Amalfi Coast Essentials

If you have spent any time here on Always, Erin (hi, Mom!), you’ll know that I love writing a lot about two things: the Amalfi Coast and packing. So, I thought I would do the obvious thing and combine these two loves and share my Amalfi Coast Essentials. My normal Carry On Essentials are here, so you can supplement those with these beach specific must-haves, tailored to that iconic Italian coastline.

Amalfi Coast Essentials

 

Beach Bare Necessities

No use heading to the beach unless you have a proper beach bag. A longtime Longchamp fan, this bag is perfect for carrying all your bits and bobs, smart enough to take out to dinner, and water resistant. Toss in a cute, yet compact, wallet to hold plenty of Euros for all of those lovely Italian leather goods that will surely tempt you. Of course, you’ll want your phone.  Even though you likely (and luckily IMO) won’t have Wifi while exploring, pack a portable charger. I took more pictures than on any previous vacation and was glad to have extra battery so I could capture that dreamy watercolor sunset at the end of a long day of touring.

While a bikini seems like an obvious addition, I’d like to remind you to pack at least two. I only brought one and definitely underestimated how much I’d be frolicking in the Med. Whether it’s taking a day trip to a beach club in Positano, diving off a boat in Capri, or just dipping into the hotel pool – you’ll be glad you packed multiple swimsuits for your multiple aquatic adventures. For that beach club in Positano (or really any beach on the Coast), you should wear water-proof flip flops. Amalfi Coast beaches are all rock or pebble, so you’ll want shoes you can wear right up to the waves since said pebbles can get scorching in the height of summer. My Birkenstocks did NOT cut it, so my poor toes were left toasty.

Paradise Protection

While we’re discussing the necessary summer armor, sunglasses (preferably of the colorful variety) are a must, as is sunscreen. This solid stick is perfect for travel, since you don’t have to waste precious space in your quart size bag for liquids or bother finding a 3oz version.  I have a bit of OCD when it comes to chapstick application, so this grapefruit Burt’s Bees option is always on hand. Once I’m lathered in SPF, to keep cool I like to shelter under this Panama hat and spritz with a bit of Evian mist, in between long, languorous floats in the ocean of course. They also just make me feel like some sort of Fellini-esque diva, so who cares if they’re a tad over the top.

Seaside Style

After a long day of sunbathing, drinking prosecco and swimming in the salty sea, you’ll likely want to duck into a restaurant (Chez Black in Positano is the perfect beachside detour) to enjoy a restorative glass of rose and nibble on antipasto. Pack a full-coverage cover-up that doubles as a dress to make the effortless transition. For post-beach beauty, I’m a big fan of this hair conditioning spray and Wet brush for making my rat’s nest of a hairdo look somewhat presentable. (Pro-tip, definitely pack conditioner for Italy – most hotels don’t supply it) As for summer make-up, I like my tan to do the talking and will just accentuate it using this liquid bronzer and solid blush with a few flicks of mascara. Then, voila, I’m coiffed for my Italian boyfriends and selfies, yet still undone and free-spirited enough to relish in la dolce vita.

Grazie for stopping by my friends! I hope this will help you prepare to your next trip to the Amalfi Coast- whether it’s your first or hopefully one of many! It’s one of my favorite places in the world, so it definitely keeps me inspired.

Check out more of my packing posts here:
Carry On Essentials
Coachella Essentials
Road Trip Essentials
Walt Disney World Essentials
Travel Beauty Essentials

 

Linking Up With:

My first Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World.

My first Weekend Wanderlust – hosted by a Brit & a Southerner! Please check out both link parties for more excellent travel content! Thank you!

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What to Know Before You Visit London

London is one of my favorite cities in the world, and should be added to the top of your travel list. I’ve been there twice now and still feel like I’ve barely cracked the surface of all there is to experience, do, and see in the cultural and historic epicenter. Through my visits, I’ve made mistakes including getting lost on the tube when I was 12 and packing the wrong currency. Because of these rookie mishaps, I’ve gathered some top tips to know before you visit the beautiful English capital. Learn from my mistakes and be sure to check out my top tidbits to know before you visit Londontown below.

1. Pack an Umbrella
Unless you are visiting during the few gloriously sunny days of the year, you are going to see rain while you’re in London. Luckily, rain showers tend to be light and sporadic, so don’t worry about a steady downpour. Pack an umbrella (a brolly, if you will) small enough to fit in your purse, so you can continue sightseeing uninterrupted in the event of a surprise shower.

2. Don’t pack rain boots
While you should definitely pack an umbrella, rain boots are unnecessary. Rain isn’t usually going to be heavy enough to cause large puddles or mud, so boots will be cumbersome and waste much needed suitcase space. To protect your shoes, try a water repellent spray like this one.


3. Download City Maps 2 Go
London is sprawling and, frankly, has quite a nonsensical layout. You’ll think your headed in the right direction on a grid, just to find yourself stumbling down a dead end street designed in the Middle Ages. I didn’t purchase a short term phone plan while visiting, so I felt lost without access to data and Google Maps. City Maps 2 Go came to the rescue! Download this app before you go, save locations, and you’ll be able to access and search a map of London even without cell phone service.

London from above. Gorgeous, but easy to get lost in.

4. Drive (and walk) on the right (correct) side the road!
Cars drive on the other side of the road than America  (so the left hand side), and most people walk on the other side as well. Luckily, when crossing the street, there are handy signs telling you which way to look, so you aren’t hit square on by a double decker bus. Similarly, if you’re taking the Tube, walk on the left hand side of the escalator and stand on the right. Don’t be that annoying tourist and stand in the way of rushed commuters


5. Get out of London
You could easily spend a whole week or two exploring London and still not see all the highlights, but I also recommend getting out of the city one day during your stay. There are many classic British towns within an hour or two’s train ride, so why not explore the English countryside when it’s within reach? I visited Bath (read more about my visit here), and the enchanting storybook town stole my heart and was one of my favorite days in England. Either book a train ticket on your own, rent a car, or join a guided tour through a company like London Walks. Bath, the Cotswolds, York, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are all perfect for a day trip.


6. Take an open bus tour the first day
In some cities like Rome (read about that negative experience here), these open bus tours can be a waste of time and money. In London, however, we found the tour to be great for getting out bearings and the lay of the land. We used London Sightseeing and had a clean bus, great choice of seating and informative in-person guide. Do it on your first day when you’re jet lagged and would prefer relaxing in a breezy open bus to walking everywhere. You’ll also be able to get around much easier during the rest of your trip and know the basics of the top sights.



7. Museums, parks and markets are FREE
London is an amazing city, but boy is it expensive. Lodging, flights and food can set you back massive amounts of cash, so save some money by visiting its FREE attractions. Most of its famous museums (the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, the Tate, etc), are free as are its picturesque parks. Check out a list of the best parks here and its free museums here. You should also explore its many markets including Borough Market on the south bank, Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill and Camden Market in Camden Town. They’re free to browse and have many inexpensive wares and food for sale.

Lazing about in one of London’s many public outdoor spaces. The chairs were free, and I could have spent the whole afternoon relaxing in the sun and people watching.



8. Get used to sparkling water
You may not care, but I’m a diva and love my still water. The Europeans, including the English, on the other hand are fans of sparkling water. If you have a preference, just check the labels before buying bottled water – I made this mistake a few times and my peasant taste buds couldn’t get accustomed to the elegant carbonated option. Alas, I prefer my simple American beverages.

9. They use pounds, not Euros
This seems like another no-brainer, but my mom and I managed to make this mistake during our last trip. We assumed because England is in the EU that they accepted Euros, but we found out the hard way when trying to pay for snacks outside of Westminster Abbey and being promptly corrected. Oops! If you’re doing a multi-city tour of Europe, be sure to trade your Euros for pounds before making it to the UK and avoid being left cash-less.

10. Must-know pronunciations
To avoid looking too much like a tourist, learn the correct pronunciation of major landmarks and locations.

Thames River = The Tems
Leicester Square = Lester Square
Warwick = War-ick
Greenwich = Gren – itch
Buckingham Palace = Bucking-em Palace (not like ham as in pig!)

See you’re already on your way to being a proper Brit!


11. Emergency dial is 999!
Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but always good to know how to call for help, should you need it.

Happy travels, my friends! Let me know if you have any other great insider info for London. I love collecting useful tips and tidbits for my next trips there. Thanks for stopping by!

 

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Capri Whirlwind: Tips for Visiting the Island

On our first full day on the Amalfi Coast, we were given a whirlwind course in its beauty by a day trip to the famed island of Capri. Our lovely hotel hosts had recommended a boat excursion and we knew little of what to expect. Typically, I’m a very type A travel planner, yearning for control and a full itinerary, but on this day I decided to surrender to going with the flow. Of course, being me, I had a few things I knew I wanted to do (lunch at il Riccio was one), but we’d see where the day and our Italian boat hosts would take us. After going into the experience blind, there are definitely a few things I wish I would have known before our trip. I’ve interspersed these tips within my travelogue of our dreamy day on Capri.
Our day started early – catching our boat at Praia beach. Luckily, our hotel had a driver, Gennaro, that shuttled us down the rocky cliffs to the beach, where we patiently awaited our water transport. Gennaro told us that someone would meet us there, but I will say that it wasn’t totally clear how we were to find our exact excursion. Luckily, some friendly Aussies from our hotel were on the same day trip, so we stuck close to them. Also,luckily for us, the beach wasn’t bad eye candy.

 

Finally, we managed to get on the proper boat, the Donna Assunta chartered by I’Uomo e il Mare, and were off for Capri. The ride is quite long, but were kept occupied with coastal views of Praiano and Positano.

 

We first passed by our temporary home of Praiano, Positano’s sleepy kid brother. I’ll never get over the little white and pastel buildings dotting the cliffs.
Tip: When boarding the boat, grab your spot ASAP! Tour companies will book to full capacity, especially during summer, so you don’t want to be left without your desired seat simply because you dawdled. Sit on the uncovered bow for better photos and if you’re a sun worshiper. It gets achingly hot though in the direct sun on the sea, so sit in the covered stern if you want to forgo photos for comfort.

 

 

Next, we we made a detour to Positano to pick up a few guests staying in the town. Finally, it was on to the final destination: Capri.

 

Capri rising in the distance.

Required selfie as we approach Capri. I’ll spare you the 30 or so more I took during this excursion.

 

Once we arrived on Capri, we were informed of the day’s plan. If you wanted to stay with the group, we would first go to Anacapri for an hour or so, then on to Capri center. Then, we’d all meet back at our boat to sail around the island. Alternatively, you were free to explore the island on the own. Since we don’t speak Italian and were totally unprepared, we elected to stay with our guide, Marzia, who had a habit of starting every sentence with “Alright you guysssss” and follow her lead.  Anacapri is a fifteen minute or so bus ride away, so we loaded up and were off on our merry way.
Tip: Everything costs extra. The bus, side trips to grottoes, etc. Even though we were still on our original tour, the buses that took us all over the island were extra per each person. Luckily, we had euros on hand, but some of our tour mates weren’t as prepared. It’s a bit of a racket. 
Upon arriving in Anacapri, we ventured from the bus depot to what appeared to be the main piazza in town. After scarfing down a surprisingly good prosciutto pizza (mentioned in this post), we began to peruse the little shops, filled with souvenirs – tiles, Capri’s trademark lemon soap and other knick knacks.

 

 

 

With our time limit fast approaching, we discovered we weren’t in the main part of Anacapri at all! There were in fact many more streets to roam filled with actual shops and restaurants that were much less touristy. Unfortunately, we were only able to quickly window shop and grab some speedy photos before having to scurry back to our waiting bus.

Tip: There is more to Anacapri than the tourist square! Wander around the corner to find the real Anacapri center with shopping, restaurants, etc. We didn’t discover this whole other town until it was basically time to head back to the bus.

 

 

 

 

As life along the Amalfi Coast moves a little slower, our bus was late. Wishing we had instead spent more time in Anacapri, we were left to take in the glamorous bus depot. Finally, twenty minutes late, the bus arrived and took us winding around the island to our next stop – Capri center.
Tip: If possible, spend more time in Anacapri than Capri. It is much quieter and more quaint than the packed Capri center. On our tour, we were on strict time limits for each little town, so we didn’t have a choice. I’d love to go back one day on my own and take my time in serene Anacapri. 

 

 

Upon arriving in center you are greeted with the cutest little white and blue buildings, speckled all along the harbor. You are also greeted to throngs of tourists, wanting to snap photos of said buildings.

 

My family was tuckered, so they elected to find some respite in a snack bar, while I decided to obey my gypsy spirit and traipse about the town. Snaking my way through throngs of tour groups, I took in the Church in the main piazza, restaurants and lots and lots of designer stores.

 

 

I mean, who’s four year old doesn’t need to wear Dolce & Gabbana?
Tip: Capri center is packed and full of high end shopping. If you are not in the mood to shop at extreme ends of the spectrum: either a souvenir store or at Dolce & Gabbana, then there is not a lot for you to do in Capri center. Restaurants, yes, but it is definitely centered around catering to the jetsetting European heiress or tourist industry.
Firmly deciding that I wouldn’t be dropping thousands of dollars at Miu Miu or Prada, I decided to rejoin my family and buy something more up my alley – straciatella gelato.

 

After temporarily sating our what seemed like infinite Italian appetites, we were guided by Marzia back to the boat to spend our afternoon floating around on our aquatic tour of Capri.

 

Our first stop led us to the Pinterest-famous blue grotto. Like almost everything else on the tour, it costs extra, so we decided to skip it and instead stay in our boat to enjoy Prosecco and cakes, all while watching a highly entertaining French couple dance about the deck. Italy is so gorgeous, especially on the water, so you really can just sit back and take in the otherworldly surroundings.
Tip: Skip the blue grotto unless you are absolutely married to the idea of seeing it. The lines of boats were fairly long to get in and the sailors who commandeered the grotto boats were very aggressive. One gentleman on our tour had what seemed like a lifelong curse placed on him in Italian by an angry sailor because he didn’t tip him generously enough. There is simply so much beauty in Italy and along the Amalfi Coast. You really aren’t missing out if you don’t see this particular grotto.
My brother was not pleased with the overrated blue grotto.

 

Tourists waiting for the blue grotto – pass!

 

Departing the grotto, we took in many of the other breathtaking caves and inlets around the island. They more than made up for skipping their more notorious neighbor.

 

As daylight began to wane, it was through the Lovers’ Arches, and all of the couples on the boat kissed while I took solace in a selfie. #foreveralone
Tip: You’ll get to swim on most Capri boat trips, but it will be quick. We were given literally ten minutes to hop off the boat along a grotto. It was awesome, and I was not going to pass up my first chance to swim in the Mediterranean and cool off. If you’re looking for lots of free time to swim, however, don’t plan for it on a jampacked tour.

 

Finally, we said au revoir to my new favorite island and made a final stop back at Positano to let off our fellow sightseers. Taking in Positano at sunset is not a bad way to end the day.

 

In conclusion, the boat trip was a great way to get a crash course in Capri. We saw a lot of the highlights in little time and at a good value (about 100 euro a person). Our tour guides were very personable and special touches like cakes, Prosecco, and provided towels made the journey feel more elegant. If you’re wanting to take a leisurely tour of Capri or visit a beach club (like the famed Fontelina or il Riccio), however, this tour is not for you. You should instead take a ferry or water taxi then hire a cab when you arrive, or pay extra for a private charter to take you around the island at your own pace.
Check out more of my Italy posts:

 

I’m linking up with the awesome girls at Travel Tuesday, hosted by Sara Sees and A Keane Sense of Adventure. Check it out if you love finding excellent new travel blogs!

 

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What to Know Before You Go to Italy

While I had an amazing time during my recent trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast and regret nothing about our journey, there are a few things I wish I would have known before arriving in Italy. While I’m an obsessive planner and scoured Pinterest for tips, there were a few things, cultural and logistical, that caught me off guard and slipped through the cracks. I’ve included a list of these tidbits and tips below, so you can learn from my experience and mistakes and make your hopefully upcoming trip to Italy all the more prepared and easier. You’ll be able to focus less on dealing with hassle and more on fully immersing in la dolce vita.

1. Bring more cash than you think you’ll need. While most major restaurants and attractions take credit cards, cash is still king and you will run out of euros quicker than you think. You cannot tip waiters or guides on credit cards, most taxi drivers prefer cash, and some stores and restaurants will still push you to fork over the euros. Simply put, you will become quicker friends with the Italians if you are able to pay them in cash. Save up and withdraw plenty before you leave the States, so you don’t get stuck using an exchange with tons of fees once you are abroad.

2. There are public restrooms in major piazzas and train stations, but you will typically need to pay a euro or two to use them (see tip above!). They are usually well maintained and clean, but we Americans are spoiled and not prone to being charged for public restrooms. I definitely was caught off guard, fumbled with my cash and ended up walking into the men’s toilet at Termini train station – yolo!

3. Selfie sticks are everywhere! If you are in a tourist heavy area, you WILL be accosted by an endless barrage of aggressive dudes trying to sell you a selfie stick. A firm no will get them away, but be prepared for the constant onslaught as you walk near the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Pantheon, or really any major attraction. You will never want to see another selfie stick in your life (also, isn’t your arm essentially a selfie stick?) If you absolutely HAVE to have one, buy one before you go. Most of the sellers are part of syndicates that are usually tied to the mob and human trafficking, and the actual poor immigrant sellers see little of the profits.

4. Italy is a very Catholic country, it is the home of the pope after all, so most restaurants or stores are closed on Sundays and religious holidays. Double check hours and openings online or with your concierge before setting out for the day or be prepared for more casual dining options.

5. Bring hair conditioner! In order to save space in my suitcase, I typically rely on the hotel’s shampoo and conditioner, but the majority of Italian hotels only provide a single shampoo/conditioner combo. If you have thick or tangly hair and need a standalone conditioner, you will end up buying conditioner at a farmacia or spending 10 euro at Sephora like I did.

6. Also pack bug spray! I was eaten alive by mosquitos on the Amalfi Coast (humblebrag) and few stores sell insect repellent. Plan ahead.

7. There is abundant FREE clean drinking water. Most streets have public fountains with great, fresh drinking water straight from the aqueducts. Save some money and produce less plastic waste by forgoing constantly buying water bottles and pack a bottle to fill as you go (this foldable bottle would be a great space saver!)  Even inside the Vatican and smaller coastal towns like Capri and Positano had abundant fountains to refill. You will need it after climbing the Colosseum or hiking through Ravello.

Happy trip planning – I hope these tips help improve your stay in beautiful Italy!