Aside

When it’s been a while

When it’s been a while doing something you love, it feels like you woke up from a coma. Not that I’ve been in a coma so I may be entirely wrong about that one. But that’s how I imagine it to be. I have been living in a fog of uncertainty, of doubt, of going through the motions of a robotic life.

I have’t written about tips for traveling because well, I haven’t been traveling. And that makes me unrecognizable to myself.

It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-days and lose sight of what you want out of life. I lost track of my real goals and most importantly I forgot what it is that makes me truly happy.

And a big contributing factor to this is how I got swept up in material objects. Buying unnecessary things is the poison that kills travel dreams. It comes in the form of superficial comfort and success, then implants itself in the brain, convincing one’s self that this object, this thing will be the cure to unhappiness.

I moved to a different city away from all my friends and family so I started buying stuff. I needed stuff for my apartment of course, but then I started buying the decorations and the candles and more clothes and consuming my daily habits and thoughts with shopping and budgeting my money on how I can afford a $30 Yankee candle. I convinced myself that if I just buy this candied pecan scented candle then it will feel like the holidays, it will feel cozy, it will feel like I have a fireplace. What I actually wanted was to actually be in a place filled with snow, lights strung across a crowded street, sitting in a cafe drinking espresso, reading a translation book. Not just a facade of it in my living room. I might as well plug myself into a virtual reality game and never leave if that’s the case.

I am not entirely sure what my “wake up call” was or if I even had one. It was more of a gradual realization, a gradual journey back to my true self. But, I know it had something to do with seeing some old friends who traveled the world year round and inspired me the first time I met them. I saw them again recently and had nothing to talk about. Nothing real anyway because I had been filling my days with unnecessaries.

Slowly I am finding my way back to the person I want to be and following my happiness.

About ready to take my first bungee jump leap for my 26th birthday. Photo courtesy of  Nic Velarde

About ready to take my first bungee jump leap for my 26th birthday. Photo courtesy of Nic Velarde

I wasn’t sure if this was the right place to write about it but in it’s way it is travel advice. To put it simply is to stay in touch with the happiness you create for yourself. Sometimes we stray off course but we can always find a way back.

I felt I had gone too far in debt to travel any time soon. But after my realizations I began to make it a priority to save. And once I made it THE priority I saw how easy it was to save again.

When I wanted to go to Scotland when I was 19 it was always just a dream, then I thought, why the heck am I not there now? What is holding me back? Nothing! Absolutely nothing except not saving my money. So once I understand that things don’t just happen magically, I have to work for them and make it possible, my dreams became reality.

And then when I felt stuck in rut a few years ago, I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I need to travel … now.” And we did.

That’s what this is all over again, but with a bigger, longer term idea behind it. I want to keep at it, not let a few years go by every time I decide to take an amazing trip to a new country. I want to get back home from a country and start planning for another one right away. I am sick of letting my life slip right under me.

Since I am still a little in debt, I am going to Quebec in January for 5 days for a quickie. It isn’t as long as I would want, but I am not letting that stop me from exploring the world. More posts to come on traveling in the winter.

And to close my comeback here is something I wrote when I was a 21 years old. I read it once in a while to remember who I used to be, who I always wanted to be, who I can still find and be again.

That path that steers us to where we want to be or what we need to achieve is incomprehensible to ever let fail. My entire childhood and adolescence was dedicated to the all the places i could ever dream of traveling to. A painted landscape with a couple arm in arm walking in the distance of grass enchanted fields was the escape for my imagination. I was determined to find this place, if it was even real. How could it be, with such magnitude of wonder and persistence of beauty. Where could I run away to, where was a place I could discover? Harry Potter became the books that defined and shaped who i grew up to. It wasn’t just about the magical story and characters, or even the movies, but the impact it had over influencing my life. I became the Fred to my sisters George. We became so eternally, and internally obsessed with finding our own paths in life that had nothing to do with the normality of others peoples views and expectations. Adventure, discovery, importance was my quest…and yet, still is. I forever cursed myself with never allowing myself to be fully committed to happiness because that would mean the quest was over. With every stamp on my passport, every step with my hiking boots, each breathe of fresh air, each exhale from an intense climb i was in search for truth, the meaning of my existence. This meaning could be put in my hands by experiencing the world in every possible way it was offered to me. I am 21 years old and just now am beginning to understand this on going search and what it actually entails, the responsibilities attached to it. I am finding my way though life in my own way just as everyone else is doing in their own and personal way. I am to be kind and humble, genuine in my smile and my stride beside them or else i have failed myself. I was eighteen and jumped out of a plane. I was nineteen and traveled on a whim to Scotland. I backpacked Yosemite, learned to snowboard, rock climbed, rolled down booming sand dunes. When i was twenty I packed up my life and moved to Yellowstone National Park and then Death Valley. Not many plans work out for certain, guarantee, and if they do it never turns out the exact way we planned or expected. It’s nice to just roll with it.

After taking my first bungee jump leap for my 26th birthday. Photo courtesy of Nic Velarde

After taking my first bungee jump leap for my 26th birthday. Photo courtesy of Nic Velarde

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The hell with weekends

Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland 2013. Photo: Nic Velarde.

Don’t wait around for your next vacation. Hell don’t even wait around for the weekend. Have fun now.

I notice we push or at least I push a lot of things to the side. I tell myself one day I will start running marathons again, one day I will go to Thailand, one day I will get that foot massage I bought on Groupon months ago. But someday doesn’t always come and it might not ever come if I wait around too long.

It’s just like New Year’s resolutions; next year I’ll get in shape, next year I will start eating healthy. We all do it. We wait for a specific day, a rite of passage almost, to signify our change in lifestyle. But what’s wrong with any old Wednesday in the middle of August to start changing your life, to start doing your someday.

So what is it about weekends that makes us wait to have fun? And it isn’t only having the two days off in a row thing that throws me off. It is that so many people I know believe that having weekends off means that you have somehow made it, you are successful. What…the…

Enough about those days of the week.

My point is, is that I don’t want to wait around for the weekend to have fun. I want to make everyday fun and even an adventure in its own way. It may be the smallest of activities but it is better than giving up and waiting around for someday. Because once the weekend comes you may be too tired or something important comes up and then what?

Today I will go for a run before work. Today I will go for a hike. Today I will surf. Today I will go rock climbing. Today I will drive around on a mini-road trip adventure.

That is all it takes. It is a simple change in attitude because even your home town has great things to offer. Go out there and make your everyday an adventure so the hell with weekends.

Confessions of an anti-tourist

Ireland

Somewhere in Ireland. Photo: Nic Velarde

There is a guy that comes into my work everyday and orders the same coffee. Two shots of espresso over ice. As he stirs in his agave and cream, so thematically and certain he tells me he is thinking of going on a vacation. I instantly light up and want to give endless advice on how he should go about it, as I always assume people want to travel how I travel.

I am learning that not everyone enjoys hostels, hiking and not having an itinerary. Those people probably don’t come here and read my blog with any interest.

He is a realyl cool guy though. He has been to Australia enough times and wants to go somewhere new. He then says the magical world … Ireland.  I thought I heard a flute piping in the background.

I get excited and start telling him all these cool things he should do. And then of course, whenever I start talking about my trip to Ireland I mention how to avoid all the crazy summer tourists. Yes, I was one as well, but that is definitely not the kind of experience I crave.

Meeting the locals, doing cultural things like eating their foods and drinking their beers, having conversations, going dancing, and also exploring the landscape. But I sure don’t feel like a cliche tourist while doing it.

I am respectful and want to learn and embrace that culture not just see it from afar.

But now I am getting ahead of myself. Back to this guy at my work who wants to go to Ireland.

So before I can get far enough into what he should do while there he drops the P-word bomb. He found a Package deal on Groupon. Cool I love that site, they have cheap massages, but I wouldn’t trust them to plan a trip for me. I wouldn’t trust anyone to do that except myself.

He said the price is right at about $1,500 leaving from Los Angeles and includes airfare, board and rental car for nine days.

It seems too cool to be true. My ticket to Ireland alone cost $1,025 from San Diego.
Hostels for two around $1,000. Bus passes for two $500.
Food, beer and pub money $500 each.
And some extra, accidental costs it all added to about $5,000 for two people. But it was for three weeks. Three weeks in Ireland to do as we please!

Cork, Ireland

A neighborhood in Cork, Ireland. Photo: Nic Velarde

I think to myself, do people really buy vacation packages? So I started looking into it and yes, yes they do. That is why I am struck with the questions “Really? Why?”

Going off on your own to explore and do whatever you want is so freeing. That is the beauty of a vacation to me. I guess some people really enjoy the relaxation of a vacation while some (like myself) enjoy the spontaneous adventures.

Relaxing doesn’t enter my vacation. It comes to me when I am at home and have homework to do and I don’t want to do it. So I relax instead. Or when I am sick and watch movies all day. But not when I am in a foreign country.

So back to what I was saying before about being respectful of a culture and wanting to experience it fully. I have to remember that everyone wants something different out of their vacation and to avoid being judgmental I will embrace my bias in what I think a vacation in a foreign country should be.

I learned this a lot while in Ireland last summer. One day my boyfriend, Nic, and I were on a tour around the Ring of Kerry, one of the most popular spots in the Irish countryside. Quaint towns, amazing edges of cliffs, ocean views and lots and lots of people.

Our tour bus took us to the most beautiful stopping points. At the places that would be great for hiking and exploring we were only given minutes there. Yes, MINUTES! As in the words of tour bus driver, “Enough time to take a few good pictures.” I wanted to scream and run away from the bus.

Then when we went to towns we had over an hour. UGH. They even dropped us off at a restaurant in a hotel for lunch with no other options around.

So we ordered the second worst fish and chips of the trip (the first was in Cashel at a Mediterranean restaurant that didn’t serve Guinness. We should have left at the”‘No Guinness”). It isn’t like we are snobs about our fish and chips, but it was a fancy hotel FOR TOURISTS. We didn’t want to eat there, but it was lunch time and had no other choice.

Then we get to Lady’s Point. A magnificent view of Irish green country. All we wanted to do was explore. But we only had ten minutes for a photo opportunity.

I tried hard to swallow my judgment of the tourists. Everyone is crowding one area of the mountain to get a sweet picture of this place they didn’t really experience, and neither did we. I felt like I never even went there. I saw it, but I didn’t get to know it.

And that is why I strongly dislike tours and tour buses. It’s a facade of an experience in the country.

So, I try to tell this guy I think he would have more fun doing his own trip. But he is set on doing it because it eliminates the hassle involved in a planning a trip.

*Sigh*

That is half the fun, or at least one-eighth of it. The planning of which hostel is cheaper, slightly less shady, and in the best location. Picking out what county to stay in and for how long. What plane ticket to buy, what bus pass to go with. Then finally getting there and not knowing what to do next. That is a good part of the pre-travel experience.

I want to just yell at him, “You will be missing out on so much!” There won’t be the opportunity to change your plans on a whim because something cool came up.

And staying in a hostel forces you to make friends with people in your room and in the common room at night. That is how you find people to go out with at night or explore with in the day. That is how you make life time friends.

That is how you discover you can understand French when you’re drunk.

Hostels usually have kitchens so you can experience grocery shopping in a foreign country. And there are so many different travelers from all over staying at hostels that are all hanging out in the kitchen as well.

Taking a bus may take longer but sometimes the struggle of bus times makes it all the more fun. Although, I will admit, having a car for a day or two would be nice to go to more remote places to hike that buses don’t go (that’s a post for another time).

But if we had a car in Ireland we never would have been forced to hitchhike after our bus left us. We met really amazing and generous people to give us a ride back.

Nic and I got closer. But I also got out of my comfort zone so many times. I got closer to my soul. My soul got closer to the earth.

Fight the herd and go on your own trip. It is hard to plan and scary but so worth the experience. The country will thank you for really getting to know it by the end.

The Myth

Kinsale, Ireland

Kinsale, a little harbor town, in Southern Ireland. Photo: Susan Georgette Whaley

Everything goes according to plan. Every plan you make works out if you spend the time and energy and just work really hard.

I wish that was true. I am one to be cynical, but definitely not to be a victim of this tragedy. I don’t do self pity. However, I will say that it is (duh) extremely difficult to have your own place, pay rent and all the other bills while only working one “normal” full-time job.

I technically could do it, but who the heck has the time for all that? NO, it’s not even the time, but who actually wants to do that … work your butt off just to pay the bills? Where is time for fun, for relationships, for a real life?

My plan was to be financially comfortable. But I guess I never really had a plan to follow. I always just wanted to travel while being okay with money, not having to worry. Okay that sounds great and most people have that dream, so what did I do about it? I traveled for a bit. I moved around a lot, still not making lots of money but at least I was seeing parts of the world and to me that was really living.

Then I came home after three years of slightly disenchanting experiences with an array of magical encounters and connections. I stayed with my parents for a bit (sorry to anyone who has gone through this) with my cats I acquired and I had a weird pull inside of me to finish school.

So it began. The journey, the adventure of me turning into a citizen of society again. Like getting an apartment.

Now I have more responsibilities, more attachments and I can’t just pick up and leave. Well yes, technically I CAN, because I always have a choice. My choice is that I would rather have these attachments, even though they seem burdensome at times.

Now I am trying to actually stay on a path and finish school. I kept dropping out before. I have a quaint house I am renting with my boyfriend and roommates. I have a life here. I have my cat Gandalf. But, I have a really low-paying job because it works around my school schedules, lets me take time off and understands I am trying to do more with my life.

So then where does that leave me for all my other dreams? My dreams of traveling, being a nomad, having many adventures, going off whenever I please? I’m still not sure. That’s what I am still trying to figure out: what do I sacrifice and what is my main priority?

We all have a choice, nothing is set in a stone of destiny for us. I have the choice to drop out of school, to leave this house, to give my cat away, to be single yet I stay here. Some say I have these thoughts of leaving because I am actually unhappy with my life. But I am just being honest, when I think not everyone really is with themselves.

I can love my life here and all my obligations and still have the desire to do other things. I still do travel, even if it isn’t as often as I would like. But I find the balance. I find the solace and acceptance of my life and love it for what it is.

Plans don’t always work out. They go all sorts of ways. That doesn’t mean failure, as cliche as that sounds. The myth about hard work pays off is slightly true, but no matter how hard you work for a certain job, a certain life there are other forces influencing the universe and the outcome. And different paths branch from the original.

Embrace and accept the changes, because we must be adaptable. I certainly have had to adapt to this life, this life I never thought I would have.

A house, a relationship, school, paying bills and working without getting ahead. I never wanted any of it and look at me now. I have found my way to a semi-normal life which irks me at times, but like I said plans are myths.

The “American Dream”

Yellowstone Lamar Valley

Backcountry camping in Yellowstone Lamar Valley. Photo: Susan Georgette Whaley

I think the ‘American Dream’ isn’t even American. It is a human dream, a human lifestyle. Do what you want now and be happy. It is so simple. I want to measure my success in different ways than what has been wired into my brain since a child such as having a good job, going to college, getting married, etc. I have experienced parts of the world and moved around and learned about myself from within. I have learned to love and am on a spiritual path and I enjoy the activities that fill my day. But … oh yes there is always a but.

But, lately I have been feeling down on myself as I see friends get cool jobs and graduate college. I chose a very different path and like everyone else, I question it at times.

Not everyone is on the same path in life. We all have priorities and things we want to accomplish. I think I know what I want to accomplish, but getting there is so tough and I tend to fall back into what I know and am comfortable with. That is working a, don’t like to use this word but, meaningless job and am not even close to graduating college … like ever. So what does that leave me with?

If you could fill your day with anything, someone asks you what would you say? I would say rock climbing, writing, reading, being outdoors, playing chess, being with people I love. Well, it seems that is already what I do and I am fufilled. So why do I buy into the whole mindset of feeling like a failure because I am not accomplishing anything in my career? Is that the only way people can measure life by?

Is a career what we define our happiness and success by? I like to write, but if I never make money doing it then have I failed? What kind of mind set is that to have in our society? I know I am not the only person that has felt that way about their passions and hobbies. The ‘dream’ is to make money from what you love to do, but can’t you just do what you love and not get paid for it and it still be meaningful in life? I guess I don’t mind working a lame job, but if I had the opportunity to do something else hell yes I would do it. I just don’t want to work my ass off for my entire 20’s and 30’s and 40’s trying to make a lot of money so I can retire one day and then start enjoying life.

Gaining the ‘American Dream’ entices most of us and I even can admit I fall into the seduction every so often, such as today as I write about the squabbles within myself. But is that what i really want? Is it actually what most people want or is it wired into their/our brains since childhood?

College, marriage, car, house, kids, retirement … wow that is a long list of what the ‘American Dream’ entails, that the way to a happy life we must get all of these things. I am doing absolutely none of these and I am so far away from them, they will never happen.

If I had to pinpoint the moment that my life changed it was when I was twenty years old and finally moved out of my parents house, dropped out of college and moved to Yellowstone National Park to work at a lodge. My life has been what some can say difficult ever since: trying to make money, pay off my truck and go back to college. I never could move back with my parents, I was forever on my own. But, it taught me so much and was what those wise people call “life experience.” I don’t have a college degree but I got to live in some cool places and have cool stories. When I write a novel one day I think my life experiences will help more than a degree.

Some people tell me how I am crazy and not focused and jump around too much, but then they tell me how they actually envy me. I am not saying this to flatter myself, I am using it as a point that people that judge at first how I don’t walk the straight line seem to envy my freedom. I just tell them they can be free too and not be bogged down everyday in unhappiness and piles of homework. All hard work pays off in the end, i.e. college, but only if that is what will really make you happy. And you must ask yourself, if it makes you unhappy now why are you doing it? Don’t you want to enjoy life now, why wait for the ‘one day’?

How to seriously take a vacation

Nic and I camping at Mt. Baldy in Angeles National Forest.

A lot of my friends ask me how I do it, how I obtain a budget that allows me to travel. I certainly don’t have a good paying job and I am still in school, so being rich is definitely not the only requirement to travel. The advice I follow is to have a goal and stick to it; as simple as that sounds it takes patience, planning and a sense of adventure.

There is a balance of priorities. Ask yourself, what is the most important thing(s) you want to do during your life? Whatever it is, make it happen. When I ask myself what I want out of life it is to travel, to love and find peace. So when my friends ask me how I manage to do it, to save money, I can only think, how can I not?

I want to make it clear in my blog that I don’t have a high paying job. I live in southern California, one of the most expensive places to live. Even the gas prices are sky high. I make about $260 a week at my regular job. I have bills like everyone else. I pay $300 a month in rent, $90 a month in car insurance, add that in with buying groceries, filling up my gas tank for $70 and taking care of my cats, it gets exhausting.

It all adds up. Living paycheck to paycheck is something I have gotten used to. But what I do differently is I save a little bit here and there. Even saving $25 a week adds up in the end.

During tax season my second job is doing data entry with my parents for their business. I am very fortunate and try to never take it for granted. All the money I make with my second job I put in my savings account.

Also, I save my tax refund and used that for most of the plane ticket expense. A lot of people that get a refund I hear saying are going ot use it to pay off some bill or car payment. But, is that what you really want to do? Instead of putting all your hard-earned money into responsibility cubbies, make your own happiness a priority and duty.

My last not-so-secret ingredient is to use those vacation hours! I recently read a fascinating article I found on the Expedia website about vacation deprivation: http://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/2013-vacation-deprivation-study

A lot of people don’t use all their paid time off which on a tangent totally boggles my mind. Why would you not use your vacation hours!? I cashed mine out and used it to buy my bus passes for Ireland. It definitely won’t cover my rent/bills while I am gone, but that is a worry for another time. Even if the vacations hours aren’t enough to afford time off, it can cover the cost of part of your trip.

My trip to Ireland certainly won’t be a four-star resort experience, which truthfully doesn’t entice me anyway. You have to be up for adventure and excitement if you really want to get out there and explore. The cheaper, the more time you can go and the less worry you will have when you return to your life back home.

Also, don’t be impulsive and hasty when it comes to buying plane tickets, places to stay, etc. Shop around and make sure you are getting the best deal. This takes patience, but will save you so much money in the long run.

The moral of the story: don’t feel vacation deprived anymore! Start saving a year in advance even if it is only a few dollars every week. Just set it aside and don’t find any excuse to take it out of your savings. A year from now you will be going on the trip of a lifetime and you don’t need to be rich to do it.

 

Transportation on vacation

Katelyn and I

My sister and I traveling to St. Andrews with our new friends who drove us. Photo: Scotland friends

Train, taxis and bus fares can add up quickly if not careful. Booking in advance is my reoccurring theme when it comes to traveling on a budget. Planning ahead is usually how to get better deals and keep the cost down. Transportation is a little different than the hostels and plane tickets since those are set in stone with exact dates.

I do not like to be tied down to plans and schedules, especially when I am on a vacation. Since Ireland is a fairly small country I recommend the bus pass.

I purchased a 13 day bus pass for Ireland which is valid for 26 days. I can travel as much as I want all day on local, city and expressway buses for any 13 days. With the exchange rate actually going down (Yay!) I got two passes together for $592 being delivered to my apartment here in the United States. There are other options on the Bus Eireann website from 3 to 15 days of travel. They even offer a rail and bus pass which I would have bought, but they only offer it for 8 days of travel which is not ideal for the length of my trip.

A few great things about the bus pass:

1. Reservations are not necessary like some rail passes in Europe require.

2. It allows me the freedom to keep my plans wide open to go wherever I want because I won’t worry about the cost.

3. Buses in Ireland can get me almost everywhere I want to go, more in the nooks and crannies compared to the trains.

Buses seem to be underrated. When I went to Scotland in 2009 I did not plan the trip much. I only booked a hostel and didn’t even look into transportation costs. I ended up not being about to explore as much as I wanted because my money was running dry. But there was this one day … the most memorable day of my entire trip if not my entire life. My sister and I were trying to find this one, special castle i saw in my travel book.

We got on the bus and asked the driver to take us to this town the book said the castle was near. We ended up going the opposite way, missed more trains and buses and waiting hours we eventually found a bus driver who would go off his normal route and drop us off at the castle that apparently no one in Scotland ever heard about.

Tantallon castle looks over the edge of a cliff toward the sea. The green rolled all around the castle, the wind blew our hair and I remember looking to the north/east and there is this huge rock protruding out of the water. I wondered if anyone has even been on top of it. There was no one around us at all. This was truly a magical place and I existed there at that moment with my sister.

After we frolicked for a while we realized this wasn’t the normal route for the bus driver so how would we get back to our hostel? We walked for an hour to the closest bus stop. Time didn’t matter much as we ate egg salad sandwiches and waited hours for the next bus to swoop us up. He wasn’t going to Edinburgh where we needed, but he would go that way just for us anyway.

That day really defined traveling for me in ways I can’t even express here. Buses are romantic and powerful. Don’t underestimate the bus in a foreign country. Even if it takes all day it really is about the experience.

Now that Nic and I have the plane, hostels and transportation covered all we need to pay for when we get there is the remaining balance for the hostels, then food and beer money. Ireland seems to be materializing right before my eyes everyday now as it gets closer and closer to July 23.

How to choose the right place to sleep

Willy Wallace Hostel

The view from our room at the Willy Wallace Hostel in Stirling, Scotland. Photo: Katelyn Whaley

Today my focus is where to stay while on vacation. There are plenty of options out there when it comes to “cheap” and there is also a fine line between cost effective and just plain sketchy.

My answer to this quest of finding a place to stay on a budget is hostels. This is my personal preference but in my great experience in Scotland I have high hopes for the hostels in Ireland. It is such a welcoming place to meet new people from around the world, who are usually young, nice and full of stories. Don’t just get your only opinion about hostels from that ridiculous movie.

Not all hostels are the same…obviously. So like most of my advice goes, don’t be hasty. Browse the internet for a few days, even weeks before deciding. Hostels.com is a great website resource to help narrow down location, price, amenities and reviews. Also, if you sign up with Hostels.com you get passed the $2 booking fee for each hostel.

How I chose my hostels for Ireland was I narrowed down on the map where I wanted to spend most of my time, usually a big city will be best because the rooms are typically going to be cheaper than out in the country where fewer people go. I am going to be in Ireland for about 20 days so I chose four different hostels to stay at where I could easily hop on a bus or train to go exploring outward.

We are flying into Dublin and staying Cork, Killarney, Galway and then back to Dublin. We decided not to stay in Dublin when we first get there because it is peak season and the rooms were more than $50 a night. But, when we come back to Dublin to fly out the rooms are ridiculously less expensive, so we rearranged our route and it worked out better. Being a flexible traveler is key to getting a good deal.

Everyone will have different preferences and guidelines of what they are looking for. I wanted a good location to walk around a cool city, a hostel in walking distance to public transportation and perhaps with a free breakfast (fingers crossed).

So, when I began searching by location, first I rallied a list of potential hostels that fit my description and on budget. My budget was at the most $30 a night per person. Even that is expensive to me for a hostel, but everyone will have their own standards of course.

After I made a list of possible hostels to stay in for each of the four cities on Hostels.com, I closely researched them on their own website. If the prices were the same and they offered the same things then I looked at reviews for previous travelers. Even if a place has a great price and free breakfast, if the atmosphere is dull then it is kind of a bummer.

When I traveled to Stirling, Scotland with my sister we stayed at the same hostel for two weeks. The atmosphere was so friendly and lively it felt like a second home. We became such good friends with the workers, we went out with them, explored with them and cooked family dinners together. Not every place will be like that but it opened my eyes to what possibilities could happen if I keep my eyes and heart open while traveling. And the place where it all starts is where your rest your sleepy head for the night.

$30 a night for 20 nights for two people….uh math…that is $600 each. Damn that is one heck of a budget I pulled out of my non-existent funds. Now that I have settled myself in imagination land I began choosing my hostels. The great thing about booking hostels online is that you don’t have the pay the total upfront, only a certain percentage for a deposit. I sure as hell didn’t have that much money to spend right away, but hostels in Europe in the summer, the good ones at least, go fast, so I needed to start making reservations so I didn’t get stuck paying double.

Thankfully I got under budget by almost $300. I found a few hostels for $13 a night so we could spend a little more money to get our own room other nights. I got on top of things early and booked all our hostels for 603.43 Euros which is about 830-840 U.S. dollars since it has been fluctuating these days. Which I want to mention right now that one of the drawbacks for not purchasing the entire hostel at once is that if the Euro goes up even more over the summer, then I actually might be paying more U.S dollars when I get there. It went up just this month so my plan is to convert a few hundred dollars to Euros soon so I don’t get screwed by the exchange rate later if it ceases to fall back down.

I know this was a long one, but I think finding a good and cheap place to stay make the travel experience that much more brighter, enjoyable and a door to open up endless possibilities.

Reasons to travel

My sister and I kayaking in Nicaragua

Back in December the urge and yearning for travel began scratching at me again. That is when I decided I was going to Ireland this coming summer.

The yearning never goes away. I caught the travel bug while I was in Nicaragua and after a two week road trip to Oregon last year. I wanted another adventure in a foreign country that I could help plan. When I went to Nicaragua it was very spontaneous because I went with my sister who planned it. We had no idea what to expect and any expectation I did have flew away and went back to America the moment I stepped off the plane. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from being in such a strange place and being forced to handle feeling uncomfortable. 

Every place is different, with its own expectations attached to it, but I am only planning just enough and leaving the rest to “winging it.” This trip will be different because it will be the first time I have traveled to a foreign country with a boyfriend. I usually travel with my sister and I miss seeing her, but this will be such a fun experience with Nic.

I am in love with just the idea of getting on a plane. The airport is the most magical place in the entire world. There are so many people from all different countries, all traveling somewhere new and all for different reasons. Some are visiting family, some are moving, some don’t even know where they will end up or when they will go back home. I love the feeling of freedom in an airport, like I can go anywhere.

Traveling makes me not only feel free, but reminds me how free I actually am. It reminds me of the person I really want to be, not the person I sometimes become while getting stuck in the “grind” of everyday life. Simplicity is what I strive for. All I need is a backpack with clothes, a pen and notebook, a voice recorder, a camera, a book, a slackline and rock climbing shoes. I know everyone out there only needs just a few items to be content and I think when traveling it allows you the time to know what you really need in life to smile. It usually can fit on your back.

After traveling around, even just the few places I have seen, and living in a few different states in the United States, I do not disregard the importance of home. As much as I love getting on a plane to experience a different culture and suck in new food, smells,  landscapes, people and cultures, coming home is always going to be bittersweet. I used to hate coming home, but now I understand that traveling is not the only thing my life is comprised of. I have a life when I am home and that needs to be cared for and attended to, not neglected while planning and saving for a trip.

If happiness ends the minute I return then I have not accomplished what I strive for in life. I want to be happy no matter where I am. And if I am unhappy when I come home then the reasons I have for traveling are misguided. Like I said, it is always bittersweet, but I remember when I came home from my first ever foreign trip to Scotland in 2009 I cried for days. I detached myself from friends and life because I didn’t want to be there. I was living in a world I wasn’t engaged in.

After feeling sorry for myself and not understanding myself as a young and curious woman I came to a point after a while (with most learning experiences there is not a definite moment of epiphany as it usually happens gradually such as this experience) that I need to live my life everyday doing what I want. And if I am not happy then I can change anything at anytime as my happiness relies on me and only me. My plans have changed many times throughout the years, and now I am 24 years old, but for the most part I still am on the same track. Everyday I am learning more about myself and making sure I am living the life I want to.

When I returned from my Scotland trip I donated three trash bags full of clothes and cleaned out the materials that bogged me down and distracted me in negative ways. Money became more than a means to an end, it became the basis for understanding why I work. I work to survive and give myself the life I want, a life that allows me to experience the world in as many ways as I can. But money is not what creates happiness, It is merely a guideline for doing what you want that costs money.

Traveling with my sister has brought us closer and now that Nic and I have found one another, we share experiences I have only dreamed of. I love and am loved and I am writing and enjoying what I do. I still work at a grocery store and I am still at the same community college I have been at for nearly six years, but I can’t ask for anything more at the moment. I understand I am on a journey and I need patience. One day I might work for my dream job at National Geographic or even a daily newspaper or become a freelance novelist. I have no idea, but I do know I am on the right path.

 

How to buy cheap plane tickets

Plane in Scotland

Our plane landing in Scotland. Photo: Katelyn Whaley

My advice for buying plane tickets is don’t buy them impulsively AND check prices almost everyday. Have a budget (of a reasonable price, but don’t underestimate how much a ticket can cost) and start saving.

When you reach your goal keep shopping around. I heard that if you search for plane tickets on your computer, the ISP code (perhaps I am not quoting this correctly) is tracked and the tickets won’t go down if you keep using the same computer. That seems to be what happened to me when searching for cheap tickets to Dublin.

One day I looked, before I even had any money saved up, and it was $950 each. Every time after that magical day the price never, ever went back down. The very next day the priced soared to $1300 each. No thank you.

After checking online for about a month and saving my money I randomly checked on my parents computer not really thinking about it. And there it happened. I went on United.com and they were $1025 each so I bought two tickets. I went back to my parents computer the next day just to check and tickets were back to $1300. I got lucky and so can you by looking around and not being too impulsive.

SO, the personal point is, I am very excited that my plane tickets are purchased. That means that we are for sure going no matter what. I don’t care what comes up, I am going to Ireland! Next thing is to book hostels. Which by the way on Hostels.com most of the rooms in Dublin are booked. Very sad, but I am going to keep looking and doing it the cheap way.