Kristin Addis is the solo female traveler behind BeMyTravelMuse.com, a website for off the beaten path adventures. For the past three years, she’s traveled the world alone, hitchhiking in China, sleeping in a tent for over a month in Africa, and learning how to say ‘I love you’ in 12 Asian languages.
Dear friends, it’s time we talk about a hotly debated topic in the travel world – one that divides friend groups – between the stairs and the elevator, anyway:
Which reigns supreme between the suitcase and the backpack?
Now I used to be a backpack lover all the way. Suitcases made little sense to me, especially when traveling in developing countries that didn’t have sidewalks.
But then something odd happened, I got tired of carrying backpacks on my back, constantly hoisting them up and sweating underneath them. I found that I could carve out a bit more space in a suitcase as well, and have a bit more confidence of things not getting squished.
I was left torn, confused, and bewildered, if you will. Where did my allegiance belong?
So I decided to experiment with both, so that we can in this debate once and for all.
This almost looks like a joyful backpack stock photo or something…
Now before we dive in, I just want to rule out duffel bags, which are the least convenient because they have neither nor straps for a back, and while we’re at it I’m ruling out rolling backpacks too because they bring the worst of both worlds – they are clunky and hard to carry on your back, and soft and squishy, removing the benefits of a suitcase. Cool? Moving on…
After using a backpack for most of my trips from 2012 until present (and often doing so carry-on only), I decided to use a suitcase when traveling in the US, Germany, Japan, and southern Africa.
I figured that this was a diverse and varied sample size that would allow me to weigh the pros and cons.
Additionally, I travel alone, so ain’t nobody carrying my stuff but me.
This is what I found:
The Benefits of a Backpack
I love the versatility of traveling with a backpack. It doesn’t matter what kind of ground you encounter, because the backpack is not meant to be on the ground, by design.
To me, the benefit is actually twofold: you can go anywhere with a backpack, including up and down stairs, and it forces you into minimalist packing, because you have to be able to carry it.
I’ve sworn by backpacks for most of my trips, but from time to time when I was encountering multiple climates and had to bring extra gear for things like backpacking and camping, wearing a backpack meant being saddled with tons of weight. I wondered, was there a better way?
This was pretty rough, carrying a tent and all of my clothes and tech gear in Patagonia.
The Benefits of a Suitcase
As I readied myself to leave California this summer, I went into my mom’s garage, dusted off an old suitcase, and figured I’d give it a try. I would be traveling from Southern California’s perpetual spring to the warmth of New Orleans, and also wanted to bring back some cooler weather clothing for Berlin. Next, I would bring the same suitcase to Japan, and then back to Germany And eventually to Namibia, too. This meant I had to put cold-weather clothing in with my African summer clothing.
Though I can make multiple climates work in one backpack, it’s a bit easier to sit on the lid of a suitcase to push it down while zipping it than it is to pray the zipper doesn’t break on your backpack while pushing the fabric together.
Additionally, we can’t deny that as a traveler with a suitcase, you just look classier than a backpacker with a backpack. I don’t care a lot about this, and in fact even enjoy walking into a super nice hotel with a grungy backpack and watching eyebrows raise, but I also DGAF and not everyone feels like I do.
Alas, things quickly turned tricky with the suitcase. I loved it while I was packing, but fell out of love as soon as I started traveling.
A rare escalator sighting in Tokyo
I encountered the first set of stairs pretty quickly – the set of over 100 to get into my apartment. That’s after the stairs in the train stations, and the fine cobblestone streets of Berlin. Of course I knew that this would be part of the deal, but I figured that problem would evaporate once I headed to Tokyo – technologically advanced, robot-loving Tokyo.
I was wrong.
As I made my way from the airport to my hotel in Tokyo, with three train station changes in between, I only found one escalator. there were constant stairs! Just to go a little bit up, or just a little bit down, or to the next platform. It delayed me as I stopped to pick up the bag in a crowded subway. I yearned for the convenience of my backpack more than ever.
Southern Africa was no better, where I was frequently dragging my suitcase over dirt paths to get to the lodge doors.
Which one Won:
You guys, I’m going back to my backpack for most situations and applications. While I think that suitcases are fine if you plan on going straight to your hotel and not moving at any point during your vacation, the convenience of a backpack is just much better.
Yes, it can be annoying having to carry it around, but it is a lot less annoying than struggling with a clunky suitcase down 100 stairs. The minor inconvenience of wearing the backpack, which is exercise anyway, outweighs the frequent and major inconveniences of a suitcase for me.
What do you think? Are you team backpack or team suitcase?
During the first two years of my travels, I’d been largely Christmas-free. I was in Thailand the first year for the holidays and following that, in the Philippines, but in a slightly remote area without any organized celebrations. That was just fine with me, as I had started to get a bit jaded about the buy-buy-buy nature of the holidays and had started to be more team Grinch than team Santa.
Then I moved to Germany. Something about the cultural experience with the delicious food and beautiful lights totally flipped my approach to Christmas, and I feel in love again. I’ve traveled all around Germany’s Christmas markets from small towns to big ones, from medieval-style markets to modern ones selling modern wares.
Somewhere between the kinderpunsch and gingerbread, I started to love Christmas again. At this point, I’ve been to about 30 markets, and these are the best ones:
Bad Wimpfen is almost too cute for words. The town itself is adorable with the exposed beam buildings and quaint decorations reminiscent of the olden days, and the market makes it light up even more.
As you wander up and up through the cobblestone streets, meandering down into courtyards, it seems like the entire old town is in on this Christmas market. They had live music, handmade wares in decorated stands against the backdrop of the old church and decorated buildings, and lots of sweets for sale. Though still popular, this was slightly less crowded than some of the other markets. This one is my personal favorite (so far)
How to get there: It’s a 2-minute walk from Bad Wimpfen train station When: Friday – Sunday from November 30 – December 16 Cost: Free
You guys, Tübingen’s Christmas market is all about chocolate! The chocolART Christmas market is Europe’s largest chocolate market and boy does it deliver! Stands sell chocolate in every form imaginable – hot chocolate, spicy chocolate, vegan chocolate (yay!), chocolate cake, chocolate spread, chocolate covered fruit, and chocolate booze. If it exists in chocolate form, you can find it at chocolART.
This is a popular market, so I highly recommend getting there early and staying until the lights come on at night in the town square, projecting designs on to each of the adorable buildings. I adore this little town at any time of year but at Christmas it becomes a chocolate delight!
There are so many reasons to visit Heidelberg – the castle, the philosopher’s way, the adorable old town, and even the university. In the winter time, they’ve even got several Christmas markets! My favorite is in Heidelberg’s old town, which is already famous for how picturesque it is, so just imagine it covered in lights! I recommend getting there while it is still light out and hiking up to the castle for sunset and then walking down into the market.
This one goes for several blocks and has different pockets to explore. At night, the buildings have colorful lights projected onto them as well.
Hattingen is the first Christmas market I ever visited. It was also the smallest, but what I loved about it was the traditions kept alive throughout the town. Each hour, a woman dressed as Frau Holle shakes out a pillow case which is meant to symbolize snow falling. It did result in a bunch of feathers stuck in the cracks of the cobblestone sidewalk, but the kids around town sure loved it!
Hattingen Christmas market’s wares
What I found Particularly appealing was the friendliness of the locals, including the operator of the merry-go-round who humored me and my giant Hungarian friend by letting us take a ride around. It was also my first taste of Gluhwein (mulled wine) which was served in a little boot. How could that not leave a lasting impression?
Essen’s light display is what I’ll remember most about the Christmas market. Compared to others, there was much more room to walk around and enjoy the sights without constantly bumping into someone else or pushing through narrow walkways.
The lights in Essen
Though it took place in an outdoor shopping mall, which took away from the magic a bit, it’s a trade-off for me because it’s a bit less crowded and claustrophobic. I also highly recommend checking out the Zeche Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex nearby. It’s a converted coal mine that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It doesn’t sound exciting but it’s quite interesting to take a look inside, and they have an ice skating rink for Christmas! You can read more about that on the best things to do in Germany in the winter.
This market was quirky and quite different from all the rest. In what was the smallest town visited on this trip, this particular market has a medieval theme – and they keep to it! Everything from juggling performers, harpsichord players and fortune tellers were about, all dressed to the theme.
Renaissance-era tea anyone?
Loved the performances as well
It felt a bit like a Christmas-themed renaissance fair, with whole pigs roasting over spit-fires, mulled wine served in clay mugs, and hollowed out cow horns and flower garlands for sale. As a kid, I would have loved this place to pieces, and as an adult, I still had a profound appreciation for it. Apparently at night, the market is decorated with candles. Out of all the markets, this one keeps to the medieval theme the most.
Given it’s a big city with lots of famous markets, prepare for crowds in Cologne. That said, the biggest and best Christmas tree I saw, framed by the beautiful Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), made for such an impressive sight that this one sticks out in my mind the most.
For your festive Pinterest board!
Loved these gorgeous ornaments
Plenty of markets are within walking distance of each other in Cologne, making it an easy place to do some Christmas market hopping. Some are chocolate themed, some are elf-themed, and some are a bit more modern, selling practical Christmas gifts and beautiful ornaments, though you can expect to pay a price premium on such things.
Famous for gingerbread, Aachen is one of my favorite Christmas markets, not to mention town in general. The market is famous for having the best gingerbread in all of Germany – at least that’s what they say. I thought it was full of really good food, too.
A view of the beautiful market and Aachen Dom from city hall
What really blew me away was the cathedral in town, covered in golden mosaics and impossibly high and intricate stained glass windows. It took my breath away and made me dizzy from constantly looking up, jaw gaping open from the beauty above me.
How intricate are these mosaics?!
I also absolutely loved the cathedral. Definitely take a look inside if you’ll be visiting the Aachen Christmas market. The mosaic ceiling is gorgeous, and the stained glass windows are impressive as well.
This is a market I’d bring my family back to. It was lovely.
How to get there: take the train to Aachen train station When: Daily from 11AM – 9PM from November 23 – December 23 Cost: Free
Nestled in the Black Forest, this Christmas market is located underneath a gorgeous archway bridge that lights up in rainbow colors, changing every 10 minutes or so. There’s a brook running behind the market as well, decorated with a nativity scene. This one is small and intimate, and also popular, but super magical.
Dreamy to the maximum
The booths at this market have some of the more unique items for sale that I’ve seen, including sculptures, a conversation with St. Nicholas, and Christmas wraps in tortillas. I didn’t expect that at what appeared to be such a traditional market from first impressions. Be sure to climb up the hill above the market to get the view pictured above, and watch as the train runs by every 10 minutes or so.
How to get there: Take the free buses from Himmelreich or Hinterzarten station
When:Friday – Sunday from November 30 – December 23 (specific opening hours here)
Cost: 2€ on Fridays or 3€ on Saturdays and Sundays
I truly feel that, amid stiff competition, Hohenzollern is the fairest castle in all the land. It’s beautiful from a far, and you should see it (here’s how) but it’s beautiful up close at Christmas time as well when they host the King’s market.
The fairest castle in all the land (and a kinderpunsch to boot!)
The castle is closed for the market on the inside, so plan on spending the entirety of your market experience in the courtyard, which reminds me a bit of Hogwarts. You’ll see stalls with roasted chestnuts, handmade items like carved wooden St. Nick dolls and teddy bears, and ornaments. This is a market that kids will love thanks to the bubble man and a dressed up Saint Nicholas with elves. Though it’s the most expensive one on the list, this market is worth checking out, especially since it’s one of the only ones that takes place in a castle!
This is by far the largest medieval market I’ve ever been to! If you’re like me when I was a kid, obsessed with princesses, going to Medieval Times for my birthday, and loving the Renaissance fair, you’ll love the sheer size and variety of this one.
I admit, prior to making Germany my adopted home, I was pretty over Christmas. It felt to me like I was always indirectly buying myself a bunch of things that would live in the bottom of my closet for no reason. Then I went to a Christmas market and my cold, Grinch heart grew by three sizes.
I saw dazzling lights, I saw steaming cups of joy (mulled wine back then, now I love the kiddie punch), I saw mountains of chocolate and handmade wares. I was delighted! I was charmed.
Christmas markets are not the kitschy fake Christmas cheer I feared they would be. They serve great food, each has its own unique theme, and they are a true cultural experience. Believe me, I would be the first one to dismiss them otherwise, but I love them! In particular, I love the fairytale feel of the ones in Baden-Württemberg, home to the Black Forest, picturesque little towns, and the most amazing castles in Germany.
The Best Christmas Markets in Germany - YouTube
After much exploration, these are my favorite Christmas markets down south in Germany, each reachable by day trip from Stuttgart:
I’ve probably been to about 30 Christmas markets now, and Bad Wimpfen has to be my favorite. The town itself is adorable with The exposed beam buildings and quaint decorations reminiscent of the olden days.
As you wander up and up through the cobblestone streets, meandering down into courtyards, it seems like the entire old town is in on this Christmas market. It felt like it kept going and going, with new pockets to explore full of beautiful lights, delicious food, live music from a brass band, and lots of handmade ornaments and cookie cutters for sale, among other things. Though still popular, this was slightly less crowded than some of the other markets. I highly recommend this one.
Cost: Free Getting there: Located about an hour and 20 minutes north of Stuttgart, take the S-bahn until Bad Wimpfen and walk for 2 minutes to get to the market. When: Most weekends from the end of November until the middle of December. Check the tourism board website here.
Brace yourselves and don your stretchiest pair of pants because Tübingen’s Christmas market is all about chocolate! The chocolART Christmas market has chocolate in every form imaginable – hot chocolate, spicy chocolate, vegan chocolate (yay!), chocolate cake, chocolate spread, chocolate covered fruit, and chocolate booze. If you can imagine it, you can find it at chocolART.
This is a popular market, so I highly recommend getting there early and staying until the lights come on at night in the town square, projecting designs on to each of the adorable buildings. I adore this little town at any time of year but at Christmas it really comes alive!
Cost: Free Getting there: Take the train to Tübingen hbf then walk about 10 minutes across the bridge and to your left to get to the market. When: Typically the week leading into the second weekend of December. More info here.
There are so many reasons to visit Heidelberg – the castle, the philosopher’s way, and in the winter time, the Christmas markets! Heidelberg’s old town is already famous for help picturesque it is, so just imagine it covered in lights! I recommend getting there while it is still light out and hiking up to the castle for sunset and then walking down into the market.
Be sure to check out the ice rink, the building is lit up at night, and prepare to hang onto the little mug from this market – it’s adorable.
Cost: Free Getting there: If you arrive at the Heidelberg hbf, take the number 33 bus to altstadt. Depending on how you get there, you can also get off at the altstadt stop on the S-bahn train. When: Usually every day from the end of November until December 22. More here.
Dreamy to the maximum
Nestled in the Black Forest, this Christmas market is located underneath a gorgeous archway bridge, which lights up from blue to purple, pink, red, gold, and green. As if that wasn’t magical enough, a brook runs behind the market that is also lit up for Christmas.
The booths at this market have modern Art wares for sale as well as some inventive foods, like a ‘Christmas wrap’ with cheese and salsa wrapped in a tortilla. Or the dessert version which is hazelnut chocolate wrapped in a tortilla. It sounds wrong but it’s a popular booth! Be sure to climb up the hill above the market to get the view pictured above, and watch as the train runs by every 10 minutes or so.
Cost: 2€ on Fridays or 3€ on Saturdays and Sundays. Getting there: Take the train to Himmelreich or Hinterzarten. From there the market provides free buses that seemed to be running constantly. When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday almost every weekend in December. Click here to look at the website, which is in German but dates are universal.
The fairest castle in all the land (and a kinderpunsch to boot!)
It’s no big secret if you’ve seen my other writing that this is my favorite castle. I truly feel it’s the fairest in all the land. It’s beautiful from a far, and you should see it (here’s how) but it’s beautiful up close at Christmas time as well when they host the King’s market.
The market takes place almost entirely outside, so don’t plan on spending much time in the castle. Instead plan on stalls with roasted chestnuts, cute handmade items like carved wooden St. Nick dolls and teddy bears, and a market that kids will love thanks to the bubble man and a dressed up Saint Nicholas with elves. Though it’s the most expensive one on the list, this market is worth checking out, especially since it’s one of the only ones that takes place in a castle!
Cost: 10€ Getting there: I have only ever driven a car to Hohenzollern Since the only way I’m aware of to get to the viewpoint. However there are shuttle buses running from the Hechingen train station for the Christmas market. When: The first and second weekends of December. More info here.
Lovely town, super cool market.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with princesses, went to Medieval Times for my birthday, and loved the Renaissance fair. So when I found out that they had medieval markets in Germany I was like wow, they really checked all the boxes with this one!
I love these markets because they often keep to the theme pretty well, with old-school games like archery and axe throwing and food and drink that is inspired by the times as well. These are the perfect markets to buy handmade wooden items, or leather if you’re into it.
The medieval market in Esslingen must be one of the biggest ones in Germany. It’s certainly the largest medieval Christmas market I’ve ever been to, and I love the variety.
Cost: Free Getting there: Get off at the Esslingen hbf and walk up Berliner str for about five minutes and you’ll start to see the market. When: From the end of November until Dec 21. More info here.
Pretty in gold
If you love dazzling lights then you’ll love the baroque market in Ludwigsburg, just 20 minutes north of Stuttgart. The town lights up with golden wings guiding your way from the station to the main market square, where four golden angels fly over the Christmas market. This was one of the most beautiful markets I visited thanks to all of the golden lights.
There’s a merry-go-round for kids, lots of stalls with lights, knits, ornaments, and of course mulled wine and food. This one is worth stopping by on your way home from Bad Wimpfen, or as the destination itself.
Cost: Free Getting there: Take the S-bahn to Ludwigsburg hbf and walk for about 10 minutes to the market square. Golden wings will light your way. When: Daily from the end of November until December 23. More info here.
I’ll take it in blue please!
We can’t talk about Stuttgart Christmas markets without talking about the big one in Stuttgart itself! Located at the Schlossplatz stop on the U-bahn, Stuttgart’s main Christmas market is known for all of its dazzling lights. There’s a giant Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, blocks of stalls with lightup stars, ginger bread, and food and drink, and even a light up Porsche and Mercedes.
Cost: Free Getting there: Schlossplatz is the closes station. When: Daily from the end of November to the end of December. More info here.
While there are hundreds of Christmas markets to choose from, these are a few of my favorites, particularly in amazing Baden-Württemberg, which has the best Christmas markets in Germany, IMHO.
I’m sad to be leaving this wonderful country (you can read more about that here) but am so glad that I got a chance to explore these markets before taking off. This will always be my favorite place to celebrate Christmas.
*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Tourismus Baden-Württemberg. All thoughts on these amazing markets and how much I love Baden-Württemberg are as always, my own.
If you love the outdoors and rugged nature, it’s hard to think of a better destination than Patagonia. Split between Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is home to the world’s most beautiful hikes, is a mecca for rock climbers, and is even the jumping off point for Antarctica.
Considering it’s a fairly large region, it can be overwhelming to figure out when to go, where to start, and which activities to pack in. After spending two months there myself, I put together a comprehensive guide to give you an idea of what is a must-see, how to prepare, and when to go. Without further ado, here is my full Patagonia guide:
When to Go and Weather
There is no wrong time to visit Patagonia, though you will have a lot more access to the trails and activities if you visit during the summer months. The highest season is between December and March, though November and April are lovely months as well. Just keep in mind that dependent on the year, November and April can be somewhat risky because of snow closing some of the trails, though the spring and the autumn are beautiful.
If visiting in the winter, prepare for a different experience. In Argentina’s Bariloche, it’s the perfect time to go skiing. In the rest of Patagonia, though, plan on sleepier towns, fewer open activities, and limited options for things to do.
Weather-wise, when it comes to Patagonia, the best thing to do is prepare for anything. The region is known for incredibly strong winds, sometimes reaching over 100 km/h, and storms that can materialize out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. While it can be warm, don’t expect hot summer weather that you might encounter closer to the equator. When it comes to dressing for the weather in Patagonia, plan on wearing things that are waterproof, including your hiking boots, and prepare for the possibility of freezing temperatures.
How to Get to Patagonia
As anyone who fell in love with the concept of visiting Patagonia from 180° South knows, there are many ways to get there, including sailing. But for those of us who stick to more accessible means, the best way to get there is to fly or take a bus.
Buses in South America are generally quite comfortable and reliable. Though quality varies from company to company, most buses have the option to fully recline, called full cama, have bathrooms on board, and offer meals and snacks. As long-term buses go, South America must have some of the best in the world. If you can swing it, I recommend paying up for the nicest company. I usually find this out by doing a quick Google search for my intended route and reading reviews, or asking at my accommodation what they recommend. It’s usually possible to book your bus a day or two before at the bus station, or you can ask your accommodation to help you, or in some cases you can book online. The other option is flying.
The thing about South America air travel is, while traveling within a country can be pretty cheap, as soon as you cross the border the prices jump up like crazy. I started my Patagonia journey in Bariloche, Argentina, so the most logical place for me to fly into was Buenos Aires, and then to catch and onward flight from there. If you plan to stick to Chile, you will most likely be flying via Santiago.
That leads to the next question: Where should you start?
Where to Start in Patagonia
Should you begin your adventure in Chile or Argentina? The short answer is it doesn’t really matter. Bariloche in Argentina is considered a sort of gateway to Patagonia, and a great place to begin your journey if going from north to south, as I did.
Alternatively, you can fly from Buenos Aires down to El Calafate if you’re more interested in the Perito Moreno glacier, and checking out the national parks down south like Torres del Paine and the Fitz Roy in El Chaltén. Some choose to fly into the southernmost point, Ushuaia, and head north from there.
Alternatively, if traveling within Chile, it probably makes the most sense to fly directly to either Puerto Montt if traveling the Carretera Austral or Punta Arenas if you plan to go directly to Torres del Paine. Right now these might seem like a lot of names without any real idea attached to what they are, so let’s go into the best things to see in Patagonia in the next section to help you figure out where you’d like to go.
Where to Go in Patagonia
The following are some of the best things to see in Patagonia, in order of my personal favorites. While everyone is different, these are some of the most impressive things that I saw and that I think you’ll love too:
Torres del Paine
For many, this is the crown jewel of Patagonia. For those who love hiking and are ready to give it a full 5 to 8 days, I highly recommend backpacking through the O circuit in this national Park. You’re guaranteed to see incredible mountain formations, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is only visible from four trails in Patagonia, and the incredible Torres, a series of three towers over a minty green-colored lake. There are so many beautiful things in between that we don’t have time to discuss here but if you think you might want to do this, check out my guide on how to hike the circuit in Torres del Paine.
A strong answer to Torres del Paine, El Chaltén is Argentina’s trekking capital. To me, this little town has it all. It’s quirky, the food is good, and it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape in Patagonia. The creators of the Patagonia label agree, featuring the Fitz Roy on their label.
If you’re less interested in doing a multi-day hike, there are plenty of day hikes in the area, including the 4-day Huemul Circuit. This is one of the most beautiful, and most challenging hikes in Patagonia. There are several day or 2-day options as well. You can read more about the best hikes in El Chaltén here.
The entire Carretera Austral (Ruta 7)
Though remote, this road trip is one of the best adventures in Patagonia. Most travelers do not go down the Ruta 7, opting for the more well-trodden, however more boring Ruta 40 instead. It gets you down south quicker but to me this is a mistake because the Carretera takes you through some of the most wild, remote, and gorgeous scenery. Think hanging glaciers, gorgeous fjords, and people living a way of life that is more reminiscent of the past. You can click here for my full guide on driving the Carretera. I would give this one at least two weeks if you can!
The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, and regularly makes the news for having ice bridges and regular cavings fall dramatically into the lake it sits on. When you visit, you can take a boat, and or walk the length of a wooden boardwalk to take in the sheer size of this incredible glacier. It’s both humbling and are inspiring.
The glacier is about 30 km in length, 5 km wide and an average height of 73 m from the water to the top, though of course most of the glacier is underneath the water. Keep in mind that the glacier is not located in the town of the same name, confusing as that is. You will need to head to El Calafate to see it. The town itself is nothing to write home about, but the glacier is a must-see.
Bariloche is a town in the northern part of Argentinian Patagonia, which many consider the gateway of Patagonia. Reminiscent of Switzerland, the town is known for its chocolate and skiing. Although it’s touristy, some of the most beautiful lakes and hikes are located just outside of it. You can read more about the best things to do in Bariloche here.
Tierra del Fuego
Interested in seeing penguins? This is the perfect place to do just that. Book a day or a multi-day trip out to one of the islands to see the Emperor or Magellan penguin colonies.
What to Pack for Patagonia
As mentioned in the weather section, Patagonia can experience many different kinds of weather all in one day. The most important thing is to bring clothing that will keep you comfortable. For me, that meant hiking boots that would keep my feet dry, layers so that I was never too hot or too cold, and waterproof gear, especially for hiking.
Prepare for temperatures that could remind you of a late winter, while allowing for the possibility of days that are more like a warm spring. You can read more about my ideal packing list here.
How to Prepare for Trekking in Patagonia
If you’re going to Patagonia and not planning on hiking then honestly what are you doing? All joking aside, I highly recommend working in plenty of hikes into your Patagonia experience because the most beautiful parts are only accessible by foot.
Hiking in Patagonia does come with its own set of challenges. You can plan on the occasional challenge, encountering types of trail that might be totally different from what you’re used to, and of course the winds. Some hikes can be done as day hikes and those are a little bit easier, but if you plan on backpacking, have a look at my guide to trekking in Patagonia for all of the tips on how to be prepared.
Your trip to Patagonia can be quite expensive or quite cheap depending on your travel style. In most of Patagonia, it’s possible to camp, hitchhike, and take buses. On the other side of things, you could fly more often, opt for higher-end accommodation, or even rent your own car to get around. It all depends on how much time you have, what your tolerance for discomfort is, and personal preferences regarding food. Would you prefer to eat out or are you willing to cook? Most accommodation is equipped with kitchens that are communal, so that makes it a bit easier if you are trying to save money.
All of that said, Patagonia is not a budget destination, per se. Chile has the strongest economy in South America and if you are coming from Bolivia or Peru, prepare to break your wallet open a bit more in Patagonia. My personal spend was just over $53 USD per day, which was a mid-range, modest budget. You can read more here about what went into that and how you can save.
The Best Itineraries for Patagonia
So with all all of the information I’ve thrown at you, how can you plan out your perfect Patagonia trip? As this region becomes more popular, it’s becoming more important to book things ahead of time and have a rough idea of what your itinerary will be. For that reason I put together Patagonia itineraries from one week to one month with a few variations in between to help you get started.
I hope you’re ready for the adventure of the lifetime in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
Patagonia is still one of my favorite trips after six years of traveling the world, and I can’t wait to go back.
Imagine this: You score an amazing deal on a flight to a snowy destination. You can almost imagine the snowflakes falling on your tongue and the hot chocolate warming your hands.
To be honest, part of the fun is figuring out which cute winter coats and scarves are going to accompany you on the trip, until the crushing realization that that great deal isn’t so great any more after all of the checked bag fees, time waiting at baggage claim, and the annoyance of dragging suitcases over cobblestone.
Don’t give up your winter wonderland dreams just yet, you can still look fab and pack carry on only luggage in the winter. I’ve got the full system here.
It’s all possible with one simple tactic: layering.
All of these things can fit into a carry on sized backpack, even though at first it might not seem like it. This is how I do it:
Wear bulky items on the flight
I typically wear my snow boots, winter coat, and biggest scarf on the flight. I can almost always stuff the coat into the overhead bin, or use it on the freezing cold flight as a blanket or pillow. It’s usually been much better to have it with me than to have it packed for this reason.
When it comes to jackets, I suggest bringing the one that most suits the weather you’re likely to encounter. If I know I’m going to be in temperatures well below freezing, I tend to bring along my puffy red jacket. It has kept me warm in -30 F previously.
However on my recent trip to the Christmas markets, the temperatures were mostly just at around freezing or over, so I stuck to my more stylish wool coat and layered sweaters underneath.
The same goes for leggings. If I know it’s going to be particularly cold, I wear ski underwear with a snow pants shell over, but if I can get away with layering more stylish pairs of leggings or even yoga pants, I do that instead.
Use a packing cube
Here’s a video that walks you through the process in more detail:
Packing Carry On Only in Winter - YouTube
As you can see from the video, the biggest key is to have a packing cube, which allows you to roll and stuff your clothing in side by side. I’ve bene using the same one for years now and swear by it. I even devoted an entire post to why I love it so much here.
While everyone else struggles with heavy bags, I love the ease of walking around with my light bag, skipping baggage claim, having no worries that my bag might get lost by the airline, and easily taking public transportation rather than missing the fun of people-watching in a cab.
It’s just about creatively layering and alternating, washing clothing regularly, and being choosey about what you bring and what you leave at home.
As you can see, it’s still possible to travel carry-on only in the winter. Give it a try, and let me know in the comments how it works out for you! I hope this helped you to travel lighter. Happy travels!
Besides, if I had left, I would have missed all of this amazing, delicious, incredibleness that is the German winter. Here are 15 reasons why you’ll want to visit Germany in the winter, too:
The first major snowfall of winter in Berlin
The first major snow of the season in Berlin was magical. The skies turned blue, the kids grabbed their sleds, and good vibes were felt all around.
There is so much to do in Berlin, regardless of the season and the weather, that I’ve made it my home for the past four years. This quirky and gritty city is like an onion with endless layers. Though the autumn and the summer are the more popular months to visit, here’s a list of amazing things to do in the winter in Berlin.
2) Christmas Markets
They’re so much fun!
I didn’t know how I’d feel about Christmas markets, because I’m usually team Grinch, but they turned out to be really festive, fun, and quite delicious as well.
What I love the most about the Christmas markets in Germany is how well the traditions are kept alive. For instance, it was lovely to see a woman dressed as Frau Holle shaking out a pillow case which is meant to symbolize snow falling at the Hattingen Christmas Market, and meeting locals dressed proudly (and rightfully so!) in olden-style clothing at the end of the Miner’s Wintermarkt, as part of the procession called the Mettenschicht at Düppenweiler. Germany’s Christmas markets are not only festive and fun, but also a great way to take a closer look at the locals’ cultures and traditions. Plus, they have excellent food and beverages.
They also vary quite a bit region by region. In Cologne, there’s a more traditional market with a gorgeous light display on the Kolner Dom, In Berlin, there’s a Japanese Christmas market every other year, and in Hohenzollern castle outside of Stuttgart, there’s even a chocolate market.
Aachen Christmas market is my absolute favorite. Starting from November 23 – December 23 every year, the market welcomes visitors with beautiful lights and irresistible gingerbread aroma.
The Aachen bakeries are famed for their gingerbread and marzipan bread that are exported to all over the world. However, at the Christmas market, they are freshly baked and taste even better! You know they take their gingerbread seriously when there’s literally a 6m tall gingerbread man mascot at the market. Delicious mulled wine, a warm, perfectly-spiced, amaretto drink that’s highly addictive, is also sold at the market.
Additionally, the cathedral in Aachen is intricate and gorgeous. As a fan of architecture, and art history, I was amazed.
4) Black Forest
No footprints ahead of me, only behind me
Having associated the Black Forest with terms like ‘magical, mystical’, and delicious (the cake, I mean!) my whole life, I was still blown away by just how much of a winter wonderland the Black Forest can be.
I enjoyed walking through the forest and admiring the snow-covered pine trees, but if you are looking for something more on the adventurous side, the Black Forest offers various slopes and rinks for skiing, snowboarding, as well as hiking.
I highly recommend driving along the Panoramic route, assuming the roads are safe to drive and you feel comfortable, and stopping in the small towns along the way. Sasbachwalden is a favorite of mine. They’re particularly well known for their wine and cake.
5) Dazzling Light Displays
At the Kölner Dom in Cologne
Germany does Christmas right. Pictured here is the Christmas market at the Cologne Cathedral.
Most major cities in Germany will have beautiful Christmas lights displays at the bigger Christmas markets, but be sure to check out the one at the Botanischer Garten in Berlin as well, which is next on the list!
6) Botanischer Garten
Inspired by London’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Berlin’s very own botanic garden now lights up every November – December, making the area a beautiful winter wonderland. The route is about 1.5km, where visitors will walk through and past several light displays, illuminations, and 3D figures. There’s also regional food, open fire, and even an ice rink at the garden for ice skating enthusiasts.
The entrance fee is on the pricier side, but it’s a great spot for anyone who’s into photography! It’s open from the 16 November 2017 to 7 January 2018, open daily from 5pm to 9pm (closed on 24 and 31 December). Admission is €14.5 – 19 Euro, depending on the dates.
7) An Awesome Ice Rink at Zeche Zollverein in Essen
At the old coke plant outside of Essen
Zeche Zollverein is a museum, an event venue, and the only coal mine in the world that’s declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its beautiful architecture. Each winter, you can ice skate on its long ice rink and enjoy delicious meals at its restaurant. A full-day ticket to the ice rink is €7, though if you are short on time, you can purchase the evening ticket for €5 and enjoy the light installation and even better atmosphere for 2 hours before it closes.
You could also take a closer look at the beautiful architecture and learn more about the mining history by joining a tour. English guided tours are available on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays (except for 24, 25, and 31 December) at 3pm. The 2-hour long tour costs €6. You can book your tickets here and check the schedule here!
8) A White Christmas
Catching snow flakes
If you grew up somewhere without winter like I did, then you’ve never had a white Christmas. Finally experiencing one was something really special.
Though Bavaria’s Alps are probably the most dreamy and famous place to enjoy winter, you can enjoy snow anywhere in Germany, if you get lucky!
9) Snow Coated Castles
Germany is the fairytale castle capital of the world. The already stunning castles look even more magical in the winter, and have you really been to Germany in the winter if you have not seen a castle and have a little Frozen moment yourself?
The Hohenzollern Castles are easily the fairest castles in all the land, and are the ones I’d recommend prioritizing for dreaminess and fewer crowds, whether you want to see them from afar or up close. If you have more time, check out 12 other magical castles in Germany.
10) Winter Sports
Germany has groomed some of the best skiers and ice hockey players out there, so it’s no wonder that there are plenty of winter sports opportunities in the country.
Every winter, the locals spend their free time skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snow hiking, and ice-skating. If you are a winter sport enthusiast, you are in for a treat! Some of the best places for winter sports include Zugspitze, which is the highest mountain in Germany, as well as Belchen, and Harz Mountains.
11) The Berlin Treehouse
A former dump, bordering the old Berlin wall, and a symbol of Berlin’s counterculture, the treehouse is a sight in the winter.
When the wall fell, Osman Kalin who built this inventive abode was threatened with eviction (the building wasn’t exactly up to code, and the land wasn’t exactly his), but thanks to the neighboring church deciding to give him the land, and the rallying neighborhood protesters, he still lives there today.
12) A Snowy Saxon Switzerland National Park
Lovely in the Autumn AND the winter
I am beginning to think that places that are good in the fall, are mostly also good in the winter. There are many national parks in Germany that are great for winter, but to me, Saxon Switzerland stands out. The hikes there are lovely and moderately easy, and the iconic Basteri Bridge looks stunning in white.
What’s more? There’s apparently the other side of the bastian that’s exceptionally peaceful and tranquil during this time of the year. There are extended sauna hours, ice-time bowling, and a beer garden that turns into a winter lounge with a fire place. Talk about cozy!
13) Spas and Saunas
So calming and nice
To enjoy the spas in most of Germany, prepare to strip. No, I am not being cheeky (omg the pun). Most spas in Germany are textile-free atmospheres. Vabali Spa in Berlin is a big space with a variety of saunas that are perfect for muscle aches or just relaxing self care day.
I was slightly skeptical and thought it would be strange to go to a coed naked spa, but this is completely normal in this part of the world, and it actually felt freeing and comfortable! The atmosphere is respectful and upscale, even though everyone is sitting around completely naked.
There are saunas and pools, as well as massages in most spas in Germany. I highly recommend the sports massage, and the 95° sauna if you can handle it. It’s so good!
14) Visit Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Christmas Market
Looking for an alternative Christmas vibe? Hamburg’s famous red light district plays host to the Santa Pauli Christmas market each year, full of sexy and erotic gifts, strip shows, and mulled wine of course! Due to the erotic nature, it’s adults-only. I haven’t personally been but I can only imagine it’s quite the experience! You can read more here.
15) Paraglide at Zugzpitze
Paragliding in the Alps can be awesome at any time, but there’s something particularly beautiful about doing so in the winter months. Zugspitze in Bavara is Germany’s tallest mountain, and a popular place for paragliding. You can read more about how to book here.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to everyone who told me to run, not walk, away from the winter in Germany. It has been snowy, beautiful, and honestly tons of fun.
If you’re considering visiting Germany in the winter, but aren’t sure if you should, then let me make it an easy choice for you: do it.