Stranded by Your Airline? Here’s What to Do

Stranded by Your Airline? Here’s What to Do

On October 1, 2018, Primera Air collapsed, stranding all of their customers. They canceled all of their flights and announced they would be filing for bankruptcy. You can find their official statement on their website here.

On October 17, 2018, Cobalt Air suspended all its operations. It canceled all scheduled flights and told customers not to go to the airport.

In 2010, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano exploded, my parents and I became stranded in Italy. I was living in France at the time, but my parents were visiting me in Europe. This further stranded them in Europe for a week. Classmates of mine were also stranded around the world, from the UK to the Greek Islands to Bogota, Colombia. We all became very savvy travelers very quickly that week.

Based on my experience and lessons learned, I compiled the following list – in no particular order – of things to do to improve your situation if you are stranded by Primera Air. Accomplish whichever you think is best or easiest first. If you have a travel companion or local contacts, tackle multiple items at once.

Consider Alternate Forms of Transportation

Your original intention was to catch a flight to your final destination. If you have a transatlantic flight, this is probably still your best option. However, flights will be packed over the next week or two with every other Primera Air customer. If your original flight path was within Europe, consider taking a train, a ferry, or renting a car.

Trains are the most efficient way to travel within Europe even if there are flights available. If you want to book your trip ahead of time, do so with the local train website in the country you’re leaving from (you can usually only collect tickets from within the country whose website you use).

Alternatively, it is pretty easy to show up at a train station and buy a ticket on-the-spot. If your schedule is flexible or uncertain, this may be the best solution for you.

If you choose to rent a car, ask about local laws regarding taking the car across country borders if your trip will be international. This includes trips within the European Union or European Economic Area.

Look into Alternative Flight Routes

So you had a direct flight back from Paris to Boston this afternoon. Perhaps every other flight from Paris to Boston is booked solid over the next four days, but there are many flights available from London to Boston (they do have five airports compared to Paris’ two). If you find yourself in this situation, consider taking a train or a quick flight from Paris to London to catch a flight from there. This alternative may prove effective in getting you home faster and cheaper than waiting to re-book your original flight path.

Book a Flight

If you must fly to get to your destination, whether using an alternative route or your original flight plan, book a flight ASAP! Remember, there are hundreds of people around the world with flights canceled over the next couple of weeks. They will all be trying to get the same alternative flights you are getting. The BBC reported today that many other airlines are trying to help out Primera Air passengers by offering discounted flights for their remaining seats, but these will sell out quickly. [UPDATE: Norwegian Air released a statement this morning offering to repatriate Primera Air passengers for a 50% discount]. Book your flight now through the normal methods online, and then speak with the airline about any discounts they may be offering to help out.

When my parents were stranded in Europe, they booked themselves a Friday afternoon flight back home. They called the airline later that day but were told there were no flights available until the following Monday. My dad told the airline my parents about the reservation he had made on the Friday flight. The airline allowed my parents to retain that flight for free, as would have been the case for the Monday flight. Alternatively, my friend in Bogota went to the airport every day for over a week trying to catch a standby flight back to Europe. Everyone is going to be trying to find a new flight, so reserve yours now!

Reserve Accommodations

This is fourth on the list because I think it makes more sense to figure out travel plans first. However, if you know you’ll be spending at least one night in your current location, I would make this the first thing you do. My family and I did not do this when we were stuck in Milan with thousands of other travelers. We had to stay in the last hotel with available rooms, which was probably the worst place I’ve ever stayed (including hostels)! Check in with your AirBNB host to see if you can extend your stay given the circumstances, or look online for available hotels in your current city. I recommend a comprehensive hotel search site like* for a task like this because it will show you every possible accommodation available.

Notify Your Employer, School, Family, and/or Friends

If you will be missing work, school, or a group vacation, remember to notify the necessary individuals. It may be stressful to tell your boss you need an extra three unscheduled vacation days, or to tell your professor you have to miss tomorrow’s exam because you are in another country, but I found that most people are very understanding in these circumstances. You did not cause the airline to collapse. You did not choose to get stranded and have to find your way home. As my mom’s boss told her in 2010, there is nothing you can do about your situation, so make your best effort to return and otherwise enjoy the extra few days off!

Look Into Other Reimbursements and Discounts

The extra flight and accommodation costs will unfortunately not be your only additional expenses. Maybe your vacation is now canceled or delayed, but you have a hotel booked for the next week. Maybe you parked your car at the airport and now suddenly will have to pay for an extra three days. Like the people in your life, most companies are understanding in these circumstances and will give you a discount or full reimbursement. This is especially true with hotels that can re-fill the room in which you were supposed to stay. You may even be helping out a fellow stranded passenger by freeing up a hotel room!

Relax and Enjoy your Extra Time

Once you have completed the above steps, take advantage of your extra vacation days! The stressful part is over. You have additional, unexpected days of vacation. Did you try to cram everything you wanted to do into a few short days? Maybe now is the time to pick your favorite attraction and go spend some extra time really getting to know it. If you’ve already seen everything you hoped for in your destination city, this could be the time to try something off the beaten path or spend time living like a local (if you want to try this in Northern Wales, check out my local recommendations in this post). Make the most of the additional time you now have, knowing that everything is in place for your delayed return.

Recovery from Primera Air

After you have safely reached your destination, you may consider pursuing claims against Primera Air for recovery of any travel expenses or losses. The aforementioned BBC article noted that it is unlikely most passengers will be able to recover anything from the airline because of the bankruptcy filing, but offers alternative avenues to pursue like those with the credit card companies. If you are an American citizen or have a flight involving the States, you may have American remedies available to you. You should contact an attorney if you choose to pursue a legal remedy. Bankruptcy law can be tricky and most customers are the last people to get paid in such instances after most of the money has run out.

Good luck to everyone stranded out there, and safe travels home!

Looking for more travel advice? Check out these other related posts!

*Note, this page contains affiliate links. This means I may receive some compensation for your use of the link at no extra cost to you.


Spend a Weekend in Wales like a Local

Spend a Weekend in Wales like a Local

A few years ago I spent a weekend visiting extended family in Wales.  At that time I wrote about it in my private blog. Now that I want to share the experience with everyone, I realize this is best done with the memories I had immediately after the trip. Below, I’ve updated my original private blog post from 2013 about spending a weekend in Wales.

A Weekend in Wales, 2013

My great-grandparents, Margaret and Edward Roberts, emigrated from Bethesda, Wales, to Chicago in the early 1900s. Most of their siblings stayed behind in Wales, so I have many second-, third-, and fourth-cousins still living there. The town of Bethesda, where my great-, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents lived, has a population of 4,000. There is just one high street and a few neighborhoods branching off of it. When the slate mines in the area were booming in the 1800s, it was an extremely important town. In recent years its population and importance has declined. Regardless, I still think it is still the cutest village in the northwest corner of Wales. It was while based in this town that I visited the area my ancestors are from and met many relatives for the first or second time.


Heulwen, my second cousin, and her husband Emyr picked me up from the train station in Bangor and brought me home Thursday evening. I arrived just in time to enjoy tea and delicious homemade cake as we discussed the plans for the weekend. Heulwen also explained my relationship to the people I would meet.

Heulwen had made a wonderful homemade steak and ale pie to have after tea for dinner. After we ate it, she told us that she realized while making it that there wasn’t any ale in the house: it was really just a steak pie! It still gave us energy for an evening walk along Bethesda’s High Street afterwards. During our walk, Heulwen pointed out buildings of significance to our family. For example, the current grocery store used to be a bus station that was owned and run by my great-grandfather. There were many apartments that my ancestors had lived in or been born in decades ago as well.

At the end of the road was a pub called the Douglas Arms. The same family had owned the pub for 3 generations. We arrived around 9 PM and the owner opened the pub for us to have a drink. It was the first time I had a pub open just for me! We entered through the foyer and went into the pub room, which really felt like someone’s living room. In fact, at one time it was a living room. The building was originally a house and the bottom floor was converted into a pub without rearranging the rooms.

wales, bethesda, douglas arms, pub, hotel

Douglas Arms Exterior

wales, bethesda, douglas arms, pub

Photo of the Living Room Pub, from the Douglas Arms website (click for link)

Eventually other local customers arrived and the room filled up. As is typical in small towns, everyone else there knew each other, so they immediately recognized that I was the foreigner in the room. The locals were interested to talk to me about the USA and share their stories if they had traveled overseas themselves.


The next day Heulwen drove me through Snowdonia, the mountainous region near Bethesda. She told me that every year hikers go into the mountains without the proper equipment, such as maps, compasses, and GPS, and then have to call the rescue service to be saved. This is the same rescue service that Prince William was a member of until 2013. Therefore, people in the area thought that some hikers only called to see if Prince William would come rescue them. Perhaps the number of “lost and stranded” hikers decreased once he left the rescue team!

Mountains of Snowdonia (photo credit: Heulwen Roberts)

Zipline over the quarry: the longest zipline in the Northern Hemisphere in 2013


On our road trip we stopped at many beautiful towns, including Betws-y-Coed, Bae Colwyn, Rhos-on-Sea, and Llandudno. In Betws-y-Coed we spent some time shopping for typical Welsh souvenirs and had a look at the Royal Oak Hotel.

In the Royal Oak Hotel Lobby

Betws-y-Coed is situated on the A5 expressway. This was the main road used by coaches bringing mail from Dublin to London. The ferry ride from Dublin to the Isle of Anglesey was only about an hour, after which coaches would proceed through the heart of Northern Wales. The Royal Oak Hotel is a grand hotel along the path that many coaches traveling between the two cities would stop at for the night.

Exterior of the Royal Oak Hotel

Bae Colwyn

In Bae Colwyn, Heulwen and I had lunch with my third-cousins Karen. We went to lunch with her specifically because my mom and she were pen-pals when they were children. Unknown to Heulwen, Karen and my mom actually met in Chicago, where my mom grew up, when Karen was 3-years-old. It was nice to spend time with her knowing more about our family connection.

Me, Heulwen, and Karen at lunch

Seaside Rhos and Llandudno

Rhos-on-Sea and Llandudno are both gorgeous seaside towns. Rhos-on-Sea has huge beaches that stretch for miles along the coast and extend many meters before meeting the water. It was a bit cold on the day we visited, but the town looked like it would be a fantastic place to vacation and spend a few days in the summer.

Rhos-on-Sea Beach

Llandudno is one of the more upscale towns in the area. It has a boardwalk with a few grand hotels and restaurants along it. A large town sitting on the side of a mountain overlooks the beach area, and an open-air tram ascends the mountain year-round. Because the weather was brisk, we drove to the top of the mountain to have a view of the town and surrounding area instead of taking the tram.

Llandudno Boardwalk

The areas of Wales Heulwen took me to on Friday were beautiful. They gave me a good sense of the diversity of landscape in the country with the huge mountains and the spacious beaches located so close to each other.


Friday night, two of my third-cousins took me out for a night on the town in Bangor! Alice and Sioned were  gracious hosts allowing me to unexpectedly join Alice’s birthday party. They brought me to three bars in town and then a club to show me proper Welsh nightlife. It was similar to nightlife in any other European city with a few exceptions:

  1. Popular locations allowed in large groups of just men, without any women with them. There are very few places in other cities that would permit this, especially with a cover fee.
  2. The men all had haircuts like American military men, though most of them weren’t actually in the military.
  3. Many people I met were obsessed with the fact that I was American. There are a few pictures of me out there I will never see again from people who needed a photo with the American in town.

Just as everyone knows each other in Bethesda, we ran into a large number of people my cousins knew at the bars and in the streets walking around. I had to cut the night short to go home while everyone else stayed out dancing since there was a busy day planned for Saturday. Regardless, I had an incredible time and am so thankful to Heulwen for contacting Alice and Sioned to set this up, and for them taking me along for the night.

Alice, Me, and Sioned

Isle of Anglesey

Saturday morning Heulwen and I set out on another sight-seeing adventure, this time to Caernarfon. This was the town in which many of my American family members stayed in during our 2010 family reunion. It is on the water near the Isle of Anglesey and has one of the most well-preserved castles and walled cities from the 1200s that I have seen. The English built the castle to oppress the Welsh, so it’s not a great source of pride, but it still adds a lot of charm to the town.

Caernarfon Castle

Heulwen’s daughter Hannah met us at the hotel in town for lunch and coffee. After lunch, we all went to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the town with the longest name in the world. It means “St. Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near to the Rapid Whirlpool of Llantysilio of the Red Cave.” This town became notorious for its name length and specificity. It is also the first town you reach on the Isle of Anglesey when arriving from the mainland.

Sign at the train station for the town

That afternoon we all visited Hannah’s older sister Ceri at her house to have tea with her and her two young daughters, one of whom had just been born. I had heard all weekend from Heulwen and Emyr about how smart the older daughter, Erin, is, and they were completely right. For example, the first language of most people in Wales, including my family, is Welsh. Erin, who is three-years-old, speaks Welsh, but is also starting to learn English. This normally doesn’t happen until age four or five when children start school. Erin was mostly able to understand me and to respond using simple words. Most people I know can’t speak two languages, and certainly not by age three.

Ceri, Megan, Me, Hannah, and Erin

Family Dinner

After spending most of the weekend with my great-grandmother’s side of the family, I went out to dinner on Saturday night with about 20 relatives from my great-grandfather’s side of the family. They were all also from Bethesda. Years ago, one of them researched his family history, then walked down the road to Heulwen’s house with some paperwork and announced that they were related.

Most of my relatives from my great-grandfather’s side of the family had been at the family reunion I attended in Chicago in 2002, so I had briefly met them and vaguely remembered them. They were all excited to see me and to tell me about their lives, as well as hear about how all the American relatives were doing. I hope I sufficiently updated everyone because we only see each other about once every five years. It was difficult to adequately describe who each person was that I was talking about, seeing as I have five aunts and six cousins in Chicago, plus their families, plus a number of second cousins who the Welsh relatives know.

Lyn and me after dinner

Talking with the men

Spending the weekend with my family and meeting them all for either the first or second time made for a fantastic relaxing weekend and was special for me. I enjoyed extending my known family tree. Every person I met was really friendly and welcoming. Although we are distant relatives, I am still glad to be a part of their family. Heulwen and Emyr were fantastic hosts making sure that I was comfortable, well taken-care of, well-fed, and that I got to see everything and everyone that I wanted to without making the weekend seem busy or rushed. I hope to return and to see everyone again soon!

If you’re interested in visiting this area of Wales, I recommend staying at the hotel in Caernarfon where my family stayed for their reunion: The Celtic Royal Hotel. By using this link I receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

Love this post? Save it to Pinterest for later!

Thinking of heading to Wales' Snowdonia Region? Find out where to go and what to see - including travel tips from locals! - in this blog post.


How to Spend a Fall Weekend in New Hampshire

How to Spend a Fall Weekend in New Hampshire

This past weekend, I celebrated the New England transition from Summer to Fall in New Hampshire. I stayed with some friends in a cabin near the Vermont border. Throughout the weekend we engaged in both Summer and Fall activities, and enjoyed the beautiful, relaxing weekend that New Hampshire offered. You may not think of Northern New England as the most exciting area to go on vacation, but as the leaves begin to change this month, you should reconsider. There are many fun and adventurous things to do in this area!

Looking for other recommendations for New England Fall activities? Check out the Best Fall Activities in Connecticut post!


If you’re heading to New Hampshire this Fall season, definitely stay in a cabin. It gives you a more authentic nature experience in a very tranquil setting. You will also likely be closer to many of the outdoors activities in which you are probably looking to engage. There are cabins of all sizes and prices available on AirBNB (click here for $40 off your first reservation). If you love the cabin my friends and I stayed in this weekend, contact me for details about how to rent it!

new hampshire, cabin, loft, autumn

View from above of the spacious, cozy interior of our cabin


When my friends and I rent a property with a full kitchen, we often cook all our meals “at home.” There are many local grocery and general stores around New England where you can pick up provisions for your own cabin. If you are in the Western part of the state and looking to eat a meal out, check out The Farmer’s Table Café in Grantham. This restaurant provides both a cozy and upscale feel inside. It is located near ski resorts and hiking mountains like Sunapee. Wood-fired pizzas are its specialty – and they are delicious – but all the local options on the menu are amazing. Service was a little slow when I was there for lunch, but if you’re looking for a laid-back weekend this place will fit right into your schedule.

farmers table cafe, new hampshire, cafe, lunch, grantham

Farmer’s Table Cafe

Local New Hampshire Activities

Don’t miss out on these quintessential New England outdoors activities on your next trip to New Hampshire!


New Hampshire has some of the best mountains and trails to hike. If you are an experienced hiker, you can challenge yourself with a 4,000-footer like Mount Tecumseh or Mount Washington. If you want to keep things closer to the ground, there are many trails available that circle lakes and mountains without requiring a strenuous ascent. My friends and I opted for the latter and hiked around Lake Eastham.

While I don’t consider myself to be an expert hiker, I’ve been on many hikes with friends who are experts. My best piece of advice for novice hikers is to look out for the colored paint or symbols along your trail. They will indicate which trail you are following and where your trail leads. You should be able to see the next colored marker from your current location. If you follow this rule, you will never get lost while hiking!

Example of a Marker on our Lake Trail


The swimming season in New England is wrapping up but a few exceptionally warm days in September may provide the last good beach days of the season. The lake waters in New Hampshire are pristine. They provide a refreshing dip that is welcome on a hot day or after an activity like hiking. Next time you are in New Hampshire, grab your towel and pick a lake at which you can relax and cool off.

Many lakes also have a variety of boats for visitors to rent

Apple Picking

I really can’t talk about Fall in New Hampshire without mentioning apple picking. This typical New England activity is especially enjoyable in New Hampshire because there are so many orchards to pick from.  My friends and I selected the King Blossom Farm. Though we went on a beautiful day in the middle of September, the farm was empty when we arrived! The owners gave us some background about the farm and described the different varieties available, including the heirloom mixes that had developed over many years. We then set off into the orchard to pick all the apples we could want. The trees were abundant with beautiful-looking fruit, and at less than $1/pound we couldn’t resist picking over 10 pounds! Any farm or orchard in New Hampshire would give you a similar experience, but King Blossom Farm is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Dozens of apples sitting on the trees just waiting to be picked

The farm also had a farm stand with fresh vegetables, homemade fruit butters and local maple syrup

Love this post? Save it on Pinterest for later!

Best things to do in New Hampshire in the Fall

What to Expect on Your Halong Bay Cruise

What to Expect on Your Halong Bay Cruise

Last year, my friend Sarah and I went on a 2-day/1-night Halong Bay Cruise. Halong Bay (sometimes written as Ha Long Bay) in Northern Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places to which I’ve ever been. UNESCO designated the area a World Natural Heritage site in 1994. The Bay, which covers over 600 square miles, is home to 1,969 limestone islands. If you are planning to spend any time in Northern Vietnam, you should add Halong Bay to your itinerary. If you want to learn more about what to do in Hanoi while you’re there, check out my blog post on 48 Hours in Hanoi.

Read on below to learn what your 2-day/1-night Halong Bay cruise experience may be like.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, junk boat

Halong Bay Cruise – Day 1

Trip from Hanoi

The departure port for all of Halong Bay’s junk boats is about three hours from Hanoi. Your driver will pick you up from your hotel in Hanoi and drive you to the port. Along the way, you will probably stop at a rest stop/marketplace in the countryside. The goods in the marketplace are beautiful hand-made Vietnamese items like tapestries, glass bowls, woven fabrics, and lacquered vases. You know everything is authentic because you can see the goods being made right in the marketplace! Note that payment for everything, including food and drink, is cash-only. If you don’t have a chance to buy something on the way to the boat you will likely stop here again on the way back.

Port Arrival and Departure

From what we could tell, all of the junk boats departed from the same port. When we arrived there were hundreds of people waiting to board the myriad junk boats in the harbor. Our guide led us efficiently through the crowds to our dinghy that brought us to our boat. We were on board receiving the safety protocols within an hour of arriving at the port. We then had some time to settle-in and explore the three ship decks before the armada of junk boats made their way into the Bay.

Halong Bay Cruise, junk boat, armada, set sail

Armada of Halong Bay cruise junk boats

Your visionsof Halong Bay may include a sole junk boat floating along by itself among the islands. In reality, most of the cruises travel the same routes at the same time. The boats are far enough away from each other that you don’t feel as though it is merely a ship caravan, but the only real difference among cruises was probably the accommodation and food quality. Though we were not on the most expensive cruise, we were impressed with everything our boat offered. The one issue was that WiFi was “available” but didn’t really work. Even so, this “problem” added to the secluded nature experience of the weekend.


Once our Halong Bay cruise had set sail, we were treated to the most delicious lunch. Dishes were served one at a time, and they just kept coming! There were vegetables, rice, fish, and other meat along with delicious sauces. All the food on the cruise was included, but drinks cost extra at about $5 USD per drink. If you buy drinks, you will keep a tab throughout the trip and pay at the end.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, junk boat

The dining room on our junk boat

Hang Sung Sot Caves

The Hang Sung Sot cave complex was the first stop for our Halong Bay cruise (and many other cruises). Hang Sung Sot means “Cave of Surprises”. Many of the islands have caves in them. The Hang Sung Sot cavern is one of the largest in the Bay. We spent about an hour hiking up to the cave entrance, exploring the cavern, and taking in the sights from a few hundred feet above the Bay. During our visit, we were told about the natural history of the caves and some Vietnamese folklore, like the importance of the dragon and the tortoise to the area.

hang sung sot cave, cavern, halong bay, ha long bay, halong bay cruise, vietnam

Hang Sung Sot Cavern

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, vietnam, cave, hang sung sot cave

View from the island with Hang Sung Sot Cave

Ti Top Island

Your next stop will be the beaches of Ti Top Island. Ti Top was a Russian cosmonaut who visited Halong Bay in 1962. During his visit to the Bay, Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh named an island after him. His statue is one of the first things you encounter when you arrive from your junk boat. Just beyond the landing site is a recreational beach with a swimming area, sand to lay on, concessions available for purchase, and even a volleyball net! Our cruise gave us about an hour to enjoy the area on the first day. We sat on the beach enjoying fresh coconut water and fruit, then spent some time swimming in the warm Bay waters. The one downside to the area is the presence of jellyfish, but overall it was a fun experience.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, Ti Top Island, vietnam

Statue of Ti Top that greets you on Ti Top Island

Ti Top, Titop, beach, Halong Bay, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, swimming

Ti Top Beach

Evening Activities Onboard

Happy Hour

Upon returning to the junk boat, you have time to shower and enjoy a (complimentary) drink on the roof deck before dinner. With about 20 guests on board, you have plenty of space to spread out and grab a deck chair to watch the islands sail by. You also have the chance to meet some fascinating travelers from around the world. I encourage you to use your downtime on board to learn about the other guests’ experiences.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, junk boat, roof deck

Roof deck of our junk boat


Dinner again consists of many different courses served individually. For this meal, the head chef puts on a show cooking the main dish on the stern of the ship! The V’Spirit Cruise chef put on a show for the guests with lots of fire and theatrics while cooking a fish-and-vegetable stir fry for us all to enjoy.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, vietnam, cooking

On-board cooking demonstration

Squid Fishing

You will probably have the option of trying to go squid fishing after dinner. When your junk boat anchors for the night and shuts off its main lights, your guide may hand out long rods with strings attached that you hold over the side of the boat in the hopes of catching squid. If you do manage to catch something, it will be served the next day for lunch. However, none of our guests had any luck fishing, so our boat had extra squid on board to serve us anyway.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, squid fishing, junk boat, vietnam

Trying to spot squid for fishing over the side of the boat

Halong Bay Cruise – Day 2

You may have the option of an early-morning Tai Chi class on day two. After class, during breakfast, you Halong Bay cruise guide will tell you about the activities for the day ahead. These activities include kayaking among the islands, visiting a floating village, a cooking class during lunch, and a visit to a pearl factory on the way back to Hanoi.

Tai Chi

I am not usually an early-riser or a morning person, but when presented with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a tai chi class on a junk boat roof deck while floating through Halong Bay, I had to take advantage of it. The boat’s instructor led the guests through a series of gentle exercises to help wake us up, get our blood flowing, and connect with the nature around us. No rooftop or beach yoga class has ever been as peaceful as this was.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, tai chi, vietnam

Early morning tai chi class

Floating Villages

Halong Bay used to be filled will permanent residents in floating villages. These consisted of rafts tied together with house structures atop them for living and schooling. The residents ate mostly fish caught in the Bay. They made money by selling goods to tourists on the junk boats. Recently, the Vietnamese government provided incentives for the residents to move from the floating villages into land communities. It is considered both safer for the residents and better for the environment for them to live on land.

While controversial in many ways, one downside of this policy for tourists is the lack of floating villages to now visit. Our tour group saw just one in the area in which we went kayaking. There was one resident who pulled up to our boat to try and sell some things, but the village wasn’t as active or bustling as it probably would have been years ago.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, floating village, vietnam

Woman from a nearby floating village selling her wares to tourists in the Bay


The majority of day two was spent kayaking in our own little corner of the Bay. Each junk boat has its own space in which to go kayaking: no other boats were in our area. We had the choice to just kayak around the bay or explore the caves and shores of the islands around us. Sarah and I opted for the latter. We had the best time traveling between the islands to see their natural beauty practically untouched by humans.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, kayaking, vietnam

(photo credit: Sarah)

Cooking Class

On the way back to port you will probably receiving a cooking demonstration and class from the head chef. We saw myriad vegetables transformed into beautiful flowers with a paring knife. Then, we were provided ingredients for spring rolls and taught how to add water to the rice wrapper, choose our fillings, and wrap the rolls. These became the first course in our filling lunch, the last meal on our Halong Bay cruise.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, vietnam, cooking

Vegetable flowers prepared by the head chef

Pearl Factory

On the trip back to Hanoi, we first stopped at a local pearl factory. Halong Bay is filled with oysters that the Vietnamese use to create pearls. We were shown how a pearl is initiated in an oyster, how the pearl forms, how it is harvested, and how it is made into jewelry. Of course, part of this tour included the implication that the tourists should purchase some of the final products, but I found the prices outlandish for Vietnam. Luckily, the sellers weren’t too pushy and we could admire the jewelry without buying anything.

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, pearls, oysters, vietnam

Watching pearls pulled from oysters at the pearl factory

My Halong Bay cruise experience was phenomenal; I recommend it to anyone planning to go to Northern Vietnam! If you want to have the same experience as Sarah and I, you can book the cruise we took here: V’Spirit Cruise.*

halong bay cruise, ha long bay, vietnam, v'spirit cruise

Our global cruise group and guide!

*Note that if you use this link I receive some compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Love this post? Save it to Pinterest for later!


How to Spend 48 Hours in Hanoi

How to Spend 48 Hours in Hanoi

Aside from wanting to visit every country in the world, Vietnam was never high on my travel priority list. I didn’t know much about the country and had heard great things about places like Thailand and Indonesia so I thought they would be my next Southeast Asian destinations. However, last year a friend who knows how much I love traveling was looking for someone to explore Vietnam with her. She implored me to look into the country before saying “no.” After doing some research, mainly on travel blogs like The Blonde Abroad and Nomadic Matt, I determined it was a great time to visit Vietnam! See below for recommendations from our first stop, the capital city Hanoi.

Favorite Tourist Attractions in Hanoi

Hanoi’s Old Quarter

We arrived late on a Saturday night in Hanoi after traveling for over 20 hours from Boston by way of Tokyo. Our hotel, Hanoi Imperial Hotel*, was located in the Old Quarter a few steps from Hoan Kiem Lake. Though it was very late, we were able to find dinner by the lake and explore the plaza. There were locals who were sitting around on plastic stools talking and listening to music. The atmosphere was very relaxed, which was exactly what we wanted after a long flight.  We bought a couple of beers from the convenience store for less than $1 and wandered around the area. The lake was beautiful with the bright red bridge in the center. Though the temple was closed at night, we still explored its exterior architecture. We even encountered a man meditating on a rock pile, who had been so quiet and still when we first passed him we didn’t even notice he was there!

Hanoi Lake Meditating

Man mediating by the tree on top of the rock monument

Tran Quoc Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

The next two days were spent walking all over the city doing sightseeing. We traversed the streets in the heat up to West Lake, a bustling shopping and food area with the Tran Quoc Pagoda on a peninsula in the center. This was where we encountered our first cultural difference experience. While it was easily over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, no one was allowed onto the peninsula with bare shoulders or knees. My friend was reasonably wearing a tank top. This caused her to be barred from entry not only by the groundskeeper but even other locals! This happened again later at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, showing that the custom relates more to their perception of respect and reverence than religion.

Tran Quoc Pagoda Hanoi

Inside the Tran Quoc Pagoda

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum: we were not able to go inside as Ho Chi Minh was not even there! He was in Moscow at the time.

Perfume Pagoda and Temple of Literature

Both the Chinese and French influences were prevalent throughout the city. China is the regional hegemony and shares a border with Vietnam. It has controlled the Vietnamese land many times throughout history. This is apparent in the architecture, language, and religion in Vietnam. When visiting the Perfume Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, I felt like I was back in Beijing. The architecture is exactly the same as the Chinese Buddhist temples and the Confucian temple of learning. The concept of having a non-religious temple complex build for higher learning and education was also very Chinese.

Perfume Pagoda Hanoi

Perfume Pagoda

Hanoi Temple of Literature

Inside the Temple of Literature you can see the Chinese influences and food offerings made by locals

The French influence was prevalent less in the tourist attractions and more in the buildings around the city. It was characterized by the bright mustard-colored paint and European designs. Most of the buildings are now Vietnamese government buildings, though there was one church that was clearly French-colonial too.

Hanoi Church

Hoa Lo Prison

The other French architecture remaining in the city was the Hoa Lo Prison. Built by French colonists in the late 1800s, the prison was originally used to house Vietnamese dissidents. When the Vietnamese threw out their colonists and were fighting Western powers during the Vietnam War, they used Hoa Lo Prison to house Prisoners of War (including John McCain). The experience visiting the prison was sobering but also fascinating and something I recommend to everyone who visits Hanoi.

Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi

Thang Long Imperial Citadel

The Imperial Citadel also provides a sobering experience to Western visitors. Restored to its current state in the late 21st century, you can see influences from both Chinese and French architecture in the Citadel. The grounds are beautiful to explore and almost no area is barred to tourists. The complex has been used for government and military functions for centuries. This seems normal until you realize that includes Vietnamese military functions during the Vietnam War. Tourists can visit the room where generals planned attacks on Western forces and the bunker rooms where they hid when under attack. It is another can’t-miss attraction when you are in Hanoi.

Imperial Citadel Hanoi

Imperial Citadel Hanoi

Down the stairs leading to the basement bunker


The nightlife in Hanoi is casual and unique in culture, like many other things in the city. If you prefer lounging in high-end clubs, Saigon will be more your speed in Vietnam. If you want to hang out with the locals and wander the streets from bar-to-bar in a vibrant, outdoor city at midnight, be sure to do so in Hanoi.

Hanoi Old Quarter Nightlife

Hanoi Old Quarter Nightlife

Hanoi Old Quarter Nightlife

Hanoi Old Quarter Nightlife

We were the only non-locals in this bar at the time! They all deterred us from ordering the street food they kept bringing in, probably for the best.

Vietnamese Culture in Hanoi

In Hanoi you can’t help but experience the culture firsthand, even as a tourist. There didn’t seem to be any way for my friend and me to insulate ourselves in a Western-culture bubble while in Hanoi, not that we wanted to!


One of the most important parts of any culture is the food! We enjoyed meals at fancy-but-cheap restaurants and local hot spots with open air seating and plastic stools. Our favorite dishes were the spring rolls (both fried and fresh), beef pho, and Vietnamese barbeque.


Hanoi Dumplings Vietnamese Food

Dumplings and hot & sour soup at Fu Rong Hua


Hanoi Spring Rolls Vietnamese Food

Fresh Spring Rolls

Hanoi Pho Vietnamese Food

Beef Pho Soup, local fish, and local Vietnamese wine from the Dalat region

Hanoi BBQ Barbecue Barbeque Vietnamese Food

Barbeque on the street at Bo Nuong Xuan Xuan

Hanoi Salad Soup Vietnamese Food

Papaya shrimp salad, fresh and fried spring rolls, and soup at Ngon Villa

Hanoi Bun Cha Obama Vietnamese Food

Eating Bun Cha at the same restaurant President Obama visited with Anthony Bourdain, Bún Chả Hương Liên!

Hanoi Bun Cha Vietnamese Food

The “Obama Special” Bun Cha meal

Blind Massages

Because of the purchasing power parity in our favor, my friend and I knew that we wanted to get massages while in Vietnam. We had one at our hotel for $20 which was amazing. The next day we found a spa on a side road in the Old Quarter that we liked even more, the Midori Spa Hanoi. The services here were great and the massage was only $15. Best of all, the spa was also part of a social justice project. All the masseuses were blind! In Vietnam, where most jobs are service-related, sight-impaired citizens have trouble finding meaningful work. The Midori Spa hires blind people, trains them in massage therapy, and has them work like any other masseuse would. We loved being able to help such a great project and also relax while on vacation.


Most people I encounter who visit Vietnam talk about the amazing bespoke clothing they have made for themselves. Unfortunately, my friend and I did not dedicate much time to shopping and therefore ran out of time to have self-designed clothes made. However, I purchased an original dress from a tailor tailor in the Old Quarter a couple of hours before we left for the airport. She even customized to my body by bringing in the waist and raising the hem. The shop had a number of dresses pre-made by the seamstress, and she also offered bespoke services, so if you are looking for specialty clothing I would search for bespoke tailors in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Hanoi Old Quarter Vietnam

Cultural Differences

There were cultural differences in Hanoi that seemed odd to my friend and me, as there would be in any setting different from where you live. We arrived in Hanoi for the National Day weekend celebrations. During this time we saw an unusual Vietnamese custom tied to both the culture and religion: the burning of money as an offering to ancestors. We saw many piles of stuff burning in the middle of sidewalks and roads on the first day, so we thought everyone was burning their trash. We later learned that those were all offerings to ancestors. This seemed odd but acceptable until we saw one woman burning multiple $100 USD bills at the Perfume Pagoda. Perhaps she was wealthy, but she looked no richer than anyone else we had seen on the streets of Vietnam. It seemed completely irrational to us that someone would burn that much money as an offering, especially when we had not seen that much anywhere else in the city.

Another difference that I had expected but my friend had not was the “paparazzi” experience. There are very few white people who visit Vietnam, so seeing us was a rare experience for local people. I never felt unsafe because of my ethnicity or hair, but it did result in many people taking pictures of us or with us! The first time it happened, two women who did not speak English were holding their camera out to my friend at a tourist attraction, so she thought they wanted us to take a picture of them, but after some gesturing we learned that her companion wanted a photo with us. This happened a few more times throughout the trip, an experience we had fun participating in. However, there were also a number of people who randomly took photos of us as we passed them on the street and sat in restaurants. They were less than subtle about it, an unusual experience that made us understand better how celebrities must feel trying to live their everyday lives.

Overall, our visit to Hanoi was incredible in unexpected ways, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering Southeast Asia! I know there are some negative reviews about Vietnam in a few travel blogs, but as long as you are ready to accept the cultural differences and recognize when something is part of their culture versus locals trying to take advantage of tourists, you will have an enjoyable trip.


*Note that this is an affiliate link, meaning that if you make a booking using this link I get some bonus at no additional cost to you. Still, I will only link to and recommend places I actually enjoy and want to recommend! Thank you!

Love this post? Save it to Pinterest for later!

What to do and see with 2 days in Hanoi, Vietnam

Top 6 Restaurants in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Top 6 Restaurants in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The original intent of this post was to highlight restaurants in London throughout the city. However, as I made my list of recommendations I realized that most of the restaurants were in the Notting Hill area, where I had lived in London. Therefore, this post will focus on restaurants just in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Next time you are in London, use the information below to head west and check out the best restaurants in London’s most exclusive neighborhoods!

Looking for more information about London? Check out the Getting to London post!

1. Julie’s

Julie’s restaurant is a hidden gem in Holland Park, an upscale neighborhood just past Notting Hill. The unassuming exterior on Portland Road opens to a variety of rooms, elegantly-decorated in a British-Egyptian style, creating many intimate spaces to enjoy your meal. Julie’s has been noted as a favorite special-occasion date spot of Princes William and Harry. Many other A-listers have been spotted walking through its doors as well. Prince Charles even began his bachelor party here before marrying Princess Diana! Even so, the menu and prices still are accessible to those of us commoners looking for fine dining in London, and reservations are not too difficult to come by.

135 Portland Road, Holland Park, London, W11 4LW *


2. Electric Diner and Cinema

The Electric Diner is a casual restaurant connected to an old-fashioned cinema showing current movies (this week’s selection is Mama Mia! 2). You can grab a drink or a bite to eat at the diner before catching a show in one of the leather armchairs, couches, or front row beds featured in the theatre next door. One of the best features, especially for Americans, is the brunch served every Sunday! Among other offerings, the diner features many popular brunch items, including a proper Bloody Mary, which is surprisingly hard to find at restaurants in London.

191 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2ED


3. Beach Blanket Babylon

Beach Blanket Babylon has some of the best pre- or post-dinner cocktails in the area. Its decorations are also incredibly ornate with Roman and Greek design influences. I unfortunately cannot speak to the food, but be sure to try the Elderflower Daiquiri if you go for cocktails, you won’t be disappointed.

45 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2AA


4. Granger and Co.

Granger and Co. is a lovely casual upscale restaurant in the heart of Notting Hill. Its large windows let in vast amounts of light during the day, which make it an inviting space to either chill out at the bar with a pastry or grab lunch with friends. The light lunch menu reflects the high-end air of the area without the high-end price points.

175 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London, W11 2SB


5. Harrod’s Champagne Bar

Outside the Notting Hill area in Knightsbridge, Harrod’s is famous for its luxurious shopping experience. This Qatari-owned shopping mecca, offering everything from Alexander McQueen ball gowns to gustatory delicacies to throw pillows, also features 23 dining options. Though you may not think of a shopping emporium as hosting some of the best restaurants in London, you should give it a chance: the Champagne Bar in particular does not disappoint. Do not make the mistake of thinking you should skip this option due to its high price-points. Like most things in life, the price is worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

87 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL


6. The Real Greek

This restaurant has ten locations in London, including a location just outside Kensington and Chelsea in Shepherd’s Bush. I became obsessed with finding authentic Greek food when I visited Greece two years ago, but long before this I became obsessed with London’s restaurant The Real Greek. Featuring a variety of hot and cold small plates, The Real Greek is a fun place to dine out with friends while also a welcoming environment when dining alone: I can personally speak to both experiences! With so many locations you cannot fail to run into this restaurant, so be sure to stop in when you see one.

Southern Terrace, Westfield Shopping Centre, 1073 Ariel Way, Shepherd’s Bush, London W12 7GB


Bonus! Borough Market


Borough Market is an outdoor food market on the opposite side of London from Notting Hill. Regardless, it is my favorite lunch spot in the city. It is fun to walk around and see the unique specialty items offered from around the world. It also allows a group of picky eaters to each select a different cuisine and still all dine together. Best of all, you can pick up a pitcher of sangria or Pimm’s cup to enjoy along with your selection!

8 Southwark Street, Southwark, London SE1 1TL


Love this post? Save it on Pinterest for later!

Top 6 Restaurants In London's Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Getting to London

Getting to London

So you want to go to London!

This beautiful city is one of the biggest transportation hubs in the world, so whether you’re arriving by plane, train, bus, or car, you should have no problem getting to the city quickly and easily from wherever you are.

Looking for more information on London? Check out the post Top 6 Restaurants in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea!

By Plane

London is serviced by five international airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and London City. You can reach central London from each of them by public transportation or taxi, so it doesn’t make too much difference which one you fly into.

Heathrow: Heathrow is the main London airport for flights coming from the U.S., although direct flights are now available to Gatwick and Stansted as well. The easiest and cheapest way to get from Heathrow to downtown London is to take London’s subway, officially known as the Underground and commonly referred to as the Tube. To do so, purchase an Oyster Card at the airport (you will get a refund when you return it later), add value, and board the Picadilly Line, the only line available from Heathrow. The first half of this journey on the Tube is above ground, so it is a relaxing way to experience your first views of the city.

However, it will take you over an hour to reach central London from Heathrow by subway, so for a few pounds more it is well worth it to take the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. It will take you just 15 minutes to get into the city using this option. You will be dropped off at Paddington Station, from which four Tube lines are accessible.

You could also consider taking a National Express bus or a taxi, but the price of the taxi could be double or triple that of the train, and both methods will still take about an hour to get into the city.

Gatwick, Standsted, and Luton: To get from Gatwick, Stansted, or Luton Airports to London, you can take a train, bus, or taxi. The train is most advisable as it will take you right into one of London’s major train stations (Victoria or Blackfriars Station from Gatwick, St. Pancras Station from Luton, and Liverpool Street from Stansted). Tickets cost between $13 and $23, and trips take about 30 minutes. By contrast, bus tickets are less than $10 and will also get you to a major train station but could take closer to an hour. The biggest advantage of taking the National Express bus service over the UK’s National Rail service, aside from the cost, is that the bus is rarely if ever affected by strikes (I once waited over an hour for a train from Stansted to London after returning from a week-long trip, which was tiresome and frustrating when all I wanted was to be back relaxing in my apartment).

London City: London City is the smallest of the London airports, but it does service international flights on budget airlines. It is also on the Tube system, so you can take the above-ground DLR train from the airport to Canning Town station and then access the rest of the Tube network from there. A trip on the Tube to central London will take about twenty minutes; a taxi from London City airport will take about a half hour.

By Train

If you are traveling to London from somewhere else in Europe, I recommend taking the train. Your journey will end right in central London at one of its many beautiful train stations, and you will have a chance to take a picturesque ride through the countryside. If you will be pre-booking your train ticket online (versus buying it at the train station), check out for the cheapest tickets available. You can access additional discounts by purchasing a railcard, such as the railcard for travelers under 25 years old, which would be cost-effective if you plan to take multiple train rides around Great Britain.

The most popular train from continental Europe to London is the Eurostar! Although it is more expensive than flying, it is much faster and will take you right from city center to city center. For both the convenience and experience, taking the Eurostar between London and Paris or any of its other accessible cities is definitely worthwhile.

By Bus

Although London sits on the island of Great Britain, it is actually accessible by coach bus from various locations within the country and around continental Europe! National Express buses are available for cheap transportation around Great Britain; to find other bus lines for transportation to and from Europe, check out The bus may be the least comfortable transport option, but it is also the cheapest, and like the trains will bring you right from city center to city center.

By Car

Of course if you have access to a car, driving to London is always an option. It is accessible by multiple major highways in Great Britain. Keep in mind if you are not used to driving in a British-owned territory that cars drive on the left-hand side of the road, left turns on red lights are generally not permitted, and gas prices may be higher than what you are used to (currently gas costs around $5.79 USD per gallon in the UK, and just $3.50 USD per gallon in the U.S.).

The biggest downside to driving in London is the Congestion Charge that applies as a toll in city center. The charge applies from 7 AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday, and will be applied whenever you enter the Congestion Charge Zone. The zone expands from Hyde Park in the West to just past Liverpool Street Station in the East, and from Kings Cross Station in the North down past Borough Market in the South. The charge is about $18 USD for each entrance into the zone. However, the freedom of having your own transportation may make the extra fees worth it.

Love this post? Save it to Pinterest for later!

How to Get to London



In the 28 years and 11 months of my life, I have spent less than 24 hours in Cambodia. Still, that was sufficient for me to definitively call it one of my favorite places in the world. From the friendly people to the beautiful landscapes, to the rich (though sometimes sad and terrifying) history, Cambodia is one of the best countries to visit, and I cannot wait to return.

Siem Reap

My trip to Cambodia centered around Siem Reap, the city closest to the Angkor temple complex. Upon exiting Siem Reap’s airport, my friend Sarah and I were greeted by David, an employee of the hotel we were staying at, with a big smile and a sign with our name on it. David took us to our transportation – a personal motorized tuk tuk – helped us secure our belongings, and then got on board with us and handed out cold Cambodian beer.

Once we arrived at our hotel, the Khmer Mansion Boutique Hotel, the incredible service and amenities continued and the staff went above and beyond to care for us, even though we were only staying for one night. It may have helped that (as far as we could tell) we were the only guests there at the time, but I cannot speak highly enough of the place, especially for less than $50 per night. For example, when we first arrived Sarah and I were given welcome refreshments, and then found our names laid out in flowers on our beds in the room. David was identified as our personal assistant during our stay, and though we did not ask much of him, he was always available when we called.

Welcome snacks and drinks to enjoy upon arrival at our hotel

My name in bamboo sticks with flowers on my bed

Pool area by night

Seeing as we only had one night to enjoy the city and we had to be up at 4 AM the next morning for a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat, we grabbed a quick happy hour drink by the pool and then set out to find some dinner before bed.

Siem Reap is a small “city” in a less-developed country, but it has a bustling night life! Most of the activity happens on Pub Street and in the Night Market, both of which were walking distance from our hotel. Because of the tropical climate, all the bars, clubs, and restaurants are open-air, with a few stand-alone locations in the middle of the street, like this bar on wheels.

We found a nice restaurant to eat dinner at on Pub Street and then wandered through the Night Market and back to our hotel before calling it a night. While we did not do any shopping that night, we did take a quick break for a foot massage and fish pedicure! The fish actually eat the dead skin off your feet for a few minutes, leaving them feeling very smooth afterwards. The experience is as strange as it looks. Be warned if you have a fish pedicure yourself that it tickles: I spent most of the time with the fish laughing out loud, both from the tickling and at the absurdity of what I was doing!

Nightlife on Pub Street

Here I am getting a fish pedicure!

Angkor Wat

The next morning we woke up at 4 AM to meet our tour guide for Angkor Wat . You’ve no doubt seen photos of the Angkor temples before, likely at least Angkor Wat; perhaps you learned about the temples from watching Angelina Jolie in the movie Tomb Raider, which was filmed on-site in Cambodia. However, as with many wonders in the world, photos and videos do not do this area justice. First of all, the Angkor complex covers over 400 acres, so it is incorrect to think of it as just one temple. Second, the temples are awe-inspiring in person in a way that cannot be conveyed through photos. Finally, being able to actually touch, climb, and walk around in the temples is an experience that could never be brought to life with a picture. I spent the entire day being enraptured by the temples we explored, each so different from the others and yet connected through their stories and history, both ancient and modern.

Sun rising behind Angkor Wat

The Angkor temples were created as part of the capital city of the Khmer Empire beginning in the 9th century AD. Influences from many different religions can be seen within the temples thanks to their transferred ownership over many centuries. The main religions seen in the architecture are Buddhism and Hinduism.

Hindu carvings on the walls

Receiving a Buddhist monk’s blessing for good luck

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge took over Angkor Wat as offices and living quarters as they carried out a genocide across Cambodia. Our tour guide told us a heartbreaking story about how his parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was seven because they were educated (a lawyer and a doctor). Our guide was forced to collect elephant dung from the fields during the Khmer Rouge’s reign, and did not go to school again until he was 16 years old. The fact that he was fluent in English was unbelievable after learning this, but even more unbelievable was how he told this story so matter-of-factly after pointing out some Khmer Rouge bullet holes in the side of Angkor Wat. The country has put itself back together the best it could after the genocide, but signs of pain are still all around even forty years later, from the warning signs for landmines to the jewelry made from bullet casings found in the fields.

The rich history of the Angkor temple complex, along with the unparalleled beauty of the area, makes for an amazing day.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you take the trip yourself to see Angkor Wat and the other temples:

  1. All visitors must have their shoulders and knees covered during the visit. When temperatures soar over 90 degrees and humidity is high, this can seem prohibitive, so I recommend investing in a pair of linen pants or sweat-wicking leggings and a light-colored, light-weight or sweat-wicking t-shirt.
  2. Many different tour options are available to visit the complex. We opted to upgrade and take a private tour in an air-conditioned car. Although the price was high compared to other options, we had no regrets: we got to cover more area and see more remote temples than if we had tried to walk everywhere, and it was so refreshing to get back into the air-conditioning to move to the next location each time. By the end of the day we were feeling bad for the people who had chosen tours by the open-air tuk tuks, and even with our method of transportation we still got in a lot of walking and exercise within each of the temples.
  3. The sunrise tour is worth it, despite the early departure time. There are mixed opinions on the internet about this, and we did not get to see a sunrise as much as a “sky lightening,” but driving to the temple complex in the pitch black and experiencing Angkor Wat first thing in the morning without many people was pretty cool. If you take this option, you will end up standing across a pond from the temple for at least an hour waiting for the sun, but it is worth arriving early to get a spot in the front row. Be sure to hold your ground, as many more tourists will arrive just before the sun rises and try to push to a front position. After sunrise you should be able to return to your hotel for breakfast before the full-day tour begins.
  4. On the other hand, the sunset from the top of the hill is not really worth it. We trekked up the hill at least an hour before sunset and found that there was nowhere to sit that would provide any type of reasonable view. After wandering around for 15 minutes exploring this final temple we decided not to wait for a “sky dimming” similar to the “sky lightening” that morning.
  5. In just one day we were able to see the three main temples (Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Angkor Thom) as well as two other more remote temples, but in the future I would give myself two or three days to explore more of the Angkor complex, plus another day or two in Siem Reap and the surrounding area. One day was not enough!

Trees growing into the stone at Ta Prohm, prominently featured in the Tomb Raider movie.

Landmine victims playing music for donations on the Angkor complex paths: one of the few methods they have for supporting themselves and making money as amputees in Cambodia

Just hanging out with the faces in the Angkor Thom complex

Ta Nei temple, one of the remote temples our guides took us to where we were the only people exploring the grounds at the time

Nose to nose with one of the Angkor Thom faces

The only benefit to hiking up the hill for sunset: meeting (but not riding) an elephant on our way down

Here is a link to the tour company we booked through: Happy Angkor Tour. At this time I receive no compensation for you booking through this tour group, just the satisfaction of helping you on your travels and directing customers to a survivor of a devastating genocide.

After visiting Cambodia, I wanted to learn even more about its recent history and the Khmer Rouge genocide because the effects were clearly so raw with the Cambodian people. I recently read First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.) by Loung Ung, a survivor of the genocide: if you want to learn more about this period of Cambodia’s history I highly recommend this well-written and well-thought-out book.

Love this post? Save it on Pinterest for later!

Tips to visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Travel the World with One Carry-On Bag

Travel the World with One Carry-On Bag

Anyone who has spent any amount of time talking world-travel with me has probably heard my #1 piece of advice: try to travel with just a carry-on. If you pack correctly and make a few adjustments to how you travel it’s really very easy.

When I lived in France as a college student, my friends and I traveled mostly on budget airlines Ryan Air and Easy Jet. Even now as a professional young adult I still am willing to use budget airlines to make my trips more affordable. Traveling on budget airlines means that you pay extra for everything, including extra weight in your carry-on over 15 lb, your checked back up to 30 lb, and and extra weight in your checked bag over 30 lb. For comparison’s sake, on regular non-budget U.S. flights there is usually no limit to the weight of your carry-on, and even if you are paying for your checked bag, it can weigh up to 50 lb.

Having traveled multiple times in Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia for 1-2 weeks using just a 10-15 lb carry-on, I know it is possible to pack everything you need in a small, lightweight bag to avoid extra fees. Here are my top 10 tips for packing just one carry-on for a long trip:

  1. When deciding which clothes to ditch while packing, leave the heaviest behind, you probably won’t miss them!
  2. You only need one pair of jeans and one set of pajamas for your entire trip.
  3. Pack as many non-liquid toiletries as possible: I love the solid shampoo and conditioner bars by Lush Cosmetics and Proactiv’s bar of face soap for exactly this purpose!
  4. I know the general travel knowledge is to roll clothes to pack them. Depending on the bag, I’ve always found I can fit more by packing clothes extremely flat with minimal folding, and sticking things like socks and underwear in the space formed by things like shoes and swimsuits.
  5. If you are bringing shoes with laces (like sneakers), tie them to the outside of your bag to not take up space inside.
  6. Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes on the plane.
  7. Wear or carry all your outerwear onto the plane (jackets, sweatshirts, scarves).
  8. Hold heavy books, iPads, etc casually in your arms as your bag is weighed at the airport if you need extra weight space. You can put these things back in later before going through security.
  9. Re-wear outfits if/when it makes sense: you’re never going to see the people you encounter on your travels again, and friends back home looking at your photos won’t notice or care about a repeat outfit.
  10. Plan to mail things back home if necessary, including heavier clothes and shoes if you are traveling from a cooler to a warmer climate, and souvenirs you don’t have to have with you on your journeys

Finally, I highly recommend investing in a good expandable carry-on so you can pack to go on your trip with it closed, then expand it for all your extra purchases and lazy-packing on your way back!

N.B. This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of the links in this article, I receive compensation at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Love this post? Save it to Pinterest for later!

Travel advice on how to travel for weeks with only one carry-on bag.

One-Day Itinerary: Havana

One-Day Itinerary: Havana

As an American visiting Cuba on the “Support the Cuban People” visa, you should have a set itinerary before you go that includes interactions with locals and meals at local, privately-owned paladar restaurants. Use the following itinerary for one day of your trip: if you like what you see, contact me for a customized, full, multi-day itinerary!

7:00 AM: Breakfast

Begin your day early with breakfast at the Locos por Cuba restaurant. When you have finished eating, flag a taxi (or colectivo! See Adventures in Cuba post for details) and head to Ruta Bikes, where you have reserved a half-day tour that begins at 8 AM.


8:00 AM: Havana Bike Tour and Lunch

Your Classic City Tour with Ruta Bikes begins in the Vedado region of Havana. With a local, English-speaking tour guide, you will bike through the Forest of Havana, the Vedado region, Central Havana, and Old Havana. You may stop at the Plaza Vieja for lunch: check out the La Vitrola restaurant for a quick bite while sitting on the sidewalk people-watching. After leaving Old Havana you will bike back along the El Malecón boardwalk and stop for a fresh glass of juice before returning to Ruta Bikes headquarters.


1:00 PM: Old Havana

Spend your afternoon exploring Old Havana. If you did not get lunch on the bike tour, you may get to Old Havana a little earlier and will have time for lunch then. You can still make your way to La Vitrola, or perhaps instead check out Chanchullero, another great paladar. While wandering around Old Havana, you can visit El Capitolio, the Bella Artes Museum, the Museum of the Revolution, La Floridita (birthplace of the daiquiri and Ernest Hemingway haunt), La Bodeguita (birthplace of the mojito), or the Almacenes San Jose market. Including any and all of these locations in your itinerary should fullfil your visa requirements.


6:00 PM: Dinner

Tonight you have reservations at one of the best restaurants in Havana: La Guarida! Enjoy this fine dinner on the fifth floor of a former colonial mansion in the heart of Central Havana.


7:00 PM: Salsa Lessons and Nightlife

End your day with an AirBNB Experience that includes Cuban salsa lessons taught by locals, followed by a VIP experience at one of the hottest night clubs in Havana. At the open-air Club 1830 you can practice your skills or just enjoy your reserved table as you end your day exploring Cuba.

Tip: if you’re new to AirBNB, use my link to get a $40 credit!

*Like what you see here? Contact me for your own customized travel itinerary!

Love this post? Save it on Pinterest for later!

One Day Itinerary for Havana, Cuba

Follow by Email