Месечни архиви: October 2016

A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

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Kate in Wales

Wales is a bit of a peculiar destination. It doesn’t have the fame or glory of England or Scotland, but it’s brimming with just as many treasures. So many people want to visit Wales — but they’re not sure where to begin. Why is that?

I think part of it is that Wales doesn’t have a signature attraction. Scotland has Edinburgh and the Highlands and Loch Ness. England has London and Stonehenge and Liverpool. Wales’s destinations tend to be lesser-known to the general traveling population.

And yet something about Wales captures people’s imagination, even if it’s just the idea of rolling hills and castles.

I recently went on a food-themed trip through South Wales and I feel like it would work for so many travelers! Here I’m going to break it down so you can get a better idea of what Wales has to offer.

Laugharne Castle

South Wales: Trip Guidelines

Stick to just the south if you have one week or less. If you have longer, feel free to venture to the north. I’ve been to parts of North Wales and particularly enjoyed Conwy, Llangollen, and climbing Mount Snowdon, but this post will concentrate on the south.

Driving is best. The joy of driving around Wales is seeing little villages that public transportation doesn’t cover — or covers minimally. You’ll get to see much more this way. And just like the rest of Britain, you drive on the left.

You may want to fly into Bristol, England, and rent a car from there. Cardiff does have an airport, but it’s tiny and doesn’t fly to many places. (Virtually every Cardiff local said the same thing to me: “Yes, it’s small, but at least we have KLM and can fly anywhere from Amsterdam!”) Bristol Airport is much bigger and it’s only about 50 minutes from Cardiff by car. Alternatively, if you’re spending time elsewhere in the UK, you could take a train to Cardiff and rent a car from there.

The Welsh language is everywhere — but everyone speaks English. As part of efforts to protect Welsh language and culture, the Welsh language was placed on equal footing with English in 1993. As a result, Welsh is taught in schools and all government signs are in both English and Welsh. Some Welsh are more comfortable speaking Welsh; others are more comfortable speaking English. That said, today everyone speaks English.

IT IS SO CHEAP RIGHT NOW. Post-Brexit, the British pound has fallen significantly in value. While this is a horrible situation for my British friends, as well as myself (some of my contracts pay me in British pounds), it’s good news for foreign visitors. The UK has not been this cheap to visit in decades — take advantage and go ASAP.

Haye-on-Wye

South Wales Bases: Where to Stay and Spend Your Time

When I do a road trip, I like to stay in a few different places for 2-3 nights at a time and do day trips from there, thus minimizing the amount of packing and unpacking I have to do each day. Wales, thankfully, is perfectly set up for this.

Here are three very different destinations that I think would make good bases for a South Wales trip:

Cardiff Waterfront

Cardiff

Wales’s capital is an ideal spot to start your journey. Cardiff is beautiful, conveniently connected by transportation, highly walkable, and feels like a small town while having the amenities of a larger city.

Cardiff CastleCardiff WaterfrontCardiff Market

My favorite experience, and one that I recommend to all Cardiff visitors, is a food tour with Loving Welsh Food. On the Cardiff Tasting tour I sampled everything from local cheeses to local beers, fresh cockles, and creatively flavored Welsh cakes hot off the griddle!

This tour, led by Sian Roberts (fun fact: Sian is the Welsh version of Jane), infuses food with history and culture, the way the best food tours do.

Even if you don’t do the tour, there are two places visited on the tour that I would recommend checking out: the revitalized waterfront at Cardiff Bay (a great place to take pictures), and Cardiff’s central market, home to dozens of terrific food vendors.

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before this trip, but I fell in love with it immediately, and I think you will, too. Why? It’s the used bookstore capital of the world! More than 30 shops are in this small town. You could spend days perusing the offerings (and I honestly think I could happily spend five days here).

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is home to the Hay Festival, a world-famous literary festival. Bill Clinton visited and called it “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Junot Díaz, one of my favorite authors, visited and described it as, “One of the finest, most thought-provoking literary gatherings I’ve ever attended.”

Beyond books, Hay-on-Wye has an antique map store (where I purchased a gorgeous antique map of northern Italy for my apartment) and several cafes, antique shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants. There’s also a castle, because it’s Wales.

Tenby

Tenby

I was shocked when I caught my first glimpse of Tenby — it looked like it belonged in Liguria, Italy, or maybe the French Riviera. Definitely not Wales!

The Pembrokeshire Coast is one of Wales’s greatest draws. There are excellent coastal walking paths and each town has its own flavor. Tenby makes a convenient base to visit. Just be prepared for less-than-perfect weather — in my brief visit I had both sunshine and downpours.

TenbyPembrokeshire CoastTenby

It’s also easy to explore the Pembrokeshire Coast with Tenby as a base. Also, I was shocked to learn that trains come here!

South Wales Side Trips

Once you’ve decided on where to base, fill in your days with little side trips. Most of these places could be visited in 1-2 hours; some of them could be used for a longer stay if you wanted to take it super-slow.

Penarth

Penarth

Penarth is a small seaside town so close to Cardiff that it’s practically part of the city. If you’re in Cardiff, take time to stop here in the evening and check out the pier. Not only is it perfect for sunset photos, but one of the best restaurants in Wales, Restaurant James Sommerin, is across the street. They have a Michelin star and I adored everything on the menu!

Tintern Abbey

Tintern

Tintern is a tiny town, but it’s home to Tintern Abbey — an incredible complex worth visiting. Tintern Abbey was founded in the 12th century and went into ruin by the 16th century, making it a beautiful place to explore and photograph. It’s also been immortalized in numerous poems.

Tintern is on the England border and it’s a short distance from Cardiff, on the way to Haye-on-Wye.

Laugharne Castle

Laugherne

Laugherne (pronounced “Larn” — gotta love those Welsh consonants!) has two claims to fame: it’s home to a castle (Laugherne Castle) and it’s the home of poet Dylan Thomas. In fact, you can stand in front of the castle and photograph it simultaneously with Thomas’s house and his writing shack in the background! (The house is white; the shack is a little black dot.)

Llandailo

Llandailo

Llandailo is a lovely little town with an oft-photographed row of pastel houses. It’s a nice place to have a quick wander, as there are several local shops worth perusing. I loved Heavenly Chocolate, a bakery and pastry shop.

Garlic in Wales

Abergavenny

Abergavenny is a small town home to a famous food festival in September — but I visited to attend a Welsh cooking class at The Culinary Cottage. Chef Penny Lewis has cooked for THE QUEEN (and it took her about 90 minutes to reveal that — if I had done that, I’d be telling strangers on the street!) and she led us in a group lesson making lamb meatball stroganoff, leeks with smoked salmon, and a meringue with blackberries, all served with Welsh wines.

This class was a lot of fun and I feel like I got to know the mystery that is Welsh cuisine a lot better!

Kate in Three Cocks

Three Cocks

I’m not sure what there is to do in Three Cocks, but seriously, that sign was made for selfies.

Jabajak Winery

Jabajak Vineyard

“If you’re going to drink Welsh wine, you’ll need three other men: one to hold his arms down, one to hold his legs down, and one to pour it down his throat.” Ha. But seriously, Wales has a wine scene and some of their wines are surprisingly good, especially the whites.

Jabajak Vineyard is a bit out of the way, but I enjoyed tasting their local blends. It’s also an exceedingly comfortable place to stay overnight — great rooms, great food, great wine! And the vineyards are lovely to wander (keep an eye out for the Shetland ponies).

Swansea Belly Rings

Swansea and the Mumbles

Swansea, Wales’s second-largest city, doesn’t get included in itineraries very often, and I don’t think it would appeal to a lot of travelers if you’re limited on time. It was heavily bombed during World War II and it’s not the prettiest city to look at. That said, I took a quick wander around the central market and I loved it — it was much more working class and local than everywhere else I’d been in Wales and I found it very interesting to explore.

Alternatively, head out to The Mumbles, a beach community just outside the city. The beaches are lovely and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a Swansea native, has a house here. They also have a famous pub crawl challenge where you get a beer in every bar along the boardwalk.

Fun fact: “mumbles” is Welsh slang for boobs. The town gets its name for a pair of rocks rising out of the water.

Happiness is a Warm Welsh Cake

What to Eat in Wales

My trip to South Wales was all about the culinary treasures! Here’s what you should keep an eye out for in Wales.

Welsh Cakes

Welsh Cakes

Welsh cakes are everywhere in Wales — you’ll eat a lot of them! They’re like a cross between a cookie and a scone, usually packed with currents for flavor. They’re great with tea.

I had a lot of Welsh cakes on my trip, but the absolute best ones were from Fabulous Welsh Cakes near Cardiff Bay. You can get them hot off the griddle! There is a world of difference between a fresh Welsh cake and a stale one.

Lamb Meatball Stroganoff

Lamb

Wales is the land of sheep and not surprisingly, lamb is on almost every menu. It’s tender and juicy in almost every form. (Just be sure to pace yourself, as lamb is intense; after a few days, I didn’t want to touch it again!)

Cockles Heart

Cockles

Cockles, or tiny clams, are one of the most popular kinds of seafood in Wales. It sounds like a funny name until you realize that coquilles is the word for scallops in French!

Also popular: laverbread, a seaweed puree popular in Wales. Pair it with some cockles on bread or a savory biscuit, pictured above.

Smoked salmon and leeks

Leeks

Leeks are the official vegetable of Wales! Try them however you can. I was never into leeks until I lived in the UK; I quickly became obsessed. Especially with creamed leeks — so bad for you, but so good in the moment. I now cook with leeks all the time at home.

Faggots in Cardiff

Faggots

Uh, yeah. I feel uncomfortable typing that, but that’s the actual name. If Scotland has haggis, Wales has faggots: a creative way to use up the leftover bits of meat. They are essentially pork meatballs made primarily from offal and served with gravy. Like haggis, faggots are delicious if you don’t think about exactly what you’re eating.

Kate and Welsh Cheese

Snowdonia Cheeses

I first discovered the Snowdonia Cheese Company in Chester in 2011 and immediately became a fan. I was delighted to reacquaint myself with these cheeses on this trip. The Black Bomber, their signature cheddar, is fabulous, but I love their crazy flavors too.

I also got the best news ever on this trip: THEY NOW HAVE THEM IN THE UNITED STATES! You can get them at some Whole Foods markets. I’ll be on the lookout in New York.

 

Tenby

The Magic of Wales

For me, the highlight of Wales was simply exploring the countryside, on foot or by car, and admiring the scenery, stopping for great food, and seeing all the little towns along the way. Wales is so beautiful, and I feel like it’s ripe for exploration — a little bit more off the beaten path than the popular tours of England and Scotland.

Come to Wales — and come hungry — and you’ll have a wonderful time.

David Hasselhoff in Cardiff

I Only Ask One Thing

I beg you, if you happen to be visiting Wales between December 10, 2016, and January 8, 2017, PLEASE GO TO CARDIFF AND SEE DAVID HASSELHOFF PLAY CAPTAIN HOOK AND THEN GET ON SKYPE AND TELL ME EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL.

Essential Info: The Loving Welsh Food tour in Cardiff has a variety of options. I went on the Cardiff Tasting Tour, which costs £35 ($43 USD); see all the options here.

In Cardiff I stayed at the Park Plaza Cardiff, a luxury property I loved, set in an ideal location in the center of town. Rates from £89 ($108).

I also stayed at Jabajak Vinyard, which had beautiful rooms and wonderful food and wine. Rates start at £65 ($79) for singles and £110 ($134) for couples.

Admission to Tintern Abbey is £6 ($7) for adults.

Admission to Laugharne Castle is £4 ($5) for adults.

The Culinary Cottage offers cooking demonstrations starting at £55 ($67), cooking lessons starting at £65 ($79), and multi-day lessons with a boarding option as well.

On this trip my colleagues and I traveled with Mike Davies of Dragon Tours, who also drove us. Mike is a wonderful tour guide, he has his Ph.D in medieval history, and if you’re in the market for a private guide and driver, you will have a great time with him!

I visited Wales as a guest of Visit Britain. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

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Colmar

If there’s any country that I visit often but need to explore in more depth, it’s France. Again and again I overlook other regions in France in favor of spending all my time in Paris, a city I find difficult to resist.

But recently I had an opportunity to see a bit more. There were a few days in between the end of The Video Summit in Leipzig, Germany, and my scheduled arrival in Paris. It seemed like the universe was guiding me here.

To Alsace.

Alsace, France’s smallest region, is perched on the edge of Germany and Switzerland on the Rhine River. Alsace has been volleyed back and forth between French and German control for centuries. As a result, you have a beautiful blend of multiple countries.

In Alsace, streets are dominated by half-timbered houses with windowboxes brimming with flowers.

In Alsace, freshly baked baguettes are sold alongside giant pretzels.

In Alsace, the local Alsatian language is endangered, primarily being spoken by older residents.

In Alsace are LOTS and LOTS of older foreign tourists — my guess is many of them are on a Rhine river cruise.

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Strasbourg

I arrived late in Strasbourg, the culmination of two trains, a bus, and an ill-advised Google Maps suggestion to walk down an unlit path in the woods on the way to Saarbrücken’s bus stop. In other words, I was exhausted and frustrated and there were no cabs in sight.

“I’m sorry, do you know where I can find a taxi?” I asked a local couple in French.

They had no idea. “Why don’t you take the tram?” the woman asked. “Where are you going?”

“Close to the train station.”

“Then take the next one!” She even showed me how to buy a ticket.

Soon I was whirring across the city on the tram, and in no time I had crossed the city for so much less than what my usual taxi would have cost. It couldn’t have been easier.

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What struck me about Strasbourg was its livability. It was largely walkable, with the tram for longer distances. Flowers bloomed in every direction, even in October. The river was beautiful. And while many European cities turn ugly as soon as the city center ends, the modern sections of Strasbourg were actually quite stately as well. And everyone was so nice!

Strasbourg also has easy transit connections to Paris and all over Europe. And prices were much cheaper than in Paris.

Flowers in Strasbourg

I can’t help looking for livability over visitability — my mind automatically goes there. Strasbourg just felt so nice to me — like a good, low-key European city where you could settle down and enjoy the best of France while fitting in as a local, absent from the pressures you might find somewhere like Paris.

Strasbourg Street Sign

Street signs in Strasbourg appear in both French and Alsatian.

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The Petite-France neighborhood holds UNESCO World Heritage designation and is filled with tourists and souvenir shops. But just walk a few blocks away and you’ll be surrounded by locals.

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The Rhine snakes through the city, each bridge filled with flowers.

Strasbourg

I think I unnecessarily crossed every bridge in Strasbourg just trying to get shots of their flowers.

Strasbourg Flowers

Whether on a bridge or in a vase, Alsatians love their blooms.

Strasbourg made me so happy. As I sat on a bench in a square, eating a goose rillette sandwich with cornichons from a nearby open-air market, my heart swelled. This was everything that I loved about France. And German touches didn’t change a thing.

Colmar

Colmar

Truth? I hadn’t even heard of Colmar until fairly recently. Then Matt visited on a river cruise, Amanda visited on another river cruise, and Erin and Simon visited by train for two days. (Who says travel bloggers aren’t influential? I wouldn’t have gone if not for them!)

If Strasbourg is a revelation, Colmar is pure fantasy. This small town is just 40 minutes away from Strasbourg by train and could be worlds away. Take all of the beauty of Alsace, make it even more colorful, and distill it into a small town filled with canals.

Colmar

I found Colmar to be more colorful and more densely packed than Strasbourg.

Colmar

Chapellerie. I love that word — it means hat store!

Colmar

“Greetings from Selfie Point!” I announced on Snapchat. A few Chinese girls were taking selfies in front of this bridge and burst out laughing when I said that. This area is called La Petite Venise — Little Venice.

Colmar Bakaery

Look at all these specialties at the bakery!

Colmar

Just like in Strasbourg, flowers spill out of every opening possible.

Colmar

This doorway is amazing.

Tarte Flambee in Colmar

I had to have the most famous Alsatian dish — a tarte flambée! This flatbread is covered with bacon, onions, and lots of cheese, paired with a local Pinot Blanc.

Colmar

French or German? You decide!

Colmar

You could hire boats for short cruises down the canals.

Colmar

More of Alsace

As soon as I visited, my Snapchat followers kept blowing up my phone: “Are you going to Riquewihr? You MUST go to Riquewihr!” Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the intriguingly spelled town, but typing it into Google Images shows that it’s yet another beauty.

The best way to explore Alsace in depth is to rent a car and drive to different villages. Many people go on a wine tasting trail, but please don’t drive if you’ve been drinking. (On recommendation of my Snapchat follower Mark, who works in the wine industry and gives me recommendations wherever I go, you should look for Pinot Blancs like Zind Humbrecht, Dirler Cade, and Kuentz Bas!)

I would love to come back to Alsace and explore more in depth. This trip was a teaser, as so many of my trips are, but in this case I know I would jump at the chance to return.

Essential Info: In Strasbourg I stayed at the Hotel City Résidence Strasbourg Centre. Wifi did not work in my room and when I complained to the front desk, they responded, “Oh yes, wifi does not reach all of the rooms.” And they were fully booked and couldn’t move me. So for that reason I wouldn’t recommend them. If you have a data plan or internet isn’t important to you (or you can check in early and get a better room), I found it to be good value for the price and in a convenient location not too far from the train station. Doubles from 50 EUR ($55 USD).

Train tickets between Strasbourg and Colmar cost 12.50 EUR ($14) each way and trains run frequently throughout the day. The old town is about a mile from the train station, so be ready to walk.

One last thing — if your goal is to visit as many countries as possible, Alsace is a great place to spend at least some of your trip. Germany and Switzerland are close by and easy to visit. Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands are a bit further but can easily be visited on the same trip as well.

Is Alsace your kind of destination? Share away!

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My Love Affair with Scotland

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The question I get more often than any other is, “So what’s your favorite place?”

Truth? I understand why people ask me this question, but I hate this question. Most other travel bloggers hate it, too. It’s not just that we get asked it constantly, it’s that it’s impossible to boil down years of travel and hundreds of destinations into just one place and to cap it at one is a disservice to your travels and life.

But if you tell people that, they get disappointed. They just want to hear a place.

So I’ve come up with a scripted answer that is both truthful and satisfying for the listener: “Well, my favorite countries are Croatia, Italy, South Africa, Japan, and Thailand. And one place that is very special to me is the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand.”

But that answer is incomplete. It leaves out how much I love the food of Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It overlooks the joy of summer in Finland, the quiet paradise of Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, the outstanding natural beauty of Montenegro, the feeling when you watch a sunset from Boracay in the Philippines. It even omits mentions of my favorite city in the world for 16 years running: Paris.

Worst of all, it overlooks Scotland.

Shetland

Oh, I love Scotland. I love it FIERCELY. It is a destination that brings me endless joy, no matter where I’m going. And I really need to talk about it more for that reason.

I love the cities. Edinburgh looks like a fairy tale and it’s one of my favorite cities on the planet, and Glasgow is a lot of fun, too.

I love the natural beauty. The mountains, the lakes, even the beaches.

I love the people. Scots are so warm and friendly and welcoming. And the accents are out of this world!

I love the castles. They’re everywhere and they vary so much! My favorite ruined castle to photograph is Dunnottar Castle on the East Coast, not too far north from St. Andrews.

I love the food. Haggis is great. Fried Mars bars are…an indulgence. But go to a nice pub that uses local ingredients and you’ll delight in a real Scottish meal. The single best thing I ate in Scotland was an Arbroath smokie (smoked fish) that came right off the smoker. I ate it like an ice cream cone.

There’s only one thing that I don’t love — the whisky. Sorry, guys. I’ve tried whisky (as the Scots spell it) dozens of times, sometimes at outstanding distilleries in the Scottish countryside. And it always tastes like feet to me. I’m a gin girl, I’m afraid.

(My friend Peter even brought a bottle of whisky to Leipzig last week for the Video Summit and had me take a sip. Nope, still tasted like feet.)

Anthony, Kate and Kash

The First Trip: An Introduction to Edinburgh

I first set foot in Scotland in September 2011 — a weekend in Edinburgh to visit my friends Kash and Anthony and check out Haggis Hostels, which had just opened back then (and is still going strong — congrats, guys!).

Turns out this was somewhat of an atypical visit. Temperatures were around 30 degrees celsius — 86 fahrenheit — an almost unheard of heat wave. Everyone was lying out in the sunshine! It was crazy — on Anthony’s advice I had packed warm clothing, including tall leather boots, and I went to H&M and Zara to buy sunglasses, only to find out that they sold none!

But I fell for Edinburgh SO hard. The beauty, the friendliness, the walkability, the castle perched on a hill. This was my place.

There were a few late nights at clubs. There were haggis quesadillas (at a place that has sadly closed since). There was a crazy dancing man on the Royal Mile. But above all, this visit lit the spark for everything that came after. I look back at this weekend as a truly happy time in my life.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Trying haggis for the first time and realizing that it’s delicious as long as you don’t think about what you’re eating!

Crazy Viking Kate

The Second Trip: Shetland, Up Helly Aa, and the East Coast

The second trip to Scotland was one of the greatest things I have ever done: Up Helly Aa. This Viking fire festival takes place in the remote Shetland Islands, adrift between Scotland and Norway.

I did the Haggis Adventures Up Helly Aa tour — it was so good, three of my readers booked the same tour the following year! (Worth noting: the tour they run today includes an extra day in Shetland. Excellent!)

After traveling up the coast, we took an overnight ferry to the islands and explored the ruins and the landscape. Shetland is phenomenally beautiful and even has a double beach!

Shetland Double BeachFirst Glimpse of LerwickTropical Beach in Shetland?

The next day, the Up Helly Aa celebrations began with a parade and Vikings yelling, “Yarrr!” before breaking into the Broadway standard “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think.” We posed for photos with the Vikings and I was even filmed for BBC Scotland!

Kate and a VikingViking CelebrationBaby Vikings

That night began the burning. Men and boys dressed up in fancy Viking costumes were paraded down the street in a beautifully lacquered Viking boat made for the occasion. Following them were lines and lines of Shetland dressed in various costumes — drag! Marvel villains! Chicken suits! — and holding flaming torches.

The boat was pushed to a field, the Vikings got out…and then EVERYONE THREW THEIR TORCHES INTO THE BOAT AND LIT IT ON FIRE. That beautiful boat had served its purpose.

Up Helly Aa in Drag!Up Helly AaUp Helly Aa

Next, everyone moved to parties and danced all night long to traditional Shetland music in between performances from the various squads of Shetlanders. They had costumed routines to “Moves Like Jagger” and “Party Rock Anthem.” (I still think of Shetland whenever I hear those songs.)

Our guides taught us all the dances and soon we were whirling around with the kilted locals. And the best part of Up Helly Aa? It goes ALL NIGHT LONG. Seriously. We danced until 8:06 AM and just skipped sleeping that night, falling into bed at around 9:00 PM on the ferry home.

Dancing in ShetlandViking SmurfsWe made it!

It’s been more than four years and I still consider Up Helly Aa one of the best things I have ever done on my travels. You can read all my posts about it here. Bonus: I’ve stayed close with many of my Up Helly Aa friends and we’ve had reunions in London, New York, Sydney, and even Hvar, Croatia!

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Dancing to traditional music until delirious at 8:06 AM. I will never forget it.

Gin and tonic tasting

The Third Trip: A Luxurious Return to Edinburgh

I was delighted to return to Edinburgh at the invitation of the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa to check out their new offerings. While this isn’t the kind of trip that I’d do today, at the time I had a wonderful overnight with several of my blogger friends.

Sheraton Club RoomGin and tonic sorbetOyster bloody mary shooters

And finally I got to experience typical Scottish weather — lots of gray rain!

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Swimming in the outdoor spa at the Sheraton as fierce rain pelted down.

Kash, Kate and Mike

The Fourth Trip: Yet Another Edinburgh Trip

Can you tell how in love with Edinburgh I am yet? With another opportunity to return for a blogger meet up, another opportunity to hang out in Edinburgh with my friends, of course I took it!

This time I got to overturn a new stone: exploring the Water of Leith, a path winding through quiet parts of Edinburgh. Kash and I explored it through the rain, getting soaked before the sun came back out once again — it’s the Scottish way!

Muddy ShoesWater of LeithSunny Edinburgh

Also memorable from this trip is the meetup. It was mayhem, in a nutshell, and I still laugh over the resulting pictures.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Taking a long, rainy walk along the Water of Leith and warming up with a cup of tea at a cafe afterward.

Glasgow

The Fifth Trip: Glasgow 

Because I can’t keep going back to Edinburgh every time, on my next trip I went to spend a few days in Scotland’s largest city: Glasgow.

One of my favorite ways to travel is to go to a new city for a few days and pretend I live there. I do my thing: I take long walks, I go to cafes, I people-watch. Whether it’s Helsinki or Bogotá, I like to carve a Kate-sized shape in the city. And I think that was the best way to explore Glasgow.

university-of-glasgow-gallery Glasgow ParkAshton Lane Glasgow

Glasgow may not have the overwhelming beauty of Edinburgh, but you know what it has? Beauty all its own. Lots of culture. Cool small shops and businesses. Incredibly friendly people. And it has several friends of mine, including Emma, who is an authority on all things Scotland travel.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: finally getting to love Irn Bru, the bubblegum-esque bright orange soft drink, and trying my first-ever deep fried Mars bar.

Haggis Tour

The Sixth Trip: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and the Highlands

Scotland is world-famous for its New Year’s celebrations: Hogmanay! I was invited to cover the festival for New Year’s Eve 2012, and I was happy to take part in the traditions.

My favorite part was the torchlight procession the night before New Year’s, joining Scots and visitors from all over in marching up the hill, flaming torches in hand. (Yet another moment in Scotland where I thought, “This could never happen in America.”)

New Year’s itself was a giant party with a concert and much revelry. Personally, I preferred the calm torchlight procession to the party night itself — it gets WILD! Also, I saw a girl walking home in bare feet. In Scotland. IN WINTER.

Kate Torchlight Procession Hogmanay Edinburgh

After the trip, our group went on a Haggis Adventures tour of the Highlands, and this is where I felt a connection to Scotland like never before. My Scottish roots on my mother’s side come from Inverness and the Isle of Skye.

What really affected me was hearing about all the tragedies of the Highlands and how difficult life was here. So many wars, deaths, betrayals, massacres. Thinking of my long-lost relatives and how they could have been victims was deeply moving.

Kilt RockCulloden Battlefield

The Isle of Skye was the true highlight of the Highlands for me, and I’d love to go back and explore it more.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Learning that there’s no colder winter than a Scottish winter. It’s the dampness that gets you. Even after a scaldingly hot shower, the chill remained within me.

Kate, Sandra and Mom in Edinburgh

The Seventh Trip: Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival with Mom

Traveling with my mom, we went to Edinburgh as part of our genealogy trip. The timing was perfect: August was the time of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

This festival features nonstop performances, both paid and free, in the street and in theaters. The Royal Mile in particular is chock full of these performances. I ended up seeing several terrific shows and one truly bad show, roughly half of them paid and half of them free.

The most memorable show, Sing For Your Life!, was a puppet show musical using taxidermied animals for puppets. It was weird and wonderful and hilarious.

Edinburgh Fringe FestivalEdinburgh, ScotlandRelaxing in Edinburgh

During this trip, we stayed with my mom’s friend Sandra, and the two of them often went off while I did my own thing, including hosting my first Edinburgh meetup. I love having alone time in Edinburgh — it gives me time to revisit my favorite places, like The World’s End for a bowl of cullin skink (smokey fish chowder) and a dark beer.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Waiting in line for a taxi next to a thickly brogued, kilt-wearing Edinburgh tour guide as he told me about guiding: “The German tourists, they look angry. They look like a constipated Woody Harrelson. As the tour continues, you think they’re not enjoying it. Then at the end, they come up, shake your hand and say, “That tour was the greatest experience of my life. I will name my grandchildren after you.”

Kate in Inverness

The Eighth Trip: Inverness and Loch Ness

Finally, last month I returned to Scotland for the Social Travel Summit and hit up a new destination: Inverness, the gateway to the Highlands.

Unfortunately, between a late arrival, being busy with the conference, and being worried over lost luggage, I didn’t get to enjoy the region as much as I could have — but I still had a great time. And just like my first trip, we had some very un-Scotland-like weather: clear blue skies!

InvernessCafe in InvernessInverness Kitty

I did get to experience a lovely cruise on Loch Ness past Urqhardt Castle, a dressed up soirée at nearby Achnagairn Castle, and the local Inverness nightlife: and by that, I mean some crazy nights at Hootenanny, capped off by some locals asking me to dance.

Quintessential Scotland Experience: Becoming fast friends with the taxi driver who took me to the airport to pick up my luggage. And then I find out he has the same last name as my relatives from Inverness! We posed for a selfie that I sent my mom. (Her response: “He doesn’t look like a [name] but he looks very nice.” LOL!)

Harris, Scotland

Image: iknow-uk

What’s Next? My Scotland Travel Goals

I know a lot of Scotland travel experts will look at this list and say, “Psssh, you didn’t even go to the best spots!” Oh, believe me, I know that! There’s so much more to see.

The following destinations are particularly high on my list:

St. Kilda. This remote archipelago on the far northwest of the Outer Hebrides has some of the most spectacular landscapes in Scotland.

Lewis and Harris. People say that the further north you go in Scotland, the more beautiful it gets. These islands in the Outer Hebrides are home to long, white-sand beaches with crystal-clear water. That picture above is Harris! How crazy is that?!

Loch Lomond. This lake is great for adventure activities and one of the most popular destinations in the country, yet I’ve always missed it.

Orkney. Whenever I mention that I’ve been to Shetland but not Orkney, Scotland lovers lose their minds. Ornkey is home to some incredible archaeological wonders.

Shetland Folk Festival. I’ve got Shetland fever! If the traditional music I heard at Up Helly Aa was any indication, this festival will be a rollicking good time.

Sligachan

Choose Scotland

I feel like Scotland is one of the best all-around destinations in the world. Here’s what makes it great:

It’s perfect for solo female travelers. Scotland is one of my top choices for solo female travelers because of the ease of travel, the variety of things to do, the friendly people, the relative safety, the pub culture (great for dining alone), and the lack of language barrier for English speakers, on top of being an overall wonderful destination.

There’s enough variety to customize your trip. Do you want to be in the throes of a festival or have an isolated getaway? Do you want to have an active hiking, biking, and canoeing trip or would you rather visit historical sites? Do you want to drive or take the train? Go solo or with a group? Do you want a foodie adventure or do you have a limited palate? There are endless options.

It’s much cheaper now. The fallout of the pound has caused lots of financial damage to my friends and me (as some of my clients pay me in GBP), which is no laughing matter. But this is good news for tourists to the UK, who now get more for their money than ever before.

The only place where Scotland falls short is the weather. One of my Scottish friends likes to say, “Scotland would be the best country in the world if it had better weather.” Nope, you’re not going to lie around in a bikini here, but if you make peace with that, you’re going to have a great time. I guarantee it.

Have you been to Scotland? What do you love about it?

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Solo Travel in Cartagena in Five Vignettes

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Cartagena Door

Caution and Payoff

My guard is up as I land in Cartagena. Not only is this my first time in Colombia, it’s my first time in South America since 2008. And that trip was just to Buenos Aires, which one could argue is Europe’s most southwesternmost point.

This trip is different, even for a seasoned solo female traveler like me. I don’t know how safe it’s going to be on the ground, and I need to be more cautious than usual.

With no ATM at the airport, I have my driver stop at a bank on the way to my guesthouse. I take my valuables-stuffed day bag into the vestibule with me and keep an eye on the taxi — he wouldn’t drive away with my big bag, would he?

Of course not. He waits for me and I return to the vehicle flush with cash.

He drops me off at my guesthouse; I check in (cheering on the inside that I did it entirely in Spanish!); I place my tech gear, jewelry, and passport in my portable safe and lock it around the base of the toilet; I procure a SIM card (again in Spanish!).

Later in the streets of Getsemaní, Cartagena’s onetime red light district, I yearn to photograph everything in sight but keep my camera in my bag. I don’t know how safe it is to have my camera out here. I’m sure I can do it — but not just yet.

Over time, I relax a bit. I get comfortable photographing Getsemani — but only during the day. I take Ubers home from the Old City after dark instead of walking. Everything remotely valuable is locked up in the portable safe.

Maybe it’s a little excessively cautious. But I end up leaving Colombia without a single mishap.

Cartagena Door

Blending In

I throw on skinny jeans, a tank top, and flip-flops before heading out.

It doesn’t sound like much of an outfit, but this was deliberately planned. I dress to blend in wherever I go. Latin American women tend to keep their legs covered during the day, so that’s what I do, too. Jeans are the rule, even if temperatures soar above 100 degrees.

I’m not trying to pass as Colombian. I’m trying to pass as a girl who knows Colombia well, perhaps a longtime expat or frequent visitor. At the very least, covering my legs provides me with significantly less street harassment. I learned that in Nicaragua.

I soon arrive in the Old City, gaping at the vibrant colors and giant doors. This place is lovely but touristy as hell. And nearly every foreign female tourist I pass has her legs bared. Rompers, a clothing item to which I’ve never warmed, are particularly popular.

Soon it becomes clear that jeans aren’t the most comfortable thing to wear. It’s HUMID. Grotesquely so. Growing up in Massachusetts, I’m used to hardcore humidity in the summer, the kind that you can almost carve with your fingers — but Cartagena is several times worse than anything I’ve ever felt.

Within minutes my jeans feel like ten layers of thermal underwear. I eventually throw myself into an air-conditioned cafe to recover, a pattern that will repeat with frequency over the next few days.

I look at the weather forecast and it will be thunderstorming on and off for the next week. August is a good time to visit Bogota and Medellin, but not so much for the Caribbean Coast.

I check out the report for Santa Marta, a few hours up the coast. Same deal.

For the first time, I’m regretting my choice to go with Colombia instead of Peru. Winter would have been so much better for the coast.

I do a little flight research and the decision is made: I’m leaving Cartagena after three nights, skipping the rest of the Caribbean coast, and heading straight to Medellín. It’s in the mountains with a spring-like climate year-round. And it is. Medellín is pure sunshine.

Later, well-traveled friends tell me that Cartagena is the most humid place they’ve ever been, too.

Cartagena Door

The Beginning

I stop by a nice-looking bakery and check out the case at the front, filled with beautiful, painstakingly constructed pastries.

I’m about to grab a table when a blonde girl stops me and says, “Kate?”

I quickly suck in my stomach and pull my resting frown into a gracious grin, raising my eyebrows in friendly expectation before turning to face her. “Yes?”

“I emailed you,” she tells me.

I pause. “You emailed me…”

“I told you I was going to be in Cartagena.”

“Oh, yes! I remember!”

She first commented on my blog when I announced my Colombia plans — our paths might cross! We lined up our dates and realized we would be in Cartagena at the same time and planned to meet up if we could. But we didn’t expect to run into each other like this!

She’s traveling with her friend and they invite me to join them. It’s her friend’s first international trip ever. I’m glad she’s having fun, but at the same time, I already know Colombia is not a place I’d recommend for most first-timers.

Soon I feel my heart swelling with nostalgia. They’re young. They’re backpackers. They’re at the beginning of their travel life.

I put a younger Kate in their shoes. What would my days be like here?

Hostel dorms. Partying. Boys from around the world. Drinking games. Not having to work. New friendships, intense and strong and intimate, only to disintegrate into Facebook comments as soon as your paths inevitably divulge.

The hope that maybe what you’re doing here will change the rest of your life. And it’s the truth.

I want them to enjoy every minute of it.

Cartagena Door

Every Day Of My Life

I’m walking along the city walls when I come to a cafe. Two men start gesturing with a menu, several more sitting behind them. “Agua, limonada, cerveza!”

“No, gracias,” I reply and walk on. I’d rather stop at a nice coffeeshop later.

“Where you from?” one man asks. I shrug and keep walking. “You alone?” I ignore him.

He grabs my wrist. “No!” I hiss as I fling my arm out of his.

“I bet you don’t cost a lot,” the man sneers in impeccable English as I walk away.

I don’t react, but my cheeks turn magenta. Soon I’m back in a crowded area and free to seethe, clenching my wrists as my heart thuds.

I hate this. I hate that it happens all the fucking time and there’s nothing I can do about it, lest I risk my well-being and the expensive camera in my hand. The right thing to do is to avoid escalation and move to a safe place.

But as always, I furiously plan out a long-delayed comeback.

“Is your mother still alive?”

“What?”

“I’m asking you — is your mother still alive?”

“Yes, she is.”

“Did she raise you to talk to women that way?”

Or —

“No, she’s not.”

“Then I’m glad she didn’t live to see you talk to women that way.”

Cartagena Door

Is This a Date?

There’s an episode of Doug, the Nickelodeon cartoon, when Doug asks his crush Patti Mayonnaise to go to the movies with him and can’t figure out whether it’s a date or not.

She’s dressed up — it’s a date!

She buys her own ticket — it’s not a date.

And poor Doug can’t figure it out. But he does get to hold her hand at the end.

I’m in a similar situation after meeting New York Guy on my food tour. After the tour is finished, we linger over coffees, chatting and laughing, and he asks me if I want to get dinner and check out a salsa club that night.

Also, he’s actually traveling Colombia with his friends, but he wants to hang out with me that night instead. THAT’S what makes it sound like a date to me.

But Kate — do YOU want this to be a date?

I don’t, actually. I just want to hang out with someone cool. As friends. And it’s nice getting to experience the nightlife, because I never do that solo.

But do you want HIM to think it’s a date?

Well, I don’t want him to be hurt, but…yeah. I do. For ego reasons. Let’s not kid ourselves.

So you’re saying if he made a move, you wouldn’t reciprocate.

Okay, we’re done talking here!

I meet him at a restaurant that night. He’s dressed up. So am I. It’s a date!

But considering how humid Cartagena is, showering and changing is more of a bare minimum hygiene requirement than anything else. It’s not a date!

We talk about our families. Our careers. Our travels. Our New York lives. We lightly banter over choosing a bottle of red. This is first date conversation. It’s a date!

I’ve never had this experience before — going out with someone in a foreign country who actually lives in the same city as you. Most dates while traveling come with an expiration date. Not here. He tells me where he lives and I calculate I could get there, door to door, in 35 minutes.

If this were a date and it lasted, it would be a hell of a story.

But it’s not a date. We chat as friends. We split the bill as friends. We go to the club and enjoy the salsa as friends. We drink a lot of mojitos as friends. And he walks me home, says goodnight, and doesn’t make a move — because we have decided, without explicitly saying so, to be friends.

And I’m glad it worked out this way. But at the same time…was he dead set on not making a move? Or did I do something to ruin my chances?

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AK Monthly Recap: September 2016

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Kate in Wales

On one day this month, I woke up on a vineyard in rural southwest Wales and went to sleep at dawn in an offbeat city in eastern Slovakia. I think it’s fair to say this will never happen again!

This month was so much more hectic than I expected it to be. I planned out a 50/50 month: 15 days at home, 15 days traveling. And while the beginning of the month was mostly calm, I once again bit off a little more than I could chew in the travel planning department.

Sometimes that goes badly. This time it went very well. I had a ball on my travels in September, craziness notwithstanding!

Also, I barely wrote this month. I hate whenever bloggers start posts with, “Wow, I haven’t blogged in forever! Sorry, you guys!” so all I’ll say is when it’s quiet here, it’s for a reason. You’ll find me active on social media, though!

Penarth, Wales

Destinations Visited

New York, NY, USA

Kent, CT, USA

Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland

Cardiff, Penarth, Tintern, Abergavenny, Haye-on-Wye, Llandeilo, Laugharne, Pendine, Amroth, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Narbeth, Whitland, Swansea, The Mumbles, and Gower, Wales

Košice, Slovakia

Zakopane and Kraków, Poland

Krakow

Favorite Destinations

Kraków. One of my new favorite European cities and pleasant in every way.

Hay-on-Wye. A tiny town filled with used bookstores.

Košice. A little beauty of a city and definitely off the beaten path.

Kate at Club Getaway

Highlights

ADULT SUMMER CAMP. Yes, it’s a thing. I went to Club Getaway with my sister over Labor Day weekend and I had a stupendously fun time! Adult summer camp is just like regular summer camp — with far more freedom. During the day I took dance classes, took a golf lesson, painted, jumped on a giant trampoline, and hung out by the lake. In the evenings were theme parties, dance parties, silent discos. And the food was fabulous (what kind of summer camp serves lobster?!).

Club Getaway was honestly the purest vacation I’ve had in forever. Not only did I not work one bit, I also didn’t bring my camera, barely took any photos on my phone, and didn’t tell anyone at camp what I did for a living. It was so nice to just be Kate from New York, not Adventurous Kate, and not have to constantly field questions about travel and blogging and how to get a lot of followers on Instagram.

My dad came to New York. He’s loved visiting my sister for six years, but this was the first time since I moved there! We had a lot of fun, visiting breweries, seeing Something Rotten on Broadway, and exploring new neighborhoods, and we all went on my friend Jessie’s Bushwick Tour (which I wrote about here).

Bloggers at STS Inverness

Seeing my beloved friends. Since moving to New York, I don’t see my European blogger friends nearly as often as I used to. And I miss them a lot.

I actually felt a lot of nostalgia while in Scotland — so much that I constantly felt tears at the back of my eyes. As of this fall, it’s been five years since I went to my first blogging conference and became part of the European travel blogger community. Back then, hardly anyone in the travel industry was taking us seriously.

Times have changed so much. I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I love my friends so much and I’m so proud of them.

Speaking on passive income and affiliate marketing at the Social Travel Summit. I love these topics and I was happy to share these tips with the community. The affiliate panel in particular was a hit!

Another highlight was when I sat down to dinner (in a castle, of course) and by chance was sitting next to the Visit Faroe Islands team! I was actually their first hosted blogger ever, back in 2012 (see all my Faroe Islands posts here). We delighted in reminiscing about my trip and discussing all things Faroese. I love the Faroe Islands and would relish the opportunity to return!

Tintern Abbey

Eating and photographing my way through South Wales. I signed up for a culinary tour of South Wales following STS and it did not disappoint. Wales is incredibly beautiful, very interesting, and full of delicious surprises. My top three highlights were the bookstore-filled town of Haye-on-Wye, the colorful coastal village of Tenby, and doing a Cardiff food tour from Loving Welsh Food. I can’t wait to share it with you!

Visiting Slovakia for the first time. With limited time, all I could see was the offbeat city of Košice, which I loved! I also enjoyed the drive through the High Tatras. I think Slovakia would make a wonderful cheap mountain getaway.

Visiting Poland for the first time. Kraków completely stole my heart. I can’t recommend it enough — even if you’re a beginner traveler. Zakopane was nice (and probably would have been better if I had time to hike); Warsaw was a worthwhile stop as well. Also, I had no idea that Poland had so many interesting soups (apple parsnip was a favorite) and Polish ice cream was so delicious!

Kosice Fountain

Challenges

The worst lost luggage episode of my life. To condense it as much as possible: I had a direct flight on Norwegian from JFK to London Gatwick; JFK was a mess, none of Norwegian’s kiosks were working, and the luggage tracks were breaking down; as a result, tons of people on my flight lost their luggage even though it was a simple nonstop flight.

Now — I’ve dealt with lost luggage twice before and both times it showed up at my door within 24 hours. No big deal. But in this case, Norwegian had no idea where it was. And that was what made it so bad — the uncertainty. I flew on to Inverness without luggage and worried that I would move on to Wales and even Slovakia without my bag!

I was a wreck. (A special thank you to my Inverness friends for tolerating my moaning and groaning.) I bought some clothes in Inverness, including a nice black midi dress that I can continue wearing for work or funerals, and a pair of pumps that I limped in and left behind at my guesthouse. (Also, you know you’re used to Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara when you buy a tube of Maybelline for the interim and you’re convinced it’s nothing more than a lash comb!)

Finally, after more than two days, my bag showed up. Norwegian told me they had no record of my bag as recently as two hours before the bag was delivered to Inverness Airport. I cannot describe the degree of happiness and relief I felt.

Warsaw

Everything else this month pales in comparison, but there were a few other incidents:

Bedbugs. Again. In Košice. I hate when you don’t notice bedbugs until it’s late at night, especially when you’re staying in a guesthouse nobody is in reception after midnight. I killed the bug, looked for others, found none, and went to bed.

Then just as I feel asleep, I felt a bite on my shoulder and reached down and definitely felt a crawly bug. UGH! I killed it, but I woke up to six new bites on my back.

It’s been a week and the scarlet splotches on my back are finally beginning to fade. Taking Zyrtec kept the itches mostly away.

I accidentally withdrew WAY too much money. I haphazardly calculated the Polish zloty exchange rate and pressed the button for 3000. Turns out 3000 zloty is $785. EEK! Considering that’s the account from which I pay my rent, I would have been in trouble if I hadn’t had my end-of-month Amazon affiliate payment coming in!

But seriously, what kind of ATM lets you take out $785 at once?!

Krakow Treats

The Only Post

Traveling in Colombia — The Best Moments. A great overview of why to travel to Colombia!

Lower Manhattan

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Lower Manhattan, as seen from Governor’s Island. It seemed like the right photo to share on September 11.

Manhattan Bridge

What I Read This Month

After getting my book club pick, I decided this month’s reads would have a theme: biographies and memoirs of strong women! I also spent a lot of time in transit this month, which helped me get through five books.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik –This was my book club’s pick of the month, and we decided to switch from our usual fiction to biography. What a great decision!

I always liked Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but after reading this book, she rocketed to the top of my list of heroes. RBG has spent her career working toward gender equality in America — and she was successful because she was incredibly pragmatic, working on small incremental steps rather than huge overhauls. She also lasered in on cases where men were denied women’s rights (like the right to collect a deceased spouse’s social security) because the judges were more likely to rule favorably and thus institute equality across the board.

The book is structured a bit strangely and I skimmed some of the legalese-heavy parts, but it’s a comprehensive and revenant account of Justice Ginsburg’s career, as well as her personal life, her working life, her wonderful marriage, and her close friendship with Justice Scalia. It’s also worth noting that Justice Ginsburg’s own memoir came out today!

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton — I wasn’t familiar with Melton’s hugely popular blog, Momastery, but huge endorsements from Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert were enough to get me interested. This book is a personal account of how Melton’s husband confessed to infidelity throughout their marriage, the subsequent turmoil, how she worked on becoming a stronger person because of it, and how she and her husband rebuilt their relationship from square one.

Not being a wife or mother, I didn’t think I would relate to this very much, but there was one part that hit me hard. Melton talks about how her introversion has served as a crutch of sorts, something she relies on to stay comfortably within her shell. I think I’m the same way. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I’m an introvert!” and use that as an excuse to avoid parties and socializing. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone for the sake of our relationships and well-being.

This book also gave me one huge confirmation — I’m so glad I decided to take some aspects of my private life off the blog. Melton shares a lot of ugly parts of her marriage, and while part of me enjoyed getting to see the truth in its unvarnished glory, another part of me felt uncomfortable knowing such intimate things. I don’t want people to think about me that way.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer — I love Schumer’s comedy, especially Trainwreck, so I was eager to read her long-awaited memoir. So where does it fall on the scale of contemporary female comedian memoirs? Hmm. It was good, but not one of the best. (I still think Tina Fey’s Bossypants is the best of the bunch.)

The book had a lot of comedy in it, but it was actually a lot more serious than I expected. As much as I appreciated her writing frankly about topics that need to be talked about, like how easily women can end up in abusive relationships, I didn’t feel at ease with her voice, which is rare for a memoir. I almost felt like she was trying to make herself sound as good as possible. Not in an “I’m so awesome” way, but an “I sometimes give $10,000 checks to my best friends” and “I do nice things for my coworkers” way. Trying to sound like a good person as much as possible.

That said, I’m glad I read it, and I enjoyed many parts of it, especially hearing how she came up as a comedian.

Zakopane

I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi — Awesomely Luvvie is a blogger whom I’ve seen pop up every now and then, so I decided to try her book after my friend Oneika recommended it. This is less of a memoir than the others — it’s more of advice and commentary on everything from relationships to race to politics to internet fame.

I love Ajayi’s voice and she writes in such a funny and inviting way that you’ll end up reexamining your own views. But I found the chapters a bit uneven. Some, like the relationships chapter, were so funny and true I was covering my face and cackling while reading it on the plane! And others fell flat, like the chapter that listed all the other stuff besides sexuality the Bible says is an abomination (Shellfish! Mixed fibers! Not being a virgin on your wedding night!) — which I’ve read a million times already.

I think the strongest part of the book was the section on internet fame, Facebook drama, the rise of influencers, and more. Luvvie takes no prisoners and is hilarious doing so. And the chapters on race should be required reading for white women.

Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim — This book caught my attention when Kim started talking about how she thought it would be promoted as a piece of groundbreaking journalism in North Korea, only for it to be “given the Eat, Pray, Love treatment” and packaged as a chick-lit memoir. That sexism was enough to get me to buy her book immediately, and I hope that anyone who is curious about North Korea reads this book as well.

Kim, who was born in South Korea and moved to America as a child, was fascinated with North Korea and visited several times before securing a job teaching English at a North Korean university funded and staffed by American evangelical Christians. She was an undercover reporter masquerading as a teacher (to North Koreans) and as a Christian (to her colleagues).

While most accounts of contemporary life in North Korea are shared by defectors, who often come from poor backgrounds this book is a very rare glimpse into the life of the children of the most powerful people in Pyongyang. The college-aged boys are childlike, industrious, devoted, and they lie with shocking ease and frequency. I was deeply drawn in and my heart broke for the boys she taught, knowing they can’t escape. This book will stay with me a long time.

And a quick note — there’s a pattern that I’ve noticed more often in recently published memoirs by women. They make a statement, then qualify it on both sides, seemingly to defend themselves from any resulting disagreement.

Here’s an example I just made up: “I think pugs are adorable. I’m not saying other dogs aren’t cuter, and I’m not saying there aren’t any ugly pugs out there, but they’re my favorite.”

Seriously, what’s wrong with just saying, “I think pugs are adorable” and leaving it at that?

I noticed that Ajayi did it a bit and Schumer did it constantly. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. If you have a statement, own it!

Leipzig Canal

Coming Up in October 2016

I started in Kraków, briefly passed through Warsaw, and am now in Leipzig, Germany, for the Video Summit, where I’ll be speaking about Snapchat with a few top influencers, including my bff Cailin. Leipzig (pictured above) is as offbeat as it is lovely and I’m glad to be back.

After that, it’s a few days in Luxembourg (my final country to visit in Western Europe!) and a week in my beloved Paris. I might throw an extra destination or two in there.

After that is when things get weird.

I was supposed to go home after Paris, but I got offered a last-minute gig on another continent. I can’t reveal details just yet, but I will say three things: it’s a return to a country I love, it’s a visit to an entirely new region of that country, and I did not pack appropriately for this kind of trip whatsoever. Stay tuned!

I will likely be abroad through the end of October, but I will definitely be back in time to vote in the US election.

Any recommendations for Luxembourg or anything new in Paris? Let me know!

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My Hopes for the Future of Travel

9

Krka Waterfall

The following branded content post is brought to you by the World Travel and Tourism Council. I’m a big fan of their sustainable tourism mission and I’m always happy to join them in sharing how we can travel more responsibly.

What is next in travel? Talk to anyone about the future and they’ll talk about technology. Are we going to see virtual reality, even online payment at street food carts in Southeast Asia?

I have so many hopes for the future of travel. Here’s what I would like to see:

Mykines Island

Meaningful action on climate change.

Climate change is decimating communities around the world. People are losing homes where their families have lived in generations — from the Arctic to the Gulf Coast and throughout the world.

The Maldives are vulnerable. So are Tuvalu, Tonga, and other low-lying atolls. The Netherlands could be in jeopardy. And Louisiana has borne quite a bit of damage this century so far.

Climate change is also related to weather disruption, including hurricanes and typhoons, that first destroy communities, then their economies.

Climate change can only work on a global scale. So far, positive actions are taking place, like the Paris Agreement, but in the next decade I hope our leaders take more concrete steps to protect our only planet.

Mindil Beach Markets

Easier ways to support small businesses.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen budding travel entrepreneurs eliminate the middleman and start their own businesses. Uber turns ordinary people into drivers; Airbnb turns homes into guesthouses; EatWith turns home chefs into restaurateurs. Hell, I even became a tour guide thanks to starting a travel blog!

Technology has made it easier for people to take control of their own financial destiny. That said, I almost feel like something’s missing. While a lot of individually owned businesses have exploded, I feel like the small guesthouses, coffeeshops and restaurants have almost fallen behind in the tech boom.

Much of the time, we’re only finding these places through social media. Foursquare, Yelp, TripAdvisor. I feel like there could be a better way to find and financially support local businesses. I expect more start-ups to pop up that will help these businesses.

Tobacco Caye, Belize

Thoughtful travel recommendations from the travel influencer community.

At this point in time, few travel influencers will make a stand against visiting certain destinations. And not enough will use their influence to get travelers to visit destinations in need. That needs to change.

Now, does that mean every travel influencer should have the same beliefs? Not at all. But I think we could do better. Making a stand isn’t going to cut off your income, for one.

For me personally, I’ve talked about how North Korea is off the table, because I believe that tourism as it currently exists in North Korea cannot be done ethically.

I also won’t travel to North Carolina or promote travel in North Carolina as long as HB2 is in effect, a law that forces transgender people to use the bathroom aligning with the sex listed on their birth certificate under the beliefs that this could prevent sexual assault. (This is atrocious and has no basis in reality, by the way.) The same law allows businesses to discriminate.

These are for two reasons: because I want to spend my money in places will it will do more good than harm, and because as an influencer, every dollar I spend in a destination can turn into fifty or more from other travelers following in my footsteps. Everything we do is amplified.

But it’s not just about telling people not to visit places — we can have a positive effect, too. So far this year, I’ve encouraged people to travel to Nepal, which is still suffering economically from last year’s earthquake; to Louisiana, which has dealt with severe flooding, only second to Hurricane Katrina in terms of devastation; and to Belize, whose islands were damaged in a hurricane earlier this year.

Yes, places receive money after disasters (though how much varies widely). There are nonprofits; there’s international aid; there’s the Red Cross. But these organizations do nothing for the B&B owners or restaurant managers who aren’t receiving enough visitors to financially get by.

When we encourage people to travel to places in need, we are doing our part to keep businesses afloat.

Berat Albania

Interesting new travel hotspots.

What will some of the new major travel destinations be in a few years?

I have no doubt that Colombia and Albania will be huge destinations five years from now. Both are already growing their tourism at a fast rate and have so much potential. You could argue that Myanmar is a step or two ahead of them in the tourism game. And we all know Cuba is awaiting a massive influx of American tourists.

And to be honest, so many travel bloggers have written about the emerging budget travel scene in the Maldives that I’m sick of reading about it already!

At the same time, there are destinations that could become less popular. Terrorism fears could drive tourists away from France and Turkey, both victims of so many tragedies in the past few years.

But I strongly believe that the good will outweigh the bad. Because if there’s anything that travel has taught us, it’s that people are good.

The World Travel and Tourism Council, for whom I wrote about freedom to travel in 2015, have now created a new video about the future of sustainable travel. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Redefine Tourism from WTTC on Vimeo.

What do you hope for travel in the future?

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