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Advice Middle East Travel Planning

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year

There is something very refreshing about choosing to visit a destination you know nothing about and therefore have very few, if any expectations of. Most recently this happened to me when I chose to go to Oman for my honeymoon, not the conventional choice, I know!

I didn’t know anyone that had been there, in fact most people looked at me completely blankly when I told them where I was going. It isn’t the kind of location that pops up on your Instagram feed on the regular either!

When you think of the Middle East, it is hard not to imagine glitzy high rise skyscrapers and attractions that regularly hold the title of “biggest in the world”. Oman is the complete opposite. Stoically understated in design, you will not find a single skyscraper here, in fact, no building is allowed to be higher than fourteen stories in order to preserve the stunning natural beauty of this Gulf country.

Visitors only really started coming here in the 1970s when Sultan Qaboos took over from his father, began to build some infrastructure and set about modernizing the country, before then flinging their doors open to the outside world. The country is now switching gears again in order to increase tourism; a new hassle-free visa process has been introduced for many countries and a huge new airport opened in Muscat in 2018.

A City Break in Muscat

Start your journey in the country’s capital, which will prove beyond a doubt that you don’t need height to have beautiful architecture; just visit the Royal Opera House, Al Alam Palace and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a gift from the Sultan to the people to mark his thirty years of reign. Don’t miss exploring Muttrah Souq as well, thought to be one of the world’s oldest Arabian market places.

The real beauty of Oman comes when you leave the city though. It has some of the most diverse landscape of any country I have ever visited; dramatic mountain ranges, deserted white sand beaches and magical Arabian desert, all within a couple of hours drive of the Muscat.

Jabal Akhdar Mountains

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year Take a road trip to Jabal Akhdar, part of the Al Hajar mountain range, for some respite from the heat; up here roses, apricots and pomegranates flourish on the mountainside, where the temperature is around 15°C cooler. It is the views that really take your breath away here though; deep ravines, wadis with abandoned villages clinging to the sides and more greenery than you would have ever thought possible for somewhere in the Middle East (it’s no coincidence that Jabal Akhdar roughly translates to “Green Mountain”).

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearYou can visit in a day trip, but watching the sun set here is nothing short of surreal; the total silence around you only accentuating the experience, until all you can see are the glittering lights of the ancient city of Nizwa sparkling in the distance.

There are two knockout hotels up here, the Alila Jabal Akhdar and the Anantara; the latter is built around Diana’s Point where you can take in the views from the same spot as the late princess once did in 1986.

Wahiba Sands Desert

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearGetting to Wahiba Sands from Muscat is a very scenic journey in itself, the coastline is stunning and there are miles and miles of deserted and immaculate beaches.

Actually entering the desert is bit of a surprise; one minute you are bouncing along through a village and the next you take a turn and move immediately from road to sand (not sure what I was expecting?!).

Driving through the desert a very freeing and peaceful experience, until you started dune bashing. Here you can visit communities descended from the Bedouins (nomads who lived in deserts of the Middle East and North Africa) and learn about their lives and culture.

There are a few places to spend the night here. Wahiba Desert Nights Camp is on the more luxe side; your accommodation is an individual Bedouin inspired blend of tent and permanent structure, with hot water in the shower and air conditioning!

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearYou can occupy yourself with desert safaris, camel riding or star gazing, but honestly, the best thing is just to ride up to the top of the highest dune to watch the sun fall in the sky and the sand change from reddish-orange to a dark yellow. The temperature drops quickly, so return to your camp for a communal dining experience with live music and a barbecue.

Final Thoughts

Oman is a stunningly diverse country with a more understated vibe, which is probably one of the reasons it has flown under the radar for so long. Now is the time to come though; Oman’s continuing efforts to increase tourism means it is an easy country to visit and get around, but it is still so much quieter in terms of visitors. I went in October (shoulder season) and outside of the hotels, didn’t come across many non-locals at all.

Bonus: Top Tips for Visiting Oman

  • A visa is needed for most other countries and is easy to apply for on their e-visa site online. It is only valid for entry within a month of application though, so don’t get ahead of yourself and apply too soon (as I did).
  • As with other Middle Eastern countries, conservative dressing is required. This means shoulders and knees covered as a minimum and you are required to cover your hair when entering any of the mosques.
  • Oman is the safest country to visit in the Middle East with a very low crime rate and a very friendly and hospitable culture, so is great for female travelers.
  • Public transport is not commonplace in Oman and if you are looking to leave the capital, I would recommend getting a driver. You can hire your own car, but driving through mountains and deserts should only be reserved for the most competent and confident drivers.
  • As with other Middle Eastern countries, try not to visit between June and August where the temperature renders it difficult to step outside and many of the tour operators shut down for the season.

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year

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Everything You Should See In Rome On Your First Visit

From the windy lanes of Trastevere to the monumental beauty of the Trevi Fountain, there are just some things you can’t miss in the eternal city. Rome simply isn’t Rome without the frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the majesty of the Colosseum. 

It’s not easy to come up with a list of everything you should see in Rome on your first visit. The city is bursting with awe-inspiring historical treasures. After studying art history there for a year and living there for several more, I’ve come up with a list of the absolute must-sees for your first time in the Italian capital.

For each of Rome’s amazing famous sights, there’s an equal number of amazing secret spots!

Want to see some hidden corners of Rome on your visit, too? I’ve got you covered!

In the same way that Rome isn’t Rome without the Vatican or the Colosseum, she isn’t herself without carbonara and cacio e pepe, either! Want tips on where to get some of the best food in the city? I’ve got you covered, too!

Are you ready to discover everything you should see on your first visit to Rome? Andiamo!

1. St. Peter’s Basilica

Built over the course of 120 years by some of Italy’s most famous architects, including Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. You can visit the crypts underneath, the church itself, and climb the dome on top.

2. The Vatican Museums

People have been visiting the Vatican Museums since the 16th century, and rightly so. With 54 galleries (called sale in Italian) and thousands of works of art that span the centuries, it’s a true treasure trove for lovers of art and art history. The final sala that visitors pass through is undoubtedly the museum’s most famous: the Sistine Chapel.

Beat The Crowds At The Vatican

There are both early morning and after-hours tours of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums! If you want a less crowded visit, go for one of these off-peak tours.

3. Trastevere

After visiting the Vatican, head over to Trastevere, which is on the same side of the Tiber river. Get lost in the narrow streets, take pictures of laundry drying in the sun, and just enjoy one of Rome’s most picturesque neighborhoods. 

Trastevere Food Tip

Trastevere has some great pizza places. Seu Pizza Illuminati, Pizzeria ai Marmi, Dar Poeta, and Ivo a Trastevere are regarded as some of the city’s best pizzerie. Try one to get some of the good stuff!

4. The Colosseum and the Ancient City

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater that was constructed during the Roman empire. It was commissioned by the emperor Vespasian and opened by his son, Titus, in 80 AD. Famous for gladiatorial matches and animal fights, the Colosseum is the symbol of the eternal city.

A ticket to the Colosseum gets you into the adjacent Palatine Hill. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, the founders Rome, were raised by a wolf in a cave there, which is the most central of the city’s seven hills. It later became an area inhabited by Rome’s elite, including some of the emperors. You can visit the ruins of many of the remaining structures today, along with the small museum there, and get great views of the Roman forum as well as the Circus Maximus.

The Roman forum was once the hub of the city’s public life, containing a host of temples, basilicas, and other public structures. Visit the forum and then walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali, where you’ll be able to see the fora and markets constructed by different emperors.

Pro Tip For Visiting The Ancient City

Don’t do this part of Rome without a guide! Whether it be a person, a book, or a blog post, the ancient city can be confusing (and can sometimes seem meaningless) if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Secret Spot In The Ancient City

Ready for a break from the crowds? If you loved the ancient city and want more, head to the Celio hill behind the Colosseum, and visit Le Case Romane del Celio. Twenty rooms decorated with frescoes dating from between the second and fourth centuries unfold beneath the Basilica of Saints John and Paul and culminate in a small gallery displaying objects that were recovered during the excavation of the site. You’ll probably be one of a handful of visitors exploring this underground gem. If you love ancient Rome, don’t miss this secret spot!

5. The Jewish Ghetto 

Located in the city center, the Roman Jewish Ghetto was historically home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. You can visit the Jewish Museum of Rome in order to gain an understanding of the history of the area, and see the Synagogue, which is thought to be the largest in Italy. Other sights in the area include the Theater of Marcellus and the Bocca della Verità.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto also has some signature foods, like carciofi alla giudia (grilled artichokes) and pizza ebraica, which is actually a sweet!

6. Piazza Navona

Designed by famous Roman artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Piazza Navona is home to one of the city’s most spectacular fountains. Depicting the great rivers of the time, the four figures represent the Nile, the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata, and the Danube. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Palazzo Pamphilj (which is the current Brazilian embassy) are also both located in Piazza Navona.  

7. Campo de’ Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori was developed around 1456 by Pope Callixtus III. In the morning, the piazza comes alive thanks to its bustling market, and in the evening, it transforms into an evening hot-spot popular with tourists and foreign students. The central statue in the piazza depicts Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.

Secret Spot Near Campo de’ Fiori

Exit the piazza onto via del Pellegrino and turn left at Arco degli Acetari. You’ll end up in a tiny little courtyard that doesn’t have any major sights, but is a great little spot for taking pictures!

Where To Eat Bear Campo de’ Fiori

There are two excellent spots to get pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) in this area. One is in Campo de’ Fiori itself. In the left corner of the piazza, if you’re facing the same way as Giordano Bruno, there’s a sign that says FORNO, which means oven in Italian. Some say that they have the best pizza bianca in the city. They also offer sandwiches and other baked goods.

Just outside of Campo de’ Fiori at Via dei Chiavari 34 is Roscioli Forno, which has the best pizza margherita al taglio that I’ve ever had. Order a few different slices – last time I was there we sampled the margherita, a slice with mushrooms, one with roasted potatoes, and another thick-crusted one with burrata and pesto that was delicious. 

Neither of these places have seating, so be prepared to munch your slices standing up.

8. The Pantheon

The first Pantheon in Rome was destroyed by a fire in the same year that the Colosseum opened, 80AD. In 118, the emperor Hadrian commissioned a new Pantheon, which is the structure that you can visit today. The Pantheon is considered to be the best-preserved ancient building in Rome and its dome is the largest unsupported dome in the world. Its oculus is 8 meters across, which is about 25 feet. You can visit the tomb of Raphael inside.

Beat The Crowds At The Pantheon

Despite some discussion about charging admission in the last few years, the Pantheon remains free to visit. For this reason, it’s a very popular sight. If you want to beat the crowd, visit when it opens at 8:30 am. 

9. The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is the combination of two designs, one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and one by Nicola Salvi. Completed in 1762, the fountain is an example of Roman baroque architecture. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain backwards over your left shoulder, you’ll return to Rome someday, if you throw two in, you’ll find a Roman romance, and if you throw in three, you’ll get married!

Beat The Crowds At The Trevi Fountain

Visiting the Trevi Fountain at peak times is pretty miserable, if I’m being honest. I highly recommend heading there while the city is still sleeping – around 7am, if you can. You’ll have a much better experience without the crowds! If you’re not a morning person, head there late at night to have a similar, crowd-free visit. 

10. The Spanish Steps

Named for the Spanish embassy to the Vatican, which is located in the square below, the Spanish Steps are another Roman icon. They were originally built to connect the church above to the piazza. There’s another famous fountain in the square called La Barcaccia, which was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s father, Pietro. 

A recent law was passed that prohibits sitting on the Spanish Steps, so you’ll have to take your pictures standing up! If you want to beat the crowds, head from the Trevi Fountain straight to the Spanish Steps on your early morning tour. 

Secret Spot Bear The Spanish Steps

Ready for another hidden corner of Rome? Walk down Via Margutta, which is very close to Piazza di Spagna. Made famous from the film Roman Holiday, Via Margutta has been home to a long line of artists and filmmakers and still has several art galleries on it. You can see a tribute to these artists in the form of a bucket of paint brushes atop a little fountain.

11. Monti

There’s nothing particular to see in Monti, but like Trastevere, it’s a great little neighborhood to wander around and get lost in. Located near the Colosseum, Monti is a hip little area full of second hand shops, cute cafés, and chic restaurants. 

12. Testaccio

Known commonly for its nightlife, Testaccio actually has some of the best food in the eternal city. If you want to try Roman street food, head to the Mercato di Testaccio, which is open from 7am to 3pm every day except Sunday. You can do your shopping and eat at the communal tables in the center of the market. Try supplì, carciofi alla guidia, or any of the other delights that look good to you. Looking for a sit-down meal? Book a table at Flavio al Velavevodetto, Felice a Testaccio, or Da Oio a Casa Mia for some traditional Roman fare.

So, there you have your list of everything you need to see in Rome on your first visit! If you’re spending more than just a few days there, don’t be afraid to explore beyond the city center. Rome is a series of layers, and each one you peel back reveals another treasure.

Journal Stories Travel Planning

Introverts Abroad

Our world is becoming increasingly extroverted. We are always chatting, texting, calling, Snapchatting, Tweeting, or emailing people about our lives. And for introverts, it can be tiring.

Introverts are people who need time away from others in order to recharge, whereas extroverts gain their energy from social events. Classic introverts tend be more reticent, work independently, and have a smaller, but closer, group of friends.

It seems daunting to be an introvert who has the dream to travel intrepidly. There are the fears that you won’t make friends or be to overwhelmed to take real adventures. But this is your time, and you can choose to enjoy it however you want.

You Won’t Make Friends

If you are an introvert, you might fear that traveling is exhausting enough on its own, let alone having to meet new people. First timers seem to believe that no one will want to talk to them when they are traveling. However, it is almost impossible not to make friends while traveling abroad. If you are staying in hostels, couch surfing, or volunteering, you will be surrounded by new people who are just as curious to meet you as you are to them. You can probably find the other travelers who also don’t need to go out dancing until 4am every night if that is what your body and energy needs. And you don’t have to make friends with every person you meet. You will find your tribe of like minded travelers, and they are looking for you as well. However, this is also a time to experiment with who you are! Maybe staying up until 4am is exactly what you need every once in a while.

You also might feel an ease of social pressure because if you mistake a social cue, you might never see that person again. Since most of your interactions with other travelers are short lived, you might be able to be more of yourself.

As women especially, people tend to be curious of the female traveler who roams alone. If you travel alone, you seem more approachable instead of being surrounded by a pack. So open yourself up to the moment when you are feeling social.

You Will Be Overwhelmed

There is the fear that you will feel more worn out or be too overwhelmed by all you are ingesting. Introverts tend to experience novelty fatigue faster because they feel more intensely and tend to be empaths- people who absorb others’ energies more. This can make one exploration day feel like 12.

Remember to take your time and travel at your own pace. If you find that exploring or doing activities one day is enough, then go snuggle up at a cute bookstore or coffee shop the next. You can control your own schedule because this is your time.

Introverts tend to know when they need to take time for themselves. Podcasts, books, music, or journaling are great ways to take time to yourself and recharge without feeling completely alone. Know when you need that time to yourself.

But What Will Everyone Think?

Don’t be concerned about other people’s Instagram stories or all their Facebook likes. Just because you stayed in a museum while your friends trekked across the savanna doesn’t mean that they had a better experience than you. There is no right way to travel as long as you come out feeling energized and satisfied by your own adventures. Everyone has their own limits and needs and it is important to be mindful of your needs. No one else will know how to take care of you better than yourself!

Personally, I find that my most joyful experiences are when I am meandering through a city at my own pace. This allows the place to open itself up to me organically. I like to take in the unique milieu of a city or landscape without the influence or perception of someone else. It keeps me present and being present leads to happiness.

If you are an introvert, be proud, and take care of yourself! I used to feel embarrassed that I needed time alone and felt obligated to travel with people when I would have rather been alone. However, I’m much more comfortable with myself and expressing my needs for solitude with a city and know how to respectfully decline invitations to explore with others. Once you accept yourself and learn how to articulate your needs, politely, you can go anywhere.

You can, peacefully, enjoy your travels on your own terms.

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