The Europe seduction

There are times I find myself staring at a map, just lost in the possibilities of the world and all of its wonders.

Then, the wanderlust begins to bubble up … to slowly seduce me into a world where backpacks, trains, hostels, waking up in a new city are the norm. Are romantic. These little tendrils of travel creep into my mind and plant their roots. They whisper to me at night, “Diana … book a flight … Diana … come to me.”

Like a hangover, I shake these thoughts away because, let’s face it, the beginning of 2014 saw me barely making it to Chiang Mai Gate, let alone across town … how in the world am I going to leave the country?

Asia Blog Europe Thailand The Comfort Zone Project

How to have a Travel Adventure without Adventure Travel

 

 

Adventure. It’s a pretty hefty word with a lot behind it.

To me, adventure is more than just jumping out of airplanes … more than climbing a mountain. I’m so not that girl. In my world adventure is about taking risks. Going off my beaten path to experience something new.

As a traveler, each day is an adventure. Whether it is getting off a bus before check-in time at a hostel and trying to find something to do, or kayaking in the Mediterranean.

I tried to be adventurous each day on my trip. And, unlike the time I fell off the cliff while embracing adventure/sports, I normally was met with pretty great results.

So, how can someone have an adventure without raising your pulse?

Well …

1. Don’t plan. Well, plan a little. But, don’t feel the need to always stick to the plan. There were plenty of times when I would wake up in the morning and decide I wanted a different view, so would ask around to other people in the hostel, find out where they were going/coming from, and then make a game-time decision as to where  I would go later that day. To ensure I wasn’t bed-less for the night, I would book a room, but that’s it.

Really, I’m a Planner

2. Book a hostel, not a hotel. Hostels are much more social than hotels. At hostels, you are much more likely to meet like-minded people who want to check out A, B or C. Some of my closest friends today have come from hostels. Just be sure you follow hostel protocol during your stay. Nothing sucks worse than being That Guy/Girl at a hostel.

Dude, don’t be a hostel dick

3. Try the local cuisine. I didn’t really venture anywhere with cuisine that was too out of my comfort zone, but I can assure you eating bugs AND snake are both on my list when I hit Asia this year.

Para morirse — food to die for in Valencia

4. Get lost. Within reason. Pop on some good music, grab the camera and wander. Take note — don’t be ignorant about wandering. Find out the safe places to go before you leave your room. Ladies, keep your purses under your arms. And don’t broadcast your riches.

Being Jewish in the Krakow Jewish District

5. Hit the local markets. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of fresh fruits, veggies, flowers and crafts. Super easy. And, most times you can actually purchase items at these markets without spending a lot of money.

6. Rent an apartment for a little. If you want to spend more than a night or two in a city, rent an apartment. All over the world, there are apartments to rent for a few nights to months or longer. When I traveled, I rented a gorgeous little place on the Adriatic for a few nights with some friends. It was amazing.

Living in Technicolor

7. Talk to the locals. Nothing can make an experience in a foreign place better than having a local’s insight. The more locals you meet, the more opportunities you have to really get the flavor of a place.

A week of Spanish

8. Volunteer. There are plenty of options for short-term volunteer work all over the world. Plus, volunteering opens you up to meet other travelers and locals. And, its totally good karma.

The only English-speaking town in Spain

9. Take a class. Learn how to make sushi or prepare Thai dishes. Or do a language exchange.

10. Rent a car. This may be a little bit risky, but it lets you travel places you might not normally see.

Steering wheel death grips and driving in Romania

11. Go camping. Get a cheap tent and fork out the few bucks to camp instead of stay at a hostel.

12. Use a squat toilet. Seriously. You haven’t lived until you use one.

13. Go to a nudie beach. Or a topless beach. If necessary, grab some tall boys before hitting the surf. Just make sure you do it. And use sunscreen to prevent burning of the bits.

To be or not to be … topless

14. Find a festival or event that sounds good and go. Like La Tomatina in Spain, or Exit Festival in Serbia. Or Fringe in Scotland. This would require a little planning, but still. Go.

15. Don’t book a return ticket. Until you have to.

What do you think makes for a travel adventure?

This post was sponsored by InsureandGo Travel Insurance.

Africa Europe Travel Travel Tips

12 Questions to Ask Any RTW Traveler

12 questions to ask any travleler

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“So, tell me …” it always begins, often while sitting over an adult beverage in a crowded bar (at least in my experiences) … “tell me ALL about your travels.”

Pause.

I look down. I look to the inquisitive person across from me, wide-eyed, sitting up straight, alert. I look down again.

That’s a hell of a loaded question. Where to begin? Where to end? Where to fill in the blanks?

Returning home and telling the tales of travel isn’t easy. In fact, it is actually quite challenging. I mean, I love it when people want to know what I have done in my travels, but such a broad question … there is no possible way to answer that question without talking for hours on end about my adventures.

Therefore, for all of you who are in my shoes (or will be in my shoes), here is a handy-dandy breakdown of some good/great conversation starters to talk about your travels or questions to ask any traveler. Along with my answers to these questions … Note: Special thanks to Florian for asking the first few questions to get me on a roll.

What questions to ask any RTW traveler when they return?

What is the hottest hook-up you had on your trip. (You know you had at least one).

Spain. To be more specific, Granada. After an amazing night of tapas, claras, Jameson, flamenco and a Spanish club. Mmmm. Affairs of the something or other

What is the best day you had on your trip?

Trekking for gorillas in Rwanda. I didn’t think I could do it, and I did. And, WOW. What an experience it was. Gorilla trekking

What was the best food you ate?

In Alicante at Monastrell. Dining with the culinary goddess Chef Maria Jose San Roman and Stefanie (@adventuregirl). Pulpo (octopus) and more deliciousness. The best food ever

What was the worst food you had?

Ramen noodles. Mutliple times. When I was in my cheap mode and wanted to use the kettle instead of cook anything of substance.

What was the scariest thing to happen to you.

That’s a split. One, Kusadasi, Turkey. Two, Fethiye, Turkey. Both scared the crap out of me. One was more of a psychological threat. The other, physical. 1) Running Scared; 2) Para-falling

What was the weirdest thing to happen to you?

Again, Kusadasi. Also, the very forthcoming men in Morocco. I got more phone numbers from random strangers than I have collectively in my life. The Story of Mustafa

How many countries did you visit?

18.

How many modes of transportation did you take?

Planes: 15; Trains: 11; Buses: 44; Boats: 3; Private: 5

Who do you still keep in touch with?

Thanks to the amazing world of social media, there are quite a few I still keep in touch with. More I keep tabs on. My circle of travel friends has shrunk but the people I actually traveled with are still very much in my life.

If you could go back and do one day over again, which would it be.

No-brainer. Going out to the stupid club in Barcelona. The time I (didn’t) party with Will Schuester.

What advice would you give to other people who are traveling?

Soak up ever, single nano-second. Seriously. Breathe deeper. Let the food linger on your tastebuds long. Every day is a blessing, and treat it as such.

How have you changed?

So, so many ways. RTW Travel: A Blessing and a Curse

 

What are some other good questions to ask  a traveler returning from RTW or long-term travel? And, what are your answers? Post ’em below!

Travel Travel Tips
Dude Don't Be A Hostel Dick | The Ultimate Guide to the Dos and Dont's of Hostel Life via www.dtravelsround.com

Dude, Don’t be a Hostel Dick

Dude Don't Be A Hostel Dick | The Ultimate Guide to the Dos and Dont's of Hostel Life via www.dtravelsround.com

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: via Grumbler

I’ve spent more than 200 nights in hostels. The good hostels. The bad hostels. The awesome hostels. If you are planning to stay in a hostel, or sometimes get confused about hostel etiquette, the following post is for you. Consider this your do’s and don’ts should you decide to be a roommate.

The Check-In

1. Smile. Even if you have just had the most hellish time finding the place, a smile will go along way at reception.

2. Be nice. No one wants to see you throw a tantrum because you have to pay for sheets. Or because the Internet is down. (Well, you can get a little cranky on that one.)

Your Room

1. Don’t let your backpack throw up all over the room. If you need to take stuff out, take it out, but don’t have things sprawled everywhere. Unless you don’t mind it getting stepped on. Or lost. Many hostels have limited floor space, and you’re not the only one in the room who needs to unpack a little bit.

2. If you are on the bottom bunk and want some privacy, hang your towel down from the bed above you.

3. Nowadays, it is hard not to stay connected. However, many hostels seem to only have one or two power sources per room. Don’t hog all of them. And, if your stuff is finished charging, kindly unplug it so others can use the outlets.

4. Bring a lock. A good lock.

5. Lock up your stuff. Seriously. If there aren’t  lockers, still lock your bag. Especially if you are leaving anything of value.

6. If you are leaving early in the morning, pack the night before. No one wants to get woken up by your inconsiderate zipping and unzipping and rustling of plastic bags. No one can get it all done the night before, but keeping the noise down to a minimum and only having to pack a little is one of the most considerate things you can do for other travelers.

7. If you think you may be in late, do everyone else in the room a favor and get the stuff out of your bag that you need for the  night before you head out.

8. When you get in late at night, try not to turn on the light. Use a flashlight, or your phone, or your iPod, or whatever. If you have to turn the light in, do it quickly, and then turn it off. Don’t leave it on while you go to the bathroom/kitchen/etc.

9. When you get in late at night, hush. No one wants to hear recaps of the night in your normal voice. Or a whisper. Go outside of the room to talk. And, remember: whispers are loud when there’s no other noise in the room.

10. Don’t get it on in the dorm room. No one wants to hear moans and fluids and such. Well, at least most people don’t. If you want to hook-up, go somewhere else. Like the common room. Or outside.

11. If other people are sleeping in the morning, don’t be loud.

12. If it is after lunch and people are still sleeping, it’s OK to go about your business in the room … and not worry too much about needing to do whatever it is you need to do. Chances are the people who are still sleeping are the ones who woke you up at 4 a.m. when they stumbled in, turned on the light and chattted drunkenly.

The Kitchen

1. Buy your own food. And lable it with the dates you are going to be staying at the hostel. If you see someone else’s food, don’t take it. It’s not yours. Backpacker karma exists.

2. Clean up. This is a group environment. No one wants to wash your egg-covered pans or the sauce remnants from the pasta you cooked last night. Wash. Dry. Wipe down. Got it?

3. If the hostel provides meals or snacks, enjoy them. But don’t go nuts. You aren’t the only person who wants to enjoy the chocolate cereal or hardboiled eggs. Just because its complimentary doesn’t give you permission to take it all.

4. If you’ve made extra food and aren’t going to save it, offer it to another backpacker or the staff. Don’t waste.

The Common Room

1. Backpackers are a friendly bunch. If there is a solo packer in the common room and you are there, start up a friendly little conversation. You never know, that person could turn out to be a great friend.

2. Don’t hog the TV/DVD/stereo. Ask around if there are other people in the room. Don’t assume someone wants to watch/listen to the same thing you do.

3. Clean up after you’re done. Just like in the kitchen.

Want more hostel rules? Check out Michael Hodson’s Hostel and Dorm Rules. Ah, great minds think alike.

Got more tips? Add ’em below.

Travel Tips

Dr. Strangetummy or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Naan

Editor’s Note: The following is guest post written by Katie. If you have read my posts about Bosnia and Croatia, you know Katie. She also traveled the world, more extensively than I did in 2010, and shares her story of eating (or not eating) in India. I love Katie. You will, too. Enjoy!

One of the main reasons I travel is to eat. Living in America means that if you want Indian food, you can have it. If you want Ethiopian food, you can have it.  Persian, Indonesian,  Afghani, and Peruvian- it’s all available. And more often than not, the food is made by natives. But, still.

Every food loving traveler is itching to try the “real deal.” Vietnamese Pho in Uptown Chicago, made by a Vietnamese person,  is one thing, but the same dish on tiny plastic chair on a street corner in Saigon is the reason you keep renewing your passport.

I have always considered myself food adventurous. I will try anything- and I mean anything- once.  I have eaten brains and tongue and kidney and shark and pigeon. I have blindly pointed to menu items when I couldn’t decipher the offerings. I have eaten things I still cannot identify.  So imagine my surprise when I arrived in India and was too scared to eat anything.  I felt like such a chicken- which, by the way, I have eaten the feet of.

Travel in India is overwhelming to every sense. The sights are indescribable. The smells are all consuming. The noise is unparalleled. The heat and humidity feel like a cumbersome jacket. But the taste, the food, is one reason you put up with all the other stuff.

It is just assumed that you will get sick in India. You just have to accept that fact and prepare for it before you go. In other words, pack some Pepto Bismol and hope for the best. I thought I had mentally prepared for the case of Delhi Belly I would certainly get but when I saw the bathrooms where I would be spending so much sick time, it weakened my resolve.  Having the trots on the comfort of your own toilet is bad enough, imagine it on a squat toilet in a fly-and-roach-infested bathroom.

But, the high demands of Western travelers spared me. My hostel in Delhi provided free breakfast (cereal, toast, and tea) and dinner (rice and a Kingfisher beer).  I decided I was going to eat these meals and nothing else.  I was adjusting to so many other things in India that I would work on those first and then attempt the food. That’s what I told myself but the truth is I was just scared.

I came to terms with the fact that I would be eating peanut butter toast and vegetable rice for all my meals in the country home to my favorite dishes. No murgh saagwala? Fine by me if it meant no puking. No chicken tikka masala? I’ll eat it when I get home if it means I retain control of my bowels. The ravenous glutton in my heart was devastated, the sometimes realist in my brain was content.

On my second day in India I met some people in my hostel and we headed out for a day of sightseeing. We spent hours wandering the streets of Delhi and no one mentioned food or ate a thing.  My stomach was growling and every street-side vendor made it sound like an angry lion. Luckily, Delhi is a noisy city and the sound of my rumbling tummy was drowned out. I had just survived my first tuk-tuk ride; no way I was taking on more than that.

That night, after a couple of Kingfishers and some free rice, the truth trickled out over our free meal. All six of us, on the first days of our trip, had not eaten a meal outside the safety of those hostel walls.  One by one, I could feel the weight lift off our shoulders. Backpackers are supposed to be brave and full of reckless abandon. Admitting you’re nervous-about anything- is like admitting you aren’t cut out for real adventure. 

Now we had each other. We were going to hold each other’s hands (figuratively) while we had our first real Indian meal and hold each other’s hair (literally) if any of us suffered repercussions.

Enter Francisco.

An unlikely hero in this land of enchantment, Francisco is from Italy and a former musician and breakdancer, but now made a living as the owner of our hostel. Did he mention, he asked, that he also owned a dosa stand? He told us all about his amazing dosas and after he wiped my drool off his leg, agreed to take us the next evening. We were all still skeptical but Francisco assured us that he adhered to the highest standards when it came to cleanliness and promised we would all be fine.

After a day of sightseeing, and still no food,  Francisco took us to Dosa King. It looked no different from any other stand on the busy, noisy, dirty street. It was about six feet by two feet and the walls were made of flimsy plywood. The kitchen consisted of one small grill, five large buckets of ingredients, and a three man staff.

I ordered a masala dosa and stood at one of the tables and waited for the Styrofoam plate of food I had anticipated, but feared, since landing in India. I was determined to eat like a local and in India that means cutlery-free and with your right hand. I grabbed at the end of the dosa, ripped off a chunk, scooped up some of the potato and onion mixture, and dipped into the sambar.

I let that bite sit on my tongue for a pause before I started chewing. I pictured myself standing in the hot, crowded, chaotic room where I got my Indian visa about three months earlier. A Bollywood film blared out of a tiny television with blown speakers in the corner. There seemed to be no rhyme to the reason and there were strange rules that were only occasionally enforced.  I believe that office is designed to prepare you for India. But nothing could prepare me for this bite.

That first bite was maybe the greatest food moment of my life. Yes, the food was good but it was more than that. It wasn’t just about food, of course. I was three days into a trip that was to last 10 months and I had been living scared. It felt like a release. As silly as it sounds, I remember thinking, this is why I’m here. To eat Indian food in India. To be, to really be, in India. Because if you’re going to go places and not really be there, you might as well order takeout from home.

It was as safe as Francisco promised. And, here’s a spoiler alert, I did eventually get sick from the food in India. And I mean sick sick. Like hospital, antibiotics, rehydration sick. And guess what? I would still eat ever dosa, every curry, every masala, every naan, everything.
 

About Katie: Katie doesn’t just get explosive diarrhea in India. She also falls in ditches, teaches Vietnamese women about vibrators, and sits back while her friends get head butted by a cow. You can read all about it on her blog www.calamitykate.com where she promises she won’t speak in the third person.

Guest Posts Travel

One year later

365 days. Wow.

A lot can happen in 365 days.

People can lose their job. Can find another job. Can fall in love. Can have a child. Can lose someone they love. Can see the world.

365 days ago, I embarked on a life-changing journey that would take me through Europe and parts of Africa, that would introduce me to new worlds. To new people. To a new way of thinking.

365 days ago I would have never imagined being where I am today. I would never have fathomed the experiences I would find myself a part of.

Yes. It was one year ago, today, when I left America. When I took my career-break. When I began my Adventure. It started in London.

Now, after one year of truly living, I can still vividly recall the moments leading up to leaving America. The moments on the airplane. The thrill of seeing the Atlantic sparkling in the sunrise. The anticipation of grabbing my backpack at Heathrow, getting on the Tube and the DLR and ending up at Sean’s place in Poplar.

I will never forget getting lost in Poplar. Wandering the streets around that part of London for hours, searching for a tiny sidestreet. Walking into bakeries and asking people where I was going. And the excitement I felt when I finally came across Sean’s place and found the little key tucked under a bench in her front yard. I will always remember meeting Tim and being quickly whisked from her house to the city, grabbing beers and then going back to her house and catching up on a lifetime that had happened since we had met in Croatia only months earlier.

It’s days like today, when I find myself sitting, reminiscing about the life I lived in those seven months abroad that make it impossible to do anything but hold tight to those memories. To those instances of life when you realize you are truly doing something so spectacular, so monumental …

Now, one year later, I have many moments, mostly when I am sad, where my mind transports me back to my trip … to a time when the world was my oyster (it still is, just in a very different way). I will be going to sleep at night, and an image of my journey will pop into my head and it fills me with such hope, such inspiration, such happiness.

Am I where I thought I would be a year ago today? Nope. Not even close. I am somewhere different … living a life that took me an adventure to realize I wanted. Is it permanent? No. Nothing is.

There are many moments when I find myself longing for the culture of Spain … for the crystal waters of Croatia … for the amazing friends I have met along the way. And the beauty of the past year is that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I can capture that again … perhaps in the next 365 days. Or longer. I just know it is there, smiling on my shoulder, rooting for me …

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Maryland Nevada Travel

On being home

Once we got in the car at Dulles, I was finally able to breathe … sort of.

I wistfully looked out the window as trees whizzed by, comforted to be in the car with my parents, but not sure of anything else.

What happens now? Where do I go? What do I do?

“Your first meal back home! What do you want?” Mom asked me, rubbing my arm.

I quickly did a rundown in my head of the food I ate while traveling and the food I missed most — chips and salsa.

“Mexican,” I moaned. “I miss Mexican.”

We crept along in the late afternoon rush hour traffic on the Washington Beltway for more than an hour before we finally got off the highway and back into familiar turf.

Rockville, Maryland. Was this home?

And then, Chipotle.

I ordered my favorite dish — chicken fajita bowl, and chips and salsa and sat with it in front of me. I put a fork full of food into my mouth.

It tasted awful. I don’t remember Chipotle being awful, but it was.

Together, Mom, Dad and I sat at the table in the quick service restaurant talking.

But, after a few minutes, I was exhausted. Words didn’t want to come out. I just wanted to not talk. To not do anything.

We drove home, the same familiar streets I had grown up driving, but that afternoon, they were different. It was as if I was looking at those roads for the first time.

Oh god, I don’t want to be here.

And then the second wave of panic in a few hours hit me.

What was I going to do?

The only thing I knew I had to do that evening was take my car and drive to my friend, Megan’s, house. She had been fostering my two cats since February and I owed the little pets a visit.

I grabbed my keys and got into the car.

And froze.

Instantly, I thought back to the last time I had been behind the wheel, navigating the rough and tumble back roads of Romania. And now, there I was, back in Maryland, and suddenly nervous to pull out of my driveway.

I pushed aside the images of horse-drawn carts, children and dogs wandering the streets next to their little huts, and pulled out onto my road.

There is something to be said about the comfort of family and friends. When I was with my parents that day, they helped wash away my anxiety. When I was with Megan that evening, again, I felt better. But it was the other times, when I was alone, I would find myself flustered. Not sure of anything, uneasy … longing to be back on the road. Longing for just one more moment of my former life as a traveler.

For the next few days, I walked around like a newborn. My eyes grew wide and my heart pounded with every “new” experience I had — walking into Target, browsing the racks at the shopping mall, getting gas from a gas station.

It was different for me. I quickly would get overwhelmed and ask to leave places that once had been so easy, so mindless to be in.

The first few days were hard … but they became even harder as I slowly reacclimated to life in Amerca.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Maryland