Aachen Day 1

I had a full day in Aachen after I arrived via train. It was absolutely pouring, so my first stop was finding a warm cafe. I ended up at the Aachener Cafe, which was recommended on all the travel blogs I read prior to going to Aachen. It was right next to the Dom and City Museum, so it was a good location. The Aachener Cafe was incredibly busy, likely due to the weather. I felt very rushed to eat my potato soup and down my coffee. It didn’t seem particularly allergy-friendly either. If you’re visiting Aachen, I would pass on this cafe. 

Aachener Cafe
Aachener Cafe dining room

Aachen has four major relics–Virgin Mary’s dress, Jesus’ swaddling cloths, Jesus’ loin cloths, and the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist. These are all kept in the Shrine of the Virgin Mary in the chancel of the cathedral. They get removed and presented to believers, during the Aachen pilgrimage, which regularly takes place every seven years since 1349. Afterwards the shrine gets secured with a padlock, and the keyhole is sealed with lead. They key is sewn into two pieces, of which the key bit is given to the municipality of Aachen and the bow to the cathedral chapter. The padlocks are on display in the Aachen Treasury, which was my next stop. 

Treasury Hallway
Charlemagne
Hand of the King

The Aachen Cathedral Treasury is one of the most important treasuries of medieval Christian artworks in Europe. It costs 5 Euro to see the Treasury, and it was an enjoyable rainy day activity in Aachen. I spent about 45 minutes looking around the Treasury. 

The Treasury is next to the Aachen Cathedral, which is the monumental church of Charlemagne. The cathedral and treasury were added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in 1978. After the Treasury, I went into the cathedral and walked around. It was free to enter the cathedral, and the church asked for donations if patrons wanted to take photos. I opted not to take photos and just enjoy the beauty of the cathedral itself. 

Aachener Dom

The Aachener Dom, as it’s known in German, is one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, it was constructed by order of the emperor Charlemagne, who was buried there in 814. From 936 to 1531, the Palatine Chapel saw the coronation of thirty-one German kings and twelve queens. I highly recommend walking around the cathedral for its beauty!

Aachen Christmas Market
Aachen Christmas Market

I then walked around the Christmas Market late afternoon, which was a great time because it stopped raining. There were few people around, and I picked up some great Christmas gifts for my family. 

Cafe Zuhause

I ended my day at Cafe Zuhause where I met up with my friend, Natan. He’s an Aachen native, and this was one of his regular spots. Cafe Zuhause embodied “hygge” and coziness. The mismatched furniture and abundance of books created a warm and welcoming environment. I enjoyed a local Hamburg cider and pizza from a nearby restaurant. Cafe Zuhause doesn’t have a kitchen yet, but they allow customers to bring in outside food. They have menus on site for Greek, Asian, and Italian cuisine. The pizza was incredible. I was happily stuffed and in a food coma by the time we left Cafe Zuhause.

Statue in Aachen

Getting There: Aachen

Flying SAS

I love flying Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) because they always have the best prices and great service. On this trip I paid $570 roundtrip, Chicago to Dusseldorf. This is more expensive than I’d usually pay, but given I booked late and was flying over the Thanksgiving holiday, this seemed like a fair price. 

SAS always provides a pillow, blanket, headphones, and a water bottle for their Chicago to Europe flights. SAS serves a dinner after takeoff and a light meal before landing. On this flight SAS served chicken, rice, veggies, salad, bread, cheese, and a dessert. Overall, the meal was super tasty. 

When you book your flight you can elect a specific meal like vegetarian or gluten free if you have dietary restrictions. I booked the cheapest ticket, so if I wanted a specific meal I’d have to pay extra. The hot food came with a lid detailing the ingredients, and this was an allergy safe meal for me.

Layover in Stockholm

I had a short layover in Stockholm before continuing onto Dusseldorf. After landing in Sweden I had to go through customs. Thankfully customs was nearly empty, and I sped through. After customs I went through security again before continuing onto my next flight. This meant getting rid of any liquids over 100 milliliters. I downed my water, went through security, and found my next flight to Dusseldorf.

Arriving in Dusseldorf

The flight to Dusseldorf was two hours. This flight seemed to be a budget flight because only coffee, tea, and water were free for passengers who weren’t in business class. Juices, soda, and food packages were available for purchase. 

I was surprised when I landed in Dusseldorf because I expected to go through customs again since we were entering a different country. However, we didn’t go through customs; I assume this is because Sweden and Germany are both in the European Union. It was great landing in Dusseldorf because it was so quick to get off the plane and find the train I needed.

Landing in Germany
Three Trains to Aachen

After landing in Dusseldorf I had to take 3 trains before I finally arrived in Aachen. The first train was a transfer train from the terminal to the Dusseldorf Airport Station, also known as “Dusseldorf Flughafen.” There were signs with a picture of the train pointing me towards this first train. It took maybe 5 minutes to get to Dusseldorf Flughafen. 

When I arrived at the Flughafen station there were kiosks to get tickets to Dusseldorf Hbf, the main city train station. I had a hard time with some of the kiosks because there were different types of kiosks, and I wasn’t sure what type of ticket to buy. I’m still not sure what exactly I bought, but it seemed to work.

I got a ticket from Dusseldorf Flughafen to Dusseldorf Hbf. Right next to the kiosks is a small box that punched the time and date onto the ticket. Be sure to stick your ticket in there so it’s validated when you travel. The conductors didn’t check my ticket, but I saw everyone else punching their ticket with the date. I assumed it was the required thing to do.

Fifteen minutes later we were at Dusseldorf Hbf. I purchased a train ticket from Dusseldorf Hbf to Aachen Hbf prior to my trip. My confirmation email stated passengers need to print out the ticket at the train station. Dusseldorf Hbf was incredibly chaotic, and no one was in the help center. Thankfully, I found a section of the station labeled DB in red where I was able to print out my ticket. You can buy tickets on the spot too. 

This train made a lot of stops and there wasn’t wifi on board. I enjoyed watching the countryside during the two hour ride though. Aachen Hbf was much calmer and smaller than Dusseldorf Hbf.

Large Lockers
Small Lockers
Lockers at Aachen Hbf

There are lockers at Aachen Hbf, which I used while exploring the city during my first day in Aachen. Two important notes on the lockers:

Bring coins! The locker initially charged me 3 Euro to lock up my bag. I saw other lockers with numbers as high as 20.00 listed on the keypad. Those were for bags left in the lockers for long periods of time. The owners would have to pay the 20 Euro to get their bag out. I had to pay an additional 3 Euro when I returned for my bags. 

Pack small! There are 20 or so large lockers as seen above, but these were all filled. I took stuff out of my suitcase and shoved it into one of the small lockers. If you can’t pack small, you may have to do what I did and remove things from your bags to get everything to fit. 

Paying for Bathrooms

A final note on my travel day:  be sure to carry coins for the bathrooms. Almost everywhere in Germany charged me to use the bathroom. The highest I paid for using the bathroom was 1 Euro. It seemed ridiculous to pay to use the bathroom given they are free to use in the United States, but that is the norm in Germany. I just made sure I always had 50 cent to 1 Euro coins.

Jumbo Stay

Overview

I had a 14 hour overnight layover in Stockholm before flying back to Chicago, and I needed a place to stay. Thankfully, I found Jumbo Stay right outside of the Arlanda airport. Jumbo Stay is a hostel in a converted 747 jumbo jet.

You can sleep in the engines and walk on the wing–when it’s not icy.
Getting There

When I left the international terminal (Terminal 5), I found bus stop #3 and waited for the Alfa bus. The Alfa bus drops guests off at Jumbo Stay. It also stops at domestic terminals, the Radisson Blu, and the parking lots. The Alfa bus runs every 15 minutes in both directions. The next morning, I crossed the street and waited just a few minutes for the Alfa bus to take me back to the airport. Jumbo Stay is within walking distance, but it was so easy and quick to take the bus.

View of Jumbo Stay from the bus stop heading back to the airport.
The Details

After the bus dropped me off, I walked up a path to the huge jumbo jet. There is an elevator labeled for handicap use only. At the lobby entrance, there is a sign that requires guests to take off their shoes. There are shelves available to leave your shoes.

I initially booked a bed in a four person, female dorm for $30 USD. When I arrived I decided to upgrade to a single room with a view of Arlanda’s runway for $20 more. The staff was so kind and welcoming; we chatted for a while about the history of Jumbo Stay. The staff told me normally guests can walk onto the wing, but it was too icy that night. 

My room had two beds, an overhead compartment like on real planes, and a beautiful view of one of Arlanda’s runways. I could hardly sleep because I was too busy watching planes take off and land. 

Bring slippers or thick socks because the bathrooms were down the hall, and you still cannot wear shoes in the hall. I didn’t have any trouble waiting for bathrooms. It must’ve been a quiet night because I didn’t run into anyone else during my time at Jumbo Stay.

In the morning, I had a complimentary continental breakfast. There was an assortment of meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, juices, and cereals. There was also a sign telling guests to talk to the staff if they had allergies. It was a simple breakfast, but I enjoyed the ambiance and getting sustenance before my long day ahead. 

Overall, I loved staying at Jumbo Stay. It was one of the coolest hostels I’ve visited. How often do you get to stay in converted 747? I would go back to Jumbo Stay in a heartbeat! 

View walking up to Jumbo Stay.
My single room.
Jumbo Stay cafe.
History of Jumbo Stay.
Allergies?
Jumbo Stay hallway.

Stockholm, Sweden

Transportation

I booked my flight with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) five months in advance. I only paid $397 roundtrip, nonstop from Chicago to Stockholm over Labor Day Weekend. I set up a Google Flight, Kayak, and Momondo alert for Labor Day Weekend, and Google Flights sent me an email when flights to Stockholm were cheap.

I landed at Arlanda Terminal 5 and took the Flygbussarna Airport Coach to Stockholm’s city center. I bought a Flygbussarna ticket before I left the United States. Flygbussarna has busses leaving every 15 minutes or so, and you can use the ticket for anytime within three months of purchase. My ticket was about $10, which seemed reasonable for the 40 minute ride to the Stockholm city center. 

The City Terminal is right next to the central train station. I felt thoroughly safe hopping off the bus early in the morning and walking to the Generator Hostel. The walk was about 10 minutes, and there were plenty of commuters out and about.

Seen on the island of Skeppsholmen
Lodging

I stayed at the Generator Hostel in Stockholm for three nights. I spent $163 on a bed in a 6-bed female dorm. This seemed pricey for a hostel, but was actually reasonable given Stockholm’s expensive nature. 

I really enjoyed the Generator Hostel and would recommend it to my fellow budget travelers. When I checked in I was assigned a top bunk. I much prefer the bottom bunks, and Generator was able to accommodate my request. The rooms were very clean, and I had enough space in the locker under my bed for my suitcase and backpack. 

One of the reasons I love staying in hostels is the opportunity to meet new people. All three nights I was at the Generator, I went downstairs to the restaurant and bar area and made new friends. 

I felt it was easy to meet people at the Generator, but if you’re more shy Generator has an app to facilitate friendships! Essentially the app matches you with other people who also are staying at the Generator. I thought this was a clever way to ensure those who are more shy can meet new friends at the hostel. 

The Generator had a restaurant and bar in one space and a bar/club right next door. I didn’t go to the club, but I spent a lot of time at the restaurant and bar. The restaurant had amazing food. I enjoyed a pizza one night and a pasta dish the next night. I gave the waitress my list of food allergies, and she checked with the chef to make sure I was safe eating my chosen meals. 

Overall, I had a great stay at the Generator Hostel and would stay there again in a heartbeat. 

Sunset over Gamla Stan
Things To Do

Here’s a bullet list of things I did in Stockholm. I’ll cover these more in detail in upcoming posts.

  • Wander Gamla Stan
  • City Hall
  • Royal Palace
  • Shopping on Sveavägen Street
  • Vasa Museum
  • Modern Art Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • Drinks on the Af Chapman
  • Dine at Skeppsbro Bageri
  • Visit the ReTuna secondhand shopping center
  • Hike Paradisets nature reserve
Vasa Museum
Modern Art Museum
Paradisets Nature Reserve
  1. I spent 3 days in Dallas, but never made it to the neat places that you went to. Next time.

  2. This is so unique! I think I would like to try this! I love finding places to stay that are…

  3. Your single room looked awesome! Seriously once we get to travel again I want to stay here!

  4. I love that hostel! It’s a bit expensive (I usually stay in the 4-bed room and the price for a…

  5. Such a cool idea! Wonder if it feels like first or economy class sleeping there 😉

  6. This is so cool! I had no idea this was in Stockholm! I was there last summer and would have…

  7. Omg! This is sooo cool. Who would’ve thought a hostel in a plane would even exist. I have to add…

  8. I agree! Loved visiting Dallas, and we also had 48 hours in Dallas and squeezed in a museum, Kennedy’s assassination…

  9. Interesting. Thanks for the review. I’ll look into staying there the next time in Stockholm.



Outer Banks, North Carolina

If you want a quick getaway I highly recommend the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Two of my best friends live in D.C., so we decided on a girls weekend in Kill Devil Hills for a long weekend. 

Transportation

I flew into Washington Reagan for $300 roundtrip. This wasn’t a great price, but I had set dates of travel a Friday to a Monday. I knew I would be flying to D.C. as of April this year, so I entered in my travel dates on the Hopper app to watch the price of flights. Prices were pretty steady through the spring, so I ended up booking my flight on Southwest in early June. $300 was the best I was going to get, so I took it. I landed early Friday morning, and we drove straight from Reagan to the Outer Banks. The drive was about 4.5 hours with traffic and a few rest stops. I didn’t mind the long drive though because I had a chance to catch up with my friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while!

Norfolk International Airport is much closer to the Outer Banks than D.C., so I recommend flying into Norfolk depending on what airline you take. Depending on traffic, the drive from Norfolk to various parts of the Outer Banks will be 1.5 hours.

Lodging

My friend Olivia’s family has a house in Kill Devil Hills, one of the neighborhoods on the island, so housing was free. I’m a big proponent of staying in homes when possible (thank you AirBnb and HomeAway). When I travel I check the location of the rental homes relative to where the site seeing spots are. However, the island is so narrow, you will never be far from the beach. The average AirBnb price for the Outer Banks at this time was $177 a night. However, if we were to book a home, well in advance, for three adults we would’ve been able to find something around 100$ a night. There were cheaper options as well depending on how many beds you’re looking for. For three days, two nights at the home we would’ve split the house for 67$ a person. This is incredibly reasonable for a quick, beach vacation. Thankfully though, lodging was free for this weekend.

What To Do

Our main getaway activity plan was to hang by the beach! There are public access beaches, so we drove just a few minutes down the road to get to a beach. On a weekend in early August the beach was fairly busy with family vacations. We were able to find plenty of space to set up camp on the beach for the day though. This beach had the softest sand; I could’ve stayed there forever. There is a lifeguard on duty until sunset, which was great give the rough waves and strong undertow that weekend.

Duck Donuts

Saturday morning the three of us stopped by Duck Donuts for fresh, mouth watering donuts. There is no better way to start an OBX vacation than with a fresh Duck Donut. The first Duck Donuts was opened in nearby Duck, North Carolina. There are now locations all over the island and all over the country. The donuts are made in front of the customers on an assembly line. You can see your donut being made fresh before your eyes. They also offer breakfast sandwiches and coffee. 

I have to be careful with the amount of gluten I eat, so I was saving myself for a Duck Donut. Sadly, they don’t make gluten free donuts. The donuts contain eggs and dry milk products, and there are nuts in the vicinity. My nut allergies are not horrible, so I am okay with cross-contamination. These donuts were worth the long, Saturday morning wait. I highly recommend a stop at Duck Donuts if you make your way to the Outer Banks!

OBX Winery

Unfortunate storms cancelled part of our beach day, but we ended up at the OBX Winery in Kitty Hawk. The OBX Winery ended up being one of the best experiences on this vacation. Amidst the storm, we were looking up things to do on the island. There are water parks, mini golf, bowling, laser tag, movie theaters, and more. We came across a small winery nearby and decided to check it out. 

The brick and mortar storefront is small yet quaint. We were seated by our favorite wine expert, Steve, and given a free tasting of at least 15 wines–I wish I kept better track! OBX Winery hand crafts small batch boutique wines right in Kill Devil Hills and sells only wines made on the Outer Banks! We spent a few hours tasting wines and getting to know the owners of the winery. I had a few bottles shipped to my place in Chicago because the wines were so unique.

Shopping

I get a magnet from every place I visit, so I’m always on the lookout for local trinket shops. There are small strip malls up and down the island with kitschy souvenirs and OBX t-shirts galore. I found a magnet and shirt at one of the many Super Wings, which will supply any possible beach need of yours. There is a Tanger Outlet mall in Nags Head if you’re looking for more shopping.

Nightlife

There is a scattering of bars on the Outer Banks, but most places shut down around midnight. We ended up at one of the few bars open until 2am, Lucky 12 Tavern, self-described as a retro-funky bar and eatery. This wasn’t one of our favorite spots. It felt like a dive bar where the locals all know each other and outsiders are not welcome. We were hoping to find a bar with a patio or rooftop, but we were out of luck per se.

Final Thoughts

The great thing about having a house was the ability to cook and not eat out for every meal. As soon as we arrived in the Outer Banks, we stopped by the local Publix to get some basics for the next few days. As mentioned in my bio, I have severe food allergies and other dietary restrictions, so I have to be extremely careful when I eat out. The ability to prepare meals myself while traveling is easy on my budget and gives me peace of mind that I will not have an anaphylactic reaction mid-trip. My friends are aware of my food restrictions, so made meals that we could all eat (read: tacos). There were plenty of grocery stores on the island, so you will not be in short supply. 

In conclusion, the Outer Banks was a great location for a budget, relaxing weekend with friends. I spent around $450 total including flights, my wine souvenirs, groceries, and eating out. If I were able to cut down on the flight costs, this would be an even more economical trip, but I’m satisfied with the budget-friendliness of this trip. Most of all, it was great to spend a weekend catching up with some of my best friends.

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