9 Small Businesses to Support On Cyber Monday

I’ve always hated Black Friday. I’ve never enjoyed going shopping, which is part of it, but the other part is it always just seemed like a money grab for large corporations that already have plenty of it. Once I allowed myself to be dragged to a mall at midnight on this “holiday,” which is when I realized that most Black Friday “deals” are not actually that great, and mostly indeed just an excuse for Kohl’s or Target or some other gigantic department store to give you 20% off of an already expensive microwave, trick you into thinking you’re getting a great deal and – yep – make yet more money. The same goes for Cyber Monday, except minus the long lines. (Admittedly, I did find some awesome Alaska Airlines flight deals last year on Cyber Monday, but I digress).

This year, my contempt for Black Friday extends beyond “gigantic companies already have plenty of money.” This year, my thoughts are, “it’s easy to find deals at big department stores, but it’s hard to find deals at small businesses, and during a pandemic, small businesses are who need your $$$ the most.”

I searched online for small businesses with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and found an article suggesting that in order to find small businesses to support, consumers should search on Amazon. Excuse me?? To find small online businesses to support, we should give yet more money to one of the richest companies in the world? That seems counterproductive.

Instead, by crowdsourcing on Instagram, I’ve found 9 small online businesses with sales from NOW UNTIL MONDAY NIGHT. If you’re doing your holiday shopping early and you’d like to support some small businesses in the process, take a look at the list below.

Please note: I’m not affiliated in any way with any of these businesses. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just know it’s been a tough year for everyone, and think we should all support each other more (and Amazon less).

1. Sumofish 

Inspired by “everything ocean-related” and the founder’s upbringing in Hawaii, the Daly City, CA-based company Sumofish sells T shirts, masks, stickers, recyclable tote bags, and more, all sporting a cool animal design. Such as, a Statue of Liberty-esque octopus eating a pizza, which is every bit as dope as it sounds. From now until Monday, 11/30, all products on the site are 20% off, except for masks. If you’re in the Bay like me, this is a great way to support local artists!

2. Imani Collective 

Based in Dallas, Texas, Imani Collective employs 100+ artists in Mombasa, Kenya to make all the pillows, banners, ornaments and other items sold on their site. According to the “about us” story highlight on their Instagram, they provide each of their 100+ artists and staff with more than 2.6 times the minimum wage in Mombasa along with benefits and access to programs such as child care and tuition expenses. They’re offering the following deals on their site, all of which are valid until midnight on Monday, 11/30:

  • 20% off orders $25+ with promo code: BLACKFRIDAY20
  • 25% off orders $50+ with promo code: BLACKFRIDAY25
  • 30% off orders $75+ with promo code: BLACKFRIDAY30

As it says on their Instagram, “every purchase empowers another human.” 🙂

3. Revolution Art Shop

As Revolution’s Art Shop’s Instagram bio says, “We’re building a movement and clothing it in messages of democracy, hope, humor, and change.” All the way from now until Monday, December 7th, Revolution Art Shop is offering 15% off orders of $50 or more on their site. ALSO, a portion of every sale of their “Don’t Tread on My Uterus” shirt, hoodie, or gift pack is donated to Planned Parenthood. Hell yeah!

4. Steph Littlebird

Portland-based Indigieous artist Steph Littlebird is offering free shipping on all prints over $20 shipped in the US. Check out her store on Etsy featuring prints of animals, people, and a super dope one of Baby Yoda.

5. In Situ Jewelry


In Situ Jewelry sells sustainable, handmade jewelry made right in Santa Cruz, CA a.k.a. my hometown! The designer works with a company in New Mexico that melts down pieces of old jewelry into wire and sheet metal, which they then send to In Situ to create the pieces. They’re offering 30% off everything on their website until Monday 11/30 at midnight. Just use the code SHOPSMALL. All orders are always shipped in packaging that is recyclable and/or biodegradable to eliminate plastic and waste!

6. Insurgent Cat Designs

Based in Sacramento, CA, Insurgent Cat Designs sells stickers, mugs, and patches with important messages. (One of my favorites is their “Librarians: Saving Your Ass Since 300 BCE” shirt.) They’re offering 10% off everything in their Etsy store until Monday, December 7. 10% of the profits from all their sales are split between ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NRDC, Lambda Legal and Native American Rights Fund!

7. Gold Dust Womvn

All of the skin and hair care products sold by the Sacramento-based company Gold Dust Womvn are eco-conscious and handmade with organic ingredients. From now until Monday, you can get 20% off all items on their site with the code SHOPSMALL!

8. Diop

Based in Detroit, Michigan, Diop was founded by a first-generation American whose parents are from Lagos, Nigeria. Their clothes, hats, and masks are inspired by the shirts the founder’s mother made for him from Ankara fabric from West Africa and then had tailored. As the website says, What my mom did wasn’t easy; it took a lot of time and money. And she had to do that because clothing brands weren’t doing it for her.”

Diop is offering a 25% sale off of all the products on their website. This sale doesn’t apply to face masks, but instead there’s a buy 3, get 1 free deal on all the masks on the site. The site has also donated over $100,000 of their sales to several organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the LGBTQ Freedom Fund and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute!

9. Stephanie Huang Designs

If you’re looking for handmade jewelry to give as gifts, peep Stephanie Huang Designs on Etsy! Based in Denver, Colorado, the artist is giving 10% off her store before Monday, 11/30. BUT, she says that if you comment on this Instagram post, she’ll slide into your DMs with an even better discount code!

Know of another small business with a great sale? Shout them out in the comments!

10 Benefits of Virtual Music Festivals You Don’t Get At the Real Thing

For the past two months, the world has been finding new ways to try to combat boredom. While many of the things people are doing to keep themselves sane in the COVID era have been around for a while – Netflix, food delivery services, making sourdough bread – there is one activity that’s suddenly incredibly popular now that was not really a thing before the Coronavirus pandemic hit (or probably not a thing at all).

Virtual music festivals have been playing on YouTube, Twitch, and other video streaming sites almost every weekend since mid-March. I, like many other people who miss going to shows, have been tuning in to these with groups of friends on Zoom and screen sharing, so you can “dance with” your friends through the screen.

While virtual music festivals obviously pale in comparison to the real thing, there are a couple of things they have going for them that don’t apply to music festivals in real life.

The last “real life” music festival I went to, Primavera Sound in Barcelona in 2019

1. They’re usually free.

Whereas most popular music festivals can easily cost half your rent to attend, most of the virtual music festivals that happened in the past couple of months (Digital Mirage, Room Service, EDC) have featured many of the same artists you may have been hoping to see on a stage this year – and for 100% free.

2. Okay, so it’s not quite the same as being all sweaty in a crowd of thousands of people, but you can see some top DJs without spending a cent.

Seeing Diplo up close and personal through a screen is nothing like being a few rows away from the stage, vaguely wishing you had a bottle of water and wondering where half of your friend group went. But whether it’s from behind a screen or not, being able to see some of the biggest artists in the world play a set for completely free is pretty cool.

3. You get to see a different side of some of your favorite artists.

Most of the sets at virtual music festivals are streamed live from the artist’s house, which gives you a literal glimpse into their lives, and it’s kinda cool. In a lot of the sets I’ve seen, the artist who’s performing starts dancing with their cat or has their grandma sitting in the background. Wholesome AF.

4. When you have to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to wait in a super long line – you can just walk down the hall to your bathroom.

We’ve all been there. You’re at a festival, you’ve downed three overpriced mixed drinks, and your bladder is starting to remind you more and more every time you bounce to the music that you’re going to have to pay attention it to it pretty soon, but you know that relieving yourself entails pushing through the crowd and waiting in the line for the porta potty for 20+ minutes just to squat a foot over the toilet seat while your friend holds the door for you from the outside because the lock is broken, and then shake yourself dry because there’s no toilet paper. This experience does not seem worth leaving the dance floor for, so you don’t – until you need to pee so bad you can barely walk straight, making the 20+ minute long line even more unbearable than usual. 

With virtual festivals, you can skip all that, tell your friends on Zoom you’re going to the bathroom, go pee, and come back. No lines required. Also, there’s probably toilet paper.

5. …And the bathroom is most likely not a porta-potty.

‘Nuff said. 

Betcha don’t miss navigating through this to get to somewhere you can pee. Hardly Strictly, San Francisco, 2017


6. You can drink water or eat without waiting in line or spending money.

When you get tired from dancing around your room, instead of waiting in yet another line to spend $9 on a water bottle, you can just walk to the nearest sink in your house and pour yourself a glass of water. And if you’re hungry, provided that you have food in your house, you can make yourself a snack and return to the festival without standing in line or missing too much of the action. Hell, if you’re hungry but also don’t want to miss any part of the set, you can even bring the festival to the kitchen with you. Technology is wild.

7. If there are several virtual events going on at one time, you can tune into as many as you want!

Now that virtual festivals are popular, there’s a good chance that more than one virtual show will be happening in one evening. Typically, if Melissa Etheridge and Borgore were playing at a festival in the same day, you’d have to pick which festival you’d prefer to attend. Sure, a lot of things have happened in the past two months that I never thought I’d see, but I still don’t think those two headlining the same festival is ever going to happen. BUT! With a virtual concert, if there’s two very different concerts or festivals happening at the same time, you can just switch back and forth from one to the other by simply closing one screen and opening another. Boom.

Outside Lands 2018 in San Francisco. I had a change of clothes in my backpack – but with virtual festivals, no alternate backpack outfits are needed. PLUS you don’t have to worry about carrying a backpack around.

8. You can change your clothes if need be.

In real life, whatever you put on in the afternoon before you leave for the festival is what you’re stuck wearing the rest of the day. If you forgot your jacket and it suddenly gets freezing, you kind of just have to deal with it. But with virtual festivals, if you get too hot or too cold or you decide you really want to wear a tutu for no reason (or a cow onesie), presumably your clothes are in your room, so you can just change. As easy as that.

9. You can “attend” the festival with friends in different cities you never get to see concerts with.

However, if you create a Zoom call with your friends and share the screen, it’s almost like you’re all there together, with the added bonus of not having to worry where the hell Kelsey went. 

Friends in 4 U.S. states and 6 different cities having a happy hour “together” over Zoom 🙂

10. When you’re done, your bed is right there!

I’m not sure what’s worse, the toilet paper-less pee-pee dance in the porta potty or waiting half an hour in the cold for an overpriced ride home when the alcohol is wearing off and all you want is your bed, some water that isn’t $9 and maybe a slice of pizza. With virtual shows, all you have you do is close your laptop. No Uber required.

Upcoming virtual music festivals and concerts:

Digital Mirage– June 12-14

The record label Proximity debuted the first Digital Mirage festival the first weekend of April, and now they’re back for round 2! The lineup includes Kaskade, Chromeo, Netsky, and many more. The festival was originally planned for last weekend, but they decided to postpone a week as to not take any attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement. This weekend, viewers will have the opportunity to donate as they watch, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Equal Justice Initiative and Color of Change. RSVP for Digital Mirage here!

Rave Family Block Fest – July 9 – 12

300+ artists such as Diplo, Griz and Whethan will be playing on more than 30 virtual stages as part as the Rave Family Block Fest, a virtual festival presented by Rave Family in July. The best part? The festival is inside the game Minecraft. How sick is that?!

Not into electronic music and noticed that’s what most livestreams are? Check out this Billboard list of upcoming concerts, festivals and livestreams of a variety of genres.

The 5 People You’ll Meet in a Hostel

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know I’m all about hostels. I’ve worked for them, I write for them, and I always stay in them no matter where I’m traveling to. Regardless of where I am, although I always meet interesting people from all over the world, I also consistently meet the same same stereotypes of people in my hostel dorm. If you’re a hostel hopper like I am, you know what I’m talking about. No matter where you are, here are the six types of people you’re bound to have in your hostel room.

1. Nocturnal Neil

There’s always one. You won’t see Nocturnal Neil’s face during the day, but you will see the back of their head pressed against their pillow at 4 p.m., and hear them groan faintly when you come in the room to get your shower stuff and accidentally drop your shampoo with a thud on the hardwood floor. I basically never sleep when I’m traveling (and not very much in life in general), so I’m typically still awake when Neil comes stumbling in at 5 or 6 a.m., usually having just gotten back from the club myself. But then I also make myself wake up three hours later to make sure I see as much stuff as possible in whichever city I’m in, while Neil catches up on their sleep to make sure they have enough energy to go out the next night. Maybe Neil has the right idea.

However, maybe not, as Nocturnal Neil is also usually the person to pee on your head in the middle of the night. There’s nothing like waking up to what feels like rain falling on your forehead and then realizing it’s your drunk top bunkmate peeing off the side of the bed in the middle of the damn night. Raise your hand if this has happened to you.

2. Rustlin’ Ruthy

Rustlin’ Ruthy typically has the opposite sleeping habits of our pal Neil. Ruthy will be in bed before you’re even finished getting ready to go out, leaving you and your other hostelmates with the awkward task of sneaking into the dark room to grab your hairbrush and makeup bag to bring into the bathroom and then sneak back in to rummage through suitcase as quietly as possible using your phone light so you can see what you’re doing because you realized too late you grabbed the wrong skirt.

Ironically, Rustlin’ Ruthy will not provide you with the same courtesy. As soon as the sun comes up, or even slightly before, Ruthy will be up too, much to your (and Neil’s) chagrin. But unlike your quiet sneaking around at 9:45 p.m. the previous evening, Rustlin’ Ruthy will be loudly rustling through their suitcase, chucking stuff in the garbage can, banging their locker open, frequently even turning the light on or chattering to their companion without bothering to whisper. (Rustlin’ Ruthies sometimes come in pairs.)

Thankfully, Rustlin’ Ruthy always has a flight or a bus or another reason to leave the hostel with all of their belongings very early in the morning, so after they loudly clang out of the room and down the hall, you still have time to be grumpy for a few minutes but then fall back asleep for a few hours and still wake up at an O.K. time to go see cool stuff.

3. Antisocial Alice

Literally any time you walk into your room, Antisocial Alice will be there, always sitting in their bed, usually on their phone, and usually not talking to anyone. Alice basically won’t say a word unless you say something first, and even then, it will be minimal. Alice doesn’t make a mess, make any noise, have any issues, or get in anyone’s way, which is chill, but it’s also kind of like, why are you staying in a 12-bed hostel dorm and not your own hotel room?

4. Snoring Samuel

This one needs no explanation.

5. Instant Best Friend

Although most of the stereotypes I just discussed are negative, the Neils, Ruthies and Samuels of the hostel world pale in comparison to the most common person you’re likely to meet in a hostel: the Instant Best Friend. Hostels with common rooms and/or free activities for their guests make it extremely easy to make friends. I’ve made countless amazing friendships in hostels that started with asking a stranger in the common room what they were doing that night, and I still know them to this day.

Is there a hostel stereotype you’ve encountered that I forgot?! Lemme know in the comments!

I Missed my Train Stop and Accidentally Spent the Night in a French Town

I’ve always been hilariously accident-prone when I travel. I’ve missed flights, hopped on trains going the wrong direction, and once got so lost I walked myself into another city. My trip to France two months ago was no exception. 

I went to France to visit my two friends I never get to see, one of which didn’t know I was coming, so it was going to be a really cute surprise. If, of course, I managed to get there.

To go to my friends’ house, I had to fly into Paris and then take three trains. I found an amazing flight deal to Paris (shoutout to Norwegian Airlines!), showed up to the airport early, and managed to make all my connections with no drama.

I was sitting on Train #3, gazing out the window at the lush French countryside, two stops away from my destination, and starting to feel pretty proud of myself for traveling for fourteen hours so far with zero issues. Guess my travel shitshow days are over, I thought cockily to myself. (Can one think cockily? If so, that’s definitely what I was doing).  I’m literally two stops away. There’s literally no way I can f**k this up now!

Spoiler alert: there was.

View from out the window of the train 🌻

Since I was sitting there thinking cockily and everything, I cockily apparently also thought I could suddenly read French. My train ticket was entirely in French, and my uninformed interpretation of what it said was that I had a 20 minute layover in the second-to-last stop before going on to the final destination. Turns out what it actually said was that I had to get off the train I was on, change trains, wait for 20 minutes, and then get on another totally separate train that went to my final destination.

Well, I didn’t do that.

Two minutes after the train started moving again, I thought I might as well just pull up my Google Maps and make sure that I was going in the right direction still. Even though I knew that of course I was, since I was suddenly a seasoned travel who didn’t get lost and could read French and everything.

Except, the blue location dot on my map told a different story. It definitely looked like it was moving pretty far away from Thiviers. Like, in the opposite direction.

There was WiFi on the bus (and I also had my trusty OneSimCard so I would have data either way), so I quickly Googled how to ask “excuse me, does this train go to Thiviers?” in French.

I sheepishly showed the result to the guy sitting next to me, who took his headphones out, frowned and said “do you speak English?” 🤦🏻‍♀️

I said, “Yes, sorry, does this train go to Thiviers?”

“No,” he said, “you had to get off at the last stop.”

“Oh,” I said, processing this information. “Um, sorry. Do you know where we’re going now?”

“Brive-la-Gaillarde,” he said, “it’s the last stop of the night. Maybe you can get a train in the morning,” and put his headphones back in.

WELP.

I called my friend to explain what had happened. He said Brive-la-Gaillarde was 70 miles from where he lived, and that I would probably have to stay in Brive-la-Gaillarde for the night and take a train in the morning. He said he would research hotels for me and call me right back. That’s a good friend right there.

BUT THEN, right when we hung up, my phone screen went completely black. I’d been charging it, and it was at 80 percent, but all of a sudden, the screen just went black and it wouldn’t turn back on. So now I was headed to a random French town with no idea of where I was staying the night and no way to contact anyone once I got there. See what I mean by accident-prone?

The poor guy next to me saw me hitting my phone and unplugging it and plugging it back in, and took his headphones out again.

“Bad luck,” he noted.

“This always happens when I travel,” I said, frantically pushing the power button on my phone to no avail.

“Do you need to make a call?” he offered, motioning to his phone. I’d been talking to my friend on Facebook Messenger, so I didn’t know his number. I did have his mom’s phone number written down, but of course it was in a note in my phone. Which was, you know. Not turning on.

After ten or so minutes, my phone magically turned back on. The guy next to me, entirely headphone-less and invested in my drama at this point, cheered as I breathed a sigh of relief and audibly instructed my phone “don’t do that to me again!” 

My friend had messaged me and confirmed that I was indeed on the last train in or out of Brive-la-Gaillarde for the night. He also said he had found a hotel for me a 5 minute walk from the station, and I could pay with my bank card once I got there. I thanked him and apologized for being such a mess.

About 15 minutes later, we arrived at our destination. Not the destination I had intended, but a destination. I started laughing as I stepped off the bus. I would end up spending the night in the wrong town on accident.

Walking to my hotel with my trusty blue blue backpack as I watched the sun set pink and orange over the town, I started to think this wasn’t the worst thing. I got a funny story, a new city, and a pretty sunset. Plus, my last-minute hotel room was only $40.

Sunset in Brive-la-Gaillarde

When I got settled in, I bought a train ticket out of the town for 10:10 a.m. the next morning. My friend told me to get a ticket into a different station than before, because it was a more popular station with more trains coming in and out, and therefore less of a chance for me to f**k it up

OR SO WE THOUGHT.

I set an alarm for the morning with the note “YOU CAN’T MISS YOUR TRAIN!!!!” When it went off around 9 a.m., I chuckled as I turned it off. There was literally no way I’d miss this train, not after the s**itshow of the previous day. That was just not happening. Also, I don’t know if you know this, but I can speak French. Oui.

I left around 9:30 in search of breakfast before the train, as I hadn’t eaten in roughly 24 hours. I started leisurely walking while admiring the streets and the colorful array of rainbow umbrellas that decorated them. It really is a cute town. 10/10 a good place to get lost and spend the night.

See? Kinda fun to look at while wandering around lost

My hotel was a 5 minute walk from the train station, and I found a croissant place that was a 5 minute walk in the other direction, but 5 minutes there and 5 minutes back still put me at the train station like half an hour early. Right?

Sure, in theory. Except for one small detail.

When I stepped off the train in Brive the previous evening and looked up the directions to the hotel, Google Maps said my starting point was just “Brive-la-Gaillarde.” In an effort to retrace my steps, as to not get lost again, because that would be just ridiculous, I put my destination as “Brive-la-Gaillarde.” 

But wait, I swear I’ve seen these rainbow umbrellas before. And I’ve definitely passed this Subway sandwich shop like three times. Is…yep, this map is leading me in circles. And now it’s 9:50 a.m.

An older man and a woman walking by saw me frantically power walking with my large blue backpack on my back and a croissant in my hand and looked at me quizzically. “Excusez-moi,” I said. They stopped. I smiled and sheepishly mimicked a person driving a car for some reason, and then shrugged with my arms out as if to ask “Where?”

The guy looked at me as if, well, as if I was a lost American girl with a large blue backpack eating a croissant and playing bad charades. But the woman, by some miracle, got what I was saying. “La gare!” she exclaimed. Yes! That word had been on my ticket! Maybe it meant station!

C’est une distance,” she said, and held her hands up with her fingers splayed out like people normally do when they’re trying to say “ten.” Maybe I can’t speak French, but I understood that this meant it was a ways to go, like ten minutes. Challenge accepted.

Merci beaucoup!” I said, and ran off in the direction she pointed, typing “gare” into my Google Maps as I did so. “Gare de Brive” popped up, and it was a 13 minute walk. And also 9:55 a.m. I started running.

I got to the station at 10:12. Even though I know this sounds like my first rodeo, I promise it’s not, and I’ve been on enough trains throughout Europe to know that if it says the train is leaving at 10:10, the train is physically pulling out of the station at 10:10 exactly. 

I ran to the ticket booth for another round of charades, which luckily the attendant seemed to find hilarious. Through finger pointing and my sudden ability to definitely not speak French but understand a little of it, I was able to understand that yes, I had indeed missed my train, the next one was in three hours, and I could use the ticket I had bought for the 10:10 train, so I didn’t have to buy a new one!

I called my friend, told him the bad news, and apologized three thousand times. We laughed it off and he said I wasn’t allowed to leave the station. Fair enough.

After 48 hours of travel, and 24 hours later than I was supposed to get there, I finally got to my originally intended destination.

I spent the next four days with my two friends I never get to see, and my whole 48 travel mishap saga was worth it.

Me ft. Backpack


I Road Tripped Across the U.S. In My Banana Suit

This ridiculous post originally appeared on Slide Night. They post lots of great travel stories and photos about all kinds of trips, in banana suits and beyond. You should check them out.

Because of its many diverse states, cities, and plethora of unique roadside stops, road trips across the United States are popular with both tourists and locals alike. This summer, my childhood best friend Katie and I rented a van and took a five-day road trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, to our hometown of Santa Cruz, California. We camped in a new place every night, and stopped at many places along the way, including 5 national parks, one state park, and a couple of the aforementioned “unique roadside stops.”

Sounds pretty standard, right?

Here’s the thing: we did it in matching banana suits.

I bought my banana suit off of Amazon.com about a year ago, and instantly started bringing it on trips with me, because 1) life’s short and 2) it’s hilarious. About a month after I bought it, my banana suit came to Las Vegas with me for the first time, and then Miami, and then New Orleans, which is where Katie saw it and realized she needed one too.

If you want inspo for your own U.S road trip, or if you really just want to see pictures of me and Katie in matching banana suits at the Grand Canyon, keep reading.

Our trip started with a night out in Vegas.

We spent the next morning confusing people on the Las Vegas Strip with our matching banana suits and asking bewildered vacationers to take our picture in front of some quintessential “Vegas” landmarks.

Pro tip: if you visit Vegas in a banana suit, stay out of the casinos. My banana suit and I got kicked out of a Vegas casino for the second time in my life that day. I guess the security guards didn’t find me very a-peel-ing.

And yes, I did purchase those yellow heels just to match the banana suit. Go big or go home, as the kids say.

After getting escorted out of the casino, we packed up our van, whom we had named Vanna White, and headed to somewhere I’d always wanted to see:

The Seven Magic Mountains!

Located about a 20 minute drive from the Strip, the Seven Magic Mountains are seven (duh) stacks of neon-colored boulders that stretch 30 feet high into the sky. Created by mixed media artist Ugo Rondinone, the Seven Magic Mountains have been a colorful backdrop for many an Instagram photo since their inception in 2016, but I’m willing to bet we’re the first pair of bananas who have ever visited.

Oh yeah, we’re doing our “banana dance” in that picture, by the way. Obviously.

After the Seven Magic Mountains, we were off to Utah!

Our plan had been to camp in Zion National Park for the evening, but when we got there, we found that all the spots were booked. Instead, we found a free BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground in Virgin, Utah, about a 20 minute drive from the park.

Note for those who are interested in visiting: for each of the national parks we visited, each park costs $35 per private vehicle. Once you pay, you’ll get a pass, which is valid for ten days as long as you keep your receipt for proof of purchase. However, if you buy a yearlong pass, it’s $80, so if you plan to go to three national parks in a year, it’s worth it. Katie and I split the price of year long pass for this trip, so we each paid $40 total.

After spending the night at the free campsite in Utah, we explored Zion!

After a few hours at Zion, we hopped back in the van and drove the hour and 20 minutes to Bryce Canyon. Yes – we did the whole drive in our banana suits. There’s nothing quite like stopping for gas in rural Utah in banana suits and looking at everyone’s faces as you walk into the gas station. I highly recommend it as a life experience. It’s a “bunch” of fun.

After a hot drive, we arrived at Bryce Canyon!

A random dad in the parking lot was getting a kick out of helping us think of inventive banana poses to do with the Bryce Canyon sign. One of the most fun things about running around in costume in public is when you meet strangers who are down to get involved with your shenanigans. Banana-gans? Sorry. I’ll show myself out.

If you’re ever in Utah, Bryce Canyon is not to be missed, banana suit or not. It’s made up of unique rock formations called hoo-doos. I promise I am not making that word up. We didn’t get a good banana suit picture of both of us here, but I’m dropping a Bryce Canyon pic below anyway, because it is just that beautiful.

After Bryce Canyon, we began the two and a half hour drive to Page, Arizona to see another landmark we had always wanted to see. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

On our way to Page, we spontaneously decided to visit Coral Pink Sands State Park in Kanab, Utah.

The park costs $8 per vehicle to enter, and is made up of sprawling dunes of, as the name suggests, pink sand. Also, if you look really closely, you might be able to see a banana at the top of that sand dune.

After Coral Sands, we made it to Arizona!

We wanted to get a picture of both of us with the Arizona state sign, so we propped my phone up on Vanna’s dashboard to take photos, wave hello to perplexed truckers driving by, and (banana) split our sides laughing.

Pardon the smudges. Vanna had gotten a little dusty during our adventure.

Another pro tip: did you know that many Walmart stores let RVs and other large vehicles park overnight for free in their parking lot? Not all Walmarts do, but we found one in Page, Arizona that does. That’s how I found myself cooking ramen over a camping stove in a Walmart parking lot at 10 p.m. with my childhood best friend. The banana suits stayed in the van.

At 5 a.m., we woke up early to beat the heat and other tourists to:

Horseshoe Bend!

Not pictured: us doing the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” dance on the top. We even played the song and everything. #dedication

After Horseshoe Bend, we drove the hour and 45 minutes to yet ANOTHER place I’d always wanted to go:

The Grand Canyon!

Also not pictured: the couple having a nice moment about 10 feet away from us. Until two girls in banana suits showed up. Whoops. My bad.

We spent another night in Arizona before heading to California. The next morning, we explored Joshua Tree National Park.

We blended right in with the resident cacti. Well, maybe not.

After Joshua Tree, we spontaneously spent the night at Sequoia National Park. At $20, it was the most expensive camping spot of our trip by far, but this view made it worth it.

The next morning, we donned our banana suits again and hopped back in Vanna to drive the four hours back to our hometown.

Taking a five-day camping trip across four states in banana suits is definitely one of the more interesting things Katie and I have done together. What would have been REALLY crazy is if we explored The Bahamas in banana suits.

Oh wait – we did that too. Stay tuned.

Wanna do this too? Get your own banana suit here!

I Got Tattooed in Tirana and Lived to Tell the Tale

When I told people I was going to Albania this past summer, they did two things.

  1. told me I was brave
  2. asked if I’ve seen the movie “Taken.”

The third time someone said this, I asked her why people kept asking me that, and she said that in one of the “Taken” movies, the girl who gets “taken” is brought to Albania by her kidnappers.

This association makes about as much sense as if someone were to ask me, “You live in San Francisco?! Have you ever had an alien take over your body?!”

Maybe someday, people will stop writing off entire countries based on the arbitrary locations Hollywood picks for its horror films. However, seeing as just this week, people on Twitter have been swearing off visiting my hometown of Santa Cruz because the psychological thriller “Us” is set there, I feel like that’s about as likely as, y’know. Getting invaded by extraterrestrials.

When I was born, my parents planted a tree in my honor. If that isn’t the most California thing you’ve ever heard, I’m not sure what is. Maybe if they had been eating burritos and talking about recycling as they were doing it.

For a few years, I had wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate my tree, so that no matter where I am in the world, I can be reminded about home and my roots. Pun very much intended.

Because $1 USD is worth 125 Albanian LEK, I figured that Albania would be a great place to get an affordable tattoo. The guy who checked me and my friend into our hostel in Tirana was covered in tattoos, so I thought he might know where to get one. He said his friend was a tattoo artist, and he would ask if he had an opening later that day and let me know.

Delicious, refreshing, and less than $1.

That night, I was laying around drinking a (delicious) Albanian beer and playing a wrestling video game with my friend (badly). Suddenly, the reception guy ran up to me and said his tattoo artist friend could squeeze me in before he stopped tattooing people for the night, if I left that very second.

He said he didn’t know the name of the place or how to explain how to get there (excellent), but he dropped a pin on my map of a bar “near the place” and said that he would tell the artist that a “blue dress lady is waiting for him.”

(As you can probably glean from context clues, I was wearing a blue dress.)

I didn’t have an international SIM card, so I could only use my phone when I was connected to WiFi. He showed me the artist’s Instagram and said there would be WiFi at the bar so I could message the artist to tell him I’d arrived.

Anyone who associates horror movies with cities would probably not be caught dead getting a tattoo from someone they don’t know at an undisclosed location in Eastern Europe.

I, however, finished my beer, messaged the artist on Instagram to tell him I was on my way, and went off to the bar that was pinned on my map. I don’t watch movies much.

I did take my (male) travel buddy with me. I try to always have a friend in tow when I’m walking around at night in any city I haven’t been to. “Always bring a friend with you when you decide to get a tattoo from a random person off of Instagram in a country you’re not familiar with,” as the old adage goes.

When we got to the bar, 45 minutes later, we discovered that there was no WiFi after all, so I couldn’t tell the artist I arrived. I opened my Instagram to remind myself what his name was…and saw that my message hadn’t even sent. Of course.

His Instagram was entirely pictures of tattoos, so I had no idea what he looked like. I decided to just see if anyone in the nearby vicinity looked like they could conceivably be a tattoo artist. Most of the people at the bar were groups of older women smoking cigarettes, so that was unlikely, but hey, I didn’t want to be presumptuous.

I slowly walked around the bar, making uncomfortably long amounts of eye contact with anyone who looked up at me. I also made sure to swish my blue dress emphatically in their general direction, just in case they happened to be looking for someone who was wearing one.

Failing that, my friend and I went inside the mall next to the bar to see if they had WiFi there. When we didn’t find any, I decided to go back outside for 15 more minutes and wait for the artist to find me, and that if he didn’t, I just wasn’t meant to get a tattoo in Albania.

About five minutes before the 15 minutes were up, a youngish guy ran up to me, said something, and then started walking away. I assumed this was the tattoo artist, so we followed him.

Awesome art installation in Tirana

As we crossed the street to go into an apartment building, I decided that it was probably wise to double check that the man who had just approached me and was now apparently leading me into an apartment was indeed the tattoo artist in question. I wasn’t entirely sure how to do this, since I didn’t know if he spoke English. However, I remembered the name on the Instagram account, so I had an idea.

I cleared my throat to get his attention. When he looked at me, I asked his name, and it matched the name on the Instagram account! Yay!

Armed with the knowledge that this particular stranger was in fact the one that was supposed to put art on my body, my friend and I followed him into the apartment building.

Once inside, it became immediately clear from the tattoo equipment and pictures of tattoo designs all over the walls that this was indeed a legit tattoo studio.

About an hour later, I was the proud owner of a tree tattoo. For the grand whopping total of $28 United States dollars. That’s about six times cheaper than any of the tattoos I got in the U.S., and look how good it looks!

Not only did I successfully get an affordable tattoo, but the rest of my trip in Tirana was awesome. Everyone I met was friendly and kind, the weather was warm, and the city was filled with amazing art installations. Also, everything was extremely affordable, and I don’t just mean their tattoos. Bottles of beer from the supermarket cost around 80 cents USD, and I had a sandwich and a beer for lunch at a restaurant one day for the total equivalent of $2.50! Also, our hostel had not one but four kittens

If you find yourself being afraid to travel somewhere because of something you saw in a movie, remember this story. Just like with anywhere in the world, trust your instincts, bring a buddy, and always make sure that the name of the stranger you’re about to get a tattoo from matches the name on the artist’s Instagram account. As the old adage goes.

I Survived The Fire Noodle Challenge – In My Cow Onesie

If you’ve been on YouTube at all in the past five years, you’re probably aware of the “Fire Noodle Challenge.” If you’ve somehow missed this, “fire noodle” refers a brand of Korean ramen that’s so spicy people consider eating it a “challenge,” and have therefore been doing it, on camera, because the Internet.

Since the very first Fire Noodle Challenge video graced the Internet in 2014, many brave vloggers, bloggers, and bored people with web cams have attempted it. This has often resulted in those people bending over the toilet in some fashion.

I know what you’re thinking – “who in their right mind would subject themselves to that?”

Definitely not me. And definitely not me in my cow onesie.

My friend Chance and I like to attempt various challenges and make videos about them. One Sunday, we decided to give this one a shot. In the cow onesie. Because of course.

So what makes the noodles so spicy? Spice level is measured in Scoville units, which are used to compare the chili pepper in question with pure capsaicin. The type of ramen most people use for this challenge is Samyang’s Spicy Noodles, also known as Buldak Bokkeummyeon. They rank at 4,404 Scoville heat units, which already make them the third-spiciest type of ramen in the whole world, according to The Ramen Rater’s 2018 list of the world’s spiciest instant noodles.

However, because we are nuts, Chance and I decided to do the challenge with Samyang’s 2x Spicy Noodles, or Haek Buldak Bokkeummyeon.

As the name suggests, this type of ramen is two times spicier than the Buldak Bokkeummyeon. Go figure. That makes it a whopping 8,808 Scoville heat units. And that makes it the second-spiciest ramen on the face of the planet.

Six beers, three hours and a 20 minute drunken walk to the nearest Asian market later, Chance and I attempted our own version of the noodle challenge.

Spoiler alert: it’s a challenge for a reason. My spice tolerance is through the roof, and I was still fanning myself and swearing profusely. However, we both finished our entire bowls in under 15 minutes, and no toilets were visited in the process. This is probably owed to a few tricks we had up our sleeves.

The video is below, but before you watch it, read on to learn the top six things you can do to help you pull off your own fire noodle challenge successfully – and as painlessly as possible.

 

1. Get you some fire noodles (duh)

The spicy noodles in question are manufactured by the Korean company Samyang. They’re not in many mainstream grocery stores, but can be purchased in most Korean markets, or on Amazon.

Or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, try the 2x spicy kind, like we did. 

2. Pregame with other, less spicy food

Eating something first will cause you to be more likely to be able to stomach the spice, and therefore less likely to end up at the toilet later.

3. Put an egg on it

Stirring an egg into your cooked noodles will help balance out the spice and make them easier to swallow.

4. Eat quickly

Usually, it’s recommended that you eat slowly so you can really taste your food and savor the flavors. In this case, savoring the flavors won’t be doing yourself any favors. Taking your time and chewing slowly will only give you time to think about the fact that you are, you know, ingesting 8,808 heat units, so make sure you slurp it down as fast as you can.

5. Save water, drink beer

From my years of ordering the spiciest item on the menu, and dumping hot sauce on most of my food (even breakfast), I know that water usually spreads the spice out. This intensifies it and makes it harder to stomach.

I read online ahead of time that drinking milk helps neutralize the flavor. However, I found that it spreads the spice around too. Instead, we drank beer, and this seemed to help, because it numbs your taste buds slightly.

6. Eat bread between bites

Taking small bites of bread throughout the challenge can help cleanse your pallet. 

Video time! If you don’t care about watching us trek to the store and buying the noodles, skip to 5:25 to avoid the intro and just watch us sweat. Yes, our intro is really that long. We’re kind of extra.

Have you done the Fire Noodle Challenge? Do you have any tips and tricks I missed? Let me know in the comments! ⬇️

Seven Years in San Francisco: A Love Letter

Seven years ago, I had just signed the lease to my first San Francisco apartment, an overpriced two bedroom in Parkmerced with three strangers from Craigslist whom I had met roughly four minutes prior. Since then, I’ve gone through two additional apartments and a grand total of 35 roommates – some of them intentional, some of them not. (For example, if we count the feral cat my housemate found in Oakland that came to live under my bed in the aforementioned Parkmerced apartment and gave us all fleas, that’s 36.)

I moved to San Francisco for school in August 2011 when I was 19. My friends and I used to spend long afternoons at Dolores Park that turned into evenings wandering the Mission drinking 40s, surrounded by other people doing the same. One of my friends and I attended a poetry slam outside the 16th Street BART station every Thursday night. (The 16th Street BART station has never exactly been somewhere a parent would necessarily want their 19-year-old daughter hanging out after dark, but it used to be slightly less harrowing.)

Dolores Park

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m super into reggaeton. Consequently, one of the first bars I stepped foot inside was Esta Noche, a Latino gay bar that served cheap beer, blasted Daddy Yankee and was full of dancing men in short shorts.

Now, seven years later, while the 16th St. BART station somehow got more terrifying, the rest of the Mission has changed drastically. I’m using the Mission as an example since it’s the neighborhood I’ve always hung out in the most. It’s now heavily patroned by all the Ashleys and Seans who moved to the South Bay from an M state to work for their buddy’s startup in “San Fran,” and like to hit the bars after work before going back home on Caltrain. Esta Noche closed down in 2015 and was replaced by a bar which ditched the Daddy Yankee in favor of Maroon 5, serves $12 cocktails and gives off the general vibe that they would quickly chase out any dancing men in short shorts as to not scare Ashley all the way back to Palo Alto.

Sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge

The large amount of gentrification that my city has seen in the last 7 years has caused many former San Francisco residents to move to Oakland, move to Portland, move to anywhere that still celebrates freedom of expression and sense of self more than a newly built and ever-expanding Salesforce empire.

Obviously, the rapidly climbing rent prices are also a large factor in people relocating. The other day someone told me their SF-dwelling friend is paying $1000 a month to rent out a space under a damn stairwell, Harry Potter-style, which is literally twice the amount my friend in Alabama pays for her own two bedroom apartment. But then, of course, the downside of that is she has to live in Alabama.

Despite the gentrification and increasing rent prices, I’m still here. Well, I briefly left to have an affair with a Spanish temptress named Barcelona, but I came back. And I’m still here because the San Francisco I love is still here, somewhere.

You don’t have to live in this newish, corporate version of San Francisco if you don’t want to. I’m still frequenting all the same dive bars I did in 2012. Some of the same colorful characters who graced our streets and street fairs in 2011 (and definitely long before I was around) are still here baffling tourists. There are still some places you can get an excellent burrito for under $5. I still refuse to go to the Marina.

Although it might not seem like it, this is my love letter to my city, albeit confused and bittersweet. (As most real love stories are.)

A sleepless Bay Bridge sunrise

This is my ode to my insomniac 19-year-old-self watching the sun rise behind the Bay Bridge at the Embarcadero, before the LED light sculpture that shoots up and down the bridge’s cables had made their first appearance.

This is my tribute to attending the Folsom Street Fair every year since my third week here, even when I was too young to know what I was looking at.

This is my commemoration of having too weird of a time at How Weird, of all the dubious things I’ve ever seen and heard on MUNI that used to be shocking but now don’t even make me bat an eye, of the guy slinging pizza at Dolores who shouts “pepperoni COMBO cheese!” to announce his wares.

This is to show my gratitude for how easy it is to make fast friends with random people in the park, on MUNI, at Hardly Strictly.

This is to show my gratitude for the fact that I live in a city that even has a free music festival every year.

This is to show my gratitude for all the friends I’ve made that I still know, and for all the people I’m glad I don’t but who have given me some damn good stories.

I’m even grateful for the long-bearded gentleman on Sutter St. vaguely shouting at “all you Noe Valley sons of bitches” at 9 a.m., because he helps give this city the color that keeps me here.

Sunset at Ocean Beach

Seven years isn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of things. If I’m already seeing changes in this city in the past seven years, I know that people who have been here for 10 years, or 30 years, or their entire lives have seen way more changes than I have. I don’t know how she’s going to change in the future, or for how much longer I’m going to call her my home base. I sort of feel like we’re not going to make it another year.

But then again, I said that last year.

*As always, all photos are my own.

7 Pictures That Show That Mostar, Bosnia is Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

The historic city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is so beautiful that it doesn’t look real. Check out seven of the best pictures I took when I was there and you’ll see what I mean.

1. This shot of the Neretva River 

See that bridge? That’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge.” It was built in the 15th century under the Ottoman Empire and destroyed in the Bosnian Wars in the early 1990s, but rebuilt in 2004. I couldn’t believe the color of the water in the river.

2. This picture of Stari Most that literally looks like a painting 

Fun fact, when I was there, there was a guy (not pictured) sitting on top of the bridge in tiny swimsuit bottoms and holding a sign that said he would jump for €30. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if anyone took him up on that.

3. This gorgeous view I casually saw while walking from my hostel to the supermarket to pick up dinner 


The color of the water gets me every time. I’ll shut up about it, but LOOK at that.

4. This idyllic babbling brook 

Talk about dinner with a view.

5. Kravice Waterfalls

This was easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And I’ve been around. 

Although not located in Mostar, these waterfalls are in Studenci, which is roughly a 50 minute drive from Mostar.

Our hostel offered a day-long tour all around Mostar and surrounding areas that cost €30 and took you to a bunch of different places, including the waterfalls. Like always, I am on a super budget, as were the two other people I was traveling with. Instead of doing the tour, we rented a car from Enterprise for the day for a grand total of €16 (without insurance). We met two girls in our hostel room who also wanted to see the waterfalls, so we split the price five ways and spent a few hours swimming and exploring the caves. If you do this, just make sure the person driving has driven an automatic before and is also used to driving on the right side of the road so you don’t spend the journey with one eye open while gripping the bar above the window. Speaking from experience.

The waterfalls cost 4 km, or roughly €2, to enter. They’re open between 7 in the morning and 10 at night. If you only have a day or two in Mostar like I did, definitely check them out.

6. Just in case you weren’t convinced, this other picture of Kravice Waterfalls 

There were even dragonflies flitting around while I took this. Seriously magical.

7. This dreamlike view

 

Even the view out of the bus window on the way out was beautiful. Check out those clouds. 💫 

I Missed My First Flight

After years of almost missing almost every flight I’ve ever taken, and once almost not being allowed to board the plane due to a visa issue, I had my biggest flight-related shitshow to date: I missed an international flight.

I live in San Francisco, CA, and I had planned to meet my friend in Split, Croatia on June 1. I found a one-way flight from San Francisco to Split on May 31 that would get me to Split on June 1 (because of the time change), and cost $392 – but would have two stopovers and take a total of 30 hours.

I knew that Norwegian has really cheap flights from Oakland, CA to London. Oakland is near to San Francisco, so I thought I was being SO clever by buying a May 31 $250 flight to London, and then buying a separate $200 flight from London to Split four hours after I landed, meaning $450 total. This would make my total travel time 16 hours instead of 30 hours, for only 58 dollars more. Smart, right?

WELL, it would have been, EXCEPT, the Warriors (basketball team from Oakland) had their big playoff game on May 31. The stadium is right next to the Oakland airport, so this caused an insane traffic jam. I didn’t know about any of this, because I don’t follow sports, and the fact that a basketball game might affect my flight isn’t something that even occurred to me. (Except from now on, of course, I’ll always check to see if there’s a nearby game on the same day I’m traveling.)

It also happened to be the one day that my friend who lives in Guam (whom I see once every two years or so) was in San Francisco. In typical me fashion, I hadn’t really finished packing, so my friend came over to help me shove all my clothes in my backpack and see me off. I was wearing my cow onesie, of course. Best plane attire.

My flight was at 6:30, and the airport is about an hour and a half from my neighborhood on the metro, but 40 minutes in a car. By the time my friend and I had finished shoving everything in my backpack, it was 3:30, so I decided to call a Lyft just to be safe. Oh, the irony.

What should have taken 40 minutes took TWO HOURS AND 50 MINUTES. When I saw I still had half an hour left until arrival time, and we were still stuck in insane traffic, I called Norwegian to ask when the next flight was, and was met with a recording announcing the wait time was “longer than usual.” I was on hold until I got to the airport, so I hung up.

I got to the Oakland Airport at 6:20, rushed to the kiosk, slid my passport under the scanner and frantically entered all the information it asked for. It said my flight number and reservation number were invalid, and it didn’t recognize my last name. I rushed to the closest airport official to ask for help, but he said “they don’t train us to use these machines, I’m just a TSA agent.” Fair enough. The line for the Norwegian check-in counter was almost out the door, so I ran up to the front and stood on the side while the agent helped the customer standing there, and then quickly explained my situation before it was the next customer’s turn. She said they couldn’t help me, and that check-in closed at 6, and the only thing I could do was call Norwegian and have them rebook me. Picture a girl in a cow onesie with a large blue backpack frantically bouncing around the airport doing all this, because that’s what was happening.

I went back to the kiosks and called Norwegian again, and decided to wait in line while I did so, just in case they would rebook me now that I had officially missed my flight. I got to the front of the line before Norwegian picked up, and they were vaguely apologetic but said that only the people over the phone could help me.

About five minutes later, after being on hold for 34 minutes, Norwegian picked up but said that because it was more than 30 minutes after my scheduled flight takeoff time, they couldn’t rebook or refund me and I had to buy a whole new flight. 

So, instead of cleverly creating my own layover and saving myself money and travel time, I was now missing two flights.

My friend Elena happened to text me right then to wish me a safe flight, and I told her what happened, so she came and picked me up, took me to her house and calmed me down while simultaneously feeding me a burrito. 

After calling Norwegian to try to get a partial refund since they put me on hold for so long, they reluctantly refunded me a whopping €23. Woo-hoo.

I ended up having a buy a whole new flight for the next day, June 1, which was not cheap, but it did have a sixteen hour layover in Barcelona. If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you know Barcelona is my favorite city. I couldn’t sleep on the way there, since I was sandwiched between two dudes who were fully utilizing both their leg space and communal arm rests. 

After a brief visit to BCN, a quick wave to some of my old stomping grounds and refueling with some ice cream and sangria, I headed to the Barcelona airport in the wee hours of the morning to finally get on a damn plane to Croatia. I hadn’t slept in 35 hours and hadn’t showered in about 39, but at 8:30 a.m. on June 3, I made it!


I’ve now spent a week running around Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro and having a great time. Well, I mean, it’s me, so I have a mysterious rash on both knees and have somehow managed to lose my hairbrush and break my phone charger, but I’m still having a great time. I’ll tell y’all about it shortly. Watch this space.

Moral of the story: plan to get to the airport five hours ahead of time for international flights, because you never know, and get you a friend like Elena who will pick you up and feed you a burrito in stressful situations.