Picture Perfect Amsterdam in Autumn

Picture Perfect Amsterdam in Autumn

The air is becoming crisp, the leaves are starting to change, and the heavy jackets are emerging once again. It must be autumn in Amsterdam!

 

The city of canals and stunning canal houses has a gift for those who visit after the high season and a treat for those who live here and have to live through the winter. The Elm trees that line the canals in the center of the city start turning the recognizable shades of red, orange, and yellow that you expect to see in autumn.

Though the Elm tree is the most common along the main canals in Amsterdam, there are many more varieties of trees all around the city. It’s a very green place in the spring and summer!

Amsterdam is my favorite city for so many reasons. It’s a major European capital that only has about 800,000 residents and feels like a village. And then autumn comes…

Stunning. Inspiring. Calming. Instagram-worthy.

So many more words could describe Amsterdam in autumn. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s get to the good stuff.

For your viewing pleasure, I hope these make you yearn to visit my city!

 


Amsterdam bridge in Autumn

Amsterdam in Autumn

Beautiful Amsterdam autumn tree

Pin to share the autumn beauty!

Amsterdam in Autumn Pin

My Solo Trip to Paris

My Solo Trip to Paris

This may be controversial to say, but solo travel is not for everyone. I’m not a huge fan of it myself. I’ve read all the articles about how it can help with anxiety, build self-esteem, and how freeing it can be. But, I just really don’t know what to do with myself.

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

Yeah, I can wander around whenever and wherever I want. That part I like quite a bit. There is nobody to slow you down or wait around for. There’s also nobody to eat with, share a great sunrise with, or just figure out what to do next. It’s all on you.

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

I get bored and really just don’t know what to do next. I did learn that quick-to-eat food is what I prefer when I’m alone. Even just sitting and eating noodles was easy and quick with little time for waiting. A street-side crepe is really the way to go though. Quick, cheap, and super easy to eat on the go!

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

So, what did I get up to? I walked. A lot. Like 12 miles in 3 days. I ate noodles and bread and macarons (I did not eat healthy on this trip!). And I hung out with Edna who practically lives in Paris. Having a local with you is pretty much the best thing ever. Although, having some girl time might just trump the “local” part.

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

Girl friends can be amazing or they can be catty. I make a sincere effort to surround myself with people who are supportive, friendly, and genuine. But some girl time with the right person who can chat AND listen is so important to be able to let anything and everything out. Add some good French wine and the evening is made.

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

It was so funny. I planned on going to Paris solo and then I found out six other people from Amsterdam were going too! I wasn’t able to meet up with any of them, but probably for the best. I can see them anytime in Amsterdam, but Paris is a different world with a different vibe. I think a mini chill and girl time was what I needed.

 

Solo trip to Paris

 

After 3 days in Paris, hanging out with a fun person, going to places I’ve never been, eating my way through a food tour, and wandering around on my own, I still know that solo travel itself in not something I will actively plan or strive for. However, meeting up or traveling with others can be fun!

Final verdict: I had a great time. With no set schedule and a handful of metro tickets, I felt free as a bird! But I really enjoyed spending time with someone else, and I think that is just who I am…a social introvert.

 

Solo trip to Paris

Anyone else really not love to travel by yourself? Who is your favorite travel partner?

For practical Paris information, a guidebook can be super handy! The Rick Steves’ Pocket Paris book is a great companion to blogs and is a great read in paperback or Kindle (my preference) on the trip into Paris!

Learning to Shop for Food like a Parisian

Learning to Shop for Food like a Parisian

Recently I shared my secret life goal of adopted 3 European cities. It felt silly at first, but once I wrote it all down, it felt so true. And Paris, of course, is on that list!

Paris Food Tour Sacre Coeur

 

I don’t just want to adopt the city. I want to walk, talk, eat, and shop like a Parisian. Totally wish I had the fashion sense that would make me fit right in too. Who wouldn’t?!

To start the adoption process, I reached out to Secret Food Tours Paris and scheduled a tour in the Montmartre neighborhood–that area right by Sacre Coeur. The best thing about food tours is that you never know exactly what you’ll get. But what I did know I was going to get a lesson in how to be Parisian!

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre

Visitor Tip: Ideally, you should take a food tour when you arrive to a new city.

 

A Different Kind of Food Tour

This Montmartre food tour from Secret Food Tours was much different than the tours I’ve taken in Berlin, Barcelona, and London. They were all different companies, but that’s not what I mean. Typically, I’ve been taken to various restaurants to have a bite and learn a little bit about the restaurant and the area, then you walk a few minutes until you get to the next one.

I like this “normal” way. The food is well spaced out and we get time to chat amongst ourselves which is always fun since we’re all travelers!

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Parisian street

 

On this Paris food tour, it was more about how to shop for yourself when you venture out on your own. While I was first quite confused as to what was going on, it soon became obvious…

Our guide, P.J., was really showing us how to shop like a Parisian!

One of the last things we did was to sit in a cafe to relax and inspect all the delicious bites (and drinks) we collected along the way. And then devour them.

 

Learning to Shop

On the tour itself, we visited a popular cheese shop so P.J. could explain how you can pick out a great cheese for yourself and why the French can’t get enough of certain kinds of cheese. Learning about cheese in this way was really helpful! Our guide made it feel like a class (in the best kind of way) because he gave information that would actually help you. All while we’re drooling over the different varieties and smells. Ohhhh the cheese smells! My stomach started growling at this stop.

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Cheese shop

 

The history was fascinating, too! Did you know that the metro lines 2 & 6 lie directly behind where the old city wall was for Paris? Or that Paris all started on the island that Notre Dame sits on? Yeah…neither did I! These random facts are so interesting and the perfect tidbits to show off with at parties 😉

We hit up a Boulangerie (bakery) for some beautiful and fragrant baguettes. The French take baking bread so seriously that if you call yourself a Boulangerie and you don’t bake the bread on site, you can lose your business! We confirmed it was the real deal when we saw the many ovens churning out various types of bread. There’s really nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread…one of life’s great pleasures. Am I right?!

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Bakery

 

Would it be a food tour in France if we did not go to a wine shop? Nah, not to me at least! Wine is really a funny thing. Regions matter, and specific farms and terra matters. That’s why some wines are so expensive. We were given a lot of great information on how to choose a good wine, but I’m probably going to still ask the people that run the wine shops because I didn’t get THAT good.

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Wine

 

Going to a butcher isn’t for everyone, I realize that. But fresh meat is amazing in my world. P.J. picked us up lots of things to try…and some weren’t my cup of tea. But I tried them because I’m trying to push my comfort zone a bit. I’m getting so much better with trying foods since I moved to Europe. Maybe already being outside of my comfort zone helps. I don’t know. But I encourage you to try everything too! If I can do, you can too.

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre |Butcher

 

*pats self on back* I even tried a grasshopper once! Here’s the video…and yes, I am proud of it.

 

The Group Comes Together for the Tasting

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Final Tasting

 

Just around the time we were all enjoying the tour but tired of the teasing of all the good food we’ve seen, we hopped into a cafe with a bunch of seats waiting for us with wine glasses at the ready. P.J. wasted no time in supplying us with bread and wine while he, um, cut sliced the cheese up for us.

Every time I thought the tasting was over, there was more coming! We tasted so many kinds of cheeses. I was shocked he grabbed so much from the cheese shop. It really felt like we were getting a tasting platter of France. Amazing!

 

Paris Food Tour Montmartre

 

The meats went from mild (as in, you may have had it before and nothing “weird”) to me staring at it trying to figure out if I’m actually going to take a bite. That scary piece of meat was head cheese. Click the link to look it up. It’s not something I would normally eat, much less consider trying.

But here’s the evidence that I tried it:

I didn’t eat all of it and I still wouldn’t order it for myself, but I’m glad I tried it! I even convinced the woman next to me to try it. She immediately said “no!” when she heard what it was. I’m such a good food influence now apparently 😛 Would you try it?

Once all the bites from the shops had been eaten, there was still MORE! We were given crêpes before we left our seats and then went to a chocolate and macaron shop. But I was so stuffed that I kept those little treats for the train ride back to Amsterdam.

 

Final Thoughts

The tour seems to have a different agenda than most I take. It teaches you to shop in the small locally owned shops rather than taste food at various restaurants. Which is pretty awesome if you’ll spend time in France where you can use the knowledge. Maybe you can even impress a certain someone? 😉

The food was great, the wine was excellent and the tour guide was super informative. My main critique is that it would have been nice to have more socializing time with the group itself. It was almost so full of information that it was overwhelming! I would often get sucked into what he was saying and not take notes. But I also really love getting to know the others in the group, and there wasn’t too much time for that. It was a PACKED and delicious few hours.

paris_food_tour_me

What do you think of this format? Have 4-5 stops before you get to taste anything…but then you get to chow down for an hour or so? There are pros and cons to everything, for sure!

Big thanks to Secret Food Tours Paris for hosting me with this complimentary tour! Of course all views and opinions are my own.

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities

I have a dream to be a citizen of the world. That sounds as vague as it does pompous, I know. I’ve only been on two continents, and right now I only focus my travel on one…Europe.

So, I’ve examined that dream and figured out that I really want to travel the world, but feel like a local in some key places. I want to feel like I really know cities where the tourists flock, where I can help direct someone to the metro, where I can feel like I know where I’m going. This was somewhat inspired by Edna, of Expat Edna, and how she travels and lives her life. She has quite a few spots around the world she could easily settle into because she knows them so well. Such a cool way to live!

 

Jordaan

 

Amsterdam is my home now. I love it. I even love the tourists that take over the city in the summer. Though, I love them much more when they aren’t on bikes. I can help direct them, I can teach them how to use the transportation system, and I can tell them where to get the best pancakes (Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs — which I learned about from Jessica Lipowski).

I want to be able to do that for Paris and London too. I’ve been to Paris 4 times now. Places sound familiar, I kind of have the geography down, and I know how to use the metro. But I don’t have my breakfast place, my bar, or my favorite spot yet. I do know that every time I visit, I see more, and find a new appreciation for the city. Falling in love with Paris is easy. It can seem like a fairytale. The thing is…I’m falling for the real Paris too. Not just the postcard perfect version.

 

Paris Bridge

 

London is big and interesting and has so many kinds of neighborhoods. There are double-decker buses, unmistakable bridges, and a culture that enjoys some afternoon tea. To ride a double-decker and feel like it’s no big thing or cross an internationally recognized bridge and not blink an eye might just make me feel like a local.

I want to be in central London and instantly recognize where I am and how to get to point B from point A. And I want to know exactly where the best fish and chips shop is and frequent it. I freaking love fish and chips!

 

London Fence

 

The dream is to not feel lost, but to be part of the city. To fit in and not need my GPS. Bonus points if I can be recognized at my favorite spot (that I haven’t found yet).

What I don’t want is to become jaded. I still appreciate the beauty of Amsterdam and I don’t want that to ever fade. While I don’t want to gawk at the Eiffel Tower every time I see it, I still want to appreciate how French it is and join in on the festivals that happen around it.

 

Eiffel Tower Paris

 

While these other cities will probably never feel like home, I want them to feel normal and a comfortable place to be in. Travel is an amazing thing to experience and to fall in love with cities is one of the best feelings. Can’t wait to adopt Paris and London and find spots that are my own!

Have you ever felt so comfortable somewhere that isn’t your home? Where is that place?

Pin it if you share that goal!

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities

 

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How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

Planning your first trip home to visit after a year or two can be so many things! For me, it was exciting, stressful, scary, calming, familiar, and so much more that I couldn’t possibly explain, though I did try! I’m used to my new home, the customs, the food, the people, and I didn’t know how I would fit in back home or what the experience would be like.

Uncertainty is very normal. But I can assure you of two things: you will easily be able to adapt back to your home culture with your favorite foods and people, and it won’t be nearly as bad as you might think. Everyday habits and relationships you had might feel the exact same as when you left.

So, based on my experience on going home to visit about 2 years later, I give you my best advice on how to make it as awesome as possible!

Planning ahead is key

 

Euro Change

 

Money

If you still have an bank account at home, move some money into it so you can easily access ATMs and use a local debit card with no worries. We use Transferwise which is amazing! After using it for 2 years, I can say it only gets better! Just be sure you have a current debit card and know your PIN number.

 

plane wing

Travel Insurance

If you wouldn’t normally have access to health insurance, then I highly recommend getting some travel insurance. Not only will it cover things like lost luggage, but the right one can cover accidents or illness that happen to you! I almost used it in the United States…the land of absurdly high healthcare costs. But I got over-the-counter medicines instead. I did email them to ask if I would be covered in my case, and that assured me that I was, that I just needed to keep the receipts. That piece of mind was well worth (what I consider) a cheap price! World Nomads seems to have great reviews and is who we used for our coverage.

 

Cell Phone

Cell phone plan

After failing so miserably at this, I hope you learn from my mistakes! Figure out your phone situation before you leave. Are you okay with going WiFi only or will you need a SIM card with the ability to call and text while having data? The AT&T and Verizon options were so not helpful in the U.S. so I would look elsewhere to find the right plan for you. Personal hot spots are pretty popular, and I know The Planet D loves KnowRoaming, so everything is worth looking into what fits you best.

 

ebags luggage

Bag-in-a-bag

We left some things in storage when we left the United States because we didn’t know what kind of space we would have in our new place. So, we used the bag-in-a-bag trick! Pack a smaller bag in a bigger bag, then you have two suitcases to bring stuff back in. We also did some shopping for ourselves, and grabbed some food favorites as well. Those bags were certainly PACKED when we came back to Amsterdam.

 

Friendship Shot

Planning your time

This might be the hardest part and also the part that upsets people the most. Determine where you will be, and for how long and plan your visits around that. Just don’t overdo it!! You need time to yourself, and time to not be “on”. Honestly, it’s exhausting going from place to place and seeing almost everyone in your life within a week or two.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s an amazing thing to see so many people in a short time, it just takes a lot of energy. One way that helped us was to have a cookout at a local park and invited everyone to bring a side dish while we made hot dogs. It was a great way to see so many people, have a great event outside, and to see all the new babies! And since it was in the one town we spend most of our time, many people knew each other, so it was a great catch-up for them too. Win-win!

Of course family lunches and dinner are awesome, too. Seeing family and eating the home-cooked food you’ve probably been craving for as long as you’ve been gone is pretty much heaven! Don’t forget to add snuggle time for any pets that have missed you while you’ve been gone.

Tip: Don’t forget to take photos when you visit home!

Eggs and Grits

Do you need to prepare for culture shock?

 

I’ve asked around about this, and for us, after living in Europe, we did not experience culture shock. Quite the opposite actually! It was like we went on a month-long vacation and came back. EVERYTHING was normal.

I mean everything. From driving, to ordering my usual meal from Chick-Fil-A. Navigating the roads I grew up on and spend my adult life on took zero effort.

Many things were simply automatic…like muscle memory. Unconsciously when driving to where we were staying, I ended up making a wrong turn because I was going back to our old apartment. That’s how normal it all was.

As Sean said “The weirdest part is that nothing is weird!

However, I’ve had friends from the same area who spend a year in Asia and came back and experienced quite a bit of culture shock. It seems that when the culture is that different, then you may need to have some time to adjust. But it also depends on the person as well.

 

Friendships from home

What to talk about

So…you’re back! You’re excited to share your many adventures! But don’t spill everything all the time. I mean, you want to know what they’ve been up to as well, right? Take a breath and let your friends and family talk. I’m sure they will have plenty of specific questions for you!

I can almost guarantee one of those will be “Are you fluent yet?” You might also get “When are you moving home?” Yep, things can get heavy pretty quickly.

The best thing to do if you’re not sure, is just to say it! Being so far away is a big deal for the people who love you. Be honest. I’m not sure when or if I’ll move back. I mean, I’m happy now, and I have so much more traveling to do. That’s one of the reasons I moved, so that’s what I’m doing!

Don’t bug your friends and family to visit you. Of course you can mention it, but don’t pressure! Not everyone has the means or time to take a long or far trip. It might be a good idea to let people know if you can host them. We had a bit of a misunderstanding at some point, because we are currently not able to host in our tiny place, so just be clear about it!

Ask about them! Have they been on a trip recently? Have kids been born since you left? Marriages? New jobs? Have they moved homes? There is so much to ask them! See if you can find out 3 new things about them, and really listen.

 

TravelShoot_Amsterdam_Bench

Photo courtesy of TravelShoot

Prepare for the guilt

Do your best to not feel guilty for living the life you live.

This is so hard!

Yes, you are away from friends and family who love you and you love them. But I believe they want us to be happy. At least I hope so! This makes us happy. It’s a pain in the butt sometimes, but for the most part, I am the happiest I’ve ever been. If they know that, hopefully they will be happy for you.

Do your best to not feel guilty for living the life you live. Click To Tweet

How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

Have you already been back to visit? I’d love to know how it went for you on your first trip. Was it easy or did it feel weird?

5 Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam

5 Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a pretty loveable city. When you visit the Netherlands, you should definitely spend time in this city, I’ve even created an entire city guide for you! While you’re based in Amsterdam, there are a few possible day trips that you shouldn’t overlook if you want a varied and enjoyable experience.

In the Netherlands as in the rest of Europe, it’s easy to hop from city to city and have an amazing trip. While there’s a bunch of things to do in Amsterdam when visiting, if you want to have a little more Dutch culture in your life, there are plenty of day trips to take. From the beautiful canals and houses of tiny Geithoorn, to the center of Dutch politics in The Hague, there are so many different varieties of day trip to choose from!

 

Giethoorn

House in Giethoorn

 

This town makes everyone fall head-over-heels. Make time when you visit Amsterdam to visit Giethoorn, especially in the spring or summer. It’s a little farther away from the city, but I promise it’s worth it! From every angle you could easily create a postcard…it really is that pretty! It’s the village with no roads, and in this part of the town, it’s all about the footpaths and canals. Take your time. It’s not very big!

Tip: If you’re an early bird, catch a train as early as you can. But if you’re a night owl, stay as late at you can. Tourists are mainly around between 10 am and 6 pm.

Related: Day Trip to Giethoorn

 

Alkmaar

Alkmaar Day Trip

 

This small town in North Holland is only about 35 minutes north of Amsterdam by train (which really is the best way to travel in the Netherlands). There are so many cute, adorable corners if you make your way from the central Cheese Market that makes Alkmaar so famous.

Tip: Take the canal cruise, just be aware of the super low bridges. We had to get on the bottom of the boat because the boat barely fit under some of the bridges!

Related: Alkmaar: Cheese Market in North Holland

Alkmaar: Canal Cruising in Low Places

 

Haarlem

Haarlem Houses on a Canal

 

I’ve heard Haarlem called the little sister to Amsterdam, but it really has it’s own personality. It’s beautiful, has a few of its own water ways, and a great market on the weekend. Haarlem is much quieter than Amsterdam, and there’s just something about it that exudes an incredible amount of charm. With a train trip that’s only 15-20 minutes, you can hop over to explore for an afternoon.

 

Tip: Haarlem has a beautiful Christmas market that is a must-visit if you’re in the area during the Christmas Season.

Related: Historic Haarlem

Utrecht

Utrecht Day Trip

 

If you adore canal-side drinking or dining, then you will love Utrecht! There is a lively area by the water with shopping and restaurants. Head down toward the water for a wonderful ambiance for a meal. For a different adventure, head up the 465 steps in the Dom Tower for an amazing view of the city!

Tip: For a unique experience, head to Belgisch Bier Café Olivier for a drink. It’s a bar that was converted from a church.

Related: Outside the Limits: Utrecht

The Hague

The Hague - De Passage

 

Seems like a lot of people overlook The Hague. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t seem like a place for tourists, but instead a place for politics. That couldn’t be further from the truth! There are beautiful quaint roads, awesome and unique shopping areas, great restaurants, and the nearby Scheveningen with its beach and The Pier.

Tip: Visit The Rough Kitchen in The Pier for amazing BBQ (American style)

Related: A Day in The Hague: Without The Politics

Rotterdam

Rotterdam Day Trip

 

This port town has some personality! Stunning bridges, eclectic buildings, split-level outdoor shopping areas, and fun food halls make Rotterdam a very interesting place to visit. You’ll find mostly modern buildings due to the destruction during World War II. This is definitely a place to walk a bit, take a tram or metro, then walk some more. Just take it all in!

Tip: Take a waterbus…it’s fun!

Related: YouTube – Exploring Rotterdam // Girls’ Day! 


Those are just 5 possible day trips from Amsterdam, and there are many more cool spots to visit in the Netherlands! Amsterdam is a great city to explore for a few days, and with so many day trips, you could easily spend a week or more in Holland. What are you waiting for?

5 Day Trips from Amsterdam Pin

Practical Gift Guide for Travelers

Practical Gift Guide for Travelers

I am the worst at picking out gifts. It’s just not a natural gift I was given (hehehe–pun intended!). Gift giving is super easy when you see something and it screams “Buy me for Sean!”, but honestly, that doesn’t happen all that often. Listening and taking notes when people intentionally or unintentionally give hints is the best way to figure out that gift that someone really wants and will actually use. I used to visit gift guide websites which were somewhat helpful but sometimes they just pick a theme and go after it…like maps.

I like maps like most travelers. They are a great representation of travel, as are planes and compasses. But if people travel a lot, they probably don’t want or need more “things”, they need practical travel items.

You can still get stuck trying to be practical! I’ve seen great gift guides for travelers but even my family probably wouldn’t pay the price for the premium items suggested. Who wouldn’t love a new camera or a $1,000 tripod? If you’re offering, I’m more than happy to accept 🙂 But I’m pretty sure most people aren’t giving $1,000 gifts.

So, here you go, the practical gift guide for travelers!

This post contains affiliate links that help keep this website running at no additional cost to you. Many of these items link I personally use and others are of great quality and have great reviews. Thank you for understanding!


Noise Canceling Headphones

Especially for long flights, noise canceling headphones are essential! There are many different kinds from in-ear (like ear buds), on ear that sit right on top but the surface is small, and around ear which basically encompasses the ear. There are many different brands as well, some of the best that I’ve seen and read about are Sennheiser, Bose, AudioTechnica, Samsung, Sony. Though the range is from $80-$350, I would try to spend at least $150 to get a quality pair of headphones.

If you really want to impress, get ones that have Bluetooth so you can ditch the cord, and a microphone so it can also be used with a phone or for Skype on the computer or tablet. Rechargeable or with a battery is a decision you’ll have to make. I have one with a AAA battery so when it dies, I can just get a new one and recharge the battery. Sean has to charge his headphones ahead of time and if he’s not near a USB charger, he’s out of luck if his battery dies.

 

Kindle e-reader


How many books can you fit on a Kindle? More than you can read on any trip! I know some people just love their paperback books and will take them with them no matter how heavy their bag gets. But for those who pack light, want to pack light, or prefer ebooks (as I do), this is a great gift! From travel guidebooks, to non-fiction, to fantasy, reading helps pass the time while in transit and can be calming after a frustrating day.

Don’t forget the amazon gift card so they can grab a couple books right away!

 

Luggage tag

 

This might not sound like a big deal, but if you ever get stuck at the check-in counter and have to fill in one of their luggage tags, then you know the pain. Get a nice, durable, even cute luggage tag for your traveler. Bonus points if it makes the bag more noticeable coming off the luggage belt!

 

Luggage scale

 

Nobody should pay more than they need to for baggage! This luggage scale helps prevent the overage charges. Whether flying a budget airline and want to be sure your carry-on doesn’t get taken away and put in the hold, or just don’t want to go over the allotted 23 kg for your checked bag and pay a ridiculous amount in fees, these are a must have! Takes all the guessing out of the luggage game, and as the opinion of someone who tried the hold-the-luggage-as-you-get-on-the-scale game, don’t let anyone go through that frustration. It’s not pretty and sometimes involves bruises.

 

Packing cubes

Packing cubes help your luggage stay oh-so-beautifully organized. Not to mention because you stuff the cubes, you can probably even fit more in the bag. You’ll probably even be helping TSA out when they randomly search your checked bag. Oh wait, is that just me who gets search every.single.time? I won’t even get into the story about when they un-bubble-wrapped my wine. Anyway, organization–yes, this is a luggage win.

 

Skype credits

skype

This can even be a selfish gift! Give Skype credits so they can call you while they are away…win-win? I think so. As long as they are on wi-fi, they can call a phone from their phone for super cheap when using Skype. OR if you are tech-savvy, video Skype and see their face! Huge bonus if they find wi-fi and video call you while at some cool spot that they get to show you!

 

Power bank

Techy travelers burn the battery life in their phones or tablets super fast. Grab them a good power bank to keep them going and updating social media with awesome photos that you can’t wait to see. I say “good” power bank because some hold more power than others and can even charge a phone multiple times on one charge.

 

RFID passport protector

You can never be too careful with your passport. This is a great accessory for any traveler. The RFID pouch can be used to hold a passport or two and a few credit or ID cards that also might have an RFID chip in them. My passport stays in one of these all the time because you just never know. If you are unfamiliar with RFID, here’s a post on it. But basically, these protectors block anyone from skimming the electronic information from anything inside that has RFID technology. Better safe than sorry!

 

EyeFi Wi-Fi SD memory card

 

This EyeFi memory card is a great gift for someone who loves social media and to share photos, but prefers to use an actual camera to take photos instead of their phone. You may need to do some investigating for this one because this memory card is for cameras who don’t already use wi-fi and many of the newer models do have this feature. If you can find out what camera they have and if this is handy, it’s an amazing gift! I adore mine because I can send photos without going through my computer…which I don’t usually travel with.

 

PacSafe Bags

Want your friend or family member to feel safe? Then PacSafe bags are what you should be looking at. Mine is always my day bag because it is the most secure bag I own. From slash-proof straps, an eXomesh skeleton, to a clip that lets you hook the bag to something heavy or immovable, it gives a crazy amount of peace of mind!

 

Experiences

Hot Air Balloon

When is a gift certificate a bad idea? I’m pretty sure that’s never! But this gift certificate from Tinggly is special, because it’s something they can experience rather than keep. Here at A Wanderlust For Life, we are all about having experiences that give you special memories. This is the gift for that! There are so many kinds to give, but Tinggly has so many options that the world is open to your giftee. And I’m certain they will love you for it!

Gifts should be thoughtful, personal, and Always have the person receiving the gift in mind. Many people are starting to want a smaller quantity of things and more things of quality or experiences! Give a gift that really puts a smile on their face!

I hope this is helpful for anyone doing the holiday or birthday shopping. Please let me know in the comments what the best gift you’ve ever been given has been, and maybe what the best gift you’ve given was. Would you like to add anything else to this list? Let me know!

Happy shopping!

 


gifts for travelers birthday

Nordic Flavors on a Stockholm Food Tour

Nordic Flavors on a Stockholm Food Tour

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the best way to experience a different culture is to eat the food! We’ve seen it in Berlin with the influence of Turkish food, in Barcelona with dishes I didn’t even know were Catalan, and even found cuisines that have snuck into London! Take a food tour on one of your first days because if you fall in love with a bite of something, you‘ll have time to go back and enjoy an entire meal!

Food Tours Stockholm

 

For this tour, we’re in Stockholm taking the Nordic Experience food tour from Food Tours Stockholm. While there’s a handful of tours available (I’m looking at how amazing the sweets tour looks), this tour gave an amazing overview of Nordic dishes. Not only that, we had some foods that people fight for tables over! Kind of felt like a VIP 😉

 

Food Tours Stockholm Fish Soup

 

We started at the Hötorgshallen which reminds me a bit of the Markt Hall in Rotterdam and the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. It was fun having five of our stops in one spot! It’s good to stick tightly with the group here and I felt like I was in the way a bit, but once you start eating, it’s easier to find yourself in your own little world!

 

Stockholm Food Tour Game Meat

 

Our first bites were game meat. I’m not one to usually enjoy game meat. My family always tried to get me to eat deer and I tried it once…never again! But I try it all while on the food tour, so I tried reindeer, moose, and even bear! I never thought I would eat bear, but it was delicious. I could have eaten everyone’s samples and been happy. This is the perfect time to try new things because you just never know if you’ll love it!

 

Stockholm Food Tour Cheese

 

From meat to cheese to a Finnish treat, we were still inside the market. The Karelian pasty (Finnish treat) was nothing like I’d ever seen before! A pastry with a rice pudding topped with an egg mousse. I didn’t know what to expect from the taste, but it was very mild with no strong egg flavor.

 

Stockholm Food Tour Finnish Treat

 

Then it all went fishy and the alcohol started to flow. Two types of herring that had completely different flavors and a piece of salmon that was delicious had my stomach ready for more. This fish stall knows how to do their thing…leaving you to wanting to buy some to take with you. We ate, drank, and sang at this stall and there were so many Instagram-worthy moments. But I do love my photo-in-a-photo with Skye Class.

 

stockholm_food_tours_pic_in_pic

 

When we left the market, I was a little sad because I knew there was so much more to try and buy! But my disappointment left as soon as the man at Urban Deli started talking. Sean and I instantly fell for this part store-part restaurant-part bar environment. They use fresh ingredients, make most things homemade and the staff is given a lot of freedom to experiment. So you could ask for something off-the-wall and get something amazing! They even have a butcher on site…and that’s why we had some beef tartare. It was beautiful and I kind of liked it…tartare isn’t my favorite thing because of the texture. But the flavor was on point and still made me want to go back (and we did!).

 

Food Tours Stockholm Tartare

 

I don’t want to give away the entire tour, but I will say that we discovered one of the best places for Swedish meatballs (better than IKEA!), some drool-worthy chocolate, cookies, more meats and cheeses, and even had a grande finale in a dungeon with coffee and tea and treats that I wished were much bigger because they were amazingly delicious!

 

Food Tours Stockholm Swedish Meatballs

 

Here are some photos so you get a peek at the tour…but watch that drool!

 

Food Tours Stockholm Meat Tray stockholm_food_tour_fish_tasting

Stockholm Food Tour with Bread Food Tours Stockholm Dessert

This was a complimentary tour thanks to Food Tours Stockholm, Visit Stockholm and TBEX, which we thoroughly enjoyed. All opinions are my own and we are so grateful for the opportunity to experience this food tour so we can share it with you!

 

Expat Life: Our First Trip Home

Expat Life: Our First Trip Home

After two years and many travels around Europe, we finally visited our friends and family in the United States. About 2 years and 3 months ago we decided Amsterdam would be our new home and had not set immediate plans to go back for a visit. We were looking ahead to our adventures (and struggles) and weren’t ready to get back to U.S. soil for a while. It had nothing to do with the people, and we weren’t escaping life, it was just that we had so much to do and see once we moved.  

 

It Starts Scary

 

First Trip Home as an Expat

 

I read a lot about reverse culture shock, and how you don’t fit in with your family and friends anymore. How everything is strange and your culture doesn’t feel right anymore. I was terrified to drive considering I hadn’t driven in 2 years and had barely even been in a car!

Planning to see so many people who we weren’t sure if they cared enough to see us was nerve-wracking. What would people think of us? Would we be pressured to move back right away? Could we make time for everyone?

 

Then Gets Exciting

 

First trip home as an expat meeting up with friends

 

In the town we became adults and created our lives, we planned a potluck picnic in a park. I even had help from one of the most influential people in my life, my former boss. After 3 years of working together, she felt more like family than a colleague, and that showed with all she did for me. I was getting excited to see a bunch of friends from “our” town together in one place. I think we missed these people so much because this town and the people in it were part of our everyday life for 7 years!

 

Friendships

 

Friends would write and say how excited they were that we were visiting…and THAT made me excited. Everyone wants to be wanted, right? Yes. Absolutely.

Family was getting excited to see us too. We scheduled out where we would be and when to see as many people as we possibly could. It was so nice to see everyone and I was so happy we were able to visit!

 

Nothing’s Changed

 

Wildwood Park

 

The funny thing is, when we were in “our” town, nothing had really changed. The town is exactly how we left it…aside from a bit of construction. People had changed and families got bigger, but everything felt normal. The weirdest part about going home was that nothing felt weird. We’d eat where we’d normal eat, and go where we’d normally go.

 

Eggs and Grits

 

The best way I can describe it is that we were away for a month or two. We didn’t see family every weekend, so heading up to see them felt regular and the timing felt right Grandma’s and mom’s food tasted the same, the dogs remembered me, and I instinctively knew where everything was.

 

Autopilot

 

Sean and Jess at Wildwood

One of the strangest things that happened was that we were headed back to where we were staying and I was at a stop light in the left turn lane. I turned to Sean and said “I don’t know why I’m in the left turn lane, I need to go straight.” He said, “You are driving to our old apartment.” He was right! Autopilot took over and I was headed “home”!

Driving was an incredibly natural feeling, and my only issue was figuring out how to turn on the lights. But even then, once parked, I went to turn them off and I went to turn them off where my old car had its lights. Muscle memory had taken over.

We even easily navigated to the park where we took our first photo as a couple, and took a picture in the same spot about 12 years later. After visiting our alma mater, it seems like the right thing to do! I wish I had the first picture to show you, but I’m afraid that’s not digital and buried somewhere in a box in Virginia!

 

Finally Seeing the Family

Mountains of the Shenandoah ValleySeeing family is bittersweet. It’s amazing to see everyone, get hugs, and eat the amazing food we remembered. But, when you say goodbye, it’s hard.

Everyone has questions…though sometimes it felt like a quiz or the 20 questions game. Where are you working? What do you do? How do you like Amsterdam? When are you coming back? Obviously, some questions are harder than others. We are lucky enough that all of one side of my family came together for a family lunch just before we flew out again. It was awesome to see everyone in such a great mood and have everyone together under one roof.

 

Our Social Circle

Friendship Shot

 

Our picnic was awesome! We were surrounded by those who choose to be in our lives a long time ago…and they still like us! 🙂 We are so grateful to have friends that took time out of their inevitably busy schedules to spend an afternoon with us. Our friends-family grew while we were gone too! Three kids joined the party that had not been born yet when we left. How cool is that?! As one friend put it, *pointing to her daughter* “You’ve been gone that long!” since her daughter was born a week or so after we left.

 

Friendships from home

 

As with most parties, it is so hard to be able to spend time with everyone. I left feeling a bit guilty not talking long enough to some people. Since there was two of us, I had just hoped that Sean was able to spend time with those I didn’t get to talk to much. But, I love them all and look forward to seeing them again!

 

What We Brought Back

 

Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery

 

A suitcase in a suitcase. That’s the trick to going home and coming back with a bunch of stuff you left behind!  Never underestimate the shopping to be done where you know all the stores, the brands, and your size in everything! We hit clothing stores, shoe stores, and even some specialty stores while we were in the U.S. Let’s be real, it’s cheaper there and easier to get in and out when you know what you are looking for.

In addition to a shopping spree, we dug through our stuff that we store at my family’s house. Until we get a place with more space, it has to stay there. But we did leave without a lot of our memories. The one type of things we desperately wanted to bring back were our Christmas ornaments. They are so special to us and we hated not having them for 2 years. Now we’ll feel extra Christmasy this year!

This might surprise you, but we brought back wine. Before you go all crazy on us for bring wine from the U.S. to Europe where wine is relatively cheap, let me explain. In Virginia we have favorite wineries, some we visited every 4-6 months for a tasting and to see what was available for purchase since they are small and don’t sell everywhere. It was a great trip to spend a bit of time away from our town and into the back road of central Virginia. This winery is Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery where they make true to fruit wines and meads. I haven’t seen this stuff in Europe yet! If you know of any, let us know!

So, we brought melon wine, plum wine, and some spiced pumpkin mead. This is good stuff, and traditional wine lovers might not love this idea, but if it’s good, then why not? I don’t care what you call it, but we love it and are so glad we brought some back with us. A cool glass of melon wine on a super hot day in Amsterdam brings me back to a steamy day in the South. Super refreshing and absolutely perfect.

 

Until Next Time

 

Until our next trip to the US

 

I don’t know when our next trip to the U.S. will be and that’s okay. The hardest part about vacation days is when to use them for vacation or to go back and visit. Our move to Amsterdam is largely because we want to travel, so that is what we plan on doing. It is what makes us happy.

Life will always be full of adventure, excitement, frustrations, love, and friendship no matter where we go. We are just lucky enough to have people on two continents that love and support us and have our backs at any time. The downside is that at any moment, we are not with people we care about, and that may just be the hardest part of being an expat…living two lives.

Are you an expat, or traveled extensively, to return home and feel different? What’s your story?

 

That Time We Closed A Berlin Bar

That Time We Closed A Berlin Bar

Everyone’s travel experience is unique. You might want something different out of a visit to Berlin than I might want. Some people go for the nightlife, some for the history, and others for the monuments. And sometimes, things just happen…like that time we closed a Berlin bar.

This is one of those stories that is just a story. It’s a memory for me and a demonstration to you that when you keep your mind open, happy things can happen that you could have never imagined.


We went to see a lots of historical sights because they are part of recent history that we don’t want to see repeated. But after a day of hard core life, we decided to go to a local institution. It’s an old bar/restaurant with not much on the menu except delicious schnitzel and a bunch of German beers. It’s no secret we love food! I mean, we even did a Berlin Food Tour with Bite Berlin to get a taste of the city. But nothing can give you that authentic feel as much as wandering into a local dive bar on your own.

It all started innocently enough. We made a reservation, but showed up and they didn’t have it. We got lucky though and a table just opened up for four people and he asked if we minded sharing with two others (another couple). We wanted to eat and we’re used to tight restaurant spaces, so why not?

The whole meal was delicious but uneventful. We knew the woman was German but couldn’t quite figure out where the man she was with was from. A few times we asked her a question of what something was on the menu since she was speaking English to the man and knew she could understand us.

Berlin_Bar_Adventure

After the last bite, something happened and we all got in a conversation. I don’t remember what any of it was about, but it lasted a long time! We learned about them, they learned about us and we just sat there refilling our drinks as we went. The server/bartender/manager guy loved interacting with us so we had no problem just hanging out. He would joke with us and with me about not drinking beer (I’m sorry, I just don’t like it!) and even joined us for a bit.

We all drank fairly slowly, but then, another German joined us. I honestly have no clue where he came from. Nobody knew him, but the woman we were with invited him to join our very enthusiastic table. Someone bought shots for the entire table, and not even 20 minutes later, someone else bought shots for the whole table.

I remember one tasted like mouthwash, and I couldn’t even tell you what the other was. About that time I realized that everyone else had left. It was just our table of five at the point hanging out with the server/bartender/manager guy. Obviously we were feeling good, full, and happy we made new friends, so of course we took a photo! So, here’s us, all behind the bar of this local German restaurant/bar in Berlin.

Berlin_Bar_Adventure

It’s seriously one of the best travel experiences. Lesson: Be open for random encounters. Obviously stay safe (and we were), but enjoy meeting new people and open for spontaneity.

Travel Lesson: Be open for random encounters. Click To Tweet

What is the best experience you’ve ever had with strangers while traveling?