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Raising a rock star – My Two Mums

Raising a rock star - My Two Mums

Ever since our little dude could pick up rocks he was filling his pockets with them. Shiny ones, small ones, large ones, rough ones, smooth ones and ones that didn’t even look like rocks. He also started collecting shells, gemstones and fossils, determined to create a collection that could rival any great museum.

At the time it could have been any passing phase, but nearly 4 years have passed and his passion for rocks and fossils has grown. We are lucky to live super close to the Jurassic Coast, the best place in Dorset to discover fossils and beautiful rocks. Which means family time usually turns into fossil time.

Smiling rock star

During this visit we only managed to find some beautiful shells and smooth rocks, but I’ve promised him a visit to a local beach known for it’s ammonites soon, so he was happy with his discoveries.

Handful or rock star
The rock star

I love the care he takes which each of his discoveries. If they are lucky enough to make it home, he washes them and adds them to his giant box of fossils and gems.

Mama and the rock star
Finding rocks
Clara rock star
Family rock star
rock climbing
Mama photographing on the rocks
smiles from the rock star
Love rock star
Rock skimming
All this view rock star
C smiles rock star

For a while now the little dude has told us he wants to be an ologist of some kind. He wants to discover fossils, or explore and find special rocks. I love his thirst for knowledge about his discoveries and enjoy seeing him spend time learning about the ages of the fossils he has and how many years old they are.

So we seem to be raising a rock star and I am quite pleased with that. Because to be honest, as long as he’s happy and doing something he loves, then I’m happy driving him to the next beach for more rocks!

Phu Quoc Island: Vietnam’s Phuket?

phu quoc deserted beach2

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As my taxi was driving down the island’s main street and we reached a touristy part that was lined with hotels, casinos and restaurants, I started to doubt my decision to come to Phu Quoc. Was I too late? Had this island paradise been completely destroyed, turned into a cheap package vacation destination, as several blogs and websites had suggested?

Even before arriving at my guesthouse, I could already tell that it wasn’t the serene island getaway anymore that some travel guides (still) described it as.phu quoc bai sao emptyI based myself in the Long Beach area for my stay, knowing that this was the part of the island with the most places to sleep and eat – and of course right on the beach. 20 kilometers of beach, stretching all the way along the southern part of the island’s western shore. Long Beach is also not far from the island’s main town, Duong Dong, where the popular night market is held.phu quoc vietnam beach3During my first two days on the island, I didn’t venture far from Long Beach, which is long enough to make for hour-long walks in each direction. I didn’t dislike the beach, but I also wasn’t too impressed by it, and the many resorts that were lining it. None of them seemed overly appealing, each one setting up rows and rows of sun chairs on the beach every morning, which soon would fill up with Western tourists hungry for sun.phu quoc vietnam beach2Along the main street, where most of the restaurants are, I was constantly approached in Russian, and I realized that this was the part of the island where most package vacationers spent their holidays. Restaurant menus were written in Cyrillic letters, and pharmacies were praising their cheap drugs in Cyrillic, too.Long Beach Phu Quoc russianOne thing I was tremendously looking forward to was the Night Market. I still have vivid memories of the night markets in Thailand which were one my favorite things there, with plenty of delicious food to devour. The night market in Phu Quoc fell flat in comparison, however. The food was very seafood and fish-centric (to be expected on an island), but I also kept seeing the same things over and over again, just sold by different vendors.phu quoc night market musselsOn my third day, I finally worked up the courage to rent a scooter and explore the island beyond Long Beach. After a scooter accident in Thailand in 2011 that left me so traumatized that I wouldn’t rent a scooter again until 2017, six years after the incident, I am still a little wary of renting scooters. But after only a couple of days on Phu Quoc I had seen how long it took me to walk to places that seemed only a stone’s throw away on the map, and I knew if I wanted to see more of the island I had no choice but to rent a scooter.Phu Quoc scooterBus connections barely exist, and hopping from beach to beach by taxi would be possible, but not all that easy, since taxis are quite rare outside of the town, the airport and the Long Beach area. Plus, being able to stop to take photos and randomly follow a sign to a sight along the way is something you cannot do unless you rent a scooter.phu quoc fishing boat

If you’ve never rented a scooter in Asia, this is pretty much how it goes:

I walk up to the owner of my guesthouse. ‘Um, do you rent scooters?’

Owner: ‘Yes, here, take a look.’ Points to half a dozen scooters that have seen better days.

Me: ‘How much?’

Owner: ‘120k a day (US$5.20).

Me, nodding, ‘Okay.’

Owner walks away and returns with keys which he hands me, and wishes me a good day.

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for my drivers license when renting a scooter in Asia. Or if I’ve ever even rode one.phu quoc coqAnd so off I went, slowly getting accustomed to the not-so-great bike. I took advantage of having wheels and drove straight into town for breakfast, because Google had revealed that were two vegan restaurants which meant I could finally have a Vietnamese (veggie) breakfast. At first, I was terrified by the traffic and especially all the scooters, but as soon as I left Duong Dong, I started feeling safer and eased into riding a scooter again. Suddenly, the roads were empty, gone were the droves of scooters that were surrounding me in the island’s main town.phu quoc sunset cocktailMy first stop was Ong Lang Beach, a beach just northwest of Duong Dong on the northeastern coast of the island. On the way there I got lost and ended up in a small village, which gave me a first taste of what Phuc Quoc was like beyond the touristy parts. The villagers were gathering around market stalls and fishermen were bringing in the morning catch on motorbikes. There was not a single tourist in sight.phu quoc empty beachWhen I arrived in Ong Lang beach about half an hour later, I couldn’t believe how different it was from Long Beach. There were only three or four beach bars here, with a couple of rows of sun chairs in front of each one, and that was it. None of the bars was busy, in each one, only a few chairs were taken and the rest of the beach was completely empty. It was heavenly. I could have easily spent all day here, but after a banana smoothie and an hour of sunbathing, I decided that it was time to head further north.phu quoc empty beach vietnamMy next stop was a small beach in the northwestern corner of Phu Quoc: Gan Dhau Beach. On my way there I realized for the first time how big the island is – it took me over forty minutes to get here from Ong Lang Beach, and it had taken me nearly as long to get there from Long Beach. On the way to the island’s northwestern tip I drove by the second most bizarre thing I saw during my entire stay: the gigantic Vinpearl Amusement Park.phu quoc deserted beachSelf-described as ‘the largest and most modern amusement park in Southwest Vietnam’, this park does not only offer thrill rides and water slides, but right next door, a safari park with 2,000 animals, which had me wonder how the heck (and from where!?) they got all these animals. It also had me wonder: Is this what a relatively small tropical island needs? An amusement and a safari park? Well, apparently yes, but I didn’t see a single person on any of the water slides either time I rode by the park.phu quoc private beachMy original plan was to check out the famous Sao Beach, but when I saw that it’d take me nearly 90 minutes to get all the way down to the southwest of the island, I changed my plans and decided to stay in the north of the island. My next stop was Thom Beach, a small beach on the northeastern tip of Phu Quoc that barely sees any tourists. I took the advice of Tom of Vietnam Chronicle and stopped at Local Beach Bar, a little bar and homestay run by a lovely family, for a refreshment, but since it was low tide, I didn’t stay long – I feel like the beach is nicer during high tide. I used Vietnam Chronicles’ Phu Quoc beaches article as my main travel guide to the island, since I felt that our taste in beaches was pretty similar.phu quoc north islandI ended my day of exploring at Rory’s Wreck, which was still in the process of being finished. Rory used to have a popular beach bar in Long Beach, but decided it was time for a change. At his new place, a huge bar made to look like a wooden ship, there was a pool being added when I was visiting – and I wished that it was already finished, because the beach here wasn’t too inviting. I did enjoy the quieter vibe on the east coast, however, and decided to see more of it the following day.phu quoc northwest islandThe next morning, I hopped on my scooter like a pro – my first stop was Sao Beach. This beach was supposedly Phu Quoc’s show stopper, a truly stunning beach with white, powdery sand, crystal clear water and palm trees lining the long half-moon shaped bay this beach was located in.phu quoc white sand beach4But I had also read several articles that said Sao Beach was ruined now, and that what you find there these days isn’t at all what Sao Beach used to be, when, only a few years ago, you wouldn’t find much there except for a few adventurous backpackers. Quoting Vietnam Chronicles: ‘Its increasing popularity led to haphazard, temporary construction of small resorts, bars, cafés, and restaurants; trash quickly built up – squeezed into the narrow freshwater creeks that feed onto the beach and into the sea; jet skis filled the waters with gasoline and broke the silence; even the husks of fresh coconuts – consumed in the hundreds by day-trippers each day – built up to clog the sand and the surf.’phu quoc bai sao jet skisAfter reading Tom’s take on it, which concluded it was a sad place and a sad sight, I almost didn’t want to go, but in the end I wanted to see what the fuss was all about and if the beach was really ruined. I read that you visit Sao Beach in the morning, you still have a good chance to get the ‘deserted beach’ experience this once was, and so I left as soon as I woke up and headed south.

The huge parking lot I arrived in was the first clue that this was indeed a popular beach, but when I arrived at around 8.30am, there was barely anyone around, and the beach restaurants were just opening up for the day.phu quoc white sand beach6I started my exploration with a walk all the way to the northern end, which was still lined by palm trees. It seemed that most of them had been removed further south to make room for a few restaurants. But what I also discovered was that as soon as I passed the last sun chair, the beach became significantly dirtier. All of a sudden, I was walking through piles of trash instead of soft white sand. Apparently, the beach bars clean up their respective areas along the beach, but don’t bother beyond those.phu quoc bai sao trash garbageI noticed the same thing when I walked all the way to the southern end of the beach: past the last restaurant, the beach started looking much less attractive. You can’t deny, however, the appeal of this beach: the white sand, the crystal clear water, looking out at an array of different shades of blue. The shallow water, that allows you to walk far out into the ocean without the water ever even reaching your hip, adds to the beauty.phu quoc white sand beach5I did make the most of my lazy morning at Sao Beach, spending most of it on a swing in the ocean, my feet in the water every time I swung back and forth, and lounging in the sand with a Vietnamese iced coffee ($0.65) in my hand. The later it got, the less I was able to block out the growing noise of the arriving sun-seekers around me. The jet skies started roaring, larger groups arrived, enjoying a mid-morning beer, and a line of people forming in front of the swing that I had all to myself just an hour earlier to take Instagram-worthy pictures.phu quoc bai sao swingWhen I left just after noon and saw several tourist buses pull into the parking lot, I felt like I’d made the decision to move on to my next stop at the exactly right time.

I drove north, along the coast, with the intention to see more of what Tom calls the ‘east coast road beaches’ in his beach guide to Phu Quoc. On my way north, I stopped at Ham Ninh, a small fishing village in the central part of the island. I had read that this village would be a good place to get a taste of the life of the island’s fishermen, but to be honest, I found it quite touristy with lots of stalls selling tacky shell souvenirs and the long pier that led out into the sea lined with several floating restaurants. I didn’t waste much time there and went further north, my tummy rumbling, still without any food in it.phu quoc marketAs I was heading further north and caught glimpses of the ocean to my right every now and again, I wished there were more accessible beaches here, but I realized that while most of the west coast is one long stretch of beach (Long Beach), on the central east coast there aren’t really any noteworthy beaches per se, instead you have a number of small boutique resorts and hotels that allow you to access the beach if you buy a drink or meal there.phu quoc road tripI stopped at the Rocks Beach Bungalows for lunch, a beautifully designed small resort. There are only four bungalows, a picture-perfect swimming pool, a small restaurant, a hammock and a couple of lounge areas in the rocks the hotel is named after.

The place itself was fantastic, but I didn’t feel like going in the ocean here – I’d definitely stick to the pool.phu quoc resortA few minutes further north is Kiki Coconut Beach: here, the bungalows are more rustic, but the beach area is nicer with actual sand beach and beach chairs in between coconut palm trees.

Next on my list was the ‘Rest Stop’, the restaurant that belongs to the brand new The Pier resort which had opened only a few weeks before my visit. They lured me in with a big sign on the street advertising a free infinity pool, a rock bar, and a ‘photo shoot location’. Of course my interest was piqued.phu quoc new resort2The infinity pool was absolutely stunning, and I had the best coconut coffee in all of Vietnam there. The resort even has three overwater bungalows – I’m pretty sure the only ones on the island – although, upon closer inspection, I am not sure that Phu Quoc, and particular the eastern coast, would be my first choice for an overwater stay. The rest of the resort was divine though, and would make for a wonderfully quiet and relaxed getaway – simply because there’s not much around.phu quoc coconut iced coffeeOn my drive up the east coast road I noticed, however, that quite a few little bungalow resorts were being built – nothing like the crazy huge and characterless resorts on the west coast though. Every resort I saw on the east coast was small, elegant and beautifully designed. I read that this road had been paved only recently, making access to this part of Phu Quoc much easier, which is probably why people start seeing potential for hotels and restaurants there, like Rory’s, who moved to the east coast after many years on the west coast.phu quoc resort pierStill, I am not sure if I’d choose the east coast as my base on the island, because I found the number of restaurants and bars quite limited, while Long Beach – despite being quite tacky – offers everything from homemade Italian pasta to Indian dishes and even tacos. And of course plenty of Vietnamese eateries. I guess it depends on what you are looking for, and if you don’t mind riding a scooter every day to get to a different part of the island.phu quoc starfish4After finishing my east coast exploration, there was only one more thing on my Phu Quoc to-do-list: snorkeling! I read somewhere that Phu Quoc offers some of Vietnam’s best snorkeling spots, and of course I didn’t want to miss out on those.

The next day, I was on my way with a bunch of mainly Russians and a few Chinese, all packed into a mini bus headed all the way to the southern tip of the island. On my island excursion, I had deliberately ignored this part of Phu Quoc, because I knew that this was were the brand new cable car was located.phu quoc island trip2This cable car touts itself as the longest sea cable car in the world, spanning three islands: the main island of Phu Quoc, passing over a smaller uninhabited island and finally ending in Hon Thom island, part of the An Thoi Archipelago, nearly five miles (8 kilometers) long. The cable car opening in early 2018 made big news in the tourism world, adding another attraction to lure more visitors to Phu Quoc.phu quoc cable car“Why in the world does a tropical island need a cable car!?” was my first thought upon hearing about it, and when I finally saw the monstrous concrete polls that were installed on the lush green islands I could only shake my head. What a way to destroy the natural beauty of a tropical paradise. But apparently especially Chinese tourists, who are one of Phu Quoc’s biggest visitor groups, require more than just beaches, hence the amusement park, the safari park, and now the cable car. I am not sure how well the cable car, which cost VND10,000 billion (US$458.4 million) is being received: the company who is running it, the billion dollar Sun Group, who has investment projects totaling VND22,000 billion (roughly US$970.23 million) on the island, just permanently lowered the ticket prices considerably – and indefinitely. Originally priced at VND500,000 (US$21.55), going into year two of its operation, SunWorld lowered the ticket price now to VND150,000 (US$6.50), which is less than a third of the initial price.

 

I was trying to figure out the allure of this cable car – other than the admittedly striking aerial vistas of this island paradise – and found out that there’s actually not much at the end of the ride. Or at least nothing that you can’t get on Phu Quoc. Of course SunWorld made sure to open a couple of restaurants along the most pristine beach of Hon Thom, which is where most people who take the cable car, head to. If you don’t want to stay on the island, you have the option to use Hon Thom as the starting point to snorkeling trips to some further away islands.

But it wasn’t like you couldn’t visit Hon Thom before the cable car opened – tourist boats were making the trip daily. And the vistas from the deck of my snorkeling boat weren’t too shabby, either. Since the cable car opened in 2018, a water park opened in Hon Thom, in an attempt to attract more visitors to Hon Thom. phu quoc island trip1Since the cable car opened – within the Kien Giang biosphere reserve, by the way, which was recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2006, there has been a lot more talk about the island being ruined and overtourism destroying what’s left of its natural allure.phu quoc snorkelingTo think that less than a decade ago, the island didn’t have an airport, and now there are daily flights to international destinations – as far as the U.K.! – made me think of what happened to Phuket in Thailand. Phu Quoc’s airport opened in December 2012, and the little island suddenly saw visitor numbers skyrocket. Before the airport opened, only 239,000 people visited Phu Quoc – in 2019, the number of visitors was a staggering 4.5 million.phu quoc sunset5

In only seven years, the number of tourists visiting Phu Quoc grew by almost 2,000 per cent. There are only 107,000 locals on the island, and I am not sure if the island can handle the rapid growth. While the number of hotels and guesthouses has grown along with the number of visitors (there are over 700 accommodation options on the island now), tourism businesses still struggle to find enough staff.phu quoc vietnam beach mermaid statueThe environmental impact was noticeable during my snorkeling trip: while the shades of blue of the water looked dreamy, what I saw underneath the surface can only be described as bleak: dead coral, and there were barely any fish or other sea creatures around. It was a sad sight.phu quoc vietnam beach4Seeing the development on the island reminded me of Phuket in many ways: the malls that were being built, the growing number of big resorts, the entertainment options. In Phuket, it’s elephant trekking, in Phu Quoc, it’s a safari park. In Phuket, it’s ziplining, in Phu Quoc, it’s a cable car. Both islands struggle with the issues that come with overdevelopment: waste management (the landfill I saw on the island was disgusting), sewage water removal (it usually ends up in the ocean), the protection of the environment.phu quoc constructionAs I had suspected when I first arrived in Phu Quoc: it was not the island paradise anymore that it still was when I first heard about it (before the airport was completed). Instead, I found an island full of package tourists, where it was not easy to find remote corners. That said: they’re still there. I don’t think that the deserted beaches in the north of the island will be overrun by crowds anytime soon.phu quoc white sand beach7Just know what to expect when visiting Phu Quoc. If you’re looking for a remote tropical island, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re looking for a cheap island getaway with a functioning tourist infrastructure, you’ll get exactly what you came for.phu quoc long beach1

Phu Quoc Practical Information

Getting to Phu Quoc

Three budget airlines have daily domestic flights, connecting the island with mainland Vietnam. Flights cost as little as US$35. For cheap flights check:

  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Vietjet
  • Jetstar

..or use Skyscanner.com for a quick price comparison.

Phu Quoc has direct flights to most Asian hubs, and during high season (December – March) TUI even offers direct flights to London (a return flight can be as cheap as £350).phu quoc vietnam beach bar
Ferries to Phu Quoc

You can take a ferry from the town Rach Gia on mainland Vietnam, which takes about 2.5 hours. A ticket is VND330,000 (~US$14). Ferries run at 7am, 8:10am, 10:40am and 1:10pm – check the Super Dong Ferries website for up-to-date schedules and prices.

Visa for Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc has special visa regulations: you do NOT need a visa if you’re staying less than 30 days and if you’re only visiting Phu Quoc (if you want to visit other places in Vietnam, you do need a visa). Note: Australian citizens do need a visa, they are not part of the visa waiver.

If you want to visit other places in Vietnam, too – I wrote more about the e-visa for Vietnam in this article: How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Vietnam?

ATMs in Phu Quoc

Note that outside the town of Duong Dong and the Long Beach area there aren’t any ATMs on the island. If you’re staying in a resort in the north of the island or on the eastern shore, I recommend taking out money on the way to your resort or right upon arrival at the airport. Cash is king on the island, especially in smaller resorts, local restaurants and the market.phu quoc night market cho dem

Where to stay in Phu Quoc

If you want to stay in the most lively area of the island with a large selection of bars and restaurants nearby, stay in Long Beach:

  • Thanh Kieu Beach Resort – resort with spacious bungalows and a swimming pool right on the beach. Rooms start at US$88 (incl breakfast)
  • Cassia Cottage – fancy resort with lush gardens and three swimming pools, right on the beach. Free yoga. Rooms start at US$220 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Anja Beach Resort & Spa – small resort with a private beach and beautiful swimming pool. Rooms start at US$105 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa – new, modern hotel with a ocean front infinity swimming pool. Rooms are exquisite (free standing bath tubs), but the hotel is larger than the bungalow resorts. Rooms start at US$89 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Melica Resort – brand new resort (opened in 2019) with a gorgeous swimming pool. A short walk from the beach (600 meters / 8-10 meters). Rooms start at US$26
phu quoc long beach sun chairs

If you’re looking for a tranquil beach vacation away from the crowds, stay in the north of the island:

  • Wild Beach Resort – eco-friendly bungalows with a private beach. Rooms start at US$48 (incl breakfast)
  • Gold Coast Resort – small resort with a swimming pool and a private beach. Rooms start at US$89 (incl. buffet breakfast)

phu quoc bungalowsIf you want a quiet getaway with a few restaurants nearby, stay on the eastern shore:

  • Dugong Resort – Bungalow resort with a large swimming pool and a private beach. Rooms start at US$45 (incl breakfast)
  • Lotus Home – new bungalow resort with several overwater bungalows and a private beach. Bungalows start at US$50, overwater bungalows start at US$99.
  • Kiki Coconut Beach Resort – simple bungalows right on the beach. Rooms start at US$40 a night, including breakfast.
  • The Pier Resort – new bungalow resort with several overwater bungalows and a beautiful swimming pool. Rooms start at US$78, overwater bungalows start at US$117 (including breakfast).
  • Mango Beach Resort – Lush bungalow resort with a swimming pool. Rooms start at US$76 (incl breakfast)
Phu Quoc food

Where to eat in Phu Quoc

  • The night market in Duong Dong, the island’s main town, starts every evening around 6pm. Good for seafood lovers, but there are also several restaurants around the market (including vegan restaurants).
  • The Famous Italian – Authentic Italian food in Long Beach (on the main road). A bit pricey, but worth the splurge.
  • The Rock Corner – Restaurant right on the beach / Long Beach area. Great for cocktails and burgers.
  • The Embassy – Scandinavian Cafe on the main road in Long Beach. Great smoothie bowls / acai bowls / breakfasts.
  • Ganesh Indian & Spice Indian – two solid Indian restaurants in Long Beach, close to each other on the main road.
  • Banh Mi LAM – bright yellow banh mi cart with cheap Vietnamese sandwiches on the main road in Long Beach
  • Mango Bay Restaurant – great Vietnamese food at Mango Bay Resort in Ong Lang Beach
  • Rory’s Wreck – mix of Western food and seafood dishes. Great for drinks.
  • Rest Stop – inside the Pier Resort. Worth a stop for their exquisite coconut iced coffee.
phu quoc night market1

Travel Reflections & Life Lately: Looking back on 2019

Travel Reflections & Life Lately: Looking back on 2019

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As the year drew to a close, I sat down to look back on all of my travels of 2019. Even though I did not achieve my goal of visiting three new countries, all of my trips in the past 12 months were so fulfilling that I can’t be too mad about visiting just two new countries instead of three.

Let’s start with some stats:

20 weeks of travel

I added up all of my travels and was surprised to learn that I traveled 20 out of 52 weeks in 2019, which was more than I thought. I am still amazed that I was able to carve out a career that allows me to live in New York and still travel a fair amount of time, without denying myself any splurges. I absolutely do not take this for granted.

Flights & buses & trains & ferries

  • 23 plane rides
  • 11 train rides
  • 9 bus rides
  • 1 ferry ride
  • 1 cruise

According to my GoogleMaps timeline, I visited 51 cities, 182 places, and 11 countries. Let’s see if I can list all of the countries I visited in 2019: 1. U.S.A. (five U.S. states this year, but none of them new to me: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and D.C. – with a little bit of Maryland when I visited the U.S. capital this past spring), 2. Germany, 3. Austria, 4. Czech Republic, 5. Hungary, 6. Vietnam (new to me!), 7. Thailand, 8. Israel, 9. Jordan (new to me), 10. Palestine. I think GoogleMaps might count Russia as country #11, but I only stopped there briefly on a layover, so I don’t count it.

182 Places… So where did I go this year?

January: Germany & New York City

I spent the first two weeks of the month in Germany – the last couple of weeks of a month-long Europe trip. I don’t get to spend every Christmas with my family, which is why I was super appreciative of all the family time I got before returning to New York. The second half of the month was spent in New York, preparing for my biggest trip of the year.

Best moment of the month: Every single moment with my nieces and nephew. I don’t get to see these little munchkins very often, so when I do, I try to make the most of it.

Worst moment of the month: When I discovered upon returning to New York that my tour business had plummeted. I’ was spoiled the winter before when I, despite temperatures of -4 F /-20C, was able to sell out all of my Brooklyn walking tours, which is why I was shocked that this year, even though my tours were much more established, I wasn’t able to sell out more than a couple of tours. I didn’t have to worry about money once in 2018, so starting the year with business being VERY slow was frightening.

(Spoiler alert: My tour business recovered again after the winter and has been more successful than ever in 2019. This was an important reminder for me to diversify my income streams. I have the blog, freelance writing, tours and my pet sitting business, none of which have anything to do with one another. Even if one of my incomes streams dry up, I have others to rely on).

February: New York City & Vietnam

After a few weeks in New York City, it was time to leave on my big winter escape – I still can’t get used to the arctic temperatures in this part of the U.S. in the winter months, and whenever possible, I escape to warmer climates. In 2019, I finally visited Vietnam, which I’d been wanting to visit for years. I started my trip with some time in Saigon, which was so hot that after a few days, I booked a flight to Phu Quoc, which I felt was like Vietnam’s Phuket.

Best moment of the month: Getting back on a scooter (motorbike) in Phu Quoc. It took me until 2017 to get back on a scooter after a scooter accident all the way back in 2011, but I was traveling with someone then. This time, I was by myself and had to give myself a good pep talk to work up the courage to rent a scooter without a ‘support person’, but when I did, it was an incredibly freeing feeling to whiz around the island on two wheels.

Worst moment of the month: The moment I walked through the airport in Vietnam – still on my way to immigration – when I realized I left my travel scarf on the plane. My travel scarf with a secret zipper pocket in which I had all my credit and debit cards and my stash of emergency dollar bills. My heart dropped. I ran back to the gate, which seemed miles away at that point, only to discover that they had already de-boarded everyone and closed the gate. The few Cathay Pacific flight attendants who were still around told me to go to the Lost & Found Counter after immigration, but I didn’t have much hope that the cleaning crew had handed in my scarf. To my surprise, the scarf was at Lost & Found though, complete with all my cards and every single dollar bill I’d stuffed in there. What a nerve-wrecking start to my long awaited Vietnam trip!

(This wasn’t the first time I left something on a plane, by the way. A couple of years ago I lost a pair of $300 headphones on a plane, and I also managed to leave my laptop on the seat next to me. The headphones were gone forever, even though I ran back to the gate right when I noticed I left them on the plane, but luckily I was able to get my laptop back.)

March: Vietnam

I spent all of March traveling around Vietnam, starting with the Mekong Delta in the south, and then all the way up along the coast to Da Nang. I ended up spending a weekend in Bangkok (a visa run) which was nice – I finally figured out how to enjoy the ‘Big Mango’: cat cafes, rooftop bars, Chatuchak Market for some shopping, and hunting down some new street art.

Best moment of the month: Oh, this is difficult. I had so many great moments in Vietnam, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one moment. Highlights of my Vietnam trip were my visit to the ‘Crazy House’ in Da Nang, wandering the streets of Hoi An’s Old Town (I did not want to leave Hoi An!), cycling in the Mekong Delta and pretty much everything I ate in Vietnam. I think Vietnamese food was my main motivation to visit Vietnam, and it did not disappoint.

Worst moment of the month: Visa woes. I tried to get a 3-month visa before my trip, but I applied for an appointment at the Vietnamese Consulate in New York during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, when everything comes to a standstill for a couple of weeks. Long story short: in the end I had to make do with the 30-day tourist e-Visa Vietnam issues. I realized during my trip that it was more difficult than expected to get a visa extension while in the country and realized it would be easier to leave the country and enter with a new visa. I spent hours researching different options for a ‘visa run’ ranging from long bus rides to Laos (to/from inconvenient places) and too many options for low-cost AirAsia flights to nearby Asian countries – time that I should have spent exploring, instead of staring at my laptop screen for hours because of poor planning.

April: Vietnam, New York City & Washington D.C.

I wrapped up my Vietnam trip with time in Hanoi and a luxury cruise through Halong Bay. Had I visited Vietnam years ago during my first trip to Asia, I’d ended up on a cheapie backpackers’ boat, but I’ve definitely grown out of the extreme shoestring travel I used to do. I treated myself to a cruise that turned out to be most of my fellow cruisers’ honeymoon trip. I spontaneously made it into a ‘solomoon’.

After that, I wrapped up my trip in Saigon where I’d started it before heading back to New York. While I was sad that my trip was over, I was looking forward to returning to New York because I was excited that my friend Katie was coming to visit me. We planned a quick getaway to Washington D.C. during cherry blossom season (which turned to be out almost over). It was my first time in D.C. since a brief visit in 2011. A couple of days were definitely not enough – I really want to go back and see more of Washington D.C. which has changed a lot since my last visit

Best moment of the month: My cruise in Halong Bay, no question. I couldn’t have chosen a better ‘grand finale’ for my Vietnam trip: I loved the ship, the scenery, and was able to relax for a few days before starting a busy season of tour guiding.

Worst moment of the month: Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to make it to one of the top five places I wanted to see in Vietnam: Sapa. This little town in the mountains of northern Vietnam is known for its beautiful landscapes (lush green rice terraces in the mountains) and I’d been looking forward to going on a multi-day trek there. But I simply ran out of time – after years of slow full-time travel, I am still not used to traveling with an end date and took my sweet time everywhere I went to in Vietnam, until I realized my return flight date was coming up pretty soon. Not making it to Sapa was a major disappointment, but I guess now I’ve got an excuse to return to Vietnam!

May: New York City & New Jersey

After barely working at all during the winter (I spent almost all of November 2018 in Costa Rica, and half of December in London & Germany), May meant back to work for me. So much so that I barely had a day off – May is usually my most profitable month. The only time I left the city was while Katie was still in town – we went on a day trip to Jersey City which turned out to be great, and I ended up going back to Jersey City for another day trip later in the year.

Best moment of the month: Seeing a fantastic Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This exhibit had opened just before I left for Vietnam in February and tickets were limited. I returned from my trip just before the exhibit closed and tickets were completely sold out – I was able to still get one by signing up for an annual membership to the museum. This wasn’t the first Frida Kahlo exhibit I’d seen, but it was one of the best ones. The highlight of the month for sure!

Worst moment of the month: Being overwhelmed with work. I was trying to juggle three jobs, and never found any time to relax. By the end of May, I was close to a burnout. It took me another month or so to figure out a healthy work life balance.

June: New York City & Boston

I spent almost the entire month in New York, but I flew up to Boston for a short week at the end of June. The reason for the trip was the second annual TravelCon conference, where I hosted an LGBT travel writing panel. It was great to catch up with so many old blogging buddies, attend several fantastic workshops, listen to inspiring keynotes, but also to rediscover a city that I hadn’t been to in years (just like DC). I would’ve stayed an entire week, but there was a major event in New York City on the very last day of the month that I had been looking forward to for the better part of the year: World Pride, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Best moment of the month: Celebrating World Pride all day with some great friends. We started with a Pride Brunch I attend every year, followed by dancing and cheering as we watched the colorful – and seemingly never ending – parade of floats go by.

Worst moment of the month: I was terribly insulted by a client – there were tears, and there was a lot of frustration about how this was handled. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was one of those times when I really felt one of the disadvantages of working for myself: there is just no support network, nobody to go to, having to figure out everything on my own.

July: New York City & Knoxville, Tennessee

July was one of the best months of the entire year. I love summer in New York, and this month was just perfect: outdoor movies, beach days in Coney Island and in the Rockaways, glorious summer sunsets and a Yankees game on a beautiful summer day. I watched the 4th July fireworks with friends, met cool new people, and finally got my bike out of storage. Which meant I could cycle all over the city again, and explore some areas I’ve never been to – I still have so many neighborhoods and places to explore in New York, even though I’ve been living here for a while now.

At the end of the month, I was able to return to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I’d passed through on my road trip in August 2018 (but only stopped briefly). This time, I felt like I took advantage of everything Knoxville had to offer: I saw art, I went on a treetop canopy tour, I stand-up paddled on the Tennessee River, saw a concert, and ate so much good food. It was a solo trip that was absolutely perfect.

Best moment of the month: So many good moments in July – it would be hard to choose just one moment… but let’s try to narrow it down to three: All my beach days, 4th July, and the Knoxville trip.

Worst moment of the month: Getting stuck in Washington, D.C. on the way back from Knoxville. I had a connecting flight, and first my flight from Knoxville to D.C. was delayed, which led to me missing my connecting flight, and after I was re-booked on a later flight, that flight was canceled because of severe thunderstorms in the NYC area. It didn’t look like I was going to be able to get on another flight to New York that night – hundreds of people were stuck – but I had to be in New York City by 9am the next morning. I ended up making the decision to leave the airport and figure out alternative transportation options. I took the subway to D.C.’s Union Station, and got on a Greyhound bus to New York, which got me into Manhattan at 3.30am. What should’ve been a simple two-hour flight turned into a 13-hour journey home.

August: NYC, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic & Austria

In August, I tried to fit in as many summer activities as possible, because I left New York mid-August for Europe, which meant I didn’t have much summer left. So I made sure to have rooftop drinks before I left, spent time sunbathing in the parks, went to several food markets and summer streets events, and had picnics with friends. I also checked several art exhibits off my to-do list before leaving for Europe, and then it was time for one of my most anticipated journeys of the year: Four countries in one trip!

I scheduled my trip to Europe around a family event, and while I was excited about spending time with my family in Germany, a good friend of mine and I wanted to do a classic Europe backpacking trip, which I’ve never done. Because of time constraints, we weren’t able to fit in all of Europe, but eventually decided on Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Nuremberg. We took trains and buses, stayed in Airbnb’s and packed every single day of the trip with fun activities. We cycled around the cities, we went on free walking tours, we sampled local food, found great viewpoints (especially in Budapest!), and did a lot of touristy stuff – but we had such a blast. I was a bit worried that August in Europe would mean hordes of tourists everywhere, but other than in the center of Prague, it did not feel packed anywhere we went.

Best moment of the month: The entire Euro trip was amazing, but Budapest was the most memorable of the cities we visited.

Worst moment of the month: Luckily, nothing terribly bad happened this month, but I wished we would’ve had more time in each city on our Europe trip. Like I said before: I am still not used to traveling with an end date, and wished I had more time to just linger instead of rushing to fit it all in.

September: NYC & the Catskills (upstate New York)

Upon returning to New York, I realized that summer was far from over. September is actually a great month, because it’s still sunny and warm, but without the pressing summer heat and the humidity of July and August. I tried to pack in as much as possible before the summer of 2019 would be over for good: flea markets and other outdoor events, a rooftop party, ferry rides and park hang-outs. I managed to visit two places in the Bronx I’d never been to – Van Cortlandt Park and Woodland Cemetery -, I went to Staten Island, and I went to the beach one last time.

I spent almost all of September in New York City, but I escaped for a long weekend to the Catskills so that I could go on an overnight back country backpacking trip with my hiking buddy. I took myself out of my comfort zone by agreeing on camping in the wilderness (not really my thing), and while the hike was much more challenging than either of us expected (the Burroughs Range trail includes three summits: Slide, Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain, with Slide Mountain being the highest peak in New York. The trail was incredibly strenuous, and the hike was made even more difficult because of rain on the first day. But we kept pushing through and did not turn around, which is why I felt extremely accomplished when we got back. Not giving up also paid of on day two, when the sun finally came out and we had amazing views over the Catskills from the mountaintop.

Best moment of the month: Two moments stand out: the moment when we reached the car after two long and tough days of hiking in the Catskills, and receiving an Airbnb Award for being the Experience host with the most five-star reviews in New York City. I busted my ass this summer, showed thousands of people around Brooklyn, and to finally have my hard work acknowledged felt amazing.

Worst moment of the month: Hiking an entire afternoon in the pouring rain without my rain jacket (which I’d forgotten to pack) and having to set up our tent at the break of the night and in the rain. We also couldn’t find a decent spot to set up the tent in until it was almost too dark, and both of us were close to a meltdown: hungry, exhausted, and cold. I was so cold that my lips were blue, I was shivering and it took me hours to get warm again.

October: NYC, Chicago & Israel

October was one of my favorite months because I got to spend time with several people I don’t get to see all that often: first I went up to Boston to visit my friend Kate, then I spend eight days with my friend Anna in Chicago (who graciously offered to host me when I got into the Chicago Marathon), my friend Katie visited me in New York and finally I was welcomed with a much needed heartfelt hug at the airport in Tel Aviv by my favorite human.

Needless to say that October was a busy month. I got to go to Boston for the second time this year, I rediscovered beautiful Chicago (it had been years since my last visit!), and Katie and I always do fun things when she passes through New York. During this visit we cycled around Brooklyn, we took the ferry up the East River, marveled at the fall colors in Central Park and Prospect Park, ate at several delicious pizza places, and we saw my favorite Broadway show of the entire year: Come From Away, which tells the story of 6,700 airplane passengers who got stranded in the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, when on 9/11 the American airspace closed. The story was captivating and told so well, I absolutely loved it.

And then it was time to leave for my second longest trip of the year after Vietnam: a five-week journey around the Middle East – see more in November.

Best moment of the month: Finishing my second marathon. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect in Chicago, and I was so happy that after months of hard training I was able to run it – see worst moment below for why.

Worst moment of the month: At the end of September, I fell on one of my marathon training runs and busted my knee open. I didn’t think much of it, however, because after a short pause I was able to run another 10k despite the hurt knee. A week later though, bacteria got into the wound and my knee got horribly infected. It got so bad that I had to go to an Emergency Clinic in Chicago a few days before the race, and it was not clear if I’d be able to run the marathon until two days before race day. The pain and mental stress that this injury caused me were awful.

November: Israel, Palestine and Jordan

I flew to Israel at the end of October where I started my second longest trip of the year: five weeks of traveling in Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. The trip didn’t turn out the way I thought it would (see worst moment below) but I had such a good month. I watched one of my favorite people in the world getting married, re-visited some of my favorite spots in Israel and went to some places I hadn’t explored on any of my previous visits. After a couple of beach days on the Red Sea it was time for me to hop across the border to visit a new country: Jordan! Visiting Jordan has been on my travel wishlist for a long time, so this trip was a birthday gift to myself, and it turned out to be such a great trip. I hadn’t traveled anywhere by myself since Vietnam and enjoyed some much needed ‘me time’ while traveling from Aqaba in the far south of Jordan all the way up to Jerash in the north of the country, close to the Syrian border. I loved every place I visited along the way: the vast desert of Wadi Rum, the ancient city of Petra and all the hikes I did around there, and Amman, Jordan’s vibrant capital, and Jerash with its stunning ancient Roman ruins, that I didn’t even know existed before I went to Jordan.

Instead of traveling from Amman to Beirut, as I’d originally planned, I ended up going back to Israel via Palestine, and treated myself to a stay at street artist Banksy’s Hotel in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Named “The Walled Off Hotel” it faces the separation wall between Israel and Palestine, with the self-proclaimed “worst view in the world”. Naturally, it wasn’t a very happy visit, but after a brief visit to Bethlehem in 2014, I’d been keen on returning to learn more about Palestine and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. While this was admittedly a somber visit, I did have an amazing birthday celebration in Israel with great friends.

Best moment of the month: Finally visiting Petra. I’ve wanted to visit the ancient city of Petra for many years, and it did not disappoint. In fact, Petra even exceeded my expectations with its ginormous size, the breathtaking monuments most of which are carved right into the mountains, and the fantastic hiking trails which kept me busy for three entire days.

And I also want to mention my birthday, because my friends in Israel went above and beyond to make this day special for me.

Worst moment of the month: Visiting Palestine. Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting Palestine (this was my second visit) but seeing how Palestinians are oppressed by the Israeli government who control their land is absolutely heartbreaking and just like during my first visit, it completely messed with my mind. On the one hand, I always have a good time when I visit Israel – especially when, like on this trip, my friends organize all sorts of cool stuff for me and take me to beautiful places – but the political situation makes me sick.

Another sad moment was the moment I realized that I wouldn’t be able to visit Lebanon on this trip. This is a bit of a longer story, but the short version is that you cannot visit Lebanon after having visited Israel due to the two countries’ difficult political relations. However, since there were big protests going on in Lebanon around the time of my planned visit which had led to road closures and uncertainties about my planned route around the country, I figured that it may not be the right time to visit Lebanon anyway. The other reason why changing my original plans wasn’t the worst moment of the trip was the fact that this meant I’d be spending my birthday with some of my favorite people in the world.

December: Israel and NYC

I returned to New York in early December to spend the Holidays in what you know is my favorite city in the world. After months of marathon training and traveling, I was ready to finally have a break. I didn’t fill my calendar with too many social obligations – all I wanted to do was get some rest before my next big trip and to enjoy the Holiday season in New York. I ended up needing more rest than expected, since I brought the flu back with me from Israel, which later turned into a bronchitis. Even though I wasn’t able to spend Christmas with my family in Germany, I got a little bit into the Christmas spirit with a couple of cookie baking sessions, a hygge Advent afternoon (in Germany, we celebrate the four Sundays before Christmas, which are called Advent, with a cozy celebration that involves cookies, mulled wine and Christmas music). I rang in the New Year with a couple of friends – what started out as a small party at a friend’s house ended at a techno club at 9.30am the next morning. The longest I stayed out in YEARS!

Best moment of the month: A surprise cake in Israel for my birthday! I was spending the weekend after my birthday at my friend’s family’s house in the south of Israel, and I was beyond excited to have a shabbat dinner with them. These festive large family dinners with loads of delicious home-cooked dishes are some of the things I love most about Jewish culture. After dinner, they surprised me with a cake my friend’s mom made for me. I was truly touched by this. And the entire weekend my friends had planned out for me was amazing: hikes, stunning scenery, and delicious food.

Worst moment of the month: This is a tough one to even type out. I’ve always heard about people falling out over politics, but honestly, I never thought it’d be something that’d affect me. Boy was I wrong. I had a major falling out with someone who I considered CLOSE family (who even has access to all of my accounts and to my Facebook) after sharing my experiences in Palestine on Instagram. I knew these stories were hard to watch, and I did expect some backlash, but I did not expect to lose a person I love over this.

2020 Teaser: What’s Next For Me

I won’t be staying put for too long: my first big trip of 2020 is only a few days away! I’ll be leaving on my biggest trip of the year in mid-January – exploring a new (to me) continent! You know that I can only take a few weeks of cold weather before I start getting cabin fever, which is why I will swap New York’s frosty winter for summer in the southern hemisphere – that’s all I’ll reveal for now. This trip (which is another dream country ticked off my bucket list) will be followed by a milestone trip: right after I return from my “winter escape”, I will be leaving on a trip that’s very special for me: The trip that commemorates 10 years of Globetrottergirls! I’ve thought long and hard about where I want to celebrate this special milestone and am stoked about the destination I chose. Stay tuned.

To follow along in real time, follow my travels on Instagram @globetrottergirls, where I post both photos and stories almost every day.

Happy 2020!

One big family Christmas – My Two Mums

One big family Christmas - My Two Mums

2019 was certainly the year for family. At the start of the year we’d intended to spend Christmas just us three, but by the end we’d spent it with all our close family and it couldn’t have been more perfect. We both had a very tough busy year, with loss and illness, career change and studies. Meaning we were really at our limits by the time we both broke up for the Christmas holidays.

We kicked off the big family Christmas on the day before Christmas Eve by attended my in laws wedding. It was a lovely private celebration, with their children and grandchildren. We took over Zizzi’s with our celebrations as the kids enjoyed racing outside to watch the winter ice skaters in the square. It was exactly what we needed as a family, spending time with those that made us laugh and whom love our little dude just as hard as we do.

Christmas wedding

On Christmas Eve we enjoyed watching the excitement build in M as he excitedly talked about what Santa was going to bring. In our home, Santa brings one special gift and the rest of the gifts are from us and family. This year is the first year M wasn’t too specific about what he wanted from Santa, so it was going to be a total surprise for him.

Christmas Eve

Christmas morning came around very quickly as M woke us both with a “Santa has left me a stocking on my bed Mama and Mummy, can I open it?”. We were up and downstairs within 30 minutes and smiling at M’s look of shock at the gifts under the tree. The gift from Santa (What’s in the Box? game) was a hit, and soon we were under a mountain of paper as M unwrapped at record speed. I really started to sound old as I kept telling M to “slow down or you won’t appreciate everything”.

This year M had decided to get us matchy matchy (his words) gifts, from his school secret Santa stall. I lucked out with a new lunchbox and Clara got a rather fetching new reusable shopping bag.

Christmas K and C

For our Christmas lunch we’d been invited out for our first ever Christmas dinner at a restaurant. It was lovely to spend more time with Clara’s side of the family as we donned party hats and ate Christmas lunch. M adores his cousins, so for him it was rather special that he got to spend Christmas day with them. Once we’d eaten we headed back to my in laws home for gift exchanging. This was a big highlight for me as my Mother in Law had bought me the best pair of shoes ever, in the form of Rainbow coloured Pride Converse.

Christmas dude and cousin

Boxing day continued our theme of family, as we headed to my parents for a lunch, games and more gift exchanges. My sister and Niece joined us which was lots of fun as we played some silly movie games and Heads Up. Beau joined us at my parents, which was lovely as he adores my parents. Plus he knew he was bound to get fed lots of treats.

Christmas Elf Boxing Day
Christmas Santa Boxing Day
Christmas Boxing day Pup
Christmas Family Boxing Day

The rest of our Christmas seemed to speed by in a flurry of illness (I got tonsilitis and Clara got an awful cold), days out swimming/climbing/soft play and Pokemon Go hunting.

Christmas Fun

On New Year’s Eve we kept up our tradition of going to the cinema and took M to see Frozen 2. We then enjoyed our own mini family party for three at home. We were all shattered by the time the countdown began, but we enjoyed mini sparklers just after midnight.

New Year Christmas Pup
Christmas New Years sparklers

Our final few days before we returned to work/school have been a blur of outdoor adventures on the coast, walks in the park and some rock climbing for the little dude.

Christmas New Year Day walk
Christmas New Year Coastal Walk
Christmas Climbing

It’s been a mixed bag this Christmas, but I am truly thankful for the family I got to spend it with.

How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Vietnam?

vietnamese dong

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The one thing people are usually the most curious about are my travel expenses… so let’s get to it: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam?

Of course there is a big difference in how much people spend – everyone has different needs and standards. I am sure that there are people who spend in only one weekend what I spend in an entire week. While I’m not a rock bottom backpacker who traveled Vietnam on $10 a day, I do consider myself a frugal traveler and don’t tend to stay in fancy hotels. Since I also prefer street food over nice restaurants, my costs for food are much lower than what people spend who prefer eating in proper restaurants all the time. I want to share my expenses to help you figure out your own Vietnam travel budget.

So, how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam? Or more specifically: how much did traveling in Vietnam cost me?vietnam hoi an

Vietnam Pre-trip Expenses

I had quite a few expenses before I went to Vietnam. First of all, if you’re planning to stay for more than 15 days, you have to get a tourist visa before entering the country. This can be obtained hassle-free online now, but allow at least four days for it to be processed. You have to print out this visa once you receive the confirmation that it was approved, or you will not be allowed to board your flight. Here’s a list of all the countries whose residents can apply for the visa online.

Cost of e-visa: US$25

There are several websites that offer to obtain the visa for you, and they will charge you a fee for it. The first website I came across when googling the e-visa only charged $17, so I assume it is a scam. Be careful which website you use when applying for the visa. Knowing that it should be $25 saved me from sending money into the void of the World Wide Web and most likely NOT get the visa.

I followed these instructions on how to get the Vietnam e-visa and got my visa approved only hours before my flight, so if you don’t want to sweat over getting your visa in time, don’t wait until the last minute like I did. (The reason I waited so long is that I’d applied for a visa appointment with the Vietnamese consulate in New York to get a 3-month visa, since I knew I’d be staying longer than 30 days and wanted to save me the hassle of having to get a visa extension or going on a ‘visa run’. But that’s a topic for a whole other post.)

This is the official link to apply for your Vietnam e-visa online.

If you’re staying for less than 15 days, there’s still a small processing fee involved, which varies from country to country. Note that you have to have two passport photos on you to get the 15-day visa on arrival, or you will be charged an extra fee.vietnam mekong delta

Travel insurance for Vietnam

The other pre-trip expense you should factor into your Vietnam travel budget is travel insurance. Since I knew I’d be renting a scooter and that bag snatching was a regular in occurrence in Saigon, I wanted to play it safe. Prices for insurance policies vary depending on your nationality, the duration of your trip and if you are planning to do any activity that require additional coverage. WorldNomads has two options, the Standard and the Explorer.vietnam easy rider tour

Items I bought before my trip to Vietnam

As for items I didn’t want to have to buy in Vietnam:

  • Sunscreen (usually more expensive in tourist destinations than back home)
  • Body lotion / face lotion (because it can be tricky to find items that are not ‘skin whitening’ in Asia. Even deodorant usually has whitener in it)
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Contact Lens Solution
  • Travel Adapter (only needed if you’re from the UK or Australia. North American and Continental European plugs fit in Vietnam, as long as you don’t have three pins. I had a simple two-pin plug which worked fine, but for my next trip to Vietnam I’d buy an adapter that has USB chargers integrated)
vietnam bicycle

How Much is Accommodation in Vietnam

You can pay for as little as $2 a night in a dorm room in Vietnam – the going rate for dorms seemed to be around US$4 – US$5. I also saw some pricier dorms around $10, but judging from the photos on the online booking websites I use, they never looked nicer than the cheaper ones. The most expensive dorm I came across was at a hostel in Phu Quoc that charged $15 for a 4-bed dorm with AC.

I usually stayed in private rooms, which ranged from basic guest houses and hostels to homestays and small hotels. The most expensive hotel room I stayed in was $36, and that’s because I wanted to treat myself to a rooftop pool in Danang. The cheapest room I booked in Vietnam was $9: a homestay in the Mekong Delta. I usually averaged around VND330,000 (~US$14) for a private double room at single occupancy. Double rooms for two people are around the same price, or maybe a dollar more. When you’re wondering: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam? Remember that how much you’re spending on accommodation makes a huge difference! If you’re someone who likes a bit more luxury, you will spend much more in Vietnam than I did.

I used Booking.com exclusively to book my accommodation, because I find the site more transparent than Agoda (which is the more popular booking website in Asia). Booking.com shows me right away the total price for the entire stay including fees and taxes (Agoda shows price per night without taxes/fees), and Booking.com also lists hostels (dorm beds and private rooms), homestays, apartments, and even cruises (in Halong Bay).how much does it cost to travel in VietnamDaily Accommodation Budget: This can vary drastically depending on your travel style. Dorm rooms all the way? Expect to spend around US$5 a night. You prefer your own hotel room, and enjoy global hotel brands? Those can easily cost you US$100 a night and more. Plan your Vietnam travel budget according to your travel style.

How Much Is Food in Vietnam?

If you love street food, you’ll never pay more than US$1 or $2 for a meal. A bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup can usually be found for VND25,000 (US$1.08), a banh mi sandwich is between VND20,000 and 25,000 (US0.86 – US$1.08), but can be slightly more expensive in tourist areas.

If you prefer a proper sit-down restaurant, expect to pay between VND60,000 and 120,000 (US$2.60 – $5.20). Western food is a bit pricier – a high-quality pizza for example set me back at VND222,000 (US$9.55).

My most expensive dinner in Vietnam was VND265,000 (US$11.40).

Snacks: Whenever I picked up some snacks in a grocery store or convenience store, I never paid more than US$1 for nuts, a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, etc.

Daily Food Budget: US$10

vietnam noodles

How Much Are Drinks in Vietnam?

I love that Vietnam has such a thriving coffee culture, and splurged on some fancy coffee drinks such as iced coconut coffee, which would cost anything between VND39,000 (US$1.68) and VND75,000 (US$3.23) for a pricier place. Exotic creations like a yogurt coffee cost around (VND30,000 / US$1.29), and Vietnam’s famous Egg Coffee is around (VND35,000 / US$1.51).

A coffee in a hipster coffee shop starts at around VND40,000 (US$1.72), a cappuccino is around VND50,000 (US$2.15). The cheapest coffee I had was VND10,000 (US$0.43).vietnam hoi an espresso stationA large bottle of water is around 10,000 (US$0.43) (You cannot drink the tap water in Vietnam, so daily drinking water is something you’ve got to factor into your Vietnam travel budget).

There are fresh fruit smoothies everywhere, and they range from VND20,000 (US$0.86) – VND80,000 (US$3.44). On average, I spent VND40,000 (US$1.72) on a smoothie.

Beer ranges from VND10,000 (US$0.43) to VND30,000 (US$1.29). There are quite a few micro-breweries and craft beer bars in Vietnam now – expect to pay more for craft beer. I paid VND60,000 (US$2.58) for a micro brew in Ho Chi Minh City.

Wine: a glass of wine in a wine bar is around VND130,000 (US$5.59). The cheapest wine I found was VND55,000 (US$2.37).

Cocktails are a bit more expensive: I spent VND208,000 (US$8.94) on rooftop drinks in Saigon, and in the fancier cocktail bars like Snuffbox cocktails average VND210,000 (US$9). The cheapest cocktail I had was VND132,000 (US$5.68).

Daily Drinks Budget: Depends on if you drink alcohol every day or if you have, like me, an expensive coffee habit, but I think US$5 – US$10 is realistic.vietnam craft beers

How much is Entertainment in Vietnam

Here are some examples for admission to attractions, museums and other entertainment:

  • Art Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND30,000 (US$1.29)
  • War Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND40,000 (US1.72)
  • Massage: VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Crazy House in Dalat: VND50,000 (US$2.15)
  • Skylight observation deck in Da Nang (includes one drink): VND 160,000 (US6.88)
  • Historic buildings in Hoi An’s Ancient Town was VND120,000 (US$5.16)
  • a ticket for the Marble Mountains was VND40,000 (US$1.72)
  • Admission to the ancient ruins of My Son was VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Bicycle rental VND20,000 (US$0.86)
  • Waterfall admission: VND20,000 (US$0.86)

Daily entertainment budget: This depends on how many attractions you want to visit, but as you can see, museums are very cheap in Vietnam, and I never paid more than US$7 for an attraction. I recommend adding US$10 per day for entertainment to your Vietnam travel budget.vietnam historic home hoi an

How Much are Excursions in Vietnam

I joined several excursions during my time in Vietnam, here are some examples:

I took a tour from Hoi An to the UNESCO site My Son, which was VND120,000 (US$5.16).

A private walking tour in Hanoi, booked through WithLocals.com, was around US$50.

A tour to the sand dunes in Mui Ne was VND150,000 (US$6.45), plus another VND150,000 (US$6.45) for a jeep tour in the sand dunes.

I toured the area around Dalat for a full day with an ‘Easy Rider’ which is basically a tour on the back of someone’s motorbike and paid VND800,000 (US$34.40).

A snorkeling boat trip in Phu Quoc cost VND345,000 (US$14.84).vietnam phu quoc beachI also did a couple of Airbnb Experiences: A food tour by scooter in Saigon, which cost US$24, and a half-day boat tour in the Mekong Delta (US$25, plus a tip and breakfast for the boat driver around US$8).

Daily Excursions Budget: I don’t think that you’ll do an excursion every single day on your trip, but when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam, excursions should definitely be factored in. Think about which things you really want to do while in Vietnam – for me the main things were UNESCO sites, food tours, the Halong Bay cruise and the boat tour on the Mekong. As you can see in the examples above, most of the excursions I went on were under US$15, but if you enjoy private tours over group tours, you’ll have to budget accordingly.

How Much is Transportation in Vietnam

Flights

Domestic flights in Vietnam are cheap – the most I paid for a flight was around US$50. I used Skyscanner and GoogleFlights to look for cheap flights and booked around 2 – 3 weeks before each flight. Some airfare examples:

  • Ho Chi Minh City – Phu Quoc: US$43
  • Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City: US$52
  • Da Nang – Hanoi: US$46
vietnam vietjetBuses in Vietnam

A 2-hour bus ride was usually VND70,000 (US$3), a 4-hour bus is around VND140,000 (US$6).

Trains in Vietnam

I took trains several times and found train rides in Vietnam to be an enjoyable experience. I paid between VND145,000 (US$6.24) and VND177,000 (US$7.60) for the train. I booked all my train rides in advance online via the website Baolau.com.

Taxis in Vietnam

The most expensive taxi rides were in Phu Quoc and Saigon: VND230,000 (US$9.89) from the airport to my guesthouse in Phu Quoc / VND180,000 (US$7.74) from my hotel in Phu Quoc to the ferry. In Saigon I paid VND250,000 (US$10.75) to get from my hotel to the airport.

A taxi in Ben Tre was VND85,000 (US$3.66), in Da Nang I paid VND100,000 (US$4.30) for a 15-min ride.

Moto taxis in Vietnam

Moto-taxis, where you sit on the back of the driver’s scooter (the most common taxis in Vietnam) ranged from VND40,000 (US$1.72) to VND60,000 (US$2.58). The most I paid was VND70,000 (US$3) for a moto taxi.vietnam moto taxiFerries in Vietnam

The ferry from Phu Quoc to the mainland was VND330,000 (USS$14.19)

Scooter rental in Vietnam

I paid VND120,000 (US$5.12) per day for my scooter rental on Phu Quoc. Filling up gas was VND35,000 (US$1.51).

Bicycle rental in Vietnam

I rented a bicycle in Hoi An for VND20,000 (US$0.86) per day.

Daily Transportation Budget: The slower you travel, the less you spend on transportation. It also depends on if you’re planning to take domestic flights or if you plan to stick to buses and trains.vietnam scooter

Other Expenses in Vietnam: SIM Card & Laundry

SIM card: I got a SIM card right at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and paid VND230,000 (US$9.89) for it. If you want to do a bit more research, I recommend this guide to the best SIM cards for tourists in Vietnam. I topped up my SIM card about four weeks into my trip and spent VND100,000 (US$4.30) for the top-up.

Laundry: I usually paid VND50,000 (US$2.15) to get my laundry done.

Other expenses to take into consideration when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam are things like souvenirs (many people get suits or dresses tailor-made in Hoi An), postcards, haircuts and toiletries.vietnam shop

How much does it cost to travel in Vietnam?

I spent between US$30 and $40 per day while I was traveling around Vietnam – and I stayed in private accommodation, went on excursions and treated myself to fancy coffees and cocktails along the way, which is why my daily budget was usually on the higher end (US$40). Had I stayed in dorm rooms and stuck to beer and cheap and Vietnamese coffee, I’d be able to stick to a US$30 per day travel budget.

My total Vietnam travel budget for one month: US$1,214.52

So when you set your Vietnam travel budget, think about your travel style. I am a frugal traveler – I don’t need fancy hotels, and I wanted to travel Vietnam on a budget. But if you are traveling for a shorter time and want to spoil yourself, your budget will certainly be higher than what I spent during my seven weeks in Vietnam. It also depends on how many places you’re planning to visit – I visited a dozen different places, which means there were a lot of transportation costs involved. If you visit less places, you’ll spend less on transportation, unless you fly in between each city you visit. If you’re pressed for time, do your research and decide before your trip which top destinations in Vietnam you really want to visit.how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam

I hope after reading this article you have a rough idea how much it costs to travel Vietnam – if you have any other questions about traveling Vietnam, leave a comment below!

I tracked my travel expenses, as always, using the TrailWallet app.

how much does it cost to travel in vietnam

Grand Rapids Restaurants You Need to Visit  – DOPES ON THE ROAD

Grand Rapids Restaurants You Need to Visit  - DOPES ON

 

In 2019, there was a huge push to eat more local, in-season produce and of course live a  more sustainable life. Something that Grand Rapids has been doing well before this year. When Meg Ten Eyck and I were invited by Experience Grand Rapids to visit this midwest city I knew almost nothing about the food. 

I found out that Michigan grows a greater range of produce than any state except California. That fact means eating locally grown, fresh and in-season produce has been a way of life for well, forever. By blending hearty and heavy midwestern food with a focus on fresh and seasonal you get some incredible combinations. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy eating your way through these Grand Rapids Restaurants as much as I did. 

 

Say Yes to Breakfast in Grand Rapids 

San Chez Bistro

Our first meal after getting to town was breakfast at San Chez Bistro. It set the tone for all the deliciousness we came to expect during the rest of the trip. The restaurant itself is two-tiered and brightly colored. The decor speaks with the same fun tone as the food at this Latin American meets Mediterranean spot. The breakfast empanadas with chorizo were to die for. The pro tip is to go ahead and double your order or the harissa sour cream, you’ll thank me later. They also serve tapas-style lunches and dinners!

Wolfgang’s

When you visit Wolfgang’s you can expect to leave absolutely stuffed. This homestyle breakfast and lunch spot is serving up some massive portions. If you go on the weekend expect a bit of a wait but trust me they have the fluffiest eggs I’ve ever seen. They also make homemade hash browns which I happen to believe is the highest form of potato. 

Anna’s House

A visit to Anna’s House means everyone in the crews getting exactly what they want. The breakfast menu here is gigantic. That big menu allows them to have options for all sorts of dietary restrictions. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free you name it Anna’s House has you covered. 

That Early Bird

If you’re looking for good vegetarian food in Grand Rapids look no further than That Early Bird. I think the coolest part about this spot is that the menu is super eclectic. Sure they have the traditional french toast and breakfast sammies but they also have vindaloo hash! The horchata iced latte is to die for. If you haven’t tried horchata its rice mike beverage popular in Latin America. 

Coffee in Grand Rapids

MadCap Coffee

Brick walls and, big windows and a lot of sunlight. Beautifully designed packaging. Knowledgeable baristas probably wearing beanies and or Blundstones. This place is oozing cool in every way. MadCap Coffee has three locations in Grand Rapids and we visited two of them. I really enjoyed getting to learn about the beans and the process from the Downtown Market location. 

 

Jam’n Bean Coffee Company

Struggling to decide if you want coffee or ice cream? Jamnbean is all about having both. The vibe here is cozy. It’s the perfect place to just chill with friends. I’m a coffee enthusiast but there’s a contingent of people who claim the ice cream is even better than the coffee. You’ll have to try both and decide for yourself. 

Beautiful women eating one ice cream in the street. Youth concept.

Outside Coffee Co

Outside Coffee Co is queer-owned, instantly making me fall in love a little more. As the name suggests Outside Coffee Co is well outside. They have fireplaces scattered about the space giving that perfect fall vibe. When it gets cold they put out adorable clear domes to stay warm in. I had what they call “chider” a chai tea and apple cider combo that was life-changing. 

Grand Rapid Brunch Spots to Indulge

Social Kitchen & Bar

Grand Rapids brunch lists will all include the trendy and vibrant Social Kitchen & Bar. The bunch menu has comfort food done in an elevated way. The thick-cut pork belly in bourbon vanilla glaze is sinful. Consider taking an Uber here because the bunch cocktail list is phenomenal. 

Electric Cheetah

I have a weakness for root beer the more unique the better. When I found out Electric Cheetah offered a full root beer menu I was sold. The brunch menu has a lot of American food favorites. The mac n cheese is what they’re known for so make sure to try it. This cool mural was just a few minute’s walks so I snagged a few pictures while waiting for a table. 

Terra GR

This Grand Rapids farm to table restaurant has a wonderful brunch menu. The Terra GR egg menu is a mile long but the woodfire pizzas grabbed my attention. They have a strong focus on being sustainable and serving local ingredients which is the type of business I love to support. They also have one of the best bloody mary’s I’ve ever tasted. 

Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe

When you come here expect a wait. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, I say to emphasize this place is so good people will wait! Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe is completely worth the wait. Crepes had a very important place in my early travel story so I think of myself as somewhat of a crepe critic. The crepes are thin and come in both sweet and savory options. They even have a crepe making class which I would 100% be doing if I live in the city. 

Great Restaurants Downtown Grand Rapids

The Old Goat

The Old Goat has a rustic-chic vibe that you could probably use the word hipster to describe. The place is the definition of stylish and chill. The service is great and makes for a good lunch or dinner stop. If you’re looking for food recommendations consider the cast iron pot pie or the garlic and white balsamic brussel sprouts. 

HopCat

HopCat is a brewery, in fact, it’s a great brewery in one of America’s leading beer cities. It’s no surprise that the menu here is everything you’d want to eat while drinking beer. Think chicken tenders, burgers and Fish and Chips. The food is great and no I wasn’t drunk when I had it. Pro Tip: their Cosmik fries were named the top 10 french fries in America by Food Network Magazine. 

Stella’s Lounge

The walls are covered in graffiti and there are 80’s arcade games to play. Everything about Stella’s Lounge is fun, including the food. It’s mostly a pub menu serving some killer sandwiches. They also have some vegan comfort food options, like a sweet potato burrito. If you’re into whiskey Stella’s has 200 varieties. 

Ando Sushi & Bar

Veggie sushi is one of my favorite things in the world and Ando Sushi & Bar serves the best I’ve ever had. The restaurant is modern and minimal with a really pretty bar. My eyes were about 7 times bigger than my stomach so I got to taste a lot. The udon was rich and a massive portion and all the sushi was super fresh. Seriously, you’ve gotta try one of the veggie sushi options.

Donkey Taqueria

A former service station serving up Mexican street food-inspired dishes. Donkey Taqueria has a large outdoor patio for sipping a cocktail on the warm days and the garage door flood the interior with light year-round. Their taco menu is awesome but I recommend ordering at least on the order of flautas. They also have a really fun cocktail menu.  

Butcher’s Union

Meat eaters only! Not really but carnivores are going to thrive here. The menu itself has a strong international influence which is always fun. Butcher’s Union offers a big shareable menu which I love. In my opinion, it’s the best way to try a bunch of the option. Some of the shareable options include beef tartar, Caribbean meat pies, and roasted pork belly. 

Downtown Market

I love me a great market and the Downtown Market is just that. One of the first things I learned about the market as they have a garden on the rooftop Which I think is awesome for so many reasons. Once we got in I was stoked to find so many different food stalls. Almost all offered an option to take food to cook at home or eat there. That includes the seafood stand frying up and serving some of the freshest fish sandwiches. There are also 3 full sit down restaurants connected to the market. If you have time I highly recommend finishing your meal with the MadCap coffee flight and a cupcake from Sweetie-Licious Bake Shoppe

 

This conversation was sponsored by Experience Grand Rapids. As always all opinions are my own. 

 

Ad Gifted – Silentnight Airmax Dog bed

Ad Gifted - Silentnight Airmax Dog bed

We were gifted this item for the purpose of review.

Our furry little pup is very spoiled when it comes to Christmas. Family get him gifts, we fill a stocking for him and we love to get him toys and things that will keep him comfy. The fab Silentnight Airmax dog bed (from £44.99), which you can purchase from Argos, is a great gift for him to discover under the Christmas tree.

Bed time Christmas Silentnight

As he is a Cockapoo, his sense of smell is AMAZING and he can sniff out a cuddly place to lay his head from 50 yards. So we decided to let him have just the one gift a little early. As soon as it was out of the packaging he was rolling around in it and snuggling down for a nap. He is the kind of dog that loves his bed, yet can be known to destroy the in seconds. Thankfully the Silentnight Airmax dog ped has withstood his chewing and doesn’t show any sign of being nibbled.

Christmas Beau - Silentnight

The outer fabric is very durable and the inside is covered in soft cosy fleece lining. The cushion inside the bed is reversible and has a great feature, which is a mesh fabric wall which allows air to travel through the cushion to prevent overheating. It is also machine washable, which is perfect for a dog like ours that seems to get muddy in seconds.

Christmas gift for dog - Silentnight

Silentnight also make two other fab dog bed designs, The Silentnight Orthopedic Pet Bed which has a contoured foam layer, which is designed to reduce pressure points and sooth aches and pains for a relaxing and comfortable sleep. As well as The Silentnight Ultrabounce Pet Bed, which is designed with durability and comfort in mind.

Silentnight dog bed - Beau

We’ve found that Beau is a much happier dog when sleeping in a comfy bed. Since he has been using The Silentnight Airmax he has certainly been content.

Who brings dogs their presents at Christmas?

Santa Paws!

27 Simple Wedding Reception Decor Ideas

27 Simple Wedding Reception Decor Ideas

Planning a wedding isn’t easy, to say the least. Between picking a venue, dealing with the caterer, and trying to impress your guests anything that helps simplify the planning process can make life just a little easier.

While you’ve been frantically searching for ideas and tips, we’ve put together a life line of sorts. A list of ideas that range from fall weddings to general decor. Compiled below are 27 ideas to help you create an amazing and unique reception. 

____________
 
During the fall season, it’s hard not to feel those cozy vibes. A rustic atmosphere full of cozy warmth and a laid-back feel pairs so well with fall. Whether you have an upcoming wedding or are just looking for preliminary ideas, in this section you’ll find elegant ways of creating comfortable fall atmosphere.
 
1.  Roaring Fires
 
An outdoor wedding in the fall can get quite chilly at night. Light the night sky and warm guests by adding fires to your outdoor rustic wedding during the colder months. Keep reading to see how a fire can add an elegant touch while keeping with the rustic feel.
 
2.    Illuminate the Sky
 
If you want to go more upscale for your rustic or fall wedding, there are many options for illumination that pair well. You can hang crystal chandeliers from the ceiling of a barn to make for an elegant ambiance.
 
While chandeliers can add an elegant touch, not everyone will want to go for something so, well, big (or have your reception in a barn for that matter.) Consider hanging café lights on the ceiling or in trees for a less formal touch.

Hanging lanterns are another lighting option, and these add a particular flair no matter what kind of venue you’ve chosen. While traditional lanterns will add to a rustic vibe, and café lights add more to the industrial or vintage look, paper lanterns are great for creating either a playful, relaxed atmosphere… or, depending on the style of the lanterns, an elegant feel that is artistic and trendy.
 
 
3. Warm and Cozy
 
Whether or not there are roaring fires (but you totally should), consider creating a comfortable and cozy place for guests to sit. The fall weather will inspire them to wish for a casual spot to relax, mingle, chat and feel the warmth from the inside-out.  Use pillows, outdoor furniture and fluffed blankets in case it gets chilly out. This gives guests a place to unwind and relax from the party plus the blankets can double as a great keepsake gift!
 
4. Wood Ladder
 
Using tattered wood ladders is a great way to decorate while keeping with your rustic or fall theme. They can be used to display photos, guests’ escort cards, seating cards, small quilts, or simply decorated with flowers.

5. Fall Colors
 
Especially when fall is upon us, nature can be incredible at guiding the color scheme for a reception. BBJ Linen has some beautiful rustic ideas including using Earth tones from the surrounding landscape combined with a natural wood look for tables and chairs.

From pumpkins and other organic oranges, to hazelnut browns, bronze, deep organic reds and muted sunflower yellow… the range of colors that are available to accent your gathering are varied and rich.  -Including seasonal colors is a simple way to bring a fullness and sense of connection to your celebration.


 
 Sash & Bow – Shanna Allen Photo

6.  Hayrides and Halloween
 
There’s nothing more fall than pumpkins, apples, barrels and bales of hay. Large bales of hay make a great addition to any rustic or fall wedding and can double as a place for guests to sit. Barrels provide a fun hi-top table, or a decorative piece on which to set florals or your delightful wedding cake.  Uncarved pumpkins, squash and apples add a great fall vibe too, but don’t use carved pumpkins as it’ll make your reception look like a place to trick-or-treat!
 
 
7. Seating
 
Whether you’re going for a rustic feel or a laid-back fall vibe, long farm-style tables create a more informal feel than round tables. This encourages a more casual atmosphere. If you’re outdoors or at a rustic setting, like a barn, long tables will keep with the overall theme of the reception.  Be sure to chat with your caterer about homestyle options that retain a sense of elegance but keep theme with the rustic as well!
 
8. Tapestry
 
Hanging tapestry or quilts will not only add to a cozy atmosphere or rustic vibe, but it can double as a way to display guests’ seating assignments. Check out The Lesser Bear for elegant hand-made tapestries.
 
9. Glassware
 
Ditch the formal long-stem wine glasses and opt for something that matches your casual autumn theme. You can be creative as there are many options to choose from. Glassware suggestions include using canning jars, mugs and old jelly jars for serving drinks.  Wrap them with a piece of burlap or quilted fabric – you can then pin nametags or a keepsake to the jar for an added touch.
 
10. Guest Book
 
Definitely opt to get creative with your guest book! It’s something you’ll keep forever and the more interactive the process, the more meaningful the messages that your guests will be inspired to write. A large wood framed canvas can add some fun, especially for a rustic wedding. Check out Flutterbye Prints for some framed guest book ideas.
 
11. Crates
 
Wooden crates are a great addition to any fall wedding. They can be used as a decoration, filled with florals or with personal items such as blankets, or brimming with apples both for display and for tempting your guests for a snacking option. They also can be used to display escort cards or a creative way to display guests’ wedding favors.
 
12. Hanging & Displaying Greenery
 
Whether it’s too cold or you’re not wanting to risk poor weather at an outdoor wedding, you can bring the fall foliage inside. Hang pine, fall leaves and other greenery to create a rustic, fall look for an indoor reception. You can use existing structures at your venue or find creative ways to decorate your space with greenery-such as adding greenery to hanging lights, decorating ladders, barrels or crates (as mentioned above)… or keep things simple by using canning jars as vases at each table, filled with fall foliage and greens.
 
13. Large Letters
 
Oversized letters with a wooden finish are a trendy decorative addition. They are great as accent pieces such as displaying fun combinations of you and your partner’s initials or newly chosen last name… or being used to designate certain areas such as the bar or the dance floor.
 
 
Tantalizing Tips for any Time of the Year
 
While fall weddings seem to be gaining popularity, whether it’s due to the wildly colorful foliage or crazes for more casual wear and coffee bars with pumpkin spice, every season has something unique to offer for a wedding. No matter if it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, these next tips can help you create a beautiful reception.
 
14. Table Runners
 
Whether with, or in lieu of tablecloths, consider using table runners to add some romantic décor to the table. Depending on the theme, the color you choose can add a nice accent to compliment the reception. Texture is also a trendy part of table décor these days!  …and table runners come in all kinds of different fabrics.  Just by adding these simple accents, you can change the entire ambience of your reception tables, so don’t underestimate this exciting (yet easy!) feature.

15. Display Photos
 
Guests truly enjoy having the chance to see all the love that has led up to Your Special Day. Explore a variety of creative ways to display photos of you and your partner… and even some of your families and friends – guests also will love to find themselves featured in your special montage!  Digital frames allow for a seemingly endless array of images, or there are a variety of artistic display ideas as well.
 
16. Upgraded Table Numbers
 
There are creative ways to display table number or names that blend well with whatever theme you go with. Consider using personalized bottles of craft beer, flags in mason jars, photo markers, tag trees, or almost anything you want! Check out Save on Crafts for some trendy ideas.
 
17. Photo Booth
 
Create a backdrop that adds to the décor of your reception, but still makes for festive and unique photos. Companies that rent out photo booths can help you create the perfect backdrop and fun activity for guests.  There are many options these days as far as interactive photo booth experiences go, so be sure to shop around and ask lots of questions!
 
18. Focus on Flowers
 
Flowers are a timeless addition to any wedding. A simple and easy way to make your centerpieces stand out is to use tall vases for flower arrangements. Believe it or not, height is one quick way to add to the design scheme of your reception!  Then of course there are the other wonderful elements to consider when it comes to options with florals:  color choices, the style of flowers (wildflowers add that sense of charm, while deep red roses say “Classic Love” at a glance!)…  Accents with regard to how your florals are presented or displayed…  Check out Sweet Blossoms for some great ideas on how to make your flower arrangements pop.  And be sure to take into consideration what will happen with your florals after your party is over:  will you take them all home?  Will you give some away?  Will you donate them?  Planning ahead will save you time in the long run!
 
19. Balloons
 
Balloons can add a festive touch without breaking the bank. They can be used to create backdrops, arches, non-floral displays, signage, add a fun flair to formal weddings or help create a laid-back vibe. Consider Shop at Nyeas for balloon related ideas.
 
20. Sugar Rush
 
Who doesn’t love dessert? Better yet who doesn’t love candy? Whether with, or in lieu of, a cake, consider a buffet of candy for guests to enjoy. We’re Sweet for You can help you create a candy display that also doubles as a party favor. Simply provide some colorful or customized bags for the road… and you’re all set with the keepsakes for your guests!
 
21. Elegant Drapery
 
Hanging drapery or fabrics can add an elegant, sweeping or colorful touch to your wedding reception. They can be used to cover up unimpressive walls or add glorious accents to the ceilings. With uplighting, fabric backdrops can shine, sparkle, alternate hues, spotlight monograms or signage and more…  Check out Event Drape Rental for more info!
 
22. Make Your Wedding Sparkle
 
If part of your wedding can be outside or your wedding reception is outdoors, using sparklers is not only a fun activity for guests, but can create magical photos that will last a lifetime. Take a look at Grand Wedding Exit to see what fun their sparklers can add to your festivities.
 
23. Cup Your Cake and Personalize the H&%@ out of it
 
Many couples are opting for cupcakes instead of a large, single wedding cake. Cupcakes allow you to create beautiful displays and offer up multiple flavors to please every guest. Our CupCakery offers cupcakes in all sorts of sizes, flavors and can account for various dietary restrictions.  And a great keepsake idea?  Cake in a jar, (a personalized jar to commemorate the Special Day!), with a lid and ready to go!  Guests can even pick and choose from various flavors to add to the fun!
 
24. Flowers from Above
 
Although we’ve already discussed hanging greenery, you can use the same creative ideas to hang flowers from a ceiling. Enchanting!  You can also decorate existing structures or hang potted centerpieces instead of or in addition to tabletop florals.  The wow factor, exponential!
 
25. Chalkboards
 
Chalkboards can be used throughout your reception to create a different look that your guests might not be expecting. Chalkboards can be used to designate a gift table, used as a welcome sign or as a menu at the bar.  Your calligrapher or invitation specialist may be able to help with beautiful lettering and colors to make the most of this fun and versatile idea.
 
26. Tie a Knot
 
Ribbons can be a great, low-cost way of adding to your decorations. Ribbons can be used instead of chair covers as well, offering some savings while keeping your reception looking elegant. Believe it or not, the array of styles and textures available in ribbon these days is amazing.  Check out the options online or in your local craft store for inspiration!
 
27. Bunting
 
Bunting, long strings of triangular shaped flags, is becoming more popular these days. It’s relatively inexpensive and has a variety of uses. It adds a festive flair to a vintage wedding or adds to the laid-back feel of an outdoor fall wedding.

While a wedding is all about celebrating the love of two people, who have decided to come together and commit to a life-long relationship, of course you also want to enjoy a setting that provides a beautiful backdrop to Your Special Day.  Whether modest or epic, the décor that you choose can add that much more to the uniqueness of your wedding day.  Make the most of the occasion, get creative, and have fun with it!

 

 

15 Great Things to Do in Grand Rapids – DOPES ON THE ROAD

15 Great Things to Do in Grand Rapids - DOPES

We were able to spend a long weekend discovering all the best things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both Meg and I have been chasing summer for the better part of two years. So when Experience Grand Rapids invited us for a long weekend in the fall we were ecstatic. We’ve had a mutual obsession with hot beverages so we couldn’t wait to get our hands on all the cider, coffee and tea. 

Let’s be honest, many of us have no clue what to do in Grand Rapids. It is time for that to change. There are so many cool Grand Rapids activities and attractions. I always like to set up a list of the best things to do before we touch down in a city. Of course, making time to add in as many suggestions as we can get along the way. I can’t tell you how many great travel tips we’ve received from various Uber drivers. I took the original list, mixed in what we found along the way to give you 15 Best Things to Do in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Fun Facts: Aside from being the beautiful city that it is, Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in all of Michigan, it has a population of almost 200,000 (1+ million in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area).  It may surprise you to learn that the “River City” is a haven for the arts and culture community. Plus, as its name and the nickname would suggest, next to the city you will find the Grand River. 

Robinette’s AppleHaus

Everything about Robinette’s AppleHaus and Winery is storybook fall. The pumpkin patch, corn mazes, and hayrides were everything we’d hoped for when we took an Uber ride just a bit outside the city. While we loved the fall vibes it’s a cool place to visit year-round especially because of the winery. If you have the opportunity to try the donuts, do it! The day was cool, the donuts were warm. Meg and I sat on a hay bail away from the crowds laughing and enjoying more than our fair share.  

Fulton Street Farmers Market

Make sure you are in Grand Rapids on a Saturday because that means you can head down to the Fulton Street Farmers Market.  This market has been running for close to 100 years and features over 200 vendors every week.  Most are local farmers and artisans. We’re suckers for a good market, any country selling anything well probably want to check it out. As a bonus, this market is tented so you will be covered, no matter the weather. 

Grand Rapids Public Museum

You need to visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum.  This museum is over 150 years old and has shown no signs of slowing down since the day it opened.  With over 25,000 pieces in the museum, you can wander for hours. Expect to be amazed at just how much amazing Michigan history there is. Everything from antique cars, to fossils and more. Plus, the collections and exhibits change regularly so you can always find something new if you’ve already visited

ArtPrize

If you are planning your Grand Rapids trip, you might consider heading over in the months of September or October. Lucky for us that was exactly when our trip took place and Project 1 by ArtPrize was in full swing.  ArtPrize is a biannual art contest that transforms the city into an open-air art gallery for 19 days every year two years but the same folks who put on the contest have blessed Grand Rapids with art you can experience year-round.  

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Another must-visit art activity in Grand Rapids is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.  This park is well known for featuring some of the best and most unique cultural pieces throughout the entire Midwest. With over 150 acres you will find such beautiful natural art as a rock garden, indigenous plants, and a waterfall, plus over 300 sculptures from local and world-famous artists alike. Regretfully the day we planned to go it poured so the pictures didn’t turn out. 

Grand Rapids Art Museum

Pencil drawings, paintings, print work, sculptures and more fill the approximately 20 thousand square feet of The Grand Rapids Art Museum that is dedicated to exhibits.  With all of this space and countless types of art, there is something for everyone. They even have pieces that date all the way back to the Renaissance period!

Rainbow Photoshoot

Located between the children’s museum and the public library you’ll find a strip of road painted rainbow. We’ve been traveling in search of rainbows for a few years now and this is one of the best. If you’re looking for Instagram spots in Grand Rapids make time to stop here. The address we used to find it is 11 Sheldon Ave. Check out the photo I got and hear a bit of my coming out story here

Gerald R. Ford Museum

Grand Rapids, Michigan was the birthplace of U.S. President Gerald Ford.  The Gerald R. Ford Museum is a place to celebrate the life and achievements of the President and Mrs. Ford.  The main exhibit is an interactive video and holographic presentation of President Ford’s life and experiences and allows those watching to feel as though they are traveling around the world with the president.

Grand Rapids Downtown Market

It’s a well-documented fact that I love to eat like really love to eat.  So there was no chance I was skipping the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Downtown Market is located south of Heartside Park and features over 20 vendors, two full-scale restaurants and more. It was super hard to narrow down what we were going to eat with each stall offering fun options. My favorite part was the three-part coffee tasting we did with MadCap Coffee. Obviously it was fun to drink but I also really enjoyed learning about the beans. We sat at the bar, enjoyed a couple of cookies and quizzed each other on random facts from our lives. Ten out of ten would recommend as a go-to Grand Rapids date spot. 

John Ball Zoo

The John Ball Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the country.  It is home to over 1,000 animals and has received awards for its habitats which are created to mimic the animals’ natural habitats.  There are other activities within the zoo as well such as camel riding, zip-lining and more. 

The Pump House

If you love the nostalgia of an old fashioned soda shop, you need to head to the Pump House during your visit.  Porch swings, wooden benches, sorbet, artisanal yogurt, gelato and over a hundred toppings to choose from? Yes, please! The Pump House makes this a visit worth making.

Rumors

Rumors is an LGBTQ nightclub that’s a huge part of the Grand Rapids gay scene. We had a bunch of people reach out encouraging us to visit while we were in town. It’s the perfect spot to dance, support the drag queens or just meet local queers. The community found in smaller city gay bars is always special. 

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum 

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is an absolute must-visit for families that are visiting.  The museum is designed for children ages 2 through 12, and many of the exhibits and displays are interactive. Some of the favorite exhibits include a replica farm, a children’s theater, and an awesome treehouse. 

Additionally, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is housed inside one of Grand Rapids’ most beautiful buildings. The entire front of the building is made completely of glass so passers-by can watch all of the interactive exhibits from outside.

Brewery Vivant

There is a reason that one of Grand Rapids’ nicknames is “Beer City.” There are so many great breweries and options for you to enjoy and Brewery Vivant is one of the best.  Brewery Vivant is popular because of its extensive beer list and its unique history. We heard the building was home to daycare and then a funeral home before it became a brewery. The food is also absolutely delicious with a Belgian and French-inspired menu.

 Meyer May House

If you are an architecture enthusiast, or if you simply love Frank Llyod Wright, you need to head on over to the Meyer May House.  This house was designed for local businessman Meyer May in the early 1900s by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  This house is built in a Prairies style and has been restored through the years back to its original glory. It is open to the public and features original furniture and other collections of antiques that are original to the home.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Another Grand Rapids must-visit location for art lovers is the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids. Truthfully we stumbled in here as a way to dip out of the rain and fell in love. The exhibits were interesting and thought-provoking plus the space is absolutely beautiful. The entryway with all the signs was stunning. 

 

This post is sponsored by Experience Grand Rapids. As always all opinions are our own.

 

20 Best Things to Do in Pittsburgh – DOPES ON THE ROAD

20 Best Things to Do in Pittsburgh - DOPES ON

 

We spent five full days checking out Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The weather was perfect and we explored what felt like every inch of the city on foot. We were invited by Visit Pittsburgh to check out the city’s amazing arts and culture scene. We were both blown away by how much the city had to offer. From the robust collection of Carnegie Museums to the stunning Andy Warhol museum and of course all the quirks of Randyland there is no shortage of things to do in Pittsburgh. 

This western Pennsylvania City known is known as the City of Bridges because of the 446 bridges there. Yes, it’s the most of any city in the world. The city is situated on three rivers the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio all intersect to create ample unique opportunities for exploring the Steel City even by water. Whether you’re looking for art, history, sports or food, you’ll find it here. If you plan anything like me you’ll start by deciding what to eat in Pittsburgh, then decide what to see and do in Steelers country. This list includes 20 of the best things to do in Pittsburgh. 

Before digging in check out our 1-minute highlight video of all our favorite moments from the week.

Randyland

Randyland might be the best place in Pittsburgh for Instagram photos. This free outdoor art museum is exploding with colors. They’ve managed to turn everything from plants, tires and broken benches into an interactive art display. We got there early afternoon on a Tuesday and had the whole place to ourselves for the better part of an hour. Be prepared to get creative. 

The Best Sunset Dinner Cruise in Pittsburgh

Set sail aboard the Gateway Clipper on a weekend night for a sunset dinner cruise while a DJ plays of your favorite songs from the 90s. Guests on the Gateway Clipper fleet of boats enjoy a dinner buffet during this 2-hour cruise. The Gateway Clipper tours run from May through November and include several seasonal sailings and special events throughout the year. Visitors can also take advantage of holiday specials, parties, and events for kids like the Princess Cruises

Visit the Andy Warhol Museum

The Andy Warhol Museum is a must-visit if you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Pittsburgh. Rotating exhibits are featured here alongside the largest collection of Warhol art. Get hands-on here and try to create your own Andy Warhol-esque work of art.

Meg Ten Eyck had some beautiful things to say about the queer community’s impact on the arts. It opened my eyes in many ways. Check out her thoughts here and if you aren’t following her duh now is a good time to do so.  

The Strip District in Pittsburgh the Best Spot for Pierogi

If you’re coming to Pittsburgh, not grabbing some Pierogi while you’re here is almost illegal. The Strip District is located just north of the downtown area and serves up international grocery stores and restaurants where you can find the best Pierogi in the states. Settle in for some of the best affordable, filling and delicious comfort food in Pittsburgh. If you’re not familiar I’d start with the classic potato filling topped with sour cream and chives. 

The Best Views in Pittsburg Can be Found At Mount Washington

Mount Washington extends across Grandview Avenue overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline. Here you can visit Restaurant Row and enjoy a delicious meal with the skyline as your backdrop. Mount Washington is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike and is a must-do when visiting the city. The vantage point is one of the best views in Pittsburgh. 

While you can drive or catch an Uber to see this view the best way to get here is on the incline. These wooden cable cars are charming and uniquely western Pennsylvania. The Duquesne Incline gives the best views out of the two in my opinion. 

The Pittsburgh Tour Company – Just the Tour

For those not wanting to get off and on The Pittsburgh Tour Company bus, consider just staying on. This will allow you to map out a future itinerary or just learn more about the city before you dive in. The Just the Tour Pass includes a narrated historic tour of the area and lasts for 2 hours and 15 minutes. 

It’s one of the best ways to spend a fun afternoon in Pittsburgh. Learn about the city on this fun tour and get an insider take on what makes it great. This tour is great for families with young children.

History and Beauty Come Together at Point State Park

Point State Park is located at the center-point where all three rivers merge; it is a National Historic Landmark that chronicles the history of the area during the French and Indian War.  The park commemorates the people, places, and events of the time and is also a great spot for an afternoon stroll. 

Carnegie Science Center

Of the four Carnegie Museums, the Carnegie Science Center is my absolute favorite. What makes this stand apart from the rest is that it a totally interactive experience. From the Nasa exhibit to the beat the robot sports games its a place that just makes you want to play. We also had the privilege of touring the Mummies of the World exhibit before it opened. What we loved most about it was they include so much more than just the mummies from Egypt. 

Visit the Quirky Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh

A contemporary art museum in Pittsburg, The Mattress Factory is one of the best, unusual stops in Pittsburgh. Visitors will delight in the changing art exhibits throughout this sprawling museum. Artists in residence create art directly within the space itself. The Mattress Factory Museum is comprised of three buildings in the Mexican War district and well worth a visit. It’s also a super fun place to grab some photos for your social media. 

Explore American History at Fort Pitt Museum

The Fort Pitt Museum offers several exhibits and displays that preserve this history of Pittsburgh and parts of Western Pennsylvania. This indoor-outdoor museum is run by the John Heinz History Center. 

Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Located in Greensburg a bit outside the traditional downtown tourist area you’ll find the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This beautifully renovated American art museum has a heavy focus on art from Southwestern Pennsylvania. They also have some great interactive exhibits. There is a wonderful little cafe on-site so plan to make an afternoon of it. 

The Frick Pittsburgh

You can find The Frick Pittsburgh in the Point Breeze neighborhood about 30 mins from where we stayed in at the TRYP hotel in Lawrenceville. The Frick is a series of museums and stunning gardens based around the Frick family residence. The car and carriage museum was our absolute favorite part. Meg grew up with a grandfather who rebuilt cars so it was fun wandering and hearing their stories.

The Pittsburgh Tour Company Hop-on Hop-off Tour 

One of the best ways to get your bearings when visiting Pittsburgh is to take advantage of The Pittsburgh Tour Company’s bus tours. The Hop-on, Hop-off tour brings visitors to 21 stops within the city. From the Duquesne Incline to Heinz Field or the Andy Warhol Museum, you can choose your own adventure of sorts.

Visitors can board at any stop along the way and ride the entire course along the river to The Strip and through the Oakland neighborhood. It’s a great way to get acclimated and familiarize yourself with the sights, sounds, and tastes of Pittsburgh. 

Stroll Through Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens include 15-acres of orchids, bonsai trees and a variety of flowers and plants. With 23 gardens to explore and a stunning greenhouse, the sights, sounds, and smells of this historic landmark delight visitors at every turn.

We got there with only about an hour before close and had practically the whole place to ourselves. It was the perfect place for a date or just some quiet time with a friend. 

 The Ultimate Bicycle Museum is in Pittsburgh 

If you like bikes, you’ll love Bicycle Heaven. It’s the biggest transportation museum in the world strictly related to bikes. This personal collection of Craig Morrow’s also includes the bicycle from the 80s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Movie. I learned while I was there that the city of Pittsburgh is currently investing a ton of money into bike lanes. It’s absolutely becoming a very bikeable city. 

Discover the History of Pennsylvania at Heinz History Center

The Heinz History Center incorporates the history of Western Pennsylvania, encompassing everything Mister Rogers Neighborhood items to a Heinz Tomato Ketchup tour. The guided tour chronicles the company’s 150 years of innovative products.

Check out the Pirates at PNC Park 

Baseball fans can enjoy a Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Park Field.  From PNC Park fans can see glorious views of the Pittsburgh skyline. Whether you’re interested in watching the game or not, be sure not to miss the PNC Park food courts. Smorgasburgh features an eclectic mix of food found throughout the city and Pop’s Plaza serves more traditional baseball park food like nachos and hot dogs. 

This was actually our first professional baseball time together and we had the best time. We made a whole evening out of it complete with buying to jerseys to dress the part. We’re not big baseball fans but sports is such a huge part of what makes Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. I’m glad we got to experience all the black and gold. 

 Visit the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh 

This contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh features works by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso among others. This vast collection is inspiring to both artists and art fans. Founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, it features a wide range of art and is well worth a visit on your next trip to Pittsburgh. 

See What Steeler’s Country is All About at Heinz Field

Until 2001, The Pittsburgh Steelers home field was Three Rivers Stadium. Once Heinz Field was built, it became one of the top stadiums in the NFL. Like PNC Park Field, Heinz is also horseshoe shape which allows for sweeping views of the Pittsburgh skyline. Situated on the Allegheny River, it is a must-visit for football fans, whether Steelers fans or not.

One of my first memories from college is meeting a ton of kids from Pittsburgh. On Sundays, it’s like everything would come to a screeching halt so everyone could watch the Steelers. I’ve never been to a place with more passionate sports fans. 

 Southern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial

Take some time to visit the Southern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial and learn about the sacrifices that citizens made during this tumultuous period in history. This outdoor museum chronicles the lives and activities of residents during wartime. Panels and enclosed art displays create a timeline of events leading up to the war and its outcome.  

 

 

 

 

 

This conversation is sponsored by Visit Pittsburgh. As always all opinions are our own.

 

 

 

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh: The Ultimate Guide to Pittsburgh Food – DOPES ON THE ROAD

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh: The Ultimate Guide to Pittsburgh Food

For a long time, Pittsburgh was considered an upping and coming food city and maybe even city in general. Those days are over, Pittsburgh has arrived in all the ways. The Pittsburgh food scene is thriving right along with the rest of this beautiful city. Narrowing down the truly top restaurants in Pittsburgh is tricky. Luckily I went to college in a nearby town and have multiple friends who call the city home. Each one was seemingly more excited than last to offer up recommendations on where to get that good Pittsburgh food.

Possibly the most famous Pittsburgh food, a Primanti Bros Sandwich overflowing with coleslaw and fresh-cut french fries. All the meat and toppings are slapped between two pieces of white bread. It’s one of the Pittsburgh restaurants you can’t miss. I also highly recommend ordering a deli-style pickle to go with it. 

The other Pittsburgh classic is the Pierogi. This Eastern European classic has become a favorite in Pittsburgh. So much so they have a Pierogi race between innings on the Pirates games. If you haven’t had one you have to go with the classic potato topped with sour cream and chives. 

Amazing Diners in Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania, in general, has strong diner culture and that certainly can be felt here in Pittsburgh. If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast or lunch look no further than these top-notch diners in Pittsburgh. 

DeLucas Diner

There’s always a hot cup of coffee on and the floors are checkerboard. The vibe hasn’t changed in years but neither has the food and that’s a good thing. This Pittsburgh institution has been serving one of the best breakfasts in the city for over 60 years. In the mood for banana pancakes or an omelet with homefries, head here. 

P&G Pamela’s Diner

Pamela’s Diner is adorable. It’s so good it practically feels like it was designed for a photoshoot but then you realize it’s just that authentic. Everything is a shade of teal pink with family photos covering the walls. The claim to fame here, super-thin crepe style hotcakes. I’m more of a savory person so I went for the Trash Hash which is basically hash browns topped with sloppy-joe, cheese, and jalapeno. It was to die for. 

Micro Diner

Fluffy stuffed pancakes help make breakfast the real star of the show here. One of the best parts of Micro Diner is the fact that is open late. Making it the perfect place to grab a great meal after a night out with friends. 

Kelly O’s

The young gun standing strong among the other Strip District restaurant legends, DeLucas and Pamalas. Once you say, Diner, Drive-in and Dives made a stop here there isn’t much more that needs to be said. The featured dish on the episode was the haluski, I always follow the experts lead. 

 

Best Breakfast Spots in Pittsburgh

If you’re looking for breakfast in Pittsburgh but feeling a bit more than the dinner vibe, I got you. I happen to travel with a big-time breakfast lover so we’re always on the lookout. 

Pie for Breakfast 

The name alone makes you wanna go, right? Stay with me, it gets better. They also serve all-day breakfast and boozy coffee cocktails. As you’d expect they do serve a lot of pie and quiche but there is more to the menu if you want something lighter. 

Waffles, INCaffinated

Made to order, fully customizable waffles. Of course, they have some house favorite sweet and savory combinations to lead you in the right direction. The available toppings list is pretty extensive leaving you to get super creative if you want. I’m a massive chicken and waffles fun but the sausage gravy over a waffle, heart eyes. 

Cafe Moulin

Meg and I are massive crepe lovers. In fact, we actively search them out all over the world. The french style crepes at Cafe Moulin were absolutely delicious. The menu has a good selection of both sweet and savory offerings. The atmosphere is cozy and clearly French-inspired. 

The Vandal

The Vandal is just as cool, well designed and delicious as you’d expect from a Lawrenceville restaurant. The menu is unique and utilizes ingredients in super unique ways. There is a distinct farm to table vibe. We stopped in mid-afternoon and enjoyed some of their delicious cups of coffee in the window seats. 

Best Italian Restaurants in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s Little Italy neighborhood can be found in the Bloomfield neighborhood. However, you’ll find Italian restaurants ranking highly on many “where to eat in Pittsburgh” lists all over the city. 

Alla Famiglia 

When you go to Alla Famiglia expect to have the full Italian fine dining experience. You can very clearly taste the intention behind each ingredient. The food is served family-style while offering some great appetizer options like the Burratta. Plan ahead for a visit and make sure you have reservations. 

DiAnoia’s Eatery

We sat at one of the tables outside sipping on a couple of glasses of wine. When the food hit the table the first words out of Meg’s mouth were “theses are little pillows of heaven” after a bite of gnocchi. The restaurant and connecting market are beautiful and the food is insane. You can even go in that afternoon for some sandwiches with incredible meats and cheeses. If you’re going for dinner be sure to make a reservation it fills up quick. 

Lawrenceville Restaurant Favorites

SMOKE Barbeque Taqueria

The best way to describe this spot is pit beef and a taco shop had a baby. It’s as delicious as you’re expecting. The nachos are baked in a cast iron pan and have more cheese than I can describe, add brisket for extra magic. They also make in house sodas which always win me over. 

Cinderlands Brewery

I always appreciate a brewery of offers bomb food and Cinderlands does just that. The beers are award-winning but the brussels sprouts stayed on my mind. Monday is all day taco day if you’re down for that. 

Merchant Oyster Co. 

The lobster rolls are the house specialty at this Lawrenceville gem. You can also pick from an extensive selection of oysters hailing from the east and west coasts. When the cool weather rolls in keep in mind they have four different kinds of chowder daily. 

Morcilla

Consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, Morcilla won’t disappoint. Serving elegant Spanish food in an approachable way. The food is served small plate style so you can try all sorts of things. If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend the charcuterie and croquetas 

Market Square Pittsburgh Restaurants

Downtown Pittsburgh restaurants weren’t supposed to wow us based on what I’d read. However, I was super pleasantly surprised at the quality options located in this part of the city. I would even consider some to be my favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh. 

Tako

At Tako Mexican street food and Japanese food are mixing it up. There is playful window seating ready for the warm days. The street-style tacos are best when you get a platter and can try multiple types of meat. I highly recommend going with the octopus, it was cooked perfectly. 

Butcher and Rye 

Butcher and Rye ooze cool from the moment you step in. The unique marriage of rustic and vintage decor is some of the best I’ve come across. The food is no slouch either. The contemporary take on modern classic completely knocks it out of the park. All that before I even mention the 8 shelves of whiskey. 

Revel and Roost

Just steps from Market Square you’ll find Revel and Roost. Roost is the upstairs event space and Revel is the downstairs event space. They have a versatile dinner menu with tons of dishes meant to share. Bacon-wrapped scallops or braised beef quesadillas are always a good move. 

Or, the Whale

Or, the Whale by the Travel Channel as one of the Hip Pittsburgh Destinations Where You’ll Want to be in 2019 for good reason. Located in what was previously a gymnasium the dining room is large and bold. The food is exactly what you’d hope for in a farm to table or sea to table restaurant. They are not taking any shortcuts that would sacrifice freshness. 

Vegan Restaurants Pittsburgh

APTEKA

A vegan restaurant that was recommended by both vegan and non-vegan friends. There is a very clear but intentional simplicity in the design. The food is all vegan with a strong eastern European influence. A few years ago the concept started with a Pierogi Pop up Restaurant and you bet those perogies are still on the menu. 

B52 Cafe

A Mediterranean spot offering a full vegan menu. They even have seitan which I appreciate being able to find. On Sunday’s you’ll find a beautiful brunch with the likes of latkes and thick-cut toast with cashew cheese. 

Onion Maiden

This completely vegan restaurant has a punk side. You’ll hear the distinct sounds of heavy metal playing as you devour your cabbage and shiitake dumplings. They specialize in making both Asian and American comfort food but in a seriously creative way. 

 

Fun Decorative Accent for Your Reception

image courtesy SLC Marriott University Park

image courtesy SLC Marriott University ParkThere are so many exciting choices for your Wedding & Reception decorative accents!! How do you possibly choose?? Are you sticking with themed accents… or accents by color? Or just going with what strikes your fancy? …Or deferring to the ideas of your wedding planner or design team?  Whew! Decisions, decisions!!

This string of battery-operated roses caught our eye at the Salt Lake City LGBTQ Wedding Expo on October 13th…  Simple, elegant, and such a nice touch.  The strand at each table can be handed out as gifts to special wedding guests.  Beautiful for the day-of, and a lovely keepsake.  EnJoy finding your own unforgettable accent pieces!

(image courtesy of the #SaltLakeCityMarriottUniversityPark, proud host of RainbowWeddingNetwork’s recent LGBTQ Wedding Expo!)