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

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Have Camera, Will Dream.

Last year around this time, maybe a month earlier, I bought my very first SLR camera. I am a huge fan of buying myself Christmas presents, I always get what I want that way! I didn’t go top of the line, but I wanted something to take me close to professional. I had been exploring cameras since my first trip to Hawai’i when I was about 11 years old. My Nonna took me on that trip, which changed my life in so many ways, and one of those being discovering my love for photography. I got to have not only 2 disposable cameras, but also a disposable underwater camera to use on my very first snorkeling adventure!!

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Fast forward to Christmas 2014, I have my very own fancy-pants camera, a Canon! I got it right in time for some big traveling. I went from Arizona, to Peru, to South Africa all within that year, and of course everywhere I went, attached to my hip was my Canon. My dream was to do something with these photos, share them, sell them, something. I dreamt, and I dreamt big, and I dreamt often. That, my readers, is the key. It is something I so easily forget, but it is the secret to breathing life into your dreams, if you have a dream it must consume you for it to come true.

Knowing what you want and envisioning yourself getting it everyday is exactly how you are going to get there. Now I’m not advocating sitting on a meditation cushion and willing a trip to Madagascar into reality (maybe some folks have that power of manifestation… I’m not quite there yet). What I am saying is that when your dreams are always in the forefront of your mind, with every decision you make you will clearly see if it serves your dreams or not. Soon you will be effortlessly and automatically only following paths that lead you closer to that dream.

Learning to clearly define your dream, trust your intuition, and have the courage to jump blindly after what you want… is so freaking hard!! Just because I know what to do doesn’t mean I am good at always doing it. Yet, I do get lucky from time to time 🙂

Not even a full year after the first time I used my camera, I was hanging my very first photography exhibit. “Footsteps of a Nomad” was a huge success, it was so much work, and worth every ounce of stress! I sold 4 photos during my opening reception, and I even got to have my family there with me. I took my show down after a month, and the day I took it down I hung another show up at a local bakery, and they will be showing my photos for 2 months! Two shows and counting, only a year after manifesting my big-girl camera!

After hanging my very first photography show!

 

My show at Heavily Brewing Company in Montour Falls, NY

 

My second show is now up at a local bakery in Ithaca, NY

 

The Triphammer Ithaca Bakery

 

Featured Artist for the next 2 months!

 

When there are no words left, all that remains is gratitude. I am so grateful for all the support of my family and friends, the opportunities made possible only through collaboration, and I am grateful to myself for believing and being courageous when I needed it most. If you have something beautiful to share with the world, go for it!! Share it under this post as your first leap of bravery!

Mom, Dad, Sisters!! All came to support me!

 

My fellow teachers, and one of my students (the baby in my arms), came to show support!

 

Flowers from my loving grandparents!

 

Footsteps of a Nomad

Every time I travel, I bring back enough gifts to fill a separate suitcase and I think everyone should support local artists wherever they go. Yet, there are some places where the best thing to take home are just memories. Beautiful and wild places where there are no stores, no vendors, no souvenirs. For me photos are the way I can share those memories. In those wild places, those natural spaces, I leave only the trace of my footsteps and take only photographs.

This weekend I have the amazing opportunity to share my photography with my community. I will be showing my travel photos at a local brewery! If you are in the upstate area, it will be at Heavily Brewing Company in Montour Falls, NY from 4-6pm! Having this show has really gotten me to put more thought into why I travel, into why I LOVE to travel. I know this is a passion of mine, but what do I want to share with others through my photography?

As of last year, I have been to every continent aside from Antartica, and explored countless cities, towns, and villages in 10 different countries. I have a passion for exploring new cultures, and meeting people who have a completely fresh outlook on life. Two big drivers for my travels are the people I meet and the communities they create; I love how you can find similarities amongst them all and yet in other aspects we are all worlds apart. The further I travel the more I realize what a “global community” we are, and how we have a communal responsibility to protect all things natural and beautiful in our world. I share my photographs because I feel that what I capture in my images can bring the viewer closer to the beauty of the place I visited. The more connected people in this world feel to those far off lands still full of natural wonders, the more likely they are to protect them. I hope my photos inspire people to travel more, get outdoors, and celebrate the beauty of nature, culture, and tradition. From our own backyards to Amazonian waters flowing through Peruvian villages, there are still so many things natural, beautiful, and wild that need our protection.

Lucky Number 6!!!

For those of you who don’t know, which would be all of you, six is my favorite number. There are many strange and superstitious reasons why I love that number, but what it comes down to is fun things happen For me when the number 6 is involved. The biggest number 6 yet is here, and I can’t wait to share the big news with you all!

Drumroll…

I am currently on the 6th continent I have ever been to. Not even 25, and I have been to all continents but one. I have a passion for traveling and a dream to see the world! The reason I blog is to share that crazy journey with anyone interested, and just maybe inspire a few people to embark on their own crazy nomadic journeys.

I have spent the last 2.5 days jetting across the sea to nurture my nomadic soul, Hello Africa!! This first trip to Africa, hopefully of many, will be all about South Africa. I just touched down in Cape Town, and it’s already off to an amazing start. As usual, I connected with incredible souls on my way here. Having deep conversations about race and culture in this country, on buses and in taxis. Young locals I have met seem so conscious of the politically charged environment they live in, and they can’t wait to dialog about their world and the troubles we face together as a globe. Beautiful people, openly and freely offering suggestions for my travels and welcoming me to their home. I have officially decided I will be coming back, mostly because I already accumulated a list of “must-eat” places as long as my forearm… And I LOVE to eat 😉

Tomorrow I will be going on a tour of the Cape Peninsula, and I will be reviewing this tour by Baz Bus for their website! My first official travel writing gig, not paid… but hey, everyone starts somewhere! After the tour I will sample a restaurant, or 2, from my growing list. The following day, Robben Island, Table Mountain, and a champagne tour are all on the todo list!! This is trip is going to be incredible I feel it in my soul, but the best part of it all is I get to journey with my beautiful sister Amber!

Sawubona! (Beautiful greeting translating to “I see you”)

Olivia, olive, Lala

Traveling Black

My personal belief is that we are one race, the human race, and we are all so incredibly and beautifully unique that it’s silly to try and group people into categories based on physical attributes. Physical attributes that have begun to meld and blur more and more as love defies all and every social boundary that attempts to tether it. That being said, when I am seen through other’s eyes I am a black female, and I am damn proud of that, but it doesn’t always make traveling easy… especially traveling alone. I want to share just a few things I have experienced being a black traveler, that guidebooks written for the general public are never going to cover.

When foreigners travel to new places sometimes they can face discrimination, having assumptions made about their intentions in that country or being called names like gringo or worse. I personally have not experienced much in terms of these hardships of travel, but I have been called other things that when lost in translation seem horribly derogatory. To make this clear I have to explain a little bit about the Spanish language for those not familiar with it. It is common practice in Spanish to make a word more affectionate by adding “ita/ito” to the end of the word, this is usually used to say something is small or cute. For example gato+ito = gatito for a little kitten, or “que linda es tu pelito” for how cute is your hair, the ending simply emphasizes the cuteness of something. Here in Peru I have experienced tons of catcalling, which having grown up in the Caribbean doesn’t phase me at all, but being referred to as negrita and crespita did throw me for a spin. Those words translated literally to English mean little back one and little curly one, but literal isn’t the way languages work. After discussing it with many friends here in Peru, a few of them saying that their nickname in their family is also negrita because they are the darkest of their siblings, I was able to get a better understanding of these words. In the U.S. there is something we assume when people refer to you by the color of your skin, that they are attaching to those words some discriminatory stereotype… and often times this is correct. Learning more about the Peruvian culture, I came to the beautiful understanding that there are no stereotypes attached to these words, they are said honestly with pure intent. Calling someone negrita or black girl is not a comment on anything other than the beautiful darkness of her skin tone. Once I truly understood the comments as they were meant in this culture, it was such a refreshing moment, realizing that being brown or black or having kinky hair had nothing to do with anything else other than having a beautiful physical attribute. I have since reveled in the fact that my brown skin and curly hair are so celebrated by this community!

Being a foreigner in a new place you also must get used to a certain amount of attention… especially being a black female alone, which just might be the rarest of all traveling types. That being said, I had to get used to a whole new level of attention in the more remote areas of Peru I have visited on this trip, places where they have never seen anyone… not on a TV, not in a book… with hair like mine. This was especially true in the jungle where my presence was met with the stares of every adult and the tiny hands of children in my locs when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was quite the culture shock that swiftly blossomed into a learning experience for all involved!

I can’t say that I am particularly tolerant of anyone putting their hands in my hair. I am not a petting zoo, and I did not grow my locs for 8 years for your entertainment. In the U.S. I have been in plenty situations where someone has, without asking, come up to me and touched my hair (FYI… That’s really not ok) I am not one to be confrontational and so I typically do nothing more than let them know it’s an invasion of personal space to do what they just did. Then there are people who ask to touch my hair… with almost a frightened look in their face, like they are afraid of what might jump out. These people are not interested in my hair for what it is… an extension of my vibrant energy… They want to see if some crap they heard from a friend about locs being dirty or smelly or itchy is true. I could really rant at length about the ignorant things I have dealt with in the U.S. when it comes to my hair, but this is just a little background so you as a reader can understand where I am coming from when I discuss my time in Peru.

Naturally I was looking at the situation of my hair being ogled at and touched through the lens created by personal experience, but none those scenarios were in play here. There was a genuine and honest curiosity of the complete unknown, which is something I love and is one of the main reasons I travel. I quickly became a lot more tolerant of fingers in my hair, reminding them kindly that it isn’t polite to touch someone without asking, but then allowing them to continue their exploration… which usually resulted in them calling their parents over to join them. I also got used to addressing adults who were staring in a way that made me uncomfortable, asking if they liked my hair… which always resulted in a smile and a nod… telling them it is indeed real, that my hair is curly, and no i can’t take it out and make it straight… and inviting them to touch it if they like. No my hair does not bite!

People fear what they don’t know. So know me. Know me in all my glory. Familiarize yourself with my dark brown skin, my full lips and wide grin, my curly brown hair that flows nearly to my waist. See yourself in the kindness of my face, so it’s crystal clear there is nothing to fear.

Your Hometown Or Not, This Earth Is Ours To Share

Typically I love Earth Day, it’s the day when everyone’s attention is on something I try to call attention to daily… well almost everyone. Spending Earth Day in Peru, it was really hard for me to be in a celebratory mood and trying to raise awareness left me feeling like a one-woman circus. I had no internet and so I tried to promote awareness locally rather than cyber-ly, but talking about environmentalism only brought about stares of pure confusion. While traveling to the small animal sanctuary on the beach where I am currently residing, I looked out of the colectivo window at trees covered in plastic garbage that had been blown there and caught on the branches. I wondered how there could be so much trash when no one lives on this road. I soon found the answer to that question, as the woman two seats in from of me rolled down her window and proceeded to throw a cup and a candy wrapper out. When I questioned her about this action, she told me she was finished with it and thus it needed to go outside. I tried to explain that now it was going to stay there forever, or even worse it will go into the ocean, she just looked at me with utter confusion and turned around putting an end to our conversation. I finally gave up and just conducted my own personal beach cleanup with the biggest plastic bag I could find. 

 

Unfortunately this left me feeling even more depressed, as I looked out at the expanse of beachfront covered in trash and the tiny area I could clean 3 plastic bottles washed up near my feet from the ocean. I sat down in front of the beautiful sunset alone, and I cried. 

 

I have been wanting to post about this aspect of my journey, but I guess part of me has been avoiding raining on my own parade. I have been having such a blast and Peru is such a beautiful place, but it is also one of the most polluted places I have ever been in terms of litter. I prefer to adventure off the beaten path, but here in Peru that means witnessing blatant and complete disregard for the state of our planet. Like most things as alarmingly horrible as this, I personally chalk it up to a lack of education. Not only is there no infrastructure put in place to handle the amount of waste people in Peru are producing, they actually have no idea what a negative impact they are having on their own environment… not to mention the ocean which we all have to share (I take personal offense when its wellbeing is threatened). Whenever I have voiced my concerns or opinions on the matter, 9 times out of 10 they’re met with confusion or surprise. I have tried to talk with as many people as will listen about the effects of putting plastic on the side of the road, in the ocean, or in the rivers most people show honest interest wich leaves me hopeful.

The first time I noticed how bad the pollution is here, was when I traveled south of Lima by bus to Chincha. Looking out of the bus both sides of the road looked as if I were driving through the middle of a landfill. When I finally caught a glimpse of the beach it was shocking. Bright blue plastic bags floated along the surface by the dozen, the sand was buried beneath piles of toothbrushes and plastic toys, and looking ahead you just see even more litter flying out from the cars driving past.

 

The hardest for me to stomach by far was what I witnessed in the Amazon jungle. A place I thought to be so pristine, is actually horribly polluted. All along the sides of the river there are all sorts of plastic materials, bags, utensils, toiletries, industrial materials, fishing nets. The worst thing I witnessed was on about day 4 of my boat trip into the Amazon. Two men came upstairs and proceeded to grab the the barrel of garbage we had all been using to put our trash in, and they dumped it right over the side. All of our trash from 4 days right into the river. I was outraged! My trash was in there too, I didn’t sign up to litter in the damn Amazon, I wanted my trash back! I ran over screaming in Spanish “why, why, why would you put the trash in the water”, one men blatantly ignored my rant, the younger of the two looked at me alarmed and told me “señorita, because it was full I must throw it over”. “What? Do you always do that, does every boat do that?!?” I demanding to know, “of course” he replied. I went back to my hammock, I felt as if I was in shock. My fellow passengers seemed concerned by my emotional outburst, but confused as to its reason. I sat and explain what could happen to the animals in that water, how it could change the way everything works together to provide them with the life they know, I tried my hardest to explain how doing this puts the river and thus their sources of food and livelihood in danger. When I arrived to the city of Iquitos, things were in even worse shape. Every boat I got on and every taxi I took, I talked about how sad the trash in the river makes me and pointed out the few beautiful murals in the city discussing protecting the river. I tried my hardest to make a difference but many voices ring louder than one, share this post and support education about conservation. When you visit a new place, don’t just be a tourist, get involved and speak out about things that matter to you. Your homeland or not, this Earth is ours to share.

Fear’s True Face

I recently posted a quote on Tumblr… “To live in constant fear, is to never know fear’s true face.”  Written by me so I guess it’s kinda just a thought haha…

Fear is something that comes up a lot in conversations with people who hear I’m a woman traveling the world alone. “Aren’t you afraid?” My quick answer is usually no, but that is not entirely true. Just because I don’t fear the unknown, doesn’t mean I’m never afraid. I think that fear is the most important thing to have when traveling alone no matter your sex, male or female or something of your choosing 🙂 . Our body’s have a natural defense system to keep us safe in any situation, and it’s called our intuition. Our intuition warns us of danger with the feeling of fear, this feeling is that pit in your stomach or the sudden wave of unease when debating a decision. The problem that arises with living in fear is that your mind puts your body into a constant state of panic, daydreaming of worst-case scenarios and worrying about what’s around every corner. When your body senses real danger and tries to warn your mind, you can no longer feel your intuition, it just looks like all the other fears created by your mind. To be a safe solo traveler you must live and die by your intuition.

That said, don’t disregard your intelligent mind. Analyzing the situation and the potential dangers is very important, but when you think… don’t forget to feel. As a Virgo, analyzing comes natural to me, I debate the pros and cons of everything from which corner store to buy a soda from… to what street to take at night. I think, then I feel, then I let it be. I have confidence in my decisions, and I have faith in my intuition. This is why no, I am not afraid in the places I travel to, and in my mind I constantly send out positive vibrations of safety. When my conscious mind is at ease, I can immediately feel when my subconscious mind senses danger and I know that pit in my stomach is real. What keeps me safe, is that I have learned to see fear’s true face.