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See Paris Like a Local: My Five Favorite Off-the-Beaten Path Experiences in Paris

paris sacre coeur

One of my favorite things about living in Europe is how fast you could get to another country. A long weekend in Ireland? A city break in Barcelona? That’s something I get to do regularly – not just because everything is so close, but also because it is so easy and cheap to get to a different country, with the amount of budget airlines that are covering even smaller cities all throughout Europe. (I’ve written in detail about how to travel around Europe on the cheap). And because it is so inexpensive to travel to other another country, it is easy to visit the same places over and over again, and to really get to know them. That’s why I’ve gotten to see more of Paris over the years than most tourists, and started to see Paris like a local – beyond the famous landmarks, Paris off the beaten path.

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How to Experience Paris Off the Beaten Path

Paris est toujours une bonne idée – Paris is always a good idea, Audrey Hepburn famously said, and I couldn’t agree more. I never got tired of our weekends in this stunning city, Saturday mornings with cheese and baguette picnics in Jardin d’ Luxembourg, and afternoon eclairs from patisserie L’Éclair De Génie, where you find, undoubtedly, the best eclairs in all of Paris. Strolls along the Seine, seeing new art at the Centre Pompidou art center, meandering through the streets of Montmartre, ending the day with a glass of wine at the Le Baron Rouge wine bar…  I could do it all over and over again, but I also made it a point to discover something new on each visit to one of my favorite cities in Europe.paris like a local

You all know about the touristy stuff in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc d’Triomphe. So today I wanted to share my top five experiences off the beaten path in Paris – from flea markets to street art to extraordinary city parks:

1. Canal St Martin

What the Seine is tourists, Canal St Martin is to locals. This 4.5km long canal, which winds its way through Paris northwest of the Seine River, is a favorite with Parisians who you can see sitting along the edge, enjoying a chat and a bottle of wine. If you want to see Paris like a local, join them – a good place to start your canal walk is La Villette Park.

Closest metro stations: Porte De Martin on the 5 and Corentin Cariou on the 2.paris in the winter

2. La Promenade Plantée 

What the High Line is to New York, La Promenade Plantée is to Paris: a 4.7 kilometer long elevated green space, which was created, just like the High Line Park in Manhattan, on an abandoned railway line. If you are wondering which one came first: it was the Promenade Plantee, and the railroad that it is set on is the disused 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct. The park offers a unique aerial vantage point on Paris and takes you off the beaten path in Paris. Read more about this unique place here: A magical, green walk along Paris’s Promenade Plantée

Closest metro station: Bastille on the 1, 5 and 8 lines – Walk to the staircase south of Place de la Bastille on Rue de Lyon.paris off the beaten path

3. Belleville

This up-and-coming neighborhood is known for its multi-cultural feel and the colorful street art. Here you find Chinese grocery stores right next to African shops and French cafes. You’ll notice that the neighborhood is grittier than most of Paris’ picture-perfect neighborhoods and get to know a side of Paris only very tourists get to know – it’s one of the best ways to experience Paris like a local, and if you’re into street art, you really shouldn’t miss Rue Denoyez.

Closest metro station: Belleville on the 2 and 11 lines.

I also recommend this fantastic self-guided Paris street art tour which starts at République, goes to Belleville and then loops back to République.paris off the beaten path

4. Les Puces (Saint-Ouen Flea Market)

Officially named Saint-Ouen Flea Market, but among Parisians the city’s largest flea market is known simply as Les Puces, which translates to ‘The Fleas’. The flea market, which takes place every weekend, is with over 2,500 market stalls the largest antiques market in the world and sees between 120,000 and 180,000 visitors every week. Treasure hunters, vintage lovers and souvenir shoppers can’t miss a visit to this market. I love flea markets, and wandering around the market stills with all the Parisians always makes me feel like I see Paris like a local.

Closest metro stations: Porte de Clignancourt on the 4, Garibaldi on the 13, or take the 85 bus right into the middle of it all.paris off the beaten path

5. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a giant park in northeast Paris, just north of Belleville (you can easily combine a visit to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with a stroll through Belleville). It is so much more than just your regular city park, with stunning landscape design and sights that include a Roman Pavilion (Temple De La Sibylle), a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, concrete cliffs and a man-made lake. Plus: incredible views over Paris! Bring a picnic, or head to Rosa Bonheur, a bar inside the park that has a gorgeous terrace.

Closest metro station: Buttes Chaumont or Botzaris on the 7BParis like a local

Experience Paris off the beaten path: Stay in an Airbnb!

There are hundreds of hotels in Paris, from small boutique hotels to every single one of the large international hotel chains. But if you want to experience Paris like a local, I recommend staying in an Airbnb. The first time I stayed in a Parisian appartement and opened the classic French window shutters in the morning and stepped out onto my tiny balcony, I truly felt like I was living the Parisian dream. During the week I spent in the Marais, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, I found a local boulangerie (bakery), a fromagerie (cheese shop), a small local supermarket, and a patisserie (pastry shop) – and I was able to make elaborate cheese boards with local cheeses and French wine in my small kitchen. I devoured them while watching street life from my window – and I appreciated having a kitchen to make breakfast at home. Consider staying in an Airbnb when you’re visiting Paris – here are some to check out:

 

 

Save money: If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, use my referral code to sign up and get up to $40 off your first booking.

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The Top 5 Places for a Weekend Escape from London

turquoise water

In spite of London winning the hearts of many, its busy daily routine can get to you. As a Londoner or as a traveler, there is much more to England than London alone. But, where do you start if you’re looking for your London escape? In and around London, within the radius of an average one-hour commute, there are many places to visit on the weekend that can give leave you rejuvenated. Here are the top 5 picks for a weekend escape from London:England Sunset

Five great weekend escapes from London:

1 Oxford

Oxford has as much to offer to visitors as it has to its students, which is why it is one of the most popular weekend escapes from London. Standing tall as one of England oldest universities, there is a lot to take away from this weekend getaway. You can check out the museums, the old stone architecture of the building, which is indeed very beautiful, and visit libraries such as Bodleian. Trains for Oxford leave regularly and take about an hour from London Paddington Station. There are also plenty of shops and food stalls to explore at The Covered Market on the High Street, the oldest in all of Britain. weekend escapes from London

2 Dover

Dover is one of Britain’s busiest ports and was the traditional front door to England upon entrance from continental Europe. It offers a lot to do to visitors, such as the beautiful White Chalk cliffs to spend time and clear your mind. Since Dover was a fort city, you can explore interesting military heritage and visit the beautiful Dover Castle.

 

The best way to experience the cliffs – stay at one of the nearby campgrounds. St Margarets Bay Holiday Park is the closest to the cliffs, but there are several others along the coast. That way you get the chance to see this spectacular part of Britain’s coastline during all times of day, including sunrise, golden hour and sunset, when they are bathed in a truly stunning light. And speaking of camping – if you’re looking to step up your camping gear game this year, why not try something different in the camping bed market. Britain’s got so many beautiful campsites – why not use the long Holiday weekends for more countryside getaways?White Cliffs Of Dover

3 Bath

If you are a fan of ancient buildings and architecture, especially of the Roman era, Bath is one place you absolutely must experience. The site is home to the most magnificent ruins left in England thousands of years ago, offering plenty of learning opportunities about ancient Roman Britain. Trains from Paddington take about and hour and a half to transport you to the classic Georgian Architecture era sites.weekend escapes from London

4 East Grinstead

If castles and roman architecture aren’t your thing, and you want to find some peace and quiet in one of the smaller towns around London instead, consider escaping to East Grinstead in West Sussex, which is 58 minutes away from London. With only 25,000 inhabitants, it is bound to be the perfect peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of London. It’s also an excellent place to visit if you want to get completely off the beaten path, since this isn’t a very sought after location for a weekend getaway from London. For more small town escapes, check out this list of 20 places around London you can consider moving to.Canterbury

5 Canterbury

Canterbury flaunts the beauty of churches with its thousand year old cathedrals. It is also the spiritual base of the Church of England, and the city offers not just divine freedom, but many other things to calm your mind such as restaurants, art museums and galleries to explore. You can get to Canterbury via train from St Pancras in only 50 minutes, or from Victoria Station in just under 90 minutes.weekend escapes from London

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Goodbye 2011: Our year of travel in pictures

dani & jess at doi suthep temple chiang mai

Another unforgettable year is coming to an end – this time it is our second year as full-time travelers! We’ve literally been around the world this year and, rather than rattle off a list of everywhere we’ve been, this Goodbye 2011 post will highlight our favorite pictures of the year, starting in Central America and ending in Thailand after stints in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

January 2011

As we mentioned in our Goodbye to 2010 post, we began the year at Lake Yojoa in Honduras, where we were the only guests at our hotel. 2011 started out as laid-back as can be…

January Lake Yojoa HondurasFor more January highlights, check out our Facebook album Best of 2011: January (Honduras & Nicaragua).

February 2011

Shortly after the start of the New Year, we moved on to Nicaragua – and fell head over heels in love with the country. The picture was taken in Masaya, just outside of Granada…one of Nicaragua’s most visited cities. Throughout the country, the horse and buggy is still a common and totally valid form of transportation – alongside cars, buses, SUVs, motorcycles and bicycles.

february nicaragua masaya church &horse carriageFor more February highlights check out our Facebook album Best of 2011: February (Nicaragua & Costa Rica).

March 2011

After three relaxing weeks in Costa Rica we made our way to Panama and were most impressed with the Casco Viejo area of Panama City (check out our picture post of Casco Viejo). We resisted actually picking up a Panama hat, but couldn’t resist photographing them. Panamanians have certainly got style!

March Panama hats in Casco Viejo panamaFor more March highlights check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: March (Costa Rica, Panama & Germany).

April 2011

Going from six months in the developing countries of Central America to visiting the mighty castles of Germany was an extreme contrast. This is what we love most about our nomadic lifestyle! At the end of the month we completed our first year on the road (find out how much we spent in one year of travel here).

april neuschwanstein castle bavaria germanyFor more April highlights check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: April (Germany, Austria & Italy)

May 2011

In Spring we traveled in Europe, from Germany and Austria to a few weeks in Tuscany. While we were both blown away by the romance of the countryside, the taste of the wine and the warmth of the locals, it was the pizza…the glorious pizza…that became the highlight of May 2011 for us.

may italy montaione pizzas & wineFor more May 2011 highlights including Jess with a group of aliens in Spain, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: May (Italy & Spain).

June 2011

In the first week of June, we went on our first ever cruise and followed that up by reaching 400 days on the road! Just a week later we would discover a city that could possibly, one day, be called home: Lisbon, Portugal. The Portuguese capital just ticks so many boxes – laid-back, sunny, warm, good (and cheap) coffee, beaches as far as the eye can see, plenty of history and oozing with charm. What struck us most was how similar Lisbon is to San Francisco. We spent three fabulous weeks here in June (despite a near heart attack experience that still has us cracking up).

june portugal lisbon tram 28For more June highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: June (Spain, Corsica, Portugal).

July 2011

From Lisbon we flew directly to Toronto to begin an entirely new North American chapter of our travels. We spent six weeks house-sitting outside of Ottawa. These weeks were filled with exploring adorable villages, peaceful sunset bike rides, evenings in the jacuzzi and hanging with the friendly neighbors drinking great Canadian micro-brews.

july kemptville ontario sunsetFor more July highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: July (Canada).

August 2011

August was truly an unforgettable month that brought us through Montreal, Quebec, Boston, and the start of our NYC2NOLA road trip through New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC on our way down to New Orleans. While we loved the freedom of the open road, it was our four nights in New York that dazzled us the most. There is just something about this concrete jungle that gets us every time.

For more August highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: August (Canada & USA).

September 2011

After four weeks and over 4,000 miles we finally made it to New Orleans in September. What we found when we arrived is a city with style, individuality and people with a zest for life and love of music like we’ve never experienced before. We could easily spend more than a week in the Big Easy…in fact we toyed with the idea of a few months here sometime in the future, too. On September 13th, just before reaching Chicago, we hit 500 days on the road.

september New Orleans voodoo skeletonsFor more September highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: September (U.S. Road Trip).

October 2011

And then we flew to the other side of the planet – for our first trip to South East Asia! We started in Thailand, and it was definitely a relief to gaze out at this crystal blue water after a few chilly weeks in Chicago and Colorado!

thailand long tail boats phi phi lei islandFor more October highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: October (Chicago, Colorado & Thailand).

November 2011

After finding a good place to settle down to work in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, we hopped a series of buses and boats to travel around northern Laos for the last two weeks of November. While the two countries have their similarities, we were struck by how much simpler life in Laos is compared to fast-paced and modern Thailand. We have learned so much since arriving in Asia, especially about Buddhism – and have become accustomed to sharing our daily lives with the hundreds of monks populating cities and villages across the Buddhist nations.

november young monks luang prabang laosFor more November highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: November (Thailand & Laos).

December 2011

The last month of 2011 marked a major milestone for us, as we hit 600 days on the road! In some ways it feels as though we have just started traveling. Looking back at everything we have done in these six hundred days truly feels like an accomplishment. One lesson we have learned is that in order to be happy as nomads, we need to know when to take longer breaks and relax. That’s why we booked ourselves in to an apartment in Chiang Mai for one month in December. We love this city, as it has everything we could ever need or want. We celebrated Christmas with friends, went on hikes, spent time with elephants, eaten endless veggie cuisine and learned so much about Thai culture and tradition.

december moat at sunset chiang mai thailandFor more December highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: December (Laos & Thailand).

Happy New Year 2012 to all our readers!

We would love for you to tell us about your travel highlights for 2011 in the comments below – we’re always on the lookout for new locations about where to travel next!

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Eight Places You Shouldn’t Miss on a Trip To The French Pyrenees

pyrenees clouds

The French Pyrenees are among the most beautiful regions in France. High mountain peaks, green valleys, stunning waterfalls, dramatic gorges, and little towns dotting the valleys – the French Pyrenees offer a photo op around every corner. In the winter months, there are plenty of ski areas, and in the summer, there is a vast network of hiking trails to be explored. To give you an idea of what to see in this mountainous area of France, I put together eight stunning places you shouldn’t miss on your Pyrenees holidays, ranging from world-famous destinations to lesser known hidden gems:

Morning in Lourdes, France 3-20-2004 019

Pay a visit to The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes

The small town of Lourdes is one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage destinations in the entire world, thanks to its famous healing shrine. The miraculous cures that have been said to occur after a visit to the Lady attract around six million visitors every year.

 

Indulge In A Luxurious Spa Treatment In Ax-les-Thermes

Ax-les-Thermes is a small town nestled in the Ariege upper valley right in the heart of the Pyrenees, close to Andorra and the border with Spain. It is famous for its thermal baths and recreational spa, but the town itself has plenty of architectural gems to offer, such as the belle-époque Casino and several medieval fountains. The nearby Orlu Valley is worth visiting for its picturesque villages and the Réserve Nationale de Faune Sauvage, a national wildlife reserve.Traffic Management - The Ax-les-Thermes Bypass, Pyrenees, France

Marvel at the Fortress of Montségur

The ruins of the Château de Montségur, a Cathar castle perched at the top of a 3,900 feet high rock formation, are a magnificent sight, and should not be missed by anyone interested in the historic Cathar castles. Many people claim that this the most remarkable Cathar Castle.

Wander The Lush Meadows Of Col du Puymorens

The Col de Puymorens is a famous Tour de France climb in the France – Spain – Andorra triangle. Even though the climb, which was first used for the famous bike race in 1913, hasn’t been used for the Tour de France since 1993, it is still a popular place with cycle tourists and road trippers. You can start the drive in Ax-les-Thermes, and if you take a right turn 2.8 kilometers before the summit, you reach the Port d’Envalira, a scenic high road in the Pyrenees.IMGP1722

Explore historic Foix – a gem of the French Pyrenees

Foix is a medieval town that dates back to 849, and its castle, the focal point of the town’s history, was even built before then. The stunning chateau sits on top of a hill looking over Foix, and is one of the most impressive historic castles in this part of France. Read more about Foix here.

 

Free Your Mind On A Walk Through The Green Aston Valley

The small town of Aston is famous for a number of reasons: Gudanes, a majestic château dating from the time of Louis XIV, nestled among the mountains of the Aston Valley, is the most striking sight in the Aston Valley, but the lush green valley itself, flanked by the Pyrenees and covered in wildflowers in the summer months, makes for a memorable hike. And then there is the Grotte de Lombrives, the largest cave in Europe in terms of volume, with a length of 39 kilometers, which was formed more than 20 million years ago. The caves have an immense geological and historical value, with an incredible karst network which was shaped by long glacial periods.

 

Marvel at the Rock Church Of Vals

Just a short 45-minute drive from Aston you find the historic village of Vals. When you approach Vals, a tiny hamlet with a population of only 86 people, you wouldn’t think that this village is home to one of the most treasured pieces of religious architecture of the Middle Ages. The church is partly carved into a giant rock and dates back to the 10th century. There are several noteworthy frescoes on the ceiling, and the third level of the church, a chapel dedicated to Saint Michel, lies in a defense tower built in the 14th century. Don’t miss the breathtaking vistas over the Pyrenees from the terrace here.

Climb the Roc of Scaramus For The Stunning Panoramic Views

This hike up to the top of the Scaramus Rock is challenging, but the panoramic mountain views over the Pyrenees make the climb worth it. When you reach the top, you’ll get to enjoy some of the most scenic views over the Pyrenees. The entire round-trip is just over six miles and can be done in about six hours, starting near the Col De Marmare cycling route. Note that this is a strenuous trek – not necessarily for beginners.
Refuge d'Espingo, French PyreneesIf you are planning a trip to the French Pyrenees, head to France-Voyage.com and create your own personalized itinerary. You can easily add all or some of the places listed above to your itinerary, or simply find more information and travel inspiration for the French Pyrenees and other regions of France, or find vacation rentals for your trip!

Photo Credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Lourdes by Bren Buenaluz; (2) Ax-Les-Thermes by Richard Allaway; (3) Col Du Puymorens by Jean-Marie Pival; (4) French Pyrenees by Richard Allaway

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Five Weekend Breaks From London To Beat The Winter Blues

Sunset at Brighton Beach England

Let’s face it: the colder seasons can be dreadful in London. It is rainy and grey, sometimes the sun doesn’t show itself for days. It’s easy to get into a funk when it’s chilly out, and summer still seems far away. Every time I felt the winter blues coming, I knew what I had to do to beat it: Get out of town for a couple of days. No matter if you only have Saturday and Sunday, or if you can add another day and take a long weekend, there are so many places close enough to London that make even a one-night getaway worthwhile. Read on for my top five winter weekend breaks from London:Weekend Breaks From London

Brighton

Distance from London: One hour on the train

Why go? Brighton is perfect for a weekend of long walks on the beach combined with shopping in the eclectic little shops in Brighton’s Lanes, where you find quirky vintage shops and cute cafes that invite to linger with a book or the newspaper when it’s raining outside. Sure, Brighton is typically known as a popular summer weekend break from London, but enjoying some fresh sea breeze works wonders year-round. Plus: the dining scene in Brighton is exceptional, and there are enough things to keep you busy for several weekends.brighton seagull

Don’t miss: If the weather allows for it, take the bus (12, 12A or 13 bus) to Seven Sisters Country Park and go for a hike along the stunning white cliffs. Stop in a cozy country pub for a Sunday Roast on the way back.

Where to stay? Brighton has plenty of unusual B&B’s and small boutique hotels to offer – among the best ones are the Artist Residence (Rooms start at £90 per night); Snooze B&B (rooms start at £75); and Pelirocco, Brighton’s famous Rock’n’Roll hotel (grab their lovebirds special deal for £99 which includes a bottle of champagne, chocolate truffles and breakfast in bed!

Vacation homes: If you are traveling with a larger group or your family, Plumguide has affordable vacation rentals in Brighton with up to 5 bedrooms.snooze brighton bed and breakfast bed

A Spa Break In The Midlands

Distance from London: 2.5 hours by car

Why go? The Belfry in the Midlands, just outside of Birmingham, is the perfect place to recharge your batteries. The hotel spa has undergone a £1 million a few years ago, making it a perfect destination for a spa weekend without breaking the bank and to spoil you with a quality spa experience. Two-night spa breaks at the gorgeous ivy-covered country house hotel in Sutton Coldfield start at only £134 per person per night – including a spa treatment, breakfast, a 3-course dinner and access to the pool area. No better way to spend a chilly winter weekend than by pampering yourself! And if the hubby isn’t much of a spa enthusiast, he’ll appreciate the 18-hole golf course. This is not only a perfect winter break from London, by the way, but a fantastic place to recharge your batteries any time of year.

Don’t miss: Head to the nearby Kingsbury Water Park with 15 lakes, plenty of walking trails and birds and wildlife.grand hyatt playa del carmen spa waters

The Cotswolds

Distance from London: About 2 hours by car

Why go? The Cotswolds are the quintessential English countryside getaway, with dozens of picture-perfect little villages with rustic stone houses dotted among the green hills. The villages are as traditional as Britain gets – you’ll think you’ve traveled back to the last century!

Don’t miss: One of the many scenic trails – the Telegraph lists the 10 best pub walks in the Cotswolds, and The Culture Trip shares the best hikes in the Cotswolds. Also stop in some of the Cotswolds villages and go for a stroll – Burford, Blockley, Chipping Norton and Bourton-on-the-Water are among the most delightful ones.

Where to stay? Rent a cottage – it doesn’t matter in which of the villages you’re staying, they’re all equally as charming. AirBnb has cottages for as little as £60 – a steal for a romantic countryside getaway! If you travel with a larger group, check out Plumguide, a UK-based vacation rental company – they have some beautiful houses in the Cotswolds on their platform.

Tip: Since the Cotswolds are among the most popular weekend breaks from London, plan your trip early because the coziest cottages are booked months in advance.

Click here for all Airbnb’s in the Cotswolds or read this round-up of the best Airbnb’s in the Cotswolds.

Hastings & Rye

Distance from London: 90 mins on the train

Why go? Over the past few years, Hastings has made quite a name for itself as an art lover’s heaven and cultural hotspot. The city has become quite hip, with a thriving art scene, plenty of artisan shops and boutiques, as well as trendy restaurants. The pier has also undergone a major £14 million renovation, and helped turning the city into a busy seaside resort. Visiting off-season during a winter getaway from London has the advantage that you don’t have to deal with crowds, but can still admire the natural beauty while shopping for art in the many galleries.

Winter Weekend Breaks From London

Don’t miss: Only a short 20-min train ride to the East brings you to the small town of Rye, which is famous for its cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses which date back to Medieval times. The annual Rye Bay Scallop Week takes place in late February, so if you are a scallop fan, you should plan your getaway to coincide with this event. The town makes for a nice detour trip from Hastings to peek inside the many little shops and to explore the nearby dunes at Camber, Rye Bay and Romney Marsh on a nice winter walk.

Where to stay: Zanzibar Hotel, praised by Conde Nast Traveler, has rooms starting from £99; The Old Rectory is a gorgeous B&B in the historic center (from £110), and Hastings House is a stylish, contemporary seaside B&B (rooms from £80).

Vacation rentals / holiday apartments: Check out Plumguide for a fantastic range of vacation rentals in Hastings.

York

Distance from London: 2 hours and 17 mins on the fast train

Why go? York is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval cities in the entire UK, and with Virgin’s comfortable high speed trains less than 2.5 hours away. York is a fantastic winter getaway from London because no matter what time of year you’re visiting, it is always delightful to meander through the historic alleyways. While in York, take a walk on the 13-century city walls, and marvel at The Shambles, a narrow street with half-timbered houses that is lined with independent shops and lively cafes. The true showstopper is of course the York Minster, one of the most remarkable Gothic churches in the entire country.brighton cafe cakesDon’t miss: Betty’s Café Tea Rooms – sure, it’s touristy, but it is popular for a reason. This tea-and-cake shop is a York institution and afternoon tea or a quick stop for some tea and scones is a must!

Where to stay: The Churchill Hotel is a small upscale hotel housed in a luxurious Georgian mansion, and it is fabulous! Rooms start at around £85. Hotel Indigo is known for its uniquely styled bedrooms in a redbrick, industrial-chic building. Rooms from £75.

Plumguide has vacation rentals from £103/night!

Weekend Breaks From London

Didn’t like any of the places on this list? Here are five more places for a weekend getaway from London.

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London Shopping Guide 2022 Edition

London Camden Market

Thankfully the world is opening back up for international travel, and if you’re like a lot of people, you’re cashing in on your miles and checking cities off your travel bucket list. One destination so many of us dream of is London. London is home to over 7.5 million people, that’s a lot considering it’s one city that accounts for nearly 13% of the UK’s population! This means there will be tons of people watching, rich culture, fine dining and of course – shopping! 

No matter your travel style, whether you like to have a jam-packed itinerary or you’d instead go with the flow, one thing’s for sure – shopping on vacation is always a highlight. So in between visiting Big Ben, The Tower, and Westminster Abbey, make sure you check out the following hot spots for shopping.london camden lock market vintage clothing

Oxford Street 

Let’s just go ahead and start with the big guns. You have to check out Oxford Street while you’re in London. Aside from the famed Selfridge’s, this iconic area is home to big box stores and boutiques alike. You’ll have no problem finding a new pair of women’s designer trainers here or a vintage sweater. If you’re not from the UK, you’ve still likely heard of Primark and are curious to check it out – well, their flagship store is on Oxford Street. You can also find familiar brands like Urban Outfitters, Lush, and Zara. But the true gems are the boutiques – so make sure you check those out and support locals, even when you’re far from home. 

Oxford Street London

Bond Street & Mayfair 

If you’re looking to blow some serious money, this is your spot. All the high-end designers have showrooms or boutiques here, from Balenciaga to Louis Vuitton. If you’re in the market for an engagement ring, why not check out Tiffany & Company to get some dazzling inspiration. There’s also a phenomenal food hall in the area called Mercado Mayfair that was once a church. The site is over 200 years old and is now home to fare from all over the world. So, if you’re missing home (wherever that may be), you’re sure to find authentic food to ease the homesickness. 

London shopping

Carnaby 

Carnaby is an excellent stop for any fashion-minded traveler, but if you’re into streetwear, this is a must-visit! You can shop iconic brands like Doc Martens and Fred Perry at Carnaby. Are you a fan of NERD or Pharrell Williams? His brand Billionaire Boys Club’s flagship UK store, is located in Carnaby and is so artfully styled, and you have to visit. Shopping is some people’s only form of cardio (you’re not alone, and what a fun way to get your steps in), so if you work up an appetite, you can refuel at Kingly Court. Kingly Court houses over 20 different restaurants, bars, and cafes, so you’ll find something for everyone in your travel group there.liberty london

Seven Dials 

Let’s be honest, and if you’re a serious travel shopper, you can easily spend all day at Seven Dials. This location is home to over seven different streets and comprises ninety shops and fifty restaurants. You have a seemingly unlimited selection of food and wares at your fingertips. Some noteworthy places at Seven Dials you should check out are Neals Yard and The Vintage Showroom. Oh, and if you’re a denim aficionado, you have to head into Nudie Jeans while you’re there. Seven Dials never disappoints, even the pickiest of shoppers.London camden

Kings Road 

Well, it wouldn’t be a UK shopping guide without referencing a king or queen – but seriously, Kings Road has some fantastic shopping opportunities you don’t want to miss on your trip. Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End is there (talk about iconic), not to mention the Designers Guild flagship store. It’s easy to fall in love with the entire Chelsea area as it’s incredibly charming, and King’s Road is just another aspect of what makes this neighborhood so great. And don’t forget to grab a sweet treat to reward yourself for good spending habits from Cocomaya Bakery right off of Sloane Street. 

There are so many incredible experiences to be had in London, and the shopping is just one facet of what will undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime. So, start saving now because you’ll be finding all kinds of treasures for yourself but souvenirs for friends and family too. Happy trails and happy shopping!london street art

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The D-Day Beaches of Normandy: Combining History and Natural Beauty in Western France

France

The D-Day beaches are one of the most popular day trips from Paris, especially for Americans, Brits and Canadians whose parents or grandparents fought the Germans in World War II.

The historic significance of these beaches hasn’t lessened, even nearly 80 years after Operation Overload, which was the invasion of Western Europe by the Allied Nations on 6 June 1944. On that day, over 135,000 troops landed in Normandy, unifying against the Germans. The Allied Nations (Britain, Canada and the U.S.) were each allocated a number of beaches to invade, which were codenamed:

  • Utah Beach (U.S.)
  • Omaha Beach (U.S.)
  • Juno Beach (Canada)
  • Gold Beach (Britain)
  • Sword Beach (Britain)

visit the D-Day beachesWhen visiting the Normandy coast these days, it’s almost inconceivable that one of the most important and magnificent operations against the Germans happened here, an accomplishment that would later lead to the successful victory against Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Today, you’ll pass by rolling hills, quaint little seaside towns, surrounded by lush green farmland and cattle fields. The beaches themselves are beautiful and tranquil, and it is hard to imagine that thousands of soldiers lost their lives here.

However, you cannot escape the memories of D-Day when visiting this part of France – war memorials and monuments mark where the Allies landed, there are remains of bunkers and gun emplacements left by the Germans, and most importantly, there is the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 American soldiers are buried.

If you are visiting to honor family members who fought or lost their lives there, you may want to try to visit on 6 June, when a number of D-Day anniversary memorials are held.

The easiest way to visit the area is with a tour, which usually includes all the beaches plus the Memorial Church in Caen (see below for details). Here is an overview of the main sights you shouldn’t miss when visiting the D-Day beaches, including all five beaches, which still carry the names given by the Allies in preparation of the operation.

The Caen Memorial

The Caen Memorial is the best place to start your tour of the D-Day beaches. The museum was recently renovated, and in addition to detailed information on D-Day and World War II, it has plenty of material on The Battle Of Normandy, The Cold War and the search for peace.

Utah Beach

The museum at this beach, the Utah Beach Landing Museum, is housed in the remains of a German bunker. Many say that this is the best D-Day museum in the area. In the nearby village of Sainte-Mère-Eglise is the Airborne Museum, which details the aerial operations.

Arromanches Mulberry

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe Du Hoc is the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, with a 100 feet (30 meter) cliff overlooking the English Channel. The German army had fortified this area with gun pits, bunkers, artillery and concrete casemates. Pointe du Hoc was captured by 225 U.S. rangers on D-Day after scaling the cliffs, and has become a symbol of courage of the American troops. It is one of the most significant memorials along the D-Day coast.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach was the stretch of beach with the most intense battles. Memorials and statues line the beach.

This is probably where you will be spending the most time of all beaches. The American Cemetery is located right above the beach, and there are two museums: the Omaha Beach Memorial Museum, which showcases personal items of soldiers, weapons and uniforms, and the Omaha D-Day Museum which details the landing on Omaha Beach.

The Gun Battery in Longues-sur-Mer between Omaha Beach and Gold Beach has a number of bunkers which were Hitler’s most important points of defense.

Gold Beach

The Gold Beach invasion was led by the British, and the most important museum here is the America Gold Beach Museum and exhibits details of the landing here as well as the three-engine Fokker America’s first airmail flight from the United States to France.

d-day beaches

Juno Beach

Juno Beach, where the invasion was under Canada’s lead, has the Juno Beach Centre, which outlines the significant role Canada played in the D-Day invasion. Nearby Bény-sur-Mer is home to the Canadian cemetery.

Sword Beach

Sword Beach is the easternmost of the five D-Day beaches. The operation here happened under British leadership, and there is a museum, the Merville Gun Battery, which details the British Airborne Operations.

The nearby Ranville War cemetery is home to 2,235 graves, most of which belong to the 6th Airborne Division.

The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery is one of the largest American war cemeteries and was the first one on European soil established during World War II. With 9,387 lives lost on D-Day and the consequent ensuing operations, it makes visitors realize the magnitude and true scale of this operation and the lives lost during it.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

How to visit the D Day beaches from Paris

Paris City Vision offers a guided tour of the D-Day beaches from Paris. The trip includes, in addition to the beaches, the Caen Memorial Church, the memorial service, and a delicious lunch. You’ll leave Paris at 7am and will return around 9pm. The advantage of taking a tour is not only that it’ll bring you to all places of interest, but it also includes a knowledgeable guide who will provide background information and historical details.

 

You can also visit the beaches via public transportation – take the train from Paris to Caen and then hop on the local bus that connects the beaches, but be aware that buses aren’t running very often and trying to fit in all beaches, the Memorial and the American cemetery in one day would be quite a challenge.

Tip: If you book your train tickets in advance through the Omio app or website, they’ll be cheaper than buying them on your travel day at the train station. Omio offers discount train tickets for all of Europe – it helps me to travel around Europe on the cheap.

The trains to Caen leave from Paris’ St Lazare station and the journey takes around 2 hours.

If you want to rent a car and drive from Paris, the trip takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Having a car gives you more flexibility when you’re at the coast, making visiting all of the beaches easier than taking trains and buses. It really helps to have a guide though – this is a trip for which an organized tour makes sense, even for people who are usually independent travelers.

visit the D-Day beaches

Photo credit: All photos used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Arromanches Mulberry by Archangel12; (2) Arromanches 14 by Barry Skeates; (3) Normandy American Cemtery by Larry Uren

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visit the D-Day beaches

 

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The five best long-distance hikes in England

turquoise water

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that I am a big fan of long-distance hikes. After the Salkantay Trek in Peru, the jungle trek to Colombia’s Lost City, and the month-long epic walk across Spain along the Camino De Santiago it is time to plan my next long distance hike, and this year, my Camino BFF Kate and I are planning to do one of the best long-distance hikes in England. All that’s left to do is fill our backpacks with our hiking gear, strap on our walking boots and – most importantly – decide which walk to set out on.

When I started planning this trip, I was not aware how many fantastic walking trails there are in England, and after some research, I’ve narrowed down the five best long-distance walks in England, to give you some inspiration for your very own walking holiday in the UK. There’s something for everyone on this list: from short five-day hikes to epic eight-week walking adventures, from coastal walks to hamlet hopping through some of England’s grandest landscapes.

1 Coast to Coast

Location: Northern England – Cumbria to North Yorkshire

Length: 309 km / 192 miles

Duration: 15 days (without any test days)

What to expect: You’ll start on the west coast, at the Irish Sea at St Bees and end the walk in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay. Walking west to east is the more popular direction for this hike, because this way, wind and rain will be at your back, and you don’t walk against the bright evening sun.

Highlights: You cross three stunning national parks on this walk: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. During the walk, you’ll pass through small villages with cozy pubs, the heather-covered highlands of the North York Moors, medieval castles and abbeys, the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Lake District and plenty of unforgettable views. This is one of the most iconic best long-distance hikes in England.

Level of difficulty: This is a strenuous hikes with many hills and mountains – you have to be an experienced hiker and in great physical condition.

best long-distance hikes in England

2 Cotswolds Way

Location: South-Central England, Gloucestershire to Somerset

Length: 164 kilometers / 102 miles

Duration: 5 – 7 days

What to expect: The Cotswolds Way is one of the country’s most beautiful walks: You’ll walk through charming villages filled with century-old honey-colored stone houses and cozy pubs, follow the trail through the typical ‘rolling hills’ limestone grasslands that the Cotswolds are known for, through farmlands where you’ll encounter cows and sheep.

Highlights: Every single hamlet you walk through will take your breath away – the Cotswolds were awarded the title of ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ for a reason! And then there are the stately 15th-century Sudeley Castle, charming tea rooms, countless viewpoints with sweeping vistas of green, rolling hills, and finally, the city of Bath with its wonderful 18th-century Georgian architecture, where the walk ends (or begins, either way is possible, but soaking in Bath’s famous Roman thermal spas is a rewarding way to end the hike).

Level of difficulty: Moderate – this trail is doable for less experienced hikers.

3 The Pennine Way

Location: Northern England (Derbyshire) into Scotland

Length: 431 kilometers / 268 miles

Duration: min. of 21 days

What to expect: This popular, yet challenging, hike runs along the ‘backbone of England’: the Pennine Hills through a rather remote part of England. It is often named the toughest hiking trail in Britain, and definitely not an easy undertaking, but it is also one of the greatest long-distance hikes in England. You’ll walk through the remarkable Yorkshire Dales, lots of hilly terrain, moorland, bogs, wildflower meadows, farmland and wild landscapes – every day is very different. Since you’re passing mainly through untouched terrain, it is important to plan ahead – the Guardian has a great list of where to stay, eat and drink along the Pennine Way.

Highlights: Finishing the challenging Pennine Way with 432 stiles, 287 gates and 204 bridges is a huge achievement in itself, but you will also enjoy the vast panoramic vistas from the high-up viewpoints, some of Britain’s most beautiful, untouched scenery, Hadrian’s Wall and the highest pub in England.

Level of difficulty: This is considered a tough hike – long-distance hiking experience is essential, and you must be in excellent physical condition.

4 The Dales Way

Location: Northern England – West Yorkshire to Cumbria

Length: 125 kilometers / 81 miles

Duration: 5 – 6 days

What to expect: The Dales Way is a well-signposted hiking trail that mainly follows river valleys, cuts through farms and lush green fields, and eventually ends in the foothills of the mountains of the Lake District. You’ll walk through two National Parks: The Yorkshire Dales as well as the Lake District National Park.

Highlights: The Yorkshire Dales National Park offers some of England’s most spectacular landscapes: Moors, river valleys, green hills, farmland dotted with cows and sheep, and historic stone villages.

Level of difficulty: Moderate – can be done by less experienced hikers

5 The South West Coast Path

Location: Southwestern England – Dorset, Cornwall, Somerset, Devon

Length: 1,014 kilometers / 630 miles

Duration: about 8 weeks

What to expect: If you feel like all of the above hikes aren’t much of a challenge, the South West Coast Path is the hike for you. This hike follows the entire length of Cornwall’s and Devon’s coastline, and sections of Devon’s and Somerset’s coastlines. With a length of over 1,000 kilometers, it puts the famed Camino de Santiago to shame. Not only is this the longest hiking trail in the UK, but it is often named as one of the best hikes in the world. However pretty this coastal path with its stunning views is, be aware that there are lots of ups and downs involved, i.e. many drops and climbs. If the length of the hike seems off-putting to you, know that many people walk it in stretches over a number of years.

Highlights: You will pass through two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Jurassic Coast, comprised of the Dorset and East Devon Coast, and parts of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. You’ll also get to walk along the Heritage Coast in Exmoor National Park with its dramatic coastline, ravines and steep cliffs – including the highest cliff in mainland Britain – and you’ll pass dozens of pristine beaches, castles, small harbor towns and seaside resorts, and the iconic Land’s End: the westernmost point of the English mainland.

Level of difficulty: Pretty difficult – not just because of the length of it, but the total elevation climbed during this hike is 114,931 feet (35,031 m), which is almost four times the height of Mount Everest! You have to be an experienced long-distance walker to finish this hike, and you have to have adequate hiking gear.

best long-distance hikes in England

Have you walked one of the long-distance hikes in England? Which one is your favorite?

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Six off-the-beaten path places to visit in the UK

Goodbye London

Static caravans, fish and chips, fairground rides overlooking Victorian piers – the British holiday used to be a predictable affair which failed to appeal to many. The younger generation of British holiday makers, however, is looking to change things up a bit. Instead of going for the ‘same old’, they want to go off the beaten path, and see places in the UK that aren’t on everybody’s vacation wish list.

The same goes for visitors from abroad – many travelers love the UK so much that they visit the country repeatedly, and after a while, they’ve ticked off all the major cities and landmarks off of their bucket lists. That’s when they’re starting to look for places in the UK that are off the beaten path, or even go on one of the many long-distance hikes in England.

So without further ado, here are six off-the-beaten path places to visit in the UK:

1 Swinton Druids Temple, Yorkshire

You’ve probably heard of Stonehenge – but what about Swinton Druids Temple? This arrangement of rocks looks similar to England’s most famous Neolithic stone circle and attracts groups of new-age pagans at the summer solstice.

Unlike Wiltshire’s prehistoric monument, the Swinton Druids Temple is a 200-year-old folly constructed by an eccentric landowner to channel the mysteries of ancient Britain. It is surrounded by lush shrubbery, and the arrangements create a unique atmosphere which is ideal for photo opportunities, eerie picnics and country walks.

This is one of many idyllic locations in rural Yorkshire, which also boasts the historic city of York, the metropoles of Leeds and Sheffield, plus charming towns such as Harrogate – and let’s not forget the breath-taking beauty of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s possible to get great deals on city stays and wild country retreats in Yorkshire with sites such as Travelzoo.

UK off the beaten path

2 Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses, Staffordshire

What’s better than visiting historic houses in the heart of England? Historic houses carved into cliffs could be quirky contenders.

At Kinver, in Staffordshire, houses are tucked into the sandstone cliffs. Unbelievably, these hideaways were occupied until the 1960s. Today, two have been restored to reflect their 1930s heyday – expect to see quaint rose gardens and chimneys emerging from the rock.

Kinver Edge is an attraction with great connections, too – nearby footpaths lead to Nanny’s Rock and boast panoramic views over the West Midlands.

off-the-beaten path places to visit in the UK

3 The Shell Grotto, Kent

Britain is known for its Gothic cathedrals and luxuriously adorned stately homes. At the Shell Grotto, in Margate, our love of detailed décor takes on an entirely different form.

More than four million shells have been painstakingly arranged in this set of subterranean tunnels, creating a mosaic-like appearance which charms visitors. The debate about their origins and purpose seem to make the tunnels even more intriguing – some say it’s an ancient pagan temple, while others believe the mesmerising mosaics were arranged in the Victorian era.

This portion of southern England is 60 miles east of the M25 and is perhaps best known for the World Heritage Site of Canterbury Cathedral.UK off the beaten path

4 Dolbadarn Castle Ruins, Snowdonia

Wales is an historic land steeped in legend and its most popular National Park – Snowdonia – attracts more than four million visitors each year. At Dolbadarn Castle on the edge of Snowdonia, it’s possible to experience the best of heritage and nature.

This picturesque structure benefits from stunning views over Llanberis Pass. It was constructed by King Llywelyn the Great in the 13th century. The information boards help visitors to appreciate the history, but the real star of the show is the glistening lake – Llyn Peris – which creates enviable photo opportunities behind the stone fortification.Castle Dolbadarn ruins, Llanberis

5 St Ninian’s Tombolo, Shetland

Island stays are popular for international holidays – but of course, the UK has archipelago assets of its own.

The magnificent Shetland Islands perch 110 miles from the north of Scotland. Ferries run year-round from Aberdeen, transporting adventurous souls to some of the UK’s most peaceful locations.

Due to their remote location, the Shetland Islands are home to some of the most unspoilt beaches around – such as St Ninian’s Tombolo.

A tombolo is a beach maintained by wave action, and the St Ninian’s sands form the largest active beach of this kind in the UK. At low tide, it forges a distinctive sand bridge between two sections of coast.off-the-beaten path places to visit in the UK

6 Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa

An unlikely contender for musical tourism, Fingal’s Cave is known for having influenced 1960s’ rockers Pink Floyd – as well as the likes of John Keats before them. Even Queen Victoria visited this otherworldly location.

The reason? Unique, hexagonally-jointed basalt formations which create natural acoustics. When waves brush the rocks, the cave seems to sing. To get there, book a journey by boat from the neighboring islands of Iona and Mull.

 

Photo Credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Swinton Druids Temple by Sinjy and Sadie; (2) Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses by Quisnovus;(3) Shell Grotto in Margate, Kent by Grahamvphoto; (4) Castle Dolbadarn ruins by John Englart; (5) St Ninian’s Tombolo by nz_willowherb

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Lessons learned: A volcano, a Hindu Temple and Letting Loose

London Camden Market

We are going on a trip. A long trip. We are attempting to convert into a digital nomad lifestyle and take our work on the road with us. First we are stopping in Las Vegas, and then it’s up the coast of California, down to Tucson, through Mexico and down into Central and South America from where we will go to New Zealand, Australia, Asia and back to Europe.

Goodbye London

Before we even take one step toward this new adventure, a few things have happened in the last few weeks which have already served as important lessons for the road.

Lesson 1: You can’t beat Mother Nature

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano caused a complete shut down of UK airspace for 6 days and closed down all of Europe’s airports for days due to concerns about the ‘ash cloud’. I had certainly never uttered the phrase ‘ash cloud’ before, let alone even heard of Eyjafjallajökul. But there we were, just two weeks before the start of our world tour, and a volcano in Iceland was looking to cause us to postpone, re-book and re-arrange much of our initial U.S. leg of the trip. Mother Nature had flexed her mighty muscles and taken down an entire global infrastructure with just one eruption in a far off place. Fresh produce rotted in warehouses in Spain, flowers died in airports in Africa on their way to Amsterdam, Chinese car manufactures shut down while awaiting car parts from German suppliers. Not to mention the thousands upon thousands of displaced travelers fighting to return home.

As far as I could see it, that was the only positive thing regarding our new lifestyle. Had we already been mid-trip, we would have just dug in and gotten comfortable, because after all, the point of the nomadic lifestyle is the mantra – wherever you go, there you are. Enjoy it, live the moment, there is nothing to rush to or away from, you can move at your own pace, or, should mother nature flex those wings, you move respectfully at her pace instead.

Lesson 2: Always take the time to go and see it, whatever it is!

Still in London for another week, we finally headed to Neasden, north London, to visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, otherwise known as Neasden temple. This intricate hindu mandir (temple) was crafted in India using 5,000 tons of Italian Carrara marble and Bulgarian limestone, and then shipped in over 26,000 pieces to London where over 1,000 volunteers reassembled the marble pillars and white pinnacles, creating a masterpiece that at once seems completely out of place yet as though it fully belongs in a city as great and multicultural as London. It was as though our travels had begun, complete with witnessing unfamiliar practices with a mixture of awe and discomfort at our clear role as out-of-place westerners.

We have been waiting three years to go see this temple, but we both couldn’t have been more relieved and inspired when we finally made. Our Neasden temple experience was much more interesting for us than it would have been before. With this new attitude we realize that if you have heard that something is awe-inspiring, or you have the gut feeling that you really want to go see something, take the time to go and see it. Otherwise, what is the point of this new nomadic lifestyle anyway!

Lesson 3: Let Loose

Packing up our stuff for a trip around the world teaches us another important lesson: How much do we really need? After moving to England as students in 2006 with nothing more than a backpack and a couple of bags, we managed to cram our apartment in London with countless ‘essential’ things during the last three years and in the end, we filled up an entire moving van with our two-bedroom apartment. Now, the challenge becomes figuring out what to pack for a year of vagabonding.

A 75 liter backpack has a very limited amount of space, so the entire closet we’ve managed to hoard thanks to various shopping sprees will have to go down to a couple of pants, shirts, a jacket, some socks and underwear, decent footwear – and that’s it. We will leave behind the fancy dresses, skirts, jackets, jeans… and all the other things that make us feel comfortable – like our favorite coffee mugs, my beloved blender, our awesome stereo system and brand new flat screen TV.

Eventually we realize that most of it we don’t really need – it’s just stuff that makes us feel at home. While a lot of things will surely be missed, letting go of our belongings is a good way to learn to appreciate certain things again which normally we take for granted.

After a year, or how ever long our journey will last, after having been in rural and undeveloped areas, we will either be more thankful than ever to own so many things that make life easy, or just decide to scale down again and ditch a whole bunch of needless stuff we think we cannot live without at the moment.

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