3 awesome not-so-last-minute Christmas Gifts for Travelers

Only one more week until Christmas!  There are tons of gift guides floating around the internet, but not all of us are savvy shoppers.  Luckily, my gift guide is useful for those who forget to buy a loved one a gift literally at the last minute:

101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die ($11.00).  I wrote several entries for this book, including New York City, Prague, Charleston and my home region of Long Island.  Each one is hilarious and provides useful information for not just partiers, but adventurous travelers in general.  It’s currently available for pre-order, but every order comes with an awesome 101 Places Koozie!  It officially launches January 7th, just in time for Three Kings Day, so it’s technically still a great holiday gift.

101 Guys to Date Before You Die ($3.99).  Nothing like an eBook about my failed relationships to make you feel better about yourself!  With the click of a button, you or a loved one can revel in the ups and downs of 20something dating.  Maybe you’ll laugh.  Maybe you’ll say “Holy shit, that’s so me.”  Or maybe you just have an extra $4 lying around that you don’t know what to do with.  I promise, you’ll have a good time reading it (and will probably need a cigarette right after…).

Give the gift of education – purchase a course at MatadorU for you or someone you love ($350).  It seems steep, but compared to some of the other travel courses on the market, it’s seriously a steal (Conde Nast is trying to develop one for about $900…).  Courses in Travel Writing, Photography and Film are available online, and can be completed at your own pace.  Each chapter helps you build upon skills desired in the travel writing field, from story development, to pitch and query writing.  We even have some resources to kickstart your career in travel.

Katka’s Trashiest Travel Moments of 2012

New York City

Sure, I live here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t act like a fucking tourist in my own town.  I rang in 2012 in style at a friend’s apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, one of the sketchiest areas populated by hipsters east of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.  There were also multiple sessions of karaoke in Koreatown, pole dance classes in Harlem, and general bar crawling throughout Manhattan – you know, things 20somethings do to feel like they are young again but fuck man, we’re getting old.  The convenience of living in NYC is that even when I don’t get a chance to travel, I can still feel like I’m a part of the world.http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/373797_945913230354_1740952742_n.jpg

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Mexico

My boyfriend and I wanted to take a vacation somewhere and try out an all-inclusive resort.  I scored a sick-ass deal through TravelZoo for a rooftop penthouse with a private plunge pool at the Marival Residencies. It’s the most expensive vacation I’ve ever taken but it was totally worth it.  Skinny-dipping at night, imbibing in top-shelf liquor at breakfast, sunning at the private VIP beach club and having a fridge fully stocked with Corona’s at all times – Puerto Vallarta is the place to go when you want to feel classy but also want to get wasted in the best of ways.

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Charleston, SC

Why the fuck did it take me four years to return to the city I went to college in?  Aside from being the ultimate Southern college party town, Charleston is friggin’ gorgeous and everyone should go there because it’s sweet as fuck.  I had my fair share of party throw-downs while there but not too many bar experiences, since I graduated early and never had a fake ID (what was I THINKING?!?!).  So I went wild this time around, with the two friends of mine who have yet to move to Brooklyn.  It was so awesome to show my driver’s license, being served a drink and not be escorted out of the bar for assuming someone else’s identity.  http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/600807_10100202074617854_1956070564_n.jpg

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Iceland

Icelanders don’t typically drink during the week because alcohol here is expensive has hellllllll. It’s so expensive that, as a cute, young female, you can’t even rely on the kindness of a creepy gentleman to buy you drinks – it’s not really the custom there.  Luckily, the Duty Free store at the airport was able to provide us with some nice pregame bottles of booze at heavily discounted prices (even cheaper than in the USA).  We were able to experience the weekend rúntur, the one day when everyone goes out and gets shitfaced about town.  Mostly underage 15-year olds with fake IDs but hey, partying has no age barrier.

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It’s been a good year to get trashy, and 2013 is just around the corner.  Here’s to the times when travel gets a little “kinky.”  Rock on, folks!

Happy Christmas! Take a Break!

Where Dana and I met for Christmas, 2008

Happy Christmas, everyone.  Even if you don’t celebrate this typically Christian holiday, take some time to reflect on your life and the past year.  Where have you traveled?  What was something new you did that you never thought possible otherwise?  Did you survive the end of the world? What was the best thing you did all year?  The worst?

I’ll be spending Christmas with some relatives in New Jersey, but here’s a little story about the best Christmas I ever had:

Travel Narrative Monday: Swiss Disdain

Some of us decided to go up to the Penthouse, a rooftop bar in Lucerne’s Hotel Astoria, for Christmas Eve.  The town had been sleepy all day; shops closed up at 2:00pm, no one was seen after three, and even the McDonalds was closed in preparation for the holiday.  We’d done some sightseeing and checked into our hostel, at dinner and didn’t know what else to do.  So we went to Golden Bridge and walked around.

Peter said to meet afterward at Penthouse, for a celebratory Christmas Eve drink.  He must have left before I arrived, but a few of the others have stuck around.  I’d assume on a clear day that Penthouse offered gorgeous views of Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne and Mount Pilatus, but the balmy temperature that day had set a thick fog over all the lake, and not a view of the mountain could be had.

So far, Switzerland is disappointing.  It was only a pit-stop between Florence, Italy, and the last leg of our journey, Paris.  But moreso, I think I am disappointed in the place because I know it means in a few days, I’ll be home again.  Christmas will come, and go, and I’ll be on a plane back to the United States -

For good.

Evan senses my disdain.  He hands me a glass of champagne and pulls up an ottoman cornered with my arm chair.  “Hey, it’s almost Christmas,” he smiles.  “Cheer up!”

I take a sip of champagne and manage a half-grin.  “I don’t want this to be over,” I reply.

He shrugs.  “It’s be an awesome trip, but it’s got to end some time, right?”

His words, although not intended to be so, are not comforting at all.

“What are you worried about?” he asks.

I think a moment. “That I’m making a huge mistake,” I admit.  “That I’ll go back home and I won’t get into grad school and I won’t find a job and I won’t have anything to show for my life.”

“And what would have been the alternative?”

“Accepting a job as a live-in English teacher for a Czech family and spending the rest of my days…here,” I reply.

Evan shrugs.  “Everything happens for a reason,” he begins.  “When I got let go from MTV, I was in the same boat.  I cowered at the thought of uncertainty and instability.  To distract me from that part of my life, I decided to take this trip.  It’s been the greatest thing I’ve ever done.  Sure, I’ll go home to god knows what in a few days, but at least I know I’ve done something incredible.”

“But I want to keep doing incredible things,” I tell him.

He takes a sip of champagne.  “You will,” he winks.  “I know you will.”

The clock strikes midnight.  It’s officially Christmas Day.

Evan raises his glass to me.  “To us, Kat,” he starts.  “To new beginnings, with uncertain – but incredible – ends.”

“Merry Christmas, Evan,” I say.

“Merry Christmas, Kat.”

Unconvinced of his words, I clink my glass with his.

I’m still trying to figure out whether or not he was right.

My Latest for Matador Network: How to celebrate Christmas in the Czech Republic

czech christmas

One of my favorite travel memories is celebrating the Christmas holidays while in Europe.  Czech Christmas is especially unique for a couple of reasons.  Every culture has their own holiday traditions, but the Czechs are especially a bit…whacky.

Follow your host mother to the local market a week before Christmas. Watch her bargain with a fishmonger in Czech as she points to a large bucket of fish. So mom wants carp tonight…maybe this is like going to a fancy restaurant where you get to choose your favorite lobster to later be boiled alive. Be surprised the next time you attempt to take a shower, discovering the fish your host mother haggled for is now swimming in your bathtub.

Quietly decline when your host father offers you the chance to bash the carp’s brains in with a wooden mallet three days later.

Every year I think about how much I miss living in Prague, where the Christmastime spirit is totally different.  It’s humbling.  It’s traditional.  I feel like Christmas fits in Prague.

Happy Christmas Eve everyone, and a very merry holiday no matter how you celebrate

How to celebrate Christmas in the Czech Republic