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How to Survive Coachella Music Festival

5 May

Desert. Endless miles of walking. Tents. Oven-baked porta-potties. Hydration stations swarming with sweaty humans. And of course, 200 live acts of eargasmic musical performances that will change your zen forever, man.

It’s a battle in the desert, so here are some tips on how to survive Coachella Music Festival and still enjoy your 3-day musical journey.

Camp out with your pants out

  • SKIP THE HOTEL. Not only are you spending boatloads of money on top of the $350 RFID wristband, you’re totally losing out on the Coachella experience. Grunge it up, mingle with your kind, and don’t be a pansy. 
  • DON’T PROCRASTINATE. Sensible Simon should tell you to purchase your camp site / car camping passes at the same time you purchase your Coachella ticket. However, most of us music-festers don’t know who Sensible Simon is and got ultimately  SCREWED when all these passes were bought up by evil scalpers. Instead of being sold for $75 at face value, you’d see them being sold on Craigslist for $150-$300! Hale-to-the-No.
  • CAR CAMPING > TENT CAMPING. The way the lots were arranged this year, the tent lot was furthest away from the music stages – although it was definitely quieter, making it easier to get some sleep – it was SOOO FAR! In the desert, every step you take feels like an eternity. With car camping the lots are closer to the music venues and you can obviously pack a lot more supplies to help you survive Coachella – ie. coolers, beer, grills, blow-up dolls etc.  You can also easily fit 2-3 tents in one car camping spot. If you and a couple of friends get car camping passes – you could totally combine forces and build a giant mega-fort! Awesome! Only downside, if even – it’s a lot livelier and noisier, so you may not get all that much sleep (which is why you pack red bull).
  • DANCE. NAP. DANCE.  Another reason to camp. You’re going to be so exhausted from all the concerts that you’re going to be so thankful that you can just walk to your tent and crash for a bit. If you stay at a hotel, you won’t be able to do this and you probably won’t enjoy Coachella as much because of the exhaustion.


  • SUNBLOCK. You’re in the desert! Do you want skin cancer? WHY ARE YOU WEARING PAINT ON YOUR FACE?  Don’t forget to bring chapstick with sun protection as well.
  • SUNGLASSES. For obvious reasons. The laser show at night!
  • WATER CONTAINER. Water is $2.00. Gatorade is $4.00. Coachella has hydrating stations with filtered water that’s FREE. I didn’t bring one and as a result I spent $100 on water in order to keep myself hydrated.
  • WET ONES TOWELETTE WIPES. You may need this to take a “hippy shower.” Or after a trip to the porta-potty. This seriously was something I was glad to have with me.
  • TAMPONS. They are like $7.00 for a pack of 5. Ridiculously expensive. Bring them for bloody noses, because of the dry climate weather. Yea…that’s it…
  • COMFY, LIGHT, BREEZY CLOTHES. It’s hot. No need to dress to impress. 
  • PANTS & HOODIE. The reason why the desert gets so hot is due to the thin atmosphere and lack of water. The heat penetrates through this thin layer making it very hot in the day. And guess what, at night the heat disappears and  it can drop to around 40-50 degrees.
  • FLIP-FLOPS & SNEAKERS. Sneakers for long-distance walking and extreme bio-dome dancing. Flip-flops for the showers.
  • UMBRELLA FOR YOUR TENT. This sounds weird, but if you can put some type of umbrella or another tent on top of your tent – you will be able to get some more shade. You couldn’t sleep past 7AM because the sun would penetrate the tent and singe your forehead.
  • COLGATE WISPS. For those times you lose your toothbrush and yo breath seriously stanks. (Thx Sam!)


  • Indian feather headdress
  • Body/face paint (sweating + body paint = smelly hipster creature)
  • Flannel shirt
  • Gladiator sandals
  • Babies (seriously, I saw babies there, wtf?)
  • Frugalness – just face it, you’re going to spend lots of money
  • DSLR cameras – unless you want it to explode


You probably won’t read tips like this before departing rainy Boston for sunny California. The night before you fly you’ll probably order a tent and sleeping bag and ship it overnight to your parent’s house in Chino Hills. You’ll also only get 1 hr of sleep. Then you will drive to the desert, stopping by In-n-Out for an animal-style burger along the way. Then you’ll pick up a Coachella wristband from some rando you found on FB and meet him at a grocery store in the middle of nowhere. Then you’ll arrive to Coachella at around midnight – only to drive around the Polo Field anchovied in amazing traffic in the middle of the night. Then you’ll nap in an abandoned church parking lot, because you won’t know what else to do. Then you’ll wake up –  discover a tiny residential neighborhood 3 miles outside of the venue – and park your car with the risk of getting towed. At 1AM you’ll be running through the desert with coyotes howling at you. After security gropes your belongings and you get checked in, you’ll wander aimlessly with your luggage weighing you down – redialing your couchsurfing friend Nolan who was supposed to hook you up with a tent spot. Unfortunately, Nolan is probably drunk and wasted and won’t pick up his phone. Finally, you’ll give up and plop down out of exhaustion – where you’ll set up your tent illegally and probably on somebody else’s spot. BUT! YOU’LL GET AWAY WITH IT – for the entire weekend – without having to pay a single dime for parking or camping! And Sensible Sam will cry in his corner. And you will have an awesome, mind-blowing, fantastical, magical time enjoying all of your favorite bands – questioning why Lauryn Hill is wearing a beanie – laughing at Cee Lo Green as he rants on stage – and then eat lots of food that costs $8. 
For more information check out Coachella’s website.

MALAYSIA: Will Ferrell, Climbing, Hitchhiking, & Oil Rig Diving

7 Dec

1. Climbing Mt. Kinabalu with Will Ferrell’s Doppelganger and No Pants

After spending a week hanging out in Hong Kong during monsoon season, I thought it was time to get out of the muggy city rain and off to somewhere…else.  I took the extremely silent train to the Hong Kong international airport and boarded the first plane leaving to a South East destination – KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA!

When stepping down from the airplane I was hit in the face with the apocalyptic heat and humidity SE Asia is so well-known for – I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to sleep that night. No worries.

In the immigration line I realized I forgot to fill out a landing card – I kindly asked the man behind me to hold my spot in line while I grabbed a landing card. When I returned, the man asked me if I was an American – I took one look at him and I thought to myself, Oh my god, Will Ferrell’s doppelganger is hitting on me in the immigration line.

“Excuse me, are you from America?”
“Yup, I’m from California. You?”
“Oh, that’s awesome! I’m from Florida…what are you doing here?”
“Dude, I have noooo idea. What about you guys?” I looked at the small, sickly man standing next to him.“Well, if you’re looking for something to do – my friend Scott here got really bad food poisoning and can’t go mountain climbing tomorrow, so  I have an extra spot if you want to go.”
“Wait…there’s a mountain here?! OKAY, I’ll go!”

I was really lucky to meet Will Ferrell. Apparently you need reservations months in advance to climb this 13,435 ft. mountain during peak season.  Will and I exchanged emails and promised to meet at the “North Bus Station” at 7AM the next morning.

Well, as luck would have it – the “North Bus Station” doesn’t exist and it was actually called some other complicated Malaysian name. Spending too much time haggling and miscommunicating with cab drivers, I ended up missing the 7AM bus. When I finally arrived to the bus station my cab was SWARMED & SURROUNDED by touters –  I had to bat away the little brown hands that were grabbing at my backpack  and forcing me out of the cab – their weird aggressive way of showing hospitality. As a solo female traveler it was kind of an overwhelming experience and I was ready to judo chop anyone that would try and jack me.

I finally found my way onto a bus for $15 to the base of Mt. Kinabalu. When I arrived, the ladies at the front desk asked me for my reservation.

“Uh….I’m with P. Ranger.”
“But P. Ranger has left already with his guide. And Scott S. has canceled.”
“But…I’m taking Scott’s place. I have to climb the mountain.”
“But do you have a package?”
“No…but P. Ranger said it was Okay for me to climb the mountain.”

Oh, the power of name-dropping. After 15 minutes of saavy Changsuasion, I convinced them that I was fast enough to catch up with Will Ferrell and start the mountain climb alone.

I climbed for about 2 hours completely alone and was sweating my ass off. Should have brought my iPod. On my way to the half-way point Laban Rata, I saw little Malaysian men carrying backpacks twice their size while smoking cigarettes. I also saw some old ladies with canes. How the hell? I’m like dying.

I finally caught up with Will Ferrell at the half-way point. The half-way camp was filled with what looked like hardcore mountaineers. I wasn’t feeling sociable and gorged myself in Malaysian food and passed out at 7PM – then we woke up at 3AM to begin our climb to the summit. I had to buy gloves and rent a headlamp. Mr. Ferrell let me borrow his beanie and long socks. Everyone made fun of me for wearing shorts. So KIND!

4 hours later in the bitter, cold darkness we made it to the top! The sunrise was beautiful but I was freezing my ass off too much to enjoy it. I felt like a badass wearing only shorts, as I looked around the hoards of people wearing snowboarding-like gear. They had their hardcore hiking shoes; I just had my Aasics running shoes. Pfff, I did this in my sleep. Take that, old cane lady!

The terrain was so interesting – long stretches of flat rock and weird rock shapes that reminded me of Salvador Dali’s abstract paintings. It was really different from the bottom half of the mountain – all jungle-y and wild. Will was cracking me up, he kept filming himself while we were climbing the mountain as if we were in a documentary film. Will post videos soon.

Will & I decided to take on the WORLD’S HIGHEST VIA FERRATA! A 5-hour technical climb alongside Mt. Kinabalu – basically hanging off the side of the mountain with only 2 cables and a harness attached to you. It was fun, grueling, and not that hard compared to climbing UP the mountain. Check out the rest of the Mt. Kinabalu photos set.

8 hours later I found myself at the base of the mountain, saying farewell to Will Ferrell as he sped off to complete the next phase of the package deal: hot springs. I later found out that the hot springs sucked and wasn’t worth the money.

I was sitting by the side of the road with crystalized sweat drying on my forehead. Most people stay at the hotel after climbing the mountain – but me, I didn’t have a reservation. The area was desolate save a trucker-stop type of restaurant across the highway. I went in and asked if there was a way to get back to the city. Apparently they sell bus tickets but I could also buy it when I get on. I felt lazy so I just sat around waiting for the bus. But it never came.

2. So I hitchhiked.

As I loitered on the side of the road, these two Malaysian-born Chinese guys rolled up in a black SUV and asked me where I was going in broken English. I noticed that one of the guys was drinking a Guiness and had a tooth missing. I told them I needed to get back to the city, Kota Kinabalu. They were headed that way too……..So I hopped in their car. We got to talking and I learned that Mr. Gap-tooth was Andy, the #1 supermarket store-owner in his town – his competitive advantage? He’s the only guy in town that sells ice! The driver, who spoke better English – he wore a cheap plastic watch on his left hand with Tom & Jerry cartoon characters on it. You guessed it, his name was Tom. How could these two Malay guys have such Americanized names? Apparently that’s a common trend in Malaysia – they’ve all got American names. I soon realized this when the two random kids sleeping in the back popped out of nowhere and scared the crap out of me. These two little random Asian kids were named Amanda and Gregory. Normal panicked thoughts were going through my head: Okay, so should I save these kids…or…what the heck is going on? How tall are these guys? Can I take them? I can take them. I just climbed a mountain, will I be able to run? OMG.

Turns out, these people were the nicest ever! When we got back to the city, Andy picked up his wife Sandra and they took me out to dinner – Chinese style! They really appreciated that I was an American-born Chinese person, and they felt like they could relate to me – they couldn’t speak Chinese either. It was nice to eat Chinese food because in my opinion, the Malaysian cuisine wasn’t very good – kind of like vegetarian slop that’s been sitting out for awhile. I wish I had photos, but they were on my old iPhone which got stolen in HK. We’re totally Facebook friends now, though. So after I sid good-bye to my new pseudo family…

2.5. I Rode a Moped w/ Tamas &realized there was nothing to do in Kota Kinabalu. Except creepy Karaoke.

‘Nuff said. I peaced out shortly thereafter.

3. Scuba Diving Off an Old Oil Rig – Mabul & Sipidan Island

I booked a flight out of Kota Kinabalu and flew to Tawau Airport, the southeast side of Borneo/Sabah part of Malaysia. I hitched a ride with this Australian family and rode 2 hours to a dirty-ass town called Semporna, the rancid pit-stop that ALL people must stay overnight in, before heading out to Sipadan/Mabul Island for world-class scuba diving. Semporna is a tiny, heavily polluted town filled with dive shops and a couple of eateries and shops. Worst place ever, it totally sucks.

Next morning I hopped on a speedboat, and for about 40 RM (hefty price, I know) I was able to get a ride to Mabul Island, where I couchsurfed for the night. WORD OF ADVICE: If you want to dive at Sipadan, you should most definitely book a package deal including airport, transfer, overnight stay in Semporna/Mabul Island, dives, and back. It was the worst logistical nightmare to do it the way I did and the dive shops are very inflexible when it comes to letting stragglers like me mess up their system. I’m not a package-deal fan, but in this case it would have been easier.

Mabul is a micro-tiny island – you can walk around the entire island in 40 minutes, at a leisurely pace. One half of the island is occupied by a beautiful resort, the other half is scattered with poor rickety long houses made out of plank woods on stilts. Naked kids running around, the occasional stench of septic tank (at least there was one), and plastic trash along the beach. For an island that caters to the scuba diving community, it was shocking and surprising to see that the island and water around it was so filthy. Still, it was cool to see professional scuba divers and local islanders co-exist on such a small plot of land. I even got to watch a soccer match between the island-folk and was eaten alive by mosquitos. The best thing I saw on Mabul island were these two girls that caught a swordfish:

The next day I got a boat ride to Seaventure’s Oil Rig – man, this was like the Hilton of dive resorts in Malaysia. For about 500RM ($150) per day, you get unlimited house reef dives, 3 Sipidan dives, DELICIOUS FOOD all day long, A/C, towels, locker, scuba diving equipment rental and an awesome staff that plays a cover band. It was heaven to have life be so easy on this oil rig. I stayed here for about 6 days and didn’t want to leave! I got to see the blue-ringed octopus, one of the most venomous creatures in the world – as well as turtles, flamboyant cuttlefish, school of bumperhead parrotfish, and white-tip sharks. Check out my Sipadan scuba diving underwater photos – I used the Canon G11 Powershot with the Canon underwater housing. I also got to meet three lovely Norwegian boys, who I ended up visiting later on in my travels.

So that pretty much sums up one of my most spontaneous traveling experiences. If you have any other questions and if you would like more information on the places I stayed at, post a comment and I’d be happy to help you.

Dealing With Post-Traveling Ennui

3 Dec

The problem with leading an exciting, adventurous  life  is that you have to balance it all out with a mind-numbingly boring existence – either before or after your journey. “For the good can only exist when holding hands with evil.” Actually I just made up that quote, but feel free to spread it like a winter flu.

So how does one deal with the crushing force of ennui (another fancy word for BOREDOM) when coming back home after a long, eye-opening journey? Some people spend time catching up with old friends to reminisce about how much nothing has changed. Others flock to the watering hole at beer o’ clock, which can be any time of the day. I mean you’re global now, so even if you’re drinking at 6am there’s definitely a happy hour taking place somewhere in the world, right? Others cope with post-traveling gloom by taking up hobbies such as knitting, archery or blogging. And me? What do I do? I take pictures of my foot at work to ease the pain:

Yup. That’s my foot creepin’ up behind my computer monitor in front of me. Yup, I took a picture of it as an act of rebellion against office life and to feel like I’m being adventurous, within the confines of my 6 x 6 cubicle. Take that, office job.

I’ve been learning how to  cope with my post-traveling depression in other ways as well. Sometimes, I steal cones and give them rides to unknown destinations:

If I don’t get to travel, then at least that orange cone does. I mean, poor cone. You gotta feel bad for him – standing out there all day long begging for attention with his orange finesse. And what do people do? They just straight up ignore him! Knocking him over like he’s not even there for a reason.

So after 3 months of being back, I think I’ve learned how to cope pretty darn well. I mean, I don’t get to climb mountains or meet exotic foreign travelers anymore. But I do get to meet people like this guy:

Yea, we pounded fists. I think I’ll refer him to howaboutwe.com.

So, that’s how I’ve been dealing with my post-traveling ennui. What about you guys? How have you guys been coping?

10 Tips on How to Make Pseudo Traveling Friends While Traveling Solo

1 Dec

Besides money, one of the biggest reasons why people are afraid to travel is fear of loneliness. Many refuse to travel unless they find “the ideal traveling partner” and as such are doomed to eternal pining and an unsatisfied soul. I know this because I used to be one of those people. Well, NO MORE! I’ve visited over 15 countries solo and have made tons of pseudo traveling friends all over the world – thus, I’m pretty much pro at this and have never felt lonely traveling. Below are some of my general tips on how you can find pseudo traveling friends everywhere you go.

General Tips:

  1. Be observant. Look for any signs that may create common ground between you and the people around you. Look for people that are alone. If you really want to take the easy road, try to look for Americans. They’re generally the friendliest and most ignorant, I’ve found. It’s easy to spot them by the way they dress: sports T-shirts, baseball caps, and the rambunctious way they are laughing & taking shots at the bar are obvious red flags.
  2. Eye contact. All you have to do is maintain eye contact for at least 3 seconds and smile. This is best in a bar setting,  but can also be applied in other public settings – like a coffee shop with free WI-FI (This is important! Fellow travelers are ALWAYS on the free WI-FI hunt, so you will definitely find a gang of them at WI-FI hotspots).
  3. Ask for help. The best way to strike up a conversation with a stranger is to ask them advice questions such as: “Yo, do you know if that jungle tour is totally awesome?” or “Do you know where the nearest pickle store is?” and more importantly, “Do you know where’s the best and cheapest place to rage tonight?” Actually, my favorite time is when we picked up a British guy in Times Square that just got off the airplane. All he had to ask was “Do you know where the bars are?” And he was immediately invited to join us girls on an awesome bar adventure.
  4. Be confident. Or as my friend Dan Gilroy once put it, “Walk into the room as if you have a 12-inch cock.” Sounds crazy, but it’s such a confidence booster. And people are drawn to confidence like Irish men are to whiskey. Scientific fact. And remember, don’t slouch.
  5. Memorize foreign phrases. Build up a data bank so that you can spew out random foreign phrases when you meet people from these countries. My random knowledge of German, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese phrases has gotten me very far in life.
  6. Be memorable & dare to be different. Wear something unique and brightly colored as a conversation-starter. I wear this owl necklace that people can’t help but caress and touch. Also, avoid being the first person to ask basic intro questions such as:  “Where are you from and why are you traveling?” Instead, talk about random, obscure topics like the scientific origin of eggplants or that one time you were hanging out in Inner Mongolia. Make yourself an interesting and compelling person and more importantly, make the other person ask YOU the basic intro questions.  As an interesting person they’ll want to get to know you and thus it will be harder for them to say ‘No’ when you invite them on a random adventure.
  7. Think of an awesome event, place, or activity to do in advance. Try to bring it up in conversation and BAM! Pseudo traveling friend can’t resist your awesome adventure idea. For example, “Hey, did you know that the world music festival is being held in that rain forest 4 hours away? Wanna split a tuk-tuk?”
  8. Don’t be afraid to spend some quality time with a stranger. Pretend that you’ve known this person for 10 years and it’s been awhile since you last saw each other. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward, you freakin’ platypus.
  9. At first, always be gentle in your approach. Don’t surprise them or come off too aggressive by being SUPER energetic and eager when you walk up to them. Try to be quaint, respectful and non-prodding. If you’re at a loud bar, disregard this tip. Being loud and energetic in conversation is okay when you’re drunk and there’s a big crowd around.
  10. DON’T BE CLINGY. This is a rule you should always follow in life. People, especially travelers, tend to flee at any sign of clinginess. I know I do. Be appreciative and revel in the adventure you’re having with this pseudo friend – but definitely don’t expect them to be around forever. If there’s chemistry and some type of cosmic force bringing you two together, then you’ll happily discover that you’re both coincidentally headed towards the same direction on your journey.

At the hostel:

  1. When booking a hostel, make sure you choose to stay in the room with the most beds. Usually these are the cheapest beds, and it’s also a sure-fire way to meet other travelers like yourself.
  2. Stay at a hostel that has its own bar. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with a drunk foreigner. Almost too easy.

At the airport/bus station:

Follow general tip #1 (Be Observant) and find people that are reading books that look interesting. Nonchalantly sit next to them and say, “Oh man! I’ve always wanted to read that book! How is it…?” And let the conversation slide from there. Note: Don’t approach those that are listening to iPods, these folks generally don’t want to be bothered and aren’t leaving themselves open to conversation. Only approach if they’re really, really cute and you’ve got nothing to lose.

On the plane/bus:

If there’s open seating on the plane, sit next to someone that looks like they’re your age and traveling alone. Usually they’re also solo travelers or at least open to conversation. Don’t be too bothersome….people need their space. Break the conversation by doing your own thing – but make sure you find out if they’re doing anything fun at the destination you’re headed towards and see if you can join.

On the Interwebz:

This should be at the top of the list – in my experience, using the internet as a resource has been one of the best ways to connect with other travelers on-the-go. I mainly use Couchsurfing.org or Travbuddy.com. As a last-minute, spontaneous traveler, I often don’t take the time to strike up conversations and will just post in the CS Last Minute Couch Request group in whatever country I’m headed towards. I usually get a few responses back, immediately. Check out my tips on How to Couchsurf or check out my other blog posts about couchsurfing.

Just remember:

Most people are afraid to take the first step. If you overcome your fear of rejection, you can overcome your fear of loneliness and solo traveling! Just know that you’ve got nothing to lose and even though you won’t always be successful, those pseudo traveling friends you DO make are going to be the best people you’ll ever meet in your entire life!

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please post a comment! OR if you want a live response, you can ask me a question on vyou.com!

How I Traveled to 21 Countries Throughout College

10 Nov

Bob: “I’m jealous. I wish I could travel as much as you do.”
Me: “So why don’t you?!”
Bob: “I’m too poor”; “I don’t know who I’d go with”; “I have too much going on.”

I have had this conversation more times than Antoine Dodson’s remix song has gotten stuck in your head. Fo’ real. I’m not trying to boast. I’d  like to demystify popular belief that traveling is tough on the wallet and share with you how I was able to travel without a trust fund, still able to earn legitimate work experience, and graduate from college. I traveled to 21 countries in 4 years (.43 countries per month) and it only took a bit of luck, time, and a loooooooooot of BJ’s.


I was fortunate enough to transfer from a tiny hick university in the Californian desert to the #1 co-op school in America. I got really lucky because when I chose this school I had no idea what a co-op was. For those of you that don’t know, a co-op is basically an internship on steroids that pays very well. Northeastern University has THE BEST network of companies that hire strictly from a pool of Northeastern students. I was a business marketing major and I did 3 co-ops and was paid around $20,000-$25,000 each year. Granted, I don’t know where 80% of the money went (burritos?) because I definitely did not spend that much on traveling. But that’s how I got some of the funds. Downside: I had to sacrifice my summer vacations. 6 months were spent working on co-op, the other 6 months were spent in classes.

Northeastern is also pumping out these great study abroad programs where you can take 2 classes abroad over the summer. For example, I took the last 2 classes of my college career in a tiny medieval village in Spain. I created a bronze cast of my boob (now featured in the lobby of Ryder Hall) and learned some inappropriate Spanish phrases while getting 8 credits out of it!


I am a creature of transit and have a strange paranoia of losing time. Although I had no summer vacations, every time I found an open week in my schedule I would find an excuse to travel. Downside: I started sacrificing time with friends and family at home. I made a selfish, life choice to pursue my passion in traveling and to actively keep global opportunities open. I still came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I would celebrate New Year’s in a different country.


When I was a Sophomore I decided that I needed to get with a BIG JET. So I signed up for a JetBlue American Express card and got a free flight immediately. I used the card to pay EVERYTHING – from $1 PBRs to thousands in tuition. I racked up some major points and got a bunch of free flights. I used one to fly from Boston to Colombia for free. Then I spent $3o0 from Colombia to Ecuador and stayed with my friend Stefi. Including the flight I spent a grand total of $650 for 2 countries, and 10 days of bungee jumps, Amazon jungle adventures, and chillin’ on the beach.  Not too shabby.

If you’re dedicated to traveling .43* countries per month then you must also take a BIG JUMP and DO IT ALONE. FLY HANS SOLO. You only have two eyeballs and two legs – it won’t help if you spend 50% of your time arguing with your soon to be ex-bf/gf on which museum will bore you the most. When traveling solo, it’s easier to make friends (you’re forced to). You can also go with the flow and have awesome places to stay for the future! For example, I met some friendly Norwegian dudes when I was traveling alone in Malaysia and then a few months later, I was able to have an amazing place to stay near the Fjords in Norway….for free! I also do a lot of couchsurfing – free places to crash around the world. This is where I saved a crapload of money. Downside: traveling alone can suck sometimes during long train rides. I will be posting more deets about how to effectively meet pseudo traveling friends later.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. Anybody can travel with a small budget. It just takes a bit of open-mindedness, due diligence in research, and the good times will roll.

If you ever need a traveling buddy – feel free to give me a shout-out on TRAVBUDDY or COUCHSURFING.

*Thanks Rafa for the calculation

INNER MONGOLIA & My 1ST Couchsurfing Experience

6 Oct


BEIJING, May 2009. So I was sitting at the public computer at Leo Hostel, after having just said 在见(good-bye) to traveling buddies Dawei & Stuart. I had about 2 extra days to kill before heading back to Shanghai. I decided, yo – Imma gonna head to INNER MONGOLIA! I tried to check train times, but of course China’s unreliable websites said nothing to me. I hopped onto couchsurfing.org and created a profile so I could crash somewhere for free.

When I ran the query for couchsurfing hosts in Inner Mongolia, only 8 results appeared. I clicked on the profile at the top of the list – ‘Nuppu from Finland.’ Nice reviews, cool desert pictures – couldn’t see her face, but whatever – safer to stay with a girl, right? Cool, doing it. So I messaged her:

Hi Nuppu!~ I am Allison from Los Angeles, CA. I’m taking a SPONTANEOUS trip to Inner Mongolia and was wondering if I could crash with you? This will be my first time. You seem like a really cool girl, I’ve never met anyone from Finland! I’m sorry this is so last minute, but hey that’s the nature of these things right? Please let me know as soon as you can! Thanks, Allison

RE: Hi Allison, yea sure you can crash here, when are you coming? Give me a call. Nuppu.

I gave her a call and she had a really cool English-sounding accent and I pictured her to have dark skin like an Indian-Eskimo (At that time I had no clue what Finnish people looked like).

I went to the train station via $2 cab, begged for the last standing seat (got bumped up to a hard sleeper) to depart Beijing at 11:31 PM and arrive to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia at around noon. I. was. so. excitedly freaked out. Here I was traveling solo being all cool with my knock-off Northface backpack I got for like $10 bucks and nobody knew that I was going to Inner Mongolia except for Nuppu. I’m such a badass.

The train ride was a bit boring…I was surrounded by a bunch of old Chinese people that I didn’t feel like talking to. One took a liking to me and I had to swat him away. I slept on the top hard-sleeper bunk and cuddled with my backpack out of fear that I would get mugged in my sleep (a common paranoia us travelers have). After having spent the last 6 months jailed in my Chinese dormitory with 20 horny Americans, it was so nice to travel on my own. I finally felt like I could be the traveler I wanted to be. Granted, I was still in China – but I felt great to be independent, alone, and unsure of the future.

I woke up to a Chinese lady yelling out some crazy ass words that had to do with breakfast. I decided to buy a pork-filled bun, mmmmm. I dazed off into the landscape passing by, arrid grasslands, rickity houses, muggy blue sky..then after a couple of hours I realized…when the hell am I supposed to get off? It’s noon! And right at that moment, I heard on the P A: ‘huhhohaute’ and I was like (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ??? should I stay, should I jump off the train ? ? ? ? ????crapcrapcrap ??) over and over in my head. I decided to make a run. I leapt off the train and looked at the signs all around me. No signs. Crap. I hope I’m in the right place. I called the Fin.

Thank God, my instinct is always correct, I had gotten off at the right stop – I took a cab to the address Nuppu gave me. Ended up at Inner Mongolia Da Xue. I waited at the guard’s gate for about 30 minutes – shootin’ the shit in my broken Chinese, hiding under the umbrella as a storm just came in. Finally in the distance I see a dark figure – Nuppu. As she walked closer and closer, I saw that she had really long hair sweeping in the wind………….on just one side of her head. The other side was completely shaved.  OKAY. I don’t wanna be a hater, but this was my first time couchsurfing so I was being all sorts of judgey in my mind – I kept thinking: is she a psycho? Is she going to kill me? Rape me? Her skin was as pale as Michael Jackson’s (RIP) and had strikingly blue eyes. I decided to brush off my thoughts and try to feel her personality out. We did some small talk on the way to her DORMITORY (didn’t see that in the fine print of her profile).

“So uh…Nuppu. That’s a cool name. Where are you from?” (I knew full well where she was from)
“I’m from Finland with an interest in studying Mongolian.”
“..Ohhhhh cool!! …!!! So……………I’m finally here! Inner Mongolia!”
“Why’d you decide to come here?”
“Oh, you know just being spontaneous. I wanna check out the desert. Someone told me about it and I thought it was cool. Why are you here?”
“I’m supposed to be studying Mongolian…but I find that I’m just learning a lot of Chinese instead.”

As we entered the dark corridor leading up to her room (imagine dungeon-like features) we entered her musky room. It was filthy & disgusting. Strange black dirt marks on the walls, floors, toilet seat. There were cobwebs in every corner. LIVE MOTHS FLITTING ABOUT AND STUCK TO THE WALLS. It was a studio-sized dorm and as I went to plop down my backpack and take a seat in the only chair in the room – I realized there was a pile of books on it with cobwebs all over it too. (SHIT. WTF, WTF). I look around and I realize that there is only ONE.TWIN.BED. Where the hell is the couch? Isn’t that whole reason for couchsurfing?

“So Nuppu…..ehm…. have you ever hosted before? ”
“Nope, you’re my first.”
(OH SHIT. I’m definitely going to die here. I have no way out)……………………….. ……. … after minutes of silence and noticing Japanese anime posters pasted over the cobwebs on her walls. I finally said, “So what’s there to do here?”
“Oh I dunno, I don’t get out much, I might go to a classical music concert later tonight.”
“Oh, okay cool. Hey, can I borrow your laptop!??” *nervous laugh*

I never typed so hard and fast in my entire life. I logged right back into Couchsurfing.org and saw a profile of a guy that looked like Chuck Norris who was from CA. Thank god. I messaged him frantically saying that I was in Inner Mongolia and that I needed to be saved, without leaving any details but my #. I got a phone call from him within 5 minutes and was off and left Nuppu behind.

This couchsurfing experience ended VERY VERY VERY happily and I met 2 of the most interesting and funniest people I’ve met on my world travels. We actually traveled to the Gobi Desert together and I went ATV riding and sandboarding. Below are the pictures from my awesome adventure.

Looking back now though…I’m sure Nuppu was a very nice girl. But I was very naive and narrow-minded and wanted my first couchsurfing experience to be a bit more normal. Oh well, life doesn’t roll that way.

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