5 Ways to Meet People While Traveling

Hello again! As a follow up to Sunday’s post (The Pros and Cons of Backpacking Alone), I figured I would give a little advice to solo travelers on how to meet people! As much as I enjoyed being alone on my trip, I’m also very social and was always itching to meet other travelers. Here are the top five ways I did so…enjoy!

5. Music Festivals

When I saw the lineup for Open’er Festival in Gydnia, I bought a ticket. I had no plans, no friends to attend the festival with, and I didn’t know a word of Polish. (Luckily, I was able to connect friends on Couchsurfing and Reddit. You can find the whole story here.) The four of us made a bunch of friends at the festival…just from, you know, being there. At a music festival, it’s totally acceptable to sit down with a group of people and start chatting with them, or run up to a group of people in a Morphsuit and start chugging a beer. We met friends from all over the world just by including everyone around us into our conversations and being friendly!

If You’re Shy: Ask a group of nearby festivalgoers to help you choose between two acts playing at the same time. Starting a debate on seeing Drake vs. Father John Misty, one of the biggest conflicts of Open’er, makes for awesome conversation.

Mackenzie, Erin, and I with one of the more…interesting friends we met at Open’er. Photo stolen from the lovely Sam Wilson.

4. Volunteering/Working

Not only are programs like Workaway and WWOOF (check out more on what WWOOF is here) great for saving money while traveling, but they’re also great for meeting other travelers and people around the world! For two weeks in August, I volunteered at Angloville, a week-long program that helped Polish teenagers improve their English skills by introducing them to native English speakers. Basically, my job was to speak English. I was able to meet 20 other native English speakers on backpacking adventures and talk to a bunch of Polish teenagers about living in Poland (and what they thought about Americans). The native English speakers included backpackers from Canada, England, Australia, Ukraine, the Netherlands…I still talk to a few of them on a regular basis and I currently am living through their travels!

If You’re Shy: Find programs, like Angloville, that focus on speaking or learning your native language. It takes a lot of pressure off you when you can, you know, communicate with people.

Native Speakers from Angloville Week 1! (Well…my week 1) Stole this gem from Nathan…I look ridiculous 🙂

3. Tinder

I’ll say it. I’ll say it. Tinder’s great. The online dating app was designed in 2012 and has ever since gained a notorious reputation as young people use it to find hookups. So I know what you’re thinking, but hold your judgement for a minute. During my travels, I’ve used Tinder to talk to young people who were local to the area. Since someone’s always active on Tinder, advice on what to do in a city or a friend to grab a drink with were always at hand. On my profile, I always wrote I was traveling, I was looking for friends to grab food with or who had good recommendations for bars, museums, and things to do around the city. Use caution and remember that you might have to explain that you’re using it for platonic reasons (or not, I don’t judge), but I definitely recommend downloading Tinder before your next backpacking trip.

If You’re Shy: I’d especially recommend Tinder. That way you don’t have to awkwardly approach a group of people and find the perfect way to slide into their conversation.

2. Couchsurfing

 What’s Couchsurfing, you ask? Well thank goodness I wrote a whole blog post on it! Basically, Couchsurfing is a website and an app that helps you meet locals on your travels. You can stay with them for a night or a few, hang out at a meetup, or just grab advice. There’s tons of opportunities to meet people!

If You’re Shy: Start with a meetup. It takes off the pressure of residing in someone’s house, and usually Couchsurfing meetups are pretty easy to spot. Just asking, “Is this the Couchsurfing meetup?” is an easy way to get talking!

Read more about Couchsurfing and why it's so great on this blog post!!
Read more about Couchsurfing and why it’s so great on this blog post!!

1. Hostels

Hostels are easily the easiest places to meet people while traveling. As soon as you walk into your room,  you could be greeted by a number of people from around the world. Most young adults staying in hostels are on backpacking trips or vacations, so everyone has a cool story to tell. My best piece of advice is to find a hostel that’s close to the city center, with a bar. Even if the people in your room aren’t around, you can hop down to the bar, grab a drink, and talk to people. Most also host pub crawls or walking tours as well!

If You’re Shy: “Where are you from?” is an easy enough question to ask. Again, most hostel dwellers have tons of traveling stories they want to tell and they’ll want to hear yours as well!

Hope you enjoyed this week’s post! Let me know the best ways you’ve met people abroad in the comments! See you next week!

The Pros and Cons of Backpacking Alone

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The decision to embark on my three-month backpacking trip alone was not a hard one. (Mainly because I couldn’t find anyone who’s timing and destinations matched up with mine.) I’ve always been independent, and I had a fantastic time traveling the Southwest last summer alone. Before I left, however, I was met with a lot of praise for (and questions about) my decision. It’s not always easy, but traveling alone is super rewarding, so I decided to provide a list of pros and cons having to do with various aspects of traveling. Let’s get to it!

COST:

Pro – Food becomes a lot cheaper when you’re on your own, especially if you’re like me and don’t make fancy meals a high priority. On my first day in a new city, I’d usually head to the grocery store and stock up on cereal & fruit bars, bread & cheese, or trail mixes to last me through my wanderings. Hummus and crackers are always a frugal choice as well. I ran into trouble when I was in big groups – eating at restaurants and buying rounds ended up costing a pretty penny.

Con – However, sharing is caring. If you work it out just right, splitting the cost of transportation (if you’re driving), food, or lodging (I suggest cramming 10 people into a one-bedroom apartment like my friends and I did in Warsaw) can save you a good bit. I personally think it depends on the size and attitude of the group, so you’ll have different experiences with different people.

Con: You have to take a lot of selfies (if you want to be in any pictures at all).

MEETING PEOPLE:

Con – I’m a very social person. While I enjoyed my alone time, I was always forcing myself to meet new people. (In a later post I’ll let you know the best ways to do so!) Meeting new people every day gets exhausting! Every time I was getting ready to check out the hostel bar or chat someone up during a tour, I would have to psyche myself up. After that, I had to answer the same four questions….

Pro – Nine times out of ten, however, making friends was easier than I anticipated it to be. I would also rather have met more people than less, and I think when you’re traveling with other people, you can get very comfortable with just hanging out with the other person or your group.  Being alone, I also met each person with a more open mind and gave each person more of my authentic self than if I were with old friends.

Armands ran up to me and my friends in his morphsuit, and the rest is history. I stole this picture of the American/Latvian Open’er crew from my good friend Arturs 🙂

LOGISTICS

Pro – I’m not very detail oriented. During my trip, I went with the flow and if I made a mistake while traveling (going the wrong way on the bus, being late for a scheduled tour, etc.) I wasn’t disappointing anyone. Traveling solo means no one is relying on you for directions and you have no one to rely on but yourself.

Con – At the same time, I’m sure I wouldn’t have taken 75% of my wrong turns if I had someone next to me saying, “No dummy, the museum’s THAT way.” It’s always nice to have a second pair of eyes and ears to get you around new places.

SAFETY 

Con – I don’t know if I can really come up with a pro for this one. Yup, being alone puts you at a greater risk for theft and other not-nice-things. Walking in groups is great!

PLANNING

Con – Planning the trip can be stressful. For my first time visiting Europe, I had no idea where to go, how to get there, or how to map out the most efficient route. If I had had another person who had certain plans in mind, planning may have been a bit easier. In a hard decision between Brussels & Amsterdam vs. Copenhagen & a longer stay in Berlin, I definitely had to consult a friend or two. Plus, another friend or group may have led me to unexpected places/sites and pleasant surprises.

Pro – In my case though, pleasant surprises still came at every turn. I left little bits of my trip unplanned for that reason; before leaving, I had no plans on visiting Madrid. I spent three nights in Madrid at the tail end of my trip and I would put Madrid in one of the top five cities I visited. My original plan was to visit London, Liverpool, and Edinburgh back to back to back. As it turned out, I fell in love with London and pushed Edinburgh back a month…which put me in Edinburgh just at the start of the Fringe. You can’t always leave plans up in the air when you’re with a group of people, and a group of people may have other plans than sitting in a park reading and writing for two days straight (again, Madrid). Planning the trip my way gave me a lot of insight into who I am and how I travel.

Pro: No arguing over restaurants and no judgement at all. If you want to eat pizza five times during your four-day stay in Rome, you don’t have to tell anyone.

Overall, if I were to do the trip again, I wouldn’t change a thing, especially traveling alone. Sure, I want to do backpacking trips in the future and I already have plans to spend my next adventure with my best friend. To anyone who’s considering traveling alone, however, you have my stamp of approval. Traveling alone gives great insight into your strength, potential, and who you are as a person. And in a world of Couchsurfing and hostels, you may be alone, but you’ll never be lonely.

Let me know what you thought of this post and what you want to read next!! Check back next week for a new post…it’ll be a fun one 🙂

“What Was Your Favorite City?” And Other Superlatives!

I got quite a few questions back in the States after my three-month backpacking trip through Europe. Number one question: “What was your favorite city?” What a loaded question, but a fun one. Based on that question, I decided to put together a list of superlatives for the cities I visited on my trip. Some are quirky, some are pretty serious, all play a big part in my travels. I’ll list the contenders and then we’ll start!

In the Running (grouped by country but not in any other particular order): London, Liverpool, Bristol, Devon (Somersault Music Festival), Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dublin, Gdansk, Gdynia (Open’er Music Festival), Poznan, Krakow, Warsaw, Vienna, Villach, Prague, Rome, Milan, Copenhagen, Berlin, Barcelona, Figueres, Madrid

Best Nightlife: 5. Dublin 4. Prague 3. Krakow 2. Warsaw 1. Berlin

Give it up for Eastern Europe! Krakow reminded me of a cheaper, less crowded Williamsburg. Warsaw had an amazing beach to party on (and Soplica. Lots of Soplica.) Berlin, however, had something for everyone. Sure, I was told to go to the craziest nightclubs for all the tourists. My lovely group of Couchsurfing friends, however, took me elsewhere (and I’m glad they did). Shout out to the music selection at the bars in Berlin….one played only Pearl Jam, the other spun Cat Stevens, The Pixies, and The Velvet Underground on vinyl.

Hippest Cities: 3. Poznan 2. Bristol 1. Berlin

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Collection of Banksy street art I found in Bristol!

What can I say, in both Bristol and Berlin I went on street art tours and found a lot of vegan restaurants. From my brief visit in Poznan, I got a chill vibe from all the students that lived in the area. Bristol had a very strong passion for supporting local business, which got me very excited to move to Austin all over again. And Berlin…I mean, it’s Berlin.

Cities Where I Fell in Love with Just About Everyone on the Street: 3. Vienna 2. London 1. Copenhagen

I have no specific reasoning for choosing Vienna…maybe I was feeling extra romantic that day. In London, the accent and nostalgia definitely got me. I felt like I was in middle school again, drooling over guys who reminded me of Alex Turner and Jamie T. Copenhagen? Everyone’s beautiful in Copenhagen. Tall, blonde, perfectly groomed…I’ll stop writing before it gets weird.

stumbling into a screening of La Boheme in Vienna
Stumbling into a screening of La Boheme in Vienna

Happiest People: 3. Figueres 2. Madrid 1. Barcelona

There was something about Spain that felt so lovely. Happy families and happy couples were everywhere, and I don’t mean the kind of happy couples that you found PDA’ing in Prague. It made Spain was definitely great for people watching, especially in parks.

Best Performances: 3. Jeremy Loops (Somersault) 2. Major Lazer (Open’er) 1. Bombay Bicycle Club (Somersault)

Of course I had to add a little bit about the music I saw on my trip! The lineup at Open’er was the number one reason I voyaged to Poland, but the performances at Somersault did NOT disappoint. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I got to have a quick chat with Jeremy Loops and Motheo Moleko after their show, but if you have a chance to see them on their upcoming tour, you can judge for yourself.

Only performance that included raps, children's toys, and a freaking beautiful man from Cape Town, that's for sure.
Only performance that included rapping, children’s toys, and a freaking beautiful man from Cape Town, that’s for sure.

Top Three Songs on Repeat: 3. The Libertines – “Can’t Stand Me Now” 2. Disclosure – “Bang That” 1. George Ezra – “Barcelona”

If I had a dollar for every time I sat someone down and forced them to listen to “Barcelona”, I’d probably be able to afford another trip. George Ezra didn’t play at Open’er like The Libertines and Disclosure, but he wrote a song about one of my most anticipated cities. His album Wanted On Voyage came from a trip through Europe that he went on for creative inspiration. Sound familiar?

Questions I Got the Most As An American: 3. “Donald Trump, seriously?” 2. “What is cheese whiz?” 1. “Do you own a gun?”

Apparently only Americans spray cheese out of a can, go figure. I really have nothing else to say here, because most of the time, my response to these questions was to just bow my head and swear silently to myself. Anyway….

Most Beautiful Cities: 5. Krakow 4. Edinburgh 3. Prague 2. Tie Between Madrid and Rome 1. Barcelona

The squares in Krakow (or any city in Poland, it was a close race between Krakow and Gdansk) were absolutely stunning. Edinburgh’s old buildings and Arthur’s Seat are still calling my name. If it were a contest on the most beautiful views…there’s no question, Prague wins every time. Rome’s churches…I have no words. I never missed a sunset in El Retiro (and honestly, spent most of my time reading and writing in all of Madrid’s parks). Barcelona’s architecture, however, made this city a no-brainer for number one. Gaudi! I was inspired by every detail on every building throughout Barcelona.

View from Prague Castle
View from Prague Castle

Friendliest People: 3. German 2. Latvian 1. British

Couchsurfing hosts, Angloville friends, hostel drinking buddies…you crazy kids. I miss my Brits, I can’t wait to visit soon and watch an episode or five of Take Me Out. I dearly love my Couchsurfing friends in Berlin and my Open’er buds from Riga, but the Brits take the cake. (One of Mary Berry’s finest cakes, at that.)

Best Museums: 3. Madrid 2. Berlin 1. Copenhagen

SO. MANY. MUSEUMS. As a huge fan of contemporary art, I have to give it up to these three cities. I spent whole days in the museums in Madrid and Berlin, and I spent three hours in the National Gallery of Denmark alone. In the next few weeks, I hope to post snippets of the stories that were inspired by these museums, so keep an eye on the blog…

Rihards and I selfie'ing in one of the many museums of Copenhagen
Rihards and I selfie’ing in one of the many museums of Copenhagen

Favorite Places to Write: 3. Glasgow 2. Copenhagen 1. Edinburgh

I spent most of my writing time in parks or museums, which is why Copenhagen wins second prize. Scotland, however, took up many pages of my notebook. No surprise, because Edinburgh provided a lot of inspiration for the Harry Potter series. There’s something about the detail in all of the old buildings and the magic of the Fringe that just got me writing.

Some of Glasgow’s most famous sites include a huge botanical garden and a huge graveyard. How could I not spend some time with my notebook open?

Favorite City: 4. Krakow 3. Madrid 2. Dublin 1. A tie between Berlin and Edinburgh!

This is SUCH a hard question to answer, because honestly, I fell in love with pretty much every city I visited. I’m craving a whole summer to explore Krakow. Madrid had a little touch of everything I want in a city. I can see myself living in Dublin, and not just because I love a good Irish coffee. Berlin and Edinburgh though…there was something magical in each city. Berlin had EVERYTHING…but that everything was a bit overwhelming at times. Berlin is the perfect place to live young and crazy. Edinburgh is a little more romantic. I can see myself retiring here, studying here, or writing here. I’m not sure which yet…guess I’ll have to go back and see.

Arthur's Seat...from the bottom and the top!
Arthur’s Seat…from the bottom and the top!

That was fun! I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time now. Of course, when I visit more cities, my list may change! I want to hear your opinions…where would you fit in Budapest, Paris, Porto….where do you agree with me and where do you differ? Leave me comments and keep checking in for more posts! Thanks again for reading! Cheers!

What’s Couchsurfing? (And 4 Reasons Why You Should)

Hey! I’m back from Europe but I haven’t posted in a long time since my phone was stolen in Berlin! (More on that later.) I still want to write about traveling because, let’s be honest, I’ve got the travel bug. I came back to Philadelphia on September 12, and two weeks later I moved to Austin! The weekend before moving, I took a road trip to Boston Calling Music Festival with four friends I met on Couchsurfing. I’ve always been asked a lot of questions about Couchsurfing, so I figured this would be a great topic to start up the blog again!

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is a website, an app, and most importantly, a community found throughout the world. It’s a way for people to help each other, learn from each other, and have an enhanced traveling experience.

How does Couchsurfing work?

When I first joined Couchsurfing, I created a profile on the website with information about myself, my travels, whether or not I can host, etc. Before I ever surfed with anyone, a friend and I hosted a fellow student from Manchester last-minute and had an awesome time exchanging stories over pitchers at McGillin’s. I also met up with a lovely girl from Taiwan and brought her to VegFest in Philly. Soon enough, it was time for my backpacking trip.

When I knew I would be needing a place to stay in a new city I would either directly message hosts from that city or put up a public trip telling hosts that I would be around and I would need a place to stay. After getting in touch with hosts and arranging the length of my stay, I would show up at their place! I usually Couchsurfed for 2-3 days at a time, but the length of your stay is up to you and your host. While you’re there, some hosts want to show you around their city. Some prefer not to. Some want to get drinks with you and their friends, some want to have deep political conversations. Every experience is different, but every experience gives you a more authentic view of the city (in my opinion) than say, a hostel or a hotel.

A little snippet of my Couchsurfing profile! via couchsurfing.com
A little snippet of my Couchsurfing profile!
via couchsurfing.com

IS IT SAFE??

Would I do it if it wasn’t?

Being a young woman alone, I knew I would have to exercise more caution than most people on their travels. Although the Couchsurfing community (like the rest of the world) is for the most part full of lovely people with good intentions, I still used a few different methods to “screen” potential hosts.

  1. I checked out their “references”. Couchsurfing allows you to leave notes about each host/guest/traveler you come across. You can say your experience was positive, negative, or neutral, with details about your accommodations and time with your host. I made sure to read a few of the references and only stayed with people who only had positive references.

    Sam and I left references for each other after hanging out at a music festival, crashing at his place, and meeting up in Vienna. via couchsurfing.com
    Sam and I left references for each other after we hung out at a music festival, I crashed at his place, and we met up in Vienna.
    via couchsurfing.com
  2. I added them on Facebook (and did a little creeping). This isn’t necessary or required, but it was just another way to make sure I was in good hands during my trip.
  3. I checked to see if they were verified. Basically, if you pay 20 dollars to Couchsurfing you get a green check mark and you can have your phone number/address/existence verified. I think references are more telling/important than verification, but again, always nice to see that little check mark.

Four Reasons Why You Should Couchsurf on Your Next Adventure:

  1. You learn from locals. As I mentioned earlier, Couchsurfing gives you more than a touristy experience. As much as I enjoy staying in a hostel with Americans, Brits, and Australians and using hostel maps to guide my wanderings, I also enjoyed talking to people who know what’s going on in Vienna, or who are pros at navigating Danish public transportation. I learned more about European politics from my Couchsurfing hosts than anyone or anything else – and that includes my formal education.
  2. Ok, let’s just say it….it’s cheap. Besides the $20 verification fee (which in my opinion isn’t 100% necessary), Couchsurfing is free! You get free accommodations while you travel. You get tips on where cheap beer/food is and any free events going on in the city. I try and buy my hosts a drink, gift, or make them food while I’m staying with them, but besides that, Couchsurfing is a great way to save money while traveling.
  3. Meetups! Even if you have accommodation throughout your travels, Couchsurfing meetups are another way to talk to people from all over the world. If I remember correctly, I went to a Couchsurfing meetup every day that I was in Berlin. Language exchanges at bars, free yoga classes at parks, picnics, happy hours….you name it, you can find an event for it on Couchsurfing. They’re not so common in America, but in Europe there are tons!  Sometimes you can even find hosts at meetups.

    Friends in Edinburgh…we met at a Couchsurfing event in Dublin!
  4. You can also use it as a resource for pretty much anything. Couchsurfing has discussion boards for each city where you can find local advice, rides to and from the city, events and more. It also has larger groups where you can post just about anything. As I mentioned before, when I made my way up to Boston for Boston Calling, I didn’t want to drive alone (or pay for gas alone). I posted on the Philadelphia & New York discussion boards that I would be driving up to Boston and could offer a ride, and by the time I left for Boston my car was full! I also have an Australian pen pal thanks to the “Alternative Ways of Living & Consuming” group.

Couchsurfing is a blast…I really enjoyed using it throughout my backpacking trip. This is just a brief overview of how you can use it, so if you have questions, leave them in the comments! Also, if you have suggestions for what I should write about next, let me know!! Thanks for reading!