Hello and welcome to I Went Somewhere!
Our story today is about the beautiful country of Panama where Marisa took a quick weekend break while studying abroad in Costa Rica.
So slap on that sun screen, and let's go to Panama!
Hello! Tell us a little bit about you and where you traveled to...
Hello! We are the Gjonaj's! Elton is Italian, and got married to his wife, Oak, an American, in June 2022. We got married in Lake Tahoe and quickly moved to Hawaii because we figured it was the best state to live in! We first met in Australia, where we were both on a working holiday visa, and we ended up camper vanning throughout Australia, and also living on a tiny island off the coast of Australia in the Great Barrier Reef. This is why we came to the conclusion that Hawaii is the best state for us to live in. :-) We have both done solo trips throughout the world, Oak took a solo trip in 2015 where she visited 15 European countries alone, after her family moved to Dubai, and Elton has lived in the EU his whole life, so traveling is just part of life. We both believe that we are the authors of our own story, and we want to make it interesting! From summitting mountains to frolicking on the ocean floor, the world is an exciting place and we want to see it all! Our next trip is June 2023, where we are flying to Italy for a day and then heading over to Albania to get married in front of all of our friends and family since our first wedding was a small quick wedding at Lake Tahoe. We will also be stopping in New York, Instanbul, and Corfu; a Greek Island! :)
How great was this trip?
Oak is more of the planner, so she will look into all the options of a trip and put it down into writing so that when we are actually on the trip, then we don't have to be on our phones as much and we have all the information right in front of us without having to search. We can choose to do certain activities and choose to skip some depending on how we feel, but at least we have all the information written down based on Oaks thoughts and ideas. All of our trips are pretty sporadic and can vary in length and time. We were in Australia for one year in camper vans for a few weeks, we lived off the coast of Australia in the great barrier reef on a tiny island for a few months. When we go to Albania, our trip is only going to be two weeks because his work will not let him off for longer than that due to it being high season. When Oak did her solo backpacking trip throughout Europe, she was gone for four months and was learning ins and outs of how the world works and what she was wanting from the world and how she was able to get it from the world. It was more of a trip of self discovery, eat, love, pray style. Even went to some of the locations she did because I connected with her...at the time I was just out of college in a very abusive relationship and I needed to find peace within myself, over the next few years.
Before I met Elton, I kept indulging myself with the beauty of the world with trips to Bali, Mexico, Dubai, New Zealand, and many other places...and then I chose to start looking at career path options and may be going to school down in Australia. So I looked at visas and got one! I was looking at schools in Sydney when COVID shut everything down. This is when Elton and I grew, and we traveled Australia. Kind of crazy to think, how Elton and Oak moved to Australia from diffferent parts of the world to unite, all to become one unit for the rest of their lives. It is beautiful to have these two worlds together. Life changing. So I would say that the trip was pretty great! :-) All the road and trips we took leading us to Australia were the greatest trips of our lives and we can't wait for this next one! I never learned about the world like this, not in school, not by friends, and I think that's what also makes it special, it feels like some thing bigger than you, and maybe those things cannot be put into words, but instead, have to be seen with your own eyes.
What did you do while you were there?
Everything! Free, cheap, and everything! We stayed at places using hostelworld, couchsurfing.org, Airbnb, and in a van rented on Turo. When we traveled, we used rome2rio, Google Maps, BlaBlaCar, Scooter app, and we flew places, used trains, and taxis! For things that we did, we really relied on Groupon and it helps tons! We went bungee jumping, cliff jumping, hiking, snowboarding, jet skiing, skydiving, off-roading, climbing, swiming, surfing, canyon kayaking, croc holding, shark swimming, campervanned, boat adventures all over the world! We rented from Apollo Campervans for one of our trips! We went on free walking tours in every city, free hotsprings, you can also go to a hostel and rent their equipment for a way cheaper price than a local store, they even have free maps for you, and some of them are even better than ones I would find in stores!
How did you learn and prepare for this trip?
You learn once you are there, and you can only plan so much. You still want to have fun and the hardest part is buying the ticket, the rest comes pretty easy, because everyone loves adventure. Also, when I would randomly remember some thing that I would want to bring, I would make an alarm on my phone if I was gone or immediately go and put it in my travel bag.
How did you get there?
If you want to leave the airport, sometimes there are layover trips. I did a five hour layover trip in China so I could have someone pick me up from my hostel, take me around in a personal car to the wall, food, etc and then drop me off at the airport 5 hours later. If you have a lot of luggage and do not want to carry it, then there are luggage lockers in airports and throughout many cities. You can also sometimes leave them in a bag check area at the location you are stayings, whethere it be a hostel, hotel, bed-and-breakfast... I do not take just one airline, I take whatever is cheapest honestly. Sometimes a subway is a great way to travel in the city, and sometimes a bike, or a free walking tour. Google one in every city. There was one time when I was in Italy, and I arrived on a fast train to Rome, where I was supposed to take a subway to Bologna Street for my hostel. I ended up taking a slow train all the way to the city of Bologna, which was a couple of hours from where I was supposed to be haha! Just be aware.
I also have international internet, so I would sometimes have one speaker in my ear, telling me to turn right or left so I did not look like a tourist, and I looked confident when I walked so I would not be targeted. BlaBlaCar is a wonderful app that tells you when a driver is driving from one city to another and you meet them in a agreed locations, usually a central train station, and you buy a seat in their car. This app tells you what languages the driver speaks, and it has reviews from other passengers who have ridden before. It tells you what size luggage you can carry, and how long the trip plans to be! Very cheap way to travel! I went from south Germany to Brussels for €35.
Where did you stay?
I described this already, but one thing to know on couch surfing is that sometimes it may be hard to get your first host because you do not have any reviews. It is good to maybe have a friend review you first so you at least have one reference so a host will feel more comfortable having you. Couch surfing also needs to be planned a little bit ahead of time because you need to send a request into a persons house and tney need to approve it, so it may take a couple of days, so if I needed a place right away, I would just book a hostel or a bed-and-breakfast. I did stay at a BlaBlaCars house one time in Belgium because it was so late and we had a really fun trip, so we figured we could go out for the night with his buddies. I also stayed at a taxi cab driver's house in England because I got to a train station in the middle of nowhere at night, and there were no more trains running for the night. I'm very lucky honestly but I also felt that I was pretty smart and I read the situation correctly, so not all situations are safe, but these ones worked out :)
Where and what did you eat?
On the free walking tours, they would sometimes tell you the best places and the cheapest places to eat, so I would do that and sometimes I would just randomly stop at a place that looks inviting to me. Some of the places I stopped because she ate at them Eat, Pray, Love, but if something looked good I stopped. With couch surfing, and other places I stayed, I was able to use a fridge where I am, did a very minimal amount of grocery shopping in order to make myself sandwiches that I could eat, as I am walking all day throughout exploring, this helps me save a little bit of money. Because I was walking so much, I felt like I was always hungry, so it was always good to have snacks and sandwiches on me.
How much did it cost?
8k for 4 months in Europe, I did love a lot of money when I was in Oktoberfest in Munich.... $75 (used credit card points for free ticket to Australia with a day stop in China), included $5.55 for plane ticket, $13 for hostel, rest for alcohol, taxi, food.
Would you go back and do it again?
You only regret the things that you do not do. I do not know if I'm going to live to be old so I want to see the stuff now I will go back and do it 1 million times over.
Advice for people planning to do something similar?
The first step, of buying a ticket, is the hardest. Everything else comes natural after that. But do not take free bathrooms for granted (I've paid money to go into a bathroom that was a hole in the ground, no shoes on and no toilet paper, to being denied entry because I had no money so I peed my pants). People are nice, but just be aware that not everyone is trustworthy and to not give everyone a hug because some people might just be trying to take your phone and wallet out of your pocket :-) It's ok if you lose your phone, I eneded up losing three on my trip, but one of those was from me being too drunk, so also don't do that. Water is also not always free so make sure it is safe to drink from tap before you do. This is your time to be and do anything that you want to and you are on no ones time schedule, so only please yourself and it's OK to be alone because you never really alone.
Any experiences or businesses you wish to mention that made your trip better or more comfortable?
I'm sure there are tons, but just look at reviews.
Have a travel story you want to share?
Now that's an adventure! From Australia, to China, to Europe, that's covering a lot of ground, with some excellent tips! Thanks for sharing with us!
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Catch you next time. Happy travels!