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I can pinpoint the moment I became a hip-hop fan. It was October 1994 and I was 10 years old. I was returning from a school field trip to the Bunker Hill Monument, and the boys kept yelling at the bus driver, “One, two, three — NINETY-FOUR POINT FIVE!”

Any Bostonian will immediately recognize that number as Jam’n 94.5 — Boston’s hip-hop station.

The bus driver ignored the boys’ shouts for music. But I didn’t. As soon as I came home, I brought a radio into my room, turned it to 94.5, and felt my world break open. This was my music.

Within weeks I had made my first mix tape, filled with Craig Mack, Shaggy, 2Pac, Naughty by Nature, and the Notorious B.I.G. Soon I was using purple nail polish to paint over the “parental advisory” stickers on my album covers so that my parents wouldn’t notice. I was dancing to Coolio and LL Cool J at middle school dances, and my God, who in their right mind thought “Doin’ It” was a good song to play for sixth-graders?

Looking back, I wonder if my family thought it was a phase. It wasn’t. 24 years later, it’s hip-hop that keeps me awake when driving halfway across Finland. When my friends get pregnant, I ask them if I can play hip-hop when the baby is born. And when I contemplate the pressures I face at the confluence of success, art, and fandom, I turn to the words of Kendrick Lamar.

So when I decided to visit Cleveland, my biggest priority was to explore how hip-hop was represented at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What is Rock and Roll, Anyway?

A glass I.M. Pei-designed double pyramid on the shores of Lake Erie, the Hall is a celebration of subversion in music. Along with costumes and artifacts from artists across genres — David Bowie’s lightning bolt suit! Michael Jackson’s glove! Flavor Flav’s clock!! — you get a primer on history and influence of music across decades and borders.

Cleveland is an interesting choice for its location. While the city is often a punchline, the little city epitomizing Middle America, I found it to be full of surprises. Full of cultural treasures. Full of interesting people. And quite representative of America as a whole. After all, every four years the nation’s attention pivots to Cuyahoga county, its election turnout often a bellwether of an election.

So if there were any place to put your finger on the pulse of America, Cleveland is pretty much as close as you can get.

My big concern at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was whether black artists were given the appropriate credit for the creation of rock and roll. And then I was greeted by one of Biggie’s track suits and a message:

“The more immediate roots of rock and roll lay in the so-called “race” music, or rhythm and blues, and “hillbilly” music, or country & western, of the Forties and Fifties. Other significant influences include blues, jazz, gospel, boogie-woogie, folk and bluegrass…

Over the past five decades, rock and roll has evolved in many directions. Numerous styles of music — from soul to hip-hop, from heavy metal to punk, from progressive rock to electronic — have fallen under the rock and roll umbrella.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizes these different types of music and looks forward to seeing how rock and roll will continue to reinvent itself in the future.”

–Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Reading this message truly set a ton for what was to follow — a museum that honored artists in countless genres springing out of rock and roll.

And then there’s the Hall of Fame itself — the list of inductees, which began in 1986. Performers become eligible 25 years after their first single is released, and more than 900 historians, music industry members, and performers vote on the final nominees. In 2012 the Hall added a voting option, and the top five vote-getters from the public receive ballots as well. (Currently Stevie Nicks is in the lead for next year, and if inducted, she would be the first female double inductee.)

The first round of inductees included pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, as well as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and Buddy Holly. What I love about this list is that it’s so representative of black artists who are so often overlooked in the creation of rock and roll.

As I wandered the Hall, I smiled. I had nothing to worry about. The people who created this museum obviously take music very seriously and want to get it right. The people who complained about hip-hop artists being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are nothing but garden-variety internet trolls.

Well. Internet trolls can take various forms.

Hip Hop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip-hop artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a fitting debut — Grandmaster Flash was among the absolute earliest pioneers of hip-hop in the late 1970s.

Since then, only a handful of hip-hop artists have joined them: Run-DMC in 2009. The Beastie Boys in 2012. Public Enemy in 2013. N.W.A. in 2016. Tupac Shakur in 2017.

And not everyone has been happy about it.

KISS’s Gene Simmons was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. That year he told Radio.com, “You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing…If you don’t play guitar and you don’t write your own songs, you don’t belong there.”

This is the same guy who told Rolling Stone, “I am looking forward to the death of rap…Rap will die. Next year, 10 years from now, at some point, and then something else will come along. And all that is good and healthy.”

When you think of internet trolls amplified, think of Gene Simmons. Across America and the world, people like him are repeating that hip-hop and rock are so different — yet if they had actually set foot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they would know that wasn’t the case. It’s like saying that baguettes should be excluded from the Museum of Bread, but croissants are totally cool.

Rock and roll was built on a foundation laid by black artists — rhythms that began in Africa and was brought in bondage to the United States. Music that was refined and changed, that branched off into jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and R&B by black artists, and bluegrass, folk, and country by white artists. Music that twisted and turned, found its way back, and grew into something else entirely. Music for which black artists were compensated pennies on the dollars white artists received.

Plenty of people believe rock music started with the Beatles don’t realize that the Beatles’ biggest influence and collaborator was Little Richard. The Beatles sound like the Beatles only because of Little Richard. Think about that.

Yet so many of the white artists who learned from, were influenced by, and appropriated from black artists took all of the money, all of the credit, and all of the success, without giving credit or recognition.

Gene Simmons is the epitome of cultural appropriation in music. He and his bandmates built their success on the influence and inventions of black artists, then he turns to black artists doing the same exact thing as him and says, “You’re doing it wrong and you don’t deserve to be considered rock and roll.”

This exists in subtle ways as well. Compare Usher to Justin Timberlake. Similar age, similar breakout time, similar number of hits, similar blend of R&B and pop, both very talented in singing and dancing. Yet Usher, who was at his critical and commercial peak in 2004 with “Yeah!” and Confessions, never commanded anywhere near the radio play, ticket sales, collaborations, or endorsements of Justin Timberlake.

(Also, would a black artist be given chance after chance to become a leading actor after bombing so embarrassingly and continuously in half a dozen films? “Yeah, but Justin Timberlake’s great on SNL,” you say. Sure — and so is Drake. And Chance the Rapper is better than them both. But I digress.)

Basically, what I’m saying is I want Usher to be able to phone in a mediocre album à la The 20/20 Experience at the last minute and be given the longest performance slot at the Grammy Awards anyway.

Cultural appropriation in music can be hard to understand when so many artists are influenced by each other. It’s more than influence. This is a great resource to understand how it works.

Hip-hop is political, creative, protest music that breaks the rules — and if that’s not the essence of rock and roll, I don’t know what is.

Hip-hop is born out of the struggles of black people — for justice, for equality, for recognition, for money, for love. From Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to 2Pac’s “Changes” to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” the best political protest songs of the last 25 years have been in hip-hop. Chuck D once likened hip-hop to “CNN for black people.”

The average rap song is far more political and socially conscious than a song in any other genre today.

And yet hip-hop is constantly mischaracterized as being “inappropriate” music.

I can give you an example from just a few days ago. In a group chat with my friends, I mentioned that I was rapping Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man” to our friend’s three-month-old baby. (What can I say? That kid loves staring at the ceiling fan and I couldn’t resist bouncing him and singing, When the shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?)

“That’s not appropriate,” one friend said. “You shouldn’t say words like shit to him. I’d rather play my kids Backstreet Boys.”

I responded with three words. “Am I sexual?”

Nearly all pop music is far too mature for children — it just depends on whether it’s overt, subtle, or euphemistic. Just ask my friends who are resorting to playing children’s music, and tearing their hair out at its singsongy repetitions.

(For the record, the baby’s mom is cool with profanity for now. “He’s learning how people make noises. But when he gets older, we’ll cut out the profanity.”)

At the same time, it absolutely infuriates me that an album like To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar — a dense, dizzying intellectual ride and journey through the history of black music alongside black oppression from its beginnings until today, filled with shock and humor, easily the best, smartest, and most important album of the 21st century — can lose the Grammy for Album of the Year to Taylor Fucking Swift.

Because, you know, rap is inappropriate.

Fuck that. That album is smarter than anything else you’ve ever heard.

“Whether hip-hop primarily reflects the culture from which some of it arises — the violence, the despair, the sexism — or gives vent to the frustrations of that culture, remains a question. What is clear is that its main concerns, from simple human relationships to the burning social questions of the day, echo those of early rock and roll.

Hip-hop just pumped up the volume.”

–Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

White artists are allowed to sing about sex, drugs, and crime — yet it’s only hip-hop that gets consistently tainted as being the inappropriate music about drugs and violence and sex. Literally everything is about sex. Everything.

Even when Hamilton came out, the biggest musical of the century so far, I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “Is’t that rap? I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s appropriate.” Come the fuck on.

My hope is that more music fans recognize their prejudices against hip-hop and try, in good faith, to listen to the messages, understand where it’s coming from, and eventually be a fan. I mean, we live in the age of streaming. You can do it for free.

“Now, the question is, are we rock & roll? And I say, you goddamn right we rock & roll. Rock & roll is not an instrument, rock & roll is not even a style of music.

Rock & roll is a spirit. It’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. That’s what connects us all, that spirit.

Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock & roll, and that is us.”

–Ice Cube, at N.W.A.’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2016

Yes. Tupac deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as much as Pearl Jam.

Run-DMC deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as much as Metallica.

And N.W.A. deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as much as Deep Purple.

What’s next for hip-hop?

Next year, artists who released their first commercial recording in 1993 are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

That means we might be seeing Outkast on that stage — and I certainly hope we will. Outkast were the first Southern rappers to break through the East-West rivalry and they’re a big part the reason that Atlanta became the hip-hop center of the universe. So many of their songs, from “B.O.B.” to “Ms. Jackson,” defied genre while staying politically conscious — not to mention creating “Hey Ya,” the biggest hit of the early 2000s, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, one of only two albums ever to win Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards.

There are plenty more who are eligible as well. A Tribe Called Quest. Wu-Tang Clan. LL Cool J. Snoop Dogg. My top pick? Dr. Dre. While he was inducted as part of N.W.A., he deserves to be recognized on his own, and I fully expect him to be the first hip-hop double inductee.

So perhaps we will see new hip-hop inductees next year. Perhaps we won’t. But if not, well, you better get ready — artists like Jay-Z and Eminem are about to become eligible in the next few years.

“Rock and roll was never written for, or performed for, conservative tastes.”

–Frank Zappa

I come home from Cleveland and stop by my mailbox. Inside are cable bills who ignore my request to go paperless, an Athleta catalogue I didn’t ask for, a check for $69 from the one affiliate company who refuses to join the 21st century — and the latest issue of Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, arguably the whitest magazine around, with a you-forgot-the-people-of-color scandal nearly every year. But it’s some of the best intellectual writing around, and so I subscribe.

On this issue of Vanity Fair, there’s a face I don’t expect to see. A face that brings a smile to mine. And a headline. The Gospel According to Kendrick.

Kendrick, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

On the cover of Vanity Fair. With only his face and first name.

He’s not the first solo rapper to appear on the cover, not the first to be shot by Annie Leibovitz. But this feels…different. He’s not Jay-Z in his tuxedo jacket, talking about his businesses — he’s here as an intellectual leader.

I won’t be so audacious as to assume this means things are changing, that black artists will receive the money and credit they deserve, that white artists will eschew appropriation. But there’s something about seeing Kendrick Lamar on the cover, staring straight ahead with clear eyes, that suggests we might be heading in the right direction.

I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a guest of Destination Cleveland, who hosted me in full during my stay in the city. All opinions, as always, are my own.

The post Why Hip Hop Belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame appeared first on Adventurous Kate.

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Many years ago, I was reading an article in a magazine about how Starbucks adapts their store menus to the tastes of different American regions. There was a line that read, “For example, in Louisiana, we serve larger, sweeter cakes. Here, people want to linger.”

It’s funny how I’ve always remembered that. People want to linger. If any sentence sums up the friendly, vibrant people of New Orleans, that would be it.

New Orleans is a place where the days are languid, stretching out beneath the shade of an oak tree. You tell time in the beads of condensation on glasses. Every moment is meant to be savored — the wind in your hair as you ride the St. Charles Ave. streetcar, the long, sweet notes emanating from a trumpet in a Frenchman Street jazz club, the first sip of chicory-spiked coffee as you people-watch at Cafe du Monde.

To visit New Orleans is to learn the art of lingering. And for someone like me, that’s a particularly apt lesson.

I’m from Massachusetts, a commonwealth of fast-moving people who historically depended on speed for survival. The blood of my ancestors runs through my veins, screaming, “You better chop that wood faster or you’re going to freeze to death by January!”

Perhaps it’s hereditary, perhaps it’s nurture-based, but I am a speed demon at my core. I do everything in fast forward. And there have been times when I’ve forced myself to slow down, like when racing through the evening passegiatta in Italy. But rather than adjusting myself to a more normal timeline, I moved to New York City, arguably the fastest-paced city in the world.

But if you’re going to New Orleans, that won’t work.

The first test comes shortly after my arrival in New Orleans. I drop my bag off at the Cambria Hotel and head out for lunch at Willa Jean in a blazer and jeans, still dressed for a drizzly morning in New York. Google Maps tells me it’s a 10-minute walk, and I set off for a brisk walk-run — but soon the sun is blazing on my face, the humidity is puffing up my hair, sweat is pouring down my back and I’m realizing that this is not a city where you go anywhere in a hurry.

This isn’t Broadway, Kate, and you’re not late for Zumba, my higher self tells me.

I slow down to an amble, reach the restaurant, and order a lemonade with orange blossom. It’s floral and sweet — impossible to consume quickly. But like Starbucks and its larger, sweeter cakes, that’s the New Orleans way. Everything is designed for you to linger.

Two days later, I’m exploring the Garden District. I love this mansion-strewn neighborhood, where you can almost feel the spirits curling through the air. I’m walking off my turtle soup and browsing the wacky antique shops when a thunderstorm hits out of the blue. I head to a coffeeshop to wait it out, then after half an hour, check the radar and realize it’s going to last for hours. I call a Lyft to pick me up and pull on my backpack.

“Getting ready to go?” asks a woman sitting near me. She’s been enjoying an iced coffee with her husband since before I got there.

“Yeah,” I tell her with a shrug. “I just checked and it’s going to rain for hours. You’ll be trapped here awhile.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” she tells me, smiling at her husband. “We live here. We’re used to it,” he adds.

And I find myself wondering if my friendships would be stronger if I took a rainstorm as an opportunity to sit in conversation for hours, rather than head somewhere dry and solitary.

My speedy tendencies continue the next day at the Bayou Boogaloo. If you want to experience a festival in New Orleans but avoid the crowds of amateurs, this is a great place to do so. Musical acts are performing on stage, art is for sale in every direction, and hundreds of New Orleanians are lounging on various floats in the bayou, which in this urban setting looks more like a canal.

“Just bring it back in an hour,” says the attendant as I hop into a kayak. “Sure,” I reply. It’s my first time in a kayak since Antarctica and I’m struck at how much easier it is to paddle when you’re not wearing layers of winter clothing and hauling pounds of photography gear and a second human behind you.

Let’s see how fast I can go! I speed up, doing hairpin turns, sliding between floats, and navigating my way through the bayou with ease.

Let’s see how many photos I get! I snap photos like crazy, trying to maximize my time, getting the most adorable photos of the swimming dogs.

And realize…I’m the only one acting this way.

Everyone is here to lounge. To make conversation. To make new friends. It’s the NOLA way.

You seriously have to relax, Kate.

Fine.

I summon every bit of introvert’s energy I have and say hello to the next float that goes by, an orange raft filled with twenty-somethings, a cardboard-and-duct-tape tent miraculously engineered to give them a bit of shade. They can’t believe that someone from New York actually showed up to this festival! After a few minutes, they offer me a swig of whiskey direct from the bottle. I kindly decline and thank them as I paddle on.

Slowly. Deliberately. Savoring each moment, the way you should in New Orleans.

Travel doesn’t change your true self so much as it reveals it. Maybe I’m able to refine the edges a tad, learning a bit of patience here, training myself to walk slowly there, but ultimately, I’m a veritable Speedy Gonzalez at heart.

And then on my final morning, my Ancestry DNA results arrive in my inbox. It turns out I have a lot of Acadian blood. The Acadians were the French who settled in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada, then later moved to New Orleans, where “Acadian” became “Cajun.”

Maybe I was too quick to assume my identity. Maybe I was surrounded by family all along.

When I get home, I step off the plane and say hello to the two attendants waiting with wheelchairs. I smile and it hits me like lightning — this is the first time I have ever had the urge to say hi to these people. And I fly a few times a month.

An airline employee is waiting by the door, looking up into the air and ignoring everyone. And…I feel hurt. Why isn’t she welcoming us?

My Lyft driver brings me home to Harlem and I groan as I get out of the car — it’s after midnight, my neighbors are blasting music loud enough to shake the sidewalk, and I’ll probably have to call 311 again if they refuse to turn it down.

“Can you believe that?” I say to my driver. “Isn’t that so loud? They’ve been so awful since Cinco de Mayo, blasting music until 3 AM…”

“Yep!” he says, getting back in his car and driving away.

In that moment, I miss New Orleans so much, my heart aches. A New Orleans driver would have commiserated, shared stories of his own, listed his favorite sleep remedies, and who knows, maybe even offered me a place to stay.

That’s what I took home with me from New Orleans. A softness. A slowness. A friendliness. I come home valuing it more than ever before, and against all odds, it changed me, too.

Did you enjoy this post? Check out One Time in New Orleans for more stories from the city.

This campaign is brought to you by New Orleans and Company, who hosted me in New Orleans and covered my expenses. All opinions, as always, are my own.

The post In New Orleans, The Sweet Art of Stillness appeared first on Adventurous Kate.

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Is this the only month of my life that I’ll begin in the Middle East and end in the Caribbean? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m fairly certain it will be the only month I begin in Lebanon and end in St. Croix!

This was an extremely busy travel month — far more so than I thought it would be. Rather than just the tail end of my trip to Europe, I ended up on spur-of-the-moment day trips to Fire Island and Philadelphia, and when a last-minute getaway to St. Croix arrived, I said a very enthusiastic yes.

Destinations Visited

Beirut, Tyre, Anjar, Baalbek, and Ksara, Lebanon

Larnaka, Nicosia, and Paphos, Cyprus

Lefkoša (Nicosia) and Girne (Kyrenia), North Cyprus

Amsterdam, Netherlands

New York and Fire Island, New York

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Christiansted, Buck Island, and Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

Favorite Destinations

Fire Island is my new favorite day trip from New York. And I’d love to stay overnight, too.

Tyre was an unexpected highlight. I felt the positive vibes from the moment I arrived and it gave me joy from beginning to end.

St. Croix was just awesome. A kickass little island in the Caribbean I hadn’t considered visiting until now.

Highlights

My best days in Lebanon. I finished out the trip with my favorite day trip — the awesome town of Tyre, complete with seaside ruins and a mother and son who adopted me for about half an hour (and tried to pair me up with their son/brother). The next day I entered Hezbollah territory, got extremely close to the Syrian border, and visited the ruins of Anjar and Baalbek. I finished with a night out in Beirut with Asdghik and a promise to return.

Making it to Cyprus, my final country in Europe! I’ve been working on this goal for years, and it felt amazing to finally get it done. Cyprus was lovely, and I wish I had the energy to explore more than I did, but I was exhausted after the Traverse Rotterdam conference and Lebanon trip back-to-back.

For me, the biggest highlights were exploring the divided capital of Nicosia, wandering the port in Girne, eating AN ENORMOUS MEAL big enough to feed several people at Zanettos, and being taken care of by a family at the most wonderful guesthouse, the Asty Hotel, a place I booked on a whim and fell in love with. I look forward to writing about Cyprus and telling you more about it.

A beautiful day trip to Fire Island. I went with blogger friends Jessie and Victoria and my friend Kirsty whom I met in Antarctica and who just moved here from Australia. Did you know you can buy $37 day trip tickets that include train, shuttle and ferry both ways? Such a great deal!

We spent time lounging on the beach by Ocean Beach and chilling out at the very Long Island Flynn’s bar in Seaview. I loved the beach houses and the fact that no cars are allowed on the island.

Fire Island is the place I always knew as the setting of Baby-Sitters Club book #76, Stacey’s Lie, and it was so cool to finally visit a place that I had been imagining for 20+ years. (Also, can we agree that Stacey has the most fucked up family dynamics in the BSC? Her dad is kind of the worst.)

A kickass, hilarious trip to St. Croix. I’ve done a lot of group press trips over the past seven years, but this was one of the most fun trips ever — it was up there with South Africa in 2012, Scotland in 2013, South Africa in 2013, and Western Australia in 2016. And a huge part of that was traveling with an awesome group of people. I laughed until my sides ached.

But beyond that, I learned a ton. This trip was a campaign with Spirit Airlines, whom I had never flown before (though most people who came on my Central American tours flew down for cheap on Spirit, so I was somewhat familiar with them). I thought they were just a regular low-cost carrier, but after learning about their company and having experienced four Spirit flights, I am incredibly impressed by them, their commitment to improvement, and where they stand today. Count me as a new, very enthusiastic fan of Spirit. I hope to fly with them again — maybe to a new country like Ecuador, or Panama, or Jamaica, or Peru…

As for St. Croix, it’s an awesome island that I never considered visiting before. I loved snorkeling off Buck Island, exploring Alexander Hamilton’s hometown of Frederiksted, hanging out on the boardwalk in Christiansted at night (FUN times there), and our hotel, The Buccaneer Hotel (as seen on The Bachelor!) was excellent — great beaches, pool, and people.

Exploring new places in New York. My friend Sabina visited and we enjoyed the most gorgeous sunset on top of the Standard. (And, um, a drunken Australian guy who took off all his clothes and cannonballed into the four-foot-deep pool.) Trips on the Staten Island Ferry, trivia nights, Central Park strolls, the first New York Travel Massive in forever, brunches, a pizza crawl with Mindi and Daryl, and lots of good times with friends.

Protesting in Philadelphia. I heard Mike Pence was going to Philadelphia for a Republican fundraiser, so I took the train down to Philly and joined the crowd at Rittenhouse Square protesting the Trump Administration’s inhumane practice of separating immigrant children from their parents.

Finally getting some much-needed projects done in the apartment. I had been dragging my feet for months, but I finally got a fire lit under me to hire a Taskrabbit. In two hours, he put together a bookcase, installed my second air conditioner, hung a ton of artwork, and drilled a heavy mirror into the wall (a task I attempted myself and failed). My Tasker was awesome and I’m going to hire him to do some painting soon. Once I finish, I hope to give you guys a tour of my new place! I have SO much more stuff than I did two years ago!

I absolutely LOVE TaskRabbit — get $20 off your first task here.

Two big news features! I was interviewed for two big publications within a week on the same topic: fake influencers who scam their way into travel comps. Here’s the piece on the Telegraph and here’s the piece on Buzzfeed News.

Fitness milestones! I’ve been making lots of progress at the gym, lifting more weight than ever and feeling awesome while doing it. Things have changed at the gym. I used to be singularly focused on aesthetics, but now lifting weights is what pushes me.

Challenges

Losing Uncle Tony. I think the unexpected passing of Anthony Bourdain hurt many of us deeply. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook:

What an absolute devastating loss.

I call him Uncle Tony. Every time I do, a few of you ask, “Is he really your uncle?” Nah. But that just goes to show you how I view him: equal parts sage and loving, infinitely knowledgeable and eager to tell you things your parents wouldn’t.

Anthony Bourdain changed how all of us travel. Since I began my travel blogging career in 2010, there has been an enormous change in the influence of food on travel. Culinary travel used to be about dining in the best restaurants with the most famous chefs; in the past decade, street food cooked by regular people has become the essence of traveling for food. Bourdain did not invent that concept — but he popularized it to the mainstream.

And perhaps the most important thing he did was teach us how to interact with people on our travels. He didn’t have a shred of condescension in his body. Whether he was rollicking it up in a Russian sauna, surrounded by vodka and cured meats, or a sitting on the ground in a home in Laos with victims of America’s secret bombing campaign, he was there to eat and listen to their stories as an equal, not as someone looking down on them.

Bourdain was also one of the most influential figures on my own career. His many rants about Emeril and other chefs have caused me to be more cautious, to be in a position where I only work on products that I’m fiercely proud of — not products that I have no choice but to promote because there are too many people financially depending on the Adventurous Kate Machine. He’s also inspired me to visit places that don’t get enough coverage, like Hokkaido and Lebanon and Ukraine, rather than being the umpteenth person writing about Whatever Destination Has The Most Money This Year.

Since the deaths of Bourdain and Kate Spade this week, I’ve seen a very common phrase on social media: “Just goes to show that all the money and success in the world can’t buy happiness.” Okay, I am going to stop you RIGHT THERE. We don’t say, “Just goes to show that all the money and success in the world can’t buy a body free of cancer cells.”

Suicide isn’t about happiness or sadness. Depression is a disease that warps your brain chemistry and changes your thoughts. People who take their own lives genuinely believe that the world and their loved ones would be better off with them gone.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, there are so many people who can help you. These thoughts are not normal. Please reach out to a loved one, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at +1 800-273-8255. You can chat online 24/7 at suicidepreventionhotline.org. If you’d rather text, people in the States can text HOME to 741741 to the Crisis Text Line 24/7. You can get a list of international providers here: https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

RIP, Uncle Tony, and thank you for all the joys you brought to our lives.

Not a challenge for me personally, but worth mentioning here: we had not one but two medical emergencies on our Spirit flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale en route to St. Croix. That wasn’t a big deal — things like this happen, the crew was caring and professional, we had doctors and nurses on board who stepped up to help, and it wasn’t so serious that we needed to make an emergency landing.

But I was absolutely DISGUSTED by one blowhard of a passenger who insisted he had the right to get off before the paramedics got on to take care of the sick passengers, even though the captain ordered everyone to stay in their seats until they got the people out. This awful man, with his wife and son, insisted on leaving first. I came so close to calling out, “Excellent parenting, by the way! What an example to set for your child!” but, you know, I was working and that probably wouldn’t have been the best idea. And the flight attendant gave him a contemptuous, “I hope you’re never sick on a plane, sir,” so at least there was that.

Apathy. Maybe it’s the arrival of warmer temperatures, but I didn’t write nearly as many blog posts as I planned. I hope to get back into it soon.

Most Popular Post

On Visiting Every European Country, and Goals that Matter — What it feels like to finally achieve my biggest travel goal.

Other Posts

Solo Female Travel in Lebanon — Is it Safe? — I was so excited to dispel myths about Lebanon in this post!

A Weekend at the Wylder Hotel in Tilghman Island, Maryland — I had a sweet weekend at this unexpected destination, an easy weekend getaway from New York.

Most Popular Instagram Photo

How cute are these little cacti in St. Croix? A perfect image for Pride! For more photos and stories from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

What I Wore This Month

I bought some cool clothes this month and I’d love to share them with you! I wouldn’t say I’m going to go full fashion blogger but I love these items so much, I just want to talk about them!

I signed up for Rent the Runway Update — you get to choose four pieces per month and keep them all month, then send them back for four more. So far I really like it — but I recommend you choose casual pieces rather than fancy ones. I am obsessed with this Alessandra denim skirt by N12H (above, paired with a $2 crop top I got in Albania) — I think I’ll be keeping it.

The problem with Rent the Runway is that the clothes tend to be a few seasons old, so I can’t tell you guys where to buy the items because they’re no longer sold.

If you’d like to try Rent the Runway in any way, get $30 off your first order here.

HOW AMAZING IS THIS WATERMELON ROMPER?! I was obsessed from the moment I saw it. Sure, it takes a lot of steps when you have to pee (undo boob double-knot, waist hook, zipper), but it’s such a cute and unique item. The high waist is super flattering, even if you have a belly. You can get it here.

Fun fact: I never wore a romper as an adult until last year — but now I wear them all the time. They’re like dresses, only they give you more leeway in movement. I love this One Clothing romper, and it only costs $45. You can get it here.

And finally — THE $11 UNDERBOOB BIKINI. As soon as underboob bikinis became a thing, I knew I had to have one. And it cost me $11. Eleven bloody dollars. How could I not buy it?!

Oh my God, I love this bikini more than life itself. It’s HILARIOUS. And sexy. Definitely not for everyone, but if you’re curious, go for it! FINALLY THAT FRECKLE IS SEEING THE LIGHT OF DAY.

You can get the bikini here, in several different colors. Do note that the price could be higher. I usually wear a 6 or 8 in regular clothes but the large (estimated to be 10-12) fit me better, and it’s still a bit revealing on the butt, so you’ll probably want to size up. I paired it with this beautiful beach kimono which is made of the softest non-wrinkling fabric. I bought one for Cailin too for our trip to St. Croix!

One last thing — shoes. I have arch issues and most shoes cause me pain, so I buy almost all my shoes from The Walking Company. My favorite brand by them is ABEO. I honestly hadn’t bought myself sandals (excluding orthotic flip-flops) since before I started traveling..

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I landed in Cyprus with a smile. More than 17 years after I first set foot on the European continent, I had visited every country in Europe. (47 countries by my count, which includes all UN-recognized nations plus Kosovo and the Vatican. I count Turkey but I don’t count the Caucasus.)

To be honest, I can’t remember when that became my goal. Maybe somewhere around 2013 or 2014? I realized I was visiting so many different European countries, and it might be cool to visit all of them.

I love Europe. No, that’s not strong enough. I adore this continent, and have since I first set foot on it as a sixteen-year-old in 2001.

Kate’s Europe Timeline
  • 2001: France, Ireland, UK
  • 2004: Italy, Vatican, Monaco, Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland
  • 2006: Belgium
  • 2011: Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Turkey
  • 2012: Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Faroe Islands (Denmark), Sweden
  • 2013: Netherlands, San Marino, Malta, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Romania
  • 2014: Slovenia, Finland, Norway
  • 2015: Andorra, Greece, Albania, Serbia, Latvia
  • 2017: Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia
  • 2018: Cyprus

Europe is my place — from the elegant streets of Paris and St. Petersburg to the rocky Adriatic beaches of Albania and Croatia, from the peaceful pine forests of Finland to the mountains of Austria.

And…part of me feels like I belong in Europe. Long-term.

I usually roll my eyes when someone says, “Wow, I BELONG in this place I discovered on vacation!” but I honestly, after all these trips, I feel like half of my heart is in Europe and the other half is in the US. I’m very American in mindset, but much more European in temperament.

In an ideal world, I would split my time between New York and Paris. Or maybe London, Berlin or Amsterdam. (Germany’s artist visa would make Berlin the easiest option.) If I’m going to be living there half the time, it has to be a big city where I have lots of friends.

This isn’t the time, though. America needs people on the ground fighting for justice.

Fact: I didn’t have style until I turned 30. This photo was taken when I was 29 years and 11 months old in Zadar, Croatia. Is that a black and white checked belt?!?!

This matters because it matters to me.

To be honest, visiting every country in Europe seems like a small, cute, easy goal compared to what my friends are doing. But only because of the circles in which I run. I have several friends who are working toward visiting every country in the world, who are at well over 100 countries with no sign of stopping.

And that’s when I smack myself in the face and remind myself that my experience is atypical, as is my circle of friends. I shouldn’t minimize this accomplishment; this is something I worked hard to achieve, even with the privilege I had to make it possible in the first place.

But there are a few things about this achievement that make me particularly happy.

I’m happy that I traveled deliberately. Sure, I could have visited every country in Europe within a few months — hell, I even know a couple that did it in 30 days, during which they would arrive in a country, do a quick loop around the city center, then leave — but I didn’t want to do that. It always makes me cringe when I see a blogger land in a capital, spend a day and a half, say, “Country done!” and move on to the next place.

My goal is usually to visit three destinations within each country (microstates excluded), to at least get a sense of what different regions have to offer. I don’t always succeed — sometimes due to limited time (Slovakia), sometimes due to bad weather (Latvia) or cancelled tours (Estonia), sometimes due to exhaustion (Luxembourg). But I try to make an effort when possible.

I’m glad that I financed these travels myself. No rich family members, no rich partners. When I took friends, family, and partners on my travels, I bankrolled most if not all of it, either with my own money or in exchange for my work. And for the last two and a half years, I did it while simultaneously paying for an apartment in Manhattan that I didn’t rent out once.

I’m proud that I planned my travels cannily. Over the past few years, I’ve used conferences and campaigns to subsidize the other trips. Speaking in Scotland and Germany? In between I went to Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg. Speaking in Romania? Afterward I went to Moldova and Ukraine. Working in Finland? Afterward I went to Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia. Speaking in the Netherlands? Afterward I went to Cyprus.

On each of those trips, flights from New York were covered so I saved on long-haul airfare. And nobody ever cares when you want to stay longer than the conference or campaign.

This is a fantastic way to maximize your business travels — add on a few extra days and visit somewhere nearby. You’ll save a ton in airfare. But even if you’re not a business traveler, you can do the same thing if you need to travel for a wedding or family event. Just add on a few days.

I don’t want to go to every country in the world.

That might seem like the next logical step, but I couldn’t have less desire to travel to every country. Why? Because I know it will turn into a burden. Imagine being a year into this goal and feeling exhausted, and just wanting to go to Italy and eat pasta, but all your time and money needs to be spent on trips to Kiribati. And Suriname. And Central African Republic.

I don’t want to get to the point where I hate travel. Some of my friends have ended up in that position. And associating travel with burdens would do that to me.

Plus, I love my life in New York. I currently spend about 75% of my time in the city, and that feels like a good amount for me at this point in time. I love my routines, I love my friends, I love a special little baby who is looking more like a little boy each day. I’d actually be open to traveling even less than I am now, but as my fellow itchy-footed travel people know, it’s very easy to succumb to temptation.

So, what’s next?

Nothing at the moment.

Really?

Really.

You’re not going to do another continent?

Nah. I mean, it would be nice to visit my two remaining countries in Central America, Honduras and Panama (though technically I drove overnight through Honduras so you could count it, though I don’t). But beyond that, I don’t have any desire to do so.

Europe was special to me. I love Central America fiercely, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to Europe.

So are you done visiting Europe now?

Hell to the no. Europe is still my favorite continent and a place that I adore. Plus, the wisdom of a traveler is realizing that the more places you visit, the more you realize you haven’t scraped the surface.

In fact, I feel a great freedom now. The next time I have a conference or campaign in Europe, I don’t have an obligation to visit Belarus or Moldova or Serbia. I can explore Italy more extensively! Walk the Camino de Santiago! Visit my Balkan oversights, like Piran in Slovenia, Kravice Falls in Bosnia, and Vis in Croatia! Explore a ton of cities along the Rhine I’ve already visited — but at Christmas!

So…where do I want to go next?

Karersee, South Tyrol. Image by Eirien

My NEW Most Wanted Destinations in Europe

South Tyrol, Italy. I’m nuts for mountains and this is one of the most spectacular mountain destinations in Europe. South Tyrol is home to the spectacular Dolomites, and while it’s technically Italy, the landscape and food are more similar to Austria or Germany.

San Sebastian, Spain. One of the best culinary destinations in the world. I’ve been intrigued by Basque Country since reading The Sun Also Rises for the first time when I was seventeen. This would be the place to pintxo bar-hop like never before.

Northern Norway. Norway is one of the most visually spectacular countries in Europe, but I’ve only been to Bergen and the surrounding fjords. But the far north is where it gets really gorgeous, especially around the Lofoten Islands. And the Northern Lights viewing is great up there.

Lviv, Ukraine. Ukraine surprised me with its loveliness last year, and apparently I missed the most beautiful city of all: Lviv. From what I’ve seen it looks like Krakow and Ljubljana, two of my favorite European cities.

Corsica. This island south of the mainland in France has occupied my thoughts for a long time: its cliffs, its beaches, its food. I especially like that it isn’t overly discovered by international tourists. For now.

Cornwall, England. I consider myself an “accidental Anglophile” and have seen so much of Britain — but this southwest peninsula eludes me. It’s home to beaches that look like they’re part of the Mediterranean, and gorgeous rolling hills. Plus a cool pirate-y accent.

Finnish Lapland. Finland is a county I love dearly, but I’ve only been in the summer. I think I’m overdue for a winter visit in Lapland — all the snow, all the ice swimming, all the early pink sunsets. And maybe a dogsled ride or two.

Fact: By the time I turned 33, I found my style. Tom Ford sunglasses, Zara leather jacket, silver earrings from El Salvador, dress from Albania. Pictured in Minsk.

Sweet Satisfaction

I feel very content right now with my travels. And that’s a bit unusual. Happiness is one thing; contentment is something different altogether. I’m used to feeling restless and driven, already planning my next trip (and let’s be realistic, one or two more trips) before I’ve even finished the first.

For me, getting to my final country in Europe meant a lot to me. I’m going to be riding this pleasant buzzy feeling for a long time.

Stay tuned — I can’t wait to write a post about my absolute favorite places in Europe! Maybe the top 50 places overall, with special distinction for the top 10? I’ve been thinking about this!

What is one of your special travel achievements?

The post On Visiting Every European Country, and Goals that Matter appeared first on Adventurous Kate.

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I just got back from my first trip to Lebanon, and I traveled solo. I had a great time! As a woman who writes about solo female travel for a living, I purposely went to Lebanon because there is almost no information online about traveling Lebanon alone as a woman. I wanted to do the on-the-ground research for myself.

And so I planned a fact-finding trip to Lebanon. I visited for five full days and six nights, basing myself in Beirut and visiting different regions of the country each day. I wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible about traveling in Lebanon, so I visited four very different parts of the country and did so by organized tour, by a private driver (via Uber and taxi) and by public transportation.

What I found was a treasure of a country.

So what did I get up to in Lebanon, anyway?

I wandered through one of the last forests of the Cedars of God, the trees cited in the Bible.

I floated on a boat through underground caves, the water lit up in bright blue.

I climbed through the largest Roman temple on the planet.

I ate freshly caught calamari while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

I met a mother and son and spent half an hour having coffee with them and attempting to make conversation with only two words we both understood: “shukran” (thank you) and “habibi” (darling).

I talked, laughed, and told stories over drinks with lots of new Lebanese friends in Beirut.

Yes. It was absolutely worth it to come to Lebanon — a country that is too often labeled as a dangerous place. In this in-depth post, I’m going to tell you what it’s actually like to travel Lebanon as a woman on her own.

(Do note that this post should only serve as the beginning of your personal research. The information listed is accurate as of the date of publication; be sure to research Lebanon’s safety closer to the time of your visit.)

Traveling Lebanon isn’t as dangerous as people think, even if you’re a woman on your own.

Now, what makes people think Lebanon isn’t safe? Violence and Islamic extremism. Let’s talk about them both, frankly and openly.

First up, violence. Lebanon had a 25-year civil war and it lasted from 1975 until 1990. That sounds recent and relevant until you point out that I’m 33 years old now and I turned six years old in 1990. It’s been a long time.

A more recent war in Lebanon took place in 2006. It was between Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah, and it lasted only 34 days.

In other words, there hasn’t been any war in Lebanon in 12 years.

Violence beyond that does happen in Lebanon — but it’s both rare and random. Kind of like gun violence in the United States, or terror attacks in France. Impossible to predict or control — but very rare, and not reflective of every travel experience by a mile.

Lebanon takes safety seriously — there is a military presence throughout the country, and you often pass checkpoints on the road. (When I traveled by group tour, none of the buses were checked; when I traveled by public transit, only men were checked.)

Second, Islamic extremism. Many people believe that the Middle East is a hotbed of Islamic extremism, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of these people are rampantly Islamophobic; others are simply unaware and repeating half-heard sound bites from friends and cable news.

Lebanon is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. It has 18 recognized religions (!!) and a large percentage of nonbelievers. Lebanon is roughly 55% Muslim (split almost evenly between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims) and about 40% Christian (around half Maronite Catholics with large Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic and Armenian Orthodox communities). Churches and mosques are placed close together; Lebanese of all faiths worship side by side in peace.

I kept thinking to myself that Lebanon reminded me of the Balkans — only on a much larger scale. Not only are the landscapes and architecture similar, but they also have a similar cultural mix, with Muslims and Christians living together in harmony.

Many people think every country in the Middle East is like Saudi Arabia: a strict country where religion controls everything, your wardrobe is policed, terrorists are nurtured, and women have few rights. Compare that to Lebanon, where you can drink beer on the street. In a miniskirt. During Ramadan.

As I always say, consider the source. When someone is telling you it’s not safe to travel to Lebanon, ask yourself the following questions: Does this person travel? Does this person travel in your style of traveling? Has this person been to Lebanon? Has this person traveled to Lebanon recently? Those should be your starting points.

And if your source doesn’t match up, you should listen to people who do travel and have been there recently. Like me.

How to Stay Safe in Lebanon

I encourage you to start by reading the US State Department travel advisory and UK travel safety advice for Lebanon.

While I’m American, I often find US travel warnings to be excessively cautious and somewhat alarmist. For example, the Philippines is perpetually on the warning list due to terror activity in the Sulu Archipelago; that would be like giving the US a travel warning because a few random islands in Alaska are home to a terrorist group, even though most people aren’t going anywhere near a few random islands in Alaska and they can easily be avoided.

I find the UK warnings give a more nuanced view of what precautions to take country. They point out specific areas where more caution should be exercised — like the towns north of Tripoli, the far south near the Israeli border, and Palestinian refugee camps.

This post by Against the Compass is an excellent resource for travel safety in Lebanon. It’s updated periodically with the latest safety information. I encourage you to save it and take a closer look before your trip.

Where to Stay in Lebanon: Use Beirut As Your Base

Lebanon is a small country — you can get almost anywhere within a two-hour drive of Beirut. Because of that, it makes sense to use Beirut as a base and travel from there.

While there are drivers saying, “Taxi?” everywhere you go in Beirut, I preferred to get around by Uber. Most trips around Beirut cost me less than $5.

There are lots of good hotels in Beirut and they’re quite reasonably priced. I stayed at the Radisson Blu Martinez, which is located centrally in the Hamra neighborhood. My room was a bit dated and in need of a refurbishing, but it had fast internet (very rare in Lebanon) and all the amenities I needed. Rates from $75 per night.

If you like something quirky and Instagrammable, check out the Smallville Hotel. It’s Superman themed! I attended a Travel Massive meetup there and really enjoyed the rooftop bar. Rates from $115 per night.

Find deals on hotels in Beirut here.

Traveling Solo in Lebanon by Organized Tour

If you’re nervous about traveling in Lebanon, taking group tours from Beirut is a great (as well as economical) way to see the country.

I did two organized tours on my trip: one to Anjar, Baalbek, and Ksara and one to the Cedars. They are bilingual tours given in French and English.

Here are some of the most popular tours:

  • Anjar, Baalbek, and Ksara — I did this tour and recommend it. See two sets of ruins (Anjar and Baalbek) that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then go wine tasting in Ksara.
  • Cedars, Bcharré, and Kozhaya — I did this tour and recommend it if you want to see the Cedars and/or a lot of mountain scenery; otherwise, I don’t think it’s essential. Know that the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cedars park is tiny, but a nice walk. Bcharré is home to an unremarkable Gibran museum but a GORGEOUS view; Kozhaya is home to a very cool monastery carved into the rocks.
  • Byblos, Jeita Grotto and Harissa — I visited Byblos and Jeita Grotto via Uber/taxi but skipped Harissa. I don’t think it’s necessary to do this as a group tour; it’s close to Beirut. I preferred doing my own thing and having time to explore. Byblos is a gorgeous village home to UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins; Harissa has outstanding views down to the coast, and Jeita Grotto is home to glorious cave systems underground.
  • Tyre, Sidon and Maghdouche — I visited Tyre via public transportation and could have easily added Sidon as well; I don’t think this one is necessary to do as a group tour. Tyre is a great little city home to UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins; Sidon is famous for its souks and Sea Castle, and Maghdouche has some great views.
  • There’s also an Anjar, Baalbek and Kozhaya tour that combines the ruins of the Beqaa Valley with the Cedars in a slightly longer trip. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have done it to give myself an extra day.

These tours are pretty much all done by the same tour company in Lebanon, who will pick you up from your hotel. A big Lebanese feast is served for lunch; I liked all the food we had. They also stop for breakfast and coffee, but you have to pay for what you get there. Most of my fellow travelers were older European couples.

The tours each cost around $80-100, including entrance fees and lunch, which works out to be a lot less than hiring a driver for the day.

Was it cheesy? A bit. But I think it was a good way to explore the further reaches of Lebanon, especially since the Cedars and the Beqaa Valley are either far or complicated to get to. There was about four hours of driving on the Cedars trip and I relished having the time to read.

Traveling Solo in Lebanon with a Private Driver

Many people hire a private driver for the day when they come to Lebanon. This is the most efficient way to see the destinations you want at a pace that works for you. Rates from agencies in Beirut start at around $175 per day. However, pretty much every taxi driver in Lebanon will offer their services to you and negotiate that rate down. The lowest I was personally offered was $150.

As a solo traveler, I did not want to spend $150 per day on a driver alone. It just seemed outlandishly expensive. If I were splitting that with others, the price would be more reasonable.

However, it seems like everyone in Beirut “has a guy” for driving and can get you a cheaper rate, sometimes as cheap as $100 per day. If you have any Lebanese friends or acquaintances, ask if they have a driver they recommend. If you want to find Lebanese friends, read below for how to meet people.

Traveling Solo by Uber and Taxi

Uber is available in the Beirut area, and it’s much cheaper than what local taxis charge, so I decided to try this method for a day trip instead of hiring a driver. I started by summoning an Uber to take me to Jeita Grotto, about a 35-minute drive from Beirut.

There was no way to access internet at Jeita Grotto and I didn’t have a SIM card, so I negotiated with a driver waiting in the parking lot to take me to Byblos (Jbail), another 30 minutes away. I had done research in advance and knew that an Uber would cost around $15, though you’ll never get a local driver to agree to Uber prices; we started at $35 and negotiated down to $20.

Summoning an Uber from Byblos was much harder — I got internet from a cafe, but it’s an hour’s drive from Beirut. On the first two tries, nobody was available; on the third try, a driver accepted the fare. Had there been nobody available, I would have gotten a taxi.

I was very happy with this method of travel; I feel like this was the perfect combination of having time and freedom to do my thing and not having to pay through the nose for a private driver. It’s worth noting that Byblos is pretty close to Beirut, so this would probably be the best place to do this method.

Do note that in 2017, a British embassy worker was murdered by an Uber driver. Shortly after, the Lebanese Interior Minister released a statement urging the Lebanese not to use Uber and to use local taxis instead. I didn’t let that dissuade me. In a country like Lebanon, where most of the drivers are unregistered and unofficial, I actually thought using Uber added a layer of safety.

Note: women should not sit in the front seat of a taxi; culturally, women are expected not to talk with the driver beyond giving directions.

Traveling Solo by Public Transportation

I didn’t want to leave Lebanon without traveling by public transportation. At first my local friends were horrified that I would subject myself to public transportation in Lebanon (!), but this was ultimately a wonderful experience and I wish I had done more of it elsewhere.

One of my expat friends in Beirut likes taking the bus and she gave me tips: “The front two rows are unofficially reserved for women. Sit next to a woman. Don’t wear a tank top; wear longer sleeves. Put in headphones if someone bothers you. You pay when you get out.”

There are several pickups around Beirut. If you’re heading south to Tyre (Sour) or Sidon (Saida), like I did, head to Cola Intersection.

Beirut to Sidon was supposed to take about an hour; the driver got there in 45 minutes. When we got to the drop-off, I paid the driver 2,000 Lebanese pounds ($1.33) and said, “Sour?” as soon as I stepped off and I was shown where the bus to Tyre (Sour) was. Another 45 minutes, another 2,000 pounds, and I was in Tyre.

Both of these minibus trips were beyond easy. I found seats in the front rows next to women; the one time a man sat next to me, it was due to there being nowhere else to sit, and he left a good six inches of space between us (that would NEVER happen in New York). Do know that on buses you’ll probably be surrounded by people who speak only Arabic, not English or French.

Honestly, considering how easy this was, I wouldn’t dream of hiring a driver or going on a group tour to Tyre and Sidon. $5 round-trip compared to $80+ for a group tour or $175 for a private driver? How can you even compare?!

There was just one thing — on the way back to Beirut, the driver dropped me in the middle of a busy intersection rather than taking me back to Cola Intersection. I asked him to take me back to Cola; he refused. I stepped out and said, “Taxi?” and a guy on the corner hailed a shared taxi for me. And by shared taxi, I mean a random guy.

Hiring a Car in Lebanon

It’s definitely possible to rent a car in Lebanon and explore that way, but I would only recommend doing so if 1) you are an extremely skilled driver and 2) you relish driving in environments where the drivers are absolutely crazy.

The driving in Lebanon is insane. People weave in and out of lines and make the rules up as they go, ignoring traffic lights and doing U-turns where no U-turns should be possible.

However, it seems like the Lebanese all abide by the same lack of rules. I tend to categorize countries with unusually bad driving as either in the style of Vietnam or Malta. In Vietnam, there are no rules, but all drivers seem to be in sync in terms of the driving style. In Malta, the rules of driving are normal, but lots of drivers are incredibly reckless. I compare Lebanese driving to Vietnamese driving more than Maltese driving.

If you’re anything less than an expert at driving in rough conditions, don’t rent a car in Lebanon. I wouldn’t do it in a million years.

What Women Should Wear in Lebanon

Lebanon as a country varies quite a bit — some parts feel very European and some parts feel very Middle Eastern. Again, it’s a mix of cultures and religions, so you don’t have to hold yourself to what your image of “traditional Middle Eastern wear” would be. When I arrived in Beirut, I wore a loose short-sleeved top and jeans and went out to see what local women were wearing.

During my May and June trip, I saw that skinny jeans and a short-sleeved or sleeveless top was the most common look for women in Beirut. You did occasionally see a woman wearing a skirt or dress, but not nearly as common as jeans. I also noticed that few women displayed their cleavage unless it were a private event or in a more liberal area (like the bar-filled streets of the Mar Mikhael neighborhood). Conservative Muslim women wear a hijab and cover to their wrists and ankles.

Wherever I go in the world, I find it best to dress like a slightly more conservative local. For that reason, I eschewed my knee-length dresses and instead wore jeans and short-sleeved or sleeveless tops. I wore a full-coverage sports bra (this one from the Gap) underneath my low-cut shirts to hide my cleavage. You can see that look in the photo above.

Beirut and Byblos are the more liberal areas I visited in Beirut and this style of clothing will be fine there.

If you’re heading up to the mountains, bring a jacket. I was surprised at how cold it got there compared to the coast, even..

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“You have to get out of the city once per month.”

Since I moved to New York more than two years ago, this has been advice I’ve always taken, yet rarely put into action. This is a city where people are driven to work work work, do more, make more money, and as individualistic as the people are here, the drive to succeed tends to seep into everything you do. 

Then Antarctica happened and blew my mind open. After 12 days offline in brutal nature, I returned with a clear mind, bursting at the seams with creativity. That settled it. While I can’t head off to Antarctica at the drop of the hat, I can and should get offline and into nature whenever I can. 

Then I got an interesting email: an offer to come to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for the weekend and enjoy a stay at the brand new Wylder Hotel on Tilghman Island. It was a doable weekend trip from New York, they pointed out.

And I was intrigued — because I had never considered this destination before. 

Most of the hotel invites I receive are from places I have no plans to visit and I respond with, “Thank you so much! I’ll keep your offer in mind if I plan a trip to Bali/northern Alabama/Novosibirsk, Siberia.” (Bali is pretty much the least likely of those three.)

This one was different. The hotel looked beautiful, it was close by but offbeat, it was located in nature, and I’ve never seen a single travel blog post about this region. Why not say yes? I accepted, we worked out dates, I got strep, we worked out new dates, and in early May I made my trip down to Tilghman Island. 

When you think of weekend getaways from New York, most New Yorkers think of small towns upstate like Hudson, or somewhere on the Jersey Shore, or any of the myriad getaways in New England. Maybe Montreal or DC if you wanted to go further afield. There’s no reason why Maryland couldn’t be on that list as well.

In my mind, it would look just like Wedding Crashers. (“Crabcakes and football — that’s what Maryland does!”) 

Tilghman Island and the Eastern Shore

Slowly the city disappeared around me. A heinous traffic jam in lower Manhattan gave way to the highways of New Jersey, the suburban towns of Delaware and Maryland, and suddenly I was cruising down a rural road, few other signs of civilization around. 

Even though few Marylanders would consider themselves to be Southerners, I noticed the hints of Southern-ness around you. Accents that have the slightest lilt to them, but not a full-on Southern drawl. The presence of grits on menus. And most significantly, people who welcome you warmly and have full-on conversations.

At one point, I accidentally went down a private way and drove into someone’s driveway. I turned around quickly and saw a man in gardening gear approaching. Uh-oh, I thought to myself. I hope he doesn’t yell at me to get off his property.

I rolled my window down to talk to the man. His opener? “Hello, there! Welcome to Tilghman!” We spent a few minutes chatting about Tilghman, the local attractions, and the Wylder Hotel. By the time we said our goodbyes, I felt like I made a new friend.

Tilghman Island is known for its boating culture; it seems like everyone here lives for getting out on the water. If you like to boat — or fish — you’ll be very happy with the opportunities here. But at the same time, it has a lovely throwback look to it — as if it hasn’t changed in decades.

In fact, with the right Instagram filter, it looks like you could be visiting in the sixties or seventies.

The Wylder Hotel

My main goal for this weekend was to relax — and it couldn’t have been easier. The Wylder Hotel, a family-owned property, just opened this past spring. With only 54 rooms on an expansive nine acres, it feels like a bed and breakfast.

This is not the kind of place you stay for a million activities and excursions at a breakneck pace. This is where you come to chill out.

Just look at these grounds.

Five minutes in that hammock and my mind was wiped nearly to Antarctica levels. Seriously. I don’t know what it is about Tilghman, but it has a way of removing all the stresses that impact your life.

On the grounds you have outdoor decks, a hammock, an outdoor fireplace, a bocce court, lawn games, and a saltwater pool. And of course, since this is Tilghman, there’s a marina where you can bring your boat. There’s also a canoe, a paddle board and a kayak available to take out on the bay.

Everything fits into a nautical theme. It’s all brand new and you can feel the love that went into its design.

There are two restaurants in the property: Bar Mundo and Tickler’s Crab Shack.

Breakfast, in the bar, included a fluffy omelet, yogurt parfait, and delicious pastries…

Dinner, also in the bar, had so many delicious dishes on the menu. Two major standouts? The burrata with tomato jam, slathered all over crostini. And that rockfish entree was serious — it’s a fish that eats like meat.

But the absolute best dishes were reserved for brunch the next day. It was Mother’s Day during my visit and they had a special menu for the event. First out came a variety of appetizers — fresh oysters, hush puppies, asparagus, and the most absolutely delicious deviled eggs stuffed with crab.

I would eat those crab deviled eggs every day if I could. They were THAT good.

The main dish? Shrimp and grits. Rich and hearty in all the right ways.

The rooms are simply and elegant. They’re on the small side, but they have everything you need.

Any caveats? Small ones. It would have been nice to have some kind of side table next to the bed — even a simple shelf would have been a help. My bathroom door didn’t fully close; I told John and he said he’d fix it right away.

St. Michaels

A 25-minute drive from Tilghman Island is St. Michaels, an absolutely beautiful village and one of the highlights of my weekend. It’s full of pretty cottages with beautifully manicured yards, shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

I’ve been to little touristy villages all over the United States. They’re filled with gift shops selling novelty items — signs that read “Flip Flops Only,” dish towels that say, “The answer is wine. What was the question?” and the like.

Not St. Michaels. Somehow the shops here are infinitely classier. There are plenty of gift shops hawking wares for your fantasy vacation home, but these stores are actually filled with items I would legitimately put in my house. Beautiful furniture, accessories, and objets d’art. And while there’s obviously a strong nautical theme, it’s far from the only theme in town.

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What a wild month! Three trips, three countries, one conference, one talk and one panel. I’m typing this from Starbucks in Nicosia, Cyprus, and I’m exhausted.

For the past two years or so, I’ve been very good about balancing work and travel (for instance, I’ve kept my travel down to about 25% of the time, and I do very limited work while traveling), but I think this month may have pushed things a little too far.

The Maryland trip was originally supposed to happen in April, but I had to push it to May due to strep. Having an super-fun but energy-depleting conference in Rotterdam and an over-scheduled research-oriented trip to Lebanon back-to-back was a bit much, and I think I need a day spent doing nothing before I jump back into the madness again. A huge thunderstorm just hit Cyprus out of nowhere, so I don’t feel as bad about not exploring today.

On we go — here’s the best of the month!

Destinations Visited

New York, New York

Tilghman Island and St. Michaels, Maryland

(Brief technically-I-did-something-there stops: Teaneck, New Jersey, and Newark, Delaware)

New Orleans, Louisiana

Rotterdam and Delft, Netherlands

Beirut, Bcharré, Cedars Forest, Kozhaya, Jeita Grotto and Byblos, Lebanon

Favorite Destination

Rotterdam surprised the hell out of me on my second visit — it’s such an effortlessly cool city!

Highlights

Hanging out with my friend’s adorable baby boy. I love that kid so much, and it’s amazing and humbling to watch him grow. He does something new every day. He even sucked his thumb for the first time ever while I was holding him!

Also, until this month, I was under the impression that babies wore one outfit per day, maybe two if they messed the first one up. HAHAHAHA. I was DEAD WRONG. Babies are messy creatures! And I learned that when a certain kiddo went through four outfits in about fifteen minutes. So that’s why babies have so many onesies…

A new baby arrived this month. Another of my friends welcomed a beautiful baby girl! And she’s pretty much a cousin to the aforementioned baby boy. I haven’t met her yet, but she is adorable and I can’t wait to go see her once I get home.

My first finished crochet project. I made a little rainbow hat for the baby boy, and I’m working on a matching hat for the baby girl! Baby hats are super easy to crochet. Now on to booties and animals…

Meeting Cecile Richards, one of my feminist heroes. The CEO of Planned Parenthood did a speaking engagement with Jessica Williams at 92Y on the Upper East Side, and my friend Amy and I went to hear them talk about Richards’s new memoir. I’m proud of the fact that we were the first ones in line to get our books signed! I didn’t have as much time to chat with her as I did with Gloria Steinem and Lindy West, but it was nice to thank her for her work and assure her that I’m working on her causes as well.

I got my Ancestry DNA results back. And there is a lot to unpack. Yes, there were some surprises on there, like the sheer amount of Scandinavian blood, and I have the feeling that Ancestry isn’t categorizing some ethnic groups correctly (the Acadians are an ethnically French community, but were categorized as Irish/Scottish/Welsh). I plan to write more about my results at a later date.

An utterly relaxing weekend in Maryland. Believe it or not, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is actually a doable weekend trip from New York! It’s just a four-hour drive from northern New Jersey (definitely rent a car from there, not JFK or LaGuardia). Tilghman Island may be one of the most supremely stress-free destinations I’ve visited in recent memory, and the brand-new Wylder Hotel invited me to enjoy their beautiful property. The adorable town of St. Michaels is a lot of fun, too.

If the Eastern Shore isn’t on your radar, it should be. I had a wonderful time (and ate a ton of crab!)

A fun solo trip to New Orleans. I adore this city, and I had a great time exploring it on my own, especially enjoying all the food! New Orleans gets me. I also enjoyed getting to see the local side of New Orleans at the Bayou Boogaloo music festival.

Watching the Royal Wedding! I was in New Orleans at the time, and hell yes I woke up at 5:00 AM to watch it live! I loved it even more than I thought I would — the dress, the veil, how happy they both looked, and especially that it was an unapologetic and proud celebration of black excellence (and that the Royal Family looked thoroughly uncomfortable — ha!).

Speaking at the Traverse conference. This was my first time at Traverse and I loved it — the sessions were so damn practical, which a lot of conferences miss, and a lot of them were blow-my-brains-out advanced. I spoke on being a personality blogger and I even got chosen to be on the hilarious closing panel. If you’re thinking of attending in the future, I highly recommend it! I hope to be at the next one.

Beyond that, Rotterdam was about hanging out with my beloved European blogger friends that I don’t see as often as I used to, as well as exploring the city. Rotterdam is amazing, you guys. It’s so alternative and fun and clean with wacky architecture and amazing transit. Kind of like a baby Berlin. How did I not realize this on my first visit in 2013? I think because it poured that whole weekend. This trip was sunny and glorious.

And then there was Lebanon. I know you’re dying to hear about this trip in particular! All in good time. All I will say is that I had a wonderful time, and it’s a very interesting country. So many different cultures and religions and lifestyles all together in one place. And it’s much safer than you think, even for a solo female traveler.

I loved hanging out in Beirut, where I based; I also enjoyed the incredible mountain scenery up north, the stunning caves at Jeita Grotto, and the Mediterranean wonderland of Byblos.

Good times in New York. First-time visits to the New York Transit Museum and New York Historical Society. Meetups with visiting friends and newly arrived transplants (welcome, Adam!). Lots of walks through Central Park and admiring the cherry blossoms. Helping my sister move into a new apartment (thankfully she’s still a short walk from my place).

I drove in Manhattan for the first time ever and survived!!!!

And on the food front, I’ve discovered my favorite Neapolitan-style pizza in New York: San Matteo on the Upper East Side. Trust me, it’s mind-bendingly delicious.

Challenges

With a lot of travel comes a lot of mishaps! Nothing debilitating, but quite a few incidents happened this month:

Getting stuck in the middle of a New Orleans rainstorm. And my Lyft driver was pretty much incompetent. There was about six inches of water on the street, and he didn’t want to drive through that, but he kept missing the other turn-offs and kept mixing up one-way streets, so I told him to just let me out, took off my shoes, and ran home five blocks in the pouring rain with no umbrella, barefoot in ankle-deep water on the streets of New Orleans, in a mostly white dress with no bra. THAT WAS FUN.

A rental car mishap for the ages. Ugh. Let’s just say…I don’t rent cars very often, and I had no idea of some of the rules. Like that only people with a currently active license can use their credit card to rent a car. And most places in the New York area won’t let you rent a car with a debit card, even if you have thousands of dollars immediately at hand, unless you have a round-trip air ticket to New York (seriously?!). And some places require your license to be from the tri-state area. And if it’s not an airport rental, cars at smaller places are pretty much booked up for a Friday with no other options. So, um, I learned a lot of things. I’m not leaving my credit cards at home ever again. I eventually got a car, but it was more expensive, set me back several hours, and resulted in…

Getting stuck in the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. It took me 90 minutes to go about ten blocks in the Village and TriBeCa on the way to the Holland Tunnel due to the earlier delay that day. Stay away from driving in Manhattan on Friday afternoons, kids.

I left my insanely powerful portable charger in the airplane seat pocket on the way to Amsterdam. At least it wasn’t my passport! I picked up a new portable charger in Delft. Smaller and not as mighty, but it’s doing the job just fine.

It took me a long time to physically recover from my strep. I had no idea what a toll last month’s strep took on my body until I went to the gym — I missed a week of workouts, then I could barely even lift light weights for the next two weeks, and cardio knocked me out solid. I’m hoping I don’t see my next bout of strep for a long time.

Most Popular Post

Best Day Trips from Florence, Italy — You could literally stay in Florence your whole trip and have a varied Italy experience, visiting dozens of different interesting towns.

Other Posts

Solo Female Travel in New Orleans — How to Stay Safe and Have Fun! — New Orleans doesn’t get a lot of press as a solo female travel destination, but it should.

On Travel, Lost in Translation, and the Park Hyatt Tokyo — I finally got to stay at my dream hotel from my favorite movie.

How to Plan a Day Trip from London to Paris — Yes, it can absolutely be done in a day, and here are my tips to make it a great day.

Quote of the Month

Friend: “H&M.”

Me: “What?”

Friend: “…did you ask me where I got his onesie?”

Me: “I literally didn’t say anything.”

Friend: “Oh. Wow. Mommy Brain is real.”

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

A classic shot of a French Quarter balcony in New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps rouler! For more live updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

Childish Gambino - This Is America (Official Video) - YouTube

What I Watched This Month

This is America. Don’t catch you slippin’ up.

You’ve probably heard of Childish Gambino’s powerful, chilling video by now. If you haven’t, you should watch it, then read the many think pieces on it (this one in The Atlantic is good):

In this, Glover certainly isn’t the first artist to suggest that black popular entertainment can simultaneously work as minstrelsy, appeasing a racist system, and as a gas valve of joy for people crunched by that system. Nor is he the first to describe the psychic tax of this state of affairs, seen both when Glover’s character wearily lights a joint and when, in some other space that may well signify his subconscious, he runs in terror from a white mob. But Murai’s eye and staging and Glover’s performance are together so stylish and surreal that the message is made newly raw.

It’s one of the most powerful pieces of art I’ve seen in recent memory.

What I Read This Month

I’ve got to be honest, you guys — I’m not enjoying my 2018 challenge of reading 25 books from new countries. I haven’t truly loved any of them, and it’s starting to feel like a chore. Does that mean I should scale back? Or choose better books? I’ll read some poetry next month to switch things up. This month I added the first books I’ve read by authors from Vietnam and Mexico. As usual, I’m including a few of my subscription books from Book of the Month.

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero (2017) — Sincero’s first book, You Are a Badass, was about removing the obstacles that hold you back from being the best you can be. This second volume is about removing the psychological blocks that prevent you from making as much money as you should be.

I loved this book. Some people might characterize it as being a bit worshipful of money, but seriously, just reframing your mindset is a powerful thing. I also appreciated how it went into the psychological blocks about money that many people, and women in particular, don’t realize that they have. For Sincero, having a father who showed his affection by treating her to things, she was afraid that he wouldn’t know how to love her if she had a lot of money of her own. For me, it’s fear of failing on a large, public scale. And learning that about myself is helping me to move forward while acknowledging that fear, but not allowing it to dominate my life the way it always has.

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman (2018) — Frances is the carpool mom in her tight-knit neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles. But everything falls apart when Frances discovers one of the other moms mid-coitus with a man who is definitely not her husband. The gossip spreads throughout the town and everyone gets drawn into it.

And we have an early candidate for the worst book of the year! My God! I knew this book was going to be a disaster when Waxman’s author bio said she loved dogs and chocolate. That’s like saying you enjoy breathing and not being on fire. As a result, this book was a collection of characters with no personality. Pretty much a bunch of upper-middle-class white people doing upper-middle-class white things. Oh, and there’s also a lesbian couple — for diversity! — who lesbianly lesbian all the lesbian day, oh and did Waxman remind you that they’re gay as hell?

But two things bothered me greatly: after a woman is caught cheating on her husband, her husband does everything to alienate his children from their mother, telling them she’s a horrible person — and that is completely glossed over and accepted as normal. The second is that children throughout the town gossip about this affair like adults, sharing information about who’s sleeping with whom, when they’re in fact children. This book is equally reprehensible and boring. It’s the fictional equivalent of the country of Brunei.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (2018) — Ten years ago, Laurel Mack’s fifteen-year-old daughter Ellie disappeared. In the years since, Laurel’s marriage and family fell apart. After Ellie’s remains are finally found, Laurel decides to make an effort to live again, and meets a charming, handsome man in a cafe. This man seems perfect — but strangely, his young daughter Poppy reminds her so much of Ellie. Seeing Poppy inspires Laurel to take another look at Ellie’s still-unsolved murder.

This is one of the most extremely far-fetched thrillers I’ve ever read. You’ll need to suspend disbelief over and over again. That said, I very much enjoyed reading it. I always enjoy London-based thrillers; I think the chilliness and dark skies of the city add to the atmosphere. I grew to genuinely care for some of the characters, too. If you’re looking for a lighter summer read, this is a great choice.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) — In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a communist spy in South Vietnam escapes to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War. He attempts to build a new life in Los Angeles, a land where Vietnamese refugees will never be accepted as Americans, while secretly reporting to his superiors back in Vietnam. The book is as much a commentary on racism in America as well as the hells of war, and what it’s like to be a divided person, in ethnicity as well as loyalty, unable to fit in anywhere.

I appreciated this book so much. The writing is absolutely exquisite, and I kept highlighting passages that I loved. (“Americans on the average do not trust intellectuals, but they are cowed by power and stunned by celebrity.“) Part of that is because Nguyen immigrated to the US at a young age and the book was written in English. That said…I didn’t enjoy reading it; despite its literary beauty, I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters or what would happen. Finishing it was a chore. Also, I had “The Heat Is On in Saigon” stuck in my head the whole time I read it. Even so — it might be more your thing than mine. I encourage you to give it a read if it sounds appealing to you.

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Traveling alone to New Orleans? Is that…a good place to travel solo? Don’t most people go to New Orleans with their partner or a group of friends, at the very least? Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go!

A lot of US cities are perpetually recommended to solo female travelers. San Francisco? You’ll have the time of your life! Washington DC? A fabulous choice, especially for intellectuals, and you’ll wish you had time to do everything. New York City? Perhaps the best choice of all, and I wrote the ultimate guide to solo travel in New York.

But New Orleans? You almost never hear it recommended to solo female travelers. Why is that?

I see two main reasons. The first is that many people consider New Orleans first and foremost a party destination, and the second is that some people think New Orleans can be a dangerous place.

These are both patently false.

I love traveling alone in New Orleans.

My favorite thing to do when I travel is to just hang out and let the city get under my skin. Rather than running from attraction to attraction, I like to hang out, absorb, fly under the radar, live as I would if I lived there, take photos of cool things, eat lots of excellent food, and drink lots of excellent coffee.

New Orleans is the perfect city for that. I think it’s the most unique city in America, and it absolutely has the best food culture in America. On my past few trips I’ve tried to have every single New Orleans specialty, from crawfish and gumbo to red beans and rice and bananas foster!

The people here are friendly, warm, and welcoming. In just a few minutes you feel like you’re a part of their family. And if you need help, they’ll bend over backwards to give you anything you need. As someone who grew up in the chilly northeast, this is very different from home and I grew to appreciate and value it!

And if you’re looking to shop, you’ll find plenty of souvenirs. New Orleans has a strong arts scene and whether you’re looking for an affordable print or a pricey original piece of artwork, you’ll be able to find beautiful items everywhere. And then there are the food souvenirs. I am honestly kicking myself for not bringing home Café du Monde coffee and the olive and pickled onion spread that they put on muffulettas.

New Orleans fills my stomach with butterflies in the best way. It’s equally exciting and reassuring. Any day that starts in New Orleans — preferably with a plate of beignets and some chicory coffee — is going to be an adventure and a half!

The best part is that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Plenty of my friends who love to travel solo consider New Orleans one of their favorite US destinations.

New Orleans is WAY MORE than partying.

While New Orleans may be most famous for its party culture, my two favorite things about New Orleans are the food and the live music. Both are abundant; in fact, on my first visit, I remember thinking that New Orleans would be the perfect destination for a blind traveler. You don’t need to see it to experience it to the fullest.

Here are some of my favorite things to do in New Orleans that have nothing to do with partying:

Try the famous beignets are figure out which ones are your favorites. These sugar-dusted donuts are so decadent, but the perfect way to begin a day in New Orleans. Café du Monde is world famous, but Café Beignet has a lot of fans too. Personally, I think the Café Beignet’s beignets are slightly better, but Café du Monde has better coffee and a better atmosphere. You need to go to both!

Find a live music act on the street and hang out and listen for awhile. Lots of acts perform in the French Quarter, from brass bands to solo jazz musicians. If you stop and listen to some musicians for a bit, and especially if you record them, be sure to leave a tip.

Eat, eat, eat all the fabulous Creole and Cajun cuisine. I’ll be writing more about New Orleans food in depth, but here are a few of my favorites: Meril (get the tuna wraps), Arnaud’s (get the bananas foster), Jacques-Imo’s (get the alligator cheesecake), Mother’s (get the Ferdi Special), Commander’s Palace (get the bread pudding), Willa Jean (get the barbecue shrimp and burrata toast), Coop’s (you can’t go wrong with anything local), Seaworthy (get the Murder Point oysters), and Central Grocery (get the full-sized muffuletta for your plane ride home and the next three meals).

Dive into the spiritual culture. I loved my tarot card reading at Hex on Decatur Street; you can also get your palm read, visit a psychic, or learn about local traditions like voodoo.

Explore the architecture in different neighborhoods. My favorite neighborhood for architecture is Faubourg Marigny. I went on a Faubourg Marigny architecture tour with Welcome New Orleans Tours. My guide Sheila took me all over the neighborhood, showed me gorgeous buildings, taught me about the quirky architecture styles, and even gamely served as my photographer. They also do French Quarter and Garden District tours.

Spend an evening on Frenchman Street listening to all kinds of live music. This is my personal favorite place to spend an evening in New Orleans. Walk down the street, listen to the open venues, and grab a seat and listen to music, swaying back and forth in your own world.

Visit some excellent museums. The National World War II Museum is excellent; a quirky option is the Pharmacy Museum.

Dress up in your best duds and have a fancy meal at Commander’s Palace. This place is old school in the best of ways. People dress up quite a bit, there are a million servers (and everyone at a table gets their plates delivered simultaneously), and they even switch out your water glasses when the ice melts a bit. They’re famous for their turtle soup and bread pudding, but everything is fabulous.

Explore the shops and galleries on Royal Street. This is my favorite street in New Orleans and it’s in the heart of the French Quarter. You’ll find everything from fancy art galleries to stylish clothing boutiques to outlandish lamp stores. Definitely make sure you browse this street for souvenirs.

Browse unusual markets for one-of-a-kind wares. Magazine Street in the Garden District is home to some cool vintage stores. I actually found New Kids on the Block dolls from the 90s! Another great spot is the Art Garage, which is open at night on Frenchman St.

Gawk at the gorgeous homes in the Garden District. This is where you find the big, glorious Southern mansions.

95% of staying safe in New Orleans is being careful of how much you drink.

A lot of people get wrapped up in the wrong things when it comes to safety in New Orleans. They hone in on New Orleans’s murder rate, which is higher than many other cities’ murder rates, or movies and TV shows in New Orleans that focus on crime, or images on the news of looting and panic during Katrina, or opinions from well-meaning loved ones who aren’t knowledgeable about New Orleans. This is all grossly misguided.

Focusing on a city’s murder rate is an unrealistic way to evaluate a travel destination’s safety, especially a city like New Orleans. Like any other city in the world, tourists are not the target of murderers. Most violent crimes are related to domestic violence or gang activity, and they take place nowhere near where tourists go. If tourists were being picked off, nobody would come to New Orleans, or New York, or Washington DC.

TV shows and movies about crime in New Orleans are just that — fiction. They don’t represent New Orleans any more than Law & Order represents New York, or Murder, She Wrote represents that little town in Maine where people keep getting murdered.

Hurricane Katrina was an exceptional catastrophe and its aftermath does not represent life in New Orleans today. On the slim chance that you end up in New Orleans during a major storm, follow the local alerts and do what they tell you. Don’t stick around if the governor is ordering you to evacuate.

As for well-meaning loved ones who have no idea what they’re talking about, I refer you to this post on considering the source. Take advice from people who are familiar with New Orleans, have been recently, and travel in your style. Not people who only know about New Orleans from cable news.

If you come to New Orleans, the best way to stay safe as a solo female traveler is to use the same common sense you would use in any other city. Guard your belongings and only take what you need with you each day, locking up your belongings in your hotel room. Don’t trust strangers too quickly. Spend money on things that keep you safe, like a hotel in a better neighborhood or a taxi home instead of walking. Keep in touch with a friend or family member at home.

READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

HOWEVER. New Orleans is a city with a strong drinking culture, and many travelers come here to drink excessively. Cocktails are strong (and enormous); you can drink on the street if it’s in a plastic container, and Bourbon St. is packed with bars. For that reason, many travelers who come to New Orleans drink to a level that leaves them unsafe.

Drinking excessively leaves you vulnerable. When you lose control of your actions, you become vulnerable to robbery, petty crime, deception, and sexual assault. I want to be clear that if someone robs you or assaults you, it’s not your fault — but staying sober is the best way to protect yourself from things like this happening.

When you hear about bad things happening to travelers in New Orleans, the stories almost always start with I was drunk. I was drunk and my phone got stolen. I was drunk and I tripped and smashed my face into the sidewalk. I was drunk and left my purse in the bar. I was drunk and I went home with this person I really didn’t want to get home with. I was drunk and I don’t remember what happened last night.

For this reason, I urge you not to drink too much when traveling solo in New Orleans. This is the best way to keep yourself safe. Here are some ways to do so:

You know your own drinking tolerance, but I recommend capping your night at two drinks maximum. Keep in mind that a single serving of wine is 5 oz., but many establishments serve larger than 5 oz. servings. Also keep in mind that cocktails like the Sazérac, the official cocktail of New Orleans, are made almost entirely of hard liquor and are more concentrated than, say, a gin and tonic.

Keep an eye on your drink. Only take drinks from the bartender and don’t let them out of your sight.

If you don’t feel comfortable walking back to your accommodation, take an Uber or Lyft. It’s super-easy and convenient. There are also taxis and you can call for a pickup.

If you don’t want to drink, don’t drink. New Orleans locals don’t care. Your waiter will not sigh at your order of sparkling water with lime; your bartender will happily serve you a Shirley Temple. Honestly, the only people who will give you crap about not drinking are the drunk bros on Bourbon St., and who cares what they think? I only drank on two of my four days in New Orleans and it made zero impact on my enjoyment of the city.

How to Drink and Party Safely in New Orleans

If you want to laisser les bons temps rouler and enjoy New Orleans’s infamous party culture as a solo female traveler, there are ways to do so without compromising your safety. Here is what I recommend:

Go on a cocktail tour. I went on a food and cocktail tour with Doctor Gumbo Tours and had a great time trying lots of specialties of New Orleans and experiencing the cocktails in a group so I wasn’t drinking alone. Doctor Gumbo also has a food-only tour and a cocktail-only tour.

Keep in mind that four cocktails are served on the cocktail tours, which can be a lot of alcohol in a short time period, especially for a woman — but you don’t have to finish all of them. I sipped two and finished two.

I was the only person on the tour who wasn’t part of a couple, but it was only weird for the first few minutes — soon, people were introducing themselves to each other and we all got along terrifically. In fact, one of my readers and the mother of one of my readers were on that same tour!

Join a festival. And not necessarily Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, the two most famous events in town. New Orleans actually has more than 130 festivals throughout the year (!!), and the best part of them is that they’re primarily for locals and people in the know. You can see a list of festivals here.

On my recent trip I attended the Bayou Boogaloo, a music festival on the water, which takes place every May. Tons of different bands perform and there booths featuring local art all over the place — but best of all is the action on the bayou (which is not in the middle of a swamp, like I pictured, but more like a canal in the heart of the city). People bring giant floats (you can also rent kayaks) and spend the day out on the water, having drinks and enjoying the music!

What I love about small festivals is that New Orleans locals are so friendly — they’ll make conversation with you, invite you to hang out with them, and they won’t make you feel weird about being alone. Side benefit: the Bourbon St. party crowd tends to stay away from events like these.

Connect with locals in advance, then meet up when you arrive. My tips? Check out the New Orleans Couchsurfing group for meetups, events, and people up for hanging out; check out New Orleans Meetup for gatherings and events you can join, and put on feelers on social media, asking your friends if they know anyone who lives there, and seeing if they want to meet up for a coffee or a drink.

Go out and drink — in moderation. You can absolutely hit the bars; just go slowly. I recommend sticking to two alcoholic drinks in one night, then switching to nonalcoholic drinks afterward.

I also recommend going to to quieter bars where the focus is on enjoying cocktails or listening to music, not crazy bars where the goal is getting drunk. One place I enjoyed on this trip was the Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta, which is an oasis of calm in the middle of crazy Bourbon St. I enjoyed their French 300 cocktail and listened to an awesome jazz trio play one of my favorites, “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

Most importantly, you don’t have to drink AT ALL if you don’t want to. I have multiple friends who don’t drink whatsoever who love New Orleans.

Stay in a Safe Neighborhood in New Orleans

Finding a good hotel in a safe neighborhood is one of the top priorities of solo female travelers, and it’s something I always plan carefully. You want to be in a place that is safe enough to walk around at night, quiet enough to sleep soundly, close to good restaurants, and a short walk or public transit journey from the attractions.

I’ve done two trips to New Orleans and stayed at four different places in four different neighborhoods. (The weirdest was an Airbnb room rental in Mid-City in 2014, where chickens ran down the street, the door didn’t shut properly, and the host had a ton of books by L. Ron Hubbard on display. Yeah, I was a bit broke back then.)

This time I stayed at the Cambria Hotel in the Warehouse Arts District, which opened in 2017, and it was a great experience from beginning to end. I think it’s a particularly good choice for solo female travelers.

I had never been to the Warehouse Arts District before, which is just west of the Central Business District, but it’s now my top recommendation for where to stay in New Orleans, especially for solo female travelers. It has so many awesome and quirky restaurants, yet it’s far away enough from the noise and craziness of the French Quarter. And best of all, it’s a good distance from the drunk Bourbon St. tourists, who primarily stay in the French Quarter and the Central Business District.

From a solo female travel perspective, I appreciated that it was on a very busy corner where people are always out and about. Also, they’re in the process of making the elevators require hotel keys. Both of these things ensure safety.

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Florence, Italy by samueleagrimi_

Day trips from Florence, Italy can take to the best places in Italy within a few hours. Just hop on a train and in no time you can be riding in a gondola through Venice or sipping wine in Chianti or eating your way through Bologna or taking hilarious selfies with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

And I should know — I’m an expert on traveling in northern Italy. I lived in Florence for four months and have since returned to Italy more than a dozen times. I’ve traveled all over Italy, from the Veneto to Sicily, but my expertise is concentrated in central northern Italy: Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia-Romagna.

The great thing about these three regions is that they’re all within a stone’s throw of Florence. And thanks to new high-speed trains that have been built in the last decade, it’s never been easier (or faster) to travel across northern Italy!

For this reason, you could base yourselves in Florence for a good chunk of your Italy trip and still see a wide range of Italy. For a first-timer’s two-week trip to Italy, I’d recommend a full week in Florence bookended with a few days each in Rome and Venice. The older I get, the less I like changing accommodation often, and this is a nice way to have a long-term base (and less unpacking and repacking!) while still getting to see a ton of varied destinations in Italy.

I’ve chosen the best day trips from Florence: day trips in Tuscany, but also the surrounding regions. Famous spots like Rome and Cinque Terre are on my list, but so are lesser-known spots like Pienza (oh, I love Pienza SO much!) and Volterra. If you’re a devoted Catholic, I’ve got the perfect destination for you; if you’re a Shakespeare superfan, I’ve got a trip for you, too.

Here are my picks for the best day trips from Florence!

Leaning Tower of Pisa by Luis Ascenso.

Most Iconic Day Trip from Florence: Pisa and Lucca

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, without a doubt, is one of the most famous sights in all of Italy. Not to mention the fact that it was made for Instagram! And since it’s so close to Florence — only an hour’s journey — it’s a very easy day trip.

However…while Pisa is nice, I don’t think it has enough attractions to justify a full day. Luckily, there is a gorgeous walled Tuscan town nearby that makes a perfect pairing: Lucca! Lucca is like a mini-Florence, brimming with beauty and art and charm. It does get its tourists, but it’s not quite as overwhelming as Siena or San Gimignano.

Best Things to Do in Pisa:

  • Take all the selfies in front of the Leaning Tower. Go ahead and be cheesy — everyone else will be!
  • Climb the Leaning Tower. Tickets are restricted and strictly timed to keep the tower safe, and I recommend buying advance tickets as the lines can be long.
  • Don’t forget the other buildings! The Duomo, Baptistery, and other buildings by the tower are just as worthy of your exploration.
  • Explore the city of Pisa. Take a stroll along the Arno, visit Santa Maria della Spina church, check out Piazza Dei Cavalieri.

Best Things to Do in Lucca:

  • Lucca is a city suited to aimless wandering. Some of the best times you’ll have will be from what you discover with no destination in mind.
  • Walk the city walls. Lucca is a walled city and walking the walls will give you beautiful views all over the region.

You could do a day trip to Pisa on its own, and you could do a day trip to Lucca on its own — but I think it’s best to do both in a single day. Ideally, Pisa in the morning and Lucca in the afternoon.

Book your day trip to Pisa and Lucca here.

Best Nearby Day Trip from Florence: Siena and San Gimignano

If you’re spending time in Florence, you should take the time to explore some smaller towns in the Tuscan countryside. Siena and San Gimignano are two of the best and easiest towns to visit from Florence. They’re close to Florence and close to each other, so it’s easy to maximize your time and visit both in a single day.

Siena has long been the rival of Florence. In Renaissance times, they vied for the most brilliant creative minds in the region. Today, much of the rivalry extends to football! For that reason, Siena provides a lovely contrast to Florence. And you can’t beat the tower-strewn skyline of San Gimignano.

Best Things to Do in Siena:

  • See the Piazza del Campo. This is one of the more expansive and immense piazzas in Tuscany — anything that’s worth happening happens in this piazza. And if you’re feeling adventures, climb the Torre del Mangia for city views.
  • Admire the iconic cathedral. The Duomo of Siena is famous for its black-and-white-striped exterior, its Bernini-designed dome, and its mosaic floor. This is one of the most memorable churches in Tuscany.
  • Try Sienese dishes. Siena has its own iconic eats, like truffles and panzanella. Join a food tour to taste the best of Siena.
  • See the Palio! Siena’s most famous festival, its iconic horse race, takes place on July 2 or August 16. If you’re interested in this, know that it’s crowded and expensive. I recommend booking way ahead and staying a few days to enjoy the festivities that take place for three days leading up to the race. Check rates on Siena hotels here.

Best Things to Do in San Gimignano:

  • Admire the towers. San Gimignano is often referred to as the “Manhattan of Tuscany” due to its many towers! Spend time walking through the streets and browsing the shops as well.
  • Climb to the top of Torre Grossa. You’ll find the best views of San Gimignano from here, the tallest tower in town. You’ll also have access to the Palazzo Communale, which is home to beautiful frescoes.
  • Eat cinghiale. Cinghiale, or wild boar, can be found throughout Tuscany, but it’s especially good in San Gimignano. It’s a rich meat similar to pork. My favorite way to have it is over pappardelle pasta. Or you could buy some cinghiale salami to take with you!

While I recommend visiting Siena and San Gimignano in a single day, you can also visit each on its own for a full day trip if you felt so inclined. This is your trip — do what you want!

Book your day trip to Siena and San Gimignano here.

Best Florence Day Trip for Romantics: Venice

It may look far away on the map, but Venice is a very doable day trip from Florence! Thanks to the high-speed trains, you can get from Florence to Venice in about two hours. That wasn’t an option even ten years ago.

What can be said about Venice? You already have a clear image of Venice in your mind: canals, crumbling buildings, gondoliers in striped shirts singing romantic songs. Venice is also filled with art, culture, and delicious food. There is no other place in the world quite like Venice, and if you’re planning a trip of any length to Italy, it’s a fabulous choice.

Best Things to Do in Venice:

  • Take a ride in a gondola. It’s the iconic experience of Venice! Gondola rides can be expensive — it’s much cheaper to take a shared ride with others, though far more romantic to book a private ride with a loved one. Book a shared gondola here or book a private ride here.
  • Feed the pigeons in Piazza San Marco. Personally, this would be the LAST thing my bird-phobic self would do in Venice, but hey, people enjoy it. Anything for the ‘gram.
  • Go to the top of the Campanile. Venice’s bell tower will give you some of the best views above the city.
  • Learn about glass in Murano. The island of Murano is home to the best glass artisans on the planet. You can catch a demonstration at a studio or go on a glass tour and learn to make something.
  • Eat cichetti. Cichetti are Venice’s version of bar snacks, similar to Spanish tapas. Grab a glass of local wine and enjoy olives, sandwiches, or tiny fried concoctions while standing up at the bar.
  • Get lost. I find that my favorite moments in Venice tend to be when I wander on my own away from touristy areas.

Do keep in mind that the express trains back to Florence often don’t run past 7:15 PM. If you’re booking trains independently, be sure to check the schedule before booking your trip. You could end up having to take a string of slow trains back to Florence, which will eat up your trip when you don’t need to.

If you’re looking to experience Venice at night, you might going to Venice for a few days instead of a day trip. Check prices on Venice hotels here.

Book your day trip to Venice here.

Cinque Terre, Italy by Daniel Stockman

Best Florence Day Trip for Instagram Addicts: Cinque Terre

While possible, do note that Cinque Terre is an ambitious day trip — ideally, I’d recommend visiting for two days or even three. But we don’t always have as much time to spare as we’d like, so if you have only one day free, a group tour is pretty much the best way to experience Cinque Terre in an efficient time manner.

If you’re an active traveler, consider booking a hiking day tour of Cinque Terre from Florence. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful hiking you can do in Italy.

Best Things to Do in Cinque Terre

  • Enjoy the beauty and take lots of photos. This is what Cinque Terre is all about. Enjoy the colors, the views, and get all the Instagram shots you can. The most beautiful route is arguably between Monterosso and Vernazza. The photo above is Vernazza.
  • See Cinque Terre from the water. For a different photographic point of view, take a boat tour from La Spezia.
  • Eat pesto alla genovese. If any dish symbolizes the Liguria region, it’s pesto, made with the finest local basil. Make sure you eat at least one pasta dish with pesto!

If you want to experience Cinque Terre at night — and especially if you’re a photographer looking for those iconic shots — I recommend visiting Cinque Terre for a few days rather than just a day trip. Check out rates on Cinque Terre hotels here.

Book your day trip to Cinque Terre here.

Best Florence Day Trip for Foodies: Bologna

Believe it or not, Bologna is actually my favorite city in Italy! It’s also well known for being the best foodie destination in all of Italy. Bologna is a city of many nicknames — la rossa (the red, for its many red buildings), la dotta (the learned, for its university), but most importantly, la grossa — the fat, which you will be if you enjoy Bologna to the fullest!

I love Bologna for its food culture, but also because it has a different feel from Florence. It receives far less tourists and thus feels more like a regular city catering to locals. There is art, though not as much as Florence; I’d argue that it has a more intellectual feel. Overall, when in Bologna I feel like I’m part of authentic Italian life, not a tourist visiting from America.

Best Things to Do in Bologna:

  • Go on a food tour. More than anything, you go to Bologna to explore the cuisine. Be sure to try local specialties like tortellini, mortadella, squacquerone cheese, parmigiano reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Parma, tradizionale balsamic vinegar, piadine, and tagliatelle ragú, or what pasta bolognese should actually taste like.
  • Climb the Torre Asinelli. The best views of Bologna are from the top of this tower, one of a pair overlooking the city.
  • Explore the porticoes. Bologna is famous for its 40 kilometers of porticoes. They’re beautiful to look at, perfect shielding from the sun and rain, and they make great photos as well.
  • Take a cooking class. An authentic recipe is the ultimate Emilia-Romagna souvenir to bring home to your loved ones!
  • Experience aperitivo. Every evening, bars put out buffets of food before dinner. Order a glass of wine or cocktail and help yourself to the selection!

If you aren’t set on spending your entire trip in Florence, consider spending extensive time in Bologna and exploring the Emilia-Romagna region instead. I hold this region close to my heart and it’s an excellent choice for offbeat or foodie travelers, or travelers who have been to Italy before. From Bologna you can visit fabulous cities like Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna, Rimini, Brisighella, and even the landlocked nation of San Marino! For more, see my 25 Best Food Experiences in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.

For a day trip, I recommend booking a food tour in Bologna and buying your own train tickets from Florence to Bologna.

Best Florence Day Trip for Wine Lovers: Chianti

Chianti is not only a type of wine — the wine is named after a region in Tuscany. The Chianti region stretches from just south of Florence to just north of Siena. To experience this region to the fullest, go on a day trip covering several wineries — this way, you don’t have to worry about driving! Chianti is a lot more diverse than you may think, and you can taste several varieties like Chianti Classico, Chianti Ruffino, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, and more. This region is filled with rolling green hills and tiny villages that are perfect for photos.

And yes, be prepared for someone to ask for some fava beans. It comes with the territory.

Best Things to Do in Chianti:

  • Drink wine.
  • Enjoy the countryside.
  • That is it.

If you’d rather experience wine without leaving the city, consider a wine tasting class in Florence. That way you can learn about the wines while leaving extra time to explore Florence itself. And if you’re looking to bring wine home, make sure it has a DOC or DOCG label around the neck. This means you’ve brought home the most authentic wine.

Book your half day trip to Chianti here.

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I am the girl who has not seen a lot of movies.

Star Wars? I saw it once, when I was six, and I got so scared, I thought Darth Vader was hiding in my closet for the next several months. I’ve never seen any of the other Star Wars movies. E.T. had a similar fate. And when my friends say, “What do you mean, you’ve never seen Jaws/The Godfather Part II/Breakfast at Tiffany’s/Saving Private Ryan/any of the Lord of the Rings movies?” I sigh and shrug.

Am I proud of this? No. Ignorance is never something of which to be proud. But I much prefer books and episodic TV over movies, so I don’t see that changing. If I watch any movie these days, it’s probably going to be a bad romantic comedy.

But there was one time in my life when I saw tons of excellent movies. It lasted from roughly 2002, when I started college, to 2010, when I drastically cut my expenses to save for travel. I would try to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, many of them at the $3 theater a short walk from my university.

That theater was where I first saw Lost in Translation.

I was a 19-year-old college sophomore back then. I had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend and though it was the right decision, I spent the next few months feeling bummed out. I was excelling in most of my courses but struggling with philosophy, wondering why it was so hard to wrap my head around Kierkegaard. I’d get my first singing solo a few months later. And yes, I was already blogging. It was a fairly sedate time in my life.

And I was dreaming of travel. I had always yearned to travel, ever since I was a kid who would sprint to the 900s section in the library and who would pore over her world map placemat before dinner. But back then, the idea of a long-term solo trip hadn’t even occurred to me. I’d realize it was a possibility three years later.

Lost in Translation lit a fire under me. It was full of travel moments I dreamed of experiencing myself — singing karaoke in a private room with friends until dawn, walking through a temple in the woods and coming across a traditional wedding, running through the crowds at Shibuya Crossing.

It touched me deeply, too — the intimacy that you can achieve only with a complete stranger.

Lost in Translation was my favorite film that year and has remained among my most beloved films since. I cheered when Sofia Coppola won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And I was infuriated when the Best Actor Oscar went to Sean Penn in Mystic River instead of Bill Murray. I wouldn’t have been as mad if Johnny Depp had won for the Pirates of the Caribbean, but really? Sean Penn? That dude’s an asshole and he wasn’t that good in Mystic River. (To this day, I consider that one of the most egregious missteps the Academy has ever made. And I wasn’t any happier when Sean Penn won his second Oscar for Milk over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler a few years later.)

The Perfect Travel Movie

I think that Lost in Translation is one of the best travel movies ever made. Why? It actually shows the truth behind travel. Yes, there are happy and beautiful and memorable times, but there are plenty of awkward and sad and confusing moments as well. You argue with your partner. You attempt to understand and be understood by people who don’t speak your language. You go to a restaurant and feel stupid because you can’t read the menu. You cling to every fellow traveler you can find, just to feel normal — but for every true friendship you make, you’re likely to meet a handful of self-absorbed idiots.

So many long-term travelers get on the road and are shocked at instances like these. Why am I having such a rough time? I didn’t see anything like this on Instagram! But Lost in Translation gets the travel mindset completely right.

Tokyo couldn’t have been a better setting for this movie. The city on its surface appears so modern and efficient and organized — yet it’s still Japan, and Japan is governed by a set of unspoken rules known only to the Japanese. Visiting Japan means that you’ll be confused so much of the time. Even on my second visit, it took me a good half hour to find an ATM, get money out, and buy a ticket for the train.

Which is why it makes sense that so much of it was shot at the Park Hyatt Tokyo — the rooms, the pool, and again and again, the bar. The hotel becomes a sanctuary when you can’t handle the stress of an incomprehensible nation any longer. And for years, I yearned to stay there myself. It has long been my “if I could stay anywhere” hotel.

Nostalgia for the Future

It’s one thing to be nostalgic about your past, or even the present — the Portuguese have the best word for this, saudade — but Lost in Translation actually made me nostalgic for the future. I knew that travel was in my future, and in this movie I saw fragments of life that would happen.

You would reach out to a friend in your time of need and get rebuffed.

Charlotte calls a friend on the phone and after some small talk, confesses, “I don’t know who I married.” Her friend absentmindedly misses the comment and Charlotte, nearly in tears, doesn’t say anything else.

That would be me nine years later, messaging the only friend I knew would be awake in my time zone, about to type out, “I think I need to leave him but we have all these flights and comps booked and I would be so unprofessional if I made them spend extra money on those flights and tours for someone who didn’t show up — what do I do?” The first time I had admitted it to anyone, ever. Instead, I typed, “Hey, are you free to talk?”

His reply: “It’s not a good time, can this wait?”

“Sure,” I replied. I never brought it up with him or anyone else again.

You would mess up.

Remember that scene when Bob wakes up in the bed of the jazz singer? In a fraction of a second, you can see every emotion on his face. It’s not the usual “Oh my God, I cheated on my wife!” — that would be too easy, too expected. Instead, he opens his eyes and winces and in a fraction of a second you can read an encyclopedia on his face: “Goddammit, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? Why did I drink that much? Do I really have to sleep with every woman who shows a modicum of interest in me? And now she’s singing in her bathrobe and I need to figure out how to get out of her hotel room without offending her…”

Well. We all make mistakes, Kate, and you’re no exception.

Six years later, you would go out for drinks with a blogger colleague in Chiang Mai and wind up wildly making out with him at arguably the sleaziest club in town. You would wake up, hungover and mortified and ALONE THANK GOD, the next day. Several years later on the other side of the world, he would say, “Hey, remember when we made out and it was no big deal?” and you both would finally have a good laugh over it.

You would dance.

My favorite scene is when Charlotte and Bob and her friends go out for a wild night in Tokyo. There’s music, karaoke, and at one point they end up dancing to Phoenix’s “Too Young” in someone’s apartment.

That scene when everyone is dancing and letting loose is the absolute pinnacle of the movie. It’s the personification of that moment when you’ve consumed the perfect amount of alcohol, enough to dance so much better but to have control over your words. Even throughout the awkwardness, the misunderstandings, and the loneliness, a group of people across cultures have found a way to enjoy their time together. Everybody’s dancing, ooh yeah…

As I watched that scene, I dreamed of dancing like that around the world. And I would.

Twelve years later, two friends and I would burst out of a jeep in rural Western Australia, not even pulling to the side of the road first, just because we wanted to turn up The Fray’s “Over My Head” and groove in the middle of absolute nowhere.

Eleven years later, I would be in a salsa club in Antigua, Guatemala, with seven of my new best friends. Randomly the music escalated — and despite never having heard the song before, all eight of us instinctively jumped and DROPPED THE BEAT like no other beat had ever been dropped in history.

Eight years later, I would be in a rollicking town hall in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, twirling around to traditional folk music with kilted locals until 8:00 in the morning.

Seven years later, I would be dancing in unison with Sharpied, paint-covered backpackers at riverside bars in Vang Vieng, Laos.

But even two, three, four years later, before I became a traveler, before smartphones even existed, I would find bliss dancing in sweaty Boston basement clubs. All I needed was “Return of the Mack,” a stranger to grind on, and my girlfriends to chase him off if he got weird or high-five me if he didn’t.

It’s 10:00 PM and I’m sitting in a bar so familiar I swear I’ve been here before. Tiny pinpricks of light peek through the floor-to-ceiling windows, rooftops flashing bright red, the entire city of Tokyo before me. It’s one thing to know that Tokyo is the most populated city in the world (by metropolitan area, at least); it’s another to see it for yourself. All height and sprawl — the only city that comes close to it is Toronto.

This is the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. You need to pay to get in, but it’s free for guests.

No, I’m not drinking Suntory, toasting relaxing times. That would be far too heavy-handed. Instead I sip the Radio City, made with Grey Goose Earl Grey, pink peppercorn syrup, and soda. I smile at the irony of drinking cocktails named after Manhattan landmarks when my actual apartment lies in great proximity to them.

A curly-haired female singer leads the band, just like in the movie. They are quite good. I’m sure they have to be to get a gig like this. Unlike Bob Harris, though, I’m not getting drunk and bedding any of the musicians.

I’m surrounded by people around the world. Japanese couples. European businessmen and women. Everyone here is the star of their own movie.

I am finally here, lost but fulfilled, in a haze of booze, jazz and cigarette smoke.

You got there, Kate.

It took a lot of work. A lot of sacrifices. And a metric fuck-ton of privileged circumstances of birth. There was the time you were owed $9,000 by various vendors and were down to $200 in your checking account. The time Russians attacked your site so hard nobody could access it. That “hidden surf spots in South Africa” feature you got assigned for a magazine after they rejected your “adventure activities in South Africa” idea, the most difficult thing on the planet to both research and write.

It paid off. You worked your ass off, you tried new things before anyone else did, you stayed original while so many bloggers copied you, and you got here on your own merit. You got to a point where not only you could afford to stay there as a guest — albeit briefly and not often — the hotel offered you a free night’s stay because they wanted you there. They wanted you there that much.

A fabulous suite in Tokyo. A place where they called you “Ms. McCulley” wherever you went. Just a 17-hour door-to-door journey away from your Manhattan apartment.

This is what it’s like to have a travel dream come true in your thirties.

READ NEXT: What’s It Really Like to Travel Japan?

Essential Info: The Park Hyatt Tokyo was fantastic start to finish, a true luxury experience, with some of the most spectacular views in town. I loved my suite, the pool, the spa area, and the incredible service. Rates from $616.

Before my trip I bought a digital copy of Lonely Planet Japan and kept it on my phone. I highly recommend you do so as well, as Tokyo can be a very confusing city and Google Maps often gave me false locations. Having the added security of a guidebook put me at ease.

Even though Japan is a very safe country, anything can happen. Be sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Japan.

This campaign was brought to you by ANA — All Nippon Airways, who covered my flights to Japan, the expenses of three days in Tokyo, and all my time in Hokkaido. I extended my time in Japan an additional five days at my own expense. I had full freedom to do anything I wanted, and all vendors were all paid in full except the Park Hyatt Tokyo, who offered me one comped night and one night at a media rate of $500 including spa access and breakfast, plus they kindly picked up my and Annette’s bar tab. All opinions, as always, are my own. 

The post On Travel, Lost in Translation, and Park Hyatt Tokyo appeared first on Adventurous Kate.

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