Adventurous Kate’s Offbeat Guide to Cape Town

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Kate on Table Mountain

Cape Town is one of the most visually spectacular and culturally unique cities I have ever visited. It’s the cornerstone of a South Africa trip and a city you’ll be raving about afterwards to everyone you meet.

Even so, it can take a bit of a learning curve to really get into Cape Town. Its charms beyond its natural beauty aren’t as obvious, and it isn’t as easy to navigate as a typical European city. It actually took three visits (!) before I truly fell in love with Cape Town.

I want it to happen faster for you. I want you to fall in love on your first trip! So I decided to create an extensive guide that will help you have the best trip possible and show you some off-the-beaten-path activities as well.

When putting together this guide, I included the popular activities that most visitors do — like Table Mountain, Boulders Beach, and the V&A Waterfront — along with quirky additions like the District Six Museum and some of my favorite Capetonian designers.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Go to the Top of Table Mountain

This should be your top priority in Cape Town. Why? Table Mountain is often covered in thick clouds — locals call it The Tablecloth — and it’s pointless to go then as you won’t see anything. As soon as you see that it’s going to be a clear day, go to the mountain immediately! You might not have another chance.

The cable car will take you to the top, a well-traversed area where you can explore and take lots of photos. And as soon as you’ll arrive, you’ll be spellbound at being surrounded by 360 degrees of natural beauty.

Table Mountain Cape TownDSCF7024Beth and Kate on Table MountainDassi on Table Mountain Cape TownTable Mountain Cape Town

Keep an eye out for the dassie, a critter that looks like a roly-poly guinea pig. His closest relative is the African elephant! (Don’t actually cuddle or touch the dassie, though. Respect the wildlife up here — both animals and plants.)

You’ll get some of the best pictures of your trip on Table Mountain. You might want to wear something that looks good on you.

Photography-wise, keep in mind that the best views of Lion’s Head and Cape Town are in the morning and the best views of the mountains are in the afternoon.

Table Mountain is free to visit, but tickets on the cableway cost 240/125 rand ($16.50/$8.50) round-trip/one-way. Book your tickets online before you arrive and you’ll get to skip the long line.

You can also hike up Table Mountain. Several trails are available ranging from easy to hard.

Truth Coffee Cape Town

Get Caffeinated with a Steampunk Twist at Truth Coffee Roasting

In downtown Cape Town, you step into what looks like a typical (if enormous) coffee shop and quickly realize that something’s up. Props within the restaurant are pulled from the Victorian era. The staff are decked out in top hats, vests, and peasant blouses with metallic accoutrements. And there’s a giant blimp in the back of the room.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Truth Coffee Roasting. It’s a coffeeshop serving up some of the city’s best java — with a steampunk twist. I’m not even a steampunk person, but I loved every minute I spent there.

Truth Coffee Cape TownTruth Coffee Cape TownTruth Coffee Cape Town

Beth and I are coffee people, and we liked it so much here, we came two days in a row. (And during the first time, I got a text from a friend saying, “Go to Truth Coffee!” “I’M LITERALLY HERE RIGHT NOW!” I replied with glee.)

A lot of places have great coffee but a mediocre atmosphere, or vice versa. Truth is the rare place that does both extremely well.

Truth Coffee has coffee, pastries, and a light menu for lunch as well. Don’t miss the bathrooms!

Cape Town Sunset

Join a Trivia Night

I have to give a shout-out to my reader Joshua for giving me this idea. Trivia or pub quizzes are a great way to delve into the local culture, and Cape Town is no exception. I’ve done trivia/pub quizzes in lots of places, but always as the guest of local friends — this was my first time solely as a traveler!

Beth and I joined the Monday night trivia at Oblivion. After getting a perfect score in the first category of Famous Roads (the only team to get a perfect score, and it had two questions targeted at South Africans, and we had chosen that category for double points!), we got a little full of ourselves. “We’re going to win. They’re going to hate us. They’re SO going to hate us,” we whispered to each other, giggling.

Well, then came the categories of South African Craft Beers and Famous Golfers (Beth answered “Tiger Woods, Lion Forest, Panther Jungle, Leopard Sylvain” for those categories), and we did surprisingly bad on World War II history (Me: “I hope there’s a question about Midway.” Beth: “Why?” Me: “You and Alexa did that big project on Midway in high school.” Beth: “Oh, I forgot about that!” Me: “Uh-oh.”).

We ended up finishing in the top two thirds. Not too shabby for a pair of foreigners.

Some of Cape Town’s trivia nights are:

Monday: Oblivion

Tuesday: The Foreign Exchange, The Royal Oak, Beerhouse

Wednesday: JC Brasserie and Pub

Thursday: Firemans Arms

Wherever you choose, make sure to call ahead. Many of these trivia nights are popular and will be fully booked. Some cost money, but rarely more than what you’d pay for a drink.

Cape Town Helicopter Ride

See Cape Town from a Helicopter

Cape Town is one of the best cities to see by helicopter, if not the best. (My other picks: Sydney, New York, London, Hong Kong, and while I haven’t been to the final two, Rio de Janeiro and Vancouver.)

Cape Town is a spectacularly set city, and a helicopter ride will show you new views of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, the 12 Apostles, lots of beach towns, and that unmistakable stadium.

Just take a look:

Cape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter Ride

For this trip, I perused operators and chose to go with NAC Helicopters, then emailed them and they offered Beth and me a complimentary Hopper Tour flight.

The Hopper Tour covers the immediate area surrounding Cape Town, toward the 12 Apostles and back. While there are lots of tour options from NAC, from Cape Point to Robben Island, I don’t think you can’t beat the beauty of a Hopper Tour.

Our captain was excellent, professional and friendly, pointing out sights and telling stories along the way. And when we touched down, we celebrated with a champagne toast.

I highly recommend looking at the forecast and booking your flight for the best weather day possible. For the best light, go in the late afternoon. Our appointment was in July (winter) at 4:30 PM. Ask the staff if you’re not sure which time is best.

You’ll be shooting through glass, so wear dark colors and shoot slightly downward rather than straight ahead to avoid glare.

NAC Helicopters offers a variety of scenic flights. We took the Hopper Tour, which covers the city and prices per helicopter: from 2810 rand ($196) for up to 3 people to 5610 rand ($391) for up to six people.

Camps Bay Cape Town

Spend a Fabulous Afternoon in Camps Bay

I can’t believe it took me three trips to get to Camps Bay — it’s now my favorite neighborhood in Cape Town!

Camps Bay is home to white buildings, super-tall palm trees, and sunshine. Does it sound like Southern California to you, too? Beth thought it looked like Malibu. I got major Santa Monica vibes.

Camps BayCamps Bay Cape TownKate at Camps BayCamps Bay

Camps Bay isn’t a place you come for sightseeing — it’s a place to hang out. For the two of us, that meant ordering some wine and a cheese plate in lieu of a meal.

This was a great place to spend an afternoon, and on my next visit to Cape Town, I hope to stay in Camps Bay. It would be a different kind of trip, that’s for sure!

We stopped at Blues Restaurant for wine and cheese on a balcony overlooking the beach.

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Explore the V&A Waterfront

Cape Town isn’t the kind of city where you fight your way through tourist crowds — but the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is easily the most touristy place in the city.

The V&A Waterfront is what you’d get if you combined Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, and Chicago’s Navy Pier.

DSCF7281Cape Town WaterfrontCape Town Sunset

You can shop for anything, enjoy a variety of restaurants, ride the Ferris Wheel, visit the aquarium, take pictures of Table Mountain if the weather is cooperating, visit museums, jump on a harbor cruise, and get some gorgeous sunset views.

Vovo Telo, on the V&A Waterfront, is a nice bakery for coffee, breakfast, or lunch, with several gluten-free options.

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Take the CitySightseeing Bus

As I wrote in my Johannesburg post, taking the hop-on-hop-off bus can be hit or miss — but I think it’s so worth it in Cape Town because you travel along the gorgeous coastline! Sit on top of the open bus and admire the mountains and crashing waves.

I especially recommend going straight from Table Mountain to Camps Bay, taking a break in the sun, then riding it to the V&A Waterfront, taking in all the beachy neighborhoods along the way.

Citysightseeing Cape Town offers one-day tickets from 170 rand ($12) and two-day tickets from 270 rand ($18). Tickets come with perks like a free harbor cruise, free Bo-Kaap walking tour, and discounts on other tours.

Bo-Kaap Cape Town

Stroll Through Colorful Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap is that brightly colored neighborhood that you see all over Instagram! Home to a Cape Malay population, Bo-Kaap is home to mosques, spice shops, and the most colorful houses in all of Cape Town. (Though be warned — they’re a lot harder to photograph than I thought they would be.)

Bo-Kaap Cape TownBo-Kaap Cape Town

While I’ve explored Bo-Kaap independently, it can get a bit dicey, especially in the late afternoon. Be careful with your valuables and keep your camera in your bag unless you’re actively taking photos. Locals keep an eye out for visitors. Even so, I highly recommend going with a tour so you have that added layer of security.

A free Bo-Kaap walking tour is included in CitySightseeing bus tours (one-day tours from 170 rand ($12)). Nielsen Tours offers twice daily free Bo-Kaap walking tours.

Alternatively, take a Cape Malay cooking class from The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour for 700 rand ($49), or a neighborhood tour and Cape Malay lunch for 400 rand ($28).

Don’t visit Bo-Kaap in the late afternoon; this is a popular time for crime in the neighborhood.

District Six Museum

Check Out the District Six Museum

I love visiting small museums that focus on a specific theme, and the District Six Museum focuses on one Cape Town neighborhood that was destroyed in the name of apartheid.

District Six was a vibrant, multicultural, artistic neighborhood. While the first black South Africans were removed in the early 1900s, it was inhabited by whites, Asians, and coloreds (a non-derogatory term meaning mixed race) until it was declared a white-only area in 1966. More than 70,000 people were forcibly removed and in 1982, the neighborhood was bulldozed.

District Six Museum

This museum is a collection of artifacts and stories of the neighborhood, suspended in time. The most recent photos are from the 1970s, with incredible fashion and hair. I think you’d have to be made of stone if the stories of District Six didn’t climb into your heart.

I found the District Six Museum to be a perfect counterpoint to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. While the Apartheid Museum focused on the complete, unabridged history of apartheid — the macro study of apartheid — the District Six Museum was the micro study, focusing on how apartheid affected one specific neighborhood in Cape Town.

Admission to the District Six Museum is 30 rand ($2) for an independent visit, 45 rand ($3) for a guided tour with a former resident.

It’s across the street from Truth Coffee Roasting, so I recommend visiting both in succession.

Potluck Club Ceviche

Dive into Quirky Cuisine at the Pot Luck Club

If you’re researching restaurants in Cape Town, you’ll likely come across The Test Kitchen — then realize that you have no chance in hell of getting a table. However, a fabulous alternative is The Pot Luck Club, specializing in small plate divided by taste profile (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami).

Located in an industrial loft in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, this place epitomizes cool.

Potluck Club Springbok CarpaccioSpringbok Carpaccio Potluck ClubPotluck Club BeefPotluck Club Chickpea Fries

Every dish was outstanding. My favorite dish was the Chalmer beef filet with black pepper and truffle café au lait; Beth’s favorite was the Korean fried cauliflower with amansi and miso dip with pickles. The cheese plate was the best we had in South Africa (and, um, we had a lot of cheese plates in South Africa). Other standouts were the ceviche, springbok carpaccio, and chickpea fries…

Our waitress recommended the Pineapple Cosmo and while I rarely go for sweet drinks, it was one of the best cocktails I have ever had. Dangerously smooth.

The kitchen is open here, and having worked in restaurants, I was flabbergasted at how quiet, polite, and civilized it was (kitchens are known for being…let’s say loud). Grab a bar seat in front of the kitchen for great views as they create meals. You’ll soon learn how much of a perfectionist Chef is.

Book reservations online here. Dinner seatings are at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM only; some days have lunch seatings.

Boulders Beach Penguins

See the Penguins at Boulders Beach

Yes, you can see penguins in South Africa! Boulders Beach, just outside Cape Town in nearby Simonstown, is a protected area home to dozens if not hundreds of penguins year-round. Tourists are allowed to walk along a deck that traverses the penguin areas.

Boulders Beach PenguinsBoulders BeachBoulders Beach Penguins

Penguins are some of the funniest animals to watch. They’re social, they’re goofy, they’re endlessly photogenic — and on this trip, I learned that they can SURF!

Like the dassie, please don’t touch the penguins or invade their space. Capture them with your heart — and camera.

Visiting Boulders Beach costs 65 rand ($4.50) for adults and 35 rand ($2.50) for children.

I recommend renting a car and spending a day exploring the Cape Peninsula. If you’d rather not drive, there are tons of half- and full-day group tours that include Boulders Beach. Do this in tandem with Cape Point.

Cape Point

Visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope

We all had that unit in school when we learned about the Cape of Good Hope, that temperamental piece of land that brought bad weather to Vasco de Gama and so many other explorers. Well, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope are just outside Cape Town and Cape Point happens to be the southwesternmost point on the African continent!

Cape of Good Hope

Aside from the bragging rights, this is a beautiful place to photograph. You need to be careful, though. As you can see, the light isn’t great in this photo — that’s because I took it in the late afternoon, not long before sunset. For the best light on the Cape of Good Hope, you’re best off visiting in the morning.

Cape Point is free to visit if you walk up the stairs, but there’s also a funicular that costs 48/58 rand ($3/4) for one-way/return trips. Admission to the Cape of Good Hope is 125 rand ($9).

I recommend renting a car and spending a day exploring the Cape Peninsula. If you’d rather not drive, there are tons of half- and full-day group tours that include Cape Point. Do this in tandem with Boulders Beach.

Cape Town Wines

Buy Souvenirs From South African Designers

Forget a t-shirt or shot glass with Table Mountain on it — Cape Town is brimming with excellent designers. Bright colors and vibrant patterns are staples of African design, so this is the place to buy a standout piece of art, fashion, or housewares.

If you’re looking for a gorgeous African souvenir to bring home (or to stock up on Christmas gifts for your family), stop by Carole Nevin‘s shop at the V&A Waterfront. Here you’ll find gorgeous tablecloths, table runners, placemats, napkins (they call them serviettes), aprons, and more.

I picked up some placemats for my home, pictured above. They look like a sunset.

If you’re looking for something for a man (and we all know how hard men are to shop for), check out Nic Harry. He has a collection of bright patterned bamboo socks, plus some other accessories for men.

And finally, check out the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront. It’s full of booths from independent artists. I found the perfect gift for my friends’ new baby — an adorable pink-and-yellow-patterned stuffed elephant.

Carole Nevin is located in the shopping center at the V&A Waterfront; there’s a factory shop in the Eastlake neighborhood of Cape Town as well. The Watershed is one of the outer buildings at the waterfront. Nic Harry has a kiosk in the shopping center at the V&A Waterfront as well as a full store on Wale Street downtown.

DSCF7196

Visit Robben Island

This last one is a wistful addition to the list. I couldn’t fit Robben Island into my first two trips, and on the third, our ferry was canceled due to weather. So I haven’t been yet — but you should make the effort to go as well.

Robben Island was home to a political prison, and Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 23 years. Today you can visit the prison — including Mandela’s cell — and hear the stories of your guides, who were once Robben Island prisoners themselves. This is yet another piece of South Africa’s history, and it doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Robben Island tours include the ferry and must be booked in advance. They tend to book up quickly, so be sure to make your reservation ASAP. Tours cost 320 rand ($22), include transportation from the V&A Waterfront, and last three hours.

Camps Bay Cape Town

Other Activities in Cape Town

But wait, there’s more! Here are more activities that I haven’t personally tried myself (with the exception of blokarting) that deserve to be included in a full Cape Town guide.

Go wine tasting in Constantia. I actually recommend spending a few days in the Stellenbosch wine region, about an hour from Cape Town, but if that’s not an option, CitySightseeing offers a wine route where you can taste at a few cellars in nearby Constantia. 1-day tours from 170 rand ($12) for adults; tastings cost extra but are rarely above 150 rand ($10). More info here.

Learn how to Blokart. It’s a hybrid of go-carting and sailing! Vault yourself across the beach in a wheeled cart with a sail you control. (This will always be the place I gashed my knee open in 2012, but follow the instructors’ advice and you should have better luck than me!) 200 rand ($14) for 30 minutes, 300 rand ($28) for 60 minutes. More info here.

Visit a township — but do your research first. While visiting townships can be interesting, most of the tours are designed to showcase the reality of South Africa’s poorest (almost always black) for the enjoyment of the naive, privileged tourists (almost always white). Some companies work in a responsible way, however, and I’ve heard consistently good things about AWOL Tours. Tours from 950 rand ($66) per person.

Go surfing at Muizenberg Beach. Muizenberg is the surf zone of Cape Town — just don’t forget a wetsuit for the chilly waters! Rental shops are available throughout Muizenberg Beach. Lessons available from Gary’s Surf School from 400 rand ($28) per person, and from Surf Shack and Surf Emporium from 360 rand ($25) per person. Get dinner at Tiger’s Milk afterward. Their bacon-avo-feta pizza sounds weird, but it works.

Go paragliding off Lion’s Head. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, this is the ultimate Cape Town adventure — plus selfies to make your friends jealous! Tandem flights from 1150 rand ($80), photos 250 rand ($17). More info here.

Cage dive with great white sharks. It’s a bit of a ways outside Cape Town, but can be done as a day trip! Jump into a cage in chilly waters and get face to face with these beautiful and terrifying creatures. Packages available from White Shark Diving CompanyApex Shark Expeditions, and White Shark Ventures from 1750 rand ($122), including Cape Town transfer.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Safety in Cape Town

Cape Town is a city where you should have your guard up — more so than in popular American and European cities. That said, you shouldn’t let it scare you away from visiting, even if you’re a solo female traveler.

I personally have had zero incidents happen on my three trips to Cape Town, including when traveling solo, and I attribute that to heeding locals’ advice and being more conscientious than usual. Will you find these tips excessively cautious? You might — but I don’t think you should take chances when you’re new to this city.

While you should practice travel safety wherever you go (see my top 10 travel safety tips), here are my top recommendations for staying safe in Cape Town:

The V&A Waterfront is the only place where you should be walking around at night. This area is heavily policed and has a ton of cameras. Otherwise, take taxis or Ubers. If you’re in a bar or restaurant a few blocks or less from your accommodation, ask a staff member whether you should walk alone.

Know that late afternoon can be a popular time for petty crime. Not everywhere — but some Cape Town neighborhoods, including Bo-Kaap, tend to have more crimes take place during the late afternoon hours. If you’re in one of these neighborhoods, the locals will tell you that you should get going.

Know that panhandlers will often follow you if you don’t give them money. This happens throughout South Africa. Don’t be scared. Just continue walking and ignoring them and they will eventually leave.

Don’t visit a township independently. If you choose to visit a township, only go with a guide.

Get around with UberBLACK. Uber was a game-changer for South Africans — it made it possible to get reliable taxis. While UberX is dirt cheap, UberBLACK is staffed by professional drivers. Rides on UberBLACK cost twice as much as UberX, but they’re still cheap enough to be worth it.

Get a SIM card with data. This will allow you to summon Ubers and find your way around the city. Vodacom stores are everywhere and they provide great coverage within Cape Town. I paid about $20 for 5 GB of data. (I’m a heavy data user, due in part to Snapchat videos, and I tend to go through about 1.5 GB per week.) You’ll need your passport when you get the card.

Lock up your valuables in a portable safe in your hotel room. Fill it with your passport and any valuables you don’t take out with you each day — computer, external hard drive, jewelry, etc. — and lock it to the sturdiest thing in your room, ideally a pipe. This is the one I use. Don’t forget a padlock, too.

Get travel insurance. If you get robbed or injured, travel insurance can cover you in your time of need. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Kate and Beth at the Doubletree Cape Town

Where to Stay in Cape Town

I’ve stayed in accommodation all over the city, at different price points, from backpackery to quirky to posh. This time, I stayed in a place that’s perfect for mid-range travelers: the Doubletree Cape Town (full name: Doubletree by Hilton Cape Town Upper Eastside). We were guests of the hotel.

A sleek, mid-range hotel with lots of cool design, from a giant chandelier in the lobby to pink footsteps outlined on the rugs the Doubletree is so comfortable, which is exactly what Beth and I needed after coming straight from safari. (It wasn’t without a few layout quirks, though — we could never figure out which light switch was which, and it was odd that the outlets took every kind of plug except North American.)

In fact, the first night we just stayed in the hotel and ordered Nando’s delivery! Nando’s, along with other restaurants, will deliver to the hotel through OrderIn.co.za. We got spicy chicken and watched terrible movies. It was awesome.

Doubletree Cape TownDoubletree Cape TownDoubletree Cape Town

The Woodstock neighborhood may look a bit out of the way on the map, but look at that view from our window! Plus, it’s close to the Old Biscuit Mill (for the restaurants) and we rarely paid more than $6 for an Uber ride. They also have a free shuttle a few times per day to the V&A Waterfront. A hot breakfast was included, including custom omelets that we got every day.

And on our last night, we met some excellent wine guys downstairs in the hotel bar. They’re regulars there. If you run into a crazy guy named Dean who reminds you a bit of Rob Corddry and is sipping a Very Sexy Shiraz (it’s an actual wine), tell him Kate and Beth say hi!

Rates at the Doubletree Cape Town from 1500 rand ($104). I recommend signing up as a Hilton HHonors member; it costs nothing, earns you points, and you’ll be on a private floor for HH members.

Some of my other favorite Cape Town accommodation:

Atlantic Point Backpackers

If you’re looking for a hostel or low-budget option, I highly recommend Atlantic Point Backpackers. It’s comfortable, friendly, and a great place to meet fellow travelers.

Cape Town Sunset

If you’re looking for a high luxury option close to the waterfront, the Queen Victoria Hotel ticks all the boxes. Everything is white and cool and I pretend I’m fancy enough to be there.

Grand Daddy Trailer Park

And if you’re visiting in the warmer months, the rooftop trailer park at the Grand Daddy Hotel is the ultimate quirky Cape Town accommodation. I loved staying overnight in my own themed Airstream trailer!

Have you been to Cape Town? What would you recommend?

The Ultimate Offbeat Guide to Cape Town, South Africa - Adventurous Kate

This post is brought to you in part by Doubletree Cape Town and NAC Helicopters. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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How I Choose Where to Travel Next

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Kate in Santorini

“How do you choose where to travel next?”

It surprises me whenever I hear it, but this is one of the most popular questions I get. And as much as I think I just pick a destination and go, it’s actually a more complicated process. Why not write a whole post about it?

(And I’m not the only one! This week, the Traveling Canucks wrote a post on the very same topic. Do check their post out — it’s very different from mine and their blog is one of the best resources out there for traveling with young kids!)

Flam Railway

Start With Your List of Travel Dreams

I have a long, long list of trips I’d like to take someday. (You can see my current top 10 travel dreams in the right margin if you’re browsing via desktop.) If you’re reading this blog, you probably have tons of travel dreams, too!

And truthfully? Those dreams fade in and out. Sometimes I’ll get hooked on a trip idea and research on my laptop until 3:00 AM, my heart thudding rapidly. And sometimes that dream will die. Most of the time they go temporarily dormant, only to resurface when I see a blog post or read a book or admire a certain good-looking Olympic team and get inspired.

Here are some of the biggest travel dreams I have right now:

I want to travel along northern Spain. I want to dive into the food scene in San Sebastian, explore the villages of Asturias, and photograph the dramatic Galicia coastline.

I want to go to the Galapagos Islands. I really got into wildlife photography in South Africa and I’m eager to shoot some giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies!

I want to spend a week exploring the Florida Keys in depth. The pretty Keys and the gritty Keys. The Netflix show Bloodline may have had something to do with that!

I want to explore Western Australia. These are the white sand beaches I dream about the most, from Esperance in the south to Broome in the north.

Those are just a few. If I have the opportunity to take any of these dream trips, I’ll probably jump on it quickly!

Tip: I keep a lot of travel ideas on Evernote, free organizational software. Hell, I keep everything on Evernote. If you don’t use it, you should!

Uluru up Close

Come Up with a Travel Window

I generally plan my trips one to six months in advance. I’ll look over my schedule and see that I have a block available, accounting for holidays, events, and habits. (For example, “I will be sick of the winter by March — I’ll be dying to go somewhere warm by then.”)

It might be two weeks in February. It might be two months in the summer. Spring and fall tend to be filled with conferences and industry events, so I’m more cautious about those time periods. As soon as I know how much time I have, I can figure out what kinds of trips would work best.

Tip: While there is no formula for figuring out the exact cheapest time to buy a flight every time (and anyone who tells you this is lying), the best fares tend to be available approximately six weeks to three months in advance.

Sanctuary Koh Lanta Sunset

Time the Weather Right

Weather is the most critical aspect of how I plan my trips. 90% of the time, I travel in either high season or shoulder season. (One recent exception was my trip to South Africa, which I took in July because my friend Beth is a teacher and needed to travel during the summer. It worked out well, but I haven’t always been that lucky.)

Some travelers are more flexible with the weather than others — you need to find your own comfort level. Britain and Ireland, along with much of Northern Europe, are prone to cloudy, rainy weather and have lots of things to do indoors. Tiny beach towns during monsoon season, not so much.

Personally, if I’m planning a beach escape or trip to an outdoor destination, I’ll never time it during the off-season because I don’t want to be stuck inside as it rains.

Example: Last year I traveled to Koh Lanta, Thailand, in November, the shoulder season. I love Koh Lanta in November because it’s cheaper, it’s less busy, it rains only about every 2-3 days, and the streaky clouds make for better sunsets.

Phantom Forest Outside

Add On to Work Trips

Very often when I get a work trip somewhere, I extend it so I can explore further on my own. 99% of the time, the people flying me out won’t care if I want to fly back on a different date. (Just let them know before they actually book your flights!)

I know many business travelers who do the same thing. If you have a job where you travel, this is an easy way to add on a trip while saving on airfare.

Example: On my first trip to South Africa back in 2012, which was a press trip, I extended my trip an extra week so I could experience the country as a solo traveler. This way I got to experience bus travel, the Garden Route, and the hostel scene in Cape Town — all things I hadn’t experienced on the business part of the trip.

Vicky, Cailin, Candice and Kate in Mallorca

Factor In Spending Time With Friends

The best thing about travel blogging is that I’ve made so many friends around the world, many of them as itinerant as me. So visiting them is a major factor in my travels!

It can also be a cheap option. If you’re visiting a friend at their home, you can often stay with them for free and cook at home for some of your meals.

Example: When I planned an extra three weeks of hanging out in Europe, my friend Cailin invited me to join her at a villa in Mallorca (see her post here). Joining her — and our friends Candice and Vicky — made for a VERY fun week of tapas, cava, and listening to “Hotline Bling” over and over.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Compare Bargain Destinations vs. Spendy Destinations

Cost is one of the most important factors in planning a trip. And it’s not just about how much the flights cost! If you’re based in North America, a two-month trip to Southeast Asia or India could be cheaper than a two-week trip to Europe because the ground costs are so much lower.

I figure out whether I want it to be a cheaper trip or if I can handle a pricier jaunt. Keep in mind that cheaper destinations tend to mean dealing with less development and poorer infrastructure.

Pre-trip costs can be a factor as well. You might spend more on gear for a trek or camping trip, or lens rentals for a photography trip.

And don’t underestimate the joy of finding an error fare or crazy flight deal, or using your points or miles for something awesome!

Example: I was so set on visiting the Caucasus in August, but once I tallied up the cost, I realized it would be more expensive and complicated than I was comfortable with, particularly when it came to flights and the Azerbaijan visa. I decided to cancel it in favor of going somewhere closer and cheaper and settled on Colombia, which was cheaper to get to, cheaper on the ground, and had no visa costs for Americans.

Riga Latvia

Other Factors

Some of the other factors that can affect trips include:

Ease of travel. Some destinations are easier than others, and more challenging destinations can take a lot out of you. A significant language barrier or lack of travel infrastructure can end up affecting how your trip goes. After South Africa and Colombia back to back, which are both a bit mentally taxing, I’m eager for easy European travel this fall!

Distance. Further trips tend to be more expensive and often result in greater jet lag. For this reason, I don’t think it’s worth it to go to the other side of the world for less than ten days. I would be a zombie for most of the trip.

Variety. If you’ve been spending a lot of time in Latin America, you might start to crave Asian food. If you’ve been stuck in cities, you might be up for a trip somewhere rural. And we all know that a few months of a frigid winter makes you want to head for tropical beaches! Before I traveled full-time, I would escape Boston for somewhere warm every winter.

Personal goals. Everyone has goals, whether it’s to hold a koala in Australia or take crazy perspective photos at the Salar de Uyuni. My goals include visiting every country in Europe (so close!), visiting 100 countries before I turn 40, and visiting tons of UNESCO World Heritage Sites whenever I can.

Kate at the Pyramid, Tirana Albania

Travel Blogger-Specific Factors

Travel bloggers have additional factors in choosing where to visit, including but not limited to:

Branding. We round out our brands by becoming experienced in different parts of travel. Sometimes that means becoming an expert in a region, as The Blonde Gypsy is in the Balkans. Sometimes that means planning offbeat or extreme adventures, as Expert Vagabond does. Alex in Wanderland is always covering interesting dive sites around the world.

We plan our trips based on what will play well for our readership and our business. For me, I try to cover solo female travel in popular regions, like Southeast Asia and Central America, in lesser-known places, like Albania and Macedonia, and in countries where women tend to be more concerned about traveling solo, like Colombia.

Photography. If you’re an Instagram star or photography professional, you know what kinds of photos your audience loves. Palm trees. Sunsets. Tropical beaches. Iconic sites like Machu Picchu. Cities people dream of like Paris. Ridiculously photogenic countries like Iceland. And you’ve also got your own personal photography goals.

Conferences and trade shows. Conferences and trade shows take place around the globe, and while we attend them primarily for business reasons, they’re also a chance to hang out with our blogger friends!

Gigs, partnerships, and press trips. Much of the work we do requires us to fly out to certain destinations and experience them first-hand. Some bloggers live off constant press trips; some never take any sponsored travel. Most pros are somewhere in the middle.

Standing invitations. Travel bloggers receive invitations from small businesses on a regular basis — mostly along the lines of, “If you’re ever in _____, I’d love to have you come on my food tour/stay at my guesthouse/take you out to my favorite bar!” And while this will never be the primary reason why I go anywhere, if it’s a cool thing to do, sometimes it influences my decision a little bit.

Mount Titano

Putting It All Together

And then it all falls into place. “Hmmm, I’m doing nothing in the fall so far. Well — maybe I should finally plan my dream trip to New Zealand. That’s when the lupins are in bloom, which will be great for photography. It will be spring but it won’t be too busy. I’d miss all the pre-Christmas craziness at home but return in time to spend the holidays with my family. I can visit Liz and Edna and Bethaney. Let’s look up some fares out of curiosity…OH MY GOD I CAN FLY TO NEW ZEALAND FOR $780 ROUND TRIP FROM SAN FRANCISCO. I’m doing that!”

That trip came together beautifully, but sometimes my decisions can be more random. I have an impulsive side that revels in buying a last-minute ticket to a destination I wasn’t even considering. I think you’ll be seeing more of that next year when I plan fewer trips and have more chances for surprise getaways!

However you choose your destination, you can turn it into a memorable trip. Now, I want to hear from you! Do you think I’m too crazy? Did I miss something major? I’d love to hear it.

How do you choose where to travel next?

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How to Survive Pre-Trip Anxiety

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Cartagena, Colombia

I wrote the first draft of this post on my flight from JFK to Cartagena, and I’m embarrassed to say that I almost didn’t get on the plane.

As the departure date of my Colombia trip loomed, knots grew in my stomach. Was I only traveling because I thought I should be traveling? Did I want to be away from my friends and family in New York for 19 days when I had so many more travels coming up this fall?

Would I be able to get work done there? Would I miss a lot of cool events at home? What was the point of paying rent in expensive New York if I was going to be paying for simultaneous accommodation as well?!

I flipped back and forth a lot. As late as the day before, I told my friends I was split 80/20 in favor of not going.

This happens to all of us — even the pros.

At some point before your trip, you’ll likely feel a few doubts creeping in. Usually at the last minute, within a few days of your departure.

This is completely normal and it happens to everyone at some point.

What can trigger this? Something as innocuous as hearing friends make plans for when you’ll be away. It could be an offhand comment from someone about how your destination is dangerous or boring. Or realizing that you accidentally booked a trip during the Olympics and won’t get to watch them.

Soon, those doubts can snowball into a monster, making you second-guess your thoughts and feelings. But if you plan a strategic defense for this anxiety, you’ll be able to manage it better.

Relax Bay Koh Lanta

Practice Extra Self-Care Before Your Trip

Even if you feel confident, it’s good to guard against anxiety triggers before you go on your trip. This is especially important if you’re trying to finish up big projects at work or home before you leave.

Here are some ways to practice self-care:

Exercise. Whether you’re a fitness pro or couch potato, make sure you break a sweat regularly. I’m a fan of the 7-minute workout app and dance workouts on YouTube.

Take long walks. Save your podcasts or audiobooks for these walks if you need the motivation.

Meditate. I’m a big fan of the Headspace app, which is ideal for beginners.

Read, write, make music, or release creative energy. Have an outlet that lets you express yourself and your feelings, even if indirectly.

Spend time with loved ones. Let them know how much they mean to you, even if you’re planning a trip without them.

Stay healthy. Eat well, get enough sleep, don’t go on any benders with your friends.

Copenhagen

Figure out the source of what’s bothering you.

If your trip is arriving and you’re queasy at the thought of it, try to pinpoint what’s bothering you. Are you nervous about being robbed? Not being able to communicate with anyone? Are you afraid of flying? Or that you’ll be lonely? Do you think you’ll miss an important event at home?

Once you identify the source, see what you can do to remedy it. Would you feel more confident about not getting pickpocketed if you bought a camera bag that locked? If you’re nervous about meeting people, why don’t you post a message on the local Couchsurfing group or book yourself into a dorm or private room at a social hostel?

Sometimes you’ll only be worried about the unknown. Which, again, is totally normal. In that case, it can help to plan out your first day on the road.

Kate in Bangkok

Plan your arrival and first 24 hours on the ground.

I did this meticulously for my arrival in Bangkok in 2010, the trip that kicked off my full-time travels. This was my first time in Asia and although I knew intellectually that Thailand would be an easy region in which to travel, I was nervous about facing an entirely new culture.

Here’s what I planned:

After going through immigration, I would go to the ATM and take out cash.

I would get a taxi to my guesthouse, Wild Orchid Villa, and I had a piece of paper with the address written in Thai as well.

I would check into my guesthouse and email my family to let them know I made it.

I would go to sleep and then walk to Wat Phra Kaew to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho the next morning.

I would get street food somewhere for lunch.

I would meet blogger friends for dinner on Khao San Road that night.

Now, that didn’t all go to plan. The cab driver had trouble finding my guesthouse and kept stopping to ask people for directions. I had to ask for new rooms twice because the doors didn’t lock well. And I didn’t sleep a wink my entire first night due to jet lag. But having that outline kept me focused and comfortable.

I reminded myself of this for my Colombia trip. I didn’t have to have Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park completely figured out before I left. Just a few things to do in Cartagena would be enough. (As it went, I axed Santa Marta and Tayrona completely because I couldn’t stand the humidity on the coast.)

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Give yourself an extra financial cushion.

One of my top tips for travelers, especially solo female travelers, is to financially invest in your safety. That means spending money on a cab if you’re not comfortable walking or taking public transportation at night. Or booking a more expensive hotel if it’s in a nicer neighborhood.

I think the same advice holds if you’re nervous before your trip. If you want to do a day trip somewhere that requires a lot of bus changes, why not book a direct organized tour? It will be easier and you might meet new friends. If you’re not sure whether you can handle a dorm, book a single room for your first few nights and then see if you feel like doing a dorm later on.

Just knowing that the extra money is there to spend it if you need it can be reassuring.

Ometepe Sunset Hacienda Merida

Remember that this is YOUR TRIP.

You can do whatever you want on this trip. You can be adventurous — or take it easy. You can be super social — or solitary. Nobody at home is judging you on just how far off the beaten path you go. (Granted, as travel bloggers, it’s different for us, but most of you reading this don’t have to worry about that.)

And sometimes your dream itinerary won’t work out. If you get to Venice and realize it’s sticky and expensive and overwhelmingly crowded, you have the freedom to leave. (My recommendation? Take a train down to Bologna to explore Emilia-Romagna, or get a ferry to Rovinj in Croatia.) Don’t feel like you have to stay because it’s Venice.

I spend a lot of time sitting in cafes, no matter where I go. That’s important to me. I need a caffeine hit every afternoon like clockwork, and as an introvert, I need that time to get back inside my head. Some people consider that wasted time. But for me, it’s vital.

Castlerigg Lake District Sunset

Err on the Side of Going, But Sometimes It’s Okay to Cancel

There may come a point when you’re considering whether or not to cancel a trip. Most of the time, you should push through your fears and go anyway, but there are occasional instances when canceling is the right decision.

Thinking about the trips that I’ve had to cancel in the past, some of them were for better reasons than others.

I canceled Greece two years ago. I wasn’t in a good spot to travel — I was still reeling from several rough months in my personal life and I needed the extra time to put myself back together before Sri Lanka a month later.

I lost the cost of a TBEX conference ticket and a one-way flight. The worst part was letting down my friends Katie and Becki, as we had planned to rent an apartment together in Athens.

I canceled Burning Man last year. It was July, I had done zero preparation, and it would be expensive and complicated, so it was easier just to sell the ticket. Burning Man is not something you can half-ass. You need to get a vehicle and bring everything you need to survive in the desert, plus costumes and/or art to contribute to the community.

Fortunately, my would-be companion Liz felt the same way, and we had only spent money on the festival tickets. I had a buyer within one minute of posting on Facebook.

I came home early from Thailand last year. It was supposed to be a five-week trip to Thailand and Myanmar; I capped it at three weeks in Thailand. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed my time in Koh Lanta with Brenna, I probably shouldn’t have taken the trip. I was hypnotized by cheap fares and going through the motions of what a traveler was “supposed” to do.

I had secured a super-cheap $550 round-trip flight from New York to Bangkok; the flight was nonrefundable and I had to spend roughly the same amount to get home early. Eek.

I think I made the right decision on Greece and Burning Man; Thailand could have gone either way.

But Colombia? I’m so glad I’m here. The trip is about a week longer than it should have been, I’ll give it that. But it’s so good to be here for both personal and professional reasons. It’s been a while since I’ve been on an adventurous solo trip and I think I’ve got my groove back.

Istanbul

Remember Your Limits Before You Book Your Next Trip

What led to your anxiety in the first place? Write it down and don’t forget it when you’re planning your next trip. If you avoid these triggers, you might have an easier time on your next trip.

Today I know that my anxiety tends to stem from 1) spending too much time on the road instead of home and 2) getting overwhelmed when I have to do too much work for a complicated trip.

Going forward, I’m going to focus primarily on shorter trips (think 10 days or less) that take place far less often and I’m going to remind myself that I need to spend at least two thirds of my time at home in New York. (With my big New Zealand trip this fall, I won’t be able to put this into practice until January.)

I absolutely love travel planning, but trips that require months of intense work stress me out too much. Because of that, I’m probably best off avoiding trips like The Mongol Rally, which involves buying an old car, fundraising for charity, and securing a million complicated visas.

If I do Burning Man in the future (and I’d like to!), I’m going to pay for a camp where they provide the food, water, and shelter so I can focus on costumes and art. Organizing everything from scratch is too overwhelming for me.

Kate in Pollenca

Often, you need to get there before you relax.

99% of the time, you’ll be glad you went. Repeat that to yourself — I’ll be so glad I went on this trip.

But often you don’t realize that until you’re on the ground in your destination. Feeling the different temperature in the air, voices in a different language surrounding you, streets full of different smells and colors — sometimes that’s all you need to remind yourself why you love traveling in the first place.

Put your trust in that feeling, even when you doubt yourself. Almost every time, it will be there when you arrive.

Have you ever canceled a trip last minute? Or do you get nervous before you leave? Share away!

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How to Rock a Trip to Johannesburg

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DSCF5741Carlton Centre

“Is it really worth it to visit Johannesburg?”

Absolutely. I think it’s great for any trip to South Africa, but especially your first. On my first trip to Joburg in 2012, I was absolutely shocked at how much I enjoyed it. So I definitely wanted us to return for our girls’ getaway to South Africa.

This was Beth’s first trip to the country and she gave me a lot of freedom in planning our trip. I quickly decided that we would begin with just a few days in Johannesburg.

Here’s why you should do the same:

Garden at Apartheid Museum

Because it’s a good landing pad.

Johannesburg is a much bigger airline hub than Cape Town. Chances are you’ll land here when you first arrive in South Africa. And unless you’re coming from elsewhere on the continent, you’ll arrive after a very long flight (8 hours from Dubai, 11 hours from Amsterdam, a whopping 16 hours from New York!). You’ll probably be supremely jet-lagged or sleep-deprived (unless you’re Beth, who has the talent of being able to fall asleep anytime, anywhere) and you won’t be able to sightsee at 100% of your usual capacity.

Johannesburg is full of attractions, but not so many that you’ll be heartbroken that you missed them. For this reason, I recommend doing Johannesburg while you’re still a bit tired and saving gorgeous Cape Town for when you’ve got more energy.

Take your time when you arrive in Johannesburg. Plan one big sight to see each day and go at a comfortable pace. Don’t be afraid to spend time hanging out at a cafe or relaxing at your hotel. It takes time to get your energy back.

Apartheid Museum

Because it teaches you about contemporary South Africa.

I think it’s important to learn about a country’s recent turmoil. That’s why I cringe when I see people flying in and out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, without taking the time to visit Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields. It’s difficult to witness, but I don’t think you can understand contemporary Cambodia until you see its atrocities laid bare in front of you.

For Johannesburg, if there’s one place I recommend above anywhere else, it’s the Apartheid Museum. It’s full of information on the history of Apartheid from start to finish and explains how South Africa became what it is today. You’ll have a greater understanding of the country after spending time here.

I warn you that that the information presented is extremely dense. Each exhibit is filled with paragraphs upon paragraphs. You won’t have time to read everything; you certainly won’t retain everything you read. Again, go at your own pace and don’t worry if you don’t read through every part of the museum.

Sterkfontein Caves

Because it’s a surprisingly fun city!

On my first trip, I visited Liliesleaf, Alexandra Township, Soweto, and the World of Beer. You can read about them in this post.

This time was all about the new. We visited the Sterkfontein Caves, also known as the Cradle of Humankind.

Sterkfontein CavesKate and Beth at the Sterkfontein CavesSterkfontein Caves

Located a 50-minute drive out of town, these caves are home to some of the most significant ancient human remains discoveries of all time, including “Mrs. Ples” and “Little Foot.” Tours take you directly into the caves, and while you can’t see the bones themselves, they’re a very cool place to visit.

As a former anthropology major, this was Beth’s first choice. I was delighted to learn that they’re actually part of the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Johannesburg

The next day, on recommendation from my local friend Kate, we joined the hop-on hop-off CitySightseeing bus tour. I know some people turn their noses up at these, but I think they’re perfect for certain cities — Johannesburg and Cape Town in particular. Johannesburg because it’s not a walkable city and the bus takes you to some of the city’s biggest sights for less than what a taxi would cost.

Carlton Centre

One of our stops on the trip was the top of Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa! It’s only 50 stories tall, which puts a lot into perspective.

This was probably the strangest thing we did in Johannesburg. The top floor looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s or so. There was graffiti and trash everywhere and we swore we saw a bullet hole in one window. And for some reason there was a giant nutcracker.

Carlton Centre Carlton CentreKate and Beth with the Nutcracker in Johannesburg

Beth and I filed the Carlton Centre under “cool, but weird” and went on our merry way.

Kate, Beth, Kate and Alessio

We met up with Kate and her boyfriend Alessio in Parkhurst, my favorite neighborhood in Johannesburg. It’s full of boutiques, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes. Oh, and this is where I learned that people eat outside year-round in Joburg, even in the winter! (Head to Hudson’s for awesome burgers — the bacon jam burger is outstanding!)

Gautrain

We also took the Gautrain, Johannesburg’s foray into a subway. It’s cool, sleek, modern, and super fancy. Security guards wait for each train and food and drink are not allowed on the platform or the trains (Beth and I got lectured by a guard but he let us finish our green juices).

The Rosebank stop is around the corner from our hotel, 54 on Bath, and we took it to Park Station to pick up the CitySightseeing bus. Later we took it to the airport. O.R. Tambo Airport is so far out of the city that I highly recommend taking the Gautrain — it’s nicer, faster, and far more luxurious, yet much cheaper than a Joburg taxi.

54 on Bath, Johannesburg

Because it’s home to a hotel I love.

Honestly, the biggest reason why I wanted to go back to Johannesburg is because I wanted to stay at 54 on Bath again. I stayed here in 2012 and it’s since been one of my favorite boutique hotels in the world.

54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg

What makes it so great? It just has an incredibly classy feeling to it.

Everything is black and white. The staff is amazing. And they don’t mind if you play the piano in the lobby!

Breakfast at 54 on Bath, Johannesburg

In 2012, I thought the breakfast buffet was the prettiest I had ever seen — and in 2016, I still think so!

Kate at the Champagne Bar

And there’s a small champagne bar in the hotel, too! Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, we enjoyed glasses of Veuve Clicquot for the equivalent of $10! That’s how much a glass of mediocre wine costs in midtown Manhattan.

Turndown Snacks at 54 on Bath

But my favorite part of 54 on Bath? The turndown snacks. We’d come home from a day of sightseeing to be greeted by macarons and passionfruit juice.

54 on Bath is attached to the Rosebank Mall, which is fabulously convenient. The mall is home to a Vodacom store, where we picked up SIM cards for our trip, as well as a drugstore, where we picked up toiletries and various sleep medications to knock the jet lag out of me. Rosebank is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Johannesburg and just outside the mall are several restaurants and the Rosebank Gautrain stop.

Staying at 54 on Bath is a pure joy, and there is nowhere else I’d want to stay in Johannesburg!

Essential Info: Admission to the Sterkfontein Caves is 120 rand ($9) for adults, 65 rand ($5) for children. It’s an hour outside the city and while we took Ubers there and back, neither of our drivers had ever been there! It took awhile to get an Uber driver to pick us up. Lots of companies run organized tours that will pick you up from your hotel.

The CitySightseeing Johannesburg bus costs 170/90 rand ($12/7) for adults/children for one day and 270/180 rand ($20/13) for adults/children for two days. You can add on a Soweto tour for 420/220 rand ($31/16) for adults/children for one day and 520/310 rand ($38/23) for adults/children for two days.

Admission to the Apartheid Museum is 80 rand ($6) for adults, 65 rand ($5) for children. Admission to the top of the Carlton Centre is 15 rand ($1).

Rates at 54 on Bath start at 1805 rand ($134).

While we took the Gautrain a few times, including to the airport, we mostly got around Johannesburg via UberX — it’s very cheap and locals trust it more than taxis. We found out near the end of our trip that Uber Black costs twice as much as UberX, but the drivers are certified professionals. After having one harrowing UberX experience in Cape Town, I would recommend choosing Uber Black whenever possible.

New to Uber? Use the code 9x41m and your first ride up to $15 is free.

The prettiest time to visit Johannesburg is roughly from October to November, when the purple jacaranda trees bloom.

You do need to be a bit more on your toes about safety in Johannesburg. I wouldn’t walk outside at night except on the main street of Parkhurst and the promenade immediately around the Rosebank Mall. Be sure to closely guard your belongings day or night.

Many thanks to 54 on Bath for offering us a complimentary three-night stay. Everything else in Johannesburg was at our own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Johannesburg? Would you recommend it?

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Notes from the Brink of Age 32

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Imperfect Selfie: Relaxing in Koh Lanta, Thailand

This week I turned 32. It’s had me deep in thought. 32 isn’t one of the more significant birthdays, but it’s been a while since I went through a year filled with so many changes.

Every year I write a birthday post, talking about where I am now in this part of my life. For this year’s post, I’m illustrating it with several “imperfect selfies” from the past year that never made it off my phone to be published anywhere. They’re not great shots, but they’re as real as they get.

Imperfect Selfie: In Central Park on a warm April day

On a cold winter evening, shortly after moving into my new apartment, I sit down with a cup of wild berry herbal tea. Just me on my groovy purple couch, the magenta-and-indigo Persian-style rug spread beneath it. Spotify’s “Late Night Jazz” playlist wafts through the air because apparently I listen to jazz now. Fuzzy fuchsia Ugg slippers are on my feet.

Slippers.

I’ve had no need to own slippers for a long time.

It’s late, it’s soft, and everything here belongs to me. It’s all mine. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that I nearly cry.

And I promised myself, “I need to remember how good this feels.”

Imperfect Selfie: Not-So-Jet-Lagged in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

On Being in Transition

Moving to New York and scaling down my travels was absolutely the right decision. I have zero doubts with that. Sure, I’d love it if the cost of living were more reasonable, but the benefits exponentially outweigh the drawbacks. I have a community and so many close friends in New York. It’s the center of just about every industry. Blogger friends are always passing through.

That said, I’ve been struggling with the transition from full-time travel to being somewhat settled down. I often worry that I’m not traveling as much as I should be, that I’m not experiencing as many new places as I used to.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living two different lives. Take the month of April — it was wonderful. I did a lot of fun things. I had several friends come to visit during the month. And then I realized I had gone a full month without leaving the city. How could I be happy with that?!

If there’s anything I know, when you’re doing two things that are contradictory to each other, you can’t do both well. The better I did with travel, the worse I would do at building a home life. As long as I was at home, my travel life would suffer. So where exactly would I draw the line?

Imperfect Selfie: Still my favorite Wes Anderson movie

And that’s where the public life comes in. It’s hard enough dealing with a major lifestyle change on your own — but what about when 1) you’re living in a fishbowl, the world’s eyes on you as you make this change and 2) your previous lifestyle provides your income, an income that now must be much higher given your new lifestyle?

So these days when I get my Snapchat profile featured in different publications and the description starts with the inevitable, “Kate doesn’t travel as much as she used to, buuuuut…” I panic. Is that me? Is that who I am now?

But it goes both ways. Because then, Jayne of Girl Tweets World writes, “I’ve discovered through Adventurous Kate’s snaps (@adventurouskate) that she’s pretty good at cooking,” and that makes me so happy. (Jayne, come to New York and I’ll make you dinner!)

So I find myself in the middle. Enjoying my new settled life, but wondering if I’ll still be feeling the travel pangs months or years later. I don’t see myself traveling open-endedly long-term for a very long time. Probably not until I’m in a very different stage of life. And when that happens, I’ll probably rent my place out instead of selling everything to travel.

Imperfect Selfie: With the Bird Girl in Savannah, Georgia

What I’ve Learned at 31

Here are two things with which I’ve come to terms in the past year:

Balance is a fallacy. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, you’re never going to achieve a perfect balance between all of the important things in your life. Hell, you’re not even going to get close. While there might be a day where you happen to hit it out of the park, that’s a rarity.

It’s like that for everybody. If you read a handful of travel blogs besides mine, you’ve probably read a few posts saying, “This isn’t working — I need to find a new balance.” Then a few months down the line, the same blogger will often write the same thing. It’s an unending battle.

But that’s fine. I think it’s smart to be at peace with the fact that you’re never going to get it perfect, and instead just try to do the best you can and not beat yourself up about it when you fall short.

Imperfect Selfie: Turns out you can get a photo alone with the Wall Street bull if you go at 1:00 AM!

The second:

There is no financial satisfaction ceiling. There will always be reason to make more money.

I remember sitting speechless in Krabi, Thailand, nearly six years ago, after my friend Cody’s offhand comment that I’d be financially sustainable within a year. (In reality, it only took six months.) All I need is to make a thousand dollars a month — then I’ll be able to live in Southeast Asia, I thought to myself.

Funny how things change! Sure, that $1,000 a month could still work today, even with inflation (you can live in Chiang Mai on far less), but my personal goals changed. Living on the cheap in a developing country would have worked in 2011, but soon I wanted to live in nicer places and travel more often. I had to make more money to support a slightly better lifestyle. And then a slightly better lifestyle than that.

There will always be higher goals. The old me would have been ecstatic that I could make enough money to live in Manhattan without roommates. The current me is wondering how she’ll be able to buy property in Manhattan someday, or if that’s just a pipe dream.

Hell, maybe in the future I’ll be wishing I made just a little more money so I could buy my own yacht instead of renting them all the time!

I know the answer to this quandary is to be grateful for what you have. Which I am. But it’s hard to push away the thoughts of what you could do with just a little more.

Imperfect Selfie: With a Leonardo DiCaprio statue in San Francisco

A New Quest for Privacy

There’s something else. I’ve been wrestling with the notion of privacy lately.

The duality between public figures and their privacy fascinates me endlessly. Like how Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd campaigned successfully to get the major celebrity magazines to stop publishing photos of celebrity children. How Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck joined their effort, but only after their strategy of posing for a million “candid” family photo ops to win Ben his Oscar for Argo.

How the Obama girls, despite living in a world of social media, have much more privacy and respect from the media than Chelsea Clinton ever did. How Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin gave interviews about their relationship but refused to be photographed as a couple. How Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes never breathed a word about their divorce and no tabloid published so much as a rumor. How Isla Fisher, Eva Mendes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and some of my own friends kept their pregnancies secret until the baby was born. How Mark Zuckerberg decides which photos of his wife and daughter to share on Facebook.

Not everyone is a Kardashian. A great many celebrities have found ways to promote their public brand while protecting their private life.

Whether you’re a blogger, a celebrity, or just a regular person with a Facebook account, social media means having your life available for consumption. You get to decide how much you want to reveal.

Imperfect Selfie: at my friend Janelle’s wedding in Connecticut

I admire my travel blogger friends who don’t hesitate to talk about the ugly parts of travel and reveal raw, honest, intimate details about their innermost feelings, details that most bloggers would be afraid to share — and yet never mention that they have a serious romantic partner. That’s the level I want to return to.

A few years ago, I decided to take my romantic life off the blog. And aside from a few ambiguous travel anecdotes from the past, like my love stories post, I’ve stuck to that. I haven’t even breathed a word of my love life on Facebook! The next time I mention I’m seeing someone, well, don’t be surprised if it’s accompanied by wedding photos. I like it this way.

Not only is this fair to my partner, it allows me to keep a major aspect of my life free from commentary from the public.

I keep other things private, too: my finances, most business stuff, and exactly where I live (though obviously I’m open about living in Harlem). The other day, a reader asked in a blog comment what street I lived on, and it freaked me out. I don’t even snap or take selfies on my own street. Where do I live? At 69 None of Your Business St., right between Why Would I Tell A Complete Stranger Ave. and Are You A Rapist Lane.

I recently came across a quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, and although she wrote about it in terms of her marriage ending, I think it’s valuable to all of us who write publicly about our lives:

If I don’t mention something, it’s not because I forgot to. It’s because I desperately have to find the balance here between honesty and a tell-all. Between transparency and responsibility. What I owe you and what I owe myself. There will be parts of this story I (try to) keep for myself…If you can, please resist assumptions, gossip, or asking for details I haven’t provided.

She’s absolutely right. We should all follow suit — as readers and as bloggers.

Imperfect Selfie: At Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts

The Traps That Befall Us

One of the scariest things about starting a career in a new and burgeoning industry is that there are no blueprints to follow. While of course we can always learn from our friends, colleagues, and mentors, there are no people who already went through the Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories debate years ago and can tell you which route to take.

We’ve been soaring blindly, coasting on the faith in our dreams. Or flying by the seat of our pants.

The most common problems I see among travel bloggers are from trying to work too hard and/or travel too hard at the expense of everything else. Lots of people burn out; lots of people run out of money; lots of people neglect their personal relationships, health, and interests outside the world of travel; lots of people sacrifice the quality of their blog to improve the quality (and especially luxury) of their travels.

I’ve even seen these problems leading to bloggers having a full-on breakdown and pull the plug on their site, never to blog again. I don’t want that to happen to me, but I can see how easily it could happen.

I’ve had some serious lows myself over the past six and a half years. As I always say, travel blogging isn’t heart surgery. It’s not coal mining. To be able to travel for a living is a luxury and a privilege. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges.

Imperfect Selfie: After a fresh cut and color in NYC

Travel Goals for Age 32

And on to the fun stuff! Travel goals!

Colombia and New Zealand are definitely slated for this year. Poland and Slovakia are high possibilities. Beyond those trips, aside from a handful of conferences and trade shows in the US and Europe, I have no travel plans for the next year.

But it’s always good to have travel goals. Here are a few of mine:

Keep chipping away at new countries. The last new country I visited was Latvia, over a year ago! I’m holding at 63 now and while I don’t have a desire to visit every country in the world, I’d like to visit over 100 before I turn 40. That said, I don’t like flying in and out purely for the sake of visiting a new country, so this will take some time.

Get closer to visiting every country in Europe. Only 10 remain: Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. I don’t count the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) as Europe.

Go on another wildlife trip — hopefully in the Galapagos. I fell in love with wildlife photography on my most recent trip to South Africa, thanks to finally using quality photography gear. I’m craving MUCH more! The Galapagos is at the top of my list, but I’m also dreaming of lemurs in Madagascar, penguins in Antarctica, gorillas in Rwanda.

Visit at least one of my major US travel oversights. Austin, Portland, Nashville, Miami, and Hawaii top the list! (At this point I wonder if I should keep mentioning Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the most egregious oversight for a professional traveler who lived most of her life in Massachusetts.)

Take a digital detox — or perhaps a creative retreat. Either kind of trip would require getting away from the internet for a few days, something that is highly beneficial yet becoming more and more of a challenge.

Explore a LOT more of New York, particularly the areas that aren’t covered as often in the travel media. I know I’ll have no trouble doing that!

Imperfect Selfie: At a Daybreaker party in NYC

Life Goals for Age 32

I do have some personal goals, but going back to the privacy issue, I think I’d like to keep them under wraps.

In a nutshell:

I will continue what’s going well.

I will improve what’s not going well.

I will continue doing unpleasant things that are good for me, even when they’re difficult.

I will contribute more joy to the world.

Thank you for reading.

I value your readership so much, and having you here means the world to me. None of this exists without you and I never forget that.

But beyond that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on maintaining privacy as a public figure. Share away!

You can check out my previous birthday posts here: 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31. I didn’t write one for 29 for some reason.

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AK Monthly Recap: July 2016

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Kate at Table Mountain

Finally, after seven months stateside, I broke out my worn navy passport and traveled abroad once again! I needed a break, but I still can’t believe it lasted seven months.

This month was about South Africa. My friend Beth and I spent just over two weeks in the country, my third visit and her first. In addition to that, we spent a day in Amsterdam and the rest of my time was spent in the New York and Boston areas.

I love summer — I’m a summer baby and I’ve always loved summer weather, the hotter the better. But the older I get, the less I’m able to tolerate long periods of heat and humidity, so a trip to South Africa during their winter was a perfect way to take a break from the heat. It felt great to wear the closest thing I have to a uniform: jeans, boots, and my leather jacket!

Sunset Massachusetts

Destinations Visited

New York, NY, USA

Reading, Lynn, Salisbury, Newburyport, and Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Johannesburg, Kruger National Park (and environs), Cape Town, Muizenberg, Simonstown, Cape Peninsula National Park, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek, South Africa

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

Cape Point

Favorite Destinations

Cape Town. After three visits, I think I finally have a favorite destination in South Africa.

Stellenbosch. Fantastic wines, beautiful surroundings, and a lovely town to walk around.

Amsterdam. The second time was the charm — good weather had me swooning for this city.

Giraffes on Safari

Highlights

South Africa was an amazing trip. I had such a good time with my friend Beth and loved seeing how much she fell in love with South Africa! We also got along great the whole trip, which is all you can ask for when traveling with a friend.

Flying business class on KLM was amazing. This was my first time flying business class for longer than a two-hour flight, so flying super long-haul (eight hours from New York to Amsterdam, then 11 hours from Amsterdam to Johannesburg) was a treat. It was just so pleasant. The food was constant, the seats were so comfortable, the flight attendants were so nice, and the souvenir KLM houses they give business class passengers are my new obsession! I even slept a full eight hours on an overnight flight!

We saw amazing wildlife, including the Big Five, on safari. Seeing the Big Five at any time of year is somewhat rare, but we lucked out: first rhinos (I know!!), then lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, and finally a leopard. Beyond that, some of our wildlife highlights were a tiny baby rhino nursing from his mother, a lioness feasting on a kudu, the most playful elephants you can imagine, and two cheetahs, seen on foot, just 15 feet away!

I got to spend time with my dear South African friends in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Seriously, the best thing about travel blogging is having friends all over the world.

Camps Bay, Cape Town

Cape Town was unbelievable. This was my third visit and the best visit by far! From hanging out in Camps Bay to enjoying steampunk java at Truth Coffee Roasters to having an unforgettable meal at the Potluck Club to making friends with a Wine Guy at the bar at the Doubletree and sharing a bottle of the most interesting wine I’ve ever tasted, Cape Town blew me away this time around.

Stellenbosch was all about the wine tasting. I couldn’t think of a better way to wind down our trip. In four days we actually did tastings at 10 wineries in Stellenbosch and Franshhoek, pairing wines with chocolate, cheese, cured meats, and even salts!

We had an unexpected layover in Amsterdam. Our connecting flight to New York was cancelled, so we were booked on the next day’s flight and had a 24-hour layover. Beth and I both love Amsterdam, so we went out to explore the city! The weather was spectacular. I took tons of photos (making up for my rainy first visit to Amsterdam), Beth bought her husband his favorite cheese, and we enjoyed a delicious Indonesian rijsttafel dinner.

I went home for the Fourth of July and got to spend time with my family. And the North Shore of Massachusetts is a fantastic place to hang out during the summer!

And at the end of the month, my mom came to visit me and my sister in New York for a few days. We got to check out some new parts of the city, including the New York Botanical Gardens, where the corpse flower was in bloom!

Stellenbosch Flowers in Winter

Challenges

A lot went wrong this month. So much that my previous months look quaint by comparison.

My debit card was stolen online. Hope you enjoyed the $38 worth of Panda Express, motherfucker. (Seriously, who buys $38 worth of food at Panda Express with a stolen credit card? If I stole someone’s credit card, I’d go straight to Barneys.) And a reminder to all of you — have multiple bank accounts and multiple debit cards when you travel. I was okay because I was able to withdraw from my other accounts; that wasn’t the case when my cards were stolen in 2011.

I left my coat and scarf in Johannesburg. Yeah. Dumb move. I was cold on safari and thankfully Beth had brought an extra fleece that I could wear. That said, both the coat and the scarf remind me of times in my life that I’d rather forget, so it’s no big deal that they’re gone. I asked the hotel to send them to a shelter, so hopefully they’re keeping someone warm now.

I got the worst sunburn EVER. You know when you use that spray-on sunscreen? You need to rub it in. I had a speckled burn on my thighs which eventually turned into a speckled tan on my thighs.

Jet lag was rough this time. It was only a six-hour difference but it was the worst jet lag I’ve had in years, in part because I forgot my melatonin and you can only get it with a prescription in South Africa. My friend Jodi sent me some unusual jet lag tips she’s discovered, which she later turned into this excellent post.

New York Feet

The worst Lyft ride ever. I usually take Lyft Line rides (carpooling) home from JFK because it’s $35 as opposed to $55ish, and they just pick up someone near you. Well, Beth and I hailed Lyft Lines at the same time and got paired together, which is bizarre because she lives in Brooklyn and I live 50 minutes away in Harlem. Long story short, it usually takes me 30 minutes to get home from JFK, but between the traffic and the detour it took me TWO HOURS to get home.

I got sick and puked out the side of my safari vehicle. Because I am a classy lady.

I had a few bad street harassment incidents this month. There’s one part of my neighborhood that I feel the absolute safest in, and I never get catcalls there, but men yelled at me constantly in that neighborhood one day. I wasn’t flashing people or anything — I think it was because I was wearing an above-the-knee dress and forgot my sunglasses so my eyes were showing. NOTE: That is NOT blaming myself, because the only people that deserve blame are the street harassers. All women deserve the right to walk down the street without being harassed. 

And I actually caught another street harasser while in the middle of a snap this month! My Snapchat followers loved that, particularly since it ended with me telling him to fuck off.

And finally…I can’t believe I’m telling you this…I dropped my phone in the toilet. For the first time ever. BUT the toilet had just been cleaned AND my phone was fine because of my LifeProof case! PHEW! That case saved me from having to buy a new phone. Worth every penny and then some.

Franschhoek

Most Popular Post

Don’t Expect Travel to Solve Your Problems — Many of you related to this and shared your stories.

Other Posts

Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It Or Not? — A must-read for South Africa visitors.

Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America — I loved discovering this cool local getaway!

Elephants on Safari

News and Announcements

This month CNBC did a lovely little video feature on me! You can find it here on Facebook.

Amsterdam

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Hello, Amsterdam! I love your houses so much! This is one of my favorite shots from our brief layover.

For real-time updates from my travels, you can follow me on Instagram and Snapchat — I’m adventurouskate on both!

Salisbury Beach

What I Read This Month

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball — One of my guilty pleasures is reading memoirs from city girls turned country girls, and this is exactly what this book is. Kristin is a Manhattan freelance writer who suddenly falls in love with a farmer and starts a new farm with him in upstate New York.

As much as I love reading about farming, this memoir had a lot missing. While she wrote about a year’s worth of events and the technicalities of farming, she wrote so little about her thoughts and feelings that I found myself wondering why she even liked her husband in the first place. Yes, he was handsome and a great cook and he did thoughtful things for her, but other than that, I feel like he was didn’t even have a personality. Nor did she. I enjoyed the book, but I found the emotional distance borderline bizarre, especially for a memoir.

The Girls by Emma Cline — This was my book club’s pick for the month (and to be fair, I voted for it), but it took me a long time to get through it because I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. A teenage girl joins a cult of mostly women led by a messianic leader in 1969, and later the cult is involved in a murder. It’s a fictionalized version of Charles Manson and the Family, which is what interested me in the book.

This book is enormously popular right now, and I get it, but the author’s descriptions went way overboard. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of similes (yes, I get the irony of this statement). It was just too much. And I kept waiting for the plot to start and as soon as it became mildly interesting, it abruptly ended. Talk about a disappointment.

Grace by Natasha Deón — A dark, haunting, beautiful novel. A former slave is on the run from bounty hunters while in labor. Shortly after giving birth, she’s shot dead — but her spirit decides not to leave her daughter. The book takes place in two parts: Naomi’s life that led up to her death, and her daughter Josey’s life from the beginning, both stories told by Naomi’s ghost.

This novel is beautifully told — I got it after reading its laudatory New York Times review. For literary reasons alone, you should read it, and because it was originally a screenplay, it has a cinematic quality to it. But beyond that, I think it’s important to read books by women of color, who are too often overlooked in the publishing industry, and it’s also important to read books about slavery, as it’s the root cause of blacks being treated as second-class citizens in America today. It does not matter that you personally did not own slaves — the effects of slavery have been passed down through generation after generation, and the more you read, the more you will understand.

What I Watched This Month

Orange is the New Black — wow. Season Four made up for the weak previous season — and ultimately ended devastatingly. The show has significantly changed direction since Season One and I don’t think anyone would consider it a comedy or even a dramedy anymore.

It’s tough. Season Three was about the prison going from nonprofit to for-profit, and all the negative changes that ensued, but Season Four pushes the horrors to new levels. Without giving anything away, this season highlights many of the problems with our prison system, and on top of that, the storytelling is fantastic. Well worth a watch.

What I Listened To This Month

Sorry, I’m still listening to Hamilton! No new music to share this month. I had “History Has Its Eyes On You” stuck in my head for most of the month.

Cartagena by AleNunes

Image: AleNunes

Coming Up in August 2016

I’m going to Colombia! This trip is seriously overdue. It’s been just over a year since I’ve visited a new country (!) and I haven’t done a solo trip or been somewhere adventurous in quite some time. Plus, I haven’t been to South America since 2008, pre-blog!

I was actually hoping to visit the Caucasus this month — Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, in that order — but as the costs, time required, and Azerbaijan visa complications added up, I didn’t feel good about the trip. I ultimately decided to go with a shorter, cheaper trip closer to home.

My plan is to fly into Cartagena and fly out of Bógota 2.5 weeks later. In between I hope to visit Santa Marta and/or Taganga, Tayrona National Park, Medellín, and Salento, plus day trips to places like Minca and Guatapé. A fairly basic Colombia itinerary, but one that will take me to the most popular spots and let me create the most useful blog posts for you.

Almost all of my travel blogger friends who have been to Colombia consider it one of their favorite countries. Let’s just say I have very high expectations! I’m a bit nervous about how rainy it will be on the Caribbean coast, but while it’s not the driest time of year, July and August are a slight reprieve from the rainier months. We shall see. My biggest priority, as you guys know, is getting good photos!

Any suggestions for Colombia? Let me know! Where did you go this month?

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Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It or Not?

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Kate at Table Mountain

“You’re going to South Africa in the winter? Why?!”

This was the reaction of most of my South African friends upon learning of my July travel plans.

Truth, I very rarely travel during the low season anywhere; for me, it’s not worth the risk of bad weather. But this time it wasn’t just about me — it was about my friend Beth. She’s a teacher and can’t take time off unless it’s during the summer. Beth’s schedule is the reality for countless other teachers and professionals: it’s summer or nothing.

As someone who typically avoids low season, I was nervous about our winter trip — but it turned out better than I could have imagined! We had perfect weather in Johannesburg and Kruger, two clear days and two rainy days in Cape Town, and a mix of sun and showers in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Winter doesn’t have to be a bad time in South Africa. Not whatsoever. So I decided to dive into South African weather and create a guide that will help you plan your winter trip.

I’ll be profiling six of the most popular South African destinations here: Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Durban, Cape Town, the Garden Route, and Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

(For the record, I have visited all these destinations 1-3 times, but I didn’t visit Durban or the Garden Route on my recent winter trip; all of the information here is drawn from my experience combined with interviews with locals I know and online research. Weather averages come from Holiday-Weather.com.)

south-africa-map

Map: geology.com

South Africa’s Winter in a Nutshell

This is a map of South Africa’s nine provinces, six of which I’ve visited.

Most visitors to South Africa concentrate on the Western Cape (the green region in the lower left corner): this is home to Cape Town, the surrounding winelands (including Stellenbosch) and most of the Garden Route. This is also where South Africa’s winter is at its most miserable.

The other regions I cover are further north and east: Johannesburg is in Gauteng Province in the northeast; the Greater Kruger Region is in the east of Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces in the far northeast. Kruger National Park itself is huge — it’s the size of Israel or New Jersey. Durban is on the Indian Ocean coast in Kwazulu-Natal.

Cape Point

When you visit South Africa in the winter, you don’t have to worry about snowbanks and blizzards. Johannesburg has a similar climate to Atlanta; Durban is like Miami; Cape Town is like San Francisco. Winters aren’t harsh here; it only gets very snowy deep in the mountains.

Like many destinations, prices in South Africa fall in the low season. South Africa offers incredible value for money to begin with, but prices are at their lowest in the winter months.

Another factor to keep in mind is that school holidays in South Africa take place during a month from June to July, which can make some places busier.

Finally, winter means that the days are shorter and the sun sets earlier. South Africa is a country where you need to be a bit more on your guard about safety, and in many places it’s not safe to be out on your own at night or even in late afternoon. Keep that in mind.

Johannesburg

Johannesburg in Winter: Great!

No matter what time of year you’re visiting Johannesburg, you’re probably not planning on spending a ton of time outside. Many of Johannesburg’s attractions, like the Apartheid Museum and Liliesleaf, are indoors or partially indoors; even the Sterkfontein Caves, being caves, are an indoor “outdoor activity” by definition.

Even so, winter days in Johannesburg are wonderfully pleasant for being outside: it’s cool and clear with minimal rainfall. The land surrounding Johannesburg turns dry and brown. The city’s famed purple jacaranda trees have little to show (but to be fair, they only really bloom from October to November). People eat outside year-round in Johannesburg — head to Parkhurst for outdoor cafes.

Average Johannesburg temperature, June-August: high 61-68 F/16-20 C, low 39-45 F/4-7 C.

Average Johannesburg rainfall, June-August: 1-2 cm per month, 1-2 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Johannesburg: 54 on Bath. One of my favorite boutique hotels in the world and the only place I like to stay in Joburg.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park in Winter: Fantastic!

Winter is actually the best time for visiting Kruger National Park and its surrounding area! There’s very little rainfall and because the trees are sparse, you have a much better chance of seeing wildlife.

Know that the mornings and evenings can get very cold, especially when in an open vehicle on game drives, so bring your winter weather gear and huddle under blankets. It can get very warm during the day, especially if you do an all-day game drive, so layers are the name of the game!

Leopard Kruger National Park

We wouldn’t have seen this leopard if it hadn’t been winter. Had it been summer, he would have been completely obscured by foliage. Leopards are the hardest Big Five animal to spot in Kruger and our guides were giddy at this sighting!

Average Nelspruit temperature, June-August: high 70-73 F/21-23 C, low 45-46 F/10-11 C.

Average Nelspruit rainfall, June-August: 1 cm per month, 2-3 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in the Greater Kruger region: My overall favorite is Vuyani Safari Lodge, which is value for money and fully all-inclusive. Africa on Foot is a wonderful, simpler midrange option, focusing on walking safaris, while the tented camp at &Beyond Ngala Lodge & Tented Camp is divine if you have a TON of money to spend.

Durban Beach

Durban in Winter: Very Good.

Durban is often compared to Miami: it’s a big, beach-loving city with fantastic weather year-round — and spicy food to match!

Winter is a beautiful time to visit Durban — temperatures are more mild and rainfall is at its lowest in June and July. That said, depending on how hot you like it, it may not fit your definition of lie-out-by-the-pool-all-day weather. It’s the kind of destinations Brits would visit in winter for a pleasant level of heat that wouldn’t result in any sunburns.

Average Durban temperature, June-August: high 73 F/23 C, low 54-57 F/12-14C.

Average Durban rainfall, June-August: 2-7 cm per month, 5-9 rainy days per month (August is rainier than June and July).

Where to Stay in Durban: I had a great stay at the Southern Sun Elageni & Maharani, which has nice views and is walking distance from the beach.

Cape Town

Cape Town in Winter: A Big Risk.

If you choose to travel Cape Town in during the winter, you’re making a very big gamble. Why? Cape Town is one of the most beautifully set cities in the world and it is best seen in good weather. Four of my favorite Cape Town activities — going to the top of Table Mountain, taking a helicopter ride, hanging out in Camps Bay, and exploring the Cape Peninsula — are weather-dependent.

While there are some museums, including the fascinating District 6 Museum, Cape Town is nothing like London or New York — outdoor attractions are primary and indoor attractions, while they exist, are limited.

Cape Town Helicopter

That said, you may end up lucky: Beth and I had two perfect, clear days, which we spent doing the aforementioned activities. Several dark, cloudy, rainy days followed. Our friends from safari who came to the city a few days after us sadly didn’t get to experience sunshine in Cape Town.

One other thing to consider: our Robbin Island visit was cancelled due to bad weather, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Average Cape Town temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 45-46 F/7-8 C.

Average Cape Town rainfall, June-August: 7-10 cm per month, 14 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Cape Town: Doubletree Cape Town in Woodside is a fabulous mid-range hotel with very affordable rates, not in an ideal location but a short Uber ride from the action. For budget, I recommend Atlantic Point Backpackers; for luxury, I recommend Queen Victoria Hotel. My favorite quirky accommodation — if you’re visiting outside winter, head to the Airstream trailer park on top of the Grand Daddy Hotel!

Sunset in Sedgefield

Garden Route in Winter: Avoid if Possible.

The highlight of traveling the Garden Route is seeing so many beautiful and diverse landscapes and enjoying the outdoors. Because the winter months can be quite rainy, I recommend that you visit the Garden Route during a different time of year.

Yes, you still might be able to enjoy your trip, but you know what my favorite memories of the Garden Route are? Paddleboarding on the lagoon in Sedgefield. Horseback riding in Swellendam. Hanging out in hot springs near Oudtshoorn. Segwaying through the Tsitsikamma Forest. Going on a water safari in Plettenberg Bay. Or even just watching the sunset.

Kate on a Bike Boat

All of these activities would be uncomfortable or impossible during the rain. Please keep that in mind before you plan a winter trip here. I visited in May, which was the fall (or shoulder season) and I thought it was a nice, cheaper time to explore this region.

Average Knysna temperature, June-August: high 70 F/21 C, low 50-52 F/10-11 C.

Average Knysna rainfall, June-August: 1-3 cm per month, 18-21 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay on the Garden Route: There are tons of high-quality hostels with terrific, affordable private rooms along the Garden Route: I love Afrovibe Adventure Lodge in Sedgefield (more of a party place), Swellendam Backpackers Adventure Lodge in Swellendam, and Nothando Backpackers Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. On the luxury end, Phantom Forest Eco Reserve in Knysna is a fantastic romantic hideaway (I felt like I was on honeymoon with myself).

Franschoek

Stellenbosch and the Winelands in Winter: Mostly Very Good.

The Stellenbosch region is an indescribably beautiful landscape, with endless vineyards and bright blue mountains encircled by cottony clouds; during winter, there are solid white skies with few mountains to be seen. I would feel bad if people came for a visit and didn’t get to experience the view of the mountains.

Wine Tasting Stellenbosch

But views aren’t all — I was surprised how much I enjoyed Stellenbosch on rainy winter days. Most wineries have fireplaces and are superbly cozy places to curl up with a tasting glass! The wineries are also at their least crowded this time of year, which means you never have to wait anywhere.

Average Stellenbosch temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 46 F/8 C.

Average Stellenbosch rainfall, June-August: 2-3 cm per month, 7-9 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay in Stellenbosch: If you’re going the Airbnb route, I stayed here — cute two-bedroom apartment in a great, walkable location, but be cautious that the only heat is space heaters. Not quite ideal for winter; I’d probably stay in a hotel next time. Find Stellenbosch hotels here.

Stellenbosch

The Takeaway

If there’s any one thesis to take away from my analysis, it’s this: traveling in South Africa in the winter is risky on the Western Cape, but can actually be wonderful in other parts of the country.

If you want to plan a trip to South Africa during the winter months, I recommend planning at least part of your trip in Johannesburg, Kruger, and/or Durban. If not, just know that you’re risking an entirely rainy trip.

As always, keep in mind that anything can happen. You can come during a freak period of sunshine in the Western Cape; you could also get stuck in downpours in Joburg. Nothing is ever a guarantee.

That said, don’t let traveling in the winter bother you. I had a great time on my winter trip to South Africa and I know you will, too!


RELATED: Is South Africa Safe?


Should you visit South Africa in winter?

Have you been to South Africa in the winter — or would you go? Have any other South African destinations to add to this list? Share away!

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Don’t Expect Travel To Solve Your Problems

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San Pedro Atitlan Guatemala

Sometimes I worry about the narrative that we travel publishers put out there: “Quit your job, travel the world, and all your problems will be solved.”

Almost none of us actually say that — or mean it. But when you add up all the travel memoirs and travel blogs and travel-filled Instagram profiles, that’s the dominant narrative. Travel? Leads to great things. Great things? Reduction in problems. Ergo, traveling must lead to your problems being solved!

I mean, I understand why that’s appealing. Most people who are looking to travel the world long-term aren’t doing so because everything is going perfectly in their home lives. For all the people who travel because they want to see the world, at the same time, you’ve got a number of people who are using travel as a means of escape.

Travel can be a fantastic tool — but it’s not a cure on its own.

Sometimes experiencing a new destination can completely change your worldview. If you combine that with a concentrated effort to change your life, incredible things can happen.

One example I love is how writer David Sedaris used travel to quit smoking. He realized that his smoking habits were routine-based, so he decided to travel to Tokyo, an environment that couldn’t be more different from his home in New York, and kick his smoking habit while he was dealing with a completely different routine. And it worked! The whole story is in his book When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Did travel help Sedaris change his life? Absolutely. But it wasn’t the travel exclusively — he pursued conventional ways of ending his addiction as well. He didn’t coast along and let travel do all the work; he worked hard on his end as well.

Here are several common problems that people expect travel will solve:

Mount Etna

1. You don’t know what you want to do with your life.

Most of the readers who email me are at a crossroads in their life — they don’t know what they want to do with their life, either career-wise or life-wise. Maybe they aren’t living the life they imagined they would at this age. Maybe they’re ready to start over.

If you’re looking for a new career, traveling the world isn’t the most efficient way to figure out what to do next. Sure, meeting people along the road will give you ideas of different lifestyles and ways to earn. But unless you make an effort to figure out what you want to do, you’re going to end up right back where you started.

I feel like many people set off to travel assuming that the right plan will just manifest itself at the right time. Well, it’s not that easy! Things aren’t just going to happen without an effort on your part.

If you’re serious about making a career change, but also want to travel, just travel to take a break and enjoy yourself. While you’re away, spend time making a career plan or list of ideas to try once you return home. If you happen to run into a new career idea while traveling, that’s wonderful! But don’t go in expecting it in the first place.

Amsterdam

2. You’re not sure whether college is right for you.

I’m divided on this — part of me says Get your degree as soon as possible and THEN do whatever you want! but the other side of me knows how financially crippling college can be, particularly for Americans.

Here’s the truth: a college education is never a waste of time. Sometimes it can be a waste of money if you choose an overpriced school or underpaid field of study, but it is never a waste of time. You will have so many more career options with a degree than without one.

Yes, you can be successful without a college degree, but the truth is that unless you’re self-employed or exceptionally skilled in a sought-after field, you’ll be facing an uphill battle throughout your career.

A lot of readers come to me telling me that they’re not sure if college is for them and they don’t know what they want to do with their lives except travel.

If I were to give advice to future college-goers, it would be to get the most affordable quality education you can find. Maybe that means going to a state school or starting at community college; maybe that means going to the safety school that gave you a scholarship instead of the reach school that just barely accepted you.

You can still incorporate a ton of travel into your college years. You can study abroad — even multiple semesters in different locations. You can work during the year and save up to travel during the summer or on breaks. You can even take extra courses and graduate early.

And if you don’t want to do college for the time being, or ever, look into travel that requires work and gives you life experiences. Look into volunteering or getting a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand. Most professional English teaching jobs require a college degree but some countries will hire non-college-graduates for lower-level teaching jobs.

Finally, keep in mind that most adults have no idea what they want to do with their lives, either. I’m just blogging here until the Kardashians hire me to do their crisis management.

Busan Markets

3. You’re in debt or you have poor financial habits.

If you’re dreaming of travel but trying to pay down debt, I understand the appeal of living abroad. Teaching English in Korea is probably the best thing you can do because it allows you to live abroad while saving upwards of $1000 per month, not including end bonuses.

But living abroad is full of financial temptations. Even if you live in a cheap country — or especially if you live in a cheap country — it’s easy to get into the habit of going out every night of the week and overspending on food and drinks.

Living abroad isn’t enough to get at the crux of your financial habits. What’s most important is that you overhaul your spending habits and start to consistently live within your means. And that goes whether you do it at home or on the road.

Lake Bled Slovenia

4. You’re living an unhealthy lifestyle.

I’ve known several people who are sick of life at home and choose to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in part for for the healthy lifestyle benefits.

Well, some of them are surprised to learn that Thai food can often be quite unhealthy (so many dishes are full of sugar), exercise often takes a backseat to massages and motorbiking, and a large percentage of the expat population (including the travel blogger crew) goes out drinking nearly every night of the week.

Eating healthy and exercising are both very difficult to do on a regular basis while traveling. Sure, you’ll probably be walking more, but constantly changing your environment makes it difficult to stick to an exercise routine and diving into the local cuisine tends to pack on the pounds, not reduce them.

The truth? Most people who keep fit on the road were already in shape at home and simply continued their routine on the road.

If you’re looking to travel to create a healthy lifestyle, you should get yourself into a home workout routine before leaving on your trip, or move to a place where fitness opportunities are abundant. That could be a town where you can surf or hike on a regular basis; it could be somewhere like Ubud, Bali, where you can take tons of yoga classes.

Another option is to build WWOOFing into your trip, or working in exchange for accommodation and food on an organic farm. You’ll spend your days doing physical labor, often outside, while eating healthy local food.

Colombo at Dusk

5. You want to start a business.

Starting an online business while being based in a cheap destination is a very smart idea. You’ll have a lower cost of living to maintain, your savings can last longer, and sometimes the internet can be even faster than at home!

I even know entrepreneurs who can afford to live anywhere but spend stints living in cheap locations so they can invest more of their money into their business.

Here’s the thing, though — many people want to travel and start a business. And to be honest, that is insane. I’ve done it, friends of mine have done it, and while many of us have survived, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t give a new business the time and attention it deserves when you’re busy traveling.

Productivity is dependent on routine, and routines go to hell when you travel. Additionally, travelers are constantly on a search for a decent working environment. So much of your energy in each destination will be spent complaining about poor working conditions until you find a cafe with good wifi, actual plugs, available and comfortable seating, and decent coffee.

For this reason, you’ll have a much easier time starting your business if you live abroad, or travel very slowly, rather than travel full-time.

Santorini Flowers

6. You’re escaping abuse, neglect, or a painful past.

If this is the case for you, I am so sorry. As a survivor of an abusive relationship, I completely understand how it can fuck with your head long-term and how hard it is to dig yourself out of that hole and get yourself into good working order again.

Travel can help enormously when you’re in pain — it gets you out of your toxic environment, teaches you skills, gives you confidence, and introduces you to people who will change your life. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love journey is perhaps the most famous example of this. But just traveling isn’t enough. You need to work on your underlying issues as well, just as Gilbert did.

Whether you choose to work with a therapist (and many therapists work online via email or Skype) or go it alone, you need a method of self-care. Perhaps that means joining a support group online. Perhaps that means getting into a yoga or meditation routine. Perhaps that means creating a list of goals that will help you get back to the person you once were.

It’s always okay to admit that your problems are more than you can handle on your own. There’s no shame in that.

Rauma Finland

7. You and your partner are struggling in your relationship.

This is the only item on the list that will have me screaming, “NO, NO, NO! THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO TRAVEL!

Traveling to solve your relationship problems is like having a baby to solve your relationship problems. Lots of people do it — ill-advisedly — and the result is almost universally poor. At least when you travel you don’t create another human in the process.

Traveling with a partner tends to create more stress and exacerbate underlying issues; it doesn’t make them better. If you choose to ignore this and travel anyway, you may end up remembering your travels as a terrible time in your life.

If you and your partner are having problems, start your work at home, not on the road. Don’t go on a long-term trip or plan a major lifestyle change until you’ve been working on your relationship for a long time and are ready to continue your work on the road.

Pink Dubrovnik Sky

Travel is a wonderful thing — but it’s no panacea.

Choosing to travel can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make, but if you go in expecting travel to fix all your problems, you’re going to be disappointed.

Instead, take travel for what it is — an opportunity to see the world a different way, develop new skills, achieve long-held dreams, and become a stronger, smarter, more compassionate individual. While picking up a few crazy stories along the way!

And if you do manage to fix your problems while traveling, all the credit goes to your hard work — not travel itself. You should be very proud of that.

What do you think? Have you used travel to solve a problem?

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Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

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Hudson New York

“No matter what, you need to get out of the city at least once a month,” my friends warned me.

Of course I’ll get out of the city, I thought to myself. I travel for a living!

Then April came and to my great shock, I went a full month without leaving New York. Hell, I didn’t believe it until I looked back over the month and double-checked my photos!

It’s so easy to get sucked into New York — but this city is such an intense place, it can drain you if you don’t get proper R&R. And sitting on your couch watching Netflix is only R&R up to a certain point. You need to get into places that are quiet, avoid the subway for a few days. And cheaper prices are always a good thing.

I started researching getaways from New York after moving to the city earlier this year. One that consistently piqued my interest was Hudson, New York, and within a few clicks of the mouse, I booked myself a three-night solo getaway in June.

Hudson New YorkHudson New YorkDSCF5596Hudson New York

Meet Hudson

Hudson is a beautiful town on the Hudson River, just two hours from Manhattan by train. The vast majority of downtown Hudson’s businesses are on Warren Street, which is about a mile long.

Despite having a population of just under 7,000, it’s home to a quirky assortment of shops, galleries, and businesses.

Hudson New York

Like The Spotty Dog, a bookstore that doubles as a bar. Pick out any book you’d like and read it at the bar, a local craft beer by your side.

Savor the Taste Hudson New York

Or Savor the Taste, specializing in food products like an orange and vanilla balsamic vinegar that you dream of pouring over the best vanilla ice cream you can find.

Moto Coffee Hudson New York

Then there was Moto Coffee Machine, a coffee shop in the front and a motorcycle shop in the back. Because why not?

But where Hudson truly shines is its food scene. Thanks to their location in the Hudson Valley, Hudson chefs make use of local ingredients from throughout the region. Many plan their menus around what’s current and local; some, like Grazin’, plan entirely around the local produce!

Here are some of the foodie highlights:

Grazin Hudson New York

Grazin’

Grazin’, a fifties-style diner, is the world’s first certified Animal Welfare Approved restaurant. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a vegan place — plenty of meat and dairy products are served. But the animals are treated well in life. Everything is free-range and organic, beef is grass-fed, and just about everything on the menu is fresh and local.

I mean, the menu says stuff like this:

ALL OF OUR EGGS ARE FROM GRAZIN’ ANGUS ACRES (GAA) OR TICKETY-BOO FARM, WHERE LAYING HENS ROAM ACRES OF FRESH PASTURE FOLLOWING THE CATTLE HERD. AT NIGHT, THE FLOCK IS SAFE FROM PREDATORS AS ROOSTS ARE PROVIDED IN PORTABLE EGG MOBILES THAT MOVE TO FRESH GRASS EVERY DAY!

At this place I had THE BEST BURGER OF MY LIFE. And I do not say that lightly. I ordered the Suzi burger, with onions, pepper and ketchup cooked into the patty and topped with a slice of whatever raw cheese was local and available. It was so good, I nearly cried.

I think I actually whispered, “In-&-Out can go to hell,” at one point.

Wm Farmers Hudson New York

Wm. Farmer and Sons

Most Hudson businesses keep odd hours and shut down for one or two weekdays, most often Wednesdays. To be truthful, I ended up at Wm. Farmer and Sons because they were one of few places actually open on a Wednesday night.

Turns out that was actually a great thing. The restaurant was quiet and slow, and I got to chat with both the bartenders and the resident oyster dude.

Wm Farmers Hudson New York

I grabbed some fresh dollar oysters (from my home state of Massachusetts, of course) with a glass of prosecco for happy hour (you know how I do!) and tried their famed octopus appetizer as well. The octopus was terrific, but what really blew me away was the green sauce on the side!

This place is so good that I went back the next day for some steak tartare.

Crimson Sparrow Hudson New York

The Crimson Sparrow

One of Hudson’s fine dining restaurants (a.k.a. one of the most expensive options) is The Crimson Sparrow. Featuring local ingredients with French techniques and Asian flavors, this is one of the boldest restaurants in town.

The Crimson Sparrow’s specialty is their tasting menu; not wanting to eat that much or spend that much, I decided instead to hang out at the bar and get a few dishes while chatting with the lovely bartender.

Crimson Sparrow Hudson New York

First up was a plate of kimchi and pickles. Then the chef came out and told me, “The vegetables aren’t really representative of what we can do here,” and suggested I try the izakaya fried chicken instead. Sold!

The boneless chicken was flavorful and tender in all the right ways, reminding me of the night in Seoul I spent eating Korean fried chicken while watching K-Pop videos on TV.

Swoon Kitchenbar Hudson New York

Swoon Kitchenbar

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to hit up Swoon Kitchenbar — the menu, though not exclusively plant-based, is chock full of delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Swoon Kitchenbar Hudson New York

My favorite dish was the astoundingly fresh beet salad, though it wasn’t the prettiest thing to photograph (the top was just various greens and the beets were hidden underneath). And I also tried some local Hudson Valley cheeses. They really know what they’re doing in this part of the world.

Bonfiglio and Bread Hudson New York

Bonfiglio & Bread

If anywhere should go on your list for breakfast, it’s Bonfiglio & Bread. This bakery features lots of delicious breakfast dishes and delicious-smelling pizzas for lunch. Predictably, the menu is heavy on the bread, so celiacs and paleos may want to eat elsewhere.

Hudson New York

Italian Market

You guys know how much I live for cured meats — so you won’t be surprised how dangerous Italian sandwich shops are to me. I stopped at Italian Market for something to eat on the train back home, and they made me a terrific sandwich with eggplant, cheese, and various delicious Italian meats.

I made sure to order just a half sandwich because nothing could have stopped me from annihilating a whole one. I hear they do a great eggplant parmesan, too.

Hudson New York

Coffeeshops

My afternoon coffee break is the most important moment of my day — both while traveling and when at home!

Rev Coffee, pictured above, has a cool setting with vintage furniture.

Verdigris Tea and Coffee Bar has an incredible selection of coffees, teas, and hot chocolates, with lots of sweet treats for sale as well. I loved their iced coconut cream herbal tea.

Moto Coffee Machine is a cool place, and I wish I had time to try their gourmet sandwiches, but I wasn’t a fan of the smell of the motorcycle shop. Perhaps it was extra motorcycle-y that day?

Cafe le Perche is a lovely little cafe and a nice stop for breakfast as well.

Hudson New York

Other Restaurants

Hudson’s most famous fine dining restaurant is Fish and Game — it was one of the restaurants that started Hudson’s culinary revolution. But after reading this scathing GQ review and seeing that the entire first page of Yelp was full of lackluster reviews, I decided to skip it.

If you’re craving pasta, check out Ca’mea — they’re one of the few restaurants open on Wednesdays!

Mexican Radio got recommended to me by a few readers, but I decided to skip it as they have an outpost in New York as well.

Hudson Food Studio has a Vietnamese fusion menu and I’d love to try them out next time.

Hudson New York

Where I Stayed

I had a bit of credit to burn so I stayed at this Airbnb rental for an average of $115 per night (Weds-Sat). A private two-bedroom apartment right on the 200 block of Warren Street, this house has everything you could need: a full kitchen, a comfy bed, a clawfoot tub, and best of all, keypad entry — so I could get in on my own without having to pick up keys.

I knew I was at home when The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, my favorite reads of 2015, were stacked on the coffee table! It turns out that my host, Julie, and I have very similar taste in books: she had plenty of my favorites on the shelf, including The Poisonwood Bible, Euphoria, Disgrace, The Kite RunnerOthello, and my favorite Boston-set children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan.

While it’s technically a two-bedroom, it’s not the most private two-bedroom: the second bedroom opens off the first and the first has open slots that open over the lower floor. For that reason, while you could sleep four people here, I think it would be more comfortable for a couple or two friends.

Julie also has two smaller, cheaper properties here and here.

Hudson New York

The Takeaway

This definitely won’t be my last trip to Hudson! I know I’ll be returning again and again. Hudson could end up being my default “escape New York before the city consumes you” getaway. And since my three best friends and I are living in New York, Boston, and upstate New York, it could be a perfect meeting point for us.

I feel like Hudson is a good destination for people who want to chill out and relax, not people who are set on ticking off a sightseeing list. There’s not a lot to do here beyond eating, shopping, and hanging out — and that’s what I love about it.

Hudson New York

I was also impressed by how gay-friendly Hudson was. I visited during Pride Month and sadly had to leave hours before Hudson’s own Pride Parade took place. But the town was absolutely covered with rainbow flags! They hung from nearly every flagpole down Warren Street, alongside the American flags, and nearly every business had its own rainbow flag or sign out front as well.

Hudson hasn’t been a historical getaway for LGBT travelers like Provincetown or Key West, the kind of place you’d expect to be covered with rainbow flags. Because of that, the message was clear: Hudson was saying, “LGBT travelers, you’re very welcome and we’re so glad you’re here.” I love this. More destinations should follow Hudson’s lead.

I will say one other thing — I enjoyed Hudson the most during the week. I preferred when it was much less crowded and I could be the only person at the bar, even though far fewer places were open. Even if you only have the weekend, see if you can tack on a Thursday or Monday to get the feeling of the town outside peak time.

Hudson, New York: America's Coolest Small Town

Essential Info: To get to Hudson, take Amtrak from Penn Station in New York. The journey is two hours and I paid $72 for a round-trip ticket; book early for the lowest fares.

Hudson is a stop on several Amtrak lines including the Empire Express, which I took (New York to Niagara Falls), Ethan Allen Express (New York to Rutland, Vermont), Maple Leaf (New York to Toronto) and Adirondack (New York to Montreal), so it’s easily accessible from lots of places!

My Airbnb rental, a private two-bedroom apartment, costs $100-155 per night plus Airbnb fees, depending on the day of the week and season. Julie also has two smaller, cheaper properties here and here.

Because Hudson’s businesses keep such odd hours, I recommend double-checking the hours before going anywhere. I found the Foursquare app’s “open now” option very helpful for this.

If you’ve got more time, consider renting a car and driving around the Hudson Valley. There are plenty more interesting towns to visit, but they’re not as easy to get to by train as Hudson!

Does Hudson look like your kind of place? Share away!

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AK Monthly Recap: June 2016

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Kate at Pinot by Tituss Event

June 2016 will forever be known as the month that I saw Hamilton. Really, everything else fades to black and white when measured up against Hamilton. I can’t remember the last time a performance affected me this much!

But beyond that, there was a lot of fun in New York and a bit beyond. Another quiet month. Another close-to-home month. But another piece in the puzzle as I try to figure out how to balance frequent travel with having a life in New York.

Triboro Bridge View from Astoria

Destinations Visited

New York and Hudson, NY

Fairfield, CT

Hudson New York

Favorite Destinations

Hudson is my new favorite short getaway from New York! If you’re based in the area, you need to check it out.

Kate, Lori, Tituss and Erisa

Highlights

Hamilton, far and away, was the highlight of the month. You can read more about it here. But the second biggest highlight was meeting Tituss Burgess, a.k.a. Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! Tituss hosted a few parties during Pride as fundraisers for Orlando and my friends Erisa and Lori invited me to join them!

And this wasn’t the usual celebrity-hosted party, where you’re practically kept in separate rooms the whole time (I’m looking at you, Donnie Wahlberg’s 38th birthday party at The Estate in Boston in 2007, where my friend Lisa and I almost got thrown out for continuously sneaking into the VIP area…). Titus worked the room and chatted with everyone ALL NIGHT LONG. I was impressed by how kind, warm, and generous he was.

Tituss wasn’t the only celebrity there — I also met Bob the Drag Queen, winner of the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Hudson New York

I had a wonderful three-day getaway to Hudson, which was just perfect. I had lots of time to be alone, eat fantastic food, shop, and get work done. Hudson is an ideal getaway from New York, just two hours away by train, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it soon.

I went on the Black Gotham Experience. This downtown-based tour tells the history of the free blacks and slaves in pre-revolutionary New York. I had absolutely no clue about this part of history and I found some new favorite historical figures! Kamau is a fantastic guide and we finished with some drinks and food at the excellent Fraunces Tavern nearby. If you’re looking to do something offbeat and unusual in New York, this tour is a great choice!

We had our first TBS meet up. Travel Blog Success is the online community I’ve been involved with for years, not to mention the #1 community I recommend to travel bloggers looking to grow their blogs, and we finally had our first meetup — here in New York! I loved meeting everyone and the rooftop at the Gansevoort Meatpacking was a beautiful place to enjoy the 360-degree sunset.

Eclipsed

I saw two plays — Blackbird and Eclipsed, which have both since closed. Blackbird, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, has received tons of critical acclaim but I wasn’t the biggest fan — I didn’t love either of the performances and the script took a LONG time to take off. There was a huge payoff at the end that made it worth it, though. (Tip: if you ever go to a show at the Belasco Theater, know that the balcony seats show a frustratingly small sliver of the stage. Get better seats if you can afford them.)

Eclipsed, however, was brutally fantastic. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, this show tells the story of women kidnapped into sexual slavery during the Liberian civil war. The cast was stellar — I’m shocked none of them won Tonys. It’s a heartbreaking yet gripping story, and each performance is dedicated to different girls who were kidnapped in sub-Saharan Africa, including the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. After the show, the cast and audience recite the names of different girls who are missing.

Not only that, Eclipsed is the first Broadway play to have an all-female cast and creative team — AND the first Broadway play to have an all-black cast and creative team. How is that possible in 2016?! Either way, it was spectacular and I feel honored to have seen it.

Staten Island Ferry

I checked more New York activities off my bucket list. Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church, actually going into Hamilton’s home at the Grange, the Staten Island Ferry, the Stonewall Inn, Fort Tryon Park. And I closed out the month with my first New York Fourth of July celebration: fireworks in Astoria Park!

Getting into my CSA. My sister and I are splitting a CSA half share this year — community-supported agriculture, or a farm share. We paid in advance and every other week we pick up tons of fresh organic vegetables from upstate New York. I’ve always wanted to eat more local, in tune with the seasons, and a CSA is the easiest way to get started! We’ve been enjoying beautiful kale, radishes, scallions, and tons of lettuces so far, but today it’s time for the first cucumbers of the season!

Hosting friends. Brock came for a week, Amy came for an overnight, and Katie came for an afternoon. I loved showing off my neighborhood to each of them!

Fairfield Reunion

And I had my ten-year college reunion! I can’t believe it’s been that long! The reunion was nice, but a bit weird. It was for classes from every five years (not just 2006 but 2001, 1996, etc.) so many of the attendees were total strangers. Most of my close friends from college didn’t come, and I somehow missed a few of my friends who were there, so most of the people I saw were acquaintances at best.

That said, I had a great time with my friends who did show up and it was nice to explore the changes to campus. And now a few of my friends and I are thinking of planning a reunion party for the fall!

Statue of Liberty

Challenges

Do you remember the “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad? (If you watched Breaking Bad, you know that episode. It was the most polarizing episode of all time.) Well, a few days ago, that was my life.

Suddenly my apartment was filled with horseflies. I had no idea where they came from — I was running around in a towel and smacking them with rolled up issues of Entertainment Weekly, Windex in my other hand (spray them and it slows them down). Sometimes I’d lock them in the bathroom, the smallest room in the house, and go into battle from there.

It felt like there were only two flying around at a time — then more kept appearing, to my consternation. I killed thirteen in a span of three hours. The thirteenth was the Grand Poobah — the biggest fly I had ever seen.

Eventually, I realized that they had entered through a hole in the screen in my bedroom window. Well, that will never be opened again.

And now my neighbors probably think I’m a psycho after all my growls and threats. “Only one of us is getting out of here alive, motherfucker!”

New York View from the Gansevoort

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Hamilton Heights Historic District

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It’s the dead of summer, folks — nothing’s happening because everyone’s on vacation! That said, after six months stateside, I’m very ready to take my passport out again. I already have New Zealand scheduled for November and December; I also have South Africa this month (see below). Additionally, I have work offers for Europe and Asia on the table this fall and I always like to use work trips as opportunities to spring off and travel on my own in the region.

That said — for August I’m looking for something different, something more adventurous than what I’ve done in the last year. Not something so adventurous that I’m miserable — just something a bit more complicated than North America or Europe or Southeast Asia or Central America. And something a bit on the cheaper side would be wise.

I have a few ideas in mind…

Freedom Tower New York

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The Freedom Tower. What a challenge it must have been to design a building worthy to succeed the Twin Towers. They did a fantastic job.

Battery Park New York

What I Read This Month

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I wish I had written this book. So much of what Lindy wrote — about feminism, about love, about rape jokes in comedy, about being a female public figure on the internet — is everything I believe, but she articulates it so much better than I ever could.

Just know that this isn’t just a light, fluffy collection of stories. The book starts out as comedy then progresses into serious commentary, then turns very sad. That said, it all works. If you’re familiar with Lindy’s writing in the least (her Sex and the City 2 review is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read), you’ll be a big fan of this book.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. This was my book club’s read of the month — and it was weird. Basically, the book is a set of long rambles about masturbation (often with unusual accoutrements), sex, being Jewish, and especially having an overbearing Jewish mother. I spent most of the book thinking, “Why am I reading this?” but found that near the end, I developed quite a bit of affection for the protagonist. It’s also one of the best depictions of stream-of-conscious writing I’ve ever read.

Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies by Catrice M. Jackson. Here’s the truth: the women who need this book the most are the ones who refuse to finish it. This book is written by a black woman for white women, teaching them how they can be better allies. The truth? Most white women aren’t doing nearly enough, even the ones who think they are. This book is tough love and gets white women to dive deeply into the issues surrounding their privilege.

I met Catrice at last year’s Women in Travel Summit and was impressed at how she’s created a career around business, branding, and social justice. Note: Catrice gave me a complimentary copy of the book.

What I Watched This Month

Bloodline is one of my new favorite shows and I’m recommending it to everyone I know! It’s a Netflix drama that takes place in the Florida Keys. Four adult siblings, whose parents own a famous guesthouse and are pillars of the community, end up hiding and covering up secrets that keep spilling out. The cast is impressive: Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini, Chloe Sevigny, and a truly extraordinary Ben Mendelsohn, among others.

My favorite part is how the Florida Keys are a character in the show. This isn’t just the Keys you see on vacation — it’s the local Keys, the redneck Keys, the criminal Keys, the political Keys. I’ve always wanted to go to Key West, but now I’m hoping to spend at least a week exploring all of the Keys!

What I Listened To This Month

Hamilton, all day, all night. One of my goals is to have the show memorized by the end of the summer.

Now, for someone new to the show, what songs would I recommend? First of all, if you’re not going to see the show first, I recommend reading a summary of the plot, then listening while following along with the lyrics on Genius so you can tell who is singing what part. (Hamilton is FANTASTIC on Genius because it’s filled with tons of annotations, including many from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.)

If you’re a hip-hop fan, check out “Cabinet Rap Battle #1” with its nods to Grandmaster Flash and the Notorious B.I.G.

If you’re more of a pop fan who enjoys history, check out “The Schuyler Sisters.”

If you just want to hear a swelling, great song, probably the best song in the show, check out “Wait For It.”

Lion's Head, Cape Town

Coming Up in July 2016

I’m going back…to SOUTH AFRICA! Surprise!

South Africa is a country that I love fiercely and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be visiting for a third time. This time, I’m bringing my friend Beth! We’ll be spending two weeks in the country and exploring Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch, with some surprises thrown in.

What are your plans for July? Share away!

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