“Passport and Boarding Pass Please” – The Traveling Unicorn’s Full Pre-Flight Guide

I travel A LOT! As much as I possibly can, I find it hard to breath if I don’t have a plane ticket booked and ready. Right now, as I write this blog I have 3 tickets for this year, and I promise to share these adventures with you when they happen.

I love the whole process of going abroad from beginning to end; booking flights, booking a hotel/Airbnb, making a packing list, packing, getting to the airport, even going through security, and knowing that all those will eventually get me to the departure gate, to those magical words: “passport and boarding pass please” and to my beloved window seat on my way to another adventure. Be it an old destination or new, a weekend or several months, the excitement is always at a maximum. What can I say?! I have the soul of a wanderer.

Through the years and during my many trips I learned some things that I take with me, things that make my life easier during the whole process of flight preparation, at the airport and more often than not abroad as well. Since sharing is caring please allow me to introduce my Full Pre-Flight Guide. It has a slightly less story telling vibe than usual and it is a bit more informative but if I manage to save you some time at security or a few dollars to be used later during your adventure it will all be worth it.

Booking a flight – When I come to book a flight I start off with two main websites: The firs and also the one I use as a main resource is SkyScanner and the second which I use mostly for comparison is Momondo. After I find good, potential flights I will always check at the airline’s website directly to make sure that I am not missing out on a potentially cheaper flight if I book directly.

*** Things that I would spend extra money on to enjoy the flight more: will pay up to $100 for a direct flight instead of a connection (which is where you can save money if you don’t mind a connection). Will pay for a window seat so I can be comfortable. If I need luggage I will pay for it while booking the flight as paying for them at the airport costs more (a story about that a bit later). ***

Booking accommodation – For a new location I always research the internet and question people I know what are the safe areas to stay in. After deciding on a location and depending on my budget I will book either a hotel or an Airbnb. For a hotel I will go to Booking.com and search usually for something central and always something close to public transportation. As with the flights, I always check the hotel’s  website to match the prices. If I have a tighter budget or if there are no affordable hotels in the area I want, I will usually go for Airbnb where the search criteria will be a bit different: good area and close to public transport are a given, for me I prefer to pay a bit more and have the whole flat and not a room in a flat even though I stayed in a room twice before and the families were AMAZING. If I arrive in the middle of the night I will look for self check-in (little coded boxes that hold a key for you and save you from needing the host to be present) and I ALWAYS read at least 10-15 reviews to see that the place is legit. I know there are some horror stories out there but if you take the time and do the proper research you are more likely to have a wonderful experience.

*** If I stay at an Airbnb I try to bring along some nice chocolate from my country and leave it for the host with a thank you note, it is something small that can go a long way towards your review, and even more important, toward the perception people have of your country (“look how nice Israelis are!!!”), also making a host that was part of the reason your holiday was great feel all worm and fuzzy inside. ***

Packing –  I always make a packing list! I use a packing list app, my mom uses a handwritten list, no matter how you do it I recommend that you do. First of all, making a list gets you in the mood for a new adventure 🙂 it helps you focus on what you really need on your trip and also makes sure you don’t forget anything important.

When I was traveling in New Zealand and Australia with everything on my back I learned to travel light, I was sending more and more of my things home until I was left  only with what I really needed. Nowadays, no matter where I go I can fit almost everything I travel with into my hand luggage. If I go on long trips I put the hand luggage in my big luggage and then I have all that space for shopping and souvenirs. I use the amazing rolling method of packing, you basically fold everything in half and then roll it. I s*** you not, you can fit twice as much, packing that way.  I only pack the essentials, a couple of shirts, a couple pairs of trousers, a couple of layers if it’s cold, make sure everything goes with everything and that is that. There is no need for 12 shirts for a 5 day trip, you know exactly what you are going to wear and it is not that pretty shirt you haven’t touched in 7 months.  Long trips allow you to do some washing, short trips don’t require so many outfits and it is always better to leave some room for some fun shopping rather than carrying a million things from home… just saying 😛

Airport Fast-Tracking – You are all packed, ready to go and excited. You arrive at the airport, looking forward to getting rid of your luggage and go have a drink at duty-free but you find that security takes AGES! Now don’t get me wrong, my advice will not fast-track you through endless queues as this is out of our control but it will make sure that when your turn comes it goes by as quickly as humanly possible:

  • While queuing for the baggage drop have your passport ready, out of any cover and in your hand, that way when they get to you, you are ready and not looking for it and delaying yourself and everyone behind you. It also shows security that you are a frequent flyer who knows what to expect and so they might lax the questioning a bit. With that said, don’t try and be too smart for your own good, we all know the questions that they are about to ask but let them ask them, they are not listening only to your answers but also to your body language and being a know it all might actually cause them to question you more.
  • Be nice (which is a good rule in general)! When you come to the baggage drop be nice to the person siting in front of you, it will at times save you from overweight charges just because you were the only one to smile at them that day (based on several true stories).
  • Make sure that both your hand luggage and your handbag only has liquids and ointments under 100 ml, I mean come on people, this rule has been around for ages now. If you want to take it to the next level (which I always do) put all those baby deodorant/lip balm/hand creams in a zip lock bag in advance that when you arrive at security all you have to do is take it out as is and not fish for those little things in your bag. Take your belt and coat off while waiting your turn, try and wear shoes to the flight without buckles, I know all this sounds obvious but it does save time and who of us didn’t get stuck behind someone taking off their belt and coat only after they were told, holding everyone in line just a bit longer?!

The Unexpected – As promised, a little story: I was at the airport on my way to a holiday, standing at the baggage drop I discovered that I accidentally only booked luggage for the way back. The man working at the baggage drop informed me that now I can no longer pay for the luggage at the app/website for £30 but have to pay for it at the counter for £60! While he was talking I went into the app and lo and behold, I was able to pay for the luggage without a problem for £30. After paying I showed the receipt to the man at the counter, he had nothing to say in his defense so he checked in my bag and I was on my way. I learned a couple of things from this incident:

  • When you book your flight ticket make sure you got all you wanted to get for both directions: seats, luggage etc.
  • If you missed something do not automatically trust what you are told at the counter, check apps and websites as this can save you money and heartache.
  • Even if the person at the counter misled you, or as I like to think of it, made a mistake, accept it with grace and a smile, getting angry will hurt no one but you.

And lastly, if all else fails and you end up having to pay an extra fee, accept it as an offering to the holiday Gods, leave the slightly bad feeling at the airport along with your money and enjoy your time away.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

 

London – My epic love story ♥

I know I promised I would post at least once a month but in my defense I am recovering from surgery and the only reason I am out of bed now is to sort of keep my promise, let’s pretend this post is happening in February 🙂 Also, to make it up to you for waiting I am giving you a love story, and who doesn’t appreciate a good love story?!

My love story with London is an epic one; it is not a summer romance like I had with New Zealand or 4 nights of passion like I had with New Orleans, it is an endless love for the ages. A lot of people have that one place in the world that makes them completely happy, the place they would give up other places for if needed, London is mine. If you want to know why just keep reading.

I fell in love with London when I was 12 years old. My parents took me abroad for the first time, a 21 days trip to Scotland, Paris and London for desert and indeed it was the cherry on top of pretty much everything! I kept returning to London time and time again until finally, at the age of 26 when my life felt stuck and unfulfilling I decided to move there. I lived there for 9 years in total (in two batches), and returned permanently to Israel at 2016 because of my lack of European passport and my inability to get a work visa, I know, it sucks!

The first time I moved back to Israel I immediately found a job, got back on track and  dove into a very deep depression, too deep, scary deep. So when I had to move back the second time I did 2 things differently: the first, I didn’t go back to real life right away, I decided to spend a few months at the beach, decide what I want to do etc. The second thing was to go traveling (of course)! I figured I might not get another chance like that , at 36 to go on a few months trip before being a grown up again, so I packed a big backpack and went away for 4 months: New Zealand, Fiji, Australia (east coast) and Hong Kong with 2 weeks in London on the way back to decompress. That was the absolute right thing to do!!! This time when I returned to Israel I was ready to settle down. The move from place to place can give you whiplash sometimes, especially between countries that are drastically different as England and Israel are, if I can give you only one advice it will be to take your time, don’t jump into reality too quickly because it can be a bit harsh. Sort out your heart, because I found that taking the first step means nothing if you are not really prepared for the journey ahead.

I bet you are asking yourselves why I fell so hard for a city that some find too grey (“nice to meet you, my name is Jo and I am a winter person”) or the people in it too cold. Well, I will allow you a glimpse into my heart and tell you.

Natural Beauty – I don’t know about you but I like having random beauty around me, to look up and see stunning architecture, to walk around and see an explosion of spring flowers or autumn leaves, to have parks to stroll in and monuments to encounter every now and then and London has it all. All you have to do is look up, look around you. To be honest, there is nothing better than getting lost in this city and find the less familiar beauty, the things you didn’t know you can discover, the little moments that take your breath away without you being ready and make you fall in love with London all over again.

Dramatic / Romantic Weather – Those grey skies that people complain about are one of the things I like most about London, and if I can’t sell you the grey sky in particular allow me to sell you all shades of sky but white, I’ll explain: as a photographer that believes in #NoFilter and in as little editing as possible I can tell you there is nothing less photogenic than white sky, and while I don’t mind warm weather, completely blue sky with no white, fluffy clouds are also less photogenic. In London you will almost always have either very dramatic grey skies with a million shades and textures or on beautiful warm days you will almost always have the white clouds to add character to your photos, that is on the photography side of things. On the weather side of things even when it is cold it is almost never freezing, the rain is mostly light so you can get away with a hat and when it is sunny and warm (which happens for longer and longer duration in the past few years) people crave it and love it so much that the whole city feels like one big party. Beer gardens and parks fill up in seconds and the vibe is that of complete freedom.

Restaurants – London is full of amazing restaurants that allow for a slightly different eating experience (food is also a part of it but it will have its own section). An afternoon tea on the 42nd floor overlooking the city, a dinner at a magical igloo with a Tower Bridge view, a futuristic bathroom… you can find all those around London if you want an evening that is more than just about the food.

Which brings us to All of The Food – As London is a metropolitan full of people from all over the world you can find in this city every type of food you can possibly imagine. And as I am sure one day London got sick of hearing what crappy food it has and being compared to Paris in that respect (or at least that’s what happened in my head) you can also find AMAZING restaurants ,pastry shops ,chocolate shops and food markets all around town. It doesn’t matter if you like cup cakes, humus or Italian food, if you are a food truck kind of person, only willing to eat in chef restaurants or looking for a fancy afternoon tea experience, London has it all, your every heart’s desires, and the kitchen is always open!

The Music – I love going to live music concerts and there is nothing better than going to a gig in London! EVERYONE has concerts in London, anyone you ever listened to, anyone you ever wanted to see live, anyone that is doing a comeback and anyone that is super hot right now. You can see your favorite artist in a 50,000 seat arena, in a 2,500 people hall, or in a secret pop up concert in a cafe in Camden Town. Prices are super reasonable and for £50 you can sing your heart out with your favorite band from the front row (photos from front row for £50 below). Not all gigs are that cheap but hand on my heart, a concert was never so expensive that I had to think twice if I can afford to go.

The Culture – Whether you love museums, musicals, theater, opera, football or festivals you can find it all here. Most museums offer free entry and those who do have an entry charge take a very small amount that will be used for the conservation of the art you are about to see, and the selection is breathtaking, there really is something for everyone.  In every production you can find cheaper seats, or better, more expensive seats but the experience will always be amazing and will cost you about half the price it costs in New York. You can see some serious names from the cinema doing incredible, time limited productions at the West End from anything between £10-£120. Football games are a bit more expensive but well worth it to go at least once if you are a fan. So whether you are a visitor on holiday or you live in London and looking for a special day/night out there is always something amazing to do and you don’t have to break into your savings to do it.

The Fandom – Like me and many of my friends you can be a comic book nerd, collect Funko Pop figures, be a film buff or count the days until your next convention, in London you can find anything you are a fan of. Collectibles, many incredible conventions, stunning movie premiers and the ability to meet the stars you admire if you want to. All you have to do is a bit of research because things are always happening in London, you just have to figure out when and where.

Street Art – Of course there is the stunning Shoreditch that is packed full of graffiti and street art of every kind but you can also find some stunning creations in Camden, in Soho and everywhere around the city really. Some big names in the street art scene started their way in London and others come from all over the world to leave their mark on its walls so if street art is what you like just take to the streets and it will be waiting there for you to find and enjoy.

And of course there are the insanely beautiful Christmas decorations and markets, the best Pride parade ever, the acceptance of every person, no matter what you like or what you wear, the amazing people who on the one hand don’t shove their nose into your business but on the other hand are the warmest, loveliest, most fun loving people I had the privilege of calling my friends. So much to do, so much to discover, so much to experience and so much to Love!

Me and my London.JPG

Those are some of the reasons why I will always and forever be in love with London and I hope I gave you the desire to taste a bit of what it has to offer. Feel free to message me or comment if you want any more specific recommendations or to follow my blog as I promise you this will not be my last post about my beautiful London.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

A band-aid for wanderlust

Nachal Mearon Natural Reserve

Happy Sunday fellow travelers! Before I dive into all my stories I would like to share with you a little secret I’ve learned that might help you chase away the wanderlust blues, even if only for a little while.

The Hexagon Pool

When I lived in England I used to take a few days every now and then to travel the country, to discover the new place I was now calling home. So even when I didn’t have a plane ticket I still felt like a traveler. I found (and please feel free to let me know if you agree or if you think I’m wrong) that moving back from living abroad or coming home from a long trip can sometimes… who am I kidding?! most times, bring about what I call ‘the wanderlust blues’. The feeling that an incredible adventure has come to an end: no more daily excitement, no more new places to discover, no more complete sense of freedom, a feeling that can be a bit overwhelming especially when combined with a nine-to-five job and a hectic routine.

Ramon Crater

I also found that my born and raised London friends very rarely travel inside England as for them it was not really considered traveling. I always found it funny because they were missing out on so much but then again… wasn’t I doing the exact same thing back in Israel??? When I lived here before moving to the UK I almost never took trips around the country, I would hear from tourists I’ve met how amazing this country is and would look at them in bewilderment. This country? amazing?? Seriously???

beer tuvia
Beer Tuvia

When I moved back to Israel, when I came back from my 4 months trip to New Zealand and Australia, when I returned from a month in the US, all those homecomings were fun at first, everyone wanted to see me and hear stories and look at my photos and I felt very loved and missed. Also, by sharing my stories and photos over and over again I got to live my adventures a little while longer, and know that I did something not everyone gets to do. But then it would all be over, I would have to get back to work, to my less lively social life (as I left 70% of my friends back in London and also because for some reason I seem to be more fun in the UK) and the blues would just kick in, the wanderlust and the need for a trip would sometimes be so strong all the rest would just feel depressing.

Sea of Galilee

But then, thanks to my cousin Michal who loves to travel (no matter where) and that invited me to join every time she and her friends were going on a trip, I discovered that magic can also be found locally and not only across an ocean. I discovered Israel’s stunning beaches and sunsets, mountains and deserts, rivers and valleys and wildlife and everything I look for when I go on a trip abroad.

rosh hanikra
Rosh Hanikra

I realize it’s not the same, it’s less exotic and in Israel’s case it’s also less big which is why I call it a band-aid for wanderlust and not a cure. However, think of it this way: it is much cheaper than going abroad which makes it more accessible on a more regular basis and you never know what wonderful things you might find. It also makes us all better ambassadors for our own countries because now when I hear a tourist telling me Israel is amazing I can say “I know, right?! but have to been to…?” and show them there is much more to see.

Caesarea

So next time when you are feeling the wanderlust blues, and there is still a while to go before your next trip abroad, round up some friends (alone is also cool) jump into your car, make a wicked road-trip playlist, take to the open road and go exploring your own country. Find a new beach with a new stunning sunset, a new area of historical ruins, a new river to cross and a new story to tell your friends and family when you come home.

Negev Desert

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x