10 Things I’m Thankful For As I Travel

I’m quite used to missing Thanksgiving due to schooling or work. I always find my own way to celebrate Thanksgiving while I’m gone. Usually my celebration involves a large box of Annie’s macaroni and cheese because I can. This year I thought I would honor the holiday a bit more thoughtfully by creating a list of things that I’ve been thankful for during my trip. This list ranges from the material objects to the intangible but it’s all something that I’ve found myself being grateful for while I’ve been backpacking. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

A Nice Hostel: Choosing a hostel always feels like a crap shoot. No matter how  much research you do, you still feel like you might end up with bad lodging. Matt and I take the risk of not staying at perfect hostels in order for our trip to be more affordable. We’re thankful every time we end up with a good, safe place to rest our heads.

Support of Loved Ones: Matt and I have incredibly supportive family and friends. It would be hard to do this trip without knowing we have people back home to help us out if we got stuck and, at the simplest level, accept that we’ve decided to take this journey. This is a dream fulfilled for me. I am so thankful that those important people in my life understand why I wanted to do this and are happy for me. It gives me something to come home to because I know those people understand me as a person and accept who I am rather than scold me for taking a risk and following my dreams.

Cheap Food: Finding good cheap food can sometimes be difficult. Occasionally eating pasta is the only way to keep costs down. From time to time we’ll find ourselves in a country where good, cheap, quality food is the norm. That’s always a happy location that we’re grateful to have stumbled upon. It means not having to compromise the healthfulness of our meal for keeping money in our pockets.

Freedom of Travel: Backpacking around Europe has revealed to Matt and I how lucky we are to be able to travel. Matt and I were able to get on a plane and just go because of the good relationship between the US and EU. No visas required. No hassles. It has been a freeing experience that not everyone we met were able to say they also enjoyed so we’re thankful for the freedom we’ve experience.

Quiet, Nice, Friendly Roommates: Part of staying in a hostel is sharing close quarters with strangers. My best experiences have always been with friendly, respectful roommates. They keep their space clean and are quiet so everyone can sleep. You don’t always get good roommates as a backpacker so it’s a relief every time you learn that you’ve lucked out and the hostel gods have answered your prayers. It makes the journey that much better.

First Hand Experience with Other Cultures: It’s a great opportunity to be in another culture and experience it first hand. You can read books but it’s not quite the same. I recognize that not everyone is in a situation that would allow them to have this experience. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about other cultures in this way.

Inexpensive Flights at Reasonable Times: Very early morning flights are doable but they are rough. Matt and I have had our share of experiences in which we must catch a 7am flight in order to be able to even afford it at all. A 7am flight often means a 3am wake up. Those days can be tough and test your sanity. When we can find a cheap flight at a reasonable hour, we are so thankful.

An Awesome Travel Buddy: When I’m down, he reminds me of the good parts of our day. When I’m sick, he makes sure that I get everything I need to feel better. By coming on this trip with me, Matt has helped me fulfill one of my dreams. While I could have done this without him, I wouldn’t have ever wanted to. Matt’s made my experience infinitely more fun and multi-faceted. He makes me think of things in ways I never have or suggests experiences I never would have considered. I’m thankful that my boyfriend and awesome travel buddy helped me create positive memories that will last a lifetime.

Good Weather: The sun doesn’t always shine but it also doesn’t always rain. We hope for sunny days. When we’ve had a few days where the rains is so bad that it soaks through our clothes while we visit the city, we are infinitely more grateful for the sun.

The Kindness of Humanity: Traveling has restored my faith in humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I see some sad, horrible things when I travel. There’s still plenty that humans need to work on. But for the most part, people are good. To be honest, Matt and I haven’t had one bad experience with people while we’ve traveled. Everyone has been helpful, courteous, and, the vast majority of the time, friendly. The world can be a scary place; it is easy to become cynical and disappointed when you hear about all the things that are happening, especially when you feel like you can’t do anything about it. But I try to remind myself of all the good people I meet. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the enlightenment that humans are generally good. It’s something I might have to work to remember from time to time but it is something worth not forgetting. It makes the world seem a bit brighter.

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The Story of Two Greek Restaurant Hosts

The Background: Traveling around Europe has taught me how to avoid people selling items. Matt and I have honed our skills so well that we rarely have to deal with anything. Steel faced and determined, we walk past seating hostesses, souvenir sellers, and people who give out items for “free.” Beware of people who like to tie “free” bracelets on your wrists or those who give you a rose “just because you’re beautiful.” They want money either from you or your significant other; how could a guy say no to paying for a rose after their girlfriend is so happy that someone gave her a flower just because she’s pretty? We started to learn about four years ago when one of those guys kept pushing a rose on me no matter how much I would nicely refuse. He kept assuring me it was for free. I eventually took the flower. Unfortunately for him, I saw him ask for money by rubbing his fingers together in the direction of Matt. I hate it when people lie to me. I turned to him and forcefully stated, “I told you no.” Then threw the rose back at his chest. I was not impressed with that annoying tactic. You have to be strong willed. I’ve developed that over time. I can easily feel bad about turning people down so I’ve learned how to avoid it and/or stand strong. I go into situations with intention.


The Story:
Athens was a completely different restaurant culture than I had experienced up to this point in Europe. You still have the hosts and hostesses attempting to get you to come to their restaurant but it is very laid back and not pushy at all. If you refuse, they’ll hand you a card and tell you to check them out on Tripadvisor. I think it works to their advantage by making visitors comfortable in Athens. I want to go back to Greece anyway but I definitely want to visit Athens again during my trip. The people were warm and welcoming. Matt and I had a number of discussions with shop owners and restaurant workers. Granted, they are doing their jobs by talking with us but I hadn’t experienced this level of friendliness before during my trip through Europe. One of my best memories of this trip has been two Greek restaurant hosts that we talked to. It was a quick exchange but it made me laugh and puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it. Matt and I had just finished shopping; I needed new pants because I managed to wear holes in mine from all the walking we have done. As we hurried back to our hostel to drop our purchases off before heading over to the Acropolis, Matt and I were stopped by a host for a restaurant that was somewhere in the labyrinth of side streets. He asked us if we wanted to stop for lunch. We told him that we had already eaten. He said, “Here’s my card. Check us out on Tripadvisor.” He then asked us where we were from. Matt has taken to saying Boston to make things easier for us to explain; no one seems to known where New Hampshire is. The owner said, “Really? Where in Boston?” He immediately knew he caught us in a white lie so I told him we were really from New Hampshire. He happened to work in a Greek restaurant in Boston in the past and wanted to know if we ever had heard of it. Unfortunately we hadn’t. We told him we had to get going so he said, “You should come back for dinner. We have traditional Greek food and wine.” He turns to Matt and says in an even more charismatic voice, “Bring your baby back tonight. You can buy her some wine.” I started laughing. It was just a funny sale. It was genuine, humorous, and effective all at once. As we start to walk away, the restaurant host from across the street comes running over to us. He starts quickly and jovially saying, “Don’t listen to him. Take my card. Come back here for dinner. That other place is no good. You can even check on Tripadvisor. Our rating is much better.” Then I started laughing even harder. You could tell that the two were good friends simply competing with each other. Although Matt and I never ended up going back to those restaurants as we often cook our own food, I will never forget that exchange. It was so much more effective and refreshing than our other experiences which felt like they bordered on harassment. At the end of that experience, I immediately said to Matt, “Greeks are awesome people.” They’re just cool. And that makes me want to visit their country again. No one should ever underestimate the power of being kind, friendly, and funny even if it is just for a moment to some random person on the street.

7 Things to Do in Krakow

Matt and I enjoyed Krakow a lot. If I could describe Krakow in one word and one phrase it would be cheap and high quality. I think that’s a combination that everyone can appreciate but doesn’t come across often. I hope to visit more of Poland in the future because of the great experience I had in Krakow. If you like older cities that have their own charm as well as great food, Krakow is for you. Krakow’s location also affords you a couple of great day trip opportunities (Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine) that are definitely worth seeing. Plus, it’s easy to spend a couple extra days there as the city’s atmosphere and cheap prices make you feel like you’re taking a lot in without doing typical tourist activities. Here are some activities you might consider adding to your list when you visit Krakow:

Gardens on Wawel Hill

Gardens on Wawel Hill

Visit Wawel Castle: This is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. It holds a lot of history for the local community as it used to be the country’s seat of power. Hands were changed, things were destroyed, but now the castle is restored to a great condition. Opt for the full tour and see the state rooms, collection of oriental art, armory, private apartments, dragon’s den, and, my favorite, the lost wawel. It’s a beautiful, ongoing archaeological excavation that you can visit by walking raised paths. The only downside is that I couldn’t take pictures. Don’t forget to visit the cathedral on site which has free entry.

See the Salt Mine: If you and your fellow travelers don’t mind going underground and a bit of adventure, check out the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I’m a big fan of visiting underground sites and caves so this was just my cup of tea. Take a tour to learn all about the mine’s history and see some interesting art made entirely out of salt. It’s a completely different world down there that you shouldn’t miss. And it’s only a twenty minute drive from Krakow. You can get there by using public transportation or you can book a tour in advance. See Krakow is a tour company that will pick you right up at your hostel/hotel. You pay a bit extra but I think it’s worth not having to deal with the stresses or arranging transportation.

Sunlight on Royal Castle, Wawel Hill

Sunlight on Royal Castle, Wawel Hill

Make the Trip to Auschwitz: Visiting Auschwitz is a heavy experience but I think it is something everyone should do when they visit Krakow. It takes about an hour or so to reach the site from the city. I arranged a tour through See Krakow and it worked perfectly. Auschwitz is quite busy; when you arrange a tour, your guides take care of everything for you so you don’t need to wait in line for tickets. Touring Auschwitz will impact you for the rest of your life. Don’t miss it.

Dine Out: Like I said, Krakow is cheap. You can eat at a good restaurant for a reasonable price. With my boyfriend, we would each get a drink, appetizer, main meal, and one dessert for $30 (US Dollars) total. The cheap prices mean that you don’t have to feel guilty about splurging on a big meal once a day. It’s definitely worth it. If you’re like me and don’t usually dine out while you travel, make an exception for Krakow. It’s a steal.

Take a Walk By the River: Once you’re done your tour with Wawel Castle, enjoy a stroll by the river side. It’s peaceful there. Go back at night to see the city lights play off of the water. Plus there’s a fire breathing dragon statue that looks spectacular at night. You can’t miss it when you come out of the dragon’s den part of your Wawel Castle tour.

Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Cathedral

Wander Around Market Square: Sure Market Square is expensive. Sure there are lots of people. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a cool place to wander around. Check out all the souvenir stalls in the market building which is smack dab in the square’s center. Wander the streets adjacent to the square to find some cheaper restaurants and souvenirs. Sit down and people watch. It’s busy and entertaining.

Run through the Park: Or walk. The park in the center of the city surrounds the market square so you’re going to have to go through it anyway. It’s worth it to enjoy the green space in the city. Matt and I also used it as a place for our morning runs. It’s a great spot for people and puppy watching.

Eating Like Kings in Krakow

While Matt and I were in Krakow, we ate like kings. Matt and I went to a restaurant for every single meal except for breakfasts. And it was all extremely affordable and high quality. If there is one thing I would recommend when you visit Krakow it’s to take advantage of the currency exchange and eat at some awesome restaurants. If you don’t believe me, check out the details of some of the meals that we had including the prices. It will probably blow your mind like it did ours.

 

Cafe Botanica  (55,50 Polish Zloty = 16.60)

  1. Raspberry Creme Brulee – I’m a huge fan of creme brulee so I jumped at the chance to get some in Krakow. I’ve never had raspberries cooked into the custard before but it was amazing.
  2. Caprese Salad with Bread – This salad was an option in almost all the restaurants we went to.
  3. Foot Long Panini with Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Arugula, and Garlic Sauce: Move over Subway! This foot long panini cost be about US$3.50. And it tasted awesome.
  4. Pot of Black Tea
  5. Large Black Coffee

 

Nova Krova — An All Vegan Restaurant (63 Polish Zloty = 18.84 USD)

 

  1. Quinoa Spinach Burger with Grilled Vegetables, Lettuce, Pickles, and Spicy Sauce: This was not some rinky dink veggie burger. This thing had heft!
  2. Barley Salad with Cucumbers: Refreshing, healthy, and cheap. What more can you ask for?
  3. Beetroot Soup with Coconut Milk, Pumpkin Seeds, and Sprouts: They gave me a lot of this soup and I enjoyed every single bite. I also ordered a burger so my stomach may have felt like it was going to burst but it was worth it.
  4. Orange Lemonade
  5. Regular Lemonade
  6. Millet Burger with Vegan Mayo, Arugula, Pumpkin Seeds, and Tomatoes: This burger was absolutely delicious and, like the quinoa burger, huge. I was so full after this amazing lunch.
Beetroot Soup, Nova Krova, Krakow, Poland

Beetroot Soup, Nova Krova, Krakow, Poland

 

Bon Appetea (23,30 Polish Zloty = 6.97 USD)

  1. Matcha Coconut Bubble Tea with Tapioca: I had been passively looking for bubble tea my whole trip and this was the first place I came upon. The matcha bubble tea was so yummy!
  2. Passion Fruit Green Bubble Tea with Mango Boba
Brownie with Ice Cram and Caramel Sauce, TriBeca, Krakow, Poland

Brownie with Ice Cram and Caramel Sauce, TriBeca, Krakow, Poland

 

TriBeca (65 Polish Zloty = 19.44 USD)

  1. Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce: This was so yummy. And I ate it before my meal. No shame.
  2. Handmade Strawberry Lemonade with Mint: This lemonade was light and refreshing. Plus it was all natural. It didn’t have any extra sugar like you would probably see in American Strawberry Lemonades.
  3. Huge Caprese Salad with Bread
  4. Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Arugula and Bread: I tried this out instead of the typical caprese salad that I’d been seeing everywhere. It was delicious but it was so much food. I couldn’t even eat it all.
  5. Large Americano
Beet Salad, TriBeca, Krakow, Poland

Beet Salad, TriBeca, Krakow, Poland

 

Morskie Oko (58 Polish Zloty = 17.35 USD)

  1. Potato Pancakes: These were so creamy and delicious. I need to figure out how to make these when I get home.
  2. Large Jug of Mineral Water
  3. Fava Bean Pierogies with Caramelized Onions: This dish was my favorite of the two pierogies we tried. These were the best pierogies that I have ever eaten.
  4. Spinach and Cheese Pierogies with Caramelized Onions

 

Like the information and photos you found here? Check out my food blog Ravenous Wander. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Eating for Cheap while Traveling

In order to keep our budget under control while we travel, Matt and I make a real effort to reign in our spending on food. Between getting meals for cheap and staying at inexpensive hostels, we stretch our budget far. Here are my top tips for eating for less money while you travel.

 

  1. Use Local Grocery Stores: When Matt and I arrive at a hostel, we immediately ask where the closest grocery store is. You should look for a real grocery store too. That’s going to be the cheapest. Convenience stores are great for when you need them but they definitely won’t be as cheap as a typical market. In the grocery store, pick things that you will have to cook for yourself. Anything pre-made will, once again, be more expensive. Matt and I enjoy cooking so the task of making a meal isn’t a task at all. Matt and I have some basic staples that we are always buying. Cheese and bread always fill us up and usually are a part of every meal for us. We also buy large containers of yogurt and share them. Typically we also buy tomatoes and eggs. Plus odds and ends that we think of or need for a specific meal. We haven’t been spending that much money on food so it seems to be working. You might notice that we don’t buy any meat. I’m a vegetarian and Matt’s willingly along for the ride. Because of this, I’m not quite sure how buying meat would affect the budget. I always found it more costly than the other items that I would buy when I did buy meat. So, if you can handle it, maybe stay away from meat if you want to cut costs.
  2. Leave Wiggle Room to Indulge: Everyone has their favorite types of food. Trying new food and drinks is also a big part of traveling for me. I have room in my budget to eat new pastries or other traditional (vegetarian) fare while Matt always leaves some money for trying local beers. If food isn’t that big of a deal to you, you could probably just strike this tip completely but I know for a lot of people (including myself) it is important to have money to indulge in new types of cuisines.
  3. Don’t Bother Stressing Over Food In Between Destinations: About every five days or so Matt and I find ourselves moving to a new location. We try to bring cheap snacks with us but we also don’t stress if we don’t have time to buy something in advance. Travel days are definitely part of the wiggle room in our budget. Usually it only ends up being one expensive meal if we are traveling by plane. When we travel by bus, we are sure to collect some snacks in advance because there aren’t any stops along the way, at least for the trips we’ve done so far. Food from travel locations can be expensive so we rarely buy a full meal. (The only full meal we’ve done so far was during a ten hour layover in Iceland.) We tend to survive off snacks until we can get to our next grocery store. We also are always willing to spend some money on some good coffee while we are traveling. It makes the lack of sleep more bearable.
  4. Try Farmers’ Markets: Farmers’ markets are a great way to try out local cuisine and produce while also staying within your budget. The prices can be comparable or better to the grocery stores (unless you’re getting something really fancy). You can also find really high quality homemade goods that taste awesome. For example, not all of the baked goods at grocery stores are up to par with farmers’ market baked goods.