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Month: April 2017

Best Views in Stockholm, Sweden

Best Views in Stockholm, Sweden

In any new place, I search for a high spot where I can overlook the city or surrounding area, so I knew I’d be seeking out the best views in Stockholm on my visit last summer. I’ll pretty much go anywhere to see a sweeping vista, whether it’s an elevator ride to the top of a tall building (like ascending the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Berlin’s TV Tower), climbing hundreds of stairs to the top of a tower (like I’ve done in Cremona and Florence) or trekking to the tops of hills (which I did on a random island in Oman and in Plovdiv, Bulgaria).

Yes, I like to find lookout points when I travel. Guilty as charged.

Before visiting Stockholm for the first time, there were many things I didn’t realize. For example, I didn’t know Stockholm was a city on water, composed of over a dozen islands and forming Sweden’s larges archipelago.

This means that in Stockholm there are pretty fabulous views any time you’re on the edge of one of the many islands, or crossing a bridge on foot.  Ditto for any time you’re up one of Stockholm’s hills or sloping streets, where you can get a peek out over the city.  And of course, there are many high-up vantage points as well.

With summer approaching again, Scandinavia will be quite the popular destination in the coming months, although if you haven’t booked a trip yet, consider visiting after summer.

This list of the best views in Stockholm is focused on elevated viewpoints, where you get a sweeping view of the city, and also includes some memorable spots at ground level to take in the scenery. Enjoy!

Best Views

Skeppsholmsbron

This bridge connects the Blasieholmen peninsula of central Stockholm to the island of Skeppsholmen. What makes it worth seeking out for a photo and one of the best views in Stockholm? The many gilded, golden crowns atop the iron bridge railings, which make for a wonderful shot of the city with both the crown and the view:

Skeppsholmsbron Stockholm Sweden DSC_0996

Skinnarviksberget

This highest point in Södermalm is also the highest natural point in central Stockholm, with views to match. There are actually several viewpoints in relatively close proximity, including Ivar Los Park and Katarinahissen (see below), but I like this one the best. This also seems to be the spot locals prefer.

Skinnarviksberget Stockholm Sweden DSC_0732

First, it is further off the beaten path and a bit harder to access – by a dirt path at the end of Gamla Lundagatan street – so there are far fewer people. In fact, the morning that I went up, I was the *only* person there for nearly a half hour, and even then only a few other people arrived. Plus, check out this view:

Skinnarviksberget Stockholm Sweden 20160714_104334

Other Good Vantage Points

Millesgården

Formerly the home of world-renowned sculptor Carl Milles, the Millesgården is open to the public now as an art museum, with a sculpture garden featuring his works. It is from the garden that you’ll get one of the best views of Stockholm on the far side of the central part of the city and out toward the archipelago. Great for a very different perspective of the city:

Millesgården Stockholm Sweden DSC_0668Millesgården Stockholm Sweden DSC_0657

Ivar Los Park

It’s a bit of a stroll to get here no matter how you arrive, but this quaint park with greenery and benches is along the Södermalm coast facing central Stockholm and the island of Gamla Stan, like the Skinnarviksberget view mentioned above as my top lookout spot.

If you don’t have time to make it to Skinnarviksberget, the park offers a very similar view, although you may encounter other tourists when you go. There were a few people when I visited, but if you’re lucky you can still score a seat at one of the many benches and take some time to enjoy this view:

Ivar Los Park Stockholm Sweden DSC_0777Ivar Los Park Stockholm Sweden DSC_0780

Katarinahissen

This was far more popular than the Skinnarviksberget and Ivar Los Park lookouts on Södermalm, since it is right by a metro stop and a bridge from the island of Gamla Stan. Originally known as the Katarina Elevator, unfortunately the elevator is not working right now, although there are wooden stairs that you can climb to the top. Also at the top is the Eriks Gondolen restaurant, where you can grab a coffee or a meal and enjoy one of the best views in Stockholm:

Katarinahissen Stockholm Sweden DSC_0798

Fjällgatan

Still on Södermalm, but on the other side of Gamla Stan, is what was by far the most crowded scenic point, although being further down the coast, the perspective of the city is a bit different. Tour bus after tour bus rounds the corner of the road leading up to the lookout, and offloads dozens of passengers, so it can get quite crowded. I ended up here twice last July, once for a quick stop on a tour bus and once on foot, and it was packed both times.

Fjällgatan Stockholm Sweden DSC_0831

If you stroll away from the corner where the buses line up, you can get a less-crowded view from the small park with a little patch of greenery, but you’ll still have plenty of company. The view remains lovely:

Fjällgatan Stockholm Sweden DSC_0811Fjällgatan Stockholm Sweden DSC_0822

Central Coastline

Walking pretty much anywhere along the water will offer beautiful, and different, views. I enjoyed hugging the coastline of Central Stockholm, starting by the Centralstation train stop and heading east to Skeppholmsbron (see above) and beyond. The coastline of the island of Gamla Stan also offers lovely vistas along the water, especially close to The Royal Palace and entrance to Old Town:

Water Level Stockholm Sweden best views DSC_0098Water Level Stockholm Sweden best views DSC_0148Water Level Stockholm Sweden best views DSC_0168

Of course, there are countless ways to see a city, and while I made it to quite a few stunning viewpoints, I didn’t quite make it everywhere. If you’ve already scoped out the best views in Stockholm above, there are a few other options for lookout spots to explore.

First, there are many boat rides that will give you a whole new perspective on the city, from short loops to longer tours of the archipelago. I was having too much fun exploring on foot to make this a priority during my visit, but it is definitely something to seek out in Stockholm if you have the time.

There are also two other high-up viewpoints that weren’t as high a priority for me. Kaknästornet, the TV tower with an observation deck, was just enough off the beaten path that I didn’t make it there. Also, the very central Stadhuset, the City Hall which also has a lookout tower. I was enjoying the outdoor lookout points in the beautiful, sunny weather during my visit, and limited the time I spent indoors. But both would be great spots to see the city as well.

And if you’d like to read more about what it’s like to visit Stockholm, check out which unexpected food you should seek out in the city and where I had my best meals there.

Do you seek out high viewpoints when you travel, too? Or is there something else that you like to do everywhere you visit? Any other Stockholm views you’d recommend that didn’t make my list? Share in the Comments below.

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Where to Find the Best Views in Stockholm Sweden

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How to Spend One Day in Cremona, Italy

How to Spend One Day in Cremona, Italy

Living in Milan, I was always on the lookout for easy day trips from the city, and I just could not pass up the opportunity to check out Cremona. What started on a whim turned into one of the most rewarding day trips I took anywhere during my three years in Italy.

What makes a day in Cremona so incredible? Like Mainz (my favorite day trip from Frankfurt, Germany), Cremona has stunningly beautiful sights to see, all of which can be visited in a single, relaxing day. This makes it a perfect candidate for a day trip, when you can see quite a bit and feel like you’ve covered the main tourist attractions.

I arrived seeking out the world-famous Stradivarius violins, and found so much more to explore and appreciate when I arrived. Even this New York Times article notes, “There’s More to Cremona Than Violins.” Most of the top things to do are around the main square, or piazza, with other sights to see depending on your interests.

That is not to discount the beauty of the violins, though. I spent far longer in the Violin Museum than I typically would, both for the extensive, interactive exhibits and also the sheer beauty of the Stradivarius violins. As happens to me sometimes, I stood awestruck at the incredible beauty and craftsmanship of the violins. Truly mesmerizing, and this is not just blogger hyperbole here. You can read more about this top experience of 2016 for me here in my post about being thankful, and of course below.

Cremona, despite not having a university or nearby wine region, is one of the more impressive places you can spend a day in Italy. A few reasons why…

Things to Do

Cathedral & Baptistery

Cathedral Cremona Italy 20160417_161949Baptistery - Battistero - Cremona Italy 20160417_162135 (2)

Cremona’s Cathedral is quite impressive, dating back to the 12th century and decorated inside with beautiful artwork. The complex is quite large, and each facade has a different appearance to take in. The octagonal Baptistery nearby is formally a Cathedral annex, where children would be baptized before being allowed to enter the Cathedral. It is a fairly bare building possibly more impressive from the outside, but it’s worth popping in if you’ve purchased a combination ticket (see ‘(More) Practical Tips for Visiting‘ section below).

Piazza del Commune

Piazza del Commune Cremona Italy 20160417_131847

This is the main piazza in town, where you’ll find the Cathedral, Baptistery, and Bell Tower. However, the piazza itself is quite striking, and there are a variety of open areas with sculptures and other art along its perimeter. Leave aside time just to wander around, especially along the many pedestrian side streets that connect to the square.

Torazzo Bell Tower & Astronomical Clock

Bell Tower Cremona Italy 20160417_161514Bell Tower Statue Cremona Italy 20160417_162603Bell Tower View from the Top 20160417_164422

The Bell Tower and its Astronomical Clock, adjacent to the Cathedral, were two unexpected superlatives of my time in Cremona. The Torazzo of Cremona is the 3rd-tallest brick tower in the world! Not only can you gaze upon it from the Piazza del Commune, but it is also possible to climb its 502 steps to the top. I love being able to get a high viewpoint whenever I can as I travel, and it’s lovely to look over the surrounding countryside.

Astronomical Clock on Bell Tower Cremona Italy 20160417_162030

On the outside facade of the Torazzo is the largest astronomical clock in the world! It tracks the movements of the sun and moon, as well as eclipses. You can get a closer look at its inner mechanism and explore an exhibit about how it works when you climb the tower. Definitely one of the highlights of my day.

Violin Museum (Museo del Violino)

Violin Museum Cremona Italy 20160417_144343

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is the main attraction for most visitors to Cremona, and one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Unfortunately pictures are forbidden inside, however I’ve included a picture above from when some instruments were on loan to another museum.

Highlights of visiting included the detailed and interactive displays on crafting violins, from the most famous ones made by Antonio Stradivari to those crafted by other local artisans. Stradivari even made a pretty fabulously-decorated guitar! I was completely mesmerized by the beauty of his instruments, and just couldn’t take my eyes off of them. You can read more about the experience here in my post about being thankful.

Another of the most interesting parts for me were the instruments on display from the many years of the triennial violin-making competition. Not only could you see the various violins, violas, basses, and cellos on display, but there were snippets of music that had been played on each that you could listen to on the audio guide. And they really did all sound different!

TIP! There are a lot of concerts and special events at the museum, check the schedule online before you go.

TIP! If you’d like to visit during the triennial violin-making competition, the next one is in 2018!

Best Bites

Hosteria 700

Hosteria 700 restaurant Cremona Italy 20160417_135044Hosteria 700 restaurant Cremona Italy 20160417_140742

I sought this restaurant out because it offers a lot of Cremonese specialties, like the stuffed marubini pasta, often filled with a mixture of beef, chicken, and veal. They also have some innovative ways to present Italian ingredients, like the shockingly sweet caramelized onion tatin, with a gelato made of grana cheese. A very elevated and satisfying dining experience for such a small Italian town.

(More) Practical Tips for Visiting

The easiest way to arrive in Cremona is by train, and most sights are in easy walking distance of the train station. There are many direct trains a day from Milan, as well as other northern Italian towns, like Brescia. Cremona is just over an hour by train from Milan.

When you arrive, a lot of the main sights to see are part of the Cathedral complex. Be sure to ask about combined entrance tickets for discounted admission.

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of the sights to see in Cremona, and a lot of the beauty I took in was just from strolling around town. If you spend more time or have a more ambitious itinerary, you can seek out some of the other tourist attractions, like the Stradivarius house, the Archaeological Museum, the Po River, and other churches around town.

Have you ever visited a place for a single sight? Would *you* go to Cremona just to see the Stradivarius violins?

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How to Spend One Day in Cremona Italy - Day Trip from Milan

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Bringing Common Sense Back to the Discussion after the United Airlines Fiasco

Bringing Common Sense Back to the Discussion after the United Airlines Fiasco

When the media frenzy started about the passenger dragged off a recent overbooked United Airlines flight, I watched the video in horror, like many of you. And then – probably unlike many of you – instead of heading straight for my social media soapbox, I had a bit of the opposite reaction. I instead wanted instead to run away from the incident and bury my head in the sand.

But Lana, you say, you’re a travel blogger, surely your initial instinct should have been to weigh in.

Well, I think that to some extent, wanting to weigh in right away is exactly the problem with reactionary responses to viral videos and news. Of course, the available, partial information is presented in a certain light. Most people will then follow the lead of the media and have the expected reaction without taking the time for research and critical thought.

Like with all controversial situations, there is more than one side to the story. And not all facts come to light right away. What circulates initially on social media is one of those perspectives, but certainly not the only one.

But I digress. This all started way before the latest “injustice” making the rounds on social media.

Collectively, let’s all take a step back for a minute. Yes, you over there jumping up and down about how United Airlines is evil, this means you. Here I take what I’ll characterize as the logical, fact-based approach.  Trying to get a full picture of what happened, and where to go from here.

For me, the bottom lines are as follows:

  1. Were the actions taken by United on the right side of regulations currently in place? Unclear.
  2. Was this good PR for United? Certainly not.
  3. Was this good for United’s bottom line? No to this one as well.

Now, let’s break down each of these points.

#1 | What was the correct way to handle this situation based on regulations?

To reiterate the basic facts of what happened, this incident took place on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. After the passengers boarded, 4 United staff members who needed to get to Louisville arrived at the gate. Airline staff tried to get 4 volunteers for passengers to give up their seats, first by offering $400 in vouchers, then $800.

When no one took these offers, 4 passengers were chosen to deplane based on the airline’s algorithm. One passenger who was a doctor, David Dao, refused to give up his seat. He said he needed to see patients and couldn’t be delayed. Airline staff then called local airport security to remove this passenger. He resisted, and was dragged screaming up the aisle.

During this time Dr. Dao was injured and appears to have become unconscious. His injuries include a concussion, a broken nose, and two teeth that were knocked out. He was bloodied as he was dragged, and also when he arrived back on the plane a bit later disoriented. All taped by passengers, which you can see in this You Tube video.

I know, it’s horrifying. Horrifying to watch and equally horrifying to consider that the situation could have happened to any one of us. But just because it is graphic and scary, doesn’t mean that there is a clear right and wrong in terms of what should have occurred.

Honestly, the correct way for the airline to handle this particular situation is actually unclear, despite the many people claiming otherwise. On both sides of the argument.

United keeps pointing to its Contract of Carriage. Which is convenient, but despite being quite lengthy, actually does not specifically cover this situation. The Rule about “Denied Boarding Compensation” does just that – describes how to handle compensation for passengers who are not allowed to board the plane.

But what about passengers already on board? If they’re unruly or haven’t paid for their ticket or are intoxicated, or a bunch of other very specific scenarios, then Rule 21 about “Refusal of Transport” applies. You can be removed from the aircraft. By force, if necessary.

But if you don’t meet these conditions? Was it outside of the Contract of Carriage for flight attendants to contact security to forcibly remove Dr. Dao? This is where things get fuzzy.

It is unclear (or at least open to interpretation) as to whether Dr. Dao violated the Contract of Carriage. If he did, and failed to comply with crew member instructions, removal would be justified. If he didn’t, then he was within his passenger rights to keep his seat once he boarded and the airline had no grounds to remove him.

For a detailed legal analysis of the situation, a law professor from Cornell talks about the nuances of the situation. And you can read The Points Guy doing a bit of backtracking and arguing that the blame belongs on United.

However, many people have been quick to point out that traveling on an airplane is a bit of a different situation than many of the analogies being offered as to why United Airlines is in the wrong.

This is usually part of the safety briefing about “complying with all crew member instructions.” It sounds very serious. And it is, because you can be kicked off of a plane if you don’t.

At the end of the day, the safety of the crew and other passengers is dependent on everyone flying being able to follow crew member instructions.

As Mike Rowe noted in his passionate argument for all airline passengers complying with directives from flight attendants,I don’t want to fly across the country in a steel tube filled with people who get to decide which rules they will follow and which they will ignore.” Fair enough.

Angelia of The Pilot Wife Life blog has a similar take, arguing for air safety for all. Especially as the wife of a pilot, and especially after past hijacking incidents (including September 11th). As she noted:

If a federal law enforcement officer asks me to exit a plane, no matter how royally pissed off I am, I’m going to do it and then seek other means of legal reimbursement. True story.”

And Angelia also pointed out the nuances of the must fly situation, in which a few members of airline staff must get to their destination to staff a flight. Because it is displacing a few people to keep hundreds more on track with their travel plans and also because it is federal regulation to do so.

Confused yet? You should be. The issue has a lot of complexities, and there is not a clear right and wrong in terms of the specific incident with Dr. Dao. I imagine that ultimately the courts will decide this one.

#2 | Was it good PR to select 4 passengers to deplane when no one volunteered? Absolutely not.

I think we can all agree here, with the subsequent backlash and bad publicity, United Airlines now has a huge public relations, or PR, challenge on its hands. Whether their actions were in the right or not is pretty irrelevant when it comes to customer perception.

Frankly, right now, whether it’s accurate or not, United is coming across as the evil company who cares more about its bottom line than its passengers.

First, from the airline staff booting confirmed and paying customers who had already boarded the plane, instead of paying for another way for those staff members to arrive in Louisville. And second, for capping the compensation offered for volunteers at $800, and not increasing it until they had identified 4 willing volunteers to deplane.

One of the interesting points here is that the compensation caps for the airlines were designed for enticing customers to voluntarily give up their seats before boarding. Game theory tells us that the perceived value of something is in fact higher after someone has taken ownership.

Irrational? Perhaps. But that is how the world works as is so expertly explained in this NPR overview on how game theory relates to airline booking.

As the article points out, the value people place on an item changes based on whether they have it yet. It may sound irrational, but that is how the human mind works apparently.

In the example in the article, a person might offer a price of $5 in the hypothetical of being asked to judge how much a coffee mug is worth. Once they’ve received the mug and you’re asking them to part with it? The “person is likely to want considerably more money, say $10. And, it’s the same thing with airplane seats.”

The monetary cap that is usually enough to get volunteers to give up their seats before boarding is unlikely to be enough once passengers are seated. And United should have taken this into account.

#3 | Was it good for United’s business and bottom line to remove these passengers? Don’t think so.

There was a market loss for United Airlines stock after the incident with Dr. Dao, and subsequent response by the United CEO. A #boycottunited effort is underway.

But I think the real unknown here in terms of how this will impact United’s bottom line is down the road. How this will impact future bookings and the company’s bottom line in the long-term?

How This Situation Could Have (Possibly) Been Avoided

Are there slight changes that would have possibly changed the outcome, and avoided the situation of Dr. Dao being forcibly removed from the flight? Probably.

A few thoughts on what might have led to a different outcome:

  • Airline staff showing up sooner (aka before boarding) to check in for a destination they needed to reach for work. Then United could have offered incentives or bumped passengers following the exact guidelines of their Contract of Carriage.
  • Other passengers volunteering to deplane, although if you read through the section of #2 above about game theory, this was less likely once passengers were already settled in their seats. Without substantially more enticement.
  • United staff requesting (and getting) approval from higher up the chain of command to offer a higher value of vouchers, or cash, for passengers willing to deplane.
  • Even though I think it’s questionable whether Dr. Dao was in violation of United’s Contract of Carriage and whether United had the right to remove a paying customer once he had boarded (see #1 above), when the request was made, had the passenger followed directions to deplane, despite feeling wronged in that moment. And then taken the issue up later with the airline.

But since we can’t travel back in time and change the outcome, instead of focusing on all of the “what ifs,” let’s look forward.

The Good News in All of This?

While it will probably take years for the courts and legal challenges around this specific incident to be sorted out, the good news is that airlines are enacting measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future. American carriers are stepping up to alter or clarify existing policies, and adopt new ones to avoid another similar incident.

One of the contributing factors to the incident was that staff members who needed to fly to Louisville checked in at the counter after passengers had boarded. Which they were allowed to do per United Airlines policy at the time, up until the moment a plane left the gate.

In terms of United, the biggest change is that staff now has to check in at least 60 minutes before flight departure and no crew member can bump a passenger who has already boarded. Both key distinctions for how they will handle similar situations moving forward.

American Airlines has since updated the ‘Oversales’ section of its Contract of Carriage to state that “American will not involuntarily remove a revenue passenger who has already boarded in order to give a seat to another passenger.” Which wouldn’t actually cover a similar situation of airline staff who needed to fly, but is at least a start in clarifying what actions airline staff can take for passengers who’ve already boarded.

While United has not released whether it has placed a new monetary cap on compensation, Delta has announced higher caps on compensation amounts. Delta gate agents are now authorized to offer up to $2,000, and supervisors can offer much more if needed, up to $9,950.

Certainly it is up to the airline to decide when and how often it is worth paying very high monetary amounts to avoid incidents with passengers and save face publicly.

In general, airlines at pretty successful at enticing customers to volunteer. Of the approximately 500,000 people who were asked to give up their seats in the US last year, nearly 92% did so voluntarily. Only 40,000 of those were involuntarily bumped. And all of those passengers received compensation of some sort.

I imagine that in the long-term, the consistent policy of overbooking will be under review. Overbooking is designed to ensure a full airplane in most situations, since there are almost always some people who have bought tickets who will be delayed or cancel their flight at the last moment. This works most of the time.

Of course, the policy of overbooking usually makes the airline more money, but at some point the money or vouchers given to passenger volunteers will outweigh those other financial gains. Especially with a larger cap on compensation.

And I imagine whatever legal action Dr. Dao chooses to take may result in updated regulations for airlines and clearer rights for passengers who’ve purchased tickets.

Only time will tell…

Alright, folks, thanks for reading. I’ll get off my soapbox for the moment.

Now back to your regularly scheduled TSG travel inspiration, intel, and tips…

And happy travels!

Lana

Have you ever volunteered to give up your seat or been bumped involuntarily? How do *you* think the airlines should be addressing what happened? Are the new policies enough? I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences in the Comments.

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Top Tips to Avoid the Biggest Mistakes Tourists Make in Italy

Top Tips to Avoid the Biggest Mistakes Tourists Make in Italy

Every country has its own way of doing things, and Italy is no exception. While some mistakes tourists make in Italy are part of the adventure of travel, other errors can be very time-consuming or expensive to resolve. When I travel, I try to be aware of the most common pitfalls I could possibly encounter, and do some research to avoid them.

Preparing for a trip to Italy? Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your time there, and avoid the mistakes that many tourists make.

TRAVELING AROUND ITALY

  • The most efficient way to get around between cities are the high-speed trains, or regional trains for less-travelled routes. The main train companies are TrenItalia and Italo, and both have English versions of their websites available.
  • If you’re being more flexible with your plans, you can buy your train ticket at the last minute at one of the electronic kiosks, which also offer multiple languages.
  • Don’t plan on waiting until the last train, as sometimes trains are quite delayed or cancelled.

    Train Italy Orvieto DSC_0761

  • If you don’t have a person or turnstile taking your ticket, be sure to validate your train ticket before boarding. There is usually a small box on the train platform where you can insert your ticket to validate. Fines can be high if you don’t, and this is something that does get checked relatively frequently.

RESTAURANTS

  • If there is a particular place you’d like to eat at for lunch or dinner, whether it’s an upscale spot or simply a popular trattoria, make a reservation. You can usually get a reservation the day or two before – or even earlier the same day – but if you show up at dinner time on the night, you might be refused.
  • Usually the first question when you sit down will be about water, whether you want to drink naturale (still water) or frizzante/gassata (sparkling water), so have an answer ready. Italians don’t drink tap water.
  • Service may not be as attentive as in your home country, which is simply the Italian way. If there is something you need – including the check – flag someone down and ask.
  • Some restaurants will bring the bill to the table, others will direct you to pay at the cassa, the cash register.
  • Typically restaurants include a coperto, a cover charge for service and bread, which is listed on the menu and will show up on your bill.

    Restaurant Coperto - Cover Charge for Service and Bread 20160928_214458

  • Tipping is not expected if there is a coperto, although you are welcome to leave small change or an additional tip if you’d like.
  • Don’t refuse your receipt. By law you must have the receipt for 100 meters after leaving the restaurant (this is to ensure that the restaurant has paid taxes, not that you have paid). Yes, I’ve been chased out of a restaurant by a server after leaving my receipt behind.

BARS

  • In Italy, “bar” means a place to get coffee and a pastry, although many will serve alcohol as part of aperitivo. Or first thing in the morning, if you ask…
  • At many bars you pay first, and then show your receipts to the barista to be served.
  • Traditionally, coffee (and your pastry) is consumed standing at the bar in a few quick minutes. You have the option of sitting at some bars, although it is possible you will be charged a coperto (see ‘Restaurants’ section above) if you do. In touristy areas, this might be exorbitant.

    Aperitivo Italy Milan 20161018_194627

  • In the evening, the bar that was your morning coffee shop often morphs into your happy hour spot, where you can enjoy an aperitivo, consisting of a pre-dinner drink and some food, which will range from some small nibbles to a full buffet

WINE TOURISM

  • If you’re wine tasting and would like to buy wine to take home, it helps to have a car to transport the heavy load. Many wineries ship internationally, but prices can be quite high. It can be more cost-effective to pay for extra airline baggage packed with bottles of wine (or utilize your baggage allowance wisely) than to ship them. Plan your wine packing in advance, and you’ll save hundreds of Euros.

    Wine Tourism Italy 2014-06-11 18.09.06 (2)

MISCELLANEOUS

  • In the bathroom, when in doubt, look for a foot pedal (or inconspicuous button on the wall) to flush a toilet or operate the faucet to wash your hands. I’ve seen tourists linger in the bathroom for a long time trying to figure this out!

If you’re really committed to blending in during your visit, you’ll also want to check out my post on the Top 10 Ways to Experience Italy Like a Local. But at a minimum, if you follow the tips above, you won’t be caught with an exorbitant fine for not validating your train ticket or be stuck waiting hours for your server to bring the check at the end of your meal. I’ve seen many mistakes tourists make in Italy, but fortunately with a few tips most can be avoided!

What other things did you wish you had known before traveling to Italy? Anything else I should include? How do you avoid the typical tourist mistakes when you travel? Share your best intel in the Comments below!

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Top Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes Tourists Make in Italy

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Best Eating I’ve Ever Done While Camping: Western Australia’s Southern Forests

Best Eating I’ve Ever Done While Camping: Western Australia’s Southern Forests

What mental image comes to mind when you think of camping? Struggling to feed the long metal stick through the flaps to support your tent? Waking up with a backache after sleeping on uneven ground? Consuming a half-cold bite of food that was heated up over the fire?

Those images certainly conjure some of the camping of my childhood, but I learned over several camping trips with my Perth friends recently that camping Australia-style can actually be quite comfortable with not much additional effort. From easy-to-assemble tents to air mattresses to caravan parks with refreshingly hot showers, it can actually be quite cozy to have a few nights on the road.

Camping can also involve some pretty incredible dining, and I was just wowed at what culinary delights were available as you go south of Perth. My hiking lunches were satisfying sandwiches made from supplies picked up in advance at the supermarket, but my other meals were incredibly wonderful and I still can’t stop raving about how amazing it all was.

Brekky

Brekky, Australian slang for breakfast, can sometimes be the priciest meal of the day. But oh, is it worth it. Aussies know how to make a mean poached egg, and they really unleash their creativity when it comes to Australian breakfast menus. All of the breakfasts I had on this recent camping trip were very different, but equally delicious.

Miami Bakehouse

Miami Bakehouse Western Australia 20161120_111811Miami Bakehouse Western Australia 20161112_072632

A bakehouse is basically a casual bakery serving coffee, pastries, and savory pies (or savoury, if you’re British/Aussie). I had visited this award-winning bakehouse for pies back when I lived in Perth, but this trip was my first time there for coffee and breakfast. While it’s a bit pricier than other bakehouses in Western Australia, the food and coffee here is far superior. I had an excellent flat white and pecan tart this trip.  It may look casual, but the flavors are incredible!

Lavender & Berry Farm

Lavender & Berry Farm Western Australia 20161113_103431

This spot got visited on a whim for a scenic breakfast, after seeing it as one of the attractions close by.  I love lavender in baked goods, so when I saw the Giant Lavender Scone on the menu, there was really no decision to be made. It exceeded my expectations, and the bites with the clotted cream and honey were especially good. Great chai tea as well, and lovely outdoor seating.

Emu Point Cafe

Emu Point Cafe Western Australia 20161114_075700Emu Point Cafe Western Australia 20161114_080034

This was the breakfast destination of choice on the final camping morning for its proximity to the caravan park, so there was no advance research or high expectations. After ‘taking a squiz’ (looking) at the breakfast menu, it became apparent that this was going to be a nicer breakfast than your typical, random spot in Western Australia, with some creative combinations. I slowly savored two poached eggs with herb and spicy toppings, garlic yogurt, and the perfect amount of Turkish bread for dipping.

Nibbles

The Truffle & Wine Co.

The Truffle & Wine Co. Western Australia 20161112_103053The Truffle & Wine Co. Western Australia 20161112_110958

Let’s be real, I stopped here just to taste wine and truffles (did you know there are truffles in Western Australia?!?). But when another group ordered a truffle tasting plate, I couldn’t resist a snack. What a delicious sampling of bites that provided just the right energy boost for the giant tree climbing and hiking that came afterward.  P.S.  Their wine is pretty great, too!

Dinner

Foragers

Foragers Saturday Tasting Dinner Western Australia IMG_20170413_152745

This was the only eatery in this post that was planned in advance, to join the Saturday night dinner experience at this restaurant in Pemberton, with a tasting menu that changes weekly. Produce is local to the specific region, not just Western Australia.  And although the dishes may look simple on the sample menus on their website, the dishes are so well-balanced and expertly executed that each bite makes you pause a bit to savor the flavors. It’s worth a weekend trip to Pemberton just to eat this meal!

What’s the best food you’ve ever enjoyed while camping? How do you decide where to eat when you’re on the road? I’d love to hear your tips!

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The Best Food During Camping EVER Western Australia Forests

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What You Need to Know About Driving on the Autobahn

What You Need to Know About Driving on the Autobahn

As a child, I had heard the legend of the German Autobahn, the highway with no speed limit. It was one of those peculiarities of countries beyond the scope of my wildest dreams, where strange things happened and the rules weren’t quite the same as at home.

Of course, my vivid imagination painted a clear picture of this large oval raceway traversing the country, with six lanes in each direction and cars zooming past at racetrack speeds. Just like car races on TV!

As I grew into adulthood, honestly, my vision of what the Autobahn must be like never actually changed much. I hadn’t visited Germany, and without planning a trip there, I never looked into what life was like in all that much detail. The Germany of my childhood years was caught up in images of Berlin, on the day the Wall fell. No highway image in sight.

And moving to Milan a little over three years ago, I didn’t think all that much about what driving in Germany would be like. At least, until my first summer road trip.

As the car approached the German border from Luxembourg, to the west, headed toward Frankfurt, I wondered, What would it be like to finally drive on the Autobahn? There are open borders across the Schengen zone in much of Europe, so it’s not immediately clear which moment I entered Germany, but the first thing I see on the highway is . . . a speed limit sign?!?

Confused? I certainly was. The Autobahn was supposed to be the highway with no rules, where you can drive as fast as you want and basically do what you like. Sums up pretty much all your childhood dreams about adulthood, right? (It certainly was how I always pictured getting older.)

Of course, the realities of the Autobahn are just a bit different from the carefree dream, much like my illusions about what it’s like to be an adult. And the Germans sure have specific ways of doing things, even on the highway without a speed limit.

So what is it really like on the Autobahn??

The Autobahn isn’t one special highway with no speed limit, it’s just the German word for highway. Any highway in Germany is an autobahn.

Speed is not always unlimited, only on certain stretches marked by the appropriate sign. This was really my initial shock of first entering the autobahn. Yes, there are some pretty long sections depending on the highway that will have no limit, but there are also plenty of spots that will have a speed limit for quite a while. Of course, your best bet is to have driving stretches far away from the city to really get the full autobahn driving experience.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of highways in Germany are what I would consider pretty regular roads through the countryside, with just two lanes in each direction. The first word that came to mind when driving on a German autobahn was dinky. The ‘highway’ wasn’t particularly impressive and certainly did not seem set up for driving at unlimited speeds, especially the ones that have only two lanes in each direction and no guardrail. Don’t get me wrong, highways in Germany are well-paved and a very smooth ride even at top speeds, but there is nothing futuristic or particularly modern-looking about it.

Even when the speed limit is unlimited for extended stretches, it still slows to 120 kilometers per hour (75miles/hour) at major interchanges along the way. Yes, now that I think about it, it makes complete sense that you would need to be going at a reasonable pace if you wanted any chance of making the exit to another highway without veering off the exit ramp. But this means that even if you have several straight hours driving on an autobahn, every time you cross another major road, you’ll be slowing down considerably. So it’s more of an ebb and flow of speeding along and ‘normal’ highway driving than a continuous racetrack atmosphere.

When you’re driving 250 km/h and have to suddenly slow to 120 km/h it feels like . . . coming to a complete stop. Again, one of those things that makes sense. Of course going from 120 or 130 km/h to 0 km/hr is not so different from the deceleration from 250 to 120. But I don’t think I ever expected shifting my speed *to* 80 miles per hour would feel like standing still. But it does. And it’s such an interesting sensation.

If you’re speeding through the left lane and a car decides to jump out and pass the car ahead, you must slow down (sometimes very rapidly!) so you don’t have an accident. At least with upcoming interchanges, you get signs and a bit of a warning that you are about to undergo a major slowdown. You can prepare mentally, and perhaps start slowing down a bit early so the shift is not as jarring. When a car doesn’t look first – or doesn’t care – that you are hurtling through the left lane, and it just wants to pass the slightly slower car or truck ahead, it will jump out suddenly. And to avoid a collision, that leaves you scrambling to slow down as quickly as possible.

And even if an accident is not your fault, you can be held liable for at least some of the cost if you are going faster than typical autobahn defaults speeds of 120-130 km/h. Believe me, I had this little tidbit drilled into my head long before I ever got behind the wheel to drive on an unlimited speed section of an autobahn. One of the (fairly logical) consequences of the privilege of driving as fast as you’d like, is that it also comes with the responsibility of being a safe driver. So for an accident that might have been able to avoided had you been going normal highway speed, you may be culpable financially for the damages.

The driving experience at top speeds is exhilarating! For me, maxing out the car’s engine when I see that unlimited speed sign involves a complete shift in driving. I sit up in my seat for maximum visibility of the road, and start to feel the adrenaline rush that comes with the anticipation and watching the speedometer climb. I lean imperceptibly forward and feel a heightened sense of awareness as I try to watch cars in the lane to my right. I spend the entire time on edge so I can see when someone jumps in front of me the exact moment it happens, to give my reflexes that extra fraction of a second to react. I feel the energy and exhilaration of whizzing by other cars, hurtling toward my destination at twice the normal speed. And I blare the radio to something with a fast beat, mirroring the car’s cadence. Honestly, it feels like a scene out of a movie, and all my sense are heightened as the car propels itself at rocket speeds along the highway.

Being on an autobahn doesn’t make you immune to traffic. Nothing is more depressing than driving on the autobahn at top speeds, and then having to slow down or stop for traffic. Yes folks, you read that right, sometimes you are stopped on the autobahn. I’ve been caught before in autobahn traffic jam in which I was at a complete stop for nearly an hour! The joy of driving on a highway with no speed limit gets a bit trampled on when you’re too stuck in traffic to be able to drive at all. Unfortunately this is the nature of traffic jams in Europe, and something to be prepared for on the autobahn. Traffic can also be less dramatic, and just involve slow sections with a high volume of cars on the road, in which case there is no room to go fast and you’re relegated to the flow of the road.

If it gets too hot in summer, speed is likely going to be limited. I know that summer is prime vacation time to visit Europe, so if that is when you’re planning your German holiday, that is also when you’re probably planning to try out autobahn driving for the first time. Some heatwaves over the past few summers had an impact I hadn’t previously considered – that extreme heat coupled with cars going at top speeds can cause some serious damage to the roadway. Sections of the autobahn buckled and cracked, and speed limits were reduced accordingly in both 2015 and 2016. If you’re planning a trip in summer, be aware that speed limits might be imposed in sections that normally have an unlimited speed, if the temperatures climb too high.

Autobahn driving Germany view of the countryside 20150709_120938 (2)

The view of the landscape is incredible. For a lot of autobahn driving, you’re far outside any main cities and taking in views of the lush countryside, especially in spring and summer when everything is in bloom. At top speeds, it’s passing quite fast, but the nice part about the sections with a speed limit is that you actually get to see and appreciate Germany’s beauty. A lot more scenic than many other drives I’ve done.

And in the end, going so fast has a real impact on your petrol usage and gas mileage (kilometrage?), so most drivers don’t try to push their cars’ absolute limits when it comes to speed. Yes, if you are driving fast on the open road of a German autobahn, you probably won’t be the only one zooming along, but from what I’ve seen, most Germans seem to stick to a speed of around 150-160 km/h (90-100 mph) on the highway’s unlimited stretches. Faster than you’re typically allowed to go, but definitely a practical not-super-fast speed where you retain a lot of control and don’t have to make huge speed adjustments every time an interchange approaches.

In the end, I found that autobahn driving wasn’t all that different from any other highway driving I’ve done anywhere in the world. With just a few differences of course when the speed becomes unlimited, especially if you choose on the open stretches to go as fast as your car will take you. And certainly, if driving at breakneck speeds puts abject panic in your heart, you could drive on the autobahn only a bit faster than the way you drive on highways at home. And not be too out of place.

What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone in a car? Have you driven on the German Autobahn before? Any other things that surprised you about the experience? Or tips you’d give to someone driving on the Autobahn for the first time? Share away in the Comments below.

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What You Need to Know About Driving on the Autobahn in Germany

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The Wine Regions I Visited Most Often Living in Italy: Valpolicella and Soave

The Wine Regions I Visited Most Often Living in Italy: Valpolicella and Soave

Valpolicella and Soave are two of my favorite Italian wine regions, and conveniently both are a short distance outside the inviting Italian town of Verona, not far from Venice. The Valpolicella region to the north of Verona specializes in various red wines with a unique production method, while the Soave region to the east produces some lovely white wines. Most consider the Italian wine regions of Piedmont and Tuscany to be the two areas with the best producers, especially for Italian reds. While both of those regions are relatively close to Milan, it was actually the Valpolicella region where I ended up most often during my three years living in Italy, usually with visitors.

The reds of Valpolicella are in a slightly different style than Super Tuscans or a Piemontese Barolo, but can be more fruity and jammy, and in general more approachable. And I know several wine lovers whose favorite Italian reds come from this area, and these are certainly some of my favorites as well. Since the wine regions around Verona are less frequented by tourists than some of the other areas, it is easier to pop into a cantina without a reservation and taste wine. And you can find delicious wines at a great value, I’d definitely recommend planning to purchase wine as you taste, and having a plan for transporting the bottles back home.

Welcome to Valpolicella wine region Italy (2)

In terms of the Valpolicella region, you’ll typically see 4 main types of red wine as well as a dessert wine called Recioto. All of these are made with different combinations and processing methods of the same main grapes: Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella (and sometimes Corvinone). The first, most basic wine is called Valpolicella Classico, the classic version that is not usually aged at all. The Valpolicella Superiore, or superior version, does undergo some aging, and is intended to be a more refined version of Valpolicella.

The fourth wine (yes, I skipped #3 on purpose) called Amarone is where the typical drying process of the Valpolicella region comes into play. When the grapes are harvested in the fall, usually around September or October, instead of being pressed right away, they are spread out and left to dry for several months, which intensifies the flavor of the grapes. Then sometime around January the grapes will actually be pressed and begin the multi-year aging process. Ripasso then is partway between a Valpolicella Superiore and an Amarone, since it involves the leftover pressed grapes from Amarone being mixed with Valpolicella Classico wine. The dessert wine Recioto is more similar to the straight Amarone, with residual sugars for sweetness (and this can vary from quite sweet to more balanced depending on the producer).

You might think that because of the somewhat linear progression of red wine production in Valpolicella, that everyone would like Amarone the best, then Ripasso, and so on. But that’s actually not how things shake out at all! Even without taking external factors like winery and the harvest year into play, some wine lovers prefer Ripasso while others prefer Amarone, depending on their personal tastes. Then when you consider the year of production and each winemaker’s approach, your favorite at a particular winery might be the Valpolicella Classico or Superiore. It all depends.

Which is why I advocate for doing a wine tasting when you visit, even if you’ve been before, since you may prefer different wines than last time (even at the same winery). Usually with each visit I was trying the wines from a different production year, and I’ve made repeat visits to most of the wineries on this list. So I’ve tasted different versions of the same wine over the years depending on what has recently been bottled and is available. Even at the same producer, my tastes as to which wines are my favorite have typically changed with each season. So taste before you buy, every time you go.

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That same advice holds true for the Soave region on the other side of Verona: taste during each visit, as the wine changes quite a bit from year to year, even at the same producer. Soave itself is a white wine made principally from the Garganega grape, although other white grapes are sometimes included in small amounts. Like with Valpolicella reds, there are different levels of Soave – including a Superiore – depending on whether it is aged and the details of the blend.

Many Soave wineries also have vineyards in the area growing red grapes as well, so even if you go to taste white wines, you’ll be able to try their various Valpolicella reds as well. You don’t see much Soave wine in Valpolicella, although some of those wineries will produce other types of white wine. And a recent trend in the Valpolicella region is to use the same Amarone process of drying the grapes for months, but with different types of red grapes than you’d typically see, resulting in some of my favorite sips.

I’ve had some pretty fabulous wine tastings in the Valpolicella and Soave regions over my many visits. Here are my favorite places to go, listed alphabetically by region:

Valpolicella

Accordini Igino

 

Accordini Igino Valpolicella wine Italy DSC_0166

Reservations: Not needed Mon-Fri, Required on Saturday

Tasting: Free, can also reserve a paid tasting paired with local food products

Varietals: Corvina Veronese, Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, Recioto

The staff is friendly and welcoming at this nearly 200-year old winery, with a light and inviting tasting room. The red wines typical of the region are solid, and they produce a few other white and red wines. I especially like their Recioto dessert wine, which isn’t sickly sweet but actually quite well-balanced.

Manara

Manara winery Valpolicella Italy DSC_0176

Reservations: Not needed

Tasting: Free

Varietals: Bianco del Veneto, Rosso del Veneto, Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, Recioto

If you’re a non-Italian speaker, be sure to contact the winery in advance, as the one person in the tasting room does not always speak English. Their Valpolicella range is quite good, as is their Bianco del Veneto, or white wine from the region. But my absolute favorite, and the wine I can’t get enough of is their Rosso del Veneto, a jammy red produced from non-typical grapes in the Valpolicella style of drying the grapes first to intensify the flavors. Even if it’s not offered, be sure to ask to taste this gem, the Guido Manara!

Scriani

Scriani winery Fumane Valpolicella Italy (2)

Reservations: Not needed

Tasting: Free

Varietals: Corvina Veronese, Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, Recioto

This family-run winery is welcoming, and has a beautiful tasting room and cellar where you’ll taste the wines. I think I’ve visited at least three or four times, and I like their wines better each time I go. Their straight Corvina is quite good, along with the full line of Valpolicella wines.

Speri

Speri winery Valpolicella Italy DSC_0180

Reservations: Not needed, although there is the option to book in advance to visit the cellar

Tasting: Free

Varietals: Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Sant’Urbano, Amarone, Recioto

Another family-run place, there are usually several people on hand to provide a tasting, and I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes for an English-speaking member of the family to guide me and my visitors. The wines are excellent, and I especially like their Sant’Urbano, which is partway between a Ripasso and an Amarone in taste. They have an excellent annual olive oil production for the family, with excess bottles on sale at the winery, so take advantage if they’re still available when you go.

Soave

Cantina di Soave

Cantina di Soave 20141016_155217

Reservations: Recommended

Tasting: Typically organized as a group tour and tasting of 5 wines, for a modest fee

Varietals: Soave of different production types and aging, a variety of Valpolicella red wines

Founded in the late 1800s, this cantina, or winery, is actually a collective of grape producers from the area, with all grapes having to meet minimum quality requirements to be used in their production. You’ll only taste a handful of wines at the end of the tour, but they are delicious, and the winery offers a wider range of wines for purchase in their shop. And the winery itself is quite beautiful.

Monte Tondo

Reservations: Not needed, although it does get crowded sometimes; must reserve for tour

Tasting: Free, fee for the tour + tasting

Varietals: Soave of different production types and aging, a variety of Valpolicella red wines

The experience visiting Monte Tondo without a reservation has been varied for me, depending on the number of other guests. If it’s not crowded, you’ll get very attentive pours and descriptions, and it can be more rushed if you’re there during a busy period or when there is a group also visiting. It’s still a good option to drop in and sample a variety of Soave whites, although there is the possibility of guaranteeing dedicated attention by reserving a formal tour and tasting with cheese and charcuterie pairing for a fee.

TIP! Other than the dates of Cantine Aperte in May and September, most wineries are closed on Sundays.

If you’ve never tried a Valpolicella red wine or a Soave white, buy a bottle (or several) to try the next time you’re at the store. And if you’re planning a trip to Italy or happen to live nearby, the wine regions around Verona are fabulous spots to go wine tasting, even if you haven’t planned anything in advance.

Happy tasting!

Lana

Any questions you still have about wine tasting in Valpolicella and Soave? Other favorite wineries you think belong on this list? Hit me up with any questions or intel you have about the region and its wines in the ‘Comments’ below.

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Wineries to Visit in the Valpolicella and Soave Regions of Italy

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The Best Advice to Travel More

The Best Advice to Travel More

“Oh, but we were going to come visit you.”

It’s a refrain I’ve heard again and again since moving back to the US from Milan, coming from many sources, from one of my sisters to friends I didn’t even know were contemplating a trip. Apparently all of these people had the best of intentions of making a trip to Italy for a visit, but never quite got around to it.

In Australia, I understood. Living in Perth for just over a year, it was hard for my American family and friends to plan a visit. From the northeast United States, it’s about 30 hours of flying – one way! – to arrive in Perth. By the time anyone could have reasonably planned a trip, I was no longer living there.

But Milan was a different story. Easily accessible by a direct flight from the US, it was pretty straightforward for Americans to plan a visit. In fact, over my three years living in Milan, visitors came from all over the United States, other parts of Europe, Asia, and even Australia (those Aussies sure love to travel).

Milan Italy Castello 2014-02-24 18.17.05

So how is it possible that with guests streaming in from multiple continents that so many people did not make it for a visit?

The short answer? They failed to adhere to an important principle that avid travelers embrace: Just go.

There are always a million and one reasons *not* to take that trip. From the cost of traveling to taking time off of work, there are all sorts of logical-sounding justifications as to why that vacation just can’t happen. People with children complain that they can’t travel with them and that they’re too young to leave behind. Of course, my position is that you should travel anyway. Especially if you happen to know someone living in a place you’ve never visited.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my years of travel (and having friends move to different cities and countries), it’s that even when people think they know how long they’ll be living somewhere, they usually don’t. Life happens, jobs change, people transfer universities, and move for love. Often unexpectedly and sometimes suddenly.

Which brings me to the best travel advice I can give:

When you have a friend or family member that moves to a new place, VISIT. As soon as you can.

I loved living and Milan and Italy, and am sad that more friends who had been meaning to take that trip to visit me one day did not get the opportunity while I was still there. Of course, you can always visit a destination even if you no longer know someone living there, but the experience will just not be the same. I say that it’s worth prioritizing travel to a new place when you know someone who lives there and that knowing a local will help keep costs down. I say that you can come with or without your kids, but you should still plan to go. So if you’ve been talking about visiting that friend who moved somewhere new (but you just haven’t gotten around to it), yes, I’m talking to you!

There are many upsides to visiting friends and family that have moved somewhere new. First, knowing someone in your destination can make your trip more affordable. Even if you have to shell out for a train ride or airfare to arrive, you’ll get more bang for your buck once you get there, especially if you can stay overnight with friends or family for free. Or share home-cooked meals together, eliminating the expense of eating out for at least part of your visit. Plus, while you’re there, you’ll have a local to show you around, getting an insider perspective on a destination, even if they are a transplant to the area and still exploring themselves.

When I have a friend who moves to a new place, I’m the kind of person who immediately starts strategizing about how to travel there. Especially if I know at the start that they may not live there for very long. It’s a great excuse to make it for a visit to a new destination and wonderful to share that with someone you already know.

There were the extended weekends I took while living in the US before to visit friends in Dallas and Minneapolis (and good thing I did, as neither stayed for longer than a few years). Before the start of my 5-week solo travel in Mexico, I visited a friend for a few days who was temporarily living in Mexico City. Even during college, I jumped on a plane and visited friends who were studying abroad in London and Amsterdam.

UK London Tower Bridge 20160703_165340

Living in Italy these past few years, I popped in to stay for a weekend with friends who I met in Milan that later moved on to live in London, Frankfurt, Geneva, and Tirana. I made it a priority to get to see Bucharest and some surrounding parts of Romania with a friend who’s from there originally. As well as visiting Hong Kong, Israel, and Singapore while friends and relatives were living there.

So, who of my friends and family did the same, and actually made it to Milan while I was there?

There wasn’t a single type of visitor. Friends visited solo and as couples, some friends came with their kids, while others with children left their kids behind in their grandparents’ care. Friends came who had high-powered jobs they had stepped away from as well as teacher friends who were off for the summer. Some visitors came as part of a trip to celebrate an anniversary or other milestone and others just jumped on dates when they saw the latest flight deal to Milan. Plenty of people visited (which I loved!) but there were also plenty who did not.

How can YOU make traveling to visit friends living in new places a reality?

It’s not that complicated, I swear! Of course you need to know where friends and family are living, and be willing to actually plan your visit, but beyond that it doesn’t take much. A little bit of organization goes a long way, and there’s really not much that separates me popping in on friends all over and those who stay home and wish they had taken that trip.

Here are a few pretty simple things to keep in mind to put good intentions into action:

  • Stay in touch with friends and family, and know where people are. If you already know all of the cool places where you know someone, you’re ahead of the curve!
  • Lock down dates on the calendar for a visit. Yes, life gets crazy sometimes and people have different work and travel schedules, so sometimes coordination can be tricky. It helps to start asking early so you can block off time that is good for both of you.NOTE: This is where a lot of travel planning falls apart. You ask about dates, your e-mail gets buried in someone’s inbox, and then you forget to follow up. Happens all the time, myself included. So when you send your initial message, jot down a quick note to follow up in a few days or a week if you haven’t heard anything, that way a date for visiting actually gets set at some point without falling by the wayside.
  • Even if someone tells you they expect to be somewhere for a few years or longer, still plan your trip ASAP. In my experience, people often think they know about timing, but life is too unexpected to wait. If they’re really there as long as they expect and you had a good time on your first visit, you can always plan a return trip later 😉
  • Be a good guest! At a minimum, do whatever amount of advance planning is needed so you’re not a burden on your generous host. Depending on work schedules and children or other commitments, hosts may have the flexibility to spend every minute with you or may need to send you off exploring on your own at different points in time. Come prepared.

Singapore IMG_20161031_191949

For me now, some of my new travel priorities are based on where I know people and can get to relatively easily from my current home in Baltimore. There is the weekend I hope to spend in Detroit, Michigan sometime soon, where a friend recently moved and I’ve never been. Along with getting to Denver, Colorado, where my sister expects to move soon. It will be new to me, as I’ve only transited in the airport before. I want to be sure to catch them, so those are both trips I hope to take in the next six months or so.

Where do you have (or will have) friends and family living? Make a plan to go!

And friends – if you’ve never been to Baltimore, come visit. I don’t have any plans to leave, but hey, you never know =)

How do you plan where you’ll visit next? Have you ever visited a new place just because of a friend or relative who moved there? What’s your best piece of advice to get out there and take that next trip? Share away in the Comments below!

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The Best Advice to Travel More

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