Travel, Travel Tips

Christmas Travel Tips

December 17, 2018

Christmas Travel Tips

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Over the next week or so, many of us will be heading to friends or families houses for the Christmas holidays. For most of my life, I have traveled for the Christmas holidays. I have done so on planes, trains and automobiles, so here are my Christmas Travel Tips!

Christmas Travel Tips By Plane

– If you haven’t booked your flight yet, don’t panic! You may still be able to get a last minute deal. My tip is to book on your flight on Christmas Day. There are fewer people flying that day and deals to be had. If you book early in the day or are on an international flight, you can still make it home for Christmas dinner!

– Check your wrapped packages or send them in advance. If you take wrapped packages in your carry-on baggage, security might have to unwrap your present to check it. It is not fun to have to rewrap a present,

– Order presents online and have them delivered directly wrapped! Many retailers offer present wrapping. Saves your luggage space too.

– Nest your luggage. I have written about this before. This way you can bring home all the Christmas presents you were given

– Get to the airport early! Christmas is one of the busiest times at airports, and you don’t want to miss your flight because you arrived too late to get through security and immigration.

– If friends or family are not picking you up from the airport, consider booking ground transportation in advance. There could be a long line for taxis and ride sharing could have surge pricing.

Christmas Travel Tips By Car

– Leave early! It always takes longer than you expect due to traffic and bathroom stops.

– If you are stopping for a night along the way, plan your stop. Hotels and motels can get booked quickly during the holiday season.

– Driving alone? Download an audiobook to listen to in the car. I once drove from New Orleans to Dallas straight, and an audiobook saved me from being bored. I just finished The Immortalists and it was great!

– If you are traveling with kids, bring things for them to do in the car. At the very least, make sure everyone has earphones for their music of choice. This would have saved us many an argument in our family road trips to my Grandparent’s house when I was a kid.

– Have snacks and drinks in the car. There is nothing worse than being hungry and being a hundred miles from the next town with a restaurant. It also means fewer stops along the way!

– Have pillows and blankets for passengers. Most of the road trips I went on as a kid went by really fast as I was asleep in the back. Blankets are also good to have in case of an emergency.

Christmas Travel Tips By Train

– Pack light. Luggage storage can be limited on a train that doesn’t check bags and you might end up having to sit with your bag in your lap.

– Reserve a seat. I have seen people have to stand the whole time because they didn’t book a seat. Don’t count on the dining car having seats either.

– Bring snacks. The prices for food on trains is so high and it is usually not that good!

Christmas travel does not have to be stressful if you plan well. Of course, things happen but at least you know you will have done all you can to prevent that from happening. What Christmas travel tips do you have? Please share with us in the comments!

Greece, Travel

Visiting the Greek Islands in October

December 10, 2018

Greek Islands in October

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While I was in the Greek Islands in October, I realized that people are missing out by not visiting Greece in October. Due to the high-season ending in August when many Europeans go on holiday, many people come to Greece in September. September is lovely, but the high-season seems to be lasting longer and longer meaning to really escape the tourists you need to visit the Greek Islands in October.

 

Greek Weather in October

The main question I am asked is, “What is the weather like in Greece in October?” There isn’t a definitive answer as the weather does change from year to year in Greece. In 2018, September was cool and windy. October, on the other hand, was sunny and beautiful.

Greek Islands in October

The temperature wasn’t hot by any means, but still pleasant on some days to wear shorts. Almost every day in October, people were at the beach. I was at the beach on October 30 for my birthday. I didn’t swim but did have on shorts and flip-flops. If you are on the beach for any length of time, you will get hot. Some days were windy but very few. Some years, October will be cold, so be sure to check.

What to Pack for Greece in October

Since the weather can be a bit variable, I recommend bringing some shorts for the daytime and pants for the evenings. As for shirts, you will want long sleeves for the evening. If you are cold sensitive, then a jacket or sweater is a must. I also recommend a scarf for the evening. On windy days, you will want the jacket and the scarf even in the daytime. And don’t worry about how you look, everyone will be wearing something different. Greeks will probably be wearing jackets and jeans, and the tourists will be wearing shorts and sundresses! It is all in what we are used to.

If you are not so sensitive to the cold, you might even want to bring your swimsuit! Many people were swimming in October and not in wetsuits either. You may want to bring clothes to change into after swimming in case its windy. Bring or purchase a towel as many hotels in Greece do not allow you to take their towels to the beach.

Sightseeing

Obviously, the beaches will not be closed at any time. However, some of the beachfront restaurants will start to close in early October. This means there might be fewer sunloungers and umbrellas to rent. However, it usually means there are fewer people on the beach.

Greek Islands in October

Many historic sites will still be open, but their hours might be limited. Even in the high season, Greeks tend to close their shops in the afternoon. This usually happens between 2-5. On the islands, this might mean that museums are closed in the afternoon and will reopen in the evening.

As a photographer, I enjoy the afternoon closings as it means I can capture streets and sites with few or no people in my shots. This is especially true on more crowded islands, such as Santorini.

Hotels

Depending on which islands you are visiting, some hotels close in October and will not reopen till April or May of the following year. This is especially true of smaller islands. Booking sites will have those months marked off so you should be able to tell. If you aren’t sure, I recommend emailing the hotels to check.

However, this means rates are lower, and you may even get an upgrade on arrival. Services usually remain the same, and you get a nice quiet hotel to relax in. If you know you want to be in Greece in October, book sooner rather than later as some hotels will stay open longer if they know they have bookings for the off-season. This ensures they have the staff to run the hotel, otherwise, they will not extend their opening dates since many staff are seasonal.

Restaurants

Greek Islands in October

This was the only issue I found to be difficult at the end of October. Restaurants tend to start closing in late September and throughout October. Many restaurants are open seven days a week during the high season, and by the time October comes around, the staff is exhausted. On Naxos, only some restaurants were open until the end of October. However, some will open fewer days in the off-season or will just be open for dinner. You may want to consider booking a hotel with a kitchenette.

Ferries

Greek Islands In October

Ferries operate year round to most islands now, but the schedule is not as frequent during the summer months. As always, I recommend that you do not book your flights and ferries on the same day. Greece is known to have strikes, even in the tourist season. The weather in October and all the winter can prevent ferries from departing, especially the high-speed ferries. The high-speed ferry service starts to reduce their service offerings in October. Some larger islands have airports, so another option is to fly.

As you can see, visiting a Greek island in October is a great idea, and while it may be quieter, it can still be a warm destination. I personally loved being in Greece in October as I got to see how the locals live after the tourists leave. I also ran into my friends more frequently than I would during the high season.

Travel

My 2018 Year in Review

December 3, 2018

My 2018 Year in Review

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This year hasn’t been as full of travel as in years past, mostly because my travel was all squished together at once instead of being spread out. There are a variety of reasons for this! I was grateful to have as much as time as I did to travel, but I definitely had itchy feet throughout the first part of the year.

January – April

After the holidays last year, I started a web development bootcamp. Basically, you learn to code in a very short period of time. I started in January and went to class Monday-Friday from 9 to 5. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done! Many days I was exhausted after class. I also had homework and spent many hours after class working on that and projects. It was so intense, and many nights I dreamt of code!

Needless to say, I didn’t go anywhere during this time. We had a week off in the middle, but I spent it working on my personal project. However, I don’t regret it at all. Learning is something I really enjoy, and this learning was a challenge.

May

May was a quiet month. I was looking for a job, and that takes so much time! I always say that looking for a job is a job.

My parents went to Spain and Portugal for two weeks, and I got to take care of my nieces for two weeks. (Don’t worry the kids lived!) I was very excited for my parents as I had just been to Spain and Portugal the previous fall. I was able to give them tips on what to see outside of their scheduled tour and like comparing their opinions of things to mine.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

June

In June, I had my first official pet sitting gig with Trusted Housesitters here in Dallas. I had been wanting to do this as a way to exchange my care of pets for housing while traveling. Doing a local sit was helpful so that I could get a review so I could apply for an international sit. I had a great time watching a laid-back dog and got to have a little staycation.

The rest of the month, I hung out with my best friend going to movies and eating out. We have some favorite spots around Dallas, and I hope to be sharing some of these spots with you soon.

My 2018 Year in Review

By now, the feeling of needing to travel was getting bigger by the day. I told my family several times that if I didn’t get a job soon, I was going to run away to Greece!

July

After a regular check-up at one of my doctors, I was discovered to be anemic and had some other issues. I was very fatigued. I was put on many vitamin supplements and told to come back in three months. The vitamins seemed to help and hoped it wasn’t anything serious.

Pretty quickly after this, I decided I need to get away. As many of you know last year, I was devasted by the loss of my boyfriend, and I knew that getting away would help me. Of course, I knew I would head to Greece. It took all my willpower not to book a ticket for the next day after I made the decision! I spent the rest of July packing up what little I had unpacked the year before and prepped for my trip.

August

My family took a trip to Galveston the first week in August, and I decided to stay here to watch our cat and to pack. Them being gone helped me get so much done.

On August 7, I flew to London and had a short layover before I flew to Athens! Of course, I arrived in Athens the next day. My ultimate destination was the island of Naxos, which I headed out to after one night in Athens. While the ferry ride is a long five hours, I was so excited to be there. Plus, Naxos is an island I had never been to and was looking forward to exploring.

Naxos Beaches

The first two weeks, I stayed in a hostel dorm. This was a first for me. It was great as I made some new friends and the location was really close to the beach!

September

September is the best month to be in Greece, in my opinion. The water is warmer than at any other time of the year, and the tourists start to leave. The beaches are also less crowded. I didn’t spend every day at the beach though. Many days, I explored Naxos even renting a car to explore where the buses don’t go.

Three months is a long time to spend just hanging out at the beach and sightseeing, so I decided to help with the Naxos Animal Welfare Society. I spent much of September feeding cats and going to the vet. At one point I was fostering a kitten! While it is a lot of work, I loved every minute of it. I am still getting regular updates on the kittens I helped. I am excited that a few of them found homes.

volunteering on vacation

October

There was even more cat care in October! Some wonderful friends I made were leaving to go back to Italy for a few months, and I offered to feed some of the stray cats they fed. The daily walk to feed the cats was a great way to make sure I got out of my apartment every day. There were many days I was walking almost five miles or more.

Late in October, I started taking Greek lessons. I had been teaching myself, but it is so much better to learn from someone. I have caught on quicker than I thought I would but still have trouble with the pronunciation of some words.

However, the fatigue I had been experiencing was getting worse, and I was spending a lot of time laying down. I was getting very frustrated being stuck at home and having to take naps every day. I made arrangements to see my doctor right when I returned from my trip.

November

My time in Europe had run out, so I decided I couldn’t go all this way and not go see people in Qatar. Unfortunately, I got a cold right as I left Greece and I didn’t get to see as many people as I wanted to. Also, the week before Qatar had experienced massive flooding from a rainstorm that dropped a year’s worth of rain in 90 minutes!

It was surreal to be back in Qatar as a visitor and not as a resident. I had to wait at immigration, which I had not done since my first year in Qatar. Then I was staying in a hotel that wasn’t where I had lived before. The upside was the hotel was very full and they didn’t have a non-smoking room available in my choice of a room so I was upgraded to a suite! Being sick, I very much took advantage of this.

After this week, I went to London. I spent a whole month in London last year, I had a blast. I wanted to stay in East London like I had the year before. The first night, I spent in a new hotel called The East London Hotel. You can’t get much more East London than that! Then I got to watch two beautiful cats at my first international house sit. I loved these two cats and the location was great.

Things to do in East London

After this, I moved to an Airbnb in Hackney. Hackney is the neighborhood I stayed in last year and I fell in love. There are so many parks and cute shops to explore. Plus it is an easy bus ride into central London from here. Although, except for one day at the V&A Museum to see the Frida Khalo exhibit, I never left East London.

My time in London was quickly over and it was time to head home. I was so tired at this point, I was actually glad to be going home. The doctor figured out I have a slightly underactive thyroid and I am now on medication. So, hopefully, by the time 2019 rolls around I will feel much better.

December

Now, I am spending time with my family and looking for a job. That is the plan for December. I have no plans to go anywhere as Christmas is my favorite time of year mostly because my family hangs out a lot together. Even though I am gone a lot, I am very close with my family so I value this time very much.

As for 2019 travel plans, I only have one thing planned and I can’t tell you about it till it happens. You will see why then. I am focused on finding a job and then I will make travel plans.

What was your favorite thing from 2018? Any 2019 travel plans?

Travel, UK

12 Great Things to do in East London

November 26, 2018

Things to do in East London

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For several years now, East London has become more and more popular. This rise in popularity has increased the things to do in East London. The variety of things to do isn’t just for the young and hip but also things for children to adults. The last two times I have visited London, I have stayed in Hackney and really enjoyed getting to know East London, and it is now my preferred area in London.

Old Spitalfields Market

Things to do in East London

You know you can expect something special in a market that has been operating on the same site for over 350 years. Old Spitalfields Market is a daily open-air market. The market hosts vendors selling art, clothes, shoes, beauty products and much more. Some vendors are small shops, and some are established retailers located in the surrounding buildings of the market.

Also, there are plenty of food stalls and restaurants. On my recent visit, I ate at a restaurant that specializes in cheese! I opted for a sandwich, but you could also get fondue. Some places have chairs and tables, and others are take away only. You can shop and eat at the same time if you like. Old Spitalfields Market is open every day, although not every vendor is open every day.

Brick Lane

Brick Lane Band in a Bus

Brick Lane is actually a street in East London, but it is more than just a street. On Sundays, there is a market. The market will have vendors selling vintage clothes, furniture, and other items. There are some food stalls as well. Live music and entertainment are usually found as well. Last year, I saw a band playing a van!

If you are there another day of the week, there are plenty of shops to visit. Also, Brick Lane is home to some of the best Bangladeshi curry houses in London. Let your nose guide you to the curry house as you can smell them from a block or so away!

Street Art

Things to do in East London

East London is the home of street art in London. Much of the street art is not far from Brick Lane, but some can be found all around the area. You can see a lot without a guide, but there are some pieces you may not find without help. I recommend taking a tour not only to see the hard to find ones but also to get a better understanding of the artists and their art. You can probably do the tour every year since street art does not always last for long.

London Fields

Things to do in East London

London Fields is one of my favorite parks in London. It is not as well know as others, but it a wonderful spot to spend the afternoon. It is located in the borough of Hackney in East London. You can reach it by taking the Overground to Hackney Central or London Fields station.

The park has a lido with a heated swimming pool that was renovated in 2017. In the summer, people gather here on the weekends to BBQ and sunbath. Parts of the park become wildflower fields in the summer. It is a popular place for people to walk their dogs. Right in the park is a pub as well. In the fall, the trees are changing color, and people are out enjoying a run in London Fields. There are also tennis courts that can be reserved.

Hackney Empire Theater

Things to do in East London

 

You don’t have to go to West London to see a show. You can catch a show at the Hackney Empire Theater. They show a variety of shows including local talent as well as touring theater shows. The interior of the theater is also something to behold as it is beautifully decorated. It was originally built in 1901 and was reopened in 2004 after a three-year renovation.

V&A Museum of Childhood

If you are in London with kids, the V&A Museum of Childhood is a great free option. There are exhibitions on the history of childhood including toys and clothes and lots of daily activities for kids. Next door is the Museum Park. The V&A Museum of Childhood is one block away from the Bethnal Green tube station.

Regents Canal

Things to do in East London

Walking along the Regents Canal is one of my favorite things to do in East London. I like looking at the canal boats that are docked there. There is also great people watching as many people run and bike along the canal. You can also see birds enjoying the canal as well. Near Broadway Market, you can see some old oil storage tanks that are not used anymore. There is also some great graffiti on some parts of the canal.

The canal boats are required to move locations every two weeks unless they have a private mooring. So another thing you can watch is the boats going through the locks. If you are feeling really ambitious, you could walk the whole 8.6 miles of the Regents Canal!

Broadway Market

Things to do in East London

Broadway Market is more than a market these days, and while there is still a market on Saturdays, the whole street is lined with things to do during the week. Broadway Market is next to London Fields and the Regents Canal so you could make a day of visiting all three.

One of my favorite things to do on Broadway Market on a non-market day is to visit the Broadway Bookshop. They have a great selection of bestsellers and local authors. My favorite place to eat on Broadway Market is El Ganso. It is a Spanish tapas restaurant. The menu changes but is always good. On my last visit, I had a fried zucchini flower stuffed with goats cheese and drizzled with honey!

Victoria Park

Things to do in East London

Victoria Park is a large park located in East London. The park has a long history as it was established in 1845. During the early years, there was a large public fountain that gave the local residents access to clean drinking water. You can still see the fountain today. There are several ponds with aquatic birds including swans. It is a great place to walk your dog, have a picnic or go for a jog.

Geffrye Museum

The Geffrye Museum is a museum of the home. It shows what the homes in different time periods. The Geffrye also has a fantastic garden located behind the museum. As I was checking their website for updated information, I noticed that the main museum is closed for renovations till 2020. However, the restored almshouse is open on select dates, and there are still events happening at the museum. I look forward to visiting again after the renovations!

Columbia Road Flower Market

Things to do in East London

East London is full of markets, but this one is not like the others. The Columbia Road Flower Market is only a flower market. It only operates on Sundays. If you are only visiting London, you may not want to buy flowers, but it is worth visiting to see how beautiful it is. There are also some great shops to explore along the road that is open even when the flower market is not open.

Photo from Flickr by Jerome Yewdall

Hackney Museum

The Hackney Museum is another great place to visit if you have children with you. The museum is located on the ground floor of the Hackney Central Library. Entry is free. The permanent exhibit covers the history of Hackney and most of the displays are interactive and are the right size for kids.

As you can see, there are so many things to do in East London. I hope I have inspired you to explore London beyond the typical tourist locations and explore a neighborhood where Londoners live. Have you been to East London? What is your favorite thing to do in East London?

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