Where to escape NYC to...

The City can be daunting to say the least, check out these other cultural hubs for a refreshing escape.

My story started like many other ambitious little girls who dreamt of growing up and becoming singers and actresses. From a very young age, I swore I'd move to New York City. Being the hard-headed, determined little girl that I was, I made it happen. I worked twice as hard throughout school to prove to my parents that I could handle the move and that investing in an education in the arts wouldn't be for naught. So, when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eighteen year old, I hit the road and moved to The Upper West Side to start college. I've been in New York for four years since and I can tell you it's no cake walk.

I feel like the burning question from one transplant to another is always, "How long have you been here?" Is it a way of sizing one another up? Commiserating? Who knows. When I just stated that I've been here for four years, my face flashes back to the tired eyes that told me their number. In hopes to never feel that tired or jaded, I've taken to traveling more and looking for an eventual second home base. Here's what I found!

Asheville, NC

OCTOBER 22: A colorful wall mural adorns a building in the quirky West Asheville neighborhood as viewed on October 22, 2016 in Asheville, North Carolina. Named one of the 'Top 10 Great Places to Retire' by AARP, Asheville is experiencing a major cultural revolution, with the addition of new residents, restaurants, live music, and a vibrant arts community.

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

To say that I am obsessed with Asheville is a mild understatement. My boyfriend was performing nearby last month, so I surprised him and bookended my trip with a solo adventure to Asheville. I had heard great things from friends who have passed through and I was not disappointed. I stayed at Bon Paul and Sharky's Hostel in West Asheville which is essentially Haywood Road. The area boasts a plethora of local bars, cafes, and organic grocery stores and seems to be mainly residential. Biscuit Head is famed for their biscuits and delicious breakfast. My favorite spot was Odd's Cafe which was right next door to my hostel and really great for coffee, small bites, and internet access. Lucky for me, the early bird that I am, most places in the area opened around 6 or 7am so I had somewhere to hang out while the rest of Asheville woke up.

If I ever were to move to Asheville, I would definitely opt for Downtown Asheville. The area reminds me of a smaller scale Williamsburg with added Southern comfort of course. There are tons of great spots to eat, my favorite being Farmburger which sports an amazing menu of customizable grass-fed burgers (and vegan options too!) and their own brewery on site. The feel of the city changes from block to block. There are some areas that feel more classic/family oriented while others seem to suit artists and entrepreneur types. My favorite thing about Asheville is their local music scene which seems to be both intimate but also thriving. Since I am a musician, it's certainly on my list for possible escapes from NYC.

Pros: Much cheaper than NYC (the average cost of a studio in Asheville is $620 a month in comparison to NYC rates that average at about $2300 a month), the area is rich in culture and has a vibrant music scene, great places to eat and drink.

Cons: Not a lot of acting opportunities, need a car.

Austin, TX

AUSTIN, TX - JULY 30: Singer-songwriter Michelle Branch performs in concert during 'The Hopeless Romantic Tour' at Emo's on July 30, 2017 in Austin, Texas.

(Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

Who wouldn't want to live in a city who's motto is "Keep Austin Weird." I've been told by almost everyone, I'd love Austin, TX for it's thriving indie music and film scene. Austin served as the playground for many greats like Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Likewise, there is an excellent nightlife and live music scene to enjoy in your spare time. From state of the art restaurants to trendy farm to tables, Austin has everything. Food Truck culture is on the rise. Some of the best noted as Soursop a pan-asian cuisine truck, Veracruz All Natural which is regarded as the city's best taco truck (a necessary staple), and Tommy Want Wingy, your go-to wing and comfort food stop.

In Austin, you can see live music ranging from the hottest mainstream artist to undiscovered locals at tons of different venues, two well regarded being The Mohawk which boasts a mixed palate of mainstream and indie, Antone's Nightclub which veers way more on the indie or undiscovered side, and Cheer Up Charlie's which curates events with unique artists and is hub for the queer community in Austin.

Whenever I consider a new place that's not New York, I make the mistake of assuming the city layout works the same. While New York is a beast to get around, it makes total sense to me. Downtown Austin is divided into districts, similar to New York.

Sixth Street is the place to go for clubs, live music, and entertainment, while Second Street is where you want to go for dining and shopping. The Seaholm District is fairly new and is the city's old industrial area now being converted to a trendy residential and store front area. The Red River District is one of Austin's most known entertainment and art districts boasting clubs like The Mohawk mentioned above.

Pros: There is a ton to do, indie musician friendly, cheaper than NYC (apx. $930 for a 1 bedroom)

Cons: More expensive than Asheville, need a car, very little film opportunity though definitely an appreciation of film consumption in the area.

Los Angeles, CA

LAX sign at the Century Boulevard entrance to Los Angeles International Airport.

(Photo by: Ken Ross/VW Pics/UIG via Getty Images)

The obvious choice for relocation from the East Coast's cultural capitol is the West Coast's cultural queen, Los Angeles; however, something to consider is it's every bit as frustrating and expensive as NYC, just in a different way. Trade your MTA frustration for strategic planning to skip traffic, trade your through the roof rent for slightly less through the roof rent plus car payments, but still being born and raised near a beach, the easy-breezy culture of Los Angeles calls me and so I did a little research and some visiting to see how it compares.

First of all let's look at the attainable neighborhoods to live in. Something to know about LA is that it's much easier to stay in your neighborhood for day to day activities like work and play to avoid the insufferable traffic. One great spot in LA is Venice Beach. Being right next to the beach is a huge perk and there's plenty to do in the area. Visit the Mosaic House for Insta-worthy shots that will make you disbelieve that you live in such a cool place, take up skate boarding at Venice Skate Park, shop, dine, and check out gallerys on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The average cost of a one bedroom apartment in this area is $2,500 which is still less then NYC and could be worth the splurge for the incredible neighborhood you get with it.

Another possible neighborhood is Silver Lake which is perfect for the aspiring actor because it's right next to the studios where auditions are held. Like Venice Beach, Silver Lake boasts some outdoor, but less-beachy gems like the Silver Lake Reservoir and the Silver Lake Stairs. Sunset Junction is Silver Lake's walkable shopping district. If you're into spendy coffee dates, Intelligentsia will be the perfect neighborhood hang out for you. There are also weekly farmer's market and the neighborhood is described as trendy and eclectic boasting cool graffiti and neighborhood charms. The average price of a one bedroom in this area is slightly less then Venice Beach at around $1,500-1700. If you don't mind being further from the beach, this is definitely a wallet friendly spot.

A little further removed from LA proper is Sherman Oaks which is regarded as the suburban LA. The area attracts a diverse community from artists to families to elderly folk and in return, the area boasts a large array of things to do, to accommodate its diverse crowd. The nightlife scene holds its own with the two reigning spots being The Local Peasant which is a great burger and drink joint with frequent events, and The One Up which is a cool spot for drinks and old school arcade games. Shopping and salons are plentiful in the area especially in the Galleria and Westfield Mall. The area definitely has everything you need day to day and the price is a little more reasonable with prices for one bedroom swaying between $1,500 and $1,900.

LA generally speaking has the same kind of opportunities I came to NYC for so it's definitely the closest option in terms of that but in terms of less stress, I find it to be equal.

Pros: Just as much opportunity as NYC, fun and thriving neighborhoods

Cons: Almost expensive as NYC with added expense of a car.

So here's where I landed. It's not time to leave NYC just yet, but I had so much fun exploring my options! I decided to make exploring other cultural hubs in the US a new hobby so up next is Nashville and Chicago!

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker