Friday, July 24, 2015

The Best Advice for Every College Freshman: Travel


I recently read an article that appeared on my Facebook feed titled The Best Advice Any College Freshman Will Ever Get. It's cute and funny and the kind of advice that makes college sophomores nod their heads and the incoming freshman giggle.

After a quick google search, I found similar articles everywhere (123) complete with corresponding memes and GIFs from Legally Blonde and Animal House. Some of the advice is good (Don't wait until your final year to learn how to use the library) and some just makes me roll my eyes  (Hook up with whoever you want. As the famous philosopher Drake once said, “You only live once, that’s the motto [insert expletive] YOLO.”)

While reading these articles, I was disappointed that the best advice I would give wasn't normally included. And now that I have been out of college longer than I was actually in college (but not too long that I don't understand the Drake reference above), I can look back at those years with an outsiders perspective and wish I had done a few things differently or known some this before my Freshman year.

So as promised, here is in my opinions, The Best Advice for Every College Freshman. And for the advice I can't personally recommend, I've gotten a little help…



1. Study abroad.

EVERY STUDENT SHOULD STUDY ABROAD. I can't emphasize it more. Don't believe me? Even the New York Times thinks so! But really, why wouldn't you want to take the opportunity to explore the world while staying on track and gaining credits toward your degree? You're most likely not going to get an opportunity like this again in life!

Believe me, it's hard to find a steady career that ships you off to another country for six months so you can gain more experience. So, don't wait until after college. Go now. There are opportunities for a week or a year. Do your research early, talk to the advisers and pick something that works for you.


2. Can't afford to study abroad? You probably can.

Studying abroad may sound expensive at first. You can barely afford your semester at your home university, how could you possibly afford this trip abroad? First, don't think like that. If going abroad is important to youyou can make it happen.

For a semester or year abroad, your financial aid is processed by your home school, making you potentially eligible for grants, state aid and federal loans. The U.S. Government actually wants you to study abroad, so getting help may coming easier than you imagined.

Research your options, talk with the study abroad advisers AND the financial aid office. Many programs can be close to the cost of your current tuition and living expenses.

And remember: scholarships. Ask for scholarship information from the financial aid office, study abroad office, civic and religious organizations, campus clubs, your parents' offices, hometown nonprofits and national organizations like NAFSA. You may not get all of the money you need from one source, but if you put in the effort, you might be able to collect a sufficient amount from a few different places.

Jordan blogs about travel and food at The Hungry Traveler. Follow her foodie adventures on Instagram!



3. Go on an Alternative Spring Break.

Most American universities offer volunteer trips during Spring Break as an alternative to the stereotypical party week. The truth is, the kids that party all week return to campus with sunburns, hangovers and a lot of regret. I'm not saying don't do it, just consider your options. You have four years of spring breaks. Heck... maybe five or six!

Alternative Spring Breaks give you the opportunity to visit somewhere new (international or domestic) and help those in need. You'll meet a group of students you may not have normally hung out with and you'll work together to solve problems and finish projects. And better yet, you'll actually get to know each other because you'll be more than just beer pong partners in the hotel room.

Worried about the cost of these trips? Look into your university's requirements for leading one. Leaders commonly get to go for free!



4. Befriend international students.

So you can't always be travelling. I mean, you do want to spend some time on that beautiful campus, go to football/basketball/quidditch (whatever you're into!) games, attend the best social events and sleep til noon on a Tuesday. Oh yeah, and you have to go to class. So while you're there, why not befriend some of the students from across the world who are studying abroad at your university?

Hopefully, you will be in the same boat they are one day. Unfortunately, study abroad students tend to band together and struggle to meet the full time students.

Make an attempt to meet some international students. Show them around campus, bring them to a party and help them feel welcome at your university. You'll get to learn about a new culture and maybe meet a good friend to visit during your Eurotrip after graduation.


5. Visit friends' hometowns.

Most likely, your new college friends will be from all across your home state or neighboring states to your university. Pick a weekend to go home with one of them. Have them show you around their town, enjoy some home cooking and explore somewhere new. Then, bring a friend back with you and use the opportunity to play tourist in your hometown.



6. Use your abundance of time off to travel.

I look back on my Winter Break as a college student with much fondness: A full month off placed smack dab in the middle of the school year, in-between semesters without a single assignment hanging over your head. Oh, the good ol' days.

In college you'll have many of these opportunities: Winter Break, Fall Break, Spring Break, Summer Break and whatever other random holidays they'll give you. Use them to their fullest! Once you enter the real world, you will not get this many vacation days. Unless you're a teacher, but believe me (I've been there), they won't be this long or stress-free.

If you work hard during the school year, use your time off to treat yourself to a trip. Make it a big backpacking trip across Southeast Asia or a little road trip to visit some friends. Take advantage of this time off school!

Don't want to plan it or have no one to go with? I'm sure you school offers many trips during each of these breaks. Check in with the study abroad office, volunteer/service learning programs and the outdoor education office to see what they offer.

View more photos from Bethany's summer abroad on Instagram.


7. Study a language.

I never thought I would be able to speak another language. During high school, my memories of Spanish class include boring workbooks and barely passing test grades. I just didn't care. Well, fast forward to my senior year of college when I was planning to spend a year after graduation in Ecuador. And after that, I spent a year in Spain. Granted, my Spanish is good now, but I'm kicking myself for not taking Intro to Spanish as one of my free electives in college. It would have made my first few months in Ecuador go much smoother.

If you're slightly interested in international travel (which you should be), pick a language and take a class to learn a little. You never know when you'll need it.


8. Work or intern abroad.

So you want to make money and/or gain experience during your college years? Good for you! Why not add a little adventure into the mix?

When looking for jobs and internships, don't be afraid to browse your options far from home. If there is a particular city or country you'd like to work in after college, try to find a job or internship there so you can do some networking. While not all internships pay, many offer stipends to help you get by during that time.

Or maybe you ignored my advice in #1 (Shame on you!) and dropped the ball on studying abroad. Make up for it by finding an internship or a job overseas! Browse through some of the popular American programs (1, 2, 3) to get an idea of the opportunities available.


9. Take a gap year.

Was all of the above a little too overwhelming for you? If you're feeling hesitant about entering college and not knowing what you want to do with you're life, consider postponing your freshman year. There is no shame in taking a break between high school and college. This can actually be a great thing to put on your application or write about for an admissions essay.

Gap years can be working or traveling. Or both! They don't have to last a full year. Maybe you want to work for several months to save money, then travel around South American before starting school in the Fall. Great! There are no rules! Do what works for you.

Read more from Alissa at Alissaisms.com. Follow her daily adventures from San Francisco and more on Instagram.


Did I miss anything? Do you agree with this advice?
Let me know in a comment below!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

8 Tips for Your First Cruise



Cruises can be a great option for an inexpensive vacation abroad, but you have to be careful or you'll get struck with hidden fees and disappointment. I wish someone told me this before my recent cruise vacation!

Read on for a few tips to save money and get the most out of your trip.

1. Bring your own snorkel gear.
If you're headed to a tropical location, there's a good chance that snorkeling opportunities are available. Your cruise ship may sell overpriced snorkel equipment or you can probably rent it at the beach. Save yourself the cost and bring your own. Buy a cheap set of goggles, flippers and a snorkel to pack in your suitcase. Use it throughout your trip and keep it for the next time you're on vacation. Even a one time use will be worth the money saved.

2. Bring your own alcohol.
Buying drinks at the ship's bar can rack up quite the tab. Normally, passengers are allowed to bring on two bottles of wine and one six pack of soda per stateroom. Research your ship's policy before packing. And if passengers pack just a little something to go along with that soda, it will most likely be overlooked. But don't get greedy.

3. Order room service.
Room service is [normally] free! Need I say more? If you're too tired to make it to dinner, order as much as you want to your room. Check for specifications on your ship, but additional charges usually only exist during late-night hours.


4. Pack inflatable rafts.
Another fee that will sneak up on you is the cost for renting a raft. If you're cruising to a beach, pack some, cheap inflatable rafts in your luggage. Blow them up once you arrive at the beach and avoid the ridiculous rental fees.

5. Ignore the shopping hype.
There will most likely be a lot of talking about shopping. Whether it's shopping on board or at the port of call, my advice is to ignore it. You may be tempted to attend the seminars on the ship or check out their sales days, but there's a strong chance that it's not worth it. Did you really go on vacation to shop anyway? Skip the shopping and spend the time relaxing or find some free entertainment instead.

6. Order as much as you want.
You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree or dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. If you have dietary restrictions, you definitely need to keep this in mind, but it's also a great way to try new foods you're not sure you'll like (escargot, anyone?).

Tips for first-time cruisers, Royal Caribbean cruise tips

7. Research the destinations before booking excursions.
All ports of call will be different. Some of them will require activities while at others, you will be content exploring on your own. You don't want to risk the chance of being underwhelmed for a day or paying for an excursion when you really didn't need to. You also may be able to book an excursion for a cheaper price if you don't go through the cruise company. Just do the research.

8. Snag food for lunchtime snacks.
There will be breakfast and lunch buffets on board. If you're heading off the boat for the day, remember to grab some fruit or other snacks to bring with you. Carrying food back to your room is completely acceptable, so pack a whole meal if you like! This will save you some money while you're on shore.


Have you cruised before? Did I miss anything?
Leave your tips in a comment below!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Travel Recap: Cruising the Caribbean

Cruising was never my first choice of vacation. Trips that are all inclusive, surrounded by tourists or only in a resort just aren't my go-to. I know many serious travelers may see this post and immediately turn up their noses. But hear me out...

Last month, the office at my new job was closing for a full week after we hosted a big event in Florida. So I would already be in sunny Florida with a week vacation and limited budget. I researched my options, weighed the pros and cons and booked a 4-night cruise with Royal Caribbean.

This trip allowed me to visit three tropical locations and relax on beautiful beaches while staying under budget.


My boyfriend, Mike, flew down to meet me and we boarded the ship in Miami. Our first port of call was Nassau, Bahamas. I visited there once with my family and knew that I wanted to get out of the city and find some solitude on a tropical island. So our one and only cruise excursion was to Blue Lagoon Island in Salt Cay.


Next up was Coco Kay, a private island owned by Royal Caribbean. Again, this was beautiful: turquoise water, white sand and palm trees. Really, all I needed. The only downside was that the island was also filled with every person from our cruise ship.

However, it was no trouble finding quiet areas to swim and lounge. We spent most of our day "snorkeling." Well, we didn't want to pay to rent the snorkels & fins, so we found discarded goggles on the beach and swam around the island looking at the colorful fish, stingrays and lobsters. It was quite the workout and so much fun!


Our final stop was Key West, Florida. Although the scenery is gorgeous, the beaches aren't as appealing. Or maybe we were just too spoiled in the Bahamas! On this day, we rented some bikes and toured the island on our own. We stopped to take in the views, do a little shopping, check out the local bars and of course get some famous pie bars from Key West Key Lime Pie Company.


Overall, the trip was relaxing and fun! My favorite part was that fact that I didn't have to think! Food, amenities and entertainment were always available. I didn't have to stress over the travelling part and getting place to place. And I didn't feel the need to find the local hangouts and secret spots. It was nice just embracing my inner tourist and relaxing.

Have you ever cruised before? Would you do it again?
Let me know in a comment below!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Embarrassing Stories from Abroad

As a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was read aloud with friends from the embarrassing stories section of magazines like Seventeen or CosmoGirl: "OMG, my crush saw me do a belly flop at the pool! I was mortified."

With traveling to different countries, through strange cultures and speaking foreign languages, embarrassing moments happen. A lot.

I know this well because I have many stories much worse than those in the teenage magazines. But I don't always want to share these moments on here because, well, they're embarrassing!

I thought it would ease my nerves a little bit by asking a few other bloggers to share their mortifying moments along with mine.

Read on for my story and others that will make you blush from across the globe. 



Grow Shop Pantie Drop

In Spain, growing marijuana for your own recreational or medicinal use is legal. For this reason, you'll see many "Grow Shops" while walking around the major cities. These shops don't actually sell the plant, but they do provide the seeds and other materials used to grow and smoke it.

During my year in Madrid, I lived in an apartment above a grow shop. There were usually some hip, young people hanging around, but other than that we didn't notice the shop much. However, our laundry lines hung in a hollow part of the building directly above their patio filled with mulch, pots, ladders and other gardening supplies.

One day, I was short on time before work and didn't remove all of my dry laundry from the line. I left about ten or twelve pairs of clean underwear hanging from the clothespins. While I was gone, an afternoon storm came through and blew all of my panties off the line and scattered them, soaking wet, into the patio below.

While I would have loved to just forget about them and go buy a few new pairs, I was on a budget and didn't want to blow my hard earned Euros on a bunch of new underwear. So I marched downstairs, and tried to tell the attractive, tattooed guy in his 20s about my predicament. I thought my Spanish was good, but explaining panties in a patio was difficult. He eventually understood, but instead of letting me retrieve them, he walked into the patio, grabbed a few pairs and returned with a wet, lacy handful.

I had to tell him there were more. "No. Hay mas," I said while feeling the heat coming off of my blushing cheeks. He goes back out and I find a small window looking out into the patio where I end up yelling directions to this Easter Egg Hunt for thongs. "There's another hanging from the ladder!" "One is in the bushes!" "Check on top of that shelf!" By this time I've forgotten all of the Spanish I know and I'm fumbling for words.

At the end of the whole thing, I'm laughing while counting sopping wet pairs of underwear on his glass counter above a display of bongs. He offers a plastic bag so I can carry them upstairs. I accept. He once again takes my panties, puts them in a bag and hands it to me along with a business card. On my way out, I promise to visit his shop another time... I never did.

- Kelsey. Follow this blog on Facebook!


Fried rice, hold the rice

It was 2009 and my first time in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I had heard so much about how good nasi goreng is, so I couldn't wait to try it out.

One night, my Couchsurfing friends and I went to the market to eat dinner. I saw a food stall advertising nasi goreng, so I quickly went there and ordered. "I want nasi goreng, please," I said, "but without the rice." The vendor just stared at me, so after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, I just said never mind.

It was only later when I realized how bad it sounded; in effect, I ordered fried rice (which is what nasi goreng is) without the rice!

- Aleah of Solitary Wanderer. Follow her on Instagram!



Special delivery

I was flying from Knoxville, Tennessee to London, England for my first solo international trip.  I navigated through airport security and stopped at the Starbucks for a Chai Tea to enjoy before my flight.  I sat down near my gate.  I set my wallet and tea on the side table.  I took out my headphones and enjoyed my tea.  My flight was called and I got boarded my plane.

As I made my plane swap in Atlanta, I turned on my phone.  I had 5 missed calls from a number I didn’t recognize.  I listened to my messages.  “Jennifer.  This is Robert at McGhee Tyson Airport.  You left your wallet at the gate.  I am sending it on the next flight from Knoxville to Atlanta.  That flight lands at 12:25 pm at gate B23.  Please meet it at the gate.”  My heart drops and I start to panic.  I search my bags and sure enough, no wallet.  My passport, credit cards, and cash are all in that wallet.  I couldn’t believe it.  Thank you, Robert for looking my name up in your computer system and calling me about my wallet.  Learned my lesson NEVER set anything down that is supposed to be in a bag, or so I thought.  Don't ask about that incident in Colombia with my new DSLR camera.

- Jennifer of Made all the Difference. Follow her adventures on Facebook!


No visa, no big problem!

Before traveling to Nicaragua, I read a lot of articles about visa requirements, but most of them were from American and European travel blogs. I also checked out quite a few Filipino travellers who have been to Nicaragua, but I now know that they had a valid US / Europe / Australia Visa which I didn't have.

When I arrived at the Nicaraguan border Immigration, the officer asked for my USA visa which I told him I don't have and so he asked me where is my Nicaraguan visa from the Consulate and I told him I didn't need it based on what I had read online. The official didn’t want to deal with me and told me "NO, you can't enter the country and step aside." The bus driver heard it and told me that the bus was leaving anytime soon because the other passengers were waiting. I was frustrated, no internet and no one to call too… And then I started crying!

Luckily, a lady official saw me and came over to help, after many questions and phone calls she discovered that I could actually get a visa on arrival, which took more questions, stamps and about 1 hour more of waiting. While I know that if I hadn’t started crying that the woman may not have noticed me and come over to help, but I still felt embarrassed, both by the crying and by being the only one to be singled out and refused entry.

- Kach of Two Monkey's Travel. Follow their adventures on Facebook!


A calculated response

I was 17 when I did a road trip through California with my parents and six-year younger brother. We spent our final three days in a hotel in San Diego to relax a bit before flying home, but one of these days my parents had planned to visit the San Diego Zoo and they left my brother and me the choice to go with them or to stay at the hotel and order room service for breakfast. Not a tough choice. Room service it was!

We were sharing a room at that time and so when a hotel guy came to bring us breakfast and handed over the bill, it was my job to sign it and... decide on his tip. Now, I'm from Belgium and we don't have obligatory tips here. Whenever we're really pleased with a service, we'll tip, or when we get some change back we'll just leave some behind on the table. I knew it had to be like 10-15%, but because of the stress (and the fact that the hotel guy was pretty cute), mathematics seemed like a concept I hadn't heard of yet.

So I... took out my cell phone to use the calculator on it to figure out was his tip was supposed to be! I quickly filled in the amount and signed the bill, blushing from my cheeks until behind my ears.

- Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings. Follow her adventures on Facebook!



Watch your step 

Jen and I recently found ourselves at the Rufeng Night Market in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Taiwan has some amazing night markets that are a mix of food, clothes and carnival games.

I was looking at a clothing booth, stepped closer, my large, women's 9.5 foot hit the pole supporting the clothing display and down it all came crashing.

I felt terrible as an array of tshirts plummeted to the ground. "Watch your step" has never carried so much meaning.

- Kiki of Wanderlust Explorers. Follow them on Facebook!




Which story do you think was the most embarrassing?
Have you ever had any similar experiences while traveling?
Leave a comment below!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

There's snow place like Taos


New Mexico is not all deserts and cacti. While it does have plenty of that, it's also home to the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. And with that elevation, of course there comes snow.


Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

At the beginning of March, towards the end of the ski season, some friends and I met up for a few days on the slopes at Taos Ski Valley. The base of the valley has an elevation of 9,207 feet and the highest point is Kachina Peak with an elevation of 12,450 feet.

By a chance of luck, 40 inches of fresh powder coated the already snowy mountains shortly before we arrived, leaving us with near-perfect conditions, especially compared to what we're accustomed to on the East Coast.

Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
IMG_0218
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

One of the things that makes Taos so special is that it's not particularly close to any major city or airport. We flew into Albuquerque and drove three hours to get there. This sets it apart from resorts like Vail, Park City and Breckenridge that attract crowds of weekenders throughout the season. 

Taos Ski Valley has more of a family feel than a commercial one. I cannot speak highly enough of the staff and locals that were incredibly welcoming. It's not unusual for strangers to say hello and strike up a short convo in passing.

And unlike other resorts, there is no pretentiousness there. No notice of separation between experienced and unexperienced. No mocking the gapers. Maybe it's just their need for tourism or the general vibe of the friendly mountain town, but everyone we met was warm and helpful.

Overall, the views were stunning, the runs abundant, the staff welcoming - it's hard to imagine it any better than it was.

Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

One night after a long day on the slopes, we hit up the hot tub in our condo's complex. A guy was already there when we arrived, so we started talking about Taos. He was working on the slopes for the season and told us some tips and tricks for the ski valley and shared his love of Kachina Peak.

He also scolded us for being in the hot tub when, as tourists, we should be soaking in the natural hot springs nearby. So the next evening, after another full day of snowboarding, we were on an adventure in search of Manby Hot Springs. 

Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico

Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico

Now, of course our directions to the springs weren't very clear. We took long, dusty roads into what seemed like the middle of nowhere where we were instructed to park on the edge of the gorge and take the "old wagon trail" that leads to the hot spring.

"Old Wagon Trail." What does that even mean? Of about four options, we took the one that seemed the most "wagon-ish" for about a half mile until we realized it couldn't be right. We tried a few more paths and almost left, satisfied enough with the sunsets views over the Rio Grande gorge.

Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico
Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico

With one last hope and the sun fading quickly, we found the narrow trail (that could no way ever fit a wagon). It led us to a steep, windy path down the gorge to the river. The hot springs sat right on the edge of the Rio Grande and were surprisingly warm. Probably right under 100°F.

The water felt great on our tired legs, but since it took us so long to find the springs, we could only enjoy it for a short time before the sun went down.

Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico
IMG_0234Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico
Manby Hot Springs in Taos, New Mexico

While this was strictly a ski trip, we spent each day on the slopes and didn't have much time to explore the pueblo, artisan colony and local brewery scene. While I regret it, we had to stick to our priorities for our limited time frame. And if anything, it just makes me want to go back even more. Until next time, Taos! You didn't disappoint!

Have you taken a memorable ski trip? Ever visited a hot spring?

Share your story in the comments below! 


NOTE: To get to Manby Hot Springs in Taos, take US 68 towards the gorge bridge. Turn right at Tune Road. Make sure you have a car that can handle dirt, mud and rough roads. Take lefts at each fork until you get to the parking area at the top of the gorge. Looking out at the river, the trail will be on your left. It's the trail closest to the edge of the gorge. It's narrow, unmarked and leads left down to the east side of the river. The breathtaking views of the gorge make the hike worthwhile. Especially at sunset. There are two pools on the edge of the river. Sometimes more depending on the season. The water temperature ranges from 94° to 100°F. The walk down and back up can easily take close to an hour, so plan well or bring flashlights.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Puns for the Traveler in Your Life

If your Valentine is a map-loving, globe-trotting traveler, he or she may be more into tickets than truffles and prefer road trips over roses. You will definitely need to use the right words to really win 'em over. Lucky for you, I've designed some very funny punny Valentines to share with yours on this special day.






 Words submitted by @estrellaexplore of EstrellaExplores.com












Feel free to download, print and share these with your valentines.

Can you think of any valentine travel puns that I missed? Leave your ideas in the comments! 


Share!

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