The historic city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is so beautiful it doesn’t look real. Like, I expected fairies and dragons to be strolling along the bridge and popping out from behind the waterfall. Check out seven of the best pictures I took when I was there and you’ll see what I mean.
1. This shot of the Neretva River
See that bridge? That’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge.” It was built in the 15th century under the Ottoman Empire and destroyed in the Bosnian Wars in the early 1990s, but rebuilt in 2004. I couldn’t believe the color of the water in the river. I mean, look at that.
2. This picture of Stari Most that literally looks like a painting
Fun fact, when I was there, there was a dude (not pictured) sitting on top of the bridge in tiny swimsuit bottoms and holding a sign that said he would jump for €30. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if anyone took him up on that.
3. This gorgeous view I casually saw while walking from my hostel to the supermarket to pick up dinner
The color of the water gets me every time. I’ll shut up about it, but LOOK at that.
4. This idyllic babbling brook
Talk about dinner with a view.
5. Kravice Waterfalls
This was easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And I’ve been around.
Although not locate in Mostar, these waterfalls are in Studenci, which is roughly a 50 minute drive from Mostar.
Our hostel offered a day-long tour all around Mostar and surrounding areas that cost €30 and took you to a bunch of different places, including the waterfalls. Like always, I am on a super budget, as were the two other people I was traveling with. Instead of doing the tour, we rented a car from Enterprise for the day for a grand total of €16 (without insurance). We met two girls in our hostel room who also wanted to see the waterfalls, so we split the price five ways and spent a few hours swimming and exploring the caves. If you do this, just make sure the person driving has driven an automatic before and is also used to driving on the right side of the road so you don’t spend the journey with one eye open while gripping the bar above the window.
The waterfalls cost 4 km, or roughly €2, to enter. They’re open between 7 in the morning and 10 at night. If you only have a day or two in Mostar like I did, definitely check them out.
6. Just in case you weren’t convinced, this other picture of Kravice Waterfalls
Seriously, LOOK AT THAT.
7. This dreamlike view
Even the view out of the bus window on the way out was beautiful. Check out those clouds. 💫
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.
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!
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.
I realized that my favorite places are the ones that aren’t just one thing. Like San Francisco, where I spent the past five years, Barcelona is a bustling city, but also has beaches and other places to go to escape the crowds. Unlike San Francisco, the sea is warm and one can swim in it without a wetsuit.
But it isn’t just the sea and the nightlife that still have me so in love a whole year later. It’s the fact that there are people awake and walking around at any time of day or night, the fact that you can purchase beer for a euro from people walking around the streets selling them (even at 7 in the morning, if you were so inclined), and the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways that all look similar.
It’s the fact that there are always people hanging out around the fountain at Placa Reial, the monthly full moon parties on the beach, the fact that the city has as many posh nightclubs as it does clubs on top of roofs or tucked away in cave-like areas or under restaurants, Antonio Gaudi’s bizarre, colorful architecture and the buildings that have gargoyle statues looming out at you as you walk by. They just don’t have anything like that in California.
My least favorite question I get asked is “you’re from California–why did you move out here?”
My answer is always the same.
“Look where the hell you are,” I say, “Barcelona is incredible.”
I’m nine weeks into having the same dream every night, and I’m nowhere near ready to wake up yet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!