Oktoberfest draws hundreds of thousands of people to Munich from September 20 – October 5, 2014. According to many Europeans, the best weekend to go is the weekend of September 26 – 28, which is affectionately nicknamed Italian Weekend because there’s a heavy influx of Italians on those particular days. Still, there’s no shortage of locals and tourists from all over the world who’ve deemed Oktoberfest Italian Weekend the weekend of choice as well.
It’s official. Two weeks from today, I’m moving to Germany! Berlin to be exact. And I could not be more thrilled to very soon be living, writing, and traveling full-time in Europe.
In my experience, the greatest way to success is to look at what other successful people did or are doing and find your own way based off their road maps. Most of the travel bloggers I admire are traveling all the time. Granted, I know that many, if not all of these bloggers’ trips are sponsored by hotels, tourism boards, airlines, etc., but I don’t have that level of clout, not yet anyway. So I decided to invest in myself. I’m making this transcontinental move on my own dime. And in a lot of ways it’s terrifying, but also deliriously liberating. I don’t know anyone in Berlin and I speak German like a two-year-old child, and yet, I’m moving.
Why Move Abroad?
I love my hometown of Los Angeles. If LA was a dude, I’d marry it. However, I’m not ready to get married to LA. I need one last fling with another city, another country. And it just so happens I’m in love with the way life is lived in Europe.
The idea to live full-time in Europe came to me at the very end of the solo backpacking trip that inspired this blog. I was sitting at a hostel in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in Berlin, watching the three Aussies sharing my room discuss ways to get to Munich for Oktoberfest. They were totally open with their travel plans and two of them earlier had mentioned that this trip to Berlin had convinced them to stay to live. As they talked among themselves, and haphazardly threw an invitation to Munich my way, I remember thinking three things: 1) I really want to go to Oktoberfest, 2) Aussies have way better travel visas than Americans, and 3) Why am I going back home to LA?
Home. I thought about this and realized to my own astonishment that for over three weeks, I’d been without the comforts of home, and I’d been fine. Happy, even. Fall TV season, my favorite time of year, had started, and I hadn’t missed my returning shows in the soul-crushing, hole-in-my-heart way I thought I would. And more than that, I realized that I didn’t have anything tying me to my hometown. Of course I have family and friends in LA, but the things that really tie a person down (spouse, kids, dog, house with mortgage payments), I have none of those.
Up until that trip, I’d always thought my plan would be to become a successful TV writer and then travel or live in Europe while my show was on hiatus. (I have big dreams, guys. Obvs.) But after that trip I decided to flip this idea. Why not go now? While I’m young. While I’m free. While nothing and no one is holding me back.
Why Move to Berlin?
Not that I’m trying to convince you, dear reader, to visit or anything, but Berlin is pretty freaking awesome. It was one of those cities where as I explored on foot and on bike, I thought, “I could live here.” I tend to listen to that feeling when it happens, since it happens so rarely.
No girl gains perspective until she’s transplanted. It’s the universal law of life.” – Upstairs, Downstairs episode “The Fledgling”
So when I decided that I would pursue a move abroad, and after chatting with friends who are living abroad in Asia and Europe, and comparing cost of living and cultural amenities in other European cities, I decided Asia was not my cup of tea and Berlin was the obvious choice to suit my tastes.
Berlin is affordable, cultured, artsy, and diverse (enough). It’s got an international flair with enough native English-speakers and English-speaking Germans to make communicating possible. Like LA, Berlin has a great film/music/media scene to make me feel at home. There are restaurants with international cuisines all over the places and all the Hefeweizens I could want to drink. Not to mention it’s an international airline hub with a central location in Europe, which will make traveling to the other European cities I want to visit and write about stupid easy.
Finally, as a writer, it’ll be awesome to be living in a Los Angeles sister city filled with other creative people who have escaped 9-5 life. It doesn’t escape me that almost all of the greatest American writers spent time living in Europe. I can’t wait to be a total cliche and spend my days writing in coffee shops. I will be out of my LA-ified comfort zone, and can come at the world and storytelling from a different point of view.
Even as I write this I still can’t believe that in two weeks, I’ll be moving to Berlin. I’ll be living my dream.
So if you’re at all interested in life as an expat in Berlin or my continued travels in Europe, subscribe to Joy in Europe and add @joyineurope on Twitter & Instagram. Follow along on my new European adventure as I navigate expat life in a new city and the World Cup winning-Germany!
How My First Time Using AirBnB Went from Good to Bad to Great
AirBnB offers travelers the chance to live like a local. While I usually stay at either hotels, hostels, with friends or mutual friends while traveling, I’m heading to Austin for SXSW this week and most hotel rooms have been booked up since July of last year. After consulting with my social networks, I discovered that no one in my network lives in Austin or had friends of friends in Austin. Plan C? AirBnB.
Searching for a Place to Stay
First you have to pick the location or neighborhood you’d like to stay in. On the site, there’s a handy map that you can filter by price and whether or not you want an entire place to yourself, a private room, or shared room. Once you’ve narrowed down your map, you can click through the photos of each listing and check out the aesthetics of different houses and apartments along with reviews for both the place and the host.
After you’ve found and saved the places you’re interested in, you have to contact the hosts. AirBnB makes it super easy to do this. Instead of contacting hosts one by one, if you’ve saved a bunch of places, you can click “Message Hosts” under your Wish List, and the site will let you compose a message that will be sent to all of the hosts at once. In this message you should include the length of your stay, additional guests, logistics, general plans, and a bit about yourself.
Once you’ve contacted hosts, the waiting begins. Some will respond with an hour, others may take longer. Some might immediately send back pre-approval, while others will ask for references or more information about you (if you haven’t used AirBnB before and have no recommendations). These booking requirements are up to each individual host. Not all hosts will respond, and sometimes the place may not be available for the dates you need, even though this might not have been reflected in AirBnB’s availability calendar. In my experience, for every 5 bids I sent out, 3 got back to me, and 1-2 pre-approved me even as a first-timer. (It helps to connect AirBnB to Facebook as this allows mutual friends and alumni connections to show up in the search menu, which can vouch for both you and the host).
Once I booked with my host in Austin, I thought I was all set. But a month before my departure date, my host notified me that she had to cancel my reservation. I didn’t even know canceling was a thing AirBnB hosts could do, and I’d never had that happen at a hotel or hostel.
A mild panic set in. Because of SXSW other rooms on AirBnB were either all booked up, hosts were only accepting week-long reservations, and other hosts had jacked up rates to $800 a night.
I consulted other networks and was presented with options far outside of Austin with people in places who didn’t have photos and wanted to charge just as much as AirBnB hosts. This made me feel more comfortable using AirBnB because at least there were pictures, reviews, and a system to protect both hosts and customers. Because of my host’s cancellation, AirBnB offered me either a refund or a $50 credit on top of what I’d already paid for my reservation. So I did a whole new search, emailed a bunch of new hosts, and decided to rebook my reservation.
Before I rebooked, I received an email from an AirBnB customer service representative. It was a long personalized letter addressing the situation, apologizing for the cancellation, and offering to help me rebook. I expressed my disappointment that as a first-timer my first experience was negative, but thanked her for personally reaching out to see how she could help.
A couple days later, AirBnB customer service upsold. Since I split up my rebooking between Austin Firehouse Hostel and AirBnB, they offered to cover my first night free if I booked with them instead of the hostel. Again, I thanked them for being so helpful. I thought the free night offer would be the extent of how far AirBnB went to make things right, but a few days later I received a pleasant surprise in my email. It was a $50 Giftly from AirBnB specifically for Austin + SXSW. The note read,
“Thanks for being AMAZING & rebooking yourself! Please use this to have some fun at SXSW! Some of our recommendations include: Waterloo Records, Franklin BBQ, Qui, & leighelena. Wishing you a fun & successful trip!”
AirBnB customer service just got better and better.
While I still haven’t completed my first AirBnB stay, they’ve definitely sold me on their customer service. I think there’s a good chance I’ll be a repeat customer in other cities.
Take a Free International Flight
Fly International First Class or Business Class
It’s not so much the plush leather seats or the fancy cup holders or the hot towels that appeal to me about first class and business class seats on planes, it’s the lie-flat seats that convert into beds. Napping is my favorite pastime on planes, even on long-haul flights. It would be glorious to be able to lie down for 12 hours and not have my sleepy head flopping around toward (and sometimes embarrassingly leaning on) the stranger sitting next to me.
I’m admittedly a little late on this one, but there’s both something very cool and very strange about staying in a local’s place in another city. However, given that I have no problem crashing in a friend’s guestroom or friend-of-a-friend’s couch, I figure AirBnB has to be a somewhat similar experience. So this year, I’m completing one of my 2013 travel goals and going to SXSW in Austin, TX. Hotels and hostels were sold out, so I’m staying with a host from AirBnB. We’ll see how it goes!
Fly Through Security
If you’ve ever had a dramatic running-through-the-airport moment like this one (complete with the score from “Love Actually” echoing in your ears), getting through airport security can be the most anxiety-inducing part of traveling. At this point you’ve gotten to the airport, you’re checked in to your flight, you’ve checked (or not checked) your luggage, and now you just need to get to the gate, on time.
And if you’re running late to catch a connecting flight and have already sped through all the other steps like a boss on an obstacle course, it’s security where things come to a screeching halt because you have to slow down while teetering on the verge of a mild breakdown because you won’t make it to your gate in time. Never fear. Now there’s a TSA Pre-Check program that will help you speed through security. Anyone can apply to be a Trusted Traveler, although certain groups like frequent flyers and those in the military may be pre-approved without going through the application process.
Become Fluent in German
This isn’t so much a travel goal, as a life goal, but I’ve been learning German since last summer via an awesome language learning app DuoLingo. 2014 is the year where I step this up by finding a native-speaker tutor and do the whole total immersion thing. Given that German is one of the most widely-spoken languages in Europe, I think it’s a very useful language to learn. And let’s be real, being trilingual is way hotter than being bilingual.
Visit Iceland, Croatia, Belgium, and Munich for Oktoberfest
- Iceland: For the crazy beautiful landscapes.
- Croatia: For the beaches.
- Belgium: For the fries, waffles, and beer…rinse and repeat.
- Munich: For the beer, obvs.
What are your travel goals for the year?
In what would otherwise be a Home Alone 2 and Love Actually dominated holiday movie marathon, The Holiday earns a special spot on my must-watch list every year. Why? Is it because I’m a hopeless romantic or have an affinity for romcoms starring Kate Winslet? Not exactly.
One of my favorite travel pastimes is hunting down filming locations.
The Holiday has a special place in my heart because I stumbled onto the set on a trip to Shere, a village outside of London, while studying abroad in 2006. You see, one of my college roommates came to visit England and had family in Woking, a town in Surrey. She suggested I meet her there, so I hauled ass from London to the countryside. After a lovely English dinner at her relatives’ home, the next day they drove us over to the quaint, English countryside village of Shere. It was positively what I pictured an English countryside to look like.
Post-shandys, we made our way over to St. James Church from where we could see Kate Winslet’s character’s house a short distance away. However, the “house” we could see was actually not a real house, but a set prop built specifically for the movie’s exterior shots. A tour guide at the church told us that if we got close enough to the house we’d see that it was no bigger than a glorified dollhouse, you know, the ones lucky kids have in their backyards.
Funnily enough, at the time I didn’t even consider that I might like the movie once it came out. Let alone find it so heartwarmingly charming that it’s been added into my Christmas movie rotation. So unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of “Iris’ House” or the set decorations around the village. Still though, it’s always fun to get to visit the filming locations of my favorite TV shows and movies when I’m traveling abroad or even in my own backyard here in Los Angeles.
To those of you who celebrate Christmas…Merry Christmas! To those who don’t…Happy Holidays! And to all…Happy New Year!
So I like bread. There’s nothing more comforting than warm, freshly baked bread or pastries on a chilly evening, but usually my bread consumption is limited to a nice restaurant dinner or on a sandwich at lunchtime. But bread as a fixture on the dining table is not a part of my daily mealtime routine. Not so in Europe. There’s bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Desserts are often made of bread or and snacks are sandwiched between bread too. So. Much. Bread.
When the free breakfast of a small baguette and croissant was served at my Paris hostel last year, I overheard a girl at the next table say,
“And so my European all-carb diet continues.”
The all-carb diet appeared again earlier this month in Spain. Good thing there’s so much walking in European cities, burns all the carbs. Sweden and Germany boasted some breads pretty much unlike anything I’d ever tasted before. At the Berliner Gauklerfest, I tried langos, which is actually a Hungarian fried bread that comes with different toppings. I ordered mine with olive oil, salt, and chili peppers. It was savory and delicious.
In Sweden, the bread baskets were more diverse than other places I’ve visited. There was knäckebröd, which is a crisp bread that reminded me of crackers, along with breadsticks. But it was the kavring, a type of rye bread that’s both sweet and savory, that I fell in love with.
Even though I was sharing a table and a bread basket with a couple on a date (a story for another time), I shamelessly ate ALL the kavring in the basket. It was that good. My waitress noticed, and provided me with the name of the bread. When I told her that I didn’t think I could find it in America, she encouraged me to get a recipe online and bake it myself. And guess what? I asked for a dough mixer for Christmas, and did just that. Seriously, it was that good. The next time I’m in Europe I’ll stick to eating the bread that I try and love, and skip eating bread simply because it’s on the table.
Madrid is like no place I’ve ever visited before and simultaneously, like any other big city. Whenever I visit a place for the first time, I like to sum up its personality in a few words. Summing up Madrid is difficult. There was no instant vibe I picked up on. Unlike other major cities I’ve visited, Madrid’s neighborhoods seemed to blend into each other without any strong visual distinctions. The differences between neighborhoods like Malasaña and La Latina were subtle, at best.
When I asked traveler friends to compare Madrid to Barcelona, Madrid often came out on the losing side. Even some Barcelonians I encountered on my trip turned their noses up at Madrid. But I tried to visit the capital of Spain with no expectations and an open mind. Here’s what I thought.
MADRID: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Uptight, formal, traditional.
Food & Dining
Filling. Lunch is around 2pm and usually contains four courses, including bread and dessert. It’s the biggest meal of the day. Most people head to tapas bars around 8pm, with dinner starting some time after 9pm. You’ll see families with small children and the elderly alongside eating dinner until midnight, alongside everyone else. International and vegan/vegetarian options are scarce.
Lively. Madrid loosens up once the sun goes down. Bars are packed until at least 2am on the weekday nights, and pretty much until the sunrises on weekends. If you’re out and indulging in sangria, cañas, or Spain’s beloved gin & tonics, remember pacing is important.
Formal. I hate to say it, but Madrid is the worst dressed European city I’ve ever visited. (Sorry, Madrid!) Most guys were wearing an ensemble that included an ill-fitting button-down shirt tucked into khakis or jeans, topped off with sneakers (men 30 and under) or dress shoes (men 30 and up). For women, sundresses appeared to be the way to go. I couldn’t get into it.
Low. Guys in Madrid briefly offered me suggestions on where to go, gave a double-cheek kiss, and disappeared into the night.
High. Many people I encountered, even in hotels, restaurants, and taxis, spoke little to no English. Your Spanish language book or smartphone translator app will definitely be needed here. If you’re like me and already know how to speak some Spanish, you’ll get plenty of practice!
Very high. Madrid is an extremely walkable city. It’s the one thing Madrid truly has going for it. For example, it might take 22 minutes to get to a museum by Metro, but I’d discover I could walk there in 24 minutes. So I walked, a lot. I never encountered a spot in the city that was more than a 30 minute walk from the two hotels I stayed in. When I took the Metro, it was only because my feet were tired.
Not necessary. If you’re not a fan of a formal itinerary, this is a city where it’s pretty easy to wing it. Just remember that the museums are generally free the last two hours they’re open (the Prado WILL have a long line, but it moves quickly), and that some shops and restaurants are closed for siestas between 3:00pm-5:00pm.
Hi everyone! Today marks a year to the date that I departed for the solo European backpacking trip that inspired me to start this blog. In the weeks before my trip, I found myself constantly searching the Internet for advice for solo travelers in Europe, and more specifically, women traveling alone in Europe. Let’s just say, it was a task that had me Googling all over the place. So when I returned to the States, I set out to turn Joy in Europe into what I hope will eventually be a one-stop shop for solo travel advice.
Thanks to all of you who have followed this blog from the beginning, and the new peeps that have begun following recently. I appreciate all of you and your kind comments, and I hope you will continue to find my travel advice helpful and stories entertaining. I’d love to hear what travel topics you’re most interested in hearing about going forward. You can tweet me @joycmitch or leave a comment here.
I still have so many more tips to give, travel stories to tell, travel tech to check out, and Europe trips to take, and I can’t wait to share all of it with you!
Be safe and happy travels.
I stumbled upon this highlighted word while washing my clothes at a Stockholm hostel, and immediately and maturely dissolved into a fit of giggles. There are words on the machine in both English and Swedish (Swenglish, anybody?), but any guesses on what the highlighted word means?
I don’t know if it’s because summer travel season is here or what, but it seems travel romance is in the air. I went to see Before Midnight this weekend. It’s the third film in a trilogy that was essentially required viewing before I departed on my Europe backpacking trip. Though Before Midnight does a great job of portraying the realities of a couple who fell in love while traveling, the closet romantic in me finds it nice to hear about real-life travel romances. That being said, Candice Accola, star of the TV show The Vampire Diaries, got engaged to the guitarist from The Fray while on vacation in Italy. I mention this because something stuck out to me in the article about her engagement. Accola was quoted in a Chicago Tribune travel article as saying:
“I don’t think I could have a genuine relationship with someone who didn’t love to travel and appreciate new foods. Traveling is a big part of my life, and I want to share that with the people close to me.”
After reading this quote, I suddenly had a new respect for her. And she continued dropping truths:
“You learn so much about yourself when you’re traveling with someone. It’s also a huge reason why they say that you shouldn’t get married to someone until you’ve traveled with them. Being in close confines like that for an extended period forces you to explore different sides to yourself.”
Just when I was finished fangirling over my new wannabe travel buddy, Candice Accola, a Facebook friend posted a link to a very well-written piece by Lena Desmond called “Date a Boy Who Travels.” It’s definitely worth a full read. So many lines in the piece reminded of the reasons why I love to travel. Desmond writes:
“Date the boy who talks of distant places and whose hands have explored the stone relics of ancient civilizations and whose mind has imagined those hands carving, chiseling, painting the wonders of the world…He’s experienced different ways of being, respects alternative religions and he looks at the world with the eyes of a five-year-old, curious and hungry…He will live in every moment with you because this is how he lives his life. He understands that happiness is no more than a string of moments that displace neutrality and he is determined to tie as many of these strings together as he can.”
I can’t lie. Whether I meet him while traveling or not, I do hope whoever my future hubby-lover-friend ends up being is a lot like the guy Desmond describes.