It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!
It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.
The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.
This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.
Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.
Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.
Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!
I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.
I think this is a fun icebreaker to do with adventurous people. Unless you’re a flat earther, we’ve been confident for hundreds of years that the world is round. Yet the phrase “four corners of the Earth” still gets used. But those four corners are different for everyone. So what are your four corners?
In the comments, tell us the farthest you’ve traveled North, South, East, and West. It’s okay if the don’t all sound impressive. Up until a few months ago, the furthest north I’d traveled was Seattle, Washington. That’s just one state away from me! I had been to Canada, but the part I went to (Niagara Falls) was still further south than Seattle. Remember that this isn’t a competition. It’s just an opportunity to get to know about other people’s adventures and maybe get some inspiration for your next trip!
Here are my four corners of the world:
North: Northern Ireland
What four corners of the world have YOU traveled to? Drop a comment so we can all get to know each other better.
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?
A trip to the Parthenon…what does this make you think of? For most, that would involve heading to Athens, Greece. That was one of my Parthenon trips. But my first Parthenon trip happened three years before I ever even set foot in Europe. And my last Parthenon trip happened over three years after I left Greece. What an uncommon adventure! To understand the full significance and beauty of this historic architecture, I believe it requires three trips to three different countries.
Nashville: Discovering the Former Glory
While not a primary reason to visit Tennessee, I loved visiting the world’s only fully intact Parthenon and saw it almost every day while in Nashville. While it doesn’t have millennia-old history or fine material craftsmanship, this is one of the best places to go to visually learn about the Parthenon.
The exterior is a spitting image of the Parthenon in its glory days. You can walk around and see each piece of art. You can even walk up and touch the columns or sit on the steps, something you absolutely cannot do at the Acropolis. Another thing you can only do here is step inside the Parthenon. While the lower levels definitely look modern-day, the top level features a giant statue of the Greek god Athena, the namesake for Greece’s capital. While a similar statue used to be housed inside Greece’s Parthenon, no one knows what happened to that behemoth. So not only is this the only place where you can see the Parthenon in its intended glory, but also the only place to see this statue and what it looked like inside.
At the time of my visit to Nashville, I had never been to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to Greece in my lifetime, but I recorded in my travel journal that if I did make it there, I might be disappointed at the real Parthenon.
Athens: The Real Deal on Location
A few years later, I found myself in Greece! And I recorded in that travel journal that I wasn’t sure if I liked the Greek or American Parthenon better.
The center of Athens is the Acropolis, and the centerpiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the original. It’s a special experience to be able to walk among the ancient buildings atop this mountain. The ruins are preserved as best as possible there, but the art is better kept in a different home. Just downhill, the Acropolis Museum recreates the Parthenon indoors with the friezes displayed in their original order. Other Acropolis archaeological finds are on display here as well. But not everything from the Parthenon is housed in this museum.
The Parthenon is in ruins, partially because of its age, and largely because of an explosion when it was being used to store British military ammunition. If you speak to a local Greek about the Parthenon, they will be sure to include blaming the Brits. Not only for the explosion, but also because they “stole the original art off the Parthenon and refuse to give it back”. The Greeks’ relationship with the British might be strained because of this, but for me, this international argument was mostly just a call for me to take another trip.
London: Rounding Out with the Lost Art
After seeing the Parthenon in Athens, my next trip to Europe had to involve Great Britain. While an expensive city, London can be done on a budget, especially when you visit the free museums! One of the best museums (that also happens to be free) is the British Museum, oddly named since it consists entirely of artifacts taken from other countries. An entire section of the museum is devoted to ancient art from Athens.
Stepping into the Greek section of The British Museum almost felt like being teleported back into Greece. The room appeared to be the Acropolis turned outside-in. Each end of this room displays the Elgin Marbles, the statues that originally adorned the Parthenon. They are displayed in the same order as they were intended to be, so you can easily imagine the Parthenon’s roof topping just over their heads. Other statues are bookended by this art, along with a message of the United Kingdom’s stance on why they believe the Parthenon pieces in their collection should remain under their care.
The British Museum had a lot of other fascinating artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone. London itself had even more to offer. But the feeling of being among the Parthenon’s marble statues was uniquely satisfying. After many years and a worldwide search, I had finally come full-circle with seeing every element of the Parthenon that began with an unlikely trip to Nashville.
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?
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.
I was just one of millions who were shocked yesterday at the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, France. But all the memories I had from nearly four years ago with this structure came rushing back. While in Paris, I loved walking to this city center and did so several times. I took a walking tour around the island that taught me a lot about the history and art. I climbed to the belltowers, found sanctuary inside the sanctuary, attended an evening service, picnicked in its shade, and even explored the underground crypt. I never imagined that this building that pointed to God for over 850 years would be destroyed in my lifetime.
Without the dedicated firefighters working hours upon hours yesterday, Notre Dame would be in worse condition than it is now, and for that I’m thankful. But we must also remember that it’s possible there wouldn’t be a cathedral to save today if a writer hadn’t saved it nearly 200 years ago.
Victor Hugo and The Hunchback
Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t always as beloved as it is now. After years of neglect, it found itself in a state of disrepair in the 1800s. At the time, a Parisian writer by the name of Victor Hugo decided to do something about his beloved city center. He wrote a book titled Notre Dame de Paris. It ended up being translated into many languages. In the English translation, it was titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
As the popularity of the book spread, readers spilled into Paris to visit the now-famed Notre Dame. This eventually pressured the government to restore the cathedral to its former glory. Why? If you haven’t read the book, the story might not be what you’d expect. Many of us think of the Disney adaptation, which, while I didn’t enjoy it much as a kid, as an adult it became one of my favorite Disney movies due to its unique themes. Victor Hugo actually spent more of his book describing the Notre Dame, with the storyline more as a selling point. It’s even darker than Disney’s darkest cartoon, and does not have a happy ending. But the point was made, and Victor Hugo got his real-life happy ending of a restored cathedral. I was able to visit Victor Hugo’s final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris, lying amid other famous French who shaped their culture.
What Writers Can Do
As I watched the live updates of Notre Dame burning, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo and how he used his character Quasimodo to save the cathedral only to have it destroyed today. But if a writer could save Notre Dame once, could another writer save it again?
I’m not saying that writer is me. Although I have toyed with an idea of a story about a backpacker who visits places like Paris, it’s still only an idea in my head and not on paper. I did feel a personal connection to Quasimodo as I stood in “his” belltower, I actually have the same type of scoliosis that this character did. (Obviously, mine is a mild case where his was much more extreme.) As an urban backpacker, this can cause extra pain as I travel. Paris was the first place I visited in Europe, and while I was already starting to feel pain there, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a place of refuge and freedom.
But most of us are writers in some form or another. In this modern age where anyone can be published, maybe we all can work together in writing our way to save Notre Dame again. I’ve already been inspired by the news reporters saying that it will be rebuilt (though we don’t have a timeframe yet- hopefully in this lifetime!) and the people on social media who have pledged money and shared their own stories. If you’ve been to Paris, share your personal experience so that the Notre Dame’s memories will not disappear, even if its roof has. If you haven’t seen Notre Dame, I know its tales have still affected you in some way. Share what you’ve learned about the historic cathedral, or write about how excited you are to see it being rebuilt. Who knows? Maybe one of us will become the next Victor Hugo, writing a book that features the future Notre Dame.
Start now: What’s been your experience with the Notre Dame, whether in person or through books/movies/etc? How did you feel when you heard it caught fire? Share with the world in the comments below!
Welp, I’ve just about made it! I’ve wanted to save $2000 in coupons and sales in just over four months, and in March alone I couponed over half of that amount. Yes, I scored some super-big deals this month (two of them were each worth about $500), and well as several smaller ones. And yes, I will share how I did it with you.
But first, you may want to catch up on ways I’ve saved each month since the beginning of the year:
Like most adults, I don’t get a designated “spring break”. But kids still do. Parents often need to hire babysitters for longer hours during spring break and other school vacations. Since I babysit on Fridays, I made some extra money for the extra hours.
If you’re good around kids, school holiday babysitting isn’t even hard. In fact, we had some fun playing tourist around town. Since the kids’ spring break covered two Fridays, on the first Friday we went to the nearby town of Ashland for the Scienceworks science museum and Dagoba chocolate factory. The next week, we went downtown to the food truck food court and then toured Harry & David’s world headquarters. (The kids liked the sweets, and I had to agree!) So basically these gigs involved having fun. They did like sleeping in each morning and then playing video games before doing anything else, so I got to use that time to read guidebooks and plan for my upcoming trip. Win-win!
I also took on some extra shifts at my regular job. So far this year, I’ve made an extra $926.26 in additional income. Half of that ($463.13) is going to go toward my trip. While I’m happy with this amount, I was expecting to have earned a little more by this point, so hopefully I’ll have more moneymaking opportunities before I leave in May.
Preparing for Departure
I’m not leaving the country until the second week of May, but I did a lot in March to get ready for it. And I tried to save money everywhere I could!
The most important item that I need for this trip is a passport. Unfortunately, the US government isn’t too keen on offering discounts. (I did unintentionally get a discount on my very first passport, but that’s a different story!) But anyway, I applied for that so I should receive a new passport in time.
Another key element was getting a flight between Ireland and England. The plane ticket I bought last month flew into Dublin and out of London, so I searched Kayak.com and found a ticket for the short hop for just under $34. No couponing was involved here, but I think it’s the cheapest flight I’ve ever flown!
I booked a couple of short tours to major sights outside of the city, and that was a good area to save a few bucks. I’m going on an overnight tour to Blarney Castle, Cork, and the Cliffs of Moher with Paddywagon Tours, and managed to save $11 there. I also used The London Concierge (exclusive to buyers of The London Pass) to book a Stonehenge and Bath tour with Golden Tours. I made my booking during a flash sale weekend, so I saved $15!
As far as gear goes, I’m trying to use what I have. But I did have an Eddie Bauer $10 off coupon. Combined with a 50% off sale weekend, I got a set of packing cubes for free!
The word “health” and “cheap” don’t normally go together. I had an unusual case of adult hand-foot-and-mouth at the beginning of the month. Because of the blisters covering my throat, I could only eat and drink certain items for a few days. To get a better deal on these foods and avoid spreading germs to innocent shoppers, I tried Fred Meyer’s ClickList for the first time. I ordered everything online, used digital coupons, went to the parking lot, and everything was delivered to my car. I still prefer shopping in-store so I can price compare and find clearance specials, but it’s nice to know that this option is available and cost-effective.
After I was back to my healthy self, I decided to get even healthier. My plan is simple: walk a few more miles and make sure at least 50% of what I eat is vegetable. This will get me in better shape so I can walk even more around Ireland and England (though I won’t necessarily follow the vegetable rule there!) This hasn’t directly saved me any money, but it will allow me to do more on my trip and save on health costs in the long run. And so far, it hasn’t cost me any more than my usual food.
Big Ticket Savers
I’m so glad I got a reward credit card. My CapitalOne card offered a $500 reward for spending $3000 in three months. This was on top of its regular cash back. Normally, $3000 is a lot of money, but I put all my trip expenses on it, plus made a few other strategic purchases.
And Finally: How to Save Money with MORE Travel
At the beginning of the month, the only entertainment I had planned was seeing an advance screening of the movie Breakthrough. Entry was free with an invitation, and I bought a discounted Cinemark gift certificate from GiftCardGranny so I could get free popcorn. The movie was great and you should go see it, but I was in for a surprise at all the adventures the rest of the month would bring!
As I mentioned above, day trips while babysitting were a great way to get paid to adventure locally. Helping at camp two weekends this month was also a way to free fun. Meals, lodging, and activities are covered, so I’m spending less than I would need to spend at home.
On a free weekend, I went snowshoeing and sledding with my parents. By going as a group, I didn’t have to buy a sno-park permit just for myself. Plus, it’s not safe to snowshoe solo.
But the best travel deal I cashed in on this month won’t happen until November and December. Swagbucks recently added Carnival Cruises gift cards as an option for redemption, and they were extra discounted when they were first posted. Although that offer is no longer valid, I’d encourage you to keep checking on Swagbucks‘ rewards as they often offer some good ones, but long story short, I got the entire base price for a 5-day cruise to The Bahamas for just $30!
I also got a Carnival credit card to help pay for the taxes, fees, and excursion expenses for this trip. So I’ll soon be getting another credit card reward, this time for $200 plus FunPoints. And despite being in my 20s, I joined AARP Rewards for Good so I could get 10% off another cruise gift card. (I bought it with my CapitalOne card to help me reach my $3000 minimum.) I’ll still have to pay for my flight to Fort Lauderdale where the cruise departs, so maybe I’ll be doing these monthly couponing updates even after my Eurotrip so you can see how I’m saving for my cruise!