There is still a pandemic going on, but for some people flying is inescapable, especially when it involves flying home. When lockdown was first announced in March, I had the hard decision to make of staying in London or flying home to California to be with my family. I chose to stay in London – the flights were packed and I feared bringing the virus home with me. At the end of May though I was able to get a flight out to San Francisco to spend the next three months with my family on lockdown. With my lease ending in London in the fall and still working full-time for a London based company, I decided to fly back mid-August and move into a new flat and continue the life I’ve built in the UK. Having now flown twice during the pandemic, I have a few tips and possibly some reassuring experiences.
Both times I flew with British Airways – they have become my favourite airline to fly since moving to the UK – and flew out of London Heathrow. Heathrow has implemented a few new health and safety rules, including making masks mandatory, having social distancing measures, and having multiple hand sanitiser stations around the airport. San Francisco had similar rules to Heathrow. SFO was considerably less crowded than Heathrow both times I flew.
The airlines have implemented quite a few measures as well. On my flight from London to SFO, the middle seat was open, and most airlines are trying to keep the middle seat open. However, I’m sure we’ve all seen the horror stories on Twitter so I would keep an eye on the seat map or even call the airline to check. On my flight from SFO to London, I had the whole row to myself – almost everyone did as there were only about 100 of us on the flight. Many people aren’t flying long-haul flights these days so those may be emptier. However, short-haul flights to Europe might be more crowded as quarantine measures are beginning to lift across the continent. Additionally, the flight attendants handed out prepackaged snack bags and prepackaged meals, both of which included additional sanitising wipes. The planes were boarded and deboarded based on rows – loaded back to front – rather than by seating group number.
Things to bring with you:
A small bottle of hand sanitiser (3 oz or less so you can bring it through security!) – While the airport has many sanitising stations, I would suggest bringing your own so you can sanitise as much as you want without being tethered to one of the stations. That way you can also sanitise when you’re on the plane as well.
Sanitising Wipes – For similar reasons as hand sanitiser, I brought the wipes so I could wipe down my plane seat and my luggage. The planes are obviously sanitised between flights but for my peace of mind I wiped my seats down anyway.
Extra Masks – The airline requires masks on the flight when you’re not eating or drinking. After wearing one mask for a few hours, I HAD to change it. It just feels really gross, especially after I slept for a few hours. I also put on a new one after arriving to leave the airport feeling refreshed.
For the most part, people adhered to social distancing measures and everyone wore masks without complaint. The flights attendants and airport staff were all kind and accommodating. Since many people aren’t flying, the security lines were short and quick. Honestly, it was the easiest and most comfortable travel I have ever experienced (except for the face masks – I won’t be keeping that habit in the future).
If you are traveling while the world is still in a pandemic, please make sure you are aware of the new safety policies and adhere to them. They are there to protect you and to protect everyone else!
Keep your distance!
Wear your mask!
Research the safety measures of the airport and the airline.
Before lockdown, I didn’t really enjoy cooking. I enjoyed eating, but the process of getting there wasn’t something I really enjoyed or put in a lot of love. I had a rotation of meals I enjoyed eating and were easy to make. But now that I have more time in the evenings and a boyfriend who seriously enjoys cooking, I have been learning both how to cook and how to enjoy it. Below I’ve outlined some of our favourite meals, most pretty easy to make and especially delicious!
Chicken Ramen (but make it fancy)
I LOVE ramen. When we eat out, Conor and I enjoy Japanese cuisine and have discovered some great ramen bars in London. So it makes sense that we would learn to cook a really good ramen while in lockdown. And it was still pretty easy to make!
We used miso soup as our base and added chicken, cabbage, onions, carrots, and ginger. Very easy – I did the chopping while Conor did the meat and the presentation.
Crispy Duck Salad
We had leftover crispy duck from making crispy duck pancakes the night before. So we repurposed our crispy duck into a salad, adding lettuce, carrots, greens, and an asian dressing. *chef’s kiss*
This was a super simple way to eat leftovers and still feel relatively healthy. Great light lunch idea!
I love this English tradition. It’s like Thanksgiving but acceptable to do it every Sunday! Chicken, stuffing, potatoes, veggies, and Yorkshire puddings! Oh my! We don’t do this every week but I love it every time we do. And it’s pretty easy – the only thing that’s difficult is timing to make sure it’s all done at the same time.
Like Benihana, but not as fancy. We bought a hibachi grill one of the first days of lockdown and honestly it was the best purchase we made. We love Benihana when we’re not under lockdown and we’ve almost cracked it (though nothing can truly replace the experience of Benihana). And it’s lovely to do in the garden when the sun is shining – which doesn’t happen often over here!
Bento Bowl (sort of)
This is my favourite meal because it’s so easy and so tasty. I seriously cannot get enough of peppers, onions, broccoli and garlic. I usually don’t have chicken with it because I don’t like handling raw meat but Conor helped out with this one. All over rice and sprinkle a bit of soy sauce in there *chef’s kiss*.
Chocolate Cupcakes! (ft. English Breakfast Tea)
I know it’s not ‘cooking’, it’s baking, but I still want to include it because I’ve been baking a lot more than usual. Thank you Betty Crocker. While Conor enjoys baking from scratch (hello delicious cinnamon buns), I am still as terrible at baking as I am at cooking if I don’t follow a recipe. So I cut out the middle man (that’s me) and go for the premixed box baking because how can I mess that up? Famous last words. I somehow managed to turn cookie dough into a hybrid cookie brownie cake. But I’ve pretty much nailed chocolate cake, whether in cup form or not.
Not pictured: only because I keep forgetting to take pictures because I keep forgetting I have a blog
Fajitas – my favourite meal to make!
Stir Fry – Besides ramen, this is our second go to meal. As I said, I simply cannot get enough of onions, peppers, and garlic. Add some stir fry sauce and bon appetit
Spaghetti Bolognese – Conor is unendingly disappointed that I do not like this meal and prefer to eat my spaghetti with only butter and parmesan cheese. But it is such an easy meal and smells delicious!
I know we’ve all been trying to find ways to pass the time in lockdown, whether or not you’re working full-time, part-time, or not at all. With more time on our hands than usual since we can’t spend it going out to dinners, bars, traveling, site seeing, etc., I wanted to put a list of really good reads together for you all. Reading is a great therapeutic activity to pick up right now, even if you haven’t read ‘for fun’ in a long time. For me, reading allows my brain to turn off from what’s happening in the world, to indulge in stories, and also learn something new.
At the start of 2020, I downloaded the Goodreads app to track what I’m reading and to set a challenge for 2020 – 17 books. With working full-time and having trouble finding the time to read with all the other distractions in my life, I thought setting 17 books was a challenge but not unattainable. Little did I know I would suddenly have loads of time to be reading – by the end of April, I’ve finished 11 books. I recommend downloading the Goodreads app and setting a goal for yourself – especially if you find yourself reaching for Netflix or Facebook at the end of the night. It’s also a great resource for finding new books to read!
The list below are some of my favourites I’ve read this year along with some that my friends are die hard fans of. There’s a pretty good mix of fiction and non-fiction so check it out and let me know if there are any you would add!
Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez
From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media. Invisible Women reveals how in a world built for and by men we are systematically ignoring half of the population, often with disastrous consequences. Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the profound impact this has on us all.
Discover the shocking gender bias that affects our everyday lives.
The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert
Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.
Educated – Tara Westover
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.
Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.
Circe – Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Life Undercover – Amaryllis Fox
Amaryllis Fox’s riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world’s most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter
At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to “the Farm,” where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover–the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia.
Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever?
These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…
Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.
Recommended by Emma
American Dirt – Jeanine Cummins
Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Recommended by Hadley
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him.
My morning routine in lockdown has fluctuated and changed in the past five weeks since starting lockdown. With a changing work schedule, strange dreams, and moving out of my flat, mornings have gotten tough. But I also find that having structure helps me feel in more control of my situation and lessens my anxiety. Now that I’ve settled in more to the home in Buckinghamshire, I’ve developed this morning routine that gets me out of bed early and leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to face the day.
7:15am: Wake Up. I am trying to wakeup earlier and earlier during lockdown so I can do more in the morning for myself before getting to work. One thing that has been helpful is setting ‘Downtime’ on my iPhone from 10pm – 8am, which means when I wakeup at 7:15, I can’t just roll over and start scrolling through social media apps and waste an hour in bed. When my alarm goes off, I usually roll over and pull open the curtains to let the morning light in.
7:15am – 7:30am: Get ready for the day. The first thing I do is my skincare routine. I don’t wash my face in the morning, instead starting with a toner, then a Vitamin C serum and a hydration serum, ending with eye cream and moisturiser. I’m currently using Drunk Elephant products which I bought through Space NK – they had a good deal on a travel pack. After my skincare routine, I make my bed and get dressed for the day. Now that I’m working from home full-time, this varies between joggers, leggings, and bike shorts with a bralette or sports bra and a soft tank or sweater. Comfort is key for me, especially in the morning.
7:30am – 8:15am: Yoga Practice. I have practiced yoga on and off for about seven years, never really being super dedicated to my practice. I have decided to incorporate a morning practice while in lockdown to counter my anxiety and to feel calm and refreshed in the morning. I either do this in the back garden or in the living room depending on the weather (England is known for rain after all). I watch Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube, starting with her 30-day Home series (it’s perfect for beginners!). The videos range from 15 minutes to an hour, so you can choose depending on length, or they all have a specific theme for each day which you can cherry pick from as well.
8:15 – 9:00am: Breakfast and the News. After yoga, I walk over to the kitchen, pop the kettle on and start to make breakfast. Usually this consists of a piece of fruit (banana, avocado or mango) and toast or a bagel with a cup of English Breakfast Tea (splash of oat milk). While I’m waiting for my toast and the kettle, I do a bit of cleaning that was missed the night before – empty the dishwasher, put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or wipe down the counters. This helps me feel productive and I like a clean working space. I usually take my tea and breakfast on the couch and watch the news to start the day.
9:00am: Get to Work. After putting away my breakfast dishes, I make a second cup of tea and settle down at the kitchen table to start my work day.
Depending on the day and how I’m feeling, this schedule may change a bit, but I am trying to make a commitment to myself to stick to this because I feel better when I do. Developing a nurturing and soothing morning routine is so important in these challenging times. Whether it includes everything that I have or you only have 15 minutes to yourself, I really encourage you to take the time to start your day with purpose and intention.
Enjoy this side by side of my WFH outfits depending on what I’m doing. The left is what you’ll most likely find me in for 90% of the day.
This is week five of lockdown in the UK and I’m still adjusting. The first three weeks were spent quarantining with my boyfriend, Conor, in my London flat. Since then, we have moved to Conor’s mom’s home in a small village in Oxfordshire where there is more room, a back garden, and a dog.
The last four weeks have been full of Zoom calls, work calls, late nights, late mornings, fewer workouts, more drinks, vivid dreams, sad days, long walks. I’m sure my experience of lockdown isn’t anything special compared to those on the frontlines of the NHS, those classed as ‘vulnerable’, or those who have lost a family member. While not particularly special in that sense, all of our experiences are still valid.
I miss my family the most. They were all quarantined together at our home in California before one of my sisters returned to her university housing for the remainder of the school year. But, still the rest of the family is together in our childhood home with our puppy, trying not to kill each other while learning Tik Toks. My oldest sibling is the first to spend her birthday in quarantine, as San Francisco has been on lockdown just as long as London. But, my brother, mom, and youngest sister are all going to be celebrating their birthdays in lockdown. A small, seemingly insignificant thing, but a day when usually the extended family comes around along with friends and neighbours to celebrate. It will be different. Many things will be different, already are.
During this time, I am lucky to still have my job. I work for a small events company and my boss has made it clear to all of us that we will be fine and our salaries will be protected. I am one of the lucky ones. But, I’m also learning new skills as we venture into the world of digital events. There are way more things that can go wrong than I thought and we are learning most of them the hard way. I’ve spent countless hours on Webinar Jam with my boss testing all the different settings and trying to figure out everything that can go wrong and sometimes discovering cool features that are surprisingly helpful. So my weekdays are actually quite full with full-time work, frustrating phone calls and many a ‘can you hear me?’.
Additionally, I have been finding time for other hobbies. While there really is no need to being doing this, I have always been a planner/organizer/reader anyway. With my friends from Ohio State, I have started a book club to accompany our weekly Skype calls – first up is The Alice Network (if my copy is delivered in time, stay tuned). Conor’s family does weekly Zoom chats as well and each week we are tasked with some creative project so I’ve been painting more as well. And obviously, I am writing this blog. I took a bit of time off from writing when all this stuff first started happening – it was too overwhelming to be doing anything other than living a bare minimum daily life. Now that I’ve found more structure and time in my days, I find myself returning to my hobbies, picking up new ones, and wanting to be more mindful of how I spend my free time.
Life under lockdown has been very easy in some ways and very difficult in others. I recently produced a livestream with Elizabeth Gilbert who had this advice for us during these trying and uncertain times –
“If there’s anything I could want for you all, it is to give yourself mercy.”
The (obvious) first thing you have to do is decide where you want to go.
This can be easy or it can be difficult, and it depends on a range of factors. Some questions to ask yourself: How much time off do you have? What is your budget? Do you have a bucketlist? Are you traveling with anyone? What kind of weather do you want? Do you care about a language barrier? The answers to these types of questions can help you narrow down your search. If you do need some inspiration, Googling or Pinteresting things like “places to holiday in the sun” or “unusual holiday destinations” or “places to holiday on a budget” etc., etc. At the beginning of the year, I wrote this post all about ideas of where to travel this year, so if you’re stuck maybe it can help.
Personally, I have a bucketlist of places I want to visit. Some of these places are close, some far, some budget, some expensive. My bucketlist could be broken down into sub-bucketlists, if you will. For example, there are certain vacations that I want to put off taking until I have enough money saved up or am in a comfortable enough financial state to justify splashing out a bit – such as doing a long U.S. roadtrip, an African safari tour, or Australia. These are places where what I want to do will cost more money because of the exchange rate, the time I want to spend there, and the types of activities I want to do. Of course, there are ways to make each of these holidays budget, but I don’t want to. So, I will wait until I’m a bit older and have more money. In the meantime, there are other places on my bucketlist that make sense for where I’m at financially right now – Croatia, Spain, Thailand, and Austria.
So you know where you want to go – Great! Some questions to ask yourself once you’ve picked a place: Will you need a visa? Will you need vaccines? Are there travel advisories? Should you buy travel insurance? These questions aren’t fun ones, but they are important questions. Make sure to do the research about your destination so you don’t get turned away at the gate. Here’s a great resource from the British government that can help you answer these questions and more.
How To Get There
Now that you have picked a destination, you need to book travel.
It’s possible that this was part of the process for picking where you want to travel to. For example, the trains across Europe are convenient and a “green” way to travel, but they may take more time than flying. Are you going to drive? In the U.S., driving is the common mode of transportation (as most cities don’t have convenient public transport, some have none at all), but if you’re travelling in London driving doesn’t make much sense (public transport gets an A+).
If you’re looking to fly less (yay environment), then picking a destination closer to home may be better, or picking a destination that has good public transport is also a good option. If you have to fly but feel like you still want to do something for the environment, you could carbon offset your trip through companies like this one.
For booking flights, here is my guide. It varies depending on the time of year you travel – summer dates always cost more because it’s peak season. To get around this, you can book in reverse, meaning November – March is summer in the southern hemisphere so book warm vacations then to beat some peak prices.
Where To Stay
I usually book accommodation after I book travel. Some questions to ask yourself: Do I want to stay in a hostel? What is my budget? How close to X do I want to stay? Is there a part of town I should not stay in for safety reasons? What kind of experience do I want? Who am I traveling with?
Hostels will most likely be the cheapest option, they can provide a social space, and are great for solo travelers or small groups. They can come with downsides – loud roommates, dirty (with so many people using the facilities this can happen), cheap (you get what you pay for). I suggest looking at the reviews on Hostel World.
Hotels can be great and can range in prices. Hotels can also be dodgy – looking at reviews on websites like hotels.com and booking.com can help you weed out the bad ones. Hotels offer dining services and amenities (wifi, gym, pool, offices, printing, luggage storage, laundry, etc.), but can be isolating for solo travelers. For families or large groups, hotels are a great option.
Airbnb or home stays are also great options. Especially for groups bigger than two. In some places, Airbnb can be just as budget as hostels or just as expensive as hotels. Again, please read the reviews! So far, I have only had positive experiences with Airbnb, but that’s not always the case so definitely read the reviews. Also, more so for Airbnbs than hostels, you really tend to get what you paid for (relatively speaking per city).
Usually I do some research into all three options, especially if I’m traveling with someone/people. If I’m traveling solo, I tend to opt for hostels for the social aspect. Compare prices, amenities, locations, and reviews to get to the sweet spot for what you want to book.
What To Do
Some people are more spontaneous than others and don’t book anything ahead of time. Depending on where you are going, there may be some attractions that you have to book ahead of time, or that you will want to book ahead of time to avoid massive queues (like the Vatican Museums). In April, I’m going to a surf camp in Costa Rica – something I definitely had to book in advance, but I don’t have any other plans for my time there.
If you’re going for a specific purpose than obviously book ahead. Also major tourist attractions, I suggest you book ahead – such as the Eiffel Tower. Or, try to plan your days so you do the biggest tourist attractions in the morning to beat the long queues and then leave the rest of the day for wandering around exploring and being “spontaneous”. Or throw all caution to the wind, show up, and do you! It really depends on the type of traveler you are – Do you like to be prepared? Are you a planner? Do you want to pack in as much as possible? Are you going for only a short period of time? Are you going for quality or quantity? Is there anything you’re dying to do at your destination?
It also helps to be on the same page as anyone you are traveling with. For example, my best friend Emma and I went to Paris for four days – we are both planners and booked what we needed to in advance and made a general plan for the rest of the days to make sure we saw everything we wanted to. And we saw it all. That type of trip would have driven my boyfriend, Conor, insane. He is more the spontaneous type, doesn’t need to be awake at 7am every morning of the holiday, and likes to see what local gems we can stumble across. Both are amazing people to travel with. Knowing what type of traveler you’re traveling with and making compromises is essential to enjoying your holiday!
And there you have it – my ultimate guide to booking a holiday! Most of the time, planning my holiday happens in this order, but as you read the categories sometimes overlap or affect another. In order to keep track of everything, I keep everything I’ve book in a note on my computer (flight information, accommodation info and contact details, all confirmation numbers, and links to any websites) and flag any important emails (printing only what is necessary). I hope this helps you to have a great holiday!
Read the reviews!
Understand the type of people you’re traveling with and adjust accordingly.
Planning a spring break cruise and don’t know what to pack? I have you covered!
Bathing suits (duh)
This one is obvious if you’re going on a cruise, but how many should you bring? Well, that depends on how long your cruise is, how light you want to pack, and if you care about wearing the same suit twice. I lie somewhere in the middle of all of these, so for my seven day cruise, I packed three swim suits that were easy to mix and match. That way I didn’t overpack, but I also had enough options to mix it up on my Instagram.
For my coverup, I had a pair of red flowy pants (borrowed from a friend, bought from Target). For the most part, I didn’t need to cover up the top of my bikini on our boat, but I wanted to throw some pants on for some coverage. A cute pair of flowy pants, a lightweight dress, or even a kimono-like shawl will work! My advice would be to find something that can go from the beach to a restaurant so you don’t have to slip into jean shorts with wet bathing suit bottoms.
While this can double as a coverup, it’s also a good idea to bring regular clothes for when you’re not in a swim suit. Such as in the evenings when you’re eating dinner, at an on-board comedy show, or at the various clubs and bars on the cruise ship.
Shorts and Tank Top
For any excursions that don’t require a bathing suit! If you plan on hiking or going to see ruins or anything else remotely athletic, I suggest bringing a pair of shorts and a tank top (very versatile).
1 nice dinner outfit
There’s usually one nice restaurant on a cruise ship and it’s fun to get dressed up with your friends for one night. I brought a black romper and black heels, still warm weather clothes but nicer than my coverups.
Shoes: Sandals, sneakers, heels
You won’t need much, but sandals/flip flops are a must if you’re going to be by the pool or at the beach all day. Sneakers for any excursions. And heels to complement your nice dinner outfit.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, aloe vera (inevitable)
Sun protection is super important! Especially if you live in a place that hasn’t seen the sun much this winter. Sunscreen is expensive to buy once on board or on a tropical island so I suggest bringing your own. And, as is inevitable, pack some aloe vera for the sunburn. I was so good for the first four days about sunscreen and drinking water, but day five got the better of me and I ended up burning my chest pretty badly. And of course, sunglasses! But beware of falling asleep in them, no one wants those tan lines.
Pro-tip: pack less.
Really. I packed a full suitcase for my cruise and used maybe 1/3 of it. But hey, from one chronic overpacker to another – better to be safe than sorry, right? Well, if you pack less clothes you might have room to fit more alcohol so there’s that.
One nice outfit can’t hurt, and it’s actually kind of fun.
There are so many things to do in San Francisco that choosing just 5 was difficult enough. My top tip – spend more than one day exploring San Francisco! There’s no way you can do it all in one day, especially because the city isn’t walkable. You will need to hop on a bus, cable car, scooter, bike, etc. to see everything, so I would focus on a couple areas per day. However, these five below are must-see sights/places, chosen from living in the Bay Area for 23 years and showing friends around when they’ve visited. I hope you enjoy the city as much as I do!
Fisherman’s Wharf is my favourite place in San Francisco because there is so much to do in close walking distance. This is where you buy tickets for various city/bay tours (including a cruise around the bay which takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car tour, and a trip to Alcatraz). It’s also home to some of the best seafood restaurants in town, though they are usually crowded during peak tourist season, so either call ahead or be prepared to wait around for a bit. Either way, you must have seafood for at least one meal in San Francisco, as most of it is caught fresh that morning! Also check out the sea lions near Pier 39 as they lay in the sun all day, making noise and pushing each other off the docks. Musee Mechanique houses antique arcade games and the USS Pampanito is right around the corner (a WWII submarine open for tours). Pier 39 is a fun shopping experience (there’s a store with all sorts of items made specifically for left-handed people), with some great food and also the Aquarium. Don’t miss out on Mrs. Field’s cookies!
Golden Gate Park
Take a picnic to Golden Gate Park or ride around on scooters. The park is a big open green space in the middle of an otherwise bustling city. Have afternoon tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, visit the deYoung Museum, or go horse riding. There’s so much to do in the park, with events running almost everyday and loads of attractions.
What was once a military post then one of the most secure prisons in the country then occupied by indigenous peoples, is now a tourist attraction. Alcatraz is best known for its prison period – 29 years as a federal penitentiary, housing difficult-to-manage prisoners from other prisons, mostly bank robbers and murderers. Some famous prisoners include Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. 36 prisoners tried to escape, with 5 missing or presumed drowned. There is now an Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon every year in which people swim the 1.5 miles to shore. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions so make sure to book your tour in advance!
Also known as the “crookedest street in the world”, Lombard St. is a tourist favourite in San Francisco. Cars queue to go down this one-block hill that has eight hair-pin turns. It is lined with colourful flowers and yes, people do live in the homes on the street (must be quite annoying having to contend with the constant stream of vehicles). Located in Russian Hill, with a view overlooking the entire bay, this is still one of my favourite places to take visiting friends in San Francisco.
Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building, sitting at the end of Market Street, was the city’s primary portal – visitors arriving by train entered the city through the Ferry Building. It was the only way travellers and commuters could enter the city after ferrying across the bay. It lost its official use in the 1950s, but in 2003 was reopened as a marketplace. Today, it is dedicated to local artisans, farmers and producers, presenting a world-class food market and continuing to operate its ferries. I recommend to anyone who wants to eat good food with a good view and support local business owners.
I stayed in my first hostel in Kyiv with my boyfriend, but recently had my first experience in a hostel while traveling solo in Rome. I enjoyed both stays immensely and will definitely give more hostels a chance in the future. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you decide to stay in a hostel. How many people are you traveling with? What kind of accommodation experience do you want? Are you comfortable sharing a room with strangers? Are you a light sleeper? Is the cheapest option the best option? Other alternatives to hostels are hotels, Airbnb, homestays, and motels. Additionally, a private room in a hostel is usually more expensive than an Airbnb or hotel. If you want the social aspect of hostels with the privacy, then a private room makes sense. If you just want a private room and the best value for money, a hostel might not make sense.
Other factors to consider are location, dorms, and booking:
Make sure you research the area you want to stay in – for the good and the bad. One highly rated hostel in Rome is also on one of the more dangerous streets near the station. Since I was a lone female traveler, I chose not to stay at that hostel and chose to stay at another highly rated hostel on the other side of the station in a safer area. Granted, I based the safety of the area of extensive research of online reviews, but since I had never stayed in Rome before this was all I had to go off of. And it turned out, my hostel was in a safe neighbourhood and I never had any problems.
For dorms, I chose an all-female dorm (four beds) in Rome because I feel safer around women when I am alone than men. You may feel differently or the same, so it’s always good to check the room options a hostel has. In Kyiv, Conor and I stayed in a two-bed ‘private’ dorm. All hostels differ on what they provide, so shop around a bit to find what works best for you.
Finally, when booking, I suggest booking direct with the hostel. I do my research on sites like HostelWorld or Booking.com, but when it’s time to book I reach out to the hostel directly to get the best rate. That may be unfair of me as I used HostelWorld for its resources to then not book through them, but the added fees add up for a budget traveler. Skips the fees, book direct.
Things you MUST bring if you want to have a good stay: Lock, Ear Plugs, Day Bag
Be courteous, but expect that it’s not a hotel: For example, don’t be that person who snoozes their alarm from 6am to 8am – it’s just rude. Make sure to cleanup after yourself in the bathrooms and kitchen, don’t be loud late at night, don’t turn the lights on early in the morning, etc. Most of this you already know, but it makes the stay so much better if you’re conscious of how your behaviour affects the other guests. Unfortunately, there are times when you get stuck in a room with a rude guest who snoozes their alarm, leaves puddles on the bathroom floor, or comes in at 3am yelling and stomping around. If it’s a short stay, try to take it in stride (maybe add eye mask to the list of things to bring just in case). If it’s a long stay and you’re really not happy – talk to the person (nicely), talk to your host, or pack up and find somewhere else to stay – whatever it takes for you to have a good holiday.
Last but certainly not least, be social. Besides the low rates, most people book hostels because they want to be social while traveling, have people to talk to, or have people to do things with. So hang out in the common rooms, talk to you roommates, and ask the host for recommendations. It can be awkward at first, but I found reading in the common room to be a good way to start. It allows you to be doing something if no one is in the common room and it allows you to just exist in the space while you work up the courage to talk to other travelers. This worked for me in Rome where I met two other Americans and we made plans for dinner. In Kyiv, the hostel was a bit more social with a bar so it was easy to approach people in that setting. Staying in a hostel is a great way to make friends who want to see the sights with you or do an excursion – while staying in a hostel in La Paz, Conor met a fellow traveler to climb a mountain with! People you meet in hostels can become friends you keep in touch with for a long time.
Do your research to find the best fit for you.
Bring ear plugs!
Hang out in the common rooms to make travel friends.
I am a massive fan of afternoon tea – probably because it’s not something I grew up with in the states and who doesn’t love sitting around eating delicious food and drinking delicious tea! Since moving to the UK, I have had my fair share of afternoon teas, most of them good, some not so good and some that really hit it out of the park. Now that I’m more seasoned, I am pickier – usually basing my decision on a tea’s theme, a restaurant’s views, or some other unique aspect to make the most of the experience and the money spent. I can’t wait for the day I own enough tea cups to host my own afternoon tea, but until then, I here to share my top picks of London afternoon teas with you. Enjoy!
London Landmarks Afternoon Tea at The Kensington Hotel
I visited the Kensington Hotel with my parents for afternoon tea while they were in town for my graduation. I had read good reviews and I like a fun-themed tea, so this seemed perfect. The restaurant was relatively quiet – only three other tables full. It has beautiful decor with colorful velvet couches and chairs – it screams trendy millennial but classy. The entire experience was top notch – the menu had a map detailing different London landmarks and each dish corresponded to one of these landmarks. The waitress described each dish as it came out and what it represented. It was a fun way of getting to know London better as well. The food was delicious, the scones were warm and each dessert was mouth-watering. Truly this is one of the best afternoon teas I have ever experienced (which is why it sits at number one!). Located in South Kensington, it is also close to a couple big museums – the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, making it an accessible afternoon activity.
The Mad Hatter’s Tea is a close second to the best afternoon tea in London. Located at the Sanderson Hotel in Soho, it is as funky as you think it will be, but with a trendy feel. The tea is held on the outdoor terrace in a wonderfully calming garden. When I heard my best friend from university would be visiting London for the first time, I wanted to take her to a fun and memorable afternoon tea – this one did not disappoint. Every aspect of the tea is themed – from the plates to the food to the tea itself. The staff were attentive and brought as many pots of tea and however many types of tea we wanted. We were there for three hours! The food was just a delicious as it looks too. This tea is very popular so definitely book ahead – every table was filled with parties of two to ten.
As you probably know by now, I love a good afternoon tea, but Conor hasn’t been to any in London before (shocking I know!). I decided it was time and went on a search for an afternoon tea that was highly rated, had good views, wasn’t too expensive, and would be good for someone who was new to the idea of drinking tea for two hours and eating small portions of food items. I landed on OXO Tower on the south bank near Waterloo, overlooking the river with great views of St. Paul’s. I am a big fan of afternoon teas with a few extra savoury options like a mini Yorkshire pudding and a Scotch quail’s egg to give it something special. The desserts were delicious and the scones were warm. What made this tea stand out for me was the view overlooking the river, especially as the sun set over the London skyline.
This was the first afternoon tea I did in London with my parents in 2018 – and it’s still one of my favourite experiences. We cruised the length of the Thames, starting near the Tower of London. The boat is encased in glass, allowing you to see all of the sights while also not having to worry about the weather. If you book early enough in advance, you will be able to secure a window seat (it’s not worth it unless you do). It is a simpler afternoon tea, but the food was great quality nonetheless. I enjoyed the array of little desserts, enough variety that there is something for everyone. We had wine with our tea as well, but it’s not necessary. One thing to note – if you get seasick, this is not for you. While I didn’t notice the movement of the boat, it wouldn’t be enjoyable for anyone who is sensitive to the sea (or river in this case). As you can tell from the picture, it was a bit packed as its a popular option for afternoon tea, so if you’re looking for something quiet or intimate, move along. But overall, I really enjoyed experiencing London sightseeing from the water.