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.
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.
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.
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.