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 🙂

“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!

Week 7: Scotland and Copenhagen!

Hello! Found a quick minute to write up a post, even though this week has been just as eventful as the past few. Here are the highlights from my time in Scotland and Copenhagen!

Glasgow: Brianna Fonti, this city was for you. I had a very lovely time in Glasgow and a very sweet Couchsurfing host named Andy. Toured the city, saw beautiful botanical gardens and a large, awesome graveyard. The Dali painting of Jesus may be the best painting I’ve seen on this trip and I’ve found my favorite store; at Missing, I picked up Bob Dylan’s Chronicles pt 1 for two quid and Trainspotting for one. I also did not do so well at quizzo with Andy and our new CS friend Johnny but that’s ok because I scored some veggie haggis in the meantime.


  
Edinburgh: In Kraków, I said Kraków was my favorite city. In Dublin, it was Dublin. But I’m serious this time, guys, it’s Edinburgh. Maybe it was because I stumbled on the largest arts festival in the world before it officially started (so I saw a few shows but didn’t have to deal with so much madness). Maybe it was the spontaneous hike up Arthur’s Seat, (shout out to meeting Teddy, who would be my touring friend for the rest of my time there). It could’ve been The Cow Shed, the mockumentaries, running into Savannah and Erich on The Royal Mile, or getting lost and giving a fake tour around Edinburgh. Or the exhibit at Scottish Parliament, where the most powerful photos from recent news stories were on display (still have chills from many of them). Anyway, can you tell I liked Edinburgh? I’ll be back for the fringe ASAP.


  
Copenhagen: One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new friends, and at Open’er, I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful Latvians. One of them, Rihards, goes to school in Copenhagen so I was able to visit him while checking out the city. He’s one of the nicest people EVER and it was great meeting his friends and hitting up Christiana and the bars with them as well. In Copenhagen I got to ride a bike to the city, visits the best art gallery I’ve been to all trip, finish Invisible Man in the botanic gardens (READ IT), and go to a clothes swap. As a part of the Copenhagen Fashion Festival, a pair of loose jeans I’ve had since the start of my trip got me three sweaters, three t shirts, and three pairs of pants. Shopping for the year = finished.


  
 And now…Berlin! An overnight bus took me to the #1 city I’ve been waiting to see. Just made a lovely dinner with my lovely host Verena, and 5 days of fun awaits!! Bonus picture for this week is a big inflatable cow behind where Teddy and I arrived very late to a show called Shit-Faced Shakespeare.

Week 5 and 6: Dublin, and UK Part 2! 

Hey friends! Couldn’t find the time to pop out a blog post after Somersault last week (aka I was passed out on a train through England), so here’s some of the highlights from the past two weeks!
Bristol: Bristol was awesome. Met some great couchsurfers and girls from Brighton, Banksy-hunted, drank cider in parks, and explored a city that made me so excited to move to Austin. Some neighborhoods are very similar to Austin; tons of street art, a focus on local business, and plenty of vegan restaurants. Thanks again to Anthony for finding me an awesome hostel and letting me stash my stuff at your job.


  
Somersault Festival: One festival this summer just wasn’t enough. Somersault took place in Devon, in the super south west of England. I stayed with Josh, who lived on the estate where Somersault was being held. Josh was an awesome host and festival companion, and staying inside during the downpours of the weekend was quite the convenience.

Somersault’s lineup was similar to an XPoNential Festival lineup (if you went, I’m jealous and hope that you enjoyed George Ezra and St Vincent and Pine Barons and Lord Huron and….) it included world music, local artists, and more alternative headliners. Bombay Bicycle Club’s set was probably the best one I’ve seen all summer, but I have to sit on that for a bit before I officially give them the prize. Big shout out to Jeremy Loops for being the reason I found out about the festival, and for being another one of the best sets I’ve seen a summer.


  
Back to Liverpool: Michael was my host in Liverpool and since we got along so well, I invited him to accompany me in Dublin. I stayed 2 nights at his before our early flight, enjoyed an It’s Always Sunny marathon and sharing my obsession for making spaghetti bread. His parents are saints as well, and I was really glad to see them again.

Dublin: You know it’s a good trip when you have a Guinness in your hand by 10 A.M. Michael and I did the tours of the Guinness storehouse and Jameson Distillery, went to the National Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Museum of Archaeology, wandered, and bar hopped. During our second night in Dublin we attended a huge Couchsurfing/English speaking meetup on the oldest street in Dublin (where Handel’s Messiah was first performed!!!). We met people from all over the world, and I was able to meet up with Savannah and Erich, who are from America. Savannah and Erich are Deaf and I was more than excited to practice signing with them. I could communicate pretty well and we had an awesome time, definitely one of my favorite nights out on my trip so far!


  
Cliffs of Moehr: I had one day to explore on my own, so I decided to do a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moehr. My bus stopped by Limerick, Kinvarra, and The Burren as well, but the Cliffs were definitely the highlight. Ocean water and beautiful views make for a perfect, calm day. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to!


I’m about halfway through my trip. I’ve walked though cities, jaw hanging in awe over their beauty. I’ve fallen asleep standing up. I danced, I made mistakes, I changed my plans, I still have decisions to make. I’ve been super homesick and ready to cancel my trip back to the U.S. I have about six weeks to go! Ready to learn from the experiences I have and make even more memories on this second leg of my trip!

Week 4: Afritz (and a night in Milan!)

The first three weeks of my trip were filled with long nights, rushed mornings and not a lot of sleep. I knew I would need to take some time every few weeks to relax and also make myself useful. That’s how I ended up on a farm in Afritz, Austria.


I found this farm through Workaway, a site that’s kind of like an expanded WWOOF. (What’s WWOOF, you ask? Well, thank goodness I wrote a blog post about it.) I arrived at the farm, which is located about 30 minutes from a southern Austrian city called Villach, and was immediately in awe of the surrounding mountains and view.


The family all spoke in German, and not everyone spoke English. Not going to lie, it was a bummer sitting at the table sometimes and not knowing what was going on, but I managed. Everyone was very patient and sweet throughout the week, a big “thank you” to Miriam and Tomas who did most of the translating. I mainly learned German words that would help me in my work (“clean”, “food”, “sweep”); my jobs were mainly housework and preparing lunch.


I worked from around 830-2ish every day with lunch around noon. Then the rest of the day was mine! In my downtime, I did yoga, read, napped, and hiked. Lots of hiking. The farm was below Wöllaner Nock, and on my last day I hiked to the top…pretty nice view, right?


It was a lovely week but I had to move on; Somersault Festival has been calling my name for months now. To get there, I took a train to Milan and stayed for a night before my flight to Bristol. I got in around 8 P.M. but my day was just beginning.

My plans in Milan were to wander at night, but not before I went to Bar Luce. A few months ago, Wes Anderson designed Bar Luce for the Fondazione Prada, saying it was the perfect place to write a movie in. Considering my recent Wes Anderson kick and constant need for inspiration, I needed to go. Unfortunately I got there too late to check out the Fondazione Prada, but Bar Luce was still open. Look at how wonderful this place is! (Didn’t hurt that the bartenders were all beautiful, too.)

  
After my glass of wine and dose of whimsy, I decided to wander around the Duomo and the center of Milan. There’s something romantic about seeing these places at night.



I also had my first Italian gelato! I was pleasantly surprised at how cheap Milan was, considering my expectations. And so lively for a Monday night! Milan is officially on my list of places-I-must-go-back-to.


Every time I come to a new place, even if for a night, I keep thinking of that Hozier song “Someone New“. I’ve been falling in love just a little bit every day with somewhere new…whether it’s a cocktail bar in Milan or the lake Miriam took me to in Afritz. I’ve finally booked my ticket home (see you all September 13th!) but in the meantime, I’m going to keep exploring and keep falling in love with every place I go. Next stops, Bristol, Devon, Dublin, Glasgow….

Bonus picture for this week is a shot of how comfortable cows are with cars.

5 Things You’ll be Glad You Packed in your Backpack 

(Photo via Rei.com)

I’m almost a month into my trip, with about two months left to go. I’m getting the hang of living out of my 55 liter Osprey; it doesn’t feel as heavy and it’s becoming easier to pack. I didn’t pack a lot of clothes, but here are 5 things I’m so glad I packed (and you’ll be glad you packed when you head off on your backpacking adventure!)

via wisegeek.com

1. Sleep mask – it took me, 2 hours? into my overnight flight to think, “Thank goodness I packed a sleep mask” (or rather, thank goodness my mom offered to let me use hers). Between festivals and exploring new cities, sleep isn’t always a first priority. So on every bus, in every hostel, and every moment in my Open’er tent after the sun rose, sleep — and therefore, my sleep mask — was crucial.

2. Empty pillowcase – Most hostels and Couchsurfers have pillows available, but it’s always good to have a second pillow/first pillow (if camping). I usually fill mine with old clothes (doesn’t smell like roses, but I’ve survived) and then use it as a laundry bag.

via forever21.com

3. Fanny pack – Besides looking INSANELY attractive in it — alright, I tried. But my fanny pack has been a lifesaver, especially for music festivals. Everything is easily accessible, really close to me, and since mine is pretty small, I can keep things fairly organized. No backpacks to hassle with/have searched, less of a pain, a fantastic fashion statement (I’m really trying here.)  Mine is from Forever 21 (same with the one above), and they’re pretty cheap!

4. Charging phone case – Or rather, I’m just glad I chose a charging phone case. I have the Mophie case for iPhone 6, and having the extra battery handy is a great way to prevent a crappy situation. Six hours on a megabus with a broken outlet? No problem. Festivals? No need to charge for 2-3 days (if you’re on airplane mode).

via ancestral-nutrition.com

5. Dr. Bronner’s – Pour it into an airplane-size bottle or two and you’re set. I’ve used mine as soap, shampoo, shaving soap, and in the future I’ll probably take advantage of it as a toothpaste and laundry detergent. If you have to take one thing, take this. When I make my big move in October, I’ll probably pack what’s left of this huge bottle to use up (if my family hasn’t used it all!)

What items have been lifesavers on your trips? Let me know in the comments below!

Week 3: Prague and Vienna!

Before my trip, Monday nights were reserved for The Bachelorette (Team Jared), but now I hope I can consistently post updates. Here are the highlights from Prague and Vienna!
Prague: Originally I had blocked out these 3 days for Budapest, but getting to Prague was cheaper and I was going to do it with friends. So why not? Mackenzie, Erin and I somehow got ourselves together after a night in Kraków to get on a minibus and then a train to Prague. Despite being 25 minutes late to the bus, it got to the train station an hour and a half early (thank you, maniac Polish driver). We made it to their flat via a beautiful train and soon enough, I had a beer in hand. Shout out to Chapeau Rouge, it was a great welcome to Prague.



Exploring: I’m a professional wanderer, so I spent my first full day in Prague doing just that. While reading the wrong directions for the Prague Castle, I stumbled upon a very lovely vegan restaurant so obviously, that’s where I had lunch. It gave me the energy to check out all the views around the Prague Castle, including one from the very top of said castle. It cost a few bucks and it required a claustrophobia-inducing spiral staircase, but it was totally worth it.


More exploring!
: Next were checking out the obligatory John Lennon wall, St. Charles Bridge, and Old Town Square. Tucked away in the square was a museum with Dali and Warhol exhibits, so obviously I had to give a little look.


  


Segway Day:
Back in Kraków, Mackenzie and I discussed how necessary it was for us to take a Segway tour. My last day in Prague was the day. I could “czech” (I mean, I’m laughing) it off the bucket list. Bundled with the Segway tour was a ticket to a wax museum; I’m absolutely terrified of wax museums after some teacher had the wonderful idea of taking 4th graders to a Civil War wax museum, so obviously I had to go. I made it out fine and since Mackenzie lived in Prague, we told the Segway tour guide to skip the tour and let us ride around for 30 minutes. It. Was. Awesome.

  
  
Vienna!: It was super sad to depart from my friends, but Erin and I are going to meet up in Barcelona in a few weeks and I know I’ll run into Mackenzie soon. If my trip has taught me anything, it’s how small the freaking world is.
Vienna provided me the chance to fly solo — for a bit. I found a pay-what-you-wish, all-you-can-eat, vegan, Pakistani buffet, and then wandered into a film festival where they played La Boheme. As I enjoyed the free Wi-Fi and thought, “yup, this is indeed the opera that RENT is based off of”, I discovered that one of my fraternity brothers Vanessa AND Open’er pal Sam were both in Vienna. Naturally, we all met up and wandered into an Australian bar and a karaoke place. Pakistani dinner, Italian movie, Australian bar, American music (Sam performed “Me and Mrs. Jones”, Vanessa performed “Bad Touch”). Sounds about right?

  
Actual Austrian Attractions: The next morning, I was back to wandering. Nearby the hotel I stayed at was Statdpark, which was absolutely beautiful, and what I thought was one of the Wein Museums but actually a contemporary art museum displaying (from what I gathered) senior showcases from an art school in Vienna. Interesting stuff, and more my style anyway.

  

At that point, I met up with another CS host and got a list of Austrian tourist magnets (had to go to one or two, right?) I checked out the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, doing the Imperial Tour and becoming way more fascinated with Austrian royalty than I thought I would be. I checked out Prater, a free and very old amusement park (unfortunately the rides were around 4 euro. In my mind, paying 4 euro to ride a log flume alone would be admitting some form of defeat. I bought an ice cream cone and people-watched instead.) I also visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, because I have Catholic parents/guilt, it was Sunday, and ever since Chamber Choir in high school….in new cities, I have to check out the cathedrals. Night ended with an interesting talk with my host about Europe, Greece, and American stereotypes. Yet another shout out to Couchsurfing, you learn so much from the people in this community.


  
 After Vienna is Villach, where I’m currently spending my first night. Thanks to Workaway (and my friend Stacie who told me about Workaway), I’m spending the week gardening, hiking, reading, writing, and meditating in the hills of Austria. Outside of my window I can see Italy and Slovenia. I’ll post on my way back, when I’m en route to Somersault (!!!!) This week’s bonus picture is me in the most touristy outfit I could find. Unfortunately, if I had worn this out of the house, I would have had to Segway alone (fair enough).