5 Things to Add to Your Bulgaria Bucket List January 16, 2019
1 | Try the Food
Bulgarians are very proud of their traditional food and specialty dishes. Whether you’re after salty, sour, sweet, or a mix of all three, there really is a tasty treat for everyone! Some of the best meals to try in Bulgaria are banitsa (egg and cheese cooked between sheets of filo pastry) and mekitsi (deep-fried dough made with yoghurt). Combine banitsa with yogurt and mekitsi with honey, and you’ll have the best breakfast ever!
Bulgarians are famous for growing their own fresh fruit and vegetables. If you’re staying in an apartment and want to cook for yourself during your vacation, I’d highly recommend visiting a local market. You’ll find lots of these delicious fresh products, as well as plenty of chatty people who can share some insider tips about the Bulgarian cuisine!
2 | Visit the Local Markets
Most Bulgarian neighborhoods have their own local markets with fresh food that are a well worth visiting! Alongside delicious treats, you could find handmade cutlery, other crafts, tasty drinks, and plenty of music, entertainment, and laughter from the jolly and welcoming locals. If you don't quite understand what they’re saying, just grin and nod; they’ll be pleased to have put a smile on your face!
3 | Climb a Mountain
This is the most challenging suggestion on my list, but it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Bulgaria has lots of beautiful mountains that offer exquisite views. There are many tours you can join, so you’ll always be in the safe hands of professional climbers and mountaineers. I’d recommend hiking during springtime to enjoy green grass, blossoming trees, and gorgeous wildlife. These aspects combined will motivate you to conquer the mountains, even when you’re feeling exhausted!
4 | Visit the Rose Valley
Did you know that Bulgaria is the biggest source of rose oil in the world? The Rose Valley in Kazanlak is located just south of the Balkan Mountains, and local Bulgarians are very proud of it! The valley has been growing roses for centuries and now produces around half of the world’s rose oil. I’d recommend joining the festivals held to celebrate this beautiful flower and its oil. Alternatively, come and pick your own roses between May and June. If you do want to pick your own flowers, I’d recommend heading to the Rose Valley early in the morning, when local villagers will be happy to help you out!
5 | Learn Some Bulgarian
Bulgarian is one of the world’s most challenging languages to learn. Several aspects differentiate Bulgarian from all other Slavic languages. It has, for example, a Glagolitic alphabet. This series of 32 letters was created by the Saints Cyril and Methodi around 850 A.D. It is now the third official script of the European Union.
I’d recommend learning a few basics, such as “Zdrasti” (Hi), “Blagodarya ti” (Thank you), and how to order your favorite dishes. This won’t only give you confidence, but also put a smile on the locals’ faces, who will congratulate you for getting it right, or at least trying your best!
5 Tips for a Smooth Girls’ Vacation January 9, 2019
1 | Choose Your Destination Wisely
Choosing the perfect destination is the first challenge of any girls’ vacation (in addition to figuring out dates that suit with everyone’s busy schedule, that is). From city breaks and beach escapes to an adventure getaway or ski trip, there are lots of different options for the perfect vacation with your friends.
It’s important to make sure you all agree on the vacation type and destination. City breaks are a great idea if you only have one weekend to spare. Whether you’re looking for some culture, history, or even just a little retail therapy, exploring a new city with friends is the perfect way to make memories and enjoy some quality time with your gal pals!
If you can be a little more flexible, why not lounge on a beach, or by a pool? This is best done over the course of a week or two, so that you and your friends have enough time to truly unwind.
Adventure escapes, meanwhile, are the perfect bonding opportunity — there’s nothing more powerful than a bit of adrenaline, or a fear of heights to bring friends together!
2 | Let’s Talk Money
Money has the power to ruin even the strongest of friendships, especially when it’s unclear who owes who, and when there’s a lot of cash involved. Try to settle your accounts before you head off on your trip. It’s important that whoever paid for flights or hotel is repaid promptly, else there could be tension in the air during your vacation.
Remember: people have different vacation budgets and money can be a touchy subject, so try to find something that suits everyone. When picking a restaurant, try to cater to all bank balances and decide ahead of time how you will split the bill. Whether you split it evenly between the group, or each pay for what you ate, just be upfront about it!
3 | Take Your “Me Time” Seriously
A girls’ vacation can be an intense experience, especially if you’re more introverted than your pals. You want to spend as much time together as possible, but sometimes you need a break, no matter how much you love your girlfriends. Whether your friends are more outgoing than you, or they want to take on activities that aren’t really up your street, there’s nothing wrong with spending some time alone! You could go for a walk on your own, or just find a little café to relax and recharge so you’ll be ready to socialize and laugh with your friends later in the day! Nobody wants a moody friend ruining the fun!
4 | Designate Photo Time
So, you’re abroad with your girlfriends and want to make sure you remember this amazing trip for years to come. What better way to do that than making sure you have a ton of snaps to keep as mementos of your trip?
Whether you share the photos on Instagram, with your family, or just keep them for your own photo album, it’s great to capture your vacation highlights. It’s also important, however, to live in the moment and really enjoy each other’s company. You didn’t travel all that way to spend the whole time on your phone, looking down a camera lens, or posing for group shots. Put the phones down and ban social media for a few hours each day. That way, you’ll have time to really catch up with your friends without the distraction of the internet!
5 | Girlfriends Are the Best of Friends
Remember that you are on vacation with your friends to spend time with each other, so try to take the time to stop and realize just how great your friends are! They are your support network, the people that make you laugh when you’re having a tough day, and they are there with you through the crazy adventure that is life!
No matter how busy your vacation might be, take the time to appreciate just how amazing your girlfriends really are…as cheesy as that may sound!
Looking Back on 2018: The Start of NextStop24 December 28, 2018
After NextStop24 was founded in January, 2018 was a truly exciting year! The first couple of months consisted of a mix of (rather boring) administration and legal work, as well as (more excitingly) finalizing the concept of NextStop24: to make travel research easier! We believe that no one should spend hours and hours researching where to go and what to do on their next vacation. Instead, everyone should be able to find their next dream destination easily, with just a few clicks.
Rating 100 Destinations Worldwide
When NextStop24 went online on 1 August 2018, we had just a handful of destinations. Just three months later, in November, we were very proud to reach the milestone of having 100 different destinations across all continents on the website! Travelers are able to find information about 71 regions and 29 cities, from central Thailand and Munich to the Seychelles and New York City.
Travelers can either check out a destination they’ve been interested in for a while, or find inspiration for their next vacation with the help of 14 different filters. Based on their preferred month of departure, temperature, destination costs, and local infrastructure, users immediately receive a list of personalized travel suggestions. When it comes to the filters themselves, we made sure to put a special emphasis on the local activities such as sightseeing, nightlife, and beaches, as we believe these have the power to make or break your vacation.
Local activities are rated by fellow travelers who have already been to the destination. As it currently stands, around 50 reviews have been left on the website!
In 2019 we will start to share these reviews on Instagram and Facebook!
As well as leaving reviews, travelers are also invited to share their advice and travel stories on the NextStop24 Blog. In the past five months, more than 40 articles have been published by the NX24 Team, as well as guest bloggers from all around the world. The content features travel guides for Vietnam, southern Portugal, and Sicily, as well as city trip tips for Madrid, Ljubljana, Amsterdam, Budapest, Paris, and more! It also includes helpful advice on how to make the most out of your vacation, plan a romantic getaway, or be a tourist in your own city.
Do you want to share your travel stories in 2019? We’d love to hear from you! For more information about guest articles, please check www.nextstop24.com/contribute.
The NextStop24 social media channels offer a daily mix of travel information and photos. On Instagram, for example, we repost your amazing travel shots, creating an engaged community of travelers who love sharing their experiences. Remember to add #NextStop24Traveler and tag @NextStop24 in your Instagram posts if you’d like to be reposted in 2019!
We also host regular social media campaigns, such as our #NX24Challenge in October. For ten days, we asked travel enthusiasts to post their best photos based around a daily theme, from beach life and nature to street art and sunsets. In total, over 300 photos were contributed to the #NX24Challenge!
Other social media activities included a Travel Advent Calendar, featuring 24 travel quiz questions and the 2018 Travel Throwback Challenge. For five days, NextStop24 Founder, Caroline, shared personal travel highlights of the past year, inviting others to do the same. More than 170 memories were contributed to the #18TravelThrowback, celebrating the best travel highlights of the past year, and inspiring fellow travelers for 2019.
We’d like to take the chance to thank everyone who has been part of our journey in 2018! From guest bloggers and travelers who have left a review on the site to our fab social media followers — NextStop24 wouldn’t exist without you!
We’re looking forward to a new year, full of inspiring travel stories and helpful advice from travelers for travelers. We can’t wait to find out what 2019 has in store for us and the world of travel!
A Go-To Guide for First Time Vietnam Travelers December 19, 2018
Southeast Asia is quickly becoming an extremely popular tourist destination, especially among backpackers. Vietnam is no exception: with around 10,000,000 international visitors in 2016, the number of tourists visiting the country consistently increases every year. Having spent two and a half weeks traveling around the country myself, I can understand why it’s so popular. While I loved my time in Vietnam, there are a few things I wish I’d known before visiting. I hope this go-to guide will help you to prepare for your vacation, and to make the most of your time there.
I never felt particularly unsafe in Vietnam, despite the fact that I was out after dark, and sometimes wandered around big cities by myself. As a female tourist, however, I occasionally felt uncomfortable with the way local men looked at me, especially if I was wearing shorts, or a strappy top. Whether you’re a solo female traveler, or you’re traveling with friends or a partner, I’d recommend wearing a fake wedding ring to discourage any “funny business”.
[caption id="attachment_511" align="aligncenter" width="1025"] Old Quarter, Hanoi[/caption]
In big cities (especially Ho Chi Minh City), pick-pocketing is very common. Be sure to carry your rucksack on your front while walking through crowds, and try to avoid displaying your phone or wallet. You should also beware of scams, as plenty of people will try to sell you tours, which never actually materialize. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
As an avid walker, I was quite disappointed by Vietnam’s sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. Traffic lights and stop signs mean very little to local drivers, especially those on motorbikes. When crossing roads, you simply have to walk with confidence, and trust that vehicles will move around you.
Hiring motorbikes and bicycles is extremely cheap in Vietnam. While you technically need an international driving license to rent a motorbike, most tourists manage to do so with their usual driving license. I wouldn’t recommend riding a motorbike for the first time in Vietnam. With busy roads, and non-law-abiding drivers, it would be a pretty dangerous setting for a beginner. If you’re experienced on a bike, however, this is a cheap, quick, and easy way to get around.
[caption id="attachment_512" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Ho Chi Minh City[/caption]
Getting from place to place is best done by bus; however, be sure to use a reputable company, such as Sinh Tourist, to avoid being scammed. Taxis can also be cheap way to get to your hotel from the airport or bus station. I’d recommend downloading the Grab app before you go, which is like Uber, only much cheaper!
Where to Stay
Like every country, Vietnam has a great mix of accommodation options. While in Hanoi, I’d suggest staying in a boutique hotel in the Old Quarter. Although hostels are usually cheaper, those in the capital tend to be in very rowdy locations, with poor-quality facilities (though this is, of course, a generalization). Boutique hotels feel quirky, are reasonably priced, and many offer free breakfast, too. Although you could rent an apartment in the city, I’d suggest a hotel or hostel, as they often offer tours and airport transfers, which will be invaluable if Hanoi is your starting point, as it was for me.
[caption id="attachment_513" align="aligncenter" width="1025"] Old Town, Hoi An[/caption]
Popular backpacker destinations like Ho Chi Minh City and Hue also have great hostels; however, they tend to be in very noisy spots! For a fancier experience, try out one of Ho Chi Minh City’s huge hotels with rooftop pools and bars. If you’re heading to Hoi An, I’d suggest staying in a guest house. While the city has many hostels and hotels located in the Old Town, and beautiful resorts right by the beach, many guest houses are conveniently located between the two! These aren’t only peaceful and affordable, but also a great way to meet locals, who can give you top tips for restaurants and shops in the area.
I hadn’t appreciated how diverse and delicious the Vietnamese cuisine was until I arrived in the country. While Pho (noodle soup) for breakfast seemed quite unappealing at first, I quickly adjusted to the local food. One of my favorite dishes was spring rolls: unlike the greasy, fried spring rolls I was used to from my local Chinese takeaway, the ones you’ll find in Vietnam are wrapped in thin, fresh rice paper, and are usually filled with an array of delicious vegetables, and sometimes meat or fish, too. If you’re looking for a lunchtime snack, try out Banh Mi: Vietnamese baguettes, filled with a delicious filling of your choice (usually pork and vegetables). While there are entire cafés and restaurants dedicated to Banh Mi, the best ones can be purchased from street food vendors.
[caption id="attachment_508" align="aligncenter" width="1025"] Pho (noodle soup)[/caption]
If you’re after something a bit sweeter, try banana pancakes, which come from Thailand, but are also very popular in Vietnam. The best version I tried came from Hoi An’s night market: gooey banana was cooked into a crepe-style pancake and drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce! Since Vietnam has been heavily influenced by France, you won’t be short of incredible bakeries, selling everything from buttery croissants, to soft macarons. Whichever dessert you decide upon, be sure to wash it down with a traditional Vietnamese drip coffee, with plenty of condensed milk.
[caption id="attachment_514" align="aligncenter" width="1025"] Vietnamese spring rolls[/caption]
While Vietnam is malaria-free, mosquito bites are still a real problem, especially around lakes and beaches. Be sure to buy good-quality mosquito repellent before you arrive, as it’s hard to find — and fairly expensive — in Vietnamese supermarkets and pharmacies. The same goes for sunscreen: even though I traveled during monsoon season, and the sky was filled with thick cloud, I still suffered from sunburn and sunstroke. I’d recommend keeping topped up with factor 50 at all times!
Be sure to buy bottled water whenever you can, as Vietnam’s tap water isn’t safe to drink. If you have a salad, or eat fruit without a skin, be sure to ask how they washed the food, and try to avoid opening your mouth in the shower!
7 Things You Need to Know If You Are Going to Madrid For the First Time December 16, 2018
Are you planning to travel to Spain, but you don’t know which city to choose? Here’s why you should definitely go to Madrid:
not only is it the capital of Spain, but it also has its unique charm. After reading this article, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. These seven tips will allow you to get a better understanding of this amazing city and hopefully take the pressure off your very first trip to Madrid.
1 | Geography
Madrid stands 667 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest capital cities in Europe. Its strategic location in the middle of the country enables tourists to easily visit nearby attractions. If you have longer to spend in Madrid, you should definitely check out cities, such as Salamanca, Toledo, Segovia, or Ávila.
[caption id="attachment_834" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Madrid is a high-altitude capital[/caption]
2 | Airport
Unlike other big cities in Europe, Madrid only has one airport: the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas. It is located in the Northeast of Madrid — just twelve kilometers from the city center — making it easy and cheap to take the tube or a taxi to your accommodation. Choose the second option if you’re traveling with lots of luggage. It won’t cost more than 30 euros!
[caption id="attachment_829" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Madrid's airport is conveniently located[/caption]
3 | The Tube
Traveling in Spain is quite cheap compared to other European countries, but remember you will need a travel card to get around. The cards are called Tarjeta Multi and you can easily purchase them from any tube station. I’d highly recommend the “ten journey option” if you’re staying in the city center. You can also share a card with the people you are traveling with, and top up the Tarjeta Multi once it’s run out of money.
4 | Where to Stay
If you have a small budget, I’d highly recommend checking out some of the city’s hostels. On the Gran Via (one of the main streets in Madrid), you can find very affordable room prices. You also won’t need to use public transport to see any of the city’s main attractions, which will save even more money!
[caption id="attachment_835" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Gran Via[/caption]
5 | Walking
Once you are ready to explore the wonderful Madrid, consider walking or cycling. Trust me, it’s the best way to get to know a city, find hidden gems, and feel like a local. You can also hire one of the many public electric bikes (BiciMad) from just two Euros an hour. Whether you’re a sporty or not, these bikes will make your trip much easier as they provide you with extra assistance when you need it the most. They’re especially useful when trying to get up a hill, of which there are several in Madrid!
6 | Food
Whenever I go to a new place, one of the first things I do is taste the local delicacies. If you want to feel like a true Spaniard, you should definitely sample as many tapas dishes as you can.
[caption id="attachment_840" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Trying tapas is a must-do when in Madrid![/caption]
While exploring Madrid you will find multiple bars and restaurants offering great food. You should definitely try Madrid’s signature dish, el bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich). This might sound weird at first, but it’s surprisingly tasty.
Try as many bars as possible, as lots will offer free tapas when you buy a drink. I found one of the best areas for this was the La Latina District.
[caption id="attachment_833" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Get free tapas with your drink at many of Madrid's bars[/caption]
7 | The Best Madrid Attractions
Before starting our day, we enjoyed a great breakfast and coffee in the Malasaña neighborhood. I highly recommend two places in this district: La Bicicleta and Vacaciones Cocktail Bar.
[caption id="attachment_836" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Enjoy a coffee in the Malasaña neighborhood[/caption]
Templo de Debod
Would you like to step back in time to Ancient Egypt? Then you’ve come to the right place! El Templo de Debod is an Ancient Egyptian temple dating back to the second century BC. It was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to save it from floods. Weirdly, there’s a similar one — the Temple of Dendur — in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
This royal palace is situated in the city center and is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but is only used for state ceremonies. They currently live in the Zarzuela Palace.
[caption id="attachment_837" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Palacio Real[/caption]
El Retiro Park
You can’t leave Madrid without seeing this marvelous park. It’s a must-see, and now one of my favorite parks in the world. A crystal palace is hidden within the grounds. It dates back to the 19th century and is home to great art exhibitions.
[caption id="attachment_831" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The hidden crystal palace in El Retiro Park[/caption]
La Puerta del Sol and La Plaza Mayor
These are two most iconic squares in Madrid. The former is known for its iconic New Year’s Eve party, with its traditional “twelve lucky grapes”, where people eat twelve grapes in time with each chime of the clock tower.
[caption id="attachment_838" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] La Plaza Mayor[/caption]
Alcalá de Henares
This nearby village was the birthplace of the well-known author Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote the famous novel, Don Quixote. You can even visit his childhood home!
[caption id="attachment_830" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Alcalá de Henares[/caption]
El Monasterio del Escorial
Less than an hour from Madrid, this UNESCO world heritage site was the biggest building in Europe when it was built. It’s characterized by an austere style and hosts a magnificent library created by King Philip II of Spain.
[caption id="attachment_832" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] El Monasterio del Escorial[/caption]