As you’ve probably collected by now, I love music, and as some of you know, I collect CDs. These days, that’s even more rare than collecting vinyl, I guess that makes me a true hipster. I’ve been building up quite a collection over the past several years, now amounting to nearly 200 CDs. I love collecting CDs because I like having something tangible to relate the music to and I enjoy having them signed, as well.

On this special day, I’d like to share some albums that mean a lot to me.

My first CD: In Search of Solid Ground by Saosin. As far as I can remember, this was my first CD (besides, you know, High School Musical and mix CDs my dad made me) in my early teens. I hadn’t listened to it at all before I bought it, but I quickly fell in love with this album. Saosin was the first rock band I was crazy about, a “gateway band,” if you will. Listen: Changing

My most recent CD: Heaven & Earth [EP] by Arcane Roots. After seeing them live in February, I’ve really gotten into Arcane Roots and picked up their most recent release a few weeks ago. I have the attention span of a goldfish, so I have yet to listen past the first three songs, but I sure can speak very highly of the first few tracks! Listen: When Did the Taste Leave Your Mouth

Favorite albums: Life Is Not a Waiting Room by Senses Fail. I will often site this as my favorite album of all time, because I’m convinced it is. While I could list some of my favorite albums ’til kingdom come, this is the end-all be-all. I got this and the rest of their discography signed when I met them in September 2014. Listen: Garden State

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Once piece of advice that resonated with me before I left for my study abroad program was to not let a lack of a travel buddy keep you from exploring. Over the last eight months (can you believe it?), I’ve taken several solo trips, with the longest and most recent of them being my ten-day trip through Italy. With that, I’ve reflected a lot on the positives and negatives of taking such trips alone.

The biggest upside about traveling alone is that I can do what I want, when I want without consulting anyone else. It’s not every day you get to travel to another country and traveling with someone else usually means compromise. From daily activities to where you want to eat, asserting yourself can be awkward and difficult at times of indecision.When you travel alone, you’re also more open to meeting people who are (more often than not) also traveling alone, as well. I’ve met a lot of great people from all around the world as I tend to reach out more to people in my hostel or on tours when I’m traveling alone.

The biggest bummer about traveling alone is that you have nobody to share your thoughts with. When I travel with someone, we can talk about how we felt about a certain piece we saw in a museum, compare experiences abroad to personal experiences and more. Traveling with someone else really helps me better process what’s going on and take in the whole experience. Being with someone else can also help in sticky situations, after all, two heads are better than one. Not to mention, simply the companionship of another person never hurts.

I don’t mind traveling alone and I would never let it stop me from taking a trip, but more often than not, having the company of another person makes the experience better.

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Friday, 21 March: I arrived at my hostel in Venice in the early afternoon. For those who don’t know, the only way around Venice is either by foot or water bus; there are absolutely no place for vehicles bar the bus and car park immediately after the bridge. My hostel was on a island called Giudecca separate from the main cluster islands, so that left my options limited to the water bus. Although it’s slow and a bit pricey, riding the water bus is defiantly a neat experience. Once I got back to the main islands, I visited some main tourist locations like Piazza San Marco, bits of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, although it was disguised by scaffolding.

Saturday, 22 March: I took a walking tour in the morning. It was an interesting tour in that we didn’t hit the main attractions, but rather less known places with some history such as the smallest street, oldest bridge and several churches. After that, I took one final walk around the Grand Canal before heading out. That evening, I rented a car (thank goodness I know how to drive a manual transmission) and dove about forty minutes northwest to a venue in the middle of nowhere (hence the car rental) to see Enter Shikari. I saw them about a month ago in London with a crowd of about 10,000 people, but this venue had no more than 500 people. During the opening band, Modestep, the guitarist for Enter Shikari, Rory, was standing right behind me! A little later, the singer, Rou, and drummer, Rob, were hanging out at the merchandise booth. I got a few pictures and the two of them signed my ticket. Their set was amazing. Although it was the same songs they played last month, it was a totally different experience in a small venue. At one point, Rou brought an amplifier in the crowd and stood on it for a song while the crowd made a circle pit around him and during the last song, Rory came into the crowd and played and the crowd promptly lifted him up. Not to mention, they both were climbing on things throughout the set. After the set, I waited by the merchandise table, hoping to get the other two members to sign my ticket. The crowd was dying down and I assumed they went to bed, which I understand, it was a late show (it ended at about 12:30AM). On social media, Enter Shikari was running a contest: for everyday of the tour, they autographed a group photo (Polaroid) taken in front of the venue they were playing that night. Although I didn’t win, the winner didn’t show, so the merchandise manager gave me the Polaroid before I left. It was an amazing night, I’m thankful I got several signed items and got a chance to talk to Rou and Rob. After returning my car in the wee hours of the morning and waiting for the hourly night water bus, I was finally back at my hostel, at least for a few hours before I had to catch my train that morning.

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Whenever I say the word “hostel,” my family cringes and probably pictures me sleeping with twenty other people in a filthy basement. On the contrary, I love hostels and think they are a great alternative to hotels for travelers on a budget. I am here to your challenge preconceived notions about hostels and tell it how it really is: the good, the bad and the ugly (but mostly the good).

Although hostels aren’t as common in North America, some European destinations have over one hundred hostels in a single city. You can only choose one so with over a hundred options, how does one go about selection a hostel? That varies from person to person. Personally, here are the steps I take: first, I filter by price and rating using my choice of search engine, HostelWorld. I like to stay at hostels under $30 a night that also have at least an 85% rating. If I get too many hostels, I narrow it down to better ratings and cheaper prices, and likewise, if I don’t get enough hostels, I broaden my preferences to lower rated hostels, until I get about a dozen hostels. Then, I select what facilities I prefer, such as a kitchen, lockers, free WiFi, free breakfast and luggage storage. Of the remaining hostels, I compare locations (I prefer hostels close to a Metro station for easy public transit), types of rooms (I prefer four to six bedroom dorms with an en suite) and photographs to make my final choice.

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Today is International Women’s Day and I would like to take a moment to share some of my favorite women in life and in fiction. Warning: this may have some slight spoilers from Jessica Jones and Breaking Bad.

Favorite Female Artists

Ariel Bloomer (Icon for Hire): Not only does Ariel Bloomer have one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard, she is also active in the feminism community through both music and the occasional video (this one is especially moving) or interview. One of their most recent singles, Now You Know (you can listen to it here), she sings about how women shouldn’t have to compromise her femininity to be taken seriously in the male-dominated music industry.

Marina Diamandis (Marina and the Diamonds): Like Ariel Bloomer, Marina Diamandis spreads messages of vulnerability, independence and female power through her music and interviews. On this day several years ago, she stated, “To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you’re the reason it exists.” In another recent post, she answered the question of “Are you a feminist?” with “Is that a real fucking question?” I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that a non-feminist woman (or any person, really) is becoming a prehistoric idea.

Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!): After coming out as transgender rather late in life, Laura Jane Grace has encountered mixed emotions about her transition, including the departure of two band members. However, Laura Jane and new members are pressing on, continuing with transgender activism and planning to release a new album in summer of 2016.

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