Tag Archives: Travel

“Spain is a Third World Shithole”

21 Nov

I received the title text from my brother a few days ago and it got me thinking about the ins and outs of travel. He has to travel for work, which he extremely dislikes. A flight we were on as children essentially attempted to land in a hurricane, and instead was forced to make an emergency ascent straight up back into the air (*this can cause an explosion).

While it was a pivotal moment for me and the start to my thrill seeking young life, it was the beginning of my brother’s desire to play it safe; both of which we still do.  But it is not only the safety issue, and the annoyance of being crammed into a steel box literally like a can of sardines, but his desire to stick with the familiar that keeps him from enjoying some of the nuances of travel, and from becoming a Traveler.

And he is not alone. I’ve had multiple friends who think they deserve biscuits and gravy for breakfast every morning in England, can’t understand why no one has iced coffee in France, demands a working air conditioner and WiFi in Greece, and are uncomfortable with all the kissing and real live human contact in Spain.

Like feral children raised by wolves, to me they have missed some vital piece of social development that can never be  attained, because it cannot be appreciated later in life.  We just get used to being too comfortable.  They missed the garbage-bag-suitcases-stay-in-hostels-with-bedbugs-share-liters-of-Cruz Campo-in-a-park-in-Barcelona-with-homeless-people phase of life, and now they have no patience for the beautiful essence of travel; inconvenience.

My last few flights have been cancelled out of Nashville (FUCK YOU UNITED/AMERICAN AIRLINES), I’ve missed multiple flights in a day while at the airport in France, spent the night on a bus station floor in Spain, used a payphone that I’m pretty sure had been smeared with excrement at some time in New Mexico, dove for dumpster donuts in Philly, get chased by an 8 foot moray eel in Cozumel, lost my keys in a boat that was falling apart and filled with can lids and something horrible (this one I’ve actually blocked out) in Portugal, “reheated” pizza on top of a radiator in Prague, get sucked into a riot after the War in Iraq began (no a la guerra, ortro mundo es possible!), thrown up into a castle moat in Scotland, bleed all over the steps of Valle de Los Caidos because I didn’t have a tampon and toilet paper in Spain is more like tracing paper, and who knows how many stitches and tetanus shots are from someone who doesn’t speak the same language as me – but I’ll be damned if those aren’t the memories I can still smell, touch and feel they are so vivid.

I’ll take the blood and guts any day.


Top 7 Free (Tested and Verified) Travel Apps for 2014

3 Feb

I have used the following free apps in the U.S. and internationally and have truly found them indispensable.  As long as you have a data plan or are on wifi, you can access these apps without a problem (many international cities have free wifi hotspots in parks, and you can always get free wifi at McDonald’s if you’re in a pinch).

Pro-Tip: If you think you will not have wifi or data service, make sure to take a picture or screenshot on your phone while you have wifi so you can reference the map offline later.

1.  Google Maps I know this may seem obvious, but after going in and out of service on back roads in Boone, NC to finding that perfect Christmas market in Prague, I have found that I really can rely on Google Maps.  It not only has visual maps but you can also plug in your headphones and hear step by step walking, bike and transit directions.

2.  Hop Stop While Google Maps is great, Hop Stop is essential if you will be using major public transportation.  Not only does it have excellent transit directions in most major U.S. cities, but it also works internationally in Paris, Montreal, Sydney, Moscow, Berlin, Jerusalem and more.  With this app you can pre- set how many transfers are acceptable (like when choosing a flight), if you want bus only, metro only or a combination of both, and you can be sure that you are getting the best directions in English.  Like Google Maps, it offers step by step instructions, but also shows maps in chunks of directions so you can focus on one part at a time.

3.  WeChat – If you’ve traveled overseas and are good at making friends, you will soon realize that you need some way to communicate with people in the town.  If you are on a tight budget, this can be difficult because turning on your cell phone data can rack up astronomical charges.

WeChat is an instant messaging app that supports languages in English, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Italian, Hindi and Turkish.  It is the 5th most used app in the world so many of your new friends may already have the app on their phones.  There is a setting where you can ping people close to you in distance so it is easy to find people without remembering your 10,000th user name.

*Pro-tip: You should know that as long as you and the other person you are communicating with have iPhones and wifi, then you can send each other iMessages.  I have found that especially in Central and Eastern Europe, people do not have quite the same cultish devotion to their iPhones as Americans so WeChat is a great way to keep in touch with local people without having to buy a phone card and use a payphone (So the year 2000).

4.  WC Finder  I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that Starbucks is “the bathroom of New York,” but what about everywhere else?  When Nature calls and you are traveling, you need this app.  It is user supported so all of the bathrooms have been used by travelers like yourself or people with insider knowledge of the town.  There is also another cool option where you can download maps of Paris and London for offline access when you don’t have wifi.  You can also view details and reviews of the bathrooms, such as price/free or dirty/clean.

5.  Global Tipping Have you ever heard that it’s rude to tip in Japan?  Or that it’s ok to just leave small change in Paris?  These things and more you can find in the Global Tipping app.  It does not calculate it for you,  but it does have some incredibly useful notes on customs, and details on where you do/do not tip (Salon, Waiter, Cab Driver, etc.).  While they have many countries around the world, they are not in alphabetical order so you may have to hunt for the place you are looking for.

6.  XE Currency Bad at Math? Me too.  As long as I have the XE Currency App, which is updated constantly with new currency equivalents (which can often change daily), then I can be more confident in going to markets, especially when haggling is the custom.

7.  Google Translate I use this all the time in my daily life even.  Sometimes I just get curious about what a word would be in another language or I forget a word I used to know in a foreign language so I look it up.  You can speak or type and convert to/from any language.  It will also repeat the translated version back to you so if you’re really in a bind and no one speaks English they can talk and you can use this app to translate back and forth.

Eating Cheap at European Winter Markets

5 Jan

I’m a pretty annoying eater apparently.  I eat slowly, in really small amounts, and I can never finish my food unless it’s a fancy restaurant with tiny portions and weird sauces.  I am also pretty cheap so needless to say, especially when solo-traveling, I rarely eat ‘meals.’

Instead, I prefer to travel to Eastern Europe during the winter months for authentic, regional street food sold at Holiday markets.  For under three dollars a meal, you are guaranteed to get some portable, filling, and tasty fuel to keep you warm and on the go

Pro-tip:  Many markets close after New Year’s Day but Prague’s Christmas markets, for example, are open until January 13th.  Do your research so you won’t be disappointed.  

Below are my top six favorite things to eat (and drink) from European Holiday markets:

prague 8001.  Grilled or ‘fried’ cheese (Prague)- either Edam or Hermelin cheese that is lightly breaded, then either fried or grilled.  They put the salty, oozy cheese on a slice of rye bread and you can choose to top it with a dark berry marmalade.  WOA. BEST FOOD EVER.

2.  Liquid lunch (Europe)- All around the world, no matter the city, you will see vats of mulled wine (hot, spiced wine) that is sold for take-away so you can browse the Christmas markets.

Pro-tip: If you are in Budapest, you will notice there is very little plastic waste unlike the rest of Europe or in America.  At Holiday markets there, you buy hot wine and put a separate deposit down on the ceramic mug that they put your wine in.  You are free to either keep the mug and leave the deposit, or return the mug and get your deposit back.  

langos3.  Langos (Budapest)- Also referred to as Hungarian Pizza, this delectable treat is always fried potato dough, covered with sour cream and cheese, then up to you (or the region) as to what else you can add.  Try it with garlic sauce, onions and mushrooms.

Pro-Tip- for the BEST langos in Budapest, you don’t have to wait for winter.  You can get it all year round at the central market upstairs.  This is where you will get the freshest langos with more options for toppings than you can get at Christmas markets.  You will also see this in other countries throughout Europe, but it is authentically Hungarian (and better there).  

4.  Grilled Sausage (Europe)- Grilled sausage is just about the best lunch you can get.  It comes crackling off the grill and is placed on a large bun, where you can fill it with sauerkraut and mustard.  Seriously good, seriously cheap.

prague 7765.  ‘Chimney Cakes’ (Transylvanian Origin) – These are popular in Eastern Europe where the dough is rolled in cinnamon and sugar, wrapped around iron rods and placed over hot coals to cook.  They are a great breakfast snack; like a superior cinnamon toast.

6. Medovina (Central and Eastern Europe)- Medovina is mead, or fermented honey.  If you remember your Old English Epics, you will recall that Beowulf and his retinue drank heaps of mead at Herot.  It’s not great (it’s REALLY sweet), but it’s fun to drink and think about when men were warriors.

Don’t Work, See the World

31 Oct

I have seen a lot of people die.  It’s partially why I have an insatiable, Ovidian curse that prompts me to give up my job every so often for a life of leisure; if by leisure we mean  contracting ringworm in an Eastern European hostel or accidentally becoming involved in a post soccer riot in the streets of Madrid with hooligans armed with jamón legs.  But, these things illuminate my mind, and so by taking the old Mexican adage extremely seriously, “Work to live, not live to work,” I feel like I am doing those who have gone before me, before their time, some sort of service.  I am using my life like it’s a dirty whore, but I have no choice.  I. Can’t. Stop.

At least I couldn’t.  I was one month from moving back to Tennessee from NYC sitting in Ted Danson’s New York apartment staring intently above his mantle at a small photo that said, “Don’t work, see the world” with an anarchy sign below it.

I sat wondering why he had anarchist graffiti as the most prominent piece of art in his living room, but also pondered how much my life was about to change.

At the time I had been living in New York for some years and every intention of moving back to Tennessee temporarily but moving overseas as soon as feasibly possible but I got lost somewhere. I got comfortable, and I stopped living for a year.

I got a serious(ly selfish) boyfriend, thought about buying a home, kept a job I hated even though I was constantly creeped out by my boss, and other things that are completely unlike me.

It was summer, my 30th birthday, when I knew it all had to stop.  I was reading a travel magazine and it showed the current ceiling progress for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  I found the photo when I was last there and felt a growing rage at myself for how long I’ve been sitting around Nashville; stagnant, not watching anything but the grass grow.


The journey can finally resume now.

Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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