I love Monopoly. There are several reasons, such as a desire for world domination, a completely unnecessarily competitive nature and an overbearing Slytherin mindset. But mostly, I like it because it gives you a lifetime worth of money and resources to strategically manipulate in a game lasting a few hours (or longer if you marathon it like me and my siblings did growing up).
I’ve always loved the idea of taking money and finding ways to stretch it beyond what people think it’s capable of – which is probably why I always win Monopoly. If you know my mom, you know where I get this mindset. So, of course, when it came to buying my plane ticket, it was no different.
A couple of months ago I was looking up plane tickets to Paris. I honestly couldn’t believe how much they were. The cheapest were around $1500 – one way.
Knowing that, as an Au Pair, I wouldn’t have a lot of cash flow piling in my bank account (AKA I need to save money, now), I decided that something had to be done. There was no way in hell I was letting $1500 slip through my fingers just to GET TO the country I wanted to live in. So I started researching.
I stumbled across this article on Pintrest that talks about ways to life hack your way around the world; how to travel without paying, or with paying reduced amounts.
I’ve never really looked into life hacking or finding ways around the travel scene, before. I kind of always thought, “Well, that’s the price, so that’s what I have to pay.” False.
After looking up what I would be needing, in regards to travel, I put together a grand scheme.
The next week, I walked into my local Chase bank early one morning (people are nicer in the morning, and they can help you one-on-one because they’re not as busy), and after asking for personal help, and looking up options, I decided on getting my first credit card – joy to the world.
In general, I really hate the idea of credit cards. I don’t like not paying my debts (how Lannister of me) and spending money that’s not mine just doesn’t feel right. I understand why they exist – I just don’t like them.
This time, though, I got a card called the Chase Preferred Sapphire, which allowed me to earn $500 toward my plane ticket as long as I spent $2000 on it during the first three months.
Now, normally, I don’t spend that much money just hanging out with friends (and things like rent and student loans – my main costs – can’t be paid with a credit card) but I did realize, when I got the card, that it was right before tax return season.
Note: As a nanny, I don’t pay my taxes throughout the year but, instead, all at once in Feb/Mar/Apr.
You’ve probably guessed what I did. Charged that bad boy with my taxes and came out just over $2,000 ($14 over, to be precise). I immediately paid this off, but having spent the initial amount, I still got the voucher.
Then I thought, “Great, I’ve knocked my $1500 down to $1000, but I still think I can do more!”
So I started to look up flights.
Having traveled to the UK before, I knew that Ireland loves people to travel through there, and Dublin will drop its prices drastically in order to get your business. So, I decided to fly into Dublin, and then from there get a smaller plane to Paris.
Side note: I also just LOVE the Dublin airport because they are the most laid back people ever… and I may have really wanted an excuse to hear Irish accents, again.
Ticket from Seattle to Dublin (after using my $500 voucher) – $448.
Looking up tickets to Paris was a bit harder, but that was because I very specifically wanted to find one that went to Orly airport (the most southern airport in Paris, and more popular – aka more expensive), since that’s where my au pair family said they could pick me up. I settled with a ticket for $200, with a 2 hour layover in Heathrow – another favorite airport (British accents FTW).
Grand total? *drum roll*
Having saved somewhere around $1000, I feel pretty happy with my plane ticket purchase, and that I have more money in my bank account and a ticket to Paris on my nightstand.
I’ll probably continue life hacking, since this process has the potential to be ridiculously expensive, but so far so good! Have you guys found any awesome life hacks out there while traveling? Send me a comment!
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about not being here. Some may call it wanderlust, some may call it daydreaming, but I just CANNOT shake the feeling of needing to go somewhere. Not necessarily France, not necessarily anywhere particularly, but just the need to go.
In a weird way, I feel like I’ve outgrown my life, and appropriately, for my Slytherin (nerd alert!) nature, I need to shed my skin. I’ve always been a daydreamer. I stare out windows dreaming about places probably more often than I ought to. But the truth of the matter is, I’m homesick. Not in a depression way (although, PTD – or Post Travel Depression, is a real thing) but just in a wistful wonderment kind of way. In a way that makes you get goosebumps when you feel like an adventure is on the horizon.
Where have I been homesick for? Well, right now, it’s Scotland. Or, to be more specific, Scottish sheep farms. I don’t know why, but taking trains and buses along the coast of Scotland brought me more joy than is probably normal. I remember traveling in a bus, passing by old stone ruins – sheep dotted across fields of every color green, and thinking, “You know what, if I won the Lottery today, I would buy a Scottish sheep farm, paint all day every day and never look back.” Because, honestly, that’s what I would do with millions of dollars. Buy a farm, change my identity, and run away to Scotland with my paintbrushes. Standard.
But, in the meantime, to combat the devilish voice in my head telling me to pack everything up and run away, there are some tricks of the trade that I thought I’d pass on for the chronic travel nostalgic like me.
1. Never Travel.
Just kidding. Duh, you should travel! But the way you travel can really make or break your post traveling experience. When I travel, I make sure it’s never to run away from things. Because, no matter how much you wish, you’re probably going to have to come back at some point. It’s in my nature to want to throw all of my belongings in a suitcase and run away the moment something bad happens in my life, but I really try hard to only travel if I have all of my ‘ducks in a row’ on the home front. That way, I’m not dreading coming back the entire time I’m away. And it also gives me the motivation to keep a happy home life, in order to be in a healthy mental and spiritual place to travel beyond it.
2. Send Yourself Post Cards:
This is something I’ve done for a while. First off, if you’re backpacking, it’s a good way to get yourself a souvenir without having to lug something around in your pack. Second, you get proof that you actually went somewhere, instead of owning something someone could find in a thrift shop where you’re from. Last, I just love writing – and writing myself is weirdly fun. Snail mail isn’t given enough credit.There’s something magical and priceless about finding a note from a place you loved in your mailbox when you get back home.
3. Write About It:
Blog or journal about your experiences! I love finding just the right journal to keep with me while I’m traveling. I generally go for the ones without lines on the paper, so I can sketch, paint or tape in little extra bits I find around when I’m traveling. Blogging is also a fun way to keep a day by day account of where you’re traveling, if you have access to a computer.
4. Tell Your Friends:
Sharing your knowledge is one of the best things you can do for travel nostalgia. There’s something about sharing stories and inspiration with those around you that not only builds you up, but helps the rest of your friends to get on the train with traveling as well. Inspiration goes a long way. One of the only reasons I’ve had the guts to travel in the past is that some of my friends did it before me. Sitting down to coffee, and hearing one of your peers talk about their experiences, really makes you want to go out and make your own memories!
5. Start Planning Your Next Adventure:
No matter how often I travel, the minute I get back I start planning my next trip. Not necessarily in the way of buying a plane ticket as soon as I touch ground, but I really love having maps, dream boards, Pinterest inspiration boards and thoughts stashed away for where I want to go next. Before I went to the UK I had (still have) a giant map of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales taped to the back of my bedroom door. I guess that could be partially blamed for my nostalgia every night before I go to bed, but I also like looking at it and remembering all of the great adventures I had.
Traveling is addictive. Before I even step on a plane I have plans for a hundred more places I want to visit. It is my firm belief that everyone should have a bucket list, so here are some of the top places I want to visit before I drop dead.
1. Morocco:“Here’s Looking at you kid.” I’ve wanted to go to Morocco for as long as I can remember and not only because Casablanca is my second favorite movie of all time. I absolutely love the mixture that is represented within Morocco. It’s basically a mixture of three of my favorite cultures: French, African and Arabic.
2. Camino de Santiago (France/Spain): I’m so excited to do this! This trip is one of the few that I’m insistent on doing with someone, however, which is the main reason it’s being saved (although, I can’t wait!).
3. Norway: This fits under the category of “Places I’m ethnically from”. I’m a big believer that knowledge is power, and the best way to know yourself is by exploring your heritage. I’m going to try to get this and Denmark checked off my list of places I’ve been while I’m living in France.
4. Denmark: Same as above, this is my heritage and I’m extremely excited to get to explore this beautiful country.
5. Egypt: Honestly, I think Egypt is one of the most interesting places on the planet. I’m a HUGE history nerd, so going to this country is an absolute must for me. I won’t go into details about how obsessed I was growing up, just that I may or may not have dressed up as Cleopatra more than 5 times in my life.
6. Germany: I’m part German, so I really want to go visit Germany. This trip will also probably be with someone, because it’s not a country that I’m at all familiar with, but I think it’s going to be amazing.
7. Ghana: Two of the five kids I nanny are from Ghana, and I would love to see the country that has become so close to my heart while looking after them! I’ve fallen in love with Ghanaian culture by being surrounded by two amazing boys who have stolen my heart. I can’t wait until I get to adventure to their home country, someday.
8. Italy: One word: Calcio.
Another word for translation: Football.
And one more for Americans: Soccer.
9. South Africa: Is it wrong to want to go somewhere just because of the accents? No? Good. Because that’s one of the main reasons I want to go to South Africa. I have a friend from South Africa and I absolutely love just listening to her talk, which probably is weird for her, but South African accents are my absolute favorite (right next to Irish and Scottish).
10.Latvia: The only country in Eastern Europe, I’ve wanted to go here for a while now. I think the country is so beautiful, and Latvian is one of my favorite languages to listen to (even though I can’t understand one word of what they’re saying).
Also: This is one of my new favorite songs. So beautiful.
I’m a loner by nature and I love exploring the world in a way that I can fully soak in everything around me. Most of the time that means traveling alone. Not convinced? Here’s why:
1. You can do Whatever You Want…Whenever You Want
I am unashamed to say that I’ve spent four hours sitting in a museum before. During that time I’m pretty sure I viewed ever single piece of art on all four stories, sat in on a mini lecture about Eleanor of Aquitaine and bought post cards of all of my favorite dead British people. It was glorious – nobody saying they needed to go to the bathroom, they were bored or that they were hungry.
2. You Get to Make New Friends Along the Way and Network
Even beyond Couchsurfing buddies, you can make friends on buses, planes and trains so much easier if you’re traveling alone. It allows you to talk to people who are actually from the places you travel, and to learn more about the culture around you by experiencing it through the eyes of the people who live there. I’ve met so many awesome people in hostels that I hung out with because I didn’t have the crutch of only talking with people I knew. I love the incentive to come out of my shell and have the opportunity to get to make connections with people all around the world!
3. People are More Helpful to a Single Person than Groups
As sad as it sounds, when you’re in a group you’re generally viewed as a nuisance/tourist. When you travel alone you’re a stranger people are much more likely to help with directions, advice etc. There’s something about traveling solitary that I’ve found makes getting help from people around you so much more accessible.
4. No Curfew/Wake up Time
Even if it’s not about having a “bed time”, usually if you’re in a group there’s some kind of mentality that you need to be tucked in at some point, or, at least, that someone needs to know where you are at all times. I love the freedom of being able to go out and not have to check in with anyone whether I want to stay out late or go to bed at 6pm (but, really, when I was in Dublin I slept for 14 hours once).
5. You Can Try Random Things Sporadically
One of my favorite memories will always be meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, in London. While we were there, we found out about a concert that was going on in the city and just HAPPENED to have one of my absolute favorite artists, James Arthur, performing at it. I loved being able to just drop everything and go…because there wasn’t an “agenda” that I had to stick to or other plans that I needed to keep in mind.
All these things being said, there are a TON of reasons why it’s fun to travel with people as well. But, either way I think it’s important not to have a mentality that you “can’t” travel somewhere without having an entourage. Having a good time is completely up to you, no matter which situation you’re in!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that people are people. It sounds like a no brainer, but the number one concern I hear when I say I’m going to travel places, is that I should be careful trusting the people there. What’s funny is… they probably say the same thing about us.
From traveling, I’ve learned that humanity is broad, colorful, diverse and beautiful. There is evil in the world, yes. Some governments are oppressive and some cultural norms stagnate the possibilities for individuals to rise to their true potential. But I will never allow the aspects of darkness to outshine the good. The people who are selfless, stubborn and that build lives of beauty in places you might never consider beautiful are my heroes. And to celebrate THESE people. I’m going to share some stories of some awesome individuals I’ve met while traveling.
1. “Your Accent Is Cute.” – London, England
As an American traveling, it takes every ounce of self control not to fake a different accent. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m ashamed of the way I speak…only that I think it should stay on the home front. When I first arrived in London, England I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was using different money, there were way too many people everywhere, and I arrived at night – meaning I didn’t recognize anything the next day. On top this, the streets are backwards – which, honestly, almost cost me my life more than once.
When I first arrived in London I stayed about 30min north of the central city with one of my lovely couch surfing hosts. The second night I was out until after dark (which was like 6pm) and had no idea how to get back to where I was staying. Deciding to just try my luck, I jumped on a bus that looked like it MIGHT be the same number that I came down on (it wasn’t) and then rode around in it for twenty minutes.
At this point I literally had no idea where I was. So brilliantly, I got off the bus and tried to use the map on my phone*. After wandering around in the cold a bit, I finally found a bus stop and waited until the bus came. Happily climbing on, it wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized it was taking me BACK the way I came. So, getting off that bus, I got back on another random bus headed in the right(?) direction. At this point I was actually lost in London. My host wasn’t able to figure out where I was because I wasn’t able to figure out where I was, and I was sending frantic text messages. Fun times.
Finally I swallowed my shyness and asked the bus driver for directions.
He told me I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be going…but to go sit down and wait a while. I thought he was going to tell me a connecting route, but as the bus emptied of its last passenger, other than me, he called me to the front of the double-decker, after pulling over. He then whipped out his smartphone, and punched the address into his GPS. After finding the address on his phone, he pulled out of where he had parked and started driving and talking to me about where I was from. I told him Seattle, to which he said, “American? Well, I like your accent, it’s super cute.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a sentence every American woman wants to hear from an attractive British man.
As we kept driving, he let me know that we would be there soon. And only then did I realize I was being driven in a double decker bus, as the solo passenger, to the place I need to go. He dropped me off at the corner of my street, and drove away, waving goodbye. I’m probably never going to see that man again, but as far as I know, if it wasn’t for him I might still be lost in London. A cosmic “Thank you, sir.”
* Note: iPhone 4’s DO NOT work internationally unless you’re on WiFi, which doesn’t help if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
2. Never Euro In N. Ireland – Belfast, Ireland
If you’ve ever been to Northern Ireland you’ll know that tension flows through the air. I never really understood the stubbornness and hot headed nature of my Irish blooded family until I visited Northern Ireland and met the people there. Not to say this is a bad thing, but just that it was my observation.
When I was traveling around the UK, Belfast was the first stop on my backpacking adventure. I had travelled 20 hours to get there including two planes, a train and a two buses. FINALLY, when I got to Northern Ireland, I groggily hopped on the bus I was told would take me to my hostel. It was the wrong bus. So I hopped on another one the bus driver told me to take. It was ALSO the wrong bus. Finally, with 30 lbs of luggage on my back and 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, I got on the right bus and pulled out my wallet to pay.
The bus driver looked at me as though I was trying to pull a practical joke. “How much is the bus?” I asked. He looked at me one more time as though I was joking, and then frankly told me that they didn’t take that kind of money, and to get off the bus and go exchange it. I had just used the money in Dublin, so I was confused for why it wouldn’t work.
Note: Trying to pay with Euro is a “political statement” in Northern Ireland. Don’t do it.
Stumbling my way around the city, I finally found a place to exchange my money and went out to wait for the next bus. I FINALLY I got to my hostel. At the brink of tears, because I was so exhausted and my back hurt so much, I asked the front desk staff to check me in. But, (surprise) they also didn’t take Euro and I hadn’t exchanged enough money to pay the other half of the room bill. Completely out of my control, my eyes filled as I tried not to cry. The woman told me I couldn’t check in – which meant going back to the city center, finding another bus, coming back on another bus, and carrying my pack around for even longer.
At the same time, a guy in his 20s hopped down into the room and asked what was going on. The lady explained the situation and I just stood there trying not to cry. He reached down and handed me a key. I took it without asking any questions. The woman and I both had shocked faces as he told me to just pay the next time I went out and got change – an exception which was, apparently, totally against protocol.
His act of kindness was probably one of the best things during my trip; not because it was the grandest gesture, but because it was a small act of kindness in a moment when I just needed a break.
3. Ten Hours With A Stripper – Missoula, MT
In four years of college and my entire life before then, I never pulled an all-nighter. (And to preface the sentence I’m about to say – don’t jump to conclusions.)
The first time I did, I was with a male stripper.
His name was Hank. He was tall and military trained and we met on the way to Seattle on a Greyhound bus. I had been staying in Missoula, MT for the week before and was coming back heartbroken and tired. Also, for reference, the Greyhound bus ride from there to here is about 11+ hours. So, about to fall sleep on my way home, I was suddenly interrupted by a guy across the aisle way. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but suddenly he was talking to me about my hat and how much he liked it. I’m pretty sure it was just a plain beanie.
We talked for a few minutes, but I was less than enthusiastic since I just wanted to curl up and sleep/die (heartbroken.). After the bus switch a couple of hours later, I walked back on and found that the girl I had been sitting with had left at that stop. So, I took my seat and the trek back began. Soon after, I heard someone trying to talk to me from the back of the bus. I turned around – him again. “I’m just going to move up there so we can talk easier.” And Hank popped into the seat beside me.
After a while we started talking pretty naturally, mainly because I was by the window, and there was nowhere to go with a 6’6″ man sitting next to me. Over time we started talking about relationships and how we were both just getting out of some pretty swampy territory. We talked for 10 hours straight about everything from favorite movies to quotes we liked and political views. But, mostly, about our mutual broken hearts.
We were both crushed that things didn’t work out between us and our significant others, and sat there for hours talking through things, encouraging each other (not the fake kind) and figuring things out.
I honestly can say, it was better than any counseling session I’ve ever had. I was crushed when I left Montana, and by the time I got to Seattle I felt so much better. All of my problems weren’t solved. But having a stranger sit and talk to me about them for that long was insane. When I got off the bus at the last stop I couldn’t find Hank to thank him. I’ll probably never see him again, but the kindness of a listening ear is something I’ll never forget.