The 6 Best London Tourist Attractions

Ever since studying abroad friends and family turn to me for advice on where to visit in the English capital. I always struggle to answer this question because London is just so vast.  You could live in London your entire life and still not experience everything there is to do and see. After spending four months in the city I still have a laundry list of things on my London Bucket List that were left uncompleted. (Which I view as a positive because hey, now I have an excuse to go back!)

To try and simplify the task of making suggestions I usually ask my friends and family what kinds of things they enjoy doing on vacations. Are they someone who likes soaking in history at museums or are they the type of person who wants to spend all day outside in luscious parks or markets? Furthermore, are they someone who views vacations as a time to indulge or do they like feeling like a local and spending their days in grungy local pubs? By narrowing down their interests I feel like I can better recommend a trip that my friends and family will truly remember and love. And see that’s important to me, I want everyone who visits London to love the city as much as I do. That’s part of the reason I feel so much pressure when answering this question- I don’t want to be the reason they don’t enjoy the city I hold so close.  London is truly a thousand cities in one, a place where anyone can find their niche, it just takes a little searching to find it sometimes.

However, if you only have a few days in London and want to see the highlights, I believe there are a few things anyone should do. Below are six of my favorite “tourist attractions” that I believe will give you a well-rounded crash course in The City.

1.) Harrods

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of fashion so Harrods was always on the top of things to do in London. But after visiting the 5 acre building I realized Harrods is more than a department store to go to and gawk at Alexander Wang dresses you’ll never be able to afford. With over 330 departments, 32 restaurants and 1 Disney Bimpty Boppity Botique, Harrods has everything a person could every imagine wanting. Honestly, you could probably spend your whole London trip in Harrods and be satisfied.

Even if you don’t like shopping or think that Harrods is too posh, you should visit the department store just to experience its uniqueness.  There is something magical about riding an escalator as women and men sing opera and something exciting about walking through the Food Halls where you could fulfill every craving you have.

Bonus: If you are in London over Christmas, Harrods is famous for their decadently decorated windows, and those along are probably enough of a reason to visit. (like Macy’s in NYC).

2.) Tea at Fortnum & Mason

When in London, you must experience high tea and in my opinion Fortnum & Mason, the most luxurious department store in the World, is the place to do so. The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, opened by Her Majesty The Queen offers a traditional tea that is absolutely exquisite. While definitely pricey, the experience is absolutely worth it. The $70 I spent on High Tea was absolutely worth it because over two years later this afternoon spent like royalty is one of my fondest trips of my study abroad experience, and those memories are priceless.

It’s rare that you will ever experience a meal quite like it anywhere else in the World. The food is absolutely amazing, and even better, they do not skimp on the portions. The highly-trained wait staff was constantly refilling our trays of scones and pastries and at the end of the meal asked us if we wanted to take anything home. At that point, we were way to full to even imagine doing so.

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I would also like to stress that while they encourage a classier dress code, it is totally cool to dress casually. They are used to tourists here and will not treat you any differently depending on the way you dress.

So dress up (or down) gather up your friends and family and act like royalty for an afternoon at Fortnum & Mason!

3.) Victoria and Albert

It’s no secret that London has hundreds of (mostly free) museums to visit and the sheer number of them can make it hard to pick one or two to visit on a short trip. While most people would default to visiting The British Museum and The National Gallery (both amazing museums), I recommend a trip to the the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V & A is not only the World’s largest museum of decorative art and design (and almost the biggest museum of any kind in the World) but also houses a collection that spans over 5,000 years of history.

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I visited multiple times and don’t think I even made a dent in seeing everything this museum has to offer. Usually, I stay away from maps, but in the case of the Victoria & Albert I think they are extremely useful in absorbing the layout of the museum and figuring out what you want to see. My must-sees for anyone visiting the museum for the first time are the Fashion exhibit, the Cast Courts, the Jewelry exhibit, and if it’s open, the Theater and Performance exhibit. Additionally, the glass work in the lobby by an artist named Dale Chihuly  (who also has an installation at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh) is worth a visit alone.

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In my opinion, the Victoria and Albert is such a unique museum because it covers a lot of areas of art that other museums do not. It highlights art forms that we may take for granted in everyday life, like books and textiles, and proves just how amazing and artistic  they really are.

4. Camden Market

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If you’re looking for something a little more “alternative” to do in London, Camden Market is the place for you. Stepping off the tube one of the first things you will see is young men dressed like “punks” and posing for pictures with tourists who are in awe of their spiked hair and over-stretched ears.  Wander past all the tattoos shops, and you’ll be in craft, clothing, bric-a-brac, and street food heaven. Composed of six distinct markets along Camden Lock, the Camden Markets house hundreds of vendors peddling their wares.  Wandering through the different markets you will find unique gifts to bring home, incredible street food to eat, and a fair share of cheap, mass produced rip offs. My one major tip: Don’t buy food or gifts right when you enter the markets, dig a little, because the hidden gems always have the better food and knick-knacks.  The markets can be a bit of a sensory overload but they are a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, especially if you are someone who likes to experience culture in a more organic way.

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5.) Buckingham Palace

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It doesn’t get more English than Buckingham Palace.  This is probably the most obvious attraction on my list, however I strongly encourage you to visit Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard.  I was going to skip the ceremony but during my last week in the city my friends encouraged me to go and I am so glad they did. I would have regretted not seeing it.  No where else in the World are you going to see royally dressed guards playing Top 40 hits on their instruments as they perform a stately ceremony. Even with the large crowds, the whole ceremony is kind of surprisingly fun to watch. It’s quintessentially British and one of those tourist attractions that is actually worth experiencing.

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6.) St. James’s Park.

This list would not be complete without mentioning one of the eight Royal Parks London has to offer and St. James’s Park is my personal favorite. Smack dab in the middle of the city and surrounded by three palaces St. James’s Park is a reprieve from the hustle of London. Business people often come here on their lunch break to enjoy the greenery and lake. The park is also a common date destination for couples during the Spring and Summer.  From the park you can see the London Eye and other famous London landmarks.You could easily visit the park after seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace because the park and the palace overlap.

While all of the parks have something special to offer, St. James’s Park holds a special place in my heart. While Regent’s Park is more like Central Park, St. James’s feels more like a hidden treasure. One could spend a day in the park and forget that they were in one of the largest cities in the World.

Hopefully, with these suggestions in mind you are ready to conquer London.  It’s a special city that has the power to change you, so arrive with an open mind.

Have you ever been to London? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments, I could talk about London forever.

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“A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.” – Unknown

 

The Liebster Award

Every time I take some time away from blogging, I feel guilty. It’s never on purpose, but one week goes by without blogging and then that turns in to two and before I know it it’s been weeks since I’ve written anything. Lately, it’s been even harder because I haven’t been traveling and when you write about travel and don’t- it’s a struggle to come up with ideas (to state the obvious). However, today my first “adult” vacation was approved at work and while I’m still daydreaming of all the places I could go I thought I would take some time and acknowledge an award I was nominated for a few weeks ago.

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I was nominated for the Liebster Award by the wonderful (and fellow Pittsburgher) Rebekah. As a a woman from Singapore, a lot of her posts highlight the country’s unique food and culture and going through her blog always makes me want to try my hand at cooking one of her dishes. Thank you so much for nominating me! ! 🙂 ❤

So what is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award is a new-comer award given by bloggers to other bloggers, it creates a great platform for new blogs to be discovered and build communications. The best thing about this award is, it creates a lot of encouragement and support within our blogging community.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank your nominator.
  2. Show the award on your blog.
  3. Answer 10 questions asked to you.
  4. Ask 10 questions to 10 new nominees (who have less than 200 followers)
  5. Notify them thru social media.

With out further ado, it’s time to answer some questions!

  1. Where is your happy place?

Anywhere I’m with my best friends. (Ugh, I know….gross…. feelings)

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2. What is your favorite item of clothing?

I have this flannel that I stole from a really close friend that I literally wear a few times a week. I’m a bit obsessed with how comfy it is.

3. What do you think of when you think of Singapore?

I think of somewhere I would love to go and experience.

4. What 3 words describe you best?

Passionate, emotional, curious. (Yes, I’m aware I am a living, breathing Scorpio cliche.)

5. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging because I was unemployed, bored and lacked a creative outlet. I needed a constructive way to pass time and blogging seemed like the perfect solution. For the most part, all three of those things have changed since I’ve started this blog but I haven’t stopped because I love that blogging allows me to write down my stories to experience for years to come.

6. Who is your dream dinner party guest?

Easy! Lin-Manuel Miranda. 100%

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7. Who is your favorite blogger at the moment?

She’s not on wordpress but I love Sydney, a Pittsburgh fashion Blogger!

8.  What word would you use to describe Lulabelle Lifestyle blog?

Lovely

9. What do you love most about where you live?

How underrated Pittsburgh is. For so many years, so many people discredited Pittsburgh (I even did so myself) as an abandoned steel town. But their is so much more to it then that. I honestly believe there is something here for anyone and I honestly regret not realizing how gosh darn cool Pittsburgh was earlier.

10. What is your favourite food?

Cheese. No question about it.

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I am really bad at nominating people for anything so I’m just going to nominate a few below. BUT I encourage anyone who wants to answer these questions to do so and tag me so I can read your post!

Tag, your it:

Girl, Unspotted

intheseglobalshoes

Audrey Writes Abroad

Wandering Wives

KnockOut

My Questions:

  1. Top three places on your bucket list.
  2. I’m in your home town, where I should I go first?
  3. What’s is your worst travel horror story?
  4. What’s been your favorite vacation?
  5. Why’d you starting blogging?
  6. Road trip or long flight?
  7. What person in culture would you love to take a trip with?
  8. What is the weirdest food you have ever tried?
  9. Goals for 2016?
  10. Walking or public transportation?

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“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

A Day in Pittsburgh’s Strip District

At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to discover Pittsburgh more. In the time since I made that resolution I haven’t explored new places in the city as much as I would have liked; however, I have spent a lot of time revisiting some of my favorite spots. Recently, one of my old college roommates came to visit for the weekend and we spent all day Saturday running around from place to place just to get it all in. One of my favorite feelings in The World is introducing people I care about to places I love.  I cannot even begin to explain the glee I felt when my father and sister visited me in London after I spent months living there and I got to show them all of my favorite spots. I just love sharing those small pieces of my life with other people and watching their hopefully positive reactions (*fingers crossed*). For that very reason, I was so excited to show my old roommate around Pittsburgh.

She has visited Pittsburgh a few times before so we skipped the bigger things like the incline and point and headed straight for The Strip. For a Saturday in January the weather was strangely cooperative (it was in the upper 40’s!) so I felt like this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. If you’ve even been to The Strip on a Saturday you know how overwhelming the experience can be with so many sights, smells and sounds surrounding you. With that in mind I picked a few of my favorite places to visit and guided our trip through the crowds.

Our first stop was Peace, Love and Little Donuts.

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When you park in the warehouse parking lot behind the strip it’s almost impossible to escape it’s lure. It’s like the smell of freshly friend donuts puts you into a trance and you just cannot resist going in. Personally, I’ve never been a huge sweets person but  the small size of the donuts at Peace, Love and Little Donuts is the perfect tiny sugar rush for me. Plus, the creative and interesting doughnut toppings make it a fun place to repetitively visit to try new combinations. Even though their is a new location less than five minutes from my house I like making the drive to the original location in the Strip District because of its quirk and novelty. Plus being so close to a location could be dangerous for my health and wallet so I try to limit trips to Peace, Love and Little Donuts to special occasions.

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Next we stopped at Mon Aimee Chocolat.

For a person who claims to not like sweets, most of my stops in the Strip District are bakeries and candy stores. Mon Aimee Chocolate holds a special place in my heart because they carry all the sweets from around The World that you can’t buy in a lot of stores in the states, like Kinder Bueno Bars.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Bueno Bars and I struggle to satisfy my cravings for them because they are unfortunately harder to find in the states than abroad. Mon Aimee Chocolate was one of the first places I found them and I think I cried when I saw them sitting on a shelf.

Even better, they have every Kinder product you could imagine plus Chocolate Oranges, English advent calendars and poppers at Christmas, and all of those little English sweets and snacks you can’t find most places. Whenever I am feeling particularly nostalgic I take a trip to Mon Aimee Chocolate and indulge a little. Afterward, I always feeling a little less homesick for England, which makes it a must stop every trip to the Strip District.

After resisting chocolate temptation we headed over to Enrico’s Biscotti Bakery and Cafe to buy some Chocolate Covered Macaroons.

I used to hate coconut but then one day my parents came home with Chocolate Covered Macaroons from Enrico’s and that all changed. Some other places skimp out on the size of their Macaroons but that is not the case at Enrico’s. Their Macaroons are the size of my palm and covered with some of the best chocolate I have ever had.

While I am a sucker for their Macaroons, Enrico’s is more well-known for their Biscotti and Bread.  If you are ever looking for a new date idea, consider heading over to Enrico’s on a Saturday morning and learn how to make homemade bread in their kitchens. Just make sure to register beforehand because these classes usually fill up!

Our last stop on the main stretch of the Strip District was Wholey’s. 

This is just one of those places you have to visit when you’re in the Strip District. Most people are so confused when I bring them into a grocery store but if you’re from Pittsburgh you know Wholey’s is so much more than that. It’s a Pittsburgh institution and their is just something about it that makes it exciting to be in.  Maybe it’s the big tanks of fish or maybe it’s the building it’s in or maybe it’s something else all together but regardless you can’t visit the Strip District without at least walking through Wholey’s.

Because the weather was so nice we decided to begin the mile and a half walk to The Pittsburgh Winery and on the way there we stopped at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

Originally, I started visiting the Pittsburgh Public Market when my father discovered East End Brewing Company inside. This little brewery offers small $2 beer taster flights that are perfect after a long day of shopping in the Strip District along with full pints and growlers. I love trying new craft beers and for that reason I started frequenting the Pittsburgh Public Market every time I was in the area. However, every time I visited I found another vendor at the Market to fall in love with. My current obsession is Jenn’s Jems and their one-of-a-kind jewelry made from locally sourced natural gemstones, screen-printed designs & found objects. I particularly love all of their pop-culture inspired jewelry (including jewelry inspired by Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Bobs Burgers, Harry Potter and more).

The Pittsburgh Public Market is also home to dozens of vendors, including organic and gluten free restaurants and chefs and is the perfect place in Pittsburgh to find unique food and gifts.

Our last stop in the downtown area was The Pittsburgh Winery.

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine suggested that we try to find a winery in the area for a fun day out and that’s how we found out about this winery. Because they’re an urban winery, The Pittsburgh Winery sources most of their berries from California and Chili and then produces their wines in-house. For only $15-$20 you can enjoy a quality tasting that includes crackers, cheese and chocolate pairings as you travel along their wine list. Then if you chose to buy a bottle, the tasting fee is waived.  The best part is that you can then open your bottle, drink it in their beautiful venue space that features wine barrel lined walls and take the bottle with you if you can’t finish it.

The Pittsburgh Winery often hosts events and concerts in their chic venue space and while I have not attended one yet I cannot wait to because the atmosphere at The Pittsburgh Winery is absolutely incomparable.

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After a pit stop home for a homemade dinner we drove to Zelienople to visit my favorite restaurant and brewery in the Greater Pittsburgh area, Shubrew.

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Located on Main Street, Shubrew is a relatively new addition to the town. While it may not look like much at first, all of their beers are brewed on-site and their seasonally rotating menu is made from all local and fresh ingredients. Everything they make is made on site (yes, even the Kimchee) and the quality and taste definitely reflects it. I’ve had almost everything on each of their seasonal menus and I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed it all. Because I went to high school in Zelienople I was so excited to see an establishment like Shubrew open there and I really hope it’s a part of a large food revolution in the Northern suburbs of Pittsburgh.

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It’s days like this one, that remind me of why I love Pittsburgh so much and I am so glad I got to share it with one of my best friends.

Let me know in the comments what your ideal day in your hometown is. Do you like sharing those places and spots with people or do you like keeping them to yourself?

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It’s where we go, and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are.” -Joyce Carol Oates,

5 Ways to Avoid Bathroom Fees Abroad

Every traveler has experienced the full fledged panic of having to go to the restroom abroad, finding out you have to pay to do so and than realizing you don’t have the correct change. It’s an emergency situation. You don’t know what to do and every scenario is running through your head. Can you make it back to your hotel? Should you try to ask strangers for money? Is there any way near by where you could get change?

I’ve been through this situation countless times and for that reason I’ve learned to ALWAYS go to the bathroom when presented the opportunity , especially when traveling in a group. It doesn’t matter if I just went five minutes ago, I don’t know what the future is bringing and 9 times out of 10 I am going to regret not going when I have the chance.

However, I have learned to look out for places that don’t charge when an emergency presents itself. I want to share these hacks with you in the hopes that if you find yourself in a sticky situation you know where to look. These restrooms may not be as clean as the ones you pay 50 cents to use, but when you have to go you really can’t be picky.

1.) McDonald’s 

You can always count on the golden arches. The food may be sub-par but their bathrooms are a blessing. No one at McDonald’s is going to say anything when you stumble in with a group of drunk young adults who really, really, really have to go. Almost anything flies at a McDonald’s. Trust me. Once I even got a coupon to use after I went to the restroom. It honestly doesn’t get better than that.

2.) Museums

If you are feeling a little more classy, a lot of museums cost nothing to visit AND have free bathrooms. Take in a little culture and see some famous artwork, all while avoiding bathroom fees. PERFECT.

3.) Coffee Shops/Pret /Costa etc. etc.

This option may cost you a little but you’ll get something incredible in exchange because let’s be honest, coffee in the states doesn’t even compare to coffee abroad. And the FOOD…. gosh. I will never understand why Starbucks in England has incredible sandwiches and Starbucks in the United States has such a small variety. All in all, I think it’s a good trade off. You get to use clean restrooms and in exchange get a little nourishment to continue your journey.

4.) Pubs/Restaurants

So just like Coffee Shops this option isn’t completely *free* but again what you are receiving has value. Use needing the restroom as an excuse to stop in a pub for a drink at weird hours of the day and meet really cool people, whether its the bartender or another patron. Some of the people I met at pubs are friends I still talk to years later and you could have a similar experience. The only catch is that once you have one drink, you may find it hard to leave because of how much your enjoying yourself.

5.) Hotels

So if you are really desperate, walk into the first big hotel you see and explain your situation to the front desk.  If they are kind they will direct you to the restrooms on the first floor. Worst case scenario- they tell you where you can use the restroom for free. Begging to a stranger may be a tad embarrassing but we can all admit that it’s better than the alternative. Plus- you can always count on hotel bathrooms to be clean.

Have you ever had a bathroom horror story abroad? Do you have any other tips for people trying to avoid bathroom fees? I would love to read your stories in the comments!

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“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

My 2016 Travel New Years Resolutions

Most people view the New Year as a restart point; an opportunity to change things in their lives and set goals for the next year. With the New Year comes a feeling of possibility and hope that motivates people to set resolutions for the coming year.  Even though a lot of people end up not keeping the goals we set for ourselves on New Years, resolutions are still useful because they can help keep you motivated and provide purpose for the next year.  In order to keep myself accountable in the next year, I want to write about my travel resolutions here, with the hope that writing them down will make me more likely to actually follow through.

My Resolutions: 

1.) Take at least 10 weekend trips within the continental United States and Canada. 

For me 2016 will be the first entire year where I work full time and do not attend school in any capacity. Sadly working full time has so far hindered my ability to travel as much as I did previously. In 2016, I want to change that by taking advantage of my weekends and traveling around the United States to experience the great diversity in culture within my own country. Regretfully, I am guilty of often dreaming of foreign counties and forgetting how much culture is at my fingertips in the United States.  While working full time may make international travel a little more difficult, weekends are the perfect opportunity to hop in a car or a on a plane and experience the beauty right before my eyes in the United States and Canada and that’s what I plan to do at least 10 times in the coming year.

2.) In 2016, I will make two overseas trips to Japan and England. 

Over the last year I have spent hours daydreaming about these two trips and in 2016 I want to make them a reality. I am done putting them off until the next year. Traveling when you are older is hard and I am running out of opportunities to just go.  With the clock on me, I’m feeling the pressure.

Since studying abroad, I think about England and London every single day. There is not a day that goes by without me getting nostalgic about London. The city has intrinsically become a part of me and the longer I go without visiting it the more painful my nostalgia becomes. In 2o16, I want to spend two weeks in England, one in London and one visiting a good friend up North.  I’m going to do everything in my power to make this possible.

I’ve written before about how I need to expand my horizons past Europe and that’s why I won’t to go to Japan.  With family living there currently, there’s no better time to make the trip than the present.

3.) Discover the city I live in, Pittsburgh, more fully by creating a Pittsburgh bucket list. 

Recently, I have realized how little I have done and seen in Pittsburgh.  After a recent weekend visiting small breweries and distilleries with a friend downtown I made a personal resolution to explore the city more. Believe it or not, Pittsburgh is getting cool, topping various best of lists from the likes of Zagat and other publications. From art galleries to restaurants to concert venues and boutiques, Pittsburgh has it all and I want to see it.  When you live in the suburbs, you often forget how close you are to a city full of hidden gems and things to be discovered.  This year I want to make an effort to make more trips downtown to see what Pittsburgh has to offer. I plan to start making lists of things to do, grabbing a friend and escaping to the city when I have free time because there is nothing better than adventuring, even when it’s a city only 20 minutes away.

So here’s to 2016, here’s to traveling The World, making the best of your surroundings and taking in the culture around you with an open heart and mind. I hope your year is full of adventure, whether you take a lot of trips or stay in the place you call home.

What are your 2016 Travel Resolutions? Let me know in the comments below. 

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

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“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”- Helen Keller

Five Podcasts to Listen to While Traveling

When traveling, particularly when I am driving long distances, I love to listen to podcasts. Time spent in cars and on planes provide perfect opportunities for learning new things, hearing interesting stories and finding new comedians and artists that you enjoy. For that reason, I think podcasts lend themselves perfectly to traveling. And as an added bonus, podcasts keep my brain more engaged and alert than listening to music which as a result means I drive better and pay more attention to the road when driving.

With the recent explosion of podcasts and their debut in mainstream culture (Thanks, Serial!) you may find it overwhelming to discover one you’d enjoy, so below are some suggestions and my favorite podcasts.  Hopefully, you’ll find one that you love and can occupy you as you travel the world.

1.) Gilmore Guys

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It’s no secret that I LOVE Gilmore Girls. The series was a huge part of my adolescence and I have seen every episode at least 3 times. Despite my adoration or the series, I was very hesitant of Gilmore Guys when I started it. The first few episodes were rough as hosts Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe found their footing. But as the series progressed and the guys worked through everyone episode of Gilmore Girls they figured their tone out and created a podcast that was insightful, witty and reminiscent of the show they were reviewing. Five or six episodes in I was hooked.  For the last few months I have listened almost exclusively to Gilmore Guys while driving, trying to catch up to the present and laughing at every ridiculous reference to Chad Michael Mudface.

I would recommend this podcast to veteran fans and newbies a like. For Gilmore Girls newbies the podcast is a great accompaniment to the series because the discussion is spoiler free since Demi has never seen the show before.  Die hard fans will love the intense plot and character discussions and interviews the hosts conduct with members of the cast and crew of Gilmore Girls. In my opinion, there is no better way to get your Gilmore Girls fix until the reunion happens than by listening to Gilmore Guys.

Find Out More About Gilmore Guys: http://www.gilmoreguysshow.com/ 

2.) Switched on Pop

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I am an avid defender of the merits of pop music and so are the hosts of this podcast, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. Each episodes dissects a popular song or artist and discusses the merit, theory and technical creation behind making pop songs work. This podcast isn’t for casual fans of music. It’s made for people who want to know what makes a song work and want to try to crack the code behind what makes a song popular. The best episode, in my opinion, proposes that One Direction might just be our modern day Castrati, an assumption that might make classical musical fans quiver in their boots. I love that this podcasts highlights that not all popular music is mindless lyrics and simple chord progressions and asserts (through intense discussion of music theory) that maybe it’s genius and culturally important.

Find Out More About Switched on Pop: http://www.switchedonpop.com/

3.) Pop Culture Happy Hour

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Keeping up with pop culture is hard.  In our day and age it is absolutely impossible to keep up with every movie, TV show, album, and book released.  As a result there are so many pieces of pop culture I haven’t digested. (I need to take a moment and admit I have never seen Lord of the Rings, Breaking Bad or Mad Men for this very reason.) NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour helps me navigate the word of pop culture and discover new things to watch, listen to, and read. Every Friday, Linda Holmes and three other panelist discuss things that are currently culturally relevant and discuss the merits and problems with various pieces of pop culture. Some weeks I have already seen, read or listened to what they are discussing but usually PCHH helps me discover something to new to fall in love with, like Amazon’s Catastrophe. PCHH makes the world of pop cultural seem a little more easy to navigate and provides me with great suggestions on what media to consume and great discussions on what mass media the world is enjoying

Find Out More About Pop Culture Happy Hour: http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/129472378/pop-culture-happy-hour/

4.) The Nerdist Podcast

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Celebrities are just people like you and I and The Nerdist Podcast, hosted by Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira, always reminds me of this fact.  The Nerdist Podcast is a weekly (nerd focused) interview show that release three episodes a week. Almost every episode features an interview with a movie star, TV star or musician in which the hosts just chat to about everything and anything. Chris Hardwick always works to make his guests feel comfortable, famously just starting podcasts without telling the guest, and as a result gets honest, candid and funny discussion like interviews that showcase the human side of celebrities.  At the end of most episodes I like the celebrity ten times more than I did before I listened to The Nerdist because Chris Hardwick has a way of bringing out the best in most guests.

There are over 770 episodes of this podcast so it would be nearly impossible to listen to every single one.  I recommend finding an episode with a celebrity you love as a starting point, you’ll probably love them even more by the end of the episode. Then listen to episode with a celebrity you are not as fond of.  I bet by the end of the episode you’ll have a better impression of them.

Find Out More About The Nerdist Podcast: http://nerdist.com/podcasts/nerdist-podcast-channel/

5.) All Songs Considered

allsongsconsidered.jpg

In college, I worked at my university’s radio station and as a junior was honored to be hired as the Music Director of the entire station.  During this time period I was super up to date on what music was being released every week and what music people were falling in love with.  But after I graduated, lost my access to an endless supply of music every week, and got hired at my current job I found I started struggling to keep up with all of the music being released every week. That’s where All Songs Considered came in. Every week Bob Boilen and other members of the NPR music team review the music being released that week and talk about and play pieces of new songs they love. Through this show I have found new favorite artists and have found a way to keep up with the world of music post college. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to start discovering new music anymore with this show.  While they are sometimes snobby with their discussion and suggestions, the amount of music knowledge every host has helps me ignore their comments about pop music and music I grew up loving.

If you are a new music fan this podcast is definitely for you as well.  What easier way to jump into the world of music then having a group of music nerds tell you what the best music out there is and guiding you in the right direction towards discovering music that might just change your life.

Find Out More About All Songs Considered: http://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/

 

The best thing about podcasts is that podcast creators love other podcasts and will often recommend new and exciting podcasts for you to listen to (that’s how I found Switched on Pop!). They will also often guest on other podcasts. Every once in a while you’ll even find crossover between shows you love, like when Matt Mira of The Nerdist Podcast guested on Gilmore Guys recently. As a result, once you listen to one podcast you’ll be listening to 10 more before you know it.

I hope you found at least one Podcast you may be interested in listening to from my recommendations. Let me know in the comments if you did. In my opinion, podcasts are seriously one of the best ways to pass time while traveling because listening to them is not just a mindless activity. Podcasts have the ability to engage you, move you and make you think about the world differently, just like traveling has the power to do, which makes traveling and listening to podcasts perfect companions.

How do you pass time while traveling? Let me know in the comments. 

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

Follow me on Instagram: ethomas11

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

Why Travel Alone?

Traveling alone is kind of taboo- especially for a twenty something year old female. Everyone’s heard the stories of a female on spring break getting abducted by some creepy guy and disappearing. Consequently, most people don’t think it’s safe for a women to travel alone.  And if you’re mind doesn’t automatically go to these horror stories, you probably think traveling alone would be boring and want a travel companion.

venice

As much as I love having an adventure partner and sharing experiences with a close friend, I equally enjoy exploring the world alone.  I usually hate being by myself, I’m an extrovert in every sense, and as a result crave companionship in most situations.  However, when I travel, in some scenarios I would rather be alone.

It’s not that I don’t like traveling with friends and family but in my experience these trips always have some sort of unspoken tension. When traveling with a group of people, everyone wants everyone else to be happy. Decisions are IMPOSSIBLE to make because no one wants to force anyone to do something they don’t want to do.  I have spent hours on trips, especially with friends, aimlessly wandering around cities trying to figure out where to eat or what to do because no one wants to make a decision. I always feel like we are wasting time we could be exploring and sightseeing tiptoeing around each other and a simple choice.

london

When you travel alone this tension doesn’t exist and you can get the exact experience out of a city that you crave. You can see the historical monuments that are personally significant to you, eat at the restaurants with your favorite food and visit the museum that house the exhibits that intrigue you.

While living in London, I tried to spend one day a week exploring the city by myself. I would leave early in the morning, sometimes set an agenda for myself and not return home until the late evenings. Most days I would create a playlist on my iPod, stick my headphones in and wander around parks, museums, and markets just soaking in the culture and thinking about how lucky I was to live in one of the most magnificent cities in the world. These trips always deeply effected me in some way and were the reason I started to find merit in traveling alone.

florence

Later during my semester abroad I flew to Germany alone to meet up with family living there and realized that I LOVED flying alone. The literal act of traveling alone provided me with ability to get to the airport when I wanted to, get through security quickly and gave me hours of quiet to read and write. After this experience I realized that if I had the choice to fly with a group or by myself 95% of the time I would choose to do it alone because I genuinely enjoyed it more.

Maybe preferring to travel alone because it gives me the freedom to do what I want is selfish but personally I think it just let’s me experience a city to it’s fullest potential. However, I want to stress that I honestly love traveling with friends and family as well. There is nothing better than being intrinsically connected with a group of people because of the experiences you have shared.  Even though I rarely see or talk to  the group of friends I often traveled and lived with in London I still feel a sense of connection with them.  And when I do meet up with one of them again, it’s like we never left because we created such tight bonds exploring the world together.  And sometimes, when you are forced to do something you don’t want to do because the majority does, it ends up being your favorite part of the city and something you wouldn’t have experienced without your friends pushing you.

buckingham

If you are traveling with friends or family try to take time for yourself to see your destination alone.  When I visited museums in Italy with friends we would always separate and set a meeting point for a few hours later.  This allowed us to appreciate the art at our own pace and each get an unique experience that impacted us in different ways. Additionally, don’t be scared to split up as a group. If two of you want to visit a museum and the other members of the group don’t, come up with a way to meet up later and separate. I believe it is important to do everything  you want to when abroad because often it’s a once in a life time experience.  For example, in Rome, my friend and I both wanted to see the Vatican Museums but the other members of our group didn’t, so we did it alone. I would have 100% regretted not seeing the Sistine Chapel and I am glad we weren’t scared to go off and do it alone. When traveling it’s important to not have any regrets when you come back home.  You don’t want to be saying “I wish I would of done this, or seen this, or ate this”. If having every experience that you want means doing it alone, do it, it will be worth it in the end.

Even though I am a big advocate for traveling alone, I need to stress that safety should ALWAYS be a priority, especially in a city where you do not know the language.  In London and Europe I felt safer traveling alone because I had a working cell phone and knew I could get help if I needed to.  If you choose to travel alone in a foreign country please get some international minutes for emergencies and know how to get a hold of the police if you find yourself in an unsafe situation.  Additionally, think about traveling with one other person who has similar interests as you, especially if you are traveling late at night.  Do not compromise your safety for selfish reasons, it’s not worth it.

tower bridge

So this is my challenge to you; Next time you’re itching to go on a trip, do it by yourself.  Experience the peace that comes from traveling by yourself. Maybe you’ll hate it but you might just love it and learn things about yourself. Personally, staring out at the Thames River all by myself helped me realize how small the world is, how small we are and how that’s okay and not scary. The feeling of sitting on a bench on the West Bank, looking at Parliament with my headphones in is a feeling that’s going to stick with me forever and I never would have experienced it surrounded by a group.

Are you a fan of traveling alone? Or would you rather travel with friends and family? Let me know in the comments. 

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

Follow me on Instagram: ethomas11

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.” – Mohamed

 

A Study on the Word Home

Last weekend I visited some friends in Cleveland, a city that I called home for around four years. I went to my favorite restaurants from college, visited my old campus, and even ate at my college’s union. I should have felt comfortable the entire time, but there were a few times where I just felt awkward and out of place, like I didn’t belong anymore. And maybe that’s because in a way I didn’t, I graduated from college, I left that world behind. However, less than six months ago I was calling Cleveland and Baldwin Wallace University HOME,  so the idea and feeling that this city is no longer home rattled me.

the clique

To some extent, I have always struggled with the concept of home. (It’s no one’s fault, especially not my parents, and it’s not supposed to be a bad thing.) I’ve called countless places home.  My “real” home in Pennsylvania, the city in New Jersey where I was born, my room in a London cottage, my dorm room in Ohio and every single hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. If I am staying at a place over night, that room is home for the night.  I think when you travel a lot you start calling places home because you want to feel settled and giving somewhere that distinction helps to do so. It gives myself a feeling of stability no matter where I am living at the time. Usually, I just default to saying home without thinking about it. This past weekend I called my friends apartment where I was staying home numerous times because that was the current place I was inhabiting. When you travel a lot I think the idea of home becomes a lot more abstract.

barcelona

I know this concept upsets my parents. When I first started going to school in Cleveland and calling my dorm room home while staying at my childhood home I remember my mom’s reaction, she wasn’t happy. But the thing was at the time that was home. My friends were there, I had a bed there, and it’s where I was spending the majority of my time.  In retrospect, I get why that upset them but to me it wasn’t a big thing because I believe you can have more than one HOME. (WARNING: This is where this blog post is gonna get a bit cheesy.) Cleveland was home and so was Pittsburgh, since those were the two places I was living at the time. As I have gotten older and traveled a lot more I still feel the same way. Home is wherever you make it. It’s as literal as a house and as abstract as a group of friends. It’s a word we have created to describe a feeling we get at certain places. (End of cheesiness) Personally, home is wherever I am spending one night and feel comfortable. If I’m bunking at a friends and we are coming back after a day of exploring, I’ll probably refer to their residence as home. It’s just the way I view The World as a result of my extreme sense of wanderlust and need for the comfort of stability colliding.

zeta family

That’s why having moments this weekend where Cleveland didn’t feel like home effected me so deeply.  All of the puzzle pieces of the home I left behind were still there, they just felt slightly shifted or like the last piece of the puzzle was missing.  In a lot of ways, I’ve expected this since graduation. A place that holds so much nostalgia is going to eventually lose some of it’s value.  But I’m not ready to let go of it yet, because in my mind Cleveland is still one of my homes, it just doesn’t always feel like it anymore. I think it’s a feeling I am going to struggle to comprehend for a while.

In all honestly, I think Cleveland is always going to be a city that inhabits a weird place in my life. To some extent it will always be “home”. When you feel so deeply about a city that feeling rarely goes away. But I still feel that way because I’m dwelling in the past.  Part of growing up is learning how to move on without minimizing the amazing memories you have from college.  I believe if I am able to move on, I can make new memories in Cleveland that help sustain the amazing impact the city has had in my life without comparing every experience to what it was in the past. And maybe one day, Cleveland will be HOME again.

What is home for you? Is it a specific city? Or is it a feeling? Let me know in the comments. 

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

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“We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to where arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time” – T.S Elliot’s “Little Gidding”

 

Top 5 Places on My Travel Bucket List

Ever since I got a full time job I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would like to. Besides a few weekend trips to see friends in Cleveland I haven’t been able to scratch my itch to travel. As a result, I spend a lot of time daydreaming about the places I want to go and the cities I want to see, creating a bucket list.  I don’t go as far as looking up plane prices or hostels in the respective places because that would just be cruel, but I come pretty close.

Most of the places I dream of visiting are not in Europe because I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to see Europe and now I want to see the rest of the world. Each country in Europe is unique in its own way but after a while you start to see the similarities between them. Europe will never bore me but it’s time for me to branch out, to see what makes the rest of the world incredible. My hope is that someday I will have a job that will give me the freedom to visit the following places.

1.) Machu Picchu, Peru

Looking at pictures of Machu Picchu is literally like time traveling to the past.  And I truly don’t think looking at pictures or watching videos of the ruins will ever do this deserted Incan city justice. Mostly untouched Machu Picchu is a modern marvel of this world that defies words at some points. The fact that a city like Machu Picchu was able to be created hundreds of years ago, without the tools we now have at our disposable and still exists in such a pure form is something that amazes me. Despite it’s remote location, all of these things make it one of the places I want to visit most in the world.

2.) Cape Town, South Africa

To me, Cape Town seems like a good place to start exploring Africa. Not only is it one of the mostcultural cities in the world, but in 2014 it was also named by The New York Times and The Telegraph as one of the best places to visit in the world. Additionally, it’s modern infrastructure makes it an easier primer course in Africa before I adventure into the rest of the continent.

3.) Tokyo, Japan

tokyo

Visiting Asia used to seem very daunting to me because I knew I wouldn’t be even be able to fake my way with the language like I can in some European countries and that the culture is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. However, as I have gotten older, those have become the reasons I want to visit Tokyo.  I want to be thrown out of my comfort zone and be forced to see and experience things in different ways and Tokyo, the largest city in Japan, seems to be the perfect place to do so.

4.) Montreal, Canada

One word, Poutine. That’s the only reason I want to visit this Quebec province. I don’t want to visit because of the French history or because it was named a UNESCO City of Design or because it’s like a piece of Europe in North America. Why would those be reasons I want to visit Montreal when their is Poutine?

5.) New Zealand

You’ll probably be surprised to find out that I don’t want to visit New Zealand because of the Lord of the Rings. I’ve actually only ever seen The Hobbit movies and have never been able to convince myself to sit through the incredible lengths of each Lord of the Ring movie. Truthfully, my interest in New Zealand stems from two YouTube web series I am obsessed with, Nothing Much to Do and Lovely Little Losers.  Each of these series are like tourism videos for the cities of Auckland and Wellington, respectively.  They showcase the beautiful scenery, modern architecture and personality of each city and as a result I really want to see New Zealand for myself (and maybe visit Hobbiton because how could I resist if I’m already there).

I should definitely say that this list is in no way comprehensive list of where I have dreamed of going in the last few months but something about each of these places have wormed their way into my mind and I haven’t even visited them. I can’t wait to see for myself what makes each of them so special.

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

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“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off the journey.”  -Pat Conroy

In Defense of Hostels…

Whenever I tell stories about traveling to friends and family they are always shocked when I talk about how much I love staying in hostels.  Their minds automatically jump to horror stories they may have heard second hand. And if they don’t jump to horror stories they think of the movie “Hostel” and the horrible fate of those three backpackers. But in reality, most hostels aren’t like these stories. If you do your research you are likely to find a hostel that’s better than some three star hotels, which is something I have explained to friends and family countless times.

danyhouse 3

I think hostels are great for numerous reasons but by far the number one reason I love hostels is because of the opportunity they give you to meet people from all around the world. The stories you hear in hostels are incredible. Every person that steps into a hostel has had a unique and interesting journey and more often than not they are willing to share it with you. During my stays at hostels, I have talked to young adults who were backpacking after university, a women who sold all of her stuff, quit her job and decided to discover herself by traveling, and an American women who had spent months teaching around the World and now settled in Florence where she worked in a hostel in exchange for free board. If I hadn’t stayed in hostels during my travels, I never would have met these wonderful individuals. But now I get to go on my Facebook every day and see how they are continuing their stories.

holly hostel

As I stressed earlier, finding a good hostel is dependent on doing your research. Don’t just expect to walk into a new city and find a hostel that isn’t shady or dirty, you must find and book a hostel before you leave.  I’ve found every hostel I’ve stayed at on hostelworld.com and I recommend using this site if you are searching for somewhere to stay in any city around the world. Through Hostel World you can specify all of your preferences, including room type. (It’s a common misconception that the only hostels that exist require you to share a large communal room with 15 people. In reality, a lot of hostels offer singles, doubles, triples, and quad private rooms for a slight up charge.  I’ve only stayed in rooms with people I don’t know twice. I value my privacy and despite common belief hostels provide me the opportunity to travel for cheap AND have privacy.) Hostel World uses a rating and review system to rank hostels in each city by quality.  Additionally, it lists all of the amenities and services offered by the hostel. (I always look for free breakfast and wifi- hostel must- haves.) It’s a great resource and a wonderful way to jump start- and finish- your research.

danyhouse 2

Through Hostel World, I found of my favorite hostels in the world, DanyHouse in Florence, Italy.  Despite being a slight walk from the center of the city, this hostel was and continues to be a gem.  Upon entering the hostel we were greeted by the owner, Jonathon (who no longer works there but from the reviews the new host is just as incredible). He sat my friends and I down and showed us a map of the city, giving us a crash course on Florence and provided us some recommendations of places we wouldn’t read about in tourist books. From then on the hospitality continued to be amazing. Because only around 10 people can stay at the hostel at a time, they are able to give every guest a personalized stay. Every morning, traditional Tuscan breakfast was served for 2 pounds. And every evening at 9 pm they served us wine and small snacks for free. During this time most of the guests at the hostel would sit around and tell stories, and make plans for the rest of the evening. An experience like this is impossible at any hotel and for that reason I honestly prefer hostels sometimes. Staying at DanyHouse truly enhanced my trip to Florence and without using Hostel World I never would have found this unique accommodation.

danyhouse 1

Hostels are now being threatened by AirBnB because AirBnB provides cheap, semi-private accommodation in actual residences around the world. For some, staying at an AirBnb sounds more appealing than a hostel.  And while I love AirBnB and definitely think its better if you are staying in a city for work or interview and need guaranteed peace and quiet, I would 9 times out of 10 still chose to stay in a hostel because of the distinct experiences they provide. Staying in a hostel gives you a different understanding of a city, one that you would not get from staying in an AirBnB or hotel. At hostels, you meet people, discover hidden gems of cities and learn how little you really need to survive and be happy. For those reasons, and many more, I defend hostels and continually recommend them to people. Don’t discount hostels because of the stories you have heard, give them a chance, you might just be pleasantly surprised.

What are your opinions on hostels? Ever stayed in one you would recommend? Let me know in the comments. 

Follow me on Twitter: @earth_to_emily

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“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than i have seen.” -Benjamin Disraeli