I took a solo trip to Chicago, although I did get to spend a chunk of my time with my friend, who also hosted me! I remember the weather being cold and windy in the morning, and warm during the day (but still a bit windy) so the best way to cope is to come prepared in layers so you can + or - a layer throughout the day. Then very cold in the night again.
I got to spend about 2 full days in Chicago, which isn't much. I ended up not going to places that would cost money and decided to go to free stuff + roam around the city on my own. I purchased a transit day pass to make it easier on myself. I've always found it less stressful for myself to buy a day pass for a new city vs per ride.
I started my trip by taking the Chicago Architecture Tour via boat. It was a great experience, informative, and it's always fun to be on a boat as long as you don't get boatsick. I will say that the ticket price was a heftier than I expected, and it was freeeeeezing.
I mostly spent the rest of the day walking around the city, getting to see the sights, and just being able to experience Chicago.
Of course I visited the Bean in Millennium Park, as well as the Chicago Cultural Center, which was pretty stunning. It's open to the public and it looks like they have rotating social art/education installations, and some events.
Portillo's gave me the chance to try an authentic Chicago hot dog, but I didn't like it. Call me Californian, but it wasn't my cup of tea. To be fair, I'm not a huge fan of hot dogs in general, so, there's that, too.
For dinner, my friend and I made reservations for Girl & The Goat, which ended up better than I expected! Their dishes are meant to be shared so we got their Roasted Cauliflower off of their veggie list, the Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face from their meat list, and the Confit Goat Belly from their goat list. Three dishes was for sure enough for the three of us. All three dishes were incredibly delicious, but to our surprise, the cauliflower was our favourite!
I expected it to be super pricy because it's a pretty high end restaurant with an impossible reservation calendar. We ended up paying about $100 for all three dishes + a glass of wine each, and tax and tip.
My friend and I took the bus to Lincoln Park and visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory. They have really wonderful volunteers to give free tours, which was a special treat. It's a great place to spend a half day since the conservatory is part of a park, and at the other end, they have a farmers market (at least on Saturdays).
The best part of the greenhouse was a room full of hydrangeas, which are my favourite flowers! <3_<3
We for sure spent the most time inside that room taking pictures and taking it all in.
I was really set on trying Au Cheval but was very quickly discouraged by friends about how long their lines were. I compromised and went to Small Cheval instead in Wicker Park. I ordered the burger as is and it was GOOD. Solid burger. Probably not the best burger I've ever had but really solid and thoroughly enjoyed my experience eating it.
Walking through Wicker Park was really pleasant. It's a hip with a bit of grungy in it, but you can tell a lot of newer and hipper stores are coming in to replace the old. It reminds me a lot of Melrose Ave. in LA if you've ever been.
Later in the evening, I went to watch a show at Second City(we watched Best Of, which is a hybrid of written sketches + improv). The experience itself was really nice. It's first come first serve in terms of seating, and you can order food and drinks at your seat with your server. It's definitely worth going to, but to be completely honest, I think I enjoyed Second City shows in LA & NY better, but I believe it's because the shows I watched in other cities were pure improv the entire time.
Dinner was saved for an authentic taste of some Chicago deep dish @Lou Malnati's. We probably waited a solid 45 minutes (spent most of that time at a McDonalds about half a mile away, which was super bougie by the way). A lot of Bay area friends warned me that I'd be disappointed. I don't think I was necessarily disappointed per say, but I will say Bay area has pretty comparable deep dish, which is more of a compliment to these pizzerias, than a diss on Chicago.
Afterwards, we went up to the top floor of the John Hancock building and went to the restroom (apparently that's the best place to take photos and enjoy the view). It was really a beautiful nightview and I'm glad I made myself go even though I was tired and freezing.
Fair warning: there is a sizable line going up and especially going down.
I for sure did not have enough time to do everything I should've done! Here are some things I have on my list for next time:
Here's my Google Map of Chicago if you wanted some suggestions (thanks for my friends who gave me suggestions as I put this together)!
This isn't for everyone, but I thought it'd be nice to talk about souvenirs- not the touristy ones you buy for your friends (although it can be if you want it to be), but souvenirs for yourself to make your memories a little more special. They can be physical items, or they can be photos! Personally I don't particularly enjoy taking selfies, and it doesn't help that I'm terrible at taking them, but I still want to make my photos more personal so they don't look like everyone else's.
Some simple ideas:
Find something quirky that isn't what everyone else is doing. They'll also make for a great conversation starter and story!
jeany's travel souvenirs
1. I found Hugo at a souvenir shop in Costa Rica in 2014. I've taken him with me wherever I've traveled and make sure to take a photo of him in front of a popular site. Follow #hugofollows to see where he's been.
2. I started collecting mugs from the Starbucks Relief collection. They don't have them in every city I go, but I'll go out of my way to find them when I know they're there. I prefer them over the regular Starbucks City series. My photo only shows 5, but I think I actually have close to 13.
Go out and find your souvenir & give your travels an extra touch. (:
For some, AirBnBs have become the default option of housing when traveling. I wanted to add some considerations since I see certain trips where hotels might be a more convenient and desirable option. This post is only to help you decide if you should book a hotel or AirBnB when you travel. I'll also be doing a future post on Couchsurfing vs. Hostels, as well as things to consider when you're looking to book a Hotel or AirBnB.
Front to back: bag pouch, medium duffle, large duffle.
It's a three-in-one weekender pack. Both duffles fold into smaller pouches that fit inside the bag pouch... AMAZING RIGHT?
My aunt gifted me this set knowing that I love Cath Kidston + I love to travel. Oddly, Cath Kidston has stores in Korea, but not in the States. I couldn't find this item on their main site, but I did find it on some random shopping site.
why i love it
why you might not
When traveling internationally, you might want to consider renting a wifi egg aka mobile hotspot device, especially if you don't know the language, aren't familiar with the area, are addicted to social media, or traveling alone.
Of course you can find wifi pretty easily these days at establishments like cafes, stores/malls, and museums, but it's more of a convenient factor to have wifi on hand should you need it. I wouldn't consider it something essential to your trip, especially if you'll be visiting areas that are quite technologically developed.
When I went to Korea last year, I used Pocket Wifi Korea. It was convenient, decently cheap (especially if you're sharing with a friend), and I'd for sure rent one again the next I go. I'm actually renting one when I go to Europe next month so I'll probably update this post once I come back with my thoughts on how it worked in Europe vs Asia.
In Korea specifically, I noticed a lot of AirBnBs let you rent one for free, which is a crazy great perk, but obviously only for the duration of your stay. So if you're staying at multiple AirBnBs/hotels, you'll only be able to use it during your reservation.
uses for wifi egg
Most devices should...
The only CON I can think of is that it heats up easily!
How to choose
Companies vary in product and plan. To find the right one for you, consider these questions:
wifi egg vs. sim card
I used a SIM card during my trip in Australia for the first time. I used my friend's old Australian phone, went to a local grocery store to buy a reloadable card, activated it online, and then started using it. I bought 10 GB worth of data for $30 (it was either that or $10 for 2 GB or something similar). 2 GB still would've been enough for me since I was there for only 4 days, but the offer enticed me.
I also had my phone and didn't want to use her phone to log into all of my stuff so I used her phone mainly as a hotspot to have data on my phone.
The phone I used was an iPhone 4 so the battery died quickly, and it got so so hot. Even after I connected hotspot to my phone, if it was idle for like 15 minutes, I'd have to reconnect it again if I wanted to use it.
Now that I think about it, I think the policy nowadays is that your network provider will unlock your phone for you but it's something you'd have to go into to do, and not sure if there's an additional service charge for that.
My advice: if your phone is compatible with international SIM cards and you don't mind the trouble of going into your provider's store, and buying a SIM card when you get there, then by all means, go for it. It ended up being about the same price in my experience. I think after experiencing both, I prefer renting a wifi egg at the airport, making it simple and easy!
Below is a post that might be helpful if you're considering which to get.
Some essentials that are in my purse while traveling:
Your travel buddy/buddies can make or break your trip!
Anecdote about how a buddy made my trip: I spent an entire summer in Europe with one other person, who I didn't know very well at the time. We both thought it would be OK/awkward, or worse case scenario being we would not get along... To our surprise, we traveled really well together. We had tons to talk about as we got to know each other, and realised we had very similar travel styles. We butted heads from time to time on money-related issues but they were pretty minor issues in the scope of the entire trip. Towards the end of our trip, the one thing I NEEDED to do in London was watch Les Miserables the musical, and told her I'd meet up with her after the show because I had wanted pretty good seats, which could be costly, but she was down to join me. If you're traveling with someone, and you have a 'must see/do' list, make sure your buddy is okay with tagging along, or okay splitting up and meeting later.
It's always better to over-communicate than not. <-- can be applied in most situations; that's some life advice for you, on the house ;)
Take my quiz below to see if you and your buddy would be a good fit:
I went to Italy back in 2014 for about a full week, exploring Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre. Below is a rough guide I put together for some friends who went the following year. It's a bit outdated and may have some grammatical errors but the general information should still stand.
Also super important to note: I didn't have a ton of time to see everything so my mentions are actually pretty limited. Please do check other people's suggestions and itineraries to get better insight. :)
NOT IN THE DOC
The Italian government has launched a free wifi app called Wifi Italia. I don't expect it to be great Internet, but it's free + I'm sure the government will work on making it better and faster in years to come.
Comments are open for suggestions and discussion.
[separate post coming on what I pack in my travel purse...]
We picked up our rental car at the airport (both times I went to Portland I got a rental car so I'm unsure of the experience taking public transportation). Generally, it was pretty easy for us to find parking in Portland and actually only paid for parking when we went Downtown. Other places had like 1-2 hour free parking or it was past the meter operations times so it was free.
Heart Coffee SW - Super cute and aesthetic, huge windows to bring in natural light, consistent coffee. They also had personal tables outside. Ideal place to spend some alone time or to do some light reading.
We walked about half a mile to a Blue Star to get some pre-breakfast donuts (very normal). One Blueberry Basil because it's a classic and we basic, and one Buttermilk Old Fashion because, old fashion donuts are the best. I don't mean to hype it up, but the Buttermilk Old Fashion is the best old fashion I've ever had.
Breakfast @ Maurice. I had no idea what to expect. We got their open faced sandwich (daily special) that included shrimp in a white sauce, greens, grapes, and roe. Even when I got the food I didn't know what to expect, but when I took a bite, I was thoroughly impressed and pleased with the taste of it. We didn't get a chance to try anything else but their desserts and pastries looked really good so I'd recommend trying that!
We walked around SW until it was time to check into our AirBnB in NE where we knocked out for a bit before we were so tired, not to mention that the weather was high-80s.
Once we freshened up we made our way to Stanich's where we had Nick's cheeseburger with grilled onions as our pre-dinner. I'd seen them featured as the #1 best burger Thrillist's quest for the best burger article. It took a while for us to get our food since multiple parties had sat down the same time we did and there was one server for the entire establishment. We finally got our food and it didn't look all that special, but it indeed was good. My friend described it as a lesser version of In-N-Out, which is quite agreeable.
On our way to dinner, we made a spontaneous pitstop at Hollywood Vintage. It ended up being such a cool place to explore- I'm so happy we found it even though I didn't buy anything. They have a room dedicated to sunglasses, and a huge space dedicated to costumes!
Dinner was at an up-and-coming, new and trendy, 'hot and new,' Korean fusion restaurant called Han Oak. It's the house of the chef, converted into an open-kitchen, open space restaurant where half of the seating is indoors and half outdoors. We had to make reservations a month before we got to Portland. The space was nicely done, considering it's also a house for a family of 4. We had their prix fixe Chef's dinner for $45 pp. A good amount of the dishes had a twist to its traditional counterpart, so it forced me to be open to new tastes.
We spent the evening at a super local music festival called PDX Pop Now. We got to see 3 bands throughout our event there. A very eclectic group of people, I will say. But I don't think we would've gotten a more authentic Portland experience have we not gone. The picture below was taken in some guy's van, which sounds very shady HAHA, but he's trying to upgrade his van to make it one of those event photobooths.
The night ended with a 30 minute line to Salt & Straw, naturally.
Brunch @ Helser's on Alberta. We got their Bacon & Cheese Hash + French Toast. I thought the hash was super on point and delicious. I was so full by the time I had my first bite of the French Toast but thought it was way too sweet for my liking anyways. I think it's so easy to get multiple dishes when in Portland because the food is generally cheaper than the Bay Area, but you forget how much darn food they give you. We probably had leftover at least half the time we ate out, and could never finish our leftovers.
Sunday service was spent at Bridgetown Church. It was such a great experience- the pastor and community all seem so solid and we were really blessed during our time there. Highly recommended!
The evening was spent on SE side. We put our names down for Pok Pok, and walked around the neighborhood for an hour. Had pre-dinner at OP Wurst. I could totally see myself going there often if I lived in PDX. Indoor and outdoor seating, sausage and beer, corn hole and a ping pong table. Looks like a potential Friday night spot for me. We finally got our table at Pok Pok and immediately ordered their famous wings + a papaya salad. Maybe I'm a wimp but I thought their papaya salad was so spicy (my friend begs to differ); but their wings were amazinggggg. Did not expect them to be so freaking good... Two thumbs up.
We picked up some coffee + a quick breakfast sandwich before making our drive to Multnomah Falls. We made a pitstop at Vista House and probably spent almost half an hour there, enjoying the view, taking photos, looking through the house, and restroom break (because Multnomah Falls usually have longer restroom lines). We got to Multnomah around 10:30am, and waited only a few minutes for parking. We went up to the bridge, and hiked a little more up. By the time we were walking back to the car, there were two cars fighting for our spot, and a never ending crazy long line of cars trying to get into this small parking lot... We were relieved to have gone early enough not to struggle. If you have a car, I highly recommend going to the Falls!
Once we got back to Downtown PDX, we put our names down for Tasty & Alder, which took about an hour. We spent that time exploring Powell's City of Books. It's a magical place filled with... well, books. I was personally disappointed by my meal at Tasty & Alder because the food was so salty and unfamiliar. Tasty Hangtown Fry was an open faced omelette, fried oysters, bacon lardons, cheddar, and a buttermilk biscuit. Just thinking about this dish gives me food coma. We also got potato bravas as an appetiser and that was pretty yummy.
As if that wasn't enough food, we got dessert at Waffle Window. We went home and I immediately took a nap. The evening was spent at the Rose Test Garden, which was obviously gorgeous. It was my second time there but still as stunning as the first.
We got pre-dinner at Anna Thai Basil food cart in downtown Portland. It was crazy cheap and I'm definitely going there again. Actual dinner was at Nudi Noodle, which was a mainly Thai restaurant with other Asian fusion influences. I got their kimchi udon which was pretty good! We picked up a bottle of beer each from a local craft beer store and called it a night.
Since this was both of our second times in Portland, I think both of us were a lot more lax and also wanted a taste of the local experience. There are still so so many places I didn't get to go that I have on my list for next time! I'm sharing MY PDX MAP in case anyone needs suggestions but I'd love to hear if anyone has been to places off this list so I can add more places.
Some flights may make you take a layover in another city before you get to your destination. Direct flights are probably ideal but I know they can also be more expensive. On the bright side, it can be nice to have a meal and stretch break in the middle of a long flight, and gives you an opportunity to explore the airport or city (if you have more time).
General rule of thumb: anything under 6 hours, you want to fly direct.
If you do have to take a layover, consider the transfer time. I say give yourself at least one hour of wait time in case your first flight is delayed, you need to get something figured out, you need to buy some water and food, etc. Things come up and because boarding happens generally thirty minutes prior to takeoff, better safe than sorry. I would actually go and say an hour and a half is good. I try to find layovers around 2 hours which gives me plenty of time to use the restroom, grab a quick bite, freshen up, walk around the airport, and find my transfer gate if it's at a different gate, which brings me to my next point.
If your layover is longer than 3.5 hours, consider going outside and exploring if the city centre isn't too far from the airport, especially if your luggage will meet you at the final destination! Do consider the time it'll take you to come back and get back in the security line though.
Depending on the flight, your transfer flight might be on the same plane and same gate, or different plane in a different gate. Be attentive to what your flight details read, and what your flight attendants say during landing. If it's a huge airport, it might even be in another terminal so always allow yourself extra time should things come up and you're not scrambling last minute to find your next flight.
If you can help it, avoid flights with more than 1 layover. You're going to be exhausted and that may cost you some of your trip. Remember: we want to maximise your time and enjoyment on your travels!
My piece of advice: DON'T DO IT.
Call me high maintenance, but I can't sleep comfortably at all on overnight layovers. It's cold, the chairs are stiff, you're constantly worried if someone might steal your stuff, some airports don't allow you to sleep so you have security waking you up every couple of hours, and people coming in and out of the gates. You barely get enough sleep by the time you need to line up for your flight and if you're anything like me, you end up grouchy and groggy, and you only see the negative in things until you recoup some of that sleep. It's just an overall highly undesired experience, which will likely affect your first day traveling.
If you have an overnight layover, this site will give you the 411 on WiFi, where you can sleep, and other good tips on specific airports..
If you MUST do an overnight layover, I really recommend reserving a room at a hotel with free shuttles that will take you to the hotel in case taxi service is out (if you arrive really late). At least you'll get some sleep in a private, semi-comfortable bed. If not, this page has good tips on sleeping at the airport overnight.
My logic: Most likely, the cost of a hotel will be around the much you'd be saving if you don't take the overnight layover, so just get tickets with a short transfer and be happy. (: