london, Travel

Holy guacamole. It is humid in London right now.

For the second time this year, London’s been hit with a heatwave. With highs in the 80s and lows in the (high) 60s, the stories I’ve heard about mild summers in the U.K. are apparently all a lie. The worst part? I have no A/C.

Growing up I’ve survived humidity thanks to D.C.’s swamp summers. I survived a Swedish winter and an Australian summer. I’m not usually this impacted by weather, but when the entire country is utterly unprepared for warm weather, it sucks.


It finally rained after weeks of heat and cooled the temperatures down, but just like in D.C., rain is followed by even more humidity. The lack of airflow is stifling; my hair is a frizzball. The best part is that it isn’t going anywhere. Our little rain burst was just a tease, not a change in London’s pattern of providing me with no breezes and a need to keep deodorant at work.

Despite having a dissertation to work on, I’m thinking that a trip outside the city and preferably somewhere cool is in the books… Until then, I’ll be sleeping with the windows open, eating ice cream with every meal, and slowly turning into a puddle of sweat.


Instagram Rules for Traveling

Five Favorites, Travel

It’s the millennial question: do you travel to Instagram? Or do you Instagram your travels?

I’ve got a long list of places I want to visit and some of those are inspired by my friends’ travels, as seen through the lens of Instagram. I don’t find that I’m suddenly willing to find New York worth a visit because of the filters and the clever captions I read online, but I find that it offers a new perspective to the experience of discovering (or rediscovering) a city or a country.

In order to enjoy my trips looking somewhere other than my phone screen I have a selection of five rules (or guidelines) that allow me to use Instagram and fully enjoy my trip:Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.51.15 PM

Snap and Move On

I find that when I see something beautiful or interesting, I don’t want to restrict myself from attempting to capture it in the moment, but that doesn’t mean I should just keep staring at my photos. So I tell myself to snap a quick photo (or ten) and then put the phone away. I do not look through my photos while I am still in a gorgeous place, nor do I post while I am still there. Sitting on a bus or chilling in your hotel room late at night are the times when social media scrolling is appropriate.

Be Inspired, But Original

I don’t want my Instagram feed to be a carbon copy of someone else’s, so I follow the rule that I can be inspired by someone’s photo or choice of perspective, but I won’t copy. This is a little harder with things that have been photographed a thousand times, like the Eiffel Tower or Gullfoss, but it’s always worth it to try a new angle or a different photo stop.

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Mix It Up

I try to not post the same photos over and over again. This is difficult when traveling because all I want is to post similar shots of cute doorways or gorgeous landscapes over and over. So I try to add a little variety, whether it’s a picture with me in it or a picture of a mountain intermixed with the cityscapes. I’m not a specialty Instagram, so posting my meals every day isn’t capturing my experience.

One is Enough

I don’t live by the rule that you can only post once a day on Instagram, but I do find that it is a platform for the good old mantra “less is more“. I don’t like, nor do I need, the ability to post multiple photos at once, so I don’t use that feature. Instagram gives a curated perspective and forces the most stunning photos to be prioritized. If I’m in an absolutely breathtaking location, I’ll post twice in a day, but with some distance between posts, so that I avoid taking over anyone’s feeds. If I want to post twelve photos in a day, that’s what Facebook or Flicker are for.

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For Me, Not For You

I post on Instagram for myself, not for anyone else. It is my visual diary book, taking me through the past four or five years of my travels. I post for myself, not for likes. I scroll for happy inspiration, not for validation. If that ever changes, the app will be deleted from my phone, just as Facebook and Twitter have. At the end of the day, if I’m traveling to post on social media, I’m missing the great parts of what made these adventures so valuable to me in the first place.

What are your rules for internet posting while traveling?

Feel free to follow me on Instagram : @lilpicks95

A Magical Land


A few nights ago, I was watching the first Lord of the Rings film for the millionth time and I couldn’t help but feel emotional as I watched the Fellowship journey from the Shire to the mountains to the woods and through the plains. It felt like home.

For much of my middle school years, I was obsessed with the Lord of the Rings films, watching the films (extended edition only) regularly on my portable DVD player. I would watch my favorite parts over and over again, entranced by the journey. After watching the behind the scenes features that came with the DVDs, I fell in love with New Zealand. To see such a magical place in person seemed like a dream.

When I studied in Australia for a semester, my parents very kindly took me to New Zealand for a few days, fulfilling a decade-long dream of mine. Because of time constraints, we only stayed on the North Island, seeing Rotorua and Auckland, but it was still magical.

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Though we were only there for a short time, my mother ensured that I experience some of the Lord of the Rings in person. So, we visited Hobbiton.

A reconstructed set with Hobbit holes scattered about on a hill made the films come alive. To walk amongst a little town designed to look as though you just missed the baker or the weaver brought me so much joy.

Hobbiton is relatively popular with Lord of the Rings fans, just as Dubrovnik and Iceland are popular with fans of the Game of Thrones series. There is a certain wonder about exploring the same places that your favorite characters inhabited on screen.

12080123_10206457264364279_3798149118515515547_oNo matter how many times I watch Lord of the Rings, I can’t help but want to return, to see more of Middle Earth than Hobbiton, to see more than the northern part of the North Island. That’s the problem with crossing places off your bucket list, you find yourself adding another place or two to your list, while wanting to spend the rest of your life delving into the same places you’ve already been.

Study Spots


Like most, my summer will be filled with adventures and sunshine and friends, but there will also be dissertation writing. One perk of choosing to do my Masters in the U.K. is that it only lasts a year, but while many students get to spend their summer away from the library, that’s where I’ll be finding myself each week. Though I’m done with exams and classes, I have 15,000 words due at the end of August.

So naturally, I’ve been procrastinating. I keep telling myself I just need to find the right spot to study, somewhere not too loud and not too quiet. It can’t be my room because despite having a perfectly good desk to use, my (semi-)comfortable bed is just so close. I can’t work in my kitchen because the table is too wobbly and there’s too many people walking through. I don’t really drink coffee, so coffee shops are sort of out of the question, especially when I start to feel bad for hogging a table for multiple hours at a time.35922705_10214503902725209_6669531920843407360_n


The last few months, I’ve been studying in my university’s library. The Maughan Library is one of those beautiful monuments of academia and was perfect for long days reading through endless journal articles. But after a while, the walk there and the uncomfortable chairs just aren’t as appealing. (It’s pronounced Mawn like Lawn, apparently. Have I used the difficult pronunciation as an excuse to not study there? Maybe…)

As it’s now summer and my motivation is fried, I’ve come up with a new trick to get me writing. I’ve searched out some more Instagram-worthy spots. I figure if it’s pretty, maybe I’ll be more motivated to actually get out of bed and get some work done.35733525_10214503894365000_508092002596814848_n

Thanks to the interwebs, I’ve begun complying a list of adequate places, starting with the British Library. I stopped by for four hours on a random Tuesday and while it was busy, it was calm enough that once I plugged in my headphones I had no problem getting to work. (Though I did have a few quick study breaks to watch random tourists wander through and take pictures.)

In two months, you may be hearing from me again, complaining about how I ended up back in the same spot in my university library all summer, but for now I’m adding a little bit of adventure to my academia.

Wish me luck (and send me recommendations, please)!

Making Plans


I’m an anxious human being. I get places thirty minutes early, I plan out walking paths and bus routes before, during, and after I’ve left the house, and I love lists. So traveling (especially alone) can sometimes be stress inducing, which is why I’ve got this whole planning thing down to a science.

My first step is a browse through Pinterest, or if all else fails a Google Search. Depending on the length of my trip and whether or not every travel blogger on the planet has visited, I can usually find enough to do. (I’ll also find things that might interest my traveling buddy, but might not be my cup of tea, just in case they aren’t the plan ahead type.)

I’ll also do a search of free walking tours in whatever city I’ll be visiting. (I loved my Sandeman’s walking tours and they’re in a good number of places through out Europe.) They’re a good starting point for where ever you are, allow you to get your bearings in the city, and they tend to point out things to do and eat that you might have otherwise missed in your planning.

The next step is to head over to Google Maps. Because Google Maps can be downloaded or used without data, I prefer it over Apple Maps or any other city specific app. A browse through the interwebs has probably left me when a thousand tabs open on my computer, all waiting for me to decide whether or not to visit. My tabs are searched on Google Maps and their location is saved either as a “Star” or a “Want to Visit”. If I’m feeling real fancy, I’ll make a separate map for the trip. I’ll also make a mental note of which things open early or late (a note I’ll revisit once I’m actually there).

I don’t like to plan out my day(s) until I have arrived, unless necessary. Exhaustion levels, weather, and the chances of finding somewhere new to explore all keep me from being that Type A. I do, however, find myself booking things I know I want to do in advance. This way, I don’t have that nagging feeling in the back of my head that something will sell out between my planning and my actual trip. (Most of the time it’s not a worry, but you never know. Better safe than sorry!)

Side note: I, personally, like printed versions of everything. From plane tickets to admissions tickets to hostel business cards to maps of the city (if I can find them for free), I’d like to have a physical copy. It means that even if my phone dies from taking too many pictures, I’ll have what I need to cope. It also means I’ll have something to stick in my travel journal when I get back home to remember my trip!

Once I’ve booked everything, starred everything in a map, and triple checked what time my bus/train/plane/car leaves, I can worry about packing. For day trips, I always empty out my purse and refill it. If it’s not essential, it’s not coming with. My Waitrose card and the twelve pens that sit at the bottom of my purse are removed. For longer trips, I pack what I think I’ll need a few days in advance, then repack the night before. That way my last minute panic of forgetting my *insert crucial item here* is done while I can still find it, rather than once I’ve already left the house.

The day of my trip, I’ll take an allergy medicine, just in case, make sure I’ve grabbed any last minute items (chargers, headphones, book or kindle, chapstick, etc.), and I can head out the door.



Sometimes I plan and I plan and sometimes I am spontaneous. Recently, after discovering that a friend and I were both free on a random Thursday, we spent a day playing tourist in London. And let me tell you — it was fantastic.34814421_10214424243293773_1887582261952380928_n

Our day started with breakfast at Duck and Waffle. I’d read somewhere online that Duck and Waffle offered pretty good views of the city. Being a restaurant on the 40th floor of a building in a city that doesn’t frequently build that high, we got some views.

We made reservations, dressed up a little, and enjoyed a lovely breakfast. It’s pretty difficult to get reservations for lunch or dinner, but we’re students with next to no responsibilities, so middle of the week schmancy breakfasts were no problem. The food is surprisingly reasonably priced and quite tasty. (I can recommend the caramelized banana-nutella-peanut waffles with ice cream and the hot chocolate, for sure.)34909235_10214424243133769_1501864280029396992_n.jpg34985046_10214424243653782_3389102227338559488_n

Not wanting the party to stop, we hopped on the tube towards The London Eye and avoided all the tourists by visiting the aquarium. Sea Life London is a pretty sizable aquarium right in the center of London. The tickets weren’t horribly expensive and there was no line to get in. We wandered for two hours, watching the sharks and jellyfish and penguins and lobsters.

Although we were swarmed by a school group every once in a while, I found watching the fish to be so peaceful, (despite my leftover sugar rush from breakfast).

To round out our day, we grabbed an Uber to Covent Garden to eat at Flat Iron. They don’t take reservations, so it was a bit of a gamble, but we only had to wait fifteen minutes for a table (in Covent Garden, at lunch time). We grabbed drinks at the bar (because we’re students with next to no responsibilities) and I have to say their Strawberry Basil cocktail was so refreshing.34901665_10214424245893838_1910508690004246528_n.jpg

We had a couple of flat-iron steaks, which were delicious, and had a good laugh at the tourists around us, Instagramming each bite of their meals. (I will admit to taking a photo, but when you’re eating something other than cereal, you gotta share it with the world.) The best part of the meal was definitely the complimentary caramel ice cream for the road.


To work off the calories we inhaled throughout the day, we walked home through Covent Garden, doing some quick window shopping. One of the many perks of living in central London was the ability to walk home passed the British Museum and plenty of green parks filled with people.

Each step of the day wasn’t planned further than a few hours in advance and it was absolutely lovely. (The nap when I got home was also superb, in case you were wondering.)

A Day in Brighton


Every year, my family gathers around the television and we sit down together and watch “The Snowman“. It’s a silent, animated film about a little boy who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve. The snowman comes to life and flies with the little boy over the English countryside (and the Brighton pier) to visit Santa Claus. It’s an adorable film with a song that breaks my heart every time I hear it.

So I am bringing up a Christmas tradition in June for a reason: I finally went to Brighton.

Thanks to Pinterest and the interwebs, I preplanned my day. Going alone, I was a bit worried that I would get bored or “waste my day”. I was also worried about weather: British clouds have been keeping me from soaking up the sun.

I got so lucky.

The weather was gorgeous, there was no line at the Royal Pavilion when I arrived in the morning, and by the time I was growing tired people were out and about to entertain me for hours.34398677_10214383142146270_427980601849544704_n

I had pre-bought tickets to the Royal Pavilion, which was a worthwhile two-hour wander while I waited for the sun to come out. I only got overrun by a school trip of middle schoolers twice. (I’d recommend either getting the audio tour or listening to music as the sound of everyone else’s audio guide is annoying.) You can’t take pictures inside, but good golly I wanted to. The wallpapers, the ridiculous chandeliers, and the tiny details!

I ate a nice slice of chocolate cake and had a soda in their café, before making my way down to the waterfront.34259059_10214383142386276_4044758762081222656_n

Brighton is known for its beachfront: a pebble beach, lined with cafés and shops and bars and a nice paved path. I ended up walking the beach twice, sitting down on the beach or on a bench for a while and soaking up the sun. The beach filled throughout the day, but as it’s still early in the season, it wasn’t too horrible. Plus, everyone brought out their pups!

After getting pooped on by a seagull, I stopped at the Bandstand Cafe for lunch. A nice burger and a beer filled me while I watched folks wander by and listened to the sound of the ocean. (Later as I walked by, someone got married on the bandstand, so that’s exciting!)

My walk along the water tended to stop once I had hit the Hove beach huts, a series of little colorful sheds all lined up in a row facing the water. The bright colors brought out the sun and some colorful characters.34398065_10214383142706284_3154201193085927424_n

From the huts to the Brighton Pier was about a 45-minute meander along the boardwalk. You can walk on the Pier without paying and wander through the attractions and stalls. Families were out in masses with sticky children and drunk adults. I am fairly certain that every hen party in the U.K. was in Brighton this weekend (same as when every hen party in Scotland was in Edinburgh when I visited two years ago).

I also took a wander through the shops to find ChoccyWoccyDooDah, the most absurd chocolate shop on the planet. After grabbing a chocolate milkshake and a water, I wandered the boardwalk from Pier to huts once more, settling in for a bit, here and there, to burn in the sun.

34393596_10214383142866288_6724776100896964608_nMy initial plan was to stay until sunset, but my exhaustion kept me from sticking it out. (The sun doesn’t set until 9 p.m. now; it’s officially summer!) I made my way back up the hill to the train station and set off for London, only snoozing on the train once on my two-ish hour journey!