Checking In: An Iconic Hotel by StayPineapple

Being a local to Chicago makes me one of the luckiest people when it comes to a staycation. Instead of airfare, I pay a round-trip price of $16 to get to and from the city and can plan a trip around hotel prices. Plus, the location can’t be beat. Even New Yorkers get out of their city when they take a staycation. I mean, that’s why the Hamptons exist, right? When I’m desperate to get away but don’t have the time or bandwidth to plan an actual trip, I’ll open Hotel Tonight or check a few of my favorite hotels in the city to see where I can find the best price…

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5-Day Itinerary to Washington DC

Five days is the perfect amount of time to soak up Washington DC. Museums alone could fill that but having a longer visit leaves room for day trips and taking your time. DC has plenty to offer from historical sites and buildings to restaurants and shopping. Regardless of your interests, there's something for everyone. Having spent quite some time in DC, I've put together an itinerary for a 5-day trip that includes everything from sightseeing to day trips. Grab a pen for notes, and keep reading…

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6 Cozy, Hygge-Inspired Winter Destinations

Invented by the Danish, “hygge” means coziness and it seems to have taken over winter. Unless you’re looking to avoid the cold weather and head somewhere warm, people are gravitating towards vacations and decor in their own homes that resemble a cozy, comfy…hygge...vibe. It makes sense too! Who doesn’t love a hot cup of cocoa by a roaring fireplace while wearing yoga pants and chunky sweaters? I could forget every other season if everyday could be cozy and comfortable and well...the perfect hygge experience. While recreating the lifestyle is easy at home, nothing beats going away and experiencing it somewhere else where you don’t have to clean up the cocoa dishes or sweep the fireplace at the end of the night…

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5 Reasons to Visit Amboise, France

Have you ever been somewhere that makes you feel like you’re walking in a real life fairytale? That’s exactly how I felt as we pulled into Amboise, France, a small medieval town in the Loire Valley. The final home of Leonardo da Vinci and home to  Château Royal d’Amboise, it’s as if you’re walking in the real life version of Beauty & the Beast. The people are friendly, the food is outstanding and if the walls could would be a hard to top history lesson. About 140 miles outside of Paris, Amboise is one of many stops to make throughout the Loire Valley and believe me when I say - there are many. Known for the highest concentration of chateaus in the world, the Loire Valley is one of France’s largest wine producing regions, especially white wine and sparkling wine (not to be confused with Champagne which can only be made in the region of the same name). While Amboise is not the only town I suggest for a visit in the Loire Valley, it is one of my favorites. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are five reasons why you should visit Amboise....

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1 - The History. Amboise has seen much of history from being the home of kings and hosting notable historical figures to being the epicenter of religious turmoil. It’s been used as a place of celebration and a place of incarceration. It’s amazing to realize how much this town has been through over centuries - like I said, if the walls could talk I could only imagine what they’d say. Amboise also served as a fortress during its long life. Because of this, there are underground passageways which offer a unique look back into history. Lucky for us, these tunnels as well as the towers within the fortress are accessible through special tours. The town and château  especially was nearly destroyed during the French Revolution. After being returned to the heirs of Louis Philippe in the late 19th century, the  château went under a complete restoration only to be damaged once again during World War II during the German invasion. Restorations took place for the final time after the war and are now kept by a local organization. Today, Amboise still maintains its Renaissance charm which is what gives it such a fairy tale-like character that seems at times, unreal.

🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

2 - Château Royal d’Amboise is breathtaking inside and out. The château is smaller in size compared to many others but the quaint size is what makes it so charming. Amboise has seen its fair share of neglect but it’s always been rebuilt and today, it shares a window to the past so that we might understand what life was like throughout the centuries that came before us. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is much to see at Château Royal d’Amboise. For starters, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel which sits atop the castle gardens. For anyone who adores Renaissance art and the great minds from that generation, this is an absolute must. The rooms inside the chateau have been returned to their former glory when royalty made it their home. The gardens that sit on top of the château overlook the town and the valley for some of the best views you’ll find in the Loire.

View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

3 - Château du Clos Lucé was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. He lived here for the final three years of his life with a select few students and it is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Located just outside the town’s borders, Clos Lucé holds many of Leonardo's unfinished work as well as finished pieces and drawings of ideas and inventions he had not yet gotten to. Clos Lucé was originally built by the Amboise family who the town was named after in the 15th Century. It later became a summer home of the Kings of France which is how it came to be da Vinci’s final home. King Francis I admired da Vinci and asked him to be the “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” which obviously, he accepted. Clos Lucé pays tribute to more than just the famed artist. There are rooms dedicated to other periods of time and figures who also took up residence on the property, for example, Queen Anne of Brittany.

Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

4 - The Amboise Sunday Market is a favorite among visitors and locals within the entire Loire Valley. The market features vendors selling everything from food to clothing to furniture. Many people make a day of it and finish with a picnic by the river or tour one of the aforementioned châteaux. Because of the market’s popularity, it’s important to get there early to beat crowds. Grab all the produce you need for the week with freshly grown vegetables and fruits, purchase fresh meat butchered that very morning, and enjoy pre-made cuisine that proves French street food is as good as anywhere else. The market takes place in the Place du Marchée beside the Loire River. It’s quite large and busy but 100% worth experiencing at least once.

Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

5 - The town of Amboise is as charming as its château of the same name. Because Amboise has higher tourist traffic than similar small towns within the Loire Valley, it has novelties and conveniences that others might not. There are many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, shops and fun things to do and see. The gardens of the château provide unbeatable panoramic views of the Loire Valley. The streets of Amboise take you to a different place and time. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is simply fantastic. It’s hard to hate Amboise from its charming personality to welcoming nature to historical significance. The town and the château have had a rough life but that alone speaks to the people’s tenacity and strength. In fact, I fell in love with Amboise so much that it’s my #1 choice to settle down for a time when I manage to get back to Europee indefinitely. When a place leaves a mark on you that strong, you know it’s meant to be.

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8 Destinations For Solo Travel Around the World

Some of the best adventures are had while we’re pushed outside of our comfort zones. Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences anyone can have, especially a woman. I cannot say this enough. If you feel nervous, start slow. Plan a long weekend away in the US or your home country. Once you’ve built up the confidence many people feel they need to travel alone, take a longer trip abroad. Regardless of where your first trip may take you, these 8 non-European and US cities are musts for your solo travel bucket list. I call this…8 Destinations For Solo Travel Around the World. It should be a longer list, just like the US and European lists should have been longer, but we’d be getting into novel length territory. As much as I’d love to write the next great American novel, none of us here currently have time for that. So from the temples of Cambodia to the festivals of Quebec, here are 8 destinations for solo travelers around the world.

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Bangkok, Thailand
Now is the ideal time to plan a trip to Bangkok. I’ll be honest, Thailand wasn’t the first place that came to mind when I thought about solo travel. A friend of mine traveled to Bangkok with family and had an exceptional experience. While I was polling friends and family to find out what countries and cities they felt would be great for women looking to travel alone for the first time, she insisted I consider Bangkok. After a little research, I couldn’t agree more. November to February will see the coolest temperatures in Thailand. December and January see the highest number of tourists so if you prefer a less crowded experience, November and February will offer less crowds without the sweltering temperatures or downpouring rain.

Bangkok is known for their street food which is almost everywhere. It might not be the traditional Thai food you’re familiar with from the local takeout place but it will no doubt blow your mind. Communication might not be smooth sailing as the people largely use their own native language (rightfully so), but you will find plenty of kindness. Thailand thrives from tourism and the people know this so they’ve become incredibly welcoming to visitors. With that said, don’t let vendors take advantage of you! Haggling is a common practice in Thailand and while it might seem intimidating, have a little fun with it. It’s more of a game than an anxious confrontation.

Photo c/o @ yesrenteria

Photo c/o @yesrenteria

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Budapest, Hungary
Hungary is a country that should be on any travel bucket list for the history alone. Many different groups of people left a mark on Hungary but you’ll see the strongest influence from the Romans and the Turkish empire. You can still enjoy thermal baths which are as popular with the locals as they are with tourists. Something I did not know about Budapest, it is literally split into Buda and Pest! The two parts of the city are separated by the Danube River and have very different vibes. Buda is home to more of the historical monuments and architecture of the city. Here you will find lots of old cobblestone roads, the Castle District and quiet nights. Adversely, Pest is where you go for a fun nightlife scene. Pest is the home of the Jewish Quarter where there are an endless amount of unique cafes and ruin bars to visit. Even though Buda is where most of the historic buildings are, you can still find things like the House of Terror and St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest. If you’re worried about traveling solo in Budapest, don’t. It’s very friendly towards travelers, even women who are on their own.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a busy, bustling experience surrounded by beaches, mountains, ruins, and more. Whatever you can think of to want in a travel experience, Hanoi has to offer. While it might be overwhelming at first, Hanoi deserves a chance if you’re willing to be a little adventurous in your solo travels. A great place to stay in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. For starters, many of the popular hotels are located here which is convenient in itself. Second, many of the sights that will be on your list are also located here such as Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s also a hub for shopping, dining, and more. A few things that you’ll want to make sure are on your list: Vietnamese coffee (trust me), street food (one of the things Hanoi is known for), and the Hanoi Night Market. The Night Market is a reprieve from the general rule of staying in at night as a solo traveler. If you feel comfortable, venture out. The market will still be crowded enough to feel safe but not as congested as the daytime markets feel. There’s less haggling as well since the vendors and shopkeepers are much more casual and relaxed.

Sites to consider visiting include Van Mieu, Hao Lo Prison, and the Vietnam Army Museum. Van Mieu, otherwise known as the Temple of Literature, is supposedly the most beautiful to visit. Hao Lo Prison, also known as Hanoi Hilton, can be a little controversial. The information the museum shares isn’t exactly historically accurate according to accounts from those who experienced the prison during the Vietnam War. If you keep an open mind, it’s an interesting exhibit sharing insight into what the Vietnamese went through while trying to gain independence from France. The WanderBlogger has a great guide to Hanoi featuring 8 things you should do.

Mexico City, Mexico
When you think of Mexican travel spots, Cancun and Playa del Carmen might be the first cities that come to mind. Mexico City, although not a beachside city, should be at the top of your Central American bucket list. Bursting with cultural experiences, Mexico City is filled with Mexican history and culture from the food to the art scene. This destination is ideal for the foodie, the history buff, the art lover, the frugal traveler, and most definitely...the solo traveler. The bustling city has the second largest collection of museums (who knew?!), thousands of restaurants including high-end dining experiences, and an unlimited amount of things to do.

Let’s start with history. Mexico City is surrounded by some of the more notable Mayan, Aztec, and Mesoamerican ruins. For art lovers, on top of the many art museums and ancient sculptures littered throughout the city, you’ll also find many to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. There’s a museum solely dedicated to Kahlo located in her old family home as well as to both Kahlo and Rivera in their old studio. While Asian countries are said to have the best street food in the world, natives of Mexico City might disagree. From tacos to tamales, the capital city has a lively food scene that rivals those of Thailand and Vietnam (also mentioned in this post). That doesn’t mean you can’t find a gourmet meal though! Oh no, Mexico City has many restaurants that provide unique, high-end dining experiences including tasting menus. The difference between Mexico City and say...Chicago? It’ll cost you a lot less. Ultimately, Mexico City should be a bucket list item for the solo traveler or at the very least, the frugal traveler.

Photo c/o @ yesrenteria

Photo c/o @yesrenteria

Quebec, Canada
Hopefully my next solo excursion this fall, Quebec is the closest US natives can get to Europe without flying across the Atlantic. Similar to France, Quebec has a strong, proud culture and history. There’s an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain in the first season that really dives into the culture of the region. It’s actually one of the reasons I was inspired to include Quebec rather than any other Canadian city or province in this post. Expect to speak the Quebecois dialect of French with signs throughout the cities only in French. It doesn’t take a linguist to translate the meaning of said signs but it’s something to prepare for. When traveling to the Quebec province in Canada, there are two big city options: Quebec City and Montreal. Both are worth adding to your itinerary but they each have their own individual experiences.

Montreal is the more cosmopolitan of the two cities and Quebec City is much more historical. Not to say that Montreal doesn’t have its fair share of history and Old World feel. Quebec City just has more doors to the past. For example, Quebec City is home to Old Quebec where you can find the original walled fortifications of the city now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quebec City is also where you’ll find the Citadelle of Quebec which is Canada’s oldest military building and the Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica that dates back to the 17th century. Let’s not knock Montreal though. This city has plenty to offer all it’s own. While Quebec City might have a more Old World feel to it, Montreal has embraced the 21st century while still remembering where it came from. Montreal has a vibrant food scene with classic patisseries, English pubs, food markets, delis and more. It’s a city that loves festivals with more than 90 in a calendar year especially their famous Jazz Festival. The art scene is established and always growing. Regardless of which city you choose, there are plenty of things to occupy your time, more than enough restaurants to keep your belly full, and enough culture to make you leave feeling enriched and ready to return at a moment’s notice.

Queenstown, New Zealand
There are a lot of reasons why New Zealand deserves to be on this list. The people are incredibly friendly, it’s one of the safest countries in the world, and there’s a range of adventures from city exploration to remote hiking trails. One day you can be exploring a Hobbit Town, the next you can be on a vineyard tour sipping delightful wines, and the next you can be staring up at a crystal clear sky in the mountains. The versatility of the country is unique. Queenstown in particular is more of the adventurous region of New Zealand. Home to a vast number of nature activities from hiking to skiing, there is plenty of land to explore and things to do. A visit to Queenstown is great for the scenery alone. The landscape and backdrops that surround you all over are breathtaking.

Santiago, Chile
It may be surprising (it was to me) but Santiago Chile is one of the safest cities to visit in South America. With low crime rates and trustworthy police, Santiago has become one of the more popular Latin American travel destinations and rightfully so. Santiago has everything going for it from a rich urban culture to gorgeous mountains and vibrant vineyards and wineries. Let’s talk about those for a minute. The best travel times for Santiago are from March to May and August to November. However my vote is March to May because that’s fall in Santiago which means harvest season. Wineries in Chile, just like any other place in the world celebrate the harvest with festivals and it’s a wonderful time to enjoy the world-class wine from the region. The weather is also mild making it a comfortable time to travel without the crowds that summer brings. Santiago is a great city for frugal travelers as the conversion rate is in the American’s favor plus everything is less expensive. There are also a large number of things to see and do for free. For foodie travelers, dive into classic sopaipillas, explore Peruvian cuisine, and enjoy fresh fish caught that morning. If you ask me, I’m in for the sopaipillas alone!

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Known as the home of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is a city rich in history, culture, and welcoming locals making it a great destination for traveling alone. Depending on where you’re traveling from, Siem Reap might not be particular cheap to get to but it’s rather inexpensive to visit. Walk ancient ruins in Angkor Wat (translated to “City of Temples”), the largest religious monument in the world. This is a high traffic area for tourists so if you’re one who tends to avoid crowds, do a little research to see which of the temples are not as popular or head over early. The early bird always misses the crowd. Because Siem Reap is a smaller town there isn’t much nightlife which works in the favor of solo travel. However, if you’d like to grab a post-Indiana Jones adventure cocktail, Pub Street is the place to be! Cambodia as a whole is known for their cuisine and lifestyle rooted in strong wellness practices. From yoga retreats to spa days, there is no shortage of opportunities to rejuvenate before the long flight home.

5 Places To Travel & Escape The Heat

Normally when people think about taking a vacation, there’s a beach involved, a few margaritas and plenty of sunshine. Me? I hibernate until fall comes around and then get my jetsetter on. Walking around and exploring all day long isn’t the same when you’re sweating through your clothes and unbearably warm. Beach destinations are fantastic if your main plans include laying in the sand all day but when you have an itinerary, it’s much more enjoyable if you can walk around for more than ten minutes without wanting to strip down on the sidewalk. I seem to be of the rare breed that prefers cooler temperatures for comfort. If you want to do some traveling over these next few warmer months but prefer not to be sweltering (like me), these destinations are just the ticket.

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When in doubt, go north. Summer in Alaska is much more tolerable than summer in any part of the continental states. Alaska offers a lot of different options too. From big city experiences to getting in touch with nature, Alaska has it all and with great weather too. Get an urban experience with plenty of culture and activities in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, or Juneau, the capital. Venture to Glacier Bay National Park for a rare glimpse at nature in all its wonder with humpback whales, sea lions, bald eagles and more. Get a taste of the Gold Rush with small historic towns like Sitka, also known for its moment of fame in The Proposal. Experience early settlements left behind from Native American and Russian cultures or venture to parts of Alaska that are still home to natives. Bethel in Southwest Alaska, is home to dozens of Native Alaskan villages making it an incredible experience for those who appreciate a cultural immersion.

Photo by   Steve Halama   on   Unsplash

On the opposite end of the planet for us living in the northern hemisphere, Argentina is experiencing winter during our summertime but don’t let that stop you from visiting! Winter in Argentina, unless you head up into the Andes, tends to average from the mid-50s to mid-60s. It’s beautiful weather for exploring and drinking in as much of the country as you can. An obvious destination to visit is Buenos Aires, also known as the “Paris of South America.” This city has everything you can think of from sidewalk cafes to historical and architectural sites. All you wine lovers, add Mendoza to your summer travel list. Boasting temperatures in the 60s, this city is known for its vineyards and wineries but more specifically, its Malbec. Think of it as the Sonoma of Argentina. Enough to keep busy but casual beyond belief.

New Zealand
Oh, New Zealand. The country I almost fled to after the last election with real life hobbit holes and gorgeous panoramas. While many of us are experiencing scorching summer heat, New Zealand is in the thick of their winter which has temperature highs ranging from the 50s to 60s. And if you haven’t caught on yet, this is perfect travel weather in my opinion. For all you nature lovers, New Zealand is a prime location to travel to being one of the best hiking destinations in the world. Wander along one of their beaches or tackle one of the many “Great Walks.” They have an option for every skill level, even the amateurs like me! Foodies can rejoice in the burgeoning culinary boom in Auckland, Wellington and Napier plus, the coffee scene is darn good as well. And let’s not forget the #1 reason to travel to New Zealand...the hobbit holes. For any of you Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy nerds (fellow fans of mine), you may be familiar with New Zealand as the filming location for these epic films. Visit The Shire, take a tour, or even stay in a Hobbit Hole! It’s the most amazing thing ever and 100% on my bucket list.

Photo by   Lucas Gruwez   on   Unsplash

San Francisco
Known for having the best weather year-round, San Francisco is one of those places that’s good to visit any time of year. While it’s not particularly cool, average temperatures throughout the summertime range from the mid 60s to low 70s and you know it’s always breezy! San Francisco is actually the warmest in the late summer/early fall, perfect if you want to enter the warmth of sunny Napa Valley or Sonoma for a weekend wine tasting during harvest season. Don’t miss these favorite sights to see, grab a little soul food or great cappuccino, and prepare yourself for the insane hills. Not quite sure where to start? Check out our Quick Guide to San Francisco.

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You don't have to worry about sweltering during the summertime in Scotland! With temperatures averaging in the 60s, Scotland has beautiful summer days with elongated sunsets. Scotland may be of the smaller countries in the United Kingdom but it is jam packed with natural habitats, historical sites, castles that are hundreds of years old, and tons of culture. It’s a place that will adopt you as a local rather fast because you’re immersed from the second you arrive to the second you leave. Visit a distillery for some of the best whiskey you’ll ever sip and don’t miss the chance for a real pub meal. Not only will it save you money, but you’ll get a feel for what the locals prefer to chow down on. Finally, if you’re not planning on staying in one place, consider taking a train ride as they’re known for exceptional rail routes and scenery. The West Highland Railway Line might be the most popular but there are others as well.

Photo by   Adam Wilson   on   Unsplash

Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

There are quite a few fantastic places to visit in the summer if you’re looking to avoid the heat. Heading to the southern hemisphere is a great option as long as you’re not close to the equator and heading north is also a pretty good bet. Scandinavian and Nordic countries are a pretty good option with average high temperatures for Finland, Greenland and Iceland ranging from the 50s to 70s.

So tell me in the comments below, do you prefer to cool off in the summer or embrace the heat?

8 European Destinations For First-Time Solo Travelers

Traveling abroad for the first time is both exciting and nerve wrecking. Doing it on your own heightens both of those emotions ten fold. On the one hand, you’re heading to a new country! Those of us who travel alone have a passion for it and it’s something we look forward to and dream about. So the excitement is certainly unparalleled but the nervousness that can accompany it is also very real. Travel is an experience for the mind, the body and the soul and when you embark on that journey by yourself for the first time, you feel a lot of things and that's ok.

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The day I left for Paris, I remember talking to my Noni (my grandma) on the phone before they boarded us onto the plane. I was by myself, I had never been to another country let alone traveled by myself before. I could count the number of trips I’d taken in my life on one hand. It was surreal but overwhelming and as soon as I hung up the phone I started crying. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited, I was beyond ready for this experience and I worked really hard to get there. The immensity of it was an entire different situation. Knowing I’d be far away from my family for the first time, not knowing if I would even like France, and every other uncertainty weighed in my mind. But soon, they called my boarding group so I grabbed my plastic bag of homemade lemon cookies my Zia Tia made for me and put on my big girl pants. And you know what? I have never looked back.

The scariest part of traveling alone is leaving for your first trip. You know you were made for this because otherwise you wouldn’t consider doing it. Between the excitement and the apprehension and the uncertainty of it all, it’s a lot of feelings and thoughts flooding your brain. My best piece of advice...embrace it. Embrace all of it. Confront those fears and keep pushing forward because on the other side of that plane or train or car will be the first of many unforgettable and meaningful experiences on your journey.

Deciding the destination to visit for your first trip alone is incredibly personal to you. There are a lot of factors including language, location, and money. Do you want to travel somewhere that English is the main language? Do you want to travel somewhere that is more urban or more rural? Do you have a specific reason for traveling? France was a no-brainer for me and Paris was the easiest city to get to. It was also through a study abroad program so that was another factor. After a lot of research, feedback from fellow travelers, and my own personal experiences, I have come up with 8 European cities that are great for a first time solo trip. Tell me in the comments below if you have any other recommendations and if you’ve already made that first trip, where did you go and what was it like.

[Photo by   Kaci Baum   on   Unsplash  ]

[Photo by Kaci Baum on Unsplash]

Amsterdam, Netherlands
The #1 concern of many first time solo travelers is safety. According to an article citing The Economist, Amsterdam is the 6th safest city in the world based on a 2017 index. That alone should make anyone feel pretty great about Amsterdam. If you haven’t practiced another language, mostly everyone speaks English making it ideal for easy communication. Finally, Amsterdam is a city smaller in scale compared to other European cities like Paris, Rome, or London making it easier for adjusting and personally connecting with locals.

Besides the important factors, there are a lot of things Amsterdam offers. For starters, it has a very well preserved and rich history. You can find houses, buildings and monuments that date as far back as the 16th century and are still functioning today. Amsterdam has citizens from many different countries making it uniquely diverse in its cultural representation. This translates best to the food! You’ll find everything from pizza to pancakes and love every bite. For my fellow coffee addicts, Amsterdam is home to over 160 coffee shops many (or all) of which also serve weed (not that it’s personally for me..or you for that matter - no judgement! You do you). And let’s not forget the Canal Belt, the beautiful canal that flows through the city and offers more Instagram opportunities than anyone would ever need.

[Photo by   Libby Penner   on   Unsplash  ]

Bruges, Belgium
If you’re looking for a smaller yet still somewhat urban experience, Bruges is an ideal city and small enough to navigate on foot. It’s known for having a medieval feeling to it especially since it’s the most well preserved medieval city in Europe. Backpackers trek through Bruges to experience its rich history which makes it a fantastic city to connect with fellow travelers. Let’s not also forget that Bruges is in Belgium meaning an abundance of Belgian Beer and Chocolate right from the source. Bruges even has a chocolate walk! It’s certainly a city for both foodies and history buffs. In case you’re worried about communication, English is one of the three main languages spoken in this city.

[Photo by   Orlova Maria   on   Unsplash  ]

Copenhagen, Denmark
According to The Daily Meal, Copenhagen is listed as #21 in the top 50 safest cities in the world. It might not be #6 like Amsterdam and it seems these surveys get different results but it’s not a bad title to have. If that doesn’t sell you, Independent named Copenhagen as the #1 most livable city in the world. The home of literature icon Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is an ideal city to experience Denmark’s culture. Everyone speaks English so you don’t need to learn another language and they have an entire road system for bicycles. Denmark is also home of hygge so if you’re planning winter travel, this is the spot to go. The people of Copenhagen are supposedly the friendliest anywhere. There are gorgeous palaces to get lost in, much of the city has inspired fairy tales (*ahem* Andersen), and the world’s best restaurant is located here. What more do you need?

Dublin, Ireland
Dublin is one of those cities that is not only ideal for first-time solo travelers but also ideal for women in general. All of Ireland is pretty good for us ladies, to be honest. Ireland, Scotland and England are very high on my personal travel bucket list for a lot of reasons but mainly their beauty and their history. There are two main reasons Dublin (really, all Ireland) is a great place for solo travel: it’s affordable and they speak English. You may have to decode the Irish accents and slang but you’ll get by. Ireland has plenty of transportation to get from point a to point b, including in Dublin. The options are all affordable for the most part and will cover any ground you could consider. Eat Sleep Breathe Travel has a great article with more information on traveling to Ireland including tips to not make a fool of yourself.

Florence, Italy
I can’t have a travel list and not include Italy, my homeland. I chose Florence for this specific post because Rome might be too overwhelming for the first time traveler and Italians are their own breed of people. As far as I have been told (sadly, I have yet to make it to Italy), English isn’t spoken much or well in Italy. Having basic conversational skills in Italian will serve you well. According to The Curious Appetite, Florence has a surprisingly good English speaking community but it would be smart to do research before arrival on where to go and what to do.

Like the rest of Italy, Florence puts a lot of cred in style. Italians are known to dress to the nines at all times, even if it’s just to go to the corner market. If you want to fit in as a local, take on their common practices like dressing well. Besides the things to note (as there are many for Italy), Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. You will feel its influence everywhere. The Uffizi Gallery is located in Florence which also happens to be one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The architecture is one-of-a-kind and it has a somewhat urban feel but is still small. Florence is one of the best cities to introduce yourself to Italy and its culture. And I promise us Italians are worth it 100%.

Photo c/o @  ilanavaks

Photo c/o @ilanavaks

Madrid, Spain
According to the same article I sourced in Amsterdam, Madrid is the twelfth safest city in the world according to a study by The Economist making it another great option for safety. And that’s not to say that the other cities on this list are not safe. These lists just happen to specifically mention a select variety of cities. There could be many variables involved including that they just did not look into all the urban areas in each country.

Madrid is a great option for first time solo travelers because it’s much less concentrated than Barcelona. While Barcelona is on my personal bucket list and is a phenomenal city to visit, Madrid is like it’s more chill cousin. Madrid has year-round ideal weather, it has a very rich culture, there are endless outdoor markets, the nightlife scene is very active which means you’ll never feel isolated walking around at night, and there are tapas! Nothing gets me excited like tapas. Whether you love to shop, enjoy great food, embrace history or take in the arts, Madrid has it all without all the crazy tourism of Barcelona. While both cities offer great experiences, Madrid is an easier entry into Spanish culture and some say a more authentic one. I would suggest freshening up your Spanish before heading there.

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Paris, France
“We’ll always have Paris” is a phrase that means 10x more to me after having been there. As you read earlier, Paris was my first trip. It was my first time traveling out of the United States, it was my first journey on my own, it was my first everything when it came to travel and I feel so fortunate for that. France is a country that values its culture beyond anything else. Because of that, you can’t help but be immersed in it and it makes the experience that much more memorable.

There are a few reasons that Paris is a great city for solo travel, especially that first trip. You will find plenty of English speaking people. They might have really thick accents or they might be cranky about it, but you won’t struggle to find directions. That's not to say you should throw French out the window. I still suggest practicing conversational French to get by. Paris has a fantastic public transportation system making it not only easy to get around but also affordable. I would recommend against trying to drive because the roads are not made for non-Parisians. Finally, Paris is certainly French and very European but it doesn’t deliver a serious case of culture shock. It’s an urban environment where things will feel quite modern. It’s a great city for those of you who, like me, take a little extra time to adjust to change and big adventures.

Photo c/o @  ilanavaks

Photo c/o @ilanavaks

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is an easy city to navigate, it’s tourist-friendly (meaning you won’t feel uncomfortable on your own), and it has an affordable public transportation system. According to Independent, 2018 is the year to visit Prague so what are you waiting for?! Their reasons for visiting are included in any other basic “Why Visit Prague” list so I’m not quite sure why they chose this year in particular. Other reasons to put Prague in the running as your first European solo trip include: it’s affordable, it’s home to the largest “castle complex” in the world (Prague Castle, my dream home), it’s the beer capital of the world, it has some really old historical buildings and structures, plus more. From food to the history to the culture, it’s hard to find a reason not to visit Prague. They even speak English quite well.

Happy Travels!

8 US Destinations For Solo Travel

Solo travel is one of the most rewarding experiences. It’s a chance for self-discovery, adventure and getting out of your comfort zone. It’s a true test of character and resilience. You learn just as much about yourself as the culture of the destination you’re visiting. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once but something I know I try to make a regular occurrence. One of the biggest questions that I’ve been asked since my first trip is about safety. As a woman, it can be scary and intimidating to travel alone, especially in the world we live in today. While I can’t guarantee that every experience will be a positive one, I can guarantee that every experience will be a memorable one and will enrich your life in one way or another.

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Each city has its own pros and cons. These factors include walkability, number of activities, friendliness of the people, etc. As a solo traveler, I prefer visiting destinations that have good walkability. I’d rather not rent a car and I’d ideally like to be able to get around as easy as possible. Public transportation is something I can figure out pretty quick so I’m not above using it when it’s available. Every other part of choosing a destination is personal to you. What are you looking to get out of your trip? What are you interested in? And what you do want to take away from it? I can’t help you there but I can share a few recommendations for first time solo travelers. These destinations also keep women in mind. I’ve personally visited all but two of these cities and I was by myself for each of them. The others come from lots of research and strong recommendations from fellow travelers.

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Boston, MA
These cities are organized alphabetically but Boston is by far my favorite on this list. As far as stateside travel goes, Boston will mostly likely always take the cake. Boston is a fantastic food city. Zagat and The Daily Meal have both recently included it in lists sharing the best food cities across America. It is a history buff’s dream city. It takes you back in time walking down the street. From trendy neighborhoods like Beacon Hill to quick trips across the river to Cambridge, the entire city is one giant adventure just waiting to be had. Don’t miss the Boston Common, grabbing a slice of pizza or a cannoli in the North End, and walking through a Harry Potter-esque, early Gilmore Girls dream come true on the Harvard Campus.

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Chicago, IL
Chicago is one of those cities that gets a bad rep from the media but doesn’t deserve it. It’s a beautiful city with tons of history, stunning architecture and an endless number of things to do. Bon Appetit even named it the Restaurant City of the Year in 2017 which was a mere three months ago. The culinary scene is without question one of the best and most exciting in the US and it’s constantly evolving. There are plenty of craft coffee shops to visit in every neighborhood and our obsession with donuts can be found in too many specialty donut shops. We have some of the best museums...did you know that the Art Institute of Chicago has the second largest collection of impressionist art in the world, only second to the D’Orsay in Paris? And we’re set to receive the biggest dinosaur ever discovered at the Field Museum very soon. Not to mention, Chicago is a walkable city, the public transportation is not hard to navigate at all and the people (I’ve been told) are friendly. We might be freezing cold for several months out of the year but if you catch us in a good month, especially during fall, you won’t regret the experience at all.

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Denver, CO
There are a lot of great places to visit in Colorado near the Denver area. Boulder is a fantastic city, there are several towns in the mountains that are great to visit. Denver is easy to access and it’s great for exploring by yourself though. It’s walkable, public transportation is easy to navigate and there’s plenty to do. One of the things that I feel is less known about Denver is the amount of graffiti art it has. The art scene is huge in general but it’s fun to walk around and see the designs. Denver also has suprisingly nice weather. For non-locals, Denver seems like it would always be snowed in and cold. It’s actually a somewhat mild climate with a few bad weather days. I’d say that those are pretty good odds for a successful trip.

Photo by   Michael   on   Unsplash

Madison, WI
Madison is a gorgeous city to visit any time of the year. The University of Wisconsin - Madison campus draws plenty of visitors and has become known as one of the most beautiful in the country. If you’re one of the many who prefers to discover destinations by foot, Madison has a unique bicycle program that makes covering a lot of ground easy and endless trails to explore as well. Madison has a food scene supported and inspired by locality. For example, a lot of the beers you’ll find at restaurants and bars you’ll only find in Wisconsin because they keep to a local business code. The lake views are gorgeous photo opportunities and if you visit in warmer months, the lake is a hotbed of water sports. If you don’t believe me when it comes to Madison, believe my cousin who moved there for college and never looked back...and also this article from Travel + Leisure.

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San Antonio, TX
San Antonio is a surprisingly amazing city. I’m not sure what most people expect when it comes to San Antonio but for myself, I didn’t have any expectations. All I knew was that there was this riverwalk everyone talked about and that the Alamo was here. Little did I know that it feels like a tropical escape, the riverwalk is absolutely stunning and there is a load of things to do. Just the riverwalk alone can take up your time for days. There are a multitude of restaurants, shops, and activities from live music to historical monuments. The riverwalk has a water taxi that takes you along the majority of the city’s most popular destinations including the Pearl District, an ex-brewery turned multi-purpose establishment with a hotel, restaurants, shopping, residences, and more.

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San Francisco, CA
San Francisco was the first city that I traveled to alone. It was my first trip after starting my freelance career and more circumstantial than anything since a friend of mine was getting married out there. I organized a three week trip - two weeks visiting family in Dallas and five days in San Francisco. San Francisco, while not my favorite place I’ve visited, is easy to navigate (if you don’t include the thigh killing hills) and there is plenty to occupy your time with. From gorgeous parks to interesting neighborhoods, ferry rides to abandoned prisons and day trips to wine country, there’s something for every interest. Lots of shopping, plenty of restaurants to try, you name it. Don’t miss the opportunity to ride a traditional trolly or get a beautiful shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also worth it to mention that the weather is perfect year round so packing for San Francisco is a breeze.

Photo Credit:   Stile. Foto. Cibo.

Photo Credit: Stile. Foto. Cibo.

Seattle, WA
Seattle is one of those cities that’s always been on my radar thanks to Nirvana, Sleepless in Seattle, Starbucks and Grey’s Anatomy. The home of grunge rock, too much rain and plenty of fish markets, Seattle is a city I keep hearing about which makes me want to buy a plane ticket now. I mean, my own personal list of things I want to do in Seattle is pretty long. Visit the high school where 10 Things I Hate About You was filmed, go see a few live music performances, go to a vineyard and winery, sit in a coffee shop and pretend I’m having coffee with Frasier, Niles and Daphne, visit the original Starbucks, visit Pike Place Market, and there’s more. Seattle saw the birth of an entire genre of music which also happens to be one of my favorites. Not to mention, the cloudy days would not bother this girl one bit. For you first time solo travelers, I’ve been told Seattle has really friendly locals. That’s always a plus…

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Washington DC
Washington DC is one of those places that is so approachable even schools send groups of students there for special trips. That’s actually how I discovered Washington DC for the first time - on an 8th grade trip. 12 years later, I returned for a 10-day visit after five days in Boston. Seeing the nation’s capital as a 25 year old as opposed to a 13 year old was a really interesting experience. DC is great for solo travel because there is an endless list of things to do, it’s a walkable city with easy to navigate public transportation, and because it’s such a high-tourist destination, the people almost expect you to approach them with a question. It’s friendly, welcoming and you certainly won’t be bored!

Even if you don’t think that solo travel is for you,  I encourage you to try at least one trip. Make it a city you’ve already been to so it’s not a completely new experience. Imagine a trip where you don’t have to think about what anyone else wants to do or when they want to do it. The only opinion that counts is yours. If you want to stroll around aimlessly one day and pack in a full schedule of activities the next, you can! If you want to change your mind last minute about what restaurant you’re heading to for dinner, do it! That’s the best part of traveling solo. The only person you need to consider the entire time is yourself. When was the last time you were able to do that?