What Not to Miss: Shanghai

Shanghai is one of those cities that people talk about, but that few Americans ever have the opportunity to visit. For most of us, China is a 14-18 hour plane ride away. The language barrier can make it seem like an incredibly daunting place to visit.

Earlier this year, Josh and I were fortunate enough to be able to take the trip of a lifetime. We began in Shanghai. Then we boarded a cruise ship and went to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Phillippines before ending our trip in Hong Kong. I hope to be sharing more about the other locations in the future. This trip is something we’ve been planning for four years and it was better than we could have ever dreamed.

Getting Over the Language Barrier in Shanghai

I am a Midwestern American who only speaks English. Traveling to Asia, especially to parts of Asia where very few locals speak English, was incredibly intimidating to me. After spending 21 days there, I can admit my concerns were unfounded. My eyes and heart are now open to a part of the world I hadn’t given much consideration to previously.

While we visited several different countries, I want to start by sharing with you about our experiences in Shanghai. It was a perfect place to start our journey through Asia.

Isn’t Shanghai Crowded?

By population (26.32 million in 2019), Shanghai is the largest city in China. It is the second most populous city proper in the world (second only to Chongqing). Nine million of Shanghai’s 26 million residents are long-term migrants. They came to work and provide money to their families back home. While the population density of Shanghai is over 3,800/km2, we didn’t feel overly crowded in Shanghai.

Shanghai is one of the major financial centers in the world. As China developed into a more capitalistic economy, Shanghai grew into its major financial hub. It has embraced that role and stands in parallel with financial hubs across the world like New York and London.

The Visa Situation

If you’re traveling to Shanghai from the United States you have a couple of options for Visas. Full disclosure: Please always check current rules, regulations, and travel notifications from the US State Department and Chinese Embassy. I am not a travel agent.

Full Visa

Most travelers to China will need to apply for a full visa. This can be done in a couple of ways. You can visit a Chinese Consulate or you can hire a document service to handle that. If you need a full visa, plan ahead. This this can be a time-consuming, expensive process if you have to go through a document service.

144-Hour Transit Visa

If you’re just transiting through Shanghai on your way to another country, you may qualify for the 144-hour transit visa. Josh and I traveled using the transit visa and it’s very easy to do as long as you meet all of the qualifications.

When we arrived in Shanghai, we went to immigration line that specified that we were applying, on-site, for a transit visa. We completed the forms, confirmed with the agent managing the line that we qualified for the transit visa (they check all of your travel documents, including your lodging reservation while in Shanghai, your forward ticket, and the full itinerary for your trip – note that if you are returning to China at any point during your trip, you DO NOT qualify for the transit visa).

If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify for the transit visa, I recommend having a conversation with your travel agent. They will be able to help you determine your eligibility.

If you are eligible, it’s a really easy way to spend a few days in China without the time and expense of getting a visa.

Getting Around Shanghai

There are several options for getting around Shanghai that I’d recommend. When you arrive at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, you’ll be able to take a taxi into the city or you can take the Maglev train to the Longyang station, where you can transfer to the Metro or get a cab or rideshare.

ShanghaiMaglev

The Maglev train is a pretty cool way to get into the city. It travels faster than any other commercial passenger train in the world (as of April 2019 – before the 2020 Olympics, Japan is set to unveil a faster Maglev train) at 267mph. The link I’ve shared here gives some great information and photos so you’ll know what to expect as you look for the ticket counter, purchase your ticket, and board your train.

One thing you should know when you arrive at the Longyang station is that you should either plan to transfer to the Metro here, or you should summon a rideshare. I do not recommend getting in a taxi at this station, even if you use the official taxi line. We had a pretty scary experience in an official taxi, from the official taxi line, when we got off the Maglev. Only later did I find out that taxis who frequent this station tend to target tourists and scam them out of additional money by claiming not to know where the passenger’s destination is.

DiDi (Ridesharing)

Note: For this option to work, you must have cellular data (not just WiFi) on your phone in Shanghai. If you’re looking for a great option for cellular service that works, without additional plans or SIM cards in most countries across the globe, I recommend Google Fi.

The first thing you should know is that Uber and Lyft don’t exist in Shanghai. If you’re a regular Uber or Lyft user though, you’re in luck. DiDi (Apple | Google) works just like Uber and Lyft and it’s in English. It even allows you to choose from standard phrases to send your driver that will show up for them in Mandarin. Getting your account set up can be a bit of a struggle, but I recommend downloading the app and setting up your account before you ever leave the United States. I was really lucky in that I was able to connect my Chase Sapphire Reserve card without any issues. Some credit cards will not allow you to connect them to DiDi, so you’ll want to check this ahead of time.

After our bad experience with a taxi, we only used DiDi to get around the remainder of our time in Shanghai, including a 45 minute ride to the International Cruise Port, on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Shanghai Metro

The Shanghai Metro is really easy to use. We were fortunate enough to have a guide for most of our time in Shanghai, so she helped me navigate purchasing of Metro tickets. This site is super helpful, as well.

The Shanghai Metro is clean, fast, efficient, and safe. If you can’t get DiDi to work on your phone, the Metro is a fantastic alternative. Shanghai Metro offers several ticket options, including rides between individual stations and and single-day and multiple-day unlimited passes.

Maps

One thing you should know about maps in China is that they’re generally not completely accurate. While we didn’t have any issues using Google Maps (with our Google Fi service, which has a built in VPN for cellular data) while we were in China, I did notice weirdness when I returned home and was looking at the GPS data for some of our photos.

China uses a different system for mapping than the rest of the world does, so maps don’t necessarily line up when you’re looking at streets and satellite imagery. In this example screenshot, you can see that the pier seems to be completely mis-aligned with the street map overlay.

Shanghai Chinese satellite map
Maps in China are weird

Half as Interesting has a great video explaining the map quirks and if you’re planning to visit China, or you’ve always wondered why satellite images of maps in China don’t line up correctly, I recommend taking the minutes to watch it.

Where to Stay in Shanghai

When researching where we wanted to stay in Shanghai, we considered Airbnb locations and hotels. We decided to go with a hotel due to the police registration requirement for foreigners visiting China. Hotels generally register guests, but if you stay at an Airbnb, with a local family, or through another home-share method, you have to register with the police yourself. If you choose not to register with the police, you could face deportation or be banned from China in the future.

Once we decided we would be staying in a hotel, we had to determine what the most important features of a hotel would be. We ultimately decided that, if we could find a hotel that provided us with the iconic view of the Shanghai financial district skyline, we wanted to make that happen. While researching our options, we found the Hyatt on the Bund and it hit the skyline view requirement out of the park.

Shanghai skyline
The view from our room

If the Hyatt is out of your budget, I would recommend looking into hotels in the area of the Hyatt on the Bund. Any hotel on the Puxi (west) side of the river should feature photos of the skyline on its website if it has a good view. We found that the Puxi side of the river has more to do and more of the historic area of the city, as the Pudong (east) side of the river is newer and has been built up in the past 30 years.

What to see in Shanghai

There’s so much to see in Shanghai and never enough time to see it all. Here, I’ll feature some of our favorite spots from our trip, but please don’t limit yourselves to only doing what I’m recommending. There are many spots we didn’t get a chance to visit and I’m sure they’re absolutely worth checking out.

Jade Buddha Temple

The Jade Buddha Temple was a great way to start our exploration in Shanghai. It’s full of incredible history and is remarkably well preserved. Unfortunately, the site does not allow photos of the actual Jade Buddha, but we were able to capture photos in other areas of the temple grounds with no issues.

Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Garden was a really unexpected and super pleasant discovery. It’s tucked into a shopping area and if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d never know it was there.

Shanghai Confucian Temple

Another hidden gem in Shanghai is the Shanghai Confucian Temple. When we were there, we were literally the ONLY people at the temple. In a city of almost 30 million people, that’s an incredible feat. While we were at the Temple, we were fortunate enough to be able to participate in a private tea ceremony and tasting of teas that can only be found at this particular temple. I definitely recommend participating if you visit. It’s like nothing we’d ever experienced before and we have a whole new appreciation for tea.

When Buddha changes color, the water is hot enough to steep the tea properly

Umbrella (Marriage) Market at People’s Park

One of the more unique traditions of Shanghai is the Umbrella Market at People’s Park. When we originally visited, it was a Friday, so the market wasn’t happening, but we were able to come back the following day to experience the market.

This isn’t what you would think of when you think of a traditional market. The vendors are parents of adult children and the goods being marketed are those adult children. Each available person has their information listed out on a sheet or two of paper, with details about age, occupation, education, etc. The papers are taped to open umbrellas and other parents browse the market looking for potential spouses for their children.

It’s a really fascinating tradition to experience and shows how western culture is very different from Chinese culture.

Nanjing Road

Nanjing Road is a fantastic and lively pedestrian shopping district that becomes even more lively at night when the neon turns on and the atmosphere becomes electric. We visited on a pretty rainy night and you can see from our photos that the rain didn’t really dampen the experience for anyone. If the rain or walking gets to be too much for you, you can hop in one of the very inexpensive shuttles and take a ride from one end of the pedestrian area to the other.

We didn’t end up shopping at all, but just the experience of walking through the area and listening to the sounds was an amazing experience on its own.

The Bund

The Bund is a definitely “don’t miss” spot in Shanghai. If you have the opportunity to walk it at night, it is breathtaking to stand along the water and look across to the financial district, while basking in the golden glow of the buildings along the Bund.

The Bund was part of the original international settlement in Shanghai and you can see western influences on the architecture everywhere in this area.

Shanghai Tower Observation Floor

Just across the river from the Bund is the Shanghai financial district, or Lujiazui, in the Pudong district. Here, you’ll find iconic buildings like the Shanghai Tower, Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and Jin Mao Tower.

If the weather is clear enough, you’ll want to experience the view from the observation floor of the Shanghai Tower. It is the tallest observation floor in the world at 1,841 feet (inside the world’s 2nd tallest building, behind only the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai). The tower makes it very easy to determine whether or not is it worth it to take the trip to the top of the tower. At the base, outside of the building, there is an information booth that has monitors showing video of current views from the top. You can take a look at the monitors and determine if it’s worth your time and money to go to the top.

Your ride to the top will be in the fastest elevators on the planet, taking you up 118 floors in 55 seconds. The elevators have a timer inside and you can definitely tell you’re ascending quickly when your ears pop all the way up and the rush of wind hits you as you step out of the elevators and onto the observation floor.

Capturing the photos of Shanghai from above at night is not to be missed. Even a little fog didn’t deter us from making the journey into the sky for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Where to Eat in Shanghai

One of the most intimidating things, aside from the language barrier, for a lot of western tourists in China is the food. When you step off the plane in Shanghai, you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, and the food you’re about to experience is going to change your life and open your eyes to things you’ve never considered before.

Obviously, we didn’t get to every amazing restaurant in Shanghai, but we signed up for three separate tours (I’ll talk more about a couple of those a little later) that included stops at various restaurants (two tours that were solely food tours) during out time in Shanghai and I feel like we got a really great list of places to recommend to others who are planning to visit.

上海会馆 (Shanghai Hall)

Shanghai Hall is a place we stopped for lunch on our first full-day tour with a private guide. She gave us some recommendations from the menu (all of which have associated photos, so ordering, even without a guide, is super easy) and we choose from those recommendations.

The restaurant is inside of a shopping mall (just like SO many great restaurants in Shanghai) and was absolutely huge. We arrived after the lunch rush, so we were some of the only people in the entire restaurant, but the service was fast and friendly and I had some of the best green beans (I didn’t get a picture, unfortunately) I’ve ever had.

This was also our first experience with soup dumplings, and if you’ve never had them, you HAVE to add them to your must-try list. If you’re unfamiliar, soup dumplings, like the name implies, are filled with soup. You have to be very careful eating them, so you don’t bite in and dump soup all over your lap, but they are absolutely worth the trouble. I’ll never look at dumplings the same again.

Nanjing Impressions

Nanjing Impressions is probably the most authentic restaurant we encountered while in Shanghai. We were truly the only non-locals in the restaurant and the entertainment was truly unique. We tried potstickers, chicken feet, mixed vegetables, and beef noodle soup here and would have stayed all night trying all the fantastic dishes.

Again, the menu included photos of all the dishes, so ordering by pointing is completely acceptable.

Music to accompany dinner

Taoyuan Village

Taoyuan Village was a complete surprise, and part of a food tour offered by our cruise line, Holland America, through a partnership with Food & Wine magazine. It’s a Taiwanese style restaurant with multiple locations throughout Shanghai.

We had several unique dishes that opened my eyes to a style of food I likely would never have thought to order on my own.

The soft tofu (bean curd) soup was a really unexpected surprise and I would absolutely get it again if I was presented with the opportunity.

The rice rolls with pork floss (dried pork) were like an amazing, giant sushi roll, without the fish.

The fried dough sticks were like Chinese funnel cakes with less of a mess.

It was all amazing!

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant was another spot on the Food & Wine magazine tour from the cruise line. Here, we got to try four different kinds of soup dumplings, all made by hand, while we waited. By this point in our trip, I had already fallen in love with soup dumplings and I was thrilled to get to sample some more.

The Press

The Press was also included on the Food & Wine magazine tour. It’s a cute little restaurant and coffee shop housed in the former headquarters for the largest news press in Shanghai. We didn’t get to spend much time here, but we were able to grab a coffee and dessert and both were worth coming back for. I personally recommend the passion fruit cheesecake.

World’s Largest Starbucks

We unintentionally visited the world’s largest Starbucks twice while we were in Shanghai. Once, on our own, and once with the Food & Wine magazine tour. It’s definitely worth a stop for anyone who loves Starbucks. This location has food for days and drinks you can only get here. It’s a little overwhelming when you first walk in, but I recommend going on a weekday, if you’re able, as you’ll avoid the large crowds that visit on the weekend.

When you’re here, make sure you check out all of the different parts of the building and order a drink from the special menu. It’s a really unique experience and most of the staff speak English, so it’s very accessible for western tourists.

How to See it ALL

If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re realizing that there’s no way we saw all of this in three days, on our own, without some help, and you’d be absolutely correct.

We booked several tours while we were in Shanghai so we’d be sure to see everything we wanted to.

Jenny’s Shanghai Tours

We booked the Shanghai Incredible Highlights tour and the Shanghai Ultimate Night tour through Jenny’s and we would recommend it to anyone looking for a great way to see Shanghai. We ended up doing both private tours in one day, with the same guide, Summer (if you’re lucky enough to be paired with Summer, you’re in great hands – she was spectacular). Unfortunately, it looks like Jenny’s doesn’t offer the night tour any longer, but they do have lots of other night tour options in Shanghai.

Jenny’s guides typically meet you right in your hotel lobby and they handle coordinating all of the transportation for you (for an additional fee, but it’s well worth it). We felt like we were given rockstar treatment all day and Summer took amazing care of us. It was a long day, but one we wouldn’t trade for anything. Seriously, book with Jenny’s if you’re going to Shanghai – you won’t regret it!

UnTour Food Tour

The first of the food-focused tours we booked in Shanghai (and the one you can book too) was with UnTour Food Tours. We did the Shanghai Night Eats tour, and while it is focused on an area a bit outside of the normal “tourist zone” in Shanghai, I’d definitely recommend giving it a try. You’re not going to encounter anything more unique on a food tour than you will on this one.

In order to preserve the quality of the tour, I’m not going to share the names of the restaurants we visited, but I will tell you about the theme of the tour and show you some of the food.

The tour is focused on 5 main restaurants, all featuring dishes from different regions of China. The guides do a great job of telling you all about where the food you’re trying comes from and you can really tell how different food is in China, depending on the region you’re visiting.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Shanghai, I hope some of these recommendations and tips have helped to sway you toward booking the trip. It’s an amazing city, with a lot to offer. If you can get past the language barrier, it’s truly a wonder to behold and you won’t regret your time there!

Other blogs in my What Not to Miss series:

Alaska Cruise Advice

Looking for Alaska cruise advice? There are lots of things to think about when booking a cruise to Alaska. I’ll help compare some of the pros and cons here and give you the advice I always give my friends and family when they are talking about booking an Alaska cruise.

Why Should I go to Alaska?

Where do I even start with this response? Growing up in Kansas, I spent some time in my childhood and in my adulthood visiting the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado. To put it in perspective, if you’re in Denver (the “Mile-High City”), you’re sitting at approximately 5,300 feet above sea level (give or take a few hundred feet in either direction, depending on where you are in the city). In Denver, you’re not even into the Rockies yet (see topography map below). When you head west, out of Denver and start getting into the Rockies, the views and peaks of 14,000 feet are incredible, right?

Denver topography
Denver topography
Source: Google Maps (2019)

Now, let’s talk about the topography in Alaska. . . when you’re driving along a coastal highway or sailing alongside land on a cruise ship, you’re hanging out at sea level. When you look up, you’re staring at those same 14,000 peaks, but they’re actually 14,000 feet above you. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life and I have difficulty finding the right words to describe it. Photos don’t do it justice, but I’ll share a couple here that might try (note, these photos were taken in 2014, from my cell phone camera, so they’re not my best work).

Need more reasons?

Alaska cruises depart during a perfect time of year in Alaska. While many of us in the lower 48 are baking in the sun with temperatures hovering around the century mark, Alaska is a lovely escape, with temperatures ranging from “perfect” to “ideal” when you hit that sweet spot right in the middle of the summer.

Alaska has activities you just can’t do anywhere else. When we first traveled there, we did a rafting trip down a glacial river, rode on a zodiac, past icebergs, and landed on the banks of an island where we hiked through a rainforest, saw bears, looked almost straight down on top of our cruise ship from 4,000 feet above, watched salmon swimming upstream, panned for gold, crossed the US border, into the Yukon Territory, and took photos in front of more than one glacier. Alaska is like no other place in the world.

Are Alaska Cruises just for Retirees?

Nope. Josh and I took our first Alaska cruise when he was 35 and I was 32. We were definitely not the youngest on the ship and didn’t even feel exceptionally young. We’re used to cruising and that sailing happened to be on Holland America, so it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for us to be sailing with mainly retirees. Yes, our fellow passengers skewed slightly older than they probably would have if we’d been sailing Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but the general population wasn’t noticeably older than it had been on any other line we’d sailed on.

When is the right time time to sail to Alaska?

An Alaska cruise will not be cheap. . . but it will be worth every penny! When you’re looking at Alaska sailings, you’re probably going to notice that some of the available sailings are significantly less expensive than others. There’s a good reason for this. The less expensive sailings typically happen very early in the season (May) or very late in the season (September). You probably don’t want to be on these sailings. It will be cold, the landscape won’t be green, and you’re more likely to encounter rough seas.

The sweet spot I recommend for an Alaska cruise is any time between the first week of July and the last week of August. Temperatures will average in the 60s during those months, whether you’re in Juneau or in Anchorage and it will be a fantastic respite from the 100s you’d likely be experiencing back at home.

Which cruise line should I choose for my Alaska cruise?

When reading advice on cruise lines in Alaska, you’re going to see a lot of strong opinions. Based on those opinions, when my parents first sailed to Alaska, they did so on Princess. They also left on the first sailing of the season and encountered seas they compared to those shown on the “Deadliest Catch” reality series on TV.

Our first cruise to Alaska was on Holland America, a line that we have a very high opinion of. Holland America skews older than some other American cruise lines. You’re not going to find water slides and dance clubs that are open till the wee hours of the morning, but you will find a Culinary Arts Center, sponsored by America’s Test Kitchen, where you get to do cooking classes with the ship’s culinary staff. You’ll also find a jazz club inspired by BB King, and smaller ships, where you can truly relax and enjoy the scenery.

Honestly, with all the ships, including brand new ships, sailing to Alaska right now, I don’t know that I would recommend one line over any other. You could choose the Norwegian Bliss or the Norwegian Joy, two brand new ships with incredible amenities and lounges built specifically for viewing the Alaska scenery. Or, how about the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas sailing with nearly 5,000 other people, on the 11th largest cruise ship in the world. You can even sail to Alaska on a Carnival ship, if you’re looking for more of a party.

Princess tends to be known for their Alaska cruises, and we would highly recommend Holland America. That being said, we’ll be sailing back to Alaska again, in July of 2020, on the Norwegian Jewel.

I truly believe that, for an Alaska sailing, the most important part is the itinerary. So. . .

Which itinerary should I choose in Alaska?

This is probably your most important choice when booking an Alaska cruise. Alaska isn’t cheap, so you want to make sure you’re seeing all the best things when you book your cruise. Not all Alaska itineraries are created equally, so here are some of my best recommendations:

Inside Passage

If you start or end your cruise in Vancouver, you will likely have the opportunity to sail through the Inside Passage, which is truly incredible. At points, it feels like you’re sailing 20 feet from the shore, on either side of the ship. It gives you the opportunity to see wildlife and waterfalls from an angle you’ll never be able to recreate.

Glacier Bay National Park

Another itinerary element I would look at is whether or not the ship goes to Glacier Bay. Only a couple of ships are allowed into the Bay each day and it’s spectacular to experience. Most people never have the opportunity to visit Glacier Bay National Park. Most of those who do, arrive on a cruise ship.

Note that Glacier Bay isn’t going to be a place you stop and get off the ship, but a day of sailing through the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on the planet is completely worth being on the ship the whole day.

We were lucky enough to sail in the morning after a fairly significant (no damage though) earthquake, so we got to see lots of mini icebergs that had calved from the glaciers in the park overnight.

Northbound or Southbound, Not Round Trip

I also recommend doing either a northbound or southbound sailing. The Kenai Peninsula, near Anchorage is breathtaking and most round trip itineraries in and out of Seattle and Vancouver don’t go this far north. If you sail into or out of Seward, I would recommend doing some kind of tour between Seward and Anchorage. It takes a couple of hours to drive there, if you’re not making any stops, but there are tons of things to stop and see along the way, so taking some extra time and seeing all you can is one of my top recommendations. Exit Glacier is right on the way from Seward to Anchorage and you can take a short, very easy hike, and find yourself standing right next to the glacier.

When you do a one-way sailing, you have the opportunity to see much more because you’re not turning around half-way up the coast.

What kind of cabin should I choose for my Alaska cruise?

Alaska is one of the places I recommend going big or going home. Yes, you’ll be able to see everything you need to from an upper deck, but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning, pulling back your shades, and watching the Alaskan wilderness float by, while still in your jammies. I recommend a balcony for Alaska. If you’re sailing with friends or family members, get a balcony on one side of the ship while your travel companions get one on the other side of the ship. This way, you’ll always have the opportunity to see what’s happening on both sides, from the comfort of a private balcony, without having to fight for prime viewing on the upper decks.

If you can’t afford a balcony, don’t worry. Inside cabins are fine for any cruise, even Alaska. You’ll be able to leave your cabin and hang out in the public areas and you’ll be able to see everything everyone else will. You’ll just have to put on clothes first.

Should I extend my Alaska cruise with a land tour?

We didn’t extend our first Alaska cruise, back in 2014. Ever since, we’ve wished we had. While driving to Anchorage, from Seward, we were able to catch a couple of glimpses of Denali. Those views left us longing to see it up close. If you have the means, definitely add on the land tour. In order to book a land tour, you’ll have to book a one-way cruise. You can typically do the land tour before the cruise, if you’re starting in Seward, or after the cruise, if you’re ending in Seward. We’ve always regretted not doing it the first time.

Should I book an Alaska cruise?

Yes, of course! You’re going to love Alaska. It was the first cruise we ever did where we knew right away it was one we would do again. It’s like nothing you will ever experience in the lower 48. Bon Voyage!

P.S. If you’re interested in booking your first cruise or you’d just like to learn more about cruising, in general, check out my other cruising blog post, “So, You’re Interested in Booking Your First Cruise“.

My 9 Favorite Travel Vlogs

In case you haven’t noticed through my previous posts, I have a bad case of wanderlust, and after Josh and I cut cable TV out of our lives, YouTube travel vlogs became a very present part of our evening routine. Travel vlogs have given us inspiration for trips, ideas for things to do and try when we travel, and have given us a deeper appreciation for the enormity of the world that’s out there, just beyond the horizon.

Some travel vloggers spend their entire lives traveling and filming, using sponsorships, freelance work, and Patreons to fund their travels. Others save up for an entire year and then spend an epic month or two having the time of their lives in a specific destination, only to go home and start saving again immediately for the next trip. We’re inspired by each vlog we watch and would love to have the opportunity to do something similar someday (if I ever get over my fear of the camera).

Finding travel vloggers to follow was a lot of trial and error, but joining a couple of travel groups on Facebook led us to some new faces to add to our evening lineup. I’d like to share a list of my 9 Favorite Travel Vloggers with you to help make it a little bit easier to start your travel vlog binge.

Attache

Attache probably posts the least frequently of all the vloggers I will share here, but his content is arguably the best for people planning trips to the places he visits. The host, Alex, takes viewers on a holistic journey to each city he visits, starting at the airport (or train station, if that’s how he arrives). He talks about the best way to get from the airport into the city center, then talks about the best things to do and see in each city, the cost of a Big Mac (because that’s how the entire world judges the affordability of a city), and the cost of a cup of coffee.

We truly get excited each time Attache posts new content and I’ve been known to add travel destinations to our wishlist just based on his vlogs.

 

 

 

Kara & Nate

When you Google travel vloggers, Kara and Nate are likely to pop up high in your search results. They are a couple from the Nashville area and they are on a mission to visit 100 countries by 2020. Right now, they’re in the high 70s. We really enjoy watching Kara and Nate travel around the world because they’re not just checking off countries. They’re truly exploring every place they visit, from trying new food to doing a river cruise down the Nile and exploring pyramids.

We’ve added numerous places to visit to our list after being inspired by Kara and Nate. They’re master travel planners and do a large portion of their travel by using credit card points, Airbnb credits, and from sales of their online courses to help other people follow similar dreams. I feel like, if we ran into them on the street somewhere, I would be that weirdo who approaches them like we’re best friends, even though they have absolutely no idea who I am.

Kara and Nate post much more often than Attache, so it’s easy to follow their progression throughout the world.

 

 

 

Gone with the Wynns

Nikki and Jason started out traveling via RV several years ago and Josh and I have been following their latest adventures in their own catamaran for over a year. When they bought their boat, they had no sailing experience and spent many months on the southeast coast of Florida learning the ropes (literally).

After learning what they were doing, they spent a while sailing around the Bahamas, then started to sail south. They did a full Panama Canal transit and spent some time gathering supplies and preparing the catamaran for a Pacific crossing. They departed Central America and headed for French Polynesia and after 25+ days at sea, they arrived safe and sound.

While I LOVE cruising, sailing on my own tends to be a little bit terrifying to this girl from land-locked Kansas, but sailing across the entire Pacific Ocean on a catamaran with only my husband is something I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to attempt. The ocean is a scary place and spending 5 days at sea between Hawaii and Vancouver last year was a test of my patience, so I’m not sure 25+ days would be the best idea for my sanity, especially on a tiny catamaran with no onboard activities.

Right now, in their vlog series, they’re still in the middle of the Pacific and running into some complications. Luckily, thanks to social media and the power of the internet, we know they made it safely to French Polynesia, but I get nervous for them in every single episode while they’re in transit.

If you’re a fan of sailing, exotic travel, or just cutting the cord and being self-sufficient for a while, I definitely recommend Gone with the Wynns. They’re fun to watch and you’re likely to learn something you didn’t know before each time you see them.

 

 

 

Flying the Nest

Flying the Nest is one of the latest travel vlogs we’ve added to our watch list. Stephen and Jess are from Australia and have shared their experiences all over the world. We haven’t been watching them very long, so I don’t know a ton about their background, but they are a lot of fun to watch and I would recommend checking them out. If you’re interested in Western Australia, that’s where they’re from and one of the first trips we watched from them was a road trip through Western Australia. It’s like no other place on earth.

 

 

 

The Endless Adventure

Eric and Allison are from San Francisco and have been traveling full-time since 2015. Their travels tend to take them to more “off the beaten path” destinations and lately, they’ve had some focus on central Europe, which is different than many of the vloggers we’ve been following.

I always appreciate that Eric and Allison usually do one food-focused vlog for each location they visit. Learning about the cuisine of a location can tell you a lot about the culture and how people live there. We enjoy doing food tours when we travel and watching Eric and Allison talk about regional cuisine makes you feel like you’re right there with them, just without the calories!

 

 

 

Kinging-It

From their outward appearance, Craig and Aimee seem a little more edgy than some of the other vloggers I’ve mentioned in this list. Craig has ear gauges and Aimee has multiple nose rings. Edgy certainly isn’t bad though. These two have just completed the Mongol Rally with some friends and seem to have run into mishap after mishap along the way. They persisted and finished and it was certainly an interesting journey.

This Welsh couple has endured several difficult situations during their relationship (cancer and a broken neck to name just two), but they have an engaging camera presence and they are visiting places that most of the other travel vloggers we watch aren’t visiting.

I recommend Kinging-It if you’re looking for something that’s a little less Pollyanna and more about embracing the challenges of travel. They’re definitely authentic!

 

 

 

The Budgeteers

The Budgeteers are a little different than other travel vloggers. They produce TV-style episodes of one trip per year (I believe that’s the frequency). The idea is that each of the three Budgeteers have $1,000 to spend and they do what they can in the location they visit for that amount. They just finished their 3rd season and they spent it in India, traveling all over the country.

The team is made up of Paddy, from the UK, Thijs, from Belgium, and Lina, from Columbia. They all met while traveling and have recorded seasons in Southeast Asia, and Central America, in addition to their latest India season. Because they do one large trip per year, videos don’t necessarily come out year-round. Their entire season is released over a couple of months and then you have to wait for the next season, just like any regular television show.

The Budgeteers typically stay in hostels, so if you’re interested in that kind of travel, definitely add them to your list.

 

 

 

Where’s Poppy

Poppy is a vlogger from Denver (I think) and I randomly stumbled upon her channel a few months ago. She’s known for staying in one place for a longer period of time and really getting to know the locals. She sticks around a location long enough to rent an apartment and to take day-trips to nearby places.

Lately, Poppy has been in China and in Bali. We’ll be in China next year and Bali is on our bucket list, so we were particularly interested in her recent vlogs. She has stunning videography and photography and a love for adventure that I wish I’d embraced in myself when I was younger.  

 

 

 

Samuel & Audrey

Samuel and Audrey are from Canada and have a bit of a unique style to their vlogs. Samuel grew up on Vancouver Island and Audrey has a South American heritage. I believe she’s said that her father is from Argentina and they recently visited her mother’s family in Lima, Peru.

In addition to their English channel, they also have a Spanish channel with similar (maybe the same) content, which blows my mind a bit. I can’t imagine coming up with content for one channel, let alone two!

One of the recurring features of Samuel and Audrey’s vlogs are apartment tours for places they’re staying. They enjoy taking their viewers around the apartments to show how locals live. It makes for interesting viewing when there are things that Americans may not be used to seeing.

 

 

 

 

 


Whatever your travel bucket list includes, you’re sure to find something that peaks your interest in this list. While most of the vlogs mentioned here focus on international travel, I’d really love to find a travel vlog that showcases locations within the United States, so if you’ve got recommendations, I’d love to hear them. If you’ve got other favorite international travel vlogs, I’d love to hear about those too!

Safe travels!

 

What Not to Miss: Lawrence, Kansas

While Lawrence, Kansas is likely not at the top of many travel bucket lists, occasionally, the opportunity arises to head to the heart of the Midwest and visit a place I’ve called home for my entire life. Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, and we’re a little blue oasis in a sea of red (politically speaking). We bleed crimson and blue and “Rock Chalk” our way through college basketball season, always chasing the elusive March Madness. But, we’re not just about basketball and watching planes fly over.  Lawrence is so, so much more. If you’ve ever got the opportunity to pass through, and spend some time, there are a few things I recommend to all my friends before they leave town.

Where to Stay

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide where you want to stay.  Lawrence isn’t huge, but there’s a definite lack of hotel space within the city, especially if you’re here during a popular event (basically ALL of May, with graduations from both Universities and both high schools). If you’re planning to be here during a big event, your best option may be Airbnb, otherwise you can probably find a room at one of the Downtown Lawrence hotels.

The Eldridge

 

My favorite Downtown Lawrence hotel is the Eldridge. It’s a hotel with a colorful history and absolutely worth checking out, even if you just head inside to walk around the lobby or grab a drink at the newly remodeled restaurant on the main floor. According to the hotel’s website, it was originally opened as the “Free State Hotel” in 1855. Just one year later, in 1856, the hotel was burned to the ground by sheriff Sam Jones, who was part of a pro-slavery movement. The hotel was rebuilt by Colonel Shalor Eldridge and operated until 1863, when it was, again, burned to the ground. The 1863 raid was orchestrated and carried out by William Quantrill and his men.  Quantrill was a notorious pro-slavery evangelist and this same raid destroyed much of the city of Lawrence, killing over 150 people.

The hotel was rebuilt again and named Hotel Eldridge, operating in that capacity until 1925, when a group of businessmen took over the deteriorating hotel, demolishing it, and building the structure, still standing on the corner of 7th & Massachusetts Street, today. It is truly one of the most beautiful buildings in Lawrence, and I recommend staying there if you have the opportunity.  Who knows. . . you may even run into the rumored Eldridge Ghost while you’re there!

TownePlace Suites

If historic, possibly haunted, hotels aren’t your thing, another Downtown hotel I recommend is the new (2016) TownePlace Suites. This hotel is located just off Mass Street, but still close enough to the heart of Downtown Lawrence to feel like you’re a part of the action. The hotel has an underground parking garage, so you won’t have to worry about finding a place to park or feeding a meter during parking enforcement hours (9:30am – 6pm, Monday through Saturday).

The rooms are modern and have views of New Hampshire Street, on one side, and the hotel patio and adjoining neighborhood, on the other.

 

Airbnb

While Airbnb isn’t everyone’s first choice for accommodations when traveling, Josh and I prefer it to staying in hotels. We’ve found that staying in hotels is prescribed and impersonal and we avoid it, when we can, unless we’re staying in a place for one night (and can use credit card points to stay for free) or if staying in an Airbnb could be difficult (when short-term rentals are banned, or when traveling to a location like China, where all tourists have to check in with the local police department, unless they are staying at a licensed hotel – who does that for you).  

In Lawrence, Airbnbs tend to be available more during football and basketball season, for fans who may be traveling in from out of town, but you can find homes to rent year-round.

If you want to try Airbnb for the first time and you use MY REFERRAL LINK, you’ll get $40 off your first booking and I’ll get a $20 credit when you complete your trip.

 

What to Do

Lawrence definitely isn’t lacking in things to do. Whether you’re interested in art, music, history, or the great outdoors, there’s something here for you!

Spencer Museum

Spencer Art Museum
Photo Credit: Spencer


If art is your thing, the art museum at the University of Kansas is a spectacular collection of pieces from all over the world.  The museum has been known to house controversial exhibits, in addition to the 45,000 items in its permanent collection. The museum, itself, went through a major renovation in the last several years and the building is beautiful, with one of the very best views of the Campanile and the KU Football stadium. Check it out if you’re craving some creativity.

Warehouse Arts District

Warehouse Arts District

Lawrence’s art scene isn’t limited to art museums. Lawrence is home to some of the most creative folks in Kansas and local art abounds. One of the best areas to find local art in Lawrence is the Warehouse Arts District (WAD). The WAD is a fantastic pocket of the East Lawrence neighborhood that houses many galleries, artist studios, and public art installations.

Definitely make a point to stop at the Cider Gallery, Seed Co Studios, Lawrence Community Photo Studio, Art Emergency, Lawrence Creates Makerspace, and Rural Pearl while you’re in the neighborhood!

If you happen to be visiting on the last Friday of any month, throughout the year, you’re definitely going to want to make sure this area makes your “to-do” list. Final Fridays is a monthly celebration where art show openings and community events take over. Thousands of locals and visitors take to the streets of Downtown Lawrence and the Warehouse Arts District for the evening, eating amazing food, taking in eclectic art, and celebrating something Unmistakably Lawrence.

 

Downtown Lawrence

Downtown Lawrence

Just a few blocks from the Warehouse Arts District lies the crown jewel of the city. Downtown Lawrence is home to one of the most quintessential Downtown areas in the Midwest. I would certainly rank it as the best in Kansas, hands-down. Downtown Lawrence is a 5-block long by 3-block wide grid surrounding Massachusetts Street with local and national retailers and restaurants, art galleries, music venues, event spaces, and businesses that rivals similar areas across the country.

I like to claim that you can find just about any kind of cuisine on Mass Street, from some of the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had to a Jamaican Beef Patty that’s been written about in the New York Times. Whatever you’re hungry for, you can find it on Mass Street.

But, food isn’t the only reason to visit Downtown Lawrence.  The area is known for its music venues too. Because Lawrence is located in the middle of the US, right on a major interstate highway (I-70), smaller bands tend to make Lawrence a stop on their tours because we are located between two of their larger tour stops (typically St. Louis or Kansas City and Denver). With venues like The Granada, The Bottleneck, and Liberty Hall, it’s difficult to find a night during the year that some sort of music performance isn’t being held Downtown.

Downtown Lawrence is also known as a shopping district, with a large concentration of local retailers selling a wide variety of items you won’t find anywhere else in Lawrence.  From over 1,000 different kinds of soda at Mass Street Soda, to unique handmade gifts at MADE, Essential Goods, and the Phoenix Underground, and t-shirt designs that will make you laugh out loud at ACME, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find something unique and interesting to take home with you.

If history is more your thing, you can capture some of that in Downtown Lawrence too! Make a visit to The Watkins Museum of History and learn more about Quantrill’s raid that brought down the Eldridge Hotel and other significant events that have shaped the history and story of Lawrence and Kansas.

 

University of Kansas Campus  

Booth Family Hall of Athletics
Booth Family Hall of Athletics

 

One of the most beautiful areas of Lawrence is the University of Kansas Campus, perched atop Mount Oread. The University’s campus features beautiful green spaces, a sanctuary of academia, and hallowed ground for basketball fans from across the world. If you’re one of the millions of basketball fans who exist, you’d be remiss if you left Lawrence without visiting Allen Fieldhouse, the home of Kansas Jayhawk Basketball, and the namesake of Forrest “Phog” Allen, the father of basketball coaching. In addition to being one of the most difficult places to play a game as a visitor in the country, Allen Fieldhouse is home to the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, and is adjacent to the DeBruce Center, which, thanks to a very generous KU Alum (David Booth – of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics), houses the original rules of basketball, written by Dr. James A. Naismith, when he invented the game in 1891. In addition to being the Father of Basketball, Dr. Naismith also happens to have been the very first Jayhawk Basketball coach, making Kansas the birthplace of basketball.

While you’re on campus, be sure to stop by the Campanile, a World War II Memorial Carillon standing 120 feet tall, and overlooking KU’s Memorial Stadium. The carillon’s 53 bells play regularly, so stick around a bit to listen to a lovely and unique experience. Legend says that any Jayhawk who passes through the Campanile before their graduation day will either not graduate on time, or not graduate from the University at all.

 

Outdoor Activities

If you’re a fan of the outdoors, Lawrence has you covered there too! From the fantastic views of Wells Overlook, just south of the city to the Kansas River and Clinton Lake trails, you can capture a piece of the beauty of Kansas and learn that all you’ve heard about Kansas being “flat as a pancake” is a myth. Kansas, particularly northeast Kansas, and Lawrence, in particular, is beautiful, and hilly, and lushly green (when you catch us after a reasonable amount of rain).

If you’re in Lawrence in the late winter or early spring, you may be lucky enough to catch the bald eagles nesting at the Kansas River.  The best spot for catching them is the promenade behind the SpringHill Suites Hotel, or the deck of Abe & Jake’s Landing. Typically, the eagles are just perched in the trees, right along the river and you can get an up-close and personal view of them. In past years, there have been as many as 20-30 eagles in the trees at one time and it’s certainly a spectacular sight to behold.

 

Where to Eat

After you’ve seen all there is to be seen in Lawrence, you’re going to be hungry. Now, I talked a little bit about the food in Lawrence earlier, but now I want to give you some specific recommendations about places and dishes you should definitely try while you’re in town.

 

Pizza at Limestone

Pizza at Limestone has the potential to ruin all other pizza for you. I’m not talking about the kind of pizza you think about when you think about Pizza Hut or Domino’s. Chef Rick Martin takes pizza to a whole other level with thin, flame-kissed crust from a 1,000 pound, wood-burning oven, lovingly named Maggie. With unique pizzas like The Spud (local thinly sliced potatoes, onions, crème fraiche, bacon and rosemary), Farmer (house-recipe bacon, gruyere, local egg and greens), and Summer (local cream corn, fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, bacon, cheddar & parsley), your tastebuds will be in for the ride of their lives.

 

Lawrence Beer Company  

The chef at Lawrence Beer Company, Ken Baker, formerly owned and operated another Lawrence restaurant institution, Pachamama’s. After Pachamama’s closed, Lawrence spent several years longing for Ken’s unmistakable touch. Luckily, Ken and several partners have opened Lawrence Beer Company (in 2017) and Lawrencians, myself included, have been singing his praises ever since.

Lawrence Beer Company is a fully operational brewery, in addition to being a full-service restaurant. It is nestled in the Warehouse Arts District, in a building that used to be a seed warehouse. The space is huge and open, and the building even has several apartments (and an Airbnb property) on it’s upper floors where you can order food from the restaurant any time they’re open.

Dishes to try here include the Rice Fried “Chick-arrones” appetizer and the Cubano sandwich. The Cubano isn’t offered all the time, but if you see it on the menu, don’t hesitate to order it.  It is, hands-down, the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had. The pork melts in your mouth and I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

 

Bon Bon

Bun at Bon Bon
Bun at Bon Bon

Also in the Warehouse Arts District, you’ll find an adorable spot called Bon Bon. Bon Bon is owned by Simon and Codi Bates, who also own The Burger Stand, which I’ll talk more about below.  Bon Bon means “Good, Good” and is a great spot for outdoor dining and for an intimate, indoor meal.  The building is pretty small – so small that there’s no kitchen inside. All of the food that is made at Bon Bon comes from a full kitchen packed into a food truck, permanently parked on the property.

The food is super unique and is all inspired by Simon’s international travels. Some of my personal favorite menu items include the Kimchi Fried Rice, Katsu Bun, and French Onion Tots. Their menu changes seasonally, and is always filled with things you won’t find elsewhere in Lawrence.  It’s all amazing, so you can’t go wrong!

In the mood for a drink?  I’ve long made the claim that Bon Bon has the best cocktail menu in town.  Order a painkiller and settle in for an evening playing bags on the patio, listening to trains roll down the neighboring track. It has all the makings of a very East Lawrence evening!  

 

Burger Stand

Also owned by the Bateses, is the Burger Stand, near the corner of 8th & Mass.  Whether you’re a die-hard meat eater or you prefer vegetarian options, the Burger Stand has something for you.  is your place. Located in the old Casbah building, the Burger Stand offers one of the most expansive burger menus in Lawrence.  You can get a more traditional burger, topped with white cheddar and seasonal greens (“The Classic”) or a more adventurous burger topped with avocado and a habanero-cactus jam (“Fire”).

Veggie burgers at the Burger Stand are made from ingredients like cauliflower, black beans, shiitake and crimini mushrooms, and garbanzo beans. They even sell the Impossible burger. If burgers aren’t your thing, they have hot dogs, corn dogs, salads, and the best fries in Lawrence.    

My go-to at the Burger Stand is the Smoke Burger, topped with applewood-smoked bacon, gouda cheese, and chipotle-cocoa ketchup, but if you see something on the specials menu that interests you, I recommend ordering that.  The specials at the Burger Stand never disappoint!

 

Culinaria

Culinaria Small Plates Meal
Culinaria Small Plates Meal

Back in the East Lawrence Neighborhood lies Culinaria.  The restaurant has come a long way from its catering-only operation and now serves some of the very best Mediterranean food in town.  The space is small (only seating around 30-40 guests) but the food and service are mighty!

When planning your trip, keep in mind that Culinaria is currently only open Thursday through Saturday from 3:30-9pm. I recommend going with a group of friends and ordering several small plates to share.  If you hit them at the right time of day (3:30-5:30pm), you can catch one of the best happy hour values around, with $5 cocktails, $2 off wine by the glass, and $1 – $5 small plates. You won’t find an undesirable dish on the menu, but be sure to try the Fried Cauliflower with Labneh, Burnt Eggplant Dip, Jerusalem Hummus, and Mushroom Ragout.

 

Sylas & Maddy’s

Sylas & Maddy's
Photo Credit: Sylas & Maddy’s

If you have a sweet tooth and you’re a fan of ice cream, try the very best ice cream in Lawarence, at Sylas & Maddy’s. All of the ice cream is made in-house and flavors range from simple sorbets to more elaborate flavors (with unique names) like “Da Bomb” and “Rock Chocolate Jayhawk”.

My favorite thing to do at Sylas & Maddy’s is to order the 5-Flavor Sampler.  You get 5 mini scoops of ice cream, so you can try a variety. Helpful Hint though – if you plan on continuing a walk down Mass Street while eating your ice cream, make sure it’s not July, or your 5-Flavor Sampler will become one soupy flavor that may or may not work out well.  

 

Luckyberry

Luckyberry

If you love sweets but you’re looking for something that may take fewer sets in the gym to work off, try Luckyberry.  Here, you can find homemade soft serve that’s made with local ingredients in really eclectic flavors that you may never have thought of as ice cream before.  You can serve yourself in the back of the store, so you can try a variety of flavors if you’d like. You’re charged by the weight of the ice cream you dispense, so be careful not to go nuts. The menu changes often, but if you see chocolate cherry on the menu, I can definitely recommend that flavor.  

Luckyberry also serves fresh-pressed juices, coffee, fresh-made sushi, and a local salad bar. Pop in for a refreshing juice, grab a sushi roll, salad, and soft serve and have a complete picnic to take to one of the parks surrounding Downtown Lawrence.

 

Closing

Are you a fellow Lawrencian? Did I miss one of your favorites? Leave a comment and let me know what I should add to this list!

Whatever brings you to Lawrence, I hope you enjoy your time exploring our unique little LFK and that you long to return again! Rock Chalk!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other “What Not to Miss”  and Travel Recommendation posts:

What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC

We’re often asked for recommendations about places we’ve traveled and I’ve never written specifically here about one of our favorite cities to visit, Vancouver, BC.  In the spirit of my “What Not to Miss: Austin” post, I present, “What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC”.

Josh and I have been big fans of Vancouver since our first trip there, back in 2014.  We stayed in Vancouver for a couple of days prior to our Alaska cruise. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vancouver twice since that original trip, both times in the last year and we’re still in love with the city.  It (along with Barcelona) is a place we’d absolutely consider if we were to move “abroad”.

How to Get Around

If you arrive by air, you’ll likely land at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).  The airport is beautiful and really easy to navigate and it’s ridiculously easy to get from the airport directly to Downtown Vancouver, using public transportation.  Just make your way to the Vancouver (YVR) – Canada Line SkyTrain station, located above the covered parking garage at the airport, and ride the SkyTrain for around 30 minutes, to the City Centre station, for less than $10 per person.

If you’re renting a car at the airport and you’re planning to stay Downtown, make sure you account for parking with your lodging.  I’m a big advocate of having a car in Vancouver, and you’ll see why as my recommendations go on, but parking in Downtown Vancouver can be a bit of a nightmare.  Make sure you’re prepared with an Airbnb that includes parking or a hotel that has parking facilities.

If you’re not renting a car, you’ll still find it very easy to get around Vancouver, using public transportation.  I recommend downloading the Citymapper app (Android | Apple) to map your routes using busses and the SkyTrain.  It’s super easy to use and is available for a variety of cities around the world.  All you have to do is enter your final destination and Citymapper will tell you all of the options for how to get there, using public transportation, on foot, via car, and with a taxi/ride share service.  If you’re using public transportation, the app has a feature that will allow it to alert you when your stop is coming up. Surprisingly, this feature works on underground transportation, as well, and even worked flawlessly in the London Tube, which is known for being one of the deeper subway systems in the world.

If you’ve got an early flight to catch, you can also use the app to estimate how long any route will take at specific times of the day, so you can estimate what time you will need to leave to arrive somewhere at a specific time.  It’s a really useful app and we’ve used it in multiple cities around the globe.

Where to Stay

I definitely recommend finding a place to stay that’s in Downtown Vancouver.  Vancouver is an incredible walkable city (we’ve easily hit 25,000 steps in one day in Vancouver) and being right in the center of everything puts you that much closer to all the great parts of the city center.  

If you’re comfortable with using the sharing economy, I recommend Airbnb.  We’ve been fortunate enough to stay in the same building (two different apartments) for each of our three Vancouver trips and it’s in a perfect location.  Unfortunately, the first apartment we stayed in has been sold and is no longer listed on Airbnb, but our last two trips were spent in a fabulous 19th floor apartment, overlooking Downtown.  The views at night are incredible and the apartment had everything we needed to enjoy a trip to Vancouver (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, laundry in the apartment, a fully stocked kitchen, balcony, fast internet, and the best perk of all – underground parking).

If you’re thinking of using Airbnb for the first time, you can get a $40 travel credit by using my link (www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350).  Full disclosure – if you use my link to book, I’ll get a $20 Airbnb credit when you complete your trip.

We haven’t stayed in a hotel in Vancouver before, but there are a lot of options to choose from in the Downtown area.  If hotels are more your speed, you’re sure to find one that’s suitable.

What to Do in Vancouver

It seems like there’s a never-ending supply of things to do when you’re visiting Vancouver.  I’ve broken down my “to-do” recommendations into “inside Vancouver” and “around Vancouver”. We’ll start with things to do while you’re in the city.  

Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour

The first time we were in Vancouver, we spent a whole day riding the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.  We’ve found that this tour, in any city we’ve done one in, has been one of our best experiences.  These tour companies painstakingly curate their routes and include interesting facts and history about the city, while showing you some of the most popular sites around.  You can hop off the bus at any of the stops, and hop back on when you’re ready to explore somewhere new.

We typically do one full loop of the tour, then get off at places that sparked our interest. That way, even if we find a place we love and lose track of time, we would still have been able to see everything on the tour.  I usually recommend buying whatever version of the ticket will allow you to access all of the routes that are running on your selected day, and if you’re going to be in town for more than a day, I’d get a multi-day pass, if it’s offered.  Then you can just do a couple days of hop-on-hop-off, and see everything you want to see in the city you’re visiting.

Granville Island

Granville Island is a special place.  It combines art, food, and waterfront, right in the middle of the Downtown Vancouver skyscrapers and it’s magical.  Most people immediately think of the Granville Island Public Market when they think of Granville, but this area is so much more than just the Market.  Don’t get me wrong – the Market is phenomenal, but the area is filled with local artists, studios, a boat making shop, a theatre company, and tons of little shops and restaurants that are totally Vancouver.  The Island is a great place to spend an afternoon and when you’re done, grab a snack at the Market and sit outside watching the boats and birds on False Creek, in the shadow of Downtown Vancouver.

Stanley Park

You can’t go to Vancouver without visiting Stanley Park.  It’s one of the largest parks in North America and British Columbia doesn’t mess around when it comes to parks.  At 130 years old and nearly 1,000 acres, Stanley Park is the oldest and largest park in Vancouver. The park lies on a peninsula between Vancouver Harbour and English Bay and features a beautiful seawall that’s great for running, walking, biking, and rollerblading.  While visiting Stanley Park, you can ride the Stanley Park train, visit the largest aquarium in Canada, lay on the beach, visit historical landmarks, eat delectable food, and enjoy the beautiful British Columbia outdoors. It’s really a park like none other, and you’ll want to devote a chunk of time to checking out all it has to offer.  

Stanley Park Seawall

Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery is really a fantastic stop if you’re an art lover.  Their exhibits change often and Josh and I have enjoyed the exhibits all three times we’ve visited.  The gallery is currently housed in a beautiful and historic building (former provincial courthouse), right in the middle of Downtown Vancouver.  Soon, it will be moving into a brand new space (groundbreaking is scheduled for sometime this year – 2018) that’s been in the planning process since 2004.  We can’t wait to get back to Vancouver when the new facility is finished to see how it turned out. It’s definitely worth checking out while it’s still in the current location, as the architecture is gorgeous.

Sunset Beach & English Bay Beach

Adjacent to Stanley Park, you can find Sunset Beach and English Bay Beach.  The two are connected and I’m not certain where one ends and the other begins, but both are fantastic places to spend an afternoon just people watching or enjoying the breathtaking views of English Bay.  Sunset Beach features access to the False Creek ferry system and the Stanley Park seawall. English Bay Beach features beach rentals, the Cactus Club Cafe (this place seemed WAY too cool for us, with a line to get in around 3pm), and a swimming raft with a slide.  If you’re looking for beach activities, either of these would be a great option.

What to Do around Vancouver

Now, we’ll explore things to do around the Vancouver area, but outside the city.  If you have the opportunity and the time to get outside the city limits of Vancouver, you won’t be disappointed.  British Columbia is one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever been and, if we lived there, I would spend most of my time outdoors.  It’s just breathtaking, every direction you go.

GyPSy Guide Tour App

Folks, this is my #1 recommendation when you’re traveling in British Columbia and have access to a car.  If you take no other piece of advice I’ve given here, take this one. GyPSy Guide is an app that you can download on your smartphone.  You download the app for a few dollars (trust me, it’s worth every penny you’ll spend and SO much more) at home, before you leave for your trip to Vancouver.  GyPSy uses GPS (get it? GPS?) signals (no cellular data) to track where you are located and gives you a turn by turn guided tour of the area over your phone speakers, or through the car’s bluetooth connection.  

We have taken both the Whistler (north) route and the Kamloops (east) route out of Vancouver and we would recommend both to anyone who wants to take a day-trip out of the city.  GyPSy also has a tour of Downtown Vancouver that does a great job of teaching you about the city and showing you all of the important landmarks.

GyPSy Guide tours have taken us to places other driving tours would have skipped and we’ve been awed by every turn.  In addition to the British Columbia tours, GyPSy offers tours in Hawaii, on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.  We used the Oahu and Kauai tours when we were there last year and will use the others the next time we have the opportunity.  GyPSy Guide also has tours in other areas of the United States and Canada. Truthfully, we will download the GyPSy Guide tour for any area we’re visiting that has one.  The tours keep you interested and provide some really great information about the places you’re visiting. Again, I can’t recommend these enough. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see things other tourists will miss!

Provincial Parks

If you download the GyPSy Guide Tour to either Whistler or Kamloops, you’ll be given the opportunity to pull off at many of the British Columbia Provincial Parks.  I absolutely recommend stopping to visit these breathtaking spots. British Columbia isn’t ever a place that came to mind when I pictured spectacular waterfalls, but it’s definitely on my list of best waterfalls now, after visiting so many of the Provincial parks.  It seems like every turn in British Columbia affords another fabulous view, and the Provincial parks spread throughout the province do not disappoint.

BC Ferry to Victoria

You’ll often hear from people who have visited Vancouver that you need to make sure you get yourself to Victoria.  This can be easier said than done, but, on our last trip to Vancouver, we made the trek to the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen and sailed to Swartz Bay, just outside of Victoria.  The voyage was beautiful and the experience of riding a passenger/vehicle ferry was really interesting.

Something many people don’t realize about traveling from Vancouver to Victoria on a ferry, is that the ferry terminals are both about 30 miles outside each city, so just hopping on the ferry as a passenger isn’t the most feasible option.  You’ll either need to have a car, or take one of the chartered busses that will take you from Downtown Vancouver to Downtown Victoria. We chose the private vehicle method, and would do it that way again, if given the opportunity. We’ve never done the bus trip, so I can’t comment on how smoothly that works, but we know the private vehicle option works well.  I do recommend, however, that you book your trip ahead of time, to reserve a spot. You’ll have to pay a deposit to make the reservation, but you don’t pay the full fee until you arrive at the ferry terminal for your voyage.

Butchart Gardens

While in Victoria, be sure to stop at Butchart Gardens.  I never thought a garden could be so fascinating, but it’s truly amazing.  The gardens are inside an abandoned quarry and are like no place I’ve ever been.  The care and love that goes into keeping this place so beautiful is very evident as you explore the grounds.  While you’re there, don’t forget to make reservations to experience high tea. It can be pricey, but it’s really worth it.  You won’t leave hungry!

Where to Eat

What would a trip be without some restaurant recommendations?  My recommendations in Vancouver are a little different than my typically recommendations.  Vancouver is an incredible international city. You can find cuisine from all over the world within about a 4 block radius of wherever you stay.  Everything is incredible, and you should try it all – from the dollar pizza, to the food trucks outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, you don’t be disappointed.  That being said, I do have a couple of recommendations if you need some places to get started.

Cartems Donuterie

This was a recommendation from one of Josh’s colleagues and he didn’t steer us wrong.  We stopped here as soon as we got off of our cruise ship, after 5 days at sea, from Maui.  Fresh, gourmet donuts and a great mocha were on my to-do list for the day and we had great success at Cartems.  The donuts you’ll find here aren’t of the “Dunkin’” variety. Come prepared to give your tastebuds a workout and you’ll have the opportunity to try flavors you won’t see anywhere else, like smoked maple walnut, honey Parmesan, and orange guava.  

Cartems Donuterie

The Flying Pig

Located in the heart of Gastown, one of the more gentrified, touristy areas of Vancouver, the Flying Pig may look like any other over-hyped restaurant.  What you’ll find, though, is a meticulously curated menu of seasonally-inspired and locally-sourced dishes that will blow you away. Who wouldn’t love some pulled pork poutine or lobster and prawn risotto?  Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any selection from their menu.

Mr. Shawarma Food Truck

If you know me, you know of my love for food trucks.  Mr. Shawarma is a truck I found the first time we visited Vancouver, and I’ve been back every time we’ve been there since.  It’s not fancy and it’s not expensive, but the food tastes amazing and the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll meet.  My favorite order is a falafel pita wrap, but they also sell poutine, platters, and spicy options.

Whatever your plans are when you visit Vancouver, I hope you love the city as much as we do!  Do you have favorites that I missed?

What Not to Miss: Austin

Austin is a city that gets talked about a lot.  Everybody knows somebody who knows something about Austin.  They’ve embraced the mantra “Keep Austin Weird”, and trust me, they do.  I find a lot of similarities between Austin and my own hometown of Lawrence, Kansas.  Both cities are a blue blip in a very red state, but both are so much more than their politically liberal leanings.  Both could easily play leading roles in a foodie’s dream and both are powerhouses of culture.

My husband and I spent about 5 days in Austin in early January.  It was his first time visiting, and my third.  Both of my previous trips were to attend SXSW, so my experience was a bit limited, but this was an awesome visit and we’re already making plans to go back.  Based on my experiences, I have a few recommendations of things that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Austin.

What to Do

Austin Eats Food Tour

This is my top recommendation for how to spend some of your time in Austin, and it includes eating at some of the city’s best food trucks. We love doing food tours in cities we visit and Austin Eats didn’t disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time in Austin so that we could have done more than one of their tours, but we participated in their Best of Austin Food Truck tour and it was pretty amazing!  The tour started with fresh Golden Eggs from Sandra Bullock’s Walton’s Fancy & Staple (seriously, look these up – they’re amazing), then visited the Cocoa Puro tent at the Saturday SFC Farmers’ Market.  All items sold by vendors at this farmers’ market have to be produced within 150 miles of Downtown Austin.

Other stops on the tour included Kerlin BBQ, where we sampled a fantastic BBQ brisket & cheddar kolache; la Barbeque, where we skipped the line that was forming before they opened, and had the best brisket and pulled pork of our trip, alone with homemade pickles and a really unique cole slaw; Tumble 22 for some Nashville Hot Chicken and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka; Lucky’s Puccias, in the courtyard of Mort Subite Belgian Pub for puccias, a tasty authentic Italian sandwich made with bread baked in the wood fired oven inside the food truck; and Churro Co. for an incredible s’mores churro.  All of the food and beverages are included throughout the tour and you absolutely will not leave hungry.

Rainey Street

This is an adorable little area (just a couple blocks) where old homes have been turned into restaurants and bars.  It’s adjacent to Downtown, and where our Airbnb was. There are food trucks interspersed throughout the area, so if you’d rather have food from a truck, then grab drinks at one of the hip little bars along this street, you can absolutely do that.

Austin 360 Bridge

If you’ve got a rental car, I definitely recommend going out to check this out.  The bridge is stunning, but the view is even more spectacular.  It can be a little confusing to find, as there aren’t any signs and it seems to be a bit of an unofficial park area.  If you see people parked on the side of the road, just before you are about to cross the big bridge, you found it.  You’ll park where they are, then climb up.  You won’t regret the mini hike.  The view from the top is AMAZING!

Hope Outdoor Gallery

This spot started as the beginning of a building and the project was never completed.  Now, it’s an outdoor gallery where artists use spray paint to create amazing art on the concrete foundation of the building.  There’s also a great, unobstructed view of Downtown Austin.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

One of the better presidential libraries I’ve been to.  LBJ was the one who created many of the social programs we work with today.  It was interesting to see how they all started.  There’s a neat feature in this library where they allow you to listen to phone conversations LBJ had with many people, including Jackie Kennedy, right after JFK was assassinated.  It’s really interesting.  It’s on the UT campus, but they have a designated parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any problems.

Blanton Art Museum

If you like art museums, this is a great one.  The entry way is beautiful and they just opened a brand new building (it opened right after we left Austin) that looks amazing.  This one is also on the UT campus, but there’s a public parking garage that makes things easy.

Where to Eat

Pizza – Via313

This is a Detroit-style pizza spot that started as a food truck.  I recommend checking out the original (behind Craft Pride at 61 Rainey Street).  They have an amazing patio in the back yard, where the food truck is, and Craft Pride serves all kinds of Texas craft beer.  The pizza is amazing, and it’s a spot I go back to every time I’m in Austin.

Trendy Doughnuts – VooDoo Doughnuts

This isn’t the original location (that’s in Portland), but it’s just enough of a taste of Austin’s 6th Street to be enough for me.  6th Street is Austin’s Bourbon Street and can be a little overwhelming.  I recommend going long enough to grab a doughnut and catch a little live music.

Amazing Doughnuts – Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts.

This is a food truck that only sells donuts.  There are great combinations and they’re all really good.  This is a popular place, so don’t go unless you have 30-ish minutes to spare.

Tacos – Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy’s is always on the list of recommendations when you’re talking about Austin.  If you like tacos, you’ll like this place, and they even have a “secret” menu.  It’s an Austin chain,  but they’re spreading to other places across the country (Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma right now).  but they know what they’re doing.  There are lots of locations all over the city and all have different features.  Check out their website to find the location that best fits your needs.

Unique Asian Fusion – Soursop

We stopped here on the way back to the airport.  It’s a small food truck attached to a brewery in a really industrial-looking area.  If you’re using GPS, you’re going to think you’re in the wrong place, but you’re not.  They have a really nice outdoor area and the food is unique and really good.

Breakfast – Biscuits N’ Groovy (Hyde Park)

If you like biscuits & gravy, definitely check out this food truck.  Lots of combinations and they’re all amazing.  It’s also around the corner from a great coffee shop, The Flightpath Coffeehouse.

BBQ – The Salt Lick

This is one you’ll have to drive to.  It’s about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin, but it’s worth it.  It’s one of the more famous BBQ spots in the country.  They have amazing food, but it’s super popular, so I recommend it for lunch rather than dinner.  We actually went as soon as we got off the plane and got our car in Austin, since we couldn’t check into the Airbnb until later in the afternoon.

No matter what you choose to do or where you choose to eat, Austin has something for everyone.  What are your favorites?

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


Our Short Term Rental Experiences

My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC Airbnb Short Term RentalsVancouver, BC
London, England Airbnb Short Term RentalsLondon, UK
Washington, DC Airbnb Short Term RentalsWashington, DCBoston, MA Airbnb Short Term RentalsBoston, MAAustin, TX Airbnb Short Term RentalsAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is made for short term rentals

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  Hosts want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

How to Experience New Orleans Like a Local

One of the favorite parts of traveling for Josh and I is trying to experience every place we visit as if we were a local.  Because Josh lived about an hour outside the city prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was one of the first cities I was able to ease into this travel style.

My definition of traveling like a local means avoiding the typical tourist traps (with a few exceptions – who isn’t going to stop at Cafe DuMonde when in the French Quarter???), eating at restaurants that are off the beaten path, enjoying the amenities cities provide for their citizens (parks, museums, etc.), and taking time to just explore.

After our first trip to New Orleans together, Josh and I compiled a list of recommendations for a friend who was planning her own trip.  I’ve saved that list and every time another friend is planning a trip, I make sure to offer it up, as my contribution to their trip planning.  We have friends who have come home and raved about our recommendations and one who lets me know every time she goes back to one of the restaurants we originally recommended when she visits the city.  

Below is our list of recommendations.  I hope they are as beneficial to you as they have been to some of our other friends.

(Photo Credit: Bacchanal Wine)

Bacchanal

600 Poland Avenue

Bacchanal is in the ‘super cool’ Bywater neighborhood.  It’s a wine store, but out back, they have a pop-up restaurant where you can enjoy live music while relaxing on patio furniture sipping your favorite cocktail or a local Abita beer.  When the weather is nice, it’s an experience that can’t be beat!  Bacchanal has been featured on Top Chef several times, as well as on the HBO show Treme.

(Source: Follow Me Foodie)

Cochon Restaurant

930 Tchoupitoulas Street

Cochon is a restaurant and butcher.  The butcher shop is next door to the restaurant, and provides all of the meat for the restaurant.  It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had in New Orleans.  It’s run by famous New Orleans Chef, Donald Link, who was one of the first chefs back in the city after Hurricane Katrina.  He’s been on Top Chef multiple times and his food is exceptional!

(Source: Mid-City Lanes Rock N Bowl via Facebook)

Rock N’ Bowl

3000 South Carrollton Avenue

If you like bowling and live music (or just live music), Rock N’ Bowl is a spot you shouldn’t miss.  It’s a really cool live music venue that happens to be housed in a bowling alley.  Many fantastic musicians have played at Rock N’ Bowl and it’s a favorite spot for locals to catch their favorite New Orleans bands.  

 

(Source: Willie Mae’s Scotch House)

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

2401 Saint Anne St

Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves the very BEST fried chicken in the country.  But plan accordingly. . . They’re open for lunch and serve until they run out.  You’ll want to get there early because they do sell out.  On one of our trips, we actually ate at Willie Mae’s twice because we thought it was so good.  The restaurant was wiped out by Katrina and the community came together to rebuild it.  

(Source: Napolean House)

Napolean House

500 Chartres Street

Have a Pimm’s Cup here if you get a chance.  It was invented here and Josh loves it.  Their muffaletta is also pretty phenomenal.  🙂  It’s in the French Quarter.

Your Favorites?

What are your favorite New Orleans spots?  Comment with your recommendations and I’ll be sure to add them to my list to check out the next time we’re there!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started as a Guest with Airbnb

My First Airbnb Experience

For someone from the Midwest, my experience with Airbnb started out pretty spectacularly. My parents, husband, and an extended family member were traveling to Barcelona to board a Mediterranean cruise and we needed a place to stay for a couple of days. We wanted someplace that was pretty close to the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus route so that we could do that one of the days we were there and close to the top tourist attraction in all of Spain, the Sagrada Familia Basilica.

I’d never used Airbnb or VRBO before, but was really intrigued by the concept of renting an apartment that all 5 of us could share and split the expense of, rather than three separate hotel rooms where we would each have to spend about $200 per night. I decided to take a look at the options that were available on Airbnb and see what we might be able to get. I centered the map on the Sagrada Familia and started my search.

The first property I fell in love with was located about a block from Sagrada Familia and it looked like I may have hit the jackpot right out of the gate. I plugged in the dates we were looking for and discovered that the apartment was available when we were going to be there. Horray!

I put in my request for the dates and waited for the host to respond. I was a little bit intimidated by the language barrier (in hindsight, taking Latin in high school probably wasn’t the most logical choice), but Airbnb includes a super easy translation option, so when the host responded, her message had already been translated from Spanish to English. The apartment was available and we were approved to go ahead with the booking.

I was thrilled to be able to try out Airbnb for the first time with such an amazing location and apartment. This was the view from the balcony off the living room of the apartment:



We ended up spending $404 for three nights in a three-bedroom apartment a block from Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. If we’d booked a hotel, it would have been closer to $1,800.

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . if you want to drop some serious money on a spectacular place, you can definitely do that on Airbnb, but that’s not typically the direction we go. When I’m searching for places on Airbnb, I’m typically looking for something that’s relatively inexpensive, but in a convenient location, and the amenities we can’t live without (AC if it’s going to be warm, an elevator if it’s higher than the 3rd floor – luggage for 14-day trips can be heavy, and the appropriate number of bedrooms/beds if we’re traveling with more than just the two of us).

Beginning a Search

So, where do you begin a search? I highly recommend doing an internet search for the best neighborhoods for tourists in whichever city you might be traveling to. The search is likely to give you some good ideas, so you can start narrowing down your options. In larger cities, this can be a pretty daunting task. I, myself, got pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out where to begin looking for a place to stay in Los Angeles after an upcoming cruise and gave up, booking a return flight the same day we get off the ship.

Once you’ve found a general area you want to search in, you can center your map and get started. Make sure you pay attention to the prices listed, as those are a nightly rate, and additional fees may be included once you get to the booking page. Just be vigilant about paying attention to the total cost and you’ll be fine.

If you’re going to a city with a great public transportation system, I recommend trying to find a place that’s close to a bus stop or a subway station. Being close to transportation opens the entire city up to you, and with apps like Citymapper, you’re just a few clicks away from being a public transportation pro and not looking like a lost tourist.

Referral Program

Airbnb has a great referral program for members. If you refer a friend, they get a $35 Airbnb credit, and if they make a booking, you get $35 in Airbnb credit. If they decide to become an Airbnb Host, you get a $75 Airbnb credit when they book their first guests. If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet and would like to sign up, get a $35 credit yourself, and do some exploring, I’d be honored if you’d use my referral link: www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350. We try to use Airbnb exclusively when we travel, so the credit will certainly be put to good use on a future trip.

Business Travelers

In the last year or so, Airbnb has set up a program for business travelers.  If you are traveling for business, the site will now indicate whether or not the property you’re looking at has standard business amenities (WiFi, laptop-friendly workspace, smoke & CO detector, essentials, iron, hangers, hairdryer, and shampoo).

In March 2016, I used Airbnb for business travel for the first time.  Three of my colleagues and myself were traveling to Austin, Texas to attend SXSWedu (the education conference associated with South by Southwest’s larger festival, later in the month).  The experience allowed for significantly more face time with my colleagues, as we could gather around a dining room table each night to talk about the sessions we’d attended rather than around a tiny table in a loud hotel lobby. We were able to cook with each other, collaborate on work projects, talk about the sessions we were interested in attending the following day, and really get to know each other. It made for a fantastic travel experience and 3 brand new close friendships.

Extra Income

Airbnb isn’t just for travelers looking for a place to stay. It can also be a great way to make some additional income if you have extra space in your home, or if you travel a lot and your home is in a home in a high-demand location. I’m not super-familiar with the ins and outs of hosting on Airbnb, but it’s certainly an option for someone looking to make some additional money.

Entire Place or Private Room?

One thing I never thought I would want to do with Airbnb is to select the “Private Room” option when searching for a property.  I had always been pretty adamant that it would be weird to share a home with a stranger.  That was until I discovered the most fabulous place we’ve ever stayed and the first Airbnb property that we have plans to stay in for a second time. . .

In 2014, Josh and I took a Pacific Northwest vacation which included an Alaska cruise.  Prior to heading to Vancouver, BC to get on the cruise ship, we stayed in an Airbnb in Seattle, took a day trip to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to visit a friend of mine from childhood, and spent a few days staying with one of Josh’s childhood best friends, in Victoria, BC.  From Victoria, we flew into Vancouver to stay for a few days prior to the cruise.

Vancouver isn’t an inexpensive city, so many of the properties were out of our price range or weren’t close enough to the center of the city for our liking, so, on a whim, I selected the “Private Room” option rather than “Entire Place”.  I’m so glad I did, because we discovered a room in the 27th floor Penthouse apartment of a building in the center of Downtown Vancouver, within walking distance to everything we could ever want to see.  The views (below) from this apartment were like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  The amount of outdoor living space was almost as much as indoor, with an outdoor living room, dining room, and balconies off of each bedroom.  It was a truly incredible place and the hosts and their dog were fantastic. It was such a wonderful experience that, when we knew we would be sailing from Vancouver on our October Pacific Coast Wine Country cruise this year, I reached out to the hosts to see if their room would be available for us to stay in again.  I can’t wait to be back on those balconies and in the heart of Vancouver.  It quickly became one of our favorite cities in the world.




What’s Wrong With a Hotel?

Short Answer: Nothing. . . It’s what’s right about an Airbnb property that makes all the difference.  Josh and I truly enjoy experiencing the places we travel to.  We want to get to know the city and feel like a local.  A big part of making that happen comes with staying in a neighborhood, with people who actually live in the city.  While you might not get to meet the neighbors, you still have the opportunity to interact with your hosts both before and during your stay.  The connection with the host can be one of the best parts of the trip.  Hosts are familiar with the area, can give dining tips, can help you get a SIM card for your phone if you’re traveling in a country that’s not your own, and a multitude of other benefits.  Having someone in the city who you can connect with for questions can be invaluable.

Many hotels are situated in areas surrounded by other hotels and not really within a part of the city that would allow you to really feel what it would be like to live there.  Being able to go to a grocery store, bring home local food, and to cook for yourself, in a kitchen filled with local staples is something you could never do in a hotel.

There’s also a benefit to being able to have space to be separated from your travel companions.  For Josh and I, staying in an Airbnb property can be essential.  Josh has a bit of an odd sleeping schedule.  He typically goes to bed around 8pm and wakes up between 3 and 4am (he says he gets his best work done before anyone else wakes up).  I tend to go to sleep sometime around 11pm and I get up around 7am for work, or between 8 and 9am on weekends.  This schedule doesn’t work very well in a hotel room.  An Airbnb property, on the other hand, could have a living room and separate bedroom, which makes our trip much more enjoyable, as we can keep our sleep schedules without disrupting one another.

Now, I have nothing against hotels.  When we’re visiting a city for only one day, we tend to book a hotel because it may just be easier to stay close to the airport if we have an early flight.  But, when we’re staying for more than one night, we prefer the diversity and immersion that an Airbnb property allows, compared to a very cookie-cutter hotel option.

 

Past Trips

We’ve stayed in Airbnb properties in Barcelona, Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City (twice), Austin, London (twice), Denver, and Washington, DC.  We’ve had fantastic experiences with each and every property and I know that our experience was significantly elevated because we were staying in an Airbnb property rather than in a traditional hotel.

 

Upcoming Reservations

In the next year, we have reservations booked at Airbnb properties on the North Shore of Oahu, back at the 27th floor penthouse apartment in Vancouver, and I’ll be heading back to Austin with colleagues for SXSWedu and SXSW for two weeks in March.  We’ve still got a couple of locations we haven’t booked yet, but we’ll be booking properties in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and back in Vancouver very soon.

 

Wrap-Up

Whether you’re a world traveler or not, Airbnb can be a good way to get out there and explore the world around you.  Immersing yourself in local culture and activities is one of the best ways to really experience a location and Airbnb is a fantastic way to make that happen.  Once you start using Airbnb, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go back to a traditional hotel for your travels.  We certainly don’t plan to!
Some photos from some of our Airbnb stays: