my international travel checklist

Preparing for an international trip can be overwhelming. You don’t want to leave anything pertinent behind—you’ll be in a foreign country, you likely won’t speak more than the niceties in the native language, and you’ll be far from the conveniences of home. As the hubs and I pack for our upcoming trip to the Canary Islands and Portugal, I’m going to share with you the checklist I use for our international trips to ensure you’ve got everything you need when you’re over there.

1. Your passport.

You won’t get anywhere without it. Keep it within easy reach when you’re checking in, boarding your flight, and going through customs, and then put it somewhere safe when you’re out on the town.

We often leave ours in our (locked) luggage or in the safe, if there is one, or my husband will put it in our money belt.

One of my girlfriends made the mistake of carrying hers everywhere with her, and a pickpocket lifted it when she was at the Eiffel Tower. She had to go to the American consulate and go through the whole rigmarole of getting temporary identification so that she could come home.

It’s also recommended that you make two copies of your passport: Put one in a separate place than your actual passport, just on the off-chance yours gets lost or stolen, and leave a copy with someone at home, just as a precaution.

My International Travel Checklist | Make sure your password is NOT expired. Click here for this and more tips.
Source: Porapak Apichodilok/pexels.com

May I also take this moment to encourage you to check the expiration date on your passport several months prior to your departure? Passports are good for 10 years, so it’s completely understandable that your passport’s expiration date might not be at the forefront of your thinking, but the hubs and I know from experience what it feels like to realize the day before you’re supposed to leave the country that your passport has expired.

There are services that expedite passports if you find yourself in a similar situation, but even those typically require 48 hours. My husband had to go to the Secretary of State first thing in the morning and push to the head of the line just so he could get his new passport in time. So it’s doable, definitely, but if you like to keep your heart in your chest, it’s definitely not preferable.

2. Double-check whether the country you’re visiting requires a visa for visitors.

I learned that Australia requires visitors have visas quite by accident; I was reading the fine print on the Scandinavian cruise we took last month, and it listed Australia as a country that requires visas. Who knows whether I would have discovered that one on my own eventually (I certainly hope so, given the amount of research I do on each place!), but it would have royally sucked to show up in Australia after traveling 24+ hours, only to be denied entry because we didn’t have visas. Can you imagine?!

the-good-place-gif.png

3. Your medication.

Make sure you take it on the plane with you. Do not leave it in your checked luggage, just on the off-chance that your checked luggage gets (gasp!) lost in transit. You don’t want to be caught in a foreign country without essential meds.

Make sure you keep your medication in the original prescription bottle, too. It’s actually illegal to transport medication in anything else, especially in those plastic day-planner things. You don’t want to get to the airport then have TSA stop you and make you throw out medication you really need, right?

I would also recommend bringing an antidiarrheal, ibuprofen, flu medicine, and allergy medicine. There’s nothing worse than having to mime puking or diarrhea. Just ask my husband—he had to do it for me while I was ill and sleeping it off in Italy. I would also recommend bringing a sleeping aid with you—melatonin or an actual sleeping pill if you have trouble sleeping on a plane or in unfamiliar places.

My International Travel Checklist | Make sure your medication is kept in original bottles and on your person. This and more tips here!
Source: Pixabay.com

4.Your debit card and at least one credit card (preferably one with no foreign transaction fees).

Make sure you let your bank know you’re going to be in another country so they don’t think someone’s stolen your credit card.

It’s super easy to do; you can do it right from their website. Just let them know what dates you’ll be gone and where you’ll be.

You can learn a little bit more about the aforementioned credit cards without foreign transaction fees on the post I did about affordable travel.

I also recommend you take out some foreign currency prior to your departure so you have cash if you need it upon arrival.

In Europe, for example, some establishments only accept cash, and your affiliated banks aren’t always in the most convenient places. It’s just easier to have some cash on you when you reach your destination. Or, you know, prepare to be slapped with a $20 ATM fee if you go to a random bank.

Also, do NOT use the foreign currency exchanges at the airport. From what I’ve heard, they totally overcharge you, and you don’t always get the best exchange rate.

5. A WiFi hotspot.

Getting international service on your cell phone can be insanely expensive, especially considering how little data they actually give you.

I think we paid $80 for 250mb. MEGABYTES, you guys. And when we (unsurprisingly) went over our allotted data, those overage fees were pretty painful.

Instead, leave your phone in airplane mode the entire time you’re overseas. I mean it. If you’ve got your data turned on, you can be charged for incoming texts and calls and any data you inadvertently use. (I’m pretty sure we got charged $20 for an incoming text my husband received when we landed in Europe the first time because he hadn’t turned his data off yet.)

A WiFi hotspot is truly a glorious thing. You don’t have to rely on spotty WiFi from different establishments, for one thing. And if you have crappy WiFi at your hotel, who cares? Admittedly, one of the things I love most about being overseas is that I can be completely disconnected. It’s a digital detox. BUT, having a WiFi hotspot really comes in handy when you’re trying to find your way around a new city. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I got lost in Florence because we were trying to find our way with a map. Being able to pull up directions and have Google maps tell you where to go takes a lot of stress and saves a ton of time when you’re trying to get somewhere in an unfamiliar place. It’s only a little more expensive than an international plan, and you can use Skype or Whatsapp to make phone calls if you really need to.

My must-have for international travel: The Wi-Fi Hospot

Source: http://www.tepwireless.co.uk

Alternately, depending on your wireless carrier and cell phone, you can “unlock” your cell phone and use an international SIM card. To each their own.

6. Conversion plugs to fit the electrical outlets in your destination.

You’re in for a world of sadness if you get to Europe and you realize you can’t plug in your hairdryer or your phone. Just sayin’.

This Travel Wall Charger USB Plug really came in handy when we were in Italy in May. I could plug in my phone, the WiFi hotspot, my Kindle, and even another phone if I needed to, all in one handy plug.

I also recommend having a portable charger in case your phone or camera battery dies when you’re out on the town. Using navigation and taking photos with my camera tends to drain the battery, so the portable charger came in handy quite a bit when I was overseas.

7. Your travel pillow, eye mask, headphones, and a good book for the flight.

You can read more about why I recommend bringing a good travel pillow, comfortable eye mask, and noise-canceling headphone in my post on 4 surefire ways to beat jetlag.

For those of you with circulation problems, compression socks or tights are recommended for long flights to prevent blood clots, so make sure you pack those in your purse or backpack, too. I like to make sure I’ve got several books loaded up on my Kindle, too; having something interesting to read makes that long-haul overseas a little more bearable (on the way home, at least; on the way there, my goal is to sleep).

10 Tips for International Travel | Load up your Kindle with books; it's way lighter than carrying a bunch of hardcovers around with you & you never run out of things to read!
Source: freestocks.org

8. Your itinerary.

I bring a paper itinerary with me, but I also keep a copy saved on my OneDrive so I can easily access it wherever I am.

It helps you keep everything straight, especially if you’re popping around from place to place. I also include in my itinerary addresses and phone numbers of places we’re going.

9. Your phone and/or camera so you can record all of those memories!

If you’ve got a selfie stick, pack that too. I’m not a lover of the selfie stick, but I can’t deny it comes in handy when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want to trust your expensive camera or phone with a stranger.

If you’ve got a GoPro camera, pack all your accessories together. It’s also a good idea to use a glasses case or something similar to keep all of your electronics cords together—oh yeah, and make sure you bring cords so you can plug in your phone and/or camera!

My international travel checklist | Bring your camera so you can record some memories!
Source: rawpixel.com

10. Your International Driver’s License, if you plan on driving in a foreign country that requires it.

You don’t want to spend 250 euros and 90 minutes of your time being interrogated by police when you’re supposed to be vacationing, right?

My husband just got his today; he said it was super easy. I’ve read some horror stories about folks who didn’t get one who got pulled over when driving in Europe, and it did not sound pretty, so double-check with the consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting to see whether one is required. Your stateside Secretary of State website should be able to tell you where to get it. We got ours from AAA.

My International Travel Checklist | If you plan on driving, make sure the country you're visiting doesn't require an international license. Click for more details.

(Optional) Travel insurance.

It’s completely affordable, and it beats paying thousands out-of-pocket for medical care in a foreign country. For our upcoming trip, we went with World Nomads.

I won’t lie to you, we’ve never purchased travel insurance before, but to be honest, we’ve been really lucky that no calamity has befallen us whilst overseas—Segway crashes and food poisoning aside. We’ve been pretty cavalier about that stuff, but no more—I do not want to break a leg or need to be hospitalized overseas and get slapped with thousands of dollars in hospital fees. I’d rather pay the $75 for 8 days in Europe, if for no other reason than peace of mind.

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My International Travel Checklist | Packing for an international can be overwhelming, but these 10 tips make it easy!

3 sites for finding the best possible price on airfare (& how to use them)

Let’s be real here; airfare is often one of the most expensive aspects of travel. In my experience, it accounts for about one-third of our total spend on any given international trip. Here are the three sites that I use to find the best possible deals on airfare.

Kayak and Google Flights

Kayak is the one I’ve used most often, but for our upcoming Baltic Sea cruise, I’m giving Google Flights a try. Both allow you to set up email alerts which tell you when the price of a flight you’re interested in goes up or down.

If you’ve got some flexibility, use the +/- feature; you’d be surprised how much the price of a ticket can change between a Thursday or Friday flight, for example. It could be a difference of $100 or more.

3 sites to use to find affordable airfare | use kayak's plus/minus 3 days feature if you've got some flexibility. click on this to find out more!
Source: Kayak

I also quite like Kayak’s “advice” feature, which is based on analytics of price variance.

3 site to use when searching for affordable airfare | use kayak's buy now analytics
Source: Kayak

If you’re feeling ambitious, test out a couple of different departure cities and see how that alters the price of your flight.

This is a recent tip that I learned. We booked a trip through Travelzoo, and the flights all originated out of Boston. I was shocked to see how much lower the prices were flying out of Boston versus what we pay to fly out of Detroit. Flights originating out of airports on the eastern seaboard overall seem to be cheaper than flying out of the Midwest—it’s pretty inexpensive to fly out of New York or New Jersey, too, I’ve found.

Take a look at the comparisons below: Detroit to Copenhagen ($1,040 roundtrip) versus New York to Copenhagen ($511 roundtrip). Even with having to book a separate flight from Detroit to NYC ($192 roundtrip), it’s still far and away the cheaper option, coming in at $703 per ticket. For two people, that’s $600 in your pocket, and you can do a lot with $600!

3 sites to use to find affordable travel and how to use them
Source: Google
3 sites to use for finding affordable airfare & how to use them | google flights
Source: Google
3 sites to use to find affordable airfare | experiment with different departure cities to find the most affordable flights. click here for more tips.
Source: Google
Source: Google

Now, I realize that this may seem like a hassle—flying out of somewhere other than your home base. I completely understand. If money is no object to you and you’d rather save time (wouldn’t that be nice?), then by all means, fly out of the nearest airport! But for those of us looking to travel as cheaply as possible, this is a great option to keep in mind.

Skyscanner

If you have even more flexibility, consider using a website or app like Skyscanner.

If it doesn’t matter to you what month you travel in, try putting in the “to” and “from” cities, and select their “cheapest month” option.

According to this Boston-Lisbon search I did, April is the cheapest month to fly. Skyscanner provides you with a calendar of the month and it lists one-way ticket prices each way.

3 sites to use for finding the most afforable airfare | use skyscanner to find the cheapest month to travel to a destination. click for more tips!
Source: Skyscanner

The other feature about Skyscanner that I think is super-cool, especially if you’re trying to be spontaneous of genuinely don’t have a destination in mind but you just want to go somewhere is that you don’t need to put in a destination in order to search their site.

3 sites to use for finding the most afforable airfaire | use skyscanner to find the cheapest airfare from your destination to anywhere in the world! click for more details.
Source: Skyscanner

Skyscanner will literally scan all available flights from your airport at the cheapest price possible. We could fly from Detroit to Iceland, direct, potentially for less than $200 each way in October 2018 if we wanted to. How cool is that?!

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Source: Skyscanner

Compare prices on flights with Skyscanner

These are just three of the many, many sites out there that aim at finding the most affordable airfare. There’s also cheapoair.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Hopper, just to name a few. These are just the ones I’ve played around with the most.

What’s your favorite site to use for finding cheap airfare? Leave a comment and tell me all about it! I’m always looking for new and improved ways to save money on airfare, which is often one of the most expensive parts of traveling!

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The 3 BEST sites for finding the most AFFORDABLE airfare possible (& how to use them!)

3 sites for finding the best possible price on airfare (and how to use them) | pin for later

6 tips for making travel more affordable

I won’t bullshit you: Traveling is not cheap. This isn’t news to you. When I talk to folks about travel, that’s usually what they say: “Oh, we don’t have the money for that,” or “I don’t know how you guys afford it.” And I’ll be honest, my husband and I are extremely fortunate that we have jobs where we earn enough to take all of these awesome trips. But I have a secret for you: Traveling does not have to be expensive, either. There are things you can do to make it more affordable. Here are a few things I enlist when planning a trip that helps keep the cost down.

1. Utilize search engines that compare prices across all airlines and set up price alerts.

This may seem a bit obvious, but a lot of people don’t want to put in the effort to make all of the comparisons. And you know what? I totally don’t blame you. It can be daunting. But there is no shortage of websites out there that will do all of the scanning for you, like Kayak, Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Hopper.

Kayak is the site I use most often, but I’m using Google Flights to track flights to Denmark for next year to see how it compares. Both sites allow you to set price alerts, so you get an email each time the price changes. You can also use the +/- feature to see if one day is cheaper than another to fly. We used that feature when we were buying our flights to Hawaii earlier in the year; it was a several hundred dollar savings if we flew home on Monday instead of Sunday.

6 tips for affordable travel | use search engines like kayak and google flights to compare prices on flights
Source: pixabay.com

2. Stay at an Airbnb or a hostel rather than a hotel.

Oftentimes I’ve found that you can find an Airbnb for half the price of a hotel in a similar area. For example, you could stay at this charming Airbnb for $62 per night. I’m not saying you can’t find similarly-priced hotels—you absolutely can—but most are going to run you a minimum of $100 a night.

All right, so I might have a slight affinity for Airbnbs. They’re always right out of an Ikea catalog and the hosts are always so friendly and helpful and you get a more authentic experience that way by staying in neighborhoods versus the super touristy areas. But still, in some cases, you can save money by staying in one of these bad boys. Just do a little comparison shopping and see which one makes the most sense for you.

6 tips for affordable travel | consider all options for lodging
Source: Airbnb.com

If you want to save even more money, you could opt for a hostel instead. Don’t think about the movie The Hostel. Just don’t do it. Nothing good can come of it. Actually, the hubs and I stayed in a few hostels the first time we went to Europe. A few of them were actually nicer than the hotels we stayed in. Granted, that was a budget Contiki tour, so we were staying in some sub-par places, but the hostel we stayed at in Berlin was actually super nice. You save even more if you opt for a “dorm” room versus a private room. If you stay in a “dorm” room at the Archi Rossi Hostel in Florence, it’s only $37 a night. It’s a little utilitarian, sure, but it’d get the job done, right?

And let’s be honest: If you’re traveling right, then you’re literally only going to be in your room for sleeping and getting ready the next morning. So as long as it’s clean, who cares if a place is fancy or utilitarian? You’re not there for the fancy hotels! You’re there to gain life experiences!

Take the Metro instead of cabbing it everywhere.

Even with the advent of Lyft and Uber, cab rides can still be pretty taxing on the pocketbook. However, you can get train tickets relatively cheaply, especially if you buy day passes that give you unlimited access to trains and buses. In most cities, public transportation is easily navigable and will get you where you need to go. Just make sure you validate your tickets—especially on the buses.

6 tips for affordable travel | use the metro
A sign for the Metro in Paris near Montmartre.

Avoid the super touristy areas when dining.

This may seem like another obvious tip, but it’s truly amazing how much a meal is marked up when it’s within view of the Trevi Fountain versus a lovely restaurant that you can find along one of the alleys that shoots off of the square where the Trevi Fountain resides. Plus, the restaurants around the touristy places don’t tend to have the best or more authentic food. (Look out for that fake gelato!)

6 tips for affordable travel | avoid the touristy areas for eating
A gelateria near Ravello bridge in Venice, Italy.

Sign up for a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.

We figured this out the hard way. We were young and stupid when we took our first sojourn to Europe. I brought my American Express card, not realizing a lot of places over there don’t accept American Express. I also knew nothing about foreign transaction fees, so we got hit with quite a few. Now we use the Bank of America Travel Card, which has no foreign transaction fees. The Amazon credit card is actually great for this as well.

Also, if you plan on doing a lot of traveling, it might be worth getting a card that offers bookoo cash back or airfare miles, like the Capital One Venture card and/or stay loyal to one airline and sign up for their rewards programs. Can someone say “free flight”?

credit-cards-pexel.jpeg
Source: pixabay.com

Bring some euros with you, but also know which European banks are affiliated with yours in each country you visit.

I totally understand the concept of not taking out too many euros because you don’t want to be stuck with them by the end of the trip. I’ve heard those rumors that the euro is going away, too. BUT a lot of people in Europe don’t love it when you use cards; I’ve found it’s just easier to pay with cash.

However, if you don’t want to take out a large sum before you leave or at the beginning of your trip and instead would like to opt for taking out small amounts at a time, then do a little research and find out if your bank has affiliates overseas. Our Italian BofA affiliate, for instance, is BNL. We can withdraw money there with only a 3% transaction fee. For comparison, the hubs and I were charged $20 every time we withdrew money on our first trip. That’s no bueno. (Don’t forget to bring your debit card with you!)

euros
Source: martaposemuckel/pixabay.com

Do you have travel money-saving methods that I haven’t mentioned here? Tell me about them! I want to know! The hubs and I are always looking for ways to maximize our travel experiences without depleting our wallets!

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6 Tips for Making Travel More Affordable

how to beat jetlag in 4 simple steps

What’s one of the hardest things about international travel? For me, at least, it’s adjusting to a new time zone. Jumping forward five or six hours can take a toll on the body if you’re not prepared. My husband and I learned that the hard way the first time we traveled to Europe. We were jetlagged for the first three days of our trip; we were crabby and snapping at each other and falling asleep on benches in public parks; it was not a positive start to what was supposed to be our big, adventurous whirlwind trip around Europe. But the next time, I’d learned from my mistakes bigtime, and I did all kinds of research on how to best beat jet lag. Here are the steps I take to beat jetlag when I’m traveling overseas and start my vacation right.

1. One week before you leave, start adjusting to the new time zone.

Here’s what I do: Seven days before departure, I get up half an hour earlier than I normally would. The next day, I get up an hour earlier than I normally would, then an hour and a half the following day, and so on and so forth. It may seem backward to do this when you’re going to be jumping forward five or six hours, but it actually gets your body clock closer to what it would be if you were already overseas. By the time the departure date rolls around, I’m usually getting up at 3 a.m. To a lot of people, this seems crazy, but think about it: 3 a.m. Eastern time is 9 a.m. Central European time. Plus, getting up that early on our departure date ensures that I’m hella tired for our overnight flight.

TIP: There are apps, like Jet Lag Rooster, that were created to help you do exactly this. I downloaded this one but didn’t end up using it; I just, you know, used my brain to go backward in increments of 30 minutes and set my alarms accordingly.

TIP: I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to fall back than it is to jump forward (I just wake up way earlier, which I don’t mind), but you can just reverse the princple and wake up later and go to bed earlier for seven days—if you have that kind of flexibility!

How to Beat Jet Lag | Set your clock back 30 minutes every day for 7 days.
Source: pixabay.com

2. Take an overnight flight, and for God’s sake, sleep on the plane!

The first time we went to Europe, not only did I not try to adjust to the time change beforehand, but I also didn’t sleep on the plane, too hopped up was I with excitement for my first big international adventure. SUCH a big mistake, you guys—I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you sleep on the plane. Or, barring sleep, because I realize sleeping on a plane is no bueno, at least close your eyes and rest. Even if you’re not sleeping, you’re still giving your body some much-needed rest. Don’t do what this dummy did and watch four movies in a row. Here are some things I take with me on the plane to help me rest and/or sleep.

Wear an eye mask.

Just having something to block out the light helps you immensely. Flight attendants are going up and down aisles, other passengers are getting up and turning on their lights, maybe the person in front of you is watching the TV and the glow is emanating right onto you. Just pull down your eyemask and block it all out. I use Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask. It’s only $8-$10, depending on color, and it blocks out all of the light.

Good passenger tip: My mom wanted to bring a lavender-scented one on our trip to Italy. I realize lavender is soothing so some people; however, I personally get a migraine from the smell of lavender, so I asked her to kindly get an unscented one. You never know who on your flight might have sensitivities to certain scents, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. You wouldn’t like it if someone had bathed in cologne and sat next to you for eight hours, would you? No? Didn’t think so.

Bring a travel pillow.

So determined was I to sleep on our flight to Europe in 2015 that I researched travel pillows and narrowed it down to two contenders: The J-pillow Travel Pillow and the Sleep Scarf. The reviews for both on Amazon were phenomenal, so we figured we’d order both and see which one we liked better. As it turned out, I liked the sleep scarf, and my husband liked the J-pillow.

About the sleep scarf: Yes, you do look really stupid in it, but it does help support your head in a more natural position than an ordinary travel pillow, it’s fleecy so it’s cozy, and you can use it to cover your mouth if you wish—you know, to block out recycled airplane germs and all that jazz. (My friend Kate totally made fun of me when I told her about the sleep scarf, but she also totally bought it for her flight to Russia.) The other nice thing about the sleep scarf is it’s much easier to pack because you can wrap it up and it lays almost flat.

About the J-pillow: The big problem I have with the J-pillow is it’s kind of a hassle to carry around on your travels. It’s bulky, and it’s a weird shape (rather phallic, no?), so it doesn’t fit as easily in your luggage, especially if you’re trying to pack light. My husband more often than not ended up attaching it to the outside of his backpack and we were going from place to place, but I shudder to think about all the germs it picked up. However, the sleep scarf didn’t serve me as well as I would have liked on our way back from Hawaii, so I decided to give the J-pillow a try on my flight to Italy, and I have to say, I do think I ultimately prefer the J-pillow from a comfort perspective. Mine, however, has a neat little bag I can squish the pillow into, so it’s a little easier to pack (my husband is very jealous).

It all comes down to preference; test them at home and see which one you like better before committing to a pillow for the long haul.

How to Beat Jet Lag in 4 Simple Steps | Wear comfy clothes so you're more comfortable for the long haul.
Source: Sofia Sforza/Stock Snap

Download soothing music or relaxing sounds (like ocean waves) on your phone and make sure you bring your earbuds. Or, if you prefer, bring ear plugs

I find that downloading meditations designed to help you fall asleep or calming sounds like rainfall or ocean waves helps inch toward sleep a little faster, plus it blocks out all that extraneous sound the other passengers make. I kept mine on loop all night so even when I would wake up (which is often on a plane, let’s be honest), it would help lull me back into sleep.

For extra assistance, find a sleeping aid that works for you.

As I mentioned before, getting up super early the day you leave helps a ton, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little extra help if it means you’ll be ready to go when you land at your destination. melatonin works for some, but I want to be knocked the hell out. I want to guarantee that I at least get a couple hours of sleep. So as soon as I board the plane, I pop a sleeping pill. But test it before you leave because some sleeping aids work better than others (some, like Nyquil, actually make me wide awake, and that totally defeats the purpose).

Wear comfortable clothes.

Don’t wear jeans. Don’t wear heels. Don’t wear a suit. Nobody’s going to care what you look like. Wear sweats or leggings or pajamas. You’ll be sleeping (God willing), and you’ll never see 98% of these people ever again.

TIP: Wear layers on the plane, one of which should be a sweatshirt. It gets really cold on those overnight flights, and those sad little handkerchiefs the airlines give you to snuggle with don’t really provide a whole lot of warmth. Trying to sleep when your whole body is contracted with the shivers is sort of a non-starter.

How to Beat Jet Lag in 4 Steps | Wear an eye mask, bring a neck pillow, wear comfy clothes.
Source: Suhyeon Choi/Stock Snap

3. Have meals at mealtime in your new time zone instead of your old one.

If you arrive in the morning, have breakfast. If you arrive at lunchtime, have lunch. It’s simple, really. Adjusting your eating schedule helps your body adjust to the time change.

4. Go to sleep at bedtime in your new time zone the first night.

The absolute worst thing you can do is take a nap when you reach your destination. You need to stay awake the whole day and go to bed at a normal bedtime in your new time zone in order to adjust properly to the time change. It sort of resets your internal body clock. My recommendation: Schedule a walking tour on your first day. It’ll keep you moving and occupied; staying stationary will just make you sleepy. SANDEMANs offers walking tours in just about every major European city, for example.

Follow these four simple steps to beat that pesky jetlag and adjust quickly to a new time zone—nothing can slow you down now!

Adventureloveblog Presents: How to Beat Jetlag in 4 Simple Steps

How to Beat Jetlag in 4 Simple Steps

tennessee travel guide: 3 days in nashville

Earlier this month, my sister and I flew down to Nashville for a long weekend to celebrate our 30th and 40th birthdays. I’d been to Nashville once before for a blip; we wandered to a countryside winery, saw Rascal Flatts perform three whole songs at the Grade Ole Opry after sitting through several questionable acts, and had the most fun night out on Broadway afterward.

I wasn’t there for long, but I remembered it fondly. So when my sister and I were discussing places we could go for our sister’s trip (we went to Traverse City last year), Nashville won the race; my sister had always wanted to go there, but the closest she ever got was driving through it on the way to her husband’s childhood hometown of Lebanon (not nearly as fun as Nashville, and she’ll never let him forget it, either).

night #1: live country music at the whiskey bent saloon

We flew in on Thursday, and we had booked an Airbnb for the duration of our stay. Unfortunately, there was mold growing on the walls around the air conditioning unit, and it was clear that there had been some flooding in that room as well because the floor was warped and buckling. Needless to say, we did not end up staying there, and my sister’s first foray into Airbnbing was not a success. We ended up staying at the Sheraton Music City instead, which was a little more expensive and a little further from downtown Nashville, but hey, it was clean and sans mold, so no complaints here.

Our first night Nashville, we grabbed some barbecue grub at Rippy’s on Broadway, then we popped in and out of different bars along Music Row until we came upon Whiskey Bent Saloon. It was in between acts and there were some really drunk creepos in there, but Jess and I had this unshakeable feeling that the next band was going to be awesome. And we were RIGHT: Jesse Cain and his band were phenomenal. His fiddle player was insane (those fingers were a blur when he riffed to “Devil Went Down to Georgia”), and Jesse’s voice was deep and smooth (it reminded me a bit of Easton Corbin and another artist I couldn’t quite identify; I’ve been out of the country game for too long). We stayed and listened to them play till about 2 a.m.; if you find yourself in Nashville and want to see a great cover band, check them out—you won’t be sorry.

Jesse Cain, Whiskey Bent Saloon, Nashville, TN
Jesse Cain and his band at the Whiskey Bent Saloon on Broadway in Nashville

day #1: shopping in the gulch & dancing at the stage

We spent much of the next day shopping. We had breakfast at Fido, which was freaking amazing. I got Pete’s breakfast with chorizo and it was spicy and flavorful and so delicious. I also bought a Bongo snickerdoodle to eat later, and it stayed soft and chewy for days. Jess had the Bachelor, a cinnamon raisin bagel slathered with almond butter, banana, local honey and cinnamon-sugar; she said it was heaven.

Pete's Breakfast at Fido Nashville
Pete’s Breakfast at Fido Nashville

Afterward, we ventured into a store called Altar’d State, which was probably the cutest freaking store I’ve ever set foot in. Then we ventured to the Farmer’s Market; walked along the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park stone wall, which was full of Tennessee’s history; and zipped over to the Gulch, mostly to check out Reese Witherspoon’s store, Draper James, where they offer you sweet tea when you walk in the door—it doesn’t get any more adorably Southern than that, y’all! We capped off our day of shopping with appetizers and drinks at Sambuca (try their bruschetta!).

That night, we took the shuttle down from our hotel to Broadway. We popped into Rippy’s again, where a decent band was playing. Our original plan was to go to the legendary Tootsie’s, but people were packed in there like sardines and the band wasn’t to our taste; there was also a big line of people gathered outside, and a few large cameras, which apparently was because Miley Cyrus was having her album release party there that night (alas, we weren’t invited). Instead, we headed to the Stage’s second floor, where a pretty good band was playing songs that I actually knew (like I said, I’ve been out of the country game for a while), like old school Shania and Dixie Chicks and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” at least three times. We danced and danced and danced and it was so much fun, even though our feet certainly protested the next day!

day 2: the country music hall of fame & live music at fgl house

On Saturday, we went to Blvd Nashville for breakfast. I’d read about them on a couple of blogs when I was doing my research, but I was honestly a little disappointed. It was super weird, for one, that they didn’t have any coffee. No coffee at a brunch place? Seriously? I don’t drink coffee, but even I was a little offended by that. We both had their amoretto French toast, which sounded a lot more…amoretto-y than it tasted. It was just decent French toast.

We spent a few hours that day at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is pretty cool. I would say it’s entirely reasonable to walk through the whole museum in fewer than three hours; I think it took us two and a half. The Shania Twain exhibit was pretty cool; they had a lot of her more famous outfits from concerts and music videos. There’s a whole wall devoted to Jason Aldean, which seemed a bit overkill, but apparently, he’s a kind of a big deal? But they had famous outfits worn by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, which caught my interest. There were also some interactive sound booths, where you could listen to different eras of country music. Oh, and let’s not forget Elvis’s car, which had a TV in the back, you guys. A TV. Which back then was a pretty big deal. Hence my repeating: A TV in the back.

We grabbed some lunch at Merchants on Broadway, had some duck-fat tater tots (seriously amazing, and believe me, we were dubious), and let me tell you, the people watching on Broadway cannot be beat. I mean it, endless entertainment. Nashville truly is the Vegas of the East. I’ve never seen so many bachelorette parties in such a concentrated amount of time in my life. They were everywhere.

After lunch, we bopped around to several different bars, all of which featuring music that didn’t quite tickle our fancy, until we decided to check out FGL House, which is Florida Georgia Line’s restaurant. First, it is HUGE. Second, it’s got a ton of character. Distressed wood everywhere, vintage signs on the wall, and on the second floor, a pretty decent-sized stage and an energetic-as-hell band called January Noise. They legit played for four hours without stopping. They played country, they played pop, they played rock ‘n’ roll. They played Keith Urban and Walk the Moon and Justin Timberlake, Queen and Michael Jackson and Green Day. SO MUCH FUN. When they were done playing, we ventured downstairs for a meal (specialty macaroni and cheese, yum!), where another fellow was playing some country hits on a stage down there.

day 3: city winery & dinner at bar taco

On Sunday morning, we were supposed to check out the Studio B Tour at the Country Music Hall of Fame (we’d booked it the previous day), but we slept in too late, breakfast took too long, and, oh yeah, our rental car was hit on the street, so we spent a while waiting to fill out a police report. Nashville drivers are crazy, y’all. So, needless to say, we missed the tour. We checked out City Winery instead, had a drink there, then after striking out in our attempts to do a few other things downtown, we went back to the hotel and just chilled by the pool for a while, before going to Bar Taco, which was hands down our best meal of the whole trip. Creative, street-style tacos, each of them unique and bursting with flavor. Oh, and their guac and tomatillo sauce was also to die for—the guac was so limey; I loved it. I was in taco heaven. I can only dream of the day when a Bar Taco opens in Michigan…or until the sis and I go back to Nashville, whichever comes first. 😉 It was the perfect way to end our awesome sister’s vacation. 🙂

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City Winery, Nashville

On the “next time” list for Nashville:

  1. Studio B Tour at the Country Music Hall of Fame
  2. The Bluebird Cafe
  3. Hattie B’s BBQ (as recommended by Reese Witherspoon)
  4. Pinewood Social (as recommended by Reese Witherspoon) (are you sensing a theme here?)
  5. Rent a kayak and have a picnic on Luau Island

Have you been to Nashville? What was the best thing you did there? Was the food amazing? Tell me all about it!

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Tennessee Travel Guide: 3 Days in Nashville

3 Days in Nashville, Tennessee Guide

 

michigan travel tip: visit the upper peninsula

Oh, hey guys. Long time no talk! I took a break from blogging last week after what I’m fondly going to think of as my “Italy series,” but I’m back babydolls! This post about my home state will be the first in a series of stateside posts—starting with Michigan, then on to my long weekend in Nashville, and then my weeklong sojourn to Hawaii back in March/April of this year.

I was just idly scrolling through Facebook posts one day—as one is wont to do—when I came across an ad for a guided kayaking trip around the Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s upper peninsula, and I could not believe the pictures were of Michigan because it was so freaking beautiful.

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Not to speak ill of my home state, but it’s easy, when you live in southeast Michigan, to forget that Michigan can be really beautiful. There’s not a whole lot to see where I live, but northern Michigan is insane—the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Traverse City, where the dune grass makes you feel like you’re in the Outer Banks and the ocean legit looks like the Caribbean; charming Mackinac Island, where your only modes of transport are horses, bicycles, and your two dancing sticks (otherwise known as legs); and the UP (upper peninsula), where we were.

Our first stop on the way to our adorable little cabin in Grand Marais was to Tahquamenon Fallslargely known for being the “largest waterfall east of the Mississippi” (according to the Tahquamenon Falls State Park website) and for its unique rust color, which it gets from the tannins found in the cedar swamps that drain into the river.

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The park is actually dog-friendly, too, which we appreciated since we had our pups in tow!

There’s also a restaurant in the park, which is actually supposed to be pretty good. Because we had our dogs, though, we weren’t able to eat at that particular establishment. But there are plenty of other choices for quick food, along with plentiful outdoor seating. We grabbed some tacos from one of the stands and soft-serve ice cream cones from another.

We stayed at the Hilltop Cabins in Grand Marais for two nights (also pet-friendly and with a lovely hilltop view). Our room was clean and had all of the basic necessities. (This was a low-maintenance trip for us, so we weren’t too particular about amenities.) Breakfast is included, but we didn’t eat there either morning; on the first, we were up and out too early, and on the second, we checked out this sweet retro diner that had scrumptious apple cinnamon pancakes.

 

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Hilltop Cabins & Motel, Grand Marais

 

Just a heads-up: There are not a plethora of places to eat in Grand Marais. We ended up eating both nights at the Lake Superior Brewing Company; the first night, it was because it came recommended; the second night, it was because it was the only place open for dinner after 8 p.m., but that’s okay—we weren’t really there UP’s delicacies anyway!

On our second day in the UP, we were up bright and early (as previously mentioned) because we were going to kayak around the Pictured Rocks, which was why we’d ventured to the UP in the first place—and it did not disappoint!

Pictured Rocks Kayaking motors you out to your starting point and then launches your kayak into the water right off the back of the boat. Once your group is out on the water, you follow your guide, hugging the coastline, taking in rocks painted by various chemical reactions; your guide explains which metals create which colors and weaves tales about the more famous rock formations.

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We were up there over Labor Day weekend and it was a little chilly, but with the sun beating down on us, it was a perfect day. There’s quite a bit of hiking you can do up in Munising, too, but if you want to see the Pictured Rocks, the best way to do it has got to be by water. There are a few different kayaking companies operating out of Munising and several motor-boat tours as well. It was clear that seeing the Pictured Rocks is “the thing to do” up there, and it’s easy to see why!

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We ended the day with a quick jaunt to Log Slide Overlook, which truly did offer some amazing views of the water (there’s a reason it’s rated the #1 thing to do in Grand Marais at TripAdvisor), and we were going to see the Au Sable Light Station, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a hike from the park to the lighthouse, and alas, dogs were not allowed, so we are saving that for next time! Instead, we took our pups and sat on this charming pebble beach and watched the sun slowly inch its way toward the horizon. #PureMichigan indeed!

michigan travel tip (1)

italy travel tip: skip the walking tour in milan

If I’m being honest with you, Milan was not my favorite. It actually kind of bummed me out that that was our last stop in our whirlwind trip around Italy. But everyone makes such a big deal about it, you know? So we did our day trip to Lake Como from there, and then we had a good portion of the next day there as well before we headed back to Rome. (Sad face.)

To fill our time, we did a free walking tour, but if I can be real with you for a minute, I’m just going to advise you to skip it, especially given the energy it took to find the meeting point (there might have been some swearing, there was definitely some running to make it in time). Really, unless you’re into high fashion, I would skip Milan altogether. Spend an extra day somewhere awesome like Amalfi or Florence.)

As was the case in Venice, there just wasn’t really much of interest to see in Milan. Our guide, Marco, he really gave it his all, he had boundless energy, and he was relatively entertaining, but the tour itself…not so much.

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It certainly didn’t help that the Italian version of the Tour de France was happening in downtown Milan—we had to take quite a long detour because one of the roads frequented by this particular tour was completely blocked off.

It wasn’t a particularly beautiful or remarkable town, either—at least I didn’t think so. I literally took nine photos. Total. And you know how much I like having interesting and remarkable things to photograph during my travels—there just was not much of interest. Nor do I remember any of the “high points” aside from the obvious—the Duomo di Milano and the middle finger statue that flips off Milan’s Wall Street. Although, fun fact: The Duomo in Milan has actually been under construction longer than La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (six centuries and counting!)

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Really, unless you’re into high fashion, I would skip Milan altogether. Spend an extra day somewhere awesome like Amalfi or Florence. Sorry for being harsh on you, Milan; I’m just keepin’ it real…

We headed back to Rome for an evening, basically. I stepped over a grate on our way to the hotel from the train station and my dress flew up around my ears (it was a very un-sexy Marilyn Monroe moment, but an old man was shuffling by as it happened, and man, did he have an ear-to-ear smile), we took a quick jaunt over to the Colosseum (once I threw on some shorts; I did not want a repeat of the skirt-around-ears situation), had dinner, and then we jetted home the following morning.

Ciao, Italia! I miss you!

Italy Travel Tip: Skip the Walking Tour In Milan

italy travel tip: if you’re looking for a chill day, book an excursion to lake como

When I booked this tour, I didn’t know much about Lake Como, other than it was beautiful and George Clooney owned a house there (i.e., only the rich can afford houses there), which seems to be really all that anyone knows about Lake Como. If you’re looking for a relatively chill day, this Lake Como day trip from Milan excursion is the one for you.

We took a bus ride out to Como, where our guide showed us the basilica and told us where we could buy affordable silk scarves (my mom bought two!). Me, I bought a sweet pair of sunglasses, like the ones I’d been eyeing pretty much the entire time we were in Italy (horn-rimmed with sweet mirrored lenses, because I love cool vintagey-looking things). We also grabbed a light breakfast there before heading to the meeting place for the two-hour ferry ride around the lake.

TIP: Don’t lose your ferry ticket. The guide will get very stern with you if you lose it. You’ll need it for the two-hour ferry ride and then another short boat ride later to get back to the bus.

TIP: When you get on the first ferry, don’t bother going to the open area in the back. You’re not going to get the best view that way, unless you’re in, like the first or second row. Otherwise, your view will be obstructed. Aim for seats on the port (left) side of the boat when looking toward the bow (front) of the boat. A lovely couple allowed us to share a table (and the accompanying awesome views).

Lake Como, Italy

Now, I am a lover of boat rides, which you know if you read my post on Gianni’s Capri private boat tours. The boat ride on Lake Como was, however, a little bit boring, if I’m being 100% honest with you. Perhaps it was just a bit too chill and serene for me. Or maybe I was just really tired because we were nearing the end of our whirlwind Italian adventure. Who’s to say?

Lake Como, Italy

But I will also tell you that the “big attraction of the day,” George Clooney’s house, was, as my friend Amanda put it, “the biggest disappointment of the trip.” I think I was expecting something grander, I’m not sure. The house probably is pretty grand—I think it’s all a matter of perspective—but it looked kinda tiny from the water. And as Amanda also astutely noticed, “Homeboy needs a new roof.” But I suppose that’s neither here nor there. (I didn’t even take a picture of homeboy’s house. That’s how unimpressed I was.)

Gazebo in Lake Como, Italy

We were equipped with little radio things and earbuds so we could listen to our guide’s fun facts while we motored around the lake; the earbuds were not so comfortable for me, however, so I took them out, but from what the others told me, I didn’t miss much. I think she may have pointed out Versace’s home at one point? Hard to say—after a while it all started to kind of blend together.

Lake Como, Italy

By the time we reached Bellagio, we were all a bit hungry (and I was a tiny bit sleepy). We lunched at a restaurant recommended to us by our guide, which took up pretty much the entire time we had there. (TIP: It takes a million years to get served and to receive a check at an Italian restaurant—that’s just the way it is.) But I can’t deny the place was freaking beautiful.

After the aforementioned quick jaunt along the water to our bus, we were on our way back to Milan!

I will admit to you, this was not my favorite excursion or even my favorite place in Italy. It’s worth visiting once—I snapped some beautiful pictures—but I don’t feel the need to ever go back. But if you’re obsessed with George Clooney or just want a really chill day away from the hustle and bustle of Milan, then this excursion is definitely for you.

Italy Travel Tip | Lake Como Travel Guide

italy travel tip: visit the colorful island of burano

The island of Burano is like something out of a dream: Imagine row after row of the most cheerful, brightly-colored homes, and you’ve got Burano.

A friend of mine and her husband had ventured there a few summers ago, and her photos were to die for, and just like that, I knew that I needed to go to Burano the next time I found myself in Venice.

The ladies and I waffled a bit as to whether we should do an excursion or just catch a ferry ourselves; in the end, for the sake of ease, we did this excursion to Murano, Burano, and Torcello for $24 a person.

The excursion itself lasted about 5 hours. It was about 45 minutes from Venice to Murano, where we saw a glassmaking demonstration (which is super interesting, by the way) and we looked at different glasswares in shops along the water. I wasn’t interested in buying overpriced Murano glass when I could get it cheaper in Venice, so I wandered off on my own and took some random pictures of the houses and the water.

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Next we headed to Torcello. Whereas we didn’t have quite enough time in Murano, we had a little too much time in Torcello, considering how little there is there. We all got gelato and sat for a little while before wandering along a canal that led to the island’s only church. What it lacked in excitement, though, Torcello made up for in peacefulness, though. Plus I got a cool picture on top of a bridge that had no railings. (Seriously, guys, it was a miracle I didn’t fall in.)

Bridge in Torcello, ItalyRestaurant in TorcelloBoat and restaurant in TorcelloChurch in Torcello, Italy

Finally, we went to Burano, which really was the one I was most excited about (see first sentence about Burano being the island of my dreams). I love bright and bold colors, so Burano was photography heaven for me. My friend Amanda and I just wandered the streets shooting photos of bulidings and bridges.

(Fun fact: Residents of Burano are required by law to keep their house the same color.)

Blue building and blue boat in BuranoBridge in Burano, ItalyBuilding in Burano, ItalyYellow building in Burano, ItalyBlue building in Burano, ItalyColorful houses in Burano, Italy.Teal building in Burano, ItalyBridge in Burano, ItalyRed restaurant in Burano, ItalyL'incanto in Burano, ItalyHouses in Burano, ItalyPink building in Burano, ItalyBurano, ItalyBlue and rust buildings in Burano ItalyPink and green building in Burano, ItalyAcqua and lime green building in Burano, ItalyView of Burano, Italy from the boatBurano, Italy

I’ll be honest with you, the excursion itself was nothing special. The guide didn’t provide much information, although what little she did share, she shared in five different languages, which was in itself rather impressive. For the most part, she was pretty much just there to make sure everyone got on the boat before heading to the next location.

Was the excursion worth it? I think so, at least for our purposes. It was comparable in price to a 24-hour vaporetto ticket, but we didn’t have to think about how to get from place to place. Although part of me would rather have just gone to Burano and spent a little more time there. We were maybe on each island for about 40 minutes (although the glassmaking demonstration took up much of our time in Murano).

My advice: If you don’t have any desire to get Murano glass from actual Murano and don’t mind taking your chances on the vaporetto, just take a little jaunt to Burano on your own; then, you can spend as much time as you like feeling like you’re being hugged my a rainbow (because seriously that’s how it felt)!

Italy Travel Tip: Visit the Colorful Island of Burano

italy travel tip: skip the free walking tour, but do wander venice at night

When the hubs and I visited Venice in 2012, I wasn’t all that impressed. Granted, we were staying on a campground one ferry ride away from actual Venice. We took the ferry over in the morning, had a walking tour, then had the afternoon to wander around until our scheduled gondola ride.

(A word of advice: Skip the walking tour. It was mostly a lot of standing around while our guide attempted to regale us with stories about Christopher Columbus and mental hospitals hiding in plain sight and ancient Venice being built upon wood pilings without a whole lot to look at. Also, gondola rides are overrated. The gondoliers were either on their phones or were yelling at each other. Not the super romantic experience it’s always been made out to be.)

There is something charming about the cobbled streets, the lack of motor vehicles, the canals, the bridges, the gondolas. But after a while, all of the shops, most selling Murano glass beads and other jewelry and decorative masks, all start to look the same. And, if you want to sit down, in most places, you have to pay a fee in addition to buying food or a drink, which is kinda shitty. You’re not allowed to sit on public stairs, even—people actually shoo you off the steps. If you need to sit, there’s a garden by the docks that has benches where you can rest your feet amongst the flowers.

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I wasn’t super amped about visiting Venice with the ladies this May, I’ll admit. However, I found this visit to be much more enjoyable than the last.

For one thing, the hotel we stayed in was lovely: The San Cassiano Residenza d’Epoca Ca’ Favretto. You guys, it’s an actual castle, right on the Grand Canal. So much character. So many antiques. And the view—amazing.

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But let me tell you, from experience, if you take the train into Venice, for the love of God, TAKE A WATER TAXI TO THE HOTEL. When I pulled the directions originally, it said 5 minutes’ walking time from the station to the hotel. But there are over a hundred bridges joining together the Venetian islands. We went over at least twenty of them trying to find our hotel.

Imagine us, four women, each with a suitcase, an overnight bag, and a purse, dragging all of this along with them up and over and down and it was not fun. Plus, the street names on the buildings didn’t always match the street names on the map. So if you’re using trusty Google maps on your phone as you navigate the streets and alleys of Venice, trust the blue dot and ignore the street names.

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Rialto Bridge

But by the time we were departing Venice, we’d wised up. We paid 50 euros for a water taxi and it was totally worth every penny. He dropped us right in front of the train station and it was such a breeze and worth every penny.

When in Venice, be prepared for the sheer volume of bridges, but also prepare yourself for the sheer number of people (i.e., tourists) swarming the place. Seriously, walking from one place to the other feels like you’re among a slow-moving hoard of zombies.

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BUT, on the plus side, there are TWO GROMS in Venice. TWO Groms, you guys. And it was a spur-of-the-moment quest for Grom at ten o’clock at night that led to one of my favorite nights in Italy.

My friend Amanda went with me on my important quest for ice cream. And damn, Venice is hella charming at night, you guys. It’s cute enough during the day, but there’s something magical about it at night. The street lamps come on, the beams shimmering on the water, the yellow light bouncing off the cobblestones, ah! it’s beautiful!

It’s much quieter at night, too. Far fewer people schlepping along the streets, more people crowded and having a grand old time at bars and restaurants, and yet, in places, it felt like a sleepy little town. It was so nice to just wander around, snapping photos, soaking it all in. All while enjoying my crema di Grom. Don’t mind if I do!

The charm of Venice at night, coupled with the charm of the San Cassiano Hotel, is enough to make me want to return to Venice with the hubs. I’d love to just while away a day chilling along the Canal, sipping wine and watching the boats go by. I didn’t quite understand the hype of Venice before—but I do now. Ahh, charming, charming Venice. There’s no other word for it.

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Italy Travel Tip: Skip the Free Venice Walking Tour, But Do Explore at Night

 

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