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2014 Travel Highlights

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
What a year! I think it's fair to say that this has been my most memorable year of travels yet. Twenty-fourteen brought me to 10 countries and almost 30 different cities, each of which captured my heart in a unique way. I've savored many mouthwatering meals, had countless laughs with friends while on the road, and fine-tuned my ability to cram as much stuff into one carry-on as humanly possible. As I look back on the past 365 days, I feel ridiculously blessed. I can only hope that 2015 will be just as legendary! So without further ado, here are my favorite travel memories of 2014:

Discovering my Dutch roots in Amsterdam

Getting my first taste of Eastern Europe in Budapest

Uncovering the hidden gems of Northern France 
(And seeing Disclosure in Lille!)

Visiting fairytale Prague with my momma

... and then continuing the mother-daughter bonding in Vienna

Fulfilling my childhood dreams in Bavaria

Falling in love with Northern Spain in Asturias

Soaking up the sun and stuffing my face with feta in Greece

Spending the summer back home in Seattle

Eating and drinking my way through Spanish wine country

Exploring Istanbul with my best friend

Spending time with family and friends in San Francisco

Cheers to a 2015 that's just as epic! Happy New Year, everybody!

Madrid, A Love Story (Through Instagram)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Whenever people ask me what my favorite part about living in Madrid is, I never know what to say. It's impossible to choose just one thing! Over the past 13 months of living here, my love for this city has snowballed. Aside from the lifestyle, the language, and working at a job I love, it's the city's many hidden gems and small details that have truly won over my heart. 

Here's what makes me fall more and more in love with Madrid as each day passes, as seen through the lens of my iPhone:


My beautiful Madrid, how will I ever leave you? (Maybe I won't.) I'm certainly not ready to give you up anytime soon, so it seems as if I may need to rework my plans for next year...

Want to see more of Madrid? (Of course you do. It's the best city in the world!) Follow along with me on Instagram @courtneylikkel, or find me and Lauren of Lauren on Location Instagramming at @madridfoodtour.

Packing Essentials for the Savvy Female Traveler

Monday, December 15, 2014
'Tis the season for traveling! Whether the holidays bring you across the ocean for several weeks or to a new city for a quick weekend getaway, there are certain staples that you'll want to remember to pack. After countless trips of forgetting basic items here and there, I've finally created the ultimate packing list so I don't forget to bring anything crucial. Here is my list of packing essentials for the savvy female traveler:

Of course these are just the basics - if you plan on doing any outdoorsy things or are going somewhere especially hot or cold, you'll want to pack accordingly! Or if you're one of those  people who hit the gym every morning on vacation, you can add work out gear to your list. (I'll applaud you from afar, ya psychos.) And don't forget something to store your dirty clothes in - I always bring an empty pillow case with a dryer sheet inside!

Still not quite sure what to pack? Here's the run down on my favorite travel essentials:

1. When I fly, I always carry a cashmere scarf as a make-shift blanket. Airplanes are notoriously chilly, but the blankets provided by the airlines can really trouble my inner-germaphobe. Plus, if you're packing for autumn or winter, you can never bring too many scarves!

2. A cozy sweater for layering is a must. Despite the fact that I'm generally cold on airplanes, those few experiences where I've felt as if I were melting have taught me that layering is the only solution to varying airplane temperatures. Casual tee + loose fitting sweater = problem solved. This also applies to cheap hostels with unpredictable heating and cooling systems.

3. Tokyo Milk Gin & Rosewater Shea Butter Lotion is the most delicious smelling hand lotion I've ever owned. Not only does it smell heavenly, but it also does a pretty good job of keeping my hands moisturized during long flights and cold weather. 

4. Thank you, Parisian purse gods. My Longchamp Le Pliage Tote has been my trusty sidekick for over three years now, and it is my absolute saving grace. It can fit just about anything inside - and after all of our adventures, it's still in decent condition. This bag is a must for when you need to stuff as much as possible into one carry-on, or when you need a make-shift camera bag while sightseeing. 

5. I can't get enough of Fresh Sugar Lip Balm, my favorite lip color for on-the-go. Subtle and understated, these are perfect for powering through travel days without looking like a zombie. I alternate between the Berry and Coral colors when I'm going for the I'm still half asleep minimalist look. (Which is basically every day that I have to wake up before 8 am.)

6. I will never, ever understand the people who wear heels when they travel. For me, comfort > style every time. (... which is why I'm not a fashion blogger.) On long flights, you can find me wearing my moccasins... that is, my moccasins that bear an uncanny resemblance to slippers. Some might even go as far to say that they actually are slippers. Your call. 

7. Packing Rule #1: always bring extra socks! Since my feet are always cold on planes (and in general), I always carry a spare pair of socks in my purse to whip out once I buckle my seatbelt. No shame. 

8. Pretty iPad cases make me feel chic even when I'm reading the nerdiest of books. Plus, they're helpful for when you need to cram as much stuff as possible into your carry-on, but you don't want to scratch your tablet. (Because who knows what will end up in the chaotic abyss that is my Longchamp?)

What are your travel essentials? 
Would you add anything to this packing list?

5 Best Day Trips from Madrid

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
The 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! | Adelante

While Madrid is a mecca of art, culture and world-renowned gastronomy, sometimes it's necessary to escape its bustling metropolis for some fresh country air. Thankfully there are plenty of countryside escapes to be found just outside of Spain's largest city, each offering their own unique set of charms and attractions. Of the many jaunts just a stone's throw away from the capital, here are the five best day trips from Madrid that you simply can't miss:

Toledo: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |

Once the former capital of Spain, the historical city of Toledo defines old world charm. This medieval hilltop town is one of the most sublime and picturesque views into Spain's glory days. 

Toledo's must-see attractions include the Cathedral of Saint Mary, the Alcázar fortress, the El Greco Museum, the Church of Santo Tome and the Museum of Santa Cruz. However, the best way to transport yourself back into Toledo's captivating past is by strolling through the town and getting lost within its colorful, charismatic streets.

Toledo: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |


Travel time: 
35 minutes by high speed train

How to get there: 
Take the AVE high speed train from Madrid's Atocha station. 
Get off ~35 minutes later at the Estación de Toledo. 
Take bus #5, #61 or #62 to Plaza de Zocodover.

Segovia: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |

Emanating charm and character, Segovia is the perfect place to step back in time and live within a fairytale. Just a 30 minute train ride away from Madrid, this picturesque medieval town is the ideal escape from city life. 

While Segovia is most famous for its historic Roman aqueduct, it also boasts an impressive castle and cathedral. The Alcázar of Segovia is even said to be one of the several castles that inspired Walt Disney! Wander through the romantic alleys, enjoy a glass of vino tinto in the lively Plaza Mayor, savor Segovia's gastronomic specialty of cochinillo - roasted suckling pig, and climb to the top of the Alcázar for breathtaking panoramas of the city. 

Segovia: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |


Travel time:
30 minutes by high speed train

How to get there:
Take the AVE high speed train from Madrid's Chamartín station. 
Get off ~30 minutes later at the Estación de Segovia-Guiomar. 
Take bus #11 to the Aqueduct.

Ávila: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |

This quaint pueblo  is most famous for its ancient medieval walls surrounding the town, also known as La Muralla de Ávila. From atop these walls you can admire spectacular views of the colorful village below, as well as the rolling hills of the Spanish countryside in the distance. 

Although the sights to see are limited, the old-fashioned squares and quiet alleys nestled within the walls are perfect for wandering aimlessly. With nuns ambling down the street and abuelos  leisurely chatting in picturesque plazas, Ávila takes small town charm to a whole new level.

Ávila: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |


Travel time:
1 hour and 30 minutes by train
For a quicker and easier journey, consider renting a car with EasyTerra

How to get there:
Take the train from Madrid's Chamartín station.
Get off ~90 minutes later at the Estación de Ávila.
The city center is a 12-15 minute walk away.

Alcalá de Henares: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |

More than just your average Spanish small town, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is where acclaimed author Miguel de Cervantes was born and baptized. Nestled between the old buildings and lively plazas, one can find many homages to the iconic creator of Don Quixote

Alcalá de Henares is also home to one of the oldest universities in the world, and it's where Christopher Columbus had his first meeting with the Catholic Monarchs to receive funding for his voyage to America. Be sure to check out the city's many tapas bars and the medieval Cervantes festival held in the fall.

Alcalá de Henares: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |


Travel time:
45 minutes by train

How to get there:
Take the C2 or C7 commuter train from Madrid's Atocha, Chamartín or Nuevos Ministerios stations.
Get off ~45 minutes later at the Estación de Alcalá de Henares.
The city center is a 10-12 minute walk away.

El Escorial: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |

Just an hour northwest of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, you can find a gargantuan royal complex in the small, pristine town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Commissioned in the 16th century by King Felipe II, this regal structure houses a royal palace, a monastery, a school, a church and a Royal Pantheon where most Spanish kings from the past five centuries are buried. 

Only a short drive away is the Valley of the Fallen, Franco's monument honoring those who were killed in the Spanish Civil War (and where the fascist dictator himself is buried). While not as romantic or charming as the other day trips from Madrid, this royal complex is brimming with captivating history.

El Escorial: 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! |


Travel Time:
1 hour by bus

How to Get There:
Take bus #661 or #664 from Madrid's Intercambiador de Moncloa bus station.
Get off ~1 hour later at the San Lorenzo de El Escorial bus station.

Have you ever taken a day trip from Madrid?
What are some of your favorite day trips in Europe?

The 5 best day trips from Madrid - all less than 2 hours away from the city center! | Adelante