Color me shocked -- the absolute highlight of this trip to Key West was the Truman Little White House. Seven presidents from Taft to Clinton have spent time here during or after their presidencies, but Truman spent the most time here and LOVED it. Key West was his special place.
The house is restored to look as close as possible to how it looked in 1949. The guides are passionate and knowledgeable. I knew that Truman was unpopular near the end of his presidency, but I didn't know that that was primarily because he passed civil rights legislation and most Americans were anti-civil rights at the time.
Oh, and Truman LOVED to play poker with his cabinet and Chief Justice every night, but that had to be kept secret from the American public because gambling was a sin back then. And in his love letters with his wife, Bess, they would debate the merit of Shakespearean plays. He could play Chopin and Mozart by memory. He read every book in the library in Independence, Missouri. THIS GUY.
I plan to pick up David McCullough's Truman biography in the near future. I want to learn more.
Also, lest you think I've become too much of a nerd, I'm posting this from Margaritaville.
If you're driving down the Keys, break up your trip with a stop at the No Name Bar in Big Pine Key. It's COVERED with one dollar bills! You can draw on your own and staple them to the wall.
I met up with Kristin and Scott of Camels & Chocolate, who were driving east as I was driving west, and we estimated that there was perhaps $20,000 attached to the walls.
There's always money in the banana stand...
BACK IN KEY WEST. Oh, boy. OH, BOY.
To me, Key West at almost-33 is the equivalent of Las Vegas at 23, or Vang Vieng at 26. This is going to be a FUN TIME.
PSA: Be careful in the summer heat! I was just walking along a path and everything started to get swirly and I felt like I had had five drinks...then realized that I had barely touched any water today.
Hydrate like mad! Stay out of the sun! It can get you quickly!
My favorite Keys discovery of the day: the radio station Hot 105. They play my absolute favorite genre -- 90s slow jams -- and their motto is "Making Memories, Making Babies." 😂
Today, for the first time EVER, I rode a boat captained by an all-female crew! If that's a first for me, you know just how rare that is!
Gender inequality continues to persist in many industries, and you often don't even notice until you're presented with the alternative.
Shout-out to Caiti and Stephanie for an awesome snorkeling trip at Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo. As a former shipwreckee who still gets nervous on boats, I felt very safe in your hands.
Also, thanks for telling me stories about being extras on Bloodline. 😉
Good morning from the Florida Keys. It's a perfect day to go snorkeling!
Back when Cailin and I visited the Keys in February, we were on a mission to find the best key lime pie and we searched diligently, eating a ton of it.
When I found out I was coming back, I was excited to continue the search and turn it into an even bigger blog post.
Guys. I love key lime pie, but I think I've hit my limit. Too much of a good thing is a real thing. I had it twice today and I don't think I can continue.
I *will* be taking a key lime pie class in Key West, though!
I just arrived back in the Florida Keys and have already tasted key lime pie, key lime taffy, and key lime MEAD. Yes, mead.
Keys' Meads just opened in April here in Key Largo and you can taste all kinds of their delicious meads (honey wines). Their orange cream near is unreal and their holiday spice mead tastes like Christmas in your mouth! Oh, and you won't guess what some of the strange blends taste like...
I love to support cool new businesses like these. If you're coming to the Keys, drop by for some tastes and conversation!
July 11 has always been a memorable day for me during my years of travel. Just by coincidence. Here's what I was doing every year -- and how life got better year over year.
Game of Thrones tonight!! I haven't watched since Season 2 when that weird smoke baby came out, but I *have* been to most of the filming locations.
Here's King's Landing -- Dubrovnik!
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia has come to NYC! I *LOVE* this place! 💔 Let's explore some of the stories.
"The solo traveler who happened to meet the perfect one-night stand may be motivated by now-or-never constraints on the hookup and feel he or she needs to do whatever it takes, wherever it takes, and should also be treated with compassion."
This is incredible. A lion was seen nursing a baby leopard in the wild -- and it's the first time this has EVER been documented.
Wonder what life will be like for that baby. 🐆
How sad for this woman and her family. I was here in St. Maarten earlier this year and had a great time getting blasted by the jets taking off by Maho Beach.
At the beach, there is a road with a fence, then a stretch of beach. The article says that the woman was standing on the road by the fence, which is the closest you can possible stand to the engines. She was knocked over and hit her head on the concrete, which killed her.
If you go to Maho Beach, I urge you to view the takeoffs from the beach, not the road. If the blast knocks you over, falling on soft sand isn't as bad as falling on concrete.
C'est Christine is moving out of New York today after five years of living in the city. I really enjoyed the goodbye she wrote on her blog.
An Australian dude checked a can of beer on a Qantas flight.
That's the most Australian thing I've seen since when I was in the Northern Territory and the front page story was "CROC VS. SHARK!"
(The croc won. The croc always wins.)
One year ago today I was in Johannesburg, standing on top of Africa's tallest building and posing with a giant nutcracker with my friend Beth, still marveling at the fact that I got to take my friend on a business class trip to another continent.
Two years ago today I was in Berat, Albania, having just finished reading The Martian, marveling at how the main street was completely empty during the day but filled with hundreds if not thousands at sunset.
Three years ago today I was in London, grateful to finally be getting paid for press trips but exhausted from taking on nearly-back-to-back trips to Malta, Ireland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Finland with very little recovery time in between.
Four years ago today I was in Istanbul for the second time, feasting on syrup-soaked mini donuts and overlooking the Bosphorus.
Five years ago today I was on the final leg of one of the longest and most tiring journeys of my life: staying up all night in Munich Airport, an early flight to Lisbon, a transatlantic flight to Toronto, then a border crossing and overnight bus to New York. It was cheap, but I'm NEVER doing that again. That was also the day I discovered the foolproof method to getting a bus seat to yourself: ACT CRAZY. I hiked up my shirt, stuck out my belly, scattered crumbs all over the place, and loudly munched my banh mi with wild eyes. I slept like a dead cockroach, on my back across two seats with my knees and elbows bent.
Six years ago today I was home but deeply entrenched in anglophilia, writing about royal wedding celebrations and analyzing the Beckhams' new baby name. I was shocked at Harper; I swore they were going to name her Beverly, as they gave their other kids names related to where they were conceived, and that's when they were living in Los Angeles.
Seven years ago today I was working a day job I hated and working late into the night on the blog and a ton of freelance work, trying to save as much money as possible for travel. Most nights I slept four hours. It wasn't sustainable, but it was worth it.
It was SO worth it.
Let's try something new. I've always wanted to be a "book therapist" -- someone who prescribes the perfect book to people in search of something.
Tell me what kind of book you're in the mood for, or how you're feeling right now, and I'll pick out a book I love just for you.
--"I want to learn about a country I don't know much about."
--"I want a protagonist I'll fall in love with."
--"I want a great love story set in a cool location."
--"I want to feel more grateful for what I have."
--"I want to read a memoir by a woman who will make me laugh my ass off."
Hit me with your best shot -- I'll see what I can come up with!
My favorite bookstore in New York sells more than just books.
Big news tonight -- I just hit 100k followers on Instagram!
I'm excited. I'm proud. It's taken nearly six years to get to this point. But I'm also glad that I did it without resorting to unsavory methods of growing a following.
No follow for follow. No incessant commenting on popular accounts in order to get more followers. No bots, ever. No pods, ever. No follower-buying, ever. No tools like Massplanner or Instagress (both now banned). And no posing in front of various scenic views in maxi dresses and floppy hats!
In the interest of full disclosure, I did once pay an account 87 EUR to feature one photo. I got maybe five likes and never did it again.
So let it be known...you CAN still get to 100k on Instagram without resorting to dirty tricks.
One question I get asked often is, "What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?" And I always forget half the things on the list, so I might as well try to remember them here!
--Unusual game meats: kudu, springbok, and zebra in South Africa; reindeer in the Nordics (which is DELICIOUS and one of my favorites); kangaroo in Australia.
--A full meal of snake, including the bones, blood, and bile, in Hanoi.
--I ate a weird sea animal in Japan that looked like an alien penis.
--Blood cakes often come in soups in Vietnam. And every culture has its own blood sausage.
--I eat a lot of haggis in Scotland. It's good if you're not thinking about what it is.
--I once ate a puffin in Iceland. My friend Amy was appalled.
What's on your list?
Incredible news from France today!
Who's at work and wants to procrastinate? This is the most fun you'll have all morning!
(Also, how did they give me an A for South Dakota but a C for Wyoming? THEY'RE RECTANGLES. I do accept full responsibility for my F for West Virginia, though.)
The latest news on the laptop ban.
Have you made any changes to your travel style to deal with any upcoming laptop bans?
Here are places around the world, from Switzerland to Kazakhstan, that look as if they belong in a Wes Anderson movie. Love these photos!
This Independence Day, it seems appropriate to share this post that I wrote after the election. It's easy -- and cowardly -- for Americans who have the ability to work online to leave the country, live abroad, and talk shit about America and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make it better.
If you have the means to work online, you are already among the most privileged in the country. As such, you need to step up and take responsibility to help at home from afar. Donate money. Donate time. Call your representatives. Volunteer for campaigns. Protest. Do something. Don't sit back and say, "Well, America's fucked," and laugh.
Step up and help for everyone who needs it. We live in a country where black men, women, and children are routinely killed by the police for no reason. A country where the government are fighting to deny healthcare to approximately 22 million people so they can give kickbacks to the rich. That's unconscionable.
But we also live in a country full of brilliant, compassionate people who have the means to bring these travesties to an end. That's the America that I know and love and believe in. IT'S STILL THERE. It's still our country.
Nothing is going to change in America if the most privileged fuck off and leave, patting themselves on the back for how smart they were to leave America at this difficult time.
I love this country fiercely and will never stop fighting for the rights of people less privileged than myself. That's a responsibility that we all must share.
Happy Fourth, everyone.
This might be the most delightful travel read of your week.
Via Moment Catchers
Here's everything I got up to last month -- New York, Boston, and Asheville -- plus a whopping eight new book reviews.
America: the Guide.
Via The Oatmeal.
It's the first of the month so I've just ordered my next three books from Book of the Month Club! Here's what I'm getting:
American Fire by Monica Hesse: New this month, a true crime account about an arson spree that spreadacross a town in rural Virginia. It was so bad that locals became vigilante detectives, volunteer firefighters were sleeping overnight at stations, and literally every night the county was ready for another building to go up in flames. It's about how rural America suffered the worst days of the recession, and how there was a twisted love story at the center of it all.
Hunger by Roxane Gay: I've actually not read any of Roxane Gay's works yet, but she is a major feminist voice, as well as an author across a variety of media. This memoir is about what it's like to be overweight in America and the cruelties she faces on a day-to-day basis.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: This novel is about Koreans who immigrated to Japan in the early 20th century and were treated like second-class citizens. The novel follows the story of one woman and her family through war and poverty as they attempt to survive. This is the second highest rated book of the year by BOTM readers, so I'm looking forward to it.
I have an offer: if you want to join, join through here and get three new hardcover books, one per month, for $9.99 each. Cheaper than Kindle. And I'll earn a free book if you join. US only. https://www.mybotm.com/7v90ys3l89p5jyvi
Happy 150th birthday, Canada!
It's been so interesting watching Canada's changes over the last few years. So many Canadians, including the prime minister, have made a commitment to amplifying voices that have too often been silenced.
That turns into walking the walk when it comes to diversity, creating the most astoundingly diverse cabinet, a greater representation of indigenous Canadians on the national stage.
My opinion of Canada has grown and changed a lot over the past few years. Far from the white-bread, overly apologetic caricature we've been used to seeing depicted in pop culture, Canada today is a melting pot of the best of the world has to offer. So many colors and religions and amazing foods, people from all walks of life given the same chance to succeed. THIS is Canada. It's poutine and samosas. It's maple syrup and pomegranate molasses. It's Sikhs in rainbow turbans hugging the Prime Minister at the Pride parade.
I love you, Canada! And I really need to plan a trip back soon.
It's a great day for Germany. 🌈
My post on Asheville, North Carolina is here! I had such a great weekend, and Asheville is seriously home to some of the nicest people I have ever met, anywhere.
Here's a huge post with everything I enjoyed -- from honor system fruit stands to tobacco smoke-infused cocktails to frolicking at the Richie Rich house.
What a horrible story. The instructor told her, "No jump," she thought he said, "Now jump," and she jumped and died.
THIS is why you should choose to do activities with the more professional company, not the cheaper and more ramshackle option. The pricier companies are more likely to have an instructor who speaks more than broken English and says, "Don't jump right now, it's not safe, you're not secured," instead of, "No jump."
Could this have been avoided? Perhaps; perhaps not. Either way it's a tragic accident.
As we get into summer, I'd love to share one of my favorite summer destinations: Zadar, Croatia. If you're heading to Croatia, you should make time for this sunny little city!
Excited to announce that I am going BACK to the Florida Keys in July -- for the greatest possible reason. (No, not key lime pie.) (No, not feeding crazy bloodthirsty fish by hand.) (No, not booze cruises with overzealous Boston sports fans.)
The Hemingway lookalike contest in Key West. A MILLION HEMINGWAYS IN ONE PLACE. Ohhhhh, it's going to be good!
Do you want to travel, but you're still paying off student loans? It's STILL possible to travel.
Everyone's loan situation is different -- but here is how six other people and I still managed to travel long-term in a financially responsible way, even with student loans.
Terrible news coming out of Colombia tonight.
Boat safety is hard to ascertain when you're visiting other countries. But here's some advice on boat safety I wrote last year when commemorating five years since my own shipwreck:
1) Learn how to swim well before you start traveling. I was surprised at how many of my friends, especially Brits, described themselves as “not a strong swimmer” and didn’t go beyond shallow water. There is no shame in taking swimming lessons as an adult. Seriously. It could save your life.
And for my readers who are parents, teach your kids to swim from a young age. Get them into lessons if you’re not a strong swimmer yourself. Please prioritize this; it will be more difficult once they’re older.
2) Bring a dry bag. Today I travel with two dry bags: a small one for when I need somewhere to stash my camera and phone (5-10 liters is good), and a large one (20-30 liters) big enough to cover my day bag.
If you’re a longtime reader, you know that I always encourage you to keep your valuables (electronics, passport, medication, credit cards, cash, etc.) in your day bag, on your person at all times while in transit (excluding the backup cash and credit card hidden somewhere random in your luggage). That goes for boats as well as anywhere else. Check your luggage in the hold but hang onto your valuables as well as the big dry bag.
3) Avoid fast ferries; take larger, slower ferries. I’m speaking anecdotally as it’s hard to find data — but in my experience, when you hear about sinkings of tourist boats around Bali and Lombok, it’s often the fast ferries, sometimes the popular fast ferry from Bali to the Gili Islands. Also anecdotally, I’ve found that larger boats tend to be more stable, though keep in mind that anything can happen.
4) Stick to high season and avoid sailing in bad weather. If you’re planning a trip to a part of the developing world with lots of ferries, like Indonesia or the Philippines, you may want to time your trip to high season, when it rains less often.
5) Avoid night sailings. Stick to daytime sailing. (You may feel fine sailing at night in the developed world, but for the developing world I urge you to only take day sailings.)
6) Invest in your safety. Don’t let money be a major factor in choosing a less safe method of transport. If there’s a big difference in the quality of boats, take the nicer boat, even if it costs more or takes much longer. Be aware if you’re paying more for a quality trip or a faster trip.
7) If you’re taking a tour or trip, read reviews first. TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree are good places to search. The Thorn Tree is also good if you have follow-up questions. Local and regional sites are good too, like Travelfish for Southeast Asia, as well as local Couchsurfing groups for destinations.
8) Find a lifejacket and sit on it like a cushion. Grab it as soon as you get on the boat. If the worst happens, you’ll be prepared.
9) Familiarize yourself with all exit routes from the boat. This is good advice for wherever you go, but it’s especially important on boats.
Four years ago I traveled in Istanbul and Dubai during Ramadan. It was an eye-opening experience -- but my favorite part was in Istanbul at night, how it seemed like everyone poured into the streets and celebrated with their families (and TONS of food).
Happy Pride, everyone. ❤️💛💚💙💜
May you love freely and be loved in return. May you always be protected.
Following the recognition from Forbes this week, I wrote a post I've been wanting to write for a long time -- on what it means to be an influencer, some alarming trends in our industry, and the importance of keeping people safe when they travel.
If there's something that every Bostonian has in his or her kitchen, it's this: a small tasting glass from the Sam Adams Brewery.
I broke mine recently, so it was time to go back and get another one! They're actually perfect juice glasses. 😂
The brewery is one of my favorite spots to recommend to people visiting Boston. Along with a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, cannolis at Modern Pastry in the North End, and dinner at one of my favorite spots: Coppa, Toro, or Neptune Oyster!
Oh, Odessa, you are one of the prettiest cities I've ever seen! I fell HARD for this Ukrainian city last month. Hope you enjoy the photos.
It may only be June, but I'm starting to plan my big fall trip. I want it to be somewhere adventurous and new, and it will be around two weeks, likely in October.
And I think it should be either in the Middle East or Africa. Those are two regions that I haven't explored nearly as much as I should have by now, and I'd love to add new experiences in both regions.
I've been to South Africa (three times), Jordan, and the UAE, so I'm looking for somewhere different. Especially if it's not covered very often on travel blogs.
Where do you think I should go and why?
What an honor to wake up and find out that Forbes has named me one of the top 10 influencers in travel!
What a joy to see several of my friends on the list as well.
This? Is awesome. And MORE than makes up for being trapped in airport delay hell all day yesterday!
But one thing. Over the past year or two especially, I've been concerned about the industry's focus, especially among the newer generations.
I've seen an industry where the long-timers used to be the most focused on trying to helping people -- whether it's helping them plan better trips, save more money, stay safe, travel ethically, and have the best time possible -- and seeing that kind of content become less and less common.
These days, particularly with the rise of Instagram, I've seen a rise in shallow, quite often inaccurate blog content; fashion-style spreads taking the place of valuable information, and an unending greed amongst influencers for making the most money and getting the craziest travel perks, regardless of how that affects one's audience. It's going to get worse as more fashion influencers try to tackle travel without having the requisite knowledge to actually help people, and possibly leading their followers to harm.
The dominant narrative today in influencer communities is not, "How can I help people?" but "How much can I get out of this?"
A narrative of, "Wow guys, North Korea is so cool!" without examining the ethics of traveling to the country.
A narrative of, "Wow, I'll get to go to Africa and make lots of contacts to make money and do cool things!" rather than evaluating whether you should attend an event funded by the government of Robert Mugabe.
BUT. The top tier of influencers are still doing things right -- creating valuable, unique, ethical, and helpful content. And when I say top tier of influencers, that doesn't necessarily mean this list. Lots of people are doing amazing things in the travel influencer industry these days, and I am proud to call them my colleagues.
Influence is valuable. May we always use it for good. Not greed.
Asheville, thank you for a fabulous weekend. I know I'll be back! As fun and beautiful and delicious as this city is, what I will remember the most is the people. Kind, open, generous, wonderful people. Amazing people, in fact.
I can't wait to start writing and sharing about Asheville on the blog! Look out for it next week.
Today I achieved a dream I didn't even know I had -- I got to frolic at the Richie Rich house!
This is the Biltmore Estate. It's right here in Asheville and absolutely gorgeous on the inside and out. (No McDonald's or Kidapult, though.)
You absolutely must come here! Right now they're displaying costumes from several literary movies like Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice.