This past Christmas I decided to spend the holidays overseas. Well, to be honest, the decision was made in Sept. 2019, after scouring Google Flights for various itineraries that fit the dates I had vacation time.
As (most) of you know, I am an educator. One of the great things about this profession is having a lot of embedded holiday time. I get this question asked so many times: “Why do you travel on Christmas? Don’t you want to be with your family on that day?”
The reality is that while I love my family immensely, I am not hung up on a “mandated” calendar event that would keep me away from exploring the world. I am fortunate enough to live in the same city as my immediate family, so I have access to them whenever! Plus, I actually cherish the non-holiday times I spend with them more, because it isn’t some kind of obligatory event, where we’re all coming together because everyone else is.
Typically, when searching flights, I leave the destination open or just specify a reason. I do this mainly because I want to go where the deals are. So if it so happens there’s a flight to the Carib under $350 r/t to an island I’ve not been to before, I’m game! If you want to know the top sites I use to save money on flights, check out this post.
So, back in September when I did a search on Google Flights and I saw I could go to Amsterdam for $411, to be exact. It was a no-brainer. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
I arrived in Amsterdam a little after 12PM, Christmas morning. Thankfully, my AirBnb was about a 40 commute via bus. I love to err on the side of public transportation, especially when in metropolitan cities for no other reason than because it’s the cheapest bet.
Budget travel is the name of the game and thankfully Google Maps works everywhere there are public transit systems. Complete with timestamps of when the next bus or train are scheduled to arrive, using this app has helped me out in past journeys, but particularly for this trip. I used the bus and train E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E and it was seamless.
During the 5 days I spent in Amsterdam, I did a myriad of things, included visiting two other countries. Below I’m going to highlight some of the things I did and places I went, so if you want to know more, keep on reading.
Day Trip to Germany
My first full day, I woke up super early to catch the first direct train to Düsseldorf, Germany. Knowing that I was so close to Germany, I just had to give it a visit. Weeks before my journey, I booked a roundtrip train ticket through NS International. I paid about the USD equivalent to 40 bucks for a 2 hour, 15 minute direct train ride.
During my time there, I spent a few hours in a lovely coffee shop, grading papers (because, well…deadlines). But the highlight of the time I spent there was a free walking tour I took with Twentytour. Free walking tours are a staple of my travels, as it allows you to be guided to pertinent areas, with a bit of context added by the host.
The tour I booked was held in Spanish, because that was the only language tour offered that day. Although I’m not super fluid in Español, I can definitely latch on, so that didn’t stop me from joining the group of about 25-ish people.
Our guide took us around to various hotspots in the epicenter of Düsseldorf, and it was quite nice to be in this group. I’m all for wandering around and getting lost, but having. someone take you to the pertinent areas, vs. finding them on your own is great, especially when you’re on a time constraint.
Day Trip to Belgium
Another one of my days was spent in the city of Brugges, Belgium. Through one of my favorite sites for excursions, Viator, I was able to find a tour that included rountrip transportation and a guided tour through one of Belgium’s most popular cities.
There were a few things I appreciated about this trip. Foremost, the scenic route. It was about a 3 hour ride to Brugges, each way, but it was so lovely to zip down the highways of both countries to take in the landscape.
Another awesome thing was the balance between the guided portion of the tour, and open time. Upon getting off the bus in Brugges, we were handed headphones to listen to our guide, Peter, as he explained the things we were seeing along our route.
After walking about 30 minutes as a group, we had the option to eat lunch at a place he recommended before having 4 hours of free time. Naturally, I opted to eat at his recommended place, and it did not disappoint!
The rest of my time was spent finding the quieter streets in which to take some photos, and of course, stuffing this face of mine.
Belgium is known for two thing: chocolate and waffles, so I made sure to have both while there. Yes…it was worth the hype!
Day Trip to The Country-Side of Holland
Depending on where I’m at, if I have the opportunity to get out of the city, area, I’ll do it. I was so happy to see that Viator offered a tour to see the Holland most don’t get to go to.
This half-day tour took us to four different places that I never knew of prior: Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam, and Marken.
I enjoyed being on this trip. Albeit a bit nippy, we were able to tour small towns and villages, which gave a huge insight on life outside of the big city.
The greatest part of this excursion for me, no doubt, was our second stop: the visit to a cheese & clog factory. During this time, we got to see a demonstration on the process it takes to make cheese and the famous footwear of The Netherlands, clogs. Check out the videos below to see what I’m talking about!
All in all, this 6.5 hour venture was great and well worth the $33 price tag that accompanied it. I highly encourage taking a tour outside the main city of Amsterdam, if you get the opportunity to!
A Night of Jazz
As an avid Airbnb user for accommodations, it’s only natural that I use it for the other part of its platform: Airbnb Experiences.
I’ve been using it for some years now, and it never disappoints, because it the site allows you to have different encounters based on your interest. And the greatest part is that it’s hosted by a local.
On my last full night in Amsterdam, I got to experience the lovely sounds of Sophie Prins and her band. When I tell you I got more than I expected, I did!
Sophie performed for about two hours covering songs to the like of Michael Jackson, Etta James, Erykah Badu, H.E.R. and Musiq (formally known as Musiq Soulchild). I loved the way she put her own flavor to some common songs in the Neo-Soul, R&B, Jazz world.
Kevin Bacon Bar
I found out about this spot from my lovely sister-in-travel @walkwithmswalker. She slid in the DM’s and let me know that I needed to check it out, and I’m so glad it did!
Thai food is my Top 3 fav cusines, so once I knew this was the specialty, I had to make my way there.
Located in the lobby of a hotel, Kevin Bacon Bar, this restaurant had quite the decor, complete with communal-ish seating and what seemed to be a replica of a bus (Kevin Bacon movie reference maybe…). 90s hip-hop and R&B blasted through the speakers the entire time, so if you know my taste in music, it goes without saying that I was a happy camper.
The waiter I had was more than attentive and offered some great recommendations that I took heed to. If you’re in the area, and like Thai, I highly suggest going!
All in all, I had a great time away for the holiday. I got to create some new memories, like visiting a black owned coffeeshop and adding a tattoo to the half-sleeve I’m building on my arm. I also went to the VanGogh Museum where I learned a ton about the life of one of the world’s most beloved artists.
A night time canal tour will also be an unforgettable experience for me, as I got to travel up and down the canals of the city with a group of people that spanned from Israel to the Philippines.
I also had to opportunity to meet another sister-in-travel @tiatakestheworld for the first time. We’ve been insta-friends for a while, but when we both realized one of our days in Amsterdam would overlap, we took advantage of that! I got to spend a few hours with her before heading back to NYC and it was a great way to end my trip.
No matter how far I go alone, I’m always reminded that I’m never alone. This trip did that for me. From connecting to locals, meeting other travels on train rides, or in restaurants, and to even meeting a long-time social media friend, the travel God’s looked out (as they always do).
I hope this info was helpful and thanks for stopping by to read!