I started this blog when I first had the inkling that I wanted to backpack across Europe. A year later, that dream became a reality. But I wanted to take my time exploring, so I planned to see Europe in (at least) three trips: one trip for the Mediterranean, one for the British Isles, and one for Central Europe. My first trip trekked across the Mediterranean four years ago, and just this past May, I got to see a few pieces of the British Isles. I didn’t want to wait another four years to see Central Europe, but I certainly didn’t expect it to come this soon!
Ever since I scored a $30 flight from Dublin to London for my last trip on Kayak, I’ve loved playing around with that site. In addition to regular flight searches, you can input your home airport and see the cheapest options for flights in various destinations around the world. With more typical flight searches, when you select the dates, the calendar will show days in green, yellow, and red, based on how much flights cost on that particular day. You can also search up to three days before and after your intended departure dates to see if it would be a better value to leave earlier or later. I like to play around with these features just for fun, and just the other day, it happened to find me a $524 round-trip flight to Munich!
Yes, that’s a real-price $524 flight. No frequent flyer miles. No credit cards. No hacks at all. A true $524 US dollars.
Now, if you live in Europe, or even on the East Coast of the US, this may not seem like such a great deal. But it is a big one for me! My last two Eurotrip flights have been around $1500- nearly triple this! My local airport is pretty small so there are limited options. And being on the west coast, $600 is usually only enough to fly within the continent. Also, this isn’t some budget airline. I’ll be flying both ways with Delta, an airline that includes most flight perks like meals and entertainment. I flew Delta on my first trip to Europe, and it was way better than American Airlines!
Where am I Going?
Obviously, I’ll be going to Munich. This is my first time doing a round-trip flight to Europe instead of open-jaw, so I’ll be seeing Munich twice! (Typically I fly open-jaw so that I can go into one country and leave from another without having to worry about getting back to the original airport. But in this case, flying out of a different airport would have added several hundred dollars to the cost of this flight. So I’m okay with making this backpacking trip a loop route!) I haven’t seen any of the Central European countries at all yet, and in addition to Germany, I want to visit sites in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. I’d also like to visit the tiny countries in this area if I can afford it, Liechtenstein and San Marino. If I go to San Marino, that means I’ll be returning to Italy too!
So far, I’ve been researching Munich and side trips, Interlaken, and Salzburg. I’ve looked up other cities and regions, but with these three I’ve done enough research that I could go there tomorrow. I’ve found hostels to stay in, sights to see, and food to eat. I also applied to volunteer at a Diverbo program in Germany, which altered my last trip!
How am I Affording It?
In the past, international trips have been a once-every-few-years treat. But now, in a twelve-month span of time, I have the privilege of going on three international trips! My last Europe trip to Ireland and England was full-cost, but I was able to coupon my life ahead of time to cancel out the expenses. I’m continuing couponing for my next trip to The Bahamas, but the reason I booked that trip at all was that I was able to get the cruise for free. Obviously, the reason I booked this flight to Germany semi-spontaneously because of how low the airfare was.
Last night, I looked at the cost breakdown of my flight, and guess what the base fare was? Eleven dollars! There’s a $350 carrier-imposed international surcharge, and the rest of the cost is taxes and fees. I don’t know how Delta can afford to transport someone nearly halfway around the world and back for $366, but that’s the kind of deal I like. And I’ll be getting Delta Skymiles for my next two trips too!
The flight was a good deal, so now the task is to find good deals within the continent. I’ve been looking up hostels that have included freebies. Many include breakfast, one includes dinner, and a couple include a free visitor’s pass to the city. If I’m accepted into Diverbo’s program, that will be one cost-free week of travel, cultural exchange, and delicious food! Since the time of year I’m going is the shoulder season or off-season for many destinations, accommodation prices do seem to be lower. But I’ll still need to save up some money, right?
My rough budget right now for the total trip is $4000. I’m almost done couponing to The Bahamas, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to coupon an additional $4000 on top of that, even if I do have five months until my departure date. Instead, I’ll be looking into extra work I can do, like:
Book Sales: I’ve published two books so far, with another coming in November. I may release an additional book or two before leaving to Europe. Here’s my Amazon Author page so you can keep up-to-date with books I’m releasing. I’m hoping this trip will inspire ideas for more books to come!
Swagbucks: I use Swagbucks for a bulk of my couponing, but this website also offers other ways to earn money. Another way I like use Swagbucks is to use it as my search engine, and I get paid just for looking things up that I’d otherwise Google for no profit. I can also take surveys, watch videos (some may even help me with travel planning!), and even play games! Join me on Swagbucks so we can earn together!
Writing: I’ve written dozens of hostel reviews for Hostelz.com. It doesn’t cover the cost of travel, but it sure does help! I used to do a lot of product and accommodation reviews. I don’t do that much anymore, but I may do a couple on this trip if I feel it would be something beneficial to you readers. There’s also normal writing for normal magazines, and, like I said before, maybe another book!
Extra Hours: Unless I get a part-time online job, I won’t be able to work for an hourly wage in Europe. That’s fine for me; it means my time can be better spent exploring. But until then, I can trade time for money by accepting extra hours. I am trying to balance that better right now, though. I worked a lot of extra hours in the summer, and it did take away from my time working on my book business. I need to prioritize books because, even though that’s less lucrative than my hourly work, it has the potential to become more sustainable. But when I can, I will take on an occasional extra shift. And you’d better believe that I’ll be cashing in all my paid time off when I head to Europe!
Now it’s your turn… help me plan this trip! Do you have any must-see sights in Central Europe? How about money-saving tips? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate your thoughts into this trip!
The Lloyd Center is a shopping mall, movie theater, and more. A unique aspect is the indoor “ice” skating rink, right in the middle of the shopping center. But my favorite part is the free and plentiful parking. Of course, the parking lot and garage are only meant for patrons of the mall or theater. I went on a quick walk through the mall and later went to the movies (more on that later), but I did go for a walk while my car was left parked there, and all was good.
Portland has a lot of bridges spanning the Williamette River. One of my favorites is the Steel Bridge. It’s got a lot of great views (including the famous “Made in Oregon” neon sign), but I didn’t realize just how great it was. I walked on the pedestrian walkway alongside the car and train lanes on my way into Downtown Portland. But on the way back, I discovered that there was a lower level just for pedestrians! My trip to London inspired me to love and explore different levels of bridges (I went over, across, and under London Tower Bridge), so getting a different perspective of the Steel Bridge was great.
Keep Portland Weird
I traveled to Portland a lot more as a kid, and it definitely wasn’t as weird back then. I blame the TV show Portlandia for encouraging this subculture. I definitely came across some people living out the “Keep Portland Weird” motto as I strolled through Chinatown, which was capstoned when I finally saw this slogan on the side of a building. It’s right across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts, another Portland must-do. However, I decided to skip the doughnuts this time because I had other eating plans.
I don’t eat at restaurants much, mostly because I’d rather spend that money on travel. But since I was already traveling, I decided to spend some money on a unique dinner. Portland has a lot of options for that. I ended up deciding on Teote, because I love Latin American food. I got a delicious vegetarian plate. They have a few locations throughout Portland. I decided to eat at the “Teote Outpost” location, which is inside the Pine Street Market. This was partly because it was easy to incorporate into my walk, and partly because there was more I wanted to do in this unique food court.
Wiz Bang Bar
I’ve never had Salt & Straw ice cream. This is really crazy, because many people know me as the traveler who eats lots of ice cream. So obviously, the unique flavors of this Portland-based ice cream company were calling my name. However, instead of going to a Salt & Straw shop, all of which were a bit out of the way from all my other plans, I went to Wiz Bang Bar. This is owned by Salt & Straw, but instead specializes in unique soft serve. I sampled a couple unusual flavors and decided to get honey lavender soft serve with cookie dough in a waffle cone. There was a lot more to see and eat at Pine Street Market, but I was already getting full and had more to do, so I took my cone to my next stop.
World’s Smallest Park
Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning about unique Guinness World Records. One record, the world’s smallest park, was in my home state, but I never ended up visiting it until this trip. Mill Ends park started out as a hole in a street median where a light pole was supposed to go. When left abandoned, a journalist started turned it into a little park. Features vary from time to time, but all that was there during my visit was a small tree. A small park only requires a short visit, so I was soon on my way again.
Many people travel to Oregon thinking that Portland is the only thing to see (newsflash: it so is not!!!), but they at least take a day trip to see Multnomah Falls and other waterfalls along The Gorge. I’ve enjoyed lots of waterfalls, but these ones were unique! This piece of art took up the entire park block. I could jump from platform to platform over the water, and I even found a hidden path to get behind one of the waterfalls. This was super fun, but wasn’t the end of my time in Portland parks, or even the end of my time with water features!
In contrast with the world’s smallest park across the street, the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is huge! There’s a lot to see and do along this park, but I mostly wanted to enjoy my time strolling along the Williamette River and to try not to get attacked by a goose. I sat by the fountains and walked the entire length of the park until I was back at Steel Bridge, which I crossed and headed back to the final event of my time in Portland.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The reason that inspired me to take this trip to Portland was an event that you can participate in a theater near your own hometown… but you’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving. I was invited to attend an advance screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, based on a true story about an unlikely friend of Mister Rogers. (It was coincidental that in the movie, this friend was named Lloyd Vogel, and I was watching it at the Lloyd Center!) Tom Hanks did an excellent job portraying the beloved children’s show host, and I was glad I brought a spare napkin from my meal at Teote, because this movie evoked all the feels! And don’t think that just because it’s about Fred Rogers that it’s for kids. In fact, adults will get a lot more out of this film. I hope you go see it, and have a beautiful day in Portland or whatever neighborhood you explore next!
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is about a reporter who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers. I wish he were still alive because interviewing him would be a dream come true for me! But I have had the opportunity to interview dozens of inspiring living role models, like Bethany Hamilton, Sadie Robertson, and more. These interviews will be featured in Girls Who Change the World, which releases October 1st. Click here to preorder Girls Who Change the World!
As a US American citizen, it’s not always easy to hop across the pond for European adventures. So when I can find a European experience in my own country, I’m all for it!
There are a lot of Stonehenge knockoffs in the United States. I regret not having a car while living in Nebraska, because it could have taken me to see Carhenge. There’s also a Foamhenge in Virginia and Alabama has its own fiberglass “Bamahenge”. But nearest me is the Stonehenge of Maryhill, Washington. It’s just across the Oregon border, making it easily accessible by both states. After I visited Multnomah Falls, I headed further east for this next stop.
Since I got to visit the real Stonehenge while in England this past May, it was fun to compare the original stones with this full-scale replication.
Me with the Heel Stone at England’s Stonehenge
England: Part of the enticement to Stonehenge is that no one knows for sure how it was made or what it was used for, though we do estimate it at being 5000 years old. Many theories for its purpose have been presented over the years, but currently, there is strong evidence suggesting it was a sort of calendar device, due to its specific alignment with the solstices.
The Heel Stone at Maryhill’s Stonehenge
Washington: One hundred years ago, England’s Stonehenge was believed to be used for human sacrifice. So when the founder of Maryhill’s Stonehenge wanted to build a memorial to the recently-deceased of World War I, he thought about the sacrifice these soldiers gave and thought Stonehenge would be fitting.
A replica of what may have been used to transport the heavy stones of Stonehenge
England: Perhaps Stonehenge’s biggest mystery is how the builders obtained the stone from 200 miles away, without any modern machinery. Erecting this circle would have been difficult as well.
If it’s made of concrete, should it be called Concretehenge?
Washington: Originally, the plan was for this memorial to be made of local stone. But building a Stonehenge out of stones proved to be difficult even in more modern times, so they switched to concrete. The concrete doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as the original stones, but they tried to improve the appearance by using foil to create a crumpled texture.
England’s Stonehenge with a visible attempt to keep the ruins intact
England: Stonehenge is in ruins; there’s no doubt about that. I visited midday, so I was able to walk around the path, admiring the stones from a bit of a distance. There are special sunrise and sunset tours that allow visitors to walk into the inner circle, but they still cannot touch the stones. Many pieces have fallen and some are missing.
Can you picture the original Stonehenge looking like this one in Washington?
Washington: My favorite part about this Stonehenge is that it was an opportunity to see what Stonehenge was intended to look like. At a mere century old, the preserved memorial shows the Stonehenge with all of its transepts intact. Best of all, you can get up close and personal with this Stonehenge. Spend as much time as you want walking through the inner circle, and even touch the “stones” if you want. No special tour necessary.
England’s Stonehenge as seen from the road
England: Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains. Although its mostly surrounded by farmland (sheep get to spend more time viewing Stonehenge than humans do), it is visible from the throughway. To walk around Stonehenge, though, you’ll need a ticket before taking the bus ride from the parking lot to the stone circle. Since I’m not comfortable driving in England (or really any foreign country), I took one of the many bus tours that stop at Stonehenge.
Washington’s Stonehenge as seen from the road
Washington: Fortunately, I am comfortable driving in most of the United States, which is good because I’m unaware of any busses that stop here! Parking was free and right next to Stonehenge. This Stonehenge is also conveniently located off a highway, though you have to drive a mile or so down country roads before it becomes visible. It sits atop a hill, with a gorgeous view down to the Columbia River and the surrounding farmland. Instead of sheep, these farms are for orchards and wind power!
A prehistoric re-creation at the Stonehenge visitor center in England
England: The visitor experience at Stonehenge has really improved with the addition of a visitor center. This museum has videos, artifacts, and replicas of past life in the area. There are also bathrooms, a gift shop, and a cafe. I took the advice of some other travelers who said I shouldn’t take such a long bus ride from London just to visit Stonehenge. So I found a bus trip that also included an extended stop in Bath.
War Memorial next to Washington’s Stonehenge
Washington: There was a little building at the site entrance, but it wasn’t open at the time so I don’t know what lies inside. There was a flyer that listed some interesting events, and there were port-a-potties on the side of the building. Although there weren’t restaurants, there was a picnic table where I enjoyed a snack I brought. There’s also a soldier memorial to remember the wars that have happened since this Stonehenge was erected to commemorate WWI. I also don’t think you should make this trip just to see this Stonehenge. Across the river bridge is The Dalles, Oregon, which leads into the high desert. I also included Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake National Park, and a few state parks on this weekend trip.
One other big difference between the two Stonehenges was the crowds. One had hundreds of visitors while I was there, while the other only had a couple visitors at a time and I even got to spend some time all alone there. I bet you can figure out which was which!
Have you ever visited a replica of a landmark from another country? Tell me about it in the comments; I’ll probably want to see it too!
Whether you’re in the US, Europe, or anywhere else in the world, you can turn little attractions like this into real adventures! Learn how in my brand-new book, Uncommon Adventures, available in paperback and Kindle ebook
Although I’ve lived in various places across the United States, most of my life has been spent in Oregon. So it might be surprising that I had never been to one of Oregon’s most popular attractions, Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is a tall waterfall in The Gorge of Northern Oregon, just off of the I-84. One of the reasons I hadn’t been to Multnomah Falls was because I had only been on I-84 twice. Both times I was merely a passenger on a bus so I didn’t have control over where we stopped, though on my second trip I at least got to see the upper part of Multnomah Falls from the highway.
But this summer, I wasn’t able to get out much. My last overnight camping trip was in June, and I ended up sick the entire time. Other than that, I went on a few short day trips and housesat a little, but for the most part, I was choosing to put in extra hours at work so I would have more money to spend on travel later. Of course, part of that work involved releasing my new book, Uncommon Adventures! Anyway, when I had a rare free summer weekend, I knew I needed to pack in as much adventure I could, and that would mean a visit to a place I’d never been before!
I learned a lot on my visit to Multnomah Falls, and now you can get a look at the inside scoop!
Parking is Limited
As a top Oregonian attraction, the parking lot just can’t be big enough in the tourist season. Several websites said that there is typically no parking between 11 and 4 on most summer weekends, and some visitors recommended getting there by 9:30.
My original plan was to leave on Friday and find an inexpensive Airbnb to stay in somewhere south of Portland. Then I could easily arrive at Multnomah Falls on Saturday morning. But when I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to stay, I decided to save some money and stay in my own home that night. However, Medford is nearly five hours away from Multnomah Falls, so by 4:15am, I was cruising up the freeway! So worth it, though. I arrived at the big parking lot that’s centered in the middle of Highway 84, and got the first spot in the lot.
After hiking to Benson State Recreation Area (more on that later), I saw their parking lot jam-packed, mostly from visitors who were walking to Multnomah Falls from there. And it was a $5 fee to park there! If you can’t park at Multnomah Falls, there are lots of nearby state park sites that you can go to instead, but most of them have a day-use fee. I returned to the free Multnomah Falls parking lot at 1pm to grab my packed lunch, and every space was taken. Signs were posted that both parking lots were full. When I left for the day at 4pm, the parking lot was open again, but still mostly full. My parking space was taken literally as soon as I pulled out!
There are Three Falls Viewpoints
Most people visit Multnomah Falls from the viewpoint at the base. If you look up a picture of Multnomah Falls on the internet, it’s almost guaranteed that the top results are all taken from this viewpoint. But in those pictures, you’ll see the bridge that separates the upper fall from the lower. Getting to the bridge is just an easy, uphill, paved walk, and many people head up there to see the falls up-close. If you’re up for a bit of a longer and more strenuous hike, you can visit the top of the falls. It’s a steep mile with lots of switchbacks, so not as many people were up at this viewpoint.
Unless this is just a quick roadside stop (which it shouldn’t be if you can avoid it) or your physical ability doesn’t allow it, make an effort to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Not everyone has the opportunity to hike up Oregon’s tallest waterfall. I saw lots of retirees and families on this hike, some even carrying toddlers on their backs. So while it is exhausting, it is doable for most people. Once you reach the top, you can relax there for awhile. Take some pictures on the viewing platform, or admire how calm the Multnomah Creek is before it turns into a roaring waterfall. Then you can either head back down the way you came, or continue further on the less-explored part of the trail.
Multnomah Falls Isn’t the Only Waterfall
There are three other waterfalls in this park. You first have to hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, but if you choose to continue up the trail, you’re in for some real treats.
There are three waterfalls upstream that are all relatively close to each other. This is part of an extensive trail system. If you decide to hike beyond the waterfalls, there are lots of mountain trails you can go on. I chose the five-mile loop to Benson State Recreation Area. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost because whenever I came to a fork it the road, there was a signpost saying which trail was which. I also got a free map from the Visitor Center before I headed out, which was where I found out that this large loop trail even existed.
But as the visitor center volunteer told me, I didn’t have to hike the entire loop. I could have hiked to the waterfalls and then turned around. I decided to take it one step at a time. At first, my goal was just to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Then I decided to check out the other waterfalls. It was there that I decided I might as well go all the way. I was rewarded. The forest was beautiful, and I spotted more waterfalls as I entered Benson State Recreation Area. While this state park has a $5 entry fee if you come by car, entering on foot is free!
The Cookies are HUGE!
I packed a lunch and plenty of other food for the road trip, but you can also eat at Multnomah Falls. There’s a sit-down restaurant and a few snack bars. Snow cones and soft-serve ice cream were two popular choices, but I decided on a cookie for a waterside snack. They were four dollars (which was less than most other snack options), but they were humongous, so it turned out to be a great deal. You could even split this dessert with all your road trip companions. I did this trip solo, though, so I was in for a delicious sugar rush!
You Can’t Stay the Night
Overnight parking isn’t allowed. Despite its name, the Multnomah Falls Lodge has a visitor center, gift shop, restaurant, and bathrooms, but no sleeping quarters. Thankfully, there are lots of nearby state parks where you can stay affordably.
I ended up staying the night at Memaloose State Park. Like many of the other local state parks, it’s situated on the Columbia River with an overlooking view of Washington State. It is a bit further than other campgrounds like Ainsworth, Government Island, or Viento, but I was heading east for the next stop on my trip, so it served as a good midway point. If you can’t find an available campsite from Oregon State Parks, check if there is any availability at the nearby Washington parks.
Overall, It’s a Great Experience
I loved my trip to Multnomah Falls, and I’ll stop there again whenever I pass through the area from now on. Some people stay for less than an hour, while others stay all day. I enjoyed the natural setting for about seven hours, though I could have easily made this stop longer or shorter. But I had been up since the middle of the night, and I still had a bit more driving to do before I reached Memaloose State Park. Besides I wanted to be rested up for the next leg of this road trip? Any guesses where it is? I’ll reveal my next stop later this week, or you can find out the answer by following me on Instagram.
Have you visited any waterfalls before? Which has been your favorite?
There are several people I’ve met over the course of my life who inspired me to do bigger, better, things, especially when it comes to travel. One of the most inspirational people I’ve met is a young man whose name I don’t remember, but I definitely remember his story.
I was backpacking Niagara Falls. Most of my time was spent on the United States side since that had more natural area to explore. But having never been to Canada, of course, I had to walk across the border and spend a few days there. I booked a couple nights at an upscale hostel down the river from the falls. During my first night there, I sat down on a couch in the living room to write in my journal. I heard someone clamoring around the kitchen. A few minutes later he walked into the living room with a bowl of ramen and sat on the other end of the couch. He turned to me and, carefully considering his words before they came out of his mouth, said, “I want to practice my English.”
We had a conversation the best we could, though sometimes we would have to pause so he could look up a word or write down something I said that he never heard before. It turned out that he was visiting from Japan. I was impressed enough that this 20-year-old would come halfway around the world on his own, but as he described what he was doing there, my jaw hit the floor.
Apparently, he flew into Los Angeles, then hopped on a bicycle and started making his way to New York City! He didn’t have anyone help him out; he just pedaled his way through many of the states. In just a couple months, he had seen more of my country in a more thorough manner than I have in my entire life. Because he was ahead of his schedule, he took a detour to Toronto and that’s why I found him in Canada. How did he do it? “Once a week, I stay in a place like a cheap motel. The rest of the time, I set up a tent.” So not only did he take on a physical challenge that most people couldn’t imagine, but a budget challenge, too! As I described the tourist attractions I visited that day, I asked if he had done any of them. “No. I have some money, but I don’t have a lot of money.”
I thought he must have a sponsor, or maybe he was doing some sort of fundraiser, so I asked: “why are you doing this?” The conversation paused again as he paged through all the notes of English words and phrases he learned. He obviously had an important answer for me, but didn’t quite know how to explain it. Finally, he held up a page and pointed to a sentence on it. I read, “I wanted to do something overwhelming.”
I think about his word “overwhelming” when I’m about to embark on a new experience. Traveling on a budget can certainly be overwhelming. At the same time, traveling is a fun way to be overwhelmed: overwhelmed with trying new things, seeing new places, and meeting new people. Saving money while traveling is overwhelming, but it can be part of the experience, too. Those money-saving techniques can include ramen, a bicycle, and camping on the side of the road. But there are plenty of other ways to save, too!
I am excited to announce that my book, Uncommon Adventures, will hit (virtual) bookstores in just three weeks!
Do you find yourself with a constant urge to travel? You’d love to explore, but there are factors in life that are holding you back. Maybe you don’t know the first thing about planning a trip. Maybe you don’t have enough money. Maybe you’re scared.
Enter Uncommon Adventures. It’s packed with all the travel advice ideal for the Christian adventurer. With tips on how to save money, pack, and navigate your way through new places, you can ensure that your next trip will be your best adventure yet. Travel writer Jessica Lippe relates her experiences from travels across the United States and around the world.
What are your travel ambitions? No matter what kind of trip you’d like to take, your adventurous dreams will become more attainable and manageable with help from the pages of this book. Don’t let that travel bug keep biting; take it on an uncommon adventure!
I’ll be sharing more about this book and my process for writing it later, but I wanted to let you know that the Kindle edition is available to pre-order RIGHT NOW! When you pre-order for just $2.99, you’ll be able to read it on any device on its release date, August 1st.
For my faithful blog readers, I will admit that much of this book is personal anecdotes and advice that I’ve never shared here before. So you won’t want to miss out! It’s unlike any other travel guide out there. Head over to Amazon and order your copy today!
Have any questions about my upcoming book? Ask in the comments, and I’ll answer in a future blog post!
Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:
Taking a Walking Tour
I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.
Visiting the White Tower and City Walls
As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.
Having a Rotunda View
I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.
Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.
I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.
These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?
If you are an animal lover, or would like to experience biodiversity on a new level, you might want to take a break from natural reserves and zoos, and go out there to see how animals live in their natural environment. Below you will find a few location suggestions, so you can start planning your family trip and see some of the rarest and strangest animals on the planet.
Costa Rica’s rainforests and shores are a home for many endangered and rare species. If you would like to see how they live and how they contribute to the ecosystem, you might want to book an eco tour to the country. No matter if you visit the mountain ranges or the seaside, you are likely to come across animals and plants you cannot see anywhere else. Costa Rica’s flora and fauna represents six percent of the world’s biodiversity.
From the rainforests to the pristine beaches, and the unique species of animals, there are plenty to see and do on one of the 14 islands. Only 14 of the islands are open for tourists, as some of the animal species are endangered. If you book a tour, you are going to start off on the main island, in Ecuador, and see some of the most untouched places on Earth, where animals live in peace. If you want to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands it is better to book through a local tour operator than setting off on your own.
Located in MesoAmerica, this is one of the top 25 biodiversity destinations in the world. You will find that there are 14 ecoregions and 66 unique ecosystems with over ten thousand species, most of which live in the tropical forests. You will also find wetlands and freshwater reef. You should certainly visit The Sleeping Child Reserve in the highlands of Western Guatemala, where you can meet different species of treefrogs.
If you want to experience nature in a new way, and you have been to wildlife safaris before, you will need to check out what Belize has to offer. You should book a tour to the Maya forest and explore the Rio Bravo conservation area. The marine biodiversity of the country is outstanding, with over 700 species of fish living around the country’s shores.
You might think about Brazil as a modern and urbanized country, but it has a great biodiversity, too. In fact, it has 20 percent of the fresh water found on Earth, and – as a result – there are over one thousand amphibians living in the country along with over 700 reptiles. Of course, this is also the best place to start an Amazon Rainforest adventure.
Visiting tourist resorts, going to the zoo, and taking a safari trip are all great ways of experiencing nature and getting to know the different species. However, if you would like to meet the unique creatures in their natural environment, you might want to check out one of these countries.
A great thing about the travel community is that people are always happy to share their advice. However, sometimes people give travel tips about a place they’ve never even been to, or haven’t been to in several years. This is the 21st century! The world has changed, but people are still spreading these totally-outdated travel tips.
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“Make sure to bring traveler’s checks!”
I made the mistake of taking out a traveler’s check. Once. Never again.
I was moving and needed to close my local bank account. They gave me the option of getting my money in cash or traveler’s check. I chose the check just because it seemed safer than driving with a dozen Benjamins over 800 miles to my new home. This was silly thinking because, A) I had all my worldly possessions in my car anyway, and B) if I lost the traveler’s check, it would be just as devastating as losing the equivalent paper money. And once I did arrive in my new hometown, I had the hardest time finding a place that would convert it back into cash.
This experience was from six years ago. Traveler’s checks would be even more difficult nowadays, and especially in foreign countries. Skip the checks altogether and just bring plastic.
“Bring enough money to exchange!”
Currency exchange booths are the worst. It’s a guaranteed way to lose money. I still bring some US bills tucked away in case of some sort of bank emergency, but as mentioned above, I now rely on plastic.
I bring a debit card for when I need to withdraw cash from an ATM. Many ATMs offer free withdrawals, though your bank will still likely charge you. However, depending on the amount you withdraw, this will probably cost less than exchanging money. (Talk with your bank before you go to make sure that you have the best kind of card they offer for international travel.)
On my most recent trip, I only used my debit card once in the two weeks I was there- and that was on my last full day! Credit cards are becoming the global currency. If you find a credit card that doesn’t charge an international conversion fee, this is the only way to use foreign money without losing money. And using your credit card wisely can even make you money!
Just about everyone who’s gone to Europe for a length of time has been asked by well-meaning older folks if they’ve bought a rail pass yet. On my first trip to Europe, it seemed like it was a requirement for any cross-continent backpacker. So I bought my two-month, ten-trip Eurail pass. What a waste of money.
While they may have been great for backpackers in the 70s, rail passes are no longer the best for saving time or money. I still had to wait in line to ask a desk agent which trains I could ride with my Eurail, and if I needed to make reservations to go on those trains. (Reservations were usually 10 euro extra on top of the price of the Eurail pass.) If I ride the rails again, I will just buy point-to-point tickets in advance, or even at the kiosks in the train station. However, for my first month of European travel, I booked long-distance buses instead of trains. That cost a lot less than the trains did, and in some countries was much more practical. On my most recent trip, I found a cheap flight from Ireland to England, and I’m not the only one taking advantage of discount European airlines whose city-hopping fares are less than the train.
“Bring an adapter and converter so your electronics don’t blow up!”
A quick explanation on adapters and converters: an adapter makes your plug fit into a differently-shaped socket. A converter changes the amount of currency that flows into your charging electronic. There are some bulky 2-in-1 adapter/converter combos, but nowadays I only bring an adapter.
Most modern electronics are made for international distribution, meaning they have built-in converters so that they can handle whatever current they’re connected to. I only travel with a phone and compact camera, neither of which requires an external converter. Even larger electronics like laptops and tablets are fine without a converter. High-voltage items like hair dryers do need a converter. (It will fry if you try to use it without, but I don’t think it will blow up!) However, most accommodations have hair dryers available, so don’t bother bringing your own from home. If you don’t see one in your room, they may be kept at the front desk.
I still bring an adapter, but within a few years, I can see that being outdated as well. On my last trip, I saw planes, bus, and even hostel charging ports for USB cords. USB ports are becoming more universal, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can just bring a USB cord and leave the wall adapter and international adapter at home.
“Only drink bottled water!”
In many places, there’s nothing wrong with the water that flows straight from the tap. Check to see if your destination has safe drinking water, and pack a refillable bottle to avoid wasting money and time searching for overpriced bottled beverages.
Even in countries with unsafe tap water, you may still be able to avoid the single-use plastic bottles all the time. When I visited Istanbul, there was a reverse osmosis filter tap where I was staying. If you’re given drinking water at a restaurant, you can use whatever you don’t drink there to refill your bottle. You can also clean the tap water yourself by bringing a Lifestraw or purification kit. If all else fails, buy your water in bulk instead of little bottles. Simple refill your reusable bottle from the larger jug, and that way you’ll still save money and plastic!
“Don’t eat street food!”
If you skip the street food, you’re missing out on some of the best culture! With the rising popularity of food trucks (formerly dubbed “roach coaches”) in the US, I haven’t heard as many complaints about street food around the world in recent years. But wherever you go, remember that street food vendors have government-regulated cleanliness standards that they have to keep up with, too. In fact, seeing my food prepared right in front of me often gives me a better peace of mind in how it was made.
“Hostels are creepy and disgusting!”
Stop watching horror films! Okay, I’ve never actually seen that movie before, but if I made a movie called “Hostel”, it would be about a traveler who has a great time in a new destination, gets insider tips from her roommates and the staff who work there, enjoys freebies like breakfast, internet, and city maps, and leaves paying only a fraction of the cost that the people in the hotel next door paid. But I have a feeling that Hollywood isn’t interested in this story that millions of travelers live out.
Hostels are great! If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you’re already familiar with the dorm-style lodging. Basically, just imagine an indoor summer camp in the middle of the city. Or picture renting a twin bed in a hotel instead of a room. It’s really not that bad, and can actually enrich your experience. Along with the low cost of admission, you’ll also get a free cultural exchange with other excited travelers from around the world.
I’ve had an occasional run-in with a hostel that didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’ve experienced that with hotels as well. In fact, some of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been more unique than any hotel. Since most hostels have some sort of online presence, go ahead and check them out ahead of time. You’ll see that they have security measures, cleanliness standards, and a welcoming atmosphere. And if you’re still not sold on sharing a room with strangers new friends, many hostels offer private rooms.
As I prepared to travel to London, almost every blog post I read told me to get the Oyster card. “It will save you so much money when riding the Tube” they said. Even on my first day in London, when I was checking into my hostel, the receptionist asked, “did you get your Oyster card yet?” He then pointed me to the nearest tube station and told me how to get one. Since I wouldn’t be taking the tube that day, I decided not to get one that day.
Or the next day.
Or the next.
I was staying in the Westminster area, and I could walk to so many of the attractions I wanted to see. But I did have a bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge scheduled. When I boarded that bus, the Mary Poppins-esque guide gave us some travel tips for London, including, of course, to save money on the tube by getting an Oyster card. “Or, if your credit card has what looks like the WiFi symbol printed on it, you can just tap your card when you get on and off the tube just like the Oyster card, and you’ll pay the same price as the Oyster card.” I checked, and my credit card did have that symbol. That would mean no waiting in line to buy or return the card or worrying about running out of credit. Score!
I actually didn’t take the tube at all until my last day there, when I headed from Greenwich to Heathrow. So I only spent about $7 in tube fare. I got to see a lot more of London by walking, taking the hop-on hop-off bus, and taking a river cruise. I’d encourage you to explore above ground as much as possible, no matter what city you visit.
“Always wear a money belt!”
I recently was watching a travel lecture where Rick Steves himself mentioned that even he doesn’t wear a money belt all the time anymore. I used a neck stash for so many international trips, and it was uncomfortable, sweaty, and looked weird underneath my clothes. If you don’t like the feeling of your money belt and instead opt to put it in your bag or leave it in your room, it’s kind of pointless.
There are so many travel security items on the market today, you can find one that’s right for you. I use a combination of items. I wear a scarf that has a hidden zippered pocket. It’s big enough to fit my passport and money. I also use my Lewis N Clark convertipack, which has locking zippers and a strap that you can secure to yourself , a chair, bed rail, etc. Even attaching your luggage zippers together with a carabiner can deter thieves. If your accommodation seems safe enough, leave valuables in a safe or locker there. Zip-up pants pockets can prevent pickpockets. There’s also bra stashes and even underwear with hidden pockets! Use what works for you, but remember that the best way to make sure your items don’t get stolen is to minimize what you’re traveling with and keep an eye on what you do bring.
“You’ll have to learn a foreign language!”
I’m visiting three different countries this year. (Four if you count the USA.) All of them are English-fluent countries. But even in countries with another national language, you’ll find an abundance of English speakers. If you used Google Translate to read this blog post, I would encourage you to learn English, as that is the global language of business and the go-to language for travelers. But if you are fluent in English, learn how to simplify what you say, and you should be able to get along fine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to expect everyone to speak English to you or to refuse to learn another language. The more you know in a local language, the more you’ll be able to talk about, and you definitely will have an advantage over English-only speakers. But if you’re visiting multiple countries that all speak a different language, don’t stress yourself out or worse, cancel your trip due to not knowing how to speak. If you learn how to say a few courtesy words (like “hello”, “thank you”, or “do you speak English?”) you’ll be more than fine. And may I remind you that we are in the 21st century? Most people carry devices capable of translating languages around in their pockets!
“Your phone won’t work outside of the country!”
This one may be true, but only sort of. My phone service only works when I’m within the United States (though I was able to make a phone call from Niagara Falls, Canada once). However, I still bring my phone with me everywhere I go. WiFi is increasingly abundant, and you can use apps to text and make international calls for free. I brought an international phone on my first trip to Europe, but my regular smartphone provided me with all my communication needs.
There are other ways you can communicate, too. Sending postcards is still a thing, but Instagram is a more instant method of sending the same type of message. You can find pay phones in some areas (those red London phone booths are still abundant despite hardly anyone using them). Be creative and you won’t even miss your phone service.
“Bring extra film for your camera!”
Okay, I’m not sure if anyone actually says this anymore. My mom always asks me if I brought enough film whenever she drives me to the airport just as a joke to make me feel like I’ve forgotten something. (I return the favor by letting her know her car’s low on blinker fluid.) Your camera’s SIM card should be big enough to take at least a thousand pictures, but if you do run low on space, upload some of your pictures to an online cloud as you go.
What totally outdated travel tips have YOU heard? Let us know in the comments so we can all have a chuckle!
I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.
What I Did With My London Pass
I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:
Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
Tower Bridge (normally 10)
HMS Belfast (normally 16)
The View from the Shard (normally 32)
Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
Royal Mews (normally 12)
Kensington Palace (normally 20)
City Cruises (normally 19)
The Fan Museum (normally 5)
Cutty Sark (normally 15)
Royal Observatory (normally 16)
National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)
Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.
Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.
What About Other Cities?
The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.
To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.
How to Save Money When Buying the Pass
The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)
However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.
For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.
If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.
You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.
One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.
But Is It Really Worth It?
If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?
As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.
There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.
In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.
Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.