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!
In 2012, I decided I wanted to backpack Europe. But after polling a few friends who couldn’t commit to the trip due to money or time issues, I resolved to travel alone. After working up the nerve to travel alone, the idea of traveling solo became exciting. No matter how close you are, traveling with friends or the fam can be hard. They want to do one thing, you another. You want to go here, they want to go there. But when you travel solo, it’s all about you!
While I don’t consider myself particularly adventurous, my love of traveling overrode my fear of not having a travel buddy. At home in LA, I ran into woman after woman who told me that she had never and could never travel solo. I don’t think that’s true. Here’s some advice on how you can work up the nerve to travel alone too.
- Baby Steps – Go to a concert, restaurant, or movie alone. Remember that episode of “Sex and the City” when Carrie Bradshaw discusses going to a restaurant alone without anything to hide behind? Do that. It’ll make you feel like you’re breaking some unspoken social rule, like walking in L.A. It might feel weird at first, but then it’ll feel empowering. You don’t need someone to eat with you to enjoy your meal. The first time I went to a movie alone, a lady accidentally sat on me because she didn’t see me sitting in the seat. It was an awkwardly hilarious start to doing things alone, but since then, I’ve gone to many a movie, concert, and restaurant solo.
- Short-Distance Road Trip It – Go out of town alone. When I was in grad school in Boston, I often found myself wanting to head out of town for the weekend, but no one could go with me. I assure you that I’m not a loner and I do have friends, but weekend trips seemed to be designated to couples. So instead of being the poor, poor single girl stuck in Boston, when I wanted to get away, I got away to New York City. It was a cheap and short 4-hour bus ride via Megabus or the Boltbus, and I got my fill of the busy, crazy, shopping, eating, cultural goings-on that Boston lacked.
- Go Somewhere International That’s Semi-Familiar – The idea here is to go it alone in a foreign place that’s not completely foreign to you. Maybe your family is of Scottish descent or your neighborhood is predominately Thai. For me, having grown up in Los Angeles, this place was Mexico. The foods, the language, and the culture were all very familiar to me, so being in Cabo San Lucas by myself for a few days wasn’t daunting. As long as you’re comfortable with the culture, you won’t feel intimidated by the place.
- Plan Your Big Solo Adventure – Working up the nerve to travel alone with these experiences under your belt, you should now be comfortable enough to go farther out into the world. Break out the travel guides and foreign language tutorials because there are so many cities to visit and places to see on this planet. Go see. Go do. And with some planning and Facebooking, you may find that you have friends – or friends of friends – in other countries who you can meet up with. Or you can do what I did and make friends as you go, but more on that later.
When packing for a trip to Europe or anywhere else in the world, it’s nice to find a few travel hacks that will make what can be the most tedious pre-departure chore easy. As I finish up my travel packing series, here are a few of my favorite Europe packing tips and tricks.
Take Pictures of Clothing Items
Once you’ve selected all of the clothes you’re going to stuff into your backpack or suitcase, take photos of each individual item before you pack them. And if you want to be even more productive, take pictures of your outfit ideas. That way instead of having to sift through your backpack or suitcase trying to remember what you brought or be inspired for an outfit, all you’ll have to do is thumb through the photos in your phone to decide what to wear. Your phone can help you recreate the closet scene from “Clueless.”
Pack in Airtight Bags
Want to pack a lot of clothing in a small amount of space? Airtight bags are your friends. There are many different types on the market, but whichever you buy, use them to their full potential. You can fit a lot more clothing when all the air is squeezed out of bags like these Ziploc Space Bags.
- Empty Altoids tins make a great discrete, compact container to hold rings and small earrings.
- To prevent necklaces from getting tangled you can thread them through a drinking straw.
Weigh Your Bag or Backpack
If you’re flying on budget airlines like Ryanair or Vueling during your Europe trip, know that they will charge you baggage fees if your bag is overweight. So be sure to weigh your bag before you leave. The standard weight limit is 10kg (i.e. 22 pounds). If you’re backpacking through Europe, it’s a good idea to test out the weight of your backpack before you’re headed to the airport. That way you can either adjust the way you packed (heavier items on the bottom) or remove some items that you don’t really need so your backpack will be lighter. Since you’ll most likely be adding items to the backpack as you travel, there’s no reason to start your trip with a bag that’s super heavy.
Tie a Ribbon or Bandana to Checked Luggage
If for some reason you can’t light with only a carry-on, and you must check a bag, be sure to tie a brightly colored ribbon or bandana to the handle of your bag. You’d be amazed at how much some luggage looks alike. With a distinctive ribbon tied to your bag, at least you hopefully won’t have to stand at the carousel too long since you’ll be able to spot your bag as soon as it slides down the ramp.
Somewhere between traveling from hostel to hostel and airport to airport, to packing and re-packing my backpack during my solo Europe trip, I found myself losing things. First, it was my favorite white V-neck T-shirt in Berlin, then my iPhone earbuds in Paris, then worst of all my Moleskine notebook at JFK airport at the very end of my trip. I realized that the lighter and smarter I pack, the less I run the risk of losing items or lugging around items that I didn’t actually use.
1. Expensive Accessories and Jewelry
Aside from potentially attracting pickpockets or thieves, it’s really easy for jewelry to fall through the cracks of your backpack or suitcase. Even if you have a special case for these expensive items, you still have to make sure they’re locked up when not wearing them. And heaven forbid something did happen, they could cost a fortune to replace.
2. New Clothing
As your prepare for your Europe trip, you might feel the urge to buy clothing specifically for the trip. Resist this urge. Unless you’re traveling somewhere that requires specialized clothing, like a ski trip, I wouldn’t bring any new clothing you think you’ll wear on your trip.
Tip: Don’t buy clothing for your trip, buy clothing on your trip.
I bought a cute new dress and skirt that I thought I would wear in Europe. Key word: thought. The new sundress never ventured out of my suitcase, and I wore my new skirt a grand total of one time. When it came down to it, I found myself choosing to wear the items in my backpack I was more familiar with and comfortable in. The items I bought for my trip, ended up taking away luggage space from the new pieces I picked up shopping on my trip. Side note: You especially do not want to break in new shoes in Europe. That’s a recipe for blisters and disaster. Your feet will thank me later.
3. High Heels
OK, I know I may be a traitor to my gender, but bringing high heels to Europe is a no-no in my book. First of all, unless you’re taxiing everywhere, you will be doing a lot of walking, and let’s just face it, walking in flats or sneakers is way more comfortable than walking in heels all day. Not to mention the sheer nightmare it is to walk in heels on cobblestone streets. Even if you’re a Beyonce or Victoria Beckham type and live in stilettos, they just really aren’t that practical to have in your backpack, assuming you only break them out a few times for clubbing. And from a safety standpoint, it’s again easier to cut and run in flats than it is to run in heels or barefoot with said heels in hand.
4. A Laptop
Unless you’re a digital nomad and working in Europe, given the advancement of smartphones and tablets to do everything that you need, I’d leave the laptop at home. Laptops are heavier and bulkier than a tablet, and therefore will take up more space in your bag. And like expensive jewelry, it would be one more thing to worry about if you leave it locked up in your suitcase while exploring.
From guidebooks to airplane fiction, I’d leave all hard copy books at home. Like laptops, books are heavy and bulky, and can be consolidated onto a tablet or smartphone. There are great guidebook apps that can be installed on your phone. The Kindle app or iBooks can hold your entire fiction or non-fiction library.
So there you have it. Those are the five things you don’t need to pack for Europe. Traveling and packing light is all about dual-use and consolidation to make sure you have a stress-free and great time on your trip.
Whenever I depart for a solo Europe trip, there are certain must-haves items in my carry-on. These Europe packing essentials make life on the road easier, keep me sane, and often have dual-uses that make packing light easy to do. Interested in saving time or and saving money while traveling? Pick these items for your next trip to Europe.
Dr. Bronner’s Soap
So much more than a soap, Dr. Bronner’s can double as toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo. The list goes on and on. (Seriously, check out this list of uses for Dr. Bronner’s.) If having multiples uses wasn’t enough, a little bit of Dr. Bronner’s soap goes a long way. One 3 oz. container can last for a month-long trip.
Portable iPhone Charger
Do you use your iPhone a lot while traveling? If you use your iPhone as your camera, your guidebook, your GPS, and your method of communication, it might be wise to invest in a portable iPhone charger. The one I use from Anker is small enough to fit in my purse, and I can subtly charge my phone on-the-go. It’s no longer necessary to head back to my hostel or hunt down outlets in public places, and sit around wasting precious travel time while I wait for my phone to charge. This also eliminates the need to carry plug adapters while traveling Europe. Anker’s portable smartphone charger has enough juice to get your phone out of the red twice in one day.
Inflatable Travel Pillow
This inflatable pillow from Davidsbeenhere is a great companion on a long-haul flight. I’m the type of person whose favorite pastime on planes is sleeping, but I never liked the typical U-shaped plane pillows because they’re something extra to carry around, they’re bulky and hard to fit in backpacks, and it’s far too easy to get distracted and leave them behind, which I’ve done on more than one occasion. So when I discovered Davidsbeenhere’s pillow, it was a game changer. And it fits back neatly in my purse or carry-on backpack as the plane lands.
Sure there are other notebooks out there, but Moleskine’s are classic for a reason. In fact, it was my travels in Europe that inspired me to carry one on a daily basis. You don’t have to be a writer or blogger to love having this sturdy notebook wiht you at all times when traveling. Whether you like to draw, want to jot down notes a local gave you, or need a handy place to keep ticket stubs or other paper mementos you collect on your European journey, a Moleskine can be your best friend.
While perfume bottles themselves aren’t very large, they are very breakable. With a solid perfume stick, you have one less thing to worry about exploding and making a mess of things in your carry-on. Small and easy to carry around in your purse for reapplying, these perfume sticks from Anthropolgie also make your luggage smell good.
Ziplock Plastic Bags
Sealable plastic bags are invaluable to have in your luggage for a variety of reasons. One, if you use them to compress your clothes and save space in your luggage. Two, if you have wet or dirty clothing you want to keep seperate from your clean clothes, you can use the plastic bags until you can get to laundry. Even better, the smaller bags are great for giving your toiletry bag extra protection from leaks or spills. You can stick any liquid items in them. And of course, there’s the airport rules.
A Pair of Chucks (aka Chuck Taylor Sneakers)
I own 7 pairs of these shoes for a good reason. They’re comfortable, stylish, and best of all, when traveling in Europe, they help you blend in like a local. To me, nothing screams tourist more than a pair of TEVA-sandals or sneakers that are all comfort and no style. You’ll see locals wearing Chucks everywhere from France to the UK to Sweden.
Aside from simply bringing less clothing, packing your carry-on with clothes in similar, complimentary color families is the easiest way to pack light. Mixing and matching is easy to do. And neutrals like black, white, and gray are safe to have in Europe if you’re interested in blending in like a local while traveling.
Foldable Shopping Bag
A bag that folds out into a larger size can carry everything from your flea market shopping finds, to fruits and vegetables you picked up from a local farmer’s market, to laundry. Even better, foldable shopping bags, like the one I purchased from Sainsbury’s in London, are tiny enough to fit into your purse, so you’re not lugging around another tote bag or have to carry a daypack while exploring Europe. They’re the ultimate space saver, and can come through in a pinch when you’ve got your hands full.
With so many people telling me that they’re prepping for trips to Europe in the coming Spring and Summer months, I’ve decided to designate April as packing month here at Joy in Europe!
Over the next four weeks, I’ll be sharing all of the wisdom and advice for those who want to pack light, pack carry-ons only, pack a backpack, and pack fashionably.
So if you’re headed out for a two-week or three-week Europe trip soon and you’re determined to fit all of your items into a carry-on backpack or suitcase, I’ve included my Europe packing list to start off the month. This list will keep you fashionable, help you blend in with locals, and keep you clothed for the entirety of your two-week or three-week Europe trip, save a couple trips to a local laundromats and a few local shopping finds.
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?
Price: €20-27 Dependability: Bad.
- No more than two or three groups of passengers to be dropped off.
- Cheaper than a taxi.
- Comfortable ride.
- Reservations take some time to go through, so make them at least 24 hours prior to arrival.
- Kiosk is hard to find in airport upon arrival. (Once you exit the baggage area, go to the right. The kiosk it at the very end of the T4.)
- Long wait time upon arrival. (We waited for over an hour for our van and driver to pick us up.)
- Air-conditioning on the van wasn’t working at first.
- Like other airport shuttles, they may drop off the other passengers first, and you last.
- Cash only.
Price: €5 Dependability: Good. RECOMMENDED
- Cheapest airport transportation option.
- Several pick up times and locations.
- No reservation needed.
- Cash only.
- Seats are very limited, so get on at one of the first stops, if you can.
- Uncomfortable ride, if you’re standing the whole way or have lots of baggage.
- Crowded bus.
- Pickpockets target the drop-off area, so keep an eye on your bags.
Price: €35 Dependability: Good.
- Comfortable ride.
- Door-to-door service.
- Good option if you have lots of baggage.
- No reservation needed.
- Most expensive airport transportation option.
- €5-€10 of extra fees on top of the meter charge.
- Driver needs to know the exact terminal at airport for you to be dropped off.
- Cash only.
Oh, those Buzzfeed lists. Sometimes they know how to getcha right in the heart. This week they posted a list called “31 Signs You’re Traveler at Heart,” and #2, #3,#5,#9,#11, #25 (I’m going to stop now before I list all the numbers) rang very true for me.
The people over at Jaunted wrote up this piece on things to do before you book a flight. I love this list because I swear by every tip they mention. Searching flexible dates and flying on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays can really make international travel budget friendly.
Lastly, I leave you with an inspiring travel compilation video that’s new to me, even though it’s not a new video. I had lots of “I’ve been there! And there! And there too!” moments while watching this, and quite a few “I want to go there,” moments too, so I thought I’d share it with you guys.