  • Boat ride in the Atlantic
  • Visit near by towns
  • Tour the mansions
  • Ghost Tours
  • Rent a little car
  • Visit Vineyards

Review

We loved our long weekend in Newport. It was the perfect getaway from New York City and Connecticut. If we went again, we wouldn’t change much other than booking dinner reservations. We loved where we stayed and all of the places we went. Next time I would love to spend more than a long weekend there to see more of this beautiful little city.

Amazing Adventures in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin

I spent a fantastic week in St. Maarten in the Spring of 2019. My mom and I wanted to take a trip during the spring break of my senior year of college. We figured it was my last spring break ever, so it was worth taking advantage of. I had been going through a tough time, so it was challenging but a good time to get away and forget everything. We talked about multiple locations, my choice being the British Virgin Islands, but since I was traveling from Knoxville, Tennessee, it would have been a long journey with probably 3 or 4 connecting flights. We finally landed on St. Maarten since it came up high on lists of places to travel to the Caribbean, and I loved the fact that it was two countries, one island. We have traveled to many places in the Caribbean (The Bahamas, St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos, etc.), so we wanted somewhere new to go, and St. Maarten ended up being perfect. Once we decided on a location, it was time to start planning.

Planning was slightly tricky since we were coming from different locations, and St. Maarten had experienced a lot of damage from an extremely destructive hurricane. Starting with the two locations, my mom spent the week before our trip with her friend in West Palm Beach, and I was coming from Knoxville, so we had to decide how to plan around being so far from each other. We agreed on meeting in West Palm Beach, staying there for a few days, visiting my great aunts in Fort Lauderdale, and then flying out of there to get to St. Maarten. There was one direct flight a day, which was early in the morning, so we spent the night in Fort Lauderdale, and then we were off.

Like I said before, St. Maarten had recently endured a hurricane right before we arrived. Some of the hotels that we looked at were still not entirely recovered, but we found one operating fully, so we decided to stay there. Divi Resort was excellent; it had two pools, beach access, snorkeling, three restaurants, a small grocery store, and our room even had a kitchen.

Resort

Our resort was one of the highlights of our trip. It had a beach with snorkeling, multiple pools, multiple restaurants, and beautiful rooms with a kitchen. The kitchen ended up coming in handy because I ended up getting the flu while I was there (if you’ve read my piece on LA and having tonsillitis while there and are wondering how I’m always sick, so am I). But I could make pasta or soup in the room when I didn’t feel well enough to go out.

Besides swimming and the gym, you can also hike up to Fort Amsterdam, which is part of the hotel’s land. It has a beautiful view of Philipsburg on one side and ocean far as the eye can see on the other. If working out wasn’t your speed, they also had an activity schedule of different games and ice breakers to meet new people, and you can even win drinks for competing and winning.

It’s a fantastic resort like many others on the island I’m sure. If you are looking to explore the rest of Sint Maarten/ Saint Martin, you can rent a car at the resort and explore which one of the days I felt better, which was 100% worth it.

Driving Around the Island

Maho Beach – this is the most famous beach on the island of St. Maarten and probably one of the most famous in the Caribbean. It backs up to an airport so the planes land right over the beach and take off in the other direction so you can feel the real power of the jets. There is a cute bar next door with competitions and lots of great cocktails that will allow you to drink the day away.

Marigot – After Maho Beach, you can cross over into the island’s French side and explore their capital Marigot. There you can do some shopping, and if you have time, you can even climb up to Fort St. Louis from there there is a beautiful view of the island, and you get to see a bit of the history of the French side of the island. When we were there, the French side had been significantly damaged by the recent hurricane, so we didn’t end up stopping in Marigot

Green Cay – A little bit down the road after leaving Marigot, you will enter the island’s Green Cay area. This region is about halfway between Marigot and Philipsburg. It contains a few shops and resorts and a beautiful nature reserve with a lovely beach and a rocky path faced with crashing ocean waves. The rumor was you could sometimes see dolphins and turtles, but we weren’t so lucky.

Philipsburg – After Green Cay, if you continue on the main road, you will soon reenter the Dutch side of the island and a few minutes later, the Dutch capital of Philipsburg. In Philipsburg, you can enjoy shopping, museums, and some great restaurants. We stopped briefly to see one of their churches and look around some shops, but if you have time to stay longer, there are many things to do in Philipsburg.

Review

We loved Sint Maarten/ Saint Martin. It quickly became one of our favorite islands in the Caribbean. Even with getting the flu and having some difficulty when planning, we fell in love through the time we were there. It was a great way to see two different cultures and styles on the same 33 square mile island. The people were so lovely, and the beaches were so beautiful, what else could you ask for.

My Weekend in Edinburgh and Newcastle

In the summer of 2019, I lived in London and had nothing to do one weekend, so I decided to journey north to Edinburgh, Scotland. I pulled the trip together fairly quickly, taking the train up after work Friday and heading back Sunday afternoon.

Edinburgh, Scotland

I arrived in Edinburgh later Friday night, so I ended up going straight to my hostel. Saturday, I woke up early and got to see all the main sights. Here are all of the places I went:

Edinburgh Castle – this is the most visited tourist attraction in the city. The day I went, it was rainy, and the line to get in was still down the street. I walked around as much as I could without going into the actual castle, I wasn’t there very long, and I’m not a huge fan of castles. From there you can see a lot of the city. I’ve heard the inside of the castle is just as beautiful. If I were there for longer, I would make time to walk around the castle one day.

The Royal Mile – this, like Edinburgh Castle, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. This is the mile down the hill from Edinburgh Castle. You follow the path, leading you to a lot of local shops and even more bagpipe players. You can find lots of shops selling cashmere and other sheep products as well as traditional Scottish clothing and Harry Potter memorabilia.

Calton Hill – If you want to see Edinburgh from what feels like the sky but isn’t quiet, you should hike up to Calton Hill. It’s a bit of a walk up the hill, but once you get up, the view is breathtaking. From the top of the hill, you can go further by walking up the tower to get an even better view. From there you can see Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and Princes Street.

Princes Street – Princes Street is one of the main shopping streets in the city. It has some popular stores like Zara, Topshop, Primark, and some more local stores. Scott Monument is also along Princes Street; it a beautiful, gothic memorial that gives a historical feel to the commercial street. In the distance, you can see Edinburgh Castle up on the hill.

Cowgate – if you are looking for a historical street to walk down, try Cowgate. It goes under cross streets with amazing, stone bridges. It’s lively at night, especially at home to many bars and clubs, so if you are not interested in going out but want to feel the spirit of the Edinburgh bar scene, it is worth a walk down.

W Bow – This is another famous street in Edinburgh known for its shopping and bright colored buildings. Being a block from my hostel, I spent a lot of time in and around this street, and I can confidently say that it is beautiful from every angle. Whether you are up above the street visiting some restaurants or on the street itself visiting the Harry Potter themed store, you won’t be sorry you spent time in this beautiful, lively area of Edinburgh.

Harry Potter – If you go to Edinburgh and don’t know about its history with Harry Potter you will the second you get there. This city is the location the books were based on as J.K. Rowling wrote the first few books in the Elephant House, a now tourist destination in Edinburgh. You can also visit the Greyfriar Kirkyard, which features a graveyard that inspired a lot of names of popular characters in the novels.

Where I stayed

Kick Ass Greyfriars Hostel

Where I Ate

Pret A Manger – This was one of my favorite chains in the UK, so I took the opportunity to get it while I was in Scotland. I wish I had tried some Scottish food, but I haven’t entirely tackled eating alone in restaurants.

Other places to go in Scotland

  • Arthur’s Seat
  • Glasgow
  • Loch Ness
  • Isle of Skye
  • Aberdeen

Newcastle Upon Tyne, England

On the way to Edinburgh, we passed Newcastle Upon Tyne. The view was so beautiful from the train that I decided to add the stop to my trip home. I stopped there, stored my bags, and walked around.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge – from the train station I walked down to the Millenium Bridge, this was the main thing I was hoping to see in Newcastle, it was what I saw from the train. The river was incredibly beautiful and worth the stop. I walked a while along the bridge, where they were having a fair with lots of booths and food. I walked through all the booths to look at jewelry and artwork. I walked across the bridge itself, which you can see down the river from a lot of other bridges on the river, but I liked Millenium the best. After walking down the river, I had lunch and hopped back on the train, saying goodbye to Newcastle on my way back to London.

If you have the time and want to add another stop, I recommend Newcastle it’s a good place to stop for the day it is a perfect place to visit for a day. There is not a ton to see, so it’s a great day trip.

Adventure to the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns

January 12 – 15, 2020

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, my mom and I traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. I have told you about Sydney, Kauai, New Zealand, and the last to talk about is Cairns, Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef. We went to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, which, like most people, has always been high on my bucket list. We flew to Cairns for three days from Sydney and flew to Christchurch to start our New Zealand leg. The flight from Sydney was about two hours and is definitely worth the trip. A beautiful part of Australia and worth the extra stop on our trip.

Highlights

Great Barrier Reef – Our first excursion in Cairns was a boat ride out to the GBR. We booked our trip through a company called Down Under Dive. It was an 8-hour trip that included the hour and a half ride out to the reef, two snorkeling spots on the reef, lunch, and either the journey back or extra money you could take a helicopter back to Cairns. We took the boat the whole way, which was great, but if I could do it again, I would take the helicopter. Being able to see the reef from the air would have been worth the extra money, the areas we saw were blue and beautiful, and I would’ve loved to see more. The reef itself was mesmerizing. There were a ton of exotic looking fish, and we even saw a turtle while we were exploring. We also heard from one of the divers that they saw a small shark swimming around the area. The first stop had A LOT of jellyfish, but they provided lycra suits to make sure the stings wouldn’t hurt us. You could still feel the little stings which were irritating me, so I got out of the water, but shortly after doing so, the tide changed, so we got back in again and saw a ton of fish. If you decided you want to explore the reef more closely, they would teach you how to dive right off the boat’s back. This is a great thing to do if you’ve always wanted to scuba dive and want to be a little extra adventurous. Out of the two sites we stopped at, we liked the second the best that was the one with the turtle and larger interesting fish. The ride back was slightly choppy, but they had drinks, and we got time to talk to the two guys we had met on the boat. The day we went, it was slightly stormy, so I would love to see it when it’s sunny to see if it is even more spectacular. Even though it was pouring, it was still so worth the trip, and honestly, the rain felt like an added massage as we were snorkeling.

Kuranda Koala Gardens – Like every tourist that goes to Australia with my extra day, I wanted to get a picture with some of the native animals, aka a koala and kangaroo. We decided with our extra day, which we had nothing booked for, that we would book a day at a wildlife park. We went to Kuranda Koala Gardens, which is up in the rainforest and about 30 – 45 minutes from the Cairns Marina. We ended up taking an Uber there, which was quick and easy – even though the road was super windy, there were stunning views from the highway, so it was a nice ride. The tickets to the wildlife park were about $30 per person, and we bought them online before heading over to make sure we could get in. While you are there, it is like a typical zoo layout, except most of the habitats are open so that the animals don’t seem as cooped up as at a regular zoo. The first thing that you see when you walk in are crocodiles sitting in the water below the path. Many different animals are indigenous to Australia, where they live and their endangerment status. The highlights were the koalas hanging out in a tree, not five feet from the path, being able to take pictures with a koala, and being able to walk through the kangaroo exhibit and feed them a hand full of food. It was worth the day trip to see the animals and seeing the rainforest, which lived up to its name because it started pouring while we were hanging out with the kangaroos. We grabbed lunch at the Koala Gardens and then headed back to Cairns.

Kuranda Scenic Railway – As I said earlier, as we were in Kuranda, it began to rain. The rain only lasted about 20 minutes, but it led to a landslide that closed the road up to the Gardens. We didn’t realize this until we called our Uber back, and they kept canceling when finally one called and let us know. From there, we only had two options on how to get down. We could either take the Skyrail which honestly made me so nervous because it was a 45-minute ride in a gondola like box hanging from a wire over gorges and things. That to me just sounded like a panic attack waiting to happen, so we went with option two, which was the scenic railway. This was a great way to see the area while not feeling like you are going to fall out of the sky. The train ride was about 2 hours but had stunning views of the valley, gorge, and waterfalls. This was a great way to see the rainforest while listening to a recording that told us all about the building of the railway, which I can imagine was extremely difficult due to all the tunnels and being on a cliffside it was initially used for. I wouldn’t take the train both ways since that would be a LONG day, and you wouldn’t see anything new since it is the same route. It was worth going the one way and being able to see the rainforest and the surrounding area.

Where we stayed

Shangri-La Cairns – this hotel was excellent, and everyone who worked there was so lovely and helpful. We spent our downtime at the pool (the beaches in Cairns is like one nightmare after another – crocodiles, sharks, box jellyfish – you name it). The pool was an excellent way to relax after our long days of excursions before dinner.

Where we ate

As I have said in the past, due to my dairy allergy, I can be a creature of habit when it comes to restaurants. If I feel especially nervous, I usually eat at the same restaurant where I feel comfortable more than once, sometimes every night. In Cairns, that restaurant was Waterbar & Grill Steakhouse. This was a delicious restaurant attached to our hotel that we enjoyed. We both got something different each night, so it didn’t feel like we were eating at the same place. If you aren’t like me and like a little variety, there are many great places along the marina to eat. We walked down the boardwalk at the marina after dinner, and it was beautiful and lively (I miss that during COVID). There are a ton of bats, so look up as you’re walking, and you can see them flying across the marina to the rainforest across the water.

Review

We liked Cairns and loved the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns was a great little tropical city right near the GBR and Australian rainforest. If you have wanted to go to the GBR Cairns or Port Douglas, up the coast about an hour, are pretty much your only two choices. I wouldn’t stay in Cairns much longer than two days unless you were looking to do some of the other activities in the area like ziplining, exploring more of the rainforest, or spending a second day at the reef.

A Relaxing 4 Days in Dubrovnik

July 19th – 23rd, 2018

I went to Dubrovnik after my summer abroad in Barcelona. My mother met me in Barcelona, and we traveled together for a while, Dubrovnik was our second stop, after Prague. We picked that location because a few of my English and Australian friends were going to be there around the same time. Croatia is a beautiful country right on the Adriatic Sea. It isn’t as popular as some of the other countries on the Mediterranean, like Greece or Italy, so it wasn’t as packed with tourists during the summer but was still just as beautiful. Our first three nights in Dubrovnik we stayed in a hotel near the Old City then the last night we stayed in an Airbnb like home closer to the airport.

Highlights

The Old City – The Old City is like taking a trip back in time. It is full of great shops and restaurants in old fashioned buildings with red roofs. There are some beautiful old churches which are always my mother’s favorite. You could walk around inside the old city walls for hours just exploring the various walkways and shops. There are a few high-end shops along the main central street, but as you walk past, there are some smaller gems tucked just out of sight. We explored the Old City for a few days, and I still feel like I didn’t see all of it.

Walking the Wall – You can not go to Dubrovnik and skip walking the wall. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you can take special tours devoted to the franchise where they show you all of the places where they shot, the wall being part of it, or walk along the wall separately. It is a small fee to get up onto the wall, and from there you can walk all around the city. We did this around sunset one night. That way, it was a little cooler, and it was beautiful. From the wall, you get a great view of the city, cliffs, and the Adriatic Sea. There are restaurants in the cliffs that you can have a beautiful dinner while looking out at the sea that we wish we had known while we were there.

Cliff jumping at a secret beach – If you continue walking on the main road out of the old city, there is an area where the road goes along the cliffside. If you take the stairs down the cliffside, there is a secret “beach club”. By beach club, I mean a tarp to get out of the sun and a ladder so not much, but it allows you to tan and jump off the rocks into the Adriatic, which was FREEZING. It was hard to stay in the water for long periods without losing feeling, but If you can tolerate it snorkeling, there is probably amazing. The water is so clear that you can see the bottom without even putting your face in it. Look up Club Boninovo on Google Maps to find this hidden beach club. If you are looking for other beaches close to the city, you can check out Bellevue Beach (we could see this from the secret beach, and it looked great) or Porporela, a pier right outside the Old City walls.

Srđ – This is another must do in Dubrovnik. Srđ is a mountain that overlooks the city. There are a few ways to get up to the top of the mountain. You can hike, drive or the most popular route, which we did, take a gondola. The ride is about 5 minutes and takes you to the main building at the top, which has a bar, restaurant, and lots of hiking trails that give you a panoramic view of Dubrovnik. We went up right before sunset, so we had a great view. We walked out as far as we could go and watched the sunset over the surrounding hills. After the sun had set, we carefully made our way back to the building and had a drink before heading back down for dinner in the Old City.

Lokrum Island – While we were there, we both wanted to do an island tour; however, at the time being on a boat for that long was something I felt like I couldn’t handle. To read more about my experiences traveling with anxiety, check out this link. Instead of doing an island tour, we decided to visit one island, Lokrum. If you have seen Dubrovnik’s pictures, this is the island you can see right off the coast, covered in trees. It is a short and inexpensive ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Lokrum, and once you are there, there are many things you can do for the day. There are beaches and kayaking rentals on the island, but we went mostly for the hike. From where the ferry docks, you can hike up the large hill to Fort Royal. It is about a 45-minute hike up the hill, and it is relatively steep, but once you get to the top, there is a beautiful view of Dubrovnik and the Croatian coast. After our hike, we visited the Monastery and gardens on the island and stopped for a quick lunch before heading back to the mainland. The island is beautiful and an excellent way to spend a day in Croatia, though looking back, I wish I had been able to do a tour of multiple islands or a tour in Bosnia or Montenegro. If I went back, those would be excursions at the top of my list.

Where we ate

Thinking back on Dubrovnik, there is one place that stands out as one of the best meals I have ever had. It was a salmon dish from a restaurant names Wanda’s in the Old City. We happened on this restaurant entirely by chance. We were wandering around the Old City our first night there looking for a restaurant and just read the menu and thought it looked good. We loved this restaurant so much that we continued to go back every night we were in Dubrovnik for dinner and got the salmon every time.

Where we Stayed

View from Hotel Adria

Hotel Adria – We stayed in Hotel Adria, which was nice, and it was great to have a pool, but finding our way around took some learning. The buses were slightly confusing, and walking down was not something that would’ve been safe or easy. The bus stopped right outside the hotel, so it was convenient, but if we went again, I would stay in the Old City so that everything was within walking distance.

Home near the airport – Our last night in Croatia, we stayed a little closer to the airport in an Airbnb-type house though we booked it through Booking.com. The people who owned the property were friendly. They had food for us left in the fridge for breakfast, and when we arrived, they gave us a bottle of sherry and wine that they had made as a welcome drink. We talked to them for a bit, and they were excellent. If I remember correctly, they were farmers who ran the rental on the side. The building was nice with AC and multiple bedrooms, and it was a great way to see the Croatian countryside and talk to some people from the area. If you want an authentic experience anywhere, I would recommend doing something like this. It is the best way to talk to people who live and work in the city or country and taste what life is like there.

Recommendations for Next Time

  • Lovrijenac Fort
  • Go to Cliff Bar or Restaurant
  • Go to The Red History Museum
  • Get a drink at a local club or bar
  • Go on a wine tour
  • Kayaking in the Adriatic
  • Blue Cave Boat Trip
  • Montenegro – Day Trip
  • Elaphite Islands – Boat Day Trip
  • Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Day Trip
  • Kravice Falls, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Day Trip
  • Krka National Park, Croatia – Day Trip
  • Split, Croatia – Multiple Day

Review

Croatia is an amazingly beautiful country on the Adriatic Sea. It has some of the clearest water I have ever seen outside of the Caribbean and some gorgeous architecture. If I went back, I might pick a location a little less touristy than Dubrovnik like Split, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Dubrovnik and eat at Wanda’s again if the opportunity presented itself. If I decided to go again, I would probably find something closer to the Old City to walk to the places on my list instead of taking the bus.

Step by Step: How I Plan My Trips

There are many steps to planning a new trip. From picking the location to figuring out what to do and where to stay, there is a lot of thought and execution to go into planning. I have always been an organized thinker, which is funny because that is pretty much the only way I am organized (you should see my room); this makes me good at planning trips even ones that are pretty complex (multi-country, multi-week trips). In this post, I will break down how I plan my trips to hopefully make it easier for people who are coming at this for the first time or don’t feel like they are doing it most efficiently.

How I Pick my Location

The location is always the first and most important part of planning a trip as a realtor would say location, location, location. If you don’t feel passionate about where and why you are going somewhere planning, the trip will feel like work. I feel excited throughout the planning process because I always pick places that have been on my travel list for years. Usually, the first thing I consider is what are the top spots on my bucket list that I could visit, within reason. Obviously, if I am traveling for the weekend from London, I will not make plans to go to Thailand. More time I have for the trip, the further I will consider going. For a long weekend, I usually look within a three-hour radius, but I widen the range if I have more time. After I decide on a shortlist of places I want to go, I look at flights. I typically like to travel somewhere; it is easy to fly to, especially if I don’t have much time. I find that it is worth the extra money to not have to travel for a full day with connections and so on. Sometimes it can make planning easy if you just go to explore flights and a flight somewhere you didn’t expect ends up being the most reasonable option. This summer when I was living in London I would use the explore feature on Google to see which options were the cheapest then I would begin to plan my trip there. That is how I ended up going to Edinburgh this summer.

Before I start booking things, I make a Word or Google Document outlining my dates, excursions, flights, transportation, etc. It’s good to have everything all in one place to know where you need to be when and so that you have everything planned out before you begin to book. It is usually just a rough outline to work everything out and make sure each day makes sense. Sometimes I shift my dates if there ends up being an event I am really excited about or an excursion I want to go on that only happens certain days. For example when we were traveling to New Zealand we really wanted to take the Alpine Train so we had to shift our trip in order to make an 8am train ride work for us.

If you are planning a complex trip with multiple stops it is worth it to look into bloggers and/or tour groups to find out what routes they took. This way it cuts out a lot of the planning and figuring out where to stop, when. When we were traveling to New Zealand we followed the route of a hop on/ hop off bus we just did it in a rental car instead.

Plans for my New Zealand Trip

Getting There

Once my destination is decided, the rest of the planning process is pretty straightforward. I look at flights next. Make sure to use an incognito browser so that prices don’t start going up when you start looking. I usually check a handful of websites or airlines to find the flight that best fits my schedule and my budget. As far as websites, I stick to Google Flights to give me an idea of my options and pricing, Skyscanner, to find something cheap and sta travel or Student Universe for student discounted tickets. Usually, with sights like that, however, you don’t get to pick your airlines, or sometimes the time you fly so often I book on discount airlines like Vueling or Ryan Air instead. With discount airlines, you have to be careful about certain things. You can get charged crazy fees for overweight/oversized carry-ons and printing out your boarding pass. When I was flying from Budapest to London, I waited too long to check-in on my phone and had to do it at the airport. We almost missed our flight, and it cost me $50 to get my boarding pass. However, if everything works out in your favor, it is a very cheap and efficient way to fly from country to country.

Amsterdam

If I am already on the same continent, especially Europe, I look into trains and other ways to get to my destination. Trains can be an excellent, easy way to get from place to place even if it seems a little bit longer to take the train that usually is the easiest way to travel, in my opinion. You don’t need to worry about getting to the train station hours earlier as you do with the airport and you can bring as much liquid as you want. I find that a 4 hour train hour (like the one from London to Amsterdam) ends up taking less or about as much time as the 1-hour flight, and it is usually less expensive and more scenic. I typically look at Google to find train tickets. There isn’t one specific website that I choose over others since most trains from place to place are usually run by different companies.

Accommodations

The next thing I typically decide is accommodation. The typical three options for accommodation that I consider are Airbnbs, hotels, or hostels. Who I am traveling with and. my budget for the trip usually decide which accommodation I choose. If I am going alone or with one other person my age, I typically look for a hostel. If I am traveling with a group of friends, we usually look for a hotel or Airbnb. If I am going with my mom, we go for hotels. Below I will break down how I choose each:

Hostel in LA

Hostels – Hostels are my favorite types of accommodation. Check out my post on picking the right hostel to get more info about how to pick the right hostel for you. Typically I begin by looking at Hostel World. I find that this has the largest selection of hostels, and I trust the reviews to be accurate and current. I search for my desired location, and then I filter the results in search of my dates and hostels that offer female-only rooms. I look at the areas closest to the city center with the highest reviews, and if I still haven’t found one that looks right, I google the location with the hostel attached. There are fewer hostels in the US, especially if you are looking in a smaller city. Googling might get better results in those cases.

Airbnb in Reykjavik

Airbnb – I typically look for Airbnbs when I am traveling in a location that doesn’t have hotels (some places in Iceland) or traveling with a group of friends where it would be cheaper and easier to stay in an Airbnb than a hotel. Usually, when searching for Airbnb’s, I do a little research to try to figure out the best area to stay in in the city. Then I look at places offering the entire home versus just a room (I usually feel safer that way). I also look by cost and if there is parking provided at the location (I often have a car when staying in an Airbnb, so I want to make sure I don’t have to hunt for parking).

Hotel in Queenstown, NZ

Hotel – Finding a hotel is similar to the others just with another website. I typically look at Booking.com since that’s a website I trust and look up the location. From there, I look at ratings and locations to pick the right place. If I know I’ll be flying a far distance from that location (ex: from Sydney to Honolulu), I will usually look for a kitchen. That way, I can be sure the last meal I have is safe, and I won’t get sick the day I fly.

Excursions

Typically if I have already decided on a location, I have excursions in mind. If I don’t have one in mind, I do some research to see if there is anything really fun to do in the area. I usually check TripAdvisor because, like the other websites, I tend to trust them more. I am also a creature of habit, and it’s nice to understand the website backward and forwards so that I know I’m not missing anything. I will look at what is offered in the area, and if anything looks like something I would be upset to miss, I book it. I don’t book excursions in many places. It isn’t unless I feel like I would have major FOMO, aka snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, taking a helicopter ride around Hawaii, going to a thermal bath in Budapest, that I book something in a city. I usually enjoy doing less touristy things when traveling. I like to find something off the beaten path that generally makes me feel like I have connected with the location that other people haven’t been able to make. My favorite thing to go anywhere I travel is walking until I get lost and then getting directions back to my accommodation when I feel like I’ve walked enough. This is something you should be very careful within cities that are known to be more dangerous or have more dangerous areas. You don’t want to accidentally walk into an unsafe situation while you are on vacation.

Some excursions, like the Anne Frank House, can be very difficult to book tickets for so consider looking as far in advance as possible to make sure that you get tickets to the excursions you desire. Some museums or popular attractions that are often booked far in advance release a few tickets at night for the following day. This is something worth considering if you weren’t able to get a ticket. I did this when I was in Amsterdam and was able to see the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum which were both sold out when I originally booked my trip.

Helicopter Tour in Hawaii

Besides excursions, I make a list of things that I want to make sure I see while I am there — the city’s main landmarks that I would be sad to miss. For example, when traveling to London in 2018, I had two days, so I made sure to go to Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and I walked along the Thames. I know that sounds like the typical tourist traps, but sometimes when you are in a city for the first time, you want to be a tourist for a while (they’re landmarks for a reason). Some cities are so large that you can’t see everything on one trip, so I usually make a list of things that I want to do when I go back. Something that either I didn’t have time for or didn’t end up being a priority.

Transportation

Some places don’t have much access to public transportation, so you need to figure out another way to get around. Typically in situations like this, I like to stay within walking distance of landmarks of the city or rent a car. I find that renting a car can be slightly more expensive, but I feel more comfortable doing that overtaking a tour bus. That way, I can stop wherever or whenever I want to see something pretty on the side of the road or get hungry/ need to go to the bathroom.

Franz Josef Glacier, a detour we made in New Zealand

If a city has an excellent public transportation system, I usually take that, whether it is a bus or train. I use Google Maps to map out my route and stick to it. Most metros are pretty easy to figure out once you get the hang of the maps. If you it is too complicated or you don’t feel comfortable, Uber is always an option that can be less expensive if you don’t plan to go very far very often.

Food

If food is something that motivates you to travel something that I recommend you do is plan out your meals or at least your dinners. This enables that you are able to eat everywhere that you want to while you are there. You can look to find the best restaurants in the city and either make a list for when you get there or possibly make reservations before you get there. If you really like to go out to bars you can do this too by looking up the top bars or clubs in the city and creating a plan to go to all of them. Bars can be a really great part of cities and going to the right ones, at least for me, can change my opinion of the trip.

Research

A few days before a trip, I do a little bit of research into the city and country I am going to. I look at things like tipping, gestures that shouldn’t be made, phrases, or words you shouldn’t say or places you shouldn’t go. I also make sure I know what to watch out for in each city, such as dangerous areas or pickpocketing. In cities like Barcelona or Rome where pickpocketing is very common I make sure I know what behaviors to avoid such as people asking for directions or putting a map in front of you or distracting in another way.

Review

Beach in New Zealand

My recommendation is to find somewhere you’re passionate about that way planning the trip is fun. Based on your budget and options you can pick transportation and accommodation and then fill in the rest. Make sure you consider everything before you book so that you know the dates are the ones you want. Sometimes while planning things become clear that they’re not working out the way I wanted them to usually I take this as a sign and look into some of the other places on my list to see if they fit in more. I believe that if a trip is meant to be you will figure it out. From my experience the trips that you aren’t excited about, people you’re going with don’t agree with how you want to travel or you can’t execute the trip the way you want are the trips that don’t turn out well in the end. Those are usually the trips I look back on and regret because I knew that it wasn’t right and I ignored that gut feeling.

I am well aware that my travel opinions especially in this case come from a place of financial privilege. I know that having the ability to pick between flights, accommodations, etc based on want versus something being the least expensive option is a privilege. Same with going on excursions I know that the ability to go on expensive helicopter trips is an extreme privilege. I included some discount flight and travel websites in this post and will continue to include them in my future posts to provide more options for saving money while traveling.

Explore Kauai, Hawaii by Air, Land and Sea

In January 2020, my mom and I went on a trip to celebrate my graduation from the University of Tennessee. We decided on Australia and New Zealand since New Zealand was my mom’s favorite location she had traveled to for business. When planning our trip, we wanted to find somewhere to stop to break up the long flight. Hawaii ended up being the perfect stop since it was almost exactly halfway between New York and Sydney. We decided to make it a leg of our trip on the way back. When deciding which island to visit, we had narrowed it down to Maui and Kauai. After hours of research and asking other bloggers for advice, I decided on Kauai. Looking at pictures of the Na Pali Coast and Waimea canyon, the decision was made for us. The majority of the island looked remarkably untouched with not a single building in sight. When we got there we spent the first two days exploring the island both by helicopter and boat. The second two days, we spent relaxing, snorkeling, and preparing to return to winter back in New York. Below I talk about the highlights of our trip, where we stayed and ate and what I would do if I went back to the island again soon.

Highlights

Helicopter – The first full day in Kauai we had our first excursion of that leg of the trip which was a helicopter ride around the island. If you have read my work on traveling with anxiety you might know that helicopters are pretty much my biggest fear but it happened to be the best way to see the island so my FOMO won over my extreme anxiety of being away from a bathroom. The volcanic island is covered with cliffs, canyons and valleys that you can’t see from the road, especially in a day. We booked our helicopter trip through a company called Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This was our most expensive excursion of the trip but it was 100% worth it (it came out to about $250 per person). We got some really amazing photos of the island from the air. The ride felt extremely safe and our pilot was friendly and very knowledgable about the island and everything we were seeing. It was only about 50 minutes but while we were in the air saw whales along the Na Pali coasts and waterfalls that you are unable to see from the ground. We road over the Waimea Canyon and a dormant volcano and were able to see locations where they shot a bunch of movies including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Honestly it is the best way to see the island and it worth the price just for the view of the Na Pali Coast alone.

Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast – The Na Pali Coast is one of the most famous, beautiful locations of not only Kauai but Hawaii in general. It is on almost every list I have seen of the most beautiful places in the United States in general and I definitely agree. It like many of the other places we saw in Kauai looked untouched and prehistoric. There are trails that you can hike along the ridges and through the Na Pali Coast but they are EXTREMELY difficult and some of them are very dangerous (1,000 drops down a cliffside) so I wouldn’t recommend seeing them by foot unless you are a very experienced hiker and have packed camping gear to stay through the night. The two best ways to see them are by helicopter and boat. Much less chance of becoming stranded or falling to your death that way.

Spinner Dolphins on Our Boat Trip

Boat Ride – The “sea” portion of our trip was a catamaran sail and snorkel trip. We booked a the trip through a company called Captain Andy’s before we arrived in Kauai. The trip was supposed to go up the Na Pali but unfortunately the day that we went was really rough, there were swells of 30 feet. So instead they took us in the other direction along the Southern Coast to another area of the island which also had cliffs that just weren’t as large Na Pali. We got the chance to see a ton of wildlife while riding to our snorkeling location. We saw some turtles, whales and even some dolphins as we were approaching the stop. Unfortunately the snorkeling place was not the best. There were very few fish and the water was pretty cold but the views and wildlife sightings made the trip worth it. The people on the tour with us were very friendly and the people working on the tour were really great. They made the trip so much better since we all got to relax and have some fun. They served us lunch on the boat and provided us beers and wine for the ride back.

Night Turtles – The hotel that we stayed in while we were in Kauai was great. It was right next to Poipu Beach which had some great beginners snorkeling (you didn’t need to go out far to see fish). The really amazing thing, however, was turtles that came on shore to sleep for the night. One night we walked over to the beach after dinner to see what it looked like, we had heard rumors about turtles but we weren’t sure. When we arrived we started walking along the shore to see if we could spot any. We got about half way down the beach and still hadn’t seen anything and were considering turning around but first we asked a nearby family that was hunting for crabs. They told us to continue walking and we wouldn’t be sorry and they were 100% right. Another 5 minutes later we saw a large black shape on the beach we shined our phone light near it to see if we were finally seeing what we had walked so far to see and it was! There was a large sea turtle sleeping not 5 feet from us. We took a quick photo trying our best not to disturb the turtle. The further we walked the more we saw. First it was one or two and then it was groups of 6 just hanging out getting in some Z’s.

Disclaimer: If you decide to do this please be respectful of the turtles. You are there to observe them not to get a reaction or touch them. Just take the time to admire how amazing the nature is and see something you likely wouldn’t be able to see many other places in the world.

Where we stayed:

Sheraton Kauai Resort – If we returned we would probably stay in the same place it was a beautiful hotel that wasn’t crazy expensive and was in a great location. We would probably consider leaving the hotel more often to eat and try some of the local food. On our ride there our taxi driver told us about a shopping center not far from our hotel that had a bunch of really great, local restaurants. We probably would’ve gone there if we had more time.

Where we ate:

We ate most of our meals at our hotel one of the restaurants we enjoyed the others were okay, but it probably would’ve been better if we had brought some food for breakfast or explored more restaurants in the area.

RumFire – Two out of the three nights we were there, we ate dinner at the restaurant at our hotel called Rum Fire. It was great. It had an excellent wine selection, and we were able to have a variety of great foods with a Hawaiian twist. If we went back, we would probably eat there again. The food was excellent, and I trusted them to be careful when it came to my allergies.

Plantation Gardens – We ate here our last night in Hawaii before heading back to the continental US. We were looking for something different than RumFire, so I looked into places in the area. I found Plantation Gardens, which was only a 5-minute walk from our hotel, and it was so great we wish we had the chance to go back. It is a relatively small restaurant located on a plantation of some sort with beautiful gardens all around it.

Pineapple – if you are going anywhere in Hawaii and don’t eat pineapple, you have made an enormous mistake. It is by far the best pineapple we’ve had in our lives. My mother would get up earlier than me each day and go down to the Poipu beach and get some. It was so delicious if you like pineapple, it’s just something you need to experience in person.

Transportation

RENT A CAR! Getting around Kauai is not easy if you do not rent a car. We thought it would be easy to just take Uber’s and taxis but we were 100% wrong. Getting a taxi or Uber on our side of the island took a very long time and was unreliable. We really regretted not renting a car even though we didn’t go that many places it would have been worth it just to avoid having to rely on unreliable and expensive transportation.

Review

Before going to Hawaii, I had honestly forgotten that there were places this amazingly beautiful inside the US. We were delighted we chose Kauai over some of the other islands. We were only there for a short period, which was perfect since we could see all of the sites in the short amount of time we were there. We would have loved to take the boat trip of the Na Pali coast and see some of the snorkeling on that side of the island. The turtles and wildlife honestly made the trip so much better. I have always loved marine life; aquariums were my favorite as a child. Kauai was almost like a live aquarium; it was terrific.

One quirky thing you will notice about Kauai is that it is covered with chickens and One quirky thing you will notice about Kauai is that it is covered with chickens and roosters. They are everywhere. We saw them by the marina where we took off on the boat trip, all around our hotel and on the road the entire time. If you are a light sleeper, you will hear them as they begin to crow at about 5 or 6 am. They continue to make themselves known all through the morning and early into the afternoon. It is like clockwork as you are walking through the island. You hear one crow and then another and another.

If we went back

If we went back the first thing we would do is that sailing tour again. It was such a fun trip If we went back, the first thing we would do is that sailing tour again. It was such a fun trip we honestly would be willing to do it again without the Na Pali Coast, but hopefully, we wouldn’t have to. Another thing I would love to do would be a hike in Waimea Canyon State Park. You can get great views of the canyon and the rest of the island from there. You don’t need to hike too far or too dangerously to get to the beautiful lookouts.

One thing that I would have loved to do is experience some of the Hawaiian cultures. Our hotel offered a Luau one of the nights we were there, but we didn’t have enough time to go to it. We watched the very end, and it was amazing there were fire dances and chants and other showcases of the indigenous people. Hawaii is one of the rare places in the US that truly embraces its amazing indigenous culture. I wish we had the time while we were there to partake in a Luau. If we went back, that would be high on my list.

There were a few other places we would go if we had more time and a car. On the north side, we would look into going to Queens Bath. On the South Shore, we would go to Waimea Canyon and Koke’ e State Park Overlook. From this overlook, you can get a beautiful view of none other than the Na Pali Coast. We would also go to Spouting Horn, which is within walking distance of the Sheraton and Poipu Beach. This is a rock structure where water shoots up through lava tubes into the air every time a wave comes by.

Other Things to Do

  • Tunnels Beach (snorkeling)
  • Hanalei Bay (beautiful sunset)
  • Hike to the top of Sleeping Giant
  • Tubing down the Sugar Cane Irrigation Canals
  • Kayaking up Wailua River
  • Queens Bath (lava rock pool)
  • Kalalau Trail (11 mile trail along the Na Pali Coast)
  • Wet and Dry Caves (North Shore)
  • Princeville
  • Kilauea Lighthouse
  • Wailua Falls
  • Opaekaa Falls
  • Princeville Ranch (horseback riding, ATV and zip line)
  • Explore a Coffee Plantation

Places to Eat

  • Wailua Shaved Ice
  • Dolphin Fish Market (best Poke on the Island)
  • Lava Lava Beach Club
  • Moloa’a Sunrise Juice Bar
  • Al Pastor Tacos
  • Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
  • Kauai Pasta
  • Hanalei Gourmet (fish & chips)
  • Chicken In A Barrell

How to Pick the Right Hostel

Every time I travel either by myself or with someone my age, my first thought of where to stay is always a hostel. Hostels are hotel-like accommodations that offer shared rooms typically with bunk twin beds where you can either rent out a whole room for a group or just a single bed. They are affordable, safe and they have the added benefit of meeting new people which can be hard to do when traveling alone and staying somewhere like an Airbnb or a hotel. Here is my guide to making sure a hostel is the right choice for you and how to pick the right one.

Best Things About Staying in Hostels

Hostels are my favorite place to stay when I travel. I find that it is the best way to get the best experience as a young traveler in most cities. I have met people in hostels all over Europe and the US that I am still in touch with today. People that are traveling and doing things that I wish I dared to do. Staying in Nashville, I met a girl who was traveling through the continental US, working online, and at hostels to pay her way in a quest to visit all of the states. She had no plan. She just went where her heart took her. I wish I were able to have that kind of spontaneity. She seemed so free and powerful to just move from place to place in that way. When I was in Budapest, I met a guy from New Zealand doing a similar thing. He was just partying and having fun backpacking all across Europe. When I left him at the airport, he was headed to take a boat from Spain to Morocco. At the same hostel, I met a woman from Canada who was building race cars as an engineering student studying in Germany. These are people I would have never met if not for staying in hostels. They inspired me to be more adventurous in my own life and have inspired me to go to places I never even thought of traveling.

Is a Hostel the Right Fit for You?

This can be a hard question that you never really know until you stay in one, but there are a few ways to figure it out without staying in one. Asking yourself these questions could help you better prepare yourself for staying in a hostel and let you know if it’s the right thing for you

Are you comfortable with people being around you when you are doing a personal thing like sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom (multiple stalls)? This is an essential question since not being okay with these things could make you extremely uncomfortable your whole stay. You need to make sure it is okay with you that you are around people during moments you may usually be alone. If you have many siblings, have gone to camp or lived in a communal dorm in college, this may be something you are more comfortable with since those usually involve continually being with people or strangers. If the answer to this question is no I would consider either staying away from hostels all together or looking for a room that offers more privacy. Some hostels offer private rooms, though more expensive they still let you get the chance to meet people in common areas without constantly being around strangers. You might also consider a room with less people staying in it or a bathroom connected to the room since this would limit your interactions while doing more personal things down to only four or six people.

Why are you going on this trip? If you are traveling for an event that entails you getting a lot of sleep, a hostel might not be the right choice. In a hostel, people are coming and going at all times during the day, so you need to make sure you are either a heavy sleeper or okay with possibly not getting a lot of sleep. I rarely stay in a hostel where I feel like I can’t sleep because of the people in my room. Still, I have had instances where people are snoring or talking to each other while I am trying to sleep, and if I had been doing something important the next day other than just exploring the area, a hostel might not have been the right fit. If you are traveling for business or a conference you may want to consider a private room or hotel in order to get more sleep and privacy.

Barcelona (St. Christopher’s Inn)

Are you okay around strangers? Many of the people you encounter at a hostel are strangers unless you rent the room with a large group of people. Think about if you are okay talking to people you don’t know and being around people you don’t know since you’ll be doing it the majority of your stay. Many people stay in hostels to meet new people, so don’t be surprised if people strike up conversations with you when you are in your room, brushing your teeth or eating in the common space.

Are traveling with inherently valuable items? If so, a hotel or Airbnb might be a better choice since fewer people will be coming into your room. Of course, theft is always a chance when staying anywhere, but it can be a little more so in a hostel. I have never had an issue with theft even when leaving things like clothing and luggage out and only storing my valuables, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Most hostels have a place where you can store your valuables in each room or in the shared spaces, but if what you’re traveling with is large and valuable, it might be hard to fit, and you may risk it being stolen.

Quick List of Questions:

  1. Are you okay with people always being around?
  2. Are you okay spending time with strangers?
  3. Why are you traveling? (Work, fun, to see family or friends)
  4. Are you okay talking to strangers?
  5. Are you traveling with valuables?
  6. Are you traveling with a group who may want their own space?
  7. Is having a kitchen important to you? Are you okay possibly eating out for every meal?
  8. Is climbing a ladder to bed hard for you?
  9. Do you require special accommodations?
  10. Can you sleep in a twin bed for the trip?
  11. Do you become sore easily? Do you need a really nice bed to be comfortable?

How to Pick the Right Hostel

Picking the right hostel is very important to have a good experience. A hostel that one person thinks is great might not be right for you and visa versa. The things that I pay attention to when looking for a hostel are location, food options (especially vital for me), number of people in the room you’re looking at, do they offer female-only or male-only rooms, cost, activities, reviews, and rules. I explain each below – ordered from most important to least (in my opinion) – followed by a list of questions to ask yourself when looking at a hostel.

Reviews are one of the most important things to read. This shows how previous people have felt about the hostel but also shows you how the hostel has been recently. When checking long term reviews, it is essential to look into things like location, staff, or room layout. Things that don’t typically change as time goes past. I have found that if the staff is friendly and helpful, usually the people staying there are as well. I don’t know why but it’s been true of most of the places I have visited. However, the thing that I find the most imperative to look at is the more recent reviews this tells you about the cleanliness of the hostel. This is important to know for mold or bedbugs (these are rare but can be present). I check this without a doubt, even if I have stayed there before, to make sure it’s still the same as it was the first time I stayed there.

Edinburgh, Scotland (Kickass)

Location is one of the factors high on my list since it can save you a fair amount of money staying in a hostel that is either centrally located or located near one of the main lines of transportation (bus, metro, tram, etc.). This would mean you would have to take less Uber’s or taxis to get where you need to go, saving you money. I typically look for something more central so I am able to walk wherever I’m want to go in the city, but something on a transportation line further away might be less expensive.

Female-only/male-only room if privacy is of much importance to you, you might want to consider staying in a same-sex room. I find that female-only rooms are more common, but I have also seen male-only rooms, though they are less common and might take some extra research. I only stay in female-only rooms partly for safety and partly for noise. Men tend to snore more than women, and I tend to be a light sleeper, so I prefer to share a room with women. I also feel more comfortable around women, especially when doing things like sleeping, changing, etc. so I tend to lean towards hostels that offer female-only rooms. I have also stayed in a female-only hostel (Amsterdam – listed below) where the only guests were women which was nice but gave less opportunity to meet male travelers which I still enjoy when traveling.

Prague

Food options this is something that I find more important than the regular traveler due to my dietary restrictions, but it is still something worth the research. I usually look for a hostel with a kitchen that lodgers can use, but I have stayed in hostels without them that has a restaurant or somewhere nearby. I know I would feel comfortable eating food that I have prepared rather than putting my health into the hands of a stranger which is why this is so high up on my list. This is also something that could save you a lot of money, either making your food or purchasing it from a grocery store nearby is a lot less expensive than eating out three times a day for the entire trip.

The number of people in the room is something that I don’t always look for, but if you are a light sleeper, it could be something to search for. The fewer people in the room, the less chance people can interfere with your sleep through snoring or extra noise. This could also be something to look into if you are traveling with expensive things. There would be fewer people to worry about as far as theft goes. Like I said earlier, theft is something I’ve never worried about or experienced in a hostel, but it is one of the top worries when people stay in a hostel for the first time. Usually, hostels have options to stay in a room with 4 – 20 people in it. As the rooms go up in the number of people, they typically go down in price. I usually stay in rooms with at the most ten people in them since most places don’t have only female rooms with more than that.

Barcelona (St. Christopher’s Inn)

Activities are a great thing to look into when booking a hostel. If you are interested in meeting the people staying in your hostel, it is much easier if that hostel has activities such as drinking games or tours of the city that give you an excuse to talk to other people. I have stayed in some that even offer meals (breakfast or dinner) that are included with your stay. This is also a great way to get the “best bang for your buck.” You are able to tour the city or go to a local bar or club for free through the hostel, which is usually lead by the staff there, and you get to meet new people that also love to travel.

Rules are something that you need to look into especially if you are staying in a hostel not far from your home. It can be off-putting if you arrive at the hostel and aren’t allowed to check-in or aren’t allowed to bring in drinks or food. Some hostels have age limits, don’t let anyone within a 90-mile radius/same state stay there or allow you to bring in outside food or drinks other than water. I usually check for a curfew, especially since I typically go out to the bars when I’m staying in a hostel. This makes it difficult to do so, so it’s important to know ahead of time if that is somewhat of an issue.

Quick List of Questions:

New York City
  1. Is the hostel in a central location?
  2. Are you okay if public transport/Uber is needed to get to the city center?
  3. Is a kitchen important to you?
  4. Are there good restaurants nearby?
  5. How many people stay in each room? Is this number okay for you?
  6. Does this hostel have female-only or male-only rooms?
  7. Are there shared bathrooms between men and women?
  8. Are the bathrooms in the room or down the hall?
  9. Are there any free or discount excursions or activities offered by the hostel?
  10. Does the hostel offer any activities meant for meeting other lodgers? (Drinking games, dinners, etc)
  11. Does the hostel offer any meals?
  12. Have you checked the overall reviews? (Location, cleanliness, staff, etc)
  13. Have you checked recent reviews? (Bed bugs)
  14. Are there any rules that would contradict what you’re doing there? (Quiet hours, stay minimum, no alcohol, etc)
  15. Do the people who work there speak your native language?
  16. Are there lockers in the rooms?

List of Hostel Chains I Would Stay in Again

Rooftop of Freehand LA

North America

FreehandLos Angeles, Miami, Chicago

Nashville DowntownNashville

Generator – Miami, Washington DC

Europe

Hostel One – Barcelona, Budapest (Basilica) , London, Madrid, Prague, Krakow, Seville, Porto

St. Christopher’s Inn – Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bath, Berlin, Bruges, Cardiff, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Interlaken, London, Newquay, Noordwijk, Paris, Prague

Generator – Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Venice

YHA (all across the UK)- London, Wales, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff, Brighton, Yorkshire, Bristol, Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Suffolk, Swansea, Kent, etc.

Hostelle (female-only) – Amsterdam

Kick AssEdinburgh

Palmer’s LodgeLondon (Swiss Cottage, Hillspring)

How to Navigate Iceland in 4 Days

August 9th – 13th, 2019

I went to Iceland in the summer of 2019. I was studying abroad in London at the time and decided that I would fly to Iceland as a quick stop on my way back to New York. My mom flew from New York to meet me so that we could travel together since I had been without her in Europe the whole summer. It had been my dream to go for a while I had seen so many beautiful pictures of the country and had serious FOMO when it came to going to the Blue Lagoon. It was one of my favorites and one of the most beautiful countries that I have been to. It felt like going back in time to before humans seeing all the undisturbed lava fields, mountains and glaciers all around us. It was probably the most untouched country I have ever been to. My mom was afraid we would run out of gas or something would happen the the car and we would be stuck in the middle of miles upon miles of lava fields with no one to help.

Day 1 (Arrival Day)

The first day we flew into Iceland and met at the airport. My mom landed first (coming from New York) so she picked up the rental car and checked out the Reykjavík area while I was flying in from London. We reunited in the parking lot after my two months away from each other and headed to the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon was great especially after a long day of flying. We put on our bathing suits and went out to the lagoon. You have to cover your hair with conditioner before you go in because the water is so harsh it will dry out your hair for days. The tickets include a drink and a face mask so we did the face mask first which was very refreshing and then went to the edge to lounge by a warm spot. We each got a glass of wine after our masks had washed off we enjoyed the warm water as we sipped on it listening to all the different languages being spoken around us. After we had finished our wine we were pretty wrinkly and prepared to get out. We washed off and headed to Reykjavík where we bought a few groceries (some pasta, sauce, peanut butter, jelly and bread) and headed to our airbnb. Our Airbnb was beautiful it was in an apartment building on one of the busy streets with lots of shops and a balcony. We were on the top floor so we had a great view of the small city. We ate dinner early and headed straight to bed since we had to be up early the next day.

View from Airbnb in Reykjavik

https://abnb.me/lyNuzC9vw5 here is a link to the Airbnb if you are looking to stay in something similar.

Day 2

The second day began early since we had to get to Silfra by 9am. We spent the whole day traveling the Golden Circle which is the most popular route through Iceland. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park where we experienced our only pre-booked excursion, snorkeling in Silfra between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This was absolutely remarkable, the water was crystal clear and you could even drink it since it came straight from the glaciers in the mountains. To be warned though it was incredibly cold, like can’t feel your face or hands level cold even though we were practically fully covered by dry suits. The whole thing was about an hour long and was an added cost that you should factor in if saving for the trip. It was definitely worth it it was like seeing a completely new world under the water. Full of deep caverns surrounded by rocks and the occasional fish. Before we went I was scared that it was going to be like snorkeling above an abyss like in the movie Piranha but it wasn’t like that at all. It felt more like snorkeling through a cave that was so clear you could count the rocks. We then walked around the park to see the waterfall and the overlook of the tectonic break. The waterfall was beautiful but it didn’t compare to the beauty of Silfra.

The next stop on the Golden Circle was Strokkur Geyser. This is one of the easiest to see and most frequently erupting geysers in the world and it erupts every 5-7 minutes so it is worth a short stop. There are a lot of other geothermal pools and streams to look at in the area so you can take a break and walk around but don’t step off the trail or you could burn your skin off which wouldn’t be a good way to spend your legendary trip in Iceland. While we were there a woman reached over and put her fingers in the water. Luckily it was not one of the thermal pools but our hearts stopped for a minute waiting for her to start screaming in pain.

Our final stop of the day was Gullfoss. This waterfall was explained to us as the Niagra Falls of Iceland. I’ve never been to Niagra falls but I was in awe of the power of this waterfall it’s hard to imagine something that is double or triple this size what it could power. You could only see it from the top cascading over the rocks and sort of disappearing down the cliff. The waterfall was so powerful that the path down to the top was wet and you could feel the mist the closer you got to the falls.

View from the River Hotel

We ended the day by driving to our hotel the River Hotel in Hella. This was by far our favorite hotel that we stayed in in Iceland. It was right on a river where people went salmon fishing from dawn to dusk. The hotel had a restaurant (make reservations early that day if you want to eat there), a bar and a hot tub. The rooms weren’t incredibly lavish but it felt really authentic. We didn’t make reservations early enough for dinner so we ended up eating at a restaurant that was less than 10 minutes away. It was good and had a nice view overlooking a golf course.

Day 3

Day 3 had a lot of driving but the destinations were worth it especially the stop on Day 4 which was our favorite and like something we had never experienced before. The day started early, we drove from Hella along Route One for about half an hour until we reached Seljalandsfoss.

Second Waterfall in the Gorge

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It is right outside the Golden Circle so you will probably encounter a lot of tourists in that area so getting there early is ideal. Seljalandsfoss is the only waterfall I’ve ever visited that you can walk behind. The path is wet from the water blowing back on it so make sure to wear waterproof clothing or have extra clothes in the car so you don’t get wet. Make sure to wear suitable foot ware as well so you don’t risk slipping since you have to do some climbing up and down hills including scaling a few steep rocks. The main waterfall is really amazing it is really cool to be able to see the falls from the back. If you want to keep the waterfall experience going there’s another waterfall tucked away in an alcove in the rocks that is something not everyone takes the time to see. To see it just follow the path to the left if you are looking at the main waterfall it is less than a 5 minute walk. It involves some balance especially after a lot of rain you have to step on rocks next to the gorge wall in order to get to the falls. The day we were there the river was pretty full and you couldn’t walk to it without getting your feet wet in the freezing cold water. From what I have read you usually can walk there without hopping from rock to rock. Regardless of possibly getting wet it is a really cool waterfall and worth the few extra steps.

Following these two waterfalls we drove to our third waterfall of the day. This waterfall was called Skogafoss, it is about thirty minutes further and it is another main attraction of the Ring Road (Route 1). It is a big waterfall that you can stand at the bottom of and even go swimming in the water at the bottom but brace yourself for the cold. The ground is flat so it is a perfect waterfall to stop and take pictures in front of. After you’ve seen the bottom of the falls you can hike up the stairs to the top of the waterfall and the hiking trail beyond. From up at the top you can see the ocean in the distance and the mountains and glacier in the other direction. After you walk up the stairs there is a platform where you can see over the top of the falls. If you continue up the trail you can see more of the glacier and there are a few other smaller waterfalls that you can look down at along the way. This is a popular hiking destination so you a lot of people camping out preparing to hike to the glacier the following day or setting off on their journey with their big packs and hiking poles.

The next stop is yet another 30 minutes further. This is probably the most photographed location I see of Iceland. I see it on guys Tinder profiles about once a day if that tells you anything. It is also probably the most dangerous location we went to. This location is the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. This is one of the two beaches we stopped at on the south coast. It had large rock structures that stand up in the water and unreal shapes carved out of the cliff face that is closest to the water. It was surprising that these shapes could be made in nature. The cliff face looks like a geometric step like pattern that you can climb up or sit on. This beach is increasingly dangerous if you catch it on a rough day. It is known for having “sneaker waves”, these are waves that come out of nowhere and drag people into the water into the strong current where they inevitably drown. There are signs all over the beach about not getting too close to the water or turning your back to the ocean and news articles posted about the people who have died by doing so. There is about tourist a year that ignore the signs and end up paying with their life. It was honestly a little scary thinking something like that could happen but on the day we went the water was extremely calm so there wasn’t much need to worry. This is the reason we don’t really have any pictures of the beach. So if you decide to visit this beach especially on a rough day please be careful and don’t turn your back to the water.

We took a short break from sight seeing to get lunch in Vik and stop at a popular church at the top of a big hill there. The church has a beautiful view of the cliffs and a far off view of the rock structures at Reynisfjara about 10 minutes away. We got lunch at Halldorskaffi a small pub-like restaurant that is connected to the Vik Information Center. Another thing we learned about Vik during our short time there was that it is one of the best places to see Puffins in southern Iceland. This was something that I wish we had been able to see. The only chances to see them, however, are either at dusk or very early in the morning neither of which we were in Vik for.

After lunch it was time for us to continue our sight seeing. Our next stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon an hour along the road from Vik. The canyon is a nice hike there are different places to stop and get close to the canyon from above. You start at ground level and hike up the hill (about 30 minutes) there are about three places to stop and look down at the river and canyon walls. The final look over is a platform that is over part of the canyon. I didn’t stay on the platform very long since heights make me dizzy especially when I feel like I’m looking down at the heights. We took a few pictures on the platform and then started the walk back down the canyon.

We stayed in Hof for the night which was about an hour from the Canyon. Make sure you have plenty of gas since there isn’t much along the road other than lava fields, plateaus, mountains and towards the end a large glacier. It was a beautiful drive with a great view. Hof was the only place possible for us to stay since the very few hotels in the area were either sold out or not finished yet. We ended up staying in a “hotel” that was made up of a bunch of different little houses. The only one that was available when we booked the trip was the largest with probably six different rooms, a kitchen, living room, hot tub and all glass exterior. It was insanely expensive but our only option other than that was a tent so we took it (like I mentioned I was traveling with my mom – she doesn’t do tents).

Day 4

The forth day had our favorite location which was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It was a body of water right under a glacier so chunks of ice would fall off of the glacier and into the water and become icebergs. You could take boat trips on the water or just walk around and enjoy the scenery. There were probably 50 chunks of ice in the water some being so large they made the boats look small and other being small enough that you could pick them up. They all varied in color from white to blue to translucent. As the icebergs sit in the water they break apart so some if you are lucky you can catch them breaking. They break and fall into the water creating the smaller icebergs and then float out to sea. The lagoon ended in a fast moving river that lead to the ocean some of the ice landed on the beach and created sort of a crystal looking shape. Honestly if you go anywhere in Iceland this would be my top recommendation. I have been to plenty of waterfalls, glaciers, canyons and cities in my lifetime but I have never seen this anywhere else in the world and I don’t think I will again.

From the lagoon you are just a five minute walk along the river, under a bridge to Diamond Beach. You can watch the icebergs travel along the river and float out to sea. Some of them wash up onto the beach and create sort of a ice-made diamond look, hence the name Diamond Beach. They catch the light and create a contrast with the black sand beach in a really beautiful way. There are signs along the river talking about the wildlife in the area and what the different colored ice means. On Diamond Beach there are big signs that explain the meaning of the beach and talk about the northern lights which you can see in the area during the winter.

Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon

About a ten minute drive down the road is another smaller glacier lagoon called Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This one is less of a tourist spot and is smaller so the ice is concentrated which leads to some great pictures. They also offer boat rides and I believe they offer glacier tours as well so make sure to book these things in advance if you are interested. If you only have time for one I would still pick the larger lagoon and the beach but it was still a great stop.

If you have some extra time in the day consider making a stop at Skaftafell National Park on the way back west. There are a lot of trails at Skaftafell leading up to the glacier, to waterfalls and other beautiful sites. In that area you can also take a helicopter or plane up onto the glacier to walk around or (in the winter) explore some of the ice caves.

*WARNING* The one mistake I made when planning our trip was booking a stay in a Volcano Hotel. This is honestly one of the worst experiences I’ve had with a hotel in all of my traveling. We wanted to book a hotel near Vik to stay in our last night since that was about half of the way between the Glacier Lagoon and Reykjavík. I booked a hotel on one of the travel websites that said it was in Vik but when we arrived back to Vik (around 4pm) we discovered that the hotel was an hour and a half away and was only reachable by 4×4 bus. When we called saying we were unaware of this they said that by the time we arrived all of the buses would have departed and our only option would be a 18km hike. When we said that wouldn’t work they said they would offer us a private ride up to the hotel but it would cost us an extra $400 so we took a hard pass and decided to email the travel site and just find another place for the night. I don’t believe this hotel is even still running (I couldn’t find it on Google when I looked) but the lesson we both took away was to read the fine print when booking a hotel you don’t want to lose money by finding out there is no way to reach the hotel you booked other than a long hike or $400 ride.

Waterfall on the long drive to Hotel Ork

We ended up having to book a hotel from the road while we were driving and picked Hotel Ork which was great for our last night it had just recently been renovated so it was an extremely nice room plus the man who worked at check in was extremely cute. We ended up eating at their restaurant which was equally good we had our last lamb meal nof Iceland and got ready for our flight home the next day.

Day 5 (Departure Day)

Day five was our last partial day in Iceland. We had a couple hours of free time before the flight so we decided to spend the day checking out the shops in Reykjavík. The drive there took us a little less than an hour which was nice since we had done so much extra driving the day before having to go further than we planned to stay in the hotel we ended up staying in. We enjoyed the time we had left in Iceland and then headed to the airport.

Photo while Shopping

If shopping isn’t your thing there are a fair amount of hot springs in the area around Selfoss where Hotel Ork is. This would provide some relaxation especially if you happen to be a nervous flyer. These hot springs are more popular among locals and usually they are a lot cheaper than pools like the Blue Lagoon. Some of them may even be free. If either of those options don’t sound appealing you could also use this time to tour some of the more popular attractions in Reykjavík such as Hallgrímskirkja (a very unique looking church in the center of the city), the statue of Leif Eriksson, the sun voyager (a boat shaped sculpture) or one of the many museums in the area.

Overview

Iceland was one of my favorite places I’ve ever traveled to. The people were so nice and it was probably the safest place I had ever been. My mother dropped her wallet while we were at the black sand beach with the structures in the water and we didn’t end up realizing until the next day. We decided to retrace our steps even though we figured it would be near useless but it turns out someone had returned it cash, credit cards and all to the near by restaurant. We were honestly stunned we never expected to find it let alone the money we had left in it. People there watch out for eachother since it the communities are so small and isolated.

The food was also amazing. We ate some of the best lamb and salmon we had ever had. We originally heard that Iceland was unreasonably expensive, being it on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it ended up being fairly reasonable. We bought bread, peanut butter and jelly and ate that between meals and for breakfast everyday which saved us some money and two nights we had rooms with kitchens in which we were able to make pasta with marinara sauce and share a bottle of wine we also bought in Reykjavík at a small store. I usually do this on most trips since I have a lot of food restrictions but it also saves a lot of money and time being able to make a quick meal on the go with things you have in the car. (See my article about traveling with Dietary Restrictions here https://rileyrecommendstravel.com/2020/02/06/how-to-travel-with-food-restrictions/). If you have read my other pieces you also know that I typically carry cards that state my allergy in a variety of languages. I had my Icelandic card with me and was able to show it to all the servers we had along the way although a few weren’t originally from Iceland so I had to communicate my allergy in English which was our shared language.

We loved Iceland are we’re glad we went. At first we had planned to not rent a car and just spend time around Reykjavík but that would’ve been a huge mistake. If we hadn’t left Reykjavík and the Golden Circle we wouldn’t have seen so many of the amazing waterfalls and the glacier lakes that we ended up being the highlights of our trip. So if you get the chance to go to Iceland make sure you rent a car or choose a tour that takes you outside of the Golden Circle. I promise you won’t regret it.