Tiptoeing Back into Traveling: Post New Orleans Ramblings

In the past few months, while being jostled around by family reunions and summer vacations, I’ve been greedily collecting ideas, plans, maps, and dreams. Rather than a fire burning or a star bursting, I’ve been feeling like a box inside of me was shrinking, and I was stuffing more into it:

things I wanted to discuss in a coffee shop

projects I wanted to start now

phrases and ramblings and pictures.

These ideas, not being unleashed, were beginning to feel stale.

I’ve learned the only solution this is to stuff a bag full of clothes and notebooks, and head to somewhere fresh.

I spent a blink of an eye in New Orleans. I was able to wander through the cemeteries and fall in love (again) with a city that demands your attention to experience both an otherworldly presence and very real history. From the moment I walked into the Museum District, the soft pain and spooky intrigue of New Orleans that I had fell in love with while reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles last summer jumped in front of me like one of the many blaring saxophone solos I jumped for on Frenchman Street.

The words in Chronicles that defined New Orleans for me faded away and I replaced them with discussions, stories, and permanent words scribbled into a notebook over a French market crepe or quiet moment at Greenwood cemetery.

(Backpacking stories, hostel whisperings, local and tourist recommendations alike.)

These stories are not familiar, and the words become rearranged in every city you visit.

Hostel residents tend to tell the same story, but with a new twist every time. Where-you-headed-next and where-have-you-beens were exchanged, and as usual, I felt the simultaneous groan and a smile that comes from adding a new destination to my mental bucket list (this time, Costa Rica won out as the top dream.)

Quick run-ins and small chats brought your world in close with a tight squeeze and shrunk your story to a quick flip of a few pages.

The bartender at the shack whose name you hear whispered through the grapevine will tell you your future, finally humoring you until you’ve exhausted the thoughts that have been tumbling in your head about where to move and the pain you’ve felt looking at the artists giving it a go in the corners of galleries around the city.

The tarot reader in Jackson Square will tell you what she sees in your face and what you’re aching for in your bones. You’re hit with a smack in the face once you pop out of the bubble of introversion to discuss her cards, realizing your future is yours to write anyway, you don’t even remember her name.

 . . .

I write these words as I sit on a Megabus seat bumping through Texas. I’m reflecting on my trip, my gratitude, and I feel my energy being restored. Anyone who asks me if I’m an introvert while in a crowd of people will see the bashful answer on my face before I say, “Oh yeah.” I have to be alone to fill up. I opted out of my reserved seat on the Megabus today (a loss of a whole $1) to find a spot where I wouldn’t be surrounded by people. As I flew through the jobs on my to-do list (giving me the illusion I was flying through Louisiana,) I felt restored back to full.

My assignments for the day are done. My time in New Orleans has drawn to a gentle close, like finishing a good book with a long exhale, putting it back on your bookshelf with great care and knowing that in the future, you’ll revisit it once more with fresh eyes and a great yearning for a different interpretation of the story. It’s time to head back to “real life” now, with a clear mind and a refreshed determination to finally build my “what’s next.”

Detached and Attached Again: How Traveling Questioned My Connections

“How long are you staying?”

I find myself becoming attached to Austin. Places and events, usually. I feel an overwhelming sense of dread when it comes to leaving this city but I’m also plagued with stomachaches, ravenous desires to backpack and move again. I couldn’t think of pursuing yoga teacher training in another city, for example, and I can barely handle missing class on Wednesday nights. I’ve got a favorite drink at a favorite bar. SXSW, I can’t leave Austin before another SXSW. But every day I look in the mirror and tell myself I can’t stay here for much longer. I fantasize over plane tickets. I shy away from year-long leases.

I traced the roots of my tug-of-war on a Saturday night, around midnight. I’m exhausted by the idea of developing deep personal connections, but the lack of these friendships or relationships just fuel the fire that only a plane ticket can put out.

I constantly feel alone, and I blame it on staying in one place. I rely on and long for the romance of single-serving friends, you know, the ones The Narrator mentions in Fight Club before meeting Tyler Durden? The Polish women at Open’er who cackled with me and my friend over Italian men and flip cup. An Australian in a Madrid hostel who told me about a great website for finding hostel jobs. The girls in my hostel room from Brighton who met up with me at a bar after a Tinder date. I couldn’t tell you any of their names, and they don’t remember mine. Attached and detached, without the obligations or expectations of meeting again.

I harshly and unapologetically place these expectations on myself and others when I’m stuck in one place. As a result, I have always felt permanently detached. In every group of friends I’ve ever had I’ve felt like a visitor, an outsider that was accepted, but didn’t belong. The weight of this old pain is just starting to suppress my breathing again. Rejected invitations, for whatever reason, send me into a tailspin. Sharing personal stories in a group closes my throat up. Single-serving friends…they let me enjoy my time. I breathe easier. I’m free to love and share positive energy, without the grasp of any social anxiety.

Admitting this feels unfair. This isn’t a post pointing the blame on a city or the souls of Austin that have welcomed me with open arms and every opportunity in the book. I place more blame, and do so with nothing but love, on moving from place to place. Especially now, maintaining relationships in one place has been overwhelming because I’ve given and received so much energy with other parts of the world.

Traveling doesn’t detach you from a single place just to spite you; there’s only so much of your heart to spare. For every whisper of loneliness I feel in the quiet moments around my house, I feel a longing to where another part of my heart is resting. I created Horcruxes while backpacking.

My heart is broken, but beating and shining, hiding, in different corners of the world. I just know there are stories waiting to be written, between two mysterious, beautiful buildings in Barcelona. Shreds of my heart and a stomachache waiting to happen lay quivering at a bus stop in Edinburgh. I picture my fingerprints on a metal balcony, overlooking Warsaw.  Exasperated energy still lingers in Copenhagen, where I discovered I was just living one big dream. Even the places I’ve never seen – I know there are people to love and things to learn and stories to be exchanged. Where will I leave a piece of me next?

When I think I lack connection in a single city, I remember that in fact, we’re all connected to each other, everywhere, infinitely. This lets me sink in comfortably to my armchair, but at the same time fires me up to fall in love with the next city and the next soul. I’m torn, to sum it up in two words. I have no immediate solution. So I find rest in the words of my good friend, Jack: “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

Where Do I Stay? The Pros and Cons of AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and Hostels

Hello friends! I hope your December is lovely so far! I have a month of work coming up BUT I’ll be heading back to my home of Philadelphia at the end of the month to celebrate my favorite holiday! For New Year’s Eve, my friends and I (10 in total!!) are renting an Airbnb! It’ll be our first time renting an Airbnb, so we’re super excited. For the holiday travelers, I decided to make a pro/con list of Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and hostels…the most popular ways to find lodging on a budget during your travels!

What?

Airbnb: Airbnb is new to the scene. If someone wants to rent out a room, a house, or anything in between (I’ve seen treehouses for rent on Airbnb!), they can! I like to call it a paid Couchsurfing experience, and a little more glamourous. Check it out on Airbnb.com or through the Airbnb app!

Couchsurfing: Need a cheap place to crash? Couchsurfing’s got you covered. Tons of travelers around the world offer up their space for free! I won’t go into too much details, but if you want to learn more, check out my blog post!

Hostels: The hip hotel experience. Reserve a bunk bed, or a few, and move from hostel to hostel around the world. This is the most established and most fun way to find cheap lodging. Websites like hostels.com will give you a worldwide database of places to stay, but a Google search of hostels around  your location will also do the trick!

Cost:

Airbnb: Usually, an Airbnb will cost less than a hotel, but more than a hostel. The most cost-efficient time to use Airbnb is on a group trip with friends. For our New Year’s Eve Airbnb, our group of 10 only ended up having to pay around $35 a night. Keep in mind, this was for a big holiday in a great location. If you decide to choose an Airbnb for the first time, grab $20 off! Use the code MEGANO29 when you rent and you’re golden! Happy travels!

Couchsurfing: Free! While there is a $20 verification fee that lasts for a year, actually staying with your hosts doesn’t cost a dime. I still like to buy a small gift, a drink, or make a meal for my hosts, but it still comes out to a lot less money than any formal lodging.

Hostels: Even a nice hostel in the center of the city can still be pretty cheap. I’ve paid $8-$30 a night for a wide variety of hostels in Europe. It may be even cheaper in different parts of the world! Looking to save as much as possible? Grab larger rooms; 8-20 people.

Location:

Airbnb: Locations will vary within a city. As expected, Airbnbs in the center of a city will be more expensive than one on the outskirts, but you get what you pay for. It’s up to you when it comes to grabbing a place to stay in a certain neighborhood, near public transportation, or for a good price.

Couchsurfing: Unless your host lives in the city center (which, in my experience, is rare), you’re going to have to hop on a metro or two to put your stuff down. Sometimes your host will pick you up, but most of the time, you’re on your own. Grab a map!

Hostels: There are tons of options depending on what city you’re looking in. Booking through a website like hostels.com will let you look in different neighborhoods and will let you know how close a hostel is to a city center. Like an Airbnb, you’ll usually pay more for a hostel close to the city center, but you’ll also usually get your money’s worth for doing so.

Privacy:

Airbnb: Airbnb will provide you with the most privacy of any lodging option (unless you book a hotel room). In some cases, you may not even see the owner of the Airbnb!

Couchsurfing: Sometimes Couchsurfing hosts offer you a private room; sometimes it’s a couch. Either way, checking out their profile will let you know what you’re in for.

Hostels: Many hostels have private rooms as an option, and if you’re traveling in a group, you can usually find a room that will fit your group’s size. However, if you’re by yourself and in an 8-person room, you’re going to wake up and go to sleep in the same room with a few strangers. On top of that…communal bathrooms. Pack your flip-flops!

Meeting People:

Airbnb: This all depends on the owner of the Airbnb. Sometimes, you’ll spend a night with a private room and hang out with your hosts during your stay. Sometimes, you’ll never see them face-to-face. You’ll usually know what to expect before you arrive!

Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is a great way to meet people without having to awkwardly break the ice. (“Where are you from?” is a strange question anywhere else other than a hostel.)

Hostels: Not only is it easy to meet people in hostels, it’s easy to meet a huge group of people very quickly. Whether you’re just walking into your room and introducing yourself or joining a game of beer pong down at the bar, hostels provide tons of ways to make friends and have a good time.

Hope you enjoyed this blog post! Let me know in the comments where you’ll be staying this holiday season!

A Traveler’s Thanksgiving

Not all of the people I have met along my journeys know or celebrate Thanksgiving. Without getting into the twisted history as to why Americans celebrate this holiday, or an explanation of the Black Friday sales that loom over our extended family’s heads while dessert is being served, I’ll say that Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. Anyone who has traveled in the past year has more than enough to be thankful for. Here’s a few of the things on my list:

Support – From my family. This time last year my father and grandmother were gifting me with a trip to visit my aunt and uncle in San Francisco, a city that has always fueled my love for travel. At the time I was really confused about my next steps. I had many talks with my aunt and uncle about the endless possibilities out in the world. My first big decision when it came to post-grad plans was to buy a one-way ticket to London. When I told my parents, I was surprised they didn’t freak out (ok, maybe internally, but they always supported my trip.) I’m happy to have a family that encourages travel, moving, and growing. Currently, my brother lives in Colorado and my sister lives in Chicago. I have family all over the country, including in Austin, Texas. My aunt and uncle here have been more than helpful in my transition to a new city. I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with them today! I feel like I lucked out this holiday season.

Safety – I made it from Philadelphia to London, to 22 cities, to Madrid, and back to New York, all in one piece. (Even after having my belongings stolen.) When the attacks in Paris were happening, all I could do was rack my brain and try and think if any of my friends had posted that they’d be traveling to Paris on their backpacking trips. Anyone I wasn’t sure of, I checked in with. I’m happy to say all of my friends are safe. The world can be terrifying if you start thinking too much. Today, however, for a short moment, I’ll focus on my safety and the safety of my friends.

Facebook – Cheesy. Lame. Technology will be the death of us all, BUT, I got to wake up this morning with messages from friends in two different countries. I’m planning trips all over the world with a friend that I met on Facebook a few months ago. When my phone was stolen, I was able to contact my parents and let them know I was still ok. I’m thankful for the benefits of technology. I’m thankful I can keep in touch with friends from all over the world, (and I can live through those who are still on their travels). The people I met on my trip were a key part in making my travels so special; I’m glad I can still continue those relationships from thousands of miles away.

Actual books – Jack Kerouac ignited the flames in my traveling soul when I was 16. Five hour bus rides throughout Europe were a lot easier when I had Bob Dylan, Irvine Welsh, and Chuck Palahniuk by my side. Bookstores gave me an excuse to strike up a conversation with whoever stood next to me, rifling through the gently-used-fiction sections. Books give me an adventure while I’m sitting on my couch, saving money for my next trip. Call me a nerd, but I’m thankful for books, stories, and words.

Bunk Beds and Couches – My Couchsurfing hosts and hostels were also a key part in feeling comfortable in new countries. Opening up your home to strangers, for free, is sometimes thought as mad. But it allows people to travel easily. Just having a place to sleep at night, even if it was on an overnight bus or in a smelly hostel with snoring Australians, is a blessing that not a lot of people have. 

Patience – The ability to travel at all is a blessing. In 2015, I was able to visit San Francisco, New York, Boston, and 22 cities in Europe, and move to Austin, Texas. I graduated college and opened a new chapter in my life. I still stutter and give different answers when I’m asked what I want to do with my life, and at this moment I couldn’t tell you my plans after my Americorps position. But one of the most important lessons I learned this year is that every day the world opens up more and more possibilities. I have tons of trips to take and stories to write. I’m not going to travel today but when I’m meant to board a plane to the other side of the world, I’ll be ready.
And I’m thankful for all of you who think my adventures are interesting and who read my blog! I hope you all have a lovely holiday season, no matter what you celebrate!

 

Travel Playlist #2: Winter Train Ride

 

It’s time for another travel playlist! These playlists are fun to make, although this week’s playlist isn’t so upbeat and cheery. When I traveled, I spent a lot of time on trains and buses waiting for the next city. Before I left for Europe, I commuted to work every day via train, waiting for the next chapter of my life to begin. Trains are my place to finally embrace my exhaustion and overthink everything. Winter is a season to match these feelings, as you wait for the summer to begin again. So I present my somber, beautiful winter train ride. It gets hopeful toward the end…I picked a few songs for approaching your destination.

Before I show the highlights, I’ll quickly add at link to my short story about a sad train ride, To Pittsburgh. It might be interesting to pair with this playlist.

Missing Someone:

James Bay – Let it Go

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash – Girl from the North Country

James Blake – A Case of You

Snow-Covered Trees:

Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal

Matt Corby – Winter

The Vaccines – Family Friend

The Next Leg of the Journey: 

Arctic Monkeys – 505

Angus and Julia Stone – Big Jet Plane

Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come

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Travel Playlist #1: On the Road, On the Run

Hey friends! Hope your November is wonderful! I’m currently spending my weekend at Fun Fun Fun Fest (more on that in my Austin Update…I’ll post it on Thursday!) so I figured I would create a music-themed post this week! I make playlists for everything, so I don’t just have one travel playlist, but multiple travel playlists! They’re separated by mood and mode of transportation. I based this first playlist off of my next adventure: a good old fashioned road trip! On New Year’s Day I’ll be driving from Philadelphia back to Austin with my friend/coworker, so I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how it goes! Here are some highlights:

For Cruising on the Highway with Your Top Down:

It’s Nice to Be Alive – Ball Park Music

Hold Back the River – James Bay

4th and Roebling – The Districts

Classics:

Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones

I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys

For Running from Your Troubles (In a Totally Bad-Ass Way):

The World Ender – Lord Huron

Bad Kids – The Black Lips

Short Change Hero – The Heavy

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Let me know what you think of the playlist, what songs you would add, and what playlists you want to hear in the future! Also feel free to give this playlist a follow, as well as my blog 🙂 Thanks again for reading….cheers!

Why Yoga and Traveling Go Hand in Hand

Hey friends! I’ve got kind of a different post for you this week…it’s a little longer, with less pictures, but I’ve always wanted to write about my experiences with yoga. I’ve been exploring yoga on and off for many years and it’s really made a great impact on my health, physically and mentally. It’s a great thing to add into daily routine, but it’s also great for traveling, when every day can be different.

There are a few basic reasons why I enjoyed practicing yoga while traveling. You can do it anywhere, it keeps you fit, and it stretches you out after being cramped up on an overnight bus or spending your days hiking/walking/backpacking. Going beyond the physical reasons, however, yoga alleviates some of the mental strain that comes with traveling. I have three little stories about three different experiences I had doing yoga on my trip and when I finally settled down in Austin. Enjoy!

Yoga Centers You (Yoga in Berlin)

By the time I had arrived in Berlin, I had visited seven cities in the span of about two weeks. My head was spinning. I was jetlagged, and an overnight bus/ferry from Copenhagen had not helped one bit. I spent my first few hours at my Couchsurfing host’s house napping.

After scrolling through Couchsurfing meetups, we found a free yoga class in Tempelhofer Park, once of my host’s favorite places in the city. It was perfect: a free, fun activity in a beautiful location. The class was (luckily) held in English, and our yoga instructor said it was one of the biggest free classes she had ever held. People from all over the world attended, and Berlin locals even joined in throughout the class.

It had been the first time I had practiced yoga in a few weeks, but that’s the wonderful thing about yoga. No matter how far you can stretch or how well you know the poses, you can go through a class and get back to the meditative state that yoga provides. I could have been in Berlin, I could have been in Glasgow, I could have been in Philadelphia…but what I focused on during that hour was that I was in my own body. I began to use exercises I learned through meditation as I traveled: I began focusing on my feet as they wander through cities, the feeling of my back against my backpack, or my head pressing against the seat of a bus, train, airplane, etc. No change in scenery can change how I feel within my own body, so whenever I’m feeling lost, I return to focusing on that feeling.

Templehofer Park! via huffingtonpost.com

Yoga Connects You with Others (Yoga in Kielce)

After Berlin, I spent two weeks in Poland volunteering for an English immersion camp for Polish teenagers. I volunteered with 20 other native English speakers. I hadn’t been a while since I had been surrounded by that many people my age for an extended (if you consider a week “extended”) period of time. I was so used to being by myself that when I was faced with so many people, I felt anxious. Were people judging me? Was I well-liked? I was asking the kind of questions I thought I had left behind in high school.

The second week in Poland was a change; many of the same native speakers stuck around, but we were in a new location. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel with a balcony. On the first day in this new location, I decided I would do yoga in the morning before breakfast. I always invited other native speakers to join. I played a YouTube video from one of my favorite yogis (which you can watch here) and some days I’d be by myself, some days I’d be joined by friends. One day in particular, the video wasn’t working. I basically had the video memorized, so I timidly offered to go through what I remembered. I was extremely nervous, but I tried to link together all of the vinyasas in the video the way I remembered. I even added in my favorite stretch during the practice (shout out to pigeon pose!!) By the end of the class, I was able to look at yoga from a new perspective. Paul and Angie were very relaxed as well; the session was a success!

I spent the rest of the day walking on air (even though I kept focusing on my bare feet against the ground). Yoga always provided me with a calm and peaceful energy, and that day I was able to share that with others. I was hooked. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue yoga even deeper.

view from our balcony!
view from our balcony!

Yoga Shows You Where You Need to Be (Yoga in Austin)

For the time being, I’m stationary. I’ve moved to Austin and signed a year-long lease. Besides wanting to explore this amazing city that I’ve admired from afar for a few years, I really need to save up some money before I travel again.

Within two weeks of moving, I started attending free yoga classes held at the Whole Foods on Mondays and Wednesdays. One Tuesday night, I had been venting to my best friend about my job, asking, “Am I doing enough? Am I making the right choices?”

On the bus to the class, I saw a tweet advertising that finally volunteer positions for Fun Fun Fun Fest had become live. I had been waiting on this application for a while, especially after having a blast volunteering for Austin City Limits.

I usually keep my eyes closed while I practice, but something about the flow of the class that night led me to keep them open. I remember gazing at the lights strung along the trees on the Plaza. I saw 300 Austinites practicing with me. I saw the neon glow of Waterloo Records, just a street away.

At the end of the class, in savasana (Corpse Pose, aka when you lie flat on  your back and soak in your practice), I felt the activation of my third eye. I hadn’t been focusing on that chakra, so it was kind of odd. I told myself I would figure out what this feeling meant later and continued with my meditation.

After class, I looked deeper into what the third eye chakra symbolized. I found this quote from personaltao.com: “The third eye is our ability to see what might be, to see potential.” That sentence tied my whole day together in a nice little present. When I was 15, I was determined to move to Austin. I didn’t really have that much reasoning behind it, but that type of intuition is what the third eye provides. I knew there was something for me here. The day of the class, I was gathering inspiration from Austin; the music festivals I hoped to work for, the record stores, the bookstore I had visited next to Whole Foods…even going to the class itself. When I explore Austin, I’m exploring my potential.

There are many things I hope to explore while I’m in Austin: the city itself, yoga, blogging, crafting, my next steps in life…and I’ll hopefully continue to post throughout this new journey! If you have suggestions/feedback/etc. let me know in the comments or shoot me an email! (Info is on my Contact page). Thanks again for reading!

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 🙂

To Pittsburgh

(photo via visualize.us)

I travel, I read, and I learn new things so that I can write. I don’t write a whole lot of fiction, but in the beginning of this past school year I stepped immensely out of my comfort zone to take three creative writing classes. In my introduction to fiction class our big assignment was a 2,500 word story that would be read and critiqued by the whole class. Months later, I am still working on mine. It’s out of my comfort zone to share my writing but I’m also two weeks away from stepping in new countries with new cultures, new foods, and new languages. I might as well get used to doing things that may seem a little uncomfortable. Anyway, here’s To Pittsburgh. It’s about a train ride.

To Pittsburgh

The train ride from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh would take around five or six hours; something like that. I didn’t care. I just wanted to have two seats to myself. I had a little suitcase for a travel companion, and I wanted to give it a seat. I didn’t want to sit next to anyone; I didn’t want to put in that much effort as a human being. I would have to sit up a little straighter, and keep my legs together, and sit closer to the window, and maybe talk to them. I would have to at least acknowledge their existence. For five hours. This was no subway ride. I had had two hours of sleep the night before. My plan was to sleep as soon as the conductor gave me a ticket; I didn’t know how much the train actually was.

I was able to find a seat toward the back with plenty of leg room and an extra seat for my suitcase. This wasn’t a crowded train. This made me happy. I couldn’t find my headphones that morning, but I had always been good at sleeping on public transportation. I had an early morning train; sleeping would be a breeze.

Twenty minutes after our departure, I heard the woman next to me sighing the word, “Fuck.” Audibly. Loud and clear. “Fuuuuuck.” Like a country rooster in the morning. I was startled into looking in her direction, but I quickly tried to pretend I was just looking behind me. She had bright colors in her hair, makeup smudged around her face, and black clothes on. She looked like a mess. She had four different piercings in her face. I felt her looking toward me.

Please don’t say anything to me. Please don’t say anything to me.

I knew how these things went. I had been taking public transportation in Philadelphia for the past few months. Eye contact is the number one catalyst for trouble. They’ll ask you for money. They’ll make some odd comment and you have to respond because you feel obligated and then you look like you’re with the crazy person and you get off the subway at a stop that’s before your stop and you have to walk. The last thing I wanted was to be her therapist, or for her to ask me for money. I actually didn’t have a lot of money with me this time. She looked like she was on drugs, and we had a long ride without any stops. I didn’t want to walk to Pittsburgh. I closed my eyes, as if that would stop her. I thought I was in the clear; she didn’t speak directly to me. But five minutes later, she let out a second audible sigh. Five minutes later, another, and she was reduced to a wordless sigh yet another five minutes later. Her phone buzzed. It buzzed again. It buzzed a third time, and then a fourth. The grey flip phone was lying on the seat next to her. I don’t know why it took so long for her to pick it up. We’re on public transportation, after all. It was a little rude. It buzzed again. She picked it up. The conversation began.

I wish I had taken the extra ten minutes to search for my headphones before I left for the train station. I could have skipped my nap earlier in the day. I could have played a little less Candy Crush. I could have had some self-control. I didn’t have self-control and I didn’t have headphones, so I listened to the sweet sounds of the woman next to me. I couldn’t understand much because she talked in slurs. She was begging, I thought. “I’ll have it. I’ll have it. Don’t worry. Can you….Could you…I got it. I got it.” Et cetera. She hung up the phone. Five minutes later, her sigh escalated to a moan. “Fuuuuck.” I didn’t think she was going to stop any time soon.

I wondered how many people on the train were hearing this. I tried to look at the positive side of this situation. If I had to talk to any other passengers, at least I didn’t have to come up with what to say. I had material. Ninety percent of my interactions with strangers on public transportation were spurred by the ridiculousness of other strangers on public transportation. If the seats of the train worked like the seats of the subway, I could make eye contact with the other passengers. The other passengers and I would exchange snarky glances, maybe make a joke under our breaths, laugh, and feel relief for a minute.

Instead, the passenger in front of her decided to scream. I jumped in my seat. It was a long scream, drawn out and not expressing any emotion in particular. He didn’t scream any particular word. It continued. It was louder than the moans. Sometimes they were in sync, and there was a few seconds of silence I could enjoy. Sometimes, when he ended his scream, she was still moaning. I wasn’t sure why the guy was screaming. After ten minutes, I had had enough. The moaning woman didn’t catch me off guard; she just annoyed me. I figured at some point she would stop. Screaming was a little much. I started to develop a headache.

Where was the conductor? Shouldn’t he be concerned?

I stood up and looked to where the guy was screaming. His head was in his hands. He had a nice watch. He was also sitting alone. Most of the passengers suffering with me were sitting alone. About 20 passengers were squished up against their own windows. No two people sat together except a toddler and her mother, in the very front seat. The toddler was pulling on the mother’s shirt, the mother sat in silence, looking out the window. I felt awkward watching this interaction. I was never good with kids. No one was paying attention to the toddler, or moaning woman, or the screaming guy with the nice watch. A few people had headphones, and a few people were napping. I’m not sure how people managed to fall asleep.

A young man a few rows in front of me stole my attention. He had greasy hair, and it was flying back and forth. He was hitting his head against the back of the seat. It was a slow process; he would lean forward, take the time to mumble something to himself, and then whip his head back against the seat. This train ride was getting slightly out of hand.

I looked at my small suitcase, and thought about moving cars. I thought about yelling for the conductor. My phone buzzed. My mom had sent me a text: “How are you feeling?” How was I feeling? I felt dizzy. I felt heavy. I sat down. The screaming continued, the moaning continued, the toddler continued to try and get her mother’s attention, and the young man continued to hit his head against the back of his seat.

I heard a short rip of fabric. Then a longer rip, and then a longer rip. I picked myself up and lifted my head just high enough to see over the seat. The man in front of me wore a three-piece suit, and his briefcase was open. Out of the briefcase he had pulled a pocketknife, with which he carved the initials “T.L.” I thought for a second that he had wonderful calligraphy skills. I sat down in my seat.

I heard footsteps. I thought the footsteps that were coming up the aisle had to be the conductor. Relief. The footsteps quickened, and when they passed me I realized it was a teenage girl. She had the Uggs, she had the big earrings, and she had the tight leggings. She walked up to the front of the car, and turned around. She started. “I’mgoingtodieI’mgoingtodieI’mgoingtodie,” she said all the way down the car. She was fanning herself. “It’stoohotIt’stoohotIt’stoohotIt’stoohot.” I watched her pace. I had seen these before. My mom used to have panic attacks. Once I hugged her to try and calm her down. It didn’t calm her down. She did fine when she was left alone, so I left the girl in the aisle alone.

The guy behind me started punching the back of my seat. The first few times he did it, my back flew forward a little bit. I was able to get an idea of his rhythm and brace myself for when it was going to happen. This guy was punching as hard as he could.

The backs of our seats were plastic. I turned around to face him. He was young, probably 22. His Pearl Jam t-shirt hung off of his scrawny frame and his face was all scrunched up. His face was bright red. He turned his eyes to me, panting, looking desperate for something, frustrated. I thought about saying something to him. I really wanted to say something to him. I wanted to tell him that he should punch the cushion he was leaning on. His knuckles would start bleeding if he kept punching the plastic. I thought that maybe he wanted his knuckles to bleed. I kept my mouth shut.

I wished he had a punching bag. That’s what I always used.

I only used the punching bag in college. I lived in a house with two girls, three guys. They were all nice and we were all friends, but they were also all friends with my girlfriend, and then ex-girlfriend, who continued to hang around the house all the time after we broke up. She had known my roommates longer than she had known me, so it was hard to ask them to hang out with her somewhere else. I hated seeing her after we broke up, though. She would pretend that nothing was wrong, hoping that she could convince our friends that everything ended ok. It didn’t. Whenever she would come over, I would stay in my room. It was soundproof, and I would punch the shit out of the punching bag I had hanging from the ceiling. I had installed the punching bag after I had punched two holes in the wall. It was a Christmas gift from my mom. I never pretended my ex was the punching bag or anything; I’m not abusive. I never was. I never thought of it, not even when she cheated on me. She cried to my roommate about it once. I heard her while I was in passing by his room. My roommate didn’t tell her I was in the house. They never told her how often she was over and I was upstairs, punching that punching bag.

A week ago I got the news that she had been killed in a car accident. The driver was drunk. My ex didn’t deserve to die. The train ride was the day before her funeral. It was going to be held near campus. I hadn’t been back to visit since I had graduated. She had come to Philly for business about a year ago. I tried to meet up with her. Our plans fell through. I had overdrawn my account so I could go to this funeral. I had taken my last sick day. I would be staying with my old roommate. He had a toddler. I would be staying in the toddler’s room. I was never good with kids.

I didn’t pack much. I brought a box from when I was dating my ex, though: one of those boxes with all of your memories in them. I wanted to bury it. I wanted to burn it. I wanted to take it back with me to Philadelphia. I was going to Pittsburgh for her fucking funeral. I hugged the box to my chest and folded into my knees. A few minutes later, I felt a hand on my back. I turned my head to see the conductor of the train sitting in my empty seat.

Now he comes. Now.

The conductor said nothing. He ignored everyone else on this godforsaken train. I looked at his eyes, which fixated on the box with a gloomy stare. I opened the box. The first thing I saw was a little bottle of shampoo. It was hotel-sized. We stayed in a hotel at some point. I rolled the shampoo around in my hand. 

Cleveland. Her cousin’s wedding. Why the hell would you have your fucking wedding in Cleveland?

I stood up and threw the little shampoo across the train. The shampoo bounced off the front of the car and fell in the aisle, where it began to roll forward. It felt great. It felt like a good punch to the punching bag. I looked at the conductor, still sitting next to me, eyes staring ahead, head hung. I looked again in the box. As long as he wasn’t saying anything, I was going to keep throwing. My turn.

I saw was a pile of handwritten notes. I didn’t read them. I crumpled them up in a ball, and lobbed it into the aisle, like I would at my cat. Tiny sample of her perfume in a glass box: chucked. Smashed. It probably smelled horrible. I wondered if perfume expired. I ripped pictures. I stomped on ticket stubs. The conductor got up at one point, but I was never sure if it was before or after I took out a picture of us, in a tiny frame, and watched it drop to the floor. I was in the zone.

Smash. 

I was still standing, squinting to identify every little piece of glass on the floor. I examined their shape. I tried to figure out which pieces they would go with, if I wanted to put them all together in a very sad puzzle. I counted every piece. At 12, a woman three rows in front of me started to sob loudly. I counted every piece, and I’ve forgotten the total number.

I might have stood there for five minutes. I might have stood there for an hour. At one point, the floor was blurry. At another point, we received an announcement from the conductor, saying we were 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. I sat down and put the empty box in my bag. The sobbing in front of me stopped. The screaming turned into heavy breathing. The punching stopped. The teenage girl was already sitting in her seat. The train was calm.

We pulled into the station and everyone quietly exited the train. The conductor looked at us one by one, motionless. When he looked at me, my jaw fell and I couldn’t speak. That was okay with the conductor. I saw my old roommate and his toddler. I gave each of them a hug.

I looked in my wallet. I realized I had never paid for a ticket.