Sometimes Lessons are Learned the Hard Way

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I have learned some really great lessons while traveling – like always keep your passport on your person at all times, locking your luggage with a TSA approved lock doesn’t mean that they will actually take the time to use their tool because cutting it off is easier, and avoid checking your luggage if you can. Those lessons weren’t particularly difficult to learn for me personally, but on the trip to Italy and Greece, I did learn one lesson the hard way.

To fully understand this lesson, I must remind you of my newly found understanding of my aversion to moving in inhuman ways, i.e. flying. If you missed that, feel free to read about it in this blog post.

On this trip with EF Tours, we toured Italy AND Greece. So after our wonderful evening in Pisa, we took a ferry from Ancona, Italy to Igoumenitsa, Greece. We took a bus from Florence to Ancona, which took about 3 1/2 hours. Loading up the ferry took nearly just as long, but it was fun to explore. This was the first time I’d ever taken a ferry of that size. It was basically a small town! The rooms were basically glorified closets, but there were multiple dinning rooms, entertainment areas, gaming rooms (for kids and adults), and countless decks to explore a 365 degree view of the Italian coastline and then nothing but the Adriatic Sea. It was beautiful!

Well.. back to my lesson…

So, I bummed some motion sickness medicine from a student and looked forward to a puke-less trip across the Adriatic Sea. A little bit later, the chaperones met up on the top deck to sit and chat until it was time for dinner. One of the parents had purchased a bottle of wine in Florence and we all sat down to share the bottle– about eight adults drinking one bottle of wine. I had about the equivalent of a Dixie cup’s worth of red wine.

And… you guessed it… about 15 minutes later I was drunker than a skunk, not a sensation I am super familiar with, and definitely not a sensation I enjoyed. I hardly ate any food due to the world spinning and wobbling simultaneously. I went to bed at about 7pm and slept until the next morning.

SO… lesson learned… motion sickness medicine and booze, even in small amounts, DO NOT MIX!

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My last unintoxicated view from the ship

Packing Light

True confession: I have not always been a light packer. I remember my first trip to Ireland with my family, and I took a giant suitcase, and I’m pretty sure I had a backpack too. The monstrosity was jammed full of every possible clothing need I dreamed feasible back home. I had multiple pairs of shoes, and (since it was 1997) full bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and probably lotion as well.

Since then I have learned the error of my ways. Though I didn’t travel out of the country again for nearly 19 years, I learned quite a bit.

Since I was going to Ireland on my own (2016), and I was staying in a hostile that I couldn’t check into for several hours after my arrival, I decided to pack light. I was able to carry everything I brought with me quite comfortably for most of the day on my first day in Dublin.

This was everything I took for a six day venture (two days of which were travel days) to Ireland in November of 2016:

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Inside these two bags were: travel sized shampoo/conditioner/deodorant/contact solution, disposable one-use mini-toothbrushes (with toothpaste inside the bristles), hair brush, hair straightener (priority for the frizzy haired girl going to a rainy locale), extra set of contacts, quick-dry towel, luggage lock, headache medicine, 4 pairs of underpants, 2 sweaters, 2 shirts, 1 pair of pants, pjs (shirt and pants), 4 pairs of socks, 1 bra, chargers for my phone, laptop, Fitbit, 4 battery packs, an outlet converter, watercolor paper and paints, a journal, one book, three pens, and my laptop.

On my person I carried hiking boots, a pair of socks, bra, underpants, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a North Face waterproof jacket, a scarf, a pair of gloves (in the jacket pocket), two hand-made hats (one from my best friend, and one from my sister-in-love), a hair tie, my passport, debit card, credit card, and my phone.

Honestly, now I would even pack less. Some of these things were really unnecessary. For example, despite my good intentions, I didn’t break out the water colors once. I was too busying experiencing to stop and make art work. That would have saved quite a bit of room. I also would have skipped the book – I really only read in the airport, and I could have done something else instead. Also, three pairs of socks total (including the pair I was wearing) would have been plenty. When you’re staying in one place, like I was, you can sink wash and dry to save the space and weight.

The heaviest thing I brought was my laptop, but seeing as how it was November and that’s National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t want to skip six days of writing. I only wrote in the airports and one night in the hostel, but I also FaceTimed my family on Thanksgiving, and uploaded pictures from my phone to safe on memory space (remember it was 2016).

My biggest advice is to only pack what you NEED. If the situation changes, you can always buy something there, but don’t pack something on the off-chance you’re going to need it on your trip. My general policy is that I don’t check anything. I’ve heard too many stories and experienced lost luggage to know that it is often more trouble than it’s worth.

On my solo Ireland trip I also condensed. I took sweaters and shirts that I didn’t particularly like (since I wasn’t trying to impress anyone) and donated them to the hostel “free bin” or threw things out. There were almost no clothes left to pack for my flight home. I came home with my messenger bag rolled up inside of the backpack, and I even bought a few souvenirs! 

In full disclosure, my 2016 trip to Ireland was relatively short. When I went to Italy and Greece for 9 days in 2017 and Ireland in 2018 with a group of students, I had the backpack and a carry-on suitcase. On those trips we were rarely in the same place multiple nights in a row, so there is no time for the wash/dry scenario. But I did the same thing with some clothes like pjs and undershirts and tossed them when I was done with them to save room for souvenirs.

Here’s a simple pack list:

  • ID/credit/debit cards/insurance cards
  • phone/camera/chargers
  • personals (underpants, etc)
  • hygiene (compact sizes – just enough)
  • weather appropriate clothing (layer your clothing on airport days)
  • ONE pair of shoes (unless you will experience different climates)
  • outlet converters (check travel websites for the country you are going to)
  • bedtime attire (if not recycling shirt from that day)
  • quick-dry towel and lock (if staying in a hostel

Trust me, you will be MUCH less stressed by not checking luggage! Try to avoid it if you can. If you are traveling with someone, plan ahead and share items so you don’t need to bring multiples.

Feel free to comment below any questions you have about how to pack light OR if you have other great ideas on how to save space and avoid checking luggage.

 

The Less Hostile Hostel Stay

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I posted last week about my solo stay in Ireland and how the trip was made exponentially better by a stay at The Times Hostel in Dublin. It was a glorious experience, and one that I recommend for nearly every solo traveler and even to some non-solo folks.

For those of you not traveling alone, hostels usually have private rooms for much cheaper than area hotels. For example, The Times has a two person bunk room for about €200 CHEAPER per night than the cheapest room at the Westin which is only 44 meters (144 feet) away. Going with 4 people? You have to get two rooms at The Westin, but could stay in a semi-private room with 4 beds at The Times for nearly €500 cheaper PER NIGHT.

Hostels are really overlooked by Americans because of the connotation that they are for the young and poor, and that they are unsafe. But neither of these things is even remotely true– at least not in my experience at The Times. Even staying in their largest dorm (10 beds — which would be about €550 cheaper per night than the Westin), they have lockable storage, or even storage at the front desk (for a small fee).

That all being said, there are some things you need to be aware of if you’re planning on staying in a hostel, because there is a reason they are cheaper other than just the communal living.

1. You get very few complimentary luxuries.

The hostel supplies you with a bed, sheets, a comforter (usually a duvet), and toilet paper. That’s about it. You have to bring your own towel, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, and lotion. The Westin will give you all of that included in the cost of your room, but that hardly seems worth €200. When I went, I brought a microfiber, quick drying towel that I purchased on Amazon for $10. I used the towel in the morning, hung it over the railing on the bunk to dry, and it was dry before I was finished getting ready. I also bought travel sized shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. All together I spent less than $25. You can rent a towel from the front desk. This doesn’t cost much… I think €2-€3 per day.

2. Evenings in the dorm rooms are for sleeping.

The generally accepted norm in a hostel is that the dorm rooms are designated quiet places. If you’re there during the day and want to have a conversation, that’s fine. But if the lights are off, that means someone is sleeping, and they would like you to respect that. The common areas are really the place for working on your laptop, watching Netflix, or having a conversation. Be aware of your surroundings and try to be polite.

3. Just because something is left out doesn’t mean that it is communal property. 

Some people (not me) leave their bathroom things on the counter out of convenience. It is an acceptable thing to do so, and it is considered bad form to use other people’s things without asking. However, when you ask (in my experience) people tend to be very generous and willing to share their things with you. I didn’t have quite enough shampoo for my last shower in Dublin, and one of the girls in my room offered me some of hers. Because of the communal atmosphere, I think people are more willing to share– if asked.

4. BYOL (Bring Your Own Lock) 

The hostel will provide you with a storage locker of some kind, but it is up to you to bring a lock and remember to put it on. I purchased a simple lock from Amazon for only $7. It is TSA approved, so you can also use it on your luggage. However, just as a warning, despite that it is TSA approved, they do sometimes cut it off anyway instead of using the tool they have to open it. You might want to avoid using it on non-carryon items. I used mine on my backpack, and I just took it off before going through security and it was fine. Also worth noting is that there is limited space for you to be able to lock things up in the dorm room of the hostel. So, either pack light (post coming about that in a couple weeks), put your overflow into the rentable storage at the front desk, or put all of your valuables in one bag that you lock up.

5. Be Social! 

Go to the free events in the common areas. You’ll be surprised (even if you’re older than the average guest) that you actually have a good time. You can meet some amazing people from literally all over the world while staying in a hostel. It is a wonderful community to get to know.

 

And lastly…

6. The desk attendants are EXTREMELY helpful! 

My stay at The Times was wonderful, but what impressed me the most was that the desk clerks really were excited to talk to me about the city, what it had to offer, and suggested some great things that I’d never seen in any guidebook. I mentioned needing to get to the airport very early in the morning and worrying about getting a taxi at 4am. The attendant told me about the airport bus that stopped right in front of the hostel every 30 minutes around the clock, and it was only €5 instead of the €25 or more it would cost for a cab. Another clerk told me about a fun restaurant in the Temple Bar district where I had a glorious trio of stews and Irish soda bread for only €8. The people who work at the hostel love their city and know all of the great things to do around town.

I hope this post helps you if you are thinking about staying in a hostel. You will get so much more out of your trip if you are able to save hundreds of dollars a night, and you will get to meet some amazing people as well.

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