12 life lessons I learned from a year of travel

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“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

2013 was the year I fell in love with travel. 2014 was the year I let that love take me all over the world. In the past 365 days since I started this blog, I traveled to three continents, nine countries and 22 cities. And that’s while being a full-time student, working 30 hours a week, interning and taking a summer class.

From climbing to the top of a huge sand dune in the Sahara Desert, to losing 50 Euros at the Monte Carlo Casino, to listening to stories wild 55-year-old Welsh woman on the train on my way to Ireland, I’ve had a whirlwind of experiences, both challenges and delights. In honor of my one year anniversary of being a Young, Broke Traveler, I’m taking time to reflect on everything I’ve learned from traveling in 2014.

Lessons I learned from each country:

  1. A small good deed goes a long way. (Canada)
    I met so many kind-hearted people in Canada. When I left some souvenirs at my hostel, the housekeeper mailed them back to D.C. for me. It was a small deed, but unbelievably kind, and inspired me to pay it forward.
  1. Nothing can bring people together the way music can. (Ireland)
    Oh man, bliss. Musicians populated nearly every street corner and pub in Dublin. And where there was music, there was a crowd of people listening and applauding. Music brought people together, connecting them and making them happy in a way no other medium can.
Dublin Musicians
Musicians played on almost every street in Dublin.

 

  1. You may speak the same language as someone, but can be having two very different conversations. (England)
    I thought I’d have a lot in common with Londoners given we speak the same language and are influenced by similar pop culture icons. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found London to be as foreign as Spain or France, with many different customs. I was glad to be wrong – I wouldn’t have learned so much otherwise.
  1. Dress well, dine well, drink wine, and appreciate art and surround yourself with good company.(France)
    Life’s too short not to.
  1. Being rich is glamorous, but really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Monaco)
    Our Contiki tour guide told our group about all the famous people who applied for citizenship in Monaco but weren’t granted because they weren’t quite rich and beautiful enough. That’s ridiculous. Yes, Monaco is the most elaborate, beautiful, expensive country I’ve been to, but its culture of stuck-up-ness and policy of exclusion make it ugly.
  1. Life doesn’t have to be rushed. Take time to stop, reflect, relax and enjoy. (Spain)
    In the U.S., it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact-paced, goal-driven, individualistic mentality. In Spain, people are still goal-driven, but take breaks from work to spend time with family, walk the dog, play with the kids, rest and have a pitcher or two of sangria – all in one day. It’s the best way to make time slow down.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
  1. Let go and enjoy the moment. Family and friends are everything. Good food makes the world go round. (Italy)
    The second and third are a given in Italian culture. The first I learned at a karaoke bar in Florence. I’m usually nervous to go on stage and sing in front of a bunch of strangers, but at that moment, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I rocked out to Rollin’ in the Deep by Adele. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. The tequila helped…
  1. Success requires discipline and determination. But it’s okay to take a break every once in a while and have a beer. (Switzerland) 
    During the day, Zürich – one of the largest financial centers in the world– was bustling with sharply dressed business people on their phones, walking quickly, making business transactions. But those were the same people I saw at night, taking leisurely strolls by the water or drinking in the streets, cheering on Switzerland in the World Cup.
  1. You don’t need money to be happy. Peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood make you richer than money ever can. (Morocco) 
    Some of the happiest people in the world live in Morocco. While many live in poverty, they don’t wallow over what they do not have. Instead, they cherish what they do have — peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood – and that’s all they need. All anyone needs.
One of the happiest people I have met was a carpet craftsman in Morocco.
One of the happiest people I have met was this carpet craftsman in Morocco.

Lesson I learned about people:

  1. We’re not so different. 
    In 2014 I became friends with 29 Australians, 8 Kiwis, 7 Canadians, 5 South Africans, 5 Chinese, 3 Moroccans, 2 Japanese, an Italian, an Irish, a German and a Scott (they all spoke English). And while we came from 5 continents, we laughed at the same jokes, appreciated tights hugs, wore jeans, enjoyed a good beer (or glass of wine) and ate French fries, and hated to say goodbye. I found I have more in common with people from other countries than we have differences — because we’re all humans. Now I can’t wait to meet other people and find out what else we have in common.

Lesson I learned about myself:

  1. I’m more competent than I think.
    My trip to Europe in the summer was my first solo trip. And while I met up with a friend in London, and joined a tour group for 15 days, there were several days when I was completely on my own. Though I had some confidence in myself, I was nervous about traveling solo through countries like Italy and Switzerland where I didn’t know the language. But I struggled through the challenges – like figuring my way around Zürich – and realized I am capable of more than I thought. And it was with the new-found confidence that I felt compelled to travel to and from Casablanca alone.

Lessons I learned about travel:

  1. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
    It’s so true. I met so many kind French people, despite all the chatter that the French are rude; I felt safe in Morocco and met some of the kindest, friendliest people in the world, despite discouraging rumors about Islāmic countries; I saw productivity and achievement in Spain, despite claims that Spaniards are lazy and drink too much. The only way to truly know someone or someplace is to travel.

Travel is everything. It’s how I learn about both the world and myself. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have visited as many countries and have met as many wonderful, unforgettable people as I did in 2014. I worked hard for it and I cherished every moment. Now I’m excited to see what 2015 brings.

What lessons did you learn from travel this year?

Paris to Pamplona, highlights and thoughts

We left Paris and spent the day on the road, headed to Bordeaux. The bus ride was long and draining, but we stopped at a few service areas along the way to get food and stretch our legs.

We arrived to Bordeaux around dinnertime. The campsite was an in adorable, quaint town comprised of small cottage-like houses with flowers hanging from the window sills. It was as picturesque as you would imagine a small French town to be.

That night, we had a bit of free time so I walked around with some friends to explore the town. We got a couple bottles of Bordeaux wine, which the city is famous for, and headed back to the campsite for dinner. After dinner, some people headed to the river for a swim, while I went with a few others to a local bar in town to watch the France versus Switzerland FIFA World Cup match. It was probably one of my most favorite nights of the trip so far. I loved the communal spirit resonating in the bar as the locals cheered and shouted for their team. Still feeling sick from the previous day, I left the bar and headed to bed early to get some much-needed sleep.

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Rising at 6 a.m. the following morning, we packed up camp and headed out towards Pamplona, Spain. On the way, our tour manager surprised us with a quick detour to the Dune du Pyle, Europe’s largest sand dune. At first most of us groaned a little, thinking it would be a boring excursion through a mound of sand, but we soon found we were terribly wrong.

We climbed to the top of the dune and were taken aback by the view from the top. The dune was situated right on the coastline, overlooking the ocean. On the other side, a vast, lush forest covered the ground. And in between, the dunes stretched for at least a kilometer, making the peak and awesome place to take pictures. We stayed there for less than an hour, but we had enough time to take a few group photos and watch some boys from the group roll all the way down the dune. Pretty badass.

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We soon left the dune and headed toward our next stop on our way to Pamplona. This time, we stopped at Biarritz, which I knew was a beach town, but did not realize how incredible a beach town it is. Biarritz is a ritzy area in the south of France, turned into a popular vacation spot by a king who used to live there. The streets are lined with expensive shops and boutiques and beachfront restaurants with breathtaking views.

The water there was a deep, crystal blue and the coastline was split by huge, beautiful boulders protruding from the water. Instead of hanging out at the beach with the rest of the group, two friends and I walked up and down the shops along the beach, stopping for some necessities and exploring the local commodities. Oh to be rich!

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Our stay in Biarritz was short-lived and we soon continued on our way to Pamplona. After a two-hour ride, we crossed over the border into Spain and arrived in the city for a short walking tour and stop for drinks.

Pamplona is one of the cities I have studied for years in my Spanish classes because of its rich culture and historical significance. This small town in the north of Spain is best know for its San Fermin festival, better known as the Running of the Bulls. Heard of it? Yeah. It’s when a bunch of crazy people run down a long path and have six bulls chase them to the bull ring, where afterwards the bulls are slaughtered. The festival lasts for more than a week, and has been a national tradition for centuries.

We walked about the city for a few minutes, stopping at a statue of the festival. After snapping a few pics with the sculptured bulls and matadors, we continued into a local pub for some sangria. Of course, having spent the previous summer in Spain, I had already had my fair share of the fruity, delicious drink. But most of the Australians and other people on the tour from the Southern Hemisphere had never had it! And boy did they love it. The pub we went to made the drink extra strong and extra sweet. We split three pitchers between six of us and drank every last drop. It was the perfect drink on a hot day.

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The group then headed back to the campsite for dinner. We had a choice of stay at the campsite or go back into the city for a night out after dinner; and of course I wanted to go back into the city! I couldn’t pass up on a night out in Pamplona. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. About 20 of us shared cabs to go back downtown and we ended up in the famous square of Pamplona where the San Fermin festival begins. But during the rest of the year, the square is a popular shopping area with lots of bars and a few night clubs.

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We ended up at a pub in the square where we got mojitos, more sangria and a Spanish drink called kalimocho (red wine and coke). We helped turn the somewhat empty pub into a club by dancing up a storm inside. It was unbelievably fun standing around with everyone in a circle and taking turns showing off our skills in the middle. It was definitely one of the best nights yet.

Bordeaux, Dune du Pyle, Biarritz and Pamplona were amazing places we only got to spend a a few hours exploring. I wish we had more time in all of them, especially Pamplona, but I was happy to head to Barcelona the next day!

London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.

July 3rd – GOODBYE EUROPE

Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

12 things to know before studying abroad

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Studying abroad in Spain changed my life. From the learning how to salsa dance to learning about the intersection of religions in Toledo, found that every minute of every day was a learning experience. Some of the best lessons I learned, though, were general tips about studying abroad — and I think these are tips that every person studying abroad should know.

1. If you’re wondering whether or not to leave it at home – leave it at home. Anyone who has studied abroad will agree that packing too much is a problem. I promise, whatever it is, you won’t need it. Shopping is the first thing you will want to do when you get to a new place. You’ll see what the locals are wearing, realize you want to look like that too, and then head to the store. The five-months-worth of adorable outfits you packed in your 50-lb. suitcase will sit in the corner of your room as you pile on more and more indigenous clothes and accessories. And when it’s time to go home, you will be at a loss to figure out how you’re going to get all of your stuff on the plane. So leave PLENTY of space in your luggage for souvenirs, and leave your three of your four favorite pairs of heels at home.

2. Pack simple pieces and neutrals. To make the most of your experience, you want to blend in – not stand out like a tourist. Wearing crazy patterns and busy accessories will make you stand out and immediately tell the locals that you are not one of them. Plus, you’ll be wearing the same clothes over and over again, so you’ll want pieces you can easily mix and match and ones that won’t immediately denounce you as a tourist. And as a bonus, it’ll be easier to incorporate your new clothes into your simple wardrobe!

See this and other pins on my Smart Packing board on Pinterest!
See this and other pins on my Smart Packing board on Pinterest!

3. Speak the local language. Just do it. Even if you’re a just beginning to learn it and even if you mess up. Locals will appreciate your effort and you’ll be able to practice your language skills so much more than you would be able to in a classroom at home. See my post on an awesome app to help you learn or brush up on a language.

4. Take pictures. And BE in them. I had no problem with the former – but the latter was an issue. I happened to take a class on photography when I was in Spain, so I had to take photos – and I’m so happy I did. It’s been eight months since I’ve been home, and I still reminisce daily. Every time I want to remember that one bar my friends and I went to, or the sight from the bridge overlooking Toledo, I just scroll through my photo album. And though I came home with hundreds of pictures, there are so many more I wish I had taken. On top of that,  I keep kicking myself in the butt for not being in any of my pictures. Being in the pictures is the only way to put your stamp on a picture any person standing in that same spot could take. Years down the road, you’ll be happy you did this.

5. But look before you snap. While I insist upon taking pictures, make sure you don’t spend your entire study abroad experience behind a camera. The pictures are for when you’re home and looking back on your experience. But when you’re there, make sure you take the time to absorb the moment with your own eyes. Take in the smells, sounds, and tastes, too – those things you can’t capture in a photo.  That way, the full memory stays only with you.

While I loved taking this snap of Toledo, it was so much more magical to experience the view without my camera in front of my face.
While I loved taking this snap of Toledo, it was so much more magical to experience the view without my camera in front of my face.

6. Don’t take hard classes. If you have to – okay. But if you can get around it, take fun classes and ones that won’t bog you down with work. You’re only in the country for a few months (or in my case, one!), so spend your free time exploring, taking pictures, traveling – not having to study for you next exam. That being said, make sure you still do all of your work! Just have fun with it.

7. Really think about whether or not you want to do a homestay.  I did – and it was an enriching experience – but I wish I had chosen to stay in an apartment with fellow students. There were definitely perks to living with a host family: my host mom and her daughter were as sweet as can be, and I was able to practice my Spanish around the clock and see how locals live day-to-day. On top of that, I had delicious, authentic Spanish cuisine every day. But the downside was that I felt guilty every time I went out with my friends at night or traveled on the weekends instead of staying at home with my host family. Of course, I loved spending time with them – but I was only in Spain for a few weeks and wanted to spend as much time as possible exploring the city. My host mom worried about me when I was out late or gone for extended periods of time, and I hated putting that stress on her. In retrospect, I would have been more comfortable staying with other students who were as restless as I was.

8. Don’t spend every weekend traveling. Cut it back to every other weekend or every third weekend. Indeed, when studying abroad, you’ll want to travel to neighboring cities or countries while you have the chance, but remember that you chose your host city or country for a reason. I spent three out of my four weekends in Spain in cities other than Madrid. And while I’m elated that I visited Toledo, Valencia and Sevilla, I regret missing out on events and attractions in Madrid. There are numerous discotecas, museums, restaurants, festivals, markets and concerts that I could have visited had I not been away from Madrid almost every weekend.

9. But when you do travel, stay in hostels. This one a given, but if you were on the fence about it, now you know. Hostels are an unparalled gateway to meeting other travelers and locals. Plus, they’re almost always guaranteed to be less expensive than hotels. As a bonus, hostels usually host activities such as walking tours and bar crawls for the visitors to explore the town. Just make sure to travel in numbers or book private rooms (especially for the chicas) if you’re traveling alone. I definitely suggest Hostelworld for finding the best places to stay.

My friends and I had a blast during our first hostel experience in Valencia. (Photo courtesy of Aly Nagel)
My friends and I had a blast during our first hostel experience in Valencia. (Photo courtesy of Aly Nagel)

10. BUDGET, BUDGET, BUDGET. Now, don’t be a stingy, money-obsessed brute. But at the same time, don’t be like me and realize halfway through your trip that you’ve exhausted your bank account and have to ask your parents for a loan. My best advice is to figure out roughly how much you want to spend per week, including weekend trips, and do your best to remain within that budget. Don’t skimp on meals or must-have souvenirs. But don’t buy EVERY souvenir you see (plus you won’t have space in your suitcase), and don’t buy 15€ drinks every time you go out.

11. Keep an eye (preferably two) on your belongings. My friend Susan was traveling alone in Rome. She went to a shoe store and set her purse down to try on a darling pair of Italian kicks. She bent down to fasten the straps across her ankles and when she arose, her purse was gone. Lesson: make sure your belongings are never out of your sight. In Spain, I always held my purse under my arm with the zipper in the front where I could see it and the clasp against my side.  Backpacks are tricky because they stay behind you; but in crowded areas and on public transportation, keep your backpack on your front or in your lap. It might look silly, but it’s better to look silly than be stuck in an unknown city without your wallet, passport, keys, phone and map because someone stole your bag.

12. Write stuff down. Keep a journal, blog or scrapbook. You don’t need to write a novel every day, or even every other day – but at least once a week, write down the highlights of your week, including people you met and restaurants you loved. Another idea – if you’re not a fan of writing – is to keep a photo diary, with captions that remind you of what you were doing or where you were when you snapped the photo. With Instagram and Facebook, this shouldn’t be a chore. Seriously, you’ll be elated in five years when you have a self-narrated depiction of your study abroad experience.

This list could go on for pages (in fact, I may have a follow-up post), but I think these twelve tips are the most useful for people, especially the YBTs, who are studying abroad for the first time. No matter what advice you accept, however, your study abroad experience will be one you will never forget.

Do you have any tips to add? Comment below!

 

My Upcoming Contiki Tour: The Mini Rider

I browsed through the Contiki tours and discovered on somewhat within my budget and target duration. It’s the Mini Rider, a 15-day tour through London, France, Spain and Italy. I want to see the major Euro tourist attractions — the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, London Eye, etc.– since this will be my first trip through Europe. When I go back after graduation, I’ll explore the off-the beaten path spots.

TOUR TYPE

This is a camping tour, which means I will be sharing a tent with another traveler. It’s not as glamorous as staying in hotels, but camping is more adventurous and fun– and it’s a fraction of the cost. Along that note, I am assuming my tour mates will also be adventurous and open — and hopefully as broke as I am, since they, too, chose the budget tour.

COST

The tour is $1,620 with an additional $250 for food. In total, it will cost $1,870. I didn’t purchase the traveler’s insurance, which was another cost. Luckily, Contiki has a layaway option, so I can pay two to three hundred dollars toward the trip every month, or as often as I would like. Contiki layaway also allows other people to donate money to the fund through a link that users can email to others. On that note — I am writing this post on Dec. 24 and hoping tomorrow may bring some monetary gift from my parents (I’ve been good this year, I promise!)

TRAVEL PATH

Commencing on June 16, 2014 and concluding on June 30, the tour follows a curved path though southern Europe. Travelers are to fly into London on June 16, meet the tour mates and receive a Contiki orientation, then depart for Paris on June 17 (I plan on flying into Europe a day or two early to have more time to explore there). We’ll spend a few nights in Paris, then head to Pamplona, Spain. After leaving Pamplona, we will head to Barcelona for two days before traveling back to France, along the French Riviera. We’ll stop in Monaco along the way, then embark into Italy, where we will spend a few days in Florence and then swoop down to Rome. After two nights, the tour ends, and travelers are responsible for getting ourselves home.

 

the-mini-rider-map-600x600
From contiki.com.

As many of the reviews mentioned, the trip involves a significant amount of time on the bus. As someone who spent her childhood on road trips, though (and who, even at age 20, is rocked to sleep like a baby on any mode of transportation), I am fine with long bus rides. As long as I am sitting where a video is visible, I’m set.

ATTRACTIONS

But along with those long rides, there are also tons of sightseeing and cultural immersion opportunities. These are the major sights and destinations the tours covers:

Paris

Image from wikimedia.org
Image from wikimedia.org

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Louvre

Notre Dame Cathedral

Champs-Élysées

Château Versailles

Loire Valley

Pamplona & Barcelona

Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com
Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com

The Lighthouse & Bay in Biarritz

Sagrada Família

Rio Ebro

Montjuic and the 1992 Olympic Games complex

Zaragoza

Gothic Quarter

Parc Güell

French Riviera 

Image from royalcorrespondent.com
Image from royalcorrespondent.com

Côte d’Azur

Arles

Royal Palace in Monaco

Monte Carlo

Florence

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Duomo Cathedral

Statue of David

Image from thewondersoftheworld.net
Image from thewondersoftheworld.net

Ponte Vecchio

Medici Palace

Duomo

Basilica Santa Croce

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Baptistry

Piazza della Signoria

Rome

Vatican City

Image from destination360.com
Image from destination360.com

Colosseum

Roman Forum

Piazza Venezia

Trevi Fountain

Pantheon

Piazza Navona

St. Peter’s Basilica

Sistine Chapel

This extensive list of sights is, of course, paired with a list of night clubs, restaurants, bars and shops for souvenirs and nightly outings. I am beyond excited. As more plans unfold, I will be adding posts with details regarding the Contiki Mini Rider Tour!