An Open Letter To Everyone Who’s Afraid to Travel Alone

Dear Individual Who’s Afraid To Travel Alone,

Hey! How are you? Your hair looks great today, has anyone told you that yet?

So! You want to travel. You’re in your final semester of high school and planning to go to college, but don’t feel mentally prepared to start yet. Or, you’re about to finish college, and you don’t quite feel ready to be a real adult with a real job. Or, you recently got out of a six-year relationship and want to be somewhere else for a while. Or, nothing dramatic happened, but you’ve simply never been out of your home country and you just want to see what else is out there.

You have an O.K. amount of money in your bank account and an idea of where you want to go, but you don’t know anyone with whom you can imagine traveling, so obviously, that’s not happening, because you clearly can’t go alone. Right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

And no, this isn’t going to be one of those “if you can dream it you can do it” blog posts, don’t worry. I’m aware that the Internet is filled with cute little Pinterest pictures of supermodel-looking girls sitting on a mountain at that place in Turkey with all the hot air balloons–if you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you know what I’m talking about–or gazing out on some landscape involving a waterfall accompanied by big, bold text about how to travel alone is to know yourself or how the world is your oyster or something to that effect.

Most of your “traveling alone” selfies will look like this–backpack, sweat, no makeup. But yo, the park behind me is pretty. (Parque El Retiro, Madrid, June 2016)

Most of what I’ve read online about traveling alone (especially for women, but this post is for everyone) either says that:

a) you’ll have the most amazing time and amazing Instagram pictures to go along with it

OR

b) it’s super dangerous and scary and you’ll be alone and sad and scared.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s both. You’ll most likely have an amazing time, and you’ll also most likely be sad and scared sometimes. The thing is, traveling alone is like everything else in life. Nothing else is either this thing or that thing, so why would this be an exception?

Even though you’ll have scary and sad and maybe even dangerous moments, what I want to make sure you take away from this is that, at least for me, it was 100 percent worth it.

Before you decide if it’s worth it for you or not, because everyone’s different, let’s rewind back six years for a second so I can tell you my story.

The year is 2011, I’m four months into 19 years old, and eight months past finishing an exhausting, intensive four years of high school, during which I struggled to pass every math- or science-related class I took, drowned daily in a pile of homework, barely slept, and almost never raised my hand. I had plenty of friends, and had no trouble making new ones one-on-one or in small groups, but public speaking was the scariest thing in the world to me. I was too anxious to even show up to a friend’s birthday party by myself.

I had known since the beginning of my last year of high school that I needed a break before starting college, so I applied to a bunch of colleges with the plan to defer for a year once I got accepted, but I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to do with my extra year.

I ended up staying home in Santa Cruz, California to work two jobs while all my friends went to colleges all over the country. I really wanted to go somewhere to get better at my Spanish–I had taken it in school for the better part of 13 years, so I could speak pretty decent textbook Spanish (“where is the bathroom in the library? The pen of my uncle is on the green table”), but I had always wanted to be fluent.

My stepdad had gone to Guatemala years before to take Spanish classes, and said it was one of the cheapest countries to do that in, but all the programs I found online wanted you to pay an arm and a leg to only volunteer for two or three weeks. And, I was afraid to go by myself.

One night, my stepdad’s friend came over for dinner and said he knew of a volunteer program in Guatemala called Common Hope, that didn’t make you pay to volunteer and allowed you to do so for 1-6 weeks if you met certain requirements. He also said that plenty of people went there on their own to volunteer, so that once I was there, I wouldn’t be completely alone. I applied for the program, and got accepted to work in their daycare unit. I also applied for (and got accepted to) a language school, which also set me up with a host family.

So, after two more months of working in Santa Cruz, I found myself on an airplane on February 6, 2011, heading to a foreign country by myself for the first time ever. I’d been on two family vacations to Mexico when I was younger, but aside from that, I’d never left the U.S., and definitely not by myself.

Fountain at Parque Central from my first day in Antigua

I arrived at my host family’s house at nighttime and in a daze and immediately fell asleep. The next morning I woke up super early, ate breakfast with my host family, and stumbled through Spanish small talk.

Check out this excerpt I found from the blogspot.com blog I kept while I was gone to prove to my friends and family that I was alive–it perfectly sums up the minor breakdown I had while trying to unpack after breakfast that day:

after breakfast i kinda freaked out…everyone was at school or work and i had this moment like, what the hell am i doing, im all alone, im bad at reading maps and also directions, i dont have a working phone, i don’t speak fluent spanish, GOD I AM SO DUMB WHY AM I DOING THIS. but then i was like yo broski, this is what you’ve wanted to do all year. this is what they call “diving in headfirst,” and you’re here now, so put your big girl panties on and just dive. (yeah i talk to myself and yeah i call myself broski when i do it.)
so i dove!
and i got lost!
but im alive, hi.
and it was fun!

Once I pulled myself together, I spent a confusing but pleasant morning walking through the town’s cobblestone streets and stopping to look at every interesting statue, garden, or storefront.

From my blog post exactly six years ago

I’m not going to lie–my three months in Guatemala started out rough. Over the first few weeks, I dealt with getting ripped off, first while buying a phone to use while I was there and then while buying credit for my phone (multiple times), I fell ill to the point of being unable to eat or stand, and once I ended up on the wrong bus going to the wrong city with no map or phone credit.

When little emergencies happen in the comfort of your home country when your family is right there, they’re easier to deal with. When they happen to you when you’re completely on your own thousands of miles away, you have to deal with them yourself right then and there. And doing that made me way, way stronger.

After a month or so of being in Guatemala on my own, even though I had the best host family ever and a few housemates, I got pretty lonely. Everyone was doing their own thing, and I basically did the same activities every day–volunteer job, language classes–and read a lot alone in my room.

Two months in, my (incredible) Spanish teacher told me that there was another girl around my age from California at the same school who took Spanish classes in the morning (mine were in the afternoon), so one day I went to school a little early, and looked for a girl about my age.

I saw some girl reading by herself in the corner, so I walked up to her and said, “Hey! This is super random, but I’m from California, and I’m here by myself. My teacher told me there was another girl alone here from California, and that’s you, right?”

She said yes, and I asked if she wanted to hang out sometime, since we were from the same place and by ourselves, and she said okay.

24 hours later we were dancing at a club together making plans to climb Volcán Pacaya (one of the many volcanoes in Guatemala) the next morning.

The following morning, as I was ascending an active volcano with a girl I had met 48 hours earlier, she told me I had intimidated her when I first came up to her because I seemed so confident. She said she would have never just walked up to a random girl and asked if she wanted to hang out, and I realized that two months earlier, I wouldn’t have either.

Volcano climbin’

The chick who once had been afraid to go to a birthday party by herself and didn’t talk between 7th and 12th grades was now going up to people she didn’t know, asking them to hang out, and climbing volcanoes with them two days later. Whoda thunk!

The month that followed was my last one in Guatemala, and by far the best. While climbing the volcano, I met a bunch of people from all over the world, and for the next week, we all met at the same spot every night to hang out, play cards, drink wine and go to bars.

In my last two weeks in the country, I had my first experience staying in a hostel–and loved it (at Lake Atítlan), I rode horses at sunset on the most beautiful beach I’d ever been to (Monterrico), I went on a candle-lit cave tour despite the reviews I read online saying it was unsafe, and it ended up being amazing (at the Lanquin Caves), and I visited the beautiful, naturally turquoise pools of Semuc Champey–all with people I had just met.

At the Lanquin Caves – the only light we had was from the melting candles we were holding!

 

Hiking through the forests of Semuc Champey to get to the pools. It was too hot for clothes, so hiking boots and bikinis was the obvious choice.

I arrived back in California on May 5, 2011, a much, much more confident person. That confidence got me through five years of college, that confidence got me my bachelor’s degree in journalism, and that confidence got me to and from 13 more countries since then.

Since that first morning in Guatemala, arriving in a new country has always been exciting, and not scary, because I know I can do it–because I’ve done it before.

Traveling alone gave me confidence that I don’t think I could have gotten from any other experience. There’s nothing quite like showing up to a new country completely alone and having to learn how to navigate the city you’re in by yourself (especially if you’re directionally challenged like I am), getting sick, dealing with language barriers, etc. etc. etc.

Also, it’s waaay scarier thinking about traveling alone than it is once you’re there doing it.

If you wanna go, work work work, save up money for a plane ticket, put ya big girl panties on, and just dive.

Love,

Jessica

P.S. Here are some resources you can use to find people with whom to meet up and do things with once you’re there:

  1. Gapyear.com discussion board – membership to the site is free
  2. Tourlina – If you identify as a woman, this app helps you find other female travel companions (and no, I don’t work for them, I just think it’s a great idea)
  3. Backpackr – This app helps anyone find travel buddies of any gender

TL;DR: Traveling alone can be scary but also so worth it. 

Semuc Champey

Women Writers to Watch in 2017

Everyone and their mother has a travel blog these days, or at least an Instagram account packed with envy-inducing travel photos a-plenty.

With all the travel bloggers/influencers out there, it might be hard to pick which ones to keep up with and which ones to ignore.

Here are some of my favorite female travel bloggers and their online presences that are definitely worth checking out.

From www.blondeseashell.com

1. Nadine Rohner

Originally from Switzerland and now living and writing in Bali, Indonesia, Nadine Rohner covers all things Bali on her blog, Blonde Seashell: where to stay, where to eat, and everything else you might want to know about one of the most-Instagrammed tropical paradises.

Originally, Nadine said, her blog was just a way to keep in touch with her friends while she traveled, and was more about her personal traveling experiences instead of full of travel advice, as it is now.

Nadine said that several months ago, she decided to think of her blog as more of a business instead.

“I started writing about what to do and see instead of only writing about my personal daily life,” Nadine said.

Talk about an an envy-inducing IG account–Nadine’s Instagram is full of palm trees, tropical beaches, and the occasional pineapple that make you want to book a plane ticket to Bali ASAP.

Nadine said the #1 place she would love to travel to is the Maldives, the luxurious chain of tropical islands in the Indian Ocean.


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2. Michelle Rick

Speaking of Bali, I featured Michelle on my blog in October when I posted her “Basic Bitch’s Guide to Bali.”

Michelle is currently based in California. On traveling, Michelle says, “The hardest part is going. You never really know what to expect, but that’s part of the fun!”

Michelle’s website also features a blog, full of advice regarding books, films, travel, and life in general.

“There are so many times I was nervous to board a plane to a place I’d never been, but it always turned out great,” Michelle said. “Not perfect, since there’s no such thing in travel, but great.”

High up on Michelle’s travel bucket list is Dublin, Ireland.

“When in doubt, just book the ticket and let life do the rest,” she says.

You can follow Michelle on Instagram here.

From travelhippies.in

3. Purvi Kamaliya

A self-described “travel addict,” Mumbai-based teacher Purvi writes her blog, Travel Hippies, to be more like a collection of stories than a blog. Most of her posts are to help readers plan trips to and around India. Reading her blog is like you’re talking to a friend who just got back from a trip.

“Traveling…is an adventure where you get out of your comfort zone,” she says.

Purvi would love to explore Croatia to see its “beautiful and secluded beaches, museums and cathedrals.”

Check out Purvi’s colorful Instagram here.

From www.memoriesabroad.wordpress.com

4. Lizzy and Eloise

Lizzy and Eloise are too mysterious to have last names. Like Madonna. Or Cher.

Or, they just didn’t tell me and don’t have them listed on their blog or IG, take your pick.

From Germany (Lizzy) and Australia (Eloise), Lizzy and Eloise decided to start their travel blog, “Memories Abroad,” when they were working as au pairs together in the U.S.

“We bonded over how much more we felt at home (in the U.S.) rather than in our home countries, so we decided to share this with others, along with our travel experiences,” Eloise said.

Eloise’s dream destination is Greece.

“As a child, I would always talk to my Nan about going to see the blue water and white buildings, and we plan to go together someday,” she said.
Lizzy said she wants to visit Australia so she can “make my childhood dream of walking up the stairs of the Sydney Opera House come true.”

Give ’em a follow on the ‘Gram.

Know any badass babe bloggers I missed? Lemme know in the comments!

 



S**t American Tourists Say: Iceland Edition

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first-ever edition of Shit American Tourists Say. Today’s episode focuses on what these most fascinating individuals say when placed in an environment they’re not used to. We’re not in Kansas anymore, folks. Here are the best things I overheard our lovely Americans say in Keflavik Airport in Iceland. Please note these all occurred within 20 minutes.

1. Passenger: “Where’s the big statue with the pot? I want to take a picture for the grandkids.”

Airline worker: “That’s straight down the hall, sir.”

Passenger: “Oh, that’s too far.”

2. “This is so messed up in so many ways.” – man outraged that he needed to wait for a bus to take him to the plane waiting outside #tinyairportproblems

3. “This is just taking so long. I need some liquor.” – 60-something year old woman, on the bus on the way to the plane

4. “They made me pay to check my bag, so I was like, OK, I can drink some liquor.” – the same woman, who clearly possesses a flawless sense of logic and reasoning

5.”I really like how they’ve designed the airport. It’s so modern.” – lady to her husband

6. *young woman takes selfies of self boarding plane, holds up entire rest of line*

7. “Well, I don’t know why they haven’t sat us together. Makes no sense to me.” – husband whose wife and three kids are sat close by but not directly next to each other, and there was a parent seated next to each child. (Yes, sir, because the airline obviously did it on purpose just to inconvenience you and your family of five.)

8. “Of course the ONE outlet that doesn’t work is under MY seat.”  – angry teenager (come on, Napoleon, like anyone could even know that.)

9. “Are we going to fly over Idaho? Hawaii? Alaska? Ohio?” – kid behind me to his mother

The “big statue with the pot.”



7 Travel Mistakes I Made–And How You Can Avoid Them

I skipped my university graduation to spend a week in Colombia, and then went on to spend a few months in Barcelona. None of that was anywhere near the disaster that I (and my mother) thought it would be. However, I did mess up a little, and I’m going to tell you all about it so you don’t do the same things.

1. Make sure you know the visa requirements for wherever you’re going way before you go.

As romantic and adventurous as it sounds to semi-spontaneously book a one-way ticket to another country without any concrete idea of when you’re going back home, the friendly people over at Customs At Any Airport In Any Country Ever don’t like that very much. This is why I almost couldn’t board my Madrid-bound plane in Panama.

People travel without return tickets and/or a visa all the time, and not everyone gets in trouble, but you never know. It’s just a good idea to look up each country’s rules regarding visa and length of stay before you go. (That rhymes, by the way.)

A lot of countries require that you apply for a visa several months before you go, and that you do so in your home country. If, for example, you’re a non-European citizen planning a longer trip to Europe, read up on the Schengen Zone and its various rules about where in Europe you can go and how long you can stay there.

2. If you know for sure you are going to be gone for a long period of time, you don’t have a guaranteed place to live when you’re back, and you have a lot of stuff, sell it.

Since May 21, I have been paying for a storage unit in San Francisco every month to store my bed, dresser, desk and miscellaneous other items. It’s taking a toll on my bank account. I wish I had sold my stuff instead. Don’t get a storage unit! You’ll have more money for traveling!

3. Keep track of everything you spend. Little things add up, big time.

I had been working almost every day for four months, so when I went to Vitoria-Gasteiz in early October, I was able to bring a sizable wad of cash with me. I stayed with friends in Vitoria and my friend and I were mostly splitting 80 cent bags of pasta to cook for dinner so I didn’t think I had spent much. After staying there for six days, I booked a €7 bus to San Sebastian, three €13 nights in a San Sebastian hostel and a €44 bus back to Barcelona, which by my calculations shouldn’t have made a dent in my cash wad.

However, about a week after returning to Barcelona and resuming my normal practice of purchasing €1 beers from the dudes selling them in the streets, I realized I was in financial trouble.

I sat down, counted up everything I had spent in the 10 days I had been gone, and realized I had spent way more than I thought I had. (Beer, snacks, a spontaneous surfing lesson in San Sebastián…)

Write down everything you spend as you go along instead of doing it after the fact so you can keep yourself in check. I’ve done this before and it worked–I should take my own advice, geez.

Speaking of money:

4. If you’re planning on doing Workaway or another work exchange program, make sure you have another source of income or enough money saved up to get by.

Workaway and similar programs are a great way to stay in a new city for free. Basically, Workawayers agree to work for a certain amount of hours each week in exchange for a bed to sleep in and, usually, a meal or three every day. Workaway situations range from reception at a hostel to “come help me with my organic arugula farm in the South of France while I endlessly complain to you about my midlife crisis and my ex-husband just because I want someone to talk to.”

However, many people (read: me) may underestimate the amount of money in the bank (shawty what chu drank) it actually takes to be able to live comfortably (read: afford to eat more than once a day when the hostel you’re working at has free dinners) without another source of income. If you have enough money saved and/or you have another way of making that skrilla, Workaway away. Maybe avoid the arugula farm, though.

5. Before your trip, thoroughly read each airline’s carry-on luggage requirements and follow them as well as you can.

The setting is Berlin Schönefeld Airport at 5:30 a.m. on a weekday in mid-June, 2015. Our protagonist, Jessica, had been on a bar crawl until an hour and a half previously, had made the mistake of napping for half an hour, and now felt like absolute hell.

As she squinted in the sunlight starting to filter in through the windows, a lovely (Easy Jet) airline worker announced to the line of passengers that they would only be allowed to carry one item onto the flight with them-which means not a small backpack and a small suitcase, which were the items Jessica had with her, since most of the flights she was taking on her eight-week European jaunt were with Ryanair, and Ryanair was OK with two carry-on items if they both met the height and width requirements.

Jess and her five travel companions had read Easy Jet’s baggage requirements online previously, and four of her companions had decided before they got to the airport that they would check their bags, so they just threw them onto the conveyer belt when they went through security. Jess and her friend Elena, however, had been determined not to pay to check a bag, so they decided they would just “figure it out at the airport.”

So, here they were in the airport very shortly before their early-morning flight suddenly having to open their suitcases and see if they could also squeeze their backpacks in there and still meet the weight requirements for carry-on luggage.

(Spoiler alert: they could not.)

After a solid ten minutes of squishing and cramming, Jess and Elena were told they had to check their suitcases, which would cost them €70 and, from the looks of the line of others waiting to do so last-minute, would absolutely ensure that they missed their flight.

As Jess and Elena’s companions began to line up for boarding (hidden bulletpoint 4.5: don’t be this late for a flight), in a burst of panicky genius, our protagonist asked the airline worker if she and her friend could take out all of the clothes they had in their suitcases and wear them on the flight on top of the clothes they were already wearing, so their suitcases would be lighter and they could bring them on the plane.

The worker chuckled and said “sure, if you really want to.” So Jess and Elena began to pile on jacket after shirt after dress after shorts after skirt while both lines of passengers watched in amusement. Jess and Elena were each wearing four layers and sweating profusely when the attendant, who hadn’t quite stopped chuckling, said the suitcases were fine now and they could board their flight.

So wearing almost all of the clothing they had packed with them, and Jess holding her toiletries in a straw hat she’d picked up in Ireland, the two arrived safely in Amsterdam with their friends, without having to pay an extra cent for luggage.

That’s dedication right there.

A less dramatic verson of the same story happened, at the time of writing, roughly 20 hours ago, in which Jess straight-up did not try to find out WOW Airlines’ carry-on requirements until she was at the airport and had to pay to check her suitcase, which was eight kilos over the maximum. (Although that one was going to be hard to get around, as she had crammed the past six months of her life in there and it’s hard to make six months fit into five kilos, especially if a large part of those six months was a fluffy cow onesie).

Moral of the story: know each airline’s requirements and be prepared.

6. Don’t carry all of your cash AND your debit card AND your ID on you!

Seems obvious, right? Yeah, you’d think. I went through the wonderful experience of being mugged by three dudes in a park in Barcelona at 3 a.m. three weeks ago, and they took my purse, which contained 60 euros, my ID, my debit card, my iPhone, all my makeup, my headphones, and three colors of UV paint. Why did I have all those things with me, you ask? Because after traveling through 15 countries (16 if I include my own) without anything like that ever happening, it’s easy to get a little cocky. Don’t.

Carry a copy of your ID and not your actual one, carry your card OR cash, and absolutely do NOT carry all the cash you have in your life. As for the iPhone, I know I knocked Hank from Massachusetts before, but this might be where the tourist pouch comes in handy.

Or, don’t walk through parks late at night. Take your pick.

7. Bring airplane snacks-always!

No matter how late you think you might be to your flight, if it’s more than four hours, stop at a store and buy snacks! Airport food is expensive and there’s something about traveling that makes everyone hungry.

All of the those things being said, I am in one piece, and I have been having an amazing time. Traveling alone is awesome because you can do whatever the hell you want and not have to worry about what anyone else wants to do. Just use common sense and you’ll be good.

Got any solo travel shitshow stories? Hit me with ’em in the comments, I wanna hear!






Tourlina: The Tinder for Travel in Twos

In 2011, when I was fresh out of high school and not prepared to start college yet, I took a gap year in which I spent four months working in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California and then three months volunteering with a non profit organization in Antigua, Guatemala.

Since I had only ever been out of the country on two family trips to Mexico, my mother and I (mostly my mother) were a little scared for my safety and general well-being. My mother suggested I email the program director to get the names of other young women also working at the organization and then send them emails introducing myself, which is basically the ultimate Concerned Parent suggestion and didn’t end up panning out.

New friends in Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Angela Leuch.
New friends in Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Angela Leuch.

I made friends on my own when I got there, but the initial transition was rough. Both my mother and I probably would have felt a lot better if Tourlina had been around.

Founded by Michael Klumpp and Sandra Preuss, Tourlina is currently the only app specifically created for solo female travelers to find other women to travel with.

“Both [Klumpp and Preuss] have traveled alone, so we got the idea that something [like this] should be available in the market,” Klumpp said on the inspiration for the app. “There’s no women-specific travel app in the market…so we decided we should create it.”

Although it’s not relevant to dating at all, Tourlina is “like Tinder, except you create a trip and decide on a destination, country and a time period,” Klumpp said. “We thought [modeling the app off of Tinder] was the most up-to-date and safest way.”

Like Tinder, users can only create a profile by logging in through Facebook, so that the app admins can “check if [each user is] really a woman and not a fake account,” Klumpp explained.

Every user must be approved–i.e. deemed to be both a) female identifying and b) not a robot–in order to use the app. Once your profile is approved, you then “create a new trip” by selecting one of the 110 countries that Tourlina currently has in its database.

The app then has you select your preferred travel dates. Once you’ve done this, it lets you decide what kind of trip you’d like (spontaneous, planned, heavy on the night-life, nature-y, etc.) in order to find compatible travel companions.

When you come across someone you think you might want to travel with, swipe “right” on her, just like with Tinder, and if she thinks you look cool too, she’ll swipe right and you can start planning your trip together.

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Gondola rides in Venice are always better with a friend.

Tourlina has roughly 10,000 users from all over the world, mainly from the US and the UK but also a notable amount from Italy, the Philippines and Dubai, says Klumpp. The app is currently available in English and German, but a new version will be released in the beginning of 2017, which will also offer Spanish as a third language option.

Additionally, the new version will have a chat request feature (much like the one on Instagram), in which users can request to chat with another user even if they haven’t swiped right on each other. The app will also begin allowing users to see all other users within 50 kilometers from you and not just the ones with similar travel plans.

The app is currently only available for iOS, but will be available for Android as well starting in April 2017.

If you’re worried about traveling alone, give Tourlina a try. No awkward mother-prompted emails necessary.


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San Sebastián is Mindblowingly Beautiful and If You’re in Spain You Should Go

Picture this: Jessica wearing her cow onesie and laying on her friend’s couch in Vitoria-Gasteiz (small Spanish town near Bilbao), trying to use the bus company Alsa to find a bus back to Barcelona and audibly complaining because Alsa doesn’t like to let people book buses with foreign credit cards.

Fed up with the whole Barcelona bus situation, the aforementioned cow started messing around on the Alsa website and saw that she could instead get a bus to San Sebastián for 7 euros and worry about getting back to Barcelona later, so she bought a ticket for six hours later, and it’s one of her favorite impulsive decisions she’s ever made.

I’ll stop talking in third person now, hello. I spent last weekend in San Sebastián, and it’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Like, top 5.

I got to my hostel at 3 a.m., so when I woke up at 1 p.m. the next day, I planned to go out and find groceries and then come back to my hostel to make food and Google what there was to see in San Sebastián, but I ended up going out and coming back six hours later grocery-less because I got distracted by how astonishingly gorgeous everything was and ended up walking almost the whole city.

When I was back in the hostel, I did end up Googling “stuff to see in San Sebastián,” and realized that I had already seen most of it just by walking around. If you’re like me and like to just walk around in a new city with no actual plan, this is a good one to do it in.

I refuse to have one of those blogs that’s like blah blah, I went here and it was pretty, then I went there and it was pretty, and anyway, me saying it’s pretty is going to do nothing to show you how beautiful it really was. Instead, here’s a mini photo-tour through San Sebastián and you can decide for yourself. Scroll your mouse over the pictures to see the captions.

I found this instead of a grocery store
I found this instead of a grocery store

 

I jumped off this
I jumped off of this

 

Looked up and saw this
Looked up and saw this

 

And that
So I climbed up to the top of it, looked out and saw that

 

And also that
And also that
Then I climbed down and went to this beach (Zurriola)
Then I climbed down and went to this beach (Zurriola)

 

To watch this sunset
To watch this sunset

There’s one thing that I didn’t see just from walking around. The only San Sebastián-related Google search I conducted before I left Vitoria-Gasteiz was “San Sebastián beach,” because I’m a sucker for a good beach, and I found all these pictures of the same two islands that kind of looked like turtles, and there’s approximately 1 million pictures of them online, so I decided if I went I would get my own picture of them.

After walking the whole city twice, I had found the islands (they’re at Playa de la Concha, FYI), but the pictures I saw online were taken from up above, and walking along the beach, I couldn’t see any nearby cliffs or anything to scramble up in order to get a better view. Then I looked way up and saw a castle thing on a hill that looked super far away, but like the perfect spot to get my picture from.

Playa de la Concha
Playa de la Concha

Thanks to the super-useful app MAPS.ME, which gives you directions to where you’re trying to go without requiring an Internet connection, which BTW is a godsend to us directionally challenged people (no, MAPS.ME did not pay me to write this post), I figured out that I was about an hour away walking from the castle thing, which I also determined is called Monte Igueldo.

So I started to walk, and eventually found a cable car that I could pay 2 euros and 20 cents to use in order to go up to the top of the mountain, but decided to keep walking instead.

This involved a windy road through a residential area with a bunch of blind turns and no actual sidewalks, and I almost chickened out and took the cable car three times because I was vaguely concerned by the possibility of getting hit by a car.

The third time I started going back to the cable car station I saw a group of people walking towards me speaking in English, so I asked if they were also trying to go to the mountain, and they were! And they were super nice! And we hiked up to the mountain and watched the sunset together! And I finally got my picture!

The islands as seen from Mont Igueldo
The islands as seen from Mont Igueldo

TL;DR:  San Sebastián is breathtakingly gorgeous and if you are anywhere near it you should check it out. With a decent camera. Even though pictures don’t do it any kind of justice.


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10 Things I Wish I Knew About Barcelona as a Tourist

After four days of visiting Barcelona in 2015, I was completely in awe of the city and knew I wanted to come back and live here. So, a year later, I did. While I’m obviously still technically a tourist in Barcelona, since I’m not from here and have only been here for four and a half months, four and a half months is a lot different than four days. So, knowing what I know now, here is everything I wish I knew before I went.

1. Spanish is not the main language spoken in Barcelona.

While 98 percent of Barcelona residents speak Spanish, 50 to 60 percent also speak Catalan. Therefore, most of the signs posted around the city/in restaurants (open, closed, no parking, please wait to be seated, etc. etc.) are in Catalan.

Both Catalan and Spanish (known here as Castilian Spanish) are the “main” languages spoken in Barcelona, but Catalan is the primary language taught in schools. Of course, knowing some Spanish doesn’t hurt, because locals are way more likely to speak Spanish than English.

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2. Barceloneta isn’t the only beach in Barcelona.

You know the beach in Barcelona you see all the photos of, with the big half-circle shaped silver building on it? (See above if you have no clue what I’m talking about.)

That’s called Barceloneta Beach, and it’s essentially inevitable that you will end up here when you’re in Barcelona as a tourist.

Although it’s the one in all the pictures, there are many more beaches in Barcelona than Barceloneta, which is frequently so jam-packed during the summer that you can’t even move. However, between the vast amount of tourists from all over the world and people who walk the beach selling blankets and various beverages, Barceloneta is some of the best people-watching you’ll get in the city.

If you want a vaguely less touristy beach experience, walk down Barceloneta Beach towards the W Hotel–the aforementioned “big half-circle shaped silver building”–and you’ll find the nude area of the beach, which has less beach sellers and drunk English teenagers on vacation and is mostly full older locals letting it all hang out.

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If you walk down Barceloneta Beach in the opposite direction towards the gigantic golden fish statue (see above), and keep walking down the boardwalk, you’ll find Port Olímpic, a much quieter beach where the water is much clearer and there are less people trying to sell you stuff.

The gigantic golden fish statue is also where all the beach clubs are. There are five (Shoko, Opium, Pacha, Carpe Diem, Catwalk) and they’re all pretty pricey.

3. Don’t buy the mojitos from the dudes wandering the beach.

This is a common bulletpoint in almost every “What Not To Do In Barcelona” list I’ve seen. (There are a lot.)

Although the lime green beverages being peddled by dudes carrying trays of them and shouting “sangria mojitos!” are admittedly super refreshing, they’re wildly overpriced and I’m not entirely positive that there’s actually any alcohol in there at all.

As Pinterest-esque as this picture is, that cocktail cost me 8 euros and then I just fell asleep in the taxi on the way to Park Guell.
As Pinterest-esque as this picture is, that cocktail cost me 8 euros and didn’t even get me buzzed. I just fell asleep in the taxi on the way to Park Guell.

4. But also don’t buy the mojitos at the beach bars.

As someone who is guilty of having bought both the mojitos from the beach and the beach bars the first time I visited Barcelona, I can assure you that although they are on the whole more legit, the mojitos/other cocktails they sell at the beach bars are roughly three euros more expensive than the ones being sold right on the beach and have only a little more alcohol in them. (Read: one shot instead of none at all.)

If you’re on a budget and you want to get your drink on at la playa, you’re better off buying booze at one of the many supermarkets near the beach or from one of the dudes walking around selling beer.

5. It’s okay to buy the beers from the cerveza sellers.

Yeah, the mojitos are a scam, but it’s pretty hard to mess up a beer. Barceloneta aside, you can literally find a cerveza man everywhere you go throughout the city at any time of day or night, especially in the summer. Drinking in public is illegal in Barcelona, but you’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well do it cheaply. Just be warned that you might get fined if you’re caught with an open container in public, so avoid glass and don’t go waving your beer around in the air and screaming drunken nonsense.

6. Don’t eat on La Rambla.

Like Barceloneta Beach, La Rambla is full of people trying to sell you stuff. (Bulletpoint 6.5, don’t call it “Las Ramblas.” You’ll sound hyper-touristy.)

It’s basically a long street that starts near the harbor and ends at Plaça Catalunya, which is a big square with two fountains and is next to a Hard Rock Café, just as every good tourist hub is. La Rambla is also lined with restaurants that look super appealing because of their outdoor seating and big signs promising 2 tapas, a cerveza and paella for only 18 euros!!!

However, since La Rambla is possibly the most touristy street in all of Barcelona, most of the restaurants located directly on the street will charge you an arm and a leg for some mediocre food.

If you want food that tastes good and doesn’t break the bank, head to less touristy areas for your paella. As a general travel rule, restaurants next to massive tourist attractions in any city aren’t going to be great.

While we’re on the topic, paella is kind of an “omg we’re in Barcelona we should totally get paella” thing, so if you want a less touristy eating experience, try tapas (appetizers) or pinchos (appetizers attached to pieces of bread) instead.

Also, many restaurants offer “menú del dia” in the middle of the day, which is when you get a main course and a salad and usually bread and a drink for a set price, which is usually between 6 and 12 euros. It’s a cheap way to eat a lot of food. (But again, don’t try to do this at restaurants on La Rambla).

One more thing, most “Things to Do in Barcelona” lists I’ve seen on the Internet say to check out La Boqueria, which is a super big market near one end of the La Rambla, but in reality it’s essentially a massive tourist trap. You can get some decent fresh fruit juices there for a euro, but in terms of getting actual groceries you’re better off shopping at the Dia (a cheap supermarket) or the Simply Basic (another cheap supermarket), so I’d say skip it.

Park Guell
Park Guell

7. Taking taxis everywhere is unnecessary and expensive. 

If you read my caption on the picture of my hand holding a pricey cocktail up in front of the sea, it says that I took a taxi to Park Guell, since I was a silly little tourist and didn’t know anything. Taxis aren’t that expensive in Barcelona in comparison to other cities, but it’s still a lot cheaper to walk or take the metro, and Barcelona is a pretty easy city to do both of these things in.

To be fair, Park Guell is super far from the beach, which is why Tourist Jessica thought she had to taxi there, but just don’t plan to go Park Guell on the same day you check out the beach. Simple as.

It makes a lot more sense to take the metro from Sagrada Familia to Park Guell, which brings us to…

8. Buy a ticket for the Sagrada Familia ahead of time.

I can’t say this enough. La Sagrada Familia is hands-down the coolest building I’ve ever seen and I’m not even super into architecture. You 100 percent have to see it if you’re in Barcelona, and you 100 percent have to go inside to check out the amazing stained glass situation, and while you’re inside you might as well climb up the tower for one of the best views of the city.

The inside of La Sagrada Familia, but pictures legit do not do it justice.
The inside of La Sagrada Familia, but pictures don’t do it justice.

It costs roughly 18 euros to go inside, but I promise it’s worth it. If you’re broke and can afford to do one expensive touristy thing when you’re in BCN, make it be this, seriously. Book your ticket online ahead of time so you don’t have to wait in line, because nobody likes lines.

9. Contrary to what the Internet tells you, there isn’t someone waiting to rob you at every turn. 

A lot of articles about Barcelona on the Internet make it sound like unless you have one of those dorky under-the-jeans tourist belts that nobody actually uses unless your name is Hank and you’re a 55-year-old white man from Massachusetts, your stuff is likely to get stolen everywhere you go.

Yes; people do get robbed in Barcelona. (I’m sorry to say it happened to me.) But people also get robbed anywhere. Just like when you’re anywhere else in the world, keep an eye on your belongings, don’t wave your brand new iPhone around in public or keep it in your back pocket while you’re dancing at a club, and don’t walk around late at night on your own in a shady area. Boom. 

10. It’s going to be really hard to leave. 

Even if you don’t drink from the Font de Canaletes, which is located on La Rambla and apparently makes everyone who drinks from it fall in love with the city, there’s a good chance you’ll just end up not leaving.

I get all of my water from 30 cent big-ass bottles I buy in the supermarket, and I’m still head over heels in love with where I live. Barcelona has that effect on people.

TL;DR: Don’t be surprised when all the signs are in Catalan. Don’t eat on La Rambla. Walk or take the metro instead of taxis if you’re on a budget. And, most importantly, be careful, because Barcelona makes it hard to leave her.


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GUEST POST: A Basic B***h’s Guide to Bali

Guest post by Michelle Rick. You can find her on Instagram or at michellearick.com.

According to Pinterest, there’s a place that has beaches for days, because it’s an island, and islands tend to be surrounded by water. Its menu is designed to nurture the taste buds of a deliciously, nutriciously Instagrammable diet. And there’s many an opportunity to get in sunrise yoga selfies until you literally can’t even.

If you find yourself headed to Bali in the near future, buy yourself a Bintang bro tank and saddle up with this proudly basic guide.

A rundown of Bali hotspots:

Ubud:

This is where you’ll live out your Eat, Pray, Love fantasy. Yes, you can see Ketut, the medicine man from the book. According to this article, he tends to tell every tourist the same thing and you’ll pay more than if you see a medicine man who hasn’t been name dropped in a New York Times bestseller. If yoga is what you’re here for, Yoga Barn is the spot. Hello, sun salutations!

PSL frapps after class (no whip), anybody? Starbucks is totes in Ubud.

Also in Ubud: Monkey Forest, coffee plantations, rice paddies. Luwak coffee can retail for more than $600 per kilo. Find out what makes it so…special.

Kuta:

Also known as the Cancun of Bali. It generally gets a bad rap, but really it’s all about what you’re looking for. If tequila shots off an Aussie named Ethan is your jam, fuck it. Come to Kuta and let your freak flag fly.

You guys can nurse your hangovers together with fresh juice and share childhood stories while tiny fish nibble your feet. Hashtag the dream.

Kuta is home to beach clubs, kiddie waves and people hustling the shit out of you on the beach to buy souvenirs and surf lessons. You’ll probably end up getting an infinity tattoo here.

Don't forget to Instagram your food to show your friends how exotic and well-traveled you are! Photo courtesy of Michelle Rick.
Don’t forget to Instagram your food to show your friends how exotic and well-traveled you are! Photo courtesy of Michelle Rick.

Canggu:

Canggu is an awesome place to catch some waves away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta. You’ll also find boutiques, chilled out nightlife and even more awesome restaurants like the super raved-about Betelnut Cafe.

The girls over at Gu Guide have even put together a list of the best Insta-spots to visit while you’re there.

When you hit the beach, you’ll definitely come across Old Man’s, and Deus Ex Machina is known to throw a great party on Wednesday nights.

Uluwatu:

Home of big wave surfing and possibly the most beautiful water on the planet. Hashtag, no filter. A must if you come here is Sundays at Single Fin surf club, where you can hook yourself up with a Nalu bowl and an amazing view. Which one will you make your friends back home jealous with first?

Getting around

Motorbikes are a very popular method of transport in Bali, but some may find the idea of driving in a place where nobody cares about traffic rules in any form to be a bit fucking terrifying.

If you’re super loaded, your resort’s transfer service will pick you up at the airport and you won’t have to leave to go anywhere. Ever.

If that’s not the case, hit up Aussie Ethan from Kuta so he can drive you around. Other options are GoJek and Uber. GoJek is basically Bali’s motorbike taxi app. Try to download this before you leave home, for some reason I had trouble downloading it in Bali.

Uber is present in Bali but not technically allowed. My driver told me he’s not allowed to do pickups in certain towns, so do your homework before making it your lifeline.

Speaking of Insta…

Kickstart your Bali dreaming with these handles…

@thebalibible

@balibucketlist

@guguidebali

 


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How Not to Suck as an American Tourist 101

If you’ve talked to me for longer than ten minutes, you know that I’m about as patriotic as a potato. (Read: not patriotic at all.)

Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I always say “California” instead of America. I even went as far to lie on my Couchsurfing.com account that I’m from Montreal (which only led to my host in Venice, Italy trying to speak to me in French).

Aside from all the obvious reasons that I’m not a huge fan of my own country (NSA get at me), the main reason I’m not quick to announce I’m American when I’m traveling is simply because, generally speaking, American tourists suck.

We’re loud, we’re entitled, we get too drunk in public too early in the day, we assume everyone speaks English, we act like the rest of the world is our personal maid and exists only to pick up all of our red Solo cups and cigarette butts.

Clearly, not every American tourist is like this. I’ve met plenty of lovely Americans while out here in Spain, don’t  get me wrong, but I’ve also met a lot of people who remind me exactly why I’m still saying “California” and not tying an American flag to my luggage.

Without further ado, here are some ways to not suck as an American tourist when repping our country while abroad (based on things I’ve noticed my fellow American tourists doing).

1. Learn the language.

I’ve talked about this before, but when you’re traveling, it’s just straight-up a good idea to know at least a few key phrases in the language of whatever country you’re in, if not out of respect then just to make your own life easier. (Pretty hard to find out how much something costs if you don’t know how to ask).

I’ve witnessed a lot of American tourists walking up to restaurant workers and street vendors in various countries and just rattling off English phrases like there’s no tomorrow. If you were walking around in Florida and someone came up to you and started talking to you in Cantonese, you’d be like what the hell, right? Same deal. I definitely don’t speak Cantonese and the whole world definitely does not speak English. I’m not saying learn a whole new dialect, but at least make the effort. People will appreciate it.

2. Pack your trash.

I know I knocked red Solo cups earlier, but I enjoy a mixed drink in a plastic cup as much as the next guy. I also try to throw my garbage in the trash can a little more than the next guy. If you make a mess, clean it up. Boom.

3. Maintain a sense of cultural sensitivity.

You know what Americans love aside from guns, beer, and chanting “USA” at inappropriate times? Why, cultural appropriation, of course! Learn something about the country before you go, brush up on recent news events (not as much work as it sounds. Just be aware if there is a financial crisis or recent other traumatic event). Which brings us to…

4. Read the room.

One of my most cringe-worthy moments while traveling was when I was on a tour with a bunch of other Americans in Costa Rica and one older woman was trying to get a dude selling bracelets on the street to sell it for twice as less when the original price wasn’t even worth one American dollar. This dude probably got all his money from selling beaded bracelets to rich older white ladies. (Which she was). I’m not saying you gotta break the bank on bracelets, but exercise some sensitivity.

TL;DR: Be respectful while traveling. Make our country look good out there, folks. Someone has to.

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Baecelona: My Love Letter to the Spanish City That Stole My Heart

When you’re in love, you’ll do anything to be with the object of your affection. You look past their imperfections, you cherish every moment with them, you’ll travel thousands of miles to be with them if you have to.

I fell in love like this in June 2015, and when I still felt the same way almost a year later, I decided it was time to pack my bags and move across the world so I could be with her.

View from the top of Sagrada Familia

Last summer, I stood knee-deep in Barcelona’s crystal blue waters for the first time and snapped a picture of the city-lined oceanfront, which I later Instagrammed with the caption “the sea is warm and the clubs are open and poppin’ until 6 a.m. Pretty sure Barcelona isn’t real and I’m in the middle of a long-ass awesome dream.”

It’s 14 months later, and I’m still having the same dream.

I realized that my favorite places are the ones that aren’t just one thing. Like San Francisco, where I spent the past five years, Barcelona is a bustling city, but also has beaches and other places to go to escape the crowds. Unlike San Francisco, the sea is warm and one can swim in it without a wetsuit.

But it isn’t just the sea and the nightlife that still have me so in love a whole year later. It’s the fact that there are people awake and walking around at any time of day or night, the fact that you can purchase beer for a euro from people walking around the streets selling them (even at 7 in the morning, if you were so inclined), and the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways that all look similar.

It’s the fact that there are always people hanging out around the fountain at Placa Reial, the monthly full moon parties on the beach, the fact that the city has as many posh nightclubs as it does clubs on top of roofs or tucked away in cave-like areas or under restaurants, Antonio Gaudi’s bizarre, colorful architecture and the buildings that have gargoyle statues looming out at you as you walk by. They just don’t have anything like that in California.

My least favorite question I get asked is “you’re from California–why did you move out here?”

My answer is always the same.

“Look where the hell you are,” I say, “Barcelona is incredible.”

I’m nine weeks into having the same dream every night, and I’m nowhere near ready to wake up yet.

Isn’t she beautiful?

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