Tag Archives: backpacking

The Soapbox Chronicles: One’s A Party – Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo

Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh wait, are you one of the many people who don’t have a Valentine this year? Is this day, in fact, an annoying reminder of your single status? Well, don’t fret! There are many times when being single actually trumps being in a relationship, and traveling is definitely in the top 5 here. Some people are still wary of traveling solo, but if you ask me there are definitely pros to embracing your singledom (or just ditching the friends or main squeeze) and venturing out on your own. So next time you are throwing a pity party about how you wish you had someone to go away with, put down the glass of wine and start planning your next adventurous solo getaway. Here are some reasons why sometimes one’s a party and two’s a crowd:

1)     Freedom to choose your destination (and to change your mind)

Before I backpacked through Europe, I made a rough outline of the cities I wanted to visit and about how many days I would stay in each place. However, once I hit Prague, I realized that I wanted to change gears by skipping Budapest and exploring Kraków instead. If I was traveling with someone else, they might not have wanted to leave the confines of our Eurail pass or take the 10 hour train into Poland, and then I never would have seen Kraków, the Jewel of the Nation, or been silenced in awe by overwhelming Auschwitz.

Traveling solo also gives you the flexibility to plan your days how you want them. When I was recently in Paris I was so happy to skip the crowded tourist lines and instead enjoyed relaxing at the Luxembourg Gardens or having a lazy day with a baguette on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I slept in when I wanted, and other days I got up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train. Not having to worry about what someone else’s ideal itinerary is makes the journey a lot less stressful.

 2)     Being forced outside of your comfort zone

The number of times I had to eat at a restaurant by myself when backpacking in a month is probably more than the number of times I’ve eaten alone over a span of years here in the city. And I’m not talking about hiding behind a book or magazine either. Sitting at a café with coffee or a glass of wine became one of my favorite parts of the day when traveling, and I soon grew to love the time I had to myself to sit outside and people watch. Sometimes this even led to interesting conversations with people around me who I probably would have ignored had I been eating with a friend. Eating solo is obviously just a small way to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but when traveling alone you often find yourself in situations where you need to be a little fearless and striking up conversations with people is just one part of it. Which leads me into my next reason…

 3)     Meeting awesome people!

I can’t tell you the number of amazing conversations I had with people I had just met, and how easy it was to meet people when I was traveling on my own. I remember first arriving into Madrid, Friday morning at 7am. I was exhausted, looked pretty scary, and was in desperate need of a shower. The hostel I had just arrived at was serving breakfast so I went over and grabbed some cereal and snagged a corner table. Within a few minutes, I was chatting with a kid from London, and that night I ended up going out with him and several other hostelmates around Madrid. If I can meet people in zombie-mode (note: I am NOT a morning person), then I think it’s safe to say that you can too.

It’s natural that most people are nervous of traveling alone – one of my biggest worries about traveling by myself is not having someone there in case something goes wrong. I’ve mentioned this before on here but I think it’s worth repeating: when I was traveling I was so impressed at how people in the hostel all watched out for each other. I think in our daily lives we get so wrapped up in our own circle of friends that we often overlook the kindness and friendliness of random strangers. It was so interesting to see how people that are from all different corners of the world can really come together so effortlessly when we are outside of our normal lives. They do say strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

Hostelmates out in Barcelona. Justin (to my right) and I hung out more in San Sebastian, and Şenay (left) and I had a fun day out in Amsterdam a week later.

4)     Self-reflection

I just wrote about this in more depth in my latest post, but I think self-reflection is one of the most impacting parts of the solo traveling experience. And it really encompasses all of the above things I mentioned.  I didn’t anticipate how much I would learn about myself by putting myself in unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, situations each day. It wasn’t always easy, and I had a few days where I did feel really lonely (especially in romantic Paris, ::shakes fist::) but in the end I was grateful to be able to have had this journey on my own.

If you have never done a solo journey, I highly encourage you to put it on your to-do list. It doesn’t even have to be a long-term trip either, you would probably feel rejuvenated just by taking a long weekend away somewhere closeby or a week off during Spring Break to volunteer abroad. And no, this isn’t something that is only for college kids or for those who are taking a gap year after graduating (why should they have all the fun?) so don’t limit yourself because you fear you are too old to be backpacking on your own. Enjoy, and make sure to tell me about your experiences!

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Robbed in San Sebastian: Tips on Hostel Safety

When I was out with my hostelmates in San Sebastian, we met two guys who were staying at a nearby hostel. They were in a dorm room of about 6 people, and last night their entire room got robbed. Apparently their hostel security was horrible and someone must have made a copy of the keys and let themselves in. While everyone was asleep in their beds, this person (or perhaps two people) went to each guest and stole their valuables right out of their packs. One of the people in the room even woke up during this time, but they assumed that the robber was staying there since he was standing in their room and he went back to sleep. Thankfully no one was hurt, but that night at least two rooms were robbed.

I felt so bad for these guys when I heard that story. It was the first time I backpacked, and also the first time I traveled alone, and getting my stuff stolen was one of my fears. Even now I’m excited for my next backpacking trip, but I’ll admit I still get a little nervous when I think about losing my stuff. I feel blessed that nothing major went wrong when I was traveling, but what if the next time I’m not so fortunate? And I know a lot of people have these fears when thinking of backpacking and staying in hostels, especially those that are looking to travel solo. The crazy thing is that San Sebastian was one of the safest cities I’ve visited, so you really never know when you might be a victim of theft. I think its important to remember that while certain things are out of our control, there are some ways we can better prepare ourselves and minimize our risk, especially when it comes to hostel safety and keeping our stuff from getting jacked:

1) Purchase the right gear

I think this is a bit of a no brainer, but it is so important that it needs to be said again: you MUST have a good lock. No actually, you should have several good locks! Before my trip started, I went to my local REI and stocked up on a few combination locks and a cable lock, and even still I felt like I could have used more. Depending on how much stuff you have, I would have one combo lock for each bag (this includes your daypack), and the cable lock because its great for locking your bags together, or maybe to your bed (or yourself!) if necessary. My first night in Madrid, my combo lock malfunctioned and I had to cut it – not a good start, but at least I had some backups so I didn’t need to worry about buying more while traveling. And another no brainer: make sure to keep the majority of your stuff in your bag when you’re sleeping or when you go out – some of the people that got robbed had left their stuff out of their bags for easy pickings.

2) Research your hostel wisely, and know what to look for

The brilliance of hosteling nowadays is that its pretty easy to get a good feel for the type of hostel that you are looking at before you book. There are so many great websites (two bigger ones are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers) and you can skim through hundreds of reviews from people who recently stayed there. When booking my hostels, I tried to make sure that each room had a large enough locker to fit my backpack, and also that each room had its own key. Sometimes hostels don’t have room keys which I find completely bizarre (a few in Japan had this, and the one those guys in San Sebastian stayed in didn’t have a room lock either.) These two things should be first on the list of what you look for when choosing the right spot, and I would also keep an eye out to see if they have people working the lobby 24 hours a day. In addition to general cleanliness and location of the hostel, the hostels that I always picked were the ones that had top safety ratings. In an upcoming post, I plan on listing the various hostels I stayed at in Europe and whether or not I recommend staying there.

 3) Keep an eye on your stuff

Ok, here I’ll admit that I may be going a little overboard, but better safe than sorry! When my rooms had lockers (and the majority did) I would keep almost everything in there before I slept. But there were a few times when my room didn’t have lockers, or when the locker provided wasn’t big enough to fit my pack. Those were the nights that I got pretty close to my pack because we spooned in bed together. Ok, maybe not, but if I wasn’t 100% comfortable in my room I would keep my pack at the foot of my bed, or on the inside of the bed so it would be difficult to get to. Even with a lock, if on the off chance a stranger does get into your room (or you happen to have a bad apple hostelmate with no conscience) then they could just take off with your pack while you’re catching some zzz’s. You don’t have to do this, and I’m sure you can somewhat gauge the safety of your situation by seeing if the room you’re staying in has locks, if people are able to easily enter the hostel whether or not they’re a guest, etc, but I always felt better having my stuff closeby. Oh also, I used my cell phone as an alarm so I made sure to keep it under my pillow when I slept. Let me just say that my hostelmates were great, and many of them I became friends with and still keep in touch with, so this post by no means is meant to make you wary of who you share a room with. In fact, the majority of people I roomed with had great hostel etiquette and all of them respected my space and my things. The best way to meet people at your hostel is through who you room with, so I would generally suggest a multi-person room over a single anyway.

I think overall its important to have a good attitude about things should something go wrong. While these guys in San Sebastian were telling us their story, I was listening increduously at how unphased they were. When I asked them how they were able to be so OK with what happened, they responded that there was nothing they could do it about and they wouldn’t let it ruin their vacation. I think that is the key to having a successful trip. It reminded me of a story about one of my good friends – a few years ago she was backpacking in Europe and was on the last leg of her trip. During a long wait at the train station, she got her backpack stolen which was full of photos and memorabilia she had collected during her trip. However, she didn’t let that ruin the backpacking experience for her, and she went on another backpacking trip the following summer, and even traveled to Thailand alone after that. Just think of all she would have missed out on had she let that bad experience keep her from further backpacking adventures. I wish you the most incredible, stress/problem-free trip on your next getaway, but if you do encounter problems I hope you’re able to roll with the punches. After all, that’s life and it’s all part of the experience – and most likely the great experiences you have will outweigh the bad.

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Filed under Europe, Global

A friend of mine shared the above Gizmodo video with me and it is simply inspiring. Kien Lam created a time lapse video of his year backpacking all around the world.

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January 2, 2012 · 8:31 pm

Around the World


 

 

Map view of the 30+ cities I visited during my trip, starting in New York and ending in California.

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December 8, 2011 · 6:12 pm

Euro Trip Breakdown – A Numbers Lesson

30 days
13 cities
11 trains, 1 plane
10 hostels/2 hotels/2 friends apts
8 countries
8 official languages
3 foreign currencies
3 beaches
2 laundry loads

One hell of a time. Europe, I’ll miss you but see you again in 2012!!

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A Backpacker’s List of What to Pack and What to Pass

Oouch Charlie. My feet hurt. And it’s still huuurting!

I’ve wrecked my rainbows. And in return they’ve wrecked my feet. Guess that’s not much of a surprise after exploring 8 different countries. But I’m too stubborn to wear my tennis shoes for any longer than when I’m traveling between cities. Ooh, I am so ready for my next backpacking trip because I’ll know what to pack and what to ditch. Starting with a cute pair of shoes/flats, and depending on location maybe some small boots. What else…

Must-haves (what saved me time and time again):
– Euro flat iron, of course
– X5 mini hair dryer. That thing is amazing, and soo small I often can’t find it in my pack.
– Water bottle, the good kind that keeps your water cold
– iPhone, or any portable device which you can access wifi. Absolutely must have, this thing is my best friend. I never had to pay for wifi or even wait to use the hostel’s computers. And, it makes writing a quick blog at a train station very easy.
– iPad/laptop/netbook: Great for transferring photos if you’re doing a long trip. I think I would prefer a netbook because the iPad requires extra steps for photos, but no big. Also great for movies and books! Halfway through my book now, it’s like 1000 pages!
– Good backpack. I don’t what I was originally thinking when I was planning on bringing a rolly. I see so many people struggle, and have even helped some of then carry their luggage while easily carrying my belongings on my back. My North Face travel backpack, size small, is amazing. Not too big where I’m struggling, but roomy enough where I can fit all my stuff comfortably. It’s water proof (for the most part), super durable, and doubles as a duffel. The backpack straps are super comfortable too! Love my ninja turtle, but next time I’m getting the black one. This ones being passed down to you, Mom!
– Secure daypack, specifically the PacSafe 500. When I’m exploring a city, I feel pretty confident that no ones going to get into my bag because it has these safety clasps on the zipper. I try to stay out of big crowds, so usually no one is right next to me long enough to unhook it and then unzip it. Also it has a great feature where I can unstrap one strap to put around something. For example, right now I’m at the train platform and it’s hooked onto my jeans beltloop, so if someone tries to grab it and run I’ll come with. Oh, it’s also small, cute, and soft. Win! Also great bag is my longchamp bag – perfect for when I don’t feel like looking like a tourist, waterproof and folds up small.
– Towel – I have one of those super thin towels that dry really quick and take up little space. Has been a total life saver because not all places offer towels, and I never have to worry about it being wet when I need to pack up my stuff and go.
– Combo lock! Duh. You knew this. I also have a cable lock which I don’t use often but I still like having. One time I left my daypack locked to my backpack in my hostel when I went to the beach, and I felt much better knowing that someone couldn’t take my daypack.
– My baby, my Canon Rebel! For a split second I considered leaving my Canon at home, but nooo way! I’m so glad I brought it. I’ve gotten amazing pictures, way too many to share all of them. I’ve had a blast and hopefully improved my technique a little… Shrug.

Things I didn’t need:
– My sleepsack. Which is a good thing because it means my hostels were all clean enough where I could use the sheets!
– My heels. Well, ok I do need these because every girl should have at least one pair of heels with her, even if she is a smelly backpacker. I know I’ll wear them in Florence and Milano, but up to now I’ve probably only worn them twice.

For the most part, I felt that I was traveling with just enough necessary stuff to feel comfortable but not overwhelmed. Not bad for my first backpacking experience! So who’s with me to backpack through South America next? Well, my trip isn’t over just yet. Next stop: Firenze!

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Hallo Berlin!

I have had such a fantastic time in Berlin – it really is such a great city! I probably wouldn’t have come through this way if Robert didn’t live here, but I’m so glad he moved here hehe.  Robert was an amazing host (his apt is siiick, bonus!) and he made sure to take me around to a bunch of different spots and teach me about as much history about the city as he could in 3 days. We even had German lessons – I can successfully say 2 words in German now, good job Robbers! I’m so proud of him for making this move here, and for sticking it out even when things didn’t go exactly as planned. He’s settling in really well in Berlin and is experiencing so much more than he would have been had he stayed in his NYC bubble. Major props, my friend.

Things I noticed about Berlin:
– The typical breakfast here is fantastic! Lots of meats, cheeses and veggies. Everything tastes so fresh, and it was a much needed change from my typical pastries. Oh yea, and their coffees are HUGE here! I felt like a kid in a candy store when I got my order! The service however is just as bad as France, oh well.
– Everyone has a dog and these dogs can go everywhere: in restaurants, on the bus and in the subway. And I’m not even talking about the little prissy dogs people fit in their purses either, but fortunately the dogs are all super well behaved.
– There are a lot of reminders and memorials about the Holocaust (more on that later.) Germany is definitely still apologizing for what happened.
– The dance party scene rocks. We hit up an outdoor bar with some of Robert’s friends the first night and danced until 5am. It was exactly what you would think of with the Berlin scene: grungy and dark, with lots of people wearing leather and rocking out to techno music. It was as if we were all dancing together because everyone was into the music. I had a total blast. You Germans know how to have a good time.
– The birthday tradition here is different in that the birthday boy/girl throws and pays for their own party. Robert took me to a birthday bowling party for one of his good friends which was also a lot of fun and it was great to get to meet some of his friends here.
– Biergartens and bratwurst. Just as awesome as you would imagine. Love!
– Its not as difficult to get a job here as it is in other European cities even if you don’t speak German (well it would be a lot easier if you did, but there are opportunities for the English speakers.) It’s possible to get a temp visa and then your work will typically provide a working visa for you. Hmmm, idea! Working in Europe for a few years is something I still want to do, so you never know…

Graffiti art along the Berlin Wall

 

Mmm bratwurst!

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Bonjour!

First impressions upon arriving in Paris:
1) Wow, I’m no longer the only Indian in town
2) The frenchies are so hot!
3) Some of the metro trains here make NYC subways look immaculate. And people open the doors and hop out before it even stops — wild!

Things I love so far about Paris:
1) The triple cheek kiss, especially when guys do it aww
2) That everyone walks around carrying large loaves of bread and cheese
3) I think I already touched on the general hotness factor, for both men and women.

Man, today was kind of stressful! Apparently I really wasn’t ready for the transition from small town living to the hustle and bustle of Paris. I got in around midnight last night and only had enough energy to shower and wake up all my roomies with my luggage. I’m in an all female room for the first time. Girls apparently sleep earlier than guys, con, but they are also up generally earlier which leaves the room to myself, pro pro!! Being with girls has been super quiet, I guess because they do things like sightsee instead of partying all night. I know, totally odd. This morning I decided to cancel my hostel after tonight because I wasn’t crazy about the location, and I searched for a proper replacement more in the heart of the city. After a few hours, and a couple “uh oh did I just screw myself over in a foreign city” moments, I found a somewhat affordable hotel not too far from Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter. Yes, this little backpacker is cheating and getting her own room with her OWN bathroom! Whatever, I’m technically still getting paid out from my vacation days, this ones on CBRE!

After having a huuuge late lunch around 5, I snapped some photos around town and gave myself my own walking tour of a few different neighborhoods, stopping along the way to try different foods. Today, I’ve had a chocolate brioche, tiramisu, and Berthillon strawberry ice cream. Do they have kickboxing class in Paris? I need it. I think I’m being extra ambitious here, but one of my goals is to go running by the Seine River one morning. Yea right, my mornings will include more caloric intake of pastries and coffee than actual calorie burning, but we’ll see. I’m here until Tues morning so I’m hoping that’ll leave me enough time to really get to know the city better. Any suggestions on places to visit would be awesome!

Notre Dame

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Hasta Luego, San Seb!

Currently I’m sitting on a train while passing through beautiful French countryside at sunset. I was very sad to leave San Sebastian today, and easily could have stayed there through the weekend. I kind of wish I had and skipped some other cities on my list, but I know a whole new set of adventures is waiting for me, starting in beautiful Paris.

San Sebastian is such a wonderful town, and it really is for everyone. You have the young surfer kids who all rock Billabong and can’t hold their alcohol, and the families vacationing from France and Spain. There’s the older people who are super cute walking their dogs, and of course the backpacker types like myself. And my personal favorite: the hot rowers! Yum.  Everyone is so friendly there that you don’t ever feel lonely, and I had such a great time meeting people at the bars at night from all over. The locals are very warm and welcoming of foreigners, and one struck up a conversation with me when I was on the beach and told me a little bit more about the town and it’s history. Yesterday, I didn’t have enough money to pay for my lunch, and they wouldn’t take my card (so mortifying!) but instead of getting annoyed at me the waitress was so nice and let me go to the bank to get money without giving me any attitude. And when I returned, she apologized to me and wished me well on my trip. So, so nice. I really adore that town. And I’m going to miss my hostel mates! I’ve really grown used to having the Aussies around – they’re such a sweet group of guys and I had so much fun with them. It was raining last night for a little bit and one of the guys pulled out a roulette drinking game and we all had a blast. They’re going to ibiza this wknd and not going to lie I’m totally tempted to catch a flight out there next week even though its out of the way!  Omg that would be so fun. My roomie and I also hung out a lot together during the day and it was great wandering around the city together. He was even patient enough to help me work on my photography skills. I got some great tips – thanks, Cliff! Hope I continue to meet great people like these guys.

So now here I am, wondering how the rest of the trip is going to go because from here on out I won’t know the local language. It was such a great asset to be able to speak Spanish this last week, and even though I could have gotten away without knowing it (even though the hostel owner doesn’t even speak English!) I think people appreciated that I spoke as much as possible even when it wasn’t perfect. Man, I really need to live in a spanish speaking country again and work on that! I had to catch a connecting train to Paris just over the french border earlier, and when I got out to buy my ticket the woman at the ticket stand only spoke French to me. Even after It was obvious that I couldn’t understand her, she still kept repeating herself in French and only became more obviously annoyed at me. It was actually pretty funny that I just started laughing thinking about how I’m 5 mins outside of Spain and already not understanding anything, and I think  my laughter pissed her off more. Haa, oops.

Oh yea, forgot to mention that I had a Priya moment and almost boarded a train to Madrid instead of Paris – of course that’s something only I would do. Good thing I figured it out before it was too late, phew!

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I’m in the Pursuit of Happiness…

I can’t believe I made it here! And I can’t believe I was actually somewhat prepared for this! In the weeks leading up to this trip, I have been so busy with leaving my job (holy crap I can’t believe I quit my job) and prepping my apt for my sublet, that planning for Europe has definitely fallen to the wayside. However, things just clicked so well when I got here. My backpack is awesome – thanks, E for helping me pack and repack that badboy. I feel like I have just the right amount of stuff, and traveling with it is a total breeze. Sure, there have been a few setbacks but nothing major. For example, the first night my lock got stuck and I had to cut it. 1 lock down, 2 to go! The hostel I wanted in Barcelona was booked until Mon, which was a bummer because the location is super ideal. But I’ll be there tomorrow, and the hostel I’m at is siick! Im hoping that whatever happens it wont be too much of a problem, but more importantly that I’ll be able to roll with it.

This is going to be an awesome trip.

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