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!

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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.

 

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!