Top Ten Ways Being An Actor Prepares You For The Glamorous World of Solo Travel

Namaste, my fellow wanderlust-laden thespian! So you think you wanna solo travel, but aren’t sure you have the necessary skills to survive in the big wide world all by yourself? Have people told you you need things like “money”, “common sense” and “a basic sense of self-preservation, for the love of god”? Haha, friend! You’re an actor! You laugh in the face of those things! And it turns out, you’re in luck- being an actor has unwittingly provided you with all the know-how and resources you need to survive- nay, thrive- in whatever foreign country you decide to throw yourself into. Here are just a few of the amazing things acting has taught you that will come in super handy in your adventures to come: 

1: Lack of Money. Okay, I know what you’re thinking- but Clare, isn’t money the most important part of being able to travel the world? Isn’t this why we hate on those rich white kids on the ‘gram when they use hashtags like #travelislife, #privilegeequalsopportunity and #hahafuckyoupoorpeople? If we’re struggling to barely make rent, how can we possibly afford to see the world?

Let me tell you, you’re looking at this the complete wrong way. Acting is the best profession for aspiring travellers, because it teaches you how to BUDGET and make HARD SACRIFICES. When every day you’re having to choose between a subway ride to that big Tim Horton’s audition and, you know, eating, you learn how to make crucial financial decisions that will stretch your shackles tighter than the belt you’re wearing to hold up your pants because you’ve lost weight recently (I know it’s because you can’t afford protein due to Doug Ford scrapping the minimum wage, but girl, let me tell you, you look amazing). So when you get to Europe and are faced with the decision between sleeping in a comfortable hostel for the night and that sweet-looking llama excursion, you’ll have so much experience to draw from when you obviously choose the llama ride. Besides, actors often operate on a barter system: try offering the llama-keeper a bottle of wine in exchange for the ride, or a massage! Trust me, he’ll totally bite. Just hopefully the llamas won’t when you’re secretly sleeping in the pen that night because you couldn’t afford that hostel anymore. #travelislife #blessed #rabies

2: Obscure And Useless Skills. Quick- take a look at your Professional Actor Resume. Scroll down to your Special Skills section. What’s on there? Yodelling? Your double-jointed knees? Raptor impersonations?* It’s probably a list of things that you never really thought you’d actually use in real life- just quirks that hopefully will book you that SOC role in a Windex commercial. But lucky for you, those special skills are gonna come in so handy in your solo travels. Want to be the king of your hostel common room? Bust out that one breakdance move you’ve got listed on there that you truthfully haven’t done in ten years! It probably won’t cripple you! Want to impress that beautiful Latvian woman you met at the pub? Show off those flexible knees, you stud! Ladies can never resist a good double-jointed limb! Why, when I was in Switzerland last year, I won a yodelling contest and got my picture posted on the bar wall under the sign “People Never Allowed Back In This Bar”. How cool is that?! The moral of the story: all these skills make you a more interesting, well-rounded person, and those are the type of people who flourish in solo travel situations. 

*The dinosaur, obviously, not the sports team. You don’t care about sports. You are an artist. You care about raptors


3: Social Skills. Oh boy, I cannot emphasize this enough: having social skills is the most crucial thing about travelling by yourself. You have no friends or family to lean on- all you have is yourself, alone against the world, having to make friends and alliances while competing in challenges for immunity idols, and- oh, wait, sorry, my bad, I was thinking about Survivor. What a great show. Well, anyway, you gotta make friends. And here is where your years of networking and schmoozing at those terrible film parties will come in handy, because the ability to charm people and make them want to hang out with you can make or break your travel experience. Lucky for you, you’re a pro. You’ll feel totally confident asking that stranger for directions- hell, you once asked Martin Scorsese where the bathroom was because you mistook him for an usher! You’ll have no problem talking to that cute guy in your hostel dorm room, because you totally sweet-talked that casting assistant into letting you bump the line that one time because your serving shift got moved up. You’ll charm the pants off your entire tour group with your intimate knowledge of Brecht! What more could they possibly be interested in? Being an actor is practically a living, breathing guidebook for complete solo travel social domination. 

4: The Art of Transit Hopping. When you’re travelling by yourself, the trick to seeing as many countries as possible under budget is being flexible with your transit options. Sure, you could take that quick flight from Ireland to Uzbekistan, but then you’d have to spend your whole day in an airport, and that’s wasting valuable sightseeing time! Also, talk about expensive! You have so many more options available to you: buses; trains; bikes; pack horses- the list is practically endless, and mostly legal. Most travellers would stick up their noses at the idea of anything but the luxury that planes offer, but you- YOU- are a starving artist, and you are used to literally doing anything short of commandeering a taxi at knifepoint in order to be on time for your friend’s strange experimental robot show set in the basement of that abandoned taxidermy factory. It’s not your fault the TTC shut down, damnit, you scream in impotent rage at the sky as you pedal furiously down the Danforth. It’s not your fault! 

Sorry. Got lost in that memory there for a hot second. Anyway, what I’m saying is, you are willing to move heaven and earth to get to whatever artistic endeavour you need to go, driven by an innate knowledge that your pre-determined travel plans will inevitably fail you. And that will serve you well overseas, because there will come a time when you try to book a bus in Italian and instead wind up having to cross the border by paddle boat because it turns out Google Translate hates you and wants you to be stranded in a place that only speaks Ukrainian. I speak from experience.

5: Constant Self-Doubt. This is a surprising one. You’d think that the crippling insecurity that comes with being an actor in an ever-fluctuating and highly demanding and judgmental industry would only serve to hinder you in solo travel situations, but you would be WRONG, friend. Having to second guess every single decision you make out of sheer terror that it could potentially ruin your career/relationships/castability is actually extraordinarily useful when it comes to the decisions you’re going to have to make on your adventures. These decisions include:

“Do I go down that cool-looking dark alley in Venice at 3:00AM because I smell roasted meat?”
“Should I really drunkenly hit on that guy on the ghost tour and talk to him about Dungeons and Dragons?”
“Do I really need another shot of this suspicious-looking fuchsia liqueur? I can’t feel my feet.” 

Most people, when faced with these decisions, would say “carpe diem” and go forth without a second thought, and they would probably regret it. But not you. YOU have been trained in the art of self-doubt. YOU alone will survive. 

6: Accents. Need I say more? I’ve got so many accents listed on my actor resume it’s practically a miracle I can remember what my own voice sounds like. It’s extremely impressive, is what I’m getting at. And what better place to practice those beautiful RPs than whatever European country you happen to be in at the time? They love it when tourists do that! It’s not offensive to them at all. Pro tip from a seasoned veteran: it doesn’t matter if you can’t actually speak Russian. Just speak the Queen’s English with the closest approximation to a vaguely Eastern European accent you can bastardize and You. Are. IN, comrade. They’ll accept you as one of their own. That one audition for X-Company that you didn’t book will finally  pay off big time. So far I’ve dazzled locals all over Scotland, Ireland and France with my various liltings, and they’ve all been super enthusiastic about it and never get mad at me at all. 

7: Improvisation. Okay, folks- let’s get real here. If you’re gonna be an actor, you’ve gotta learn how to improvise. I mean, really, who hasn’t been in a commercial audition and been told “We haven’t written any lines, so can you just, I don’t know, say something funny about mops?”*? It’s practically a rite of passage. So you take the classes, learn from the greats, and emerge triumphantly on the other side like a beautiful butterfly who knows how to think quickly on its little spindly feet, each flap of its wing like a wonderfully crafted quip made up entirely on the fly. You know what, this metaphor has gotten away from me. Let’s move on. 

Having improv skills will be incredibly useful to you as a solo traveller. Picture, if you will, this situation: you arrive at the airport in Kyrgystan, backpack hitched firmly, dreams on the horizon. You are confident. You are collected. You pull out your printed ticket...and realize it’s actually a ticket for a train, and that train left two hours ago, and also the train was in Romania. Your first thought is “Man, how drunk was I when I booked this?”. Your second: “How am I going to get out of this wacky situation?” A regular person would crumble under the pressure. Lucky for you, you studied improv! You use whatever possessions you own to barter your way into possession of a pack horse, charm the local police into not arresting you for riding a pack horse down the middle of the road, and manage to make your way to the border, dignity mostly intact. THAT is thinking on your feet. I’m proud of you, friend.

Relevant personal anecdote time! Last year I was supposed to take a plane from Barcelona to Florence. I got to the airport at 2:00AM, witnessed a sketchy-looking fellow drop a full backpack into a garbage can right in front of the checkout line and then run away, and proceeded to decide I didn’t really need to fly to Florence, anyway, because who needs airports or being in them? Improv time! My solution: cry, cry some more, cry in front of the bus driver so he feels sorry for you and lets you ride back to the city for free, and then book a gruelling 22 hour non-stop bus ride to Florence instead of the quick 1.5 hour flight. Thanks, expensive improv classes! 

*My joke, for the record, was as follows: “Watch out, Dave, cause I’m gonna mop the floor with you!” I didn’t book the job. I am now banned from the casting house. Worth it.

8: Unhealthy Eating Habits. Let’s not kid ourselves here, fellow thespians. We can brag alllll we want about how amazing our kale, chia seed and, I don’t know, vinegar*, smoothies are, and show off our carefully-packed rations of veggies and organic, grain-fed, free-range hummus in rehearsals, but we all know, WE ALL KNOW, that when tech week comes, the only thing we’re putting in our bodies is extra-meat pizza, 4:00AM shawarma, and cheap bourbon. And our bodies have accepted this completely random dietary cycle. They thrive on it! And this comes in handy, let me tell you, when you’re by yourself in a foreign country, like Italy, and make the incredibly sensible decision to eat nothing but gelato and aperol spritzes for five days in a row, because goddamnit you are an adult and no one, no one can make you feel bad about your choices, not even your mother after she emails you saying she’s concerned about you and is setting you up with her life coach when you come home. Regular people couldn’t handle the extreme dietary fluctuation. Regular people would probably have a pulmonary embolism. But not you. You were born in the darkness of whiskey-burrito diets. You were molded by them. Because you…are an indie actor. 

*Full disclosure: I don’t drink healthy smoothies. I don’t have a clue what goes in them. I just assume it’s things like vinegar and despair, because they always taste like God is dead and has left us to suffer.  

9: Looking Insane in Public. It’s every normal person’s nightmare: you’re caught talking to yourself in front of people you don’t know! Oh no! They’ll think you’re unhinged! However will you handle such an embarrassing situation? 

LOL, just kidding. You don’t care about these things, because you’ve progressed to the “vocal warmups on the streetcar” phase of your career. You’re fully comfortable with stretching your face to its max capacity on a subway full of people wondering exactly what drugs you’re on at nine in the morning, and reciting tongue twisters while maintaining direct eye contact with the sketchy man outside the casting house on Queen street. I myself have often recited the entirely of my Shakespearean monologue repertoire under my breath after a night of of vigorous alcoholic imbibing at the Fringe tent in order to keep my mind off of the need to hurl on the night bus.* Look, what I’m saying here, is that you are WAY past feeling self-conscious about being seen as “that weird person” on the street. 

This will serve you particularly well in your solo adventures, because let me tell you from personal experience, you will have full arguments with yourself standing in front of a city map, trying to decide if North is THIS way, or THAT way, because as we all know, Australia does things a little differently and that includes directions. You will cry from stress at the airport when you can’t find the washroom, you’ve been up for 24 hours, and a small child just tried to steal your wallet. You will full-on monologue about personal hygiene in front of your entire hostel common room because you’ve just been wildcamping alone for two weeks and forgot social mores, like indoor voices, and showering. And it will seem normal to you, because you’re an actor! How awesome is that?

*This is true. It is a true thing I’ve done in the past. I can smell your judgment from here and it is delicious. 

10: Comfort in Strange Accommodations. To hostel, or not to hostel? Truly, that is the question. If you’re travelling with a group of friends, or a loved one, hotels and Air B&Bs are much more enticing because you already have people to travel with. When you’re alone, however, you want to surround yourself with as many people you don’t know as humanly possible. Every night you find yourself asking, “Is sleeping in the same room with 20 strangers not enough strangers? Also, was that a bedbug I just saw or a fleck of dirt? Eh, probably dirt.” Hostels can be the most fun in terms of meeting people to hang out with- but tell a non-artsy person that you’re staying in one and you’ll get a reaction like you just told them you’re sleeping in a prostitute-laden meth den where the rats are in charge and the bedbugs don’t take no for an answer. 

But as an actor, you’re totally used to sleeping in weird and uncomfortable places! You’ve slept in rehearsal halls during theatre school when the time between the end of rehearsals and morning tutorials isn’t long enough to justify the journey home! You’ve slept on your stage manager’s floor during tech week when you’re so stressed you can’t even remember where you live anymore! You’ve gotten so drunk at the Fringe that you’ve fallen asleep in a planter! Hostels? They’re practically palaces! Go forth and prosper, and remember: you can try not to let the bedbugs bite, but those little shits are gonna do whatever they damn well please.  

And there you have it! Don’t you feel so much more comforted? Are you now ready to take on the world? If so, great! I’m so proud of you. If not- maybe go take another improv class. It’ll probably do you some good. 

 

 

So You Think You Can Solo Travel? A Handy Quiz For the Would-Be Adventurer

HI GUYS!!1!

IT'S #ME, THAT PERSON YOU ALL KNOW AND BARELY TOLERATE FROM BUZZFEED/HUFFPOST/OTHER #MILENNIAL SOCIAL MEDIA SITE THAT HAS QUIZZES, BACK WITH ANOTHER #QUIZ FOR YOU! DO YOU HAVE WHAT! IT! TAKES! TO TAKE ON #THE #WORLD SINGLE-HANDEDLY? TAKE THIS TEST TO FIND OUT! (1)

#travelislife #wanderlust #travellerlife #liveyourtruth #myeditorismakingmedothis #pleasesendhelp #itssodarkinhere #imnotjoking #therearewolves #blessed #livelovelaugh 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1)    Okay explorers! Let’s start simple! What is your main reason for solo travelling? 

A)    I want to see the world on my own! Yeah!
B)    I want to discover more about myself! Awesome!
C)    I want to meet awesome new people! Totally!
D)    The dark, crushing weight of “Jesus Christ, what am I doing with my life, nothing has meaning, I will die alone, the everpresent existential void I find myself staring into has started staring back, also holy wow am I ever single” suddenly became too much for you to handle, and you snapped and bought a one-way ticket to Romania and now you can’t take it back because it was a one-time deal, and it’s fine, I mean, like, you can’t really afford it, but if you stay home you might stab someone at your work so at this point what do you have to lose, right? Right?!?

2) You arrive at a hostel in your destination of choice, only to find out there are no beds available.

 A)    No sweat. You came prepared with your Lonely Planet. You head on over to the next hostel it recommends. Problem: solved.
B)    Use your charm! You chat with the friendly receptionist and convince them to let you sleep in the hostel common room for the night. It's cramped and you might get puked on, but what else are hostels for? 
C)    You book for the next night and resign yourself to sleeping in a nearby airport/bus station/train station. It’s not glamourous, but at least there’s a roof! 
D)    You wander aimlessly, terrified of the growing darkness of the unfamiliar city and the seemingly endless packs of roving feral dogs within it, until you find a shady-looking hotel with a vacancy. There is no receptionist. The receptionist is probably dead. You feel like you’re living in a horror movie.  You proceed to barricade yourself in the room, cry, and use the last of your burner phone’s meagre minutes to call your parents before the call cuts out unexpectedly because you ran out of time. They will remind you of the panic this caused them for years after. Years. 

3) A man who just took your picture for you in front of the Eiffel Tower now has requested you pose with him for a similar picture, probably to pretend you are his attractive foreign girlfriend. How do you respond? 

A)    Politely decline, explaining that you don’t know him and thus wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so.
B)    Pretend not to speak French and gtfo of there as quickly as your stupid flip flops will take you. 
C)    Agree, but only if you and he can do some cool pose where you both try to be punching the Eiffel Tower in the face. 
D)    Your brain melts a little bit, you forget how to communicate with humans, and end up standing next to him like the Goddess of Awkwardness, all the while secretly knowing he will treasure this picture a little too much, ifyaknowwhatImean (2).

4) You have gotten hopelessly lost on a bike trek in the endlessly rolling fields of Ireland. So endless they are. So rolling. How do you find your way back to the hostel by yourself? 

A)    You pull out the topographical map you bought of the area and navigate your way back home. Preparedness is key! 
B)    You find a delightful woman walking her cows on the side of the road and ask her for directions. New friends! 
C)    You give up on finding your way back, locate the nearest town and head to the pub. You’ll figure the rest out when you’re good and ready, and possibly drunk.
D)    You cycle around completely disoriented, getting more and more lost until you run into two elderly farmers. You wave at them, and they wave back, gesturing you over. Salvation! BUT, plot twist: one of them looks at you and then gestures to his friend and yells “Hello there lass! My friend here just got out of prison! Don’t trust him! Ha ha!” You cycle quickly away, deciding that being lost isn’t that bad, really, and anyway, you didn’t ever need to find your hostel again, you can start a new life in the nearest town as long as the ex-convicts do not reside there. You change your identity. You forget the old ways. You never trust farmers again. 

5) You have been cornered by a Wild Hostel Bro. He wants to know if you have a boyfriend back home. What is your response? 

A)    Recite your carefully crafted and time-tested speech about how you do not, but you’re not looking for anything, thank you very much, have a great night, and exit the common room a-s-a-f-p.
B)    Laugh like the sexy sexy travel goddess you are and say no, do you want to grab a drink at the bar? 
C)    Tell him you don’t, but you’re just here for the life experiences, you know? Proceed to swap travel stories for the next hour before never seeing each other again because he’s making out with your roommate. 
D)    You tell him you absolutely do not, and you are absolutely not looking. When he proceeds to continue hitting on you, you will start spinning him wildly elaborate tales about your extensive training in Krav Maga, your obsession with taxidermy, and how you have the faces of all your previous boyfriends in your freezer back home. Wonder why you remain perpetually single, and chalk it up to bad luck. 

6) You’re feeling particularly lonely today. How do you get yourself out of this common solo travel funk?

A)    Go skydiving, or ATVing, or something you’ve never done before. Excitement is a loneliness killer!
B)    Go for a drink at the local bar, and proceed to meet amazing strangers from all over the world. Boom: funk destroyed.
C)    Chat with a friend from home over Facebook, or call your family back home.
D)    Hang out in the hostel common room, lurking on your fellow travellers like a creepy stalker with zero social skills, until you hone in on the lone person who just happens to be catching up on the latest Game of Thrones episode on their iPad. Immediately decide to be best friends with this person, regardless of whether or not they feel the same. Invite yourself into their life. Insist that you two are soulmates because of your nerdy obsessions. Do not take no for an answer. Do not. Take no. For an answer. 

7) You have eaten nothing but gelato for the last day and a half  because there has been no one around to stop you. How are you feeling?

A)    Bad. You promised yourself when you left that you would maintain a balanced diet. Go for a run to feel better about yourself. 
B)    A little guilty. Resign yourself to eat vegetables for your next meal.
C)    Fine, because you’re on vacation and you’re allowed to go a bit crazy! 
D)    Black out temporarily and wake up next to a entire carton of melon gelato. Accept that this is your life now. Roll your bloated form ten feet down the street to the next shop and shove more of that sweet, sweet frozen treat in your face, you gluttonous gelato whore, because this is all you deserve.

8) You decide to set out on an epic mountain trek, before realizing you have very little proper epic mountain trekking equipment. Do you: 

A)    Bite the bullet and buy the necessary gear. 
B)    Decide that maybe hiking isn’t your strong point, and do something else instead.
C)    Join a group hiking tour to make sure you get where you’re going safely, with a guide who knows what she’s doing.
D)    Say “Eh, fuck it, it’ll be fine probably”, and proceed to hike through boggy mountains for six hours, destroying your shoes, back and will to live in the process. Barely make it to the road alive; definitely don’t make it to the road with sanity intact. Realize you were two seconds from dying alone the entire time, and contemplate all of your life choices so far. Conclusion: they were all bad.

9) Oh dear- you’ve slipped and fallen, completely naked, out of your tiny hostel shower, face-first onto the floor. (3) What is your immediate reaction?

A)    Cry. 
B)    Be thankful you landed an inch from the toilet and not ON the toilet.
C)    Maintain your dignity as much as humanly possible and move on with your life.
D)    Bellow “My dignity is broken!” at the door because your three English teenage roommates heard the squeal and the thud and became understandably concerned for your wellbeing. Lie on the ground dimly wondering how you came to be at a particular point in your life where you are lying naked on a foreign bathroom floor with shampoo slowly leaking from your hair. Resolve to never shower again, for showers are dark and full of terrors, APPARENTLY. 

10) You are now being followed around the streets of Paris by a dude who approached you in a coffee shop. He tells you his name is Claude and that he is an accountant and that you should have a drink with him that night. He refuses to take no for an answer. You tell him: 

A)    You’re busy. Busy not going for a drink with him. 
B)    You’d love to, really, but unfortunately you’re leaving the country in a few hours. 
C)    You are allergic to him. It is a confusing answer, which will leave you space to flee as he tries to figure it out. 
D)    Nothing, because you are too preoccupied on contemplating pushing him in front of an oncoming car, but then realize you’re not really sure how well that would go down with the local gendarmerie. You will end up walking with him for five minutes as he tries to convince you of all the delightful reasons you should date him, simply because you can’t think of a single way to make him leave short of pushing him into traffic, which, as we just established, is generally regarded as a “bad thing to do”. You walk away from the encounter with his business card and a newfound desire to research less overt ways to kill pesky strangers (4).

11) Every traveller’s nightmare: your passport has been stolen! Sadface emoji! How do you deal with this awful scenario?

A)    Immediately go to your country’s consult and get it figured out. 
B)    Cry. Cry some more. 
C)    Call your parents, because you are an adult and as such are free to make adult choices such as calling your parents in times of crises in which they are physically incapable of helping you. 
D)    Go full "Taken" on the passport thieves. Call their friends and family and leave threatening messages. Learn multiple martial arts, weapons handling and interrogation tactics. Infiltrate their organization; learn their ways; gain their trust. And then, wipe them all out in one swift, deadly stroke, because by now you have actually become Liam Neeson. Get your daughter- I mean, your passport- back.  

12) You find yourself on a bus, confronted by the majesty of the Scottish Highlands for the first time. Do you:

A)    Start a conversation with your neighbour about how pretty the hills are, and have they been to Scotland before?
B)    Remain unfazed. It’s just a bunch of hills, what’s the big deal? 
C)    Take some pictures from the window and sit in quiet appreciation. 
D)    Immediately start quietly sobbing because they’re just so beautiful, oh my god, I have never been so overwhelmed by the extraordinarily powerful beauty of a landscape before and oh no those high school kids in front of me are staring now oh Jesus stop stop stop abort why can’t I stop crying stop it tears but it’s just SO BEAUTIFUL I just want to hug it and take it home in my suitcase-

13) Your hostel bunk mate is snoring louder than an malfunctioning airplane engine for the third night in a row. What is the proper way to handle this?

A)    It’s never been a problem, because you came prepared with ear plugs. You’re so ahead of the game. You wrote the game.
B)    You talk to the receptionist the next morning and get put into another room.
C)    You deal with it, uncomplaining. It’s part of the Hostel Experience, you know?
D)    You lie there, staring at the top bunk, seething with impotent fury, contemplating why capital punishment was ever abolished because dagummit if it were still around, you KNOW this guy would have been guillotined right quick. You lapse into an exhausted daze until you suddenly snap and punch him in the face. Can’t snore if you don’t have a NOSE ANYMORE, ASSHOLE, THAT’S WHAT YOU GIT, YOU DISRESPECTFUL NASAL-BREATHING PIECE OF SHI-(5)

14) You’re in a really cool place and have no friends to take a picture of you there! What’s your solution?

A)    Obviously you’ve packed a selfie stick, duh. This ain’t your first rodeo.
B)    Approach a friendly looking couple and ask them to snap your pic. 
C)    Take a few pictures of the scenery and don’t worry too much about it. There will be other cool places! 
D)    Stand there with your camera in a social-anxiety ridden panicfog before giving up and devising embarrassing and convoluted ways to use your camera’s self-timer to take theatrical poses of yourself in the ten second spaces when no one is around to witness you. Ignore the fact that all this could be avoided if you just, you know, asked someone, but no, NO, they’ll probably steal your camera or take a bad picture or judge your kickass poses and you’re probably just better off doing it yourself. End up with ridiculous series of self-taken images of yourself cavorting around an Italian prison. 

15) Oh no! You appear to have blacked out, and when you come to, the body of the last man to say “A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be travelling on her own!” is lying dead at your feet!  How awkward! How do you deal with this unfortunate turn of events?

A) Ha ha ha, friend, this was a trick question. The only right answer is “You celebrate, for the world is now a better place.” Ex-President Obama shows up and gives you the Medal of Freedom, for truly, you have made the world Freer. 

16) Bonus question: no one has asked you about your cat in a really long time (6). What do you do? 

A)    Nothing. Your cat is fine. You are busy actually doing fun life things, because you are a normal, chill person.
B)    You befriend the hostel cats in the vain hope that they can fill the void in your heart. The void remains, but they are delightful and fluffy, so there's that, I guess.  
C)    You troll your catsitter’s Instagram account for pictures of your baby.
D)    You start rambling about your cat Gandalf to literally anyone and everyone who will listen, like an insane person. Show them pictures. Extol his virtues. Bonus points if that person is in customer service and can’t run away! Extra bonus points if they ask you how your cat is doing the next time you go into their Gyros shop.
E)    B-D. (7) 

#RESULTS!!1!

If you answered mostly A-C: Congratulations, you are a mentally balanced, competent human! You are smart, prepared, and totally ready to set sail for the world on your own. Godspeed, you triumph in human form! The gods prostrate themselves at your feet! Your travels will be blessed; your Instagram, glorious!

If you answered mostly D: Holy christ, you are me, apparently. How…how have you survived in life this far? Where are your parents? Are you lost? No no no, wait- listen. This is important. Don’t leave your house, and definitely don’t think about traveling by yourself. Jesus. What is wrong with you. Just…just stay inside with your cat. It’s safer for literally everyone involved. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

1)    Oh, no. NO. Stop right here. This woman is in no way qualified to tell you whether or not you know enough to travel by yourself. She barely knows which way is East. She should not be writing this quiz. Run. Run now. Why aren’t you running.

2) This picture presumably still exists on this man's camera. I stole a look at it before fleeing the premises and oh my god it is more awkward than I could ever illustrate here. If I was supposed to be his pretend hot foreign girlfriend, he's gonna have a doozy of a time trying to explain my facial expression to his friends.

3)    This is a real thing. It is a real thing that happened to me. The bruises may have faded, but the shame remains. The shame remains. 

4)    HAHA, remember in my last post when I said I talk about murdering people a lot on this blog? Jesus. Like, I really consider myself a happy, normal person, but this self-reflection is really starting to make me question that assertion. 

5)    The rest of this rant was cut for time and profanity, because apparently the author was raised in a barn.

6)    So, like, an hour. 

7) Obviously the answer is E. Have you met me? 

 

 

Hostels: Or, Magical Palaces Of Mysterious Bugs and Smells

Ho there once more, fellow traveller!

Look at you, exploring the world! I'm so proud.

You have made the courageous and life-affirming decision to travel all by your sparkly self to a variety of foreign and exotic countries, like Sweden. You have braved the perilous and soul-destroying flight across the sea that somehow didn’t crash, despite all the prophets having foretold it so, slept in an airport which was almost certainly full of, I don’t know, probably typhus, and now- NOW- you have reached the next stage of your journey: your hostel. 

Because, as we all know, there is no finer accommodation than the illustrious hostel; no better place for a wanderer such as yourself. You are a Backpacker. Hotels are beneath you (and above your budget). Hotels are for the rich who don’t know the thrill of excitement; of adventure; of wondering if that was a bedbug you just saw or merely a speck of dirt falling off the bed the moment you turned on the lights. It was dirt, you assure yourself out of terrified self-preservation. It was just dirt. You make a mental note to burn all your possessions when you return home anyway, just in case. 

You enter the thick of your new city, hike your pack up once more and set out for your future palace. Your eyes glint with the excitement of adventure. You look at the map, remember you can’t read maps, and put the map away. Who needs that fucking map anyway. You don’t. You are Aragorn. On a budget. Budgegorn? Budgegorn.  

So: let us examine your new hostel a bit closer, for those who are interested but have never had the chance to stay in one. 

WHAT IS A “HOSTEL” AND HOW DOES IT WORK, RANDOM WOMAN ON THE INTERNET?

So glad you asked! Lemme break this down for you. 

A hostel is a place where you go to get horribly murdered by Eastern European businessmen for what I'm assuming is a hefty fee- oh god, I'm sorry. I'm having Hostel movie flashbacks again. They never truly go away. I swear to god, Eli Roth, if I ever meet you I'm going to murder you SO hard you'll wish you'd never made that travesty of cinema. Consider this your first and only warning.

MOVING ON.

A hostel is a place, similar to a hotel, where travellers stay while they’re in a particular location abroad. Unlike a hotel, however, most of the time you’ll be sharing your room with anywhere from 3 to up to 40 strangers, because that’s what you get when you want to not spend egregious amounts of money on your accommodation, you basic pleb. You can choose whether you want a mixed dorm, or to stay with those of your own gender. These strangers can range from “the greatest people you’ll ever meet” to “the people you want to stab with a fork because Holy Christ it’s 4:00AM and they won’t stop talking and I’m pretty sure three of these dudes don’t even go here”. Basically every room you get assigned is the equivalent of those awesome mystery candy grab bags we used to buy as kids (Note: if you were born in the 2000's, you might not know what I'm talking about. Please be aware that your lives are less magical for it. That's what you git for being young and beautiful. That's what you GIT.). You might open the bag and find lifelong friends, aka sour keys; or you might get a strange 60-year-old German man who likes to walk around in his underwear. He will snort a lot and spray cologne directly in front of your bed, and is basically the equivalent of those disgusting root beer gummy things. This...this analogy has gone on too long. Let's move on. 

Most hostels will have breakfast (free or for a decently cheap price), wifi, laundry, a bar, a kitchen/communal area, and some will have computers for those of us who like to leave our technology at home. The rooms are clean (unless you choose, like, a completely unknown hostel owned by some dude named Bubba who doesn't believe in hygiene, in which case you'll probably read about that in the reviews) and the beds are generally pretty damn comfy. You can come and go as late as you want, and check out around 10AM, depending on the place. 

There. That's the boring details out of the way. Look at me, giving you useful travel advice all professional-like. It's as if you could pretend, for a moment, that you were reading a normal-person travel blog. I'm so proud of myself.  

IN SUMMARY, a hostel is a super rad place where you can meet other travellers from around the world who are probably not serial killers, find friends to hang out and have adventures with, all for a heck of a lot cheaper than staying at a hotel. Doesn't that sound awesome? I know! And yet, sometimes I'll tell people about my travel accommodations and they'll give me a look that clearly states that I may as well be telling them I'm sleeping in a rat-infested meth den with shady prostitutes who will absolutely steal my squishy internal bits as soon as the bedbugs finally, FINALLY let me sleep. Some people just don't like adventure, I guess. Some people prefer guaranteed comfort and a good night's sleep. Well, this Budgegorn* will be having none of that.  

*I've given this name some thought, and I've decided I'm keeping it. It hilarious and confusing, much like this blog.

CHOOSING YOUR HOSTEL

The time has come to choose your hostel, fellow traveller/Budgegorn! How exciting for you! But however will you make that crucial decision? Thank god you have me to guide you. Thank. God. 

Depending on the city/town you’re going to, you might have 30 hostels to choose from, or you might have one. As I have mentioned briefly in a previous post, hostelworld.com (I should start getting royalties from mentioning their site. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Law works.) will be your best friend when deciding which place will be graced with your presence. You’ll find prices, dates/availability, contact info, maps, and reviews on there, and can book everything on the site. Alternatively, you can also book directly through each hostel’s website after learning about them on hostelworld- they’ll get all the money that way. Support your little middle-of-nowhere hostels, yo! 

The reviews section in particular will be super helpful to you. Read a few reviews and you’ll quickly get a sense of what kind of place it is. Some hostels are really great for meeting people- they’re well known as party hostels. So if you’re a solo backpacker who wants the option of meeting people from all over the world to go out with, those ones might be better for you. You’ll most likely have to deal with young hooligans and whippersnappers* coming into the room wasted out of their minds from time to time (see: every night), but you’ll also probably immediately find cool people to hang out with. Places like Berlin, Barcelona, Santorini, etc., are all young people cities, in my experience. Prepare to feel super old if you’ve already graduated university, but you’ll have a great time regardless. On the flip side, hostels that are a bit more off the beaten path and smaller generally tend to be more low-key and family friendly, perfect for travellers who go alone and want to stay that way. 

*I realize I’m not even 30 yet, but trust me: in these types of places, being over 25 will make you feel ancient, unless you still love jagerbombs and calling people "bro". Just FYI. I’m simply defending my use of the word “whippersnapper”, because to the majority of people in these hostels, I might as well be 80. So get off my goddamn lawn and all that.

Reviews are also great for just getting a general sense of “Does this hostel seem like a place in which I want to spend the next few days of my life?” People will leave helpful comments for future visitors, such as “Their breakfast is awesome and cheap!”, or “The common room is small, so it’s hard to meet people”, or “This hostel is literally full of snakes, what the actual hell?”*. Several times in my travels I’ve ignored negative comments about certain hostels only to have the exact same complaints when I got there, because several times in my travels I have been a fool.  

*I’ve never personally seen a review that says this, but I’ve also never researched hostels in Australia. I assume this is the #1 comment for all of the hostels there. PROVE ME WRONG, AUSTRALIA, YOU HAVEN OF HORRORS. PROVE ME WRONG.

Most hotels in Europe will run you anywhere from 25-50 Euros/Pounds a night (so around 35-60 Canadian for my fellow maple syrup guzzling hockey lovers). Depending on what time of year you’re going, prices will fluctuate. June-September will be the most expensive months; moreso if the country or city you’re going to is holding some cool national event, like the Olympics or the Annual Tuna Tossing Competition*. Hostels in Edinburgh pretty much double their prices during the Fringe, because they’re all capitalist jerks who prey on those who love indie theatre. At least, that’s the way I’m choosing to look at it, and y’all can’t dissuade me. 

*This is a real competition. It is, unsurprisingly, in Australia, because everything strange and/or terrifying happens in Australia. You may think I'm being hyperbolic, but I have yet to meet an Australian who has refuted this claim. Most of them, when presented with my theory that everything in Australia wants to kill you, simply shrug their shoulders, mutter "Well, yeah", and then start listing off the places you shouldn't go if you DON'T want to be killed, which basically amount to "everywhere". 

HOSTEL ETIQUETTE

Herein lie Clare's Rules of Not Being The Worst Person In Your Hostel. Ignore them at your own peril. 

1) I've talked about this before, but if I may be allowed to tread familiar territory for a brief moment: if you are even thinking about packing any of your travel items in plastic bags, I have a word of advice for you: take those aforementioned plastic bags, put them in a larger plastic bag, and then burn all of them with the ferocity of a thousand suns. Do it. Do it now. Don't look back. 

2) If you have to leave your hostel for a plane/bus/what have you at some horrifyingly early hour of the morning, for the love of your roommates, pack your bags as much as you can the night before. It's unavoidable that you're going to make SOME noise leaving, but there's honestly nothing worse than being that person arranging and re-arranging all of their worldly belongings at 5:00AM because they didn't bother to get their shit together the night before. It's just disrespectful. 

3) Similarly, if you come in at 3:00AM from a night of HARD PARTYING BRO, WHOOO EUROPE PARTY URRDAY, maybe don't turn on all the lights, have a shower, or talk to your friend on the phone for 30 minutes about howww drunk you are, Becky, omg. These are all things that I have experienced, and every single time the person was lucky we all didn't murder them en masse. Man, I talk about murdering people a lot on this blog. Good thing the government doesn't spy on us online, ha ha!

4) Be clean-ish. No one is expecting you to treat the hostel room/facilities like the Queen's Palace, but ain't no one wanna see your used condom wrapper in the shower, either. Ain't. No one. 

5) For the love of literally everything, don't have sex in your hostel rooms. Just don't. It's awkward and weird for everyone, and you may think you're being stealthy and quiet, but I assure you: everyone knows. They know. And they judge your moves. 

6) Snoring. It sucks. And I get it- you can't control it. AND YET. If you know you're a really bad snorer, sleep on your side, warn your roommates, practice sleeping without breathing, etc.- do whatever you can to alleviate the grief you know you're gonna cause people, because honestly, few things are worse than being trapped for four nights in a row with someone who snores so badly it sounds like they're dying. Otherwise, just know that 3-40 people are lying there contemplating smothering you with your own pillow. Just...know that.

7) This isn't so much a rule as a suggestion: bring earplugs, a travel towel, travel-sized toiletries and cheap shower shoes. They will all make your hostel life SO much more pleasant. 

That's it! That's all the rules you need to know in order to not be the world's worst hostel attendee. You'd THINK it would be easy, but in my experience, not so much. Not so much, Gregor, you 40-year-old cologne-obsessed speedo-wearing Austrian personal trainer. You're going straight to Hostel Hell, and there ain't no free coffee and tea there. 

YOUR CONVENIENT AND FUN HOSTEL CHECKLIST (see how many you can spot! It's like a game, but with more judgment!)

  • The gaggle of Australian dudes. They're there to party, and party hard. You will find them either at the bar, in the pool, or on the roof somehow with no idea how they got there. They never sleep. Ever.  
  • The white dude with dreadlocks who looks like his entire life is stuffed into his backpack that is held together with safety pins and hope. He is either homeless or studying to become a doctor, and good luck figuring out which one it is. Either way, do NOT smell him. 
  • The guy who constantly plays the guitar. Seriously, where does he KEEP it? Does he just FIND one at every hostel he goes to? His dedication will be impressive; his playing, probably less so. 
  • The trio of 19 year old girls who just finished their first year of uni and have discovered the need to live their truths and discover foreign cultures. They will do this by clubbing at shady locales and consuming heinously cheap vodka every night with suspicious-smelling bros. You will be tempted to go partying with them, and then remember that you are old and haggard and unable to keep up. It's probably for the best.
  • The 50 year old who has a good job and still loves staying in hostels when he/she goes on vacation. This person will probably be one of the coolest people you meet. Befriend them. Learn from them. Become their adopted protege. Steal their face and become them in honour of the Many-Faced God- um. Ha ha. I mean, DON'T do that. OBVIOUSLY. 
  • The person who appears to...live there? You think? You don't dare ask, but they have their own room and never seem to leave the hostel couch. Becomes territorial and hiss when you sit in their allocated spot on said couch. This is a fight you won't win, friend. Back slowly away and avoid eye contact. 
  • The rich dude who quit his lucrative job at 30 and decided to just travel the world for the foreseeable future. He has all the latest technology- laptop, tablet, phone, GoPro and most likely a freakin' drone. Will volunteer to tell you everything about the city you're in, or just show you pictures of his house in the O.C. If engaged, prepare yourself to watch a LOT of drone footage. Like...a lot. You won't have a choice in the matter. His ego must be satiated. Hope you enjoy aerial footage of Peru! No? Too bad! 
  • The Eastern European roommate with serious hygiene issues. He'll grunt a lot, but never speak. Never share a bunk with him. Just...don't do it. Take my word on this, y'all. Don't make me explain why. Don't make me relive those memories.
  • The hostel cat. It will become your best friend. Or maybe that's just me. 

xo,

Clare 

All My Solo Ladies (now put your hands up)

"Are you alone?"

The waitress has appeared over my shoulder, and asks the simple question in slightly broken English that is infinitely better than my non-existent Italian. 

"Are you alone?": aka, "Do I have to take away one place setting or not?"

I pause, the weight of her words breaking through my cool, confident, independent veneer like a tidal wave striking a dam. A dam that is made of like, really flimsy material that should never have been used to construct a dam in the first place. A tissue paper dam.

I...I AM alone. Oh my god. I am so, so alone. Like, REALLY alone. Holy shit. How did I not realize this before?!

A solo tear slips down my aged, unwanted cheek as I suddenly realize I am surrounded by amorous couples- they are holding hands, kissing, proposing, and most likely pitying the lone woman who DARED to visit the romantic city of Venice by herself. I rise, wordlessly, from my table, embarrassed by my very state of being, and run- run as fast as my ten dollar Ardene sandals will allow me to (so, like, more of a pained, flopping shuffle, if we're being honest here), off to some dark corner where no one can see my shame. 

The waitress gives approximately negatives fucks about this. She leaves the table for two as is. It is immediately claimed by a young couple who will certainly not be asked, "Are you alone?" The young man immediately kneels, pulling out a small box from his back pocket, and-

***

Sorry- I got sidetracked there. Wow. Awkward. This was supposed to be a nice, inspiring post about being a solo female traveller and you had to read a dumb dramatic reenactment of my lunch at a random restaurant in Venice. I really apologize. It won't happen again. For the record, I ended up staying and eating an entire pizza, yes, alone, except for a piece of cheese that was stolen off my plate by an incredibly sneaky pigeon while I wasn't looking. I wasn't even mad. I was impressed. +2 to Stealth, pigeon. 

Anyway. Back on track. Here we go.

This here post is for the ladies. 

(Please note, if you are not a lady, feel quite free to continue reading! I promise you'll still have a fun time, and I'd hate to discriminate. We'll all learn together!)

As you might know, this post contains the main reason I started this blog in the first place (I know, it wasn't just to write dumb articles about how I fail at mountain climbing and sleeping in appropriate places, I'm as genuinely shocked as you are)- that is, how too often the phrase "Oh, I'm backpacking solo, actually" is followed by one of the two following phrases:

1) "Wow, aren't you scared?"

2) "Oh man, won't your boyfriend worry about you/be upset you're going without him?"*

*This was from a time when I was in glorious possession of a boyfriend, and...no. No, I cannot go on. The memories are too painful. Forgive me. I must retreat to the Shame Corner. 

So, ladies (and gents who are hopefully still reading even after I so rudely almost excluded them a few minutes ago): let's take a moment, take a breath, and promise ourselves that we will never say either of those things to a female traveller ever again. It may well come from a place of earnestness and genuine concern, but it does nothing to ease the stigma that travelling solo as a woman is inherently dangerous and we shouldn't do it. Let me dissuade you of that notion right here, right now, WITH the caveat that yes, of course, there are quite a number of countries in the world where travelling solo as a woman might not be the best thing to do. You will never see me write in this blog about my solo travels in Saudi Arabia, for example. I do not foresee myself feeling safe there and thus I don't necessarily advise it. Perhaps women braver than I might do so, but personally, I know the limits of my courage and comfort and they do not reside there.

Because, let's get one thing out of the way right now: I don't consider myself a terribly brave person. To me, there are different types of bravery, and I tick some boxes but definitely not others. I tick what I call my "Gryffindor boxes"- the kind that tell me to do dumb things like sleeping under mountain rocks and dangling my feet of of 200 foot cliffs because goddamnit, my Feet In Fun Places photo series won't be complete without Cliff Pictures*. But when it comes to, say, watching horror movies alone or walking down possible murder alleys in Venice at midnight, I am most certainly NOT brave.

*This is a real photo series. It's beautiful and glorious and ARTISTICALLY IMPORTANT.

I say this because I think that there's this notion that you have to be an inherently brave person to be a solo traveller, and I disagree. I think you need two things: a sense of adventure, and common sense. The first is pretty straightforward; the latter is simply that voice in your head that stops you when you think, "Hey, know what sounds like fun? Getting wasted alone in Slovakia and deciding to take a tour of all the murderey-looking alleyways! At 4:00AM! Yeah! Cool! Oh look, an unmarked van!"

Don't...don't do that.

There. Sounds simple? It is! You're all set to go, fellow lady backpacker!

Oh, you're still not convinced, after that incredibly well put-together argument? There are still people telling you that you're going to get abducted and sold for various goods and sheep? Or that it would just be safer for you to go with your Trusty Male Companion?

Well, let's get a bit more specific, then.

(At this point, I will fully admit that I have several friends, both male and female, who have had negative experiences abroad, whether those experiences included assault, robbery, etc. This post is not to say these things do not happen. They absolutely do, through no fault of anyone but the offending douchebags. But, I would argue, no more than they might in any large city. There are areas of Toronto I definitely don't like to go past midnight. Regardless of where you are, shit happens because people can be terrible. Take as much care of yourselves as you can, my friends.)

In my experience, there have been very few places in which I have felt unsafe to journey by myself, even late at night- and this is coming from someone who is sacred of literally everything in every horror movie ever made. There are, of course, certain parts of large cities that should be avoided, and a simple Google search will help you prepare for that. Do your research when choosing hostels- Hostelworld.com has a section for reviews. A few years ago, a hostel in Bordeaux had a review in which someone had written "Nice hostel, but beware: it's in the sketchiest part of the city. Did I say beware already? Because seriously. Beware."

This would have been nice to know before I booked my stay there AND the train that was getting me there at 1:00AM. And yup, it turns out the area was, in fact, sketchy as all fuck. But I just asked a nice couple if I could walk with them on the way from the train station. It turned out fine. Do a little research, don't be afraid to ask for help (fellow travellers are almost always understanding, especially if you're a scared-looking female at 1:00AM in Sketchville, Bordeaux), and you'll be good. Generally, the closer to the city centre you are, the safer you will feel. Sometimes, it's worth the extra 5-10 Euros a night, if you can swing it.

"Won't your boyfriend worry about you? Why aren't you going with him?"

Because you're a strong, independent woman who wants to see the goddamn world on her own and answer to absolutely no one, that's why!

Frankly, the only times I think "Man, having a boyfriend/guy-friend-who-can-act-like-my-boyfriend-in-convenient-times would be really helpful in this situation" is when I am being voraciously and unrelentingly hit on by French dudes. (And please note: this has nothing to do with any physical appeal I may or may not possess. I could be a literal toad, and if they discovered I was a female toad they would still try their hardest to pick me up. Jokes on them, 'cause toads are slippery and hard to hold and sometimes poisonous. Take that, Jacques, hope you like dying of toad poison.) This is entirely due to the fact that French men do not take no for an answer. I have interrogated many of them on the subject and they have fully admitted it. They will literally follow you on the street propositioning you until you throw them some breadcrumbs and yell "Shoo! Shoo!" at them, at which point they will squawk and scatter- oh, sorry. That's pigeons. Ha ha, my bad. Frenchmen are much more difficult to get rid of. Don't bother telling them you have a boyfriend- that will only succeed in making them stronger. Tell them you're leaving the country in 30 seconds. Tell them you have 15 different and colourful-sounding infectious diseases. Tell them you're a ride-or-die Nickleback fan. Tell them anything BUT you have a boyfriend, for your sanity's sake.

And this goes, I've found, for the majority of Europe. Why, just two weeks ago ago I was in Barcelona, wearing a cute but simple yellow dress I brought with me. I got exactly twenty feet from my hostel and this old Spanish dude hissed at me. Hissed! This, truly, was a new tactic. Did he sense I was a cat lady? Was he trying to compliment me in the language of my furry people? I must admit, I was confused.

I was not, however, surprised. You kinda get used to it. You can either ignore it, or embark on a one-woman educational crusade against the male populace of Western Europe, and frankly even typing that felt exhausting. It's a different culture over here. I just find it easier to grimace slightly at them and walk on. Sometimes they succeed in making me feel angry or irritated or uncomfortable, but I tell myself it's a small price to pay for being able to explore these kickass cities. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's generally harmless, and if you can get used to firmly saying "No" every so often, in every conceivable language, the rest is a breeze. I have felt legitimately harrassed infinitely more living in Toronto than I ever have in Europe. So: you got this.

Solo travelling is, in my experience, not a scary thing! It can be stressful, frustrating and confusing, yes, but not scary. I've spoken to a bunch of women over here on this trip, and the one thing that's actually come up more than once is the issue of feminine hygiene products: that is, in certain countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, etc., they are harder to find than you'd like, and often are super expensive. Bring 'em from Canada. Don't wait to buy them here. Same with sunscreen, because Oh My God it's so expensive here because they KNOW you need it and they KNOW you'll pay a lot for it because skin cancer is generally regarded as a bad thing, so basically it's more expensive than everything forever. 

The best thing about travelling alone is that you can eat nothing but pizza and gelato for five days in a row and NO ONE WILL BE AROUND TO JUDGE YOU. I know this from experience, aka I did this in Italy last week. #livingmytruth #hahawhatsafilmcareer

HOWEVER. Let us briefly address the things that, in my experience, have been the most genuinely terrifying things about travelling alone. Warning: some of these are pretty awful. Prepare yourselves.

1) Not having a friend or group of friends to provide an alibi when you finally decide to murder the man sleeping across from you. He has snored like a wet chainsaw (yeah, let THAT imagery sink in, suckers, if I have to experience it, so do you) for the last three nights, and his phone charger light has continuously beamed across at you like a blue flashlight straight into the back of your retinas. He is blissfully unaware that everyone is awake at 4:00AM because of him. He is blissfully aware that he has but seconds to live, as you finally snap in a sleep-deprived haze and beat him to death with your super cute travel hair dryer. The authorities will be sympathetic, but you will totally still get arrested for murder. It...is probably not worth it. 

2) Not having anyone to stop you from eating nothing but pizza and gelato five days in a row. I know I just said this was the best thing, but Jesus. I really could have used some outside help on that one. I'm pretty sure I have scurvy now, and I didn't even get to be a pirate to obtain it.

3) Discovering how many people are ACTUALLY incapable of figuring out how to take a decent picture of you using your camera. You'll eventually give up and find creative ways to take timed pictures of yourself in awkward places. It's super character-building.

4) Foreign clowns.

Lightning Round of Possible Objections, Refuted

"I'm so bad at directions! I don't want to get lost all the time!"

Have...have you met me? I routinely take the wrong direction on the Toronto subway. And it has TWO LINES. Trust me. You can't be worse than I am at this, and I haven't ended up in the wrong city yet. YET. Give me time.

"I don't speak the language!"

Everyone speaks English. Literally everyone. Even if you DO speak the language they will speak to you in English, after laughing at your pathetic attempts to speak like them. I'm lookin' at you, all of France, you judgmental cheese-eating bastards.

"I want to travel alone, but I don't want to be alone all the time. That sounds awful."

Your hostel will be your best friend. Seriously. You'll exchange numbers, add each other on Facebook, get drunk together on cheap wine and have, like, totally the best night and you're totally going to keep in touch when you leave. You totally probably won't.

(But actually, you will meet the best and coolest people in hostels without fail, if you reach out even a little. I promise.)

"My friend/brother/cousin/iguana went to Europe and hated it/fell off a cliff/got eaten by whatever eats iguanas, probably, like, raccoons or something."

They sound super lame. Drop them from your life immediately.

"What if Murder Alley looks really cool? Like, it has sparkly lights and shit?"

Murder Alleys must always be avoided at all costs. Your safety takes top priority, and- wait... did you say sparkly lights? Well, count me in.

xo,

Clare
 

Airplanes: the Demons of the Sky

Airplanes. The metal birds of the sky. Winged machines that defy all known laws of physics (1). Man's Greatest Invention (2). 

Airplanes.

I have many thoughts on them.

Most of these thoughts conclude with the phrase "And then we all crash and die". 

I am not a huge fan of flying, you might say. You might say that, given my propensity for travel, that might be a bit of an issue. You might be correct.

Planes are where my natural optimism and positivity go to die. 

Why? Because from the moment the plane's engines kick in like the roar of...something with huge engines (I'm not a poet. Lower your expectations.) (3) until the moment the plane's wheels touch the ground at the end of our harrowing journey of stress, I am certain- CERTAIN- beyond any doubt, reasonable or not (usually not), that the plane is going to spontaneously plummet into the earth/ocean/desert/children's orphanage, I don't know; burst into flames; and then the world will be down one 20-something travel blogger, which is the most tragic thought of all. I just know that if I look out the window during take off, and watch the ground fall away, that suddenly the plane will, like, just turn off, like an iPod, and freefall to its ultimate demise. By looking out the window, I will become the Harbinger of Death. I do not look out the window. 

I have no basis on which I hang my hat of aviophobia. I am an educated woman who is fully aware of the concepts of flight and lift and the statistics of plane crashes vs. car crashes and the vast gulf of difference between the two. However, that does not matter to my brain. My brain simply does not comprehend how what is essentially a giant metal tube stays 35 000 feet up in the air without falling down immediately. My brain thinks it is entirely reasonable to spastically grab the arm of the poor stranger next to me as we mercilessly plummet (see: land in a controlled manner by seasoned pilots who know what they're doing, thank you very much) towards the earth in anything but the smoothest of descents. My brain, when the aircraft hits the -slightest- amount of turbulence, immediately begins composing a mental copy of my Last Will and Testament (4). 

A minor bump in the air? The engine probably just fell off. We tilt slightly to one side? We clearly just lost a wing. The pilot flashes the seatbelt sign at any point in between takeoff and landing? Prepare thyselves, fellow travellers. Thy doom is nigh. 

My favourite thing is the pilot's speech at the beginning of every flight, as he or she takes the passengers through a brief itinerary of what the flight conditions are going to be for the duration of the trip. If it's going to be bad, you can tell. They'll try to hide it, coat it in nice words like "not that bad", "nothing to worry about", "totally normal". They lie.

***

Pilot: Alright folks, welcome aboard Air Canada Flight 2517 to Edinburgh Airport. We're looking at an easy start to our trip today-

Well-adjusted passengers: How nice! We'll just relax, open a good book, and behave totally normally. All is GOOD in the HOOD.

Me: Easy start? Easy START?! What the HELL does that mean, START? Does that mean it gets WORSE?!

Pilot: Later on we'll be expecting a bit of weather at higher altitudes-

Passengers who have their shit together: Ooh! How exciting! Maybe we'll see some lightning up close from the windows. It will be beautiful, a truly majestic display of nature at its most raw and powerful.

Me: OH my GOD lighting will strike the plane and the wings will fall off and we'll all be electrocuted before we explode holy SHIT-

Pilot: At that point, we will experience some mild turbulence, but-

Cool Cat passengers, barely paying attention at this point: As long as it doesn't disturb our in-flight scotch, we're all good.

Me: JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL

Pilot: -but it's nothing to worry about. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.

Totally sane passengers who are of no danger to anyone: Done and done, my pilot-y friend. What a wonderful time we live in, that we can soar through the air like the birds of old.

Me: *has lost mind entirely, is trying to preemptively fling herself out of the plane*

***

I'm super fun to sit next to, is what I'm saying.

Now, before you tell me to go get therapy for my obvious mental instability, I still take planes. I don't freak out. I don't have panic attacks or anything like that. It's more of an internal doom radar that reveals itself in the subtle whiteness of my knuckles as they clutch the seat handles during takeoff, or the soft but everpresent swearing one might hear coming from my general direction the second turbulence rears its ugly head. 

I have developed a solution, however: drugs! YAY!

On long flights (6 hours or more, generally) I drug myself up as much as is safely possible. (Hi, mum and dad!) Please note: as a general rule I do not condone the use of drugs or alcohol in order to combat stressful situations. However, stick me on a transatlantic flight and you bet your ass I'm having several gin and tonics at the airport bar and then popping two extra strength NyQuil as soon as I sit down in the plane. You see, then, half an hour later, the amount of fucks I give about the inevitability of my imminent fiery demise decreases by a considerable amount! It's like magic! (5)

When I went from Toronto to Edinburgh for this trip four weeks ago, it turns out I tried to record my thoughts on planes for this blog post. However, reading them back, they were mostly unintelligible and had such noteworthy instructions to my future self as "Tell them your thoughts on clouds".

Let me be clear, here: I have no thoughts on clouds, other than the fact that they're quite pretty from time to time and sometimes a crazy lady will see Jesus in them. However, apparently I DID after gin and NyQuil. Oh man, did I ever. I'm sure Stoned Me had a LOT of amazing thoughts about clouds. I'm really sad she didn't write them down, for now they are lost to time and sobriety. I DO, however, remember that I sat right by the left wing of the airplane and my first thought as I sat down was, "That's lucky. Now I'll be the first to know when it falls off mid-flight". Then I jotted down something about my cat Gandalf. Stoned Me has her priorities on point

I don't know if my plane anxiety will ever go away. Sometimes I take stupidly long buses in order to avoid flying entirely. That being said, someone once suggested that I take a ship across the ocean instead and I laughed really, really hard and then explained to them that I would rather die in a fiery plane crash than drown in the middle of the ocean when the ship I'm in inevitably sinks in a horrific sea storm (6). 

Maybe I just have a fear of dying horribly.  Like, that would make a lot of sense. I GUESS. I just handle it worse than others. I'm hoping that at some point, my brain will just accept defeat and I can go back to looking out the window again. Until then, however, I will continue to horde my NyQuil like an anxious, drug-addicted squirrel, and keep my eyes on the emergency exits in case of my arch-nemesis; the Balrog to my Gandalf the Grey; Mankind's Greatest Fear (7): mild turbulence. Do not speak its name.

xo,

Clare

***********

1) They...they do not do that. That's not how physics work. That's not how ANYTHING works.

2) What?! Who accuracy checks these posts? Jesus Christ. 

3) Please note: this post was written at 3:00AM in an airport after attempting to sleep, and failing miserably- because if you've read my previous posts on here, you'll know all about how FUN that whole experience is.

4) This basically consists of my friend Kate getting my Lord of the Rings posters and my cat going to whomever he deems worthy of his time. He's taking headshots and resumes, if you're interested.

5) Magic: the drug for people who won't understand how drugs work. 

6) I realize that Life of Pi is not the best sole example to base my entire perception of ocean travel off of, but too late for that now, logical person reading this. Too late for that now. 

7) Okay, NOW you're just being hyperbolic. This entire post up until now was entirely factually correct, rational, and lacking in any exaggeration whatsoever. And then THIS? You made these nice people read through a post entirely devoted to your silly, common phobia and now you're just being ridiculous. I'm done. I'm out. You all deserve better. Mankind's greatest fear is clearly clowns.

Air B&B: Airport Edition

Ho there, weary traveller! Are you looking for a once-in-a-lifetime (1) accommodation experience? Well then: rest your tired feet and feast your eyes on this exclusive offer!

Are you tired of comfortable hostel beds? Do you ever find yourself staring around your 40-bed mixed dorm somewhere in Eastern Europe and thinking, "I am not surrounded by NEARLY enough complete strangers right now"? Do you hate sleep? Ha ha ha, friend! So do we all! I personally haven't slept in days! Days! If you're sleeping, how can you be making precious travel memories!? (2) If you answered "yes" to any or all of those questions, then I have but one more query for you: have you ever tried sleeping on an airport floor? Wait- no? Seriously? What's wrong with you? I thought you wanted excitement! I thought you wanted to be regarded as a cool Aragorn-esque solo adventurer! Oh, you do? Well then, buckle up, kiddos, it's about to get real adventurous up in here. This ain't no Cozy 1 Bedroom-Safety Guaranteed-Welcoming Host Air B&B bullshit. This here's for real backpackers. Read on.

Picture this: you arrive at the airport, hopes and dreams strapped in place as firmly as the pack on your back. It's 2:00AM, because Past You was a dumbass and booked a 6:00AM flight to Florence because it was 15 Euros cheaper and damnit, you're a smart financial traveller; you haven't slept more than 5 hours in the last day and a half because YOLO YOU'RE IN EUROPE PARTY URRDAY; and- hey! You have, like, two hours before your check-in! Why not grab some shuteye? You peer sleepily around the unfamiliar, definitely disease-ridden hall and notice all the other bleary-eyed travellers attempting to sleep. But alas- they're wedged into uncomfortable chairs. Fools! Don't they see how much more room they'd have if they spread out on the floor? So much! So much more room!

You spot a patch of floor and an empty bench at the opposite end of the hall. On further inspection, there's no garbage in the immediate vicinity, there's a vending machine five feet away, and- oh, that suspicious-looking stain? Nothing to worry about. It's probably just coffee. (3)  It's...it's perfect. Welcome, friend. Welcome to Casa Del Airport. We've been expecting you.

You plunk yourself down on the ground in front of the bench, grab your trusty ground pad out of your backpack and begin to blow it up. You notice that several people sitting nearby begin to stare at you as you do this, but don't worry- they're just jealous you nabbed such a fine piece of real estate while they relegated themselves to basic bitch chairs. They made their choice. Ignore them. Your ground pad inflated in all of its bright orange glory, you lay it down reverently, avoiding the suspicious coffee stain, and prop your backpack at its head to use as an ingenious pillow. It might not be "comfortable" like those hostel pillows you could be using right now if you had just paid the goddamn 15 extra euros, Blackwood, but you're a solo backpacker- comfortable isn't in your vocabulary. You know what is? Badassery. That's front and center in that book. That's the title of that book. 

You make sure all your belongings are safely zipped up and/or tied together and in contact with your body at all times in case thieves attack. The people nearby are now shaking their heads or chuckling in disdain. Repeat after me: they do not matter. You are Aragorn; they are, like, Denethor. Ugh.  

You settle in for your glorious two hour nap.

Your eyes close.

The chatter of fellow travellers and the clatter of suitcase wheels on tile slowly becomes the lullabye to your airport slumber.

Your mind slows.

And then...

Is that a BANDSAW?!

Why yes, traveller, it is! Just as you feel yourself drifting off, airport staff will suddenly decide they need to perform emergency bandsaw work on a nearby piece of seemingly-random metal equipment! Sparks will fly! Literally! 20 feet away from your bed! You might actually catch on fire!

This is but ONE of the incredible experiences Airport B&B offers during your stay here. A brief list of other potential exciting additions, based on airport location/time of day/deus ex machina, includes:

  • A creepy old man who keeps walking by you and leering. I see you, buddy. Just try something. I dare you. I swear to god. 
  • Police officers with machine guns who throw you irritated glances, but obviously don't regard you as enough of a threat to do anything about (4).
  • Children nearly running you over as they race their parents' suitcases up and down the hallways, screaming at the top of their little child-sized lungs. The parents will not care. The parents are wishing they never brought their children to an airport in the first place. The parents are secretly drinking.
  • A fun old lady who steps over (see: on) your prone body to sit on the bench you're lying in front of. She will not say anything. She will just glare at you for having the audacity to sleep in front of the bench she wanted to sit on; of Her Personal Bench Throne, despite the existence of several other similar benches nearby not currently occupied by a sleeping backpacker. You will contemplate faking really disgusting snoring to scare her away. 

Nearby Amenities:

As previously mentioned, you will be right next door to a vending machine! How convenient! Food and water at your fingertips! Please note: It will be out of order. Perhaps it was never in order. Only Jesus knows. 

You'll find several public washrooms that staff will swear are "Just down the hall, please follow the signs". If "Follow the signs" means "We put these signs up at ludicrously random places to laugh at confused travellers who might pee themselves before they find the two tiny stalls wedged in behind Costa Coffee. One of them is out of order. God we have such fun."

Duty Free Booze- oh. That's after you check in. Sorry, got excited there. Lie back down. Put away your wallet. Think about your life choices. 

Children/Pets:

Pets? Are you kidding? We love animals here at the airport! In fact, you'll get up close and personal with a lot of them. Dogs will come up and sniff you (pray they don't pee)! Hope you like being barked at, because that will absolutely happen too! Small children will laugh at you! Resist the urge to punch them! Resist, for the love of god!

Reviews:

"I was checking my Gucci luggage into first class when I spotted this haggard-looking woman lying on the floor! The floor! Don't they have security to make sure I don't have to look at that? Negative 5 stars!" - Terrible Rich Woman Who Hates Adventure But Loves Being Terrible

"Look, buddy, I got more important things to worry about than a homeless orphan vagrant sleeping on a freakin' mat under a bench. Is she a terrorist? No? Is she my ex-wife? No? Then fuck off." - Security Guard

"Is she okay? She looks like she hasn't showered in days. Is she alive? Should I call someone? Wait- maybe she's just being fiscally responsible!" - Concerned Mother

Price:

Possibly your soul. Absolutely your dignity. Most likely your ego and sense of self-preservation, if you had those things to begin with- and let's be honest, you made the choice to sleep on the floor of a foreign airport- you probably didn't. It's okay. This is a safe space. Now, let's talk about sliding scale payments. 

***********

1) *Air B&B cannot comment on whether this is due the fact that once you attempt this, you will never, ever be dumb enough do it again. Please contact original poster directly for further inquiries of that nature.

2) This message was brought to you by amphetamines.

3) It was not coffee. It was absolutely dried blood. #travellife #blessed

4) It's like they don't even know you're packin' a sweet Swiss Army Knife. Oh boy, if they did. There's like, at LEAST five potential, slightly dull weapons in that thing. You're practically Rambo. 

 

Behold your future bed, in all its glory. Not pictured: the Suspicious Blood Stain. I didn't want you all to have to see that. I care about you, friends. I care about you because you just spent the last five minutes reading the most ridiculous thing I've ever written.    PS this entire post is 100% true. Except the Eastern Europe part. I just thought it sounded funny in context. I don't go to Eastern Europe because that's where Hostel was filmed. I mentioned that in an earlier post. This was a trick, to see if you were paying attention. 

Behold your future bed, in all its glory. Not pictured: the Suspicious Blood Stain. I didn't want you all to have to see that. I care about you, friends. I care about you because you just spent the last five minutes reading the most ridiculous thing I've ever written.  

PS this entire post is 100% true. Except the Eastern Europe part. I just thought it sounded funny in context. I don't go to Eastern Europe because that's where Hostel was filmed. I mentioned that in an earlier post. This was a trick, to see if you were paying attention. 

What to Pack in Yo' Backpack

Hello friends!

I wanted to write a post about what I normally bring when I go flouncing around Europe. I've had a number of friends and fellow travellers ask me over the years about how much to bring, what not to bring, what the absolute essentials are, etc. So, while I absolutely cannot claim to be an Expert, and I'm sure many people are better at packing than I am, I DO know a thing or two about downsizing your entire life and squeezing it all into a delightful backpack that hopefully will not get lost by airport personelle as you sit, happily oblivious, on the tarmac.

***

Backpacking. It's a tough business. You need to be READY. You need to be ALERT. You need to be PREPARED*. Get ready to learn more than you ever wanted to know, travel nerds.

*Please note: my interpretation of the word "prepared" may or may not be slightly different than most people's. The following list is literally as prepared as I get while travelling, so enjoy.

What to Bring.

The pack itself: my bag is a Black Diamond Mercury 55 Pack, from Mountain Equipment Co-Op.  I'm fairly certain it's the 55, not the 65; regardless, it's around 60 litres, which is more than enough space for a month or more, as long as you're not planning on doing serious camping and want pots and pans and all that in there. Out of all the following things I'll list here, this is the most important thing that you don't want to skimp on. Get one that's water resistant, with lots of adjustable straps for maximum comfiness.

(Ladies- I normally hate the idea of gendered products (my hiking shoes, for example, are bright pink on the bottom because GOD FORBID I FORGET I'M FEMALE for ONE GD SECOND), but there are some amazing packs made specifically for women out there, and this is one of them. It has a delightful swivelly thing on the bottom that moves with your hips and is specifically designed to have most of the weight on your hips area, as opposed to your upper back, like a lot of backpacks designed for men. Note: "delightful swivelly thing" is, in fact, the correct technical term for it, and not something I made up because I couldn't remember what it's called. Ask for it specifically at MEC, they'll totally understand what you're talking about.)

A ground pad. Mine is the Therm-a-rest Evolite, again from MEC, which is super small and comfy and great if you're sleeping in small spaces. It's not necessary to bring unless you're camping, but if you are, it's awesome and won't take up a lot of room.

A sleeping bag. Again, this isn't absolutely necessary, but I always bring mine because in my experience, you will, at some point, sleep in an airport because you've had to book a flight at some ungodly hour of the morning. Might I recommend wedging yourself under a convenient bench for some privacy, or right by the check-in area so you can be first in line when your gate opens? A sleeping bag will shield you from the outside world and help you forget that literally everyone is staring at you as they walk by, pitying who they assume is a sad, homeless waif who cannot afford a bed.

Clothing: In my pack, for 6 weeks, I bring the following clothes:

  1. 1 pair of lightweight hiking pants.
  2. 1 pair of light leggings.
  3. 1 zip-up hoodie.
  4. 1 t-shirt.
  5. 1 fun dress.
  6. 7 pairs of both socks and underwear.

That's it; and frankly, that's really all you need as long as you're travelling in summer. This trip I brought TWO flouncy dress-like things, because I am a rebel who defies my own very subjective rules. It's super easy to want to bring your entire wardrobe- but trust me, you'll be thankful you didn't. I mean, after all, you have to save room for that beautiful dress hanging in the window of that quirky Parisian boutique!*

*Do not do this. Do not buy anything in Paris unless you are living in some fantasy world where you are obscenely rich, in which case congrats on slumming it in hostels, you down-to-earth bourgeousie scum. I'm so proud of you for lowering yourself to our level. God I low-key hate you.

Do your best to bring clothes that A) you don't care if you lose; B) are easily packable; and C) are lightweight and quick-drying, so you can dry them in the bathroom of that Irish pub, desperately holding them under a really shitty hand dryer because your bus is coming and you just spilled ketchup on your shirt like the disgusting tourist you are.

Laundry bags. I find it super useful to bring two drawstring bags for my clothes- one for clean, and one for dirty. Super simple. Cloth bags, though- not plastic bags, for reasons I will cover in just a few minutes. Holy heck, I hope you're as excited for that as I am. Quelle suspense!

Shoes! I generally bring one pair or waterproof hiking shoes, and one pair of cute walking shoes. I try my best to pick shoes that won't make me look too much like a tourist in the countries I'm going to. The result of this is always me getting to said countries, realizing I have failed horribly in this mission, promptly giving up and going barefoot the rest of the time in shame.

A garbage bag to cover your entire pack in case you get stuck in the rain, which, let's be honest, will happen because it's Europe, and Europe's favourite pasttime is raining on you when it's really inconvenient for you. Europe is a douchebag. You can also buy an actual rainproof cover at any outdoor store if you wanna get fancy, and if you know those exist before wrapping your pack in garbage bags...which I totally did. I totally knew that. I just chose to do things the hard way, because I'm hardcore.

A flashlight. I tried to make this point funny and then gave up. God I'm the worst. Why are you still reading this. Go do something better with your lives that involves funnier people than I. 

A Swiss Army Knife, which you totally don't tell the delightful customs officials about. For the record: I do not condone this at all and certainly have never done it. I don't even know what a Swiss Army Knife is. Is it an army? Is it knife? Is it a Swede?! You tell me, you law-breaker.

A lightweight waterproof rain coat. They make ones that have their own travel cases, and they're the BEST. Also consider bringing a travel umbrella for countries that are warm but rainy.

A multi-country power converter. They're generally around $20 and will save you a lot of stress when you get over there. Remember that the UK uses different plugs than pretty much everywhere else in Europe, because you don't already have enough things to worry about.

Travel hair dryer. Because, ladies, let's not pretend we're going au natural on this trip. We want our hair looking fine to attract those wealthy Parisian men with yachts that our mothers always told us about. Someday, they pray, someday we won't be single cat ladies anymore.

A bag for toiletries and make-up. Again, to look fine. For those eligible handsome Spanish bachelors who have spent their lives just waiting for a lost and confused Canadian tourist who hasn't showered in three days and doesn't know their language or what time zone they're in anymore. Awww yeah. That's the shit right there. The line begins with me, gentlemen.

Quick-dry towel. Again, this isn't necessary as hostels will have them for you, but generally you have to pay for them- so save yourselves the 5-or-so Euro per hostel and bring your own!

Lock and key for hostel safe boxes. Every hostel I've ever been in will have a locked storage space you can put your valuables in, but rarely will they have locks for those boxes. Seeing as that's where you'll want your passport to go, I highly recommend using them.

That's it. That's literally everything I bring for up to two months. It all adds up to about 30lbs, which isn't bad as long as you have a decent backpack with good load distribution.

NOW, For what NOT to bring.

1) A fannypack. No. Just no. Good lord. Get a hold of yourself. I'm so ashamed of you. Be better.

2) Plastic bags. Do not bring them. Do not even think about them. They will make you the bane of every hostel roommate you will ever have. A dudebro in the hostel I am staying at right now has what sounds like fifteen, for all his belongings, and I want to kill him. You see, you will inevitably need to get something from them in the middle of the night and they will make a massive amount of crinkly noise, wake everyone up, and you will promptly get murdered by everyone in your room and goddamnit, no judge will convict them because you totally deserved it, you monster.

3) Computers/iPads/other valuable electronics. It's not worth worrying about them getting stolen/lost and frankly, if you find yourself needing to go on Facebook instead of having adventures, your hostel will have computers. Not that I'm judging the Facebook thing. We all need to make sure our lives look hella exciting overseas to make our exes jealous. I get you, girl. Go forth and brag. Make Dave regret ever dumping you, you adventurous vixen. He'll take you back the second he sees you doing that funny and super original pose where you're pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

4) A cell phone. Hear me out on this one. Most of the people I've met bring their phones for the purposes of useful things like GPS, emergency phone access, being social with new friends, etc. But my question to you is: don't you want to live on the wild side? Don't you want to be independent? Don't you want to not be able to contact your new friends? Ditch the tech! Get lost! Enjoy it! Lose yourself! Injure your back severely and have no way of contacting EMS! #livebold #travellife (But seriously, I never bring a phone when I travel. I buy a £20 burner phone that serves essentially as an alarm clock, and that's it. It's really quite freeing being totally cut off from everyone. And prevents you from Instagramming everything like all those rich travellers we all hate.) 

5) Lots of books. They'll weigh you down. I always choose one book when I go overseas- something I know I can read again and again on long train rides when I'm not busy thinking of blog posts for you lucky bastards. God, I work so hard for you. You're welcome.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for more exciting updates to come, unless I fall off a cliff and have no phone to call for help! Won't that be fun!

I'm such a great adult.

xo,

Clare

 

Me, searching for anyone who can help me after I stranded myself on top of a mountain with no GPS. LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE. LIVE BOLDLY.

Me, searching for anyone who can help me after I stranded myself on top of a mountain with no GPS. LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE. LIVE BOLDLY.

Why Backpacking Solo is the Best Thing and Only Sometimes the Worst Thing

Hello again friends!

What a delightfully convoluted and awkwardly worded title. I'm keeping it. My blog, my rules. 

I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about why I choose to backpack, and the pros and cons therein. I should start off by fully acknowledging that I am very lucky to be able to do this at all; travel is never and should never be considered a "necessity"; anyone who tells you otherwise is a lying, irritating prat. It won't define your life and it won't make you a better person than anyone else (it will make you a poorer person, that's for damn sure). I am super fortunate to have a job I don't loathe that offers me the means and flexibility to flee the country every few years. Even though serving slowly chips away at my soul and makes me want to stab who I'm sure are actually lovely humans in real life in the eyes because they ask me for the 100th time that day if our pork tenderloin has meat in it oh my Christ, I do appreciate it for those particular gifts.

But I digress. 

When I thought about starting this travel blog I immediately thought "Oh lord, I don't want to be one of THOSE people, the ones who lowkey humblebrags about their adventures and talks about how Travel Is Life and all that bullshit". Who doesn't hate those people? (Don't worry though, my new "wanderlust" tattoo is looking great. I got it done by a Tibetan Faith Healer in the mountains of...um...Tibet. Look, you wouldn't understand. #travelislife #blessed) 

Here, have my favourite hilarious video of the very person I was terrified of coming across as: 

She's actually the worst. I'll do my best not to become her. HOWEVER. If backpacking is within your means, and something you've always wanted to try but never quite worked up the guts to do, then here are some things to think about. 

I love backpacking because it gives me freedom. I'm like Jack Sparrow on his boat, only less drunk (or am I). I get a sense of delicious excitement when I step off a plane, or a ferry, or a Tibetan mule (gonna keep this Tibet gag running, you're welcome, don't ask me why because frankly I don't know), and it's just me, myself and my heavy-ass backpack (I'm planning on doing a post soon about what's in that backpack, for those who are curious about how to pack for medium-length jaunts abroad). No phones, no tech, no real gameplan- or, even if I have one, it's generally fairly subjective and open to change. That change usually comes if I happen to miss a bus because I got lost on the Paris subwayNOT THAT I'VE DONE THATand need to decide if I really wanted to go to that city I had planned on visiting, or hey, maybe that one seems cool and oh look! the train for it leaves in half an hour, let's pray to (insert your god of choice here) it has a hostel! Or at the very least, somewhere out of the rain that isn't overrun with feral dogs! I'm looking at you, Literally Everywhere in France.

I get that not planning ahead is actually the epitome of hell for a lot of people. But I find that travelling alone can often give me lovely tidbits of insight into who I am at my core when I remove myself from every comfort zone that I am used to back home, and good god does that sound pretentious, I'm sorry. What happens if you get somewhere and every hostel is booked? What if the ferry you thought was leaving the random Irish island you found yourself on doesn't actually leave today, but tomorrow, and you don't have a plan for that, you fool!? What if you get abducted by sheep? I'm a weirdo who likes those challenges, and boy, travelling alone is full of 'em. 

So, without further ado, here are some pros and cons of travelling alone:

PROS

  1.  Hostels! Ah, hostels. I freaking love them. They terrify and excite me in equal measure. I'll do a more in-depth post about them soon, but rest assured: you'll meet some of coolest, and weirdest, and nicest people you'll ever encounter in these places. Hostels are cheap, friendly, and great when travelling alone because they give you the option of having adventures with new friends from all over the world for those inevitable times when you get lonely. When you travel with friends from the start, I find that I meet fewer delightful strangers because I don't have to put in that extra effort to make those social connections.  
  2. You can do whatever the hell you want to do, and ain't no one gonna tell you otherwise. I'm 100% a control freak. I know this. I embrace this. I don't like compromise when it comes to travelling because goshdarnit my places to see are cooler than yours, okay, so we are going to the goddamn East German Museum of Randomly Pickled Body Parts Throughout History and I don't want to hear another WORD about it, do you hear? 
  3. Forced Self-Reliance. You really do get to explore how you handle challenges and problems when you're alone in foreign countries where you don't speak the main languages, and there are 15 subway lines and holy shit German is a terrifyingly confusing language and hey, that man is 6'4" and has a tattoo of a vulture on his face, he looks trusting, let's ask him for directions, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH THAT. 
  4. You have more what I call "fuck it" moments. What I mean by that is, when you're overseas, alone, in places you've never been before, with people you'll probably never see again, you automatically give yourself permission to make decisions and choices that you might not make at home because you fear you'll be judged for them, or if you fuck up it'll define the Rest of Your Life. You have more chances to throw your middle fingers to the air, internally (or externally, you do you) yell "Fuck it!" and make ridiculous life choices that you won't have to worry about when you get home. Unless those life choices are like, really bad ones, such as murdering someone or getting a tattoo of a vulture on your face. Don't do those things.  Or do, but know that they might follow you home. There are always exceptions to the Fuck It rule.

CONS

  1. Hostels. Do you really KNOW the one you're sleeping in isn't the one the movie "Hostel" was based off of? Are you in an Eastern European country? Are there strange feral children around trying to force you to stay there? Are strangely attractive people trying to buy you drinks that are probably drugged? You might not want to choose that hostel! (Please note: I was made, under duress, to watch the movie once, was scarred for life, and have since tried desperately to forget everything about it. I thus don't actually remember if it was set in an actual hostel, or even based on a true story, but for the sake of this argument let's go with yes for both.)
  2. You're truly on your own. This can sometimes be a bad thing. Case in point, when you get to a random town in France that has no rooms available in the entire goddamn town, how is that even possible, Rennes, you're not that cool anyway and no one likes you, and you need to somehow figure your life out on your own (or you call your parents panicking and crying, which is TOTALLY a thing I did NOT do seven years ago because I am an ADULT). OR when you're 3 miles into a 6.5 mile mountain trek without a phone, surrounded by murderous sheep and in possession of a back that MIGHT give out on you any second. It's moments like that when self-reliance becomes less romantic and more scary. But you'll make it through! Or you'll be murdered by feral children in the aforementioned Terror Hostel! The choice may or may not be yours!
  3. Remember that "fuck it!" attitude I mentioned above? Sometimes that causes you to have an inflated sense of confidence leading to you doing things like, oh, say, booking what you think is a flight, all in Italian, to discover later on that you have, in fact, booked a train located in a completely different part of the city, all because fuck it, what could go wrong with the fact that you can't Google Translate an online booking form? ...Don't be like me. Learn fluent Italian. 
  4. Loneliness. This is totally a real thing that I have, and will continue to experience in my travels to come. You're all hyped up on your newfound independence and the sense of magical wonder that travelling brings you, and then you arrive at your hostel to find all these cool people with all their cool-looking friends who you're suddenly sure won't like you, and maybe you should just sit in the corner and read your book and oh man, what I wouldn't give for a friend right now this is all of a sudden the actual worst. To that, I say: Breathe. Remember how you had the balls to travel solo in the first place and that makes you an AWESOME BADASS. And seek out that other person reading their book in the same corner as you, who also keeps looking over at those "cool" people with longing. Chances are, they'd love to talk. And they probably don't run a Terror Hostel. I'd say it's like, a 50/50 shot. 

xo,

Clare

 

 

Skye: It's Not THAT Mountain-y, Right? Right?!

My dear friends,

This particular adventure begins in the Skye Outdoor Shop, where I've just purchased a topographical map of the island, midge spray and sunscreen. The goal: hike and wildcamp the next three days up to the top of the island. No people, no technology, no nothing. Just me, my pack, and the open road. Oh, sweet summer child.

The lovely man behind the counter helps me draw a squiggly, seemingly random line along the edge of the eastern edge of Skye- my route from Portree (the main town here) north to The Storr, a giant rock in the middle of goddamn nowhere that apparently I decided I had to see up close. Look, we all have our priorities.

"You can take the road to the Storr, or the Skye Trail, which is a harder path that's about 11 kilometres, but takes you along the coast higher up with better views," he says, eying my lack of proper mountaineering boots with only slightly concealed concern.

"Oh, well, screw the road, that's boring," I reply with all the naive optimism of the young and ill-informed. "Like, I'm not going to be scaling MOUNTAINS along the Trail, right? As long as I don't need mountain climbing experience I'm sure I'll be fine (1)."

"I have to warn you," he adds warily, "the last kilometre is basically a swamp."

"NO problem," I reply. "Nothing I haven't tackled before (2)."

"Just...tell someone where you're going, just in case."

"Oh, of course, for sure," I say, walking quickly backwards out of the shop, fully aware that I had no phone and if I died literally no one would know, because my corpse would probably be dragged away and eaten by mountain sheep. But that wasn't going to happen! I had waterproof hiking shoes (more on THOSE later), my 35lb hiking backpack with my tent and all my possessions, a raincoat- what more could I need to trek across 6.5 miles of mountain (3)?

The first stage of the journey was quite lovely- for 40 minutes of so I was lulled into a false sense of security as I walked comfortably along a low mountain path, eating raspberries as I went along, admiring the scenery, making friends with various woodland creatures, etc. Then I turned a corner and was faced with the foot of the Mountain. I capitalize it because its full name should be "The Giant Goddamn Mountain, Sir" because it commands respect and inspires fear, but that's too long. The Mountain was very tall, and very steep, and had no visible path upwards, just mossy grass and the occasional barbed wire fence.

At that point, I had made friends with a lovely English couple who looked uneasily up towards the mountain as I told them my plan to make it to the Storr. Their pleasant faces grew slightly darker as they examined my goals and found them ambitious at best.

"So...you're probably going to have to hike up the Mountain to get up top so where you can see where you'll be going," the woman said.

I squinted up the mountainside. It looked a lot more daunting this close up. A lot more mountain-y. "Yes," I said. "Yes, it looks like I am going to have to do that."

As it turned out, I did indeed have to scale it. And thus began a series of what I will describe here as "Tests of Strength and Resilience" in the face of a growing sense of terror that I would either fall down a cliff or my back would give out and I would be lying on in a bog somewhere for god knows how long until either sheep ate my face or someone dragged me home. 

But damn it, the sun was high in the sky, the view was gorgeous, and once a Gryffindor sets their mind to something it's basically impossible to dissuade them, fear of death or not. So with more guts than water (4), I trekked on. I was brave. I was an adventurer. I was ARAGORN, damnit, and Skye had nothin' on me.

I'll fully admit: about halfway through I found myself standing at the bottom of yet another valley, staring up at yet another mountain ridge, and thought "I don't actually know if I can physically do this. I should maybe just hike horizontally and end up at the road and go that route instead of trying to pretend I know where I am on this stupid map". To clarify: I hurt my lower back quite badly last year, and while it hadn't been a problem since then, apparently mountaineering with no training beforehand was a life it was NOT all about. I was genuinely worried about doing something that would make returning back to Portree, or frankly anywhere, difficult. I was genuinely worried that "something" might be a simple misstep because, in case I hadn't pointed this out yet, most of Skye is a freaking MARSH. But at this point I had come so far that my brain kinda just said "Fuck it, Blackwood, you're doing this", and my feet kept moving. Slowly, albeit, but onwards they went, in spite of my brain.

The sheep, y'all. They're judging me so hard. They're just standing, everywhere, staring, with their horns and their mountaineering hooves and smug faces and do sheep eat people? Are they like cats and go for the eyes first? I don't know. I need water. Oh my god. This is going to end so badly. Look away, sheep. Look away from my feeble human shame.

At one point, a fellow traveller passed me by (she, unlike myself, dear reader, had hiking boots, hiking poles, and probably a back that worked properly). I asked if she knew where we were- she checked on her GPS (oh yeah, she had that too), and she showed me, before saying, "These mountains are tough. It's been uphill this whole way. But I think the rest of the way should be downhill."

"You think? Is that what your GPS says?" I asked, hope slowly creeping its way back into my eyes.

"Well...it has to eventually...right?" she replied slowly. My hope died once more.

It does not.

I should mention, at this point, that my "waterproof" shoes had been waterlogged since about two hours into what turned out to be a six hour hike. This is probably less to do with their efficacy and more to do with the fact that 75% of the time the watery ground passed over my ankles and just soaked into my socks the sneaky way; but regardless of how it happened, I was walking in wet shoes for four hours. At one point all I wanted to do was throw them off, but then I stepped in a giant patch of sheep poo and that was all the reminder I needed of how terrible a plan that was.

I got to the point where I could see The Storr in the horizon. It sat there, taunting me with how far away it was. Finally, I had cleared the last mountain. I was almost there! I was almost homefree! I was-

Oh, right. The motherfucking SWAMP.

Let's talk about this thing right here. Have you seen that scene in Fellowship of the Ring, where the hobbits are stumbling like mad fools through a swampy marshland hellscape, falling on their faces, and generally being completely out of their element? Well, I feel for those dudes. It was the actual worst. I would have preferred another mountain to climb (5). At least mountains don't send water shooting up to your knees at unexpected points as god-knows-what insects valiantly try to acquire your life fluids. The last kilometre felt like three.

As I stumbled gracelessly onto the dirt path at the end of the journey, I turned around and gave the mountain range both middle fingers, because I am an adult.

Here I was faced with my last potential challenge: I had hoped to find a place to set up my tent and then set off towards another northernly destination in the morning. But three things happened, pretty much simultaneously: 1) It finally started to rain; 2) My back and legs waved a finger and said "Oh HELL no you are never hiking ever again, do NOT make us cut you"; and 3) Everywhere I looked, the land was not flat, and marshy. So, alas, my dreams of wildcamping my way up to the top of Skye were, in that moment, dashed forever. Seriously, y'all, you could not have paid me to do it. My body would. not. let me.

This meant I had to get home. I briefly considered just hiking back along the highway, and then laughed the hysterical laugh of the doomed at the hilarity of such a ridiculous thought.

And that is the story of how I did, for the first time, something I thought I would never do: I hitchiked (6). I dragged my body along until I found a wooden pole sticking out of the side of the road, leaned against it, and stuck out my goddamn thumb towards every car that zoomed past me on its merry way to Portree. I got lucky- five cars in and a lovely couple from Hong Hong stopped and took mercy on the bedraggled, broken backpacker and drove me back into town. They didn't murder me, which was super lovely of them considering at that point I had the strength of a two year old child. We talked about our travels, and I thanked them for saving my life. They chuckled, not fully understanding how serious I was.

At 9:00PM, seven hours after I set out earlier that day, I got back to the Portree carpark where I had set up my tent the night before. I dutifully and painfully set it up again, and then went to the closest bar, found the cheapest whiskey they had, drank all of it, and contemplated my mortality.

I hurt yesterday. I hurt today. This adventure made the one I took the last time I was here look like a leisurely stroll. It nearly destroyed my body and my will to live, was the most physically difficult thing I've ever done- and I'm pretty dang proud of all of it. The one thing I regret was that I didn't get a picture of myself AT the bloody Storr, because at that point it was too late in the evening and it turns out you have to hike up ANOTHER little mountain path to get to the thing and ha HA was that ever not happening. But I did it- I made it those 11 endless kilometres. My back will probably never let me attempt something like it again, at least without proper equipment. Like similar adventures I've had on this island in previous years, it wasn't pleasant; it wasn't "fun"; but it was a test of will and something I can throw down later on in life in case I need to convince someone how super cool and badass I am.

I went back to the Outdoor Shop the next day to thank the guy again for his advice and he seemed genuinely relieved to know I was still alive. His words: "I was hoping you'd make it! I noticed your shoes were for hiking, not mountains, and I was a little worried for you! But it's good you got there!"

Indeed it is, sir. Indeed it is (7).

* * *

Thanks for reading. I figured I would start out the blog with a fun story. Next time I'll probably get into more specifics about backpacking, what I pack, etc., in shorter posts, but I wanted to try to get this down while it was still fresh in mind. Feel free to judge my ridiculous life choices; I certainly do.

xo,

Clare

 

1) This should have been his first tip-off that I was gloriously unprepared for this whole thing. Skye is LITERALLY just mountains. Seriously. Take a second and Google Image that shit. I'll wait.

2) This is incorrect. I have never, in fact, hiked a kilometre through a swamp before. However, I couldn't lose face. I mean, how hard could it be?

3) Answer: hiking poles, hiking boots with ankle support, a GPS, a better understanding of how mountains work, and a fully-functioning back. Those are things I definitely needed.

4) I did not pack enough water. I realized that a third of the way through and began a very systematic rationing system that basically consisted of me allowing myself to have a sip every time I dragged my slowly-collapsing carcass up another peak. Guys, don't be like me. Jesus Christ.

5) This is another lie. I would not have been able to climb it. I would have laid down and accepted my defeat and inevitable sheep murder.

6) I know, mother. I know. And believe you me, I have seen MORE than enough horror movies detailing to me the ways in which this would undoubledly lead to my eventual kidnapping and/or murder. However, everyone had always told me that hitchhiking in Europe was a super safe way to get around, and really, how many serial murderers could there BE in Skye? Like, two at most. I gambled and I WON.

7) Somewhere, a sheep is mourning the meal it never had.

 

This is the face of a woman starting her journey, who has no fear; no worry; no freaking CLUE about what she's up against (namely: the Mountain in the background). This is the end of her innocence. Witness her decline into madness.

This is the face of a woman starting her journey, who has no fear; no worry; no freaking CLUE about what she's up against (namely: the Mountain in the background). This is the end of her innocence. Witness her decline into madness.

This is the route. Note the distinct lack of flatness to the landscape. Sure, the terrain LOOKS firm and walk-able, but never fear: it was anything but. It was 6.5 miles of mossy hell. Beautiful, beautiful mossy hell.

This is the route. Note the distinct lack of flatness to the landscape. Sure, the terrain LOOKS firm and walk-able, but never fear: it was anything but. It was 6.5 miles of mossy hell. Beautiful, beautiful mossy hell.

This is the face of a woman who has just realized she may have made a terrible mistake. Take note, followers: you'll probably be seeing this face more than once on this here blog. 

This is the face of a woman who has just realized she may have made a terrible mistake. Take note, followers: you'll probably be seeing this face more than once on this here blog. 

Behold: The Storr. It's the pointy rock thing in the distance. V. impressive, I know. Not picture: me, dying, taking this picture as proof that I made it before I passed out on the highway. Like a CHAMPION.

Behold: The Storr. It's the pointy rock thing in the distance. V. impressive, I know. Not picture: me, dying, taking this picture as proof that I made it before I passed out on the highway. Like a CHAMPION.