In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.
Where I’ve Been
31 days in New York City! I never thought I’d spend an entire winter month in New York, but when I smell a business opportunity, I jump on it, and that’s exactly what I did – more on that later. Even though I spent all month in New York, I never sat still, and I’m paying the price for it now – I am absolutely exhausted and finally ready to leave New York (which I wasn’t at the end of last month).
What I’ve Been up to
Most of the month, I worked my butt off. I ran tours on 25 out of 31 days, meaning that even if I had only been running tours, I still wouldn’t have got four full weekends this month. And, because apparently it’s not enough to walk 10k around Brooklyn every day (almost), I also worked in the ‘real’ job I got myself last May (although I think I’m going to have to quit it soon if my tours keep going so well) and I had some freelance writing projects to finish.
In addition, I pet sat for about half of the month, which was nice, because that means I’ll be able to enjoy my upcoming trips without worrying about money. Trying to juggle four jobs this month meant, however, that there was not really any time for blogging. I appreciate the break from the pressure I felt when I was blogging full-time. I don’t have to hustle all the time to make sure I’ll be able to pay my bills, and after so many years of scraping by on a lousy blogger’s income it’s a nice change to get some time away from my laptop – especially because I was dealing with some major tech issues this month again, but more on that later.
I have to admit though that I do miss writing – but I just don’t have any energy left after five hours of walking to produce any written words I’m proud of, and the hours before the tour are barely enough to keep up with all my admin and book keeping.
While the cold temperatures and short daylight hours in January make it pretty hard to do much outside (my tour occupies a large part of the daylight hours), I spent a lot of time doing two of my favorite things: exploring new cocktail bars (there sure is no shortage of them in New York!), working my way through my seemingly endless ‘restaurants I want to eat at’ list, and watching movies. I gifted myself with the Movie Pass for my birthday, which lets you watch unlimited movies in almost every movie theater for only $9.95 a month, so I’ve been trying to go to the movies once a week, and so far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job. My favorite movies last month were Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and The Disaster Artist. Looking through all the photos I took in January, I also realized that I spent a lot of time in coffee shops:
The only outdoorsy thing I did this month? I went on a street art tour of the Lower East Side. I love street art and wanted to learn more about the LISA Project, an initiative that is bringing more mural art to Little Italy and NoLiTa, and Audrey’s tour was just perfect.
I also experienced the biggest snowstorm of my life, which happened to take place on a day I (luckily!) wasn’t running a tour, but working inside, in Times Square of all places, and I was able to watch the snow rapidly cover the streets of Manhattan. None of my colleagues could quite understand my excitement about the amount of snow, but in Germany we just don’t get snow like this (only in the mountains – maybe!) and let’s not forget that I’ve successfully avoided winter for seven or eight years – until now!
What Went Right
I was invited to speak at a travel conference on LGBT travel. After a couple of invitations to speak at travel conferences which I couldn’t accept because I found myself in other parts of the world and traveling to the conference would’ve been to complicated, I was invited to speak at Travel Con, a conference that features workshops and networking events for travel writers, bloggers and travel industry professionals in Austin, Texas in September. I am super stoked to be part of this conference, which has plenty of speakers that I personally look up to and look forward to hearing speak, and I love Austin. Plus: I get to speak about an important topic.
Following this invite, another opportunity landed in my inbox: the opportunity to speak to a group of students from Singapore about entrepreneurship and my entrepreneurial journey when they are visiting New York later this year.
My Brooklyn Tour is More Successful Than Expected!
When I launched my tour in December, I honestly didn’t think I’d be running as many tours as I am currently running – because I figured January was low season and nobody in their right mind would even consider running around Brooklyn for four hours, in temperatures as low as -13 Fahrenheit (-21 Celsius). Oh, how wrong I was! Most of my tours this month were sold out, and even when I opened my calendar at the very last minute because I got an inquiry to run a tour for someone’s birthday (how could I say no to that!), I was able to fill nearly all spots within only a couple of days. I was completely stunned when my Airbnb coordinator told me that my tour was the 5th most booked tour in the entire NYC market, out of around 260 tours!
What is even more important to me, however, is the feedback I’ve been getting from guests – being able to introduce so many people to Brooklyn makes me so happy, and I cherish every 5* review I get. Being able to host this Brooklyn tour is honestly a dream come true, and I don’t take it for granted that I get to earn money with something I am passionate about (especially after being miserable in an office job for years).
Second Tour Launch
I launched my second tour! When I first started working with Airbnb, I had three different ideas for tours, but I wanted to begin with one first to see how it goes, and then add more.
When I told a friend of mine about the tour I wanted to launch in the spring, he advised me not to wait too long with it. “If you have this idea, I’m sure somebody else has the same idea. Be quick, and grab it before somebody else does.” I decided to listen to him, even though I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another launch, since I was still tweaking and improving my first tour. But I decided to run with it, and when I wasn’t busy running my Brooklyn Tour, I worked out the details for my second tour: A Brooklyn Pizza Walk. If you know me/have been reading this site for a while, then you know that this tour is pretty much the epitome of my perfect afternoon: I get to introduce people to New York pizza AND to Brooklyn. I don’t think it can get much better.
I was ecstatic when Airbnb accepted my proposal for this tour and then it went live within days of being accepted – so much faster than my first tour, which took months to go live.
What Went Wrong
Second Tour Launch
I am going to be honest: while I was excited about getting another passion project off the ground, I was also a little overwhelmed with suddenly juggling two tours, and felt like the Pizza Walk still needed some tweaking, since I hadn’t done it as often as the walking tour which I’d soft launched on a smaller scale last summer. And so, when the inaugural tour ended in a near-disaster, the perfectionist in me was very upset (there were tears.)
I also quickly learned that having one successful tour doesn’t automatically mean a second tour is going to be just as successful – the Pizza Walk is slowly gaining some traction, but can in no way be compared to the success of my Brooklyn Walk. I haven’t even broken even yet, but I’ll wait and see how the tour does once peak tourist season begins.
I did a lot of ‘research’ for my pizza tour in January!
Knowing that I’d be leaving New York for a couple of months in February, I opted for a sublet rather than a long-term lease, which meant I wouldn’t need to deal with subletting my place while I’m gone. I found what I thought was a great sublet, but the ‘amazing place’ turned into a nightmare when first the kitchen sink stopped working and only a couple of days later the bed collapsed. What followed were terrible discussions with the girl I sublet the room from – waiting for a replacement bed (which never arrived), the return of my deposit, and about a discount for the hassle this caused me – because the last thing you want to deal with while working four jobs is having to find a new place to live.
I’ve sublet countless times in New York, but in five years, this was the first sublet nightmare. And hopefully the last one.
Dealing with a collapsed bed was no fun…
The few hours I spent working on Globetrottergirls this month didn’t go by without any tech issues. I don’t know how often I’ve had ‘Tech Issues’ or ‘Website Issues’ listed in the ‘What Went Wrong’ section of my round-ups… and I am so tired of it. This month, I lost my business email accounts for a while, which, considering a lot of business opportunities I get can be pretty short notice, was anything but great. After four hours on chat with tech support on one of the six days this month I wasn’t running a tour I was able to get my email accounts back, but this caused me extreme anxiety, and made me feel so much relief about not having to rely on blog-related work as much as I used to.
…and somehow, I am still working with two laptops instead of just one.
The Credit Card Incident
When I took a friend out for Happy Hour this month, and paid with my credit card, I ended up not getting my card back, but someone else’s. Which I didn’t realize until the next day, when I tried to purchase $50 worth of coffee drinks for my guests on the tour, which includes a coffee stop. Not only did the card not work (and wasn’t mine!), but I also realized that I had forgotten to put my back-up card back in my wallet after using it. Luckily the coffee shop was kind enough to trust me to come back the next day to settle my bill, and I got my card back from the bar with only one charge on it that wasn’t mine, but I could have done without the mental stress and hassle this incident caused me.In Germany, we never hand our credit cards over to anyone, you basically never let it out of sight, and when paying by card, the waiter brings over a portable card swiping device (which requires a PIN). Whenever German friends pass through New York, they are shocked that I just hand over my card in a restaurant, and I always assure them that it’s completely safe.
Not my credit card!!
Funnily enough, the ‘credit card incident’ happened just a couple of days after my friends from Germany passed through town, the ones who I had this very conversation with. Guess it’s not as safe as I told them it was!
Friends from Germany visiting NYC means lots of German goodies!
A Dog Ate My Camera Lens
And not just any dog, but my favorite puppy who I look after regularly. He loves chewing up stuff, and so far he has eaten everything I’ve accidentally left out: a bra, my iPhone charger cord, headphones… to name just a few things… and now, my brand new, barely used $300 camera zoom lens. I am still not sure what I’ll do about it since the lens is still working – but as you can see in the pictures, the lens looks completely beaten up.
Since I’ve started running the tours, I haven’t really been able to run anymore, which bothers me. I went on exactly one run this month! But then again, I ran 25 tours, and walking between four and five hours every day seems to compensate for at least some of the pizza I’ve been stuffing myself with (see above), but I’ve already gained back some of the weight I lost during my vegan month.
Moving forward, I hope I’ll get back into a running routine, but since it’s already dark by the time I finish my tour, I would only be able to run in the mornings, which is when I usually work on my freelance work and blog. Since not having a single day off in a month isn’t really much of a work life balance, I think I’ll get back into a running routine as soon as I’ve worked out how to have a better balance.
Running in snow and icy weather is just no fun..
Book Keeping & Admin
Being better at my book keeping and admin, and tracking my expenses again was one of my main resolutions for 2018. I used to track my expenses meticulously to the penny, every single day, in whatever currency I was using, and exchanging it to that day’s exchange rate with the help of the excellent Trail Wallet app. However, sometime last year I fell off the wagon completely, and stopped monitoring what I was spending. Even worse: I stopped keeping track of my income as well, which due to the nature of my numerous jobs and freelancing projects, varies from month to month. So I really should make sure to always add all incoming payments to a spreadsheet and add them up at the end of each month – also to check that all my invoices were paid.
Let’s just say that my book keeping systems have not been very well thought out and I have been wanting to introduce better and easier ways to track how much I spend and how much I earn, as well as how much I need to save for my upcoming tax payment.
January started off well with me tracking all of my expenses and business expenses and all of my income, but when I started to feel burned out towards the final third of the month, I let it slip again. Since I really need to prepare for my tax declaration, I can’t be as relaxed about it as I used to, and I need to come up with a steady book keeping routine.
What’s Next for me
I am off to Austin today, 1 February! A friend of mine wanted to come visit me in New York last month, but somehow these plans never came to fruition – and I don’t know how much time I would’ve had for another visitor, since friends from Germany also came to visit.
Since I was more than ready for a break from New York, and with my sublet ending at the end of January, I thought it might be neat to meet somewhere else. ‘Is there anywhere in the US you’d like to go? A place you haven’t been to yet that’s on your travel wish list? Maybe somewhere a bit warmer than New York?’ When the answer was Austin, I didn’t have to think about it for long.
You may remember that I spent a month in Austin in 2016 and absolutely loved it. When I booked my flight, I hadn’t yet received the invite to speak at Travel Con – now I’ll be going to Austin twice this year! No complaints about that, I’m excited to return to one of my favorite cities in the U.S.
Wait – shouldn’t this be the January round-up?! Well, I can’t believe how long it has taken me to post this, but as it turns out, working three jobs simultaneously is much more time consuming and exhausting than I thought! More on that in my January round-up, which will be posted shortly. I hope you don’t mind two round-ups in a row, but I feel like both of them explain a lot about the silence on the blog in recent weeks.
December felt like the longest month. Was that because I so desperately wanted the year to be over? That it felt like it was dragging on forever? I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Eve, and the party I was going to attend.
Where I’ve Been
I spent the entire month in New York City, as I had predicted in November, and it was a welcome change from the previous travel-heavy months of October and November.
What I’ve Been up to
December was supposed to be a quiet month, but as so often happens, life had different plans for me. I started the month by worrying about making enough money to be able to cover all my costs, because the last two weeks of the year are traditionally very slow on the freelancing front, since everyone goes on vacation. However, as I was finishing up my last projects of the year, I got some exciting news about a side business I’ve been trying to launch since the summer, and I ended up working more last month than any other December – and without taking a single day off during the Holidays.
December had another big surprise in store for me: the coldest weather I’ve experienced in my entire life, except for a visit to Chicago in December ten years ago, when I thought my face might freeze off. The last month of the year started with beautifully warm weather, and I remember still taking pictures of the fall colors on my runs. Only a few days later though, the first snow storm of the season hit New York, unseasonably early.In the past, the couple of times I happened to find myself in New York during the winter, I was always lucky to be there during a mild December and to leave in January just before the first blizzard hit. This year, I got to experience another unseasonable December, however, instead of breaking records for the warmest December ever recorded like I had witnessed in 2015, cold temperate records were broken this year.
Unfortunately, the business I was finally able to launch (see below) happens to be outdoors. So not only did I get to experience the coldest temperatures for a New York December ever, but I also had the pleasure of being outside in this weather for up to five hours every single day, the coldest day being -6 Fahrenheit/-21 Celsius. I felt like winter was laughing right in my face and was paying me back for all the winters I escaped in the past. Well, I’ll be laughing right in winter’s face next month when I board a plane to a hot and sunny destination, leaving snow and freezing temperatures behind for a while.
I started to feel a bit blue about not spending the Holidays with my family, but as soon as I started my new side gig (see below), I had absolutely no time for any kind of winter blues anymore, because I worked every single day.And luckily I made the most of the month while I still had the time to enjoy myself: I went to see the fabulous Yayoi Kusama exhibit before it closed, I forced my friends to meet me at various vegan restaurants (going vegan can be seen as somewhat anti-social, I’ve learned – see below under Challenges!) and attempted baking my first vegan Christmas cookies (because I was vegan all month – and they turned out pretty well!), and I frolicked in the snow when the first blizzard of the season hit on 9 December.
I also went to a Christmas party and ended the year with, not one, but two New Year’s Eve parties, and I went to various Holiday Markets here in New York (even though, admittedly, they don’t come anywhere close to European Christmas markets).December was also the strongest month for my pet sitting side business, thanks to it being the holiday season. When I opted to spend Christmas in New York instead of flying to Germany, I decided to open my calendar for potential dog and cat sits, and not only did I get booked by previous clients, but also by a number of new clients, which meant I got to spend a lot of time with cats and dogs this month, including several new furry friends.
After pet sitting for free for years (and co-authoring a book about it) it feels good to finally get paid for it, even though it isn’t a lot. But thanks to these sits, I was able to get gifts for my nephew and nieces and siblings without putting a huge dent in my bank account.
What Went Right
Finally Launching My New Business
As mentioned above, December saw me finally launch a business I’ve been waiting to get off the ground for the bigger part of the year, and I hinted about it in several of my monthly round-ups this year, but wasn’t able to share any details – until now!
Back in May, I applied to become an Experience Host for Airbnb, which basically means running a tour in New York that was conceptualized by me, and is something that can’t be offered in this form by anybody else. Little did I know back then that Airbnb had received over 1,000 applications for the launch of their New York City Experiences – which is why I was ecstatic when I got a phone call that my tour had been chosen to be one of the inaugural experiences offered in New York. The bad news was that the launch wouldn’t happen until late September, and unfortunately I wouldn’t be in New York then, but walking across Spain. Talk about bad timing.However, with some delay, my tour went finally live this month! I would be showing tourists who were interested in visiting Brooklyn four completely different sides of New York’s most populous borough on my Faces Of Brooklyn walking tour. I didn’t expect much traction in the first few weeks or even months after the tour went live – after all, it is winter, which isn’t prime season for walking tours, and it was also hard to even find the tour on the Airbnb website among around 200 other NYC experiences.
That’s why I was shocked when bookings started pouring in only a few days after the tour was officially launched, and when after only one week, I sold out every single tour! While it was unfortunate that the tour was launched in the winter, I got to benefit from the Christmas Holidays. At first, I had blocked my tour calendar for Christmas and New Year’s, but when I saw how many bookings I was getting for the Holidays, I decided to open my calendar. If I wasn’t spending the Holidays with my family in Germany, I might as well take some tourists around Brooklyn – especially solo travelers who were spending the Holidays on their own, like me. I was astonished when my tours slowly but surely filled up, and I even had to turn people away, since the maximum group size is ten guests.The reach I have – particular when it comes to people who want to visit Brooklyn/plan a trip to New York – can in no way compare to the marketing tools and influence of a big company like Airbnb, which sent me more customers in a single day than I had in my entire summer in New York, when I was running the tours on a much smaller scale, still tweaking them for Airbnb, and I feel incredibly lucky for being accepted as a host by them.
The unexpectedly strong start of this side business, which pretty much turned me into a full-time tour guide (see Challenges below for more on that) helped me get out of a bout of December Blues which had started on my birthday and that I was having trouble shaking off. The great feedback on the initial tours and the continuously strong bookings fueled me with a boost of energy that I hadn’t felt in months. I hope I can maintain the enthusiasm for this new side business now that I am running tours every day – I will occasionally share updates on my new life as a tour guide in the coming months.
Guests from Germany brought me German Christmas goodies as a Thank You!
The Side Hustle School Book Event
If there’s someone I can credit for getting my tours off the ground, it is Chris Guillebeau and his daily Side Hustle School podcast. I started listening to it while I was in Ecuador in March and hearing inspiring success stories of people starting side hustles in all kinds of different ways was the catalyst to start my own side gig. It took only a few weeks of hearing Chris’ mantra ‘Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is better’ day after day until I was ready to take action myself and submit a tour proposal to Airbnb. While my target start date of 1 June was missed by a long shot – at least with Airbnb, which was beyond my control – I don’t know when I would have sat down to get the ball moving on this project, which had been put on the back burner for ages, had it not been for Chris’ encouraging stories of other side hustlers on his podcast.
So when I found out he would be in Brooklyn for a book event to promote the Side Hustle School book, I immediately cleared my calendar to attend the event. Being surrounded by dozens of others of aspiring and/or successful side hustlers was just as motivating as the daily podcast and made me determined to make at least $500 a month with my side hustle as soon as possible. Mission accomplished – thanks, Side Hustle School!!
What Went Wrong
(Another!) iPhone Fail
I bought a new iPhone last month and you may remember that I don’t have a lot of luck with phones/electronic devices. Of course with this new phone it’s no different. I didn’t even mention it in last month’s roundup, but my phone started acting up only a few days after I bought it, and I had to go to an Apple store as soon as I got back from Southeast Asia. Apple tech support downloaded new software onto the phone and deleted everything I had added to the phone so far – including all my apps and notes. Instead of downloading that version of my phone from the Cloud, he set it up as a completely new phone – which meant I spent hours trying to remember which apps I had on my phone and re-download them. I was livid, since I hadn’t even been given a warning. I swore that I wouldn’t set foot in an Apple Store again anytime soon. But of course my phone had other plans when it fell and the screen shattered into a hundred little pieces. Luckily I had invested in Apple care when I bought the phone, which meant the screen repair cost me only $30. An unnecessary $30 nonetheless.
The Citibike Incident
I love Citibike, New York’s public bike sharing program, and I’ve been using citibikes almost on a daily basis ever since I signed up for an annual membership last May – even though I have my own bike, too. It’s just so convenient to take the bike from a subway station to my final destination when there’s a bit of a walk involved, and not having to worry about locking it up – you simply dock it in one of the stations (there are more than 600 all over New York) and that’s it. Until that day when I tried to dock my bike and it just wouldn’t lock. And I had to go to work and started panicking because I tried twelve different docks and none worked. And then I rode to another docking station, where the same thing happened. None of the docks worked. And then I was on the phone with their customer service for nearly half an hour and almost lost my shit because I knew I was gonna be late for work, and of course this all happened in sub-zero temperatures (Celsius, but still).
I was told to leave the bike unlocked, in a way that it looked as if was broken, and no charges would appear on my credit card.
But guess what appeared on my credit card? Charges for a lost Citibike!
The whole ordeal took up way too much of my time, but I want to say that it has now been resolved and that I was using Citibikes again the very next day after it happened – I truly love them and I am even a Bike Angel (which means I am a frequent rider that gets rewards for certain things).
Finally lost the weight I’d gained!
Going vegan in December was the last one of my monthly ‘get-out-of-my-comfort-zone’ projects I’d challenged myself to in 2017. After successfully challenging myself to daily yoga and daily running and other things I found difficult, and going caffeine-free, booze-free and chocolate-free – among other things – it was time for me to go dairy-free in December.
For a quick minute I thought I might stay vegan after this month-long experiment, but only five days into my plant-based month, I knew there was no way that I’d continue living without dairy and eggs after the month ended.
A week into being vegan, I was already over it. Of course I didn’t give up, and finished December without consuming any dairy or eggs, but I was missing cheese, I was craving pizza, and I found myself daydreaming about shakshuka (my favorite egg dish).
Even though I experimented with vegan substitutes, vegan cheese and even tofu (I’m not a big fan of tofu or any other soy products), I never felt like I could entirely replace some of the foods I love indulging in – like a creamy Brie or a burrata mozzarella.
However, as with all of my monthly challenges this year, there were some interesting takeaways and insights.
I don’t need as much dairy as I thought. For example my morning yogurt – never missed it and haven’t had any since December, even though in theory, I could’ve gone back to having yogurt & cereal for breakfast.
I eat almost entirely vegan when I am cooking for myself – I noticed that I never buy milk, and cheese is a treat that I rarely buy. I never have butter (or margarine) in the fridge, the only non-vegan thing that I usually have in the house and sacrificed this month were eggs.
I truly don’t like vegan cheese. I tried cream cheese, vegan mozzarella and a fancy $12 Brie-style cheese but I didn’t like a single one of them.
Vegan means weight loss – at least for me. After struggling with my weight pretty much all year long, always feeling like I had a few pounds to lose, this happened automatically when I started eating vegan. On the very last day of 2017, I finally felt comfortable in my body again, having lost my belly and all my pants are fitting loosely. Since I don’t weigh myself, I can’t say how much weight I actually lost, but I felt my belly slowly disappearing over the course of the month. My skin also looked great – and breaking out shortly after the cheese farewell party I threw for myself on Thanksgiving makes me think that too much dairy probably does have an effect on my skin, something I always thought wasn’t the case.
Veganism can feel quite anti-social. When I announced my vegan month to my friends, several of them told me ‘See you next month then!’, especially since I was also resolute about only consuming vegan-friendly wine (learning that most wine isn’t vegetarian-friendly was the most disturbing thing I’ve learned in a long time), cutting out most wine bars and dinner dates. I am thankful that there were still enough friends who were willing to try vegan restaurants with me and who supported me in succeeding in my vegan challenge.
My first attempt at vegan Christmas cookie baking..
After doing these monthly challenges for an entire year, I’d like to keep doing something similar going forward, but I am not sure if I can come up with twelve more challenges. 30 days without sugar, a challenge that had been on my list all year and which I didn’t get around to doing before the end of 2017, will definitely happen at some point in 2018, but I’ll have to think about something else I can do to get me out of my comfort zone, because I definitely got something out of each of my monthly challenges. Suggestions?
(Accidentally) Becoming a Full-Time Tour Guide
This was an interesting development this month, as I’ve detailed above. When I started this ‘side hustle’, I never expected this to turn into a full-time gig!
Funnily enough it was less the tour guiding itself that presented a difficult transition, since this seems to be something that comes to me naturally, or maybe something I’ve grown into thanks to all the practice runs and private tours I’ve run previously, but it was the sudden daily exercise that exhausted me completely. On tour days, I log eight to nine miles, around 20,000 steps. Combined with the cold weather, I often found myself completely worn out by the end of the day, unable to even open my laptop to check my email. My creative juices were dried out by the end of a four hour tour which involved me talking… for basically four hours straight, and connecting with ten strangers. I usually found myself just wanting to sit in silence after coming home from ‘work’ (it is still funny to me to call this my ‘work’ or my ‘job’ because it doesn’t feel like that) and it took me quite a while to find the energy to go out afterwards, and to fulfill writing obligations for freelance clients.
I found that the ideal way to map out my day was to start by doing writing and blog-related things, then run the tour, and then socialize, but I am still adapting to this new life and need to make sure to add some break days to my calendar, which I haven’t done yet, due to the high demand for the tour over the Holidays.
What’s Next For Me
I’ll be spending all of January running tours, which, amazingly, are still completely sold out for the first few days of 2018, even though the Holidays are over. I’ll also be launching a second walking tour, if everything goes according to plan, and hopefully will find some time to catch up on blogging and most importantly – booking a flight for my February winter escape, so stay tuned for that.
In the past, I’ve simply listed new additions to my travel accessories and gadgets on my Travel Gear page, but I have decided that going forward, I’ll do an annual round-up of the best things that have been added to my packing list. That way it is easier for you to see what I’ve bought that I think makes a great addition to my travel gear.
I thought Black Friday would be a great day to kick off this new series, because if you see something on my list that you think you could use for your next trip, you may be able to get a Black Friday discount on it (Note: Most of Amazon’s Black Friday Deals are valid until 27 November 2017).
1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
I’ve been wanting to buy a portable speaker for a long time, but I couldn’t decide which one – there are so many out there! I finally found the one this summer – I was cat-sitting for a friend and used hers – and I love the sound quality. The Oontz Angle is probably not the best speaker out there, considering the low price tag, but for me it is more important to have a lightweight speaker that I can travel with, that is water resistant, and one that is not too pricey because I know I’ll lose it sooner or later. I use this speaker all the time – not just on the beach, in the park or in my hotel room, but also at home.
Tip: The Oontz Angle is about $10 less now than when I bought it – not sure if it’s a special Thanksgiving deal or if they dropped the price in general.
Price: $24.99. A newer, improved version of the Oontz Angle speaker, the Oontz Angle Ultra, is now available for $49.99.
2 A Nicer Set Of Packing Cubes
I’ve been singing the praises of packing cubes for years, and I still have (and use!) the first set of eBags I bought years ago, but recently I decided that it was time for an upgrade. I opted for a larger set, which in addition to four cubes in different sizes, has a shoe bag, a laundry bag and two smaller pouches – perfect for cosmetics or electronics. This way I can organize my things even better, and have a cube for each type of clothing item (underwear & socks, pants, T-shirts, dresses/skirts).
My absolute favorite new travel gadget is the MyCharge portable charger. I still love the Anker charger I’ve used for several years, but what I love about the MyCharge is that the charger cables – it has two – are integrated into the charger, so you don’t need an additional cable. Not only does it charge my phone, but the second charger is a micro-USB cable, which I use to charge my wireless headphones, my Kindle, my Sony A6300 camera, and my Skyroam WiFi hotspot. You can even charge your phone and an additional device at the same time. And the light-weight charger recharges up to 50% faster than other portable chargers.
3 Collapsible Bag
One thing that caused me a headache when I was packing for my five-week hike through Spain was that I couldn’t put anything in my backpack that I wasn’t willing to carry on my back for six to eight hours every single day. But what about souvenirs? What about stuff for a mini-vacation after the hike? The answer to all of this: a collapsible duffel bag! For someone like me who loves to bring back local delicatessen and grocery items from a trip, this is perfect! On my trip to London I filled my brand new Eagle Creek Duffel Bag with lots of British candy and other goodies to gift to my friends in New York. The bag, which folded up in my luggage, barely took up any space, and was perfect for this – it carries up to 40 liters.
Price: Around $29
4 Travel Money Belt
I loved the Travel Money Belt I was wearing while I walked the Camino this year, but I did wish it was a little bit larger. It fit my credit cards, cash, phone and portable charger, but that was it. When I finally upgraded to a larger phone, I stumbled upon the perfect money belt by accident – I was actually looking for something to hold my phone on my daily runs, because the armbands I’ve used up until now aren’t that comfortable anymore with a larger phone, and a belt seemed more practical. The StashBandz Travel Money Belt doesn’t only hold my phone and my portable charger, but it also fits my passport. It has four large pockets, including one concealed zipper pocket, which is perfect for my keys and credit cards. I found that it is also perfect for traveling and it’ll replace my small waist bag with this larger one from now on.
5 Passport Holder
After not being allowed to board a plane to Indonesia because of the state of my passport (you can read about this debacle in detail here) a couple of years ago, I have been ridiculously anal about storing my passport in a safe place. Up until this year I stored it in a waterproof plastic zipper-pouch, but I decided it was finally time for a proper passport holder. I went with the Lewis N. Clark #SheTravels RFID-blocking passport holder, because I figured I can’t be protective enough, especially after having experienced credit card cloning firsthand (see below). The passport holder has additional spaces for credit cards as well as a zippered pocket which I’ve used to hide cash.
6 RFID-Blocking Wallet
I never paid much attention to RFID-blocking gadgets, because I wasn’t really sure if they were really necessary – until my credit card was cloned in an airport book store. While I was browsing the magazines and books, somebody else paid their $65 purchase with my credit card! I am still not sure how this technique exactly works, but I’ve been freaked out ever since about this happening again, so I decided that RFID-blocking gadgets aren’t such a bad idea after all. I use the small RFID-blocking aluminum wallet for my credit cards and ID.
8 Mirrorless Camera
As you can see on this list, I am not someone who spends hundreds of dollars on fancy travel gear – I prefer good value items, which don’t have to be expensive. The only pricey new acquisition this year? A mirrorless camera, something I’d eyed up for a while. I’ve finally reached the point where my Canon dSLR camera, which I’ve used since 2009, got too bulky and too heavy for me.
It took me forever to decide which camera to go for – everyone seems to have a different favorite. Some people love the Fujifilm X-T20, others swear by the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II, and the Panasonic Lumix G85 also has millions of fans. So, which one to go for?
I finally chose the Sony A6300. This camera has gotten rave reviews by many of my fellow blogger and videographer friends, so I figured it’d be perfect for the kind of footage I am shooting. And so far, I am loving the camera, which I got in a kit with a 16-50mm & 55-210mm Zoom Lens.
Tip: This kit is now $200 cheaper on Amazon than when I bought it, so if you’re looking to upgrade your camera, now is a great time!
I still love my Kindle Fire 7 dearly, and if you are looking for an amazing deal, it is only $29.99 on Amazon right now, which is an incredible steal for a tablet/eReader combo. I use my Kindle Fire every single day – and for so much more than just reading books. I use it to listen to Spotify, I watch Netflix and YouTube, I read articles in my Pocket app, and I surf the web. I honestly don’t know how I existed without a Kindle Fire. The only problem, as with all of my devices, I fill them up to the brink. My laptop, my iPhone, my iPod Touch.. all have the same problem, at some point the storage fills up. When this happened with my Kindle Fire, and I saw that the Kindle Fire 8 with 16 GB was on offer for $49, I didn’t think twice: I bought it. There is also a 32GB version for $79.99, but 16GB is double the storage I had on my 8GB Kindle Fire 7, which is enough for me… for now. Other improvements? The Kindle Fire 8 display is 8’’ (instead of 7’’), it is HD, and it has up to twelve hours battery life (instead of the 7’s eight hour battery life).
Price: $49.99 for the Kindle Fire 8 with 16GB, $79.99 for the Kindle Fire 8 with 32GB
10 Laptop Adapter Charger
I had about fifty near-meltdowns when I walked the Camino and often found myself unable to charge my laptop because my adapter was too big to fit the European power sockets. I wish I had known about the Innergie PowerGear ICE, a super high speed USB charging adapter. It comes with three interchangeable socket plugs, and I’ve already used them all! Instead of having to deal with adapters, I just change the socket plug and since they’re small, they always fit the power outlet perfectly. The charger comes with six tips that are compatible with my Acer laptop, Lenovo, HP, Dell and most other notebooks.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. As usual, I am not recommending any products that I haven’t personally tried & tested – and I would buy every single product I recommend here again. I recommend these items because I find them helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel they will add value to your next trip or your daily life.
I hadn’t fallen in love with any of the places I had visited in Ecuador – with the exception of the Galapagos Islands – but I had high hopes for Cuenca. People seemed to love this Andean university town, and I needed a break from the mosquitoes and the heat of the Ecuadorian coast.It took me around eight hours to get from Montañita to Cuenca, with a quick stopover in Guayaquil where I changed buses. As soon as I got off the bus in Cuenca, I got a good vibe from the city, and I had a feeling I’d enjoy my stay there.I walked to the hostal I had booked, instead of taking a taxi, and the walk was much needed after the long hours spent on the bus. I noticed right away how beautiful the architecture was – the buildings were mostly from different eras , but it was the mix of architectural styles that made it so interesting.Cuenca was the first city in Ecuador I found visually appealing – neither Quito nor Guayaquil had done much for me with their boring, unimaginative architecture. Yes, I admit it: I prefer cities that are delightful to look at over cities that aren’t all that pretty (which is probably why I never fully understood the appeal of Chiang Mai in Thailand). The unique blend of architectural styles has led to Cuenca being awarded a place on the elusive list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Cuenca charmed not only UNESCO, but also me with beautiful Spanish-colonial architecture, well-preserved Renaissance buildings, a pleasant town plaza and a number of impressive churches, especially the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.The unique fusion of different cultures and epochs in South America that can be seen in Cuenca’s streets and architecture are impressive, and I was even more impressed when I read about Cuenca’s UNESCO status, which is based on cultural heritage, and that the classification actually comprised of over 1,000 buildings in Cuenca!Cuenca’s recognition for cultural heritage naturally means that the preservation of historic buildings is taken seriously here, which is why it is such a delight to simply wander the streets, marvel at the buildings, and try to figure out which era they belong to.But there’s more to the city than just architecture and wandering around: If you enjoy museums, Cuenca is THE place for you. The city had enough museums to keep me busy for the entire week I spent there: the Modern Art Museum, Central Bank Museum (Museo del Banco Central), the Prohibited Museum (Prohibido Centro Cultural), Medicine Museum, Museum of Aboriginal Culture, a religious museum in the Convent of the Immaculate Conception, the Inter-American Traditional Art Center, and probably a couple of other ones that I have since forgotten about.Somehow, I never made it into any of the museums, even though the Modern Art Museum was on my to-do-list for Cuenca. But I made a mistake that I’ve made before (it seems like I never learn?!): I waited too long. Assuming I had plenty of time since I was staying in Cuenca for a whole week, I spent the first few days in town taking things slow, simply meandering in the parks and streets, peeking into churches, photographing murals and street art, walking around the market and exploring the coffee shop scene.One thing left on my to-do list was climbing the bell tower of the new cathedral, which I was told was well worth it for the sweeping views over the town and the Andes Mountains.But then, somehow, the week slipped through my fingers, and before I knew it, I had only two days left. And these two days happened to be completely rained out. On my last day, a rain storm so fierce passed through Cuenca that I got completely soaked while I ran from a coffee shop to a restaurant only three blocks away. There was no way I would enjoy climbing up the bell tower of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the New Cathedral, in this weather.I beat myself up for not doing it on one of the days when the weather was nice, but in all honesty, I enjoyed my time in Cuenca even though I barely did any touristy things.I got into a nice routine of going on a morning run along the river, a couple of times all the way down to Parque Paraiso, a pleasant, forest-like park which is the largest green space in Cuenca.Afterwards, I’d walk up the stairs between Calle 3 Novembre and Calle Larga and look at the street art there, before plonking myself down for breakfast in one of the many cafes around town. There are no shortage of breakfast destinations in Cuenca, ranging from cheapie desayunos for less than $3 in the more local places, to pricier, gringo-fied versions at Goza, where I splurged on a $7 breakfast (they had shakshuka on the menu, how could I resist!).Another thing I loved about Cuenca? It was the first city in Ecuador where I never had trouble finding something to eat that I enjoyed. Ecuadorian food is not known to be very vegetarian-friendly, and for most of my time in Ecuador, I hadn’t had any memorable meals. But in Cuenca, there were several international restaurants: an Indian restaurant, a Thai place, two Italian restaurants, and a number of vegetarian restaurants.When I wasn’t typing away on my laptop, I spent most of my time eating my way around town, reading on my Kindle in one of the cafes or people watching in the main square, and that was okay. I didn’t feel the need to do much more, and I enjoyed not feeling rushed, not feeling like I had to sightsee all day long.My week in Cuenca felt more as if I was living there instead of taking in all the tourist sights, and it showed me once more that visiting a place is about so much more for me than hitting up all the museums and landmarks a city has to offer. Those aren’t the places where the locals spend their time. Instead, I ran into fellow runners in the park, I chatted with café and bar owners about life in Ecuador, I watched kids play together in Parque Calderon and loved getting into a routine for a while, to discover what is would actually be like to live there.Speaking of which, Cuenca is very popular with expats, and is without a doubt the most popular expat destination in Ecuador. I have to admit though that while I enjoyed my time in the city, I didn’t feel the draw that many expats must feel. I could not see myself moving to Cuenca. But that being said, I rarely feel like I could move to a place.After a week of standing still, I got itchy feet and was ready to move on to my next destination: Baños, the Adventure Capital of Ecuador.
Practical InformationWhere to stay
Another reason why I loved Cuenca? The abundance of good – and cheap! – places to stay! From hostels to guest houses to budget hotels, there’s something for everyone here:
Best backpacker hostels in Cuenca:
Go Hostel (dorm beds from $7, double room from $22)
In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.
Where I’ve Been
This month involved too much traveling – Spain, Germany, England and the U.S. I am finally back home in New York after three months away. I don’t have much time to recover though: in less than two weeks, I’ll be hitting the road again! More on that later – first, let’s take a look at the last 4.5 weeks:
What I’ve Been Up To
The biggest achievement of the month? I finished the Camino de Santiago! I was on the final stretch of the walk when I wrote my last roundup, and when I walked into Santiago with my Camino BFF Kate in early October, it was a very emotional moment. Since I had a flight booked to Germany because of family commitments, I couldn’t take any rest days on the last stretch, or simply walk fewer kilometers per day, which our friend Veronica ended up doing – we left her behind in Ponferrada after walking as a trio for about a week.
When we reached Santiago, physically and mentally exhausted, we were greeted by some of our Camino friends who had waited for us, and met more friends for drinks later that night. Everyone was in great spirits.Sadly, we didn’t have much time to celebrate our achievement because on our first night in Santiago, Kate got very sick. She spent most of the night on the toilet, and the only full day we had in Santiago she was sick in bed. It was a tragic way to end the month we’d spent together.
I was feeling good the next day and made the most of my only full day in Santiago. I went to the pilgrims office to pick up my compostela, my pilgrim’s certificate (which meant standing in line for two hours!), I attended the pilgrims mass in Santiago’s stunning cathedral, and I welcomed other pilgrims on the main square when they arrived at the cathedral. It was an amazing day – I found tasty vegetarian food (which means a lot, considering the food rant in my last roundup..), relaxed in a beautiful park, and treated myself to a lovely dinner – sadly all without Kate.And then I got back to our hotel and I also started feeling sick. I’ll save the details for the Lowlights below.
Once I recovered from my illness, I spent some more time in Germany with my new niece, my nephew and my other two nieces who live about two hours from where my sister lives. And of course with Odie! I was amazed to see how much the tiny baby had grown since I left on my trip six weeks earlier.
From the one month old fragile little baby that she was when I first met her, to a lively, curious three month old when I returned from the Camino. I got to spend some quality time with my sister too, of course – mostly while we were trying out new baking recipes. The fact that I had declared only a week earlier that I never wanted to eat cake again was forgotten, and I happily postponed my post-Camino diet in favor of some traditional German cake.In my last round-up I had hinted that I was going to visit one more destination in Europe before returning to New York. I couldn’t make up my mind between a return trip to Italy (I announced last year that I’d love to go back to Rome for a little longer) or if I should visit friends in London. In the end, I decided in favor of London, my former home. I spent a short weekend there last summer, but haven’t had any quality time in London for over two years.
I miss the city, and the prospect of seeing a West End show, finally visiting the new extension of the Tate Modern, roaming my favorite markets and catching up with old friends was more appealing than a trip to Italy by myself. And traveling to London meant Kate and I got a do-over – the way we parted ways in Santiago, both sick as dogs, was not how we had pictured our last day together. And since Kate lives in London, I knew we would see each other and get the chance to properly celebrate our achievement – and plan our next hike together.
Going to London was absolutely the right decision. I got to see the Dreamgirls musical at the Savoy Theater with an old friend, and we went to the Tate Modern. I got to eat all my favorite British foods, discovered a bunch of new coffee shops and bars, made it finally to the Cereal Killer Cafe, and I met up with several friends, including the sexiest couple on Instagram, the Nomadic Boys. It was an amazing week, and I almost didn’t want to leave, but…In New York, Halloween was waiting for me.
I didn’t grow up with Halloween, and even though they’re trying to making it more popular in Germany, it is not comparable with Halloween in the U.S. Ever since my first Halloween Party – only four years ago, can you believe it?! – I’ve been hooked, and try to be there for what has become my favorite US Holiday. Last year I was in Seattle, but sadly didn’t have a great Halloween there, so this year I wanted to make sure I had a party to go to and a costume to wear.
It was the perfect weekend to return to New York. The weather was brilliant on Saturday, and the party my friend and I went to was fantastic. But not just because of Halloween – it simply felt good to be home again after three months on the road – three months during which I barely had any time to myself. I would happily stay in New York for the rest of the year, but I’ve got one more trip coming up. More on that in What’s Next For Me.
On to the Highlights of the month:
Finishing the Camino
This was, of course, by far the absolute highlight of the month. I honestly was not sure if I’d be able to finish the walk when I set off on the hike from Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. But I did! I am still amazed that my feet carried me all the way to Santiago – no buses were taken, and I always carried my backpack, instead of having it transported for me.
When I started the hike, I didn’t really know what to expect: What would it be like to hike for a month? Would I enjoy it? It turned out that I had nothing to worry about – it was such a great experience, despite the challenges I faced, which included constant pain – especially in my tooth towards the end (see Lowlights for more details), some not-so-great dorms with snorers galore, and the food situation which I already mentioned in last month’s roundup.
But the upsides of the hike absolutely compensated for the challenges, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The friendships that formed, the conversations I had, and the splendor of just taking time out of my regular life to focus on myself while walking through some of Spain’s most stunning scenery.
Going on the Camino this year was a semi-spontaneous decision I only made a couple of months before leaving for France, and I am glad I just went for it instead of overthinking it, letting time constraints and work commitments hold me back and to keep postponing it by making up excuses why now wasn’t the right time.
When I left for Europe in the summer, I wasn’t 100% sure when I’d be returning to New York – all I knew was that no matter what I did, it had to be before Halloween. As I mentioned above, I absolutely love Halloween and after not having a great Halloween in Seattle in 2016, I wanted to be back in NYC to celebrate with my friends this year.
I think New York is one of the best places to be for Halloween, with the popular Halloween Parade in the West Village and people in all neighborhoods (at least in Brooklyn – it’s hard to decorate the massive apartment blocks in Manhattan!) really getting into the Halloween spirit, decorating their buildings, putting carved pumpkins out on the stoops, and going absolutely crazy with their costumes.
Halloween is probably my favorite day to take the subway in New York, seeing everyone dressed up, strangers connecting over their costumes, and everyone just being jolly and nice.
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, hundreds of trick or treaters were out – it was cuteness overload. I had never seen so many kids dressed up before, going from house to house to collect candy, and it was heartwarming to see the excitement and happiness in the eyes of the kids.Especially this year, when just a few hours before the parade started, there was a deadly attack in Manhattan, clearly timed to ruin Halloween for everyone. But New Yorkers have a thick skin, and I was glad to see that the kids still got to enjoy this special day. Nobody stayed inside, controlled by fear – the streets were teeming with life.
I myself wasn’t in the mood to go out to a big Halloween bash after what had happened, but luckily I had already gone to a party on Saturday, and wasn’t going to dress up again on the 31st anyway.
Returning to New York in time for Halloween was the perfect way to get reintroduced to city life again – life in New Yorky is so different from anywhere else I’ve been in the past 90 days, except for London maybe. Speaking of which:
A Perfect Week in London
I feel like I say this every time I return from London, but I feel the same way about London every time I visit: When I’m not there, I seem to forget just how much I love it, but when I am there, I don’t ever want to leave. Until there’s a day when it pours for hours on end, and then I remember why I left London in the first place: because I couldn’t stand the weather one day longer.
Despite mediocre weather (I had only one sunny day the entire week I was there) and too much work (I got a new client project just before I left for London), I had such a great time catching up with friends and revisiting some of my old favorite spots. And even though I had less time to experience the city due to my workload last week, it was just nice to soak up the atmosphere, eat good food, and, most importantly, have a big celebration with Kate for finishing the Camino, and reminiscing about the Way while watching, well, The Way.
As I already briefly mentioned above, after Kate got sick in Santiago de Compostela, I followed suit the next night. Unfortunately my vomiting session started only two hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport. And I had a 15 hour travel day ahead of me.
First, a flight from Santiago to Madrid, then a flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, then a train ride to Erfurt, and finally a 30-minute car ride to the village where my sister lives. I thought about canceling my flights, but in the end I thought that if I made it through the travel day, at least I’d be home at night, with my family.
It didn’t take long for me to regret this decision – about an hour into my first flight, to be precise – when I passed out while vomiting and had to get medical assistance from the Flight Attendants.
I don’t remember any of this since I only regained consciousness when three Flight Attendants dragged me out of my row to make sure I wouldn’t choke on my own vomit. Definitely not how I wanted to die. I did want to die, however, when I saw my vomit all over the seats – and myself.
I still don’t know how I made it through that day, but I am happy that day didn’t end worse.
The only good thing about getting sick on a plane: I got to spread out over an entire row after I vomited everywhere.
An Emergency Tooth Surgery
As if a near-death experience on the plane and a stomach flu weren’t enough, I had an emergency tooth surgery scheduled for the very next day in Germany. I had an infected tooth already when I was still in New York in July, and it only got worse.
On the Camino, it finally got so bad that I was walking the last two weeks with terrible a toothache and eventually messaged my mom to see if she could set up an emergency appointment at her dentist in Germany, since I don’t have a dentist there anymore (and no healthcare). Luckily for me, the dentist agreed to see me for cash payment, which is very unusual in Germany (since everyone has insurance).
Within half an hour, I was finally rid of the infected tooth, and the horrible pain that it caused me, and I wished I had gone to the dentist before I left on the hike. I am so terrified of dentists that it has to come down to a situation like this, in which I can’t eat or drink anything and am in terrible pain, to force me to finally set up a dental appointment. It is horrible, I know, but dental anxiety is no joke my friends.
I know – I said tooth, and not toe. But my infected tooth looks so disgusting that I decided to share a less gross infection I’m still dealing with.. my toenail, which I’ve been told will fall off. This is the sort of stuff you have to deal with when you go on a 5-week walk…
Losing my Skyroam
Another month, another story of how Dani lost something…
I had my Skyroam global wifi hotspot with me on the Camino, and used it also on the day I returned to Germany. I had the device in the side pocket of my backpack, and when I reached the train station in Frankfurt I saw that all long-distance trains to central station were heavily delayed – so much so that I wouldn’t be able to make my connecting train. So I sprinted down to the local train station instead, hoping I’d make it to central station on a slow, local train. When I got to the train station, I noticed that my backpack’s side pocket was open. I am not sure if somebody had opened it, or if it opened by itself, but the Skyroam wasn’t in there anymore. Either it fell out while I was running to catch the train, or somebody took it – I’m not sure which. All I know is that I can’t believe I lost my beloved Skyroam and I am still devastated.
The last photo of my Skyroam: Helping me stay connected on the Camino
My friend Nomadic Matt is giving away a round-the-world trip, worth $18,250! You can read all about the prize and how you can enter to win it here.
A couple of words no the giveaway: Please note that you have to buy a copy of Matt’s bestselling book ‘How To Travel The World On $50 A Day’ – but if you’re interested in budget travel and traveling the world independently, you should read this book anyway. Plus, it makes a great Christmas gift for your travel-loving friends. Oh, and did I mention that the book is only $12.79 on Amazon at the moment?? That’s a steal already, but even more so considering it offers you the chance to win a trip worth nearly $20,000.
I would love for one of my readers to win this amazing giveaway! (Side note: Sadly, this contest is only open to people in the U.S. and North America.)
What’s Next For Me
I won’t have much time to recover from my hectic month (four countries were a little too ambitious, I have to say – especially after a 500 mile hike!), because I will be heading to Asia in November! I haven’t been to Asia in 2.5 years, and I am super excited for this trip, which will bring me to Singapore (where I haven’t been since 2012!) and to Thailand (where I’ll be checking out two islands I haven’t been to yet).
I will tell you all about in next month’s roundup… Thanks for following along!
Read Full Article
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.