Orlando is famous for its exciting theme parks, but there is so much more to explore in this sunny Florida city! Plan an adventurous road trip with these five helpful tips.
This is a sponsored post written by me, containing affiliate links. All opinions are 100% my own.
Mastering the art of traveling can take years, and mastering the art of packing can take longer. Packing enough without over packing is an art. Over the years I have packed too much, not enough, and eventually I found a system that works perfectly.
No matter where I am traveling to, there are 3 items that I will never leave home without!
Meal Replacement Bars
I cannot say enough about the importance of traveling with snacks, specifically bars! I always travel with a ziplock bag filled with snack bars for long travel days. My favorite new bar that I discovered at my local Whole Foods earlier this year is the RXBAR.
Travel is unpredictable and things don’t always go according to plan. Recently, I took a roadtrip from Estonia to Latvia, and due to traffic, I arrived much later than anticipated. I searched high and low for a restaurant that was still open when I got in, but no one was serving food (just drinks) and I was starving. McDonald’s was open, but I knew the junk food would just make me feel lousy the next day and leave me unsatisfied. Since I carry RXBARS in my carry-on bag, I was able to have one of those to hold me over until breakfast the next day.
Carrying snack bars is also useful when I’m starting to get hangry or low energy when exploring a city or on a tour and I can’t step away for a meal. Long flights often have no meals, or less than ideal meals and carrying my own snack bars ensures you always have something healthy and won’t go hungry.
I have tried dozens of meal replacement bars over the years for traveling and RXBAR has quickly become my favorite. The texture of the bar is perfect for traveling. Often, my snack bars are squished between my laptops, cameras and whatever else ends up in my carry-on bag. RXBAR’s don’t crumble, fall apart, or turn into a melted mess. They stay in one piece (even when squished into a bag), and are absolutely delicious.
RXBAR has simple and healthy ingredients, such as egg whites and dates, so you know exactly what is going into your body. As someone who has suffered with health issues in the past, what goes into my body is extremely important. Food is fuel, and healthy meals are the best way to fuel long adventurous travel days and help ward off jet lag.
Portable chargers are a life-saver! Some planes don’t have a place to charge your phone, and batteries can drain quickly when listening to music and keeping yourself occupied on long haul flights. When you are on the go taking a lot of photos or uploading to social media, phone batteries can also drain quickly.
I always carry a portable charger in my day bag or camera bag. It’s also great for charging my GoPro and global hotspot while on the go. Another reason a portable charger is an essential item is emergencies. Having a smartphone is great for using maps or getting in touch with someone if you have an emergency, but if your battery is dead, it's not going to be any use. As a female solo traveler, I need to I always make sure that my portable charger is fully charged in case I should ever need my phone for emergencies.
Compact Water Bottle
Everyone knows that water is necessary to survival, but staying well hydrated is also essential for any traveler. Drinking plenty of water can help you power through long days of sight-seeing and it can reduce jet lag. Drinking plenty of water is also important when flying. Did you know during a 10 hour flight, you can lose up to two liters of water due to the dry air onboard?
Standard water bottles can be a pain to carry around, and buying water can add up. Reusable, flat water bottles are the perfect way to save money while traveling, and save yourself the hassle of carrying around an awkward water bottle. Compact bottles can slip right into a purse or small day bag!
When traveling in Europe and the US you can fill up just about anywhere. If you are traveling to a place with low quality water, I recommend buying one large bottle and keeping it at your hotel or Airbnb for refills.
I am excited to announce, I have teamed up with one of favorite brands, RXBAR, for an incredible giveaway! This giveaway is complete with some of my favorite travel necessities including a box of RXBARS, a polaroid instax camera, a portable charger, compact water bottle, as well as an amazing coffee table book and more!
Entering is easy, just follow these simple steps:
- Follow @rxbar and @trustedtravelgirl on instagram
- Head to my instagram @trustedtravelgirl and look for the post of showing the travel items in this giveaway, and comment below the instagram post
- Bonus entries if you tag friends in the comments below the instagram post!
Winner will be chosen at random. To be eligible, you must live in the United States. (Apologies to any international followers, some countries will not allow food products to be shipped!)
A Guide to Riga
Similar to many off-the-beaten-path places of the world, the Baltics are often overlooked by travelers, but are truly in a category of their own. Although technically part of Europe, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have a distinct appearance much different than most European Nations. They barely miss the mark of fitting into Scandinavia and Russia. Despite obvious Russian influence from their past as a member nation of the USSR, the Baltic states have shown they value an identity of their own and customs diverse from Russian influence.
What to Know Before You Go
An Unknown Destination
Latvia is a place many travelers don’t venture to or talk about. Although it’s an off-the-beaten path destination, it is still quite easy to get to. By remaining off the main path of tourism, Latvia’s capital, Riga, has maintained its authenticity, and has become a must-visit for travelers seeking something new and different.
It’s no surprise that Riga hasn’t been on your bucket-list. Just 20 years ago Riga was much more dangerous than it is now. It was filled with gun violence and petty crime. However, today it's a gem of Eastern Europe, alongside Tallinn. Riga is just as safe as the rest of Europe and has just as much to offer!
Despite the lengthy history of Riga, much of what is visible to travelers today was built in the 1970’s and 1990’s, due to the destruction of the city during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied Latvia. Even with much of the city destroyed, many older buildings survived, making the city an interesting mixture of new and old. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Latvia raced toward Europe. Latvia joined the EU and NATO in 2004, and became part of the eurozone in 2014.
The best way to get around Riga is by using Taxify, as Uber is not yet available. Hailing a regular cab on the street is not only inconvenient, but it’s also much more expensive than Taxify. Make sure to download the app before you leave. I also always suggest downloading the offline country map on Maps.me for any place you are visiting.
Where to Stay
During my time in Riga, I stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson - Barona. The Park Inn is a residence and not a hotel. My one-bedroom apartment was stylish and featured its own kitchen which was fully equipped, making it easy to cook up a Latvian meal after visiting the Central Market.
The Park Inn is just 10 minutes walking distance to Old Town Riga, making it easy to go in and out of the main city throughout the day. There was no parking at this location, but they were flexible enough to allow me to park at the other Park Inn location across town for free. There is also paid parking nearby.
I also loved the convenience of the asian restaurant downstairs, where I ordered up noodles every night for dinner, as well as a grocery store just a block away.
What to Do In Riga
Museum of the Occupation
The Museum of the Occupation is one of the highlights of Riga. Although it’s best to save museums for rainy days, my suggestion is to visit on your first day. Learning about the struggles that Latvia has overcome due to occupation by Russia and Germany, will help you have a greater understanding and appreciation for the unique culture that Latvia offers.
Free Walking Tour
Every day, there is a free walking tour of Riga. The tour meets at noon at St. Peters Church in Old Town Riga. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and walks guests through the city while explaining an in-depth history of Riga. Don’t forget to tip your guide, they are working for tips, not completely for free! My advice is to tip what you can, but 5-10 Euros is enough.
Take a Walk in the Park
Some of the parks are absolutely beautiful and I highly suggest taking a walk through them even if it’s just for a few minutes. Bastion Hill Park has a small river running through it and is beautifully manicured. The park is just outside the Old Town of Riga, making it easy to walk to.
The Perfect Lunch Spot
The Dome Hotel and Spa is insanely beautiful. The building is an UNESCO world heritage site, built during the middle ages. Each room is special and unique with original paintings still on the wall. With their chef trained at a Michelin star restaurant, the Dome Hotel’s restaurant is one of the best in Riga, and climbs higher on the list each year.
There are two options for dining at the Dome Hotel, the cozy restaurant, or the rooftop terrace. My favorite dishes were the Fois Gras brulee´ and the Tuna tartare in crispy waffles with wasabi cream cheese. However, the most interesting ingredient was in the butter. Cannabis butter.
Riga Central Market
Riga’s market is the largest market in Europe- and is certainly one of the most unique. If you are expecting a wholesome European farmers market, consider yourself warned; this market is unapologetically honest and gritty. The market’s main structures are made of 5 old German Zeppelin hangers, making it impossible to miss.
Not much is known about the Three Brothers other than they are the oldest stone residential buildings in the city of Riga dating back to the 15th century. They represent the different stages of architecture in Riga from medieval to Baroque. Today they house the Latvian museum of architecture, and since you will see them on just about every magnet and postcard of Riga, they are worth a visit.
House of the Blackheads
Originally built in the 14th century, the House of the Blackheads was built to house members of a German merchants guild living in Riga. Like many things in Riga, the House of the Blackheads was destroyed by the Germans and demolished by the Soviets in the 1940’s. Later, in the 1990’s, the iconic structure was rebuilt. Above the entrance it reads “If I should fall, build me again”, and they did. Today, the House of the Blackheads is one of the most iconic structures in Riga.
Try Black Balsam
Coming to Riga without trying this take-your-breath-away herbal liquor, is like visiting Russia without trying vodka. It's a staple, a must-add to your list of Latvian adventures!
Black Balsam has a pretty high alcohol content and is made up of 24 ingredients. The local saying is "If you haven't tasted it, you have not been to Riga".
Watch me try Riga Black Balsam in the video below!
Unless you see a lot of locals doing it, then it’s okay. Apparently jay walking is punishable by a fine, and it’s not uncommon to be ticketed.
Smoking in Public
In public places such as public parks, bus stops, and near buildings, smoking is not allowed. You need permission from the people around you to smoke, and if you are asked to put it out, you must. However, this law is similar in many other European countries.
Riga, along with many other Baltic cities, has many other European destinations beat when it comes to affordability. From museum entrance fees to high end dining, car rentals and spa treatments, the Baltic's are extremely affordable for just about any traveler’s budget.
Driving in Latvia
Latvia has terrible drivers. They tailgate, pass at high speeds on blind curves, and run red lights. Be sure to take proper precautions, stay alert and be safe. Additionally, don’t speed. Speeding is checked by camera, as I found out after I arrived home when I was billed for a ticket by my rental car company.
Due to the Russian occupation, travelers often feel there may be a language barrier when traveling to Latvia. Although most people in Riga speak Latvian and Russian, I found that many locals spoke English, making getting around the city and communicating effortless.
Why You Should Rent a Car
Renting a car is a great way to get around. If you are visiting the Baltics, renting a car is far more ideal than traveling by bus. It’s also very affordable to rent cars in the Baltic states. Five days in the highest luxury vehicle (a brand new Mercedes) in Tallinn was only about 500 Euro with EuropCar. (EuropCar is partners with Advantage in the US) The Baltics are a great place for affordable luxuries. Obviously an economy sized vehicle would have been even more affordable.
Day Trips from Riga
Day trips are another great reason to rent a car when traveling through the Baltics.
The Castle of Cēsis
Visiting the castle of Cēsis was one of my favorite activities in the entire Baltic region. There is a museum and a castle in the middle of the town. Once you arrive at the castle, you can enter from the lowest level (the dungeon, perhaps?) with a lantern and climb the stairs in the dark up to the top of the tower. Truly a great experience, but left me thinking, maybe I wouldn't have been cut out to be a princess with all those dark steps!
The pine fringed beaches of Jūrmala, have long been a seaside playground for hundreds of years. Jūrmala is the Baltic’s version of the French Riviera. It’s the perfect place for a daytrip, or an overnight.
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The Electronic Ban for flights to and from the Middle East has been in place since early spring. Now, as the Trump administration pushes for another ban on electronics on flights to and from Europe, more passengers will be affected than ever before. I have compiled a list of things you will need to prepare for flights without your electronics.
Many new travelers tell me they are looking to explore more continents, but they tell me that they have fears of the unexpected. I always have considered Europe the wading pool for most American travelers, and Asia is more like diving into the deep-end of the pool. That’s a pretty big leap, even for some of the boldest travelers.
If you are looking to visit Asia, but have some hesitations due to language barriers and cultural differences, than you should start considering a visit to the Philippines. Many travelers seem to stick to Europe for the majority of their international travel as they find the idea of visiting an Asian country intimidating. Other Asian countries such as China, can be more difficult to navigate for less experienced or less adventurous travelers. In addition, they can also come with a bit more of a culture shock. The Philippines is a perfect place to get your feet wet as far as Asian travel is concerned.
No Language Barrier
If you speak English, you are already blessed as a traveler because you can get around pretty well in most countries. In the Philippines, you are even better off than most European nations, as just about everyone speaks English. This makes it extremely easy to read signs, get around and ask for directions. In many other Asian countries language barriers can cause stress to some travelers. You won't find this to be a problem while in the Philippines, as English is taught schools.
There is Something For Everyone
It's often difficult for one country to appeal to everyone. However, with over 7,000 islands each with a unique culture and personality, there is something for everyone. With pristine beaches, nightlife, outdoor adventures, cultural activities and shopping– the Philippines is sure to please every type of traveler. Some islands are great for swimming with whale sharks, some have a great surf if you want to hang 10, and some islands have incredible SCUBA diving.
Couples & Solo Travelers Will Both Enjoy
The Philippines can be experienced in so many different ways. It can be the perfect tropical romantic getaway or relaxing trip for couples. It’s a great place for solo travelers to immerse themselves in the culture and interact with locals as well as other travelers. It’s also great for adventure seekers thanks to incredible diving, and exotic foods.
The Food is Amazing
The food in the Philippines is delicious. From the ensaymada's (a sweet bread), lechon and adobo, your tastebuds will always be entertained. I really enjoyed Halo-Halo (pronounced "hallow-hallow"). It's a very sweet shaved ice dessert, topped with all types of goodies including ice cream, and then you top it off with condensed milk.
If you are an adventurous eater, you can try balut, which is a fertilized duck egg that is hard boiled before reaching complete maturity. It tastes partially like an egg, and partially like a duck, and is definitely worth it for the experience. I found one to try at Market-Market in Manila.
It's Instagram Worthy
The islands are so beautiful that it will be sure to not only leave you with long lasting memories, but also some incredible pictures. El Nido on the island of Palawan is particularly stunning. Days in El Nido are spent island hopping and SCUBA diving, while evenings are spent at “sunset bars” enjoying sunsets that are arguably the best in the world.
Everyone is Extremely Kind
Adventuring out of your comfort zone can be a difficult task when traveling. Fortunately, the Philippine people are hands-down the most welcoming and hospitable people that I have come across throughout all of my travels. Filipinos are genuinely happy to have visitors in their country, as it’s often missed by the visitors and backpackers visiting Southeast Asia. Any local you encounter will take it upon themselves to ensure you have an enjoyable experience, as they are very proud to showcase their beautiful country.
Adventuring to new parts of the world can often be just as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. If you have been looking to visit Asia, the Philippines is a great place to start.