Месечни архиви: юли 2016

AK Monthly Recap: July 2016


Kate at Table Mountain

Finally, after seven months stateside, I broke out my worn navy passport and traveled abroad once again! I needed a break, but I still can’t believe it lasted seven months.

This month was about South Africa. My friend Beth and I spent just over two weeks in the country, my third visit and her first. In addition to that, we spent a day in Amsterdam and the rest of my time was spent in the New York and Boston areas.

I love summer — I’m a summer baby and I’ve always loved summer weather, the hotter the better. But the older I get, the less I’m able to tolerate long periods of heat and humidity, so a trip to South Africa during their winter was a perfect way to take a break from the heat. It felt great to wear the closest thing I have to a uniform: jeans, boots, and my leather jacket!

Sunset Massachusetts

Destinations Visited

New York, NY, USA

Reading, Lynn, Salisbury, Newburyport, and Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Johannesburg, Kruger National Park (and environs), Cape Town, Muizenberg, Simonstown, Cape Peninsula National Park, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek, South Africa

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

Cape Point

Favorite Destinations

Cape Town. After three visits, I think I finally have a favorite destination in South Africa.

Stellenbosch. Fantastic wines, beautiful surroundings, and a lovely town to walk around.

Amsterdam. The second time was the charm — good weather had me swooning for this city.

Giraffes on Safari


South Africa was an amazing trip. I had such a good time with my friend Beth and loved seeing how much she fell in love with South Africa! We also got along great the whole trip, which is all you can ask for when traveling with a friend.

Flying business class on KLM was amazing. This was my first time flying business class for longer than a two-hour flight, so flying super long-haul (eight hours from New York to Amsterdam, then 11 hours from Amsterdam to Johannesburg) was a treat. It was just so pleasant. The food was constant, the seats were so comfortable, the flight attendants were so nice, and the souvenir KLM houses they give business class passengers are my new obsession! I even slept a full eight hours on an overnight flight!

We saw amazing wildlife, including the Big Five, on safari. Seeing the Big Five at any time of year is somewhat rare, but we lucked out: first rhinos (I know!!), then lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, and finally a leopard. Beyond that, some of our wildlife highlights were a tiny baby rhino nursing from his mother, a lioness feasting on a kudu, the most playful elephants you can imagine, and two cheetahs, seen on foot, just 15 feet away!

I got to spend time with my dear South African friends in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Seriously, the best thing about travel blogging is having friends all over the world.

Camps Bay, Cape Town

Cape Town was unbelievable. This was my third visit and the best visit by far! From hanging out in Camps Bay to enjoying steampunk java at Truth Coffee Roasters to having an unforgettable meal at the Potluck Club to making friends with a Wine Guy at the bar at the Doubletree and sharing a bottle of the most interesting wine I’ve ever tasted, Cape Town blew me away this time around.

Stellenbosch was all about the wine tasting. I couldn’t think of a better way to wind down our trip. In four days we actually did tastings at 10 wineries in Stellenbosch and Franshhoek, pairing wines with chocolate, cheese, cured meats, and even salts!

We had an unexpected layover in Amsterdam. Our connecting flight to New York was cancelled, so we were booked on the next day’s flight and had a 24-hour layover. Beth and I both love Amsterdam, so we went out to explore the city! The weather was spectacular. I took tons of photos (making up for my rainy first visit to Amsterdam), Beth bought her husband his favorite cheese, and we enjoyed a delicious Indonesian rijsttafel dinner.

I went home for the Fourth of July and got to spend time with my family. And the North Shore of Massachusetts is a fantastic place to hang out during the summer!

And at the end of the month, my mom came to visit me and my sister in New York for a few days. We got to check out some new parts of the city, including the New York Botanical Gardens, where the corpse flower was in bloom!

Stellenbosch Flowers in Winter


A lot went wrong this month. So much that my previous months look quaint by comparison.

My debit card was stolen online. Hope you enjoyed the $38 worth of Panda Express, motherfucker. (Seriously, who buys $38 worth of food at Panda Express with a stolen credit card? If I stole someone’s credit card, I’d go straight to Barneys.) And a reminder to all of you — have multiple bank accounts and multiple debit cards when you travel. I was okay because I was able to withdraw from my other accounts; that wasn’t the case when my cards were stolen in 2011.

I left my coat and scarf in Johannesburg. Yeah. Dumb move. I was cold on safari and thankfully Beth had brought an extra fleece that I could wear. That said, both the coat and the scarf remind me of times in my life that I’d rather forget, so it’s no big deal that they’re gone. I asked the hotel to send them to a shelter, so hopefully they’re keeping someone warm now.

I got the worst sunburn EVER. You know when you use that spray-on sunscreen? You need to rub it in. I had a speckled burn on my thighs which eventually turned into a speckled tan on my thighs.

Jet lag was rough this time. It was only a six-hour difference but it was the worst jet lag I’ve had in years, in part because I forgot my melatonin and you can only get it with a prescription in South Africa. My friend Jodi sent me some unusual jet lag tips she’s discovered, which she later turned into this excellent post.

New York Feet

The worst Lyft ride ever. I usually take Lyft Line rides (carpooling) home from JFK because it’s $35 as opposed to $55ish, and they just pick up someone near you. Well, Beth and I hailed Lyft Lines at the same time and got paired together, which is bizarre because she lives in Brooklyn and I live 50 minutes away in Harlem. Long story short, it usually takes me 30 minutes to get home from JFK, but between the traffic and the detour it took me TWO HOURS to get home.

I got sick and puked out the side of my safari vehicle. Because I am a classy lady.

I had a few bad street harassment incidents this month. There’s one part of my neighborhood that I feel the absolute safest in, and I never get catcalls there, but men yelled at me constantly in that neighborhood one day. I wasn’t flashing people or anything — I think it was because I was wearing an above-the-knee dress and forgot my sunglasses so my eyes were showing. NOTE: That is NOT blaming myself, because the only people that deserve blame are the street harassers. All women deserve the right to walk down the street without being harassed. 

And I actually caught another street harasser while in the middle of a snap this month! My Snapchat followers loved that, particularly since it ended with me telling him to fuck off.

And finally…I can’t believe I’m telling you this…I dropped my phone in the toilet. For the first time ever. BUT the toilet had just been cleaned AND my phone was fine because of my LifeProof case! PHEW! That case saved me from having to buy a new phone. Worth every penny and then some.


Most Popular Post

Don’t Expect Travel to Solve Your Problems — Many of you related to this and shared your stories.

Other Posts

Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It Or Not? — A must-read for South Africa visitors.

Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America — I loved discovering this cool local getaway!

Elephants on Safari

News and Announcements

This month CNBC did a lovely little video feature on me! You can find it here on Facebook.


Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Hello, Amsterdam! I love your houses so much! This is one of my favorite shots from our brief layover.

For real-time updates from my travels, you can follow me on Instagram and Snapchat — I’m adventurouskate on both!

Salisbury Beach

What I Read This Month

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball — One of my guilty pleasures is reading memoirs from city girls turned country girls, and this is exactly what this book is. Kristin is a Manhattan freelance writer who suddenly falls in love with a farmer and starts a new farm with him in upstate New York.

As much as I love reading about farming, this memoir had a lot missing. While she wrote about a year’s worth of events and the technicalities of farming, she wrote so little about her thoughts and feelings that I found myself wondering why she even liked her husband in the first place. Yes, he was handsome and a great cook and he did thoughtful things for her, but other than that, I feel like he was didn’t even have a personality. Nor did she. I enjoyed the book, but I found the emotional distance borderline bizarre, especially for a memoir.

The Girls by Emma Cline — This was my book club’s pick for the month (and to be fair, I voted for it), but it took me a long time to get through it because I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. A teenage girl joins a cult of mostly women led by a messianic leader in 1969, and later the cult is involved in a murder. It’s a fictionalized version of Charles Manson and the Family, which is what interested me in the book.

This book is enormously popular right now, and I get it, but the author’s descriptions went way overboard. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of similes (yes, I get the irony of this statement). It was just too much. And I kept waiting for the plot to start and as soon as it became mildly interesting, it abruptly ended. Talk about a disappointment.

Grace by Natasha Deón — A dark, haunting, beautiful novel. A former slave is on the run from bounty hunters while in labor. Shortly after giving birth, she’s shot dead — but her spirit decides not to leave her daughter. The book takes place in two parts: Naomi’s life that led up to her death, and her daughter Josey’s life from the beginning, both stories told by Naomi’s ghost.

This novel is beautifully told — I got it after reading its laudatory New York Times review. For literary reasons alone, you should read it, and because it was originally a screenplay, it has a cinematic quality to it. But beyond that, I think it’s important to read books by women of color, who are too often overlooked in the publishing industry, and it’s also important to read books about slavery, as it’s the root cause of blacks being treated as second-class citizens in America today. It does not matter that you personally did not own slaves — the effects of slavery have been passed down through generation after generation, and the more you read, the more you will understand.

What I Watched This Month

Orange is the New Black — wow. Season Four made up for the weak previous season — and ultimately ended devastatingly. The show has significantly changed direction since Season One and I don’t think anyone would consider it a comedy or even a dramedy anymore.

It’s tough. Season Three was about the prison going from nonprofit to for-profit, and all the negative changes that ensued, but Season Four pushes the horrors to new levels. Without giving anything away, this season highlights many of the problems with our prison system, and on top of that, the storytelling is fantastic. Well worth a watch.

What I Listened To This Month

Sorry, I’m still listening to Hamilton! No new music to share this month. I had “History Has Its Eyes On You” stuck in my head for most of the month.

Cartagena by AleNunes

Image: AleNunes

Coming Up in August 2016

I’m going to Colombia! This trip is seriously overdue. It’s been just over a year since I’ve visited a new country (!) and I haven’t done a solo trip or been somewhere adventurous in quite some time. Plus, I haven’t been to South America since 2008, pre-blog!

I was actually hoping to visit the Caucasus this month — Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, in that order — but as the costs, time required, and Azerbaijan visa complications added up, I didn’t feel good about the trip. I ultimately decided to go with a shorter, cheaper trip closer to home.

My plan is to fly into Cartagena and fly out of Bógota 2.5 weeks later. In between I hope to visit Santa Marta and/or Taganga, Tayrona National Park, Medellín, and Salento, plus day trips to places like Minca and Guatapé. A fairly basic Colombia itinerary, but one that will take me to the most popular spots and let me create the most useful blog posts for you.

Almost all of my travel blogger friends who have been to Colombia consider it one of their favorite countries. Let’s just say I have very high expectations! I’m a bit nervous about how rainy it will be on the Caribbean coast, but while it’s not the driest time of year, July and August are a slight reprieve from the rainier months. We shall see. My biggest priority, as you guys know, is getting good photos!

Any suggestions for Colombia? Let me know! Where did you go this month?



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Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It or Not?


Kate at Table Mountain

“You’re going to South Africa in the winter? Why?!”

This was the reaction of most of my South African friends upon learning of my July travel plans.

Truth, I very rarely travel during the low season anywhere; for me, it’s not worth the risk of bad weather. But this time it wasn’t just about me — it was about my friend Beth. She’s a teacher and can’t take time off unless it’s during the summer. Beth’s schedule is the reality for countless other teachers and professionals: it’s summer or nothing.

As someone who typically avoids low season, I was nervous about our winter trip — but it turned out better than I could have imagined! We had perfect weather in Johannesburg and Kruger, two clear days and two rainy days in Cape Town, and a mix of sun and showers in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Winter doesn’t have to be a bad time in South Africa. Not whatsoever. So I decided to dive into South African weather and create a guide that will help you plan your winter trip.

I’ll be profiling six of the most popular South African destinations here: Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Durban, Cape Town, the Garden Route, and Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

(For the record, I have visited all these destinations 1-3 times, but I didn’t visit Durban or the Garden Route on my recent winter trip; all of the information here is drawn from my experience combined with interviews with locals I know and online research. Weather averages come from Holiday-Weather.com.)


Map: geology.com

South Africa’s Winter in a Nutshell

This is a map of South Africa’s nine provinces, six of which I’ve visited.

Most visitors to South Africa concentrate on the Western Cape (the green region in the lower left corner): this is home to Cape Town, the surrounding winelands (including Stellenbosch) and most of the Garden Route. This is also where South Africa’s winter is at its most miserable.

The other regions I cover are further north and east: Johannesburg is in Gauteng Province in the northeast; the Greater Kruger Region is in the east of Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces in the far northeast. Kruger National Park itself is huge — it’s the size of Israel or New Jersey. Durban is on the Indian Ocean coast in Kwazulu-Natal.

Cape Point

When you visit South Africa in the winter, you don’t have to worry about snowbanks and blizzards. Johannesburg has a similar climate to Atlanta; Durban is like Miami; Cape Town is like San Francisco. Winters aren’t harsh here; it only gets very snowy deep in the mountains.

Like many destinations, prices in South Africa fall in the low season. South Africa offers incredible value for money to begin with, but prices are at their lowest in the winter months.

Another factor to keep in mind is that school holidays in South Africa take place during a month from June to July, which can make some places busier.

Finally, winter means that the days are shorter and the sun sets earlier. South Africa is a country where you need to be a bit more on your guard about safety, and in many places it’s not safe to be out on your own at night or even in late afternoon. Keep that in mind.


Johannesburg in Winter: Great!

No matter what time of year you’re visiting Johannesburg, you’re probably not planning on spending a ton of time outside. Many of Johannesburg’s attractions, like the Apartheid Museum and Liliesleaf, are indoors or partially indoors; even the Sterkfontein Caves, being caves, are an indoor “outdoor activity” by definition.

Even so, winter days in Johannesburg are wonderfully pleasant for being outside: it’s cool and clear with minimal rainfall. The land surrounding Johannesburg turns dry and brown. The city’s famed purple jacaranda trees have little to show (but to be fair, they only really bloom from October to November). People eat outside year-round in Johannesburg — head to Parkhurst for outdoor cafes.

Average Johannesburg temperature, June-August: high 61-68 F/16-20 C, low 39-45 F/4-7 C.

Average Johannesburg rainfall, June-August: 1-2 cm per month, 1-2 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Johannesburg: 54 on Bath. One of my favorite boutique hotels in the world and the only place I like to stay in Joburg.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park in Winter: Fantastic!

Winter is actually the best time for visiting Kruger National Park and its surrounding area! There’s very little rainfall and because the trees are sparse, you have a much better chance of seeing wildlife.

Know that the mornings and evenings can get very cold, especially when in an open vehicle on game drives, so bring your winter weather gear and huddle under blankets. It can get very warm during the day, especially if you do an all-day game drive, so layers are the name of the game!

Leopard Kruger National Park

We wouldn’t have seen this leopard if it hadn’t been winter. Had it been summer, he would have been completely obscured by foliage. Leopards are the hardest Big Five animal to spot in Kruger and our guides were giddy at this sighting!

Average Nelspruit temperature, June-August: high 70-73 F/21-23 C, low 45-46 F/10-11 C.

Average Nelspruit rainfall, June-August: 1 cm per month, 2-3 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in the Greater Kruger region: My overall favorite is Vuyani Safari Lodge, which is value for money and fully all-inclusive. Africa on Foot is a wonderful, simpler midrange option, focusing on walking safaris, while the tented camp at &Beyond Ngala Lodge & Tented Camp is divine if you have a TON of money to spend.

Durban Beach

Durban in Winter: Very Good.

Durban is often compared to Miami: it’s a big, beach-loving city with fantastic weather year-round — and spicy food to match!

Winter is a beautiful time to visit Durban — temperatures are more mild and rainfall is at its lowest in June and July. That said, depending on how hot you like it, it may not fit your definition of lie-out-by-the-pool-all-day weather. It’s the kind of destinations Brits would visit in winter for a pleasant level of heat that wouldn’t result in any sunburns.

Average Durban temperature, June-August: high 73 F/23 C, low 54-57 F/12-14C.

Average Durban rainfall, June-August: 2-7 cm per month, 5-9 rainy days per month (August is rainier than June and July).

Where to Stay in Durban: I had a great stay at the Southern Sun Elageni & Maharani, which has nice views and is walking distance from the beach.

Cape Town

Cape Town in Winter: A Big Risk.

If you choose to travel Cape Town in during the winter, you’re making a very big gamble. Why? Cape Town is one of the most beautifully set cities in the world and it is best seen in good weather. Four of my favorite Cape Town activities — going to the top of Table Mountain, taking a helicopter ride, hanging out in Camps Bay, and exploring the Cape Peninsula — are weather-dependent.

While there are some museums, including the fascinating District 6 Museum, Cape Town is nothing like London or New York — outdoor attractions are primary and indoor attractions, while they exist, are limited.

Cape Town Helicopter

That said, you may end up lucky: Beth and I had two perfect, clear days, which we spent doing the aforementioned activities. Several dark, cloudy, rainy days followed. Our friends from safari who came to the city a few days after us sadly didn’t get to experience sunshine in Cape Town.

One other thing to consider: our Robbin Island visit was cancelled due to bad weather, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Average Cape Town temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 45-46 F/7-8 C.

Average Cape Town rainfall, June-August: 7-10 cm per month, 14 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Cape Town: Doubletree Cape Town in Woodside is a fabulous mid-range hotel with very affordable rates, not in an ideal location but a short Uber ride from the action. For budget, I recommend Atlantic Point Backpackers; for luxury, I recommend Queen Victoria Hotel. My favorite quirky accommodation — if you’re visiting outside winter, head to the Airstream trailer park on top of the Grand Daddy Hotel!

Sunset in Sedgefield

Garden Route in Winter: Avoid if Possible.

The highlight of traveling the Garden Route is seeing so many beautiful and diverse landscapes and enjoying the outdoors. Because the winter months can be quite rainy, I recommend that you visit the Garden Route during a different time of year.

Yes, you still might be able to enjoy your trip, but you know what my favorite memories of the Garden Route are? Paddleboarding on the lagoon in Sedgefield. Horseback riding in Swellendam. Hanging out in hot springs near Oudtshoorn. Segwaying through the Tsitsikamma Forest. Going on a water safari in Plettenberg Bay. Or even just watching the sunset.

Kate on a Bike Boat

All of these activities would be uncomfortable or impossible during the rain. Please keep that in mind before you plan a winter trip here. I visited in May, which was the fall (or shoulder season) and I thought it was a nice, cheaper time to explore this region.

Average Knysna temperature, June-August: high 70 F/21 C, low 50-52 F/10-11 C.

Average Knysna rainfall, June-August: 1-3 cm per month, 18-21 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay on the Garden Route: There are tons of high-quality hostels with terrific, affordable private rooms along the Garden Route: I love Afrovibe Adventure Lodge in Sedgefield (more of a party place), Swellendam Backpackers Adventure Lodge in Swellendam, and Nothando Backpackers Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. On the luxury end, Phantom Forest Eco Reserve in Knysna is a fantastic romantic hideaway (I felt like I was on honeymoon with myself).


Stellenbosch and the Winelands in Winter: Mostly Very Good.

The Stellenbosch region is an indescribably beautiful landscape, with endless vineyards and bright blue mountains encircled by cottony clouds; during winter, there are solid white skies with few mountains to be seen. I would feel bad if people came for a visit and didn’t get to experience the view of the mountains.

Wine Tasting Stellenbosch

But views aren’t all — I was surprised how much I enjoyed Stellenbosch on rainy winter days. Most wineries have fireplaces and are superbly cozy places to curl up with a tasting glass! The wineries are also at their least crowded this time of year, which means you never have to wait anywhere.

Average Stellenbosch temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 46 F/8 C.

Average Stellenbosch rainfall, June-August: 2-3 cm per month, 7-9 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay in Stellenbosch: If you’re going the Airbnb route, I stayed here — cute two-bedroom apartment in a great, walkable location, but be cautious that the only heat is space heaters. Not quite ideal for winter; I’d probably stay in a hotel next time. Find Stellenbosch hotels here.


The Takeaway

If there’s any one thesis to take away from my analysis, it’s this: traveling in South Africa in the winter is risky on the Western Cape, but can actually be wonderful in other parts of the country.

If you want to plan a trip to South Africa during the winter months, I recommend planning at least part of your trip in Johannesburg, Kruger, and/or Durban. If not, just know that you’re risking an entirely rainy trip.

As always, keep in mind that anything can happen. You can come during a freak period of sunshine in the Western Cape; you could also get stuck in downpours in Joburg. Nothing is ever a guarantee.

That said, don’t let traveling in the winter bother you. I had a great time on my winter trip to South Africa and I know you will, too!

RELATED: Is South Africa Safe?

Should you visit South Africa in winter?

Have you been to South Africa in the winter — or would you go? Have any other South African destinations to add to this list? Share away!



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Don’t Expect Travel To Solve Your Problems


San Pedro Atitlan Guatemala

Sometimes I worry about the narrative that we travel publishers put out there: “Quit your job, travel the world, and all your problems will be solved.”

Almost none of us actually say that — or mean it. But when you add up all the travel memoirs and travel blogs and travel-filled Instagram profiles, that’s the dominant narrative. Travel? Leads to great things. Great things? Reduction in problems. Ergo, traveling must lead to your problems being solved!

I mean, I understand why that’s appealing. Most people who are looking to travel the world long-term aren’t doing so because everything is going perfectly in their home lives. For all the people who travel because they want to see the world, at the same time, you’ve got a number of people who are using travel as a means of escape.

Travel can be a fantastic tool — but it’s not a cure on its own.

Sometimes experiencing a new destination can completely change your worldview. If you combine that with a concentrated effort to change your life, incredible things can happen.

One example I love is how writer David Sedaris used travel to quit smoking. He realized that his smoking habits were routine-based, so he decided to travel to Tokyo, an environment that couldn’t be more different from his home in New York, and kick his smoking habit while he was dealing with a completely different routine. And it worked! The whole story is in his book When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Did travel help Sedaris change his life? Absolutely. But it wasn’t the travel exclusively — he pursued conventional ways of ending his addiction as well. He didn’t coast along and let travel do all the work; he worked hard on his end as well.

Here are several common problems that people expect travel will solve:

Mount Etna

1. You don’t know what you want to do with your life.

Most of the readers who email me are at a crossroads in their life — they don’t know what they want to do with their life, either career-wise or life-wise. Maybe they aren’t living the life they imagined they would at this age. Maybe they’re ready to start over.

If you’re looking for a new career, traveling the world isn’t the most efficient way to figure out what to do next. Sure, meeting people along the road will give you ideas of different lifestyles and ways to earn. But unless you make an effort to figure out what you want to do, you’re going to end up right back where you started.

I feel like many people set off to travel assuming that the right plan will just manifest itself at the right time. Well, it’s not that easy! Things aren’t just going to happen without an effort on your part.

If you’re serious about making a career change, but also want to travel, just travel to take a break and enjoy yourself. While you’re away, spend time making a career plan or list of ideas to try once you return home. If you happen to run into a new career idea while traveling, that’s wonderful! But don’t go in expecting it in the first place.


2. You’re not sure whether college is right for you.

I’m divided on this — part of me says Get your degree as soon as possible and THEN do whatever you want! but the other side of me knows how financially crippling college can be, particularly for Americans.

Here’s the truth: a college education is never a waste of time. Sometimes it can be a waste of money if you choose an overpriced school or underpaid field of study, but it is never a waste of time. You will have so many more career options with a degree than without one.

Yes, you can be successful without a college degree, but the truth is that unless you’re self-employed or exceptionally skilled in a sought-after field, you’ll be facing an uphill battle throughout your career.

A lot of readers come to me telling me that they’re not sure if college is for them and they don’t know what they want to do with their lives except travel.

If I were to give advice to future college-goers, it would be to get the most affordable quality education you can find. Maybe that means going to a state school or starting at community college; maybe that means going to the safety school that gave you a scholarship instead of the reach school that just barely accepted you.

You can still incorporate a ton of travel into your college years. You can study abroad — even multiple semesters in different locations. You can work during the year and save up to travel during the summer or on breaks. You can even take extra courses and graduate early.

And if you don’t want to do college for the time being, or ever, look into travel that requires work and gives you life experiences. Look into volunteering or getting a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand. Most professional English teaching jobs require a college degree but some countries will hire non-college-graduates for lower-level teaching jobs.

Finally, keep in mind that most adults have no idea what they want to do with their lives, either. I’m just blogging here until the Kardashians hire me to do their crisis management.

Busan Markets

3. You’re in debt or you have poor financial habits.

If you’re dreaming of travel but trying to pay down debt, I understand the appeal of living abroad. Teaching English in Korea is probably the best thing you can do because it allows you to live abroad while saving upwards of $1000 per month, not including end bonuses.

But living abroad is full of financial temptations. Even if you live in a cheap country — or especially if you live in a cheap country — it’s easy to get into the habit of going out every night of the week and overspending on food and drinks.

Living abroad isn’t enough to get at the crux of your financial habits. What’s most important is that you overhaul your spending habits and start to consistently live within your means. And that goes whether you do it at home or on the road.

Lake Bled Slovenia

4. You’re living an unhealthy lifestyle.

I’ve known several people who are sick of life at home and choose to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in part for for the healthy lifestyle benefits.

Well, some of them are surprised to learn that Thai food can often be quite unhealthy (so many dishes are full of sugar), exercise often takes a backseat to massages and motorbiking, and a large percentage of the expat population (including the travel blogger crew) goes out drinking nearly every night of the week.

Eating healthy and exercising are both very difficult to do on a regular basis while traveling. Sure, you’ll probably be walking more, but constantly changing your environment makes it difficult to stick to an exercise routine and diving into the local cuisine tends to pack on the pounds, not reduce them.

The truth? Most people who keep fit on the road were already in shape at home and simply continued their routine on the road.

If you’re looking to travel to create a healthy lifestyle, you should get yourself into a home workout routine before leaving on your trip, or move to a place where fitness opportunities are abundant. That could be a town where you can surf or hike on a regular basis; it could be somewhere like Ubud, Bali, where you can take tons of yoga classes.

Another option is to build WWOOFing into your trip, or working in exchange for accommodation and food on an organic farm. You’ll spend your days doing physical labor, often outside, while eating healthy local food.

Colombo at Dusk

5. You want to start a business.

Starting an online business while being based in a cheap destination is a very smart idea. You’ll have a lower cost of living to maintain, your savings can last longer, and sometimes the internet can be even faster than at home!

I even know entrepreneurs who can afford to live anywhere but spend stints living in cheap locations so they can invest more of their money into their business.

Here’s the thing, though — many people want to travel and start a business. And to be honest, that is insane. I’ve done it, friends of mine have done it, and while many of us have survived, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t give a new business the time and attention it deserves when you’re busy traveling.

Productivity is dependent on routine, and routines go to hell when you travel. Additionally, travelers are constantly on a search for a decent working environment. So much of your energy in each destination will be spent complaining about poor working conditions until you find a cafe with good wifi, actual plugs, available and comfortable seating, and decent coffee.

For this reason, you’ll have a much easier time starting your business if you live abroad, or travel very slowly, rather than travel full-time.

Santorini Flowers

6. You’re escaping abuse, neglect, or a painful past.

If this is the case for you, I am so sorry. As a survivor of an abusive relationship, I completely understand how it can fuck with your head long-term and how hard it is to dig yourself out of that hole and get yourself into good working order again.

Travel can help enormously when you’re in pain — it gets you out of your toxic environment, teaches you skills, gives you confidence, and introduces you to people who will change your life. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love journey is perhaps the most famous example of this. But just traveling isn’t enough. You need to work on your underlying issues as well, just as Gilbert did.

Whether you choose to work with a therapist (and many therapists work online via email or Skype) or go it alone, you need a method of self-care. Perhaps that means joining a support group online. Perhaps that means getting into a yoga or meditation routine. Perhaps that means creating a list of goals that will help you get back to the person you once were.

It’s always okay to admit that your problems are more than you can handle on your own. There’s no shame in that.

Rauma Finland

7. You and your partner are struggling in your relationship.

This is the only item on the list that will have me screaming, “NO, NO, NO! THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO TRAVEL!

Traveling to solve your relationship problems is like having a baby to solve your relationship problems. Lots of people do it — ill-advisedly — and the result is almost universally poor. At least when you travel you don’t create another human in the process.

Traveling with a partner tends to create more stress and exacerbate underlying issues; it doesn’t make them better. If you choose to ignore this and travel anyway, you may end up remembering your travels as a terrible time in your life.

If you and your partner are having problems, start your work at home, not on the road. Don’t go on a long-term trip or plan a major lifestyle change until you’ve been working on your relationship for a long time and are ready to continue your work on the road.

Pink Dubrovnik Sky

Travel is a wonderful thing — but it’s no panacea.

Choosing to travel can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make, but if you go in expecting travel to fix all your problems, you’re going to be disappointed.

Instead, take travel for what it is — an opportunity to see the world a different way, develop new skills, achieve long-held dreams, and become a stronger, smarter, more compassionate individual. While picking up a few crazy stories along the way!

And if you do manage to fix your problems while traveling, all the credit goes to your hard work — not travel itself. You should be very proud of that.

What do you think? Have you used travel to solve a problem?



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Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America


Hudson New York

“No matter what, you need to get out of the city at least once a month,” my friends warned me.

Of course I’ll get out of the city, I thought to myself. I travel for a living!

Then April came and to my great shock, I went a full month without leaving New York. Hell, I didn’t believe it until I looked back over the month and double-checked my photos!

It’s so easy to get sucked into New York — but this city is such an intense place, it can drain you if you don’t get proper R&R. And sitting on your couch watching Netflix is only R&R up to a certain point. You need to get into places that are quiet, avoid the subway for a few days. And cheaper prices are always a good thing.

I started researching getaways from New York after moving to the city earlier this year. One that consistently piqued my interest was Hudson, New York, and within a few clicks of the mouse, I booked myself a three-night solo getaway in June.

Hudson New YorkHudson New YorkDSCF5596Hudson New York

Meet Hudson

Hudson is a beautiful town on the Hudson River, just two hours from Manhattan by train. The vast majority of downtown Hudson’s businesses are on Warren Street, which is about a mile long.

Despite having a population of just under 7,000, it’s home to a quirky assortment of shops, galleries, and businesses.

Hudson New York

Like The Spotty Dog, a bookstore that doubles as a bar. Pick out any book you’d like and read it at the bar, a local craft beer by your side.

Savor the Taste Hudson New York

Or Savor the Taste, specializing in food products like an orange and vanilla balsamic vinegar that you dream of pouring over the best vanilla ice cream you can find.

Moto Coffee Hudson New York

Then there was Moto Coffee Machine, a coffee shop in the front and a motorcycle shop in the back. Because why not?

But where Hudson truly shines is its food scene. Thanks to their location in the Hudson Valley, Hudson chefs make use of local ingredients from throughout the region. Many plan their menus around what’s current and local; some, like Grazin’, plan entirely around the local produce!

Here are some of the foodie highlights:

Grazin Hudson New York


Grazin’, a fifties-style diner, is the world’s first certified Animal Welfare Approved restaurant. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a vegan place — plenty of meat and dairy products are served. But the animals are treated well in life. Everything is free-range and organic, beef is grass-fed, and just about everything on the menu is fresh and local.

I mean, the menu says stuff like this:


At this place I had THE BEST BURGER OF MY LIFE. And I do not say that lightly. I ordered the Suzi burger, with onions, pepper and ketchup cooked into the patty and topped with a slice of whatever raw cheese was local and available. It was so good, I nearly cried.

I think I actually whispered, “In-&-Out can go to hell,” at one point.

Wm Farmers Hudson New York

Wm. Farmer and Sons

Most Hudson businesses keep odd hours and shut down for one or two weekdays, most often Wednesdays. To be truthful, I ended up at Wm. Farmer and Sons because they were one of few places actually open on a Wednesday night.

Turns out that was actually a great thing. The restaurant was quiet and slow, and I got to chat with both the bartenders and the resident oyster dude.

Wm Farmers Hudson New York

I grabbed some fresh dollar oysters (from my home state of Massachusetts, of course) with a glass of prosecco for happy hour (you know how I do!) and tried their famed octopus appetizer as well. The octopus was terrific, but what really blew me away was the green sauce on the side!

This place is so good that I went back the next day for some steak tartare.

Crimson Sparrow Hudson New York

The Crimson Sparrow

One of Hudson’s fine dining restaurants (a.k.a. one of the most expensive options) is The Crimson Sparrow. Featuring local ingredients with French techniques and Asian flavors, this is one of the boldest restaurants in town.

The Crimson Sparrow’s specialty is their tasting menu; not wanting to eat that much or spend that much, I decided instead to hang out at the bar and get a few dishes while chatting with the lovely bartender.

Crimson Sparrow Hudson New York

First up was a plate of kimchi and pickles. Then the chef came out and told me, “The vegetables aren’t really representative of what we can do here,” and suggested I try the izakaya fried chicken instead. Sold!

The boneless chicken was flavorful and tender in all the right ways, reminding me of the night in Seoul I spent eating Korean fried chicken while watching K-Pop videos on TV.

Swoon Kitchenbar Hudson New York

Swoon Kitchenbar

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to hit up Swoon Kitchenbar — the menu, though not exclusively plant-based, is chock full of delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Swoon Kitchenbar Hudson New York

My favorite dish was the astoundingly fresh beet salad, though it wasn’t the prettiest thing to photograph (the top was just various greens and the beets were hidden underneath). And I also tried some local Hudson Valley cheeses. They really know what they’re doing in this part of the world.

Bonfiglio and Bread Hudson New York

Bonfiglio & Bread

If anywhere should go on your list for breakfast, it’s Bonfiglio & Bread. This bakery features lots of delicious breakfast dishes and delicious-smelling pizzas for lunch. Predictably, the menu is heavy on the bread, so celiacs and paleos may want to eat elsewhere.

Hudson New York

Italian Market

You guys know how much I live for cured meats — so you won’t be surprised how dangerous Italian sandwich shops are to me. I stopped at Italian Market for something to eat on the train back home, and they made me a terrific sandwich with eggplant, cheese, and various delicious Italian meats.

I made sure to order just a half sandwich because nothing could have stopped me from annihilating a whole one. I hear they do a great eggplant parmesan, too.

Hudson New York


My afternoon coffee break is the most important moment of my day — both while traveling and when at home!

Rev Coffee, pictured above, has a cool setting with vintage furniture.

Verdigris Tea and Coffee Bar has an incredible selection of coffees, teas, and hot chocolates, with lots of sweet treats for sale as well. I loved their iced coconut cream herbal tea.

Moto Coffee Machine is a cool place, and I wish I had time to try their gourmet sandwiches, but I wasn’t a fan of the smell of the motorcycle shop. Perhaps it was extra motorcycle-y that day?

Cafe le Perche is a lovely little cafe and a nice stop for breakfast as well.

Hudson New York

Other Restaurants

Hudson’s most famous fine dining restaurant is Fish and Game — it was one of the restaurants that started Hudson’s culinary revolution. But after reading this scathing GQ review and seeing that the entire first page of Yelp was full of lackluster reviews, I decided to skip it.

If you’re craving pasta, check out Ca’mea — they’re one of the few restaurants open on Wednesdays!

Mexican Radio got recommended to me by a few readers, but I decided to skip it as they have an outpost in New York as well.

Hudson Food Studio has a Vietnamese fusion menu and I’d love to try them out next time.

Hudson New York

Where I Stayed

I had a bit of credit to burn so I stayed at this Airbnb rental for an average of $115 per night (Weds-Sat). A private two-bedroom apartment right on the 200 block of Warren Street, this house has everything you could need: a full kitchen, a comfy bed, a clawfoot tub, and best of all, keypad entry — so I could get in on my own without having to pick up keys.

I knew I was at home when The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, my favorite reads of 2015, were stacked on the coffee table! It turns out that my host, Julie, and I have very similar taste in books: she had plenty of my favorites on the shelf, including The Poisonwood Bible, Euphoria, Disgrace, The Kite RunnerOthello, and my favorite Boston-set children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan.

While it’s technically a two-bedroom, it’s not the most private two-bedroom: the second bedroom opens off the first and the first has open slots that open over the lower floor. For that reason, while you could sleep four people here, I think it would be more comfortable for a couple or two friends.

Julie also has two smaller, cheaper properties here and here.

Hudson New York

The Takeaway

This definitely won’t be my last trip to Hudson! I know I’ll be returning again and again. Hudson could end up being my default “escape New York before the city consumes you” getaway. And since my three best friends and I are living in New York, Boston, and upstate New York, it could be a perfect meeting point for us.

I feel like Hudson is a good destination for people who want to chill out and relax, not people who are set on ticking off a sightseeing list. There’s not a lot to do here beyond eating, shopping, and hanging out — and that’s what I love about it.

Hudson New York

I was also impressed by how gay-friendly Hudson was. I visited during Pride Month and sadly had to leave hours before Hudson’s own Pride Parade took place. But the town was absolutely covered with rainbow flags! They hung from nearly every flagpole down Warren Street, alongside the American flags, and nearly every business had its own rainbow flag or sign out front as well.

Hudson hasn’t been a historical getaway for LGBT travelers like Provincetown or Key West, the kind of place you’d expect to be covered with rainbow flags. Because of that, the message was clear: Hudson was saying, “LGBT travelers, you’re very welcome and we’re so glad you’re here.” I love this. More destinations should follow Hudson’s lead.

I will say one other thing — I enjoyed Hudson the most during the week. I preferred when it was much less crowded and I could be the only person at the bar, even though far fewer places were open. Even if you only have the weekend, see if you can tack on a Thursday or Monday to get the feeling of the town outside peak time.

Hudson, New York: America's Coolest Small Town

Essential Info: To get to Hudson, take Amtrak from Penn Station in New York. The journey is two hours and I paid $72 for a round-trip ticket; book early for the lowest fares.

Hudson is a stop on several Amtrak lines including the Empire Express, which I took (New York to Niagara Falls), Ethan Allen Express (New York to Rutland, Vermont), Maple Leaf (New York to Toronto) and Adirondack (New York to Montreal), so it’s easily accessible from lots of places!

My Airbnb rental, a private two-bedroom apartment, costs $100-155 per night plus Airbnb fees, depending on the day of the week and season. Julie also has two smaller, cheaper properties here and here.

Because Hudson’s businesses keep such odd hours, I recommend double-checking the hours before going anywhere. I found the Foursquare app’s “open now” option very helpful for this.

If you’ve got more time, consider renting a car and driving around the Hudson Valley. There are plenty more interesting towns to visit, but they’re not as easy to get to by train as Hudson!

Does Hudson look like your kind of place? Share away!



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AK Monthly Recap: June 2016


Kate at Pinot by Tituss Event

June 2016 will forever be known as the month that I saw Hamilton. Really, everything else fades to black and white when measured up against Hamilton. I can’t remember the last time a performance affected me this much!

But beyond that, there was a lot of fun in New York and a bit beyond. Another quiet month. Another close-to-home month. But another piece in the puzzle as I try to figure out how to balance frequent travel with having a life in New York.

Triboro Bridge View from Astoria

Destinations Visited

New York and Hudson, NY

Fairfield, CT

Hudson New York

Favorite Destinations

Hudson is my new favorite short getaway from New York! If you’re based in the area, you need to check it out.

Kate, Lori, Tituss and Erisa


Hamilton, far and away, was the highlight of the month. You can read more about it here. But the second biggest highlight was meeting Tituss Burgess, a.k.a. Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! Tituss hosted a few parties during Pride as fundraisers for Orlando and my friends Erisa and Lori invited me to join them!

And this wasn’t the usual celebrity-hosted party, where you’re practically kept in separate rooms the whole time (I’m looking at you, Donnie Wahlberg’s 38th birthday party at The Estate in Boston in 2007, where my friend Lisa and I almost got thrown out for continuously sneaking into the VIP area…). Titus worked the room and chatted with everyone ALL NIGHT LONG. I was impressed by how kind, warm, and generous he was.

Tituss wasn’t the only celebrity there — I also met Bob the Drag Queen, winner of the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Hudson New York

I had a wonderful three-day getaway to Hudson, which was just perfect. I had lots of time to be alone, eat fantastic food, shop, and get work done. Hudson is an ideal getaway from New York, just two hours away by train, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it soon.

I went on the Black Gotham Experience. This downtown-based tour tells the history of the free blacks and slaves in pre-revolutionary New York. I had absolutely no clue about this part of history and I found some new favorite historical figures! Kamau is a fantastic guide and we finished with some drinks and food at the excellent Fraunces Tavern nearby. If you’re looking to do something offbeat and unusual in New York, this tour is a great choice!

We had our first TBS meet up. Travel Blog Success is the online community I’ve been involved with for years, not to mention the #1 community I recommend to travel bloggers looking to grow their blogs, and we finally had our first meetup — here in New York! I loved meeting everyone and the rooftop at the Gansevoort Meatpacking was a beautiful place to enjoy the 360-degree sunset.


I saw two plays — Blackbird and Eclipsed, which have both since closed. Blackbird, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, has received tons of critical acclaim but I wasn’t the biggest fan — I didn’t love either of the performances and the script took a LONG time to take off. There was a huge payoff at the end that made it worth it, though. (Tip: if you ever go to a show at the Belasco Theater, know that the balcony seats show a frustratingly small sliver of the stage. Get better seats if you can afford them.)

Eclipsed, however, was brutally fantastic. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, this show tells the story of women kidnapped into sexual slavery during the Liberian civil war. The cast was stellar — I’m shocked none of them won Tonys. It’s a heartbreaking yet gripping story, and each performance is dedicated to different girls who were kidnapped in sub-Saharan Africa, including the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. After the show, the cast and audience recite the names of different girls who are missing.

Not only that, Eclipsed is the first Broadway play to have an all-female cast and creative team — AND the first Broadway play to have an all-black cast and creative team. How is that possible in 2016?! Either way, it was spectacular and I feel honored to have seen it.

Staten Island Ferry

I checked more New York activities off my bucket list. Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church, actually going into Hamilton’s home at the Grange, the Staten Island Ferry, the Stonewall Inn, Fort Tryon Park. And I closed out the month with my first New York Fourth of July celebration: fireworks in Astoria Park!

Getting into my CSA. My sister and I are splitting a CSA half share this year — community-supported agriculture, or a farm share. We paid in advance and every other week we pick up tons of fresh organic vegetables from upstate New York. I’ve always wanted to eat more local, in tune with the seasons, and a CSA is the easiest way to get started! We’ve been enjoying beautiful kale, radishes, scallions, and tons of lettuces so far, but today it’s time for the first cucumbers of the season!

Hosting friends. Brock came for a week, Amy came for an overnight, and Katie came for an afternoon. I loved showing off my neighborhood to each of them!

Fairfield Reunion

And I had my ten-year college reunion! I can’t believe it’s been that long! The reunion was nice, but a bit weird. It was for classes from every five years (not just 2006 but 2001, 1996, etc.) so many of the attendees were total strangers. Most of my close friends from college didn’t come, and I somehow missed a few of my friends who were there, so most of the people I saw were acquaintances at best.

That said, I had a great time with my friends who did show up and it was nice to explore the changes to campus. And now a few of my friends and I are thinking of planning a reunion party for the fall!

Statue of Liberty


Do you remember the “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad? (If you watched Breaking Bad, you know that episode. It was the most polarizing episode of all time.) Well, a few days ago, that was my life.

Suddenly my apartment was filled with horseflies. I had no idea where they came from — I was running around in a towel and smacking them with rolled up issues of Entertainment Weekly, Windex in my other hand (spray them and it slows them down). Sometimes I’d lock them in the bathroom, the smallest room in the house, and go into battle from there.

It felt like there were only two flying around at a time — then more kept appearing, to my consternation. I killed thirteen in a span of three hours. The thirteenth was the Grand Poobah — the biggest fly I had ever seen.

Eventually, I realized that they had entered through a hole in the screen in my bedroom window. Well, that will never be opened again.

And now my neighbors probably think I’m a psycho after all my growls and threats. “Only one of us is getting out of here alive, motherfucker!”

New York View from the Gansevoort

Most Popular Post

Backpacking Southeast Asia vs. Backpacking Central America — I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and I’m glad it went so well!

New York Skyscrapers

Other Posts

A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island — Love wine? You’ll want to make this day trip from New York!

I Saw Hamilton and Yes, It Really Is That Great — Hamilton is a once-in-a-lifetime show. Here’s why it’s worth every bit of hype.

How to Spend Three Days in Savannah — The ultimate guide for a short getaway to this gorgeous city.

Hamilton Heights Historic District

News and Announcements

It’s the dead of summer, folks — nothing’s happening because everyone’s on vacation! That said, after six months stateside, I’m very ready to take my passport out again. I already have New Zealand scheduled for November and December; I also have South Africa this month (see below). Additionally, I have work offers for Europe and Asia on the table this fall and I always like to use work trips as opportunities to spring off and travel on my own in the region.

That said — for August I’m looking for something different, something more adventurous than what I’ve done in the last year. Not something so adventurous that I’m miserable — just something a bit more complicated than North America or Europe or Southeast Asia or Central America. And something a bit on the cheaper side would be wise.

I have a few ideas in mind…

Freedom Tower New York

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

The Freedom Tower. What a challenge it must have been to design a building worthy to succeed the Twin Towers. They did a fantastic job.

Battery Park New York

What I Read This Month

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I wish I had written this book. So much of what Lindy wrote — about feminism, about love, about rape jokes in comedy, about being a female public figure on the internet — is everything I believe, but she articulates it so much better than I ever could.

Just know that this isn’t just a light, fluffy collection of stories. The book starts out as comedy then progresses into serious commentary, then turns very sad. That said, it all works. If you’re familiar with Lindy’s writing in the least (her Sex and the City 2 review is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read), you’ll be a big fan of this book.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. This was my book club’s read of the month — and it was weird. Basically, the book is a set of long rambles about masturbation (often with unusual accoutrements), sex, being Jewish, and especially having an overbearing Jewish mother. I spent most of the book thinking, “Why am I reading this?” but found that near the end, I developed quite a bit of affection for the protagonist. It’s also one of the best depictions of stream-of-conscious writing I’ve ever read.

Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies by Catrice M. Jackson. Here’s the truth: the women who need this book the most are the ones who refuse to finish it. This book is written by a black woman for white women, teaching them how they can be better allies. The truth? Most white women aren’t doing nearly enough, even the ones who think they are. This book is tough love and gets white women to dive deeply into the issues surrounding their privilege.

I met Catrice at last year’s Women in Travel Summit and was impressed at how she’s created a career around business, branding, and social justice. Note: Catrice gave me a complimentary copy of the book.

What I Watched This Month

Bloodline is one of my new favorite shows and I’m recommending it to everyone I know! It’s a Netflix drama that takes place in the Florida Keys. Four adult siblings, whose parents own a famous guesthouse and are pillars of the community, end up hiding and covering up secrets that keep spilling out. The cast is impressive: Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini, Chloe Sevigny, and a truly extraordinary Ben Mendelsohn, among others.

My favorite part is how the Florida Keys are a character in the show. This isn’t just the Keys you see on vacation — it’s the local Keys, the redneck Keys, the criminal Keys, the political Keys. I’ve always wanted to go to Key West, but now I’m hoping to spend at least a week exploring all of the Keys!

What I Listened To This Month

Hamilton, all day, all night. One of my goals is to have the show memorized by the end of the summer.

Now, for someone new to the show, what songs would I recommend? First of all, if you’re not going to see the show first, I recommend reading a summary of the plot, then listening while following along with the lyrics on Genius so you can tell who is singing what part. (Hamilton is FANTASTIC on Genius because it’s filled with tons of annotations, including many from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.)

If you’re a hip-hop fan, check out “Cabinet Rap Battle #1” with its nods to Grandmaster Flash and the Notorious B.I.G.

If you’re more of a pop fan who enjoys history, check out “The Schuyler Sisters.”

If you just want to hear a swelling, great song, probably the best song in the show, check out “Wait For It.”

Lion's Head, Cape Town

Coming Up in July 2016

I’m going back…to SOUTH AFRICA! Surprise!

South Africa is a country that I love fiercely and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be visiting for a third time. This time, I’m bringing my friend Beth! We’ll be spending two weeks in the country and exploring Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch, with some surprises thrown in.

What are your plans for July? Share away!



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A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island


Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

This summer, I’ve been planning lots of special day trips and short getaways from Manhattan. One of my biggest priorities? The North Fork of Long Island.

Long Island extends eastward from Brooklyn and Queens and eventually forks in two. The South Fork gets most of the hype and vacationers — it’s home to the Hamptons and beautiful beaches.

The North Fork, however, is all about WINE. And food. And country goodness.

My girls and I didn’t waste any time. We planned our first summer day trip for Memorial Day weekend.

Sarah, Kate, Beth, Amy and Colleen in Long Island

Five of us girls made the trip that day — me and my sister Sarah, our hometown friends Beth and Amy (also sisters), and Colleen, Beth’s close friend from college. Colleen, who lives on Long Island, generously volunteered to pick us up from the train and be our designated driver for the day.

And what a day it was. What I most enjoyed was being out in the country, smelling the fresh air, stopping at farm stands, and sipping wine with my friends as we laughed and told stories. Best of all, it couldn’t have been easier to explore. What a gem the North Fork is!

Here are the highlights of our day, listed from west to east without any backtracking!

Briermere Farm Long Island

Briermere Farm

“KATE! Are you going to Briermere’s? You need to get a pie!”

I got so much good advice from Long Island readers on Snapchat (you can follow me at adventurouskate!) but the single biggest recommendation wasn’t about wine — it was about pie! This farm stand, famous for their pies, is located in Riverhead, right where Long Island’s forks split in two.

Briermere Farm Long Island Briermere Farm Long Island

There were so many kinds of pie! I went for my favorite — strawberry rhubarb.

Was it worth the hype? OH, ABSOLUTELY. This may be the best pie I have ever had. It was so tall and bursting with fruit (and probably tons of lard as well, but hey, that’s how you get a flaky crust). I kept inviting friends over for pie, just to hear them marvel at how good it was!

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

Shinn Estate Vineyards

For our first tasting, we stopped at Shinn Estate Vineyards, a casual, low-key farmhouse with a fragrant garden. This is just the kind of Long Island winery I imagined — rustic and friendly, where we could drink rosé in the sunshine!

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long IslandShinn Estate Vineyards Long IslandShinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

We got to choose four wines each, and by the time we passed around all our glasses, I think we sampled almost everything they had available!

The Brut, chardonnay, and cabernet franc are excellent at Shinn. I also loved the wordplay on the “Wild Boar Doe” wine!

Lieb Cellars Long Island

Lieb Cellars

Our second stop was Lieb Cellars, a winery that felt a bit more upscale and modern. Feeling the heat, we decided to head indoors for AC and got to enjoy a cool tasting room.

What I liked is that Lieb offers four different tastings of five wines each: a white tasting, a red tasting (which I obviously went for), a reserve red and white tasting, and a director’s cut including hard cider and dessert wine.

Lieb Cellars Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

Here we added some snacks to our tastings — some truly delectable olives marinated in oil and lots of rosemary, and a little bit of manchego cheese. I think manchego and dark, spicy red wine is one of my favorite culinary combinations in the world!

The cabernet franc was a standout here. I loved it so much, I bought a bottle! The white merlot was also memorable, as was a peachy sauvignon blanc.

Pugliese Vineyards Long Island

Pugliese Vineyards

“Do you want to stop at Pugliese?” Colleen asked us.

“Puglisi?” my sister and I piped up. Puglisi was the name of our grandfather who immigrated from Sicily. We had to drop in!

Turns out everyone in Long Island pronounces “Pugliese” like “Puglisi” instead of “pu-lee-AY-say” as the Italians do. Not quite an exact fit, but we enjoyed it nonetheless (and Sarah bought a bottle for our mom!).

Pugliese Vineyards Long Island Pugliese Vineyards Long Island

I’ll be honest — Pugliese’s wines weren’t quite the caliber of the other wines we tasted that day. That said, they had a nice sparkling rosé called Dolce Patricia, and we enjoyed the carefree outdoor atmosphere.

Pugliese is a bring-your-own-food place with lots of picnic tables; if you have kids, I imagine this is a great spot to have them burn off some energy. Plus, at $10, it was the cheapest tasting of the day.

Sparkling Pointe Long Island

Sparkling Pointe Vineyards and Winery

For something different, we had our final tasting at Sparkling Pointe Vineyards and Winery. This winery specializes in sparkling wines, and it was much larger and fancier — with the price tag to match! This place also felt very stereotypically Long Island. Very loud. Very Italian. Lots of big hair. Lots of big jewelry.

We went for the Grand Tasting Flight here, featuring four sparkling wines, and I thought they were a little bit too similar to each other. That said, it was very different from the rest of the wineries and I’m so glad we stopped in!

Sparkling Pointe Long Island

Sadly, by the time we left Sparkling Pointe, dark clouds had rolled in. At least I got some good photos along the way!

Greenport New York


Greenport is a small town close to the tip of the North Fork and it’s a good place to walk around, explore, and grab some food. There are lots of shops selling nautical souvenirs and homemade food items.

Greenport felt very much like New England to me — it wouldn’t be out of place on Massachusetts’ North Shore alongside Newburyport, Rockport, and Gloucester.

Greenport New York Greenport New York Greenport New York

We stopped for dinner at Noah’s, a farm-to-table restaurant in Greenport and while I didn’t get any photos, everything we had was fantastic. I’m still dreaming of their beet risotto, buffalo cauliflower, and Long Island clam chowder! (Also, this place is great for celiacs. Lots of their dishes are automatically gluten-free, even ones you wouldn’t expect like fried calamari!)

We finished our drive home with Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the two resident Beyoncé superfans singing their hearts out and explaining every lyric as the rest of us grinned and rolled our eyes in the backseat.

Long Island Goodies

The Takeaway

This city girl went to the country for a day and came home with a pie. Could I be more of a stereotype?

This was such a fun day! And coming home laden with cabernet franc, pickled asparagus, and yes, that legendary strawberry rhubarb pie, I felt like I got to relive the trip for several more days. Actually, it’s been a month and I have yet to open the wine! I should do that!

North Fork, I had a great time in you. And I can’t wait to check out your southern sibling next time!

Essential Info: No matter what you do, please use a designated driver when wine tasting. Driving while intoxicated, even a little bit, could easily ruin your life or someone else’s.

If you don’t have a designated driver in your party, check out North Fork Designated Driver, who will drive your own car for you, as well as S&G Limousines if you’d like something more glamorous. Full tours are available from North Fork Wine Tours, Elegant Wine Tours and The Casual Ride. Uber and Lyft are not available on the North Fork.

Don’t be pressured to go tasting at a million different wineries. We enjoyed our leisurely pace and sometimes split the tastings to keep ourselves feeling slightly tipsy rather than heavily intoxicated.

At Shinn Estate Vineyards, you can taste four wines of your choosing for $14.

At Lieb Cellars, there are four different tasting flights of five wines that you can try, ranging from $12 to $20.

At Pugliese Vineyards, you can taste four wines of your choosing for $10.

At Sparkling Pointe, the Grand Tasting Flight is four designated sparkling wines for $20.

To get to the North Fork by train, take the LIRR from New York to Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold, or Greenport. It’s a bit faster to drive.

If you plan on staying overnight, I would recommend basing in Greenport because it’s a walkable town with lots to do. Check out hotels here.

 A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Have you been to the North Fork?



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Backpacking Southeast Asia vs. Backpacking Central America


Koh Lanta Sunset

You’re ready to take the plunge — you want to start backpacking, possibly long-term, in a cheap part of the world. So, where is it going to be? We already know Europe will eat up too much cash!

Southeast Asia and Central America are two of the most popular destinations for backpackers. I’ve traveled extensively in both regions and fell in love with both of them.

You might think the backpacking world is the same everywhere. But as soon as I started backpacking Central America after years of exploring Southeast Asia, I was shocked at just how different it was. Not in just the obvious way, landscapes and food and culture, but also how different the backpacking scene felt.

So, which destination is right for you? I wrote this post to help you figure it out.

Las Penitas Beach

Weather and When to Go

Both of these destinations are similar — the weather is warm and you should visit during the northern hemisphere’s winter months.

Southeast Asia varies, but the Big Four — Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam — tend to have the best, coolest, and driest weather from January to March. There are some variations within this. Northern Vietnam can be chilly at this time; Thailand’s Andaman and Gulf Coasts often have opposite monsoons. Bali is completely different with a high season in the summer months.

You can visit Southeast Asia during the low season and still have a good time, but I would recommend avoiding Myanmar during their rainiest months of June to October due to flooding and poor infrastructure.

Central America has a similar season to Southeast Asia — you’ll find the nicest, coolest, driest weather from January to March. Central America is vulnerable to hurricane season, which runs roughly from August to November.

No matter where you’re going, look up the weather of the exact place you’re visiting to have the most accurate idea of what you’ll be facing.

Khao Sok Lake Fun

The Backpacking Crowd

Southeast Asia tends to draw a young, often first-timer backpacking crowd. Most backpackers tend to be in their early-to-mid-twenties. It can be jarring to be out with a group and find out that one of your companions is just 18 years old!

For this reason, you see a lot of early-twenty-something behavior. Lots of drinking to excess and immature behavior. Party destinations like Kuta, Koh Phangan, and Koh Phi Phi are especially big with the younger crowd. You do tend to find more older backpackers in quieter, more rural destinations.

You’ll find lots of Australians and Europeans in particular, though people come from all over the world. There are tons of French people in northern Thailand. Southern Vietnam beach towns have menus in Russian! And Kuta, Bali, is basically Australia’s version of Cancun.

Papaya Lodge Pool El Tunco

Central America, in comparison, tends to draw an older, more experienced, and much more North American crowd. I visited Central America at age 30 and was thrilled at how nice it was to be surrounded by late-twenty- and thirty-somethings!

Central American’s surf towns, in particular, draw a ton of Canadians. I met more people from Saskatchewan in San Juan del Sur than I’ve ever met in my life. There’s even a Canadian bar there called the Loose Moose.

Is there a reason for this age disparity? I think so. Most new backpackers cut their teeth in Southeast Asia and especially Europe, which I’d argue has the youngest backpacking crowd in the world.

Central America, along with South America, has a more “dangerous” reputation and is therefore the choice of more experienced travelers. And more experienced often means older. As for the more North American crowd, it’s much cheaper to fly there.

Of course, keep in mind that these rules aren’t absolute. You’ll find backpackers of all ages and nationalities in both regions.

Khao Soi


Southeast Asia is one of the most spectacular food destinations in the world. If you’re into food in the least, you must come to Southeast Asia at least once in your life. Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore are my absolute favorite food destinations within the region.

Food in Southeast Asia is highly varied and often complex. You could stay for months and eat a different dish every day. Plus, Southeast Asia has a rich street food culture that makes it possible to eat fantastic food on the cheap on an everyday basis. Food is the center of life here.

Nicaraguan food

Central America, by comparison, isn’t nearly as exciting. Most dishes, especially if you’re on a budget, are a variation of meat or fish, rice and beans, plantains, and tortillas. You can get tacos everywhere in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Of course, that’s not everything — there’s fresh lobster on the Caribbean coast, pepian stews in Guatemala, Creole cuisine in Belize, and the gift sent from heaven known as Salvadoran pupusas and now I want to eat a million pupusas. But for the most part, it’s fairly monotonous.

There is one exception: lots of backpackers include Mexico in their Central American trips, and Mexico is one of the best, most diverse, and most underrated culinary destinations in the world.

Koh Lanta Sunset


Southeast Asia is known for its slooooooow cover songs. I always say I’m not back in Thailand until I hear the breathy “Sweet Child o’ Mine” cover where the guitar riff is played on a flute. A FLUTE. Beyond that, the music is decent but nothing special or extraordinary.

Central America, by contrast, is a party. Everyone blasts salsa and bachata and meringue and Latin rock music. Even if you don’t think you’re a Latin music person, you’ll get into it — especially if you learn how to dance! I think within a month after hearing “El Taxi” from thinking “WTF is this song?” to singing along en español.

Vang Vieng Party


Backpackers in Southeast Asia tend to stick to backpacker-oriented nightlife. There are backpacker bars throughout the region and it’s rare to see locals drinking at the same places. Bucket cocktails are ubiquitous, especially in Thailand. Neighborhoods like Khao San Road in Bangkok are giant backpacker party zones.

The sex tourism scene in Southeast Asia has an impact on this nightlife — it’s common to go out and see young Southeast Asian women with a much older western male partners. And due to the younger age of backpackers in Southeast Asia, you see much more irresponsible drinking.

While some backpackers do cross over and party alongside locals, especially in cities, this tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

El Tunco Beach Party

Backpackers in Central America tend to join in the local nightlife. Backpacker bars have their place — particularly in more touristy zones like San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and San Pedro, Guatemala — but more often backpackers mix with locals in bars and clubs. It’s common to end up with new local friends by the end of a night.

If you’re interested in Latin American nightlife, the single best thing you can do is learn to dance! Salsa lessons are offered everywhere and it’s a great way to get into the local culture.

Khao Sok

Outdoor Adventure

Both Southeast Asia and Central America are great choices for the outdoors, but their different landscapes offer different options.

Southeast Asia’s outdoor highlights include jungle trekking, rock climbing, motorbike trips, and diving. Northern Thailand, northern Laos, and northern Vietnam are home to hill tribe villages and excellent trekking. Rock climbing is popular in Railay, Thailand.

Renting a motorbike is a popular activity throughout Southeast Asia, and many backpackers rent for several days and do a trip. Pai, Thailand, is a great place to learn; the most epic adventure is the length of Vietnam from Saigon to Hanoi or vice versa.

Koh Tao in Thailand is known as the best (and cheapest) place to learn to dive in the region, and some of the best places to dive in the region include Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia, Sipadan in Malaysia, several islands in the Philippines, and the Similan Islands in Thailand.

Kate Volcano Boarding

Central America’s outdoor highlights include surfing, rafting, volcano hiking and diving. The Pacific coast is full of surf towns, and volcanoes are scattered from Guatemala to Panama.

Costa Rica in particular has so much infrastructure around outdoor tourism. From hiking to rafting to zip-lining, there are tons of options and tour operators throughout the country.

Utila in Honduras is the best (and cheapest) place to learn to dive in the region. Some of the best diving is on Utila and Roatán in Honduras, the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, Isla del Coco in Panama, and for advanced divers, the Blue Hole in Belize.

Central America is also home to two very unique outdoor adventures: volcano boarding near León, Nicaragua, and exploring the ATM caves filled with human sacrifices near San Ignacio, Belize.

Ometepe Sunset

Natural Beauty and Scenery

Man. This is hard, especially since most of my Southeast Asia photos are from back when I had a bad camera and poor photography skills.

Here are five of the most beautiful places in Southeast Asia:


Vang Vieng, Laos

Relax Bay Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta, Thailand

Beautiful Pai

Pai, Thailand

Angkor Wat at Dawn

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Boracay Sunset

Boracay, Philippines

Here are five of the most beautiful places in Central America:

Rendezvous Caye Belize

Rendezvous Caye, Belize

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Ometepe Sunset

Ometepe, Nicaragua

Yemaya Little Corn Island

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

As you can see, both regions are home to incredibly beautiful places.

Ometepe Road

Language Barrier

In Southeast Asia, nobody expects you to speak Thai or Khmer or Vietnamese, and most locals in tourism speak at least a little bit of English. You’ll get by just fine. That said, you should make an effort to use the local words for “hello” and “thank you” at an absolute minimum. “Delicious” is a great word to learn, too!

In Central America, you should make an effort to learn some Spanish before you arrive. It’s an easy language, fewer locals speak conversational English, and you’ll have a far better time if you can speak a little bit. Many people start their Central American travels with a cheap Spanish crash course or immersion program in Guatemala. English is spoken in Belize.

Longtail Restaurant

Ease of Travel and Infrastructure

Southeast Asia is probably the easiest place to travel in the world. I’m not kidding. Virtually every guesthouse acts as a travel agent, so you can be at a guesthouse in Pai and say, “I’d like to go to Koh Phi Phi,” and they’ll get you a minibus, train, second train, bus, and ferry ticket.

There are also lots of budget airlines that can carry you throughout Southeast Asia. These days I’ll always pay for a 75-minute, $60 flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai rather than a $15, 12-hour bus.

Southeast Asia has accommodation at every tier, but simple guesthouses are most popular for backpackers. Also, keep in mind that beds tend to be very hard in Asia.

Chicken Buses Antigua Guatemala

Central America isn’t quite that easy, but it’s still not too difficult to get around. Most guesthouses will be able to advise you on how to get to your next destination, though you often have to do the figuring-out yourself.

There are also several backpacker bus lines that run between destinations. I highly recommend taking them on long journeys between tourist hotspots — like Lanquín and Flores in Guatemala, for example, where you get a comfortable, air-conditioned journey instead of having to take four different cramped chicken buses.

Flights within Central America tend to be much more expensive, so bus travel is more of a norm here.

Central America has more of a hostel scene, in addition to guesthouses, but private rooms in hostels are common. I only slept in dorms in Costa Rica (due to price) and Ometepe, Nicaragua (due to everyone being early to bed and early to rise the next day). I don’t know why, but most guesthouses in Central America have absolutely terrible pillows.

Ometepe Sunset Kate


Keep in mind that you can’t paint an entire region with a single brushstroke because it varies so much within. No matter where you go in the world, the most expensive destinations tend to be cities, beaches, and tourist hotspots. The cheapest destinations tend to be rural areas and places tourists don’t visit in large numbers.

Yes, Thailand has a reputation for being cheap, but keep in mind that a cheap day in Pai would cost you $20 while a cheap day in Koh Phi Phi would cost closer to $50.

The cost of flights can also be a big factor, especially for shorter trips. You see more North Americans in Central America and more Australians in Southeast Asia for this reason.

Tat Lo, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Southeast Asia tends to be a bit cheaper overall than Central America, particularly when comparing the cheapest destinations. The most expensive places are Singapore and beach resorts in southern Thailand. The cheapest places are rural Laos, Cambodia, northern Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

You tend to get more value here — say, a $20 guesthouse in Southeast Asia would probably be fancier than a $20 guesthouse in a comparable Central American destination.

Central America is pretty close to Southeast Asia prices but a bit more expensive. The most expensive places are beach resorts in Belize and Costa Rica. The cheapest places are rural destinations in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Tuk-tuk in Cambodia

The Safety Factor

First of all: remember that anything can happen anywhere. You can go to a destination with a dangerous reputation and turn out totally fine; you can visit somewhere with a super-safe reputation and get robbed or worse. Nothing is absolute.

No matter where you go in the world, I recommend following my Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women and researching your destinations before arriving.

Southeast Asia has a reputation for being very safe. For the most part, it’s an extremely safe destination where violent crime is rare.

Petty crime is a factor, especially in Cambodia and Vietnam. Hold onto your bags, especially when in tuk-tuks. Lock up your stuff. Listen to local warnings and read up on local scams.

Leon Nicaragua

Central America has a bit more of a spotted reputation. While Central America is home to cities with the highest murder rate in the world, like San Pedro Sula, Honduras, keep in mind that most tourists don’t go to those cities, anyway.

You should be on guard for robbery and petty crime, particularly when in cities and on public transportation. Before I went to Central America, I bought an anti-theft day bag that locked securely (this is the one I use now). Listen to local warnings and read up on local scams.

Another safety factor in both Southeast Asia and Central America is that transportation may not be up to code. Sometimes bus drivers are hopped up on drugs to keep them awake longer to make more money. I was shipwrecked in Indonesia back in 2011; boat sinkings do happen with more frequency in Southeast Asia than at home. I talk about boat safety in this post.

It’s hard to know whether transportation is legit or not, but I recommend doing research before your trip and not being afraid to spend more on a higher quality ride.

In both regions — and on every trip you take — you should always buy travel insurance. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Kate at Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Women’s Safety

As a woman, I feel more comfortable in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. Street harassment isn’t a thing here and I never get catcalled. I also feel more comfortable in Southeast Asia because street vendors are often out all night long in cities, meaning that you’re never alone.

The only place I felt remotely uncomfortable for being a woman was in the Indian communities of Kuala Lumpur because the men stared at me as I walked down the street.

Central America is different. While I felt very safe in most destinations, I did not feel safe going out alone at night in Antigua, Guatemala, or León and Granada in Nicaragua. (I recommend either going out with a group, taking taxis, or choosing a guesthouse with a restaurant in it.) Going out alone during the day is fine everywhere.

Street harassment is also constant throughout much of Central America, though it is far less pervasive in rural areas. I found street harassment to be the absolute worst in Granada, León, and San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua; Antigua in Guatemala; and Caye Caulker in Belize.

I felt the safest in rural Guatemala, particularly in Mayan areas like around Lake Atitlan. Mayan men don’t verbally objectify women. I also felt safe in small towns in Costa Rica. While people often worry when they hear the words “El Salvador,” I felt tremendously safe in the tiny town of El Tunco, even walking alone at night.

Laguna de Apoyo

So which region is best?

I’m not going to say one region is better than the other because that’s a decision you should make, not me! What’s right for you as a person and a traveler is completely different than what’s right for me. So I hope you use this list as just one resource in your planning.

That said, I think it’s smart to start with Southeast Asia if you’re a younger or less experienced backpacker, or if you’re on an extremely low budget. Central America will always be there waiting when you’re older and have more experience. But if you want to do the opposite, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that!

Overall, Southeast Asia and Central America are two incredible regions that deserve to be explored in depth. I hope you get to experience both of them in your lifetime.

Southeast Asia vs. Central America -- which is better?

Are you more of a Southeast Asia person or a Central America person? Share away!



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I Saw Hamilton and Yes, It Really Is That Great


Kate at Hamilton

I made a very impulsive purchase last Friday: one ticket to see Hamilton the very next day.

My one-sentence review: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

Hamilton is the most popular Broadway show in years — possibly even decades. It’s gone beyond Broadway to become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.

RENT premiered 20 years ago and it’s the closest recent show to Hamilton in terms of cultural impact. I remember singing RENT in high school with my friends the way teenagers are singing Hamilton with their friends today. (Then again, it’s hard to compare the impact of a show from the early days of the internet. Just check out all the Hamilton tributes on YouTube!)

Sure, there have been other popular shows within the past 20 years, some of them fantastic, but none have been on this level.

Wicked was a huge hit and it’s still beloved by Broadway fans, especially for its music — but it didn’t quite cross over culturally in the same way.

The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q broke the mold when it comes to musicals — but both of them are on the vulgar side and perhaps that held them back from becoming more mainstream hits.

The Producers was huge, but much of that success was based on its stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and the show suffered once they left.

Is Hamilton a once-in-a-lifetime show? Perhaps it is. But I think it might be a twice-or-three-times-in-a-lifetime show.

“It was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.” –Michelle Obama

And it’s for that reason that I decided to spend the money on a ticket. I had just found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, lyricist and star of Hamilton, will be leaving the show on July 9. That’s the day that the Hamilton cast’s yearlong contracts are up, so many of the cast won’t be returning.

I wanted to see Lin-Manuel Miranda. And Daveed Diggs. And Leslie Odom Jr. And Renée Elise Goldberry. But who knows who will be staying after July 9? And who knows how much further the secondary market prices would go up after the Tonys this Sunday?

So I bit the bullet and bought the ticket.

It was the best not-AS-expensive-as-it-could-have-been-but-still-pretty-damn-expensive amount of money I’ve ever spent. Worth every penny and then some. I have never enjoyed a performance so much in my life.

(Note to email subscribers: this post contains several video and audio clips that don’t send via email. Click through to the site to see them.)


What makes Hamilton so good?

It’s the story of what our country is about, told through the extraordinary life of one man. Hamilton, at its core, is a story about an immigrant who used his smarts to get a ticket to America, then worked tirelessly to make our country as good as it could be. Hamilton was brilliant — perhaps even a genius. He was also impulsive and a bit of a hothead.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? –Opening lines of Hamilton

So many people have forgotten that America has always been a nation of immigrants, and that so many people place blame for their economic difficulties on the most recent arrivals. Today’s “Mexicans should just speak English” is really just another “No Irish Need Apply.”

That’s why it’s so powerful that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a show that was told largely through hip-hop through a cast comprised almost entirely of people of color. Hip-hop has always been the language of rising up against one’s circumstances.

“I understand how ridiculous the elevator pitch for this show is,” Lin-Manuel Miranda told NPR. “It sounds improbable. And then once you start hearing about Hamilton’s life story, it sort of makes sense. The mode of storytelling makes sense to the subject.”

Miranda chose to intentionally cast people of color because it was a reflection of how America looks today. The story of Hamilton is the story to everyone who fought adversity and came to this country with the goal of building a better life. The story of America is the story of all Americans, not just the people who have a skin tone that closest resembles the Founding Fathers.

“It is quite literally taking the history that someone has tried to exclude us from and reclaiming it. We are saying we have the right to tell it too.” –Leslie Odom Jr.

They say there’s always a piece of entertainment that so defines the era of a presidency. 24 for George W. Bush. Wall Street for Reagan. Hamilton is Obama’s opus.

Beyond its social importance, it’s also a damn good show. The music is beautiful and catchy — and not as hip-hop as the hype might have you believe. This is still a Broadway show at its essence. There’s a lot of hip-hop in the show but also plenty of ballads and jazzy showstoppers. Plus a dose of Britpop, courtesy of King George III.

The actors are fantastic. There seriously isn’t a weak link in the bunch — and every character has its own unique cadence, particularly when it came to rap. The costumes, the set (including a revolving stage) — it’s all top-notch.

And the fact that it tells the story of our country, though through a lesser-known Founding Father, and that it connects so well to today — that’s what makes the show even more special.

Finally, I’ve never experienced such an enthusiastic audience in all my years of theatre-going. The Hamilton audience was electrifying. Everyone was so excited to be there, whooping and cheering at every opportunity. Me? I was so excited, I couldn’t stop shaking.


These are the Founding Fathers

Everyone has an image in their head of the Founding Fathers being these staid, old, gray figures who calmly worked together, who were polite, who wrote carefully and specifically in their writings.

Dude. That image couldn’t be further from the truth.

They were young. They fought. They often hated each other. They drank. They picked up women. They spread ugly rumors about each other in order to gain or retain power.

I mean, think about it. Do you really think a revolution was led by a bunch of old dudes? (I know, I know, Bernie. Sit down.) It was the youth of America that carried the country forward.

And I feel that if more people looked at the Founding Fathers this way, more young people would understand the impact they can have by getting involved in politics.


The more things change, the more things stay the same.

There was one point during Hamilton where my mouth literally fell open. And then fell open further. It was during the song “Schuyler Defeated”:

Hamilton: “Since when are you a Democratic-Republican?”

Burr: “Since being one put me on the up and up again.”

Hamilton: “No one knows who you are or what you do…”

Burr: “They don’t need to know me! They don’t like you.”

Hamilton: “Excuse me?”

Burr: “Oh, Wall Street thinks you’re great. You’ll always be adored by the things you create. But upstate—”

Hamilton: “Wait.”

Burr: “—People think you’re crooked.”

Those lines were written a few years ago. But word for word, that conversation could literally be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump today.

Is Miranda some kind of sorcerer? I wouldn’t put it past him. 

But more likely, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“So I guess the biggest takeaway is, yes, this election cycle is bizarre. But it’s no more bizarre than the election in 1800, wherein Jefferson accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite and Adams responded by [spreading rumors] that Jefferson died, so Adams would be the only viable candidate. He was counting on news to travel slow! That, weirdly, gives me hope.” –Lin-Manuel Miranda

We need more shows with intentional casting of people of color.

Hamilton is famous, in part, for using a cast of almost entirely people of color. It’s not the first show to cast people of color in traditionally white roles, but it’s the first show of this magnitude to intentionally do so. (Then again, you could argue it’s the first show of this magnitude…ever.)

There’s a difference there. It’s one thing to say, “We’ll be open to everyone and cast the best actor.” That’s happening more and more often — like Kyle Jean-Baptiste, who became the first black actor to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway before tragically dying in an accident last year.

But it’s something else to intentionally casting actors of color in the roles of historical figures who were white.

The truth? It makes zero impact whatsoever on the believability of the show. This is a musical. People randomly burst into song and dance. I think it’s fair to say the ship for realism has sailed.

The important thing is that George Washington has gravitas, strength, maturity, that he can command a room and have the respect of everyone present. From Christopher Jackson’s first moments onstage as Washington, you don’t have a moment of doubt that he is Washington.

And that Thomas Jefferson has sophistication and swagger with a touch of eccentricity, thinly veiled sexism, and a bit of a mean streak. Daveed Diggs, in a Prince-esque purple velvet coat and white cravat, is probably my favorite depiction of Jefferson in pop culture so far!

And then there is Aaron Burr. Well-intentioned and on the cusp of power but never quite getting to exactly where he wanted to be. Insecure as a result. And increasingly bad at hiding his insecurity as time went on. Please give Leslie Odom Jr. the Tony now!

Does their race change anything? Or make it…different? Not whatsoever. And anyone who says the casting makes the show worse is the kind of person to whom you shouldn’t cater, frankly.

I hope Hamilton opens the door to more intentional casting of people of color — and I think it will. It creates more opportunities for actors of color. (Daniel Dae Kim, the Lost and Hawaii 5-0 actor now appearing in The King and I, recently pointed out that the only roles for Asian men in the Broadway canon are in The King and I and Miss Saigon — that is it. TWO SHOWS. If an Asian actor wants to get any other role in a classic musical, he needs to depend on so-called “nontraditional casting.”)

But intentionally casting actors of color gives kids role models, seeing people who look like them on stage. It’s so valuable for children to know that they can be whoever they want to be.

And for us, the consumers, it allows us to experience incredible performers we would have been kept out of roles otherwise. Take Daveed Diggs — he had no exposure to Broadway. Prior to starring in Hamilton, his only Broadway experience was listening to Fiddler on the Roof as a child.

Broadway has been a historically white form of entertainment — both for the entertainers and the audience. It’s one of few art forms where pieces from decades and generations ago are performed with equal vigor to contemporary works. And many of those old works are rife with racial stereotypes. As much as I’d love to see Daniel Dae Kim in The King and I, and as beautiful as the music is, I’m not a fan of the show’s cringe-inducing portrayals of Asians.

Even with Hamilton, the current level of diversity in Broadway isn’t enough. But it looks like the tide is turning. Slowly.

Theatre is the first step — probably the easiest step. TV is next. Then film. Film is slowest to change.

For me, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and see The Crucible on Broadway before it closes in July. Like Hamilton, the characters in the show are all white historical figures, but the show features several black actors, including Hotel Rwanda‘s Sophie Okonedo.

This is the same reason why I see comedies starring women in their opening weekend. The more money they make, the more opportunities there will be for films like these in the future.

The Best Part: Finding the Hip-Hop Easter Eggs

I was hanging out with my friend Beth a few months ago and she had the Hamilton soundtrack on in the background. I was zoning out but immediately perked up when Jefferson rapped, “And if you don’t know, now you know, Mr. President.”

“Wait — did he just reference Biggie?” I asked. That line is from the end of every verse in “Juicy.”

“Yes! There are lots of those in the show.”

There are so many winking references to hip-hop throughout Hamilton — and Broadway musicals as well — and tracking them down is insanely fun. Genius.com is an absolute gold mine! Miranda pops in there every now and then, but he’s said that he doesn’t want to give everything away so people can have fun figuring it out.

“This was a guy who used words to get everywhere and do what my favorite hip-hop artists do — if not write about their struggles, their lives, then transcend their circumstances by sheer virtuosity.” –Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Cabinet debates between Hamilton and Jefferson are turned into rap battles that reference Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” with Jefferson even laughing with the same “Ahaha-ha-ha!”

Hamilton spells his name out like Biggie in “Going Back to Cali”:

“A-L, E-X, A-N-D,
E-R, we are, meant to be”

Compare that to

“It’s the N-O, T-O, R-I-O,
U-S, you just, lay down, slow”

Hamilton even references DMX. (“Meet him inside. Meet him inside.”) I mean, don’t get me wrong, I looooove dancing to DMX when four drinks into a sweaty basement party and I make a point of watching him sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every Christmas season (you’re welcome for that link), but the dude has the smallest vocabulary in hip-hop.

You can see the hip-hop references for yourself within the video embedded above.

But more than that, I think the fun is making the connections yourself and wondering if they’re true. (Not unlike my recent love stories post.) When the Marquis de Lafayette turned it up in “Guns and Ships,” I immediately recognized it. “That’s totally Twista!” I (silently) exclaimed in my seat.

Listen to Lafayette here (starts at 0:30):

Now listen to Twista’s verse in Kanye West’s “Slow Jamz” (starts at 2:51):

That said…Miranda probably didn’t base Marquis de Lafayette on Twista, of all rappers. But Busta Rhymes was one of his biggest influences. His song “Break Ya Neck” seems to lay the groundwork for Lafayette’s verse as well:

In my opinion, Angelica is pure Nicki Minaj! Listen to her showstopper, “Satisfied,” here:

Now compare that to Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass”:

No, Nicki isn’t as strong a singer as Renée Elise Goldberry. But those rhymes in “Satisfied”? They recall her perfectly.

The Battle for Accessibility

This is a show that every American should see. Yet the great irony is that with ticket prices so high, in addition to it being based in a very expensive city, only the most privileged are able to see it. How do you make Hamilton more accessible?

The powers that be are making an effort. Hamilton and The Rockefeller Foundation are bringing 20,000 11th graders from needy New York schools to see the show each year.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently pushing for legislation in New York State that would make the use of ticket-purchasing “bots” a felony. The use of bots is already illegal, but the ticket industry earns so much money that plenty of brokers happily risk getting caught. Making it a felony could change that.

In the next round of tickets to be sold, the $10 daily lottery tickets are more than doubling from 21 to 46.

And while I couldn’t find any documentation of this, rumors are swirling that Miranda is working to make the high school performance version of the show available earlier than usual — perhaps around five years from now. For Broadway, five years is lightning-fast.

Finally, other Hamilton productions are in the works: Chicago first, then two touring productions and London. It will be interesting to see whether a musical about American history can succeed overseas, but if it does, it could take cues from Phantom of the Opera, performing in Bangkok a decade from now.

But what I would most like to see is a filmed performance of the show become available to schools and people around the world. This is totally doable — it’s regularly done for shows based in New York and around the world. Even if it were paid, it could still get into schools.

Also, it’s not going to impact ticket sales. Hamilton is golden for years to come. It’s not going to suffer a quality drop when the original cast leaves in July. I really hope they make an effort with this.


Should You Go?

Tickets for Hamilton are either phenomenally expensive or phenomenally difficult to get, and that makes them out of reach for most people. I get that. I wish it weren’t that way, because this is a show that everyone should see.

My perspective is this: if you can afford it if it means giving up some fun things, buy a ticket. I basically spent my entire discretionary non-essential budget for June. So I won’t be eating out much or going out for drinks or traveling or buying clothes or doing other activities for awhile, and for me, it’s absolutely worth it. And I realize how fortunate I am to be in this financial position.

For me, theatre is about witnessing. Witnessing the original cast in a show this incredible was a once- or twice- or three-times-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s the same as seeing your all-time favorite band live once in your life.

(Another thing that I’ll add is that I was up in the rear mezzanine and still had a great view. The Richard Rodgers Theatre doesn’t have a bad seat in the house. Which is more than I can say for other theaters in New York.)

If the Hamilton tour is coming to your city or someplace you could visit easily (like Chicago, which is getting a full residency), and you’re still on the fence, wait for the onsale and get the tickets. You can always sell them (believe me, you’ll have no trouble finding a buyer!).

That said, if you’re spending time in New York, enter yourself in the digital lottery every day. The chances of you being chosen are unlikely, but you never know. That could be you, seeing Hamilton in the front row for just $10!

And if seeing the show isn’t an option, there’s the magnificent soundtrack. You can listen to it online with a free Spotify account. (Though I recommend reading a summary of the plot first so you understand everything.)

I almost wish I still had a car so I could sing Hamilton at the top of my lungs while driving! (People generally frown upon that on the subway.) As it is, I’m very happy to be living in Hamilton Heights, named for Hamilton himself, and I’m typing this from a cafe on land that was once Hamilton’s estate, two blocks from his house, which you can visit!

Further Reading

There are SO many great pieces on Hamilton all over the web. Here are some I think you might enjoy:

Yes, Hamilton really is that great! Here's why.

Essential Info: If you want to see Hamilton, it’s not easy. Shows are sold out into 2017. If you want to see the show, you’ll need to pay up for secondary market tickets (I got mine on StubHub, but StubHub is not 100% guaranteed).

Otherwise, take your chances with the daily online lottery. The lottery runs from 9:00 AM-4:00 PM and 21 front row tickets are given out at the price of $10 each (Ham4Ham, Hamilton for a Hamilton). The number of lottery seats will be raised to 46 next year.

The soundtrack is available streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.

All show images courtesy of the production by photographer Joan Marcus.

Are you dying to see Hamilton? Did you manage to grab a ticket? Or are you just obsessed with the soundtrack? Share away!



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How to Spend Three Days in Savannah



Savannah is the perfect destination to explore over a weekend. It’s a small city, you can see most of it on foot, and just walking from place to place is just as entertaining as the sights themselves!

Itinerary blog posts are a bit of a pet peeve of mine — it seems that bloggers get them wrong so often. I can’t tell you how many bloggers write New York itineraries telling you to check out Williamsburg! Then go see Central Park! Then go shopping in SoHo! Then see the Empire State Building! No New Yorker would ever recommend that…

This one, however, I worked on to make sure it was logical and well-timed and worked perfectly. Savannah is a special place to me and I want you to love it as much as I do.

Know one thing — this three-day itinerary isn’t ironclad. The world won’t implode if you don’t follow this itinerary to the letter.

The most important part of visiting Savannah isn’t explicitly mentioned here: exploring the many squares that dot the city. That said, if you’re walking throughout the Historic District, you’ll hit the squares constantly. Take time to see what makes each square special!


Day One: Best of Savannah

Wake up whenever you’d like — and eat light. You’re having the meal of your life for lunch, and it could be on the early side, depending on how willing you are to wait.

Savannah Mrs. Wilkes

10:30 AM-12:00 PM: Get in line at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. The line forms from early in the day. I once got in line at 10:30 and was seated at 11:30 AM, so be sure to plan it carefully.

Kate recommends: their fried chicken is the BOMB! And those cheesy mashed potatoes are heavenly. Try everything. Everything is fantastic here.


Afternoon: Explore Jones Street and the surrounding area. Jones Street is home to some of the most beautiful houses in Savannah. Walking around is a great way to walk off your heavy Mrs. Wilkes lunch!

Venture down to Forsyth Park. Head down through the southern squares, pausing at the Mercer-Williams House en route. (Fun fact: when a movie was being filmed in Monterey Square, in front of the house, then-resident Jim Williams was disgruntled with the film crew, so he hung a giant Nazi flag from his house to stop the filming. It worked.)

Once you hit the park, the fountain is one of the symbols of the city. Also, the houses surrounding the park are just as beautiful as those on Jones Street, if not more so!


Head back north and explore the shops of the area. The southern part of the Historic District is home to some unique shops like One Fish Two Fish (gifts and housewares), Satchel (incredible handmade leather goods), The Book Lady (used books), and Chocolat (artisanal chocolates).

Grab an afternoon pick-me-up at Gallery Espresso. This artsy coffee shop is a good spot to take a quiet break with a beverage. They also have a gorgeous selection of cakes.


Explore the shops on Broughton Street, if you have time. My absolute favorite is The Paris Market, which sells Paris-themed housewares and adorable things you didn’t think you’d ever need; there are many others including The Spice and Tea Exchange of Savannah.

Kate recommends: if you love to shop, consider bringing a fold-up bag in your main luggage. The Paris Market will probably test your willpower!

Dinner at Alligator Soul. Alligator Soul is one of the more whimsical restaurants in Savannah, serving exotic meats on a constantly changing Southern-influenced menu. The chic basement setting, formerly a grain storehouse, is as interesting as the menu.

Savannah Trees

Go on the Dead of Night Tour. To get a sense of Savannah’s haunted history, take a ghost tour. I’m not one for ghost tours ordinarily, but the Dead of Night Tour is one of the best tours I have ever done, anywhere. Seriously. It’s late at night, adults-only, and it’s not as scary as I feared it would be — just incredibly interesting. Most of that has to do with Skippy, who is a fantastic guide.


Day Two: Deeper Into Savannah

Start with breakfast at your hotel or a nearby cafe. If you’re visiting on the weekend, check out the fried green tomato Benedict at B. Matthew’s Eatery.

Tour an old house of your choice — or more than one! There are plenty of historical homes to tour in Savannah. Here are some options:

The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is a must for former Girl Scouts — Juliette Gordon Low founded the organization! She also had a very interesting life and a beautiful home.

The Owens-Thomas House is the top recommendation of the Savannah Architecture Tour and admission is included as part of the Telfair Museums, including the Jepson Center for the Arts, which I mention below.

And finally, the Mercer Williams House is where the events of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil take place!


Have lunch at Collins Quarter. This funky cafe is modern, bright, and has lots of outdoor seating overlooking Oglethorpe Ave.

Kate recommends: the avocado toast is fabulous, but the true standout here is the lavender spiced mocha. My new favorite coffee in the world!

In the afternoon, explore the Riverfront and the City Market area. Both areas are good for shopping. If you feel like a treat in the afternoon, head back to Broughton Street for an ice cream at Leopold’s.


Dinner at the Olde Pink House. The Olde Pink House has a reputation for being Savannah’s top restaurant. And people aren’t wrong! I definitely recommend experiencing the finer side of dining in Savannah, along with some unique southern fusion dishes.

I recommend making a reservation here in advance if possible. If you’re traveling solo, head to the bar. I met two fellow solo female travelers there and we shared our dishes!

Kate recommends: the shrimp and grits and the BLT salad. Both are appetizer-sized portions. Best option? Get a few appetizer dishes.

Drinks at Jen’s & Friends. Jen’s & Friends is just a few blocks from the Olde Pink House. It looks like a nondescript dive bar, but then you realize that they have 300 crazy martinis on the menu! Perfect place to close out an evening.

Kate recommends: the birthday cake martini if you’re celebrating something, or a watermelon lemon drop if you love all things super-sweet and super-sour!


Day Three: Beyond the City

Start with breakfast at your hotel, or a quick bite nearby. You’ll need to be ready for a 9:30 AM tour start.

Take an Architectural Tour of Savannah. An architecture tour is a great way to get an overview of Savannah’s history and learning about the city’s unique layout and buildings. You’ll also learn tidbits that you wouldn’t have heard when exploring on your own.

Check out the Jepson Center for the Arts. The architecture tour finishes right in front of the Jepsen Center, and by then, you’ll probably be eager for air conditioning! This museum has a surprisingly good selection of art for its size, along with some rotating exhibits.

Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery

Lunch at the Back in the Day Bakery. This little place is south of the Historic District and will be worth taking a taxi, as you’ll be taking another taxi to your next destination. You’ll love the vintage decor and the Rosie the Riveter outfits the staff wear!

Kate recommends: the Earl Grey cookies and lavender cookies are both delicious! Also, if you have time, you might want to stop here on the way to the airport to bring goodies home.

Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery

Afternoon, Option 1: Visit Bonaventure Cemetery. This is the big, famous cemetery outside the city. Several graves of prominent residents are located here, and the area is great for getting spooky Southern photos.

Note: the famous Bird Girl statue on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is no longer located here; she’s been moved to the Jepson Center for the Arts.

Kate recommends: go see Little Gracie’s grave, stand slightly on the left side of the gate, and look into her eyes. It will give you chills.

Bonaventure Cemetery is a shorter trip; you definitely won’t need more than two hours here. If you head back afterward, explore more of the squares in the Historic District.

Tybee Island

Image: Ryan McKee

Afternoon, Option 2: Visit Tybee Island. Savannah is home to a beautiful stretch of sand just outside town. Tybee Island is a beach destination in its own right, but it’s equally satisfying as just an afternoon trip. (And even though it’s an island, don’t worry — the road goes straight there and you won’t need to take a ferry!)

However much time you decide to spend here, get back to Savannah in time for dinner.

Dinner at Vinnie Van Go Go’s. Honestly, by this time you’ll probably be in the mood for something a little different from Southern fare. Vinnie Van Go Go’s is home to pizzas that are as ENORMOUS as they are delicious.

Savannah Andaz Hotel

Where to Stay

On my most recent trip, I stayed at the Andaz Savannah and not only loved it, but also thought it was ideal for solo female travelers.

Why solo female travelers? I always recommend women on their own choose accommodation that is in a bright, open, well-traversed, easy-to-get-to place. Andaz is located on Ellis Square, a busy area in the Historic District. The elevator requires guests to swipe a key card, which adds an extra level of safety.

And I appreciated the leg-shaving stand in the shower, as well as the sleek, feminine decor.

If not the Andaz, I recommend staying anywhere within the Historic District. Here are other hotel options.


Keep in Mind

I want to reemphasize that this is just a rough itinerary — feel free to customize it to your preferences!

Beyond that, Savannah is the kind of city that lends itself to wandering. My favorite thing to do in Savannah is just wander and explore the squares and beautiful homes. It might not be official “sightseeing,” but it certainly isn’t a waste of time in my book!

Spend your days the way you want to and I’m sure that you, too, will fall in love with Savannah.


Essential Info: Unless you plan on doing a lot of driving, I recommend getting around Savannah on foot and using Uber or Lyft when you need them. A 20-minute Uber to the airport cost me $18; a trip from my hotel to the Back in the Day Bakery, a few miles away, cost $6.

Rates at the Andaz Savannah start at $249.

The hotel I stayed in on my first visit two years ago has since closed, but check out other Savannah properties here. Just make sure you stay in or adjacent to the Historic District.

Tours of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace cost $15 for adults, $12 for students, and $10 for Girl Scouts (call ahead on the latter).

Tours of the Mercer Williams House cost $12.50 for adults and $8 for children.

Tickets to the Jepson Center for the Arts cost $20, last one week, and also include weeklong admission to Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House.

The Dead of Night Ghost Tour costs $29.95 (get 10% off when you sign up for the newsletter) and is a late-night adults-only tour.

Architectural Tours of Savannah cost $30 and are held daily at 10:00 AM.

My top recommendation is to read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before your trip! Even if you aren’t planning a trip yet, this nonfiction novel will have you booking a flight to Savannah before you know it.

Have you been to Savannah? What would you add to this list?

This campaign is brought to you by Visit Savannah. All opinions, as always, are my own.



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