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February 10, 2016

Pack & Plan: Berlin

I have done a bunch of "How I Travel" posts over the past year. I am going to keep up the series because it allows me to communicate the general guidelines of how traveling fits into my life.

But the "How I Travel" series is generalized, targeted at explaining my methods for traveling to any and all destinations.

I want to start a more specific series, and that's where "Pack & Plan" comes in!

I pack and plan for every trip way in advance. It's probably what I'm best at in the whole "travel-sphere," and it's what I enjoy the most, anyway. Why not share these easy-to-emulate details with the rest of the world?

Before every trip, a "Pack & Plan: [Somewhere]" is going to show up on the website. I will explain my trip by showing my plans for each day, and by providing the basic list of the contents of my suitcase, backpack, or purse.

Instead of hearing about all of my adventures in hindsight only, Pack & Plan is going to showcase my expectations before a trip and hopefully help some of you pack and plan for your trip, too!

These posts will also allow for other readers to add their ideas about other things I should do (or not do!) while I'm in any given place before I actually get there.

Without further ado, the Pack & Plan series has now begun!

Pack & Plan: Berlin, Germany

4 days, 3 nights in February
Transport: bus
Lodging: private room in hostel
Trip type: with friends

The Pack

Bag: small sports backpack (40cm x 30cm x 20cm)
Tops: 1 sweater, 2 short sleeves, 2 tank tops
Bottoms: 1 pair of jeans, 1 skirt, 2 pairs of leggings
Outerwear: 1 jacket, 1 scarf, 1 pair of gloves, 1 headband
Shoes: 1 pair of black boots, 1 pair of flip flops
Personal items for 3 days

The Plan

Day 1

Travel day
Pub crawl tour

Day 2

Bode Museum
Berliner Dom
Alte Nationalgalerie

Day 3

Reichstag Building
Brandenburg Gate
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Checkpoint Charlie
East Side Gallery

Day 4

Schloss Charlottenburg (if time)
Travel day

Have you been to Berlin? Do you have any restaurant recommendations? Is there anything else I should add to the itinerary?

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February 6, 2016

German Swag 101: Volleyball Transitions

After nearly six months of training in a new country, at a new level, with new teammates, in a new club, I can happily say it's not so "new" anymore.

But there have been a few adjustments.

1) Technique & System

Basically most of what my French coach drilled into me last year has had to be erased. Instead of running and jumping through every ball like a complete maniac, these coaches require a much calmer setter who jump sets after being stabilized underneath the ball. So much more normal.

2) Distances to Matches

Our Bundesliga Frauen Süd should, by name, just include Southern Germany. But Germany is actually almost the same size as Montana flipped on its side, and the league continually restructures who is south or north based on who moves up and down each year. Our so-called "southern" division takes us from our Vilsbiburg village east of Munich all the way past Frankfurt twice, and to the Leipzig/Dresden area four times! Six hour van rides are brutal.

See a map of my volleyball matches here.

3) To Coach or Not To Coach

I am not coaching any teams this year for the first time since I was seventeen years old. However, I do help a volleyball P.E. class once a week, and my teammate, Julia, and I are the official referees for all the school tournaments. I feel like it's a bit of a step backward from my coaching career goals, but it's been a welcome sabbatical from being the boss, nonetheless. I'm still around volleyball six days a week, which means I'm always absorbing information and just digesting it for later when I do get to coach my own team again.

4) Roles

During my initial meetings with the club president and coach, it was very clear that this developmental team would play the youth players. I would be around to help competitiveness and bring experience when necessary. This has meant that while I am indeed the captain of the team, I now have the role of the back-up setter. Being a substitute who only plays for short spurts in the games (because of FIVB rules that only allow substitutes to enter and exit each set once) has definitely added depth to my volleyball perspective. I give everything I can vocally from the bench, helping with the waters, talking to teammates during timeouts, etc. It's a little bit weird being a bench player, but I'm embracing it for now, and enjoying my paid-to-practice status.

We are currently in seventh place out of thirteen teams. The bottom two teams will descend to the third league at the end of the season in April. It's a difficult season for a lot of teams because there are the top five teams who are ahead of everyone, the very bottom team who still has yet to win a match, then the middle seven teams all within two wins of each other.

Even though the middle chunk of teams is relatively at the same level, one of these teams will end up in twelfth place and going down to the third league. With our wins in January, we should be okay to stay in the second division, and we still have five winnable matches coming up as the season finishes.

We play our last match against the last place team, Holz, on April 2nd.

Then what?!

At the moment, I have no idea what next year will hold for me, volleyball-wise. I know it will be something, somewhere, though! Hopefully, we will stay in the same area next year, and I will be able to choose between staying with this second league developmental team or finding myself another local team in a different division. One major positive of a lower division team is that it equals shorter van rides!

Either way, I really like my teammates and coaches, and am so thankful for the opportunity to continue to have a sport as my profession.

We may have moved to Vilsbiburg for Marc and basketball, but there's so many volleyball options here, it often feels like it's the other way around!

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February 1, 2016

How I Travel: 6 Items I Won't Buy

Travelers and tourists are always swearing up and down about all the things we must buy before embarking on that long-awaited and forever-been-planning trip.

Most of the time, it's just a marketing ploy for our money.

I've talked before about what I pack for my trips. It would seem that it would then be obvious what I do not pack, but every traveler is bombarded with way too many ideas on what they should stuff into their bag. Plus, one of the reasons my travels are so affordable is because my budget doesn't include travel accessory purchases before, during, or after the journey.

Read: How I Travel: What to Pack?

Fact of the matter is, if I don't use some random accessory in my daily life, I probably won't need it on my vacation. The other truth to hold onto is I don't need new stuff every time I go on a trip; my "old" stuff (from just six months ago) will do just fine.

6 Travel Items I Won't Buy

1. Money belt
I'm a hardcore Rick Steves fan, but he was really just playing into American fears when he started insisting that a jazzy beige money belt was a necessary travel accessory. Does it work? Yes. But so do my free jacket zipper pockets, and they don't make me appear to have a lumpy midsection.

2. Selfie stick
I admit, some selfie stick photos are epic. However, I've got wonderfully long selfie stick arms. If I really can't pull off the photo I want with those, then maybe I'll just have to go out on another limb and ask a stranger to take the photo. Chances are, there will be some tourist families loitering around anyway, and a parent is unlikely to steal your phone in front of their children.

3. Smart touch gloves
I know that smart touch gloves work, but they are not for me. I prefer fingerless gloves, anyway. If you must be tapping your touch device the whole time you're on vacation, maybe you should re-evaluate why you've gone on vacation. Use the gloves you already have and deal with the two-second inconvenience of taking your glove off before engaging your electronics.

4. GoPro
Again, GoPro produces some incredible stuff. But I don't scuba dive, sky dive, ski, cliff jump, or anything else really extreme. If you are an extreme adventure junkie, GoPro is for your brand of crazy. Most travelers will tend to be like me, though, just wandering around cities, taking funky road trips, and enjoying delicious food. Regular cameras - even phone cameras - work just fine for documenting these low-risk experiences.

5. New shoes
If you love aching arches and blistered toes, take whatever new shoes you like! Travel already takes you out of your comfort zone, and, as my mom has always said, "You are only as good as your feet." We all have more than enough pairs of shoes to choose from, and go with a pair you trust instead of trying to impress the locals who you'll probably never see again.

Read: The Day I Pretended to be Parisian

6. Inside luggage organizers
There's been a huge kick on buying zippered containers for inside a suitcase. While the organize-obsessed me likes the idea of these, they are so unnecessary! Ever heard of plastic bags? They work exactly the same. Or just use several pouch or bag-like containers you already have to separate your essentials. I am a firm believer that, "Organizers do not make you more organized. YOU make you more organized." If you were a disorganized and messy traveler before, you will still be disorganized and messy with zippered containers. The only difference being you'll have less money.

What other travel accessories do you consider gimmicks? What have you bought to travel and never used? Can you add to this list?

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January 26, 2016

Soaking in Madrid

Blogging, recording, remembering - whatever you want to call it - can sometimes make a "vacation" a real drag. Last year, I was determined to write a post for every day that we were in Spain. I was able to pull it off, but it was a ton of work, and didn't really contribute to the quality of my vacation time.

This time around in Madrid, I wanted to soak it all in. And soak we did: in tapas and wine, in the Arab baths, and in the sunshine.

Instead of trying to day trip out to Segovia or Toledo again, we just stayed put. Our AirBnB flat ended up having the perfect location: directly above an incredible tapas bar, El Alambique. We ate there at least once a day - sometimes twice.

Besides my "goal" of taking it easy, the other thing I really, really wanted to do was float around in a rowboat in Retiro Park.

We had entirely coherent conversations in Spanish on several occasions...we are still trying to figure out how that happened. We sat back and relaxed at the new Star Wars movie (ask Marc how this came about) - and only paid $6 each to see it.

We repeated our favorite tapas bar from last year, only to realize we loved our new tapas bar even more. We waited in line for the legendary Melo's tapas and even found a place to sit and enjoy the insane zapatilla (a giant grilled ham and cheese sandwich).

We refreshed in the Hammam Al-Andalus again. We wandered through the beautiful paintings of Paris and Venice in the Thyssen museum. We sat in the sunshine whenever we could.

Basically, it was a perfect vacation.

We are die-hard Spain fans. When we visited Spain while living in France (I'm taking a moment to sigh at that opening statement - living in Europe is SO cool), it was like, "Hey, Spain is really great." After living in Germany for the past four months, Spain is now, "OMG this is amaaaaaaaziiiiiing."

(It's mostly a cuisine issue for me.)

Pork with grilled onions and mango with brie cheese tapas.
But aside from the food, we noticed things we had taken for granted in France before: free tap water, free toilets, free strong wifi...all things we never expected the most successful country in the European Union to not have figured out already. Spain may have a lot of other economic issues, but basic needs in the 21st century is not one of them!

If you ever get the opportunity to enjoy Madrid, do whatever it takes to go row a boat in Retiro Park. It's just plain and wonderful fun.

While we are by no means art collectors, we do try to find something from places that we love for our walls. Now we can soak up the sunshine in Retiro Park anytime we want.

Have you been to Madrid? Do you love Spain as much as we do? How do you celebrate Christmas and other holidays when you are abroad?

Wander Mum
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January 20, 2016

Party Like It's 1986

The last time I had a birthday party with more than five people invited, I was sixteen.

It was a good party with the friends I thought I was supposed to have as the person I thought I was supposed to be. Not many days after my party full of food and charades, my best friend died in a car accident.

I guess I wasn't really up for party planning in January for a while.

My last truly memorable birthday was my twenty-first, spent at a dance club and Denny's with my college best friend and two random acquaintances who happened to be in town during the winter vacation. We didn't even have any
alcohol, but that's probably why it's so easy to remember now.

For whatever reason, turning thirty inspired the comeback to a real birthday party. I had some really big plans that included karaoke and a potluck, but a location was difficult to secure. Instead, my German teammates called every Asian restaurant within an hour drive to see if they had sushi and a place to have a birthday party.

Ultimately, I really only wanted one thing.

I wanted it to be an 80s party.

This birthday party was so important to me. In the past, I've downplayed my planning and expectations for events in order to not be disappointed or frustrated. But I couldn't help but have high hopes and expectations for this party. I didn't exactly know what to expect from all my new friends, but they all looked incredible!!! (Especially after we started cracking into the glow sticks!)

I was completely thrilled with the result, the sushi restaurant my friends found was awesome, and we were having a really great time. We had even won both of our matches this weekend, and, of course, that made everyone even happier.

Then my sneaky friends called me to the front of the group.

"We know you didn't want any gifts, but open it."

"It" was an enormous box. I had no idea what could possibly be inside, and was actually afraid it would be a puppy or something else that I really, REALLY did not want.

I cautiously lifted back the cardboard flaps. It took a second to register what I was looking at, then I went into shock and surprise tears.

They got me a piñata.

If you have a winter birthday, you might understand. All the spring and summer birthday parties I went to were outside, and usually had a huge piñata hanging on a tree. My indoor parties never included swinging for candy, and it had always made me a little bit sad.

So why was I so surprised? First of all, I've only known these people not even five months. Secondly, my invitations specifically said "no gifts." And finally, after thirteen, I think even the summer birthday people give up hoping for a piñata at their party.

I didn't realize how much I'd always wanted a piñata. I talk about never having one at my childhood birthdays, but I also talk about never getting a mini motorized car or a pony. I did get a kitten when I was ten (thanks, parents!), and little Bandit was probably my favorite childhood gift I ever received (plus, he was still cool sixteen years later!).

It is incredible that a foreigner can move to a place and have such an awesome birthday experience not even half a year later. I will never forget my thirtieth birthday party because my friends made it so perfect. They literally blew my mind with the gifts of their hilarious 80s outfits and the piñata that I didn't even know was so important to me until I opened that giant box.

Thank you for loving sushi, enjoying looking ridiculous, and making all of my childhood birthday party dreams come true.

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January 15, 2016

German Swag 101: A Few of My Favorite Things

We've been whirlwinding just as much as the snow, wind, and rain ever since we returned to Vilsbiburg from Madrid on December 28th. January and February are full to the brim with friends, parties, and trips, and it helps make winter a lot less dreary.


We did New Year's Eve with friends at a local restaurant, complete with live music and fireworks not even fifteen feet away from us! After midnight, we hung out in the basketball player's apartment on the bottom floor of our house. Since no one had a plan ("drinking" is not a plan or strategy for anything), "Time's Up" entered the scene, followed by a Yahtzee tutorial.

I love Christmas, but if there's a NYE party, it usually ends up as my favorite of the year!


I can't figure out how to spell whatever is being said, but I'm pretty sure it's one of the hello greetings of "grüezi" or "grüß dich." Whatever it looks like doesn't matter ("dich" is a form of "you"); what it sounds like is: "gristy." But when the Germans don't hit the "g" sound very hard, it sounds exactly like: "Christy." 

Somehow I ended up in a region where a common greeting sounds like my first name, and I haven't decided yet if it makes me feel famous and popular or anonymous and even more thankful to be called "Swags." Also, Google Translate tells me this phrase means "howdy." Yee-haw.

The Dog Walker

The best part of walking to the gym everyday is speaking hilarious German with one of our neighbors. Old Man is at least seventy-five years old, wears something like a Bavarian fedora, and he walks his black and white poofy little dog everyday. And by "walks his dog," I mean Old Man walks very slowly, and the little dog rides like a prince in the basket of his rolling walker.

Old Man is the only person who cannot speak a word of English to me, and, even though our "conversations" usually end with a shrug and laughter, I wouldn't trade these mini-German lessons for anything! Next step: ask Old Man his name.

German Words

Sentences are still a bit of a stretch, so we'll stick to some words that fill the moment just fine on their own.

Genau. It means "exactly," can be used literally all the time, and is easy to pronounce with a hard "g" and short "i" as "ge-NOW." I equate it to using "c'est ça" and "ça va" in French. Great word for whenever you don't really know what else to say.

Entshuldigung. It's a mouthful, but it means "excuse me" and is very necessary. Once you get the hang of the syllables, it's even fun to say! Try "int-shool-dee-gung" ten times fast.

The words "verheiratet" and "verstehen" are a struggle. Unfortunately, the first one means "married," and the second means "to understand." Therefore, it's currently impossible for me to say, "do you understand that I'm married," because it will probably come out as, " do you married that I'm understand." I'll leave those words out of my vocabulary until later, kind of like how I did with "heureuse" (happy in the feminine form, instead using "contente") and many other words in French.

There are many other great things about living in Bavaria, but these are a few of my favorite at the moment. The raging blizzard* outside may temper my enthusiasm a bit, but winter can only last so long, right?

What do you love about where you live? 

*Californian translation: snow and wind combined.

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January 8, 2016

Madrid: Step Into Antiquity

The best thing about the Hammam Al-Ándalus is that while all four of their locations in Spain are totally different, you are guaranteed to have an incredibly authentic experience in relation to the history of each city.

Madrid is the perfect example of this. The Arab history in central Spain is tied more closely to nearby Toledo, but Madrid - then known as Mayrit - was an important Moorish outpost starting in the late 700s and for the duration of Moorish Spain.

Hammam Al-Ándalus in Madrid not only respects this history, but literally submerges itself within it. Closely located to both Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, it is easy to locate and enjoy within the heart of Madrid. As I entered the hammam from the busy street, my steps immediately took me downstairs into a totally different world in the preserved caverns of a former well. The facilities gracefully incorporate original design elements with the exposed clay and brick and beautiful archways.

The aspect that sets apart an Arab bath experience from a spa is the ancient Moorish tradition of stimulating circulation for health and hygiene. The three spacious pools have distinct differences in temperature to revitalize the body. A steam room and a tea room are both adjacent to the bathing area and add another relaxing ingredient that is fundamental to the experience.

The Madrid version of the Hammam Al-Ándalus is especially intimate, with a smooth fluidity of warmth throughout the open space and the more private corners. The arched perspective from the as-sajun bayt (hot pool) to the bayt al-bastani (warm pool) is particularly impressive and creates an elegant viewpoint in every direction.

In the tea room of rest, bathers can find ready mint tea from either the prepared teapots or the very unique "tea fountain" that pours tea out of a faucet. All of the aromas of the hammam blend together in this room from the candles and the essential oil selection area. Every Hammam Al-Ándalus offers the scents of red amber, rose, and lavendar, and also one scent specific to the city. Madrid's scent is violet, and can be found wafting from candles throughout the entire hammam. Each bather can choose their oil of preference for their massage, or opt for the traditional exfoliating kessa soap scrub, shown below.

After the hot and warm pools, the steam room, and hot tea, the bayt al-barid (cold pool) serves as a relief for the body, and ultimately enhances the body's circulation in the most refreshing way.

The Hammam Al-Ándalus prides itself on having an open circuit and a complete encounter with the five senses. In Madrid, this is achieved through the sight of the historical decor, the sound of soft Arabic music, the taste of tea, the touch of the water and warm massage, and the scent of violet permeating throughout the chambers.

The next time you're in Madrid, plan to spend some quality quiet time at the Hammam Ál-Andalus. It is an organic step into antiquity, and your mind, body, and spirit will be the better for it.


Hammam Al-Ándalus Madrid is located on Calle Atocha, equidistant from both Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

I agreed to review the Hammam Al-Ándalus Madrid in exchange for a complimentary experience.
All opinions and views are my own.

Photos provided by Hammam Al-Ándalus Madrid marketing department.
Current Hammam Al-Ándalus Madrid Special Offers.
Advance reservations necessary.

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January 2, 2016

16 Plans in 2016

Every new year always brings the promise of new adventures! Here are sixteen of the adventures I have lined up for this year, but I'm hoping to toss a few more in here and there!

1. A Birthday

I'm turning thirty. 3. 0. I haven't been this excited about a birthday...EVER! I'm finally turning the age I've always been meant to be. Party plans include sushi and 80s attire. Want to come?

2. Vilsbiburg Beach Party

At the end of January, apparently the city fills the party hall with sand and heat and we all pretend it's the middle of summer. Sure to be a huge hit!

3. Baden-Baden

We play in Offenburg on a Saturday, so naturally Sunday will be spent at the incredible Friedrichsbad Roman baths.

4. Milan

I have two free weekends in February, and Milan seems to be the cheapest flight out of town. May end up in the south of France instead, but I will definitely be going somewhere - maybe even two somewheres!

5. Vienna

Easter break takes Marc's youth basketball team to Vienna for a week. Thus, Marc's youth basketball team takes me to Vienna for a week. Winning!

6. Neuschwanstein

Tanya is coming! Tanya is coming! We'll be going to THE Bavarian castle for sure, and I'm excited to see the fairy tale palace in the springtime instead of the winter.

7. Salzburg

We will also be going to Salzburg. There will be a lot of Sound of Music moments. Always.

8. Paris

My volleyball season ends in April, and that means I get to resume tutoring in Paris before school lets out for the summer! And Amy is having her French wedding!

9. Sevilla

Marc and I are stopping over in Sevilla for a few days before heading to: see below.

10. Algarve

Cannot. Wait. To. Return. I'm still obsessed with the Algarve and so ready to relax on the Portuguese sand for days/daze.

11. Budapest

As if all the before stuff wasn't enough: Kia is visiting, too! We will be taking Budapest by storm, as rag-tag hostel summer bums out for as many jumping photos as possible.

12. Bratislava

Then we'll take a day in Bratislava because it's on the way.

13. Vienna (again)

I guess I'll just have to do some repeats of glorious places.

14. Salzburg (again)

Again, repeating glorious places and climbing every mountain.

15. Paris (again)

Some of Marc's relatives are planning a house swap with our Paris friends. We get to join in on all the fun as the tour guides!

16. Netherlands

Volleyball camp always brings me back and it's one of my favorite vacations every year!

Here's to entering my thirties and to another fun year abroad!

What plans do you have for 2016? Will you be in any of these same places? Where are you looking forward to visiting the most?

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