COUCHSURFING, YAY OR NAY?

COUCHSURFING, YAY OR NAY?

I’m often asked about couchsurfing and what I think about it? Have I ever done it? Where? Was it safe? Did I like it? Would I do it again?

I have done it. In actual fact I do it a lot and I didn’t it throughout most of Europe in 2017. Do I use the website? Yes, I’ve tried to find a host few times and I was only successful once but that one time we hit the jackpot. My friend and I couchsurfed in a mansion in LA, we got put up in their pool house just like Ryan from The OC. We could eat whatever we wanted from the fridge that didn’t have a label, shared a huge bed and had our own bathroom. Personally I wouldn’t couchsurf solo of that website. I know some of my friends have and had the most amazing experiences but I also have a few friends that had really strange experiences from cameras in the bathroom to hosts being nudists. When I usually travel my moto is, Its better to be safe than sorry, so I tent do avoid putting myself in bad situations like willing going to a strangers house.

There are comment sections on those websites but I know that my mates that had issues never left the hosts bad feedback (I have no idea why). My tip is that if you do want to use it just make sure they have lots of feedback from girls and guys and perhaps try and catch up with them before hand if you can or always have a back up option if you have to leave in a hurry.

My first couchsurfing experiences was from the website but apart from that jackpot of a host the rest of my hosts have been through friends or friends of friends. Facebook is really great for this, when I am about to go anywhere I always post a status asking for tips of where to go, where to stay and if anyone has any friends there to show me around or offer a couch. If you don’t ask you don’t get, is another quote I go by because you never know what will happen. Last year I messaged all my friends in Europe that I met the year before on my 20 @ 20 trip to see where they will be during the summer. I had so many replies and I just planned my whole trip around who could host me and when, it saved me so much money and I got to experience each place from a locals perspective. My friends also hooked me up with their friends in other cities and I had no hesitations staying with strangers in this case because we had mutual friends.

*EDIT** This trip (Europe 2018) I traveled a little bit with my friend who loves Couchsurfing.com and she got us a few hosts in Eastern Europe. I was really happy to couchsurf through the website because I wasn’t alone. I then decided to try it for myself in Israel and wowza jackpot. I have had some awesome hosts and my views on it have now changed. I would now really recommend it especially in Israel. I know some cities and countries are better for it. So when I was in Tel Aviv I gave it a try and had lots of success and so did my friends the ones that tried it after I shared my experience with them.

Again, make sure you read their profile and references because yes there are still weird people out there and I had an interaction with one of them but luckily it was very evident from his profile.

You can get a pretty good idea about the person from their profile and their references. It is always a good sign if they say that you can arrive at any time and that they left the key out for you. This means that they are trusting and most likely won’t be a clinger and will give you your space.

I always like to check the sleeping arrangements and the address of the place before agreeing to be hosted. If they are weird about giving you that information then they are probably bad news. If you have any doubts at all just don’t do it. Trust me the hassles of a bad experience is not worth it.

On the website I message a few people in the area that are currently hosting but because I only use the free version I have 8 messages a month. This the easiest way to find a host is to actually create a public trip and then people will send you invitations if they have room available for the dates you want.

If you have any other questions please feel free to comment below and I’ll happily answer them!

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TRAVEL HACK: MAKING FRIENDS ABROAD.

TRAVEL HACK: MAKING FRIENDS ABROAD.

I’m a pretty friendly, open person and  I don’t usually have issues approaching people… it is actually my job as a promo gal. At least that is what people think and I’m told when I tell them, that making friends while travelling is easy. They tell me they themselves are too shy or are introverts.

Rewind sixteen years ago when I moved to Australia from Russia and I couldn’t speak English. I was isolated and bullied in my first years in primary school. That trauma has followed me throughout life. I hate new places and meeting new people. Every time I arrive to a new place I get a little anxious and apprehensive about approaching people and saying hey. I am scared that I will be rejected and ignored like when I was 8 year of age. Silly right? But I really can’t help it. I guess that this is everyone’s one big fear, REJECTION. People think that they will be rejected when they try and approach someone. To tell you the truth that was my fear until this one time in Mexico…

I remember I was in a hostel in Oaxaca and one of the Aussie guys I met downstairs told me that there was a group of them on the rooftop having drinks and that I should join. I was super excited, yay fellow Aussies I thought to myself, I know they will be fun.

I grabbed my beer and headed upstairs. When I got to the top I said, “Hey” but was greeted by judging stares. They looked me up and down, especially the girls sitting around the table. No one invited me to join them or to sit down. Thoughts of panic came over me. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do. Do I stay, or do I retreat back like a kicked dog with a tail between my legs? I felt like that bullied little 8 year old, frozen in amazement that this was actually happening. I decided that it’d be too weird if I ran away downstairs, so my eyes raced to find the guy who actually invited me up. He acknowledged my presence and I came over. A few other boys introduced themselves to me and we started chatting. Later the girls came over and introduced themselves too. They liked me so much that they invited me to come out with them. I politely declined as I had had enough excitement for one night 😉

It was such an amazing experience because after that I wasn’t afraid of approaching anyone anymore. It was such a horrible experience and I survived, I won them over in the end. After that I couldn’t imagine anything worst than that happening and in two years of me traveling I have never ever come across anything like that. Staya Mate.

I really hope this story didn’t scare you off. I just wanted to share with you that even theconfident people are scared, the key is not to let that fear stop you. I could try count how many incredible people I have met but I think it would be in thousands maybe millions. Most conversations and first encounters were super organic and beautiful.

Below are some of my hot tips on where to meet champs and how to break the ice.

The famous and annoying (after 12 months) questions to break the ice.

“Where are you from?”

“Where have you been?”

“Where are you going next?”.

Something more original...

“Wow, love those shoes, where did you get those?”, “Any delicious and cheap food places around here?”, “Have you done your washing here yet?”

“Are you going out tonight?”

A way to get people to go with you somewhere…

“Have you had dinner yet?”

“Have you been to <insert epic sightseeing spot> yet?”

“What is everyone doing today?”…”Sounds awesome, do you mind if I join you guys?”

TIP** Keep the convo lighthearted, don’t get too heavy too soon. (Writing this tip reminded me of the lady from Alabama I met in Miami ***crying laughing face)

Best place to meet people…

  1. DORM ROOM!! Best place ever. So, so, so easy because they come to you. All you have to do is smile and say, “Hey, where are you from? Where are you going? Where have you been?”
  2. Common chill/wifi areas. Again super easy because people are already there. TIP*** Easiest way to break the ice – as you’re walking into a room full of people say “hello” loud enough for people to hear and acknowledge you. After that, someone will look up and you’ll be able to strike up a convo (refer to above convo tips).
  3. Kitchen. Here you will not only make friends, and play drinking games and cook, but you will also save money!! WIN, WIN. Firstly, you are saving money by A. cooking, B. drinking from the bottle shop and C. making friends to cook with, thus spending less money on ingredients.
  4. Asking for directions on a hike or a not so busy place can score you a buddy. This actually happened to me when I was trying to find the hike to get behind the Hollywood sign. I asked for directions from these two amazing ladies and ended up doing the whole hike with them. I actually wrote this post from up there and those girls took that epic panorama.
  5. Taking a photo or asking someone to take a photo for you. This is a really easy way to break the ice, if you hear an accent you can ask them, “where there are from?” etc etc.
  6. Train rides – usually you are in a cabin with a few people. On my way from Budapest to Brasov I met a lovely girl from Bucharest that I’m still great friends with. When I had my bed bug crisis she let me use her washing machine and her mum ironed all my clothes. She even offered me a place to stay and fed me lots of local dishes. Don’t be afraid to start up a convo with a random, you never know where it will take you.
  7. Bus rides – you are always sitting with someone. Sometimes you feel like chatting, other times not. On my way to Turkey from Bulgaria I got really lucky and met a Turkish dude while I was waiting for our bus, that was running late. (Actually it was super lucky that it was running late because otherwise I would have missed it). When we arrived in Istanbul he helped me figure out the metro system, took me to a local cafe for breakfast and the next day gave me a super, mega tour of his city. We ate trickster ice cream, and feasted at the best Kebab shop in town.
  8. Ice cream shops – this is a totally random one. I added it in just to show that you never know where you might make a friend for life. I actually wrote a whole post about my friend I met in a Mexican ice cream shop.
  9. Yoga Classes – Lot of hostels offer free yoga classes and its an easy way to start up a convo. You can ask them about their yoga or just about the class or if they want to grab a smoothie with you after class.
  10. Hostel group activities – a lot of solo travellers love to participate in these. It is a great way to get to know your fellow backpackers.
  11. Free walking tours – again lots of people in the same boat, looking to explore a city and meet new people. They sometimes also offer pub crawl tours after the free walking tour. On a walking tour in Poland I met a Portuguese friend who hosted me in Lisbon.
  12. Asking someone to keep an eye on your stuff while you swim at the beach – this is a great ice breaker into more conversation.

Hopefully this post helps you make lots of new friends on your next adventure. If you want to know more leave me a comment and I will get back to you. 

Share now with friends and follow my current adventures on insta @travelandotherdrugs

HOW TO STAY SAFE IN CENTRAL AMERICA

HOW TO STAY SAFE IN CENTRAL AMERICA

This post is written from a perspective of a 22 yer old, white, blonde, female so these tips might not apply to everyone. I wrote this after my adventure through Central America, the tips below are not limited to that area but perhaps in Europe you won’t be worried about your bus being hijacked.

1. Don’t walk around alone at night.

2. Travel in groups (although I didn’t always do that)

3. Don’t wave around your new iPhone, DSLR camera, or phat stack of cash.

4. Avoid arriving to a new place at night, I preferred catching the night bus from an area I was already familiar with so I could arrive to the new location in the morning.

5. Follow your intuition if you are having a bad feeling about something see if there is another option.

6. If you are getting held up by a knife or a gun just give them what they want. This is rare if you follow the steps above but you just need to be prepared for everything. Another thing I did is I said good bye to all my belongings at the beginning of the trip that way I was emotionally prepared if anything was stolen or lost.

7. It is okay to be paranoid and overly cautious, as they say its better be safe than sorry but just remember that there are a lot of amazing people out there and sometimes people genuinely will want to help a lost gringo.

Hope these help, and don’t let fear stop you from traveling 😉

HOW TO AVOID ISSUES WITH THE SCHENGEN AND TRAVEL LONGER THAN THREE MONTHS IN EUROPE?

HOW TO AVOID ISSUES WITH THE SCHENGEN AND TRAVEL LONGER THAN THREE MONTHS IN EUROPE?

Hey guys,

Of course when I planned my 5 month European adventure I did not even think about this issue as I didn’t even know about it until one of my friends asked what I am going to do about the 90 day Schengen restriction.

“What is the Schengen?” you ask. The Schengen is an agreement between 25 countries which allows them to travel with just ID between each other for a limit of 90 days. The countries in the Schengen are; Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. For people out of the Schengen you can only travel within the 26 countries for 90 days every 180 days with an exception of Germany and Denmark where you have 90 days regardless of the time spent in the Schengen area.

Below are my tips after learning the hard way.

  1. Get a working visa, it will cost you around 50 euro and you will have zero restrictions on your travels.
  2. Travel through the Schengen countries leaving Germany and Denmark till last as both allow you entry for 90 days regardless of the time spent in other schengen countries.
  3. Visit countries out side of the Schengen for 90 days allowing your Schengen to reset. You are allowed 90 days every 180 days so after 90 days out of the Schengen your visa will reset. Here are some ideas of other incredible European countries to visit that are out of the Schengen zone; Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, Turkey. You could also add Africa to your itinerary, Morocco is super close.
  4. Lastly, try book your flight out of a non Schengen country, then you wont be restricted by this.

Hope these tips help.

WHAT TO DO IN FLÅM, NORWAY?

WHAT TO DO IN FLÅM, NORWAY?

The other day I went on a day trip to Flåm and since I haven’t posted in a while I thought I would make a quick post about it.

Flåm is very small and is located on the inner end of the deepest and the second largest Fjord, called Sognefjord. It is surrounded by many mountains and waterfalls.

How to get there? 

There are a few way you can get to Flåm. From Bergen, that is where I was coming from, you can catch a bus (shortest and cheapest option), a ferry or the train. You can also get there from any place on the train line between Bergen and Oslo. If you are doing that you will need to change trains in Myrdal to the Flåmsbana.

Once you get there, there is a tourist center where you can purchase tours, buy tickets and get maps.

When I arrived I was informed that unfortunately, there was a huge cruise ship and most tours were booked out, including the famous Flåmsbana train! “Arghhh, why is the happening, first the shitty weather, now this, Norway hates me”, I thought to myself. But luckily the stars aligned or maybe it was my guardian angel but there was one more train at 4pm that still had some spots, and that allowed me enough time to do a return trip and be back for my bus back to bergen.

What to do?

Go on a hike – at the trourist information you can get a map with lots of different hikes, from short to long. The maps are really easy to follow and a great way to spend the day. I would recommend packing a lunch and enjoying it with a view up in the mountains.

Ride the Flåmsbana – one of the most scenic train routes to take in Norway, I had the pleasure of taking it twice (highly recommend). Tip: Flam to Myrdal sit on the right and sit on the left if you are going the other way (better views).

Hire a kayak – unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do this but I met two English guys who were starting there camping/kayaking trip from Flåm to the next town over. It is also nice to just hire it for a few hours and explore the Fjords.

Where to eat?

There are few cafes and restaurants to choose from, there is also a bakery that smelled delicious and if you are on a budget there is a supermarket called Coop.

Where to stay? 

I only went for a day trip due to the weather forcast but I was going to stay at a Youth Hostel  they have camping available or dorms at a cheap price. Of course if you are not on a budget there are a few hotels and cabin options in Flåm. Also if you have your own camping equipment, in Norway you are allowed to camp where ever but you can also stay at campsites with showers and toilets.

Hope you have enjoyed the read, and this post helps you plan your adventures in Flåm!

HOW TO PACK LESS SHOES?

HOW TO PACK LESS SHOES?

After traveling for 13 months with only 3 pairs of shoes, I believe that you only need 3 types of shoes, unless you are not worried about foot fungus.

Flipflops these are great for the beach, shower and everyday wear. I love my gold Havaianas with a back strap around the heel. The back strap allows me to use them not only for the beach/shower but also provides the support of a sandal. The gold colour makes its seem dressier than it is and the back strap keeps it on my foot. (I have also hiked in these babies).

havaianas

Boots are great for going out, rain, mud and cold weather. Last trip I went with these little leather boots that folded down tiny but this time I have slightly upgraded and will be taking my Dr Martens. I have watched numerous youtube videos on how to wear them in and I believe they are finally ready. Docs are so versatile, firstly they have super comfy soles and they mould to your foot. They are great for wet or muddy weather (so perfect for festivals) and you can also wear them to go out. They can be worn with a dress or jeans. I know some people even hike in them. A total winner in my eyes.

docs

Running shoe with grip are great for exercising, hiking or everyday wear.  Unfortunately, I went for fashion over practicality with this one, but ideally you would want a shoe that you could hike in (if you are into that kinda stuff). I’m taking my runners for when I want to exercise or for when I just want a lighter shoe option.

adidas

I hope you have liked these tips, please share them on to your friends.

ISLA MUJERES

How to get there? Super easy, you have to get to Puerto Juarez either from Cancun Centro ADO terminal or from a hostel you are staying in. From there you will buy a ticket to Isla Mujeres the ferry is only 15 minutes.

Where to stay? Poc Na is a popular hostel to stay you can book through Hostelworld or by emailing them directly. I recommend to call or email if its fully booked on Hostelworld because usually they put up only a limited amount of rooms on there and actually have more available if you contact them directly. There are obviously other options also, if you arrive during the day and have the energy to walk around you can find a hostel that is not listed online and stay for a bargain price. There are also many camping options at Poc Na and other locations on the island.

Where to eat? There is a great whole in the wall, Taco and other authentic Mexican little eats place right next to Poc Na, there are a lot of Vegan and Vegetarian options available also, and if you would like to splurge a little you can eat at one of the restaurants on the main street where the ferry docs (I highly recommend it, great sea food).

Party? Yes party island, beach parties at Poc Na very night.

Next… Another Mexican Island, Holbox, the main way to get around on this island is with a golf cart that can be hired in many locations.