Rome on drugs.

While we were in Europe, I couldn’t help but feel bad for my sister. Why? Well, she chose me as a travel companion. I think she forgot how dumb I am sometimes.

For example: Our visit to Rome. Europe, for some reason, was giving me and my sister horrendous allergies. Everywhere we went, it was a chorus of sneezing.

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On our first morning in Rome, I had the sneezes particularly bad. My sister gave me a friendly reminder.

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I checked my medicine bag, which I had hastily thrown together before we left the US.

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Uh… what was that again? I pulled out my phone. I only had limited internet, but there was enough for me to do a rudimentary Google search…

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And so my sister and I went about our day in Rome. We trekked from Trastevere to downtown Rome, passing by the Roman Forums.

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We went and bought tickets to visit the Roman Forums and Palatine Hill. It was an incredible place! As implied Palatine Hill is built on a hill. We were able to get a really beautiful view of Rome from the top.

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And the Forums! They were thousands of years old and still relatively intact. It was amazing, imagining what the ruins must have looked like when they were brand new.

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My sister knew something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what.

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She decided that I might be hungry. We ventured out in search of food.

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On the way, we ran into the Altare della Patria, a massive, marble monument built for Victor Emmanuel II. This building is enormous, and absolutely stunning.

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Though it wasn’t in our itinerary, we had to check it out. My sister and I climbed up the stairs, marveling at the beauty of the giant monument.

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At the back of the building was a huge door. My sister and I entered, finding a huge and ornate church.

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The church was completely silent. Besides me and my sister, only a few other people were there. Even the smallest footstep echoed through the entire room. And that’s when my diaphragm decided to betray me.

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In that church, as I was completely, inexplicably tired and neurotic, I was hit with the worst case of hiccups I have ever experienced in my life.

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Each hiccup bounced off the walls and reverberated through the room. As my hiccups became more and more violent, people in the church began to stare. My sister grabbed my arm.

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We ran out of the church.

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In all fairness to myself, Benadryl is an allergy medication. However, one of its side effects is overwhelming, soporific drowsiness. Which explained a lot of my behavior that day.

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And that’s how I ended up buying two espresso shots at the Altare della Patria cafe.

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But, whatever. As sleepy and loony as I was, I still had a great time in Rome.

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And I didn’t sneeze once that whole day!

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The Essential Guide to Airbnb

My sister and I figured that we’d be staying in hostels during our journey in Europe. We’d share rooms with 8 strangers and sleep in rooms of dubious cleanliness. It’d be overpriced and somewhat uncomfortable.

And then we discovered Airbnb.

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Airbnb is a website where people rent out lodging. I’m not talking about those hotels and motels: people rent out their apartments, houses, even spare rooms in their own home. Often, for what you get, Airbnb can be relatively cheap. With many Airbnb listings being equal to or cheaper than hostel prices, we were definitely interested in using the site.

My sister and I did a lot of research and ended up using Airbnb for the majority of our Eurotrip. Using Airbnb can be daunting, though. With over 500,000 listings in over 190 countries, it’s tough to know what place to choose. My sister and I stressed over it quite a bit.

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After going on our trip and staying at all these apartments, we are glad to say that our Airbnb experience was positive! Though, there are some things we wish we knew before booking some of those places. It’s hard to know when you’re using Airbnb for the first time.

So, I’m going to list a few things my sister and I looked for when we booked our Airbnb apartments. Everyone’s experiences will be different, so I can’t promise anything– but hopefully these tips will help your Airbnb experience go a little smoother.

Verify your identity.

You can book places without verification, but nobody’s going to rent to you if they don’t know you’re a real person. Airbnb lets you prove your existence in a number of ways.

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The most important is to provide an offline form of identity, usually in the form of a government-issued driver’s license or passport.

Now you’re ready to start booking!

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Obviously, pick one with good reviews.

Airbnb sends out professional photographers to take verified photos for the site. These guys are pros. Some of the apartments on Airbnb look beautiful, and often, they are!

Just for a comparison, here’s the Airbnb photos of the apartment my sister and I stayed in Paris…

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…compared to the photos I took myself.

The bedroom.

The bedroom! Don’t get me wrong: this Parisian apartment was one of my favorite places we stayed in.

The other part of the bedroom, covered with our luggage. This wasn't actually pictured in the Airbnb photos.

The other part of the bedroom, covered with our luggage. This wasn’t actually pictured in the Airbnb photos, so the table and the couch were a nice bonus.

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The bathroom: it was a bathroom.

You can see that what the site tells you isn’t always exactly what you get. A good way to know for sure is to read reviews! Ideally, the apartment or house has had a lot of guests and a lot of reviews. Our Parisian apartment had a high rating, which I would totally agree with.

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Sometimes, though, you’ll discover less positive feedback.

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So read your reviews! My sister and I played it safe, going only for listings with a lot of positive reviews.

Look for a high cleanliness rating.

An Airbnb is not a hotel, so you really can’t expect hotel cleanliness. Sometimes, you might even be sharing a kitchen or a bathroom with your host.

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I’m not the cleanest person, myself, but being in someone else’s messiness always makes me a bit uncomfortable. Anything less than a 5-star cleanliness rating means the place probably isn’t spotless, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Double-check the location.

When you’re booking an apartment in an unfamiliar city, it’s hard to tell how good the location is just by staring at Google Maps.

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A nice indicator is that the farther you get from center city, the cheaper the apartments become.

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And my sister and I did book one without really looking into the location. It was our first booking, for a lovely and cheap apartment in London. Or, wait. Look at that address. Is it really in London?

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When we landed at London-Heathrow, the passport security was baffled.

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My sister and I had booked a place in the London suburbs, not London itself. Luckily, we had at least done enough research to…

Check the proximity to public transport.

Our apartment in Tooting was a 15 minute walk to the subway, and a 10-minute walk to the public buses. It took us, then, at least an hour to get all the way to London’s most famous attractions. But at least there was transport: if we hadn’t had such convenient access, getting around a big city like London would have been difficult.

Besides, it was a good excuse to spend an hour on one of London’s famous double-decker buses.

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Watch out for hidden fees.

The price listed on Airbnb is not always the final price. Sometimes, there are “cleaning fees.”

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Sometimes, the host will charge a bit extra for every extra guest you bring in. For instance, the dude below will charge you the list price for two guests. But to bring a third friend, you’d pay an extra $13, and another $13 for a fourth friend… yeah. You get it.

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Sometimes, the host will ask for a security deposit.

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My sister and I avoided listings with security deposits, so I unfortunately can’t give any advice about dealing with those. Also, since most listings were made to accommodate two people, my sister and I never had to pay that extra guest fee.

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So those extra fees never caused us any trouble– but it’s certainly something to look out for when you’re booking a place.

It’s also worth checking out the apartment’s cancellation policy. Are you a wandering soul with no strict travel plans? Check the cancellation policy of the apartment to make sure that you’ll be refunded in the event that you change your mind. Airbnb cancellation policies come in the shades of flexible, moderate, strict, super-strict, and long-term. You can read more about that here.

Privacy is really nice.

Well, depending on what style of traveler you are. Some people have plenty of time, and just love to chat it up with whoever’s around. Talking to your host can actually be great– they can give you recommendations only a native would know. And shared rooms give you the chance to hang out and chill with other travelers

My sister and I, however, had barely any time at all in each city.

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At the end of the day, we just wanted somewhere to relax and unwind. When you’re that exhausted, having your own room to just chill is really nice– no need to tiptoe around sleeping strangers.

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It all depends on you, but we found that having our own room really enhanced our trip. A little comfort goes a long way, and Airbnb helped us afford the luxury of our own room.

You get what you pay for.

That said, not all Airbnb listings are created equal. There are a huge variety of apartments you can find, the quality and price of which differ greatly.

You could rent this entire apartment for $200 a night…

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…or this girl’s couch for $57 a night.

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What a steal!

My sister and I found a really cheap place to stay in Rome. The host described it as a “beautiful bright dorm” that was part of a “big, lovely, classy and fun apartment.” With all those superlatives, it HAD to be good.

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The reviews were all positive, and the price couldn’t be beat. We were going to have to share a room with two other strangers, but we figured that we could deal with that for a few nights.

And we could. That was fine– we bunked with two lovely girls from Texas. It was the apartment itself that was a problem.

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The apartment was pretty much falling apart. It was nicely decorated, at least– it was lived-in and frequented by artsy hipsters. But, hey: it was cheap! You could tell.

The extra little conveniences go a long way.

At least, they did for my sister and I. Firstly, we were backpacking. We only brought a week’s worth of clothes for a five-week trip.

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So, whenever we had washing machines, it was a godsend.

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Before you believe that we were totally smelly, though, I’ll tell you that my sister and I washed our clothes every day! Washing machine or not! When there was no washer available, we just washed our clothes by hand. It was a process, involving us carrying around laundry detergent, scrubbing out our clothes, rinsing them out, and drying everything on my sister’s travel clothesline.

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Washing machines: I appreciate them now. And if you’re traveling light, you will too! They’re really handy if you don’t have enough clothes for the entire trip.

Since we were trying to keep our expenses down, we would often buy lots of food from the grocery store. We would usually need a place to keep this food. The second convenience to look for: Refrigerators. Under the Airbnb listing, look for a kitchen, and read the reviews and description.

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And finally, check if your place has internet! We take it for granted these days, but my family actually stayed in an apartment in Budapest without WiFi. For those two nights, my family bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t look up directions or tourist attractions.

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Airbnb has even made it easy for you. Hosts can show which amenities they do and don’t have.

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Communicate with your host.

Did you read the description, check the reviews and have finally decided on a place? Awesome! Now you can try to book for the dates that you want.

However, even if your desired dates are available, you can’t book instantly. You have to talk to your host first. Introduce yourself, tell them what you’re dropping in town for, be polite. Then, you’ll receive a confirmation message when your host accepts your booking.

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Some places can be booked instantly, though. Look for the lightning icon next to the price.

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Be a good guest!

You can leave reviews for your hosts. Reversely, your hosts can leave reviews of you once you’ve stayed in their apartment. If you rack up a string of bad reviews, people are less likely to rent to you. So be a good guest! If your host requests you to do something, like close the door gently or be quiet at night, do it. Don’t be a college freshman in a dorm.

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It’s really just common courtesy. Most importantly, remember: you’re staying in someone else’s house. Sometimes, they have maid service. But if you’re staying somewhere cheaper, the likelihood is that they clean the place themselves.

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And that’s it! Those are just my little tips on things to look out for when renting your Airbnb. It’s not an exhaustive guide, but hopefully it’ll help out some prospective travelers. I was lucky enough to have a great time. But who knows? When I travel again, my experience with Airbnb might be better. It might be worse. But at this point in time, I know this: I’ll be using Airbnb again soon.

You are what you Eataly

When I came home from my internship last June, I got a bit of a surprise.

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My sister is a naturally slim and healthy person, so I was surprised to see her dieting. I asked her what brought this on.

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Europe is a special place: there are a ton of distinct, unique cultures clustered on one continent. These cultures have had centuries to develop and refine their cuisine. My sister compiled a list of the must-try foods in every country we were visiting. The list looked kind of like this:

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This was the case for all of the countries: Too many foods, not enough time. It didn’t stop us from trying, though.

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Oliebollen: fried dough covered in powdered sugar!

Italian fried cheese and fried meat!

Italian fried cheese and fried meat!

Bitteballen: Dutch fried meat!

Bitteballen: Dutch fried meat!

You get the idea.

The bakeries were the most irresistible. Every corner of Europe seemed to have a cute, locally-owned bakery filled with tempting sweets. My sister could barely resist the allure.

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And my sister indeed tried everything she possibly could.

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As for myself? Well, I kept up with my sister at first.

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But right before going to Europe, I had been on Weight Watchers. I had trained for and completed a half-marathon. My body couldn’t take the transition from super-healthy to super-indulgent.

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I was stuffed to the brim.

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But I continued to eat.

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Yessir, my sister and I ate as much as we were physically capable of fitting into our bodies. We had to. There was too much deliciousness for us not to. By the end, even my sister agreed:

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Coming home and trying to exercise again for the first time after 5 weeks was… interesting.

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And I still don’t.

 

 

 

For the foodies: Here are some of my favorite foods that we ate during our trip!

Stroopwafels: a Dutch dessert consisting of two thin waffles with caramel in between them.

Stroopwafels: a Dutch dessert consisting of two thin waffles with caramel in between them.

Panna cotta in Rome!

Panna cotta in Rome!

Duck confit in Paris! And that side dish is aligot, mashed potatoes and melted cheese.

Duck confit in Paris! And that side dish is aligot, mashed potatoes and melted cheese.

Bratwurst and potatoes in Traben-Trarbach! German food will always have a special place in my heart.

Bratwurst and potatoes in Traben-Trarbach! German food will always have a special place in my heart.

Parisian creme brulee makes my mouth go YAY.

Parisian crème brûlée makes my mouth go YAY.

Italian gelato cafes are really popular in Germany!

Italian gelato cafes are really popular in Germany!

Just some simple penne in Rome. What you'd expect, yet somehow infinitely more delicious than any pasta I've had before!

Pasta in Rome. Looks simple, yet somehow it infinitely more delicious than any pasta I’ve had before!

 

That time I cried in Paris

Whew, I’m finally home! After five weeks of backpacking through Europe, and then another week of visiting family, it’s a relief to sleep in my own bed. And to finally have a computer again!

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Now that I have a computer, I can blog again as well. So let’s get to it!

Since my sister and I returned from Europe, we’ve been asked a lot of questions about our trip.

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Since many of you might be curious as well, I’ll answer your questions.

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My sister and I saw so many amazing sights, but we wholeheartedly agree on one as our favorite.

You see, my sister and I happened to be in Paris on Bastille Day. We hadn’t planned it that way– it was a total coincidence.

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I did some research on the Bastille Day celebrations. One caught my eye.

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Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower? That sounded like a must-see! I did some research.

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It sounded like it was going to be chaos. My sister and I still wanted to see it, though, so we headed over to the Champ de Mars around 5PM.

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It was already crowded when we arrived.

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All there was to do was to picnic and wait. Which was fine with us– after touring Paris the entire day, we were glad to rest our feet.

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My sister and I arrived at a fairly good time. Although it was crowded, there was still space farther back from the tower. We had enough space to actually spread out our towels and lay down.  As the hours passed, though, people started packing in.

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Soon, getting anywhere was a challenge.

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There was a stage right in front of the Eiffel Tower, but we were too far to see it. Luckily, the entire park was lined with giant speakers. As the sun set, a concert began.

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Opera singers, choirs, and an entire orchestra performed classic French music. Though I’m not French, I recognized quite a few of the songs.

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The Eiffel Tower began to light up and change color with each new tune.

Eiffel Sparkle

One song– the love theme from French film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg– struck my sister and I particularly hard.

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Then, after a rousing performance of the French national anthem, the fireworks began.

And it blew my mind.

I’m used to just… normal fireworks, you know? I’m already impressed by the fireworks put on by my local county during July 4th. I expected a few fireworks to shoot off behind the tower. It’d be a nice photo-op. It’s be chill.

But then the Eiffel Tower started to do this:

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And this: 

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Also this: 

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I’ve never seen fireworks form words before.

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There was only one appropriate reaction to this sight.

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Not only was it Bastille Day, but it was also the 100th year since World War I began. Because of this, the entire 40-minute-long fireworks show commemorated the war. The fireworks were timed to music, matching each phase of the war. The colors would darken and the fireworks would slow for times of peace. For times of conflict, the music and fireworks would rise and explode.

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Sometimes there were so many fireworks that it was hard to see the tower.

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It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Fireworks are awesome and lovely, but Bastille Day fireworks are something else entirelyNo GIF or video can really explain how incredible it was.

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40 minutes later, the fireworks finally concluded. I couldn’t believe thatit was already over– I could have stood there, repeatedly screaming “OH MY GODDD!!” for at least another hour.

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The Eiffel Tower still sported its Bastille Day colors, though– which is more than you might see on a normal day in Paris.

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It was almost midnight when my sister and I joined the crowds heading home.

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The streets were packed, traffic was stopped, and taking the metro was out of the question. My sister and I walked an hour and a half to make it back to our apartment. By the time we got back, we were hungry, exhausted, and in desperate need of a shower.

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The next day, we rejoined the throngs of tourists making their way around Paris. A lot of people say to not visit Paris near Bastille Day. July is peak tourist season, and the holiday makes the crowds almost unbearable. But after that night, my sister and I concluded:

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After all, that’s the only time a bunch of exploding rockets have moved me to tears.

 

Curious to see what the Bastille Day fireworks are like? Here’s a nice video I found of the entire 2014 show!

I’m going to Europe for a month! And it’s going to be as smooth as sandpaper.

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few weeks. I finished my internship in Boston. I packed up my apartment and moved home. And now, I’m getting ready for a month-long journey in Europe.

Wait, what?

You see, my sister just graduated from her MBA program. She’s starting her first big-girl job in September, where she’s expecting to work long hours and have little vacation time. This summer break is going to be her last for a while.

Also, we share a love for one of the dumbest comedies of all time.

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So, last year, she proposed:

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I agreed, of course. I’m always up for a little travel!

I wasn’t sure how serious she was, though, until I started looking for internships. Internships (or, more specifically, co-ops) at Northeastern last for the entire semester and part of summer. My sister called me in protest.

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Thus, for the past several months, we’ve been booking hostels, buying train tickets, and planning out our European journey.

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As you can imagine, planning a trip of this extent takes a lot of effort. Since my sister’s been out of school, she’s done a lot of the work.

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I was able to plan London and Paris myself, though.

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Even the most detailed plans can’t ensure a smooth trip, though. Take my New Zealand trip, for example. Yeah. My sister and I have  many concerns about our trip to Europe, including…

Pickpockets.

Do you know how many horror stories I’ve heard about thieves in Europe?

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lot. 

I’ve heard about pickpockets…

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…scams…

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…and straight up destruction of property.

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Yeah. I’ll be the girl with the hidden money belt, luggage locks, and anti-theft purse clutched tightly to her chest. No worries, mate.

The language barrier.

Everyone says that you can get around Europe just fine with only English.

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That doesn’t mean that we’re not worried, though.

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To help us along our way, my sister has compiled a small phrasebook.

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At least we have Italian down.

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Navigation.

I get lost in my own hometown. Navigating a new city every few days is going to be even harder, especially when everything’s in a different language.

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Carrying a giant paper map around is like screaming, “I’m a tourist! Please rob me!” In this day and age, there has to be a better solution.

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Luckily, I have an unlocked smartphone that is able to use any carrier I choose. After doing some research, I decided to try and get the T-mobile Simple Choice plan.

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After a good hour at the T-mobile store…

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I have the plan on my phone now.

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I’ll let you know how that goes.

Driving.

My parents are actually joining my sister and I for part of the trip. They’re flying into Germany, renting a car, and meeting us in Salzburg.

My dad actually asked for my opinion before deciding on our transportation.

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Based off my previous experiences in Australia and New Zealand, I did not think this was ok.

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After considering my opinion, and many other opinions, my dad made his decision.

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This brings us back to our previous problem.

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Our trip is going to be smooth as silk. I can already feel it.

Either way, my sister and I are departing the States on July 8th– less than a week to departure! Despite all my misgivings, I’m also very, very excited. Some of the things on our itinerary are things I’ve only dreamed of seeing.

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And I’m sure that, no matter what bumps and mishaps come our way, it’ll be a trip to remember.

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Starting July 8th, I’m going to be without a computer until August! Add me on Instagram to follow me and my sister on our journey through Europe!