A 2019 Revelation: yet another post where I announce I’ve “realized” something and vow to make a change

When I started this blog it was meant to document my findings as I did research for upcoming trips. And then, once I went on those trips, it became a way to chronicle and memorialize the adventures I went on every day that I was abroad.

So, when I left last year to start traveling full-time, I expected my blogging to continue. Naturally.

Well, a year of travel went by, I only posted one post.

And I’ve been beating myself up about it all year. I kept telling myself that the reason I wasn’t writing was that I was too busy living and having fun, and that’s justifiable since it was my mission and fuel all along.

But today, January 9, 2019, I’ve had a revelation (and a sh*t-ton of coffee).

I wasn’t avoiding blogging because I was “too busy.”

It was because I didn’t feel like I was on a little “adventure” anymore. My trips didn’t have a start and end where I could sum up my itinerary and post about what a great time I had.

My journey was ongoing. And, as a marketing professional, I’m married to the construct of brand consistency. So anything I would have written would have risked diverting from the brand.

Plus, I started the year with a comfortable income, so I didn’t feel “broke” anymore. Another brand diversion.

So I let myself become unmotivated. I didn’t feel like I had anything exciting or relevant to share, so I, myself, became unexcitable and irrelevant. And motivation is EVERYTHING when you’re working on a side project with no one holding you accountable but yourself. This blog is supposed to be a fun l’il journaling exercise anyway, not a chore. I ain’t getting paid for this ish.

But part of my revelation was that this has all been total BS and I have a ton to share!

I mean, look at what I’m doing. I’m 25 and I have no home. I sold everything and moved to a foreign country for a year. I work 100% online in a professional career. I live out of a CARRY-ON suitcase. I lived in hostels for a year. I managed to get in the best shape of my life while on what many would say was a “vacation.” I studied and practiced opera virtually. I’ve been treated for a mental health disorder in a foreign country. I’ve had both a serious relationship and a few casual flings while on the road. And I’ve broken through my self-critical, introspective, antisocial bubble to make numerous lifelong friends in a matter of weeks.

So while I’m may not have come out of this year with a “10 Free Things To Do in Brisbane” or “49 Hours in Melbourne: How to See it All” post, this l’il mama still has plenty of advice to give.

So, help me, dear readers. All 15 of you who have actually made it down this far in my musings. Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to know?

I have some free time and a really nice MacBook so let’s get this flowing….Comment box below. Right. There.

XOXOXO

Lexi

Studying abroad? Follow these 7 tips to save money before you leave

Travel More Spend Less

You’re about to take off on one of the most amazing adventures of your life. A new country offers all kinds of sightseeing, night life, food, festivals and museums – you won’t want to miss a beat. But these things cost money, and budgeting can be hard while you’re busy having fun exploring a new culture. So here are seven things you can do before you leave that’ll help put a few more bucks in your wallet.

1. Book tickets in advance.

Most tickets for museums, concerts, trains and other attractions can be bought in advance online. When you buy online, not only do you save money, but you get to skip the long lines of people waiting to get their tickets on-site. When my friend Sarah and I went to Toronto, we bought a City Pass, which included discounted admission to five major attractions, and we got to skip every line.

Tip: Print your ticket(s) before you leave (you can’t guarantee that where you’re going will have printers!) and save a copy on your phone, since most places nowadays accept electronic copies.

Buying tickets in advance let my friend and me skip all of the lines at the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin.
Buying tickets in advance let my friend and me skip all the lines at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin at get straight to the good stuff.

2. Set up a travel credit card.

Have you checked your credit card company’s travel policy? Most companies charge high transfer and foreign transaction fees, on top of already high annual fees and interest rates.  Before you leave, set up a credit card that actually rewards you for traveling. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card has zero annual fees, transfer fees or foreign transaction fees, and offers 1.25 airline miles for every dollar spent with the card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card  has similar rewards and gives you three points for every dollar spent on airfare and hotel accommodations. With all those points saved up, you’ll be able to start planning your next trip!

Tip: Not sure which card to get? See this list for the best travel cards out there, and compare the benefits of each.

3. Sign up for Uber.

Uber is my latest obsession. The app connects you to Uber cab drivers in the area, allowing you to locate cabs near you, select the drivers based on their cars and credentials, get a price estimate, track your ride and even split the fare with other riders. The service is super cheap compared to average cabs and is completely paperless; you sign up with your credit or debit card and then the fare (including the tip, which is pre-calculated) is charged straight to your account. Uber is one of the best ways to travel around a city for cheap.

Tip: Visit Uber’s site to see if the service is available in your host city.  Uber is a quickly expanding company, but is still working on spreading its network across the globe.

4. Research free things to do around the city.

Many museums and galleries, like the Prado Museum in Madrid, offer free admission on certain days of the week. Other places, such as the Palace of Versailles in France, have free admission to certain areas of the grounds. Do some research. When your friends suggest doing something expensive, you can swoop in and suggest doing one of the free things on your list instead.

Tip: Student discounts are still a thing, so also look up places around your host city that offer discounts for students. And don’t forget to pack your student ID!

Entrance into the Palace of Versailles may cost a hefty sum, but entrance to the gardens is free!
Entrance into the Palace of Versailles may cost a hefty sum, but entrance to the gardens is free!

5. Purchase a money order.

Avoid conversion and transaction fees by ordering foreign currency in advance. Services such as Travelex make it easy to order online and have the money delivered straight to you or put on your card. Travelex even allows you to load up to nine currencies on one card and has zero fees for international ATM transactions.

Tip: Do some digging. Read reviews and articles to make sure the service you are using is legitimate.

6. Pack light.

You can save up to $60 on luggage fees, as well as save time by skipping the luggage return lines, by packing everything into a carry-on.  If you’re going on a long trip and stuffing your things into a carry-on is unrealistic, pack a backpack or small duffle bag so you save money on luggage fees for trains and other planes if you make weekend trips.

Tip: Save space by avoiding shopping before you go. Get the necessities – toiletries, walking shoes, etc. – but don’t buy new wardrobe. You’ll want to buy so many new clothes, accessories and souvenirs that you’ll be glad you did not spend money on shopping at home.

7. Get maps before you go.

Never spend money on a map when you can easily get it free online. If you don’t have an international plan and can’t use internet on your phone while you’re abroad, download an app that features offline maps. OffMaps 2 is only $0.99, and allows you to download maps and access them offline.  Ulman City Maps 2Go Pro provides detailed offline maps for free, but is a little pricier at $2.99. Ulman offers a free version of the app as well, but the locations it covers are limited.

Tip: While you have online access, you can also use your phone to look up the places you’re going and take screenshots of the maps and directions.  You don’t need the Internet to look at a picture.

Saving maps on my phone for my weekend trip to Sevilla, Spain during my study abroad in Madrid saved me money and a lot of hassle!
Saving maps on my phone for my weekend trip to Sevilla, Spain during my study abroad in Madrid saved me money and a lot of hassle!

Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t waste time worrying about your funds! If you use these tips to prepare, you’ll be able to travel more and spend less. So get out there and start saving.

See also: 12 Things to Know Before Studying Abroad

Do you know of any other pre-trip tips for saving money? Add them below!

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!