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Five Things I Learned in Ireland

The first place that I ever visited outside of my home country was Ireland.

Since I was a child I had a calling towards the land of green. The first CD I ever bought was an album of Celtic Christmas music. I studied the mythology and history, read the works of their greatest poets, and spent hours looking at photos of vast landscapes online, feeling my heart reach out of my chest. Then when I was in university there was an opportunity for me to do a ten day study abroad program in Bundoran, Ireland. Being terrified of planes and having never left the country before, it was a huge step for me. But I got on the plane and made my way to the land of my dreams, and I was not disappointed.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, it felt like I was breathing for the first time. We walked down an airport hallway and I stared at the beautiful green signs written in English and Gaelic. We spent an evening in Dublin and I was close to tears at every street corner where something historic loomed above me, or at crosswalks where street art graced curbs and alley walls. As we drove north the next day, towards Bundoran, we passed miles and miles of green pastures, dotted with sheep, cows, and underbrush that I had never seen before.

When we arrived in Bundoran I was amazed by how similar it was to my small hometown by the sea back in Hawaii— surfer culture, but below 60 degrees (F). And yet, the streets were lined with pubs and gift shops, markets hosting unmistakably Irish goods, and there was a quietness that you would never find back home.

I spent the ten days and returned a couple of weeks later with a friend after a stint in London. We stayed in Dublin and visited the surrounding areas. By the time we left, I was madly in love with Ireland. You know that feeling when you get home after a long day of work, you take off your shoes, and you sit in your favorite couch or face plant onto your bed? That’s the feeling I got every second I was in Ireland.

I learned a lot about myself in Ireland— that I did in fact love it, that it felt like home, that I could travel abroad, that there was something magical about traveling, that people were innately kind, and that my soul did need adventure more than I had previously recognized. I left with a heavy heart.

I returned two years later and had the opportunity to spend more time in Dublin, as well as visit Galway, Belfast, and other beautiful areas such as Wicklow and Kells. Every day I fell more in love with Ireland. By the time I left for other adventures, my heart was already full to bursting. Ireland is the place I vow to visit again and again because there are a million reasons why it is such a magical place. Here I’ll share some of the things that I learned in Ireland and some of the things that make it such a special place.

Ireland is eerily similar to Hawaii

So this may not be something that would occur to many people, but when visiting Ireland for the first time it was nearly impossible for me not to notice the similarities between the beautiful land of the green and my home state, Hawaii.

Their political histories mirror one another— a larger political body arriving and trying to erase the language and culture, and religion playing a role in that destruction.

Both places are also soaked heavily in mythology, especially as it is tied to the land. The barren lava fields of Hawaii and the green hillsides of Ireland both hold mythical beings and warrant grand explanations of the workings of gods long ago.

Mainly, Hawaii and Ireland both have something engrained in their local people that comes from the heart. In Hawaii we call it the aloha spirit. I’ve heard it referred to as “Irish hospitality” in Ireland. No matter what it is called, it is my favorite thing about visiting Ireland.

Visas are complicated

Ever since I first stepped foot in Ireland I wanted to live there. Unfortunately, I learned that it is not an easy place to move to. I assume that this is largely due to the fact that Ireland is a country whose economy seems to run off of two primary things— tourism and their dairy industry (Irish butter is life!). Wide open green fields are wonderful for both happy tourists and happy cows, and if the country becomes more populated, well, people have to live somewhere. So as much as it breaks my heart that I cannot easily move there, I understand.

To move to Ireland you need a certain amount of money— so that you wont be taking from the local economy— or you need to be on track to becoming a citizen, the most common way of which is to have a grandparent or parent who was or is an Irish citizen. If you do, you can apply for citizenship! If you’re like me and you don’t, then you have to join me in dreaming from afar.

For those who would like to live in Ireland for a while (as an American citizen) you can apply for a one year visa, especially if you have recently graduated from university. So if you want to spend twelve months in literally the most beautiful place I have ever seen, then there are opportunities out there for you!

Every city has its own identity

Ireland has such a character to it, and so does each individual city. I think this may particularly have to do with the fact that most Irish families tend to live in the very same county for all of their lives, and their children’s lives, and so on. This is such an interesting concept to me as someone who wants to get as far away from home as possible, but it makes my heart warm to think about. Anyway, as far as the cities go…

Dublin is a fun loving city, the hub and capital of Ireland. Its pubs and clubs are open all night and tourists are always milling about. It is much more cosmopolitan than some may expect. It’s full to the brim with street art, museums, galleries, pubs, shops, and parks. I’ve spent more time in this little city than any other, and it is still my favorite.

Galway is also very artsy and lively, but in a more small town way. Street performers line the main streets, artists pin up their art for sale, and jewelers sell their famous Claddagh rings. Like Dublin, Galway rests along a water way, so a block or so from the heart of things you can watch gulls fly out over the water and daydream. Galway is not too far from the famous Cliffs of Moher, which is an absolute must if you find yourself in Ireland.

Belfast was the biggest surprise during my entire trip abroad. The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a city that still struggles with identity. Irish or British? True to the green or the crown? The vibrance and friendliness that I encountered in the other Irish cities was absent here, in my experience. After a day of touring to Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Hedges— Belfast being the nearest large city to those famous and very worthy attractions!— I returned to the city only to discover that by 8 pm everything was closed— markets, most fast food places, everything! Thank goodness for that one open Burger King with that delicious veggie burger or I would have gone hungry that night! I didn’t dislike Belfast, but I wasn’t disappointed when it was time to leave. And on that note…

Northern Ireland and Ireland are DIFFERENT

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, meaning it is ruled by the crown of England. Ireland has a long and painful history with the invasions of the British over several centuries. With many efforts to take their language, histories, and religion from them, the Irish persevered. Even now there is tension between the two nations, and visiting areas like Derry and Belfast make it obvious that there is still an undercurrent of unrest present.

Really though, there’s no one like the Irish

A large part of the Irish identity has come out of centuries of rebellion, hardship, and national pride. I am continuously amazed by the Irish people in a way that is difficult to put into words. They are proud without being pompous, they are enormously friendly and kind despite the turmoil of their collective past, they hold the arts in an enviably high respect, and they may be cold all the time but they have a roaring good time and love life. Of course, no nation can be summed up in such simple terms and nothing I could say would apply to everyone. But overall, the Irish are lovers of a good time, of creativity and culture, and are some of the kindest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

In conclusion…

If you are looking for somewhere fun, safe, artsy, historical, full of nature and cityscapes, and alive, Ireland will always be my number one suggestion. Maybe I just have a soft spot in my heart for it, but even with my high hopes it has never let me down.

And I just want to say thank you to Ireland and everyone I met there— for keeping my belief in the innate kindness of people, magic, and adventure alive.

(Image is of me hanging out with Oscar Wilde in Galway. )

My Top Five Places I Must Visit (ASAP)

This week has been a tough one.
Staying positive is important, but accepting your limits is as well.
Between obligations, missing someone so terribly it feels like the sky is falling, and pining for adventure, my energy reserves have been quite low.

When I feel this way I like to daydream.
I love to create vision boards and lists and set goals and intentions.

The post this week will just be a list of the top places that I want to visit and why.
Maybe it’s just to help inspire myself!

Scotland

It’s capital city, Edinburgh is considered the literary capital of Europe and they have a giant book festival there every year! How could this book-loving heart not want to go? I’m also a sucker for stone architecture, castles, and sweeping landscapes… and I 95% believe in the Loch Ness “monster”. (Sorry, it’s true.)

Greece

This is one of the roots of the modern world. The literature, philosophy, politics, culture, and mythology are some of the stepping stones into the modern “Western” world. I want to see the ruins, visit temples to ancient gods, and yes, make friends with cats along the docks and stare out over that stunning Mediterranean Sea.

Morocco

This seems to be one of the great hubs between Africa and Europe. With influences from various African cultures as well as Portuguese, Spanish, and other European influence, how could a person who loves culture, food, and language not want to go?

Egypt

Much of the true greatness of African history has been silenced or eradicated in previous generations by settlers and colonizers who would not believe in the humanity of the African people. (I’m mainly referring to the African land grab in the age of imperialism.) Egypt is so magical because its glory could not be silenced. Pyramids still stand, cultures still thrive.

Italy (Again!)

The thing with Italy is that there is an impossible amount of things to see. Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany, Venice, Pompeii, Pisa, Rome, and on and on. The modern world is also partly built upon the stones of the Roman Empire, its accomplishments and its failures. And then of course there is the vibrancy, the food, the language, and the sheer magic of ancient cities still so alive.

These are my top five must visit places at the moment. That may change, but really, I want to see the whole world.

Where are the places that you most want to visit and why?
No matter where they are, I hope that you make it there!

What I Learned About Myself From Travel

Wanderlust is the driving force behind some of my most life-changing experiences as well as my most frustrated moments. If I could afford— financially and emotionally— to be on the road all the time, I would be. There are a million places that I want to see, and it seems like every time I visit a place not only do I want to visit again, but it inspires in me a desire to see another dozen places that I may not have considered before.

So far, I have set foot in ten countries.

Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Spain.

Some of these places I only stayed in for hours, some a couple of days, and others for weeks. I feel like I learned something in almost all of them. One of my favorite things about travel in general is the myriad of opportunities to learn new things— tastes, history, culture, language, and so on. And of course, there are the things you learn about yourself.

This week I just wanted to reflect on some of the most useful things I learned about myself and the universe from traveling, primarily alone. I’m sure I will revisit this topic at some point and expand upon my knowledge, but for now, these are some of the most striking things I learned while traveling:

You can trust yourself

When you’re traveling alone, everything comes down to you. Meeting your food, accommodation, and transportation needs is something that you need to figure out yourself. You can’t rely on someone else to keep an eye out for you (or watch your bags while you run to the bathroom!) To many people that may sound daunting, but really, once you’re out there and experiencing the full freedom of being yourself, you realize how trustworthy and capable you really are.

People are generally kind

Now of course discretion should always be applied, but I learned that nine out of ten times, people are more likely to help you than hurt you when you’re traveling. Especially in the hostel and B&B circuits, you are primarily meeting people who share one major thing in common with you— they love to travel! In my experience, travelers tend to be people who are open-minded, kind, and willing to connect with those around them. This is the kind of traveler I aimed to be, and I can only hope that I succeeded. I am assuming that I did, as some of the most important people in my life I met while traveling, and we still remain connected. I literally cannot thank all of the people who helped me on my journey, because there are so many chance encounters and fleeting moments that are now only very fond memories. But all of those moments helped change my perspective on humanity as a whole, and I am so thankful for that.

Life is so, so short

Traveling bends time. Everything seems to go way too fast, and when you’re removed from your life, things take on a different sense of time. My most recent trip was almost four months, and sometimes it felt like it was an entire lifetime and looking back on it I feel that it was not even a fraction of what it really was. Now that I am back “home” in my normal life, everything has changed. It seems that the changes I waited years for happened in a matter of weeks. I look at my life stretching before me and have a whole new perspective on what my life means and how quickly it is all coming at me. Also, there’s so many places I need to go! When you have so much to look forward to and so much work to do to get there, it causes you to reflect on what that time actually means and how you’re going to make the most of it.

Things will be okay

I know this is a very general statement. Something I noticed while traveling was that things that didn’t make sense to me before— why did this happen, why didn’t that happen— came into focus. Things that haunted me dissipated, worries I had fell off my shoulders. And I just remember thinking, repeatedly, for literally the first time in my life with meaning: it’s going to be okay. I assume this is a feeling maybe not as related with travel as it is with doing what your heart is calling out for you to do. But I will never forget it and what it meant for me for that mantra to come breaking through.

Of course I learned so much from traveling— that is part of why I love it so much.
I plan to start a mini series of posts about what I learned in specific places abroad on my travels. Hopefully these posts will help inspire others a little and give them some cues for their own travels.

Currently, the travel bug is gnawing away at me. Wanderlust is at high tide. We’ll see what I end up doing about that.

(Image is of the place and time that I do the most daydreaming and wanderlusting currently— from my bed in the early morning hours.)

How To Create A Positivity Journal

I am a journal addict.
I have a journal for every reason you could imagine— lists, notes, diary entries, story ideas, and so on. I love to take notes and keep memories alive on the page. I also like to use the written word to help me focus, motivate myself, and inspire myself to reach my goals.

One of my favorite journal projects is my positivity journal.
I use this journal to write down my goals, dreams, affirmations, self-love reminders, and other positivity prompts that help me stay focused, motivated, and feeling good.
If I ever find myself discouraged about reaching my goals, I like to pull it out and reflect on how far I’ve come and reaffirm the positive things in my life.
I think there is something about seeing your dreams and accomplishments on the page that helps to keep it all in perspective.

Here is the layout of my personal positivity journal.

MANIFESTATION

Self: What are some things that you want to accomplish in regards to yourself? This is all about ways that you would like to improve yourself as a person, or to focus on who you want to be.
My example: “I will love myself”

Health: I am personally a rather unhealthy person, both physically and mentally. Sometimes dealing with my health can feel too overwhelming. So I set goals and intentions for where I want to be in my health journey.
My example: “I will reach a healthy place with my body and body image”

Family: My family is very dysfunctional, but also very important to me, so I set intentions for how I will handle the family dynamic and how I can bring positivity to it.
My example: “I will make my family proud”

Relationships: By this I mean all of the relationships in my life— romantic, platonic, work related; any and all relationships that I have with others.
My example: “I will accept that some days I cannot give as much to this relationship, and remember that there are days when I can give more”

Career: These are career goals that I am truly focused on achieving through hard work and dedication— but I don’t think some manifestation would hurt.
My example: “I will have my writing published and positively acknowledged”

GRATITUDE

Moments from the past year that made me feel thankful: Most of these for me revolved around little magical things that happened unexpectedly that made me smile.
My example: “A good friend came back into my life when I really needed some support”

Little kindnesses: These are little things that the people around me did to brighten my life. Being thankful has a lot of sources, but I find that when you are surrounded by the right people, there is so much to be thankful for.
My example: “When my friend gave me a hand-made gift”

Successes: I’m the sort of person who finds it easier to focus on my faults and losses than my successes. That is why I have a section in my positivity journal for this, though it falls between gratitude and self love.
My example: “ I went on a trip to Europe and really grew into myself”

SELF LOVE & HAPPINESS

Reasons to love yourself: Sometimes I need a reminder that I’m not some terrible human being.
My example: “You always do the best that you can in life”

Good things that you’ve done for others recently: This may seem a little self centered, but sometimes it is good to remind yourself of the effect that you have on others.
My example: “Gave a book to a fellow poetry lover”

Things that make you happy: I like to look at this list when I’m feeling down and even that makes me feel a little happier.
My example: “Books, the ocean, leaning new things, seeing someone reading a book that I love, deep discussions, remembering my dreams after I’ve woken up…” (and many others)

Things that you should do more to make you happy: This sort of ties in with the prompt before it, but focuses more on the actions of happiness. What specifically can you actively do to promote more happiness and positivity in your own life?
My example: “Go to the ocean, visit farmer’s markets, try new foods, believe people when they compliment me…”

Things you should do less to improve your happiness: I often have a tendency to do things that I don’t really want to do but either feel obligated to do or can’t help but to do… and who has got time for those sorts of things?
My example: “Putting myself down”

Acts of self love and self improvement that you’ve accomplished recently: This is a big one for me because I tend to just put self love on the back burner.
My example: “Going to therapy regularly”

POSITIVITY

Philosophies to remember in times of distress: These include thoughts or quotes and reminders that the world isn’t a terrible place (all the time).
My example: “Every time that you put something good out into the world there is just a little less room for the bad”

Notes and reminders: These are random thoughts and notes to keep me feeling positive.
My example: A note from a friend who was thanking me for buying her a book for our book club

There is no one way to make a positivity journal.
I actually plan to expand mine for this new year, so if you have any ideas for how to improve and expand a positivity journal, drop them in the comments!

Sending good vibes out to you all!

Image is of a page out of my positivity journal, accompanied by my 2019 motivation journal and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living”.

Budget Travel: Transportation

I believe that travel should be accessible to everyone and that money should not stand between someone and their dreams. Though this is too often the case, I did find many easy ways to save money while I was traveling. Last week I wrote about a couple of the accommodation resources I used to save money and shared my experiences with them. This week I want to continue by writing about ways that I saved money on transportation.

When you think of traveling of course you think of the flight, where you’ll be staying, what you’ll be eating, and all the rest, but it seemed that the most stressful part for me was figuring out transportation. Of course there are a dozen ways to get rides— ride sharing apps and public transportation such as trains, buses, and subway systems are wonderful resources.

I will discuss some of the transportation methods I used in my travels and provide some insight on what did and didn’t work for me as a budget traveler.

Popular Ride Sharing Apps: Uber, Lyft, My Taxi

Most people know about these apps already. Coming from a more rural area and already owning a car, I have not had much use for these apps in the past. An unfortunate side effect of this is that I forgot to download them before I left the United States. Since I didn’t have an international data plan for my phone, I was not able to receive the mandatory text message that would have allowed me to create an account. So though I did not use Uber or Lyft, my spot of advice for you is this: download the apps before you leave home! This may seem obvious to other people, but in the last minute rush of preparing for a trip, downloading Uber and Lyft were not that high on my to do list.

My Taxi does not exist where I come from, but some European countries use this as their primary “ride share” app. This was the case in Ireland, where I was told Uber and Lyft were practically non-existent. Really, it’s a taxi summoning app, so the prices are not usually as great as Uber or Lyft, but it still really comes in handy when you’re freezing your butt off on a street corner at 7:00 am in Dublin looking for a ride to the nearest ferry.

A Special Word for BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a ride sharing/ carpooling app that is a wonderful resource for people trying to save money on rides, as long as they have an open schedule in their travels. It works like this: Say I am planning on driving from Paris to Lyon next Saturday and want to make a little extra money and provide a service. I list my car and trip— including time of departure and possible stops along the way— and set a price per seat available in my car. Once I’ve done this, people who need to travel from Paris to Lyon can check the app to see if anyone is also going that way. If so, they can request a seat in my car, pay through the app, and there you go! Most rides that I saw on the app were about 20 to 30 euros, depending on distance and the host.

Though as was the case with Couch Surfing, I ended up not personally using the app for a ride myself, but it was always one of the first places I checked to scope out potential savings on my transportation.

Flixbus

There are multiple long-haul bus services in Europe, but I found myself most comfortable (and saving the most money) with Flixbus. This is a great option for both long and short distance travel, as it is super affordable and the buses usually seemed to be punctual. My overnight ticket from Genoa, Italy to Friedrichshafen, Germany was about 45 euros. To put this into perspective, the train tickets that I looked at— which granted were much quicker, though did have a good deal of train hopping involved— were about 180 euros! So obviously my wallet and I agreed that Flixbus would be the way to go.

Now I am not going to make it sound like this was a perfect experience. Most of the long distance trips happen overnight and transfers are often involved. This meant that I spent a chilly hour and a half in Zurich, Switzerland at 2:00 am on a little bus bench in the near dark, desperately hoping my life didn’t turn into a horror movie. I had a similar experience on my way to France, when I found myself on another overnight bus ride (with Flixbus) and once more found myself in Zurich at a time a bit too long before sunrise. So I have been to Zurich twice, and have yet to see it in the light of day.

That being said, if you are someone who can sleep on a bus (unlike me), and don’t mind the early morning hours, Flixbus is great. Honestly, though it was sort of miserable for me at the time, I didn’t regret those long-haul overnight trips because I always arrived in a new location with the dawn or early morning light and was always too excited about the next adventure to be too tired or dwell on my less than perfect bus ride.

Hop-On Hop-Off

This is a popular tourist bus service that you can find in most cities and tourist destinations. At first I was a little skeptical. They never seemed like the best way to see a place and really experience the best of what there was to offer. When I went to Barcelona, it was my first time exploring a big city alone. I did a lot of walking and riding the underground, but some places that I really wanted to see— museums, parks, and the like— were a little too afar for me to feel comfortable making my way there alone in a city where I didn’t speak the language or have a deep understanding of the culture.

So I caved an bought a two-day pass. There are two circuits around Barcelona, meaning I could see one end of the city one day and the other side of the city on the next day. When you buy a ticket you must print it, they won’t let you show your confirmation on your phone. If you don’t have a printer you need to make your way over to their office (near the city center in the case of Barcelona) to have it printed before you can get on the bus. This can be a serious hassle, but at least now I (and you) know!

When you get on the bus you will be given a receipt that you must keep on you (it needs to be shown every time you get on the bus) and a pair of headphones. Every set of seats has a headphone jack that allows you to tune in to the radio system that provides you with an audio tour of the city as you are driven around. (The greatest part of this feature was that it was available in about a dozen languages!) Most buses had a top open-air deck, where you could have a panoramic view of your surroundings. I felt very much like a tourist, but it was still fun.
The great thing about the Hop-On Hop-Off bus was that you could be picked up and dropped off at any of the predetermined locations— as listed on the maps that they give you. A new bus would swing around every twenty to thirty minutes, so you never had to wait long in one place if you didn’t want to. It was great to know that I had a way to get back to where I started as long as I planned things right and was aware of my time.

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus was a great supplemental service for my time in Barcelona. The two day pass cost me about 40 euro, but for two full days of travel around the city without the worry of finding metro stations or catching rides, it was worth the price and I considered it a deal. If it had been my only method of exploration, I would have missed so much, but as part of a greater adventure, it was wonderful for helping me see the city, gain insight into its history and culture, and get from place to place safely, quickly, and rather affordably.

Trains: Trainline and Trainline EU

Trains are my favorite mode of transportation. They are (usually) fast, clean, safe, and comfortable. If I could take a train everywhere I go, I would. There are many train services. Each European county has its own sort of train system of course, and many of them have apps that you can download to purchase tickets (like OUI.sncf in France), but this can be difficult to keep track of if you are visiting multiple countries.

The two services that I used most often for booking train tickets were Trainline and Trainline EU. Trainline is primarily used for trains within the United Kingdom, and Trainline EU is for most of the countries within continental Europe. I found these sites to have the most affordable options, and I always managed to find a train that was going where I was headed.

Though I adore trains, they do tend to be much more expensive than other transportation methods, and the variation in services between countries can be exhausting to deal with at times. There are passes for extended stays that can make this a bit easier, which will allow you to buy the single ticket and use it as many times as you want within a certain time period, but these are often extremely expensive and some of them need to be purchased while you are in your home country and cannot be purchased while you are already abroad. So if you have some extra money, want a super open travel schedule, and don’t want to deal with booking tickets as you go, train passes are a valid option.

If I could have taken the train everywhere I went, it would have been ideal, but as a budget traveler that is often not the case.

A Word on Underground Services

The two underground systems that I used were in England and in Barcelona. This is probably the best public transport method available in most cities. I have noticed that it takes some leaning though. I found myself lost and confused a multitude of times, and ironically, the attendants in England did not seem to be much more helpful to me than the ones in Spain (and the latter and I didn’t always speak the same language). If you plan to use the underground for an extended period of time, I suggest purchasing passes (there are various types based on zones and lengths of your stay) and always trying to arrive early, just in case you find yourself a bit lost (like me).

These were just a few of the transportation methods I used while abroad. Most of my motivation for using these particular services was the ability to save money so that I could travel longer. There are many other resources that I may explore more on another adventure or in another blog post, but for now, there it is!

If you have any suggestions for other affordable modes of transportation, let me know in the comments!

(Image is from the morning that I arrived in Friedrichshafen after a long 11 hour Flixbus ride and watched the morning break over Lake Constance with somebody special)

Budget Travel: Accommodation

I am a budget traveler.

I have never had much money to spend, and once I caught the travel bug (after being a part of a short study abroad program in Ireland which was thankfully funded by my university), I realized how tight my daily budget really was. Coming from Hawaii, everything is expensive— rent, food, gas— everything. Saving enough money to do something “luxurious” like traveling is a test of will, income, and faith. There were many days when I had to weigh my dreams of traveling again against what I was going to eat that day, or for the rest of the week really.

That being said, I did manage— over the course of a year and a half— to save enough money to travel with. But even after all that time of saving money, I still didn’t have enough for a week at a resort or eating out at five star restaurants, and I wanted to make my time abroad last.

I am a traveler that travels to experience new cultures, languages, foods, and ways of life— not to feel pampered or as if I am on vacation the entire time. Travel is a source of learning and growth for me, not just relaxation (though obviously I enjoy some of that too). So in the months leading up to my departure I did a lot of research on how to save money primarily on accommodation and transportation, and how to keep myself out of the tourist mill as much as possible.

In this week’s post I will focus on accommodation services. Though my research turned up many resources, I will write about the ones that I used myself or felt would have been the most helpful while I was traveling.

Work Away

This was my favorite accommodation resource, and I used it for my time in both Italy and Spain. This website links volunteers with those who need volunteer work, most often in return for a place to sleep and usually some meals. Other times volunteers will be given a small stipend and a place to stay in place of meals, or some other variant of give and take.

When you create a profile through Work Away you will be able to view and contact the profile pages of the hosts that you may be interested in. Every host page includes a rating (as left by volunteers who have stayed with them), a section for comments or reviews, and of course, an outline of who the host is, where they are, what their availability is, what services they are looking for, and what qualities they may be seeking in a volunteer. Once you find a host you are interested in staying with, you can contact them through the site and hope that they respond!

A great way to enhance your chances of getting a reply is to spend time and effort on making your volunteer page (your profile) as accurate and interesting as possible. For example, I highlighted my love for the English language and my tutoring experience on my profile and in the course of a couple of months I received about a dozen requests to teach English to children from across Europe.

Work Away is a wonderful resource if you like to volunteer or give back to the communities that you visit in your travels, and if you like the idea of spending time with “local” people as opposed to tourism industry workers and other tourists. Hosts can be found in essentially every country around the world, and you can find volunteer work for virtually any interest— teaching English to children, restoring old buildings, working in gardens, work at bed and breakfasts, hostels, and hotels, animal care, house sitting, and many others.

Just so you know…

I must stress that every host is different. Hosts decide as individuals if they would like to host you or not, and an agreement on the time and length of your stay, your transportation, and other variables must be discussed directly with them. If you have issues, the Work Away staff is there to lend a hand, but they cannot force a host to accept you or change a host’s mind on what is required by a volunteer, etc.

There is also the matter that this service is not free. As someone who is not a member, you can view host profiles but you cannot directly contact the hosts without paying the fee of about 35 euro per year. I am not usually one to pay for these sorts of things, but in a lonely and worried moment in a hostel in Bath, I decided to take the plunge and I am so happy that I did!

My Experience

I spent five weeks in Bracco, Italy helping run a bed and breakfast that overlooked the little town of Moneglia and the sea. My host cooked three delicious traditional Italian meals per day, and some of my best memories were of helping cut vegetables and speaking our broken English and Italian back and forth. He took me and the other volunteers to nearby cities and I saw more of the beach during my time in Italy than I had seen in two years back home in Hawaii. I got to greet guests from all over the world (one of my favorite things was trying to figure out which language I would be hearing in response to my Ciao!), and made some very dear friends during my time there. I spent the mornings cleaning, doing laundry, and singing to myself and the afternoons lounging in the sun on the beach or reading a book in a corner of the garden shaded by grape vines. I cried when I left because my time there and the people I met became a part of my heart.

I also used Work Away for my time in Barcelona, Spain. For two weeks I spent weeknights helping teach young people Spanish, and spent the days and weekends exploring the magnificent city of Barcelona. My host was enormously kind, provided me meals, and took me on multiple tours of Barcelona in her free time. It was my first time alone in a big foreign city and I could not have felt more safe or at home knowing there was someone I could turn to if I really needed it. This peace of mind alone was worth my membership fee, and all of the experiences, people I met, and great times that I had were priceless.

Couch Surfing

I must begin by saying that I did not actively use this resource during my travels as I ended up solidifying plans through Work Away and by staying with friends, but I spent a good deal of time on the site during my travels and I asked multiple people that I met while traveling about their experiences with it— all of which seemed positive.

Couch Surfing is wonderful because first of all, it’s free.

You can make an account and create a profile where you can share a bit about yourself, your interests, and your travels. You can even add what countries you plan on visiting and when. Your account will also have an area for references, where people who have hosted you (and people that you have hosted) can leave a review about the experience, or where a friend who knows you can leave a personal reference (this really helps for people who are new to the platform as hosts are more likely to host those who have reviews).

There are hosts for Couch Surfing all over the world, and one of the great things about this resource is that nothing is expected of you (if a host decides to have you) other than showing up and leaving when you agreed, being respectful, and maybe bringing a little gift of appreciation (this last part is not required or even directly suggested, but it seems like a good rule, doesn’t it?). Most Couch Surfing hosts are on the site to enjoy cultural exchange opportunities. So for example, if you plan on staying with someone in Paris and you come from Seoul, maybe bring some popular candies or a post card from home, or use your cooking skills to cook them a “traditional” meal or share your language with them. This is part of what makes Couch Surfing such a fun community.

Just so you know…

Though Couch Surfing does have a sort of support team, it is a little less secure than other resources may be. What I’m saying is that it pays to be smart and selective when offering to host someone or when you are traveling and are looking for a place to stay. This is when references and profiles come in handy. Of course, there may be some great people out there who haven’t managed to rack up any shining reviews yet, but all I’m saying is be careful and be smart, as you always should when traveling.

My “Experience”

Though I did not directly have an experience with Couch Surfing, a dear friend of mine who I met in Italy told me that she has been both a host and a guest, and both experiences went very well for her. My Work Away host in Spain also uses Couch Surfing, and has hosted dozens of people from all across the globe (she even has a map in the spare bedroom where every guest can add a pin to identify where they come from). She is a leader of the Barcelona Couch Surfing forum— the group that listens to people’s concerns and issues as they may crop up— and after seeing her dedication to it, I had a lot more hope in the safety and kindheartedness of the Couch Surfing community as a whole.

I was thankfully able to receive a personal reference for my Couch Surfing profile from each of these wonderful ladies, and I created one for each of them. So hopefully next time I find myself traveling, Couch Surfing will be a useful resource for me.

These are the two accommodation resources that I found to be the most useful or prevalent for me in my travels. As I stated previously, there are other resources out there, which I will more than likely write about in the weeks to come, but these two provide people across the world with opportunities to travel affordably and also help form a community around travelers.

Next week I will post about the most budget-friendly transportation services that I found and what my experiences with them was like.

If you have any other suggestion for resources drop them in the comments!

(Image is of one of my favorite places in the world— the living room and kitchen area of the Bed and Breakfast called Bella Vita, in Bracco, Italy— where I had many delicious meals, conversations, and quiet cups of tea.)

Three Ways to Live a More Creative Life

Since childhood, I have been a creative person.

In kindergarten nothing thrilled me like the opportunity to play with finger paints and other craft supplies and adding to our daily doodle journals, which we started every class with. The only exception to that was coming home at the end of the day and doing my homework, which consisted of writing two sentences and drawing an accompanying picture.

As I got older, I expanded my love for creativity and have attempted almost every art form I could get my hands on— writing, poetry, painting (watercolor, acrylic, and oil), drawing (graphite, charcoal, ink,), wire twisting, ceramics, acting (as well as my fair share of behind the scenes theater work), singing, a bit of dancing (hula dancing to be more specific), photography, various crafts (such as collage, beading, sewing, and finger knitting, and other childhood favorites), very minimal and terribly done web design, and others that I am failing to recall, I am sure. I still want to ( and plan to) try silk screening, glass blowing, and wood work, as well as crochet. My drive to create is a cornerstone of my personality.

It’s said that one of the most important elements to happiness is growth. We need to feel that we are growing and that our lives are changing and improving. One of my favorite things about being creative is the ability to see your growth. All skills can be improved upon with practice, and being able to visually prove to yourself that the growth is indeed happening is one of the greatest feelings. Creative endeavors also create a lot of opportunities to try new things, as there is no shortage of creative avenues to pursue.

I wanted to share three of the most important elements to living creatively, and happily:

Make Time For Creativity

This may seem rather obvious, but how much time do you make in your day-to-day life to pursue your creative endeavors? Between work, school, family time, and other obligations, it can be more difficult than it should be to find the time to commit to just creating. Everyone’s creative process looks a little different. For me, it’s quiet, preferably in a private place outdoors or in a comfy corner of the house with pillows and blankets and a hot cup of tea. The primary elements of my ideal creative time are privacy, silence, and comfort. For others it may be putting on reruns of their favorite TV show or going for a hike, but whatever gets your creativity brewing is worth taking the time for. It also helps me to create this time on a sort of schedule, if it’s once a day or a couple of times a week. Knowing when that time is coming around is helpful (to me at least) to get the creative juices flowing before I even begin the process of making my tea.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder when figuring out how to create your most fruitful creative time:

• What is your creative passion?
• What kinds of resources and/or space do you need? (This may differ between say a writer who may want a desk in a corner somewhere, and a painter, who may need a larger studio space to not feel cramped.)
• What makes you feel relaxed, inspired, and creative?
• What technical steps do I need to take to create this time and space for myself? (If you have children, maybe have someone take them to the park for a while. If you work all day, make a point of setting aside some time during your evening rituals to do something creative. Look at what is technically sitting between you and more creative time and tackle it that way.)

Immerse Yourself

Ask any highly celebrated author what the key to their success is and you will hear two things— “Just write!” and “Read as much as you can!” One of the wonderful things about creativity is that it is contagious. So if you like to write, then read! If you like to paint, then visit an art gallery! If you want to act then watch plays, TV, and films! The world is so full of amazing creators in every field, you are sure to find artists and works that inspire you. There are a million ways to immerse yourself in any creative passion, including:

• Books— You can read about any subject and get ideas to inspire your own creativity
• Magazines— Subscribe to your favorite creative magazine. It gives you a reason to get excited every month, and it’s nice to have images to accompany the articles you’re reading (especially for more hands on things, like beading)
• Films/TV/Videos— Documentaries, YouTube, and even Broadway; there are so many great visual resources for learning new hands on skills or taking inspiration from other creators (like acting, sewing and glass blowing)
• Podcasts and Audiobooks— Auditory resources like these have really been becoming popular recently, I assume because it is easier to listen to something during your morning commute for example rather than always focusing on a video or a book

Surround Yourself With Creative People

There is something to be said about the people that you surround yourself with. I find it difficult being around my immediate family because none of them have any artistic or creative passion. As I spend most of my time with them, this puts a massive drain on my creativity because I have no one to bounce ideas off of or to do fun, creative projects with. This is why I am so happy to have so many creative friends. I actually cannot think of a single person that I consider a friend who is not creative in some way. I have friends who are writers, bloggers, photographers, poets, painters, ceramicists, jewelers, and many more. This is wonderful, because when I need advice or a creative boost, I have these people in my life to inspire me. A couple of ways to bring more creative people into your life are:

• Reaching out to people who inspire you— Is there a blogger that you really enjoy? Send them a message. Or is there an artist whose work changed your life? Tell them. I know that this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone (I would love to tell Sylvia Plath what her work has meant to me), but if there are people who inspire you in your day-to-day life, reach out to them.
• Take a class— I think there is no better or more obvious way to meet other people who share your passion than by taking a class. I thank the universe every day for my decision to join the English program at my university (I was eyeing up the Psychology department with interest,) because it has allowed me to form some of my strongest and most inspiring friendships.

Lately I have been spending almost every day doing something creative. Though I am in the process of trying to find a job, moving, and valuing time with my family, I always do my best to find that time to write, draw, sing, and read, just a little, each day, because I find that when I do, I am happier.

On my other blog titled “I Am The Arrow”— which details my struggle with mental illness— I discuss the connection between depression and other mental illnesses with creativity and the archetype of the tortured artist. Though I still believe in the observations that I made there, I am now able to look at the creative process in another light. Maybe much of my creativity has grown out of my sadness and adversity, but it brings me happiness every day.

Creating a Postitive Life~ Thoughts From a Former Pessimist

If you talked to the right person, they may say that I am a notorious cynic, others may just say pessimist. I like the term realist. (There’s not really a wrong answer here.)

I also have a bit of an issue with depression, and anxiety, and a few other things that make it a little bit harder for me to see the good in things than the average person. I let that dictate not just my moods but my entire outlook on life and myself for a long time. I felt trapped, unworthy, and uninteresting. I figured that I was living the life I deserved, because I didn’t believe that I deserved much at all.

When I look back at myself six months ago, it’s not difficult to see why I felt that way, but now being back in a similar place in life— outwardly— I’m amazed by how far away I am from that state of mind.

What changed? How did I manage to go from being a life-long, self-declared realist ( ie: pessimist) to at least making my best effort to embrace each day? Of course it took a lot of effort, but there are some methods, tools, and people that have propelled me into changing my lifestyle and outlook on life. Here are a few of them:

Invest In Yourself

This was the biggest one for me. Between planning obsessively for the future, trying to make it from paycheck to paycheck, and rocketing between being way too busy to vastly not busy enough, I realized that I was not investing any time, money, or energy in things that I really wanted for me. When I say “invest”, I mean that I needed to make more of an effort to put myself forward. Yes, it’s important to work, show up for your friends, and buy your toilet paper, but it can be a little too easy to fall into the hole of doing that, and just that.

For me, investing in myself meant asking myself what I actually want in life and how I plan to get it. It meant having to turn down some invitations to social events (introvert here— I need massive quantities of recharge time), not grasping onto my job (which I did love by the way) for the sake of a sense of security, and making a very active effort to make time for myself (in my case, alone time to create and think in peace and silence). Of course I should mention that it also took a four month trip abroad for me to allow myself the mental space to accept a few things— you’re capable, you’re worthy, and look at you, you’re actually sort of interesting!

Spend (Quiet) Time Alone

Okay, so I may be biased here and this also sort of rides off of commandment one up there, but seriously, I think some time spent alone is one of the most healing, productive things that a human being can do. Just sitting with your thoughts can be a wonderful thing, or if you’re like me, it can go very wrong and send you into overthinking, “the world is crumbling around me and nothing means anything anyway” territory. This is where I find things like reading, studying, and especially meditation so wonderfully useful.

I love reading in my silent moments because I feel that I am always growing from it. Especially as someone interested in writing, I find even my deep dives into fictional worlds a useful and enlightening experience as it inspires my own work. No matter who you are or what your interests may be, there is a book out there for you. Or if you are a very hands on person, crafting, gardening, or building something can be therapeutic, especially because at the end of the day you will have a visual representation of the time that you spent with yourself.

Find Your Spirituality

Let me preface this with the fact that I am very actively non-religious. I simply cannot find it within myself to believe in anything enough to adhere to a set of rules or laws that dictate my beliefs. That being said, I do think that it’s super important to get in touch with yourself. Not so much who you are to the world, but who you really are, to you. There’s no science exact enough to truly pinpoint that effervescent element that is you. Personality, temperament, nature vs nurture— these things play significant roles, but cannot explain away some of the finer-tuned pieces of who we really are and what makes us that way. That is why I think it is important to try to get in touch with whatever that really is. I consider this a form of spirituality. To me, spirituality essentially means a search for something bigger than ourselves and/or something within ourselves. I do not think this is mandatory to produce a more positive outlook on life, but I do think that it really helps, and it did help me.

As far as spiritual practices, meditation is suggested by everyone as a useful tool for centering yourself and creating peace, and that’s because it’s true! I think what may turn many people away from meditation is the idea that they need to completely empty their mind. As a very introspective person with about 73 mental tabs open at a time, at all hours of every day, I understand why this would seem daunting, and it is the exact reason why I did not try meditation sooner. But the truth is, unless you are trying to reach Nirvana or are pursuing a very narrow or intentional spiritual path, meditation doesn’t have to be so serious. For example, I meditate for about five to ten minutes a day, wherever I am, whenever I can find that moment of peace and silence. (In my household five minutes is seriously pushing it sometimes.) When I meditate I know I cannot completely silence the “monkey brain”, it is simply outside of my nature, and spirituality should be the very essence of your nature. That is why I focus on certain images, particularly the elements. As I feel very in touch with the cardinal elements— wind, water, fire, and earth— I focus on images from my own mental archives. Of course you need to be careful not to let this become a rumination session, so maybe stay clear of memories and people or situations and focus on things “outside” of your own day to day life.

Make a List of Easy to Accomplish Goals, Daily

I am a sucker for list making. I have lists of lists to make, it’s practically an illness. That aside, I do believe that setting easy goals for yourself daily really does help build a sense of accomplishment. And the feeling of manually crossing them off a list creates a little bump in those feel good hormones (unless I’m just super weird, in which case ignore this). This also helps for when you begin to feel like you are not moving forward in life. You can look back at your lists and have visual proof that you are making progress, even if you can’t see the effects of it in your day to day life (yet!)

Try to Find One Good Thing in Each Day

This one used to be very, very hard for me. I simply could not see anything positive in my daily life. I hated everything around me, found everything ugly, and saw no good reason to get out of bed. Of course, some of this was depression, but some of it was just a result of a narrow life view. The cure for me was finding myself somewhere where everything really was beautiful and inspiring (looking at you Italy), but also seeing my wonder through the eyes of dear friends who could share in the small, beautiful moments. So even if you can’t take a trip out of your hometown, maybe go somewhere you haven’t before, or spend time with someone who sees things differently from you. It may help to crack that third eye open just a little bit and let some extra light in.

Surround Yourself with Inspiring People

As an introvert, this was very difficult for me as well, but I am happy to say that I have a few wonderful friends who constantly inspire and uplift me in ways I often feel I don’t even deserve (yeah, I’m still working on that one). Being around— even if it’s only digitally— people who share your interests, passions, and a drive for self improvement and learning is some of the best soul medicine that I can imagine. I am so thankful for those people in my life. If making friends isn’t really an option, there are loads of people online who make it their living to inspire and uplift others. It may sound silly, but even a few minutes of listening to a motivational speaker each day can completely change your point of view. Between the depths of YouTube, podcasts, and self help/motivational books and their audiobook counterparts, you are sure to find some words to brighten your day.

I hope that you find some of these insights useful.
I am so new to living in a positive state of mind that I almost feel silly writing this, but if it can give someone the motivation that they need to open up to a more positive lifestyle, then I am beyond pleased! If you have any other ideas for how to create a positive life feel free to comment them below!

Welcome, New Year: Staying Inspired and Motivated

One of my favorite parts of each year is the end. No matter how wonderful or terrible the year has been, I am always pulled into the allure of a new page, a blank slate, or a fresh start. I understand that time is a construct and that the year is a wheel that keeps on turning over and over, but there is something undeniably exciting for me about making new year’s resolutions and challenging myself to make little changes in my life. Maybe it’s just because it gives me an excuse to be optimistic— I’m the sort of person who often needs one— or because I feel that there is something magical about so many people across the world coming together in some small way through the act of trying to manifest change, even if they are little personal ones.

2018 was a wonderful year for me. I changed my lifestyle, checked things off my bucket list, and yes, achieved some of my resolutions for the year. I also got inspired for the coming year, and had an opportunity to reflect on my year and actually see how much I grew.

While this blog has been largely travel based, I also want to produce content that inspires others in little ways, and encourages them to be creative and stay motivated. I thought I would share some of my ideas for building resolutions and motivation for the new year.

Here are some of the lists and projects that I use and ways that I try to stay motivated for the coming year:

Reflect

What am I grateful for?
What were the best moments from this year?
What were the worst moments— and how did I grow from them?
What did I learn this year?
How did I change for the better?
List of favorites— favorite film, book, podcast, etc., from the year (I like to be able to look back on these later— it kind of helps put the year in perspective)

Maybe some of these will blend into each other, depending on your year, but I always find some reason to add another sub-list (because I just really like making lists).

Goal Setting and Future Planning

Resolutions: These are of course things that I attempt to incorporate or remove from my life.
I think the important thing about making resolutions is making them feasible.

For example, I want to become vegan, but I know that cutting out all animal products at once will only turn me off to the idea and make me hungry— so I plan to begin by eating more plant based meals, becoming vegetarian, and eventually building up a knowledge and stash of resources over the course of the year to help me comfortably reach my goal.

Start and Stop Lists: This ties into what the majority of resolution lists will have, but can be used more specifically for habits and lifestyle choices. I also like to make a “Continue” list to help encourage myself to continue good behaviors, even when my new habits may clutter my mind space.

For example, I want to start making time to write every single day, and stop biting my nails.

A Year From Now: This is a rather popular exercise and I love doing it. You make a list (and sometimes a doodle) of yourself in this moment (the beginning of the new year), and then make a companion list of where you want to be in life in one year’s time.

For example, right now I live in Hawaii, and by the end of the year I want to be living in Europe.

Timelines: These can be rather daunting for some and encouraging for others. Sometimes it is nice to have a visual and specific timeline of the things that you want to accomplish in the coming year.

For example, I want to leave Hawaii by the end of February, I want to have (self) published something by June, and so on.

Creating Accountability: Most times if you keep your goals completely to yourself it can be easy to give up on them. If you can have a support system— friends, family, or even make a session with yourself once a week or each month— that can help you focus on your goals and keep track of how far you’ve come, you may find it easier to keep on top of things. (I am part of a group message dedicated to such a thing.)

Vision Boards: I love making vision boards! It’s a great way to use images and words to help manifest the things that you want in a way that is creative and hands-on. If you’re not crafty, Pinterest is great for making vision boards, so that you can keep all of your ideas and goals in one virtual space. (You can also make them private if you don’t want the internet world to get in on your personal goals.)

Those are a few of my ideas for staying motivated and inspired through the new year and beyond. I wish you all a happy new year, and may it be filled with creativity, inspiration, and maybe even some travel!

A (Very) Brief History Lesson: Christmas


Christmas has become more than a holiday—it’s a state of mind, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s a celebration that lasts for some people from the end of November until the end of December. It’s celebrated in some incarnation all across the world. Some local news stations in America even have a “Santa tracker” on Christmas Eve. This holiday has a long history, and the modern concept of Christmas has evolved out of various traditions.

The Winter Solstice— often referred to as Yule in various pagan traditions— has long been celebrated. This day marks the longest night of the year, and was celebrated as the beginning of the end of the darkest parts of winter. In Rome, the festival of Saturnalia also occurred around this time, and consisted of much feasting and partying.

It was around the fourth century when the Christian church decided to take advantage of the festivities of this time of the year, and dedicated December 25th as the birth day of Jesus. (It’s unlikely just a coincidence that the birth of a Roman deity named Mithras was also said to take place on December 25th, for which there was a festival held in parts of the Roman Empire.)

As with Easter, Christmas became a Christianized holiday, built on the bones of pagan traditions. By the Middle Ages, the holiday was a part of societies across Europe. This tradition was temporarily dampened in the 17th century by Oliver Cromwell, who, being a Puritan, attempted to abolish Christmas. Of course this didn’t last long, and the holiday was brought back to its newfound Christian glory. It also faced some obstacles when arriving in America, but found its footing by the 1800s, which was partially led along by the written works of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens (think The Christmas Carol).

Christmas is now celebrated in many different ways. In Europe, Christmas markets full of goodies and crafts are popular during the holiday season. In America, the commercial frenzy begins the day after Thanksgiving and stretches until the end of December. Most countries have their own interpretations of the holiday as well. Some of my favorite renditions of the Christmas holiday come from Catalonia— which involves the personification of a log whom you feed throughout the month and the climax of which includes hitting the log with sticks, singing a sort of carol, and then receiving gifts in return (there’s more to this but it would take some time to explain)— and Iceland— where, to my understanding, Christmas Eve is dedicated to books and chocolate.

No matter how it’s celebrated, Christmas is a great excuse to spend time with family, eat delicious foods, and veg out on the couch in your pajamas all day. Wishing you all a wonderful— if belated— holiday season!