Why Choose Between Hostels and CouchSurfing?

When I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, my plans for the summmer were very loose.  I’d used many styles of accomadation during previous travels and had great experiences with with CouchSurfing and hostels. When planning for this summer, I had a hard time choosing which to rely on. Luckily, since I have three months to travel and I can take my time wherever I go, I don’t have to choose! Before arriving, I had booked two days in Isaac’s Hostel and confirmed two days with a CouchSurfing host. The rest of the summer I would plan as I went. 



As mentioned in my previous post, it is very easy to meet fellow travelers while staying at backpacker’s hostels. KC, SC and I hung around together for the duration of our hostel stays. We explored Chester Beatty Library Museum, a place pointed out to us on our free walking tour, and enjoyed three floors of exhibitions, all containing pieces collected by Chester. Fellow backpackers understand the importance of exploring and eating on the relatively cheap. The museum was a free stop and we had a group ‘dinner’ to prepare our tummies for the night’s pub crawl. Dublin has lots of cheap convenience stores. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be a science geek, you can also unexpectedly lose five or six hours at the Trinity College science gallery. KC and I did as much, resulting in my receiving top accolades in balloon pop guessing and Texas Hold ‘Em. That place is heavily indebted to me for some serious science. I do wish we’d been playing for cash, I was that much of a shark at poker. Plus, our subsequent pub crawl with the hostels would’ve be VIP all the way. Kinder eggs for all.
The boys planned a trip to Galway, but I was set up with a CouchSurfing host so we split up the Dream Team and I went to meet up with Stijn. My luck continued with my host selection, as I ended up with a great guy that involved me in his entire weekend. With him, his CSers are his guests instead of just strangers on the couch. It turned out that Dublin had a pretty active and diverse CS community with some of the friendliest people ever. Stijn and I had both gone out late the night before so we started out with a stroll around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. He was quite knowledgable about the area and told me all about the deer wandering about. I’d never seen such color variation in a herd of deer! Once we had some food in us we were able to perk up for a night of fun. Started out at the birthday party for fifty year old Irish twins at a back room of a sushi restaurant with free sushi and a rad DJ. Honestly, I dont know how I can top that event for the rest of my trip. I did mention the free sushi, right? Stijn introduced me to some other CSers and we kept the night going with loads of dancing. 
Depending on your style of travel, quiet days where you spend most of the time at a table eating and drinking tea can be a major advantage of hanging with a CSer over other hostel travelers. Since I have 3 months of traveling, I welcome the occasional low key day. Plus, a nice meal and tea is tops after a late night. I even splurged on what ended up being an adorable and delicious chocolate mousse dessert served in a baby Guinness glass! Seriously, look at that picture and tell me that isn’t the cure to anything that ails ya. 

Another big advantage of a local host is their knowledge of events around town. Yea you can ask the front desk at the hostel for recommendations, but often they have a select list of places/tours/events that they promote. My host knew about a FREE comedy show in the basement of a pub. One that I’d actually eaten in with KC and SC (Stag’s Head). We got there just in time to snag some of the last seats right up front, just to the side of the stage. Not only are there five acts for no charge, but they also handed out chocolate candy treats during intermission. Allegedly, they usually pass out ice creams. I highly recommend trying to hit up a show there on a Sunday or Monday evening. I had actually planning on leaving the next day, but Stijn told me about a group that was heading to Dun Laoghaire for a day by the seaside. He graciously agreed to let me stay an extra night and got me all of the information I’d need for the next day’s event. It turned out to be a fantasticly sunny day, perfect for the trip. There were a few people from the previous nights out in attendance, but loads more new faces that were eager to be friends. I was not actually brave enough to jump into the water, but a handful of the group actually went in. When there are swimmers wearing thick wetsuits to get in, thats usually my cue to simply enjoy the view. 
All in all, I think I saw most of what I wanted to see around Dublin. The two approaches both covered some really fantastic experiences and I definitely want to keep up with my trend of exploring different areas with travelers and locals. It also seems like the weekends are the best time to hit up a CSing host, as they are usually free from work to show you around and the hostels are sometimes pricier then. Next stop, Belfast!

In My Pack: (3 Month) Summer European Adventures

I’m just one sleep from waving farewell to Louisville at the bus station and starting my long journey to get to my long journey. For anyone just now tuning in, I am spending 90 days traveling around different European countries by myself. I have a very, very basic itinerary, a Euro Railpass, and whatever fits into my backpacker’s pack. During my three months traveling around Europe I’ll need a variety of clothing options. Chilly days are still a threat even in the middle of summer.

Flight between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
That may or may not be ketchup wrapped in plastic for my
scared vegetarian in Africa ways. 

The closest I’ve come to needing to prepare for a trip of this magnitude was my month adventure around South Africa in 2008. I spent 4 weeks split between road tripping along the Garden Route and studying abroad with a group from my university, learning about local Wildlife Management practices.

Last summer, Rachel and I had the luxury of an entire car’s worth of space to cram in everything we could possibly hope to never need and then some. We had an entire bin full of our clothes. Another, even larger, with nearly all the food we’d eat the entire trip. Thanks, Sam’s Club! Not to mention, camping gear, computers, our letter writing box, gifts we bought along the way, etc. I honestly think at one point we just walked around my house in New Mexico grabbing whatever we wanted to toss in. SO MUCH SPACE!

Both trips, I surely over packed, but we went everywhere by rental car or vans, so I didn’t really have to lug everything around regularly. For this trip everything needs to fit onto my Gregory backpack. I’m unfortunately not sure of the model or even size. I bought it a few years ago at a local shop’s sale and did very little research (other than asking the sales man which fit me best). I’ve used it a few times and had no complaints.

I’ll have to report back at the end of my trip on the quality of my packing choices, so by no means is this current list a recommendation of any sorts. I did however check out several other travel bloggers for inspiration: Her Packing List, A Dangerous Business, Travel Fashion Girl. Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes.

Without much further adieu, here is what is coming with me in my Gregory backpack for three months and an unknown number of countries across Europe!

I’ve already removed a pair of shorts from this original
selection. What else won’t make the cut?

Clothing

  • 2 bras – black/nude
  • 1 sports bra
  • 6 undies
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair zip-off hiking pants
  • 3 shorts (1 for sleeping & hiking)
  • 5 tshirts (+3 for passing out to Gold Star Hosts)
  • 1 tanktop
  • 1 button up flannel (my token Adventure Shirt!)
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 handkerchief
  • 1 leggings
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 monokini
  • 1 dress
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair base layers – leggings and undershirt
  • 1 pair gloves and warm hat
Shoes
  • hiking shoes
  • chacos
  • I told myself that makeup was the last thing to go into my
    toiletries bag IF there was room. There was! This is all I’m taking.
    Already don’t wear makeup daily, but I like options.
  • extra shoe laces

Gear  (Bold Kept in Day Pack)

  • ipad (and keyboard)
  • camera
  • water purifier
  • chargers
  • dry sack
  • compression sacks
  • camping stove
  • mess kit (full or 1/2?)
  • pen & sharpie
  • money belt (mostly for organization)
  • wallet
  • nalgene, insert, and cover
  • travel tea things
  • sleeping bag
  • tent (backpacking style)
  • sleeping pad?
  • travel towel
  • head lamps
  • sun glasses
  • deck of cards
  • lock
  • leatherman
  • REI green day sack
  • First Aid Kit
  • Nifty Business Cards
  • Plug adapter
  • French and German phrasebooks 
  • headphones
This is slightly smaller than a TicTac box.
All my hair do-dads. Hair ties, bobby pins, and 2 clips.

Toiletries

  • toothbrush
  • Dr. Bronners
  • diva cup
  • razor? 
  • make up
  • hair things
  • wet wipes
  • mini hair brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Contacts and solution
  • Glasses and case

Important Papers – and copies of all!

  • passport
  • flight itinerary
  • bank statement
  • travel insurance papers
  • Railpass 
  • SCUBA cert papers
  • Kentucky for Kentucky and WHY Louisville Stickers (also for Gold Star Hosts/New Friends)
My two bags all ready to go!

The entire time I was organizing and making/moving piles around in my room it seemed like I was packing SO MUCH. But now that I’ve gotten everything in my big pack and day pack, I have extra space in both! And it’ll lighten as I use things and give away a few shirts. I consulted a few trusted friends and you’ll notice that several item did NOT make the final cut. Others I just added moments ago. 

I’m also bringing the book I’m nearly finished with, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, on the bus so I can get that finished and sent off to Rachel. We started it together last summer during our travels and I’ve been hogging it! Also an extra envelope and some paper because I owe a letter to one of my pen pals (and previous CouchSurfing host!).

Question of the Day:
What do you think of my packing job? Should I chuck anything out? Did I forget anything? You’ve got 2 days!






As a sidenote, the majority of my future blog posts will be typed/posted from my iPad. The blogging app has improved lots, but still doesn’t lend itself for much in the way of photo arrangement. I’m also not sure if there’s a spell check. I’m secretly a horrid speller. Hope you can excuse some less than perfect posts. I’ll be going back and prettying them up as I am able. I appreciate you, gentle reader!

How to Minimize Their Worries

Tell friends and family you’re planning on traveling around Europe for three months and you will likely elicit several “are you insane”s, a handful of “please don’t die”s, and hopefully a few “oh wow, may I come along”s. People are going to worry. It’s unavoidable, and while there’s nothing you can do to stop it entirely (hey, people care about you, deal with it) you can minimize their concerns by being a conscientious and prepared traveler.

Share Your Travel Itinerary

Whether you prefer to meticulously plan your trip, or keep things flexible as you go, it is still beneficial to keep track of several vital details concerning your adventures. I have found that a Google Drive excel document is a great way to organize your thoughts and plans, as well as an easy way to share them with friends and family. You have the option of allowing for editing or just viewing privileges. When Rachel and I planned our 2012 National Park Road Trip, we had to communicate from different states and while on very different schedules. We could work on the same file independently or together as we found time.

My shared Travel Itinerary. Other tabs in file include Budget and Packing List.


Have Some Travel Experience

While this summer will be my first solo traveler experience, I have been around the global block a time or two. I would not feel comfortable going on this trip alone had I not spent years learning how to be a responsible world traveler during trips to Spain, Greece, Italy, South Africa, and Thailand. During my 2013 summer travels I hope to stay in hostels, CouchSurf, and do a little camping along the way, all of which I have used before as primary means of lodging. I made sure to update my CouchSurfing profile, and thanks to spending time as a host, I have several recommendations from surfers and fellow travelers.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from going for their ideal vacation or any wild, exotic adventures.  Dream big. So big. But once you have your own grandiose plans for world domina…err, travels, then don’t be afraid to build up to them. Or at least find a partner-in-crime whose experience you trust. 

What you want is a genuine comfort with both how your travels should go and, perhaps more importantly, could go. The best you can do is to show others and yourself that you can hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Reconnect with Friends Abroad 

Part of my initial comfort with this three month long trek around Europe was the offer from a dear friend to let me crash at his flat in London whenever I needed. He became my safety net during early planning along with a built-in companion for several outings. My friend has since moved back state-side, but your safety net may still be living abroad studying, traveling, volunteering, turning in their dang work visa forms on time. Don’t be afraid to dig down deep in your friend/acquaintance reserves, especially if they are also away from home. I messaged friends I’d studied with at different internships, friends who had lived in New Mexico, even an old high school friend who has been studying/living in France! She had lots of great advice to share. Don’t underestimate how refreshing even a little bit of familiarity can be when away from home for long stretches of time.

Wild tree critters in Redwoods National Park.

Don’t know anyone abroad yet? Now is the time to start looking for extra special guest stars for your adventures. I admittedly dropped the blog updating ball last summer, so you didn’t get to hear about Rachel’s and my visit from our friend Chelsea for a short leg of our road trip (Portland to San Francisco)! It was a real test to rearrange our mound of luggage in my car to leave a nook for our third party member, but Chelsea brought a freshness to our adventures (as well as lots of great rock tidbits). This summer, Chelsea has agreed to fly out and meet up with me in July! We’re hoping to meet up in Vienna and make our way to Prague. We’ve known each other for years (and years and years) and when we were wee little Chelsea and Meridith, trying to coerce my parents into letting me go places/do things with the reassurance that “It’s ok, Chelsea’s parents are letting her go” was a bit more difficult. Now, instead of fearing I’ll lemming my way off a bridge after her, they will rest assured (for at least a week of my journey) that I have another smart young woman to travel with.



Check in Occasionally


We all hopefully learned this lesson in high school right after finally getting that drivers license freedom we’d been craving. If Mom wants you to call and check in if plans change, then you had better do that. I don’t know how my mother could ground me at the age of 26 from a continent away, but I know she has ways and I still fea…respect her enough to not cause her and the rest of my friends and family any unneeded, additional stress. Skype, iMessage, FaceTime, and even mail (e- OR snail) are all glorious modern marvels that can help facilitate communication provided you have WiFi (or postage stamps and patience).

Your parents (and/or other older relatives) don’t know how to video chat? Sit down with them before you leave and help then set up an account and do a few trail chats. You do not want to try and walk them trough the process from abroad in the middle of a hostel common room. I plan on bringing my iPad along with me as my main means of communication and interneting, but if you don’t want to drag along any extra technology in your pack try and find hostels/hotels that offer internet access or even politely ask your CouchSurfing host if they’d mind if you sent a few email updates or tweets to reassure those waiting to hear from you back home that you’ve lived to see another magnificent day.

Travel Insurance

I was admittedly on the fence about this purchase at first. Mostly because obviously nothing could possibly go wrong with my trip, right? A little bit of research and talking with other travelers led me to the decently priced World Nomads travel insurance. For three months of coverage I paid less than $200! As a general disclaimer, this choice may not be for you. Be sure and do your own research that incorporates your own destination(s) and planned activities. Don’t forget to print out pertinante insurance information and keep it on your person while traveling!

Restart Your Blog!

A great communication tool, but also a challenge to keep up with, blogs can be a great way to share your adventures and lessons with readers at home (or elsewhere abroad). I admittedly do not have the most solid of track records with keeping up with this blog, but I’m trying and therefore nobody can criticize me. If blogging isn’t for you, there’s a myriad of social media outlets you can use to update everyone. Twitter. Tumblr. Instagram. Youtube. Facebook. Get creative! Of course, you do want to find a nice balance so you can experience everything and everyone around you.

Question of the Day:
How do you keep in touch with friends and family when living or traveling apart from them?