Humor Travel Life
I have been going to the city of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico for the last 20 years. Don't freak out; I've also traveled to other places during those 20 years as well. I even lived in PV briefly during college. Puerto Vallarta has certainly changed over the years, but it also remains the same in many ways too. I've seen new businesses built up and beloved old ones go away. I've seen once-cherished beach spots become overrun by 20-something hipster tourists. But then again, I guess me saying I knew it before it was cool makes me a hipster too right?
After 20 years though, you'd think I had seen all there was to see in Puerto Vallarta. That's when you realize that sometimes father really does know best. This past December, I met up with my folks down in Puerto Vallarta. They came from Michigan, and I came from LA. So, shout out to my dad for providing me with some new experiences this last trip to Puerto Vallarta. That, and he insisted on getting credit. Humility comes and goes in our family.
So for those who think they've seen it all in their travel destinations, I am here to tell you that even after 20 years of visits, I was able to have new experiences and discoveries in this wonderful city.
New Discovery #1: Lo De Marcos
The furthest up the coast from Puerto Vallarta I had ever ventured to was Sayulita, so when my Dad suggested a tiny beach town called Lo De Marcos, which is just about 15-20 minutes north of Sayulita, I was intrigued. He had been there before and spoke so highly of it, plus it was somewhere I had never been and I was craving something new. Coming from Old Town Puerto Vallarta however, it was almost 2 hours via bus to arrive in Lo De Marcos, but when we finally got there, it was well worth the trip. To say the town was small would be an understatement; You saw more street dogs around than you did residents. For someone who craves a local experience though, it was perfect. With only just a few others along the beach, it was clear that Lo De Marcos had yet to be overrun by tourists, though I fear the hipsters and surfers will soon catch on. Shhh. Don't share this blog with them! Ok. I'm just kidding. Well, maybe...
The beach and ocean are also way better than in the city of Puerto Vallarta. With no rocks at the shore and big waves to play in, I had a blast swimming in the ocean that day. Just be mindful that sometimes people on horses come through there, so keep your eyes peeled when walking through the sand. We had to shout after a young woman who almost ended up stepping in horse poop with her bare feet. Not all heroes wear capes...
New Discovery #2: Jungle Hiking
Another fun adventure my dad showed me was the hike from Boca de Tomatlan through the jungle to Las Animas beach. Boca de Tomatlan is to the south of the city and is where you can go to catch water taxi boats to the more secluded beaches down the coast. Instead of taking a water taxi though, my Dad and I hiked along the trail through the jungle. The trail can be somewhat strenuous, so if you are new to hiking in the heat I might suggest building up for that hike before you do it. It's a fun challenge though and an absolutely gorgeous route. You get to hike through a beautiful jungle and look out onto the ocean at the same time. Plus, the waters down the coast of Puerto Vallarta are much more of a pretty blue color. If you need a break along the way, or just a really great photo op, stop at Colomitos beach, which is about half way into the hike. It's a cool, small beach spot and the water is a really pretty emerald green color. Finally, when you get to Playa las Animas you can enjoy a refreshing Pacifico beer at a local restaurant and even encounter a talking parrot there. I kid you not.
After 20 years visiting Puerto Vallarta though, this hike had some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in the area. It's absolutely worth it.
New Discovery #3: Live Jazz Music
Over the years I've been exposed to different music while in Puerto Vallarta. There's the live Mariachi band performing along the Malecon boardwalk or the Salsa band at La Bodeguita del Medio. And there's even the nightclub that plays nothing but techno while you sit and pray for some Beyonce to come on while fending off drunk male tourists. From my knowledge, Puerto Vallarta hadn't really been much of place you go to listen to jazz. My father, a lifelong professional musician and music teacher, has more recently gotten involved with the local music community in Vallarta. It's through this that my parents met a trumpet player originally from Havana named Josvani. They suggested we go watch him perform with his group at a new venue along the Malecon called The Jazz Foundation. You don't always get many opportunities for live music around town there, so to see a new venue that not only has frequent live music performances, but also in a style not commonly performed there, was actually quite cool to see.
I'll have some more fun blog posts coming up in the new year, but for now please feel free to catch some of my published articles for Matador Network, Thought Catalog, and GoMad Nomad. Have a warm and happy holiday season and see you in the new year. Don't forget to keep in touch on Twitter and Instagram. Happy Holidays!
My apathy towards the city of angels known as Los Angeles has allowed me to occasionally forget that I also happen to live in one of the most frequented tourist destinations in the world, though I would gladly trade the poop-covered, smoke-filled streets of LA for the majestic beauty of the Scottish countryside or the sparkling streets of Paris. Contrary to any perceived images of LA, we are not dancing and singing with joy along the 405 Freeway, nor having a romantic, yet technically illegal, date at the Griffith Observatory after hours with a Ryan Gosling look-alike. Seriously, where is that LA?
OK. Back to reality. Our brand of tourism here in LA is very specific. It's called Hollywood. Our claim to fame is that timeless, transcendent industry that brings thousands of tourists each year in hopes of seeing famous stars like Julia Roberts or Denzel Washington, or YouTube stars that anyone over the age of 25 has never heard of. So naturally after residing in this hub of Hollywood for some years now, I thought it only fitting that I share some insight into my own local tourist destination.
If you're the Hollywood fan...
Alright. Well, even if you aren't so much into Hollywood entertainment, you can't come to LA and not experience at least some of our famous industry. The first must-see is Hollywood Blvd. What you need to see on Hollywood Blvd. is the hand and footprints at the Chinese Theatre, followed by the Hollywood Walk of Fame which has all the famous stars on the ground with the names of various celebrities. Warning: Do not, I repeat, do not at all lay on the ground or put your hands on the ground to take photos with the actors' stars. Most people do not realize that there's a lot of people who go to the bathroom or their pets do all over the streets of this city and Hollywood is no exception. The germs you will be touching make me cringe simply thinking about it. Just please don't do it. Another spot on Hollywood Blvd. to see is the Dolby Theatre, formerly known as like 3 other names before that because this place keeps getting bought out. This is where the Academy Awards are held now every year. You get to walk up the same stairs as the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Then of course there's the Hollywood sign. What they don't tell you is that the hike to this is pretty rough, so if you're into hiking, then give it a go. If not, there's plenty of spots around Hollywood to get the sign in your photo. If you come to LA you'll also see lots of Hollywood tour vans and buses driving tourists around town. Because LA is annoyingly so spread out, this is a way to see lots of sights around the city without paying hundreds of dollars in Lyft rides or hours on our unreliable public transportation system. I'd recommend maybe renting a car while you're here, but the drivers here will make you go grey earlier than necessary...
Universal Studios Hollywood is a fun theme park attached to the famous movie studio, which also offers a really fun studio tour as one of their rides. Other studios like Warner Bros and Paramount offer tours of their lots as well. You can also check out television show tapings here in town. From talk shows with Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Kimmel to competition/game shows like The Price is Right and Dancing with the Stars, we definitely have plenty to catch while you are here. The good news is that these shows need full audiences, so tickets are usually all free. If you somehow find a way to actually get tickets to The Ellen Show, consider yourself super lucky as these sell out really quickly....and please feel free to bring me along.
If you're into a good view of the city...
My favorite spot in Los Angeles is the Griffith Observatory, made famous in the iconic film Rebel without a Cause. It also happens to be a great spot to get some nice shots of the city. You can even get some photos of the Hollywood sign up there as well. James Dean fans in particular will appreciate this site, which includes a monument dedicated to him.
Another spot to get views of the city is Runyon Canyon just north of Franklin St. in Hollywood. Here's where many 20-something model/actors go to exercise, but more so to be seen. The cool thing for tourists though? You may actually catch a celebrity hiking around here too.
If you're into expensive shopping...
I can tell you in full honesty that the only thing I have ever bought near Rodeo Drive is a slice of pizza. But for those of you on a much different budget than me, this is where you can find that famous high-end shopping. You may even catch celebrities over on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I once saw Mischa Barton on Rodeo Drive, but then again, I also saw her in a Kinkos as well so you never know.
If you're into the beach...
Alright. Let's get this out of the way. Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Yes, you should absolutely see them. The Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are some of the most iconic beach spots in the world. That being said, they aren't necessarily the nicest. So, if you have the time and really want to experience the California surfer lifestyle or some of the nicest beaches Southern California has to offer, take a Metrolink or Amtrak train down to Orange County. Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, Dana Point. These are all very beautiful beach spots. The thing about LA is that it's not kept clean, which is frustrating. These beach areas in Orange County are especially nice for families visiting as well. Salt Creek beach near Laguna is gorgeous. I was there this summer and it's a really pretty spot to visit.
Last but not least...
Get out of LA! Seriously though. Come to LA, but then get the hell out. California is one the most beautiful places on Earth. While I'm not crazy for Los Angeles, the state of California is stunning. The Redwoods, Yosemite, Big Sur, San Francisco, San Diego. These are all incredible places to visit if you come here. San Diego has the awesome zoo and safari park. San Francisco feels like a slice of the east coast here in California and has lots of great sights of its own, like Chinatown, Fisherman's Warf, and of course the Full House house. My biggest advice for visiting San Francisco is to go over Thanksgiving weekend when they do the Christmas tree lighting. It's really fun and will get you into the holiday spirit. Then of course there's also Disneyland down in Anaheim. The original Disney theme park in fact!
All in all, LA is definitely worth seeing. When my bitterness of this city gets to me, because let's face it, I'm a Midwest girl living in a very shallow environment, I have to check my attitude and remind myself that I'm also in the same city where they made I Love Lucy and then all is right with the world.
My next adventure will be international. But where? Well, stay tuned! Coming soon...
Since I'm 1/2 Dutch via my Dad's side of the family, heading to The Netherlands always feel like coming home. It also helps that I still have family over there, which means I get to share with you a bit of the local Dutch experience.
If you're into cool attractions...
Obviously Amsterdam and those 'coffee shops' tend to be popular items on one's bucket list when visiting The Netherlands, but there's actually a lot more to the country than that. On my most recent trip, my family over there took me to a site called Madurodam. This is hands down one of the most unique attractions you will ever see, plus it's a great way to see the country if you don't have the time to actually see the whole country. What I mean by this is that Madurodam features numerous exact, tiny replicas of Dutch cities and sights. This place is so cool that even the replica for the airport has tiny planes moving around the miniature airport. As John Hammond of Jurassic Park would say, "Spare no expense." They also feature live shows highlighting the history of The Netherlands, as well it's influence on the establishment of New York City.
If you're into food and drinks...
I could go on for days about all my favorite Dutch foods, but the number one food you should experience is Herring. It's a popular fish in The Netherlands. For any first timers out there, I'd recommend a Herring sandwich. However, if you're the adventurous type, visit the local food market in Rotterdam and try some Herring by the tail. And yes, it's exactly as it sounds. For drinks, the local brand of beer is Heineken, so after having some by-the-tail Herring, wash it down with an ice cold Heineken at a local bar in downtown Rotterdam.
'Til next time!
Paris, the City of Lights. Words won't do it justice, but I'll certainly try my best. If there's a must-see city list to travel to, Paris would be at the top of it. From food to history to art, this place will tug at your heart strings when you least expect it.
If you're into art...
There's a reason I started off with art. Paris is home to The Louvre, easily the world's most famous art museum and home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. The Louvre itself is a work of art, and it is just as huge as it is beautiful, so be sure to leave a full day to explore it. That being said, no matter how ambitious you are, it's near impossible to see everything in one visit, believe me I tried. My top suggestion for visiting The Louvre is to go as early as possible. Be there in line at opening time, and then head straight for the Mona Lisa after entering the museum. This is the best opportunity to see the Mona Lisa since the crowds aren't nearly as busy as they are later in the day. The great thing about The Louvre is that they are fully aware of their big claim to fame and have signs posted all over showing directions to get to the Mona Lisa, so just follow the yellow brick road, eh signs, and you won't get lost.
If you're into landmarks...
The Eiffel Tower of course! It's great to see it during the day, but it's a must to see it lit up at night. Every night they have a light show at the Eiffel Tower on the hour until about Midnight. Notre Dame is another place that is absolutely worth seeing. This church, much like Westminster Abbey, has been around for almost a thousand years. It's also still a working church, so if you feel inclined you can also catch a service. The thing that frustrated me most though about the tourists I encountered while there is that even though there were signs posted not to take photos, people still insisted on taking them. I understand it's an overwhelmingly beautiful and historic church, but it's important to also respect the wishes of the people working there and attending service, so please refrain from an incessant photo-bonanza and simply take in the fact that you are standing in Notre Dame itself. If you go to Notre Dame, make it a point to venture to the top of the church as well. It's about $10, and it is totally worth it. You get to see the architecture designs up close including the gargoyle statues, and in addition you get to go inside the famous bell tower.
If you're into a nice, relaxing stroll...
Take a walk along the Seine. It is the river that flows through the city center. You can catch local Parisians and tourists taking a break as they sit beside the river, as well as the stunning bridges built along the way. For an extra special treat, get your walk in at sunset.
If you're into food and wine...
Anywhere! Just sit outside and enjoy a cafe. You must try the desserts though. While everyone told me the croissants here would change my life, I actually felt that way about the macaroons, not to be confused with Macron, the new French president. There's also a wonderful market street in the Latin Quarter called Rue Mouffetard that has numerous food stands for you to purchase some local food during your visit.
Next up, learn about one of the most creative attractions in The Netherlands that you've probably never even heard of.
"Just touched down in Londontown." You've finally made it to this historic city. So now what?
For the music lovers...
Heading on over to the famous Abbey Road Studios is a must. No, it's not just a crosswalk but also a working recording studio. Be mindful of the traffic though as you try to get that perfect crosswalk shot, since there are no traffic lights for cars to stop. You'd think after a while the locals would stop driving on that street, but I suppose it's the same when Los Angeles locals brave Hollywood Blvd.; It's still our space to use.
If you're into history...
OK. This is one heck of a city to explore it. England has an incredibly rich history with some buildings as old as a thousand years still up and working in London today. One of my favorite locations was Westminster Abbey. This has been home to the coronations, funerals, and weddings of many famous English monarchs for centuries, and in addition, it is the burial site for not only monarchs but also famous people in British history. For the feminists out there, the iconic Queen Elizabeth I is also buried here. She ruled England for 45 years without a husband or child and to this day is considered one of England's greatest monarchs. Not only is the Abbey breathtaking to look at but it is also a working church, where you can submit prayers and talk with reps from the church. When you're done exploring, head over to the Abbey Cafe where you can enjoy a great breakfast and one of the best teas you will ever have. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is a great way to save time in line when you go to Westminster Abbey.
The Tower of London is also a must-see. In my case, I thought this place was literally just a tower, but it is in fact a giant fortress that has been around for a thousand years as well. There's lots to explore here, so make sure to allow yourself a good amount of time in your day to check it out. Don't be deterred by the ridiculously long line to see the crown jewels though; They move it along surprisingly quickly. One of the most moving parts of the Tower of London for me was the inscriptions that various prisoners throughout history wrote on the walls. They left their names, messages, pleas for forgiveness, etc. It was really unbelievable to see the last words from these men and women from hundreds of years ago and for most, they were awaiting their inevitable execution. This is again another spot to purchase your tickets ahead of time.
If you're into royalty...
Obviously English royal history coincides with both Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, but if you specifically want to see their housing, the first spot to see if of course is Buckingham Palace. It's much different seeing it in-person that on the news as tiny William and Kate wave to the crowd after their wedding, or Charles and Diana depending on your era of course. Unfortunately catching the changing of the guard here is dependent on the rain, which tends to be quite frequent in London, so if you don't see it, just know you probably aren't the only one. While I personally didn't catch the changing of the Queen's guards, I did see some English soldiers setting up music stands. That's something right? Just be sure to look up the days and times for the changing of the guard if that's a priority for you to catch. It's not an every-20-minutes kind of thing.
If you're into Shakespeare...
Lots of people go to London to catch shows in the West End, but if you want the theater AND the history, go see a Shakespeare play at The Globe Theater. It's an exact replica of the original and sits right on the riverbank. They are constantly putting on Shakespeare plays, along with providing tours of the theatre and the neighborhoods Shakespeare and his contemporaries hung out at. It's really inspiring to see the work of Shakespeare in the city where it originally happened. You can look up the calendar of shows online and pick which one you'd like to attend. As always, purchasing a ticket online ahead of time will guarantee a spot and better seats as these shows tend to sell out regularly.
If you're into food...
The London Borough Market is a great spot near London Bridge to visit. They have lots of various food stands and bars. For a dessert treat, try a meringue while you're there. Another great spot to grab a bite to eat and a beer with a fantastic view of the Thames River is the Old Thameside Inn. You have the option to sit inside, but if the weather is nice, enjoy the outdoor view. Order a meat pie and a Guinness and you'll be set with your traditional English meal.
Other highlights to see...
Greenwich Palace, Notting Hill, Portobello Road Market, London Bridge, Big Ben, Parliament.
On the next post, say 'Bonjour' to Paris.
If you're into nature....
See the Highlands. Some of Scotland's most beautiful scenery is located in their infamous Highlands. Unfortunately this area is not accessible by public transportation. You have to either get there by renting a car or taking a formal tour. I was in no way prepared to drive on the other side of the road, so I went the route of the tour for my first trip to the Highlands. I booked with a company called Highland Experience Tours. I did the 1 day tour titled Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and the Highlands. Prior to my trip I researched some of the most beautiful sights in the Highlands and this specific tour incorporated a lot of that. Loch Ness and Glen Coe are the definite highlights of the trip. When you get to Loch Ness, they offer a boat tour for about 14 pounds. It's absolutely worth it, I promise you. Initially I wasn't up for spending the extra money, but you get to see so much more of that area on the boat ride. My main disappointment with the tour was the lack of time spent at some of these areas. I especially would have liked to spend more time at Glen Coe to take in the scenery. I'd say though for your first time to the Highlands, it's nice to have a tour, but if you go again, I'd rent a car and go at your own pace. The two places I didn't get to see on the tour but are still on my list to see are Ben Nevis and the Isle of Skye. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles and it's also listed as one of the most beautiful sights in Scotland. The Isle of Skye is located high up in the north of the country, so you have to go for at least several days. Highland Experience Tours offers a 3 day overnight tour of the Isle of Skye, which had I had more time, I also would have taken advantage of. Everyone I talked with who went there said it's incredible. The tours for this company meet up right in the heart of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, so they are easy to find. Be prepared for a long day, but again, it's totally worth it.
If you're into castles....
There's plenty to choose from! Scotland has numerous historic castles all over the country and they make sure to maintain them well. The two main royalty castles to see are Edinburgh Castle, located in Edinburgh and Stirling Castle, located in Stirling. Because these were the main castles that the Scottish royalty resided in, they also are the busiest when it comes to tourists. At Edinburgh Castle you can see the crown, sword, and scepter used by Mary Queen of Scots when she was crowned. It's crazy to think about the fact that she was only 6 days old when she was crowned, so it's also kind of funny to think of this tiny newborn baby with a giant crown, sword, and scepter being crowned queen of a nation.
Stirling Castle was also another main residence of the royalty. The cool thing about this castle is that you also get to explore a small Scottish village as you walk up to where the castle is. I recommend checking out the Darnley Coffee House after your trip to the castle as a nice place to grab a meal and something to drink. It's even more perfect on a rainy day, which is usually the case in Scotland. This cafe was built in the 16th century and was the former home of Lord Darnley, who was the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots and the father to King James I. Stirling Castle is much more interactive than Edinburgh. They have actors in costumes portraying either royalty or castle servants. They also have games and displays for kids to have a hands on approach to learning about different aspects of royal life in the Middle Ages. Naturally I had to check it out myself too. After all, I am practically the same height as most kids, so I just blend in.
Another castle that I think is an absolute must to see is Tantallon Castle. The great thing about this castle is that you get to not only see a historic castle but you also get to see one right on the coast as well. Tantallon Castle is located in North Berwick, which is one of the sunniest regions of Scotland. North Berwick is also a small seaside village that is really fun to check out. The great thing about Tantallon Castle is that there's not nearly as many tourists as Edinburgh or Stirling. If you get there early enough in the morning, there's maybe just several other people there. This castle is much more low key, so you get to really walk throughout the castle and even up to the top of it. It's so beautiful and surrounded by grass in the front, and then in the back is a small lawn of grass and then the ocean. It was genuinely my favorite thing I saw in Scotland. They even had benches where you could sit out and gaze at the ocean.
If you decide to check out multiple castles, I recommend purchasing the Explorer Pass prior to your trip. They have different options depending on the length of your stay. I purchased the 3-Day Explorer Pass, which allowed me unlimited visits to any castle throughout Scotland over the course of 3 days, and the days didn't even have to be consecutive. So even though I only managed to see 3 castles, I could have seen more. This 3-Day Explorer Pass only cost $27, and also made things easier when I got to the castles since I didn't have to wait in line to buy tickets.
If you're into food and drinks...
It is a must to have both Guinness beer and whiskey while in Scotland. I'm not a huge fan of beer, but I fell in love with the Guinness there. I swear it's more fresh over there or simply made better. Whiskey is not my forte' but it's worth it to say you at least tried some while in Scotland. During the Highland Experience Tour I took we were able to sample some delicious whiskey. If you're into food, some local food to try is a dish called Haggis. It reminded me of meat loaf. The UK in general is big on meat and potatoes so you can always go smaller on portions since the food is so filling. Another local dish to try is Fish and Chips. Just be sure to order the small fish, which is already huge to begin with.
So what about that Scottish weather?
During my stay in early August, the weather was constantly changing. I never experienced a heavy rain, but the weather seemed to go from sunshine to clouds to a light rain within an hour. It's also pretty chilly there even in the summer, so a warm scarf will go a long way. If you don't bring one, you can easily find numerous ones to purchase for as low as about $10. I managed great with tennis shoes, sweaters, and a spring jacket with a hood. At least if you don't have an umbrella, be sure to have a coat with a hood. Because I was limited on space, I didn't bring a pair of boots, which is probably the one thing I wish I would have brought, especially for my time down in London as well when I got stuck in a non-stop rainstorm.
I hope that when looking at destinations for your next trip you consider Scotland. This country is so beautiful, and the people are very friendly. It's also easy to get around to see other towns with such a great public transportation system. Los Angeles, you need to step it up. Small villages in Scotland have more frequent bus routes than LA. I loved Scotland though. It was easily one of the best countries I've ever visited.
Next up on the blog, Merry Ol' London!
Contrary to popular belief, hostels are not as bad as they seem. If you've never stayed in one before, I can completely empathize with your fear going into the situation. Just know that I came out alive and am here to share the info that I learned through my experiences to hopefully help you if you're considering staying in them on your next trip to Europe.
What are the benefits to staying in a hostel? The most obvious benefit to staying in a hostel is the low cost, however, they also provide the opportunity to stay in great, central neighborhoods on a budget as well. Another benefit of hostels is that it's an easy way to meet people, especially for those traveling solo. The key to this though, is that you really have to be open to meeting new people. Don't be shy! Of course always go with your gut when it comes to safety and make smart choices, but something to remember is that most people in hostels are in the same boat you are, and it's a much easier environment to make friends as a solo traveler since you are literally sharing a living space with others than it would be at an Airbnb or hotel.
Obviously hostels have their drawbacks and it's something to consider when looking to stay in them. Most hostels have several options available when it comes to the type of room you want to book. From personal experience, having stayed in various types of dorm situations in hostels ranging from 4-person all-female to 16-person male and female, it's really not as uncomfortable as you'd think. Most people are actually quite friendly and sometimes others just keep to themselves, but it's usually pretty relaxed. The only exception being the 8 year old French boy running around the hallways of my London hostel. There are of course bathrooms available to change in for privacy, which seems to be what everybody does.
Anytime you sleep in the same room with other people, there is always the possibility of a snorer disturbing your precious sleep time. I'm very sensitive to snoring, so it can sometimes be a problem trying to fall asleep when the person below you sounds like they are a cruise-liner coming into port in the middle of the night. It doesn't happen all the time necessarily, but it can occur from time to time, or maybe not at all if you're lucky. And if you don't experience any snorers during your trip, then you are super lucky and I'd like to take you Vegas sometime later this year.
Another drawback to consider is a lack of secured storage space. This varies from hostel to hostel and when researching them, make sure to look in to whether or not they provide lockers in the dorms. Most lockers won't fit everything but you are able to at least put your valuables inside. Now, living in LA, I'm unfortunately more jaded than most, so I'm more of the mindset of making sure things like my passport, money, phone, etc. are locked up or with me at all times. However other items like toiletries and clothes are totally safe. I really can't imagine someone having much of an incentive to steal my $5 t-shirt from Target. The thing is though, it is still a shared space and it's probably best to avoid bringing unnecessary expensive items with you that you don't really need.
What should you bring and what you don't need to bring. Let's start with what to bring. Make sure to bring good earplugs; this will greatly help you when it comes to not only the snorers but general noise in the building and outside. You should also bring a lock and key, or combination lock, to lock up your belongings in the lockers available. While many hostels provide lockers, they do not provide, or may charge for, a lock. Make sure that the lock meets flight-travel standards; basic ones used in locker rooms are OK. Since hostels are a public place with multiple people using the same showers and bathrooms, absolutely make sure to bring flip flops. Even if you are traveling to a colder climate, flip flops are a must to use for the showers.
Now onto what not to bring. You do not need a towel. Most hostels will provide towels for a very small deposit, which is returned to you when you check out. Towels take up a lot of unnecessary space and may not be dry yet when you have to relocate to your next destination. You can also avoid bringing any linen and/or pillows. This is all provided by the hostel. Sometimes they may require a deposit, but like towels, it is returned to you upon check out.
A good rule of thumb regarding each hostel you stay at is to thoroughly research what each one provides, as they can all be different. Most provide laundry facilities but you will have to pay a small fee to use them as you would at an apartment building, as well as pay for detergent if you do not have your own.
My hostel recommendation for Scotland is the Budget Backpackers Hostel located in Old Town Edinburgh. This hostel is right in the middle of town and is walking distance to everything, including a short 15 minute walk (20 minutes for my short legs) to the Waverly Train Station. The hostel is safe and the location is incredible. They even provide meal and drink coupons to use at their hostel.
If traveling to London, I recommend the YHA Youth Hostel Oxford St. located near London's West End. It is a secured building located in a safe neighborhood. It is a short 10 minute walk to the Oxford Circus subway station or just a block behind London's busy Oxford St. where you can catch buses as well. The hostel is clean and well-maintained. Do not let the title fool you; you do not have to be under 30 to stay here. I actually saw quite a few families staying there during my trip.
For Paris I suggest the Young and Happy Hostel. The location was incredible. It was on a street called Rue Mouffetard, not to be confused with 'Dotard'. Rue Mouffetard is a local market street in the Latin Quarter. It is close to both bus stop and subway stations and is central enough to even walk over to Notre Dame and around central Paris. The biggest drawback though to this hostel was that it was the only one that did not provide in-room lockers. The only lockers provided were very small ones in the lobby area. Though my stuff remained fine, I made sure to have my valuables with me when heading out around town.
These 3 hostels worked well for me during my trip, but as always I suggest that you research different ones to see what's important to you when it comes to what they provide and the location. Always be sure the location is safe. For example in Paris, I learned that it's best to stay within the first 10 neighborhoods. Their system is a little different and they have numbered neighborhoods from the center of Paris heading outward. The more central, the better.
My upcoming post will focus on the gorgeous Scotland and my recommendations for what to see and do while you are there.
In my previous post I mentioned that the airline I flew, WOW Air, provided me the challenge of fitting everything for my backpacking trip to Europe literally in just a backpack. This post will focus on how to save space, pack light, and the things that you should bring with you on your trip to Europe.
Most of us have a bad habit of over-packing for trips, and if you're staying at one location the entire time, it might be fine to have some extra baggage, but I can tell you from experience that for backpacking around Europe, the less you have the better. Not having to drag a giant suitcase makes transitioning from different locations much easier, not to mention you don't stick out quite so bad as a tourist.
When it came to clothes, I found it helpful to focus on layers and simple, basic items. I brought along t-shirts, several sweaters, jeans, a jacket, and a pair of tennis shoes for my main day-to-day wardrobe. So what happens if I decide to have a night out on the town you may wonder? Well, my trick was to pack a pair of flats instead of heels, which wasn't a hard choice considering I can barely walk in heels anyway, but flats really do take up far less space. Also bringing along a good red lipstick can make even the most chill wardrobe more appropriate for a night out. You can also pack a small cross-body purse for nights out or simply if you don't want to carry the whole backpack with you when exploring around town.
To help accommodate space in my backpack, I made sure to wear layers on my flights over. I wore a t-shirt, sweater, jacket, and then my extra sweater around my waist. When it comes to toiletries, finding solid alternatives to liquids helps as well since there is a limit to the amount of liquids you can bring. A bar of soap instead of body wash, or facial wipes instead of face wash can help save space. Also try to look for items that have more than one function. There's a great product I found in the travel section at Target called Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap. This soap can be used as a body wash, shampoo, for shaving, and even laundry.
Sometimes sleeping on a plane can be impossible, so I made sure to bring along some books to help pass the time. Another way I saved space was to carry the books myself instead of putting them in the backpack. Obviously carrying a bunch of books around Europe isn't particularly light, so what I did was purchase several $1 clearance books prior to my trip and whenever I would finish one I would leave it in a public place for someone else to hopefully want to read and thus lighten my load. Hey, if Emma Watson can randomly leave books around town, then I might as well do it too.
Also make sure to pack a good charger. Best Buy has excellent ones available for purchase. I recommend getting an all-in-one charger that has multiple settings that you can use for all different parts of the world. They are available for around $40 and are well worth it.
Aside from other basic toiletries, make sure to bring along some aspirin too. If you are going to a country where the main language isn't English, it might be hard to find the proper medicine you are looking for if a headache pops up. Also, many places in Europe don't have a 24hr CVS or Rite-Aid around for any late-night medicine runs, so having that stuff ahead of time can really help.
If you are considering staying in hostels, check out my upcoming post which will include recommendations for places to stay and what you need to know, and bring, for your hostel stay.
I'm Dutch, which means I enjoy two things immensely: windmill cookies and a good deal. So when it came time to find a flight to Europe, I was looking for an inexpensive one to accommodate my non-Julia Roberts level actor budget. How to find cheap flights? Well, as it turned out I found a great deal with a European airline.
The airline I found is called WOW Air, perfect for budget travel. Ah yes, that giant pink vessel floating across the Atlantic. This Icelandic airline offers low-cost flights to and from Europe, usually with a layover in Iceland. While it's a fabulous airline for travelers looking to save money on the flight itself, something to note is that they can make up for this by charging for pretty much everything else. The charge for luggage can be an extra $40 or almost $100 if purchased at the gate, and even carry on suitcases are not free. The only luggage not charged extra is a personal item, which can be a purse, briefcase/laptop bag, or small backpack. Never one to back down from a good travel challenge, I was determined to avoid that extra luggage cost and fit everything into a small backpack, with the knowledge of course that I'd have to do laundry several times while over in Europe.
Something to consider when booking flights to Europe, especially if you'll be traveling around to different countries, is to book 2 one-way tickets as opposed to a round-trip ticket. Initially I had booked a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to London thinking that was the best deal, but in reality it would have made my journey more expensive and inconvenient. Had I stuck with a round-trip ticket, I would have had to get from London up to Edinburgh and then back down, and then at the end of my trip in The Netherlands I would have had to get back to London just to fly home. Thankfully I was able to get a refund and instead booked a one-way ticket to Edinburgh, worked my way down to London, Paris, and then The Netherlands, and then I just flew home from The Netherlands. This ended up being the same price as the round-trip ticket and much more convenient overall.
Back to WOW Air though, in addition to the baggage fees, all food and drinks are charged as well, so my suggestion would be to purchase a large water bottle and snacks to bring with you on the flight. Although sometimes an in-flight wine purchase is necessary, as it'll totally help you fall asleep and pass the time quicker. Two glasses of wine if there's a screaming child.
My last note about WOW Air is that sometimes their layovers in Iceland can be quite long. My layover on the way to Scotland was almost 18 hours, so depending on your interest and budget, it does allow the opportunity for extra exploring in Iceland as well. If you have an overnight layover and need somewhere inexpensive to stay near Iceland's International Airport in Keflavik, I recommend the Base Hotel. This former American military base has been converted into a hostel and since hotels in the area can be expensive, this place offers the best deal around, however shuttles to and from the airport are not included and need to be purchased separately through Shuttle Iceland for around $20 per trip.
Up next I'll cover my packing tips for Europe and also how to keep things light.
Jill Zwarensteyn is an actress, comedian, and writer who has been featured on Amazon, TruTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com