An introduction to Israel

Our 24 hours of travel were as painless as a cleaning at the dentist. I snagged a window seat for the first long flight, the kosher airplane meals were surprisingly tasty, and they didn’t ask me a single question at customs. No one had their luggage lost, which I consider a major win for a group of 30!

Hummus, eggplant, “BBQ” chicken and dessert!

Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we got our Israeli cell phones, exchanged some dollars for shekels, and loaded up on our bus with our new staff.

Our Israeli tour guide for this trip, Irad, is a tough old bird who looks like Crocodile Dundee. He speaks at least four languages (that I’ve heard so far), served in the IDF for 20 years and has been teaching us Hebrew words and Israeli customs (hint: don’t use manners here).

The bus driver, Razor, looks like an aged drummer for a punk band. He sports greased, grey springy curls down to his shoulders and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. He is constantly smoking cigarettes and doesn’t speak much English, but he’s rad and hasn’t crashed yet.

Rafi is our security guard (and medic). A young buck of 25, he also served in the IDF and comes equipped with a 9 mm and Band-Aids. He is not very proficient in English, but we’ve becomes friends and communicate via hand gestures and the Google translate app.

The first night at our hotel (a decent three-star place in Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee) included a buffet dinner of grilled veggies, tilapia, lamb sausages and rolls. We did another round of icebreakers on the roof, then all crashed hard.

Our bus (#bus447) and the view from our hotel.

Bon Voyage!

Here’s my last update from American soil!

After packing my bag last night, I had to take out a good bit of stuff to make everything fit. I can still barely carry all my stuff at once, and look like a giant turtle when I’m all strapped up.

After a sad taxi ride out of New York (something about crossing the Williamsburg Bridge made it SO real), I made it to the airport and have met the rest of the Birthright crew: 30 kids from across the country (a lot of California friends!) who are just as stoked and scared about their travel plans as I am.

Found two other vagabonds who will be trekking without a plan after the 10 days in Israel is over, and hope to befriend them especially well.

I have a middle seat for our cross-Atlantic flight, and am praying for no babies or obese seat mates.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for a post from Tel Aviv!

3, 2, 1….

I’m freaking out, man.

I leave in three days. I have yet to pack up my room in Brooklyn, pack up my backpack (this itsy-bitsy 40L pack is making this a struggle), or unpack all my emotions into comprehensible words.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 2.28.54 PMI have SO MUCH STUFF. No one needs as much clothing as I have. Even though I gave away three big trash bags full when I moved a month ago, I still have two complete wardrobes—one at my boyfriend’s house in the East Village, and one at mine in Greenpoint. I have oodles of purses (despite my collection being stolen during a move in Bushwick last year). I have more cosmetic products than a Walgreens, and more shoes than Imelda Marcos.

I still need to download books to my new iPad, find my travel sewing kit, sell my bike, donate another few bags of stuff, and pick up the photos I printed (it’s nicer to hand someone a pic of your family than your iPhone). I’m not sure what to give my boyfriend as a going away gift. I still can’t decide what sort of jacket to bring.

All my Amazon purchases have arrived safely. My dad sent me a bunch of genealogical info about the McCourts who came from Ireland. I have poured over a few paper guidebooks and every single travel blog on the Internet. I downloaded all the top-rated free travel apps. I tested out my towel.

It’s exhilarating and terrifying to know that in a week I’ll be in Israel, and in three weeks, I’ll be….somewhere in Europe.

Silly American

My bff in NYC this summer is Yvonne, an award-winning journalist from Switzerland with a blazing mane of curls. She decided to take a few months to travel in America, and came to New York without much of a plan. We met through Airbnb—she stayed in my apartment for a few nights before moving to her permanent sublet down the street. We instantly hit it off, and have been inseparable buddies even since, living a summer of “solo yolo” in the city.

The luxury apartment building Yvonne ended up in was much nicer than my grimy Alphabet City walk-up. I’m not picky—I feel blessed I had a relatively affordable apartment in the East Village with an accessible roof, my own room and a bathroom with a door (New York really teaches you how low you’re willing adjust the bar on your standard of living).

Yvonne’s rooftop however, is in a league of its own.

skyline nyc

Perched 14 stories up on the corner of 7th and Avenue B, this rooftop towers above the wash of four- and six-floor buildings in the area. The finished patio has a party-sized wooden picnic table (we’ve crashed many birthday/office/guacamole parties), lounge chairs, and the most incredible view of the city I’ve seen from lower Manhattan.

During our frequent rooftop talks, we chat about everything from our careers (and the future of journalism), to relationships (why is everyone getting married?), to the importance of using your 20s to figure it all out. Something we’ve been discussing the whole time is travel—how to do it, where to go, and why you have to.

We both agree traveling is absolutely essential for growth/personal discovery/seeing how others live/your soul. Both of us took a huge leap of faith to put our careers on brief pauses so we could take off to a foreign country without a plan. We’re both leaving behind a boy, and not sure what the next steps will be after we return. Both Yvonne and I are curious, passionate, whip smart, and bold enough to make big moves.

Where we differ though, is in what to pack.

Before I booked myself on a Birthright trip a week ago, I didn’t own much travel gear. Through the power of Amazon Prime, I’ve acquired a hefty supply of things that travel blogs told me would be necessary: a sink stopper, a quick-dry towel, a plug adapter, packing cubes, an eye mask, a padlock, a money belt, a toiletry bag, a spork.

10313498_10202717374028924_7148503805386865049_nYvonne’s reply whenever I tell her about a new travel gadget I bought?

“Silly American.”

She travels light. For her three-month trip to the USA, she brought a few of her favorite outfits (literally, just a handful of light dresses, a romper, and one pair of pants), her laptop, and little else. She bought bathroom supplies here, a pair of sandals when her heels broke, and has picked up a few shirts along the way. A true minimalist, she still somehow manages to look like she always belongs on the runway!

While I aspire to pack like Yvonne, the Girl Scout in me wants to be prepared. I’d rather have a padlock than have my backpack stolen at a hostel. I’ll pay for a money belt now if it keeps pickpockets away from my credit card. I’d rather have the Pepto Bismol packed and ready to go, instead of frantically looking for a pharmacy in Portugal.

I’ve done one trial run pack, and my backpack is already quite full without adding my shoes, toiletries and technology. Having a 40L pack is going to be a challenge for me, a chronic overpacker, but I’m hoping this trip as a whole will teach me that I can get by with a lot less stuff than I think.

Besides, hundreds of millions of Europeans survive with what they can buy in their own countries. I think I’ll be okay.

To plan or not to plan?

There is only one thing I know for sure about my upcoming trip: I leave on September 1.

Beyond that, I have nothing planned. 

No next flight, no hostels booked, no idea what happens after I leave the rest of my Birthright group at the airport.

For all I know, I could get on a flight to Berlin, or Budapest, or Amsterdam, or Dublin.

Right now, I’m leaving everything up to chance and how I feel in the moment.

What if I make a new best friend on my trip who wants to camp on a beach in Tel Aviv? What if inspiration strikes at the airport and I decide to jet to Warsaw? What if I find a $75 flight to Rome?

After reading countless guidebooks and travel blogs, I’m confident in my decision to travel alone. Living in major cities has given me enough street smarts and confidence to deal with most situations. I also want the freedom to chose what cities and attractions I visit, when I want to wake up, and how to spend my time.

I have a long list of places I want to visit over the next three months, including but not limited to:

  • Paris
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Zurich
  • Vienna
  • Rome
  • Budapest
  • Prague
  • Hamburg
  • Munich
  • Berlin
  • Cologne
  • Lisbon
  • Porto
  • Barcelona
  • Seville
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • Ireland

…but I know I probably won’t make it to all of them. 

A quick introduction

Hello there, and welcome to my brand-spankin’ new travel blog!

If you’ve found this, you probably already know me—at least a little bit. For those who are new, a brief introduction:

I’m Megan, a 20something writer/story teller/thrifty fashionista/beer enthusiast. I’m incredibly fond of soft pretzels, social media, eggs, good deals, live music, pandas, organizational tools and funky glasses frames.

That's me!
That’s me!

After getting laid off and sliding into a second quarter-life crisis (thought I conquered that at 24!), I decided to capitalize on my free time and travel the world!

I kickstarted my plans by signing up for Birthright, a free 10-day trip to Israel for young Jews. Since my mother’s mom was Jewish, I too am Jewish enough to qualify for this trip! My grandma passed when my mom was seven, so I’ve always been interested in learning more about Judaism as a connection to her.

One of the neatest parts about Birthright is that you can extend your return flight up to 90 days! Guess who is taking FULL advantage of that?

I depart for Tel Aviv on September 1, and will be on the Birthright trip through September 12. After that….who knows?!

I’ve never had the opportunity to travel much internationally—one business trip to London last year doesn’t cut it. I plan on traveling to as many places as my meager budget will allow, and having the adventure of a lifetime along the way.

Follow along here as I document my travel trials and tribulations, a running log of everything I eat, and snapshots of my new friends and favorite places.

Bon voyage!