Месечни архиви: November 2016

My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

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Kate at Pinnacles Desert

What struck me first about Western Australia was just how sparsely populated it was. I would follow our route on Google Maps for hours and think, “Okay, we’re finally getting to a real town now.” And that town would be, essentially, a gas station.

You’d think I’d get used to it. But even after ten days in the region, I still overestimated everything. I called a taxi one afternoon in Broome, told the driver to take me to the part of Cable Beach “wherever all the cafes and stuff are,” thinking this popular tourist town would have a strip of shops and restaurants. The driver was confused. Turns out Cable Beach has one restaurant (“far too expensive,” he said) and one bar that didn’t open until 5:30 PM. That was it.

WA is the definition of an off the beaten path destination. The beaches and national parks have a fraction of the visitors of the East Coast. There isn’t a single stoplight between Geraldton in WA and Darwin in the Northern Territory — a driving distance of 3800 km (2300 miles)! East coast Australians will often travel all over the world before setting foot on the west coast. To a degree, it feels like you’re living in splendid isolation.

Perhaps as a result, WA locals are extraordinarily friendly, and that friendliness gets absorbed by the travelers as well. If you pass a car, you wave. If you walk past someone, you say hello. If you buy something, you have a conversation. It reminded me of the American South.

I last visited Australia in 2013 and had forgotten so many things that came rushing back. Country music is everywhere (that explains the existence of Keith Urban). Australians call surf and turf “reef and beef.” Baby emus are cared for by their fathers. Oh, and the coffee? It’s the best. From anywhere.

Long before I ever visited Australia, WA was where I wanted to visit the most. It didn’t work out on my first trip, but I was thrilled to get an opportunity to visit and create content for STA Travel and Tourism Western Australia. In fact, I had Western Australia listed in my sidebar as one of my top 10 most wanted destinations!

I’m so glad I came. Because while it was satisfying to finally visit WA, it was so different from how I imagined.

This isn’t a complete overview of the state — I haven’t been to popular tourist areas like Margaret River in the southwest, Esperance in the south, Kalgoorlie in the Outback, or anywhere in the Kimberley in the north beyond Broome. But these destinations are a great starting point for an unforgettable trip to Australia’s remote west.

Scotty, Freedi and Kate Quad Biking Coral Bay WA

First off, I had the pleasure of traveling with two wonderful people: Friederike Franz (Freedi) of Freise in Design, my German counterpart; and Scotty Connell of Kimberley Spirit, our guide and driver.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that they are now two of my favorite people on the planet.

As much as I love traveling solo, it’s magical when you click with two incredible, kind, generous, funny, intelligent, talented people. You two make me want to be a kinder person, a more generous individual, a better photographer.

And now: onto my favorite WA experiences!

Kate Quokka Selfie

Taking Quokka Selfies on Rottnest Island

I was so excited to take selfies with quokkas on Rottnest Island and it did not disappoint whatsoever! Quokkas are small marsupials endemic to a few regions in WA, including Rottnest (which means rat’s nest in Dutch — when they landed, they thought the quokkas were rats).

In the past few years, selfies with the adorable, friendly quokkas have become the ultimate WA souvenir. I was determined to get as many as possible. Freedi and I struck out a few times, but eventually we found the sweetest quokka between the settlement and an area called the Basin. He couldn’t get enough of us!

Quokka

Look at our adorable buddy!

Kate and Quokka

Nice to meet you!

Kate and Quokka

Favorite comment from a reader: “Did he eat ya jeans?” LOL!

Freedi and Quokka

Freedi couldn’t contain her glee.

Kate, Freedi and Quokka

Happy family!

Kate and a Quokka

And THAT was my shot for Instagram. (Check out the #quokkaselfie tag for more quokka love!)

Quokka Mama and Baby

This mama and baby were curious but shy. (Note: never touch a baby quokka. Your human scent could cause its mother to abandon it.)

Rottnest Island

And there’s more to Rotto than just quokkas. Pretty beautiful, huh?

Manta Ray at Ningaloo Reef

Swimming with Giant Manta Rays at Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef impressed the hell out of me. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the snorkeling was just as good or even a bit better than the outstanding Belize Barrier Reef, with the bonus of the reef being right off shore! We were literally there in less than five minutes.

By contrast, the Great Barrier Reef is a good 90 minutes from shore. Not to mention far more crowded and more environmentally damaged.

This is why more people need to come to WA.

Anyway, the main attraction is swimming with giant manta rays, which can measure up to three meters wide. I was a bit nervous beforehand (especially since we all had to sit on the edge and jump out simultaneously when a buzzer sounded), but it turned out to be not scary at all. These rays are incredibly gentle (no stinger) and we weren’t even that close to them.

Ningaloo Fish

Look at all those fish! They gather beneath the boat but they know how to swim out of your way.

Turtle at Ningaloo Reef

We also made a cool turtle friend.

Kate at Ningaloo Reef

Fun fact: nobody looks glamorous with a snorkel in her mouth.

Shark at Ningaloo Reef

And finally — sharks. DO NOT WORRY. These sharks are not dangerous. They’re harmless reef sharks. Lots of sharks are safe to swim with and I’ve swum with lots of them around the world. We wouldn’t have been near them if there were any danger.

Underwater Ningaloo photos courtesy of Tom Cannon of Migration Media.

Kate Spider-Walking in Karijini NP

Spider Walking in Karijini National Park

Karijini has a lot to see, but my favorite part was the spider walk. Yep, that’s it’s name — it’s in Hancock Gorge, just past the amphitheater and before Kermit’s Pool. You wedge your body between the sides, legs and arms sticking straight out, and climb that way to avoid the rushing water, then reward yourself with a swim. It’s amazing for photos.

Beyond that, there’s plenty more to do in Karijini!

Karijini NP

Swimming in Fern Pool, near Fortescue Falls, was a peaceful and refreshing experience. (But I’m not going to lie — my favorite part was when a park ranger called out a group of backpackers for being disrespectful to this sacred Aboriginal site and doing the three things the signs asked people not to do: jumping into the water, climbing the walls, and yelling. Sweet justice.)

Kate and Freedi at Karijini NP

The fig trees are HUGE in WA. This was the granddaddy of them all, a short distance from Fern Pool.

Tent at in Karijini NP

Sleeping in a luxury tent at Karijini Eco Retreat was a lot of fun! It even had its own solar-powered shower.

Karijini NP

I loved spying on swimmers from the top of Joffre Gorge.

Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Soaring Above Shark Bay in a Scenic Flight

I love scenic flights — either by plane or helicopter. Most of the time, they take less than fifteen minutes, because that’s all you need. But this scenic flight with Shark Bay Air Charters was an hour and fifteen minutes! We got to see so much!

Shark Bay is great to see from the air because the landscape varies so widely within a small region. That and you can occasionally see whales in the ocean!

Shark Bay Scenic Flight

On one edge of Dirk Hartog Island, you’d see a series of cliffs. It reminded me of the Faroe Islands.

Shark Bay Scenic Flight

On the other side, you could spot a pink lake!

Shark Bay Scenic Flight

My favorite view, though, was of François Peron National Park. Look at those orange beaches!

Pinnacles Desert

Getting Sandy in the Pinnacles Desert

Nambung National Park, not too far north of Perth, is home to the Pinnacles Desert — probably the most otherworldly atmosphere I saw in WA. These pinnacles were actually once trees, and over time, layers of rock and sand pressed them into their current form.

Kate at Pinnacles Desert

Yep, Freedi and I had a LOT of fun posing in the pinnacles!

Pinnacles Desert

I feel like the Pinnacles Desert could stand in for a movie set on another planet! What do you think?

Breakfast at Isle of Voyage Perth

Eating All Of The Australian Breakfasts

I think Australia is the best breakfast country in the world. In cities and popular tourist towns, there are often several creative, innovative dishes on the menu — dishes you would only see at more upscale or hipstery spots in the US. Australians just do it.

Above are poached eggs with pea and kale croquettes with edamame and Romesco sauce at Isle of Voyage in Perth.

Eggs and Pumpkin in Fremantle

Here are poached eggs over burnt butter and sage pumpkin mash with arugula and walnuts on Turkish toast at Moore & Moore Cafe in Fremantle (a quirky suburb of Perth).

Coconut Rice Pudding at Matso's

I loved this coconut rice pudding with mango coulis, candied coconut, pomegranate seeds, and starfruit from Matso’s Brewery in Broome.

Dukkah Eggs Perth

And here we have the dukkah eggs from Babooshka in Perth: poached eggs with baba ghanoush, halloumi, spinach, spicy chickpeas, and mushrooms on toast.

Kate in Monkey Mia Sunset Cruise

Taking a Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Shark Bay

Catamarans will always remind me of my sailing trip in Belize. This trip was much shorter — only an hour and a half — but we saw several dolphins, lay in the net, and sipped on our BYOB Coronas.

And unlike our other activities, once we had snapped a few photos, we could relax and just enjoy it without worrying about spending the whole ride documenting it in every way. That was nice.

Monkey Mia Sunset Cruise

I love this photo of these young girls.

Monkey Mia Sunset Cruise

These dudes look like pirates, but they’re actually guests who were invited to help hoist the sail.

Kalbarri NP WA

Kayaking Through Kalbarri National Park

Kalbarri National Park is just starting to emerge as a major Australian destination in a nice, well-developed coastal town. Even so, it’s hardly crowded, making it all the better for enjoying the quiet.

We climbed down into a gorge for a group kayaking expedition down the river.

Kalbarri NP WA

I loved how laid-back this tour was. We could kayak a little or a lot, just doing whatever felt right for us. And because Freedi and I were there for photography reasons, we spent most of the time taking photos! (Also, ladies, if you take a photo of yourself in a kayak, be sure to put your legs together. That is why there are no photos of me in a kayak…)

Kate at Nature's Window Kalbarri NP

Nature’s Window is probably the most famous spot in Kalbarri National Park. This natural arch is a great place for photos, and the views from above are spellbinding.

Kalbarri NP WA

This part of WA reminded me of the American Southwest! (And the country music that blasted everywhere only added to the ambiance!)

Kate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Spending Sunset at Hutt Lagoon

Oh, Hutt Lagoon. I already wrote about this in depth — but it was one of my favorite stops on the entire trip. It’s not the pinkest lake in WA, but it was pink enough for me at sunset!

If you’re driving from Perth to Kalbarri, try to time your drive so you’ll hit the lagoon just before sunset. That’s when the colors became much pinker.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

So pink.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

A new friend!

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Electric lavender.

Dolphins Monkey Mia

Hand-Feeding Dolphins at Monkey Mia

Monkey Mia is most famous for its dolphins, which come to feed just off shore each morning. The Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort has a sustainable, strictly regulated feeding system (and literally everything is strictly regulated here due to Shark Bay’s UNESCO World Heritage designation): certain healthy females are fed no more than one third of their daily intake of fish, and they vary the feedings enough so that they don’t become dependent.

A few volunteers are chosen to help feed, and Freedi and I were both chosen!

Kate Feeding Dolphins Monkey Mia

I fed this mama dolphin a single fish.

Dolphins Monkey Mia

It’s quite a crowd each morning — and this wasn’t even peak season.

Dolphins Monkey Mia

Thanks for stopping by, guys!

Quad Biking at Sunset in Coral Bay

Truth? If I had to judge quad biking based on my first 15 minutes, I would have hated it. I’ve never quad biked before — I blame an episode of Rescue 911 I saw as a kid when a ten-year-old flipped an ATV and crushed his skull. Those things stay with you.

Scotty wiggled his bike around and showed me how stable it was. And as time went on, I grew more and more comfortable. Soon I was flying through the sand dunes and loving it. I even asked Freedi later, “I went down the hill faster than everyone else, right?” HA.

Quad Biking Coral Bay WA

We stopped about every fifteen minutes to take in the views.

Quad Biking Coral Bay WA

Some of the coastline on this route is inaccessible by normal vehicles, like here: the Turtle Cliffs.

Quad Biking Coral Bay WA

How amazing is that light?! I was drinking it all in!

Kate flying in WA

The Road Trip Experience

When I saw that there were lots of eight-hour drives on our itinerary, I downloaded a ton of Kindle books in preparation. In actuality, I only read for about an hour in total! We spent our time talking about our lives, listening to music, occasionally getting out of the car to take photos and have a dance party. Scotty would tell stories and I would take notes on his phrasing and cadence, hoping that someday I would be able to convincingly write a character who talked like him.

I loved it. It was everything a road trip should be.

WA Road Train

Keep an eye out for “road trains” — huge, long trucks filled with cargo, often animals.

Kate on the road in WA

The road is particularly desolate once you go inland. This highway actually doubles as a runway for the Royal Flying Doctors, the medical service that serves rural areas in Australia.

WA Aroad trip

Quick, grab some photos! We couldn’t stop taking pictures of wildflowers and caves and mountains.

Kate with Animal Sign WA

Everyone who goes to Western Australia needs to pose with one of these signs!

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA Sunset

Chilling out at the Mangrove Hotel in Broome

After the end of the trip, I stayed on a few extra days to go to Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley in the northwest. I knew that at the end of a trip like this, with lots of early mornings, long days, and physical challenges, I would be exhausted.

So yes, I wanted to experience Broome, but more than that, I wanted to lounge in a really nice hotel. Like everywhere else in WA, I was shocked at how sleepy Broome was, making me all the happier that I chose the Mangrove Hotel, which is one of my new favorite boutique hotels in the world. After an introduction through a college, the hotel offered me a complimentary three-night stay for my time in Broome.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA

This pic doesn’t do the room justice — it was full of modern, tropical touches and such a nice oasis during the hottest part of the day.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA

There were two natural pools, both built into the landscape.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA

Be sure to try a Little Creatures IPA — they’re based in Perth! And though I don’t have a photo of it, Matso’s Ginger Beer is DELICIOUS. It’s brewed in Broome and sold throughout WA.

Mangrove Hotel Broome WA Sunset Roebuck Bay

Sunsets on Cable Beach may get all the hype, but I actually preferred the sunsets at the hotel! The Mangrove overlooks Roebuck Bay, facing east. If you’re visiting during a full moon, the Staircase to the Moon (a visual phenomenon where reflections make it look like a staircase is leading to the moon) is best viewed from here. And the hotel was happening at night — huge crowds, great music, fabulous food.

I couldn’t think of a better place to end my time in WA.

Karijini NP

Other Moments

There were so many moments, I could go on forever.

Coral Bay Sunset

The best sunset was this one in Coral Bay.

Rainbow at Karijini NP

One of the boldest rainbows I’ve ever seen appeared in Karijini one afternoon.

Kate at Hamelin Pool WA

This pose, on top of Hamelin Pool (filled with stromatolites, among the world’s oldest living beings) was far less breezy and comfortable than it looks!

Kalbarri Cliffs

Kalbarri is more than just a national park — the cliffs were great during golden hour.

Feet in Coral Bay

The feet on the right belong to a reader of mine, a fellow guest on the snorkeling trip who freaked out when he realized who I was!

Kangaroo in Kalbarri

You know I actually didn’t see a single kangaroo on my first trip to Australia? I more than made up for it this time.

Shell Beach WA

Shell Beach, a blindingly white beach in the Shark Bay region, is one of only two beaches in the world comprised entirely of shells.

Kate at Mount Nameless

Sitting on top of Mount Nameless, the tallest mountain in WA, appreciating the beauty and feeling sad at the last moments of traveling as a trio with Freedi and Scotty.

Coral Bay Pelican

Pelicans terrify me, but damn if they’re not photogenic.

Perfect WA Latte

And every. Perfect. Glorious. Flat white.

I love this region so much.

Get Off the Beaten Path in Western Australia

Essential Info: There are only two ways to travel this route through Western Australia: either on your own with a rental car, or as part of an organized tour. There is no public transportation in this region. Because the roads are so empty, I urge you to learn basic car maintenance (like changing a tire) before embarking on a WA road trip.

In Perth: I stayed in two places: first the Rendezvous Hotel Perth Central, which was a simple midrange hotel in a pretty good location. Rates from 118 AUD ($88 USD). I also stayed the uber-trendy Alex Hotel in the awesome neighborhood of Northbridge, and I loved the style and location, but they overcharged my card and I’m still trying to get my money back a month later. Rates from 143 AUD ($107 USD). We also stayed at the Fremantle YHA, the former women’s prison, which was a really cool place to stay but had poorly insulated rooms and we shivered all night — I’d stay there in warmer weather. Privates from 67 AUD ($50 USD), dorms from 23 AUD ($17 USD).

On Rottnest Island: Round-trip Rottnest Express ferry tickets cost 99 AUD ($74) from Perth and 79 AUD ($59 USD) from Fremantle. You can add a bike rental for an extra 30 AUD ($22 USD).

I didn’t stay overnight on Rottnest Island, but you can check out hotels here.

In Kalbarri: My half day kayak trip was through Kalbarri Adventure Tours and cost 75 AUD ($56 USD). They also have full-day tours.

I stayed at the Best Western Kalbarri Edge Resort, and I loved the suite setup and that I had my own personal washing machine! Rates from 144 AUD ($108 USD). Drop by Finlay’s for a fun outdoor barbecue restaurant. They have pink snapper cheeks and “big ass oysters” on the menu.

In Monkey Mia/Shark Bay: My scenic flight was through Shark Bay Air Charter. My 75-minute Capes & Parks of Shark Bay tour cost 330 AUD ($247 USD) per person; flights start at 59 AUD ($44 USD) per person for 15 minutes. The flights can sometimes be rough for people who get motion sickness (like me!); I was a bit queasy at times but fine as long as I closed my eyes for a bit. I recommend taking a non-drowsy motion sickness pill beforehand.

My Monkey Mia Magic Sailing Cruise cost 49 AUD ($37 USD), lasted 90 minutes, and was BYOB.

I stayed at Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, which is more or less the only place to stay in Monkey Mia and includes free admission to the dolphin feeding. Rates from $123 AUD (90 USD).

In Coral Bay: My manta ray snorkeling trip was with Ningaloo Marine Interactions and cost 170 AUD per person ($127). It’s technically a half day trip  but includes lunch. Photos cost extra and I encourage you to purchase them because they are outstanding and the company uses the most badass underwater camera i’ve ever seen. (Underwater photographers around the world often work solely on commission.)

My quad bike tour was with Coastal Adventure Tours. My Sunset Trek (South) tour lasted two hours and cost 110 AUD ($82 USD). Extra riders (not driving) cost 55 AUD ($41 USD). Note: this is a very bumpy ride. Ladies, you’ll want to wear a good sports bra, and if you have a nice camera, wear it in your backpack because if not, it will be slamming back and forth in the container.

I stayed at the Bayview Coral Bay, a simple hotel without wifi in the heart of the (tiny) town. Rates from 195 AUD ($146 USD).

In Karijini National Park: Our two-day tour was a private custom tour through The Flying Sandgroper (multi-day tours) and West Oz Active (day tours), but both companies offer a variety of tours anyone can join. Freedi and I kept it simple and focused on photography; other tours are more active.

I stayed one night outside the park at the Tom Price Hotel, which was crawling with ants, served terrible food, and I do not recommend it for those reasons. Rooms from 185 AUD ($138 USD). In the park I stayed in a deluxe eco tent at Karijini Eco Retreat, which was unique, comfortable, and had fabulous food — I loved it. Deluxe tents from 189 AUD ($141 USD).

In Broome: Low-season rates at the Mangrove Hotel, which I adored, start at 142 AUD ($106 USD). Broome is hard to get around without a car, but there is a 4 AUD ($3 USD) bus to Cable Beach that stops in front of the hotel. The last one runs right after sunset.

Don’t visit Western Australia without travel insurance. I use and recommend World Nomads.

I visited Western Australia as a campaign for STA Travel and Tourism Western Australia. Most of the trip was covered by them; I paid for my trip extension in Broome and Perth, including a media rate one night at the Alex Hotel. Many thanks to the Mangrove Hotel for providing me with a complimentary three-night stay. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Western Australia? Does it look like your kind of place?

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The Best Gifts for Travelers (Awesome AND Affordable!)

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Kate at the White House at Christmas

Guess what, guys — I’ve been running a variety of blogs since 2002 (!) and this is the first time I have ever published a gift guide. 

Seriously.

Why start now? Because, frankly, I’m sick of reading out of touch gift guides written by other bloggers. I find that they’re often stocked with ostentatiously expensive items that the vast majority of people would never actually buy for their loved ones, or items that they don’t actually use but think would earn them high affiliate commissions.

I mean, who reads a blog that says, “You should buy someone a MacBook Pro for Christmas” and says, “Hmm, by golly, you’re right! A MacBook Pro, you call it?”? Come on.

Guys, we are all privileged as hell, but at the same time, I don’t expect you to spend thousands of dollars on gifts. Or hundreds, for that matter. Your trust is important to me, so I’m not going to push things on you that I know are out of reach for most people.

But I will say this — I know great travel gear. I know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s a waste of money. (Most “travel clothing” is unnecessary and those scratch-off maps look much worse once you put them up, for example.)

So I decided to put together a list of things that I use, I love, and I think you would love, too.

Nothing on this list is ostentatiously expensive. All but a few items are under $100 and most are under $50.

Nothing on this list is ugly. Looking good is important to me, and you’ll never find me in an ugly “travel hat” or zip-off pants (unless hiking). Please kill me if you ever catch me wearing hiking gear in Paris.

Nothing on this list was thrown in for crap purposes. No filler here — I believe in every product on this list.

This guide is going to have seven sections:

  1. Under $25
  2. Safety Gifts
  3. Insanely Useful Gifts
  4. Luggage Gifts
  5. Digital Gifts
  6. Gifts for Travelers Who Have Come Home
  7. Kate’s Pie in the Sky Never Gonna Happen Wish List 2016

Here we go!

Gifts for Travelers Under $25

You don’t have to spend a ton of cash to give someone a meaningful gift that will help him or her on her travels. Here are a dozen great options.

Point It

Point It: Traveller’s Language Kit

Ever tried using a wordless dictionary before? They can be extremely helpful if you’re in a region where English isn’t widely spoken. This book is full of pictures that you can point to when you’re having a hard time communicating. (I really could have used this when searching for electrical tape in Saranda, Albania, last year!)

Cost: $8.69 on Amazon

Whistle

All-Weather Safety Whistle

I know you’re thinking of that scene in Titanic. And it’s the truth. Boat engines sometimes fail, and sometimes you’ll need to send a signal through darkness. A whistle is cheap and useful. Above all, it attracts attention when you need it the most.

This one in particular is LOUD. AS. HELL. You can’t beat it for that price.

Cost: $6.50 on Amazon

Manatea

Manatea Silicone Tea Infuser

I love to try different kinds of tea while traveling — but the tea is almost always loose, not bagged. Most places don’t provide infusers, so you need to carry your own.

Enter the Manatea. Not only is it an easy way to get my tea fix, it’s an adorable conversation piece! This company makes a few different animals (I may also own the sloth), but the Manatea’s shape is easiest to fill and clean.

Cost: $9.74 on Amazon

Mini Power Strip

Mini Power Strip with USB Slots

What happens when you have limited time and need to charge your phone, laptop, Kindle, and phone battery? With a mini power strip, you can charge them all at once.

You’ll also become everyone’s best friend when staying in a hostel dorm with only one outlet!

Note: NOT all mini power strips are created equal. This one is good because 1) Its plug is attached to a long cord, rather than part of a block (block-style power strips often don’t fit if an outlet is next to furniture or a wall), 2) it has three outlets, which is the minimum you should have 3) it has an on/off button 4) it has USB slots.

Cost: $11.99 on Amazon

Mini Power Bank

Mini Portable Power Bank

I travel with two portable power banks: a mini and a big one. I’m putting the mini in this section because it’s under $25.

A mini power bank is essential for travelers — it fits into my purse for a night out (and if you don’t carry a purse, it fits easily in your pocket). I also consider it a safety device, as my phone lets me summon an Uber or call a cab if I’m in an uncomfortable situation.

This BAITER Power Bank is tiny yet powerful — it can charge the average smartphone twice (which is a LOT for a mini power bank)

Cost: $11.99 on Amazon

Headphone Splitter

Headphone Splitter

If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, you must bring one of these! But even if you’re traveling solo, you never know when you might meet a cool friend and want to watch a movie or listen to a podcast together while in transit.

Headphone splitters are simple — you simply plug the end into your device and you suddenly have two headphone jacks.

Cost: $5.99 on Amazon

Wifi Extender

Wifi Extender

If you work while traveling, one of the most annoying things is to find a good place to work in a new city. Very often, the places with the best coffee and environment and plugs have the worst wifi. (Hell, I struggle with this in my own neighborhood in New York!)

For that reason, a wifi extender helps you access wifi from further away. So maybe you can sit in the funky coffeeshop while using accessing wifi from McDonald’s a few doors down. This Netis extender plugs right into your USB slot and is one of the better models on the market.

Cost: $17.81 on Amazon

Travel Towel

Travel Towel Set

What makes a good travel towel? It’s small, it’s light, it dries very quickly. I highly recommend getting one large enough to wrap around yourself; it will make your life a million times easier!

This one is large enough to wrap, comes in a million colors, it’s anti-bacterial as well. BONUS: It comes with a separate hand towel, which is great for taking along with you on sweaty or athletic days.

Cost: $19.90 on Amazon

Diva Cup

DivaCup

Ladies, if you haven’t made the switch to a menstrual cup yet, now is the time. It’s better for your wallet, better for the environment, gives you more space in your luggage, and it saves you from the hassle of trying to find tampons in Sri Lanka (which is…not easy).

Don’t be intimidated — it’s actually a lot easier to use than most people think. It just takes a few practice tries and you’re golden.

Cost: $24.93 on Amazon

Banana Boat Sunscreen

SPF 50 Sunscreen

Really, sunscreen on a gift list? Really. Sunscreen is often exponentially more expensive outside the US, especially if you’re traveling to a resort town, and lots of countries don’t go very high up in SPF.

Even if you rarely burn, I urge you to go above the oft-recommended SPF 15. Skin cancer is a terrible disease and we could all stand to do better at protecting our skin. Plus, different climates and environments can affect you differently. I tend to burn more easily in high-altitude destinations like Colombia.

I use this Banana Boat SPF 50 sunscreen and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Cost: $6.36 on Amazon

Burt's Bees Wipes

Facial Cleansing Towelettes

Believe me, the last thing you want to do when coming back to your hotel after a fun night out is a complicated skin routine — but sleeping in your makeup is bad for your skin (not to mention the guesthouse owners who might make you pay extra if you smear makeup on your pillowcase).

Facial cleansing towelettes are the way to go, and I love these ones from Burt’s Bees. They are good at getting mascara off and the white tea scent is delicious.

Cost: $7.33 on Amazon

Contour Eye Mask

Contoured Sleep Mask

If you can sleep with the cheapie eye masks that airlines give you, good for you! I find that I need something a little extra, however.

This contoured sleep mask is much better — it’s soft, blocks more light, and isn’t as tight on your eyelids. Which I find helps me sleep better.

Cost: $8.99 on Amazon

Headphones

Workout Headphones

When searching for good headphones for running and working out — a.k.a. headphones that would sound good and stay in despite a steady dripping of sweat — I came across these headphones on Amazon.

For cheapies, they are pretty damn fantastic. I can’t believe how well they work.

Cost: $14.99 on Amazon

Padlocks

Pair of Padlocks

Small padlocks are essential — they lock hostel lockers and your own bags.

I recommend getting 1) a combination lock where you can choose the combination, 2) a pair of locks, 3) TSA-approved locks. (Are they impenetrable? No lock is 100% impenetrable. Their goal is to slow down opportunistic thieves.)

Cost: $9.99 on Amazon

Safety Gifts for Travelers

Being a blogger who specializes in solo female travel, I get a lot of questions about safety and try to integrate them into all of my posts.

One of my top tips is to invest in quality gear that protects your belongings. This is something you shouldn’t scrimp on. At the same time, every item on this list is under $80.

Pacsafe Travelsafe

Pacsafe TravelSafe Portable Safe

This is the #1 item that I recommend travelers buy. One of my proudest moments was when I was leading my first tour in Central America and I walked into the bathroom and saw three of these locked around the base of the sink! “You guys listened to me!” I said through tears.

You fill this safe with your belongings, pull it shut, and lock it to the sturdiest thing in your room. Sometimes that’s the base of a sink; sometimes it’s a pipe or a large, heavy piece of furniture. This way you don’t have to carry your valuables with you everywhere you go, which also puts you at risk.

Cost: $71.96 on Amazon

Drybag

Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bags

Dry bags are the other item that I recommend every traveler pack. When I was shipwrecked in Indonesia, I was able to rescue my phone, debit card, and point-and-shoot camera because I had a dry bag with me. Dry bags also protect my electronics when on crazy boat rides, like the panga ride to Little Corn Island that sprayed water everywhere.

You need these. Even if you don’t plan on traveling by boat.

These days I travel with two at all times: a small one (10 liters) and a large one that can fit my day bag (30 liters). And they come with a smartphone protector as well!

Cost: $18.99-31.99 on Amazon

Speakeasy Travel Scarf

Speakeasy Travel Supply Scarves with Hidden Passport Pocket

My friends Bethany and Randy designed these scarves and their company has become hugely popular! I get excited whenever I see them featured on Buzzfeed.

These scarves have a secret pocket that is just the right size to hold your passport, money, credit cards, tickets, glasses, lip balm, even a small guidebook. For that reason, I think these are far better options than money belts, which are inferior in just about every way.

PLUS — get an extra $10 off your first order when you sign up for their newsletter!

Cost: $102 for two, $200 for four, or $55 each on SpeakeasyTravelSupply.com

LifeProof Case

LifeProof Phone Case

Let me be honest: if it weren’t for my LifeProof, I would have destroyed my phone when I accidentally dropped it in a toilet in a remote part of South Africa this summer.

No, it’s not the sexiest case out there, but it is the absolute best phone case out there — one that will protect your phone as best as possible. You can even go swimming with it (but I wouldn’t recommend that). I don’t know what I would do without it (wait, I do know — I would pay constantly for screen repairs).

LifeProof also has excellent customer service and they will often replace your case for free if something goes wrong.

I also recommend picking up a three-pack of headphone adapters ($8.49) because it only comes with one.

Cost: $43.99 on Amazon (may vary based on your phone model)

Personal Alarm

Personal Alarm

I have not needed to use this yet, but I’m glad it’s there. Using a personal alarm has the same use as a whistle: it attracts attention when you need it. Maybe it’s when you’re lost or stranded; maybe it’s when you’re threatened by another person. Maybe a stray dog is scaring you. Either way, there is no way this alarm won’t get attention.

Cost: $15.99 on Amazon

Pacsafe Strap

PacSafe Camera Strap

I always like having an extra layer of security by having a hard-to-slash camera strap, and PacSafe makes the best safety products. The PacSafe CarrySafe 200 is padded, comfortable, and lined with mesh, which keeps it from being slashable.

Cost: $34.95 on Amazon

RFID Wallet

RFID-Blocking Wallet

When traveling with a wallet, I always bring one that is RFID-blocking to protect against thieves. Your credit cards can be scanned remotely through your wallet, but RFID-blocking fabrics prevent this from being able to be done.

I suspect that my credit cards were scanned in Portugal back in 2012 and traveling without them was a nightmare, so I truly hope it never happens to me again — or any of you!

I hate most “women’s wallets” and it took a while to find one I like: this one is sleek, it’s made of leather, it comes in lots of colors, and it folds up small.

Cost: $42.95 on Amazon

Pacsafe Camera Bag

Pacsafe Camera Bag

Before I went to Central America in 2015, I was concerned about theft and knew I needed to get a day bag that locked. My day bag is what holds my photography gear, tech gear, and valuables, and it always stays with me, unless I’ve got the valuables locked up in my portable safe at home.

This is my bag and it’s perfect: it has a laptop slot (easily fits a MacBook Air), room for three lenses, and everything is lockable. All that and it fits underneath the seat in front of me when I fly.

That said, some people might prefer a larger bag, especially if you’re carrying several lenses (the giant lens I rented for safari was pushing it). You can find a slightly larger model here ($95.96).

Cost: $79.95 on Amazon

World Nomads

Travel Insurance

This gift could save your life or your financial future. I use and recommend World Nomads, and never go on a trip without it.

Cost: Find out a quote here.

Note what is not on this list: a money belt. I don’t use one and have no desire to. They’re uncomfortable and thieves are well aware that they exist. Get a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf instead — they’re comfier, more practical, and much prettier.

Insanely Useful Gifts for Travelers

If you want to get someone a gift that he or she will use every day while traveling, here are some great options!

PowerBank

EasyAcc Monster Portable Charger

If there is one item that people should travel with but they don’t, it’s a portable charger. I know this because people are always asking me to borrow mine, even my full-time traveler friends!

I recommend traveling with two portable chargers: a large one that is perfect for long flights, long days out, or days when you’re away from electricity; and a small one, which I throw in my purse for a night out (and mentioned above).

I had to upgrade when I left my last portable charger in an Airbnb this summer and this one is just as much of a Monster as its name claims. You can charge an iPhone SEVEN times with this thing!

Cost: $32.99 on Amazon

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I devour about one book per week. The truth? The only reason why I’m able to read this much is because I have a Kindle. I take it everywhere with me.

Having a Kindle reignited my love of reading, which had faded off in years. It’s rare that you can credit an inanimate object to making you a better person, but every book I read makes me a better person.

I’ve used multiple Kindles, but the Paperwhite is a million times better than the basic — it has a touchscreen, it’s illuminated from within (perfect for reading in a hostel bed or while your partner is sleeping), and it feels amazing in your hands.

Cost: $99.99 on Amazon (Black Friday sale price — get it ASAP!)

LifeTek Umbrella

LifeTek Travel Umbrella

Rather than buying cheap umbrellas that break apart in the first storm, invest in a small, quality umbrella and you’ll be a million times happier. LifeTek makes awesome, wind-resistant umbrellas that fold up tiny and have a two-year replacement guarantee.

Cost: $26.95-29.95 on Amazon

Packing Cubes

Flight 001 Packing Cubes

Packing cubes make packing a million times easier. You throw your clothes in there and then pack the cubes themselves. There are a lot of brands out there, but I happen to love Flight 001’s Spacepaks because they’re high quality, incredibly durable, and you can unzip the other side and fill them with your dirty laundry!

I personally use just two of them: the blue clothes bag and the lavender lingerie bag.

Cost: $98 for a pack of three, or $46 for the blue clothes bag and $42 for the lavender lingerie bag, on Amazon

Travel Pillow

Memory Foam Travel Pillow

I didn’t travel with a pillow until this year — and I don’t know why I waited so long. It was nothing short of life-changing. Suddenly sleeping on planes became possible.

This is another case where you get what you pay for — no matter what, a travel pillow should be about strong neck support more than anything else. This model from I’celus Comfort is ergonomic, made of memory foam, and comes with a free sleep mask as well.

Cost: $25.99 on Amazon

UE Mini Boom

UE Mini Boom Portable Bluetooth Speaker

I didn’t realize how useful a portable speaker was until I saw my friend bring one out and realized how much fun our trip became. They are the best for playing music while sitting around a pool with friends (this brings me back to lazy pool afternoons at Papaya Lodge in El Tunco, El Salvador!).

They’re also good for impromptu dance parties, picnics or outdoor gatherings, or even just listening to podcasts while doing your makeup in your apartment.

My UE Mini Boom is Bluetooth-enabled, the battery lasts for so long, and it’s durable as hell.

Cost: $75-99, depending on color, on Amazon

External Hard Drive

Durable External Hard Drive

When traveling, you should back up your photos in two places: online and on an external hard drive. And because slow upload speeds can be an issue while traveling, it makes it all the more important to use a high quality external hard drive.

The Transcend 2 TB StoreJet drive has 2 TB of storage and claims to be military drop-tested. I wouldn’t go for a swim with it, but it’s badass all the same.

Cost: $89.99 on Amazon

Luggage Gifts for Travelers

A good piece of luggage is worth its weight in gold. Luggage can be expensive, but if you have someone special in your life and can afford to spend a larger chunk of change, luggage gifts are very appreciated. For that reason, I thought I’d share with you the three bags I’ve been using lately.

One thing to keep in mind — a backpack should be measured to a person for the best fit. If you buy a backpack for someone, make sure it’s returnable in case it isn’t a good fit.

Secondly, I recommend not buying bags in black if you can help it (even though I wear all black, all the time). I’ve got one black bag and it drives me crazy trying to pick it out of a carousel full of black bags.

Samsonite Rolling Suitcase

Kate’s Favorite Carry-On Roller: Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Spinner 20

Samsonite — I was way off! Samsonite makes terrific luggage, and each of my Samsonite rollers have lasted years. This is what I use for short trips. It’s durable and it fits smoothly in the overhead compartment with no squeezing effort necessary.

Cost: $78-108, depending on color, on Amazon

Pacsafe Backpack

Kate’s Favorite Carry-On Backpack: Pacsafe VentureSafe 45L

Once again, Pacsafe makes the best safety-conscious travel products, and I love my VentureSafe when I choose to use a backpack. I prefer to use backpack in less-developed regions like Central America and Southeast Asia because dragging a rolling suitcase over broken pavement gets old very quickly.

My favorite thing about this backpack is that every compartment locks onto the same bar, which you can lock onto another object. That’s the ideal way to protect your luggage on an overnight train.

Cost: $199.95 on Amazon

Pacsafe Luggage

Kate’s Favorite Suitcase: Pacsafe TourSafe AT25

One more PacSafe bag to round them out! This is what I travel with most often. It’s a soft rolling checked suitcase and it has survived a lot of crazy trips. Now, if only I could get the red dust from the Australian Outback out of it…

Cost: $259.95 on Amazon

Digital Gifts for Travelers

Take it from me — travelers like to carry as little stuff as possible. Digital gifts allow you to give a gift without taking up any luggage space.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Ebooks or Kindle Books

If your recipient has a Kindle, a book makes an awesome gift. And if not, Kindle books can be read on a smartphone as well!

Here are some of my favorite travel and destination reads:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt — Perhaps the best book about a destination I’ve ever read, this nonfiction novel is about the weird and twisted city of Savannah and its many characters.

The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran — Two comedy writers (who went on to write for 30 Rock!) race around the world without airplanes.

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman — The French raise their children differently. This American expat living in Paris tries to figure out what makes French parenting so different.

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles — A novel depicting Odessa, Ukraine, in the 1990s, as everything was controlled by the Mafia and the only way out was to become a mail-order bride.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway — My favorite book of all time. A novel about the Lost Generation of the 1930s drinking and wiling their days away in Paris and Pamplona.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed — A woman struggling with a divorce and addiction decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, with absolutely no preparation.

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer — The riveting account of the 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that killed several people.

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche — A memoir written by my friend Torre, who decided to sail across the South Pacific with her boyfriend despite a crushing fear of drowning.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell — The Danes are often listed as the happiest people in the world. A British expat living in rural Denmark tries to figure out why.

The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant FriendThe Story of a New NameThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante — This is one of the most epic series I have ever read, and one of the best things about it is its depiction of a rough neighborhood in Naples, Italy.

Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim — A fascinating and heartbreaking account of an undercover Korean-American journalist posing as a teacher at a university in Pyongyang.

Euphoria by Lily King — One of the best romances I’ve ever read, based on the life of Margaret Mead and taking place in Papua New Guinea.

New York Times

Subscriptions to Online Publications

Good journalism will only exist if it’s funded, and the traveler in your life will appreciate being kept in the loop on what’s going on at home.

For newspapers, check out the New York Times (I love it because it has the best comment management on the web) and the Washington Post (which broke a ton of big stories in the 2016 election).

For magazines, check out Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Economist.

Crashplan

Crashplan, Dropbox, SmugMug, Private Internet Access, or Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription

These are all web services that can help travelers.

Crashplan is a system for backing up your computer and external hard drives to the cloud. It works automatically in the background. If your computer is stolen, you can virtually recreate your old computer on your new machine. From $6 per month.

Dropbox is cloud storage. You get a small amount for free; Dropbox Pro gets you a lot more storage. From $9.99 per month or $99 per year.

SmugMug is backup photo storage and you can also use it to sell your photography. From $5 per month or $40 per year.

Private Internet Access is a VPN service, meaning a place that lets you mask your location when using the internet. Not only does it protect your safety (and you should when doing things like banking online), but it allows you to access sites like Netflix and Hulu when outside the US. From $6.95 per month or $39.95 per year.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud gives you access to programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, which most amateurs and pros use to edit your photos. There are lots of plans, but the basic should be what most people need. From $9.99 per month.

Spotify

Gift cards to Spotify, iTunes, or Apple Music.

Extra music is always appreciated. Find one which one your gift recipient prefers first — I’m definitely a Spotify girl, though I switch to iTunes when I want to listen to Prince.

Gifts for Travelers Who Have Come Home

In the past year and a half or so, many of the first wave of travel bloggers have settled down for the first time in years, myself included. Even if you have a home somewhere, it’s nice to bring your love of travel into your cozy home.

Ugg Slippers

Ugg Suede Slippers

It’s nice to have something you can only enjoy while at home. For me, it’s the Ugg Ainslay Women’s Suede Slippers. They are completely impractical for the road but one of my favorite indulgences whenever I come home from a long trip.

Mine are in bright purple (to the surprise of absolutely no one); they also come in several different colors!

Cost: $80-120, depending on color, on Amazon (women) or $83-140, depending on color, on Amazon (men)

Yucatan Cookbook

Cookbooks From Destinations Your Traveler Loves

A lot of my foodie friends miss having a decent place to cook when they travel. Even if you book a rental rather than a hotel, chances are the knives are terrible. Let your friends revel in their cooking with these books.

Here are some of the best regional cookbooks available:

If they love Italian food: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is the holy grail. (And her butter tomato sauce is one of the best things that I made this year.)

If they love Thai food: Pailin Chongchitnant’s Hot Thai Kitchen is one of the best and most comprehensive.

If they love Mexican food: David Sterling’s Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition got a lot of praise.

If they love New York or the South: Marcus Samuelsson’s The Red Rooster Cookbook. Red Rooster is the restaurant that convinced me to move to Harlem!

If they love unusual or emerging cuisines: Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia, Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baeta’s The Ghana Cookbook, Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, and Gastón Acurio’s Peru: The Cookbook are all splendid choices.

I also want to throw in a shout-out to Chrissy Teigan’s Cravings — seriously, everything in this cookbook is amazing. Her jok moo (Thai pork rice porridge) is unquestionably the single best dish I made this year.

Italy Food Map

Food Map Prints

My friend Jodi has created beautiful maps featuring food from Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, and Portugal. They are perfect to have in your kitchen as prints; you can also get them on tote bags and t-shirts.

I’ve been encouraging Jodi for years to do an Italy map (“I know exactly who would buy it — my college classmates from Long Island who would watch The Sopranos with an Italian flag hanging over the door then go outside and smoke cigars while singing, When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…“) and she finally created Italy this year! This is the one I’ll be getting.

Cost: $24 on Legal Nomads

Poolside with Slim Aarons

Travel Coffee Table Books

Coffee table books really pull a room together and give you a chance to show your personality. And because coffee table books are on display, this is one case where you should judge a book by its cover.

One thing — I recommend you go a bit offbeat instead of obvious. Books like National Geographic’s Destinations of a Lifetime are pretty, and popular, but they’re a bit generic and say nothing about you, the owner.

Some coffee table books I recommend instead are Eighty Four Rooms (gorgeous boutique hotels), Poolside with Slim Aarons (or anything Slim Aarons — amazing luxury travel photography from the 1950s-1970s), NY Through the Lens (beautiful New York photography), Living in Style: Scandinavia (Nordic design), Havana, the New York Times’ 36 Hours In US and Canada or New York Times’ 36 Hours in Europe, and Steve McCurry: The Unguarded Moment.

My favorite is out of print but you can get it used: Where to Go When.

Airportag LHR London Mug

Quirky Airport-Themed Accessories from Airportag

Airportag has a variety of airport-themed accessories for your home, as well as t-shirts. My personal favorites are the mugs and refrigerator magnets. I think these accessories work best when they’re a casual touch rather than the primary focus of the room. Good things come in small packages!

Mugs from $19.90, magnets from $4.90, on Airportag

Kate’s Pie in the Sky Never Gonna Happen Gift Wish List 2016

Ha. I might as well put a few dream gifts on this list that are NOT going to happen because they’re too damn expensive!

DJI Quadcopter

DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter

I’ve seen a few bloggers put a drone on their gift guides and every time I see it, I roll my eyes and think, “WHO THE FUCK IS BUYING A THOUSAND-DOLLAR GIFT FOR SOMEONE?!”

I mean, maybe they’ll sell one or two to the occasional oil sheikh…

I totally want a drone, though. Someday. And at the Video Summit in Leipzig, I talked to a lot of video people and the DJI Phantom 4 Drone was universally recommended as the best one you could get.

Cost: $1,111.53 on Amazon (Seriously, why the 53 cents? Do you think people will get excited to save 47 cents on this?!)

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette

In the makeup world, 2016 has been the year of the highlighter! So many different companies came out with different, crazy highlighters. I’m loving them all.

This Hourglass palette, though, is so gorgeous — and it’s only available for a limited time at Sephora. But it’s really pricey, especially if you get the $46 brush to go with it.

Hourglass is a nice but somewhat overpriced brand, especially since their products tend to deplete fairly quickly (I think you get more bang for your buck with Urban Decay or NARS products).

Cost: $80 on Sephora

Dita Sunglasses

Dita Sunglasses

I love Dita von Teese’s line of sunglasses — they’re vintage, dramatic, sexy, and they fulfill the strong-and-feminine vibe that I love. These are the Stormy Flash sunglasses.

They’re also expensive as hell, even for designer sunglasses. Which is why these go on my Pie in the Sky gift list.

Cost: $550 on ShopBop

Tradizionale Aceto Balsamico di Modena

Tradizionale Aceto Balsamico di Modena

There are SO many impostors out there — but it’s not real balsamic vinegar unless it has the word “tradizionale” and the bottle looks like the image above. If it comes from your grocery store, that’s not the real stuff. The real stuff costs $100 and up.

I got to know this magnificent condiment while in Emilia-Romagna and it is nothing short of magical. Topped on some slabs of 36-month-aged parmigiano reggiano, it’s one of my favorite things to eat.

Cost: $100 for 12-year-aged, $180 for 25-year-aged, on Amazon

Alexander McQueen Dress

Alexander McQueen Cape-Back Mini Dress

I LOVE THIS DRESS SO MUCH. Like, I would get married in this. And it’s never ever ever ever gonna happen because HOLY SHIT, THAT PRICE.

Cost: $2,165 on Net-a-Porter

Best Gifts for Travelers 2016

Some of these links are affiliate links. Some are not. If you click through on an affiliate link, I’ll get a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for helping reduce this site’s ever-increasing monthly expenses!

Have a happy holiday season, everyone!

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The Conversation We Would Be Having

3

Kate at Table Mountain

Hi.

I met you at a party. Or maybe a bar. We’re friends of friends. Very likely total strangers.

I hope that right now you and I are talking about life in New York. Or hilarious dating disasters. Or our favorite slow cooker meals. Or the fact that we’re still not over how Bill Murray lost the Oscar for Lost in Translation. Or you. I want to know all about you, your life, your work, and what excites you.

Basically, I’m trying to avoid “The Conversation” and I haven’t figured out a polite way to do that yet.

Ana Desetnica

The Conversation

I have The Conversation several times a week. People find out that I’m a professional travel blogger and ask me several questions about it — the same exact questions each time. Open-ended, complicated questions that aren’t answerable in quick sound bites. And while I know it comes with the territory, having The Conversation is one of my least favorite things to do.

I totally understand why people want to talk about this. I have what a lot of people consider a dream career, and yet there’s no barrier to entry. People want to know how it’s possible.

I’m writing this post because at the last two parties I attended, I ended up having The Conversation over and over for half the party and wished I had spent that time making new friends instead of repeating the same things again and again. I didn’t even bring travel blogging up — it tends to travel through the grapevine.

So, instead, I’m writing this post. I hope in the future I’m able to smile at a party guest like yourself and say, “You know, I actually get burned out on talking about work and I’d rather spend my time getting to know you. I can send you a link to a page where I answer all those questions. For now, can we talk about something else instead?”

Here are your questions and my answers:

Koh Lanta Sunset

So, what’s your favorite place?

The truth? Most travel bloggers hate this question. It’s so hard to condense so many years of travel, a whirl of countries and cities and experiences, down to just one place. It’s practically impossible, which is why a lot of bloggers refuse to answer.

But I know you want an answer, and this is as close as I can get to my “favorite place”:

My top five favorite countries are Croatia, South Africa, Italy, Japan, and Thailand.

Beyond that, a few more: my favorite region in the world is the Balkans; I also love Central America and the Nordics.

Some of my favorite cities are Paris, New York, Melbourne, Bangkok, Berlin, Edinburgh, Savannah, Granada (Spain), Bologna, New Orleans, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Boston.

Some of my favorite culinary destinations are northern Italy (particularly Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria), Japan, Vietnam, Paris, Mexico, and the American South.

And one place that means a lot to me is the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favorite place in the world, but if I had to pick one, that would probably be a finalist.

Manila

What about the worst place you’ve ever been?

Poipet, Cambodia. It smells like rotten fish and waiting for hours at the border is a hellish experience.

Manila. So dirty and unpleasant, it makes my skin crawl. (No offense to my wonderful friends who live there.)

Port Authority in New York. It’s like the Twilight Zone.

Alberobello Trulli

So you’ve been everywhere, right?

Not remotely! I’ve been to 67 countries at the time of publication. That number is probably somewhere in the middle as far as full-time travel bloggers go. I know some travel bloggers around my age who have been to 90+ countries; I also know a lot who hover in the 30s or so.

Could I have been to more places in that time period? Sure. But keep in mind that I’m only one woman — there’s only so much time and money that can be spent on my travels without me losing my mind! I also prefer not to duck into a capital for two days and then move on to the next country. I like to explore three different destinations within a country when possible.

I have no desire to visit every country in the world. It’s not my thing.

I do have a list of destination goals, though: the Galapagos, New Zealand, Brazil, Madagascar, the Caucasus, and Hawaii are high on my list of priorities.

Osaka in Black and White

How did you get so many followers?

The most important factor to keep in mind is that I started in 2010. That is a lifetime ago in digital years, and the internet was a completely different place. Instagram didn’t even exist when I started. Back then, the only relevant social network was Twitter, with a few bloggers making inroads into Facebook and YouTube.

So you can’t do what I did and expect the same results. It’s just impossible.

What I personally did was network with bloggers, joining groups, being active on Twitter, and constantly linking to other bloggers and letting them know I linked to them, hoping they would share my posts (and they often did).

If you’re looking to grow your audience, the single best thing you can do is produce quality content, followed by networking and being active on social media. I also recommend the Travel Blog Success course, which is the single best resource on the web for travel bloggers looking to go professional.

paris-marais-boulangerie-gallery

How do you make money?

This is where the questions start to make me uncomfortable. Would you ask this question to someone in a traditional industry? Probably not.

At the same time, though, I get the curiosity. Again, it’s a cool-seeming industry with no barrier to entry. Here’s how I do it:

Affiliate marketing. I link to products I use and recommend, and if you click through and buy them, I get a commission (at no extra cost to anyone).

Campaigns. I work with tourism boards or travel companies on campaigns designed to promote the destination or company. Sometimes this takes the form of content on my site or one of my social media accounts; sometimes it’s producing written or photo content for their own sites and marketing materials.

Advertising. I run advertising on the blog and my social media channels. I only choose ads that are for relevant products (very often contests to win trips to destinations), and I write the ads in a way that will get them read and enjoyed by my readers. There’s also display advertising on the site.

Photo sales. I sell my photos to magazines, tourism boards, and travel companies.

Tours. I co-ran two tours in Central America in 2015. There are no plans to do another tour at this time, but I would love to partner with a professional tour company in the future. As much as I loved running these tours, I’m nervous about what would happen if someone got seriously ill or injured, and I’d want to partner with “real” company for that reason.

Writing/consulting/etc. There’s a lot of random work that finds its way to me.

Beyond that, I’m not going to tell you exactly how I do these things — it took me nearly seven years of figuring it out on my own. I don’t give away those secrets.

Melbourne Arcade

How much money do you make?

Dude, honestly? That’s a rude question.

I live alone in Manhattan; that should answer whether travel blogging can be financially sustainable.

Manhattan Bridge

Why do you live in New York if everywhere else is so much cheaper?

Well, why would you live anywhere else if you could live in the place you loved?

I get the merits of basing yourself somewhere cheap. Most full-time travel bloggers do that. Chiang Mai and Bangkok and Playa del Carmen and Medellín and Berlin are some of the hotspots. Sayulita was big one year. Oaxaca was super-popular last year.

But these places have drawbacks. It can be exhausting to live 24/7 in a culture that’s not your own, especially if you don’t speak the language. It’s tough to live somewhere with a revolving door of expats, where your friends arrive and depart on a regular basis and nobody really sticks around.

I live in New York because I love it. My sister lives four blocks from me, my best friend lives a subway ride away, and I have tons of friends scattered across the five boroughs, including friends I’ve met on my travels. My travel blogger friends are always passing through and I love hosting them. I’m a 4.5-hour bus ride away from my parents in Massachusetts.

But most importantly — New York will never bore me. I might decide to live somewhere else in the future, but for right now, New York is where I’m meant to be.

(Plus, it’s not quite the most expensive place I could be! Rent is more expensive in San Francisco. And my day-to-day costs would be much higher in places like Australia, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. London is relatively on par with New York, but it’s a bit cheaper now if you earn a non-GBP salary.)

Shipwreck

What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve ever been in?

I was shipwrecked in Indonesia in 2011. We hit a reef in the middle of the night and had to swim to shore before we were rescued by a nearby dive boat. Later, I realized that the waters could have been shark-infested and the island could have been home to man-eating dragons.

You can read the full story here and the retrospective on it, five years later.

Beyond that, nothing too dangerous has happened to me. I’ve been pickpocketed a few times. I’ve spent a few nights lying wide awake because I didn’t feel safe and my intuition was pinging like crazy. I get catcalled in most places in the world, and sometimes it escalates to me being threatened. There was one driver in Cape Town who had no idea what he was doing and he scared me to death.

It’s worth noting that two of the scariest incidents actually happened in my hometown of Boston. I was violently mugged in front of my Fenway apartment; I was assaulted two days in a row by the same man on an orange line train on my morning commute. Bad things can happen if you never leave the country.

Here are my top travel safety tips.

Flying over Miami

So, how can I get free flights?

Free flights don’t exist.

You can play the points and miles game, which can earn you very cheap flights if you’re crafty (and you always have to pay some kind of fee for award travel), but totally free flights for no reason at all do not exist. People don’t give away something in exchange for nothing.

On the same wavelength, you can’t get a free upgrade to business class if you just dress up and act polite. This is one of the biggest lies in pop culture! The best way to get a free upgrade to business class is to become a loyal flyer with one airline and earn status.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Can I buy you coffee and pick your brain sometime?

No. I know you mean well, and I appreciate your offer, but I don’t do this. I’ve spent years developing my skills and for that reason, companies pay me to pick my brain. It’s worth more than the cost of a cup of coffee that I can’t even enjoy because I’m busy helping you.

For more on why, I’ve always appreciate this piece: No, you can’t pick my brain — it costs too much.

San Blas Bay, Gozo, Malta

If I want to do this, too, how do I get started?

You’re in luck — I wrote a whole post on how to start a travel blog. The advice still holds today!

Vulcano Lodge Atitlan Guatemala

I’m planning a trip soon but I’m having some trouble — can you help me?

If it’s something I can answer off the top of my head, I’d love to help you! I love helping people plan their travels! Especially when you’ve already done most of the planning but are having trouble with an issue or two.

Should we take a cab from Heathrow Airport? Not unless you want to spend a lot of money. Take the tube or Heathrow Express. It’s easy, even with bags.

Should we go to the Caribbean in November? I wouldn’t. The weather tends to be its worst then.

Where’s somewhere cheap and awesome? Guatemala if you’re in the States. Macedonia and Albania if you’re in Europe.

I just have one request — this could quickly turn into an all-night conversation, so please let me have time to socialize with other people, too.

Thanks for being understanding.

I really appreciate it.

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On the Shores of a Pink Lake in Australia

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Kate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

It doesn’t feel right to “go back to normal” just yet. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And writing blog posts about pretty places privileged people can visit feels a bit inappropriate at a time when a white supremacist was hired into a top position in the White House and the rights of a great deal of Americans are in danger.

But this is what I do — I have an obligation to you as readers and to my bank account as an entrepreneur. But I want you to know that I’ll be working in the background to protect the rights of the most vulnerable Americans. I hope you will be, too.

So, how shall we return to our usual programming? The usual Kate would write a 3,500+ monster overview post on Western Australia. That will come — in time. But before we do that, let’s have an escape.

In lots of ways, my German blogger counterpart Freedi and I were travel soulmates. We were on the same page when it came to virtually everything, and could almost read each other’s minds by the end of our trip.

And we were complimentary as well. She was the one who showed up with no fewer than seven cameras (!); I had two. I was the one who had done extensive WA research before arriving; she had done none.

So when we convened for our first meeting in the Tourism Western Australia office in Perth, I was ready to add destinations into our road trip wherever we could.

“Is there any way we can add in a stop at Hutt Lagoon?” I asked.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Hutt Lagoon is a saltwater lake in Port Gregory, just south of Kalbarri on the coast. Due to its algae content, the lagoon glows bright pink.

Gary Pepper shot a Lancôme ad there and just look at it. WOW. Still pink waters and a bright red dress.

I’ve never been to a pink lake in my life, and as a girl whose favorite color is hot pink, I knew I had to get there somehow.

The answer? Of course! This was a road trip! We were here to have fun and explore and take cool pictures. And it was on the way!

On a long day of driving from Perth that included stops at the Pinnacles Desert and a lobster lunch in Cervantes, we arrived at Hutt Lagoon in time for sunset.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

First off, however, keep your expectations in check. Hutt Lagoon changes color depending on time of day and time of year, and when we first saw it, it was a silvery blue with a hint of pink.

Is that it? I thought.

I’m glad I had read Gary Pepper’s warning: “We spent two days shooting as we only had a few hours of appropriate light; the pink lake glows it’s most iridescent when light is directly above and begins to turn silver by the late afternoon when light starts hitting it from an angle. Luke took most of the photos from the air in a sea plane, and as the airport was 45 minutes from the pink lake, this meant that I had to wait in the sun for an hour and a half before and after being dropped off, but it was well worth the wait (it’s never as glamorous as it seems!).” (Me: THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT. Nobody ever talks about the reality of shooting photos!)

Then as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, the pinks and purples came out from every direction.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western AustraliaKate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western AustraliaHutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western AustraliaHutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western AustraliaKate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western AustraliaHutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Yes. This was absolutely worth it.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Salute Your Shorts fans, I don’t know who this dude is, but he totally reminded me of Zeke the Plumber.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

For more than two years, I’ve had the coast of Dubrovnik as my iPhone background photo. It was time for a change! This is my new background.

Kate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

How often do you get to strike a pose at a pink lake? Freedi and I spent a good 30 minutes photographing each other! And because she had brought all those cameras (including a Leica that nearly made me weep), we got so many kinds of fantastic shots.

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

There’s a very high salt content in the lake, which leads to salt formations like these. It’s like the Dead Sea: it’s not too dangerous to swim in it, but if you cut yourself underwater, YEOUCH!

Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Low-hanging vegetation gets covered in salt. You can crack those branches in half.

Kate at Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake, Western Australia

Best part? This isn’t the only one! Western Australia has a handful of pink lakes, some of which are more reliable color-wise than Hutt Lagoon. I flew over one on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay; the more famous one is Lake Hillier, near Esperance on the south coast. Lake Hillier tends to look Pepto Bismol-pink most of the time.

Hutt Lagoon was just a short spot on a long road trip, but I’ll always remember how happy I was to be surrounded by PINK.

Essential Info: If you’re not on an organized tour, the only way to explore this part of Western Australia is by car. WA is very sparsely populated and I urge you to learn basic car maintenance, like changing a tire, before attempting a road trip in this region.

I stayed at the Kalbarri Edge Resort, which was one of my favorite places where I stayed on my WA road trip. The self-catering suites have kitchenettes and even have their own washer-dryers! You can bet I took advantage of that. Rates from $160 AUD ($121 USD).

Don’t visit Western Australia without travel insurance — it could save your life. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Many thanks to Freedi for taking all the photos of me in this post.

This campaign is brought to you by STA Travel and Tourism Western Australia.

Have you been to a pink lake or somewhere else otherworldly? Share away!

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Leaving is Easy. Fighting is Harder.

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Kate in Siracusa

I moved back to America for many reasons. I wanted to be closer to friends and family; I wanted the familiarity of an environment I knew; I wanted to date people who had more in common with me. After more than five years on the road, it was time.

Conversely, I left Boston for lots of reasons — one was when Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat went to a Republican in 2010. It was the fourth in a series of setbacks that I took as a sign that it was time to leave Boston.

And so I traveled — and kept America at a distance. I was in Paris when Sandy Hook happened, crying my eyes out about those poor babies from my hostel bed. I voted but otherwise ignored the 2012 election (beyond “binders full of women” memes), watching Obama claim victory from a rental van in Cape Town. I was in Sri Lanka as Ferguson burned, in disbelief at a fellow blogger who would write, “Don’t worry about #ferguson when you could look at these elephants!” to get more likes on Instagram.

I kept America at a distance too long. I wanted to come back and fight. On the ground, in person, not just donating and signing the occasional petition online.

And now the fight is bigger than I ever imagined.

Ometepe Road

On Leaving

In every election, there are always cries of “If _______ wins, I’m moving to Canada!” — regardless of a person’s ability and/or desire to actually do so.

Now, more people can actually leave the country than ever before. All very privileged people, yes, but there are many more of them. More people are working online, either for themselves or as a remote employee. With thousands of blogs, books, and guides out there, more people are realizing how to make this dream a reality.

Now — is that a bad thing? Not at all. I love when people travel more, and the world is better for it, too. But there’s a refrain edging out lately that has been bothering me.

I’ve spent a lot of time in digital nomad hotspots like Chiang Mai, Medellín, Bangkok, and Berlin. Those cities (and many others I haven’t visited, like Playa del Carmen and Oaxaca) are teeming with American expats. Like any other group in the world, most of them are awesome people with a few assholes thrown in.

But there is a certain kind of American expat that you meet frequently while traveling:

A person who says, “I just don’t fit in America anymore.”

A person who ignores the news at home, but is always quick to share, “See? America’s fucked,” when anything goes wrong.

A person who chooses not to vote.

A person who says, “So glad I don’t live there anymore,” when anything bad happens.

A person who donates neither money nor time to any causes in America.

A person who completely forgets that there are vulnerable people in America.

A person who believes that they have no duty to help anyone besides themselves.

A person who says, “None of this matters — I’m living it up in Thailand because I’m smart!”

In nearly every circumstance, these people who left home are among the most privileged. They did not escape because they were in danger; rather, they left because America wasn’t quite what they wanted. These people are very often male, nearly always straight and white (though there are a handful of gay people and a few people of color), who earn more than enough money to get by, even if it’s just in Thailand. Politically, they’re usually ultra-liberal or libertarian.

Soon, “Woohoo, I can get healthcare for cheap here!” takes the place of, “Shit, if I don’t vote, 20 million of my countrymen could lose their health insurance — I can’t let that happen.”

Soon, “Hell yes, I’m so glad there are no guns here!” takes the place of, “I need to contribute to get assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.”

Soon, “Good thing I don’t have kids!” takes the place of, “How can I get my representatives to protect the planet?”

It’s the selfishness that bothers me the most. Despite the cultural aspect of living in another country, expats often dwell in a bubble of easy work, cheap alcohol, nightly gatherings, and picking up locals, socializing exclusively with people exactly like them. When you’re in a setting like that, it’s easy to forget that anyone else exists.

I find that attitude cowardly.

Salento Colombia

I was never that bad, but I fully admit that in my first few years of travel, I was too self-centered for too long. I was barely eking out enough money to get by and didn’t donate to any cause at home. I spent my mental energy on refugees in Thailand and Agent Orange victims in Vietnam rather than the needy at home. I stayed mostly away from the news. And every day, I congratulated myself for getting out of America, away from the expensive healthcare and threat of gun violence.

Something changed a few years ago. I’m not sure what it was — perhaps a greater awareness of privilege. Over time, I realized that I wasn’t doing enough to help my countrymen and had to step up as a person.

Cape Town Helicopter Ride

Leaving America is one thing. Leaving America and choosing to ignore it is another thing entirely.

I understand leaving. If you feel unsafe in America, please do what you need to do to keep yourself and your family out of danger. If your healthcare is in jeopardy, get yourself where you can get proper care. And you know what? If you want to leave for fun, that’s okay, too. Living abroad is a wonderful experience and it will change your life. So is travel. And it was good for me for so long.

For consistency’s sake, I should mention that I wrote a post a few months back called 15 Ways to Leave the Country if Donald Trump is Elected. It was intended to be in jest. Oh, how little I knew.

There’s something to remember, though: travel bloggers may extol the virtues of leaving, but coming back to fight for your country is admirable as well.

And so I decided to come home. Because I’m just about as privileged as a woman can be, and that means nothing if I don’t use it to help others. I’m sick of watching on the sidelines, donating my money from a distance. I want to be on the ground as well, standing up for my fellow citizens who are having their rights attacked.

I’ll still travel on shorter trips (it’s how I earn my living!), but NYC is home now.

Santorini Flowers

Ways to Be a Better Expat and Traveler

Overall, stay involved. Educate yourself. Donate your time and money to causes that help the most vulnerable.

Here are things you can do whether you’re traveling, living abroad, or at home:

If you’re a woman of childbearing age, get an IUD. Birth control will become more difficult to access in January. IUDs are effective for years and come in both hormonal (Mirena) and nonhormonal (Paragard) forms. Talk to your doctor (not me — I’m not a medical professional) for more information.

Set up monthly donations to organizations that help the most vulnerable. I’m a monthly donor to Planned Parenthood; some other options are the ACLU, Campaign Zero, and the NAACP. Jezebel has a great list here.

Vote in every single election — no exceptions. So much of what affects our daily lives is done at the local level. Research the candidates for city council and school committee on up. Order an absentee ballot in advance. Don’t only vote when it’s for president. And the 2018 midterm elections are particularly vital because there will be redistricting in 2020. IWillVote.org is a good resource.

Follow your elected representatives online and communicate with them on the issues. Facebook and email are two good ways. Reach out to them frequently when you have concerns.

Talk to your Muslim, black, LGBT, Latinx, disabled, or immigrant friends and let them know that you see them, you’re there for them, and you’re there to help them however you can.

Listen without being dismissive. In the days since election, stories have risen about white children telling their Latinx classmates that they’re getting deported and Muslim women being afraid to go out wearing their hijab. Listen carefully and try to understand.

Speak out in the face of injustice. This is not the time to sit back and not make waves. Speak out on everything from catcalls on women to homophobic jokes to racial epithets. Let people know that you won’t stand for it.

If you’re in America, document injustice. If you see the police detain a person of color, get out your phone and video it. That is your right and it could save someone’s life.

Encourage your elected officials to create public health insurance available at the state level. I benefited from “Romneycare” while living in Massachusetts; if each state has a “medicare for all” plan, it will protect against changes to Obamacare at the federal level.

Pay for real journalism. The media’s role in the 2016 election will be debated for years to come, but in the internet age, quality journalism will not exist unless it’s funded. Pay for an online subscription. I love the New York Times in part because they have the best community management on the web and only thoughtful comments are published, unlike other news sites whose comment sections are dumpster fires.

Try to understand the other side. More than anything, this election has shown that rural white working class Americans have long been misunderstood and overlooked. As usual, I’m starting my research through books. Hillbilly Elegy is next on my reading list; I’m also looking at White Trash and Strangers in Their Own Land. All were published this year. It’s imperative that we get to know the other side instead of just painting them as racist, homophobic misogynists.

More suggestions are here from my former landlord Dennis, who walks the walk when it comes to social justice.

Bergen Norway

It’s Okay to Be Upset

Now is a very tough time for all of us. I haven’t felt this much grief, fear, anger and confusion since I was 17. I just saw a truck drive by with “Ferguson” on it and I burst into tears, worrying now that more black men, women, and children are going to be killed by the police for no reason and any chance we had of the government doing anything about it is gone. Hillary’s billion dollars earmarked for police retraining and plans for body cams are gone. It makes me feel ill.

We need to take action — but we also need to grieve. Grief is unique and everyone is on a different timeline. Be patient if it takes a long time for you.

We Can All Do This Together

When you decide to travel, you decide what kind of citizen you’re going to be. Before you leave, I want you to know what I wish I knew when I left — that the responsibility you have to your fellow countrymen doesn’t vanish as soon as you leave the country.

You can still be involved, and technology makes it easier than ever. You can #RiseUp and fight for America from anywhere in the world.

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AK Monthly Recap: October 2016

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Kate in Australia

Do you remember last month, when I told you I had a trip coming up to a destination I couldn’t name just yet? At the time of publication, I was deep in contract negotiations and couldn’t say anything yet. But if you’ve been following me on social media, you know I went to Western Australia this month!

This is another of the busiest travel months I’ve had in recent years. I more or less went nonstop and didn’t sleep much. But while it was hectic, it was also a lot of fun. Here’s the best of it!

Paris Rue de Montorgueuil

Destinations Visited

Kraków and Warsaw, Poland

Leipzig, Germany

Strasbourg, Colmar, and Paris, France

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Perth, Rottnest Island, Fremantle, Nambung National Park, Cervantes, Port Gregory, Kalbarri, Kalbarri National Park, Hamelin Pool, Denham, Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Tom Price, Karijini National Park, and Broome, Western Australia

Coral Bay Sunset

Favorite Destinations

Coral Bay. This tiny beach town is far from everything yet on the edge of Ningaloo Reef and sand dunes.

Karijini National Park. Red rocks, deep gorges, rockholes, spider-walking, and sleeping in an eco-tent.

Strasbourg. Beautiful, livable, comfortable, and bursting with delicious food.

Paris. My favorite city in the world, always.

Kate, Scotty and Freedi

Highlights

A kickass road trip in Western Australia. I have so much to share about this trip, and I don’t want to get too detailed here because I want to write about it soon, but I’ll start by saying that I traveled with two truly amazing people: my German blogger counterpart Freedi of Freise in Design and our guide and driver Scotty of Kimberley Spirit. These are two of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with and they brought so much joy to my life.

As for WA (Western Australia), I did SO many awesome things: Went to Rottnest Island and took selfies with quokkas! Snorkeled with giant manta rays on Ningaloo Reef! Flew in a tiny plane above Shark Bay! Canoed through Kalbarri National Park! Quad-biked through Coral Bay at sunset! Drank a million perfect flat whites in Perth! Spider-walked through gorges in Karijini National Park! I finished off with a few days of relaxation at the Mangrove Hotel in Broome.

WA is vast, sparsely populated, incredibly beautiful, and remarkably friendly. This has always been the region in Australia I’ve wanted to visit the most, long before I even started my travels, so I was thrilled to finally get there.

Video Summit Friends

Speaking and networking at The Video Summit in Leipzig. This was one of the most inspirational conferences I’ve attended in recent years — I loved meeting so many talented people obsessed with creating new ways to tell stories. I felt like a bit of an imposter at first, as I only do quickie unedited videos (I was there to talk about Snapchat), but after getting to know the people, I feel like maybe I actually did belong there. Video is video.

It was also nice to have a different mix of bloggers than the usual events. This event was invitation-only so it was restricted to professionals, and there were a lot of people I hadn’t met before or even heard of. One thing is for sure: everyone there was bursting with creativity. I can’t wait to do more with video now!

Finally discovering a new region in France. For too long I’ve been visiting Paris and eschewing the rest of France, so I decided to visit Alsace, where France blends with Germany. It was worth the wait.

Kate in Pink

Visiting my final country in Western Europe. I have a goal of visiting every country in Europe, and with Luxembourg, I’ve conquered the west! Only seven European countries remain: Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Cyprus.

One awesome week in Paris. I knew I’d be dropping in on Paris, as I often do, and during a coworking session in Harlem in September, I invited my friend Jiyang to come join me. He bought his ticket right then and there!

Jiyang is a pro portrait photographer (check out his Instagram here), so much of our trip was doing photo shoots all over the city! He LOVED Paris, I never get tired of being a Paris tour guide, and we sat in approximately 152 different cafes and ate a LOT of foie gras.

Running into readers in the craziest of locations. The first time I got recognized by a reader, in Bali in 2011, I was grinning for days. These days, it happens a few times a month and it’s usually in an airport or a Starbucks. But this month, you can’t top the locations: I ran into readers in the Louvre, in the Musée d’Orsay, on a snorkeling trip to Ningaloo Reef, and in a gorge in Karijini National Park!

Kate in Paris, Then and Now

Taking a “then and now” photo for the ages. When I was downstairs at the Louvre, I suddenly got the urge to take a photo in the same place where I took my “Da Vinci Code Superfan” photo in 2006, right after I graduated from college. Jiyang helped me get as close to the original as possible.

I know most people look back at photos from ten years ago in despair at how young they used to look — but this makes me laugh. LOOK HOW BAD I LOOKED WHEN I WAS 22!! What the hell was I wearing? At the Louvre, no less?! Those horrible foil-covered pink flip-flops probably cost $2 at a garage sale!

Man. I may have more wrinkles as a 32-year-old, but at least I know how to dress and do my makeup and hair now! (To be fair, I didn’t come into my own style-wise until two years ago.)

New Pradas on a discount. After arriving in Perth, I was browsing sunglasses and wistfully trying on the pair I had been lusting after for weeks. The girl asked me what brought me to Perth, I told her about the campaign, she got excited, and she offered me her friends and family discount — 40% off. HELL YEAH! It’s been awhile since I bought new sunglasses and I love these ones!

Warsaw

Challenges

A Warsaw accommodation snafu. Since I had less than 24 hours in Warsaw and was arriving and departing by train, I decided to book a guesthouse by the train station. It sounded like a good idea until I realized that near the train station, the only way to cross streets is to go up and down and up and down stairs, which sucked while carrying a heavy suitcase. Then I couldn’t find the guesthouse to save my life. I was hot, exhausted, and nearly in tears.

I sighed, looked across the street at the Novotel, and on a whim decided to get a room there instead. This was the first time in my life I’ve walked into a hotel and said, “Can I get a room for tonight?” (I used to do that with cheap Southeast Asia hostels and guesthouses WAY back in the day, but not in years and never in real hotels.) Best decision ever.

Google Maps sent me down a scary path. While transiting through Saarbrücken, Germany, I had to get from the train station to the bus station. In many cities they’re next door to each other. But in this instance, Google Maps sent me and my giant rolling suitcase down a rocky, unlit path through a forest at night. EEK! Not cool, Google. My heart was pounding until I made it out safely.

A brief cold — fended off successfully. Why do I always seem to get a cold when I’m in Paris? It makes me despair about not being able to taste the food. Anyway, the cold was brief, and I’m grateful for that.

Kate with Quokka

Most Popular Post

My Love Affair With Scotland — My eight trips to Scotland and how each of them made me fall for the country more.

Other Posts

Solo Travel in Cartagena in Five Vignettes — Five little stories about what it’s like to travel solo in Cartagena.

A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar — I really loved this French-German region.

A Dreamy Trip to South Wales — An overview of traveling in this beautiful part of the world.

Colmar

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Colmar! This photo was taken at Little Venice, or “Selfie Point” as I dubbed it (you should have seen all the selfie people posing in front of it). I’m not a huge fan of the edit — I went much warmer because I like to alternate warm and cool photos on my feed — but Instagram loved it.

Perth

What I Read This Month

This was perhaps the best month of reading OF MY LIFE. Every single book was fantastic, and I’m pretty sure each of these books will be mentioned in my “best reads of 2016” post in December!

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (2016) — I haven’t devoured a book this hard and fast since The Martian. All I know about Patty Hearst is that Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife had a crush on her when he was younger because she was kidnapped and forced to rob banks and on TV all the time. So I went in knowing nearly nothing about the story.

This was fascinating — part exposé, part psychological study. Patty Hearst, a 20-year-old heiress, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and after weeks in captivity, decided to join their cause, robbing banks and bombing buildings. I had no idea how major this case was — one of the incidents related to the SLA was the first time a breaking news story was aired live on TV. EVER.

I enjoyed this book so much because I knew so little about it, so if you’re in the same boat, don’t read much about it before starting the book. It will take you on a wild, careening ride through 70s counterculture in the Bay Area and beyond.

Kate in Karijini NP

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante (2008) — I’ve now read all of Ferrante’s novels, and I think that this is the best one that isn’t part of the Neapolitan Novels tetralogy. In this novella, a mother of two grown women finds herself blissfully alone for the first time since they were born and so she travels to the seashore near Naples for a holiday. While there, she becomes fixated on a young mother and daughter and thinks back to her own days as a young mother, including times where she made significant failures.

What I love most about Ferrante’s work is that she dives deep into the uncomfortable parts of women’s thoughts and lives and presents them unflinchingly. While most authors wouldn’t admit that these feelings exist, Ferrante puts them front and center. Because of that, I feel like I related strongly to this book even though I’m not a mother myself.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) — Whitehead’s novel is perhaps the most remarkable novel I’ve read in years. It’s going to be on every “Best of 2016” list, so I recommend you read it before the year is up! Whitehead tells the story of a young slave named Cora who escapes her plantation via the Underground Railroad, traveling northward while being pursued by a Javert-like slave catcher.

Only the Underground Railroad isn’t a metaphor here — it’s a literal underground railroad that careens between states, each stop with its own unique dangers. Magical realism reigns here and the edges between fantasy and reality are so blurred that it makes you wonder just how true this story could have been. But that’s the thing — perhaps a story like this IS true, and the actual truth has been buried because people with more power have spun a different narrative.

What the book hammers home is that the bondage of African-Americans has never ceased — it’s just changed in form. If it’s not slavery, it’s eugenics. If it’s not Jim Crow, it’s an out-of-control prison system. Really, nothing has changed over the years except the methodology. But the book ends with hope.

Paris Sunset

Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (2015) — I’ve read a handful of memoirs about addiction, and I think this one is my favorite. Hepola tells the story of her life and how it led to dangerous levels of drinking from her teens into her thirties. She links the stories through her blackouts, telling about how they made her scary situation even worse.

I think a lot of people can reflect their lives on Hepola’s story. She’s an introvert, a writer and content creator, and alcohol was used to help her open up more easily in real life to match the persona she created in her writing. Though her story takes place mostly pre-social media, I think that’s something that lots of us relate to even more today — the pressure to have as good a personality in real life as you do online, and as American work life becomes more offbeat and casual, how it can encourage you to go in that destructive direction.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (2015) — It’s no secret that I would happily pay sky-high taxes to have a social system like one of the Nordic countries. Between that and my love for Copenhagen, I knew I would enjoy this book. Danes are frequently cited to be among the happiest people in the world. When Russell’s husband gets a job offer in rural Jutland, Denmark, Russell decides to spend a year figuring out what makes Danes so happy in the first place. She and her husband navigate through their new lives, often with much humor.

Because Russell is a journalist, this isn’t just a memoir — it’s backed up with so much information. I loved the format — she starts with an anecdote from her own life, fills it in with examples from her Danish friends, then consults Danish experts in various fields to offer their thoughts on why situations are the way they are. I loved this book so much and if I ever choose to live outside the States again, the Nordic countries are high on my list!

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

Coming Up in November 2016

Folks, I’m tired. So tired. I planned to go to Europe for three weeks, hit two conferences, and come home — and it quickly stretched into six weeks with a surprise trip to Australia. So it’s time to take it easy.

I’ve already dubbed this month “No Travel November,” even though I won’t land in the States until the third and will be hopping between New York and Boston a few times over the month.

And one other thing — I decided to axe my trip to New Zealand, as some of you noticed. Which I’m sad about, but it was necessary — I need to spend time at home and was already dreading the thought of going away for seven weeks. I’ll have to eat the cost of the flights, but thankfully they were cheap and what I earned this month made up for it.

There’s something else I’ve been eager to start this month: Whole 30. It’s a 30-day food plan where you eliminate sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes, and anything processed from your diet. Several of my friends found it life-changing; others were more lukewarm about it. I’m eager to see how it affects me. It’s obviously very difficult to do while traveling and virtually impossible while working on a campaign, so now sounds like a good time to take the plunge!

Beyond that, I’m very much looking forward to election night.

What are you up to this November? Share away!

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