Five Things To Do in Florence

I recently went on a trip to Florence with my husband and it was great. Sunny weather, lots of pasta, old bridges and mountains of leather goods.

Although a small and walkable city, there are lots to do which is great but it can also be overwhelming. If you’re looking to travel on a budget, trying to do all of the activities that are available to you is expensive. I’ve decided to narrow down my experiences in Florence to the top five things I enjoyed and would recommend for you to do when you arrive in Florence.

Shopping in Central Market

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It can be a bit much because every time you look at a stall in the market, a vendor is trying to convince you to buy from him but it’s quite a spectacular place. You can find a ton of leather goods like wallets, bags, belts, jackets and more. It smells fantastic (if you like the smell of fresh leather) and it’s super colorful. It’s also free to wander so it’s budget friendly.

There’s also an indoor market right next door where you can buy more trinket or some food.

Tour the Piazza del Duomo

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The Piazza del Duomo is the Cathedral Square located in the historic old center of the city. The building in the center is extraordinary. While on vacation, we didn’t actually go inside of the cathedral as you need to book in advance and lines in August are no joke (even the people with tickets had to wait outside on a long line in the hot Tuscan sun).

One of my favorite experiences near the piazza was a panini shop called Panini Tuscana. It wasn’t just a sandwich spot, it was fun and tasty to way to immerse yourself into a stereotypical Italian adventure (friendly locals breaking bread and slicing up fresh cheese).

Stroll on Ponte Vecchio

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Called the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), it’s one of the most touristy bridges in Florence. This means lots of foreign people around so keep your wits about you as you could be the target of a pickpocket. I say that to make sure you’re aware of your surroundings, as you can easily get swept up in the magic along the bridge, but it is pretty safe.

There are lots of jewelry shops filled with diamonds, gold necklaces and other fancy trinkets that make you wish you had more money. Other than jewels that will dazzle, the views from the bridge are pretty awesome as well. Stroll along looking for the perfect spot to take in the sunset and admire the colors, the sounds and the vibe. Another plus, this must see is completely free so don’t worry about spending money (unless you’re tempted by the gelato shops at the end of the bridge).

Panoramic views at Piazzale Michaelangelo

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You can walk it but if you’re walking in August, make sure you have a big bottle of cold water.

We walked to Piazzale Michaelangelo to take in a panoramic view of Florence. Once at the top, you’ll find many other on-lookers trying to capture the beauty that in front of you.

And if you’re looking to get a souvenir of the moment (that isn’t a photo), there are a variety of vendors selling scarves, Florence memorabilia, lemoncello, food and alcoholic drinks around the piazzale.

Wander Boboli Gardens

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Florence has A LOT of museums and that can really add up. I admit that we didn’t go to many museums but we did pay to go to the gardens.

It’s a huge mass of land that offers a variety of views and loads of places to sit down and have a bit lunch while surrounded by manicured greenery and distinct buildings. You can literally spend a couple of hours in the garden, wandering through small exhibits and palaces or taking in the atmosphere to do a beautiful sketch. To me, this makes the price of the ticket totally worth it as there’s so much to cover and many places where you can get lost or away from the other tourists.

5 Ways To Kickstart Your Move Abroad

Have you been bitten by the wanderlust bug? Are you daydreaming about what it would be like if you could move abroad? Or to London? Well, you aren’t the only one dreaming. In fact, in a mean way, you’re not special. There are others wishing that exact thing right now. I was one of those others. And trust me, making your moving dream a reality takes effort.

To make the process a little less daunting, I’m sharing my top 5 tips to help you kickstart your move abroad. If you’re an undergrad student or someone looking to move your career to a new city, this is for you.

The road is long and tough but there is always hope. With my tips, it’s my aim that you get an additional leg up in making your dreams come true.

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Inside of Worcester College at Oxford University.

1. Try Getting Your Masters

One of the easiest ways to live abroad (especially the U.K) is getting your masters. When your accepted into a masters program, you can then apply for a student visa which grants you entry to study for a little over a year. You’re also granted working rights so you can take a job legally and make some extra cash.

I seriously thought about this route when I first tried to move to the UK but wanted to try another way (see next tip) as I had finished my undergrad four years prior and wanted to continue earning money.

You can check out the list of universities and various masters programs on this site for starters. It’s a nice way of understanding how the masters programs work and even offers a little guidance around funding your next level studies.

What’s important to remember for this step?

  • Look into the costs of attending a program. Scholarships, loans, savings and more are vital when it comes to assessing how you’ll fund your degree.
  • Pay attention to dates. Deadlines for applying to school. Deadlines for student visas. All the deadlines. Set little alerts using Google Cal to say ahead of everything.
  • Essays and documents. Make sure you write your personal statement, get recommendations and have your passport prepped for any next steps.

 

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Job Interviews in London

2. Apply For Jobs on the Approved Sponsor List

This is what I tried first as I had about five years of working experience. I figured I could qualify for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa and using my comms skills to sell myself into a role. But this was hard. I applied anywhere and everywhere but I should have been more focused.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but one way you can sort of shortcut your search is to look for positions within companies that have already been approved as a sponsor. Why? To get a working sponsor in the UK is much harder than you think.

As a hopeful applicant, you need to prove how worthy you are over any other applicant in all of the UK (and Europe as of this post). The job poster all needs to prove they’ve advertised this role for a certain length of time, showcase to government why you’re worthy of the role and must hold a license to sponsor foreign workers.

The license bit can cost a business a lot of hassle with all of the paperwork and money involved, so starting your job search with companies on the list I mentioned will make it less stressful. Beginning there means you don’t have to worry about a company ultimately denying you an offer because they can’t actually finance a sponsorship. If you secure the job and sponsorship, you can live in London with no issues.

What’s important to remember for this step?

  • Draft loads of emails to inquire about job opportunities. Not every company will have open jobs so sending a note to their HR or info email will help you start a conversation.
  • Make your resume sparkle. Take time to edit your resume and make yourself sound  like the bees knees. You need to standout!
  • Make sure you tell employers upfront about your right to work status. Hiding it during interview stages does no one any good as you’re wasting your own time in the end.

3. Talk To Recruiters Abroad

The first two options fall apart? Seek the help of a professional. Research recruitment firms abroad and draft notes with your sparkling/cleaned up resume. They know the rules of recruitment in the UK (and elsewhere) and can tell you what you need to do to make yourself look better. They also know who’s hiring and what companies may be seriously interested in sponsoring you.

It’s always in a recruiters best interest to find job placements for anyone they take on so there is hope with this step. Will all recruiters take you on? No. But certainly try it because it can help your dream come true.

What’s important to remember for this step?

  • Follow up with recruiters. One email is not enough to make them take notice.
  • Look for a recruiter that specializes in the industry you’re looking for work in. This is a list that give you a good start, sharing agencies from a few different sectors.

4. Specialist Visas

Have a talent? Are you a budding entrepreneur? Do you have experience in technology? There are a few visas you can apply for like a talent visa (model, actor, sports player), tech talent visa (skills in the tech industry that can vary from comms to finance to engineering) and many more. Some visas are even available to people who work in a profession that the country has a shortage of labor.

Caveat, some of these are short term working visas and even qualifying for them are an uphill battle but if you fit the bill, go for it. You can take a look at the specialists working visas here.

What’s important to remember for this step?

  • You mainly need to make sure you fit the criteria for whatever specialist visa you’re after. That’s it.

5. Seek A Job Transfer

If you’ve had the forethought to plan for your London move years in advance by working at a global company, kudos to you. HOWEVER, this is not guaranteed but it’s worth a try. Check out your company to see if they have any openings in foreign locations or tell your manager that you’re interested in any new positions abroad. This case usually works if you’ve been at a company for five years or more so this isn’t a quick fix. But in some cases, it really can work for you.

What’s important to remember for this step?

  • Make your want to work abroad known early. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll know the exact steps you need to take to fast track a possible transfer.

Any questions? I’m sure you must, so let me know in the comments or feel free to send me a note. Hopefully you can get a leg up on the competition with these tips.

6 Low Key Things To Do In Lisbon

Spoiler alert, I went to Lisbon Portugal and had an amazing time!

This was one of those trips where I didn’t plan much aside from where we were going to stay and how I was going to get from point A to point B. Other than that, I arrived in Lisbon with a clear state of mind and had absolutely no expectations as to what I should see and do. I usually have a mental list or notes on my phone of food I want to eat, monuments I should see and experiences to try but it just didn’t happen here. For this trip I thought what was best was to plan nothing and embrace everything. And being honest, my mind was distracted with work up until that point.

To embrace all that comes your way in Lisbon and to give you a head start on doing nothing but still having a great time, I’m sharing six things I highly recommend that will leave a sweet spot in your heart for Lisbon. Pocket friendly and cultural, do these things to see what Lisbon has to offer (and it works just as well if you’re short on time in the city)!

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Breakfast at the Brunch Cafe

My husband arrived in Lisbon late on a Saturday night. Deciding to just cosy up at our airbnb for the night, we made a decision to taste some of the food that Lisbon had to offer the very next morning. Enter the Brunch Cafe.

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I’ve never had breakfast or brunch that took up the entire table. I felt like a glutton but was also very pleased.

Now if you’re going to this cafe on a Sunday, please do make reservations because everyone and there mom will be there and you’re likely to find a line. This happened to me so we made reservations for the next morning (Monday) and rolled up to find the place was not as booming (no lines). Any who, once you get in you enter a small but cute space with over 10 different brunch items on the menu. Choose from pancakes or classic bacon and eggs – it’s all there!

A great way to start your morning tour of Lisbon, we paid 12 euros per person for two drinks (hot and cold) plus all you see at the table in the photo! The vibe is also super relaxed. No one is rushing you out the door and the staff are very friendly and patient.

Look at all the Street Art

Nothing screams chilled that free art. Especially street art. If you like browsing the streets of Bushwick in Brooklyn, NY or Shoreditch in London, UK, Lisbon is your place to see a new style.

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If you love color, you’ll love Lisbon!

A great activity to do after eating a large breakfast, literally every corner in Lisbon has something interesting to look at. Make sure you bring your walking shoes because you will be climbing up the city hills and admiring all that is before you because there is a lot. For instance if one corner you might find art that you feel belongs in a museum and on another you’ll find something that reminds you of a beautiful comic book that speaks to your being (or whatever art critic you may be harboring). Various colors, drawing style, patterns and more are all over the city. What I love about this activity is that it’s free and you can stumble across many other parts of the city without using a map. Just follow what delights your eyes and I’m sure a cool cafe or trendy shop will lure you in.

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Bifana and Vhino Verde Break

After you’ve had a chance to view some cool art (and take photos of it for Instagram of course), what you should do next is head to the Bifanaria Lisboa because you will have renewed your appetite.

I’m not a Bifana expert but I will say that although it looks like a tourist trap, this place is pretty nice. The upstairs seating is well decorated and the price of the Bifana (a pork sandwich that can include cheese or chips) is not too bad. It isn’t hugely filling but it is a nice snack that will definitely top you up after you’ve burnt some energy looking at all that art.

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The atmosphere is very relaxed and the food is tasty. I had a Bifana with chips and a glass of some Portugese wine (vhino verde) which was really yum. Take a chance to chill out with some bubbly wine and just people watch from the window upstairs. I really liked this place as it was an unexpected cosy spot. You could catch your breath, plan your next move, or just sit there editing your photos to make people jealous of your vacation.

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Walk the Tram 28 Route

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I found out about the famous tram 28 while in Lisbon and was tempted to go on a ride. But then I looked it up online. It’s the opposite of chill. It’s so touristy in fact that you have to wait two hours online to buy a ticket and once you get on, you end up packed inside a local cuisine favorite (a sardine).

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People love it because it takes you past all the bits of Lisbon city center that you hear about in the guide books but honestly, walking along the route is better. You see more and you get more space and autonomy. Also, if you are desperate for a tram ride, there are other ones that you can get on and they wont be as packed. I’m all for not being stuck in a commuter ride situation where you’re smelling someone’s armpit (not on vacation anyway).

Ride the Metro

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At this point (if you’re doing this all step by step), you’re feet will be hurting so I recommend you give them a break by heading to the metro. I feel like riding the public transport is a great way to get an idea of the kinds of people that inhabit a city. You see who they are, how they interact, how clean the metro is (or maybe not), how it’s designed, etc. For a very curious person, this a great thing to do. It’s also pretty cheap so that can’t do you any wrong.

The metro in Lisbon is also very cool. Aside from the culture, you can see that the art extends from the city walls to the underground. Some cars have graffiti on them, others have colorful chairs and some stations have really unique facades.

Jump off at the Botanical Gardens

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Not pricey and very peaceful, the botanical gardens is a nice place to visit. I went on a Monday and the vibe was very chill. Stroll through the gardens and look at all the flowers and trees around you. Sit down at one of the many benches and do a sketch, listen to music or even journal. My husband and I did this (he sketched and I journaled). It was a great way to take in everything while also letting out some emotions all while on vacation.

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The gardens are also a wonderful backdrop to take photos. I certainly had my husband take quite a few of me because I’m always hungry for content ideas even if I don’t have a particular idea nailed down. It’s fun to just figure things out on the fly.

So there you have it! Those are my ideas to enjoy Lisbon while on a budget and without too much fuss. The people that know me know I like to enjoy and indulge but I also dislike the extra commotion that can sometimes occur when you travel. If you’re like me then these tips will certainly make your time in Lisbon even better.

Have you been to any of these places? Have you been to Lisbon? What’s the most chill or most low key thing you’ve done there but still had a lot of fun doing?  Let me know!

 

Coffee With A View in Silves, Portugal

I’ve never once claimed to be a coffee connoisseur. In fact, those who know me, know I only tolerate coffee that’s flavored or topped with whipped cream. I can’t even handle a cup that tastes like there is too much caffeine in it for fear that my head will explode. Now that I’ve shared these points with you up front, I can get into my post about coffee in Silves.

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Bird song, colorful buildings, cheerfully pink blossoms, the sound of water rushing and the breeze floating through the air paint a gorgeous picture in Silves.

Stroll past the museum and you’ll find the cutest courtyard before your eyes. Pastel pinks mixed with rustic tan, chirping birds, deliciously scented pink flowers. It all awaits. Follow the staircase down into it and to your right, you’ll find Cafe DaRosa.

The aesthetic is very cool and charming. Actually, I found it to be quite French with the blues and whites. Everything was beautiful. A bit hungry and always thirsty (I’ve found Portugal a place that never quenches my thirst), we grabbed a seat on the outside of the cafe as most places in Silves (and Portugal) appear to be a seat yourself sort of atmosphere. I then took it upon myself to run inside for the detail of it all.

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This blue and white tile work is very much part of the Portugal aesthetic. I went to a tile museum where I saw handcrafted bits like these, using blue and white for the color palette and the work was quite beautiful. For some reason however, I did feel like the tile work and the chairs seemed very French but maybe that’s just because I’m in a European place.

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The chairs were too cute. 10 points for ambience no?

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And these little bottles of liquor had a very Alice in Wonderland feel. I’m not sure what purpose they served aside from looking cute but I’m sure they’re probably used to make coffee drinks a bit more potent.

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Lots of biscotti type cookies in jars. If you like biscotti (I’m not the hugest fan), then this is your spot.

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But the main attraction to me was the pastry counter. Would they have the coveted pastel de nata that I so deeply desired? Of course they did as we’re in Portugal. They also had a variety of other tarts that tempted me but I resisted. By the way, how many pastel de natas are too much for one sitting? Three? Eight?

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We ordered and I opted for a pastel de nata with a mocha coffee and my husband went for the espresso (he’s lactose intolerant which can limit things) and a bean tart.  Both items were tasty but being honest, the best pastel I’ve had so far was in Lisbon from a bakery outside of the botanical gardens. This one was a solid but comes in last place out of the three places I’ve tried a pastel de nata. My husband did love his bean tart though. Also, my mocha was like any other mocha. Nothing to write home about but it was good.

So what do I think of Cafe DaRosa? Its atmosphere is amazing. Tres chic and tres cool. The food, it’s decent. Nothing amazing but it’s good and the price wasn’t too bad (6 euros in total).  So if you find yourself in Silves, definitely stop by for the atmosphere and a little treat but if you’re looking for mind blowing food, you could try another spot.

4 Highlights in Berlin, Germany

On January 1 2019, my husband and I made our way to Berlin.

I was desperate to kick off the new year with a trip abroad because I felt it would set a trend for the rest of the year. Germany made the most sense for our destination as it’d be a relatively cheap and short trip from London. Because I had spent so much of 2018 without my passport and making plans for 2019, I figured heading to Berlin would be perfect. A city full of culture and history, we could have a nice city break in the winter and enjoy the local fare.

Here are some of my highlights.

The Treats In Berlin

 

 

Germany is not known for their food. At least not to my knowledge. When I think of amazing world class cuisine, and maybe I’m bias, I don’t think of German food.  If I do think of German food, I think of sausages and boiled something or other. Not my idea of a great meal. BUT, I did very much enjoy my bratwurst sausage. I felt like I had to have a German sausage because I was in Berlin. To my surprise, it wasn’t too bad. It was essentially a giant semi bland sausage on a roll but it was ok. The pretzel I had was also ok. I think I’m slightly spoiled by soft, warm buttery pretzels in the American chain Auntie Anne but it wasn’t too bad.

My favorite bit however was the Gluhwein. If you find yourself in Germany, get a cup. It’s essentially mulled wine but sweeter. When I had my first sip, it tasted of cinnamon, citrus, warm wine and other beautifully sweet things. For people with a sweet tooth, beware of this inconspicuous treat. I easily could have drank 4 -5 cups of this but I would regret it in the morning as there is plenty of alcohol in this drink.

The Transportation

 

 

 

While in Berlin we ended up riding the tram, U-bahn and S-bahn. It’s super efficient and a relatively cheap way of getting around the city. The design is also a bit funky but seems perfectly right for the city of Berlin. It’s definitely experience you should do to get a taste of local life. The only thing you need to remember is to stamp your tickets before getting on the train because if you don’t and a train cop finds you, you could be paying a fine.

The Sights

 

 

 

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Berlin is known for the art. It’s also known for being very hipster. Think of everyone you know who wears Warby Parker glasses, converse, skinny jeans and old grandpa sweaters. I feel that’s the vibe you expect and what you really get when you visit the city. While I was in Berlin I went to the East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. Each bit had a story to tell about the city of Berlin and each bit were beautiful to look at. I’m glad I got to see and highly recommend that you stop by these sights, if even for 5 minutes, for the experience.

The Palace Charlottenburg

 

 

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We paid money to enter the palace Charlottenburg but I’d say it’s worth the price tag as there is a lot to see. There are three sites at the Palace to visit including a mini museum house and a walk around the garden. It was pretty cold when we went so visiting the palace was a good choice. Plenty of shelter from the outside winds and lots of history to explore. You can’t touch anything but you pretty much walk through all of the rooms of the house with a free audio guide that gives you the lowdown on how the palace came to be. I enjoyed my time here and think it’s worth a little trip. Plus, just across from the palace is a chill cafe that has some tasty pastries and drinks.

So those are my Berlin highlights. There’s definitely more to Berlin that what I noted but think that anyone who is headed to the city for a quick trip would certainly feel they had a good time if they indulged in my top finds of the city.

Let me know if you’ve been to Berlin and what you found to be worth trying or visiting!

My 2019 Top Travel Destinations

I started my 2019 as an expat in London who went on a mini trip to Berlin Germany. One would think that you’d call that travel goals or at least, a healthy start for anyone who has resolved to travel more in 2019. To that I say you’re right, but my list of things to do this year, it’s oh so long.

As 2018 wrapped up, I saw lists curated on the best destinations to visit in 2019 and all I could think was “man, there are a lot of places out there.” How could I possibly find the time and money to do it all? The answer  is that there isn’t enough time but it doesn’t hurt to try. With that, I’m sharing a few of my travel destinations for 2019. This isn’t based on data or even places that I’ve completely experienced but for some reason (probably Instagram), I’m getting vibes that these places will see more tourism.

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Seen in Italy Magazine

Rome

Located in Italy is the beautiful city of Rome. I mean, there are lots of beautiful cities in Italy but Rome is the classic. It’s the one I recall when watching Mary Kate and Ashley jet off to another foreign place that was alive with cool outfits, adventure and somehow, a cute boy just waiting to fall in love with your feminine mystique.

In 2019, I foresee people aiming to live their best lives since 2018 was kind of meh for some. This means, indulging in yummy pastas, gelatos and wine, waistline be damned. But not really. You can walk all over the city to help restore a balance to your feasting and somehow, the pasta is less fattening there. Maybe I’m lying to myself but I have heard European food can be leaner than their American counterparts.

In Rome awaits, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, a detour to the Vatican, amazing architecture and yes, food! Why wouldn’t this be a stop in 2019.

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Seen in Tap Air Portugal

Dakar

Visiting a cosmopolitan city in Africa is easier than you think. One place that will delight you is Dakar, Senegal. Lined with beaches, delicious food, culture and lots of sunny vibes, Dakar is one of those places that will offer a magical experience. It’s a little less popping than places like Morocco or South Africa is (I saw so many Instagrams and I myself went to Marrakesh) so I have a suspicion that more eyeballs will be on the hunt for some place like Dakar since it is unique.

Not only will you be blown away by the landscape but you’ll learn a lot too. There are lots of museums about the slave trade and though it may not be a fun subject, it is one of very great importance. I’m hoping I can find my way there this year.

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Seen in Travel Triangle

Bali

So if you were on Instagram at all last year, Bali was all over the shop. There were photos of influencers in tubs filled with rose petals or sitting in a pool eating what appeared to be a delicious spread of a floating breakfast. Now that’s luxury!

When you arrive, perch on a beautiful sandy beach, climb a volcano or visit a temple. Some people love to have monkeys all over them but I say ditch that and just look at them from a far. This location has been on my list for two years now as somewhere I need to visit and that still hasn’t changed. Located in Indonesia, I’m dying to one day set off for warm rays, yummy food and a bit of adventure. I’m sure Bali will still deliver fierce photos on social media this year.

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Seen in Travel + Leisure

 

Palawan Islands

Just a few months ago this location sat at the top of my list for places to consider for my honeymoon. As soon as I “discovered it” however, I saw it appearing on way too many Instagram feeds for my liking. I wanted a remote, relaxing honeymoon adventure so I put it a bit further down on my contenders list but it’s still up there in regards to must visit. Why? The breathtaking views.

Sit on a white beach overlooking turquoise waters while sipping on a tasty drink. Go snorkeling and discover the flora and fauna below. Head off to a lagoon, an underground river or a cave to find hidden treasures. Or island hop and indulge in the local cuisine. This is truly a vacation to unwind, relax and dazzle your eyes! I definitely see more people heading here in the coming months.

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Montego Bay

Although I have Jamaican heritage, I’ve never been to any part of Jamaica. I have been to the Caribbean (DR) but not to any island. For shame, I know. But this year I suspect I might get there finally and so will others.

A tropical paradise, Montego Bay offers fun island vibes. Sip on my fav drink of pina coladas; eat jerk chicken, roti, curry goat, plantains, dumplings and all the goods; lay in the pristine sand reading a good book. There are a lot of ways to just exist in bliss on this island and I see many people in need of a remote holiday without spending tons of cash. Montego Bay in Jamaica is the answer.

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Seen in Visit Sedona

Sedona

A fan of hiking and spa days? Sedona will be your local place to head to in 2019. Taking in beautiful sunsets or sunrises, you can do yoga from a hill top or find a masseuse that will workout every bit of stress from your body.

What I like about Sedona and suspect others will enjoy this year is that it is low-key but surrounded by astounding beauty. Red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests are around so the nature lover in you will have something to constantly take in while in the city. You’re also pretty close to the Grand Canyon so you can take in those views and eat some delicious food that is likely to have a Mexican influence. And if you love spirituality, I know this place will be for you. I see mental health and spirituality topping people’s lists this year so don’t be shocked to see them all in Sedona.

 

Those are my thoughts based on no scientific facts, just my hunch. Let me know if you agree!

The Disappearing Passport: Stranded in America

Is my title dramatic? Of course it is but I was going through a range of emotions and I felt like this captured it. Are there worse places to be stranded? Of course! I’m aware of the amount of privilege I’m swinging here but that’s sort of the point of this post. How I realized my American passport offered me so much privilege when it came to traveling (and life as a whole) and how crippled, deflated, and shocked I felt without it.

Travel isn’t everything but it does mean something when you’ve experienced it. Once you’ve gotten a taste for it, it’s hard to shake. Like a sweet chocolate chip cookie or ice cream addiction. It’s so good and you can’t help but go back for one more cookie or one more scoop.

I had to give up my passport as I awaited a spouse visa to join my husband in the UK. Since I’m from America, I had to mail my passport to a visa office in Sheffield, UK and wait for a verdict. This meant no international traveling of any sort until I received a decision. If I wanted to leave the country, I’d have to withdraw my visa application and reapply with more money and wait an unknown period of time that could last for up a minimum of 3 months. No thanks! So I spent the tail end of Summer and early Autumn trapped in NYC. Specifically, the Bronx.

Again, woe is me right? Trapped in a cultural city known as NYC with lots of things to do, see and loved ones at my doorstep. Yeah, I’m playing my tune on a tiny violin but I’m trying to make a point. The point that when without your passport, your world feels smaller. Although I could travel domestically, I felt like everything around me enclosed on me. Especially with all the anti immigrant rhetoric and presidential news, my world felt like options were reduced and I could only see but a few steps ahead.

I also began to reflect and notice the amount of privilege I had. How I could easily travel around the world without having to apply for visas or get too much grief for applying. How I could just show up in Europe, flash my passport and pretty much get past the border without the third degree. It was simple and now I felt that that power was gone. That power to discover the world around me. I couldn’t leave NYC for Bali at the drop of a hat (though I would never do that because I require a little budget and a little planning). I wanted to learn about new cultures, see new sights and try new food. Again, I know I could do this in NYC but I wanted my privilege back, as odd as that sounds as a black female.

I never understood how complex (or how much more complex to be accurate) that life could be until after I started traveling. Learning about how different countries approached subjects like healthcare, democracy, homelessness, gender, etc. It was all so eye opening. But when I was grounded in the Bronx for about 3 months, I knew I had to settle in and just observe my surroundings with the hopes of being reunited with my passport. Observe I did. I saw what my neighbors considered a way of life and how people looked toward various moments of happiness. It was enlightening.

Cut to now. I have my passport and visa and I’m in the UK. I’m dying to book my next big trip (or small trip) and I’m so happy to have some autonomy restored.

 

Why You Should Relocate Abroad

Recently, I wrote a guest travel post for the ever fun and fabulous Shut Up and Go travel duo of Damon and Jo. I explained why I had to leave NYC in search of culture and a feeling of newness abroad in London. It was more than I dreamed of but also, not what I dreamed at all. Things happened and things didn’t happen; as is life no matter where you travel. But I feel it’s my duty to shed some light on people who love to travel this new idea – have you ever thought about relocating abroad?

If no, ask yourself why you’d pass on relocating or refuse to consider this option. To me, being an expat, even temporarily, is one of the best things you can do. It opens so many doors for you and gives you an experience like no other. To coax a few of you on the fence when it comes to expat life, I’ve identified four reasons why you should seriously adjust your life and relocate!

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Restart Button

No one gets a truly blank slate in life (unless you have amnesia) but moving abroad to a new country can get you close enough. When you move to a new country, literally no one knows who you are or your story. To them, you’re a funky foreigner that could live up to the hype of your homeland’s stereotype or show them a brand new perspective. Also, everything is foreign to you as well. You can figure out where you want to live, what you want to do to earn money and who you want to hang out with. It can be like it’s the first time you’ve ever had to make this decision. I know new beginnings can be scary for most but I say lean in to the restart and see what cool person emerges (or how you might reaffirm who you are).

New Cultures

When you are in a new city as an expat, you’ll run into people from all over the world. But instead of hearing a foreign language on a tour or while eating dinner out at a banging restaurant, you’ll actually have time to interact with and get to know other cultures. As a girl who spent most of her life in the bubble that is NYC (it too is it’s own kind of bubble), nothing made my eyes truly open until I studied abroad in Paris for a semester. Learning a new language, figuring out how people lived day to day, trying to understand the layout of the city – these were all challenges but I can say with certainty that it changed me for the better.

More Exploration

The downside of travel in the form of vacation or holiday is that you may not have enough time to truly get to know a location. As an expat, you can take your time learning the intricacies of various neighborhoods; discovering which places are your go-to for excellent dining, what spots are great for coffee or finding a wine bar that is pocket friendly! Just imagine how many more Instagramable locations, museums you can visit and cool hangouts you can find when you don’t have to be in a rush. Slow travel can be just as exhilarating as a quick holiday.

Private Time

Being alone in a new city can be frightening but nothing allows you to know yourself better. This sense that you are own your own and you have to work to make friends, setup your place and create a life gives you a new type of power. I’m not gonna lie though, some people don’t thrive on this. Some people panic and sink or shrink into a person they don’t know but if you keep your heart positive and believe that everything will turn out for the better, the things you find about yourself are invaluable. For instance, while abroad in Paris, I learned that I enjoy walking cities by myself. At first, I was doing it because I didn’t know what else to do but then, I started to enjoy my walks around the arrondissements.  I could navigate myself anywhere I wished to go and could speak to people in decent French to get what I wanted. Who know when I would have learned I had the power to do that had I not become a temporary expat in Paris!

It’s true that solo expat life isn’t for everyone but I think it can be! And if not, bring a partner, sibling, friend with you! Doing it as a duo can be just as eye opening and life affirming. Remember, you don’t have to be an expat forever – you can always go back home. But take the chance, get out there and learn a new way to live, you’ll be better than you are right now.

Let me know if you’ve ever been an expat or have considered it. Why or why not?

5 Charming Things To Do In London This Winter

I know it’s only October but the holidays, and Winter, are on the horizon. This means that travelers dreaming of the twinkling lights and old charm of London and Europe are going to go in search of this magic. But what do you do when you’ve arrived in London to find that your ideal holiday abroad is overrun with tourists? I’m sharing five amazing things to do in London that are oh so charming and guaranteed to leave you feeling like your Christmas or Winter in London is everything and more!

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credit: World Wandernista

Twinkling Lights

One of the things travelers come to London to see in the Winter are the famous lights over Oxford street. Walk down the street lined with some of the most quintessential London shops (i.e Selfridges and Topshop) to find a gorgeous display of lights all around you. Be forewarned that there will be many, many tourists in the area doing holiday shopping so casual strolling may not be ideal here but you can definitely give it your best shot.

Pro tip – This isn’t the only street in London lined with lights. You can go down many a side streets in this area to find more dazzling light displays down Carnaby street, Chinatown and other parts of Soho.

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credit: Timeout London

Mulled Wine on The Southbank

One of my most favorite activities to do in London during the holiday season is to get a glass of mulled wine and to go on a stroll. It’s romantic (if you’re looking to walk down Southbank with a special someone) and just plain lovely. Why? When the sun has set, you’re walking down a long uninterrupted stretch of land that overlooks the water and is lined with lights and little museums to pop into incase you need respite from the chilly air. There are also loads of little restaurants and stalls that offer heated lamps to sit under and just relax. And the mulled wine – it just warms you up and makes your insides feel like Christmas, ha!

Pro tip – If you keep walking, you’ll run into the Christmas market there or down to Borough market near London Bridge. Lots to buy and taste!

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Ice Skating

A bit pricey but a great buy, ice skating outside Somerset House or the Natural History museum is a great idea to try. Pay for an hour long skating session and listen to pop music and holiday tunes as you glide across the rink. There will be people of all skill levels out there so be prepared for a skater or two to blow past you or a few more falling in front of you. Wear your warmest gear though because it can get pretty chilly.

Pro tip – Some rinks offer added buys on your ticket like a glass of mulled wine or something fun to enjoy after/before your skating session. I’d personally skip it unless your dying to try their cuisine. You can find something cheaper not too far away from the rink.

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credit: Getty Images

Christmas Fair in Hyde Park

Admittedly, I have yet to do this because my time in London has yet to overlap with this particular event but I’ve heard first hand that this can be a lot of fun. Pricey? Most likely but you can only spend on the things you want to do. The Christmas fair in Hyde Park is just what it sounds like, a fair with games, rides and prizes. Bask in the holiday cheer and go on a ride or two in one of London’s most well known parks.

Head To The Market

Now this one is out of the box but I honestly think it’s one of the most cost effective ideas out there. London has some great treats and tastes to try during the holiday season so why not head to the market to create your own goodie bag? Go to Waitrose, Sainsbury or another chain and pick up some Christmas crackers, mince pies, holiday chocolates and more. Not only do they make great treats for you, they will also be magical stocking stuffers or gifts for friends and family back home!

So there you have it! Those are my holiday winter travel ideas for anyone heading to London these next couple of months into the new year. London is magical on it’s own but if you check out any items on my list, I’m sure your experience will be even better! Let me know if you’ve done any of these or if you plan to!

Hiking From Portugos To Pitres

This post is a long time coming but I blame life for getting in the way. This Spring, I went on an amazing two week vacation (or holiday if you’re British) to the Andalusia region of Spain. While there, my now husband and I stayed in three locations Cadiz, Tarifa and Yator. Beautiful places with each offering their own vibe, one of the most challenging but beautiful day trip we did on our adventure was hike from Portugos to Pitres.

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Stream just outside Portugos

While in the Andalusia region, we wanted to explore the smaller cities nearby and experience nature. We settled on driving down to Portugos to start a walk that would cross through about three or four villages. It didn’t sound too arduous so I was up for the challenge. I also had the promise of jamon serrano and a dinner out in one of the villages to motivate me as I wanted to earn my meal, haha.

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Walking out of Portugos, we guided ourselves with a book of walks we had in our airbnb. It had detailed instructions to generally help us stick to the path and get to where we wanted to be without getting lost or finding ourselves hanging off a cliff by accident. About 20 minutes into the walk however, we started to get off path and went along this hilltop that had amazing views (pictured above) but honestly scared me. An old mill had once been in the spot we were trying to go to in order to look at the ruins and get a better view but the hill was super steep. I was nervous because all I had on were little Nike running shoes, not slope gear.

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Husband exploring the ruins.

I must say that once we made it to the top, it was pretty and the surface was flat enough to roam about but the journey there and back down was heart racing.

We eventually found ourselves back on the path, before we took the detour to the mill, and began walk down a large spiraling cliffside that tourists can also use as a guided horse exploration trail. At the bottom of that trail, we began to enter a new town and were greeted by the scent of farm animals. We’ve now been walking (or hiking) for about an hour and a half.

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The sun begins to get even hotter so we make it our mission to find a place to sit down for a bit and eat our packed lunch we brought with us. What did we bring? An olive oil, tomato, cheese and jamon sandwich that we made at our Airbnb. It was so tasty and definitely great fuel after walking so long. We sat on the edge of a hill top that overlooked green fields and a few wildflowers. It was a nice place to take break and just bask in the beauty around us that was relatively tourist free (as we typically go on walks that last more than 2 hours, I find it’s good way to see a place that won’t be overrun with a bunch of tourists because it’s my idea tourists don’t like hikes that long). I complain about my feet and how I’m thirsty than I thought but it really is an amazing journey.

Around every corner so far we’ve found ruins or old building pointed out to us by our walking guide. Each bit is fascinating and the tranquility of it all, it’s so refreshing to someone who has only known city life.

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Three hours of walking and lots of greenery later, we find ourselves in Ferreirola. We’re about three fourths done with our walk but we still have at least an hour and a half more of walking before we complete our loop. I’m tired and beginning to lose a bit of the nature spirit so we wander through the town of Ferreirola. It’s our time to find some shade and take it easy when it comes to climbing up slippery paths and steep hills.

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The town is very village like. It’s soooo tiny. I mean, you’d probably walk the whole village in under 20 minutes at a leisurely stroll. We decided to do just that, taking in the architecture, the atmosphere and making a stop at the ever popular fuente to refill our bottles with fresh water from the earth. I make my husband (then boyfriend) take photos of me but I’m not pleased with many of them, haha.

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Fuente Lavadero De Ferreirola

After our “break,” I tell my husband we need to kick it into high gear. I’m tired of walking and want to complete this as soon as possible. We push on and head out of Ferreirola to Pitres. But one last photo before we go because I can’t help myself.

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The sun starts to feel hotter than ever but we push until we get to Pitres however, we find that we have to climb this larger than life steep hill for what feels like an hour in order to make it through the center of town and do the last leg which is a leisurely walk on the streets back to Portugos.

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As we embark on this climb I think “Why did I agree to do this?” I’m fed up and sweaty and want to complete this thing but I stop to take a look at where I am realize what it is that I’m doing. Not most people get to go hiking, let alone do it in Southern Spain. I took a deep breath and pushed forward, knowing that I would feel accomplished after completing a journey as long as this.

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Five hours later, we completed the walk! We made it back to our starting city and were overjoyed. It was such a wonderful walk despite it being longer than anticipated (I thought three hours at most). I wouldn’t change anything about that day for the world (well, maybe my outfit) but it was a lot of fun. Besides, I was treated to jamon serrano after our journey and that was a great way to unwind!

Have you been hiking in Andalusia? What do you think of doing something like this for five hours? Were we crazy? Let me know!