My Best-Kept Secret Souvenir from Rome

I know you may already be thinking of a gladiator helmet magnet to stick on your fridge or a bunch of post cards of the Trevi fountain but I prefer something else to preserve the memories from our travels. I am not a fan of buying lots of trinkets or cheap souvenirs I’ll never do anything with while we are on vacation. I do buy Liv a gold souvenir coin from churches we have visited (usually found in a vending maching for €2). My biggest frustration when we return from a trip is looking through all my vacation photos and seeing hundreds of photos of Olivia and Antz taken by me or Liv and me but hardly any of all three of us together besides a few not-so-great selfies. I get even more upset when we ask a relunctant tourist for a photo and it turns outs terrible. We have all been there. My last few trips I thought I found a solution by bringing a tripod with a remote however the museums did not allow selfie stickes or tripods so we had to leave it in the locker room. We have tried to set up the tripod outside however we didn’t feel comfortable with leaving our iphones out of reach when we were in a large crowd (and how do these influencers stop people from walking through your shot?!)

I finally had enough so I decided the best souvenir (and value) is booking a family photo shoot so I have photos of all us which I will cherish forever! I wish I could hire our friend and talented photographer Lee to follow us around the world and shoot us (our rad shoot in London) but alas, I am not as wealthy as a Kardashsian. So, I reached out to my friends who may know photographers in Rome that would be available for booking a family shoot. Mostly everyone was out of town because locals tend to skip town during the peak tourist season. I wasn’t having much luck finding someone so I ended looking online and I found a 2 hour walking tour that included a photo shoot.

We started off super early (to beat the crowds) and met two other couples at the Colosseum. It was already boiling hot but our tour guide found some shade to shoot us in. Victoria, our guide and photographer is an American who lived in Rome for several years. She was able to show us famous landmarks from an expat point of view and quickly take some shots during our walk.

The tour was pretty hurried due to the large tour buses arriving so we tried to stay ahead of the big tour groups, we had some good spots all to ourselves.

Our reward for getting up so early was seeing the Roman forums without the tourists, huzzah!










Our advice for posing for photos, don’t forget to let your silly side shine. I have so many photos of us in the same boring pose so I try to think of something different or pretend like we are in a magazine photo shoot. We do our best to capture the I’m a character in a Wes Anderson film aesthetic.


I can’t believe how far we walked in just one hour. Don’t forget to pack wet wipes, we were so hot and sweaty but the wipes kept us from looking like we were melting, I literally was soaked!

Some souvenirs are necessary, such as that Roma fan. Luckily we stopped at a cafe for some juice to keep us hydrated.

Another tip I have is to request candids but also be aware of the camera. I like the observational photos as much I like the posed ones because it shows us in the moment.

Grazie Victoria! We really enjoyed talking to her and sharing our expat annoyances and joys. Even though there was two other couples in our group she made us feel like we had her full attention. She also got our photos back to us in a week which is record time! I found her to be a great bargain but unfortunately due to Covid-19, I don’t see her actively online.

There are a few photography websites that you can find a photographer to book online:

Flytographer
Airbnb Experiences

I recommend to start by asking friends if they know someone because it’s easier when you find a photographer who doesn’t normally do tourist shoots. My experience has been they are less likely to take you to popular tourist locations and pose you in a generic (like school picture day) poses. I like finding someone that has a more edgier, artsy style (like Lee!!) Sometimes you have no choice because you want those to shoot at those landmarks but if we have been to a location before we tend to skip the main attractions and find a less crowded part of town. For example, I wouldn’t encourage anyone visiting Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower/Trocadero for photos. It’s packed with tourists and souvenir vendors so if you are coveting the perfect shot with the iron lady, head around the corner to rue de Buenos-Ayres and hope you don’t have too many cars parked on the street (again always go early!).

Of course when I went it was rainy and every car in Paris had to drive past when I was trying to get a photo.

Bon Chance!

The Best Way to Tour Rome (during peak tourist season)

Rome is a huge metropolis and the public transportation isn’t as efficient as other cities we have visited. That being said, we found an excellent way to see the city while avoiding the hordes of tourists. We began our day early and was surprised that it was already unbearably hot outside. We waited for a bus to take us into the east side of town and it took forever to arrive. I was already missing the convenience of French bus stops, that have electronic boards which tell you when the next bus will arrive. It was also annoying that we didn’t have any change on hand to pay for bus tickets so we just gave the driver €5 and he smugly kept the change. We couldn’t order an Uber because the city only has Uber Black service which is insanely expensive so hot and dirty city bus it was. I have always dreamed of renting a pastel pink Vespa scooter with a matching pink helmet to tour the city pretending like I am Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday. So I had the brilliant idea to book a scooter tour for our family. It took almost an hour just to find the scooter rental company as we kept getting sidetracked by the scenery.

Alas, my dream riding around Rome in a pretty, pink vintage scooter were dashed when I saw these red and black scooters lined up outside. Fine, I could improvise with bright red only because it matched my earrings and lipstick. I was ready to hit the road until the guy leading our scooter tour asked us, “So you know how to drive a manual transmission, right?” Uh, err, no absolutely not! He also asked if we had previous experience driving a scooter in city traffic. Now technically, I drove my Mom’s 4-wheeler in the desert once and that ended in me crashing into a cactus while wearing flip flops, so admittedly, not a ton of experience. He laughed and said you think you’re going to drive a scooter in this city (in heavy bumper-to-scooter traffic everywhere). We all agreed, we didn’t want to die that day despite my further disappointment. The guy at the scooter rental place gave me our only other option…take a guided three person Vespa tour. Bravo!!

The downside was the driver wouldn’t arrive for a few hours. We decided to walk around the neighborhood and find some lunch and gelato while we waited.

We were told to check out one of the city’s best gelato places Giovanni Fassi but we arrived before they opened. I was surprised that people were lining up for this place but luckily we were first in the door.

Holy Cow! The gelato was insanely good. Liv wanted another one but we promised to get some after our tour. The place had 1960’s Wes Anderson vibes. We headed back over to the scooter rental place and met our tour guide.

Our guide/driver, Georgio, was amazing! He was so knowledgeable and fun. He asked us what we wanted to see and put together a comprehensive tour of Rome in three hours.

He was smitten with Lulu!

I was elated that we didn’t opt for the crazy scooter ride. We chilled in the Vespa and soaked in the breeze as we drove past poor, miserably-hot tourists walking by.

Georgio made stops at each site and gave an in-depth explanation of the history of the location from the perspective of a bonafide Roman. We learned so much!

Basic bitch photo but I was so upset about the construction below. Why am I always cursed?!

The time seemed to fly by. Georgio even swung by the Trevi fountain to attempt another photo but it was the middle of the day and swarmed with people.

We ended our tour by driving past the infamous Spanish Steps and it was so crowded I couldn’t even recognize them!

If you visit Rome and want to book the Vespa tour please request Georgio, he is the best!

My Vespa Tours

We hugged Georgio and said ciao. I had to bite the bullet and ordered an expensive Uber Black to drive us to the other side of town. I knew I wouldn’t survive the city bus in that heat at that time of day. As we were basking in the air conditioned Uber, I totally kicked myself for forgetting to take a photo with all of us and Georgio, boo! 🙁

Well, I was immediately cheered up when we arrived at our next destination.

I was super excited to visit the Galleria Borghese. I followed the museum on Instagram prior to our trip and it didn’t look real in photos. I was absolutely blown away by the vivid colors and the 3-D painted characters.

I highly recommend visiting the Gallery Borghese even though it’s a bit outside of the city center. It was really nice to stroll through the tree-lined gardens after spending most of the day in the crowded, busy city.

We ended our day with another mediocre meal near our Airbnb. I was so tired and hungry I can’t recall what we had but you can guess it was some sort of generic pasta…when in Rome.

How to find the almost-perfect Paris Airbnb rental

Bonjour,

Finding a perfectly charming Parisian rental can be headache-inducing but I’m here to give you tips and what to keep in mind when choosing an Airbnb rental in Paris.

Firstly, you need to think about the city of Paris like a snail’s shell. Each neighborhood is divided into 20 arrondissements in a clockwise spiral starting at the Louvre. Most of the major tourist attractions are located near the Seine river which splits the city in half. The southern side is known as
la rive gauche/the left bank which is home to intellectuals, jazz clubs and writers sipping espresso in cafes (Hemingway is a noteworthy resident). My side of the city, la rive droite/the right bank is considered the chic, party side. You will find the Moulin Rouge, high fashion boutiques on Champs-Élysées Boulevard and the bohemians of Montmartre. The further from the center you go, the less tourists (more quiet) and more working-class Parisians there are. This adorable map is helpful when deciding what area you want to stay in.

My first experience renting an Airbnb was our summer vacation in 2014. After giving up on finding a hotel that ticks all my boxes within our budget, I decided to look at rentals online. I liked how easy their website was to navigate and there is a wide selection of rentals. They have accurate photographs and honest reviews. I was able to save my favorite apartments to a wishlist and contact the owner to ask questions. I was a bit disappointed that the first three apartments I wanted weren’t available with kids but I was very happy with the one we ended up renting. Half of the time, it’s sheer luck that you find a nice place that has everything you want.

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On the Airbnb website you can search by location, price and availability. Let me tell you that most apartments in Paris will often come with some kind of trade-off. You will have to put up with something lame in order to get most of your wishlist. Usually a place with a nice view will mean a strenuous flights of stairs. Larger apartments are often found in a part of town that you may not feel comfortable out late at night. I’ve even had to turn down a beautiful two bedroom apartment simply because it was across the street from a sex club. It’s good to check the address or neighborhood on Google maps before you book. You may score a place close to popular landmarks which will certainly mean noisy, obnoxious tourists, possibly a higher crime area (terrorist threats and pickpockets) and lower quality of restaurants. Don’t be too discouraged, Paris has amazing security and a police and military presence is reassuring.

In our case, we didn’t find anything available for two weeks in our ideal location le Marais, (the 3rd/4th arrondissements) but our rental was in walking distance from the the upper 10th arrondissement which was super convenient to the Metro station and we had a lovely, quiet courtyard so we didn’t hear all the street noise.

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The courtyard was quiet and lovely

Here are my recommendations to keep in mind for your search for the almost-perfect Parisian rental:

Stick to your budget.

It’s easy to fall in love with an elaborate pied-à-terre with a sparkly chandelier, and there are plenty of luxury apartments listed on Airbnb but the reality is, besides sleeping, bathing and occasionally eating, you really won’t spend much time in the rental during your vacation. Unless you are staying long-term, I suggest you keep the cost of the rental lower than what it would cost for a hotel per night. In my case I would have paid $299 per night for a hotel and our rental was approx. $150 per night for two weeks. Plus, we saved money cooking our own delicious meals and not having to tip hotel staff. Take note, Airbnb may charge a cleaning fee and a fee for additional guests. I like to introduce myself via message to the host before booking so I can get a feel for how they manage the property.

Who could say no to these happy faces!

Keep in mind during your search to look for a place that is bright, has lots of windows, and preferably not on a ground floor. Most of the apartments are tiny in comparison to American homes, so white paint gives an illusion of a larger space with a sun-filled apartment. High ceiling also help you not feel too claustrophobic.

Renting in Paris, it’s all about trade-offs.

I really wanted classic apartment with herringbone hardwood floors, an elevator in a Haussmann style building but the apartment we chose didn’t have any of those things. However it did have an awesome swing for Olivia, had a modern design, I loved the high ceilings and charming skylights in the loft. Although our place was small, the layout felt spacious and everything was efficiently designed. We wanted a place with a modern kitchen but we didn’t have air conditioning (A/C is rare in Europe) and it was brutally hot during the summer. We ended up leaving our windows open at night for a breeze but Liv and I were bitten by mosquitos everyday. We were pleasantly surprised how much we liked the area we stayed in. Normally, I would have chosen a place near the center of Paris but staying further out allowed us to shop and dine where locals go and that is how we found the absolute best rotisserie chicken in Paris. Find a place that has something you love but be prepared to give up something else in exchange for it.

Beware of dated apartments.

I know it’s hard to resist the 19th century rustic charm of Parisian apartments but the older the rental, the less amenities you will have. Things we take for granted such as a microwave, a dryer (French people love to use hangers to dry clothes), decent water pressure in the shower, WC (water closets) which are tiny closets with a toilet inside. Those gorgeous herringbone wood floors you may covet may be creaky and noisy and may be annoying hearing your neighbors. I fell in love with a few chic, traditionally rustic Parisian apartments during my search but I had to face the reality that staying in a period apartment with a three year old would have been a headache when she couldn’t resist touching the fragile antiques. We knew we wouldn’t be comfortable lounging around on older furniture. Plus laundromats are expensive and a bummer.

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I almost rented this rustic apartment with the tiniest kitchen ever and five flights of stairs!

Renting a place with small children can be tricky. Some rentals have a strict no children under 12 policy while others may charge more for kids. Since Liv was three years old when were Airbnb hunting, we made a list of kid-friendly must-haves and list of would be lovely. I wouldn’t consider any places that didn’t have white painted walls, I also ruled out any rental with longer than a five minute walk to the Metro. I didn’t want too many stairs because we had so much luggage and I worried about our kid falling on the stairs. It turned out not to be a deal-breaker because Olivia loved the bath.

We showed Liv how to scoot down the steep loft stairs.

Be flexible about the location.

My favorite neighborhoods in Paris are le Marais 3rd and 4th arrondissement, and more recently, the 10th arrondissement near the beautiful Canal Saint Martin. It feels like a more authentic Paris with lots of cool boutiques, trendy restaurants and art galleries without the annoying tourists traps. Although just like LA, the cooler the location, the smaller and more expensive the rentals are (equivalent to Venice beach). There is also a pickpocketing issue throughout the city so always be aware of your bags. There really is no bad part of Paris, the further you are from the Seine the longer the walk, but you can always take the Metro or bus. Like any major city there is crime but it’s not as bad as big cities in the US, and I am a firm believer in not going out with my passport (unless I need it) or large amounts of cash. It’s also a good travel hack to keep a copy of your passport, drivers license on your cell phone and an emergency credit card hidden in your luggage (in your shoe) or somewhere safe.

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We loved buying fresh croissants every morning from the Patisserie on the corner.

If you don’t mind a smaller place, always choose the better location. Become friendly with your local baker, butcher, florist and fruit stand vendors. After a few days, we felt right at home in our Airbnb and even knew some people in our neighborhood by name. Liv made friend’s with our neighbor’s French bulldog.

Happy Airbnb hunting! I’m happy to answer any questions about the places we have rented. Do you have any Airbnb tips or hacks? Please share in the comments below!

Lizzie