TICKED OFF

But honestly though, going to Loch Ness was really cool. The loch was beautiful and it was a close jaunt from Inverness (the city where I was staying). Very cool, you should go.

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I had one setback, though. To get to Loch Ness, I had walked along the highway on the east side of the River Ness, which doesn’t have much sidewalk. I had to squeeze against the side of the road and jump fences for 8 miles to get there. I was happy when I finally got to Loch Ness but was not looking forward to taking the same route back.

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Fortunately, when it was time to go back to Inverness, I found a footpath that ran alongside the river. I didn’t know if it would lead all the way back to Inverness and I couldn’t find it on a map, but I decided to follow as long as it would lead me.

Following this path was a lot nicer than hopping fences and walking on the highway. It went through a quiet forest, past small cozy houses, past big fancy houses, through some kind of abandoned graveyard, then back into the forest.

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Eventually though, the path became thinner and the forest became thicker. Wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, my entire body was rubbing against grass, leaves, and branches.

I’d been walking a couple hours, so I stopped to take a break. I sat down to drink some water when I noticed a small dot on my left leg. It was about the size of a lentil and had four tiny legs (kinda of like a spider), but I couldn’t see the head.

I quickly recognized that the thing sticking out of my leg was a TICK, and after inspecting my leg more closely, I realized that there wasn’t just one tick in my leg but two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!! My only experience with ticks was pulling a blood-filled one off my friend’s dog and reading about Lyme disease in Boy Scouts. So I did the most logical thing: I panicked.

I quickly opened my backpack and found my bug spray (I’d had bug spray the whole time, why hadn’t I sprayed myself?!!) and covered my legs. Then, remembering terrible stories about people finding ticks in their nether regions, I ripped all my clothes off and drenched every inch of my naked body with bug spray.

Since this was my first time having a tick (TICKS) on me, I wanted to get back to my hostel as soon as possible so I could get my tweezers and pull them all out. I was only halfway back to Inverness, but I knew I could get back in less than an hour if I ran. I pulled my clothes back on and ran toward where I thought the highway was; I WAS NOT going back into the forest.

I ran through another field, lots of tall grass, some bushes, over a fence, past some houses and was soon back on the highway. I ran until I was back at my hostel. I was so tired and hungry, but I went straight to the bathroom with my tweezers and started pulling ticks out. One, two, three, four … I lost count after ten. After pulling out every tick I could see, I jumped into the shower — where I noticed yet more ticks sticking out of my leg. I spent at least a half hour pulling ticks out of my leg and cleaning my leg with soap and water.

Visiting Loch Ness is cool, but if you’re gonna walk there, take the path on the west side of the river and don’t wear shorts and sandals in the forest unless you want to get naked naked in ticks.

P.S. No, I didn’t get an STD from the ticks (Scottish Tick Disease).

Get to Loch Ness in 6 easy steps

Most people want to go to Loch Ness and pay their respects to the Loch Ness Monster aka our underwater ally, but also most people haven’t been to Loch Ness, probably because they lack the knowledge of which amulets, rune spells, and passknocks will help get you there. Luckily for all of us, I went to Loch Ness last July and I can tell you how to get there.

If you want to go to Loch Ness, follow my advice. I’m an avid traveller and Nessie fan.

Step 1: Get to Scotland. According to basic geography, Scotland is the country where Loch Ness is. Starting from your country of origin, you can board the closest airplane, bus, boat, scuba driver, narwhal, drawgon (it’s a drawing of a dragon that comes to life and can fly), flying pony, or spacetime jumper and ride it until you get to Scotland.

Step 2: Fit in with the locals. As with any journey, you need to fit in with the local inhabitants if you’re gonna make it very far. Your first option is to dress like a commoner: in Scotland, the men dress like women and the women dress like men. If you’re unsure whether an outfit in feminine or masculine, try a unisex outfit like this:

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Another option is to wear invisibility garb, which will make you undetectable to everyone but high-level wizards.

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A final option is to dress as a wizard, but only do this if you’re prepared to duel regularly.

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Step 3: Travel to Inverness. There are several settlements surrounding Loch Ness, the largest and most accessible is called Inverness. Once you reach Scotland and are wearing appropriate clothing, head to this city. Inverness is 8 miles from the loch itself, but you won’t find a bus or train that’ll take you closer.

Even though Inverness is the largest city in northern Scotland, it’s still pretty small, so if you stay there (which you probably will) be sure to book a hotel or hostel ahead of time. You can also pitch a tent next to the river if you want, but be aware of river trolls and kelpies.

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Step 4: Follow the river. To get to Loch Ness from Inverness, follow the River Ness south. You can follow the river by taking a local bus, renting a bike, walking, hitchhiking, running, or riding a forest stallion. Be aware that the preferred currency of the region is nebula amulets, but basically any other amulet will work. Except sparkle amulets. And fart gems.

If you decide to walk to Loch Ness, there’s a safe footpath on the west side of the river, as opposed to the Path of Rage and Gore on the east side. If you encounter a vampire tree on your way, use passknock combination 3R-5R-1L.

IMPORTANT: Loch Ness is 23 miles long and THERE ARE NO bridges that cross the loch or river once you’re out of Inverness, which is good cuz that means there are less trolls, BUT it also means you need to know which part of the loch you want to see before you head out. Are you planning to siege Urduhart Castle? Better take the west side of the river. Looking for the lost graveyard? Better take the east side. Are you taking a boat tour of the loch? Better find out where the boat docks before you leave.

Step 5: Enjoy the scenery. The landscape of Scotland is among the most Scottish in the world. Enjoy the land’s natural beauty, whether you’re sitting on a bus, a forest stallion, or your own two feet.

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Step 6: Chill at Loch Ness. If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you’ll arrive at Loch Ness.

Actually being at Loch Ness is pretty weird though. When I got there, people were just, like, water skiing and having picnics and doing other lake stuff, kinda like it was just a normal lake and there wasn’t a giant monster that lived there. Idiots.

I maintained a respectful distance from the lake’s edge and cast a protective spell over the lake and its local inhabitants and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.

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I didn’t die in Europe

A year ago, I landed in Europe for a three-week backpacking trip. I didn’t plan to take many pictures, I didn’t plan to blog about it, I didn’t plan to become a full-time traveller — I didn’t even plan to have a good time. I just had one goal: survive.

I’d bought the plane tickets in the middle of the night during my last semester of college without thinking. I tried to refund them afterward, regretting my decision. I would be travelling alone and therefore would probably be mugged/raped/killed.

Unable to refund the tickets and putting a good face on for all my friends at home, I forced myself to get on the plane. Equipped with a new jacket, waterproof boots (at least I THOUGHT they were waterproof), and a backpack with only two outfits, I landed in Europe hoping to survive.

The next three weeks were the craziest, coolest, funnest, most empowering three weeks I’d ever had. I slept on stranger’s couches, tried new food, visited old friends, learned new things about myself, did things I never thought I’d do, saw things I’d always wanted to see, and discovered things I didn’t even know existed. They literally changed me and set a new course for my life.

I’m so grateful to everyone who made last year’s trip possible. Whether it was giving me a tip about new food to try, hooking me up with a couch to crash on, or giving me a ride somewhere, I am so grateful.

I’m also grateful to have so many new friends from all over the world following me now. Your travel tips and friendship make me feel so much safer and more confident as I travel.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity, money, and connections to make travel my current lifestyle. I’m so flipping blessed it’s crazy.

 

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia

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London Temple in Surrey, England

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Oslofjord in Oslo, Norway

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A Roman arch in Verona, Italy

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Feldkirch, Austria

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Walensee, Switzerland

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

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A vine-covered house in Howth, Ireland

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This was originally a post on my Instagram, but I thought I’d post it here so it’d be easier to find later.

How to go to a Russian banya

Stripped naked + stuck in a hot room + drowned in ice water + beat with leaves = a Russian banya.

Banyas are the Russian version of saunas, except they make you want to die while you’re in them. They’re real great when it’s all finished, though.

There are three general areas of the banya: the hot room, the cold room, and the hangout room.

In the hot room, the temperature rises above 150°F (70°C) and the humidity reaches 80% or higher, so you just sit and sweat and sweat and sweat. Because you’re sweating so much, you’re supposed wear nothing but a pair of slippers and a felt hat. The hat protects your head from getting too hot and the slippers prevent you from slipping because the floor and your feet are covered in water and sweat.

Sitting there, your heart starts beating hecka fast and you start breathing like you’re running a marathon.

As if that’s not bad enough, you’re also supposed to hit yourself (or have a friend hit you) with a bushel of birch leaves because #Russia.

But slow down there, Turbo! If you’re new to the banya world, don’t sit in the hot room longer than 10 minutes or you’ll pass out and wake up naked on the floor surrounded by Russians. This isn’t a Ke$ha music video, so pace yourself.

After the hot room, you’re supposed to drench your body in ice-cold water. According to Russian folk wisdom, anything involving ice water and buckets is healthy. The idea here is that the hot room opens up your pores and the cold water closes them, squeezing out any nastiness inside.

To cover yourself in ice water you can 1) jump into a pool of ice water (terrible), 2) lay in a tub of ice water (also terrible), or 3) dump ice water on your head (really terrible). If none of these options are available, just go outside and roll in the snow (which is terrible too).

After this hot/cold torture, you’ll go to the hangout room and relax. Take 15 minutes to recover, then go back in and do the hot/cold process all over again. Repeat four times or until you pass out (but remember that I don’t recommend that option).

Afterward, you’ll feel very refreshed. Your blood has circulated through your whole body, you’ve sweated a lot of junk from your system, and the combination of hot and cold leaves your skin with a nice crackly feeling.

But you’ll also be very very tired. You basically just ran a couple marathons and did five ice bucket challenges, so just go to the closest donut shop and chill for the rest of the day (there’s a Krispy Kreme right off of Red Square).

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Pro tips:

-Banyas are supposed to be a social event, so bring a friend if you can. Otherwise you’ll just be that weird naked guy sitting in the corner alone (as opposed to that cool naked guy surrounded by his closest naked friends).

-In between hot/cold sessions, instead of going to the hangout room, if you can find a big tub of warm water to chill in, do it. I did and it was one of the most relaxing things of my life.

-The most authentic banyas are the ones at people’s summer homes. So if you want the real experience, just go into the middle of the countryside, find a stranger’s house, and crawl into their banya!

-If you don’t feel like playing Goldilocks with a stranger’s banya or are stuck in the city, I recommend Sanduny in Moscow. The prices there range from pretty cheap to pretty expensive. I did something in-between and it only cost me $40 (because the exchange rate was bomb). It would have been $10-$15 cheaper if I’d brought my own slippers, hat, and birch branch, though, so if you want to save money, buy those things before coming to the banya (you can find them at a grocery store).

Here’s a video I made right after I went in January!!!!!

Do you want to see a castle?

Neuschwanstein (pronounced noy-shvon-stein) is a real-life fairy tale castle. It was built in the late 1800’s on the side of a mountain in Germany. The idea behind the architecture was to mix old and new, making it look both authentic and like something out of a storybook.

Because of its fairy tale-esque look, Walt Disney used it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, which is the same castle that was later built in Disneyland.

When I visited, it was the middle of winter. A fresh coat of snow made everything look clean and muffled any sound from the cars on the highway below. A steady drizzle of snowflakes made the air sparkle and low clouds made the castle look like it was floating in the sky.

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Here’s your Prince Charming lololololololol

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The cliffs behind the castle.
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The valley below.

Bucket list: Road trip through the Alps

I don’t think people in the U.S. appreciate how close Italy is to Austria and Germany. I also don’t think people in the U.S. can find Austria or Germany on a map. (Tbh, I still can’t: What kind of loser looks at a map all day lol?)

So here’s a little geography (for all of us):

As we all can see, Italy is the boot at the bottom, Austria looks like a guy rolling on the ground cuz he just got kicked in the crotch with his legs above Italy, and Germany is the big green country above that.

So now we know: Italy is very close to Germany and Austria (aka Crotchstria). In fact, if you’re ever visiting Austria and you want to visit the Matterhorn (a supes cool mountain Walt Disney built), the fastest way there is to drive south into Italy, then north again.
Anyway, so northern Italy is where I first got a glimpse of the Alps. I was on a train from Milan to Verona and I could see the foothills of the Alps popping out of the ground in the otherwise flat Italian countryside. From a distance, they looked like any other mountains. After sticking around in Verona for a couple days, me and my cool Couchsurfing host decided to take a road trip to Austria.
Driving into the Alps was breathtaking. The mountains were HUGE. With gradual inclines and sheer cliffs, covered in trees and streams and snow (I’m a sucker for snow), the tops peeking into the sky and scraping clouds, I was completely blown away.
Bad pic.
Literally, no picture is good enough.
Keep in mind, I live in Utah which also has crazy cool mountains, but the Rockies look like baby mountains compared to the Alps. The further we got into Austria, the more the Alps dominated the sky.
A panoramic view I got of Walensee in Switzerland.
Eventually, I made it to Feldkirch Austria, a cool town close to the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, so I got to visit all those places in a day (Wooow! ~Such travel.~) Feldkirch’s a nifty little town with a castle, clear blue river, neat town square, and very Snow White-ish architecture.
Feldkirch and me. I am looking fly TO DEATH.
After my little jaunt through the Alps, I had to jump back on a plane in Milan, so I hopped on a bus and was back in Italy in just a couple of hours (cuz IT’S SO CLOSE).
So if you’re headed to Italy, don’t forget to check out the Alps, man!

P.S. I want to give a shoutout to Marvin Veit (pronounced “Fight!”) and his family for hosting me in Austria. It was so nice to be in a real house and eat real food after hostels and hotels and restaurants!

Fight!