L.A Adventures

Some highlights from my time in LA

I touched down in Los Angeles just as dawn was breaking across the skyline. After a five hour night flight over the Pacific Ocean, I was more than ready to feel solid earth beneath my feet again. Even waiting in the breezy outer terminal in the early morning chill was a sort of small, dimly lit heaven. As I watched the taxis and buses make their rounds I took the first real breath I had in a long time. I was off the island, I hadn’t died on the plane, and I was about to see my best friend after roughly two years apart. I was a bit tired, still rattled from the flight, and a bit cold, but more than anything I was enormously thankful for that moment.

Then she pulled up and the back of my throat was already clenched in an attempt not to cry. There’s really no feeling like being reunited with someone who resides most of the time only in your heart and on the other end of a phone call. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have many of these reunions, and this one was just as magical.

Los Angeles has never had much of a hold on me. I don’t like crowds, the idea of fame and expectations of physical beauty, or smog, so LA wasn’t really a place that was on my radar. What really brought me to LA was my best friend; the chance to reconnect, spend time together, and honestly, some much needed support for my big move. We could have spent the entire week laying in bed eating microwave pizzas and watching a combination of Hulu and Netflix, but because she is amazing, the entire week was full of adventures. So here I will recount some of our destinations and maybe inspire someone else to experience some of what we did.

The Last Bookstore

If you’re a book lover like me chances are that you’ve heard of The Last Bookstore. Despite being too aware of the lack of space in my baggage and a wallet that was already protesting my life choices, we went. It was all that I expected. A large first floor full of books, sitting spaces, and vinyl. The second floor was brimming with more books, as well as art installations, a book tunnel, and little one room artisan shops along one corridor. If you’re in LA and enjoy books and the literary scene, this is a must visit.

Side note: For those who are staying for a while it’s worth mentioning that The Last Bookstore has various book clubs— each touching on a different genre— that I personally was not around long enough to enjoy but would have LOVED to have attended.

The book tunnel at The Last Bookstore

The Original Farmer’s Market

Knick knacks, food, food, and food. We found a little “spirituality shop” with incense and candles galore, a dozen vendors with fruits or candy, some shops sporting little rotating racks full of postcards or silly bumper stickers, and most importantly (to me) there were so many options for a delicious hot meal. Though I was massively tempted by the Italian food— to be honest I am always tempted by any kind of Italian food— I turned to see the holy grail of “ethnic” foods to which I simply did not have access when I was living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean— Cajun and Creole food. So if you’re like me and enjoy the experience of browsing many different foods and maybe wanting to buy a silly postcard while you’re at it, this is a worthwhile stop.

Side note: The Cajun food place I mentioned is called The Gumbo Pot and their food was great. And they have vegetarian options!

Deliciousness courtesy of The Gumbo Pot

Da Poetry Lounge

Poetry! One of my great loves! We happened to be able to drop by on a night when they were having a workshop and an Open Mic session. It helped me understand why LA is a place where people come to reach their dreams. There were so many talented people performing, and the crowd was amped and supportive of every person who had the bravery to share their work on stage. We left with such a good feeling about life, while also being a little worried about our own writing skills… which I think is a great breeding ground for improvement and inspiration.

Side note: If you’re into poetry check them out online to see when their workshops are! For two of us to attend a writing workshop and the open mic it cost us $30 (all together), which really isn’t that bad, especially considering how much we enjoyed ourselves!

Waiting for our writing workshop to begin (ft. our instructor in the back)

Venice Beach Boardwalk

This is an obvious and much hailed LA must see, and now I see why. While much of LA feels like you’re in the public eye and need to look or act a certain way not to stand out too much, this was the place where people came to not care about those sorts of things. Eclectic may be an appropriate word to describe Venice Beach. What I really loved was seeing how creative people gathered there— we saw artists with their paintings, people making everything from little signs in glass bottles to random displays (which they charged you to take pictures of), and perhaps the most intriguing to me, a man who appeared to be homeless playing the piano so beautifully I literally do not think it would be possible to walk past without taking a moment to appreciate his talent. So if you want to see the artsy, slightly off beat side of LA, I think that this is the best place for you.

Side note: If you like Poke Bowls there’s a little poke bowl shop right next to the famous hanging sign and they were delicious!

I mean, look at that poke bowl!

Huntington Library

Again, as a book lover, libraries are my jam. So when we decided to go to Huntington Library I was picturing an old library full of antique books or something along these lines, which honestly sounds like a riveting afternoon to me. To my surprise, Huntington Library is not just a library. It is a massive set of buildings which include a library, multiple art galleries, a café or two, and seemingly endless beautiful gardens. As much as I love books it was the gardens that won me over. There’s something about flowers that can make you feel beautiful and magical. My favorite part of the gardens was a gorgeous stone fountain which rested at the end of a long grassy field, flanked by roses and statues of mythological figures. I could have sat there in the sunlight all day, basking like one of the flowers.

Side note: If you buy your ticket online you do not need to wait in the regular line. Their ticket windows at the entry are not well marked, so if you’re confused you’ll save a lot of time by asking someone.

My favorite part of the gardens

Medieval Times

Okay, so I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of Medieval Times. As someone who loves history and the allure of the King Arthur mythos, this has been on my bucket list as long as Disneyland. For about $60 (I know, that’s not super affordable but it was a lifelong dream!) you get your meal served to you and get to watch a show of knights jousting and performing other knightly duties. I think it’s a great thing to experience once in your life, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Side note: They did have vegetarian options if you’re not down for the usual chicken leg thing. Sadly they don’t have vegan options yet, but here’s hoping that they do soon!

I got a flower from a knight and I was absolutely jazzed about it

Universal Studios

So I’m a Disneyland kind of girl. Universal Studios was never on my mind until Harry Potter World became a thing (proud Ravenclaw here). I have to say, I’m so happy that we went! Of course when you visit any sort of theme park you have a certain set of concerns— crowds, everything is expensive, and you have to wait in long lines— but honestly I had a wonderful time regardless. I got to visit Hogwarts and I got groomed by Anubis outside of The Mummy ride, so how could I not have an excellent time? This is another thing that I think everyone deserves to experience once in their life.

Side note: The Waterworld show—which is amazing, for the record— brings in a lot of viewers, so during those show times you’re likely to find shorter lines at some of the other popular rides!

Getting groomed by Anubis

Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA)

I couldn’t be in a major city and not make the time to see an art museum. LACMA was a series of buildings that contained various kinds of art galleries, most separated by theme. Unfortunately a few of the exhibits were closed when we visited, but we still had a lovely time. I found one of my new favorite visual artists— Richard White— who beautifully captures the African American experience in his art with hints of surrealism. So if you visit, check out his work! Needless to say, if you love a quiet afternoon staring at art, this is an ideal place to visit.

Side note: I do need to mention that if you plan on visiting you should check their website first. There are certain days of the month when admission is free or can be purchased at a serious discount. I had to pay about $20 to get in! Entry is always free for LA residents, so bring your ID.

The famous outer installation at LACMA

In conclusion…

My week in LA came to a close way too soon. I realized how much there really was to see and why so many people have made LA a part of their dreamscape. I’m not sure if it was all the bomb Mexican food, endless opportunities for fun, or my best friend (i.e: it was all of those things) but I sort of fell in love with LA— crowds, judgey attitudes, smog and all. While I have to say that living there seems like a frightening prospect to me, LA has won me over in some small way and I look forward to visiting again.

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Life Update: I’m Back in Germany

I’ve returned to Germany and am settling in.

After about two months of being away from blogging, I’ve returned!

When I last wrote I was just leaving my home in Hawaii.
I was experiencing a lot of emotions, especially in the week leading up to my flight (I’m utterly horrified of planes). Despite that I got on the plane after many tears and goodbyes.

I flew to LA to see my best friend for a week. I landed just before dawn, which is always a wonderful and terrible time to land in an airport. Overnight flights are the bane of my existence, but I’m always thankful when we land and there is a whole new day stretching out ahead of me. I spent an amazing week in which I actually sort of fell in love with Los Angeles adventuring with my best friend and checking off bucket list items (I’m talking about you Medieval Times!) It was everything that my heart needed before heading out to Germany.

Now I have been here in Germany over a month and I’m still settling in. Being reunited with my love was more than worth the 16+ hours of flights and layovers, and that’s saying a lot coming from me. There’s so much to say about all of that but in short I’m madly in love and walking on a tight-wire of legalities and establishing an income while living my best life with the love of my life.

I plan to write more about my recent travels in the coming weeks but I wanted to finish this post with a gigantic thank you to all of the people in my life who made this move possible for me. There is so much that goes into moving (abroad)— goodbyes, what to take, how to save up for the move, establishing where you will live and how— and I have so many loving people in my life who encouraged me endlessly. So this post is for you! Thank you! <3

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Three Things I Learned in London

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with England. I have to admit to you now that part of that obsession stemmed from a British boy-band (Busted fans where you at?!). But boy-bands aside, the idea of England glowed in my imagination. I knew that it was full of history, culture, and was a source of some of the world’s greatest literature. There was something proper, refined, and appealing about the idea of Britain, the supposed birthplace of modern America. I imagined streets filled with bookstores, tea shops, and historical sites. I wasn’t wrong.

When I visited London a couple of years ago on my first international trip, it was like a dream. A friend of mine and I arrived by ferry from Dublin and got a train through Wales and into London proper. Stepping out of the train station was like walking into a corner of my imagination. The streets were filled with well dressed people, kiosks of souvenirs, and stone buildings that stretched into the sky. After checking into our hostel— which was not so great, to be honest— we made our way to the London Bridge. Yes, the London Bridge. I was stoked. One of the only pictures that I truly love of myself is one that my friend took of me hugging the bridge, because I will always remember that as the first true moment when I realized that my life would never be the same. The travel bug had bitten me, hard.

London was a dream. Of course, there is a reality behind London. But in my couple of weeks there I explored endlessly and felt like I had never even scratched the surface of London, truly. We paraded in and out of bookshops, had tea with a dear friend of mine at Waterstones, visited all sorts of historical monuments, and even stumbled— completely coincidentally— into the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration outside Buckingham Palace. I cannot say my experience is like everyone else’s, but London won my heart.

I have seen some other places in England as well, including Bath and Ipswich, which were both lovely. Bath was dainty and beautiful, somewhere between being a little village and a world renown tourist destination. It is where the Roman Baths are (hence the name Bath), and they also hold a Jane Austen festival there every year. Ipswich was much more down to earth than London or Bath, but still beautiful. That is where I first saw traditional Shakespearean-styled buildings, with beams that look just crooked enough to be intriguing but not enough to startle you. These were wonderful adventures that I enjoyed, but I feel that I learned the most from the famous city of London.

Here I will share three of the (many) things I learned during my time there.

There is always something happening in London

I suppose this could be true of any large city, but as London was the first massive city I ever visited (Dublin being the next largest) this was amazing to me. Every single day that we left the hotel there was something exciting happening somewhere in London— plays, musicals, festivals, shows, celebrations, and on and on. Coming from a small town where most establishments close by 5 pm, it was almost shocking to see something always happening anywhere you went. This was one of the things that made me fall madly in love with this city.

It’s very cosmopolitan

Once again, this may have been obvious to other people, but for a girl from the middle of nowhere with a limited amount of information about the world as it actually is, I was in awe. I often judge the diversity of a place by the kinds of restaurants you can find. London had almost everything I could think of— Jamaican, Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, Thai, and the list goes on! Granted, the unfortunate history behind much of this diversity was based in colonization and slavery, which is not to be overlooked, but London was one of the first places where I didn’t feel truly out of place. I felt like I could blend into the multicolored crowds on the subways and in the streets, and I embraced that sort of anonymity.

The British just get it

Okay, this may be super vague, so let me explain a little. Much of what I appreciated and learned about London came in the little things. For example, when passing a library I was shocked to see people drinking coffee inside! The library actually had a café in it, where people could look at library books while enjoying a warm beverage. This seems so simple and sensible to me and yet where I come from drinks in a library is completely taboo.

When going to the grocery store I noticed little hooks outdoors where people could tie their dogs while they were in the shop. (I learned that this is popular in multiple places in Europe but had never seen it until my time in London.) This makes, once again, such sense, and yet would be completely unimaginable where I come from. Also within the grocery mart, I noticed that some of the cashiers had seats! In much of America, if you are not standing and losing feeling in your feet, or hunched over a computer in the case of an office job, you are not seen as really working. How sitting would impede the progress on a position where you would be simply standing at a register swiping groceries is beyond my understanding.

There were many moments while in London when I couldn’t help but think “So people actually think here!”

In conclusion…

I spent about two weeks in London, and in that time I visited London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Borough Market, Foyles and Waterstones (bookshops!), the original Twinning’s tea store, Buckingham Palace, and had wandered down a hundred streets and passed through a dozen underground stations. London is where I first saw what a monarch can mean to her country, what it feels like to run through the infamous British rain, and what it was like being in a city that made you feel like literally anything could happen.

P.S: I’m sorry for the terrible quality of the photo, but it is the one I referenced previously. This was the moment that I realized I would always want to be a world traveler. <3

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Life Update: I’m Leaving Hawaii!

I have been back home for about three months now, and it has been a vastly different experience from before I left for a few months. I am surrounded by most of the same people, visiting the same places, and doing virtually the same things as before, but everything has changed. I no longer dread sunny days, or find my body plagued by pains, and I feel like I am not always on the cusp of a mental breakdown. Yay for small miracles!

If I’m being honest, it’s not only the travel that lifted my spirits and helped me see past the wall of negativity that I built for myself, though that is what changed everything.

I’m also madly in love. The shout it to the world sort of love. (I’m an introvert so this is essentially my shouting it to the world moment.) And that leads me to the point of this post, which is that I’m leaving for Germany!

As a traveler there is always that moment when you book your next ticket and your heart flutters with the thought of new adventures. This time is a bit different though because the adventures that I’m looking forward to have a wonderful laugh, a kind heart, and the sweetest smile you’ve ever seen. (Lucky me!)

I have a million more things to say about it all, but I wanted to share it here because I believe that I should work on making this blog a little more personal. I love to share travel advice and lifestyle ideas, but at the end of the day a travel blog needs a traveler. I want to be authentic and open to whatever readers I have. So there’s the news!

Have any of you ever left the country for love? Or have you met someone who changed your life while traveling?

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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. )

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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!

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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.)

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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)

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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.)

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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!

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