History, Beer, & Running (Part III): The Best of the Rest

Traveling to five different countries with five different languages and several currencies is exhausting.  At this point in the Runcation, I knew I would want something familiar.  So I made a stop in Salzburg to take in the views and a few Stiegl.  It was nice to know that I wouldn’t have to plan anything or navigate any new streets.  The thing about solo travel is that you need to be “on” 100% of the time.  It’s all you out there.  You need to plan, navigate, and communicate every step of the way.  Having a travel partner or group allows you to share this responsibility or at least take turns, but on your own, it’s a one-woman show, which is fantastic, but also physically and mentally draining.

It felt nice to go to a few of the old hangouts and viewpoints, including a refueling stop at Stiegl Keller, a hearty bowl of gulasch at Café Central, a solid people watching session in the Mirabellgarten, and a run along the Salzach and to Hellbrunn.  My legs were absolutely beat, but stopping in Salzburg made for a perfect holiday-within-a-holiday!

Just in time for a rest day, I boarded an old-timey train to Ljubljana.  The Slovenian capital has been on my list for a few years now and has been a top recommendation of several friends.  This cosy city didn’t disappoint and is perfect for wanders along the river and nice Slovenian wine.  I definitely didn’t stick to the three themes of the Runcation in Ljubljana, and I wasn’t exactly on my proper planning game, but I walked up to the castle, took a very rainy day trip to Lake Bled, sampled Slovenia’s honey liqueur, and enjoyed some Slovenian wine with a couple other travelers and education enthusiasts.

I was pondering a run one afternoon, but seasonal allergies and tired legs pondered otherwise.  So, I took a vote, and a run through Ljubljana did not happen.  This scenario perfectly captures the beauty of solo travel.

And just like that, I was onto the final leg of the Runcation and half marathon number two of the trip: Budapest.  This was my second visit to the Hungarian capital and second half marathon along the Danube.  After straying from the themes of the Runcation in Ljubljana, I jumped right back on them in Budapest:

History– I chose to do the Communist walking tour of Budapest.  The guide walked the group through life in post-war Budapest and painted a picture of the current political climate in the country.  It’s always a nice bonus as well, when the people in your tour group ask fantastic and relevant questions.  Speaking of relevance, later that day, I walked into a massive rally protesting the results of the country’s parliamentary election that took place just one week earlier.  It was interesting to see, but it didn’t take long for my fear of crowds to take over and navigate myself elsewhere.

Beer & Food– The last time I visited Budapest, it was Christmas Market Season- a joyous occasion.  This time around, the spring markets were up and running!  Here I was able to refuel with Hungarian gulasch, Hungary’s national dish, chicken paprikash, and what ever they had on tap.  I also sampled Unicum, the 80-proof Hungarian herbal liqueur.  My top recommendation for a trip to Budapest, however, is a meal at Kisharang Étkezde.  This gem in the heart of the city offers inexpensive, authentic, and hearty Hungarian cuisine.  I went for dinner after the race, and I was starving.  I started with csülkös bableves, which is a delightful ham, bean, and dumpling soup.  I then enjoyed hortobágyi palacsinta, which I can only describe as a magical cross between an enchilada and a pierogi but with a paprika sauce.  The combination of the two made for the perfect last meal of the Runcation.

Running– Before this, I had never attempted two half marathons so close together, but figured if my body can keep up with marathon training, then back to back races wouldn’t be the end of the world.  However, my legs wanted absolutely no part of it at this point in the trip, so I ran solely with my heart (15 April is a day where the heart tends to take over).  The pre-race logistics were a bit of a nightmare, and will probably prevent me from recommending this race, but the race itself was lovely (shoulder-to-shoulder for several of the first miles, but otherwise lovely).  Running this race was an absolute battle, and I left it all out there on the streets of Budapest.  Despite a frustrating Garmin malfunction in mile 3 that left me doing mental math for the next 10 miles, I can say with certainty that I couldn’t have run any faster, and that is a good feeling.  The chip time says I ran this race one minute and ten seconds slower than Bratislava, a consistent showing that impressed me.  I then spent the afternoon soaking my tired legs in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.

All in all, I would rate the Runcation as a challenging success.  Two very consistent and quick races outran my previous half marathon PB, which was set in Glasgow in October 2017, and I am so grateful that this trip turned into an opportunity for several of my passions to collide.  Now that I’m back at work, it’s time to start planning the next adventure!  Stay tuned for that.  Click here if you missed Part I and Part II of this series!

Thank You Notes: Runcation Edition

  • Thank you to ice cream for being the most perfect snack for an afternoon wander.  The best part about being on holiday is that it’s pretty much expected that you break for ice cream around 1500.  No questions asked.
  • Thank you to fellow hostel-goers for plenty of stories, laughs, and travel recommendations.
  • Thank you to travel days for being a built-in rest day with scenic views.
  • Thank you to race medals for being the most perfect souvie.
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Home Sweet Salzburg

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Travel days are scenic rest days

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Rainy day in Ljubljana

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Budapest Half Marathon!

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History, Beer, & Running (Part II): Beautiful Bratislava

Based on multiple reviews from trusted travelers, I had minimal expectations for Bratislava.  Not only was I pleasantly surprised by this charming city, but over the course of three and half days, it worked its way into my list of Top 5 Favorite Cities.  A bold statement, I know, so here’s the lowdown:

  • History– To get acquainted with this small city, I started with my go-to: a free walking tour.  This three hour lay of the land was fantastic, and easily one of the best walking tours I’ve been on to date.  The passionate guide walked the group through the history of her city, including its medieval, WWII, and communist histories.  She gave the history of Bratislava a very human emotion and bridged the past to the present while explaining the current and growing political unrest in the country.  She also gave an incredible recommendation for high quality and inexpensive Slovakian cuisine.
  • Beer & Food– Let’s start with the tour guides recommendation- Bratislava Flagship Restaurant.  This seat yourself, beerhall-style eatery offers scrumptious Slovakian cuisine and local beer.  Based on the tour guide’s recommendation, I had bryndzové halušky, which is a dish of gnocchi-like dumplings with a sheep’s cheese sauce.  Sprinkled with bacon, this national dish of Slovakia is an absolute delight.  I dined with a couple lovely Canadians who, together, sampled the bryndzové halušky, garlic soup, and potato pancakes.  They recommended all of it.  For beer, we had Kláštorný ležiak, which perfectly balanced out the richness of my meal.  The other food-related experience that pushed Bratislava higher and higher up on my top list of cities is Konditorei Kormuth.  For €15, you get 3 courses of dessert: a specialty coffee or hot chocolate, a piece of cake of your choosing, and a spirit of your choosing.  The decadent hot chocolate rivaled that of E. Wedel’s in Warsaw.  For cake, I chose the Esterházy torte, a favorite of mine from my studies in Austria.  And finally for the spirit, I chose Slovakia’s famous Tatratea.  The original tea liqueur boasts 104 proof, and the entire line of Tatratea ranges from 44 proof to 144 proof.  The entire dining experience at Koditorei Kormuth was complimented by the atmosphere and artwork of the cafe.  I definitely recommend everyone carve out a couple of hours of their time in Bratislava to enjoy this gem.
  • Running– Here we go, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  The first half marathon of the Runcation.  My only goal was to finish.  I had been loosely maintaining my base of 10 mile long runs since February, but this trip came together fairly last minute, so I didn’t have time to properly train.  That being said, about 4 years ago, I made it a goal of mine to always be in reasonable fitness to complete a half marathon, and I suppose this was the first real test of that endeavor.  The race was fantastic and the course through Bratislava and along the Danube was fast.  It was my warmest run of the year to date, but I still managed a pretty sizable PB.  It was definitely a battle, but I felt strong.  My performance in this race was so unexpected that it made the victory so much more enjoyable and justified another serving of bryndzové halušky.  Also, the medal is of a fine quality.  The evening before the race, I went on the complimentary history run of Bratislava, which was one of the events of marathon weekend.  Talk about passions colliding!  This run reminded me of how strong and fantastic the running community is.  It was so nice to explore Bratislava with other runners.
  • Bratislava Bonus– Sculptures are scattered throughout the streets of Bratislava.  “Man at Work”, or Cumil as the locals call him, is a sewer worker who watches passersby in the heart of Bratislava’s old town.  According to the walking tour guide, many lighthearted sculptures like Cumil were added to the city to make the streets “more fun” after the communist regime.

Overall, I was impressed by my visit to Bratislava.  I went for the history, beer, food, and running, and all were met to the highest degree.  The next leg of the Runcation: a trip back to Salzburg, my home away from home(s).  Click here for Part III of the Runcation.  Click here if you missed Part I.

History, Beer, & Running (Part I): Easter in Poland

Life is funny.  Remember how I mentioned in my previous post how time is something we cannot control?  Well, roughly a week after moving back across the Atlantic, starting a job in Massachusetts, and publishing that post, I was offered a job in Scotland.  The color-coded pro/con flow charts made a resurgence, I consulted my Support Crew, I cried a bit, I accepted the job, I booked a flight, and the rest is history.  Well actually, I suppose the rest is History as well as Modern Studies, the two subjects I am currently teaching to the U.S. equivalent of grades 6-12.  A fantastic range of ages and part of the reason I was so keen to accept this position.

Alright, you’re just about caught up, so now I can move on to my 18-day solo adventure around Central and Eastern Europe.  I turned my school’s rather lengthy Spring Break into a little something I like to call the “Runcation”.  The first step in planning this trip was to look at the European half marathon calendar and connect the dots.  I chose two half marathons one week apart from each other and planned the entire trip from there.  Planning this adventure was an elaborate and exciting puzzle: linking one city to the next via bus tickets that could literally be paid for with pocket change and using hostels as a home base that offered free meals, free laundry, and a steady stream of fellow travelers to swap stories and travel recommendations with.  The Runcation had three major themes: history, beer (plus local cuisine), and running.

In each city, I had three goals:

  1. Explore history– this was usually done through free walking tours.  I didn’t do too many museums, as they were either closed for Easter, or the weather was too nice for me to want to go inside for longer than need be.
  2. Indulge in local beer and cuisine– I was incredibly strict on not letting the half marathons affect my eating and drinking game.  I thought of it more as a refueling strategy for all of the running, walking, and backpack carrying- averaging about 10 miles each day, sans running.
  3. Run– If not racing, just run and take in the sights of a new city.

So those were the parameters- a trip for passions to collide.  I put the necessities in my backpack and flew to Warsaw, where I was greeted with bitter cold, wind, and museums closed for Easter weekend.  Thankfully, this New Englander could handle it and did three walking tours in two days.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • History– The Old Town walking tour is a great overview of Warsaw’s history from its medieval walls to its WWII ruins and rebuilding.  I also enjoyed a few more specific walking tours, including Warsaw at War and Communist Warsaw- the former walking through Warsaw’s occupation and resistance during WWII, and the latter showcasing Warsaw’s post-war history through communist-style architecture.
  • Beer & Food– To escape a rainy afternoon, I went to a craft beer bar called Jabeerwocky.  Here they had about a dozen choices of craft beer on tap, many of which were local.  I also enjoyed Poland’s popular orzech laskowy, or hazelnut, wódka.  As for food, I ate my weight in pierogi.  Finally, I recommend a trip to E. Wedel Chocolate Lounge to sample Poland’s oldest brand of chocolate.  It was packed, so I got a takeaway bitter hot chocolate and it warmed my soul as I wandered the rainy streets of Warsaw.
  • Running– I didn’t want to, but I ventured back out into the rain and wind for an Easter run to Łazienki Park, home to Łazienki Palace.  The park was lovely, and the palace was fairly easy on the eyes too!  As always, I was glad I went for that run.
  • Pro Tip– Ask your walking tour guide for their top notch recommendations for places to eat.  They tend to point you in the direction of authentic and inexpensive local cuisine.

Then, after a couple hour’s bus journey, where I powered through some marking (need to maintain that work-life balance, right?), I arrived in sunny Krakow.  Of course, I was ravenously hungry, so after settling into the hostel, I went for a wander to find a late lunch.  I stumbled into the final afternoon of Krakow’s Easter Market and stepped right up to the pierogi booth.  Here’s the breakdown of my time in Krakow:

  • History– A couple walking tours helped me to get acquainted with this lovely city.  Krakow’s Old Town walking tour showcased, well, its old town, including Wawel Castle.  The WWII walking tour was an incredible look at Krakow during, well, WWII.  I suppose these are pretty self-explanatory.  My top recommendation for a trip to Krakow, though, is a tour of Auschwitz.  This history teacher was left speechless and reminded of the importance of studying and remembering the past. I’m not going to even attempt to capture it in words.  (Logistics: You can get to the site via public transportation or through a tour operator.  If navigating your own way via public transport, you will have to wait in line for a tour and are not guaranteed entry.  Going through a tour operator is more expensive, but guarantees you a tour and minimizes waiting time.)
  • Beer & Food– When traveling, I think it’s important to try the cheap beer that’s served in mostly every restaurant and bar and packs the shelves of convenience stores, AKA the “Local Bud Light”.  The hostel I was using as the home base offered free dinner every night, which included a free beer hour.  This was a fantastic opportunity to meet and share meals with other travelers and indulge in the local brews.  Poland is in no short supply of Tyskie and Żywiec, both of which can be found on tap mostly anywhere.  In terms of a local craft beer, I made a refueling stop at Ursa Maior during my afternoon wander through the Jewish Quarter.  Finally, I have to recommend Wódka, a cosy little vodka bar in the old town (Shout out to Babs for recommending this establishment for the past 4 years).  Here you can build a flight of six shots of vodka from an overwhelming menu.  The difficult part is narrowing down your choices.  My favorite was chili chocolate, but I don’t think there’s any surprise there.  Other than enjoying quintessential Polish beverages, I continued to eat my weight in pierogi for lunch, as breakfast and diner were provided by the hostel.  I really enjoyed this time to connect with other travelers, especially other solo travelers.
  • Running– I took advantage of a sunny afternoon and went for a run around the former moat of Krakow’s old town and up to Park Jordana, which was honestly a bit underwhelming of a park.  There were also a lot of youths there.  That’s okay though, I suppose they’re allowed to go outside too.  I digress.
  • Krakow Bonus– Spend a few hours wandering the Jewish Quarter.  There you’ll find street art, vintages shops, and a market.

After a wonderful few days in Krakow, I boarded a bus bound for Bratislava.  I didn’t want to leave Krakow, but I needed to get some more marking done!*

Teaser: What happens when you eat pierogi the entire week leading up to a half marathon that you signed up for with only a few weeks notice?  Read on to relive the magic of Bratislava with me, and the first race of the Runcation!  Click here for Part II and Part III of the Runcation.

*Denotes sarcastic tone

 

Seasons of Life

To every thing there is a season.

I find comfort in these words as I overstuff my suitcase for yet another transatlantic move.  The past six years since starting university have been full of many short and long-distance moves.  These moves tend to mark the end of one season of life and the beginning of another.  The seasons have different schedules, locations, responsibilities, people, and goals.  Though many of them have been short, the seasons of my life up to this point have been accompanied by many lessons.  These lessons have helped to shape my outlook on life and help me to navigate the seasons (whether they be welcomed seasons or not).  While difficult to explain, these three lessons attempt to sum it up:

  1. Take chances– It might work out.  It might not work out.  Either way, you learn a thing or two in the process.  In actions big or small, I have learned the importance of taking chances.  Do the research, weigh the pros and cons, make color-coded charts, consult your Support Crew, and then take the chance.  Two of my most incredible seasons of life (Austria and Scotland) were the result of chances taken.  It can be scary, and it can feel as though you’re being pulled in different directions, but that’s okay.  It’s okay to have no idea what you’re doing.  It would be boring if we had it all figured out, right?
  2. There are things you can control and things you can’t– This can be difficult to accept.  My current season of life is coming to an end because of factors I cannot control.   Unfortunately, I cannot outrun an expiring visa, nor can I topple the bulwark of bureaucracy that is preventing me from landing a job in the place I want to live.  When working towards a goal, I have learned to identify factors that I realistically can and cannot control.  On the way to achieving said goal, it is my job to take care of the factors that are in my control.  If I’ve worked hard and done my part and the goal is not achievable because of the factors I cannot control, then that goal is not meant to be reached…yet (I sometimes struggle to remember that time is a factor that I cannot control).  Side Note: For those of you who are aware of my ability to persevere and endure, I am not giving up on my goal of living and working abroad- I’m just taking a detour on the construction-filled, pothole-ridden, winding road of life.  “It’s exciting!” “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” I repeat to myself as I frustratingly shove everything I own into a suitcase, pretending that 20 kilograms is more than it actually is, and wondering why I collect rocks as travel mementos.
  3. Home is not a place, it’s a feeling– Since 2014, I have been fortunate enough to call three different countries home.  The northeast of the States is a place I call home because it is where most of my family is, it is where I was raised, and it is a region of the country from which I am proud to say I hail.  Austria is home because it is where I met a few incredible friends, took big steps out of my comfort zone, and became comfortable with my independent self, which gave me the confidence to find home in a third place, Scotland, which has been home for the past year and a half.  I initially embarked on this adventure to earn a Master’s degree.  Not only did I accomplish this mission, but I’ve also met some fantastic people, run some incredible races, and learned how to look the proper way whilst crossing the street (more or less).  Some people think that because I enjoy living abroad, I don’t miss “home” (aka the Northeast).  But I am here to report that this couldn’t be further from the truth.  While I am quite happy living abroad, I do miss friends, family, and familiar places from all of my homes.  These are, after all, the things that make a home.  It certainly isn’t easy to miss holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and impromptu get togethers that turn into the best nights, but through all of this,  I have gained so much appreciation for my family, friends, and those familiar places.  I have learned to cherish them more, and  I have learned how to balance both forces of missing one home and being happy in another.  This balance is something that was difficult to strike at first, but understanding that it is possible to feel at home in more than one place has helped me to manage these forces.  This couldn’t have been more evident than when I was on the bus to the airport earlier today- a woman wearing a Red Sox hat sat down next to me.  Upon seeing this symbol of one of my homes, I got excited for my return, until .03 seconds later when I looked out the window of the bus, the only view in sight being Edinburgh Castle.  The forces battled and neither won out.

To every thing there is a season.  Taking comfort in these words brings peace to a move that is not exactly on my terms.  Luckily, seasons come back around, but in the meantime, it’s time to yield to the forces I cannot control, take a few chances in my career, work towards my 2018 goals, and spend some quality time with one of my other homes.  Ready or not, I start my teaching career in the morning.  All the best, Christina Rose.

Redemption in Reykjavik

For the past sixteen months, I’ve been running for redemption.  I’ve talked openly about my bittersweet and barefoot run through Boston and DNS in Berlin, and finally, I am pleased to report that I’ve run a strong marathon.  I trusted my training, fueled and hydrated properly, and left everything I had on the roads of Reykjavik.

A poor performance during a race that you trained oh so diligently for can be as frustrating as an unanswered text message, but a botched race can also motivate you through another training season, to the start line of another race, and on to another finish line.  You can also learn a lot from a rough run.  It was the pain of running Boston and the disappointment of sitting out of Berlin that fueled my fire this season.  Every long run, hill rep, lap swum, lunge, squat, wall sit, early morning spin class, and late night foot soak had some of this fire and a whole lot of heart (No matter the race performance, let us never forget the underlying reasons as to why we run).

After a training season that went strangely well, I boarded a plane for Reykjavik.  I’ve had many a stop over in Reykjavik, but this was the first time I got to leave my favorite airport.  I spent two lovely days exploring Reykjavik and Iceland’s Golden Circle.  I certainly didn’t dislike it, but since honesty is the best policy, I’ll also say that what I was able to see of Iceland definitely caters to tourists and receives a great deal of hype.  That being said, race weekend was still incredible, and I do recommend a visit to Iceland (specifically for hot dogs and Icelandic donuts).

In a twist of events, it turned out that I would be tackling this race solo, which added to pre-race jitters and sparked a bit of fear and flashbacks to the breathing-induced back pain during and after last year’s Boston Marathon.  With that as my last marathon memory, it was easy to wonder, “What if that happens again, but this time I am alone and in a foreign country?”  Thankfully though, I learned from my mistakes and was determined to not let that happen again.

Okay, now on to the good stuff.  The air was cool and crisp and the sun was shining as I headed out of the hostel and to the start line.  Right then and there, I knew it would be a good day for racing.

After a crowded first mile, I locked into a comfortable pace and pretty much checked out until mile 11 when I looked at my watch and thought, “Wait, when did I run 11 miles?”.  This was the first time I’ve raced a marathon with a GPS watch, and it definitely helped to keep me on pace.  The course was flat compared to what I am used to, which tends to bore me, but it was also incredibly scenic and the spectators were lively.  My new maple syrup fueling plan proved successful, as evidenced by no GI issues and a measly wall-hitting experience of roughly 4 minutes.  The last few miles ran along the coast and were very quiet.  My legs were tired, but on autopilot, and this was more of a mental challenge than anything else.  Luckily the scenery and blue skies were there to help me through.  Also, the smell of low tide put a little pep in my step so I could get back into town more quickly.  And suddenly I made it to another finish line, but this time feeling stronger than ever before.

I definitely missed the physical presence of my Support Crew and running buddies, but know that they were rooting for me from various corners of the world.

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you to all of the friendly runners and travelers at the hostel, race, and around town for sharing stories, advice, and travel recommendations.
  • Thank you to Reykjavik for an incredible race and post-race festival/fireworks show.  Iceland surely knows how to party!
  • Thank you to my Support Crew, a team of friends and family who have taken on a whole new role recently.  While they couldn’t stand along the race route with cowbells and wet paper towels, they were pretty fantastic at supporting from afar.  Furthermore, the Support Crew has consistently been by my figurative side lately, offering plenty of advice and perspectives on my post-Master’s degree quandary/waiting game.  I can’t express my appreciation enough for the Crew xoxo

Lucky Number Thirteen

I laughed to myself when I realized I’d be toeing the line of my thirteenth half marathon this weekend.  I laughed because I still can’t believe that distance running is a thing that I do, better yet, a thing that I enjoy.  In the moments following every finish line, I usually find myself wondering, “How did I pull this one off?”

Every race is challenging- some physically, some mentally, but many both.  Completing thirteen half marathons in the past four years and all of the training in between has unknowingly taught me a lot, specifically about enduring, persevering, adapting, and the importance of hard work.  It has also taught me how to effectively pop blisters, another valuable life skill.

Running certainly wasn’t easy at first, but now I feel free when I hit the road, and every worry on my mind, no matter the size, is kicked to the curb.  Running provides a window of opportunity to think, and better yet, time to not think.

During that window of time, it doesn’t matter that people haven’t answered your text messages, that you haven’t landed a job yet (keyword: yet), or even an interview for that matter, or that you didn’t write as many words for your dissertation today as you would have liked.  Sure, some of those worries slap you in the face when you stop your Garmin and slip off your sneakers, but for a brief moment in time, the worries, annoyances, and frustrations of the day cease.

Thirteen half marathons calls for a lot of training.  I’ve learned how to pass the miles in a variety of ways.  I’ve spent many a mile making pro-con lists about big decisions, thinking about lesson plans, chatting with friends, answering the occasional phone call, making up funny stories about people I pass on the street, and belting out the Hamilton soundtrack from start to finish (yes, runs can last that long).  I’ve spent many miles not thinking at all, laughing at the stories told by Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Rachel Dratch in their audiobooks, feeling like part of the action while trail running to the Hunger Games, absolutely jamming out to the Spice Girls, enjoying pure silence, and sometimes all I can focus on is the pounding of my rough-day elephant feet on the pavement.

No matter what I’m doing from mile to mile, it always ends up being enjoyable.  Sometimes the miles feel less than great, or the pace is frustratingly off what I know I’m capable of, but other days the miles feel fantastic and every step is effortless.

This weekend I crossed the finish line of the Skye Half Marathon with a new PR and asking the ever-burning question of, “How did I pull this one off?”  The (very) hilly course and pouring rain perfectly matched the dramatic landscape of Skye and made for an incredible race.  Most of the spectators were sheep, and there were plenty of friendly runners to keep morale high throughout the race.  The course didn’t mess around, as the first incline began right out of the gate, through the first mile, and continued to roll until another long and steady incline in the eighth mile.  From there it was uphill and into the wind through mile ten where the course then made way for a mostly downhill finish.  The final three miles were a mental challenge, but I caught that train and finished with a burst of speed and my head held high.

In amazement of pulling off another race, I was handed a local beer and medal for my efforts, which is the perfect ending to any race story, but only the beginning of a wonderful weekend touring the Isle of Skye.  The jaw-dropping landscape of Skye was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and made a post-race hike impossible to pass up, beating the tired legs into submission. One of my favorite destinations throughout my year of Scottish travels, I definitely recommend a visit.

Thank You Notes

  • Thank you to maple syrup for being excellent mid-race fuel.
  • Thank you to the group of nice gentlemen I spent the weekend with (many of whom were running their first ever half!!) for letting me crash their Skye Adventure.  Kudos on a race well run!
  • Thank you to my Sister/Best Friend for coming to visit last month.  I miss you tons, come back please.
  • Than you to my laptop for holding its own in its old age as we near the finish line of the Master’s degree.  Please keep it up.

How to Satisfy Wanderlust at 23

This post is part III of III in a series about a Spring Break Adventure and Frugal Travel.  (Click here for part I and part II)

People often ask me how I travel so much.  The answer is very simple: work, save, travel, repeat.  I certainly didn’t work 14 hour days at camp or bus tables until midnight for nothing.  I prioritized, planned, and saved to travel, and haven’t looked back.  A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on top of a mountain in the Arctic Circle watching the sunset in the distance, and thought back to a night this time last year where I was working late, scrubbing guacamole and congealed nacho cheese off a table at a local restaurant in the Boston neighborhood I used to call home.  Suddenly it was worth it.

It takes a lot of careful planning and research, but traveling, and traveling well, in your twenties is possible.  You do need to be willing to spend money, but there are plenty of ways to see the world on a budget, which is why doing your research is so important.

Because people often ask about my “big secret” to traveling so much, I’ve compiled a list of ways to see the world like a local and on a budget:

  • Go to school abroad-  If you have to go to school to progress in your career path, go abroad.  There are plenty of programs ranging from two weeks, to one semester, to one year, to entire degrees at universities abroad (fear not, most schools accept FAFSA).  There isn’t a major you could study that can’t benefit from an academic experience abroad.  Don’t use your credits or lab requirements as an excuse.  It’s always possible.  The great thing about going to a foreign university is that you get to experience a new academic system, new culture, and sometimes a new language.  Also, your host university is probably a lot closer to all the action than your home university, so it’s quick and easy to escape to Budapest for a long weekend if you’d like and still be on time for class the next morning.
  • Look for flight deals and one-ways-  Looking at flights can be overwhelming when there are so many different websites offering the “lowest fare.”  My starting point is always Google Flights because it is a very simple platform without crazy popup ads.  Europe has plenty of “budget” airlines that offer cheaper than cheap airfare around the continent.  Some of the airlines have even ventured to North America.  If you don’t mind no-frills traveling, you can go transatlantic for under $200, provided you supply your own food, water, and entertainment for the journey.  My other recommendation when it comes to flying with budget airlines is to travel only with a carry-on.  The tickets are so cheap because they usually charge an arm and a leg to check bags (this isn’t true for all budget carriers though), so invest in a good sized backpack and test its limits with how much you can stuff inside.
  • Hostels-  Staying in hostels is a fantastic way to travel cheaply and meet people from all over the world.  I’ve hardly ever paid more than $10/night to stay in a hostel and have had a wide range of experiences.  I’ve met some incredible people, taken some horrible showers, and learned how to adequately stuff a duvet in the dark from the top bunk.  At the end of the day, it’s part of the adventure, a place to sleep, and store your backpack.  The exciting thing about hostels is that you literally never know what you’re going to get.  Some have breakfast and towels included in the price, others offer pub crawls, walking tours, and bikes for hire.  I recently stayed in a hostel in Tallinn that offered free “Welcome Beer”.  Always be sure to check out the reviews before booking, and make location a top priority if you’re traveling solo.
  • Cook In-  Another great accommodation alternative is Airbnb.  You can usually rent an entire flat or a room in a flat right in the heart of town!  I pretty much stayed in a hallway in Tromsø, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.  I also know someone who’s Airbnb ended up being a beanbag chair, so be sure to read reviews before booking.  The great thing about staying in an Airbnb is that you have access to a kitchen, which means you can save money by cooking instead of eating out.  Some people think this defeats the purpose of traveling and exploring local cuisine, but I tend to disagree.  Have you ever grocery shopped in a foreign language?  Still not convinced?  Check out this article.
  • Public Transit-  Did you know that public transportation in Estonia is free for all citizens?  Or that Budapest has the second oldest metro system in the world?  I adore public transportation so much that I have an evolving rank of cities with the best.  Taking public transportation to and from the airport and around town is the best way to see a city like a local.  It can be challenging at times because every city has its own norms when it comes to purchasing and validating tickets, but it’s often a fun challenge.  My other favorite alternative is to walk everywhere.  It might take a little longer, but you never know what you’ll stumble upon.
  • Don’t Buy Water-  If the tap water is drinkable in the country you’re visiting, use it.  Don’t waste your hard-earned money on water, especially because it can be more cost effective to buy beer in many parts of Europe than to pay for water.
  • Free Walking Tours-  Free walking tours are a fantastic way to get your bearings in a new city.  Local guides work for tips and show you great spots around town to eat and drink like a local, point out places to avoid, and give a nice historical overview of the city.  Many cities offer free walking tours every day of the week.
  • Museums-  Check out which museums are free, the best ones usually are!  And many others offer great student discounts.
  • Over Night Transportation-  Traveling via an overnight train or bus tends to be cheaper and cuts out a night of accommodation costs.  Once you’ve accepted that you won’t get the greatest night’s sleep, you’ll warm up to the idea and also “wake up” in a new city to explore, so it’s worth it.  Sleep when you’re dead, right?
  • Student ID-  If you still have a student ID, use it and abuse it.  You can get into plenty of museums for free or for a discounted rate by flashing that fancy university card with a less than favorable old photo of yourself.  But the savings don’t stop there!  Train tickets, bus tickets, and meal deals galore!  Never be afraid to ask if a place offers a student discount, because they don’t always advertise it.
  • Bring a book and a journal-  I like to plan down time when I’m traveling because it can be easy to cram too much into one day when you’re exploring a new city.  To prevent burnout, I always bring a book and a journal for a little down time in a local café, park, or library.  This also comes in handy when you’ve already walked around in the rain for three hours and just want a little break and a pastry.

So, if you don’t mind a no-frills, shove-everything-in-your-backpack, sleep-on-a-train experience, then the world is your oyster!  Becoming a Citizen of the World at the age of 20 was one of the greatest decisions I have made thus far, which is low-key impressive for someone with a fear of flying to say.  With careful planning and research, traveling well in your twenties is manageable, and will shape your outlook on the world, teach you more than the classroom ever could, and present history from a new perspective.