Learn From My Mistakes: My Week in Budapest Was An Enormous Shitshow – and I Loved Every Second

If you were at Stansted Airport in London on June 12, you would have seen me running from security to the gates in my socks, my backpack bouncing from one arm while I clutched my shoes to my chest, shrieking “missing flight sorry!!!” and trying not to notice how sweaty I was from the three layers of clothing I was wearing to avoid Ryanair baggage fees.

This is, unfortunately, pretty similar to how I end up boarding most of my flights, and my flight to Budapest was no exception.

My friend Katie – current travel buddy who I’ve known since I was literally nine years old – and I took one look at the security line an hour before boarding time and were so convinced we were going to miss our flight that we started looking at later flights to Budapest and other nearby countries, BUT, by some miracle, we made it.

But, also like, it’s me, so of course the shitshow only continued once we arrived. But that’s what keeps it interesting, am I right?

To get to and from the Ferihegy airport in Budapest, you need to take a bus called the 200 Express. It’s blue and says “200E” on the front. Next to the bus is a ticket machine, and annoyingly enough, it only takes exact change. Unless we just got unlucky, but at least, the machine that we used only took exact change.

Always have a little currency of the country you’re about to land in.

Luckily, Katie had some HUFs with her. HUF = Hungarian Forints. At the time of writing, 274 Hungarian Forints are equal to $1 USD. The 200E costs 350 Forints per person, which is roughly $1.28.

Depending on where you’re going, you might have to take an additional train after the 200E, like we did.

The first thing we did when we got to the airport was look up directions to our hostel. Well actually, the first thing we did was hit up the grocery store attached to the airport to get cheap cheese and baguettes. And then we looked up directions to our hostel.

Actual footage of Katie eating cheese and looking up directions to our hostel #youhearditherefirst

Google Maps is magical and if you look up directions from Point A to Point B when you have WiFi but then leave the WiFi zone, the little blue dot on the map showing where you are will continue to move with you as long as you leave the Maps app open. This is incredibly useful for things like, you know, using public transportation at night in a country where you don’t speak the language.

Looking up directions is all well and good, but it doesn’t really do much if you don’t pay attention to the little blue dot. I was busy talking to Katie and ignored my map, and I only knew to get off because the automated voice thing announced our stop, so without really looking at the blue dot, I told Katie to grab her stuff and we hopped off in a hurry.

Once off the bus, we realized we had gotten off in literally the middle of nowhere, so we followed the little blue dot to where we were supposed to be, which was a proper train stop instead a random sign beside the highway, which is where we initially were.

We met a Hungarian lady who said the 200E usually stopped at the end of the platform, not right smack dab in the middle where we were, and we had to walk waaay down to the end in order to buy tickets. Whoops.

We finally got to our hostel, but didn’t have any more HUFs, so we had to go to the ATM to withdraw cash. Always take out as much as you think you’ll need for the duration of your trip because the ATM will probably charge you a fee, so the less times you visit the ATM, the less fees you’ll be charged.

Katie was weary about using the ATMs on the street because she was worried that it would eat her debit card, but we did anyway.

Two days later, we went to go to the ATM again because we clearly didn’t follow the above rule, and as soon as Katie put her card in, a little message popped up saying “this card has been captured for security reasons”…and ate her damn card.

Use the ATMs inside/attached to the bank – not the ones on the street.

Speaking of money, Budapest is very cheap in comparison to the U.S., so it’s easy to spend a lot of money on accident, because you get caught up thinking how cheap it is and forget to keep track of how much you’re actually spending. This isn’t actually something we did because we were actively trying not to.

Something we did do, however, was spend roughly $40 on a “Sparty Party,” which is essentially like a Vegas pool party but at night and on steroids. If you’ve never heard of this, lemme break it down for ya.

Budapest is famous for its bath houses (among other things). The most popular one is called the Széchenyi Spa and Baths, which costs about $17 to visit during the day and is basically the ultimate hot tub experience. There’s a bunch of hot tub-sized pools indoors – cold pools, really hot pools, hot tubs with sulfur, etc. Outside, there’s two massive swimming pools, one really warm one and one less warm one. The less warm one also has a whirlpool, which is relaxing during the day, and absolutely terrifying at night when it’s full of drunk people going around and around endlessly.

The “Sparty Party” usually happens twice a week  on Wednesday and Saturday nights and runs from 10:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. If you buy your ticket ahead of time online or through your hostel, it’s a little less than 11,000 HUF, but if you buy it at the party directly, it’s 18,000 HUF, which is $65.

During the party, only the two outdoor pools are open, and the cheapest beers are roughly 600 HUF, which comes out to a bit more than $2, which isn’t that bad, but when you get there, you have to put money on a special card thing you wear around your neck, and there’s a minimum amount you can put on the card.

Included in the price, you get assigned a locker you can put your stuff in, which you can open by using a FOB key wrist watch they give you when you walk in. They give out one wrist watch/locker per group, so try not to lose your friend. In a massive pool party with hundreds of drunk people, that’s pretty easy to do. I lost Katie for like an hour and it was super stressful. Hold hands with your travel buddy and don’t let random Scottish men pick you up and carry you around the pool. Not that I did that. Or anything.

Going to the bath house during the day is an entirely different ball game. For the bath party, you don’t necessarily need a towel, but during the day I’d recommend bringing one. I’d also highly recommend you bring flip-flops, both during the day and at night, since both the floor of the locker room and the pavement next to the pools is covered in pool water other people have been stepping in, which is nasty.

Also, for whatever reason, the locker situation during the day works differently than at night, and is really complicated. You have to select an empty locker and then look for someone who works there – when I was there it was women in blue shirts and white name tags – to close it for you, and then open it for you again when you want to get your stuff out. Each locker comes with a little wooden tag that has a number on it that doesn’t correspond to the number on your locker, but you have to keep it with you and remember your locker number. See, I had to figure this out myself, so now I’m telling you so you don’t have to.

The day of our flight out of Budapest, we decided to leave four hours early because we almost missed our flight there. Which ended up being nothing in comparison to the situation we ran into while trying to leave.

From our hostel, we walked to the train station and asked someone who worked there how to get a ticket for the airport, and he pointed at something on the screen and nodded, so we printed that out.

Once we were on the train stuffing our faces with bread rolls and cheese wheels (again) (don’t judge OK it’s the cheapest thing to eat that’s also portable), a guy came by to collect the tickets, frowned at ours and said something in Hungarian.

“….airport?” I said meekly.

He shook his head and said more stuff in Hungarian. “Airport no.”

He sort of just stood there smiling and shaking his head, and I don’t know how to say “someone who worked at the train station told me to buy this” in Hungarian, so I just pointed at my ticket and said “….is okay?” and he laughed and said it was okay. Lucky.

If it doesn’t say Ferihegy on the ticket, it’s not for the airport.

Unlike the bus we took on the way in to Budapest, the train didn’t announce any of the stops, so all of a sudden we were passing a sign with a plane on it and I was like “is that….?”

The smart thing would have been to look up how many stops we had to go and then count the stops, but we didn’t do that, didn’t get off the train in time, and had to go an extra stop (about 15 extra minutes on the train), hop over the fence with our suitcases to go buy the correct train ticket, and wait 40 minutes for the train.

This is what waiting at a random bus stop for 40 minutes in the middle of nowhere Hungary looks like

Our story isn’t over yet, folks.

Once we got off the train at the correct stop – the stop that said Ferihegy with a little airplane sign – we looked around and quickly realized something was wrong. Although all the signs said “airport,” and from glancing at Google Maps we could clearly tell we were at the airport, we were somehow at the wrong one. It looked nothing like the airport we had flown into – there was just a parking lot and a big building that a) had a sign about military aircraft b) was locked c) appeared to have nobody inside. There were also no signs about where to catch a plane or really anything explaining anything. If I had been alone, this would have been a panic moment, but I was with Katie, so we both kind of just wandered around in circles and triple-checked the map and went “wtf?!”

The third or fourth time we approached the so-called abandoned building with the sign about military aircraft, a man suddenly appeared, came out, saw two confused girls standing there with suitcases and told us we had to cross the street and take the 200E bus to get to the airport. Which makes sense, since we had to take a bus and then a train to leave the airport in the first place.

The 200E bus is your direct transportation to and from the airport! Also, use your common sense!

After all that, we were still an hour early for our originally scheduled flight – and it was delayed.

Be early AF for ya flights because YOU NEVER KNOW!

That’s just the short version, folks. Our five days in Budapest were essentially devoid of sleep, full of stories, possibly involved the acquiring of a tattoo or two and absolutely involved lots and lots of walking, cheap beer, and literal hundreds of pictures. Going to Budapest and want advice? Get at me in the comments, I got lots more.

I swear I didn’t always stand on this side of her in pictures on purpose.

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

My first experience traveling alone hasn’t been anywhere near the disaster I (and my mother) thought that 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.

No, this is not one of the mistakes. Traveling in a cow onesie is always a good call.

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!





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.


Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Spa

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.

image

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.

image

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 then 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. (That’s where I took the picture that’s at the way top of this page.)

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, and be careful, because Barcelona makes it hard to leave her.


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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.

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.

View from the top of La Sagrada Familia

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 the same.

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 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.

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Why Friendships Abroad are Different than Friendships at Home

In August 2010, most of my friends left my small hometown of Santa Cruz, California to go off to college in various other parts of the country. I was taking a gap year, so I stayed in Santa Cruz for six months working at a daycare before I moved to Antigua, Guatemala to volunteer.

When everyone left, I was a wreck. I had grown up with these kids, they had made Santa Cruz what it was for me, and now they were all leaving.

At the same time, while I knew I would only be seeing them a few times a year instead of every day, I still knew I would see them again, since our families were all still living in Santa Cruz and people would be back for Thanksgiving or Christmas or summer or what have you.

As I learned in May 2011, when I was leaving Guatemala after being there for three months, the friends you make while you’re abroad are different. Because everyone has different lives and plans and schedules, there’s a good chance that the people you meet while traveling you’re never actually going to see again, and I think it’s for that reason that traveling friendships often happen so fast and people get attached so easily.

This coming Saturday, I will have been in Barcelona for three months. Three weeks ago, one of my best friends whom I met over here announced he was going home to the UK a few weeks earlier than he had initially planned. On his last night, we grabbed drinks with some other people and went to a club. Suddenly around 3 a.m. he wrapped me in a hug and said he was leaving to pack for his early flight.

I’m horrible at goodbyes, so I hugged him back and then instantly fled to the bathroom, where I broke down and cried. I’m not a break-down-and-cry type of person, so my assessment of the situation was that it was about 40 percent because he was leaving, 30 percent because alcohol makes people do weird shit sometimes, and the other 30 percent because one of my best friends leaving was a rude reminder that even though I’ve met lots of people I care about since moving to Spain, we’re all out here doing our own thing, and I’m still traveling alone.

People come and go, so possibly sooner than I realize, I’m going to be on my own again, trying to convince airport security in a foreign country to let me board a plane without a return ticket and doing my best not to end up in the wrong city on accident.

How fitting is it that this is written on the wall opposite the hammock I was in while writing this?? Talk about a coincidence.

Here’s where it comes full circle: at the time of writing, I’m laying in a hammock at Mimhostel in Oporto, Portugal–the trip I had to take so I could go from Panama to Spain. I bought a flexible ticket, so I was able to change the date, and my friend–one of the friends I had been the most sad to say goodbye to in August 2011, as chance would have it–happened to be in Barcelona last week, so we came to Oporto together.

Because of how the timing worked out, when we fly back into Barcelona tonight, most of the friends I’ve made in Spain will either be gone or will be leaving tomorrow. Therefore I’ve been a huge bitch almost the entire time we’ve been in Portugal–50 percent because my friends are leaving, and 50 percent because very soon, I’ll be alone on a different continent with no actual plan for what the hell I’m doing. And it’s way easier to be a bitch than to admit that you’re scared.

(Sorry, Chris.)

A couple of days ago, my friend from Dublin who I met in Barcelona said goodbye to one of his other friends, and he was bummed, but said that the thing about meeting other travelers when you’re traveling is that there is a chance you’ll both end up in the same city again. Even in my current cynical/fear-avoidant state, it helps a little to remember that he’s right. When I was in Dublin in June 2015, I grabbed a couple of beers with someone I met when I climbed Volcán Pacaya in Guatemala in 2011, and I never had any reason to think I would see him again. Hey, look at that, more full circle.

TL;DR: People come and go, but the world is small, and goodbye doesn’t always mean goodbye.


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My First 48 Hours of Traveling Alone Was a Total Shitshow–And I Lived to Tell the Tale

As someone who was still prone to getting lost in San Francisco after living there for five years, I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I told people I a) bought a one-way ticket to Colombia to meet up with friends and b) was traveling alone after.

Three weeks before my flight to Cartagena, I took a job in Barcelona, fully aware that that’s nowhere near Colombia, and spent literally an entire day researching the cheapest and most effective way to get there from Cartagena, which turned out to be flying to Panama for a three-hour layover before landing in Madrid and then taking a bus to Barcelona from there. I decided to spend a couple of days in Madrid because why the hell not.

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After my friends left Cartagena, I checked into a hostel by myself, met a bunch of cool people and ran around the city with them for the night, got to the airport the next morning, and flew to Panama for my layover without any drama.

When I tried to board the plane from Panama to Madrid is when the shitshow started. And yes, that’s the best terminology to describe it.

Shitshow Part 1: I almost couldn’t board my plane.

A few minutes before the first boarding group lined up to get on the plane, I noticed I didn’t have a boarding group number, so I went to the front desk to ask them about it. The gentleman working there asked if I had a permanent address in Spain, and when I said no, he told me I couldn’t board the plane to Madrid without some kind of return ticket, and said I had roughly five minutes to do so.

After the mandatory 1-3 minutes of panic, I started trying to buy a ticket to Portugal for mid-August, since it’s close to Spain and therefore cheap to fly to. (Completely ignorant at the time of Schengen Zone rules.) Of course, the second I put my credit card information in and was about to hit submit, the WiFi stopped working.

I refreshed the page a million times and tried to disconnect and reconnect to the WiFi ad nauseam on both my phone and my tablet, and it still wasn’t working. I went to ask the people at the counter if I could possibly use their computer, because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and they basically said “too bad.”

The last boarding group was starting to get on the plane, so I tried to board at the other desk. They too said I needed some type of return ticket, and when I said I was trying and the WiFi wasn’t working, they said they couldn’t help me and it must be my phone. (Even though I was trying to connect with two different devices.)

I started going into panic mode, explaining (in Spanish) that I paid for the flight, and I could buy a ticket out of Spain, but needed the WiFi to be working, and they just told me to go away. This is what I get for not getting an international SIM card before leaving the country.

I started thinking that worst case scenario, I would sleep in the airport overnight and just keep trying to get the WiFi to work. However, a flight from South America to Europe isn’t cheap, I knew the airline wouldn’t reimburse me, and I can’t afford to lose the money I’d already spent on the flight, so I was like, hell no, I’m not letting this happen.

I said three or four times (in different phrasing) that I’d buy a ticket but I just needed a WiFi connection, and in the process of doing that, I watched the last person board the plane.

Finally, the woman at the gate called over another employee and had him make a hotspot on his phone for me so I could connect to the WiFi and buy the ticket. He did, I bought it, I thanked them both an embarrassing amount of times, and got my ass on the plane.

The second I buckled myself into the seat, I was like wait, hell yeah, I’m going to Portugal in two months.

TL;DR: Make sure you’re 100% clear on the visa policies to any country you plan to stay in for a long period of time without a visa, and that you have proof of leaving the country before you try to board the plane. Also, it’s probably a good idea to have a phone that works abroad before you go to a different country.

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Shitshow Part 2: I literally walked myself out of Madrid.

After spending nine hours flying through various time zones, I landed in Madrid. When I got out of the two-hour-long customs line, I realized my phone was dead, so I went to ask the people in the tourist information booth how to get to my hostel, and they gave me a map of Madrid and showed me that it took two trains and took about 45 minutes to get there, but that would put me right outside the hostel.

When I got off at the second stop, I found a cheap place to grab food. The super nice guy who worked there let me charge my phone behind the counter while I ate, and when I got it back, I saw that I was actually an hour away walking, which isn’t a big deal, because walking around a new city is the best way to explore it anyway.

So I started walking, but 15 minutes into it my phone died again, so I took out the map from the airport, but I’m embarrassingly terrible at reading maps, so I started walking in what I thought was the general direction of the hostel. After what must have been 45 minutes, I stopped to look at a metro map to see if taking a train would be easier, but the metro symbols on the map didn’t match the ones on the map I had, and I saw a taxi drive by, so I hailed the taxi and showed the driver the address of where I was trying to go.

He looked at the paper, looked back at me, and said (in Spanish), “this is in Madrid.”

“…Sí…,” I said. No shit, sir.

Pero no estamos en Madrid,” he explained. Turns out I ended up in some random Spanish city. Because of course I did.

It was about a 20 minute car ride to where I was trying to go, and he initially said it would be 40 euros, but seeing my facial expression, he only charged me eight. I got lucky.

TL;DR: If you’re in a new city and awful at directions/general map reading, it would probably be a good idea to have a charged phone when you arrive. Also, I now know that the app MAPS.ME is a freaking godsend. (No, they did not pay me to say that.)

Shitshow Part 3: I confused the time zones.

So I finally get to the hostel (Cat’s Hostel), but because I had reserved the hostel bed in America (time zone #1) for when I got to Madrid (time zone #2) after Panama (time zone #3), I had tried to do the math but messed it up, so I was a day late for my reservation. They said they had room at their sister hostel, and I asked how far away it was, thinking that with the luck I’d been having, it would be an hour away by foot, but it was just around the corner (Mad Hostel).

TL;DR: Be super clear on time zones. Check your math. Use the Internet.

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What started out as a series of unfortunate events (book series from 2002 reference intended) ended up as a lovely four days full of lots of new friends. I managed to take the bus from Madrid to Barcelona without incident and have been in Barcelona for a little over a week now.

I’m awful at directions and apparently can’t deal with things like time zones, so if I can travel alone and end up fine (albeit make some stupid mistakes), you can, too.

Sick Sunsets From Around The World

Who doesn’t love a little sunset porn? Nobody, that’s who. Scope these dope sunsets from around the globe. All of these are pictures I’ve taken in different places I’ve been.

Lefkada, Greece
Lefkada, Greece

 

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

 

Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany

 

Staten Island, NY
Staten Island, New York, USA

 

Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

 

San Francisco, CA
San Francisco, California, USA

 

Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz, California, USA

 

Big Sur, CA
Big Sur, California, USA

 

Venice Beach, CA
Venice Beach, California, USA

 

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

 

Netanya, Israel
Netanya, Israel

 

EuroMyth: Common Misconceptions about “Euro Trips” and Why They’re Wrong

When I was backpacking across Western Europe (Friends references will never get old, that’s a fact), I had some experiences that negated some “advice” I had heard before I went. I’m here to debunk some “Euro myths” about your upcoming Euro trip. (See what I did there? That was funny.)

Suitcases double as excellent chairs while you're waiting for the bus in Florence, Italy (or anywhere)
Suitcases double as excellent chairs while you’re waiting for the bus in Florence, Italy (or anywhere).

1. “Hostels are dirty and full of sketchy people who will stab you in your sleep.”

I’ve said this before  and I’ll say it again: despite what a lot of people think, hostels are awesome. Everyone loves a spacious, relaxing hotel, but if you’re traveling on a budget, hostels are the way to go. Obviously, check the reviews before  you book anything–that’s what the Internet is for. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels, and shared a room with at least three strangers each time, and the only slightly unfavorable hostel housemate I’ve had was an older gentleman who wouldn’t stop talking about the color wheel for no reason and was super vocal while taking care of his business in the bathroom. And that’s more of a funny story than anything else.

In my experience, checking into a hostel and meeting the randos with whom you’re in a room is like being given automatic friends for the next couple of days. Most other people who I’ve met in hostels are 20- and 30-something (with the exception of the Bathroom Gentleman) and just trying to explore a new city.

Most hostels also offer some kind of meal and/or host a tour of the city, and sometimes even a pub crawl, all of which are great ways to meet the other people staying in your hostel. Also, people who work at hostels are generally super chill and laid-back.

2. “Everyone in Paris is stuck-up and won’t talk to you if you don’t speak French.”

If you’re an American living in, say, Missouri, and someone just walked up to you on the street and started speaking to you in French, and you don’t speak French, you’d be like, “what the hell,” right? It’s the same thing. If you learn a couple of important phrases in the language of every country you visit–like “hello,” “thank you,” “what time does happy hour start,” etc.–you should be good to go.

I needed to ask for directions several times while I was in Paris (and everywhere else), so I learned how to ask “do you speak English?” and also to say “I don’t speak much [language]” in the language of each country I visited. When I opened with that, people were more than happy to help me out wherever I went, and most people also knew a substantial amount of English.

Which brings us to…

3. “Nobody will speak a word of English anywhere you go.”

While this is certainly more true for some countries than for others, most people in most countries speak at least enough English to have a short conversation. Which is unfortunate, actually. It’s a little harder to have a full-fledged cultural experience if there’s still English everywhere you go, but it is what it is.

Regardless, it’s a good idea (and the respectful thing to do) to learn some words and phrases in the language of wherever you are.

4. “Pickpocketing is a huge problem and you’ll definitely get robbed.”

Pickpocketing is for sure a thing, but it can be a thing anywhere. Just like everywhere else, keep an eye on your belongings, pay attention to where you are, and don’t be an idiot. Those are solid rules for life, actually.

Picnics are the cheapest way to eat in Paris, hands down. Six euro wine is a plus.
Picnics are the cheapest way to eat in Paris, hands down. Even with wine.

5. “You have to be rich in order to be able to go.”

You don’t have to be wealthy to go to Europe, but you do have to know how/be willing to a) save up and b) budget.

5a. Saving up: This is easier said than done, but before your trip, try to start thinking things like, “Would I rather spend $7 on this burger right now or have 7 more dollars that could go towards a night at a hostel?”

(This isn’t as crazy as it sounds–yesterday I was lurking different hostel websites and saw that there’s a hostel in Thailand that costs $7.95 a night. True facts.)

Start putting some extra time into making food to bring to work and/or school instead of buying meals out, don’t buy drinks at bars (except for at happy hour occasionally), leave your friend’s party before midnight so you can take the last bus home instead of calling an Uber. Save a little now, and you’ll thank yourself later. Is that already the slogan for an insurance company or something, because if not, it should be. Any slogan-less insurance companies out there, get at me.

"A penny saved on a sandwich in Missouri is a penny that can go toward gelato in Venice," just like the old saying goes.
“A penny saved on a sandwich in Missouri is a penny that can go toward gelato in Venice,” just like the old saying goes.

5b. Budget: Although I liked the idea of bouncing from European city to European city without any actual plan, it was waaaay cheaper to book my accommodation and transportation ahead of time (and I’m glad I did). I also printed out all of the confirmation pages for all of my hotels, trains, and flights before I left, and lugged them around with me everywhere in a folder in my backpack, which was a slight pain in the ass, but still saved me a ton of trouble when I was there, since sometimes the WiFi was crappy or nonexistent and we wouldn’t be able to pull up our confirmation emails at the hostel or train station.

I budgeted around $40/day not including flights or accommodation, which ended up working out fine, especially since in some countries you will definitely spend more (cough cough drinking in Spain), and in some countries you will definitely spend less (Greece).

Once I was there, I was also super careful about picking which activities I wanted to spend more on. I literally didn’t eat a legit meal the whole 36 hours I was in London because I heard it was expensive and I wanted to save my $$ for experiences, like the London Eye. I don’t necessarily recommend only eating nuts and janky half-frozen sandwiches for a day and a half like I did, but you get my point.

TL:DR; Hostels are dope! A lot of people speak English, but it helps/is considerate to learn some phrases! Keep an eye on your stuff and you should be fine! You don’t have to be ballin’ to go to Europe, but you do need to learn how to save up and budget!