This video is from my first solo trip in June 2017. Big shout out to my friend Chris Ahn for putting this together for me.
You all know that I LOVE to travel. Unfortunately, with my work, I am not bringing home the big bucks. I always hear students/young adults say that they wish that they could afford to travel. I remember thinking that myself when I was in undergrad. One of the main reasons I wanted to start my blog was to use it as a platform to teach people the tips and tricks of traveling on a budget. So without further ado, here are five ways to save money on your next big trip:
This is the big one that used to stop me from traveling. I would look at flights to Europe and think that the flight alone was more than I was able to spend. I wish when I was younger, someone would have told me about these sites that help you find tickets at a discount price.
- StudentUniverse – This website is for students, teachers, and youth (26 and under), and offers tickets at almost half the price of buying directly! I definitely recommend looking here before you buy tickets.
- STA Travel -Similar to StudentUniverse, this website will offer discounts for students, teachers, and youth (31 and under). It also offers ways to work/volunteer abroad.
- Hopper – This is an app you can download on your phone that will track flights for you, and can help you figure out the best time to buy your ticket.
Some people choose to save money on lodging by staying in an Airbnb. I have always preferred to stay in hostels because they are a great way to meet fellow travelers, and they always have different events and activities each night.
- HostelWorld – This is a website and an app. You can find hostels all over the world, and are able to filter your search based on rating, price, location and more! I typically do not pay more that $20-$50 a night for a hostel.
- Book Direct – Before you book your desired hostel, check their website to see if they have special offers for booking directly. Sometimes hostels will offer free breakfast or early check-in for booking direct.
I usually like to book a tour on the first day I arrive in a new city. This allows me to get the lay of the land, which helps me plan out the rest of my trip. While I always suggest doing free walking tours, just remember that it is nice to tip the guide when they are done. Because free walking tours are “pay what you think it’s worth” I find that the guides seem more interesting and share more local/insider information, like cool spots to go to after the tour.
- SANDEMANs NEW Europe – This company offers free and paid city tours all over Europe. They are usually pretty good, and if you ask for a stamp card, you can collect stamps in each city, which will earn you a discounted price on one of their paid tours.
- Free Walking Tours – Literally Google “Free walking tour [insert city name]” and you will likely find multiple options. I usually look at the itinerary for each of the different options and choose the one I like best or choose the one that has a starting location closest to me.
Personal Travel Agent (kind of)
I know how hard it can be to plan a trip to a new city. There are so many things to consider to ensure that you make the most of your time. One easy way to help reduce the stress of planning a trip is to let someone else plan it for you!
- Weekend Student Adventures (WSA) – WSA hosts “fly-in” trips meaning that all you need to do is get yourself to the city you’ve chosen and they take care of the rest! Most packages are 3 days, 2 nights and include hostels, tours, and activities. Typically you would pay about $150 for the package (although some of the trips can cost up to $350 depending on which option you pick). Each package comes with a full itinerary that you can adjust based on your flights.
If you’re like me, once you take your first trip, you will find yourself Googling “how to move abroad.” Here are some options I looked into before I made my move to Berlin.
- AuPairWorld – This is basically like a dating app for au pairing- You and host families enter your preferences (i.e. country, start date, duration, etc.) and get matched up with families that fit your profile. This website will guide you through the process of finding families, and what to know before your move. When it comes to matching with families, making a decision, and creating a contract- that is all between you and each family.
- WorkAway – This site is great for finding people all over the world who are looking for some help and are willing to provide free lodging (and sometimes meals) in exchange for work (i.e. running a bed & breakfast, farming, fixing up a house, etc.)
- Teaching English – Literally type “Teach English in [insert country name]” and you are likely to find a company that will sponsor you to teach abroad. Typically you need to have a bachelors degree to qualify, but it does not usually have to be in education.
I am always looking for more ways to save money on my trips. Be sure to keep checking back, as I will update this post as I find you all more tips/tricks to save you money on your next trip!
My sister recently moved to Paris to be an au pair, so I decided to make a trip to see her during my week vacation in Amsterdam. I flew into Charles de Gaulle Airport from Amsterdam. Getting to my hostel was super easy (HostelWorld provides you with directions from the airport to your hostel).
It took about 45-minutes to get to the hostel. When I got to the train station, I told one of the employees that I needed to get to Gare du Nord. Luckily, they recommended I take one of the faster trains that made less stops. I would definitely recommend buying your ticket from an employee, rather than the ticket machine. This will save you time and stress (you don’t have to worry about the angry people judging you for spending 15 minutes trying to figure out how to navigate the ticket machine, ultimately resulting in you needing to ask an employee for help anyways). So skip this, and go straight to a real-live person.
Anyways, I took the RER B toward Saint Remy les Chevreuses. After about 20/30 minutes, I got off at Gare du Nord (Paris Nord).
Then I walked to the metro and took line 5 toward Bobigny-Pablo-Picasso. I rode the metro until Laumiere station, and then I was only about a 5-10 minute walk to St Christopher’s Inn Canal. The public transportation in Paris is really easy to navigate (even as a DC native I would say Paris is much more intuitive).
As I have said before, I definitely recommend downloading offline maps for any city you visit. You can do this in GoogleMaps or use HERE WeGo. This provides you with peace of mind in case you get lost and do not have access to WiFi (although, even if you forget to do this, in most cities, it is easy to find WiFi).
Once I got to the hostel, Nicole (my sister) was already there. As per usual, I arrived out of breath and sweating from carrying all of my stuff (and some of Nicole’s things that she had me bring over…okay let’s be honest, more of Nicole’s things than my things). Nicole saw me first and ran up to me, and was just as excited to see me as I was to see her < 3. This was the first AdventuresWithAlexa that I was sharing with another person (and so glad it was with my favorite little sister). Once we were all checked in, we both showered and lounged around a bit before our Free Walking Tour (of course I signed us up for one of these). I booked our tour through SANDEMANs NEW Paris with Zach (I found out in Amsterdam that you collect stamps with each SANDEMANs NEW Europe tour in each city, where you can earn rewards like discounts on some of the paid tours). We met our group by the fountain on Place St Michel. Just like other SANDEMANs tours, it was easy to find – you just look for the people in red SANDEMANs NEW Europe shirts. Zach walked us through the city, and shared his vast knowledge of the history of the different buildings, landmarks, neighborhoods and more.
I will say that Nicole and I were not as into this tour as other free walking tours I have been on, but I think this was less of a reflection of Zach, and more about Nicole and I being more interested in catching up and taking pictures at each location (this is where I discovered how amazing portrait mode is on Nicole’s iPhone 8 Plus…I may or may not have bought myself a new phone when I got back home from my trip).
After our tour with Zach, Nicole and I were cold and hungry (we definitely did not dress in warm enough clothes). I am sure that many of you would agree that two sisters being cold, a little tired, and heading quickly towards hangry (for those of not familiar with the term it is hungry + angry) is a deadly combination. We were past the point of making an informed decision about where to eat, and ended up picking some random restaurant. While I do not remember the restaurant that we went to, I remember exactly what we ate. We split croque madame (a ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top), a cheese & meat platter and wine (I also ordered my beloved Aperol Spritz).
Croque madame or croque monsieur (ham and cheese sandwich without the egg) are definitely a must try while in France. Once we finished eating, we took the metro back to our hostel.
Both of us were pretty tired, so we decided to relax before heading to Gare Jazz to listen to some live music (recommended by our tour guide Zach). This place was so cool! You walk up a long driveway that has tables, chairs, stringy lights, and a food truck. There were a ton of locals outside enjoying a cigarette while talking with friends. When you get inside, there is a small bar by the door, followed by some plastic chairs to sit in while you watch the band. The employees are super strict about being quiet and respectful to the performers (which I loved). Nicole and I hung out, enjoyed some drinks, and talked to some locals (Nicole did most of the talking, and really got to practice her French). Another bonus for this place is that there seemed to be an endless supply of attractive people- so for those of you who are single and ready to mingle, this is the place for you! After we finished our drinks, we made our way back to our hostel.
St Christopher’s Inn Canal hostel had a pretty cool bar with a ton of activities. People from all over the world were drinking, playing games, watching football, and talking. Nicole and I hung out downstairs and had a couple more drinks before heading to bed (and took some more pictures because why not?).
As much as Nicole and I hate waking up early, I convinced Nicole that the best time to get pictures (without having to fight other tourists) was early in the morning. While we were less than enthusiastic about this at 7:00AM, we were both glad we did! We started at the Louvre Museum, where we took all of the touristy pictures with the Louvre Pyramid.
We decided that we would walk from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe (about a 45 minute walk). This was honestly such a beautiful walk- you pass through three gardens (Carrousel Garden, Tuileries Garden, Le Jardin du Carrousel), then walk straight on Champs-Élysées avenue until you reach the Arc de Triomphe. Nicole and I are HUGE Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again fans, so we listened to the soundtrack while we walked through the garden from the movie (the scene where Harry asks Donna to move her purse to her other shoulder so he could hold her hand ❤). The walk took us longer than 45 minutes because we stopped for some shopping along Champs-Élysées avenue. The best purchase of the day was definitely my new black bag from Longchamp (only $95 versus $145 in the states).
After we finished shopping it was about 12:00PM, and there were tourists as far as the eye could see. When we got to the Arc de Triomphe, we waited for our turn to snap a photo, and followed the lead of tourists before us by stepping into the street to get the “perfect shot.”
This time of day was super busy with people and cars, so if you want a shot with the Arc de Triomphe, I suggest getting there as soon as the sun is up, so that you are free to take as many photos ask you want.
At this point, Nicole and I were starting to get hungry, and decided it was time to find the perfect spot for a picnic. On our way to the store to get food and wine, we passed through the most beautiful outdoor market.
My sister decided to move to Paris to be an au pair for a year. Since I love to travel, I used this as an excuse to visit her in the city of love. Read my Paris post to see exactly what we did!
WHERE TO STAY:
- St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal – My sister and I had a great time at this hostel. I booked through the HostelWorld website, but I wish I had booked direct. By booking directly through their website, you get free breakfast and 25% off food!
- St Christopher’s Inn Gare Du Nord – I stayed here with my brothers when we were visiting our sister for Christmas/New Years. We booked directly through their website, so we were able to eat breakfast for free each day, and we got a token for a free shot. I was just as satisfied with my stay here as I was with the Canal location.
THINGS TO DO/PLACES TO SEE IN PARIS:
- Shopping! How can you visit Paris and NOT go shopping?
- Longchamp – I got the Large Le Pliage tote for $95 (typically $145 in the states!)
- Louis Vuitton – The line was too long for us to wait, but it would have definitely been cool to go inside!
- Photo shoot – Paris is honestly the perfect city to wander around taking some awesome shots!
- Have a picnic – One of my favorite memories from my trip to Paris was sitting on the grass with my sister, looking at the Eiffel Tower, while enjoying a picnic with wine.
- Visit the Catacombs of Paris – I 100% suggest buying a Skip-the-Line pass before you head to Paris. These passes sell out on each day, so you will want to at least buy it a week ahead of time. Without a skip-the-line ticket, you can wait up to 4-hours in line (and there is so much you can do with that time!). Trust me, it is worth the 25€ for the faster entrance.
- Ice skating in the Grand Palais – If you find yourself in Paris for Christmas/New Year’s Eve, this is a MUST. I have a large family, so it is hard to find something that everyone enjoys, but this was a hit with the whole family! I felt like I was at a rave with all the lights, music and dancing <3
I booked our tour with the SANDEMANs newEUROPE Free Tours of Paris. We enjoyed talking to our tour guide Zach, and were excited to learn that he was originally from the U.S. The Free Tour of Paris started by the fountain on Place St Michel. Similar to most SANDEMANs tours, it was about 2.5 hours total. The tour was quite extensive, and included many of the places on my list to see including:
- Saint Michel Fountain
- Notre Dame de Paris
- Tuileries Gardens
- Assemblée Nationale
- The Louvre
- Palais Royal
- View of the Grand & Petit Palais
- Haussmann’s Paris
- Incredible views of Eiffel Tower
- Latin Quarter
- Pont Neuf
- Place de la Concorde
- Palace of Justice
- Sainte Chapelle
- Musée d’Orsay
- Carrousel Arch
If I am being honest, my sister and I were more interested in getting pictures of Paris than we were in the history of the different buildings, but this was still a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land.
You know that one of my favorite things to explore (outside of food) is music! While visiting my sister, we found the coolest “underground” music spot:
- Gare Jazz – This was one of my favorite spots in Paris! This music venue it set-up in an old warehouse with a food truck, bar, and plenty of locals!
- Cave du 38 Riv’ – We didn’t get a chance to make it here, but it is definitely on my list for my next trip to Paris!
In France, I think it is less about where you eat, and more about what you eat. No matter where you find yourself, here are things you MUST try:
- Croque Madame- This seems like just a ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top, but it is so much more! Trust me, try it 🙂
- Macarons – Honestly, try any flavor…shoot, try EVERY flavor. My sweet tooth was thoroughly satisfied
- Chocolate-Almond Croissants – I am literally drooling thinking about these.
- Cheese – All of it. Eat all the cheese
- Wine – Same as cheese. Try various types of wine!
When my family and I visited my sister for the holidays, we ate out quite a bit, here were some of our favorites:
- La Droguerie – My mouth is literally watering thinking about this place. Best crepes ever. I repeat, BEST CREPES EVER. My brother and I walked almost 2 miles to eat here last time we were in Paris. I will definitely be back!
- Café Chilango – Holy guacamole…seriously, their guac was heavenly. They also had super amazing tacos. Definitely go here if you find yourself craving Mexican food
- Amorino – You all know I CAN’T go anywhere in Europe without getting some gelato. This place has the CUTEST gelato flower with a macaroon on top that is totally Instagramable! (I went to the 16 Rue de la Huchette, 75005 Paris, France location)
- La Corde à Linge – This was hands down the best food I ate in all of France. If you make it to Strasbourg, you definitely need to splurge for dinner here. Honestly get anything on the menu and you will be satisfied.
- Brasserie de la Lanterne – Okay, technically I didn’t eat here, but this bar in Strasbourg was so much fun, and was full of locals. They have a ton of local beers to try as well!
IF YOU HAVE TIME TO LEAVE PARIS:
- Visit the Gardens of Versailles – For 30€ you can rent a golf cart that includes a map and an audio tour. The property is HUGE, so this is a fun way to see as much as you can. If you prefer to walk, you can also download Rick Steve’s Free Versailles Palace Tour (under the “Listen” tab).
- Visit the Strasbourg Christmas Market – Strasbourg is such picturesque town with an interesting history and a I loved all of the German Influence. The Christmas Market was adorable, and definitely worth the trip from Paris.
- Mont-Saint-Michel – You will need to take a train and a bus to get here from Paris, but the view from the top of Mont Saint Michel Abbey is incredible.
When I traveled to Amsterdam, I was only in the city for 4 days/3 nights, but I made the most of my time!
I booked my ticket to Amsterdam in June when my supervisor sent me information about a sale that IcelandAir was having on their site (shout out to my supervisor for supporting my travel addiction). After looking over all the deals, I decided to book a trip for one week in Amsterdam. After booking my trip, my sister moved to Paris to be an au pair for a year. I decided to change things up and book an additional ticket to Paris in the middle of my trip. I spent the first 2 days/2 nights in Amsterdam, flew to Paris for the weekend, then finished my trip with 2 days/1 night in Amsterdam. This break in my trip allowed me to get two different experiences in Amsterdam because I was able to stay in two different neighborhoods.
I flew into Schiphol (Amsterdam’s airport), and arrived early in afternoon on Wednesday. I took the train from the airport to Amsterdam Central Station. From there I took the Metro one stop to Nieuwmarkt, which was right across the street from my hostel. I stayed at the Shelter City hostel, which was right next to the Red Light District. After checking into my hostel, I walked around the neighborhood and explored the Red Light District (during daylight hours so that I knew where I was when I walked around later that night).
After getting the lay of the land, it was time for me to head to the National Monument in Dam Square for my SANDEMANs NEW Amsterdam Free Walking Tour. I did the tour with Kendra, and I thought she was hilarious. The tour was about 2.5 hours total, and included many of the places I already wanted to see, while also teaching me so much about the history of Amsterdam.
After finishing the tour, I decided to do some shopping (I basically only packed summer clothes and it was FREEZING in Amsterdam). There were a ton of stores across the street from Dam Square, and I ended up just buying some jeans and boots from H&M.
After shopping, I heading back to the hostel for a nap (jet-lag was finally hitting me). When I woke up from my nap, I headed out to explore the Red Light District to see what it looked like at night. If I am being honest, when I first starting walking along the streets, it took me a few minutes to adjust to seeing people “window shop” for sex. However, after walking around, I realized that this was not a place full of creepy dudes, drooling over half-naked women. I saw couples, bachelors, and other young people. I even saw a family with their son walking past the street.
I was almost tempted to go see one of the live sex shows (hey, when in Amsterdam), but I decided to instead find an Irish pub (always my favorite spots abroad). There was an Irish pub called the Temple Bar right across the street from my hostel, where I ended my night watching football while drinking Guinness.
I wanted to make the most of my full day in Amsterdam. I woke up early on Thursday and tried to score one of the “day of” tickets for the Anne Frank House. I was told I had to buy tickets at least two months before my trip. You all know I am more of a “go with the flow” kind of girl, and I don’t plan my trips out months in advance (if you are like me, don’t panic!). The museum releases 80% of tickets for any date two months in advance, but the remaining 20% are released on the website each day. Unfortunately, when I first woke up, there was a long wait on the website, and when I finally got to the ticket page, it said the tickets were sold out.
I was a little bummed that I did not buy my tickets in advance, so I left the hostel and began to explore the city. It was such a nice day out, that I figured I could still have fun getting lost in the city.
After walking around all morning, I signed up for an afternoon canal cruise. It was honestly so much fun seeing the city from the water!There are so many different companies to choose from when it comes to canal cruises. It really doesn’t matter who you pick, just make sure you do one! I recommend Boat Amsterdam – they offer a 70-minute tour with drinks included! What better way to see Amsterdam than cruising along the canals, enjoying a Heineken or some wine? They also have smaller boats, so there are less people on each tour.
After my cruise I headed back to my hostel to change into some warmer clothes, then planned to head back out for dinner. When I got to my hostel, I decided to check the Anne Frank Museum website one more time, and I am so glad that I did! I ended up getting a ticket for the 20:30 entry (8:30PM).
The Anne Frank House was an unforgettable experience. It is honestly something you need to see to understand. When you enter the museum, you get a headset that provides you with an audio tour throughout the museum. You can also go at your own pace, so you decide how long you would like to spend in each room. Prior to my trip to Amsterdam, I heard mixed reviews from people on their opinions of the Anne Frank House, but for me, it was definitely worth the visit.
After I finished visiting the Anne Frank House, I knew that I had to be up early for my flight to Paris on Friday, so I decided to head back to the hostel and get to bed early.
I returned back to Amsterdam from my weekend in Paris early in the afternoon on Sunday. This time I took the train from Schiphol Airport to Lelylaan station, then took to Tram 17 to Ten Katestraat. The tram dropped me off one block from the CityHub hostel. This hostel was a little more pricey, but DEFINITELY worth every penny! Honestly it was in the perfect location,and the amenities were great!
When you book your stay at CityHub, you get your own “hub” that includes a full-size bed, bluetooth, AC, bathrobes, towels, and color changing lights. Each hub is $100, but you can sleep two people per hub (whether this is someone you’re traveling with or someone you just met 😉 this hostel is a no judgement zone). They also give you a wristband that gets you into the hostel, into your hub, and can be used to charge food and drinks to your account. The best part? They also provide you with a mobile HotSpot that you can take with you throughout the city! I honestly cannot rave about this place enough. I was talking with one of the CityHosts, and I was super excited to learn that they plan to open more CityHubs in other major cities across the world.
After I was done drooling over my new hostel, I remembered that I still needed to take my obligatory picture with the “I amsterdam” sign, so I headed to the Rijksmuseum.
After playing on the “I amsterdam” sign, I was starting to get hungry. One of my friends recommended that I check out De Foodhallen (which ended up being right next to my hostel!). This was definitely my favorite place from my trip (thanks Craig for the recommendation!). I wish I had gone here sooner, so that I could have tried all of the restaurants.
I started with Taqueria Lima and ordered the Chipotle Braised Beef and Chipotle Chicken tacos. One of the chefs at Tequeria Lima recommended that I try Viet View and said I needed to order the Hanoi Chicken. Unfortunately, they were out of the chicken, so I was told that the next best thing would be The Ugly burger from The Butcher. If you like spicy food, then I definitely recommend you try this burger!
I ended up hanging out at De Foodhallen all night,and met some really cool people from all over the world. Since this was right next door to my hostel, I felt comfortable staying out late and having some drinks with my new friends. Once the restaurants began closing down, I headed back to my hub.
My flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon on Monday, so I still had plenty of time to walk around and explore for my last day in Amsterdam.
The first thing I did was head to Van Wonderen Stroopwafels for some yummy treats.
I wish I could have ordered every flavor. I ordered three of the small stroopwafels to take home, and one medium stroopwafel to eat there. The small stroopwafels are pre-made, so I would say that you should order a medium or large one so that you get to eat it fresh and warm!
After eating my delicious stroopwafel, I took the tram back to my hostel to pack my bags.
I will admit that I did not enjoy my first two days in Amsterdam as much as my last two days after I had returned from Paris. While it was fun being near the Red Light District on the first trip, that is only a small piece of the culture. I really enjoyed the location and feel of my second trip to Amsterdam. My first two days felt like a tourist experience, and I honestly did not really interact with anyone. In contrast, I met so many cool people and had so much fun when I was staying at the CityHub hostel. If you ever make your way to Amsterdam, I highly recommend staying farther out from the city center and exploring the city with locals!
Read my Amsterdam post to see exactly what I did!
Where to Stay:
- Shelter City– Right next to the Red Light District, good experience.
- CityHub – A little more pricey, but DEFINITELY worth every penny! Perfect location!
Things to do/Places to see in Amsterdam:
- I amsterdam sign – This is right behind the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein. I did not get a chance to see the Rijksmuseum on my last trip, but it is definitely on my list!
- Canals – Get lost in the city! I loved walking along all of the canals, taking pictures of all the flowers and the bikes.
- Red Light District – My first hostel was right next to the Red Light District. I remember my first night out, I went to find dinner, and before I knew it, I turned the corner and boom…there I was…right in the heart of the Red Light District. Coming from America, it took me a few minutes to adjust to seeing people “window shop” for sex. Honestly though, the Red Light District is just one small piece of Amsterdam’s culture. Walking along the streets, I saw couples, bachelors, and other young people. I even saw a family with their son walking past the street. Some advice for those of you planning a visit: Remember that these are people. Do not stare or try to take pictures (seriously, no cameras allowed). All in all, I had an interesting time walking around, but there were so many other parts of Amsterdam to enjoy.
- Canal Cruise – There are so many different companies to choose from. It really doesn’t matter who you pick, just make sure you do one! I recommend Boat Amsterdam – they offer a 70-minute tour with drinks included! What better way to see Amsterdam than cruising along the canals, enjoying a Heineken or some wine? They also have smaller boats, so there will be less people on each tour.
- Anne Frank House – I was told to buy my tickets at least two months before my trip. You all know I am more of a “go with the flow” kind of girl, and I don’t plan my trips out months in advance. If you are the same, don’t panic! They release 80% of tickets for any date two months in advance, but the remaining 20% are released on the website each day. When I first woke up on the day I wanted to visit the Anne Frank House, the tickets were all sold out, but I checked throughout the day, and after lunch, I was able to buy tickets for the 8:00PM entry. If you plan to go with a larger group, or have a specific date/time you want to visit the museum, I suggest buying your tickets in advance.
I suggest the SANDEMANs NEW Amsterdam Free Walking Tour. I did the tour with Kendra, and I thought she was hilarious. The Tour began in front of the National Monument in Dam Square. It was about 2.5 hours total (with a short break to use the bathroom). The tour included many of the places I already wanted to see and taught me so much about the history of Amsterdam including:
- Anne Frank’s story
- The Dutch East India Company
- The swampy foundations of Amsterdam
- Hidden churches
- The Miracle of Amsterdam
- Widest Bridge and the smallest house in Amsterdam
- The Begijnhof Convent
- Canals and locks
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Multatuli’s giant head
- Leaning buildings and gable stones
- The Jewish Quarter
- Dutch bike culture
All in all, I had a great time on this tour and learned so much. This was a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land.
You know that one of my favorite things to explore is food! Here are some places that I HIGHLY recommend for your trip:
- De Foodhallen (Amsterdam location) – This was definitely my favorite place from my trip (thanks Craig for the recommendation!). I wish I had gone here sooner, so that I could try some more of the restaurants, but here were my favorites:
- Winkel 43 – Apple Pie. Enough said.
- Van Wonderen Stroopwafels – I wish I could have ordered every flavor. I would say to order a medium or large, so that you get to eat it fresh and warm!
If You Have Time to Leave Amsterdam’s City:
- Visit the Keukenhof! The Netherlands are famous for their tulips. If you plan your trip between the end of March and the beginning of May, this is definitely something you should add to your list!
- Visit Rotterdam. I wish I had time to head to Rotterdam for my recent trip to the Netherlands! The unique Cube Houses are definitely something I want to see one day! If you visit, make sure you grab some food at the Markthal.
When I am not able to plan a trip abroad, I love finding ways to explore home. Although I have been to New York City many times, I always discover new things. Here are some of my favorites:
The last time that I was in New York, I was visiting my friend Katie, and we decided to have our own little photo shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Central Park is HUGE. There are so many things to see/ do in the park. One of my favorite places to visit is Strawberry Fields. No matter how many times you have been here, it always looks different. I love seeing the different flower designs each time I visit!
This is within Central Park. This is a great place to watch the boats go by, and have your own little photo shoot.
Charging Bull, Wall Street
I am not sure when bull balls became “good luck” but I made sure to rub them just in case.
Tiffany’s & Co.
The first time I explored New York with my friend Katie, I dragged her all across the city. Katie is a HUGE Audrey Hepburn fan, so I decided to surprise her with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We started with breakfast at Ess-a-Bagel (which I would not let her eat yet), then I made her walk with me to 727 5th Ave. Of course this meant that, while eating breakfast, we also had our own little photo shoot.
Places to see
- High Line – I love walking along the High Line. It is a great break from the hustle and bustle of the city
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Strawberry Fields
- Statue of Libery
- Empire State Building
- Chelsea Market – this is such a cute place to explore and grab some food.
- Top of the Rock – a little pricey, but great view!
Places to Drink
- The Dead Rabbit
- O’Reilly’s Pub
- RARE View Rooftop Chelsea
- The Press Lounge – panoramic views of Midtown and the Manhattan skyline
- Met Roof Garden Cafe & Martini Bar – they have live performances on Friday & Saturday from 5–8 pm
- Rockwood Music Hall – Great place to grab some drinks, while listening to music
- Shrine – Again, another great place to listen to music while you grab some drinks
- The Bitter End – I saw my friend’s band perform here. I also met Gavin DeGraw here, so who knows, maybe you will run into some other awesome musicians!
- Brandy’s Piano Bar – This place was so much fun! The waitress and bartenders joined in too!
- 1 OAK – This place is super expensive. We are talking $$$$ on Yelp expensive. That being said, I had a lot of fun here.
Places to eat
- Patzeria Perfect Pizza
- Baked by Melissa – these are the cutest little cupcakes
- Artichoke Basille’s Pizza – Their artichoke pizza was AMAZING. I know it sounds so weird, but this pizza was seriously so good!
- Serafina – This is some darn delicious Italian food. Definitely worth a visit.
Like I said before, each time I visit the city, I always find something new. Check back every once in a while to see any new places I have added!
I currently live in the Baltimore area, so this post will continue to be updated as I explore new areas of my home. For now, here are some of my favorite things/see to do when I am home.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Banditos – They are a great place for dinner or drinks at night
- Blue Agave – Another great place for tacos
- Crossbar – Beer Garden in Fed Hill
- Abbey Burger Bistro – I love their burgers (they also have a location in Fells Point)
- Pub Dog – This is a great place for cheap pizza and beer
- Little Havana – They have a great outdoor eating area right on the water!
- The Charmery – you all know I love my ice cream. They have two locations, and both are delicious!
- Paulie Gee’s – I am OBSESSED with their pizza
- Five and Dime – I love their upstairs bar
- Sandlot – This is a great bar, right on the water!
- The Horse You Came In On/The Horse You Rode Out On – This is Baltimore’s oldest saloon, and apparently it was the last destination of Edgar Allan Poe before his mysterious death.
- Barcocina – This is one of my favorite summer happy hour locations
- Bond Street Social – I love to people watch at their outside patio
- Max’s Taphouse – They have so many drink options, it’s insane!
- Waterfront Hotel – I love going to this bar for live music at night!
- Smaltimore – This bar is super cool and uses stock-market pricing system, where beer prices rise & fall based on demand
- Boathouse Canton – Another great summer place!
- Walt’s Inn – this is a small, hole-in-the-wall bar, but if you like karaoke, then you will have fun here!
- Southern Provisions – I love going here for open mic night on Tuesdays
- Owl Bar – Cute little speakeasy
- Brewer’s Art – I have never been to the restaurant, but I love their downstairs bar!
- Brew House No. 16 – This is an old fire house that was turned into a bar.
- The Elk Room – Another cool speakeasy
- Loch Bar – I went here for live music. It is a bit pricey, but I loved the outside patio area
- Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House – This is the first Guinness Brewery in the U.S. since 1954! It is super new, and only has their Test Taproom open right now.
- PaperMoon Diner – Definitely a weird cafe, but worth a visit
- Belvedere Square – This is an indoor marketplace with a ton of options. I love going here during the summer for their Friday night concert series
- Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop – Their cannolis are so good! I would definitely suggest going to their Little Italy location
What to See
- Federal Hill Park – Federal Hill is a neighborhood in Baltimore, and nothing beats watching the sunset from the top of Federal Hill.
- Light City Baltimore – This is an annual FREE large-scale festival of art, music and innovation
What to Do
- American Visionary Art Museum – This place is so cool, and only $15 ($9 if you are a student)
- National Aquarium – The tickets are a little pricey ($40), but it includes access to all exhibits and daily presentations, including Blacktip Reef, Living Seashore, Australia: Wild Extremes, Upland Tropical Rainforest, Amazon River Forest, Shark Alley, Jellies Invasion and Dolphin Discovery.
Places on my Bucket List
You all know that I LOVE to solo travel. When I went on my first solo trip, my friends/family were confused by my lack of selfies. I want my pictures to capture my full experience (and let’s be real, I want my whole outfit in the picture). BUT we all know that asking strangers to take our picture can be tricky. First, you have to trust that this total stranger won’t run away with your phone. Second, you have to hope that they know how to work your phone. Finally, you pray they know the rule of thirds, and that they won’t cut off your feet or part of the scene you’re trying to capture.
Here is how to get the PERFECT picture:
Ask a Stranger
First, I look for a couple or another solo traveler taking selfies. I approach them and ask if they would like me to take their picture. Then I take as many shots as necessary to help them get the perfect picture (you know, you have to get the angle/lighting/pose just right!). Then I look at their picture and say, “Wow, that’s actually a perfect picture! Would you mind taking the EXACT same one for me?” That way, I already know that I am going to love the picture.
Did you follow the steps above, and your picture still didn’t turn out just right (they cut off your feet, you blinked, etc.)? No worries! Just walk around for a few minutes, and when they have walked away, find a new couple and try again!
Use a Tripod
If you are not a fan of talking to strangers or there is no one around you, tripods are a great way to go. This will also allow you to set up your camera, so that all you need to do is jump into the shot.
Go on a FREE Walking Tour
You all already know I LOVE free walking tours. Literally Google “Free walking tour [insert city name]” any time you go on a trip. Another thing that I love about walking tours is that they are a great chance to get some amazing pictures! Your tour guide will walk you past all of the picturesque sites, and will give you plenty of time to snap some great shots. There will always be other solo travelers and couples on your tours. Offer to take their pictures (see steps above), then ask them to take yours. The great thing about this is that you will not be concerned about them running off with your phone/camera because they are on the tour with you.
Find Your Pose
Posing for a picture can feel awkward (I never know what to do with my hands). I find it helpful to look through Instagram and Pinterest to find inspiration for pictures that other people have taken at the same location. You can even look around you and see how others are posing. Honestly, if all else fails, sometimes my “awkward” pictures end up becoming some of my favorites. They show the real me, and they typically make me/others laugh at my ridiculous faces. Sometimes my best pictures come from the frames of me laughing at my awkwardness with the strangers taking my picture. I get to look back and remember all the fun I had at each place.
Take a Selfie
Never miss out on capturing your memories! There is nothing wrong with stopping to take a selfie! If you have short arms like me, then invest in a selfie stick! Just be aware of your surroundings (in some of the bigger cities, people are known to grab phones right off the selfie stick).
In the end, just remember that, no matter what, you are going to feel silly. People are going to look at you. They may even laugh at you. This happens even when you are traveling with other people. But guess what? You will likely never see these people again. So if they are going to stare, make it worth their while – get over feeling stupid and get your awesome pic!
Here are some of my favorite shots:
I absolutely love traveling alone. As many of my friends and family know, I am normally an introverted, shy, and anxious person. However, when I travel solo, I am forced to put myself out there and talk to knew people, and it has resulted in such amazing experiences.
While I highly recommend that everyone experience solo traveling, I also want to be clear that it is super important to make sure that you do so safely. People always tell me that I am so brave for traveling alone, especially as a young woman, but I can honesty say that, because I follow simple steps to stay safe, I have never felt frightened when traveling on my own.
Never Tell Anyone You’re Traveling Alone
Seriously, no one. This does not just apply to guys, I would not tell anyone that you are alone. Now I know what you are thinking, “But Alexa, I am clearly alone when I am meeting new people.” or “Alexa, I am staying in the hostel alone, so won’t everyone know I am alone?” While you will be alone in that moment (i.e. at the hostel, meeting people on tours/while you are out, etc.), you can still tell them that you are in that city with friends.
For example, when I was out exploring, I would simply tell people that my friends were back at the hostel taking a nap, and that I was meeting up with them after I saw a site or finished a tour. Usually I would say that my friends had been to the city before, and had already seen a museum or building or whatever.
When I was in my hostel, I would say that my friend was living in the city for a study abroad program, and that I preferred to stay in the hostel, so that I could have my own bed.
If you are at a bar or club, you can tell people that your friends are running late from dinner, and that they will be here soon. When they don’t show up and you are ready to leave, you can say that they decided to meet at a different bar/club, and head out to “meet up with them.”
You get the point. It does not matter what you say, just do not say that you are alone. Honestly, this felt a little weird at first, but after a few times, it became a fun little game.
PSA: For anyone that I have met while solo traveling, I apologize for lying about the “friends” I was traveling with. I promise I actually do have (real) friends. I am sure many of you looked back at my Facebook posts suspiciously wondering where all these “friends” were in my pictures from my trip. You understand though, I couldn’t risk you being a secret serial killer. Clearly the lying worked out well for me, since I made it home without reenacting Taken, so it was worth it in the end.
Keep Your Family/Friends in the Loop
Make sure that, before you leave, you give your family/friends your itinerary. This includes all the information about your flights, trains, hostels/hotels, tours, etc. Additionally, keep them in the loop if plans change. For example, when I was in Italy, there were strikes that caused cancellations of different trains, that caused me to adjust my itinerary.
If you are not going to purchase a data plan for your time abroad, make sure that you have a plan to check in with your friends/family to let them know you are okay.
For my first solo trip, everyone was convinced that I was going to be taken. To be fair, I have been known to have a terrible sense of direction, and as I have said before, I am typically a shy/anxious person. Everyone wanted me to check in with them each day, and they each had their own expectations of what that looked like (i.e. Email, texts, snaps). It was honestly overwhelming, and I knew it was going to take away from my experience. I told my family/friends that I would let them know I was okay by posting one picture on Instagram at the end of each day.
This turned out to be a lot of fun because it was like a picture diary from my trip, which I still love looking back at today. It was also super easy. Everyone knew that as long as I posted a picture at the end of the day, I was still safe. Sure, I did some Snapchatting and FaceTiming when I was on Wifi, but I wasn’t feeling pressure to check-in through multiple different apps each day.
The most adorable side note: My grandmother was one of the many people worried about me during my trip. She actually created a Facebook and sent me a friend request while I was abroad so that she could keep up with my travels. She is honestly the sweetest woman ever.
Be Lost with Confidence
I love getting lost in a new city and discovering all that it has to offer. But do this without looking lost. Avoid pausing under street signs, reading the mad on your phone, and looking like you have no idea where you are. It is okay to be lost, but walk with confidence to the nearest cafe/bathroom/shop to pull out your map or figure out where you are.
Be Extra Conscious of your Drinks/Drinking
We have all heard it a thousand times: Never leave your drink unattended, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. This is true for life, but especially true when you are abroad. I also encourage you to limit your drinking. Notice I do not say, “do not drink at all” because honestly, I am not going to Italy and NOT having wine. Just be smart. I am a solid 5-foot-nothing, so I know that means that I am having 1-3 drinks, and that is it. I also do not do shots. You know your body, and you know you limits. Just make sure that you are still alert/aware of your surroundings and definitely do not drink and “throw your inhibitions to the wind.”
Enroll in S.T.E.P.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is run by the U.S. Department of State. STEP allows you to enroll your trip with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which allows them to contact you if there is an emergency. They will also send you safety information about your destination country.
Trust Your Gut
If someone is making you feel icky, it is okay to walk away or ask for help. Worry less about feeling mean or rude, and remember that it is about your safety. You can step into a store or restaurant and hangout until you feel safe to go back outside. Also do not be afraid to tell a employee if you are concerned and ask them for help.
Travel During the Day
Make sure that you are departing/arriving during the day. You never want to get into a new city at night, in the dark. I always make sure that I arrive with enough daylight to find my hostel, check-in, then walk around and get the lay of the land.
This means following the same safety tips you should be following at home: Keep your eyes up, be aware of your surroundings, do not walk with headphones in, do not walk around starring at your phone, etc.
Avoid Drawing Attention to Yourself
First, do not bring any flashy jewelry. One, you do not want to lose it. Two, you do not want people to target you based on your jewelry. I would also suggest dressing conservatively or at least match the fashion of the area you are traveling in.
Always Meet in a Public Place
I am not here to judge. If you want to use Tinder/Bumble/Grindr/Her, go for it. Just make sure that you are meeting in a public place, preferably during the day. And let people know this is happening. Tell your host/hostel/hotel so someone knows what your plans are.
Helpful Safety Items
- Infinity Scarf with Pocket – This is such a great idea/accessory for those colder months.
- Personal Alarm – Keep this on your purse or key chain as you are out and about
- Padlocks and Steel Cables – I used these to lock my bags in the hostel as well as on the train/bus. I also suggest smaller locks to help keep your zippers on your backpack locked while you are walking around during the day
- Door Stop Alarm – If you are staying in a hostel or hotel room alone, this is a great comfort to have