I’ve done a fair bit of travel, enough so that i’m often approached on how to do so. I studied abroad for a year, so I have a knack for scoping out the best hostels and cheapest flights. I worked in luxury (and mid-range) hotels, so I know the places to look for the must-do experiences. Plus i’m addicted to exploring locations on Instagram. Pro-tip, this is how you get the best vacation shots. I spent a lot of my free time looking up obscure destinations on Lonely Planet and luxury getaways on Travel & Leisure, so it’s fair to say that traveling is my favorite hobby in & out of airplanes. I’ve rounded up some of my top tips on how to plan, book & enjoy your next adventure.
Amsterdam in the fall, the most photogenic place in the world.
where to go:
Gone are the days when you chose your destination before looking up flights. With sites like Skyscanner and Hopper, it makes way more sense to browse locations by date of travel. This March my boyfriend Ben and I visited Cartagena, Colombia. Although the city had not been on my “must-see” list prior to our visit, I would now highly, highly recommend the city to anyone looking for a baller vacation on a budget. We knew we wanted to visit South America, but it was my addiction to Skyscanner that led us to choosing our destination. We soon found out it has been named the South American City of Love, for a very good reason.
If you’re interested in going on a European backpacking trip, the cheapest cities to fly into and out of (from Boston or NYC) are generally Stockholm, Lisbon, Dublin, London or a major city in Spain. France and Italy are also reasonable. From there, it makes sense to travel to the more difficult places to visit. A trip to Prague or Greece will cost you well over a grand from New York, but if you fly there from another European country it could cost you under $100.
It’s also important to remember that a cheap flight doesn’t mean a cheap vacation. Although it’s fairly inexpensive to fly into London, the city itself is drastically more expensive than New York. Have money to blow? You certainly won’t regret the visit. Looking to shop till you drop and eat at the best restaurants? Unless you’re fine with racking up a credit card bill, visit elsewhere.
A visit to the famed Sketch for tea in London will cost you around $100 USD
If you’re backpacking, I recommend deciding on a climate. It may be tempting to jump from Copenhagen to Croatia, but if you’re limited to only a small amount of belongings, I wouldn’t suggest it. My sisters and I are going away this month, and it made sense to us to visit Portugal and Spain– knowing they’ll be warm already. If you are going to travel through various climates, be sure to start north and head south. Last year I went to London before heading down to Lisbon a month later– it was practically winter in early October in London, and summer in mid November in Lisbon.
My Cute Melissa Lena in Chelsea, London.
WHere to stay:
Hostels: If you’re under 30, and you’re not traveling with your love, you should definitely consider staying in hostels. My sister Kate had pretty much no idea what this entailed and thought we were going to stay somewhere fresh out of a teen horror movie. For this I commend her bravery for agreeing to do it! The best resource for booking a hostel is by far Hostel World, but I recommend double checking your choice on Trip Advisor under “speciality lodging.” Hostel World allows you to put a small deposit on rooms prior to your arrival.
A few suggestions for getting the most out of Hostel World:
- Once you decide on a city, sort by “location.” You don’t necessarily need to stay at the first hostel that shows up with this result, but it helps to make sure you’re staying in a good area. It may be cheaper to stay in a less central location, but you’ll end up taking taxis through rough areas, so you don’t end up saving much at all.
- Make sure your hostel has a bar. Especially if you’re staying in a city that is otherwise expensive. Hostel bars have the best drink deals, and they also serve as a great place to make friends.
- If you’re choosing a hostel for your first destination, it is absolutely critical to find one with 24 hour reception. My friend Maddie and I once made the mistake in booking something in Noosa, Australia that did not have 24 hour reception. Not only could we not find our homestead, but we couldn’t speak to anyone for directions. We ended up never finding it and checking into a different backpackers “resort” the next morning. It was a horrible experience.
- Make sure to pay the extra ~$2 for flexible bookings. Its a small deposit that allows you to change your travel plans at any time. When you’re backpacking, plans can change at the drop of a hat. You don’t want a pre-paid hostel in Madrid to keep you from spending an extra night with your new bae in Barcelona. Flexibility is key.
- Female-only dorms are clutch. The less people in the room the merrier. It is worth it to spend $5 extra a night NOT to be with 20 other people. Please trust me on this one.
- One of the most common perks of staying in a hostel is a free walking tour. This may sound unbearably boring, and sometimes it is. That said, you’ll likely find some hidden spots you otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Additionally, you’ll probably come home with some random fact about history that you otherwise wouldn’t have known. I also find that the tour guides take you to the most photogenic places. If nothing else, do it for the Insta.
420 Cafe in Amsterdam
Airbnb: There is a good chance you’ve used Airbnb before, or at least have heard of it. Basically you rent somebody’s apartment (or a room) or house as if it were a hotel. The bonus is you get your own kitchen, which is awesome for traveling on a budget. Additionally, you get to feel more like a local. That’s what they advertise, anyways. I’ve had great experiences staying in Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn before I moved to NYC, and also in a villa in Ubud, Bali. This is often the best way to travel if you’re in a large group. Although it isn’t as easy to make friends as a hostel, if that isn’t a concern–Airbnb is the way to go.
A few suggestions for getting the most out of Airbnb:
- Instant book / super host reservations tend to be the best. This basically means these people are pros, and they know how to host.
- If a listing looks too good to be true, it probably is. A dope apartment, a great price, and no reviews? Don’t do it.
- If you’re traveling as a couple, do everyone a favor and book the entire apartment/home. As a solo traveler, it might actually be really nice to have the hosts in the house. Just remember– this is their home and it’s not the Ritz Carlton.
- If you’re booking in a foreign country, make sure the host speaks English. You don’t want to deal with the nightmare of language barriers when it comes to accommodation.
My beautiful Ariana in Barcelona, Spain
Hotels: Hostels & Airbnb are nice, and great for experienced travelers, but if you’re just looking to kick back and relax, obviously hotels are the best route. I worked in hotels all throughout college, so I know a thing or two about how to ensure you’re staying at the best place. The first place to look is Trip Advisor, where you get a general overview of the hotels in your destination. When I travel with Ben, I tend to filter the hotels down to the “most romantic”….which basically means not kid-friendly. Some other helpful filters are free wifi, breakfast included, and a rooftop pool. From there I look at Expedia for prices.
Pro-tips for Hotel guests:
- Third party websites get the lowest priority rooms at the hotel. If you want a room that is nice, book something other than the cheapest available. You’re a lot more likely to get an upgrade when you didn’t pay $99 for your room.
- IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE A HOLIDAY. The front desk agent doesn’t pay for the champagne, it’s expensed. Most hotels ID, so anniversaries tend to make the best excuses. Just be sure to tip them once you receive your amenity. Don’t be rude.
- Speaking of tipping the front desk agent, if you want your room to magically be available early…slip them a $20. You’ll find yourself in an upgraded room hours before the promised check-in time. I promise you this.
- Take advantage of the concierge. They have been to every restaurant in the city, and they know which ones are the best. There is nobody who can plan your trip better than the concierge.
La Rambles, Barcelona
Paris with my ride or die, Mando.
plan your days:
Before you visit somewhere, be sure to checkout the Lonely Planet page for that destination. I’m addicted to reading this site. They layout all the must-see tourist destinations, discount hotels/hostels worth staying at, and the food that you must eat. From Michelin starred restaurants to street food. It’s not quite Condé Nast Traveler luxe, but it’s helpful for planning trips. I’d also recommend the New York Time’s 36 hour series, which covers most destination (& some obscure) cities. Make sure you save your list of “must-do” activities on a separate document. Once you’ve been in transit for awhile, it can be easy to forget your research.
My Girl Chelsea in London
Additionally, i’d recommend planning a few important meals. In Cartagena, the restaurant that came the most recommended was called La Vitrola. We knew it was very popular, so we made our reservation a few days ahead of time. If there is somewhere you’re dying to go, make the initiative to plan in advance. Otherwise, you’ll end up missing out. If the city has Open Table… bonus points. That said, don’t discount spontaneity. Ask your taxi driver where their favorite place to eat is. Spend as much time with the locals as possible, maybe even make a friend!
Bacanal Cafe, Barcelona
Before you go, hook yourself up with an international data plan. Try to tune out social media, but don’t discount the importance of google maps getting you to your destination, and Uber ensuring a fair fare– taxis will rip you off. Follow influencers in the area you’re visiting for photo inspiration, let your bank know you’re leaving the country, and don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase–you’ll always come back with more than you came with.
It felt like Summer in November in Lisbon, Portugal