Travel Favorites

Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I will be happily infected for the rest of my life

-Michael Palin

Traveling is something that countless people from all over the world love to do for a litany of reasons. It is liberating to explore new places and experience new cultures, to try new foods and lifestyles if only for a short period of time. Some people take it a step farther and turn their whole lives to completely surround traveling, doing everything in their power to keep the high that one gets from landing in a new place going on forever. I don’t know if I could commit the rest of my life to a nomadic existence, however, I really have began to love so many different travel related shows, video series, blogs and other stories I’ve found online, and I thought I would share them here in a comprehensive list in case anyone else is looking for some inspiration or motivation to take that trip or start planning out a future adventure.


Andrew’s Great Adventure is a travel blog and adventure story dear to me because Andrew Siess, the writer and adventurer, is from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Andrew’s stories are truly incredible; he has now officially walked the circumference of the planet and he has ridden his bike from Minnesota to the southernmost point of South America, amongst many other adventures along the way. His story is inspiring and very impressive.

Check him out on Facebook:

Nadine Sykora of Hey Nadine is also an inspiring travel blogger and vlogger, although I find some of her content leaves a lot to be desired concerning the cultural aspects of travel. Many of her trips are sponsored through Contiki, which is an amazing company to utilize for newer travelers or perhaps people who like having someone else handle the planning and coordinating of a trip when they travel. It’s great that she has a company to pay for her adventures and a lot of the cinematography of her vlogs is impressive, however I believe that some of the raw, cultural experience that I enjoy in traveling would get lost through group travel of this type.

Twenty-Something Travel is a travel blog and online resource primarily written by Stephanie Yoder, although she now has a few other writers who work for her. I love her website, as it combines realistic travel tips, advice, recommendations and photos of the various places that she has traveled to, lived and worked in. She has been many places and has turned a passion for traveling into a successful career. I also love how she does Friday Postcards – photo submissions that anyone can send in for a feature on her blog. One of my photos from Toledo was posted a few months ago, and I think this is a great way for her to connect with her readers.

TV Shows

All I can say is having Travel channel for the past four years after not growing up with cable TV has been amazing, although lately a lot of the shows kind of suck. I generally only get excited when either No Reservations or The Layover re-runs are on, but occasionally I get sucked into some Bizarre Foods.

I love Anthony Bourdain for his crass, raw style of experiencing foreign cultures and his biting wit is something I really enjoy. He has three different shows I thoroughly enjoy, however his newest show on CNN “Parts Unknown” is by far my favorite. They are also on Netflix!

Tools and Packing Essentials

The Visa-Requirements Map for US Citizens:


This map is valuable for anyone planning out travels who is curious about the various visa requirements for traveling to any country throughout the world. Having paperwork in order is vital to prevent having issues at the border and/or large fees for not having the correct visas needed for entry into a country.

Osprey Backpack

I picked up this backpack during a massive sale at REI and I am absolutely brimming with excitement to use it. REI is a fantastic company to buy a backpacking pack from because they allow returns of any item for a full year after they are purchased (if you are a member, which is definitely something I’d recommend looking into). This backpack is an Osprey specially designed for women, fitting my body perfectly and distributing the weight properly without cutting off the circulation to my boobs.

Neck pillow 

I bought mine for 5 euro in Spain at Ale Hop but I would recommend getting one of the nicer, memory foam neck pillows that they sell at travel stores and the airport shops. This makes a long journey a hell of a lot more pleasant, because it allows you to be unconscious for it.

Eyeshades and Earplugs

This probably goes without saying but when traveling, sleep can be a rare thing to come by when you’re bouncing around on an overnight train bed beneath a bunk holding an old hippie named Mike, but certain things can help the aid the process. I bring my eyeshades literally everywhere, ready to shut out the world and catch a nap whenever possible. For plane rides and long train rides, earplugs are also essential to flush out the screams of infants and the jostling noises of transportation.

Water Bottle

Even though this seems like the most obvious thing to remember when going on a trip, I almost always forget it and I know many others who also forget theirs as well. If there’s one thing I always kick myself over when I travel, it’s when I have to buy water at the airport or fast food restaurants/convenience stores because I forgot my bottle. Unless you’re traveling to certain places where the water could potentially blow your colon out and put you on the toilet for the rest of your trip, having a reusable water bottle is the best way to save some extra money and still stay hydrated while exploring new places. I’ve never had digestion problems after drinking the water in many different European countries (knock on wood…) but it could be a problem in other places, so be careful!

In a world where our biggest threats are coming from hackers and identity thieves, having extra protection of sensitive information is key in preventing having major headaches or even a financial catastrophe while abroad. RFID protection cases essentially function as a “Faraday cage” which, if you have been blessed and never had to take physics in your life, just basically means that shithead hackers can’t use counterfeit RFID readers to obtain your personal information. You can technically also use a closed Altoids case if you want to save on money (and have an excuse to eat a bunch of mints) but these are a good idea to have to prevent having someone draining your bank account or stealing your identity while abroad.

That’s it for my favorites list for now, let me know some of your travel favorites in the comments!


A New Way to Plan Travel: YONDERBOUND!

If you’re like me and love spending countless hours surfing the internet looking up future travel locations, details on hotels and major attractions and various tidbits of travel advice, you NEED to make an account on Yonderbound. Yonderbound is a new online tool to organize and plan travel, making it easier than ever to execute a dream trip. Their mission is “Everyone has the right to travel” and I personally could not agree more!

I was first made aware of this fantastic website through Twenty-Something Travel, and since making my account I have been able to get much more organized in my future travel plans, and have a much better idea of how much I need to set aside financially to be able to go on all the trips I want in the future.  Yonderbound is a lot better than just pinning pretty pictures of destinations on a “Travel” board on Pinterest, because it involves actual planning, reading reviews of hotels and places, getting real insider advice on how to make the most of any trip.

My current top 5 future destinations

1. Germany (Oktoberfest 2015)

2. Italy (month-long excursion plan)

3. Thailand

4. Argentina

5. Canada

Check out Yonderbound today if you want to plan some future trips!

xoxo Valerie

Picture of Tübingen, Germany. Can’t wait to back to the land of sauerkraut for Oktoberfest next year!

Traveling Alone

As the study abroad chapter of my life came to an end, the solo travel chapter was just beginning. Studying abroad is an amazing way to experience a new culture, make friends and to travel to new places with those friends, and often times doing things in a big group can be loads of fun, but it can also be frustrating. Despite my excitement to see new places in Eastern Europe, I was a bit scared to embark on my travel alone, with only me, myself and I to call on if anything bad happened. I left my program friends early in the morning with a small batch of butterflies in my stomach.

Now, after three big cities and over a week and a half of exploring Europe solo, I can safely say that traveling alone is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It has taught me more about myself than I ever could have learned in the company of another, has forced me to make new friends from different countries of different backgrounds, languages, interests, the whole gamut of human existence.
I didn’t tell my mom I was planning on traveling to Eastern Europe alone until the day before, mostly so that she wouldn’t have time to worry and nag me everyday that I should just come home and not travel by myself. Probably lost daughter points with that one, but for the memories I’ve made, it was entirely worth it.

There is a stigma or attitude against female solo travel, and after this past week I really don’t understand why it exists. The fear is superfluous, there is no reason to be afraid of being a woman alone in a new place. Sure, some places have very different cultural norms and expectations, but overall I don’t think the real danger is anywhere near what our society thinks it is. Americans are extremely paranoid, quick to develop fear of the unknown while ignoring real dangers in their everyday lives. I’m more likely to be murdered or robbed in Minneapolis, my own hometown city that is considered “safe,” than I am in most of the cities one could travel to abroad. Our media wants us to be afraid of everything, especially anything “foreign.” I believe some of the xenophobia in Americans comes from this media-complex cultivation, stimulating our fears by focusing on extreme cases and anecdotal situations that are so far off base with reality it paints a picture of foreign countries that is essentially a lie. Sure, you have to be smart about where and how you travel, but being alone is not a guarantee that something bad is going to happen. When I briefly discussed my plans on going to cities farther east in Europe before leaving for study abroad, I got the classic response with reference to the movie “Taken” and each time I had to fight the urge to punch the nearest wall. “Taken” is a movie, made by HOLLYWOOD to make MONEY not to actually illustrate the reality of how sex trafficking rings work. I never ran into a problem, all it takes is some common sense and trusting your gut. If I would have been fearful of making new friends, I would have had a terrible experience traveling alone. Thankfully, people who stay in hostels almost always have the same mentality. We are here, strangers in a new place just looking to have a good time. Taking advantage of being young and having access to youth hostels and the mobility of not having life-changing commitments is so important. One thing I did that made my traveling alone experience much more enjoyable was to make sure every hostel I stayed in had security lockers, so I could share huge dorm rooms with many people and feel secure that my things were locked up. I made so many friends along my journey and learned quite a bit about myself. The next adventure I’m craving is a solo Asia trip, but that may take a bit more planning and convincing of Mom than Europe.How many of you have traveled alone? Where did you go and what was your experience like? Any tips or tricks to avoid possible bad situations? Leave in the comments below xoxo


Things I Wish I Would Have Brought

Continuing the theme of my earlier post, on this whole “learning from mistakes” rampage, I’ve also managed to compile a list over the past seven weeks of all the things I wish I would have brought with me. Despite the fact that I wrote a post on packing and thought I had it all down, believe it or not I’m still no expert and found myself wishing I would have packed/brought the following things.

While my cloth quiksilver one was cute and fashionable, the made-in-China bag did not stand the test of time and got completely shredded after Pamplona and Ibiza. I said goodbye to it in a trash bin and got this guy instead. Should have brought my school backpack or something sturdier that I already had instead of buying a new one, but I suppose there’s no crime in owning more than one backpack
2. More workout clothes
I didn’t think I would have much time to exercise during my summer here, but in reality I had a lot of time to go on runs or hikes through the beautiful city of Toledo. I didn’t bring many clothes to exercise IN, however, thus I didn’t go as often as I could have/should have and I am far more out of shape. Also bought a sports bra and shorts, so there’s more money spent again.
3. More deodorant
I couldn’t find my normal brand here upon running out, thus I am wearing a weird Spanish deodorant. Not a fan.
4. A pumice stone
From all the excessive walking and hiking, my feet need a major exfoliation. A cheese grater would probably be better than a pumice stone but I’m not sure if it’s kosher to use one on your feet if you aren’t a professional pedicurist
5. My computer.
I’m still at a cross roads with this one. While it is very nice not having an expensive and heavy electronic device to lug around and worry about constantly, I miss being able to write blog posts with more ease and edit and upload pictures. When I get home I intend to set up a base camp in caribou or some other coffee shop and do a major haul upload. I miss my lappy.
6. Odor eaters shoe spray 
My hiking sandals smell like a mixture of dead animal carcass and satanic butthole, but they are expensive so I’m not going to throw them out. A major cleaning/sterilization is in order for when I get home, probably should see if I can rent a hazmat suit for the job. 
7. More pens. Nice pens. Haven’t been able to find my beloved G2s here. 
8. A jar of peanut butter. Goes without explanation. 
That’s basically it, I think otherwise I did quite well with the packing. Is there something you’ve wished you would have packed for a longer trip? Always open to ideas and suggestions so that one day I can craft the perfect packing list. Leave it in the comments xoxo 

Travel Mistakes and Poor Planning

I think it’s safe to say every traveler has had their “oh shit” moment when they realize that a part of their journey might not have been so well thought out. I am currently having mine, so I am writing this post on my iPhone whilest in a taxi that is taking me to the train station. A taxi that will cost me 100 euro roughly because I screwed up on looking at the time of my train ticket and didn’t realize the excessive amount of time that it would take to shuttle 60+ (still-drunk-at-5am) college kids to the airport. I greatly underestimated the time I would need, and in order to avoid having a panic attack, I abandoned the group bus and took a cab solo to guarantee that I would have sufficient time. Definitely not ideal, but it is reality. I didn’t want to miss my train and lose the $100 I already spent on the ticket, so this was my only option. I figure it’s more or less a six of one, half a dozen of the other situation (or so I’m saying because it makes me feel better) because my other option would have been to go to Madrid a night early, pay for transport, a hostel and food, which would have probably been fairly expensive on a Saturday night anyhow. I learned the lesson today that “leaving at 5:30am” has a different meaning when you’re with a huge group of dysfunctional people. Oh well.

This situation also highlights one aspect that I really do not like about Toledo, I really would prefer a big city like Madrid if I were to live in Spain long term. Being 40 minutes away really isn’t bad if you had a car or didn’t have early things to do, but my train is at 8am and the reality is there would be no other way for me to get there. It’s a bummer but I have definitely learned my lesson from it, it cost me money but to save the stress of needing to switch train tickets and everything else, I would say it’s worth it.
I guess the point of this post, besides venting about my frustrations to the interwebs, is just that it’s important to have extra money stashed away for problems like this. Stuff happens, you don’t want to be budget down to the last dollar, so that if there were an emergency you would be SOL. The bus you were on going from Paris to Barcelona breaks down and then you’re late and miss your flight. Your wallet gets swooped by a gypsy outside the colosseum.  You get the shake down from a shady cab driver or train employee. This kind of crap happens to travelers all the time, and despite the fact that while it is happening, everyone just wishes they could teleport to their own bed back home, vowing to never leave again, it is these experiences that season us, bruising our egos now to toughen our skin for the future.
I’m grateful for credit cards and that I have a job waiting for me when I get back to the States. Sometimes it’s easy to let a minor financial setback or road bump throw a wrench in a trip, but being negative and obsessing on a setback (something I do far too often) is not going to make the situation better. Money is a renewable resource, you can spend it and earn it time and time again. Opportunities to go to San Sebastián, however, are probably much more sparse for me, and many. Looking forward to a good trip with hopefully no more drama in store, but even if it happens I’m determined to stay positive.
If you have had a poor planning experience, leave a comment on this post! I believe it’s important to share the stories of our mistakes with others, so we don’t all have to learn from our own mistakes, but also the mistakes of someone else. Makes it a bit easier for all of us.

Happy thoughts!

The sun does burn, the sea is cold, but we’re all in the same rowing boat. 

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