Visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

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New York City is famous for many reasons — Lady Liberty, world-renowned chefs, Central Park, Empire State Building, Times Square, Pizza, 5th Avenue, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the list could go on and on. But perhaps, in my mind, the most important and symbolic of the resilience and sacrifice  of the people of New York is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Created in honor of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, the memorial and museum was a must-see during my last trip to NYC.

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Navigating Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

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Happy to be here! Hello, Epcot!

Now in its 23rd year, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival is, in my personal opinion, the best time to visit Disney’s third oldest theme park. Beginning in 1995, the Food & Wine Festival features expertly created tasting dishes and international wines from various countries around the world.

Epcot is perfectly designed for this type of event, with its own global marketplace featuring 11 countries set up around a central lagoon inside the park. During the Festival, Epcot adds additional countries to its regular lineup with unique tasting options and drinks at each. While the weekends are often the more crowded time to visit, they also offer the most events and activities. The Festival hosts culinary demonstrations, live performances, celebrity chefs, food seminars, and special dining offerings, most of which are scheduled for weekends.

While in Orlando for a work conference, I planned a visit to Epcot to attend this year’s Festival. It’s been on my travel list for a while now and I was excited for the opportunity to attend this year. My time, though limited, was maximized by devising a plan to prioritize the Festival’s offerings. Unfortunately none of the Festivals’ unique food or beverage selections are included in your ticket to the park. The food generally ranges from $4-$8 and drinks averaged about $6 each.

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These are a few of my favorite things [Asheville Edition]

P9010632.jpgIn just two short visits, Asheville has quickly become one of my favorite places to explore. A 4.5 hour drive from Nashville, Asheville has a small town feel with all the attractions of a large city.

On our first visit, Andrew and I spent much of our time downtown eating and enjoying the many breweries Asheville has to offer. On our second trip however, we built in more variety by including hiking, neighborhood exploring, and fine dining to the itinerary.

Read on – there’s much to explore!

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Everything I love about Dublin

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Dublin is a glorious city! I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. Everything from the easy to navigate city streets to the wonderfully ornate cathedrals and traditional pubs on every corner, Dublin has much to offer. I spent two full days in Ireland’s capital city and am ready to return again! But why all the love? I thought you’d never ask…

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Are the Cliffs of Moher Worth the Trip?

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You’ve read the reviews. You’ve polled your FaceBook friends for recommendations. You’ve liked the posts on Instagram. You’ve flipped through your Lonely Planet manual. It’s official – it’s on the list of “must dos” for the trip! But then, after you’ve spent the time, money, and energy getting there, a haunting question creeps into your mind… “Was it worth it?!”

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A Whirlwind Guide to London

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Photo by A.Reid

What’s a trip to Europe without a stop through at least one country? One of the best things about Europe, in my opinion, is the close proximity of its countries. It’s always fun to compare distances between states in the US and countries in Europe. It may take 7 hours to drive through Florida alone and, in Europe, those 7 hours would put you through at least 2 countries! On my recent trip to Ireland, I tacked on a quick visit to London. My timing was tight and the itinerary was lengthy but it was too much to resist so a whirlwind 48-hour trip to London ensued.

One of the reasons I love large cities like London and New York is the walkability. Most of the highlights are easily walkable and allow you to explore the alleyways, shops, restaurants, and pubs along the way. Several of the classic, historical sites in London are close to each other and I quickly stopped by many of them including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and The Globe. I was in absolute awe! While I’m not from England, I felt very connected to London — it was as though our American history textbooks and literature were coming to life. Much of America’s story is England’s story and it was exhilarating to see everything in person.

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Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge, contrary to popular belief!)
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A typical gray day in London
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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

A friend of mine studied abroad in London and provided me with a suggested itinerary, including the Borough Market, an open-air food, drink, and merchant market which quickly became a favorite. She also recommended checking out Gordon’s Wine Bar, established inside a cave during the 1890s. I really loved this place as you are truly cut off from the busy city life outside and above you. I was so isolated that I didn’t even realize the London Bridge terrorist attack was happening at that exact time.

I had been on the London Bridge just the night before and it was frightening to imagine that it could have been me walking along the bridge at that time. My family knew long before me and, not being able to immediately reach me, spiraled into a panic. As I returned to my Airbnb, the host knocked on me door and told me to call my family; they had called to see if I was safe. Thankfully I was and my family was grateful for having a contact number to reach me.

Pro Tip! Always leave your itinerary with someone back home. You should never travel without anyone knowing where you’ll be or how to get in touch with you in case of an emergency.

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Borough Market
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Big Ben, Westminster, and the London Eye. The site of the terrorist attack was on the bridge to the left.

A trip to London would be incomplete without a visit to the Royals, of course! I spent a good portion of an afternoon exploring Hyde Park, wandering around Kensington Palace, gawking at the immense amount of wealth displayed through golden statues, fences, and archways, and posing outside of Buckingham Palace. I didn’t have the chance to glimpse any of the Royal Family on this visit but the opportunity to tour the outside of their vast estates was incredible. It still amazes me that a country, such as England, continues to have a monarchy. I realize their powers are significantly limited at this point but it feels so archaic and unique to me. All hail the Queen!

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Outside the gates of Buckingham Palace

All that remained now was a speedy cruise through the colorful Notting Hill and it was back to Ireland. Two short days flew by in London but it was well worth the visit!

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The colorful homes of Notting Hill
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Typical tourist photo? Check!

How to Spend a Long Layover in Boston

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Long layovers are my favorite, or, at least the long layovers that allow you time to explore a cool destination. Enter Boston. While this wasn’t my first visit to Boston, it was easily my shortest visit. I enjoyed a 9-hour layover in this historic city with a few ideas in mind and an adventurous spirit. Here’s how I spent a perfect Saturday afternoon in one of the oldest cities in America.

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¡Barcelona, una semana no es suficiente!

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Spain has always been on my travel shortlist but, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure about Barcelona. Perhaps it was because of their differing heritage and culture from the rest of Spain or their desire to break away. Whatever the reason, I was wrong! Barcelona is truly remarkable and one week was not enough!

I like to cram as many explorations as possible into a trip, often planning day trip excursions to neighboring towns as well, but on this week-long trip, I happily remained in Barcelona, soaking up everything the city has to offer. Prior to arrival, I often prep a list of potential activities in order to avoid wasting time wondering what there is to do. Of course, I will also leave room for local suggestions and try not to plan things back to back to allow time for spontaneity but I always have at least an idea of what I will do. I never accomplish all of it and, for this post, I’m sharing my planning and actual lists for your recommendation pleasure.

My original planning list included the following

Sightseeing

  • Basilica de la Segrada Familia
  • La Boqueria Market
  • Parc Güell
  • La Rambla & Placa Reial Square
  • Montjuic Castle
  • Parc del Laberint d’Horta
  • Bunker del Carmel
  • Sagrat Cor (summit of Mt Tibidabo)
  • Casa Batllo
  • Parc de la Ciutadella
  • Devour Barcelona Food Tours
  • BCN Kitchen Cooking Classes
  • Free Walking Tours 11am & 3pm
  • Soccer Game at Camp Nou
  • Flamenco Dancing Performance

Neighborhoods Worth Exploring

  • Gothic Quarter
  • Poble-sec
  • Born
  • L’Eixample
  • El Raval
  • Graciatugo
  • Gracia

Day Trip Options

  • Costa Brava
  • Costa Daurada
  • Montserrat (hike to monastery)
  • Sitges or Selva de Mar (beaches)

And here’s a photo journal reflecting what I actually ended up doing each day

[Day One]

Exploring the neighborhoods of Gracia and La Sagrada Familia, outside tour of Casa Batllo, and purchasing bottles of €3 wine at the local grocery!

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[Day Two]

Exploring the neighborhoods of Poble-sec and L’Eixample, Parc de la Ciutadella, Montjuic: National Museum of Art, Magic fountain, Moritz brewery, Sagrada Familia and Tarantos for flamenco show in Placa Reial

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[Day Three]

La Boqueria Market cooking class with BCN Kitchen, exploring the Gothic Quarter and visiting the Picasso museum

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[Day Four]

Wandering around Parc Güell, ice cream at Dela Crem, music at Palau, tropical drinks at Paradiso

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[Day Five]

Thursday – Food Festival “Tast a la Rambla”, more time exploring the Gothic Quarter, mojitos on Barcelonetta Beach, dinner at Bro Room

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Tips & Other Recommendations:

Take a Cooking Class

I love joining cooking classes while traveling! I get a taste of the local cuisine, meet fellow travelers, learn about the cultural foods of the country, and stock up on local food recommendations from a chef. What’s not to love about that? My cooking class with BCN Kitchen was no different. I used “hostelgeeks5” for a discount and selected the market shopping and cooking class option. The kitchen was located in the back of the popular market, La Boqueria, and included shopping for the ingredients in our dishes.

At the end of the class I asked the chef for a list of places she would take her friends and family when they visit as well as where she frequents in her free time. I wish I’d started my trip with this cooking class because, by the time I received this list, my trip was more than halfway over.

Here’s a few of the highlights from her list. I’m sure they are all worthy of a visit!

  • For Lunch/Dinner – La Xampanyeria, El Glop, La Vinateria del Call
  • For Sweet Treats – Tomo Il or Caelum
  • For Catalan Food – La Pubilla – Placa de la Llibertat, 23
  • For Tapas – Bar Pinotxo, El 58, Tapas 24, l’Anxoveya, Cal Pep
  • For Drinks – La Vinya del Senyor, Bar Rubi, Collage, Edge Brewing, Polaroid, Milano, La Isobela, Nevermind, Jamboree

Book classes & walking tours for the start of your trip

Classes and walking tours are a great way to meet people, a perfect opportunity to ask a local for recommendations, and a way to orient yourself to the city and local culture. Booking these for the start of your trip allow you to take full advantage of all that you learn and gain from them. Highly recommend!

Avoid La Rambla as much as possible

La Rambla is a well-known street filled with souvenirs, street vendors, and buskers. It is also the location of the terrorist attack and the place you’re most likely to be a victim of pickpocketing. Barcelona has earned a bad rap for pickpocket theft and most if these crimes take place on or around La Rambla. It’s mostly a tourist trap and with so much else this city has to offer, you might as well avoid this strip.

Book tickets to visit Gaudi’s works in advance online

Avoid disappointment and ensure you have your time of day pick for any of Gaudi’s masterpieces by booking online. I prioritized Parc Güell and La Sagrada Familia and was able to skip the lines by reserving my tickets online. This is especially important for the Parc because they only allow a certain number of people in at a time. If you walk/travel all the way up there and then have to wait around to get it or possibly not be able to get inside, you will be sorely disappointed and frustrated. Truth.

It seems nearly impossible to tackle all of these fabulous spots – and I certainly wasn’t going to do it all in just one week – but there’s no harm in trying! Happy Planning!

My go-to packing list

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A carry-on & tote bag for two weeks in Italy!

Packing is one of my least favorite parts of any trip. I used to dislike it so much that I would have anxiety attacks and lash out at loved ones who got caught in my path. I am much better now – thank goodness – but much of that is due to the creation of a go-to packing list.

I first established this list in preparation for my Australia adventure. Prior to the list, I tried a few other methods that were no where near efficient. For my Italy trip, I downloaded an app that would help you plan out your outfits. In order to use it correctly though, you had to take pictures of individual wardrobe items in your closet, crop and save them in the app. It reminded me of paper dolls and Cher’s polaroid routine from Clueless. All in all, it was too much effort. I will say, however, I was quite proud of my packing for that trip!

By the time Australia rolled around, I needed a solid plan. I would be traveling for about a year and I did not want to check a bag. Checking bags is the worst! I hate the fees and I hate waiting for bags, hoping yours didn’t end up on another flight. No thanks, I’ll bring a carry-on. But carry-ons require smart planning.

Below is my go-to list that I use for each trip. Of course, depending on where I’m heading and the length of time I will be there, I modify this list. Bare in mind this was created for a year’s worth of travel, the country where I was headed is mostly warm weather, and there was the potential for work, too. Overall, most of my trips are to somewhere warm or with mild winters so my list continues to prove useful.

Clothing & Shoes

  • 5 Tops
  • 3 Maxi Dresses
  • 4 Summer Dresses
  • 3 Scarves
  • 2 Pencil Skirts (I was anticipating working while abroad)
  • Exercise clothes & sports bras
  • 5 Pairs of Socks
  • Bras & Underwear (about 2 weeks worth)
  • Beach Coverup
  • 3 Bathing Suits
  • 2 Pairs of Jeans
  • 1 Pair of Leggings
  • 2 Pairs of Tights
  • Rain Jacket
  • 3 Tank Tops
  • Light Hoodie
  • 2 Long-Sleeve Shirts
  • Pajama shorts & sweatpants
  • 1 Knit Sweater
  • 1 Jacket
  • One Pair of: sneakers, sandals, flip flops, flats

Toiletries

  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Face & Body Wash
  • Lotion
  • Tampons
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Shaving Razors
  • Comb
  • Hair towel
  • Hair straightener
  • Nail clipper
  • Tweezers
  • Blow dryer
  • Hair gel

Technology

  • Camera & charger
  • iPad & charger
  • Portable battery
  • iPhone & charger
  • USB cables
  • Jump drive
  • Headphones
  • Bluetooth speaker & charger
  • Power Adapters

Documents*

  • Passport
  • Driver’s License
  • Credit Cards
  • Proof of Insurance

*Note: I scan each of these and save them on DropBox or Google Drive as well. Always good to have a back-up.

Other/Miscellaneous

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Travel detergent
  • Rx Medications
  • Aleve/Ibuprofen
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Bug spray
  • Travel detergent
  • Neosporin
  • Travel towel/beach towel
  • Travel Clothing Line (life saver!)
  • Sleeping Mask
  • Reusable Water Bottle
  • Plastic Bags (ziplock gallon and sandwich-sized and grocery bags)
  • Padlock & keys (for Hostel stays)
  • Purse & Clutch
  • Book
  • Sunglasses
  • Journal
  • Gym/Hiking Bag
  • Googles
  • Travel Blanket

So there you have it! I rely heavily on the rolling method to fit everything inside and always lay out all my clothes together before beginning packing. I have a routine now for all of this and it is definitely a process but I’m constantly pleased with the results.

Did I miss anything? How do you pack for a trip? Share your thoughts below!

Explore New Orleans Like a Local

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I chose to live in New Orleans for six glorious years. New Orleans is real, gritty, crazy, violent, and beautiful. There really is nothing like it. The people are warm and friendly, oozing with southern hospitality and the streets are filled with vibrant colors and deep potholes. It’s a place where many people go to party and a place that anyone who has ever been holds near to their heart. It is a special place and a difficult place and that is how I will always describe it. I love this city.

In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain, “In America, there might be better gastronomic destinations than New Orleans, but there is no place more uniquely wonderful. So I would say New Orleans. With the best restaurants in New York, you’ll find something similar to it in Paris or Copenhagen or Chicago. But there is no place like New Orleans. So it’s a must see city because there’s no explaining it, no describing it. You can’t compare it to anything. So, far and away New Orleans.”

I am often asked for recommendations – where to eat and what to do – for New Orleans and I am happy to share. Rather than continuing to craft a list over and over again, I am sharing my recommendations here — How to explore New Orleans like a local.

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