Today, meet Allison, a New York travel enthusiast and member of the NYC chapter of The Nomadic Network! In this interview, Allison shares with us how traveling has become a highlight of her life, how she manages to see destinations on a budget, and how she’s been doing during the COVID-19 lockdown. We love featuring stories like this and hope they inspire you to find a creative way to incorporate more travel into your life as well.
Tell us about yourself, Allison.
Hi! I’m Allison, a 34-year-old travel blogger who lives in Morningside Heights in New York City with her two adorable cats. I’ve lived in New York City for over 15 years now. I’m usually an HR professional (not right now though, thanks to COVID-19!), a certified yoga teacher (although I’ve only taught a few times), and a recovering theatre professional (I worked on the accounting and advertising side of Broadway for several years after college).
When I’m not traveling, you can find me on my meditation cushion, at a yoga class, reading or cooking at home, or seeing a show or movie (at least before COVID-19). I’m also a huge horror movie fan.
I started a blog as a way to scrapbook all of my travels, since I stopped keeping a physical scrapbook after a big trip in 2008, and I began to love to record all of my thoughts online in the hopes of connecting with other travelers. I love staying in hostels and eating local vegetarian and vegan foods and taking a good free walking tour!
Tell us about the city are you based in.
I’m based in New York City, specifically just south of Harlem, where Columbia’s sprawling campus is located. I’ve moved around New York City since 2004, having lived in Union Square, Brooklyn Heights, Washington Heights, the Upper West Side, and the Financial District, and I can safely say that Morningside Heights is the best. (I lived about 10 blocks south of where I currently live when I was on the Upper West Side, so it was a very similar neighborhood.) I live between three (!) parks: Morningside Park, Central Park, and Riverside Park. So when people complain that there’s no green space in New York City, I generally roll my eyes and laugh.
My neighborhood is very old and very historic: it was officially dubbed a “historic” district 2017 to protect the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s the largest gothic cathedral in North America! It’s pretty epic, and it spans three entire city blocks. I’m not religious, but I love this place! There are also lots of small locally owned businesses in the neighborhood, but the chains are still sneaking in where they can: 5 Guys, Chipotle, Pinkberry, Dos Toros, etc. The neighborhood is really liberal and diverse, and I love that about it.
During the lockdown, it’s been even quieter than usual. On any given day when you go for a walk, you’ll feel not like you’re in New York City but like you’re in a small town somewhere else, because you’ll see your neighbors out and about running errands or walking dogs (there are so many dogs).
I love the neighborhood because of all the pre-war buildings and that it feels so different from every other part of the city. It’s not crowded and it’s not loud. I lived in Union Square during my freshman year of college and I was woken up by Howard Stern on a loudspeaker! Luckily, that does not happen in Morningside Heights. So it feels like a small town, but I love that it’s only a ten- or fifteen-minute subway ride from midtown.
I see a lot of theater, so that is important to me. And there are three movie theaters within a 20-30-minute walk (or a five-minute train ride) of my apartment too. I might be biased, but I live in the best neighborhood.
It is important to have a supportive travel community around me because no one does anything alone. I believe we are all interconnected and we all travel happier and safer and smarter when we have a community behind us. It’s essential to have a community to ask questions about things that Google maybe can’t answer for you.
I chose The Nomadic Network because I enjoyed Matt’s book so much and I felt like it really spoke to me and what I feel so often, so I wanted to join a group of people who probably also felt the same.
How did you start traveling, like really traveling?
I got the travel bug after studying abroad during the summer of 2007 in London.
If I’m being honest, I signed up to study abroad so that I could reunite with a Dutch boy I’d met the summer before while he was backpacking around New York City. Suffice it say, this reunion didn’t happen, but I found a different love anyway: travel.
I loved experiencing another culture and becoming a master of it. I was giving Tube directions to British tourists by the final week of my summer abroad!
Originally, I signed up to do this summer abroad by myself because I wanted to be forced to make friends — and I did! The summer after, I wanted to take another trip — like Matt did, the last one before the Adult World of Working! — so I signed up for a three-week tour with the company Contiki (again, with no friends by my side) of around 14 European cities in both Western and Eastern Europe and had a ball.
I wish I’d taken more photos (or better ones!), but I made some awesome friends and then spent an additional 10 days frolicking around London again. I stayed with an Australian friend that I’d met when we happened to sit next to each other at a performance of Rent the summer prior, who was living for a while in London. (We’re still very good friends to this day!)
After that, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t travel abroad for a good seven years, so I don’t know if I can say the travel bug bit me in 2007, but I did travel to places like Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford (the worst city ever), Washington, DC, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle during that time.
What always stopped me from traveling was the costly plane tickets. I couldn’t quite click that “CONFIRM” button. But finally, I requested time off from work and booked a two-week trip to Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn in 2015. It was amazing and exhausting, and I’ve been traveling several times a year ever since.
What did your first major trip teach you?
I’d say my first major trip was to those Scandinavian cities. It was the first trip that wasn’t organized by someone else, and I just booked a plane ticket and some hostel reservations and packed a too-large carry-on (filled with a lot of clothes that never saw the light of day!) and was on my way.
I learned that:
- You should never arrive in a new city after dark. Unfamiliar places always look more dangerous in the dark than during the day!
- Properly researching hostels is important. After Copenhagen, I knew that staying in a hostel with a 24/7 security desk was really important to me. I also didn’t like staying in a coffin-adjacent bunk like I did in Copenhagen. I spent at least one night a little nervous that I was going to be murdered, because there was no one at the front desk AND who the hell was the big man sleeping in the coffin above mine?!
- Most people are good. The guy in the bunk above mine was probably not going to steal me à la the movie Taken and that when people ask me where I’m going, it’s because they’re genuinely interested in where I’m going and not so they can follow me and sell me as a sex slave in Paris. (I also learned not to watch the movie Taken so many times, no matter how awesome Liam Neeson is, if I plan on traveling anywhere ever again!)
What’s one of your most significant travel moments?
Doing a guided tour through Auschwitz. It was the most moving place I’ve ever visited. (Full disclosure: I am Jewish.)
Also, going on a Birthright trip to Israel was significant for me. I’d been having regular hits of anxiety in the weeks before leaving, because it was going to be the first time I’d traveled with people (and a large group of people for that matter!) in a decade and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Luckily, it was an awesome (small) group of working professionals, and we ended up having a great time together. I also met my partner on that trip! (It turns out that he was a year behind me in the same high school, too, but we’d never met! Travel magic!)
Describe your travel style.
My travel style is cheap and minimal. I bring a Tortuga backpack and a purse and whatever can fit in them.
I almost pack too minimally, because about 50% of the time, I find that I’ve forgotten to pack something and I head to a Primark-like store to pick up a new shirt. I usually pack leggings, tank tops, and a couple of long-sleeved shirts. On my trip to Scandinavia in 2015, I brought a skirt and a dress and multiple cardigans, and I never wore them, so that was the last time I packed them.
I don’t go out to fancy meals, and I don’t really drink much when I’m traveling either. I pack my reusable mug and lots of snacks to save money.
I stay in hostels (though lately, I’ve been opting for private rooms, which, in an awesome hostel, is better than a cheap-ass hotel room), and I eat cheap meals.
I also LOOOOVE walking tours. It’s a great way to meet people, and they’re usually free (or donation based). They’re the best way to get a feel for a new city and learn about it from a local. I honestly don’t know how or why people travel and don’t do walking tours. I’ve done them in my hometown, New York City, too, and they’re so fun. TAKE THE FREE WALKING TOUR, PEOPLE!
Tell us about a time on the road where a stranger made an impact on your life?
Honestly, I need to be a little more outgoing when I travel, so I can have more of these stories. I don’t often go out to bars when I’m traveling, so the only time I have to meet locals is when I’m doing a walking tour, and it’s usually the guide who I’m talking to the entire time.
I do remember doing a “ruin pub crawl” while I was in Budapest, and I loved chatting with the local tour guide and the other travelers who were on the tour.
Oh, I also remember sitting in the kitchen at my hostel in Stockholm and chatting with all the other backpackers who were talking about their recent travels and how long they’d been traveling. Some had been on the road for a year or more! I was amazed at that and really inspired by it too.
What is the most surprising thing you learned while on the road?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned on the road is that there are tons of awesome ways to live a life that don’t include having a job for decades, buying a house, getting married, having kids, and dying. What we learn in America is that there’s one way to succeed — getting out into the world and learning about other cultures have opened my eyes to see that there are many ways out there to be a successful person with a happy life.
Have you ever been scared of traveling solo to any of these places?
I think I was a little nervous to go to places like Tallinn or Budapest. I don’t speak either language, and I didn’t know how much English people spoke there. Since I didn’t know anyone who’d been to Estonia or Hungary, I didn’t know what to expect. Obviously, it was totally fine in both places, and in every place that I’ve traveled to since.
What’s it like to be at home now during this pandemic?
I’m not a full-time traveler, because I actually like a little routine and a steady paycheck. I was in Portugal and flew up the day the pandemic-induced travel ban went into effect (I was scheduled to fly home that day!), so I’d just gotten my travel fix before all of this happened.
Currently, I’m keeping the spark alive by working on my travel blog and reading travel-themed books! I’m also keeping up with travel vloggers and bloggers.
How do you think you’ll travel after the travel ban for the coronavirus is lifted?
I will definitely be using more hand sanitizer and sharing less food when I travel again. I’ve been pretty relaxed when it comes to that stuff, so I will be raising some of my cleanliness standards in the future (the idea of not getting to indulge in free samples of food totally bums me out, though). I will continue to get private rooms at hostels, so I don’t expose myself to massive numbers of people.
Tell us the best travel advice you’d ever received.
I think it came from a book, but I can’t remember which: say YES.
Do everything that’s offered and don’t turn any experience down. I try to follow that advice as often as possible, but when it comes to things like bar crawls, that’s just not what I’m here for (I enjoy sleeping more than bars).
Planning any future travels?
My boyfriend (we met on Birthright last year in Israel, remember) has never been to Europe, so I’d really like to take him there. He really wants to see Germany, which is absolutely on my “revisit” list, so I think a trip to London, Amsterdam, and a few places in Germany might be on the list. I think, since I am currently unemployed (thanks, COVID-19!), I’ll be taking shorter trips to start. I want to spend a weekend in Boston and a week in Charleston and Savannah. There are a ton of places left in Europe that I want to travel to, so we’ll see when I can get there again.
How can we keep in touch with you and your adventures?
Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members, if you’d like to be interviewed or write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog.”