How I Moved to India for 2 Months with Only a Backpack

A big thank you to David Anthony for sharing his packing skills in this post. If you would like to learn more about packing light, check out my posts: 6 Tips for Packing Light,  A Backpacker’s Guide to Packing: Winter Edition, Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip, and Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to).

“Ounces make pounds” is a phrase that’s often thrown around in an infantry platoon, often by your team leader when you start trying to pack another hokey gadget. Spend enough time carrying around your life on your back, and you get a first-hand feel for the consequences of not packing light. In so many aspects of life, overpacking causes grief for a number of reasons.

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This past summer, I completed the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in India. Besides goals like learn as much Urdu as possible and eat my own body weight in chaat, I had another specific goal: successfully survive and thrive in India for two months with only a 38L carry on sized backpack. To do that, I had to be very diligent in which clothing and gadgets I took. I didn’t skimp though. I had my computer, clothing for a week, a towel, business casual clothing, and space for souvenirs. Sure, I didn’t have eight pairs of shoes or a personalized bathrobe, but you don’t need that stuff to travel. Trust me.

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For clothing, the best advice I can give can be summed up in a few key points: make it interchangeable, bring lightweight stuff, and roll it up. Lay out all the clothing you plan to take with you. Now, close your eyes, mix it all up, and pull out a random shirt and a random pair of pants. If they don’t go together, your stuff isn’t interchangeable. This rule should apply for everything you bring. Every single thing should work with everything else. This will give you more options with less clothing. In India, I had about four button up shirts, two or three t shirts, four pairs of pants, and a single t shirt and shorts for working out. You’ll have to do laundry, but you probably do that about once a week anyway (right???). I also took a comfortable pair of running shoes I could use for walking around the city and a pair of flip flops (sandals are very common in India). The final tip for clothing is to roll it instead of folding. For my grunts out there, we all know the Ranger roll is superior to folding. The same applies to packing for travel. Linked is an instructional video about rolling clothing.

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In India, I knew that I’d be spending most of my time in class. The city I was in was also not exactly known for its thrilling adventure, so I knew I would need something to keep me busy. For me, that was my phone and computer. On my phone, I kept the Amazon Kindle app, which had several books for reading while trying to adjust to the jet lag. For a computer, you want to take something lightweight and durable. I personally had a Chromebook. While big PCs and Macbooks are nice, they aren’t always light or easily replaceable. Chromebooks, being tied to your Google account, are a snap to replace if they break or are stolen. Simply log into a new computer with your Google account, and it will instantly start to backup your stuff. They’re also cheap. For my coders out there, it’s easy to install a custom Linux distro called GalliumOS on a Chromebook, really allowing you to unlock its potential. Light, durable, flexible, and easy to replace. No computer is perfect, but for those who are planning to travel light, the Chromebook is close.

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The fact that I was moving to India made things much simpler than if I was backpacking from city to city every few days. I could afford to spread out a bit and get comfortable. Knowing this, I intentionally packed very light in terms of toiletries. I really only took some travel sized items to use if I got stranded in an airport for the night. The best thing to do is buy most of your toiletries once you get to your destination. Not only will this save room in your bag, but exploring the shops is a great way to get to know a new city. I also only packed a small microfiber towel, and upon arrival in India, I bought a larger bath towel for everyday use. Many sundry items are also going to be cheaper abroad than they are in North America. If you’re concerned with having to throw it all away when you leave, look into donating them to an NGO or non-profit. My classmates and I gathered all of our unused toiletries as we were leaving the country and donated them, meaning there’s no issues with having to use up an entire bottle of shampoo before you leave.

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The principles for longer term stays are the same as the ones for short jaunts: be a fanatic about weight and space; always assess and reassess if you really need the things you’re packing; try to pack items that are as multipurpose as possible; and trim down the items you can buy once you’re in-country. It’s that simple. So get out there, start paring your stuff down, and enjoy the simplicity of lightweight travel!

Did you enjoy this post?  What are you hacks for packing light?  Share them in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon link in the body of this post and make purchases through it, I will receive a small compensation from Amazon. This compensation comes from Amazon, not from you, and the price you see through my links is the same as the price you would see otherwise.

Shout-outs:
Microfiber towel link: http://amzn.to/2DCHvdv
Ranger roll video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq07hyTlrcU
Rolled clothing image: http://forum.expeditionportal.com/threads/57992-Clothes-Storage-for-travel
Travel-sized toiletries photo: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/5-tips-to-travel-size-toiletries-for-minimalist-travelistas/

 

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Destination: Knoxville. Part II: International Eats

Knoxville, TN is one of my personal favorite destinations. It’s a bit of a hidden gem in the south: people tend to focus on Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, or beach towns like Myrtle Beach, Miami, and Charleston when planning visits to the southeast, but Knoxville has a lot to offer. If you’re interested in a general guide to Knoxville, including entertainment, museums, bars, restaurants and general tips, check out my Destination: Knoxville post here.

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If you’re interested in out-of-the-way, unique, international eateries and markets, Knoxville has you covered, and so do I. See below my recommendations for cool places to eat and shop.

Quality Turkish Market

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The folks are Quality Turkish Market are very kind and helpful, especially to a noob like myself who had never tried Turkish food before. The setup is order at the counter and pay in advance, but the food is, as the name suggests, quality. It’s delicious and filling, even the 100% vegetarian dish I enjoyed. They also have a small market area where you can buy imported sodas, candies, and other non-perishable treats.

Gosh Ethiopian

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Have you ever tried Ethiopian food? You should, and you should start at Gosh. They have lots of options and simple explanations of the unfamiliar food. Get ready to eat with your hands!

Sitar Indian Cuisine

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Sitar serves up traditional Punjabi dishes, just what most Americans expect when they sit down at an Indian restaurant. I would recommend starting with Samosas, which are crispy turnovers stuffed with potatoes and veggies. Our table devoured ours in record time. For main courses they have a variety of curry dishes, many vegetarian, but plenty of meat-lovers’ options: lamb, chicken, shrimp, etc.

Indian Grocery

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The Indian Grocery on Kingston Pike is quite large; this is no corner store. They offer many fresh, non-perishable dry goods, and frozen ready-to-eat meals. The selection is impressive, and there are plenty of options for the novice cook!

Holy Land Market

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This middle Eastern/Mediterranean market features a grocery section and a small deli. You can pick from an impressive array of olives, teas, and Turkish Delight, as well as many other grocery items.

What are your favorite international restaurants and markets in Knoxville? What about your hometown? Share with me in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Shout-outs!

A big thank you to Maria Grissino for allowing me to use her photo of the Tennessee Theatre as my featured photo on this post!

Original Destination: Knox: https://theglobetrottingscientist.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/destination-knoxville-tn-usa/

World’s Fair Flags Photo: http://www.knoxvilletennessee.com/downtown/worlds-fair-park.html

Sitar Indian Image: https://smokymountains.com/restaurants/sitar-indian-cuisine/

A Backpacker’s Guide to Packing: Winter Edition

So you just booked a trip to Europe. The plane lands on European soil in January. Hard, frozen, European soil. How do you pack? Do you have to lug around an extra suitcase for all your scarves, boots, and coats? NOPE. Just follow my tips and you can travel with only a backpack in any weather.

  • Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport

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    Your chunky boots, thick scarf, and big coat should be on your body, even if it’s a little warm when you’re traveling. It will save you a ton of space in your bag. Don’t try to pack 5 pairs of shoes either–throw in some shower shoes and be okay with the shoes on your feet.

  • A down jacket is more packable than a fleece one

    Coat

    For an all around insulation layer, I prefer a packable down jacket. It’s lighter and more packable than the standard fleece jacket everyone seems to take with them. The one I have weighs less than two pounds and packs up smaller than a football. Sure, there’s some fleece jackets out there that meet that criteria, but this jacket was less than $30 on Amazon. It’s a good all around insulating layer that I use traveling, hiking, climbing, etc.

  • Pack layers

    Layering

    When I traveled to Scandinavia in October a couple of years ago, I wore a coat and scarf over a sweater over a shirt to the airport. Layer up so that you are prepared for any weather instead of packing separate outfits for potential temperature fluctuations.

  • Stick to a color scheme

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    This is a good general packing rule, but is especially important with winter clothing. Make sure you match your clothes to your coat and scarf and don’t pack anything that doesn’t fit in the theme. This means you’ll have many different outfit combinations to choose from.

Pretty simple, huh? For more general packing tips, check out this post, 6 tips for packing light and this one, Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip. Good luck!

Did you enjoy this post? What are your packing hacks? Tell me about them in the comments below! Share via Facebook or Twitter and f ollow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Bulky clothes photo: https://goo.gl/images/qDZ5D8

Down jacket photo: https://goo.gl/images/yXZpsh

Layers photo: https://goo.gl/images/4oYvs6

 

Destination: Pristina, Kosovo

Pristina: A Quick Look

Language: Albanian; Serbian spoken by a minority
Currency: Euro
Drinking Age: no minimum legal drinking age
Public Transportation: Buses and taxis are common in the city, and between cities
Passport: Required for US citizens. US Citizens may stay in Kosovo up to 90 days without a visa
Vaccines: Routine vaccines, plus Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and Rabies recommended for some travelers

Before you leave:

  • Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo, a small somewhat disputed nation in Southeastern Europe. It would be wise to do some research regarding the Yugoslavian civil war, which is still in very recent memory for many Kosovars
  • Avoid discussing Serbia if possible. Serbia’s control of the region for many years is not a pleasant memory, and no matter what your opinion of the conflict is, it’s best kept to yourself.
  • Kosovars are very warm and friendly. You will find that many are genuinely eager to be your friend. It’s not uncommon to be invited into someone’s home shortly after meeting them.

Once you get there:

    • The easiest way into Pristina is to fly into the international airport, or to rent a car and driving up from either FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or Albania. Keep in mind that in the past, people have had trouble crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia due to the border not really being formally recognized by Serbia. It’s possible to drive across, but research the immigration practices before attempting or you could end up with fines and unneeded hassle.
    • Public transportation can be a little hard to figure out in Kosovo. The easiest way to figure it out is to ask a local! You might have to try a few people before you find someone that speaks English, but they will point you in the right direction. Pristina is also rather walk-able, if you so choose.

1. Bill Clinton Boulevard

This is always my go-to fun fact about Pristina: there’s a 10 foot tall statue of Bill Clinton along “Bill Clinton Boulevard.” It was built in 2009 to commemorate Bill Clinton’s support of Kosovo during the Yugoslavian civil war. I remember being caught totally off guard when I was driving through Pristina and happened across a giant Bill Clinton statue next to the road. Good times…

2. Newborn Monument

The Newborn Monument is a must see. Unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, it symbolizes Kosovo’s status as a new nation. The coolest part about it: It’s repainted every year, with the new design being unveiled on February 17th.

3. Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square marks the beginning of the pedestrian streets in Pristina. It’s also the site of a statue commemorating Skanderbeg, an Albanian hero. There are plenty of nice hotels in this area, and when the weather is good you can see lots of people out and enjoying themselves.

4. Kosovo Museum

The Kosovo Museum is full of artifacts found throughout the country. Its mission is to preserve the history and culture of the country. It is also the headquarters of the Kosovo Archaeological Institute. They’ve carefully preserved thousands of artifacts, some dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s a good way to spend half a day if you’re into museums and history.

5. Natural Beauty

Travelling in Kosovo is not complete without also taking in the natural beauty. If you’re used to travelling in North America or Western Europe, Pristina might feel a little run down. If the city is getting to you, there’s tons of things to do in the surrounding countryside, oftentimes these things are also not in any guidebooks. All of the following are not more than a few hours by car from Pristina.

  • Summit Mt. Ljuboten
    At 8196 feet, Mt Ljuboten is the tallest mountain in Kosovo. Climbing the mountain takes most of a day unless you’re really fast, and in the summer it is nothing more than a steep walk and a casual scramble. In the winter, however, you’ll need proper climbing gear as it’s covered in snow and ice. The summit sits right on the border between Kosovo and FYROM. On a clear day, you can see incredibly far from the top. It’s a good place for a #kosovo photo op.
  • Mirusha Park
    Pictured above, exploring Mirusha Park is a great summertime activity. It’s a large canyon with all sorts of waterfalls and lakes to swim in. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer and meet other people. Don’t miss this one.
  • Brezovica Ski Resort
    Called “the most delightfully dysfunctional ski resort in Europe” by the New York Times, Brezovica is a fun place to learn to ski. If you’ve ever been to a ski resort in the United States, you might want to forget about that experience, as Brezovica Ski Resort is nothing like that. The lifts are rickety, the rental skis are well loved, and the kids will literally ski circles around you and laugh when you fall backwards on flat ground. If you don’t know how to ski, my recommendation is to just rent a pair, go up the slope right outside the hotel, and start riding down. You’ll figure it out!

In summary, Pristina (and Kosovo in general) is a good place to start if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Europe. It’s safe, the people are nice, and the countryside is beautiful. Espressos and wine are fun, but there’s a whole other side to the continent most Americans never take the time to get to know. Kosovo is incredibly unique, you won’t find anywhere quite like it. After having lived there for 9 months, it sorta grew on me in a weird way. If you’re looking to break out of the old Paris-Berlin-Budapest route, hop on over to Pristina for a few days.

Many thanks to David Anthony for creating this guide to Pristina, Kosovo.

Did you like this article? Have you visited Kosovo? Tell us about it in the comments! Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Bill Clinton Boulevard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_Boulevard#/media/File:Bill_Clinton_statue.jpg

Newborn: http://pages.kiva.org/node/10892

Skanderbeg Square: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g295385-d2476250-i131836377-Swiss_Diamond_Hotel_Prishtina-Pristina.html

Kosovo Museum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_Museum#/media/File:Muzeu_i_Kosov%C3%ABs.JPG

Mirusha Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirusha_Park#/media/File:Unseen_Mirusha.jpg

NYT Article about Brezovica: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/travel/kosovo-ski-holidays.html?mcubz=3

Pristina photo: https://sk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pri%C5%A1tina

Destination: Montréal, QB, Canada

Montréal: A quick look

Language: French, but English is widely spoken
Currency: Canadian Dollar (Exchange rate is close to 1:1 with the US dollar)
Drinking Age: 18*
Public Transportation: Metro and bus
Passport: Yes!
Vaccines: Routine

*In Canada, the drinking age is set by the province. If you’re traveling to Montréal, but visit another province on your trip, please note that the drinking age may be higher.

Before you leave:

  1. Use Airbnb! I am in no way associated with Airbnb, but am simply a very satisfied customer. It’s a great way to stay in the city without paying sky-high hotel prices.
  2. If you’re driving, make sure you arrange to have a parking space. Parking is limited, and not guaranteed.
  3. Learn a few words/phrases of French. Yes, they speak English. Yes, they are nice about speaking English. However, the official language of Quebec is French. A little effort will go a long way; remember, you’re visiting someone else’s home town. If you learn to properly pronounce just a few simple things, the locals will be impressed. My suggestions are “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “excuse me.” If you want to go a little farther, learn simple phrases as well. Duolingo is a good source for learning a language.

Once you get there:

There are many cool places to visit in Montréal!

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The best way to get around is public transportation. Montréal has a well-established metro and bus system and I highly recommend it. Parking in the city will be extremely difficult, and you’ll probably end up paying more and walking more to drive than you would to take the train or bus.

I have not visited everything I’d like to see there, but here are my recommendations…

  1. The Montréal Biosphere.

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    The Biosphere is a huge sphere with an environmental science museum inside. Great for kids, but fun for adults too; my husband and I had a blast and we’re in our 20s.

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    The biosphere was originally part of the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67. It is located on Saint Helen’s Island in the Saint Lawrence River. After being closed for 14 years (from 1976-1990) due to a structural fire, the Biosphere was purchased by Environment Canada, who turned it into the environmental science museum it is today.

  2. Mount Royal

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    Montréal is named for Mount Royal (French, mont Royal), which is basically a big hill. It’s a park now, with amazing views of the city! The public bus system takes you most of the way up the hill (mountain?) and into the park. When I visited, we took a picnic lunch, which we ate on a park bench, surrounded by tourists taking photos of squirrels. Then we trekked the rest of the way up the hill to the peak. You step out onto a huge marble stage with a guardrail and the best views of the Montréal skyline.

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    You can also visit several small museums dedicated to the history and environment of the hill (mountain?).

  3. The Olympic stadium

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    We didn’t actually go inside, but the metro stop next to the stadium has some memorabilia from the 1976 Olympics (we happened to be there for the 40th anniversary) and there’s a display outside the tower with facts about the Olympics.

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    The tower is very impressive (it’s the tallest leaning tower in the world) and just seeing it from the outside was good enough for us.

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  4. Old Port/Old Montréal

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    Old Port (Vieux-Port in French) is a neat area to walk around. I’m partial to old towns, and Old Port doesn’t disappoint; it has the old buildings, the cobblestone streets, and the historical sites (like the Notre Dame Basilica). Walking and cycling along the river is a popular activity, especially when the weather’s nice.

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    There’s also a stretch of your typical touristy shops and restaurants in the area, so it’s a good place to pick up some Canadian themed souvenirs. (If you’d like to get Canadian maple syrup though, I would recommend just stopping by the grocery store; it’s significantly cheaper, and they still have the cute little maple-leaf-shaped bottles.)

  5. Notre Dame Basilica

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    Well, it’s a beautiful catholic church. While it is impressive, it is very much like other Catholic churches of that time period (1820’s).

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    I don’t regret going, it wasn’t expensive, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. There’s also guided tours if that’s you’re thing. It’s a quick attraction that’s worth checking off the list if you have time, as it’s right in old town. While you do not have to dress up, I would recommend against wearing sleeveless tops, short shorts, or short skirts.

  6. Jardins Gamelin

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    This is a very cool outdoor bar space. We saw all sorts of folks, young and old, enjoying being outdoors, listening to great music, dancing, and having a good time. Families, 20-somethings, and older generations came together to enjoy Saturday night. It’s also near a string of other bars, which were generally populated by the college crowd.

  7. Quartierdes speciales

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    Quartierdes speciales is a hip downtown area that’s popular with the college crowd. There’s an active nightlife, with pretty much any kind of bar you can imagine. You can find everything from a traditional Irish pub to a vegan organic bar.

  8. Get maple syrup ice cream.

    It’s delicious. It’s Canadian. You’re a tourist. Best place to go is Le Glacier Bilboquet.

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    There are several locations around the city, and the one we went to was a fun little shop near the Farmers Market. They also have plenty of other flavors if you’re not into maple syrup.

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  9. Les Délices de l’Érable is a maple themed shop that has a ton of different maple syrup flavored/scented items, but their biggest seller is maple syrup flavored gelato! It’s located near Old Port, so it’s an easy break from walking around all day. It can be a bit expensive, but it’s definitely worth a look!

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  10. The science museum

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    The museum was closed when I was there due to a worker’s strike, but it looks legit. It’s also located in Old Port, so it can be a break from the weather when you’re walking around.

Montréal is a cool city, and I would highly recommend it.

What city would you like to see a travel guide for next? Let me know in the comments below. Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter and follow me for more great content like this!

Sources:

Image, Mount Royal https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Royal

Image, Biosphere https://www.mtlblog.com/lifestyle/everything-you-never-knew-about-montreals-biosphere

All other images are my own.

Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to)

So you just booked your first International flight and you’re thinking “what now?” Or maybe you’re a veteran traveler who is looking to save some money and travel backpacker style. Below are 5 mistakes I’ve made, and tips for traveling on a budget.

  1. Paying for a hotel
    • Hostels are not scary. If you’ve lived in a dorm, you can handle a hostel. The  biggest downside is sharing your space. The biggest upside is sharing your space! You’ll meet other travelers who are potential new friends.
    • Airbnb is your friend. You can rent anything from a whole apartment to a couch. You’ll have an opportunity to stay in areas you probably couldn’t afford a hotel in, and chances are it’s nicer. The hosts usually put more effort into making you feel at home than a hotel would. I’ve stayed in whole apartments and private rooms in someone else’s home. I’ll admit, staying with a stranger sounds pretty sketchy, but it’s not as weird as it sounds.
    • Couchsurfing. It’s not a service I’ve tried yet, but I know other people have and have had success with it. If you’re nervous about staying with strangers, you aren’t alone but the site verifies both surfers and those sharing their couch. The best part? It’s FREE. You aren’t allowed to offer or accept payment.
  2. Paying $1000s for a flight to Europe
    • I flew to Poland in 2014 and I booked a flight through regular* means. It cost me $1200 round trip and included a 12 hour overnight layover. In October of 2015 I flew to Denmark. I booked through Wow air and paid about $600 round trip (yeah, that’s HALF price). I booked both flights about the same distance out (6-8 weeks). One downside to Wow is that they aren’t in many airports in the US yet (I flew out of DC), but they’re all over Europe. Also, flights within Europe are super cheap ($99-200) so getting across the ocean is the most expensive part.
    • Another airline offering cheap transatlantic flights is Norwegian Airlines.  With Norwegian** you can fly from JFK to Oslo for about $400 (booking 5 weeks out). (Look for future posts specifically about flights!)
  3. Checking a bag
    • Checking a bag usually costs extra. You do not need that much stuff. I traveled with someone on study abroad who brought framed photographs for a 4 week trip. Don’t take stuff you don’t need. I haven’t checked a bag in years and I don’t miss it. (Keep an eye on my blog for a full post with packing hacks!)
  4. Not having appropriate converters/surge protectors
    • When I went to the UK in 2006 (pre-smart phones) I didn’t have appropriate converter/surge protectors. This meant my hair dryer just didn’t work! Make sure you look into everything you’ll need for your specific destination.
  5. Buying an international phone plan
    • Find free WiFi and use Skype, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger. You aren’t traveling abroad to spend all your time talking to folks back home.
    • If you really NEED a phone for some reason, buy a cheap burner phone when you arrive.

There are so many things you can do to make your travel experiences cheaper and more efficient.  If you liked these tips, keep an eye on my blog for more in-depth posts regarding flights, packing, and more.

Have any good travel hacks of your own?  Share them in the comments below.  If you liked this post, share it on Facebook and follow my blog for more content like this.

*I flew JetBlue, then Lot airlines on my trip to Poland.  I had good experiences with both airlines, however, there are cheaper flights out there!

**I have flown Norwegian within Europe, but have not traveled from the US to Europe on a Norwegian flight.