Kickin’ It In the Philippines With My Queens

A few (more like several – way to go on timely blogs, Har) months ago, my friends and I wrapped up our job in Taiwan and went on a lovely, celebratory trip together in the Philippines. It was way too short, but long enough to ignite a ferocious love for the country inside of me.

Unfortunately, I could only be there for about 5 days – Sam & Emily went on to a couple other islands and stayed a couple weeks longer. I can attest to the beauty and serenity of the island of Cebu, and you can consult either of those lovely ladies to hear about Palawan and Boracai!

Cebu is magic. It’s touristic enough to be easy to get around, but not overly so to the point of not feeling like you’re getting an authentic experience. And it’s crazy cheap. We ate like queens, took tuktuks everywhere, and enjoyed our last 5 days all together as a powerful girl band without the music.

We also hired a boat for half a day and swam with sea turtles and sardines, and snorkeled around a coral reef! And let us all remember that Sam and Emily are the ones that got painful sunburns this time around, and not yours truly… 😉

I miss those ladies and that island dearly. I wish every year could close out on such a note.

(PS – almost done playing catch-up and can blog about what I am doing in 2017!)

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Bali’ing on a Budget (with Queen Mom!!)

My mom and I went to Bali!!!

…Last September.

And I’m going to stop you right there! I know what you’re thinking: “literally, actually, truly, what is the point of writing a blog about it at this point? You’ve come home for Christmas and made the rounds talking about your travels, we KNOW.”

But this blog–my dearly dormant intrepidandintransit–is meant to be a chronological memento for myself and anyone else out there who’s still paying attention. And, most importantly, I really want to commemorate the trip my mom and I shared. The details to come are literally only possible because that precious woman sent me a nearly minute-by-minute itinerary that she updated as our vacation chugged along.

I love her. And every opportunity I have to see her is like a big, warm hug. Which, frankly, I would love one of right now.

We were only in Bali together for about 5 days. That’s WAY too short, I agree, but I was working with the little off-time I had. We met at the airport. During my layover on the way there, I realized I had lost my laptop charger (and I work online, so a laptop on holiday is non-negotiable). Our very kind shuttle bus driver went out of his way to help us buy me a new one on the way to our hotel. And thus, we became acquainted with Balinese hospitality–as warm and welcoming as the island’s weather.

The days blur together for me now. Here’s the highlights reel:

  1. Our hotel had an awesome pool that we utilized every night right as it was about to close. That pool holds a special place in our hearts. Unlike Queen Jen, the only note I have in my phone about the trip says “Mom looked so happy floating around in the pool last night… 10/10 would recreate.”
  2. I got 3 different pedicures in the span of 5 days. And a massage. And we had fish nibble at our feet. 
  3. Every meal we had was SO COOL. The food was great, but it was like each time we sat down in a new place, it was an experience in and of itself. From the hotel room service (watching Stranger Things for the first time, woah), to the rice paddies of Ubud sipping fresh pineapple juice, to a beachfront restaurant during a rainstorm eating the freshest seafood I have ever encountered. Love.
  4. The sun is a powerful goddess of whom I respect and fear. What I wanted more than anything was a lazy afternoon “tanning” on the beach during this vacation. So mom and I set out to do that. 4 beers and a cocktail deep, two lobsters scurried off the beach and back to the hotel to bathe in aloe. Oops!
  5. Sunsets in Bali are as out of this world as everyone brags about. Truly. The two most notable were a) at the Uluwatu temple as we watched a traditional Indonesian dance ritual, and b) on a dinner cruise, accompanied by fancy cocktails and a drag show.
  6. We hired a car for one of the days (super cheap, makes you feel cool without actually breaking the bank) and drove through Ubud. We nixed the idea of the Sacred Monkey Forest (who needs tiny monkeys pouncing at them and stealing their purse on vacation?! Joking, kinda, if you’re interested in that more power to ya). Instead, we opted for a tour of a coffee plantation. And Bali is known for it’s Luwak coffee (aka coffee literally eaten, digested, and shat out by a type of cat). We came, we tried, mom liked it.

Bali was amazing. Touristy, definitely, but it is a destination for a reason. It felt like paradise. And apart from a minor meltdown thanks to my laptop being a piece of trash, I was on a high the entire time I was there.

What more could a girl want than spending a week in a tropical dream with their queen?

Love you mom!!

Also, more blogs to come now. Actually. Really. Believe it when you see it… And you’ll see it soon!

HK In a Day!

Sam and I went on an overnight “business” trip to Hong Kong earlier this week. And I feel compelled to share our adventure because of how much of a mess it truly was for everyone involved. Buckle up!

We had to go on this trip to sort some visa stuff out for Taiwan. The process is immediate, so we could have come back to Taiwan same-day, but decided to stay overnight to see some of our friends that live in HK.

We get up hours before our flight, and make our way to the bus station. There’s a thunder/lightning/torrential rain storm happening in Taipei as we are getting onto the bus. And it’s rush hour. Double traffic whammy. The bus is inching through the city at a pace so slow I honestly thought about getting out and running part of the way to make up for time lost (a fleeting thought, obviously.). Collectively, I think everyone on the bus started to realize how late the bus was running at about the same moment. People started to get up and mill about and chat on the phone trying to sort out their situations. Still, Sam and I held on to a fleeting hope that since we had chosen to go to HK without any luggage, they’d just let us sprint through the airport with 2 minutes to spare and a closing gate and a wing and a prayer. But alas.

We get to the airport at about 9:30, flight scheduled for 10. The airline counter tells us we are ten minutes to late to get on to the flight. We beg and plead, and they politely tell us to shove off. We ask to be out onto the next flight, and they tell us to call the travel agency our friend book the flight through. So begins the longest, most pricey 30 minutes of our life. Calls are being placed back and forth—to us, to Jojo, to the travel agent—and we finally get put onto the next flight. Which, again, leaves in about 30 minutes. We scramble through lines, get ushered to customer service, get thrown back into the general line. Get our ticket printed and sprint though the airport to security. Our sweat pools as our purses slowly roll through the machine. We sprint again between security and our gate.

As soon as we get to the gate, we are told that there will be a minor delay because, duh, look outside. You can’t even see the runways it is raining so hard. Nice. This definitely means that that flight we “missed” hadn’t left either. But OKAY, whatever, fine. We’ll just get a bottle of water and chill in the gate. So we do that. And after about 10 minutes we hear an announcement that the plane we were anticipating getting on had been struck by lightning upon its descent into Taipei, so it would be about an hour of routine maintenance before we could leave. OKAY! That’s fine. An hour. Lightning. Okay. Manageable.

But then, an hour passes. They hand out meal vouchers for inside the airport. Another hour passes. We find out the flight has moved gates. Another hour passes. Finally, we get on the flight. And smooth air-sailing from there. No lightning strikes on our flight! Score.

Hong Kong was fun. We saw all of our friends from the past few summers at camp. We all met Emily and her mom for dim sum. We did a little hike up Garden Hill and got some really beautiful panoramic views of HK at night. The hostel we stayed at was trash, and tried to kick me out of my bed in the middle of the night, so I’m going to refrain from including its name! But overall, very fun time in the city.

The next day, we got to the airport 6 hours early. And got drunk. Just in case chaos ensued for the second day in a row. But luckily, everything went smooth on our way back. And now we’re back in Taiwan right in the nick of time—my brother and a few friends are going to be camp counselors here with us this summer! A busy 10 weeks ahead. But I will be taking my peeps to do some of the token touristy stuff in the city throughout the summer, so I’ll try and blog about that stuff!

Hope everyone is well. There is so much shitty shit going on in the States right now. And I really hope everyone is doing okay. Stay strong. And vigilant. And proud of who you are. Love you guys!

Going for Broke in Morocco

In late March, a group of us went to Morocco for spring break. (Listen, I know what you’re thinking: “Har, you graduated from university a year ago, you can’t just arbitrarily celebrate spring break anymore!” Let me live. And my karma came to me. Stay tuned.)

I left Ireland with a heavy heart and not a lot of money to work with, but I was pumped to finally see Morocco, and be back on my favorite continent for the first time in over a year. We had a long, complicated flight path (as usual. Help me, I’m poor!). Finally got to Rabat after dark. Our Airbnb situation ended up being a little ways out of the city, but all the more adventure it became. That first day, we briefly stopped in Rabat (and struggled greatly with buying train tickets, so a silent nod to the young guy in the train station who helped us buy them and physically guide us to the train) before heading to the city of Meknes for a mini-excursion. The train ride was a total ego boost—I spent all two hours chatting with this charming old archaeology professor and really crushing it with a bunch of French I didn’t know I could speak. The old city center (a UNESCO Heritage Site!) of Meknes was beautiful. A labyrinth of streets and vendors and homes and colors, encapsulated by the “Old Gate to the City.” We went to a restaurant with a lovely view of the city called Le Collier de la Colombe. It is upstairs at a hotel, there’s free wifi, the food is phenomenal and cheap, and the women that work there are all super nice. They helped us hail a cab back to the train station so that we wouldn’t miss the last one back to Rabat. (Didn’t, but then gloriously missed the last train back to Bouznika from there and had to take a taxi. Live and learn in Morocco I guess!)

The next day I left the group to go to Marrakech. I was doing the trek alone to meet Shelby, who was flying in that evening. I’ve become very good at traveling alone, and though it is typically more stressful, I live for it. Made it to Marrakech with ease (and a couple hours early), so I walked from the train station to city center. I think if I would have informed my friends that I was doing this alone at dusk, they would’ve been pretty pissed—there is a lot of stigma behind the idea of women traveling alone in Africa, and just in general, for a bunch of different reasons. And a lot of it is valid—we live in a gross world and women do have to look out for their safety in ways that men have no concept of. But I also feel very confident in my ability to take care of myself (like, I carry a knife and know how to kick someone’s ass). So I walked across Marrakech in the twilight alone. And got a lot of cat calls, and a few guys stop or slow down their cars to try and get my attention. Comes with the territory of exploring developing countries (and developed countries. Let’s be real, people can be disgusting). I had the time of my life! Seeing Marrakech in my favorite way—leisurely and alone. Got to city center right as it was getting dark. Walked around the world-famous market (and got called a fashion disaster by an exasperated vendor who really wanted the attention I wasn’t paying him) for a while before Shelby hopped off her shuttle and we booked it to the hostel we reserved.

We stayed at Dream Kasbah—I would say it was a dream for sure. The hostel itself is cute, and the people that choose to stay there all seemed very fun to talk to and down for adventure. There was free breakfast, and they offered tours of different parts of Morocco. We walked to and through the market for a few hours (the shopping is fun, get your game face on for hardcore bargaining, and expect to be hassled if you look like a “foreigner”) (oh, and try the orange juice. Life changing.). We then hopped on a train back to Rabat.

It is then that my memory of the trip becomes a bit more of a blur—we only really had one day left, and right as Sam and her friends were leaving to head to the airport, I lost/had my wallet stolen. Aka all of my money, my debit cards, the works. Like, I was 24 hours away from moving to Asia for the rest of the year, and I had literally not a penny to my name. I am absolutely certain that if Shelby hadn’t been with me on that last day, I would have popped a blood vessel. Needless to say, the next couple weeks of my life were very complicated—full of loans and favors and money-transfers and packages being frantically sent across the world. I want to take an extra second to virtually hug any- and everyone that helped me out. Going broke as a nomad is actually terrifying, but there’s always a way to fix things!

Balance has been restored, no worries. And I am living in Taiwan for the rest of 2016! I’ll be posting a few odd blogs about the different things to do in Taiwan that I have found this year at some point. Until then, I miss everyone and hope you all are doing great!! Much love.

Mission Accom-Polish-ed (and Some Other Eastern European Countries)

In the middle of March, I went on a week-long holiday to Eastern Europe with my friend Shelby. Our goals were simple: to eat and drink our way through all of the places we visited, and take great photos of every step of the way. And to do it all for under a collective $250. (Spoiler: all goals were accomplished. Or accom-Polish-ed, if I may…) I’m going to break this blog down by each place we went throughout the week!

Bratislava, Slovakia: We had a very short window in Bratislava, but planned to use the 18 hours to their fullest potential. We flew in, hopped on the first bus into the city, and made it to our hostel pretty easy (A Wild Elephants Hostel is where we stayed, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone!!!). The staff at the hostel took us on an “abandoned hospital sunset tour” and WOW. Just, wow. It was just Shelby and I on the tour, and a handful of volunteers from the hostel. We found our way to the top floor of a hospital that kinda could’ve definitely felt haunted if we were alone in there at night. But we sat on the roof (a free, incredible, view of the city of Bratislava), drank beer, and watched the sun set. Magic. We went out to dinner and hung out with some of the other guests of the hostel (and actually, literally, crushed the patriarchy that evening, but that’s another day’s story).

Prague, Czech Republic: What an incredible place. In a full day’s time, we were able to walk around and see all the major stuff the city has to offer. The astronomical clock and Old Town square, the John Lennon Wall, the Charles Bridge (we touched the good luck charm!), all of the incredible architecture, a lot of cool installation art scattered throughout the city, great (and cheap) food and drink. Prague is beautiful. (Side note, if you follow me on Snapchat, this is the city in which I posted a 5 minute long, very messy, story of Shelb and I trying Czech snacks and impersonating YouTube videos. Sorry, but also, not very sorry because we had a great night!)

Auschwitz/Birkenau: What an indescribable experience. I’ve struggled a lot on how to write about the visit to the museum/grounds, because it was so… Something. It was something. It was terrible. How could it not be? It gave me the same feeling as standing on top of the sunken ship in Pearl Harbor did. Or looking out of the Door of No Return on Goree Island in Senegal. It sucks. It’s uncomfortable. But I’m honored I had the opportunity to do it. To freely walk through the halls of a place that destroyed and ended so many lives—as an observant. Feeling nothing even close to what the million people that died there felt. Experiencing things like that—having such privilege to experience things like that—is horrifying and important. The tour guide I had said something right at the end of our tour that really stuck with me:  “Take what you see here, see it as a grain of salt on a bigger beach. This is a genocide we pay homage to, but it is not the only genocide that has ever happened. There is more than one genocide happening as I speak to you today. So be more than a visitor at a museum. Be more than a charitable donation. I hope today makes you want to do something, because I shouldn’t have to have a job at a former death camp. No one should have this job.”

Krakow, Poland: Probably my favorite place we stayed on this trip? We, again, saw a lot of the major sights in the full day we had there. The castle, the cathedral (and the dragon bones hanging over the door of the cathedral!), the old town square, the Jewish Quarter. We even rode in a horse drawn carriage (listen, it was cheap and we were feeling regal) through town square. The food was dangerously cheap, the people were interesting, and the hostel (Atlantis Hostel) was very nice. We had one roommate that we particularly enjoyed, an old man that had been everywhere in the world and was waiting for his papers to clear so he could return to his home in Ukraine. He bought us pizza while we were out one night, and gave it to us for breakfast the next morning. I love old people. I love Krakow.

Warsaw, Poland: Actually hardly saw the city at all. We had about an hour and a half to sight see, so we walked through old town (sensing a pattern here). We had heard mixed reviews about Warsaw, and ultimately ended up choosing to not spend a full day there. But after walking through old town, we have mild regret. Oh well, next time!

What a week it was. My disposable camera was filled with very stupid, lovely memories and my wallet was drained. Loved it. Be back soon.

P.S. I Love You, Ireland Pt. 2

After leaving California in late January (and stopping over to see some friends in New York City for a couple days), I landed in Ireland with a hangover and high hopes. I was to be volunteering at a hostel in County Wicklow—just south of Dublin—for the next month.

Through the site WorkAway, I was able to secure a bed at a hostel along the Wicklow Way—work a couple hours of housekeeping 5 days a week in exchange for free accommodations and spend the other two days a week however/wherever I please. (I almost always chose Dublin). As per usual, I showed up winging it. Found out it was about an hour’s walk from any bus stop/convenience store/civilization of any sorts. I half-expected that, and really came to love the seclusion, but when I had to trek back in the morning after a long night in Dublin, it could be a bit much. Still, loved every day of it.

The area is truly a dream. Though it rained most days (and snowed a couple times!), I did get a few full hiking days; the days I got lost for a few hours without a phone or a worry in the world are the ones that will stick with me. If the weather was shit for most of the day, but cleared up even briefly, I would slip out the back and walk down to a small, secret gazebo none of the other volunteers knew about. From the looks of it, the people whose property it was on used it as a place to practice shooting—there were empty bottles and cans lining the edge of it and shell casings all over the ground. It was an oasis for me. I would go there to write or read or take photos or nap if it wasn’t freezing.

My days off in Dublin are what made this stint in Ireland so lovely. I met up with friends and explored new parts of the area I didn’t have time to see before (like Dun Laoghaire and Howth and Killiney Hill and, a bit further out, Bray). I drank a lot. Ate a lot of buffalo wings and eggs benedict. I spent Valentine’s Day bowling with Shelby and Irish Mother’s Day eating homemade apple tart with Ciaran’s family. I worked my first photography gig making everyone look glam at an event for Ciaran’s veterinary class. I even celebrated St Patrick’s Day in Dublin! I wish I had more to say about that day but I started celebrating when I woke up and didn’t stop until I fell asleep on a street corner at midnight. It was grand.

My last weekend was spent on a road trip to county Mayo in the west of Ireland. What is supposed to be the rainiest part of Ireland was sunny and not freezing. We visited Clew Bay (which is composed of 365 islands woah), Ciaran and I briefly explored the town of Westport and went to a party at one of his friend’s houses. It’s funny to see Irish people’s reaction to a three-hour road trip, because for me that’s a day-trip to Santa Cruz or the Bay. Within a day of driving back to Dublin, I was off on my next adventure.

If this blog seems brief considering how long I was in Ireland, apologies. I was way more focused on myself and having a good time with my friends than documenting my every move. And I really did enjoy myself. I fuckin’ love Ireland. In a lot of ways, most of which are impossible to articulate. On to my next adventure. Hope everyone’s great. Talk soon.

A Transatlantic Minute

 

I left home almost two weeks ago. The five weeks I spent at home with my friends and family really did feel like it passed by in the blink of an eye, but I’m so grateful to have seen everyone. Even if briefly. My life-bae Sam, who’s always left in charge of talking me down when my pre-travel anxiety kicks in, said to me: “it’s so easy to get comfortable.” How. Freakin. True.

It’s such an obvious statement. I get it. Duh. But it’s so true. I got home, kicked off my shoes, snuggled up to the family dog and ate all the food my mom cooked. I saw all my friends and decorated the Christmas tree and had Chipotle several times and bought a bunch of clothes at all my favorite stores. Stockton is comfortable (existentially. Physically and realistically, probably not that much. If it really gelled with me, I would still be there. But alas.), Stockton is familiar. Stockton is home to my mom, and my high school, and Yummy Sushi Burrito. We’ve got history together. And it’s so easy to get comfortable in the routine of seeing and doing things that are just muscle memory. And I almost got too comfortable! Not that there’s anything wrong with people settling down in Stockton (maybe there is), but that is not what is in my cards. And I know that. But still, getting on my flight out of Central California on January 20 was really rough.

But then I landed in New York City, and everything felt a bit better. Because now I have traveling muscle memory too. And travel—while at times extremely, ridiculously, uncomfortable—is comfortable and familiar to me. My lovely friend Alicia (from my study abroad in Senegal in 2014!) picked me up from the airport and we spent the next two days catching up, seeing our other study-abroad-buddy Arden, drinking a bunch, and we went to a concert. It was great. New York City can be fun to visit when you have good company. I departed from JFK literally as it began snowing and Winter Storm Jonas (unfortunately, little-to-no connection to the Jonas Brothers) descended on the tristate area. What good luck.

After several hours of transit (and several face masks), Dublin welcomed me. I was in the city for a few days. Spent most of my time drinking and being merry. Honestly, not much new to report from that time. And now I am an hour south of Dublin, living at a hostel, volunteering for a free bed. And it’s magical. But I’ll blog about my time here at the end of the month when I really have a feel for it. Until then, I love and miss all my friends at home and everywhere, and hope that everyone’s doing great! I sure am!

 

15 Things About Traveling (and Myself) I Learned in 2015

This year I had some of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. I did the infamous Pamela Anderson shot during a gay pub crawl in Argentina I will never live down, faced my fears and jumped off a cliff on a tiny Island off Oahu, let fish eat the dead skin off the bottom of my feet at a day spa while on-the-job in Taiwan, survived 3 typhoons (tiny, non-life-threatening typhoons), got chased by an endangered Bornean Orangutan through the jungles of the world’s third largest island, found and ROCKED a gay bar’s karaoke night in a very Muslim country, hitchhiked for the first time with an Australian man in a tiny town in southern Taiwan, got into a motorbike accident the same day, visited the only country on my bucket list (Ireland, I love you), met my mom in Italy and befriended a sassy, middle-aged waiter who served us life-changing lasagna, mastered the city of Madrid, and flew to a secret destination for my first Christmas market. Just to name a few things that stick out.

It’s really cool to look back on all of those things and realize that I have learned so much in such a short time. There were moments I knew would stick with me, and others that kind of crept up on me and whispered “this is changing you, this is making you a better human” into my subconscious. I tried to wrap all of that up into 15 bullet points as best I could. These 15 things are very near and dear to me, so here goes!

What I learned this year:

15. Water!!!! Just, water. Drink it. Obviously this is not something I should only do while traveling, but I find it especially important to my well-being (and sanity) to drink a lot. In all climates, all levels of activity, and all times of day. Carrying a reusable bottle is worth it. And it’s really important to always double check if the tap water is drinkable in a new place.

14. Journaling helps. It helps me document not only my goings-on, but also how I am feeling and what’s going on in my head at all times. This is really important to me, because I try to come in to new places with as blank of a slate as possible—and if I am dwelling on a bad airport experience from last week or worrying about a conversation that I had with someone yesterday, I come into somewhere new less focused on my surroundings than I like.

13. In the same vein: lists! I love lists. I make packing lists every time I pick up and move on. Every! Time! I also make to-do lists—to-do this week, to-do when I get home, to-do for work today, what I want to-do before I leave this country. I write it all down. Traveling is like a constant sensory overload, and even if I REALLY want to grab my best friend a present in this little town before I leave, I might accidentally overlook that because of everything else going on. Shit, this whole blog post is a list. I digress.

12. Social media and technology have purpose, but are not THE purpose. Deep. But seriously. I love keeping in touch with people back home via any given social media. It also helps me keep in touch with new friends and connect with people doing similar things to me (i.e. a couchsurfing meetup or a Facebook page dedicated to Au Pairs in Madrid). One of my friends who is living abroad right now wrote a blog post here about how Tinder helped her acclimate to her new city. But it is important to be present in the moment, not to just visit somewhere or do something because I know my online community will appreciate it or envy me for it.

11. There are ways to sustain myself financially while traveling. I already knew this! I work(ed) at a camp in Taiwan! But this year I figured out how to use my skillset (traveling, writing, and wit) to make money. Not a boat-load, but a little extra. Which is nice. And helpful. Freelance writing is a new-ish addition to my life, but it’s already been so good to me. And it’s resume building on-the-go. Score score score.

10. Do NOT get too attached to any of the stuff packed in your luggage. I have shed and gained and shed and gained so many items since leaving home with my original packing list. I literally left a full duffel bag in Taiwan. I have added new clothes (from Primark, I am obsessed) and thrown away stuff that’s gotten gross. Yes, I wore those Toms shoes when I graduated from university, but I also got 86 layers of mud all over them during a typhoon. They needed to go.

9. Pack consciously. This is obvious, I suppose. But maybe only obvious because I have a lot of experience with packing my whole life into a small bag? My staple plaid button up can be used as a shirt with leggings, a light sweater, can be tied around the waist, or tucked in to high-waisted jeans. Layering is key. Neutral colors are good. Practical shoes only. Always pack a going-out outfit. Bring more than one bra. Don’t over-pack pajamas. Bring a little bottle of laundry detergent (and learn how to effectively wash clothes by hand). The list goes on and on. Basically I ask myself before putting an article of clothing into my packing cubes (trust me, as nerdy as it sounds, they changed my traveling life): “is this practical? How often will I wear this?” This is not a foolproof system. Sometimes I pack something and quickly grow to hate it, regardless of its practicality, and never want to wear it again. Sometimes I start to miss the ONE thing that I was on the fence about bringing, and ended up leaving behind. But generally, practical wins.

8. I love skincare???? I knew this. But I thought I could put it in the back seat while traveling because I can’t carry around 30 products for my face and body when I have a luggage weight limit. But I like my skin to feel good! And there are ways to do that without bringing the entire bathroom cabinet with me. Plus, if this is what matters to me, it can take up a bit of extra space. Some people will have more than 2 pairs of shoes, some will have 8 Lush products on hand. *shrugs insistently*

7. There are certain apps and websites that are SUPER helpful while abroad! (Disclaimer, this is an evolving list.) The Kayak app is one of the most used on my phone. Skiplagged is another good one for cheap flights (I found a $500 Taiwan to Paris flight on there. It seriously works.) Always have Uber—you never know when you’ll need it. Hostelworld is great for finding the cheapest hostel last minute, and a lot of the time they have sales going on like $1 beds! I don’t love Couchsurfing alone, but the app is good to have in a pinch and it also has an events tab that can help you find cool stuff to do when you’re new in an area. Nearify is a new favorite along the same lines: you check off all the things you like to do (dancing, bar crawls, yoga, etc.) and the app compiles a real-time list of events happening in your area—it works in pretty much all major cities around the world I have visited since downloading. CityMaps2Go is awesome—free, DOWNLOADABLE maps you can use while offline that include virtual pamphlets showcasing the major sites and things to do in the city. Postagram is cool if you like sending postcards but have a hard time finding the cards or post office or forget until the very last minute—you can send a printed postcard with a photo you took to anyone in the world! The Google Translate app has a translating camera—yes, you can literally hold it up to a menu in a different language and it will translate it on the spot! Tiny Scanner is LIFE (do you know how hard it is to just stumble across a scanner while in a foreign city?), you can take a photo of a document and it turns it into a scan in .pdf format. WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage, whatever you prefer… They’re helpful, and all of them have wifi calling available. Your bank’s mobile app!!! A money conversion calculator!!

6. Podcasts and audiobooks are not just for old people. (Sorry old people!) I like to be engaged in something while in transit, but I get mild vertigo if I try to do anything like read or watch movies in cars, buses or trains. Listening to books and podcasts lets my brain still munch on something in a time that has the potential to be super boring. I like podcasts about true crime, fictional suspense/mystery podcasts, random knowledge shows, YouTubers’ podcasts, etc. And my favorite audiobook is hands down Yes Please by Amy Poehler, narrated by herself. YES, PLEASE.

5. Dry shampoo, deodorant, feminine/baby wipes, baby powder and a toothbrush. Those can really turn your day around when you’re trekking through a jungle (or a concrete jungle) and cannot/don’t have time to shower.

4. Important documents to have abroad!!! I have a folder in my luggage with that scrawled across the top. “Important” is subjective, for the most part, but for me that means vaccination papers, visa printouts, a copy of my health insurance and whatnot, and any paperwork having to do with my jobs.

3. Airports are a cultural microcosm, and I love them and I hate them. No matter where I am, what language the country speaks, the time of day, I know that I can navigate an airport. They have a (generally) similar layout all the time, and have a constant singular purpose, and I write some of my favorite blog posts while sitting inside them. I hate how expensive the food is. I hate when flights are cancelled. I hate when the wifi is slow or nonexistent. I get real ticked off when security is moving slow. But I understand airports, and they understand me, and we meet all too often to not get along.

2. Keep the circle tight. Those who want to be in my life, despite the fact we can only see each other once or twice a year, will make as much of an effort as me. Real friends will Skype at weird times of day to accommodate time zone differences. They send me mail if they can when I have a temporary address. They keep me in the loop about their lives (because, contrary to popular belief, I don’t think my goings-on are any more important or worthy of being talked about than my friends’, no matter where they are/what they are doing). People who love me will never earnestly complain about my absence, because they know I am living my dream. And reunions are always so sweet.

1. I am still me. No matter where I am, what odd job I am doing, new family I am living with, I am still me. I still deal with day-to-day stuff like traffic and exhaustion and (dare I say it) boredom. I still deal with real life stuff like break-ups and motorbike accidents (still face-palming about that one). I still have the same character traits, like crippling stress and anxiety. I still need to take care of myself, both physically and mentally. I think this year especially, this has been the most important thing that I have experienced and learned from. The world is still spinning, as is the world inside my head. I can’t fully experience new places if I am not in a good place mentally. Love myself. Take care of myself. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

For those of you reading this, thank you for always making it to the end of my blogs. It really does mean a lot to me. I hope you holiday season is as good as mine, and that I can keep writing cool content for you in 2016.

One (Very Merry) Night in Belgium

About a month ago, I was trying to figure out my flight path home from Spain. I knew I wanted to visit a Christmas market—everything I had heard about them sounded magical. So I asked Ciarán (worked at camp with me, we went to Malaysian Borneo together, he’s super Irish…Ring a bell?) for advice. Where should I go? Should I drop my bags in Ireland first or bring them with me? Will they have festive alcoholic beverage choices? The essentials.

Ciarán knows better than pretty much anyone that I love to wing it when it comes to travel—for example, because of my whimsical idea to use only a paper map in Borneo, we got lost on the road about 8 times a day (still sorry, Ciarán)—so he came up with an idea. He double checked when I wanted to go, when my flight to the States would be, and then went on his merry way BOOKING A TRIP TO A SECRET COUNTRY FOR ME TO VISIT A CHRISTMAS MARKET. I was not to find out until I got to the airport the morning of my flight. The only hint I got was that this country was known for its chips (not super helpful, seeing how everyone loves potatoes).

I had a month to look forward to this. And I really did. It would have been easy enough to cheat, look up flights out of Dublin on that day around the time he gave me and narrow it down. But I did not! I was up for the adventure. He checked in for me and printed the boarding passes, and stuck them in an envelope.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday morning. I had flown into Dublin the night before. Ciarán handed me the envelope and dared me not to take any luggage with me. I agreed, grabbed my camera, and walked out the door. All I had was my camera, wallet, phone/charger, and the envelope with the tickets.

I get to the airport, and the only aimlessly wandering person I could find was a confused old man. I asked if he could record me opening the envelope. His perplexed, disinterested glare I could see from over the tip of my phone as he recorded me made me nervous. I opened the envelope….BELGIUM! Brussels! I nervously thanked the man recording me and went through security. You get a lot of looks when you literally have nothing with you but cash and a camera. But I was pumped. Since I was a tad early, I got online and booked a hostel. I pulled out the note that Ciarán had put in the envelope with my boarding pass. There was a to-do list for while I was in Brussels. How. Cool. It included eating chips (French fries, my American friends!) and waffles and chocolate and drinking Belgian beer and making a friend and such.

I arrived right as it was getting dark. I took a shuttle bus into Brussels. Remember, at this point, I had still had very little time to research Brussels. So I get off at the last stop. It’s dark, it’s raining, I’m starving. I see Christmas lights in the distance and assume it’s got something to do with the Christmas market, so I start walking. I was wrong BUT there was a chips shop right where I stopped off. One item checked off the list. I connected to wifi and mapped out where I was and realized I had walked in the opposite direction of the market! Of course! I bought an umbrella and walked almost two miles across Brussels to the market. The walk, though extremely brisk and moist, was very cool. Brussels is the political capital of the European Union, so there are a lot of important looking buildings scattered throughout the city. The closer to the city center I got, the older and fancier the architecture got. The Grand Place (city center) is, quite honestly, one of the prettiest places I have had the chances to see in Europe thus far. The buildings are the actual definition of marvelous, there was a huge Christmas tree, and (I kid you not) it smelled like chocolate.

Just a little further was the Christmas market. It was JUST as magical as I had hoped. There were over a hundred food/drink/gift/stuff booths! I visited almost all of them. I drank Belgian beer (I still hate beer, so) and spiked hot chocolate, ate a bunch, bought gifts, and rode a huge Ferris wheel and got the greatest vantage point of the market and greater Brussels area.

The next day I walked around all day. Literally just walked around. Revisited the city center, walked around in the city’s biggest park, ate at the most famous fish & chips restaurant in Belgium, walked more. It was sunny and not crazy cold and seeing more of the city was great. I flew back to Dublin that evening and left the following morning. 6 flights in 5 days! This week’s been quite the ride.

In case I haven’t been vocal enough about how grateful I am for this whole secret-mission-Christmas-trip, I AM SO GRATEFUL. Best gift ever. No one tell Ciarán that he is awesome for this and for everything, he really doesn’t need any more of an ego-boost. I kid. Tell him. There’s a reason some of my favorite blog posts on here somehow connect to him. Thanks Ciarán!!

I AM HOME FOR A MONTH. That is all. Happy Holidays!

 

Living In Madrid Pt 2: Talking to Tweens

When I woke up on the first of December and realized that the last three months in Madrid had skated by so quickly, I began to both panic and celebrate. Panic—I’m leaving behind some of the most charming and intelligent young ladies I have ever taken care of, I’m moving away from a city I am just beginning to really get the hang of, and no more patatas bravas (my favorite tapas dish)??? Celebrate—I am going home for the holidays, moving forward from what I would consider a fairly anxious time in my life, and GOING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS!!

Since returning from Italy last month, I have laid pretty low—I already visited the touristy attractions, I’ve eaten all the traditional foods, watched flamenco dancing, went clubbing…all the interesting stuff to report back about. Honestly, I’ve spent the last month hanging out with the family I work for, reading in parks, Christmas shopping, and wandering around taking pictures. I can say, though: Puerta del Sol at Christmas time is magic. There is a HUGE, hollow-metal-frame Christmas tree completely made of lights that you can WALK THROUGH (A PHOTOGENIC DREAM), there is a teeny tiny Christmas market inside of Plaza Mayor, Christmas music abound, the works.

So, instead of opting out of a blog or writing boring content (like the curious case of my disappearing wallet), I decided to interview two of the three girls that I have been taking care of. They are 10 (Julia) and 14 (Monica), go to an English school in the city, are excellent English speakers, and are wonderful young women.

  1. Favorite movie?

Julia: Inside Out!!!
Monica: Ohhhhh, The Notebook. The book too.

  1. Favorite song?

Both: Lay Me Down by Sam Smith. (laughs together)

  1. Where do you want to visit someday?

Julia: Where do you live?! (I say California) Then California. I want to visit California.
Monica: Hollywood, New York City, Argentina… No I don’t, why did I say Argentina?! Just the first two. (laughs)

  1. Why do you like being a kid/teenager?

Julia: I can do a lot of things and don’t have to buy anything! And the Christmas presents… can’t forget those.
Monica: I DON’T like being a teenager! I don’t. It’s complicated. (more laughter)

  1. One thing you want to learn how to do?

Julia: Sew better!! Like make my own clothes.
Monica: I would love to learn how to dance. Like funky. Like the girls in that new Justin Beiber video…

 

  1. What makes a good friend?

Julia: Telling you the truth, being with you, and helping you with problems. Definitely.
Monica: I think you have to trust her. That’s really important. You have to have fun with her. She has to be there always! Even if you get a good mark on an exam, and when you cry too.

  1. Use only one word to describe yourself right now.

Julia: Pretty!
Monica: Special. I think everyone’s special in their own way, including me. And you!

  1. Describe how you see Spain.

Julia: Pretty, too! And dirty… But mostly pretty.
Monica: Oh I love Spain. It’s my country! Yeah we’ve got problems, but I just love it. I love Madrid.

  1. What’s one thing that’s special about Spain you want everyone to know?

Julia: Paella. It’s delicious.
Monica: I don’t know how you celebrate Christmas in the states but I love Christmas here, EVERYONE comes to Sol and stay there until midnight just counting down and celebrating and having a great time around the huge Christmas tree.

There were more questions but these were my favorite. None of them bore particularly prolific responses, but I think that’s the coolest part about it. I don’t know what I wanted to learn when I turned on the camera and started asking them questions, but that felt just as fun as setting out for a specific answer or message. These girls live a half a world apart from most of my readers, but most likely responded in the same cute, quip and innocent way that any of the 10 and 14 year olds you know would. They study for exams and worry about boys and love chocolate and Pringles. These girls are a lot like the kids I worked with in Taiwan, or the ones I lived with in Senegal, or the girls and boys I talked to in Malaysia. Pure hearted, fun to talk to, and loving the fact they got a moment to sit and talk and have the attention fully on them. In light of all the terror that has broken out all around the world, it’s really important that we take a moment to remember that we are the common thread. A mountain or an ocean can separate us, but all children will sing Frozen songs at the drop of a hat if you let them.

I am posting this on a Thursday. I left Madrid on Monday, and went on a secret mission. I’ll blog about that in a day or two! Hope everyone is doing great!