What Happens In Copenhagen, Stays In Copenhagen

What happens when you throw together 5 solo travelers: an American, an Aussie, 2 Londoners and a German, in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark?

Well I’ll tell you…or, at least, I’ll mostly tell you.

In case you’re confused about the timeline of this post, the answer is no, I’m not still in Copenhagen. I’m writing this one from Belgium, because honestly it took me a couple of days to get over Copenhagen and be in a mental state to write, again.

Hmm…where to start?

I guess it all started when we took a walking tour. Walking tours are one of my favorite things to do in a city, and I’d highly suggest the “free” ones (you pay what you have/want at the ed) when you’re out and about in Europe. Generally you can just look for the umbrellas that say “Free Tour” on them.

An accidental photo that turned out to be my favorite

Three of us met from my hostel, and we walked over to the main square with one of the guides. From there everyone was split into smaller groups, and we ended up all talking as the 2.5 hours went on. How crazy is it that we would all meet? 5 people traveling completely alone, having such an awesome day together.

The cast of this story:

  • 2 Erasmus students (one studying in Spain, the other in Sweden)
  • A medical professional that swears by carrying alcohol wipes while traveling (a practice I may adopt)
  • A British government worker who is basically a superhero or something
  • Me the writer/artist

Our walking tour was great, although I’d be lying if I called the weather anything other than frigid. But it had snowed that morning, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. On the topic of Scandinavian snow: I think everyone should experience it because it’s beautiful and serene and somehow just feels more authentic.

The Little Mermaid

Once the walking tour was over we bobbed our way around the city talking and taking tourist pictures. For lunch/dinner (not really sure which one to call it since it was only 4pm, but it was pitch black outside) we headed over to Christiania, which is a section of the city that is alternative to the country itself.

If you’ve ever been to a music festival in the U.S. (think Woodstock) then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this section of the city is like, except that the structures are more permanent. The first thing I noticed when I was there was how much it smelled like home. And by home I mean that it smelled like weed. Gosh I love Seattle.

We grabbed food at one of the bars there, and I couldn’t help inwardly giggling about the fact that this place is so “edgy” for supporting a drug people just walk into stores and buy, at home.

Dinner was great, though, and afterwards we walked our tall blonde and handsome German student friend back to the train station. It would been brilliant to collect contact information so we could all stay in touch, but nobody’s mind thought about that until long afterwards #tragedy.

After our one goodbye it was time to get ready for the next part of our day: the pub crawl.

Let me tell you something about pub crawls. I love them so incredibly much and even though I don’t drink (I’m allergic to alcohol – no joke) I still try to go on them as often as I can.

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The pub crawl in Copenhagen was one of the most chill pub crawls of my life. Mainly because the city is so small that the whole thing was on the same block. The first three spots I probably could have lived without visiting, although I did get to taste some awesome Danish drinks (and some not so awesome ones) but the fourth and fifth spot were killer.

Normally I go home before a pub crawl makes its way to the last spot, which is usually a dance club. The main reason for this is because I have no interest in “clubbing.” BUT there is an exception for every rule, and Copenhagen was the exception. We danced until 2am. I went to sleep at 3am. I woke up for my flight at 6am. It was a rather crazy 24 hours.

I was pretty sad to leave Copenhagen after only one day, but I already know that I’ll be back. Next time, though, I’d love to go during the spring or fall, so that it isn’t quite so cold and snowy. Although, I honestly wouldn’t change one thing about my trip this year.

Copenhagen 2017 will forever stay in my heart as one of the best days of my life. I’m so glad I made it back to “the motherland”, and my Dane roots, and I cannot wait for my next adventure there. Cheers to next time, Copenhagen. Cheeky little city.

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5 Things You Should Know About Hostel Bathrooms

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This morning I woke up at 5am, remembering that I forgot my washcloth in Scotland. One of the easier things to replace, I wasn’t that upset, but it got me thinking about how many different aspects there are to backpacking; one of the quirkiest being the bathrooms you’ll find. And toilet paper. Good grief, I could write an essay on how toilet paper varies around the world.

Obviously there isn’t a way to write a perfectly comprehensive guide to every bathroom in every hostel, because every single one is different, and people are different in what they think is necessary. But there are some tips I can give, based off my own experience. I wish I had a clue when I started backpacking, so think of this as your big sister giving you some tips and tricks of the trade. It should also be said that these tips pertain to women’s restrooms since obviously I haven’t had any  very much experience with men’s.

 

1.   Showers

Here’s the thing: you can will get absolutely disgusting when you backpack. There are reasons such as the fact that you’re walking around strange cities and transportation spots, which just tend to be dirtier. And then there’s the fact that you have the equivalent of a toddler on your back. Sweat happens. That being said, showers are kind of a big deal. The thing is, it’s pretty hard to pinpoint when you’re going to get a “good”one. This is something to pay attention to when you’re booking spots, but you can also be a little more prepared by remembering:

  • This is not a hotel: Bring your own soap, shampoo, wash cloth, razor (which you CAN take on planes as long as they’re disposable) etc.
  • Bring flip-flops: They weigh pretty much nothing, and can help you feel a little bit better (or a lot) if it turns out that you get a sketchy shower situation. I just like using them in general when showering in places that aren’t home.
  • Towel: I have a really awesome backpacker’s towel that dries super fast and folds up into the tiniest little square bundle. I would definitely suggest going with something like this since most hostels won’t just give you towels. If they do provide you the option, you’ll usually pay a small fee for “renting” one. Obviously there are exceptions (such as the hostel I’m in right now, actually) but it’s better to just save the rent fee because it really does add up.


2. Toilets

First off, make sure that you understand what “toilets” means when you’re booking. In the U.S. a restroom usually has a toilet and shower, but in a lot of European countries the rooms are separate. In fact, sometimes (like in France) the “toilet” is actually outside the building. Or, if you’re in India, it might just be a hole in the ground.

The point is: know your country and do a little research before assuming what will be available to you. I also always travel with a mini pack of seat protectors (not much use while squatting in India) and a mini roll of toilet paper. You should be able to find both pretty easily at a local drug store or outdoor store like REI.


3. What You Should Bring:

I’m a lover of lists, so I thought I would let you know what I actually bring with ME, when I’m traveling (in regards to toiletries):

  • Shampoo
  • Razor
  • Leave-In Conditioner (because my hair gets really matted if I don’t use it #curlyhairproblems)
  • Washcloth
  • Soap bar
  • Shaving Cream (I bring it, and then if my pack gets too heavy, I throw it out and use soap.)
  • Mini TP
  • Seat Covers Mini Pack (2)
  • Easy Dry Towel
  • Makeup
  • Makeup Wipes
  • Mini Pack of Lysol Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Lotion
  • Flip-flops
  • Ziplock bags (if things are still wet when I leave somewhere these come in handy)


4. Shared vs. En Suite

What type of a bathroom you have, in a hostel, can be a game changer. You might be sharing one with 40 other people (usually there are multiple toilet and/or shower stalls in this type) or you might be sharing with just the people in your room (en suite). Or, if you have a private room, you might have your own (don’t assume this, some solo rooms still share).

Whichever type you have, make sure you’re aware of your surroundings. If you get a room where you’re sharing with a lot of other people, it’s probably going to be a good idea for you to either wake up before everyone else, or take a shower mid-afternoon/evening. The busiest time I’ve found is right around 9am-10am. This is probably because most check-out times are around 10am and people don’t usually wake up early after partying all night. I usually shoot for 6am or 7am and I have the place to myself.

If you’re in an ensuite bathroom you should also pay attention to how much time you’re spending in there. I’d say 15 minutes should be the tops. Most people can hold it for 15 minutes, but if you’re being a 45 minute diva you’ll probably make some enemies real quick.


5. Leave It Better Than It Was

So here’s the deal: Unless you’re in your own room (and even then, sometimes), you’re going to be sharing with a lot of people. These are community spaces. Hostel workers are not your servants. Regardless of whether you’re in your own room or if you’re sharing with 40 other people, pick up after yourself. Whatever you do, don’t leave your stuff, or traces of yourself in bathrooms (you get what I mean) when you’re not in there. Take it back with you or throw it in the bin. Nobody likes a mess, and the hostel community is about being respectful of your surroundings.

 

Like I said, everybody and every hostel is different. What are your funny/horror bathroom stories. Or better yet, what do you pack so you’re prepared for any kind of toilet type? Let me know in the comment section, below!

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Copenhagen, Denmark Day 1

I’ve probably heard more rap music in the last three hours than I have in the last 3 years. I’ve arrived at one of my most anticipated places on my trip and it’s already proving to be a pertty awesome stop: Copenhagen, Denmark.
A fun fact about me: I’m 1/8 Dane. Yep, it’s true. Whether you think I look it or not, my great-grandpa came straight off the boat, and to the American shores (eventually bringing his family to the beauiful Pacific Northwest). I’ve been on a quest for a few years, now, to visit all the countries that I’m from, ethnically, and I’m officially at 7/8. My last stop will be Norway, but I won’t be going there this trip.

Why?

Well, because today’s sunset happened at 3pm, and if I go any farther north I might just end up stumbling around in the dark the entirety of the day, which is not how I want to remember Norway. That being said, I’m pretty happy with how lively Copenhagen seems, already. Not that I’ve ventured that far from my hostel. But there’s a reason for that. My hostel is pretty much already the “it” spot in this part of town. Like, if I was looking for a cool bar or coffee shop to hangout in, I would end up here.

Luckily, I’m already booked. My guess is that this hostel started off as some kind of hotel that was rennovated into the hostel that it is, today. The room arrangement and feel is exactly the same as I would expect from a hotel, except that it has hostel prices…and you’re sharing the room with other people. It’s pretty nice to have a bathroom in your room, though vs sharing with 30 girls.

I will say, though, that this hostel is the most expensive stop during my travels. There’s a couple reasons for this. First off it’s because I’m here near a weekend, which obviously is more expensive no matter where you are. Second because I’m in Denmark, which is notoriously expensive. Personally, I plan on finding every not expensive things to do in the city, but since I’m only here for 2 days, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep things simple.

In other news, it was a bit sad to leave Edinburgh behind today, not going to lie. But it was also pretty exciting to come to Copenhagen. As I said, my family lineage is from Denmark, so I love being back in another place I can claim heritage with. Also Vikings.

Not going to lie, the first thing I do tomorrow will be to hit up the national museum and geek over some Viking artifacts. Not just because I’m obsessed with the show, either. I was raised being told, “You’re descended from Vikings,” so in a way it’s like visiting family. Viking blood runs in my veins.

After this stop, I’ll be going to Brussels, which is a slight detour from my original plans. Budapest has been scratched off the itinerary, for various reasons, so I’ll be hitting up Bruges, Brussels and Paris instead. I’m pretty okay with the change in plans. As I’ve said before I think it’s really important to follow your gut when it comes to travel, and to be flexible, and this trip is no different. In fact this is the second time I’ve booked a plane ticket to Copenhagen. The first time I ended up missing the flight in favor of staying an extra week in Ireland. I do not, and would never, regret that decision.

If you guys have any cool shops or restaurant recommendations, don’t be shy to give a shout-out in the comment section, below! I’ll be here for the next couple days and would love to try them out!

Unicorn Horns and Dinosaur Tales: Adventures in Edinburgh, Scotland

In the land of unicorns, I needed a miracle. Two days ago I flew into Scotland and it has been such a relaxing and rejeuvenating time here. The first time I came to Edinburgh everything was kind of a whirlwind, so this time I switched things up to give it one more chance; different travel situation, different hostel, different part of town. I’m so glad I did because everything has been amazing.
To start things off, my hostel literally looks like I’m staying in 221B Baker Street, which of course makes me very happy. The carpet is gloriously red pepper red with beautifullly intricate floral wallpaper and red velvet curtains to the sides of each room’s windows. Every time I go up or down stairs there’s just a sort of magic that happens as I walk up the original (stunningly beautiful) spiral staircases. This hostel was advertised as “not a party hostel”and I’m so happy I jumped on that boat asap. The reception closes at 10pm. The common room closes at 10pm. And pretty much all of the lights on our residental street are out by 10pm.

This means that getting a goodnight’s rest is a lot easier. Although I’ve been fighting jet-lag more this trip than I usually do. This morning was the first “normal night of sleep.” And that means I went to bed at  9pm and woke up at 3:30am. Solid.

But I do feel much better, today. When I first flew into Edinburgh I checked into my hostel and then pretty much immediately went to  bed for 10 hours. It was a riveting day. By the time I woke up, it was 10pm and the entire world had shut down, so I spent some time online, then went back to sleep.

Yesterday was much more eventful, and brings me back to my need for a miracle.

The morning that I left Dublin I found out that my phone had stopped charging, but after trying a different cord it finally started. Which left me with a problem. How was I supposed to charge my phone? The obvious answer was that I wasn’t going to be able to, since I couldn’t take the working cord with me. So when I got to Edinburgh I bought a new one, thinking my problems were solved. Why are problems never easily solved, while traveling?

The cord didn’t work.

And since my phone is not only a communicative device, but something I use for music and photos while traveling, I was pretty upset. So I just left it plugged in the wall while I pouted, praying for a miracle (aka PLEASE CHARGE!). After a couple of minutes I saw that the battery had raised 4%. But there wasn’t a charging symbol on the phone. Weird. I checked back a while later and it had gone up a couple more – cool! Relief washed over me, but when I checked back an hour later it had only gone up 1%. Yeah, 1.

The moral of this story is be more specific in what you wish for. I got my miracle, my phone is charging, but at  rate of 1- 5% per hour. Yep. This is real life. In context, my phone is almost 4 years old and so it was time for a new one, but I was hoping to make it through this trip before shelling out for one. The phone had other plans.

Other than the phone crisis of 2017, yesterday was a lovely day. Scotland has been completely sunny (if windy) since I’ve been here and it has been glorious. Snow is on the forecast, but I’m hoping it won’t be enough to delay my flight out to Copenhagen tomorrow.

Yesterday I continued a project I started in Dublin, where I meet someone for coffee/tea in every city I go to. This has proven (already!) to make this trip amazingly more enjoyable and I definitely plan on writing up a blog post on the amazing women I’ve met. I already feel so inspired by them and I know you will, too!

Pre my tea session I got terrifically lost trying to find a rather obvious statue of Sherlock Holmes. I’m not going to play coy here, I literally walked right past it. And while I can probably partially blame that on the jet-lag I think it’s also safe to say that I “saw but did not observe” my surroundings.

I did finally find the statue, after stopping in for a cup of tea at a literal hole in the wall coffee shop, and it was such a great feeling of accomplishment. If I had had mortime I would have loved to stop in at the Conan Doyle pub across the street, as well. I would also like to note how much I love that I can just order “a cup of tea” and everyone knows what I want, here. No fusions, no ice. Just a cup of tea (meaning black tea for those of you who are wondering what on earth I’m spouting on about).

Post my meeting with a lovely fellow traveller I stopped in at the National Museum of Scotland, which is just as impressive as it sounds. Good grief. I only had an hour and a half to go through, but I have a feeling I could have easily spent days in there and still have not fully seen the whole thing. My favorite parts that I did see, however, were the exhibits on the history of Scotland (which was basically just me fangirling over historical events that happen in Outlaner), the fashion exhibits (because I love clothes and I love stitchwork more than anything) and the natural history part of the museum, which was filled with animals that were stuffed and a t-rex skeleton that reminded me of Night at the Museum. Also it was absolutely free to visit, which is a trend that makes me extremely in love with Europe and extremely dissatified with American museums. I just don’t think people should have to pay an arm and a leg to learn about the history of their country, or art. End of rant.

I’m really lucky, this trip, because I’m staying on the other side of what’s called “The Meadows” (#creative) which is exactly what it sounds like, but is also the most serene thing ever. I love seeing miles of green every time I walk back to my hostel, and I love that there are acres of green between me and the tourist bustle of where I was staying last time. All in all I’ve very happy to be staying where I am.
Today I’m taking an adventure up to The Highlands of Scotland, which is probably going to melt my heart, I’ll be so in love with everything. They’re not for everyone, but I absolutely love bus tours around countries. With a good book and an insatiable curiousity for history, they’re one of my favorite things to do.

Have YOU been to Edinburgh (or Scotland)? I’d love to hear any fun stories or things you saw that made you love (or hate) the place. Comment below and share your story! (Like really, I wanna hear all about it.)

What I Pack for a Two Week Trip (Winter)

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Something I love about backpacking is there is no “right” way to do it. You do what works for you. You use the pack that works for you. You go where yuo want to go, and you pack what you want to pack. This blog is definitely not guide of how to be successful at backpacking, in the strict sense of the word. All I can do is tell you about what has made me successful, in my travels. That being said, I thought I would let you all in on what I’m traveling with. The key to packing successfully, when it comes to backpacking, is to remember 3 rules:

1. There are needs and then there are wants. Go with the needs.

2. Going monocromatic means creating more diversity in your outfits (really!).

3. Things seem much more disposable when every pound is strapped to your back for days.

Once again this is not the “how to guide” for success. But here’s what I have in my pack on this trip, so you can have an idea of what I bring when I go on a two week long backpacking trip.


Clothing: 

1 Puffer Vest

7 Pairs of Underwear: I usually pack half the amount of the number of days I’ll be gone…but obviously that’s for trips 2 weeks and less.

Two Tank Tops

2 Bras

3 Pairs of Wool Socks

5 Sweaters

1 Hoodie

1 Pair of Pajama Bottoms

2 Pairs of jeans

1 Dress

1 Pair of Insulated Tights

1 Rain Jacket

1 Wool Wrap around Poncho: So many uses! From being cold on the plane, to needing an extra layer over your bed to having  a great way to change up your outfits.

1 Scarf: Originally I packed 2 but I’d rather buy a new one as a souvenir and onlybring one on the trip.

Earmuffs: It’s supposed to be 17 degrees in one of the cities I’m visiting.

1 Rain Jacket

1 Puffer Jacket

1 Pair of flip-flops: For shower/easy access.
1 Pair of TOMS boots


Accessories: 

Phone

Umbrella

Camera

NeckPillow

Canvas Bag: These fold up tiny, but can be used for groceries and as a purse, when you don’t want to trek around carrying your whole pack.

Book: I know this isn’t exactly sensible for weight reasons, butI really like having something that’s not dependant on wifi or battery life. There’s also always the option of leaving it in a hostel, if you finish it on the trip

Rain cover for my pack

Eye Mask: Because there’s nothing like getting awoken at 4am by your hostel roommate.

 

Toiletries: 

Makeup/ makeup wipes

Mini conditioner, face wash

Earplugs

All the Chapstick

2 Tea bags

Sunglasses

Hand Warmers

Mini deoderant, toothpaste, toothbrush

Travel size laundry detergent (dry)

Matches/First Aid Kit

Whistle and Grapling Hook

Mini Case of Advil

Disposable razor, nail clippers, tweezers

Washcloth

Travel Towel

 

Electronics: 

Adapters for each country

Tablet

Keyboard: I have a keyboard that connects via bluetooth to my tablet. It’s super light, hot pink and my favorite thing ever.

Charging cords for everything…and I mean everything

Extra batteries

Mini flashlight

 

What are some things that you love to travel with? Comment below with your “must haves”!

Why I Stopped Lying about being American when I Travel

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When I was a kid we spent every Memorial Day Weekend at a magical lake. Okay, so the lake wasn’t magical, but the memories I have there, are. Three whole days were filled to the brim with canoeing, archery, finding newts and beaver dams and building “survival fires.”

But one of the best memories I have from those trips, happened at the end. It was a tradition we called, “Stone Soup.” You might have been told the story when you were a kid, or been read the book, but in case you’re not aware of the tale, here’s a recap:

Once upon a time there was a boy who came to a village, seperated by differences. He promised the villagers he could make a soup that would amaze and astound them, because he had a magic stone. Since he was a stranger, and they had trust issues, they thought about kicking him out of the town. But they were kinda sorta also bored from village life, so magic sounded like a welcome distraction. So…they let him try out his magic, and probably whispered some threats about what would happen if he didn’t live up to his promises (but they wouldn’t put that in a children’s book, now would they?).

Anyhoo, he told the villagers that the only way the magic would work is if he had the right ingredients. Those went something like this: vegetables, meat, spices, flour etc. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, those are all the ingredients people use for soup. 

But the villagers weren’t so bright, so they each offered up what they had, and threw it in the pot, and they were amazed by the bubbling, beautiful soup that came out of all of his efforts. 

The point isn’t that the boy was kind of a fraud. It’s that, when everyone comes together, and brings what they have, magic happens. When I was a kid, this meant making some pretty delicious soup.

Now, as an adult, I kind of feel this way about hostels. I know, I know, that was a jump. But hear me out.

When I get to a hostel, I literally have no idea who I’m going to meet. I’ve been coming to the hostel I’m in right now for over 3 years, and the experiences have never once been the same. For instance, this time I’m up writing at 3am, because jet-lag is a monster that’s trying to ruin my life.

Yesterday was the first day of my backpacking trip (#Europe2017) and last night I got to talk to some of the girls in my hostel room. I’m a pretty strong introvert, but I absolutely love meeting new people when I travel. Two of the girls in my room are from South America, and one is from Mexico.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t tension when she when she found out I was American, and I said,”We’re neighbors!” Because there definitely was.

As we talked more, though, we figured out we had a lot in common. Like we’re both hostel jumpers on the second act of our twenties. We both like going to bed early. We like to laugh at drunk people on pub crawls, rather than being the drunk people. And we both love to travel.

Travel brings people together. It’s the “magic stone” in the pot of life that requires nothing except that you contribute an open mind, and your own experiencs. It’s amazing to think back on the people I’ve met, even in this one hostel. People from literally all over the world who are brought together to learn, laugh and make some (sometimes embarassing) memories.

This is also the reason I’ve decided not to lie and tell people I’m Canadian on this trip. I know, you might snort thinking,”Why would she lie?” Well, little ducks, it’s because not all Americans are the golden children we wish they could be. And Canadians are hella chill. Seriously. I could hug the whole country.

Despite it being a pretty easy thing to pull off, because my accent sounds pretty similar, (especially to people with English as a second language), I think it’s more important than ever for me to say I’m American.

Why?

Because the reality is that our country has showed the world a very dark side of itself. And while I know that we can spit quotes about majorities, the reality of the situation is that the rest of the world is not exactly thrilled with our choices. Heck, I’m not exactly thrilled.

That being said, I really do think it’s so important for Americans who travel to claim their country (and yes, I know I’m not the only one who’s lied). It’s important for us to show people that Americans are not represented by the hate they see in media.

It’s important for us to take time to laugh and talk and make weird secret handshakes with people from all over the word. Because the reality is, you could be the only American they ever meet. Think about that for a second.

You represent your entire country. Obviously not all of the time, but I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say it’s probaby more often than you think.

In each country I’m visiting, this trip, I’m making it my goal to sit down with someone who lives there, to just talk about life. That might not sound groundbreaking. But if you can change someone’s life and the lens they view the world through, I’d say that’s pretty huge.

So take time to listen, and take time to tell your story. More now than ever. Because you might never know the impact that late night bunkbed chats in hostel rooms might have.

 

Going it Alone: A Letter To The Solo Exploress

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I wrote this letter about 3 years ago when I had just started to travel solo. I was still so uncertain of how big a role travel, and backpacking, would play in my life. To be honest, the letter is as much a letter to myself, as it is to other women travelers. Since 2013 I’ve backpacked around 10 more countries, taken numerous trips within the U.S. and I’m still madly in love with “getting out there.” But it hasn’t come without feelings of doubt, or skepticism from others. It felt appropriate, coming up on the 3 year anniversary of  my blog, to post this one again since it still rings so true, today.

Dear Exploress,

In your life there are going to be people who tell you what you “should” do. In most cases, it won’t be with negative intentions or purposeful neglect to your feelings. But, hands placed on your shoulders, concern built in their eyes – they will try. If and when these people find you, I want to give you one piece of advice:

Listen to them.

Listen, ponder, wonder and question every word that spills out of their unassuming mouths – riverbanks trying to contain the flow of your own untamable ambitions. Think about their words. Gnaw on them again and again until you truly understand the marrow of what it means to make your own decision. Then, throw them out. For they are of no further use to you.

As you plan and scheme and chart the direction of your own decision making, remember the words of those who doubted you. Remember the people who told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t; every person who tried to pour into your mind their own doubts and limitations. And as you think on these, also remember that you are a conqueror, more than able, and born to be set apart.

Then, take a step. Fall with the freedom of knowing you have weighted the reasons, excuses and deliberations; and they have been found wanting. Walk forward and be guided by the northern star of your own intellect and courage. For, remember, castles are seldom built by staying in our own valleys; dare to dream of venturing to the highest hills.

Remember who you are: a woman fully competent, fully capable and stubborn to a fault. Plan. Plan like you’ve never planned before. Spend every minute researching the world you’re about to travel into, so that when you step outside your front door you can throw the guidebook to the side, and enjoy your experiences fully.

Make friends with everyone. And I mean everyone. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, baristas, post office workers, random people you meet in museums and that mom with a stroller at the bus stop. Keep your ears open, your mind clear and your possibilities endless.

Experience the culture. Don’t ever block yourself off in the comfort of a hotel room or the emptiness of an American chain restaurant. Eat the local food (I don’t care how gross it sounds), go dancing – always go dancing, look for events in local papers and billboards. No matter how tired you are, remember:  You only need 8 hours of sleep, and you have a TV at home. Get outside! Parks, museums, art galleries – go.

Write down everything and send yourself (home) postcards with notes of encouragement. Remember, you won’t be here forever, but the memories will. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, so when you’re feeling lost a week after getting back, you have a piece of mail to remind you that it was only one passport stamp, and there are many more adventures to come.

And last? Stop making excuses.

If you have the ability to hold a job, you have the ability to save money. If you have the ability to save money, no matter how long it takes, you have the ability to buy a ticket to somewhere and go on an adventure. Be smart with your traveling. Challenge yourself to save as much money beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re exploring.

You are a woman, not incapable. You are an Exploress, not unable. You have intellect, an open mind and a heart that loves – use them. And while you’re standing there, looking at something more beautiful than you could have imagined, meeting people who open your mind to more than you could have grasped before – breathe; deeply and slowly. Remind yourself, “In this moment, I am happy.” And then, as you start to walk toward the beauty that’s before you, remember all those people who told you it couldn’t be done – and smile.

This post was originally published on The Exploress blog September 27th, 2013

How to Pick a Perfectly Awesome Hostel Every Time

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My hostel last time I was in Edinburgh (I’m taking the picture from in front of Edinburgh castle).

11 countries down, four more next month. You could say I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels. Love them or hate them, when you’re traveling on a budget, they’re a necessary stop along the way. Lucky for me, I love them. In fact, many of my favorite memories come from various hostels around the world.

Like that time I got cooking lessons from a super cute Australian guy, or the time I stayed up all night talking to an older Hawaiian lady about age and what it means to travel when you’re no longer “young”, or when I ended up engaged to a Scottish guy for a night. And that’s not even to mention the countless day tours I’ve gone on with people I’ve met in the hostels.

There’s something beautiful about people from all over the world coming together in a common place to break bread, play games, go on tours, and exchange stories. I’ve made so many good friends from my travels, that I’d say that staying in hostels is right up there with my other favorite way to find international accommodations, Couchsurfing.

But how do you find a good one?

The reality of the situation is that not all hostels are created equal. So how do you find one that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg in exchange for bed bugs and crazy parties that keep you up until 4am?

Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. But overall I’ve had great experiences by using these tips for finding the very best hostels:

Actually Read the Reviews

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people gloss over these. Don’t be that person. Before my last trip my friend and I were reading reviews for a place (Airbnb) and person after person was complaining about the same. exact. problem. Cockroaches. Okay, gross. But I think this was a really great example (even without being tied to a hostel) of how people don’t read reviews before they stay in a place…or at least don’t pay attention to patterns if they are reading them. But don’t follow this trend. There’s a reason they’re there, and ignoring them could literally leave you sleeping with disgusting little bugs. Take the extra 15 minutes to skim through the review section.

Look at What’s Offered

I travel with a towel so having one provided isn’t necessary. BUT staying in a place with no Wifi (yes, those really exist – feel free to gasp in horror) is not an option, since most of the time I’m working while I travel. Different things are important to different people. Make sure you’re not going to be hating your stay because essentials are being left out. Here are a few things I look for on every posting:

  • Breakfast (Is it included?)
  • Lockers (Where can I put my valuables while I’m sleeping?)
  • Accessible kitchen (Can I make my own food if I want to?)
  • Linens/pillows (Some places charge you more for bedsheets.)
  • Wifi/Internet (Non-negotiable for me.)
  • Showers (What’s the situation? Check it out before you assume.)
  • Location (It really is everything…but we’ll talk more about that, below.)

Location, Location, Location

Here’s the deal. If you pay $10/night, but you’re miles away from anything you want to do, you’re going to spend as much time/money on transportation as you would have on getting lodgings closer to the city center. No matter how much travel-know you think you have, ALWAYS google the address of a hostel, before booking. It takes an extra 5-10 minutes to see what’s in the surrounding area where you’re potentially staying, and saves you a whole ton of stress, once you’re there. This is also when you can see how difficult it is to get to it from the station or airport you’re coming into.

Ask Around

I love social media because I get some of my best recommendations from my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be shy! There are people out there who have been where you’re going, and WANT to share info and help.  Wouldn’t you rather take their advice on a great place to stay, than end up somewhere sketchy? Who knows? They may even have a friend who will take you in for a couple of days (money saving 101).

Lockers

Okay, so it’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but the fact of the matter is that things get stolen, sometimes. It does happen in hostels, and while it’s never happened to me, personally, I’ve definitely heard stories. But before you throw your hands in the air, know that there’s a rather easy solution. Most hostels have some kind of locker system (but again, never assume) where you can store your valuables. Most of these require a cash deposit of around $10 (for a deposit which you get back once you leave), so make sure that you have cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting before you show up at the hostel.

Think Before You Spend

Depending on the hostel, the prices for different rooms can vary drastically. For instance, when I was looking today I noticed that a room with 6 beds was only $1.50 more per night than a room with 8 beds. Okay, let’s do the math. Is it worth $1.50 to have two less people in the room? Hint: The answer is yes. Make sure you’re comparing the prices of the rooms that you’re staying in before idly clicking away at things that you think you need. Do your research and you’ll be rewarded!

There are lots of ways to book hostels, one of my favorites being HostelWorld. I use HostelWorld the most frequently for numerous reasons (mainly because you only have to pay a deposit down when you book, rather than the full amount). One of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in, though, was one found by a German friend in Berlin. It wasn’t on HostelWorld or any of the other big sites, and maybe that was part of its charm. Oh, and it was $70…for the entire week.

Your turn! What tips do you have to find that perfect hostel? Share your tricks for success in the comments below! 

5 Ways To Eat Healthy When Traveling

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Dublin is the starting point for a lot of my travel stories. And when it comes to learning how to eat right, as a traveler, it’s no different. Before last year I had stumbled around the globe, trying to guess how to check off my food pyramid while traveling. But it wasn’t until I was staying at a hostel in Dublin, that I found out the secret of doing so. One of the things that I’ve always loved about staying at hostels is the exchange of ideas and stories. And amidst the buzz of knowledge I met some pretty awesome people, last spring.

Last year I spent a full two weeks in Dublin, and I learned a lot about cooking in a hostel setting from some of the pro-hostel guests (those who live in the hostel) – starting when a friend came out of the kitchen with a full on salmon dinner and vegetables. Australians.

But it wasn’t until this morning, while I was reading a Facebook post from one of my friends that I realized what a global (pun. ha. ha) a problem this is. Eating healthy while traveling in HARD! So, I thought I would share some ideas and tips that have personally helped me to travel a whole lot healthier.

1.Research Beforehand: Here’s the deal. If you’re staying in a hostel, or couchsurfing – check out what cooking resources you’ll have accessible to you. Some of the best memories I have from Couchsurfing have been around making meals with my host. Don’t shy away from asking to cook a meal (even if it’s simple)! Hostels should tell you online whether they’re equipped with a full, partial, or no kitchen. Plan accordingly. The key is to not be surprised when showing up. If you know what you’ll have accessible, you can make the most of those resources. If you’re staying in a hotel, don’t think you’re off the hook, either. Usually hotels will have refrigerators that allow you to preserve your grocery finds, and you can still plan out healthy non perishable foods to have on hand.

2.Go To Grocery Stores: This was some of the first advice I received when I set off on my first backpacking adventure. Not only is it important for eating healthy, but it will also save you a LOT of cash, in the end. Eating out is expensive, and while it’s definitely fun sometimes you should also be aware that the local grocery probably has some great healthy options that will save you money and keep you on the path to healthy travel. *Pro Tip: Leave your non-perishable food in “shared food” spaces, rather than throwing it out when you leave. Help out the next hostel traveller!

My General Shopping List:

Fresh fruit/veggies
Meat bought on a daily basis
Soup
Salad in bulk
Oatmeal
Bread bought daily (rather than buying a whole loaf, which I know I would eat, I buy rolls etc.)
Eggs
Pasta/Pasta Sauce
Some kind of preserved meat like salami
Nuts (Almonds, most of the time)
Granola Bars
Butter (not to go crazy, but because I like a little with my breakfast)

3.Cook For Yourself: Look up some recipes, and find some favorites that will work well without a ton of ingredients. A lot of hostels will have basics (oil, salt, pepper, sugar) but I wouldn’t count on anything else. Something great is recipes that include throwing all ingredients in a wrap of foil and putting it in the over. Easy clean up, easy eating and usually they don’t require a whole lot of seasoning (but are oh, so yummy!). Try some of these tasty options, next time you travel.

4. Invest In Some Tupperware And Ziplock bags: Here’s the deal. From the time you step on the plane, you’re going to have people pushing terrible food options in your face (think airplane food – don’t do it). The key is to have a better, yummier and healthier option, instead. I usually take 3-4 ziplocked snacks on the plane with me including cut up veggies, pretzels, dried fruit (or natural fruit leather), turkey jerky, almonds and a bottle of water (fill it up after security). I also always take a water bottle and some bags of healthy snacks with me while I’m walking around or on tours. The biggest temptations happen when you’re FAMISHED and not thinking straight.

5. Change Your Mindset: Here’s the thing. You’re never going to be able to do something you constantly tell yourself you’re no good at doing. So change it up! Realize that you’re entitled to eat right, and that just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re entitled to “break the rules.” Healthy living isn’t a punishment, it’s a privilege. And eating healthy while you’re traveling is a reward you’re entitled to.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England: The Birthplace of English Literature

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If you’ve ever wanted to time travel, Stratford-upon-Avon may be the right spot for you. While the little town is filled with modern conveniences, much of the century old history is still preserved within the town where Shakespeare was born, lived and died. From the buildings, to the food, to the Shakespearean quotes and statues, Stratford-upon-Avon is truly one of a kind.

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I got a bit excited about seeing Shakespeare’s house.

I’d be lying if I said this city existed prior to me buying a plane ticket there. But I have a lovely friend who is studying Shakespeare there, and visiting friends who are living abroad, while traveling, is an absolute must. I have a strict rule that every time I travel I have to go somewhere new, and even though I had been to Ireland, Scotland and England before this trip, I tried to visit places that were new in each one.

Our trip over to Stratford was right after our time in Dublin, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t crying my way through the airport on my way there. But, such is life. Leaving Ireland is never easy.

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Photo Credit: Victoriana Dan while we were on the train to somewhere.

The plane ride over was the tiniest plane I’ve ever been on, but luckily I got my row to myself. We initially touched down in Birmingham, England which (I’m so sorry to anyone from Birmingham who might be reading this) honestly has the most bizarre British accent I’ve ever heard. Once we commuted a bit, we hopped on the train and were off! I honestly love taking trains across the English country side. It’s just miles and miles of green hills and sheep. If you ever just want to relax for 9 hours, take a train from Scotland to London.

When we arrived at Stratford we met up with our friend, Heidi and spent the evening getting a bit of a tour, watching a movie and ordering Indian food. We were I was pretty tired, so there may or may not have been some unplanned naps on the couch, as well.

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I wish I had a photo of our food, but the meal AND the tea was lovely.

The next morning we started out things right with a trip to Benson’s for a true English breakfast and then a stroll around the town for me and Victoriana, after Heidi went to work. During this time we actually (consciously) got to see the town. I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite parts was the Beatrix Potter themed shop, Timeless Tales where I bought a Peter Rabbit book and a silver spoon for my mom (who collects them, not just for funzies).

We also ventured over to Church of the Holy Trinity, which is where Shakespeare is buried. The overall beauty of the churches in Europe get me every time. Even in the smallest towns, the loveliest structures stand. I don’t think I ever would have guessed how storybook like a town could be, but I guess that’s the nature Stratford. We walked along the river and saw swans everywhere we looked (and they are scary – don’t get any magical ideas). The brick houses had ivy climbing the walls and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stood off looming gloriously in the background. It was magic, and I couldn’t help but imagine it in spring when all of the trees have their leaves and the weather is warmer. I think it would be the perfect spot for a writer’s retreat, and I definitely have it on my list of places I would love to go back to, to stay for a while.

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