I Missed My First Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

From the same cow onesie-clad traveler who brought you “7 Travel Mistakes I Made – And How You Can Avoid Them,” I present to you…7 more travel mistakes I made! Wait another 6-8 months and maybe we’ll have a third edition! Yippee!

So, without further ado, here’s some things while traveling I did that you should try to avoid doing. Enjoy!

1. Waiting to book transportation between countries until the day of

Just like booking a one-way flight with no return date is a romantic idea that can easily get squashed by airport officials, floating around the globe and seeing where the wind takes you is a romantic idea that can easily get squashed by your wallet. Well, my wallet, at least.

My friend Katie and I had three weeks to travel through Europe together, starting June 8. The cheapest flight out of California was to London, and we wanted to end our trip in Barcelona for the Festival of Sant Joan, i.e. the best day ever. Fireworks and dancing on the beach all night? Yes please.

In between London and Barcelona, she wanted to visit the South of France, and I wanted to visit Budapest. When we initially talked about places we wanted to go, in late February, I saw that Milan, Italy was kinda sorta in the middle of Budapest and France, and that a Megabus from Milan to Nice was €7. What we should have done was buy bus fare as soon as we saw it, because €7 is cheap as hell. But, we didn’t buy it until we were in Milan and hoping to leave the next day, and it was around €40.

Affordable ticket-booking website GoEuro doesn’t always accept American credit cards, so although it’s usually the cheapest site to buy bus tickets on, if you have an American credit card, you have to go to the station day of and hope there’s still tickets left.

SO! Cheaper tickets and ensuring you have a seat. That’s two good reasons to buy bus tickets ahead of time if you only have a limited amount of time.

If you do have a one-way ticket and no set time that you have to be back home, then by all means, follow the wind.

2. Not booking accommodation ahead of time – especially in peak season

You know how you’d love to party it up in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, get down at a pool party in Las Vegas in the summertime, or relax on a beach along the French Riviera when it’s nice and hot out? Yeah, so would literally everyone else in the entire world. Therefore, these and other beach, pool, and party-centric vacation destinations become much more crowded during the warm months or during a special occasion (such as Mardi Gras).

That means that flights will be more expensive and hotels/hostels/Air Bnbs will fill up fast, and the rooms that are available will go way up in price.

With its warm weather and booming nightclub scene, including some nightclubs right on the beach, Barcelona gets crazy busy in the summer. Having lived there during the summer of 2016, I knew this, and stupidly thought late May was far enough in advance to book accommodation for the end of June. Nope.

By the time Katie and I finally looked at accommodation, every hostel that was remotely near the city center was €40 at cheapest, and I love hostels dearly, but a hostel bed should never cost anywhere near €40.

We ended up staying at this janky hotel with bunk beds 45 minutes away from the center. Sharing our room with us was eight large Russian men who sat in circles on the floor, chain smoked cigarettes at 9 a.m. and would stop talking and stare at us whenever we left to go to the bathroom. Which is like, not ideal.

So, don’t do like me – if you’re going somewhere that’s bound to be poppin’ when you’ll be there, do yourself a favor and start figuring out where you’re sleeping 2-3 months ahead of time.

3. Thinking “it will be warm, it’s summer” and not packing a proper jacket

…and finding yourself in a torrential downpour on Grafton Street the minute you arrive in Dublin with nothing but a light hoodie to protect you.

I’ve made the “oh, I won’t need a jacket” mistake countless times, but I refuse to become one of those tourists who ends up having to buy a €30 “I Got Lucky in Ireland” sweatshirt, so until I finally learn, I’ll just travel cold.

Be prepared! Check the weather forecast for your destination before you go.

4. Not paying attention to where you’re going

It can be really easy to get lost in a foreign country, especially if you don’t know the language. That’s why maps come in handy, but my directional sense is abysmal, and it’s much easier for me to just punch in where I’m going to Google Maps and then follow the little blue dot. Yeah, yeah, so millennial, I know.

However, Google Maps only works over WiFi. But, if you look up where you’re going on Google Maps while you’re in a WiFi zone and leave the Maps app open when you leave, the little blue dot will still tell you where you are, even without WiFi! Yes, I know I talked about this before, but important travel hacks bear repeating.

You can also download an area on Google Maps prior to your trip so that you can navigate without WiFi.

To do this, you’ll need a Gmail account. Go into your Maps app on your phone, click the three little horizontal lines in the top left hand corner, sign in with your Gmail, click “offline areas,” then click “download offline area” and type in the name of the city you’ll be needing navigation in. BOOM.

I also use the app MAPS.ME, which functions entirely offline. However, if you’re not going somewhere super popular, the app might have a hard time finding it unless you pre-load the address into the app before you leave the house. So like, if you wanted to find the nearest Starbucks on a whim, you could easily punch that into the app and figure it out, but if you were supposed to meet your friend at Elegant Emily’s Family-Owned Teahouse, that’s probably something you needed to pre-load directions for before you left.

5. Treating your international SIM card like a normal SIM card

When I’m in another country, I normally either just use WiFi when I happen to find it or purchase a little janky SIM card and stop at shops to load it with more credit as needed. However, this time, because I knew there would be a lot of people I would be wanting to meet up with and because it’s a pain in the ass having to find open WiFi networks all the time just so you can use your GPS, I decided to purchase a legit international SIM card and use that.

However, I was stupid, and was treating it like it was my normal SIM card in America. When I first arrived in London, I was browsing Facebook and Snapchatting a bunch of people when I wasn’t in a WiFi Zone. I think I even posted an Instagram picture once, complete with a zillion hashtags and tags, which takes forever and eats up a lot of data.

The SIM card I had automatically refills itself when you dip under $10, which is a handy feature because it won’t ever leave you stranded if you’re unable to top it up, but it also won’t let you refill it anymore after you’ve put a certain slightly large amount of money on it, which I hit in under a week, and then I couldn’t use it at all for the next three countries I was in. Whoops.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I bought an aforementioned janky SIM card at one of the little shops for a total of €10, and it lasted me the entire 10 days I was there, plus continued to work when I was back in the U.S. Go figure.

 6. Not leaving enough time to catch your flight

There’s a million little things you have to account for when catching a flight. Maybe the security line is moving extra slow that day. Maybe you couldn’t print your boarding pass beforehand and you have to get it at the airport and all of the machines are broken except for one. YOU NEVER KNOW.

So, because of all these potential factors, especially if it’s an international flight, I’d recommend getting to the airport like obscenely early.

I’ve been to London twice, once on this trip with Katie and once in 2015. When I went in 2015, my friends and I flew out of Stansted Airport, and nearly missed our flight because we got there only an hour because our flight was supposed to depart, the airport was packed, the lines were long, and the people at security were taking every single passenger’s luggage and thoroughly searching it. The only reason we didn’t miss our flight is it left half an hour later than it was supposed to.

Now, since this was my only experience at Stansted, you’d think I would have thought to leave for the airport at least four hours prior to my flight just to be safe. Welp, I did not, we got there about an hour before our flight was set to leave, it was packed again, the security line was long again, they took forever to go through everyone’s bags again. While waiting to go through security and seeing the literal hundreds of people in front of us, 30 minutes before boarding time, Katie and I were so convinced we were going to miss our flight to Budapest that we started looking at other countries near Hungary we could fly to on the cheap. Spoiler: there were none.

After finally going through security, we ran through the airport in our socks, clutching our shoes and jackets to our chests. And guess what? Our flight was half an hour delayed again, and we made it just in time. Yeee!

When we were leaving Budapest five days later, we checked out of our hostel at 8 a.m. when we had a 12:30 flight, just in case something happened. Which it did. Which brings me to…

7. Not being prepared for/missing transportation

Once when I was in Barcelona, I was supposed to take a 7-hour train ride to Northern Spain at 5 a.m. So, naturally, I hadn’t yet packed at 3 a.m., and was still planning on sneaking in a nap before my train. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and I had to take a train the next day.

That’s surprisingly the only transportation I’ve ever missed.

It’s a good idea to pack the night before you travel.

But here’s the thing, even when you do that and leave super early, stuff just happens sometimes, and you gotta prepare for it.

When we left Budapest four hours before our flight, we got the wrong ticket for the airport train, but when the conductor came by to check our tickets, he decided our incorrect tickets were okay, probably just because of our massive language barrier. Then, we missed our stop because we weren’t following our blue map dots or paying attention to signs. We got off the train and had to hop a fence with all of our luggage to buy the correct train ticket, since there was nowhere in the waiting area to buy a ticket, because passengers couldn’t get in without a ticket. Of course, we had tickets, but they were the wrong ones.

Then, we had to wait 45 minutes for the train in the correct direction. Once it finally came and took us to the airport, it was the wrong airport. We had to take a bus, the 200E, in order to get to the correct airport. Our Google Maps couldn’t save us there – the only reason we knew that is after walking around a desolated airport for half an hour which appeared to only be for military aircraft carriers, some dude appeared out of nowhere and told us what to do.

So, if we had only left an hour or two before our flight, we wold have been screwed. But because we left four entire hours ahead of time, we were cool.

Lemme know your travel mistakes in the comments. I wanna hear em!


My Week in Budapest Was A Huge Mess – 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 misadventures 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. 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 way down to the end in order to buy tickets, which was roughly half a mile. 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, but it would be very easy to.

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

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 tubs, hot tubs, 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 costs a little less than 11,000 HUF, but if you buy it when you get there, 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 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 either of us 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, because you’ll probably be either in the pool or at the bar and not trying to lay out and dry off. During the day, however, 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.

For whatever reason, the locker situation during the day works differently than at night, and it 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 out the ticket that corresponded with that.

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 confused circles and triple-checked the map.

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 clearly lost 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 super early for 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

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!






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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My First 48 Hours of Traveling Alone Were One Big Misadventure–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 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 sh**show started. And yes – that is the best terminology to describe it.

Sh**show 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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Sh**show 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. Duh, 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.)

Sh**show Part 3: I confused the time zones.

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.