a southern yankee abroad


europe backpacking

What I Know Now

It is hard to believe I’ve been home for exactly a month as of today. Moving to Brooklyn and starting law school at NYU has brought its own set of adventures (or misadventures). I’m thankful that I’ve had so much to keep me occupied and from feeling “homesick” for traveling. Although I’ve been very busy catching up with old friends, moving and settling in to my new apartment, and getting to know my new best friends (some substantially-sized Contracts, Torts, and Civil Procedure textbooks) really well, I am already counting down to my next trip (yep, it’s already in the works). I can’t wait!

The busy streets of Hanoi…I can’t wait to return to Asia, hopefully sometime soon!

I’ve received many messages and questions since my return about how to plan and execute a long-term backpacking trip. These amazing questions have inspired this post–what I know now that I wish I knew when I first set out for Thailand in May. I hope this post is helpful for those of you planning your own trips, and I am of course more than happy to keep answering questions via message (I’ll try my best to respond in a timely manner).

1- There is a lot that can (and will) go wrong. Jump in anyway. Case in point–my bag was lost for 3 weeks. Ok, maybe it’s good that I didn’t know this would happen before going, as this is the kind of thing that would have stressed me out before. This circumstance actually taught me even more that stuff is just stuff, and I don’t need all of it anyway. If I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing!

2- Don’t overplan— draft the outline but don’t write the paper before you leave. Plan a few big things, like flights and lodging in places where it may be expensive and booked up early, but try to leave as many of your plans as flexible as possible.

I felt a little frustrated on my tour in Cambodia and Vietnam at some points, as I felt almost every hour was planned and structured in certain cities without room to wander.

On the other hand, I feel I planned my Europe trip to the best degree possible, as I used flexible booking on Hostelworld (which allowed me to cancel reservations and get my deposit back to use towards another hostel), and I waited to book my transportation until a few days in advance of each place. This way, I could spend more or less time in places as I felt led to do so. Also, this flexibility allowed me to visit some places that were not on my original plan, like Provence with Nat and Bratislava.  Book a few key things to have peace of mind, but allow yourself the freedom to drift and wander as you go along.

Provence was one of the highlights of my summer…and it was never in the original plan. I was only able to go because I stayed flexible and didn’t overplan in the beginning.

3- In Europe, bus> train. I had such a great experience with the bus in Europe (with the exception of Post Bus… Don’t use them!) I used Flixbus and Regiojet to get from point A to B often, and I only used the train once (from Prague to Budapest… At only 30 euro it was well worth it!) The bus is not only far cheaper 9 times out of 10, but it takes an equal or only slightly longer amount of travel time as the train in most instances. Hard to believe, right!? I thought I’d be using the train to travel within Europe as I started my trip, but I’m so happy I discovered Flixbus and Regiojet! I used to compare prices across transportation methods.

FlixBus has Wifi on-board, which allowed me to send crucial Snapchats (haha)

4-“You are supposed to sleep on the sleeper trains in Vietnam” (or, find moments of comfort in uncomfortable situations). Those of you who know me well know that I have germophobic tendencies. The Vietnamese sleeper trains were not the cleanest, and I took 3 journeys on them ranging between 8 and 14 hours each. My sheets had sketchy stains on them, and I didn’t even use the toilet the first 2 trips because I was so grossed out. However, I had the deepest and soundest sleep of the whole Asia portion of my trip on these overnight journeys. The secret is that I let go of things out of my control and decided to embrace the moment. I not only survived the sleeper trains, but I have great memories from them now! I applied this principle to surviving 3 days in the freezing Bolivian wilderness without a shower, as well as sleeping in a cramped hostel in Paris (it was a great location and price though, and my bunk bed had a beautiful skylight!) It’s inevitable you’ll be out of your comfort zone at certain points… Just embrace it, and it’ll become a part of your story.

The accommodation in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam) provided great memories..even with mosquitoes, a tarantula, and rats!


5- Don’t go to Bolivia during their winter (our summer). It’s absolutely freezing.


Having dinner in 16 degree Fahrenheit weather in Bolivia near the Chilean border…no heat! Perhaps the coldest night of my life.

6- Embrace being a tourist. You’re not gonna fool anyone into thinking you’re a local in most places. So own it… Just don’t be obnoxious. Pay the 100,000 dong to see the water puppets in Ha Noi (I unexpectedly loved this so much!) Pay the 3 sols to take a picture with the baby llamas in Peru. Pay the 18 euro for the “Heineken experience” in Amsterdam… Cheesy but amazingly fun! There is something to be said for having authentic and “local” experiences too, and I highly encourage this. But, at the end of the day, don’t be ashamed or afraid to play tourist.


Embracing “all things tourist” in Amsterdam

7- There’s no shame in embracing a Starbucks or McDonald’s along the way. Many travelers aim for the fully “authentic” experience and refuse to patronize places like Starbucks and McDonald’s that “you can find at home” and are run by big corporations. I agree with this view to an extent–I really enjoyed discovering and frequenting local spots along the way on all 3 continents. However, I do take exception to the self-righteousness of the “authentic only” perspective. There is something to be said about finding familiarity along the way on a long-term journey. McDonald’s are actually very clean and posh (ironically) everywhere but in the USA, and Starbucks had the most consistently reliable Wifi I found. You are the captain of your own experience–don’t cave to pressure to be “authentic” because you decide what is authentic for you. 


McFlurry fix in Arequipa (Peru)


8- Have cushion in your budget. See #1. You need to plan for some things to go wrong and for some things to cost more than you’ve planned. Build some extra funds into your budget to cover these unexpected costs. For me, this was replacing my entire bag and wardrobe in Provence. Although my insurance will reimburse me, I still had to front this cost plus 3 additional weeks of travel. I’m glad I planned ahead for the unforeseen!

9- If you have a chance to travel, take it. If you don’t, make a plan. You will never have enough time, money, or friends to travel with. So do it now. Don’t make any more excuses. Plan and arrange your finances and vacation time/transition time between jobs to allow for your trip. It’s now or never! Also, don’t be afraid to go it alone. See #11.

10- A smile is understood in every language. A simple smile goes a long way in terms of making friends.

Celebrating my birthday with the locals near Vinicunca Mountain in Peru was one of the most special memories from this summer!

11- Keep an open mind when it comes to the people you will meet. You may feel like your life is already so full of friends and family before you leave, but there is always room for more. The thought of traveling alone and meeting strangers may sound extremely intimidating, and that’s normal. But the truth is you’re never alone when you travel solo. You will meet so many like-minded adventurers and kindred spirits. You may fall in love. You will meet people with different backgrounds from different cultures, but discover you have so much in common. Embrace the uncertainty, wear a smile, and see where the journey takes you.

The oldest farming couple in Hoi An, Vietnam. They regularly welcome visitors to their farm.


This summer changed my perspective in ways I could not have predicted. Most of all, I realized how interconnected we all are on this planet, which inevitably has further influenced how I think in terms of everything from my personal relationships to my career goals to my political views. Travel will change you, so my advice is to make sure you take chances or create your own opportunities to do it!

Words to live by in Chiang Mai, Thailand–“You can’t get lost if you don’t care where you are!”

A Weekend in Amsterdam

The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat by Breitner, Rijksmuseum

If Paris was frenzied and beautiful, Amsterdam has been calming and quaint. I think Amsterdam’s reputation in the USA as a wild party city, given its red light district and “coffee shops,” is undeserved. Amsterdam is extremely chill, and I think these things exist here because people are so tolerant because they are so chill. I instantly felt more relaxed given the slower pace and cheaper prices (30-50 percent lower than Paris already!) here. Also, my dad reminded me we have some Dutch heritage, so I was excited to see another place my ancestors are from!

After the 8 hour bus ride from Paris, I was excited to arrive at Sloterjdik station in Amsterdam. On the ride from Belgium to Amsterdam, I shared my seat with a belly dancer from Amsterdam currently living in Istanbul, and she graciously filled me in on the history and sites to see in the city. In addition to discovering the city, I would be spending the next few days with Sjors and Wendel, two friends I met in Africa back in December who live in Amsterdam! I was so excited to see Wendel at the bus stop, and we took the 15 minute train train ride together into the city to Sjors’ apartment.

It was so good to see Wendel at the bus station!

Once we got off the train, our first task was to visit a bike rental shop. Everyone in Amsterdam gets around by bicycle, and there are more bikes than cars on the road it seems, so I would need this to get around for the weekend. We visited the shop, picked out a bike, and were shocked when the manager offered it to me for the weekend for free!! This saved me close to 25 euros! I was so excited and knew at that moment I would love Amsterdam and the people here.

We then walked to Sjors’ apartment with my bike, and then we continued on together to a nearby rooftop bar with a great view of the city. There were 3 of us and only 2 bikes, so I rode on the back of one while Wendel drove. Apparently, this is the real “Dutch way!”13619943_10207949812755699_6202679943874757891_n Here, we had Dutch beer and bitterballen, a Dutch delicacy. We then continued on to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and then to Rembrandt Square to watch France and Germany play in the Eurocup semifinals. Although the Netherlands were out, the atmosphere was still electric!! I cheered on France, one of my new favorite countries (allez les bleus!), and Wendel and I were excited when France won (Sjors was for Germany!)

The next morning, the three of us visited the Rijksmuseum, which is the national art museum of the Netherlands. I was very excited to see the Rembrandt collection here, but was also very impressed with their total collection of Dutch art, as well as the exhibits with ship models and instruments. I enjoyed learning about Jan Steen, a Dutch painter who often depicted everyday “peasant” life, including hilarious scenes (like a drunken couple or misbehaving children) in his work.

The Milk Maid by Vermeer
A self-portrait by Rembrandt
A Jan Steen painting

13599813_10207949797755324_6924443745220603961_nAfter lunch (I had a traditional Dutch pancake!), Wendel left for her own trip to Milan, and Sjors and I rode our bikes to Oost Park, where we had a nice afternoon of reading, catching up, and napping. I am realizing how important it is to slow down during long-term traveling…it is so easy to burn out by trying to fit something into every minute.

The next morning, I visited the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh art in the world, as well as hundreds of his personal letters. I was surprised to learn that he did the majority of his work in the last few years of his life, before he tragically committed suicide. Also, it seems that Van Gogh is often characterized as a crazy, emotional, reactionary artist who chopped off his own ear in a fit. While this did happen, I learned his approach to his art was actually very measured and calculated, and he was a diligent student of the craft. Sadly, his work was not recognized on a wide scale until 2 years after his 1890 suicide, and he is now one of the best loved artists of all times.

After my morning at the museum, I hopped on my bike with the intention of getting lost in Amsterdam, stopping at a few cafes along the way to write. I loved riding my bike around the city, and I really want to get one now when I move to Brooklyn in the fall! I then met up with Sjors to visit the Heineken Experience, which is a tour of the brewery complete with a full history of the company, demonstrations and tastings,video games and a Disneyworld-like ride where they “turn you into the beer” and brew you! Afterwards, we took a ferry across the North Sea channel to enjoy the skyline before biking home.13599910_10207949790635146_3658631312419820696_n


13567380_10207945477407318_7632282861631892131_nThis morning, I ran a few errands and then struck out on my bike to explore the city a bit more. I enjoyed biking through the canals on my own instead of on an organized tour.13567498_10207949786835051_5640788401119301127_n I then headed back to Sjors’ place, where we watched the end of the Formula 1 race (I had no idea this sport really existed, but it’s huge here! I am learning new things everyday) I then packed my bags, had a nice homemade dinner with Sjors, and set off for the bus station to leave for Munich.

Amsterdam has been lovely, and my time here made me realize that people are what make traveling so special. I am so grateful to have friends like Wendel and Sjors, who met me at the bus station, took time to show me some of the amazing sites in their city, and made sure I made it to the bus station well-fed, well-rested, and on time. I can’t wait to show them the same hospitality when they visit NYC (or the southern USA for that matter, if I’m home!) Next stop…Munich!

Trying to climb the “D” with Wendel’s help…it didn’t quite work out!

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: