To be completely candid, I've never stayed at a hostel. Call me high maintenance; call me whatever the heck you want but I couldn't get myself to stay at a hostel without paranoia creeping into my head about getting taken, getting mugged, or getting some STD. I'd rather have paid an extra $15 a night to stay in a private room at an AirBnB with a good local who just needed extra cash and doesn't speak any English.
Although I've actually never stayed at a hostel, I've heard both good and bad stories. Some of the better ones about people who've made friends such instant connections that they ended up traveling elsewhere together and continue to stay in touch to this day... and some of the worse ones being that the quality of the hostels were so bad that they came back with endless bed bugs and having to cancel certain plans on their trip to deal with it.
I think hostels are a decent option for people who are young, love backpacking, on a budget, and love meeting new people while traveling.
My biggest tip when it comes to hostels, is read through reviews to get a gist of the hostel's policy, vibes, and experiences. You can read through reviews on TripAdvisor or HostelWorld.
There are such things as a 5-star Hostel- they do exist! And based on the city or country, the standards of a given hostel can vary tremendously, as can the price of an AirBnB or hotel there, so I recommend looking at all of your options for that city before going straight to book a hostel.
Beware of bed bugs at hostels
Couchsurfing is a social networking website that connects travelers with local residents. Local residents can put up their couch, space, or room up for travelers to rest their head at night. It's always free, although it's etiquette for you to get your host a little something to say thank you.
Both guests and hosts verify their identity through personal information and Facebook, and reviewed as layers of safety. You create a profile for your trip (dates, what you'll be doing, etc.) for the host to read and know more about you. You can also see host's profiles and filter them (gender, languages spoken, pets, etc.) so both parties can be selective and even communicate with one another to see if the match would be a good fit.
the bottom line
You're choosing a budget option for travel so you can't be picky. Don't expect much privacy, space, or luxury when it comes to these options.
Better alternative option is finding to stay with, even if it's like a friend of a friend, at least you have that mutual connection, and free housing.
if you have the money, just stay at an airbnb or hotel. Find my comparison post here.
Disagree with me? Add comments below. :)
I'm a little crazy and like to plan my trips a year in advance because I'll know how I'm tracking in terms of my travel goals. This also helps me keep an early eye out for cheap flights if I know where I want to be when.
Is it off your Bucket LisT?
Hopefully you have a bucket list of places you want to visit sometime in your life. Look to that list as a starting point for possible options. Depending on what you have on your list, and how much time you have, you might be able to do 3 weeks hitting 5 cities (ie European cities) or spend a whole week in just one city (ie NYC).
Don't be so concerned about checking all of these places off, but put patient and strategic of which you want to check off first, and when. It's not about how many you can visit and check off, but about experiencing different places, opening yourself up to new cultures, and enjoying great food.
have good company
I ask myself out of these places, where is good for what occasion. I'll just real life examples for myself:
Depending on the location and the specific people you go with, your trip is bound to be different! You don't need to be that specific and picky with every single location, but I think it's good to be mindful of who'd you want to share experiences with based on the different locations. Easy example: going to Vegas with your crew vs. going to Vegas with your family...
Another thing to consider is if you are traveling with family or children, does the destination have family-friendly activities and accommodations?
If you're traveling, make sure it's safe! Check the Travel Advisory website to check the safety level of your destination. I also enroll myself in STEP: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which will basically alert you of emergencies happening around you. See my blog about traveling smart for additional tips! Otherwise, here is a list of the best countries for solo travelers!
Timing is everything
Once I've decided where I want to go, I look at my calendar to see when the best time to go is.
What time of the year does it make sense to visit this place? AKA What time of the year is the best weather? I generally save my #1 draft pick for October since you can make a safe bet anywhere will have amazing weather in October, and it's generally cheaper since it's off peak.
I'd also consider peak events and seasons of your destination: you probably don't want to go to Miami in April when every college student will be there for Spring Break, or Austin in March when everyone will be there for SxSW. Or maybe you do, who I am to assume?
I try to avoid peak seasons and cities when I know there will be an increase in population density. They also tend to be more expensive in flights and accommodations, and airports tend to be more crowded that usual.
I've finally decided...
So once you have an idea of the place(s) you want to go at a certain time of the year, go ahead and look up flights to get a gist of how much it would cost. Then, track your flights and subscribe to alerts for any fare drops so you can sense fare patterns and trends to help you purchase flights at the best time.
How to find the cheapest flights, is a separate post... to come soon.
A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to go to Miami, FL for a work trip! It was my first time there and got to spend 4 days there but felt like I barely did anything. Granted, 2 of those days were just work but I already can't wait to go back!
Weather and Accommodations
Mind that I end at very beginning of May so I already knew and expected the weather to be sunny. However, I was told weeks leading up to the trip that it was rainy and that I could even expect some thunder and rain when I got there. It probably rained 3 times, and every time i did, it rained for 5 minutes and then the sun came back up even brighter than before. The weather absolutely gorgeous- I couldn't have asked for better: Sunny, a bit of heat, a bit of humidity, but the fact that it was so different from this SF weather we get here, it felt amazing to switch it up and be in the sun.
My company put me at the Gates Hotel in South Beach/City Centre, which felt really nice when I walked in, but at the end of my stay, just felt really ripped off. I WILL say the best part of the hotel is that the concierge welcomes you with a warm cookies at check in. The rooms are nice but I just had bad experiences with missing chargers, the maintenance staff walked into my room in the early morning once a day without asking, and stupid 'resort fees.' It's also dog-friendly so I woke up to a barking dog next door so I asked to be moved to another room. It was a pretty pricy hotel, but hotels in Miami are expensive in general so I heard AirBnBs are the way to go.
The location of the hotel was pretty good though. It's north of the central 'South Beach' area but not too far from it. South Beach is where all the tourists go to get the Miami experience + beach experience. My coworkers had an AirBnB across the street from the beach and that was super nice- I'll definitely be doing that next time.
I LOVE that Miami's neighbourhoods are so diverse: everything from South Beach to Little Havana to Brickell to Coconut Grove. They all have their own personalities and spices. I unfortunately didn't get to check out all of the neighborhoods but I did visit: South Beach, Downtown, Brickell, Wynwood, and the Design District. I can't wait to go back and see everything I didn't this time around!
Wynwood is the new upcoming, hip, neighbourhood that all the young people + transplants are raving about. I've described it to be the 'Brooklyn' of Miami. It used to be this run-down couple of blocks that people would avoid but now is filled with cool restaurants and bars, boutiques, and graffiti murals and cement, and anything else worthy of being on Instagram. They even have a destination called 'Wynwood Walls' where you basically walkthrough various graffiti murals. It feels like you're walking through a museum of graffiti.
There are so many bars in Wynwood but one of the more notable ones is 1-800-LUCKY. It's this great indoor and outdoor space that is Asian themed. When you walk through their indoor entrance, there is a tiny, tiny store with Japanese goodies and vinyls. If you walk past the store, you'll enter to a co-op of Asian restaurants and seating. At the very end is their bar, which continues outdoors (so technically 2 bars but the bar table looks attached both indoors and outdoors).
Their bar was excellent. Most people got a mint mojito, which was fitting for the weather. I ordered a Pimms cup and probably one of the Pimms cups I've had! Also outdoors they had lots of extra seating + Taiyaki NYC. I ordered the Straight Outta Japan and it was straight up delicious and beautiful.
I also had dinner at Wynwood Kitchen + Bar. It's tapas so we shared everything family style. Everything was solid but I can't remember anything that stood out to me as being excellent.
My last meal in Miami was at Kush, which was high recommended by a friend. They're known for their chicken + waffles, and their burgers. I went back and forth trying to decide which one I wanted, and ended up ordering the chicken and waffles. When I got my plate, I cut through and noticed my chicken was not cooked all the way through, so I notified them and asked them to just replace only the chicken and then I kept eating. My impression was that isn't wasn't the best chicken and waffles I've had so I was left pretty disappointed. I was halfway through my meal when the manager came out of the kitchen with a completely new plate and apologised for the lack of quality the first time around. I accepted their apologise and dug into the new plate, and let me tell you: this plate tasted COMPLETELY different. The chicken was fried to perfection; the seasoning of the chicken was delicious; the waffles were cooked slightly longer so it had that perfect crunch but softness at the same time. Not sure how differently they cooked the plate, or if it was just the TLC I tasted, but it made a lasting impression. I'll be sure to visit back next time around, and sure to order a beer next time (they have a ton of beers on tap!).
Had lunch at Casa Tua Cucina which is another one of those co-op spaces with various restaurants: everything from salad, pasta, pizza, deli, etc. I ordered fettuccini from the pasta station and omg the pasta noodles were as good as the ones in Italy. I'm obsessed.
Pubbelly Sushi is a restaurant part of a larger restaurant group. A Miami twist on Japanese sushi. Most of the people I was with loved this place, but to be completely honest, I didn't wasn't a huge fan of it. The uni pasta was good (but expensive), and all of the rolls tasted like rice and lemon. Everything had like a full lemon on it. Their best dishes by far were their Miso Black Cod and Japanese Bravas.
More than the food, I enjoyed their drinks much more. Everyone got second and third refills on their drinks. The have a unique, fusion-y drinks menu that incorporates local favourites + a Japanese twist to it (lots of sake cocktails). I ordered their Sangria which had popping bubbles (like of like boba but not).
Puerto Sagua Restaurant is a block from the beach so it's really easy to access. It has a diner feel with a Cuban twist. I was recommended here by a friend for a good Cuban sandwich, and it's also listed on Conde Nast Traveler's list of 10 Best Cuban Food in Miami. The Cuban was glorious- perfectly cut, golden and crispy.
Broken Shaker is a hostel that was continually recommended to me as the spot to be at night. And it sounded super unappealing by its description, like why would I want to spend a Friday night at a hostel bar? But I was thoroughly surprised by what it actually was. It has a tiki, poolside bar feel to it.
CVCHE 105 is one of those classic spots in Miami. There's no shortage of seafood in Miami and obviously, because of it's rich Latin American culture, you have to get some ceviche! I ordered the daily special of the ceviche trio and all of them were delicious. I really tried to remember all three flavors but I really don't. I'm sure any of their ceviches on the menu are great! It They were also served with tostones, which were amazing. We also ordered the Causa de Camarones con Palta (shrimp potato cake) and another daily special, which was a grilled fish + lobster with some kind of puree. The fish+lobster dish was actually not very good, and the puree tasted like curry. Overall really good, and I'd suggest just sticking to their ceviche and causa.
The Standard is my favourite bar, and it made me want to live there forever, except I saw the prices for actual hotel guests and then I went back home, haha. This place is a hotel, space, bar, restaurant, pool, everything. Everything. It's like what you would want for the ultimate hangout: pool with a waterfall, pool chairs, and bar alongside the beach; cabanas and a fire pit; and hammock chairs. It's surprisingly lowkey for such an awesome place. Will for sure be going back!
I wasn't sure what the Design District was, but it's basically a bougie neighborhood full of upscale designer stores, like you'd see in Beverly Hills. There wasn't much for me to do, except to try AUBI & RAMSA, which is a new ice cream shop with a unique twist. It's a bar-styled liquor infused ice cream store. I got the Chocolate Hazelnut Martini, which contained gin and 4.5% ABV.
The one cool thing about the design district is that they do have cool art and design installments around the neighborhood, which gives a bit more glory to its name.
the bottom line...
Notice I didn't go clubbing or go really hard at night life. Due to limited time, and the fact that I was there alone for a work trip, wasn't very conducive to that type of outing, but I would definitely visit Miami again with a group of girl friends to experience more of what Miami has to offer!
Here is my map of all the pinned places friends have recommended to me!
SEE YOU SOON, MIAMI!
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.
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.
Thanks to many friends who have gone before me and discovered great places and passed those suggestions onto me, here is my map of Seoul. I absolutely recommend you make a copy of the map so you can add what you need, delete what you don't want, etc. For example, probably good for you to pin your hotel or AirBnB. Another reason I tell people to make their own copy is so you can access it straight on your phone or tablet via Google Maps by going to the Settings icon --> Your places --> Maps, et viola!
PLEASE don't not live off of this map. There is crazy good food in Korea ALL around you.
Support mom&pop shops & small businesses!!
Some recommended musts in Korea:
Let's collaborate! I've enabled comments on this post so you can suggest more places people would like. (: