7 Tips for Travel in Serbia for the Solo Backpacker

Serbia: home of the electrician Nikola Tesla1, the first vampire2, and the largest industry of raspberry exporting in the world3. It’s one of the six republics that constituted the former Yugoslavia4. My original list of “must-sees” didn’t include Serbia (mostly because I didn’t know much about it…how mistaken I was!), but that’s exactly why backpacking is so awesome–the flexibility of your itinerary!

How did I decide to visit Serbia? I’m glad you asked!

When I was in Munich in mid-March, I asked another solo female to take a photo of me at the top of the new town hall in Marienplatz (see below!).

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The photo my friend took! Another thing I’ve mastered: how to ask strangers to take “artsy” photos of me 😉

We ended up going back down in the elevator together and I noticed she was walking alone as well. I thought I could ask her to lunch or something, but then I worried that would be weird. I didn’t want her to think I was creepy!

Then I figured–I’ll probably never see her again. So why not invite her to grab food with me?

So I ran after her (very stalker-esque) and asked if she wanted to grab food or drinks. We ended up getting beers and paninis, seeing a church together, and she accompanied me on my various errands (even backpackers run out of toothpaste!). Eventually, she had to leave to meet a friend, but we exchanged numbers.

Later that week, she texted me and invited me to stay with her in Belgrade, Serbia!

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The famous Hotel Moscow.

So after touring around Budapest for five days, I hopped on a bus to Belgrade and stayed the weekend with an awesome new friend (one who just *happens* to work at the #1 top rated place for desserts in Belgrade).

Isn’t solo travel, like, the greatest thing ever?!

I had no idea what to expect of Serbia. I’d never been to the Balkans5 before, and I don’t know anyone who’s been there. Here are my 7 tips for travel in Serbia (especially as a solo female traveler!).

7 Tips for Travel in Serbia for the Solo Backpacker

1. Be smart and curious. I think there’s a misconception that this area of the world is unsafe, especially for female, solo travelers. Of course, you should always exercise typical cautions: don’t walk alone at night, don’t accept drinks from strangers (or drink anything that you didn’t see poured with your own eyes), etc. Those are precautions you should take anywhere, though! Don’t allow preconceived notions of unsafety deter your from visiting this beautiful, safe country (and the rest of the Balkans).

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2. Learn about the history. Belgrade has, like much of Europe, a lot of history pertaining to World War II. My friend and I did a free walking tour (who’s surprised–me, doing a walking tour?!) and learned a lot about the victims of bombings, the former Yugoslavia, and Belgrade’s experience with the Holocaust. We also learned about a NATO bombing of a journalism building in 1999, where many civilians perished6. On that note: remember to be open-minded. As I travel Europe, I’m realizing more and more how what we’ve learned in school growing up may not be the way others remember the same events.

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The remains of the bombed journalism building, left as a reminder.
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Reading “why?”, this memorial lists the names of the victims from the bombing.
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A second memorial, in a nearby graveyard-turned-park.

3. Visit museums! There are so many interesting museums! The Nikola Tesla museum, the Ethnographic museum, the Historical Museum of Serbia, the Museum of Yugoslav History, and the Military Museum are a few worth mentioning.
4. See the cathedrals. I had the great fortune of accidentally visiting Serbia during Eastern Orthodox Easter! The Eastern Orthodox cathedrals are massively beautiful–be sure to spend some time taking in their beauty. My friend and I visited two: St. Sava’s and St. Michael’s.

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Details inside an Eastern Orthodox Church.
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The beautiful facade on St. Michael’s cathedral. This style of art is one of the telltale signs of an Eastern Orthodox church.
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St. Sava Cathedral.

5. Check out local hot spots of food and drinks. The most famous street in Belgrade isn’t–surprisingly–the largest pedestrian street in the city, Knez Mihailova. While that street is absolutely worth a visit, be sure to check out Skadarlija Street! It’s only 400 meters long (source), but its cobblestone streets, traditional restaurants, and antique shops are sure to captivate all who visit.

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The famous Skadarlija Street.

6. Try the local food! It’s easy to want to stay within your comfort zone when traveling, especially if we don’t know what’s in the food. Trust me, I know all about this fear, as a non-meat eater! But it’s so important to at least get a taste (pun intended) of the delicious, local food.

7. Stop by the Belgrade Fortress. If you’re more of an outdoorsy type, be sure to see the Belgrade Fortress. It’s a giant, beautiful, old fortress with lush grass and breathtaking views of Belgrade. There’s also a mini-church inside the vicinity, and I got to see a baby baptism on Easter inside the church!

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Inside the Belgrade Fortress.
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My friend and I at the Belgrade Fortress!

Serbia is an incredibly beautiful country with kind people, scrumptious food, and awesome views. I so wish that I could keep exploring the Balkans. Next time I backpack Europe, I’ll be sure to intentionally create time to see more of this historical, stunning part of the world.

For those of you who have been to Serbia, what is on your list of must-sees? What other tips would you give travellers?

Budapest Through Photos: The Top Tourist Spots in a Party City

Tbh, I didn’t know much about Budapest before going, I had just heard it was a must. So I took three trains over 18 hours from Rome, and arrived in Budapest, Hungary. I didn’t know what there was to see, but I quickly learned that Budapest has a lot to offer information-hungry visitors (see what I did there? Hehe).

Budapest is definitely a party city. The buildings seem to transform from innocent structures by day to thriving, vibrant hubs of activity at night. So, if you traveled to Budapest to party, you definitely made the right choice… but make sure to plan at least a little time to see the city!

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The city, first of all, is so beautiful.

The buildings are all capped with clay and mint colored shingles. The Danube mightily flows through the center. The city is ripe with history and picturesque views.

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I did a free walking tour of the city the morning after I arrived with a couple girls from my hostel. We walked all through the Jewish Quarter and saw the synagogue, some traditional buildings, and the ruin pubs.

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The Danube is the major river that runs through the heart of Budapest, separating the Buda side from the Pest side (they used to be two separate cities!).

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I think Budapest is one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever been to. I use the word “interesting” here in its true sense–the city really is interesting. It’s full of wacky architecture, graffiti, ruins that have been transformed into hip pubs, and some really important history, especially with regard to World War II.

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Ruin pub by day. So cool by night–a must!

The beautiful Parliament building is also one of Budapest’s main tourist attractions. Impressive and intricate by day, yet strikingly luminescent by night, this magnificent building impressed me from both sides of the river and at all times of day.

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Parliament by day.
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Parliament by night.

Heroes’ Square, closing out Andrassy Avenue, is yet another tourist attraction Budapest has to offer. It contains many statues of famous Hungarian politicians, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. If you’re into history and museums, this is definitely something to check out!

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Heroes’ Square.

Budapest is also heavily laced with Holocaust connections. Like many other European cities, there’s a Jewish ghetto, which is absolutely brimming with delicious kosher restaurants and shops and synagogues.There are countless monuments to remember the victims, some marked and some unmarked. One of the most striking and heartbreaking monuments is pictured below. The Nazis would line up their victims on the banks of the Danube River, force them to strip naked, and shoot many of them, their bodies falling into the river. Those they did not shoot would then return to the Jewish ghetto, a mere three blocks away.

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The most heartbreaking bit was seeing the children’s shoes.

After soaking in all the fascinating history Budapest has to offer, you can soak away the afternoon in one of the many famous thermal baths! These babes are so, so awesome. It’s basically like sitting in a hot tub outside, with your skin absorbing all the good chemicals and minerals they have to offer.

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My friends and I visited the Szechenyi Bath, the most famous of the baths. Painted a traditional mustard yellow color, this bath is actually like twenty baths in one. The most picturesque, of course, is the outdoor bath. It’s similar to your local fitness club’s outdoor pool, probably. Picture teenage girls tanning, men standing around drinking beer, and moms dipping their legs in on the edges, gossiping…. and of course, everyone is Instagramming the whole affair! The building, however, also has plenty of indoor baths if chilling outside isn’t your thing. The pools range in temperature from 20-40 degrees Celsius (aka pretty chilly to pretty warm). There’s a bunch of saunas, as well, ranging in temperature, steaminess, visibility, and smells.

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Plan to spend a while at the baths–they’re so relaxing (and a great hangover cure).

And of course, how could we talk about Budapest without mentioning the incredible nightlife?

The girls I met at the hostel and I went on several pub crawls, a champagne boat party, and danced all night every night. Budapest isn’t a city you want to sleep in–it’s the city you go to afterwards where you’ll need a day or two (or a few) to catch up!

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Plus, my friend and I may have gotten matching tattoos after a particularly fun night 😉 What’s a backpacking trip without something crazy to commemorate it?!

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Budapest is a city with a massive heartbeat for fun, history, and intricate architecture. The rumors you’ve heard are right–it’s a must-see when traveling through Europe. I know I’ll be returning in the near future to experience the wonder of it all again.

tess (1)

The 8 Greatest Things to do in Munich Under 5 Euros

Helloooooo, fellow budget travelers! We all know Europe (especially Western Europe) is a doozy when it comes to price. From hostels to public transportation, food to souvenirs, travel can really drain your bank account if you don’t pay attention (or even if you do, tbh). I went to Munich for a week and found the 8 things to do, all under just FIVE EUROS.

the 8 greatest things to do in munich under 5 euros

1.Do a free walking tour.

I’ve written about this in like, every post I’ve published since I embarked on this great European adventure. But really, there’s a reason… did ya see the word FREE?

So yeah, there’s this company that basically does free walking tours all over Europe. They’re rated crazy high on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and like every other travel website. They last 2-3 hours, and you get to see most the famous monuments, places, and Googleable things in that time.

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A monument we saw on the tour in Odeonplatz.
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A monument you might just walk past if you didn’t know better. The gold stripe on the ground here indicates a path the Nazi resistors would walk down in order to avoid Nazis, therefore avoiding the recitation of the national anthem that was compulsory when passing a Nazi. The resistors created an entirely new way to walk through the city so they would never have to pass a Nazi.
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A statue of Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet. If you touch her gold breast, you receive 24 hours of good luck in your current romantic relationship!

You also get free tips from the local tour guides, who, in my experience, have been nothing less than hilarious and friendly. They’ll tell you all the great local spots to avoid the tourist traps (hellooo, sustainable tourism!!). It’s great.

This is the link to their website.

(There’s also regular walking tours in every city everywhere, but I’ve found this company to be the best of any I’ve done!)

2. Go up the elevator in Marienplatz.

Marienplatz is the main square in Munich, off of which are a significant portion of the tourist sights. I think this cost 3 euros. You basically locate this random elevator under the main gothic-style building in Marienplatz (aka the new city hall), and go up to the fourth floor. The receptionist will take your money and send you on your way up to the ninth floor. When you get off, you’ll be on the top tower of the new city hall, out in the open with the wind whipping on your face and the freezing wind blinding you.

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It was a bit cloudy the day I went, but it was still a breathtaking view

But the #VIEWS, friends. Omg.

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Need I say more?

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Moving on.

3. Shop around the Viktualienmarkt.

This is a little (well, not so little) market right next to the city centre, Marienplatz. In the market, you can find everything from local meats to unique souvenir shops. There’s flower shops and fruits and spices. It’s really a local spot turned tourist. It’s free to walk around and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the city!

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Fun fact: there’s also a May Pole here. Apparently there’s a local tradition where you try to steal other town’s May Poles and demand beer and food as ransom.

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4. Grab an espresso, a small glass of wine, or a slice of cake, and people-watch.

This, you can probably do in any city. But it’s one of my favorite things to do (and I have done it in every city I’ve been to so far).

You can so easily pass the time by observing how people do life in the city, people-watching, eavesdropping (does it really count if you can’t understand the seemingly endless conversations happening around you–you just want to listen to the intricacies that come with a foreign language?), or even reading, journaling, or just enjoying the moment.

This is what they mean by “stopping to smell the roses”.

Take a breather! Let yourself rest for a minute (or three hours) and watch the city. Take it all in. It’s a fantastic way to really feel a city.

Plus, a couple times when I’ve done this, locals have asked me for directions. So there’s that.

5. Explore the churches.

There are like a billion churches in Munich, and they are all so different.

St. Peter’s is right next to Marienplatz, and its incredible ornate gold touches contrasted with the white and black interior is so worth the visit. I actually went twice, because I loved it so much.

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The gothic Cathedral Church of Our Lady is a beautiful church on the opposite end of Marienplatz. It is absolutely full of history and beauty.

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Asam church is maybe a five minute walk from Marienplatz (closer to Sendlinger Straße, if you’re coming via metro or bus), but it is absolutely. worth. it. This is probably hands-down one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever been to, like, ever. It was made by the Asam brothers, for the Asam brothers, but the church was made available to the public when there was some protesting. It’s not the biggest church in the world, but it’s *literally* breathtaking.

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6. If you’re a history buff, visit the NS Documentation Museum.

I believe the ticket entry price was 5 euros for adults, 2.5 euros for students, and the price includes an audio guide. I spent around 2.5 hours here, but I easily could’ve doubled that. The exhibition begins on the fourth floor, and you work your way back down to the first.

Basically, the museum is a deconstructed textbook. It’s brimming with historical videos and photographs and text about World War II–everything there is to know about it.

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A photograph of the rules and restrictions placed upon Jews during the rise of Nazi Germany, as seen in the NS Documentation Museum.

This museum is not for people who don’t have an interest in WWII, Nazi Germany, or anything having to do with those two topics. It’s mostly reading about dense, sensitive topics, but it’s important and I’m really glad I visited.

7. Visit the English Garden.

I only spent about thirty minutes walking around the English Garden (Englischer Garten, in German) because it was so bitterly cold the day I went, but it was beautiful anyway! The garden was full of trees and fields and gazebos and little cafes, and the snow-capped pine trees were really lovely to wander about.

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8. Eat a huge pretzel or split a pint.

Of course, a trip to Munich wouldn’t be a trip to Munich without visiting the famous Hoffbrauhaus. It’s where Oktoberfest happens! Hoffbrauhaus is this gigantic, traditional beer hall, serving all kinds of beer, food, and other delicacies. There’s a traditional German musician group playing at all hours of the day, and the waitstaff wears traditional garb. The pints are not pints, either–they’re, like bigger than the size of my head! The beer ranges in price, but the pretzels were 3,80 euros, if my memory serves me correctly. I spent two nights here with friends, and we easily stayed for three hours without growing bored. It was rowdy, traditional, and lovely all at the same time, if that’s possible.

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Pretzels are only 3,80 and the pints range in price. Look at the size!!

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There you have it! Of course, there are countless other amazing things to do in Munich, but they’ll take just a little more of your wallet (and are totally, completely worth the price).

What are your favorite things to do in this lovely town?

tess (1)

How to Survive a Week in London for the Budget Traveler

We all know that Western Europe is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the world. I think I’ve spent more money in the past couple weeks than I do in a month at home (whoops!). I’ve learned how to cut corners here and there, though, so keep reading to learn from my mistakes!

How to Survive a Week in London for the Budget Traveler

1. Walk as much as possible. 

I literally couldn’t believe how expensive the tube was. An Oyster card alone is five pounds (you get that back when you return the card, though). I’m not sure of the exact amount, but I was putting in maybe eight to ten pounds a day, or maybe $12ish. I wasn’t even taking the tube that much! I did find, however, that things are closer in distance than they seem. Walking has all sorts of benefits: exercise (to burn off that 100g bag of chocolate you ate earlier…no? Just me? Okay.), exploration of the neighborhoods, getting a feel for the layout of the city, meeting people, saving money… the list goes on.

Walking provides so much more opportunity for sight-seeing, stumbling across cute little shops and cafes, and experiencing the city a bit more in-depth.

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Portrait of Shakespeare that I came across while exploring the city by foot.
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I stayed right next to the London Bridge, so I got out walking and explored the area around it!
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Tower Bridge, across from London Bridge!
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The Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in between the London and Tower Bridges. If I hadn’t taken a couple hours out of my morning to walk around and explore my neighborhood, I never would’ve discovered it!
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Some street art I found on my way back from the London Bridge.

2. Cook as much as possible.

I bought quinoa meals and fruit to keep in my hostel, to eat in the morning and late afternoons before dinner. It cuts costs here and there, because all those 5 pound purchases really add up! I also purchased a big salad that kept me full for maybe 3-4 hours. Buy superfoods like that—kale, spinach, quinoa, chickpeas, etc…. Those foods keep you fuller longer than shitty foods! Finally, carry small snacks like nuts or granola bars with you. It will definitely help those mid-afternoon cravings.

3. Do free walking tours (or better yet, DIY it!).

My hostel partners with New Europe tours (I did the same one in Paris), a fantastic company that employs free-lance tour guides who work for free—you just tip at the end. It’s a 2-3 hour walking tour of the central neighborhood in the city, and it’s jam-packed with history, monuments, fun facts, insider tips, and more. It’s a great, very inexpensive way to both acclimate yourself to the city and plan for later activities (what interests you? What would you want to come back and see more of later?).

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A phone booth at the beginning of our walk. I really, truly thought these were just in British movies, and not all over the city. Fr.
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As seen on tour: Friary Court, aka St. James’ Palace.
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Trafalgar Square, another stop on our tour!
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Westminster Abbey!
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Big Ben, who is currently under construction, unfortunately.
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Buckingham Palace!

Secondly, I wanted to sign up for a fourteen-pound Harry Potter walking tour of the city on my last day, to see some filming locations. When I went to signup, however, it was full! I was discouraged at first, but then I figured I could just google some of the locations and check them out for myself. Turns out, this guy has already compiled a 23-page DIY Harry Potter walking tour that takes about 6 hours! It’s completely free, it has very detailed directions for walking and taking the tube, and you can choose which things you want to see and which things you don’t. He’s also included a lot of London’s history and fun facts, which is a nice touch. Click this link to check it out for yourself!

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Pretty self-explanatory 😉
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Gringotts Bank film location – aka the Australian Embassy!
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The Ministry of Magic – aka some random building on a random side street.

4. Google photos of famous places first to see if you want to pay the money to really go inside.

Many famous tourist attractions come with a hefty entrance fee, because everyone wants a photo for their Instagram. For example, a pass to see the insides of the three royal palaces runs about 98 pounds, if my mind serves me right. Ask yourself if you really want to see inside famous attractions, or if you just want to see it to say you’ve been inside. I know I don’t care much for British royalty, so I didn’t pay to go inside any of the palaces, or even to go out to Windsor Palace (a bit out of the city, comparable to Versailles).

The London Tower was 26 pounds, so I googled photos and I truly wasn’t impressed, so I walked over to the building and saw it from the outside, read the info on the plaques, and took some photos. St. Paul’s Cathedral was 18 pounds, so I did the same thing there. After all, if you don’t see it, you don’t know what you’re missing, either!

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The outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Magnificent!

Some things truly are worth seeing, if you have the money to pay it. For example, I saw photos of the inside of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and knew that for me, it was worth paying 16 euros to go inside.

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The crazy beautiful architecture inside La Sagrada Familia.

Instead of paying to go inside some of these famous monuments, I spent money on a ticket to see Wicked, which I knew would mean more to me in the long run. I’m glad I made that decision – it was one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen!

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Instead of paying to go inside some famous attractions, I visited the free (5 euro suggested donation) British Museum one afternoon… and I was NOT disappointed. I expected to spend an hour, hour and a half there, but I ended up spending 3 hours there! I didn’t even get to see all of what I wanted to, but the museum was closing.

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The outside of the British Museum.
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Ink pots from ancient China, as seen inside the British Museum.
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A beautiful depiction of a seated woman, as seen inside the British Museum.
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An Egyptian mummy, as seen inside the British Museum.

Do your research, and decide for yourself what you want to pay to see. To each their own!

5. Explore markets, rifle through local stores, stop inside artisan shops…. But don’t buy anything.

I went to the Camden Markets this week and was instantly drawn to these artisan rings. I wear two rings every day, a family heirloom from my grandma and a ring from Tiffany’s that I received for my fifteenth birthday. I thought wouldn’t one of these rings look lovely with the two I already wear? And what a story—I bought them at a market in London! These rings were so intricate and beautiful, not to mention handmade. Prices ranged from 12 to 26 pounds, which I did consider. I decided to continue shopping, and return if I really wanted one a while later.

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Sure enough, I didn’t miss them.

I read once that if you love something in a store or online, walk away for twenty minutes. If you still want it then, go back and buy it.

Humans have a tendency to consume—we see something, we have access to money to buy it, and so we do. It’s especially hard to walk away when the person who made it is standing right there, watching you. It feels rude to walk away! Remind yourself that you are just one in a million customers they see every day, and save your money.

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On the steps of a statue of Eros, near Piccadilly Circus.

Those are the five tips I learned this week! What tips do you have to see cities for cheap, especially expensive cities? I’d love to hear them (especially as I travel around Europe by myself!).

tess (1)

Highlights from the City of Love

Paris has been a dream of mine since I can remember. It’s the romance, the history, the drama… it all adds to the allure of the dreamy Paris. I had the great opportunity to spend six days wandering through the streets, marveling at the beautiful old architecture juxtaposed with ultra-modern shopping malls and fashion. Even though I spent less than one week there, I can clearly see why it’s dubbed the “City of Love”.

Highlights from the city of love

On my first full day in Paris, I went on a free walking tour. We passed Notre Dame, the Seine, and the Louvre, to name a few. Even though it was bitterly cold that morning, the beauty of the city did not fail to blow me away (almost literally, with that wind!). One of the famous attractions along the Seine includes this lovely tradition pictured below: locking you and your SO’s love together. The locks used to be placed on a different bridge, but because it’s older and more fragile, the locks are now placed on a more modern, sturdy bridge. The idea is that you write you and your lover’s name on the lock, attach it to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine, thereby locking your love together forever.

The downside? The police come and clip off all the locks about once every five weeks, because there are just too many lovers in love with this idea.

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Two friends and I visited the Palace of Versailles, located in the city of Versailles… which is actually not ~super close~ to Paris. Long story short, we spent a veeeeeery long time getting out there because we wanted to avoid expensive trains and shuttles. Just take the shuttle, lol. The palace was absolutely beautiful though, and completely worth the trek out there! I mean, just look at this ceiling.

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I enjoyed a lot of wine (well, a lot for me!) and macaroons. Paris is full of these beautiful, ornate little restaurants and cafes. I loved just wandering around the city and finding myself sitting for an afternoon espresso in the sun. The macaroons were so decadent… so much better (and more expensive) than in America. I must’ve spent 15 euros on macaroons alone. When you pass a display window with colorful macaroon trees and golden boxes… you have to stop. It’s a law 😉

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I had the pleasure of visiting the Louvre, as well. On the first Sunday of the month each month, many attractions in Paris are free, so I didn’t even have to pay a dime! Be aware though–if you do decide to take advantage of this deal as I did, know that you must get there as early as possible to avoid a line. I got there an hour after it opened and only had to wait forty minutes, but I would imaging it would be worse later in the day!

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I of course had to grab a photo of the (quite underwhelming) Mona Lisa.

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I also entered the museum through a ~secret entrance~. There are two on opposite sides of the building, as pictured below (not my photo):

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Photo credit: http://gogopixlibrary.com/secret+entrance+to+the+louvre

I definitely suggest this – you’ll still wait in line, you just won’t be waiting outside!

And finally, I saw the famous Eiffel Tower. What a breathtaking figure. The night I first arrived in Paris, a friend from my hostel and I took the underground metro to see it sparkle and I really just couldn’t believe it. Such an iconic piece right in front of me. It makes you feel pretty small, kind of like you’ll never be sad again, or something. To the people of Paris: do you know how lucky you are to see such beauty every single day?!

I think I captured it well during the week.

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Merci beaucoup, Paris. You have a huge piece of my heart, and I cannot wait to come back.
tess (1)

8 Tips for Being a Successful and Respectful French Tourist

Bonjour de Paris! I’ve been here for just about five days, and it really is the City of Love. I love the beautiful architecture here. The restaurants are so quaint, the people so lovely.

So, you want to be a true Parisienne? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve learned several things about how to successfully (and *respectfully*) navigate French culture, Paris as a city, and how to live life in Europe.

8 Tips for Being a Successful and Respectful French Tourist

  1. Say “Bonjour” to restaurant workers before anything else. Americans have a stereotype about the French: we think, for some reason, that the French are rude. However, in America, we can just walk into a restaurant or bar and begin asking for what we want without saying hello (we might be a little rude for doing so, but it’s really nbd). In France, however, a greeting is the required opener for any conversation. Walk into the restaurant/bar, say Bonjour! to an employee, and you’ll be happily served. Really, isn’t this the way we ought to address one another, anyway?
  2. Prepare to spend at least 1.5 hours on restaurant meals/meals in general. This goes for all of Europe, in my experience. Eating meals is an experience in Europe… it’s . not just to refuel your body. No one uses their phone, everyone is talking to each other, and the entire thing lasts a long time. In addition, people often sit outside underneath or next to heaters. This is probably because a lot of Europeans smoke cigarettes, but I think it’s also because there’s a different attitude toward mealtime in general: it’s to enjoy. Enjoy the air, the food, the time together.
  3. For buying bread: buy something called a “traditional”. It’s exactly like a baguette, but it’s more of a ~local~ thing.
  4. For buying wine: 10 euros will get you a great bottle of wine. Seriously. At any grocery store. Look for “aop” on menus and on bottles–this means it’s locally sourced and probably really good.
  5. Be a money-smart tourist: Instead of paying 25 euros to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, pay 11 euros to go up Montparnasse. It’s a big business building across the street, and they have an Empire-State-Building-esque lookout. This way, you can also see Paris from above including the Eiffel, and it’s half the price.
  6. Take the metro! They have Uber here in Paris, and sometimes that’s nice when you’re returning from partying really early in the morning or you need to be somewhere quickly, but the metro is the cheapest way to get around. Not to mention it’s how to locals travel!
  7. But be conscious of time. Tn Paris, there’s the regular metro (1,90 euros for a one-way ticket), and there’s the RER. The RER is some kind of ~fancy~ train that’s a lot more expensive to use. BUT…it’s worth it to go pay for the RER train to Versailles if you want to see it. Trust me on this one. Versailles Palace was intentionally built way outside of Paris, so it’s not like super easy to get to. The RER may be 14.99 euros (as compared to the 3.80 euro round-trip ticket for the regular metro); but it takes four metros, a 6 euro Uber ride (or a 2 mile walk from the final metro station), and 2.5 hours to get there otherwise. See if perhaps your hostel or hotel provides a shuttle–that would be another relatively inexpensive and quicker option.
  8. Be prepared to spend a lot of money. Paris is expensive. This is a general rule for everywhere, but the father away from tourist attractions you can get, the cheaper things will be. For example, the cafes around the Eiffel Tower are like 14,50 euros for a salad (maybe $19-20 USD equivalent). It’s worth the walk, in my opinion!

Paris has been a dream of mine for most of my life. I can’t believe I have spent this amazing week here. Stay tuned for a play-by-play.

What are your best tourist tips? Leave them in the comments below–I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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EUROPE: Barcelona, Spain — Food, Friends, and All the Adventuring

¡Hola de Barcelona!

Solo travel has been going well so far, considering it hasn’t been true “solo” travel. I’ve been with my friends in stop number one: BARCELONA!

EUROPE_ Barcelona, Spain

This past week has just been a dream. I flew from New York to Barcelona—a seven hour flight. At the airport, I was reunited with my best friends from India: Mireia and Lera. Mireia lives in a suburb of Barcelona with her family, and Lera lives in Moscow. She’s visiting Barcelona with me! Lera and I are staying with Mireia at her home, and it was been so wonderful.

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Mireia and Lera at La Rambla

Barcelona is so beautiful. The buildings are all historic and lovely—something we don’t often get to see in America. Together, Mireia, Lera, and I have visited all the tourist places in Barcelona: La Rambla (the center of the town), La Sagrada Familia and other structures created by Gaudi, the Mediterranean Sea, Parc Guell, Arc de Triomf, and the shopping areas around all these places. We’ve gone through the city via metro and train, which Mireia takes to university every day. It’s so nice to have a personal tour guide!

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a street in Barcelona
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a building in Barcelona
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the incredible cathederal
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the ceiling in la sagrada familia
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another building designed by the architect gaudi
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the view of Barcelona from parc guell.
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arc de triomf. mireia’s university is right down the street!
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the mediterranean sea
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on the beach of the Mediterranean
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Lera at the Mediterranean
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Mireia at the Mediterrnean

We also went to both of Mireia’s grandparents’ houses. It was so lovely, I can’t even say! One of her grandmothers lives on a small family farm in the hills–think Sound of Music hills. She cooked vegetarian paella for Lera and I, and Mireia’s entire extended family came over to eat with us. The paella was so, so, so good! After eating, we roamed around her land, where she grows a host of fruits and vegetables, including kale, cabbage, olives, lemons, limes, olives, and almonds! I felt so welcomed and loved.

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the view of the hills from mireia’s grandmother’s house
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almond tree flowers
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vegetarian paella!

It’s been slightly cold here. Only sunny part of the days, it’s warmer than home but still cause for a jacket. Everyone is so FASHIONABLE here! I can’t even believe it—even the adults look so incredibly put together, like, *all* the time. The fashion in Europe is far ahead of ours: America, get ready for bell bottoms, platform shoes (including heels), and sparkles. I also feel like I am the only person wearing color; it seems that everyone wears only shades of black, grey, and white. I feel so behind the times with my embroidered mom jeans, oversized cardigans, and ombre hair—all of which are very popular at home right now!

The food is so healthy, as well. I’ve read that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world, and I definitely see how. I’ve eaten SO much salad with pears and apples, light vinegar dressings, artichokes, eggplant pizzas, goat cheese…. Although I have had a LOT of chocolate as well 😉 They eat at different times than I’m used to: breakfast is when you wake (like usual), lunch is around 3 pm, and dinner is at 10 pm. It was strange to have not eaten by 1 pm! Secondly, everything appears to be cheap here, but I have to remember: the Euro is more expensive than the American dollar, so if something looks like it’s cheap for only 7.5 euros, it’s actually $10. So when we stop at corner cafes for a croissant, churros and chocolate, or an espresso, and it is only 1.90 euros, I have to remember that it’s actually more expensive!

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thin french fries with an over-easy egg and truffle mushrooms; fresh salad with goat cheese, sweet and sour dressing, sun dried tomatoes, fried onion pieces (and this wasn’t a healthier dish!)

We also went to the disco! Mireia introduced us to some of her friends throughout the weekend and we went to a club, which they call a disco. It was free to get in because we were on a list of some sort, and we partied all night. Let me say: they party HARD here in Europe! We arrived around 1 am, which is apparently *so* early. We left around 3:30 am because we had full days of sight-seeing ahead of us, and the club was absolutely full! I was honestly shocked, lol. The music was different, as well. They played top 40s hits from the USA and Spain. I didn’t even really know any of the English songs because we don’t party to the same music here! It was so much fun to be with a lot of other young people, even if I couldn’t speak with a lot of them.

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at the disco

We met a lot of fun people in the club, including a group of young men who asked me my opinion on Catalonia’s fight for independence. In this region of Spain right now, the Catalonians are trying to become independent from Spain. Mireia attempted to explain the situation to me, but I can’t really compare it to anything, so I’m not sure I fully understand. Here’s my take: Catalonia is a state in the country of Spain (similar to states in the USA), but they feel separate from Spain. They have their own language, Catalan, which sounds and looks like a mix of Spanish and French. They had their own culture, food, and behaviors that differ from the rest of Spain. While walking throughout Barcelona, we saw lots of peaceful protesting: people camping in La Rambla until independence is granted, political graffiti on buildings and sidewalks, yellow ribbons pinned onto shirts and hanging from balconies, and the like. It was a really eye-opening experience: imagine a state in the USA speaking an entirely different language, practicing a different style of life, and wanting independence. Almost everyone I met while traveling with my friends was Catalonian. It was very memorable to be in Spain during such a time of political progress.

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I had a slightly different experience in Spain, because I had to go to the doctor! I was mildly sick while in New York with a cough, which I thought would quickly go away. I was wrong: it worsened by a lot while traveling. I waited a few days to see if it was just the worst part of a cold, but when I started “whooping”, I knew I needed to see a doctor. I had whooping cough two years ago, and I had to cancel my volunteering trip to Nicaragua because of it. Mireia’s mother took me to a public doctor, but the office closed before we were able to be seen. I wasn’t too worried: I will be traveling all over Europe with good doctors everywhere. She was insistent on fighting on my behalf, however, which was so kind of her! She called around to a few other doctors, and finally found a private doctor who was actually willing to stay late for me. He listened to my lungs, took my temperature, and looked at my throat. While I wasn’t able to understand him because of the language barrier, he explained to Mireia’s mother that he would hesitantly prescribe me three days of antibiotics and a liquid cough syrup for the symptoms. When we went to pay, I was so worried that it would be expensive (my travel insurance will reimburse me, but I need money now for traveling!), but my bill was only 40 euros! I couldn’t believe it… in the USA, a consult like the one I had would’ve cost around $200. I am so grateful for Spain’s care of its people—I was able to receive treatment for a very low cost.

Next on my list: PARIS. I’ve been dreaming of this city my entire life. It’s Paris Fashion Week right now, and I’m hoping to get a glimpse of some designers!! My train is today, and it takes just 6.5 hours through the countryside to get to my destination. I’m so so so excited—I’ve been waiting for this day for my whole life!

Au revior, loves. Until next time ❤

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