August 31, 2015
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Let me let you in on a little secret: I love the process of planning a trip almost more than I do going on the actual trip. It’s like a sport for me — finding the hidden gems in a new city, organizing our days to maximize all of the different neighborhoods I want to explore, and collecting as many recommendations as I can before we leave about what I *must* eat or drink in our destination city. We have taken some pretty amazing trips over the past few years that lead to awesome adventures (check out our travels to Austin + Marfa, Nashville, and our cross-country honeymoon road trip for a few examples!). Someone commented on one my instagram posts last week and asked how we go about planning for these fun little getaways, and it dawned on me that I actually do have a pretty standard process that I thought I’d share here today, check out my tips for note to plan awesome getaways:
- Gather Your Travel Books. Whenever we book a trip, my first planning task is to take a look at the New York Times 36 Hours books. They’re great resources to find boutique hotels, and an give you a good idea of which neighborhoods will be worth visiting. I like that they pick a few traditional ‘tourist’ spots but mix them in with off-the-beaten-path recommendations. My other favorite travel books are the WildSam Field Guides. I’ve been lucky that the last few cities we’ve picked have had them (Austin, Nashville, and an upcoming New Orleans trip!). These are the kinds of recommendations you’re going to get from your cool hipster cousin, if you had a cool hipster cousin that lived in the city that you’re visiting. I also really enjoy that they include some history and stories of interesting locals, it’s a good way to get the vibe of the city before you arrive.
- Explore Hashtags. If you want to see the cool things that other people are finding in the cities that you’re visiting, check out what they’re sharing on instagram with local hashtags. Look for common hashtag prefixes like #igers + the city name or #visit + the city name to explore what locals or other visitors are taking images of. I also like to check out a local blogger hashtag too, when people visit Boston I’d recommend they look at our #bostonbloggers hashtag to see what influencers are eating, visiting, doing and come up with ideas using their feeds as inspiration. I also love to check out the great instagram feed @withthelocals for interesting recommendations — they add a new city each week so you can find lots of great details on an area from someone who actually lives there!
- Read Up Online. There are a few non-traditional sites I also like to use for trip planing. Design*Sponge and The Everygirl offer great city guides on their sites. People often share travel ideas on destination specific Pinterest boards, so I search those as well. And Yelp forums can be super helpful for reading through ‘best of’ debates — like where the best bbq joint is in Nashville, or where the best tacos are in Austin.
- Build a Map. I hope if you take one thing away from this post, it’s this helpful travel tip! Did you know you can build your own customized map on Google Maps? When we take trip I usually make a long list of all of the restaurants, bars, shops, and what my husband refers to as ‘instagram locations’ around the city and then add their locations to a google map. Each time you drop a new pin on the map you can start to see where there are clusters of things to do and see. I find this really helpful, especially for shorter trips where you’re trying to fit a lot in, to organize your days and hit up several spots in one area. I also like to use this ‘map’ phase of planning to take a look at surrounding areas outside the city for fun things to do. When we were in Austin we decided to spend a few days driving out to Big Bend National Park and Marfa, because it was probably one of the only times we’d end up being that close to those pretty obscure (but amazing!) locations in the country.
- Ask with locals. This is something I do while planning the trip, and once I’m there. I’ve been lucky to make some great virtual-friends from blogging, and get the best recommendations of things to do and see when I either reach out and email local contacts from the city I’m visiting, or put an open call up to readers or followers on social media. Sometimes we’ve even rerouted our plans while we’re on vacation because a follower has recommended something to me on the fly. Reach out to your favorite bloggers and ask them! I have a long list of Boston recommendations that I always happily send out when people reach out to me. The same goes with trusting the locals once you’re actually on your trip. Talk to the bartenders, the waitresses, the bell-hop and the cab drivers. When we were in Nashville we got the best recommendations for interesting bars to go to from a bartender we met the first afternoon we were there — people love to tell visitors what is special about their city, you just have to ask!
So, any great travel planning tips to add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas! (PS: I’m going to follow rule #5… any New Orleans readers out there? We’re planning a trip in the fall and would love to know your must see/do/eat/drink list!)
May 27, 2015
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It was a pretty glorious long weekend, we packed our bags and headed south to Nashville with two of our friends for some fun. We stayed the Union Station Hotel (it’s an old train station!) and spent the long weekend exploring (aka eating our way through) the city. Researching our trip and sharing a guide to the interesting spots we find in a new city are almost as much fun for me as the actual vacation — so prepare for a very comprehensive recap below!
The very first thing in our to-do-list when we landed was to get some classic Southern food, and several folks had recommended Hattie B’s hot chicken (and the potato salad and pimento mac and cheese also came with praises!). I was actually in pain when we left — not because I felt sick from the food, but because I could-not-stop-eating it was so good. The mac and cheese a bit too saucy for me, but the chicken was awesome — I got the mild because I’m scaredy-cat, Mike got the hot and loved it. Another classic Southern recommendation was the famous Loveless Cafe. If you visit Nashville and aren’t from the area, know that it’s about a 25 minute cab ride outside the city, but SO worth it. I always get nervous that places like this are going to be overhyped but it wasn’t at all, it exceeded my expectations. They are famous for their biscuits and I thought they were delicious, but the star of the meal was the cheesy hash brown casserole. I’m delighted to let you know that my friend Colleen we were traveling with actually ordered the cookbook as we were eating brunch just so we could see the recipe, so they’ll definitely be recreated in the future. We saved our more refined meal choices for dinner, including a stop at Husk Nashville. I had been to the Charleston location before, and loved that the design of the Nashville outpost was similarly in a retro-fitted antique home that was a nod to the city’s heritage. I ordered a roast chicken and it was delicious; the highlight was snagging a bit of my husband’s dessert — a rhubarb tart. We stumbled upon another great restaurant in Germantown per the recommendation of an awesome bartender (more on that later) called Butchertown Hall — it was a fun little surprise that we stumbled upon it and it ended up being so amazingly tasty — we shared carefully crafted cocktails and family-style feast of brisket and homemade sausages. The absolute highlight of the trip was eating at Rolf and Daughters though; I think the four of us said “oh my god” no fewer than 100 times in between bites at this spot. Every dish was phenomenal, the service was impeccable, and we had such a fun time in the lively space (which can sometimes be lacking in nicer-restaurants!). If you ever find yourself in Nashville, please eat here. We did supplement all of this massive meals with a few more casual spots, mostly just to give ourselves a break and digest. We spent one morning in East Nashville and had breakfast and cold brew coffee at Barista Parlor — this place was like a giant hipster playground and I loved it. They had breakfast sandwiches on biscuits and homemade pop tarts! Remember how I said this was one of our smaller meals? We also checked out The Pharmacy in the same neighborhood and enjoyed some burgers and drinks in their backyard beer garden. What did you do besides eating you ask? We did visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, and saw Hatch Show Print – the famous music-poster print shop connected to the museum. We also wandered up and down Broadway and checked out some of the famous Honkey-Tonk music spots. There was some shopping too! Whites Mercantile was probably my favorite shop we visited, and I found some fun things in vintage shops. A few other stores I thought were gorgeous — Imogen and Willie and Fuselage. Oh and we stopped into lots of fun bars for cocktails too. Remember that bartender I mentioned earlier? There was a laid-back spot called 12 South Taproom in the eponymous neighborhood where we met the worlds most helpful bartender named Patrick who gave us great local tips, kept our beers full, and talked with us for the better part of an afternoon. Another great spot that I wish we had been able to spend more time at, but was closing early for a private event, was Pinewood Social. I’d seen tons of write-ups about this multi-functional space that’s part coffee shop, part bowing alley, bar, restaurant, and outdoor lounge and was excited to see it in person. The drinks and the decor were almost too much for this instagram-obsessed gal to handle. And then our favorite late night spot that we went to not once, but twice, was called Losers (next to a bar names Winners, can’t make this stuff up) — this dive bar had the coverband of all coverbands playing and we drank and danced until the wee hours of the morning. And with that, we headed back on a plane to Boston and I’m a dire need of a detox and diet, but it was so worth it and so much fun!