Earlier this year I read American War by Omar El-Akkad, a speculative novel about the Second American Civil War, taking place in the late 21st century.
One detail that struck me the most was that the capital had been moved to Columbus, Ohio. The reason? Storms had made Washington unlivable.
Looking at the wild hurricane season we've had this month, it's a reminder that climate change is an absolute emergency and one that cannot be ignored. The Paris Climate Agreement is a vital step, but we need to make sacrifices on an individual basis as well.
Turning off the lights when you leave a room is one thing -- but it doesn't make nearly as big an impact as switching to a plant-based diet, giving up your car, living in an apartment as opposed to a house, or especially choosing not to have biological children. As someone who flies a lot, admittedly for both work and pleasure, I'm looking into ways I can make a better impact on the environment.
The most effective change I can make right now? Eating less meat. I'm reducing little by little, and hopefully eating a LOT less meat a few months down the line. If everyone reduced their meat intake (not even giving it up completely!), it would make a major impact on the planet.
Are you making any changes in your life?
Wow. Ryanair, you've REALLY messed up this time.
40-50 flights PER DAY are going to be cancelled over SIX WEEKS. Due to an error on their part. What idiots.
This is the company that always gets into the news for saying things like, "Maybe we'll start charging a pound to use the bathroom!" or "Maybe we'll do standing-room only seats!" and dominates a news cycle, lapping up the negative publicity, then never doing anything about it. They're basically the Ann Coulter of airlines.
This is next level, though.
They have announced the list of canceled flights. See whether yours is on it here.
Did you know that there's a conspiracy theory that Finland doesn't actually exist? Like, people legitimately think it's made up.
Finland is real, my friends. You couldn't make this shit up.
Congrats to my bud Oneika the Traveller on her first Travel Channel episode! The series is called Big City, Little Budget and her first episode is about midtown Manhattan on a budget!
It's September, which means it's time to start thinking about winter travel! Where do you want to go this year?
I'm thinking of doing some Caribbean island-hopping, maybe a two-week trip to Trinidad to Barbados. And I'd love to visit Brazil -- perhaps it's finally time! Beyond that, is be open to some (short!) snowy getaways this year.
Happy Saturday, everyone! Hope you're enjoying your weekend.
Today I'm attending West Harlem Immersion -- an event promoting several of the small businesses in my neighborhood. Basically, pay $25 and you get a million beers. FUN TIMES. I may be slightly intoxicated as I write this.
Anyway, I walk into my local gallery, Gitler & _____, and the owner says, "Oh, you're the travel blogger!" I hadn't said anything, so I assumed he knew me through my sister, who also lives in Harlem and visits the gallery periodically.
But turns out he knew me from the owner of a wonderful coffee shop in my neighborhood, The Monkey Cup. So crazy to walk into a building and BE KNOWN.
This is what I missed for several years -- having a neighborhood, having neighbors, who tell me what their neighborhood was like 30 years ago, who let me play with their dogs, who talk with me about politics and laugh uproariously. Giving up full-time travel to settle in a beautiful neighborhood was absolutely the right decision. I haven't regretted it once.
I really enjoyed my time in Kiev! This city has a lot of style and more gold-topped churches than seem advisable. 😉 And of course...cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap.
Hope you enjoy these photos, and thanks to JayWay Travel for showing me an awesome time in Ukraine.
Happy I-quit-my-job-aversary to me! Seven (SEVEN!) years ago today, I picked up my belongings and walked out of my office.
I never went back. I never got a real job again. A little over a month later, I left for Southeast Asia; the blog took off while I was there and by the time I got home, I was making enough money to get by.
That, of course, is the short story. It was a TOUGH slog to get to where I am now. The short version doesn't talk about living off credit cards and press trips, of badgering clients for late payments because I was literally down to the fumes of my bank account, of stretching lentils and pasta into three days' worth of meals.
But things are much better now. When I got started, all I wanted was to make $1000 a month so I could afford to live in Southeast Asia. It wasn't even until 2014 that I started making more than enough to barely get by. My life changed; my goals changed. Somewhere along the way I decided to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world.
I'm glad I did it. But I was only able to do it because I was laser-focused on becoming a professional travel blogger, to the exclusion of all other priorities. My life isn't like that anymore. I value too many different things now. Call it getting into your thirties. I'm thankful to be in a position where I no longer have to live and breathe my job every minute of every day in order to survive.
Here's to seven years of self-employment. May there be many more!
Just two days ago I publish a post mentioning that female travel photographers don't get a fraction of the recognition they deserve, and now Nikon reveals that their 32 new ambassadors are all men.
32 ambassadors. All men. With numbers like that, it seems like they intentionally excluded women, but I've seen it happen on its own in the travel blogging industry far too often.
So many blog posts saying, "Here are my 20 favorite photographers" -- all men. So many conferences with all-male speakers on photography. So many events where the only place a woman is given a platform is in the context of Instagram -- because apparently a woman can only talk photography if it's about getting shots of yourself twirling through a field of sunflowers in a purple dress.
I would LOVE to see Kristin Repsher Photography or Geotraveler's Niche - Lola Akinmade Åkerström speak on photography at a travel blogging event, or even be referred to on the lists of top travel photographers. What does it take for women to get the recognition they deserve?
To my 20-something and younger readers: I've got news for you. Everything gets more difficult after 30. Surviving hangovers. Losing weight. Sleeping in less-than-ideal conditions. And, I've recently found, recovering from jet lag.
It's my third day back and I'm fighting to stay awake past 9 PM.
To my fellow 30+ readers, what would you add to the list?
It's pretty rare for me to watch a good movie on a plane (I usually read and work, and if I watch anything, it's stupid comedies or middling rom-coms), but the other day I decided to watch Whiplash on the way back to America.
The time I watched Whiplash is represented by the yellow. Most stressful movie I've ever seen!!!
Here's a topic that isn't discussed often enough. Female bloggers often find themselves bending over backwards to accommodate their readers. How far is too far?
It's time for me to board my flight home. No time to write a novel here, but I just wanted to say thank you for coming with me on this journey to Finland, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia. I hope you enjoyed the stories and I look forward to unpacking more of the trip in the next coming weeks.
What incredible luck that Key West wasn't hit as hard as predicted. The Hemingway House survived; the house's curator and all 54 six-toed Hemingway cats are safe.
The Keys will need a lot of help recovering, however. The upper and middle Keys were on Irma's fiercer side and saw a lot more flooding and damage.
Here's a hard truth that nobody is talking about: Florida is going to get a ton of funding post-hurricane. Texas is, too, for Harvey. But the US Virgin Islands were hit far harder by Irma and they have already been forgotten.
I have friends who live on the island of St. John. Irma utterly destroyed St. John. And it's just as American as the rest of the country, but because it's only a territory and not a state, it won't receive either the attention or the funding that Florida will.
I know I ask you guys for a lot in these disaster-prone times. But I do know that if we can afford to travel the world, and go on cool tours, and eat nice food in nice restaurants or drink buckets on the beach in Thailand, we can afford to make a donation to people in dire need. St. John is in dire need. And nobody is paying attention.
My friends on St. John have recommended donating to the two destinations listed here, where money goes direct to people on the ground working to fulfill urgent needs on St. John immediately:
If you have $10, or $25, they could use it. Especially since Florida is going to dominate the news over the next week or so.
This footage of Hurricane Irma is incredibly frightening. Everyone needs to see it.
To all those in Irma's path, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones.
I'm safely back in Helsinki and I have two nights here before flying back to New York.
The verdict on the St. Peter Line cruise to St. Petersburg and back? I'm glad I did it, but I never want to do it again.
Getting to visit Russia visa-free AND having the freedom to move about as I pleased, not in a tightly controlled group tour, made it worth it. It was just a teaser with one night in St. Petersburg, but I'd love to come back and see more. The city was awesome.
But the cruise? Ick. Dated as hell, stuck in either the early 90s or late 70s. And nobody knew what was going on -- nobody knew where to disembark, or what time the boat arrived, or basic things like that. There were no written materials, guides, or schedules for guests, and almost no announcements were made. I had to spend a lot of time looking stuff up on the website because the staff had no clue!
I could deal with that for two nights -- but my bed was extremely uncomfortable and my room was located right beneath the club, so I got "YMCA" vibrating through my room until late, both nights, despite early debarkation times, and I couldn't sleep.
So yes. I'm glad I did it -- but this cruise is in "one and done" territory for me. I plan on writing a long, comprehensive post about it because the information about it on the internet is so sparse and limited.
This past winter, I had an awesome time on Mayo Beach in St. Maarten. Today, the beach has disappeared as the result of Hurricane Irma. These before and after photos broke my heart.
People in the Caribbean are going to be hurting from this for a LONG time. Remember that there are more places affected than just Texas and Florida. Some of these islands have been nearly wiped out.
St. Petersburg is one of my new favorite European cities! So much grandeur. I always say that every city likes to think it's like Paris -- but St. Petersburg is the closest thing to Paris I've ever found. Very similar feeling. Gorgeous architecture and the locals dress SO well. And the Hermitage was SO good, I'm in a puddle just thinking about it.
I'm now back on the cruise, heading back to Helsinki. Immigration was thankfully fast and without incident. I'll be renewing my passport as soon as I get home.
Also, I walked up to the bar and the bartender grinned and held up a champagne glass. YES. My reputation precedes me! And then I couldn't get online so he gave me the secret free boat wifi. 🥂😈
And this is why Rick Steves is one of my top role models. He is proof that it's possible to run a successful business encouraging people to travel, while also being loud and vocal about political issues important to him.
There are SO many things European governments do far better than the United States, from healthcare to climate change policy. This is another example: Switzerland's drug policy, which encourages treatment over incarceration.
I see things in America happening on a state-by-state basis, and I'm very proud that my home state of Massachusetts tends to be the pioneer on many issues.
What $62 per night buys you in St. Petersburg -- a room in a cute boutique hotel a short walk from St. Isaac's Square.
Not the most exciting room in the world, but very cute -- and there's a painting with a cool fluffy cat on it!
There is also a big communal kitchen for the hotel guests, so I fully expect the Chinese guests to be making lots of noodles this evening.
The good news: I'm in Russia! The bad news: after visiting 63 countries successfully with my shipwreck-damaged passport, which has a few messy pages with Cambodian stamps on it, Russia was the first country that actually cared about the state of it and they almost didn't let me in. Again -- 63 countries never said a THING, then the 64th almost doesn't let me in. Then they grilled me about my job.
Then they asked why I had been to the U.K. so many times from 2011-2014. (Not touching that one.)
It was harrowing and for awhile I didn't think they'd let me in. But they did. Country #74. Yay.
Man, this trip has been hairier than Robin Williams. I'm looking forward to getting home soon. But first: the Hermitage and the Mariinsky Ballet!
Time to disembark in Russia! This cruise was interesting. There is NO information anywhere about where to go or what to do. I thought I'd be cool if I got to the debarkation point 30 minutes early -- OH HOW WRONG I WAS. It's a madhouse. I'm afraid I'll be in line for hours at immigration.
Not a great night's sleep.My bed's springs dug into my back and the club above my room was blasting "YMCA" late into the night. Glad I opted for a hotel in the city tonight rather than coming back to the boat.
When it's your job to share happy travel stories on social media, it can often feel flippant or insensitive to be sharing pretty photos and funny stories when there is so much suffering going on in the world.
This is just to let you know that I haven't forgotten you.
To all those in Irma's path in the Caribbean and Florida, please be safe. Don't be a hero at the expense of your life. Take care of yourselves. I'm especially thinking of my friends in the Keys and Puerto Rico.
DREAMERs, I will do everything I can to keep you in your country, because this is your country. We need to push for real legislation ASAP, and I think it will happen, but if that fails, I'll do literally anything to keep you here.
To those who are suffering and come to my site for escapism, I hope it gets better for you somehow.
And for those of us who can afford to help, with our money or our time or our voice or just our ears, let's do more.
Took the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki today. Two hours, 20 euros, and it's a bloody CRUISE SHIP complete with multiple bands and performers! On a two-hour journey!
This ship is full of Finns lugging back cheap booze. I heard that won't be for much longer, though, as Estonia will be raising liquor taxes. So the Finns are now exploring cruises to Riga, because of course they are.
So if you're visiting Helsinki or Tallinn, this cruise is an easy way to day trip to the other city.
I won't be in Helsinki for long -- just a few hours. Then I catch an overnight ferry to St. Petersburg, Russia! There isn't a lot of reliable information about this journey online (vague and limited website plus a smattering of TripAdvisor reviews), so I'm looking forward to sharing everything with you.
Well, this is the most awesomely bad news story I've ever seen! So many Americans think Britain is all prim and proper and perfect, but THIS is the Britain I know and love!!!
What happens when you fall in love, sail across the Pacific Ocean with a handsome man, write a successful and hilarious travel memoir about it, sell a ton of books...and then the relationship disintegrates? And you're trying to do press for the book and you want to scream WE BROKE UP but you can't because that could hurt sales and you could disappoint all your readers?
My friend Torre DeRoche of The Fearful Adventurer is that writer. The book is Love With a Chance of Drowning, one of my favorite travel memoirs. Torre told me about the breakup when I met up with her in Melbourne back in 2013, and I actually felt stung! I had gotten to know her and her ex so well through her book, but they weren't just characters -- they were real people. I can only imagine the complicated emotions she must have felt about revealing the breakup to the world, not wanting everyone else to feel stung as well.
But guess what -- Torre has written a second memoir. (After her ex said she wouldn't have written a book without his help -- IN. YOUR. FACE.) It's about how she traveled and adventured and learned through the heartbreak. Her book comes out today! It's called The Worrier's Guide to the End of the World.
I bought my Kindle copy already. Buy it -- and today if you can -- because first-day and first-week sales are super-important for authors.
Travel writing is one area where books by men significantly outnumber books by women. One way we change this is by buying travel memoirs written by women. If it's anything like her first book, I think we're all in for an awesome read.
A setback today. I showed up to my Lahemaa National Park tour and was informed that it wasn't happening. No explanation. No email last night or today. They still haven't responded to me.
Damn, I really wanted to get out of the city today, too.
I considered Tartu (too far and irregular) and Haapsalu (too complicated). But I've been feeling a bit burned out the last few days. I decided to take today and just hang out -- no freaking out about getting the right photos or having the best experiences. I would get out of Estonian Disneyland and hang out in the actual city of Tallinn.
I went to the library and printed out all my docs for Russian immigration (if arriving in Belarus taught me anything, it's that immigration people REALLY do not like PDFs on your phone). I got vegan kimchi jigae at a Korean restaurant. I discovered a FANASTIC coffeeshop and I'm enjoying a cup of specially ground and brewed Ethiopian coffee that smells like berries and hibiscus.
Today is a breather. Not a loss.
Hello, pretty Tallinn! Now that I've been to all three Baltic capitals (Tallinn, Vilnius, and Riga back in 2015), I can do some comparing!
Tallinn is the prettiest and the most touristy by far -- similar to Prague. It's also the most culturally different -- it feels Nordic, especially once you get out of the walled-in Old Town.
Vilnius has a very modern feel to it, but also quite casual. The old town isn't separated; it slowly blends into other parts of the city.
Riga has a more wild, funky, hipster feel than the other two. I also feel like there's the most to explore in the city, beyond the old town.
In terms of day trips and further exploration, I'd wager that Tallinn has the best options. Tomorrow I'm testing that out with a day trip to Lahemaa National Park!
But you know what? All three of these cities are great -- and all three are quite affordable, especially compared to Western Europe. You could easily plan a two-week trip taking in the best of these three countries, basing in the capitals and adding in lots of day trips to surrounding destinations!
Anyone ever get urges to do crazy things?
I just saw a woman walking with her teenager and saying, "No, your chances of getting robbed are like, one in a hundred million," and I got a sudden urge to jump on them and yell, "More like one in ONE!" and run away.
I didn't do it. But I REALLY wanted to. What is wrong with me...
What $62.50 per night buys you in Tallinn: a giant luxury studio apartment in which I could do many cartwheels in a row, a chandelier, a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a -- wait for it -- PRIVATE SAUNA! It's going to get löyly up in here! (Estonia is very close to Finland, after all.)
I am delighted to be here for three nights -- the longest I'm based anywhere on this trip. And I am especially delighted to be visiting my 73rd country and third-to-last in Europe!
Nothing like getting to the airport and finding out your flight is canceled...thanks muchly for the notification, LOT -- oh wait, you didn't email me. Seriously. THANKS for that.
Sigh. It's raining here in Vilnius and my new flight doesn't leave for 4.5 hours. No lounges pre-security and it will be 2.5 hours before I can get in. Should I stick around here or head back to a cool coffeeshop in Vilnius and work for awhile? (€10-14 EUR roundtrip Uber.)
This weekend, all scarves from my friends at Speakeasy Travel Supply are on sale -- including both Adventurous Kate scarves! Plus, 5% of proceeds are being donated to Hurricane Harvey relief.
I brought my two scarves to Europe and I've been rocking one every day! They're so stylish and I love the secret passport pocket.
Check out the Adventurous Kate Melbourne scarf (pictured) here: https://speakeasytravelsupply.com/collections/adventurous-kate/products/adventurous-kate-tie-dye-secret-pocket-travel-scarf?rfsn=400506.1a73c2
And don't forget you get 10% off everything with the code ADVKATE!
People said I had to go to Šnekutis. They said I had to eat zeppelin in Lithuania. WHY DID I ORDER TWO. These giant dumplings stuffed with delicious meat are like mini American footballs!
Though two giant dumplings and a beer for six euros isn't half bad!
What $47.50 per night buys you in Vilnius, Lithuania. A luxury studio apartment with a washer/dryer. I was so smart, I knew I'd be running out of clean underwear by now!!
Arriving here was like a DREAM compared to Minsk. Immigration took 20 seconds. Internet was super-fast and easy to join. The cab driver greeted me in English, told me the meter rate, and gave me an estimated quote before assuring me I could pay by credit card if I wished. Guys, he OPENED THE DOOR FOR ME when we arrived and on the way he played cool club music (just like when I arrived in Riga two years ago).
This apartment didn't even require a coordinated meetup -- they gave me the building code and the door was open, keys waiting for me on the table.
I feel like I'm in Scandinavia.
So excited to explore Vilnius!! Lovely to meet you, Lithuania. Country #72!
Two things: 1) I am an idiot. 2) One of you SAVED ME today.
On my last video post, a reader named Maja pointed out that I had to leave Belarus via air as well as arrive, and asked why I was leaving by train. I thought, "Might as well double-check," and once again travel.state.gov only said I had to arrive by air.
But out of curiosity I clicked on the page for the US Embassy in Belarus and it said that I actually did have to depart by air as well.
How could that information NOT be on travel.state.gov?! Major oversight!!!
I quickly found a direct flight to Vilnius leaving this evening. 35 minutes, $65. And then I booked, and then my card wouldn't go through, so I had to call my bank in the US over Skype and spend half an hour trying to get it to work...it eventually did.
Pricing-wise, it's not a big deal -- I had to eat the cost of my $18 train ride. And I have to spend a few more hours in Minsk than planned.
The one silver lining: Minsk actually has Uber. Color me shocked. So I can stand outside my apartment, jump on the wifi, and get a ride to the airport without having to find a taxi and deal with corruption and inflated prices.
It's going to take Texans a LONG time to recover from Hurricane Harvey -- this is only the beginning. Please join me in donating whatever you can to local relief. I donated to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation. There's information listed on this link, along with other charities.
1) Donate money, not goods. It's efficient and it allows charities to spend money on what they need, when they need it. You may have a lot of canned goods or outgrown baby clothes, but they may end up clogging much-needed spaces and not even getting to where they need to go. Save your goods for charities operating in a non-emergency environment. Money is the way to go when it's an emergency.
2) If you're not sure whether a charity is legit, verify it on charitynavigator.org.
So THIS is what $34 per night buys you in Minsk, Belarus! Not pictured: the full kitchen and bath.
I don't think I'll be booking many more Eastern European apartments, though. They are a popular form of accommodation in this part of the world and you can book them through hotel booking sites, but it just requires so much effort of 1) getting online and contacting the owners to be there at the exact time, which is difficult if you don't have a local SIM card and the internet only gives wifi codes via SMS 2) actually finding the damn place, which can be a pain in the ass. Last year in Warsaw I broke down into tears when I couldn't find mine and walked into a hotel instead.
BUT if you book an apartment that will transfer you directly from the airport, do it. That will save you time and grief.
Yet another thing -- many nationalities including US citizens can now visit Belarus visa-free if you arrive by air, stay for less than five days, and have proof of international medical insurance. I showed them a PDF of my World Nomads policy on my phone, which they DID NOT LIKE, but they let me in anyway. I advise printing yours. They also sell insurance by immigration if you need to buy it (don't be dumb, always have insurance before you travel).
Also, now that I'm in Minsk, I'm thinking about Phoebe's boyfriend David the scientist who moved to Minsk. Fun fact: I've heard he goes to my gym, but I have yet to see him there.
Also also ALSO, I'm thrilled to be in my 71st country!
A very Finnish morning today -- I worked out in the forest in Porvoo with Anu of Ikimetsän jooga. We did a combination of stretching and movement with a guided meditation, surrounded by forest.
It reminded me of how different fitness is across the world. In the US, fitness is usually about getting the hardest, most intense workout in a short amount of time. But in many "healthier" regions of the world, like the Nordics and parts of Asia, the emphasis is on making gentler, easier movements on a constant basis.
How do you like to work out?
I just had a fantastic two-day stay in the remote Finnish wilderness at Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän - Fi, a rustic yet luxurious property that I fell in love with.
This has been a guesthouse in some way shape or form since 1658!!! One of the owners is an ELEVENTH GENERATION hospitality employee! Can you believe that?! Eleven generations without a miss, my God...
Also, this boat? He found it and so they put it in the resort. (Me: "You FOUND that?! How do you find a boat that big?")
I'm sad to leave now, but thrilled that owner Tanya gave me a bag of Fazer chocolate as a parting gift. Fazer chocolate is Finland's finest delicacy and I love it!
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