Volunteering in a Refugee Camp in Samos, Greece: Part 4, The Second Week

Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe has already completely changed my life in just two weeks. I’ve had a pretty emotional first few days and a busy first week volunteering in one of Greece’s five hot spot camps on the Island of Samos. Halfway through my 4 weeks, I am finally starting to find my groove and place in the NGO, Samos Volunteers. The first few days and week flew by, but things have started to slow down as I find a routine, try new things, and I’m more comfortable in various roles. At this point, I am no longer a newbie, pushed out of the nest to lead and try new activities and volunteers are now turning to me for help. My face is no longer new and people in the camp are starting to learn my name, recognize me and build relationships with me. I am amazed at how easy it was to fall into place and feel right at home.

Downtown vathy, Samos, Greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp

Make sure you’re caught up in the series, if you haven’t already. Part 1 I talk about why I chose Samos, Part 2 is the crazy first few days and Part 3 is my frist week.

Personal Moments with an Asylum Seeker

The Child with Dead Eyes

For the most part, from day to day, I could get by without too much emotional hardship. Often times people at Alpa were in high spirits, considering what they went through, enjoying tea and coffee and challenging each other to backgammon. Every now and then it was easy to forget where my new friends came from, and the horrors they faced to get here. Then again there were times the reality of what most people had been through hit me like a stack of fucking bricks.

Women’s basement can often turn into a rough and tumble area. No, not because the women are roughhousing, but children under the age of six are allowed downstairs with their mothers. In a perfect world, the volunteers are not watching the kids, but rather interacting with them women distributing wool and knitting needles. We encourage the mothers to keep an attentive eye on the kids, but to be honest these women have gone through so much trauma, they just want to come downstairs, knit and chat with other women in a safe place. This leaves a fair number of kids jumping and climbing on things and roughhousing. We, volunteers, do what we can with our language barrier to control the kids, but sometimes, there’s not a lot we can do without causing more stress and triggering some past trauma.

Kid's activities in a refugee camp. Volunteering in a refugee camp

One afternoon, I was down in the basement with several rowdy children and some well-behaved children that were quietly coloring in the corner, and then there was the kid with dead eyes. I watched him for a while as he wandered the room, seemingly unfazed by anything, even as the bigger hits ran into him or shouted. I tried to engage with him. I brought over a small colorful toy. It was if it didn’t exist. It was as if I did not exist. I tried something else as I picked some brightly colored pencils and a fun Iron Man coloring page. I sat down beside him and started to color, offering him some pencils. He wandered past me as if I was a ghost. I had never seen a child so disinterested in the world around them. I remembered reading a diagnosis by a Syrian doctor that talked about child survivors of the Syrian war have experienced more trauma even more so than many soldiers who have seen combat. These children revert int an almost catatonic state unable to process what they have experienced. Their mental state has been coined as Human Devastation Syndrome. I imagine this is what happened to this child. While he still had his mother, who knows that this child had seen. The HDS is often seen in children who are often one of a few survivors in a family of five or six and they have lived through an explosion, and seen the remains of their siblings in pieces around them. Can you imagine, surviving a blast and then looking over and seeing part of your mother or sister next to you, while the other half is across the room? I remember talking to the other volunteers and just saying, “look at this child, he is so unresponsive.” I was so shocked, I had never seen that in my entire life. The older kids continued to bounce off him and he continued to walk around the room with dead eyes.

Samos island in Greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp.

With only one psychologist on the island and no child psychologist, this kid has no support or help. His mother probably is dealing with her own trauma and is unable to provide him with the therapy or guidance he needs. MSF does what they can to put sensitive peoples in apartments or hotels so they are out of the camp, but this is just scratching the surface of what is needed for mental and emotional support.

There is a large debate on whether emergency humanitarian aid is as necessary as mental health and psycho-support aid. While they are both critical places like Samos, where people are here for a year at a time and their basic medical needs have been addressed somewhere along their journey to Greece, need more therapy and psycho support.

I watched a video of the Russian airstrike on Ghouta. Massive bombs dropped one after another in one of the largest cities in Syria while someone close by was videotaping. My gut dropped and I couldn’t look away. I showed it to my husband and we just sat and watched the bombing over and over again on a loop. He went back to his computer and I kept watching. I’m not sure what made me stop watching, but my thoughts went back to that little boy with dead eyes and I knew in my heart that he was there, he was in the middle of this and I just couldn’t even fathom what that must have been like and yet it explained so much as to why he had dead eyes. How could you not?

You can read more about the Human Devastation Syndrome, here. If you are blissfully unaware of the devastation in Ghouta you can read more about it, here..

Women’s Distribution

If you remember last week we were worried we would not be able to do a women’s distribution based on the fact someone escaped from the camp. However, at the last minute, we were given the green light. There are a little over 400 women in the camp. We spent the week prior counting and sorting critical cold weather clothing for women. We boxed up hats, gloves, scarves, winter jackets (the temperature was around 50 F, getting down to the 40s at night), long sleeve shirts, sweaters, shoes, underwear and sanitary pads. Once everything was boxed up we had to get it into the camp, so my Friday night was spent hauling clothing from the warehouse down to the camp.

refugee distribution warehouse. Volunteering in a refugee camp.

The camp has one main entrance it is just wide enough for a car or truck to fit. The road to access the camp by car is narrow and almost impossible to turn around easily. We had four cars between myself and other SV volunteers. We drove in a caravan and all parked in a line at the entrance. One car at a time would enter the camp and make a couple of hairpin turns uphill to the cabin. This might sound easy in theory, but a car in the camp means something new and exciting for all the children, so they run to the car and seek attention, trying to get into the car’s passenger side or climbing on top. The scariest is when they pretend to push the car from the back. In order to make these hairpin turns, we frequently have to stop, reverse and readjust. We never know when a kid might be behind us, us as we stop to reverse in order to make the turn. So, what should have been a one person job, turned into 4 people outside the car on kid duty and one person driving in. I was usually too scared to drive, so thankfully Jan, a volunteer from The Netherlands and one of the main warehouse coordinators, drove for me every time. Kid duty meant playing with the kids, running after them and scooping them up from behind the car and turning everything into a game. Kids in the camp make everything a game, even if you try and scold them for bad behavior they suddenly turn it into a game. If they break the rules, they get your attention, kid logic. So, the only way to respond was to play along. We were the eyes and ears for the car, full to the brim with boxes and shouted directions while we chased off children.

The children really just don’t see how dangerous a car can be. Additionally, their parent’s let their kids have free roam of the camp, so often they don’t know where their child is or that they are chasing after a car. Every time I drove up to the camp I had white knuckles and my foot brushing the break at all times, ready to slam it as a kid came running out to greet me. I also had to develop a strategy to lock all my doors, while driving otherwise they would climb in my moving car and grab the items in the car.

door handle in samos greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp

Friday night came and went and I was up early for the morning session of distribution. This distribution was going to be a lot more difficult than cleaning supplies. We had 9 or so stations set up for each clothing item. I was in charge or hats, gloves, scarves and shifting over to short sleeve shirts as needed.

Many of these women came from respectable households where they were able to go shopping as we do and choose clothing they like. At the very least they were able to make their own clothing with nice fabrics to their liking. Many of the women are conservative Muslim women, who would never wear a v-neck shirt or show their arms, even if it as their only option. Compromising their beliefs and cultural values is not an option, no matter how dire conditions get. Many of them were quite thin, or even some of them were larger and the only options they had were in front of them in a box of hand me downs, sizing was not easy. Now it’s amazing we have so many donations, don’t get me wrong, but often the donations we receive are inappropriate. People just donate things they don’t want without thinking if this is appropriate for a woman living in a refugee camp. We had to pass on party dresses, high heel shoes, thin strapped belly shirts, scoop and deep v-neck shirts. We also can’t accept anything with a flag or inappropriate saying on it. We even have to get rid of things with Peppa Pig on it, as many Muslims balk even at the image of a pig. Additionally, working the hat station, most of the women begged me for hijabs, saying the couldn’t wear a hat unless it was big enough to fit over their hijab. I told them time and time again I understood, but we had no hijabs. I encourage anyone if they are donating to a refugee crisis, to think about the clothing you are sending. Even if you’re not Muslim, it might be nice to donate some of your headscarves or buy something that would work as a hijab. If you have high heel shoes, really think if a woman living in a muddy camp has use a for these shoes before you send them across the world. If you’re going to donate, try and donate basics, standard t-shirts, long sleeve shirts that cover the arms and chest, closed toe shoes and things that are appropriate from traumatic conditions with high levels of sexual assault.

Picking lemons in Samos, Greece.  Volunteering in a refugee camp.

While your intentions might be good, some of the things like heels and revealing clothing mentioned above are better saved for your local second-hand store. If you’re looking to help you can check out Samos Volunteers needs list for appropriate items to donate.

Our system was similar to the last distribution. As we all started getting our stations ready, two people went out into the camp to delivery green tickets to each woman, over 16. Once they have the ticket, the women came immediately to the cabin and would enter a line in front of the cabin. One by one they came in, started with underwear and moving around the cabin form shoes and ending in sweaters. The shoe station was divided into three sizing groups, the woman could try on various shoes to ensure they fit and then would move on. Each station was quite difficult, with only one chance to get the right size and no dressing room, we often sized up the woman and tried to pick a few options we thought might fit. Often she wouldn’t like our first option and dig around for something that suited her style, but at some point, we had to give her an ultimatum, choose this now or take nothing. We had 400 women to get through and in a perfect world we would get through them all on Saturday and have Sunday off. Again, with the language barrier, it was hard to encourage them to choose and get out and they didn’t really understand we had to get through 400 people. So, I started to learn tricks. I learned that what I genuinely thought was cute, was NOT what they liked. They usually went for, plain black shirts. So, I began intentionally picking something up I thought they would think was ugly and they would make a face, I would laugh and say I were joking and then pick out a second option for them. It was this simple act that made them feel like they had some control over their decision and they started to trust that you were looking out for them and not just trying to push an ugly item on them and get them out the door. Rio, a volunteer from the U.S. was an expert at this. She knew how to make everyone feel like a queen while getting people in and out quickly. She became our speed coach over the coming weeks.

Before I knew it, we had to wrap up and make way for the lunch line that passed right in front of the cabin. We tallied our total and signed as we barely made it through 100 women. With another session in the afternoon, we might make it though half the women on Saturday, and so we would most likely be working a full day on Sunday.

Sunday morning I was up again, bright and early, ready to finish women’s mass distribution. We received a briefing on Saturday’s totals.. only 240 something. We still had half the women to go and the pressure was on. If we don’t finish by the end of the weekend we would have to wait until the next weekend to distribute clothing. We want to move on to men by next weekend and it is unfair if half the women get warm clothing and the other half don’t. So we discussed strategies, learned a few Arabic words for “beautiful” and “perfect” and we opened our doors once more.

Samos Volunteers. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

I had the easy job on Sunday. I was in charge of the door. So, I took tickets from women and spaced them out evenly, so the cabin was never too crowded. I haded them their bags to put clothing in and explained the system. When the cabin was full, the women would sit down outside and wait for their turn. While they waited in line, I chatted with them and I played bouncer to any men or kids that might try and enter. We even had a dance party to one of my favorite DJs, James Zabiela. He even responded to my tweet offering to come to Samos for a music event! The day wore on and soon once again it was time for the lunch truck to come through. We packed up and crossed our fingers that the afternoon crew would get through the remaining 120 or so. We closed up Sunday night, finishing all 400 women and we all congratulated each other on a job well done.

Women’s Only Alpha – Saturday

My Saturday, after distribution, continued with more quality time with the women. Last weekend I was a new volunteer and working distribution in the afternoon, so I hadn’t experienced a Women’s only Alpha yet. This is a time when we close the doors to anyone other than females, including volunteers. Women can come, talk freely, do their makeup and hair, knit and we usually have a dance party. A safe space is an unfortunate necessity in the camp. It is cultural for a gender divide in many Arabic cultures. Often times women don’t even come to Alpha, despite all our efforts because of the men in the main area. Some women will not take a mixed language or education class, so we try and have women’s only English and other programs, so they can learn as well. None of the volunteers want it that way, but we have to set up safe spaces for the women to respect their culture and understand some of them have been physically abused on their journey. On Saturday we even have to have a “bouncer” at the door, as we don’t want to lock the door and men always seem to wander in at all hours on Saturday. We want to stop them before they even stick their head in the door.

castle church on Samos, Greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

This week, I volunteered to do hair beads for the teenage girls. So I set up a little station with bright colored plastic pony beads and spent the afternoon braiding hair and adding brightly colored beads. I made the mistake of adding one more bead to a girl’s hair and everyone else came back to remind me that they only had 4 when another girl had 5. So, they lined up again and I added an extra bead to everyone. In the end we started making bracelets with the Pony beads and I was suddenly transported back to the days of making these bracelets for raves with my girlfriends.

While I was busy with hair, we had several different time slots for baking. 10 women at a time could sign up for baking. We buy the ingredients, with money donated to Alpha, for goodies like lemon bars or chocolate cake. The women can use our kitchen and the end result is a wonderful treat for all the women to share at the end while we dance! I can only image what the women are saying about us volunteers as we awkwardly stop around in bulky hiking boots trying to catch the beat of the Arabic line dance moves. They are dressed in their Saturday finest and are so graceful. It’s a fun mix of culture and we always have such a good laugh, even though we can barely talk.

Samos Volunteers, women's only Saturday. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

This is one of the few times SV actually babysits. We keep the basement for kids only and some of the volunteers who enjoy working with kids find projects for them, they play games like musical chairs and we hope their mother’s do not have to worry about them. From time to time an exhausted volunteer would burst out of the basement chasing after a kid. It seemed like a lot of work and not something I was cut out for.

Several women have mentioned they so look forward to Saturday when they can just relax and be themselves. Even many of their husband’s have come up to SV thanking us for providing their wives a safe place.

Milly, a lovely volunteer from the U.K., is in charge of coordinating Women’s Only Alpha and all Alpha activities. She is a favorite among the women and they often knit her beautiful scarves and their faces light up when they see her. She does a fantastic job going above and beyond to create this space for women. Ever week the female volunteers meet with Milly and we talk about crafts and projects that would be fun and ways we can improve Saturday for these women. Donation money goes toward things like buying canvas bags to decorate, makeup, soap making products and other fun activities the women love.

Samos Volunteers women's Saturday. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

Let’s Talk About Periods

Continuing with the topic of women this week, let’s talk about periods and get personal. Views on periods vary all over the world. In some cultures women who are menstruating can not enter a church, temple or mosque. In some cultures, women have to skip work or school because they have no access to sanitary options. Even back home, in the United States women are battling tampon tax… we are getting taxed on a product that is needed to live our daily lives. It baffles me that a natural human cycle that is needed to reproduce has so many taboos surrounding it. Women get periods, it’s not gross, we should be able to talk about it and we should be able to have access to cheap and accessible sanitary options. Globally, we are nowhere near that goal, sadly. Many of these women are coming from a culture where talking about periods in front of males is very taboo. Every women is given about 3 pads when they arrive. As volunteers we have to handle this situation carefully. We have to hide these products in their new arrival kit, as to not embarrass them or make it public they are getting sanitary products. That is easy enough, discreetly hand each woman 3 pads in a concealed packaging. But then think about it… three pads…if you’re a guy and unsure what that means, that means they will have coverage for maybe at most 3 out of 5 days. For some women that might give them enough coverage for 1-2 days and then what? They have to search the camp for a female volunteer they are comfortable talking to and ask for more. There might be more, there might not be. I can only imagine how embarrassing some of these situations could be. During the weekend’s distribution I had a woman beg me for pants, because she had stained her. Unfortunately we were not giving away pants that weekend and she hung her head in despair.

Samos boat harbor. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

During our weekly meeting Dan, the feminist as we called him after this, pitched the idea of having some sort of sanitary disposal system in our Alpha center bathroom for women in desperate need. But, where would we get a dispenser we wondered and how would we regulate it? Dan took it upon himself to build his own dispenser. He hung it in our bathroom and stocked it daily, with 10 pads. We put in 5 languages this was only for women and to only take one as needed. Low and behind about 7-8 were taken a day. This meant that there was never an abuse of the system and that plenty of women who needed sanitary products, but were too shy or didn’t know how to ask. So, if you’re ever looking for something else to donate, Samos is always looking for women’s sanitary pads. Most Muslim women do not use tampons as it is taboo, so make sure they are nice thick pads and many women in the camp will thank you!

Kid’s Activities

Making Paper chains, kid's activities in a refugee camp. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

Gasp, I know me doing activities with kids? Unheard of, right? When we first receive our induction, we are asked what types of things we like to do and don’t like to do. I said I wasn’t the best with kids, and so I survived almost two weeks without working kid’s activities. We have several project with kids. First, there are some families that are highly sensitive and living in hotels or apartments. SV volunteers who enjoy working with children will go to the location and provide informal education and play activities. These sensitive children are not in any education programs like some of them other kids in the camp. They are usually transferred off the island more quickly than most, where they will be vaccinated and are able to apply for Greek school. As good as this sounds, there are less than 10 of these children enrolled in Greek school. It is one of those things that sounds lovely on paper, but is not implemented well in practice. Second we have kid’s reading circle. In the morning a volunteer heads up to camp and reads some books, usually with an Arabic speaker, Akram or Majd. They read a book in English and a book in Arabic, then sing some kids songs and play hand games like pattycake. Last, we have kid’s activities. Every day someone is in charge of this activity, they pick a craft and spend the early afternoon preparing all the supplies for about 70 kids. Then a team of 5 volunteers, including Akram and Majd two community volunteers, head up to the camp where we read stories, do the craft and play active games. Both Akram and Majd are on kids activities almost every day. They’re both young men from Syria and go above and beyond to help us with the kids. Often times as volunteers the kid’s don’t listen to us, they see us just as friends to play with. Having Akram and Majd, who lived in the camp and were seeking asylum to translate and keep the kids in line was a life saver. I have such high respect for how well they relate and take care of the kids. Their work is truly invaluable and the kids are lucky to have them as role models.

kids activities in a refugee camp. Samos Volunteers.

It just so happened that on my shift we were going to be making cardboard robots, with cardboard scraps. I was pretty excited to say the least, as this was the type of craft I could easily get behind. Myself and five others loaded up the cardboard, paint and other supplies and went up to the camp. After gathering all the children we settled down in a semi circle around the olive trees. I was immediately best friends with several of the younger girls and they fought over who got to hold my hand. Myself and Susan were the only women, so we were a magnet for the girls. We all quieted down at Majd’s request and waited for the story, with baited breath. There was tension in the air as the kids squirmed in excitement.

Teaching kids how to brush their teeth.  Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

I was mesmerized by Majd! From his heart, be began reciting the story of Sandrella (?) an Arabic fairytale. He loomed over us with the olive tree behind us. I had no idea what he was saying, but his words were powerful. The story was interactive and at times he would say something and the kids would repeat it. I can only assume at one point a bad character was after Sandrella as his voice boomed yelling, “Sandrella” and all the little kids would scream back, “Sandrella Sandrella.” His face light up and changed with each character. It was such a special moment to be part of Majd’s story and those kids are fortunate to have such a great guy bringing the story of their favorite fairytale to life!

After Sandralla was over, he read a book about animals and colors. The kids knew it by heart and I soon chimed in as we all screamed, “purple cat, purple cat, what do you see? I see a blue horse looking at me. Blue hose blue horse what do you see?” For the first time in a long time, I felt a connection with kids as well shared in these wonderful storytelling moments.

Storytime was over and it was time for ROBOTS!! We divided up into teams of three. Akram, Majd and Graham volunteered as robot tributes. So, Susan, Brody and I divided the kids into teams of three and we began to build our cardboard human robots. It was chaos, nothing less, nothing more. I barely could keep a hand on the tape as kids tried to steal it from me. No one wanted to cover Akram, they all wanted to be robots too. So, I did most of the work turning Akram into a robot and then gave a few kids some robot arms here. Akram looked somewhat like a robot as his head was falling off and he had no arms, but it worked haha.

Kids crafts, cardboard human robots. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

Then the paint came out and we descended from chaos into carnage and I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen next. There I stood with a giant container of green paint, the most popular color. Kids came at me from all sides begging for paint. I tried to get them to line up, but it was useless, so I just started squirting huge globs of paint on their cardboard pallets. No matter how much I squirted it was never enough, so and so got just a bit more, or it just wasn’t enough. I told them to go use what they hand and come back, so they would run off and run back begging for more. I was dispensing as fast as I could when the group closed in on me. In my head, I was dramatizing the apocalypse and this is how I went, down in a group of children begging for more paint. They came at me walking forward with paint brushes extended and soon I was covered in paint as they ran into me, climbing over each other eager for more paint to paint our robots. It was fun, but it was also kinda terrifying. I didn’t know how to stop them from tackling me, when Brody, the most gentle and mild-mannered Scottish lad, finally called them off and declared the robots painted and ready for battle. I breathed a sigh of relief I was having I wasn’t sure I could survive the onslaught of kids for much longer.

Cardboard Human Robots. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

The battle began, Akram, Majd, and Graham pretended to battle each other. There were no winners, except for all of us as we nearly collapsed covered in green paint. However, the day was not over. We still had some time to kill, so we played on an old dirty mattress that was in the field. Kids used it as a trampoline and tried to do jump tricks. I looked around at all the kids covered in paint. What would their parents think, as we returned their kids back to a place where showering was hard and laundry was impossible? Out of the few sets of clothing the kids had, one was covered in green paint. I felt a bit guilty, but I knew the kids had a blast, so I think it all evened out in the end.

I have never felt so drained of energy as I did after that afternoon, 70 hyper kids are a lot of kids. It was all worth it, though, even if I didn’t do kid’s activities again ­čśŤ

Unaccompanied Minors

Samos had about 70 unaccompanied minors when I arrived. These are kids under the age of 18 that have no parent or guardian with them. They arrive in Samos alone, possibly because they no longer have parents or maybe because their parent’s sent them off as the only member of the family that could survive the journey and get a job in Europe or for many other reasons. They are treated as the most sensitive individuals along with single pregnant women or single mothers. They have their own area in the camp, that is supposed to keep them safe. During our camp tour, we noticed this “safe area” had busted windows and torn off doors. The UNHCR does their best to get the kids off the island and to mainland Greece, where they can enroll in school and move into supervised apartments. During their time on Samos Giulia, from Italy and the volunteer coordinator for Samos Volunteers takes them under her wing. One story she told me that stuck in my head was a minor who stopped eating. No one noticed he stopped eating and he passed out on several occasions. Giulia was one of the only people that noticed he wasn’t doing well and spent many days getting him in to see a doctor.

Unaccompanied minor refugees. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

The minors were an exception to our age limit in Alpha. Some of the kids were faced with the option of spending time in a healthy place like Alpha, reading and playing games or doing drugs and drinking in the camp. When I arrived, a large group of the Arabic speaking minors were scheduled to leave during my second week. I could tell they had little capacity to meet new faces knowing they would leave, so while many of the long-term volunteers had formed friendships with these minors they kept their distance from myself and some of the other new faces.

The night before their departure we threw them a little party, with snacks and dancing. After listening to Despacito dozens of times it was time to call it a night. This departure was very hard for Giulia. She battled a lot of feelings of joy for them getting off the island, but fear that they might fall into bad habits once they were away from her watchful eye. She made them all blue and white bracelets in the same style as the Romanian friendship bracelets all the SV volunteers have. As they accepted the bracelets, the had to promise not to be “donkeys.” This meant they promised to stay in school, don’t do drugs or drink and focus on making good decisions. Giulia would end up video chatting with them often after they left and I would just hear her say, “Are you being a donkey?” and they would say, “no, no donkey!”

Downtown Samos, Greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

So, what happens to the minors when they depart? Well, they are transferred to Athens or Thessaloniki, where they will be housed in a group apartment and start the process to go to Greek school. This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Again this is one of those things that sounds great on paper, but in reality, it doesn’t always work so well. Greece is still in the middle of a huge economic depression. Instead of going somewhere with a healthy education system, decent health care and labor market to enter, they are left in a depressed city, with little opportunity. I think the EU could distribute these kids to better places where they have a better chance to not only survive but thrive.

Tea Distribution

This was the week of trying new things for me. Twice daily we serve hot tea from the cabin inside the camp. We have a morning session and an afternoon session. A lovely volunteer David, from Australia, was in charge of this and spent most of his days in the cabin brewing tea. This is one of the most popular things SV does, as people don’t have to leave the camp on cold days and come get unlimited hot tea. The shift starts at 7:30 in the morning, and so I was up early and at the cabin ready to brew!

Distributing tea in a refugee camp.

David was there to show me the ropes and we bonded over our love for electronic music! He, myself, and Jan are all ravers and enjoy a good mix. So, we put on some Carl Cox and had a dance party with our tea distribution. The cabin has a little window, almost like a drive-through window. People come up with an SV issued cup and we would fill it with tea and 2 scoops of sugar. We bought some cups from Ikea mark who received a cup on their police papers. So, if someone came to the window with no cup, we would ask for their police paper. If there was a green dot we would remind them they had to go get their cup, if there was no dot, they were new and we issued them a teacup. This was one of my favorite activities I had done so far. I got to interact with so many people I never saw in Alpha and we had time to chat through the window. I met a photographer who had a gallery back home and his dream was to open a gallery in Germany. People seemed to open up and talk over tea and it was a wonderful bonding experience.

tea distribution in a refugee camp. Volunteering with Samos Volunteers.

Sadly this tea distribution would not last much longer. Shortly after my shift, there were some electrical issues in the cabin and the socket melted. So, until we can get the Greek military to fix the electrical problems tea was on hold indefinitely. I know what you’re thinking, it was not me… it was David! haha

The great Scabies Scare

Samos Island, Greece. Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe.

I was warned upon arrival that lice, scabies and TB were common in the camp. When I returned home I would have to get checked for TB. Many volunteers washed their hair with oil every night to prevent or kill lice. You never know who has what and especially when it comes to kids they climb all over you and play with your hair. Word got out that a little girl in Alpha had scabies. Thus began a period where all the volunteers started itching. However, we all had access to laundry and went home and washed our clothes in 60 C water. The little girl who had scabies did not have access to laundry, no one in the camp does. Lice and scabies run rampant in the camp and there is no way to kill scabies without scalding hot water. This brought to light an important issue. Why is there no laundry facility on Samos? Laundry facilities are basics in most camps, as without them diseases and bugs spread. With almost two weeks of solid rain, many people in the camp were wearing moldy and damp clothing all the time. MSF stepped in to save the day. MSF would be leaving Samos in a few months, but before they left they would equip the camp with laundry facilities that SV would take over and run.

This project, as with all projects in the camp, had a lot of red tape but we were slowly cutting through all of it and bringing this facility to life so people could have clean dry clothing and rid their living areas of scabies once and for all!

Old doors of Samos. . I pass by this old door every day as I commute to and from various activities for Samos Volunteers. Most days I am scheduled for 4-5 different activities, each one lasts about 3 hours. It keeps the day interesting and makes it go by quickly. . I usually start with a morning reception shift at the adult learning center, then I might move on to warehouse sorting, kids activities, women's activities or cleaning. I end my day with computer class and Arabic class or one of the many team meetings we have to plan our weekly activities. . #GooglePixel #teampixel #greece #europe #samos #volunteer #refugees #refugeeswelcome #lovegreece #philanthropy #philanthropist #nonprofit #giveback #femaletravelbloggers #igersgreece#abmtravelbug #exploretheglobe #roamtheplanet #theglobewanderer #guardiantravelsnaps #Flashesofdelight #wheretofindme #openmyworld #doorsofinstagram #worlsdtravelbook #wonderfulglobe #mybestintravel #wanderingfeatures #travelingourplanet #mytinyatlas

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Looking Ahead

Old buildings in Vathy, Samos. Volunteering in a refugee camp.

My second week on Samos was one of the most exciting, with a lot of new activities from kids to tea distribution. I was finally in my groove and thriving in a lot of my roles. I was making computer lessons every night for the next day, I was helping with social media and really starting to make some great friends in the camp and in the volunteer group. Looking ahead we were gearing up for men’s weekend distribution. Last weekend we got through 400 women, this weekend we would be attempting as many out of 700 men as possible. We were going to need to be well rested and focused on the task at hand. I wondered if we would be working all weekend again, meaning that by the time I had my next break I would be working for a full 21 days with no pause. I could do this I kept telling myself as I started to feel my immune system failing and my lack of sleep catching up to me.

Visiting Munich in Winter: 21 Things to do to Beat the Cold

Munich is the picture perfect European city in the Winter, especially after a snowfall. The snow dusts the churches and charming red rooves of the old city with a fairytale white. Not only is it picture perfect, but winter sees an increase in cultural events from fantastic concerts, spirit and beer events, and great outdoor activities. If you’ve come to Munich for their famous Christmas markets, you might find yourself marketed out or eager to explore more of what this city has to offer. Or maybe you’ve arrived in Munich after the cheerful holiday season and it just seems cold, dark and empty. No matter your reason for traveling here, there’s plenty of things to do in Munich in the Winter. So, pack your warm gear and Los Gehts!

The best activities and things to do in Munich, Germany in the winter.  Go ice skating, sledding, see concerts and explore Christmas markets.

Munich and the surrounding area of Bavaria are teaming with fun things to do in the winter. Whether you are an outdoor snow loving adventurer or enjoy a quiet day curled up in a cafe with a good book, Munich has a winter activity for everyone. Just find your ideal activity and click on it below!

Weather and What to pack
1. Check out the Snowy View
2. Go Sledding
3. Ice Skating in City Center
4. Experience Munich Christmas Markets
5. Ride the Christmas Tram
6. See an English Movie
7. Take a Day Trip to Scenic Zugspitze
8. Learn at a Museum
9. Snowboard/Ski in the German Alps
10. Attend the Theater, Concert or Opera
11. Take a Walk Through a Snowy Graveyard
12. Take the Hey Minga Alternative Tour
13. Warm up in the Sauna
14. Go Shopping – Shop Local
15. Read at a Library
16. Watch Curling
17. Experience German Carnival or Fasching
18. Attend a Paint and Wine Night
19. Drink Coffee at a Cafe
20. Tour the BMW Factory
21. Cozy up and Grab a Drink at Munich’s Best Bar or Nightclub

Munich in Winter: Things to do

Weather and What to Pack

Munich can be quite moody in the winter. Temperatures can range anywhere from 35 F down to 0 F. You’re likely to encounter both snow, sun and rain. I always recommend layers as the best option, especially for anyone without proper winter gear. Make sure you pack boots that are going to keep your feet dry and warm wool socks. Pack a winter coat or one you can layer underneath. Bring a hat, gloves and a scarf and you should be ready for to beat the cold with these fun winter activities.

1. Check out a Snowy View of Munich

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Munich, Germany bird's eye view of the city in winter.

View from St. Peter’s Church.

Munich has to have one of the cutest bird’s eye views in all of Europe. With limitations on skyscrapers and a focus on old European architecture you really can’t beat it, especially when the red roofs are covered with a pristine dusting of snow. This view can be reached from Peterskirche or St. Peter’s Church right in the center of Munich at Marienplatz. 3 Euro will grant you access to the long and zigzagging staircase that leads up to the top. The best part about coming in winter (other than Christmas time) is that it is usually not as crowded, so you can take your time and get a good photo!

St. Peter’s Rindermarkt 1, 80331 M├╝nchen

2. Go Sledding in and Around Munich.

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Sledding in Spitzingee near Munich in the German Alps

Sledding in Spitzingee near Munich.

I remember as a kid growing up in a small town in Alaska, we used to have miles of sledding hills at our doorstep. I would suit up and sled out for hours of fun. I never dreamed that I would be living in a European city with sledding in the central part of town! There are three main sledding hills in Munich. The first is in the Englischergarten at Monopteros – this is on Google maps. The other two are located at Olympiaberg, and Luitpoldh├╝gel. Olympiaberg has a tube run as well, so you can race down in a tube. Sleds are not provided at these locations, but you can buy a cheap butt seat for sledding at any sporting goods store, just make sure to give it to a family on the hill if you’re only in town visiting and plan on throwing it away.

My favorite sledding actually a day trip from Munich for extreme sledding in the Alps. Here you hike up a small winding path and at the top, you can warm up with beer and food before beginning your descent down. You pay 2 Euro for a traditional wooden toboggan rental. You sled down the same path you hiked up and it is quite the ride, lasting about 7-10 minutes. Drop the sled off at the bottom and head home. Find out more about this winter day trip from Munich in my full detailed post.

3. Enjoy Ice Skating in Munich City Center

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Ice Skating in Munich Stachus

Ice Skating in Munich

The city center of Munich transforms into a skating rink from November to January. Stop by and rent skates for an allotted session of ice skating. At night they turn on neon lights and it turns into an all-out party. The fun doesn’t stop there as the entire area of Stachus transforms into a cozy Alpine hut full of Gl├╝hwein and piping hot snacks.

Karlspl. 1, 80335 M├╝nchen

4. Experience Munich’s Christmas Markets

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Munich's Christmas Markets Marienplatz, Germany

No trip to Munich in the winter is complete without experiencing the iconic Christmas markets, which are open from late November into January. Shop charming vendors, drink copious amounts of Gl├╝hwein and eat all the w├╝rst you can handle. Munich has dozens of Christmas markets from traditional markets, to hippy markets and even LBGTQI markets and Medieval markets. There is something for everyone. Check out my favorite quirky Christmas markets in Munich or something different.

5. Ride the Christmas Tram

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Munich's Christmas Tram

Small disclaimer: I rode this and it was crowded and so steamy you couldn’t really see out the windows. So, It’s not my top recommendation of things to do in Munich in the Winter, but it might be right up someone’s alley. This is a normal tram that has been decked out in Christmas trim. It runs around the city for about 20 minutes and they serve Gl├╝hwine on the tram for 6 Euro. The tram picks up from the Sendlinger Tor Tram stop and you can’t miss it with all the Christmas lights and decorations.

6. See an English Movie

Sometimes it is just too cold to be outside exploring, and that means it is the perfect time to go see an English Movie. There is a charming theater in Munich that shows only English or (original language) movies in a historic theater. If Rocky Horror is your thing, it plays every Friday and Saturday at 11:00 pm. You often need tickets in advance, you can purchase them at the link below. The website is partially in German, but you should be able to manage, if not you can show up early and buy tickets there.

Buy tickets, here!
Lilienstra├če 2, 81669 M├╝nchen

7. Take A Day Trip to Scenic Zugspitze

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. View from Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak in winter.

View from Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak in winter.

If you want a scenic view of the German Alps in Winter, but you’re not a skier or snowboarder, this trip is for you. This day trip will take all day, but it combines everything from a regional train, a cogwheel train up through the mountains, and a scenic tram. There is a great traditional Bavarian restaurant at the top for lunch and an area to walk around and explore on foot. Zugspitze is a glacier area, so you can return home and tell your friends you’ve walked on a glacier. Zugspitze is also the highest point in Germany and it borders with Austria. At the very top of the peak you can actually walk across the German Austrian border as many times as you want, how cool is that? Read a detailed post about how to get to Zugspitze, here.

8. Expand your Knowledge at a Museum

Things to do in Munich in the winter. Museum in Munich at K├Ânigsplatz.

Neoclassical Museum in K├Ânigsplatz.

Munich is a museum lover’s dream destination. Munich is host to everything from the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest science and technology museum, that’s right I said largest in the WORLD, to neoclassic art and ancient civilization museums. If you happen to be in Munich on a Winter Sunday most museums are 1 Euro or half off! Munich has a museum quarter, which is the Maxvorstadt neighborhood surrounding K├Ânigsplatz, which makes it easy to check out several in one day. If you can only go to one museum though, I do recommend the Deutsches Museum.

9. Snowboard/ski the German (or Austrian) Alps

Skiing at Zugspitze glacier Germany's tallest peak in the Alps. Things to do in Munich in the winter.

Skiing on the Zugspitze glacier.

Munich is located just 45 minutes, by train or bus, from the Alps. If you have always wanted to ski or snowboard the Alps, Munich is the perfect launching point. You can have an independent day by train or book a ski trip on a bus that takes you to and from the Austrian Alps, includes breakfast, lunch, lift ticket and a beer. The bus driver also handles all your baggage and you have a host who is responsible for getting your lift ticket. I highly recommend this last option for anyone looking to make friends or is intimidated by independent travel. Your host will be speaking German, but if you ask, they usually speak English and can come give you some personal information in English based on your needs. Find out more information about several ways to get out and ski the Alps with my comprehensive guide, here.

10. Attend a Concert, Opera or The Theater

Attending Harry Potter in Concert in Munich, Germany. Things to do in Munich in the winter.

Harry Potter in Concert!

Attending a cultural event in a foreign country or language is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. You can check the Philharomnie for concerts. This is my favorite winter activity and I’ve been obsessively attending Harry Potter, Star Wars and Final Fantasy in Concert. The movie plays on a screen while a live orchestra plays the soundtrack. It’s such a fun event! The MunichOpera also has regular operas that come through town. Most of them are in Italian and then translated into German for subtitles, so it’s really fascinating. Germans are a bit strange when it comes to art, so the classic operas tend to have a German twist. Think nudity on stage, abstract art that is so abstract you’re not sure if it is even art anymore. I highly recommend it.

11. Take a Walk Through Munich’s Graveyard

Things to do in Munich, Germany. See the Graveyard in Winter

Munich’s Graveyard in Winter

I love visiting the graveyard every season to see the changes. The historic graveyard has graves dating back to the late 1700s and is a large park-like area to walk around get some fresh air. It is so hauntingly breathtaking with a fresh coat of snow.

Thalkirchner Str. 17, 80337 M├╝nchen

12. Take the Hey Minga Winter Tour

Things to do in Munich in the Winter. Take the Hey Minga Winter Tour.

Hey Minga Winter Tour.

Hey Minga is a fantastic local German tour company, with roots in Hamburg and other German cities. Each tour is tailored to their host city, changes with the season and focuses on underground and alternative sights. I had the pleasure of taking the Hey Minga Christmas tour and it was well worth it. We bundled up and piled into a classic red VW bus and toured street art, sledding hills, Christmas markets and other oddities. At every stop, we were searched piping hot Gl├╝hwein and cookies to keep us fueled up for the tour. Our guide spoke great English and was happy to engage and answer questions. This is a great tour for a group or friends or a family.

See their tours, here!

13. Warm up in a Sauna or Thermal Bath

Stop by and take a dip at M├╝ller’sches Volksbad. This is a gorgeous pool and sauna building inside and out, that bridges the Isar River. Or if you want to get to the airport early stop by Therma Erding for a posh modern spa experience. They have everything from luxury day beds, swimming pool, spa and fun water slides.

M├╝ller’sches Volksbad Therma Erding
Rosenheimer Str. 1, 81667 M├╝nchen Thermenallee 1-5, 85435 Erding

14. Go Shopping

Things to do in Munich in the Winter, go shopping.

Munich’s shopping district.

Munich has a luxury shopping strip on a road called Maximilianstra├če. You can also find some cheaper name brand and German brand stores around the Marienhof and Marienplatz. However, I like to shop locally, so I recommend skipping the over-crowded over-priced tourist areas and stopping by the neighborhoods of Gartnerplatz/Glockenbach or near Universit├Ąt – start on Schellingstra├če and meander the streets from around there for great local boutiques and gift shops.

15. Read at a Library or Book Store

Things to do in Munich in the Winter, go to the Library

Munich has some amazing libraries. Most of them are free to go in, but you have to be a member to check out books. Be prepared to check your oversized bag into a locker and pass through security as many of the libraries are part of the universities or are of great historical value. Make sure to check out the State Library of Bavaria for great architecture and a bounty of books. If you prefer small bookstores take a peek at Hugendubel, Press and Books, or the Munich Readery. Most places have an English section.

16. Watch – or Try Curling

Head over to Nymphenburg Palace for outdoor curling. The curling areas is open most days from 9 am – 5 pm and it is only 4 Euro per person for 4 hours of fun. I’ve never been curling, but my dad used to play, so I thought it might be fun for you all to get outdoors and try something new!

17. Experience German Carnival or Fasching

Things to do in Winter, go to Carnival or Fasching.

Germans get really into Carnival or as it is called here, Fasching. Starting on the 7th of January this event continues until Faschingsdienstag or Fat Tuesday as it is commonly known. Typically the weekend before Fat Tuesday you’ll see events, but the entire downtown area turns into a party on this Tuesday. Stop by Viktualienmarkt for food, drinks, costumes and scheduled events on stage. Don’t forget your own costume or you’ll be out of place. You can swing by a drug store and get makeup for a simple cat face. Stop by any bakery and order a Krapfen, which is the German pastry to eat before Lent.

18. Attend a Paint and Wine Night

Things to do in Munich in the winter, Art night with paint and wine.

This whole class will be in German, but that’s ok. Just order all the wine you can drink, get drunk and try and match the painting sample. It helped my friends and I practice our German and we even made some new friends that were local and expats alike. It was great fun, even though I realized I am a terrible painter.

See their Munich schedule, here!

19. Sip Coffee at a Cafe

Things to do in Munich in the winter, go to a cafe.

There is no bettet way to beat the cold of winter than sipping hot coffee or hot chocolate at a cafe. Munich isn’t known for the cafe culture, I’ll be the first to admit, but I’ve done all the hard work and found the best cafes that are great for relaxing and enjoying a nice cup of coffee. Germans are weird about wifi, so it’s hard to find wifi, so whenever I find a cafe that serves good coffee and has wifi I basically move in.

My favorite place with wifi AND coffee is Coffee Mammas or Aroma Cafe Bar. Other great places to hang out and get good coffee without the wifi are Man vs Machine and R├Âsteri.

20. Tour the BMW Factory

Things to do in Munich in the Winter, Tour the BMW factory.

Even if you’re not a car lover this experience is great for everyone. BMW does a great job keeping things interesting and engaging. There are three different experiences and areas to explore. The Experience Tour is free and it is like a fancy showroom of all the cool modern and classic BMW cars. The Museum is ticketed and you can go anytime during opening hours and it covers the history of BMW. The Factory Tour is also ticketed and you may need to book well in advance – though coming in the winter you have an advantage. This factory walks you through all the stages of making a car and you get to see a car made from beginning to end.

21. Finish your day at Munich’s best bar or nightclub

Best bars in Munich

I have a whole post locked and loaded for your ultimate night out in Munich. It covers everything from how to order a drink in German, the best microbreweries, craft cocktail bars, dive bars, to the best nightclubs. This post also has all the winter beer and spirit events from a beer expo to Starkbierfest. You can read it here.

Spread the Word

Munich is an amazing city to visit year round. There are plenty of things to do in Munich in Winter. Whether you’re in town in frosty February for a work trip, you need a break from the Christmas markets, or you just enjoy off-season travel there is something for everyone. Share this to let your friends know how awesome Munich is in the winter! What is your favorite thing to do in Munich in the winter?

Exciting things to do during the Winter in Munich, Germany. Enjoy thrilling outdoor winter activities like sledding and skiing, curl up with a good book at a library, experience rich culture at the theater or stay warm in a hot sauna.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp in Samos, Greece: Part 3, The First Week

Within the last few weeks, my life has turned around and upside down. I’ve been living and volunteering on Samos, a Greek Island and one of five refugee hot spots for Turkish crossings. My time is spent with an NGO called Samos Volunteers (SV) a grassroots movement aiding the European migrant crisis. It’s been a journey full of emotional ups and downs, but I have to say, reflecting on my first few weeks this experience has been much more emotionally positive than I expected and I find myself wishing I had more time here. But, let’s not get ahead of myself. My last post talked about my orientation and first few days working with SV so its high time we dive in and see what my first full week here on Samos has been like. This post isn’t quite as emotionally charged as my first few days, but trust me, there will be plenty more ups and downs in the coming weeks.

Volunteering with refugees in the European Migration Crisis on Samos Island Greece

Make sure you’re caught up in the series, if you haven’t already. Part 1 I talk about why I chose Samos, and Part 2 is the crazy first few days.

Personal Moments with an Aslyum Seeker


I was standing at the front desk reception of Alpha, SV’s adult learning center. I was a new face and often felt lost in a sea of veteran volunteers who already made connections with our beneficiaries. The door opened and a beautiful woman with glowing skin and a pink hijab walked in. She looked at me and without skipping a beat wrapped me up in a giant hug and kissed me on each cheek. She floated about the room, commanding attention. I could tell by the way she carried herself and the way the entire room lit up that she was someone special. Someone with a heart made of gold. Her name is Majida and she is truly special human being.

The story about my personal connection with her doesn’t continue much past a few hugs. I know, it’s a lot shorter than my last story, but those few hugs meant the world to me. I believe that women should celebrate other women and Majida is someone to celebrate. No matter the time of day or place I would see her, she was always the first to smile and greet me. The last time I saw her it was late at night, I had just popped my tire, and we were both in front of the camp entrance. She was positively radiating, as she had some very good news to share with myself and a few other volunteers that were around. She had just won the Voices of Courage award, given by the Women’s Refugee Commission. This award honors outstandingly resilient and resourceful female refugee leaders that work to create positive change for themselves and the world around them by carving pathways to long-term resilience for displaced women and girls. Is that not the most beautiful award?? No one deserves this award more than Majida. She works tirelessly in the camp as a translator for the camp doctor, helping to ensure there are no misunderstandings. She also helps us out at Samos Volunteers with our bi-monthly minors dinner. She cooks up a feast of good old fashion home cooked goodness for our unaccompanied minors and volunteers. I know the minors miss the home cooked food, and it is a small pleasure Majida helps us bring to them. She also comes in on Saturday to help us with Women’s Saturday at Alpha.

Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe. Women's only Alpha.

One of the moments that speaks to her true character is when she translated, helped facilitate and coordinate the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Women’s Information and Discussion Session on gender-based violence. I did not have the privilege of being there, but after speaking with Milly, Alpha’s coordinator, I was able to understand how powerful Majida really is. Majida did much more than translation, as someone who lived in the camp previously and stayed to help after being granted asylum, she was able to act as a mediator between UNHCR and the women of the camp. The women who attended the session were able to speak up and voice their concerns and fears regarding gender-based violence in the camp. If you remember my last post talked about the frequent sexual assault in the camp, especially in the female restrooms at night. With a group of about half Arabic speakers, half Farsi speakers and a few Kurdish speakers the concern that the women could not stand in solidarity or understand each other fears and needed was brought up. Majida reminded all the women, that they were sisters in this- together. She said you don’t have to speak the same language to know your sister is in trouble. All the women in the camp share the same fears and security issues, no matter their language. This session brought the women of the Samos hot spot together in solidarity. <3

Can we get a standing ovation for this amazing woman and our dear friend Majida? . Majida is a well known, loved, and truly inspiring woman for all of us at SV and in the camp. She was just awarded with the #voicesofcourage award by the Women's Refugee Commission. This award is given to women who work tirelessly to make a positive change for themselves and carve pathways to long-term resilience for displace women and girls. . We can't think of anyone who deserves this more. ❤️❤️❤️ . #femalepower #womensrights #socialjustice #equalityforall #humanrights #strongertogether #volunteer #refugees #refugeeswelcome #lovegreece #refugeesgr #philanthropy #refugeestories #NGO #nonprofit #giveback #givingback #helpushelpthem #nonprofitorginization #igersgreece #nonprofitvolunteer #refugeecrisis #greece #europe #samosvolunteers #asylumseekers #picoftheday #theguardian #globalcitizen

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(Head over to our Instagram by clicking the image above. Give SV a follow! I’m managing the account while I am here! :))

Majida could not be doing a more honorable job here on Samos. She will travel to New York City in May to receive this award at a luncheon. We wish her the best of luck and safe travels. If you are interested in attending this luncheon or supporting this event, you can RSVP here.

The Man With the Fruit

Winter is certainly not void of fruit on Samos. As I walk to and from SV my feet crush and stomp the rotting and ripe fruit that fell from the trees. As I walk, somewhere – not too far away- there is an older man picking fruit from these very trees. He brings his bounty to Alpha and hands out a seemingly endless supply of fruit to children, volunteers, and other beneficiaries. Even when my purse is full of tangerines and the front desk is teaming with oranges he always has more. He doesn’t say a word to me, he never has. I don’t even know his name, but he always hands me a piece of fruit and a smile.

Volunteering in a refugee camp in Europe. Oranges from Samos Greece.

Mass Cleaning Distribution

Even though we have moved away from primarily providing emergency support for camp residents and into psycho-social support, there will always be a need for mass distributions of supplies, such as emergency winter clothing and cleaning supplies. Winter is a critical season for mass distribution and as I’m volunteering at the peak of winter my first weekend I was put on mass distribution. Mass distributions are one of the few things we do inside the camp and this takes place at “The Cabin.” The cabin is a central building where the those in the camp come to get clothing, supplies, hot tea, baby formula, and meals.
This weekend we would perform a distribution of cleaning supplies. Why cleaning supplies? Since the camp is almost double its capacity, with much of the camp without power or water and no access to laundry facilities scabies, lice, bacteria and viruses infect the camp. Giving people simple cleaning supplies, like detergent, soap, mops, and brooms allow them to have some control over their filthy environment and have a chance to rid the area of bacteria and dirt.

Samos Refugee Camp Greece, Europe. Volunteering in a refugee camp.

Vathi – the main town in Samos and the camp resting above.

I was scheduled for afternoon distribution, they were easing me in a bit it seemed, as many people worked a full day Saturday. I took advantage of the morning off and strolled about the city checking out the cafes and of course- eating falafel with falafel cat. Around 2 pm we drove up to the cabin, entering the camp. People were just finishing up with their lunch distribution. I squeezed between people exiting the meal line. This pinned me between people reaching for food at the food window and a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. I swam like a salmon upstream to the entrance of the cabin. Near the entrance was another chain link fence where people entered the food line from. The fence was ripped and patched together in several spots. People eyed us, curious about our comings and goings in the cabin. Volunteers in the cabin usually meant that people got things – new shoes, tea, and critical supplies. The windows of the cabin were covered with thick brown paper. Peeling and fading in the light, it prevented eyes from seeing what was in the cabin, lest there be break-ins. As we opened the doors people in the food line peaked in, children ran in and we chased after them, shoeing them out and locking the door behind us to strategize my first mass distribution.

Our team of volunteers gathered around as if a sports team before a big game. Bogdan the head coordinator dominated the circle. He told us statistics from the morning distribution and how much more we needed to get through in order to ensure everyone in the camp had the cleaning supplies they needed. The pressure was on, it was up to us to get through each and every last person. If we failed, that meant some people would not receive the supplies, this meant they not only continued living in filthy conditions, but fights may break out. If someone receives a kit and their neighbor does not, they will assume it was intentional or racially charged.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Karlovasi, Samos, Greece

We divided into four teams of three. Each team of three was in charge of a certain cleaning kit. We had about 4 types of cleaning kits. One was for a pop up camping tent for a family, the second for a pop-up tent full of single unrelated people, the third was for a large container with multiple families, and the last was a large container full of single people. The larger container kits included broom, mop, and floor cleaning detergent, a basic cleaning product, a dustpan, and gloves. The pop-up kits included all the same things except for the mop and broom, as you can not mop a crowded tent. We then had to add soap and hand towels based on the number of individuals in the tents/containers or 1 soap/towel for a family. Each team put together these kits for their station. My station was containers for individuals. While we did this two volunteers, including a community volunteer (those seeking asylum, but help SV with translation and teaching) went into the camp with little green tickets. They had to disperse a green ticket to each and every container, shelter, tent and accommodation. Once someone got the ticket they had to immediately come to the cabin in order to receive their cleaning kit. This created a consistent, but spaced flow of people coming to us. At the door, they would give the ticket to Bogdan and he would shout into the cabin, “pop-up 5 singles!” The pop-up single crew would then get their kit and add 5 soaps and 5 hand towels and hand it out the door. Next Bogdan would yell, “Container 4 singles.” … the container of singles…. oh that’s me! Right. I leaped into action with my team and we got out kit out the door with 4 soaps and towels in no time. Our teams faded as we figured out a better system that worked for us. We ended up with 1-2 people in the back area assembling kits, some people shifted to soap duty and the rest handed out the kits in return for a green ticket.

Volunteering in a refugee camp, Samos Greece

Harbor on Samos

As the afternoon wore on, things started to slow down. A kid, who I would come to know quite well during my time here (not always for the best reasons) hung around the door. He would often make a break for the cabin, desperate for a broom handle. He begged relentlessly, pulling at me and the volunteers saying, “Please my friend! One (he points to the red plastic stick) Please!” We showed it to him several times, proving that it wasn’t a toy and we tried to convince him he did not want soap and surly his momma would come later to get one of their own. That didn’t stop him. He would cry and scream, laugh and shout, always begging for one, please, his friend. For a kid that had literally nothing, even the simple broom handle was something to be desired a thing that he could have those other kids didn’t and he didn’t stop fighting us until the very last second.

As the sun was setting, women came from women’s only Alpha, which takes place outside the camp. There was much confusion. Often their husbands or container mates received their kit already, but word got out we were giving out supplies and they did not want to miss the opportunity. We relied heavily on our translators to help explain. Even so, those in pop-up tents, confused why they did not get a mop and broom, complained that their package was different. People were adamant that they did not receive a kit. One man came to us and said he never got a ticket. We assured him that everyone received a ticket. He explained that he did not have a bed anywhere. When it wasn’t sunny he slept outside on a mat and when it was raining a kind neighbor let him squat in the corner of their container, all we could give him was a bar of “Charity” soap. Yes, there is a brand of soap called charity soap… imagine lining up to receive soap with giant letters that say Charity on it to wash with. Eye Roll. Finally, all issues were resolved and we were able to close our doors, hoping that tomorrow the camp and hygiene might improve ever so slightly, thanks to a large generous donation of much-needed cleaning supplies, by MSF.

The next day the camp was filled with balloon cleaning gloves blowing in the wind and water balloon gloves splattering in every direction. Perhaps, toys for the children were needed more than protection for hands against harsh chemicals.

Head over to our Facebook page and give us a like to see more of the work we were doing in Samos, like this mass distribution video!

Resume, CV, Social Media and Computer Class

Samos Volunteers communicate through Facebook group chat. In fact, a facebook account is a requirement for joining our team! We have several chats, one for after-hours socializing, another for Women’s activities, kid’s activities and our main work chat with everyone. With emergency situations arising on the island our coordinators need their phones on at all times, so work chats are not allowed on Sunday unless we’re working, or at night unless its an emergency. Giulia, the volunteer coordinator sent out a group chat within the first few days I arrived, asking who had resume and CV knowledge. My resume and cover letter skills have always been something I’m proud of, in addition to partaking and running several similar workshops. I jumped at the opportunity and I found myself in charge of the resume and CV workshop, which was once a week on Wednesday. This project spilled over into my computer class, with two of my students working in class to build their resume.

Volunteering in a refugee camp Vathi, Samos, Greece.

Crumbling buildings of Vathi, Samos

I really struggled with what an asylum seeker should put on their resume. We have so many talented people here on Samos, from professional artists to math professors. However most of the people that came to me were unable to finish school and if they did their school might be gone or diplomas lost, many have language skills, but not certificates, they haven’t done any volunteer work, or held a formal job in years (due to displacement) let alone at a location – that is still in business and can easily be verified or Googled. I devised a series of 10 or so questions to get a profile and help them brainstorm things they’ve done that might not be obvious things to put on resumes. Aside from the basics like employment history, I asked them to consider things like, if they ever had an idea they were able to turn into something concrete, if they ever took care of their grandparents or children, how any hardships they may have faced helped them obtain new skills, if they ever played sports or taught anyone anything and if they had ever received a medal or award. Often times they didn’t want to talk about their past at all. I also entered an interesting discussion on whether someone should list Kurdistan on their resume, a country that by all means exists… I mean I know Kurdish people, who speak Kurdish and live in what they call Kurdistan, yet its existence is disputed by so many. I decided it is best to list the location as Kurdistan, Iraq, so they weren’t denying the existence of their home and the recognized country is also listed.

What do you think? Should someone list their former job in a country that exists to them, but is not recognized by most of the world? Let me know in the comments!

European Scooter, Vathi, Samos. Volunteering with refugees in Greece.

These questions helped get the gears turning and we were able to find skills, traits and qualities an employer would find desirable. Slowly, but surely I’ve been editing and revising a few resumes during my time here. Sadly though, the resume CV workshop is not as popular as it should be. There are so many people living in the camp, with employable and higher educations and maybe they already have resumes. Maybe people are unable to really think that far ahead as they don’t know what country they will live in or if they will be sent home. There are several people I’ve met that I would hire in a heartbeat, simply based on their hard work and determination to make the best of their time here, learning all they can and giving back to SV. Looking back, I think I should have marketed my class I bit more beyond a simple sign by our schedule.

I’ve also started helping out my friends and volunteers Anouk, from The Netherlands and Sabine, from Germany, with social media and marketing. I officially took over the Instgram for SV. Growing an NGO account is grueling work, but I am happy to say I’ve been able to get about 100 plus likes for each photo and increase their engagement, though occasionally a photo is just a dud. It’s been interesting trying to get likes on photos and captions that are honestly quite depressing. As I scroll through our feed I am faced with the photos of other NGO and some really heartbreaking stuff. Do I like this? Do I comment? It’s so different than my colorful travel based account, but it’s been really good to go a different type of experience in.

Virtual Tour – Alpha Center and What we Do

I’ve been talking a lot about Alpha Learning Center and I am sure you all are curious to take a look inside. Alpha is in the space of an old restaurant. It’s a three building that is part of an apartment complex. There is a ground level, basement and upstairs area. When you first walk in there is a reception desk to the right. That’s where we volunteers hang out on reception shift. Behind us there is a book shelf filled with games, like chess and backgammon, coloring pages, puzzles, English/French/German language work books, math workbooks and our coffee, tea, and sugar supply. If anyone wants to try out a game or puzzle they can ask reception for the item.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Alpha Learning Center

Alpha Lobby area – mid clean. Usually it is full of life!

The main lobby is for every adult. Here we serve tea and coffee – as much as they want it runs all day. In this area there are couches, chairs and, tables. People can sit back, have a chat or read one of our books from the book shelves. Room 4 is also on this floor. It is the room you can find our Dreamer’s class bursting in and out at all times the of day. The Dreamer’s class is a group of 13-14 year olds. Alpha is primarily an adult learning center, but with education for kids in the camp stopping at 13 we step in. The ever patient and humble Nicolo, from Italy, designed and runs this education program. In this class they learn about biology, maths, geology, English, sex ed with parent permission and they even have their own basketball team, but more on them later. Inside room 4 we also have music classes for advanced and beginner. Behind room 4, we have a small children’s area. Kids under 15 can only be in Alpha if a parent or guardian or is present, they can stay in this area and have volunteer supervision while parents are in classes.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Alpha Learning Center

Downstairs is the basement. In this space there is English for women – some women will not go to coed language classes. In the afternoon, women’s activites take place. Women are able to come down and choose 2 balls of wool a day for knitting and crocheting. There are two sewing machines set up and they are able to repair and make clothing. Kids under 8 are allowed down here with their mother. We also have a dance session and nightly work out sessions in this basement to help people let off some steam.

Upstairs, no kids are allowed under any circumstance. There are three classrooms, rooms 1-3. These are the rooms where most of our language classes and my computer class happens. They all have a whiteboard, several small tables and stools. Our office is located down a hall and out front of the office is the kid’s activity area. This is a stockpile of fun craft supplies we use to plan for our daily kid’s activities, from markers, to paper plates, colored paper, paint and much more. Beyond that is a quiet study area. The lobby downstairs can get quite loud, so it is nice to have a relaxing space to read, or study.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Alpha Learning Center

Alpha is home! <3

Arabic Class

Every Tuesday and Thursday night there is an Arabic class for volunteers, taught by Muhammad from Iraq another one of our community volunteers. This class is important, as Arabic is the main language spoken in the camp by a long shot, followed by Farsi, Kurdish and French. Many of those in the camp have never spoken English until they arrived, so having some arabic in my toolkit is helpful, even if it’s just to ask for names, and where someone is from. It is that small gesture, of asking someone a few personal details in their native tongue that can go a long way in building a relationship. I am quite impressed that so many of the volunteers are doing quite well with their Arabic and language skills. Many of them have done intensive Arabic classes in their journey to aid in the crisis.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Learning Arabic

There’s a handful of volunteers that attend the class with me. It’s mostly a group of girls that I am quite close with. Most of them arrived within a week or two of myself, so we are all at a beginner level – with some more advanced than others. I can successfully ask people (and tell them my answer) “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” I also know some other handy phrases like, “Perfect!” This is used when I am trying to get someone to hurry up and quickly choose a sweater during a distribution. I can also tell a child that something is not allowed or they need to be finished for the end of an activity.

This class focuses primarily on learning key phrases and the alphabet and not so much on the grammar or rules, but the glimpse into the writing and grammar structure I’ve had already makes my head hurt. It is a very difficult language phonetically, and we can’t all help but laugh from time to time as we try and say our Alphabet, but sound like an untuned orchrastra. When we tell Muhammad we can’t tell the difference in the sounds he is making, he will usually tell us to just be better and keeps going. He’s a tough love teacher.

A rare glimpse of the sun on Samos island in Greece. . I'm a week into my volunteer work with @samosvolunteers and things are going great! I'm officially a local on the island, since the corner coffee shop knows my order. I've had some emotional moments, but the people I've met bring so much joy to my life it all evens out. I'm the new computer teacher and I'm enjoying teaching people how to operate a computer, type and make resumes to give the best chance to secure employment after they leave the refugee camp. I'm also learning basic Arabic, by a fantastic teacher from Iraq. Today we learned the alphabet and it was quite hilarious to hear the volunteers attempt the complex sounds. . My second blog post about my work on the island is up, so head over to my link in bio @wanderingchocobo to learn about the crisis and my personal experience here! . #GooglePixel #teampixel #greece #europe #samos #volunteer #refugees #refugeeswelcome #lovegreece #philanthropy #philanthropist #nonprofit #giveback #femaletravelbloggers #igersgreece#abmtravelbug #exploretheglobe #roamtheplanet #theglobewanderer#Travellover #Flashesofdelight #wheretofindme #openmyworld #worlsdtravelbook #wonderfulglobe #mybestintravel #wanderingfeatures #theguardian #travelingourplanet #mytinyatlas

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Housing and Making Friends

I haven’t really talked about many volunteers yet, that is partly because it takes a while to get to know people and partly because the focus is more on the people in the camp and less on other volunteers. That’s not to say I am not making great friends though! The people who are here are so differnet from each other in there so many ways, but we have a diverse group in age and nationality and we all are able to find common ground and get along. The ages range from 18 to 60s and a healthy mix between. Most people are from Europe though, which is why our community volunteers are so critical to our success and to have people from the camp working side by side with us.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Hiking in Samos

SV has two shared housing unites SV1 and SV2, these are houses set up with multiple shared rooms, living spaces and kitchens. They are quite cheap and for $150 a month you can stay. This is great, because I remember when I did Habitat for Humanity you had to pay A LOT of money to volunteer, so it filtered out a lot of low income people. Here at SV, you can get a meal for 3 euro, housing for 150 a month and that means people from every background can come here and live reasonably for several months on end.

I however, am not a shared housing person. The SV houses remind me a bit of a college dorm room, so I am quite happy to stay in my own hotel room. The only downside to that is I don’t have a kitchen. So, a few of the SV volunteers staying at Paradise hotel with me pitched in and got a hot plate. A few nights a week we cook pasta, soup and oatmeal on the floor of our hote. Shhhh, we’re not suppsoed to be doing it though ­čśë

I will say all in all, the people I am working with are not only lovely, but respectful of personality types and personal space. You can get as much or as little socialization in as you want. I never feel bombared by people disrespecting my introverted time and whenever I need company there is someone to talk to. It’s the perfect balance.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Samos Volunteers

SV Family!

Advocates Abroad and the Process of Asyulm

This week we had two lawyers from Advocates Abroad come to Samos. This was a big deal as the legal process for asylum is quite tricky. When someone arrives on Samos they are set up for a first interview. This is exactly as it sounds, an interview. It is during this interview they are asked questions. I talked to a guy one morning that was put in jail because his English was too good during his first interview and they found that suspicious. Really he was just a highly educated man, trying to move to an English speaking country. If you’ve ever felt nervous boarding a flight or crossing a border I am sure the feeling is similar, but 10 fold. So, it’s not a nice job interview, but really more of an interogation. This is done without legal help of any kind. If they fail this interview they can appeal. At this stage they receive – free albeit subpar – legal help. If they fail this second interview they are often put in jail for about three months. This wastes taxpayer money and there really is no reason for it other than they just failed twice. So, this doesn’t happen for criminal reasons, it is just a stage many go through. Once they are out of jail they must then hire a lawyer with their own money and continue the process. If they fail this third time they could be shipped back to Turkey or their home almost instantly. They do have an option for a last chance appeal, but this is with the highest court and it can take up to five years.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp with Samos Volunteers. Karlovasi, Samos, Greece

So, when Advocates Abroad comes to town, it’s a big deal! Even if it is only two people they can offer free legal advice to those that reach out to them. They don’t go into court with anyone, but this free legal advice can help them in their interviews. Many people fail their first interview simply because they do not know their rights, the documents needed or what might be a trigger or red flag. SV was informed when they arrived and had a stack of their cards at reception to give out to anyone looking for legal help. I would give one out later in the week and the reason was the first time I really cried since I arrived.

Theft and Trust

When I was packing for Samos I had NO idea what to expect. Especially when it came to packing. I can say right off the bat I did not pack enough warm clothing. I did not know how often I would be in the camp, if I would have a place to store my purse or if I would carry my belongings around. Should I leave the cash at home? What is the status of safety in the camp? I may have taken more caution than I needed as I left things like my wedding ring at home – which is an irreplaceable family heirloom and my camera, but I toted my laptop and phone with me as I needed to work and take some photos. I am thankful to say I was too cautious and I feel more or less just as safe here as I do in Munich, and that is saying something. The amount of respect and dignity I receive from the people here is outstanding. Generally, people keep their distance and keep their words and tones friendly and respectful. I never felt uncomfortable or in any awkward situation I wish I could get out of. We are cautioned to never go into the camp at night though. I often saw people come into Alpha, who the day prior looked fine, but new bruises and bandages around their hand would appear. Night in the camp can be violent and unsafe.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.  European door knocker, Vathi.

That is not to say things don’t go missing here and there. I mean, things go missing here and there from just about everywhere. It happens. It’s life. Put people in tough situations, where they are barely scraping by and they will take necessary steps to get by. Put them in a camp where a society forms with its own monetary system where cups are worth something- where sugar is worth a lot and things are going to be taken. So, when phones are left out in the open at our Alpha Center or sugar is kept behind unlocked doors, people will be tempted. We have cell phone charging stations for our beneficiaries in Alpha, they are bolted to the shelves, but phones are often left unattended while the charge. Almost everyone has a phone – it’s a priority. Without a phone how will they contact their family back home to know they are safe? In my first week, we had a few situations where phones were taken from our center, both volunteer and camp resident phones. It put everyone on edge and we doubled down our security for volunteers. This sparked the debate on where we should keep our belongings. We had a locked office, but every now and then someone cracked the code, were things safe in there? How can we make it safer? Should we continue to allow our community volunteers in secure areas with valuables. This questioning of trust caused a rift in our community volunteers. They take pride in the fact we trust them enough to teach our classes, use our computers for attendance and enter our office to make copies. Suddenly having that trust waver, when they did nothing wrong, made many of them confused and even angry. I think it was this very trust that we place in them that makes them so trust-worthy. I think everyone agreed with me, since during our weekly meeting, every single volunteer vouched for our community volunteers and agreed to whole-heartedly place blame on those that leave their belongings without supervision and to continue to extend our full trust to them. I often thought no one did a background check on me before I arrived to work with Samos Volunteers. I filled out an application and I was accepted. I could have a history of theft or pedophilia. They had every right to trust the community volunteers just as much as they did me. Somehow, the fact I am a white girl from a privileged part of the world that intentionally filled out an application online warranted more trust than someone living in the camp might receive. It was our job to speak up and stand up for the trust of everyone working for and with Samos Volunteers.

Just as there are people that may abuse things in Alpha, we have twice as many people who contribute and give back to Alpha. We have a group of hard-working people in the camp that show up at our door eager to clean Alpha every single night. We have people that take the dirty teacups to the back and wash them for us. We have people that organize and collect books to put them back on our bookshelf. Most people get that we are a volunteer-based community center and they want to do their part to keep it clean and functioning. It is a joy working side by side with so many awesome people as we take turns putting on music and clean late into the night.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece. Pythagoreio, Greece

Alpha is an interesting place. With the langauge barrier present, many people in the camp often think we are paid to work with Samos Volunteers, that it is our paid job to searve them tea, or refill the sugar. We’re not always directly working inside the camp like other NGOs, so they are a bit unsure of what or who exactly we are. We have moments where our things- like chess boards and books are broken and misused, but that is just part of life. Additionally, we sometimes have intense moments between the beneficiaries. With so many people from different countries, practicing different religions and disputing the validity of flags we have to ensure that our policy on acceptance and tolerance inside Alpha is respected at all times. Sometimes you think that shared trauma means that people put aside race and religion, but that is not always the case. I’ve witnessed racism in the camp between people from the middle east and African countries, but it will not be tolerated at Alpha.

The Escape Artist

We had quite a few new arrives in the first week I arrived. A new arrival is when a boat of people land on the shores from Turkey. SV is often called in the middle of the night and a team of longterm volunteers wake up – or stay up and head up to camp to give out new arrival kits. These kits (in winter) include a dry set of, joggers, jumpers, long sleeve shirt, socks, hat and scarf.

One night we had 100 new arrives come- which is a lot of people in one go. Normally, the boats might have anywhere from 15-55 new arrivals. So, our team was prepared and ready for a long night of new arrival distribution, but we never got the call. We were never invited up to give lifesaving, dry, and warm clothing to this mass of people. This was because someone from the hundred people escaped. Now, this isn’t a bad thing by any means, it just means that someone most likely had family in Europe they were trying to get to. If they landed in Samos and were split from their family they might not be able to make it to them for 2 years, and that is a big fat if. It was because of this the rest of the people had to wait in detention for an extra 24 hours before we were able to get in and give them clothing. Police were patrolling the entire island of Samos. Dozens of people were pulled over by cops, I made sure to never drive community volunteers because if I got pulled over while they were looking for this person and someone in my car didn’t have a passport they could easily go to jail. White privilege got me out of any strange situation because every time I passed a cop I could almost feel him checking my skin tone and nodding to me, in approval as I drove past. Samos was buzzing for about 2 days. Eventually, word got out that he was found and in camp.

All this commotion made the camp manager apprehensive and a bit on edge. Every camp has a camp manager. They are in charge of ensuring that food distributions happen, they can approve or deny anything we do. For example, our camp manager can decide not to allow us to serve tea in camp and we need her approval before a mass distribution. Ensuring we are always on her good side is crucial to the success of SV. With another mass distribution in the books for this weekend, we were at the edge of our seats waiting for an answer. At first, she said no, hundreds of women would not get winter distribution, finally Friday night we were given a green light for Women’s distribution on the weekend.

Continue Reading

Would you believe that so many people think the European refugee crisis is over? Make sure you share this to help inform people that this is not over! Donate your time or money over at Samos Volunteers You can also continue reading about my timeon Samos in the second week, here.

Volunteering in a Refugee Camp in Samos, Greece: Part 2, The First Days

This blog post might be a jumbled shit show of disorganized and incoherent thoughts, I apologize in advance. As you know, I moved to Greece, to do my part to aid the European migration crisis and volunteer in a refugee camp, or hot spot as we call it. I’ve been here a week so far and I don’t really know how to say what I am feeling at the moment other than I’ve hit that point. The point of no return. I thought I had an idea of how the world worked- of the sadness and injustice because I’m a traveler, therefore I am enlightened. Yet each and every time I traveled and returned home, my life continued, more or less, the same as it did before. But not this time. This time there is no going back. My eyes are finally open. My interaction with so many beautiful people, both volunteers and those seeking asylum, here on Samos and in Europe has made me realize that despite the ideas I had in my head about this crisis and the people affected, I had no idea. I had no idea how truly awful it is and I had no idea how truly amazing the people who are displaced by this crisis and those that help are. The only thing I can say on that matter is whatever you think a refugee is, you have no idea. We should be opening up our arms and our homes to this group of displaced peoples running from tragedies we can’t even fathom. We should help them back on their feet so they too can live like humans and not pent up in horrific and inhumane conditions. It makes me even angrier at my home country for being useless during this crisis and allowing fear to give way to stereotypes. I encourage each and every person reading this, to educate themselves as best they can regarding the situation people are stranded in, helpless and not give in to media hypes and hate. But enough of my jumbled rant, let me share with you my first few days…

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece with an NGO called Samos Volunteers. Fishing boats in the Samos harbor.

Make sure you’re caught up with why I decided to head off to Samos, with Part 1.

Personal Moments with an Aslyum Seeker

The narrow streets of Samos are a death trap to anyone who doesn’t know the twists and turns of the alleyways and roads that suddenly turn into footpaths. Samos Volunteers (SV) asked that anyone able to rent a car do so. They need help hauling loads from the warehouse to camp and to drive other volunteers around. It was well within my budget and in no time after I landed I was zipping around the island, enjoying the open road. Our first day off, my inner introvert eager to get out into the green mountains of Samos away from people took off to find a hiking trail.

I left the capital of Samos and began weaving in and out of small farm neighborhoods strung together with a narrow piece of unkept road. The sheer cliff dropping down to the left with no shoulder was both terrifying and exhilarating. I found a pull out that lead to a dirt walking trail, parked my car and begun a hike down to a secluded beach. The sun was just barely peeking through the clouds and giving me my first glimpse of sky an a break in the relentless rain. I looked over to the coast of Turkey, the sun was blessing their coastal shores. If I didn’t know any better I might wonder why people would be trying to leave those sunny shores. I knew better though. The reality was those very shores were not safe and people desperately wanted to leave them behind. They were so desperate, they risked their lives, leaving everything behind to get to this very rocky shore and rainy weather.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Hiking on Samos

Continuing my walk down to the beach, I enjoyed the interesting plants growing haphazardly. Inhaling a deep breath of crisp air, I thought to myself, “I could get used to this place.” Descending to the beach I ventured off the path and into the scratchy brush, making my way to the outer most point of the Greek shores. I stepped on something and looked down. The shrubs hid numerous articles of clothing and destroyed life jackets. This was it, the very spot boats full of refugees landed. I looked over to Turkey once more, it was so close, yet the journey treacherous. For those that came all the way from Syria and Iraq, this was just another step in their journey to safety. Looking down at the clothing, I pictured people climbing out of their boat on to the shore, freezing, starving and exhausted only to find themselves miles from any town and trudging through sharp plants that cut even at my legs through my thick hiking pants. I pictured them stripping off their soaking wet clothing, losing a shoe in the process, baring everything as they wondered, “Are we finally safe?” Alas, their journey was far from over as they would be picked up by the police and herded like cattle to the Samos camp where they would spend the next 24 hours in detention, prodded, searched, stripped, IDed and examed. They would sleep on the cold cement under the sky, rain or moonlight. SV would come in the night and give them life-saving supplies. As I reflected on this my eyes filled with tears, and my heart with sadness.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece with an NGO called Samos Volunteers. Exploring the narrow streets of Samos

A wide street in Samos.

My spirits were much lower than when I had begun my hike – a rare and unsettling feeling. I got back in my car and begun the drive back to my hotel, following Google Maps, which was my mistake. The app did not know the one ways, the alleys and the footpaths of Samos. I soon found myself driving down a hilly and winding pedestrian cobbled street. The maps promised me a right-hand turn to freedom, but the right-hand turn was down a staircase. My car was now wedged between two houses, my mirrors pushed in with no room for extension. I started to back up. Driving a manual in reverse up a steep winding hill with stray cats and jutting balconies was no easy task. I could feel my left leg shaking as it tried to maintain control of the clutch and my heart was racing. I tried for several minutes and realized that I was in fact stuck and in no condition to get myself out. I crawled out of my car through the trunk and began to look for help. It was Sunday in the old town of Samos- doors were locked, windows were shut and not a sound of another human for miles it seemed. Finally, two men walking toward me. “Do you speak English?” I asked, desperately. They eyed me and my car up and down and shook their heads. “Ok I’m good at communicating without language,” I thought. I began to motion that I was stuck and needed help. They turned on their heels and left me hanging.

I didn’t know if I should cry, keep trying or call another volunteer and attempt to explain to them where I was and what happened on our only day off. Another three men appeared over the hill.

They saw my white skin and asked, “English or German?”

“Either,” I said.

“English is better, this is no road. No right turn. Only for feet.”

“Yes I know, I’m stuck!” I cried out.

They laughed, as one of them reached out for my keys. “I’m a mechanic and good at driving cars, I’ll get you out.”

He then spent 10 minutes expertly navigating my car in reverse as stray cats appeared, watching with curious eyes. Windows above opened as locals wondered what ruckus was happening on their sleepy little street.

They got me to a safe space and we introduced ourselves. One, the driver Zhinar, was Kurdish and also volunteering with SV as a community volunteer, meaning he was seeking asylum, but able to speak enough English to help us out. I called him my hero and we parted ways.

I pondered on the fact that it was refugees who came to my aid while many a local did not want to bother helping me.

It just so happened that same week, the computer teacher was leaving and I was to take his place. I showed up for my first day of teaching to find Zhinar in the room. He laughed and reminded me that I was the girl who was a horrible driver. I am now fortunate enough to call him my co-computer teacher. We run the class together, teaching other beneficiaries how to type, use a computer and learn Word and Excel. Some of my students have never turned on a computer before, so some days I teach basics, how to save, power on and use a mouse. Another girl, Alice from The Congo, is learning excel. I’ve been translating some lessons into French for her and she’s quite thankful. However, I am happy to have Zhinar by my side as he helps with translation and I enjoy our times setting up class and packing up. We’re told not to pry into personal lives as it can bring up past trauma and trigger, but slowly over time, we’re learning about each other. He is shocked that I am 30, I’m way too cool to be 30retrieveng to him. I know he has 4 dogs he loves very much that he had to leave to escape conflict and it eats away at him every day. He is a gamer and thinks I’m incredibly and one of the few female gamers he’s ever met. Though he thinks Final Fantasy is girly and dumb, so we fought about that. He is trying to find someone to retreive his gaming computer and find a way to ship it to him on Samos, so he can play. He is often so tired, because the stress of not knowing if and when he will leave or be sent back to his destroyed him eats at him every night. Yet he comes in every day and gives his all to help our volunteer program run smoothly. He is one of the hardest working and most eager people I have had the pleasure of working with and I am happy to call him my friend.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece with an NGO called Samos Volunteers. Old European doors on Samos, Greece.

Samos is a mix of luxury vacation villas and crumbling ruins.

Samos – It Already Feels Like Home

I approach an old building that has seen better days with a crooked door. It’s not much to look at inside either as old chipped tables are scattered around the room. The only thing behind the counter is simple espresso machine and a cash register that looked like it came from the 50s with faded numbers and grooved imprints from years of use.

“╬Ü╬▒╬╗╬Ě╬╝╬ş¤ü╬▒! (Kalim├ęra – meaning Good Morning in Greek) Double espresso, no sugar, no lid?” the man behind the counter, wearing his white hoodie and perfectly placed knit scarf says. The entire room full of old Greek men, stop puffing their cigarettes and talking shop as they turn to look at me. They all chime in unison, “Kalim├ęra!”

“Kalim├ęra,” I say, “Yes! You remembered my order!” He’s probably thinking, “of course, I remember your order. You’re the only female American under the age of 50 coming into my coffee shop every morning.”

I pay him with a 2 Euro coin and tell him to keep the change and continue on my way to my volunteer center.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Fishing boats and harbor on Samos Greece.

The small harbor and tiny fishing boats in Samos.

For lunch, I run down to the falafel place. A cat with a bitten off ear and goop in its eyes mews at me, hungrily.

“Spicy falafel – with extra spicy tahini and jalapenos?”
“You got it,” I say.
“I bought a special Greek beer for you to try,” he says as he hands me a half liter of Greek beer.

We continue to talk about beer and how crazy Alaska must be until my order is ready. I begin to stuff my face with only a 20-minute break for lunch and a long afternoon ahead of me. Falafel cat appears once more. I offer him some falafel, it snubs me, insulted by this vegetarian crap. I wonder if next time, I should order chicken on the side for my favorite falafel cat. I give him scratches before running back up the narrow alleyways to the volunteer center.

This quaint shop was one of the only places open on New Year’s Eve and they opened their doors just for the Samos Volunteer NYE party. They are happy we’re here helping the island and the owner says if there is anything they can do to make my stay more pleasant to let them know.

It’s only been 4 days and I’m already a local at two places where I don’t even speak the language. I could get used to life here, I tell myself. All the nerves I had about being away from home for so long, have vanished. I know I have safe and comforting places I can escape to when the work gets too hard. Places where I am welcome, despite being a foreigner and a bit out of place. There are times in Munich I still don’t feel like a local, there’s not a single coffee shop that knows my order or reaches out to make small gestures to make my day. This small friendly community of Samos is handling the refugee crisis and its influx of volunteers, security, and refugees grace.They’re not perfect and the Greeks have a pretty flawed organizational system, but they’re doing a pretty damn good job, better than most countries.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Stray cats in Greece.

Falafel Cat <3 He hates me for being vegetarian. ­čÖü [/caption]

Alaskans in Samos

“Sweet boots, you know those are the state shoe of Alaska!” The single man at a large table, set for 15 says.

“I KNOW I’M ALASKAN! You must be with Samos Volunteers.”

I sat down next to him and we fell into chat just the way two friendly open-minded Alaskans should. Unfortunately, it was Dale’s going away party, so we would not have a lot of time together, but for that brief moment, it was nice to have someone from home to share experiences with. There’s only about 750,000 Alaskans, so I am always impressed when I meet one out traveling. I was doubly impressed when I met one among 30 some volunteers on the small island of Samos in Greece.

Psst, “Hey Alaskans, you really should get out and travel more – do more volunteer work and see the world!” ­čśë

[caption id="attachment_4110" align="alignnone" width="950"]Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Xtratuf boots. Xtratuf Boots, perfect for Samos’ winter.

Camp Tour and Orientation

While I have been settling into life on the island quite well, orientation and the camp tour has opened my eyes to the reality of the refugee crisis and the state of the camps. You read about it and you think you’re well educated on a topic, but being in the hot spot, first hand is quite a reality check.

I was eased into the Samos Volunteer program, and by that I mean I was on the job the first day working the warehouse. It is here in the warehouse go through each and every donation we receive. Work consists of oepning box after box of donations and sorting it into about 50 different categories. Girls 4-8 jeans, girls 4-8 short sleeve, men’s L jumpers… etc. We also have to check each donation for offensive or political material. Sometimes people may not know what they’re wearing, but with so many cultures pressurized in a small camp, all it takes is one offensive shirt to start a fight. After we sort the boxes of new donations, we sort our sorted piles into other boxes and prepare them for mass distribution. While SV doesn’t technically distribute clothing like they used to, we still sort it in partnership with other NGOs and often end up distributing the clothing during mass distributions- but that’s for another post. This work is almost therapeutic. You’re able to play whatever music you want and bond with the other volunteers.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece.

SV warehouse for donations.

From the warehouse, I went to my orientation. Here I learned about the history of the SV program, the crisis, and the Samos hotspot camp. I was given guidelines on how to communicate and conduct myself around those who are suffering from PTSD and delicate and often unruly children. I’ll talk about SV in the next section, but a brief summary of the camp and crisis is coming up! 2015 saw the start of the migrant crisis in Europe. It started slow and sustainable. Many of the Greeks housed migrants as they “passed through”, if you will, on their way to Europe. Whatever country they settled in and claimed asylum was the country they could live in. Migration was happening throughout various parts of Europe and was rather spread out. Greece was just a passing point to other parts of Europe and the Samos camp was small and sustainable and no one lived there for very long- months at the very most. When the numbers exploded, as the situation in the middle east got worse, Europe did what they could to deal with the population increase until they felt they were buckling underneath the pressure. Previously the EU made statements that Turkey was not safe for migrants and felt they should NOT stay in Turkey any more than they should their home country until the EU decided they didn’t want to deal with the problem anymore. The EU Turkey deal was made and suddenly Turkey was deemed safe for refugees. The EU paid Turkey 3 billion in 2016/2017 to sustain a migrant population if Turkey stopped migrants from coming to the EU. However, Turkey is not safe for the asylum seekers, despite what the EU says, so many of them are still trying to make it to Europe. Now they are entering through Greece and immediately held here where they must claim asylum and cannot leave. This has put a huge pressure on Greece and the small camp of Samos has exploded as people bottleneck, waiting for potentially up to two years for their asylum interview and answers. If they pass they can begin their asylum process in Greece, if they fail they are often jailed, separated from their family or sent back to Turkey. To pass they need proof of inhumane treatment in Turkey, proof many of them do not have. The Greek camps are now grossly over-crowded creating a sanitation and inhuman nightmare. The worst part about it, people are in limbo, with limited access to the psycho support they are left dealing with trauma in terrible conditions and they never know when it will end. They wake up every single day and wonder, is this the day? The fear of the unknown that deteriorates the mind quicker than one might think.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Samos refugee camp hot spot

Looking down on Samos from the camp.

Ok, ok, you want to know about the camp and what it really looks like. We drive up a hill to an old military training facility that is now the Samos hotspot or camp. We pull up, park the car and put on our badges. We enter through an open gate, yet barbed wire and high fences surround the facility. It is an open facility. It’s not technically supposed to be, but everyone knows cramming 2,500 people in inhumane conditions for over a year without being able to leave is just asking for trouble. I think, “well, this isn’t so bad.” Kids surround the inner courtyard, playing with plastic bottles and plastic gloves they made into balloons. A foul smell wafts over the camp and I look over to a line of outhouses and people who haven’t had a proper shower in days. I begin to inhale through my mouth and start to think, “this isn’t so good.”

We enter the check-in area with Greek military and police – none of whom speak English. We sign in and learn about the admission process. When a boat lands on the shore, by law the first person to spot the boat must call the police. The numbers arriving on Samos are small enough to be handled by the European coast guard who drives down with a bus and picks people up. They are brought to camp and detained for 24 hours, where they are stripped, searched, ID, examined, fingerprinted and made to sleep in the detainment area. SV takes action after they are IDed and distributes life-saving first response gear. Each person gets a set of clean dry and warm clothing. From there they are assigned shelter. Which is usually a camping tent in the mud- due to overcrowding. The single males will always get this type of accommodation, where a single mother or pregnant woman may be moved into a container- yes a shipping container, split into small living quarters with beds, based on availability.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Greek Turkey border, where refugees cross to Europe

Turkey in the distance. Where the boats cross to make it to Greece.

We leave the admission area and explore the camp center- if you will. Here about 8-10 containers house everyone from the European coast guard, to the medical team, to the UN Refugee group. There is one doctor, Dr. Manos, and 1-2 therapists for 2,500 high-risk people. You might be lucky to see the therapist once, but continued sessions are not an option with the number of people needing help. There is a large line in front of one of the containers. I ask what they are lined up for, and learn that each person gets a 90 Euro a month allowance, they can spend on critical items their family needs. It is here new residents must apply for this payment. 90 Euro at least allows people to buy something in an emergency. However, it is quite controversial as there is a large population of the population that uses the money for alcohol and drugs that somehow get on the island and into the camp. The camp at night can often become unsafe with violence and drinking.

The camp is set up into three different areas. As we walk up to the first area, the original military facility and camp that houses 500-700 people, kids are running around like mad people. They have no supervision or discipline. Sometimes their parents are dealing with trauma and check out, sometimes they simply can not keep an eye on them. It’s not uncommon to see kids falling off things onto the cement, chasing after cars, hitting each other… it’s chaos. They turn bad behavior into a game, begging for attention from the volunteers. Children scream at you saying, “my friend, my friend, please give me!” As they point at something you have. Their ability to relentlessly beg and beg hoping it will break me down and I will say yes is really hard to handle. The organization system in the camp is hard to understand, especially if you don’t speak English. So, often times someone will ask you for medical help and not understand that I am not a doctor and can’t help them ad they get angry and frustrated. However, most people in the camp are docile and friendly. In the main areas of the camp, away from the shelters, many people greet you and they begin to recognize your face and name.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece.

Rainy nights in Samos.

This first part of the camp has rows of large barrack type accommodation, the largest fits about 150 people. They are divided by thin pieces of board to make walls for limited privacy. A woman crouches out front, by an outhouse and washes her clothing on the cement with bottled water. I feel awkward as I step around and almost over her to walk behind the large barrack. No one wants to make eye contact with you when they are doing what they consider embarrassing things they need to do in order to survive. Many of them are ashamed to be reduced to these poor living conditions, as many came from respected lives back home. For this reason, I make a point not to look directly into any of the shelters or bathroom facilities.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece. Cats of Samos, Greece.

We move down to the lower part of the camp. This area is set up with the shipping containers. These are the best accommodations, as they have a heating or AC unit and a small cook stove. These are reserved for the families with small children, sick and unaccompanied minors. However, everyone wants to live here and many of the windows are broken from violent outbursts. Dirty sheets hang, tattered providing limited shelter from the rain and wandering eyes. More tents cover every surface. A small tent I would take camping and should sleep 4 often sleeps 8-10 in this camp. We leave the walls of the camp and enter the latest addition, a muddy hill with no access to power. This area is mostly filled with camping tents and larger canvas tents. It is the worst part of the camp with flooding and serious sanitation issues. The sun is beginning to set and I begin to shiver, hating myself for complaining as I watch people trudge through the mud in sandals and soaking wet clothing. We see a colorful bathroom facility with showers and bathrooms. Feminine art adorns the plastic shower shelter. It adds a bit of color, I think, but I think too soon. I soon learn that the new men’s bathroom facility across from the bright women’s bathroom area has a dark story. It was placed across from the women’s because previously the men’s bathroom was in the lowest part of the camp and many men decided not to walk down that far and would use the women’s toilets. The number of rapes and assaults that occurred in the women’s bathrooms, caused the camp manager to request a men’s bathroom up closer to the camp, a lock on the women’s bathroom – that only women knew the code to- and feminine images to discourage males from using the facility. However, assault still occurs. Unfortunately, with so many people and so little support services a case of rape, or assault has to happen to the same person or by the same person multiple times and be very serious for anyone to take action. This is the case with violence and health issues. It has to be BAD for anyone to take action.

At the end of the camp tour, I knew that we just scratched the surface. Looking in from the outside gave me little indication to the living status of the cramped, dirty and wet shelters, but it was enough to know that this is not a place anyone should have to live for over a year.

Samos Volunteers- The NGO that Exceeds my Expectations

I’ve been working with an NGO called Samos Volunteers (SV.) I could not be happier with my decision and I am blown away by this grassroots movement. SV exceeds my expectations for an NGO and I have to give them my utmost praise. They somehow cut out all the bull shit and bureaucracy enabling them to just run a good healthy group of programs and volunteers. There’s no hierarchy really, while there are a few in charge of different areas, I feel just as much a part of this NGO, as those that keep things running. Before the EU Turkey deal, they focused on emergency needs of temporary residents of the camp, including clothing and supplies. They worked closely with the local Greek government as people were quickly moved away from the camp. After the deal was made, SV decided that anyone living in these conditions for more than a few months needed stability, a place to learn, hang out and just be humans. So, they shifted their focus to psycho-support and social needs.

The hub of SV is the Alpha Center, a three-story building that has a lobby area. Here we serve tea and distribute games like backgammon and chess. Upstairs is the learning facilities we have 4 classrooms for education. We teach several languages, including German, English, French, and Greek to help our beneficiaries learn languages to help them assimilate into Europe. We also teach music, computer, art, and fitness. Our basement has room for sewing, children’s activities and athletic programs. The education for some younger children is provided by another NGO and the government, but it stops at the age of 13, so SV runs a program for 13-14-year-olds where we teach them maths, biology, language and other life skills. We have a kitchen for cooking programs as well.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece.

On kid duty!

As much as we tried to make the lobby area a safe space for all genders, we noticed that culturally there was a divide and women went to the basement and men stayed upstairs. SV reluctantly decided to move many of the “women’s activities” downstairs as women they would not come upstairs to socialize in a mixed setting, no matter how hard we tried. Women are and always welcome everywhere, but we do have times that men are not allowed downstairs and every Saturday we turn Alpha into a Women’s only party with dancing and cooking.

Working in Samos refugee camp in Greece.

Learning to line dance to Arabic music.

Aside from the excellent programs we provide I am blown away by the volunteers themselves. I have never met or worked with a more caring and responsible group of people. The last few volunteer trips I’ve done felt like people were there because they felt like the should be doing charity. Here at SV, people are here because they are so passionate about the crisis and are here because they genuinely choose this as their lifestyle. Some volunteers have been here for more than a year, making no money and consistently work 6 days a week, week after week. We all communicate, if someone needs a break, they’re given a break. If someone wants to start a new program, they start a new program. If someone wants to take on responsibility, they’re given it no questions asked. The coaching and support are genuine, constructive and helpful. No one has belittled me for not knowing something, they pick me up and help me. It’s a breath of fresh air to be around these people and what we are doing is really something to be proud of. They also support community volunteers as I mentioned and trust them as much as they trust me.

During the night of my first SV group meeting, the new volunteers were called into a private room. We were all a little nervous. Perhaps we were going to have a serious talk about serious things…? Instead, we received traditional red and white bracelets from our Romanian coordinator, Bogdan. These bracelets are traditionally given out in Romania on the first of March and worn for a month. At the end of March, you cut it off and tie it to a fruit tree. Here on Samos, each volunteer receives a bracelet to represent we are family. They’re sort of like glamourous friendship bracelets. I hope to keep mine until it falls off. <3

Sharing is Caring & Continue Reading

If you are looking to donate your time, money or goods. I can not recommend SV enough and your donations are going to a great cause! Continue reading more about my first week volunteering to aid in the European refugee crisis with Samos Volunteers, here. Make sure you share this update so your friends can read it as well.

What it's really like volunteering in a refugee camp in Samos, Greece. Learn about the European migrant crisis, how to travel for humantarian work, and NGOs that are making a difference.

Working with Samos Volunteers: Moving to Greece to Volunteer in a Refugee Camp

You heard right, on Wednesday, January 10th I leave my cozy home in Munich, Germany and I am moving to Samos, Greece for a little over a month to work with refugees. It’s only just a few days before I leave and I am wrought with anxious feelings. I’ve come to realize that I have a deep-seated fear that I will not be strong enough in the face of adversity. The refugees have seen and dealt with things unimaginable, while I live a life of privilege, and yet here I am, scared when I have no right. It’s been an ongoing process of ups and downs as I battle with this fear. I worry that the residents will look to me as a pillar of strength, strength that might very well crumble the day I arrive and experience the living conditions first hand. But enough about my feelings, I am sure you have as many questions as I do emotions.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

Where the Heck is Samos, Greece?

Good question! I didn’t even know until a few months ago. Samos is a little island in Greece, however, it is just a few miles off the coast of Turkey. See that little red pin on the map below? That’s Samos, right smack between mainland Greece and Turkey.

Samos, Greece

Samos, Greece

To get all the way over to Samos, I will fly from Munich to Athens, spend the night in Athens and then board a small propeller plane to Samos airport. There was a cheaper option to take the ferry from Athens to Samos, but with limited connections in the winter and a 15-hour ferry ride, saving a couple of Euros wasn’t quite worth it.

Before the refugee crisis-hit Europe, Samos was just another Greek island. It was popular for island vacations with an emphasis on hiking and adventures. It’s a small local community of friendly Greeks. People can certainly still come to holiday in Samos and they still do, but the presence of the Samos camp has changed the dynamic of the island in more ways than one.

Why Samos? Why I Chose to Volunteer with Refugees on Samos

This has been a long time coming, nearly two years, in fact. I am a bit ashamed it’s taken me that long to bite the bullet and take action. When I moved to Germany I quit my typical 50 hour a week job and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I finally decided that I would take the time and pursue my passions. I’ve been working on a book, my travel blog and several other entrepreneur endeavors like Female Travel Bloggers and believe me I’ve never been happier, but something was missing. Every day that I got to make coffee in my beautiful German apartment and sit down to work from home something has been eating away at my moral compass. I live an incredibly privileged life and I am in the situation where I have spare money and lot of time on my hands. I can easily work on the road or make my schedule. I knew I wanted to work with refugees since Europe is under a lot of pressure with the influx of refugees, it was something that I am passionate about and was near and dear to home.

I began looking at programs, locally in Munich. I hit several dead ends, most of the refugees were trying to learn German and interrogate into German lifestyle. As a fresh immigrant myself, a lot of places needed someone fluent in German to speak and work with their members. I felt frustrated and defeated and gave up the search for some time, but that feeling of living a privileged life while so many people around me needed help never left.

About a month ago, I logged on to Chrome and simply typed – European refugee volunteer programs and I found Samos Volunteers. It was the perfect fit! I applied the next week and they accepted me the following week.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

About Samos Refugee Camp

I’m going to save some of the details until I actually arrive in Samos and experience the camp. This information is what I have collected from news articles from the likes of The Guardian and Euronews. Samos refugee camp was initially set up as a temporary camp, designed to filter the refugees coming to Europe through Turkey. Each individual was only supposed to temporarily be on the island for a few weeks, a month – at most, while they received processing paperwork and identification before moving on to another European location. The camp’s capacity is 700 people.

Now bursting with over 2,500 permanent residents the camp is now Greece’s second largest and is now described as a place “where only the sick and pregnant can leave.” Due to the EU Turkey deal, the migrant flow to the EU has essentially stopped or slowed down, stranding thousands on this island. Not only are refugees stranded without movement, it is now illegal for them to leave Turkey. If they make it across they must prove Turkey is unsafe for them. Many of them did not know they needed to bring proof of rape or torture, so they most likely will lose their court case and eventually be sent back to Turkey.

As you can imagine, a camp designed for 700 temporary people, but housing more than 2,500 permanent residents is not anyone’s utopia. Most people only have limited of clothing – they receive when they arrive. They’re living in cheap camping tents. The camp is a sanitation nightmare, with sewage issues, trash nightmares and flooding a common occurrence. In the middle of winter – they’re drowning in rain, cold and lack volunteers and supplies. There is no privacy. Illegal camps are spotted around the island, outside the government approved camp, that have ABSOLUTELY NO trash or sanitation facilities. Women are now actively trying to become pregnant as it just might be their only ticket off the island. I could go on and on, but until I see it I’m not even sure I can believe it.

Samos Refugee Camp. My time working as a volunteer.

About Samos Volunteers

Samos Volunteers is an NGO working with a few other NGOs and the refugee camp. I just fell in love with them and their mission from the moment I found them. Samos Volunteers focuses on many things, but first and foremost they focus on adult education and giving as many people the joy of play and activities. They strive to give children a sense of a childhood through games, sports, art, and play. Since most residents are not leaving anytime soon, they bring teachers and educate adults in various languages and life skills that may help them land a job. On any given day Samos Volunteers is providing hot tea on winter mornings, running athletic and dance activities from yoga to soccer games, teaching biology or running knitting and skillshare workshops so the residents for just a moment have a sense of a normal life.

Samos Volunteers started in 2015 and was initially a response program to provide necessary life-saving items to the refugees from food, shelter, and clothing. With the looming permanence of the camp, they transitioned from non-essential support to informal educational activities and psycho-social support.

What Will My Day Look Like?

I was told I should be prepared for any and everything. Since I do not have my TEFL I will be doing a lot of hands-on work. Some nights, I may receive a phone call at 2 am to head down and process a new group of refugees arriving by boat. This entails distributing clothing and personal care pack to each person. Some days, I will be working the morning tea, handing out and brewing tea all morning. Other days, I might be in the warehouse, processing donations. When the weather is pleasant I will organize a women’s hike around the island. They have a garden in the camp, I might be working with plants and food. Most of the time, I will be playing with kids, running and helping with art workshops, fitness programs, playing board and card games. I plan on bringing my two hula hoops and teaching some kids to hoop. I was told some days I might be picking up literal shit and human waste, as the sanitation on the island is not made to deal with so many people. Good thing I am packing my Xtratufs.

Overall, I am mentally preparing for just about everything under the sun. I anticipate since I am only there for a month and without a teaching cert I will be doing odd jobs and placed as needed.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

How am I Feeling?

I went over this a bit in my intro, but I’m a bit scared and it’s not for the reasons one might think. I’m not scared of refugees or crime or theft, but I’m scared I’m going to fall apart. I’m an emotional person, things involving humanitarian crisis hit me right in the god damn feels. I’m worried I won’t wake up with the energy and strength to be a positive role model for those in the camp. I’ve been working on ensuring I am in a positive place mentally before I arrive. I will be arriving a day before I start work so I can collect my thoughts and prepare for the road ahead.

I’m also going to miss my partner, Ganesh. We’ve done long distance, so I know I can be apart from him, but he is often my rock when I am a hot mess. I have only myself to rely on and that is a bit scary. I do think it is healthy for our relationship to be apart and I am often a solo traveler, even in marriage, but in trying times I know I will miss him. He’s incredibly proud of me for doing this and is nothing but supportive. I think our future contains many trips such as this, hopefully, some we can do together.

How Can You Help?

I am funding this trip on my own, that means I am responsible for my transportation, accommodation, food and everything else. Ganesh and I can comfortably cover those costs and for that, we are very thankful. If you’re interested in learning more about Samos Volunteers or donating to them you can find their donation website here. They are looking for everything from money, to clothing and education materials.

Bookmark for More Updates

Near the comment section, you can check a box to receive email updates in your inbox. You can also, click here, to read about my first few days. I will be posting a diary style of my trip on this blog – just like the good old days of travel blogging! I am not allowed to take any photos of the camp – inside or out. It is a violation of personal space and a rule I completely agree with. I’m signing off for now, and I’ll check in from Greece! Tch├╝ss!

Find out why I decided to with an NGO helping refugees on Samos, Greece. Samos Volunteers provides adult education and kids activities for refugees and those seeking asylum.

Ultimate Munich Nightlife, Bar and Drinking Guide: Where and What to Drink

Munich is known for their beer, but if you came here only looking for traditional Bavarian beer, you’re seriously missing out! I know, what I just said is a crime against Munich, but trust me, if you dig a bit deeper past the touristy spots and the major six breweries, you’ll find a thriving, exciting nightlife and party scene in Munich. The nightlife and bar scene is easy to miss and often the streets seem dead on the weekends, but hidden throughout the city are some amazing bars and nightclubs, you don’t want to miss. As a self-proclaimed cocktail connoisseur and nightclub expert, who has lived in Munich for two years, I’ll be your insider guide. Whether you’re a tourist passing through looking for a good time or a Munich local wondering where all the best nightlife spots and events are, I got you covered. This guide takes you beyond purified beer and will lead you to rooftop bars for creative craft cocktails, unique microbreweries for Bavaria’s craft beer, local distilleries and spirits, the best dive bars, annual events and into the depths of Munich’s nightclubs to end the night. We will also cover safety tips, budget expectations, ID requirements, how to order and pay in German and what the locals drink. Fertig? Super! Eins, zwei, g’suffa. Prost! (Ready? Super! One, two three, chug/gulp. Cheers!)

The ultimate Munich nightlife, bar and drinking guide. Find the hottest clubs, cocktail bars, local spirits and best bars for a great night of partying in Munich, Germany.

Click on the topics below if there is a particular section of my Munich nightlife and bar guide you want to jump to, but we will start with the basics and safety before we get into the fun stuff. At the end, I’ll give you some pointers for lively neighborhoods and areas to just take a wander around on your own. My personal tastes are a bit more alternative and unique, so most of my guides skip over the touristy bro bars and the major breweries, so if that’s what you’re looking for you might be disappointed. ­čÖé

Know Before You Party in Munich
Tips and Safety for a Night out in Munich
Craft Cocktail Bars in Munich
Breweries and Beer Halls in Munich
Bavarian Distilleries and Local Spirits
Best Bars and Dive Bars in Mnunich
Best Wine Spots in Munich
Underground Nightclubs
Festivals and Special Events
Late Night Munchies
Lively Neighborhoods
Cure your hangover with fresh air and a trip to Zugspitze!

Ultimate Munich Nightlife and Bar Guide

Partying in Munich – Things to Know

We have to get the boring stuff out of the way, but I promise it will help you have the best night out as possible. You’ll look like a pro ordering your drink in German and bossing you local cultural knowledge!

Culture and Drinking Traditions

Munich Augustiner beer Oktoberfest horse carriages

Germans and Bavarians, especially, take their drinking very seriously. Now, this doesn’t mean get hammered, puke all over your travel buddies and go balls to the wall, this means drinking enough to have a great time, but usually doing so responsibly. You can always spot the tourist as they stumble out of the beer halls and end up in the back of a police car or the guy that was puking outside my window on my neighbor’s car a few weeks ago. So, try and hang with the professionals and keep yourself in check. Germans are generally in good spirits when drinking, it is important to keep your fists down and bring your comradery.
When someone cheers you, either with a beer or cocktail, it is custom to make eye contact with each person you cheers and say “Prost,” which means cheers.
Drinks tend to be quite strong in Germany, assuming most adults can handle their liquor, so be ready for strong drinks from stark beer to mostly gin in your gin and tonic.

Local alcoholic drinks in Munich & Germany

Beer: Duh, right? The beer in Munich requires a post of its own, but for the basics, there are 6 major breweries in Munich. Most bars or restaurants will be selling one of these six types of beers, so if you have a favorite just look for the sign at the door. I am actually not a fan of local German beer. Gasp, I know! But there are also some great microbreweries and alternatives to the big 6 popping up in Munich, such as Giesinger, that we will go over later.
Tegernsee Beer Munich's best local beers.

Drink Mixing: It is common to cut your beer, juice or wine with something, such as lemonade, water, or a cola-like drink. Radler- is beer and lemonade mix. A Diesel or Cola-Weizen is a beer and cola like drink. Wineschorle- is a wine typically mixed with mineral water, but you can also try juice or lemonade. There is no end to the creative mixing options, so feel free to try something different! This is often times how Germans can party so long, they make their drinks strong and then cut them in half. Makes sense, right?

Spirits: Germany is known for the J├Ąger, but they also have some great gins and whiskeys, made locally. Try “The Duke” gin, “SLYRS Whiskey”, and “Monaco” vodka.

Liqeurs: Can’t leave Germany without trying schnapps. It is usually a fruit brandy and can be drunk as a quick shot or something to sip on after dinner.

Gl├╝hwein: You’ll usually only see this drink during the winter months, but it is very similar to a mulled wine. Make it a Feuerzangenbowle and light your drink on fire with 100 proof booze for a great time.

Gl├╝hwein Munich Christmas Markets

How to order a drink in German

Ordering a drink at the bar in Germany is pretty easy. In most cases, you can lose all formalities and simply say the number, followed by the drink you want, followed by Bitte (bit-uh). So, for beer, you would say Ein (one) Bier (beer), Bitte (please).
If you want to practice more in-depth German the entire phrase for ordering is “Ich h├Ątte (hat-eh) gerne (gern-eh) ein Bier, bitte.” This translates to I would like to have one beer, please. You can exchange bier for wein (wine) or whatever you see on the menu.

To Pay You can simply say Bezhalen (beh tse all en), bitte. – pay please.

Tipping/Check Splitting

Tipping is not necessary in Munich, but if you want to do so, it is appropriate and you round up or leave the change. I always tip at a fancy restaurant. It is just fine to split checks, just ask your server or bartender. However, whoever pays last is responsible for the entire bill, so make sure you get your order right!

Cash or Credit

While it is becoming more common for places in Munich to take credit or debit card, often time you’ll need a local card called an EC card, which you get with a German bank, or Cash. Cash is called Bar in Germany, so someone may say you must pay with bar. Always carry cash on you to make paying easier and less confusing.


Shocked at the price of your beer? There might be what is called a Pfand attached to your total. This applies almost anywhere you can walk away with glassware or outdoor events. It is a price that if you return the glassware you will get money back. If you “forget” to return the glass you essentially already paid for it. The Pfand is usually around 2 Euro, but can get up to 5-10 Euro for expensive or unique glassware. You might get a token you need to return with the glass, and other times the glass is the Pfand. Look for the Pfand sign near where you ordered your beverage to return your glass. Don’t get in the order line again or you’ll get shouted at!

Budget and Cost of alcohol in Munich

Euros for nightlife budgeting in Munich, Germany.

Munich is the most expensive city in Germany, so be prepared to cough up a bit of dough for your night out. If you’re on a tight budget, stop by a kiosk and buy beers for the road. Most beers in restaurants are about 3-5 Euros. If you get them in a beer garden or Oktoberfest they can get up to 10 Euro with a Pfand. Wine is about the same price, with local wines on the cheaper end. Craft cocktails can get up to 9-10 Euro for one drink. A gin and tonic will set you back about 5-6 Euro. Believe it or not, water might be the most expensive thing you buy, as a bottle can cost you 8 Euro. If you like to stay hydrated, like me, bring a small bottle in your purse to save money.

Dress Code for Munich’s Nightlife

Munich is a pretty laid back city, but it is a wealthy and clean city. Unlike many other German cities, which tend to have an alternative fashion scene, Munich locals tend to dress smartly. If you want to fit in wear smart casual with dark colors. If you wear large heels and revealing attire, I say go for it, but be prepared for stares. Munich is fairly conservative and even younger girls tend to wear dark tights with shorter outfits and minimal heel.

Tips and Safety for a Partying Munich

General Safety

Munich is a very safe city, I once left my bike out in front of my house for an entire month while traveling Australia. It’s also a watch eye city. Most of the citizens are on constant watch for everything from Jaywalking to shoplifting. Additionally, it is often quite safe as a female. Read about how sexual harassment changed for me since I moved to Germany. Now, that is not to say that aren’t pockets and areas that are a bit sketchy or you should not take caution with your valuables. Always exercise caution! You may want to avoid bars and clubs around the Hauptbahnhof as they have a higher risk of scam and are often gambling halls and strip clubs, but if that’s your jam- go for it.

The local police number is 110 and medical is 112 . Don’t expect your police to speak English as often times their English is limited or non-existent, but they will know how to find someone to help translate if they can’t. Most doctors, who have higher education can speak a decent level of English.

ID Requirements

If you look older than 12 you’re probably on the safe side at a bar, however, it is always good to have your ID on your at all times in case of emergency. If you buy tickets to a ticketed event you will need ID and often times nightclubs do ID.

Munich Business Hours

Most nightclubs and bars open late. Some bars don’t open until 8pm or 9pm with nightclubs not kicking off until 1am. Plan for a late night out. Often bars are closed on Sunday or Monday, so always check hours if you’re in town on those two days.

Best Craft Cocktail Bars in Munich

Most people don’t come to Munich for their cocktails, but there are quite a few places that serve tasty cocktails ranging from classic to “only in Munich.”

Flushing Meadows

I’ll start with my favorite and arguably the best spot in town. Resting atop a boutique hotel, this cozy spot has a deck for summer seating and a chic interior for cold winters. Their feature cocktails change regularly, and they typically feature local liquors, Bavarian names, and themes. I love ordering from their rotating menu as the presentation of each drink is creative and unique. They use paper straws, so they get extra love from me! It’s a bit hard to find, but just head to the elevator at Flushing Meadows hotel and ride to the top floor.

Mon-Sun: 7pm – 2am
Fraunhoferstra├če 32

Flushing Meadows craft cocktail from Munich, Germany

Zephyr Bar

The Zephyr Bar is the place to go if funky and flashy garnishes are your thing. Not only will you find creative drink combinations from the Panama Papers to Turtle Toe, but the garnishes and presentation are almost as big as the drinks themselves. Enjoy a lively night with a younger crowd trying all new types of drinks.

Sun-Thur: 8pm-1am Fri-Sat: 8pm-3am
Baaderstra├če 68, 80469 M├╝nchen


Located in the former bones of a cozy old Munich house, the atmosphere of Barroom in Munich is one of the best parts of this cocktail bar. They focus on rum cocktails and feature your favorite rums from S. America all the way to Oceania. Don’t worry, if you’re not the biggest of rum, like me, they have lots of other options to get you drunk! If you try one of their cocktails and fall in love, they even offer cocktail courses, so you can learn to make your own. These which make a great gift for someone living in Munich or group event.

Sun-Thur: 8pm-1am Fri-Sat: 8pm-2am
Milchstra├če 17, 81667 M├╝nchen

Flushing Meadows, best spot for craft cocktail from Munich

Jaded Money

Another one of my top picks. This place feels like it belongs in the Melbourne cocktail scene. Get your liquid nitrogen fix with their over the top cocktails that are served in a variety of fun ways. Jaded Monkey focus on the experience and each drink is hand delivered by a mixologist who put their creation together on the spot. I enjoy Johnnie’s Tea or the Poison Monkey for when I am feeling crazy. Be prepared to spend a bit of money and wait a bit for your drinks, most of their cocktails take a while to make and cost between 12-16 Euros, but they use quality liquor and have a great presentation. It is well worth it, trust me.

Tue-Sat: 8pm-3am Sun – closed Mon:8pm-1am
Herzog-Wilhelm-Stra├če 25, 80331 M├╝nchen


Auroom in Munich is so popular that they have reserved seats for their loyal regular customer base, so don’t be offended if a bartender asks you to move from a specific seat in the bar. (Hint: It’s the two or three bar stools to the far left of the bar, I know because I’ve been yelled at.) Aside from that, they do a fantastic job making all their drinks. They don’t have over-the-top garnish or presentation, but they do the classics well. Make sure you get a whiskey drink on the rocks and prepare to be amazed as they use their spherical ice maker to instantly freeze purified water for the most beautiful ice sphere you’ve ever seen.

Sun-Thur: 6pm-12am Sat-Sun: 6pm-2am
Hans-Sachs-Stra├če 20, 80469 M├╝nchen

Auroom Bar in Munich. Munich's best cocktail bars.

Negroni American Bar

This classy establishment not only shakes up fantastic cocktails, but also serves up some tasty food, so it’s a great place to grab dinner and pair it with your favorite classic. Paying homage to their namesake this place serves up seven types of Negroni. Which one will be your favorite? Dare you try them all? It is a large and spacious location with the traditional dark wood and leather of an American craft bar. If you want to eat at a certain time a reservation is encouraged.

Fun Fact: Cocktail was first defined in the United States in New York. So, the modern day cocktail as you think of it with bitters, liquor, sugar and a mixer are American. Therefore, if you’re traveling – especially in Europe and you see “American Bar” in the name, you’re chances of finding a good cocktail bar are pretty high. Just make sure you don’t see the word “sports” anywhere in there ­čśë

Most days 16:00-02:00
Sedanstra├če 9, 81667 M├╝nchen

Boulevardier Bar

Another American style craft cocktail bar with dark wood and spacious room. Boulevardier bar loves their Campari and most of their art focuses on this ingredient. If you’re celebrating an event as a local or just passing through, they have a back room where you can rent a bartender for your entire party! How fun does that sound? Come early to eat dinner as their menu is almost as tasty as their drinks.

Open at 7pm closed on Sunday
Kellerstra├če 32, 81667 M├╝nchen

Paulaner Spezi cocktail from Flushing Meadows cocktail bar in Munich

The High

This place is a peek hipster bar in Munich. The alcohol on their shelves fights for space with sprawling plants and brushed copper bracing. It attracts a younger, hip crowd, and they’ll whip up anything from your classic Dark and Stormy to complex drinks with coffee and bourbon.

Most days 8pm-1am Sun: Closed
Blumenstra├če 15, 80331 M├╝nchen

The Martini Club

My honorable mention for the night. This place makes a solid cocktail and has a menu larger than The Lord of the Rings, but the best part about it, ladies night on Wednesday. If you’re in town with your girlfriends on a Wednesday you have to go here. You get bottomless Appletini or Cosmos for two hours and free popcorn! The free drinks are made to my liking and the staff there are attentive and keep your drink full.

Most days: 6pm-1am Sun: Closed
Theresienstra├če 93, 80333 M├╝nchen

Alternative Breweries and Beers in Munich

I talked about this in my intro, but I’ll beat the dead horse, Munich’s traditional beer isn’t that great. With old purity laws preventing the rise of craft and microbrews, there wasn’t much variety to the beer in Munich, until now that is. In this day and age, some beer-loving Germans have made a bold decision to step away from traditional and some fantastic Bavarian and Munich microbreweries were born. P.S. If you’re here for the Hofbra├╝haus you can find it at Platzl 9, 80331 M├╝nchen as you exit my page and enjoy your touristy time in Munich – not judging – I promise.

Munich best microbreweries and craft beers

Giesinger Br├Ąu

This place cracks me up in a good way. They take their beer as serious, if not more so, than some traditional breweries, but they let their creative juices flow. This resulted in serious German beer, with a variety of flavors, colors, and hops. They’re a bit pretentious about their beer and they have every right to be. What started in a garage is still made by hand and only shipped locally around the Bavarian area, you’ll be hard-pressed to find this popular beer outside of Munich, so make sure to stop by and try something light and refreshing like the Lemondrop with 7.5% alcohol, their seasonal brews or a new twist on a traditional Helles. They brew on location and have tasty food too, so bring your appetite and curiosity.

Hours vary. Open most days by 11am.
Martin-Luther-Stra├če 2, 81539 M├╝nchen

Giesinger Beer Munich, Germany. Best craft beer in Munich

CREW Republic

I have a soft spot for these guys. Their mission is basically, “we do what we want, how we want and if you don’t like it then you can fuck off.” That’s something I can stand by. It started in the very neighborhood I live. Everyone from their landlord to their family tried to talk them out of what they were doing, because they were doing something different. Lucky for us this something different eventually revolutionized German beer. These guys love their ales, so make sure you stop by their location and order up their German Pale Ale, or go bold with one of their experimental brews. I love the style of their brewery, it screams hipster with open spaces and unfinished wood, you can even take a peek at their brewing process on site.

Hours are very limited and change often Google maps is usually up to date for them.
Andreas-Danzer-Weg 30, 85716 Unterschlei├čheim

Hanscraft & Co.

While not technically located in Munich, they still brew in Bavaria and you can find their beer at certain restaurants and craft brew stores. They have a wide range of craft beers from summer ales to imperial stouts, each one unique but true to their mission of quality ingredients and unique flavors. If you find yourself in Niedernberg make sure to stop by their brewery, if not keep a look out for their beers in Munich.

Nordring 53-55, 63843 Niedernberg

Munich's best craft beer and microbreweries

Brauerei im Eiswerk

There might be some debate whether this is an alternative microbrewery or not because it’s owned by Paulaner, one of Munich’s big 6 breweries. This small microbrewery takes pride in German purity laws and is proud of their roots, but they allow a creative side to show, not seen in their parent. Plus, it is located in an old ice factory, so everything about it is pretty cool. Stop by the old ice factory and try their Bourbon Bock, which has been triple distilled and stored in an oak barrel with bourbon notes – see I told you it was quite different from what you think when you think of Paulaner.

They’re only open two Wednesdays a month, so check their website for more details. Find Hours Here
Address: Ohlm├╝llerstra├če 44, 81541 M├╝nchen


A curious place in Munich. They opened on the 850th birthday of beer culture in Munich and their aim was to bring back basement brewing in this historic city. They can’t actually sell beer, but they can do tastings and tasting they do. Stop by the neighborhood of Neuhausen in Munich to experience this unique beer. My favorite thing about this place might not be just the beer, but they also have bee colonies (which sadly didn’t make it one winter, but they’re bringing them back in 2018) on site and do beer cycling tours of Munich with a local beer connoisseur.

Their contact and hours are hard to pin down, but you can email them at:
Richelstra├če 26, 80634 M├╝nchen

Munich's best microbreweries

Bavarian & Munich Distilleries and Spirits

If you go to any bar in Munich you’ll often find plenty of local options for your mixed drink. This wasn’t always the case, as the cocktail scene is relatively new in Munich. The demand and interest now has the local distiller industry booming resulting in fresh gins, whiskeys and even rum named after Munich’s own Isar river.

Munich Distillers

Munich Distillers leading the scene of local spirits with Gin, Vodka and that German rum I was talking about! How cool is that? Not only can you spot these tasty liquors on the shelves, but you can stop by their bar, the Distillers Bar and try cocktails made with their own spirits. If you’re looking for a unique gift for a friend who lives in Munich or want something fun to do as a local, check out their very own tastings and cocktail classes. The website is all in German, but Google translate might help you, if not shoot them an email, they do speak English and have very friendly staff.

Sun-Thur: 7pm-1am Fri-Sat: 7pm-3am
Occamstra├če 2, 80802 M├╝nchen

Munich Distilelrs local Munich spirits and best bars.

The Duke Gin

Germany makes some amazing Gins and the boom was started by Munich’s own “The Duke.” The market was dominated by other spirits and Munich wasn’t really into gin. The Duke was distilled by two students who had a dream to bring craft cocktail and spirits to Bavarian. They succeeded and the cocktail scene in Munich is often attributed to the rise of 50s style drinks and their gin. This bio gin is made from local ingredients and is a dry – flavorful gin. Stop by their distillery for a tour or keep an eye out for it on the shelf at the local bar and ask for it by name!

Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm
Feldkirchner Str. 1, 85609 Aschheim bei M├╝nchen

SLYRS Whiskey

This small locally owned distillery is just south of Munich in the sleepy Alpine town of Schliersee, but don’t let the location fool you, this is world class whiskey and can hold its own. With crystal clear Alpine water and the perfect temperatures for maturing whiskey, this is a top contender in the world of whiskeys. Take a day tip out to their cafe for lunch in the beautiful Alps, or keep an eye out for it at your local bar.

Mon-Sun: 10am-6pm
Bayrischzeller Str. 13, 83727 Schliersee

Find the best sazarac cocktail in Munich, Germany

Kymsee Single Malt

Another beautiful distillery outside of Munich, this one nestled near Chiemsee Lake in the Alps. This single malt distillery uses local malt from their neighbors to craft something truly Bavarian. It is small and locally owned, so you know the quality and care put into distilling their product is top of the line. Take a day trip out to Chiemsee, tour their distillery then get your drink on at their bar.

Most days from 5pm-10pm with tasting and tours starting later around 7pm.
Address: Gewerbestra├če 1A, 83355 Grabenst├Ątt

Munich's finest spirits Kymsee whiskey

Bavarian Moonshine

This will give you goosebumps! I know most moonshines already do that, but this is woo… haha. Inspired by traditional moonshine in the United States, featuring Apple Pie moonshine, they put a Bavarian twist on this classic. Sourced locally with fresh ingredients it gives American moonshine a run for its money. Try it for yourself at Munich’s The Potting Shed on Occamstra├če 11.

Bavarian Moonshine from Munich's Finest Spirits Event. Best spirits in Munich.

Best Bars and Dive Bars in Munich

If fancy cocktails, craft beers, and single malt whiskeys aren’t your thing and you just came here to get drunk, I feel you. This next section is for you. Munich has more bars than you can possibly drink your way through, but I’ve highlighted some of my favorite bars and dive bars in Munich for cheap, strong drinks and a wild night out.

Munich's best nightlife and bars.

Couch Club

Couch Club in Munich is one of the best bars for a cozy night out with top-shelf gins. This would be a great place to try The Duke gin. It is filled with – you guessed it- couches. There is some funky decor and a room for table fu├čball. This place can get quite crowded on weekends, but you can always reserve a spot if you’re dying to check it out.

Tue-Thur: 7pm-1am Fri-Sat: 7pm-3am Sun/Mon: Closed
Klenzestra├če 89, 80469 M├╝nchen

Robinsons Bar

It’s a small watering hole with some funky- boarding on trashy decor, but their cocktails are good and they know what they’re doing. You can get quality cocktails made, or you can go for the budget gin and tonic route, but they have something for everyone. Put your party pants on because this place gets a bit rowdier than your traditional cocktail bar and is open to the wee hours of the morning. If you bring a to go cup they can even make you a cocktail to go, and you can hang out in nearby Gartnerplatz in the summer.

Most days at least 5pm-3am, weekends until 4 or 5 am
Corneliusstra├če 14, 80469 M├╝nchen

Robinson's NYC Munich Cocktail Bar

Holy Home

Just about everything in this bar is cheap from the drinks to the ambiance. It kinda has a gothic church feel to it, without being too gothic. It’s a great dive bar to hang out with a young crowd and get drunk. There’s lots of space so you should be just fine walking in and partying. This is also located in my favorite area of Munich, Gartnerplatz. As mentioned above in the summer you’ll find lots of people hanging out and enjoying the long days of summer with drinks and music.

Sun-Wed: 6pm-1am Thur-Sat: 6pm-3am
Reichenbachstra├če 21, 80469 M├╝nchen

Schall & Rauch

The first bar I ever went to in Munich – literally the day I landed I was invited here by some friends. It’s near the university and is a popular student hang out, which means cheap, strong drinks and good vibes. You’re sure to make friends with locals and other expats alike. It’s open early, and they make food, so you can always stop by to cure your hangover the next day.

Schellingstra├če 22, 80799 M├╝nchen

Munich's best cocktail bars. Green cocktail

Das Provisorium – Kunstbar und Lesesaal

I know, I know, what a German name, right? It’s a bit intimidating, but this bar is anything but. What started as a pop-up bar in a condemned space led to a bar that never left. This feels very Berlin if you ask me, with wide open spaces, graffiti walls, pallet benches and old couches. They have a dance floor and DJ area for a night of dancing to good tunes. They also infuse their own vodka. It is strong and incredibly cheap. They are cash only!!

Tue-Thur: 8pm-3am Fri-Sat: 8pm-5am Sun-Mon: Closed
Lindwurmstra├če 37, 80337 M├╝nchen

Sehnsucht Bar

This bar is divey enough to remind me of Alaska and that is saying a lot. Their bar signs are made from cardboard scraps, there are bikes hooked on the wall and a whole lot of women’s bras are hanging from the ceiling. Come here for cheap drinks and a strange experience you can only have in Munich.

Tue-Thur: 6pm-2am Fri-Sat: 6pm-3am Sun-Mon: Closed
Amalienstra├če 26, 80333 M├╝nchen

Caf├ę Kosmos

This is like a dive bar for hipsters. With unfinished wood and strange art, it has a cool vibe, but you’ll find a casual crowd and cheap drinks. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but you’ll find a good time waiting for you once inside.

Sun-Thur: 12pm-1am Fri-Sat: 12pm-3am
Dachauer Str. 7, 80335 M├╝nchen

Dive Bar

How can you trust a bar with the name Dive Bar? I know it seems like a trap, but this is a great little spot with a welcoming atmosphere and competent staff. You’ll get better than a cheap gin and tonic, but it’s not pretentious. I like to think if this place as a stepping stone from a bar to a cocktail bar. You’ll feel right at home with a good drink in hand.

Tue-Sun: 6pm-2am Sun-Mon: Closed
Reichenbachstra├če 19, 80469 M├╝nchen

Best bars in Munich


This place was a running joke among my friends. A former Munich expat who I am friends with raved about this place, yet every time I walked by I secretly judged him, as it looked below my standards. I finally caved and decided to see what all the fuss was about and had a great night at Barschwein. This is a true testament to try things before hating on them. The downstairs is a lively bar where a young crowd hangs out. Upstairs you’ll find a full-blown dance floor with an energetic crowd. It’s in a great part of Munich too with lots of late night munchies and an Ubahn stop.

Mon-Sat: 6pm-3am Sun: Closed
Franzstra├če 3, 80802 M├╝nchen

Keg Bar

I tried to avoid putting expat bars on my list, but this one happened to make the cut. It’s a great local watering hole where you can fit right in with people from around the world. They play sports on TV, have pub food and friendly staff. It is large and there’s plenty of room to get your party on. They also serve CREW Beer that I was talking about earlier.

Mon-Sat: 6pm-1am Sun: 1pm-1am
Trautenwolfstra├če 1, 80802 M├╝nchen

Why don’t I like expat bars? Good question, learn more, here!

Best Places for Wine in Munich

German wine is often overlooked and masked by the beer industry, but Germany and Austria have some great wines, if you know what you’re looking for. Going to wine bars in Munich can make or break your wine experience. If you go to a basic place and order the table wine, you might be disappointed. That’s why I picked out these best spots for wine in Munich that will delight your pallet and you’re sure to find a new favorite wine.

The best wine spots in Munich, Germany.

Weinhaus Neuner

The oldest wine house in Munich, this is a must experience for any wine lover. It’s a traditional Bavarian restaurant with an extensive list of local wine from Germany and Austria, along with fantastic wines from the EU. The staff will help you pair the perfect local wine with your meal.

Mon-Sun: 12pm-12am
Address: Herzogspitalstra├če 8, 80331 M├╝nchen

Kork Wine Bar

This is my top recommendation for a wine experience in Munich. This charming little place is owned by two locals who are experts in local wine. They will pamper and treat you to the best wines from Germany and their knowledge is unsurpassable. Their wooden decor is modern and classy and everything you expect from a fantastic wine bar. Treat yourself and pay Kork a visit.

Mon-Sat: 5pm-11pm Sun: Closed
Address: Angertorstra├če 4, 80469 M├╝nchen

Best spots for wine in Munich, Germany.

GRAPES Weinbar

Located in the swanky hotel Cortiina downtown this wine bar does not disappoint. They have a great selection of wines and professional staff. One of my favorite things about this place is they have what is called a wine marker night. On these nights you can participate in a regional tasting and learn about the winemakers as you taste.

Various lunch and dinner times
Cortiino hotel Ledererstra├če 8a, 80331 M├╝nchen

Aquitaine Vinotheque

If you’re craving fine French wine, despite being in Munich, you’ll want to head to Aquitaine. It is mostly a wine shop, so you can stock up for your hotel, but they also do tastings and have a nice space to try wines and have some snacks.

Mon-Fri: 3pm-9pm Sat: 10am-6pm Sun: Closed
Address: Theresienstra├če 19, 80333 M├╝nchen

Wine corks. The best places to drink wine in Munich, Germany.

Vintage Selection

This charming spot is intimate, but well designed with just the right amount of fantastic wines to try. With brick walls, this almost feels like a traditional wine cellar. The staff are friendly and will help you find the perfect wine to taste.

Mon-Sat: 3pm-10pm Sun: Closed
Westerm├╝hlstra├če 39, 80469 M├╝nchen

The Best (underground) Nightclubs in Munich

You should know by now I’m not going to give you the touristy and basic top 40 clubs in Munich, but instead, we will dance the night away at Munich’s best nightclubs for underground music and a unique scene. While Munich can’t rival Berlin, I will say the great thing about Munich, everyone is welcome – looking at you Berghain. The scene here is intimate and friendly and you will have a great night out partying into the next day.

Munich's best underground nightclubs


Standing for Mixed Munich Arts this space serves as a nightclub on Friday and Saturday and doubles as a venue for seasonal and artistic events that happen in Munich. It is a giant warehouse space, possibly the largest in Munich, you get that grungy industrial vibe as you dance the night away to Germanys top DJs and traveling acts.

Mon-Sat: 3pm-10pm Sun: Closed
Katharina-von-Bora-Stra├če 8A, 80333 M├╝nchen

Harry Klein

One of the better-rated clubs in Munich Harry Klein is well designed with an upstairs and downstairs area and a great dancefloor. Their resident DJs feature a diverse lineup, including three women and great local techno. My favorite thing about HK, is every April they only house all female DJs and turn into Marry Klein. Now, that is pretty cool!

Wed-Sat: Doors at 11pm
Address: Sonnenstra├če 8, 80331 M├╝nchen

Bob Beaman

A place that is all about the good times with good friends and dancing until the next day. With a fantastic sound system, Bob Beaman is small and intimate but packs a punch in the Munich nightlife scene. They resident DJs keep the vibe going with the best German techno and underground music.

Mon-Sat: 3pm-10pm Sun: Closed
Katharina-von-Bora-Stra├če 8A, 80333 M├╝nchen

Munich's best nightclubs.


Munich’s newest club, just might become my favorite after spending NYE/NYD there. Located inside the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest science and technology museum, the design and sound are fitting to be part of this prestigious museum. With bamboo walls and state-of-the-art speakers, this place is optimized for sound and has the best sound system in Munich. The bartenders at both bars are friendly and great to chat with. Additionally, you have to turn your phone in and they put stickers on your camera, and phones are only allowed in a certain area. It’s a great experience!

Fri-Sat: 11pm-8am
Address: Museumsinsel 1, Access via Ludwigsbr├╝cke, 80538 M├╝nchen

Blitz Club in Munich Germany. Best places for nightlife.


Located in the heart of the LBGTQI district this is a gay and all-inclusive nightclub with fantastic music and a great crowd. Erotic art hangs from the ceiling as DJs crank out dirty beats. The layout is a bit awkward, so if you don’t like tight dancefloors it might not be for you, but if the closer the better, this is the place for you! Best part it is open every day of the week, so if you’re in Munich on a Tuesday and want to get turnt up, you have somewhere to go!

Nightly: 10pm-6am
M├╝llerstra├če 56, 80469 M├╝nchen

Munich Best Annual Events

Munich has some amazing events from whiskey expos to wine tastings. I’ve found that as a local, or a traveler it is hard to know what is happening in Munich and when, due to the language barrier and difficulty finding events, but don’t worry I’ve selected some of the best annual events, so you can get your tickets and get ready to party. You can always check out the posters around town to see if anything piques your interest while you’re in town.

Finest Spirits Munich

Taking place every January toward the end of the month, this is a great way to warm up and beat the winter blues. Located in the charming MVG museum you can explore 100s of exhibits and drink from thousands of spirits, local and international. It’s pretty reasonable, as you get a few tickets upon entry and can use them for various tastings. You can even take your souvenir glass home! The website is in German, but I trust you can navigate the ticketing system!

End of January
St├Ąndlerstra├če 20, 81549 M├╝nchen
Get Your Tickets, here!
Munich's finest spirits. Local best spirits from Bavaria, Germany.

Braukunst Live!

If you really just came to Munich for the beer, you’ll love the Braukunst Live! This beer expo features 30 local Bavarian breweries and about 100 international exhibits from 14 different countries. If you’re in Munich in early February don’t miss one of Europe’s best beer events in Europes best city for beer!

Begining of February
St├Ąndlerstra├če 20, 81549 M├╝nchen
Get Your Tickets

Munich's craft breweries. Find the alternative sports for beer in Munich.

Tollwood Summer Festival

You can get double the Tollwood fun in both summer and winter Tollwood, but the summer event focuses less on the Christmas market aspect and more on the party. With big-name headline musicians, this event spans over two weeks and has food, bars, food stands and lots of fun merchandise and crafts. Oh yeah, and booze did I mention the bars?

End of June – Begining of July
Olympia parkCheck Them Out

Traditional Beer Events

Munich has plenty of Traditional Beer Events from Oktoberfest to Starkbier fest.

Oktoberfest: Since I am usually too drunk to write about Oktoberfest, if you’re planning a trip to the fest you can head over to my responsible friend Christina’s site and read all about Oktoberfest.

Munich Oktoberfest drinking

Not here during Oktoberfest? Never fear, there’s a lot of fests for you to consider. Starkbierfest: No matter how hard I try I black out at this fest and end up in my bed wondering how one liter of beer did me in. Well, this beer is a strong beer. It’s dark and was made by monks who didn’t want to suffer through lent sober. I mean, who does? It takes place every March at Paulaner and is not for the faint of heart. It is an indoor event and much smaller than other fests.

Fr├╝hlingsfest: The sister of Oktoberfest, it takes place in the same location and celebrates spring. You can expect to find beer tents, traditional clothing and lots of merry-making locals and some tourists.

Kocherlball: This event has a unique history. It started as a way for poor working class people to enjoy a dance party, held on Sundays in summer. At 5 am the working servants could leave their masters- who would often still be asleep and enjoy a party of their own. This tradition was revived and now in the middle of July (usually the weekend around the 15th), you can start partying in Munich’s Englishergarten at the Chinese Tower in the wee hours of the morning.

Wine Festival in Munich

Every year around the middle of July a wine fest takes place at the center of Munich. Wines from all over the Franconia wine region are brought to Munich for a celebration and tasting event. There’s lots of great Bavarian street food to try as well. So bring your thirst and wallet!

Middle of July
Alter Hof near Marienplatz!
Find More Details!

German wine vineyard Rothenburg ob der tauber

Best Spots for Late Night Munchies

Gute Nacht Wurst

I love this place. I don’t even miss Taco Bell after a night of drinking. Serving up hot fresh German wurst until 4 am on weekends you’ll stumble home with a full belly. They serve vegan wurst as well as meat options. They also have some dangerous hot sauce and weird German late night TV. Stop here if you’re partying in the Glockenbach or Gartnerplatz area.

Klenzestra├če 32, 80469 M├╝nchen

Munich's best late night munchies after a night out partying.

Ruffs Burger

Another late night favorite of mine, their truffle pommes are to die for. They have lots of gourmet burger options, including veggie burgers. You’ll find these bad boys all over Munich, but if you’re partying in the Schwabing area, there’s one near you.

Open until midnight on weekends
Klenzestra├če 32, 80469 M├╝nchen

Ristorante CA`D`ORO

This place has THE BEST to go pizza by the slice I have ever had. I stumbled into it 6 years ago while backpacking through Munich and thought I died and went to heaven. I found it again last year and the pizza is still just as good. Grab a to-go slice if you’re passing by the Hauptbahnhof and need something to get you home.

Open to 1am on weekends
Bayerstra├če 31, 80335 M├╝nchen

Alpen Imbiss

There are lots of Kebap and falafel shops around and this one isn’t the BEST, but it’s good and a great location. Near central Munich, the staff are friendly and it’s great drunk food for the trek home.

Open to 1am on weekends
Thalkirchner Str. 2, 80337 M├╝nchen

Munich Nightlife Areas & Neighborhoods

My Munich Nightlife, bar and drinking guide is coming to an end. I hope after this you go get responsibly smashed! If you don’t fancy any of my recommendations, feel free to email me or leave me a comment with what you’re looking for and I’ll be happy to help. If not I trust I taught you well enough to go out in the world and find your own favorite watering hole. These are the best areas in Munich for nightlife and you’re sure to find something to your liking.

Glockenbach & Gartnerplatz

My stomping grounds and home turf, if you’re in the area maybe I’ll even come out and party with you. JK, don’t stalk me, creeper. This area is a mix of queer-friendly bars and nightclub spots bars and craft cocktail spots. The crowd tends to be local and a good mix of younger hipsters and middle-aged partiers. It’s common to hang out Gartnerplatz in the summer and basically, any of the streets shooting off from that platz are going to have great bars and interesting things to see. You can see on the image that quite a few of the bars I highlighted, like Flushing Meadows, Robinson’s, Holy Home, and Auroom are in this area.

Gartnerplatz in Munich. Find the best places for nightlife and partying in Munich


This is going to be where the university students hang out. So you’ll find cheap bars, speakeasies, late night cafes with wifi and a mix of locals, uni students, and expats. Stick to the roads Theresienstrasse and Schellellingstrasse and you’ll find Schall & Rauch, Martini Club and Sehnsucht that I mentioned above.


I would say there is where a lot of expats go out to party, but you’ll find a healthy mix of locals too. The bars here are a mix of dive and ultra classy. Stick the area around M├╝nchner Freiheit and you’ll find the Distillers Bar and Barschwein.

Siegestor Gate in Munich, find the best neighborhoods for nightlife in Munich.


Across the river, in Haidhausen you’ll find all your classic American cocktail style bars. This whole area is known as the French quarter and you’ll see many similarities to France along with some great French restaurants. Youll notice those tasty classic cocktail bars I mentioned such as Negroni and Barroom.

Haidhausen in Munich, Germany. Find the best cocktail bars in Munich, Germany.


Your nightclubs are kinda all in the same area spanning from Harry Klein at Sonnenstrasse to a bunch clustered around K├Ânigsplatz and quite a few in a row along Ottostrasse. There is another grouping of clubs behind the Sbahn tracks at Ostbahnhof, it is usually a younger crowd, an international crowd and it’s a huge complex filled with lots of nightclubs and bars.

The ultimate Munich nightlife, bar and drinking guide. Find the hottest clubs, cocktail bars, local spirits and best bars for a great night of partying in Munich, Germany,

The ultimate Munich nightlife, bar and drinking guide. Find the hottest clubs, cocktail bars, local spirits and best bars for a great night of partying in Munich, Germany,

The ultimate Munich nightlife, bar and drinking guide. Find the hottest clubs, cocktails, local spirits and best bars for a great night of partying in Munich, Germany.

Before You Go

Have you been out partying in Munich, what is your favorite bar? If not, let me know if you ever need more insider tips for Munich for partying or other hidden gem adventures!

Don’t forget to pin to your favorite European or German board!

How YOU Can Offset Air Travel & Fly Sustainably

The year 2017, is/was -depending on when you read this- the year of sustainable travel. This meant a lot of things for the travel industry, most of which were good. We saw a lot of hotels, travel companies and bloggers move their focus to a more sustainable and responsible one. It also meant a lot of information on the negative impacts of travel came to light, causing a lot of us to rethink the way we travel, including myself. While the best option is to not partake in air travel, sometimes that just can not be done. So, for those times you just have to fly, how can you do your part to offset air travel and fly sustainably? These 15 small changes you can make will help offset your next flight.

How you can offset air travel and fly sustainably

So, here we are at a crossroads, grappling with our love and passion for travel with our even greater love for the environment. I mean can you blame us? The airline industry contributes to 2% of the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions and according to the European Parliament this number could increase to a whopping 22% in the next 40 years. I know, we’re all asking is there even a way to fly sustainably? To be honest the answer is no. But I get a lot of us wanderlusters aren’t ready to cut out air travel entirely, and there are certain destinations that rely on tourism, there are however a few ways you, yes you can offset the carbon footprint of air travel and fly more sustainably.

Offset air travel and fly sustainably

1. Take Less International Flights- Fly Less.

International departure board Wandering Chocobo

This is the hard reality we have to face as travelers. If you really care about the planet you will work on culling your wanderlust just a bit and reduce the amount of cross-country or international flights you take. The best way to reduce your imprint is to fly less and nothing you can do will ever top that. Don’t come at me with your selfie sticks and pitchforks just yet, I am not asking you to stop flying, I know you’re not ready for that- I literally just said that above- but just start with one less per year and see how it goes. I’ll get real with you for a minute In 2015 I took 7 international flights and almost 30 domestic flights. This year, 2017, I reduced my international number to 4. I know, 4 is still a lot, but it’s 3 less than my average and I am celebrating that. It’s hard living in Germany with my parents in Alaska and my husband’s in Australia. We want to see them as much as we can as they get older, so we’ve begun prioritizing our trips and choosing wisely. ONe of our international trips this year, was an entire month in Alaska, giving back to the local economy and going on eco-tours.

So, how do you bite the bullet and book fewer trips? Well for starters, that great deal you just found online to Barcelona for the weekend, for only 99 Euro? Stop, think. Where else can you go by train or bus for that amount? How can you help your local tourism economy for that amount? I bet there are a lot of amazing places around you, you can choose instead. Save those flights for when you really need them, or have time to give back. Your weekend trip is doing more damage than you think it is. The rise of city breaks simply increases the number of tourists to popular cheap destinations, but does not increase their spread. We’re putting hot spots under pressure with these city breaks. Saving that flight for a time when you can slow travel and really give back to your destination, responsibly is a better option than hopping in a plane and back for a weekend romp.

2. Pay That Carbon Offset Fee When You Book.

Pay a carbon offset fee and give back to the planet. Wandering Chocobo

“But Susanna, I am booking this ticket because it’s cheap and I am a budget traveler. I don’t want to pay extra fees!” I hear you, I hear you, but this is something I do every time, when given the option. It can have a huge impact. Did you know that while a HUGE amount of travelers say they are environmentally friendly a 2008 study reflected that only 1% of Quantas and Virgin passengers paid for this carbon offset. Why are so many people reluctant to pay this tax? Well, people are cheap. Simple enough. So where, does this extra money go? It varies from airline to airline, but it can go toward anything from planting trees, to funding research to find better and more sustainable ways to travel, to finding better lighting on your plane and aiding manufacturers to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some airlines, such as United allow you to calculate your carbon impact and choose a Sustainable Travel International program to donate to. It’s not much, so pay up!

3. Take A Non-Stop Flight.

Non-stop flights can be more expensive, and for some of us it’s hard to sit still that long. However, this can have a huge impact. Most fuel is consumed during takeoff and landing, so the fewer stops planes make the less fuel they use. It might be worth the extra cash to fly non-stop. Additionally, the more short trips airlines take, the more fuel they use. Skip the short hop to the next city over and choose a train or carpool.

4. Check Yo Flight Stats!

Boeing Dreamliner air craft.  Offset air travel and travel sustainably.

Are you flyig on an ancient gas guzzling fossil? Or the ultra new, green, long-haul choice, BoeingÔÇÖs 787 Dreamliner. I was able to fly in a Dreamliner this year and let me tell you, it’s AMAZING. Not only is it constructed out of cutting edge material to make it more efficient, you have smart window shades that help you adjust to jetlag and it’s not as dry the Sahara desert. It’s probably the first long haul I didn’t get a nosebleed on. Other great options are, Airbus A350 new 737s, A320s and A321. Also, research your company. Is the company committed to paying a carbon tax and finding ways to cut emissions, or are they just out to take your money and rape the planet?

5. Use a Carbon Calculator.

Find out how much your flight is costing and use that knowledge to shop for a less detrimental flight. Trackers such as Carbon Footprint Calculator can help you determine this, along with finding ways to offset your flight.

6. Book the Vegetarian Meal.

Number 7, covers something even BETTER than booking the vegetarian meal, but it’s not for everyone and before we move on from your booking and decision process, I want to highlight this step that needs to be done at booking.

Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, (I assume you are, if you’re willing to go as far as reading this post,) book the vegetarian option. It’s 2 meals on a plane, you’ll survive, trust me I’ve done it. Going vegetarian has more impact than giving up your car according to some studies. Even if you can’t commit to going vegetarian, the simple sacrifice on your flight, will tell airline carriers that the demand for meat is declining. Therefore, due to economics and shit, the demand will decrease and these huge carriers will buy less meat, which means fewer animals are killed, which means fewer cows fart ­čśŤ and less land is taken for farming. Plus, I don’t have any research to back up this theory, but I would bet money that the place these airlines get their meat from is on par with Mc. Donalds. A.K.A. cheap meat, harvested unethically and not in a sustainable manner.

Now that you’ve gone through the process of carefully deciding if this flight is right for you, paying your fee and booking the vegetarian meal, let’s be the best passengers we can be.

7. Pack Your Own food.

Pack your own food on a flight. Fly sustainably and vegetarian. Wandering Chocobo

I had you hooked, I know, and now you’re dying to know what is even better than booking the vegetarian meal. Well, the answer is simple, but it’s a hard decision for many of us to make. Pack your own food. Gasp! But you paid all this money, PLUS a carbon offset fee and you deserve that crappy meal anyway, right? Wrong. No one said living environmentally conscious was easy. Think about a typical airline meal. It comes in plastic holders, it comes with utensils in a plastic bag, it was heated in a microwave, the food wasn’t sourced locally to support local economies and it probably contains palm oil. Plus, let’s be honest it can’t be healthy.

When packing your lunch, go vegetarian, it helps you prepare for the day you too will convert, if you haven’t already. ­čÖé Also, remember that every snack you buy from the airport doesn’t count as a packed lunch, when it’s wrapped in plastic… The point of packing your own meal is to pack items that don’t have containers and pack it in something like beeswax reusable wraps to avoid using plastic. Buy your food locally and give yourself a healthy meal!

Fly sustainably, pack your own food when flying.

The photos depict my tasty veggie sandwich and nuts. The nuts came from a no packaging store and they are both being wrapped in beeswax reusable wrappers. If you haven’t heard of this amazing product they are a game changer! I can buy them at my local sustainable and alternative supermarket and I am sure you can as well. I love traveling with them because I can keep food fresh while traveling and it has eliminated my need for bulky containers or sandwich bags.

8. Bring Your Reusable Water Bottle & Cup

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, bring your own water

I know, I know I am taking all the simple pleasures of air travel, and quickly increasing the size of your carry on luggage. Shame shame. But just think how many plastic bottles airlines just hand out and just think how many times they give you a cup of water only to return and snatch your cup, toss and it and then give you another plastic cup later. It is honestly ridiculous. This is possibly the easiest way to offset your air travel and fly sustainably.The plastic you’re using is literally killing the planet.

I always use a camelback or water bladder compatible backpack, since I guzzle water like there is no tomorrow. Anyone else an aisle seat, due to a well-hydrated bladder? /Raiseshand. If you happened to forget your reusable bottle, be aggressive with the flight attendants, tell them you would like one cup and you would like to keep that cup for your entire flight.

Well, what about all those free dranksss? Here is where your personal cup comes in handy. I have recently stopped getting drinks on most flights to only drink from my camelback and I am happy with that, but to be honest have this dorky collapsible cup that if I get a hankering for wine I can whip it out and drink up. A quick rinse in the bathroom sink before I leave and it goes right back in my bag.

If you’re feeling bold, mention to the flight attendant why you want to save your cup, or why you don’t want bottled water. I start the conversation and always say, “No thank you I have my own reusable bottle.” or “I would like to keep this cup to reuse because I want to reduce my plastic consumption.” A little part of me thinks that if more people do this and talk about it, flight attendants may notice a trend and they might tell their boss and maybe less plastic will be used overall. Wishful thinking, right?

9. Pack Your Own Utensils.

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, pack your own utensils

If you forgot to make a sandwich to travel with, don’t panic. If you travel with your own utensils you don’t have to open the plastic bag and the airline can reuse them. I also carry this set in my hand purse wherever I go. It contains a fork, knife, straw, spoon and chopsticks. Once I land, if I find myself in a situation where I need to use plastic utensils I can opt out. Plus I never have to get a straw at the bar, I am carrying my own!

Yes, you can carry this knife through security, but you’ll get flagged, if you don’t give them a heads up. I always pull it out and inform someone I have it and there have been no issues so far. The blade is dull and carry on compatible, but if you’re worried, ditch the knife, you usually only need a fork anyway.

10. Don’t Buy or Use Carry on Size Items.

Lush sustainable bath products.

Thoe cute little shampoos and conditioners that seem so convenient are not only held in plastic containers, but the amount of plastic used on minnies is much worse than buying in bulk. Instead, buy cute REUSABLE carry on size containers and refill from your bulk product, or go plasticless altogether. In the picture listed in 11, you can see I have to travel with contact solution, but I always refill the one carry on from my large container.

To reduce my plastic I fly with Lush products– bar shampoo, conditioner and bar soap. They are cruelty-free and organic. I wrap them, in… you guessed it, beeswax wraps!

Fun fact, did you know the cosmetic and fashion industry are more detrimental to the environment than air travel?? Crazy huh? So, in addition to skipping the carry on size product, you can also consider not buying nail polish in every color, 30 different types of hair product or cheap factory fashion. Find a product that doesn’t test on animals, recycle and repair your clothing and don’t use glitter.

11. Use a Reusable Plastic Bag for Liquids

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, reusable container for carry on liquid

Instead of going for a sandwich bag every time you go through security, invest in a hardy clear plastic zip bag that you can use again and again.

12. Don’t Use Pillows/Blankets.

Travel Neck Pillow

Don’t worry I am almost done taking the joy out of air travel. It wasn’t miserable enough if you ask me. Don’t open the pillow and blankets. Not only are the wrapped in plastic bags, they also involve laundry, and transportation to and from said laundry… etc. These seem harmless, but the waste, water, energy and plastic really adds to the carbon footprint of airline companies. Invest in a nice travel pillow and a light jacket that stuffs down.

13. Don’t Accept the Gift Bags.

I am heartless, I know! It never ends. Those cute little bags with toothbrushes, and earbuds in them, guess what? More plastic, more product made in factories that probably do more harm to the locals than good. Pack your own items and don’t rely on these cheap trinkets from the airlines to enjoy your flight.

14. Lower Your Window Shade.

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, lower your window shade

Don’t you hate those that control the window seat and abuse their power? Now you have a reason to tell them off. If you’re miles high, and it is sunny out, that sun is heating up the cabin and therefore the airlines have to use more energy to cool the festering sweat pool down. Keep the shades down, especially during day flights and when it is sunny out. This can keep the cabin much cooler, up to 10 degrees F.

15. Travel Responsibly.

Last and certainly not least, once you arrive at your destination, travel responsibly. Don’t stay at mega-chain hotels, even if they brand themselves are green they’re really not. Support your local economy, stay at a small locally owned hotel that employes locals. Shop local. Eat local. Give back to the community you’re visiting.

Educate Your Friends- Share

I hope you can implement some of these during your next flight. Not all of them are easy I know. I still struggle with some of them, to be honest. I have to work at this every single time I travel. While we all know the best solution is to not fly, but sometimes we just have to, for work, to visit family or even to take a holiday, but each and every small decision you make can offset air travel just a bit and help you fly more sustainably. Don’t forget to pin and share this to your favorite Facebook groups to pass along the knowledge! What tips can you add?

When you gotta fly, fly responsibly with these airline and travel tips to be a more ethical traveler

How can you fly sustainably? Offset your air travel by following these 15 airline and travel tips to be a responsible traveler

Follow these 15 tips for flying to be a responsible traveler and offset your air travel

Almabtrieb – The Autumn Cow Parade in the Alps

“It’s not over until the cows come home.” A popular quote, but does anyone know where it originates? Well, right here in the Alps. …Ok ok, maybe I think that’s where it came from after attending a local event in Bayern. At the end of summer is marked by well, the coming home of cows in a celebration of thanksgiving. The origination of this quote dawned on me this week after attending a local Almabtrieb or Viehscheid-in Germany-, which loosely translates to a cow train in which the cows parade through the town as they come home. This event takes place in autumn in the Alpine regions and is a fantastic autumn activity in the Alps. I found a local Viehscheid happening in Bavaria, Germany in a small town called Haldenwang and had a wonderful time in attendance. However, these events happen all over the region, each one being unique ranging from large and touristy to small and intimate. Attending an Almabtrieb is a great day trip from Munich, a chance to take a break from Oktoberfest or just a reason to experience true Alpine culture in the crisp autumn air.

Almabtrieb and Viehscheid German Alpine Cow Parade in Autumn


What is an Almabtrieb?


Cows are an important part of Alpine life in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. They spend their summer days lazing about in the gorgeous green mountains and hills, eating, sleeping and playing. When the weather begins to bite, summer is over and it is time for these cows to head down to the lower fields and wait out the winter in the warm barn. This Almabtrieb, when the cows come home in the autumn, is a huge homecoming party celebrated to give thanks to the safe return of the cattle and farmers. It is celebrated in small towns and regions all throughout Bavaria in Germany, Austria and Switerzland. It is only natural that these cows are treated to a royal homecoming as they are dressed up with floral headdresses and prized bells while the town makes merry, drinking beer, eating traditional food and selling their dairy product.

Almabtrieb Viehscheid in the Alps, Haldenwang, Bavaria Germany. German cow with bell.

farmers bringing cows in a parade in Almabtrieb or Viehschied in Handenwang German Alps

Cow dressed up for Almabtrieb or Viehscheid in the Alps


How is the Almabtrieb or Cows Coming home Celebrated?


Each town, each region and each country celebrates it differently. At the small event in Haldenwang, it was an intimate festival with mostly locals. There were only two lucky cows adorned with the floral headdresses, weighing up to 20kg with the bell. A total of about 100 cows came bolting through the town, with the farms herding them and bringing them down to the Viehscheid, and an area where a celebration took place. After the cows were in the pen everyone had a chance to take photos of them, buy local dairy products and traditional food, listen to a local band and of course, drink beer. While our event was much smaller than some, it was great to see a traditional event among locals.

Cattle with floral headdress for Viehscheid in Haldenwang, Allga├╝, Bayern, Germany

Allg├Ąu beer at the Haldenwang Viehscheid Germany

Some regions, such as in parts of Austria (Tyrol or S├╝dtyrol), and Switzerland go all out and combine their Almabtrib with a multi-day harvest festival with tourists coming from all over to experience the event. Not only are their parades of cows, but also other livestock such as sheep. Towns will showcase their local talents such as basket weaving, wool weaving, and woodwork. Check out this post by Linda on her experience in Reith Alpbachtal, Austria. This was a MUCH bigger party than the one me had in Bavaria, Germany. It has inspired me to travel to many of these next year to compare them. How would you like to celebrate?

Cows coming home in Alpine parade for Almabtriebe


Where and When are the Almabtrieb, Cow Parades in the Alp Regions?


These events take place between September and October, in autumn in parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was hard for me, an English speaker to find the exact dates for the longest time, and I was thankful to come across this great website with all the dates, times and an English translation! You can search by location or year to find the event nearest you!

Cows coming home in the Alps for Almabtrieb or Viehscheid


Why Should You go to an Almabtrieb?


Autumn is one of the best times to visit the Alps in my opinion. The weather has cooled off a bit and the towns are in the celebratory mode, giving thanks to the harvest and preparing for the long hard winter. It’s a welcoming time to visit these small towns where often it is hard to fit in. At least, I felt like one of the locals, celebrating the harvest in Haldenwang. It is a great way to experience local culture, an alternative to Oktoberfest and a fun event for the entire family. Plus I love trying to local beer and food from each region. I hope to see you at an Almabtrieb when they bring the cows home for the winter! Let me know if you have any questions or need help planning your next trip!

Almabtrieb, the autumn Alpine cow parade. Experience the cows coming home in Alpine towns in Germany, Austria and Switzerland Almabtrieb, the Alpine cow parade in the autumn. Experience the cows coming home in Alpine towns in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Burning Man Photography & Art Tour: Radical Ritual 2017

Every year thousands of people descend upon the all but barren Black Rock Desert to build a community for Burning Man. It’s hard to explain this week-long event to outsiders and sometimes even to burners; as each person has a unique experience that can not be translated. The best I can say is Burning Man was everything I needed at the exact time I needed it, nothing less nothing more. I urge you to attend a Burn yourself, but at the very least this series of magical photographs from Burning Man 2017: Radical Ritual will help you understand why it is such a special place. These photos from the original Burning Man in Nevada, United States, focus on art pieces, art cars and the life of a burner on the Playa. Make sure to click READ MORE image below for an engaging visual experience and high-quality photos.

Burning Man Photography and Art Tour: Radical Ritual 2017

Radical Ritual 2017: Burning Man Photo Tour

Camera and Equipment Used for Burning Man Photos.

I hope you enjoyed my engaging photography tour from the original Burning Man in the United States. I had a blast taking my camera out on the Playa to capture these special moments. To protect my camera I used a freezer bag, cut a hole in the corner and duct taped it around the lens. I brought a cleaning brush and lens wipes and took daily care of it. I was surprised at how well my camera held up. Next time I will hopefully have an element proof camera in tow. All photos were taken either on my Olympus OM-DEM10 or on a Google Pixel. Both were great for the environment we were in and I was happy to come out with some great night and day photos. I do wish I would have brought my tripod, as I got some fantastic shots of The Man Burning, but either the fire or the fireworks were a little too blurry to publish.

Burning Man Photography Art The Man 2017 Radical Ritual

Explore The U.S. Before or After the Burn

If you’re looking to visit the Vegas area before or after the Burn, don’t miss my exclusive local guides to Las Vegas, Nevada

Inspire Others to Pack for Burning Man

Please share this with all your friends or family who want to know more about Burning Man or need some inspiration to put this on their bucket list! Have you been or is this on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments.

Amazing photography from Burning Man. See out-of-this-world art and life on the Playa in Black Rock City, Nevada.

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Why I Make a Terrible Expat, but a Decent Zuwanderer

ÔÇťSch├Ânes Wochenende!ÔÇŁ I said to my friend as we parted ways.

ÔÇťHuh?ÔÇŁ they replied

ÔÇťSch├Âoooneeees Woch-en-ende!ÔÇŁ I said more slowly.

ÔÇťWhat does that mean?ÔÇŁ

I tried to hide my puzzled face that was a dead giveaway to my thoughts, how long have you lived in Germany, again? How do you not know this?

ÔÇťOh, umÔÇŽ it means have a good weekend, directly translated to ÔÇťbeautiful weekendÔÇŁ in German. ItÔÇÖs a common goodbye phrase to say over the weekend.ÔÇŁ

ÔÇťRight, ok, well have a good weekend,ÔÇŁ they said and we parted ways.


I remember the first time I heard that phrase, my heart was thumping a million miles per hour as the line in the super market got longer and longer behind me. Germans were staring at the back of my head. I could feel their judgment boring through me like drills. I was sure they were all thinking, this silly American was holding up their weekend shopping. I dared not make eye contact. They watched me fumble with my produce, like an animal at the zoo.

Wait, IÔÇÖm supposed to bag my own groceries, in a bag I donÔÇÖt have? There is no way I can bag this all myself. I should have got half the food. Why donÔÇÖt I have a bag?

I cut back behind the line to where the bags for purchase hung then fought my way back. I threw the bag on the belt adding it to my items to purchase. I heard mumbling behind me.

What is the cashier saying to me? Omg she probably thinks I am really dim. Close your mouth, Susanna, and stop just staring at her. Just nod or say no, just DO something. Pretend like you know what youÔÇÖre doing.


Shit, wrong answer, they want a signature. I canÔÇÖt say no to that, stupid. Shit- they want it on the back of the receipt. How the hell would I know that? Fuck, another question?


Yes, right answer! Woo!

IÔÇÖm pretty sure I was dropping produce all over and still trying to bag my items when I heard ÔÇťSch├Ânes Wochenende!ÔÇŁ on my way out the door. That was the first pleasant sounding phrase anyone said to me since I arrived in Germany. I wondered what it meant. I went home and looked it up. It became ammo in my slow to increasing German phrase book.

After that experience, it would have been easy to bury my head in the sand. Find a group of Americans to whinge about German culture with, to speak English with and to avoid all the hardships of being an ÔÇťexpatÔÇŁ with. IÔÇÖm not hating on the people that do this. I get it, life in a foreign country is HARD and no matter what, you always need a little bit of home with you, but this concept of burying my head in the sand wasnÔÇÖt for me. You can only avoid this for so long, so why not immigrate and integrate, became a Zuwanderer.


Wienerplatz, Munich, Germany. Traditional May Pole.

Zuwanderer directly translates to an immigrant without German parents, living in Germany. Another word that is more common to use is A├╝slander. A├╝slander can carry a negative connotation for some and while I stood in the A├╝slander line when I applied for my visa, I identify with the word Zuwanderer. Perhaps it is because I myself am a bit of a wanderer.

To start: There is a lot of debate back and forth regarding the difference between an expat and a Zuwanderer. Some divide it between money, jobs classification, the length of stay or if they came by choice or not. I, however, generally group those that are defined as expats into two categories, how small minded of me, I know; Those that are here temporarily (6 mo-1 year) to party or act as endless tourists and those that move indefinitely, but never acclimate to the culture and live in an expat bubble. So, for this post, those are the definitions I go by, to define myself as a terrible expat. If you do not fit into my two categories I would consider you as well a zuwanderer.

Siegestor Gate Munich Bavaria Germany

Siegestor gate in Munich, Germany

Munich is a notoriously difficult place to integrate. The locals are known to be a bit closed off. If you donÔÇÖt do it their way, you can take the highway. This has understandably created an expat bubble in both categories. I watched groups of expats I know get together and just party every weekend. They would get drunk, rampage like tourists, disrespecting laws, being loud, and invasive. They would complain about needing German language skills to work, that college wasnÔÇÖt as free as it seemed, there was lots of red tape, the super market, the banking system, the constant judgment from locals, receiving mail in German, finding a place to liveÔÇŽ the list goes on. They get trapped in their comfort zone, refusing to learn simple phrases and embrace the negative along with the positives of living in a foreign country. IÔÇÖve seen countless people come, call life in Munich too hard after refusing to put in the effort, and leave.


Bird’s eye view of the old city in Munich from St. Peters Church.

I would meet expats whom would latch on to me, knowing we werenÔÇÖt compatible enough to be friends, but they were so terrified to go outside on their own, they needed me. They needed someone. They thought they could bring me into their expat bubble with them and we would cling to each other while the world went on around us. All while I was thinking. We have nothing in common, we would never be friends back home, why should we now? Grade A bitch, I know.

Sure, I gripe about some of the above, I mean really, who needs 15 letters a day from their bank, no one, thatÔÇÖs who. And I’ll be the first to admit the first 3 months were hard, really hard. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it and the worst part was not having a support system in Munich. That alone is enough to push anyone into an expat bubble. Having a sense of community and home is important, but, I moved here for a reason and that reason was to experience a different life. I had always wanted to live in Europe, and I was doing it. I didn’t want to live the same life I lived in the U.S., just in another country. So, I picked myself up and tried.


Attending the Italian Opera, “Don Giovanni” with German Subtitles the first month I arrived at the Munich Opera House.

Determined to not be ÔÇťthat girl at the supermarketÔÇŁ I enrolled in intensive German classes. Monday through Friday for five hours a day. For three months I went to German. I wanted to pull my hair out. I wanted to scrape the ridges of my brain off, but I did it. I made friends with people from all over the world. I strived to make genuine connections and develop friendships with a variety of people. However, there were still periods where I felt very lonely and isolated.


Getting involved in local events by supporting the local LBGTQI community of Munich at Pride parade.

I had several people tell me to go to expat meet ups and social events, life would be much easier if I did. My inner introvert shuddered at the thought of going to a place filled with people desperate for friends, desperate enough to put on a mask just to share company with someone who spoke their own language and shared their own culture. This sounded like a terrible group date combining everything I hate about dating and making friends into one awkward sushi burrito. I can find friends with common interests on my own and if I canÔÇÖt, well then, I am happy doing things on my own!

Snowboarding and Skiing Garmisch German Alps

Embracing the winter season! Snowboarding at Garmisch in a snow storm.

To this day, IÔÇÖve never been to an expat meet up or event. IÔÇÖm not stating if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but itÔÇÖs a thing. Maybe I should have gone and pushed myself from my introverted bubble, but I made friends regardless. I do activities regardless. So, I am not sure I missed out on much. And you know what? Maybe the German culture is set up for independent introverts like myself and perhaps I would be pushed into the bubble if I was less confident doing things on my own, but that’s a reflection for a different day.

Hiking Tegernsee in autumn Bavaria Germany

Adventuring out on my own and hiking at Tegernsee, Germany.

I still find ways to celebrate my heritage though, as most people do. I don’t deny the importance of this. My partner and I still cook a Thanksgiving dinner with friends and carve pumpkins on Halloween. I celebrate Australia day, with my Australian partner, and we dress up in red, white and blue light up flags on the 4th of July and head down to the river and make a fool of ourselves. When I go out in public I am still the loudest and most colorful person around. I speak English with my English speaking friends, but I also speak German with them. I have friends who don’t speak any English and we struggle through German together. I signed up to volunteer to help traumatized refugees in a program all in German. I watch TV in German and listen to German radio. I go out and explore the culture and surrounding nature on my own. I cut through the red tape with a binder full of official documents and a laugh hidden inside. I think being a Zuwanderer in a foreign country, is about finding that right balance or honoring and preserving your heritage and traditions of home, but getting out of the bubble and embracing your new life to make the best of it.


Celebrating Australia Day with my Partner in Munich, Germany.


Overall, I would say I am settling into life in Munich quite well; that I’m a decent Zuwanderer. Slowly over time, my super market trips became easier and while I still get judgmental stares, I can at least hold my own in Munich and most of all I LOVE it here and feel at home, annoying quirks and all.

Day trip from Munich to Zugspitze Germany's tallest mountain

I feel right at home nestled among the German Alps!

I would like to acknowledge that I came here by choice and I am aware I come from a place of privilege to easily make the best of life here. I know Germany, in particular, has had a huge influx of peoples who have not come by as free of choice as I have and I respect them and their determination at integrating into life here in Germany, they are doing wonderfully. This post was intended to shed light on what I consider the toxic expat bubble create by others who also come from a place of privilege and move to Germany on their own accord. This post it not meant to pass judgement on lifestyles that vary from my own, but simply to reflect on my own experiences.

Find out why I make a terrible expat, but decent Zuwanderer in my first reflections on being an expat in Munich, Germany.