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!

Beat, Broke, Crafting! Bottle Cap Coasters

It’s no secret that I love a good beer. One of my favorite pieces of travel advice is, “Try the local beer.” I tried quite a few while in Europe, and because I’m a hoarder, I kept a few of the bottle caps. Bottle cap coasters are another easy craft for making cheap souvenirs and putting them to good use. These are super easy to make, so let’s get started!

Step 1: Collect Your Bottle Caps!

You all know how to do this. Drink up (if you’re of age. Soda caps work just as well!) Nine bottle caps makes a nice coaster, so collect bottle caps from your friends if you need to!

IMG_3744
Clearly these aren’t from my trip to Europe…

Step 2: Collect Your Materials!

IMG_3754

For bottle cap coasters, you’ll need:

  • Corkboard
  • Knife or Scissors
  • Mod Podge/Glue
  • Tissues/Napkins/Cotton Balls
  • Q-tip or Small Paint Brush

Step 3: Cut Your Coasters

Measure out a square of corkboard. To cover a coaster in nine bottle caps, you’ll need at least a 3 3/4″ x 3 3/4″ square, but you can have fun with it! You can cut it with scissors, but a knife works just as well (better, in my opinion).

Step 4: Apply the Bottle Caps!

IMG_3747

This is the trickiest part, and why you’ll need tissues. To most effectively glue the bottle caps to the coaster, you’ll need to add glue to the inside of the bottle cap (a Q-tip or a small paint brush are great tools for spreading glue to the inside edges). Then, stuff the inside of the bottle cap with a napkin or a cotton ball. The more the better, as long as nothing is sticking out after the bottle cap is applied. Spread glue on the corkboard where the cap will go, and voila!

IMG_3748

Step 5: Let Your Coaster Dry

This will take a little bit. When first glued, the bottle caps may puff up or slide around. Placing a weight on top of your coasters will keep it together while they’re drying.

IMG_3753

And you’re done! Homemade coasters for even more beer, or soda. Or coffee.

Hope you liked this post, give my blog a follow if you did! As always, comments and feedback are welcome! Thanks again for reading!

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!

 

Beat, Broke, Crafting! Souvenir Candles

The spring before my trip, I became obsessed with making candles. I had so many glass jars and a disgusting Pinterest habit (still do. Follow me.) I figured if I collected the materials for candles abroad and made them at home, I would be able to save space in my backpack AND save money. Win-win!

Keep those ticket stubs, friends, I have a use for them! And the use smells great!

Step 1: Collect Your Souvenirs!

I knew I was going to make these candles ahead of time, which gave me an excuse to hoard during my trip. I saved everything: metro passes, museum brochures, ticket stubs, festival schedules, maps….

IMG_3472
And this was AFTER I had thrown a bunch of things out in Berlin…AND Rome. I was a walking fire hazard. Peep my US collection in the bottom right corner…I can’t stop.

For the most part, the thinner the better. I glue all of my souvenirs to my candles (more on that later), so paper souvenirs have always worked best for me!

Step 2: Collect Your Materials!

IMG_3649

Here’s what you need for a basic souvenir candle:

  • Glass Jar – of any kind. I’ve used mason jars, old pasta sauce jars, old shot glasses…anything.
  • Mod Podge
  • Candle Wicks
  • Wax – I use soy wax! It’s easily accessible in bulk at any craft store or online. A pound and a half is plenty for a quart-sized mason jar.
  • Pouring Pot – It’s a lifesaver, and a burn-preventer. I got mine for less than 10 bucks online? It’s a great way to keep your candlemaking separate from your other stovetop activities.
  • Brush (0ptional) – It’s my favorite way to apply the Mod Podge
  • Fragrance (optional) – I’m using vanilla. I just like the smell.

Step 3: Arrange and Apply Your Souvenirs!

IMG_3645
My Poland-themed candle! 

I arranged mine by country, with big maps or festival schedules serving as the background and smaller souvenirs in front. This is the most fun part! Get creative.

You can apply your souvenirs in one of two ways! The easiest way is to Mod Podge them to the outside of the candle. Simple! I usually add a layer of Mod Podge to the back of the souvenirs and then another on top, just to secure it to the candle.

IMG_3667
A Rome-Themed Candle with Souvenirs Glued on the Outside!

 

Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with putting them on the inside of the candle! This method can be tricky, however, as the wax may make its way in between the souvenirs and hide them a bit. However, with the way my Poland candle turned out, I think it adds a bit of an artsy, nostalgic touch. (Check it out later in the post.)

IMG_3646
Poland-Themed Candle With Souvenirs Inside (Pre-Wax)

Step 4: Melt Your Wax, Add Fragrance (optional)

Put your pouring pot on your stovetop and add bulk wax. Turning the stove on low still melts the wax in no time. You don’t have to add too much fragrance, either…a few drops will do.

 

Step 5: Add Your Wick!

This is honestly the hardest part. Straighten the wick out, wrap the end around your brush (or a pencil, or a fork…) and steady…steady….there.

IMG_3651

Step 6: Pour and Let it Harden!

Easy. The candles with souvenirs on the outside are going to look exactly the same before and after pouring wax, but the candles with souvenirs on the inside might be tricky.

IMG_3668
Poland Candle…Completed! 

As your candle burns, the wax melts and reveals the final details of your souvenirs. It’s a slow and lovely reminder of the trip you took and the memories you made.

IMG_3670

Hope you enjoyed this blog post…if you make any souvenir candles, show me!! My instagram is @beatbrokebackpacking, I post pictures of my travels and my blog posts. If you have suggestions for more crafts, let me know in the comments! Thanks again for reading!

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

spotify:user:123273979:playlist:3gc7XofQc52xytiphp5T1S
 

 

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

spotify:user:123273979:playlist:3Wfps1ksHiTwSuXQxYq82y

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!

Someone Stole My Bag in Berlin, Here’s What I Did (and How To Prevent it Happening to You!)

Hello! So as some of you may have noticed while reading my blog, my updates go up to Week 7 and then stop. Let me explain. Week 8 was spent in Berlin: Couchsurfing meetups, full days of waltzing into art galleries and free museums, street art tours, amazing bars. Unfortunately, my last night in Berlin wasn’t so wonderful.

Here’s the Story: At about 2 in the morning, I was sitting with a friend outside drinking a beer. There weren’t many people around and the area was well lit (it was a seating area outside a bunch of bars in a more or less decent neighborhood.) My day bag was sitting beneath my feet. One moment it was there, the next…gone. I looked down at my feet in disbelief. I thought it was a joke, and it took me a few minutes to grasp the situation. This was the bag I used to bring with me all day while I was wandering. It had my license, my credit cards, hairbrush and sunscreen (not the most stressful things to lose, but just so you have an idea of how much was in there), and my phone. My iPhone 6 with a Mophie charging case. I was distraught, mainly because I was so disappointed. The theft could have been so easily prevented, and I wanted to complete my trip proving that theft didn’t happen to every tourist who went abroad. Sigh.

What I Did: Oddly enough, my last night in Berlin was the most convenient night for all of my stuff to get stolen. I was leaving for a Workaway program in Warsaw the next day…my accommodation for the week and my transportation there had been planned months ahead of time. I was lucky enough to have Internet in my hostel. In my backpack, I had my train ticket to Warsaw, my passport, copies of all of my important documents, about 50 Euro, and 200 Zloty (Polish currency) from my previous trip to Poland. I immediately walked back to my hostel with my friend (ok, I cried and went to every bar I could find searching for my bag, and then walked back to my hostel with my friend), got on the Internet to tell my parents what had happened, and sent them my information so they could send me a new credit card that week. (Also, shout out and thank you to the **very cute** guys who worked at Sunflower Hostel that gave me free Internet/coffee after I told them what had happened.) The next morning, I filed a police report and sent a copy to my parents to replace my phone.

I was extremely lucky. When I had my bag stolen, I was with a friend, I wasn’t hurt or confronted for my bag, and I still was in possession of my passport. The following week, my dear friend Paul lent me his iPad for the week and an old iPhone 3 for the remainder of my trip so I could connect to Wi-Fi and use maps/take pictures/communicate with my parents. My friends and family helped me out enormously during the situation (even the friends that just reassured me that a lot of people have their phones stolen in Berlin too.) Theft is never fun, so I decided to make a list of tips to prevent it and tips on what to do if it happens to you!

Top Tips for Preventing/Dealing with Theft Abroad:

1. Keep Your Items Separate

I was at a bar with friends the night before someone stole my bag. I made a joke about being ID’d and my host said, “What? No one ID’s here, leave your passport at home.” I had been carrying my passport around with me every day before the day my bag was stolen. That morning, I left my passport and half of my cash buried in my backpack. That night, I came back to them immensely relieved.(You’re the real MVP, Verena!) On a trip to Beijing, our chaperones told us to hide a few Yuan in our bras (sorry, boys). You can keep a key or IDs around your neck, different currency or credit cards in different pockets, etc. This way, if your stuff gets stolen, not all of it gets stolen.

2. Store Your Items on Your Person

When I think about my bag getting stolen, I bop myself on the head. I could have kept my bag on my back. I could have stashed my bag in my hostel before going out and kept my phone/credit cards/license in my fanny pack. (I know they’re dorky, but they’re one of the 5 Things You’ll Be Glad You Packed….) Similar to carrying items separately, carrying items on your person just makes theft that much harder. Stealing my stuff was easy, and I’d like to think if I had a fanny pack covered up by my shirt I’d still have my original iPhone 6 (and my photos of Berlin!) with me.

3. Make Copies Of Your Important Documents

I refused to take my passport anywhere with me on day trips, but I still had to identify myself somehow. Luckily, before my trip, my parents had told me to make copies of my license, passport, credit card, and school ID. I used the copies of my documents to verify my age, that I was in fact a passenger of most of the trains I had booked ahead of time, and that I was (ok, I had been, but in the case of free museums for students in Madrid, I still was) a student.

4. Bring an Extra Device to Connect to the Internet

This was a piece of advice I had received before my trip from someone who had all of his stuff stolen on a backpacking trip. Even though my accommodations had Internet and I eventually obtained an iPhone (thank you again, Paul), having my Kindle was great for connecting to the Internet on the go. I couldn’t just stay in my hostel all the time, so at the train station/wandering around Warsaw, I could find directions/reassure my parents that I was fine. I always kept my Kindle separate from my phone so I was happy to have it when I got back to my hostel room.

5. Remember that You’re Not Alone

I was disappointed to have my stuff stolen, but eventually I had to accept that it happens to a lot of travelers. My friends and family sympathized with my situation and were able to help me out, and the stuff that was stolen was just that…stuff. Overall, the incident didn’t define my trip; it was just one of the many learning experiences that made up my time in Europe. If it happens to you, just remember that the next few days of phone detox-ing and possibly even navigating a paper map (gasp) may not be fun, but it’s not the end of the world.

Have you ever had your stuff stolen abroad? Tell me your story in the comments! I promise next week’s post will be a little less serious and a little more fun!

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

988422_10152963859984786_4962802510040351995_n (1)

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’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!