In 4 days I’m going to be on a plane headed to Canada. I’m going to live in Toronto at least until summer 2018.
Everyone keeps asking me if I’m ready to go and my answer hasn’t changed in a while. Mentally, I’m so ready, I’ve been waiting for this for so long. But then, I don’t have anything ready yet. Of course I have a nice running list of things I still have to buy and things I need to remember to bring abroad with me, but that’s all.
This post isn’t about what to bring and what not to bring. That is a personal choice and it depends on why you’re spending time abroad and what you’ll do there. If you need a packing list, you can download mine from here.
In this post, I want to share with you a strategic plan to make packing less stressful and intimidating.
Step 1: make a list
You should know by now that my favorite weapon to get things done is a list. So, first things first, write down all the things you want to bring with you. Right now I have a running list that I update every time that something comes to mind, but it would be more ideal to have a list divided by category. Check what you already have and what you should buy. If you have to buy something new, consider buying big/heavy things at your destination.
Step 2: declutter
Now that you have a list of things you need to bring abroad, you can declutter your closet and your room. Throw away anything broken or useless; donate clothes and items that are still in good shape but you haven’t used in the past year. This way you’ll make room for all the new clothes and souvenirs you’ll bring back home from your time abroad.
Step 3: plan your airplane outfit
You should plan what you’ll be wearing while traveling to your destination before you start throwing things in your luggage. Remember to wear something comfortable and warm. If you can, wear the heaviest shoes and the clothes that, if packed, would take up a lot of space.
Step 4: pack
I’m sorry, but now you’re on your own. Just kidding, I still have a few tips for you, even if this is my least favorite part about traveling in general. The first things to go in your luggage should be big and heavy items. Then, you can fill up all the gaps with shirts and underwear. If you have to pack really big items, like a coat or a bathrobe, consider buying compression bags. I still haven’t put to use the two I’ve bought, but my friends swear by them, so I can’t wait to try the magic myself.
Step 5: carry on
I tend to have a lot of faith in airline companies and I almost never pack extra clothes in my carry on. Most of the times, my carry on is just my backpack with just documents and electronics in it.
If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, what are you waiting for?), you may know I’ve spent some days in the UK at the end of November. This wasn’t my first time in London. Over the years I’ve been there a few times and I am not the biggest fan of the city. It’s not because it’s not pretty (it is very pretty), but it just didn’t have the right vibe for me.
This time, I went there to meet with one of my dearest friends. She’s been living there since the spring, so she was my guide and we did less touristy stuff. Staying in a more residential neighborhood in West London and seeing how people actually live there, made me change my mind a bit.
That being said, one of the things I love the most about London is that you can take so many day trips from there. Cardiff, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Brighton, Birmingham, Sheffield, Canterbury, Bournemouth and many other places are all a one- or two-hour train ride from London. Unluckily I didn’t get to visit all these cities, even though I’d love too.
Here, my top 3 day trips from London and, yes, they’re in order of preference.
Stonehenge & Bath
This is definitely my favorite day trip from London. I took this trip back in April when I was in London with my sister for Easter break (and for a Simple Plan concert). I always wanted to go visit Stonehenge and after a bit of research, we found out there were a lot of coach tours that take you to both Stonehenge and Bath.
We were never big fans of group tours, we actually never did one before. For this specific excursion, this option was the cheapest (about 60£ for the bus ride + Stonehenge tickets + guide) and it also made us spend less time on public trains or buses. The company we went with was International Friends and I’m telling you this just because we really enjoyed our time with them. They definitely made us change our mind about coach tours (so much that we did another one when we were in Amsterdam).
Most companies also offer the option to do a Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor tour. But, in my opinion, we did the right thing by booking just Stonehenge and Bath, because you get just the perfect time in both places.
Our day started pretty early. We had to be at the meeting point at 7.30 am but, because it was Easter, the tube was opening later than usual, so we enjoyed a 20-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road to Great Portland Street. Thankfully, the weather was fine and it was kind of cool walking down empty streets in London – something I will probably never see again.
We took our bus and, after about 2 hours, we arrived at Stonehenge. There, we got some time to visit the Stone Circle with an audioguide, the Neolithic Houses, and the Exhibition. For me, it was kind of surreal standing in such an iconic place, full of history and mystery. And even the weather was surreal. I mean, look at that black sky.
In the early afternoon we arrived in Bath. Thankfully, it stopped raining and we even got some sun for a while. We walked around the town with such an experienced guide who told us so many interesting stories about Bath and the people who live and used to live there.
After the walking tour, we got a bit of free time. My sister and I decided to visit the Roman Baths (about 15£), which I definitely recommend doing. Seriously, this is the most famous attraction of the town and everything there is so well preserved. Having studied a lot of Ancient Roman history and literature in school, visiting this place was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After that, we also had some time to visit the Abbey.
The architecture in Bath is breathtaking and I love how everything looks so well put together, probably because most of the buildings are made of the same golden-colored stone, the Bath stone.
The Making of Harry Potter
Okay, so where do I begin telling you how cool this thing is? If you’re a Potterhead, but even if you just watched the movies once, this place will blow your mind. This wasn’t even my first time on a movie set, but it was so so so cool. I’m still at a loss of words.
Compared to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank, CA, this tour is cheaper (35£). Also, since this is not being used to film anymore, you don’t have to follow a guide through the backlots and soundstages. You get to walk around on your own and you can stay for how long you want to.
On their website they say the average visit time is 3 hours. We booked our tickets for an early afternoon slot (2 pm, if I remember it correctly) and we didn’t get back until dinner time (which is after 8 pm for us).
To get to Leavesden, my sister and I took a train from London Euston to Watford Junction (anytime day return ticket is about 17£). Just outside Watford station you can catch a shuttle bus (2.5£) that will take you right in front the entrance of the Studio Tour.
When you arrive there, you’ll have to queue for a while. Then you get to watch a video clip just to get more excited about being on the set where they film Harry Potter. After then, the Great Hall doors are opened and you’re in! You’ll find yourself in a state of complete awe. I want to let you know it’s completely okay. And it does not get better until a couple of days after.
By the time you get to the café, you might have regained the ability to talk and process things. Here you can have a butterbeer (I warn you, it is very sweet) or butterbeer ice-cream. They also offer other common snacks (sandwiches, cakes, etc.), probably for the muggles.
But it’s not over yet. After your break at the café, you get to walk outside, where you can find Privet Drive, the Night Bus, the Hogwarts bridge and so much more. I don’t want to get too much into details. Part of the amazingness of the tour is that you don’t know what will come after. You think you’ve see the best thing ever, but then you go on and there’s something even better. Like the huge model of Hogwarts. Walking into that room was just breathtaking.
At the end, don’t skip the gift shops. You’ll find a lot of amazing things, from clothes to accessories and candies. Unluckily, things aren’t the cheapest. I got just a Chocolate Frog from there, but I’m still dreaming about the Ravenclaw cardigan.
I went to Oxford with my friend during my latest trip to London. Overall, it was a nice day. The weather was okay, it was cold but sunny. The city was a bit crowded, especially on the main shopping street. Christmas lights were already up and there was even a small Christmas market, so the atmosphere was great.
To get to Oxford for London, we took the Oxford Tube (same day return 14£), which is actually a bus. After an hour of traveling through the beautiful English countryside, we got down at High Street, right in front of the University Church Of St Mary The Virgin. Our next stop was the Oxford Covered Market, which is something you cannot miss. It is also a nice place where to have breakfast or lunch.
In the afternoon we opted for a free walking tour. There are a lot of different companies you can go with. Some of them bring you inside colleges and the Divinity School, so you have to pay a fee for the tickets and then also give a tip to your guide. We opted for a completely free tour and we just tipped our very competent and also very funny guide.
The first thing I learned during the tour is that there isn’t one University of Oxford, but that is made up by more than 30 colleges. We got see some of them: Christ Church College, Trinity College, All Souls College, Merton College, and Hertford College. We also walked by the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Bridge of Sighs.
After a quick stop in a beautiful café full of other students, we took the bus back to London. Of course it took a lot more than it took in the morning because of traffic, but there was free wifi so I cannot complain.
Have you ever visited one of these places? What other day trip from London would you recommend?
Last week I spent some days in Amsterdam. I did not know a lot about the city before I went there. I have a (long) list of places I want to visit in North Europe, but mostly they’re Icelandic or Norwegian towns. So, as most of my improvised trips, I went there without any particular expectation.
The main reason I decided to go to Amsterdam was because of music. I love to go to live shows and there were two bands I really like who were playing there. Even if the concerts didn’t go as expected (they didn’t happen), I was set to make the best of my time in the city. I am always happy and excited to go explore a new place, especially when I know nothing about it.
As I said, I didn’t know a lot about Amsterdam. I usually do a bit of research before leaving, but this time I was crazy busy the week before. My sister (thank you Erika for some of the pictures you took) was my travel companion and she was busier than me, so we arrived there without any real plan (my favorite kind of trips).
A friend of mine suggested the free walking tour of the city. I had booked that, so I was sure our guide would explain all the things we would do research on (and she did!).
The only other thing I did before leaving was booking tickets for the Van Gogh museum. I really wanted to go visit it, but I didn’t want to spend too much time queuing. I definitely recommend purchasing your tickets before, especially if you’re in Amsterdam for just a couple of days. You pick the day and the time, you can’t change them later, but I think the time it’s just approximate: we arrived like an hour early and they let us in anyway. You print your tickets at home or you keep them on your phone and then you get in as soon as you arrive at the museum (it’s really a dream!).
A quick note: where to stay + how to get around
In Europe we have a couple of low costs air companies. I don’t mind flying for an hour or two in a small plane seat without any “free” drink or food, so I fly low-cost whenever I can. This way I can spend my money on other things at my destination. My round-trip from Milan to Amsterdam was about 80 euros (and that’s kind of expensive considered one time I flew to Eindhoven for like half of that).
From the Schipol Airport, we took a train to Amsterdam Centraal. I immediately noticed train tickets there are not cheap. But the trains are so comfortable and clean so you can’t really complain. I mean, second class there is so much better than first class on an Italian train.
Our hotel was near the central station, we literally had to just cross the bridge and we were there. We were a street away from the Damrak (a nice street with a lot of shops and restaurants) and less than a ten minutes walk from Dam (the main square). If I have to go back, I would stay in the same area because we were within walking distance to all the major landmarks and attractions.
We visited the city mainly by walking. In my opinion walking is the best way to explore a new place, get a bit lost once in a while and discover little places you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The center of Amsterdam is not as big as I thought so I definitely recommend bringing some good walking shoes and just walk everywhere. If you’re brave enough, you can also rent a bicycle and try to blend in with the locals.
From what I could see, public transports are good even to get around the city center. We took a tram to go to the Van Gogh museum, but that was all.
One afternoon we decided to go to the countryside. We booked a guided tour so they had their own bus. There are also several public buses that go into the countryside.
To go to Utrecht, we took the train again.
Trip recap – our itinerary
We landed just in time for lunch, so we quickly eat at the airport. We traveled to the city center by train. After a quick stop to take pictures of the massive bicycle parking in front of the station (that’s so cool), we walked to our hotel.
Later in the afternoon, we went out to explore without a real destination. We just walked around the center and it was a great first impact. We walked along the Damrak, we arrived at the Dam and saw the Royal Palace.
We ended up our day with a very traditional dinner at a Japanese restaurant.
Monday morning we walked to the Anne Frank house. I enjoyed the walk along the canals and in the little streets surrounded by brick buildings. I love the architecture of Amsterdam! And I also liked how quiet everything still was at 10 in the morning.
After that we walked some more (yes, we really did a lot of walking!) and we visited the flower market. I was expecting a lot of flowers, like a lot of colorful tulips, but we found just bulbs. Well, of course this is the right season for fresh flowers, Sarah! There are also some souvenirs shops there and I love to go in and just take a look around even if I don’t buy anything.
In the afternoon, we had our free walking tour of Amsterdam. It was the first time doing a free walking tour for me, but I think I will do this kind of tours more often. This free (but tips are always appreciated) walking tour was a really great way to see the city and hear from a local about food, traditions, culture, and fun facts. Our guide gave us the historical background, she explained how Amsterdam became a city and why it’s such a free and open-minded place.
We ended up our day with another very traditional dinner at a Chinese restaurant. In my defense, I was getting really cold and I was craving a big bowl of soup and I love Chinese soups.
With our tickets for the Van Gogh museum in our purse, we took a tram and we got down at the Rijksmuseum. But that’s the wrong museum, Sarah! Yes, but there’s the I amsterdam sign there and we wanted to take a selfie in front of it. Besides, it’s really close to the Van Gogh museum so we were fine.
The weather wasn’t the best, but for once we got lucky. We took a few snaps at the sign and then, as soon as it started raining, we got inside the museum. I had a good time in there and I think it’s something you cannot miss in Amsterdam. Once we finished our visit and we got out, it stopped raining.
We finally had a real traditional lunch: chips with mayo and ketchup. We started eating them like the locals while walking around and doing some windows shopping. But we’re Italians and we need to sit down for our lunch, so we went back to our hotel and rested a bit to get ready for the afternoon.
At about 3 pm, we left Amsterdam headed to Zaanse Schans. It’s such a picturesque village, with its green-timbered houses and the windmills. With our tour we even visited a working windmill. We moved on to Volendam, a quiet but very chic fishing village. There were so many beautiful houses there and the view was great. We visited a cheese factory and tasted some cheese. To get to our last stop, the former island of Marken, we took a boat. Even if I was starting to get sick at this point, I really enjoyed the visit to the traditional clog maker.
This day was pretty eventless. I slept my fever off the whole morning. We traveled to Utrecht by train, and there I slept again until the next morning.
I finally felt a little better, so we took a quick walk around Utrecht. The center is cool, but small. There are canals, paved streets, some nice buildings, a lot of shops, and a gothic cathedral.
In the afternoon it was already time to flew back home to foggy and congested Milan.
Overall, this was a very lovely trip and I would like to go back someday to visit a couple of things I didn’t see this time, maybe without a fever.
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What have you liked the most? Did you get to visit the countryside? Or any other city in The Netherlands?