How I fell In Love with Traveling

My family doesn’t have a lot of money. When I was a kid our family vacations were a long weekend away to the beach or mountains, not more than 4 or 5 hours from home. At 12 years old I had visited 4 states (including the one I lived in) and had never been on a plane. I had no idea that that year I would been given a life-changing opportunity.

I grew up in a small town in central North Carolina. My parents grew up in central North Carolina, and so did their parents. This is how things are in small town, USA: people don’t really leave. When I was 10, I moved from the small town I grew up in (that my dad grew up in, and his parents, and their parents…) to the middle of nowhere about 20 minutes away. We didn’t even leave the county. Neither of my parents had been abroad (now my dad has visited Mexico once on a day trip, before passports were required for US citizens) and my grandfather was stationed in Guam with the Army Air Corps in WWII, but that about sums up international travel in my family. Basically, we are small-town folks.

One day, when I was in 7th grade, I got a letter in the mail. I had been offered an opportunity to be a student ambassador with the People to People program, founded by President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1956. The program I was invited to participate in took 12-14 year-olds to England, Ireland, and Wales for 20 days over the summer. My parents were ecstatic. After a brief (and terrifying; I have suffered from social anxiety for a long time) interview process I was accepted into the program.

Over the course of about 9 months, I attended monthly meetings with the other kids participating in the program, and our parents, of course. We learned about cultural differences, what we would get to experience in the program, etc. We were also encouraged to fundraise–while the program was government-run it was not free. I did my best, but begging for money has never been something I’m good at, so my parents ended up taking on most of the cost (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

In June after 7th grade, I packed my bags and my parents drove me to the airport. Security was pretty tight as this was only a few years after 9/11, so we said goodbye outside of security. And I was on my way to another continent with 4 adults and about 20 other kids, none of whom I really knew.

After an overnight flight that I was way too excited to sleep on, we landed around 7-8am GMT and hit the ground running. The whole first day was spent sightseeing, with no time to rest. Despite not drinking coffee, I was wide awake all day. Everything was so similar to life at home in North Carolina, but so different. At times I’d forget I was on another continent, then I’d see another castle (we just don’t have those in the US) or a building twice as old as my homeland. Obviously everyone in England speaks English, so that wasn’t a barrier, but there are diffences nonetheless.

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While I did get more sleep than the first day, the rest of the trip was just as fast-paced and exciting as the first. We spent the first few days in England, the next few in Wales, a week in Ireland, then reversed: back to Wales, and to England again. It was a whirlwind. I think I called my parents once (this was before smart phones!). I had found the thing I loved more than anything else. And about 11 years later I still haven’t found anything that tops traveling in my book.

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The UK wowed me with castles and culture, Ireland blew me away with endless green scenery (and more castles), but my favorite part of my trip were the last few days, which were spent in London. I had never been to a city even close to that size, and the fast pace, the culture, the diversity of a big city thrilled me. We saw the tower of London, Big Ben, rode the London Eye, took in a show, but the best part was just absorbing everything. Even in July the rain made it chilly enough everyone stopped for hot drinks midday (okay, mine was hot chocolate, I still don’t like coffee or tea). I loved just watching everyday people going about their everyday lives, whose lives were different than mine.

I still love it. After that trip, I decided I was going to move to Ireland one day. And while my dreams have gotten less specific, I still plan to live abroad. Maybe it will be Ireland, maybe it will be Stokholm, or Lucknow, or Rio de Janeiro. Maybe it will be all of those places and more. I’ll let you know when I get there.

What made you fall in love with traveling? Tell me about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this.

Learning a Language Part 2/3: Essential Resources

Welcome to part 2 of our 3 part summer series on learning a new language!  Part 2 covers some of the resources you should use to effectively learn a new language on your own.  You won’t see expensive courses like Rosetta Stone on this list–it’s designed for your average 20-something backpacker.  Like part 1, this guide was written by our guest, David Anthony. Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy! 

(Catch up with part 1 here)

PART 2:

Whew! So you’ve finally whittled down the language you want to learn. Let’s use Turkish as an example. You just love Turkish coffee, the language sounds beautiful, and you’re just dying to see Istanbul. Perfect! You have a specific passion about Turkish culture and the language. Now what the hell do you use to actually learn? Rosetta Stone? Textbooks? Passive listening of internet radio? I’m going to give you what you need to really get started, and it’s probably going to cost you less than 50 bucks.

For resources, I would recommend you start with 3 things: A phrasebook, a grammar book, and a dictionary. I also like to buy a textbook with audio when I can find a good one, as it gives you dialog examples you won’t usually find in the other three. Below I’ll list some examples of each, and where to get them.

PHRASEBOOKS

  • Berlitz: These are the best bang for your buck in my opinion. Packed with thousands of words and phrases that are organized by topic, they really are a good starting place. The best part: You can find them on Amazon for less than $5 used in most cases.
  • Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet has a better selection than Berlitz from what I’ve found. They have phrasebooks for smaller languages like Nepali, Thai, and Croatian. This makes them an invaluable resource when trying to pick up a less commonly taught language. These can also be found dirt cheap used on Amazon.

GRAMMAR BOOK

  • _________ An Essential Grammar: I like the essential grammar series because they present “conversational grammar.” Without getting bogged down in nuanced rules you’ll barely ever use, they just teach what’s necessary to make yourself understood. Short and to the point, they make learning grammar much easier than you remembered in school. I used this series for most of my languages with success.

DICTIONARY

  • Langenscheidt publishes easy to use, pocket sized dictionaries for a number of languages. Don’t be fooled by their size, these are serious references that you’ll be able to use at virtually all stages of the language learning process.
  • Hippocrene dictionaries are also an option for some less common languages. They can be a bit hit and miss, so look around until you find something that works for you.

Now, those three are really all you need if you’re looking to get away as cheap as possible. With the internet and a patient native speaker for practice, you can make an incredible amount of progress. Personally, I like to find a good “textbook” or course book with audio for extra practice, and it can also show you what real world conversations feel like and sound like.

TEXTBOOK

  • Personally, I’m a fan of Teach Yourself/Complete series. Some people love them, some people hate them. They have books for close to 30 languages, which vary widely in quality. Look carefully into the reviews and see if the Teach Yourself book for your language is any good. They often come with dialogs as well, which for me is one of the big pros. They’re easy enough to find on Amazon, just search “Teach Yourself _____” and they should come up. Pro tip: They were recently rebranded as “Complete ____,” but the older “Teach Yourself” editions are virtually identical. The older editions are much cheaper, so grabbing those can save you a bit of money.
  • The Colloquial series is another good choice. Colloquial is a well known resource with a surprising number of language options. Much of the same rules for the Teach Yourself/Complete series apply to Colloquial.
  • Assimil is an option I haven’t had the chance to try yet, but I’m very interested in doing so. Published in France, Assimil has the largest variety out of all the series I’ve talked about. They have offerings in 70 languages, including Creole, Ancient Greek, and even Egyptian Hieroglyphics! There’s two big downsides to Assimil: First off, getting them is often expensive. The courses are not cheap to start with, and they’re usually shipped from France. A friend who uses Assimil recommends ordering several at once to cut down on overall shipping price. The second downside (depending on how you see it) is many of their courses are published in French. If you speak French well enough to understand the instructions, it’s probably one of your best options. Don’t worry if you don’t, since they have about 14 courses published in English, most of which are for more popular languages.

DIGITAL

There’s thousands of digital resources you can use, but I’m gonna touch on three really quickly that I think are great

  • Duolingo is a completely free resource that’s great for getting a good base in a foreign language. Standing alone, it won’t do much to develop your conversational abilities. When mixed with other resources though, it’s a great introduction to another language. The general consensus is that finishing the entire course brings you to an A2ish level on the CEFR scale. They’re constantly adding new languages, so I only see Duolingo becoming more popular as time goes on. Give it a look.
  • Italki is another essential digital resource. Using it, you can find language partners to practice speaking with, which is 100% essential to learn anything beyond simple phrases. I’ll get more into how to learn a foreign language in a later post, but one thing you need to know right now: you will not learn a language unless you practice speaking with other people. There’s no way around it. Italki is great for finding a tutor to teacher if you choose that route (oftentimes you do have to pay them for this time, but the rates are reasonable). I find myself using Italki less nowadays, and focusing more on Hellotalk for language partners.
  • Hellotalk is a free app that is set up exclusively for finding language partners. It’s easy to use, and they go through a lot of effort to filter out spam. I personally like it better than Italki, because it’s less focused on getting you to pay for a teacher. It has an in-house messaging and search function, so you can be up and running in minutes. Check it out

This is just a 10,000 foot view of all the resources out there. I could write an entire book about everything that’s out there. Spend some time searching and asking around, and you’ll definitely find what you want. In the next post, I’ll start getting into how to actually put all this together and start learning and speaking quickly. Good luck!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What are some of your favorite resources? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon links in the body of this post and make purchases through them, 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.  However I have no association with Duolingo, Berlitz, or any of the companies mentioned above.  In an attempt to bring you the best content, we linked to the sites that we felt were the most relevant, compensation notwithstanding.

Auschwitz

I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in spirits or monsters or witches or anything of the sort. Auschwitz, however, is the most haunting place I’ve ever visited.

We entered in a hot, sweaty crowd of tourists. German, French, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and English conversations swirled throughout the crowd. It was June and dozens, if not hundreds of people swarmed to the site of one of the greatest atrocities in human history, cameras ready, bright red fanny packs bulging around their waists, prepared to take in the sites.

The tour guide lead us from room to room, peppering us with facts and figures through a microphone headset in accented English. I could barely pay attention. The entire tour was a blur. It was uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable.

I didn’t take pictures, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, but images are still burned into my mind; a list of all the lives lost in the holocaust, covering both sides of a long hallway in terribly small print; the ashes and hair of people burned alive; the grooves in the walls, dug by human fingernails as desperate people tried and failed to escape certain death.

There is a room full of shoes; men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, which are mostly a big grey mass at this point, but here and there is a faded red leather pump or dirty red tennis shoe. Other displays show the prosthetic limbs and suitcases of the victims. The most haunting, however, was the hair. A huge display shows an unforgettable mass of filthy hair cut from the thousands of victims’ heads. The inhumanity makes me feel nauseated just remembering it.

We were quiet as we were led through this place, this awful place where so much happened, where so many lives were not just lost but needlessly tortured to that bitter end. I felt cheap, tasteless, touring this the place of so many innocent men, women, and children’s demise. But I couldn’t look away. It was like a horror movie, when you see the serial killer creeping up on the innocent man going about his business and you want to look away before the poor guy is bludgeoned to death, but you can’t. Auschwitz was like this, but 100xs worse because it was real.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but Auschwitz was haunting.

Spontaneous Beach Trip

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I had a hard week at work the other week. I won’t go into details, but I was feeling very overworked and underappreciated. By Thursday I was a big ball of stress. My husband brought me dinner at work, and somehow we decided to go to the beach that weekend.

We live about 2-2.5 hours from the nearest beach, so it’s easy to do for a weekend. He wanted to go for just the day, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. So Friday evening we booked an Airbnb. Less than 24 hours in advance we booked accommodations for Saturday night. We packed in a flurry, thinking “are we really doing this?”

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Now, I don’t believe in fortune-telling and I firmly believe you make your own destiny. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy fortune cookies! A couple of weeks before this spontaneous trip, I went with some coworkers to a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. My fortune was “there are unexpected adventures in your future.” I loved it. I taped it to the mirror in my bathroom. No, it doesn’t actually predict unexpected adventures, but perhaps it inspired them?

After a flurry of packing and a good night’s sleep, we got up and headed for the coast. This was before summer, so it wasn’t peak season yet and we were going to be among the only tourists around.

We arrived at the address of the Airbnb. We called our host who helped us with parking and brought us up to his apartment. Let me pause right there and say the idea of staying with a stranger makes me uncomfortable. Our previous Airbnb stays have always been whole apartments, and this time we were just renting a room from some guy off the internet. However, our host turned out to be a really nice doctor who showed us our room and pretty much left us alone.

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After dumping our stuff in the little bedroom with adjoining private bathroom, we changed into swimsuits and headed for the beach. It was a quick 10 minute drive, and getting out of the car, smelling that salt air and hearing the crashing of waves, I could already feel the stress of my crazy week fading away. While my husband braved swimming in the cold water in March, I set up my towel on the sand with a novel. After who knows how much long I woke up to my husband asking if I wanted to leave or if he should feed the parking meter. “Mmm I can stay longer” I answered sleepily. He kissed me and left to feed the meter. I tried to go back to my book, but ended up just soaking in the sun.

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That evening our host was at work, so we got some food to-go and ate at the counter in the kitchen of our Airbnb. We had talked about going to some bars, but ended up having a couple of glasses of wine at “home,” relaxing, and enjoying being away from home for the night.

The next morning we went to a cute bagel shop across the street from our Airbnb. It was predictably packed, as it was Sunday morning. The bagels were to die for! That’s why you should always try the local shops and restaurants when you travel–you might find the best bagel of your life!

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After our bagels, we drove about half an hour away to the aquarium. It’s a great aquarium, and we had a lot of fun looking at the fish, and feeling like kids again. Our stomachs started rumbling again, but we didn’t want to pay for overpriced food at the aquarium so we just started driving back home with the plan to stop when we saw something that looked good. A little burrito place caught our attention. We stopped and went in. It was probably 2-3pm, but we still had to wait for a table. The restaurant had kind of a Dia de los Muertos skulls theme. We were finally seated and found out we got unlimited access to their salsa bar. They had about a dozen different salsas and I think we tried most of them. Then came our meals. Oh man. To die for. The service was great, the food was great, the atmosphere was casual and cool, and the prices were low. Always. Eat. Local.

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After stuffing ourselves with burritos, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back home, but alas, our spontaneous beach trip was coming to an end. We dragged our full bellies back to the car, and drove home. Would I take a spontaneous trip again? Hell yeah. But when? Who knows…. 🙂

Have you taken a spontaneous trip? Tell me about it in the comments! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

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.

6 Tips for Packing Light

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with my 15-year-old cousin (who lives near me) to New England for a week to see her aunt, my cousin. I’ve traveled a lot, and lately I’ve been getting into backpacker style traveling. On my last trip to Europe I stayed in hostels and didn’t check any luggage. It mostly started because I’m cheap, but it’s become more of a hobby now (and I’m still cheap). I’ll share some tips for packing light so that you can also stop paying to check a bag!

“You don’t have a suitcase?” My younger cousin’s mom asked me when we met in the airport parking garage a couple of hours before our flight.

“Nope” I replied, and gestured towards my backpack. We trekked into the airport, my cousin, her mom, my husband, and I, chatting about school and work and traveling.

Later, inside the airport, when she was paying $25 extra for my cousin’s checked bag her mom turned to me and asked again “You aren’t checking anything?”

I shook my head and my husband chimed in “Once you’ve lost a bag, you’ll never go back” I’ve actually never had an airline lose my luggage, but I’m super cheap. Paying $25 on top of my $300 ticket AND risk them losing my belongings? No thanks.

We arrived in NY and when my older cousin came to pick us up, the first thing she said to me was “that’s it?” upon seeing my backpack. “I’ll tell you how, just keep an eye on my blog” I joked.

Tip #1: Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Despite impressing my cousins, my husband still accused me of taking too many toiletries. “Do you need all of this?” He asked as he watched me pack. It’s a good question to ask yourself. If you don’t normally need something, it’s probably best to leave it at home unless you know for a fact you will need it on your trip. I’ll admit, in a normal week I don’t need workout clothes (oops) but my cousin is pretty active, so I knew visiting her meant we’d hit the gym at least once. Just be adaptable and pack for your trip and yourself.

Tip #2: Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport so you don’t have to pack them. Even if it’s going to be warmer and you end up carrying your coat/jacket, it’s a great way to save space in your luggage. Carrying a coat or jacket doesn’t count as a carry-on or personal item. You can also put stuff in the pockets if you’re really desperate, but I would recommend saving this for the return trip, since you’ll likely have souvenirs of some kind. Just be careful not to put anything “suspicious” looking in your pockets.

To the airport I wore:

A short sleeved top
A pair of leggings
A pair of boots
A warm jacket

Tip #3: Plan to wash and/or re-wear your clothes. I haven’t checked luggage in 3 years. You can pack everything you need in carry-on size luggage no matter how long your trip is. I’ve found that I need a certain amount of stuff, no matter how long I’m going away. You always need pants, shirts, etc, but the trick is to re-wear and/or wash your clothes. If you’ll be away for more than a week you’ll probably need to wash clothes, but if you were at home, wouldn’t you be doing laundry anyway?

Tip #4: Save and use small containers for traveling with small items. I’ve saved mint tins and plastic razor boxes for a while and they’re awesome for organizing bobby pins, jewelry, cotton swabs, and other small accessories.

Tip #5: Utilize packing cubes. Organizing your belongings into packing cubes is a great way to save space. It seems counterintuitive to add items to save space, but cubes (or honestly, any small zip-up cloth bags you have) help you to smoosh items down. Bonus: they also help you to organize into outfits or type of clothing.

Tip #6: What you should pack.

What I packed in a backpack for a one week trip:

2 dresses
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of leggings
2 cardigan sweaters
2 pairs of PJ pants
2 comfy T’s for sleeping
2 tank tops
3 short sleeve shirts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 set of workout clothes (shirt, shorts, sports bra)
Socks and underwear for a week
A laptop
A magazine
An (empty) water bottle
I also packed travel sized toiletries. You’d be surprised what you can find in under 3 oz bottles. I have everything from deodorant to hairspray to baby powder to body spray.

Places to find small bottles of liquids:

Target/Walmart
5 Below
Bath and Body Works
Big Lots

If you can’t find your favorite shampoo or lotion in small bottles, you can purchase empty airplane sized bottles pretty much anywhere (Target, Walmart, Big Lots, REI, Dick’s, etc.) just check the travel section. You can then fill them at home with your favorite product. But lemme warn you, it’s messy and not the easiest task to accomplish. I would recommend just purchasing products that are already in travel sized bottles, but I’m not your dad.

If you follow this guide, you too can stop paying to check a bag when you travel!

Did you like this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to my blog and keep an eye out for more packing tips. Do you have any packing tips? Share them in the comments below!

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.