Relaxing in Cuba – it’s harder than you think

Picture yourself relaxing in Cuba. Scrunch your toes into the powdery white sand. Take a sip of your mojito. Plunge into the warm, azure waters. Wait two hours in line at the bank. Sit in your wrought-iron rocking chair and light up a cigar. Chat with your neighbours. Pay twenty-five times too much for your coffee. Sit on a deserted beach to watch the stars. Make yourself a Cuba libre. Wait two hours in line to get wifi. Get a flat tire. Pay twenty cents for the best pizza you’ve had outside Italy. Go salsa dancing. Get a second flat tire. Watch the palm trees sway in the wind. Brace yourself for a tropical storm. Wait two hours to buy a bus ticket. Yell at a man who tried to charge you a dollar fifty for a pizza. Get a third flat tire. Pay fifty dollars for counterfeit cigars. Watch the sun set over the ocean. Are you relaxed yet?

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Venture beyond the forced fun of Varadero’s resorts, and you’ll find an entirely different Cuba. Most locals prefer reggaeton to salsa. Beaches are a long and pricey taxi ride away. You’ll inevitably shell out fifteen dollars for a meal that cost less than fifty cents to make. It’s impossible to get a straight answer out of anyone.

In short, Cuba is not the ideal country for travellers. Prices for foreigners are as high as in much more developed countries, while locals have access to heavily subsidised rates. The food, while better than it was five years ago, is still frankly terrible. Public transportation is inconvenient, forcing all but the most determined to take taxis nearly everywhere. The locals are friendly, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that your new friend is somehow making a commission.

Not to mention the bureaucracy that pervades every aspect of Cuban life. You’ll probably spend three or four hours cueing up before even leaving the airport. I spent two full days with a fellow backpacker before we realized that half our time together had been spent waiting in lines.

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But if you commit yourself to taking Cuba as it comes, you will be rewarded.

This country is so different from everything you know that every mundane task sparks a philosophical conundrum. What happens to a society when cab drivers make more than doctors? Is it immoral to overcharge people because they’re relatively rich? Is free healthcare more important than free speech?

In the hours upon hours that you will inevitably spend waiting, you can do one of several things. You may use your time to criticize the Cuban government and its socialist penchant for bureaucracy. Many visitors choose this as their pastime, but I find others much more interesting. If you suspend your frustration, you may instead spend your time pondering Cuba’s complexities, chatting with your fellow line-mates, and enjoying the sunshine as you watch Cubans go about their business. After a time, you may even find waiting in line rather… pleasant.

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This is the secret to relaxing in Cuba. Once you venture away from the resorts, there’s little relaxation to be had. Your bus will be delayed. Your car will break down. Your taxi driver will take you to the wrong address. Your bank card will not work. Your bed and breakfast will give away your reservation. Your souvenir will cost a hundred times what it’s worth. Your dinner will arrive cold and under seasoned and might even give you food poisoning.

You will be subjected to so much stress that you will simply not survive unless you rise above it. Tranquilo, you will tell yourself. Be calm. Be unconcerned. Let it go.

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This is the secret to relaxing in Cuba. Lying on a beach with a coconut full of rum won’t rid you of your stress; it will only delay it. Beach vacations are called ‘escapes’ for a reason—they’ll let you escape your life, your job and your worries, but all your problems will be there when you return.

Exploring Cuba on your own is no such escape. You’ll encounter more problems than you could ever expect. You will get so frustrated it will be hard to believe you’re on vacation. But you will learn how to transform your stress into something positive, and that skill will stay with you long after your Caribbean tan has faded.

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10 questions to ask a friend who’s been traveling

It can be weirdly difficult to talk to a friend who’s just gotten back from a long trip. You know they must have some great stories, you want to hear them, but for some reason it’s hard to get at that information. What are you supposed to say? Something like, “Hi! Great to see you! Now tell me in detail about the last eight months of your life!” doesn’t exactly inspire conversation. Too often, conversations about extended travels begin and end with the incredibly boring:

“How was your trip?”

“Great!”

“…great.”

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Since I’ve just returned from a trip myself, I thought I would share a few questions that are bound to get a more lively conversation going. The pictures are mostly a random selection from Ecuador and Colombia. Here we go!

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“What cultural differences did you notice?”

I love it when people ask me this. It gives me the opportunity to talk about anything from food, to partying, to busses, to bathrooms. I’ll also be able to tell you about that time I snatched a 100-dirham bill out of an unscrupulous taxi driver’s hand because I was tired of getting ripped off in Morocco.

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“I heard this stereotype about where you went. Is it true?”

This is a great way to learn about the places your friend visited. I delight in telling friends that the Chinese aren’t really bad drivers, they just operate under an entirely different set of rules governing what good driving should be.

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“Did you meet many locals?”

Guaranteed that anyone coming back from a long trip will have a story about going out drinking with a group of friendly locals that didn’t speak a word of their language. All you have to do is ask.

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“Did you meet anyone to travel with?”

No one wants to admit that they’ve been cheating on their friends back home with travel buddies. It’s a relief to know that your friends at home understand your infidelity, and don’t mind hearing the occasional story about your cool new globetrotting friends.

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“Is it weird to be back home?”

As much as we miss home when we’re away, reverse culture shock can hit hard. It’s nice to get permission to talk about the strange or negative aspects of ending a trip. I’m currently struggling to leave toilet paper in the toilet instead of the garbage, and I feel extremely weird carrying money that isn’t in a slash-proof purse.

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“What did you miss most from home while you were away?”

The answer to this should help both people appreciate their native land, even if they never left it in the first place.

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“What will you miss now that you’re back?”

This question will uncover what aspects of everyday life are most enjoyable in a foreign place, instead of focusing on big experiences like seeing Machu Picchu or what have you (pictured: “The Machu Picchu of the Caribbean”.

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“Did you go anywhere that you’d consider living in?”

This really gets people thinking about the pros and cons of where they’ve been. Ask this if you’re interested in the gritty side of things and the vibe of a city, not just what it’s like to visit for a day or two.

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“Was there anywhere that you didn’t click with?”

Most people assume that traveling means having a great time, all the time. While they’re mostly right, a lot of things can go wrong. Sometimes, you’ll spend a ton of time and effort getting to a place that you just can’t bring yourself to like. Most people can get over that easily enough. The real problem is that you can’t tell anyone that you hated a part of your vacation without sounding like an ungrateful ass. This question will give your friends the chance to have a guilt-free vent session if they need to.

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“Did you find any hidden gems?”

Your backpacking friend probably stumbled upon at least one hipster artist commune/french-colombian fusion restaurant/bomb shelter-turned-club that you’ve definitely never heard of, and they’re probably dying to brag about it. Indulge them just this once.

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Three Moroccos

I woke, and washed myself. I mixed scalding hot water from the stove and cool water from the tap in a shallow blue bucket. I used a smaller pail to pour water on myself as I crouched, bracing myself from the chill. Only a thin curtain separated me from the hallway, just as a thin curtain separated my bedroom from the living room.

The house was a traditional Moroccan riad, with rooms surrounding and overlooking a central courtyard that was open to the sky. The courtyard was the living room, the dining room and—for some family members—the bedroom. The house was only a hundred years old, but it felt as ancient as any in the Fez medina. Stairs were crooked, tiles were crumbling, and rooms were stacked haphazardly on top of each other with no concern for the notion of ‘floors.’

I never could count how many people lived in that house. A matriarch and her husband, surely. Two, maybe three daughters and a son, now off in Istanbul. A small swarm of grandchildren and a babe in arms. The daughters’ husbands may have lived there too, but I never saw them.

We sat on the long couch that circled the courtyard while the grandmother brought us strips of day-old flatbread, French toasted and served with honey and runny apple jam.

She peeked out of the kitchen. “Tea?” she asked.

“That’s very kind, but I don’t think we have time,” I explained in French. “We have to catch a train.”

“Tea,” she replied with a nod.

I sank back into the couch. Far be it from me to refuse a Moroccan woman’s tea in her own home. She emerged a few minutes later with a silver tray bearing glass cups of tea, mint leaves and sugar. We sipped quickly, nearly scalding ourselves with the sweet liquid.

Only the grandparents were home. The rest of the family was off at school or work, including the new mother. She carried her baby in a sling while she gave massages.

We wished our hosts in Fez goodbye and rushed away through dusty streets.

***

Fez mosques

Our train took us to Casablanca, which is far less romantic than Hollywood would have you believe. Our next host was to meet us at the station and take us back to her home for a class on Moroccan cooking.

We stepped out of the station and spotted a short woman wearing jeans and a turtleneck. Her curly brown hair grazed her shoulders, unconstrained by a hijab.

“Years ago, no one cared about the hijab,” Aya told us later. “But it’s coming back. They teach girls in school that they have to wear it and be proper. Then the girls go home and ask their mothers why they don’t wear one.”

She chatted enthusiastically as she drove us home, pausing only to take a call over Bluetooth or to belt along with Adele.

She pulled up in front of an airy, two-story house with a large garden, where she introduced us to her mother and her maid. “She’s been with us since I was a girl,” she remarked. “She’s family now.”

We sat under the gazebo, eating almond cookies and sipping mint tea as we got to know each other. Aya had studied abroad in France and America, and had lived in Kuwait with her husband. He still worked there, but they had decided that she would raise their children in Morocco.

After tea we got to cooking. Rather, Aya’s maid and mother cooked as we observed, talking and drinking Moroccan wine.

“People think Moroccans don’t drink, but that’s not true. We say the booze in stores is for the expats, but you watch who buys it.”

While lunch was cooking, we were led upstairs and shown the traditional Moroccan living room. It was skirted on all sides by a plush, white couch. Small circular tables dotted the floor, and a chandelier glistened above. It was a room designed to fit as many people, comfortably, as was humanly possible.

“My sister got married here,” Aya said. “I didn’t,” she added with a laugh. “We eloped in Cyprus.”

Outside, we sat down to a feast of chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives, hot Moroccan salads made of tomato and eggplant, and a sweet noodle dish with powdered sugar and raisins. Aya packed us flatbread sandwiches full of leftovers before whisking us back to the train station.

“Why did you decide to host cooking classes for foreigners?” I asked.

“I want people to see the Morocco I see,” she said. “So many tourists come here and they see the touts and the grime. I want them to see something good.”

***

Rabat

Our last stop that day was Marrakesh. We came to the central square well after dark, when the bustling crowds had taken on a forbidding tinge in the firelight. We waited for our next host, Tom, as we stole wifi from a nearby café.

He wasn’t answering his texts. We waited ten minutes, then twenty. We started thinking of what to do if he didn’t show. Spring for a hotel on the square, find something else in the daylight.

Two figures approached us, one bulky and one thin.

“Heather!” His voice was surprisingly soft for such a muscular man.

He led us through winding streets as we talked about life in Morocco. He was from New York, but now split his time between there and Marrakesh, where he made his living renting out rooms. “It’s a great life,” he said. “Move here, buy a house, get on Airbnb. It’s simple.”

Down an alley, past stray cats, and into our home for the next few days, an artist’s colony moonlighting as an Airbnb. It was also a riad, but the complete opposite of the one we’d woken up in. There were no ornate tiles or ancient rugs. Instead, sleek white walls with the occasional bit of Arabic calligraphy done in black spray paint. A white fountain gurgled in the courtyard.

“Come up to the roof and meet everyone,” said Tom. “We’re working on a really exciting project right now. A puppet show.”

Sure enough, the riad was peppered with disembodied, papier-mâché hands and heads.

An array of guests, expats and young Moroccan artists were gathered on the rooftop. After a few minutes, a Dutch woman appeared with a towering homemade tagine. We sat in a circle, sipping beer and using hunks of flatbread to scoop up lamb, couscous and vegetables from a communal dish. After dinner, one of the artists passed a joint around.

“You can pretty much do what you want in Marrakesh,” said Tom. “Some things can be tough, sure. For women, or those of us who feel like women,” he added with a wink.

“But mostly you’re free.”

Later that night, I stretched out on crisp white sheets on a king sized bed. “The bed is almost too big,” Tom had told me earlier. “We had to order in the sheets.”

***

Marrakesh airbnb

London by the Pound

London is a traveller’s jackpot. It’s the perfect mix of old and new, where history and progress meet seamlessly. Whether you like to fritter away the hours in museums and churches, or crawl the city streets for a taste of local food and nightlife, London always delivers. Unfortunately, the delivery fee is high. Read on for tips and tricks that will give your pounds more weight in London.Inline image 1

Museums

London’s museums are simply spectacular. They hold unbelievable collections from around the world, they’re flawlessly curated, and most of them are, blessedly, free. If that isn’t enough to convince you, they also have free wifi. Here’s the lowdown on my favourites.

This is the cafeteria in the Victoria and Albert Museum. No need to spend big to dine in style.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This gorgeous building holds a variety of decorative arts like stained glass, sculpture, and jewellery. Its galleries include excellent videos showing how various pieces were made. The V&A has an excellent copy of Michelangelo’s David and of the bronze doors to Florence’s Baptistery—a visit here practically saves you a trip to Italy.

The British Museum

This one is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as the British Museum includes just about everything from just about everywhere. You’ll find Egyptian mummies, sculptures from Athens’ Acropolis, and even a moai from Easter Island! A loop of this museum is basically a bargain trip around the world. It also has a great, classy gift shop that’s perfect for non-souvenirs.

The National Gallery

Another misnomer, this gallery features quite an international collection. Art lovers will swoon over every second painting, while more casual observers will love hunting for heavy hitters like Monet and Van Gogh.

The National Portrait Gallery

Far more than an oddly specific art gallery, this museum offers a crash course in British history—as told through the stories of royals and other elites.

The Tate Britain

This is where you’ll find quintessentially British art, and fewer crowds than the National Gallery.

The Tate Modern

Tired of stuffy artefacts and oil paintings? Head here for a refreshing hit of modern art.

The Natural History Museum

It’s basically a castle filled with dinosaurs. Need I say more?

Must-Sees

St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London are three of London’s unmissable sights. Unfortunately, they can be prohibitively expensive. Full price tickets to see all three will set you back a whopping 60 pounds ($120+)! Not to worry—savvy travellers know that you can see each of them for free.

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St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey
Worship is always free of charge at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. If that isn’t your thing, you can still catch a free organ recital on Sunday4:45 at St Paul’s and 5:45 at Westminster. At St Paul’s, you’ll have a great view of the inside of the church, but you won’t be able to check out the crypts or climb the dome. At Westminster, you’ll see just enough of the interior to get an idea of its grandeur, but you won’t get to explore too much. Come early, there’s less seating here than in St Paul’s.

Both churches are worth shelling out admission if you can, but if you can’t, free live music is a great alternative.

The Tower of London
Every night for the past 700 years, the Ceremony of the Keys has taken place in the Tower of London. Tickets are miraculously free (with a £1 booking fee) and grant you limited entrance into the site. You won’t be able to see the crown jewels, but you will be locked inside the Tower of London for a bit, which is pretty cool too. The ceremony is justifiably popular, so you’ll have to reserve tickets well in advance. Seriously. It’s January now and they’re sold out until September. Book here.

Food

England may not be known for its cuisine, but London is a Mecca of both local and international dishes. Eating out can be quite pricey though, especially if you compare the cost of foreign food to what that same dish would cost abroad. In all seriousness, it can be cheaper to fly to Spain for tapas than to grab a few drinks and Spanish snacks in London.

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Thankfully, there is a place in London where you can sample delicious dishes from around the world without breaking your budget on restaurants. That place is Camden Market, which specializes in gourmet street food. With everything from Malaysian curry to gourmet mac & cheese, to Venezuelan arepa (stuffed cornbread), it’s the perfect place to experience London’s diverse food culture on a budget. Mains are £5-£6, and samples are free and plentiful.

Transportation

Public transport costs can add up alarmingly fast in London, especially if you’re staying far from the centre. Here’s the lowdown on budget transit.

The Tube
The London Underground’s payment system is bafflingly complex. Rates change based on which zones your journey crosses and what time you Big Ben Bustravel. Your best bet is to get an Oyster Card, which offers much better rates than single tickets. For even better fares, avoid travelling between 4:00 and 7:00 in the evening or before 9:30 in the morning on weekdays. Like you needed an excuse to sleep in.

The Bus
London’s iconic double decker busses are a bargain at £1.50, so use them if you can (you’ll need an Oyster Card). Note that you pay per bus, not per journey, so the tube might be cheaper if you need to take multiple busses.

The Bikes
London’s public transport system includes a great network of rental bikes.They cost £2 per day, then another £2 for every half hour after the first half hour. In other words, you can return your bike after 29 minutes, take another one, and not pay any extra. This is the cheapest way to get around London other than walking, if you can brave driving on the left!

Getting there

London is served by three budget airports, Stanstead, Gatwick, and Luton, so getting there on the cheap shouldn’t be a problem if you’re already on the continent. Consider adding a layover in London to your next trip within Europe – it may even be cheaper than flying direct.

The only problem with flying to London is that your airport transfer may end up being more expensive than your flight. Easybus usually offers the cheapest transfers (book well in advance), but if you go with them, get ready to partake in a classic British pastime: queuing. National Express are more reliable.

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London is undoubtedly expensive, but with these tips you can see the best of it – and still have cash left over for your next adventure!

Death to Souvenirs

I hate souvenirs. I hate them with a passion that makes me want to gouge both my eyes out with a tiny replica Eiffel Tower anytime someone tries to sell me said replica Eiffel Tower.

I hate them for a wide variety of reasons. To start, the vast majority of souvenirs are poorly made, overpriced, and unoriginal. (Who needs a tote bag made in Bangladesh to prove they’ve been to Havana?)

The stores devoted to them clog otherwise beautiful city streets. They also place a huge burden on travellers: that to buy trinkets for friends and family every time they go abroad. A colossal first world problem, I know. I’m sorry, but I stress over what to bring back for my loved ones; it’s virtually impossible to pick up a nice souvenir for everyone on my list without breaking the bank—or ripping the seams on my backpack.

Finally, and most importantly, I hate souvenirs because I can’t for the life of me imagine who would want one.

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This souvenir misspelled not one, not two, but THREE London landmarks!

A good friend of mine buys her cousin a keychain every time she goes abroad. What started as a cute tradition became a bit absurd when my friend started travelling to six or seven countries a year. She has bought dozens upon dozens of keychains, spending hundreds of dollars in the process. And for what? Nobody has that many keys, and nobody needs to be reminded of all the trips they didn’t take.

The term souvenir comes from the French word for memory. Why, then, do we feel the need to buy cheap ‘memories’ and bring them home to our friends? Memories can’t be bought—they must be made.

There’s no point in getting a friend a cheap fridge magnet to remind them of memories they never had in the first place. And if that fridge magnet is for you, stop and think for a minute. If you need a crappy piece of plastic to remind you what a good time you’re having, are you having a good time at all?

Don’t worry folks, I’m not just here to berate you about rampant consumerism. I do think it’s lovely to show your friends and family that you were thinking of them while you were abroad. With that in mind, here are some souvenir replacement ideas that I guarantee will make everyone happier than a ‘My-blank-went-to-blank-and-all-I-got-was-this-stupid-t-shit’ t-shirt.

For friends and family:

  1. Eatables and drinkables

If you’re in a country where you can get better food and drink than at home (or get quality stuff on the cheap), there’s no better way to celebrate your return and treat your friends than with snacks and booze. Last time I went to France, I brought back wine and cheese to share while I caught up with friends (the cheese didn’t survive the vacuum packing, but the thought was there). By sharing food and drink with your friends back home, you’re inviting them to share in a small part of your experience.

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Everyone says oui to cheese platters

  1. Local specialties

If the city you’re visiting specialises in a certain craft, Granada’s mosaic woodworking for example, then by all means stuff your suitcase with unique goods for your loved ones. But first, ask yourself this: will my friends care about this? Answer honestly. While you may have spent the last few weeks discovering the subtle ways in which art reflects a local culture, your gift’s recipient will lack that context. Only go for a decorative gift if you’re positive it will be well received.

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Can’t get this at Walmart

  1. Genuine gifts

Gifts aren’t the same as souvenirs mind you, I’m talking about birthday or Christmas presents here. If you’re coming home shortly before a special occasion, combine your gift-giving budget with your souvenir allowance to splurge on a quality piece. Museum gift shops usually have lovely (if overpriced) items. And don’t be afraid to get something they want that’s completely unrelated to where you are, like clothing. Everyone loves an excuse to say, “Oh, this? It’s from [insert exotic location here.]” Pretension is so much fun.

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I’m a sucker for gift shops that use scenes like this for inspiration

  1. Cultural experiences

I think the best souvenir substitutes the ones that bring your friends together to share what you’ve learned on your travels. When I got back from a lengthy stay in China, I held a tea ceremony for my roommates with the tools and tricks I had picked up (the first time you steep tea should be to rinse it, not to drink). I’d take a snippet of culture and a shared moment between friends over a trinket any time.

In some tea ceremonies, you use one cup to drink from and one to smell. At least that's what they tell me - they may have just tricked me into buying twice as many cups...

In some tea ceremonies, you use one cup to drink from and one to smell. At least that’s what they tell me – they may have just tricked me into buying twice as many cups…

For yourself:

  1. Art

You can’t go wrong with a painting from a local artist en lieu of a souvenir. My aunt still has the sketches she bought in Paris 40 years ago (not so the baguette keychain). Not only is browsing for local art a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, a painting of a skyline or city scene is far classier than a fridge magnet with the same scene. The only drawback here is that framing your art back home will probably cost more than buying it in the first place.

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My horde of souvenirs, featuring a painting worth half of the frame it’s in

  1. Photography

If you’re a shutterbug, skip buying mementos altogether. Instead, print and frame your favourite shots for a much more personal way to remember your vacation. You can also use apps like Touchnote to turn your personal photos into postcards. Your nearest and dearest will get a unique greeting, and you won’t have to suffer through the hassle of finding a local post office.

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I’d hang that

And finally…

Picking up everything that takes your fancy when you’re travelling seems like a great idea at the time (trust me—I brought back seven teapots from China). But when you get home, you’ll find yourself wondering what to do with all of your treasures. After a few years, your beloved souvenirs will start to seem more like, well… junk. Sad but true, that blown-glass dolphin from Venice will soon have to fight for space on your mantle with the Roman warrior from outside the Coliseum. The dolphin may lose a fin in the ensuing struggle, but that won’t upset you as much as you once thought it would.

This brings me to my final souvenir tip: limit yourself to as few as you can manage (try for one per country, or even one per trip), and choose wisely. Look for something of quality that reflects your experience without shoving it in your face—think a Grecian silver ring with traditional patterns rather than a charm bracelet with flying male genitalia. When you pick a quality item that comes with a story (either personal or cultural), you will naturally associate it with your fondest memories.

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Who am I kidding. Of course you should get yourself one of these babies


So death to cheap souvenirs, because you should never need a t-shirt to tell you how much you ❤ to travel.

10 problems North Americans encounter in Europe

By intercontinental standards, hopping from North America to Europe shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock. In most European countries, the languages, foods, and customs—while certainly different than ours—are at least familiar. I suspect Eurotrips are so popular with North Americans because what’s across the pond is different enough to be interesting, but not enough to be too culturally challenging.

That being said, some European customs will baffle or even upset the average North American. Here are a few perplexing ‘Euroisms’ I’ve encountered*:

  1. The Languages. So. Many. Languages

When a conductor on a German train asked me for my ticket (at least I’m guessing that’s what he said. For all I know he could’ve asked me to murder his wife and run away with him to Fiji), I shook my head and smiled apologetically to show that I didn’t speak German. He proceeded to repeat himself in a series of different languages, and he got through five of them before getting to one that I knew. As a North American, I tend to think I’m pretty slick because I speak two and a half languages. In Europe, you’ll probably need at least four to get a job as a waiter.

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[Insert unrelated picture of Germany here]

  1. Late meals

When I was growing up, dinner was always at six. Everyone else I knew had dinner at six. Six o’clock was dinnertime, and that was all there was to it. On my first night in Italy, I set out (at six!) to have dinner, only to find that every single restaurant in town was closed. More accurately, they hadn’t opened yet. My fellow North Americans and I prowled the streets, starving and cranky, in search of the pizza and pasta we so desperately craved. Alas, it wasn’t until eight o’clock that restaurants opened their doors and released us from our suffering. In some countries, (I’m lookin’ at you, Spain) dinner starts even later. I will never understand how dinner can be delayed for so long in countries where a cappuccino is considered sufficient breakfast.

  1. Night coffee

Coffee culture in North America is going strong, with many of us needing a daily caffeine dose to even function in the morning. In Europe, however, it is common—or even expected—to have a shot of espresso after dinner. With a typical multi-course meal ending no earlier than ten, Europeans often sip their espresso just before heading to bed. I have no idea how they do it. If a North American drinks caffeine after dark, there’s a 96% chance that it’s a Jager bomb, and a 0% chance they’ll be sleeping peacefully any time soon (assuming passing out doesn’t count).

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Real classy

  1. Paying for water

On the topic of dining out, what is the deal with paying for water? In North America, most restaurants will supply free water without even being asked. Sometimes there’s even a nice slice of lemon. Not so in Europe—you will be offered a variety of fancy-pants waters, like “sparking,” “frizzante,” or “sans gas.” They will come in glass bottles that require a bottle opener, and they will probably be more expensive than wine or beer. To score free water you’ll have to awkwardly specify “tap water,” thus exposing you as the low-class plebe that you undoubtedly are.

  1. Paying for the bathroom

As if paying for water wasn’t bad enough, you may also have to pay to relieve yourself of it. Many public bathrooms on European streets and in train stations charge a small fee. Bars and restaurants may also charge non-customers for using the facilities; I’ve been asked to pay a euro to use a squatter (that’s right, a squatter) in Paris. If you’ve ever thought that Parisian streets smell vaguely of urine, it’s probably due to lack of pocket change. As a Canadian, I consider it borderline criminal for businesses not to help someone in pressing need. Charging $1.48 for the privilege of peeing in a hole in the floor is nothing short of pure evil.

Uffizzi Florence

This is just too much

  1. Bidets

Encountering a bidet for the first time can be a confusing experience for a North American. “Is that some kind of horizontal urinal?” you ask yourself. “Oh God! Why is it spraying water like that? Oh, it must be a footbath! Oh, that’s all right then. Wait, it’s for washing WHAT? So you… sit on it? Or do ladies… uh… straddle it? Do I use it every time I go? Does everyone else wash down there more than I do?” And finally… “Do I pee in it?” So many questions.

Bidet

Alternate bidet use

  1. Runaway bathroom sinks

Now that I’m taking about bathrooms, let’s address the bathroom sink issue. I’ve seen many homes and hotel rooms in Europe where the toilet and shower are in different rooms. This is a great idea. This means someone can do their business while someone else is in the shower. I’m on board. But there’s a slight problem: the sink isn’t in the same room as the toilet. For absolutely no discernable reason, the sink is tucked in with the shower. This means that when someone uses the toilet, they need to go into a different room—touching two door handles in the process—before washing their hands! If someone is occupying the shower, the contaminated hands may not be washed at all. Oh, the humanity!

  1. Explaining how big your country is

Everyone knows that Canada and the USA are huge, but it can be tough to explain their vastness to people from the land of bijou countries. “Oh, you’re from Canada!” Europeans will say. “Are you from Toronto, or Vancouver?”

“Well, I live close to Toronto. My hometown is about a twelve-hour drive away.”

“Twelve hours?” they cry, “And that’s still in the same country?”

“Sweetheart, that’s still in the same province.”

Where I’m from, you can drive for a week without leaving the country. In Europe, you could easily have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in three different nations. Seriously, I know Germans who like to pop over to Belgium when they’re craving waffles, or go to Milan when they’re in the mood for pizza. But I guess that’s not so different from where I come from… my family goes to the States sometimes for Applebees.

belgian waffles

I’d cross borders for waffles like that

  1. Being called “the Americas”

I have never heard a North American use the term “the Americas,” but many Europeans I’ve encountered have lumped the northern and southern continents together. A European friend of mine once asked: “What are the Americas like?” This is a very confusing question, seeing as North and South America are entirely different continents that don’t really share the same language or culture. Then there’s also Central America, which is geographically in North America but is culturally different enough that it can be considered it’s own kind of semi-continent. I can’t generalize about the Americas any more than you can give me a quick overview of Eurasia.

  1. Cheap flights

We North Americans know that Europe basks in the glory of budget flights, and we’re as jealous as we are confused. How is it even possible to lift a giant metal tube into the skies for only a handful of euros per person? Even more baffling is how cheap airfare can be compared to other modes of transportation. The average airport transfer in London costs $20, yet a flight from London to Oslo can be as little as $8! How can it be cheaper to fly to freaking Norway than to travel an hour and a half by coach? Yet the strangest thing about the budget flight situation is how few Europeans take advantage of it. While most North Americans would jump at the chance to fly to a new country for the weekend for the same price as ordering a pizza, I’ve encountered many Europeans who don’t travel much, citing lack of time and other vague reasons. It’s easy to take cheap travel for granted, so I suppose it’s almost a good thing that travel within North America is so expensive.

Rome Heather

Don’t worry about the bathrooms Europe, you still have a lot going for you

To my fellow North Americans, what else has perplexed or intrigued you on the continent? To my European readers, what cultural differences have you seen in North America? I am genuinely curious, so please comment below!


*Note that most of my time in Europe has been spent in Italy, France, and Spain, so this post will probably be slanted towards those countries. Sorry**.

**I’m really not that sorry. Italy, France, and Spain all rock.

GORGEous Ronda

Ronda is a lovely little Andalusian town famous for the gorge that slashes through it, El Tajo. The gorge prompted three bridges, all of which have very misleading names. There’s the Roman Bridge (officially named San Miguel), which isn’t actually Roman, the Old Bridge, which is younger than the Roman Bridge, and the New Bridge, which was finished in 1793. I admit that 222 years is new by European standards, but that’s no excuse not to show a bit more creativity with the naming (and that’s coming from a girl whose favourite beach is called Sandy Beach).

Ronda New Bridge

The good old New Bridge

Before we look at Ronda’s highlights, allow me a brief segue to explain what I’d like to do with this blog. While I was travelling through China last year, I bought a travel guide that recommended an ancient palace in Xi’an whose ruins had been turned into a public park. It was a bit out of the way, but I trusted the guidebook’s rave review.

A subway ride and a hefty walk later, I arrived at the palace grounds only to find… ground. There were no ruins, no remnants at all of the palace that one stood there except for a few depressions in the earth. It wasn’t even a nice park, just a huge field covered in scrub. I felt like I’d been duped by my guidebook.

Travel guides can be very intent on convincing you how great a place is, but that just isn’t their job. A good guide should tell you what not to miss and what not to waste time or money on—that way, you’ll be free to discover your destination’s awesomeness yourself.

With that in mind, I’m not going to spend any more time telling you how fantastic Ronda is. I want to help you make the most out of your trip; Ronda will speak for herself.

Ronda

Ronda from the ramparts

What to see:

  • The Arab Baths are Ronda’s main paid attraction. They’re well preserved, they only cost 3 euros, and they feature an informative video in laughably bad CGI. I’d say they’re well worth visiting.
  • You can also visit the House of the Moorish King’s gardens and ‘secret mines’ for 4 euros. The gardens are lovely, but small. The mines aren’t particularly interesting but they do take you all the way down into Ronda’s gorge, giving you a lovely view and a good dose of perspective. I still don’t think it’s worth the price, but that’s probably just because I’m stingy.
  • There are some beautiful bronze panels inside Ronda’s cathedral, Santa María la Mayor, and a few traces of the mosque it replaced. That being said, the entry fee is a steep 4 euros, and there are nicer (and cheaper) churches all over Europe.
El Tajo Ronda

The bottom of El Tajo from the House of the Moorish King

What to do:

  • Take a walk from the New Bridge down to the older two on the east side of the gorge. You’ll pass the House of the Moorish King (another misleading name; it’s only called that because of the tiled plaque of an Arab king that decorates the outside) and the Marquess de Salvatierra Palace, which features some rather awkward colonial architecture. Once at the Roman bridge, follow the old city ramparts up towards the cathedral for stunning city views.
  • For great photos of the New Bridge, scramble down into the gorge. From Plaza de España, cross the bridge, turn right, then right again by the “poorly maintained path” sign. Wear good shoes.
Sculpting naked Indians to hold up your buildings was all the rage in those days

Sculpting naked Indians to hold up your buildings was all the rage in those days

What to eat:

  • Try montecalo, a local dessert made with crushed almonds and either oil or butter. My sources tell me butter is better, but you probably would’ve guessed that.
Montecalo

They also come covered in powdered sugar. Mmmmmmm.

What to skip:

The Arab Baths will offer a lovely-looking package deal including five museums for ten euros, but don’t be sucked in unless you have an abundance of time and money. Other than the baths themselves, nothing on the list is a must-see.

  • The Joaquín Peinado Museum is worth visiting if you’re really into cubism (or porn—the upper floor gets pretty risqué).
  • The ‘wine museum’ is just an advertisement for a particular vineyard, and tastings are extra. Skip it and spend your savings on twice as much wine at a bar.
  • Mondragón Palace is a pretty building with nice gardens and a lovely view, but the exhibits are pretty kitschy. Life-sized dioramas abound—you’ve been warned.
  • The New Bridge Interpretation Centre is a chance to go inside the bridge to see a room that was used as a high-security prison. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. All there is inside is a video apparently made by a highschooler testing the very limits of Windows Movie Maker.
ronda arab baths

Anyone for a steam?

What to do next:

If you have a little extra time (and preferably a car), I highly recommend la Cueva de la Pileta, about a half hour outside Ronda. The surrounding area is beautiful, the rock formations inside are jaw-dropping, and there are copious amounts of bats flapping around in there. As if that wasn’t enough, the cave is home to surprisingly realistic cave paintings that are up to 32,000 years old.

cueva de la pileta

That’s a 20,000-year-old fish eating a 4,000-year-old seal

Ronda is well worth a visit, but a lot of its attractions are rather sad attempts to drum up tourism. Avoid the tourist traps to spend more time exploring, and be sure to let me know if I’ve missed any gems!

The only thing you need to eat in Scotland

Scotland is known for a lot of things (rich history, natural beauty, really shaggy cows), but cuisine isn’t necessarily one of them. There is one dish, however, that challenges that norm while remaining quintessentially Scottish. It’s called chicken Balmoral, and it might be the best darned thing you’ll eat north of France. So what is it?

It’s chicken.

Wrapped in bacon.

Stuffed with haggis.

Covered in whiskey.

Balmoral chicken

Yaaaas.

That’s right. It’s a dish stuffed with the most Scottish food and smothered in the most Scottish drink. Chicken Balmoral couldn’t be more Scottish if it were playing the bagpipes and wearing a kilt. Ok, it might be more Scottish but it wouldn’t taste nearly as nice.

And oh, does it taste nice. The chicken breast balances out the haggis’ somewhat creamy texture, while rich whiskey cream sauce adds subtle sweetness to smoky bacon…

Mmmmmmmmm.

Chicken Balmoral is usually served with neeps and tatties, which is what the Scots call turnips—or swedes, no one is really sure—and potatoes. This is great news if you’re trying to fit as much ‘typical Scottish fare’ into one meal before resorting to McDonalds for the rest of the trip. I don’t recommend doing that, but I can’t say I blame you either. While I had some great meals in Scotland, I also had what tasted like smoked haddock in Kraft Dinner sauce.

Back to Balmoral.

No one is sure why it’s called chicken Balmoral. But seeing as Balmoral Castle is the Queen’s private residence, we can only assume that it’s a dish fit for royalty. I personally like to imagine Queen Elizabeth being served a dry chicken breast and shouting: “This is too dry! Pour some whiskey on it or something!”

Balmoral castle

The ideal setting for a haggis-themed picnic.

Not only does chicken Balmoral encompass so many great Scottish elements, it’s also a great way to try haggis without committing to an entire plateful of it. I personally love the mixture of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, but I still get a bit put off when my portion is the size of my face. If chicken Balmoral is your first meal in Scotland (as it definitely should be) and you realize you’re not up for a haggis confrontation, you can just scrape it off and enjoy your bacon-wrapped, whiskey-smothered chicken. Oh, baby.

To sum up, chicken Balmoral is the food of angels. Fat, drunk, happy happy angels. Go to Scotland and put it in your face as soon as possible. If you can’t go to Scotland, try making it yourself! The ingredients are literally chicken, haggis, bacon, whiskey, and cream. Bonus points if you can make a bacon weave that replicates your clan tartan.

Highland cow

Here’s a highland cow. Just because.

How Pokémon Ruined Backpacking

When I went to Thailand last year, I met dozens of backpackers with virtually the same itinerary: to spend a few months tanning on every major beach and drinking in every major city in Southeast Asia, with a side order of Buddhist temples. I’m not much of a beach-and-booze vacationer myself, but I respect that some people like to spend their trips relaxing and partying instead of doing the cultural (read: nerdy) things that I enjoy. That’s ok.

What really upsets me is that most of the people I met in Asia really didn’t seem to like where they were, or even care. They were on the trip of a lifetime, but they would rather spend a night in the hostel bar than go out to explore the streets of an unfamiliar city. These wayward souls had been to so many places that travelling had lost its sheen, and adventure had become monotonous. In the immortal words of one traveller I met, they were “just Buddhaed out.”

Thai buddha

Buddha don’t care what you think.

What does this have to do with Pokémon, you ask? I grew up in the 90s, as did all of the twenty-somethings currently “finding themselves” in the bottom of a bucket full of rum punch in Bangkok. We grew up watching Ash follow his dreams of catching every single Pokémon. It wasn’t enough that he already had Pikachu, his best friend and badass extraordinaire. It wasn’t even enough to collect a team of Pokémon capable of defeating any opponent. No, Ash needed to collect every single goddamned one. Pokémon taught us that in life, as in a pan-Asian buffet, quantity is more important than quality.

You were always too good for him, Pikachu.

You were always too good for him, Pikachu.

I believe this “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality has seeped into our lives, and especially into our travel plans. Many of us feel the insatiable need to see all the countries we can, even when that means spending only a day or two in each place.

I myself am guilty of going to Cambodia just to fit Angkor Wat into my Pokédex. It wasn’t until I got there that I felt a sense of guilt creep over me. I was simply one of thousands of tourists who had tacked an extra country onto their trip to Thailand just for the sake of it. Angkor Wat was incredible, and well worth seeing, but my experience there was not at all special. Without any historical or cultural context, the largest religious monument in the world was reduced to an exceptionally pretty pile of rocks. Worse still, my conception of Cambodia was reduced to a single historical site and a youth hostel with a pool.

Angkor Wat

It was so worth the 16-hour bus ride to have this shot on your Insta.

If you have the money and the freedom, taking a long trip through as many countries as you can sounds like the perfect thing to do. This is especially true in cheaper regions like Southeast Asia, where travelling can actually be less expensive than staying at home. If you’re so inclined, you can easily roam through countries until you catch ‘em all… but what will you have to show for it? (Besides a gorgeous Instagram portfolio and a selfie with a monkey, of course.)

I never said it would be flattering. Asshole was trying to steal my snacks.

I never said it would be flattering. Asshole was trying to steal my snacks.

When it comes right down to it, travelling is 90% walking around and looking at stuff. Walk through a museum. Look at stuff. Walk into a temple. Look at stuff. Walk through a market. Look at stuff. Sit on an elephant while it walks around and you look at stuff. This is bound to get tiring after a while, no matter how good the stuff is.

If your entire trip consists of jumping from city to city and country to country just to walk around and look at stuff, you will soon start looking for absolutely any activity that will let you sit your ass down and look at nothing. Why do you think people love spending vacations drunk on a beach? They get to lie down and watch the ocean become more of a blob with each sip of their mojito. No walking, no looking.

Sitting on a 500-year-old statue and texting is also a good alternative to walking and looking.

Sitting on a 500-year-old statue and texting is also a good alternative to walking and looking.

So how can we rid ourselves of this Pokémon mentality, you ask? How can we experience a place instead of just walking around and looking at it before moving on?

My advice is to pick a single country and get to know it really well. Visiting eight countries in six days instead of forging a connection with a single place is like the difference between speed dating and falling in love. Speed dating may be fun, but it’s not something you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Here are my tips for getting the most out of lengthy travels in a small area:

  • Pick a home base. Getting to know one city really well can give you insights into its culture and lifestyle that you could never get by rushing around and trying to see it all. You’ll also be sure to find hidden treasures that other tourists have missed.
  • Go somewhere you’ve never heard of. Try heading to a lesser-known town to see what a country offers beyond the brochure. When you get off the beaten trail, you may just find a gem like this rather curious rock formation I discovered in southern China.
You do you, Mother Nature.

You do you, Mother Nature.

  • Find something to do. Get a job, volunteer, or take a class. It will give you a taste of daily life in a new country and help you meet locals. Bonus, a job or a volunteer position can help offset travel costs so that you can spend more time in each place you visit. Sites like Workaway and Woofing will give you room and board in exchange for volunteer work.
  • Learn the local language. Or at least try to. Not only will you have an easier time getting around while travelling, you’ll have something to be proud of by the end of your trip. Plus, people tend to be much nicer to tourists when they make an effort. (Except in Germany. Germans speak English better than you do, and they have no patience for your miserable attempts at German.)
  • Entertain yourself like a local. Watch a TV show or movie made in the country you’re in, read the local news, or pick up a novel by a local author. This will give you some much-needed down time from sightseeing and show you aspects of culture you won’t find in a museum. If you’re a pretentious jerk like I am, you’ll also get a smug sense of satisfaction from doing things like reading Kafka in Prague.
Prage

Bonus pretension points for reading Kafka in the cafe now situated on his birthplace.

Sometimes the Pokémon effect is fuelled by lack of vacation time. If you’re trying to see a lot in a short time, you can still do a crash course in culture:

  • Delve in to what the area is known for. Whether it’s learning to cook in Italy or taking a taekwondo class in Korea, doing a hands-on cultural activity will be a highlight of your trip. Better yet, the skills you gain will be better than any physical souvenir. Colosseum t-shirts may fade, but my homemade panna cotta will always be delectable.
  • Visit at least two places in each country you visit. Oftentimes a country’s most visited city is the least representative of its culture; my British friends agree that London is the least ‘English’ city in England. A visit to London, while never dull, will be made all the more interesting by a more typical English town to compare it with.
Oxford

Ok so Oxford isn’t the most typical town… I tried though.

  • Stay with locals along the way. By staying in hostels or hotels, you limit your social circle to other travellers. Try finding accommodation through Airbnb or Couchsurfing to meet locals and to get a window into their lives. While staying with a local in Paris, I found out how much Parisians sacrifice to live in a great area. My host lived in an apartment so small that it didn’t have a bathroom door, and she needed to stand on the bed to cook. (I never said the local life was better than staying in a hotel—but it is always more interesting.)
  • Get out of the city. Throwing some small town charm or an outdoor excursion into your trip will help break the monotony of city sightseeing, and you’ll see a side of your destination that most tourists miss. What I remember most from my trip to Thailand was heading into the jungle to stay overnight in a small farming village. Going from the bustling streets of Bangkok to a town where water buffalo have the right of way let me experience two very different facets of Thai life in just a short time.
Not even close.

Bangkok

DSC03963

Definitely not Bangkok

Next time you plan a trip, try to forget about all the things you want to see. Focus on what you want to do, and what you want to learn about where you’re going. You won’t make it everywhere you want to go, but you’ll have a lot more to show for it.

Angkor Wat

I’ll come back for you Cambodia. Stop looking at me like that.

The Golden Horseshoe; a traveller’s guide to making your own luck.

When I tell stories about my travels, someone will inevitably point out how lucky I was to narrowly avoid being mugged in Naples, or to score a campsite beside an ancient cliff dwelling in New Mexico, or to have a stranger pay for my Cambodian visa so that I wouldn’t get stuck between national borders. If that someone is my father, he’ll say that I’ve got a golden horseshoe up my ass.

I admit that I’ve been fortunate, but let’s not forget that there are ways to make your own luck. If I do have a golden horseshoe in one of my orifices, it’s because I put it there myself.

If you would like to do the same, read on.

  • Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

Travelling isn’t just about seeing the sights. It’s about meeting people from around the world, and finding out how they might see that world differently than you do. If that isn’t reason enough to talk to strangers, just think that every person you meet while travelling could be your personal goldsmith. (or horseshoer? Horseshoder?)

Something that may seem perfectly average to a local—like working in a gelateria in Florence, or barbequing on a rooftop that shares a wall with a French castle—could be the most memorable part of your trip. Simply striking up a conversation with the guy beside you on the bus might be what leads you to a behind-the-scenes tour of that Florentine gelato shop, complete with all the taste testing you can handle. Or not, but you won’t know if you don’t say hi!

There was a barbeque happening on the other side of the castle I SWEAR.

There was a barbeque happening on the other side of the castle I SWEAR.

  • Be nice. To everyone. Always.

Now let’s be clear, this has nothing to do with your karmic juju or whatever. The universe doesn’t always look out for nice people, but the good news is that other nice people usually do. If you smile at your barista every morning, you might get your coffee on the house. If you get cranky about getting 2% instead of skim, your odds aren’t looking good.

But don’t wait to flash those pearly whites until you’re looking for a favour—being a generally good person can get you out of trouble before you even know you’re in it. On a recent trip, I found myself trekking through sheep fields at sunset to get to Stonehenge. I arrived just after closing, and I seriously contemplated waiting until the tour guides left and sneaking in. In the end I decided to be a responsible citizen, and I struck up a conversation with one of the guides instead of plotting to infiltrate her workplace. Lucky for me, she offered to give me a ride after telling me the last bus had left hours before. I doubt she would have been so kind had I been a fence-hopping miscreant. Nobody likes a miscreant.

Stonehenge is such a welcoming place

Stonehenge is such a welcoming place

  • Trust your gut.

Keeping your golden horseshoe intact is as much about avoiding a crisis as it is about having good experiences. Surviving a vacation without getting mugged, swindled, or lost is certainly fortunate, but you can help lower your risk by listening to your instincts.

Does your route home look like a scene from a horror film? Take the bus. Do the reviews for that budget hostel look like they were written by a robot? Skip it. Does something seem a little off about the crack addict trying to sell you an iPhone? Take your business elsewhere.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do anything risky, but try to find the line between brave and stupid. Booking a last-minute flight to accept a job in a foreign country is brave. Walking through a bad neighborhood in Naples at 4am to get to the airport is stupid. Later on, a Neapolitan friend gave me the following advice: “When you go to Naples, do not bring anything you value. Do not bring your wallet. Do not bring your watch. Do not bring your passport. Bring ten euros, buy a pizza, and then leave Naples.”

I'm not trying to hate on Naples. I love Naples.

I’m not trying to hate on Naples. I love Naples.

  • Do what the Boy Scouts do.

That’s right, be prepared. A lot of what the optimists of the world perceive as luck is in fact careful planning executed by us cynics. You’re welcome.

“We’re so lucky the weather cleared up just when we got to the beach!”

“We’re so lucky the museum was free today!”

“We’re so lucky we found this restaurant!”

Nope. Wrong. I checked the weather report, I looked up the museum online, and I read the local food blogs. Lady Luck had nothing to do with it (and yes, I would like a thank-you once in a while).

What a perfect(ly calculated) day.

What a perfect(ly calculated) day.

  • Accept the kindness of others.

It never ceases to amaze me just how unwilling we can be to let others be kind. It comes from a good place; we don’t want to inconvenience others, so we politely decline offers of free meals, city tours, or whatever else it happens to be. Our way of being kind is to stop others being kind to us.

Well I’ve got news for you. That’s really stupid.

The vast majority of the time, people offer to do nice things because they want to. They get warm fuzzies. You get free shit. It’s a win-win situation, so just relax and let it happen. On one of my first trips, an elderly English woman offered to buy me a glass of wine because I couldn’t afford any of Paris’ finest (or its worst for that matter). The hyper-polite Canadian in me wanted to decline, but I fought my instincts and accepted. Little did I know that I was in for an evening of drinking and hearing about my host’s sexcapades in Paris forty years ago. Best. Night. Ever.

If you can pay your benefactor back in kind, then great. Double warm fuzzies. If not, read on.

Granny got around in her day.

Granny got around in her day.

  • Polish the golden horseshoe.

I’ll come clean about this one. It is in no way intended to make you luckier. This tip is purely for my own benefit (and for the benefit of others, I guess). You don’t always have the chance to return favours when you’re on the road, so make up for it by doing a few nice things for travellers after you return home. Not only will you benefit from the aforementioned fuzzy feelings, you’ll make a visitor to your city feel like the luckiest person around. Hopefully that visitor will be me.

I like to call this network of favour-giving “polishing the golden horseshoe.” If that makes you uncomfortable, I understand.

When people visit my home town, I take them here.

When people visit my home town, I take them here.

  • Just ask.

You would be surprised how many windfalls will come your way once you start asking for what you want. Many tourist attractions have student discounts that they don’t advertise. Campsites usually have overflow areas for latecomers. Entertainment venues often have rush tickets available even if they appear to be sold out, hence how I got standing-room-only tickets to Beethoven’s 5th symphony (the one that goes duh nuh nuh nuuuuuuuh) at Royal Albert Hall. ‘Aint no mosh pit like a symphony mosh pit, as I always say.

Don’t hesitate to ask, even if you think the answer will be no. That being said, never get pushy or upset if you don’t get special treatment. Chances are, if the person you’re talking to could help, they would.

Like the ranger who set me up with this sweet campsite next to ancient ruins (even though the sign said they were full).

Like the ranger who set me up with this sweet campsite next to ancient ruins (even though the sign said they were full).

  • You’re your own good-luck charm.

The greatest factor determining the size and depth of your golden horseshoe is your attitude. If you see a minor setback as a stroke of bad fortune, that’s exactly what it’ll be. Instead of getting upset when things don’t go your way, take it as an opportunity to make your own luck. When life rains on your walking tour, nip into a bar to sample the local poison. When your train is delayed by five hours, take the opportunity to chat with your neighbours. The best memories always come from the unexpected, so embrace it. You’re lucky enough to be travelling already, and it only gets better from there.