Picking the Perfect Pack

Tips for selecting the right bag for your trip

Having the right backpack is sometimes overlooked when taking a trip. It’s overwhelming because there are so many options and so many other things to think about besides a bag. There’s the clothes, the gear, the toiletries, the fifth pair of shoes you will not need (trust me). However, you need to consider and seriously evaluate how you’ll be trudging all that stuff along!

I’m never going back to suitcases again

Using a suitcase when going on vacation seems like a no-brainer. I thought traveling with a backpack was only for hikers and the outdoors-y types who slept on the sides of mountains. After weighing the pros and cons, it only made sense to get a backpack for my second extended “backpacking” trip to Europe. The first time I hopped from country to country, I dragged a suitcase up and down subway stairs and through the snow and was miserable the entire time that damn thing was in my hand. It was overpacked and stuffed to the brim. The wheels were battered and the handle kept getting stuck from the pulling up and down. Frankly, I have no frickin’ idea how it didn’t bust open in the middle of the streets. Once my second trip rolled around, I knew I didn’t want to be rolling anything along the uneven sidewalks again.

Hence, my switch to a backpack. Although it mentally hurts to think about the 20+ pounds that you’ll have on your back, you are MUCH stronger than you think. Most bags have support straps that wrap around the waist and chest, pushing the weight to your hips and not your back. It’s significantly easier to grab a bag and go than to pull the epitome of tripping devices behind you in a crowded area. Additionally, backpacks are handsfree – huge plus.

What to consider

Packing in a bag doesn’t always mean you’ll have less space – four weeks of winter clothes and toiletries all fit in my pack.

Between school, work and planning other aspects of my Eurotrip, picking a bag took me about a month. There were a few specifications I was looking for in a bag – size, durability, security, versatility and ample pockets.

  1. Carry-on size

    • Since I would be traveling between 7 countries using all low-cost airlines, it was vital for me to have a bag that was carry-on approved. I did NOT want to incur extra costs because of going over baggage allowances. Avoiding those fees is 100% preventable by packing efficiently and effectively.
  2. Durable

    • From being shoved into overhead compartments to stuffed into hostel lockers, I knew this bag would have to hold up. I wasn’t looking for a pack that would be used once and fall to shreds right after.
  3. Secure

    • I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to my belongings, mostly because I’m the one who loses them on my own accord without the help of thieves. However, to veer on the side of caution, I wanted to make sure my bag would have pockets with zippers that I could secure with a lock.
  4. Versatility

    • When trudging through Europe, a bag that can fit through subway turnstiles while also being lightweight and comfortable is essential. A bag with wheels may not be the right choice if it’s going to be dragged through cobblestone streets.
  5. Pockets

    • Organization is KEY when it comes to trips (regardless of the destination or duration). The easiest way for me to keep my sanity and all belongings in check is through compartmentalizing everything in different pockets.

(Thank God my best friend is a lifesaver who helps me pack. #realmvp @stephemthomas)

Because all trips are unique and the experiences to be had are one-of-a-kind, so should the bag you choose. Do your research and find out what is most important to you. Consider my list a starting point when beginning your initial search. Comment below with any other aspect you consider when picking a bag to take on your adventures elsewhere.

“She said ‘Hola. ¿Cómo estás?’”

How learning the basics in the language of the land can save you time and money

Oslo, Norway

Let’s compare landing in another country to stepping foot on another planet. You may have read about the culture and the people. You may have even studied their history. Too bad you don’t know a damn thing about talking to these beautiful creatures (also read as Frenchmen, Argentines, Russians, Indonesians, etc.).

If only there were a way to make things easier! How could we possibly get on the same page?

Oh, but there is and it’s quite astounding – learn the language!

Study up

Rennes, France

Ok now, so it may seem like I’m asking a bit much of you, but bear with me. How hard would it really be to learn a few phrases in another language? If knowing a few words shows the cab driver, waiter, policeman, president, queen, etc. that you respect the culture, it’s 100% worth it.

I’m not asking you to learn the ins and outs of the slang and how to assert a child versus the prime minister. Instead, learning a few simple phrases in the language of the country you’re traveling to will help you more than harm you. Isn’t that surprising?

While many people have some working knowledge of English, do NOT rely on that. It’s important to expand your horizons.

When you try to communicate with people in their native tongue, it shows that you have respect for them as well as their culture. Even if switching to English is inevitable, the gratitude others have for your effort is evident with their smiles and advice. I’ve been given tips about managing transportation, the best bars and the worst attractions by starting a conversation with “Bonjour. Je m’appelle Kaśka.” and letting it flow from there. Chatting up other travelers or making friends with locals by connecting with them on such a basic level is priceless.

  1. Hello.
  2. Goodbye.
  3. Please.
  4. Thank you.
  5. Yes.
  6. No.
  7. My name is…
  8. It’s nice to meet you.
  9. How are you?
  10. Where are the bathrooms?
  11. Do you speak English?
  12. Do you have a phone I can use?
  13. Do you want to get a drink?
  14. Yes/No, I do/don’t want to sleep with you.
  15. Have a nice day/night.

Maybe I’m a huge advocate for studying other languages. Maybe communication really is key. Either way, there’s never any harm in learning a few new phrases if it’ll put you in the good graces of a flight attendant or bartender. From meeting a new friend to making life easier for yourself and whoever you meet abroad, it’s irresponsible to rely on English alone when traveling. If all else fails and studying a few phrases is a no-go, help everyone out by having a physical translator or mobile app (one that doesn’t required Wi-Fi) handy, especially in the areas off-the-beaten-path.

Branch out – you might meet someone extraordinary. Comment below with any stories of miscommunication or suggestions of words and phrases to know that have helped you while traveling elsewhere.

The Perfect Picture Doesn’t Exist – Stop Trying

A comprehensive guide to getting the perfect shot, or rather not getting it

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In our technologically driven world, it seems a picture has to be posted to prove you’ve done anything noteworthy or remotely interesting. However, more often than not, all of our energy seems to go into capturing the moment in an image, rather than truly being in it.

During my times abroad, I’ve taken thousands of pictures. Partially to post them. Partially for me. Partially because it’s almost instinctual to take out my camera when somewhere new. I get excited  taking picture after picture after picture, all day long.  I would come back after a tiring day and find 70% of my pictures to be mediocre at best.

The Unruly Issue

I started seeing multiple imperfections. After taking eight pictures of the same thing, there were still things that could use tweaking. It became boring. I was unsatisfied with the images. It blew my mind because I knew how beautiful the scenery, architecture, and people truly were in person.

The Simple Solution

17230051_1639384962742515_2121443567_oThen it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t taking pictures for the right reasons. You have to have a passion and truly be happy with what you’re doing. Cliché, I know. But once I opened my eyes a little more and put the camera down, just for a little, it slowly began to unfold.

The pictures were brighter. The angles were more creative. The structures were sharper. The colors were more vivid. The smiles were a bit wider.

Looking through a Clearer Lens

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While my photography skills are constantly being tested and my pictures still aren’t 100%, it’s a practice that’s developed (quite literally if using film). There are still pictures that I stress about and take 15 that are nearly identical. That’s inevitable when traveling to famous landmarks – yes, I have a cheesy picture with the Louvre. What’s extraordinary though is seeing the difference between images taken for the hell of it and those that truly captured the moment – yes, that includes candids where everyone is ugly laughing, blinking or not even paying attention. In that case, pictures capture a story rather than a moment.

It’s extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible, to get the most incredible picture on your first try. My pictures are my memories. Through those images, I’m transported. I feel the aches in my feet of walking miles through the streets of Oslo. I see the beauty captured in those cities thousands of miles away. I remember the refreshing sangria and taste the divine flavors of a Spanish dinner. It all comes rushing to surface.

Looking through my pictures puts me right back in all those places. That’s why I take pictures. Whether they turn out how I want them or not, they’re my personal histories. Even though time literally can’t stop, at least it’s frozen in a picture. #imsappy

A New Perspective

The point is, pictures are incredible. BUT. Never lose sight of what is literally in front of you. Straight through the lens. Ya, time to move the camera away from your face. There’s no use in taking thousands of pictures if the only thing you remember, is seeing it though a tiny screen.

While there are settings to edit lighting, clarity and depth, don’t lose focus of why you’re on the trip. There are hundreds of reasons to see the world. Don’t make the main reason to make everyone jealous. Be a bit more selfish and make it about you.

Enjoy the scenery when you get out there!

How to Not Lose Your Mind while on a Plane

So you’re stuck on a plane for 2,5,8 hours – what do you do?

fullsizerender-7I have a love/hate relationship with flying.

The idea of taking off in one place and landing hours later somewhere completely different mesmerizes me. The science behind it blows my mind. The drop in your stomach when you take off gets my adrenaline pumping.

Breathing the same confined air as strangers around me for hours on end grosses me out. Smelling people’s feet once they’ve removed their shoes is less then pleasant. And oh, hey guy to the right of me, you’re creeping up on armrest, your snoring has kept me up this entire flight and to say you’re getting on my last nerve is an understatement.

It doesn’t have to be that way though!

First-World Traveler Problems, Meet these No-Brainer Solutions

fullsizerender-6There are plenty of ways to block out the people, avoid the smells and evade the heinous airline food. It all starts with you and your attitude though!

For starters, know exactly what irks you about flying. For me it’s the germs and terrible food. If it pisses you off that you can’t chain smoke or bring your Samsung Galaxy Note 7, well bud, you’re on your own there. Knowing how to combat those occurrences if they happen is vital to not letting them ruin your trip.

Problem: Your neighbor won’t turn off the light and has been watching the six-inch tv for three hours. You always sleep in complete darkness and silence.
Solution: Put in some ear plugs, slip on an eye-mask and thank God you aren’t sitting in front of him while he continuously kicks the back each time he laughs. (P.S. if you’re this guy, you suck).

Problem: You have the aisle seat and the two people on the inside keep getting in and out of their seats.
Solution: Suggest to switch with them so it’s easier to access to aisle (if you don’t have to as much). **Communicating with the people you’ll be sitting wayyy too close to for hours on end will make your trip in the air much smoother. Maybe you’ll even meet someone interesting. I have a friend who met her boyfriend on a plane to Serbia.

Problem: You have six allergies and are also dairy, gluten and sugar free.
Solution: Bring your own damn food. No, Ryanair will not be able to accommodate your demanding bowels. We’re so unfortunately sorry.

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Some people still don’t know that feet will swell up to the size of balloons on an airplane. It will be much easier to put your shoes back on if you don’t take them off. Mind blowing idea, right? Do us all a favor and follow these easy guidelines:

  1. Keep those shoes on and save us from the stink.
  2. Wear loose enough shoes that are comfortable enough to wiggle your toes around.
  3. Don’t be the superstar strutting in heels – no one looks that good flying economy! Come on you’re showing us all up.

It can also help alleviate some stress by just getting up and stretching. Walking up the aisle to the bathroom and back or even just standing can loosen those tense muscles. Please don’t attempt to do yoga in the aisles. I do not want your shoeless, tree-pose knee in my face. Thanks, love.

Most importantly, drink water and stay hydrated. Your body will thank you upon landing. Nobody wants to look like a dried-up raisin on vacation.

Any other plane hacks? I’d love to hear ideas about how you manage to stay cool and collected on planes. Here’s to all the flights that will get you inevitable elsewhere, cheers!

Flight Booking for Amateurs

How I flew across the pond, to six other countries and back for $564

Stories about people flying First Class across the globe for less than $1,000 are constantly flooding my newsfeed. Yes, I want these amazing flight deals. Too bad opening ten credit cards, playing with points systems, catching the right deal and then selling a kidney isn’t necessarily what all of us are cut out to do. Why? Because we have approximately 178,943 other things to do. Here’s a few EASY ways to find cheap flights when you’re on a relative budget!

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My most recent trip was a month-long Euro tour. I landed in Denmark and from there went to Hungary, Spain, Amsterdam, France, Poland and came back to the US via Sweden. By flying LOW COST (yes, that means Ryanair, WizzAir, etc.), I managed to book all my flights for under $600. I could have easily saved at least another $75-$200 had I varied my destinations.

Breakdown of approximate costs:

City, Country – Airport Code to City, Country – Airport Code: Cost

New York City, USA – JFK to Copenhagen, Denmark – CPH: $191
Copenhagen, Denmark – CPH to Budapest, Hungary – BUD: $48
Budapest, Hungary – BUD to Barcelona, Spain – BCN: $25
Barcelona, Spain – BCN to Amsterdam, Netherlands – AMS: $41
Amsterdam, Netherlands – AMS to Paris, France – ORY: $54
Paris, France – BVA to Krakow, Poland – KRK: $29
Gdansk, Poland – GDN to Stockholm, Sweden – NYO: $23
Stockholm, Sweden – ARN to New York City, USA – JFK: $153
Total: $564

Reality Check

None of these flights included food, drinks, checked bags or comfort (jk, maybe a little comfort, but I’m not too picky or bougie). I’m talking seats don’t always recline. Boarding is normally done on the tarmac. Wearing three sets of clothes to fit everything in my Osprey Porter 46 is a must to avoid the unruly baggage fees.

What to keep in mind?

You’re rarely on a plane for more than two hours going between European countries. Not having such luxurious amenities will be ok!

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Tips for booking the ticket:

1. Be as flexible with dates and/or locations when first planning.img_3617
Playing around on sites like Google Flights and Skyscanner can help you decide where you want to go and the approximate price it’ll cost you to fly there. They each have options to select certain months or the cheapest month in general. You can also enter your destination as “Everywhere” and see where it will take you.

2. When you see a price you are comfortable with, book it.
Because I waited an extra day, two, three and sometimes a week, my ticket prices also went up. Companies like Ryanair often fluctuate their prices. My ticket from Copenhagen to Budapest could have been $30 if I had finalized that leg of my trip earlier. I wasn’t breaking the bank with that extra $18, but it was something that could have been saved and spent elsewhere.

3. Check prices for all the airports in the area.img_3616
Although I live and study in Philadelphia, it’s often significantly cheaper to fly out of JFK in New York or BWI in Baltimore. Both of these cities are about a two hour Megabus ride away (Pro: can save hundreds on the flight. Con: adds at least four more hours travel time getting to airport).

4. Book in the currency of the airline provider and/or currency of the destination.
For my flight from JFK to Copenhagen, I could have saved an additional $30 had I booked in the Danish Krone. That wasn’t a mistake I was going to make twice on one trip.

If you have any other tips on how to get cheap airline tickets, I’d love to hear your stories. Comment below with suggestions and I hope to find you all inevitably elsewhere.