In Defense of Wanderlust!

The life of a travel blogger, or a travel-addicted nomad, posing as a travel blogger (shhh don’t tell anybody), is a lifestyle often accused of residing “out of the box”. The fact that I can live from a singular backpack for a year, or that I have been known to go without a permanent address for months at a time, can sometimes make folks uneasy. To live this lifestyle you find yourself sacrificing that night out again with your girlfriends, incessantly ‘instagraming,’ locking yourself away for hours on end to write (not good at this one yet), and my least favorite… missing lots of holidays. When people ask you “what’s your 10-year plan… or 5-year plan… or 2-year plan… ok, what the hell are you doing next month?!?” I usually giggle and give them the same response every time, “Something fun I suppose,” and throw my hands in the air the way I do caution to the wind.

I am certain at least a few of you have experienced that this lifestyle isn’t always well received by family and friends. I remember right out of college, after working my butt off at an Ivy League school (literally… cuz those hills on Cornell’s campus are no joke), my family was like… ok and next. They didn’t miss a beat, it was “where will you be going for your Ph.D.?”, I was in no shape to hop back into the term paper saddle, let alone begin a full-blown career. After 4 years at Cornell, I wanted to take a nap… like a nice year-long nap. My ‘gap year’ turned into two, and my family continued to freak. I continued to rebel… the wild child that I am, what else did they expect. Those 2 years turned into four, but it didn’t take all four years for them to get the picture that I would be living life in my own way and on my own timeline. Every single person came around to that idea, they saw the joy that traveling brought me, they saw that I wasn’t starving or homeless (except when I elected to live in and out of hostels and on stranger’s couches for months at a time in developing countries… but that is a technicality). I had the support of my family, which actually means everything to me… no matter how many times I tell my mom that I don’t care what she thinks.

Unfortunately, their acceptance wasn’t where the difficulties ended when it came to choosing a life of adventure over sitting complacently while being spoon-fed conformity (a tad dramatic, I know). There is a lesson I had to learn recently, one that I want to share with all those out there trying to make a name for themselves in the travel industry, the blogging sector, or really any field that goes against the traditional grain. There still may be people you actively choose to have in your life, who accept your lifestyle but resent you for it. They will ‘reason’ your love to travel away, by telling themselves that you are in a constant state of flux because you are somehow lost, and one day when you are found, then you will finally settle down. I guess it makes it easier for them to swallow the fact that I can pick up and go with such ease, if they label it with an alternative purpose, with an end game. I decided to stop letting people shame me into believing I was being selfish, I was taking too much time “discovering myself and soul-searching”. How dare I reject societal norms, how dare I not fit their mold… it must be because I am lacking, lacking something… and clearly, I am searching for it in places far and wide.

I have a secret to tell you… There is NO SHAME in spending time ‘finding yourself,’ but don’t let anyone convince you that just because you elect to live a life full to the brim with adventure and challenges, that you are lost. I am never going to stop ‘finding myself’ because that is who I AM. There is no rhyme or reason that can stand up to my love for exploration and my dedication to personal growth. I am a girl who loves to learn, to venture into the unknown, and if that unknown includes the depths of my soul, so be it. I don’t have to be lost, to adore flying to foreign cities and losing myself wandering on ancient cobblestone streets. Anyone who sees the road to self-discovery as a voyage with an actual destination has clearly never taken on the task of looking for themselves. Don’t let anyone write your life story for you, forge your own trail and love yourself every damn day that you have the courage to do so!

The Saga That Has Been This Year!

After returning from Europe in the beginning of this year I was still in a state of constant transition. Half of my belongings were in upstate New York, a quarter on my back in the pack I’d been gallivanting through romantic European destinations with, and the rest of my worldly possessions in my mother’s basement. I decided to move in with her briefly, to “figure my life out”. I was delivering groceries about 11 hours a day, trying to climb out of my European Vacation money pit. While not the most stable point of my year, beyond all that came after, this was the most special time to me. I haven’t lived with my mother and sisters since high school, and we were all under the same roof again.

Growing up with a single mom and all sisters we are indeed a pack of Amazon women strong, independent, driven, and ferociously supportive of each other. My family is everything to me and to have the Girl Gang back together meant more than the world… even if it meant sleeping on my mama’s floor in a technically two bedroom home, converted to 3.5, but currently housing 7 humans…. Then came good news all at once, I was accepted into the University of New Haven for a fully funded masters program in Environmental Science AND I was accepted into a separate summer internship to work with US Fish and Wildlife at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.

I had my assumptions about spending the summer in the middle-of-nowhere, MN. Wow was I wrong! Tamarac now holds a special space in my heart as one of my favorite locations on Earth. It was the peace, solitude, and wild strength I needed after my time in Europe and in DC. The people I worked with at the refuge became family, I love and miss them all. I learned so much, but that wasn’t what set this experience apart for me. It was the first time working as an intern where I didn’t feel like I was just absorbing knowledge, I felt valued and my confidence grew. As the internship progressed I felt more and more like a contributing member of the team and a sense of pride and independence I hadn’t felt before blossomed within me. The most important lesson I learned in that forest had nothing to do with the swans, the sampling techniques, the way a National Refuge operates; the most important thing I learned was how to start truly trusting myself again. This is something we have a firm grasp on as children, and unfortunately for most of us as we get older that trust in our intuition fades. I grew this summer from somewhere deep in me, while deep in the woods… into someone stronger, someone familiar, someone I once was, someone I always have been.

That was far from easy, growth never is. The usual lessons were learned, that you can’t take every thing, person, or idea you once held onto with you. Losses I’m still grieving today. I left feeling brand new, at peace, ready for the insanity that would be August. Since I am apparently insane… I decided that it would be a great idea to do a “few fun things” before I buckled down into my graduate studies… those few things included vacationing in Jamaica, visiting Ithaca, moving into a new apartment, working for a week and a half for my professor in the lab, and flying to the west coast to go to Burning Man again. Yeah, I know. So off I went. I left Minnesota on the 25th of July, and 28 days later I am on a flight to California writing this post. I started with an epic and eventful road trip, where I spent the night sleeping at a truck stop just outside of Chicago, and got from MN to DC in barely 2 days, which is about 20 hours of driving folks… if I made zero stops. I had then three days before my flight departed for Jamaica, which I had yet to pay for, thank the Goddess for sisters that can spot you $, and my ability to contribute to a trip with my master planning skills and intense Virgo organizational habits that border OCD! I spent those days packing and catching up with friends and family! Then paradise!!

I thought I was going to just luxuriate buuut I ended up being the master-planner-mom for my sister’s dirty thirty, where out of 9 people she was the only person I knew. I coordinated the logistics for her and 8 of her friends, and all though I was “busy”, I realized I LOVED it. I knew I liked planning, thank you September birthday, but I didn’t know how fun it was to coordinate a big trip like that (I’m weird I know), and to top it off I absolutely adored all of her friends! We stayed in a villa, had a personal chef and driver and butler. I have never traveled like that in my life and it was fabulous. I stayed an extra two days and traveled a little more my speed (I spent one entire day sleeping), but then I hit the beach and the markets and local eateries. I stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the gritty city of Montego Bay for about $20 a night and I was in heaven. Just drowning in a culture so similar to my own having grown up in the Virgin Island, yet so unique. I ate myself silly. Then home again home again jiggity jig. I was thrust back into reality.

Ok, let me preface this next part with… yeah I know I’m not the most conventional, and as much as I just said I love planning… that’s usually just for other people when it comes to me, I prefer the procrastination route. So, now it’s the 9th of August, I need to be working in my lab the morning of the 14th…. I don’t have an apartment, I don’t have any of my belongings, oh… and I don’t have any money. Like I have $150 in my account, which fingers crossed covered the gas to get there. I was banking on a loan coming through, but come to find out that won’t clear until the 28th. Moral of that story… have friends that love you like family and family that’s ready to ride-or-die like best friends! I figured out the money, packed a truck my mom would drive later that weekend and headed up to Ithaca, NY to collect my storage. I spent not even 24 hours in Ithaca, I loaded a Uhaul, again thank you for humans that love me enough to lift heavy objects for me, and strapped my car to the truck then checked in for a brief night of sleep.

Next day… dooms day, I actually can’t even… I will save what happened the next day for its own very special post called “Try and Move When Mercury is in Retrograde, I Dare You”, yeah it was that bad. Long story short for those of you who are tired of me and won’t be reading the next post…. Every possible piece of equipment malfunctioned, every apartment was rented, Murphy’s law was running around in its birthday suit having a damn field day! The universe eventually came through and by 6 pm I had an INCREDIBLE apartment with an amazing landlord in an awesome part of town. I actually live in what everyone refers to as “the hood”, but it’s my people… black people of all backgrounds, tons of Caribbean people, I’m walking distance from an organic grocery store and 4 Jamaican food spots… it’s a dream. I’m also a 6-minute drive to campus and less than a 4-minute drive to the downtown area of New Haven. My mother, who had met me that morning with the truckload of my things from DC, picked the most incredible restaurant and we went out to congratulate ourselves on surviving the day.

I slept the entire next day. Then it was Monday, I had to start work. That whole next week was spent meeting lab mates, collecting crabs in the marsh, running around filling out university paperwork, and pretending to unpack. I had zero time to get anything done in my house. The weekend came around and I was living out of suitcases and boxes, I couldn’t even start to unpack because the apartment was unfurnished and I had nowhere to put anything! I spent Saturday buying an entirely inappropriate amount of Ikea furniture, and all of Sunday marathon-assembling. Come Monday, work again. This is when it sinks in that I leave for Burning Man in just over 48 hours…. My apartment is chaos and not only do I have to unpack all my Burning Man gear I also have to then sort through and pack what I need for this year. I honestly couldn’t stay up past 8 pm, my body was revolting… it was like screw you, we have been in transition for almost 28 days lay down… OR ELSE.

I had to listen I had no choice. I slept through the night like a baby, wishing in the morning I had just pulled at least one all-nighter that week! Tuesday, my last full day in New Haven, I couldn’t pack at all because it was graduate orientation day at UNH. I spent the whole day meeting new people across tons of fields, it was a blast. When it was finally over I needed to unpack/pack, but I crashed. I attempted to take a nap and woke up 8 am. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…. I had a 10:30am meeting with the team I’ll be working on for my graduate grant-funded research, and I needed to leave town by noon to drive to Newark to catch my afternoon flight to San Jose. Yoga breaths!!! I tell my girlfriend who’s driving me to the airport once I get to Jersey my “status”…. Her response “oh you’re playing with life today”, she isn’t wrong, haha I never have been this unprepared for Burning Man. 

It would seem an impossible feat, but apparently, the universe is into cosplay as much as I am. I move faster than maybe I ever have in my life. I spent the next hour cleaning and organizing my apartment to an acceptable state, then 40 minutes deciding what I needed to bring to the Burn this year, and 20 minutes packing it. I was only 5 minutes late for my meeting. I then drove back to my house, picked up my bag and packed a few last minute things, I was on the road at 12:20. I got to Jersey in time to have lunch with my friend and her beautiful baby girl before heading to the airport. Here is where I take a bow…. Thank you, thank you, but I can’t take all the credit for this impossible circus act, let’s hear it for the Universe!

As I type, I’m snuggled into my Alaska Airlines seat, which I didn’t realize was premium and comes with free drinks… I love surprises. I’m three glasses of wine deep, and happy as a clam. It’s been two whole years but I’m finally heading “Home”, Burning Man here I come!!! Overcome with emotion my eyes started getting watery.. my emotional state is totally exacerbated by the Pinot Gris and the mama rocking her 4-month baby next to me (I have baby fever), but it was more than that. I was having one of those heartfelt moments when one realizes how incredibly blessed they are… and how little that has to do with anything material in their life. The sheer amount of love engulfing me every day I wake up is an outright miracle. I love my life, and I love unconditionally the people who have chosen to be integral parts of it.

Well, that’s all for now folks. I will check back in after I am done getting good and dusty!

 

Olivia, Olive, Ollie.

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Six Things You Didn’t Know About Maple Syrup!

I guess the “when in Rome” expression would apply to maple syrup when in Northern Minnesota, right?

I think so!

I took that sentiment and ran with it this past weekend in Vergas, Minnesota where they were holding their annual maple syrup fest. I left with a saturated sweet-tooth to say the least, with over 30 syrupy sweet submissions for tasting. What I wasn’t expecting was to get my Nerd-Girl on, and leave with a super saturated noggin as well (yeah I said noggin and nerd-girl in a sentence… what of it hehe). Moving right along, I have to share with you what I found to be the most fascinating things I learned about maple syrup at the Vergas maple syrup fest, and through the live demonstrations at the Maplewood Sate Park.

 

1. It can take anywhere from 25 to 70 years for a maple tree to grow large enough to tap

Maple trees should be anywhere between 8-12 inches before they are tapped, and depending on the growing conditions, such as over-crowding and access to nutrients, it can take a very long time before trees are ready to give up the goodies. Next time you enjoy that sticky goodness, think about the fact that it came from a tree that just might be older than you!

 

2. Warm days and freezing nights are the recipe for syrup success

It isn’t simply cold weather that maples need to flourish, unbeknownst to me, they need cold nights combined with warm days. The best conditions for maple tapping are temperatures that get around 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and just below freezing at night. This narrow temperature window is what gets the sap “running”, basically the sap settles during the night and as the temperature rises, the sap moves through the warming tree. If the tree is tapped for sap collection, that the sap will more readily flow out of the tree… and eventually into our bellies.

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Lovely Graphic of the Maplewood State Forest 2016 Sap Collection

 

3. The original method for turning sap to syrup was boiling with heated rocks

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Original Method of Maple Sap Processing

One of the coolest things I got to see was the original method of processing maple sap into a finished product! When the Native Americans first discovered the deliciously sweet liquid that comes from the maple tree, they had to figure out not only how to process it into a consumable and transportable product, but they had to do so without the metal modern contraptions of the maple industry today. The water-like sap was collected into hand carved vessels most likely made from cottonwood trees. While the sap was collecting, stones were being heated on an open fire. Once the stones were burning hot they were moved into the vessels containing sap, and the stones heated the sap to a boil. As the stones cooled they were exchanged for freshly heated stones, and that cycle continued until it was thick as syrup. The original product didn’t stop there though, because native people had nothing to transport runny syrup in, they continued heating it until it solidified into sugar cakes. Those syrup cakes were the first finished maple products!

 

 

4. Native people used a maple product to flavor their meat

Those maple sugar cakes that native people created as a final transportable product from the sweet sap, were used as a flavoring element in cooking. When meats or other foods were boiled, a piece of the sugar cake would be broken off and added to the water.

 

5. Making candy from syrup can take hours

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Cooking Up Some Candy!

To my dismay, I discovered that making maple candy is a full day affair! When I arrived to the festival, this particular batch had been cooking for over an hour and it wasn’t even finished before I left the festival. It must be cooked very slow and consistently to prevent burning, until it reaches about 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

 

 

 

6. Syrup is DELICIOUS on freshly churned ice cream

Okay, okay… this one won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this decadent combination, DO IT. Like right now, do it!

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Hard at Work!

I had a blast at the maple syrup fest, and I hope you enjoyed all my fun facts! Now I want to hear from you. What is your favorite way to eat maple syrup? Comment below, and let me know.

 

Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

#WatchMeRoadTrip

On the road again… no literally on the road this time!

I take pride in being quite the jet setter, but this time I’m hitting the pavement rather than the clouds. I am off on my first ever long-distance solo road trip, and I plan to stop in at least 8 cities on my very roundabout 6 day trip to my summer internship. The environmental education internship I was accepted into will be taking place in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

Yes, I said Minnesota… and why, might you ask, is my first stop down south? I guess just cuz I roll like that (horrible pun I apologize.. HA!) Actually though, I had planned a trip south in coordination with a conference in New Orleans. I never did save up enough money to take that trip earlier this year, but my heart was set on seeing some old friends along the way to NOLA. When I was informed that I needed to bring my car to Minnesota for my summer internship position, I decided a bit of a cross-country loop was worth the extra mile… or few thousand.

My current plan consists of driving from DC to New Orleans, stopping in Charlotte, North Carolina; Aiken, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia. Then I will head north from NOLA to Minnesota, stopping in Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minnesota. Finally, by the end of the weekend I hope to arrive in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota just in time for my internship that starts bright and early Monday morning!

Insanity to most, just another Tuesday for me and my Zippity*

You Can find me on Instagram and Twitter, both can be found through the home page of this blog. Keep up with my WatchMeRoadTrip hashtags, and read real-time road trip confessions on twitter, come with me on this epic 6 day journey!

*Zippity is the name of the adorable Honda Civic behind me.

5 Money Saving Travel Tips for Your EuroTrip

So you are off on a European holiday too? Ahhhh, living the life huh… 20 something trust-fund baby, with someone else’s credit card, floppy hat blowing in the wind, sipping a cafe latte on the balcony of a hotel on the French Riviera. Yeaaaaah, unfortunately… NOT my life story.

Not you either? OK then read on for some tricks I have learned along the way, so that I can persevere my limited European budget for the things that really matter in life, like… fantastic cheeses. Here are my TOP 5 MONEY SAVING TIPS that won’t leave you breaking the bank for whatever you are most excited about doing/seeing in Europe, be it trying a plethora of cheeses or that cafe latte on the bank of the French Riviera!

  • Use Public Transportation OR Walk

This one is an oldie but goodie. I know it is common knowledge to use public transportation while traveling to save money, yet so many of us cave and take a taxi to/from the airport (this adds up people). I find it is usually due to lack of planning, and my trick is to always look up the route to/from my lodging and the train terminal or the airport before I arrive. I also make sure I have exact change for the bus or metro, this takes a little extra planning. Maybe navigating a poorly created government website in some Eastern European language sounds terrifying to you as well, don’t worry the info is out there, typically just a quick search away on The Google.

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Prague has the longest escalator ever!! FYI

  • Book “Alternative” Accommodation

These days staying somewhere other than a hotel no longer means sleeping in funky, possibly infested, too small for even the average human- beds of a youth hostel. Times are changing and hostels have become the trendy alternative to hotels. Many hostels in Europe have private rooms in addition to the traditional dorms, and sometimes they even have free breakfast (rare). Yeah, sure you won’t get tiny shampoo, but you will save a few bucks on that bill. I say a few bucks because with their rise in popularity, and increase in standards, the prices are now more comparable to that of a crappy hotel and the price gap between hostel and hotel is narrowing. That said, if hanging with often rambunctious 18-30 year old strangers is not your thing, Air B&B is always an option. Air B&B, a site to find accommodation in someone else’s home, is now world wide. The prices vary widely, as does what you get. You can find everything from a couch in someone’s living room for $10 a night, to an entire 3 bedroom home for a week. Typically it can save you money, especially if you are traveling with another person or two, but it does require quite a bit of research and booking well in advance. The last option, also the cheapest, is Couch Surfing. Yup, it is what it sounds like… staying on a strangers couch, or sometimes floor, or sometimes even their guest bed room. The thing about it is, IT IS FREE. Yes, I said FREE. Although, it is the “booking” process that requires the most time and effort in order to do it safely, and to find reliable couches… to surf on. I will do an entire post, or two, dedicated just to explain what the hell this is, but in the simplest of terms its an online interface for finding free lodging with a local, in exchange for a type of ‘cultural exchange’… just for the love of travel and exploration.

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Disclaimer- NOT in Europe. This is from my trip to the Amazon of Peru, but it is by far the most alternative I have experienced for “accommodation”. Spent almost a week on this epic cargo ship trip down the Amazon.

  • Take the Bus When Possible OR Fly on Budget Airlines

If you plan to visit more than one European country, which I assume most people do. Getting from country to country can get pricey, but fear not there are plenty of ways to get around this. I know people talk a lot about the Euro-Rail, but that wasn’t even in my budget, it can still get quite expensive. The bus is really the cheapest way to go, but 12 hour bus rides are really not for everyone, I understand. If you can tolerate it, or if your cities are relatively close, I recommend OUIBus and FlixBus, they have been the cheapest so far. If the distance between your cities is short and a popular travel route, there is a ride-share site called “Blah Blah Car”. This is a site you have to register for, so you will know who your driver is and the other passengers, and gives you an interface to communicate (have not tried it myself yet). If you do need to fly, there are numerous budget airlines in Europe, the most popular being RyanAir. Careful with these airlines, they are only cheap if you are traveling light, they have fees out the wazoo! Be sure to look up the fees, they sometimes charge checked bags by kilo, add different fees for booking with card or not paying for your bag in advance… read those fine lines!

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Bus rides are perfect for daydreams!

  • Go on FREE Walking Tours

These are everywhere in Europe! I am typically not a fan of huge guided tours, I do not think they are the most intimate way to get to know a new city. That said, I have found a few amazing companies that offer free tours of both typical tourist sites, and behind the scenes places with real local flare. It is as simple as google searching “free tours” in the city of your choosing, check their reviews and ask how many people they limit it to. These tours run off of tips, so if you have fun then let them know! I am on a budget (which is why I am on a free tour in the first place), so I usually give 2-5 euros and let them know I will write a glowing review on tripadvisor… That is of course only if I enjoyed it, which I have every time. “SANDEMANs” and “Free Tours By Foot” can be found in many cities, if you are in Berlin look up “Alternative Berlin”. I took their free tour, and also paid (12 euros) for their “Anit-PubCrawl”, which takes you to local watering holes rather than the usual touristy pubs.

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My adorable Tour Guide in Prague!

  • EAT STREET FOOD

This is my absolute favorite money saving tip!! There are so many yummy places to eat in Europe, I very easily find myself going overboard… more cheese please. This tip keeps me in check. I see eating in a sit-down restaurant like a treat (or in really cheap countries save it only for dinner), but rest of the time I try new dishes on the street. Be it munching on ‘pommes with oorlog sauce’ in Amsterdam, eating ‘curryworst’ or ‘schnitzel’ in Berlin, or the most amazing creation… ‘trdelník’ in Prague. I know you can’t survive off of fried dough treats… but you are only a loser if you don’t try, right? Of course if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, which if you are following tip #2 you are, you can cook for yourself. I personally cook all the time when I am home, and I see traveling as a chance to eat as many new things as humanly possible… then when I go home I try making them myself.

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Curryworst in Berlin!

I hope this helps you save some money as you gallivant through Europe! I like to always keep in mind though, these experiences can sometimes be once in a lifetime, and so it is always about priorities. Budget first, so that you don’t have to say no to something that will leave you with a memory you will think on later in life that will fill you with joy. Those are always the best souvenirs to take home from a trip!

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Europe!

I am off again, galavanting. This time through Europe! It will be my first time solo traveling in Europe, and I plan to see somewhere around 8 countries. The thought of planning a 3 month trip through 8 different countries was frightening to say the least… but I did it! Here I am half way through my time in Europe, and starting to reflect. I put together a list of the 10 things I wish I knew while preparing for my trip. Getting ready for a big trip can be a mountain of a task, especially if it is a destination you have never been to. Hopefully this guide helps to point you in the right direction. Be warned some of them are totally embarrassing things, that I know good and well I should have known, but I am not here to be an expert. I am here to give you the honest truth, as I make my way on this journey. Giving it to you real: The Good, The Bad, and The ‘Wanderful’.

  • Seasons Don’t Change Slowly in Europe

This lesson was a hard one to learn myself! I did not look closely enough at typical weather patterns for all the countries I was visiting, and for this I froze my buns off for the first half of my trip. I started in London and the weather was fantastic, warm and sunny every day around 80 degrees fahrenheit (Side-note, I just realized I have no idea how to spell fahrenheit, I was spelling it so badly even autocorrect had no idea what the hell I was trying to say, and so I had to google it). I figured I would have at least 3 weeks of “transitional weather” before it got really cold… wrong-o. The temperature dropped 30 degrees from when I left London to when I got to Germany, which was within a week. Despite the fact that I was wearing almost every article of clothing in my bag at once, I was still under-dressed for the weather in Amsterdam and Germany especially. If you are traveling in a transitional season, bring warm winter clothes. Better yet don’t travel in a transitional season! Its a pain in the butt. Pick a season, and you will thank me when you don’t have to pack both your bikini and your parka.

  • Not Everywhere in Europe Uses the Euro

Ok yes, this one is a little embarrassing… I knew not EVERY country used the Euro, but I thought all the Schengen Countries I was visiting on this trip did. First of all, this is great info to know when budgeting, and planning when and where you will exchange your home currency. I never exchange all my money at once, especially if my trip will last over several months because the rate can always change (hopefully in my favor). Also if you are bussing into another country, and you arrive late at night, and only have Euros… and they don’t use Euros, no bueno for you… Trust me I know. So here is what I learned, it has nothing to do with Schengen countries, it is much easier to think about it in terms of the EU. All of the European Union countries use the Euro except: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK (I knew this one!).

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Don’t forget to spend some GBP on the London Eye, its worth it!

 

  • WiFi is NOT Readily Available All Over Europe

This came as a surprise to me, it really depends on the country but I think it is best to prepare with the thought that you may need to hunt for wifi. I especially found this to be true in Germany. I would say to be on the safe side insure your accommodation has wifi, that way you know you will be able to use the world wide web at least once a day (for research, chatting, or working purposes). Typical places that have wifi: cafes, “coffee shops” (in Amsterdam), some restaurants, and large malls.

  • Laundry Facilities are NOT Always Easy to Find

If you are traveling for more than 2 weeks, the only way to pack light is to do laundry along the way (I guess you could also commit to wearing dirty clothes over and over… but for the sake of making new friends I went with the less smelly option). When traveling in South America I found this very easy to do, there was a ‘Launderia’ around every corner. Not so much in Europe. Most Europeans have washers in their apartments and hang their clothes to dry, and so a laundry mat in the city has been hard to come by. When booking accommodation I would say every 2-3 weeks attempt to find a place near a laundry mat or ask if they offer laundry services at your hostel/hotel/airB&B/etc.

  • Your Travel Schedule WILL Change… At Least Once

I know it can feel mildly stressful for some not knowing where you will be next, but that is half the fun of this! Over the course of 2 weeks I have added and subtracted at least 2 destinations from my itinerary. I would say have an “outline” of what you want to see and about how long you want to stay in each place, but don’t book transition-travel right away. If there is somewhere expensive (or not continental) it could be beneficial to book a flight in advance. For example, I knew I wanted to go to Greece, and the only cheap way to get from there to Spain was to fly and stop in Malta, so I booked that about 1 month ahead. For all the other places between Germany and Greece where I knew I was going to take a bus, I budgeted for the average price, but waited to book the ticket. I have added Budapest and Vienna to my trip since I booked my Greece flight and getting cheap bus tickets 2 days in advance has been no issue.

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I stubbled upon the Signal Festival in Prague! You never really know what is going on until you get there!

  • Budget for Public Transportation

For some reason I did not factor into my budget getting around, once I got there… Silly me. Do not make my same mistake. While public transport is reasonable easy (depending on the country) and affordable, it still adds up! If you are going to be staying in a city for any more than 2 days, it might be worth looking up prices per trip for their metro system and making a per day budget for transportation. Even if it is just 5 euros a day, that is an extra 280 euros needed for a 2 month trip. Most cities have a 1/2/3 day pass, and some even week long passes geared towards tourists.

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Always worth it, even if you aren’t counting pennies. Public transport in Europe is an awesome experience!

Hope these help you while preparing for your big trip! Any tips you have for pre-trip planning? Let me know in the comments, or if you have specific questions about… anything, ask away!

With Love From PRAGUE,

Olivia