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.
Smartphones make traveling easier than ever before. On one device you have all the information you need to plan a trip, buy flights, decide where to eat, translate a language, entertain yourself, and so much more. There are some apps that are must-have’s when traveling to make everything seamless. Here are my top five:
Google Translate – If you’re visiting a foreign country with a different language, this is a must. You can download the language so you can access it offline as well – no need to waste data or search for cafes with wi-fi only. I’ve used this in the Ukraine, Italy, Greece, France, and Germany, and have been thankful for it every time. Not only does it allow me to communicate with people who don’t speak English, but I can translate museum plaques, restaurant menus, street signs, instructions, etc.
Google Maps Offline – This is a lifesaver in places where you don’t want to use data, or if you don’t have any data, you don’t need wi-fi to use it. You can download Google Maps of where you are, say Rome, and use it like you would regularly use Google Maps just without the internet. It is seriously a lifesaver!
City Mapper – This app is all about public transport and showing you the best options and the times for each option. I even use this locally in London to catch the bus. It can be even more helpful in a city that you’re unfamiliar with. I used City Mapper in France and Italy recently which was especially helpful given all the signs are in a foreign language. If you plan on using the public transportation system, I recommend this app.
TripAdvisor – I rely on TripAdvisor for the reviews of restaurants, attractions, cafes, hostels, hotels, etc. For the most part (there’s always an exception), TripAdvisor is a reliable source and can be helpful when looking for recommendations in a foreign city.
Airline App – As in, whichever airline you are traveling with. I always download the app once I book tickets (Ryanair, British Airways, United, etc). Usually, you’re able to access your boarding pass on the app, track your frequent flyer status and rewards, and make changes to your booking. Also, and annoyingly, many medium haul flights don’t have in flight entertainment systems and airlines now use their app to give you entertainment options. I say annoyingly because I feel like a flight from San Francisco to New York should have in-flight entertainment in the back of seats but not every airline agrees. Thus, the app. You can download it on your tablet as well and log onto the website on your laptop during the flight. Having the airline app makes your travel smoother and more seamless, so I definitely recommend it.
Download only what’s necessary.
Check local guides for more specific apps.
Remember to charge your phone!
Bonus– Other Useful Apps: Instagram (for sharing pictures, obviously), Mobile Banking, Weather, Kindle (or other book app), SafeTrek (or similar), and Uber (or another ride-share/taxi app).
Back in October, I wrote a blog, 5 Days In Rome in Under £300. This is the follow up to my trip to Rome in December and how I managed to stick to that budget along with a superstar 4 day itinerary (day 5 is travel only so I don’t really count it). Since it was my first time to Rome I enlisted the help of Lonely Planet and borrowed their guide to Rome from my roommate.
Total Spent: £277
Day One: Thursday
Flight: London (STN) to Rome (Ciampino) – 13:20 – 16:45
After arriving at Ciampino, I booked a roundtrip bus ticket for £8 that would drop me off at the Termini metro station and in four days I would take it back to the airport. My hostel, the Beehive Hostel, was only a couple blocks from Termini so this made the most sense. It was also the cheapest option for transport and didn’t involve any additional stops or changes. I can be really terrible with directions and public transport sometimes so this was the best option for my own sanity as well.
I arrived to the Beehive when it was dark and had to wait only a few minutes to be let into the electronically locked door to reception. Linda, one of the owners, greeted me and took me through check-in. Much to my chagrin, I booked through HostelWorld, which was more expensive than if I had booked directly. For the future, I will use HostelWorld as a guide to find a great hostel, but will be contacting hostels directly to see if they offer a better price. If they don’t, I’ll book through HostelWorld, but otherwise I am a budget traveler. Throughout the check-in process Linda was very helpful, showing me places to visit on a map and the Beehive app which has all their local recommendations. In all, I would definitely recommend the Beehive for any travelers who are looking for a clean hostel with great service. The only downside was the lack of social life at the hostel, as I only met one person in the common room the whole time I was there. This could be because it was the off season for traveling. If you don’t want somewhere too social, this would be perfect. In all, I really enjoyed my stay and definitely recommend.
After checking in to my hostel and settling in the room, it was too late to see any attractions, and being my first solo trip, I went out to dinner at the restaurant next to my hostel – Ristorante Regina. It had the most delicious ravioli I have ever tasted. A great recommendation from the owners of the Beehive Hostel. Then it was off to bed for an early wakeup the next morning.
Day Two: Friday
Knowing the Colosseum and the Vatican would have the longest lines, I decided to put them at the beginning of two of the days. First up, the Colosseum because I couldn’t resist.
I would recommend getting to the Colosseum early – I arrived at 8am for an 8:30am opening time. I did not reserve tickets beforehand. The line for no tickets was already 100 people deep by the time the gates opened. I was the first one inside though so getting there early definitely paid off (I got in free with my ICOM card). I spent about two hours in the Colosseum, walking around each level and viewing the exhibits. One of the exhibits tells the entire history of the Colosseum from inception to present day. It was interesting to learn about its different uses, owners, and repairs. The entire place was full a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the history of it was seeping from the walls. It was really quiet in the morning which gave me space to immerse myself in the atmosphere and imagine what it would have been like two thousand years ago. As a previous classics student, I have been wanting to visit the Colosseum for years and it lived up to its hype. It’s an absolutely incredible feat of architecture, engineering, and culture.
As a solo traveler, I took some selfies, but also asked other tourists if they could take my picture. I’m usually selective when handing my phone over to a stranger. Typically, I pick someone who is about my age and female – female because other girls usually know how to take really great pictures and will get all the angles. In return, I take their picture so it all works out.
After the Colosseum, I walked across the road to Palatine Hill, my ticket from the Colosseum also got me into this historic site. There was no line at all at this point but behind me there were a couple hundred people in line for the Colosseum, further evidence of why you should do the Colosseum first thing in the morning. I walked through the ruins of the emperor’s palace first. There are a ton of plaques to tell you what you’re looking at. I also had the Lonely Planet guide with a map inside which helped me to navigate as well. The palace was unusually quiet for how late in the morning it was, but that made the experience more special. What a unique and odd thing to be wandering the site of one of the greatest men in the world history, imagine walking on the same mosaic tiles as an emperor. It was hard to wrap my head around that fact, still is. The grounds are massive so it took me about an hour to wander the whole thing, ending at the balcony overlooking the Roman Forum.
It took me a little bit of work to get down to the Roman Forum, but once I did, I was not disappointed. It was significantly more crowded down there with tons of school groups messing about. But that’s how the Forum is meant to be, busy and bustling with the daily crowd going about their business. I was once tested on the layout of the forum, having to draw it from memory and label every building. It was really cool to see that come to life and to remember most of the buildings, only needing the guide a few times. Have I mentioned yet that everything is massive? The scale of buildings and temples is unreal.
For lunch, I headed across the street from the Forum, Imperiale Ristorante. I ordered a delicious pizza and glass of wine. It was definitely touristy, but it was convenient and had a great patio so I could still marvel at the Roman Forum.
After that I headed over to the Capitoline Museums. The walk was gorgeous taking me past the Altar of the Fatherland.
The museum itself wasn’t as crowded as I expected. There was no line and most of the galleries were empty except for a couple people here and there. I enjoyed the quiet and relaxed feel – very different to some other tourists spots. I love Greek and Roman sculptures and art, so I really enjoyed this museum. It only costs 1 euro with my ICOM card – otherwise there is a higher entrance fee.
I walked down the road a bit to a small coffee and sweet shop called San Teo. I was recommended this place by the Lonely Planet guide, and as I’m a total sweet tooth and it was close by, I had to check it out. It definitely didn’t disappoint. The staff were lovely and kind and the desserts were delicious (I had three to hit the 5 euro card minimum, but so worth it).
After this, it was getting late so I took a bus back to my hostel. I wasn’t sure how the buses worked at this point and didn’t know how to buy a ticket. I assumed I could do so when getting on the bus – I was wrong. You have to buy a ticket from a shop or a station and then put it in the ticket machine on the bus to get it stamped. Technically, you could ride the bus without a ticket but if you get caught the fine is steep. So from then on, I bought my tickets at the Termini station in the morning.
For dinner on Friday, I went to Mama Angela Trattoria – another recommendation the the Beehive’s app. It was so good! I was sad to be eating alone only because I didn’t have anyone to share in how good the food was. I ordered bruschetta and popcorn fried gnocchi with a glass of white wine. The waitstaff were very friendly and recommended wine for me. They made me feel less awkward for sitting alone which endeared me to them. I would definitely go back!
Day Three: Saturday
A couple weeks prior to my trip, I booked a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I would highly recommend booking a guided tour. Mine started at 8:30am and the museum was already packed. When I arrived at the Vatican at 8am, it was pretty empty, so I was able to take advantage of that and get some fun pictures with barely anyone else in them. The guided tours are offered in multiple languages and are very thorough. In total, it was a three hour tour. We spent the first hour and a half walking through the museums, stopping at well known or historically important objects. My tour guide was very knowledgable and gave us a bunch of fun facts along with the history of the objects. The Sistine Chapel was breathtaking – luckily I was able to get a seat along the wall so I could relax and take my time looking up at the ceiling, mesmerised by the scenes. I would have loved to experience the Sistine Chapel with less people in it, but it was still cool. Next we moved in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was ridiculously big. The sheer grandeur of the inside took my breath away – I’m still astonished at HOW. But, that’s the Catholic Church for you – they really know how to go all out. Again, our tour guide took us around the most famous parts of it, stopping to see one of the Popes mummified and on display. A bit weird, but cool at the same time.
After the Vatican, I walked to Piazza Novona, passing Castel Sant’Angelo. I stopped for a tea and croissant at a little cafe on a side street near the piazza. There was a Christmas market on the piazza so I walked around that for a little bit, sat on a bench, and enjoyed people watching. I then walked to the Pantheon, and was again astonished at the sheer size of it! However, I was disappointed when I entered it, which is entirely my own fault for not Googling it beforehand. I am a huge Greek and Roman history buff, so to find out that the Pantheon has been completely converted to a Catholic church – no sign of any Roman gods or religion whatsoever. Disappointing, but at the same time, the only reason its still standing is because the Catholic Church saved it from destruction. I then went for lunch at a wine bar/cafe called Taverna Capranica- I had a delicious cheese board and selection of wine. It was a little off the beaten track, so not as crowded with tourists, but still close enough to the Pantheon to attract tourists.
After lunch, I headed over to the Trevi Fountain, another must see attraction. I’m sure you’re tired of this by now, but again it’s massive. It’s way bigger than I thought it was going to be! And so intricate. Really a spectacular sight to see. I asked a couple of girls to take some pictures of me throwing a coin into the fountain – I needed a couple of takes to get the shot I was looking for so I threw a couple of coins into the fountain. If you’re wondering, the money is collected on a daily basis and donated to a Catholic charity – about 3,000 euros per day. Crazy. I sat at the fountain for awhile, watching other people take pictures and interact. It was interesting and funny and a nice break from the long day I’d had.
I took the bus back to the hostel and rested for a bit before heading down to the common room. I met another American who was traveling with his brother. We decided to get dinner together at another restaurant recommended by the hostel – Bramble Bar and Kitchen. I had a vegetable pizza and glass of wine and we shared some bruschetta. It was delicious! (So good in fact I went back the next night). It was really fun, as my first time solo traveling, to make some new travel friends from my hostel. It felt like the last missing part of the ‘real’ hostel experience.
Day Four: Sunday
I had breakfast in my hostel this morning – taking a bit more time than the last two days since I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at 8am. I then went to Baths of Caracalla – ruins on the other side of Palatine Hill across the street from Circus Maximus. These ruins used to be the massive public baths of Rome. You’re able to walk through the entire structure with great informational plaques detailing what each room was and the people that visited, along with the types of activities to do there. The ruins are more overgrown than some others, but there is still a lot of stonework and architecture to see. It was really quiet as well, which made for a really nice morning walk.
My roommate from London flew in on Saturday night with another friend and was planning on staying a couple more days, so I met up with them on Sunday afternoon. I headed to the Spanish Steps to meet them for lunch. Little did I realise, it was December 8th, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Pope visits the Spanish Steps on this day every year to lay a wreath at the monument. We were a bit early for that so we went to lunch at a restaurant around the corner. I had some more bruschetta and pasta with, you guessed it, a glass of wine. After lunch, we wandered over to the road where the Pope was supposed to come down, but it turns out he had already passed and was up near the steps doing his thing. We walked up that way when all of a sudden a black sedan drove past us with the window rolled down and the Pope waving to us out of it. I was expecting the Pope-mobile, so this was a shock. We ran along the side of the railing to get a better look and some videos. It was crazy because the street wasn’t even that crowded with people dying to see the Pope. It was definitely a rush of adrenaline, and it will forever be my fun fact.
For my last night in Rome, I went back to The Bramble and ordered their chocolate lava cake with ice cream and a hot tea. It was so good – I am a total sucker for a chocolate lava cake and this lived up to all my expectations! After that, I packed up and set my alarm for an early wake up call to catch my early flight back to London.
Day 5: Monday (Fly Day)
Rome (Ciampino) – London STN: 11:10am – 12:55pm
I took the same bus back to the airport from Termini Station, leaving at 7:10am, getting to the airport at 8am. I did get to the airport a bit too early – 3 hours was too early for such a small airport. But at least I didn’t miss my flight. Better to be early than sorry, right? Also, the next bus time was 8:30am and I thought that was cutting it a little close since I had never flown out of Ciampino. Now I know better, and so do you!
In all, this was the trip of a lifetime! Rome has been on my bucket list for ages and it lived up to all its expectations. As for my first solo trip, I wasn’t totally scarred and would definitely travel alone again. I’ll be writing a whole other post about solo travel, so stay tuned for that. I hope I could help you plan your dream trip to Rome. If you have any questions, drop a comment or fill out the contact form! Ciao!
Plan ahead for the biggest attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican.
Ask the staff at your hostel/hotel for local recommendations.
If you’re planning on traveling to Rome with just a carry-on, then I have the perfect packing list. I spent five days in Rome and came with just a backpack (thank you, Ryanair for your harsh restrictions). During December, Rome can be cold, but not too freezing. A good coat is all you need to stay warm. Since it’s a European city, it tends to be on the trendier side of fashion, so leave your athleisure at home. Below you’ll find all you need for a week or less in Rome, or anywhere else in Europe with a similar climate.
Weather in Rome: Dry, 10°C-15°C (50°F-60°F)
Basically, it was chilly but I wasn’t ever cold besides early in the morning.
What I wore on the plane: Heaviest items, but still comfortable
– White Coat
– Black leggings
– Black Sweater
The rest of the list I packed in my backpack – black North Face Borealis Classic.
– Printed Documents – passport, visa, hostel and tour confirmations
– Purse – cross-body; can hold book, wallet, phone, charger
I saved space by re-wearing my jeans and leggings, just mix and matching with different tops. I also brought minimal makeup and toiletries because I was only gone for five days and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere too fancy. Since the flight was short, I was able to re-wear my outfit on the flight back as well, saving space.
My Air Force One’s are comfortable to walk in all day, even on all the old cobblestone streets in Rome, and cute enough to wear out in the evening, so there was no need to pack any other shoes. I only packed one short-sleeve, which I ended up wearing on the warmest day so that worked out.
I brought an extra cross-body bag so I could leave my backpack in the hostel locker during the day. That way I didn’t have to lug around extra weight, but I could still carry what I needed to.
Hopefully, this helps you realise you don’t need as much as you think you do – I say this as a recovering over-packer.
Plan what you pack to make the most of your space.
If you have ever flown through different time zones, you may have suffered from jet lag – the groggy, tired, sick feeling you get for days after landing in your new destination. It gets worse the more time zones you travel through. Usually, jet lag doesn’t hit me too hard as I’ve learned some tricks over the years to mitigate it, but after experiencing the worst jet lag ever after my flight from San Francisco to London in December, I thought a refresher for how to beat jet lag is much over due.
Jet lag is worse flying west to east because you lose time, whereas flying east to west you gain time back. For some reason (I’m not a doctor or a biologist), the body’s circadian rhythm hates flying west to east which results in jet lag – symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, dehydration, nausea, indigestion, difficulty focusing, and others. This can be irritating when you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation. Especially because it affects people differently. Where I had the worst jet lag ever, Conor felt almost no jet lag at all. Usually the symptoms go away within a few days or less depending on how many time zones you travelled through, what precautions you took, and sheer luck in some cases. Below are my best tips to beating jet lag so you can enjoy more of your vacation quicker.
Hydrate. It is so important to stay hydrated while flying, so it’s good practice to start hydrating before you’re even in the air. I carry a reusable water bottle with me so I can refill when I need to in airports, during layovers, and on board. It also helps to not consumer soft drinks or alcohol while flying as they are dehydrating. But, I know that’s not really feasible for everyone (one glass of wine helps put me to sleep), so I recommend off-setting any sodas or alcohol with water by ordering them at the same time.
Adjust to the new time zone as quick as possible. Your sleeping pattern is going to need adjustment so if you can start this early. Either before you leave by going to bed earlier or later depending on your final destination, or by adhering to your destination’s timing right away. If I am landing in the UK in the morning then I try to sleep as much as possible on the flight and not sleep after I land until that evening. If I am landing during the afternoon or evening, then I try to not to sleep at all on the flight so I’m tired when I land and can go straight to bed. Getting your circadian rhythm adjusted quicker helps mitigate the symptoms of jet lag. Pro tip: if you don’t want to sleep on the plane, book an aisle seat.
Move around. While on the plane, make sure to get up every hour or so and move around, even if it’s just to the bathroom. Moving around reduced stiffness and promotes mental alertness which can help ease symptoms of jet lag. It’s also healthy for you on long haul flights. I try to do a bit of yoga or stretching at the back of the plane or in the bathroom, as long as I’m out of the way, the flight attendants tend not to mind. It also gives me a chance to grab more water if I need it.
Disclaimer: sometimes I use sleeping medication, like melatonin, if I’m having insomnia and desperately need to get to bed. But I try not to because some don’t allow you to get into a good REM sleep and they can be habit-forming. Before going on any medication, obviously speak with your doctor.
And sometimes, you could have done everything right and still experience bad jet lag. In that case, be kind to yourself. At some point, it happens to everyone. Try to adjust your holiday plans to allow for a relaxed day on the first day, with some exercise. There isn’t treatment for jet lag, so just do the best you can with preventative measures.
Keep a reusable water bottle with you.
Be mindful when choosing seats – aisle if you don’t want to sleep, window if you do.
Learn a few stretches to do in a plane seat, in the bathroom, or near the back of the plane.
There are many places in the world worth traveling to so this is by no means an exhaustive list. As well, it’s my list, so it is definitely biased. However, these are the places I want to visit is 2020 and it could help you find inspiration for your 2020 travels. I already know I won’t make it to all these places this year, but I’ve picked them based on a few factors – new continents, new cities, new countries, new skills I want to learn, budget, and time. I would be traveling from London which also skews the destinations I’ve chosen, but we’re all on the same planet so it doesn’t matter where you’re flying from you can still reach every place on this list. As always, I’ll sprinkle in my top tips for booking travel and must do’s.
My main reason for wanting to go to Costa Rica is for the surfing. I have always wanted to learn and there are some seriously great areas on the west coast of Costa Rica for surfing. Conor and I are planning a spring trip to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp – a highly reviewed and recommended surf camp that includes accommodation, airport transfer, breakfast, daily lessons, surfing seminars and workshops, end of week road trip, and as much use of their surfboards as I want. If we have time to extend our trip, we want to spend a few days in the interior of the country exploring the Arenal Volcano area – possibly ziplining or hiking to waterfalls. Unfortunately, I have a limited number of vacation days and need to be strategic so for that reason we’re limiting the trip to two weeks. If you’re a girl and you want recommendations for travel destinations check out Girls LOVE Travel on Facebook (it’s a private group and boys aren’t allowed – sorry folks, but I’m sure there are more inclusive travel groups on Facebook to join!). I’ve seen non-stop flights from London on British Airways for under £500 roundtrip – not bad for flying halfway around the world.
This one is a little closer to home, so would be a fun weekend trip. The Eurostar from London is £59 roundtrip to Brussels – if you’re flexible with your travel dates, this is a budget friendly option. I like this option because the travel is more environmentally friendly than flying. Also, I get to see the different landscapes of England, France, and Belgium. I’ve never been to Belgium so this would be another new country and culture. Brussels has some incredible architecture (Grand Palace, Palais Royal, Parc Du Cinquantenaire) as well as cool museums and some lesser known history. For a weekend away, this would be a great trip.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague (and Budapest below) have been on my European bucketlist for awhile. From London, they are relatively cheap to get to thanks to budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. Additionally, once in country, it can be a relatively inexpensive holiday. This makes it an appealing choice for a young, working professional on an entry-level salary. Prague is fascinating to me for its history, architecture, and culture – top sights and things to do would be the Lennon Wall, KGB Museum, Astronomical Clock Tower, Prague Castle and Golden Lane.
Another top bucket list place, Budapest is a budget friendly holiday, or it can be depending on how you want to do it. I’ve heard wonderful things from friends and family who have traveled there and am intrigued by the culture, history, and public baths. Budapest has a heartbreaking history under communism and many sites to reflect on that history – the House of Terror museum, the shoes on the Danube bank, and Memento Park to name a few. It also has beautiful relics from other periods in history, including Buda Castle and the Parliament House. Like many Eastern European cities, it’s a mix of old, Soviet, and new architecture representing the heartbreaking and the heartwarming complex history of the region. Budapest, as a tourist friendly city, also has an incredibly fun vibe to it, with a hectic nightlife and Spa Baths that turn into Party Baths at night. All in all, there are a variety of experiences to have in Budapest, making it top of my 2020 list.
Coming from London, Spain is another accessible holiday for me, and I’ve never been. I’ve had friends live in different cities of Spain so I’m a bit torn on which cities I would want to visit and how much time to spend in each city. Whether Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, or so many others, I definitely want to make it to Spain sometime this year. Finally put the fourteen years of taking Spanish to use! Spain has some amazing coastal cities, so this could be a warm holiday away from the usual dreary English weather. Flights can be cheap, but Conor and I could also drive his Prius from London (a fun roadtrip through France), making it another environmentally friendly destination.
Thailand makes the list as a top bucket list place for any year. Depending on how the first half of my year goes, Thailand may or may not be in the cards for this year. However, flights from London can be under £500 roundtrip and when in country it can be quite inexpensive, so this could be a relatively budget friendly vacation for those of you looking for a warm and different getaway. I would love to visit some of the islands of Thailand, get out of Bangkok as quickly as possible. It would be good for some real R&R, maybe even taking a digital detox while there. Additionally, I have always wanted to visit an elephant sanctuary (one where people don’t ride them and they aren’t exploitative) as elephants have always been my favourite animal and I just want to get up close and personal with one. I also want to experience new cuisine and a different culture. Thailand would put me on a whole new continent and I would like to spend a couple weeks there. As I work from home, I could potentially work from Thailand, thus not needing to take holiday time off for at least some of the trip.
Alaska, United States
I have been to 46 states, missing Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Alaska. I would love to get up to Alaska when I’m home in California in December. During the winter there wouldn’t be much sunlight, but it would be the perfect time to see the Northern Lights, which I’ve always wanted to do. I could go to northern Europe to see the Northern Lights, but if I’m already in California then the trip to Alaska makes more sense. Alaska also has some good skiing and nature. It would be a good, relaxing end to 2020. However, it would probably be the last holiday I book as it’s a bit rogue and at the end of the year when I’m lowest on vacation days and funds. So we shall see.
This list only scratches the surface of places I want to go and things I want to do, but it’s a start. Hopefully, it has inspired you to start thinking about your 2020 vacation plans and even to check out some of these destinations. I would suggest joining a Facebook group for traveling if you want more inspiration or recommendations. As always, I’ll be updating my blog with my travels, tips, tricks, and recs throughout the year as I start crossing some of these destinations off my list.
Start thinking about your vacation plans early to get the best deals.
Try something new – a new country, city, continent, experience.
Make the most of your vacation days by using weekends and bank holidays strategically.
After taking multiple long-haul and short-haul flights in 2019, I have decided to make a definitive list of the carry-on items essential to having a good flight in 2020. I have had my fair share of amazing flights and crappy flights over the years and am constantly updating my plane plan. I have found that the more prepared I am for the type of trip I am taking, the better the flight goes. Even so, some things are out of my control, so I try to plan for those as best I can. The 8 essential items on the list below have never failed me before, and have saved me more times than I can count. I hope they can help you too.
I used to think having an eye mask wasn’t essential even if I was planning to sleep on the flight. Then, on a the overnight flight from Dallas to London, Conor was seated in the middle seat directly below the glaring light of the seatbelt sign. Because it was such a turbulent flight, the seatbelt sign was on for the majority of the flight, making it impossible for him to get any sleep. An absolute nightmare. Since not all planes are built the same, it would be a good idea to pack an eye mask just in case you find yourself in a situation like this. Or if your seat partner decides to read through the night with their light on. Or if you’re trying to adjust to your destination’s time zone and need to sleep while the plane is still lit. There are a variety of reasons why an eye mask is essential. So in 2020, I will be packing one for every trip.
Another item that most people pack, but those who don’t really regret. If you are tight on space, there are inflatable neck pillows – my brother gifted my sisters and me Hoodies Pillows for Christmas one year, an inflatable neck pillow with a hood, thank you Shark Tank. When not using it to sleep, I sometimes use it to cushion my back or I’ll sit on it for extra cushion in the not so comfy Economy seats. Either way, I have come to swear by neck pillows.
Planes are like movie theatres – they are always colder than you think they are going to be. Planes are always boiling when you get on, but within the first hour they are freezing. For this reason, I always wear layers, whether is a sweatshirt or cardigan, there is always something to put on or take off. This could also be important if the destination you are flying to has a different climate from your origin. The worst is flying from San Diego in shorts and a t-shirt to Ohio in the winter. Or vice versa, so be prepared.
I cannot stress this enough, I love my 4-wheel carry-on suitcase. I have never been a duffle bag flyer, my shoulders could not handle it. Two-wheeled luggage is fine, until you’ve experienced 4-wheeled luggage. The difference is in control and movement. 4-wheels allows you to keep your suitcase close, no one tripping over it behind you. And it allows you to move quickly in crowded airports (a must if you’ve ever been in a customs line). It also requires practically no effort to move at all, even better. If you’re in the market for new luggage, definitely go with 4-wheeled luggage.
Reusable Water Bottle
Flying dehydrates you, a lot. This causes worse jet lag symptoms. And yet, airlines only serve you like 4oz of water at a time. And I kind of feel like an asshole asking for the entire litre bottle of water from the flight attendant. So, I always bring a reusable water bottle with me. Obviously it needs to be empty to get through security. After that, you can fill it up at a water fountain or any airport restaurant. Once I’m on the plane, I also order water from the flight attendants whenever I can and make sure to finish my bottle before we land. I refill it at the next airport. This has also saved me from buying large plastic water bottles at the airport – saving money and the environment. Reusable water bottles are essential to offset jet lag and stay hydrated.
I ALWAYS bring a book on flights, even if I think I won’t read it because I’ll be watching movies or sleeping. I felt redeemed in my choice on my last flight from London to San Francisco when my in-flight entertainment system didn’t work for the entire ten-hour flight. I was also landing in the early evening so I didn’t want to sleep in order to start resetting my body clock. Luckily I had my book. Thank God for that book or I would’ve have literally gone crazy. It got me through five hours of the flight (a nap, yoga, and some Sudoku got me through the rest). Thus, having a book is a 2020 carry-on essential.
Personally, I don’t suffer from motion sickness due to turbulence, but I have flown with friends and family that do, or who can’t sleep because of turbulence. I have found that Dramamine (the original kind that makes you drowsy) works best on long flights. Because it causes drowsiness, it not only helps with the turbulence but also with falling asleep. I wouldn’t recommend for flights shorter than 4 hours because you could feel groggy from it (there are non-drowsy options for motion sickness), but for long flights definitely.
These are essential to any flight. Most planes will give out headphones that work for their entertainment system, but you should bring your own headphones that work for your entertainment, such as a phone or iPod. Usually I’ll wear headphones while I sleep with no music because they act as a noise blocker (alternatively, you could pack ear plugs). But also, when I’ve run out of things to do, listening to music helps pass the time (back to the London to SFO flight, I passed a couple hours listening to Hamilton). Usually though (and regrettably), headphones are always the first thing I forget to pack, leaving them on the counter before I leave. For this reason, they have made my 2020 carry-on essentials list and my resolution is to not forget them.
Plan your carry-on items before packing.
Adapt to how much luggage you’ll be taking.
Better to be prepared than bored for a ten hour flight.
Bonus: Wake Up Essentials Kit
This one is especially for long-haul flights. After spending 8+ hours on a plane, I feel really gross, from my skin to my hair to my clothes. Because of this, I developed my own wake-up essentials kit. In it I pack face wipes, travel size moisturiser (important to keep your skin hydrated), CC cream (to give me color), mascara, a travel-sized toothbrush/toothpaste set, and a comb. I also pack deodorant and an extra pair of undies. I use the kit either on the plane before we land or in the bathroom in baggage claim. It helps me to feel refreshed and off to a good start on any vacation. I usually only need it for long-haul flights, but I pack a version of it for short flights as well. It will continue to be a 2020 travel essential.
It’s that time of year again – many people are booking trips around the world to fly home for Christmas. For me, that’s a trip from London to San Francisco – 11 hours in the air if it’s direct. This year, it also includes Conor booking flights from London to San Francisco to spend the holidays with me and my family. Booking flights can be daunting because of the price, but there are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.
Incognito Window is your best friend, because airlines are scammers and shady-ass corporations. The prices you see are different from prices I would see because they have your cookies – tracking what sites you’ve been on, how many times you’ve looked at flights before, etc. This means they can manipulate prices to get you to pay the highest price possible. Incognito doesn’t track your cookies or sites you’ve been to, for the most part, so I always book flights on Incognito. This is the Google Chrome word for it, but it’s basically a private browsing window. Super easy to access through the “File” tab when you have your internet browser open.
I usually book about 8 weeks out, unless I find a really good deal in the mean time. For some reason, six to eight weeks out from your desired departure date is the sweet spot for deals. The prices should be lowest around then, and will start increasing soon afterwards. I’ve booked flights anywhere from months out to one week out, and consistently six to eight weeks has the best deals. I haven’t booked my flights home yet, but right now the prices are really good and better than they have been for the past few weeks, even though I’m on the end of that six to eight weeks sweet spot. Usually, once I know I want to book flights, I will start keeping an eye on prices through Incognito Google Flights – though there are apps for this like Skyscanner.
Google Flights is a great way to plan your trip through their Date Grid. If you’re flexible on when you fly out and fly back this is a great tool to find the best roundtrip price around your dates. For me, flying back on the 29th of December is way cheaper than the early days of January. Just as flying out on Tues-Thu is usually cheaper than Fri-Sun. I use Google Flights in Incognito to find the best deals usually. There are some caveats.
Some things to consider when booking would be loyalty programs. My parents have flown with United for decades and now reap the benefits of being Gold members, so they always fly United. I, on the other hand, have no loyalties to any airline at this moment so I can be more flexible in looking at different deals, days, airlines, airports, etc. However, loyalty programs can be very beneficial, but they require, you guessed it, loyalty which doesn’t always translate to the best price for the trip. So for me, as a working professional on a minimal salary, the prices now outweigh any potential benefits I’ll have from loyalty programs in five years. With that said, I still have a member number (they’re free from any airline website) for every airline I fly with, which means I am still tracking any miles I fly with the airlines. Potentially this could lead to benefits, but without flying one airline consistently, the points are that helpful right now. If you are a loyal flyer, I would say keep flying that airline and look for their best deals around the dates you want to fly – they might even have holiday specials for frequent flyers. Additionally, if you consistently book holidays through sites like Expedia or Kayak and have been gaining points from doing that, I would say keep doing it! These sites help find the best deals and allow you to accrue points for benefits.
I recently signed up for Jack’s Flight Club, a weekly newsletter about the best flight deals. I booked my weekend trip to Rome through these deals. The newsletter is free to sign up for (though there is a Premium service if you want to pay to find out about more deals sooner – I don’t). It gives me a heads-up which is always nice to have. Some of the deals don’t apply to me at all, but some do, so I keep it in my inbox.
Use a private browser!
If you can, be flexible on your fly dates to get the best deals.
Best to book about eight weeks out, but keep an eye on prices leading up to that.
In September, I moved into a London flat with three people – two I knew from Cambridge, one I didn’t know (he’s friends with Lucy and graduated from Cambridge a year before I arrived). I have lived in flats with roommates before when I was at Ohio State, so I didn’t think this would be any different. And honestly, it really isn’t that different, except that my roommates are my favorite people I’ve lived with so far.
Finding a flat in London was itself a challenge, test of wills, and a strain on our relationships. Well, okay not that dramatic, but it was very different from any other flat hunting I have experienced. So much so it deserves its own blog post. But now that we have found an apartment, what is it like to live with three other people? In a relatively small apartment? Well, it takes some adjusting, communication, and understanding that not everyone thinks or lives the way you do (which is totally okay btw!). When we first moved, we all sat down together on the couch after a pub night and talked about things we wanted for the flat, ‘rules’, things we like and don’t like, work schedules, etc. We got everything out in the open up front which was super helpful for conversations down the road. Our takeaway from the whole conversation was just don’t take the piss and we’ll all be alright.
I think the biggest issue we ran into first was the room that the kitchen and living space is in is quite small. Not terribly cramped, but enough that it can become a problem if left alone for a few days. As in any home, people drop bags, jackets, and shoes in the living room when they get home. No biggie, until there’s four pairs of shoes scattered across the four square meters of space. Basically, cleaning was the first thing we addressed – and are still addressing as we settle into our routines and habits. We have a sort of cleaning rotation for the kitchen, bathroom (there’s only one), and living space. Sometimes it gets done once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I think this is the one area that we all can’t totally agree on and it takes reminding for people to wash up all their dishes before bed, or checking if food has gone off. In the end, all it takes is one message for it to get done – we all work fulltime and can get lazy or tired or forgetful, it’s not the end of the world. Like I said, it’s all about adjusting and being flexible with the people you live with. But, we all also agree that it’s better to say something than be passive aggressive or bottle up annoyance at others’ habits. That never helps anyone and only leads to problems down the road.
The next thing we had to think about was bills, how we would sign up for utilities and wifi, and how we would pay for them. For rent, it was important to communicate budgets before we agreed on a place and stick to it. The same applies for wifi, gas, and electricity. We did some shopping around for the best deals and talked it over before we signed up for anything. Communication and openness is important among roommates, especially when it comes to money. In this area as well, we are always reminding each other to pay bills on time or transfer to the person paying the bill. Team work makes the dream work.
One thing I was hoping for was two bathrooms for the four of us, but we don’t always get what we want. Seriously, that should be the poster slogan for London flat hunting. Because there is only one bathroom, we have all had to make adjustments. Luckily, Lucy and Dan are the only two that have to leave the flat early in the morning for work, which makes it easier on the shower schedule. Though I do sometimes wake up and have to wait ten minutes before I can go to the toilet. For the most part, we haven’t run into too many problems with four of us sharing one bathroom because our work schedules work well together. Though, none of us are concerned with knocking on the door if someone is taking too long in the shower.
With four people working full-time, the kitchen can feel a bit cramped around dinner time. Lucy and Dan don’t eat breakfast at home (work perks), so it’s only Owen and I in the morning. Usually, I’m the only one home for lunch. But, we all eat dinner at home, usually. Luckily, our different routines and habits also compliment each other at dinner time. I like to eat early, around 5:30/6pm whereas Owen and Dan tend to eat a bit later. Lucy falls in between depending on the day. This makes it a bit easier to handle everyone cooking their own meals and using the same three pots and pans that we have. There are nights when Owen and I make dinner together – we love fajita night! Those nights are really fun because we break out all the condiments and sides and make a feast of it. While the kitchen can feel cramped during the evening, it tends to feel more ‘cozy’, meaning it feels like a home when we’re all together. Dinner time is usually the most social time in the flat as well and it’s nice to catch up with everyone and joke around. That is until someone eats my last onion I was saving for my stir fry. We have a liberal approach with the fridge for certain items, particularly onions, peppers, mushrooms, and milk. Things that go off quickly and that you usually only use half of at any given time. As long as we all pitch in to stock up on them, we’ve found a good balance. This room is also where all the fun happens – the jokes, the accidental spills, and the movie nights. We elected one of the walls for tacky home decor after Dan insisted that we keep the paella pan (that none of us were going to use) and hung it on a left over nail in the wall to prove his point. It became endearing and we’ve since added to it – most recently the hanging wall decor pictured above.
For all the other things that can become annoying when living in a small apartment with three people, it’s all worth it when I think about the three best friends I’ve made living here. Living in a small space has forced us all to become close and aware of each other’s habits, likes, dislikes, and lives. Having thin walls can be a pro – I hear when Lucy is baking or when Dan gets home from a date that I want recap with him. Without sounding too cheesy (sorry Lucy), living with three people allowed me to have a second family here in England. Being far from home can be tough and there is a certain lonliness that comes along with living in a big city, but having Lucy, Dan, and Owen around means there’s always someone who knows where I am, always someone to go to the market with, drink tea with, and sometimes cry with. Next year, we are all going to be pulled in different directions, so we’re making the most of this year we have together in this tiny, but pretty great, apartment.
Communication is key, being passive aggressive is a no.
Be ready to adapt your habits – everything is a compromise.
I read an article the other day about 50 things that are different in the UK compared to the US, and honestly, most of it was stupid things, like people in the UK don’t use umbrellas. Spoiler alert, they do. Some of the list was legit, but most of it seemed to be a way to make the UK exotic and mysterious. As an American ex-pat, it annoyed me because one of the best things about moving to the UK was the lack of culture shock. Sure they drive on the left and they call it ‘maths’ instead of math, but things really aren’t that different from the states. So, I am making a list of all the things (at least the ones I can think of right now) that are similar or the same between the UK and the US to celebrate shared parts of our cultures.
1. Chain restaurants and coffee shops – Pret is to the UK what Starbucks is to the US.
2. Everyone still passes on the left on escalators and sidewalks. God forbid you should be standing on the left, you might as well have kicked a puppy.
3. The money is just as intuitive, or not, depending on how you view US currency. There are bills with numbers to tell you exactly how much the bill is worth and the coins come in different sizes, just like the US.
4. Kids keep coming up with slang words I have to learn and I blame social media. As soon as I have learned what “rock up” means suddenly Twitter has invented “bomboclaat”. Am I getting old?
5. Everyone loves Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon – big brands are still all the rage in UK fashion. Yes, VSCO girls exist here too.
6. People are divided over the leader of their government (Boris is a second hand Trump).
7. There are massive protests for climate change because people care about that no matter where they are from.
8. Hamilton. The Brits love Hamilton. Color me shocked, but apparently there’s no bad vibes from Brits about the Revolutionary War and they love making fun of the monarchy as much as the next country.
9. Similar to above but the general shopping is the same – H&M, Topshop, Gap, etc. You can shop in British brand stores as well, but if you’re homesick H&M is always here for you.
10. Domino’s is still the best delivery pizza. And they do the same deals as the States. College kids need not fear.
11. Speaking of takeout – Uber eats is a thing here along with Deliveroo (Postmates equivalent). And there’s a filter for “American” cuisine.
12. Like New York or DC or really any city with public transport, don’t talk to anyone on said public transport. This is a no socializing zone.
13. Some of the houses in London are painted all sorts of colors, reminding me of big cities like San Francisco where the residents often do the same.
14. You have to pay for plastic shopping bags in grocery stores, just like in America. (P.S. please have reusable bags on hand, the environment appreciates your effort)
15. Different parts of the country have different accents.
16. There are multiple grocery stores, but as in the US, there is Aldi and Whole Foods.
17. Chipotle has made its way to London.
18. Flights get delayed or canceled just as often in London as they do at any major airport in the US (thanks British Airways, American Airlines, United, etc.).
19. Everyone talks about the weather when they have nothing else to say to you.
20. Brits are as obsessed with their sports as Americans. Rugby/Soccer is to Brits what Football/Basketball is to Americans.
I’m sure the list could go on, and feel free to send me your favorite things that are the same between the UK and the US. I also know there are quite a lot of differences – ‘jumper’ means sweater and ‘trainers’ are sneakers, two things that would have made a couple parts of Harry Potter make more sense to me. But, I like focusing on the aspects that are similar because it keeps away the homesickness and reminds me that while I may be an immigrant, I can fit in pretty well in my new home.