Ashley Abroad is a travel and lifestyle blog about adventure, language learning and solo female travel authored by twenty-something Ashley. This blog is also an online portfolio for my writing and photography, as well as a great tool to meet other travelers, writers, and like-minded people.
Hey guys! Welcome to American Expats, a new series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world.
Our first interview is with Sarah, a Tennessee native who lives in Singapore with her husband and 15-year old daughter. Here she shares about what living as an expat in Singapore is really like – warts and all.
I actually spent my teenage years living in Singapore in the late '90s, so I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this tiny country. When an opportunity came up for my husband’s job to transfer from London to Singapore, we jumped on it!
I don’t hold a regular 9-to-5 job here in Singapore, but I keep myself busy working freelance, writing about our travels on The Wanderblogger, and volunteering for an NGO that supports education in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Char kway teow, a popular dish in Malaysia and Singapore
On the passion for food: Eating is practically a national pastime in Singapore, and for good reason. The food here is a delicious blend of Malay, Indonesian, and Chinese influence with a Singaporean twist. My absolute favorite is char kway teow, which is made up of stir fried flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, fish cake, Chinese sausage, prawns, and squid. Although quite a bit less exotic, Singapore’s most popular dish, Hainanese chicken rice, is another of my favorites.
If it’s your first time in Singapore, you must try the chili crab. More sweet than spicy, eating chili crab is as much about the food as it is the experience, as most people prefer to eat it with their bare hands. (You’re even provided a little bowl of water to wash up with afterwards because, believe me, you’re going to get messy!)
On the tea-drinking culture: Traditionally, Singaporeans drink tea after every meal. If you visit the hawker stalls, you’ll notice hardly anyone local drinking anything at all (even water) while they eat their food. After their meal, however, most people will then have tea.
On the pace of life: Compared to the majority of Southeast Asia, Singapore would probably be considered somewhat fast-paced, but having moved from London, everything about life here feels slower to me. For a city, Singapore is very relaxed. People even walk slower here than I’m used to, so I’ve had to learn to slow down just a little to fit in.
On the high cost of living: Singapore is often ranked as the most expensive country in the world to live in. I have no idea what metrics they use to determine that, but I do know I’ve paid $16 for a zucchini before. And the rent on our apartment for one month is almost as much as our mortgage was in Tennessee for the whole year. Between the cost of a car (over $100,000 for something like a Toyota Corolla), the taxes and fees, and the petrol, you’d practically need to be a millionaire to drive in Singapore as well.
There are ways to cut down on costs – living in HDBs (Singaporean public housing), only eating at hawker centers (which are often cheaper than cooking at home), and taking public transport – but you’ll likely still be spending more than you would anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
On the public transit: I live centrally, so I tend to walk most everywhere. Both Singapore’s MRT (subway) and bus system are excellent, so if I’m heading out a little further I’ll take either of those. Taxis and Ubers are another popular way to get around and are considerably cheaper than they are in many other places (e.g., London), but I still prefer public transport.
If you’re visiting, I suggest downloading the Citymapper app to your phone – it makes navigating Singapore on your own super easy!
On the expat community: The expat community in Singapore is excellent, and the easiest way to infiltrate it if you’re moving here without any prior connections (or kids) is to join one of the many expat groups on Facebook. There are always meet-ups going on and events to attend.
On the many languages (including Singlish!): Since Singapore is made up of so many nationalities, in a single trip to the grocery, I normally hear at least five different languages. Besides English, though, the official language in Singapore is Mandarin. Most Chinese Singaporeans can speak both.
And then there’s Singapore’s unofficial language – Singlish! Singlish is an informal way of speaking that mixes English and various Chinese and Malay dialects to create a one-of-a-kind language that’s actually pretty fun to use. My local friends get a huge kick out of hearing me try to speak it.
On the (super hot and humid) weather: Singapore is hot year round, so I’m usually wearing either a light cotton sundress or shorts and a tank top, and yet I’ll still be sweating within seconds of walking outdoors. The only places in Singapore that require you to cover up are the temples, but I often carry a light sweater or wrap with me anyway if I plan to be indoors. Singapore likes to help everyone forget how hot it is outside by making all shopping malls, restaurants, and movie theaters feel like the Arctic Circle.
On the nightlife: When I’m on my morning runs, people are still spilling out of the clubs at 6am, even on weekdays, so if partying until sunrise is your thing, you’ll be well taken care of in Singapore. If it’s a more relaxed, drinks with friends sort of vibe you’re after, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay offer lots of different choices, all with pretty views of the Singapore River. The craft beer scene has been picking up here quite a bit in recent years, so there are options for that, too. But be prepared to drop some cash on a night out. Alcohol in Singapore isn’t cheap!
On staying active in Singapore: I’m a runner, so I tend to wake up well before sunrise to get my workout in before the humidity gets too unbearable. Yoga, pilates, tai chi, and all sorts of boot camp-style classes are offered (some for free) every morning in the Botanic Gardens, a gorgeous public park in central Singapore.
Otherwise, there’s always hiking on one of Singapore’s many nature trails or watersports along the coasts, both of which are excellent options if you need a break from the city.
On Singaporean laws: Most everybody knows that Singapore doesn’t play around when it comes to laws and the penalties for those who break them. And you’ve surely heard about Singapore’s ban on chewing gum (that’s often the first thing people ask me about when they hear I live in Singapore), but there are quite a few other laws in place here that most of us from outside Singapore would never even think about. For instance, you can be fined if you forget to flush a toilet in a public place. Or if someone sees you naked in your own home. While in most places we’d just laugh about breaking these sorts of rules, that’s definitely not something you’d want to do in Singapore!
The view from Sarah's apartment
On renting an apartment: Landlords in Singapore typically rent apartments and houses on two-year leases, so it’s important to be sure you’re perfectly happy with the area before you sign anything.
Street art in Tiong Bahru
On the best neighborhoods for expats: The neighborhoods in Tiong Bahru and Katong/Joo Chiat both have loads of personality, a more relaxed vibe, and a unique cafe culture. (Of the two, Tiong Bahru has easier access to Singapore’s center and business district.) If location wasn’t an issue, I’d absolutely consider the East Coast for its sea views and breezes, too!
On the lack of seasons: With the lack of seasons, the weeks and months all start to run together creating what we like to call the Groundhog Day effect.
On living in Singapore long-term: I have a hard time imagining staying anywhere long-term, but it’s even harder in a place as small as Singapore. It can start to feel a little claustrophobic after awhile, especially for those of us used to endless highways and wide open spaces.
Singapore is a wonderful place to live, especially if you want a taste of Asia with all the comforts of the west, but I think most people will find their enjoyment of living in such a small country has an expiration date.
Thank you so much, Sarah! Your photos are gorgeous.
The camino was an intense physical challenge; I walked for five weeks, averaging 15 miles per day. I endured blood blisters, sun stroke, and severe muscle cramps, and sometimes was so much pain I could barely walk.
But mentally, it was even harder. Some days I was so sick of being mired in my repetitive, negative thoughts I wanted to throw my walking sticks and catch the next bus to Pamplona.
But in the end I toughed it out, and learned a lot of valuable life lessons in the process.
Planning ahead is often pointless.
On the camino, I realized that I'm a lot more Type-A than I thought. At first, I tried to plan everything; how many kilometers I would walk, where I would stay each night.
A few days in, I realized all of this planning was futile. Why not just stop when I was tired, and eat when I was hungry?
I learned the only way to take the camino, and life, is one day at a time. Planning for the future is often fruitless – everything could change before your perfectly planned future even arrives.
You can decide to feel joy at any moment.
While walking, I realized that at any moment I could decide to feel happy – it was like a switch I could flip. I could choose to ignore my aching knee, or the trash-strewn highway, or the cyclical thoughts swirling in my head.
I would ask myself, “What if I could feel happy, right this second?”, and let go of all my discontent in that moment.
It's amazing (and somewhat annoying) how well this works.
You don't need make-up to feel beautiful.
I didn't wear a drop of makeup on the camino. It was so freeing; I could wake up and go, and rub my eyes without smudging my mascara.
After a few days of feeling uncomfortable being bare-faced, I started to feel normal. Not to mention my skin completely cleared up.
Forgoing make-up for five weeks made me realize I don't need make-up to feel confident or beautiful. I can choose to wear it, but I don't need it in order to feel good about myself.
You're in it for the long-haul with your body. Treat it wisely.
If you don't take care of your body on the camino, you won't make it to Santiago. Period.
After getting horrible blisters on my feet in the Pyrenees, I realized I would have to quit the camino if I didn't figure out to prevent them. So I started slathering my feet in Vaseline several times a day, which worked wonders. I also took time to massage my calves with a heat rub every night, and took rest days when I needed them.
On the camino and in life, treat yourself as if you're on a long journey. Because really, you are.
Not everyone is going to like you, and that's not your problem.
On the camino, I walked with a group of ten other pilgrims. We sang songs, drank red wine, and somehow became close friends despite not having a common language.
But there was one girl in the group who flat-out disliked me. At first, this bothered me; What's her problem? Why is she nice to everyone but me?
This taught me a few lessons:
I'm not responsible for other people's moods or feelings towards me.
I would rather be myself and have some people dislike me, than be a watered-down version of myself.
As Laura Jane Williams said, “I’d have to be a pretty beige person to never be pissing anybody off. Beige isn’t my colour.”
Everyone has their issues.
On the camino, you end up having frank conversations within minutes of meeting people. After all, this may be your only interaction – you have to make it count.
Getting to know so many people's inner lives taught me that everyone – even the most seemingly confident people – has insecurities. It's just part of being human.
For example, I walked for weeks with a beautiful blond Swiss girl. She danced salsa at every bar, laughed loudly, and generally seemed like the most carefree, confident person.
But one night, after several glasses of wine, she confessed, “The truth is I'm terrified of saying the wrong thing.”
I realized if even if someone who seems so comfortable in her skin is afraid of saying the wrong thing, maybe we all are.
We don't need a lot of things to be happy.
As much as I enjoy coming home to a comfortable, beautiful living space, in some ways I prefer the simplicity of living out of a backpack.
On the camino, I had two outfits. Two outfits meant zero choices – I simply woke up and put on my cleanest outfit. Ta-da. Not having a lot of things freed up both time and mental energy.
I know this is an all-to-common platitude, especially on travel blogs, but we don't need a lot to be happy. All I had was a sixteen-pound backpack, and I had everything I needed.
You have to identify your shame in order to let it go.
One day, while taking a water break, I decided to speak aloud my regrets. After hearing them out loud, I realized they weren't as scary as I thought.
If you identify your shame, it becomes less threatening.
As Brené Brown says, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.”
So speak your negative thoughts out loud, or write them down. You might find that once you identify them, you'll be able to let them go.
The people you surround yourself with make all the difference.
On the camino, as in life, the people are everything.
I met so many amazing characters on the camino: the hilarious German man who walked in his lederhosen, the adorable Korean family, the smiley Czech guy who called his slivovitz his ‘antiseptic'.
Some people I walked with for weeks, and others I spoke to only briefly. But no matter how long the relationship, I loved the camaraderie I felt with each and every pilgrim. It was like we were a school of fish all swimming in the same direction towards a common destination – and there was something beautiful about that.
Last fall in Germany, a few weeks before doing the Camino
Hey guys! I know it's been a while since I updated you. I've been so quiet on social media that even some of my close friends have asked if I'm still in Uganda, ha.
Here's the situation.
After living in Uganda for almost a year, I flew back to the states in December. Now I'm temporarily living at my parent's house in Michigan while job-hunting for jobs in New York City and San Francisco.
I may be an expat again at some point, but for now, I want to be closer to family. Last year, I was in Uganda during a family emergency, and being unable to return home was heart-wrenching. So for now, I'm staying close.
My life currently: snowy days in Michigan. The cold feels glorious after a year on the equator.
When I'm not job-hunting, I'm putting together a non-fiction book proposal (about France, shocker). It's been my dream to be an author since I was, oh, five years old, so it's time to start making that happen. And even if no one accepts my proposal, writing it will be good practice for the next time I have a book idea. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
Additionally, I'm trying to blog more. Last year, I toyed with the idea of becoming a full-time blogger, but frankly, my heart's not in it.
The problem is that the content I love to create, stories about my the places I go and people I meet, doesn't monetize well. And I don't do well as a permanent nomad – I prefer having a home base.
So, I want to forget about blogging full-time and go back to why I started this blog in the first place; to share stories, and to improve my writing and photography. I might only blog once a week, but I'd rather prioritize quality over quantity. Plus, does the internet really need another post on The Top 10 Vegetarian Restaurants in St. Petersburg, Florida?
If there's any specific content you'd like to see, please let me know. I worked remotely for part of last year, and ended up visiting London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich (for Oktoberfest!) the Italian Alps, Bologna, and Florence. I also have posts I want to share about Uganda (especially mountain-biking with zebras, so amazing) and the Camino de Santiago, which I still can't believe I did.
Thanks for reading and coming along for the ride. You guys have provided me with so much support and advice over the years, and as ever, I'm very grateful.
Before visiting last September, Denmark was a country I knew little about. Due to reading The Year of Living Danishly, I knew the Danes produce LEGOs and above-average pastries, and are supposedly the happiest people in the world. But that was about it.
So when my friend Jen, whom I stayed with in London, suggested we fly to Copenhagen for the weekend, I was intrigued. And willing to fly anywhere for $50. (Gotta love European budget airlines.)
After landing, we took the train to Nyhavn, the brightly colored canal-side neighborhood. After snapping a few pictures of the stately, colorful canal, we found our Airbnb.
As we were only in Copenhagen for one night, we had to splurge on accommodation. Right? (Why yes, I’m still trying to justify spending $270 for one night, ha.)
Though honestly, it was well worth the money; just look at those high ceilings and white linen duvet covers.
Once we deposited our bags in my dream apartment, we set out to explore. My first thought was, ‘This air is so clean.’
As a surprise to no one, the air quality in Kampala, Uganda is abysmal. So Copenhagen's fresh, ocean air was like a day spa for my lungs.
After walking around and marveling at my new-found ability to breath normally again, we stopped for lunch. At the restaurant, hygge was in full-force; there were candles on every table, and plush grey blankets draped over the seats.
For those not familiar, hygge (pronounced ‘hue-gah’) is a Danish word that roughly translates to ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being'.
As someone who is a hobbit at heart, I love the concept of hygge. But when I explained the meaning of hygge to Jen, she said, “Doesn’t it just mean coziness?”
Um… yeah. I guess it kind of does? Anyway.
Next, we rented bikes. While I was apprehensive about this idea (I sort of hate riding bikes), it ended up being my favorite activity in Copenhagen.
Our first stop? Christiania. Christiana is an autonomous district where cannabis and hippies abound.
All in all, I wasn’t hugely impressed – It kind of felt like an open-air display of a stoner's dorm room. But if you’re a ganja fan, it might be up your alley.
Next, we headed to Tivoli Gardens, the 19th-century amusement park. It was adorable, but pricey – it cost us $18 just to enter, and more for rides. Sheesh.
But hey, no one ever said that Scandinavia was cheap. So we bought some tea and sun-bathed in the grass – the cheapest activity available to us.
By this point, I was stressing a bit about money. So I thought to myself, ‘Alcohol costs a fortune in Scandinavia, so why not drink some wine at the Airbnb before dinner?’
Unfortunately, the plan backfired. After drinking a little too much wine, we ended up cancelling our reservation at a hip Copenhagen restaurant and heading somewhere closer. Whoops.
When we woke in a red wine-induced haze, we headed to the nearest bakery for sustenance. I.e. coffee and pastries.
Clockwise from the top-left: chocolate cinnamon roll, poppy seed roll (tebirkes), and cinnamon roll
Alongside France and Austria, Denmark has some of the best pastries in the world. We sampled several pastries to determine our favorite: a traditional cinnamon roll, a chocolate-filled cinnamon roll, and a poppy seed roll (tebirkes).
My favorite was the chocolate cinnamon roll, as it was doughy and densely chocolatey. Yum.
After breakfast, we headed out to see the Little Mermaid in the harbor. On the way, Wikipedia taught us this little statue has suffered all kinds of abuse in her hundred or so years of existence, including two decapitations. Poor thing.
Then we headed to Copenhagen Street Food, an indoor street market, for lunch. The market was amazing; it had everything from Korean street snacks to gourmet hot dogs.
I opted for the least-exotic delicacy on offer, rye bread with smoked salmon. Because you can’t go to Scandinavia and not eat smoked fish.
Per the city-wide hygge protocol, there were candles everywhere.
Soon after our meal, we returned our bikes and headed to the airport.
All in all, two days hours in Copenhagen was not enough; I missed the Viking Ship Museum (which is 30 minutes from Copenhagen) and didn't get the chance to check out many neighborhoods or restaurants.
But that's okay. Copenhagen is certainly worth a return visit, and at least I got a small taste of this quaint, clean, and cinnamon roll-filled country. I'm sure I'll be back.
I was in Copenhagen for two days and one night and it was too short. I'd recommend staying for at least three days.
In Copenhagen, we stayed at this Airbnb in Nyhavn, which was stylish, quiet, and centrally located. However I don't recommend staying in Nyhavn because it's touristy and dead at night, even on Saturday night. If you've never used Airbnb, you can use this coupon code to get $40 off your first stay. If you'd rather stay in a hotel, check out hotel deals in Copenhagen here.
Getting to and from the airport is quick and easy; all you do is take the airport train, which costs 36 DKK ($6) for a one-way ticket. It takes about 15 minutes to get from the airport to the city center.
I rented a City Bike from Copenhagen Bicycles, where rentals start at 120 DKK ($20 dollars) for 24 hours. Make sure you request a lock and helmet (helmets cost 40 DKK, or $6.50). Copenhagen is a small city, so biking is the best way to get around.
Visiting Tivoli Gardens costs 110 DKK ($18) for adults, and 50 DKK ($8) for children ages 3-7. The Unlimited Ride Pass costs 290 DKK ($50). See more ticket prices here.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Copenhagen. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.
Books for Living is, as USA Today says, ‘a love letter to reading‘. It consists of essays on 26 books that changed the author's life, which range from cookbooks to classic novels.
Books for Living is all-around delightful; the narrator is charming and wise, and I've added many of his favorite books to my ever-growing Amazon cart.
But I especially loved Books for Living because it made me question why I love reading. Schwalbe posits that reading is both beneficial and pleasurable; or as he puts it, “one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny” and “one of the world's greatest joys”.
Contrary to popular belief, the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanities” do not date back to time immemorial; they were invented less than 80 years ago. Two Jewish legal philosophers (Lemkin and Lauterpacht) devised them in order to indict high-ranking Nazi officials after the war.
East West Street offers a fascinating look at how the atrocities committed in WWII transformed the way the world saw human rights. But it's not only about intellectual concepts – it's also weaves in the personal story of Jewish Franco-British lawyer Philippe Sands, and his endeavor to uncover his grandfather's past.
Coincidentally, Sands' grandfather was born in the city where Lemkin and Lauterpacht taught law; Lviv, Ukraine. Sands journeys there to better understand all three men, as well as to pay respects to the thousands of Ukrainian Jews murdered there, including 80 members of his own family.
Anyway, all that to say; read this book, you won't be able to put it down. And you'll come away feeling a little smarter, too.
Pachinko is like a mix between The Good Earth and One Hundred Years of Solitude, minus the magical realism. Pachinko tells the multigenerational story of a Korean family who immigrates to Japan, where as Koreans, they are treated as second-class citizens.
Although Pachinko is set in a time period and place I know little about, it resonated deeply with me; I loved the richly-drawn characters, and watching generations of the family navigate an often difficult and unfair life in a new country.
As a child, Levy is an imaginative kid who reads and writes voraciously. She grows up to become a journalist, and later, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Along the way, she marries an older woman, and at 38, tragically miscarries her baby, alone in Mongolia. In the span of a few months, she goes from pregnant, married, and financially solvent, to none of those things.
I enjoyed this book because Levy writes so beautifully and honestly. I related to so many sentiments she expresses, from “The night before I left, Africa was golden and pulsating in my mind”, to “As far as I could tell, there were two modes of cooking: festive and obligatory.”
As a twenty-something woman, The Rules Do No Apply reads equally like an inspirational story as a cautionary tale. As The Rules Do Not Apply demonstrates repeatedly, all choices have trade-offs. As Levy ominously writes, “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary,” she writes. “It's also a symptom of narcissism.”
If you're ever feeling lost, read Heather Havrilesky. Havrilesky, the long-time advice columnist of Ask Polly, has a gift for making any problem seem solvable, and for making her readers feel less alone.
In Ask Polly's Guide to Your Next Crisis, Havrilesky doles out her usual no-bullshit, curse word-peppered advice on everything from millennial ennui to romantic troubles. After reading it, I felt like I had spoken with a wise, funny, and encouraging friend.
97 Orchard combines several of my favorite things: History, food, and New York City. It examines the history of New York through the five immigrant families who lived in the same tenant over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
The book focuses a lot on gastronomic history; how waves of immigrants influenced the food of New York, and later the United States as a whole. As a German-American, I found the German chapter particularly interesting. The book also covers how Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigration as well, all of which I found interesting.
Overall, this book is perfect for history buffs or foodies.
Born to Run centers around two main philosophies: long-distance running was an evolutionary adaptation, and it can actually be fun.
The bulk of the book deals with the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe that recreationally runs up to 100 miles at once. The book culminates in an epic long-distance race with the Tarahumara's best runners, as well as some of the premiere runners from around the world.
One of the most interesting takeaways I had from the book was that the human foot is perfectly engineered, and running shoes act as a ‘plaster cast', atrophying the muscles of the foot. It made me want to buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, something I never thought I'd say.
The only thing I didn't enjoy was McDougall's writing style – I found some passages a little cheesy. But all in all, it was a fascinating read.
Once in a while, we all just need a light read about Paris, right? At least I do.
The Only Street in Paris is about the Rue des Martyrs, a left-bank street in Paris that Sciolino calls, ‘a half-mile of magic'. But it's also about Sciolino's long-term expat life in Paris, and her integration into the Rue des Martyrs tight-knit community of vendors, shop-owners, and residents.
Basically this book will make you want to drop everything and move to Paris.
My reading goals for 2018:
One of my reading goals for 2018 is to read more poetry, especially from Rupi Kaur and Charles Bukowski. (To be honest, I secretly really love poetry. In high school, I aspired to be a professional poet, ha.)
I also want to finally get through a Zadie Smith novel, as I already own White Teeth and Swing Time. Do they start slow and get better? (I can only hope?)
Here are some other books on my list:
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman – After 17 years, Philip Pullman has written another book! I just ordered it and am so excited.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – After reading Adventurous Kate's reviews, I'm super excited to read this.
Anything by Flannery O'Connor – all of my favorite writers seem to love her, so I want to see what all the fuss is about. Also, I just realized that she's a woman – please tell me I'm not alone.
In my humble opinion, Shoreditch has everything you could want in a London neighborhood: cozy pubs, outstanding Indian restaurants (see: Dishoom), ultra-hip bars (see: The Gibson), and centuries of turbulent, fascinating history.
But my favorite thing about Shoreditch is the street art; it's like a massive, grungy, outdoor art gallery. So on this visit, I decided to sign up for the Shoreditch Street Art Tour.
Though I love checking out Shoreditch's street on my own, I enjoyed having a guide. Namely because he taught us to identify the artists – I now know I love work by ROA, Manyoly, and Stik.
However I was sad to discover that a lot of my favorite pieces are now gone – including my beloved octophant by Alexis Diaz. (Isn't it magnificent?!) Alas – such is the ever-ephermal nature of street art.
Here are my favorite pieces of street art I saw in Shoreditch on my drizzly visit there last fall:
What's your favorite piece of Shoreditch street art? Have you visited Shoreditch before?
As I've waxed on about before, I absolutely love Cape Town– it now holds a firm spot as one of my favorite cities in the world. It has a little bit of everything: mountains, history, ocean, and wine country. What more could you want?
Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Cape Town not once, but twice. Now that I've spent a few weeks in the city and surrounding areas, I wanted to write a guide on what to do in Cape Town.
A few tips – spend at least five days in Cape Town. Cape Town is not a city to be rushed – plus, there are so many day trips, so give yourself plenty of time.
Secondly, I recommend buying a South African SIM card so you can call Ubers around the city. This is essential because Cape Town isn't very walkable, and it's unwise to take taxis off the street. You can buy a SIM card for around $20 at any Vodaphone store, which are all over the city.
Without further ado, here's what to do on your your first trip to Cape Town.
1. Stroll the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood
Bo-Kaap is the technicolor neighborhood you've seen all over Instagram, that historically has been home to the Cape Malay community (South Africans of Indonesian descent).
It's full of Pantone-colored houses and mosques, and is one of the most photogenic spots in Cape Town. Don't forget to bring your camera!
How to visit Bo-Kaap: It's not 100% safe to walk around Bo-Kaap, so I recommend taking a tour. Cape Town Free Walking Tours offers a Bo-Kaap Tour every day at 2:00 PM and 4:20 PM.
2. Take the Cablecar up Table Mountain
One of my best ways to enjoy Cape Town's natural beauty is by taking the cable car up Table Mountain. As it ascends, the cable car rotates, giving you panoramic views of the ocean, mountains, and city. Once you reach the top, you're rewarded with even more beautiful views.
You can also hike up Table Mountain, though it's challenging, very steep, and takes about two hours to summit. Make sure to pack snacks, a reusable water bottle, sunscreen, and a jacket in case you get cold. I would also wear hiking boots if you have them! You can hike Table Mountain independently or hire a guide.
3. Hike Lion's Head
If you do one hike in Cape Town, make it Lion's Head – Lion's Head is one of my favorite hikes in the world. It's not for the faint of heart; on the hike, you climb ladders, hold onto chains, and free-climb up the mountain on via ferrata, a.k.a. bolted-on hand holds. It's slightly terrifying but super fun.
Important info about hiking Lion's Head: Some guidebooks recommend hiring a guide for Lion's Head, but I don't think that's necessary. The hike takes about three hours round-trip and I would classify it as moderate. If you want an easier hike, don't summit the mountain – take the easier path around the mountain, which doesn't involve chains or free-climbing.
4. Laugh like crazy at the Cape Town Comedy Club
One fun way to experience South African culture in Cape Town is by checking out a local comedy club. My friend and I spent a night the Cape Town Comedy Club, and had a great time.
While we didn't understand all the jokes, we still had a blast watching a lineup of hilarious female comedians.
How to book tickets at the Comedy Club: The Cape Town Comedy Club is located at the Pumphouse at the V&A Waterfront. You can buy your tickets in person or by contacting the club via email. Shows cost between $5-12. See more here.
5. Have Dinner at The Pot Luck Club
Absolutely delicious peri peri chicken at The Pot Luck Club
Cape Town has lots of amazing restaurants, but my favorite is The Pot Luck Club. Not only does it offer stunning views of Table Mountain, it also has fantastic food and cocktails.
The food is super sophisticated – my favorite dish was the smoked beef fillet with black pepper and truffle café au lait. The menu, naturally, has a South African flair, with dishes like peri peri chicken and springbok carpaccio.
Cocktail drinker? You'll really like The Pot Luck Club. They have a massive cocktail menu with delicious cocktails that cost about $5 each (such a bargain). I think I ordered the Guava Collins three times – it was that good.
How to book a reservation: Book reservations for The Pot Luck Club three months in advance – it's insanely popular. You can book a reservation by emailing the restaurant – see their website here. We made reservations for 6 p.m. which was perfect, as we got to watch the sun set over Table Mountain.
6. Check out the super trendy bars
Cape Town has lots of quirky, hipster-friendly bars. My favorite was Honest Chocolate, a hidden gin bar in the back of a chocolate shop.
7. Soak up the steampunk vibes at Truth Coffee Roasting
The best croque madame ever, in the world, at Truth Coffee
Another amazing find? Truth Coffee Roasting, a steampunk coffee shop where everyone is dressed like Mad Max and the decor is straight out of an Aldous Huxley novel. It's trippy.
In addition to their wardrobes, the staff at Truth Coffee also takes coffee seriously. The brunch was also excellent – I was raving about my Croque Madame (above) all week.
8. Go boutique shopping
Sorry for the glum expression, but had to show off my new culotte jumpsuit
On my last trip to Cape Town, I did a lot of shopping. But it's okay! In affordable Cape Town, you can buy from local designers for a fraction of what you would pay back home.
If you like geometric patterns and bright colors you're in luck – South African designers love them too. But if you're more into neutral colors and simple jewelry (me), there are also plenty of options.
Here are some of my favorite places to shop in Cape Town:
The Watershed – a warehouse with more than 400 shops, with everything from jewelry to handicrafts to clothes. If you want beautiful, well-made women's clothes, check out Hannah Lavery.
117onlong – an pottery shop with modern, geometric wares.
Mungo and Jemima – a women's clothing boutique featuring South African clothing and accessory designers.
Neighbourgoods Market (Saturdays only) – A lively food and crafts market held every Saturday in the Old Biscuit Mil. Most vendors are cash-only, so bring some cash along.
9. Visit the Cape of Good Hope
Now onto the day trips portion of this post.
One of the most beautiful places I visited while in South Africa was the Cape of Good Hope, which is the southernmost point of the African continent (okay technically there's another peninsula a bit further south, but close enough.)
How to visit the Cape of Good Hope: The Cape of Good Hope is located south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula. As it's located close to Boulders Beach, I recommend visiting them in tandem.
We arranged a day trip with our hostel and had an excellent time – for $100 each, our private driver took us to the Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach. You can also rent a car and drive there yourself, but keep in mind, you'll be driving on the left side of the road.
10. Spot the penguins at Boulder Beach
If you want to see penguins while in South Africa, head down to Boulders Beach. While the penguins reek to high heaven, they're pretty cute.
For a small fee, you can view the penguins from a deck. (Sidebar – I have no idea how so many Instagrammers have pictures right next to the penguins at Boulders Beach, as you're not allowed off the platform.)
How to visit Boulders Beach: Boulders Beach costs 65 rand ($5.25) for adults and 35 rand ($2.80) for children under 12. Like the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Beach is located south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula. As they're located close to one another, I recommend visiting them in tandem.
11. Visit the Cape Winelands
I saved the best for last! Cape Town has wine country that rivals any in the world. Plus, the Cape Winelands are located fairly close to the city – Constantia, the nearest wine town, is only 45 minutes from Cape Town.
I recommend spending two full days in the Cape Winelands if you're a wine lover, like me – there are so many amazing wineries and wine towns to see.
Here are my favorites:
Stellenbosch – Stellenbosch is a cute college town that is famed for its Cape Dutch architecture. It's probably the most famous of Cape Town's wine towns. Though I haven't done it myself, I've heard great things about the Vine Hopper tour.
Franschhoek – Less well-known than Stellenbosch, Francshhoek is my favorite wine town. One of my favorite vineyards in Franschhoek was Mont Rochelle, Richard Branson's vineyard, where you can arrange horseback riding through the vineyards. (I really wish I had done that). At Chamonix winery, you can arrange a wine tasting that includes a game drive with safari animals.
Constantia – Of all the wine towns, Constantia is closest to Cape Town. If you're pressed for time, check out a few vineyards in Constantia. I especially loved Buitenverwachting. You can arrange a wine route with City Cityseeing. More info here.
What would you most want to do in Cape Town?
Books to read before visiting South Africa: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (I've heard the audio version is even better!).
Blogs to read before visiting Cape Town: Miss Moss is a local Capetonian blogger who has a fantastic city guide. See her blog and the guide here.
Cape Town travel tips:
Where to stay in Cape Town: I've stayed at both hotels and Airbnbs in Cape Town, and you get much better value for Airbnbs. Get a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay here.
Transportation – Hiring a driver in Cape Town is expensive – it costs around $140 USD a day. Instead, we took Ubers everywhere. If you're new to Uber, get $20 off your first ride here.
Safety – Most parts of Cape Town are safe, and I felt safe walking around down alone during the day. However there is crime, so avoid walking alone, especially at night. Petty theft is fairly common so ladies, pack a crossbody bag.
Health – You don't need a yellow fever vaccine to travel to South Africa. But if you're traveled from a yellow fever risk country, you will need a yellow fever certificate. See more information on which vaccines you will need here.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to South Africa. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.
This week, I left Kampala, Uganda, after living there for almost a year. While I’m happy to be back in the states, I'm already missing my home away from home in Uganda's capital.
Which isn’t to say that living in Uganda didn’t frustrate me; at times, it did. But overall I really enjoyed living in Uganda. I made incredible friends, enjoyed a high quality of life, and had some once in a lifetime experiences (e.g. mountain-biking with zebras).
Someday, I'd love to move back to East Africa. But in the meantime, here's what I will and won't miss about living in the Pearl of Africa.
What I'll Miss
You can’t complain about 75 degrees and sunny every single day.
The avocados, mangos, and passionfruit
The tropical fruit in Uganda is bar-none. Words can’t explain how much I will miss $1 avocados the size of a football.
Super exotic weekend trips.
Living in Kampala, it’s easy to do some pretty amazing weekend trips. If you’re brave enough to face the pothole-ridden roads, you can spend your days off white-water rafting on the Nile, mountain-biking with zebras, or going on safari.
Riding bodas was my one of my favorite parts of living in Kampala – I loved going fast and feeling the wind in my hair. (Though I usually wore a helmet, I promise!)
But what are bodas? Boda bodas are motorcycle taxis that usually cost between $1-5. They're the fastest way to get around Kampala as they allow you to weave through dense traffic.
My absolute favorite time of day in Kampala was around sunset. Most evenings, I'd enjoy a sundowner on a friend's porch, watching the Kampala skyline turn hazy and orange. Bliss.
Friendsgiving in Kampala
It took me a few months to find friends in Uganda. But once I did, we were thick as thieves relatively quickly.
My friends in Uganda were such interesting people; they hail from everywhere from France to the U.S. to Kenya, and many have lived all over Africa.
Most of my Ugandan friends were ‘diasporan' Ugandans, or Ugandans whose families left during the regimes of the '70s and '80s but later returned.
In Uganda, I spent a lot more time at home than usual. I think that’s because my house was such a peaceful retreat in the middle of a hectic city. I’ll miss everything from the high ceilings and cool marble floors to the over-productive avocado tree in the yard.
But most of all, I’ll miss my room, which I nicknamed the aviary because of how loudly the birds sang every morning. I'll miss waking up naturally to light streaming through the Kitenge curtains, ensconced in my bed's gauzy mosquito net.
As much as I enjoyed being a homebody in Kampala, I also loved going out. My friends and I frequented a wide variety of locales: a smokey, dirt-cheap casino, a trendy rooftop bar in the industrial area, a dancehall club in the back of the Ethiopian restaurant, a swanky karaoke lounge in the basement of a Chinese hotel.
Plus, I absolutely love the music they play in Kampala, which is usually West African music from Ghana or Nigeria.
Super cheap and amazing massages.
Post-massage pool time at my favorite spa, Emin Pasha
Massages in Uganda were so affordable that I usually got one a month.They cost around 60,000 Ugandan shillings, or about $16.
The Indian food.
Kampala is home to a large population of Indian-Ugandans, so the Indian food is absolutely delicious. (If you’re ever in Kampala, get the butter chicken at Copper Chimney and thank me later.)
S/O to Kampala’s Ethiopian food, which is also fantastic.
What I won’t miss:
The lack of seasons
Living on the equator taught me that I love and need seasons.
In Uganda, the weather is basically the same all year round, and the sun rises and sets at the same time every day. I found the lack of seasonal changes disorienting; sometimes I would wake up and wonder if it was February or June.
For some reason, I rarely slept well in Uganda. I think it was mainly due to the noise; I could hear street dogs barking outside our house, and the two nearby mosques broadcasted the call to prayer via a super-loud megaphone (sleeping during Ramadan was extra challenging).
And quite honestly, when I was home alone I was always a little scared of someone breaking in, which happened to several friends of friends.
I moved to Uganda in February, which is the peak of dry season. It was intensely hot, and very few places in Kampala (including our house) had AC.
The transience of the expat community
Many expats come to Uganda under a work contract; most contracts last a year or two, but some last for as little as three months. It was heart-wrenching to make friends and have to say goodbye only a few months later.
Standing out constantly.
In Uganda, you get a lot of attention as a white person. When I walked the streets kids would shout ‘mzungu, mzungu’ (which roughly means ‘foreigner'), and oftentimes, ask for money.
While Ugandan men don't catcall much, I got a lot of unwanted attention when I wore skirts or shorts. Similar to South Asia, in Uganda it's ‘suggestive' to show your legs (but curiously, not your breasts or abdomen).
The traffic. (Or as Ugandans say, the jam)
Sometimes the traffic in Uganda is so bad the driver just turns off the car. Getting to the airport took up to five hours, even though it’s only 27 miles from Kampala.
The repetitive lifestyle.
This was probably my fault, but my lifestyle was pretty repetitive in Kampala; run errands at Acacia Mall, attend a pool party, pick up bread at Bbrood bakery, work out at Kabira Club, rinse, repeat.
I think this was because there’s not that much to do; Kampala lacks outdoorsy activities like hiking or skiing or basically anything else I did in Colorado. The nearest place to do something outdoorsy is Jinja, but that’s still two hours away.
The dairy products.
The dairy products in Uganda are uniformly terrible: the milk, yogurt and eggs leave a lot to be desired. These eggs with white yolks are pretty standard in East Africa – bleurgh.
Kampala has Uber, which makes life so much easier. But unfortunately, calling an Uber is not so simple; drivers often cancel if you want to pay via credit card, don’t know where you are because they won't turn their data on, and some drivers don’t know how to read maps.
The wait-time for meals.
In Uganda, it's not uncommon to wait more than an hour for a meal. Basically, don't go to lunch hungry.
Men taking selfies and ‘accidentally’ including me.
This happened way more often than it should have.
Have you ever lived abroad? What do you miss (or not miss) about it?
Have you guys seen Kimberly Clark's anti-haul makeup videos on Youtube? They're hilarious. Instead of highlighting the makeup products you should buy, Kimberly rants about the products you shouldn't. It's anti-consumerism at its finest.
So, I wanted to do the same with travel gear. Over the years, I've tested a lot of travel gear. Some travel accessories are now indispensable to me: I absolutely love my hanging toiletry kit and packing cubes, for example.
Unfortunately, other travel accessories have been total disappointments.
Keep in mind that we may have different opinions about these products – maybe you swear by your travel pillow! Maybe you can't live without your wifi antenna! But these are just the travel accessories I personally don't like. No hard feelings.
It feels like every travel blogger loves duct tape, but I've never found a use for it.
I dutifully carried a roll of duct tape on my four-month Southeast Asia backpacking trip, but didn't end up using it once. Since then, I haven't even considered packing it.
Maybe I'm not hardcore enough?
Paperback travel guides
When I was a teenager, I devoured travel guidebooks. I especially loved Lonely Planet for its poetic prose and budget backpacking recommendations.
But thanks to the internet, I don't feel the need to use travel guides anymore. Plus, paperback travel guides often aren't as up-to-date as they claim to be. I remember once when Lonely Planet led me to a restaurant that had been closed for seven years. Uh, seriously?
This is another item that's on a lot of packing lists that I just don't get.
I've never traveled with a clothesline, but I don't know why you'd need to. If I'm traveling in expensive parts of the world like Europe, I wash my clothes at a laundromat or stay in an Airbnb, which will most likely have a washing machine. In inexpensive places like Southeast Asia, I pay to have my clothes laundered, and it usually costs less than $5.
What about you guys? What would be in your travel accessory anti-haul? Do you like some of these products?
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Hey guys, I'm back! As you may have seen on Instagram, I recently finished the Camino de Santiago. Overall, it was one of the most profound and enriching experiences of my life.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses, though – it was hard, both physically and mentally. Mostly, it was just long – I walked the camino for 36 days.
But first, what is the Camino de Santiago? The camino is a network of European pilgrimage routes that all converge at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
While traditionally the camino was a religious pilgrimage, today many pilgrims (a.k.a. the people who walk the camino) do it for non-religious reasons.
I started my camino in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. Which means I walked nearly 500 miles to reach Santiago de Compostela. Nope, I can't believe that either.
Anyway, I have a LOT to share about the camino: life lessons, packing posts, budgets – everything. But I wanted to start with what surprised me about the camino. Because honestly, a lot did.
(Firstly, Compostela, as in Santiago de Compostela, means ‘field of stars' in Latin. Isn't that poetic?)
The trail varies wildly.
The camino looks like this…
I was surprised by how much the trail varies. One day you're hiking through misty, verdant mountains, the next you're ambling through miles of vineyards.
And some parts of the camino were downright ugly and industrial, like the outskirts of cities like Burgos and León. I can smell the sulphur just thinking about it.
Some pilgrims bring their pets.
His tiny socks and pack just kill me
I met several pilgrims who brought their pets on the camino; two pilgrims were walking with donkeys, and one woman was walking with her dog.
Honestly, I was so jealous of the woman with the donkey – he could carry all her stuff, right?! Until I found out that she often slept outside because the donkey wasn't welcome in town. Ehh, no thanks.
Many pilgrims form ‘camino families'.
Me and my ‘camino family' at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Pilgrims often form ‘camino families', or groups of pilgrims who walk together.
Funny enough, I thought I would walk the camino completely alone, despite this being completely unlike my personality. But I ended up finding my camino family on the first day, so joke's on me.
But in the end, I was so glad I found a camino family. It was nice to know that someone was always waiting for me, and that I could choose to walk alone or in a group.
It's super hard to get lost.
Before doing the camino, I had no idea how well-marked the trail was. It turns out there were trail markers everywhere – I almost always knew which way to go.
And what were the trail markers? They were usually yellow arrows or shells. So basically, if you see a shell or an arrow, go that way.
Some pilgrims didn't care at all about the local food or culture.
Life-changingly good foie gras in Pamplona that cost three euros. Amazing.
As a die-hard foodie, I was excited to try all the local foods of Northern Spain. And gorge myself on as much jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) as possible.
So I was shocked to find out many pilgrims didn't care at all about the local food or culture, and instead were doing the camino purely as a physical challenge.
I met one girl who had been walking in Spain for a month who didn't know what a pintxo was (basically a Basque tapa). Um, did you miss the week we walked through Basque country?
I met very few people doing it for religious reasons.
Surprisingly, I met very few people walking the camino for religious reasons.
On the contrary, most people were doing the camino because they were at a crossroads in life; many had just quit their job or gotten divorced. And some were just taking time to figure out their next step.
It was hard to cook.
One of the few nights we actually cooked.
Before I did the camino, I planned on cooking every night. Sadly, this did not happen; I made avocado toast like twice.
To be fair, it wasn't easy to cook. Many of the towns were so small they didn't have supermarkets, and not all albergues (pilgrim hostels) had kitchens. One albergue even removed all the pots and pans to prevent pilgrims from cooking! Whaa?
It's a language learner's heaven.
If you want to brush up on your language skills, consider doing the camino. Every day, I met pilgrims from all over the world, many of whom didn't speak English. I got to practice my French and Spanish daily, which was fun.
The locals were sometimes rude to us.
I've spent a good amount of time in Spain, and have always found Spanish people to be kind and welcoming.
Sadly, I did not have the same experience as a pilgrim. Locals were often short with us and generally seemed exasperated by our presence. (Though some were incredibly kind, too.)
This may be because I did the camino in October, so perhaps the locals were sick of pilgrims after six months of dealing with them. I'm not sure.
Pilgrims were of all ages.
One thing I loved about the camino is that people of all ages do it; I met twenty-somethings, families, and many pilgrims well into their seventies. The median age was probably around 50-60, which I didn't expect.
There's a free wine fountain.
I read, oh, about a million blog posts about the camino prior to doing it. But shockingly, I never caught wind of the free wine fountain.
It turns out there's a free wine fountain on the camino (near Estella, if you're interested).
Sadly, it was a bit of a let-down. Once I got there I found rancid wine trickling from a tap; it would've taken hours to fill a small water bottle. But I mean, it's still a free wine fountain, sho who's complaining?
The camino is surprisingly cheap; I met some pilgrims who were doing the entire camino on less than 500 euros. My budget was about 30 euros a day.
How is that possible, you may be wondering? Accomodation was very cheap – most albergues only cost 5-6 euros a night.
Food in Spain is also inexpensive: we usually paid a euro for coffee and three euros for a full breakfast. Not bad.
People get super competitive on the camino.
One thing I didn't like was how weirdly competitive some of the pilgrims got. People would brag about doing fifty kilometers in a day, or drone on about how they didn't need a rest day.
Guys, we're not summiting Everest – we're doing a religious pilgrimage. Calm yourselves.
You can only do so much introspection.
Don't get me wrong, I did A LOT of self-reflection on the camino. After all, I was walking six hours a day – I had ample time to think.
But it turns out there's only so much introspection you can do. After finding answers to many of my ‘bigger' questions, I sort of stopped thinking and transcended to a walking meditation. It was glorious.
It feels really good to walk for seven hours a day.
Walking all day felt (mostly) incredible. I slept like a baby, barely had cramps, lost fat and gained muscle. Mentally, I felt worlds better too.
Now I kind of feel like a caged animal; I want to walk for hours every day, but sadly, modern life makes this challenging. (Especially in Uganda.)
The camino made me realize that human beings are meant to move, be outside, and be with each other, as hippy-dippy as that sounds.
Readjusting back to regular life has been tough.
As you guys know, I've traveled a lot. But readjusting back to regular life after the camino has been the hardest readjustment yet. I think it's because life on the camino was so simple – all I had to do was walk, eat, and sleep. Regular life feels noisy and commercial and intense by comparison.
Would you guys ever consider doing the camino? Have you already done it? I would love to know your questions about the camino so I can answer them in future blog posts – so please let me know in the comments!