U.S. Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Richmond, Virginia

Fun fact: I’ve been to 43 U.S. States!

Another fun fact: I hardly ever talk about it.

I’m a big advocate of traveling within your own country, as much as you do internationally, so I’ve decided to do a mini-series on some of my favorite state capitals. First up? Richmond, Virginia.

Let me tell you a little bit about this beautiful city. I visited back when I was a kid, and even then I remember loving it because of all the history. That’s one thing I wish we had more of on the West Coast. Of course, we have history, but it doesn’t go back as far as the Eastern United States. Here are just a few nuggets about Richmond, VA.

History

  • It’s the third capital city for Virginia, after Jamestown (been there!) and Williamsburg (been there!). Richmond became the capital in 1780.
  • Remember Patrick Henry? Well, his famous speech of, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” happened in Richmond!
  • There’s an epic statue that features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Andrew Lewis, John Marshall, George Mason, and Thomas Nelson Jr.
  • Thomas Jefferson designed the state capitol building! Cool, huh?
  • Pocahontas lived here! That’s right, the princess herself.
  • The first African American governor was from Richmond: Lawrence Douglas Wilder

When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with colonial America, so I loved popping over to Williamsburg (less than an hour drive), when my family visited Richmond. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget Williamsburg. I still have an “E” shaped bar the ironsmith there made for me, on my wall… 16 years later.

Williamsburg was pretty much my favorite thing ever, after reading the Felicity American Girl Doll books.

Cool Things to Do

But enough about the past (but kinda still about the past)! There are tons of cool things to see in Richmond right now.

  • Hollywood Cemetery: I absolutely love cemeteries, and this one should not be missed. Not only does it host amazing architecture, but it also holds 22 Confederate generals, two U.S. Presidents, and six Virginia governors. It’s second only to Arlington National Cemetery in the number of visitors it receives.
  • Central Virginia Highland Games: I’m all about celebrating my Scottish heritage, and I just found out Richmond has Highland Games that are on another level! They include competitions in everything from harp playing to rugby and once upon a time they had a competition for who could keep a ferret in their pants the longest. True story.
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: The botanical gardens in Richmond are on another level. The gardens stretch over 50 acres, and include a healing garden, a children’s garden, and more varieties of plants than you can count. It’s definitely a must-see.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Richmond, you could find an adorable Airbnb, or if you’re more in the hotel mood pop over to Hotel Planner Richmond to find amazing spots like Jefferson Hotel, which has hosted five U.S. Presidents (William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt)! Have a blast in Richmond!

How to Pick a Perfectly Awesome Hostel Every Time

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My hostel last time I was in Edinburgh (I’m taking the picture from in front of Edinburgh castle).

11 countries down, four more next month. You could say I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels. Love them or hate them, when you’re traveling on a budget, they’re a necessary stop along the way. Lucky for me, I love them. In fact, many of my favorite memories come from various hostels around the world.

Like that time I got cooking lessons from a super cute Australian guy, or the time I stayed up all night talking to an older Hawaiian lady about age and what it means to travel when you’re no longer “young”, or when I ended up engaged to a Scottish guy for a night. And that’s not even to mention the countless day tours I’ve gone on with people I’ve met in the hostels.

There’s something beautiful about people from all over the world coming together in a common place to break bread, play games, go on tours, and exchange stories. I’ve made so many good friends from my travels, that I’d say that staying in hostels is right up there with my other favorite way to find international accommodations, Couchsurfing.

But how do you find a good one?

The reality of the situation is that not all hostels are created equal. So how do you find one that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg in exchange for bed bugs and crazy parties that keep you up until 4am?

Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. But overall I’ve had great experiences by using these tips for finding the very best hostels:

Actually Read the Reviews

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people gloss over these. Don’t be that person. Before my last trip my friend and I were reading reviews for a place (Airbnb) and person after person was complaining about the same. exact. problem. Cockroaches. Okay, gross. But I think this was a really great example (even without being tied to a hostel) of how people don’t read reviews before they stay in a place…or at least don’t pay attention to patterns if they are reading them. But don’t follow this trend. There’s a reason they’re there, and ignoring them could literally leave you sleeping with disgusting little bugs. Take the extra 15 minutes to skim through the review section.

Look at What’s Offered

I travel with a towel so having one provided isn’t necessary. BUT staying in a place with no Wifi (yes, those really exist – feel free to gasp in horror) is not an option, since most of the time I’m working while I travel. Different things are important to different people. Make sure you’re not going to be hating your stay because essentials are being left out. Here are a few things I look for on every posting:

  • Breakfast (Is it included?)
  • Lockers (Where can I put my valuables while I’m sleeping?)
  • Accessible kitchen (Can I make my own food if I want to?)
  • Linens/pillows (Some places charge you more for bedsheets.)
  • Wifi/Internet (Non-negotiable for me.)
  • Showers (What’s the situation? Check it out before you assume.)
  • Location (It really is everything…but we’ll talk more about that, below.)

Location, Location, Location

Here’s the deal. If you pay $10/night, but you’re miles away from anything you want to do, you’re going to spend as much time/money on transportation as you would have on getting lodgings closer to the city center. No matter how much travel-know you think you have, ALWAYS google the address of a hostel, before booking. It takes an extra 5-10 minutes to see what’s in the surrounding area where you’re potentially staying, and saves you a whole ton of stress, once you’re there. This is also when you can see how difficult it is to get to it from the station or airport you’re coming into.

Ask Around

I love social media because I get some of my best recommendations from my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be shy! There are people out there who have been where you’re going, and WANT to share info and help.  Wouldn’t you rather take their advice on a great place to stay, than end up somewhere sketchy? Who knows? They may even have a friend who will take you in for a couple of days (money saving 101).

Lockers

Okay, so it’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but the fact of the matter is that things get stolen, sometimes. It does happen in hostels, and while it’s never happened to me, personally, I’ve definitely heard stories. But before you throw your hands in the air, know that there’s a rather easy solution. Most hostels have some kind of locker system (but again, never assume) where you can store your valuables. Most of these require a cash deposit of around $10 (for a deposit which you get back once you leave), so make sure that you have cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting before you show up at the hostel.

Think Before You Spend

Depending on the hostel, the prices for different rooms can vary drastically. For instance, when I was looking today I noticed that a room with 6 beds was only $1.50 more per night than a room with 8 beds. Okay, let’s do the math. Is it worth $1.50 to have two less people in the room? Hint: The answer is yes. Make sure you’re comparing the prices of the rooms that you’re staying in before idly clicking away at things that you think you need. Do your research and you’ll be rewarded!

There are lots of ways to book hostels, one of my favorites being HostelWorld. I use HostelWorld the most frequently for numerous reasons (mainly because you only have to pay a deposit down when you book, rather than the full amount). One of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in, though, was one found by a German friend in Berlin. It wasn’t on HostelWorld or any of the other big sites, and maybe that was part of its charm. Oh, and it was $70…for the entire week.

Your turn! What tips do you have to find that perfect hostel? Share your tricks for success in the comments below!