After spending a weekend in Finnish Lapland, I spent some time in Helsinki for work. I fell in love with the city. It’s compact, but still filled with amazing architecture. I recommend at least two days to take it all in–maybe three if you want to spend significant time in the distinctive neighborhoods. But if you are pressed for time, you can see the main sights in one day.
You can buy a cheap SIM card at the R-kioski convenience chain–there’s one in the airport. I got one that would also work in Estonia.
Be mindful of the time. Most attractions close at 6 pm (Uspenski Cathedral is closed on Mondays). The stores close at 7 pm.
Book an appointment in advance to get a seat at the trendy bar/sauna Löyly Helsinki. It’s the only sauna where you can cool off with a jump into the Baltic sea. If you didn’t bring your own bathing suit, you can rent one from them. You don’t have to go into the sauna. It has a great restaurant and wine bar. The patio is large and has an amazing view of Helsinki.
If you are leaving Helsinki airport on an international flight, you will go through passport control in addition to the standard security line. It took me an extra 15 to 20 minutes.
I enjoyed staying at Glo Hotel Art. It’s a close walk to the city center and has an amazing breakfast.
Follow this walking route by Google to see all of the main attractions. It is missing stops at the Helsinki Central Station (Helsingin päärautatieasema) and the new public library, Oodi. Both are worth a quick stop to admire their architecture. You can get through these in a day.
I recommend eating lunch or getting a coffee at the Old Market Hall.
Go to the sauna every night. It makes for a deep, relaxing sleep. I also think it helped give my skin a lovely glow. You can go to Loyly Helsinki or try a local one. I enjoyed going to Uusi Sauna.
Check out the Design District neighborhood.
I fell in love with Marimekko (a Finnish lifestyle company) and Iittala (a Finnish glassware company). You’ll see their products everywhere. I recommend visiting their flagship stores along the Park Esplanadi. If you bring your passport number, you can purchase products duty free. You’ll also find their stores in the Helsinki airport, which have the same retail prices as the ones in the city. I bought mugs from Marimekko and votives from Iittala as souvenirs for friends and family.
If I had more time:
I would have spent time exploring, Kallio, the hipster neighborhood.
I’m a history buff so I wish I had visited the National Museum of Finland. Nomadic Matt has other great museum recommendations as well as other places to visit.
A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940
Finland’s War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II
Tallinn is only a short ferry ride from Helsinki, so I spent two days and one night in the city. I quickly learned that the “ferry” is really a cruise ship with 10 floors. Don’t worry about seasickness! I didn’t want to feel rushed so I spent the night in the old city. But you can see the main sights in Old Tallinn in a day, taking a ferry in the morning and back that evening.
When traveling from Helsinki to Tallinn, you’ll need to show your passport when you check in for the cruise even though both are in the Schengen Area. Estonia is on the Euro.
I went with Viking Cruises because it had a 7 am ferry to Tallinn and a 5 pm return to Helsinki the next day. You can book it here.
Catching the 7 am ferry means that you can drop your luggage off at your hotel (I recommend staying at the Old Town Hostel Alur) and catch the daily free walking tour at 12 pm. It leaves from the tourist information center. Remember to have cash for a tip.
The walking tour covers the upper town (yes, Tallinn is split into an upper and a lower town), so I used this walking tour guide from Rick Steves to explore the lower town on my own. Alternatively, you can just follow this guide, but I liked the walking tour to get more of a local perspective on the city.
Between April and October, you can climb St. Olav’s tower to get amazing views of the city. The stairs are steep and in a narrow spiral. There is a place to sit and take a break during the tower portion of the climb. There’s an open space with seating before you climb a ladder up to the (narrow) walkway that wraps around the tower outside. If you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights, I do not think this is for you. .
An easier climb is Pikk Hermann tower. The views aren’t as dramatic but it’s still a fun experience.
Make sure to catch the sunset at one of the three viewing places: Piiskopi, Patkuli, and Kohuotsa. Kohuotsa is the most well known since it has the famous “The Times We Had” graffiti on a pink wall. However, the graffiti was defaced when I went. I thought the Patkuli viewing platform had a better view of the city. All three are very close so you can wander between them at dusk.
Eat at Tallinn’s oldest bakery, Maiasmokk Cafe.
Learn about about the KGB’s activities in Tallinn. I went to the KGB Prison Cells which is open to the public. You need to book a tour of the KGB Museum.
It’s a fifteen minute walk from the old city to Balti Jaam Market for interesting shopping. After stopping there, head over to Telliskivi Creative City for more independent shops and cafes. I recommend a meal at F-hoone in Telliskivi.
If I had more time:
I would have visited Kadriorg Palace. Peter the Great built it in 1718. It’s now an art museum.
My bachelorette party in Las Vegas was everything I wanted it to be. It was the perfect mix of bachelorette party fun and girlfriend getaway. I wanted to relax at the pool while enjoying the nightlife of Las Vegas. We decided on a long weekend in June when the weather wasn’t too hot and tickets to Magic Mike were available!
I recommend going from Thursday to Sunday. Everyone arrives on Thursday and relaxes during the day on Friday before going out big that night. Everyone recovers on Saturday before leaving on Sunday. Flying with a hangover is the worst—I wanted to avoid it.
Our Lyft driver from the airport took us to a liquor store to stock up for the weekend so that we didn’t pay higher prices near the strip. It also saved us a trip.
Use No Cover Nightclubs to put your name on the guests lists of clubs without having to pay covers.
I rarely gamble (same with most of the girls on the trip), but we had a lot of fun playing Pai Gow Poker. Up to six people play at a time, which is great for a large group. Look for tables with a $10 or $15 minimum bet at the less expensive casinos for your first time. You can sit for a fairly long without losing much money (and sometimes winning) even if you are a first-timer. The dealers tend to be friendly and will help you play.
Go see Magic Mike! You have to book early though because it’s a big hit. If you have at least 10 people in your group, you can book through group sales for a discount. It was a great show. I recommend getting the seats along the aisles to the stage. The performers move on and off the stage a lot.
Get a cabana for your relaxation day. You don’t want to have to get up early to get good seats at the pool.
There’s a ton of clubs to choose from. We really enjoyed the Marquis because it had an awesome outdoor space as well as a busy dance floor.
Get fake tattoos! It was a great surprise to see one set had a picture of my fiancé. You can get them from this Etsy store. It was a big hit!
If I had more time:
I would have liked to gone to the Neon Museum. If you do go, make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Did you know that you can camp in Antarctica? I didn’t until I researched my trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. My trip to Antarctica was the fulfilment of a life-long dream: to visit all seven continents.
I wanted to make it an official visit by spending the night on the ice. Could I really claim that I’ve visited all seven continents without spending the night on the physical ground of Antarctica? No.
I planned a bachelorette party for 20 women in Nashville. Yes, 20 women. We had a great time and all returned in one piece! Here’s what we did.
Where to stay:
Hilton Nashville Downtown: The suites sleep six people comfortably. The price per person ends up being reasonable, especially for its location. It’s less than a five minute walk from Broadway. The only drawback is that the brunch buffet is expensive. I recommend bringing breakfast snacks to keep your hunger at bay before lunch.
Where to drink:
Tootsie’s: This bar is a Nashville institution. It’s been operating since 1960 and many up and coming country music stars drank there before hitting it big. You must stop by for at least one drink, but its fame draws a large crowd.
Big Shotz: This is off the Broadway strip so the drinks are cheaper. The music is still awesome.
Bootleggers Inn: I loved this place for day drinking. Make sure to try the different flavors of moonshine–the best drinks I had all weekend.
Other Nashville classics include: Legends, Honkey Tonk Central, The Stage, and Tin Roof.
What to do:
Pedal pub: The pedal pub is a great group activity and will introduce you to a ton of bars in Nashville. We had a great time with Nashville Pedal Tavern. It’s definitely not an easy bike ride so be prepared! It’s also a popular activity–book it as far in advance as possible.
Buy boots: Visit Boot Country where you can buy one pair of boots and get two pairs free! The one pair of boots costs around US$300, so the average price is around US$100. Even if you don’t buy a pair, it’s fun to window shop.
Where to eat:
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant: This was a great restaurant to handle a large group reservation.
Rippys Bar & Grill: Great BBQ on the Broadway strip.
Did I miss anything about Nashvegas? Please comment below!
I imagined Bali to be a party destination. While I like to have a good time (I have been known to dance on a bar or two), I prefer destinations that offer more than just a party scene. We thought that Lombok would be more our style. Short on time, though, we decided to spend five days in Bali and in that short amount of time, I fell in love with Bali.
My image of Bali started to change once I started to research the island. In fact, I became sad because we would miss out on a lot of wonderful activities. I am happy with what we did in only five days–you can read about our itinerary here, but I’d like to return.
We opted to stay in Legian, which has nice beaches with the right amount of nightlife. On our first night, we watched a Balinese dance at our hotel. The intricate dancing to the haunting, soothing sounds of the gamelan tugged at my heart.
The Balinese people helped me truly fall in love with the island. We had the most authentic and warm hospitality everywhere we went. I enjoyed learning about their lives and talking about mine.
It seemed to me that the Balinese hold their traditions very close to their hearts and guard them against the invasion of the four million plus visitors a year. It drew me closer to the island. To this day, it still intrigues me. I’m sad that I wasn’t able to spend more time learning about it–the museums, the temples, the performances. It’s an island known for its beautiful art. And it speaks to the soul.
The island also appealed to my adventurous nature. We hiked up Mt. Batur to watch the sun rise and did a day of scuba diving. I hadn’t hiked up a volcano before nor had I seen manta rays–two wonderful firsts in Bali. I’ll never forget watching the sun slowly, and then quickly, rise over the mountains. The serenity of seeing the graceful manta rays soar by stays firm in my heart.
Yes, Bali does have its tourist cliches, but you can easily avoid them. I encourage you to see what the island has to offer you. How do you feel about Bali? Share below!
Since I was traveling far to cruise around Antarctica, I decided to spend a week in Argentina before the cruise and a week in Uruguay after the cruise. You can learn more about my Antarctica trip here. This was at the end of January 2016.
Give yourself a couple of days in Ushuaia before the cruise in case of travel delays. One cruiser’s luggage didn’t show up before our departure time. She had to quickly run around Ushuaia to buy all of her gear. The cruise will leave without YOU or your luggage!
Buenos Aires is a city of distinctive neighborhoods. I had difficulty figuring out where I wanted to stay. Based on recommendations and research, I decided on Palermo, which was fun–lots of good bars and restaurants. It was easy to take taxis to the other neighborhoods.
Speaking of taxis, scams are common in Buenos Aires. You should have ask your hostel, hotel, waiter, etc to call you an official cab. Here’s a great list of tips. I mostly did that, but occasionally, I had to flag down a taxi on my own. It helps that I speak enough Spanish to give addresses and directions. I didn’t have any issues. One of my taxi drivers did express concern that I was traveling by myself. I was as cautious as I would be in any big city.
The tourist office in Ushuaia is amazing! Everyone is very friendly and knowledgeable. There are a ton of free resources to make the most of your trip, including hiking trail maps. And you can get a stamp for your Passport that says “Fin del Mundo” (End of the World) since Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world.
Everything, especially accommodation, is expensive in Ushuaia. I got a dorm room at Hostel Yakush. I had a great stay there–the owner is very friendly, the guests are awesome and the location is perfect.
Aside from bus transport, I found Uruguay to be as expensive as traveling in the United States. Prepare your budget accordingly.
I was surprised at how much there is to do in Ushuaia. You can hike Glacier Martial. There are several trails of varying difficulty in the Tierra del Fuego national park. The museums about the city’s history are small, but quite interesting. You can easily fill up two days, if not more, there.
Even if you don’t go to Uruguay, take the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia for an amazing day trip. The city has beautiful architecture, great food and interesting history. Plus you can rent a golf cart to explore!
Get to the iconic El Mano (The Hand) sculpture early in the morning to get tourist-free photos!
In Punta del Este, go to the Museo Taller de Casapueblo for sunset. I had a cloudy sunset but it was still scenic. The museum is really cool too.
Eat lots of beef, pizza and gelato!
If I had more time:
I did a bus tour around Montevideo. It gave me a good sense of the city, but I would have liked a bit more time to explore the old city. However, that part of town is not the safest.
The other big do over is that I would rent a car to drive along the Uruguayan coast (the bus system isn’t really set up for that type of exploring). I’d see Cabo Polonio, La Pedrera, and Punto del Diablo to name only a few.
Petting a panda was the highlight of my business trip to China. But Chengdu has so much more to offer than just pandas though.
Book your tour as soon as possible if you would like to get your picture taken with a baby panda. There’s a limit to how many people can do this per day. I took this tour with the add on to hold the baby panda. The photo is more expensive, but worth it.
You only have 30 seconds with the panda. A staff member will take photos of you. I recommend that you ask one of the others in the group to take a video of you with a different device (camera, phone, tablet, etc). Try to look in both directions!
I pet the top of the panda’s head. You can put your arm around its shoulders, which makes for a cuter photo.
Chengdu is a foodie’s dream…if you love spicy food. It is the home of the Sichuan pepper. My stomach can’t handle spicy food. I was able to find food to eat though–there are a lot of western options.
Make sure to have all of your destinations written out in Chinese to show taxi drivers, including your hotel’s address.
Get your photo taken with a panda!
Spend the evening at the Sichuan Opera. The Shufeng Yayun Teahouse is the best place in Chengdu. I recommend getting the VIP tickets so you can sit up close and try on the costumes after the show.
Go to the Wuhou Temple and stroll along Jinli Street.
If I had more time:
There are a lot of day trips from Chengdu. I narrowed my choice down between Mount Qingcheng and Leshan Giant Buddha. I chose Mount Qingcheng. It’s incredibly beautiful with gorgeous temples and a scenic view at the top. But I wish I had had time to go to the Leshan Giant Buddha.
It was a lifelong dream to visit all seven continents. I made that dream come true in January 2016. I spent 11 days sailing around Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. Since I was going so far from home, I added time before and after the trip to explore Argentina and Uruguay.
I recommend Quark Expeditions. Two of my friends, and now myself, have traveled with them on separate occasions. Each person had an amazing experience. Before the trip, I had a personal travel agent who answered all of my questions via email and phone promptly. The entire crew on the ship was amazing–knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
When choosing a voyage, I recommend looking at the length of the itinerary, the boat’s capacity and the activities available. I think that 11 days is the minimum amount of time that you should have. Crossing the Drake Passage both ways takes almost four days. You want a small boat because only 100 people are allowed on Antarctica at a time. My boat was the Sea Adventurer, which only has capacity for 113 people. Since people kayaked during the excursions on the ice, we did not have to take turns to go on shore. I definitely wanted to spend one night on Antarctica, so I made sure that the itinerary included the camping option, which was an additional fee.
The boat will leave without or your stuff! Make sure to give yourself enough time to get down to Ushuaia in case you have problems with your flights. On our trip, a woman’s luggage was delayed and she had to scramble to buy warm clothes the day before we left.
You will likely get seasick. Most seasickness medication won’t work once the seasickness sets in–you need to take it before you set sail. I got a prescription from my doctor for a scopolamine patch. Please note that this is not available in all countries. The water is calm once you reach Antarctica so I removed the patch and put it back on before we went through the Drake passage again. If you get the patch, be aware that it can fall off easily. Bring extras and make sure that the fallen patch doesn’t attach itself to other parts of your body.
Sending postcards from Port Lockroy in Antarctica is a great souvenir. Make sure you have all of your addresses. I recommend buying postcards in Ushuaia (they’re cheaper and have more options). Fill out the postcards while on the boat so that it’s easy to get them stamped and mail. You don’t want spend time in a line at the gift store!
You will get wet when you are in the zodiac. Quark Expeditions gives you a waterproof jacket, but you need to bring your own waterproof gloves, pants and daypack. I rented these waterproof items through Quark and everything held up just fine. People who bought “waterproof” gloves at home did not do well. It was difficult to dry those gloves out. I recommend going the rental route, but if you want to bring your own, bring a few options that you can cycle through when going on excursions.
In the Google file below, I have my full packing list for Antarctica. I wore base layers under my ski pants and my fleece shirts. I had a thin pair of gloves, a big pair of gloves and the waterproof mittens. To take photos, I often had to take my gloves off–make sure not to lose them. I wore two pairs of socks with the silk liner. To complete the outfit, I had my waterproof pants and Quark’s jacket. Quark provides boots, which were quite comfortable. With all of all of these clothes, I was fine on the ice.
If you camp on the ice, the toilet is simply a bucket dug into the ice. I recommend bringing adult diapers if you want to avoid using the bucket. Also, be very careful when getting into your sleeping bag–do not get any snow into the bag otherwise it will be an even more uncomfortable night. Ice is hard!
I’m beginning to learn more about photography. I don’t have a lot of the equipment so I called Borrowlenses.com to see what they recommended based on my trip. I rented a Nikon 70 – 200 mm lens that worked well. I didn’t bring a lens cloth or a UV filter (rookie mistake), but you may want to consider those items for Antarctic conditions. I stocked up on an extra battery in case the cold shut down one. Because I was backpacking around Argentina and Uruguay, I rented the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW Backpack. It made traveling with all of my camera equipment and extras very easy.
Do the polar plunge! It’s cold but worth it.
If you’re physically capable, climb all the hills. The views are breathtaking.
Camp on the ice. It’s a magical experience.
Spend as much time on the boat’s decks. The scenery is always magnificent.
For inspiration, you can watch all of my videos here.
Here’s how I split a week between Bali and Singapore in October 2016. To my surprise, I fell in love with Bali. I can’t recommend it enough.
If you are short on time in Bali, like we were, you can jam a lot in on one day. We hiked Mt. Batur to see the sunrise, went to a coffee plantation, saw the Tegalagang Rice Terraces, explored Ubud and saw Tanah Lot. We customized this day trip with Bali Jungle Trekking, which was a great tour operator.
The climb up Mt. Batour is fairly tough. It’s loose volcanic rock on a steep incline. I recommend trekking shoes/boots, but it can be done in sneakers.
The current is very strong around Bali. Be careful at the beach and when snorkeling and scuba diving.
There are many areas to stay in Bali–it really depends on what you’re looking for. We wanted a relaxing area next to the beach and near restaurants so we stayed in Legian. Our hotel was amazing–the Bali Niksoma Resort.
For Singapore, if there’s no price for its famous dish, the chili cab, negotiate a price before you order it. At the time of writing, a medium sized chili crab was about US$60.
The MRT transit system in Singapore is inexpensive and easy to use, but Grab (ridesharing app) and cabs are also cheap.
The Helix Bridge and Merlion Park provide excellent views of the city skyline and Marina Bay Sands respectively. Merlion Park is especially fun at night.