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 in the COVID-19 lockdown. We love featuring stories like this and hope it inspires 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 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 when I’m traveling!
Tell us about the city are you based in?
I’m based in New York City, specifically just south of Harlem and 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 lived on the UWS, so it was a very similar neighborhood.) I live between three (3!) 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 3 entire city blocks. I’m not religious, but I love this place! There are 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.
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 anyways: 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 I spent an additional 10 days frolicking around London again and 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!)
From there, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t travel abroad for a good 7 years, so I don’t know if I can say the travel bug bit me in 2007 but I did travel to places during that time like Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford (the worst city ever), Washington DC, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle.
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 – Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn. 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 on that trip!) 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 a 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 Neison is if you 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 leading up to 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.
My travel style is cheap and minimal.
I bring a Tortuga backpack and a purse and whatever can fit in them.
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 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 sleeve shirts. On my trip to Scandinavia in 2015, I brought a skirt and a dress and multiple cardigans, and I never wore either 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 also LOVVVVEEEE 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 that city from a local. I honestly don’t know how/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 for. 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 and getting out into the world and learning about other cultures have opened my eyes to see that there are many ways to be a successful person with a happy life out there.
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 in private rooms at hostels so I don’t expose myself to massive amounts of people.
Tell us the best travel advice you’d ever received!
I think it came from a book, but I can’t remember, was to 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 smaller 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.”