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.”

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

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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 🙂

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!

Lush Haul – Backpacker’s Edition!

Lush Haul I love Lush, and not just because I worked there for a year and some change. They’re cruelty-free, their products smell good, and I actually know what ingredients I’m putting on my skin and hair. Yesterday was my last day working, so I bought all the birthday gifts I needed for the next year and also stuff for my trip. Luckily, Lush has tons of solid products and stuff that’s super easy to travel with!! Here’s a little list of the stuff I’m bringing with me this summer!

via lushusa.com
via lushusa.com

Jason and The Argan Oil (Shampoo Bar) – That little pink guy, that’s my haircare. Lush makes solid shampoos that lather super well and last 60-80 washes…perfect timing for my trip. It’s insanely moisturizing and I’ve used it in the past without conditioner! Plus…no plastic! Shampoo bars are some of Lush’s “naked products” that don’t need packaging and cut down on waste. The tin I’m storing it in is reusable, so when I move on to my next shampoo bar, I’m all set!

via lushusa.com
via lushusa.com

No Drought (Dry Shampoo) – The description even says No Drought is good for music festivals, bless. It’s a cornflour base with a lovely citrus scent for when I’m too lazy to wash my hair. Instead of packing Lush’s amazing T for Toes foot powder, I’m going to also try throwing this guy in my shoes when I’ve been hiking around and my feet smell, you know, disgusting.

via lushusa.com
via lushusa.com

Parsley Porridge (Hand and Body Soap) – MIRACLE. This soap has tea tree, aloe and other herbs, which make it great for your body but also your FACE! Luckily it’s the soap my face likes the best so it’s all I’ll need when it comes to soap! (It’s taking everything in my power not to pack my So White and Rose Jam Shower Gels or Yog Nog and Snowcake Soaps, but I’ll leave them here as motivation to come back home!)

via lushusa.com
via lushusa.com

Tea Tree Water (Toner Water) – Tea tree for antibacterial, grapefruit for an astringent, juniperberry to balance. Super simple and a great way to refresh throughout the day.

via lushusa.com
via lushusa.com
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via lushusa.com

Confident & Independent (Makeup) – THANK YOU ALEX. My lovely coworker bought me Confident, the most amazing lip color, and I’m forever grateful. Independent is an eyeliner and just became available again after a 2(?) year long hiatus. I don’t wear makeup often, but these two are all I need when I go out on the town (I mean, I’m going to Liverpool after all).

9 to 5 (Cleansing Lotion) – Aaaand for the morning after. 9 to 5 is a great cleansing lotion that’s also a makeup remover! Super easy to apply to for when I’m traveling from one place to the next.

But that’s not all….

My first stop in Europe is going to be Lush’s Oxford Street store in London. Three stories of Lush, friends. I’ll be buying:

-Oral Pleasure Toothy Tabs (oh, Lush.)

-Deo My B.O. Deodorant

-One of Lush’s moisturizers with SPF, haven’t decided yet! (Lush does not have any products with SPF in North America because of complications with how SPF is tested here)

-Cup O’ Coffee Exfoliating Mask

….and then maybe a few more of Lush Oxford Street’s 200 products that are exclusive to just that store. Check back in…oh my gosh…two weeks, and I’ll have another Lush haul posted for you guys!!

“What are you bringing?” The Rough Packing List

Less than six weeks! And I still have no return ticket, but I’m looking at a three-month stay in Europe.

This week, however, I got a lot done. I graduated from Temple University, and I moved out of my apartment.

Everything I know is in boxes, in my parents’ garage or the basement-alcove-room of my parents’ house. It only makes sense to get started on packing, both backpacking-through-Europe packing and moving-down-to-Austin packing. Since Austin is so far away and the things I’m bringing to Europe are things I’ll be using in the next six weeks, the most I could think to do is create a quick, rough packing list. I’m only bringing a backpack, a fanny pack, and a drawstring bag, and I’ll need room for souvenirs. (Mainly Lush souvenirs from the Oxford Street store. Oh.My.Gosh.)

Check out my list and let me know if I’m missing anything, or can do without anything!! Also, let me know if you’d like to see a post of the Lush items I’m bringing to Europe (ok, ok…I’ll probably post one regardless.)

SIX WEEKS.

PackingList