Blog Voyage

So, two girls walk onto a plane…

Things I Do as a Backpacker That I Would Never Do in Real Life

Well, we’ve been traveling through Europe for almost seven weeks now, and we’ve pretty much got this “backpacking” thing figured out. It certainly took some time, adjustment, and consolidation, but at this point we can backpack with the best of them. We can sleep in virtually any conditions, we can see an entire city for less than $10, and we can fit more into our backpacks than even the manufacturers knew was possible. I knew traveling to this many places on such a tight budget and so few belongings would be a challenge. But we’ve had to become so creative and resourceful that there are things I do as a backpacker, on a daily basis, that I would never even think about doing at home:

  • Take paper towels from public restrooms to use for later
  • Shower while wearing flip flops  
  • Wear shoes purely for comfort over style
  • Use Febreze as perfume
  • Ride public buses
  • Hitchhike
  • (Mom, just kidding)
  • Take as many ziploc bags from airport security as possible for food, toiletry, and underwear storage 
  • Drink boxed wine
  • On the sidewalk
  • Out of reused plastic cups 
  • Carry salt and pepper shakers through two airports and three different countries 
  • Eat leftover pasta out of a plastic bag on the floor of an airport 
  • Consider a “good night’s sleep” to be any night that I sleep horizontally
  • Wear the same shirt three days in a row
  • Without even realizing it
  • …or really caring 
  • Put on makeup using the selfie camera of my phone 
  • Wash my underwear in a communal bathroom sink with a bottle of shampoo/conditioner combo 
  • Consider my “going out” outfit to be any outfit with a scarf added
  • Use a shoelace as a drying rack
  • Sleep in a stranger’s home
  • Make one baguette stretch through five meals
  • Drink water from a public bathroom sink
  • Eat ice cream for lunch
  • Use hand sanitizer 
  • Sleep with my phone in my shirt
  • Sleep with my passport under my pillow
  • Use a McDonald’s bathroom to brush my teeth
  • Save leggings for “special occasions”
  • Hoard plastic bags
  • Crave salad
  • Spend hours somewhere just because it’s free (for example, a public park, or a tulip museum)
  • Day 2: consider a “good hair day” any day that my hair has gel and hairspray in it 
  • Day 17: consider a “good hair day” any day that my hair is clean
  • Day 46: consider a “good hair day” any day that I still have hair
  • Take utensils from a hostel breakfast to use for lunch 
  • Take food from a hostel breakfast to use for lunch
  • Go out to dinner with people I met fifteen minutes earlier 
  • Buy coffee at a cafe just to use their bathroom or their wifi
  • Consider inside-out underwear a brand new pair
  • Get excited for any meal eaten on a plate
  • Walk four miles to avoid paying for public transportation
  • Join a cult on accident 

Cinque Terre

Our month-long tour through Italy continues. First we spent a day in Turin, followed by a week at the cult farm, Milan for two days, and then the lovely coast of Cinque Terre. 

We have seen some really amazing things and have had some fantastic stories. And I think so far I’ve done a really good job of not bragging, or not posting “look at you at your desk and me at this incredible scenic view” type pictures. 

But we just spent two and a half days in Cinque Terre, and I just can’t help it anymore.





Where “We” Becomes “Me”

Have you ever gone across the world to work on an organic farm in Italy, only to find out once you arrived that it’s run by a cult?

Okay, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

We decided to WWOOF in Italy, or work on an organic farm, because 1) it would provide a completely unique experience from anything we’ve ever done, 2) it would give us a break from shuffling around between tourist city after tourist city, and 3), frankly most importantly…it would be a free place to stay for a week. 

We found this particular farm on the WWOOF website, and were drawn to its heavy communal focus and inclusivity. There were a lot of people living on the farm together, the pictures looked beautiful, and the work expectations sounded reasonable. 

Fast forward to Day 1. It’s a vividly sunny day, and Kathleen and I are walking down a dusty cobblestone road in a tiny village in Italy. We’ve just received grapes from an old Italian farmer working on his vineyard, and our moods are sky high, anxious to see what this farm will present to us. We arrive at Prima Stalla, the farm where we are working, and receive a tour from a man named Leone. 

And even though the farm dogs barked at us like they wanted to maul us, there were spiders everywhere, and our house sat right next to the cow stables, our attitudes remained positive. 

Then Leone asks us if we’re familiar with Damanhur. 

Excuse me?

If you’re like us, and basically everyone else in the world minus about 800 people, you are completely unfamiliar with the Damanhur, uh, community. So here are the essential facts about Damanhur: 

It was founded 40 years ago by a guy named Falco Tarassaco. Basically his end goal was to improve humanity through solidarity, sharing, reciprocal love, and respect for the environment. His ideas inspired the creation of the Temples of Humankind, an underground and VERY elaborate temple dedicated to art and spirituality (which we were welcome to explore for the low low price of $66). 

Their main belief system follows the Four Pillars: 1) the School of Meditation, which encompasses all areas of spiritual research, 2) the Social pillar, which includes the community life, 3) the Game of Life, which embraces the value of change, and 4) Tecnarcato, which promotes inner transformation. 

Basically they love sustainability, community, and improving yourself as a person. 

“And did you know we all have animal names?”

Nope…nope, sure didn’t know that either. 

It took us a couple of days and many frantic warnings from our friends and family not to “drink the Kool Aid and join them in a venture to their leader” before we got used to our spiritual community. But as we both agreed, if we were going to accidentally join a cult, this one was a pretty good one to choose. 

With less emphasis on buying matching white Nikes and more emphasis on “being one with the earth,” we started to actually feel very comfortable with our surroundings. And no, by comfortable I don’t mean brainwashed. I have to admit, though their belief system is a little unusual, they are an extraordinarily welcoming group of people. Even to two Americans who: “No, actually, we did not know we were about to embark upon a spiritual journey.”

We learned a LOT about the Damanhur community during our week there. We visited their marketplace, which included a grocery store (normal), cafe (Italian coffee, yes please), gift shop (who wants a post card from a cult!), doctor’s office (heavy emphasis on acupuncture, herbs, and aromatherapy), ATM (did you know they have their own currency?), and art gallery (I think Damanhurians habitually indulge in acid). 

We also happened to be there during the annual Damanhur Olympics. Their competitions were between the five villages, and included soccer, ping pong, and singing a song about your love for Damanhur.

I can’t make this stuff up. 

Furthermore, I think the community quickly learned that I will say yes to pretty much anything, because I was asked to participate in the Olympic spiral running event. 

To Damanhurians, the spiral is: a large labyrinth structure in which participants walk through, from the outside into the center, each day to promote healing, wholeness, and “recover the memories of past lives.”
To the Damanhurians Olympics, the spiral is: run by a man, woman, and child under the age of 14 within each village. Each runner’s spiral sprint is timed, and points are given out accordingly.

I told them I would not produce winning, or even mediocre, results, but that if they NEEDED a warm body to run through that spiral, I would not let them down. And even though I insisted that the “run” would be better classified as a “retiree power-walking through the mall,” they asked me over and over to please participate in the spiral.

And I did. 

Guys, and I’m not saying this to be boastful, but…among the women runners, I did not make last place.

Just trying to make my marathon-running mother proud. 

Anyway, after a week of weeding, planting, and a whole bunch of yoga, we bid farewell to Prima Stalla and our friends of Damanhur to continue our tour of the Europe. 

No, they did not hold us hostage forever or brainwash us into joining their cult. But they did align our chakras and teach us how to become in sync with the moon cycles, which is all we can really ask for from a free week in Italy.

A Question and Answer Session with Rachel Marsh

Q: Rachel, is it true you are already at your fifth country?

A: Yes, it is true. We are in Italy right now. 

Q: Wow! And where exactly in Italy are you?

A: We are in this tiny town called Cuceglio, just outside of Turin. We are working on a farm through an organization called “WWOOF.”

Q: And what is “WWOOF”?

A: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s an organization that links volunteers to organic farms around the world. 

Q: A farm!? But Rachel! You love things like air conditioning, ice water, and hair dryers! And you hate things like bugs, rodents, and walking half a mile to take a shower. Why did you choose to do this?

My answer, if I was asked this question in a job interview or giving a graduation speech: I am always looking for unique ways to see different parts of the world, push myself as a person, and learn about things that I have never experienced. 

My real answer: I have absolutely NO idea what I was thinking. 

Q: How long are you going to be there?

A: One week

Q: So how on earth did you make it to such a middle-of-nowhere town in Italy, a country you’ve never been to whose language you don’t even speak?

A: Well let me tell you. First we had to figure out the bus schedule from Turin to Cuceglio. Once we did that, we had to figure out where exactly the bus stop in Turin was located. After lunch we walked to the bus station just a few minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave; then found out we had the wrong place. Once we found the correct bus depot, we discovered that we had incorrectly read the bus schedule. After a lot of help from our map, Google translate, and some guy selling magazines, we finally got on the right bus to Cuceglio. 

Q: Was someone there to pick you up? 

A: Well. Yes. There was supposed to be. But when we got there, no one was around. So we wandered down this dirt road, two girls, with backpacks the size of those beanbag chairs from the nineties, in the middle of an unknown village in Italy. I had the number of someone at the farm, so we were going to try to find a phone. We stumbled upon a construction business with an office attached, and walked in. The man and woman behind the desk, rightfully befuddled by the lost and sweaty Americans pointing to their phone and talking at them in English, didn’t really know how to respond. We eventually said the name of the farm, and, by some Italian miracle, they knew exactly where it was. By an even greater miracle, it was really close. We wandered down a few cobblestone streets, got some grapes from a man working on a local vineyard, and found our farm. 

Q: What are your sleeping conditions like?

A: We are staying in a cabin next to the cow stable. 

Q: Wow, sounds very cozy and inviting. 

A: It is indeed. In fact last night I fell asleep to the moans and grunts of what sounded like a cow giving birth. I really feel one with nature out here. 

Q: How do you get from the main house to your cabin? Is it a straight shot?

A: Oh my, no not at all! First we have to walk through a field with grass taller than us (actually it may be corn. I don’t know. I’m only a temporary farmer). Then we have to wander underneath the bridge, solve the troll’s riddle, and leap over a three-foot-wide creek. Once we get through the dandelion meadow and over the mud puddles that never disappear no matter how hot and sunny it gets, we have to get past the dogs who still don’t recognize us and bark at us like we’re serial killers. By then, we have reached the cow stables. A sharp right past the mooing and manure, and we are home. Back at the cabin with water that’s too toxic to drink and electricity that works 50% of the time.

Q: What kind of work do you do?

A: Oh, you know. Typical farm stuff. Weeding, watering, planting. We work from 7:00 – 1:00, and then we have the rest of the day to ourselves. 

Q: Have you ever been in the middle of pruning tomato plants and stumbled upon the largest spider you’ve ever seen in your life, nearly convincing you to run back to your cabin and pack up all of your stuff right there on the spot?

A: You ask such specific questions! But in fact yes, that did happen on our third day here. We were in the middle of pruning tomato plants, when we stumbled upon the largest spider I have ever seen in my life. It was the size of the palm of my hand, and it even had fangs (no seriously, it did). We stared at each other for at least ten minutes, unsure of whether to continue on or leave the farm immediately and never look back. In the end we just left that area of tomatoes and continued in the other section. 

Q: Did you ever have to go back to the tomatoes again?

A: We told them that if we had to prune tomatoes again, we were going to file a lawsuit. I think they wanted to avoid court fees, because the next day we were planting lettuce. 

Q: What kind of food do they serve you?

A: Oh man. It’s honestly the freshest food I have ever tasted. 

Q: Did you just include this part to brag? 

A: Yes

That concludes this Question and Answer session with Rachel Marsh. For more information on the European excursion, continue to follow this blog. For more information on Cuceglio, WWOOF, or spiders with fangs, try Googling it. 

Granada…It’s Not Just a Movie

Actually, is it even a movie?

So after France, we took a flight (from the correct airport) to Spain. Kathleen has some family friends in Granada, who we planned to visit with for six days (read: free place to stay!)

Day 1: we arrived at Malaga and took a two-hour bus ride to Granada. There we met a fellow American traveler named Connecticut Kevin. You will never guess where he’s from or what his first name is.

Pepe, our ‘host father,’ came to pick us up from the bus station. After unpacking and taking our first shower without flip flops, we went to dinner in the city. There was plenty of delicious food- but is it weird that I mostly just remember the olives? Man those olives were good.

Day 2: Bright, and way too early, Kathleen and I woke up and went to the Alhambra. History, war, palaces, beautiful gardens, it has it all. I took a bunch of pictures but I’m too lazy to post them all, so here’s a picture of a Spanish rose:

Oh, I almost forgot! I also met a human statue that day. Here’s what it would look like if I danced with it:

Day 3: A private tour of the city guided by Pepe! We saw cathedrals, museums, and other important buildings.  When we got back to the house, Kathleen and I played with the kittens, Sam and Missy, and took a quick swim in the pool. Before dinner, Pepe and his wife Conchi drove us to the city so we could walk around, drink sangria, and look at Flamenco street performers.

When we got home, Pepe gave us salmon caviar to try (now imagine me adjusting my monocle).

Day 4: Day at the beach. We met up with our new friend Connecticut Kevin (have you figured out which state he’s from yet?) and took the bus to the beach.

Okay so, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of not bragging about what we’re seeing, but guys this beach was AMAZING. Instead of sand, there were tiny pebbles (so you don’t come back dumping sand out of everything), instead of murky, grayish water, the water was the color of- you know those blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers? And instead of a pretty average day, our day was fantastic.

That evening we went into the city and met up again with Connecticut Kev (that’s what we call Connecticut Kevin for short because we’re such good friends) for some tapas, Spanish wine, and a well-earned hangover the next day.

Day 5: I…I literally sat by the pool all day. Here’s a picture of the kittens:

Day 6: Goodbye Spain, onto Italy!

A Surprise 24 Hours in Paris

An instructional guide on how to spend a surprise 24 hours in Paris, France. 

First, let’s answer the question of how to get stuck in Paris and what a SURPRISE 24 hours actually is. 

Well, before I answer that question, I have to first ask this one: did you know there are two airports in Paris?

Step 1: Arrive at Paris airport #1, or “the only airport in Paris,” with over an hour and a half to spare before flight to Spain. Pat yourself on the back for such a timely arrival. 

Step 2: Look for flight on the departure board. Wonder why it’s not on there. Keep looking. Still not on there.

Step 3: Go to an information desk. 

Step 4: Learn about the other airport in Paris, which just happens to be an hour and a half long bus ride. Also happens to be where your plane is leaving in less than an hour.

Your options: 1) book a flight from current airport (airport #1 of 2, as we now know) for $450, 2) take a 16 hour train ride for about the same price, 3) invent a time machine and go to the right airport in the first place, or 4) book the same flight you were supposed to get on today for tomorrow at the same time. 

Try option number 3. End up going with option number 4. 

Voila: surprise 24 hours in Paris. 

Step 5: Put down belongings and eat last night’s leftover pasta out of a Ziploc bag with forks taken from Amsterdam hostel on the floor of the airport. 

Step 6: Buy a metro ticket to get into the city. 

Step 7: Take it.

Step 8: Wander the streets of Paris with a backpack the size of a preschool-aged child strapped to your back, looking for something cheap and interesting to do.

End up sitting by the Seine river playing cards and drinking wine.

Step 9: Make puns about what you’re doing: “We missed our plane so we’re sitting by the Seine.” “Instead of Spain we’re on the Seine.” “We are just doing this to stay Seine.” (Okay now that I see it written out I realize it was a lot funnier at the time, and probably even then only to us. I would like to delete this step but I don’t want to mess up my numbering so this step is either Make up puns about sitting on the Seine or Don’t).

Step 10: Eat a mediocre falafel sandwich.

Step 11: Take a metro to the newly discovered airport.

Step 12: Arrive.

Step 13: It really does exist!

Step 14: Try to go through security, even though your flight isn’t leaving for another 15 hours. 

Step 15: Receive a really awkward look from the security guard (“Your flight isn’t until tomorrow…?” “We know.” “ can come through security in the morning.”) 

Step 16: Find a tiny bench to sit on outside of security because apparently it’s toooooo early to go through yet.

Watch the people walking around. Send selfies to your friends. Check Instagram constantly. Play I Spy.

20 minutes have passed. 

Step 17: Eventually find the darkest area in the airport and push benches together. 

Step 18: Curl your body into a position that you didn’t even know you could get into. Wrap your bag straps around your legs and arms to prevent theft from the two other people walking around the airport. 

Step 19: “Sleep,” or “Wake up every 45 minutes due to a stiff back, crying child, or sudden fear that you missed your flight.”

Step 20: Finally give up on the sleep thing at 6:30. 

Step 21: Make it past security. Find that this area is filled with soft couches, charging stations, and lounge chairs that would have been significantly easier to sleep on. Silently wish for something bad to happen to that woman who wouldn’t let you go through security last night. 

Step 22: At 10:45, begin to prepare for boarding for 11:25 flight. 

Step 23: Find out flight is delayed. 

Normally this is not a big deal, but you have bus tickets booked from Malaga to Granada at 4:00. Ask in very broken French what time the plane is going to leave now. In even more broken English, she tells you that they don’t know where the plane is so they don’t know when it will arrive. She estimates an hour. 

Step 24: Try not to panic, cry, or make a scene. Sit on the floor next to the boarding desk. 

An instructional guide on how to almost miss your flight again and probably just get stuck in Paris forever:

Step 1: Decide to take turns with your travel companion getting lunch because you are both hungry and apparently have plenty of time before the plane even gets there. 

Step 2: Five minutes after your companion has been gone, see that the plane not only has arrived, but is starting to board. 

Step 3: Ten minutes after your companion has been gone, begin to gather belongings.

Step 4: 12 minutes after your companion has been gone, notice the boarding line getting short very quickly. Start desperately looking around for her. 

Step 5: After 15 minutes, pick up both preschool-aged child sized bags and start wandering around the near vicinity. Do not find her. 

Step 6: See the boarding line is very very short. 

Step 7: Go to the impatient woman at the boarding desk. Tell her you can’t find your friend and ask her to please hold the plane for just a few minutes. She tells you to call your friend and tell her to run. Tell her that you tried that and she is not answering. She tells you you need to hurry, the plane has almost finished boarding. 


Step 9: Make it onto the plane.

Step 10: Fly to Spain.

A Weekend in Paris

Okay, I know this sounds like the title of a bad chick flick. But Paris is actually a fantastic way to spend the last three days of the week. Here’s what we did!

Stayed in a tiny apartment: Kathleen booked an apartment through Airbnb in the center of Paris. When the description said the space was “cozy,” not only were they not kidding, they were exaggerating. Being a city apartment, I knew it would be tight. But I had no idea how small living spaces could actually be. We arrived to a room, smaller than either of our bedrooms, complete with a pullout couch, table, stools, sink, stovetop, mini fridge, and bathroom, which you couldn’t actually shut because your knees would obstruct the door. Our first evening in Paris, we took advantage of the sink and hand washed some of our clothes. Then we found a little local market and shared a quaint French meal in our apartment while our underwear dried on a taut shoelace above our heads.

The Louvre: paintings by famous people, Napoleon’s apartment, Egyptian sculptures, Mona Lisa (surrounded by guards, a glass wall, and a million tourists), and this constant realization that you actually have so little time to spend there.

The Eiffel Tower: okay, I’m not going to lie. I thought it would just be a TON of tourists standing around taking cheesy pictures with digital cameras and selfie sticks to brag to everyone that they saw THE Eiffel Tower. In fact, I almost wanted to skip it for that very reason. But we decided that we are in Paris, so we should at least check it out. And guess what…it was filled with tourists standing around taking pictures with digital cameras and selfie sticks (including this older Asian couple wearing fanny packs who kept trying to get a “jump” shot). But also, all that aside…IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Imagine…okay, imagine all of the pictures you’ve ever seen of the Eiffel Tower. But in real life. That’s exactly what it’s like.

Picasso Museum: man that guy was weird.

Dans le Noir: on Saturday night, we ate dinner at this place called Dans le Noir. It’s literally an entire restaurant in the dark; and I don’t mean dim lighting- like, it was pitch black. We had to put our phones and other shiny belongings into a locker, then we conga-lined through curtains into the dining room. Beforehand we had selected the amount an types of courses that we wanted, and throughout the meal the waiters (who, by the way, were all blind), brought us our dishes (which we didn’t find out what it was until later). Interesting concept, good food…try it at least once.

Walking: HOLY CRAP we did a lot of it.

Eating dinner along the Seine with bread, wine, cheese, and some plastic cups that we borrowed/took from strangers: we did that too, it was really lovely.

Learned some French: just kidding, everyone speaks English here.

Also: We met Matthew McConaughey, started dating him, got into a tragic fight and broke up, then after completely turning our lives around for the better, we met each other at the Eiffel Tower and reconciled everything. In the rain.

Okay be honest, should I start writing movie scripts?

Au revoir for now, onto Spain!

Questions I Have for Amsterdam

  • Why do you have so many museums?
  • Why do you have an entire store dedicated to rubber duckies?


  • Why do you have so many bikers?
  • Why do all of the bikers almost run me over?
  • Why did we have to wait two and a half hours to get to the Anne Frank House?


  • What?


  • Why are your coffee shops open so late? I mean, who needs caffeine at 11:30 pm?
  • Why is there a museum dedicated to tulips?
  • Why is the Tulip Museum so much more interesting after eating a cookie from that coffee shop?
  • Why don’t you bring a “Condomerie” to the United States?


  • Why are there so many sweets shops everywhere?
  • Why is the chicken & bacon hotdog so popular at 1:00 in the morning?


Who can actually fit into this car??


  • Why do all of your streets sound like made-up words? I mean…LIjnbaansgracht?
  • When can I move here?


Author’s Note: please forgive the photo size and layout inconsistency. I blame WordPress and also my complete disinterest in spending time trying to fix it.

A Post Dedicated to My T-Shirt

I found you on a shelf at Five Below, stuffed behind other t-shirts of your kind, unfolded and wrinkled by shoppers that were disinterested by your size or color.

You were manufactured as a St. Patrick’s Day prop, designed to be worn underneath light-up green necklaces and tall green hats with fuzzy orange beards attached to them. But you had one desire, Shirt. It was simple and straightforward, and printed in bold letters across your front. Your words didn’t say “Take Me to a Crowded Beer Festival!” ” Wipe Your Artificially Green-Colored Throw-Up On My Sleeve!” “Throw Me Away On March 18!”

You said that you wanted to “Kiss My Blarney Stone,” and the moment you were mine, I was determined to help you accomplish that mission.

And although I did put you through many rounds of Guinness and too many Irish car bombs, I also assisted you in fulfilling your destiny.

I tucked you safely into my suitcase before trekking to Europe. You and I flew across the world and once we got to Dublin, we took a three-hour bus ride to Cork, Ireland. We explored the Blarney Castle, sought out hidden passageways and learned about the history of its royal inhabitants. We climbed further and further up the stone staircase until we got to the roof of the castle.

At that point, Shirt, you were revealed from under my jacket (because, let’s face it, I was way too humiliated to be showing you off in the middle of Ireland) and we slowly slid down to kiss the Blarney Stone, the focal point of your only desire.

From this point forward you will either be worn inside out by me or on St. Patrick’s Day by a fun-loving Goodwill shopper, but no matter what, you will forever be blessed by the luck o’ the Irish stone.

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