Saturday, February 21, 2015

Feeling The Love In The Air(plane)


I sat down in my aisle seat on what appeared to be a pleasantly not full flight on Iceland air from Seattle to Reykjavik. And then, I see a mother and soon looking towards my aisle. Guess I won’t have the row to myself. Ok, it could be worse, at least it wasn’t a baby. Almost immediately upon sitting down, the woman turns to me and pleasantly begins small talk, and the kid seems fairly well behaved. Alright…Maybe this won’t be so bad.
I’m flying, I’m exhausted, I’m drinking. I don’t remember everything we talked about, but I know it was a nice chat. She was excited for my trip. We all looked at the awesome kids packet given out by Iceland Air. Stickers, coloring, checklists, (and there was even a meal delivered before the start of the rest of the service). So, I don’t really like kids, but if you have some and you’re flying to Europe, TAKE ICELAND AIR!!! Not to mention on long flights they welcome you onboard with a bottle of water instead of making you wait until the first round of service for a tiny cup, like most airlines. And they have seat back entertainment plus a USB port to charge your devices. In economy. Seriously nice (about as nice as the super friendly flight attendants). Do, however, be prepared to either bring or purchase food, as they don’t include a meal, even on long international flights.
And by the way, did you know you can do a free one to seven day stopover in Iceland?!? I wish I had known that before I booked my Stockholm to Paris flight. Oh well…
Anyways, the really nice lady and I kept chatting for a while. Soon she pulled out some Indian flatbread with potatoes and vegetables, which she so kindly shared with me (I had only had a little bite to eat in the morning, and just had chocolate and some crackers with me… whoops, rookie move). Slightly spicy, absolutely delicious, and definitely filling, I rapidly devoured the phenomenal bread. Several minutes later, the flight attendant came by with the aforementioned kids meal. The mother and child are vegetarian, so while he could enjoy the juice and snacks, since he couldn’t eat the main course provided, they kindly offered it to me. The son didn’t even bat an eye at giving up his spaghetti (he got to keep his Oreos, though, and I had given him a piece of chocolate earlier). Wow. Doesn’t get much better than that. We enjoyed the view of the mountains while we had it, chatted a bit here and there, shared our snacks, and learned a little Islenska (the Icelandic language) from the kids packet.
Near the end of the flight, I offered the kind lady some more chocolate. She declined, but loaded me up with two power bars and a bar of trader joes chocolate, on top of promising she and her friends would follow my blog. I’ve learned never to turn down free food, but when some people give it, it means more. Sometimes something as small as a piece of bread and a granola bar can touch your heart, because you can tell the person giving it is giving you their good will as well, giving a little piece of themselves.
Talk about a great flight. I was drinking the not unreasonably (for airlines anyways) priced beer and listening to some great albums on my iPad. Plus it was only a, roughly, 7 hour flight. Score! Added bonus of getting a little more food in me. Even though I didn’t sleep at all, arriving in Stockholm was so much easier than landing in Athens after 26+ hours of travel with less than 2 hours of sleep in as many days like last summer. Now that was intense.
Thanks to a CSer who was helping me study Swedish when I was thinking to move there, I had a ride from the airport, and my host was even so kind as to invite my CS friend to come for dinner! Pssss, so nice … How did I get so lucky?!?
I have no idea what Stockholm, let alone this trip, has in store for me. But damn, I can’t wait to find out! I have no expectations other than it will be a good time. Nothing specific I want to see or do, not on the hunt for a boy to flirt with, just going where I want to see what will happen.
It seems so strange to travel for over a month knowing, at least relatively, people everywhere I go. Last summer when I set off, I didn’t know anyone. Now I have a full itinerary with friends for over a month. What?!? That, if nothing else, should go to show you how if you open yourself up and reach out to people, you will make more fiends than you could have imagined. Seriously I have more friends in/from Athens than Seattle, and I am making more all over.
So peace out and adventure on, friends!

Feeling The Love In The Air(plane)


I sat down in my aisle seat on what appeared to be a pleasantly not full flight on Iceland air from Seattle to Reykjavik. And then, I see a mother and soon looking towards my aisle. Guess I won’t have the row to myself. Ok, it could be worse, at least it wasn’t a baby. Almost immediately upon sitting down, the woman turns to me and pleasantly begins small talk, and the kid seems fairly well behaved. Alright…Maybe this won’t be so bad.
I’m flying, I’m exhausted, I’m drinking. I don’t remember everything we talked about, but I know it was a nice chat. She was excited for my trip. We all looked at the awesome kids packet given out by Iceland Air. Stickers, coloring, checklists, (and there was even a meal delivered before the start of the rest of the service). So, I don’t really like kids, but if you have some and you’re flying to Europe, TAKE ICELAND AIR!!! Not to mention on long flights they welcome you onboard with a bottle of water instead of making you wait until the first round of service for a tiny cup, like most airlines. And they have seat back entertainment plus a USB port to charge your devices. In economy. Seriously nice (about as nice as the super friendly flight attendants). Do, however, be prepared to either bring or purchase food, as they don’t include a meal, even on long international flights.
And by the way, did you know you can do a free one to seven day stopover in Iceland?!? I wish I had known that before I booked my Stockholm to Paris flight. Oh well…
Anyways, the really nice lady and I kept chatting for a while. Soon she pulled out some Indian flatbread with potatoes and vegetables, which she so kindly shared with me (I had only had a little bite to eat in the morning, and just had chocolate and some crackers with me… whoops, rookie move). Slightly spicy, absolutely delicious, and definitely filling, I rapidly devoured the phenomenal bread. Several minutes later, the flight attendant came by with the aforementioned kids meal. The mother and child are vegetarian, so while he could enjoy the juice and snacks, since he couldn’t eat the main course provided, they kindly offered it to me. The son didn’t even bat an eye at giving up his spaghetti (he got to keep his Oreos, though, and I had given him a piece of chocolate earlier). Wow. Doesn’t get much better than that. We enjoyed the view of the mountains while we had it, chatted a bit here and there, shared our snacks, and learned a little Islenska (the Icelandic language) from the kids packet.
Near the end of the flight, I offered the kind lady some more chocolate. She declined, but loaded me up with two power bars and a bar of Trader Joes chocolate, on top of promising she and her friends would follow my blog. I’ve learned never to turn down free food, but when some people give it, it means more. Sometimes something as small as a piece of bread and a granola bar can touch your heart, because you can tell the person giving it is giving you their good will as well, giving a little piece of themselves.
Talk about a great flight. I was drinking the not unreasonably (for airlines anyways) priced beer and listening to some great albums on my iPad. Plus it was only a, roughly, 7 hour flight. Score! Added bonus of getting a little more food in me. Even though I didn’t sleep at all, arriving in Stockholm was so much easier than landing in Athens after 26+ hours of travel with less than 2 hours of sleep in as many days like last summer. Now that was intense.
Thanks to a CSer who was helping me study Swedish when I was thinking to move there, I had a ride from the airport, and my host was even so kind as to invite my CS friend to come for dinner! Pssss, so nice … How did I get so lucky?!?
I have no idea what Stockholm, let alone this trip, has in store for me. But damn, I can’t wait to find out! I have no expectations other than it will be a good time. Nothing specific I want to see or do, not on the hunt for a boy to flirt with, just going where I want to see what will happen.
It seems so strange to travel for over a month knowing, at least relatively, people everywhere I go. Last summer when I set off, I didn’t know anyone. Now I have a full itinerary with friends for over a month. What?!? That, if nothing else, should go to show you how if you open yourself up and reach out to people, you will make more fiends than you could have imagined. Seriously I have more friends in/from Athens than Seattle, and I am making more all over.
So peace out and adventure on, friends!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Website!

Hey everyone!
We have finally gotten a proper domain name!
So from now on, all updates will be posted at
www.hippiehitstheroad.com
Please update your bookmarks, as this site will no longer be in use
Everything from now on will be on the new site!
Thanks,
Tara- Hippie Hits The Road

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Georgia On My Mind


I arrived in Atlanta a little after 7pm last Saturday to visit my family. It had been years since I'd seen them (and the dogs), so I was a little bit nervous. I came up the escalator towards the airport exit, scanning the crowd for them. They saw me first, and when my eyes landed on them, they were waiting with big smiles.
As we drove into the city, the conversation was slightly awkward to begin with, but soon it was flowing as naturally as it had always come and we started filling each other in on the huge events of the last couple years. We were soon at our destination: an area called Little 5 Points to go get some food and beer. If there is one thing everyone in my family can always agree upon, it is the importance of good food and drink.

Tables at The Porter. Photo from their site
I was unsure what to expect about the city, but it definitely wasn't this! Awesome street art (check out the Tunnel for some amazing work by local artists), funky vintage thrift shops and record stores, and tons of great looking restaurants, pubs, bars, and microbreweries! I couldn't wait to see where we would go, but I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. We walked up to a crowded, vintage looking pub full of dark wooden tables called The Porter Beer Bar. Perfect!
Shrimp & Grits at The Porter. Photo from their site
Aside from the cool decor, their wine, beer, and spirits selections were HUGE with local, import, and regional selections. Whatever you want to drink, I'm sure you can find it there. And unlike many cities in the US, you can stand in the little square outside the bar with your drink and have a cigarette while enjoying the fresh night air. The service was extremely friendly, but a bit slow. It was a crowded Saturday night, but they still comped us our appetizers to make up for the slow service. I relished the shrimp and grits with mushrooms. It was rich, creamy, and just the type of Southern comfort food I was hoping for. The three of us left happy after the wonderful food and drinks.

Here's their website with their address so you can check it out...
http://www.theporterbeerbar.com/


I spent the next two days hanging out with my family, mostly in a tiny little town called Jewell where my parents are in the process of starting a wedding venue at the lovely historic Jewell House. I wandered the beautiful grounds, did some fishing in the pond with my dad (no catches, though),  and even drove a tractor for the first time! I did a pretty good job if I may say so myself...




Indoors I loved taking in the old, dark wood and Victorian style architecture of the place. I jammed with my dad on the bass and me singing along, something I hadn't done in far too long. At night, at least one of the dogs was always curled up in bed with me.

The three dogs (the middle one's even bigger now)

Snuggling with Marilyn

Tuesday morning we went into the city early and dropped my dad off at work, giving my mother and I just a few hours to see a little bit more of the city. As we drove, I admired the architecture in the city, a juxtaposition of old and new. We went for a coffee that was unremarkable, and ran some errands before heading to Fox Brothers BBQ for lunch (also in Little 5 Points).

The service was great, they had a nice beer selection, and the food was outstanding! The collard greens were so good, I inhaled the entire bowl before I could even think to start on the beef brisket. That's saying something as it was perfectly done, smoky and full of flavor, made even better by adding some of their house BBQ sauce. If you are in this funky little part of the city, make a stop here to sit outside and enjoy some great BBQ.
Fox Bros BBQ. Photo from their site

Check out their website for location and hours...
http://www.foxbrosbbq.com

Friday, January 16, 2015

Travel Tip: Finding the Right Stuff on a Budget

As any traveler will tell you, having the proper clothing and equipment is essential for traveling comfortably. What that equipment and clothing is varies a lot based on personal taste and travel style, but high quality items are essential and often very expensive. How does one manage to get really great items and not break the bank? Well, with a little patience, effort, and smarts you can manage it. Last summer I filled my bag with new or almost new name brand items (like my Keen hiking sandals, Prana hiking pants, and Lululemon athletic skirt) for less than $150. 

How did I pull that off? The biggest money saver is second hand shops. Those hiking sandals and pants I mentioned (both retail for $100 new), I found for $8 each in almost new condition. And the skirt was only $5 (retails for about $60). It takes patience and many trips to find all of these high quality items in great condition, but it usually can be done. I go to different second hand shops about once a week trying to find the perfect items, and my patience is almost always rewarded with cheap, high quality goodies, as well as the satisfaction of more eco-friendly shopping. 

Some days I go into the second hand shops and don't find anything I need (although I almost always find a cool skirt that I want, I'm totally obsessed with hippie skirts). That's ok. I'll try a different one, or try again next week. I have been on the hunt for a jacket. Not just any jacket, but jacket that will keep me warm in Sweden in February, while also keeping me dry and not overheating as I'm working around the farm in Ireland in the spring rains. I wasn't too hopeful about finding this very specific type of jacket, but I looked often anyways. Two of the last times I went I didn't find a single thing I needed, but I went yesterday and completely scored! Among other things, I found the perfect jacket- waterproof, breathable, wind resistant, warm, and with the armpit zippers it fit all of my criteria (and fit me quite nicely)! I was planning on having to buy one new at a discount retail store and spend $60-$70 (still a great price for a really high quality jacket), but my patience paid off and I found the perfect jacket for $15. With the money I saved from just that one item I was able to pay for most of my flights to and from the #TBEX Europe conference, and the combined savings on all my other items probably adds up to well over $1,000. 

One can't always find everything for their trip in a second hand shop, however, so how does one go about getting the rest of the items for less? I shop at discount retail stores like Ross or Burlington Coat Factory, or online at places like Groupon.com, Zozi.com, or my personal favorite the REI Outlet. REI has really high quality products (plus a generous one year return policy. Bought some hiking shoes, wore them twice and didn't like them? They'll take them back!), and on their outlet site you can find discontinued or overstock items at a great discount. You can make it even cheaper by waiting for additional sales or opting for membership. The REI lifetime membership costs $20, and gets you get a 20% off coupon plus 10% of most purchases back at the end of the year. I bought my backpack when I saw a 10% off sale at the outlet, and combined with my membership discount, I was able to get a backpack that retails for almost $200 for about $100.

With a little patience and effort, you will likely be able to get all of the high quality travel items you need for 50-90% off of the retail price, and then turn around and use the money you saved to have some great adventures on your trip. There may still be a couple of items that you have to pay full (or almost full) price for. I couldn't find a good discount on the hammock I needed, but I bought it through REI and because of my membership I still got 10% off (and sometimes stores or sites have 10-20% off store wide), which is better than nothing. If you plan ahead and stay patient, you will probably have plenty of extra beer money for your travels. I hope these tips help you get the most out of your money and your trip.
 

Peace out and adventure on! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

How A Language Exchange Request Turned Into New Years With A Great Friend

Before we get too much farther into the new year, I wanted to share a story about how coincidence has blown my mind so many times this year, and some of the crazy things that led to me bringing in the new year in Seattle with a friend from Greece... as well as how opening oneself up to letting these things happen can bring so many wonderful things into one's life.

It all started with Couchsurfing. My (then at the time unknown) friend was searching for native English speakers with whom he could practice his English while they were in Athens, or who may be willing to talk on Skype and look over some short essays. I just happened to be the first person on the list of travelers, and I also happened to be from Seattle, Washington. His goal was to attend a university in Washington state, and after speaking we learned it was the same university I attended for some years. What are the odds??? (We learned later he was the only Greek applying for that university that year.) We chatted a few times on Skype, I corrected some essays, and we arranged to meet for a coffee a few days after I arrived in Athens.

Kostas and I arranged to meet at the metro station in Peristeri, a suburb of Athens in which he lived. We got a coffee, and shortly thereafter I ordered a souvlaki... well, Kostas ordered me a souvlaki (the cafe workers here didn't all speak English as they do in the center). I was still so jet lagged I could barely eat half of it (for which I later got teased mercilessly), and after I choked the souvlaki down, we wandered through a little park nearby his home. His dog was at his parent's house, so we stopped by and got her to come walk and enjoy the park with us. And enjoy we did! Walking, talking, and playing with the dog consumed our afternoon until my jet lag had me feeling so terrible I had to go home and rest a while. Despite feeling like crap, I had truly enjoyed my day. 


Kostas' dog (she wasn't a puppy when I met her)

First meeting at the Peristeri Metro station




 





I was leaving Athens in a couple days, but we arranged to meet for one more coffee before I left. This time we met near the Acropolis and wandered around for a few hours until I had to leave, again enjoying the conversations immensely. There was a connection between us, and it felt like we had known each other for months as we chatted animatedly until the last possible second before I was leaving for Nafplio. I was excited to see him and continue our adventures and conversations when I returned to Athens. 

Over the next 9 weeks, I spent a good portion of my days and nights with Kostas. We met his friends (and eventually I met his family), went to hidden little tavernas, partied at cool rock bars, wandered around the city's parks and alleys, ate and cooked wonderful food, and became practically best friends. We discussed family and dreams, and joked about everything. He saved my ass when I had nowhere to stay (repeatedly), sent me to an island paradise where I got voluntarily stuck for two weeks, as well as introduced me to many of his friends that became close friends of mine. You probably wouldn't even believe me if I told you about all of the crazy experiences and coincidences I have had with Kostas.


Chilling in Parko Tritsis


During my last week or so in Athens, Kostas learned that he had gotten accepted into the university in Washington. Although I didn't have a home at the time, I assured Kostas before I left that I would meet him at the airport, find somewhere to stay, and get him to his university (about 275 miles (450 km) from Seattle) to help him get settled in. 

When I arrived back in Seattle I was seriously stuck in some post-travel depression. Luckily I had found a car and somewhere to stay for a few weeks while I waited to start working again and get my own place, although I still spent the majority of my days drinking copious amounts of beer and staring at the wall while listening to music I had discovered on my trip. Kostas arrived in Seattle less than three weeks after I returned only to find a completely different girl than he had met in Athens. I had turned from a positive, open, very happy person without a care in the world into a stressed, miserable, grumpy lump of a girl. 

We spent ten days together, and we were both unhappy and stressed for most of this period. I was depressed, Kostas was stressed about starting school and finding a place to live in time, and neither of us had any money. We were so lucky that we happened to find an AMAZING Couchsurfing host who took us in at the last second, and provided us with beer, food, and great company for five days. There was money on its way to both of us, but it was late. Had we not met that unfailingly kind and generous couch surfer we would have been reduced to fighting over dollar store biscuits that we bought with change scrounged from the depths of my car, as well as being beerless and out of tobacco.
Being taken out by our amazing host in Pullman


So, we survived the ten stressful days, both of us coming out the other side feeling slightly better, but still quite frazzled (when I had to leave to go back to work, he still hadn't gotten his money from Greece, nor a found a place to live). The important part was we were still friends, and still there for one another, even though we may have been slightly sick of each other.

Time marched on (or flew by, as the case may be) and we talked usually several hours a week on Skype. One weekend in November, I decided to hitch hike to go visit him (you can read a bit more about that story here). It was not until after this trip that I finally came totally back to myself again from my post-travel depression. We had a great time and it was nice to see him when we were both back to being in a positive place. I had to leave too quickly, but we assured each other we would meet again sometime over the holidays. 

Kostas arrived the Monday before new years, and we had a really nice week together. We spent the days relaxing or exploring, and stayed up until almost dawn every night drinking wine and talking. Talking about things that have passed, and things yet to come. Talking bullshit, and having serious discussions. The one topic we spoke on perhaps most often, however, was how neither of us could believe the situation we were in. Who could EVER have imagined the hippie girl and this random guy who met at a suburban metro station in Greece 7 months ago would become great friends and bring in the new year together on the other side of the world?

These amazing coincidences, and the great friendship, only came about because I opened myself up. I met the stranger. I let whatever was going to happen, happen. And some amazing experiences came out of it. So I hope this inspires you to take a chance, and let life happen for you, so that you, too can have some wonderful stories to share.
Dorky picture that almost perfectly summarizes our friendship


Friday, December 26, 2014

To Book Ahead, Or Not To Book Ahead?

Before I took my trip to Greece last summer, I planned everything out. I booked flights for the whole trip, knew where I wanted to be on what days, and Couch surfing requests were sent out as soon as I knew what city I would be in (most of them sent months in advance). About 3 weeks into my trip, I was scheduled to fly from Athens to Istanbul (and had a whole itinerary arranged for my month traveling around Turkey). I also had flights booked from Istanbul to Bucharest, then Bucharest back to Athens... Aaaand I did not make a single one of those flights!

The night before I was supposed to leave Athens, I went out with friends for what ended up being a spectacularly epic night... We were drinking and partying like it was our last night on earth... and last morning, too! I woke up shortly after noon (after perhaps an hour of sleep), thinking I had plenty of time to make it back to my host's place to pack, eat, maybe grab a nap, and hit an internet cafe before I was scheduled to meet my first host from Athens at five, so he could help me get my glasses from customs (another story for another time) on the way to the airport. 

I arrived at my hosts home, looking forward to a bite to eat and a short nap before I continued my travels. But, the first thing my host told me when I walked in the door shortly after one, was that I was meeting my friend at three, not five, that afternoon. Oh shit!!! Shower, inhale a little food, throw everything in my bag and out the door! Exhausted, rushed, but still pleased with the wonderful time I had had in Athens, I ran out the door to meet my first host, and then onto Turkey!

Because of the time change for meeting my friend, I was unable to stop by an internet cafe to get the contact information for my host in Istanbul. After a couple hours of running around, I had my glasses in hand, and was on the bus to the airport. My flight was supposed to arrive in Istanbul at around ten thirty that evening. Aaaand I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. The thought of landing alone at night in that city with no contact information for anyone was terrifying, especially after my crazy first night in Athens (another great story for another time), which was a much smaller and safer city. 

I was completely in love with Athens, and extremely reluctant to leave the city, but I was determined to continue my adventures in Turkey. It would be silly to let a whim ruin the rest of my plans. Hmmmm... what to do? Give up on the next part of my adventure and stay in a city I loved, or travel to a more dangerous city, alone, at night, with no information? I knew there was a Couch Surfing meet up in Athens that night, and I knew where some hostels were if for some insane reason I failed to find a host at the meet up. Well, I am brave, but not stupid. I decided if I couldn't get any information, I should postpone Turkey. I could always fly out next week.

When I was unable to connect to the internet in the Athens airport (as expected), I joyously made my way to the metro to get back into the city and head to the meet up to find a host (which I did with no trouble). 

So that is the story of my first missed flight. In the next few days, I booked a ticket to Izmir, and a round trip to Prague from Romania (why not add another stop?). I certainly wasn't going to just throw away the rest of my trip because of one missed flight... or so I thought! 

 My first day in Izmir was terrible, and I instantly decided I needed to leave the country for a while. I had to get back to Greece, I hated this place! I could still make my flight to Romania if I went to a Greek island for a few days or a week... Two days later, I caught a bus to the port town, and arranged a round trip ferry ticket. I was NOT going to miss the rest of my trip! 

Buuuuut I was on an island. And I was in heaven. White sand, clear waters, kind people, and big parties... Totally stuck. I stayed for two weeks on that little beach, wasting away my days in a paradise of beach bum bliss. After my island dream, instead of going back to Turkey (and onto the rest of my destinations) I made my way back to Athens by ferry. It was suggested by a number of people that I buy the cheaper ticket to Mykonos, and just stay on the boat until Athens, so I did that. It turns out that they check tickets after Mykonos, and I had to pay for a ticket from Mykonos to Athens (almost the same price as getting there from the island I left from, so I ended up paying an extra 20 euros)...  Learn from my mistake on that one if you are ever island hopping. I will never again book a Greek island ferry round trip, or in advance. These prices are stable, and you don't save more than 2-5 euros booking round trip.

I had soooooo many wasted tickets! Sooo much extra money on things I didn't use! I vowed never to book my in-between tickets in advance again. 

Now here I am, preparing for my next trip in February. My one way to Stockholm is booked. I plan to visit France, make a stop in Greece, then spend my spring in Ireland before I spend my summer in Greece again. Because this is such an extended trip, I have to be careful of how many days I stay in each place, and may be in a position where I have to leave by a certain day. So, sometimes last minute flights are cheaper. But sometimes they are significantly more expensive, and I can't afford to be put in a position where I am spending twice as much as I need to for a flight that I have to take. To book ahead, or not to book ahead?!?!  

I keep track of different prices for the flights I want, and check them regularly. Some of the flights I want have varied in price up to about $30, depending on the day. One day, I saw that the ticket I wanted from Stockholm to Paris had dropped $15 in price, to only $30! So I booked it. I am looking at some other flights (Paris to Athens, and Athens to Dublin), and am so torn if I should book them when the prices drop, or if I should wait. I know, I know... I said I would never book in advance again. But this is a little different... I am on a long trip and have to be in certain countries on certain days and can only stay for so long in each place. I think I will book my flights through Dublin before I leave, and wait on my flight back to Greece until the time gets closer. 

I will keep you posted on how the booking ahead works this time... Maybe I will actually be able to stick with a schedule! I am learning every time I travel. I learned not to book in advance, but I also know what it is like to have to leave somewhere, need a flight, and end up paying way more than I could have. Flight prices change a lot, but if I wasn't traveling for so long on such a strict schedule and budget, I would not book ahead. But I am, so one more time, I will try booking some flights in advance. Wish me luck, we will see how it goes! 

Peace out and adventure on!