Travel hack: Jewellery storage

Hola! I had been meaning to launch my Studio page for months and finally did it here. My DIY game is very unstructured and usually stems from my immediate needs ūüôā Well, guess what? I went impulse shopping yesterday and ended up with some very bright earrings fit for a day at the beach¬†‚ô• I am off for a holiday with the fam at the end of this month and I am superrrrr excited! I am looking forward to some pool time and great Asian architecture. But mostly, I am ready to flaunt my accessories – haha.

I am a minimal packer and rarely go overboard with clothes/shoes/accessories. But hey, everyone deserves a break from the rules. I was wondering how to pack my big hoop earrings for my beach holiday when inspiration (and Pinterest) struck hard. I have usually put all my big, hoop earrings in a box and then ended up fishing for the ones I actually want to use. Also, sometimes the metal tends to rub on each other flake off. There goes a good pair of your favourite accessory! Well, no more. A little bit of Google and Pinterest investment paid off. Lo and behold Рthe earring folio book!

What you need
Felt Cloth
Thick cloth for cover
Scissors
Sewing Thread & Needle
Lace/Buttons/Elastic for decoration (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut your felt cloth into equally sized rectangles. I used three to make six pages. You can decide your own number. But remember that felt is pretty thick and you will need to sew it into a book.
  2. Cut your cover cloth into a slightly larger rectangle and double fold the edges and sew them in.
  3. Place your felt pages over the cover and fold them all together at the middle. Mark the folding line.
  4. Now run a stitch over this line and make sure it is tight. Secure the ends with 2 or 3 stitches so that they won’t come off.
  5. Your earring folio book is ready!

Have a peek at what it looks like here:

What travel blogger would be if I only posted about shopping and skipped travel hacks‚ĚĒhere's a quick diy for carrying all those big earrings and pins ‚̧ instructions will be up on my travel blog tonight, so be sure to check them out ūüíč doesn't this earring folio book really nice to store and carry around? ūüĎĆ Tell me what you think! I went for minimal without decoration, but you lot can surely be more creative and add some lace and colour ūüíźūüćĀ I am so glad to find a soft and safe space for my hoops and "Hand of the King" pin #travel #traveldiary #travelblogger #travelshopping #solotravel #solotraveler #borntotravel #borntotraveltheworld #girlontheroad #borntotravel #borntotraveltheworld #letstravel #backpacker #wanderlust #wordpress #wordpressblog #gameofthrones #handoftheking #travelgrams #travelgram #instatravel #travelingram #diyproject #diy #travelhacks #travelhack #diytravel #traveldiy #jewelry #streetshopping #jewelrystorage

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This book feels so snug (coz of the felt cloth) and I love the bright pink colour. I hope this was a fun and helpful tutorial ūüôā I am totes excited about my upcoming holiday and I will be sure to post about it soon. Till then, Auf Wiedersehen¬†‚ô•

Keep slaying the fashion game when you travel!

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All things free – Paris!

Since I have been away for a while,¬†I decided to come back with a freebie post! I didn’t make¬†enough money in Paris to¬†fund my backpacking trip¬†and live a super glamorous life.¬†But that doesn’t mean you have to forego certain joys like going to an organ concert or getting a fancy haircut!

  • Fashion Shows: Oh yes, you can actually attend free fashion shows in¬†Paris.¬†A 30 minute show is conducted every Friday afternoon at the Galerie Lafayette.¬†It requires prior registration and the entry is free for up to 14 persons. You can find out the details here and reserve your place here.
  • Music Concerts:¬†You have more than one option when it comes to music. And they are all pretty cool.
    • The American Church: The Atelier concerts are hosted every Sunday evening and you can register with the Music Director to receive updates on upcoming events.
    • The Notre Dame organ concert: Recitals take place on Saturdays at 8pm and on Sunday afternoons before the Vespers service (except on Sundays during Lent). No prior registration is required. You can attend a concert on Sunday afternoon and follow it with a book/poetry reading at Shakespeare & Co. across the street.
    • La D√©fense Metro Station:¬†I lived in Courbevoie and took the metro Line 1 to work from¬†La D√©fense.¬†On Friday mornings around 7:45-8, students from a local conservatoire play at the metro station. Oh, and they are good! I am not sure how regular they are because I didn’t stop to chat with them, but may be you could do that and find out!
  • For the love of books:¬†I mentioned that you could go to a literature event right across the street from Notre Dame. Well, Shakespeare & Co. is where you’re headed. Check out their upcoming events here. I am pretty sure they have something¬†every weekend.
  • Haircuts:¬†Sounds too good to be true, eh? JCB charges women upwards of 40 euros even for a trim and for someone one a shoe-string budget, that’s pretty steep! I actually resorted to trimming my own bangs and accidentally cut more¬†that what I was supposed to ! So, here’s your solution. Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy gives you free haircuts and you can find out about it here.

If you like this freebie post, don’t forget to share it with your peeps coz hey –¬†spread the freebie love¬†‚ô•‚ô•

Travel Stories: the good and the bad (2/3)

As promised, I am back with the second set of travel stories. To read the last account, click here.

Berlin, August 2015

I was travelling from Prague to Berlin on a particularly rainy morning. Contrary to popular belief, Germans can be late (oh yeah, I was shattered!). The Deutsche Bahn was late getting into Prague and was further delayed by unplanned stoppage during the journey. I was travelling with a hiking backpack and a pilot bag that was growing heavier by the day. My fellow passengers were a quiet lot and nobody seemed to particularly care about when we reached Berlin. The man who’d occupied the seat by the window had disappeared for most of the journey and I had no one to talk to/confirm the delay announcement with.

By the time we pulled into Berlin, I was cranky. I had lost most of the afternoon and I still had to locate the hostel. Dragging those bags off the luggage shelf was no ordinary feat. I was trying to reach my bags when the missing passenger appeared next to me. Not only did he get my bags down, he carried them to the door and helped me off the train. I protested that it was unnecessary and excessively kind but he refused to hear any of it! He was even considering walking me to the escalators¬†ūüôā

Prague, August 2015

I was staying at one of the most popular hostels in town ‚Äď Mosaic House. Mosaic actually owns quite a few hostels around its main building but the facilities aren‚Äôt the same. Hostel World still shows the booking as MH, but you could actually be registered at say maybe Moo. I was in a mixed 4-bed dorm with a tiny balcony and no ventilation. It wasn‚Äôt possible to pull out the storage space and stand next to it at the same time¬†– it literally took all the space between the beds once it was pulled out! My roommates for the first night were pretty nice but they moved out the next morning. I was out with the boys all day and when I got back the second day, there was no one in the room. I‚Äôd been out boating, climbing hills, and dancing on the streets ‚Äď I was dead to the world the minute I lay down in my bed.

It was in the middle of the night when I woke up to loud drunk talk. The Brits had invaded. I drifted in and out of drugged sleep over the course of the night and woke up to a state of demolition in the morning. There were dirty food plates all over the room, empty beer bottles rolled around, and there was rubbish all over. The fat, half naked boy in the bed next to mine was snoring in all that mess. I ran out, showered, dressed and headed straight to the hostel reception to ask for a different room.

Nuremberg-Dresden, August 2015

I¬†was traveling east with MeinFernBus/FlixBus to Dresden. The bus was late and by the time I boarded, most of the seats were taken. I found an empty spot at the back next to a young boy. I did my usual ‚Äď ist hier noch frei? – and sat down. As a rule, I don‚Äôt talk to strangers unless they initiate conversations. I am yet to figure out whether Europeans are chatty and informal, so I play safe. I‚Äôd roughly factored in the delay into our scheduled arrival time but was surprised when the bus pulled into a town as scheduled. I expressed my wonder out loud and my neighbor corrected me by saying we still had over an hour left on the road! This short exchange opened up a conversation about my travel plans, love for everything German and of course funny German words.

I‚Äôd picked up a sheep (ein Schaf) in Neuschwanstein and he was traveling with me. I‚Äôd clipped my iPod to his belly so it looked as if he was my DJ. My co-passenger seemed to take a liking to the little guy and asked if he tagged along on all my trips. I told him about my F√ľssen day trip and how I was yet to figure out a name for him. Well, we soon started talking about our favorite German words and he told me how his friends from Netherlands found it difficult to say ‚Äď sch√§tzchen which means ‚Äėtreasure‚Äô but is used for a partner (like darling or sweetheart) Even though my favorite word remains Sehnsucht, I have grown to love and use sch√§tzchen in conversations and hope to someday use it for my partner. Btw, I named the sheep after my co-passenger. They are both called Anton.

Frankfurt, August 2015

On the last day of my backpacking holiday, I was moving hostels within Frankfurt to be closer to the airport to avoid any unforeseen delays in getting there. I lugged my backpack and trolley bag across the underground maze at the Hbf and got into a train heading to the airport. Now, the thing with these trains is: they are designed for large bags and trolleys. There’s plenty of space to stand, but not too many seats. Oh and the seats are self-folding which means that you can create additional baggage space in the absence of passengers.

I was crammed into a seat by the window. I was completely blocked by my bags and fellow passengers. Considering that I’d been on the road for a good 20+ days, and had travelled across 3 countries, I had a fair bit of baggage weight. When it was time to get off, I couldn’t hoist my backpack onto my back! There was too little space to create a point of leverage. I was struggling and about to fall over when the policeman sitting next to me lifted my bag (with one hand, might I add!) and pushed it onto my back. Needless to say, I was exceedingly embarrassed and yet, oddly relieved.

Provins, January 2015

I usually made unplanned trips over the weekends. This meant that I’d lie in bed on a Saturday/Sunday morning and randomly pick a¬†destination for a day trip. On one such morning, I¬†couldn’t decide where to go until I reached the train station. I looked at the train timetable and decided on Provins. I had no idea what to expect! When I reached the town 90 minutes later, all seemed quiet. Everyone who got off was walking towards the other end of the town. I followed them in wonder.¬†All the locals seemed to have stepped out of a Game of Thrones set. It was crazy! As I walked up the hill, it got even fancier. Bang in the center was a cauldron on fire. They were making Gl√ľhwein¬†‚ô• I’d walked into the annual Medieval Festival!! I couldn’t believe my luck. I walked out of that fair with some wonderful old-fashioned ear rings, a sword that looks like a cross between Arya Stark’s¬†Needle and The Sword of Godric Gryffindor. Oh, and I spotted some dudes that looked a lot like Robb Stark and Jon Snow ūüôā

Paris, early 2015

I don‚Äôt remember where I was returning from. It was a day trip to a nearby town ‚Äď perhaps Blois. I got off at Lazare which is a giant underground maze ‚Äď I shit you not. You can switch multiple metro lines, reach the outbound trains, and take RER from these underground tunnels. The only caveat ‚Äď you have to walk a lot. I was a bit lost and extremely fatigued at the end of the day. I couldn‚Äôt quite figure out how to reach the Line 1 metro and decided to approach a subway employee in uniform. He offered to walk with me till the metro because he was headed there. A huge departure from the French people I‚Äôd met till then, he turned out to be chatty. When I told him I was from India, he said he‚Äôd traveled there. He told me everything he‚Äôd loved to eat in India and even recommended a few good places to visit!

Nice, January 2015

I¬†grew up in Bombay,¬†a coastal city. My dad builds ships. So you can understand the deep love I hold in my heart for the ocean. I¬†love to feel the wind in my hair when I stand on the deck as we sail. I¬†left the coast and moved south. I made a ¬†monthly trip home to sit by the coast but that had been difficult after the¬†second year. When I moved to Paris, I’d been away from the coast for a good 6 months.¬†I’d never seen such blue water until I’d checked out the view from¬†the TGV getting into Cannes. I was mesmerized.¬†As soon as I reached Nice, I dropped my bags in the hostel and ran¬†to the Promenade de Anglais. I hiked to the viewpoint to check out the port and immediately decided to go to Monaco the next morning. When it was time to go back to Paris on Sunday afternoon, something didn’t feel right inside me. I was okay until I reached¬†Courbevoie. But by the time I got home to my apartment, I had tears streaming down my face.¬†I went straight to Flavia’s. She thought I’d been dumped until I mumbled out incoherently “blue… Nice.. the sea….”¬†She laughed and ruffled my hair – “Nat√ľrlich, you’re a coastal girl!” I was crying because I’d missed the sea¬†‚ô•

Paris-Lille, December 2014

Oh, this is an incident I have mentioned a number of times on the blog but have never elaborated on. This incident is also the reason why I sleep at airports/train stations/bus stations the night before I travel.

I was¬†scheduled to spend the Boxing Day weekend in Lille. It was to be my first overnight trip and backpacking experience.¬†I¬†attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve and¬†then spent a random day walking around Paris. I got stalked by two different dudes (one who actually followed me home!), and came home visibly upset. My colleagues decided to cheer me up by taking me to the Eiffel Tower (it was crazy crowded, but we ended up shopping in the flea market) followed by Frozen in bed. At about 11pm, I decided to take a nap¬†and promised to wake up a few hours later and pack my bag for the trip to Lille. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

I woke up at 6:36am for my train that was scheduled to leave from Paris Nord at 7:16am. Doesn’t sound good, right? It wasn’t. The La D√©fense Metro station was at least a 10 min walk from my apartment, after which I had about 15 stops to go with one metro line change at Ch√Ętelet. I was screwed. My immediate reaction was intense panic. I¬†had barely enough time to pull a pair of jeans on, grab the clothes strewn over my bed, pick up my shoes and run! Well, I did run. I put my shoes on in the elevator and zipped my jacket as I ran out of the building. I had tears streaming down my face when I saw that the first set of elevators (of a total 3!) wasn’t working.¬†Putain!¬†I had some quick decisions to make. When I reached the metro station, I walked up to a bakery and asked what was the fastest way to get to Nord. RER. I’d never taken one. I crossed my heart, bought a ticket (I wasn’t sure if my Navigo covered it) and proceeded to the Voie. Well, I was in luck as I jumped onto the first train that arrived seconds later.¬†After a change at Ch√Ętelet to RER-D, I reached Nord at 7:14. Almost there, but was I? I was on Voie 36 and my train to Lille was on 54. Fuck shit. Once again, I ran like my life depended on it. I¬†surfaced at the open air outbound line only to watch the doors seal (they are timed) and the train move out of the station. I sat down, cried, and then proceeded to the Information counter for help. The young officers asked me why I was late. “I overslept,” I mumbled wiping my tears, further ruining my eye make-up from the previous day. “20 euros,” they demanded. I had a choice. It was nearly my entire ticket cost, but forfeiting it would mean loss on the stay bookings I’d already made. I agreed. But by then they’d had a change of heart. They waived off the charge, stamped my ticket and asked me to board the next train to Lille. [I later realised that they were trying to rip me off] Needless to say, I have never been late for bus/flight/train again.


When I started writing the second set, I realised that I had some more stories to tell. I will be back with the third bonus set as soon as I can ūüôā Until then, read and spread the wanderlust, my peeps ūüôā

Travel stories – the good and the bad (1/3)

Hola my peeps! I have been AWOL from both sites for quite a bit. Blame it on the working life.¬†Bombay weather has been¬†meh! While I lay in bed dreaming about the streets of Prague and slowly battling the onslaught of flu, my mom asked me if I had any particularly disheartening experiences while travelling. I think I’d like to include the good with the bad. So, here goes.


Lille, December 2014

This is my absolute favourite town in France. On the border of France and Belgium, in Flanders, this delight of a town draws from both cultures. There’s Belgian fries to gorge on and more boulangeries¬†than you’d ever need.
This was my first overnight trip and I had never travelled solo before. I was walking around the town with my nose in the map. Lille is one of those few scattered towns in Europe that has its own Use-IT map. I had decided to figure out everything without stopping for directions from the locals. I was doing pretty great (barring a few wrong turns) but 3 people actually stopped to ask if they could help me. Oh and one of them was a pizza delivery guy who stopped his bike, got off, and offered to help!

Frankfurt, August 2015

Despite my unwavering love for everything German, this city didn’t quite live up to my dreams. I¬†was travelling from Berlin to Frankfurt and reached quite early in the morning when it was still dark outside.¬†I was still¬†sleepy and it took me a¬†bit of time to figure out where¬†I was. The bus depot is a little further down from the Hbf and the city sort of ends there. There was absolutely ¬†no one on the streets and I later found out that it leads into a dangerous red light zone.¬†I needed a general sense of direction and¬†approached an old man. He’d come to pick up his daughter who was about my age.¬†Both, the man and his daughter, blatantly ignored me and¬†walked away quickly. I thought it was exceptionally rude because I was a young girl with a backpack who spoke fluent German and looked more sleep deprived than dangerous.

Paris, December 2014 

I was stupid enough to go to Porte de Clignancourt for some¬†flea market / artsy shopping on Christmas morning of all days. The one thing you must absolutely keep in mind when going to¬†places like La Chapelle, Clignancourt and Anvers (Sacre Coeur) :¬†hold on to your bags! Also, watch your back. Yeah, that’s not a joke.¬†Once you get out out of the Metro station, come to a set of crossroads that spread out like a circle. You have to walk past a Burger King / Mc Donalds and an array of shoe shops before you reach the flea market. I¬†noticed a guy smiling at me from across the road. He was going in the opposite direction so I¬†didn’t think too much about it until he was suddenly next to me. I had crossed on to the other side and was moving along the circular path so I couldn’t figure out how he¬†was suddenly so close by. Anyway, he kept following me until I ducked into a shop. I had¬†to¬†hide in the trial room to get rid of him but that didn’t seem to work. I nearly ran back to the metro station. Well, I got followed by a different guy from the La D√©fense Metro station to my home in Courbevoie.¬†I ended up watching Frozen in bed to get over the experience.

Nice, January 2015 

I was actually on the way back from Nice to Paris. A really old man with dreadlocks, dressed in Asian clothes (think Nepal or North-eastern India) gave me a toothy smile. I smiled, nodded and went back to reading my book. He crossed me on his way to the food car a little while later and stopped to ask if he could get me something to eat Рin perfect Hindi! It was a total jaw-drop moment for me. I did not expect anyone to address me in Hindi in France of all places Рoh and absolutely not on the Riviera. I thanked him and said no but I was too shocked to further conversation. I sort of regret it now because in retrospect I would have loved to hear his story.

Amsterdam, January 2015

This remains my most harrowing experience. It was my first trip¬†after I got the residence stamp and it was absolutely unplanned.¬†It was the first snow of the season, and it was still dark when MegaBus dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. I followed some Chinese boys to what they said was the ‘city centre’ only to realise (after walking 4 kms in the snow) that I needed to go in the exact opposite direction. I sought help from a group of college kids who were out for a walk at 5am. They offered me some bread and¬†gave me directions to the closest bus station. One of them offered to walk with me but I¬†said no (I remain divided on that decision because of what happened later).¬†While I was waiting for the bus a guy¬†kept driving around the block in circles. He’d slow down and gesture at me, drive on, only to come back a few minutes later.¬†I was close to tears (out of sheer fear, nothing else) when thankfully the bus arrived and I jumped on.

Paris, November 2015

Woohoo! Another one from the city of dreams. I was headed¬†to Sacre Coeur on a blissful Saturday morning. I had just moved to Paris and wasn’t aware of¬†the unsafe pockets in the city. When you get off at Anvers, there’s a narrow¬†path leading up to the base of the church. It’s flanked by shops on both sides and the road¬†itself is littered with scamsters moving cups and asking you which one holds the ball inside. I was crossing the service road just outside Anvers when I noticed a young man¬†going in the opposite direction.¬†Girls, I believe, have this sense which enables them to tell if something is off. I didn’t think too much but I did notice him. I was at the¬†base of the church, about to climb the mini hill, when I realised this man was standing right behind me. [I am telling you people in Paris have passed their Apparition tests!]
“Your face,” he said in slow in English, after I’d said my usual¬†non parle francais, d√©sol√©. “It’s very beautiful for me. Can I buy you a drink?”
For starters, it was 9:30 in the morning and way too early for a drink.¬†And hey! I wasn’t crazy enough to accept an invite from a stranger. He went on to¬†ask if he could walk to the church with me. I gave him a staunch no for a reply. But I was too shocked for much else. [Nothing in India had prepared me for this!] He asked for my number and I¬†had my own Taken moment – Later, I even checked under my bed for space to crawl into. There was none and given that my Dad isn’t Liam Neeson I vowed to steer clear of strangers!

Cologne, January 2015

My first city in Germany! [A lot of firsts in this post] Cologne isn’t a popular backpacking destination given that¬†all it has is a large number of churches.¬†Cologne is famous for perfume (nat√ľrlich!) and K√∂lsch, a local brew. It is an absolutely delightful light beer that is consumed in 200ml glasses. Fr√ľh is a ridiculously famous brewery right outside the Dom. When it opened at noon, there¬†were already about 100 people waiting to get in! I was alone¬†which made it difficult to find a table. I approached an old, balding, pot bellied Kellner who took one look at me and said – “Because you’re alone, I make you sit at a table full of German people!” And then he proceeded to seat me¬†with a large family of senior citizens who seemed to be out for weekend brunch. They were a joyful and welcoming lot who didn’t mind my intrusion. They asked me a few questions and were pleased with my passable German.¬†They even helped me with a few words that I’d forgotten! The Kellner was¬†pleased when I asked for the pale ale and even happier when I¬†rounded off the bill adequately.¬†When he heard me address him in German, he was so exceedingly happy that I thought he might hug me!


With that positive experience, I’ll¬†end this post. I’ll be back tomorrow night with the second set of stories. If you’ve had¬†similar experiences, I’d love to hear them ūüôā Both good and bad stories are welcome.

M√ľnchen

When I landed in Munich, I was thoroughly exhausted and almost about to pass out in the airport lobby. I had flown three times in one single day : Bangalore РMumbai, Mumbai РParis, and finally Paris РMunich. Phew! I had nearly missed that last connection so my relief on having reached Deutschland was unmatched.

Munich Airport

Flughafen M√ľnchen is the international airport of Munich. I¬†didn’t have to go through immigration because my point of entry into the Schengen Zone was Paris (CDG/Roissy Airport).¬†My passport already stamped and tucked inside my bag, I was ready to embrace Germany – my ultimate love. The terminal I got off at resembled a lowly bus station. The carousels indicators didn’t display flight information and a lot of bags were just lying in a heap on the floor. Thankfully, the WiFi was good. I signed in, while I waited for my bags to arrive, and sent out my “I reached and I am OK” texts to my family. When you get out of the baggage claim area, look out for S-Bahn signs in green.¬†They¬†will take you underground to the train terminus. The Fahrkarten (tickets) can be purchased from the self-help kiosks. Don’t worry if you don’t speak German. They let you choose from 4 or 5 languages and English is one of them ūüôā

To reach Meininger Munich, where I was staying, I had to get off at Hackerbr√ľcke Stra√üe. This is also the Busbahnhof and just a¬†stop before the Hauptbahnhof. Don’t worry if you don’t have a map of the train line. All trains have a printed map just above the doors. I recommend keeping a screenshot of Google Maps on your phone / tab¬†before you arrive in the city. Once you have reached your hostel, you can pick up a local map. The U-Bahn in Munich is pretty straightforward. You can also find¬†the map in Google Images.

Hostel Review

I stayed at Meininger Munich which is absolutely fantastic during winter, but definitely not during the summer for the simple reason that it turns into a furnace.
Pros: Linen included, WiFi access, 24 hour reception, Walking Tours and Travel Desk, laundry room, Breakfast (charged separately)
Cons: The windows don’t open. If you are¬†visiting during a heat wave, you will literally melt without air conditioning.

The Meininger chain is pretty famous all over Germany and Austria. I had the most amazing stay at the Meininger near Frankfurt Airport. The City Center hostel has a tiny kitchen and an outdoor terrace. It is centrally located. The bus¬†terminus (for MegaBus, FlixBus, and MeinFernBus) is a short walk away and just next to¬†the U-Bahn line. The M√ľnchen Hauptbahnhof and the city center are further down the road from the hostel. The Augustiner Brauhaus famous for its draft beer is right opposite the hostel. There is also a small bar and restaurant as an extension to the hostel.

I am covering Munich this weekend. Also included are day trips to Dachau and F√ľssen (Schloss Neuschwanstein).¬†Keep watching this space for more.

Up Next: Munich in a day.

For Vegetarian & Vegan Travellers

Hola! Are you vegetarian or vegan? Does the prospect of travel¬†bring you dietary concerns?Fear not, because I have near perfect solutions for this¬†problem.¬†I grew up vegetarian and was¬†vegan for a while due to health restrictions. I’ll be honest though – I have occasionally eaten meat just to prepare myself for an unpleasant¬†event. But with some careful planning, I assure you that it is very easy to stick to a meatless diet when travelling.

If you are even a half decent cook, hit the supermarket. All hostels have fully equipped kitchens and I advise you to put them to good use. Search for a supermarket in the vicinity of your hostel and pick up some groceries. Here are some of my favourite meal options:

  1. Sandwiches: The easiest quick-fix meal and they are great to carry around.
  2. Salad:¬†I tend to carry small plastic containers for salad. Just in case I can’t find a deli, these quick fix meals come handy. Also, supermarkets have single use salad dressings in plastic cups. This means you don’t have to carry around a bottle of dressing from one town to another!
  3. Veggies and Rice:¬†I learned to make risotto when I lived in Paris and I was quite proud of my skills (having acquired them from Google). I understand that you can’t hog kitchen space and time to whip out a gourmet meal. So, buy some Thai¬†or Chinese rice that is round and soft. This one usually comes out sticky and cooks pretty quickly. In France, Mono Prix has small blue packets of Thai rice. Boil some vegetables on the side¬†and add them to your rice. Since you’re travelling, I assume you won’t have access to sauces. Just add in some onions and garlic for taste. It should do just fine.
  4. Frozen Meals: Ok, this one I do NOT recommend for the simple reason that they are expensive and¬†also don’t taste too good. If you’re desperate, but do not wish to spend on a restaurant meal, head over to Marks and Spencer. I found an entire section of Indian meals in France. They have everything from¬†pakodas to biryani.¬†If you’re¬†travelling in a group, get some frozen pizza. They are available in all supermarkets. The most common ones (in non-meat) are Margherita and 4Fromages (fromage = cheese).
  5. Cookies:¬†This is a cheat-eat. My favourite cookies in the whole wide world are Milka Choco Pause. And before you think about all that dairy, remember that not all cookies¬†have milk. Oreos have soy lechtin!¬†Hide n Seek, in India, also contains soy and is perfectly vegan ūüôā

If you’re worried about recipes, try out Yummly. This fantastic website is also available as an app on Apple and PlayStore.

If all else fails, and you decide to eat out, check out HappyCow for vegan and vegetarian dining options near you. This website helps you find vegan and vegetarian restaurants, delis, and supermarkets based on your location! It also lets you key in a city / town so that you can look up dining options before you arrive. How perfect is that?

What’s in your backpack?

Packing¬†sensibly goes a long way when¬†you are¬†a solo traveller. You don’t have the luxury¬†to borrow from friends/family and everything you forget to pack just adds to your expenses (in a foreign currency!). I call myself the queen of lists because I make massive ones every time I shift base.¬†Start making a list as soon as you have finalised your travel date. This will give you a long enough period to get organised. I tend to travel light on weekend breaks but I pack a proper bag when I’m travelling for longer than a week.

First Aid
I cannot insist on this enough. I¬†tend to walk an average of 6 hours per day when I travel.¬†Even with the right kind of footwear, this can cause sore feet or cuts from sunburn. Also, you never know what you might come down with. I have had wisdom teeth coming out¬†for the past few years and the pain comes without any warning!¬†Pack cotton, gauze, a few band-aids, Q-tips, and an assortment of pills (paracetamol, painkillers, etc.) It might be a good idea to carry a doctor’s note certifying that¬†those tablets are prescribed.

iPad or a Tab
I am completely against technology on a holiday but this is a really handy tool that has been my saviour in¬†multiple countries. It’s much easier to carry around than a laptop.¬†Need to book a hostel for an upcoming weekend trip?¬†Walked into a coffee shop and need to access google maps? Want to¬†reserve your place in a tour? If these aren’t reasons enough to carry your tab, remember that a lot of tickets these days are validated with a barcode scanner. It’s much easier to keep them on your iPad. It also helps save the battery in your cellphone. Hostels do have computer terminals but¬†(i) the charges are¬†steep, (ii) you can’t access them from your bed, and (iii) no privacy!

Stationery
Yes! I carry a few coloured pens, highlighters and sticky notes. Why? Because I like to mark my route on the maps. It can come handy when you are doing a DIY Walking Tour.

Mini Bathroom Kit
Heard of travel kits? They are sets of palm sized containers¬†that can be used to re-bottle shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. Most¬†pharmacies and supermarkets have these in their makeup¬†section. It is absolutely unacceptable to carry¬†a 600 ml shampoo bottle on a backpacking trip! Pack a scrub or a loofah.¬†Being on a holiday¬†doesn’t mean you compromise on personal hygiene. I also recommend hand and foot creams for the simple reason that your hands and feet suffer a lot on the road.¬†Oh and before I forget – sunscreen! I use a dermatologist recommended SPF40 cream¬†and yes, it works! You can buy it here.

Forget-Me-Nots
These are an assortment of things that I tend to remember at the last minute when I’m about to leave the apartment. Cellphone charger, spare DSLR batteries and memory card, power backup, eye-mask, and my toothbrush are just a few of them. Make your own list and stick it your fridge door so that¬†it serves as a constant reminder. Another acquired habit is to check the weather forecast.¬†For example, it was nearly 37 degrees Celsius in Munich when I arrived last August. And no, being Indian doesn’t prepare me for that kind of heat. Pack hand gloves, socks, sunglasses, etc.¬†– whatever you can’t live without.¬†I am a big fan of¬†water pouches. You can understand why they make a great travel accessory.

Clothes
If you’ve read about the¬†KonMari Method, you know how to fold your clothes the right way. But the most efficient way to fold clothes into a backpack is to roll them into balls. Nothing will create space in your bag like tightly rolled¬†balls of clothes. If you end up buying ceramic or glass (yes, shot glasses) souvenirs, just insert them between the layers of your clothes. Don’t worry, they’ll survive the bumpy ride on the carousels. While we are on the topic, I recommend carrying at least two bath towels. They dry slower and¬†it’s just good planning to have an extra one on hand (I speak from experience). You can usually buy washing machine liquid in hostels so don’t carry that along unless you are on 6+week trip (then it’s economical).

I carry a medium sized Quechua backpack and a small cabin bag that can be used when I walk around in the city. I am against hard, wheeled cases because they occupy a LOT of space and are also a pain to drag. Walking around with a backpack that’s roughly half¬†my size (a German policeman had to help me get it on my back once) was tough¬†but I got used to it. I also¬†can’t do without my travel pillow. I used an inflatable one initially but moved on to a¬†shape-changer. What this means is that a small zip at the back allows me to reshape it into a regular rectangular pillow! This comes handy when you need a little extra support and¬†your hostel pillow¬†isn’t fluffy enough. Or, imagine¬†that the seat next to yours is empty, giving you the opportunity to curl up and sleep. I¬†bought¬†it¬†in¬†Paris and haven’t found anything similar in India. But keep an eye out, will you?

PS – This isn’t an all inclusive list. Let me know if you find something that should most¬†definitely be included. Until then, pack well and travel safe ūüôā

SNCF

SNCF (Soci√©t√© nationale des chemins de fer fran√ßais) is France’s national state-owned railway company and manages the rail traffic in France and the Principality of Monaco. SNCF operates the country’s national rail services, including the TGV, France’s high-speed rail network. Believe me, you don’t want to miss the TGV experience. What works in your favor, is that there is plenty of competition in the transport sector. This means that there will always be cheaper ways for train travel in France, unlike in Germany.

You will need a fair bit of patience with this one. The SNCF website, though available in English, is not recommended. It happens to be connected to an English vendor. If your booking is stuck, or you cancel it, the refund might not be directed to you immediately. In fact, I never got my refund for the tickets I booked to Nice. And those were expensive! SNCF also has a phone app. I used it to track ticket rates. I found it useful to check the trend of the rates before I booked them. Even advance tickets can get expensive, so it is advisable that you verify tourist season and make your bookings early. The tickets can be printed at home (make sure the bar code isn’t damaged) or you can keep a PDF version on your phone/tablet.

OK, now here comes the best part about SNCF. They have loyalty programs! Ta-Da! This is a very good reason to celebrate if you plan to live in France and travel extensively like I did. SNCF calls these Cartes de r√©duction. If you are between 12 and 27 years of age, Ma Carte Jeune is the one for you. If you are neither young, nor a senior, then I am afraid, you can only use the Ma Carte Week-end. I was 24 and promptly got a Carte Jeune. For a mere¬†‚ā¨50, you can use this card for a whole year. If you travel long distances, you will get your value back in as less as 3 trips. Also, there is a waiver on renewal of this card for the second year. You can buy your card at any SNCF office. The major ones are La D√©fense, Lazare and Nord. But really, you can get them at any SNCF office. Make sure you always carry it when you travel. They check quite rigorously!

How does the SNCF card work? If you look at the picture below, you will see that I selected my age and the Reduction Scheme. You can try to check a fare without this selection and compare the difference. Believe me, you will wish you had a discount card!

Reservez votreLike I said earlier, the French website might look difficult but it will grow on you in time. After initially using it book tickets, I moved on to just finding cheap fares. I liked the security of the hard printed ticket and a physical transaction (after I lost money on the Nice fare). But don’t let my experience with the English website stop you from using the French one. I have the highest recommendation for it. Don’t be afraid to change the departure and arrival time window. You can get some pretty good deals if you move your travel time by an hour. Do choose Fenetre (window) when you book tickets. Don’t be tempted by ‘First Class’. The second class is quite royal!

If you have questions or need assistance, feel free to ask.

P.S. – I traveled with SNCF quite extensively. I covered Fontainebleau, Lille, Provins, Nice, Amiens, Rouen, Chartes, Blois, Chantilly, Mont St. Michel and Annecy in 3 months.

Forex cards

I was supposed to do this post before I left for Europe, but the timing hardly matters. Forex is an extremely important part of your travel and there’s no way around the planning involved. So, how do you go about it?

  1. Cash
  2. Traveler’s cheques
  3. Forex cards

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would never be okay with carrying around a wad of cash on me at all times. Security isn’t always high in hostels and hotels. Therefore, cash is not my recommendation. I have never used traveler’s cheques and I believe it’s a dying method. This now brings us to – Forex Cards!

To start with, what is a forex card and how does it work? It is exactly like your bank account debit card. It can be a single / multi-currency card and works at all ATMs outside India. The drawback to this is that you are charged a withdrawal fee for every use. This is usually 1.5 USD or Euro. These cards also work for online transactions such as purchases and travel booking. I have created a FAQ list below which I hope is helpful. Feel free to post your questions, if any, in the comments.

  • How do I get a Forex card?

As per FEMA guidelines, only one Forex card can be issued to an Individual by a particular bank. This card is also linked to your passport. Therefore, if you hold a corporate Forex card (maybe your company issued you one for business travel), you cannot get a personal Forex card from the same bank. In this case, you must first cancel the Corporate card (your company will have to authorize it or do it themselves).

To get a new Forex card, you have to submit your passport copy, travel tickets, and visa copy (for travel in the next 90 days) along with a cheque for the amount of currency to be loaded. Most banks will require you to be an existing bank account holder with them. If not, they will ask you to first open a bank account. You will be issued a card immediately and it will be loaded in about 2 working days.

  • Single / Multicurrency?

I have held a Single Currency card with AXIS and a Multi-currency card with HDFC. Since my AXIS card was a corporate issue, I had to move to HDFC for a personal one. I recommend a Multi-currency card if you plan to travel frequently to different locations. What it essentially does is that it has different currency buckets. When you load the card, you have to specify which currency to load. The mode of usage remains the same. If you are transacting in USA and you fall short of currency, fear not because the Forex card will automatically use another currency bucket (for the remaining amount) to complete the transaction.

  • How do you reload the card?

HDFC card reload can be be initiated by submitting a form at the bank or by generating an online request from the NetBanking page. If you wish to use NetBanking, you will first have to register your account for Fund Transfer. You can also authorize someone (by written permission) to reload the card on your behalf. The authorized person can then visit the bank and initiate the reload for you.

  • What happens if you lose the card?

You can intimate the bank to cancel / freeze your card and have a new one issued. In case of HDFC, you are issued two cards at the very beginning. Both cards and the PIN numbers are included in your packet. When you intimate the bank in the event of loss of card, the secondary card is activated and you can use it for further transactions.

  • Is there PIN validation at PoS?

This is not a chip and pin card. Only ATM transactions require PIN. There is no PIN validation at PoS. Any person can use the card to shop without a PIN. Therefore, it is paramount that you not lose your card. In case of loss of card, it is equally important to report it immediately.

I strongly recommend the HDFC Multi-currency card for various reasons. There is a nominal initial charge for issue of card. The service is impeccable. There are no annual charges for non-usage (AXIS charges 5 USD or Euro per annum for this!). The card is valid for 5 years. In case your currency in one bucket falls short for a transaction, another currency bucket is automatically used to complete the deal. However, currency conversion rates are applicable in such cases.