16 places I traveled to in 2016

In terms of travel, 2015 was tough to beat. This year included traveling to Africa for work, planning a group trip to Peru, and returning to Paris on my annual another solo trip. A new job even led to a few opportunities for business travel. Five continents, seven countries, and 40 flights later, 2016 was quite an adventure.

1. Tokyo

“Hey mom, do you want to go to Japan in three days?” It was her first trip outside of the U.S. and Canada! We ate a lot of ramen and sushi as soon as we got there.

tokyo ramen

2. Kyoto

Beautiful temples, the bamboo park, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and my squad at the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan.

arashiyama bamboo park

arashiyama bamboo park

3. Hakone

Hello, Mount Fuji! What a view from the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) en route to Hakone’s hot springs.

mt. fuji - lesley siu

4. Chicago

Is your first trip to the windy city complete without this picture?

chicago - lesley siu

5. Honolulu

My annual trip to the homeland included a quick hike to Manoa Falls.

manoa falls - lesley siu

6. Malawi

A visit to the “warm heart of Africa” and fulfilling my professional goal of Snapchatting traveling abroad for work. Here’s the 5:30 a.m. sunrise at Lake Malawi.

lake malawi

7. Amsterdam

When you have a long layover here, you go into the city on a quest for stroopwafels.

amsterdam - lesley siu

8. Las Vegas

My favorite part was renting a car and driving out to Red Rock Canyon.

las vegas red rock canyon - places traveled 2016

9. Lima

The ceviche and sunshine make up for a terrifying non-taxi experience and having to purchase a new flight to Cusco (note to self: never fly Copa Airlines again).

lima peru - lesley siu

10. Cusco

We took a cooking class and made pisco sours, walked around the Maras salt mines, wandered through the markets, and met the best driver, César.

pisco sours - lesley siu

maras salt mines - lesley siu

11. Aguas Calientes

Pro tip: take the bus up to Machu Picchu. Always take the bus.

peru machu picchu -- places traveled 2016

12. New York

I always stop by Maison Kayser for a little taste of Paris, even on a 24-hour trip to NYC to shoot a video.

maison kayser new york - lesley siu

13. Paris

Then I actually went to Paris, because, you know… It’s Paris. Galeries Lafayette was dressed up for Christmas!

galeries lafayette - lesley siu

14. London

Crossed the Tower Bridge and another thing off my London bucket list.

london tower bridge - lesley siu

15. Oxford

I’ve missed the history and charm and studying in the UK.

oxford - lesley siu

16. Austin

A conference, UX class, and coffee at Dominican Joe.

dominican joe austin - lesley siu

 

Cheers to more adventures in 2017! Where should I go next?

three days in charleston

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I recently spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina. Believe the hype—it’s a cute town with a lot of history and amazing restaurants. Take a tour to see the charming houses, browse the Charleston City Market and shops on King Street and stop for dinner at Poogan’s Porch for the pimiento cheese fritters and pan roasted duck. Or Jestine’s Kitchen for fried oysters and sweet tea. And drinks on the roof of the Market Pavilion Hotel (NYT approved!). The food in the city alone is worth a second trip. 

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More photos on Instagram: @lesleysiu

on instagram: paris

instagram_paris_lesleysiuI fell in love with Paris on my first trip in November 2011. Exactly three years later, I returned on a second solo adventure (and am still reliving it through Instagram). I will never get tired of visiting my favorite places like Place des Vosges, Merci and Du Pain et Des Idées. Good thing solo trip #3 is already booked…

day trip to amsterdam

Amsterdam canals - lesley siu

7 hours on a bus + 10 hours in Amsterdam + 7 hours on a bus = 24 hours in the life of a crazy solo traveler. I went to Amsterdam to see my friend Inge, who I met while studying abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

It all started with an overnight bus ride on the good ol’ Megabus. You see, Megabus and I have a complicated relationship. I love that I could get from DC to NYC without breaking the bank, but it was almost always delayed a few hours. This was my first time using it in Europe, so I was hoping for the best. Only $20 USD to get to Amsterdam? Sold. The catch? Seven hours on a crowded bus… overnight. I’ll deal.

The Megabus stop in Paris is at Porte Maillot Coach Park, near the Porte Maillot metro on line 1. My bus was scheduled to leave at 11:30 p.m., so I arrived around 10:45. I read that the metro had clear signs leading to the bus, but I think I exited from the wrong side of the station… I walked around like I knew where I was going, even though I had no idea. After a few minutes of following the signs to the airport shuttle, I found the bus. There was a handful of other frugal travelers waiting for the driver to open the doors, so I didn’t feel like it was too sketchy waiting in a dark parking lot.

I boarded the bus around 11:15, and we promptly left at 11:30. The overnight ride wasn’t bad at all. If you can sleep on a bus like I can, it’s definitely a good option to travel and save money. We arrived in Amsterdam around 6:20 a.m., 20 minutes earlier than expected. To get to the city, I got on a tram to the train station. The bus stop is conveniently located next to the tram, and the one to the city is the only one that stops there.

I met Inge and her friend Lotte at the train station around 8. We walked around the city, which was so quiet early in the morning.

amsterdam - dam square - lesley siuThe Royal Palace in Dam Square

We went on a boat tour of the canals, stopped for lunch, then went on the free walking tour. The canals are beautiful!

amsterdam boat tour canals

amsterdam canals

amsterdam

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dam square - amsterdamNational Monument on Dam Square

amsterdam canals

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amsterdam canal tour - lesley siu

I amsterdam

park RijksmuseumPark by the Rijksmuseum

I wanted to eat Dutch food for lunch. Inge and Lotte insisted that I try the pancake with bacon and cheese. They said whenever they make pancakes, they always eat them with bacon and cheese! It is served with syrup—Buddy the Elf would be proud. So good, yet so bad (for my health).

dutch pancake bacon cheese

They also bought me stroopwafels to take home. Stroopwafels are two thin waffles with caramel in between. I dream about these.

stroopwafels amsterdam

Before I knew it, it was time to catch the 5:00 p.m. iDBUS back to Paris. At 50€, it’s less crowded and much more expensive than Megabus, but it runs much more frequently. It’s more comfortable than Megabus, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the extra money. It’s also further out from the city center—about 30 minutes walking from the Rijksmuseum.

idbus

IMG_7273Passing through the Dutch countryside

I arrived at the Bercy station in Paris around 11:30 p.m. (also 30 minutes earlier than expected), and took the metro home. The bus stop is about a 5-minute walk from the metro, but it was also a little sketchy difficult to find in the dark… I made it home around 12:30. It was an exhausting day of traveling, but I’m glad I got to see the beautiful city of Amsterdam.

flying solo: travel safety tips

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I love traveling alone. The freedom, the independence, the adventure…

But wait! Safety first, safety first. Since I’m venturing alone in a foreign country, safety is a top priority. I’ve traveled quite a bit by myself and learned a lot along the way. In the game of flying solo, it’s always better to play it safe—you’ll have a winning travel experience.

1. Always [look like you] know what you’re doing.

Walk with purpose. Look for signs. Beware of your surroundings. I’m one to figure things out on my own, but it’s okay to ask for directions—just turn to shopkeepers before stopping a stranger on the street. You’ll never find me with a map out, camera around my neck, confused look on my face and a target on my back. I may be lost, but you’d never know it.

2. Tell someone where you are at all times.

Taxis provide a convenient way to get from point A to point B, but they aren’t always the safest (or the most pleasant). While I enjoy getting into cars with strangers just as much as the next person, I try my best to protect myself.

Last summer in New York, whenever I took a cab alone at night, I texted a friend the cab number, and sometimes even the driver’s name, then a follow-up when I made it home safely. This could get annoying, but I always say it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whether you’re alone in a foreign country or your home city, always let someone know where you are. Sounds a little excessive, but take time to make the extra effort just in case. While I’m in Paris, I send my mom daily e-mails just to let her know I’m alive (hi, mom! I’m still here!).

3. Keep your money in various places.

Speaking of my mother… She always taught me: Don’t put everything in your wallet. Keep cash in a coin purse, inside your carry-on suitcase and tucked away in purse pocket. Holding all of your credit cards in one place puts you at risk for losing everything. I always carry a skinny wallet and a small card case, and I split my money between them. If one gets stolen, all is not lost (but actually)! I also keep my metro tickets in a separate coin purse so I don’t need to open my wallet in the crowded stations.

4. Write down important phone numbers and addresses.

I’m guilty for using my phone for nearly everything. It’s just so easy to rely on your stored contacts and make notes. But before you leave, write down emergency contacts, the international numbers for your banks, physician information, the address of where you’re staying, etc. I go the extra mile by writing down two copies – one to carry with me and one to keep in my suitcase if my purse gets lost or stolen. You can also store info in your e-mail or Google docs—I’m just a little paranoid about hackers.

5. Be prepared.

Easier said than done, right? Just do your research, have a backup plan, know what to do if ____ happened. If you’re like me and don’t speak the language, know important phrases like où est le métro? (where is the metro?) and pouvez-vous m’aider? (can you help me?). Carry your phone charger. Study the map. Don’t panic.

 

What are your tips for traveling solo?