I’m a big fan of Scandinavian style murder shows – the slow burn, the dramatic locations. I recently watched the last episode of the first season of The Valhalla Murders on Netflix. The drama takes place in Iceland (and is shot entirely in Icelandic with English subtitles) and to my surprise, I was able to recognize a couple of shooting locations used in the show from my travels in Iceland.
My time is Iceland is usually spent in the middle of Keflavík Airport running from one flight to another. I use Icelandair for flying to Europe and back – I find their flight times convenient and they’re the nicest people about avoiding problems with layovers and delays. Keflavík is also one of the most efficiently run airports that I’ve experienced and it’s always neat and orderly. In case you didn’t know, Icelandair has a program for stopovers that allows you to extend your time in Iceland by a few days to explore the country on your way to your final destination. I’ve had the opportunity to use this program twice now (and spoiler! – it’s worth it!)
My first time exploring Iceland was with my parents in the summer of 2016. We utilized the stopover on our way back from Sweden. My parents came to visit as I finished my time studying abroad near Stockholm and we spent a few days in June exploring Scandinavia. We stayed in Reykjavík and branched out from there. My second time utilizing Icelandair’s stopover program, my mother, my grandmother, and I explored on the way back from London in August of 2018. Both times, despite knowing our plan to stay in Iceland, we didn’t pre-schedule anything, choosing inside to pop into tourist information storefronts in Reykjavík on the day of/day before. If you’re staying in town, it is super easy to wander down the main street and pop into one of the information stores that line the street. They’re usually really nice and really knowledgable.
Any of the tours will take you to amazing locations. I’d personally recommend anything along the Golden Circle, especially if it includes Gullfoss. It’s also worth visiting Geysir for a mini Yellowstone experience. Reynisfjara, Skógafoss, and Thingvellir National Park are also wonderful spots to visit.
You really can’t go wrong, but my biggest piece of advice is to leave Reykjavík. Don’t get me wrong – Reykjavík is a lovely little town (and yes I did have to Google how to spell it…). But the beauty of Reykjavík is beyond the borders of this little town. An afternoon could be spend wandering the shore of the bay (there’s a little nice little path that’ll lead you to Sun Voyager). You can also go for a walk through the cute little houses, seeking out the murals on some of the walls, maybe even making your way up to the iconic church on the hill, Hallgrímskirkja. Heck, you could even enjoy a meal at Hlemmur Mathöll, a wonderful little food hall (can 10/10 recommend grabbing breakfast from Brauð & Co), or grab some fries from Reykjavík Chips (I’d recommend trying out one of their different sauces in addition to your classic ketchup). But there’s so much more to explore beyond Reykjavík!
You really cannot go wrong. The people are extremely friendly (and very used to tourists at this point) and even on the gloomiest, rainiest days the country is magical. That being said, my two trips to the country took place in the summer when the days are long and you have nicer weather to explore.
One common concern I’ve heard from friends and family is that everyone has been to Iceland and everything is a tourist trap – to which I say, and? Iceland is just as gorgeous as the Instagrams you’ve seen or the blog posts you’ve read. Yes, the sites are busy, but they’re also grand enough that if you aren’t there at the same time as a tourist bus, you can’t miss them. And there’s a reason they’re so popular – the country is freaking beautiful.
My arguably most controversial opinion is that I really enjoy the Blue Lagoon. Is it super busy? Yes. Is it the lushest thing I’ve ever done? Also yes. Fight me. 10/10 would recommend.
(I also feel I should note that despite my love of Scandinavian crime shows, Scandinavia is a safe place to travel and Iceland is relatively crimeless. In case you were worried….)
When I was about six, my family and I went on a trip to London. One of our last nights there, we were out to dinner and I ordered a cheese pizza. I (allegedly) proceeded to complain that it tasted funny and I couldn’t eat it. Now the UK isn’t known for its culinary greatness (please see beans on toast), but it’s pretty hard to mess up cheese pizza. My parents, being so over me, took a bite to prove there was nothing wrong with the pizza only to be met with the culprit: nutmeg. The pizza was covered in it and let me tell you – pizza and nutmeg is not a great combo.
Unfortunately for my parents, there were blessed with a picky eater – me. My diet consisted of cheese pizza (no nutmeg please), the right kind of chicken nuggets, and buttered noodles. I ate carrots but only raw (gotta get them nutrients). And just the slight deviation from what I wanted caused a hunger strike and/or a tantrum. (I’ve been teaching my family patience since 1995. What can I say it’s a talent.)
As I got older, my diet has expanded. I am still partial to a cheese pizza (hold the nutmeg) and my ultimate comfort food is still buttered noodles, but traveling as a picky eater isn’t easy. I’ve learned to love plenty of new foods, discovering new loves everywhere I go.
While traveling, I don’t always have the ability to only eat what I want. So I use a couple of tricks to not starve, which might be helpful to reassure fellow picky eaters or those traveling with picky eaters, young and old:
I implemented something we used to use with the three-year-olds at summer camp and I always try to do a “no thank you” bite – give it one bite to taste and say no thank you if I still don’t want to eat it. I can happily say I’ve tried escargot and crocodile meat, but I am happy to never eat them again. At the same time, I’ve gotten to try quite a few new foods that were a little tastier.
Especially when traveling with friends (and especially when traveling with less picky eaters), it’s a nice part of traveling to taste test the local cuisine, but maybe the picky eater in the group is concerned about trying something new. Solution: share a plate of the new and exciting food and give it at least one bite. Splitting a plate gives everyone a chance to try something new, but not feeling the pressure to miss out on your safer meal.
Speaking of safe meals, if you’re picky, bring a back-up. I always pack a Cliff bar or two in my bag. Better safe than starving. I also highly recommend stopping by a local grocery store (partially to skim what is and isn’t the same to your home) and grab some snacks. Maybe you’re scared of the local spice level or maybe you’re in a town where everything closes at 8:00 p.m., but having a bag of chips or some bread and jelly can keep a lot of hangry fights at bay. (This advice is also relevant to the vegans, the dairy-free, the allergy-prone amongst us…)
So much of travel is putting yourself out there and trying new things. But it can be overwhelming. Doing all of that adventuring while hungry won’t turn out well.
Every once in a while, I’ll express stress or frustration about having to put myself out there in order to experience even slight success at what are sometimes the most mundane of challenges. My mother always reminds me to “get my extrovert on” and get it done.
The concept of extroverts and introverts is really not as clear cut as defined. My personality type requires time to myself to recharge and I am unlikely to throw myself into a conversation with someone I don’t know. However, life sometimes calls for being an extrovert. You may need to make new friends or ask a question or throw yourself at the mercy of an extrovert in order to survive your new surroundings. It can be overwhelming.
One of my favorite things about travel is meeting new people. That’s particularly challenging for me but oh-so rewarding on the tail end.
In order to successfully adventure as an introvert, I’ve collected goals for myself that allow me to get the most out of my travel experience.
Don’t sit down. The temptation after traveling somewhere new is to sit down on your bed and maybe take a little snooze. Don’t. Firstly, you’ll end up asleep and jet lagged. And secondly, you’ll miss out on meeting people. Especially if you’re in a study abroad program or in a hostel, people tend to be excited and open to meeting new folks from the second that arrive. Take advantage of that excitement and roll with it. You can sleep later.
Smile. I know it’s such an American thing to do, but it works. Maybe you’re sitting in your first day of class or hanging in the common space of your hostel – keep your head up and at least a mildly pleasant expression on your face and you’ve increased your chances of an extrovert taking pity on you.
Keep yourself disconnected. It’s really tempting to just sit on your phone with your head down and your headphones in, but that’s just closing yourself off. I’ve mentioned that disconnecting helps with easing homesickness before. If you’re not attached to your phone at all times, maybe someone or something will catch your eye.
Go to those awkward meet and greets. I know no one wants to partake in the horribly uncomfortable experience of sharing your name, hometown, and a fun fact about yourself. But sometimes that’s what you need to do. Most folks at that kind of event, whether it’s welcome drinks or board game night at the hostel, are looking to be social – seize the moment.
And lastly, accept that sometimes you’ve just gotta be an introvert. Traveling or moving or starting something new, all of these are great ways to learn about yourself and spend some time looking inward. Who are you? What makes you happy? Everyone (introverts included) would benefit from a couple of minutes of time alone to self-reflect. And that’s okay. Not everything about life has to be overwhelming.
One of the perks of my current living situation is the proximity to one of the cuter parts of DC. Georgetown is literally across the water from my apartment and is walkable. Georgetown is pretty impossible to drive to and isn’t Metro-accessible, which can make it a pain in the butt to visit.
Getting there: I find the easiest way to get to Georgetown is to take a little walk. You can park your car at Rock Creek Park and wander over along the waterfront or you can find parking in Rosslyn and walk or take the free Circulator bus across the river.
What to do: The main attraction of Georgetown is the shops along M St. There’s anything you could want from Kiehl’s to Nike to Starbucks. It’s also always rotating, so you may visit two months apart and see new shops where another had previously been. I’m not a huge shopping person, but the window shopping opportunities are good and there’s plenty of people watching. (Warning: good weather means people and Georgetown can get packed, especially during tourist season.) I love a good wander, so I’d recommend ditching the main road and taking a stroll up the hill towards the cute houses there or down the hill towards the waterfront.
Where to Eat: Farmers Fishers Bakers has a great brunch if you’re in the mood. Skip Georgetown Cupcake and get a sweet treat from Baked and Wired instead. And if you want a bit of history with your meal, visit Martin’s Tavern.
Bonus Bits: Georgetown University is right there – it looks a bit like Hogwarts… And the House of Sweden (home to the Embassy of Sweden and the diplomatic missions for Iceland and Liechtenstein) is on the waterfront. Both host events that are open to the public if you’ve interested.
When I moved away for college, I didn’t have a whole lot of homesickness. Flying across the world didn’t spark constant sobbing sessions of wanting to return home.
I think there’s a couple reasons I avoid what for many can be a debilitating limitation to their exploration of the planet.
The first was that home, as in the physical location of my house, wasn’t that important to me. I love my bed and driving down the GW Parkway and I love my belongings, but I have very little attachment to my home of 20-something years.
Maybe I spent too much of my childhood driving to and from school or maybe location wasn’t as important as memories. Either way, it’s nice to go back but not something I crave.
Another reason I avoided homesickness was avoidance. If you’re too busy to be homesick, you won’t notice the time and distance from your home. From the second I arrived in Indy or Sydney or Stockholm or London, I was busy.
I had things to do and people to meet and bags to unpack. I had a couple of stress/frustration/fear/PMSing sobs, but never felt horribly homesick.
Yes, it was tough to go away – but I wanted to go. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to study abroad and I wanted to get my masters and I wanted to travel. Those plans and the excitement attached kept me going.
The third reason I avoided homesickness was that I digitally detached from home. Yes, I texted my mom to let her know I arrived at my destination and yes, I sent the occasional text to a high school joking about some song I heard playing, but I avoided phone calls and FaceTime sessions for the first six weeks. I also didn’t go home a week in. It gave me a distance that allowed me to skip the wallowing in leaving home and focus on the exciting part of being in new places and meeting new people and learning new things.
I love my home. And I love my family. And I love returning there (even if my nice bed is no longer there and I sometimes end up on the couch…). But I also love my new home and my found families and the experience of going far far away. It’s just as much an adventure to return home now as it was to leave. And when it’s time to leave again, the excitement returns all over again.
It’s getting chillier here and I’ve even considered putting on a scarf once or twice. (Disclaimer: it’s definitely still 70 degrees here on a regular basis.) But the cooler temps had me thinking about what I always pack when traveling in colder climates.
Maybe you’ve got a trip to Scandinavia planned or maybe you’re visiting family in Upstate New York. Either way, I hope my essentials might be helpful for your packing needs.
Like I mentioned before, I love a good scarf. My particular favorites have been a big red blanket scarf (R.I.P. – if anyone ever sees one on the DC Metro, let me know.) A good travel scarf should be thick enough to actually keep you warm, should be large enough to wrap around you like a blanket or to create a nice pillow for you. I also recommend getting one that’s somewhat colorful – every photo from my time abroad in Europe included my black winter coat and my bright red scarf. It added a pop of color to my otherwise all black ensembles.
I mentioned my black coat above – I highly recommend a light weight puffer jacket for winter travel. I believe mine is from REI but I’ve also heard good things about the Uniqlo versions. Essentially you want something that will keep you warm, will layer nicely over thicker sweaters, and that you can smush down into nothing when packing your suitcase. Some of these puffer jackets come with a little bag that they smush into. Can 10/10 recommend these for travel – especially if you’re going between temperatures.
I dream of thick sweatshirts and cozy sweaters, but unfortunately they’re quite heavy and unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle, they might be overkill. Instead I would recommend packing layers – lots of layers. The trick to layers is to start thin and work your way out. A thin turtleneck or a tighter tee shirt can be worn on their own or under another thin sweater. That next layer should be thin enough to layer under your coat but could also be worn on its own. I’m a big fan of a thin sweater over a dress with tights. And we all know you’ll be popping in and out of museums and restaurants, so you want to be able to take off layers as you’re reintroduced to the warmth.
I like tights under dresses (and under pants when it is particularly cold), but nothing beats a thick pair of socks. If you’re planning hikes or a walking tour, your toes might get chilly. Grab a thick pair of socks or two and throw them on. Your toes will be happy (and if they’re good quality- warm and dry) and you won’t feel the chill quite as much. I’ve got good pairs from REI in the past and they’re the best.
If you are planning on thick socks, make sure they will fit in your boots. Personally, I don’t think a pair of hiking boots is necessary to wander around Paris in the winter but you’ll want a nice pair of flat boots for your travels. I recommend a black pair that’ll make you look chic and European, while also going with everything you’re bringing for your trip. Top tip: wear them around the house or to work a few times to make sure they’re extra comfy before you go.
I bring a well-stocked purse with me in the winter – Chapstick is essential (this one’s my favorite), hand lotion is nice. A good moisturizer with SPF is key. (You can get sunburnt even in the winter!) Sunglasses are also helpful – especially on windy days. Hand sanitizer will keep you from getting sick, but just in case cough drops and emergency Day-Quil are also good to have around in the winter. I also try to take Vitamin D supplements because lack of sunshine really does on a number on me.
My last essential is my phone to double check hours – a lot of touristy spots have different hours in the winter. Double check before you go!
What are your winter essentials? Please let me live vicariously through your trips – where are you heading this chilly season?
Maybe you’re just in town for a few days or maybe you’re looking to avoid a tourist rush, but there’s plenty of quick trips worth taking that’ll get you outside the city. These are my five personal favorite day trips from DC:
A friend recently visited from Indiana and wanted to cross West Virginia off her list of states unvisited. We initially planned a longer trip, but when we ran out of time, we looked a little closer to home. Harpers Ferry is a little town with history and nature galore. The town was home to John Brown’s rebellion but also has a great hike and plenty of tubing/rafting/kayaking opportunities. The hour and a half drive from the city was easy enough and parking was $15 for a spot through the National Park Service. We hiked the Maryland Heights Trail to the overlook and grabbed lunch in town.
If you’re looking to beat the heat, Luray Caverns is a fantastic option. To get there from the city is a beautiful drive through Virginia that’ll take you through Shenandoah. I’ve been in plenty of caves in my time (like four or five, okay? That’s a lot…) and Luray Caverns is amazing. Your guided walk through the caves is both scientifically fascinating and historically interesting. Plus the temperature inside always feels about 60 degrees.
Maybe you’ve made one too many trips to the National Zoo and need to mix up your animal intake – take a drive up to Baltimore’s National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor has plenty of cool restaurants and the aquarium is amazing. I could stare at the jellyfish for hours, but there’s also other fish and critters to learn about. Bonus points: they’ve stopped their dolphin shows and are now focused even more on sustainability and the impact on local water systems.
I’m not a huge beach person – too much sand, too many people, too high a chance for sunburn. But I love the sound of the ocean. Delaware has some lovely beaches within a 3 hour drive (if you’re lucky). Rehobeth and Bethany both have great beaches with plenty of food nearby. My personal favorite stop is Lewes Beach which is a little quieter and less busy but still just as cute. Another tip: visit off season – it won’t be a thousand degrees and packed in October or May but you’ll still get to hear the water.
Old Town Alexandria
Maybe you don’t have a car or maybe you only have a half day (or maybe you’re seriously inspired by my post about my favorite part of the Metro area), but Old Town Alexandria is worth the trip. Metro to the end of King Street and walk towards the water. After stopping in every cute shop and sampling ice cream, enjoy a wander along the water. You can either make the hike back to the Metro or hop on the free King Street Trolley.
What’s your favorite day trip from the city?
Now maybe this is just me being selfish, but my argument for more environmentally sustainable practices is that I still haven’t seen all of the world and I’d like to have a chance before I die. Every few months, an article will come across my computer via Twitter or Facebook telling me about another stunning place that’s been destroyed by cruise ships or horrible tourists. And I refuse to apologize for the fact that I get pissed off for two reasons: 1) who in the heck do you think you are to destroy a habitat/endangered species/UNESCO site/opportunity just to get a selfie? and 2) I haven’t been there yet and I don’t want my chance to see [insert city/beach/historic site/animal here] ruined by some tour bus’s inability to be respectful.
Inspired by this Conde Nast article, I have drafted my five ways to not screw over my chances of seeing the world:
one. pack smart. I’m a big fan of the less is more approach to packing. But packing smarter is also important. Bring along a reusable water bottle or a tote bag for carrying your goodies. Heck bring four reusable bags: one can carry your muddy shoes, another can carry your snacks, and the last two can separate your dirty clothes from your souvenirs.
two. go somewhere new. Sure, we all want to visit Venice or see Machu Picchu before we die, but there’s also so many undiscovered places worth a trip. Challenge yourself to go somewhere you haven’t seen all over Instagram.
three. travel smart. Airplanes are pretty dang bad for the environment. Driving isn’t the greatest. Public transportation is your friend. Get your FitBit steps in to see those little alleyways and hidden gems. Avoid cruise ships and big tour buses that dump a ton of tourists at once in places that just can’t handle that chaos. Do as my father suggests and ride a bike. The journey should be just as environmentally friendly as the destination.
four. respect the land. Travelling takes you somewhere that is not yours. Respect it. Girl Scouts are taught to leave their campsites better than they find them; why can’t you employ this one on your trip? Pick up trash while you’re hiking. Stay on designated paths. Leave nature in nature. It’s pretty simple.
five. respect the people. Just as much as travel takes you somewhere that is not yours, it takes you somewhere that is someone else’s. Respect indigenous people and their customs. Trampling over religious sites or pushing out locals for your vacation is not sustainable and its just rude. Buy locally. Eat locally. Talk to the locals.
I will now step off my soapbox and continue my Google Maps adventures. Heck, maybe I’ll plot my next trip. Got any tips?
Traveling can be an experience filled with joy and excitement and plenty of anxiety. Moving half way around the world, getting on a flight for the first time, immersing yourself in a new culture with a different language – leaving home can be stressful and bring out anyone’s anxieties. I’m sharing how I approach having anxiety-free (or at least as much as possible) trips.
Prepare What You Can
I’m sure plenty of people are okay with going somewhere for the first time with no plans. I, however, can’t do that without airport bathroom panic attacks. Some things can’t be avoided, but I would recommend that you prep what you can: Book somewhere to stay for at least the first night. Figure out how to get from the train station or airport to where you’re staying. Check the calendar for bank holidays or train strikes. Set a reminder on your phone to check in for your flight and to leave for your flight. Ask someone (in person or online) who’s been there before about the simple things: get cash before or just use a card? hiking shoes or comfy shoes? worth the visit to this museum or that museum?
Never Trust Technology
Despite best intentions, our phones are not always as useful as we expect. Even if it’s on your phone, you could arrive with no battery. Service may not be the greatest where you’re going and you’ll need to survive until you track down WiFi. Keep yourself from panic by expecting your phone to fail. Print out your boarding pass if you can and write down the name of your hotel. Bring not electronic entertainment. Maybe you’re saving your battery or the plane’s entertainment screen isn’t working out great – having a back up book or a journal to doodle games of hangman in or a pack of cards can’t hurt and they’re relatively small.
Focus on the Exciting
Make yourself a list of exciting things you want to do or see. You’re traveling for a reason. Hype yourself up (within reason). Are you really excited to feel sand between your toes? Or practice your Spanglish? Or wander an art museum in a new city? Focus on that. Take a peek at the weather and the museum times. Start plotting all your adventures/Instagrams/meals. It’s hard to be anxious when your mind is thinking about all the great things you’ll be doing.
Take a Deep Breath
Life can throw you a curve ball. It happens. Breathe through it. Trust yourself that you’ll work it all out should anything go wrong. Find the little moments of joy even when the world seems like it’s falling apart. Worst case scenario: it’s all gonna be a great story to tell everyone back home.