My travel while abroad

I have been blessed with not only the opportunity to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain, but I also have been able to travel around and see some of what Europe (and one country in Africa) has to offer.

I was counting up the countries I’ve been to the other day, and so far the list reads: Spain (obvi), France, Switzerland, Morocco, Greece, and Croatia. People are constantly asking me what my favorite place was, but they don’t realize what they are asking of me. I liked all these places for very different reasons, and I learned something while visiting each of them.

There isn’t really anywhere in the US (that I’ve been to) where you can get a macaron like the ones at Laduree, or a stunning view of the swiss alps (or any mountains) like I saw in Interlaken (not to mention the beautiful lakes), and definitely no where in the US have I ever witnessed the same sense of community and selflessness like I did on the outskirts of Marrakesh. Every trip I took was my favorite because they all brought new adventures and eye opening experiences, and I’m addicted.

Studying abroad was the best decision of my life thus far, and I would not trade my journeys here for anything. I love to travel, and although my time here is coming to an end, I’m not too sad because I know I will be back one day. Maybe not here, but I know I’ll be traveling; it’s who I am. For me, traveling to different countries and seeing everything that this big and beautiful world has to offer is something I HAVE to do, it’s not optional. But that’s just me.

Each destination brings different experiences for every person, which is why I encourage everyone to adventure. Go to places you’ve always wanted to go, and ones you never thought you would, because you never know what could happen if you go into something with an open mind. You might just surprise yourself.

much love,

Lauren 

Host families

The Value of having a host family:

I had a very positive experience with my host family. I originally wanted to have an apartment with other kids in my program, but changed my mind at the last minute. My study abroad program (ISA) did a great job of paring me with another student who I got along great with, despite not knowing each other at all. ISA also did a great job of pairing you with a host family with similar language abilities as you. For example, if you speak great Spanish, your host family may not speak much English, and it would not be a huge barrier. Alternatively, if you only speak English, your host family would most likely be close to fluent in English. The students in the same household are usually partially selected on the same basis; my roommate Sam and I had a similar speaking ability as one another. We were both intermediate Spanish speakers, so we had somewhat of a tandem effort to communicate with our host mom most days.

 

Meals:

A very nice advantage to living in a homestay is the family meal time every night. Our host mom would cook for Sam and I every night (except for days we were traveling). She was an incredible cook, every night would be a new dish that seemed to get better and better each and every time we sat down to eat. The best part of the home cooked meals was that this part of the home stay was included in the program cost, so we paid the same price for the entire program as others in apartments but our living arrangement came with two meals per day. This is a huge reason I chose to live in a home stay, it allowed me to spend money on extra travel and other experiences. Also, if you do not know how to cook or you are interested in trying new authentic Spanish dishes, this is definitely the route for you. Another cool thing our host mom did was a group dinner with other kids in our program. She was friends with another woman who was a host mom for our same program, so we all got together and had a dinner party one night.

 

Laundry:

Our host mom did our laundry on a weekly basis, which was very nice since I did not bring many clothes, and since it was summer, my clothes were always sweaty and smelly. This is so convenient when you are always on the go, or traveling a few days a week. Not having to do any chores really opens up your day and lets you spend it how you want.

 

Supervision/Support:

Being on your own is always nice, but having someone to give you advice and be concerned with your well-being is very nice, especially in a foreign country. Our host mom was very caring and made sure we were doing well at all times. Most host parents take their job seriously, and want to do well in order to keep it. Our host mom really took pride in being our “mom” for the summer and went to great lengths to make sure we had everything we needed to do well in school, in travel, and in the new community. She even dragged me out of bed to get to school most mornings!

 

All in all, I would recommend living with a host family to everyone.

Travel

Packing:

This past summer in Spain, I took multiple weekend trips with a group of my friends from my school program. A great way to save money and energy while traveling is to travel LIGHT. Most trips were only about 3 days each, and I was able to fit everything I needed into one backpack. I never had to lug around multiple bags or suitcases, and I saved at least 20-30 euros on each flight by not checking a bag (it is not fun dealing with lost baggage in a foreign country). Most airlines have bag size requirements for carry-ons, but a modest sized backpack is usually within those limits.

Granted my trip was in the summer and required less/smaller clothing, but in winter months I would recommend wearing outerwear on the flight to save bag space (the cabins are normally chilly anyway). And when I would bring multiple pairs of shoes, I would tie the second pair together by the laces and string them through the loop on my backpack to save space.

Travel light: save money, space, and energy.

 

Hostels:

During the summer, I stayed in hostels almost every time I traveled. Most hostels have single, double, and group rooms for very reasonable prices, I would recommend booking a few weeks in advance to price shop as well as make sure your whole group is accommodated. The rooms with more privacy and access to bathrooms will typically be the most expensive, but still beat hotel prices most times. I would also recommend purchasing a lock, as most hostels have lockers for personal items (very convenient, nice to have peace of mind). I did not have many problems with hostels, and typically the other travelers were in my age range. The most useful service for finding hostels was Hostel World, you can view information and reviews and even book/pay for your stay. Their website and customer service are both great. I had a positive experience with hostels and recommend them, especially for groups.

 

Public transit:

In every country I visited, I used public transportation to get around in metro areas in a quick and convenient way. In Barcelona, rode the metro (subway) to save time and money. There are texis but the metro is much cheaper. You can get into the metro for about a dollar each time, and ride to any point in the entire city. You can literally ride the metro all day if you want to, once you are in then you are in. Usually, I would walk to my destination if it was within a few blocks or if I was not in a rush, the weather was great most days. The nice thing about the metro is that you can buy the passes in bulk, and you can also buy an unlimited pass for a month or multiple months. ALSO remember to keep your receipts for your passes if it is a large amount. If you lose your physical card you can have the staff print you a new one for free. The transit staff is typically very helpful and understanding, many people lose the small card that is used for getting on the metro.

Advice for Conquering Europe!

Europe has so many different cultures squeezed into one continent that going abroad and staying in just your host country would be a huge waste of your opportunity. With all the money that you are already spending to get over there, you might as well make the most of you stay.

For me, seeing it all was my goal from the beginning, which helped me to plan my finances better. That being said, I was still booking a few flights or buses the week of some trips, which means I paid more than I would have if I planned things ahead of time. I was lucky enough to see 14 countries and 33 cities throughout Europe in my 4.5 month stay. They included Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Scotland, Ireland, England, Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungry, Switzerland, and Italy.

For booking travel, I used GoEuro a lot, especially around Spain and Portugal. Then, when I knew that I was flying I used SkyScanner to help narrow down to my best flights from my time constrictions. I could only travel on weekends from Friday to Sunday and had a couple long weekends spread throughout where I could hop from country to the next. Twice I had to layover in the airport because my flight landed around 1 AM and my connecting flight didn’t leave till around 6/7 AM, which I highly discourage anyone from doing if at all possible to avoid.

Picking out your hotel or hostel is your next step. If you have the points or the money, pay for the hotel because it will be nicer than the hostel guaranteed. However, most hostels are good too if you know what to look for on the websites. I used HostelWorld to look up places. They also have an app that you can download and have your confirmations on your phone. Firstly, put in your parameters like the dates that you are traveling, where you are traveling, the number of beds needed, private room or not, needs for WIFI, included breakfast, and many other accommodations that you can select to your liking. Then, you’ll get a list of all the matches. Typically, the closer you get to the city center the closer you get to the main sites and the more expensive your hostel will cost. European cities for the most part have excellent city-center transportation, so go for a mid-range distance from the center so you don’t pay the expensive hostel prices. Finally, look through the reviews. I only stayed at hostels that had 1,000 or more reviews and an overall rating of 7/10 or higher.

Next, you need to figure out what sites you want to see. I took a two-pronged approach to this. First, before I arrived, I Googled the places where I was going and looked for top touristic places and best food. Then, I saved the places that I was interested in visiting to my Google Map by either starring the place after finding it on Chrome or labeling it as a place that I “Want to Go” in Google Maps. Second, after arriving at the hostel where I would be staying, I asked the Hostel front desk people what the best sites to see and eat were. Typically, they have a map that they provide you from a local tourism company, but their advice was always genuine and almost always the most incredible things to see and do.

Finally, the most important advice when traveling anywhere. Stay flexible and adaptable because inevitably things will go wrong, and you will have to adjust to your new situation. Be sure not to take things too seriously and laugh about all of it because before you know it you’ll be back home planning your next trip.

5 Survival Tips for Spain

1) Refresh Your Spanish

Download Dulingo to your phone and start practicing. Most people especially in the service industries of Spain know some English phrases and words, but to explain exactly what you want or need you’ll, need to at least speak some Spanglish. Best would be if you could hold a conversation with at least 70% Spanish and 30% English. But, you can get by with your wits and you phone’s translating app. I recommend Google Translate, because it’s easy and you can download Continue reading

Pinterest and Planning

Previously, I wrote a post about travel tips and how to get to your destination.  I had never been to Europe before studying abroad, and I had a lot to figure out.  I knew traveling on weekends would not give me very much time in each place.  After figuring out I needed to make travel arrangements in advance, I realized I needed to plan out my day to day activities in each place I went.  Cities like London have so much to do, and a weekend there is not nearly long enough.  This is where planning my time was most critical to being able to see most things.

Pinterest was the biggest thing that helped me plan my weekends.  There are so many blogs out there from people who documented their trips.  Most of the time you can find “self-guided walking tours” of any city you want to travel to.  When doing research for each city I would Pin 3-5 posts, then make a list of which things I wanted to see and which to skip.  Then, I would look at a map of the city and decide which things were close together.  Below is my London itinerary for example:

Friday:

  • Paul’s Cathedral (we stayed in the Club Quarters Hotel at St. Paul’s)
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • Leadenhall Market (for Harry Potter fans)

Saturday:

  • Madam Tussauds Wax Museum
  • London Eye
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Platform 9 ¾ (Harry Potter again)
  • Harrods

As you can see, we did a lot in two days.  For the London trip, I purchased a two-day London Pass.  This allowed me to get into each attraction (except Madam Tussauds and the London Eye) and most of the tickets included fast passes.  I would recommend getting the London Pass, but not for more than two days, because the price goes up at three days, but the amount of attractions included does not.

Pinterest was also helpful in places that are not as commonly known.  When visiting Lisbon, I would not have known to visit Sintra, Portugal without seeing a pin about it.  It turned out to be one of the coolest cities I visited.  There was information on how to get to Sintra from Lisbon, what to see, and how to get around the city.

The one drawback of Pinterest for studying abroad is its advice on packing.  I read so many blog posts about how to pack, and followed their advice, but ended up not having enough clothes.  My advice on this would be to do research on what kinds of clothes are sold in the country you will be living in.  Personally, I did not like the clothes sold in Spain and around Europe.  This may not be the case for everyone, but some research would have gone a long way with me.

Overall, Pinterest can be a great resource for your time abroad and will help you plan your travels well.  It will help you make the most of your time there and see as much as possible!

Weekend Travel Advice

This past semester, fall 2017, I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. The thing I was most excited about during my time in Europe was being able to travel around to different countries. When it came time to plan my trips, I realized it was not as simple as I thought it would be. I heard it was easy to pick a destination at the beginning of the week and fly out Thursday or Friday. However, I was very wrong about that. While travel is cheaper around Europe, it takes planning to get the best deals. Below are some tips and things to watch out for that will make traveling much easier and more affordable.
• Plan Ahead! One of the biggest things I can stress is planning ahead. It will make everything much easier throughout your time if things are planned out. I planned almost all of my trips, and booked them, in early September. I did most of the traveling in late October through the beginning of December. Laying everything out at once allowed me research when the best time to go certain places is and be able to see everything I wanted to see.
• Flights: The cheapest flights are at the most inconvenient times. Budget airlines are great, but in order to get a good price, usually the flights are very early or really late. Sometimes the trains do not run early enough to get to the airport before your 6am flight. To get to the airport you will need to get and Uber or taxi. Another thing that I have heard a lot of people running into is flying into the wrong airport. Many times, budget airlines do not fly into the main airports. Make sure you double check which airport your flight goes to, so you do not get stuck an hour outside the city you are trying to visit. The budget airlines are also strict about bag size and charge a lot of your bag is too big. My advice is getting a large backpack, because I never saw a flight attendant check the size of a backpack.
• Hotels: Finding a place to stay is another challenge I faced. I would not recommend hostels, since there are so many other options. The couple times I used Airbnb it was a pleasant experience, especially when we had multiple people traveling together. Booking.com was the website I used for most of my trips. After booking 5 trips you get a discount on all other trips! Plus, there are plenty of reviews, so you will know what you are getting. I found that splitting a hotel room with one other person gives you some privacy and more security for your things. Compared to a hostel, splitting hotel room is the same price and gives you more peace of mind.
Traveling is one of the main benefits of studying abroad. Experiencing all the new places and cultures will open your eyes, and make you think differently about the world. Getting to your destination can be tricky, but if you plan ahead and know how to get from place to place you will be able to relax and enjoy!

The Pros and Cons of a Few Cities/Country

Here I give to you is the pros and cons of a few countries/cities that I visited in on my time abroad from Kentucky. To start the list off let’s discuss…

Munich, Germany

Munich was the first place I visited, and I wish I hadn’t gone here first because I feel like I would’ve appreciated it a whole lot more if I had already known what to expect out of a European city. Anyways, Germany, as my impression from spending about four days here was that it was very car centric, which I loved because of my love of cars, and extremely overcast, like the Netherlands. While in Munich some friends and I stayed at an Airbnb of a nice man. My only remark with this Airbnb stay is that the beds were impeccably comfortable – Europeans don’t know that they really sleep on cardboard mattresses every night. However, the main reason we went to Munich was for Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest, honestly, was everything I hoped it would be and more. The best way to describe it or even try to compare it to is the Kentucky State Fair. All the guys are dressed in Lederhosen and everyone is walking around with a beer in hand on a big plot of land with massive beer tents on all sides with a carnival with rides in the back of the place. Everyone I met on that excursion was extremely friendly and wanted to share life stories with – which at this point all I had to say for myself is that I had just arrived by train from the Netherlands. Additionally, downtown Munich was gorgeous with dozens of historic buildings and the royal gardens with lots of art galleries. Overall it was a 10/10 trip I wish I could go back and do again – mainly for the Bavarian food.

The Netherlands

Moving forward, I feel that its important I talk a little bit about the Netherlands, which was my home country while I was away. The Netherlands is extremely friendly but gloomy country. It is always raining or way too windy to walk with overcast skies. However, I was lucky enough to have a flat about 25 minutes from the beach in The Hague. At the beach there was a pier with an oversized Ferris wheel, a dozen restaurants on the actual beach and several more food and clothing stores on the boardwalk up and down the coast. When I first arrived in August, the beach was heaven. Additionally, getting to and from the beach was a breeze. I had bought a second-hand bike as my transportation for the four months that I was going to be there but the actual trains and street cars that were within the country were very accessible. I wouldn’t say that they were cheap compared to other countries I visited like Slovakia but for the price it wasn’t bad. During the week I would occasionally take the train 25 minutes up to the capital of Amsterdam to explore everything the city had to offer – it was a lot. The Hague, where I was staying, is more residential and Amsterdam is a big tourist trap most of the time. I would also go southeast to a city called Rotterdam to party with friends at concerts or bars which was fun since the young people scene wasn’t great in The Hague – lots of older people. Overall, I loved the country and loved calling it home.

London, UK

Finally, I wanted to briefly touch on my five-day excursion to London with one of my good friends because I feel like Americans are obsessed with British people and I want to shed some light on it. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to throw shade at the British I had an amazing time while I was there; however, London is overrated. Everything in London is geared towards tourists and the prices reflect that in the food and all the activities to do. That being said, there is so much history and amazing culture to be seen in this large, dated city. The three biggest things that stood out to me was the Shakespearean theatre. The theatre was not original, but it was close to it since it is made from sticks and stones – literally. Additionally, the art scene in London is nothing like I have ever seen or experienced before; and, I don’t get impressed easily when it comes to art. The art galleries are impeccable, and free, and there’s an ally tunnel with tastefully done graffiti everywhere that’s done by artists and it’s just insanely beautiful but also comedic. Anyways, the last thing I thought was amazing about London is the fact that you could take a boat down the river as public transportation – like what??!

Hope you all enjoyed the very short reviews of just a few places I went to this past semester.

Reflections from the Studying abroad Process

Europe was a game changer. Yep, everyone says it, but boy is it true. Honestly, it’s totally cliché but the world outside of the United States is uniquely different. Even between differing first world countries there’s a change – this was, in my opinion, one of the more important lessons I learned while away. I can distinctively pinpoint that my trip to London, UK was the trip that I learned this. London feels like America. Everyone speaks English and is rudely passive aggressive. And, London has the Arlington, Virginia American favorite of Five Guys in the city center with Starbucks at every other corner – America, am I right?! Yet at the same time, it wasn’t my perfected version of living and growing up in the United States. If you talk to the locals, you can identify that either you can’t understand their speech either through accent or dialect of English speech and the morals are significantly different. Which can be said about Nederland but with my five-day excursion through London it hit me that I loved the truly European culture of students living at home till they graduated university, taking public transport everywhere, and plane tickets being under one-hundred euro round trip because it was uniquely not America. However, if there’s anything that stands out to me since arriving back to the United States is that I never want to see the small amount of clothes I brought abroad with me ever again. Frankly I could burn them and be extremely happy. Elizabeth drills it into you that “YOU NEED TO PAIR DOWN EVERYTHING YOU BRING WITH YOU.” And yes, I distinctively remember sitting in a room the semester before I left as she’s dripping it into our ears and everyone freaking out. I was not freaked out to this point due to the fact that I have been traveling around the states since before I can remember pre-k. But, for some reason Elizabeth got to me this morning…might’ve been finals looming over me and having to put down security deposit for my European flat. However, personally, all stress aggravators aside, I would beg to differ. The exchange rate currently is not kind to United States students and as such is more expensive to buy things once you get over there. Yes, bringing two checked bags and a carryon is annoying but your wallet and sanity will thank you later. Another factor that stands out to me since arriving home is do not exclusively hangout with people also from your home country. I saw it happen in different programs; and yes, they had fun, but they had a completely different experience than I who had friends from all different continents other than North America. To be honest the only people I hung out with from North America were the people I went to Nederland with – hey y’all! However, no matter how much I moan and groan about the difficulties of being an expat, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

10 things I’ve learned in 3 weeks

I have been in Barcelona for three weeks now and have been having the time of my life. I seriously don’t want to go back. This is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to and the weather is amazing (sunny and 60 almost every single day). Whenever you move to a new place you learn a lot of things about that area and the people there, and that increases by 10 when you live abroad, even if it only is for four months. So these are the things that I have learned thus far and my handy tips (about Barcelona specifically).

 

  1. “Coffee” in Spain and a lot of other places in Europe is served in a cup that is comparable to a dixie cup and a lot of people will drink five of them a day.
  2. Always be on the lookout for “specials”. A lot of restaurants that aren’t located in the super touristy areas have deals like coffee and a croissant for one or two euros. They will also have lunch specials during the week that include a drink, entrée, and dessert (or something of the like) for 9-11 euros, and if you see it for more than that they are trying to rip you off.
  3. Walking really is the best type of transportation. I love walking around this beautiful city that I am temporarily living in and enjoying the sun shining down on me. On my walk to school I get to go by the Sagrada Familia which literally never gets old to look at. Most of the time if I were to take the metro it would only save me a couple of minutes, and I would miss all of the views; plus, walking is way better for you.
  4. Spanish is not (really) the primary language of Barcelona. I did my research before I came here and knew that a lot of people speak Catalan as well as Spanish. What I didn’t know was that many people prefer the Catalan language to Spanish, and how important it was to learn a few phrases.
  5. The media way overplays the “conflict” going on over here. Yes, the people of Catalonia would like to declare their independence from Spain. Yes, there are demonstrations once or twice a week. What they don’t tell you is that these demonstrations are not violent. They consist of big crowds getting together with their Catalonia flags and chanting through the streets. These people love this city and would never do anything to harm it. If there is any violence happening for their independence, it’s happening in Madrid.
  6. Citymapper is a life saver. I learned of this app after a couple days of being here and it’s better than google maps. It has all the possible ways of transportation in multiple different cities, and gives you a million different ways of getting to one place. It has saved me a couple of different times from getting miserably lost (at least in Barcelona, it didn’t work as great in Paris).
  7. They REALLY do not like tourists in Barcelona. They even have a special name for them (guiri). A lot of people I know have had run ins with the locals where they get glared at on the metro or a passerby mumbles something at them in Spanish, but if you stay out of their way, try to blend in, and not be the typical “American” you really don’t run into any problems (at least I haven’t).
  8. They absolutely love it when you speak Spanish to them. I’m pretty bad at this just because I am self conscious about my Spanish, but I have been making myself speak it more recently and you can tell how much they appreciate it. Some people will even thank you for trying to speak their language, even though its covered by a terrible American accent.
  9. Rarely anything is free here. You seriously have to pay for water and bread. It’s because a lot of people think the tap water is gross (although perfectly safe) so they serve you fancy bottled water. Usually whatever they give you for free (if anything) is something you wouldn’t expect. One time I got served giant chunks of parmesan cheese.
  10. Last but not least, go somewhere new every day. Whether it’s walking down a new street you haven’t before or going to that little café you’ve been dying to try. Whenever I do this I never regret it because I get to experience more and more of beautiful Barcelona.

 

All of this doesn’t even come close to everything I’ve learned, but it’s just a couple of insights to give anyone who is reading this something you might learn. It is crazy to think about how much I have learned in three weeks, and how much I am going to learn in three months, especially since I am going to be travelling all over. I honestly can’t wait to see what my future has in store for me.

 

Until next time

Lauren