7 Steps To Take A Bachelorette Party To New Heights

Our “hens” came from San Diego, CA, Chicago, IL, Charlotte, NC, and all over Texas. From North to South, East to West we had the map covered. When your best gals live across the US, they’re gonna have to travel wherever the party is. But a central spot to meet that can’t be beat is the mile high city, Denver.

It’s been 8 years since I last planned a bachelorette party, and oh how it’s changed. When I was maid-of-honor for my sister, we did a one-night celebration in Grand Rapids, Michigan equipped with penis straws and a list of (somewhat embarrassing) tasks to complete. This was a pre-Pinterest party, and I was only 22 so I didn’t have a lot of money or experience with this kind of thing… yet. Now that I’ve attended more than 50 weddings and my fair share of bachelorette parties, I am pretty familiar with the do’s and don’ts of organizing this type of affair.

How to Plan an Utterly Fabulous Bachelorette Party Weekend

Step 1: It’s all about her.

Ignore everyone else and find out what the bride-to-be really wants to do. This is her one day/ weekend to hang with all her besties in one place, and de-stress from the craze of wedding planning before the big day. Everyone will be (should be) supportive of what makes your girl happy, and then you have less work trying to balance all of the interests and preferences of the whole group.

Tip: I prepared a PPT presentation with a bunch of ideas of things to do in Denver, categorized by activities, eats, and libations. I presented to Katy and let her pick which were most appealing to her, then organized into a loose itinerary and made reservations.

Step 2: Keep It Affordable

You aren’t aware of all of the guests financial situations, so keep activities optional and affordable so they can chose what works within their own budget (and interests). Save on costs by:

  • Booking an AirBNB instead of a hotel
  • Getting groceries for the group, eating breakfast at the AirBNB every day
  • Renting a vehicle big enough for the group
  • Keep party favors to a minimum
  • Select only 1-2 “splurge” activities
  • Find free things to do (like hiking in the park or hanging in the hot tub)

Step 3: Schedule in free-time

In full disclosure, I think the weekend-long bachelorette parties are getting out of hand. Sure it’s fun to travel to new places, but when I take time off work, and spend money on travel, I want to see what’s the most interesting to me. And that might not align with the rest of the group. If you’re going to go with the long weekend party, pack some flexibility into your itinerary so people can explore on their own and not be tied to a finite itinerary. Even if everyone doesn’t have somewhere they want to explore or an old friend they were hoping to see, they’ll definitely appreciate the time to just relax, hang with each other, recover from hangovers and enjoy the amenities of where you are staying.

Tip: Pick one day of the weekend that is the actual “bachelorette party” day, people can prioritize the activities planned for that day and still do their own thing the other days if they choose. Remember that not everyone thrives in big group settings, so don’t force it if it’s not their thing.

Step 4: Look for a variety of activities

Don’t fill your entire weekend with bars, and more drinking and more bars. While it can be fun, it gets expensive fast and is hard to sustain for multiple days in a row. Mix it up. (I’m in my thirties now, can’t hang like I used to!). Here are some ideas:

  • Organize a hike – keep it at an activity level that is suitable to your group
  • Take an art class/workshop together – sewing, painting, pottery, flower-arranging
  • Visit a brewery, winery or distillery – take a tour or participate in one of their scheduled events
  • Volunteer – find local charitable organizations and offer a few hours of help
  • Attend a concert or find somewhere to hang out with free live music
  • Look for street festivals and art fairs to peruse
  • Take a cooking class or attend a demonstration
  • Old-school fun: roller skating rink, billiards, arcades, ice skating, bumper cars, bocce ball, go-karts, bowling, etc.
  • Unconventional fun: attend a roller derby, “skydive” at iFly, actually skydive, scavenger hunt, Zorbing
  • Take a tour – walking tour, ghost tour, brewery tour, gangster tour, theater tour, architecture tour – you name it
  • Get in the water: waterfalls, hot springs, water sports, kayaking, boat rides, hot tubs or pool lounging

Step 5: Simplify Logistics

Not everyone has vacation time to use, extended care for their kids/pets or can find cheap travel on your schedule. Especially for the long weekends, keep the arrival and departure flexible. Make it known what the host and bachelorette’s travel plans are so that everyone can try to align, but allow anyone to come/go as what works for them. This is another advantage of AirBNB, many have keypad entries. Your late arrival guests can let themselves in, drop their bags and come meet up with the group. Traveling in groups can be complicated. Where there are opportunities to simplify this, act on it. For example, there were 8 in our group – I rented and 8-person SUV to take care of most of the transportation to/from the airport and some of the sober activities. This saved the group as a whole on Uber rides, and I didn’t absorb the cost. Instead, I factored it in to each person’s portion of the AirBNB rental. When planning activities, consider the proximity between them. If there are two things in walking distance and you can do them back-to-back, it will make it easier than trying to move your whole group to another location. And schedule in plenty of time in between. Shifting a large group is hard to do. Don’t give yourself stress of being late or missing a reservation… just pack enough time in advance.

Step 6: Set Clear Expectations

I find that people usually want more information than not enough. Create a Facebook group or an evite, or snail-mail an invite with all the details. Things to communicate:

  • What is the itinerary?
  • How much will things cost?
  • Who/How do they need to pay and by when?
  • What should they pack?
  • Gifts/No gifts?
  • What are the rules where you are staying?
  • What are the confirmed reservations with set times to be somewhere?
  • What should they do if they have dietary restrictions or allergies, etc.?

Step 7: Decorate

Hey, for some, penis straws, cakes and cookies are still all the rage. For the rest of us, you can decorate your AirBNB to tie in a theme for the party, or bring in the theme/color-scheme that is being used for the wedding. You can buy lots of decor inexpensively on Amazon, but you should also look at the hand-crafted items on Etsy. Customized decor is another great way to go – look for vendors like “Theme Come True” who will created customized photo props, signage and more to bring your theme to life.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun…

Keep this your mantra… everyone is there to have a good time. “Fun” is just defined differently for everyone. But keeping it flexible, laid-back and somewhat affordable – you’ll make it a lot easier to keep the whole group satisfied. And if not, we’ll let them be lame, grumpy fun-ruiners. It wasn’t about them anyway.

Related Reading:

Falling in Love

Our symbiosis was undeniable.

My single life was filled with invincibility, contentment and comfortable independence; I was safe, secure and in control. I traveled the world, I did exactly what I wanted to do (always), and I was totally fine.

A shared fervor for sights unseen and paths less-traveled ignited our interest in each other, and his astonishingly straight-forward intrigue lessened my fear of vulnerability.

He was a born and raised city boy, but enthusiastic about the outdoors and eager for adventure. His charm was apparent at the start, but his tolerance and tenderness was revealed over time.

I let him in.

He does things his way. He wants me to do it his way too. I’m stubborn. We don’t ever fight.

We have traveled the world together, and always do exactly what we want to do. We explore sights unseen and paths less traveled. We get outdoors and take on adventure. We are totally fine.

One year ago today, he told me he loved me. We had been dating for four weeks. I said, “You do…?” And then moments later, “I think I do too.”

We are totally in love.

Tasting Menu at Temporis

Living in Chicago, I’ve experienced some of the best eats in the world. It’s a passion of mine that has added a few lbs to the waist line and subtracted quite a few $$s from the bank account. However, in the past year (in an effort to save money and finally use all of my really cool cooking gadgets), I’ve taken my affinity for foodie eats to my own kitchen.

I’m no Top Chef… yet… but I have cooked octopus sous vide style and hosted a dinner party featuring balsamic rosemary filet mignon, cauliflower mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. I am fairly confident I used every cooking gadget I have for that meal – from sous vide to immersion blender, from instant pot to food chopper and everything in between. I felt pretty impressive, but not as impressive as this epic cheese plate we created:

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While I’m getting better in the kitchen, I well aware of my reduced presence at dining establishments around town. I yearn for nights I get to get all dressed up (and force my love to do the same), sit down at a nice restaurant, and let some of the best chefs and hospitality staff in the world cater to us. Fortunately, my amazing boss suggested I go out to a nice dinner to celebrate the launch of our new website (more than a year of hard work when into the creation of that bad boy!), so go out to a nice dinner I did.

I was excited to try Temporis, a sleek 20-seat fine dining spot in West Town with an 11-course tasting menu! [4.8 stars on OpenTable, 4.5 stars on Yelp, no Michelin Stars… yet!]

As the typical experience lasts around 2.5 hours, we chose to book an early reservation so we weren’t up past our bed time. When we arrived at 6 p.m., we were told we were the only reservation at that time so we’d have the place to ourselves. We ended up having it to ourselves the whole night.

11-Course Tasting Menu

When we visited, the co-chefs Sam Plotnick and Evan Fullerton, formerly of Les Nomades, were serving up an 11-course tasting menu at $125 per person (wine pairings were available for $95 or $165). The menu featured escargot*, faroe island salmon, capellini, octopus*, cauliflower, guinea hen, venison*, kombucha, sofia, foie gras ice cream*, and a chocolate dessert.

Starting with the escargot was perfection – it was a one-bite flavor sensation. As we moved through the other courses, we found that some were absolutely beautifully plated, but the flavor blends didn’t offer anything unique enough to stand out. Until we got to the octopus… game changer. For both of us, the octopus with miso, eggplant and iberico was the best course of the meal. I would’ve traded out a few courses for more of this one:

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The next course that was worthy of mention was the venison with madeira, kabocha and apple. This one had an interesting flavor profile and I found it difficult to distinguish what exactly I was tasting. But it was great. I don’t have a picture to share as I tried to enjoy my date vs. taking loads of pictures. However, I pulled the camera out for one last pic as the first dessert course was delivered.

Pouring from outside of this glass dome was campfire smoke – it actually smelled like sitting around the bon fire back in Michigan where I grew up. As you pulled the glass dome away, foie gras ice cream was revealed. This was one of the most memorable plates of the night. Presentation was outstanding, I always love a bit of nostalgia, and the flavor was surprisingly exceptional.

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Overall, while I would have loved to share this dining experience with some strangers (if for nothing else but some white noise), it was wonderful to get dressed up and share the night with my love. While the menu didn’t achieve an 11/11 for me, there were 4 dishes that struck my fancy and left a lasting impression.

The restaurant is decorated beautifully – it’s simple and modern, but elegant. The service was fantastic, very attentive. And they offer a microgreens garden at your table; some might find it pretentious, but we thought it was a nice extra touch.

I’d like to see Temporis stick around, refine and enhance their menu (and wine pairings). It’s great to have something like what they offer in the neighborhood. Check it out and let me know what you think of your experience!

20-Something Things I’m Leaving in My Twenties

I don’t hate getting older, and I don’t yearn for days of the past [except easier hangovers and generally better physical prowess]. I am older, wiser and fatter now than I was 10, 5 and even one year ago. Each year I learn, I grow, I hurt, I heal, I feel, I stumble, I explore and I find myself a little bit more. I just turned 30… and boy was I ready for it.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I’m stubborn as hell. If you tell me to do something, I’m compelled to do the exact opposite. So rather than tell you what to do with your life, I’m gonna tell you what I plan to do with mine. As I take on this next decade, I won’t be taking with me:

  1. New Year resolutions.
  2. Stress about finances.
  3. Other people’s stress.
  4. Social media scrolling.
  5. Spirit Airlines.
  6. High heels (honestly I dropped these around 25).
  7. Bob Saget super fandom.
  8. Anything below SPF 30.
  9. Fear of being alone.
  10. Forgetting what I bought on Amazon.
  11. FOMO.
  12. Clothes from high school (except for my pink, not Pink sweatpants).
  13. Cold weather (I wish!).
  14. Nicholas Sparks books.
  15. Sleeping in a full face of makeup.
  16. Fake eyelashes.
  17. Moving targets.
  18. Being afraid of sharing my feelings.
  19. Zero weekends at home.
  20. Frontier Airlines.
  21. Being overly concerned with being fat.
  22. Carrying a credit card balance.
  23. Not saying no to plans.

Twenties, you were one helluva decade. You showed me the world, you taught me some things. I won’t forget it.

Varadero, Cuba - Wandering Worldwide

A Bachelorette Party in Pittsburgh

I was recently asked how many weddings I’ve been to – a quick count landed at more than 40 weddings in the past 10 years. Lots of weddings, means lots of bachelorette parties. And as of late, bachelorette parties are rarely just a party, but rather an entire weekend escapade.

I’ve done bachelorette weekends in Nashville (a blast), I’ve done Chicago (perk: sleeping in my own bed) and I’ve done one in almost every Midwestern city with a Dave and Busters. When one of my dearest friends told me she was planning her weekend in Pittsburgh to go visit museums and breweries, I without pause said… “IN!”

Thanks to my flight attendant roommate, I didn’t have to worry about the cost of the flight (roomie perks!). I had never been to Pittsburgh before and surprisingly really had very little knowledge about what there was to do there. Surprising because there actually was so much to do, and we had a damn good time doing as much as we could in two days.

Polish Hill

We stayed in an AirBNB in the Polish Hill area (save $30 on your next booking through this link). It felt very East-coast and was full of charm. It was very walkable and there were plenty of bars nearby. But my favorite thing nearby was not a bar, nope. It was a Peanut Butter Jelly Time: a gourmet PB&J sushi bar. This place had absolutely any fixings you would think (or not think) of putting on a PB&J. And then, they roll it into sushi and serve with chop-sticks. I loved it.

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PokemonGo had been released shortly before the trip, and I was not alone in my “gotta catch ’em all addiction.” Pittsburgh proved to be prime pokestop territory and we walked around the city draining our phone batteries playing the game. Raven, the bride to be, didn’t play but was a good sport at cheering us on as we desperately sought a Pikachu.

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We started our self-guided walking tour in The Strip Disctrict.

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The Strip District

We spent the most time in the Strip District, an area with plenty to offer for those looking for a cold beverage or a sweet treat. The streets and bars were jam packed, but fear not, there are enough bloody mary’s to go around. Make sure to pop into East End Brewing Co. while you’re in the area for a flight. Sit at the bar – it’s a good place to make new friends.

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Duckboat Tours

This was one of the most memorable outings of the trip – which is atypical for me because it’s also the most touristy. However, the operators of this tour did such nice job sharing fun and interesting facts about the city and keeping it incredibly entertaining. Once on the river, they gave multiple people the opportunity to drive the duck boat, and provided lots of silly photo opps for our bride-to-be.

 

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Duquesne Incline

For incredible views of Pittsburgh and a fun little ride in an century-old cable car – viist the Duquesne Incline. It operates from 5:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. so you’ve got a large window to fit it into your visit. Once you get to the top there is a terrace with an outstanding look at the city from across the river. Venture down Grandview Ave for restaurants and bars with indoor/outdoor seating and floor-to-ceiling windows.

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Breweries

I’m usually game for a good dive bar, and we went to quite a few – but smoking inside is still allowed in Pittsburgh which made them less desirable for me. Alas, if you’re like me and can’t hack it – there are plenty of breweries to wet your palette. Strong recommendation: The Church Brew Works. Great food, great beers and even better ambiance.
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Phipps Conservatory

Our last stop was Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It was a bit outside of the city, but had enough butterflies and flowers to make it worth the trip for our little nature loving bachelorette. It was HOT AS BALLS inside. So I was pretty damn set on getting out of there as soon as possible, but first I took some pretty pictures to share with you.

 

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Side note: This post is super late as the bride has now already been married for over a year! But… nonetheless, I promised the sister of the bride that eventually, she (and this trip) would make it onto the blog! Serena – I’ve finally delivered! Hope you like it!

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A Return From an Unplanned Hiatus, Kinda

Hi, I’m back!

Not from any big trip, but rather from a far too long, but super necessary hiatus from writing on this here blog. But alas, I’ve not stopped wandering worldwide. In the 4ish months since my last post, I:

  • Attended Lollapalooza in Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Spent 5 days adoring elephants and seeking out the Big 5 on a safari in Kruger National Park
  • Drove on the left side of the car and left side of the Garden Route exploring the beautiful beach towns in South Africa
  • Explored all of the best of Cape Town with a new friend, an old friend and an unwanted chauffeur
  • Took a solo road trip across the Northern U.S., fell in love with Dear Sugar podcasts and spent a day getting soaked at Niagra Falls
  • Played Pokemon Go all over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and drank beer at a brewery operating out of a defunct church
  • Took a work trip to San Francisco, California and woke up early to hike to the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Hosted/entertained many of my closest lifetime pals in my pretty city of Chicago (including dining at The Max from Saved by the Bell and an organized pop-up dinner party in a park)
  • I got to watch amazing friends sign up for a lifetime with their lovers while overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in Riviera Maya, a rooftop in Kalamazoo, Michigan and on the lawn of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York

Each of these trips were memorable, incredible and worthy of a post, eventually. The truth is, I’ve just needed to step away for a bit to focus on some other very personal things that have been going on in my life. Some good, some bad – all competing for my attention.

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So with this post, I’m hoping to force away any writers block keeping me from posting, re-commit myself to sharing the best/worst of my travels with the world and start thinking about that next BIG trip!

 

Wandering South of the Equator

Brazil + South Africa, Here We Come!

It has been one heckuva crazy month – especially the past week. In the last 4 days, my team went to market with a huge study, I had my first employee review on the new job, I snuggled with a close friend’s brand new baby, I bought a condo (and speed painted two bedrooms), and prepared to leave for a big, exciting, holy crap I can’t believe it’s here… trip. Tomorrow is the big day – Katy and I will depart Chicago (just hours shy of the kick off of St. Pattie’s Day bar crawls) and enjoy two adventure filled weeks in Brazil and South Africa!

Preparing for this trip was no walk in the park. Unlike our other travels to Europe and across the U.S., heading South of the Equator has proven to take a lot of time, money and patience. From applying for Brazilian Visas – to trying to translate Portuguese via Google Translate – to getting four vaccination injections – to wiring money over the internet… it’s been a whirlwind. But now, it’s time for lift off.

The Itinerary 

Days 1 – 2 Sao Paulo, Brazil

As United Mileageplus members, we enjoy some travel luxuries like free luggage, early-access boarding, and the occasional pass for the United Club. However, one of the best United perks of all are free stopovers. FREE STOPOVERS! We didn’t quite know how this worked on trips in the past, but finally will get to take advantage of it on this trip. This blog showed us how to get free stopovers on United. And so, we extended out 7 hour layover in Sao Paulo to two days, which will give us just enough time to get a small taste of the city and see some awesome bands at Lollapalooza Brasil!

Days 3-7 Kruger, South Africa

Next we’ll be flying into Johannesburg and taking a private safari in Kruger National Park. There we’ll stay for four nights and hope to get killer sightings of all of the Big 5. We’re packing ample malaria pills, mosquito nets, and mosquito repellent clothes spray. While it’s calling for rain right now, some of my most memorable trips were made better because of the rain. So we’ll see if this one turns out the same.

Days 7-11 Driving the Garden Route

After the safari, we’ll fly to Port Elizabeth, pick up a rental car and try our luck at driving on the opposite side of the road. I have a feeling Katy is going to leave that part to me. :/ Eeek. It will be an adventure! All along the garden route there are beautiful sights to be seen and thrills to be seeked. The total drive between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town is only 8 hours, but we’ll spread it out over the four days and stay in some absolutely incredible and/or interesting spots all along the way.

Days 11-15 Exploring Cape Town

The end of our trip will  be spent exploring Cape Town. We may do wineries, shark diving, warm water penguin hanging or maybe just some resting in our rooftop airstream trailer. This is real my friends, and it is actually where we will be staying.

How to Overpack for Africa

While I wish I would have had a little more time to pack, unpack, and repack my suitcase this week – I feel like I have everything I could possibly need for this trip (knock on wood). I’ll be publishing a blog when we return with all the details of what we brought, what we needed and what we definitely didn’t need.

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I hope you’ll continue reading along as I have big plans to share all kinds of amazing stories from this trip with you over the next few weeks (as wifi allows).

How to Obtain a Visa for Brazil

On a whim we added to our South Africa trip an extended layover in Brazil. Had we known how much work it was to visit there (for less than 36 hours), we may have reconsidered. As the last few days of trying to acquire a visa for the trip has required much effort and confusion, this blog will hopefully prevent someone else from experiencing the same.

 

Obtaining a visa to visit Brazil from the U.S. is a bigger pain in the ass than a Brazilian wax. I imagine if you don’t live near a major metropolitan city it’s probably even worse. To get a visa in Chicago, I had to go to the Consulado-Geral do Brasil em Chicago (Consulate General Brazil). But before you visit your consulate, ensure you have a solid understanding of all the materials you’ll need to bring with you. Also, be prepared to process this far in advance as they will not expedite the process unless there is a severe medical emergency.

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How to Apply for a Visa to Visit Brazil in Chicago

While the Consulate General Brazil Chicago website supposedly has “all the information you need,” it’s fairly confusing and unorganized. So as of today, the below information outlines what you really need to know. However, should you be traveling in the future you should probably also check the consulate list to ensure nothing has changed with the process.

  1. Visit this page to verify that you live in an area within the jurisdiction of the Chicago consulate office.
  2. Go to Walgreens to have a passport photo taken – DO NOT ATTEMPT to take one yourself. Many Google reviews talk about the hassle of repeat denials. Worth the $13 to just get it right the first time.
  3. Visit a U.S. Postal Office and get two things:
    1. A pre-paid priority mail envelope (currently $6.45) with tracking; address this to yourself as your materials will be returned to you in it.
    2. A money order for $160.00
  4. Book your travel – all flight itineraries and hotel bookings must be confirmed before you can apply for a visa. Once they’re confirmed, print all confirmations.
  5. Make a photo copy of your drivers license or a utility bill that shows proof of residence within the jurisdiction area.
  6. Fill out this online form to begin your application:
    1. Scan a copy of the identification page of your passport
    2. Save a PDF copy of all of your flight and hotel itineraries
    3. Upload a digital copy of your passport photo; use picmonkey to crop or resize to required specs
    4. Sign a blank piece of paper; use picmonkey to crop or resize to required specs
    5. Submit form and print confirmation: it took me 4 times of filling out the form until I was finally passed on to the next page to print the confirmation form.

Compile all of the above documentation and your passport into one folder; and visit the Consulate General Brazil at 401 N. Michigan Avenue between 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday. There are no exceptions; no other times. The lines are long – I was there at 8:45 and had 9 people in front of me waiting before they opened. Your only alternative is to manage the process via US Mail – but it will take longer to process.

Processing your visa will take 10 days and then they will mail all of your documents (including passport) back to you in your pre-paid envelope. Ensure you have allowed enough time for processing and its return in the mail before your trip – they don’t mess around. Once you received it back in the mail, you should be good to go. Or at least I hope so. I’ll let you know after we’ve made it back from the trip!

 

XOXO,
Wandering Worldwide

Incredible Edible Italy – The Best 10 Day Itinerary

Visiting Italy was a beautiful beginning to a new chapter in my life. It was the first time I actually felt like an adult. It was the start of an amazing annual traveling tradition with my best friend. It was there I discovered a whole new appreciation for history, culture, art, food, standing in line for too long, a rainy day, a colorful sunset, people, architecture, friendship, rapid transit, and did I mention red wine?

If you’ve been thinking, hoping, wishing or planning to go to Italy – stop it now. Don’t wait another month, season, year – just go. Whether you’re an inexperienced traveler or a frequent flyer, Italy will inspire you, ignite you, and carb-load you. I assure you, before you land back home, you’ll be thinking about all the things you’ll do on your return trip.

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What You Should Know Before Your Trip to Italy

  • Language: You don’t need to know a lot of Italian to get by, but having basic knowledge is useful. I had taken some Italian classes in the past and I spent some time studying using the Duolingo app before the trip. Often signage, menus and flyers are translated in English – but you will likely encounter those that aren’t. Those are the best places to be. Find them and enjoy the weirdness of having to communicate without words.
  • Money: Check the conversion rate before you travel. Currently, the dollar is the strongest it has been against the Euro in years. Another reason you should go now. While credit cards are accepted at some restaurants and shops, you will want to carry cash with you. Do not exchange money at the airport – wait until you get to a major metro area and take money out of an ATM (check to ensure your bank doesn’t charge additional fees for international withdrawals). If you don’t already have one, get a credit card that doesn’t charge a fee for international transactions. I use the Chase Explorer card – it’s been great overseas. Venice is very expensive. Allocate in your budget 3x your predicted daily spend for each day in Venice.
  • Transportation: The train system throughout Europe is exceptional. It’s a very simple and affordable way to move throughout Italy. We used TrenItalia and had a great experience. Look up trains here. Each major city in Italy is unique – in Venice we took a water taxi, in Florence we spent a lot of time on foot (though scooters are popular too), getting to Cinque Terre required train travel, and in Rome we relied on the public transit system.
  • Food: While food in Italy is outstanding, you will very likely get very sick of carbs. Every restaurant has their own take on essentially the same menu: pizza, pasta, panini, or bruschetta. Your first few days it will delight you, then you’ll bloat and crave any other food. We did an ended up eating Mongolian one night, the only non-Italian restaurant we could find. For lunch, eat street meat or snack on granola bars and fruit snacks – your wallet will appreciate the break. Another way to eat well without breaking the bank is to avoid eating in or directly near a piazza. Walk just a few blocks away and it will likely be much more affordable. No matter where you go – eat the lasagna. You will not regret it and you’ll be mad the thing you ate in the U.S. bears the same name.
  • Safety: Overall, we felt safe in every city we visited. March is a bit outside of high tourism season, so we didn’t have to deal with big crowds. The two safety-related things you’ll hear about most often are pick-pocketers and catcalling at ladies. We didn’t personally have any issues with pick-pocketing. We took standard precautions and wore cross-body bags with zippers and kept our passports in a safe place. As for catcalling, we didn’t really have an issue with that either – but it could have been our smelly socks.
  • Wifi: Finding wifi is a mixed bag. In some cities like Rome and Florence, it was available in our AirBNB and in most restaurants and cafes. In Venice and Cinque Terre it was a little bit harder to come by.

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Itinerary: Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre & Rome

Day 1 – Venice

  • Arrive in the early afternoon
  • Hotel Option: Bauer B&B – A sophisticated, classy hotel close to Saint Mark’s Square
  • Eat Gelato at Piazza San Marco and the many Carnivale mask shops

Day 2 – Venice/ Rialto

  • Take a gondola or the water taxi over to the Rialto Bridge
  • Hotel Option: Get an AirBNB close to the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
  • Book with my code and get $20 off: LMALONE34
  • Shop in the Rialto Square Market – drink caldo vino (hot wine)
  • Find lasagna ragu, eat every last bite

Venice, Italy

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Day 3 – Florence

Day 4 – Florence

  • Go to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the Statue of David
  • Take a bus to see the Firenze Fiorentina play soccer/football – you can buy bus tickets at any Tabachi shop or many bus stops
  • Download a movie on your device while you have wifi
  • Pizza – eat it
  • Florence, Italy

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    Day 5 – Cinque Terre / Manarola

  • Take the train to Manarola; You will have a transfer in Pisa, so if you care to see the Leaning Tower you can book a trip with a long layover
  • Hotel Option: Hotel Marina Piccola
  • Relax and enjoy -this is the most beautiful and serene place you might ever be
  • There isn’t much night life, so this is when the movie comes in handy
  • Day 6 – Cinque Terre / Manarola

  • Hike or take the train to the other four terres, or lands. Riomaggiore and Vernazza were our favorites
  • Eat fresh seafood at the Marina Piccola ristorante
  • Manarola, Italy

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    Day 7 – Rome

  • Hotel: Le Stanze del Vaticano Leo (via AirBNB)
  • Take a long walk through Rome and see the sights. You can easily walk to and see the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Pantheon and Piazza Navona in one day.
  • Day 8 – Rome

  • The Colosseum and Roman Forum. Make ample time for this tour – it’s much larger than you’d expect and you won’t want to miss anything.
  • Day 9 – Rome

  • Vatican City – you’ll want to book a tour in advance so you can skip the outrageously long lines. We booked with My Vatican Tours and had Dario as our guide. Experiencing this with a guide is definitely worthwhile as there are so many little things you would miss if they weren’t pointed out and explained to you.
  • Rome, Italy

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    Day 10 – Travel Home –

    You won’t want to leave, but you’ll probably have to. There’s no place like Italy. You’ll go home feeling 10 years younger and 100 years wiser.

All The Places I’ll Go – 2016 Edition

I have big plans for 2016! In the last few weeks, I’ve booked two international trips and got the exciting news that I’ll have a Southwest companion pass for the year. It’s been below freezing recently in Chicago, so I’m very much thrilled that much of my travel in the next few months will be bringing me not only South of the border but South of the Equator too!

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January – Somewhere in Florida

This will be my first test run with the new companion pass. We’ve decided on Florida as it’s warm, there are many flights so it’s easy to get to, my mom just bought a house in Punta Gorda, and I have lots of friends and family there that we can visit and crash with.We could be going gulf side to the #1 Beach in the World, or possibly to the Miami area for my first time outside of the airport. It will be a pretty sporadic trip – just the way I like it.

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February – Houston, Texas

My dad lives in Houston, so with him I’ve visited many other cities like Dallas, San Antonio and most recently South Padre Island. On this trip, I’m going just to spend time with my dad doing the things that dad and I like to do: eat crawfish, drink beer, go on the boat, listen to country music and watch sports.

March – Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa

Each year, my travel soulmate and I take one big international trip to fully indulge in a place – eat the food, drink the drink, meet the people. In 2014, we visited Italy and went to Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre and Rome. In 2015, we visited Iceland in March, then in June went back over the pond to Frankfurt, Amsterdam and London.

This year – we’re doing it real big. We’ll be spending a few days in Sao Paulo, Brazil, then flying to Johannesburg, South Africa. We plan to spend some time at Victoria Falls, do a safari in Kruger, take a short trip to Mozambique for some cage diving with Great Whites, and then spend some leisurely time exploring West Cape wine country before we settle on the above pictured, incredibly rooftop airstream trailer park in Cape Town. There’s so much to plan, but I can’t be more excited. Visiting South Africa was #2 on my Bucket List. I CAN NOT WAIT.

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April – Riviera Maya, Mexico

I have only been to Mexico once before – to Cozumel on a cruise. This April, I’ll be flying into Cancun and going to Riviera Maya to attend a friend’s wedding. I’m really excited as there are a lot of Chicago friends that will be joining – many of which were also at this kick ass wedding in Wisconsin. Prior to this trip I plan to get my PADI SCUBA certification so that I can do some dives while I’m there. I’m also banking on some QT reading on the beach.

The Rest of 2016…

It’s hard to say what the rest of the year will bring. I recently started a new job, have a fully packed wedding calendar, and I’m weighing some pretty big life decisions which will affect my ability to travel for a few months. But, I definitely can’t sit still for long — so I’ll be wandering elsewhere before too long.

So please share with me – where are you itching to go this year?