Berlin: Where to Stay and What to Do in This Weird Paradox of a City

Berlin: Home to currywurst, spacious sidewalks, tons of graffiti art, a stellar metro system, and grunge fashion.

I spent four nights in Berlin and, at first, I was not a fan.

The city felt cold, dreary, and unwelcoming.

I thought the Berlin Wall had been knocked down…but Berliners still seem to have walls up of their own… especially to block out Americans like myself. 😌

Of course, first impressions can be rather misleading. My first night in Berlin, I stayed at the Singer109 Hostel. It sucked. Do not stay there.

The folks at reception made me feel as though every question I asked was the biggest hassle ever and there was absolutely zero atmosphere. Though, I must say the rooms were rather nice…mine had an ensuite bathroom which is a rare find for most hostels. But still…not worth staying there!

So, where to stay instead?

I followed the advice of The Hostel Girl and checked into The Circus Hostel for my last three nights in Berlin. The atmosphere was night and day. I immediately felt better about Berlin and was excited to see what the city had to offer!

Ok, what should I DO in Berlin?

As I usually suggest…go on a walking tour! Similarly to the hostel in Copenhagen that I stayed at, The Circus offers free walking tours TWICE daily! So, if you sleep in and miss the 9:45 tour, you can always join the one at 1:15.

Our tour guide, Kyle, offered up tons of history about Berlin. For me, the highlight was seeing the hotel balcony (Hotel Adlon) where Michael Jackson dangled baby Blanket from all those years ago. 😂 I had no idea that was in Berlin…RIP MJ. 💙

Pop culture aside, Berlin is home to a lot of dark times in European history. The tour included a stop by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. Selfies are not allowed (for obvious reasons) and, while you can sit on any of the 2,711 stones, folks should refrain from standing on them.

So, why is Berlin a “paradox”?

Well, Berliners like to think they’re super progressive and forward-thinking…but here are some weird things I learned about Berlin while visiting:

Most of the city is cash-only.

In fact, cash is still the means of payment in some 80 percent of point-of-sale transactions in Berlin! According to Bloomberg, “the use of cash has, to a surprising extent, become a proxy for profound concerns about trust, privacy, and the role of the state.” So, be sure to carry euros ALL the time!

Clubs will reject folks who dress nicely.

Heels, suits, colorful dresses…not cool in Berlin. Even locals suggest wearing all black, sneakers, and anything “grungy.”

If you don’t know your DJs, GTFO.

Again, according to locals and other tourists I chatted with, music is a BFD in Berlin. Bouncers will ask you what DJ you’ve come to see and, if you don’t have an answer, you can hit the road. Apparently, they do this to weed out tourists from the true house-music loving locals…but I think it’s rather unwelcoming. 🤔

For a city that claims to be so accepting and open, the folks here seem to follow an odd set of rules. Someone I met recently said Berlin reminded them of NYC and, being the native New Yorker that I am, I don’t agree. In all my travels, there is no city more open and welcoming to ALL then good ol’ NYC. 😍

Disclaimer: I didn’t hit the clubs while in Berlin…folks in the city START partying at 6AM and also drugs are a big thing (not surprising with the hours they keep), so… not really my scene.

HOWEVER, there was plenty I eventually learned to love about Berlin and I’ll write all about it in my next post!

Have you been to Berlin?! What’d you think? Let me know!

P.s. If you’re not already following me on Instagram, do it now! I’ve been posting plenty of entertaining stories…including a rather claustrophobic experience in Berlin — more on that in the next post!

Will you run away with me?

Spread kindness and cheer, xo

Jackie

Globetrotting with a Bootleg Phone Plan and No Data: A Solo Travel Guide

Happy Friday the 13th y’all! I’m in Berlin at the moment…I arrived yesterday evening and spent about 13 hours sleeping. 😂

As I eat currywurst (the national fast food of Berlin) for the first time in my life in a spot called KreuzBurger, I figured I’d also take the time to let y’all know how to survive solo travel in lands far, far away.

Pro tip: Don’t stress, plan less, and learn to wing it!

Easier said than done for most, I know, but don’t get caught up in all the little things when traveling abroad! As long as you have your plane ticket, a phone, cash/credit, and your passport, you’ll be just fine!

What about an international phone plan, Jackie?

Take it from someone who has an $80 LG phone that runs on Virgin Mobile and has been to 12 foreign countries…you don’t need an international phone plan. Once I leave American soil, I turn data off and solely rely on WiFi.

Of course, if you’re traveling to more remote places, etc., then investing in an international plan may be smart.

The great thing about most foreign countries… especially big cities in Europe…is that they have free public WiFi all around! Outside, inside, in the metro stations, on the buses, and essentially anywhere else you’d need it!

Also, did you know Google Maps works without WiFi?! As long as you know where you’re going, the locator dot will continue to tell you where YOU are on the map! So, as you move along, you can see if you’re heading in the right direction or not.

If you’re traveling alone, I recommend getting flights, trains, etc. that arrive during the day… especially if you plan on walking to your hostel, etc. once you arrive.

Berlin is the first foreign city I’ve ever traveled to alone where the main language isn’t English (save for Iceland, but I had been there before), so I booked a flight that got in at 5pm. This gave me allowance to get a bit lost in the streets as I made my way to my hostel (and I totally did 😂), knowing I’d have plenty of daylight to work with. Plus, I’m always sure to keep to main streets and, if Google maps isn’t helping me, I pop into a nearby cafe or shop to grab some WiFi. 😅

It may sound stressful but it really isn’t. I tell myself that if worst comes to currywurst, I can always hail a cab! (Hopefully… 😅)

Coming from NYC, I feel confident getting around any major city…even without relying on my phone!

Pro tip: Look up and actually READ the street signs and don’t fear getting lost!

I’ve found that folks who rely on their cell data and mapped out routes in foreign cities often miss out on little things because they’re so fixated on not missing a turn. I actually just met a girl from Australia who also said she doesn’t have an international plan because she doesn’t want to be staring at her phone during her travels!

This is the time to get out of your comfort zone and force yourself to talk to folks and SEE what’s around you! We’ve become so dependent on our phones but we don’t need them!

What do you do when you go abroad? Let me know in the comments!

Also…if y’all have any tips for Berlin, let me know! I’m here till Monday and have done zero research…whoops! 🤦

Will you run away with me?

Spread kindness and cheer, xo

Jackie

The Elephant House is Overrated and Other Musings from Edinburgh

Thinking I’d be inspired by the place where JK Rowling is said to have written her whimsical Harry Potter stories, I decided to grab breakfast at The Elephant House on my last morning in Edinburgh.

The Elephant House is literally around the corner from the hostel I hunkered down at (Budget Backpackers), so I figured why not stop by!

Tourist mistake numero uno!

The Elephant House is an odd little place. With menus in both Chinese and English, the place screamed ‘Chinese Restaurant.’

But nope, no Chinese. Just gluten-free cakes and a small selection of breakfast items. Which is good since that’s what I went for. However…

…after being seated, I waited at least 15 mins before I could get anyone’s attention to take my order. Eh, it’s busy – fair enough. BUT THEN…about 15 minutes after I’d ordered my eggs, I was told “Sorry, we ran out of eggs!”

It’s 11am!! How are you out of eggs?!

Needless to say, I was not impressed with this place. 😂 Although, kudos to the fresh-squeezed orange juice. I don’t know why that’s not a thing in America.

Also, this sign was cute but didn’t fit the atmosphere of the place at all.

So, I left disappointed, uninspired, and malnourished. 😂 Luckily, the spot literally next door was a cute French place (Patisserie Valerie) and THEY HAD EGGS!

Much more on Edinburgh to come, so stay tuned!!

Next Stop: Copenhagen

Will you run away with me?

Spread kindness and cheer, xo

Jackie

A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Howdy, y’all! I’m currently writing from an Airbnb in Grindavik…the same little town of 3,300 that’s home to the popular Blue Lagoon!

Last time I ventured to Iceland, I stayed at the Kex Hostel in the “big city” of Reykjavik. Since I’m only in Iceland for a 20-hour layover this time around, I decided to stay local and not stray too far from KEF airport.

And, since the Blue Lagoon is just a 20-min drive from KEF, I decided to spend the day there after my arrival. Prior to coming here, most of the reviews I had read about BL were from groups or couples…so, here’s my guide for all you fellow solo travelers!

Book in Advance

I booked my ticket for the Blue Lagoon exactly one month in advance of my trip. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 10:30 AM and I wanted to give myself enough time in case of delays, etc. so I booked my Lagoon ticket for 2 PM. I also booked a shuttle in advance through Airport Direct for an added fee (you can actually add this right in when you purchase your BL ticket online). I had about an hour to kill at the airport before my 1 PM shuttle but I didn’t mind! A lot of folks encourage visiting earlier or later in the day, but the lagoon itself is huge and it didn’t feel overwhelmingly crowded at all, even in the middle of a summer afternoon!

Purchase the ‘Comfort’ Package

I read a lot of differing opinions on what type of ticket to buy for the Lagoon. To me, comfort was key. It included admission, a towel, a free drink at the swim-up bar (beer, wine, smoothie, etc.), and unlimited silica masks. The fancier package includes a robe and slippers and another type of mask but those added bits certainly aren’t necessary. Especially the mask part…more on that below.

Being Alone Isn’t Lonely

Ok, admittedly I did feel a little weird going to the Blue Lagoon alone…but I’ve done everything else alone so no big deal. Turns out, it really wasn’t! There were plenty of other solo peeps, and even folks who were with others ended up floating around, doing their own thing. There is plenty of bench seating along the interior of the lagoon, so you can just pop a squat like I did and people watch/meditate/etc.

ALSO…get chatty with the folks who work there! The lifeguards loved to talk, as did the folks doling out the mud masks in the middle of the lagoon. In fact, I struck up a great conversation with one such worker named Stefan who ended up giving me algae and lava masks for free! They were supposed to be like $10 each! Yayay!

The Showers Are NBD

I read so many posts detailing how you have to shower totally naked before entering the lagoon and folks made it sound like the showers were all open and there would be employees watching my every scrub. That wasn’t the case AT ALL. The bathrooms have individual shower stalls, complete with frosted glass, hair conditioner, and body wash. There was nothing weird about it, even for a prude American like myself. 😂

Odds and Ends

Bring a waterproof case for your phone! I bought a cheap one on Amazon that worked perfectly. Plus, I didn’t want to risk damaging my DSLR, but I wanted a few photos to remember this experience by!

There is no limit for how long you can stay at the Blue Lagoon. Once you arrive, you can stay till closing if you want! Plus, there’s a cafe and restaurant inside to keep you satiated.

Also, ladies and gents with long hair — it’s encouraged to keep it tied up and conditioned before entering the Lagoon. The shower stalls offer a bounty of conditioner which I saturated my hair in. I didn’t rinse it out before tying my hair up and going in. My hair ended up getting wet, but it didn’t turn into straw because I had put so much conditioner in — both before and after!

One last note…be careful upon entering the lagoon itself! The floor is actually really slippery and I nearly went completely under after losing my balance walking in! I also had no one to laugh it off with (#solotravelprobs). 😂

Have you been to the Blue Lagoon? What’d you think? Let me know!

Next stop: Edinburgh

Spread kindness and cheer, xo

Jackie

A Commitment-Phobe’s Commitment to Travel

Jobs, relationships, apartments, vegetarianism . . . these are all things I struggle to commit to.

Heck, I still even question the college I went to . . . and I graduated 5 years ago! 😂

Always on the hunt for new opportunities and experiences, I fear getting stuck in a rut.

The term “settling down” gives me nightmares.

I recently met up with a fellow traveler I met three years ago during my first solo expedition and we talked about our insatiable need to explore and see the world. I confessed that sometimes I wish I had no desire at all to travel; that I could simply be happy in one spot – stable, committed, and satisfied.

But el oh el then I wouldn’t be RUNAWAY RAPETTI!

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While some people can commit to jobs and places and people for years and years and years, I can commit to something too . . .

TRAVEL!!

Planes, trains, and automobiles – if there’s a ticket in my name, you can bet I’ll be there.

Not only that but it also goes hand in hand with my commitment to always be learning, dreaming, and growing. As much as I loved school, I’ve learned that the best classroom is somewhere right outside of your comfort zone.

I’m a textbook INTJ and yet I choose to travel solo because it gives me two things:

  1. My much-needed alone time. Hallelujah! 😂
  2. The push for ‘extroverted Jackie’ to come out and meet new folks!

Whether you’re a vagabond, a gypsy, or a runaway like me, I hope you enjoy every minute of your journey – and don’t forget to spread kindness and cheer along the way!

Next Stop: Grindavik!

Will you run away with me?!

Spread kindness and cheer, xo
Jackie