Category Archives: Travel Tips

The Best of Ubud Bali

Ever heard of a magical Indonesian island called Bali? Chances are, you have. And if you’re into yoga, meditation or healthy living, you’ve also probably heard about a “must visit” destination called Ubud. 

When I first arrived, I liked Ubud, but I was conflicted. It felt so touristy. I wondered if I had made a mistake going there. With time, I figured out how to enjoy the best of Ubud, while also getting a taste of the “real Bali”. It took me a few days to figure this out, and this post is intended to share the best of Ubud with you, to help save you the struggle of figuring out how to fall in love with Bali… 

Rice terraces in Ubud

If you come to Ubud, these first five are my “must do, can’t miss” experiences, and then afterwards I’ll go into detail on places to eat, sleep, explore, etc., but first…

Top Five Things to Do While in Ubud


1. Take a bicycling tour with Sepeda Bali Cycling and Adventure.

I remember when someone first recommended I take a cycling tour, I scoffed at the idea once I arrived and felt the Bali heat. However, a week or so later, an ex-pat friend asked if I was keen to spend a day exploring the countryside of Bali on bike, led by a local, and I figured why not give it a go. I’m so glad I did, because it was *amazing*! If you’re at all curious about seeing the “real Bali”, this is the way to do it! Our tour took us to the luminescent Tegalalang rice terraces, then up to Mount Batur, where we had a tasty local meal to fuel us up while overlooking the majestic mountains and lake. We then entered the forest where we mountain biked past farmers’ fields, and stopped at a few various farms to learn about {luwak poo} coffee production, bamboo wind chime production, and to hydrate with a coconut water and fresh fruit pit stop before making our way to a waterfall for swimming. We finished the bicycling at the tour guides’ home where a delicious typical meal had been prepared for us. After eating we went to a black sand beach to watch the sun set, then returned back to Ubud. The authenticity and organization of this tour is unparalleled. The twin brothers who are running it are excellent ambassadors for Bali, and take great care of you along the way. Also, with this tour, you don’t need to be uber fit to participate- it’s nearly all downhill, making for easy riding. Also, don’t let the 600,000 rupiah price tag hold you back- it is worth every single penny. You can also customize the tour more to your preferences. 

Bike tour in Bali
Bike tour in Bali

2. Go to ecstatic dance at Yoga Barn on Friday night or Sunday morning…or both! 

Yoga Barn has quite the hype in Bali, but it earns it. The place is massive, attracts a good-vibe crowd, and has classes and events that are worth the price tag. However, if you can only make it to one thing, go and experience an ecstatic dance! Everyone joins together to dance their hearts out to some amazing rhythms and tunes. The beats are awesome, and it is incredibly freeing to let your body move however it wants in an atmosphere of no judgement and pure positive energy. My advice? Close your eyes, and dance how you feel. Another piece of advice? Get there early to get a ticket (the line starts about 2 hours before the event, but after you get your ticket you’re free to leave until it starts) or if you arrive and they’ve reached the 150 person limit, just stay and dance outside on the deck, and check about availability after the event starts, because sometimes people who originally got a ticket don’t actually come back to go in. If you go on a Sunday morning, do yourself a favor and go to a kundalini yoga class first (~7:30am), then line up for your ecstatic dance ticket when the class ends. It’s perfect timing, and you get to experience both an excellent yoga class, and attend an epic ecstatic dance session. Win-win. 

3. Check out the restaurant Pomegranate up in the rice fields above Ubud. 

Sure, it’s about a 20 min walk from the center of Ubud, but that’s exactly why you want to check this place out- because it’s beautifully nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The restaurant is in the middle of a rice paddy, and it is so peaceful; a perfect place to lounge and sip a traditional Balinese coffee, or to have a full on fresh and tasty meal. There are also a few artists stalls up along the path, so you can enjoy a browse of beautiful artwork in a tranquil setting along the way. 

4. Get a massage or treat yo’ self to a spa! 

When I was in Ubud, I went to a place called Pertenin and indulged in a four hand massage, followed by a coffee body scrub, a green tea body mask, and a soak in a flower bath. It was 2.5 hours of pleasure in a professional and upscale spa, all for approximately $25. After being spoiled like this, I don’t know if two hands will ever satisfy me the same way! 

Spa day in Ubud
Relaxing with a spa day in Ubud

5. Check out a fire dance or kecak performance. 

Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s really different than anything you’ve ever seen. The whole performance is set to the vocal rhythms of many men seated in a circle around a glowing fire. There are a few main characters of the show, and they all have amazing traditional costumes. Also, pay attention to the way the beautiful women move their fingers and arms as they dance- it’s almost like they’re doing a really smooth version of “the robot” as their fingers click into a new position with each “click chuck click chuck click chuck” of the men’s voices.
 
Now, apart from these top tips to enjoy Ubud, let me give you one solid piece of advice- get a scooter and get out of town! Whether you want to rent one yourself (they’re super cheap, about 60,000 rupiah/ day) or if you’d rather have a driver, either way, there is so much to see in the surrounding area that it makes Ubud a great base. 

My favorite driver ever is named Gede, and is an excellent tour guide and host. His whatsapp number is: +62 813 37003004 and his email is: gedetejabali@gmail.com.

 He will give you a fair price and help you customize a trip based on your interests and needs. Tell him Holly sent you. I spent a whole day with him and he was professional, fun, and informative. I only wished I had met him at the start! 

Now, allow me to give you a few pointers that will further help you to enjoy your time in Ubud. 

Where to stay?
Stay in a Homestay! 

Homestays allow you to have a peek into the traditional Balinese way of life. You will see the women making the offering baskets, canang, each day and placing them around the housing compound each morning. Each family has their own temple on their property, and if you ask some questions you can learn more about the Balinese traditions. 
I moved around a bit while in Ubud, and a few places I came across which I really liked were as follows: 

KT Kuaya Homestay: by far the nicest place, with super clean, fresh and spacious rooms, a gorgeous garden, and a lush pool fit for a queen. It includes a tasty breakfast and the family is nice, although not much for suggestions. Strong wifi. Higher end, with a minimum price tag of 250,000 Rupiah per night. 

Duana’s Homestay: located on the same property as KT Kuaya but a bit less expensive, at around 180,000 Rupiah per night, still including breakfast. The room wasn’t as pristine as Kuaya, but you are still staying in the same gorgeous garden compound, and I had a better time communicating with this family. Each morning I watched the father meticulously groom the frangipani tree and it was incredibly tranquil. Patchy wifi, but it works. 

Jati Homestay: lovely staff with decent English. Rooms have private patios overlooking lush green space and the common area is really peaceful. It’s set back off Hanoman street, so you’re right by everything, yet it’s still quiet. The owner is an artist so you will see his pieces in progress on the property. Around 180,000 Rupiah including breakfast. Strong wifi.  

Wayan’s Family Homestay: shared rooms, hostel-style. Clean and with a beautiful garden space and swimming pool, breakfast and wifi included, located off Hanoman. 
The places I have mentioned are best if you don’t have a scooter and want to be able to easily walk to the center of Ubud and around. If you have a scooter, I’d suggest staying further out of town. Although all these places are their own little reprieve from the bustling streets, the further out of Ubud you go the more tranquil life will be. 


Where to eat? 

Embrace both sides of Ubud- the local Warungs as well as the health-food influenced cafes and restaurants. 

Tasty traditional Balinese cuisine

My favorite Warung’s are:

Warung Makan Bu Rus, which teaches you not to judge a book by its cover. When you first approach it off the street it looks like a hole in the wall, but when you enter you can sit in the back garden and it’s gorgeous! If you go in the evening there is the soft glow of lanterns and candles, and typical Balinese music on a stereo. I went alone two nights in a row, and both nights ended up meeting other fabulous solo travelers over dinner. All the food is fairly priced, freshly prepared and delicious. Try the Cap Cay or GadoGado. Also, this street has beautiful temples on it, so take a stroll here during the day. 
Warung Bui Don– a new-ish restaurant that is simple, clean, affordable and delicious. Here I had my first ever bowl of Cap Cay and it changed my life. For a bowl of soup, some rice and a fresh fruit drink I paid only 35,000, and that was including a 5,000 tip for the super sweet staff. Tipping is not expected in Bali. 
Warung Popesh– tasty, affordable, authentic, and on a cute side street which is worth a wander. 

Warung Baih Baih – full of people enjoying the locals specials like Mei Goreng (fried noodles) and reasonable prices. 
And now for more western influenced restaurants: 

Kafe – all around delicious health food with hearty salads, mixed juices and a variety of coffees. Very chill place to either lounge or sit on the patio and watch the world pass by. Free wifi, but they charge for a glass of water. 

Kismet– tons of tasty options, again hearty salads, mixed juice concoctions, desserts and coffees. Free wifi. Nice sidestreet location. 
Bali Buda– Pure yum. Got the crunchy salad special two times in a row and was in love with its hearty wholesomeness. Strong coffee and a variety of juice drinks.

 
My all-time favorite off the beaten path place: Pomegranate Restaurant. Nestled in the rice fields about a 15-20 min walk above Ubud, it is the perfect place to feel at peace and remove yourself from the city. I didn’t eat here but all the food that surrounded me looked and smelled incredible. My traditional Balinese coffee was just what I needed to relax and recharge. 

Want to do some yoga and wellness activities?
My favorite places were Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive yoga studios. 
Yoga Barn is full of hype, but it earns it. When you go there you will most likely meet other cool, conscious travelers, and you will no doubt experience a first class yoga class or course. I went for kundalini yoga, both times on Sunday morning, and both times left me buzzing with positive energy. Another thing you absolutely must experience while in Ubud is ecstatic dance at the Yoga Barn, either Friday night or Sunday morning, or both! Get there early to get a ticket. The recent trend is to be there about 2 hours early, get a sticky note with a number (capped off at 150 people), then come back just before the dance starts to pay and get your wristband. It’s worth it. And if you don’t get in, hang around, dance on the deck outside, and see if they have open spaces about 15 minutes after the event starts. Inevitably, some people don’t show up to claim their space. 

Radiantly Alive is a gorgeous yoga studio set overlooking a lush forest. I went for a morning gentle flow session and really enjoyed the practice and the space. It’s also right up the road from Bali Buda, so indulge in a bite after your yoga, perhaps with newfound friends! 

Want to see some art? Apart from enjoying looking at all the local artisans, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Blanco Museum if you enjoy art and creativity. Artist, Antonio Blanco, was originally from Spain and married a Balinese dancer, then moved to Bali and began painting with his main subject being beautiful, bare-breasted women. The building is architecturally interesting and full of color, and the paintings often have specially designed frames to compliment the artwork. 

Into Temples? Go to Goa Gojah, the elephant cave temple! It’s just a few kilometers outside of Ubud and had a really cool, intricately carved entryway to an ancient cave temple where monks used to meditate. 

The Goa Gojah Elephant Cave entrance

Like outdoor walks? Check out the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s a lovely path that takes you up and out of central Ubud, walking through rice paddies and artists’ villages. Take it easy, take it in, and feel free to pause and enjoy a tasty meal or refreshing bevvy along the way. Also, take a moment and talk with the artists. Learn about their artwork. It’s a great insight into Balinese culture. 

Balinese artist with typical wooden painted eggs
There’s obviously much more to be found in Ubud, but let this serve as a starter kit to having a great time in this blissful Balinese city. 

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

Any other suggestions for Ubud? Feel free to share below! 

Things to Do While You Find Paradise in Pokhara Nepal

Do you love good food? Do you love meeting new and interesting people? Do you love nature, spectacular views, and hiking or trekking? Do you love the convenience of a tourist town, with a laid-back vibe that allows you to feel like a local in a matter of days? Then Pokhara, Nepal is for you.

Absolute bliss. That is exactly what I felt as I stepped off the tourist bus, after spending 8 hours winding my way along the mountainous roads which brought me from the dusty capitol city of Kathmandu to the lakeside town of Pokhara, Nepal. After previously spending 21 days in India, Nepal was a breath of fresh air, and Pokhara seemed like paradise.

I came to the city with absolutely no idea what I was in for, but I quickly realized that Pokhara is the type of place that is full of possibilities. Whether you come for a weekend, or for weeks on end, you can happily pass day after day in this little lakeside paradise, or branch out and see the surrounding mountains and lakes.

Phewa (Fewa) Lake Pokhara Nepal

Arriving in Pokhara:

From the Tourist Bus stop, you will need to take a taxi into town; it’s walk-able, but with a big bag or suitcase, you will be much happier to pay the 200-250 rupees and save your walking for when you’re exploring around the town.

The town is basically divided into two parts- Central Lakeside and North Lakeside. The Central area is a bit more upscale, more for vacationers, while North Lakeside is more budget backpacker style. I visited Pokhara twice during my month in Nepal, the first time staying in Central Lakeside, and the second time staying in North Lakeside. Both are wonderful, but in all honesty, I much preferred North Lakeside. There is more character all around- from the streets, to the restaurants, to the people- and you get a lot more for your money. There are many “Guesthouses” all around, so if you get let out around Sabina’s Momos or Wheat to Sweet Bakery, you can start to walk and ask around. On the North side of town, $10 for a room is a *splurge*. For instance, I stayed in the Guesthouse Tri Shatki Buddha, which has an amazing rooftop view of the lake, and provides private rooms with their own bathroom and hot shower included for only $3 a day… You really can’t beat that!

If you would rather stay in Central Lakeside, just ask the taxi to let you out there, and start looking around for a hotel. Pokhara is a full of places to stay. My first time I stayed in Pokhara I was at a place just up the road from Once Upon a Time Restaurant and for $40 a night I had a room very similar to my $3 room, only with a large living room area and an included breakfast…but wouldn’t you rather explore the different restaurants and choose the food you want, rather than eat from a semi-warm buffet??

Eating in Pokhara:

There are so many restaurants it’s hard to decide where to go. From my experience, you probably can’t go wrong with any of them, but a few of my favorites are as follows:

Europa Restaurant – it’s a small restaurant boasting the “best burgers” in town, but I happened to go there for breakfast…and it was a-mazing. Their spanish breakfast alone has a portion which is generous enough for two people, and it costs less than $3. I seriously could have eaten there morning, noon and night. The seating area is very limited, as the space is attached to the kitchen and house, and oftentimes the owners’ kids will help take your order or count back your change.

Flying Spirit–  it kind of has a shack look about it, but as you step down from the street and into this little restaurant you are greeted with a beautiful view of the lake, a cozy seating area, and hand-written menus with drawings and quotes from patrons added in on the back pages. I tried the spinach and cheese momos, and the falafel, and both were the best I had eaten in my entire time in Nepal.

Freedom Cafe– from the outside, this place doesn’t look like much. It has a simple, green, average looking sign depicting it’s name, but when you enter it’s as if you’re stepping into a tree-house hut wonderland, complete with live music and a wide variety of mouth-watering food options. This is the type of place where you will want to go again, and again, and again… I had a perma-smile on my face the entire time as I sat cross-legged on cushions, swaying with the music and savoring every bite of my veg enchilada.

Perky Beans Cafe– This cafe is in Central Lakeside, making it a bit more pricey, but the honey latte I received here was so out-of-this-world good that I had to go back for more… They also have wifi and a prime view of the main street, so you can sit and people watch while you sip on an afternoon latte.

Maya Restaurant– Maya actually means “love” in Nepali, but the decor of this restaurant had masks which reminded me of the ancient Mayan culture. Located in Central Lakeside, the restaurant has dark exposed wooden beams and a fireplace in the center of the top floor, which they kindly started up for us when a cold rain storm blew in. If you sit in the top patio area, you can look out on the street and people watch, which is fun, and if you sit more towards the center you can enjoy the music- sometimes they even have a live Nepali band playing.

Adventuring Around Pokhara:

At the beginning of your stay, pass half a day walking the waterfront of Phewa (Fewa) Lake. Stop to have a drink in one of the little bamboo cafes along the way, or grab a fresh-squeezed juice from one of the food huts. There are several places with Bob Marley or Beatles themes, so even if you don’t stop for a break you will hear their music drifting along with the breeze.

Spend the other half of your day exploring the smaller streets off the “main drag” of the city. Here you will find a few stores where you can make your own arts and crafts, and it helps support the local Nepali people. It is a great opportunity to spend some time with locals and learn their about their culture and their trades. One such place is called Backstreet Academy, and another place specifically run by Nepali women was called Kriayt.

Another fun way to spend a day is to rent a boat and paddle across to the base of a trail where you can hike up to the World Peace Pagoda. This is a fun way to see Fewa Lake from a different perspective, and to also enjoy a short 45 minute hike up to the beautiful Peace Pagoda. Spend some time reflecting on the and soaking in the views along the way, and maybe even stay for a tea at the top.

If you would like to see a less modern version of Pokhara, catch a bus, or take a taxi to Old Pokhara where you can spend a few hours walking around and seeing the “local” side of things. You won’t find many tourists, but as you meander the streets from temple to temple you will get a taste of the normal Nepali life.

Pokhara is also known for paragliding, and at any given moment you can look up in the sky and see dozens of paragliders soaring through the air near the mountains. You can look into details in many shops located on the main street through town. They even have certain companies where a hawk will fly by you to help find the best air currents.

If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, rent a mo-ped, only $6 a day, and take a short 30 minute cruise to the nearby Begnas Lake. Here you can also walk around the lake, or rent a boat and paddle to the middle, then take a quick swim. It is fun to get out of Pokhara and see a more local side of the Nepali culture as you make your way through the towns and villages on the way to the lake.

Hiking and Trekking Around Pokhara:

Many people come to Pokhara to use it as a starting point for a trek. This is great because Pokhara has all you need in order to prepare for a trek through the Himalayas. There are hundreds of stores lining the streets where you can rent clothing, sleeping bags, trekking poles, and sometimes even boots, and whatever you can’t rent, you can buy. Always remember to try and bargain a little bit, but the prices are already so reasonable it’s hard to complain. On the outskirts of Pokhara you can also buy your TIMs permit and your Entrance permit near the Tourist Bus Station. Be aware that you must have 4 passport photos for this! If you don’t already have them, you can buy them along the way.

There are many companies which offer trekking guides, but if you’re in Pokhara for a few days you are bound to find a few people who might want to go with you. All the trails are quite clearly marked, and there are “tea houses” or guesthouses along the way, so fear not. I personally did the trek to the Anna Purna Base Camp (ABC Hike) and added on Poon Hill at the end. It was during March and I couldn’t have asked for a better time. The days were warm, the nights were cold, and the hillsides were in full bloom with the national Rhododendron flowers. It was spectacular!

Another shorter, yet equally spectacular, hike near Pokhara is the hike up to Sarankot. Many people take this mini-trek in the morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains. The views of the lakes all around, and of the snow-covered mountain peaks changing from light blue to a brilliant white with the golden glow of the sun is beyond beautiful.

Evening Activities in Pokhara:

In general, nightlife doesn’t go too late in Nepal, but in Pokhara you can always find something to do, from movies to music to live fire-dancing shows.

The Pokhara open-air movie theater is a really fun way to pass an evening. For around $2.50 you can sit under the stars and watch an old-school movie, or maybe even catch a double feature!

Silk Road Restaurant has live music on Wednesday nights, making it a great place to go have a drink and meet some people with great vibes. The restaurant alone is worth a visit just for it’s beautiful ambiance of painted walls and a gorgeous garden.

Blues Bar is a popular place to catch some live music and to meet other travelers while dancing.

While walking around town, keep an eye out for any posters that might tell you of things going on in the area. For example, when I was in Pokhara, some travelers who practiced fire-dancing had settled down for a few weeks and they were putting on shows every Friday night. It was pretty incredible to watch them practice their passion, and to meet other interesting people while there.

As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in the little paradise town of Pokhara. Once you settle in and start meeting people, the town will feel like home in no time. The hardest part of your visit will be summoning up the will to leave.

 

8 Reasons Why You Should Give Couchsurfing a Try

I remember the first time I heard about Couchsurfing… I was traveling in Costa Rica, sitting in the sunshine alongside the thundering Nauyaca waterfall when out of the mist walked two college students who were exploring the country on their summer break. As we got to know one another, I learned some of the ways they were able to make long-term travel affordable, and one of the things they mentioned was Couchsurfing. Like many people, I was intrigued yet skeptical about a service where complete strangers open up their houses to you and let you stay with them for free. In the months that followed, I set up an account personally, and from that point on my world expanded as I tapped into an incredible source of travel enthusiasts who are located all around the world. As I began to utilize Couchsurfing, it taught me many things, several of which I will share with you now.

IMG_1206

1. Couchsurfing isn’t about a “free place to crash”. 

 When you participate in Couchsurfing, the expectation is to share things with your host or surfer. Whether it be a meal, a walk around town, a trinket from your hometown or simply a few life stories, the idea is that Couchsurfing can help people make connections and feel at home in a place away from home, and keep it affordable along the way.

2. Couchsurfing helps make the world smaller by facilitating connections. 

As I travel around the world, I am able to use Couchsurfing to help make local friends along the way. The cool thing about these Couchsurfing friendships is that sometimes you make such a great connection with someone that you may surf with them, then host them a few months later. I have had several multi-continent meet-ups with friends I have met through Couchsurfing and it is so much fun to reconnect with a familiar face after having shared a previous surfing experience together.

3. Couchsurfing is more than just hosting or surfing, it’s about people helping people. 

When I find myself alone in a new location, I turn to Couchsurfing to try and make a friendly connection, and it hasn’t failed me yet. If you’re traveling through an unfamiliar place, and you’re looking for travel tips, recommendations or even a friendly partner to hang out with, you can reach out to the local Couchsurfing community and you will nearly always get a response. Also, if you’re ever in a bind, there are typically people who can help you out. I’ll never forget the time I needed a ride from the airport, and my actual friend in the area had to bail, so I reached out to the Couchsurfing community. I met a newfound friend who picked me up and spent the afternoon showing me a few of his favorite places in the area. We ended up maintaining contact the whole time I was in the area, and by the time I left, I felt like I had met someone who really had my back if I needed them.

4. Couchsurfing reminds you that the world is full of good hearted people.

As I am welcomed into the houses of Couchsurfing hosts, I am constantly reminded of the kindness of strangers. These people share their lives with me, and treat me as their friend and I am forever grateful for their help and the connection we share while I am on my journey.

5. If you really want to get to know a place, visit someone who lives there.

When you know someone living in another city or country, they can help you see the place through the eyes of a local, and not only as a a tourist. Before I knew about Couchsurfing, I often chose my travel destinations based on where I may have had friends living or studying. Now that I know about Couchsurfing, it’s as though I have friends all over the world who can show me the wonders of where they live.

6. People live in all sorts of ways. Embrace the differences. 

As I stay or “surf” with more and more people around the world, I experience many different ways of life. Sometimes I have my own private bedroom, with wifi and hot water, other times I wake up on the floor surrounded by a deflated air mattress, and there have even been times where I have bathed “Indian style” with a bucket and pail. There is beauty in the differences, and with each new Couchsurfing experience I am able to get a taste of what it might be like to live in the that city, state or country. It opens my mind and expands upon what I may know as “normal”.

7. Couchsurfing is not only for “hosts” or for “surfers” but for anyone with a love of travel and cultural exchange. 

As I came back to my hometown, I found myself wondering if Couchsurfing existed there as well. I did a quick search and was happy to find an event group who got together to explore different restaurants around town. The great thing about Couchsurfing is that it provides a sense of community, centered around people who love to travel and get to know other people. With this community, you can always expand your world by getting to know new people and places, and by learning from the connections you make along the way.

8. Pay it forward. 

As people take me under their wing in my travels to all corners of the world, it makes me want to help others in any way I can. Whether it is hosting when I am not traveling, or simply sharing travel tips or advice with a weary traveler I meet on the road, I want to treat people well and make their travel experience the best it can be.

As I continue on with my travels, I know Couchsurfing will remain a part of my journey. I am in love with the worldwide sense of community that is shared, and there is no friendlier way to get involved with a new culture while on the road.
Now I’m curious…Have you ever tried Couchsurfing?? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

5 Reasons Why You Should Try Traveling on Your Own

Many people tell me they wish they could travel the world, but oftentimes they cite fear of loneliness as a reason high on the list as to why they don’t go for it. I’m here to tell you, yes, of course you will have moments where you feel alone, but these moments will force you to become stronger, more adaptable, and more independent than you have ever been, and these moments will pass, just as all moments in our lives tend to do. Everyone should give solo travel a try at some point, whether it is a weekend away in a neighboring city, or a trip half way around the world. As I prepare to embark on another round of solo travel, I find myself thinking of a few of the best reasons to travel alone. 

1. You will develop your accountability and your decision making skills. 

When you travel alone, there’s no one to turn to who can take a difficult decision for you. There’s also no one there to remind you when you need to be somewhere or get something done. You realize you are responsible for yourself and you are in charge of your course, and this puts just the right amount of weight on your shoulders to get you moving in the right directions. 

2. You will actually meet more people when you’re traveling alone. 

People always ask me, “Holly, don’t you get lonely??” Well yes, sometimes I do, but you can feel lonely even when you’re at home. When I’m on the road, I find that I am constantly meeting new and interesting people who open my world to different ways of thinking and different ways of doing things. When you travel with someone else, you have a built in safety blanket, someone who will always be around for conversation. In contrast, when you’re on your own, you’re more likely to strike up conversation with the stranger next to you on the bus bench. And then, who knows where that conversation will lead. I can only tell you that by traveling solo, it has opened my eyes even more to how many genuinely good people live all over the world. I now have connections I never imagined would form, and I am able to maintain them through Internet communication. How cool is that?

3. You learn that you are responsible for your own happiness. 

As you’re out there traveling by yourself, you might be in unfamiliar places, struggling to understand what is being said and what is going on, but as soon as you learn to look within and understand that you are the one who can bring yourself joy, your world will shift. You learn to take charge of your feelings and to find the bright side of whatever situation you may be experiencing. Remember, a cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition, so find your inner sunshine…then share it with the world!  

4. You learn more about yourself.

As you’re embracing the world on your own, you will not only learn about other people and other cultures- you will learn more about yourself. You will see the types of places and situations that attract you, and you will be surprised. You will tap into interests you never knew existed. You will let go of characteristics that no longer serve you, and you will find new traditions that you may carry with you forever. It is eye-opening to find out who you are without the influence of others, and it is even more interesting to find out who you may become when you remove yourself from the “norms” of your homeland.

5. You can enjoy your own company, and do what you want to do. 

When you travel with another person, you constantly have to take that person’s needs into consideration. However, when you’re on your own, you can go with the flow and do whatever strikes your fancy. You want to hang out in the park all day, people watching and soaking up the sun? Okay, go for it. You want to read every sign in the museum over and over and over? No problem, you’re not holding anyone else up. You want to spend a week volunteering with local kids instead of checking out every “must see stop” in the Backpacker’s Bible? Go for it! Because it is your trip, and you can do what you want! You can change your course of direction on a whim, and you don’t need to answer to anyone but yourself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Whatever the length of your solo travel expedition happens to be, you will learn and grow immensely in that period of time. You will find out that just because you’re traveling alone doesn’t mean you will always be alone. You will meet people along the way, and you will discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before. You will emerge more confident, because you will see that you’re capable of overcoming obstacles and doing whatever you put your mind to. Yes indeed, solo travel is a good thing. 

If you haven’t given it a try yet, go for it! And if you have traveled on your own and lived to tell the tale, let me know about it! Where did you go? What did you do? 

As Different as Night and Day – A Tale of Using Zimride to Get from SoCal to NorCal and Back

Travel can be heavily influenced by the people you meet along the way. Depending on who you come into contact with, your experience can be as different as night and day. As a traveler, I am always trying new and different things to meet people and save money while traveling. Please note that as I am adventurous, I am also cautious, and I take safety precautions to the best of my ability when I try out these various services. This past weekend I used a service called Zimride to make my way from Anaheim, SoCal to San Francisco, NorCal, and back. In a mere 48 hours I experienced both the best and the worst of what this site can offer.

I first learned about Zimride from a well-traveled friend who has made his way up and down the coast of California countless times. This site allows people to post their travel routes with the hope of getting either a passenger or a driver who is heading the same direction. It is not a free service, there is a price tag attached to each ride, but it is much cheaper than renting a car or taking a flight, and it is much faster than taking a train or a bus. When I decided I wanted to spend the weekend in San Francisco, I signed up for the site, got in touch with a few drivers, and eventually found a guy who would pick me up at Point A and drop me off at Point B. The guy, Caldwell, seemed like a decent person, but I still made sure we had another passenger as a sort of “safety precaution” so I wouldn’t be alone. As the story unfolds, it would turn out that the passenger would be both a blessing and a curse…

Caldwell picked me up from my floral design course on Friday, and from the get-go he was tense. He had agreed to pick up another girl in LA, but she was anxious about what time he was picking her up, and this was stressing him out. I suggested that maybe we shouldn’t pick her up if he was already getting a bad vibe from her, but he said he needed the money, so I didn’t argue. I wasn’t overjoyed about heading into the heart of LA on Friday at 5pm, but I wasn’t going to start questioning the driver.

It took us nearly 2 hours to pick up the other passenger, Lisa, and by the time we got to her Caldwell had worked himself up to the point of anger. As soon as Lisa got in the car he rudely demanded his money for the ride, which put her on the offensive because the site clearly says that you pay your driver upon arrival to your destination. I worked to diffuse the situation between the two, and Lisa ended up paying him so we could get on our way. Over the course of the next 3 hours I thoroughly enjoyed conversation with Lisa. She had traveled extensively in SouthEast Asia, and as she told tales of her travels I took notes on the many tips she was dispensing with every story. Caldwell did not join in the conversation at any point and I tried to have a few conversations with him, but in all honesty I hated how he would quickly go off on ranting tyrants, and I much preferred conversation with Lisa.

When it came time to fill up the gas tank, Caldwell asked if I would take over driving. I agreed, and when he got in the passenger seat he slammed the seat back into Lisa’s knees, causing her to exclaim, “Hey Man!” At that point, he turned around and went absolutely ballistic. He started screaming in her face and was saying that ever since she got in the car he hadn’t liked her, that she was the type of person who manipulated and disrespected people, and that he didn’t like how she was befriending me to make him look like the bad guy. I tried to diffuse the situation again, but failed this time, and when I suggested he calm down and take a rest, he instead demanded that he was going to drive, so I slid over to the passenger seat, unsure of what was worse: being left at a gas station 2.5 hours from San Francisco, or continuing with a ranting lunatic and most likely making it to my final destination. I chose the latter, but was silently preparing for the worst. I had come from my floral design class, and had packed my florist knife. I slowly reached for the knife to have it ready in case I needed to use it, and I made sure my bags were ready at my feet in case I needed to spring from the car. I sent my location to a few of my friends in San Francisco who were expecting me, and then I settled in to endure the worst drive of my life.

 The next two hours were horrible. Caldwell screamed like a psychopath, and Lisa proceeded to debate back and forth with him. There was no winning. If she would agree he would call her a liar. If she would disagree he would call he a spoiled bitch. He went on and on about the state of America, and his addictive personality, and his emotional instability. But the whole time he was yelling. I stayed out of it as much as possible, only piping in to confirm positive things, like when he would say, “I’m am ADDICT! I just want a fucking drink right now!” and I would reaffirm to him that losing his sobriety over this was not worth it… He seemed to listen to me, but I was still uncomfortable as hell.

When we finally got in to the city he had calmed. Lisa got out at my stop, even though it was not her destination. We hugged and she thanked me for “being an angel” during the situation. It’s kind of ironic, because during one of his rants, Caldwell was yelling, “And now you two will probably be friends and say things like, ‘Remember that crazy guy who gave us the ride to San Francisco?!'” And he’s probably right. When you survive a situation like that with someone, there is a bond. I honestly think if she had not been in the car, I would not have had a problem with him. Sure, I would have been bored to death with his conversation, but I would not have been scared for my life.

I had originally signed up for a ride there and back with Caldwell, but when he dropped me off, both he and I knew that there was no way in hell I was riding back with him. This meant that on Saturday I had to begin searching for a ride home on Sunday. I figured I wouldn’t have a “rotten egg” twice in a row, so I used Zimride again. Eventually I connected with someone and saw that he too had a passenger for the ride down to LA, so I confirmed.  I am happy to say that my ride back was fantastic.

On the ride back, we were all basically first time Zimride users, and for me, it was a perfect ride: safe, full of conversation and full of cultural exchange. The driver, Anish, was from India and I have just decided that I am going to start my travels next year with a trip to India, so he shared many things about his culture and his country. The passenger, Alex, is from Temecula, where I actually spent 6 months living back in 2010. He had just spent the past two years teaching English in Korea, and had a ton to share about traveling in Asia, which is exactly where I plan to head after India. The three of us were really happy to meet one another, and we all exchanged information so we could keep in touch. They were both full of supportive ideas when I told them I am getting started with blogging, so I’ll give them both a little shoutout right now- hey guys! It was great to meet you!

 The world is full of many different people, and that’s what makes it such an interesting place. The people you meet along the way can add such a different dynamic to your travels and your experiences, and I am happy to have ended my weekend trip on a positive note. I will never forget my first experience with Zimride. The differences between the first and the second ride were like night and day. I had a taste of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but all in all I wouldn’t hesitate to use the service again.

Traveling is like being on a roller coaster – it can be a fun, yet scary, ride. Here at the top of the hills in San Francisco, you can feel as though you’re at the top of a roller coaster with hills and tracks like these.

Lost in a New City? A Walking Tour Can Help!

While you’re out there traveling the world, there is no better or quicker way to get yourself oriented in a new city than a walking tour. As luck would have it, these tours are gaining popularity, and many big cities are starting to offer free walking tours. These guided tours will provide you with a few hours of entertainment and information, as well as the opportunity to meet new people and learn the ropes in a new place. These tours are tip-based, so typically the guides are entertaining and full of information and stories of the city, ready to provide a laugh or answer your questions in order to earn a tip at the end. By the time the tour is over, you will know the lay of the land and will probably have a smile on your face and a new friend at your side.

My first experience with a free walking tour was in Sydney, Australia. I had never even heard of such a thing, but I was immediately intrigued when a friend of my local host suggested it. I utilized my trusty pal, Google, to find the details about a time and meeting place, and the next day I set off, unsure of what to expect. The tour met in the morning, and over the course of the next few hours I made my way all over the city, laughing and learning along the way. By the time the tour ended, I not only had a great overview of the large city, but I had also ended up meeting a new travel partner as well. To the delight of many, the local walking guide was branching out with his business and was starting a pub crawl tour too, so that night many people of the tour reconvened for a chance to be led from one cool bar to another to experience the city’s nightlife.

Sydney free walking “Peek Tours” guide explaining that people often touch the snout of the statue for luck, and his other area to “get lucky”.

After having such a fantastic experience with my first free walking tour I decided to keep this method of exploration in mind as I set out to travel the world. While traveling through Central and Eastern Europe I came across multiple free walking tours in Budapest, Bratislava, Prague and Ljubljana. Budapest was heavily into the free walking tour scene, offering a General City walking tour, as well as more specific walking tours to cover the Jewish Quarter, and Communist times, and each night a local guide hosted the ever-popular walking tour of the Ruin Bars. In my short time there I participated in nearly every one of the tours and learned a lot of useful information along the way. Each day I made new acquaintances and oftentimes we would continue to explore the city together long after the tour ended.

When traveling alone and on a budget, there is no question that a free walking tour will be a useful tool to help you maximize the enjoyment of your time in a foreign city. My advice would be to research and see if the city you are going to offers a free walking tour, and if so, get started your first day there! Tours are typically held in the mid-morning and early-afternoon. By checking out a free walking tour you have nothing to lose, but the amount of information, entertainment, and friendships you may gain are priceless.