How to see Helsinki

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.

Must Do’s:

  • 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.

Recommended reading: 

  • 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
  • A Concise History of Finland
  • An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland

Camping in Antarctica

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.

READ THE FULL STORY on We are Travel Girls.

You can also read about my tips on traveling to Antarctica here.

Argentina, Antarctica and Uruguay…Oh My!

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.

Must do’s

  • 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.

Download my itinerary and packing list here.

Recommended Reading:

  • And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out) Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina
  • Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
  • Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors
  • Tres hombres y una batalla: Historias desconocidas que rodearon a Millington

Pet a Panda in Chengdu, China

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.

Must Do’s:

  • 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.

Recommended reading: 

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Where to next?

“Where to next?” is every travel addict’s favorite question. I love to talk about my plans (or dreams) for my next destination. I’m always finding inspiration for my next trip, so I’ve created a Google document that lists out all of my dream destinations.

It’s a definitely a living document! Please comment on what I should add and include links to resources.  If you’ve inspired me, I’ll add it to my list!