I am great and life is great because I just got back today from my Thanksgiving break trip to Denmark and Norway. It was so amazing and now I can definitively say I have a favorite trip I’ve been on.
Whenever you study abroad, chances are you’ll have some time to travel to other places. Clearly, I have had the opportunity to take a lot of side trips, but this extra time off for Thanksgiving offered me (and pretty much everyone else in my program) some extra time to take the one trip to that place you’ve always wanted to go. I also saved enough on other trips to be able to freely spend on this one and do all of the cool things that I did like sailing through the fjords and also stay in really nice places. I actually have also started to realize how much I didn’t know about saving money when it came to planning trips and even planning trips in the first place, and all of the ways I could have saved more on my earlier trips. So how did I do it and what did I learn? With that: a short vocabulary and trip planning lesson from yours truly.
1.) What even is a hostel?
I realized that before I came here I didn’t even know what a hostel was. Sure I had heard people talk about them, but I actually had no idea what they were.
Hostel (noun): cheap dorm-like, sort of hotels to stay at in almost all cities/ towns
When I say dorm, I truly mean dorm. You will typically sleep in a room with MINIMUM six to eight people, possibly mixed gender. All hostels are different when it comes to gender and room size. In general, the less people in the room, the more the room costs. I’ve stayed in everything from a single to a twenty person room. Bathrooms can either be shared by the room (if you’re lucky) or by the floor. Hostels also range greatly in quality. I’ve stayed in ones that could have easily been a nice hotel and I have had friends in ones where they got bedbugs and their things stolen. Price wise, they can be anywhere from ten dollars to seventy dollars per person, per night.
The best hostel booking site is hostel world.com because they show all of your options by location, price, quality, etc. and all of the hostels have tons of honest reviews. Some cities will be more expensive than others. For example, in Ireland it cost us less to stay in a Holiday Inn just outside of Dublin than to get a hostel in the city center. Just do your research and try to book at least two weeks in advance. Hostels fill up!
Airbnb (noun): paying someone a set amount of money per night to rent either a room in their home/apartment while they are there OR paying to rent the entire home/apartment while they are not there.
I stayed in Airbnb’s in Denmark and Norway and loved it, but some people find it creepy to be literally living in someone else’s life. Airbnb was created to cater to those looking to live like a local when they travel places. Personally, I loved having our own place to hang out at night, cook our own meals, have a nice bathroom, and a nice bed. You’ll understand the “luxury” of these after staying in a hostel. In Norway and Denmark, booking an Airbnb was actually cheaper because they are expensive cities and I was traveling with enough people. They can be cheaper because the rent might be $150 a night, but you split that between the four other friends you are traveling with instead of each person paying say $40 a night for a hostel. It really depends on the city, so do your research.
ALWAYS book Airbnb’s through the actual airbnb.com because all of the people renting their places have to be verified for safety and whatnot, and there will be a ton of reviews to judge them off of. Note that after you stay in one, the host reviews you too and it goes on your profile, so if you leave the place a mess and get a bad review it could affect you trying to book and Airbnb in the future.
3.) Cheap flights
Nine words: USE GOOGLE FLIGHTS AT LEAST A MONTH IN ADVANCE
Google flights rocks because it compares all airlines and prices and allows you to book separate airlines right there to allow for the cheapest combination. Just don’t forget to always clear your cookies and browsing history before searching for flights because the price goes up depending on demand.
In general the cheapest airline will always be RyanAir or EasyJet. Personally, I don’t like EasyJet because it is disorganized, uncomfortable, and you don’t get a personal item. RyanAir is all of those things too, but you get a personal item and I think the staff seem to be a lot nicer. The flights are so cheap because of strict baggage rules: one carry on and one personal item. You can bring an actual suitcase, but checking it costs a fortune. My advice would be to go to the RyanAir website and buy a duffle bag that fits their requirements exactly. RyanAir will do random checks of your carry on luggage size, and if yours is too big you will have to pay at least sixty euros on the spot. Be careful! I have seen it happen to my friends.
These flights are way less than glamorous, but I paid twenty dollars for my flight to Copenhagen, and with prices like that I can’t complain.
4.) Save on places to stay and flights and splurge on everything else.
Pretty self explanatory, but I thought I’d say it again. When else was I ever going to have the chance to sail in the fjords of Norway with my friends? Maybe never so I dropped the cash. You should do the same in order to maximize your experience.
That’s all I have for you for travel tips! This weekend is my last trip, but I am going to Budapest for all of the Christmas themed activities. As a Christmas enthusiast, I AM SO EXCITED.
Have a lovely week and check out my pictures from Denmark and Norway!
If you haven't noticed the theme of "OH NO I CAN'T LEAVE ITALY" going on in my last few posts, this one should send the message loud and clear. I'm getting to the point of wrapping up my classes, my travels, and going back to do my favorite things around Rome. It's extremely bittersweet, but leaving something you love always is. I'm in a happy place now though. I've accepted that although I've learned so much about living here and life in general, there's forever going to be more to learn. I'd call this the final emotional stage of studying abroad. It took a while to get here, and there were definitely ups and downs along the way. When you see your friends study abroad pictures it can look like they just took a half a year break from school and are living worry-free, having the time of their life. This is definitely not the case. While I too had similar thoughts of what it would be like, studying abroad is tough. It takes a lot of bravery and perseverance. So what is it really like then? It looks different for everyone, but for me, here were the five stages of studying abroad:
1.) The "WOOOOO THIS IS AWESOME" Phase
This of course is the initial "you feel like you're just on vacation and going to have a good time and kick back and relax" part of the emotions. Trust me, it will take a while for it to settle in that yes, you do really live here now, and that you won't be going home in a week. This is the fun and easy part...
until phase two hits you...
After the WOOOOO phase ran its course, the emotion that took over was frustration. This is where you decide that you're ready to adapt to life in a new country and figure things out, but it gets extremely difficult. It was so hard for me to do simple tasks like buying groceries and connecting to Wi-Fi because of the language barrier and cultural differences. Although I believe people across the world have more similarities than differences, this is the phase when I saw ALL the differences.
I’ll use something as simple as connecting to Wi-Fi as an example. I’ve never stopped to appreciate fast, reliable internet while living in the US. The only time I really noticed was when it didn’t work, which was rare. The internet here is slow and spotty if it even works at all, and on top of that I have to use a VPN to access the sites I’m used to (which still doesn't work half the time). I had no idea how to problem solve an internet issue on my own because while my Italian is fairly decent now, I still don't know the vocabulary to be able to ask questions and discuss technology. So when there was even the smallest issue connecting to Wi-Fi, or the heating at my apartment went out, or I couldn't fully translate and understand an Italian website, it felt like being alone on a raft at sea. I know that’s dramatic, but I was desperate to feel connected to familiar faces and processes.
Frustration also came in the form of finding good drinking water, figuring out how to cook in a new kitchen with new ingredients, asking our landlord about issues in our apartments, confusing interactions while trying to buy anything, and countless other acts that would be fairly straightforward had they taken place in the US. Luckily, when learning a new set of skills, frustration is usually followed by confidence.
3.) CONFIDENCE TO THE MAXEventually I did figure out how to do all those simple life tasks that needed to be done. I was able to use public transportation with ease, I was having successful outings on my own which resulted in exploring gorgeous areas of Rome I never would have thought I would see, and simple things like learning to tell the lady at the grocery store that I don’t need a bag. Cue major confidence boost. I was succeeding. Fearlessly crossing the streets in true Italian fashion to go eat at a restaurant where they knew my order or to check out a new store I heard about really is what began to make Rome feel like home. It was so great, but confidence, of course, comes in waves.
4.) DefeatThis brings us to defeat. This one is tough because I'm someone who never gives up, but I’ve definitely had moments where I wanted to pack it all up and head home to familiarity. I had a solid week of feeling defeated after just a few minor frustrations. It's tough when you're feeling confident and then some minor issue pops up and it sort of blows up all over again. It's a bit sad to remember this, but I think it’s important to share. Weirdly enough, the act of mentally giving up and snapping out of it is what took me out of this phase and into the next.
5.) HumblenessFrustration and confidence still come back in small waves, but humbleness and openness flood my mind. I’m in a state of mind where I realize I really don’t know anything about Italy or Europe in general, and that’s okay. I’ve gotten to a stage where I have my basic daily needs fulfilled with no more effort than it took in the US, and I have time to learn, explore, and try new things. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. It’s a humbling idea, and one that weirdly calms me, because I realize all I can do is try my best to keep learning, trying, and moving forward.
This week I am headed to Denmark and then onto Norway for Thanksgiving break! Norway was sort of a given because my grandma would have never let me hear the end of it if I didn't make it to the "homeland" (yes my grandma is a cute, little, old, Norwegian lady who makes lutefisk and lefse for the holidays). Tomorrow also marks the first annual friendsgiving. My heart is full and happy.
Keep checking out my photos page, and have a lovely Thanksgiving!
"Wherever you are, be all there." -Jim Elliot
I ONLY HAVE ONE MORE MONTH LEFT OF LIVING IN ITALY I CAN NOT HANDLE THIS.
For real, I am already fighting the post study abroad depression and I haven't even left yet. Since the semester is winding down so are my funds.
Budgeting has never been my strength, but I have definitely had to increase my budgeting skills here because I can't exactly call my grandma and act hungry so she will buy me groceries fit for an apocalypse stock pile like I could back at home. It is even looking like I will have some money left at the end of the semester to take part in the "treat yo self" philosophy.
So, with that, here are my semester abroad budgeting tips:
The big reveal:How much did I bring?
I saved about $5,000 dollars for extra travels, food, and spending money. The perfect amount for me, but less than some and more than others. It has been enough for me to take a trip three weekends out of each month and pay to do fun activities and tours without hesitation.
How do I keep track of it all?
A very intense Google spreadsheet is the answer for most people... but for me... I just check my online banking a couple times a week. If online banking isn't available for you, you better get good at spreadsheets otherwise you will be in trouble. There was a two week period that I didn't check my accounts and I definitely spent WAY more than I wanted to.
So, where does it all go?
Food: 20% (Mostly groceries and a few cheap meals out a week)
Beauty: 5% (A winter coat was my big purchase, but to save some money in this department I actually learned how to give myself haircuts)
Fees: 10% (Definitely a place where unexpected costs will come up. For example, just last week I had to pay an unexpected bill of about $150 to the Italian Immigration Office as an add on to my VISA fees)
Travel: 65% (This will look different for everyone, but traveling is what was most important to me on this trip, so I decided to save the most money to buy things like hostels and plane tickets)
When you’re planning how much money to bring, don’t just draw a line in the sand and say “that much!” Think about what you want to do while you’re there and how much money you’ll need to support it. Then, work out a solid weekly budget that can help keep you on track. I was lucky enough to receive enough study abroad scholarships to cover my trip, so I literally worked as much as I could this summer to save enough for all of my spending money. I try to spread my purchases out between weeks and knew I needed to be under budget on as many weeks as possible so I had wiggle room to be over budget (by a lot) during my travel weeks.
What are some places to save money?
Definitely eat out as little as possible when you are home, and when you are traveling it depends on how expensive the city is. Luckily, the cost of living in Italy is cheap, but, for example, when I am in Norway next week, it was cheaper to get an AirBNB (renting out someone's apartment for the weekend) and cooking all my food there because eating out is ridiculously priced in Norway. Then there's some cities, like Barcelona, where it was cheap to eat out and cheap to stay in a hostel. Another place to save money is also definitely skipping on buying an international phone plan. I didn't buy one and I have loved every minute of it. It's nice to be "off the grid" for a while and really enjoy the things you are seeing without having to worry about your phone or social media. You can still check everything when you have wifi and just talk to people over Skype, Whatsapp, or FaceTime. There's also plenty of awesome navigation apps that work without data too. My recommendation would be maps.me. But for sure I would say 100% skip the phone plan. You'll save loads of money and have a better experience.
I don’t know about you, but this could be the only time in my life I get to be twenty years old, living abroad with all of my friends. My advice to you? Spend all of your savings. It’s hard to see all your hard earned money spent but, what do you really have to lose? Only the lost opportunities to see some really amazing places, and trying some really great new experiences!
With that, enjoy my photos from Ireland this weekend on my photos page! IT ROCKED SO MUCH. Have a wonderful week and smile a lot because its almost thanksgiving! (That also means a story is coming about me attempting to be a domestic goddess and trying to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal.)
We all know that amazing feeling you get when you travel because there's absolutely nothing like it. Your senses are heightened so you can absorb absolutely everything there is. There's so much excitement and some apprehension, but it’s awesome, and addicting and part of the reason that I am in love with traveling. However, I think that the absolutely best feeling in the world is coming home. Home can be a person, a place, really anywhere or anything that makes you feel loved. Coming home is the end of missing something, and being reunited with that part of you is the most comforting and wonderful thing that could ever exist.
Back to traveling though, because Italy doesn't give me that traveling excitement. Italy feels like a relative or a friend who you haven’t seen a long time, giving you a hug. It's familiar, comfortable — like coming home. When I think back, I've felt this way from the very second I stepped out of the plane and into Rome.
Italy is such a special place. It is so rich in history, art, culture, and kindness. I've been to quite a few countries now, and Italian hospitality is unparalleled. They are so wonderful. Every time I meet an Italian, it's like seeing an old friend you haven't seen in years. Italians are passionate, funny, kind, helpful, happy, relaxed, and they have this spark to them that I haven't seen anywhere else. They are simply amazing and have made this trip so much easier and comforting.
I've said it so many times, but I could live in Rome my whole life and still never get bored. You’ll be strolling to class and out of nowhere pops the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. Or say you take a short bus ride and find yourself next to St. Peter’s Basilica and surrounded by the most famous work of renaissance architecture. Living in Rome is a constant exploration. No matter how long you have lived here, due to the rich history, the narrow unorganized streets, the large number of cafes and the size of the city, you can always find something new to marvel in. Every day I look around and think "WOW. I live in Rome."
I truly know now what "all roads lead to Rome" means. From the beginning of time, Rome has always been the eternal city. No matter what happens in the world, Rome will always go on, and that in itself makes Rome one of greatest cities in the world.
Time has been moving so quickly lately, and the thought of having to leave Rome is heartbreaking. I can't even tell you how many coins I've thrown into the Trevi Fountain hoping that its magic will pull through and I'll be back to Rome again. Every time I come back home to Rome, I fall in love with the city all over again. It sounds odd, but cities truly are like people. I've realized that through my travels. Each city has a distinct personality. You can feel this mutual love with them, dislike, or friendship. In this time in my life, there is nowhere I belong more than Rome.
Thanks for listening to me ramble about my weird city-person relationship. If you haven't felt it already, keep having adventures and you'll find your place. Life is short and the world is wide, so keep being curious, friends.
Hello all, sorry for posting a bit later than usual, but I was gone a whole week on an academic field trip in PARIS. How amazing is that? First off, the city totally exceeded by expectations, and for traveling with 27 people, it went so smoothly. Because it was academic, everything we did had to relate to what we are currently studying in Interior Design classes. It seemed a bit like it would be tiring and boring at first, but this trip really taught me how to travel as a designer and not just a tourist. Everything that we did really taught me about Paris- what it is made out of, how it works, why it works, etc. It presented me with so many cool opportunities that I would never have gotten had I just been roaming around and looking at the sites just to check another monument off my list. For example, I saw the Eiffel tower, but we discussed it from a design standpoint. I learned about the architect and everything that took place that turned the tower into the icon of Paris. We were also given two days at the end of the trip for our own travels and to finish up our independent studies we did of retail design. So with that, here are some highlights of my Paris trip from a design standpoint.
The cool part about being in a fashion capital was that we got to go really in to depth with retail design psychology (i.e. how to create brand loyalty, the changes one makes within store locations to appeal to that specific demographic, codes for altering historical buildings, etc.). This particular photo is from the pre-opening behind the scenes tour we got to do of Hermes Paris. The store is built inside of a 1920's swimming pool and is totally amazing. I also got to visit and interview designers from Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Fendi, and Chanel.
From a design standpoint, the Eiffel Tower is 300 times cooler. We talked about why it became an icon of the city, how it came to be, the ins-and-outs of the structure and how it physically works, and basically everything there is to know about it. To get there, we walked across that cool bridge from the movie Inception and we had a picnic under the tower. So actually it was the most romantic day of my life with 26 other people.
The Palace of Versailles was for sure the trip highlight. It was definitely a design geek out session, since it is the epitome of about five different styles of French design because it was used for so long by different royals. It was extremely beautiful and educational also in learning about the past monarchy and how each of the royals shaped French culture and the city into what it is today. I also recommend buying a ticket to the gardens. It was totally amazing in fall, but it made me want to see them during every season.
These three photos are from my two days of personal travel. As you can see I clearly made a good academic choice and went to Disneyland on Halloween. Not totally educational, but I got to dance with Disney villains and eat candied apples so I'd call it a win. The other two photos are from a famous French cemetery where Oscar Wilde is buried and Sacre Couer. Sacre Couer is an amazing church on top of a hill that gives a full view of the city of Paris. You can actually go as late as midnight so you can see the city in its full lit-up glory. There's also a really good crepe stand at the top of the hill for those of you who, like me, will be almost dead after just one flight of stairs.
If you couldn't tell yet, I LOVE Paris and am stoked to be going back for my own independent travels for CHRISTMAS. I will actually be attending the Christmas Eve service at Notre Dame, which is one of my life goals so YAY because Paris gave me so many things to check off the bucket list.
In a last minute turn of events, I was invited to visit a friend in Germany this weekend. So after two days of being home, I will be on a flight to Cologne, Germany on Saturday morning. I am visiting a brewery, the cathedral, and a CHOCOLATE MUSEUM. My next blog post depends on if I ever am able to snap out of my Post-Germany Food Coma, so wish me luck.
Have a week as wonderful as you all are.
I'm Liz Bixenman, an interior design student living in Rome for the semester. When I'm not doing schoolwork, you can find me wearing a cat shirt, reading a book, and most likely eating more carbs than I'm proud of.