Last weekend, Ben and I headed east to the Philadelphia to attend the wedding of two of our dearest friends, Lindsey and Nick. In between the festivities (eating, dancing, drinking, and more eating), we took time to explore the city (ahem, eat and drink more). I didn’t know much about Philly prior to our visit and was struck by the history, art, and foodie culture that permeates the city of Brotherly Love.
My trip Philadelphia marked the second point in what will be a seven-weekend travel spree this fall. I began last weekend in Portland, and between more weddings, a trip to meet my brand new niece in Kansas City (my sister had her baby on Friday: beautiful Genevieve Rose), and a Notre Dame football game, I will be on the move right through mid-October. I absolutely adore traveling (hence the entire travel section of this blog), but when many trips happen in rapid succession like this, it wears upon even some as wanderlust-riddled as myself.
This isn’t my first tango with a travel-heavy schedule, and over years of racking up the frequent flyer miles, I’ve learned a few critical tips to keep myself healthy and sane. Whether you are a total travel junkie or just want a few suggestions for a more pleasant travel experience, try these Top 5 Travel Tips.
Top 5 Travel Tips
1) It’s in the bag.
Finding the right travel bag to carry my essentials—laptop, charger, current read, and everything from item #3 below—onto the plane has been a multi-year process. I know that might sound ridiculous, but after hauling numerous bags across moving walkways, shoving them into overhead bins, and furtively digging through them in search of my boarding pass while the rest of the plane stares with impatient distain, I’ve come to value the importance of finding just the right bag to stay organized and protect my belongings. I love my three-compartment shoulder bag from Baggalini, which sadly as far as I can tell has been discontinued, though this one looks like a decent substitute.
I place my laptop in the center, my chargers and snacks on one side, then actually put my smaller purse inside of the third compartment, so that I can easily grab it and hit the city when I arrive.
2) Spend your time wisely.
There’s a reason I never travel without my Kindle, tiny but mighty emergency portable cell phone charger (this thing is amazing!), and fully juiced laptop. As long as you aren’t the one behind the wheel, travel time is prime time for both work and leisure. At 39,000 feet, you are away from your desk, your cell phone, and other pesky interruptions. For me, aboard a plane is the time when I conduct some of my most productive work, and for those who prefer not to (or can’t) work when they travel, it’s an excellent time to catch up on your latest novel or favorite podcasts. Whatever you love to do, be sure you bring the right equipment to make the most of your time, be it a book or your earbuds.
3) Snack smart.
Ben jokes that I never travel without a three-course meal, and in some respects he is right. I’m a grouch when I’m hungry, and I loathe being stuck in an airport or unknown city without easy access to affordable, healthy snacks. At the airport, I always make sure I have more snacks than I need so that I can stay full and happy in the event of any travel delays, and when I’m out exploring at my destination, I keep a few extra snacks in my purse too.
4) Sleep well.
When your laptop battery dies (or your internal battery is running low on energy), take advantage of travel time to squeeze in a few extra zzzzzzs.
Laughing at the idea of falling asleep on a plane or car ride? You’d be amazed by how much a sleep mask (yes, I wear mine on public airplanes), set of earplugs, and travel-friendly inflatable neck pillow can do.
5) Make a “Go” bag.
At a certain point in a slew of travel, packing and unpacking your toiletries becomes acutely annoying. Keep an extra set of travel-sized essentials in a bag that you always have packed and ready. Mine includes everything from toothpaste, to an extra razor, to deodorant, to a spare hairbrush.
OK, now that we’ve covered the basics of travel survival, all of which I employed on our recent trip, let’s talk Philly! Much of the weekend was filled with wedding festivities, but we did manage to squeeze in a few of the city highlights.
My dear friend Lisa and I decided to fly in early to take advantage of the city before the wedding began, then Ben joined us a day later. Our favorite stops were:
A stop through Independence Hall at the Constitution Center is a must when in Philadelphia. Tours are free and engaging, and it is truly something special to stand in the very room where some of the greatest minds in our country’s history debated and signed the Constitution, a document that has shaped our nation.
For faster entry, reserve your ticket in advance. It’s only $1.50/ticket and will guarantee your spot.
Across from Independence Hall, you’ll find the Liberty Bell, which is also free to view. Prior to our visit, I knew little about it beyond the crack. This free visit gave me a new level of respect for the bell’s significance to many groups who have struggled for their rights, from slaves seeking freedom to women fighting for suffrage.
Truly one of the most unique places I’ve experienced. Hidden within the city, this maze of mosaic art is a beautiful, intriguing place to explore and reflect. The entire space is the work of a single artist, Isaiah Zagar, a man whose pieces can be found all over the city and include a mosaic fireplace installed in the bride’s backyard!
If you love Impressionism, decorative arts, or prefer museums that you can satisfactorily tour in two hours instead of two months, the Barnes Collection is an ideal stop. This impressive array of works that range from Renoir, to Picasso, to Pennsylvania Dutch furniture was amassed by a single man, Albert C. Barnes. The works are displayed as he had them originally arranged in his home, so you can truly gain a sense of Barnes’ aesthetic and deep appreciation for art in many forms.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Although we didn’t tour the Philadelphia Museum of Art (lack of time/museum stamina) a climb to the top of the steps, a la Rocky, is a must in Philly, if for no other reason that to take in the skyline view.
Ben Franklin Museum
A fast, simple stop where you can learn more about one of the greatest minds in history. If you have 45 extra minutes, a fascination with Franklin, or just need to escape into some AC, the $5 admission to the Ben Franklin Museum is worth the stop.
Since our wedding hosts graciously covered almost all of our dinners, we didn’t have *quite* as many food stops as I might in a typical travel post. That said, we certainly did not leave hungry.
Reading Terminal Market + Termini Bros
You can find just about anything you’d want to eat, along with about 200 items you didn’t even know you were craving at Reading Terminal Market, an enormous collection of indoor foodstalls. From cheesesteaks, to fried chicken, to fresh juices, to mac ‘n’ cheese balls, to a killer burrito bowl, Reading Terminal has it all. Let your stomach be your guide.
I do, however, insist that you stop at Termini Bros for a homemade cannoli, which a friendly staff member will fill for you right on the spot. Choose the original chocolate chip ricotta filling—this is very important.
The staff will also offer you a to-go box. Don’t even pretend. The proper thing to do is to step out of the way of the eager line, open wide, and enjoy what will surely be one of the greatest dessert experiences of your life. I don’t typically even like cannoli, and I inhaled mine on the spot. At this point, you can get back into the line to order another to go (or not to go).
Nomad Roman Pizza
Ben and I stopped at Nomad Roman Pizza at the recommendation of a friend before our red-eye home, and oh my. Our wood-oven pies were competition for the best pizza I’ve eaten outside of Italy itself. We plowed through two full-sized pizzas, and honestly they were so good, we would have tried for a third if we didn’t have to get ourselves to the airport in a semi-coherent state.
After pizza, we rolled down the street to Capogiro for scratch-made gelato. HEAVEN. My cup was a combo of the deepest, darkest chocolate gelato I’ve ever tasted (their description of it as “rich, black, and serious” did not lie), with a scoop of hazelnut snuggled in beside it.
Le Bok Fin
Enjoy your brew with a view at Le Bok Fin, a pop-up restaurant and bar on top of a reclaimed school building. It’s delightfully urban and hipster, and the shot of downtown Philly is worth signing the waiver (seriously) and riding the service elevator to the eighth floor.
Paesano’s Philly Style
I first heard about this cash-only, no-frills Italian deli located in the heart of the south Philly 9th Street Italian Market via Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, and it came highly recommended by just about everyone I consulted for food recommendations in Philadelphia. The sandwiches are satisfying, enormous, stuffed with authentic Italian goodness, and in my mind, a far wiser pick over a cheesesteak (though if you must have a cheesesteak, head down the street to Pat’s).
And speaking of cheesesteaks….
I didn’t eat one! I know, I know, maybe it’s a crime to leave Philadelphia without having eaten a cheesesteak, but the baguette stuffed with sundried tomato chicken, salami, creamy herbed cheddar, and aged provolone from Paesano’s I ate instead was much more appealing to me than diced steak whizzed with canned cheese. Perhaps I missed out (and I am still somewhat cheesesteak curious), but I’m taking it as a good reason to return to Philadelphia.