Looking back at 2017, I would say it was my busiest year yet in terms of travel. Miami (twice!), Madrid, Lake Tahoe, New York City, a dream vacation in Italy, Cape Cod, Los Angeles and Boston, plus a staycation here in St. Louis. The number one question I get is, how do you get so much time off to travel, followed quickly by how do you afford to do that! I think especially when we're in our 20s, those are the two most daunting things - money and time. So I thought I’d share a little insight into my travel philosophy.
First off, and this is the biggest thing. Travel does not have to be expensive. Sure, a trip to Italy is not going to cheap, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant. I stalk travel deals almost daily (it’s relaxing for me) and really plan things out. Here are some of my best tips for saving on travel.
Airfare: This is probably one of the best ways to cut back on price. Airfare is expensive but there are a lot of ways to save. First off, if you can, start building miles using a credit card. Most offer enough free points when you sign up for a free flight. Set up an alert on Kayak and plan your travel around when flights are cheaper. Book your flights separately. For example, flights to Europe are much cheaper from New York than St. Louis. So often times I will find a cheap flight to Europe from NYC and then look up a cheaper deal on Southwest to get me to New York. This takes time. I spend several hours figuring out the best deals, making notes and checking different airlines and cities.
Hotels: I rarely stay at hotels anymore. AirBnB or VRBO are way cheaper and frankly a much better way to feel more like a local in a city. I’ve had a few bad experiences, but overwhelmingly our experience at AirBnBs have always been wonderful. I definitely feel like I have aged out of the hostel life. (I stayed in lots in my early 20s) It's by far the cheapest way to travel but I've found I am willing to pay a bit more for my own space.
Saving: It sounds simple but you can’t go on trips unless you plan for them. For me, traveling is a priority. I am very lucky that I don’t have a mortgage or children or other major expenses and that I can spend my money on travel. I know that won’t always be the case and that’s why I’m taking full advantage of it now. I try to save $100 a week from my paycheck to put towards my travel fund. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. But I always try to think about how I am spending my money and how it will impact future travel. Maybe try making your own coffee at home for a week? Or bringing your lunch every day. Do what it takes to build up that travel fund.
Prioritize: When I travel, eating out and experiencing the local cuisine is my biggest priority. That is where I know I want to spend money. Because of that I know I will have to cut back elsewhere. Perhaps that means walking a little farther instead of taking a cab, or not going to one of the museums and instead experiencing the city’s history through a free walking tour. And remember you don’t have to eat out at every meal. Stop at a grocery store and pick up some easy things for breakfast so you don’t spend another $10 on a pastry from the coffee shop. Unless you're in Paris, then absolutely splurge on a daily croissant.
The second thing I get asked about is time off. There’s a crazy stat out there that half of Americans do not use all their vacation days. Let me tell you, I am not one of them. I am fortunate to get three weeks vacation after working for my company for several years and I use every last one of them. And I have learned that three weeks vacation can go a long way (so can two! Which is what I had when I first started).
First off plan out your vacations. Would you rather take one long vacation with a few weekends here and there, or would you rather take several shorter vacations? Last year I took several shorts vacations. I spent about 8 days in Italy but everything else was a three or four day trip. You would be amazed how much you can get out of a three day trip. Yes, it can be exhausting and usually isn’t the most relaxing if you’re flying, but for me, I would rather take adventure over relaxation. If relaxing is your thing, think about taking a few days more, or using that long weekend for a staycation. This coming year I am taking longer trips so I know I won’t travel as much because I will give up some of those long weekends to ensure I have more time in France and Greece (can’t wait!). Also don’t be intimidated by the idea of going to Europe for a shorter trip. Last year I found an insane $400 round trip ticket to Madrid from St. Louis and because I didn’t have much vacation left, I essentially went for a long weekend! It was exhausting and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep at work on that Monday back, but it was 100% worth it.
Traveling is all about finding balance. Finding balance to fund the trips, finding balance between knowing what is worth the splurge and what isn’t and finding balance in seeking adventure and taking some time to relax and recharge. So if traveling more in 2018 is on your New Year’s Resolution list, I hope this helps! And I’d love to know, what’s on your travel bucket list this year?
Looking for inspiration, check out my new travel section at the top of the blog! You'll find my guides to New York, Miami, Lake Tahoe, Madrid and more!
One of the things I love about St. Louis is how many great weekend getaways are within a quick drive. You can get to Chicago or Louisville or Nashville in just a short drive. Or you can stick closer and explore the beauty of Missouri. Biking to wine country along the Katy Trail has been a bucket list item for me for ages. And fall is the best time to do it!
Missouri has several different spots to explore wine country. You can take a drive down to St. Genevieve or hop on the train to Herman, we opted to get a little workout in without wine drinking and ride part of the Katy Trail to Augusta. The Katy Trail stretches 240 miles across Missouri and is a beautiful way to see the Show-Me state. We decided to take it easy since we planned on spending several hours at the wineries. (Wine + biking can lead to some cuts and scrapes FYI). So here is our advice for the perfect day trip to the wineries.
We started in Defiance which is just about 40 minutes from St. Louis. We brought our bikes but there's a great place - Katy Bike Rental - where you can rent bikes, pick up gear or chat up the helpful employees about your trip. Our route from Defiance to Augusta was about 8 miles, a little under 45 minute one way. The trail is beautiful. The crunch of the leaves under your wheels, the views of the Missouri River and fields. Its the perfect way to take in the beauty of the area. Plus the trail is flat and easy to ride. On the way to Augusta, there's a winery a few miles in - Sugar Creek Winery. You can stop there, but decided to keep going.
Along the route is also Klondike Park. It's a gorgeous park with hiking, biking and fishing. We stopped to take in the views of the river and grab a drink of water. The park is for another visit. We finally turned the corner and spotted the sign welcoming us to Augusta. Our booties were ready to hop off our bikes and ready for wine.
Our first stop was Augusta Winery. Heads up, the town is HILLY. So if you are biking, be prepared to hoof it, or hop off your bike and walk up the hills. For $5 at Augusta, we got a tasting of five wines. I am not a fan of sweet wine which for the longest time made me think I couldn't drink Missouri wine because so many of them are very very sweet. But there are a lot of great dry options. We tried some white and some red, my favorite red was the Norton, a full bodied red with berry notes. But given we were still a bit toasty from the bike ride, we opted to get a full glass of the Chardonel. It was crisp and light and perfect for sipping on the outdoor patio.
Next stop, we headed up another very steep hill to Holy Grail Winery. It's housed in an adorable little shed like building with a shaded garden area. This was by far the most hospitable stop - mainly because it wasn't crowded. The husband and wife team who own the winery walk us through their wines and their background. They even offered us some of their homemade sausage and venison to try. We sampled all reds, some heavy, some light, ended with a raspberry chocolate port. They were all delicious. Plus they sell chocolates that they import from Ireland. The smell inside the shop was intoxicating. We loved the Pinot Noir and purchased a bottle. The tasting was 5 wines for $5, but that charge is waved if you purchase a bottle. Across the street were a couple of darling antique shops.
Third stop was Mount Pleasant Winery. This is the biggest and most popular winery in Augusta and was packed on a Saturday afternoon. There as a wedding, a party and a live band, so the lines were a bit long, plus the tasting room was a bit crowded so I didn't feel we got a good description of the wines we were trying. We loved the Brut Imperial, a dry sparkling wine. After our tasting ($10 for 4, you get to keep the glass) we purchased a bottle of the Brut and headed to the patio. There's a restaurant onsite and we purchased a cheese and sausage plate and listened to the live band. It was a fun crowd on a beautiful day.
Our final stop was Augusta Brew Haus. Located on a hill overlooking the Katy Trail, they too had live music. We got a flight, sampling the blonde, IPA, Oktoberfest and Hefeweizen. The beers were tasty but we could tell if we had anymore we wouldn't be able to make that 8 mile ride back. We got back on our bikes and hit the trail. The ride back was quicker than the ride there, I think because we were pedaling quickly to get it over with. The soreness had set in and the wine only helped so much.
Back in Defiance if you're ready to keep drinking there are several other spots, including the Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery and Chandler Hill. Overall it's the perfect spot to spend a day that feels like a mini-vacation. Check out the little video we made of the day! I'd love to know, what's your favorite Missouri winery?
So how is it already April? This year is flying by. I’m taking a look at my goals for the year and the one I am definitely nailing is traveling more. One of my goals was to travel to several new cities this year and I’m finally getting around to posting about my first one - Miami!
Our long weekend trip to Miami was Matt and my anniversary/Christmas gift to each other. Technically it wasn’t a “new” city since I went when I was a kid. But since the only thing I remember about that trip was buying a white corduroy blazer from AX Exchange (yes take a moment and let that image sink in), I feel like this was a first time trip. Plus Matt used to live there so it was so excited to get to see a part of his old life.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale because we flew on Southwest. So we picked up our rental car and drove to Miami. First stop was getting lunch and cocktails. We had lunch at Suviche in Wynwood for fresh ceviche and mojitos. The rain cleared up just in time for our afternoon. We walked around Wynwood, which is my kind of neighborhood. Its the former warehouse district so its still very industrial but its been transformed with incredible murals and new boutiques, bars and galleries. We hit up two breweries - Concrete Beach and Wynwood Brewery. Because the rain was on and off, we hung around and played games at Wynwood Brewery which had a solid shelf of board games.
We checked into our hotel in downtown Brickell. We stayed at the Aloft Brickell which we really enjoyed, the location was perfect for us since we weren't doing too much on South Beach. Just wish the weather had cooperated more for some pool time!
We did head to South Beach for pre-dinner drinks at a really cool bar called the Broken Shaker. Its in a hostel/hotel with a gorgeous pool setting. Dinner was back downtown at Mignonette. We sat at the raw bar and had oysters and some incredible seafood. Following dinner we headed over to a great cocktail bar down the street, Corner Bar.
We woke up and head straight for coffee. I had read about Panther Coffee and it was delicious. There are a couple of locations around the city but we went to the one in Wynwood. We got an empanada and croissant to share for breakfast. Then we hit the streets. The weather was one our side so we wanted to take in all of the murals in Wynwood. It was early enough in the morning that it felt like we had the streets to ourselves to admire all the cool artwork. We also popped over the actual Wynwood Walls, which is a curated space in between several buildings with of course a trendy juicery inside.
For lunch, it was time for tacos. We went to Coyo. It was packed, so we grabbed our tacos (shrimp, chicken, asada), guac and churros, and headed to stand in the sun. We followed lunch with another brewery - J Wakefield Brewery. This was probably my favorite. They have a lot of sours, with fruit accents. Really tasty IPAs that were perfect for sipping all afternoon. Favorites were Stush, a berlinner weisse and Mango and Cash, a double IPA.
For dinner on Saturday we headed into the Design District for Michael’s Genuine. Michael’s Genuine is one of those rare restaurants. It’s been around 10 years and is still attracting great reviews for its seasonal and local dishes, plus huge crowds.
We aren’t big club people so we headed to some bars in Wynwood for a little dancing. Gramps was a really cool spot with an outdoor patio and dance area. I just wish it was a little warmer and we could have enjoyed it more. Here we had our favorite cocktail of the weekend, the Rosemary’s Baby, gin, lemon and Earl Grey simple syrup with a piece of rosemary that they lit on fire giving it a smoky taste.
Beach Day! We headed to South Beach to get our fill of the ocean, unfortunately the wind was not our friend and we were whipped to death by the sand. The water in February was also a little too chilly given the temperatures. Once we couldn’t take the wind any longer we headed to Ocean Drive to check out the shops. It was packed with not only people but pretty much every store you could want. We caught the sun setting over the harbor at Monty’s South Beach over a plate of oysters.
For dinner we met up with friends at Cake Thai. We shared a bunch of dishes which were all incredible, but the service was lacking unfortunately, as several of our dishes were forgotten or took forever to come out. The restaurant is fairly new so hopefully they will get that hammered out because that yellow curry dish would have me coming back again and again.
After dinner we walked over to The Wynwood Yard, a really good spot with live music, a bar and food trucks in a permanent outdoor space. We had shaved ice cream, which was melt in your mouth good.
On our last day in town we needed to check to more food musts off our list - pastries from Zak the Baker and a cubano sandwich. Zak the Baker is located in Wynwood (told you it was gong to be my favorite neighborhood). They have their bakery and then down the street they have a kosher deli. Honestly breakfast at the delli looked incredible, but my heart was set on pastries. Matt and I went all our and split four different items - croissant, chocolate croissant, an incredible babka and a cinnamon roll. Guys, this place was beyond good. I desperately wanted to try their bread, but our stomachs could take no more. Next time!
We spent the rest of the morning lounging by the pool at Aloft, soaking up a few rays of sunshine before they darted behind the clouds. We hit the road to head to the airport, but not without stopping for a Cubano. We asked several locals for the best spot - there were mixed opinions of course but we settled on Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop. When you walk in at lunch and it’s packed with locals, you know you’ve picked right. We sat up at the counter at the simple, no fuss eatery and placed our orders. For me - chicken soup, with the most delicious broth, giant chunks of giant and big slices of veggies. I could have been satisfied with just that. But I had a Cubano coming. I’m no expert in Cubanos but for me it was everything I wanted, the perfect ratio of pickles, mustard, ham, pork, and Swiss. After our morning of eating, I felt like I could fall right into a food coma, so we grabbed a cortadito for the road. The strong Cuban coffee drink of half espresso and half milk. The milk isn’t frothy like a cappuccino, but dense, think more cafe con leche.
Our trip was the perfect amount of relaxation and exploration, and like almost all my vacations focused on eating and drinking my way through a new city. For me, I think the best way to explore a new city or culture is through their food. I’d love to hear your favorite spots because we have another trip to Miami planned this winter for a wedding!
A month after our epic #SistersInSpain trip and I finally have sorted through all our photos and am ready to share my favorites from the vacation. It’s not hard to see why my sister has fallen in love with the country and wants to stay another year. Our trip was such a wonderful time to get to experience her new life in Madrid but also explore some new cities together. I’m splitting the trip up into three posts Madrid, Seville and Southern Spain: Granada, Cadiz, Jerez.
We started and ended our trip in Madrid and with just under three days in Spain’s capital we attempted to make the most of the visit.
Day Three (which was really our last day of the trip because we circled back to Madrid)
Welcome to my blog! Here you'll find a behind the scenes look at the day-to-day life of a TV news reporter. I have a love for food, traveling and all things St. Louis. This is a place for me to write about my passions.