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.
For my last weekend in Uganda, I wanted to do something special. So I decided to venture west to Lake Mburo National Park with my aunt, uncle, and two of our friends.
Lake Mburo is six hours from Kampala, deep in Ankole Country.
Everyone recommended we stay at Rwakobo Rock, and as soon as we arrived, I could see why – it's idyllic. Rwakobo Rock is a thatched roof lodge perched above Lake Mburo National Park.
Photo credit: Rwakobo Rock
Once we settled in, I beelined for the hammock. I spent a deliciously lazy afternoon reading, and occasionally dipping my toes in the pool. It was blissful.
At one point I did put down my book to enjoy the sunset, my favorite time of day in Uganda. I loved watching the sun set over the sprawling, verdant park, dotted with cows and other animals.
When most people think of Uganda, I doubt that ‘complete and utter tranquility’ is what comes to mind. But it turns out, that’s what Lake Mburo National Park does best.
Once the sky set, we headed inside to enjoy a three-course dinner of pumpkin soup, steak and mashed potatoes, and ginger cake. After dinner we played Balderdash, which I love so much I brought on the trip.
In need of more players, we invited a family at the next table to join us. They turned out to be my dream family – a British diplomat wife, a Russian father, and multilingual sons. I had intense linguaphile envy hearing them swap between English, French, and Russian.
In the morning, we got up bright and early for the coolest reason ever – to mountain-bike with ZEBRAS.
Once we kitted up, we rode our bikes down the red dirt road. Soon we started to see zebras, antelopes, and Ankole cattle, basically the African version of the Texas Longhorn.
Surprisingly, this was my first time mountain-biking, despite living in Colorado for two years. I enjoyed it, but enjoyed it even more due to the herd of zebras grazing nearby, who occasionally galloped on the road in front of us.
A few other highlights: hiking up to the top of Rwakobo Rock to see the views. I was scared the entire time because our guide warned us about the pythons hidden in the rocks. Fortunately, I made it out just fine.
We also saw two crested cranes, Uganda's national bird. It's rare to see them in the wild as they're endangered, so it felt pretty special (and fitting) to see them on my last weekend in Uganda.
After we cleaned up post-mountain biking, it was time to hit the road and begin the long drive back to Kampala.
On the way home, I was kicking myself for spending almost a year in Uganda and not seeing more of the country. But luckily, what I did see was pretty extraordinary, Lake Mburo included.
Have you ever visited Lake Mburo? Would you want to mountain-bike with zebras?
This May, I spent a week in Scotland with one of my favorite travel buddies – my dad. My dad is a die-hard history buff, so traveling Scotland with him was a joy. (He's also one of the funniest people I know, which helps too.)
We spent three days of our trip in Edinburgh, and the rest road-tripping the Scottish Highlands. Spending time in Edinburgh was delightful. I realized Edinburgh is the perfect city for bookworms; it's the birthplace of Harry Potter, and the fount of so many illustrious authors and poets.
We also enjoyed road-tripping the Highlands, though the narrow roads were harrowing. Highlights included hiking Old Mann Storr on the Isle of Skye, enjoying the taste of whiskey for the first time (the trick is to drink it with ice!), and witnessing a cèilidh (a traditional Scottish gathering, usually with music).
Scotland is a magical, wild, sparsely populated place, and I enjoyed every minute of being there. Here are my favorite photos of the trip:
Have you been to Scotland? Which photo is your favorite?
Bella Falk has what most people consider a dream job: She travels the world working as a TV producer and director, shooting travel shows for the BBC and Lonely Planet.
Bella and I connected while we were living in Uganda, and I was so fascinated by her life and career that I asked her to do a Q&A.
Here, Bella answers my seven most pressing questions about working as a travel show producer (a.k.a. my dream job)…
How did you get into TV production?
I was always obsessed with the BBC. So, after I graduated, I did a post-grad in broadcast journalism. Initially, I thought I was going to go into news.
Then I found out that the BBC was running a trainee scheme in factual programming. The trainee scheme was ridiculously competitive — I think 6,000 people applied, and I managed to get a place, which was insane. And 15 years later, I'm still doing factual TV.
That's awesome. What does factual TV mean exactly?
Factual TV is basically non-fiction TV, so anything that doesn't have a script. “The Great British Bake Off” and “Come Dine with Me” are both examples of factual TV — basically programs where real-life people are filmed doing stuff.
What's it like actually filming travel footage? What is your role?
I'm a self-shooting producer and director, which basically means I do everything. In factual TV it's not as common to get to work with crew — and by crew, I mean a cameraman and a sound man. Because the budgets are so small, they expect the producer to also do the camera and the sound.
So, as a self-shooting producer and director, I plan it, I set it up, I take the camera, and I go and do it myself. If you're working alone you might have a runner or someone to help carry bags and get release forms signed. It's really full-on.
What do you like most about being a travel show producer?
I feel so lucky because of the access that you get. For example, I was working on a series called “Food Unwrapped,” which is all about our food and how it's made.
I went to an apple juice factory in Poland, and I went to Bruges and took a horse and cart around the city. And then I went to Almeria, Spain, to visit the greenhouses where they grow all the vegetables that get exported to the UK.
Normally, if I went to Spain, I would never go to this greenhouse area and meet a courgette grower. And I just love that. I love that you get to meet these people and go to weird places that you would never normally get to go.
What's your favorite show you've ever worked on?
My favorite thing I ever worked on was a series for the BBC, called “The Treasure Hunters“, which was about treasure in the loosest possible sense.
The first episode was about gold, diamonds, opals, and pearls. So, I got to visit a pearl farm in North West Australia. I got to go to Coober Pedy, which is a small town in the outback where they mine for opals. I got to go to Namibia with De Beers, fly on their private jet, and go to their diamond mining town to see how they mine for diamonds. And finally, we went to a gold mine in South Africa. It was absolutely incredible.
What are some of the pros and cons of working as a freelance producer?
Working as a freelancer is not easy because you never know when your next job is coming or how long it's going to last. It's pretty much ruined my social life for the same reason — you can't always turn up to stuff or you're always letting your friends down. Another drawback is that I don't get holiday pay or a pension.
The upside of being freelance is I can have as much holiday as I want. I can move to Uganda for three months and nobody minds.
I saw that you've had your photos published in outlets like National Geographic. How did you end up doing that? Did you pitch those outlets?
When I have free time, I upload my travel photos to various image-sharing libraries. Alamy is the main one I use. After I upload the photos, I keyword them, so people can search and buy them. And if they buy a photo, I get 50%.
Getty Images is the one you wanna get into, but Getty pays a really, really tiny percentage. They only pay 15%.
What would your advice be to someone who wants to do what you do?
This is going to sound cynical but my very first piece of advice would be, are you absolutely sure? You have to be really passionate and you have to accept that it's going to be difficult. Working in TV can make it impossible to have a social life. It's also stressful and it doesn't pay brilliantly at the beginning.
But assuming that, then the first thing to do is figure out what sort of TV that you want to do. You can't just say, “I want to work in TV.” Is it drama? Is it sport? Is it news? Is it children's? What are your strengths in terms of what you know about? Have you got a degree in something? That's normally a good way to get in.
For example, if you've done a science degree, then you could start off working on a science program. And then you have to find the production companies that make the programs that you like and contact them to get a job.
And once on the job, you have to be really keen and willing. And if you have to make tea for six weeks, then you make tea every day with a smile because everybody is busy and stressed.
There's a sense that sometimes younger people come in and say, “Hey, I know how to operate a camera. I want to be a producer.” And those of us who have been here for 15 years are like, “Slow down. You don't know anything. You need to learn. You need to do your time.”
Between hiking the Dolomites and eating everything in Bologna, it's safe to say I enjoyed myself in Italy. But before flying to Spain to walk the Camino, I had one last stop – Florence.
I journeyed to Florence to see my mom, who was attending a painting course. My mom is a very talented artist, who studied abroad in Florence back in the 80s.
As a child, my mom told me countless stories about her study abroad experience. So it was such a treat being able to visit her in her former home. And eat lots of pasta with her, of course.
And eat pasta we did. But in addition to truffle-covered bucatini, I also wanted to enjoy another one of Florence's treasures – art.
The Uffizi Gallery
My first stop? The Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi Gallery is home to some of the world's most famous paintings, with works by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Raphael.
Seeing art in real life that I'd only seen in books was incredible – I especially loved seeing Botticelli's work.
A few fun facts I learned:
Dark blue paint signifies the painting was very expensive to commission, as back then, blue paint came from lapis lazuli.
Leonardo da Vinci’s teacher saw da Vinci's work for the first time and never painted again – his talent was that extraordinary.
Botticelli had a muse, Simonetta Vespucci, whom he painted in both Primavera and the Birth of Venus (both of which hang in the Uffizi Gallery, and both of which I love).
That afternoon, I joined Walks of Italy for a walking tour. After skipping an hour-long line (so great), we entered the Galleria dell'Accademia.
The Galleria dell'Accademia doesn’t have as much art as to the Uffizi Gallery, but what it does have is spectacular. Namely, the David, Michelangelo’s masterwork.
As soon as you enter the gallery, there he is, standing 17 feet tall.
Our guide explained that the statue of David is unusual because it depicts David before the battle with Goliath. You can see the tension coursing through him; his brow is furrowed, his muscles tense. We also learned that David stood as a political symbol of Florence; the underdog to the ‘giant’ of Rome.
Our guide then allowed us 15 minutes to look at the statue on our own, which I appreciated. Honestly, I've never felt so awestruck by a piece of art as I was with David. In that moment I felt I finally ‘got’ the Renaissance, and how it made art more lifelike and human, as pretentious as that may sound.
Next we learned about the fascinating history of the Medici family. The Medici was a banking family that rose to power in the 14th century, and eventually sent sons to become pope and daughters to become Queen of France.
The Medici ruled Florence for more than 300 years, finally dissolving in the 18th century. Brilliantly, the last Medici heir put in her will that everything her heirs inherited had to stay in Florence. Which is why, centuries later, Florence is still so rich in fine art.
We also stopped by the musical instruction gallery, which was full of priceless Stradivari violins and cellos.
After the Uffizi gallery, we walked to the beautiful Duomo, Florence's massive cathedral.
And finally, we stopped to admire the famous Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge not destroyed by the Allied bombings in WWII.
All in all, my whirlwind two days in Florence were perfect – not only did I get to spend time with my mom, I also came away with a newfound understanding of the Italian Renaissance, and art as a whole.
Though I didn't inherit my mother's artistic talent, I did inherit her appreciation for art. And if you're an art lover, there's nowhere quite like Florence.
Have you ever visited Florence? Which museum did you like best?
A big thanks to Walks of Italy for admission to the Best of Florence Walking Tour with David & the Duomo in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are as always my own.
For both the Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell'Accademia, I recommend buying your tickets online in advance, so you can skip the long lines. The line for the Uffizi Gallery took more than two hours when I visited.
I'd also recommend visiting Florence in the shoulder season. Even when I was there in late September, it was insanely crowded. I'd consider visiting in spring or possibly in October/November.
While I was visiting Bologna, Italy, last fall, I enjoyed some of the best food of my life; from the fresh pastas to the cured meats, it was all magnificent. I'd even go as far as to say Bologna has the best food in Italy and possibly Europe. So I wanted to write a culinary guide on what to eat in Bologna featuring the best local dishes, as well my recommendations for trattorias, restaurants, and bars.
A little background – Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, a region known as the “breadbasket” of Italy. Emilia-Romagna is where Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano all originated, so it's not surprising Bologna has food so good it will make you sob.
What to eat in Bologna
Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese – Tagliatelle noodles smothered in a rich, meaty Bolognese sauce. Bologna's most famous pasta dish.
Fun fact – Spaghetti Bolognese is not a thing in Italy! Locals say that Bolognese sauce doesn't go with spaghetti noodles as it would “slip off the noodle”.
Tortellini in brodo – Stuffed tortellini swimming in chicken broth. Usually served as a first course.
Tortelloni – Tortelloni are basically oversized tortellini. These tortelloni were stuffed with ricotta and black truffles.
Fresh pasta in general – Bologna has many pasta shops with excellent fresh pastas made in-house. I recommend Pasta Fresca Naldi.
Cured meats – Bologna is famous for its cured meats (antipasti), such as mortadella, prosciutto, and salame rossa.
Parmigiano-Reggiano – Parmesan is the so-called ‘King of Cheeses'. You'll see it grated on top of virtually every pasta dish.
Balsamic vinegar from Modena – This is not the thin, bitter balsamic vinegar you've had back home. Balsamic vinegar from Modena (a neighboring city in Emilia-Romagna) is thick, syrupy, and ambrosial.
Where to eat in Bologna:
My favorite restaurant in Bologna, Drogheria della Rosa
Trattoria Valerio – a cozy, family-run trattoria with homemade pastas and affordable wines.
Drogheria della Rosa – A classy yet charming restaurant housed in a former pharmacy. Definitely order at least two courses, and possibly dessert.
Salumeria Simoni – a salumeria with incredible fresh-cut meats and cheeses. Ask the butcher for a selection of meats and cheeses, and definitely taste the mortadella and testa in cassetta (head cheese).
Where to drink in Bologna
Via Pescherie Vecchie – Via Pescherie Vecchie is a narrow alley lined with lively bars and restaurants. Head there to enjoy aperitivo, the Northern Italian version of a pre-meal drink, between 7-9 p.m.
Osteria del Sole – a charming, hole-in-the-wall bar that dates back to the 14th century. The best part is you can bring your own food, as long as you buy drinks at the bar. We brought cured meats and cheeses to enjoy with our vino, making for an inexpensive and tasty dinner. I recommend trying the Lambrusco,a sparkling red wine native to Emiglia-Romagna.
P.S. Head to nearby Salumeria Simoni, a cured meat and cheese shop, to pick up some delectable cured meats.
Cooking classes in Bologna
One great way to learn more about Italian food is by taking a cooking class. I loved my pasta-making class with Le Cesarine, a cooking school that specializes in Italian home cooking across Italy.
Under the tutelage of a Bolognian nonna, I learned how to make tortelloni. It took a ton of work (and arm muscle), but turned out amazing (due to my instructor, not me). Book your own cooking class at Le Cesarine here.
Another way to learn about Bolognese food is by taking a food tour with a local guide. I've heard great things about the Taste Bologna Food Tour.
What to do in Bologna
Bologna doesn't have a ton of famous sites (or tourists, thankfully), so you're free to spend your time strolling the historic, un-crowded city. Here are a few ideas on things to do.
Walk the portici – Bologna is famous for its beautiful portici, or covered walkways. You'll find them all over the city.
Visit Piazza Maggiore – Bologna's main square and heart of the city. It's especially stunning at night.
Climb Le Due Torri – Le Due Torri are Bologna's two famous towers that date back to the 11th century. You can climb one of the towers, the Asinelli Tower, to enjoy beautiful views of the city. Instructions on how to climb it here.
Take pictures of everything. Bologna is a stunningly photogenic city; the whole city is awash in colors like terracotta, red, and ballet slipper pink. So definitely spend a few afternoons wandering the streets with your camera in tow.
Where to stay in Bologna
I highly recommend staying at an Airbnb in Bologna. The Airbnbs in Bologna are very affordable; our luxurious, two-bedroom Airbnb located on one of Bologna's main streets cost only $56 a night. You can book our Airbnb here.
Plus, if you have your own apartment, you can cook! On more than one occasion we bought fresh pasta, and made it at home.
If you've never used Airbnb, you can use this coupon code to get $35 off your first stay.
How to get to Bologna: The easiest way to get to Bologna is via train; it's only an hour and a half from Florence, and an hour and forty five minutes from Venice. Bologna also has an international airport, but it may be easier to fly into Venice or Florence and take a train to Bologna.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Italy. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.
A big thanks to Le Cesarine for the cooking class, which they provided in exchange for a review. All opinions are (as always) my own.
Last fall, I spent several glorious days hiking the Dolomites in Italy, a mountain range that forms a southern section of the Alps. While they're technically located in Northern Italy, the vibe is decidedly Alpine; many people speak German, and red geraniums and dairy cows abound.
My solo hiking trip was blissful: for four days, all I did was hike, ride gondolas, and stop at adorable mountain huts for apple strudel.
Instead of doing a hut-to-hut hiking trip, I chose to base myself in Castelrotto and do day hikes. This was perfect as I got to hike all day and return to my hotel for dinner and a warm bed. I didn't want to do hut-to-hut because I didn't want to carry my gear, and wanted to minimize stress by staying in the same place every night.
Here are my tips for planning an independent hiking trip in the Dolomites.
Why you should consider hiking the Dolomites
I recommend hiking in the Dolomites to all my friends for a few reasons:
The Dolomites are absolutely stunning. Also known as the “Pale Mountains”, the Dolomites are a series of striking light-grey cliffs overlooking verdant green valleys.
They're not super touristy. On my trip, I didn't meet a single American, and most tourists I met were German or Italian.
The Dolomites much more affordable than other parts of the Alps. In the Dolomites, you'll pay a fraction of what you would in the Swiss or Austrian Alps.
Where to stay
The Dolomites boast many adorable villages such as Siusi, Ortosei, and Castelrotto.
I stayed in Castelrotto (also known as Kastelruth), which is a quaint, cobblestoned town in the heart of the Dolomites. It turned out to be the perfect place to base myself, as it's close to many excellent hikes.
In Castelrotto, I stayed at Hotel Mayr, a family-run three-star hotel. I absolutely loved it; the staff was so friendly and the food was wonderful.
Plus, it costs only 75€ ($90 USD) per night, which included a breakfast buffet and a five-course dinner. It was truly one of my favorite hotels (and best deals) of my travels.
A five-course meal in Hotel Mayr's beautiful dining room
The best day hikes near Castelrotto
I did the majority of my hiking in the Seiser Alm (Italian: Alpe di Siusi), Europe's largest alpine meadow. The Seiser Alm provides gorgeous views of the Dolomites, and most of the hikes are easy to moderate in terms of difficulty.
To get to the Seiser Alm, take the bus from Castelrotto to the Alpe di Siusi cable car. Then, take the cable car up to Compatsch.
Here are a few ideas on where to hike:
Giro della Bullacia – 2-3 hours – Moderate – The Bullacia Loop is an excellent, scenic hike that offers dramatic views of the Dolomites. It does a loop around the Seiser Alm, starting and ending in Compatsch.
Marinzen Alm – 2-3 hours – Easy – Take the Marinzen Chairlift from Castelrotto to Marinzen Alm to hike in beautiful pine forests. Stop by Schafstall Hütte for lunch – it's so cute!
Most of the trails are marked with the signs below, so it's hard to get lost.
I got to Castelrotto by taking a Flixbus (a European budget bus) to Bolzano, the largest city in South Tyrol, the province in Italy where the Dolomites are located. I then took a local bus to Castelrotto.
Castelrotto and other towns in the Dolomites are well-connected by local buses. You can also rent a car if you want to explore further out.
Where to eat – the mountain huts!
My favorite thing about hiking in the Dolomites (besides the stunning views) were the mountain huts, which serve food, beer, and wine, to hikers in need of refreshment.
The food has a decidedly Teutonic influence. Order local dishes such as canederli (bread dumplings) or Würstl (Vienna sausage).
Kaiserschmarren, a thick, eggy crêpe covered in sour berry sauce.
A meal at one of the mountain huts will cost 10€ or less, and a glass of wine usually cost only 1.50€! Bring cash as many of the mountain huts don't accept credit cards. And don't forget to reward yourself with some cake or apple strudel – you deserve it.
Many of the hut menus are in Italian and German (but not English), so consider bringing a pocket dictionary or a translation app.
What to pack
I recommend packing a day bag with essentials such as a rain jacket, a water bottle, camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, some cash, and some snacks.
If you're only hiking moderate hikes I'd recommend wearing trail running shoes – you won't need heavy-duty hiking boots.
When to go
The Dolomites are lovely all year-round, it just depends on what you'd like to do. You can hike the Dolomites from May to November. In the winter, it's an excellent place to ski.
I hiked the Dolomites in September, which was perfect. The weather was sunny, there was no rain, and there weren't many people.
How much does hiking the Dolomites cost?
I spent around 100€ ($120 USD) a day on accommodation, transportation and food.
As I mentioned, my hotel, Hotel Mayr, cost 75€ ($90 USD) a night per person. This rate included breakfast and a five-course dinner.
To get around, I relied on public transportation. The bus cost around 5€, and the gondola to get to the top of the mountain cost 11€ one way and 17€ round-trip. The chairlift cost 6.50€ one way.
Hiking the Dolomites as a solo female hiker
I felt totally safe hiking the Dolomites solo. There were plenty of people on the trail, but not so many that it felt crowded.
The only caveat was that hiking solo got a little boring at times. Very few people on the trail spoke English, so I had a very quiet four days. But sometimes, that's exactly what you need.
Have you ever gone hiking in the Dolomites or the Alps?
Welcome back to American Expats, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Our latest interview features Micaela, an elementary school teacher living in London with her British husband.
Here, she shares her favorite things about living in London (the edgy fashion and friendly people) and her least favorite (the coffee and high cost of living). Without further ado!
I’m originally from Houston, Texas, where I’d lived my whole life until moving to London last year. I ended up in London because my husband is originally from here. We met while he was on a work trip in Houston, and ended up doing long distance for two years. Then we got married and I moved across the pond!
In London, I work as an elementary school teacher. I currently teach Year 3 (7-8 year olds) and adore my class. Kids are kids in every country!
On making friends in London: I only knew my husband and a handful of his friends when I moved here. I find that most people that I meet in London are transplants, which makes it easier to make new friends. Finding local friends has been a major focus for me!
Dark chocolate digestives
On British sweets: I love dark chocolate digestives and the Cadbury’s Oreo chocolate bar. Typically Americans do sweets much better than the Brits, but they’ve got these two things figured out.
On the Tube: The Tube [the London Underground] is definitely the best way to get around London. They run every few minutes and hardly have delays! I take the train [the London Overground] to work and it’s ALWAYS running late or will have last minute cancellations.
On the lackluster coffee: London definitely has more of a tea culture. The coffee here is bitter and awful — I have my family send me coffee from home.
On the cost of living: I'm from Houston, one of the cheapest cities to buy a home — and London is one of the most expensive! We are in the process of buying a two-bedroom flat, and for the equivalent price in Houston we could live in a detached five-bedroom house. Property prices in London are outrageous, but I’ve found that grocery shopping and eating out are similar to American prices.
On the edgy local fashion: London fashion is a lot more adventurous than southern fashion. In London, I feel comfortable wearing a lot of things that would feel like “too much'” back home. I love it!
On living in Balham: We live in an area called Balham. We joke that it’s “yummy mummy” central! Everyone except us seems to have children and be at lunch with the latest baby gadgets, dressed in lululemon.
All joking aside, I love the area! It's got great local restaurants, shops, and pubs, and is only a few stops from Central London. Considering Balham's so centrally located, it's a surprisingly quiet neighborhood and has a much slower pace of life than other parts of London. It's really the best of both worlds!
On the best London neighborhoods for expats: London is HUGE! I’d be a fool to say I know all the best places. We live in South London so here are my favorite neighborhoods…
Richmond/Kingston – This is probably my favorite area of London. There’s loads to do and don’t even get me started on the park, it’s so large my mom thought we’d left London and gone to the countryside!
Clapham – If you’re fresh from university or living the single life I’d recommend Clapham. It’s easy to join in on a house or flat share to keep costs down as well as meet new people! It’s only a few stops from Central London, and there are are loads of great bars and restaurants.
Clapham Junction/Battersea – We have friends that live in a flat in Clapham Junction overlooking the river, it’s amazing! It’s also just across the bridge from Chelsea which has tons to do.
On the most surprising thing about living in London: People are really friendly. Before moving, I’d heard that people overseas, particularly in London, are a bit weary of interacting with foreigners and not always the friendliest. I must say I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the opposite is true.
On living in London long-term: I love London as a city but the winter weather is awful! Our plan is to move somewhere warm and come back to London during the summer months. Our ideal place would be an island in the Mediterranean.
On what NOT to do in London: Just don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk. And for God’s sake, stand on the right when using the escalator.
At the time, I was 22, working in Paris as an au pair. Though I loved my life in Paris, I feared I had preemptively ruined my career by taking a gap year.
I certainly hadn't, but I understand why I felt that way. While I corralled French children and earned a pittance of a salary, my friends racked up prestigious internships and started their careers. In comparison, I felt unaccomplished, and was worried about falling behind.
Now that I’m several years into my career (and newly admitted into grad school!), I wanted to respond to the original question.
The short answer is yes, it's smart to travel young, depending on your circumstances and goals.
The long answer? Travel may or may not help you find the right career, but it will undoubtedly help you grow as a person. If you do it right, you'll acquire invaluable friends, skills, and experiences.
How travel changed me
When I was 22, I was very insecure. Why am I not prettier/thinner/more accomplished?, I asked myself on a merciless loop. I suffered from anxiety, and sometimes, depression.
But then, a few months after graduation, I moved to Paris for a year. And after Paris, I spent a year backpacking the world, mostly solo.
After two years of living and traveling abroad, I was a girl transformed. Travel had changed me, in ways both big and small.
One way is that I became more outgoing. After navigating dozens of hostel dorms as a solo traveler, I could strike up a conversation with almost anyone.
I also became more self-reliant. If I could barter with a tuk-tuk driver in Delhi, I could certainly negotiate a lease in Denver.
Most importantly, travel gave me self-confidence in spades. This came from knowing that I could do hard things: learning fluent French in less than a year, backpacking the Himalayas, scuba-diving with sharks despite my lifelong fear of them.
By proving myself to be capable time and time again, I gained confidence in my own strengths and abilities. And as I'm sure you know, confidence makes all the difference in every area of life: career, love, and everything else.
Why traveling is easier when you're young
When you're young, you have a higher tolerance for just about everything, from dirty hostel dorms to day-long hangovers.
Physically, being in your early twenties is like a super power: You can fall asleep anywhere, including a bean bag in a hostel common room. You can drink like an Australian (for a few weeks, anyhow). You can eat pad Thai every night and mysteriously not gain weight.
Another benefit of traveling young is that being broke feels less problematic. Cost-cutting measures like sleeping on airport floors and cutting your hair in the sink seem weirdly fun and almost romantic.
Travel is a joy and a privilege at any age. But travel, especially long-term budget travel, is easier to do while you're still in your twenties and have yet to accrue many responsibilities.
So if you just graduated from college and feel an overwhelming desire to travel, do it. To even consider traveling abroad is a privilege, and not one that everyone has. You are not shooting yourself in the foot by deciding to travel — you are investing in yourself and the person you will eventually become.
(One caveat is that there are certain jobs that recruit at the end of college, like consulting, so if that's your ideal career path, perhaps post-college travel is not the best idea.)
That said, be responsible. Have savings, get your vaccinations, and buy travel insurance. Social media enthusiastically espouses the idea of quitting your job to travel, but moving or traveling abroad is a big decision, and should be carefully considered.
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In my opinion, the best way to travel after college is to work abroad. That way, you'll be able to make money while also exploring the world.
Here are some ideas on how to work abroad after graduation:
I was surprised by how much I loved Oktoberfest. I don't know if it was the liters of golden lager or all of the handsome German men in lederhosen, but Oktoberfest was an absolute blast.
Being my first Oktoberfest, I did a few things right (see: buying a dirndl) and a few things wrong (making my hostel reservations in June). So I wanted to put together a guide of Oktoberfest tips on everything you should know before your first Oktoberfest, so you can get it right on your first try.
For those who don't know, Oktoberfest is a beer festival and carnival held in Munich, Oktoberfest. It lasts for three weeks; from mid-September until early October.
1. If possible, go during the week.
Like many festivals, Oktoberfest is much more crowded on the weekends. So if you can, go during the week — It will be much easier to get a table without a reservation.
2. Pick the right weekend.
If you can only attend Oktoberfest on the weekend, pick the right one; the three weekends of Oktoberfest differ somewhat.
The first is the opening, when there's a parade through Munich and the mayor taps the first Oktoberfest beer barrel. The second is known as the ‘Italian weekend', which apparently locals avoid because there are so many out-of-towners. The third is the finisher, and is said to be the rowdiest.
For reference, I went the second weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and yes, I did meet tons of Italians.
3. Book your accommodation months in advance.
This may be the most important of my Oktoberfest tips – BOOK EARLY! Accommodation for Oktoberfest is expensive, and books up months in advance. I recommend booking your accommodation as early as February or March. I booked mine in June and ended up paying $100 per night for a hostel bunk – ouch.
If you're going with a group, consider booking an Airbnb. If I could do it again, that's what I would do! P.S. Here's a $40 Airbnb coupon code if you're new to Airbnb.
4. Get there early and be prepared to stay a while.
Oktoberfest opens at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. I recommend showing up about 30 minutes before the fair opens to snag any unreserved tables. See more information on the opening times here.
Once you get into the fair, you can enter any tent without a table reservation, as long as it's not already at capacity. But once you're in, you might not be able to sit down if there are no open tables. You can only be served beer or food if you're seated.
5. Spend two full days (at least) at the festival.
Originally, we planned on spending only one day at Oktoberfest. In the end, we spent two full days at the festival, and I'm so glad we did. Two at Oktoberfest days was perfect; it gave us enough time to explore the fairgrounds and visit different tents.
6. Research the tents.
The Hacker-Festzelt tent with its famous sky-blue ceiling
Oktoberfest has 14 main tents, and they all have different vibes, beers, and capacities. Did you know there's a wine tent (Weinzelt), and a tent where they roast a giant ox (Ochsenbraterei)?
We visited many of the 14 tents. These were my two favorite tents:
Hacker-Festzelt – a tent with a younger crowd and a beautiful ceiling painted like a blue and white sky. Get in early – this tent is super popular.
The Hofbräu-Festzelt – rowdy and full of fellow tourists, but fun. Because this is one of the largest tents, with 10,000 seats, you're pretty likely to find a table.
I 100% recommend wearing traditional Bavarian clothing for Oktoberfest. Almost everyone at Oktoberfest is dressed up, and honestly, dressing the part is half the fun. (Plus, there is no item of clothing more flattering than a dirndl.)
The tables at Oktoberfest are long and communal, so you're bound to make some friends! We spoke to everyone from two Austrian brothers who taught us how to yodel to a rowdy group of Italian bachelors who kept dancing on the table and taking off their shirts.
Meeting people at Oktoberfest was one of the best parts of the festival, so don't be shy and strike up a conversation with your table-mates.
It's also fun to sport a new hairstyle at Oktoberfest. I wore a waterfall braid, which I loved the look of – see a YouTube tutorial here.
11. Wear comfortable shoes.
You may be walking a lot at Oktoberfest, so it's crucial to wear comfortable shoes.
I packed my Stan Smith Adidas shoes, which were both cute and comfortable. Avoid open-toed shoes as there may be glass on the floor.
12. Bring a crossbody bag, as large bags aren't allowed.
Bags and backpacks over three liters are not allowed inside the festival, so plan accordingly.
Ladies — I recommend bringing a crossbody bag in order to quickly access essentials like cash and your phone.
13. Bring some cash.
Another super important Oktoberfest tip – it's 100% easier to pay in cash. So make sure to bring some euros – I'd suggest bringing around 80 euros in cash per day, just to be safe. Beers cost around 11 euros each, which will add up quickly.
14. Tip your server.
Don't forget to tip your server – good tips goes a long way in terms of service at Oktoberfest.
15. Try a radler – a mix of beer and lemonade.
Need a break from beer? Order a radler, which is half beer and half lemonade.
16. Sample some hearty German cuisine.
A delicious Bavarian meal of roast chicken, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and sauerkraut
I personally love German food – it's hearty and soul-warming. So make sure to order some traditional German food while at Oktoberfest – most of the tents offer food. At the very least, try a pretzel. (Southern Germany is famous for them.)
17. Pace yourself
Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint – on both days, we arrived at 10 a.m. and didn't leave until after nightfall. You'll be there awhile, so pace yourself accordingly.
18. Ride the rides
Oktoberfest is more than just drinking beer – it's also a full-blown carnival.
Monday to Thursday, the rides start at 10 a.m. and go on until 11:30 pm. On weekends, the rides start at 9 a.m. and close at midnight.
19. Spend a day exploring Munich.
If you've never visited Munich, set aside some time to explore the beautiful city. Make time to see the Marienplatz (above), the city's main square, and the New Town Hall, with its famous glochenspiel. If you're not sick of beer, stop by the sprawling Chinesischer Turm biergarten.
There are few things more blissful than a picnic in Paris. Beautiful weather, friends, cheese, baguette, red wine… what's not to love?
Over the years, I've picnicked almost everywhere in Paris — from the Seine to the banlieues to everywhere in between. So I wanted to put together a guide on my recommendations for where to picnic in Paris.
This list includes parks, canals, and even specific quays on the Seine — and I've included a handy map to help you find them.
I've also included which foods and beverages to pack, because what's a picnic if not a reason to enjoy delicious food and wine?
Where to picnic in Paris:
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
One of Paris' largest parks, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont feels like a nature reserve within the city with its steep cliffs, lakes, and waterfalls. It's one of my favorite picnicking spots, with plenty of grass and panoramic views of the city.
Tip – hike up to the Roman-inspired Temple de la Sibylle for snapshot-worthy views which stretch to the Sacré-Cœur.
Where to find it: Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is located in the 19th arrondissement, in the northwest corner of Paris.
While grass is in short supply along the Canal Saint-Martin, it's still an excellent place to picnic. The canal is especially glorious in summer, when locals congregate along the canal to drink wine, play music, smoke, and soak up the sun.
Stock up on picnic supplies at Du Pain et Des Idées, my favorite bakery in Paris. It's home to the famous, deliciously rustic Pain des Amis bread, as well as an assortment of escargot pastries, which change their filling depending on what's in season. (My favorite is cassis and rhubarb!)
Alternatively, order a pizza from Pink Flamingo pizzeria and they'll deliver the pizza to your picnic spot on the canal, finding you via a pink balloon that they give you in advance.
Where to find it: The Canal Saint-Martin is located in the trendy 10th arrondissement on the right bank. Post-picnic, check out a few nearby bars like Chez Jeanette and L'Alimentation Générale.
The elegant Luxembourg Gardens have a quintessentially Parisian feel. Pull up a chair in front of the main fountain and watch children race model boats, while (of course) enjoying prime Parisian people-watching.
After you've had enough of sipping pinot under palm trees, take a stroll around the park to enjoy the lengthy promenades. Keep an eye out for the small-scale model of the Statue of Liberty that dates back to 1870.
Where to find it: The Jardin du Luxembourg is located on the right bank in the well-heeled sixth arrondissement. It's walking distance to the Seine.
Place des Vosges
Tucked away in Le Marais, the upscale Place des Vosges is a 17th century square that was once home to the French aristocracy.
The Place des Vosges is one of the smaller picnicking spots in Paris, so be sure to turn up early on a spring or summer day in order to snag a spot on the grass. FYI – there is free wifi in the park.
Where to find it: The Place des Vosges is located on the right bank in Le Marais. If you're a Les Mis fan, stop by Maison de Victor Hugo, the author's former home, which is located in the square.
Located in the sleepy 17th arrondissement, the rolling hills of Parc Monceau are a breath of fresh air from Paris' crowds and congestion.
Across the park you will stumble upon a wide variety of archeological treasures, such as an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill, and Corinthian pillars.
Where to find it: Parc Monceau is in the 17th arrondissement. It's somewhat far from Central Paris, but can be reached on the métro.
The banks of the Seine
Far and away, my favorite place to picnic in Paris is along the quays of the Seine. Because is there anything more Parisian than enjoying a picnic across the river from the Notre Dame?
My favorite spot is Quai de la Tournelle, which is — you guessed it — across the river from the Notre Dame.
Pro-tip – if you want to practice your French, come here at around 9 p.m. in summer. It will be full of locals, who will be more than happy to chat with you (see below).
Where to find it: Walk down the stairs next to the Pont de l'Archevêché, and you'll find the Quai de la Tournelle. If you can't find that specific spot don't worry; there are so many great spots along the quays.
And last but not least, Parc Montsouris!
My most recent find on this list, Parc Montsouris is a beautiful park with sloping lawns and a man-made lake. It's a great place to sprawl out for a picnic. And because it's somewhat far from central Paris, it's frequented almost exclusively by locals.
While it's not the first place that might come to mind when you think about where to picnic in Paris, it's a hidden gem.
Where to find it: Parc Montsouris is located in the uneventful 14th arrondissement. But if you're in the mood to try a new park and don't mind the trek, it's an excellent spot.
What to pack:
A baguette or two. When at the bakery (boulangerie), order the baguettes “pas trop cuite” (lightly baked) so they're crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Cheese. Head to a cheese chop (fromagerie) to find the best cheese. Goat cheese (chèvre) is always a popular choice, but some other great options are Salers, Coeur Neufchâtel, and Saint-Félicien.
Charcuterie. You can pick up charcuterie (cured meats) at the charcutier, or charcuterie shop. Good selections are pâté, rilletes, or saucisson. (Don't forget to bring a knife! I recommend a lightweight, folding Opinel.)
Fruit. Just buy whatever's in season at the farmer's market or grocery store. I'd recommend a small crate of strawberries.
Beverages. My favorite picnicking beverage is sparkling cider from Brittany (brut – dry, not doux – sweet), but wine is always a great choice. If you don't have a bottle opener, pick up a bottle of cider or champagne which you can simply pop open. Beer is pricey in France so I would skip it. Don't forget a few bottles of water as well.
A blanket or sarong to lie on.
Don't forget dessert! Stop by the pâtisserie (pastry shop) and pick up a few pastries such as éclairs or religieuses (see below).
Have you ever picnicked in Paris? What's your favorite spot?