For 2 years we were holed up, hibernating in our homes. Nowhere to go and nothing to see except for the same 4 walls. But now, alas, we have made it to the promised land, and it seems like everyone has caught the travel bug now that life beyond the Covid-19 global pandemic has officially moved forward. There’s no better way to celebrate the fact that we made it through a pandemic than exploring new parts of the globe. Traveling feels like the anti-covid; for so long we were not allowed to travel. Now, the airports are more crowded than ever, and cities are bustling with eager eyes.
If you, like many of us, are itching to explore somewhere new, here are JCI’s all-time favorite summer vacation spots:
Copenhagen, Denmark; visited by Olivia
They say Paris is the city of love, but I think it’s really Copenhagen. There’s something so dreamy and idyllic the way the canals caress the quaint Scandinavian gingerbread-style houses.
The functional ingenuity, sleekness, and angularity of the contemporary architecture juxtaposed against clean-cut landscaping makes Copenhagen an absolute marvel to meander around. It has the charm of a classical European city but also the novelty of somewhere out of a sci-fi movie. I once went to a grass ski-slope/hiking trail/park/lookout that was built atop of a power plant called CopenHill.
The metro runs to every crevice of the city all night long, Danes stop in the street to hand you the 50 Danish kroner that you dropped (true story), and the second the thermostat hits above 50 degrees, Danes are lined up on the side of the road from morning till dusk with their Aperol Spritzes. Join the Danes in soaking up the magical Scandinavian sun while it lasts, for it doesn’t get dark until around 9:45 pm in the summer months.
The Copenhagen food scene is exquisite but can be rather pricey. The best way to navigate around the expense is to go to the more affordable food halls around the city.
I spent a few evenings perusing the street food venue perched along the water called Reffen. Park yourself in front of the water with a beach chair with some fish and chips (they’re life-changing) and a sangria or bring your friends to eat around the bonfire. You’ll thank me later. There’s also another waterfront food stall venue called Broens Gadekøkken. Make sure to check out the iconic Gasoline Grill burger stand for the juiciest burger of your life. If you want to drop a few bucks on a nice meal, I would recommend trying out one of Copenhagen’s many brunch places! One of the most popular brunch places is called Mad & Kaffe. My favorite thing there are the fluffy, cheesy scrambled eggs.
There are also a surprising amount of flea markets and thrift stores in the city. My personal favorite is the Vesterbro flea market, which is only on Saturdays. I once spent an afternoon searching through thrifting bins at the flea market. To top it off, I washed it all down with an Aperol while basking in the warm Scandinavian sun. This city truly is a dream.
London, UK - Lindsay Turpin
I recently visited London as a post-grad celebration trip with my family. Highlights include seeing King Charles leaving Windsor Castle (but not a fan of the monarchy), Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables at West End, the National Gallery of Art and the Tate Museum.
The King was attending the Royal Ascot, and he left the castle in a fancy Rolls Royce with Camilla. I’ve always dreamt of seeing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, but it just closed in New York so this was the perfect opportunity. Between this and Les Misérables, the vocals were unbelievable and I was so content to be surrounded by performing arts again when it was so prevalent in my childhood.
The National Gallery of Art was having an exhibition on Post-Impressionism (which I just took a class on in the winter), so I was able to see countless paintings by artists I’ve studied such as Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, Monet, Seurat, Rousseau, Derain, Braque and Gauguin. I even saw the famous “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp in the Tate Museum.
London is beautiful and there is so much to see, so in a week I barely scratched the surface of things to do, but I would love to go back someday. My favorite meals were Lebanese and Indian food, but I could not tell you where those restaurants were. Returning home, I felt so inspired by the art, cuisines, architecture, and stories of London - cannot recommend this city enough!
Den Haag, Netherlands - Claire Oberle
It seems like Amsterdam is on everyone’s travel list this summer but let me suggest a quieter Dutch city: Den Haag. Filled with just as much history and a few less tourists, Den Haag is the perfect place to spend a couple days amid your European summer. Having spent 3 years there growing up, I’ll provide the perfect local approved 72 hour itinerary.
After landing at Schiphol Airport, you’ll take a 35 minute train south to Den Haag Centraal. Your first day should be focused on shaking off jet lag and orienting yourself with Dutch culture. After checking out the shops along the Spui, head to Malieveld for a quick picnic and take a stroll around Haagse Bos. For dinner, enjoy alfresco dining at any of the restaurants in Het Plein and enjoy a drink (or two).
The second day will start off at Ted’s for a delicious brunch before heading to Scheveningen beach; no European summer holiday is complete without a beach visit after all. Spend your day enjoying the waves, soaking up some rare Dutch sun, and walking along the pier. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even bungee jump from the top of Europe's first over-the-sea Ferris wheel. End your day watching the sunset from one of the many beach bars with a cocktail in hand.
The final day is every history buff and political science major’s dream. Start off the day with a traditional Dutch pancake breakfast and head to the Binnenhof, which is the center of Dutch parliament. After that, head next door to Mauritshuis to see the iconic Girl with The Pearl Earring. Grab lunch in the city center, then head to Carnegieplein to see iconic buildings for democracy. Located just steps away from each other, you’ll see the International Court of Justice, the Peace Palace, and dozens of embassies. If you’re feeling eager, the International Criminal Court is just 5km away. To end the day, make your way back to the city center and visit Little V for some of the best Vietnamese food in Europe. And there you have it, 3 perfect days in a perfect Dutch city.
Florence, Italy - Steve Crosby
Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to visit many locations in the United States and beyond. All those locations were amazing. Besides Hawaii and multiple scuba diving trips to the Virgin Islands, it’s hard not to enjoy tropical and warm water, but my memories always go back to Florence, Italy. Such an amazing spot from the artwork, architecture, food, wine, and people watching. There is nothing better than sitting outside at a café observing people strolling, laughing, and enjoying their time in the city center. Looking around, you can see amazing history, eat incredibly good food, and relish in a place where history is all around you.
Crossing over the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) to the other side of Florence is an amazing treat. You can walk into museums to see the various works by Michelangelo and other famous artists and step into small shops and look at incredibly fine leather and ceramic craftsmanship right in front of you.
Everywhere you turn there is history and sometimes intrigue goes along with it. One thing I recommend in Florence as well as in other cities is to find a guide who can give you a walking tour so that you familiarize yourself with the city and its history. From there, you can explore on your own but get an overview so that your exploratory adventure is positive.
Block Island, USA - Seth Jacobson
Thousands of years ago, a glacier left rolling hills and ponds behind, forming what is now known as Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island.
The Narragansett Indians were the first inhabitants of Block Island as evidenced by remains that date back thousands of years. Their name for the island was “Manisses'' which translates to “Island of the Little God.” My family has had a house on the island for 45 years. It’s a small, low-key place that has beautiful sunsets and great beaches. As a child, I spent summers selling lemonade on the beach and sailing.
Fukuoka and Tokyo, Japan - Ken Chawkins
I recently took a family trip to Japan. We visited the City of Fukuoka for a week and Tokyo for a week. We went with friends, one of whom is from Fukuoka. We had a great time with food, shopping and all things one might expect for a "normal" excursion of this sort. However, the thing that impressed me most on the trip was more of a socio-cultural awareness that was more than evident over the 2 weeks in Japan.
Japan is a society that is built on rules and conformity. It is no secret that Japan is a particularly "closed" society in that it is very difficult to gain citizenship if one is not Japanese, nor is it easy to master the language, culture, etc. It is what makes Japan, quite frankly, Japan. What I came to recognize during our trip is the manifestation of that cultural tightness:
1) We found a safe, clean, orderly environment. It took me a couple of days to actually NOT worry about my wallet, Passport, etc. Since we took computers, we were, at first, worried about leaving them in the room. That caution is borne of my own experience traveling around the US and to various parts of the world; especially where there are LOTS of people . (Tokyo, by the way, has 40 million people...living in an area the size of Los Angeles County! It feels very crowded.) We are conditioned in the US to be wary of potential threats (eg pickpockets) and are alert to places where we are not in familiar surroundings. Indeed Japan was not familiar and there were lots of crowds. But it is beyond safe! The statistics show that it is safe, but it is an eerie feeling to recognize that I could likely leave my computer in the middle of the street and know that it will be there upon my return. And it's clean! We did not see ONE car that was not clean. They have NO public trash cans. (Sarin scare in 1995 had them get rid of trash cans.) Instead, people carry trash with them and they have a rigorous recycling program. In the US that might produce a place with lots of trash. In Japan, it simply meant that there was very little trash on the streets...because everyone knows the rules and follows them. There were numerous other examples I could reference. What I found, in general, was a sophisticated, orderly, clean society with modern conveniences, advanced consumerism, easy transportation and a deep cultural foundation producing visual cues (e.g. bowing, clothing) that had me "feel" like I was in a very foreign place.
On the other hand....
2) Over the span of the trip, I found an increasing annoyance with the overall conformity. I didn't want to bow when I said "arigato gozaimasu" which translates to "Thank you very much." But I was told it was rude to not do that...so I conformed and did it. Seems like a little thing, but because it was culturally "forced" it began to grate on me. And where are the damn trash cans? I understand the reasoning behind not having them, but do I really need to carry around trash? Answer is yes! Japanese culture prides itself on perfection. As a result, there are all kinds of examples of ideas taken from other societies and perfected by the Japanese. In the culinary world this is most evident. The french food I had in Japan was superb. While I don't drink, I've been told that their whiskey is some of the best in the world. The food preparation and presentation is noticeably attentive to detail. SO, when one asks to have a substitution in a meal or requests an alteration of some sort ("Can I have that without onions?"), one is met with a stare that kind of says, "It's perfect. Why would you ask for an adjustment?" Cultural protocol like handing money over with two hands instead of one, driving the speed limit (our driver, not me!), walking on the exact side of the street that is designated, etc. All of it while not completely required, is made to feel expected. And, so one does it so as not to be rude. But I must admit that it began to feel restrictive and uncomfortable for me.
In the end, I recognize that what we experience is as much about the place from whence we come as it is the difference of the place we are visiting. I suppose we could see similar differences within our own country by region, but it was quite pronounced on my trip to Japan. I felt both comforted, safe, and calm given the recognition that once I understood the rules and knew that people follow them, I could experience Japan. I was unburdened of the anxiety one feels when one is in a place where something could go wrong. What a pleasure it was to not worry. AND I felt restrained and "corralled" into behavior by a strong cultural expectation.
I was only there for two weeks and, not having the language, I could only grasp/understand so much. I enjoyed the trip and would recommend it as a destination for any traveler looking for something different. If you travel to eat, shop and see the sites, there is plenty to do in Japan. If you are looking through a social "lens" a trip to Japan presents a fascinating location to explore a different culture AND, I would argue, reflect on your own!
El Camino De Santiago (The Way of St. James) - Bella Mendoza
Last year, for my post-grad trip, I had the pleasure of hiking 500 miles across Spain with my twin brother, Esteban. I have dreamed of embarking on this journey since freshman year of highschool and was fortunate enough to take the summer off to experience this trip in its entirety – not every day do you have a month to spend hiking in the wilderness.
The Camino de Santiago starts in the Spain Pyrenees next to the French border and brings you across northern Spain where you reach Santiago de Compostela. We walked through five main regions of Spain, Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León, and Glacia and spent 30 days walking along peliegrinos. Every person we encountered had their own reasons for hiking the camino, making it a very personal life changing experience.
Waking up at 4:30am to walk 20-30 miles with a 20 pounds pack on your back was no easy task. But after a few days you fall into a routine – the blisters on your feet begin to heal, your back ceases to ache, and the early morning brings a sense of serenity and peace. The mornings were always my favorite part of the day. Waking up early and hiking with only a headlamp, you were truly able to witness the stillness of life and begin to appreciate life's simplicities. Everyday we would watch the sunrise on the trail and talk to other peliegrinos. We met individuals across the whole world ranging from South Korea, Colombia, Canada, and other parts of Europe and although not everyone spoke the same languages, we were all united as we shared this experience with one another.
Reaching Santiago was by far the most accomplished I have ever felt. This hike was not only physically grueling, but also mentally. Despite this, it has been the best thing I have ever done and the best vacation I have ever taken. I highly recommend for everyone take time out of their crazy lives and complete a part of the Camino de Santigo, even if it is just two days.
Budapest, Hungary - Bailey Meyers
Budapest is the hot new destination city in Eastern Europe. While the Western destinations like Paris, London, and even Rome have shown signs of rampant tourism taking over the local flavor, pumping out all-inclusive packages for Americans, cities in the East have been flourishing in their own right.
Budapest, which is actually the merged cities of Buda and Pest, boasts an array of unique attractions and provides a (much) cheaper alternative to the Zurichs and Parises of Europe. Budapest’s history is rich with political upheavals, royal battles, and social movements, and became a center of culture and trade in Eastern Europe by the end of the 19th century. As a result, one can observe myriad architectural styles in a single moment, ranging from the gothic revival spires of Hungarian Parlaiment to art nouveau on the Postal Savings Bank to the fairytalelike towers of the Fisherman’s Bastion—one of my favorite activities.
For those looking for a bit more adventure there are equally exciting bohemian sites tucked in and around the city. The ruin bars are a must, particularly Szimpla Kert, where backpackers, stag parties, screenwriters, and young locals go to mingle and enjoy a drink for a reasonable price. Completely covered in haphazard decor with plenty of neon and hidden surprises, the ruin bars are like I Spy for twenty-somethings.
The Szechenyi thermal baths are another must-see sight. Bubbling up from a natural hot spring at around 160 degrees, the water is pumped around the neo-baroque complex of eighteen pools to soothe the hundreds of daily visitors. Some pools are scalding while others are ice cold, so it's best to check before diving in, but the saunas (of the salted, light therapy, or steam variety) are always there in case you get too chilly.
If you get lucky during your visit, you may have the chance to visit Sziget festival, one of the biggest music festivals in the world you’ve probably never heard of. I unwittingly stumbled across it during my time, and was fortunate enough to catch Tame Impala and Badbadnotgood perform. Sziget means “island” in Hungarian, and the week-long festival is hosted on Óbuda Island in the middle of the Danube which splits the city in two.
Budapest is a new mecca for travelers with incredibly deep history, cheap prices, and all manner of unique activities. Party cruises on the Danube are a staple, and a tour around Dohány Street Synagogue will show you the miraculous detail present in Europe’s largest synagogue as well as the history of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Finally, stop by Central Market Hall for some Hungarian Goulash, and indulge in the local flavors and smells.
Amritsar, Punjab, India - Prakriti Bhanot
Every summer vacation of my childhood began with a delightful journey to my maternal grandmother's house, a tradition that holds countless cherished memories. The train rides were a quintessential part of the experience, always running late and crawling at a snail's pace, but I enjoyed every moment from my window seat, captivated by the mesmerizing yellow expanse of agricultural fields stretching from Delhi to Amritsar, Punjab, in India.
Amritsar, a picturesque city in the northern state of Punjab, is renowned for its beauty and cultural significance. The majestic Golden Temple, Sri Harmandir Sahib, stands as the holiest Gurudwara for Sikh worship. Nestled in this vibrant city is my Nani's house—a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Delhi's metropolitan life.
Spending summer holidays at "Nani House" is a popular tradition among Indian families, and it was no different for us kids. The mere thought of those days brings back the dreamlike experience of carefree living—no rigid routines, just a few days of joyful indiscipline, a much-needed escape from the mundane.
During our stay, our days were filled with exploration and adventure, as we roamed the charming streets of Amritsar, immersing ourselves in its rich culture. From visiting iconic landmarks like the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh to witnessing the patriotism at the Wagah Border, where India meets Pakistan, every moment felt like a cultural feast.
Of course, no trip to Amritsar was complete without indulging in its diverse cuisine. Those yummy food adventures still have a place in my heart, and just thinking about them gets my taste buds all fired up! The sweet nostalgia of spending summers at Nani Ke Ghar will forever remain a cherished part of my life, and I eagerly await the day when I can return to Amritsar.
Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi - Claire Del Prete
When I think of my “happy place”, I am transported to the island of Kauaʻi with my feet in the sand and my family by my side. Known as “The Garden Isle” for its lush greenery and its warm, tropical rain, Kauaʻi is my favorite of the Hawaiʻian Islands and a place I will always return to.
In the 2000s, my aunt and uncle owned a beautiful townhouse in Princeville, on the north side of the island. The neighborhood around “Rooster House”, as we called it, was home to a massive population of chickens. The loudest of these chickens were the feral roosters, the house’s namesake, who would wake us up early in the morning with their incessant crows. Kauaʻi is known for its large population of displaced chickens who roam the island like they own it.
The island’s natural beauty is enough to keep someone occupied for hours––from its flourishing greenery, to enormous pinnacles and expansive canyons, to the teeny tiny pink shells that wash up on the shore. As a small child, I remember crawling across Anini beach with my neck craned in search of these tiny treaures.
We were beach bums. Day after day, we would swim, snorkel, boogie board, and lounge at the beach for countless hours. We had other activities planned for these trips, like zip-lining or tubing through tunnels, but we allocated the majority of our trips for lazy beach days.
My time spent in Kauai also contributed to my love for fresh, delicious food, especially seafood. Any time we’re back on the island, we indulge in mounds of fresh poke (we love Kilauea Fish Market) and steaming garlic shrimp (our favorite is Savage Shrimp in Poipu). When hunger strikes at the beach, my mom and I still look for the unassuming, signless taco truck that prepared us the freshest, lightest fish tacos we’ve ever eaten.
Kauaʻi is a truly magical place. Next time you’re thinking of visiting the Hawaiʻian Islands, consider visiting the “The Garden Isle”.