This travel blog is not only food for the soul; it’s a feast for the eyes. Creator Sabina has an eye for stunning imagery and scrolling through her blog’s pages is pure travel joy. From discovering street art in Germany to guiding solo travellers through Budapest, her unique experiences will undoubtedly give you itchy feet.
On this very day, a decade ago, I was sat in my bedroom reading the dictionary.
I can’t say that with complete certainty but it’s more likely than not. It’s how I spent almost every evening as a fourteen year old. What kind of a teenage girl spends her free time reading the dictionary? The answer is simple – the kind of girl that feels like nobody can understand her.
I don’t mean that in an angsty, me-against-the-world kind of way. I mean that literally. Just before my fourteenth birthday my family moved to Vienna, away from the safety of our home in the Czech Republic. Away from the safety of the only language I was fluent in.
I’d found expressing my emotions in my mother tongue difficult enough. What teenager doesn’t? Being forced to come to grips with the brave new world around me in a language I barely spoke felt downright cruel.
That language was English… and look at me now! I’ve caught the beast, tamed it and now it does fancy tricks for me at the drop of a hat. English isn’t my only show pony either. I speak five languages – English and Czech, as well as German, Russian and French.
When I was younger I collected vocabulary the way other people collect stamps. I would hear a new word and feel an immediate need to possess it. It was an unquenchable thirst and the more I learned the more I wanted.
Learning new languages helps you diversify your friend circle!
Getting back to learning
But then something happened. It wasn’t a dramatic realisation, just a gradual shift. Rather than becoming wiser I was growing more complacent with every year. All that learning was replaced with an attitude of “I’m too busy for any of this!”. Instead of reading the dictionary I would sit in my bedroom and blankly stare at my laptop screen, barely noticing where one Netflix episode ended and the next began.
What I’m describing sounds depressing. But based on conversations I’ve had with friends it’s also how most young adults live their lives. After a stressful day at work who can blame us for wanting to decompress? Nobody, that’s who.
My recent travels around Africa have resulted in a few epiphanies though. All those mind-numbing activities, like binge watching series or going for cocktails, never end in me feeling relaxed. It feels good in the short run but looking back on a weekend spent that way I can’t help but regret all the time I wasted.
Over the past few months I’ve tried replacing all that white noise with things that help me grow. Nothing too strenuous – a dip in Lake Malawi in the morning, an afternoon spent volunteering or half an hour of language learning whenever I found the time. And you know what? Those tiny adjustments have made a massive difference in my mindset.
According to studies people tend to misunderstand confidence. It isn’t something you have that determines how successful you’re going to be. Rather it’s a reflection of past performance. So starting your day or week off on a productive note will set you up for success and vice versa.
What I’m trying to say is: I want you to join me in putting down the remote and picking up a new skill instead. I’m struggling to describe how much better it feels because it’s something you have to experience for yourself to truly appreciate it.
I promise I’m not just learning Spanish to drink local wine and admire their architecture. Promise…
I’ve not been shy about brandishing my multilingualism, but me being a hopeless show off is only a part of the equation. The main reason I bring it up is a hope that I’ll inspire others not to give up on languages because of a bad high school experience.
I get it, my French professor wasn’t exactly a delight either – more like nightmare fodder. But am I going to let her rob me of the joy that comes with speaking another language? Mais non, ma chérie. Of course not.
The benefits of becoming bilingual cannot be overstated. Aside from helping you become more self-confident it also boosts your creativity and offers a new way of looking at the world. In some cases this is quite literal. Take Russian for example, a language with no word for the colour blue. Something can either be described as light blue (goluboi) or dark blue (sinii), but there’s no in between. That literally forces you to see the world in a different light.
But it doesn’t stop there. According to studies bilingualism can stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, which basically makes it a superpower. And on a less serious but no less important note, speaking a foreign language will take your travels to a whole new level.
I’ll never forget haggling over the price of a floral dress at a market in Beijing. “Tài guì le, tài guì le,” I repeated as the shopkeeper laughed. Too expensive. “Piàoliang,” I added before shrugging and turning to walk away. It’s beautiful. I don’t even count Mandarin among my five languages because my knowledge of it is so basic. But even with that bare minimum I was able to have a short exchange, entertain a local and bag a beautiful gown for a fraction of your standard tourist price.
That’s just scratching the surface though. Really sinking your teeth into a language and being able to have a proper conversation is extremely rewarding. To get experience that wonderful feeling again I’ve decided to add a new language to my arsenal – Spanish.
How to get started
If you’re a traveller like me or just somebody with a busy schedule, committing to a language class may not be a viable option. That’s where my more recent efforts to pick up a new language tanked. In my final year of university I went to the trouble of signing up for a Mandarin class and putting down a non-refundable deposit before realising it was virtually impossible for me to do that, run my blog, work a part-time job, finish my degree and get more than four hours of sleep every night.
Enter Rosetta Stone and their language learning app, which I discovered right before going on my African adventure. They have more than twenty languages ranging from English, Spanish and German to slightly offbeat choices like Hindi, Tagalog or Farsi.
You can download all your lessons offline which means you can learn from virtually anywhere. Over the past few months I’ve really proven that to myself. From a propeller plane in Tanzania to a minibus in Ethiopia, a snazzy hotel overlooking a lake to a $8/night guesthouse, I’ve done little bits of Spanish in the most unexpected locations.
Despite having a busier schedule than I’d had in years I still managed to complete a surprising number of units. If I had to sit down with a notepad and a textbook I would have reasoned my way out of it. But being able to only spend a few minutes on the app at a time made me reach for it every time I felt a little bored.
I was a little apprehensive about using an app because I’m so used to the old school textbook-and-blackboard approach. But you know what? It won me over in a matter of minutes. Rosetta Stone’s teaching approach mimics how we learn as children. Rather than explaining things to us in another language, it uses a mix of verbal and visual cues to explain what things are.
How To Learn A Language On The Go | Rosetta Stone - YouTube
You can watch the video above to see it in practice. But better yet, download the app yourself! You can try it out completely for free and if you fall in love with it I have great news. I have a discount code that will give you 50% off the total price. All you have to do is use my code which is “Sabina50”.
What do you think? You’ve got nothing to lose, so why not join me on this little adventure and marvel at the things your brain can accomplish!
Have you ever used a language learning app? What do you think of Rosetta Stone’s approach? Let me know in a comment below, I’d love to hear your take on this!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Rosetta Stone. As always all opinions are my own and I’m genuinely loving the app. It’s, as we say in Spanish, absolutamente maravilloso.
I don’t know about you, but I love a good deal. I once treated myself to a beautiful lace dress only to see it on sale for 50% off the next day and it ate away at my soul for weeks.
To prevent this from happening, I’m always on the lookout for a way to make my life (which is 99% travel) more affordable. Not only in the financial sense – time is money and saving time is often even more valuable in my eyes.
We millennials are constantly berated for being glued to our phones but guess what? That’s where most of my time and money saving happens. There are hundreds of apps whose sole purpose it is to make your life easier. From streamlining the travel booking process to making sure you never pay a penny in foreign transaction fees, I’ve lined up five of my favourites to share with you.
I’ll start with TraveLibro because it may just be my favourite app find of 2017. As a frequent traveller I often struggle to remember my trips in much detail. But not anymore! Thanks to TraveLibro I’m able to keep track of all my travel memories right as they’re happening.
I did this on my recent trip to Slovenia, you can see my full journey here. Without this app there’s no way I would have remembered the name of that hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves fresh bread dipped in red wine for breakfast, or my olive oil tasting class in Šmartno.
But the best part is that not only can you record your travels in as much detail as you’d like – you can also access other people’s past journeys. All of mine are here. If you need inspiration for your next trip, TraveLibro is definitely the way to go!
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Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody else put together a custom travel itinerary for you? If you already have a personal assistant this app is not for you. But if you don’t you’ll love TripIt!
Once you grant it access, it pulls all upcoming travel data from your email inbox. It then compiles it and presents you with a neat itinerary so you can access all your flights, train journeys and hotel bookings in one place. It also provides important information like check in and check out times or flight duration.
Oh, and you can also save a copy of your travel IDs and important contacts in a password or Touch ID protected folder. It could be a literal life saver.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Skyscanner app already but I want to share a few tricks you may not be aware of. First of all, the Skyscanner app (as well as the website) lets you set alerts that go off whenever the price of a flight you were looking at changes. That way you won’t have to overpay for your next ticket.
But my favourite function is the ability to search for a flight to “Everywhere”. Once you input your dates the system will give you an overview of the cheapest flights available from your destination. I once found a return ticket to New York for less than £300 – it was cheaper than a trip to Malaga, Spain on those same dates!
I’ll get the bad news out of the way first – LuckyTrip is only available to UK residents at the moment. But they plan to expand and should be available in other countries soon. I really hope they do because I hate not being able to share all that goodness with the world.
So what does this little app do? Oh, it just plans your entire freaking trip! Have I mentioned it’s free? All you have to do is input your closest airport and a budget for your trip, starting at £150.
LuckyTrip will scour the Internet and come back with a short itinerary that includes flights, hotels and a bunch of fun places to visit while you’re there.
I love Monzo more than I love some people. Not terrible people, perfectly nice people – that’s how wonderful this app is. Monzo is a lot more than an app though. It’s a bank account and a debit card that let’s you pay and withdraw cash abroad with no foreign fees!
With my other UK card I have to pay a flat fee of £1.99 every time I want to take money out while travelling. That’s… ludicrous. With my MasterCard debit from Monzo I can withdraw up to £200 every month for free, and with a 3% payment thereafter. But I rarely need to take out more as all card transactions abroad are free, without a limit. Their conversion rate is also a lot better than any I’ve seen in traditional banks.
You don’t even have to be travelling to benefit from having this free card. Whenever you order anything from abroad and have to pay in the local currency, this will make the transaction much cheaper. I frequently do this on PayPal for example.
Money saving tip! If you’d like to save money for travel, I also highly recommend you check out Chip. It’s a smart app that connects to your bank account and puts money aside for you, based on your spending habits. It sounds a little scary but all the money is ringfenced in a Barclays account so you wouldn’t lose it even if something were to happen to the company. I’ve been able to put aside more than £2,000 thanks to Chip’s help.
But that’s not the best part. The best part is the high interest rate you’re able to get through it – up to 5%! You get extra percentage points by referring friends, which is a little annoying but it does work. If you’d like to start at 1% interest rate instead of zero you can use my code: LOJ7WX. I will also get 1% for referring you, so if you’re not comfortable with that don’t use the code. But I see it as a win-win situation. I’m in no way affiliated with Chip, I’m just sharing this app because I think it’s incredible.
What other travel apps would you recommend? Have you used any of the above? Let me know in a comment below, I love hearing from you!
Disclaimer: This post was kindly sponsored by TraveLibro, but I’d exalt their virtues even if I wasn’t collaborating with them. In other words – all opinions are mine, as always.
Chestnuts crackle over an open fire, jingle bells echo through the air and snowflakes melt on your finger tips. Winter in Europe is as magical as it looks on the silver screen.
Whether you’re a Love Actually fan or prefer The Holiday’s quaint British countryside, I can guarantee you’ll find the Christmas spot of your dreams on this continent.
I’ve lived here my entire life – from Austria to Russia – but winter has always been less about travel and more about spending time with my family. This year I decided it was finally time to explore the best winter destinations in Europe. To really explore.
Eager to see as much as possible during my limited time off I started researching my options. That’s when I stumbled upon Contiki’s European Magic trip while browsing STA Travel. It was a 9-day bonanza that would take me to eight countries. From the Eiffel Tower to the Venetian canals, from Munich’s beer halls to Amsterdam’s Red Light district it was the perfect snapshot of winter Europe.
I was a little nervous about going. I’m not a big fan of group holidays or fast travel, both of which the itinerary was full of. But long story short – this adventure ended up being one of my favourite trips of 2017! Have you ever been on a Contiki trip? If not (and even if so), would you be interested in a detailed review? Let me know in a comment below.
All I’m going to say for the time being is that a) I highly recommend this trip and b) you should book it via STA Travel. Their experts will be able to book your flights to fit in with your itinerary and you can secure your place on a tour with a deposit from £60. That’s enough about the logistics though. Let’s talk about these beautiful winter destinations we got to explore during our trip around Europe…
We started our journey in world-famous Amsterdam – a city I’d visited many times before. I know it has a reputation for wild parties and crazy nights in coffee shops (which sell everything but coffee). But there’s a lot more to it than mindless fun.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take advantage of Amsterdam’s incredible nightlife. Just make sure you have enough energy left over for a bit of exploring. My favourite thing to do is just take a stroll along the canals and admire the gable houses that line them. Check out De 9 Straatjes while you’re at it, one of the city’s quirkiest neighbourhoods full of independent cafes and old bookshops.
The Amsterdam Light Festival is an annual winter event you shouldn’t miss. Renowned artists from all over the world transform the city into a twinkling spectacle that attracts thousands of visitors. My favourite way to enjoy it is on a river cruise like the one Contiki organised for us. The open bar was particularly helpful as this was the first night of our trip and most people were travelling solo!
7 Best Winter Destinations In Europe | STA Travel x Contiki European Magic Vlog - YouTube
To get a feel for what the trip was like don’t forget to watch the video above. I’m immensely proud of it – it’s probably my favourite video I’ve ever created. With more than fifty on my YouTube channel that’s saying a lot…
Germany’s Rhine Valley is like something straight out of a storybook. The Rhine river meanders between forests and vineyards, overlooked by the occasional Medieval castle. If one of Khaleesi’s dragons happened to fly overhead you’d probably just sigh and say: “I guess they’re real then, huh?”
On our Contiki tour we only got to visit one of the local towns. It’s called St. Goar and it looks deceptively calm. I say deceptively because this wine growing region offers quite a few opportunities to get rowdy. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the famous local ice wine and perhaps buy a bottle for somebody special. They better be special, because one bottle costs more than €30!
Speaking of presents, you can buy three other great souvenirs in St. Goar. They are hand-painted beer steins, wooden cuckoo clocks and Birkenstocks. I didn’t buy anything but was seriously tempted by a few of the limited edition beer steins.
We didn’t get to visit it on the trip but while you’re in the area you also need to see Eltz Castle, pictured above. It’s one of the most stunning castles I’ve ever seen in my life and one you shouldn’t miss.
Munich is synonymous with Oktoberfest in many people’s minds, but it’s a great destination year round. I particularly love their Christmas markets – the one of Marienplatz is beautiful without being nauseatingly busy. It’s a great place to try local specialties like crispy sausages, Apfelstrudel or Knödel (dumplings) in any form.
But let’s get back to my first sentence about Oktoberfest. I’d be lying if I said most of my time in the Bavarian capital wasn’t centred around beer. How could it not be? The region makes up more than half of Germany’s beer production. They even have their own set of beer purity rules which was outlined back in 1516.
There’s no way you can come to Munich without visiting Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. It’s one of the city’s most visited attractions, so if anyone asks your third stein of beer is basically sightseeing in liquid form. You won’t be the first to do so. From W. A. Mozart to Vladimir Lenin, Louis Armstrong to John F. Kennedy, this traditional beer hall attracts people from all walks of life.
They also serve local food. I tried the pork knuckle before I went vegan, and thought it was quite good – just don’t get the boiled kind. Don’t worry fellow vegans, you’ll still be able to find something to snack on. Every now and then a waitress will walk by carrying a tray full of giant pretzels so pick one up while you’re there.
In terms of beverages I highly recommend the Weissbier, which replaces the traditional malted barley with wheat. It’s cloudy, relatively sweet and way too easy to drink. Another local specialty is Radler – half beer, half lemonade. As our tour guide promptly pointed out, that means it’s “only half as good as it could be”. But if you’re planning on having more than a couple of beers it might be a wise choice, as they come in one litre glasses.
Innsbruck was made for winter shenanigans. The picturesque capital of Austria’s Tyrol region has centre-wide Christmas markets, as well as a 2,637 metre tall mountain. You can literally go from sipping gluhwein to having a snowball fight up on the slopes in half an hour!
For some proper sightseeing climb the main tower on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse. That’s also where the famous Golden Roof is located. The Imperial Palace, locally known as the Hofburg, is also nearby.
To add some sparkle to your day visit Kristallwelten. Built close to the Swarovski factory in Wattens, the museum holds rare creations like an ornate crystal tree by Alexander McQueen. Their garden also features cute fairytale figures that light up the snow around them.
If you’re not into jewellery but want to escape the cold, I’ve got just the thing for you – schnapps. From sweet raspberry-infused liqueurs to clear spirits the local booze vendors will keep you warm inside out.
As for going up the mountain, it doesn’t come cheap but it’s well worth it. The Nordkette is part of Austria’s largest nature park and a fun place to see even if you aren’t going to ski or snowboard.
This was my fifth time in Venice but my first winter visit. We got extremely lucky with the weather – it was sunny, warm and absolutely magical. December is a great time to visit because there are fewer tourists than in the summer. It’s still really busy but definitely more manageable.
I know Venice is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of winter destinations in Europe. But mamma mia, is it a good one! Don’t expect the same level of commitment to Christmas markets as you’ll see in Germany. Instead, you can look forward to some of the best food on the planet and a gondola ride in a fluffy sweater.
As I mentioned, I’d already been to Venice four times before visiting with Contiki. But you know what? I feel like I still have so much left to discover. I did have one pretty special experience while I was there – and it’s all about Bellinis.
Have you ever had a Bellini? You know, a tall glass of champagne mixed with peach juice. It was developed in the 1940s by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. On my latest trip there I decided to finally visit its birthplace and see what all the fuss was about. My friends and I walked through the bar’s inconspicuous doorway and were greeted by a troupe of waiters in white suites.
To my dismay they led us upstairs. There was nobody there, save for an older gentleman eating his lunch and reading a newspaper. “Could we get a table by the window?” I asked. I was met with furrowed brows and a quick shake of the head. Fine. The Bellinis arrived in little stemless glasses and with a hefty price tag of 22€. “Ugh,” I thought. “What a waste of money.” My mind changed as soon as the sweet concoction touched my lips. It was unlike any Bellini I’d ever tasted before.
“It’s local white peach purée,” the gentleman noted a while later. We started chatting to him and my dismay quickly gave way to wonder. Who was this intriguing man? I soon found out, as he pressed a freshly signed copy of his book into my hands. His name was Arrigo Cipriani – he was the current owner of Harry’s Bar and son of Giuseppe. He is one of the most interesting people I‘ve met in a long time and it’s a memory I won’t soon forget.
Sadly I have no advice on how to orchestrate a meeting with Arrigo. All I’m saying is, keep your eyes open while you’re in Venice and don’t be afraid to just get lost…
I knew next to nothing about Lucerne before visiting and in a way it’s still shrouded in mystery. That’s partly because we explored it after sunset, but also because it’s just one of those places. As the dark blue sky hovers over its wooden bridges and crystalline lakes it’s easy to believe it’s enchanted.
You may be wondering why we didn’t get much daylight in this picturesque Swiss town. It’s because European days are very short in the winter. This time of year it gets dark around 4pm! Keep that in mind while planning your Christmas itineraries and don’t forget that snow is no longer a given in this part of the world. We got lucky this year with fluffy white blankets stretching as far as the eye can see, but it doesn’t happen every year.
Katrina. Irma. Sandy. Those three names only used to induce stress whenever your three crazy aunts visited for Christmas. Now they’re a reminder of nature’s capacity for devastation.
This year has been a stormy one, both literally and metaphorically. From Cuba to Texas thousands of people are still recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Less than a month ago, Puerto Rico descended into a humanitarian crisis in the wake of hurricane Maria (here’s how you can help).
The number of hurricanes has doubled since 1995, as well as increased in intensity and destructive force. This year’s hurricane season – which won’t end until November 30th – is already the second costliest on record, right after 2005.
I don’t know about you but 2005 remains etched in my brain. Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, claiming between 1,245 and 1,836 lives. If 591 lives can somehow get lost in the margins you know you’ve got a real catastrophe on your hands.
During my trip to New Orleans earlier this year I booked a Hurricane Katrina tour to better understand the disaster. I found a great one through GoBe which promised eyewitness accounts from the guide. And girl, did they deliver! Our tour guide was a feisty old lady who embodied her beloved hometown’s laissez les bons temps rouler attitude.
But despite her undying optimism you could see the pain in her eyes as she recounted the chaos Katrina left behind. More than a decade later you can still see the hurricane’s effects. This is especially true in the Lower Ninth Ward, the most devastated neighbourhood many of whose residents were permanently displaced. Even five years post-Katrina 260 families were still living in FEMA trailers across Louisiana, unable to return home.
Humans weren’t the only ones affected. The storm swept through five million acres of forest across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama affecting both the trees and animals. The loss of so much vegetation can actually reverse the carbon dioxide storage process turning it into a carbon source.
In other words, the decaying trees contribute to climate change which contributes to the severity of these tropical cyclones. Luckily we don’t really need the Earth because we have dozens of life-sustaining planets stashed away in a storage facility on- Oh, wait! No we don’t!
But the purpose of this article isn’t to berate the state of the world. That’s what this one and this one were for. Instead I’d like to tell you a little more about my hurricane Katrina tour of New Orleans and what I saw there.
Before we get into it, I should point out that for the majority of the tour we were on the bus. It’s the only way to explore all the important sites in the space of three hours. In any other city I might have found this to be a problem, but I certainly didn’t mind escaping the New Orleanian summer heat.
There are three stops – an outdoor learning site near the levees, the Katrina Memorial and City Park. But you’ll see plenty along the way. One of the most harrowing discoveries we made were hand drawn crosses like the one above. These were used by rescuers to mark houses after they’d been combed through in search of survivors.
Similarly haunting was the Katrina Memorial at the Charity Hospital Cemetery. “This storm led to the greatest natural and man-made disaster in our nation’s history,” reads one of the tombstones, dedicated to those whose bodies were never claimed by their families.
Indeed, the majority of flooding was not caused by the hurricane itself but rather by breeches in the levee system intended to protect New Orleans. To understand why I recommend you read The Broken Promise of the Levees That Failed New Orleans or watch When the Levees Broke, a triple Emmy Award winning documentary by Spike Lee. The sad truth is that, in New Orleans, Katrina was as much about the power of nature as it was about human failure.
But New Orleans is a city of survivors. In the words of one of them, “as 80 percent of New Orleans started filling up with water ordinary citizens turned into superheroes“. If there’s one story Hurricane Katrina left in its wake it’s one of human resilience.
Twelve years since the catastrophe New Orleans has found its rhythm again. Some neighbourhoods, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, remain works in progress. Disadvantaged communities continue to be disproportionately affected. Friends and families are still grieving those they lost in the flood.
But that unwavering laissez les bons temps rouler sparkle burns in everyone’s eyes, much like our guide’s. You can feel it in every sun-baked cobblestone, every spoonful of Cajun spice and every jazzed up saxophonist on Frenchmen Street. New Orleans is letting the good times roll and nothing can stop it.
Have you ever been to New Orleans? Would you be interested in going on a Hurricane Katrina tour of the city, in light of recent events? Let me know in a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Disclaimer: I attended this tour free of charge, courtesy of GoBe. As always all opinions and images are my own.