Cynthia is a freelance travel writer and digital nomad. She shares her travel tips and passion for travel as the content manager for her blog Blue Bag Nomads. She has lived in San Diego (hometown), Asheville, New York City, London, Oslo, and Rome. Her articles have been featured on several luxury websites and in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book — Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Cynthia was kind enough to answer some of our travel questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Cynthia: We have been location independent for three years and counting. In my prior life, I was a magazine owner and editor. After selling the magazine, we moved to New York City. We loved living there, but it made us want to explore other cities and countries. As a freelance writer, there was no reason to stay in one place since you can take it with you wherever you go. So we sold off and packed up our things and started traveling full-time.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Cynthia: We like to find unique locations and off the beaten path places. I do write for a luxury website so you will find some of that too. More importantly, we want to inspire you to travel.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Cynthia: In 2002, we loved going to Beijing, China. It was so unique and different than what we were familiar with. Walking on the Great Wall of China was on our list of things to do, and it was fabulous. Also wanted to see places we had only seen on the news like Tiananmen Square. I loved it so much that five years later, I convinced my two sisters and a niece to go with me on the same tour.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Cynthia: Pyramids in Egypt.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Cynthia: My small travel blanket that I have had for 20 years. I feel at home on planes and at hotels where ever I am with it.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Cynthia: Don’t wait to retire to travel. When you retire, your income changes and possibly your health too. Even if it is only for long weekends — travel now.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Cynthia: One of my favorite things to do is to NOT fly round trip from the same airports. I use what some people call an “open jaw” flight. For example, I will fly from San Francisco to London and then fly home from Paris. This usually is at the same fare as a round trip from a single city. Once you get to Europe, getting from city to city can be very cheap, and you get to see so much more. Want a quick escape? Fly to London for three nights, take the Eurostar to Paris (or if on a budget fly one of the budget airlines), and spend three nights in Paris and fly home from there. There is no need to return to London.
Airlines often offer what are called Layovers or Stopovers. Icelandic Air is famous for their free layover in Iceland on your way to Europe. I consider Iceland very expensive, but other airlines offer free stopovers. Or look at long connection times. We flew from Oakland to Stockholm on our way to Oslo. Our connection had a six-hour stay in Stockholm. This allowed us to take the train into the center of town and wander through Stockholm’s old town at Christmas time. It was the perfect amount of time to get a chance to see a little of the city and enjoy hot cider before going back to the airport to continue to Oslo.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Cynthia: When we learned about house sitting. In most cases, house sitting means pet sitting, so be sure that is something that works for you if you decide to try it. When we went to Europe for nine months last year, we only paid for a total of five nights of lodging. Think about how much money we saved. House sitting also allowed us to stay longer in one area; for example, we spent seven weeks in London, five weeks in Oslo, and four weeks in Rome. We have done house sits from four nights to six months. We currently are looking at a six-week house sit in Cairo, one of the places I have wanted to go.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Cynthia: Yes, I think many worry too much about what they will do when they get there. Women, for whatever reason, like to plan every minute they are traveling, and men, generally, like to wander. For my husband and I, we have found a great compromise of doing some of both. We usually take either a bus or walking tour of a new city the first full day we are there. This allows us to see various parts of the city and get a feel for the area. We will also make a list of three or four things that are must-dos (before we arrive), but the rest is spontaneous. We have discovered some amazing places by wandering. It allows you to stop here or there and not worry about having to be at a particular location. By not having every minute planned, we find it is also a much less stressful way to travel.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Cynthia: From the places we have gone, I would say Prague, Czech Republic. When we were there, it seemed reasonably priced. It is the one place that I felt like I was in a fairy tale because of the old cobbled streets and buildings. The city is beautiful and full of history. Walking across the Charles Bridge will give you amazing views of the castle and town. Oh, and yes, go for a tour of the castle too. There are also many great tours including taking a river cruise that includes coffee and dessert. We made a day trip to an unusual place called Bone Church. Between the day trips, the beautiful city and the prices we found it to be one of our top favorite places to visit.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life? Who were they?
Cynthia: About six years ago we stayed at an Airbnb in Rome, Italy hosted by Dora. She was so welcoming and wanted to make sure everything was just right. She is so positive, and I learned a lot from her. She is still a friend today. Last year, I went and visited with her in Rome. We are planning to get together again next year. One other person very similar to Dora is Norin in Oslo. These two women have become extraordinary friends and have made my life better by knowing them.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Cynthia: They are loud and act like they are the only ones there to see things like the Coliseum. Also in New York City, where walking is a major way of traversing the city, they tend to block the sidewalks. I know it is because they are lost or trying to decide what they want to do next, but please when in NYC if you are out and about and need a moment, step out of the way. Living in NYC, that was one of my biggest dislikes of tourists. Don’t get in the way of a local New Yorker — smile. I am sure NYC is not the only city with this problem, but anywhere that has a lot of tourists. When you are a tourist, try to remember to step aside and not block the way.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Cynthia: Edinburgh, Scotland. Yes, many people know where it is but do they know how exciting it is to visit? When they do visit, most people do not budget enough time there. We were chatting with our taxi driver on our way to the train station (there are two stations so be sure you know which one you need), and we said to him that we wished we had spent more time there. He said that is the number one thing people say. Edinburgh was amazing, and I know we missed a lot. Taking a walking tour helped us see quite a bit, but I wished I had had at least one more full day before we needed to leave. And if you are a Harry Potter fan, you can take a tour of the places JK Rowling got some of her inspiration. Edinburgh is easy to get to from London by train and not that expensive if you can plan in advance. Again, spend more than a day or two; there is a fantastic castle, tons of history and some magical things to see there.