Expert Vagabond • Adventure Travel & Photography Blog
Matthew Karsten is a travel photographer and blogger known as the Expert Vagabond. For the past 6 years he's been on a mission to inspire others with entertaining stories and beautiful images from his wild adventures around the world. He specializes in covering outdoor activities, natural landscapes, and cultural experiences
Online translation is one of the best careers for language lovers who wish to see the world without compromising their professional goals.
Unlike teaching English as a foreign language, translating may give you more flexibility and financial freedom, akin to other popular digital nomad careers such as freelance writing or graphic design.
You may choose who to work with, where to work from, when to work, and even how much you earn.
However, if you want to make a living with online translation, it’s not as easy as just being bilingual. In fact, many unsuspecting prospects don’t realize it can take years to build up the knowledge and references to become successful (a.k.a. well-paid) in this field.
But don’t fret! I’m going to share how to get started with online translation, and some of the best lessons I’ve learned for success after a decade in this business.
Typical Day For A Freelance Translator
8 AM: Wake up for yoga session. A clear mind always translates better.
9 AM: Breakfast and coffee while checking email (focus on client emails only)
10 AM: Check my status Excel sheet including current projects, in descending order, by deadline
10:30 AM: Open up Linguee.com, my favorite context-translation online resource for cross-referencing, and start translating away
12:30 PM: Lunch break (swim and beachside meal preferably!)
1:30 PM: Check client-only emails again for potential project updates
1:45 PM: Continue working on translation project at hand
3:45 PM: 15 minute afternoon coffee break
4 PM: Follow-up on invoices, send any new ones
5 PM: Look for new opportunities on websites like ProZ.com
6 PM: Dinner and a sunset
7-9 PM: Explore the city
Some days it’s just the reverse: explore a new city in the morning while the weather is still cool, then start working by midday. Other days you just work half the day and take the other half off.
No pending projects and enough funds in the bank? What the heck, take it all off!
What if you land a gig with a full-time client? Then it’s typically an 8-9 hour day, just focusing on translating, proofreading, and publishing content for said client, clocking out around sunset.
Every other Friday I usually take the day off to either work on passion projects or just relax.
Translation or Interpretation?
Online Translation vs. Interpretation
Many people confuse online translation with interpretation. Translators convey the meaning from one language to another in writing, while interpreters convey the meaning orally.
Each career track requires different skills sets, too.
After working in both tracks, I can confidently tell you that translation is the most digital-nomad-friendly of the two.
Many interpretation opportunities require your physical presence and/or more sophisticated equipment for over-the-phone interpretation or video conferencing.
This makes online translation the preferred career track for those who wish to have the freedom to travel the world and work from anywhere.
Selection Of A Language Pair
Translators work in language pairs, so you must pick the two languages you are most proficient in to get started.
You are expected to specify your language pair(s) on your resume or professional profile, accordingly.
Most importantly, the language pair you choose to work with will also play an important role in determining your earning potential for any translator job.
In the rare occasion that you’re allowed to translate into a target language that isn’t your native one, a bachelor’s degree and/or significant professional experience in-country is typically required.
“At an average of $0.19 per word, the language combinations commanding the highest rate per word were English into Arabic and English into Danish. At an average of $0.12 per word, the language combinations commanding the lowest rate were English into Italian and English into Portuguese. The highest average hourly rates by language combination were English into Chinese ($74.92) and Chinese into English ($65.79).”
The following article by TranslationRules.com may also help you better understand competition, demand, and earnings for translators as they relate to selection of language pairs.
My primary language pair is English into Spanish, as I’m a native Spanish speaker (that being my target language here); while my secondary language pair is Spanish into English, as English is my second language and I can read and write it at a professional level.
Even though this is the language pair with the highest demand and competition for translation jobs, I still managed to earn six-figures working in the United States.
Working while Traveling
Become An Outstanding Writer
Being bilingual is not enough to become a competent freelance translator. In fact, you also must be an excellent writer in both languages and highly skilled in your industry (niche) of choice.
Moreover, there are many cultural nuances in language that you won’t learn unless you experience it in a country that speaks it.
Truth be told, I was not ready to be a professional translator until I finished four years of intense writing courses in an American college and lived in the United States.
Ways to properly prepare for an online translation career and improve your language skills include taking advantage of study abroad programs, enrolling for classes in a foreign university or hire a private language tutor from your country of interest.
Picking A Niche For Translation
Picking a niche or specialty in the language industry is as important as deciding whether you want to be a translator or an interpreter, as this will dictate the other set of skills and abilities you will need to develop before your career (and pay) takes off.
Individual translation project length is typically linked to its niche, so take that into consideration when comparing the industries you’re interested in.
Your obvious passions may not necessarily be the industries you want to be translating in, so I suggest you practice translating your top topics at home in order to zero in on your ideal translation niche.
Interested in translating websites about general topics such as tourism, lifestyle or celebrity news?
Becoming an expert on website localization and frequently reading about those topics in both languages of your pair should be part of your career development in order to have a competitive edge.
A bachelor’s degree in creative writing and/or translation in either language may be a good idea in order to land internships during your studies and/or a good entry-level translation position.
Interested in better-paying technical translation fields such as information technology, engineering, medical or legal?
I highly recommend a bachelor’s degree in your technical field of choice, with a related entry-level translation job post-graduation for a minimum of two years.
A master’s degree in translation and/or the selected technical field is also recommended in lieu of an entry-level translation job.
Either track — getting a higher-education degree in translation or two years of translation experience — will typically give you the minimum skills and preparation necessary to sit for and successfully pass a translation certification examination such as the ATA’s, if that’s what you’re interested in.
Freelance Language Translation
Should You Get Certified?
Getting certified as a freelance translator is as much a personal as it is a professional choice. No translation degree or certification is technically required — but it can help.
One of the nice reality checks, when I started translating, is that no translation degree or certification is required for many translator jobs unless you’re interested in a specialized field such as medical or legal.
The flip side is that, if you are certified, you are more likely to land a better translation job — or any translation project for that matter.
More likely than not, whether you get certified will depend on the niche or industry you select to work in.
Interestingly, top certification bodies such as the ATA only recommend certification to experienced, mid-career translators anyway, so I suggest you experiment translating in different industries to get a feel of what you’re really passionate about.
An ATA certification, along with other local and foreign equivalents, typically gives you an edge when applying for full-time technical translator positions or technical freelance projects online.
While this also applies to prospective non-technical online translators, references/a portfolio are more valued in the latter than the former (from my personal experience).
Still, I advise you to look up the eligibility criteria for freelance translator positions in your industries of choice for more insight related to your top niches and/or their certification requirements.
Be Willing To Work For Less
Well, at least at first.
I officially started my translating career by working for a startup while I was still in college. This first translation job is actually what helped me zero in on the niche I was interested in.
Since I didn’t have a translation degree, didn’t have a translation certification, and graduated amid the Great Recession, I was grateful and simply saw the low starting salary as a paid internship (even though it wasn’t).
All they asked me to do to prove I could do the job? Translate a sample during the interview – that was it!
So my starting salary was way less than the average college graduate is “supposed” to get. But you know what? I gained so much experience on this job, got promoted to project manager within 18 months, and that bona fide translation reference helped me get my foot in the door of the world of freelance translation.
This position also led me to other projects that I was passionate about (tourism/marketing), as it built up my confidence and resume to successfully network with destination marketing professionals on travel blogging conferences.
The Small Projects Matter
Still working on your writing skills or simply trying to get some translation experience?
Small jobs or projects such as translating restaurant menus in a foreign country can not only help you improve with real-world practice but can surprisingly serve as excellent networking opportunities.
Word-of-mouth goes a long way, particularly abroad! You can also pursue these kinds of opportunities in international neighborhoods within your city, whose businesses may have a need for quality translations within your language pair.
Make your professional profile stand out. Even if you have little to no translation experience, setting up an online professional profile is one of the most important steps of your career.
If you have not built a translation portfolio yet, I recommend you post samples of translations you have done in your spare time of topics or industries you are interested in working in.
This will allow prospective employers and recruiters to see the quality of your translations early on.
I landed several interviews by doing this!
REMEMBER: Both volunteer and paid translation projects and positions count, so fill out your online profile as thoroughly as possible, updating it whenever you start or finish a relevant project or position.
Don’t forget to include any awards, company goals attained, etc.
The ProZ Job Board
Finding Online Translation Jobs
While ProZ and Translators Cafe are some of the best websites for translators looking for paid projects or positions, it may be hard to compete with the more experienced translators who typically bid on those job boards.
Thus, if you are a beginner, I recommend you look into People Per Hour, Upwork or Fiverr for shorter, typically-lower-competition translation projects to build up your portfolio.
Most importantly, be creative! A unique way I landed some of my first freelance translation jobs involved reaching out to the marketing/public affairs contacts of multilingual online travel websites or magazines to see if they needed freelance translators for individual projects or ask if were hiring entry-level translators.
Additionally, I went to travel blogging and tourism conferences, networking with destination marketing professionals to land this type of translation projects.
Applying For Translation Projects
Making your online professional translator profile stand out is just as important as crafting a successful pitch. The best pitches are those that are brief, concise, and personalized to each translation project you are bidding for.
That being said, there are certain elements that should be included in all of your pitches: your current per-word rates in the currency of the offer, a brief byline highlighting your years of experience and how that experience or areas of specialization match with the translation project being offered.
Below is a sample pitch I successfully used early in my translation career. I included/excluded information depending on the client or project at hand:
My current rates are USD $0.10 per word or USD $25/hr for proofreading, meaning I can complete your web project for a total of $___ – well within your budget. I am able to deliver the completed project before your desired deadline.
About me: I studied and lived in Latin America for 18 years; have been a volunteer translator for 8 years, and have more than 3 years of full-time experience as a professional marketing, localization, and translation manager. Additionally, I’m a freelance translator and bilingual travel writer (Spanish and English).
References and endorsements can be found in my LinkedIn profile, which I have included below:
You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward to collaborating with you on this project!
Average Translation Project Length
There’s no real way of telling what your average project length will be, as it highly depends on your niche and which projects you apply for.
However, I can tell you from personal experience that website articles/blog posts average between 500-1200 words; press releases hover around 1000 words; and full website localizations can be in the hundreds of thousands of words, as you also have to translate backend items such as text on menus, photo captions, alt text, and other SEO metadata.
Interested in becoming a technical translator? Unless you are translating blog posts or website articles for a tech site, you will likely be translating guides or manuals containing hundreds of thousands of words.
If you are easily bored, this is not a field for you, as you could be working on the same guide/manual translation for weeks or even months.
Charge Per Word, Not Per Project
When looking for online translation jobs or projects you will find that the most common way translators charge for work is per word, not per project.
Per-word rates vary widely depending on industry, technicality of a particular project, and popularity/demand-supply of the language pair.
For example, even experienced English-Spanish translators rarely earn over US $0.20 per word unless they work in very technical fields or hold a full-time position that includes website localization and bilingual marketing.
By contrast, English-Arabic translators can easily expect to earn up to US $0.40 per word for freelance projects or $200,000 for salaried positions when working with an American or European client, even in fields not considered as technical.
A simple Google search (i.e. “per word rate French into English translators”) will help you calculate an average that is best for you, your language pair, and location of your desired clientele.
From personal experience, I have found that a good starting point for beginner online translation jobs in my language pair (English into Spanish and vice versa) is US $0.10 per word.
Per-word rates is a highly debatable topic and some translators still feel $0.10 per word is a lowball offer.
How To Get Paid As A Translator
Most translator or freelance marketplaces make clients pay you via PayPal, so expect to lose about 4% of the total of each translation project — in addition to any other fees each particular marketplace may or may not charge.
Some freelance marketplaces offer the option to get paid by ACH or check from the client, but be careful: these payment methods usually don’t include a protection by the marketplace, which exposes you to fraud and scams.
Best way to get around this? Bid for translation projects with established companies, which you can identify by visiting the profile of each translation offer.
This way, you can reach out to the translation company separately through their official website, in the hopes that they will broker future deals directly through you and without the middleman marketplace.
You can then request they send you money via other methods with lower to no fees. I did this to establish certain business relationships, plus avoided all fees by getting paid by check (which was sent within the U.S.), then have it mobile-deposited into an account by a trusted family member.
If you plan to become a freelance translator to travel the world however, it is unlikely you will be able to avoid all fees if you wish to get paid safely (and electronically).
Telecommuting Translator Positions
Those who are not as comfortable working on an independent contractor basis (a.k.a. freelancing) and beginners should also look into telecommuting translator positions.
Benefits include a predetermined salary, payment via ACH or direct deposit (bye-bye fees), a set amount of hours worked per week, paid leave, and even health insurance coverage and 401(k) for some U.S.-based positions.
I highly recommend this type of telecommuting opportunities to translators with little to no experience, as they can be a great career launching pad.
Some companies offer apprenticeships, certifications, and/or other valuable perks in addition to the aforementioned benefits.
This is a great way to build up your resume before going solo, as you are unlikely to be awarded high-paying freelance translation projects without solid references.
Remember: you must build a strong foundation as competition can be fierce, especially for the most common language pairs such as Spanish into English, French into English, Italian into English, and vice versa.
Initiative & Networking Are Key
Whichever track you choose, I can assure you that individual preparation and networking will be the main key to success as a translator.
I have two bachelor’s degrees in criminology and political science; have 8 years of professional translation experience, but only got certified in interpretation by a former company I work for; I never got certified in translation.
Yet, I still earn six figures as a chief Spanish translator in the public affairs/marketing/law enforcement/tourism industries in the U.S. I currently work full-time for one client—occasionally doing other side gigs/passion projects.
I got where I got by experimenting with translation gigs in different industries early in my career, in addition to individually honing my writing skills in both languages and networking online, or with industry conferences to obtain gigs/projects that eventually became part of my translation portfolio.
As you can see, your ability to hustle independently will be the major predictor of how successful (and well-paid) you will be as a freelance nomadic translator! ★
Alexandra Laborde de Bess is the author of LatinAbroad.com, where she shares her struggles living with a chronic pain disability, travel tales, and advice after exploring over 30 countries across 5 continents. Follow her on Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest!
Freelance Translator Resources
r/TranslationStudies – A Reddit community featuring articles, tips, and resources for people who work as translators.
ProZ.com – The most popular job board for finding online translation work.
The history of Chichén Itzá is not for the faint of heart. These Mayan ruins are shrouded in mystery and have a way of haunting you long after returning home from Mexico.
Once you finally get past an army of local vendors at the entrance, the ancient stone carvings of fearsome creatures and bloodthirsty warriors at Chichen Itza inspire awe and trigger unease at the same time.
This pre-Hispanic city (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) has a fascinating 1,000-year-old history. It is the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico, partly due to its close proximity to Cancun.
Located in the Yucatan Penninsula, the ruins are extensive and cover 740 acres. Many sections have still never been excavated.
While wandering around the massive archaeological site, I kept wondering what hidden treasures lay undiscovered beneath my feet.
Jaguar Head Sculptures
Temple of Kukulcan
History Of Chichen Itza
One thing that makes the Chichen Itza so intriguing, other than the giant stone pyramid, is the mysterious decline of the Maya people themselves.
Historians have several theories as to why. Overpopulation may have depleted environmental resources. A great drought or another catastrophe may have wiped out the civilization.
Competing city-states were constantly at war too — the Maya may have simply done themselves in.
In any case, Mexico’s most famous ruins are astonishingly well-restored site compared to other Mayan ruins in the region. Which is why it’s considered one of the New 7 Wonders Of The World.
El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza
Pyramid Temple Of Kukulkan
Once you enter Chichen Itza, you can’t miss the Temple Of Kukulkan (aka “El Castillo”). A large 98-foot-tall pyramid which dominates the northern part of the city.
Kukulkan is a feathered snake deity in the Mayan religion. The pyramid is guarded by enormous carved serpent heads at the base of the stairs.
The Mesoamerican fascination with stars and planets mean the four stairways of the pyramid represent the four points of a compass. There are 365 steps, one for each day in the solar calendar.
Nine terraces probably symbolize the Maya belief in a nine-level heaven too.
If you REALLY want a treat, visit the pyramid in March or September during the annual equinoxes. At sunset, a play of light and shadow creates the eerie effect of a snake gradually slithering down the staircase!
The Temple Of The Warriors is another impressive structure at Chichen Itza. Some of the 200 columns on the south side depict warriors in bas-relief.
The columns once supported a roof system that is long gone.
Also known as the Hall of the Thousand Columns, this grand space might have been a meeting place or an indoor market.
A Chac Mool tops the broad staircase, distinctive statues found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. Reclining figures holding bowls with their heads turned at a 90-degree angle and propped on their elbows.
They might represent temple guardians or slain warriors bearing gifts to Chac, the god of rain.
In Maya religious ceremonies, stone dishes probably held offerings such as incense, tobacco, tamales or tortillas. In Aztec rituals, they more likely held human hearts.
The Mesoamerican Ballgame
Oldest Sport in the World?
The Maya Ball Court
Off to the left of the main pyramid, you’ll find the famed Maya ball court. While many sites include ball courts, the one at Chichen Itza is the largest in the world.
Maya athletes played a game where the object was to put a rubber ball (representing the sun) into a small stone circle perched very high on a wall, without using your hands OR feet.
Some carvings suggest that the winning team’s captain was decapitated, which was a sign of honor. The ball game is over 3,500 years old, making it the first organized game in the history of sports.
Some of the games were played to resolve arguments between rival cities or as an alternative to all-out war.
The Sacred Cenote
Cenote De Los Sacrificios
Chichen Itza means “mouth of the well of Itza” in the local Maya language. One possible translation of Itza is “enchanted water.” The Yucatan is covered in cenotes — distinctive limestone sinkholes that form natural pools.
Cenotes have deep spiritual significance for the Maya. Many scholars believe Chichen Itza was built solely because of the large cenote located here, which provided people with fresh water.
Cenote de los Sacrificios (also known as the Sacred Cenote) measures about 200 feet across with sheer cliffs that drop to the water’s surface. During severe droughts, worshippers tried to appease their rain god Chac by sacrificing special items or people (!) they weren’t very fond of.
Dredging this cenote uncovered thousands of artifacts made of gold, jade and copper. Numerous human skeletons with sacrificial wounds littered the depths as well…
La Iglesia Structure
The Wall of Skulls
More Cool Archeological Structures
Tzompantli means “wall of skulls,” and this next attraction lives up to its name. The large platform supported stakes on which decapitated human heads were impaled on top of each other.
The unfortunate victims were enemies defeated in battle or prisoners of war sacrificed to the gods. Whimsical skull carvings around the base are a nice touch.
This exhibit would have scared the living daylights out of would-be enemies.
A more elaborate platform nearby is known as House of the Eagles. Its motif is similarly creepy. Eagles and jaguars, symbolizing Toltec sacrificial warriors depicted clutching human hearts.
One of the most interesting structures is El Caracol, which functioned as an observatory. There are many more fascinating stops at Chichen Itza, so plan to spend at least 3 – 4 hours to see it all.
Popular Cenote Ik Kil
Less Crowded Cenote Zaci
Swimming In Cenotes Nearby
While you can’t swim in the cenote at Chichen Itza itself (unless you want to join the skeletons at the bottom!) there are others nearby where you can.
The closest cenote, and most popular with tour buses, is called Ik Kil. While it’s a pretty one, it’s always packed with people and feels like a tourist trap. I’d probably skip it.
If you want a more authentic cenote experience, I’d recommend cooling off in the cenotes near the town of Valladolid. These include Cenote Zaci, Cenote Dzitnup, or Cenote Suytun.
Navigating the Local Vendors
Getting To The Ruins
The ruins of Chichen Itza are about 197 kilometers (2 hours) from Cancun or 181 kilometers (2 hours) from Playa del Carmen by car. It’s also about 1.5 hours away from Merida.
The smaller town of Valladolid is another option. From here the ruins are less than an hour away.
RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.
If you’re looking for a more adventurous route, the “libre” road runs parallel to the main toll highway and goes through a bunch of smaller villages for a more authentic feel of Mexico.
Mexican ADO Bus Service from Cancun to Chichen Itza costs about $202 MXN ($9) one way and takes 3 hours. From Valladolid, there’s bus service every 30 minutes for about $26 MXN
Colectivos van taxis leave Valladolid from a lot just east of the bus station and cost $35 MXN.
Different View of the Pyramid
Tips For Visiting Chichen Itza
Tickets cost $242 MXN ($11 USD). If you pay cash, only pesos are accepted. You can rent a locker for large bags and valuables.
There’s an evening “light & sound” show at 7pm in fall and winter and 8pm in spring and summer. It’s included in the price of admission.
Try to visit first thing in the morning when they open, or late in the afternoon to avoid the huge tour-bus crowds.
Consider splurging on a guided tour. There are information plaques at each attraction, but nothing like the insight you’ll get from a local guide.
Tourists can no longer climb to the top of the Kukulkan Pyramid due to UNESCO status and a few deaths over the years from falling.
The sun is unrelenting. Wear a hat, apply sunscreen and take plenty of water. If possible, arrive as soon as the gates open in the morning.
The mediocre food on-site is expensive. You can get much better stuff down the street at the village of Pisté for a lot less.
Avoid the vendors selling souvenirs at the entrance. Yes, tourists support their livelihood, but many of them sneak in without authorization, and it’s become a bit of a circus.
The aloha spirit is alive and well on the tropical islands of Hawai’i. With delicious food, cultural experiences, beautiful beaches, and outdoor adventures — there’s something for everyone in the rainbow state.
Hawai’i and I go way back. Back to my college days, when I took a break from school and moved to Honolulu to become a beach bum. I lived in Waikiki for a year, and had such a great time!
Days were dedicated to surfing and hiking, while nights were spent working the front desk of an international backpacker’s hostel.
Temporarily living in Hawaii, I was able to experience ho’okipa — Hawaiian hospitality. I also fell in love with the state’s natural beauty. So many epic beaches, jungles, mountains, waterfalls, and waves to explore!
Even though I no longer call Hawaii home, I return every chance I get.
Aloha from Hawaii!
Flying With Hawaiian Airlines
To kick off the adventure in style, we flew Hawaiian Airlines first class from Los Angeles to Honolulu on the A330. I don’t fly first-class often, but it definitely helps with getting some good sleep on overseas flights.
Especially with lie-flat seats like the ones we had on this trip! As a side-sleeper, the ability to stretch out makes a HUGE difference in whether I get any sleep on a plane.
Free mai-tais and tasty Hawaiian-inspired meals prepared us for the start of our island hopping journey on both Oahu and Kauai.
In July, Hawaiian re-launched their Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard. It offers 30,000 bonus miles to new cardmembers after their first purchase, no foreign transaction fees, first checked bag free, and an annual $100 companion ticket discount on Hawaiian Airlines flights.
It’s a great way to earn miles towards free Hawaiian Airlines flights with 3x miles on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 2x miles on gas/groceries/dining, and 1x miles on all other purchases using the card.
Breakfast With a View
Longboarding on Oahu
Our first stop in Hawaii was the island of Oahu, and the capital city of Honolulu. We stayed at the beautiful new Ritz Carlton in Waikiki.
Honolulu’s Waikiki neighborhood has some of the most famous beaches in the world, and it’s where most tourists stay during their first trip to Hawaii.
Waikiki is also where I learned to surf many years ago, just beyond the bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, known as Hawaii’s father of modern surfing.
The area is home to many high-rise hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. One restaurant you shouldn’t miss is Roy’s Waikiki.
Kahanamoku Lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village
Water Biking Around the Lagoon
Hilton Hawaiian Village
It’s said the Duke himself learned how to surf the same waves in front of where the Hilton Hawaiian Village now stands. This slice of pristine white sand is full of history, and a fun sunbathing beach in Waikiki.
Along with the awesome beach, there’s also Kahanamoku Lagoon which is open to the public for swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Anna and I rented a water bike and paddled around the calm lagoon soaking up the sun.
Every Friday night, the hotel launches an awesome free fireworks display around 8pm. The best place to watch is from the lagoon, where fireworks explode right over your head!
Ma’o Organic Farms
Making Hawaii Self-Sufficient
Ma’o Organic Farms
Maʻo Organic Farms is based in Wai’anae on the west coast of Oahu. We visited to learn how they are growing sustainable, organic produce for some of Hawaii’s best restaurants — and giving back to the community in the form of college scholarships for local students who volunteer there.
Before Europeans landed in 1778, the Hawaiian Kingdom (with a population of up to 1 million) was self-sufficient at producing its own food supply using a sustainable agricultural system called ahupua’a.
These days Hawaii basically imports about 80% of its food from elsewhere, and being so remote, it’s very expensive to ship it there. For example, a gallon of milk can run $7!
There’s been a growing movement on the islands to produce more food locally, and small farms like Ma’o are teaching a new generation how to grow sustainable agriculture as their ancestors did.
History of the Aloha Shirt
Reyn Spooner Hawaiian Shirts
Aloha Shirt Fridays
Do you know the history of the Hawaiian shirt (aka aloha shirt)? It all started back in the 1920’s, when clothing manufacturers from Honolulu’s Chinatown started making colorful, gaudy shirts out of Japanese silk kimono material.
Eventually, in the 1930’s, aloha shirts were mass-produced for tourists, worn after a day at the beach in Waikiki, and taken home as souvenirs. In the 1940’s, some local companies began allowing employees to wear more relaxed clothing during the hottest months of the year.
Then came “Aloha Fridays” in the 1960’s. Wearing aloha shirts was typical business attire on Fridays all over Hawaii.
One of the most famous Hawaiian shirt makers is Reyn Spooner. We toured their offices and learned how they make these iconic shirts from scratch (and, I happen to be wearing mine right now as I type this).
Hawaiian Pupus Appetizers
Roasted Kalua Pig
Koko Head Cafe
If you’re looking for a good bite to eat in Honolulu, you need to visit Koko Head Cafe for their famous brunches. Chef Lee Anne Wong is an executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, overseeing the airline’s in-flight meal program.
You may also recognize her as a contestant on Bravo’s popular reality show, Top Chef. Chef Wong prepared us a huge assortment of Hawaiian dishes, from raw fish pupus (bite-size appetizers) to slow-roasted Kalua pig.
Searching for King Kong!
Jurassic World Set at Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000 acre Private Nature Reserve and cattle ranch that’s open to the public on the East coast of Oahu.
The area is made up of jagged green mountain ridges and a series of three lush valleys, an ancient and sacred training ground for Hawaiian royalty in the art of war & history.
Because of its incredible natural beauty, Kualoa has been the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies and TV shows like Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island, 50 First Dates, Pearl Harbor, Jumanji, LOST, and more!
We spent an afternoon touring the ranch in the back of a 4×4 truck, checking out all the famous movie set locations. Like the Indominus Rex padlock from Jurassic World!
My favorite stop was probably the giant ape “graveyard” from Kong: Skull Island. Massive and realistic-painted bones made of foam were scattered about under tall green cliffs.
Making Traditional Poke
Tasty Poke Bowl with Seaweed!
Learning How To Make Poke
One day for lunch, we learned how to make fresh ahi-tuna poke with Foodland Supermarket’s corporate chef Keoni Chang.
Poke is raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine, and sometimes as a main course with rice.
There are many different ways to make poke, but I think the traditional style was my favorite. Chunks of raw ahi-tuna, seaweed, sea salt, and crushed Kukui nuts.
Koloa Rum Tasting Room
Hawaiian Rum Tasting
Hawaii has a long history of sugar cane production, first initiated by ancient Polynesian voyagers during their migration from the South Pacific. The first commercial sugar production began in 1935, and with it, the first batches of Hawaiian Rum.
After jumping on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Oahu to Kauai, one of our first stops on the Garden Island was a free rum tasting session at Koloa Rum, located at the old Kilohana Plantation in Lihue.
Dark rum, spiced rum, coconut rum — we learned which types of rums pair best with different mixers, or on their own. Koloa Rum is distilled twice using a vintage 1,210-gallon copper-pot still from 1947 with a copper column and condenser.
The Grand Hyatt Resort Kauai
Anna Chillin’ at the Lazy River
Grand Hyatt Kauai
Checking into the Grand Hyatt Resort on Kauai was quite a treat… this place was stunning. Set right on the beach, with flowers and palm trees in all directions. It has its own lazy river, waterslides, and a salt-water lagoon.
Anna and I learned how to make traditional Hawaiian flower “leis”, attended a luau with traditional hula dancing and mountains of poi, and spent time floating down the lazy river to relax and cool off in the tropical heat.
Cliff Jumping in Kauai
Right next to the Grand Hyatt there is a public beach called Shipwrecks, a local favorite for surfing and body surfing. The waves can get quite big, and break close to the shore, so it’s usually not the best beach for swimming — but fun for watching the locals brave the massive water.
If you’re REALLY brave (or stupid?), there’s a large 40-foot cliff on the North side of the beach that can be fun for cliff jumping!
You can access the cliffs from a trail at the end of the beach, but after you jump it’s a long swim back into the shore (through those huge waves).
I leaped from the cliff a few times, but landed wrong once, leaving my ribs bruised enough I thought I’d broken one. Jump at your own risk!
There are sea turtles that swim below the cliffs too, landing on one could end badly for both of you…
Hiking Waimea Canyon on Kauai
Get Closer To Hawaii Every Day
Well, I hope I’ve inspired you to visit Hawaii soon (like you didn’t already need another reason)! These pacific islands are incredibly beautiful, diverse, and full of memorable things to do on your vacation.
And if you’re interested in collecting miles & points for a free flight to Hawaii, make sure to check out the all new Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard issued by Barclays Bank and get closer to your goal every day.
Home to scholars, authors, philosophers and murderers, Edinburgh is an ancient city like no other. Built at the base of a volcano, Scotland’s capital boasts a dark & twisted history.
Edinburgh has quickly become a vibrant hub of art, theatre, and creativity in recent years, with great festivals and events taking over the world stage.
On top of this, you can catch a glimpse of every century on every street in Edinburgh. It’s like walking into one of your favorite books.
From the Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat, a stroll through the city will take you on a journey through time, showcasing the best of medieval architecture and into dark alleyways with dramatic stories of their own…
Edinburgh might seem small at first, but once you start to explore, you’ll quickly realize just how many cool things there are to do here!
I’ve traveled to Edinburgh multiple times now, and it’s become one of my favorite international cities.
Best Things To Do In Edinburgh
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Overlooking the entire city, the world-famous Edinburgh Castle is the most iconic historic site in Scotland.
With parts of this magnificent building dating back to the 12th century, it’s clear to see why it was voted as the top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards and is Scotland’s number one paid-for tourist attraction.
Not only can you take a guided or audio tour of the castle and it’s dramatic history, but you can also visit the National War Museum where you will discover 400 years of Scotland at war through personal accounts, military artifacts, and treasured collections.
On top of that, the castle is also home to the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, so get ready to lose track of time in this historic wonderland!
Walk The Royal Mile
Edinburgh’s most famous street
When you’ve finished admiring the history and grandeur of Edinburgh Castle, head on down the street and walk the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is considered the historic heart of Edinburgh. A cobblestoned street lined with ancient taverns, cathedrals, parliament, shops, and the dark narrow alleyways that helped inspire Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous book The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.
The route connects two royal residences Edinburgh Castle and the palace of Holyrood House, with tons of interesting things to do and see along the way.
Buy yourself a traditional Scottish kilt, or stop into the Scotch Whisky Experience to learn about (and taste of course!) a wide variety of flavors from different parts of the country.
My personal favorite is Laphroaig, a single-malt peaty flavored whisky from Islay.
Eat Some Sheep Guts!
Scottish Haggis – Don’t knock it until you try it
Haggis is a savory pudding of Scottish origin, containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. Still feeling hungry?
The traditional way to eat this classic Scottish dish is with sides of “neeps & tatties” (turnips and potatoes).
In other parts of Scotland, you’ll find traditional ‘salt & vinegar’ when you walk into a local takeaway, but Edinburgh locals choose to go down the ‘salt & sauce’ route. Nobody really knows what flavor the sauce is, but apparently, you can’t go for fish and chips without it!
Last but not least, Deep Fried Mars Bars. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and once you’ve tried it I am sure you will happily knock that one off your bucket list and never feel the need to do it again…
Regarded as one of the most haunted places in the world, Greyfriars holds about 400,000 corpses piled into the shape of a hill overlooking the city.
It’s literally a mountain of bodies, and many of these people did not die well… some weren’t even dead yet when they were buried here!
George MacKenzie is the most famous and “active” resident, nicknamed the MacKenzie Poltergeist. He’s been known to cause bruises, burns, scratches, and even broken bones on his living victims!
There have been 450 documented attacks — it’s a ghost hunter’s paradise.
Another notorious cemetery is Canongate Graveyard, where you’ll find the resting place of some of the city’s most famous figures, including David Rizzio, the lover of Mary Queen of Scots. Or even James Douglas, 3rd Marquess of Queensberry – the infamous Cannibal of the Canongate.
Celebrate At Hogmanay
3 days of New Year celebrations!
The Scottish certainly know how to throw a party, so there is no better place to ring in the new year. Forget about new years eve, the Hogmanay celebrations take over the city for 3 full days of spectacular events, great music and amazing crowds from every corner of the globe.
Grab a firelit torch and join in with the thousands of annual marchers who take to the streets or marvel over the incredible fireworks and live music at Edinburgh Castle.
The famous procession is led by a burly squad of Shetland Up Helly Aa’ Vikings wielding flaming sticks. Behind them, 8,500 others carry torches made from burlap & beeswax. It’s quite a show!
And if you feel the need to re-energize after the madness? Spend the first day of the new year leaping into the freezing waters of the River Forth for the Loony Dook! It’s a bit crazy, but tons of fun.
The Fringe Festival
Street Performers take over Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Edinburgh is known internationally as the Festival City, with 11 major events taking place throughout the year. Five of these events take place in the month of August, transforming the city into one big street party!
One of the most famous of them all is the Fringe Festival – The world’s largest arts festival which attracts thousands of performers to take to hundreds of stages all over the city.
This year there were over 3,548 shows taking place in 317 venues throughout the city, so you may find it a little difficult to figure out where to begin. I would recommend starting your Fringe adventure at the Pleasance.
Free Harry Potter Walking Tour
Are you a wizard or a muggle?
There are normal Edinburgh walking tours if you are interested in learning about the city, but if you want to learn more about a specific character… Harry Potter to be exact, then where better than the birthplace of this world-famous book!
The Potter Trail will give you your own wand when you join your robed guide on a journey to discover the magical locations that inspired many characters and scenes.
Not only will you catch a glimpse of where JK Rowling wrote the books, but you’ll also see where Lord Voldemort is buried, take a trip down Diagon Alley, and have a chance to be sorted outside the school which inspired Hogwarts.
The best part about this tour is that it’s completely free of charge!
Hike Calton Hill
Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill
If you’re a photographer looking for a great view of the city, this is my favorite spot for sunrise in Edinburgh if you’re lucky with clear skies!
Located just past the East end of Prince’s Street, Calton Hill is home to many monuments like the National Monument Of Scotland, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and the City Observatory.
The Scottish Government itself is located at the base of the hill at St. Andrew’s House. The hill is also used for special events throughout the year, like the Beltane Fire Festival held on April 30th.
Just know the hill has a reputation for seedy characters and the occasional crime. So I’d recommend visiting with more than one person, and not late at night!
The Royal Military Tattoo
Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh’s Royal Military Tattoo attracts more than 1,200 performers from over 48 countries, so you can be sure to expect a world-renowned experience like no other.
Showcasing the talents of military bands and performers from every corner of the globe, the Tattoo has been televised in more than 40 countries, with an annual television audience of over 100 million viewers.
These incredible performances happen every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays throughout August.
The whole thing is set in one of the most incredible venues of all time, Edinburgh Castle, so nothing beats watching it in person! Tickets sell out fast, so I’d recommend booking them in advance before your trip.
Explore Creepy Underground Vaults
Edinburgh’s Spooky Tunnels: Would You Visit?
Edinburgh is well known for its dark and twisted past — home to some of the most haunted places in the world. The narrow streets of the city’s old town provide the perfect setting for stories of cannibals, body snatchers, and ghosts.
But what lies below is even more terrifying! Beneath the streets of Edinburgh lies a maze of creepy underground tunnels and vaults that were once used for untold horrors — robberies, torture and murder.
The vaults were once a haven for the poorest of Edinburgh’s citizens, as well as a hideout for criminals.
After getting closed off with rubble to deter their use, some of these long-forgotten secret passageways were excavated and opened for spooky underground tours.
Climb The Scott Monument
The higher you climb, the better the views
The iconic Scott Monument is among the largest monuments to a writer anywhere in the world and is undoubtedly one of the first things you will see on your arrival in Edinburgh.
Standing tall in the center of the city, the monument was created after the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832.
Make sure to bring your camera, because each of the 4 floors gives you incredible panoramic views over Edinburgh, only getting better with each stair that you climb.
Delve into the history of Scott, one of Edinburgh’s finest writers, in the monument’s Museum Room on the first floor, or in The Writers’ Museum nearby, which is free from Wednesday to Sunday.
Visit Camera Obscura
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile
Waiting in line outside Camera Obscura you’ll find excited children ready to dive into an array of illusions, tricks, and puzzles.
But you’ll also find a bunch of over-excited, fully grown photographers who come for the Camera Obscura itself, a Victorian invention that eventually led to the modern camera.
In 1850s Edinburgh, cinema hadn’t been invented yet, but the locals were left speechless by Maria Short and her life-like moving pictures of the city.
A lot has changed since then, but the team at Camera Obscura are still collaborating with artists, inventors, and technical wizards, to bring you even further into their world of wonder and delight.
Catch A Show At Bedlam Theatre
Neo-gothic Bedlam Theatre
Scotland’s Bedlam Theatre building houses the oldest student-run theater in Britain. It was named after the Bedlam Mental Institute that used to be nearby.
Once the New North Free Church built in 1849, it was eventually given to Edinburgh University who turned it into a fun 90 seat student theater to perform plays and improv comedy.
If you’d like a little dose of local Scottish comedy while you’re visiting, this is the place to be. When Edinburgh University is in session, you can catch The Improverts every Friday night at 10:30pm.
Go Skiing Or Snowboarding?!
Get your adrenaline pumping!
If you are looking for something a little more adventurous to get your adrenaline pumping, hop on a bus out to the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, set on the hillside of Pentland Hills Regional Park.
As Britain’s biggest artificial ski slope, they’ve got something for everyone, with 2 main slopes, 3 beginner slopes, and freestyle features.
If you’ve never skied before, but are up for the challenge, start with some lessons and work your way up to the main slopes. You can always just ride the chairlift up too for the spectacular views or walk across the Pentland Hills.
Scottish National Galleries
The perfect location for a rainy day in Edinburgh
Located in the heart of Edinburgh, the Scottish National Galleries are home to some of the best collections of fine and modern art in the world, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh, amongst many others.
If that wasn’t enough, the galleries themselves are some of Scotland’s most beautiful buildings, with neoclassical architecture dating back to the 1820’s.
The Scottish National Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and the Portrait Gallery are the perfect locations to get lost in on a rainy day in Edinburgh, with endless art collections, exhibitions, and events taking place every week.
Unwind In A Famous Bookshop
Edinburgh has Inspired Many Writers
Edinburgh is home to some of the most famous authors of all time, so it’s no surprise that the city became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature back in 2004.
With Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop, it’s clear to see how storytellers such as J.K Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Iain Banks found inspiration in this historical city.
Head down to the famous Armchair Books or ‘McNaughtan’s Bookshop & Gallery’, grab a book, find a quiet corner, a comfy couch and you are set for a day of delving into the minds and imaginations of Edinburgh’s finest authors.
Cycle From City To Sea
Cycle through Edinburgh’s best neighbourhoods
Although Edinburgh is known for its dramatic landscape and incredible architecture, you’ll find some of the most breathtaking views as you wander beyond the city boundaries.
Pick up a rental bike in the city center and make your way through Stockbridge and Leith, down the course of the Union Canal river.
You’ll get to experience the Scottish scenery many tourists miss out on during their time in Edinburgh.
Make sure to stop off in one of the many towns along the way such as the ancient Dean Village, and warm up with a nice cup of coffee, before hitting the fresh seaside breeze.
Hike Up Arthur’s Seat
Hike on a former active volcano
This historic city is also a fitness junkie’s dream, with mountains, forests, seaside escapes and former active volcanoes on its doorstep. Just minutes away from Edinburgh city center, is the famous Arthur’s Seat.
As you climb to the top, the basalt rock below your feet is a constant reminder that this incredible hill was once overflowing with lava more than 350 million years ago.
At a height of 251 meters, Arthur’s Seat looks out over the city, providing some of the best views of the Castle and the Old and New Towns.
It is a moderate hike, with different routes depending on the level of difficulty you want, so even if you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s definitely worth the trek. If you plan your climb for a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the highlands in Northern Scotland.
Royal Yacht Britannia
The former floating residence to the Queen
Once you have explored the city center, it’s time to delve into some of the incredible local neighborhoods! Ask any of the locals and they will point you in the direction of Leith, Edinburgh’s creative, diverse and buzzing waterfront town.
It is believed that this hotspot is home to some of the best culinary experiences in Scotland, and is renowned for its traditional pubs, seafood bistros, galleries, and thrift shops.
While you’re there, take a walk along the riverside and you will discover the award-winning Royal Yacht Britannia – the former floating residence to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, which has sailed over 1,000,000 miles around the world.
Pink Flowers At The Meadows
Edinburgh’s Famous Student Hotspot
Located beside Edinburgh University’s central campus, The Meadows are famous among the locals for being the go-to spot to relax and unwind within the hustle and bustle of the city center.
On a warm spring or summer’s day, this large green space is filled with students, families and tourists all soaking in the beauty of pink cherry blossoms as they come into bloom.
Soon after, the pink petals begin to fall and scatter themselves like a blanket covering the Meadows.
If you’re planning your trip to Edinburgh later in the year, autumn is just as beautiful as the green leaves that line the avenues transform into many different shades of red as they prepare for the winter snow.
Grab A Slice In Civerinos
Possibly the best pizza in Scotland!
Just a stone’s throw from The Meadows, you will find a little pizza joint with a big crowd. Civerinos seems to be everyone’s favorite ‘neighbourhood pizza bar’.
They sell by the slice, but if you’re really feeling like you want to leave in a food coma, you can try 5 different varieties and get the 6th slice for free.
My personal recommendation would be the classic Civerinos Slice or the Menace to Society, but they are always adding new additions to the menu so you never know what to expect!
Where To Stay In Edinburgh
Although Edinburgh is a small city, there is a wide variety of accommodation available at all price points. Here are some suggestions for where to stay while you’re in town:
West End Hostel
Clean rooms, good breakfast and easy to walk to everything.
The city of Dublin is known for its charming streets, colorful doorways, live music and historic architecture. Here are some of the best things to do in Dublin that you won’t want to miss!
Dublin may be one of Europe’s smaller capital cities, but the city has been known to steal the heart of every visitor, with something for everyone.
I traveled to Dublin with my family during our Irish genealogy trip, tracking down the old home of my Irish grandmother. We had a fantastic time!
By now you’ve probably heard rumors about the Irish weather. It’s true what they say — you really can experience all four seasons in one day.
Because most travelers visiting Ireland spend some time in the capital, I wanted to recommend a few fun things to do in Dublin, whether you’re lucky enough to catch some summer sun — or the heavens open up above you.
Best Things To Do In Dublin
1: Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Founded in 1191, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest church in Ireland, and the National Cathedral. It has been said this is where St. Patrick himself baptized Christian converts over 1500 years ago.
Unusually, St. Patrick’s isn’t the only Cathedral in Dublin. It’s a “two-cathedral” city, sharing the title with Christ Church Cathedral nearby.
Visitors can go inside and enjoy the impressive church interior between 9am and 5pm daily.
The writer Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, was once Dean of the cathedral. He’s buried there too. On a sunny day, you’ll find tourists and locals alike enjoying the cathedral grounds soaking up the history.
2: Fish n’ Chips At Leo Burdocks
Dublin’s Most Famous Fish & Chips
You can’t leave Dublin without trying a traditional Fish n’ Chips! But one place stands out from all the rest. Leo Burdocks Fish n’ Chips is so good in fact that they even have a ‘Wall of Fame’ outside showcasing visits from celebrities and politicians from around the world.
The original Burdocks has been around since 1913. They were serving up piping hot food during both World Wars and the 1916 Rising, when Ireland gained its independence from Britain.
The shop itself can only hold about 3 people, so grab your grub and head down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral nearby. Ask for the ‘crispy bits’ with your chips… you can thank me later!
3: Read At Trinity College Library
Trinity College in Dublin
Created in 1592, Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university, hosting students such as author Bram Stoker, poet Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels.
The building has also been home to the ancient Book Of Kells since 1661. The Book of Kells Exhibition in Trinity College is a must-see in Dublin, but where it leads you to is the real treat…
The Old Library houses 200,000 of their oldest books in beautiful oak bookcases, so it is not hard to see why it was used as inspiration for J.K Rowling’s creation of Hogwarts!
4: Have An Irish Breakfast
Drinking Guinness For Breakfast!
They say drinking a pint of Guinness is akin to eating a meal… so why not start your day with a drink? It’s what 100 year old Gladys Fielden has been doing for the past 70 years, and she’s still going strong!
There is an old motto that says “Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper” which basically means you should start your day with a large breakfast. The Irish take this to heart.
A traditional Irish breakfast consists of cooked meat (bacon, sausages and black/white puddings), eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, and potato all fried in butter with brown bread.
It was used to prepare you for a full day’s work on the farm on a cold winter morning.
5: Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
As you climb the spiraling staircase of Christ Church Cathedral, take a moment to imagine what life was like back in 1030, when Dublin’s oldest building first opened its doors.
Imagine the historic events this building has witnessed and the ancient artifacts it has collected along the way.
Christ Church is known for its stunning architecture, its 12th century crypt and of course the sound of the bells which have rung out over Dublin’s medieval center for hundreds of years.
Thanks to their guided tours, you can now explore the narrow corridors of the Cathedral and ring the bell for yourself, or see their exhibition of original 16th century costumes.
6: Trace Ancestors At Glasnevin Cemetery
Hunting Dead Relatives at Glasnevin
Built in 1832, Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery is surrounded by seven watchtowers which were home to armed guards. Ireland’s most famous cemetery was a key target for bodysnatchers!
It was also the final resting place for many historical figures like Michael Colins, a soldier and politician who played a key role in the struggle for Irish independence, Brendan Behan, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright who was imprisoned for IRA activity and Luke Kelly, vocalist in one of Ireland’s greatest bands, The Dubliners.
Nowadays, Glasnevin Cemetery Museum has vowed to tell the stories of over 1.5 million people, the people who helped to shape the Ireland of today. They also have the best tools for your family’s Irish genealogy search.
7: Walk Across Ha’Penny Bridge
Dublin’s Ha’Penny Bridge
Every visitor to Dublin should walk across the Ha’Penny bridge at least once. This historic bridge over the River Liffey was built back in 1816, to replace the many ferries that shuttled people back and forth.
It was named for the “half-penny” toll that was required to cross it.
For an even more unique experience, you can kayak under the bridge with City Kayaking. They run tours all year, and if you’re lucky, you might catch one of Dublin’s famous autumn sunsets.
If you’re REALLY lucky, you can be there for the ‘Music Under the Bridge’ tours when they call in some of the best musicians in Dublin to perform under the bridges as people kayak down the River Liffey through the city.
8: Listen To Buskers On Grafton Street
Singing for Tourists on Grafton
You never know what you are going to find on Grafton Street, but you are guaranteed a great show! From traditional Irish music, to rock and pop, this free entertainment is the perfect soundtrack to your Irish trip.
Make sure to take a snap while you’re there because you could be listening to a future star. Recently, 12 year old Irish busker Allie Sherlock was flown to Hollywood by Ellen DeGeneres and is said to be the next Taylor Swift!
Grafton Street has also been known to bring out the busker in everyone, including people like Bono, Hozier, The Script, Damien Rice and Glen Hansard to name a few.
9: The Howth Cliff Walk
Howth Cliffs at Dublin Bay
If you’re a nature lover who wants to enjoy a day outside of Dublin city center, the coastal town of Howth should be first on your list.
Here you’ll find some of the best seafood in Dublin, weekend markets for the perfect souvenir and coastal hikes with unimaginable views over the Irish sea.
On a clear day you will get a panorama view of Dublin Bay and Howth Harbor during this 2 hour trail.
The good news is the Howth Cliff walk is suitable for all fitness levels, but keep in mind that it is dangerous to walk in rough weather conditions, so it may be best to stay cozy in one of the many pubs and restaurants nearby.
10: DoDublin Bus Tour
Tour Dublin By Bus
With authors and poets such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W.B Yeats and Samuel Beckett, it’s clear to see that Ireland is home to some of the greatest storytellers in the world.
Normally I’m not a fan of bus tours, but the DoDublin Bus guides truly have the ‘gift of the gab’.
They take great pride in presenting the best of Dublin City and throw in plenty of historical and cultural references by famous poets/writers.
Be prepared for the Irish sense of humor though, you can expect a lot of playful sarcasm and plenty of songs from Dublin City – it’s like a history lesson, comedy show and karaoke sing-along mixed into one!
11: See Wild Deer In Phoenix Park
Deer at Phoenix Park in Dublin
Phoenix Park – Europe’s largest walled urban park is a national treasure for the people of Ireland. Opening over 350 years ago, the park spans 7 square kilometers and can be found just a stones throw away from the city center.
Not only is it home to Dublin Zoo, but it is also known for its wild herd of deer, which can be found roaming through the forests (and crossing the road when you least expect it!).
The deer were introduced back in 1662, when the park itself was set up as a royal deer hunting park, but nowadays the 450 member herd are free to run wild.
Phoenix Park is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic, but do keep your eyes peeled, because the deer have been known to join in!
12: Trad Sessions At The Hairy Lemon
Traditional Irish music, or trad, is one reason many people visit Ireland. And The Hairy Lemon Pub is certainly unconventional… you never know what you’ll find in this aptly-named green and yellow 19th century house.
One thing is for sure, The Hairy Lemon does the best Trad Sessions in Dublin! If you have never been to an Irish Trad Session, prepare yourself, it can get pretty wild especially when the Guinness is flowing.
You can grab a seat, but you won’t be sitting for long — Irish dancing on the tables in no time. The Hairy Lemon is also known for their traditional Irish food like Dublin Coddle, Cottage Pie and Irish Stew.
13: Watch A Hurling Match
Have You Ever Heard of Hurling?
You may have never heard of Hurling before, but I can guarantee the moment you sit down to watch this ancient Gaelic and Irish sport, you’ll instantly become a fan.
And where better to watch, than in Croke Park (‘Croker’ as the Irish say). Hurling has been played in Ireland for well over 3000 years and is said to be ‘the fastest game on grass’.
It involves a wooden stick called a hurley and a small hard ball called a sliotar, and players must wear helmets at all times – this is high speed, high impact and high adrenaline for everyone watching!
14: Taste Some Irish Whiskey
Whiskey Tasting at Teeling Distillery
Guinness isn’t the only alcohol Ireland is famous for. Ireland has been making whiskey for well over two hundred years, so it doesn’t get much richer than this when it comes to taste and history.
The most famous whiskey tour in Dublin is the former Jameson Distillery on Bow Street, but it’s really just a museum now, no longer a working distillery. Instead, I’d recommend stopping by the fully functional Teeling Distillery to see an actual distillery in action.
Prepare yourself for a sensory overload, because after the tour you’re invited to try out their premium whiskey tasting experience, where you will learn the tricks of the trade, how to blend your own whiskey or master the craft of whiskey cocktail making.
15: Visit The Hellfire Club
The Most Haunted Place in Ireland
With beautiful forest trails and an incredible view over Dublin, the Hellfire Club might seem like a peaceful escape from the city at first, but once you make it to the lodge at the top of the hill you will start to realize that there is much more than meets-the-eye.
If you’re not a fan of ghost stories, you might want to stay away as this infamous location is riddled with supernatural tales that will send shivers up your spine!
At the top of the hill you’ll find the remains of the Irish Hellfire Club, where the members were believed to be Satanists and Devil-worshipers — inviting the Devil to join them for dinner each night.
16: Explore Dublin’s Museums
Dublin is Full of Museums
If you have been to the Emerald Isle before, you will probably know that it tends to rain more than 160 days of the year! Thankfully, Dublin has an abundance of museums and galleries for you to stay dry in – they even have a National Leprechaun Museum!
The Temple Bar area is a maze of narrow streets full of pubs and live music. Located on the south side of the River Liffey, it’s one of the oldest areas in Dublin and home to some of the most famous bars in Ireland.
It’s a must see if you want to experience Dublin’s nightlife (however these days it’s mostly tourists). But there’s plenty to do in the daytime too.
Medieval architecture, food markets every Saturday afternoon, Europe’s oldest built theatre — it’s no wonder it’s renowned for being the cultural quarter of Dublin. Take a stroll down the cobbled streets and explore its galleries, vintage clothing shops, record stores and more.
18: Picnic At St. Stephen’s Green
Relax at St. Stephen’s Green
Saint Stephen’s Green Park is a little piece of paradise in the centre of Dublin and the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. If you’re bringing a picnic to enjoy by the pond, make sure to bring an extra slice of bread for the park residents – the ducks!
Over the past 4 centuries, Stephen’s Green has played a key role in Dublin’s history. When you wander through the peaceful surroundings, it’s hard to imagine that this site was once a battleground during the 1916 rising.
But even in the height of battle, James Kearney, the park grounds keeper convinced both sides to stop fighting for one hour a day… so he could feed the ducks of course!
19: Tour Historic Dublin Castle
Explore Historic Dublin Castle
Built in the early 13th century, Dublin Castle sits on the site of a Viking settlement. Excavations have uncovered parts of a medieval castle with the remains of the Viking’s original defenses.
The stone covered embankment, the medieval curtain wall and the steps that led down to the original moat have all been preserved for you to see on your next visit to this historical masterpiece.
The history of Dublin Castle doesn’t stop there. Before the 1916 rising, it served as headquarters for the British administration in Ireland. In 1922, following Ireland’s independence, Dublin Castle was handed over to the new Irish government, opened up for visitors to experience it themselves.
20: Beef Stew At The Church
The Church Restaurant, Dublin
This might just be the best thing you ever eat, especially on a cold winter’s day in Dublin. Chances are you’ll see Guinness Beef Stew on menus across the city, but the best spot to enjoy it is The Church.
Built at the beginning of the 18th century, The Church (which was an actual church) boasts many outstanding features, like an authentic Renatus Harris organ, spectacular stained glass windows, and has hosted some incredible historic events.
Arthur Guinness, founder of The Guinness Brewery (another great stop in Dublin) married here in 1761. Sean O’Casey – Playwright & Author of “The Plough & The Stars” – was baptized here in 1880.
Jonathan Swift – author of “Gulliver’s Travels” and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral attended services here too.
Molly Malone’s Famous Statue…
What NOT To Do In Dublin…
Never tell an Irish person that YOU are also Irish. Maybe your great, great, great, grandmother was, but you’re American.
Don’t get a selfie with the statue of Molly Malone. This is probably the most touristy thing you can do in Dublin.
Stay away from Sheriff Street. Despite the name, it’s one of the most dangerous parts of the city. The rest of Dublin isn’t too bad!
Never call an Irishman (or Irish woman) British. In fact, try not to mention the UK at all. The Irish are fiercely independent.
Don’t expect to drink all night. Most pubs in Dublin actually close at 11:30pm on weeknights and 1am on weekends.
Where To Stay In Dublin
Accommodation in Dublin is expensive. There’s just no way around it. Dublin is a small city, so hotels within the center can charge a premium.
Here are some suggestions for good places to stay in Dublin:
Over the last 8 years I’ve witnessed first-hand how travel destinations have become overwhelmed by tourists and Instagram selfie-seekers, many of whom are destroying the places they visit.
In fact, I’m part of the problem. And I don’t know how I feel about that.
As you’ll see below, this is a multi-faceted issue, with many different components involved. Social media isn’t the only culprit.
But how do we fix it? Is it even possible, or are we too late?
Overcrowding at Famous Destinations
Tourism helps drive local economies, and countries spend a great deal of time and money attracting travelers to their destinations for that very reason.
But there can also be too much of a good thing. It’s called “overtourism”, it’s beginning to take its toll on local communities, and even entire countries.
Tourism helped save Iceland after its 2008 financial crisis. But now many residents have had enough. Since 2010, the number of visitors has more than quadrupled — putting a ton of strain on infrastructure and the environment.
Just 800 people visited Norway’s picturesque Trolltunga “Troll’s Tongue” viewpoint in 2010, while 80,000 people made the hike in 2016. This massive surge of tourism (and rescue missions for those unprepared for the 10 hour trek) was fueled in a large part by social media.
Recent protests in Venice and Barcelona showcase what unchecked tourism is doing to these popular European cities. Neighborhoods become too expensive for locals as investors buy up apartments to rent out to tourists.
More People Traveling
Over the past 10 years tourism in general has surged, driven by a rising middle class around the world. This is especially true for emerging economies like China and India.
With more disposable income to spend, millions of new travelers are hitting the road and collecting photos for their Instagram feeds.
Travel has become more affordable and accessible too, with budget airlines like WOW Air and alternative accommodation options like Airbnb.
Travel is just hot right now. While the world saw 500 million international travelers in 1995, it has swelled to a massive 1.3 billion tourists in 2017 — and growing even faster.
For those of us who’ve been promoting the benefits of travel, it’s actually working. But there have been consequences…
Many of these new travelers are visiting the same handful of destinations, creating some massive issues with overcrowding. The tourist experience itself is deteriorating due to long lines and a lack of patience.
Social Media Influences People
The Power Of Social Media
If you don’t think social media has the power to influence people, you’ve got some catching up to do. A new report by Fullscreen & Shareablee shows just how powerful it is.
“Almost half (42%) of 18-34 report trying a product recommended by an influencer, and more than one-quarter (26%) say they have actually made a purchase based on a recommendation.”
Another study by the University of Georgia highlights the “bandwagon effect” and the “snob effect” that social media has on travel.
Some people choose their destinations based on what’s currently trending, while others try to be “cool” by picking destinations that aren’t as popular. Either way, social media is influencing their decisions.
I personally found this study interesting, because I try to do a combination of these two things as a strategy for my business. Highlighting a mix of popular and “undiscovered” places. LOL!
The town of Wanaka, New Zealand saw a massive 14% increase in tourism to its region when it focused on inviting social media influencers to visit, far surpassing traditional marketing methods.
Social media is very effective at inspiring people to purchase plane tickets, book hotels, and visit the same locations as the influencers they follow.
Just Taking a Shark Selfie to Show Off…
Selfish Selfie Culture
When the crusaders reached Jerusalem, they visited the the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and proceeded to carve graffiti into the walls in order to say “I was here.”
In the 12th century, it was a medieval dagger. In the 1980’s, it was polaroid cameras and those agonizing family slideshows full of bad travel snapshots.
Just check out photographer Martin Parr’s 1990’s coffee table book Small World if you need reminding what tourism was like before Facebook.
These days, we’re simply using Instagram, Facebook, and selfie-sticks to more effectively indulge in our narcissism, and to a larger audience.
Look at me! I’m so worldly & cultured, right? Like & comment if you agree!
We have to make our mark somehow, to feed those egotistical tendencies — and carving graffiti with daggers is no longer allowed.
Chichen Itza? Check!
A Checklist Mentality
Famous places are famous for a reason. They’re beautiful. Or strange. They have historic or cultural value. You’ll probably want to see them for yourself, and take a photo, just like countless others before you.
This isn’t new to Instagram. As someone who was shooting travel photos before Instagram was a thing, just look at any postcard rack and you’ll see many of the same famous locations on display.
People have been holding up the Leaning Tower Of Pisa for 30+ years.
The only difference is that our travel photos are public now. No longer hidden away in family photo albums.
Instagram has become a publicly accessible bucket-list of places you NEED to visit, fueling a FOMO (fear of missing out) attitude. We’re trying too hard to impress everyone with our list.
Taj Mahal? Chichen Itza? Great Wall Of China?
Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt (and Instagram photo) to prove it.
Instagram’s algorithm pushes certain types of images to the top of your feed because they naturally get the most attention. Epic landscapes. Colorful sunsets. Famous attractions. Bikini bottoms on white sand beaches.
Even if you want to see other kinds of photography, the algorithm makes it difficult, because those images get buried at the bottom of your feed.
While you can certainly ignore the algorithm, and post whatever the hell you want, those photos most likely won’t be seen by your followers.
So people who are trying to “make it big” on Instagram and get the most likes and followers — keep posting the same damn things over and over again, because they work.
It’s a vicious cycle that leads to the repetition of un-inspiring images that you’ve already seen 100 times before.
The “Rick Steves Effect“. The “Lonely Planet Effect”. Even National Geographic. The ability to make a profit through travel writing and photography has always had both positive and negative outcomes.
Introducing millions of people to a new place and inspiring them to visit can inject a lot of money into a region. It can create new jobs for locals. It can broaden the minds of travelers who make the journey.
But it can also wreck havoc and chaos if the destination isn’t ready for the onslaught of tourism that follows.
The internet broke down barriers to entry into this world, allowing anyone to become a travel photographer, travel writer, or YouTube video host.
It’s how I got started 8 years ago creating this travel blog — chasing a dream, with no professional training.
As the world consumed more news and entertainment online, advertising dollars followed. Myself and many others have been able to make a good living sharing our travel adventures via social media.
Would you believe I’m able to charge up to $4000 for a single Instagram photo? Or $15,000 for a destination marketing campaign? Others with more reach can earn even more…
Suddenly, getting the perfect photo isn’t just a hobby, it’s a job. And more people become fixated on chasing dollar signs than having a real travel experience.
Iceland Before the Crowds
Yes, I’m Part Of The Problem
I’m fully aware of the irony of being a tourist myself, complaining about other tourists. And the further irony that I’m making a living doing it in the process.
While helping to promote these destinations to a wide audience as part of my business, they eventually get overwhelmed.
I’m not so egotistical to think that my content alone created these problems, but I certainly share some of the blame.
Back in 2014 I traveled to Iceland for the first time, renting a campervan and driving the country’s Ring Road. I wrote an article about my experience, which has been read 750,000 times by other travelers.
One location I mentioned was completely altered after my visit. Due to a surge of disrespectful tourists, the Sólheimasandur airplane trail was closed down to vehicles and the plane itself was wrecked by graffiti.
Back in 2013 I visited a special monastery in Thailand where monks would give you a traditional Sak Yant tattoo, etched by hand, in exchange for a $3 donation. Filled with locals, and a few tourists, the experience was very authentic and cool.
However after word got around and the activity became super popular, the site turned into a gimmicky tattoo factory, with regular dudes doing the work (no longer monks), and charging upwards of $120 USD.
So What’s The Solution?
Do travelers with “influence” need to be more careful about what they share online? Or will no location remain pristine and undiscovered for long, regardless of what we do?
Do governments need to do a better job managing their tourists, spending more money on enforcing laws, permit systems, sustainability, and infrastructure — rather than tourism marketing?
Or are we just undergoing an unstoppable change in how the world travels — due to a combination of population growth, a rising worldwide middle class, and our already narcissistic nature combined with social media?
I really don’t know. Maybe there isn’t a solution. But I’m hoping that together we can at least acknowledge that there’s something troubling going on, and maybe try to do our own small part to make a difference.
Pick up some trash on your next adventure.
Observe posted signs and local customs.
Read up on travel photography etiquette.
Put down your camera from time to time.
Shame & report those who aren’t following rules.
Learn more about the people and places you visit.
Don’t treat travel as a competition or checklist.
Be aware your actions may have negative consequences.
If you agree that something needs to change, please share this article. Awareness and discussion are the first steps! ★