Remember how I told you about my awesome friend, Rachel, that I met in a crazy hostel in Prague
? Well, she’s had some amazing travel experiences, and offers great advice in the post below. Enjoy!
Favorite place to travel and why: This one is a difficult one, since my one complaint always seems to be, “I want to go somewhere” (even when, like now, I’m living in Australia – the wanderlust bug has bitten me quite effectively!) and also, “I want to go everywhere.” I would have to say, though, that in my travels, Europe holds a special soft spot, particularly the entire country of Italy, and Berlin, Germany. Italy, because I am Italian, and there is an inescapable feeling of family while I’m there. Whether it’s the incredible food, the boys who all tell you you are beautiful, no matter what you look like, or the history of the place that just smacks you in the face as soon as you walk off the plane. I’m currently living in Sydney, Australia, and have found refuge in a local cafe run by a sweet-talking Roman who makes me feel closer to my home in NYC than anyone else here has. Also, in Italy, you can get a delicious bottle of wine for about 7 euros, and that, my friends, is amazing.
Berlin, on the other hand, is the sum of my teenage dreams, realized. I am a theatre geek, and Cabaret, set in a nightclub in Berlin before and during the rise of the Nazis and WWII, is my favorite show of all time. I visited Berlin for the first time as a senior in high school, and then again 4 years later as a college graduate. The city is incredible. It’s a bit gritty, a bit artsy and quite a bit filled with the history that has shaped, devastated and triumphed it throughout the years. What I love about Berlin is that it is a city that refuses to be beaten down. It’s faced awful times – WWII and the atrocities of the Nazis, Soviet domination, a separation of free and unfree that divided families and tore lives apart. And yet, there is beauty. The Berliner Dom Cathedral, monuments that will bring tears to your eyes and a vibrant bohemian artist scene prove that Berlin is here to stay. That, and it is just so cool. It’s the one city, aside from New York, where I currently live, where I could see myself slipping seamlessly into a life that is totally worth living.
What is your best travel memory? My best travel memory isn’t so much one particular memory, but rather the memory of my experience traveling. OK, I know that doesn’t really make sense. I am extremely Type-A, scheduled and not at all spontaneous. When I graduated from University, I was faced with the age-old yuppie dilemma: What am I going to do with my life?? While many people would say, “Get a job,” I knew that I wasn’t quite ready, and so I decided, a bit on a whim, to venture out on my own for the first time and travel a little bit throughout Europe.
Now, what I did is hardly extraordinary or unique (check out any European or Australian – they have gap years and are notorious for spending 3 months to 5 years globetrotting), but for me, throwing out the rule book and just doing something was a feat in and of itself. I went without a plan – 6 weeks of being by myself and making my way through Europe, using an LLBean bookbag (not a backpackers bag) and carrying 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 3 dresses and some underwear, as well as my passport and the common sense I’d gathered while attending University in the Bronx is hardly something the Rachel my friends know and love would do – and sent emails replying to my mom’s urgent requests of “WHAT COUNTRY ARE YOU IN” when I was able to scam some free internet from whichever hostel was providing my bed that night. The places I went weren’t exotic. I stuck to the major western European big cities, but the memories are permanent, and I learned that I can indeed be pushed to share a room with amorous Swedes, drunk Irishmen and loud, opinionated Americans, as well as read a map, explore on my own and make new friends, no matter what the language or culture barrier. My travels throughout Europe proved to me that I can go places by myself and be self-sufficient. They also fed my growing need to go as many places as possible, and see as much as possible. They also opened me up to new friendships and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. A five day stay in Barcelona hooked me up with a Canadian who housed me when I went to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and just this past December, we met up on her first trip to New York City. I still email sporadically with a Swedish heavy metal rocker, and I am sometimes asked to talk about myself on the blog of a girl I met one night in a bed-bug infested hostel set up in the gymnasium of a Prague high school. It’s helped shape who I am today, and has given me the confidence to go and see what there is to see.
What is your worst travel memory? I think, for sanity’s sake, I’ve tried to block out horrid memories of traveling, but some bad ones have happened. On my overnight bus from Paris to London, a boy named Matt started chatting with me. At first, in the traveler state of mind, I was into it – we chatted about where we were from, where we were going, and were generally having a good time. Then he started to make me worry. He asked specific questions about where I was staying, was I staying alone, and how much money I kept with me. Later, when I dozed off, I woke to find him leaning over me, to “see if I needed a blanket.” The vibe quickly turned from friendly to strange, and being a young girl alone, with no phone, on a bus from France where no one spoke English, I saw a horror movie begin to play in my head. I was on high-alert, and spent the next five hours or so furiously writing in my journal all of the details I could see about him, with the hope that, if my mutilated body was found, they’d have a way of finding this creep. It was scary, and I felt so very alone and vulnerable. Luckily, I moved seats to sit near a family, and when we got off the bus in the morning, I was able to quickly get to the tube and to my hostel, but I was left on hyper-alert for the rest of my trip, no longer feeling invincible and ready to meet just anyone.
Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest). My main tip or trick is to be open. If you see a place that sparks your fancy, get there. I have this desire to go to all 7 continents (5 down, 2 to go!) and while Antarctica is a bit of a haul (and an expensive one at that), there is no doubt in my mind that I will one day have to find a way there. If you can’t get someone to go somewhere with you, don’t be afraid to do it by yourself. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as meet other incredible people – it will make you stronger and more well-rounded, I promise. My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely). There is no need to throw money away, but, if you’re in a place you may never be again, and there’s a concert, or an activity or a museum that you may never see again, take a moment and think about, in 40 years, will you be happy to have saved that money, or that you went bungee-jumping, or saw the opera at the Opera House in Sydney, or that you climbed to the top of Notre Dame. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Experience it!
That being said, please don’t feel bad if you just have no desire to do something that everyone says you “just have to do.” No you don’t. If going to the top of the Eiffel Tower seems dumb to you, by all means, skip it. Just don’t skip out on something you’ve been dreaming of becuase it costs 10 euro more than you were hoping.
What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without. There are two, and they are important: A lock. DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT A LOCK. Sometimes, hostels will have lockers that lock. Sometimes they won’t have anything. Sometimes they will have lockers, but no locks. Bring a lock. It can mean the difference between leaving a city with all of your things or spending lots of time at the American Embassy replacing your stolen traveler’s cheques. Also, they are cheap, and will provide you peace of mind when you’re trekking through museums and ancient relics. Also, bring a journal. I, for one, have one and almost always forget to write in it, but when I remember, I am so, so glad. It’s a great way to jot down places you’ve been, restaurants you’ve enjoyed/hated and places to stay. It also makes you look like a smarty pants when your friends travel and you can make actual recommendations to them, becuase you WILL NOT remember the name of that tiny restaurant in Florence that you ate at every day while you stayed there. Trust me (it was so good, and I would totally recommend it to you here IF I COULD REMEMBER IT). If you can use it to jot down some memories as well, all the better, but as a file of things to hit or miss, it’s an invaluable tool (espeically since guide books are pretty much all going to tell you the same things).
With this, I leave you with the suggestion: If you’re ever in Sydney, Australia, make sure to grab a nutella coffee at Bruschetteria 102 on Albion Street. It’s delicious, and the staff are incredible.