A Love Letter to My Backpack

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Dear Backpack (or “This F*cking Thing” which I so rudely called you when we were sprinting to catch that train in San Sebastián. You’re not the one who’d woken up with a sangria hangover),

A love letter to my backpack, which made me the traveler I am today.

Image Credit: Chad Madden (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

Love at First Sight

I’ll never forget the moment we met.

Before my post-graduation trip to Europe, I spent months looking for a backpack online. Researching for just the right size and style.

How many liters? Top or front loading? Color? Brand?

When you came out of that big, brown Amazon box, I knew it was meant to be. With your smooth zippers and “Hoodoo Red” exterior, you were beautiful.

More importantly though, your durability was obvious. My flimsy JanSport had nothing on you.

I could (and still) foresee us having many adventures together.

A love letter to my backpack, which made me the traveler I am today.
Image Credit: Holly Mandarich

The Ultimate Travel Buddy

I’m not the only person with whom you’ve seen the world. You also spent a month in Europe with that girl from my book club.

I was nervous to let you go but knew you were up to the task.

Kelly didn’t believe you could hold everything she needed for five weeks abroad, but that was nothing. Earlier that year, you’d carried three months worth of clothes when we went to Madrid!

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

In your case, it’s the 46-liter Porter style from Osprey. God bless your padded shoulder straps and front panel organization.

It never fails to put smile on my face when I think about all the money we’ve saved on baggage fees. You’re the maximum carry-on size.

Suck on that, Ryanair.

A love letter to my backpack, which made me the traveler I am today.
A quick pic before we boarded our flight to Mexico City!

Perfect in Every Way

Do you remember the first hostel we ever stayed in? It was the Flying Pig in Amsterdam.

We were in line to check in behind some travelers with the biggest backpacks I’d ever seen. You and a pal could have fit inside one of them!

They say size matters, and while it definitely does, bigger is not always better.

Before we met, I was a serial over-packer. Spring break my sophomore year, the airline almost charged me extra for the 50-lb duffel I’d packed for one week in Florida!

Your 46 liters have changed me.

When I learned how to pack light, I realized how little I actually need to be happy. I relish the simplicity. It’s so liberating to narrow down all my belongings to a single backpack — one I can manage to carry without wanting to die.

The only thing you could never possibly hold is all them memories we’ve made.

A love letter to my backpack, which made me the traveler I am today.
Image Credit: Lukas Robertson

All Our Adventures

From Madrid to Mexico and all those cities in between, you’ve been a constant in my life as a traveler. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time I used a rolling suitcase.

You’ve opened my eyes to the wonders of backpacking. Because of you, I’ve learned that travel is more than just a vacation. It’s a means of education.

With you by my side (or on my back), I’ve learned how to be independent. I embrace spontaneity and seek adventure.

The day we met, my life changed forever.

For everything we’ve seen and done, I’ll always be grateful to you. The best way I can think to honor you is by hitting the road again.

How does South America sound?

Love your backpacker,

Alex

What It’s Really Like to Stay in a Hostel

This post originally appeared on Medium.

After college, I desperately wanted to travel around Europe. I’m not sure where exactly this idea came from, but sometime before my senior year, I got it in my head that I wanted to backpack.

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel.

Image Credit: Grégoire Jeanneau (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette) 

I’d never personally known anyone who had backpacked around Europe. But, thanks to the internet, I had no trouble finding a wealth of other people’s experiences to draw upon. Thus, my trip planning began.

It became evident early on that the majority of backpackers opted, for one reason or another, to stay in hostels. Many backpackers have limited financial resources, and hostels are budget-friendly accommodation.

As a soon-to-be college graduate with only a couple thousand dollars to spend on five weeks in Europe, budget-friendly sounded right up my alley. So, in May 2014, I booked three nights at one of Amsterdam’s most famous hostels: The Flying Pig. I expected to save a few bucks in what I’d read was a fairly expensive city, but other than that, I had no idea what I had in store.

Three years and nearly 100 hostels later, here’s what it’s really like to stay in a hostel:

Hostels are fun.

Have you seen “Euro Trip”? I haven’t, but I think I could argue that I’ve lived it.

I’ve eaten space cake in Amsterdam, danced all night in Ibiza, hiked the coastline in San Sebastián, found secret bars in Prague and drank liters of beer in Munich.

I’ve done all those things and had countless other experiences with people I’ve met in hostels.

Hostels, generally, attract open-minded travelers a.k.a people who want to make new friends and have a good time. I’ve had meaningful conversations and established relationships with people I would otherwise never have met all because we decided to stay in the same place.

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel
Prost! I can barely lift that stein to take a sip!

There’s something for everyone.

I prefer to stay in hostels that cultivate a fun environment for travelers to interact.

I’ve stayed in hostels that have organized everything from walking tours to beer pong tournaments. Many hostels have a common area for travelers to hang out. I try to stay in hostels with their own bar, so I can take advantage of happy hour specials.

Even if you’re not in the mood to party, you can still stay in a hostel! Pay attention to reviews other travelers have written on sites like Hostelworld.

If I’m not feeling up to a big night out, I look for accommodation in a small hostel. I’ll sometimes even spring for a private room. The private room will definitely run you more, but when you compare it to a centrally-located hotel, the hostel wins nine times out of 10.

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel.
Each and every hostel has its own vibe. Image Credit: Mark Adriane

You absolutely need a lock.

The best hostels feel like home, but don’t let that warm, fuzzy feeling lull you into a false sense of security. You’re still sleeping next to strangers!

I always travel with a combination code padlock and make a point of only staying in hostels that provide lockers. Every time you leave the room, lock up your belongings. I mean it!

If you don’t, it’s not a matter of if something will get stolen but, rather, a matter of when. Nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting robbed.

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel.
Use your padlock for what it was intended to do: keep your shit safe! Image Credit: Rubén Bagüés

Hostels are clean.

One thing I absolutely refuse to compromise on is cleanliness, and in all the hostels I’ve ever stayed in, I’ve never had to.

Hostel staff and guests work together to keep the place fit for human inhabitants. Don’t stay in a hostel if you expect other people to pick up after you. Wash your own dishes. Take your hair out of the drain. When everyone does their part, it makes hostel life better (and cleaner) for all.

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel.
No one’s asking you to scrub the floor with a toothbrush. Just pick up after yourself! Image Credit: Brooke Lark

You can get a good night’s sleep.

Like my trusty padlock, I never stay in a hostel without a pair of earplugs and a sleeping mask.

Three years ago, I tossed and turned my first night in a four-bed dormitory. Every little sound, from my roommates unzipping their suitcases to toilets flushing down the hall, seemed magnified to foghorn proportions.

Earlier this summer, I stayed in a 200-bunk circus tent in Munich where I got two excellent nights of sleep. The difference? Cheap drugstore earplugs and the sleeping mask from my airplane amenity kit. You can have your cake and a good night’s sleep too!

Here's what it's really like to stay in a hostel.
Bored with hotels and Airbnbs? Try a hostel! Image Credit: sabrinayrafa

Have you ever stayed in a hostel? Did you love it? Hate it? How do my observations compare to your experience?

4 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Travel

This post originally appeared on Medium

Days after I graduated from college, I arrived in Amsterdam. After months of planning, the day had finally come. I was off on my European backpacking adventure.

Theses are 4 things I wish everyone knew about travel.

Image Credit: Ludovic Fremondiere (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

Over the course of five weeks, I visited 12 cities in four different countries. I learned about language, history, culture, food and, even, myself.

But above all, I learned about travel.

Now, four years and many trips with my trusty backpack later, here are four things I wish everyone knew about travel:

1. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

One of the things I love most about travel is how many options you have. Should I go to Europe or South America? Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower or take a cruise down the Seine? Travel by train or bus? Eat jamón ibérico or paella? Sleep in a hostel or hotel? The choice is yours, my friend!

Use those options to your advantage! If you do your research and understand your choices, travel doesn’t have to be expensive. There is a trip for every budget! When I’m traveling, I prioritize in order to spend money on what’s most important to me. For example, I stay in hostels and eat the occasional grocery store sandwich for dinner in order to have money to spend on a fun night out. Other travelers might prioritize private rooms and nice dinners over spending money on nightlife activities.

When you’re traveling on a budget, you won’t be able to do everything. Instead, prioritize what’s important to you and spend accordingly.

2. You’re not going to get murdered in a hostel.

I wonder if Director Eli Roth knew how many people he was going to scare away from staying in hostels when he released Hostel back in 2006. PSA: Hostels — even ones in eastern Europe — are not scary!

Since my first backpacking trip in 2014, I’ve stayed in nearly 100 hostels. I can tell you what it’s really like to stay in a hostel. They are a great choice for budget-conscious travelers. But even if I have the money to spend on a hotel or Airbnb, I often prefer staying in hostels because they are a fun environment for travelers to meet and interact. I’ve had some of the best nights of my life with people I met in hostels.

Not into bunk beds or sharing a bathroom? Most hostels offer a variety of accommodation including single-sex and private rooms.

These are four things I wish everyone knew about travel.
Image Credit: RawPixel 

3. There are no “must-see” destinations.

When I was planning my first backpacking trip, I was getting advice from everyone. You need to visit London. Don’t miss El Prado. You can’t go to Venice and not ride in a gondola!!! It was overwhelming.

The most important thing to remember about your trip is this: it’s your trip.

Visit the cities you want to visit. See the sights you want to see. Eat at the places you want to eat. Travel the way you want to travel.

When I went to Rome, I realized I didn’t have the time, money or energy to visit both the Colosseum and Vatican City. I prioritized and spent a memorable day exploring the Colosseum. Some people are shocked I went to Rome and didn’t go to Vatican City. How could you?! But, I’m content with my decision. Advice is great, but don’t let family, friends, guidebooks or travel bloggers pressure you into an itinerary.

4. You can do it alone.

This summer, I traveled solo for the first time ever.

Since I graduated from college, my boyfriend has accompanied me for the majority of my adventures. I have also done several trips with friends and various family members. This July though, I backpacked on my own.

On a postcard I sent my parents from Berlin, I wrote that traveling alone had led me to discover a different part of myself. Not only did I become comfortable doing things on my own, but I actually enjoyed it. Yay, independence!

Traveling solo reignited my sense of adventure. I took an overnight bus to Amsterdam, couch surfed in Poland and stayed out till sunrise with a tour guide I met in Berlin. In your face, comfort zone!

These are four things I wish everyone knew about travel.
Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

 

What do you wish everyone knew about travel?