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GIVING BACK: PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE SOCIAL IMPACT ORGANIZATIONS

GIVING BACK: PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE SOCIAL IMPACT ORGANIZATIONS

Travel is a privilege — even budget travel.

The ability to hold a passport and purchase a plane ticket to another country is a luxury not afforded to most people around the world — including many in my own country.

That’s the reason I created FLYTE over five years ago. Travel has changed my life completely, and I wanted students who didn’t grow up with the same privileges as me to have that same opportunity. So many inequities exist in our world today. The least we can do is try to give back to help balance the scale.

The goal of FLYTE is to empower youth from underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Since 2015, we’ve worked with six schools and nearly a hundred students, who have collectively traveled roughly 300,000 miles around the world. They come from communities where international travel is not readily accessible, so these trips give them the opportunity to get on a plane for the first time, helping them understand the vastness of the world — and their power to change it for the better.

To make these experiences as impactful as possible, we work hard to ensure that these trips maximize the benefit to the communities our students visit.

While we give the teachers and students the power to craft their itinerary so that their trip reflects what they’re learning in the classroom, one of the few requirements we have is that there is also some type of service or learning component.

We’re very intentional about what this involves, as the ethics around volunteering and travel are complicated. All too often, volunteers benefit more than the communities they visit. We want to avoid that.

Besides volunteering, another powerful way to make sure your tourism donors sustain the areas you visit is to support social enterprises. These are local businesses that don’t rely on grants or donations but rather are financially sustained through sales of products or services, the profits from which directly go back to the community to fund various social initiatives.

Today, I wanted to highlight a few of the nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that our students and our team have visited around the world in hopes that you’ll be inspired to visit them on your next trip:

Casa Victoria – Quito, Ecuador
Our FLYTE students traveled to Quito in 2017. While searching for an organization for them to work with, Jackie and Christine (the teachers leading this trip) were deeply inspired by Alicia Durán-Ballén, who recognized that she could no longer wait around for her community to improve — she had to be the change herself.

Casa Victoria, which she founded, is a nonprofit program that provides academic help, social support, and hot meals to the youngest members of the community.

The FLYTE students brought Snap Circuits, a gadget used in the Robotics Club back at Excelsior Academy in Newburgh, New York, for the kids at Casa Victoria. They also volunteered their time and learned to cook traditional Ecuadorian food.

Para la Naturaleza – Puerto Rico
Para la Naturaleza works to protect the natural ecosystem in Puerto Rico, which our next group of FLYTE students from New Orleans will be visiting next summer (or when it’s safe to travel again) in order to work on coastal restoration and reforestation projects throughout the island. Coming from a city that understands the impact of the climate crisis, these students will be able to learn from this experience so they can create meaningful change in their own neighborhoods.

Konojel – San Marcos, Guatemala
Konojel’s goal is to reduce chronic malnutrition and endemic poverty in San Marcos. When our students from Victor, Montana, traveled there in 2018, they learned about the reality of life in a rural village. They had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the community center where undernourished children receive healthy meals and educational enrichment. Together, they broke down cultural differences by reading books together and playing football and basketball.

As Lindsey, the teacher leading this trip, shared, “These multicultural connections we were forging made the news from home of separated immigrant families at the border seem both unbelievable but also conquerable if we simply continue to foster friendships and understanding, like those I was seeing form in a matter of days.”

WAS Foundation – Bali, Indonesia
Bali is known for its idyllic beaches, Insta-worthy rice paddies, and yoga retreats. But there is more to the island than that. The WAS Foundation allows tourists to dive deeper, by organizing beach cleanups and recycling workshops to preserve and sustain the natural environment. It also conducts workshops on traditional wellness practices for local youth and the wider community.

Crabtree & Evelyn, FLYTE’s major partner, also supports this organization as part of its philanthropic efforts.

Amigos de Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, Guatemala
During our FLYTE trip to Guatemala, students visited this social enterprise that aims to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz and surrounding villages through support for education and sustainable economic empowerment. In addition, the organization has an artisan store where local women can earn a fair living wage through their sewing, weaving, and beading handicrafts. Our students learned about Mayan cuisine from Claudia, a Santa Cruz resident, who taught a cooking class.

Experience Real Cartagena – Cartagena, Colombia
One of the big highlights of our 2019 trip to Colombia was the students’ journey to Barrio San Francisco with Alex Rocha from Experience Real Cartagena. His tours are designed to make deeper connections with the marginalized communities of Colombia. The proceeds from these tours fund an after-school program. Our students had an opportunity to meet with some of these youths and participate in activities like drawing, dancing, and soccer.

This was also a chance for both our students and chaperones to talk to the local youth to learn about what their life is like, which helped them form connections between their two worlds. Aliza, a student, felt that this was the highlight of the trip because she “was able to see the kids and understand their environment and how they live every day.” Another student, Jany, reflected on “how they make the best out of what they have. They’re grateful and humble and always try to find something positive.”

Akha Ama Coffee – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is a remote-worker hot spot, and as a result, there is no shortage of cafés in the area. However, Akha Ama Coffee serves fine cups of fair-trade coffee that’s sourced from the villages around Chiang Mai. Blogger Shannon O’Donnell visited there and wrote about the collective of coffee growers that “represent 14 families from the Maejantai village area who have joined together under one brand to increase their ability to control, market, and command fair prices for the coffee they grow. They formed the collective so each family could bring in more money and thus assure themselves fair wages with which to obtain an education for their children and modern conveniences.”

Sheroes Hangout – Agra, Indi
While visiting the Taj Mahal may be the highlight of a trip to Agra, a visit to Sheroes Hangout might be just as powerful of an experience. This is a center for women’s empowerment, where survivors of acid attacks and other social crimes operate a café, community center, and handicraft store. These inspiring women have lived through the most heinous of situations, and Sheroes Hangout provides them with a safe space to connect, share their stories, and create a sustainable livelihood.

 

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With the privilege of travel comes the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money. Even though our world has many complex challenges and injustices, there are also many individuals and communities committed to changing it for the better. We’re so grateful to learn about these organizations and hope that both you and our FLYTE students have the chance to do so as well.

What nonprofits and social enterprises have you visited abroad? We’d love to grow this list, so please comment below with any experiences that have really impacted you on your travels!

P.S. – Want more students to have opportunities to visit ethical tourism opportunities and social enterprises abroad? Donate to FLYTE below! Our work has been funded by thousands of donations, and we couldn’t do this work without our generous community.

23 WAYS TO CUT YOUR EXPENSES AND HAVE MORE MONEY FOR TRAVEL

23 WAYS TO CUT YOUR EXPENSES AND HAVE MORE MONEY FOR TRAVEL

Get out a sheet of paper and write down all your set expenses: rent/mortgage, car payments, cable/streaming bill, cell phone, insurance, school payments, etc. Tally them up.

Then write down all your discretionary spending. This is what you spend on food, movie nights, drinks, shopping, that daily coffee from Starbucks, cigarettes, sports tickets, your daily midday snack, and other similar things. If you don’t know what you spend money on, go track your expenses for a two-week period, see what you spend, and come back.

Add that all up — what did you get? Probably a large sum of money.

And I bet there will be many expenses you didn’t realize were there. Financial experts call these “phantom expenses” — we never know they are there because the expenses are so small. People bleed money without realizing it. A dollar here and a dollar there adds up. Even a daily bottle of water or candy bar can make a substantial difference over the course of a year.

What does this have to do with travel?

One of the main reasons why you think you can’t travel the world is money. “I can’t afford it,” people say to me, “I have too many expenses.” Most of us certainly have expenses we can’t cut (though remember when you travel the world long-term, many of those expenses disappear), but if we cut our phantom expenses, reduce our set costs, and find other ways to save we can build our travel fund much more quickly.

In short, if you want to start traveling more or save up for a specific trip, you need to create a budget. This will let you see where you can make cuts and where every penny you earn is being spent.

Cutting your daily expenses, being more frugal, and downgrading to a simpler way of living will allow you to save money for your trip around the world without having to find extra sources of income. I know these tips work because I used them before my first round-the-world trip (and still use them to keep my living expenses low).

Of course, the lower your income, the longer it will take to save enough to travel. But longer doe not mean never. A little bit every day adds up to a lot over a long period of time.

Here are some simple and creative ways to cut your expenses, make money, and get on the road sooner:

1. Track your spending

As mentioned in the introduction, most people don’t have a budget so the first thing you need to do to save money is to know where you’re spending it. In an age where you tap an app and a car comes, it’s easy to not think about how much we spend. Create a spreadsheet or use a service like Mint and track all your expenses. You’ll probably be surprised at where your money goes once you start paying attention. I live in Austin and I found myself realizing I was spending close to $100 USD a month on escooter rides. The distances I take them aren’t that far and, since the weather is usually nice, I decided to start walking more. It’s healthier and cheaper. That’s a $1,200 a year savings (i.e. a few months in Southeast Asia!)

Start tracking your expenses – and keep doing so – so you can keep cutting out the low hanging fruit and find where you’re spending money. You can use a spreadsheet or website like Mint to do so.

2. Set up a separate bank account

Financial experts have long recommended this. Set up a separate bank account and have money automatically deposited into that account each pay cycle. No matter how much you put away there, putting that money in a separate bank account means it’s away from your spending and you won’t overspend. Think of this like a piggy bank. Don’t raid it. It’s your travel fund.

3. Cut the coffee

Love your Starbucks? Well, Starbucks loves your money. Coffee is a daily expense that quietly drains your bank account without you even noticing. That daily $5 USD coffee costs you $150 USD per month. At $1,800 USD per year, that’s two months in Southeast Asia.

What’s more important: your daily cup of Joe or spending more time on the beaches of Thailand or exploring the jungles of Borneo?

Sure, giving up your cup of coffee seems like a “duh” thing. And, yes, there is utility in the time saved from buying one. Under normal circumstances, this would be “small thinking” financial advice that isn’t worth the time or effort.

But, right now, you have a travel goal to reach and every penny counts.

4. Learn to cook

We all need to eat but restaurants are expensive. To keep your food bill low, cook more often. I learned to cook while in college (a skill that has helped me ever since) and before I left for my first trip, I cut down my eating out to two times per week. Every other meal I cooked myself. I would save the leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day, thus saving more money.

You don’t need to be a whiz in the kitchen, either. There are a million and one cooking sites, YouTube videos, and recipe blogs that will teach you how to cook fast and healthy meals. I never spend more than 20-30 minutes making a meal.

Here are some sites to check out to get the ball rolling:

  • Food52
  • Deliciously Ella
  • Bon Appétit
  • Jessica in the Kitchen

5. Lose the car

Between insurance, repairs, loan payments, and filling your tank with gas, cars are crazy expensive to own. Get rid of your car if you can. Learn to love the bus, take the subway, bike, or walk. It may take longer to get to work using public transportation, but you can use that time to plan your trip, read, write, or do other productive tasks.

I understand that this tip may not be feasible for everyone, especially those in smaller towns that don’t have an extensive public transportation system, but an alternative is to sell your car and buy a cheaper used one, which you will only need until you leave for your trip. Buying a throwaway car will allow you to pocket the money from your more expensive car and put it toward your travels.

Additionally, with the proliferation of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services, it’s never been easier, even in small towns, to find transportation. Do the math on it but it may be cheaper to get Lyfts around town than to own a car. (Plus, if you need a car for long distances, you can easily rent one.)

6. Save on Gas

Gas adds up! Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to save on gas! First, use the app GasBuddy to find cheap gas near you. Second, sign up for all the major gas station loyalty programs. By default, they save you around 5 cents per gallon. Shell’s Fuel Rewards is the best because you attached it to a dining program leading to savings up to 50 cents a gallon. Moreover, use GasBuddy’s credit card, which can be tied to any of these loyalty programs and then used for an additional savings of 25 cents per gallon. Most supermarkets also have loyalty programs that offer gas savings. And, if you sign up for Costco, they have huge savings too.

7. Stream!

In the age of Hulu and free (and legal) streaming TV, there’s no reason for you to be spending $50 USD per month on cable television. Get rid of it and just watch everything online for free. You can also start sharing your streaming costs with friends or family. Standard Netflix is $12.99 USD per month. If you can cut that in half by splitting it with a friend, you’ll save a few bucks.

8. Downgrade your phone

The average American phone bill is over $100 USD per month. That’s crazy! While smartphones are handy devices, getting a cheap phone without any fancy apps will cut your monthly phone bill in half (if not more). You might get bored on the train not being able to read the news, but saving an extra $600-800 USD a year will allow you to spend a few more weeks in Europe, buy fancier meals, or learn to scuba dive in Fiji.

Consider buying a simple flip phone or even a refurbished phone. You’ll waste less time online and save money. Double win!

9. Get a new credit card

A travel credit card can give you free money, free rooms, and free flights. After accruing miles and rewards points with your card on everyday purchases, you can redeem them for free travel on your trip. Travel credit cards are a big weapon in a budget traveler’s arsenal. You’ll even earn huge sign-up bonuses when you get a new card.

When used properly, these cards generate free money so start early. As soon as you decide to travel the world, get a travel-related credit card and begin earning points on your daily purchases. A few credit cards worth checking out are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – The best card on the market, offering 3x points on restaurants and travel, lounge access, and over $300 in travel credit.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – A more affordable version of the Reserve with 2x points on restaurants and travel as well as no foreign tranaction fees.
  • Capital One Venture – An easy-to-use card with a $100 credit for Global Entry over 10 airline partners you can tranfers points to.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited – A simple cash-back card with 5% cash-back on travel.

For more credit card suggestions, check out this list of the best travel credit cards.

And, for more information on travel credit cards in general, here is my comprehensive guide on how to pick a good travel credit card.

10. Open an online savings account

While saving, you can have your money grow a little bit more by putting it in a high-yield online savings account. I’ve done this since the time when I was preparing to go away on my first trip and I netted a few extra hundred dollars. Interest rates are pretty low these days but you can still get 0.50-0.80%. Good online US banks include:

  • Salem Five Direct (0.80%)
  • Citibank (0.70%)
  • CIBC Bank (0.70%)
  • Discover Bank (0.60%)

Not from the US? Check out these websites for more local information:

  • Canada
  • UK
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

 

11. Get a Charles Schwab account

Charles Schwab bank refunds all your ATM fees and has no account fees. With this card, you’ll never pay an ATM fee again. When you think about how often you take out money — both at home and abroad — this is a game changer. For more on saving money when you bank, read this article.

Note: This is only available to Americans.

12. Sign up for travel newsletters

No one likes to clutter up their inbox, but by signing up for mailing lists from airlines and travel companies, you’ll be able to get updates about all the last-minute sales or special deals happening. I would have missed out on a round-trip ticket to Japan for $700 USD (normally $1,500) if it wasn’t for the American Airlines mailing list.

Additionally, consider signing up for a website like Scott’s Cheap Flights. They hunt down deals and send them directly to your inbox — for free! They also offer a premium service that offers more (and better) deals but at the very least join their free newsletter. Chances are you’ll find some awesome deals!

13. Build a network on Couchsurfing

Building a network on Couchsurfing can help you make friends with locals and get free accommodation when you do travel.

However, if you’ve never used it before you might not get many responses. After all, someone who hasn’t been vouched for and has no reviews isn’t an appealing candidate. Before you go away, sign up for Couchsurfing, find a local meetup (there should always be at least one in your area), and attend. You’ll make friends, be added to people’s profiles and vouched for, and have a network you can utilize when it is time to actually go away.

Of course, if you have space in your apartment you can also host travelers before you depart (or just meet up with them for coffee). This is the best way to build your network, get familiar with the platform, and earn reviews that will help you down the road when you’re looking for a host.

If possible, verify your account as well. Having a verified account will boost the chances of a host accepting your request.

14. Replace your light bulbs

Electricity costs money and since every penny counts, using energy-efficient light bulbs will cut down on your utility bills. Fluorescent light bulbs are cheap and replacing just five bulbs can cut $75 USD per year off your electric bill. Plus, due to energy efficiency initiatives in certain states, many electric companies will give you a rebate if you buy fluorescent bulbs! Be sure to check out which rebates your local energy company offers no matter where you live in the world.

Going green can save you green!

15. Buy second-hand

Why pay full price when you can pay half? Use websites like Amazon (discounted books and electronics), wholesale websites, and clearance sales to buy at discount. Towns big and small usually have a thrift store where you can pick up clothing and odds and ends — most of which also have regular sales. Sure, you don’t want to buy everything used, but you can definitely buy most things used!

16. Cut coupons

The Entertainment Book, grocery coupons, Groupon, and loyalty cards all reduce the price you pay at the register. Clipping coupons might make you feel like an 80-year-old grandmother, but the goal here is to be frugal and save money, and coupons definitely help with that.

Many grocery stores also offer electronic coupons based on your shopping habits. Sign up at your local grocery store for their loyalty program and you can lower your weekly grocery bill with discounts either sent via email or added directly to your loyalty card. Here are some discount and coupon websites worth checking out are:

  • Honey
  • Swagbucks
  • Don’t Pay Full
  • RetailMeNot

 

17. Sell your stuff

Before I started long-term travel, I looked around my apartment and saw just a lot of stuff I had no need for anymore: TVs, couches, tables, stereo equipment. Instead of keeping it in storage (which costs money), I decided to just get rid of everything. I sold it all and used the money to travel. After all, I’m not going to need my couch while eating pasta in Rome!

Sites like Craigslist, Amazon, and Gumtree are excellent places to sell your unneeded consumer goods.

If you’ve got a ton of stuff, consider having a yard sale. That’s the fastest way to clear out your house and make a few bucks in the process.

18. Skip the movies

I don’t know about you, but I find movies ridiculously expensive. It can cost up to $20 USD for a ticket, and that much again for the popcorn and soda. Cut out the movies or rent them online via Netflix or iTunes. Whatever you do, cutting out trips to the movies will save you a bundle.

If you do want to see the occasional movie, go on the cheap night (most theaters have one) and sign up for their loyalty program to earn free movies.

19. Stop drinking alcohol

Alcohol is expensive. Cutting down the amount you drink is going to have a big impact on your budget. While this might not apply to everyone, those of you who are carefree might go out with your friends on the weekend. Drink before you go out to the bar or simply don’t drink at all. Cutting down the amount of alcohol you consume is considered low-hanging fruit — an easy way to save money.

20. Quit smoking

Smoking kills not only you but also your wallet. A $10 USD pack per day amounts to $3,650 USD per year. Even half that amount would still yield enough money for close to two months in Central America. If you don’t want to stop smoking for your health, do it for your trip.

21. Stop snacking

A snack here and there not only adds calories to your waistline but also empties your wallet — another example of phantom expenses. We don’t think much of them because they cost so little, but they add up over time and eat into our savings. Eat fuller meals during lunch and dinner and avoid the snacks.

If you do want to snack, bring snacks from home and plan your snacking in advance. That way, you can buy cheaper (and healthier snacks) and avoid buying chips, chocolate bars, and other expensive junk.

22. Earn extra money on the side

The sharing economy has made it really easy to earn extra money on the side. You can rent your spare room out on Airbnb, drive with Lyft, cook dinner on EatWith, or lead personalized tours through Get Your Guide.

No matter what skill or unused asset you have, there is a moneymaking service for you. Use these websites to boost your trip savings and travel cheaper. Here is a full list of sharing economy websites you can use to earn some extra cash on the site.

23. Buy a reusable water bottle

Single-use water bottles are not only harmful to the environment, they are also harmful to your wallet. One or two water bottles a day at $1 USD per bottle will add up to at least $30 USD a month. That’s $360 USD a year! You can spend a week in France with that much money!

Instead of plastic, buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. You’ll want one for your trip anyway, so buy one now and get in the habit of using it. I like Lifestraw as it also has a water filter.

 

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These tips will help save you thousands of dollars and will make your dream trip seem less like a dream and more like a reality. I know some of them are obvious but it’s the obvious things we rarely think about.

The most important thing you can do though is to track your expenses as everyone’s situation is different. For me, the biggest “Wow! I can’t believe I’m spending money on this” were Lyft and escooters. Hundreds of dollars a month were being wasted with me realizing it.

Track your spending so you can keep cutting what is discretionary spending. And keep this list in mind so you always remember what to cut so you can save for travel!

The 8 Best Old Towns in Europe

The 8 Best Old Towns in Europe

How do you define an old town? For purposes of this post, I define an old town as a separate, distinct part of a modern city that is historical, beautiful, protected from further development, and often holding UNESCO World Heritage designation.

London and Paris don’t have old towns, for instance, while Venice and Valletta are nothing but old town. Many old towns in Europe were destroyed during the World Wars (and some, like Warsaw, were painstakingly reconstructed); other old towns, like Vilnius and Belgrade, have their old and new towns overlap so much that it’s hard to tell which part starts and ends where.

I’ve visited dozens upon dozens of old towns across every country in Europe except Cyprus. (Man, I really need to get to Cyprus next year so my statements land with more punch!) Nearly every country has a special old town.

Solo Female Travel in Croatia — Is it Safe?

Solo Female Travel in Croatia — Is it Safe?

Of all the best countries for a woman to travel solo, Croatia is one of my absolute favorites. After traveling to more than 80 countries, Croatia is forever in my list of top five favorites, often battling for the #1 slot with Italy.

I love traveling in Croatia. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful countries, it’s filled with so many interesting places to explore, the food and wine are excellent, and it’s one of my favorite places for photography.

But many women feel like Croatia is a “harder” destination, best reserved for a later trip. Why? Well, the local language is incomprehensible. It’s more “exotic” than most traditional Mediterranean destinations. It’s Eastern Europe (though really, don’t say that, it’s Central Europe). There were bombs falling on Dubrovnik as recently as the 90s. Don’t those qualities make Croatia a tough destination? Wouldn’t it be easier to travel solo in Spain, perhaps, or Greece?

Not at all. In fact, I’d argue that Croatia is a much easier destination to travel than Spain or Greece, and arguably easier than most of the countries in Europe.

Why Travel Solo to Croatia?

Solo travel in Croatia lets you go at your own pace. Spend an entire afternoon in the Museum of Broken Relationships if you want. Breeze through Dubrovnik in half a day if you want. Eat the black truffle pizza at Jupiter Pizzeria in Pula there nights in a row if you want. This is your trip and when you travel solo, you can do whatever you want.

Croatia is a very easy country to travel. English is widely spoken, there is very good travel infrastructure, and you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and tours for every price range. The roads are easy to drive, there is public transportation everywhere, and you’ll find plenty of information online, too.

Croatia is filled with so much beauty. The natural beauty, from the mountains and waterfalls to the cliffs of the coast, has inspired artists for centuries. But there’s so much beauty built by humans, too, from the old towns of Rovinj and Dubrovnik to the sprawling cathedrals and hill towns that seem perched far above the planet.

In most places in Croatia, you get excellent value for money, which is especially important when you’re paying for everything on your own. While historically Croatia has been an affordable alternative to places like Italy and France, prices are steadily creeping up, especially in Dubrovnik, Rovinj, and other popular resort destinations. You’ll get the most value in small beach or inland towns, which will be cheaper than small beach or inland towns in much of Western Europe.

Croatia is the kind of destination that will make your friends jealous. You are going to get the most killer Instagram photos of all time.

Is Croatia Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

Yes, Croatia is a great choice for first-time solo female travelers. Usually, I recommend that first-time solo travelers do their first trip in a place where English is the local language, but Croatia works just as well because everyone speaks it! (Unlike France or Spain, Croatians realize that the average foreign tourist will not speak Croatian and adjust accordingly.)

You will find occasional people who don’t speak English — taxi drivers, bus station employees, shop owners — but 95% of the time it’s easy to get your point across. If you stick to the tourist trail, you be able to get along just fine.

Croatia also has very good travel infrastructure. There are hotels at a variety of price levels all over the country. There are bus and ferry connections all over the place (the train is limited in Croatia but good for a few routes). If you choose to drive, the roads are in excellent condition. There are restaurants and tours all over Croatia that cater to tourists from a variety of countries.

Taking a group tour can be a great way to get to know Croatia. I recommend taking group tours by land, and I recommend small ship cruises, like sailing cruises or small ocean cruises.

I do not recommend taking a large ship cruise in Croatia. These are major contributors to overtourism, they’re terrible for the environment, and they ensure that you will only visit destinations when they are at their most packed.

Large ship cruises in the Adriatic tend to visit small ports that are not built for thousands of tourists at once, like Venice and Kotor. If you’re set on cruising, consider a small ship or sailing trip instead.

G Adventures offers more than a dozen tours to Croatia. I have traveled with G before and recommend them, as they employ local guides, focus on sustainability, and keep their tour sizes small. Here are some of their Croatia tours:

  • Sailing Croatia: Split to Dubrovnik (8 days, Split to Dubrovnik)
  • Croatia Adventure: Zagreb to Dubrovnik (7 days, Zagreb to Dubrovnik)
  • Dalmatian Coast and Montenegro Sailing (15 days, Split to Dubrovnik)
  • Sailing Croatia to Italy (10 days, Zadar to Venice)

Is Croatia Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Absolutely, Croatia is wonderful for more experienced solo travelers! Croatia is just as interesting and beautiful even if you’ve traveled extensively. Even after all my years of traveling the world solo, Croatia remains one of my favorites.

There is one caveat — you will probably hate being in the thick of tourist crowds, and the crowds are their worst at Dubrovnik during the day in high season. It’s one of the most touristy places on the planet. But that’s just one place and keep reading this post for how to avoid the worst of the crowds.

If you’re an experienced solo traveler, you may enjoy getting off the beaten path more than others. You might prefer beaches and islands that draw a more Balkan crowd, like Pag or Makarska. I would definitely recommend renting a car. And if you want to get really off the beaten path, head to Slavonia, the northeast region of Croatia that gets a tiny fraction of tourists compared to the rest of the country!

Where to Go in Croatia

There are so many different options! Most travelers will start their trips in one of the four major air hubs: Dubrovnik, Split, Pula, or Zagreb. From there you can explore in different directions.

Dubrovnik is the most visited place in Croatia, and for good reason. It’s a stunning city along the ocean with an old town so beautiful and perfect that it was the setting for King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. With its popularity comes the tourist crowds, but Dubrovnik is best in the late afternoon and evening.

Zagreb is a cute and underrated capital city. It has a beautiful old town, lots of interesting restaurants, and a cafe scene that rivals the rest of the Balkans. If you’re visiting during December, Zagreb is known for its Christmas markets.

Split is another popular city to visit. Much of the pretty old town is the remains of Diocletian’s Palace, giving you a chance to say you’ve slept in a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Split is a major transportation hub but busy and beachless — it’s better for a daylong visit than a longer stay.

Zadar is my personal favorite place in Croatia. I adore this small city! It’s low-key, covered in pastels, not very touristy, and home to Roman ruins and two quirky attractions: the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. Hitchcock once said it was home to the best sunset in the world; see if you agree!

The Waterfalls of Krka National Park, Croatia

The Waterfalls of Krka National Park, Croatia

If you love waterfalls, Croatia is a fantastic country to visit. Thanks to a jagged coastline and mountains flush with rivers, waterfalls thrive in this beautiful nation.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in particular is world-famous for its waterfalls (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if 25% of the waterfall photos on Pinterest were from Plitvice alone!), and it is indisputably one of the top attractions in the country.

But that’s not the only option in Croatia — there’s also Krka National Park in Dalmatia. And in some cases, it might be even better than Plitvice.

Plitvice vs. Krka

I visited the Plitvice Lakes two years ago (you can read about it here) and Krka a few weeks ago. I do think both national parks are worth visiting if you have the time. But chances are you’ll have time for only one, and if that’s the case, you should know what you’re getting.

Plitvice is an iconic destination within Croatia – there’s no doubt about that. This place is magnificent and I think Plitvice’s Lower Lakes are home to the most visually spectacular waterfalls in Croatia. This park also has UNESCO World Heritage designation, while Krka does not.

Some of my favorite shots from Plitvice:

plitivice-lakes-galleryHello, PlitiviceLower Lakes of Plitivice

(Do note that comparing the two parks based on these photos is like comparing apples and oranges – my photography is SO much better today than it was two years ago! That and my day at Plitvice was rainy, while Krka was sunny. You can’t fairly compare their beauty based on these photos alone.)

That said, I think that Krka has a lot of advantages over Plitivice.

Krka National Park

For starters, it’s much more relaxed. At Plitvice, it’s very crowded (especially at the Lower Lakes), you see lots of large groups being led by guides, and you can feel a lot of pressure to photograph the waterfalls well; at Krka, it’s more about having fun and enjoying yourself a place that happens to be stunningly beautiful.

You might have better luck with the weather at Krka, too. There’s a range of mountains between the Dalmatian Coast and Plitivice, which plays a big role in how much sun you get. Croatia is a country with two climates — temperate and Mediterranean — and you notice the difference as soon as you cross that mountain range and land in pure sunshine along the coast.

Krka is in the Mediterranean region, while Plitvice is in the temperate region.

Krka National Park

The biggest advantage of Krka? Swimming! You can actually swim in the lakes at Krka, which is strictly forbidden at Plitvice. (Though they do keep you from swimming under the waterfalls themselves.)

Krka National Park

After you’ve spent time swimming and lying in the sun, take time to explore the trails. I love how you can get photos devoid of other people without having to show up at 6:00 AM. Good luck doing that at Plitvice!

Krka National ParkKrka National ParkKrka National Park

There’s a basic trail loop that takes you past the main swimming area and takes about 40 minutes if you walk at a decent pace; longer if you linger. If you’ve got more time, there are lots of different trails throughout the park.

I remarked in my Plitvice post that you need quality footwear for the slippery, uneven pathways; this happily isn’t the case in Krka, as the trails are wider and flatter. You’ll be fine in flip-flops.

Sibenik

Visiting Šibenik

Krka has a very convenient location, just off the Dalmatian Coast. Plitvice, by contrast, is fairly isolated, and I remember how much I struggled to find a decent restaurant in the area (and I’m not talking fancy – I’m talking decent). You could technically do a day trip to Plitvice from Zadar, but it’s much further away than Krka.

If you do go to Krka, and especially if you are road-tripping, take the time to check out the nearby city of Šibenik. I went in not expecting much, but this place was a surprisingly pleasant place to visit.

It’s not nearly as touristed as Zadar or especially Split — nor quite as pretty or dramatic as either city — but it has a gorgeous old town built on a hill, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral, and a nice seaside. Prices are lower, too.

SibenikSibenikSibenik

Šibenik is about a 20-minute drive from the town of Skradin, the gateway to Krka National Park.

Krka National Park

My Overall Recommendation

If you love beautiful waterfalls, you can’t go wrong with either Krka or Plitvice, and it’s not a waste of your time to go to both.

That said, if you’re based on the Dalmatian Coast and apprehensive about making the long trip to Plitvice (or unable to spare a full day) and wondering whether it would be a mistake to go to Krka instead, don’t worry — it’s not a mistake. It’s still a stunningly beautiful part of Croatia and you’ll have a wonderful day.

A Place Like Zadar, Croatia

A Place Like Zadar, Croatia

There’s a place in Croatia that I love even more than the old city of Dubrovnik, the saltwater lakes of Mljet, the architecture of Korčula, the colors of Rovinj, the beaches of Pučišća, and the waterfalls at Krka.

My favorite place in Croatia is Zadar, a small city on the Dalmatian coast.

I first visited this city, the gateway to Dalmatia, two years ago. It was just a quick visit, en route from the Plitvice Lakes to Split, but I really enjoyed what I saw.

The second time around, I had traveled throughout the Balkans and had a much better sense of what was out there and what I liked. As I grew to love destinations like Kotor and Ohrid, and felt more lukewarm about places like Hvar and Split, I realized that I hadn’t known how good I had it in Zadar.

On my second trip to Zadar, I couldn’t help but fall in love.

Zadar Zadar ZadarZadar

What is it about Zadar?

It’s a beautiful city, to start. The colors are gentle pastels mixed in with some bolder shades. The streets are made of burnished marble, so smooth that you could almost ice skate across the cobblestones.

It’s the perfect size. The old city is small and easily walkable, though the city of Zadar is one of the larger places in the region.

And it’s low-key. I feel truly relaxed when walking around this town. I don’t feel overwhelmed with different things to see and do — Zadar is a place for wandering. And wandering is my favorite thing to do, anywhere in the world.

But beyond that, Zadar has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find difficult to articulate. I hope my photos make it more clear to you.

Zadar Zadar WaterfrontZadar

Also, I think Zadar hits the sweet spot in terms of tourism. While there are plenty of tourists here, it’s nowhere on the level of Dubrovnik, where you need to fight and punch your way through the Old City during the day. Still, there are hotels, and apartments, and nice restaurants and bars. Zadar has its own (albeit tiny) airport, and it’s super-easy to travel here overland from Zagreb or Split.

I think one thing that might keep tourists away is the fact that Zadar doesn’t have a beach. It does have easy access to the island of Pag and other nearby beaches, though, especially if you have a car.

If you do make it to Zadar, here are a few things that I recommend you include in your itinerary:

Zadar

Zadar has a wonderful waterfront, which culminates with the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. The Sea Organ is a musical instrument powered by the waves — the higher the waves are, the louder and more intense the music is.

That blue disc is the Sun Salutation, a solar-powered light display that lights up at night.

Zadar

Zadar is home to Roman ruins and beautiful churches. Some UNESCO insiders think that Zadar will become Croatia’s newest World Heritage Site. It’s on the tentative list (as are many places in the country) but Zadar seems the most likely.

Zadar

Zadar’s Archaeological Museum is worth a visit as well and has incredible well preserved ruins. My recommendation? Go during the hottest part of the day. The AC is a blessing.

Zadar

Watching the swimmers try to climb the pier on a windy day is definitely a form of entertainment.

Zadar

You can do it, boys!

Squid Ink Gnocchi

The food is great in Zadar, as it is throughout Croatia. I brought my friends back to the restaurant I went to and loved on my first visit: Restaurant Bruschetta. The food was just as delicious, beautifully plated and surprisingly well priced as it was two years ago!

Above is squid ink gnocchi. You see a lot of squid ink risotto in Croatia, but Bruschetta was the one place where I saw squid ink gnocchi.

Bruschetta

The restaurant’s namesake dish is a perfect way to start a meal. Also try a local wine or two.

Zadar Vitlov Chocolate

Don’t miss a visit to Vitlov Chocolate, either. It’s a Zadar institution with fantastic chocolates and a really kind and interesting owner. Most famous are their maraschino truffles.

Zadar Sunset

And then there are the sunsets.

Alfred Hitchcock once stated that Zadar was home to the world’s best sunsets (or at least better sunsets than Key West). While I personally think that Boracay and Koh Lanta have the edge on sunsets overall, Zadar is definitely on my list of favorite sunset spots in Europe!

Zadar Sunset  Zadar Sunset   Zadar Sunset

And then there’s Zadar after dark.

Zadar sunset

Zadar completely changes as the sun goes down. The colors are richer; the light is more beautiful. The city is much quieter. (I also felt very safe walking around the Old City at night.)

ZadarZadar
Zadar at night

In the future, I’d love to come to Zadar for a month or so and rent an apartment in the old city. Walking those smooth marble streets, sitting in cafes every day, walking along the seafront, and doing day trips to places like Šibenik, Krka National Park, Pag island, Paklenica National Park, and even the Plitvice Lakes? Summery perfection.

As far a summer destinations go, you can’t beat Croatia. And as far as Croatian destinations go, for me, there’s no place like Zadar.

HOW TO START A TRAVEL BLOG

HOW TO START A TRAVEL BLOG

Whether as a hobby or profession, starting a travel blog is pretty easy. You can set it up in under 30 minutes. It’s gotten a lot easier than when I started my blog in 2008 when I didn’t know the first thing about making a website. Luckily, on my adventures around the world, I met Matt and Kat, a British couple who also happened to be web designers. When I came home and decided I wanted to start this travel blog, they agreed to help me set it up and teach me HTML. Back then, I hand-coded the website and used a funky tool called Dreamweaver to build it. It was painfully slow, and I wasn’t very good at it. (And my original website was really ugly!)

Luckily, you no longer have to build websites that way. They have gotten a lot easier and simpler thanks to WordPress, a simple out-of-the-box platform designed to make sites easier for those not technically savvy (like myself). It powers over 25% of the internet and is the best platform to start a blog on. It’s super flexible and can do whatever you want it to do — from a simple journal to a complex e-commerce website.

In our blogging course, we’ve had thousands of students start a website on WordPress without any technical skills. They got them up and running — and you can too!

A few months back, I talked about the ways you could succeed with a travel blog, but today, I want to give a quick tutorial on how to create a travel blog from scratch in seven easy steps.

Step 1: Pick your name

The first thing you need to do is pick a domain name (i.e., your website name). When doing so, there are no hard and fast rules. There’s no such thing as a “wrong domain name,” but there are a couple of rules I like to live by:

  • Make a name that can last – If you pick “JohnsAsiaAdeventure.com” and then you leave Asia, the domain name won’t make sense anymore. Make sure you pick a name that isn’t so focused that if you decide to shift gears, you can keep the same domain name.
  • Don’t date your blog – Don’t pick something related to your age either. “Twenty-Something Travel” becomes really irrelevant when you get older, which actually happened to a blogger I know. Pick a name that can be used no matter your age!
  • Try to avoid certain words like “nomad,” “vagabond,” “wanderlust,” and “adventure.” They have been done to death, and they will make you seem like you’re copying people, not being original.
  • Pick a name that describes what you do as much as possible – I was a nomad, so “Nomadic Matt” was the best pick for me. If you’re into luxury, put words in your domain name that convey that. You want people to see the name and go “I get what that website is about.”
  • Keep it short – Use 3-4 words maximum. You want the name that rolls off the tongue. Even Ramit Sethi from “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” abbreviates his site to “I Will Teach” or “IWT.” The shorter, the better.
  • Keep it simple – I’m not a fan of using jargon or slang in your domain name, as I think that makes things confusing for people who don’t know it. The last thing you want is someone saying, “What does that mean?” or being confused. If someone has to think hard about the meaning, then you’ve already lost them. So don’t try to be clever!

Step 2: Sign up for a host

After you’ve picked out your domain name, you’ll need to register it online and buy hosting (the little computer in the sky that’s going to power your website). (One company does both.) There are a lot of basic hosting companies out there — and most of them are pretty terrible. However, the two biggest and best are HostGator and Bluehost. I would go with one of those two.

However, though they are owned by the same parent company, I lean toward HostGator, as I find its call center customer service quicker and friendlier, and HostGator is prone to fewer outages (no one wants their website to go down!). I’ve been using it since I’ve started; I still run my email through it. It’s also really improved its service recently and now offers free SSL certificates (that’s the thing that tells users your website is secure).

Here’s a walk-through of how to set up your host with HostGator (it won’t take long):

First, head over to the website’s sign-up page and get hosting for only $2.78 per month. That’s over 60% off the normal price!

Enter the domain name you picked and then choose the Hatchling Plan. This is the most basic plan, but it’s perfect for new blogs:

I wouldn’t recommend spending more money until you get a lot of traffic and decide you’re going to do this long-term! Additionally, the longer you buy your hosting for, the cheaper it is. If you select three years of hosting, your domain will only cost $127 USD, so I think you should do that. It’s a steal, cheaper than most other hosting packages. You don’t have to pick three years, but the marginal cost of adding additional years is small, and it means you don’t have to worry about renewing for a long time!

That’s it! All that takes about five minutes from start to finish!

Again, you can click here to go to HostGator to set it up.

NOTE: By law, website registry information is public. If you don’t opt for domain privacy, your information will be on public record – and you’ll probably get annoying calls from people trying to help you with your website. Be sure to 100& opt-in for domain privacy so you don’t get annoying phone calls. Hostgator will be listed on the registry not you and you won’t get any spam!

Step 3: How to Install WordPress

After you’ve registered your domain name and chosen your hosting package, the next thing you’ll want to do is install WordPress. (WordPress is what will actually run the website. The host is simply the computer your site sits on.) WordPress is an open-source and free Web publishing application, content management system (CMS) and blogging tool built by a community of developers and contributors to make it easy for people to blog!

After you’ve paid, you’ll get an email telling you your login details. After you click the link in the email and log in, you’ll see this screen. Click “Get Started with WordPress Today”:

Enter your user information. Under the blog title, enter the name of your blog. Create a strong username and then hit install.

After your WordPress is installed, a screen will display the username you chose and a password generated for you. (You can change the password later.)

Now your website is up and running.

Step 4: Setting up your website

After you’ve installed WordPress, go to domainname.com/wp-admin and use the username and password you created to log in. You’ll see a screen like this after you log in:

Here’s a little overview of the menu on the left side of the screen:

  • Dashboard – The dashboard is the first thing you see when you log in to WordPress, and it’s the main administrative area for your blog.
  • Home – This will take you back to the main dashboard view.
  • Updates – This area will tell you if WordPress, your plugins, or your theme need to be updated.
  • Jetpack – Jetpack is a plugin that allows you to add a spell-checker, contact forms, extra widgets, etc.
  • Posts – You can view all your blog posts here, as well as set up new ones and add categories and tags.
  • Media – Here’s where you can view your media library and add new media content, like photos and videos.
  • Pages – Pages are the individual landing pages on your website (like your About page, Contact page, Resources page, etc.). You can add new pages here as well as review and edit existing ones.
  • Comments – Comments on your blog posts go here. You may want to check the spam folder periodically to make sure you’re not missing real comments.
  • WPForms – WordPress’s contact-form plugin.
  • Marketplace – Here you can create an online marketplace.
  • Appearance – This section lets you entirely customize your site’s appearance.
  • Plugins – Review, install, and update your plugins here.
  • Users – If there’s more than one person accessing your blog, you can create accounts and give them certain privileges here.
  • Tools – This section has certain tools to aid you with management tasks.
  • Settings – You can adjust all your site’s settings here, including things like your blog title and the size of thumbnails being used.
  • Insights – Insights provides traffic and user stats about those visiting your website. (Google Analytics is a better choice, though.)

Plugins are a great way to add additional functionality to a WordPress-powered site. And with over 56,000 (at last check) listed in the WordPress Repository and many more premium options available from developers, there are endless possibilities as to what you can do with your site. (I’ll list some examples below.)

Note: Jetpack, Mojo Marketplace, Insights, and WP Forms are pre-installed plugins.

From the main screen, click Plugins –> Add New on the left-hand column:

Now it’s time for you to install your own.

If you can think of a feature you’d like to have on your site, I can almost guarantee there is a plugin for it, but here are the essential ones for your travel blog:

  • Akismet – Just like getting junk mail in your mailbox, your website will get spammers looking to leave junk comments on your site. Akismet seeks to reduce the amount of this by automatically filtering it for you. This plugin comes installed with WordPress.
  • Yoast SEO – The best SEO plugin out there. This combines the ability to create meta tags and descriptions for your posts, optimize your titles, create a sitemap for search engines to read, customize how your posts appear across social media and do a whole lot more. It’s simple, easy to use, and comes with foolproof instructions.
  • Relevanssi – While WordPress does a lot of things well, what it fails at is adding search functionality to your site. Relevanssi seeks to fix this and give your readers the most accurate results when searching on your site.
  • BackWPup – You can never back up your site too much. The WordPress database holds every word you’ve ever written, and if your blog has started to make you a few dollars, you would be nuts not to keep regular backups. BackWPup does it perfectly. With the ability to schedule backups, you needn’t worry about doing it manually (especially useful to the more forgetful among us). There’s also the option to upload backups to Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage services, ensuring that if the worst does happen, your data will be safe.
  • Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights – Adding analytic tracking to your website is an important move in finding out who your readers are, where they are coming from, and what your most popular content is. When you sign up for Google Analytics, the site asks you to place a snippet of code into your website. For most people, that can be difficult, which is why there’s Google Analytics for WordPress. This adds a lovely graphical interface to your site where you can click a couple of buttons and set up your tracking without any hassle.
  • Social Warfare – A great social sharing plugin for your site. It comes with great a simple set of icons that work well on both desktop and mobile.
  • Cache Enabler – This plugin works by creating saved copies of your site, saving WordPress from having to generate them for every new visitor. This, in turn, cuts down on the amount of work your hosting server has to do and makes loading your web pages much much faster.
  • Sumo – Free tools to help you grow your site, including the best social sharing plugin on the web. Use this! It comes with great analytics and testing features.
  • Jetpack – Jetpack (pre-installed) is aimed at supercharging your website with a host of features from WordPress’s free hosting platform, giving you the best of both worlds. With this plugin, you can add a spell-checker, contact forms, extra widgets, and a whole slew of more features, all with just one plugin.

Step 5: Install your theme

One of the most important things a blog needs besides good content is a good design. People decide in seconds whether or not they trust your website and choose to stay. A visually unappealing website will turn off readers and reduce the number of return visits you get.

So to accomplish a good design, you will need an amazing WordPress theme (i.e., design templates and files).

Luckily, there are lots of out-of-the-box options for you where you can download a predesigned theme, upload it to your website, switch it on, change some settings, and presto! A new look for your website!

You can get:

  • Free themes – Free themes are plentiful and for budding new bloggers looking to make their mark online. They seem like a great option, as they allow you to keep costs low. There are many great free themes online, but most of them are not amazing. If you plan on blogging for a long time, this might become a problem as your website grows. However, if you just need a simple design to blog for your friends and family, then go the free route. You can find some good free themes at wordpress.org.
  • Premium themes – The next step up from a free theme is a premium theme. Premium themes are paid themes that offer a bit more uniqueness, flexibility, and functionality. These cost $25 USD and up, depending on the developer and features.

I suggest getting a premium theme. Yes, it’s another cost — but here is why you should do it:

  • With a premium theme, you almost always get customer support from the developers. If you get in trouble, they are there for you. You don’t get that with a free theme.
  • With a premium theme, there are more controls and instructions so they are easier to change. Free themes don’t have that.
  • Premium themes tend to be a lot prettier.
  • Premium themes are faster and more SEO friendly.

The best company for themes is StudioPress. They are more SEO friendly, a bit sleeker, and cooler. WooCommerce is great for photographers and more “fun” personal blogs.

To install your theme, simply go to the left-hand column, click Appearance –> Themes –> Upload.

Whatever theme you picked will come as a .ZIP file for you to easily upload. From there, you just activate it, and it’s turned on! All themes come with a manual and help file so you can customize your design to your specific needs.

(If you want a custom logo, two sites to find freelancers are Upwork and 99designs.)

Step 6: Create your main pages

After you’ve uploaded your theme, you’re going to want to make a few basic pages on your website in addition to the blog posts. The difference between a page and a post is that a page is a static piece of content that lives separate from the blog. A post is a blog post that gets “buried” as you write more and more. For example, this post is a blog post. When I update again, another blog post will get put on top of it, and it will be pushed down in the archives, making it harder to find. But a page, like my About page, lives on the top of the website, right near the main URL, and does NOT get buried. It’s a lot easier to find.

To create these pages, go again to your left sidebar and click Pages —> Add New. (For blog posts, use Posts –> Add New.)

I recommend creating four basic pages to start:

  • About page – This where you tell people about yourself and your history, what your blog is about, and why it will help them. This is one of the most important pages on your website, so make it personable!
  • Contact page – People need a way to reach you! Be sure to be very clear on what emails you will and won’t respond to, so people don’t send you spam.
  • Privacy page – This is a standard user agreement page informing readers what the applicable laws on your site are, that you use cookies, etc. etc. You can find out-of-the-box examples throughout the internet.
  • Copyright page – This is a standard page letting people know you own this work and not to steal it. You can find out-of-the-box examples of these, too, throughout the internet.

(If you look in my footer, under the “About” section, you can see examples of all four of these pages!)

Step 7: Join our blogging course! (optional)

Superstar Blogging travel blogging course
If you’re looking for more in-depth advice, I have a very detailed and robust blogging course that uses my ten years of blogging knowledge to help you start, grow, and monetize your website. It gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how I run this website and features detailed analytics, tricks, tips, and secrets about what I do. You’ll learn everything I know about creating a successful blog.

I will help you come up with your domain name, sign up for hosting, create engaging content, go viral, network with bloggers, get media attention, master SEO, create products, grow a newsletter, and make money. I will give you the tools for success — and then show you how to use those tools!

Plus, you’ll get over 12 hours of expert interviews, edited feedback on your writing, monthly webinars and Q&As with me (ask me anything!), tech support and help setting up your blog, and a community of bloggers to help you succeed right out of the gate.

I’ll be there every step of the way. I’ll be your personal mentor.

 

MY CURRENT LIST OF FAVORITE TRAVEL BLOGS

MY CURRENT LIST OF FAVORITE TRAVEL BLOGS

I’m not going to lie: I think I have a pretty good travel blog. (You probably do too if you’re here.) I work hard to provide excellent practical travel advice to help you travel better, but I’m not the only great travel blogger out there. In fact — and I know this might be shocking — there’s a lot about travel that I’m not an expert on. Family travel? No idea. Travel as a woman? Clueless. Information on hotels? Only a little. Photography? I can manage to turn my camera on if that counts. Food expert? Only at eating it.

I’ve realized that it’s been a while since I last talked about the best travel blogs out there — the ones I read — so I wanted to take a moment and highlight some of my favorite travel blogs that can also help you travel better, cheaper, and smarter. There are so many good blogs out there, I feel like I’m long overdue to point you to some of them:

feel like I’m long overdue to point you to some of them:

Legal Nomads

legal nomads blog screenshot
Besides being one of my all-time favorite people in the world, Jodi is also a damn amazing blogger who writes often about food and culture. She devotes a lot of time to food on the road, taking mouthwatering photos that make me jealous of her ability to do so. A former lawyer, she also writes a series called “Thrillable Hours” about other lawyers who gave up being a corporate lackey for life on the road.

Uncornered Market

Uncornered Market blog screenshot
If there was a contest for the best travel blog, I would tell everyone to vote for me. Then I would go vote for Audrey and Dan. They tell heartwarming stories and take incredible, out-of-this-world photographs. Their blog focuses on cultural travel and sustainability issues (they even work with the UN Global Sustainable Tourism Council). I focus on the nuts and bolts of going places, whereas they focus on the people. They are simply great storytellers.

Alex in Wanderland

Alex in Wanderland blog screenshot
I met Alex years ago in New York City and we’ve been friends ever since. The author of the article on diving in Koh Tao, Alex is a photographer, graphic designer, travel lover, and dive specialist currently roaming the States. Her blog features great photos, dive tips, travel stories, and a biting and self-deprecating humor. Plus, I helped pick out her blog name, so it’s hard not to love it.

The Blonde Abroad

the blonde abroad screenshot
Kiersten’s site focuses on the intersection of fashion and travel. She gives tips and advice for women on what wear, pack, and see while overseas and focuses more on higher-end, comfort travel than I do. I think her blog is one of the best for female travelers and, though it’s not targeted to me, I find useful information that I share with others. Kiersten and I are friends, and I love seeing her site grow and expand, especially over the last year. She seems to be everywhere!

Hey Nadine

the hey nadine website screenshot
This popular YouTube channel by Nadine Sykora documents her experiences as she travels around the world. Nadine’s zany, nerdy take on travel makes her videos entertaining to watch! She’s funny, smart, and a bit awkward, but her filmmaking style really puts you there in the destination with her. There’s a reason she’s one of the biggest travel channels on YouTube!

View from the Wing

the view from the wing travel blog screenshot
Gary Leff is the “OG” of travel hacking. While I read many travel-hacking blogs, I follow Gary because he provides industry analysis and behind-the-scenes information on loyalty programs and airlines. Gary doesn’t just provide trip reports or share deals and reward opportunities, he gives you context and a greater understanding of how travel hacking and airlines operate.

Wandering Earl

the wandering earl travel blog screenshot
My kindred spirit, Earl is a vagabonding nomad backpacker like myself. We both love budget travel, backpacking, blogging, and everything in between (and yes, we’re good friends in real life too). I read Earl’s blog because he goes to places few people ever visit (Kurdistan, anyone?) and tells raw, honest travel stories that don’t sugarcoat the travel experience. Very few blogs do that, and for that, I think he’s one of the best travel websites out there. I’ve been reading him for years and he deserves a feature! (He’s also one of the few other bloggers I know that doesn’t accept sponsored content or trips!)

Oneika the Traveller

oneika the traveller blog screenshot
One of my favorite blogs as she talks about the “real” side of travel and is not afraid to get political, talk about racial prejudice when she travels and discusses life as a black female traveler. So much of travel writing is from a white perspective, it’s really great to hear from someone else. Not only that, but her tips and tricks are super useful and her writing and photos stellar too.

Never Ending Footsteps

never ending footsteps blog screenshot
Lauren is the most accident prone traveler I know. Anything that can go wrong usually does go wrong when she travelers. She’s one of the unluckiest travelers I know. But all that misadventure leads to some amazing travel stories and her blog is filled with funny tales that will keep you captivated for hours.

Additionally, she provides some wonderful practical tips on travel and detailed expense breakdowns on how much she spends in each place.

Be My Travel Muse

be my travel muse blog screenshot
Kristin is an adventurous solo female traveler and my resident expert on all things solo female travel. She isn’t afraid to get off the beaten path and explore less-visited destinations, sharing her tips and tricks along the way. She takes incredible photos and also makes amazing YouTube videos (she’s one of the most underrated travel YouTubers out there if you ask me). She’s been traveling for over 5 years now and creates insightful, entertaining content. Even if you’re not a solo female traveler, you’ll still enjoy her posts and videos.

HoneyTrek

HoneyTrek blog screenshot
Mike and Anne quit their jobs in 2012 to go on an extended honeymoon. Eight years later and they are still on the road. They’ve road-tripped around the US in their camper van, stayed at some of the most incredible glamping sites in the world, and wrote the book on ultimate couples travel experiences. They’re an adventurous couple with a focus on the outdoors and sustainability and they share tons of tips on living in an RV, couples travel, and long-term travel as well.

Chubby Diaries

Homepage of the travel blog Chubby Diaries
Chubby Diaries is run by Jeff Jenkins and focuses on plus-size travel. His blog tackles body shaming head-on and provides travelers of all shapes and sizes with resources and inspiration. His optimism and positivity are infectious and he never shies away from telling it like it is. Jeff is going above and beyond to shake things up and make the travel space more inclusive. He’s an awesome guy who creates incredible content.

Travels of Adam

Homepage of the travel blog Travels of Adam
Adam has one of the best LGBTQ bloggers out there. (He also wrote a bunch of LGBTQ content for this site!) He focuses on gay travel and lifestyle content, with a specific focus on hipster city guides. If you want to know where to find the coolest bars, hippest cafes, and the best nightlife spots, Adam is the man to ask. As a former expat, he also has tons of great content on Berlin, one of Europe’s hippest and artsy cities.

Hey Ciara

Homepage of the travel blog Hey Ciara
Ciara is a full-time solo female traveler who shares honest, insightful travel reflections and advice. She’s been featured in major travel publications and has built up a solid following of readers who appreciate her genuine style and her honesty about traveling as a solo black female traveler. She’s a good writer and creates a lot of practical and helpful content.

 

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So there you have it! My current list of favorite travel blogs on the web (besides mine) that I read. This is an ever-changing list so I’ll be updating as time goes on! After all, new travel blogs start every day. Go read these ones, laugh, learn, and be inspired!

Exploring Rovinj, Croatia — Travel Guide to Croatia’s Prettiest City

Exploring Rovinj, Croatia — Travel Guide to Croatia’s Prettiest City

If you want to see one of the most beautiful cities on the Adriatic, you should travel to Rovinj, Croatia. Rovinj (pronounced ro-VEEN) is a surprise to most people who visit it.

Sure, this is technically Croatia — but Rovinj looks like it could be in Italy! Almost like an extension of Venice! And while Dubrovnik gets all the glory, I think that Rovinj is even more beautiful.

Rovinj is located in Croatia’s Istria region, a heart-shaped peninsula that looks and feels a lot like Italy, its legacy as part of the Venetian empire. It’s not just the olive trees, pasta dishes and pastel buildings — even the places have Italian names. (Rovinj’s Italian name is Rovigno.)

Rovinj is a magical city — but like everywhere else in Croatia, you’ll have a better time if you plan your trip carefully in advance. That’s the point of this Rovinj travel guide: to show you how to plan a trip to Rovinj so you can relax and focus on being enchanted upon arrival.

This post was last updated in November 2020.

Why Travel to Rovinj, Croatia?

Why travel to Rovinj when you can go anywhere else in Croatia — or in Europe? I’ve traveled extensively in Croatia, including two full months of Croatian travel in summer 2020, and Rovinj is one of my favorite destinations in the country. Some of its qualities set it apart.

Rovinj is a great destination for photography. Just look at that image above! It’s straight out of a fairy tale! The colors are earthy and vibrant, and there are lots of interesting details to shoot in the old town.

Rovinj is an excellent base for road trips. The Istrian peninsula is small enough that you can go virtually anywhere in Istria within 90 minutes, making it possible to see cool places and not change hotels each day.

Rovinj is one of the better culinary destinations in Croatia. While most of the Dalmatian Coast tends to serve the same menu over and over, in Rovinj you have access to superb truffles, olive oil and wine, and inventive restaurants like Cap Aureo.

If you’re a sunset junkie, Rovinj is a fantastic destination. The shape and curve of the city on the west coast means that you can get excellent sunset photos from lots of different angles.

What are some good things to do in Rovinj?

Some of the best things to do in Rovinj are exploring the old town, taking a day trip to Motovun, enjoying cocktails on the waterfront at sunset, and renting a bike to explore the nearby parks.

What’s the best place to stay in Rovinj?

If you’re looking for a truly special place to stay in Rovinj, you will love the Grand Park Hotel. The view from the rooftop pool is UNREAL!

How do you pronounce Rovinj?

Rovinj is pronounced ro-VEEN.

What’s the best time to visit Rovinj?

My favorite times to visit Rovinj are September and June. If you’re okay with warm but not lie-on-the-beach weather, May and October are very nice times to visit Rovinj. July and August are extremely hot and crowded. Overall, the best months to visit Rovinj are May, June, September, and October.

A town square with a yellow, red, and white clock tower, and street performers performing to a crowd.

Best Things to Do in Rovinj

Rovinj is a small city, and so many of its pleasures come from aimlessly walking through its streets. A lot of people are happy to simply relax in Rovinj, but if you’re looking for more activities, there are a lot of interesting things to do.

A stone staircase leading upward in Rovinj, surrounding walls are a deep earthy red shade.

Explore the Old Town of Rovinj

You have to get out and explore the old town! This car-free old town is a great place in which to get lost. On the main streets you’ll find lots of small shops selling local art and products like olive oil and truffles. There are so many hidden nooks and crannies to photograph.

You’ll want to wear decent shoes, as you’ll be walking up very steep hills, climbing lots of stairs, and many of the cobblestones are smooth to the point of being slippery. This is not the place for stilettos! If you’ve got the right footwear and stamina, it’s a great way to spend a morning.

Note that Rovinj’s old town is challenging for people with mobility difficulties due to the steep hills, super-smooth stones, and stairs. The edges of the old town and edges along the waterfront are accessible by wheelchair.

View from the top of the church in Rovinj -- layers and layers of orange terra cotta roofs, sloping down and leading to the bright blue sea.

Climb to the Top of St. Euphemia Church

The bell tower of St. Euphemia Church is that steeple you see sticking out over the top of Rovinj. Can you climb the bell tower? You absolutely can!

Ordinarily, I’m a bit divided over seeing the view from the tallest place in town — it means that your photos are missing its most obvious landmark. (Classic example: photos from the top of the Eiffel Tower don’t contain the Eiffel Tower!) But that’s not the case here. The view from the top of St. Euphemia Church is outstanding, taking in the harbor, islands, and 360-degree views of the landscape.

The photos you get up here are well worth the climb.

How to Spend Three Days in Dubrovnik: The Best Itinerary

How to Spend Three Days in Dubrovnik: The Best Itinerary

Dubrovnik, Croatia, is one of the most magical places in the Mediterranean: a city of ancient walls and orange roofs, a city of Game of Thrones, rocky beaches, and pršut ham carved from the leg and brought to your lips. If you’re visiting Croatia, I recommend spending three days in Dubrovnik to make sure you’re enjoying the city to the fullest.

Dubrovnik and I have been getting to know one another for years — first as tentative acquaintances, now as close friends who can finish each other’s sentences. I’ve been to Dubrovnik three times on research trips; on my most recent visit, during July and August 2020, I spent a full week. (See more on traveling during our current global health crisis below.)

A lot of travelers come to Dubrovnik and do it all wrong — climbing the city walls during the hottest time of day; spending hours in line for immigration on a day trip to Montenegro; eating nothing but pizza and pasta.

I want you to have the best trip to Dubrovnik possible — and so I’ve put together an itinerary that shows you the best things to do in Dubrovnik, but also paces them at a decent rate so you won’t end up running yourself ragged, sweaty and exhausted. Plus, all my favorite dining options!

I hope this three days in Dubrovnik itinerary helps you plan the trip of a lifetime.

Three Days in Dubrovnik Itinerary

How much time do you actually need in Dubrovnik? I think three days in Dubrovnik is a good amount. Three days is doable on a long weekend getaway, and even for people planning longer trips to Croatia, three days is a good amount of time to devote to Dubrovnik. And if you have more time, great!

You might notice that there is time marked out for relaxing and chilling out on this Dubrovnik itinerary. That is intentional.

Most people visit Dubrovnik during the busy summer season, and Dubrovnik in the summer is a LOT to take in. In an ordinary travel year, Dubrovnik is insanely crowded, especially on days when more cruise ships than usual are docked in town. It’s incredibly hot and tiring, and it can sap your energy away much more quickly than you realize.

For that reason, I recommend making time to chill out in Dubrovnik — to swim in the ocean, to relax and read a book by the pool, to take a moment to enjoy yourself away from everyone else. And I don’t usually say that.

Whenever I’m in Paris or New Orleans or Tokyo, I’m happy to be out and exploring all day, only taking short breaks along the way to recharge with a coffee. Dubrovnik is different — you need to take a few hours off, especially during the early afternoon, the hottest time of day, and relax.

It’s not a waste of time to sit by the pool when visiting a world-class city like Dubrovnik. In fact, I’d argue that these breaks are essential to enjoying Dubrovnik to the fullest.

More on this subject: Dubrovnik Survival Guide


Day One in Dubrovnik

I want your first day in Dubrovnik to WOW you over and over. I love this itinerary for your first day — it takes you around the Old City, gives you some time to chill by the beach or pool, visits my favorite restaurant in town, and takes in unforgettable views of the city.

No, my guide Ana and I didn’t plan our matching outfits!

Explore the Old City

Your first activity in Dubrovnik should be exploring the Old City! Set out early before the heat kicks in.

You can either explore the city by yourself or hire a guide. It can be nice to have a guide — they’ll actually teach you about the real history of the city instead of the fictional Game of Thrones history! You can hire a guide at the Dubrovnik Tourist Board office just outside Pile Gate.

Otherwise, Dubrovnik is a good place in which to get lost. Spend time exploring the hidden pathways, hiking up staircases, and finding the occasional beach bar on the perimeter of the city.

I recommend taking a look at the Dubrovnik Card and seeing if it will save you money. It gives you access to walking the walls of the city; several small museums, galleries and attractions (I enjoyed the Franciscan Monastery); free public transport throughout the city; and discounts on several restaurants, activities, and attractions.

The Dubrovnik Card costs 225 kuna ($35) for one day, 270 kuna ($42) for three days, and 315 kuna ($49) for seven days. Considering that walking the walls alone costs 200 kuna ($31), this will likely save you money.

Lunch at Proto

Proto is a restaurant that will SERIOUSLY wow you. Proto has been my favorite restaurant in Dubrovnik since 2014. On my most recent visit, I was delighted to learn that my boyfriend’s colleague’s husband is the manager now! He hosted Charlie’s colleagues for a comped lunch and generously invited me to join — and he kept bringing out plate after plate of specialties that he wanted us to try.

Scallop tartare with avocado
Octopus tartare
Ravioli with butter-poached shrimp
Pasta with shrimp and Istrian truffles
Fish cooked in a crust of sea salt

The food here is uniformly excellent — the kind of place that will have you making yummy noises for the whole meal because HOW can this FOOD be so GOOD?!

If you have four people, the fish cooked in a crust of salt is a fantastic dish to share, and watching your server crack the shell open is entertaining to watch. Somehow this turns into the most savory, flavorful fish on the planet.

Otherwise, the tartares are wonderful (scallop, tuna, octopus), the clams and mussels are scrumptious, and the most popular dish on the menu (and justifiably so) is the pasta with shrimp and Istrian truffles.

NOTE: Are you not a seafood fan? Go to Kopun instead. Kopun is a restaurant in the Old City specializing in capon — castrated rooster. I know, it sounds weird, but it’s like a richer, juicier version of chicken. Their capon gnocchi with truffles was one of the best things I ate in Dubrovnik.

Afternoon Relaxing and Lounging

Wait, shouldn’t you be out exploring on your first day?! Yeah, and you did that! By now you’re probably hot, sweaty, and a little bit sleepy after your big meal at Proto, so it’s time for a break.

Go sit by the pool. Go for a swim in the wild waves of the ocean. Relax and enjoy the bright turquoise Adriatic waves.

Then go take a shower and you’ll be ready for your evening fun.

Cable Car

Dubrovnik has a cable car leading up to Srd Hill with unparalleled views of the Old City. This is another wow-able experience!

For the best timing, take a ride on the cable car just before sunset. I recommend looking up the sunset time online and planning your arrival about an hour before sunset to take in the views and colors.

The views at the top are incredible — and it’s even better once the sun starts to go down. Looking northward, you see the Elafiti islands rising out of the ocean for as far as the eye can see, illuminated by a changing sunset of pink and purple and orange.

A lot of people leave as soon as the sun dips beneath the horizon, but don’t be so fast — the colors get even better. That photo above was taken after the sun had disappeared.

Round-trip tickets on the cable car are 100 kuna ($15.50) for adults, 50 kuna ($8) for children 4-12, and free for children under 4.

How about enjoying dinner with THIS view?

Dinner at Panorama Restaurant

You’re already up on top of the hill — might as well stay for dinner! While I think most restaurants on top of epic viewpoints tend to be on the mediocre side, that’s not true for Panorama Restaurant. I’ve eaten here twice and both times the food has been surprisingly great — and everything tastes better with a view like this.

My top tip: Call and book a reservation at Panorama Restaurant when you’re planning your trip. Ask for a table with the best view. It’s so worth it to get one of the tables with the best view! You should do this at least a month in advance, because there aren’t a ton of tables, and you don’t want to get shut out.

Oh, and get ready to witness some marriage proposals! It’s a popular spot for that.

Stroll the Old City at Night

After taking the cable car down, stroll back into the Old City. Dubrovnik is so different during the night. It’s less crowded — no cruise ship passengers! — and the lamps against the darkness add a mysterious feeling to the city.

Drop Into D’Vino Wine Bar

If you’re in the mood for drinks, I recommend stopping by D’Vino Wine Bar in the Old City. This bar, owned by an affable Australian man married to a lovely Croatian woman, is a great place to get to know Croatian wines.

Croatia has a major wine industry, but most people don’t realize this because it’s hard to find Croatian wine outside Croatia. This is because most of the producers are very small, and it doesn’t make fiscal sense to export them, especially to huge markets like the US. So Croatia is your best chance to sample them.

While there are some wine samplers on the menu at D’Vino, I didn’t love them — instead, ask for a recommendation for something by the glass. If you like deep, spicy reds, I highly recommend Dingač, a specialty from the Peljesač peninsula. This is a very special varietal and my personal favorite Croatian wine.

Grk and Pošip are two specialty whites from nearby Korčula. If you’re not going to Korčula on your Croatia trip, this is a good place to sample them (though be prepared to pay a lot more for Grk by the bottle). Malvasija is a lovely white from the Istria region.

Day Two in Dubrovnik

You’ve already covered the basics on your first day in Dubrovnik. Today I’m going to show you a few more special things, with two different outdoorsy options for the morning, plus the single most special dining experience you can have in all of Croatia.

Kayak Around the Old City

If you enjoy sea kayaking, you’re in for a treat — Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful urban environments in which to kayak. Getting down on the water gives you brand new views of the Old City and beyond. And being in the water on a hot day gives you the excuse to jump overboard and take a little swim!

Even though this environment is the ocean, the waves are usually very small, and most tours are open to people with no kayaking experience.

You have options: you can join a tour, or you can rent a kayak on your own. This kayaking tour starts at $35 and even includes a snorkeling break on a secluded beach! If you’re looking to rent, there are rental spots near the port and City Beach.

Lokrum Island is a good place to explore independently by kayak; you might want to consider that as a Day Three option instead. (More on that in the Day Three section.)

NOTE: Know your physical limits. If you’re not in good shape, don’t join a tour that goes all the way to Lokrum Island, around, and back. You may prefer a more low-key tour, or you might just enjoy renting a kayak and paddling as your leisure. Talk to the tour leader about your concerns before you book it.

Even after kayaking in Antarctica, arguably the most badass thing I’ve ever done, I still tend to be the slowest kayaker in every group.

At City Beach, you can’t beat the proximity to the Old City!

Enjoy a Beach

If you’re not up for kayaking, why not have some beach time instead? Relax on the pebbles (don’t forget your water shoes!) and enjoy the sunshine in between dips into the bright blue water.

So, if you’re spending a morning by the sea, what’s the best beach in Dubrovnik?? I’ve got three good options for you (and that doesn’t even include your hotel).

If you want easy access and minimal fuss, head to City Beach, pictured above, on the southern end of the Old City. It’s practically adjacent to the Old City and despite being central, the water is really nice.

If you want an epic Croatian beach far from any urban environment, head to Pasjača Beach, about a 35-minute drive south of the Old City. This has a bit of a rugged path to get there, but it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Croatia.

But if you want the best of both worlds, head to Sveti Jakov Beach, about an eight-minute drive south of the Old City. It’s a truly beautiful beach, yet it’s still close enough to the city to do easily. Most of my Dubrovnik friends consider this their favorite beach.

Fun fact: there’s no such thing as private beaches in Croatia! You can go to any beach you want.

Lunch in the Old City

After you’ve enjoyed your morning, enjoy a nice meal! You can go your own way today, so I thought I’d recommend some places I love.

Kopun is an excellent restaurant specializing in capon, or castrated rooster. Trust me, it’s delicious. The capon truffle gnocchi is the bomb.

Kamenice is a great spot if you’re in the mood for mussels, fresh from the sea.

Bota Šare Oyster and Sushi Bar is a great spot for — you guessed it — oysters and sushi.

Pizzeria Castro has great pizza, I’ve heard, though I can’t personally vouch for this place.

If you’re in the mood for ice cream after, Dolce Vita has a nice bitter orange flavor that pairs well with dark chocolate.

After lunch, head back to your place for a siesta or go for a swim. You can even swim off the rocks of the Old City itself if you’d like!

Walk the Walls of Dubrovnik at Sunset

Walking the walls of Dubrovnik is one of the absolute best things to do in the city. But most people make a huge mistake — they go in the middle of the day. Going in the middle of the day, you’ll have the sun beating down on you with very little shade along the route, and it can become a miserable experience, limping from shady spot to shady spot, guzzling water along the way.

Instead, I recommend going right when they open, or going two hours before they close, and taking advantage of the lower temperatures and better light. It will still be hot, but you’ll have a much better experience.

The photography from these vantage points is superb — but for me, my favorite part is finding little pieces of local life. Laundry hanging on lines. A kids’ playground in a back garden. Dubrovnik’s Old City has very few year-round residents anymore; most rent their places out during the summer months. It’s nice to see that locals still exist here.

There are a few cafes along the route serving water, coffee, and other drinks.

Tickets to Dubrovnik’s walls are 200 kuna ($31 USD) and they come included in the Dubrovnik card. During high season the walls open at 8:00 AM and close at 7:00 PM, though double-check as COVID has affected opening times. It takes about two hours to walk the walls to completion and you must walk a one-way counterclockwise route without backtracking.

NOTE: If you’re a hardcore photographer, you’ll probably want to shoot the walls of Dubrovnik twice: once as close to sunrise as you can, and once as close to sunset as you can.

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