An Ode to Hostels: Featuring Montenegro

There’s a reason that a lot of backpackers (including myself) start to dream about opening a hostel of their own. The magic of a good hostel transcends the destination, creating family and community. It can be a particularly beautiful setting, or a serendipitous group of people coming together. It can be the staff, or it can be a dog.

The hostel garden

Actually, that last one might just be me. But in any case, I love hostels that stick in my memory for years after, their atmosphere giving you your own little piece of paradise to look back on. And the Grove Hostel in Stari Bar, Montenegro, will always have a special place in my heart.

When we left Albania, we knew we wanted to spend just a couple days in one spot in Montenegro. We had moved around a lot, so we just wanted to stay put and didn’t really want to be in the top tourist spots during the heat of July. Some random backpacker in Saranda told us about an amazing hostel with double beds in Montenegro, so we embarked on one last exhausting Albanian bus journey to make our way there. Our first impression of Montenegrins was a bit odd: our cab driver from the bus station to the hostel kept badgering us about how old we were, what we were doing, etc – fairly normal, except then he referred to us as ‘beautiful little babies’, which was creepy and weird.Regardless, once he got us to the hostel we knew we had found something special. We were welcomed with a free beer, which is always an excellent start. We claimed our very own double beds, started chatting to everyone around us, and felt right at home. Highlights included the stunning garden, with a little plunge pool, a meandering creek, and mountain views.

One of the best things this hostel does is the family dinners. For 5 Euros, you get to eat the amazing food that the hostel volunteers whip up nightly. When I was there they did a pizza night with the traditional wood-fired pizza oven out back, they did a curry night, and…something else that I can’t remember, but I know distinctly was delectable. They accommodate dietary needs easily and happily, but it’s not just the awesome food that makes these dinners memorable. They make it so easy to bond with everyone that you don’t even need to try. The first night I was a bit nervous, as always, about sitting down and chatting to so many new people, but by the end of the night we felt like we had a new family and were participating in a rousing game of Uno!

The roomy kitchen

They don’t pack people in – they could fit tons more beds, but they specifically limit the number of guests that can stay there. By sacrificing increased revenue, they allow more of a community feel, because it’s just the right number of people so that you can get to know them all by name.

The other main draw of the hostel was the fact that every day, a volunteer runs a free day trip for guests. We were there on a Sunday, when there isn’t one, but the next day we partook in a lovely beach trip. They have a old minibus they use to shuttle you around, so we piled in and went to spend a few hours on the coast. It wasn’t the most amazing beach I’ve ever been to in my life, but it was a nice respite from the heat and hey – it was free.

This is a drone shot from the hostel – the beach was NOT this empty when we went, nor am I 100% certain it was the same beach!! It looks similar.

And….that is pretty much all I can say about Montenegro. We walked up into charming Stari Bar, the town nearby, a few times for groceries and iced coffee. I can’t say I learned a single thing about Montenegrin history or culture, so I will certainly be back to do so.

The real message of this rambling is to communicate my love for a good hostel. Sometimes it’s the people that make a place, and it’s easiest to meet those people when you’re staying at a hostel specifically designed to do that. I have two other posts on some of my favourite hostels in the world – one in Europe and one outside of Europe but here are some others that I’ve stayed at since those posts were published three years ago!

Florentine Backpackers Hostel – Tel Aviv, Israel

Honestly, I loved this one for the same reasons as above. They do family dinners, everyone hangs out on the rooftop terrace, and it’s easy to walk in and find a family.

The view from the rooftop terrace

Joey’s Hostel – Agra, India

I was in Agra for one reason – to see the Taj Mahal. I was sick of crowds and sick of heat, so I booked a stay at a hostel 400m from the World Wonder, specifically so I could get there at sunrise. The hostel was lovely – air conditioning in the rooms (very important in 47 degree heat), super helpful staff, and of course, the location. If I had been there any other time of year, I would have spent all my time on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Taj Mahal, but with the heat I could genuinely only stay up there for five minutes at a time. Regardless, this is the view:

Tagalong Backpackers – Gangtok, India

India’s hostel scene is really just starting up, and particularly in more remote regions it is almost non-existing. In the north-east area of Sikkim, up by Bhutan and China, there is basically one hostel. Luckily, it is absolutely fantastic. It had its quirks, certainly. The food menu in the ground floor cafe is extensive and diverse, but almost everything I ordered was unavailable and it usually took about an hour to get my food. But that’s just part of Sikkim’s charm. The beds are quite comfortable, and I slept well despite having the loudest snorer of all time bunking below me.

P1411304.jpg

It’s just nice to see a place that cultivates the backpacker atmosphere in such an out of the way town, with a book exchange, espresso machines, and comfortable sofas.

North Shore Backpackers – Hawaii

I wrote a whole post about my time on the North Shore of Oahu, but this was one of those beach hostels you could very easily stay at forever. I got into bed every night with sandy feet, salty hair and couldn’t wait to get to one of the nearby beaches every morning. I had a very hard time emotionally here, but in hindsight it’s a magical place and I must go back immediately.

This beach was right across the street!

Now I want to open a hostel. Probably not the best economic climate to do so in, but Haley and I talk about everything we’d want in a hostel and who knows – maybe one day we will.

Best of 2019

Every year, I write these massive recap posts with my favorite highlights of the year, even when I have been terrible about blogging for the rest of the year. I’ve done 2016, 2017, and 2018, and now it is time to recap the best of 2019 – one of the craziest years of my life. I am never quite sure if these are interesting to anyone else, but I look back at them SO much myself, so here you go!!

In 2018, I moved home to Nova Scotia. At the very end of the year, I met a boy – and I can’t make that a highlight because it technically happened in 2018 but it was definitely one of the most important parts of my year. However, I also went on a 4.5 month trip so I have a LOT of travel highlights. I could make this a list of 50 things, but for everyone’s sake I will try to condense slightly. These are in chronological order, and a strange number of them are specifically about hostels. Also, I  made this cool map of my round the world trip so for reference – here is my route!

map

Continuing to explore Nova Scotia

100% the best part of having a boyfriend has been having someone to drag on weekend trips with me – especially someone who can drive. A side perk is that we also have a blast together on these weekend trips! In February we stayed at the most charming little farm Airbnb in rural Nova Scotia and despite the freezing temperatures it was so cozy in the cabin with a woodstove. This is where we decided we were officially dating, so it will always have such cute little memories for me 🙂

We also went to my cottage for his birthday weekend right before I left on my trip, which holds a few more mixed emotions..but I LOVE my family cottage and I loved showing it to him.

When I got back, I dragged him on another weekend trip to make sure he still liked me! We drove up to Cape Breton and stayed in a YURT which I have been wanting to do ever since I learned what a yurt was. We hiked, got hit by a car at a gas station (super fun), and I even had a few driving lessons. It was lovely and a great way to end summer.

Biking around the North Shore of Oahu

The beginning of my trip was REALLY fricking hard, and I wrote about it here, but one evening was where I remembered how much I loved travel and almost cried because I was so happy. When my friends and I biked back from an evening of drinking on Sunset Beach, it was pitch black and we kept going down the wrong path and one of our bikes didn’t work, and it was absolutely pouring down. I couldn’t stop laughing, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Snorkelling in the Gilis, Indonesia

During my 3 nights on Gili Trawangan, I didn’t do much except eat and drink. One day, however, I went out on a full-day snorkelling tour for the crazy good price of $10!! It certainly wasn’t the best snorkelling tour I’ve ever been on – the boat was old, lunch wasn’t included, and every single boat went to the same spots at the same time, but….$10. I jumped off the top of the boat, got stung by jellyfish, made amazing new friends and started to fall completely in love with this corner of the world and its amazingly affordable adventures.

Hearing the Dalai Lama Speak

I already wrote about this in my Best of India post. It wasn’t a perfect day, and it ended with some severe illness, BUT I saw the real life Dalai Lama in person and heard him speak and I will never forget it!

Wandering off the Beaten Path in Sikkim, India

Sikkim left the best impression of India, and made me yearn to explore the areas nearby – Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal.

I felt like a really intrepid explorer, wandering through a place that had very little written about it on the internet, and entering a province where you needed a permit. This was a bit of a hindrance, because as a solo traveler you need other foreigners to travel the most beautiful areas with, but it was still worth every long Jeep ride and I met a few really amazing people.

Exploring Athens with my parents

Athens is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I LOVE when I get to meet up with my parents on my travels. I flew to Athens, so thrilled to be leaving India, and so excited to be reunited with my parents in the beautiful Airbnb they booked. We had a great time exploring in the heat, eating yummy food and I’m sure they were glad to see me alive!!

My precious backpacker parents!!!!!

Exploring the Greek Islands by Yacht (again)

Honestly, the best thing in the world is living on a yacht. My hair is always full of salt, the beers are never cold, and trying to sleep in a tiny unventilated cabin is a challenge, but man, it is blissful. Add that to the fact that I was reunited with my best little travel buddy Haley, and I get a bit teary when I think about this week.

The islands and sea caves that we moored at were breathtaking and I really couldn’t process that I was there – but that might have been the hangover. Time seemed to slow down and speed up simultaneously, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hiking in Albania from Theth to Valbona

In the remote northern mountains of Albania, we took one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world and then stayed at a warm and cozy homestay where meals were served lovingly by the matriarch, teaching our new friends cribbage and falling asleep to the sound of pounding rain on the peaks. The next day, we hiked for almost 12 hours through a mountain pass, the views getting more beautiful every second. We passed locals who waved gleefully, including one particular character who was dressed in a full suit and seemingly just doing this hike with no effort while we panted up every incline. The summit was freezing cold and the patches of sun were burning hot, and we snapped at eachother as we got more and more tired, but even our crankiness couldn’t mar our awe. At the end of the hike, we sat at the first restaurant we saw and ordered beers and french fries, and both of them were the most amazing things we had ever tasted. We managed to lug ourselves to a guesthouse, checked into the first room they showed us, and slept for hours and hours after a delectable 7 course dinner. In the morning, a worker introduced us to FOUR PUPPIES and bought us coffee before we headed off back to the nearest city, blissful and relaxed despite our aching muscles.

Really, just all of Albania

The above anecdote pretty accurately sums up our time in Albania. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Every single local we met went out of their way to befriend us and help us and give us countless free beers and shots of raki. The hostels were never more than 10 Euros a night and they were some of the most beautiful boutique hostels I have ever seen. The food is incredible, the beer is less than a Euro, the scenery changes as you travel the country from top to bottom but it is unfailingly beautiful. I can’t wait to share more about my new favourite country, but go now, before everyone else discovers it – as long as you are comfortable with a little bit of chaos any time you try to get anywhere!

I was this happy the whole time I was in Albania

Paradise at the Grove Hostel in Montenegro

There are some hostels that just feel like home. When we arrived at the Grove, we knew this was going to be one of them. We had just endured a very long journey from northern Albania on a very intense hangover, and it was a million degrees. We arrived to a family dinner and a free beer, before we were each given our OWN DOUBLE BED in a dorm. For 10 Euros, you get this bed, you get access to family dinners (5 Eur a night for absolutely incredible food), 1 Eur beers, and get this – the hostel staff rounds up a group to drive off for an activity every day. We went to a beautiful local beach, and I wish we had stayed longer to experience more of the surroundings. As it was, we didn’t need to leave except to walk up to nearby Stari Bar for an iced coffee or groceries. If I ever open a hostel, I want it to be just like this one.

I have three photos from Montenegro. Here is one.

Celebrating my Best Friend’s Birthday in Serbia

Haley and I had been travelling together for about a month before we got to Belgrade, arriving just in time for her 25th birthday. Basically I can sum up our time in Belgrade with the following:

  1. We got tattoos from a guy who….didn’t speak very good English
  2. We bought the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store, which we literally had to open with a knife because it didn’t have a CAP
  3. There was no cap, so we drank all of the vodka (sharing some, of course, with our new friends) and had a truly ridiculous night out.

….this is the only photo I have from Belgrade. And possibly the worst photo of myself ever. So I am putting it on the internet.

10/10, Serbia rocks.

Returning to Cheers Hostel

I stayed at Cheers Hostel in Istanbul four years ago and I literally have not shut up about it since. I dragged Haley here and she was immediately sold when she heard about the golden retriever. The hostel owner remembered me and my sister, asked how she was doing, and was thrilled to hear she was getting married in the fall. The view from the bar upstairs was even more stunning than I remembered, and the rooms just as cozy. And of course, Zaman the dog is still a sweet pure angel from heaven.

I did have a very different time here – we went out a LOT. It was our last 3 nights together and again, we immediately made some amazing friends.

Pretending I Lived in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was my first intro to the real Middle East, after a few days in Istanbul. I stayed at Hostel Florentine, and I had a few nights before my friends arrived to join me for our Middle Eastern leg. I was exhausted from our last night in Istanbul, where I literally went from a nightclub to the airport (that’s another story) and I really thought I was going to get a good night’s sleep in Tel Aviv. However, I forced myself to socialize so I headed up to the communal rooftop. I inserted myself into a group of chatting travelers, we started playing drinking games, and the next thing I knew we had a little family. This hostel was another place where you immediately feel at home, and if Israel wasn’t so expensive I would have loved indulging in all of the nearby restaurants and bars – I mean I still loved it, but I also had a pang every time I handed over my shekels.

Tel Aviv’s beach is amazing, and I love how open Israelis are – random groups of friends would come over us to chat, and not in a weird hitting-on-us way, they literally just wanted to chat. I knew I would like Tel Aviv, and what do you know – I was right.

A New Best Friend in Egypt

On my G Adventures tour in Egypt, I got paired with a roommate who I immediately disliked. I have no idea why, because 5 minutes into the next day we were giggling in the souks and buying eachother friendship necklaces. We had an absolute blast ditching our tour to do activities on our own to save money, finding the nearest pool and grabbing a beer, gossiping on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor (I love overnight trains SO MUCH), jumping off the top of our traditional felucca boat into the Nile, and having Instagram photoshoots at every temple we visited. Andrea was so there for me during a week that I was very emotionally overwrought, and I am so thankful that we were roomed together!

One Last Hurrah in Dublin

I arrived in Dublin sick, tired from several long layovers and redeye flights, and to be honest, I was excited to get home. I had one last night at a hostel before I went back to my family, my dog, my home and the boy I was pretty sure I was in love with. I could have just slept for 16 hours, but I decided I needed to have one last big night: and thus I did. As had become so natural to me after 4.5 months, I met a friend in the common area and Hannah and I teamed up for the hostel pub crawl and headed over as it started to rain. We drank many Guinnesses (I don’t even like Guinnesses), did many free shots, and stumbled home around 5AM – I had to be up at 8AM for a VERY important flight. I made it, passed out for the duration, and disembarked in Halifax to power-walk through the airport and cry in my parents’ arms.

The one photo I took in Dublin. LOL.

My Sister’s Wedding

My older sister Anna got married in October!!!! She lives in Winnipeg, but the wedding was at a beautiful oceanside resort near Halifax. It was literally the perfect day, and I cried a LOT, especially at my parents’ speeches. It was amazing to meet my new brother-in-law’s entire family and we had a lovely few days of celebrations.

My wonderful family!!!

Coming Home

I never would have thought that moving back to Nova Scotia would feel like this much of a highlight, but I am so happy to be back. I returned to a promotion, so I now run my very own travel agency. I also returned to the previously discussed boy, and at the beginning of December I moved into his house. We have a Christmas tree, a chore schedule, and I have never felt so domestic, or so happy.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I felt ALL the feelings this year, saw some of the most iconic places in the world and literally circumnavigated the globe. But the biggest lesson that I learned is how to be happy in one place. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling…very much the opposite! In the next 6 months I have a work trip to Southeast Asia, and I’m introducing my boyfriend to the backpacker life with 2 weeks in Peru. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds.

The Worst Things I did in India

On my worst day in India, I cried six times. It was 42 degrees and the air conditioning in my Varanasi hostel was broken, and I just physically could not sleep, no matter what I did. I wrapped myself in wet towels, I was wearing practically nothing, I kept wetting my hair and face – but everything would dry immediately, and I couldn’t stop crying out of frustration.

My face literally all the timeOn my way to try to find coffee after the worst sleep of my life, a man on the streets groped me, and I screamed at him in Hindi and then cried. Next I got stuck in a traffic jam and fell into a gutter, soaking my only clean skirt in mud and god knows what. I desperately needed to find cash, so I had to keep wandering the clogged and raucous streets caked in dirt and borderline sobbing.

I tried seven ATM’s, my anxiety skyrocketing with each one that told me it couldn’t give me money. My mind raced through the possibilities: if I couldn’t get money, I couldn’t pay for my hostel and I’d have to sleep on the streets and I’d get sold into the sex trade and then my life would be ruined. Logical steps? In my mind, yes. Eventually, I found some money and decided to sort my life out, thinking it was all up from here.

Smoke from the dead bodies burning on Varanasi's ghats

Guess what! Nope. I went to a travel agent I had visited earlier in the week to buy a train ticket up to Sikkim, where I needed to catch my flight to Dubai. He had to buy the ticket through an Indian reservation system called Tatkal, so I wouldn’t actually get the ticket until 2 days before the train. I walked in, finally some hope in my eyes, only to hear that he failed, and I needed to figure out another route. This, naturally, made me cry. 

I have no pictures of crying, so I am posting pictures of the ghats

Anyway, the point is that on this day I felt like shit and I treated everyone else like shit. Starving children asked me for money and all I could think about was how much I didn’t want to be bothered on this particular day. I snapped incessantly at the innocent hostel workers who were just trying to fix the AC and even gave me a refund for an unused night when I checked out. For god’s sake, I have been a vegetarian for 16 years and I deeply love animals, but when a street cow got in my way I screamed in my head “I will kill that cow if it doesn’t get out of my way RIGHT NOW.”

This angel Great Dane was a bright spot

That sort of behaviour and attitude gets you absolutely nowhere. It’s a vicious cycle – the meaner you are to the world around you, the meaner the world will be to you.

My magical days in India were the ones where I woke up and decided that despite the oppressive heat and challenging travel, I would appreciate everything that was happening to me. When I let things roll off my back and just shrugged my shoulders at the chaos of India, good things found me – a sweet puppy would climb into my lap or a precious child would ask my name and where I was from and then not ask me for money. Or I would turn a corner and see a sadhu, long white beard and bright orange robes, smile gently at me as he walked past a temple beaming with light rays from the beating midday sun. 

A glorious day in Jaipur

But this post is not about those days! This post is about the days where I really thought that I might die from crying, or the days I seriously considered booking a flight out of India.

You’ve already heard about my worst day, but there were others. These aren’t necessarily places I regret going (in some cases) but I wanted to write honestly about my experiences in India, because it was quite clearly not all sunshine and roses. If you feel depressed after reading this, please go check out my post on the BEST things I did in India; it’s a lot more positive.

GETTING SICK

I mean, I knew it was going to happen – I just didn’t think it was going to be quite so bad. I was being pretty careful with food in India, but I wasn’t accounting for the lower standards of hygiene (in general) and to be honest, I was petting too many stray dogs. They’re just so cute 🙁

The aforementioned dogs (also what is happening with my hair?)

After seeing the Dalai Lama speak and having one of the most amazing experiences of my summer, I went back to my friends’ hostel for a drink and some games. The six of us sat on the rooftop hanging out, and then I started to feel a pain in my stomach. I went to one of their rooms to lie down for a minute, and I’m pretty sure they regretted that offer because for the next 12 hours I spent my time sprinting back and forth between the bed and the bathroom. It was truly reminiscent of the time I got norovirus in Prague, except markedly worse. My lovely new friends came to check on me and stroked my hair and tried to convince me to drink water, which I could absolutely not hold down.

The last meal I ate before getting sick – but I don’t blame it because nobody else got sick.

Anyway, enough said. It sucked. In the morning my friend drove me back to my hostel on their motorbike, and I slept for approximately 3 days before I felt like I could be a human.

STUCK IN DARJEELING WITH NOWHERE TO SLEEP

Darjeeling was kind of a similar experience to Varanasi in that it basically sucked except for a few bright moments where I appreciated how beautiful it was. One particular low point was another wild goose chase for an ATM that worked, but we already talked about that particular breed of hell. At least in Darjeeling it wasn’t hot, but it was almost constantly raining.

The view from my homestay

However, Darjeeling was quite expensive and almost all of the hotels and hostels were sold out. I booked somewhere without realizing quite how far down the hill it was – to the tune of a 90 minute walk on very dangerous roads. It was usually quite easy to get in a shared jeep up or down, and actually made me feel quite accomplished whenever I managed to do it successfully.

Fake smile!!

One night, though, I stayed at a cafe with a beer for longer than I realized because there was live music. I’m not talking crazy late – it was literally 9:15PM – but the share jeeps apparently stop at exactly 9PM. I wandered around, lost and a bit scared, trying to find someone, even a private taxi, to take me home. Nothing. I stumbled upon a hostel literally as they were closing the metal shutters and tried to get them to help me, but the only way they could do so was to give me a room. Luckily they had a private room so I could cry in peace.

Always cloudy

It all worked out fine, but I was quite shaken by my lapse in judgment and frustrated that I had to pay for two hostel rooms. I slept poorly and woke up the next morning to start crying again! I made it back to my original hostel and a lovely Tibetan lady who worked there said a kind hello. Of course, this set me off and I burst into tears without being able to explain to her why. Even if she had spoken English, it made no sense. Luckily, I pulled myself together and booked the Airbnb in Kalimpong that became one of the highlights of my trip.

MY LAST DAY IN INDIA

On the way back from Sikkim in the far northeast of India, I finally felt at peace with the country. I hadn’t had a perfect week, but I was finally happy. AND THEN my rickshaw driver tried to rip me off on the way to the airport hotel I booked for the night before my flight to Dubai. When I finally got to the hotel, I spent 30 minutes trying to find someone to check me in and then was told that they couldn’t check me in. The guy refused to explain why, and at first I reverted back to my Canadian self and politely walked away. Then I realized how ridiculous that was, and went back to the desk to give him a piece of my mind. He treated me like total garbage and of course I started crying, really invalidating my badass attitude.

This puppy was a great companion on my Jeep ride

Basically, the reason he wasn’t letting me check in is that the app I had used to book (goibibo) had been displaying inaccurate rates. NOBODY would help me  – the hotel guy was probably 19 and clearly didn’t give a shit, and when I called the booking company to try to get them to cover it, they transferred my call endlessly until I gave up. MOST irritatingly, the guy wouldn’t even let me check in if I paid the actual price. I just wanted air conditioning and a good long sleep before my flight, but instead I was in a lobby crying.

Leaving India

Leaving India

I finally threw my hands up and took a rickshaw to another place that was double the price, but not before I spoke to 5 rickshaw drivers who were trying to rip off the sobbing foreign girl, alone and drenched in sweat. Someone eventually took pity on me and the hotel I eventually checked into was fine. I left India MAD but trying to still appreciate all I had learned and seen in the past 6 weeks.

The view from my Yuksom homestay, the night before this disaster

The Best Things I did in India

INDIA. Where to even begin? I spent almost six weeks in the north of India this summer and man did a lot happen. I spent more money then I meant to, got groped several times, had three seemingly days-long panic attacks and got very very ill. But I also had some of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I have to say it’s much easier to appreciate India in hindsight.

I am so glad I went, but next time – I am NOT going in the summer. There’s a full post coming on the worst things that happened in India, but for now – let’s focus on the positive! Here are the best things I did in India.

HEARING THE DALAI LAMA SPEAK

The first amazing thing that happened to me in India was such a crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was out for lunch with some German backpackers in Amritsar when they started talking about the Dalai Lama and how sometimes, you could go see him speak in McLeod Ganj. I had booked a bus ticket to McLeod Ganj for the next night, and serendipitously I learned that I was arriving just in time for his public speech!!!

In McLeod Ganj I paid the equivalent of 10 cents to register for the event and bought a radio so I could tune in to the translator station.

It was hectic and crowded, and I didn’t get to hear most of the speech because the radio was garbage, but I befriended a Kiwi girl who shared her radio and her seat. I stood ten feet from him as he entered the complex, peering through shoulders and legs and cameras as dozens of reporters tried to get the perfect picture. I couldn’t believe I was there.

Twelve hours later I was contemplating death on a bathroom floor while my entire body exploded, but that’s a story for another time.

HIKING OVERNIGHT TO TRIUND

Two days later, my friend flew in to join me for two weeks – and honestly, thank god, because I might have fled the country if not for her. Despite the fact that I was still very weak and had a horrible cough, we decided to embark on an overnight trek.

On the way up the mountain it went from 35 degrees to literal hail. We clambered past goats, got stared at by Indian hikers, and paused a lot. The pauses were totally to admire the views….not because we were out of breath. I swear.

We slept in a freezing and rain-pummeled tent, but we could get chai delivered to us anytime we yelled out the tent, and the views……you really can’t beat waking up to this, even if you don’t have a jacket and it’s so cold you want to die.

Aside from the beauty, I felt mentally clear here for the first time in weeks. I journalled furiously about how I felt, who I wanted to be, everything – it was great to feel alive again, as depressing as that sounds.

A RANDOM RIVER ACTIVITY IN MANALI

After our hike, we took some time to recover and then headed to Manali, another Himalayan town famous with backpackers. We didn’t really DO a lot here – our guesthouse was adorable (highly recommend staying at Apple View) and the views all around the town are amazing. Every time it rained it seemed like new waterfalls appeared around us.

Aside from deep life chats and intense journalling, we ate a lot of Western food in town (oops) and visited probably every cafe we could find. The one ‘activity’ we did was so random and I don’t even know what it was called – at the river right next to our guesthouse, people would get slid out onto these zipline type things and then they just bounce you up and down. It’s SO weird and we couldn’t figure out why it was a thing, but then we did it and it was honestly really fun. They gave us a really good deal for some reason and let us go for longer, and we couldn’t stop laughing for about half an hour afterwards.

SEEING THE TAJ MAHAL AT SUNRISE

It is very rare that I will wake up before 9AM voluntarily. However, I made a friend in Jaipur and he encouraged me to do so, and because it was way easier to walk around with a guy than alone, I said yes. He woke up my cranky self at 4:30AM with coffee and we headed out. We stayed at Joey’s Hostel in Agra, which was really great – the common area didn’t have air conditioning, but the rooms did (blessedly) and the vibe was really great. The staff were super helpful when I needed to get a rickshaw to the bus station, AND best of all, the view from the terrace was absolutely stunning. It was too hot to hang out on the terrace for longer than 3 minutes, unfortunately, but still – for $10 a night, you get THIS VIEW.

The hostel is so close to the Taj Mahal that you can very easily be the first people there. When we arrived, only three others were there – and randomly, they happened to be three German girls that I had met in Shimla weeks earlier! Unbelievably, I ran into them again the next week at the Varanasi airport. Anyway, we made time for some photoshoots and I got some of my favourite photos of all time, and as the complex got more crowded we found quiet areas to sit and admire one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This was one of those places that I worried would be underwhelming, but it is just stunning, and the early morning light and quiet truly elevated the experience.

A RICKSHAW RIDE HOME IN VARANASI

Varanasi and Darjeeling were probably my two least favorite places in India – not because they weren’t beautiful, but just because I had a crap time. However, there was one lovely little interlude in Varanasi where I was NOT sobbing. I had just finished a sunset boat tour, and then managed to navigate myself through some twisted alleys without any mishaps. I flagged down a shared rickshaw to take me home for the equivalent of 20 cents, and communicated with the driver in Hindi perfectly. I talked to my fellow passengers, and one of them even made sure I was paying the local price and not getting ripped off. I got back to my hotel, they greeted me by name, and I went to bed feeling fulfilled, confident, and happy – which was a truly delightful change. Simple – but lovely!

SPLURGING ON AN AIRBNB IN KALIMPONG

When I arrived at my Airbnb in this town near Darjeeling, everybody was so kind to me that as soon as I was alone I had a nice little happy cry in my room. Man, I cry a lot. Anyway, as mentioned I had a horrible time in Darjeeling and decided I needed to rest and ‘recuperate’. I felt like I really splurged on a night at an amazing Airbnb, when in reality I just checked and it cost me $35.

 

Main benefit of this place? All the DOGS. They were so clean and nice and friendly and it was a great change to actually be able to pet and snugle with the dogs. The host’s mom cooked amazing meals based on my preferences at every meal time, and they helped me get a bus to my next destination and even helped me figure out a permit for Sikkim. Sanjay spoke perfect English, had books for me to read, and the views were incredible. Next time, I’m staying here for a week and I’ll even do some sightseeing.

EXPLORING THE REMOTE REGION OF SIKKIM

If I hadn’t gone to Sikkim as the last stop of my trip, I would have left India absolutely hating everything and regretting my time there. Luckily, I did go to Sikkim! If you don’t know what or where this is, it’s tucked in right between Bhutan, Nepal and China.

Image result for sikkim on a map

This means the culture feels TOTALLY different from the rest of India (which is obviously a very diverse country), and it was a very refreshing change. The food is more my speed, the cities are calmer, and there are mountains everywhere! I want to write a whole post about the trip, because there is almost no information on the internet and it’s very restricted in terms of solo travel, but highlights included making some great friends in the cutest homestay ever in Yuksom, some sweet Jeep rides, and seeing the third tallest mountain in the world!