6 tips for the best food experiences abroad

Food and drink are one of my favourite ways to experience a new place. Cuisine plays such a big part of the local cultures you will want to immerse yourself in when abroad. Sure, nowadays you can eat food from pretty much anywhere in your nearest city but it probably will never measure up to the authentic experience. Often times it isn’t the fancy meals that are the best when travelling but the authentic. Here are 6 tips for the best food experiences abroad.

Check if you can drink the tap water

In many places it isn’t safe to drink the tap water so never assume it is! This should be one of the things you research before you fly out so you are well prepared. If tap water isn’t potable either buy bottled water or boil tap water to be used for drinking, cooking, and brushing your teeth. If you drink non-potable water you could be exposing yourself to bacteria which could make you sick and ruin your tip.

Research delicacies your destination is famed for

Another thing which is always on my list to investigate before I go off on a trip is what I should be eating and drinking when there. Are you visiting a famous wine region? Is there a local beer? Is there a signature dish that everyone associates to a country or city? Make sure you know what the must trys are for wherever you are headed to as well as a couple of eateries that are known for it to make sure you don’t miss out.

Eat at food markets / street food

Food markets are a brilliant way to snack your way through multiple local delicacies and can typically be much cheaper and more convenient than sitting down for a meal. My advice is to always try things even if you don’t think you will be a fan! It is better to have an experience once rather than to regret not having it. The smaller portions often typical of food markets means you can try multiple dishes and get a fresh and quick sweet and savoury fix.

Ask locals where they eat

Most hostels and airbnbs are happy to provide food recommendations and often have a prepped list for their guests. I usually ask locals where they eat when I am out and about too so I am not getting a recommendation to a place that hospitality staff think tourists will like or which are affiliated with my accommodation. If your friends and family have previously visited where your destinations, definitely make sure to get their favourites beforehand too!

Ask waiters for their menu recommendations

Although often times waiters simply will respond to this question with the most expensive thing on the menu or the special the chef wants to sell out of, it is always worth asking the question. With a bit of charm and rapport with the wait staff I have found I always get truly good suggestions on my trips and have never regretted a choice.

Share multiple plates with your travel buddy

Now I know some people won’t share food even with their mother but please relax your rules when abroad! I am someone who never knows what to choose on a menu because there is too much I like the look of. I have a couple of travel buddies who are always down to get multiple things to share which means we all get to experience and discover more than if we each just had our own singular plate of food.

Budapest

April 2019

Stunning contrasting architecture, clean streets, brilliant nightlife, a hipster vibe, and hopefully some sunshine. 

Quick Bites

Currency: HUF (Hungarian Forint)
To do: Roam the streets and thermal baths
To stay: Hostels over Airbnb here for sure
How long to stay: 2-3 days
Food: Lángos and kürtőskalács
Vibe: Hipster
Why to go: Walkable destination with plenty of character and sights
Transport: Walk when in the city, bus to and from airport
Best of: Picturesque and clean with a chill vibe
Worst of: Very busy during Easter holidays!
Go with: Small group of friends

Why go to Budapest

Communist era building in Budapest
Communist era buildings make an interesting contrast to the city’s other architecture

Budapest is a popular destination for young adults in Europe looking for a quick break, mainly because it is accessible and cheap. These are the main reasons I went too. A couple of friends and I wanted to get away together but we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to keep things relatively inexpensive. None of us had been to Budapest before so it seemed a perfect fit. I’d say the main reasons to go aside from the above are its beautiful architecture, the famous thermal baths, ruin bars, and the ease with which you can see the place walking around. Most city breaks involve a good street roam (which I love as this is the best way to get a sense of a place), but Budapest is truly the perfect size to see in a couple of days without getting too exhausted and experiencing the different sides of the city. What you get is stunning contrasting architecture, clean streets, brilliant nightlife, a hipster vibe, and hopefully some sunshine. 

What to do in Budapest

The stunning Hungarian Parliament Building from the riverside
The stunning Hungarian Parliament Building from the riverside

Budapest is perfect for a short visit full of busy days. One of my favourite ways to start a city trip is with a free walking tour. Budapest has numerous companies which offer these in various languages so you’ll always find something that suits. Aside from the standard tour they also have street art and communist history tours if you fancy it. Take money out in advance to tip the tour guide at the end if you are travelling reliant on a Revolut or Monzo card to not get caught out like we did, having to take out cash at the end at the only ATM close by which had a charge!

We only did the standard tour which takes you to all the main sights with a good lowdown on the history and culture of the city. We roamed around the rest of the city in our own time. Definitely check out the Jewish Quarter to see some awesome street art and the ruin bars. We didn’t have too long so we didn’t sample many of the ruin bars but we did make a point to go to Szimpla Kert which is one of the most popular and a nearby ruin bar/cub called Fogart. I loved the labyrinth feel of both bars as there were so many rooms to discover and all with different themes. I wish Szimpla had more of a dance floor as I love a dance on a night out, but its was still my favourite as the decor varied so much from room to room (think hipster paraphernalia all around with different themes in each room). The downside at Szimpla was that you couldn’t use card at some bars which in this day and age is a bit of a deal breaker, but either way it’s definitely the kind of place I’d want to go with a group of friends to get some pints in. Next to Szimpla we also found a mini street food/beer garden setup which was amazing called Karaván. It was super chill and a great place to start the night before going for a dance and if you have the stomach, a shot of pálinka.

The National Gallery has a nice collection and has reduced entry for young people which is always a plus. Out of all the options, we chose to visit the famous Széchenyi baths, as it boasts outside baths which were certainly a pull considering the amazing weather we had when we were in Budapest. We also went to have a look at the Parliament up close which is absolutely regal. We didn’t go inside but there are tours you can take (book in advance during busy times). One of my favourite things was walking along the markets on the Buda riverside to get to the Gellért Hill. We walked up (feel free to take your time as after a full day walking it is quite tiring) and found a spot to play cards with some music whilst the sun went down. Once the sun had set all the lights came on and it was impressive to see the Parliament and Fisherman’s Bastion all lit up against the Danube.

How long to spend in Budapest

View from Gellert Hill
Views from the top of Gellért Hill

We spent two full days in Budapest, arriving at around 10pm on a Friday and leaving early morning on the Monday. Frankly, this was enough for me. I think it’s always a good idea to keep a city trip short as you can usually see the sights relatively quickly and discovering more of the charm tends to require living there for several months. Everything is walking distance and unless you really want to do all the tours and see all the museums etc. I think you can enjoy a full but not hectic itinerary for two days. Had we stayed longer maybe we would have entered more of the monuments such as the cathedral and the parliament building as well as exploring more of the famous thermal baths, but to be honest I don’t feel like I missed out by not seeing them. It is definitely a hen/stag destination too if the turnout at the Széchenyi baths was anything to go by.

What baths to go to in Budapest

The Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The Széchenyi Thermal Baths just before they closed to prepare for their spa party

The Széchenyi baths are famous for being the largest in Europe and as they have outdoor baths, these are the ones we decided to visit. To be honest, getting in wasn’t straightforward. We arrived at around 2pm to find a huge line which began to disperse as people were turned away. They were saying they were at full capacity so we started to walk around the complex and found another entrance which appeared to be the main entrance. People still seemed to be getting in here which was quite confusing. We approached the ticket office where we were told that the lockers were sold out but that we could get entry with a changing cabin instead as it was all that was left. It came to around 5800-6000 HUF each, as they charged us one cabin and two lockers, which wasn’t too bad. It was quite busy but there was no escaping this considering the weather and the fact we’d decided to visit during the Easter holidays but we still managed to roam around and let me tell you, the place is HUGE. We spent all our time in the outside baths (one had a whirlpool which was ideal) and didn’t regret it one bit. Although we didn’t have time to visit other baths, here are some that were recommended to us: Rudas Baths (rooftop jacuzzi with views over the city) and the Gellért and Veli Bej Baths (tour guides favourites as they tend to be quieter).

The vibe of Budapest

Roaming around the streets of the Jewish Quarter
Roaming around the streets of the Jewish Quarter

Budapest definitely gets the title of a “hipster” city with all the street art, the laid-back vibe, and the fashionable locals. However, one thing I loved was how clean it was. Returning to London to the sight of trash on the streets after this trip was actually quite sad. Funnily enough, although the city has a relaxed feel, Hungarian is the fastest language I think I’ve ever heard! Honestly, it sounds like breaths are not a thing they take between sentences.

What to eat in Budapest

The most popular dish referenced when talking about Budapest is of course goulash. Now, forgive me, but I didn’t try it. In my defence it was hot and a stew just wasn’t what I fancied. I do love paprika though, so I’m sure it is bomb. We actually ended up being “those tourists” and ate thai (Thai Spicy Nine) and indian (Haveli Indian restaurant) during our stay, both of which were really tasty and satisfied our cravings. Not all is lost though as I did try some typical treats from Budapest including lángos and kürtőskalács.

Kürtőskalács, commonly referred to as chimney cakes are a typical sight in the city and are often sold with ice cream in the middle. We tried chocolate covered, cinnamon sugar covered, and one with ice cream in it. Needless to say, we overestimated our sweet tooth and couldn’t finish the three, but I definitely think the cinnamon sugar one was the best and reminded me of cinnamon sugar pretzels. Another rookie mistake we committed during the trip was to try lángos the same day as the chimney cakes. We tried sour cream and cheese covered lángos as well as the garlic covered lángos. Though they were both tasty it was just too rich after our chimney cakes in the morning (imagine deep fried dough doused in cream and cheese following a cinnamon and sugar doughnut). My favourite taste wise was definitely the garlic one. The sour cream is traditional but it didn’t have that much flavour and I think cheese toppings are always best when melted.

We had some lovely iced lattes from local coffee shops, however, don’t ask for a hazelnut latte (my typical coffee order) as the one I had from the cafe at the National Gallery cafe was so heavy on the syrup I almost gagged. On a food note, I have to call out the fact that they had Tesco! Tesco is a staple supermarket in the UK but I had never seen it outside the country, so it was funny to see them everywhere. Pálinka is the traditional fruit brandy you will find in Hungary, we tried a shot and being lightweights it didn’t go down well, but don’t let that stop you! The free walking tour handed out a pamphlet with a list of foods to try amongst other useful information, so if you need inspiration aside from the above, look there.

Transport in Budapest and getting there

Budapest is a great destination for students in the UK and around Europe as the flights to and from are relatively cheap. My friends and I went during public holidays in Britain as we were short on holiday days (downside of the adult work life) but wanted to get away somewhere together. Of course this meant that the tickets were significantly more expensive than the usual. I ended up paying around £170 (I know friends who have gone for around £50) for flights.

The cheapest way (and pretty convenient) to get into the city is to take the bus. Take bus 100E and for which you can buy tickets at the machines with card. *Buy the airport transfer ticket to get to the city!* Rookie move, but we bought the normal ticket and the driver was not having it (we weren’t the only ones to have made the mistake). We ended up not using the original ticket we’d bought, but fear not if you make this mistake as the ticket won’t expire and you can use it for a single ride on any bus, or even better, on the public river boat to avoid paying for a tour boat (a ride on the river is a good way to see the beautiful city lit up at night). I really recommend walking around the city, so although there is a good bus system, bring a good pair of walking shoes and a bottle of water as it can get hot in spring/summer, oh and sun cream if you are pasty like a couple of us are…

Where to stay in Budapest

"People used to live here" placard
I love a sarcastic placard, this one was found in the Jewish Quarter, where we stayed

As a group of three we thought we could get a cool Airbnb for a decent price, however, the posting was a bit of a catfish. The host was an hour late, the place was dirty, we found several cigarette butts around the property, we had no WiFi, and the only actual bed (not questionable sofa bed) was broken. The bed had been propped up by an empty bottle of Jack and some tape. Needless to say it was probably one of my worst Airbnb experiences although I am in general a fan of the service. I have had a look since and there are numerous awesome looking hostels (that all look super clean) in the city which frankly I wish I’d stayed at. My friends and I had a good laugh about the accommodation situation and we were out most of the time so it didn’t put a downer on our trip, but its definitely a destination where I’d choose a hostel over an Airbnb if you’re looking to keep things cheap but clean. If you know you are going during a busy period also book in advance! It could have been that all the best deals on Airbnb had been snapped up as it was Easter.

Make the trip moments

The outside of the quirky Szimpla ruin bar
The outside of the quirky Szimpla ruin bar
  • The whirlpool at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath (it was mayhem when groups of people joined simultaneously, we loved it)
  • Watching the sunset whilst playing cards atop Gellért Hill and then seeing the city all lit up at night
  • Checking out all the rooms in Szimpla Kert (the oldest ruin bar) and trying Pálinka (definitely not our drink)
  • Paying hardly anything (by London standards) to skip the queue at Fogas, dancing to cheesy music, and being close enough to walk home after!
  • Soaking up the sun at Olympia Park (by the Parliament building) whilst playing cards. 
  • Seeing the state of our Airbnb (my friends and I are the kind that laugh at our misfortunes)
  • Almost missing the bus in the wee hours of the morning to the airport (we were on the wrong side on the street at a massive intersection), we ran like madmen through the underpass to make it
  • Being separated from my friends who were on a different flight at the airport on the way back, only to be surprisingly reunited and playing cards (our obsession this trip) right up until our gates had almost closed and we had to run off
  • Getting asked by a man at 11:30pm if we knew where there is a bakery open. Me being me, I thought the man really wanted cake so I told him I thought I’d seen one down the street but it was closed. Only after he’d left did my friends make me aware that it was probably code for something (still don’t know what)

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI)

February 2019

Think American hospitality and service coupled with the relaxed laid-back vibe you would expect of an island paradise with turquoise waters, plus sea turtles.

Quick Bites

Currency: USD
Driving: Left side
To do: Beach, snorkelling, hiking
To stay: Airbnb for affordable quirky stays
How long to stay: 5-7 days
Food: Fish or Barefoot Buddha’s sweet potato wrap!
Vibe: Chilled
Why to go: Beautiful beaches, good vibes, and sea turtles!
Transport: Get a car if you can afford it for convenience and the freedom to explore
Best of: The beaches and the snorkelling
Worst of: Disorganised airport rental companies and cruise tourists
Go with: Partner, but works for friends or a family beach getaway

Why to go to the USVI

The USVI in the Caribbean, I ignorantly didn’t even know they existed before a friend suggested we go. To be fair I live in the UK, and for me the British Virgin Islands stirred up thoughts of private islands and Richard Branson, but I never thought to question why the British was in front – turns out it’s to distinguish. So how did I come to go to a place I’d never heard of? Long story short my travel companion couldn’t leave the US whilst waiting for a visa but we wanted to go on a trip and we wanted sun, so he did some research and it came down to Hawaii or the USVI. He’d just been to Hawaii (without me, how dare he) so we settled on the USVI as it offered sun, beautiful waters, snorkelling, and a good size for exploration, which in my opinion are all the reasons to go.

Which islands to go to in the USVI

A rock piling with a view of the ocean and boats behind
A pile of rocks and coral we came across whilst walking along the Leinster Bay Trail, there was tons of coral by the shore – Waterlemon Bay

There are three main island in the USVI: St Thomas, St Croix, and St John. Each island is different and which you visit will depend on your budget, time, and preference. For us the limiting variable was time. I have made the mistake of not spending enough time somewhere before and it is not one I wanted to make again. The cheapest flights we’d found flew into St Thomas and we had a little over 7 days to play with. St John is right next to St Thomas (a 20 min or so ferry ride), so it was the natural choice for us. St Thomas is the main island and significantly large than St John, with a “people actually live and work here” feel. St John was far quieter but also noticeably more touristy in the main town due to its size. It’s less built up as it’s a national park and this is one of the reasons it was my favourite of the two. St John fits the secluded island paradise criteria without being too secluded. Although there was a large amount of tourist traffic, it all felt pretty relaxed, no one harassing you to do a tour or anything of the sort. One of the most off putting things of St Thomas was the large amount of cruise traffic. There is a strip mall full of souvenir and jewellery shops dedicated to these visitors and the beaches are jammed with them. Tourism is important to the economy of the island but in an ideal world I’d selfishly have them skip the USVI to prevent the crowds.

What to do on the USVI

A man with a snorkel mask on
Just before we went snorkelling in Waterlemon Cay – St John

I’d call out the snorkelling. You can dive, fish, etc. on the islands but snorkelling is the one thing you see everyone doing, mainly because its cheap and convenient, as long as you can swim you are good to go. If you are looking to get your diving license, make sure you factor in the time as it will take you a few days. I’ve heard there are some cool dive sites though, including some ship wrecks which I’ve always wanted the chance to dive!

How long to spend in the USVI

A woman standing in front of a golden sunset on the beach
Sunset at Magens Bay, our Airbnb was somewhere towards the top of the hill – St Thomas

I spent seven full days in the USVI, arriving on Thursday afternoon and leaving on Friday afternoon. I split this into four nights on St John and four nights on St Thomas. The decision to spend the first four nights on St John was down to our Airbnb’s minimum stay, although I am grateful we did as it was my favourite island and as it’s smaller, we had originally thought to spend only three nights there. I wish I’d spent fewer nights in St Thomas, particularly as our Airbnb ended up having bed bugs. Flying from the UK (with an atrocious eight hour overnight stopover in JFK during the arctic cold front at the end of Jan 2019, followed by a four hour wait for my friend’s delayed flight) I wanted to spend at least a week on the islands to justify the travel time, however, you can definitely make the trip shorter if you live closer. Without a car I would suggest staying less time because it’s harder to get around to do things. Equally, if you quickly get bored of beaches and snorkelling and want a greater variety of things to do, you don’t need to spend longer than 5 or so days.

What beaches to go to on the USVI

Lindquist Beach in St Thomas
The beautiful Lindquist beach on St Thomas – one of my favourites on this island

You can’t really go wrong with any beach on these islands as they deliver the white sand and turquoise water ideal that everyone hopes for in “paradise”. I’ll continue to sing the praises of St John as it was so clearly my favourite. Quite simply St John is a smaller island, harder to get to and less populated (the cruise ships don’t directly dock there), meaning the beaches are emptier without being totally deserted. This is the same with the snorkel spots – in St John you find a few fellow friendly snorkelers rather than the larger groups on St Thomas. Magens Bay in St Thomas is famously known as one of the world’s best beaches, but precisely because of that it’s packed and was my least favourite beach. On St Thomas my favourites were Coki Point, a small beach where all the rastas hang out, and Lindquist Beach where you got the secluded feel of St Johns as it’s a large beautiful beach without too many people. Also check out the Mermaid’s chair – you have to hike down but you literally find yourself at the end of the island with the opportunity to clamber amongst some awesome rocks. We did this when it was pouring down with rain but it sure made the hike back cooler. On St John my favourite was Trunk Bay due to the beautiful setting. You’ll have to pay parking and entry to the beaches on St Thomas beaches whereas on St John you don’t have to, another perk in case I hadn’t banged on enough about St John!

The vibe of the USVI

Sunset in Waterlemon Bay
The sun setting at Waterlemon Bay, beaut, but not fun to get back from without a car – St John

The USVI definitely has that relaxed and chilled island vibe. At times I still felt I was in the mainland States rather than the Caribbean due to all the tourist influence (particularly on the restaurants) but the pace was definitely different. The island paradise feel definitely makes it a couples destination but it’s suitable for family and friends too. Just don’t go there expecting to be bouncing off the walls all day, you go there to chill. Think American hospitality and service coupled with the relaxed laid-back vibe you would expect of an island paradise with turquoise waters, plus sea turtles.

What to eat at the USVI

Unfortunately I didn’t try any local food on the island but I got a recommendation for Gwen’s Place on St John that I will pass on to you to try! There is all sorts of food on the island but I’ll give you my top recommendations for each island I visited. In St John it has to be The Longboard which had absolutely bomb poke bowls, so good that we went back twice. Definitely try their Frozen Painkillers which in my opinion are made by the grated nutmeg on top of them. I had a couple of days with an upset stomach (not because of any food, I think it was just my natural reaction to the different bacterias in the water) but once I got my appetite back in St Thomas I had a real craving for Mexican food and loved the nachos and quesadilla we had in Bonita’s Cantina, particularly as Mexican food in the UK is notoriously rubbish, I’m glad we found it. Another favourite we repeated in St Thomas was Barefoot Buddha which aside from having great coffee had a sweet potato spinach and goats cheese wrap which was the stuff of dreams.

Transport in the USVI and getting there

Boats on the water at Waterlemon Bay St John
Waterlemon Bay along the Leinster Bay Trail – St John

The cheapest option is to fly into St Thomas and then get ferries to the other two islands. I paid £700 for my return ticket from LHR which I was pretty happy with considering the distance.

Once on the islands there are plenty of taxis, most of them being safari taxis. The local buses aren’t exactly timely or reliable so it’s best to travel by taxi or rent a car. Unfortunately for us, we were slight disasters, didn’t plan our trip, and there were no rental cars available when we arrived to St Thomas, so we made a reservation to pick one up on the Monday, the day we got back from St John. We tried to rent a car in St John but all the companies only rented cars (I should say Wranglers because that is literally all there was on the island) to people older than 25, criteria we unfortunately didn’t meet. Luckily for us our Airbnb host provided us the number of Nellie, a local lady who is St John’s “uber”, i.e. if you call her she’ll pick you up. This was super useful as we sometimes irresponsibly went far away from town and stayed after dark, past when any taxis were returning to town from the beach, and we wouldn’t have had a way to get home without hitchhiking if we didn’t have her number. People are super nice on the island so someone will pick you up if you are really stranded. This happened to us the day we left, the one time Nellie hadn’t been available and a kind local took us to the port after he took pity on us hiking down with our backpacks. Prices vary but our standard fare was $10-15 for two people, with our most expensive fare having been the taxi from St Thomas airport to the ferry station to get over to St John which was around $30 for two of us. In St Thomas we had a car after a long wait at the rental office (they’re not the most organised bunch) and it was worth it to have the freedom to do what we wanted when we wanted. The island isn’t pedestrian friendly if you really want to see it all (something I had to get used to as a Londoner) and although the car rental was relatively expensive and we had to pay for parking at beaches, it isn’t something we regretted, I just wish we’d had a car on St John.

Where to stay in the USVI

Woman with a hat on looking at the USVI
Artsy photos, perks of travel with friends – somewhere along the Leinster Bay Trail, St John

Accommodation at hotels can be expensive on the islands, particularly on smaller ones like St John. I’m not a fan of hotels as I find them impersonal so I always opt for Airbnbs anyway and was pleased to find there were some reasonably priced places on both islands. Thank God for that because I can’t afford a £2k a night hotel room which seemed to be the alternative.

Make the trip moments

Man at Mermaid's Chair St Thomas
Clambering around the rocks at the Mermaid’s Chair, just before it chucked it down with rain – St Thomas
  • Seeing the turquoise water beaches for the first time
  • Walking back to town in St John in the dark, with my speaker blaring my anthem at the time, Nice for What – Drake
  • Our first dinner at The Longboard
  • The outdoor shower at our St John Airbnb – super peaceful
  • Getting absolutely drenched at the Mermaid’s Chair
  • Snorkelling at Watermelon Cay – such diversity and no-one around!
  • Seeing my first sea turtle whilst snorkelling in St John and having it come up to take a breath next to me
  • Norma, a lady we met on our last day who couldn’t walk well. We spoke with her for a while during which I offered to help her get into the water, an offer she refused. Norma tried to go in herself but started to retreat when she felt unsteady. Everyone on the beach went running to help her get in and we got her a noodle so she could hold her balance in the water. I loved seeing how caring the people on the beach were, and that day Norma was my hero for pure determination and stubbornness, YAS Norma