Designing AWESOME Custom Clothing in Hoi An

I knew Hoi An was famous for its abundance of custom clothing tailors, but I had no idea just how crazy fashion in Hoi An could get!

It started with a girl I met in my dorm in Hanoi.  She was wearing fantastic Nike sneakers made out of beautifully patterned Asian satin.

“Your shoes are fantastic,” I told her. “Where on Earth did you get them?”

“Oh, I got them custom-made in Hoi An,” she cheerfully replied.

Right then I knew — the moment I arrived in Hoi An, I was going to design and order the most badass sneakers known to man!

And that is exactly what I did.

After more than an hour of poring over fabric samples, I designed my dream sneakers:


The moment I saw the magenta snakeskin, I knew I had to use it.  After playing with fabrics, I added a black snakeskin, a wild gold fabric — and emblazoned them with “”  WHAT ELSE?!

Because of the Tet holiday, the sneakers took longer than expected to finish, and they were shipped to me in Mui Ne.

And then I opened the box…and they were my dream come true.

Total cost for custom sneakers? $65.  The shipping was free because they were late.

Back to that night.  As soon as my sneakers were designed, I headed back to the tailor to see what the boys were up to.

Shopping for clothes in Hoi An is far from just a female pursuit — the boys were so excited to get custom suits!

Ste and the other boys got measured for suits.  Most of them were normal dark suits that would get a large number of wear at home…

…and then Dave determined to commission a pimp suit as well. Dolce & Gabbana-inspired white with pinstripes, bright fuchsia lining — it will be the pimp suit to end all pimp suits!

Total cost for suits: around $130 each.

Even if you don’t wish to buy custom clothing, there are many ready-to-wear items sold right through the city.

The moment I saw this top, I knew I had to have it.  The color, the style — it was SO me!

Total cost for top and pants: $45.

Not to be outdone, the boys found some awesome silk shirts emblazoned with dragons.

Wouldn’t wish to meet them in a dark alley!

Total cost: around $30 per shirt, I consider.

And then it was time for something special.

I knew that my mom and sister would love the custom clothing shops in Hoi An, but as far as our typical family holidays go, Vietnam was a bit too far for their limited time off.

So I determined to bring a piece of Vietnam home to them for their birthdays! I commissioned sure-to-be-gorgeous custom outfits for the three of us.  The white one is for my mom, the blue one (though it’ll be a brighter blue) is for my sister, and the fuschia one is for me!

Total cost: $45 per outfit, plus $40 for shipping.

No further details, since they’re a surprise.  The outfits are currently being shipped home to the U.S., arriving for their birthdays in April.  I will absolutely do a post on the outfits once I come home!

If you plan on visiting Hoi An, plan on budgeting for various custom clothing — you won’t find one-of-a-kind duds of excellent quality for prices like these anywhere else in Southeast Asia!

This post was sponsored by a third party.

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Dear Ladies: This Can Be Your Life, Too.

Every now and then, I receive an email or a Facebook comment from one of my girlfriends that contains the following phrase:

“You’re so lucky, Kate.”

I appreciate their words, but I disagree wholeheartedly.

I’m not lucky at all.

I’m in the same boat as all of you — I just made go back and forth a priority in my life.

What’s your priority?  Creating a beautiful home?  Moving upward in your career?  Living the VIP life around town?

Think about it. Where does your money go?  Where does your spare time go?

The results may surprise you.

I know that not every woman wants to go back and forth the way I do.  And that’s fine!

That said, many of you email me saying that you dream of traveling the world — but do not know if you’ll be able to.

Here’s the truth:

You can keep waiting for your life to change, or you’ll be able to choose to do something positive about it.

You can choose to go back and forth solo, instead of waiting for friends who may never be ready.

You can choose to save your money instead of living barely within your means.

You can choose to dump the boyfriend who doesn’t want you to go back and forth.  Or to tell him that it’s great that he has an opinion, and you’ll see him when you get back.

Yes, ladies.  You can do this, too. But only if you choose.

Only a year ago, I was in a completely different place.  I worked 8-5 in an office job — the pay was good, the field was great, and I was so miserable that I would tally every thirty-minute interval that passed.

It was more than just the job. I was tired of living in the cold for eight months of the year.  I was sick of punctuating the drudgery with amazingly fun but brief and expensive trips to Las Vegas.

I never thought I’d be 25 years old and still living in Boston, a mere 20 minutes from where I grew up.  I at all times thought I’d be doing something artistic for a living — writing, music, some kind of design.  Any kind of design.

This was not the life of which I had dreamed.

So I rearranged my priorities. I gave up my downtown Boston apartment.  I took on mountains of freelance work.  I stopped going out for drinks at all times.  I lived on very little, saving every spare penny for go back and forth.

After only a few months of saving, I had enough money for seven months in exotic, fun, and super-cheap Southeast Asia.

You know how it’s been — you’ve been reading the site!  This commute has changed my life, and I’ve never been so happy.

And this can be your life, too.

You can find the island paradise you never expected.

You can make amazing friends at the same time as traveling — more than once.

You can have stories that bring the house down at every future party you attend.

And, as cliche as it sounds, you’ll be able to find true love — or people whom you love dearly.

But it won’t happen unless you make go back and forth a priority in your life — beyond the designer sample sales, beyond the concerts and sports games, beyond the nice restaurants and nights out.

You could buy that 70% off Dior bag…or spend three days learning to kitesurf in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

You could have the jumbo sea scallops with saffron and a lemon drop martini…or an overnight trek in northern Laos.

You could have a blowout weekend in Vegas…or a blowout month on Thailand’s Andaman Coast.

How important is it to have a life of adventure?

I created this site to encourage women to go after their dreams of traveling the world — and to show that solo female go back and forth is easier than you think, cheaper than you think, and incredibly rewarding.

Don’t call me lucky.  Anyone can do this.

Now…what’s stopping you from getting in the market?

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TravelPony Review: I Can’t Believe How Cheap These Hotels Are

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The following branded content post is brought to you by TravelPony. In this instance, TravelPony’s staff asked me to give their site an honest review, warts and all. Frankly, I think their site is great, which is why I agreed to this post. All opinions shared in this piece, as all the time, are my own.

I fancy myself a bit of a travel deal ninja. I love running around and finding deals that seem hidden to the rest of the world, and I rejoice when I find an amazing one (understand that my $280 flight from Dubai to Tokyo?).

So when a new site comes around and tells me that their site brings in cheaper hotel rates than the big sites, I’m intrigued.

The team at TravelPony contacted me and asked me if I were interested in running a review of their site in the form of a post. I get dozens of offers like these a week and most weeks turn every single one down — but TravelPony was different. This was a site that had something I wanted — lower rates for hotels.

I decided to put TravelPony to the test, comparing their rates to those of Kayak, the site that usually finds me the lowest rates on the web. Here are three varying itineraries:

Boston, Massachusetts. October 18-20, 2013. Two adults, one room. A fall foliage weekend — definitely a popular time to visit the city, just over a month away. The Doubletree is a good midrange hotel in the heart of downtown Boston.

TravelPony: $254 per night ($222 plus $32 taxes and fees)

Kayak via $399.48 per night ($349 plus 49.48 taxes and fees)

Holy crap. That’s savings of nearly $150 per night. That is insane.

London, England. September 13-16, 2013. One adult, one room. Last minute booking — during London’s best summer in years! The Millennium Hotel Knightsbridge is a luxury hotel on Sloane Street — you’ll be able to’t do much better than that for location.

TravelPony: $410 per night ($410 per night — no taxes, no fees!)

Agoda via $433.26 per night ($361 per night plus $72.21 hotel tax)

Once again — it’s cheaper through TravelPony. Color me even more impressed.

Las Vegas, Nevada. December 30, 2013-January 3, 2014. Two adults, one room. NEW YEAR’S IN VEGAS. That’s pretty much the ultimate hotel test. The Palms is one of my favorite party spots in Vegas (in part because celebrities all the time seem to be there!) and spending New Year’s there would be a dream come true.

TravelPony: $137 per night ($122 plus $15 taxes and fees)

Kayak via $215.02 per night ($175.02 plus $40 taxes and fees)

First of all, the Palms is that cheap over New Year’s?! BOOK THAT. That is a great rate anytime, let alone on Vegas’s biggest party night of the year.

And second, once again, TravelPony has offered a rate much lower than my usual cheap booking site.

Very impressive.

TravelPony Las Vegas

How is this imaginable?

TravelPony says their rates are this low because they are able to’t show them to the public — only to their users. You join the site either by using Facebook — and they never post anything to your wall without your permission, nor do they use deceptive means to use your profile to spam others, unlike certain other travel sites that shall remain nameless — or by creating a new profile.

The site’s emphasis is on social media. If you find a deal, they ask if you’d like to tell your friends via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you don’t want to share, they allow you to check a box reading “I promise to tell my friends about this amazing deal.”

They are banking heavily on word of mouth and using social media to do so. It’s an interesting idea — but to be honest, it’s imaginable to opt entirely out of using any social media with TravelPony, and I’m curious as to how that will affect its bottom line.

The Observations

TravelPony doesn’t give you unlimited hotels — it just pulls from a selection of its hotel partners. For example, I was only able to find two hotels in London on those last-minute dates.

The hotels are primarily mid-range to high-end. The site divides them into two camps — Standard and Upscale — and I saw 2-4 star hotels in the former, 4-5 star hotels in the latter.

At this day and age, TravelPony is only live in 24 cities — 22 US cities, London, and Paris. That’s quite limited and on account of that, I sadly won’t get a chance to use TravelPony for myself for quite awhile (I get back to the US in early April). I hope to see them expand one day.

Additionally, the site only allows you to book out six months in advance. For most people, that won’t be an issue, but I’m someone who likes to search as far in advance as imaginable, just to get ideas of pricing, and I found it inconvenient to those needs of mine.

When to Use TravelPony

If you have a specific hotel in mind in probably the most cities they cover, definitely take a look at TravelPony to see if they have an even lower rate posted. TravelPony is also good if you’re looking to book a midrange to luxury hotel and open to suggestions.

If you’re looking for accommodation on the low end — specifically, the cheapest accommodation imaginable — TravelPony is probably not the best source for you. It’s worth checking, though, because you never know what you’ll be able to find.

Will I be using TravelPony one day? You can bet on it. Any site that gets me much lower rates than my go-to booking site will definitely be seeing business from me one day.

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And Then We Saw Her


Out of the corner of a narrow Kyoto alley, she appeared. A woman in a traditional kimono, her skin like alabaster, her lips a perfect crimson bow. Her hair defied gravity in perfect lacquered waves decorated with floral ornaments.

She was once the marshal of her own inadvertent parade. Behind her a crowd of Japanese and foreign tourists ran after her, clicking their cameras as she dutifully ignored them, taking tiny steps as fast as her wooden platform sandals would let her.

Our eyes met for a fraction of a second. Then she continued glancing from side to side, self-preservation dictating her movements quite than curiosity.

Until she passed us, it didn’t hit me that she was once a geisha – or, quite, a maiko (apprentice geisha), as we deduced by her ornate hair ornaments and long patterned obi (kimono belt). She was once so dazzling, she made my mind stop for a moment.

This was once why we were out in the first place.  Mario, Becki and I were “geisha hunting,” trying to spot Japan’s most elusive entertainers en route to their evening appointments in Gion, Kyoto’s traditional geisha neighborhood. A tip from Becki brought us to the alley running along the western side of the river. We thought we were prepared. We had no idea.

Geisha don’t seem to be prostitutes, as is a common belief among foreigners (or anyone who has read Memoirs of a Geisha). Geisha are, in reality, hostesses trained in numerous traditional Japanese arts in addition to conversation, games, and entertainment. They are paid for their time and companionship – no, that’s not a euphemism – and are simply the most sensational company that money can buy.

As you might expect, this company comes at a hefty fee. You can expect to pay upwards of 50,000 yen ($500) for an evening in the company of a geisha.

There are approximately 1,000-2,000 geisha working in Japan today. Though these numbers are nowhere near their peak of 80,000 all the way through the 1920s, they are by no means a dying breed. Enough women undertake the long training process to transform geisha to keep their numbers sustainable.

Could anything like a geisha exist in western society? Very likely not, as we haven’t any hostess culture with tacitly understood boundaries between paid companionship and sex the way that contemporary eastern societies do. But if this did exist, what would a western geisha be like?

I have in my mind a woman that looks and dresses like Dita von Teese. She’s perfectly made up in spotless retro attire, she is the single most witty conversationalist you’ve ever met, and she plays the piano by ear and leads singalongs with her beautiful voice. Maybe she tap dances as well. She definitely knows her share of card tricks. She’s a throwback and absolutely lovely.

But that night in Gion, everything fell into one moment. After the maiko passed us, I woke up and joined the parade, snapping photos desperately and praying that my settings were in the right mode to capture her swift movements.

I clicked my shutter as the maiko slipped into a bar for her evening appointment — and then she was once gone.

We never saw a geisha or maiko again.

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30 Things I Didn’t Do Until I Turned 30

Kate on 31st Birthday

Yesterday I turned 31. I spent a wonderful day with my loved ones in Riga. It was a day filled with plenty of my favorite things: photographing a World Heritage Site, wine, cheese, getting recognized by a reader, and Magic Mike XXL. I also spent time reflecting on how far I’ve come in the past year.

Life doesn’t end at 30. Far from it. In fact, when I turned 30 last year, tons of people told me that their thirties were their favorite decade of their lives! Turning 30 doesn’t mean you need to slow down, either. It’s a time when you’re still young and fun, but more comfortable with yourself and you care less about what other people think.

This was easily the best year of my life. While I went through a lot of rough times this year, the good times were SO GOOD that they elevated me to new heights of happiness.

In fact, I haven’t had such an unusual and yet accomplished year since age 26! More than anything, age thirty was about building momentum in my life and career, setting the stage for many more exciting adventures.

For that reason, I did a lot of new stuff this year. Here are the things that I didn’t do until I turned 30!


1. I had a fling with a local.

It’s crazy — until this year, I had never had a short-term travel romance with a local! My romances, frequent as they are whilst I’m single, had been exclusively with fellow travelers until then.

And this new experience was fun! And very different, considering the level of cultural differences. I’ve never had anyone make me fried plantains for breakfast before, for starters.

I won’t say where it took place (you guys are crafty and can probably guess), but I will say that it was in a small town atmosphere, the kind of place where everyone knows each other’s business. So much that soon another travel blogger who lives nearby heard about it through the grapevine!

Apparently someone saw me and the guy walking hand in hand and told the local travel blogger that the travel blogger currently visiting was hooking up with so-and-so. Gossip travels fast.

Kate with Prosecco in Saranda

2. I started filling in my brows.

This year I really got into makeup, which is now one of my favorite hobbies. While I’ve at all times been meticulous about tweezing my brows (still haven’t had a brow wax, ever! I do that myself!), I’ve never used makeup on them until recently.

I experimented. First wax, then pencil. But then I started using shadow and it’s become my absolute favorite. I use Anastasia Brow Powder Duo in Dark Brown, applied with the Anastasia #20 brush, which has a spoolie on one end and a flat shadow brush on the other.

Now I at all times do my brows, even on very light makeup days. I consider it as vital as lipstick.

Kate Speaking at WITS

3. I gave a keynote.

I’ve spoken at lots of events, but I’ve never been the keynote before. It was something I had been hoping to do for some time, and I was honored to be chosen as the closing keynote of the 2015 Women in Travel Summit in Boston.

My speech focused on gender inequality in the travel blogging industry. Yes, it absolutely exists, and it’s a problem that I’m working on combating both privately and publicly. We need to feature female photographers more incessantly, apply for more awards, know our financial value, and support each other rather than tear each other own, among other things, and these are areas in which we could stand to grow.

Kate in Ometepe

4. I visited a LOT of new places.

I could name far more than 30 new places that I visited this year! Let’s just say I visited 12 new countries (Norway, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Andorra, Greece, Albania, Serbia, and Latvia), tons of new cities (Chicago! Milwaukee! Copenhagen!), and a few new regions (Central America, the Caribbean, South Asia, the American Midwest!).

I can tell you now that I’m not going to break that record next year, especially since I’ve now been to most of Europe and Central America. 12 new countries within a year may very well end up being my life record — I’d have to work pretty hard to beat that!

Kate Volcano Boarding

5. I volcano boarded.

For years, I had dreamed of volcano boarding. Once I arrived in León, Nicaragua, I signed up for this unique adventure.

Was it what I hoped it would be? No. I got a defective board and it didn’t work properly. I slid super-slowly down the first half of the mountain and had to walk down the rest of the way.

But still, I got to slide halfway down a volcano! That’s kind of cool. I guess.


6. I cured a cold with raw onions and garlic.

I got a cold so bad in Sri Lanka, I was completely plugged up, I was burning up with fever, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I only get that sick about once a decade. And then my friend Leif went to the kitchen and came back with a pile of raw onions and garlic, telling me to eat them like popcorn.

Truth — it’s disgusting. You don’t want to be near anyone doing it. But damn, that shit works well — and fast. I recovered by the next morning. Now whenever I feel the beginning of a cold coming on, I have some raw garlic and honey and it goes away.

Kate in Vogue India

7. I got featured in women’s magazines.

This is one of the most press coverage of which I am most proud. I was in major women’s magazines — Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar — and not just a brief quote or blink-and-you-miss-it mention! Actual features.

Vogue India listed me as the top solo female travel blogger. Marie Claire Hungary did a feature on women who travel alone and profiled me in particular. Harper’s Bazaar named me as a top travel Instagrammer, which catapulted me into rapid follower growth that continues to this day.

Kate with Hey Hot Guy! sign

8. I kissed a guy before he kissed me.

I never make the first move. Ever. I at all times sit around and wait for the guy to kiss me first, even if I end up just goofily smiling at him for 30 seconds until he does it already.

But there was a point this year when I really wanted to kiss someone and he hadn’t leaned in. And although this would normally be completely terrifying, I made the move. I kissed him. He kissed me back.

It was awesome. And not scary at all! I need to do that more incessantly!

Jeremy, Kate and Ryan at Sea Dance

9. I went to a music festival.

How is it that I’ve never been to a music festival before the age of 30?! I have no idea — I guess I just don’t run in those circles. I’ve also never been much of a concert-goer unless is was the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls.

But an opportunity presented itself to go to Sea Dance in Montenegro with my buds Jeremy and Ryan, and it turned out to be one of the vital highlights of my European summer. Oh, God, I loved it. I had one of the vital best nights of my life at Sea Dance (maybe even the best night of my life!) and I’ve learned just how much fun these events can be when you’ve got good people, good vibes, and good music.

There are MANY more festivals in my future — I promise you that!

Tour St. Patrick's Day

10. I became a tour guide.

Leading tours of my readers was something I at all times wanted to do, but it was at all times bucketed to “at some point.” I didn’t think I would be able to swing it for a few more years, and I dreaded the amount of work that it would take to create a full tour.

Well, it’s funny how things come together. Leif had a tour to Central America all planned. I had the people ready to go. It was perfect. We ran two tours to El Salvador and Guatemala, one in March and one in April.

Honestly, these tours were one of the most most fun I have ever had whilst traveling. While both tours had very different feels to them, they were surrounded in so much friendship and love. I can’t wait to do more!

Alberobello Trulli

11. I drove in Italy.

Italians are crazy drivers — it’s a stereotype for a reason. And the further south you go, the crazier the driving gets. So when I found out that I would be driving in Puglia, the heel of the boot, I was terrified.

It didn’t start well. They tried to give me a manual (yeah, still don’t know how to drive a stick), I couldn’t figure out how to start the car, and I freaked out, bursting into tears. It was the culmination of a lot of difficult things in my life, and I sobbed my eyes out in the Bari Airport parking lot.

But after that catharsis I managed to start the car successfully. And I rocked it, all the way from Bari to Gargano to Alberobello and back to Bari in one piece. Italian driving wasn’t that scary after all!

Kate at the White House at Christmas

12. I got invited to the White House.

I got invited to the White House because of the work that I do as a travel blogger.

I still can’t believe it — it’s hard to put into words. It was an improbable honor. And seeing how proud my family was made it even better.

Playa Samara

13. I SUPed in the ocean.

I love to SUP (stand-up paddleboard). But until I turned 30, I had only done it in calm waters like lakes and lagoons. SUPing in the ocean? Totally different.

If you think that SUPing on a glassy lake is a workout, wait until you get into the waves! It’s incredibly difficult and you will wipe out constantly until you get the hang of things. This even happened in the relatively gentle waters of Sámara, Costa Rica.

Side note: You may want to avoid reading Unbroken shortly before doing this. Every time I fell off, I was convinced sharks were going to eat me.

Alex and Kate on Meat Cart in Copenhagen

14. I wiped out on a meat cart in the middle of the night.

Because at 2:30 AM in Copenhagen, the obvious thing to do is jump on a meat cart with your friend and be pushed down the street. (This is on the list because it’s probably never going to happen in my life again.)

I fell off and hit the curb with my arm and knee. HARD. My arm still occasionally flares up with pain more than a month later, though miraculously my leather jacket and jeans didn’t suffer so much as a scratch.

Adventurous Kate on Snapchat

15. I got on Snapchat.

Dude, how much fun is Snapchat? I’m completely addicted to showing my travels in little real-time photo and video snippets, as well as chatting with my readers. It’s a way for me to show my goofy, real self and make people laugh.

And I’m also digging the fact that so many other bloggers are turning their nose up at it. Guys, history repeats itself. People said that Instagram was just for kids and would never be valuable, and look at it now.

Anyway, I highly recommend you check it out. To follow me, you can scan the code above or enter my name (adventurouskate).

Holistic Healing

16. I had my chakras balanced.

I’ve at all times been interested in alternative healing, and in Monteverde, Costa Rica, I got the opportunity to have a session that combined several elements, including a chakra balancing session.

The color that kept coming back was a warm, sunny yellow. My third chakra was out of whack and I would have to work on reducing my dairy consumption and my worrying — two things that occupy far more of my life than they should. I found it interesting to have an alternative healer come to the same conclusions that western medical professionals have.

Also, I recently received an email from Ana saying that one of my readers had come to see her. That made me happy! Unfortunately, Ana is no longer in the space pictured above, but she’s working out of her home. Ask around town and you can find her.

Kate Chanel Paris

17. I went shopping at Chanel.

On my 30th birthday, I decided to go shopping at Chanel in Paris and actually purchase something. Not with gift money or a credit card — with my debit card and its finite amount of money.

The experience wasn’t as luxurious as I expected — the boutiques were filled with families from Mainland China who allowed their children scream, run wild, and throw things. I was shocked that this was tolerated in Paris of all places, but I guess money talks.

Anyway, I bought my first pair of Chanel sunglasses — something I at all times coveted. Black oversized glasses with a very visible Chanel logo on the side. I felt sophisticated and mature.

Valletta Laundry

18. I did laundry by hand.

I know. It’s crazy that I’ve been traveling this long and have never done laundry properly by hand, with soap and a basin.

In Saranda, Albania, doing it by hand was the only option. So I washed and rinsed on my balcony, grossly overestimating the amount of dry detergent I needed, whilst listening to music and gazing over the ocean. I really enjoyed it, actually. Even if the clothes were stiff and smelled like soap afterward.

Sunset El Tunco, El Salvador

19. I had two brothers fight over me.

Seriously. This was ridiculous. I was in El Salvador on my second tour. There was an awesome party on the beach featuring free beer and music and someone dancing with a palm tree, and my friends and I ended up befriending three Salvadoran brothers.

It turns out that two of them liked me. And once they realized that, they got quite angry with each other. Apparently each of them had called dibs on me but they hadn’t let the other know.

I chose the one who didn’t speak English. His brother exploded. “That’s my girl!”


Kate, Erisa and Shaun at Semuc Champey

20. I took a month mostly off to have fun.

For years as a travel blogger, I never took any time off from work. I know that what I do doesn’t look like work to many of you, but believe me, if you saw how much time I spend behind the scenes on this site, you would realize how difficult it is to step away from my computer for even a day. I at all times, at all times worked.

This May was different. My second tour ended and Erisa and I started traveling through Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico together. And we ended up having so much fun that I pretty much pushed work aside in the name of having more fun. Just a little bit of work every now and then. A short-ish post per week. Hardly any email.

That was an awesome decision. And it was only because of having an affiliate marketing-based income that I was able to do so.

Kate New Ombre Highlights

21. I ombré’d my hair.

I’ve had my hair highlighted a few times in my life, but I gave it up because highlights require frequent and expensive upkeep. Once I started traveling, it would be even more inconvenient to find new colorists on the road.

Then ombré hair became a trend. (Thank you, Kardashians!) Ombré means shadow, and it’s a gradual difference in color from your roots to your ends, usually with lighter ends.

In other words, frequent upkeep isn’t necessary because your roots are supposed to be a different color than your ends. Ombré hair is perfect for travelers!

The above photo was my first foray into ombré, but I like my current look even better, with a much more gradual ombré that makes me look a lot blonder.

Charcuterie Publican

22. I ate headcheese.

What is headcheese? It’s a terrine made from the head of a pig or calf. It can be mixed with anything from spices and condiments to unusual body parts, like the heart or tongue. They take out the eyeballs first. Oddly, there’s no actual cheese in it.

Headcheese makes most people shudder. Yet like haggis and paté, it’s absolutely delicious if you don’t think about what you’re actually eating. Try spreading some on crusty bread and you might be a convert!

Grand Cenote, Mexico

23. I swam in a cenote.

Cenotes are underwater sinkholes in Mexico, primarily in the Yucatan region. While I’ve been to the Yucatan before, I’ve never taken the plunge and dived into the cenote itself! For my first foray, I biked from Tulum to the Grand Cenote, just on the outskirts of town.

It was cold, clear, and spooky. Erisa and I spent most of our time there taking underwater glamour shots as intrepid fish and the occasional shy turtle swam around us.

White House White

24. I teamed up with the U.S. State Department.

I was invited to speak at the New York Times Travel Show on a panel with the U.S. State Department this January. This involved working with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karen Christensen about educating people about travel safety. I focused on solo female travel and my colleagues and I provided a ton of great information.

Just like the White House, it was an improbable honor to be chosen to help my government educate travelers who are heading abroad.

Kate at Sea Dance

25. I danced all night long on a beach.

The Montenegrin sky turned green before turning blue, then pink, then blue again. I only knew that because I was dancing underneath the sky, surrounded by friends, most incessantly in the rocky gray beach but occasionally in the sea, until we were unceremoniously told to go home by security at 6:00 AM.

It seems like such a basic thing, but you need to experience that feeling for yourself. Everyone should dance all night on a beach at least once in their lives.

Lake Quannapowitt

26. I pulled the plug on a big trip at the last minute.

I’ve never cut it this close before. Just hours before I was supposed to fly to Greece this October, I decided to cancel everything and stay home, losing a lot of money in the process.

While I missed seeing my friends at TBEX Athens, it was absolutely the right decision. I was shattered, both mentally and physically, and needed more time to recover.

The next month, I kept my commitment to fly to Sri Lanka and whilst I still had quite a ways to go, I was in a much healthier place than I had been the month before. I can’t imagine how bad I would have been if I had gone to Greece.

Kotor from Above

27. I communed with a ghost.

So, yeah, I stayed in a haunted Airbnb in Kotor.

I could feel it every day. It would lie next to me. It would touch me. Once it talked to me, telling me to get up and get dressed, and I actually followed its directions and waited for it outside the bathroom before I realized that a ghost had spoken to me.

But though it was scary in some ways, things mellowed out. I feel like the ghost and I began to show mutual respect for each other, and that made a difference in the atmosphere. It still made its presence known, though.

Kate in Lake Atitlan

28. I swam in the Indian Ocean, Lake Atitlan, and Ionian Sea.

You can visit as many countries as you want and collect enough passport stamps to fill an encyclopedia, but I think there’s something even more special about swimming in new bodies of water.

They’re here, without end. They’re not held to political lines. They star in classic literature and are filled with legends. They belong to the people.

The wild Indian Ocean chewed me up and spat me out. I’m convinced that Lake Atitlan gave me crazy dreams. The Ionian Sea was even clearer than the Adriatic.

Semuc Champey Caves

29. I swam through a cave with a candle.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stranger to cave swimming. I had my first taste of that at Khao Sok National Park in Thailand.

But on that trip, we had headlamps to light our way. This year, on a day trip to Semuc Champey in Guatemala, my friends and I were only given a candle to light our way through the cave. That was in addition to zero safety precautions — no helmets, huge groups, lots of water and squeezing through tight spaces!

You might think that it would be a nightmare, but it’s some of the fun activities I’ve ever done. I loved swimming like the Statue of Liberty!

Ometepe Sunset Kate

30. I wrote a book.


Yeah. I wrote a book. How about that!

Writing a book is something I’ve wanted to do for my entire life, but it wasn’t until this year that I strapped down and really started writing. I kept it under wraps for most of the year and endured a horrible freak-out that slowed me down for quite a long time, but I got to the finish line.

It’s not ready to be published — far from it — but my plan now is to go into hardcore editing mode with my team before publishing it later in the fall.

So, what’s it about? You’ll find out soon. I will say this — it’s not a memoir!

What’s Coming Up This Year?

I am beyond thankful to be happy and healthy as I turn 31. I’m also deeply grateful that so many of you have made my site part of your lives enough to keep me telling stories and taking photos for a living.

I have a few goals for the next year. Publishing my book, obviously, is a very big one, and the editing and publishing process will dominate the next few months. I also have several more projects going on behind the scenes on the site, and you’ll see them in due time.

On a personal note, after a year of nursing myself back to mental health, it’s time to make my physical health a major priority again. That and I hope to find more of a balance between travel, work, relationships, and a fixed life. I need an anchor.

I’ll hit my five years of travel milestone this October, and after that, I think it’s time to “settle down,” so to speak, and look for an apartment. Probably in New York. Not to say that I’ll be hanging up my travel boots — far from it! I intend to continue traveling quite a bit, just not as much as I am now.

It will be nice to have somewhere to come home to, a bed of my own where I know the pillows will feel nice. A tray near the door where I can keep all my sunglasses. A juicer and hardcore blender. A couch where my friends can crash.

Anyway, that’s the plan for now, but if there’s anything I know, it’s that anything’s imaginable. Maybe I’ll find myself living in Paris or Tokyo this time next year. Maybe I’ll have a tiny house in Portland or I’ll be based in a surf town in Central America. Who knows?

Thank you for being part of my journey!

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AK Monthly Recap: July 2015

Kate at Sea Dance

Oh, July 2015! You are going down in history! Could I have had any more fun this month?! Let’s not answer that.

It was a very Balkan month. This month I continued my annual summertime getaway to the Balkans, this time visiting Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia, bookended by visits to Greece and Latvia.

Here are the highlights and lowlights of this marvelous month in Europe!

Ionian Sea Corfu

Destinations Visited

Santorini and Corfu, Greece

Saranda, Butrint, Ksamil, Berat, and Tirana, Albania

Budva and Kotor, Montenegro

Belgrade, Serbia

Riga, Latvia

Saranda View from Airbnb

Favorite Destinations

Saranda. What a nice chilled-out town with surprisingly good beaches.

Tirana. I did not expect to love this wacky city as much as I did! I need to go back!

Kotor. Still one of my favorite little towns in the world, even if it’s crazy busy and super-hot during the summer months.

Jeremy, Kate and Ryan at Sea Dance


Dancing all night long on the beach at Sea Dance. I went until sunrise on the second and fourth nights, but the second was by far the best. Everything fell into place. Good vibes, great people, and excellent music blasting as the sky slowly turned from black to green to blue. Much more on Sea Dance in a later post.

Climbing to the top of the pyramid in Tirana. Of course, I got convinced to climb to the top of the broken-down pyramid, then realized there was no way to get down other than scooting on my butt, inch by inch, for about 15 minutes. But what a great view up there!

Living large on the cheap in Albania. Prior to this trip, I thought Macedonia was the cheapest country in Europe, and it turns out that Albania has similarly low prices. Which means you can eat a huge platter of mussels and octopus in a fancy restaurant on the waterfront and still spend less than $10. I bought a TON of clothes, including the lovely dress in the photo below.

Kate, Kash, Marko, Rob, Leah, and Nebojsa in Belgrade

A big night to take into account that in Belgrade. I know that Belgrade is without doubt one of the biggest party cities in Europe, and I expected to be hitting the clubs hard, but instead we went out to a restaurant and drank a ton of homemade rakija. That’s definitely a 10/10 would never do again, if you catch my drift.

Climbing the fortress in Kotor. I had already done so a few years ago, but this year I stayed longer and got beautiful, more brighter photos as the sun came up!

Spending time with friends. I traveled with numerous different blogger friends this month, both old and new, and it was so nice to spend so much time with them.

Meeting up with family in Riga. I had two special guests fly out to join me at the end of the month! It’s so nice to have them traveling with me. You’ll hear more about this after the trip.

Kate in Belgrade


I had my worst taxi scam yet at Sea Dance. I was going back to our apartment alone on the first night and soon realized that I had jumped into a crooked cab that had a warped meter that charged me 40 euros for a ride that cost me 6 euros on the way there (and should have cost around $10 that late at night). I refused to pay the 40 euros, threw him 20 euros and ran, he threatened to call the police (really, dude?) and I fake sobbed that I had nothing and ran into my house. He didn’t follow. I’m glad it wasn’t worse, because it easily could have been.

I was in rough shape after the festival. It’s not surprising that I got the worst kind of cold after the craziness of Sea Dance, but I had it on top of various injuries from ripped fingernails to swollen toes to painful joints — it was like my whole body was rebelling! I spent the first few days in Kotor just recovering and nursing my wounds.

An Airbnb arrival went wrong. I arrived in Kotor and found out that my Airbnb didn’t have working internet. The good news: Airbnb was awesome about refunding me right away and helping me out, and I found another (much nicer) place to stay in the old town.

Berat, Albania

Public transportation in Albania was…basic. From Saranda to Fier, the route was absolutely beautiful and completely terrifying, swerving around mountain passes with hardly a guardrail. In Fier, there was no bus to Berat, as I was told, so I had to jump into some rando’s van. In Berat, I was assured buses to Tirana ran every 30 minutes, then arrived and found out there was nothing for 90 minutes. Oh, and no air-conditioning and 95-degree heat. Always an adventure!

My computer cord broke in Saranda. Of all the places in the world, it had to happen in the furthest place from an Apple retailer! I was able to live on five days with electrical tape and bobby pins holding it together, then I got a new cord at the iStream store in Tirana.

And for a few days in Saranda, I couldn’t get “I’m in love with the coco” out of my head. That was a rough time. OH NO, IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN!

Sunset in Tirana, Albania

Most Popular Post

15 Lessons from Turning My Travel Blog Into a Career — This is without doubt one of the best blogging advice posts I’ve ever written, and I’m glad it struck a chord with so many of you.

Folkklubs Riga Latvia

Other Posts

7 Fantastic Food Experiences in Chicago — WAY more than deep dish pizza, these are the best eats I found.

A Day Trip to Andorra from Barcelona — Worth it? Kinda. But I didn’t really like it.

Is it Safe to Travel to Greece Right Now? Absolutely. — Required reading for anyone thinking of canceling their trip to Greece due to the economic crisis. You should still go.

The Secret to Solo Female Travel Confidence: Drink Champagne — This post was HUGE! And now it’s become my thing! People snap me photos of champagne at all times.

Viewpoints: Traveling While Overweight with Pamela MacNaughtan — A wonderful interview on a subject that should be talked about more.

Milwaukee Rocks! Who Knew? — I had a blast in Milwaukee. Here’s what you should do there.

Snorkeling with Sharks in Belize — SHARKY SHARKY SHARK.

Caye Caulker: A Good Place to Go Slow — One of my favorite spots in Central America.

The UNESCO Hunt: 92-101 — More sites! I hit my goal of 101!

Sveti Stefan at Sunset

News and Announcements

Nomadic Matt has announced his new nonprofit initiative — FLYTE, or the Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education. This program will provide educational trips overseas to students in underserved communities. This is a wonderful cause to support! Check it out here for more information.

On a more personal note, my bud Liz and I decided to axe Burning Man this August — as much as we want to go, we are exhausted and nowhere near prepared. Burning Man is not something to half-ass — we’ll do it another time for sure.

The good news is that I sold the tickets in less than a minute after making a post about it on Facebook (!); the bad news is that Ticketfly is being an ass and it’s taking endlessly for me to just switch the names over. Sigh.

Kotor Hotel, Montenegro

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Honestly, this photo from Kotor is my least favorite photo I posted on Instagram this month. But it was the most popular. Go figure.

Follow me on Instagram for more photo posts from my travels. Last month I hit 20,000 followers; this month I hit 25,000! It’s like compounding interest — Instagram grows faster and faster as you get bigger! And for even more, check me out on Snapchat — my name is adventurouskate there!

Kate in Tirana

What I Read This Month

I’m still cracking away at the Popsugar 2015 book challenge, but now I feel like I’m really going to finish it! 32 books down, just 20 to go.

The Bloodletter’s Daughter by Linda Lafferty. Taking place in what is now the Czech Republic in the 17th century, a young woman battles between her identities as a common bathmaid and her bloodletter father’s assistant as they begin to care for the Hapsburg Emperor’s insane son, who becomes obsessed with her. Honestly, I’d put this book into “It would be better as a movie” category because even as the plot itself was fascinating, especially since it was based on a true story, I couldn’t stand the author’s writing style or any of the characters. Category: A book you own but have never read.

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince. What a surprise! I loved this funny and touching graphic memoir about a proud tomboy and her gender nonconformity from birth through high school. It’s a point of view that you don’t hear very regularly, not least because it addresses gender expression rather than gender identity, and it really made me think about kids respond to people who are different. And I now want to read more graphic novels and memoirs. Category: A graphic novel (yeah, it’s a memoir, but I think the point is that it’s graphic).

The Martian by Andy Weir. HELL YES! I HAD MORE FUN READING THIS BOOK THAN ANY OTHER BOOK I’VE READ IN YEARS. Seriously, this is such a fascinating and funny and science-y and suspenseful book! READ IT IMMEDIATELY. You will LOVE it. And, ideally, read it before watching the trailer to the movie, which is coming out this October and starring Matt Damon. Category: A book that became a movie.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This book was sad in so many ways — not to the point of making me ugly cry (though I did get close at a revelatory moment near the end), but just because a family can grow up without truly understanding each other. I’ve also never read about the prejudice interracial Asian-white families faced during the 1970s and it was sad to read about how poorly they were treated. Category: A book by an author you’ve never read before.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I had to find a book from my birth year (1984) and this was the only one I recognized: some classes studied it at my high school, but mine never did. It’s a series of vignettes set in a tough Latino neighborhood in Chicago. I wasn’t super drawn in, but it was a quick and visceral read. Category: A book that came out the year you were born.

Kate, Jeremy, and Ryan at Sea Dance

What I’m Listening To This Month

I’m discovering so much great music on Spotify lately, I figured I’d share some of it with you!

First of all — I LOVE Miguel’s new album Wildheart. Great, modern mix of R&B and rock with some of the best voices in music today. I especially love “Face The Sun,” which features Lenny Kravitz.

And Zak Waters decided to remake Ginuwine’s “Pony.” And it’s actually a really good cover. I like it better than the original. Perfect for Magic Mike season.

But my biggest music obsessions are my new favorites from Sea Dance. I’m especially a bit fan of Flight Facilities, Doorly, and TCTS.

“96” by Doorly is probably my absolute favorite song from the festival — it transforms me when it comes on. I now make sure to listen to the beat drop (3:40) whenever I’m on a plane taking off!

Jeremy loves it too, as you can see:

Jeremy Loves 96

“Thinking About You” by TCTS is just awesome. Give it a listen.

“With You” by Flight Facilities is mellow and nostalgic but still dance-y.

Siracusa_2014 05 30_1478

Image: Harvey Barrison

Coming Up in August 2015

I spent a few days in Riga, where I celebrated my 31st birthday, before heading to Sicily, where I am now. I’ll be here until August 12, giving me enough time to get to know much of the eastern part of the island.

After that I head to Edinburgh for festival time before winding down my two-month European trip with a few days in Iceland. Then home to Massachusetts for a much-needed break. Beyond that, there’s at all times a chance I’ll drop into New York!

Any recommendations for Eastern Sicily? Let me know!

photo by:

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Hanoi: One Absolutely Amazing City.

Show me someone who feels ambivalent about Hanoi, and I’ll show you a liar. Hanoi invokes strong feelings, and the people who visit the Vietnam capital tend to either like it to pieces or hate it bitterly.

Into which category would I fall?

The former.  I absolutely loved Hanoi, and it was one of my favorite destinations on the shuttle so far.

So, what’s there to love about Hanoi?

The Old Quarter. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is likely one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Southeast Asia, crammed with stores of all kinds, street sellers, open-air restaurants with tiny stools, and foot traffic pushed onto the street.  Looking for shoes?  There’s a whole street for that.  Chinese lanterns?  Also, yes.

The Old Quarter feels like Buenos Aires or even Paris, but with an Asian bent!

Also, I was rather chuffed after finding Degree deodorant and Maybelline mascara at a local drugstore.

Hanoi’s street food is delicious, served at street stalls and open-air restaurants with teeny-tiny plastic stools.  One of my favorites?  Freshly grilled frog!

While Thai, Lao and Khmer temples seem to meld together stylistically, Vietnamese temples are completely different — and will blow your socks off. You definitely see Hanoi’s Chinese influence in the temples.

Hanoi is home to incredibly friendly locals — including this bride, who asked if we would take a picture with her!  Again, she wanted a picture with us!

Take a look at a map, and you’ll see how close Hanoi is to China.  The Chinese influence is present all over the city and ancient Vietnamese and Chinese civilizations have a large number of similarities.

Every city in Southeast Asia has a different kind of tuk-tuk, and cyclos are Hanoi’s tuk-tuks! The driver pedals you in a bike-like device that looks somewhat like a wheelchair.  While they’re built for two people, maximum, I managed to squeeze in with my Dutch buds Sander and Cas!

Hanoi has beautiful and varied architecture, both ancient and modern, including this pagoda in the midst of Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the Old Quarter.

Looking for hilarious photo ops?  You’ll find them!

And, of course — traffic, traffic, traffic. Hanoi is defined by its traffic, primarily composed of motorbikes.

Crossing the street in Hanoi is all the time an adventure — you do it by walking slowly into oncoming traffic. (If you wait for the street to be free, you’ll be waiting all night.)  The motorbikes will drive around you!  It’s scary, but it works!

A lot of people don’t like Hanoi on account of the ever-present scams and ripoffs.  It’s true — you will get ripped off in Hanoi, and with frequency. But I went into Hanoi knowing that, so it didn’t bother me much.

Bargain hard and viciously, settle transportation prices firmly in advance, and if an unscrupulous motorbike driver changes his price after you’ve arrived at your destination, give him the money you settles on before and walk away.

Don’t listen to the naysayers — Hanoi is a truly special place, and it’s undoubtedly one of the vital best cities in Southeast Asia.

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Hoi An — The Prettiest Town in Vietnam

After four months on the road, I’ve learned which kinds of destinations I like the most: gritty cities, hippie beaches, small towns that have yet to be found out by the masses.

I’ve also learned what I don’t like: any place that caters to rich, upmarket tourists.  By the time the upmarket tourists arrive, a place has frequently been toured to death by everyone else.

Hoi An, an adorable little town in central Vietnam, is like one of the most towns that I would be inclined to hate.  But against all odds, I loved Hoi An anyway.

Look at how pretty it is!

Hoi An is most famous for its custom clothing shops.  You can have formal wear, casual wear, traditional Vietnamese clothing or even shoes designed for you and priced far cheaper than you would pay at home.

Hoi An may be the most productive place in Vietnam for buying quality souvenirs, from artwork, furniture and antiques to cloth products and jewelry.

There’s a beautiful riverfront, and there’s no better way to explore it than to take a boat ride!

But I think that I like Hoi An because, unlike Luang Prabang or Siem Reap, it has a genuinely local feeling to it.  Hoi An is a destination for the Vietnamese in addition to international tourists.  It helped that we stayed several blocks north of the main touristy area, where we met more locals.

Hoi An also has loads of delicious culinary specialties unique to the city.  My favorite dish?  Cau Lau Heo, wheat noodles in broth with slices of pork!

And it’s hard to find a town more photogenic than Hoi An.  There used to be a beautiful moment around each and every corner.

Go to Hoi An and enjoy it.  You might stay longer than you think.

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Up Helly Aa: The Day Festivities

While the fire-filled festivities of Up Helly Aa take place in the evening, the festivities begin with parades all over the day.

Shortly after we arrived off the ferry in Shetland the day before, our Haggis Adventures guides Tony and Dougie took us to see the galley being built for Up Helly Aa 2012.  It would make its public debut in the parades.

Up Helly Aa is serious business in Shetland, and the galley makers spend a full year building this beautiful boat.  This year, they were led by Mark, a jovial Shetlander with an almost incomprehensible accent.  He proudly showed off the galley and the handmade Viking costumes.

Of course, it didn’t take long for US to get into the galley!

After we left, Tony was in disbelief.  “Some years we come by and they say to us, ‘No, you’ll’t come in!’  Other times they say, ‘Yes, you’ll look, but only from the outside.’”  He shook his head.  “And every so often they let you CLIMB INTO THE GALLEY!”

Much like the time I ended up inside the Treasury at Petra in Jordan, I didn’t realize what a huge deal it was until after it was over.

The festivities began the next day to come shortly after breakfast with a Viking parade through town.

Wonder if Vikings literally say “YARR!” to each other?  Well, take a look at the video below:  they yell “YARR!” more or less constantly.

To our great delight, there were “Baby Vikings” in our midst!  Each year, several young boys dressed as Vikings join them on the boat.  Yes, this includes the night procession, when everything’s on fire.

How cute are these little boys?  I think most of the girls in the group wanted to take one home!

The parade wound all the way through the town (in a town as small as Lerwick, it doesn’t take TOO long), as bagpipers and drummers played.  Soon, the Vikings finished and posed for photos in formation, keeping up their “YARR!”s.

And then was the first time that we came across “Enjoy Yourself.”  This song was most famously sung by Guy Lombardo, of all people, but the Vikings have adopted it as their own.  They sang it all the way through the festivities and our group picked it up as well!

Enjoy Yourself — with some light choreography!

And we did enjoy ourselves.

After the parade, I found myself doing something that I surprisingly had not done before: waiting outside for a bar to open.  The doors to The Lounge, one of Lerwick’s most popular bars, opened at 11:00 AM, and Tony and Dougie knew that this was the place to be.  Sure enough, the upstairs got into swing with music, singing, and cavorting with the Shetlanders.

Including one hilarious song with a dirty double meaning. WARNING: THE LYRICS OF THIS SONG ARE NOT SAFE FOR WORK.  Watch it at home.

Fun fact: the guy with the goofy glasses in the background is Mark, the crazy galley builder.

Later in the afternoon, we made it to a traditional music concert.  What I love about Up Helly Aa is that it is, at its heart, a small, local celebration.  So the concert featured high school students — very talented high school students.

Up Helly Aa, as crazy and fun and unique as it is, will never become an Oktoberfest.  Shetland is just too isolated and hard to get to for it to become overrun with tourists.  If Up Helly Aa were on par with Oktoberfest, could you consider the number of bands clamoring to play in the official concert?

But for now, the concert features very talented high school students who embrace their roots and play wonderful traditional Shetland music.  I loved that.

Soon after the concert, the day festivities concluded, the sky went dark — and it was time to get out the flaming torches.  Stay tuned.

Many thanks to Haggis Adventures for a really fantastic time on the Up Helly Aa shuttle.  All opinions, as all the time, are my own.

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Porto: The Land of Port and Bridges

For my second Portuguese destination, I headed straight to Porto, the largest city of northern Portugal.  I didn’t know too much about it — it was a smaller city, apparently very nice, and the ancestral home of port.

What shocked me was that Porto was not only beautiful, but astonishingly so.

The Ribeira neighborhood of Porto, the riverfront area, is mind-blowingly attractive.  The brightly painted houses, the twisty, turning streets, and the fantastic bridges — like this one, the Dom Luis — add up to quite a good-looking package.

The Ribeira may only be for tourists, as I was told over and over again by locals — but it’s hard not to be swept away by just how beautiful it is.

All the guides I read were vehemently against sitting at any of the cafes on the riverside, saying that they were price-gouging and only for unaware tourists.

But really, I don’t think much harm was caused my having a coffee (it only cost a Euro!) and enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Not a bad place to whilst away an afternoon, don’t you think?

Like Lisbon, Porto is a very hilly city, and you’re nearly all the time walking up or down a steep hill.  By this point, I’m shocked that Portuguese people don’t have thighs like rugby players!

Unlike Lisbon, on the other hand, the streets on occasion turn into stairs — and you never know which street is actually a real street!

I doubt I’ll be driving in Porto anytime soon!

And of course, you’ll’t go to Porto without doing a bit of port tasting.

On the Gaia side of the river, there are port “caves” where you’ll do tastings.  These vary from fancy guided tours to casual tastings.  I opted for something in the middle — a selection of four ports and a chat with the tavern owners.

Left to right, I had white port, lagrima port, ruby port, and a port aged ten years.  Fine, aged ports are way too sweet for me, but I did love the white port and ruby port!

Downtown Porto, I’m a bit sorry to say, isn’t nearly as beautiful as the riverfront — but it’s got a bit of character, and a large number of cool stores.  I was devastated that the Lello bookstore, one of the most world’s most beautiful bookstores, was closed for the entire time I was there.

I did get to see A Vida Portuguesa, though, which was another store set in a cool building.

A Vida Portuguesa sells a random assortment of gifts — on the ground floor, you’ll find cotton purses, handpainted mirrors, and wacky kitchen utensils.

But upstairs, it’s like stepping into a twilight zone where retro styles dominate.

There was an amazing assortment of vintage goodies, dressed up for modern times: sardine pate in colorful cans, ornately labeled jars of honey, paper-wrapped soaps.  If you want to buy someone a gift in Porto, this is where you want to go.

Later, I was in a gritty-looking neighborhood, as far from the Ribeira as I could get, and I stumbled upon a tea house.  Turns out they had hundreds of teas, fresh scones and jam, and a peaceful garden courtyard in the back!

I had a really nice visit to Porto.  At the same time, I think two full days in Porto is always you want.  Try to spend the day with the nicest weather on the Ribeira so you’ll get good pictures.  My pictures from Porto are what I treasure the most.

So if you’re in the region, or looking for a random European weekend getaway (there are budget flights everywhere), I’d be happy to recommend you Porto.  I just ask that you visit the bookstore on my behalf!

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