Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 32-year-old assistant media relations manager from London goes to Nashville to attend the Country Music Association Awards and run a 5K.
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Occupation: Assistant Media Relations Manager
Salary: $41,331 USD (£32,033 GBP)
Hometown: London, United Kingdom
Trip Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Trip Length: 8 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 25. Although I started my current job midway through my company’s holiday year, so only had 13 days to take between September 2019 and March 2020. I used seven days of annual leave for this trip.
Cost: I took a direct round-trip flight from London Heathrow to Nashville with British Airways.
Costs: I stayed at the Nashville Downtown Hostel, in an eight-person, all-female dorm with a private bathroom, including taxes and fees, for seven nights.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending:
– $14 for ESTA, (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) an online system that tells you whether you’re eligible for travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme. You complete it online before travelling to the US and know in advance whether you’re eligible to travel (though it’s still up to a customs officer whether you can enter the country).
– $24.77 Travel insurance for a worldwide annual policy. A ‘worldwide annual policy’ is a travel insurance policy that applies for a year from the day you buy it and to trips anywhere in the world. You can take as many trips abroad as you want in that year under the same policy (as opposed to a single-trip policy which only covers one particular trip).
– $5.15 for a Guidebook: I used the Kindle version of this guidebook – it has maps, recommendations for attractions/restaurants etc. and a bit of the history of Nashville and each area of the city.
– $15.49 for a UK-to-US adapter
– $92.78 for a Jack Daniel’s distillery tour
– $35 for a Nashville murals tour.
– -$45.95 for a Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B tour combined ticket. included a self-guided tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame (with an audio guide) and a guided tour of RCA Studio B, including the minibus journey to and from the Hall of Fame.
$63 for a Grand Ole Opry show ticket at the Ryman, which features five or six country musicians at various points in their careers and is broadcast on radio and TV.
– $53.50 for a Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry House combined ticket, covered a self-guided tour of the Ryman Auditorium (and a photo on the Ryman stage) and a guided tour of the Grand Ole Opry House.
– $50 Tattoo booking deposit
– $278.14 for CMA Awards ticket
– $55 for Nashville 5k entry fee, including a T-shirt and a medal as well as the cost of entering the race itself.
– $5 for Song Suffragettes ticket
7:00 a.m. (GMT) – I stayed over at my boyfriend T.’s flat last night (my excuse is he lives closer to the airport than me). As much as I don’t want to leave, eventually, I drag myself out of bed. Shower, do my morning skincare, and get dressed in my flying outfit of jeans, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt.
8:30 a.m. – T. has to go to a meeting, so I’m reluctantly turfed out of the flat. We kiss goodbye and I promise to text him when I land. Use my prepaid monthly travelcard to get a bus and two tubes to Heathrow.
10:00 a.m. – Arrive at Terminal 5 early, for once. As check-in isn’t open yet, I grab some breakfast at Carluccio’s: pancakes, a glass of prosecco, and a coffee, and ring my mum before dropping off my hold bag. $25.20
11:00 a.m. – Have a potter in Duty Free whilst waiting for my gate to be called. I don’t buy anything, but it’s fun to play with the makeup and sniff some new perfumes. I also pick up a huge bottle of water in Boots for the flight. $1.53
12:00 p.m. – When my gate finally gets called, I walk the 20 minutes over there (why is it that your gate is always the furthest away from the terminal?). Read my guidebook whilst I wait to board the plane. I’m headed to Nashville to attend the CMA Awards and to run a 5k race there, which I signed up for completely on a whim, but more on that later. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time but I only put things into action after going through a major breakup earlier in the year; as a result, this will be my first major solo trip in about 10 years. I like to plan in advance as much as I can and reading my book is making me eager to get there already and start my adventure!
1:00 p.m. – Once I’m on board, I settle down under my blanket, then put on Avengers: Endgame. I spend the next nine hours watching Rocketman and The Lion King, as well as napping and drinking all the water.
4:30 p.m. CST – We’ve landed! Head to passport control (which takes ages) before I pick up my hold bag and walk through the car parks to get the bus to downtown, the central area of Nashville where most of the tourist attractions are concentrated as well as the main bar and restaurant strip. I buy my ticket on the bus using cash. I’d researched how to get from the airport to my hostel beforehand and had considered taking a Lyft or Uber, but decided to save money by taking the bus. $2
6:45 p.m. – The bus journey takes around 45 minutes and goes along the highway before crossing the river and arriving in the city proper. It isn’t the most exciting journey, and in all honesty, I feel a little nervous that I’m not going the right way or have missed a stop somehow (but that’s to be expected, right?). However I do spot some chain restaurants that we don’t have at home and that I’ve only ever seen in films, so this adds to my sense of excitement. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for so long and am so glad I finally made it!
7:30 p.m. – After a 15-minute walk from the bus station, I finally get to my hostel, which is located on a quiet street overlooking the Cumberland River and is right opposite Nissan Stadium, where the Tennessee Titans football team play. It’s been converted from an old warehouse and inside, the building has a very industrial look, with lots of metal pipes, exposed brick, and shiny wooden floors, plus a big common room area downstairs with some very comfortable-looking sofas and musical instruments dotted around. My room is an all-female dorm on the fourth floor which sleeps eight; it’s clean and has plenty of space for each person, as well as a private bathroom with a shower and separate toilet attached to the room. When I get there, the room is about half full, and all the bunk beds have at least one occupant. Luckily there is a lower bunk still free, one away from the door, so I take that one.
8:30 p.m. – I WhatsApp my mum and T. to let them know I arrived safely, then hop in the shower, get changed (is there anything better than clean clothes after a long flight?) and head out to Broadway, the main bar and entertainment strip in Nashville. It’s only a block away from my hostel so it takes around five minutes for me to walk there. Broadway runs for about five blocks and is lined with lots of different bars playing all sorts of music from country to blues and rock, from around lunchtime until late at night. They’ll often have stages in the windows of venues and the idea is that, rather than pay a cover charge, you walk along until you hear something you like, go inside and then tip the band as much as you want.
8:30 p.m. – After a short stroll up and down Broadway, I find myself in Acme Feed & Seed, which used to be an old grain store and is now a restaurant and music venue. I order a ‘Rule The Roost’ hot chicken sandwich with fries and a house beer. The band, which plays funk and soul classics, is jumping, so I grab a seat at the bar and settle in to listen whilst I work my way through my enormous portion of food – exactly what I needed after my long journey. $23.21
10:00 p.m. – I’ve been awake for almost 22 hours, so decide it’s time to call it a night. Walk the five minutes back to my hostel, take off my makeup and go to bed.
Daily Total: $51.94
8:00 a.m. – Wow, I must have been really tired! This is late for me, and I run round in a flurry to get ready. Shower, skincare, throw on my standard casual outfit; band t-shirt, checked shirt, jeans, Harry Potter Vans (the most comfortable shoes ever), leather jacket and my Hufflepuff scarf. I do my make-up and hair, then head out the door. Today I plan to do a walking tour of Nashville, and then this afternoon I’m going to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’ve been a country fan for many years so am keen to learn as much as I can about the history of the town and the artists who’ve lived and worked here over the years.
9:00 a.m. – It’s a beautiful clear morning, so I walk four blocks to Frothy Monkey for breakfast, passing Printers Alley (originally the home of Nashville’s printing industry but now famous for being a nightlife hotspot) on the way. I also find out that there are various small metal booths dotted around the streets which are motion activated and play songs by famous Nashville musicians – how cool is that?!
9.15 a.m. – When I get to Frothy Monkey, I order an everything bagel, which I’ve read about on R29 Money Diaries but never actually tried before! Got it with cream cheese, plus a coffee. I’m briefly confused about how much to tip (although generally, I aim for 20 percent after-tax or a dollar a drink in bars) and end up just dumping the change from my $10 bill into the jar. $10
9:45 a.m. – This morning I have a walking tour starting at the Nashville Visitors Center at Bridgestone Arena. I’m a little early, so browse the gift shop to kill some time. End up buying a sweatshirt, a knitted hat – it’s colder than I expected here – and a Christmas tree ornament. $81.01
11:00 a.m. – The walking tour is great! I found out about it on the Visit Music City website, they run them every day for free and am really glad I did it. It focuses on the centre of Nashville and we get to see and hear about the history of Broadway and other areas of the city, such as 5th Avenue which is famous as an artists’ district and has some really cool galleries, as well as buildings like the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where legendary country artists like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson performed. Apparently there’s a secret door out the back of Tootsie’s that the artists used to use so they had a fast-track route between the bar and the Ryman! We also stop at Legends’ Corner, a really cool mural, which features country music stars like Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and Keith Urban. Most of the other people in my group are older couples from elsewhere in the US – I’m the only solo visitor – but everyone is really friendly and chatty. Our guide, who’s been living in Nashville for several years, also fills us in on the redevelopment that’s been going on in the city; apparently it’s the fastest-growing city in America, to the extent they’ve had to put a ban on new buildings going up in the downtown area. He also treats each of us to a Goo Goo Cluster – marshmallows, peanuts, and caramel coated in chocolate. They’re amazing and I make a note to come back and buy a box to take home.
11:20 p.m. – I walk the 20 minutes to Arnold’s, a legendary meat-and-three (a type of quick-service restaurant that specialises in different types of roasted meats served with multiple sides of classic Southern cuisine). On the way over, I stop off at the convention centre to pick up my race pack for tomorrow’s 5K run. I pre-registered for the race before I came out here. I’d originally considered a second trip to run the 4th of July 10K in Nashville but spotted this one when I was researching on the Run Nash website and it felt like too much of a coincidence to pass up. I’ve been running on and off for about four years, but really got back into it after my breakup, and this slightly assuages my guilt for missing park run (a weekly timed 5K run which takes place every Saturday) at home.
11:45 a.m. – The line at Arnold’s is crazy, but at least it moves fairly quickly. I order the roast beef with gravy, mashed potato, mac and cheese, and fried green tomatoes, plus an unsweetened iced tea and a slice of chocolate pie. It’s delicious. $20
12:45 p.m. – Stop at Third Man Records (the record store owned by Jack White from The White Stripes) for a browse on my way back downtown and pick up a pin badge to add to my collection. $2.25
1:20 p.m. – Arrive at the Country Music Hall of Fame for my tour of RCA Studio B, where many legendary artists recorded. (I booked my tickets for this in advance.) After a short bus journey across town, we walk through the studios and hear about the history of artists who’ve recorded there, such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Dolly Parton. It’s still set up as it would have been in the 60s and 70s, down to the colored lights and Elvis’ favorite piano, and is very atmospheric. The stories are really interesting too, including how Elvis recorded in the dark there to get the perfect take, but I get the feeling I’d have got more out of it if I was more of a classic rock and roll fan. Oh well.
3:00 p.m. – Back at the Hall of Fame, I spend an enjoyable couple of hours walking around, viewing the exhibits (although I skip most of the early stuff and go straight to the mid-20th century section) and soaking up all the history. There are so many amazing things to see and I take a ton of photographs, but some of the standouts for me are the special exhibitions on Kacey Musgraves (my favourite country artist) and Brooks & Dunn, the wall of gold records, Elvis’ gold-plated Cadillac and Hank Williams’ guitar.
5:00 p.m. – Swing by the gift shop and pick up a poster from the Kacey exhibition, a cardboard tube to carry it in, a plaque that says “Cowgirl you are fabulous,” and a t-shirt designed by Taylor Swift. Yes, I’m a huge Swiftie. $71.07
5:30 p.m. – On the way back to my hostel, I stop off at the Johnny Cash Museum for an hour. Whilst I wait to buy my ticket, I get an email telling me the Grand Ole Opry House tour I booked for Monday has been cancelled. Make a mental note to rebook it ASAP. $21.80
6:30 p.m. – I’m not a major Johnny Cash fan, but the museum is still very interesting. I see some of his handwritten lyrics for songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” photos from his wedding to June Carter (they were serious couple goals), and costumes from the movie about his life, Walk The Line. It was suggested to me by our guide on the walking tour this morning and, whilst it isn’t my favourite museum I’ve visited in Nashville, it’s still a great insight into Johnny Cash’s life and career, as well as how much of an influence he was on country music.
7:00 p.m. – Back at the hostel, I upload all today’s pictures to Instagram, then try to decide where I want to go for dinner. Eventually, I settle for Woolworth on 5th, as recommended by our tour guide this morning. It’s famous for being the site of the lunch counter sit-in protests during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
8:00 p.m. – Woolworth is busy (well, it is a Friday night), but I manage to snag a seat at the counter. I’m a big fan of sitting at bars and counters in restaurants, especially when I’m travelling by myself – I like the buzz of it and being able to people-watch. Order the patty melt burger and a beer from Little Harpeth Brewing Company and chat to my server whilst I eat. Is it just me giving off solo-tourist-from-England vibes or is everyone super-friendly here? $25
9:30 p.m. – Full of dinner and feeling sleepy, I meander back to the hostel for an early night before tomorrow’s run… until I get sidetracked by the Legendairy Milkshake Bar. (I know, I know. Worst race prep ever.) Something about the prospect of a ridiculous dessert lures me in and I end up ordering the Rolling In The Cookie Dough shake, which comes with an entire cookie and one of the souvenir jars. This is definitely going to be one of those impulse purchases I regret later, but right now I do. Not. Care. $27.10
10:30 p.m. – Back at the hostel, I get my kit ready for tomorrow (so I won’t be scrabbling around in my bag for it and waking everyone else up): sweat-wicking T-shirt with my race number pinned to it, long-sleeved base layer for warmth, leggings, socks, shoes, and hat. Whilst I’m doing this, another girl walks into the room, spots the number on my T-shirt and asks if I’m doing the race tomorrow. I say yes and we arrange to walk over to the start line together. I chat with her a bit and find out she’s from the UK as well. Then I get ready for bed and fall asleep whilst reading my book.
Daily Total: $258.17
6:00 a.m. – Alarm goes off. I get changed into my kit as quickly and quietly as possible, before walking to the start line with the girl I met last night and her friend who’s also doing the race. We don’t talk much, but it’s nice to have some company and a bit of help finding the start line. It’s really cold outside and I make a mental note to buy some new running gloves ASAP when I get back to the UK.
7:45 a.m. – 5K is done! It starts near a park north of downtown Nashville, before going over a bridge across the river and looping back through an industrial area that’s currently being redeveloped. I’m slower than I am at park run back home, but that’s always the way with a new route. Normally when I’m traveling, I try to do a park run if there’s one nearby, as it’s a good way to see a different part of a city and learn a bit more about local life there, but this is the first proper race I’ve done abroad. I’m definitely keen to do more at some point though! I pick up my medal, take a terrible selfie for Instagram (because did you even do the race if you don’t post it on Insta?), then wander back to my hostel.
8:15 a.m. – Back at the hostel, I shower, get dressed, do my hair and make-up, then walk over to The Gulch for brunch at Biscuit Love.
10 a.m. – The line for Biscuit Love is ridiculously long, so I pass the time by reading Heresy by SJ Parris on my Kindle. I’m a sucker for a good historical mystery (and have been writing one of my own for years) and end up finishing it whilst I’m waiting. The ending is a little predictable, but it’s a fun read and I definitely want to try the rest of the series now.
11:30 a.m. – Finally sit down, I order the East Nasty (biscuit with fried chicken, cheese and gravy), a side of bonuts (mini donuts made from biscuit dough with lemon cream and blueberry compote) and a drip coffee. Clearly the run and waiting in the cold made me hungry because I scoff the lot. The fact it tastes amazing helps though! $26.38
12:30 p.m. – Stop for a browse in Two Old Hippies, a shop that sells unusual clothing, jewelry, and home accessories, on my way to the pickup point for my mural tour. I booked the tour online prior to coming out here after finding out about it on a travel blog. It includes a minibus tour stopping off at various points across the city, with opportunities to take some photos alongside the murals and hear a bit more about the history of street art locally.
1:00 p.m. – Nashville has become increasingly famous for its street art in recent years, and this afternoon I’m going on a tour to see some of the most famous pieces. Unfortunately, the line at the “What Lifts You” wings mural near our pickup spot has a 40-minute wait, so we head off to our first stop a little further afield.
2:15 p.m. – We stop off in the 12 South neighborhood. I’m wearing an “I Believe In Nashville” shirt with a UK flag I got as a freebie from a music festival last year, and our guide insists on taking photos of me next to the original mural here for her Instagram page. I also get a snap of me next to the “Looking Pretty, Music City” mural which instantly becomes my new profile picture.
3:00 p.m. – Back in the van, we head out to West Nashville. It’s an area that’s on the brink of being redeveloped, and there’s something about seeing it before it becomes gentrified that makes me feel kind of sad. On the other hand, it’s definitely a rich seam of amazing artwork.
4:00 p.m. – That was so much fun! I say goodbye to the tour group and start walking back towards my hostel.
4:30 p.m. – On the walk back, I stop off at Jackalope Brewing Company and try one of their tap beers. Nashville’s microbrewing industry has exploded massively in recent years, and I’m a sucker for a good craft beer back home, so always keen to see what’s on offer when I travel. The brewery is located in an industrial area south of Broadway and is busy with lots of different groups of people, including families and groups of friends getting ready for a night on the town. I sit at a long bench by the window and watch the sun set over the city as I drink my beer. It’s lightly flavoured with lavender, but the floral taste isn’t overwhelming and I find it really refreshing after my long walk. $6
5:30 p.m. – I walk for around 10 minutes to my next stop: Tennessee Brew Works, where the doorman cracks jokes with me as I hand over my ID. I get a sweet potato stout and read my book at the bar whilst I drink it. $8.87
6:30 p.m. – The bar is closing, so I carry on walking for around 25 minutes until I reach my dinner spot for tonight, Martin’s Bar-B-Que, which is a little closer to the centre of Nashville. On the way, I pass a bar selling some really interesting flavoured spirits. They do tastings but it’s pretty busy (Saturday night in Nashville, I guess) so I don’t stay, but make a mental note to swing by later in the week if I can.
7:00 p.m. – Once I arrive at Martin’s, I order the “redneck taco,” which has pulled pork and coleslaw on cornbread, and with a side of mac and cheese and watch a bit of college football on the many TVs dotted around the room. $17
8:00 p.m. – Meandering back towards my hostel, I stop off at Blake Shelton’s bar, Ole Red. Get a house beer and listen to the band, who are playing classic country rock covers. $8
9:30 p.m. – I’m suddenly overwhelmed by tiredness (I feel like such a grandma) so decide to call it a night and head back to the hostel. Take off my makeup and lie in bed for a bit reading my book. I’m asleep by 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $66.25
7:00 a.m. – Today I’m off to tour the Jack Daniel’s distillery. I booked this with Tennessee Whiskey Tours before my trip. Shower, get dressed, do hair and makeup, then walk for 15 minutes to the hotel where the tour bus is picking me up. It’s a chilly, quiet morning and the city feels really peaceful away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway.
8:15 a.m. – Grab an egg, cheese, and bacon muffin and a coffee from the coffee shop on-site at the hotel. I’d been hoping for something a little more substantial, but this will have to do. $10
9:00 a.m. – Onboard the bus to the distillery. As we drive through the Tennessee countryside, I listen to the new Luke Combs album and read some of my new book, Valley of the Dolls.
11:00 a.m. – Arrive in Lynchburg. I’m on the Angels’ Share tour, which includes a look round the distillery site and some free samples at the end. We learn about the history of Jack Daniel’s as well as some really interesting facts, like that they use whiskey that’s no good to help burn their charcoal, that all the water is still sourced from the same spring, and the story behind Jack’s safe in his “office.” Apparently, he stubbed his toe kicking the safe in frustration and that caused an injury which got infected and ultimately led to his death.
12:15 p.m. – Whiskey tasting time! They’re all really nice, but I particularly like the Gold 27 and Sinatra Select which both have a lovely smooth taste.
12:45 p.m. – We have a short break for lunch, so I decide to walk into Lynchburg itself (the distillery is just outside the town). The Jack Daniel’s store is located in the heart of Lynchburg rather than on the distillery property itself, so I call in there first and buy a t-shirt, which also comes with a free shot glass when I show my tour ticket as I spent more than $10. The store has every type of Jack Daniel’s merchandise you could possibly think of, from glasses and shirts all the way to things like bar stools and blankets! $28.47
1:00 p.m. – The next stop is Barrel House BBQ, a couple of minutes’ walk away, which was recommended by our guide for lunch. I order a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s made with the house barbecue sauce and tastes absolutely amazing, and I’m determined to try and recreate it when I get home. $10
1:30 p.m. – After lunch, I have a wander around Lynchburg. It’s tiny and you can lap the main square in around 10 minutes, but it’s a gorgeous clear autumn day with bright blue skies and the town looks absolutely beautiful, particularly the town hall and the pristine white bandstand which is decorated with pumpkins and glorious fall foliage from Halloween.
1:45 p.m. – I pop into the local wine shop for a tasting, which includes a free small souvenir glass and your choice of up to five wine samples. I don’t drink a lot of American wines usually, so the flavors are a little sweeter than I’m used to, but they’re still really nice. My favourites are Ruby Red Slippers, a sweet red Moscato, and The Twelve, which is a traditional Concord grape. $5
2:30 p.m. – Back on the bus to the city. Nap most of the way; I guess all that whiskey and wine made me sleepy…
4:30 p.m. – Finally back in Nashville, I hop in a Lyft over to the Bluebird Cafe ($29.78). The Bluebird is a legendary Nashville music venue, which hosts regular Sunday night songwriters’ rounds, where seven or eight writers get up and perform a couple of their songs each. I didn’t manage to get tickets for either of tonight’s rounds in advance as they sell out really quickly, so I’m crossing my fingers that they can squeeze me into a standby seat (they keep a handful of seats free for every show for walk-ins). Sadly I miss the cutoff for the 5:00 p.m. show, but manage to snag the last spot for the 8:00 p.m. one! The show itself is free (although there is a small charge for booking online), but I’m starving hungry, so once I’m sat down in the venue, I order the Bluebird Basket – chicken tenders and fries – and a root beer ($20). $49.78
10:30 p.m. – The show is absolutely brilliant. All the writers are incredible, there’s a huge variety of musical styles, everything from traditional country to pop, blues and rock and we even get a special guest appearance from Tony Arata, who wrote “The Dance” for Garth Brooks. It makes me realize how many incredibly talented people there are in this town and how few of them get their big break. Get a Lyft back to the hostel. $19.52
11:00 p.m. – Back at the hostel, take off makeup and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $122.77
7:00 a.m. – Shower, get dressed, do hair and make-up, head out. First stop: coffee and a muffin for breakfast at Crema – which I first heard about when it was mentioned on the Nashville TV series. It’s a light, bright building with lots of pale wood and white walls. The coffee comes in an unusual glass flask setup and is very strong, but certainly helps to wake me up! $10.37
9:00 a.m. – I walk for around 20 minutes to the Ryman Auditorium for my self-guided tour (which I booked in advance). It’s a beautiful former church that’s since become famous as a music venue, including as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, a famous country music variety show which is broadcast on radio and TV, for decades.
11:00 a.m. – The Ryman tour is fascinating and I could easily have spent hours in there. It’s so interesting hearing about the history of the building and the people who worked and performed here, including Lula C. Naff who was the legendary general manager for more than 40 years, as well as seeing all the exhibits, such as one of BB King’s guitars, Hank Williams’ handwritten lyrics for “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and a cowboy hat worn by Patsy Cline. I also get a photo of me standing on the stage (included in my ticket price) and pick up a t-shirt I saw someone on my Jack Daniel’s tour wearing yesterday because I’m easily swayed like that. $27.30
11:30 a.m. – Call the Opry to rebook my tour there. It turns out they cancelled and refunded my entire booking (for both the Opry and the Ryman) this morning. I feel bad that I effectively went to the Ryman for free, but justify it as I wasn’t planning on buying the T-shirt so that kind of cancels it out. Rebook the Opry tour for Wednesday morning. $38.50
12:00 p.m. – Decide to wander over to Bicentennial Park. It takes around 20 minutes. On my way there, I pass by another Visit Nashville gift shop and find a tote bag with the names of various city neighbourhoods on it. I’d spotted this on the website before I travelled out here and really wanted it, but the other branch didn’t have it, and this looks like the last one! I’m a firm believer that you can never have too many tote bags so immediately snap it up. $27.37
12:30 p.m. – On my way to the park, I pass by the Tennessee State Capitol, a formidable-looking neo-classical building.
1:00 p.m. – Despite getting caught in a sudden downpour on my way over (good job I carry an emergency umbrella!), Bicentennial Park looks absolutely beautiful with all the autumn colours. I feel really peaceful walking through here and love the little snippets of Tennessee history that are built into the park design, like the timeline that follows the outer wall of the park and the sculptures which play traditional songs from the state.
1:30 p.m. – Feeling hungry, I cross the road and walk for a few minutes to the Nashville Farmers’ Market for lunch. The pizza place I initially wanted to go to is closed for Veterans’ Day, so I head to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams instead (because ice cream for lunch is totally acceptable when you’re on holiday, right?), which was recommended to me by a friend. I get a scoop each of White Chocolate Peppermint, Darkest Chocolate and Brown Butter Almond Brittle ($6.68), and they all taste heavenly. $6.68
2:30 p.m. – The rain is getting heavier so I head back to my hostel, which takes around 45 minutes to walk. About halfway there, I end up making a detour via Barista Parlor in Germantown, one of the recommendations from my guidebook. I order their Headless Horseman coffee, which tastes like the best pumpkin spice latte ever. Germantown is a quirky neighbourhood which mixes a little bit of an industrial vibe with a more traditional feel, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d like to spend more time in (if it wasn’t raining!). $10.10
4:00 p.m. – Walk the rest of the way back to the hostel, which takes around 20 minutes, then sit on my bed chilling out and playing around on social media.
5:45 p.m. – Manage to get a seat right at the front! I order dinner before the show starts: a burger, fries and Diet Coke. $24
9:00 p.m. – The show is great! It mostly focuses on pop-country, but all five of the performers are super talented. I say a quick hello to my friends A. and B. (they run a management company back home and one of their acts is performing tonight), as well as our friend F., who’s also here. It’s the CMA Awards on Wednesday so most of my UK country scene friends are in town for that, and it’s really nice to get to hang out with them for a little bit – I’ve enjoyed my solo trip so far but didn’t realise how much I’d missed having company.
10:00 p.m. – After walking back to the hostel, I do my evening skincare routine and read in bed before falling asleep around 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $144.32
7:00 a.m. – Brrr! It is absolutely freezing outside. After I shower, I throw on two pairs of socks, tights under my jeans (a genius trick and frankly one I’m amazed I’ve never used before) and a sweatshirt over my usual shirt and T-shirt combo in a bid to keep warm. Do my make-up and hair and then it’s out the door.
8:30 a.m. – Walk across the snow-covered John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, which has some amazing views of the Nashville skyline. I snap a few pictures for Instagram on the way, although it’s difficult to hold my phone with cold fingers and it very nearly meets a sticky end in the Cumberland River! Luckily I manage to keep hold of it though.
9:00 a.m – After around 30 minutes of walking, I arrive at Sky Blue Cafe in East Nashville (another place I found through the Nashville TV series) and order a Lo’s Bowl: home fries with peppers, onions, tomato, mushroom, spinach, avocado, eggs, and cheese, and drip coffee. It’s got a real down-home, local feel to it and is very busy despite being a Monday morning. I’m getting my first tattoo this morning (!) so I want to have a good breakfast beforehand. To kill time, I eke out the free refills and end up having about four cups of coffee – that’s more than I’d drink in a day back home and by the last one I’m feeling a little jittery, although I’m not sure what’s too much coffee and what’s new tattoo nerves. $15
10:30 a.m. – Get a Lyft to the tattoo parlour. My driver is super chatty and tells me all about her life with her little boy and partner. $17.10
11:45 a.m. – Tattoo is done! It’s an ECG/pulse rate with a heart made of a treble clef and bass clef in the middle, because where better to get a music tattoo than Music City, right? My artist is lovely and really puts me at ease, and pain-wise it’s completely fine, like a cat scratch for the linework and then like a really hard pinch for filling in. I actually find it weirdly relaxing after a while! I paid the first $50 as a deposit a few weeks ago, so pay the remaining balance and tip ($65) then call a Lyft to lunch ($13.41). $78.41
12:30 p.m. – Lunch today is a cheeseburger, a mountain of tater tots, and a cream soda from The Pharmacy. Very much needed for post-new tattoo energy restoration, right? Whilst I eat, I message back and forth with my sister S.; she has several tattoos herself and was keen to see mine, so we talk a little about the experience and what I plan to get next. $17.75
1:30 p.m. – There’s a vintage shop I want to visit to look for cowboy boots, so I walk the 25 minutes over there. It’s a beautiful, crisp, clear day and the neighborhood is still decorated for Halloween, with lots of pumpkins and bright autumn foliage on the steps up to the white clapboard houses, so it’s a really enjoyable walk. I make a mental note to come back to this side of town and explore properly next time I’m here.
2:00 p.m. – Arrive at where the vintage shop is supposed to be… only to find it’s a completely different business. I’m mildly annoyed that I trekked all the way out here now, but chalk it up to an experience. And at least the walk was nice I suppose. Order a Lyft to take me back to downtown. $14.68
2:30 p.m. – Decide to venture out for a quick drink and end up at The George Jones, a bar owned by the country singer of the same name which is five minutes from my hostel. I get a peanut butter stout ($8.67) and listen to the country singer performing on stage for a bit. Throw $5 in the bucket on my way out. Not much I know, but it’s all the cash I have on me right now. $13.67
3:30 p.m. – Walk back to the hostel. I feel like I should go do something else with my afternoon but end up chilling on my bed reading my book, messing around on Twitter, listening to music, and WhatsApping.
5 p.m. – My friend K. has just arrived in Nashville, so we exchange some messages arranging to meet up for a drink after my show at the Ryman tonight.
5:30 p.m. – I walk for around 20 minutes to the Ryman. Tonight I’m going to watch the Grand Ole Opry show! Normally it’s broadcast from the Opry House on the other side of town, but they move back to the Ryman during the winter months. Once I get there, I pick up a letter-block printed poster of tonight’s lineup there’s a company called Hatch Show Print which still makes all the posters for every Opry show by hand and it’s a really unique way to remember my trip. $12
9:00 p.m. – The Opry is amazing! I get to see so many different artists, playing all kinds of country music from bluegrass to modern pop country, including two of my favourite new acts – Tenille Townes and Tyler Rich – and an outstanding performance from tonight’s headliner, Craig Campbell, who’s just made a more traditional country record. Text K. once I’m done and arrange to meet him outside Bridgestone Arena in 15 minutes.
9:15 p.m. – Walk down the road for five minutes and meet K. on the corner by the arena. We head over to a bar nearby, where K. buys the first round of drinks.
10 p.m. – The music in the first bar isn’t great, so we walk a few minutes up the road to try somewhere else. The beauty of Broadway is there are so many bars within steps of each other, so if you don’t like the music in one place you can pretty much stumble into the next one and the next, and the next… until you find somewhere you like. This one is much better and we end up staying for a few rounds, of which I buy two and K. buys one. $48
12:30 a.m. – After accidentally spilling my last drink all over my new hat (which now stinks of whiskey), I decide it’s time to call it a night. Say goodbye to K. and walk for 10 minutes until I get back to my hostel, where I take off my makeup and crash into bed.
Daily Total: $268.61
7:00 a.m. – Ugh. I am so tired today. Getting ready is a struggle, and I mentally kick myself for booking my Opry tour for 9:30 this morning.
8:00 a.m. – I walk three blocks over to Puckett’s Grocery for breakfast. I get a coffee, water, and the eggs benedict, expecting something akin to what we have in the UK; poached eggs on English muffins with ham. What I actually get is a skillet full of eggs, bacon, biscuits and sausage gravy. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. $18
9:00 a.m. – Full of breakfast and feeling set up for the day, I get a Lyft over to the Opry House for my tour this morning. $21.43
9:30 a.m. – Arrive at the Opry House for my tour. It’s an hour-long guided tour of the building, which takes you through the backstage area as if you were an artist performing on the show itself, going through the various dressing rooms and then out into the main auditorium.
10:30 a.m. – Well that was… underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to see all the dressing rooms and the members’ plaques on the wall, as well as learning the history of the building such as the mural which survived the Nashville floods a few years back, but I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to stand in the circle of wood from the Ryman on stage (it’s covered over for their Christmas show). Guess I’ll just have to come back another time…
11 a.m. – Have a browse in the gift shop and pick up a Bluebird Cafe t-shirt, as well as one with a list of the current Opry members (being invited to be a member of the Opry is pretty much the biggest honor you can get as a country artist) and a photo of me in Dolly Parton’s Opry dressing room ($85.06). Then get a Lyft back to downtown ($20.14). $105.20
1 p.m. – Back at the hostel, I start packing ahead of my flight home tomorrow. It rapidly occurs to me that I’ve bought way too much stuff and I end up having to strap my poster tube to the outside of my rucksack (praying it survives the flight), plus packing all the souvenirs I’ve bought into my hand luggage. Thankfully everything just about fits…
2:00 p.m. – Time to get ready for the CMA Awards! I paint my nails, shower, wash my hair, get dressed, then do my make-up and style my hair (I never blow-dry it; life’s too short). Snap a couple of selfies and then it’s out the door.
5:00 p.m. – I like to treat myself to at least one fancy blow-out meal when I travel, so have an early dinner reservation at Etch. Order a Smoked Old Fashioned cocktail to start, then the roasted cauliflower starter and venison main course. It’s all absolutely amazing and I make a mental note to come back next time I’m in Nashville. My server is lovely too and great at making sure there’s a quick turnaround so I can make it to the awards in time. $76.16
6:15 p.m. – Arrive at Bridgestone Arena. I missed the memo about small bags and briefly panic they won’t let me in, but luckily I make it through security and into my seat in time for the show!
10:30 p.m. – Oh I am madder than a wet hen right now. Was convinced all night it’d be Eric Church or Carrie Underwood for EOTY and then Garth Brooks swoops in (I strongly suspect this is due to a split vote). Based on the chatter from the crowd around me though, I think I’m in the minority. That said, I’m thrilled for Maren Morris winning Album of the Year and Ashley McBryde getting New Artist, and it was really cool to get to see so many of my favorite country acts live including those who don’t travel outside the US. Plus I was in the same room as Dolly Parton: life goal fulfilled!
11:00 p.m. – I remember that Thompson Square, one of my favourite bands, are playing George Jones as a CMA Awards afterparty, so call in there. One of the things I love about Nashville is that even for big acts like this there’s no cover charge; you can hear something you like playing, wander in off the street, grab a drink and listen to the band. They’re great, and I have a lot of fun dancing along to their 45-minute set.
11:45 p.m. – Walk back to the hostel, take off my makeup and go to bed.
Daily Total: $220.79
8:00 a.m. – My flight home isn’t until 7:00 p.m. this evening, so I have almost a whole day left in Nashville. Same morning routine as usual, plus a quick check to make sure I’ve packed everything up before I go.
9:30 a.m. – Check out of the hostel (which very kindly lets me leave my bags for free), then go for a wander into Nashville. I have two goals for today: get a photo with the What Lifts You wings mural and have hot chicken.
10 a.m. – Pop into Milk & Honey for a coffee and a cinnamon roll, which I eat sitting on a picnic bench in the parking lot opposite. Oh, the glamour. At least it’s warmer than the last few days… $11.74
10:30 a.m. – Head to the mural to get my photo and run into my tour guide from the murals tour on Saturday! We say hi and have a quick chat about how my trip has been before she heads off with her new group and I ask a bunch of random strangers to take my photo. It comes out really well!
12:00 p.m. – After a walk across the city, I finally make it to Hattie B’s. It’s a fairly long line but moves pretty fast so I’m not waiting too long. (Besides, I’m British; queuing is practically a national sport here.) Once it’s my turn, I order the hot chicken sandwich with mild heat, although in hindsight I think I could have handled the medium, pimiento mac and cheese, and unsweetened iced tea. It’s delicious: the perfect final meal in Nashville. $14.54
1:00 p.m. – On the way back, I stop off at the Union Station Hotel. It used to be a train station and has the most beautiful lobby, so I snap a few pictures. Feel a bit guilty about this so I treat myself to one of their cocktails. $19.40
2:30 p.m. – Wander into Nashville Cowboy to kill time and end up falling in love with a gorgeous pair of sparkly cream and turquoise boots. Sadly I don’t have the space to take them home with me (plus they’re $300 and I’ve already spent far too much money on this trip), and the manufacturer doesn’t appear to have a UK stockist, so I say goodbye to them for now and hope they’ll be there if I ever come back.
2:45 p.m. – Chill out at the hostel for an hour or so, recharging my phone and reading my book. K. messages me to ask if I want to share a cab to the airport and I say yes.
4:00 p.m. – Meet K. on the corner of Broadway to get an Uber to the airport. He pays. On the way there, we discuss how we are still not over Garth winning EOTY.
4:30 p.m. – Arrive at the airport and go through security and customs before trying to find somewhere for dinner. As usual, there is limited choice, so we end up settling on Wendy’s ($6.97). I also get a big bottle of water ($3.92) from the bookshop for the flight. $10.95
7:30 p.m. – Annoyingly my inflight entertainment system doesn’t work, so I decide to try and sleep as much as I can after dinner. I put Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour album on repeat and spend the rest of the flight alternating between snoozing fitfully and reading my book.
Daily Total: $105.94
8:50 a.m.(GMT) – We’ve landed! WhatsApp my family group and T. to let them know I arrived safely, then K. and I walk through customs together before going to wait for our bags. Amazingly, they’re some of the first out, and my posters survived – hooray!
9:45 a.m. – K. is getting the tube back to his flat, so we say our goodbyes before I head to the taxi rank. Order my Uber to T.’s flat on the way there. $73.55
10:50 a.m. – Arrive at T.’s place (he booked the day off work) and spend the rest of the day hanging out together.
Daily Total: $73.55
How did you prepare for this trip?
I got recommendations from friends who’d visited Nashville before and also used the Lonely Planet website, blogs and my Moon guidebook.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further:
If flight, when did you book? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked my flight in the British Airways sale in January 2019. I think I got a good deal, especially given the time of year and how much more expensive it is to fly direct.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much? No – I’ve been saving for this trip for several years and had saved around £6,000 by the time I traveled. I also asked for money for my birthday a month before this trip and my parents and sister very kindly gave me $250 to put towards it.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The Bluebird Cafe. It was worth every second of the queue – just the atmosphere and getting to hear such incredible songwriters. I would recommend it to everyone, even those who don’t think they like country music.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
The whole meal at Etch was absolutely incredible. I’m definitely going back there if I ever return to Nashville (and getting dessert!).
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
I don’t wish I’d avoided going to RCA Studio B, but as I’m not a huge Elvis fan I probably wouldn’t do it again. Similarly, this will sound like sacrilege, but I felt the Grand Ole Opry was a little disappointing compared to the Ryman. That’s mainly because I went at the wrong time of year to get to stand in the circle though.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Don’t pack nice ‘going out’ clothes. Everyone goes out on Broadway in jeans and t-shirts, and even at the CMA Awards there were people quite clearly ignoring the ‘black tie’ instructions. Save that suitcase space for souvenirs!
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I would have spread my activities out more. I felt I packed a lot into the first few days and then it increasingly felt like I was hanging around a bit waiting for things towards the end of the trip.
Would you stay at your hostel again?
I would, but I’d upgrade to get a private room. Most of the people I was sharing with were late sleepers or spent a lot of time in the room, and I felt very awkward getting ready and being out the door by 8:00 a.m. without making too much noise.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
My hostel was right at the top of Broadway on the river, opposite Nissan Stadium, and was absolutely perfect location-wise – it was close to all the bars and to Bridgestone Arena for the awards, and within reasonable walking distance of The Gulch and East Nashville if I wanted to go a little further afield.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I really wanted to do one of the Walk Eat Nashville food tours (and probably could have done if I’d rejigged things a bit more once my Opry tour got cancelled), but it just didn’t line up timings-wise. I would also have liked to spend longer in the 12 South neighbourhood as I really liked what I saw of it when I went there on my mural tour.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
I think I was there for the right amount of time as I had enough time to do (almost) everything I wanted. If I’d been able to organise my time a little better I might have had a day less, but otherwise it was perfect.
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