A lot of people, mostly my friends and family, consult me for travel-related questions, so I decided to compile them to make it easier. If you have a question that’s not listed here and you want answers, drop me a line. I promise to reply within a few days, unless it’s a really stupid question. I mean, there are no stupid questions.
Q: What guidebooks do you recommend for planning a trip? There are just so many to choose from.
A: I am an unabashed guidebook whore. I buy them for places I can’t afford and will not likely visit in the next five years. If I’m only visiting one city, like Las Vegas, Amsterdam or Dublin, or I just want to do a little bit of research, I like Dorling Kindersley’s Top 10 books because they are pocket-sized, have great pictures and provide easy itineraries. For longer trips (and when I’m willing to splurge), I trust the knowledge of Rick Steves, Lonely Planet or Frommer’s. And if you really want to know about a place, check out my Links page and read about your destination from (mostly) unbiased blogger sources who have been there.
Q: I’m visiting Charleston. What should I see? Where should I stay? Where should I eat?
A: There is no easy way to answer this question because I love this city more than anywhere else on earth. It’s my second home and I hope to be back there soon. But I will try. Let’s start with the accommodations. The Embassy Suites in Marion Square is the ideal location, steps away from the shopping and restaurants of King Street. It is also housed in the former campus of The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, so it has that history vibe, and they have an AMAZING breakfast buffet. I also love the Marriott on Lockwood Boulevard and the Doubletree Suites Market. Now for the restaurants. You should know that there are hundreds of amazing restaurants in Charleston, including some James Beard award winners, but here are my personal favorites. For the hands-down best seafood in town, go to Bowen’s Island Restaurant on James Island and bring cash (and don’t believe anyone who tells you The Wreck is better). For breakfast with locals, go to the Marina Variety Store Restaurant on Lockwood. They have the best grits in town and a view of the Ashley River harbor. For sandwiches go to Groucho’s, for Mexican go to Santi’s, for chicken and waffles go to Sunday brunch at A.C.’s, for a more fancy dinner go to Hall’s Chophouse or McCrady’s. I could go on and on. And as for attractions, skip horse tours. I mean this. Go to Sullivan’s Island and have lunch at Poe’s Tavern. Skip Fort Sumter and instead go to Magnolia Cemetery. If you want a picnic in the park, you’ve got Marion Square, The Battery or Hampton Park. To see the non-sketchy side of North Charleston, go to Park Circle. This list could go on forever, so if you want more information, consult my “Best of Charleston” post or (shamless plug) buy my Caroline in the City Guide to Charleston e-book.
Q: I’m visiting Atlanta. What should I see? Where should I stay? Where should I eat?
A: As with Charleston, this is a nearly impossible question to answer, seeing as I’ve lived here for over 20 years. I will start with places to eat, since it will take the longest: a hot dog at The Varsity, chicken and waffles at Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken and Waffles, burgers at The Vortex, pizza at Fellini’s and Mexican at Nuevo Laredo Cantina. There are a lot of great restaurants, but these are my personal favorites. Since I haven’t stayed in many hotels in Atlanta, seeing as how I live there, I can only recommend the Marriott Marquis, the Omni CNN Center and the Urban Oasis Bed and Breakfast. And of course the attractions can’t be missed. You MUST go to a Braves game if they are in season, or whatever sports team of your choosing if baseball isn’t your thing. Check out the kooky shops in Little Five Points and go bar-hopping in Buckhead and The Highlands. Have a picnic in Piedmont Park and soak up some culture at the High Museum of Art. Even the touristy spots aren’t bad, especially the CNN Center, Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke, all located within the same block. Now I will have to refer to my “Best of Atlanta” post for the rest or my itinerary on Unanchor.
Q: Why do you travel alone? Can’t you find friends to go with you?
A: I must admit that for me, solo travel started out of necessity. I wanted to go places and my friends either weren’t interested in going to the same places or couldn’t afford it. But since my very first solo trip in 2005, I’ve grown to appreciate it. People always ask me, “What if you don’t make any friends?” That’s like being worried about the first day of school. Sure, it’s awkward at first, introducing yourself and asking questions, but you’ll be glad you did. Just as in real life, in travel, you never know who will become your best friend. It could be that quiet Irish girl in the bunk next to yours or that person you met up with via Couchsurfing. I actually enjoy time to myself and solo travel offers me complete flexibility. No worries about changing plans or being ready to strangle my friend from too much time together.
Q: I’m thinking about study/work abroad. Where should I go?
A: For study abroad, pick somewhere, pardon the cliche, “off the beaten path.” Have an experience totally different than most of your friends. Prague, Rome and Paris may be popular choices, but how about Krakow, Zagreb, Uruguay or New Zealand? I haven’t studied abroad myself, but if I had, I would have picked these fabulous places. As for working abroad, look at your country of choice’s work visa policies. The Schengen area, New Zealand and Australia are popular places to work abroad. Programs like BUNAC can help you sort out visas, jobs and accommodations for a fee, which could be beneficial if you’re overwhelmed when doing research. I recently got my work/holiday 416 visa for Australia, which allows me to work there for a year for the low low price of $250 [Editor's Note: This price has recently gone up and is still climbing, so see the Australian Immigration department's website for details]! Just kidding. It’s a little pricey, but gives me the opportunity to stay for more than 3 months, which is how long the typical tourist visa allows. If you want to know more about working in England, consult The Aussie Nomad, working in Australia consult Brooke vs. The World and working in New Zealand consult Backpacking Matt.
Q: How do you pay for your travels without a full-time job? Isn’t it expensive?
A: It is true that I do not have a grown up full-time job. Over the last five years, I’ve worked a variety of odd jobs (running errands at a law firm, waiting tables, bartending, working at a department store) to save up for my travels. For my current trip, my money came from working at a restaurant and a store, various freelance writing gigs, Christmas money and a few sponsored posts. Hey, just being honest. The truth is that it is expensive, but it doesn’t feel that way since it’s something I prioritize for. It wouldn’t be a lot of money to spend on a car. I usually budget about $1,500-2,000 for any trip, which includes hostels, food, transportation and everything else. I don’t save up 20G for a RTW trip like many people do. I take jaunts to specific countries for a month or so and then come back home to continue saving up for the next one. I eventually would like freelance writing to pay completely for my travels, but I’m a long way off from that.
Q: How did you start blogging?
A: Short version: I was bored. Long version: I had recently gone through a breakup of massively messy proportions my junior year of college. I was looking for something to take my mind off of things. One night I started a Blogger site and posted pictures from old trips to Europe and adventures from around Charleston, where I lived at the time. I started reading sites like Legal Nomads and Nomadic Matt and soon realized that I could turn this into more than a hobby. It’s remained a hobby for many years, but in the last 2 years I’ve taken myself more seriously, re-designing the site and putting on WordPress, introducing myself as a travel blogger and attending travel blogging conferences. Everything I know I’ve learned from fellow bloggers or from Googling “how to install WordPress” or the like. I’m still amazed at how a distraction turned into something real people read, not just my immediate family, and has allowed me to visit places I’d never dreamed of.
Q: I want to start a blog. What host should I use?
A: I had Blogger for over a year and loved it. It was idiot proof and linked all of my Google accounts, like Picasa and Gmail, together. I wrote my blog just for me, so I didn’t worry about page views or any of that nonsense. When I started reading other blogs, and found out you could actually make money from writing a blog (not firsthand, of course), I knew I had to switch to WordPress. I am currently operating on WordPress.com until I figure out WordPress.org. Not quite as idiot proof, but it definitely provides more exposure and creativity when you want to design your own themes.
Q: You get free stuff from blogging? I could start a blog!
A: Yes. Yes you could. You could be one of those people who blogs solely to get free stuff. But we don’t like those people because many of us consider our blogs to be work. So I may get a few free (“complimentary,” “sponsored” or “hosted”) nights at a hostel or a bike tour or a meal, but what you don’t see is the hours spent afterwards editing photos, writing posts, promoting them on social media and then creating case studies to send back to clients to let them know they didn’t waste their money on me. While you’re going out drinking, I’m doing a Twitter chat to bring in followers or Skype-ing with editors about an article I’m writing. The hours are not just 9-5 for me. They’re more like 10 am to 1 am.
Q: Isn’t staying at hostels gross? What about that movie Hostel? Or Taken?
A: I’m going to go ahead and break the illusion: don’t believe the movies. Firstly, Eastern Europe is nothing like it is portrayed in the overrated movie Hostel. You’re not going to get brutally murdered in Bratislava nor kidnapped in France by Albanian slave traders. Even Eli Roth admits that Hostel is about American ignorance for the world around them, so don’t take it seriously and don’t play into the stereotypes. Secondly, you are just as likely to be the victim of a crime in New York City as you are anywhere in Europe. I’m not saying you should go to Afghanistan anytime soon, but do your research. Thirdly, I’m not going to lie, there are some pretty disgusting hostels. I’ve read horror stories about bedbugs, soiled sheets and uncleaned showers, but that’s why you read reviews on HostelWorld beforehand. Sure, they can still slip through the cracks, but usually not. The appeal of hostels is that they’re cheap, remind you of college and are easy to meet people at. Just be prepared with flip flops for the shower and a padlock for your locker.
Q: I want to do a working holiday in Australia like you did. Where do I start?
A: The first thing you should do is save up some money. The Australian government charges $270 AUD for the visa. Secondly, decide which type of visa you need. There is the working holiday visa (subclass 417), which applies to residents of Belgium, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom who are between the ages of 18 and 30. These visas are renewable for a second year after working on a farm. Then there is the work and holiday visa (subclass 462) for residents of the same age from Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey and the USA. These visas are not renewable for a second year. You can apply for both of these visas online and you will hear back usually within a week via email. From there you don’t need a stamp or anything for your passport because everything is handled electronically. The government suggests having at least $2,500 in your bank account and a return ticket, but I was not asked for either.
Once you have your visa approved and have arrived in Australia, you should apply for a tax file number. You can apply online and will receive the number in the mail. You must have this before you can start work in Australia. Then you can set up a bank account with your passport. The top banks in Australia are Commonwealth, St. George, Westpac, NAB and ANZ. They all offer accounts for working holidaymakers.
From there, you can start looking for a job. Websites like Gumtree and Seek are helpful, as is registering with a job agency that can give you temporary work until you can find something more permanent. Remember that you can only work at each job for six months. Popular jobs include bartending, working in a cafe and fruit picking.
Some people purchase packages through BUNAC or STA, which processes your visa, sets you up with a tax file number and job bank, as well as a place to stay upon arrival. While this is convenient, you could easily manage all of these steps yourself, without giving extra money to the agencies.