Tips From A Serial Wanderer

Long-time traveler and friend, Agnieszka, sat down with me to discuss everything she’s learned from a life of traveling. Currently residing and studying in Germany, she splits her time with her family in California. Agnieszka has traveled to roughly 45 countries since childhood including: Canada, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bahamas, Iceland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Monaco, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania , Kenya, China, Nepal, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, Dominican Republic


Tanzania, 2012

Where did your desire/love of travel come from?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been raised by a father with an insatiable passion and love for traveling. Since I can remember, he was constantly trying to find any opportunity for an adventure and almost always trying to bring his family along. Traveling with him were and still are the most fun and exciting experiences of my life. 

So where did your dad’s love of travel come from?
It was really his inability to travel. My parents grew up in Poland – which was then a communist country under (official/unofficial?) control of the Soviet Union. Traveling to another country was heavily restricted… people could essentially only travel to other communist/soviet eastern European countries. And when something is forbidden from you, usually that’s something you then really want. Growing up my father actually thought about becoming a sailer because that was then one of the very few opportunities to actually travel and see the world. Instead he immigrated at 23 years old to the US and as soon as he was able to afford it, his (and our) world adventures began.

Nepal, 2017

Do you prefer traveling alone or with others?
That’s a difficult question for me. There is a lot of good in both and I’ve enjoyed both tremendously. Traveling alone is – at least for me – a huge challenge. But it was a challenge that allowed me to learn a lot about myself and how to positively develop as a person. I’m self-conscious and antisocial and really quite nervous around people and so I had a lot of difficulty opening up to incredible people I was meeting during my travels alone and probably missed out on a lot of amazing experiences. But the occasions when someone was brave enough to push through my barriers and invite me along on their adventures or show me kindness and love are memories I will always always always cherish – and I would have probably also never experienced those had I been traveling with others. 

So I am grateful for the times I traveled alone and hope to travel alone again in the future… I had freedom to do and see what I pleased without worrying about what anyone else wanted but I then also had the freedom to meet and spend time with whatever wonderful person I meant along the way and experience so many other awesome things beyond just visiting the next famous site. Traveling with others is wonderful because I then have someone to share not only the incredible moments with but also the difficult times. It is not as lonely and therefore is not as mentally challenging.

Machu Picchu, 2012

Stereotypically, society says that women should not travel alone. Have you also experienced that stigma? Or do you feel that it is equally as safe as long as you’re smart about it?
Of course. As a women I’ve experienced sexism and many kinds of sexual harassment. There are countries I probably would not have traveled to had I been alone and don’t have the desire to visit in the future without a male companion. It is not as equally safe for women to travel in several parts of the world. But that has not and will not prevent me from traveling alone – and I don’t think it should prevent any other woman from doing so. Horrible things happen to people everywhere – even of course in the most “modern” and “safe” countries. In the end, it’s important to be as cautious as possible, avoid any possibly dangerous situations as much as humanly possible, and to always try to plan how to keep yourself safe in any given situation. Also I find that one should also try to respect the culture and customs of whatever place they’re visiting… if you’re visiting a country in which women generally cover their bodies in loose clothing, or cover their hair, or avoid doing a certain thing then I think it’s not only respectful to try to do the same, it also avoids more attention on you and hopefully then keeps you a little more safe.

Do you have any tips for staying in hostels?
I am not particularly easy-going about where or how I sleep, so I spend quite a lot of time and effort in choosing which hostels I will stay at – I proably spend more time on that than on actually planning what I will do outside the hostel once I’m there. I’ve only ever stayed in hostels in Europe and I would find and reserve them on “hostelworld.com.” I would base my decision on reviews, whether they provided breakfast, whether it was located close to the places I wanted to visit but also in a safe area, and of course on price. If you are like me and have a deep dislike of sleeping in dirty beds and showering in disgusting showers, these are my suggestions:

France, 2018
  • Book the hostel in advance. Give yourself time to do research and find the best one… This may however unfortunately require you to not take the cheapest bed in the cheapest hostel. 
  • Try to stay in a hostel in or at least near the areas you’d really like to visit or at least in an area that is said to be safe. I’ve stayed in hostels that fulfilled neither requirement and it made my time in that city/area much less enjoyable. 
  • Unless you can sleep through literally everything, bring earplugs and something to cover your eyes!
  • Bring a bedsheet or a sleeping bag! I am very sensitive about sleeping in unclean sheets and so bringing my own definitely allowed me to sleep much better. (I always brought a thin bedsheet with me which took up very little space in my backpack and which I used to wrap around me while I slept, serving as a mattress & pillow cover and as a blanket.
  • Bring flip flops to wear in the shower and a fast-drying towel!
  • Bring a lock! Oftentimes the hostels would provide lockers or similar to store your baggage but they would rarely come with locks and were of course always in public areas so a lock is great for additional security and sense of peace.
Dubai, 2016

What are 5 must-have essentials when traveling? (Besides the obvious)
I don’t really know if there are essentials other than the obvious. I find more people overpack and worry about bringing so much unnecessary things… unless you plan to go deep into no-man’s-land, you will be able to find and buy soap and other basic essentials. I’ve also never been one to travel and actually try to look attractive so I have no suggestions on essentials for when that is a goal of yours… But I suppose some things that I do try to always bring with me are: a comfortable day backpack/bag that closes all the way, medication for the basic pains and aches that you know works well for you, comfortable shoes, a rain jacket, and some secure way to keep my passport and money on me at all times.

Where is the favorite place/places that you’ve traveled?
I have never had nor will I ever have an answer to this question. I truly have difficulty trying to think of one place that I enjoyed more than the others. I have loved and appreciated every single place I’ve ever been to – even the places where I had unpleasant experiences and the places I’d never want to visit again. From every single adventure I learned something and experienced something good and I am grateful for them all. 

India, 2015

Where’s the most underrated or surprising place you’ve been?
Hmmm… this is also difficult. I suppose I am particularly grateful for my experiences in the economically/systematically “poorer” parts of the world. I am often thinking about my experiences in Tanzania where my father and I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I will never forget how kind the people were to us and how many huge, happy, beautiful smiles I saw and how much laughter I heard. This memory is something I always try to protect in my heart to remind myself to be grateful, to smile, and to just be freaking kind.

How important is the planning before a trip?
Well… I guess that depends on how easy-going you are, what is important for you to achieve from this trip and what you know you want to see or do. I do always try to plan enough in advance so that I can at least book where I will be sleeping and know what I can do the next day, but I have never planned all details of an entire trip. So it’s not necessarily important… I’ve learned that it is much easier and more enjoyable if you allow yourself to “go with the flow”.

Argentina, 2014

How do you find the less touristy places?
I google and read through a lot of blogs and travel websites, I always ask hotel/hostel staff for recommendations, I ask anyone and everyone I meet along the way for their suggestions, and I always try to get a map of the area from the hotel/hostel and I go through all the sites that are usually marked on them. But… I don’t purposely try to avoid the “touristy” places… they’re often touristy for a reason and I think they are worth seeing if it is indeed something you’re interested in. 

Where’s the next place you’re traveling?
I am deeply saddened to say that I have no idea when or where I will be able to travel next. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because my studies allow me to have very little life or time outside of it and when I do have any time free, I am utilizing it to visit my parents in California. I have lots of ideas and dreams and I hope I’ll be able to make one of them a reality sometime soon. With my boyfriend perhaps Norway or South Africa. My father’s next ambitions are exploring Bhutan and Madagascar, snowboarding in Japan and in the Andes, and kitesurfing in Zanzibar.I also would like to try to find an opportunity to travel a little bit alone again.


Travel Tips for First Time Travelers:

  • Be open-minded. Be open to new experiences (foods, languages, customs, behavior, people) and try to find the good in them all.
  • Be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Traveling often includes stressful, frustrating, uncomfortable situations. Breathe through them. It will be OK and it really is all worth it in the end. Either way, it’s a story to tell for later.
  • Be respectful of other cultures. Do your research about what is illegal and what is considered disrepectful in the area you plan to explore. That is also perhaps involves adapting your behavior/appearance. 
  • Please don’t assume everyone speaks english. I find it more respectful to ask if the person speaks english before beginning to speak to them in it. Perhaps even try to at least pick up some basic words – especially the word “thank you” or “please”. And if you’re American, please do try to speak more quietly… we are really generally quite loud and it really can be quite annoying.
  • Don’t pack too much. You can always wash your clothes while traveling or buy essentials like shampoo at a store.
  • Look into local transport – some cities have apps available for subway lines, buses, etc. And it’s good to know a little bit about what is available in an area so you can always try to find the best and cheapest traveling solution. Find a map of the local area and embrace it! And most importantly – try to walk a little! Some of the coolest things I’ve discovered in a city have just been things I’ve walked past on my way to somewhere else.
  • Go with the flow and be flexible. It will make life much easier for you and you’ll discover incredible things. I promise.
  • Don’t keep important or expensive items in the back pocket of your pants or in the front pockets or the very bottom of a backpack. I’ve met so many people who have had things stolen from them and I’ve seen it in action as well. 
  • Try to be cautious and attentive about everything around you. Be aware of your surroundings so you can try to better protect yourself from possible dangerous situations. Err on the side of safety.
  • Traveling doesn’t have to be unaffordable. Try to be flexible with where and when you travel. Spend time looking at multiple websites for flights and hotels/hostels and try out every single date/location combination you can think of and you’ll be surprised what kind of possibilities you’ll find.

As my father always says, “traveling is the best teacher.” You’ll not only learn about other people and ways of life, but also about yourself and how you can be a better you. You’ll find so much gratitude and love for yourself, for others, and for this planet. Don’t be afraid – be open to the challenges that come with traveling and adventuring and embrace what you learn from them. Follow your heart, find what you want from your life, and just go for it. All in. 

Period Cravings Turn me into Ariana Grande

That’s right. Every month when my godforsaken period rolls around, I want to eat all of the food. And by that, I mean everything in sight. I would normally describe myself as quite the #SnackQueen, but as soon as that time of the month rolls around, I can’t help but quote our Lord and Savior:

I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.

Ariana Grande

So, why are we blessed with period cravings? According to healthline.com, it’s all thanks to the hormones! Estrogen and progesterone levels change right before your period starts, causing your diet to be even worse than it was before (if you’re me).

Progesterone: Helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a fertilized egg. Also helps regulate the menstrual cycle.

Estrogen: Basically… regulates the reproductive system as a whole.

To sum it up, we’ve got progesterone in one corner and estrogen in the other ready to whoop my cranky, hangry ASS every time Aunt Flo pays me a visit. Rude.


Let’s talk types of cravings now. During my most recent period I ate two entire boxes of Pop-Tarts in a day and a half. I also wanted all the carbs I could shove into my big mouth.

Is this necessary? No.

Is it needed? HELL. YES.

“I want it, I got it,” remember?

In that same Healthline article, it explains that craving carbs comes from something deeper the body is wanting: serotonin. That “S” word that everyone is on the hunt for these days. Turns out that eating an entire chicken alfredo from Fazoli’s isn’t the answer because it makes you feel more sluggish than before. Yay!

That means don’t even THINK about eating two whole boxes of Pop-Tarts (@ myself) because all those sweets will cause you to crash hard. And you’re already about to get wrecked by mother nature. She is the ultimate HBIC {Head Bitch in Charge for those of you who aren’t #woke.}

Now let’s compare notes. I’ll show you mine, you show me yours. Some of my other must-haves during The Crimson Tide are:

  • Chocolate + Peanut Butter ANYTHING
  • Taco Bell
  • Donuts. Especially with sprinkles. Good lord in heaven let them rain down on me
  • Bread. Bread. BREAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’M OPRAH BECAUSE BREAD! TAKE ME TO PANERA RIGHT NOW! okay wow sorry
  • An order of Burger King fries bigger than Mount Everest. They have the best fries and if you disagree please tell me where to meet so we can fight
  • Almond milk yogurt — SPECIFICALLY vanilla — SPECIFICALLY Silk brand. My mouth waters at the thought.
  • Brownies. Duh.

I could go on but this is starting to get weird. Your turn! Please share some of your fave period snacks/meals/anything with me. I’m always looking to expand my palate because even though my cravings got me feeling like Ariana Grande, my period as a whole can be described in four simple words:

Weekend Escape: Road Trip to Montreal

Sometimes New York is just too much.

It’s too busy, too hectic, the amount of people can be suffocating.

Did you think that I never get tired of the city? That I don’t miss the rolling hills of corn you pass while flying down country roads, windows rolled all the way down? A quietness so immense you can hear a mouse fart?

Of course there are days that I miss it, it’s where I was born and raised.

Most New Yorkers also hit a point when they need out of the city, just a little break, and three day weekends are the perfect opportunity to do just that.

President’s Day weekend 2019 Zoe and I decided to rent a car and road trip it up to Montreal with a few New England stops on the way. Seems like a great, straight forward endeavor right?

LOL.

We had this perfectly planned out trip where we depart at 12.00 p.m. on Friday, hit Providence, RI [drive time of 2 hours from my apartment] to take a peek at what it’s all about, then we go to Boston [drive time of 1.5hrs from Providence] for dinner, then Montreal [drive time of 5.5hrs].

So in total, this trip should’ve taken 9 hours, plus 1.5 for dinner and stops. I created a mapped out google doc that said so.

How long did it actually take us?

OVER THIRTEEN HOURS.

So what caused this delay?

Let’s list it off:

  • Right off the bat, our start time was off, we didn’t leave until 3:30 p.m.
  • Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.
  • Boston has a massive underground tunnel system not for the weak of heart or sensitive GPS systems. I kid you not Boston might as well have its own world underground – it felt kin to that of a Purgatory. Will you make it out of the tunnels? Only if God allows.
  • Last but not least, we took quite a few fresh air stops to awaken our tiring souls

Boston was such a hot mess getting to, realistically we should’ve given up [we really were tangled in those tunnels for so long..] but the level of determination to see Boston was intense.

That being said, when we finally made it, we were enchanted. It was so quaint.. so charming.. it’s been decided a formal trip needs planned there asap. Boston is deserving of it’s own weekend.

Now.. the next moment to highlight the level of delirium..

THE BORDER.

Picture it: It’s 4:00 a.m. and two twenty-somethings, who have been driving for nearly 12 hours, approach the border.

It’s intimidating and doesn’t make sense.

As we approach, there is a sign that says, “WAIT TO PULL FORWARD UNTIL SIGNAL

Frantically, we’re both looking for a signal of sorts – a light maybe??

Then we see an arm extend out of the building ahead, motioning us forward.

Signal?!” we whisper to each other frantically.

So I inch the vehicle forward and we’re faced with a stern looking officer who quickly bombards us with the questions, “Where are you coming from? Why are you visiting? Who are you visiting? Where are you staying? Whose car is this? When are you leaving?

We answer them all reasonably enough, then we get our passports back – all good to go!

So I hit the gas, but the car isn’t moving…

I push the pedal harder, harder, to the floor. The engine is revving so loud in the sleek Dodge Charger but we aren’t moving…

What kind of Canadian border magic is this?!” I wonder.

Then, I assess the car in more detail.

I 100% forgot that I put it in park.

Then it clicks – I just revved my engine at a Canadian Border Patrol Police Officer.

Oh my god.

In the US, a rev of the engine is considered a challenge – what if it’s the same in Canada or what if it’s worse??

I turn to look at him, my mouth open and eyes wide in shock, I owe him some kind of explanation for my weird behavior, right?

I, uh, forgot the, uh” I say rather intelligently while looking between him and my dashboard.

It’s okay.” he stifles a laugh.

While Zoe is next to me whisper-yelling, “DUDE GO GO GO GO BEFORE HE DOESN’T LET US IN!

Queue my zoom out of there.

So that’s how we made it into Canada.

The rest of the weekend was spent stuffing face with various poutines, all the coffees, beaucoup de franglais, hating the way they all say deux [they say it like dur], too much wind in the arctic tundra for us to handle at times, more shopping than our bank accounts would like, and we both got tattoos.

Below are key locations of our weekend 🙂

STAY

Samesun Hostel book on HostelWorld

Samesun Hostel | Montreal, QB

We stayed at Samesun Hostel which was incredibly affordable and if it cost anymore than what we paid I’d be bitter af.

We arrived around 4AM, the guy seemed to have a hard time understanding what was going on and why we were arriving when we did – even though we literally gave them a heads up that afternoon what our latest ETA would be. But he finally got it together and gave us our towels and room keys.

We journey down some stairs and a corridor, before we make it to our room. We open the door and we’re hit with it.

We are hit with the nastiest smell you could ever imagine, and we immediately begin gagging uncontrollably. We frantically glance around the room both looking for a free bed and the source of the smell.

Zoe frantically whispers, “Those are dudes in those beds.

Aw hell nah.

No way are staying in a room with 10 nasty-smellin-ass boys – especially when we paid for an all girls dorm. No, no, no. Not happening sorry.

We rapidly evacuate the room – still gagging – and force the front desk dude to change our room to what we booked.

After that, it was smooth sailing. The beds were hostel-level fine, the breakfast was pretty decent, and it was located in a decent spot where we could walk nearly everywhere.

EATS

Clam Chowder + Lobster Mac & Cheese

The Aviary | Swansea, MA

The Aviary was our New England dinner stop on the way up, and all I have to say is wow, did this place live up to our expectations of everything we thought traditional New England cuisine would be.

The lobster in the lobster mac was so fresh it quite literally got us all hot and bothered.

This poutine was either the duck or the pulled pork…I think it was the duck…

Hippi Poutine | Montreal, QB

This place was straight fire from top to bottom.

The poutine was everything we wanted and then some, and they had the cutest french children’s books everywhere.

It also was incredibly close to the hostel – approx. 10 min walk.

Pain Perdu

Café Chat L’Heureux | Montreal, QB

This is a cat cafe – need I say more?!

I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t 🙂

Café Chat L’Heureux has you remove your shoes upon entering to keep the place clean and cozy for the cats. They also serve a great cappuccino and decadent desserts – each table also has a detailed paper with the cat’s photos, names, zodiac signs, and if they’re available for adoption :’)

Biscuits & Gravy + Breakfast Potatoes

Penny Cluse Cafe | Burlington, VT

Penny Cluse was our exit brunch of the journey. This place echoed the New England quintessential charm and had such a homey diner vibe. It had major Luke’s from Gilmore Girls vibes now that I think about it.

If you find yourself in Burlington, Vermont – this has to be on your list.