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Ireland: Itinerary and Highlights

Cliffs of Moher - Danger

Yep, we kept going!

It’s the final stop on mine and Raechel’s England, Scotland, and Ireland adventure! This is only the third time I’ve taken a two-week vacation, and like the previous two, some days it felt like we’d be gone for months, and some days it felt like we just left.

So, it was kind of weird getting to the third country, and knowing we’d be heading home soon. I hadn’t really thawed out, my feet hurt, I missed my bed, and yet, I was excited to be there. Ireland had been on my “must see” list for many years, so I had high hopes.

And, well, I have to confess—and this is hard to admit—Ireland was disappointing. Actually, I don’t think it was entirely Ireland’s fault. It was sort of a series of unfortunate events, as it were. You’ll see below. Admittedly, we also had the least amount of time here, too, so Ireland also didn’t get the chance to make it up to us.

So, it’s not like I wouldn’t go back to Ireland given the opportunity, but it won’t be as high on my return list as England and Scotland.

If you haven’t been, keep reading to learn from our experience. If you have, let me know what I could do differently, and what sites I should hit next time.

 

ITINERARY:

DAY 1:

  • We didn’t exactly get to sleep in, but at least it wasn’t too early of a flight out of Edinburgh and into Dublin. And it’s not a long flight either, which was nice. We mostly passed the time by re-watching Leap Year because, why not? Amy Adams is awesome. #romcom
  • Once again, we were naive and thought that we’d have a good amount of time after arriving to begin our sight-seeing. Well, not so much. This is, after all, Ireland, and what would Dublin be without a protest? So, we arrived at our hotel a couple of hours later than planned. First, because the bus we were riding was late. Second, we found out why—there was a huge protest downtown, and traffic was held up everywhere. Third, due to rerouting traffic, we weren’t let off the bus close to our hotel, and ended up dragging our suitcases through huge crowds for over a mile. So, we were much later than planned and worn out by the time we got settled. And, wouldn’t you know, this day had the highest temps we’d seen the entire trip. So, it was about 50 degrees or so, and with all the walking and carrying of our stuff, I was also hot and sweaty by the time we got to the hotel. A waste of beautiful weather, and it didn’t last long.
  • Because we didn’t have a lot of time left in the day, we just decided to grab dinner and do some shopping. I found good ratings for The Parnell Heritage Bar & Grill, so we walked there for some traditional Irish fare. We got the fish and chips and beef and Guinness stew, and they were just okay. Not a lot of flavor, despite supposedly being crowd favorites.
  • Next, because we’d left such little time for shopping in England and Scotland, we decided to get this over with on the front end of Ireland rather than scrambling at the end. But by the time we wrapped up our meal, there wasn’t much open. (Are you noticing this theme between the three countries?) We did, however, find Carroll’s Irish Gifts. There are a ton of these around Dublin, and most of the stuff is kitschy and crappy, but there are actually some good finds too. And lots of food, if that’s what you’re after. I wound up buying a really beautiful knit scarf that I’ll be excited to wear this winter, and some gifts as well. And there may or may not have also been some Irish creme filled chocolates that made their way into my cart.
  • Early to bed for another long day ahead.

DAY 2:

  • Because our final day was going to be a tour, this was our only morning to have a nice, leisurely breakfast. However, it was also a Sunday. So, we got up early to adequately nourish ourselves, and found mostly disappointment. The restaurant we’d planned to go to, The Kingfisher, was closed—as was most everything else. Turns out, most of the city doesn’t open until church lets out. So, we ended up having to settle for something between a convenience store and a deli. It had seating, but the food was mostly coffee machines and breakfast sandwiches. Sigh.
  • We then caught the bus and saw a few sites, including Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I love seeing all the beautiful architecture in old cities like this, and listening to the history, so I enjoyed taking that in for a bit.
  • Next, it was off to the Guinness Storehouse, where the original dark ale hails from. So, here’s the thing with the GS. Everyone told us to go, despite the fact that Raechel doesn’t drink beer and I don’t care for Guinness. But everyone said we should still go because it was very important to the history of the city and there is a rooftop bar with glass walls so you can get great views. And…while those things are true, it was still several hours and like $30 bucks per person down the drain. If you aren’t a Guinness fan, don’t bother. I will admit that the history is interesting, and Guinness is to Dublin what Disney is to Orlando, but it wasn’t worth our limited and valuable time, or our cash. And the rooftop bar was extremely crowded, even in the morning hours, and just like the rest of our trip, the weather was cold and overcast, so there really wasn’t much of a view. Take heed!
  • After that, we rode the bus a little bit more, with the Irish Immigration Museum as our next, big destination. And this stop didn’t disappoint! Raechel and I were both interested in visiting the museum because we had Irish heritage, but I’d still recommend it to anyone interested in Ireland’s history and people in general. What we learned is that this small, but mighty country has a lot of influence all over the world because so many can trace their roots back here. (See the note about potatoes below.) It’s actually kind of crazy when you see it all laid out in black and white. EPIC, as it’s known, was a really fascinating place, and I’m so glad we had a good amount of time here. My only regret is going on a Sunday because the genealogy center was closed, which we didn’t realize until we got there. I would’ve love to sit down with a professional to trace my family history. But we both highly recommend this place if you’re in Dublin!
  • It was still chilly, but not raining, so we set out on foot to admire a few other sites. Another pitstop on my list was the lovely Ha’Penny Bridge, the first pedestrian bridge for which the toll was a half penny (or ha’penny). And we also quickly trekked through the Temple Bar district, which is packed with people because of all the bars and restaurants, but super cute. There was some sort of big rugby match on, so there were plenty of fans and exhibitions in the street too.
  • We also kept seeing donut places around the city, and weren’t sure if Dublin donuts were different or it was just some sort of local food trend. So, we found a place to try one, and I think it’s probably just the latter. It was a good donut, but nothing out of the ordinary. But that and a hot coffee made for a nice afternoon snack.
  • For dinner, we were told to go to The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub, established in 1198. As with the other recommendations, it was just okay. I got the lamb stew, because I wanted to try another authentic Irish dish. Just not a lot of flavor there. But, let’s face it, Ireland isn’t really known for it’s food. It was also PACKED, and I assume that’s pretty standard. I wish we’d gone for lunch maybe, so we could’ve seen more of the restaurant since it was pretty cool looking. Just going for a drink could’ve been another option. It’s also, as far as I could tell, mostly open air, so it was kind of chilly for dinner.
  • The next day would be our final in Ireland, so we headed to a deli to grab some breakfast for the morning, and then off to bed.

DAY 3:

  • Our last full day of the trip was a day long excursion to the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs were something Raechel really wanted to see, and I just wanted to make sure we saw more of Ireland than Dublin. But this was a 13-hour journey, so it was going to take up our entire day. However, we would get to go all the way across Ireland, which was cool. And we’d be staring at the Atlantic upon arrival!
  • I have to say, this excursion was part of what made Ireland so iffy for me, and I think Raechel too. Unlike our amazing Scotland excursion, this was a “large group experience,” meaning it wasn’t a small bus of 20 or so people. There were more like 50+ people. Just that fact definitely made the trip less enjoyable. Keeping up with that many people meant that we were on a less comfortable bus and everything was more crowded in restaurants, and frankly, was a hassle. Our guide wasn’t all that exciting or personable either.
  • One of the selling points for this specific trip was that you get there before the crowds. And we definitely did, which was nice. However, it was also quite foggy. So, the amazing view we went to see…we didn’t get. I still don’t know if this is because we just got there on a bad weather day, or the mornings in general are usually like that. But, I will say that things cleared up as were leaving! The skies parted…as we got on our bus. #sheesh So, the promised bus loads that arrived as we were boarding likely got fantastic views.
  • From there, we went to the “mini Cliffs” just a few miles away, which were very unique and cool. And then, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump away to the nearby village for lunch. I do not kid you when I say Raechel had THREE types of potatoes on her plate! Yes, it’s true, the Irish love their potatoes.  I don’t remember the name of the village, but it was a little strange in that it looked mostly very new and built for tourists. The food was really good, tough. But because of all the buses that stop there, we literally had about 10 or 15 minutes to eat by the time we got through the line and sat down with our food.
  • We were also looking forward to our afternoon stop in Galway. We’d hoped to do some shopping and were anxious to see another cute and historic city, since we’d already seen so many adorable ones by now. Unfortunately, more disappointment. The driver let us off near a shopping mall, which was filled with modern chain and department stores. We looked around, but didn’t find anything we were looking for, and even missed a lot of the historic architecture. We managed to find some of it down a side street, but with such little time in Galway, we only managed to walk around this part for a few minutes before needing to head back to the bus.
  • We arrived back in Dublin around 8:00 p.m., and wanted to hit a good place for dinner to end our day on a high note. We chose The Bank Bar & Restaurant, which was just what it sounds like. It was a gorgeous, old converted bank. I mean, super cool. The menu was modern, not traditional, but we didn’t really have a lot of things to check off on our food list for Ireland, so we chose the different atmosphere. But I really liked the food and cocktails, and it was a great way to finish off Ireland.
  • Day trip link on Viator: Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Dublin – For the reasons mentioned, I wouldn’t recommend this one. If you can find a small group tour, do that instead. And, despite the crowds, go to the Cliffs in the afternoon.

DAY 4:

  • Time to head back to the States! It was an early flight out, and due to the time change, we arrived at JFK early afternoon, which was nice.
  • We did have time to grab a decent breakfast in the Dublin airport, though,  also grabbed a scone for the road! Butter, jam, and a delicious scone was a good way to begin the journey home. I also had mine with a side of mimosa. 😉 But, man, I sure do miss that English clotted cream!
  • By the time we got back to the US, we were sort of starved for vegetables and fresh foods, so seeking out a salad was our primary concern. But, of course, since we’d had mostly pub food for the previous two weeks, we also had all sorts of cravings. We settled on a slice of pizza and Caprese salad, which hit the spot on both counts.
  • From here, we had several hours to kill so we just played on our devices, chatted, recounted trip highlights, and watched shows until it was time to depart back to Atlanta for me and Chicago for Raechel.

It was a great, but exhausting two weeks! Thanks for reading along!

You can check out all the trip photos here.

 

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC NOTES:

  • We stayed at the Maldron Parnell Square Hotel. Because of the time and headache of getting there, at first it seemed like the location wasn’t going to be great. But once the crowds died down, and we got the lay of the land, the location wasn’t so bad.
  • A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning. And make sure you don’t miss the note above the city not opening till late morning on Sundays!
  • We ended up getting the DoDublin bus pass at the airport. It’s a 72-hour pass with hop on, hop off privileges at tourist stops, plus gets you to and from the airport. So, it was nice to have it all rolled into one and not have to figure out any other transportation options.
  • We arrived on a Saturday, so if that’s your schedule, too, check online for any scheduled protests! It was INSANELY crowded in the city center on Saturday due to the protest, but the rest of the time, the crowds weren’t bad at all.
  • Don’t plan to do much shopping at this airport. There aren’t many stores, especially after you get through to the gate areas.
  • Gaelic is now only spoken by a very small percentage of the population, though a revival is underway. In places like Galway, all the signs are in both English and Gaelic, so it’s interesting to see how they are trying to preserve the culture. And in some more remote places, like the Aran Islands, it’s still the predominant language, though that is a rarity. We only heard it spoken a couple of times.

 

GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:

  • It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
  • These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
  • I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
  • It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then we’d stop for nicer dinners.
  • As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
  • Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
  • Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
  • When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
  • I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.

 

MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:

  • We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
  • I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
  • I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
  • One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
  • I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
  • Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
  • These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
  • This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
  • We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in England for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
  • For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
  • Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
  • I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.

 

BONUS:

Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.

For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉

 

Previously: England and Scotland

Ha'Penny Bridge

Ha’Penny Bridge

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Scotland: Itinerary and Highlights

Edinburgh Castle in the background (inspired Hogwarts)

Raechel and I with Edinburgh Castle in the background…the inspiration for Hogwarts!

Scotland was the second stop on mine and Raechel’s England, Scotland, and Ireland tour. And it was an utter surprise and delight!

This beautiful country made the cut on our vacation itinerary mainly because our ancestors come from there (see the bonus section below), and also, why not? We were too close not to go! But unlike England and Ireland, we didn’t really have a lot of expectations or items on our To Do List.

After a bit of research, we figured out a few things to see and do, but mostly, it was a bit of a breather between two, much busier stops. However, we both absolutely fell in love with Scotland!

It was gorgeous, and the people were incredibly friendly. I think either of us would go back in a heartbeat!

Why? Keep reading!

 

ITINERARY:

DAY 1:

  • Both of us really wanted to take the train at some point on our trip since that’s not something we really get to do in the U.S., so this was the perfect opportunity. We made the trek from King’s Cross in London to Edinburgh’s Waverly train station in just four hours. And it was so much nicer and more comfortable than going by plane. So glad we were able to do that, and we recommend it.
  • We next checked into our hotel, which was by the cruise port, and went to the nearby Ocean Terminal for lunch. Italian isn’t something I choose often, just because I’m rarely in the mood, but that places was very yummy. And I was able to get a Caprese salad, which was wonderful just because vegetables and lighter fare hadn’t been a big part of the trip so far.
  • One of the main things on our list was Invisible Edinburgh, a social enterprise that employs homeless individuals as walking tour guides. (Brilliant, right?!?!) We were hoping we could join a tour later that day, so we headed to the Grassmarket District to poke around, grab some tea, and hopefully book tour tickets since that was their meeting spot.
  • Scotland is known for it’s cold winds, and well, I’ve told you about our luck with the weather so far… So, it was bitterly cold that afternoon, and we ducked into a nearby cafe for hot tea. We also tried to book the tickets, but found out that there weren’t any more tours that day. They kinda do them on-demand, and due to the recent weather, there wasn’t much interest.
  • Since the tour was out, we booked tickets for the day after next, and wandered around the streets for a bit. However, the sun was setting, which meant most of the businesses were closing. (Why do these major cities close everything so early!) But we managed to walk around for a bit in the wind, admiring the lovely architecture. And we knew the next day would be a long one, so we just picked up sandwiches and ate in our room.

DAY 2:

  • This day was one of the best on our entire trip due to our tour…which was 12 1/2 hours! I really wanted to see Loch Ness for the fun of it, and Raechel really wanted to take in the Highlands. So, we found a tour that let us do both, and it was awesome!
  • The difficult thing about this tour is that you’re sitting for the vast majority of the day because the trip is so long. And every stop was what our amazing tour guide, Andrew (who appropriately wore his kilt), called a “ninja stop.” We were told that the quicker we could take our bathroom breaks and photo opps, the more we’d get to stop and see So, most of us took on that challenge.
  • If it was cold in the city, it was far colder in the Highlands! Snow was still everywhere from the recent storm. But it was so wild and wonderful, and we loved all our little, ninja stops. Unfortunately, the photos just don’t do it justice. We were also able to stop and feed these deer in the wilderness, which ran up when they saw the white tourist buses approaching because it meant..apples! They’d come up and eat them right out of your hand. But, if you didn’t have food, they were not interested in you, ha!
  • We also made our way to a truck stop type place to grab snacks for the day. (There wasn’t an actual lunch stop, so we ate along the way in the bus.) This was one of the two places we looked for souvenirs during the day, but probably because it’s one of the tour bus stops, everything seemed priced high.
  • One of the reasons that made Andrew such a great guide is that he told a lot of fantastic stories. The tour guides on these excursions are certainly trained in history and lore, and you hear a lot of that on the different routes no matter where you are, but Andrew was highly skilled. And, when he wasn’t talking, he’d play Scottish music to set the scene.
  • By the time we arrived at Loch Ness, the skies had cleared up beautifully. It was still quite cold, but otherwise, a gorgeous day. And, boy, do those people feed the Loch Ness legend! You see toys and dolls and trinkets everywhere! Even the boats have sonar displays so you can see if there’s anything “below.” Sadly, we didn’t see Nessie, but it was a lot of fun anyway. The stories are great, and there is a lot of necessary intrigue to the waters because of their mineral saturation and density. We also tried “Highlands Hot Chocolate” on the boat, which is hot chocolate with whiskey.
  • It’s more of a straight shot home after Loch Ness as the sun is setting. This mostly meant a very, long late afternoon/early evening nap…for everyone.
  • We were starving by the time we arrived back in Edinburgh around 8:00 p.m., and therefore, just looking for a place nearby to eat. So, we popped into Ensign Ewart’s Pub—and were glad we did! First established in 1680, the place is very small, but adorable. We were lucky to find a table, and the food was awesome. We highly recommend the Scottish Venison Casserole. And the live music starts at 9:00 p.m. Oh, and it’s so small that there’s no stage. They just reserve a couple small tables near the bar for the musicians. It’s really traditional, and a great experience. A totally lovely way to end our fantastic day.
  • Day trip link – You’ll see lots of different Loch Ness and Highlands tours, but we both HIGHLY recommend this one. Our tour guide, Andrew, was phenomenal! (He was asked to give the tour for the Saudi royal family!) And we loved that this was a small group of people, not one of the huge buses. It is an extremely long day, and a long time sitting, but if these sites are on your list, this is the tour for you.

DAY 3:

  • This was our final, full day in Edinburgh, and our chance to really take in the city. Thankfully, we had a sunny day for exploring.
  • Edinburgh is not a huge city, so the hop on, hop off bus route only takes about an hour and a half. So, we did that first to see everything and get our bearings. (Read more about my thoughts on doing this here). Plus, it’s a great way to get an abbreviated history of the place.
  • Next, we toured Edinburgh Castle, the inspiration for Hogwarts. It’s right in the middle of the city, and overlooks EVERYTHING, which makes it great for photo taking on a clear day. It’s also quite large and, #nerdalert, reminded me a lot of Gondor from Lord of the Rings because it houses it’s own shops, restaurants, and chapel, not just the family’s living quarters. It’s very hilly, too, making it different in many ways from the other castles we saw on the trip. Since it was midday while we were there, we stopped in one of the on-site restaurants for a delightful lunch of tea, sandwiches, and scones. This only served to feed my obsession with Earl Grey tea and scones (try the lemon!).
  • Afterward, it was on to the Invisible Edinburgh tour, which was a blast. Biffy was our tour guide, and we chose her because she was leading “The Paths of Inspirational Women” tour. It’s likely the tour we would’ve chose from them anyway, but it made it more special since it was the day after International Women’s Day. The guides, as I mentioned, are all formerly homeless, so you hear their personal stories as well as the stories of Edinburgh on the walk. Included, was passing by the cafe where J.K. Rowling started writing the first Harry Potter book. Biffy’s boyfriend, Sonny, is also a guide, and joined us on the tour, so we were able to hear bits of his presentation as well. And one of the volunteer staffers came along, too, and we asked her questions about the organization and founding. They are doing incredible work, and we felt so privileged to join them for a few hours.
  • That night, we had dinner with one of Raechel’s friends from Atlanta who now lives there. It was really great to get her perspective on the city, the culture, and the country. She reinforced our love for these things, and definitely made us ready to return. Three days just wasn’t enough!
  • Hop On Hop Off Bus on Viator – Like most cities, there are a couple of options for this kind of thing. With our hotel’s location in Leith, this one wasn’t the best choice. We had to take the regular bus into the city center to catch it. But there was another tour company that stopped right outside our hotel, so that would’ve been better. Of course, we just had no idea until we arrived. So, this would be something you could probably wait on until you got to Edinburgh.

DAY 4:

  • Breakfast at the hotel, and then off to the airport for our Ireland adventure!
  • We hadn’t had time to do much shopping in Scotland up to this point, so most of this took place in the airport. Strangely, though, we found some good stuff, including our souvenirs and gifts. And did you know that shortbread originated in Scotland? You see the stuff EVERYWHERE, but we found a gourmet shop for it in the airport. I bought my mom lemon shortbread cookies for Mother’s Day, and the sweet clerk also gave me some clotted cream shortbread for myself. We were also told to try this stuff called “tablet” which is kind of a shortbread/candy hybrid. I brought some of that home, too, but wasn’t a fan. Too sweet!

You can check out all the trip photos here.

 

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC NOTES:

  • The Scottish people are VERY proud of their country and heritage. You see the Scottish flag, bagpipes, kilts, etc, everywhere you go. And many of them believe they should be their own rulers, rather than under the thumb of the English monarchy. Some of them are also quite happy to talk about that as well. 😉 There is a long, bitter, and bloody history there, and after you go on the tours and here the stories, you totally get it. The British Empire did a lot of mental, physical, and spiritual damage.
  • We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Waterfront, which was fine (and included breakfast!), but because Edinburgh has such limited public transportation options, we were a couple of miles north of the city in Leith. So, this meant we either take the bus, which sucks up much-needed time in the day, or a cab/Uber. So, we ended up paying much more for transportation here than anywhere else.
  • A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning.
  • As I mentioned in the last post, I got sick at the tail end of the England portion. If this happens to you, you’re in luck in Scotland! They had the best meds, which is a weird statement to make, I know. But they had this cold medicine that stopped up runny noses and made stuffed up noses run. I have no idea how this works, but it was miraculous. However, they also have the same limits on how much you can buy, like England, so I only walked away with two, small packs and had to restock in Ireland, which didn’t carry it.
  • You’ll find lots of little booklets with clan history everywhere, divided up by last name. I already had one from my aunt’s previous trip, but lots of the souvenir shops have them, if you’re looking for something like that to take home. You also, of course, see many types of plaids (tartans) for purchase that are associated with clans. It’s good to research this before you go, because there are a lot that look similar.
  • I was also delighted to see a poster in the airport for anti-trafficking. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and my foray into social justice. Edinburgh and Scotland seemed to be very focused on social justice issues from things we saw around the city and heard about.
  • In taking the Invisible Edinburgh tour, we discovered that there was a retail store they also operated. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we finished the tour. Otherwise, we would’ve eagerly looked for our souvenirs there. We also didn’t make it to Social Bite, a social enterprise cafe, or HOME, their upscale restaurant. They are affiliated with Invisible Edinburgh and Biffy and Sonny also work there. Famous patrons include William and Kate, Leo di Caprio, and George Clooney. (Sonny said they were all nice, lovely people!) But I really wish we’d had the chance to support these places as well.
  • Even though we were in Edinburgh most of the time, we did use cash now and again, so it’s good to have some handy.
  • Edinburgh had the most efficient airport I’ve ever seen, and also the nicest employees. It may seem weird to make note of this, but it really impressed us. That’s just how different it was from other airports!
  • Fun fact: Scotland boasts the highest percentage of redheads in the world at 13%.

 

GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:

  • It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
  • These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
  • I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
  • It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then we’d stop for nicer dinners.
  • As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
  • Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
  • Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
  • When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
  • I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.

 

MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:

  • We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
  • I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
  • I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
  • One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
  • I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
  • Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
  • These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
  • This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
  • We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in England for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
  • For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
  • Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
  • I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.

 

BONUS:

Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.

For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉

 

Previously: England

Next up: Ireland

 

Our guide, Andrew (He's fantastic!)

If Narnia and Middle Earth had a baby, it would be the Scottish Highlands. This is us with Andrew, our tour guide.

 

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England: Itinerary and Highlights

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On the London Eye

During March, my friend Raechel and I checked a few things off our bucket list: England, Scotland, and Ireland. We spent two weeks trekking around those three, beautiful countries, and had a ball!

While we didn’t get to do everything, little thing we wanted to, we sure covered a lot of ground. In fact, we covered more than 200,000 steps! And because he locale was so action-packed, I wanted to break them down country-by-country for you over the next, few posts.

I hope this information will help you if you make the trip yourself sometime, and please let me know if you have any questions!

 

ITINERARY:

DAY 1:

  • I live in Atlanta and Raechel lives in Chicago, so we met up in NYC and flew out from there. Since our layover was about six hours, we used our Delta AMEX cards to hang out in the lounge for $30, a great deal and space to pass the time, especially because we could eat dinner in there as part of the price.
  • Our flight was overnight, and went by relatively well because we were in Delta Comfort seats. The bad part was that I slept through breakfast, and it took a long time to get through customs, so my blood sugar dropped and I felt terrible. So, we had to stop and eat in the airport rather than keep moving, and this cost us some time. But we tried the English Breakfast for the first time…and my last. Too much food, too much meat, too salty for me.
  • We used the London Pass for most of our activities since it’s such a good deal, and it even includes the Underground from the airport to city center. However, it didn’t include the express route, so it took over two hours to get to our hotel. Bummer. So, we didn’t get as much done on this day as we’d hoped. I’d pay for the Express train next time since it was more like 40 minutes, I think.
  • Our first night was spent at Harry Potter and The Cursed Child! Really fun show, and as big HP fans, we were delighted to be there. The only issue was that we were so tired, and it was incredibly hard to stay awake! Dinner was at a quick, nearby cafe, and we had our first (of many) pots of tea. I’m an Earl Grey addict now.
  • We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton London – Islington, and it was a decent location since it’s only a couple of minutes walk from Angel Station. Would’ve been nicer to stay by King’s Cross Station, since it’s like Grand Central and connects everywhere, but this was only one stop away from that, so it just cost us a few extra minutes each time to get to where we needed to be.

DAY 2:

  • Normally, I don’t eat or drink at chain restaurants when I travel, but we needed a good, but quick breakfast to start our day, so we went to Starbucks. Um, it was awesome! I wish they carried the same items here! We got this thick bread with dried fruit in it, and these eggs with grains, greens, and tomatoes. Just what we needed to fuel us for the day.
  • Since we had to connect via King’s Cross, we stopped by the Platform 9 3/4 store to peruse the wares, and grab some photos and post cards. (Note: The photo opp area is pretty packed most of the time, so we opted to get similar photos on the studio tour rather than the station.)
  • Sadly, we ended up with a lot of bad weather on the entire trip. When we booked the trip six weeks earlier, the normal average was low 50s. However, they got a big snow storm right before we landed, which was unusual for them. This meant we mostly saw snow flurries and 30s and 40s in England (and lower!). So, our day was mostly spent on the hop on, hop off bus looking at London through snow-covered windows. We hopped off and looked around the Trafalgar Square area for a few minutes, but the wind was howling and it was just too cold to stay outside.
  • After being on the bus all day, we grabbed a fantastic dinner at Cote Brasserie, which had been recommended by a friend. Everything was great, but the chocolate mousse was utterly exceptional!
  • That night we saw part two of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Yep, it’s a two-part play. This is awesome because the story isn’t rushed, and we sat by the same, adorable Welsh couple on the second night as well. The bad news is, of course, it takes up two nights. (You can do consecutive day shows on Saturday.) They did a great job with the play, and it’s really fun to see all the fans get into it. There weren’t actually that many kids there! The pair from Wales were senior citizens, so it just goes to show that HP has fans of all kinds!

DAY 3:

  • We’re on day three of the London Pass at this point, and we began our morning at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the original. I loved being able to see it in person, and the only reason we didn’t attend a performance there was that it’s an open air theatre…so, snow.
  • We went next door to the Swan for brunch, and it was beautiful and delicious. I wish we would’ve been around for the Midsummer’s Nights Tea (so cute!), but our meal was still lovely. It was also not breaded and/or fried, and even came with a side salad!
  • Afterward we took a stroll over the Millennium Bridge and made our way to the Parliament Building, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, Big Ben was undergoing renovations and I could only see the clock face. Westminster Abbey was also closed at the time, so we just milled around the exterior for a few minutes.
  • Next up was the London Eye. Again, not great weather for us, so there was a lot of that famous London fog. But it was still fun—and just had to be done! (Note: Definitely worth paying for the skip the line entry to save time! We walked right on rather than standing in line for an hour or so.)
  • On to Kensington Palace for a gander at living like a royal. It was interesting to see, and they even had Princess Diana’s gowns on exhibit. I enjoyed learning more about her through the clothes she wore, who and how she promoted designers, and how they played a role in her charity work. The gift shop/cafe is also pretty good, and I now regret not picking up a couple of things there that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • We headed back to West End for dinner at The Porcupine, which was really good. This was our first time eating fish and chips…and mushy peas, another staple. They were good, but nothing to write home about (other than this blog). However, the sticky toffee pudding was out of this world! It’s worth going just for this dish, and I’m still drooling at the memory of it. I got mine with a side of vanilla custard.
  • After dinner, I drug Raechel back to the theatre one more time for The Mousetrap, which was recommended by another friend. This show is a fun whodunit by Agatha Christie, and entering it’s 66th year, is the longest running show in the world! Plus, it’s probably the cheapest show in London at only $25. A great deal!

DAY 4:

  • We headed out of the city for the first time—to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio! Yes, it’ll look more and more like our trip was sponsored by HP as we go, but sadly, it wasn’t. The studio is about an hour from the city, and is utterly fan-tastic! It was so much fun to see where the movies were made and all the props. And, of course, Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream! (For my Orlando park tips, click here.)
  • The great thing about the HP studio tour is that it wraps up mid-afternoon, so there’s still plenty of time for the sites after. So, we headed over to Buckingham Palace for a quick look around. We also tried to swing back by Westminster Abbey so I could see William Wilberforce’s grave, but it was Sunday and they closed to the public early.
  • At this point, we headed over to Harrod’s for tea. Womp womp. By the time we arrived, there was a long line and we wouldn’t get in before they closed. So, we just looked around the store for a little bit—I wasn’t impressed. It’s hard to navigate, expensive, and very compartmentalized like the flagship Bloomingdale’s. But I’m sad we didn’t get to have tea there.
  • So, what else was on the menu while in London? Indian food, of course! Yelp directed us to a highly-rated nearby spot, Haandi. Outside of India, it was the most delicious and authentic Indian meal I’ve had. Amazing.
  • Finally, it was back to the hotel, but not before a quick pitstop to pick up some Epsom salt for our sore feet! And an earlier night to bed, which was nice.
  • Excursion link on Viator – We liked this one because it was first thing in the morning, and the place got really crowded by lunchtime. It was also nice to have the late afternoon and evening free.

DAY 5:

  • Even though there are so many wonderful things to do in London, we also wanted to experience more of the country while were were there. So, on this day we ventured a few hours out of the city.
  • First up was Warwick Castle. It was beautiful and traditional, and they have wonderfully restored it to give you a glimpse at what life was like over hundreds of years. We also had our first day of beautiful weather!
  • Next up was Stratford-Upon-Avon, which was a priority for me since it was the birthplace of the Bard. Such a cute, little town! We saw the home where he was born, the church were he was baptized/married/buried, and even some Shakespeare being performed by his childhood home and randomly on the street. They absolutely love their native son, and it’s hard to pass a block without some reference to him.
  • From there, it was on to Oxford. Our tour guide gave us an hour-long walking tour, but it rained pretty heavily our entire time there, so the other hour was just spent sipping coffee and chatting about our trip highlights and plans. But it was a beautiful town, and like all the other places, I’d like to go back.
  • For dinner, we stuck close to the hotel. But dinner at The Castle Islington didn’t disappoint. One of the other popular, English dishes we wanted to try were meat pies, and these were super yummy! A great end to our day—and a quick walk across the street back to our hotel. #win
  • Day trip link on Viator – There are LOTS of castles to choose from in England, but Warwick ended up being good, and mostly, it paired up with Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford, which were on our To Do List. Driving through the gorgeous Cotswolds was also a real treat.

DAY 6:

  • Stonehenge! Yep, we made it out there. It was crazy to see up-close—and so close to the road! There is so much lore, superstition, and history to the spot, and that made it fun to explore. Overall, there really isn’t a lot to see, but you wouldn’t know that from all the photos we took!
  • On to Bath, which was an absolute highlight. It’s a gorgeous city, and popular for those on holiday, as well as BBC filming. Our main task here, especially since it had evaded us so far, was afternoon tea. (Note: high tea actually takes place early evening with dinner a few hours later.) My friend, Holly, told us to make reservations at the Pump Room, which was the most well-known spot for afternoon tea in Bath. It was absolutely incredible! Everything was adorable, delicious, and perfect! Not only that, but because we were there just a few days before Raechel’s birthday, I made note of that in the reservations. So, we celebrated with a glass of champagne to start and a free (and enormous) cupcake to end. They also played happy birthday on the piano and everyone in the place sang and clapped. It was so much fun, and one of the things we talked about over and over.
  • We only had a couple of hours in Bath, and most of that was happily spent at the Pump Room. So, for the latter part of our free time, we just walked around and took in the city. We also quickly stopped by the Jane Austen museum gift shop. I wish we could’ve done the museum tour but there was no time. But since I was listening to Pride and Prejudice on Audible on the trip, this was a fun detour.
  • This was our last night in England, so we made some time to pick up souvenirs, which for me, meant tea. We stopped by St. Pancras Station, which is across from King’s Cross, and much more beautiful. I picked up tea and champagne truffles from Fortnum & Mason, and those ended up being great choices. There are also a lot of great food and shopping options here, and I wish we had more time to explore them.
  • Another item on our culinary checklist (<– it was long) was the Cornish Pasty, which we picked up in King’s Cross station for dinner. It was really delicious, but like most everything else there, full of meat and carbs, ha! Veggies were hard to come by on this trip.
  • Day trip link on Viator – Wish we’d had more time in Bath, but these two sites were a great pairing and on our “must see” list.

You can check out all the trip photos here.

 

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC NOTES:

  • I really wanted to take in the theatre scene in London, but man, it was hard to make it through that first night’s performance! We were so busy every day, that sitting in a quiet theatre each night was tough anyway, but that first night was especially hard.
  • A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning. For example, the Harrod’s tea room closed at 5:00 p.m.
  • I fell in love with Marks & Spence (or M&S) stores. They’re sort of like a Whole Foods. We picked up a lot of our snacks and breakfasts here. If you’d like some food souvenirs, this would also be a cheaper place to buy them than at a more gift shop type place.
  • If you don’t want to plan ahead as much, the tour guides on the hop on, hop off buses also sell tickets to a lot of the attractions.
  • Even though we were in London most of the time, we did use cash now and again, so it’s good to have some handy.
  • We really only had three days in London, and could’ve easily spent twice that long. There was still so much to see and do, especially given we lost a lot of time due to the weather. I didn’t get to do any museums, and everything took longer to get to via bus/Underground. It all just eats away at precious time.
  • I always recommend the hop on, hop off buses when visiting new, large cities because it helps you take note of where everything is and helps you group sites together. (Read more here.) However, because London is so large, we could’ve literally done that for a day and a half or two days because of the different routes and their lengths of time. It was a little trickier here than I’ve done in other cities for that reason.
  • Do yourself a favor and try the clotted cream. If ice cream weren’t cold, it would be clotted cream. It’s sooooo delicious, and is super yummy on scones. And, evidently, there’s a debate with clotted cream, much like adding milk to your tea or not. (I don’t, but Raechel does.) The question is if you put the jam on your scone before or after the clotted cream. I was recently asked this during a podcast interview by a guy in England. Who knew! I put my cc on first, by the way.

 

GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:

  • It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
  • These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
  • I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
  • It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then, we’d stop and have nicer dinners.
  • As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
  • Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
  • Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
  • When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
  • I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.

 

MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:

  • We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
  • I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
  • I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
  • One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
  • I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
  • Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
  • These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
  • This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
  • We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in country for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
  • For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
  • Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
  • I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.

 

BONUS:

Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.

For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉

 

Next up: Scotland and Ireland

 

Stonehenge 3

 

Please note: some links are affiliate links.


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How to Travel By Yourself

How to Travel By YourselfAs you read this, I’m actually galavanting around the UK and Ireland with my friend, Rachel, for the next two weeks. This trip is a #bucketlist item, and since we didn’t merit an invite from Harry and Meghan for the wedding, we planned our own jaunt across the pond. (Follow the adventure on Instagram!)

However, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may already know that most of my travel is on my own. And I answered the question of how to travel by yourself a few days ago for someone, so thought I’d also share my tips here as well.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone travels solo because so many people in my circles do. As I’ve said before on this blog (many times!), I LOVE to travel. Whether I’m going an hour away from home, or to the other side of the world, it just fills me up the way few, other things do.

Different foods, different culture, different sites and sounds. It’s always a beautiful experience, and shows you that while the little space you occupy in the world is important, it’s not everything. Travel is a big source of inspiration for me, and I know that many others feel the same.

I’ve traveled to many states here in the U.S. by myself, either for a personal vacation or work purposes. And for my 40th birthday, I checked off one of my top bucket list items when I traveled to Spain. And, yes, I went by myself. That trip was sort of planned spur of the moment because I saw a great deal on a flight. I didn’t even take the time to ask anyone to go with me because I booked the ticket within 10 minutes of seeing the deal! I just knew I wanted to wake up in Barcelona for my 40th birthday, and this was my opportunity.

By now, most of my friends are married with kids, and I am single. So, understandably, it’s much more difficult for them to travel with a friend and not with their family. But my philosophy is that I want to see as much of the world as possible, and if I have to do it on my own to make that dream come true, so be it!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become an amateur travel hacker, which has allowed me to travel cheaply. Putting the time into learning these tricks has been well worth it to be able to do something I love…with as little money as possible. 🙂

So, if you’re thinking about setting out on a solo adventure, here are my best tips for how to travel by yourself:

  • I love attending conferences, and this really kicked off my solo travel experiences. I think it’s a great place to get started because you’ll already be in a room with people who have similar jobs, interests, or passions. That makes it easier to strike up a conversation, especially for us introverts. And I realize people have limited vacation time or budgets for professional development at work, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. For example, I’m involved in the anti-trafficking and social justice community, so a number of those conferences were taken on vacation time and self-funded. But I made friends at those events that I look forward to seeing every year at the next event, or even making a special trip to see them in their hometown.
  • If you’re on a solo vacation, book tours. I really love Viator and TravelZoo, as well as free walking tours. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so I made sure I had these kinds of things scheduled on my solo trip to Barcelona to ensure I’d be around people and having conversations with others. On one day trip, I met some lovely women from Australia, who were also traveling solo, and we had dinner together after the excursion had finished. You can, of course, do the same kinds of things in your home country.
  • I’m “directionally challenged” to say the least, so if you want to see a number of things, but aren’t sure how to get around and don’t have a rental car, buy a hop on hop off pass for at least the first day. Do this on your first, full day to help you get your bearings while someone else does the driving. Honestly, I kinda cringed at doing this in Barcelona because I didn’t want to put a big “tourist” label across my forehead, but it worked out wonderfully. I sat on the whole two-hour ride to see the city at a glimpse and figure out where things are, and how close they were to each other, and then I hopped off to see my top priorities. I only did this for one day out of the five I was there, but of course, it’s an easy method of transportation should you want to continue for a couple of days. And depending on the city, public transportation or ride sharing are other great options.
  • In Barcelona, I also booked a “tapas tour” on the first night. This was not only an effort to meet people and not eat alone, but it gave me a crash course on the local fare so I knew how and what to order going forward.
  • I’m sure no one likes to eat out alone, and I only do it when traveling solo, but it honestly just takes practice. I still don’t like to do it, and feel like everyone is staring at me, but I have to just remind myself that I’m in this wonderful place and this is part of the experience. Bring a book or something to occupy yourself, and you’ll get through it.
  • I love staying in hotels by myself, and I love room service! Just for your own protection, lock your doors, of course, and keep your eyes open, especially if you’re coming back late. 

Additionally, let me bring up one other thing that’s been super helpful for me over the past year or so: Facebook groups and social media.

I’ll soon be traveling to San Diego for a work conference by myself. Outside of hoping to meet people there, we have a Facebook group for everyone in the coaching program that is hosting the event. So, people have been in there making connections, setting up appointments, and even finding people to split hotels with.

I will also have several days on the back end to hang out in the area. I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times before, so I want to use this extra time for networking. So, I jumped into several of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and asked them who might already be in that area or who I should meet while there. Because I work with nonprofits and social enterprises, these are potential clients. But, of course, it never hurts to just expand my network regardless. I’ve already had several responses from people who had recommendations or would like to meet up, so that’ll be another great way to fill my time—and get a tax deduction. 😉 

Obviously, we women should be careful when traveling solo, so I’m cautious not to include specific locations or dates in public spaces. But posting on personal or business social media accounts, or in Facebook groups can be a very easy way to find new friends or clients.

Pretty much of this just takes some time, practice, planning, and patience. But if you love to travel, don’t let anything stop you. Empower yourself, and go for it!

And if you have other tips, or want to tell me how these worked out for you, I’d love to hear!

Happy travels!

 

Update 4/4/18: Just read this article, and about the term “microadventures.” If some of this feels expensive or overwhelming to you, give microadventures a try!

 

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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My Word for 2018


jungwoo-hong-100345So, how is it possible that it’s mid-February already! I really can’t believe how fast this year is flying by. And I think there are a few reasons for that, in my case.

The first is that I’ve been a busy, little bee. I had already started setting up for 2018 back in November, and then hard-core in December, so January rolled in like a freight train because it was heavily on my mind. The second is because I’ve been working a lot of hours. This is an intense season for a few reasons, but I also know I can’t keep it up forever, and am already starting to slow down due to the normal wear and tear of life.

But all of the above is due to my word for the year. While last year was momentous because it revolved all around building the foundation of my budding business, this year is the direct result. I mean, Signify wasn’t my word for the year for nothing! (That’s the name of my business, FYI.)

I usually start thinking about my word for the year in November. I think that’s a natural point when we start looking toward the future and how to finish our year well. At that point, I kinda knew the feelings I wanted my word to represent, but didn’t have a name for it yet. That came when I started to really pray about those feelings. And during a prayer, I used this one word, and I stopped in my tracks. THAT was my word! It was a beautiful, little revelation.

So, what was this word?

MOMENTUM.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts about my word for the year, you know I like to use verbs. I like the action-oriented words because they symbolize intentionality for me. And so, while MOMENTUM is actually a noun, it implies action. And I kinda dig that.

February marks my 20th month in business. I consider those first six months, which were actually the last six months of 2016, to be my training wheels. Though I by no means have it all figured out (far from it!), that start gave me a chance to just get used to life as an entrepreneur. It was a good start, but difficult—ask any entrepreneur!

So, last year was all about trying to build a foundation. There was still plenty of “new” last year, but I was (slightly) more comfortable with it. The biggest challenge of last year was when I launched my digital presence, including my website, social media, and weekly blog. That took a lot of getting used to because, while important, none of that paid the bills. It was a lot of extra effort outside client work. But it slowly became a little more manageable.

For the first year of my business, I worked almost exclusively with friends. This was an absolute blessing, and the best way to start! I created Signify to support my friends professionally. After all, I was already supporting them personally, so this was a natural extension. But, of course, I needed to grow.

In the latter half of last year, I started getting more word-of-mouth attention, referrals, and more notice online. It started some new trends in my business, and it was exciting.

And now, I’m just a little further down the road, and I want to keep growing. I need to keep getting my name out there, so that more business keeps coming in. This is especially important because I differ from a lot of other people in my industry for two, main reasons: I like working with small businesses and I like working on projects. Most people are busy searching out big companies and getting retainer clients. Now, I’m not fundamentally opposed to either of those things, but it’s just not my absolute preference. But this means I have to do a lot of hustling to make sure work is coming in the door.

So, this year is all about MOMENTUM. I’ve put some good things in place, but need to extend my reach. And I think this word will help me do that.

However, though Signify is obviously a huge part of my life, it’s not the only reason I chose MOMENTUM. There are some personal habits I’d like to encourage as well.

One of those is my health. I’ve talked extensively on this blog about my chronic health issues, and I made a lot of progress last year. Even though being a solopreneur isn’t exactly stress-free, it’s allowed me to work from home full-time, get more rest, and allow my body to heal. So, I think 2018 will be another huge chapter for improving my health, and of course, that spills into all areas of my life.

Another personal reason that comes to mind is that I’ve been working on my morning routine since December. I have always been a night owl. It’s very hard for me to fall asleep before midnight most nights. But, of course, I also need to be productive in the day. And while it’s true that I can now set my own schedule, most of the world operates during certain hours, and it’s to my advantage to follow that. So, even though I don’t set an alarm now unless I have a morning meeting, I also don’t want to sleep too late. That means going to bed at a decent hour and waking up at a decent hour. In an ideal world, this would be 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. for me. (I require a lot of sleep, and always have.)

So, I’ve been building a more structured morning routine. Currently, it includes four things that take 20 minutes or so: The 5 Minute Journal, reading Jesus Calling, 10 minutes of meditation via my Calm App, and five minutes of yoga (I YouTube several.). I’ve also just started drinking hot, lemon water to start my day, and am enjoying that too. These are all habits I want to continue improving this year as they set the tone for my days.

There are some other personal and professional reasons as well, but in the interest of keeping this blog post a reasonable length, I’ll leave it at those since they are three, primary reasons.

And here’s my verse for the year:

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” Exodus 23:20

MOMENTUM. That’s my word for the year. And it’s got me pretty excited.

Have a word for the year? Tell me! I love hearing how people are being more intentional in their lives. 🙂

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Interested in picking your own word for the year, but need some help? Here are some resources that might help:

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My previous words for the year: