When Malena and I first chatted, her enthusiasm for traveling was immediately evident. Currently residing in Maine, she makes her heart happy by exploring as much of the outdoors that it has to offer. She told me that when she visits a place one of her favorite things to do is to picture what her life would be like there, creating an alternate fake life, even if just for a moment. *How cool is that?*
As an Argentinian-American originally from Florida, Malena shared that, “it’s so Latinx, but not Argentinian, which is very European focused.” She visits Argentina often, as her whole family is there, and hopes to bring her boyfriend to visit once Miss ‘Rona lets them. *Fingers crossed for you!*
Not knowing much about Argentina, I was surprised, but happy that she shared that with me. Because that is my ‘WHY’ – creating connections through travel tales, and learning about the world through these connections and their first-hand experiences is what fills my soul.
With many of her own adventures, Malena took the time to write about some of her experiences and share her wisdom with us. Buckle up for some interesting tales and lessons today!
Malena Gatti is a content creator and blogger by trade, and an avid traveller, amateur outdoor enthusiast, and intersectional environmentalist by heart. When not out exploring, she spends her time attempting DIY home projects, experimenting with new recipes, testing out new Youtube workouts, or napping on the couch with her canine best friend, Maggie.
Who is your favorite travel buddy and why?
My favorite travel buddy is my friend Sam Caren! We met on our birthright trip to Israel years ago and immediately became travel friends. We try to have one trip per year. So far we’ve visited: Israel, Rome, Cape Cod, Iceland, Greater Las Vegas, Maine, and Rhode Island.
Sam is a great travel partner because she likes making new friends when we travel, she’s always excited to try out new experiences, and she appreciates all my excessive itinerary planning, haha. We also have similar travel styles/interests as well as budget constraints so we compliment each other well in the logistical sense too.
Do you prefer solo, partner, or group travel? Why?
I’ve tried all three forms of travel and I’ve learned that I prefer either partner or *small* group travel. If the group is too big then it’s impossible to come to a consensus on what everybody wants to do, unless it’s a niche group where the interests are self-selecting, in which case group travel creates a great opportunity to make new friends!
And in regard to traveling solo – I really wanted to like it, but it’s just not for me. I often see all these travel articles about how solo female travel is empowering, inspiring, etc. etc., but to me it just felt lonely. The majority of the joy you get from travel is the excitement and planning and anticipation, and then reminiscing about it all afterward (there’s actual science that backs this up – I tried to look for it but couldn’t find it!). For me, not having anyone to share in that anticipation and reminisce just ended up making my travels far less memorable.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met on your travels?
Mike the hitchhiker! When I was in Akureyri in Iceland, my friend and I picked up a hitchhiker named Mike on our way back to Reykjavik. This isn’t something we’d typically do, but Iceland is so safe and hitchhiking is really common, so we figured we’d do it.
Mike was a documentary filmmaker from Canada. He was a phenomenal storyteller and had a really fascinating way of looking at the world and his experiences. You really get to know a person when you sit with them in a car for 6 hours driving through nothing but giant white mountains! We never saw or spoke to Mike again after that day, but we reminisce about it often.
What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you while traveling?
On my second night in Israel for my birthright trip, our group went camping on the Israeli National Trail near the Syrian border. There were a lot of IDF hummers driving by on patrol, so we were generally aware of their presence. That night after our trip leaders had gone to sleep, we were all sitting around in a circle playing a big card game in the dark when one of those patrol vehicles drove up to our campsite.
It was pretty obvious to any onlookers that we were just a bunch of kids camping, but one of the officers came over and started yelling and interrogating us in Hebrew while holding onto his assault rifle. I speak zero Hebrew so all I knew was that I’m in a foreign country near a controversial national border and there is a very belligerent, very angry—and most importantly, very heavily armed—government officer yelling at me in the dark, in the woods, in a language that I don’t understand.
Naturally, I started having a massive anxiety attack with full blown panic laughter while simultaneously calling as loudly as possible for our tour guide. The guy must not have appreciated this because he turned around to me, pointed his assault rifle straight at my face, and asked me what I thought was so funny (interesting to note that he was suddenly blessed with bilingualism and could speak perfect English). I started crying pretty immediately and then my tour guide walked up and diffused the situation.
The guy was so belligerent I could have sworn he was intoxicated, but I think he was just getting off on terrifying a bunch of American college kids. To this day I still have no clue what he was yelling about, but it definitely left a sour taste in my mouth as far as the IDF goes.
What’s something you’ve experienced about travel that is not so glamorous?
Transportation tends to be a bit of a pain sometimes.I think back on my travels and most of them involve spending more amounts of time than I would like either riding in hot, overcrowded public transit, or waiting around for said transit. It’s not as bad when I visit places where I feel comfortable driving, but even so, dealing with unfamiliar road etiquette is a hassle in my opinion.
What are your top 3 travel essentials?
- Well planned shoes! Shoes are annoyingly bulky items to have to lug around on travels, so I try to be economical with them. I find myself walking a lot on my travels, so it’s very important for my shoes to be comfortable. I also like to make sure they’re neutral colored so they work with every outfit, are also versatile in style so they can be worn to walk around in casual/athletic wear to see the sights or dressed up for a more evening look.
Also if you’re planning to do any wilderness activities, it’s important to consider whether you’re going to need something that will also withstand more rugged conditions. Having impractical footwear can really put a damper on the experience!
- I like to carry a tiny notebook and pen with me. I find it really useful to jot down names of places that I need to remember, a list of what is on our itinerary for the day, how much money I’ve spent, any recommendations from locals, etc.
We can obviously do this on our phones nowadays, but there’s just something about having it on paper. Also, it might not be very safe to pull a fancy iPhone out on the street in some places, so a notepad comes in handy. It can also be a good place to do some quick journaling so you remember what you saw/did/ate/etc.
- Noise cancelling headphones. This one seems like a bit of a luxury, but I LOVE wearing my Bose headphones on long flights. The noise vacuum along with the slight movement from the plane just lulls me to sleep! They can also come in handy if you’re sleeping places where the sounds are different from what you’re used to (if you’re from NYC for example, sleeping in the woods would be a totally different auditory experience).
Sleeping is absolutely vital to my mood and energy levels during the day, especially when I’m doing something invigorating—and at times exhausting—like traveling, so making my sleeping conditions as close to normal as possible is critical to having a good trip!
What’s the best accommodation you’ve ever stayed at?
There are a few that stand out:
The Hilton in Tel Aviv is epically nice, and it happens to be situated right on Tel Aviv’s unofficial gay beach which is also dog-friendly!
The Aina Nalu in Maui are these beautiful apartment style suites right in Lahaina and they just make you feel like you’re a local.
The Lost Boyz Hostel in Santa Teresa is so interesting! It’s got a beautiful open-air loft layout and giant back garden area. There are a number of nods to the Neverland theme in the room names/details which is totally fitting for such a dreamy spot.
El Nido Del Tigre Eco-Camp on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. It’s a jungle camp that is accessible via a half-day river trip through the Costa Rican jungle. The camp has really comfy platform tents, a huge outdoor kitchen, hammock lounge, and tree showers!
Saeberg Hostel in Iceland is very modest but has a hot tub with the best view I’ve ever seen in my life.
The Marshall Slocum B&B in Newport, RI is quaint, elegant, comfortable, and very iconically New England.
What is one lesson you’ve learned while traveling?
Keep your money separate! I can’t stress this enough. Don’t walk around with a wallet that has all your stuff in it. Just don’t do it – especially if you’re going somewhere super remote where getting new credit cards mailed quickly would be near impossible.
Since you’re outside of your normal routine, there’s a greater chance that you’ll misplace or leave your wallet somewhere (or it might get stolen, you never know). It’s best to carry some money on you, and stash the rest in other safe places (hidden in your luggage, a room safe, etc).
I lost my wallet in Ushuaia once, and because I was so far from home, none of my financial institutions could mail me replacements within a reasonable time frame. I luckily was able to Venmo my parents so they could then send me my money via Western Union. And that’s the other thing: try to have someone back home who would be able to send you money in the event of an emergency! Western Union is a lifesaver.
What one piece of advice would you offer to someone who’s never traveled?
Plan ahead, be cautious and prepared, but also be open to discovery and spontaneity! Know that some aspects of your trip might flop, or things might not work out how you had planned, but sometimes those unplanned experiences end up making the best memories–even the ones that in the moment don’t seem all that great.
And if you’re feeling nervous about traveling, start with something easy. My first travel experiences were always with other people who knew the area well, or to places that were safe and somewhat familiar. Once you build some confidence, do your research and blaze your own path!
As you can see, Malena has a ton of great stories to share – could anyone else feel the nervousness she wrote about while dealing with the IDF on her Israel trip? Reading about her travel tales and learning from her wise words totally makes me excited for what Malena has coming once her website is up and running!
With wanderlust & ‘til next time,