The Perfect Long Weekend in Nashville: 3 Days of Food & Fun

Nashville’s rightfully claimed its place as one of America’s favorite destinations. It’s got all the makings of the perfect 3-day weekend trip: delicious Southern food, funky bars, plenty of sights, and a great fun-loving atmosphere!

With only a long weekend in Nashville before heading to Huntsville, Alabama for TBEX, we made the best of a brief stopover, jamming it full of all our best Nashville vacation ideas.

We managed to cram all our must-dos into a 3 day Nashville itinerary, so feel free to copy this for your own travels! If you only have a two day weekend in Nashville, you can also make it work, but you’ll need to move a little faster but it’s definitely doable as the main sights in Nashville are pretty clustered together

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 1

Indulge in some BBQ

Be sure to make time for pulled pork tacos on your 3 days in Nashville

You’re in the South, baby, so you’ve got to have some BBQ in Nashville while you’re here.

Martin’s BBQ is touted as some of the best in the city; Janet can attest to that. We also had amazing pulled pork banh mi tacos at Acme Feed & Seed right on Broadway. They have great $3 craft beer specials as well!

Vegan in Nashville? Though the city is more known for its meaty offerings, there’s plenty for you here too — check out this vegan guide to Nashville.

Dance in a honky tonk

dancing in a honky tonk, on your 3 day Nashville itinerary! 

Nashville is well-known for its music scene. Whether you visit the honky tonks on Broadway or the famous Grand Ole Opry, you’re bound to hear some incredible music. No weekend in Nashville is complete without checking out the local honky tonks, which are basically live music joints that play music from mid-day til the late night hours.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is my personal favorite. Entry is free but drinks are pricey as a result in order to offset that. If you’re trying to enjoy your weekend in Nashville on a budget, hit up one of the budget-friendly joints; Layla’s Bluegrass Inn is recommended as one of the cheapest places to drink in Nashville.

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 2

Pay tribute to musical history

even if you only have 3 days in Nashville, check out the Johnny Cash museum

Wondering what the must-sees are on your weekend in Nashville? You can’t miss the Johnny Cash Museum, which celebrates the legendary artist. Full of outfits and instruments from Johnny Cash and June Carter, this museum is the perfect time capsule for his fans.

The museum is small, just a few rooms, but it manages to perfectly tell Johnny Cash’s story through the items he left behind. I entered not knowing much about Cash except that I adored some of his songs; I left with a full understanding of the depth of genius behind his music.

Even though I’m not really a country music lover, it was interesting going to the Country Music Hall of Fame, if only for the awesome building its housed in.

I enjoyed seeing the incredibly souped-up classic cars that put Cuba to shame — one was bedecked with fake guns, antlers, and silver dollars, I mean come on — as well as the fabulously ridiculous stage outfits on display.

Check out the pedestrian bridge

 The famous John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville offers some of the best views of Music City, whether it’s day or night. I recommend making time to see this viewpoint, even if you have only 3 days in Nashville like we did!

The bridge spans the Cumberland River and is famous for being one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, nearly one kilometer long. It’s convenient to go to after the Country Music Hall of Fame and Johnny Cash Museums, both of which are right nearby. It’s a great place to get Instagram photos to remember your weekend in Nashville.

Visit the Grand Ole Opry

Whether you’re visiting Nashville with friends or you’re going as part of a couples trip to Nashville, a night out at the Opry is a must-do!

The Grand Ole Opry is a music legend for a reason: so many famous country music stars have made music history here.

Famous musicians like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and June Carter, and Patsy Cline are all lifelong members.

The Opry’s format is bit different than you’re used to; rather than having one main act, they have a series of artists who each play for about 10-15 minutes, followed by a headliner for the night who maybe gets 20 minutes of stage time.

For me, the best part of seeing the Grand Ole Opry was getting to do a backstage tour at the end of the night.

It’s worth it if only to see the epic dressing rooms and stand on the stage where so many legends have performed!

 Tickets can sell out, especially when popular acts headline, so be sure to book tickets in advance for the Grand Ole Opry here. You have to book a backstage tour separately.

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 3

Start the day at the “Parthenon”

Who knew Nashville has its own replica of Athens’ beloved Parthenon?

Centennial Park is located close to Vanderbilt University, a bit to the west of downtown Nashville. It’s worth strolling around if not to puzzle why Nashville of all places chose to build this strange and expensive replica.

But Centennial Park itself is lovely, with walking paths, a dog park (the main draw), and plenty of trees to lose yourself in and forget the Music City skyline.

Blast your face off with some hot chicken

Not far from Centennial Park, you’ll find Hattie B’s. Nashville is famous for its “Nashville hot chicken” – popularized by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and foodies worldwide. The legend behind hot chicken is a bit hilarious: supposedly, a scorned woman spiced the hell out her womanizing husband’s fried chicken to teach him a lesson. Yet the revenge plot backfired when he ended up loving the chicken, turning the tables, and eventually opening up a restaurant using her recipe.

There are two prime spots for hot chicken that everyone recommends: Prince’s and Hattie B’s. Prince’s is the original, with at least 70 years of chicken history. Hattie B’s is the upstart newcomer, but according to locals, it’s legit and serves the real deal.

I chose Hattie B’s as it’s conveniently located near downtown. Irresponsibly and thinking way too high of myself, I ordered the Shut the Cluck Up, the hottest possible level. It’s hotter than I could have imagined – and it’s the kind of heat that sneaks up on you, kicking you in the mouth once you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Literally.

I ate about a quarter of the chicken before giving up and downgrading to the “Hot” (two levels down) chicken, which was just the perfect spice level for me – and I’m a certified spicy food lover. I’d suggest ordering at least one level down from what you think you can handle. It felt like there were snakes in my stomach the next day after eating the Shut the Cluck Up, and I didn’t even finish it!

Check out the Gulch

The Gulch is a funky district full of street art, brunch spots, and nightlife options that aren’t the main Broadway drag. The famous “Nashville wings” are here – so get your Instagram gold here and make the most of your weekend in Nashville.

Besides the Nashville wings, where you very well may have to queue in line for, there are also the Nashville Walls, a mural project that covers several enormous warehouses.

In addition to the street art, there’s the much-loved brunch spot Biscuit Love, which usually has a line out the door. Surprisingly, I was a bit disappointed by it, and I’m obsessed with biscuits. It was fine, sure – how bad can fried chicken covered in gravy on top of a biscuit be? But it most certainly was not even close to the best I’ve ever eaten.

I think it’s one of those cases where the hype doesn’t meet reality, so you end up disappointed. Your experience may vary — and it’s definitely a photogenic brunch spot and a nice way to spend one of the mornings of your weekend in Nashville.

Have More Than 3 Days in Nashville?

There are many ways to extend this Nashville itinerary if you have more than just a weekend in Nashville.

Rent a car and explore Bourbon country, go tackle some of the best hikes near Nashville, or do a side trip to Memphis for important Black history sites and delicious barbecue.

Where to Stay in Nashville

I stayed at the SoBro Guest House, which has spacious suites with a bedroom, living room, and fully stocked kitchen (in fact, they will even stock it with groceries for you for a fee, which is something I’ve never seen any other hotel do). It’s basically an Airbnb meets a boutique hotel.

There’s convenient mobile check-in and check-out, so you never have to deal with a front desk — you just get emailed the door entry code on your check-in day! If you arrive early or need to check out late, though, there is someone available who can help you store your bags.

The décor is great — funky wallpaper, modern furniture, and even a working record player suitable for Music City! As I get older I truly start to notice how my mood lifts in aesthetically pleasing and well-designed rooms — and this couldn’t be more true for SoBro Guest House.

With adorable décor, a fully equipped kitchen, and even an on-demand grocery service, it’s definitely a step up from your average hotel room — and more convenient than Airbnb. Even better, it couldn’t be more conveniently located in the heart of downtown.

Check out availability at SoBro Guesthouse here – it tends to sell out as it’s one of the highest-rated properties in Nashville, with a 9.3 average rating on and a great location a 10-minute walk from the honky tonks of Broadway.

However, it is a little pricey for Nashville, so if you are trying to do a weekend in Nashville on a budget there are other options.

True budget travelers will struggle in Nashville, as it’s hard to find anything under a hundred dollars a night that’s not by the airport, and then you’ll spend a lot of money on transportation to and from the city.

The best budget option is Nashville Downtown Hostel, which has double and twin rooms as well if you prefer not to stay in a dorm. Check rates and availability here.

Travelers who want a luxury hotel will have plenty of options. The Omni in Nashville is one of the newest, glitziest hotels, with a gorgeous rooftop bar and pool. It’s one of the more glamorous places to stay for a weekend in Nashville and great for a girl’s getaway. Check rates and availability here.

Planning a weekend in Nashville? This 2 or 3 day itinerary for Nashville will help you plan an excellent trip to Music City. Find epic street art, eat delicious food, and dance in one of the honky tonks.

Note: I was a complimentary guest of SoBro Guest House and received a press pass to see some of Nashville’s attractions. All opinions are my own.

21 Unforgettable & Fun Things to Do In Guatemala

I had always wanted to visit Guatemala. The coffee, the picturesque landscapes, the beautiful handwoven textiles, the ongoing Mayan culture… the list of fun things to do in Guatemala just goes on and on. And in 2017, I finally did.

I spent three weeks exploring this beautiful country, which is not nearly enough — you need at least 4 to 6 weeks to really see all the top places to visit in Guatemala.

Partly, this is because the not-great transportation situation means that you’ll be spending lots of long days on cramped shuttle buses in transit.

However, if you have a short amount of time, check out this 2-week itinerary for Guatemala to best help you maximize your time.

But it’s worth every moment in transit to see natural wonders like the emerald pools of Semuc Champey, the manmade wonders of Tikal, the ring of tiny towns circling the magical Lake Atitlan, and the beautiful colonial cities that dot the map of Guatemala.

Come see for yourself and you’ll understand just how much there is to do in Guatemala, and why it left such a profound mark on my memory.

The Absolute Best Things to Do in Guatemala

Visit the natural pools of Semuc Champey

If you’ve ever spent any time on Instagram or Pinterest, visiting Semuc Champey is undoubtedly one of your top things to do in Guatemala.

It’s popular for a reason:  the bloggers aren’t lying. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my lifetime, and for me, the #1 must do in Guatemala.

That said, getting there is quite a hassle and had me questioning if it was worth it many times over.

Even taking a direct tourist shuttle will take you upwards of 8 hours from Flores or Antigua, the two closest popular tourist destinations. Cobán is closer, but doesn’t offer much to tourists.

You essentially have to spend two full days on a cramped bus in order to get to Lanquín.

Once you’re there, all that transit-induced rage will float away as you behold the most beautiful turquoise pools you can imagine. No filter needed, y’all: this is truly the best of Guatemala.

One of the best things to do in Guatemala - Semuc Champey!

Where NOT to Stay: DO NOT stay at Zephyr Lodge, even if it comes highly recommended by others on the road. I got horrible food poisoning there, and I wasn’t alone.

At least 10 other travelers I spoke to had food poisoning there, and at separate times than I did — meaning it’s likely an ongoing hygiene issue. I rarely ever get sick, so something was seriously amiss here.

Where to Stay Instead: I’ve heard great things about Hostal Vista Verde and it’s actually owned by locals instead of expats who just want to force you to eat and drink at their overpriced, unhygienic restaurant (no I’m not bitter). Check availability, ratings, and prices here.

Visit the Mayan market in Chichicastenango

Mayan culture is alive and well in Guatemala, and nowhere is this more obvious than in Chichicastenango’s twice weekly markets where you can buy all sorts of handcrafted souvenirs and things from Guatemala.

Chichicastenango (mercifully abbreviated to Chichi) is one of the most popular market towns, as it is only a 2 hour bus ride from Antigua.

It’s a frequent choice for day trips and for tourists interested in culture it’s one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

You can typically arrange for a roundtrip shuttle on Thursdays or Sundays, or you can take local transportation – a chicken bus – if you don’t value your life are brave and don’t mind being squished three to a seat while the driver swerves wildly around curves.

If you’re short on time or don’t want to deal with the hassle of public transit, you can go with a guided tour from Antigua, which also includes time at Lake Atitlan. Book that guided tour here!

Seeing a Mayan market is one of the best ways to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and tradition that have been passed down from generation to generation. It’s also a great way to peek into the life of locals who eke out a living by farming, weaving, collecting honey, and more.

Try learning a little Spanish before you go — English is not widely spoken here, as often, Spanish is already the second language of the Mayans living here — and be sure to bargain (respectfully, that is). If you want an authentic cultural experience, this is one of the top places to go in Guatemala.

I spent one night in Chichicastenango and was glad I did versus just doing a day trip – it was great to get off the tourist trail a bit, as most people don’t stay overnight here.

We visited a small museum, Museo de Mascaras Ceremoniales, where we received a guided tour from the owner and taught about so many facets of Mayan life.

Later, we had a meal with our next door neighbors at our Airbnb who were opening up a hotel/restaurant — a great experience with locals who rarely get to interact with visitors outside the market!

Read More: The Colorful Sunday Market of Chichicastenango

Where to Stay: There aren’t many hotels in town, but the best-rated is by far Hotel Chalet, and the price is reasonable as well. You can also visit as a day trip from San Pedro, Panajachel, or Antigua (more recommendations to follow). Check out ratings, reviews, and availability of Hotel Chalet here.

Climb Acatanenango and witness a live volcano erupting

Thanks to Kate of Our Escape Clause for letting me use this photo!

NOTE: Yes, Fuego is the volcano that erupted in June 2018, killing many people who live in the villages on its slopes. No one climbing Acatanenago was hurt, as far as I’m aware. Antigua and the area excluding the immediate area around Fuego volcano are safe and prepared for tourists, so don’t let the volcano scare you away. 

Climbing Acatenango is not for the faint of heart. To be honest, I didn’t attempt it because I’m extremely prone to altitude sickness and have failed to climb mountains of similar height.

Everyone I spoke to who did the Acatanenango hike said it was one of the most amazing sights they’ve ever seen — and also that it was supremely difficult and very cold sleeping overnight there at the top. Research your guide wisely, as they can make or break your trip.

Many of my friends took tours that didn’t equip them properly: not enough food, not enough layers, thin sleeping bags, and all sorts of other cut corners that made the trip a bit miserable.

As a result, I strongly recommend pre-booking a tour that has a solid reputation.

Doing the research, I found that this Acatanenango tour to be positively reviewed – when I cross-checked the GYG reviews with Trip Advisor, I saw over 350 5-star reviews with no mentions of the issues that many other volcano hikes have (lack of food, lack of warm layers, etc. like I mentioned above.)

Book your Acatanenango tour with a reputable company today!

Safety Note: It should go without saying, but I always recommend you use travel insurance, especially if you’re going to do be doing potentially dangerous things like volcano hiking!
I use and recommend World Nomads for their affordable prices, thorough coverage, and ease of use.

That said, if you’re better at handling altitude than I am, Acatanenango is one of the can’t-miss things to do in Guatemala.

My friends over at Our Escape Clause did it and have a great guide about hiking Acatanenango if you’re curious for more information.

Where to Stay: For those on a budget, I recommend staying at Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel – fantastic design, chilled out vibe (I’m far beyond the age of party hostels), delicious breakfasts, friendly local staff… You truly can’t beat it in Antigua. The rooms are small but so well-designed I didn’t care at all. Check prices and availability here.

If you have a mid-range budget, I’d recommend Casa Elena (check prices, reviews, and availability here), which is a guest favorite for excellent breakfast and rooftop patio with a view of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua. For 5 star luxury at a surprisingly affordable price, Porta Hotel Antigua is one of the city’s highest rated hotels. In addition to the beautiful rooms, it has a gorgeous patio and pool area with an excellent, affordable in-house spa. Check prices, reviews, and availability of Porta Hotel Antigua here.

Take classes at a Spanish school

Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish. Prices vary wildly, so don’t be afraid to ask around and get a good idea of what’s on offer. Wondering where to go in Guatemala to learn Spanish? 

Antigua is definitely one of the prettiest cities in Central America, making it a popular spot to settle down for a few weeks and take Spanish lessons. It has the most Western restaurants and amenities as well due to the large expat community, making it pricier but perhaps a little more comfortable.

If you want a more local experience while you learn Spanish, Xela is well-known for being a Spanish language hub, and supposedly it’s one of the cheapest and most interesting places in the country to learn the language. I didn’t have a chance to visit Xela during my 3 weeks in Guatemala.

San Pedro La Laguna is another popular destination for Spanish learners, and has a fun party scene and lake views to boot, truly giving you the best of Guatemala.

Where to Stay: If you really want the best language learning experience, I recommend doing a homestay — it’s usually quite affordable, provides total immersion, and connects you with locals.

My street in San Pedro La Laguna

Kayak in a volcanic crater in Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is simply stunning, and there’s no better way to enjoy the serenity of the lake than by going for a kayak ride surrounded by water and volcanoes all around you.

The water tends to get really rough and choppy in the afternoons, and clouds and rain have a tendency of settling in after 3 PM.

Make the most of your morning and go for a morning kayak, then stop by for a 5 quetzal (less than $1) fresh juice afterward!

It’s absolutely worth splurging on one of these great eco resorts in Atitlan if you can afford it, because waking up for the sunrise over Lake Atitlan is a magical experience.

If you don’t have time for an individual trip to Atitlan, I recommend doing a guided full-day tour that leaves from Antigua, which includes a boat ride through the lake.

Where to Stay: I stayed at Casa Felipe for a week and enjoyed it just fine, although the beds are ridiculously hard. Better yet might be a cheap room at Playa Linda (check prices and availability here) or Cabaña del Arco (check prices and availability here) which are both quite affordable and have gorgeous lake views.

Climb the pyramids of Tikal

The ruins of Tikal are easily the most well-known of the Guatemala tourist attractions, and with good reason. Star Wars nerds will immediately recognize the lush jungle setting of Tikal.

Tikal is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the largest sets of ruins in the former Mayan empire, and it’s in remarkably good shape. Some of the pyramids you can climb; others, you can only gaze upon from afar due to the need to preserve them.

I recommend going on a guided tour to get the most information possible. This one departs from Flores and lasts 8 hours and includes lunch and an English-speaking guide.

Book the best – book your Tikal tour today online!

Where to Stay: I recommend staying in Flores for the most transportation and tour options. For those looking for a hostel, Casa de Gretel is the best-reviewed option (I personally stayed at Amigos and was not a big fan — too loud and the rooms were super stuffy). Check prices and availability at Casa de Gretel here.

For mid-range options, check out the affordable but adorable Hotel Isla de Flores, which has a rooftop pool with views of Lake Peten. Check prices and availability here.

Woke up at 4:30, arrived by 6, and nearly no one there!

Stroll the colorful streets of Flores

Flores is a teeny tiny island in Lake Peten, and it’s been painted so colorfully that it’s hard to walk anywhere without stopping to take a ton of photos.

Of all the tourist places in Guatemala, Flores is probably the least authentic in terms of culture.

But it’s a great base for Guatemala points of interest like Tikal, and the lake is perfect for sunsets and quick dips in the water.

It’s easy to get to Flores from Guatemala City, or even from neighboring San Ignacio, Belize if you are doing an overland Central America trip!

Lake Peten-Itza, Flores

Get spiritual in San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos is the hippie hub of Atitlan, and one of the more backpacker-filled places in Guatemala. People say that Lake Atitlan holds mystical powers, swearing that they have more intense dreams while they’re there.

While that may well be the altitude, the hippies are undeterred and have colonized the little town of San Marcos.

There are tons of yoga classes on offer with lake views, or you can sign up for a longer-term yoga or meditation retreat. There are also plenty of vegan and vegetarian food options here.

It’s not a place I’d stay for that long, personally, as I’m allergic to hippie nonsense.

That said, it’s definitely a nice place to relax when in Lake Atitlan, which in my opinion is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala.

Where to Stay: I didn’t stay overnight in San Marcos (went as a visit from San Pedro), but there are lots of retreat options if that’s something you’re interested in!

Party (or just relax) in San Pedro

If you’re a party person, San Pedro La Laguna is your spot on Atitlan. There’s one main “backpacker street” with plenty of restaurants, bars, and party hostels if that’s the vibe you’re after.

Hostal Fe is the big party hostel, with a lakeside lounge area just a stone’s throw from Bar Sublime, the late night spot in Atitlan.

I’m not a big party hostel person (read: party hostels are the bane of my socially anxious existence) so I stayed at a hostel called Casa Felipe, which is pretty low key.

Despite the party scene in San Pedro, there are also lots of opportunities to interact with locals. I went to the market on the top of the hill nearly every day, and stopped to buy tortillas from different vendors who worked out of their houses.

San Pedro really has a mix of both experiences, so it’s a nice place to base yourself when in Atitlan. Personally, I think San Pedro is one of the best places to go in Guatemala if you want to relax and unwind.

You can also do an overnight hike on the famous San Pedro volcano for epic sunrise and sunset views over Lake Atitlan.

Where to Stay: Like I said before, Casa Felipe is a good option if you want a hostel (just keep in mind the beds are like rocks). There are also some good mid-range options like Playa Linda or Cabaña del Arco with stunning Lake Atitlan views.

My lakeside “office” for a day in San Pedro La Laguna

Check out the smaller towns of Atitlan

The most popular touristic towns ringing Lake Atitlan are Panajachel, San Pedro, and San Marcos.

But make sure to take a day trip or even stay a few nights at one of the other less visited towns in Atitlan, like Santiago Atitlan, Santa Clara, or San Jose.

You’ll get a more complete picture of Mayan life in this special part of the world that truly offers the best of Guatemala.

If you’re only visiting Atitlan on a day trip from Antigua, check this tour to make the most of your day: it covers San Juan la Laguna, San Pedro, and Santiago Atitlan.

Book your Antigua to Atitlan tour today!

Where to Stay: Check out Airbnb for options in the smaller towns of Atitlan, or organize a homestay with a language school.

Wake up before sunrise to hike Indian Nose

Want to do a quick, rewarding hike in one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala?

Indian Nose is the non-politically correct name for a nearby mountain flanking Lake Atitlan, a short distance from San Pedro.

Tour companies will offer a transfer and guided tour for a reasonable 100 quetzales ($14).

I recommend going with a guide as I have heard stories of people being robbed walking independently to Indian Nose; this should not happen if you have a guide.

If you have a few days in San Pedro, this is one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

Where to Stay: Check out my suggestions above for San Pedro La Laguna.

Image credit Lawrence Murray, Creative Commons

Give back to the local community

There’s no denying that Guatemala is a developing country. The poverty rate hovers around 50%, with indigenous peoples typically far more impoverished than non-indigenous.

If you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in Guatemala, volunteering in Guatemala is a great way to give back to a community that you’ve enjoyed traveling in.

Where to Stay: Varies, depending on what project you want to work on!

Roast marshmallows on an active volcano

Because s’mores always taste better when roasted over lava, am I right?

It’s one of the more blatantly touristy things to do in Guatemala, but how can you resist?

Pacaya Volcano is known for its easily accessible lava fields where you can easily roast s’mores from a safe distance.

There’s no better story than roasting marshmallows on an active volcano, as far as I can tell!

Marshmallows come included on most tours leaving Antigua to visit Pacaya, so join the fun!

This tour leaving from Antigua has nearly a perfect rating on Get Your Guide, which is my preferred platform for booking tours in Central America (where local agencies often overcharge you) since they have easy cancellation and a best price guarantee.

Book your Pacaya trek here!

Image credit Greg Willis, Creative Commons

Where to Stay: Most trips for Pacaya depart from Antigua, so I’d recommend either Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel for budget travelers, Casa Elena for mid-range travelers, and Porta Hotel Antigua for those looking for a super luxurious stay.

Go caving by candlelight in Lanquín

Lanquín is one of the best places in Guatemala if you fancy a bit of adventure.

If you go on one of the popular tours of Semuc Champey, you’ll get a chance to visit Las Grutas de Lanquín, a series of caves which you navigate in the dark — while holding a lit candle in one hand!

There’s a rope you can use to keep yourself afloat – and your candle lit – as your guides bring you into the center of the cave where the brave can do a small cliff jump into a deep pool of water.

This is definitely not for the claustrophobic or the faint of heart. Being a bit of both, I managed, though climbing up a slippery ladder with candle wax dripping down my arm is not an experience I think I’ll repeat!

Where to Stay: Remember my caution against Zephyr Lodge – I’d choose Hostal Vista Verde instead. Money in local hands + no food poisoning = win.

caving by candle, a fun thing to do in Guatemala

Visit the colorful cemetery of Chichicastenango

If you think you’ve seen all the Guatemala tourist attractions, here’s one that’s a bit off the beaten path.

A short walk away from the hustle and bustle of the Chichi market, you can find one of the most colorful cemeteries on Earth.

When I stumbled across it, at first I was puzzled at what I was seeing. Closer inspection revealed that it was indeed a cemetery, painted in a swath of rainbow colors. According to Atlas Obscura,

Steeped in Mayan tradition, the vibrant rainbow of pigments celebrates the afterlife, and can symbolize different family roles, like a color-coded clue to the puzzle of the dead.

Where to Stay: Again, I’d recommend staying at the affordable Hotel Chalet – or come as a day trip from Antigua or Lake Atitlan

Experience Semana Santa in Antigua

Wondering where to go in Guatemala to celebrate Easter? Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the weeklong festivities in many Catholic countries in which they celebrate the life and death of Christ.

Nowhere do they take this more seriously than Antigua, Guatemala. Many roads are shut down for a week for alfombras (rugs), which are made of colored sawdust and placed on the ground in extravagant designs each night — only to be trampled upon by the parades the following day.

Self-flagellation (that’s the fancy term for whipping yourself until you bleed) is also on display, as are fits of open weeping, women carrying enormous floats while tottering down the streets in high heels, loud music, fireworks, the works.

Truly an experience like no other and a thing you must see in Guatemala around Eastertime.

Where to Stay: Easter in Antigua is a BIG DEAL and I can promise you that unless you book in advance you will have basically no options during Semana Santa. So book in advance if traveling during this week — it’s one of the top things to know about Guatemala travel.

I got shut out of Antigua for not booking in advance so be smart and book ahead and be prepared to pay a premium on prices during this week. As before, I recommended Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel for a hostel, Casa Elena for mid-range, and La Porta Antigua for luxury. Prices will fluctuate greatly during this time and increase as Semana Santa grows closer.

Antigua at Easter - a must do in Guatemala

Explore the ruins of Old Antigua

Well, old Antigua is a bit redundant — as the word Antigua means old. But Antigua is short for Antigua Guatemala (whereas signs that just say Guatemala, in fact refer to Guatemala City), as Antigua Guatemala used to be the capital of Guatemala.

A major earthquake in 1773 reduced nearly the whole city to rubble, and aftershocks continued for nearly six months. Rather than rebuild in Antigua, they relocated the capital to what is now Guatemala City. It’s a bit eerie to explore what remains of the former capital, but in my opinion, it’s a Guatemala must see.

Where to Stay: See my recommendations above

Explore the cathedrals of Antigua

Wondering what to see in Guatemala’s former capital of Antigua? You’ve got to check out the ornate churches and cathedrals dotting this beautiful colonial city. Catholicism is deeply important to Guatemalans, and even many Mayans have incorporated aspects of Catholicism into their religious practices.

The churches in Guatemala are beautiful, just as ornate on the exterior as they are in the interior. Some of the country’s most stunning churches are located in Antigua, but you’ll find lovely ones in Xela as well.

Check out the Rio Dulce and Livingston region

I have to admit – I didn’t make it to Rio Dulce, not for lack of wanting but for lack of time.

As my flight back home quickly approached, I kicked myself for spending so much time relaxing in San Pedro and not making it all the way north to Rio Dulce which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala.

However, I know I’ll be back in the region to visit Honduras and El Salvador, and Rio Dulce is right on the way to Honduras and places like Roatan and Utila.

Rio Dulce is supposed to be incredibly lush and scenic and rather off the typical tourist trail. So if you’re tired of Antigua and want the real off the beaten path Guatemala — head to Rio Dulce or the beaches of Livingston for something truly different.

Where to Stay: I didn’t make it to this region, but Casa Escondida is a great mid-range option. Villa Caribe is the closest thing to a luxury option in Livingston.

Admire Antigua’s colonial grandeur

Once you arrive in Antigua, you’ll quickly see why this is one of the best places in Guatemala for photography. Antigua reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite cities in Central America, Granada. Only Antigua is a bit more understated in its colorfulness – but only by comparison to Granada.

The shopfronts are painted in all sorts of beautiful vibrant hues, making it the perfect spot for an impromptu photoshoot when you find a wall that matches your outfit perfectly. The cobblestoned streets do nothing but add to the charm!

There are no free walking tours of Antigua that I’m aware of, but there are cheap walking tours if you’d like to join one.

Important Safety Notes for Guatemala

  • I heard about more scams in Guatemala than elsewhere in my 4 months traveling Central America, so be extra wary. Most seem to happen in Flores, where most people enter from Belize. A common one is being told that there is no ATM in Flores (there is) and being directed by a man to take out money at an ATM they bring you to. This ATM is rigged and will scan your card. A couple I knew got their bank account drained. It’s also common to be sold fake bus tickets as you’re being told that they’re selling out, these are the only ones, etc. This is patently false. Buy your bus tickets from your hostel or from an agency, not from anyone on the street. Be aware, and don’t do anything that anyone is pushing you to do if it seems odd.
  • While Guatemala has a higher crime rate than most countries in Latin America, tourists are largely not the targets of violent crime. Still, be aware and alert, especially if you’re traveling solo. I traveled solo in the country as a woman for three weeks and had no issues.That said, this isn’t meant to dissuade you from visiting, especially solo women. In my experience, I had far fewer problems with catcalling and inappropriate male attention in Guatemala than I did in Belize, Cuba, or Nicaragua.
  • Roads are bad in Guatemala, worse than anywhere else in Central America, in my opinion. While I took chicken buses in Nicaragua and Belize constantly, I recommend private shuttles for Guatemala for your safety and comfort. Distances in Guatemala are extremely long between the major tourist destinations, anyway, so you’ll be grateful for the extra comfort even if it adds some dollars to your budget.

7 Things You Must Pack for Guatemala

I’ve written a Belize packing list that easily works for Guatemala as well (as well as this Nicaragua packing list) but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think are the absolute best things to bring.

  • Mosquito repellent & after-care: Guatemala has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Protect yourself from tropical diseases like dengue fever with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Guatemala).
  • Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Guatemala’s humid climate.
  • A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Guatemala is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
  • Filter water bottle or Steripen: Guatemala’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
  • GoPro: From stand up paddle boarding to caving to hiking volcanoes, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice.
  • Backpack with locking zippers: To me, this is a non-negotiable for Guatemala, which has a fairly high risk of petty theft. My backpack’s locking zippers make it clear to a potential thief that I am not a target to be f#*&ed with. It’s visibly quite difficult to get into this backpack with its double-locking zipper (the zippers interlock, and then you can place them through a gold clasp that is not only super cute but also insanely secure). Plus, it’s slash-proof and since it’s worn on your back, it’s not as susceptible to the snatch-and-grab tactic. I swear by PacSafe for the combination of functionality and cute aesthetics, and I love their PacSafe Citysafe backpack. It’s actually cute in addition to having all the baller security features that make you feel pretty much impervious to theft (though of course, you should definitely be careful with your belongings everywhere!).
  • Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re caving, hiking volcanoes, or just relaxing in Antigua, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance!  It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly.

Aboard the Yangon Circular Train, A Quirky Cultural Experience

yangon myanmar

When you think train travel, you probably think of looking out the window at greenery rolls by. Relaxation, quiet, each person in their own meditation.

Not so in Myanmar. As the Yangon circular train chugged along at a jogger’s pace through the lush countryside surrounding the chaotic capital city, first I found myself staring out the window.

I frantically snapped photos of modest homes, people playing sports outside, grassy fields. But as we drifted further away from the center, picking up more people, a rollicking show began to play before my eyes, stealing my attention.

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17 Reasons Why Utah Is Pretty Much Another Planet

Allison hiking in utah

I’ll admit it: prior to going to Utah, my knowledge of the state was entirely gained from South Park parodies of Mormons.
But this state, with its five national parks — the third most national parks in a single state after California and Alaska — and countless under the radar state parks and hidden hikes, deserves more.

The landscape in Utah is like nowhere else on Earth. Combined with the desolation of the beautiful backroads, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d somehow transported yourself to another world. I can’t believe I’m about to say this… Utah’s Martian landscape and hidden gems have wrested the title of most photogenic state in the country from my dear California. Forgive me, Golden State. It’s all Utah’s fault.

Because Utah has its own Grand Canyon with a decidedly Martian twist.


Because it’s perfectly normal for the desert to kiss the mountains.


Because oddly shaped rocks that look like faces are dime a dozen.


Because it’s perfectly normal to find Sahara-esque orange sand dunes next to purple-hued mountains


Because a 10 minute walk off a major highway will leave you feeling like you’ve been shot to another world


Because even when the landscapes seem to defy physics, wildflowers still shoot forth from the red earth


Because a color of purple that seems to exist nowhere else in nature is basically everywhere


Because the rocks here have windows with brilliant blue eyes.


Because even the less popular national parks are some of the most stunning in the entire country


Because the improbable bushes growing out of red rock only add magic to the rusty landscape


Because when they call something Angel’s Landing, they’re really not fucking around


Because even the clouds look like perfectly-placed UFOs


Because sometimes it’s just too good to be true.


Because who knew that the simple combination of snow melting and freezing millions of times could create this?


Because the colors of the sun setting low on the horizon is completely surreal.


Because mile by mile, the landscape changes, impossible to predict but so easy to love.


Because where else can you see the Milky Way from your front door?

Utah, the land of hikes, national parks, and more activities than you can ever dream of doing. From Moab to Zion and Bryce and beyond to the smaller hikes and hidden spots, there’s no place on Earth quite like Utah.

Inside The W, the Funkiest Boutique Hotel in Vegas

There’s perhaps no city in the United States begging to be photographed as much as Las Vegas.

From its neon lights to its quirky sights, Vegas is Instagram gold. The whole time I was there, I saw so many insane photo opportunities that it was hard to even go anywhere without my camera glued to my face.

And there is no Vegas hotel that’s more true for than The W, a brand new boutique hotel within the larger SLS Hotel & Casino. Equal parts quirky and glamorous, The W combines tongue-in-cheek décor with luxury amenities for a picture perfect, 5 star Vegas experience.

A “hotel within a hotel,” The W is actually attached to the same building as the famous SLS Casino & Resort – but with a secret entrance away from the crowd. So secret, in fact, that most of our Uber drivers didn’t even know about it!

The best thing about this concept is that you have access to all the SLS amenities: their casino, their pool, their restaurants (I’ve heard ravings about Bazaar Meat, a steakhouse inside the SLS, but lacked the funds to see for myself) — while still having a more bespoke boutique hotel experience.

Whereas in the larger casino hotels you can easily feel like a cattle in a herd, The W pays impeccable attention to detail to make your experience feel personal: an important distinction in a city as capitalism-on-steroids as Vegas.

Every guest at The W has their own Insider – a concierge who tailors unique suggestions to your personal tastes. Taking advice from Romeo, our amazing Insider, was one of the best things we did in all of Vegas!

Per his recommendation, we ended up at the most unique and funky bar in Vegas, dancing the night away to 80s music videos projected on the wall, in the company of an off-brand Edward Scissorhands and a bunch of locals. It was an experience that was much more my style than one of the $16-for-a-Budweiser nightclubs littering the Strip.

Though with the gorgeous bar and lounge areas in The W proper, you’d be forgiven for never leaving the comforts of your hotel. Experienced bartenders will mix you up any cocktail you fancy or you can choose something from their specialty cocktail menu. Meanwhile, the design just begs to be photographed.

I mean, where else do you get a gold coin upon check in, good only for getting your fortune read?

The design of the rooms is delightfully quirky, with crossdresser-bedecked pillows, a wraparound chaise couch, and stunning Stratosphere views.

… Yes, I said crossdresser pillows!

The wallpaper has a funky Marie Antoinette meets Andy Warhol vibe… livened up by the peep-through shower which you can close with a simple curtain if you’re not feeling like giving the room a show.

As a guest of The W, you have access to their private pool club Wet, calmer by far than the pool at the SLS, which you can also access by showing your room card. As for what’s better, it really depends on what kind of pool experience you want.

I much preferred the quiet atmosphere and modern decor of Wet at The W, but if you’re into meeting other people and drinking in a pool all day, the SLS is your spot.

If you’re looking for something different than the faceless rooms of the big casino-hotel hybrids littering the Strip, I don’t think you can do any better than The W. Boutique customer service, quirky decor, and all the amenities of a big casino without the impersonal feel — I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Check out today’s best deals on The W

Note: I was a complimentary guest of The W in order to write this review. As always, all opinions are entirely my own.

10 Things I Learned About Myself After a Year of (Mostly) Solo Travel

When you’re your only travel companion, you can’t help but get a little introspective. Staring out of a bus window, half-listening to a podcast, contemplating my life and the many turns it’s taken to bring me here… That’s kind of been my default look the past year.

June 28th will make one year I’ve been on the road solo, with a few breaks and some travel with friends scattered in between. To celebrate making it through 12 months, here are 10 things I’ve learned about the wacky bitch who’s been keeping me company all of these days.

For an anxious person, I’m surprisingly unflappable

I know, it’s kind of an oxymoron, right? I’ve learned that my anxiety works on the macro scale. When I am unhappy with large aspects of my life – a job I’ve outgrown, a city I’ve grown tired of – I wake up in the mornings breathless and terrified. Those mornings I’d have to swallow a pill and breathe deeply to keep myself from escalating to full-on panic, just to go about my day.

But the little things that add up when you travel, I can take surprisingly in stride. Lost my luggage with precisely every item of clothing I own in it? Regroup, go to a diner for breakfast, and get tips on the best thrift stores in town. Stuck in a small village in Albania in the rain with no bus on the way? Guess I better start hitchhiking.

That said, hostel life often brings out the worst in me

I’m about to directly contradict myself — because above all, I’ve learned that I contradict myself regularly. To quote my boy Walt Whitman, Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As much as I just congratulated myself for outrunning my anxiety… hostels really bring out the worst in me. Awkward social situations are one of my biggest anxiety triggers, and I’m a massive introvert who thrives off alone time. While I used to love staying in hostels, I’ve realized that I can only live such a public, shared life for so long before I start to go a little crazy when solo traveling.

Part of it is that I need to work from home a fair bit and hostels make crappy environments for that. But mostly, I get tired of having the same dull conversation time and again, and tired of making excuses not go out drinking profusely for the nth night in a row.

Also, I’ve gotten a little spoiled.

I’m no longer the youngest person in the room

Perhaps related to my blah, hostels stance is the fact that I’ve finally realized that I’m aging. Bear with me here:

I moved to New York and went to college when I was 17, the youngest person in my class by a good year or so. When I started my job in the Department of Education at 21, I was easily the youngest teacher there, and continued to be for the five years I worked there.

I got used to always being surrounded by people older than me. Frankly, it made me feel like I had time to figure out my life.

Now I feel like I’m always surrounded by young’uns who are just starting out their 20s, and I can’t help but be wrenched with envy. I find myself wondering about how if I hadn’t become a teacher and had gone into travel blogging earlier, if I’d be more successful. If I wouldn’t be alone if I had made better choices in romantic partners over the years. Basically, if I had the wisdom I have now without all the pesky business of, y’know, actually attaining it.

I actually like the beach

I never was much of a beach person – the result of many a third degree sunburn and hating the way I looked in a swimsuit.

After finally learning that I need to reapply sunscreen a jillion times and seek shade between noon and 2, I’ve finally developed a tan for the first time in my life and don’t burn quite so easily. I’ve also made peace with the size of my thighs and am finally wearing age-appropriate bathing suits instead of the grandma-inspired bottoms that even the Mormon church would approve of.

As much as I say I want to travel slower, I never do

I’m of the opinion that clinical FOMO should be added to the DSM, whenever they see fit to revise it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn that I’m going to choose a base and start establishing a healthy work-life-travel balance…. only to find myself staring at a ticket confirmation page to a brand new country just days later.

While I’ll never be one of those superhuman travel bloggers who are in a new country every couple of days, I haven’t been able to stay in one spot longer than two weeks (Little Corn Island, you tried to tame me).

There are so many countries I want to tick off my bucket list, cities I want to wander, mountains I want to climb. So to settle down and pick just one city — even if just for a few months — seems nigh impossible.

I’ve challenged myself to pick a city in Eastern Europe for one month to live in this August, when I’ll need to get out of Schengen so as not to overstay my visa. Sofia, Belgrade, and Bucharest are all vying for the honor.

I have a hard time with routines and self-care

This is probably related to my FOMO-induced restlessness, but even when I’m back at home, self-care is a struggle. A regular sleep schedule…. HAHAHA what’s that? Exercising regularly? Unless you consider digesting donuts exercise, which I do, go away. Sometimes even the simplest things like filling up my old lady pill box with my pills and vitamins for the week seems like a task plucked from the annals of Hercules.

And don’t get me started on my taxes (actually, no please do).

As much as I say I’m a cynic, I’m a big old softie at heart

For some reason, I’ve always thought of myself as a pessimistic person. I blame the Q train.

But getting to know myself better, I’m learning that while I may get irritated about indignities like manspreading, body odor, and showtime, I’m pretty optimistic about the world writ large. The people I’ve met on my travels have, with few exceptions, gone above and beyond to help me and welcome me everywhere I go. And I can only respond to that with love and gratitude.

But I still love animals more than people

I can’t count the number of times I stopped whatever I was doing to coo over the animal in front of me, whether it was a dog, cat, horse, donkey…. Even the mangiest-looking of dogs (I’m thinking of you, Taco, the ugliest dog in all of Guatemala) were not spared my effusive love.

Being around animals centers me and makes me calm, forcing me to press pause on whatever thoughts I have buzzing around my head to enjoy the peace of a quick, stolen snuggle.

I’ve learned to relinquish control

Part of why I think traveling has been good for my anxiety is that I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. I used to be such a micromanager, planning every future event to the letter. Now that it’s impossible to predict what any given day will be like, I have the latitude to let go a little.

While at first that made me a bit panicky and hard to travel with (many thanks to my dear friend Kristine for managing to put up with my high strung antics) I’ve started to master the subtle art of not giving a fuck.

Writing is what I’m meant to do

Not that I think I’m especially good at it… nor do I think I’m exceptionally bad. I just know that nothing fills me with more purpose than sitting down and finally putting everything that’s been churning around this little brain of mine on paper. Nothing fills me with more happiness than when a reader reaches out to say they’ve connected with my words.

Starting from when I annexed my aunt’s computer at the tender age of six to write a story about a car running out of gas in the middle of a desert, I knew I wanted to be a writer. In college I lived and breathed it, taking poetry and fiction workshops with some of the greats, even conquering my fear of public speaking to perform at poetry readings.

But once I started teaching, the daily emotional labor of the job beat the creativity out of me. I stopped writing for nearly five years. This blog, humble as it may be, has brought me back in touch with that. And that is perhaps what I’m most grateful for in this new crazy life I’ve created for myself.

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What I've learned from a year of solo female travel: tips, photos, and musings after traveling Europe, Central America, and the USA

The Valley of Fire and Grand Canyon by Helicopter in Vegas

Whatever you have at the top of your bucket list, give it a nudge to make room for one of the best experiences I’ve ever had: seeing the Grand Canyon by helicopter with 5 Star Helicopter Tours.

Words aren’t sufficient to describe the feeling of seeing the most beautiful and iconic landmark in all of the United States from a helicopter. But seeing as I’m a professional travel writer… I’ve got to try. And luckily I snapped a few photos along the way to help a sister out.

Fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter as a day trip from Vegas

It’s a humbling feeling, seeing with your own eyes the endless strata of rock that date back nearly 2 billion years — nearly half the lifetime of our earth.

It simultaneously makes you feel so small and unimportant in the timeline of our planet, yet so lucky that you happen to live in an age where you can harness the power of flight to see it from a helicopter.

Flying over the Colorado River, I couldn’t help but think: all that was carved from that tiny little stream? The magnitude of the stacks of rock of the canyon next to the relative puniness of the Colorado River is a sight to behold. It’s awe-inspiring to say to least to see how the twin forces of water and wind collaborated over the years — some 5 or more million of them, it seems — to carve out this insane view.

The hoover dam was part of helicopter in Vegas tour

En route to the Grand Canyon on your helicopter tour, you’ll see the impact that another force has had on America’s landscape: human determination. Over the span of just a few hundred years – a millisecond compared to the Grand Canyon’s timeline — we’ve quite literally created something from nothing.

An oasis in the middle of the desert, the creation of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead – the tallest dam in the U.S. and the largest manmade lake in the U.S. respectively – was crucial to expansion in this inhospitable corner of the country.

It’s beautiful to see how anthropological forces combine with the geological, trying to tame our earth to eke out an existence. Oddly, it made me rather emotional, feeling — for a change — faith in the drive of the human spirit and our ability to collaborate in pursuit of a common goal.

I know, I know — only I would get this philosophical on a freaking helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon.

A snap from our Grand Canyon helicopter tour from Vegas
Trying to capture the beauty of manmade Lake Mead

Yet as jaw-droppingly beautiful as the Grand Canyon was, I wasn’t prepared for what would actually be the show stealer: flying over the Valley of Fire by the light of sunset.

I had visited the Valley of Fire by day previously and was blown away by its landscape, but nothing could have prepared me for how amazing it would look approaching by helicopter with the sun setting the red rocks ablaze.

Luckily for me, all my philosophizing about the grandness of our planet, our tiny place in the grand scheme of it, etc. was interrupted by a call for happy hour.

Oh, I didn’t mention that this was a sunset and champagne helicopter tour?

I stole away the bottle for some photo opportunities because I’m a professional. Much to the surprise of the couple who did the tour with us, I returned it just as full as I left it — it was all for the ‘gram, baby.

(Also, pro tip – don’t wear a dress on a helicopter tour if you have this little thing I’ve heard people talk about called shame. Oops)

The more the sun set, the more it cast insane light on the amazing viewpoint we had landed at — drawing out all the colors of the Valley of Fire’s Rainbow Vista. It was, dare I say, even more beautiful than the Grand Canyon.

As we wistfully got back onto the helicopter to say goodbye to the Valley of Fire, all four of us let out an audible whoa — then a big belly laugh at our nearly choreographed response — as we shot up, up, up and saw the colorful beauty of the Valley of Fire laid bare before us.

As our kickass female pilot flew our helicopter back to Vegas, I felt sadness well up in me that one of the most amazing experiences of my life was nearly over.

Luckily, I was quickly distracted by the shiny lights of the Strip as we passed overhead.

I’ll admit, I came to Vegas not expecting much. As someone who prefers Netflix and onesies to club hits, and a miserly gambler who feels like losing $6 is the end of the world, I thought I’d be sorely out of place.

But Las Vegas – this madman’s hallucination in the middle of the desert – is so close to some of the most beautiful places in this entire country that you’d be hasty to write it off as just an adult Disneyworld.

Get off – or at least above – the Strip, and you’ll see just what I’m talking about.

I’ve partnered with 5 Star Helicopter Tours to offer a 10% discount to my readers on any helicopter tour they offer – just mention that you were referred by Eternal Arrival to get the discount. Prices range from $149 per person for a Las Vegas Strip helicopter tour for those visiting Vegas on a budget to $499 for this tour, the Grand Canyon and Valley of Fire sunset tour which lasts about 4 hours.

Note: Many thanks to 5 Star Helicopter Tours for the complimentary helicopter tour. All opinions are entirely my own.

See the Grand Canyon, the Valley of Fire, AND The Las Vegas Strip by helicopter - with sunset champagne! TIck this one off the bucket list with an exclusive discount code for readers inside.


75 Reasons You Must Travel to Albania ASAP

day trips from Saranda Albania

For too long, Albania has been ignored as a tourist destination. I get it. The country has had to bounce back from a lot. For years, Albania was under one of the most repressive communist totalitarian regimes in history – even North Korea has more trade partners and diplomacy than Albania did thirty years ago. I’m about to drop some serious Albania facts on you, so if you’re into history, get excited.

It emerged from the shackles of totalitarianism in 1991 with basically no GDP and virtually no economy. A countrywide pyramid scheme in which Albanians lost a total of 1.2 billion dollars (a fortune, considering how Albanians had only had six years of free market in order to actually obtain money to invest) in 1997 sent the country into chaos.

But things are way, way different now, and while the country still has far to come to catch up with its neighbors in Europe, it’s making great strides towards lasting progress. Albania is a country with an unfathomably long history, almost 5,000 years, with influence from Greeks, Illyrians, Romans, Venetians, Byzantines, and Ottomans.

To sum up Albania as just what’s happened in the last century is myopic. Yes, Albania has suffered, but it’s bouncing back with incredible fortitude and rightfully emerging as a tourist destination.

Seeing as I’ve unofficially become an Albania travel guide, telling everyone who’ll listen about this beautiful place, I figured I’d put it in writing and save myself the trouble. Without further ado, here are 75 reasons why you should plan your holidays to Albania as soon as possible!

1. It’s off the beaten path. Can you imagine going to 2,000 year old Roman ruins and not having to wait for people to get out of your shot constantly? Well, visit Albania, and it’s not only possible – it’ll happen all the time.

day trips from Saranda Albania

2. It’s not just affordable – it’s cheap. Budget backpacking anywhere in Balkans, with the exception of Croatia, is inexpensive compared to Western Europe. But Albania is leaps and bounds cheaper than its neighbors, especially when it comes to transit and food costs. A six hour bus ride will set you back only $7 USD; a gyro, $1 USD; a 3-course meal with an espresso, $8 USD.

3. The beaches are the best in Europe. Sorry, Croatia, Italy, Greece, and Montenegro, I know you’ll disagree, but Albania has got the best beaches in all of Europe. The stony beaches make the water a gorgeous, crystal-clear turquoise that feels like your real life has been Photoshopped. Ksamil, Albania as well as the beaches of Himara and Dhermi are outstanding. The weather in Albania is comparable to the rest of Europe, so you’ll have hot sunny days all summer long.

copyright Janet Newenham - drone over Albania
Drone shot courtesy of Janet Newenham of Journalist on the Run / Your Irish Adventure

4. … And they’re not crowded.

Unlike their more famous Northern and Southern neighbors, you’ll have plenty of space to yourself when you go to the beach in Albania.

Albanian riviera gjipe

There are also tons of hidden beaches that you can have basically to yourself with a little creativity (or a little guts!). Himara is an excellent hub close to the best Albanian beaches in the Riviera. Plus, accommodations in the Albanian Riviera are incredibly cheap!

5. Albanian people are insanely generous. I’ve never been offered more things in my life – whether it was cake on the side of a road from someone I asked directions, half of someone’s lunch who we hitchhiked with, an espresso at a cafe, or rakia (so much rakia), then when traveling in Albania.

6. The sunsets along the coast are incredible. The whole time you travel Albania, you’ll be treated to breathtaking sunsets, just as beautiful as Greece’s or Croatia’s — at a fraction of the price.

travel Albania and discover the natural beauty of the coast line!

7. You need to learn the love-hate relationship with rakia. Rakia is basically moonshine, distilled typically from grapes or plums, popular all throughout the Balkans, but especially loved in Albania. The best nights (and the worst mornings) usually are courtesy of rakia.

8. Besa, which is loosely translated as “faith” or “trust”, is extremely important to Albanians. For centuries, Albanians have abided by the code of “besa” which basically means it’s their duty to look after the people who visit Albania. That means that even if you’re traveling solo through Albania, you’ll never really be alone.

Albania travel is tiring but amazing, worth every minute
Besa means that my friend’s cousin – who I had never met before – took two days to show me around her hometown, beautiful Korca.

9. Albanians are keen to change their image. Albanians are aware that they’ve been associated with mobsters and gangsters, and more than a few Albanians bitterly remarked me that “we’re not all like Taken.” Which is true – I never once felt unsafe or unwelcome in my month spent traveling in Albania. Besides, as one local slyly remarked me to me, “All the Albanian mafia has left. Who would they make money off of here?”

10. Albanians are honest. I’m always on my guard for scams, having been ripped off and nearly pickpocketed within 12 hours in Hanoi. It turns out I didn’t have to worry at all when in Albania. In Pogradec, a man who changed money for a friend ran down the street to the bus station to find us, panicked that he hadn’t given us the right change (but he had). For Albania, tourism increasing holds huge potential to lift its citizens out of poverty, so Albanians will be sure you are well taken care of.

11. Albania is safe. While tourism in Albania is just beginning, traveling Albania is just as safe as going pretty much anywhere else in Europe. You’re less at risk for petty crime in Albania than you are in, say, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, or Paris, and violent crime is extremely rare.

Note: While Albania is very safe, that doesn’t mean you should go without travel insurance in case of an emergency or accident. I use World Nomads travel insurance on every trip as it’s easy to book online and offers extensive coverage at low prices. Get a free quote here.

My Albania travel buddies!
Ok, this photo is of Albanians in Kosovo, but you get the idea. So threatening with their rainbow umbrella and bear phone. Definitely shouldn’t travel here.

12. Street harassment is extremely uncommon. As a woman who travels alone, I’m often subjected to street harassment, which makes me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and irritated. In my entire time in Albania, not one man bothered me on the streets, even when I walked home alone late at night to my hostel in Tirana. It was such a breath of fresh air to be around such polite, respectful men.

13. Albanians give the best directions. Which is to say they’re either extremely detailed if they speak English, or oftentimes they’ll just walk with you to your destination because they’re afraid of you getting lost. After a flurry of hand gestures did nothing, I once had an old lady in a robe and house shoes pull me by the sweater tied around my waist, leading me up on a ledge, in order to show me how to get to the Berat Castle via the back way. You can’t say Albanian people don’t try!

14.There are countless fortresses and castles that you can explore. Most castles have limited infrastructure, such as informational plaques or warning signs, so you get to feel a bit like Indiana Jones as you explore castles totally on your own. If you’re more the tour kind of person, you’re in luck: lack of tourism in Albania has made tours insanely cheap.

see beautiful castles like this when you travel in Albania

15. Albanians love Americans. Okay, so this is maybe only exciting for me and my fellow countrymen, but we’re a bit of an unpopular lot in some parts of Europe. And I get it, I really do – I definitely cringe whenever I see the telltale shorts-and-fanny-pack of a clueless American tourist speaking loudly and slowly at someone who speaks perfect English like they’re an idiot.

But when traveling in Albania, I discovered that Americans are actually quite well-liked – so much so that they’ve even named a street after George W. Bush in Tirana (cool your jets, guys, even we don’t like him!). The town of Fushe Kruje which he visited even has a statue of him! You’ll also find a Hillary Clinton statue in Saranda, Albania, close to SR Backpackers, where I stayed while in Saranda. Fingers crossed we never need to find out if they’d erect a Trump statue. (edited to add: UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)

16. But really, Albanians just love all foreigners. You’ll never feel more special as a tourist than when you visit Albania. I was traveling around with a lot of Australians and you should have seen the look on locals’ faces when they found out people from Australia were visiting their country. It was the most delightful mix of confusion, excitement, and pride.

17. Forget buses and planes – Albania is all about the furgon. Furgons are minibuses, which are often Mercedes vans converted to fit the most human life possible inside them. They’re democratic institutions – first come first served, they’ll pick you up and drop you off anywhere along the route, and they’ll charge you based on the distance you travel.

Sure, some of the seats aren’t that comfortable, especially the ones above the wheels, but I actually quite love the humble furgon. It’s the most authentic way to travel in Albania.

The closest thing to a bus station I encountered when traveling Albania

18. Honestly, the public transit is actually quite reliable – it’s just different. Furgons will get you basically everywhere you need to go, although you do sometimes have to make a transfer rather than going direct. Occasionally, on less popular routes, a minibus won’t run every day, and as the season winds down, minibuses are less frequent.

Still, I visited for the second time in mid-October as the summer season was done and gone, and even some less popular routes were still roaring. I traveled from Korça to Berat and Berat to Vlora no problems, perfectly on time – in fact, often early, so be sure to get there at least 15 minutes before your bus is due to leave.

19. Infrastructure is improving. I had heard that the roads in Albania were awful – I was happy to find that it really wasn’t the case. Of all the routes I took, I only really encountered one road that was pretty rough and tumble, and it was only because they were working on the main road and re-routed us another way.

If you travel Albania in the more rural parts, you’ll encounter some rough roads I’m sure, but the main roads connecting the coastal cities, Tirana, Shkodra, and some of the southern Albanian cities like Berat, Gjirokastra, and Korca were all fine. That said, there are still some flaws hampering this otherwise beautiful country.

There is no national recycling program and litter continues to be a major issue. Tirana and other Albanian cities have an admirable program to neuter and vaccinate the stray dogs in the cities, but it’s a slow process. Still, considering the country’s economy started from basically nothing in 1991, I think they’ve made tremendous strides.

20. You can even drink the tap water now in many parts of the country. I had heard that Albania’s tap water was totally undrinkable. This was far from true! I drank the tap water without incident in Saranda, Tirana, Shkodra, Berat, and Korca – always after asking a local first just to double check. I recommend bringing a Life Straw water bottle, which removes over 99.9% of waterborne bacteria and parasites, to cut back on your plastic use (there is no recycling program in Albania, sadly).

day trips from Saranda Albania

21. They make excellent Italian food. Albania is so close to Italy, and they’ve absorbed a lot of their culture. Pizza in Albania is top-notch, probably the next best thing to Italian pizza itself.

22. The coast has amazing seafood. You can eat delicious fresh prawns, mussels, fish, calamari… all for bargain prices and fresh as can be. Up north near Lake Shkodra, the lake trout is also incredibly delicious – so make sure you try that if you’re visiting Shkodra (which I highly recommend — stay at the Wanderers!) or other cities up north.

try the seafood when traveling through Albania!

23. Local dishes are delightful. Traditional Albanian food like tavë kosi (baked lamb with yogurt) and patëllxhanët mbushur (stuffed eggplant) are unique and delicious, always cooked with local ingredients and fresh produce.

24. A lot of the cuisine is vegetarian. Many of their dishes incorporate veggies in a way that other countries in the Balkans don’t. Their stuffed peppers and grape leaves are almost always vegetarian and filling, they offer a wide variety of salads, and grilled vegetables are available everywhere.

love the food in albania - a reason alone to travel to albania

25. But they also make a mean grilled meat plate. Enough said.

Ahh, a well-balanced meal...
Ahh, a well-balanced meal… look, there’s even lettuce!

26. They make excellent coffee. Albanians love their coffee, especially espresso, and you can get an espresso for as little as 50 lek – about 40 euro cents. I will say that sometimes their definition of a cappuccino would make Italians shudder, as they sometimes come topped with whipped cream, but there are worse things than free whipped cream, right?

27. The produce is fresh, delicious, and often organic. Of course, it won’t be labeled as such, but most produce in Albania comes from small, local farmers who frankly probably don’t have enough money to spend on pesticides. For that reason, the tomatoes and cucumbers are some of the best I’ve had in the world. Perfect for…

28. Albania has amazing Greek salads and gyros, thanks to its Greek minority population. Yup, in addition to rocking Italian food and traditional Albanian food, you can get delicious Greek food like grape leaves, tzatziki, gyros, and Greek salad. The two cuisines share a lot in common and the line between what’s Greek and what’s Albanian vary on where you are and who you ask (as many things do in the Balkans…)

food in Albania, one more reason to travel there!

29. The mountains are absolutely beautiful. My biggest regret about Albania is that I didn’t get to do the hike from Valbona to Thethi that I had planned on. Crazy storms were raging when I was in Shkodra, making the hike I was planning to do the next day impossible, so I rerouted to Kosovo and traveled through the rest of the Balkans.

By the time I returned to Albania, it was mid-October and reaching below freezing at night, so a hike didn’t feel like the best idea. But seeing the same mountain range in Montenegro and Kosovo, I can only imagine how beautiful it is in that part of Albania. But you don’t need to travel to Valbona to see mountains – they’re everywhere, even leading right down to the beaches in some cases.

Another Janet
Drone shot courtesy of Janet Newenham of Journalist on the Run

30. The Albanian language is unlike any other. Albanian (called Shqip, which is pronounced “shchip”, which gives you a little preview of the beautiful chaos that is the Albanian language) is one of the oldest living languages. Some consider it a language isolate, some think it’s related to Illyrian or Armenian… let’s leave it to the linguists and just say it’s incredibly difficult – though beautiful to hear – and, to my totally untrained eyes and ears, reminds me of Dothraki on GoT. (nerd alert)

31. That being said, locals will love you if you try to speak Albanian. Albanians know how difficult their language is, and they really appreciate it when you take the time to learn a few words of Albanian. Mirëdita (meer-deeta) – good day, faleminderit (fah-le-min-DER-it) – thank you, diten e mirë (deet-en ay meer) – Have a good day, and of course, gëzuar (guh-zoo-ar) – cheers: master these four and people will be delighted.

32. The rural parts of the country are stunning. I haven’t seen many Albanian villages or rural life, which I’ve been told is where the real heart of the country is. But my method is to always leave a stone unturned, so I know I’ll come back. What I’ve seen of rural Albania from the furgons is incredible, and I’d love to discover it more deeply.

The calm before the storm in Shkodra, Albania

33. The Albanian flag is so dope. A double-headed eagle…  god, could a flag get any cooler? Albanians are obsessed with their flag, and honestly, so am I. So epic.

34. On a similar note, Albanians are really patriotic. While sometimes this patriotism can border on nationalism (which is not unique to Albanians, of course), what this means in practical terms for the traveler is that Albanians will do anything to make sure you love their country just as much as they do. If you tell them you love their country, most will beam with pride.

35. Hitchhiking is incredibly easy and safe throughout Albania. The combination of a lack of a centralized public transit system, the Albanian hospitality and belief in besa, and an outsized love for their cars all merge to make it probably one of the easiest places to hitchhike in the world and definitely in Europe. It’s also quite safe, which you wouldn’t expect if you take your travel advice from Liam Neeson, but it’s true!

hitching in albania

36. In fact, hitchhiking is an amazing experience there and I recommend it to all who travel Albania. During my hitching experience, I was picked up by a trucker who didn’t speak a word of English but was all smiles, two young college students who brought us all the way to Kosovo even though they weren’t planning on crossing the border, and more than a couple Mercedes Benzes.

37. Mercedes Benzes are the national car. OK, not really, but it’s kind of ironic that one of Europe’s poorest countries has more Mercedes Benzes than anywhere else I’ve been – including NYC and California. For a more detailed explanation, read on here.

38. It’s easy to travel to and from other countries in the region. There are frequent public buses from Montenegro via Ulcinj and Shkodra as well as direct buses run by hostel companies from hotspots like Kotor to Tirana. Going from Tirana to Prizren or Prishtina in Kosovo is also quite easy.

If you’re thinking of going onto Macedonia, there are Tirana to Skopje buses and in peak season direct buses between Ohrid as well, which can also be accessed via Berat, Elbasan, or Korca. Greece is close to Saranda and Korca, and you can take a ferry to Corfu in about thirty minutes.

nearby Prizren, Kosovo - easy to travel to Albania from here
Nearby Prizren, Kosovo – just a few hours away from Tirana by bus

39. Oh, and Italy is only a short boat ride away, too!

If you’re in Italy and want to make your way over to travel Albania, it’s actually really quick and affordable to catch a ferry to Albania. A bonus? The views are beautiful.

Vlora, one of the prettiest places to travel in Albania

40. Tirana, Albania’s capital, is unlike any other capital city I’ve seen. It’s chaotic and exhilarating, unique and intriguing, improvised and improving. There’s a sense that it’s stuck in the past at the same time that it’s accelerating towards the future, and it’s fascinating to be right there with it. The best way to get a sense of Tirana is by walking or biking through it.

41. Tirana was more influenced by communism than other cities in Albania, making it ideal for history and Communist architecture geeks. There are some absolutely strange pieces of architecture in Tirana, in particular, Piramida, the abandoned memorial to deceased dictator Enver Hoxha that is now a TV station/slide/tourist oddity.

The quirky communist art and architecture is a great part of traveling Albania

42. The nightlife in Tirana is really fun. I loved going out in the Blloku neighborhood, the old heart of the communist party loyalists. This has turned into a hipster/upscale neighborhood of sorts, where a draft beer goes for (*gasp*) 2 euros.

If you’re traveling solo and but want to experience the best of Albanian nightlife, you can do a cocktail and communism tour through trendy Blloku accompanied by a local!

Getting my hipster on at Radio in Blloku (I promise these glasses are medically necessary.)

43. The bunkers offer a fascinating, if unsightly, look into the past. I enjoyed visiting Bunkart in Tirana, which used to be the former dictator Enver Hoxha’s bunker in case of attack. It’s a fascinating insight into the psyche of a sick, paranoid man. An estimated 700,000 smaller bunkers dot the countryside, in places you’d never think would be at risk of attack.

If you’ve got bunker fever, you can even do a full-day bunkers and beaches tour! Only when you travel Albania, guys.

bunkart quirky things to do in tirana

44. In fact, there’s no country quite comparable to 20th century Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, even Tito’s Yugoslavia, Mao’s China, and Khruschev’s USSR were all just too liberal and not purely communist enough. As a result, Albania had no external ties with other countries from 1978 until 1991.

When the dictatorship finally fell, things like bananas and blue jeans were totally brand-new phenomena. Even today’s North Korea has a more open economy than pre-1990s Albania. Luckily, Albania has been quite quick to take to modernization.

45. But there’s so much more than just the Communist past. I understand (and share!) the fascination with Albania’s insane communist past. But before that, Albania has almost 5,000 years of history, with influence from Greeks, Illyrians, Romans, Venetians, Byzantines, and Ottomans. That all has shaped the country so much more than its Communist era, even though those have the most obvious visual influence.

day trips from Saranda Albania - a great thing to do when traveling Albania
Albania is home to some of the best-preserved Christian mosaics in the world, like Butrint

46. The 400-year occupation of the Ottoman Empire forever changed Albania in unique ways. As a result of the occupation, Albania became a majority Muslim country — approximately 60% — although most Albanians follow a very loose interpretation of Islam – if they follow anything at all.

Most Albanians, even if they’re of Muslim origin, eat pork and drink alcohol (in fact, I think your Albanian citizenship is revoked if you don’t drink rakia. I kid, I kid), and very few women wear headscarves, regardless of origin (although those who do don’t get any odd looks).

47. Yet for years, Albania was the only country in the world to have an outright ban on religion. That’s right. In 1967, the practice of religion was completely banned within the country of Albania. As a result, unfortunately, many churches and mosques throughout the country were destroyed. Albanians have been working hard to rebuild these places of worship throughout the country. Precious few remain of the pre-Communist era – only those that party leaders deemed worthy of cultural preservation, such Et’hem Bey mosque in Tirana, pictured above.

48. Albania is a true cultural mixing pot. Throughout time, Albania has had the influence of Greeks and Romans, Slavs and Italians, Muslims and Christians. These divisions don’t really seem to faze Albanians, and the unifying fact of language, tradition, and above all — patriotism — seem to be more important than ethnicity or religion.

49. Albanians are incredibly tolerant of other religions. Interfaith marriages are quite common in Albania, and friend groups are typically well-integrated and have little to do with religion. Religion appears to be more of a cultural or hereditary signifier than any deeply held convictions.

Unlike countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, where ethnic strife was in large part exacerbated by religious differences, Albanians really don’t seem to care that much about religion. In fact, Albania is the only country in which the population of Jews increased during WWII, as average citizens took in thousands of Jewish refugees at great risk to themselves, despite having virtually no ties to Judaism.

travel to Albania and see the Korca caethedral
The Orthodox cathedral in Korça was only built in 1992, replacing the church that communists had destroyed in the late 1960s.

50. In fact, for many, “the only religion of Albania is Albanianism.” This quote was co-opted by Enver Hoxha to justify his religious ban; however, it originally appeared in Shkodra’s beloved poet Pashko Vasa’s nationalist poem “O moj Shqiperi”. Basically, that is to say, Albanians are much more concerned with sharing an ethnic and cultural legacy based on the concept of being Albanian, rather than being concerned with any religious ties.

51. Albania is a UNESCO darling, with three major sites having UNESCO Status.

day trips from Saranda Albania

52. One of them, Butrint, is a 2,000 old set of Roman ruins. It has alternately been ruled by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans. It’s set on a beautiful lake near the border with Greece, and it’s almost always completely deserted, making it a beautiful place to wander, snap photos, and imagine a simpler world taking place exactly where you stood over two millennia ago. Definitely one of the best points of interest in Albania.

53. Gjirokastra is another UNESCO site, just as breathtaking as Butrint. It is an Ottoman-era “museum city” complete with a gorgeous ruined castle perched atop a massive hill surrounded by houses with layered flat stone roofs. (Note: I just did a day trip to Gjirokastra, but friends raved about Stone City Hostel, open seasonally)

gjirokaster awesome day trip from saranda

54. In fact, Gjirokastra is also home to iso-polyphony folk music, which is a uniquely Albanian tradition honored by UNESCO’s intangible heritage designation. Every year, performances are held in the castle, keeping the tradition alive. To be honest, the music isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s incredible what they are able to do with their voices, creating unique, haunting sounds without the use of a single instrument.

55. Berat is twinned with Gjirokastra, though it’s worth visiting totally aside from Gjirokastra. It is the more famous twin, and equally gorgeous in my opinion, yet quite different. Berat is marked with only white paint and large square windows that look almost like eyes, giving it the nickname “City of a Thousand Windows.”

Honestly, I think UNESCO made a mistake by twinning these cities together, which suggests that you can see one of the two and “get the idea.” They’re both incredibly unique places, and each warrants its own visit. It’s definitely worth visiting for a few days, but you can also visit Berat as a day trip from Tirana as well.

When in Berat, I can’t say I recommend staying at Berat Backpackers. Everyone there was incredibly kind and the rooms were clean and comfy… but the wifi was practically nonexistent, but the shower pressure was the worst I’ve ever experienced in 10 years of traveling. You can get a cheap hotel for as little as $10-15 a night, so treat yourself.

56. There are many other places on UNESCO’s tentative list that are also worth a visit. The Durrës Amphitheatre, Apollonia, and Ohrid, among others, are all on the list for consideration.

57. But historic cities aren’t all Albania has to offer – it has incredible lakes. Lake Komani is the gem of Albania, followed closely by Lake Shkodra (which it shares with Montenegro), Lake Ohrid (which it shares with Macedonia), and Lake Butrint. All so different, yet so beautiful. Check out the video below to get an idea.

Thanks to Dan Flying Solo for letting me use his epic video of Lake Komani.

58. Aside from its lakes, Albania has deep-flowing natural springs. These springs are called “Blue Eyes,” and while there is an incredibly famous one in the south (called Syri I Kalter in Albanian), there is an equally beautiful though lesser known one in Thethi as well.

blue eye syri i kalter day trip from Saranda

59. It has gorgeous waterfalls as well that locals love to swim in. The waterfalls in Begova near Berat are a favorite of locals when the summers get hot — with rakia, of course! It’s too bad I was in Berat in mid-October so I didn’t go to these waterfalls.

60. It even has a wine region with surprisingly delicious wine. I did, however, sample the surprisingly excellent local wines in Berat, made by Cobo Wineries. Wine tasting tours are available as well!

61. It’s yet to be Westernized with American fast food chains… well, except the one. I love the fact that the country’s first international chain, KFC, is opening literally across the road from Enver Hoxha’s old mansion. I believe that’s what we call “throwing shade”, Albania. Nicely done.


62. You’ll meet a lot of like-minded travelers in Albania. I guess because not many people travel to Albania, the tourists who do go there are really interesting, easy-going, and open-minded. I never met more interesting and fun people than I did when traveling in Albania! The hostels in Albania are fabulous as well – I know it may sound scary to the uninitiated, but hotels are one of the best ways to travel Albania if you’re solo. Check out top-rated hostels here.

63. Sometimes, it seems as if parts of Albania are stuck in a time capsule. You’ll be driving along a surprisingly smooth highway when suddenly, hey! There are goats and cows wandering the roads.


 64. Albania is squarely outside the Schengen zone, making it perfect if you’re staying in Europe for over 90 days. Many countries in the Balkans, including Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia are also outside Schengen, so it’s easy to plan a little detour to travel in Albania if you’re close to using up the 90 days out of the 180 days on your Schengen visa and need to spend time outside the zone to keep your visa valid.

65. It’s quite easy for foreigners to get visas. 77 countries and territories, plus every EU country, can visit Albania visa-free for 90 days. But even if you’re not one of those countries, if you’ve had and used a valid UK, US, or EU visa, you get the same 90-day visa policy as all other qualifying countries.

66. Though hostels are new the country, they are surprisingly excellent. Every single hostel I stayed at in Albania was great (with the minor exception of Berat Backpackers), and far better and cheaper than a lot of hostels I’ve stayed at in Western Europe, including cities like Rome and Barcelona.

In fact, Trip’N Hostel in Tirana is probably the best hostel I’ve stayed at, period. They even brew their own beer! Be sure to book in advance if you go during the high season. I was so lucky as a walk-in to get the last bunk — everyone after me had to find another place.

The best hostel I've ever stayed at for $12 a night, with this delicious omelette and Albanian coffee included.
The best hostel I’ve ever stayed at for $12 a night, with this delicious omelette and Albanian coffee included.

67. Albania is a delightful mix of discovered and undiscovered. You can really choose your own adventure here… whether you want to stick to the slightly-well-trodden path of Tirana and Saranda, or if you want to get a little more off the path and visit the quaint smaller cities of Shkodra and Korca, there are tons of options, all within furgon distance.

68. Albanian wedding parties are the best parties. I stumbled across one happening in the street next to the gyro restaurant in downtown Himara. It was just a giant circle dance that got bigger and bigger, more and more intricate throughout the night.

69. Albania will teach you patience. I will admit that travel in Albania is not the most straightforward, though I don’t think it necessarily makes it difficult. Sometimes, your bus will be late, or it will be unclear where you’re supposed to go. However, things always have a way of working out here. Give yourself some extra time and enjoy the ride.

But patience is easy when your surroundings are this gorgeous. Photo courtesy of Janet Newenham yet again

70. Albania will also teach you trust. Because Albania isn’t the easiest place to travel, especially since the public transportation system is run mostly by word of mouth and there’s no online timetable, you’ll have to learn to trust strangers. But that is actually a blessing in disguise, because it’ll show you just how kind and caring most people in the world are. And even moreso in this special little corner of the world.

71. English is actually fairly widely spoken – followed closely by Italian. The second language of Albanians tends to fall on strictly generational lines. Those who grew up under communism likely stole television and radio signals from Italy as the only way of having contact with the outside world; therefore, the older generation by and large speaks Italian to some extent. Younger people, and anyone who works in hospitality, has a fairly good understanding of English.

72. But what Albanians may lack in language skills, they’ll make up for in doggedness, body language, and effort. It’s not like an Albanian to shrug their shoulders and ignore you – they will do their damnedest to either answer your question through dramatic gesturing, dragging you down the street to finding someone who can help you, calling a friend on their phone and having you speak to them, or walking you right to your destination.

73. In short, Albanians are resilient and resourceful. They survived the most oppressive communist regime in history, saw the other end, and are now welcoming to outsiders from around the world. It’s astounding to me, a one-time New Yorker who hasn’t suffered anything more than the indignity of being trapped on a sweaty train car with five breakdancing teenage boys shouting “Showtime,” how people who have dealt with so much can be so welcoming, but they are.

74. Albania is changing… fast. With foreign investments coming in and the slow march of tourism coming down from the Croatian coast through Montenegro, it won’t be long until Albania changes. When cruise ships start regularly stopping at Albania… I must admit, I’ll be a little worried about what’ll happen to the precious beaches of Himara and Dhermi.

75. Albania is never boring. No matter where you go in the country, I can guarantee you, you’ll have never seen any place quite like it.

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Travel Albania and be astounded by the food, history, picture opportunities, beaches, and culture. From the capital of Tirana to the Albanian Riviera, there’s so much history and wonderful people to be found. Need convincing? I’ve got 75 reasons why this is literally my favorite country I’ve ever been to.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I truly believe in.

Glamping in a Yurt in Utah Underneath the Milky Way

Is it weird that my dream house is all one room, located 45 minutes away from civilization, and has no electricity or running water?

… If you answered yes, I’ll show myself the door. If you’re my yurt kindred spirit, this one’s for you. This yurt in Utah is everything I’ve been dreaming of.

We arrived at Zion Backcountry Yurts after 45 minutes of driving away from Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The last half hour of driving was down an unpaved road that we were warned became impassable after heavy rain.

At first glance, the yurt appeared tiny, and I began to doubt the owner’s claims that it could sleep nine. Once inside, I saw that the yurt’s circular design – which made it look so diminutive on the outside – actually made it incredibly spacious.

Stay in a yurt in Utah

Sunlight flooded the yurt from the windows and skylight, making it seem even larger. In addition to three bunk beds — which would indeed sleep nine as three were double beds — there was room for two long tables, a kitchen with three gas burners, a kitchen prep surface, a cooler, a reading nook, and a wood-fired stove.

That stove wasn’t just for cozy aesthetics – though that was a nice bonus. As the yurt is entirely off the grid, with zero electricity, the wood-fired stove would be our source of heat throughout the cool May nights.

The cooking area was well-stocked with the necessary equipment and spices. After years of dealing with lackluster hostel kitchens, I truly appreciated how everything you needed to cook a great meal was provided. There was free coffee and tea, perfect as your nearest coffee shop is a good hour away at best.

The greatest part of staying in the yurt in Utah’s backcountry is just how in tune with nature it is. Completely off the grid, heated only by burning wood, lit only by a few LED lights at night, I’ve never felt so at peace.

As a blogger and a night owl who does her best work (slash Netflix binge-watching) at night, it can be so hard for me to unplug late at night and go to sleep. Without electricity or wifi to distract me, I certainly didn’t have any problems doing just that when staying in the yurt.

But the absolute best part of staying in the yurt in Utah’s backcountry was when I woke up at four in the morning to use the bathroom only to see the Milky Way glimmering above me for the first time in my life. 

That’s when I attained yurt nirvana.

I’m a self-confessed space geek; I’ve listened to every single podcast Neil deGrasse Tyson has ever put out and probably know more about dark matter than I do about pop culture. 

Seeing the bright belt of stars streaking above the yurt through the darkest sky I’ve ever seen — darker even than the night I spent in the Sahara Desert — was an almost spiritual experience for me. #nerdalert

Sunsets were equally magical, stopping everything to watch the sun disappear behind the red cliffs of nearby Zion National Park. Afterwards, I enjoyed the ritual of lighting the torches to usher in the inky night and brilliant stars.

Utah, you’re really something special.

If you want a piece of the yurt action, you’re in luck — it’s available on Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my link to get $40 off your first stay.

Check availability on Airbnb now


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Go glamping in luxury just outside one of Utah's most beautiful places -- Zion National Park! Stay in a yurt underneath the Milky Way by night and hike the Narrows and Angels Landing by day. Check it out to see inside this gorgeous yurt!

Note: A huge thank you to Zion Backcountry Yurts for hosting me for two nights. All opinions are my own.