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My Secrets to Affording Travel

My Secrets to Affording Travel

As a young working professional, I can certainly empathize with other young professionals or students who are dying to explore the world, but are living on limited funds. Travel isn’t always the cheapest hobby, but that doesn’t mean that travel is available exclusively for those living on trust funds. It’s absolutely possible for people living on average wages to get out of their homes and see the world without breaking the bank. After years of attempting to travel as much as possible while studying or working, I’ve finally nailed down a system that allows me to travel as much as I do while maintaining a somewhat normal lifestyle. This time of year, we’re all working on setting our goals for the new year, and what better resolution than to work on saving some money while planning for life-changing travel?

Casually wanting to travel more and genuinely wanting to make travel a part of your life are two different things. If you truly want to make somewhat regular travel a part of your life, you need to make a concerted effort to prioritize it. By prioritizing travel, I don’t mean not paying bills or putting food in the fridge; I mean taking an inventory of any surplus funds that you have week to week, and not spending that money on frivolous things (Frappucino, anyone?).

This brings me to my first secret:

Budgeting like a travel CHAMP.

Every dollar/euro/pound/korun/etc. counts, and knowing exactly where you spend yours each day, week, or month will likely be an eye-opening experience for you. I’ve created a budget spreadsheet in Excel which I always keep open, and I input every single expense that I incur from a small cup of coffee to the slow cooker that I just purchased.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 9.31.55 PM

Because I live in the Czech Republic, but I still maintain a US bank account, I calculate everything in both currencies. If you’re living on only one currency, I’m jealous, and also, this will be much more simple for you! This spreadsheet contains formulas which automatically add each row and column so that I know how much I’ve spent each week, in addition to how much I’ve spent in individual categories (like toys for my cat). I keep a fixed expense breakdown sheet so that I don’t need to account for those automatic expenses (like rent and internet) each month- they’re already figured into the monthly budget. I also keep 5% for savings out of my monthly budget as a bit of a buffer. I hope that this will go to savings each month, but if I’ve overspent a tiny bit I don’t need to stress too much! If you’d like to start a budget spreadsheet, feel free to download and customize your own here:

Study Hard Travel Smart Budgeting Spreadsheet

Mason Jar Saving

My second secret is “Mason Jar Saving”– and yes, I really do use a mason jar (actually, two).

This sort of goes along the lines of the recent “52-week Saving Plan” that tends to circle the internet just after the New Year.  In fact, I’m trying the Czech version of that plan to save for a trip this year. If you’re unfamiliar, the plan goes something like this:

  • Week 1- Put $52 into a jar
  • Week 2- Put $51 into a jar
  • Week 3- Put $50 into a jar

and so on. Because it isn’t practical for me to be stuffing USD into a mason jar each week, I’ve just multiplied each amount by 20 (the approximate currency exchange rate), so if you’re on a different currency it’s easy to do the same! Some versions of this plan have you starting at $1, and incrementally increasing the amount each week, but I like the decreasing version better so that I’ll have more spare cash at the notoriously expensive end of the year. If you’re anything like me, this regulation of saving is nice, and it yields a really nice result- this should give you $1,378 (or rough equivalent) by the end of the year. I do like this 52-week plan because (as you might have guessed from the aforementioned budgeting spreadsheet) I’m a rule-follower; if I make a short-term rule for myself, I’m much more likely to follow through than if I make an overarching goal. Even before this challenge came along, I already had a mason jar set up, complete with a “travel fund” label. So how did I fill it? I decided that I would both penalize and reward myself each time I worked past 5 pm Monday-Friday, or on weekends. I was taking 100 CZK away from my “spare” weekly spending money, and putting it towards future adventures (or relaxation for working so much). If you have a work schedule like mine, this will add up quickly! The money that you’ll save from either option (or both!) will go a long way, particularly if you’re traveling in a budget-friendly way.

Stretching your Budget

This all brings me to my third secret- make your money last as long as possible! There are two main techniques that I typically try to utilize: booking with budget and discount companies for my air travel and accommodation, and exploiting travel rewards as frequently as possible.

Most of the budget companies I use are listed on my Tips and Tricks page, but the highlights include RyanAir, EasyJet, HostelWorld,, and Airbnb. It’s great to know about these budget companies, but the real trick is making their deals work for you. To find good flights, including those on RyanAir and EasyJet, I typically search Skyscanner– I always have the best luck on this site finding the lowest-priced combo of flights. When I’m looking to travel by land, I check out Rome2Rio to find all of the options I have getting from point A to point B, and then to find the least expensive option. I also try to be flexible with my travel destinations; I’ve been known to go to RyanAir’s website, look for flights from Prague (or where ever I am), and then pick the least expensive, interesting destination- hopefully somewhere I haven’t been yet. I ended up spending a wonderful weekend in Milan this way, and it worked perfectly! I knew that I wanted to go somewhere, so I let RyanAir choose for me. There is also the website Secret Flying, which combs websites and search engines finding “mistake” or super cheap airfares, and helps you book them before they’re gone. If you’re fairly open about where and when you travel, this website will be a GREAT resource. is a great resource if you use it frequently, as you eventually earn a perpetual 10% “genius” discount that I’ve found to make hotel costs less expensive. As I get older and do less hostel travel, I find that I prefer to book hotels on due to the convenience and prices they offer.

My favorite, and probably most lucrative, money-saving techniques are travel rewards. For accommodation, I always share my Airbnb discount code, which gives my friends and family $34 off their first trips, and in return, I get money off my next trip after they travel. It’s even better if your friends or family decide to host after signing up with your code- you’ll get even more off your next trip. If you’d like to sign up with Airbnb and get $34 off your first trip, use this link! I also take advantage of travel rewards credit cards- I’m currently using the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I like this card for several reasons: first, their 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first three months is an excellent bonus. $4,000 may sound like a lot, but if you put absolutely everything you buy (from coffee to groceries to travel) on the card for three months, you’ll probably be pretty close. Afterwards, you get triple rewards for any travel (including Uber, taxis, trains, etc.) and food, plus 1 to 1 points on all purchases. I’ve been able to rack up a pretty healthy point balance with just regular usage of the card, which, bonus, doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees! I use these points when I’m flying to a destination that isn’t serviced by discount airlines, and I’ve been able to pay for (essentially) entire trips this way. I’ll be going to Italy later this year, and I didn’t pay a penny for it!

In my opinion, traveling will almost always be worth the cost of airline tickets and hotels, but I also certainly appreciate that not everyone (including myself) has enough expendable cash to spend a year traveling the world carefree. I like to think that I’ve found the happy medium between working a fairly normal, 9-5 (ish) job, and traveling often enough to attempt to keep my wanderlust at bay. Utilizing the methods I’ve listed above should help you on your way towards “world traveler” status in no time! And in case you don’t know where to start planning your budget trip, I’m here to help! I offer travel consulting packages starting at $25 to help you plan and budget your travels to help you maximize your budget for ultimate travel impact- taking the hard work out of traveling smart!


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Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book using the link on my website, I’ll be paid a percentage of your booking fee at absolutely no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and all recommendations are based on my own personal experience.

Funding Study Abroad: An Inside Look at International Education

Funding Study Abroad: An Inside Look at International Education

Studying abroad has historically been viewed as an opportunity only available to wealthy students. This narrative is changing, however, as many American colleges and universities are pushing for their students to have the opportunity for a cross-cultural experience. Unfortunately, changing such a stereotype takes time, and many American college and university students aren’t aware of all the ways to fund their study abroad experiences. Funding study abroad isn’t as painful as you might imagine, you just need to know what to look for and how to choose the best study abroad program for you!

I went to an undergraduate institution, Susquehanna University, that required all students to have a cross-cultural experience. This specific terminology was used, “cross-cultural experience” rather than “study abroad experience”, because not all programs that fulfilled the requirement were located outside of the United States. With that being said, the large majority of these experiences are located internationally, and for me, they were in Aix-en-Provence, France, and Prague, Czech Republic. I was incredibly fortunate that my undergraduate institution was so invested in having essentially all of their students study abroad for some length of time because I had nearly unlimited resources available to me when I was selecting my study abroad programs, including a plethora of information about ways to fund my experience. Now that I work in the field of international education, however, I can see that not all students either have the resources available to them, or actively seek out those resources in order to fully understand the opportunities available to them.

Based on my experience, many students don’t seek out those resources because they believe that they will just simply not be able to study abroad. The most common reasons that I hear include:

  • “Studying abroad won’t fit into my schedule, I’m a member of ____ (a sorority/fraternity, athletics, student organizations, etc.)”
  • “I won’t be able to get the credits I’ll need when I’m abroad so that I can complete my degree on time”
  • “Studying abroad is too expensive”

I address the first two points on this page of my blog, and may dedicate further posts to these topics in the future. A good academic advisor who supports studying abroad will be able to help you find courses you can take while you’re abroad that will contribute to your degree program (PLEASE don’t take all of your gen-eds during your first semester Freshman year! Save those for your semester abroad!). That academic advisor, however, will likely not be able to help you fund your study abroad experience, and this is the single greatest factor that is holding back American students from experiences that will transform their lives. I’ve been working in the field since 2011, and I’ve been consistently amazed by how many opportunities exist to fund study abroad experiences, and even more so at how many are continuing to be developed. So, with an insider’s perspective, here are the best ways to fund a study abroad experience for all university students:

Figure out how long you want to study abroad for.

Your first inclination here may be to say, “a short-term summer program must be cheaper than a semester-length program, I’ll just go for the summer!” But this is where you’re probably wrong, my friend. Depending on your home institution’s policies regarding tuition billing, it’s probably cheaper for you to study abroad for an entire semester or year than it would be to study for just a few weeks during the summer. Many universities will charge you your home tuition fee, including all financial aid and scholarships, if you study abroad for a semester or year of your degree program. This means that you’d be billed as usual for your home university’s tuition, so what you pay in terms of your university fees will be the same (or less if you’re able to find additional scholarships to cover other expenses).

As this is the case at a lot of institutions, your first visit once you arrive to college as a freshman should be to your study abroad office to find out how their fee process works. If the process is the one that I’ve described, then you know you can count on paying the same tuition whether you’re studying at your home campus or in your host country!

So what if your university doesn’t do this? Does that mean that you’ll be paying your tuition on top of your study abroad fees? In most cases, no. Some universities have you pay your tuition directly to the host program or institution abroad, and this can work out to be cheaper than your home university’s tuition (hello, outrageously expensive US college tuition!). The only downside to this is that it often means you cannot apply your home university’s scholarships and financial aid to your study abroad semester. This is a question for your university’s financial aid office- sometimes they can make it work!

Pro-tip: it’s possible that the tuition at your host institution will be significantly lower than that at your home institution, so some students will take a “semester off” or a leave of absence to study abroad in order to pay that lower tuition rate for a semester or a year.*

Spending time in the lavender fields of Provence while studying abroad.

*Keep in mind that this can have credit transfer implications, as well as potential loss of scholarships/financial aid, so it’s very important you know exactly how this process works before deciding to go this route.

Determine which program is the best fit for you.

This might seem like it isn’t at all cost-related, but it truly is, and it’s probably one of the biggest mistakes many university students make when deciding to study abroad. As studying abroad becomes wildly more popular with American students, more and more programs, organizations, and companies are popping up all over the world to offer “the experience of a lifetime” to university students. As with the price tag of many US institutions, the prices of these programs vary greatly, and are constantly increasing along with the number of services that the company/program offers.

Once you’ve decided to study abroad, the first step is figure out which programs are already recognized by your home institution. In general, there are four different types of study abroad programs: exchange, direct enroll, third-party “island” program, or a hybrid. As these are all terms you’re likely not familiar with if you don’t work in the field, I’ll explain what you can expect from each, especially because the costs associated with each type can be very different:

Exchange: It’s likely that your home university will have some exchange agreements in place, which means that you pay your home university’s tuition, and then you exchange with a student from the host institution (where they pay their tuition). Universities arrange these because it means that no one typically pays a large program fee. Exchange programs are also typically the most immersive option in terms of study abroad experiences. Usually when you participate in an exchange program, you don’t have extra components included in your study abroad experiences that you’ve likely seen advertised to you, such as weekend trips, housing, dinners, 24-hour emergency support, etc. These things aren’t included for you because you’re enrolling at your host institution as if you were a local student, and while the international office at your host institution will probably offer some student support, you won’t be guided along your experience as you might be with some other study abroad programs. This doesn’t mean that exchange programs are bad! Exchange programs often offer you the best opportunity for immersing yourself in the local culture, meeting local students, and having a great study abroad experience with the most economical price tag.

The biggest question to ask when choosing to study on exchange is the price of housing; if exchange students at your host institution are responsible for finding their own housing, you’ll want to know if someone will be available to help you find that housing, and how much you can expect to pay per month or per semester.

The beautiful streets surrounding Oxford University

Direct Enroll: This means enrolling- you guessed it!- directly at a foreign university. There is a large variety of direct enrollment programs available; some direct enroll options are similar to exchange programs in that you’re treated exactly like a local student with the assistance of the international office, while others offer you more in order to enhance your study abroad experience (like the one I work at- Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic). For example, some direct enrollment programs will offer a more comprehensive orientation period, and may even offer dedicated pre-departure assistance like visa advising. Some direct enrollment programs may also offer emergency assistance and housing, or at least assistance in finding appropriate housing.

Direct enrollment programs are a great option, especially when your home university doesn’t have exchange agreements in cities where you’d like to study. These programs allow you to immerse yourself into the local culture and university community, while still providing you with some additional support that you might not see on an exchange program. Because these programs are actually facilitated by the host institutions rather than by companies, they’re often less expensive than other study abroad program options, but may offer very similar services. If having some of those services (24-hour support, trips and activities, etc.) is important to you, this might be a good, low-cost option to look at depending on which country you’re planning to study in.

Third-Party Program Provider, or “Island” Program: These third-party programs are a big thing in the study abroad industry, and for seemingly good reason. They are typically companies and organizations that have offices in both the US and the host city/country, giving you non-time zone restricted access to (usually) American staff before, during, and after your program. Further, third-party programs typically offer a wide range of activities to keep you busy throughout your entire experience, some of which will be included in the fees that you pay. A third-party program is usually referred to as an “island” program, because the students participating in the program are often on a metaphorical island in their host country. These programs have centers or buildings dedicated to their activities, classes, and staff where their students spend much of their time, and depending on the program, can have less interaction with local students than you might find in exchange or direct enrollment programs. Many US college students choose these programs because they offer a lot, including a sense of security (for both the student, parent, and home university). In fact, when you study abroad with a third-party program provider, you’re often provided with essentially everything that you need to have an incredible semester abroad, so it really is no surprise that some of these providers have hundreds to thousands of students enrolling each semester.

With all that being said, some third-party programs do an excellent job at immersing their students into the local culture, but it can be tough to figure out which programs offer this from a cursory internet search. One big signal for knowing that a third-party program offers an immersive experience is where they offer their classes. If the only classes that you’ll be able to take are run by the provider at their own center or building, it’s likely that you’ll be taking classes exclusively with other American students. Conversely, if some or all of the courses available through a given provider are held at an actual local university, you’ll have a much greater chance of either taking classes with local students, or at least sharing facilities like libraries and cafeterias with local students, meaning that you’ll have a chance to interact with them. Third-party providers that offer courses at a local institution are often referred to as “hybrid” programs, because they’re somewhere between an island and direct enrollment option.

Find your perfect location.

All of these tips about choosing the right program for you are great, but if you choose to the most expensive city in the world to study in (I’m lookin’ at you, London), you’ll be spending a lot of money to study abroad. Some study abroad locations are inherently less expensive than others, and this is largely based on the cost of living in those countries.

The most obvious expense that depends largely on local prices is your housing. If your university bills you for your tuition, which remains the same as it is at home, you’ll probably still be responsible for paying your room and board either to your provider, your host institution, or to local landlords. It’s possible that your home university will still pay these fees for you on your behalf if they have an agreement with that foreign institution, but you’ll still be billed for that amount (instead of what you would pay for room and board at home). This means that if you choose to study abroad in a city where housing is very inexpensive, it’s possible that you’ll pay less for housing for the semester than you would at home. This is especially true if you find local housing within the city rather than relying on accommodation designed specifically for foreign students. For example, it’s possible to find a room in a flat-share in Prague (where you have one room in a multi-room apartment with other students) for 5-8,000 CZK per month, which is between $200 and $350 USD per month. I’m willing to bet that this is a fair bit lower than many American students are currently paying for housing at their home institutions. Of course, this requires some work on your end to find appropriate accommodation (and to make sure that your visa documents are in order, if necessary), but it also often means that you’re truly immersing yourself into the local community by living like an actual local student.

Views of Malá Strana in Prague, Czech Republic

Another factor to consider when choosing your host country is what type of visa you’ll be getting, and if you’ll be allowed to work part time on that visa. If so, you can pick up a part-time job while you’re abroad to subsidize your expenses. Working part-time in your host country is also a great way to immerse yourself into the local culture and community, so it’s a double benefit if it’s allowed based on your visa!

Cost of living in your host city also impacts how much you’ll spend on day-to-day expenses like transportation, groceries, eating out, going to bars, etc., so it’s incredibly important that you do a lot of research into what your host city will actually cost you in terms of your own cost of living. And if you’re in to traveling while you’re studying abroad? Be sure to factor in how expensive it is to travel to and from the city/country where you’ll be living!

Go to your study abroad office.

The study abroad office at your home campus should be your best resource for determining the programs available to you, and the associated costs. Some universities allow students to study only at universities or with programs that they either pre-approve or have agreements with, while some allow you to study at “unapproved” programs (programs that they haven’t pre-approved) only after you’ve paid an additional admin fee. Of course, this means added expense if you happen to choose a program or university that hasn’t been approved by your host institution, so it’s important that you know what they’ll accept before you start submitting applications. Studying abroad with a program or university that’s been pre-approved also means that getting credits transferred back home will be easier, so in most cases I encourage you to go that route.

It’s also possible that your study abroad office or home university will charge you a fee to study abroad. The fee is often billed as a study abroad fee, or an admin fee, and it allows the home university to confirm that a student does intend to study abroad (sort of like a deposit). This is especially true if your home university is billing you for your program fees, and is then paying your program or host university directly, as they will be liable for your cancellation fee if you drop out after a certain time. In any case, it’s important to know if you’ll be charged an additional fee, and how much that fee is so that you can budget it in.

Apply for scholarships.

Now that you know all the ins and outs of studying abroad and the various options to do so, you’re well-equipped to choose a program and location that will be a best-fit for your academic, financial, and experiential needs. But what if this isn’t enough? You found the perfect program, and after the international flight, housing, and local metro ticket, it’s still going to be too expensive to study abroad.

Gabby from Packs Light during her study abroad experience

There are a ton of scholarships and grants available to help you! Because there are so many scholarships and grants out there, many of which are very subject or location-specific, this will require some research, but this research can really pay off if you find the right funding source. Here are some suggestions for specific scholarships, as well as some places to start your scholarship research process:

  • Check with your home university. Some universities offer special scholarships and funding resources to help students fund their study abroad programs. Check to see if your university offers any, and if you qualify. Remember to also meet with your financial aid officer to discuss how your financial aid and/or scholarships will be applied to your semester abroad!


  • Check with your host university or program. Many program providers like CIEE, AIFS, IFSA-Butler, IES Abroad, CEA, USAC, SIT, and more offer scholarships for students participating on their programs. Some host universities offer scholarships as well, so it’s worth checking to see if you’re applicable for any of those.


  • Boren Scholarship. Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad. There is a specific list of countries that qualify for this funding, and students who receive this scholarship must agree to work for least one year for the federal government in a national security field. This prestigious scholarship is a perfect opportunity for a student who is already planning on working in national security, and needs funding for their study abroad experience.


  • Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. The Gilman Scholarship Program is open to U.S. citizen undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.


  • Generation Study Abroad. Generation Study Abroad is an initiative, launched in 2014, of the Institute of International Education (IIE) to mobilize resources and commitments with the goal of doubling the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade. As such, IIE has developed a lot of great resources for U.S. students to find ways to make studying abroad obtainable, one of which is This site has hundreds of listings of scholarships and grants, which are searchable by keyword, field of study, and location.


  • Diversity Abroad. Diversity Abroad is the leading international organization which connects diverse students, recent graduates and young professionals with international study, intern, teach, volunteer, degree and job opportunities. They have a database of scholarships that is definitely worth a browse if you’re a minority, first generation, or low income student.


  • Host Country Education Abroad Initiatives. Many foreign countries offer scholarships to encourage foreign students to complete some or all of their degree in that country. Others offer databases full of scholarships and grants that are applicable for study in that country. Examples include Education in Ireland, Study in Australia, and Study in the Czech Republic, but this list is not exhaustive. Check out the international education pages of the countries you’re interested in to see if they have any resources or scholarships available!

If you’re looking for some scholarship inspiration, check out my fellow blogger, Gabby, at Packs Light- she earned $40,000 in scholarships, including the Boren Scholarship!


When Generation Study Abroad first launched in 2014, only about 10% of American university students were taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. Given how much of a life-changing experience studying abroad was for me, is for the students I now work with, and will be for the upcoming generation of university students, it’s important to realize that it isn’t an opportunity available only to the wealthiest among us. If you’ve thought about studying abroad but have convinced yourself that it isn’t possible, or if you haven’t thought about it at all, I encourage you to check out the program and funding options available to you- this is the first step towards an academic experience that will most likely change your entire world-view. Studying abroad is not a semester off from “real school”, or a way for students to backpack across Europe; the right study abroad experience will be an opportunity for you to experience the world and your education in a way that you might never have thought was possible. Studying abroad will land you in a classroom with professors with completely different ideas than your own, with peers from completely different backgrounds than your own, and will allow you to challenge what you already know and believe in so that you can have a better and more clear understanding of the city, country, and world in which you live. If it were up to me, every university student around the world would have a cross-cultural experience as a part of their degree program, and I hope that you take advantage of the opportunity!

If you’d like help choosing a study abroad program, or need help figuring out a way to fund it, please don’t hesitate to contact me here. I’m more than happy to lend a hand to ensure that you find the best fit for you!

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How to Change the World Through Travel

How to Change the World Through Travel

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” — “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now” by Maya Angelou (1993)


Changing the world may seem like an incredibly lofty goal, especially in today’s world of intolerance and hate being slung by even those in positions of power in supposedly “great” nations.  So many people all over the world have such incredible and unfounded hatred for others , and it may seem like an essentially insurmountable hurdle to change this cycle of misinformation and misunderstanding.

I do, however, have a solution, and it’s largely inspired by my all-time favorite quote from Maya Angelou:

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

How powerful is that?  How powerful is it to consider that there are millions of people all over the world that you’ve never met and likely never will meet, and they’re all living in essentially the same way as you are.  We all have these fundamental needs and behaviors that are built into our very essence, but it’s so easy to forget that “other” people also experience all of these things.  So, the solution: we need to experience how other people experience these things at the expense of our own comfort.  Simple, right?

I have a very embarrassing confession to make that I hope will demonstrate the point that I’m trying to convey:

Years ago, when I was completing my first year of university in central Pennsylvania, I was strolling through the local grocery store with a friend.  We came across the greeting card aisle, and as it was getting close to Mother’s Day, there was a plethora of Mother’s Day greeting cards.  A handful of those cards were written in Spanish, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Why?  Why are they selling greeting cards in Spanish in central Pennsylvania?”  It’s inconceivable to me now that someone, especially myself, would actually think this way, but when I come across people expressing these sentiments, I have to understand.  I have to understand that people who have always lived in one place and haven’t truly experienced other people from other cultures, or culture shock, won’t understand the concept of people living differently than they do.  I understand this mentality, but I do not excuse it.

I had traveled before I started college.  I had traveled abroad several times, in fact.  But I had never been shocked in the way that I was when I first studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France.  Before, I had recognized that the people I saw when I was traveling were different, but they were also the “others”, and therefore unlike myself.  When I arrived in Marseille, I was immediately dropped in a place where I didn’t understand the people, language, or way of life, and I was shocked.  I was shocked that people lived so incredibly differently there than I had ever lived before, and yet, they were still living in much the same way that I did at home.  They went to school or work, ate and drank, slept and relaxed.  They had dogs and cats, and went grocery shopping, and ran into friends in the city.  They just did all of these things in a different way than I had experienced before.  And then it became clear I was expected to assimilate to that new lifestyle.  Some of these new facets of life were welcome, and others not, but regardless, I had to deal with it.  But beyond dealing with it, I had to understand it.  And with even more difficulty, I had to come to terms with what it meant to live within a culture that was unlike my own, and not have people adapt to meet me on my level.  I was expected to speak French because I was in France, and I had a newfound appreciation for anyone willing to come to my level and tolerate my Fren-glish.

Which brings me back to those Spanish greeting cards- a year earlier, I was looking at “foreign” cards and not understanding why they were even there in my English-speaking world.  After about a week in France, I truly understood what those cards could potentially mean to Spanish-speakers still struggling to learn English.  I made my first weekend trip to London despite having had already been there because I couldn’t WAIT to have English-speaking people surrounding me and signs in English to follow.  It took just a couple weeks of my first real time living abroad to understand what it felt like to be the “other”, and to appreciate the struggles that the “others” go through in my own culture.

I feel so lucky that I was able to have such a shocking experience that moved me so violently to the point that I was able to reconsider my view of “others” in such a significant way.  And this is precisely how travel, especially immersive travel, changes the world.  It forces us to confront ideas, people, and situations that aren’t familiar to us, and that makes us better, more tolerant people.  This development of tolerance and understanding in the midst of uncomfortable situations is exactly the reason that I believe everyone should travel or live abroad at least once in their lives.

I doubt I would recognize now the person who I was when I graduated from high school.  After having that first immersive experience, it became immediately and deafeningly clear how important it was for my world to be rocked.  I needed to cry myself to sleep out of confusion and frustration in order to understand that there are people all around the world living in even more different ways than the culture I was living in in Aix.  And there are people all around the world living in cultures other than their own faced with locals who simply do not understand what it’s like to be in their position.  I will never again judge someone who is struggling to speak English, as I know now what it feels like for someone to judge me for struggling to speak French, or even more painfully, Czech.

If you haven’t already, I first encourage you to go somewhere that’s different from the places you know.  Put yourself in an uncomfortable (albeit safe) situation, and learn what it feels like to be there and be the “other” despite trying to “fit in” by learning the customs or language.  And when you go to that place, don’t consider those different things to be wrong, but merely different.  Appreciate the difference for what they are, not what they aren’t.  And if traveling like this isn’t in the cards for you at the moment, get involved at home- find people who are struggling like this to fit in to your own culture, and offer to help.  Be a conversation buddy or a culture buddy- who knows, you may even get a new language or friend out of it!  Above all else, remember that we’re all human, and our humanity must come first.  Always.

Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovering Love

Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovering Love

Have you ever had the feeling that what you used to love, or at least, what used to excite you no longer does?  I have.  It’s the worst feeling to know that the things you strived for and once cared most about doing no longer hold your eye as they once did.  For me, this is a fairly common feeling that I get whenever I feel overwhelmed or anxious because I’m exhausted, and travel is exhausting.  Or, it can be for some people, and it often is for me.

This feeling is something that I’ve come to endearingly refer to as “travel fatigue”, and I know that I’m not the only avid traveler who experiences such a thing.  With that being said, I absolutely understand that not all avid travelers experience this feeling; everyone travels and experiences travel differently.  But, since I’ve traveled to New York, back to Prague, off to Singapore, and subsequently returned to Prague, I have had an unimaginable number of things to do- I think that I was jet lagged for all of January when all was said and done.  So by the time my new 107 students arrived at the beginning of last week, I was nearly unable to empathize with their excitement to travel Europe for the next four months.  I mean, does anyone sleep anymore?

After a crazy week working 10 or 12 hour days, I’ve finally had a second to breathe.  More importantly, I had a tour to run with 30+ of my students around the exterior of Prague Castle, which served as an opportunity to wander around a beautiful part of the city, outside, and enjoy what was happening around me.  I absolutely love traveling with my students because it helps me see things again for the first time, just as they’re usually seeing these things for the first time.  I’ve written before about the tendency for us to consider the extraordinary things around us as simply ordinary, but it’s tough to break out of that mentality and experience the seemingly “normal” things again as things which are truly incredible.  When I travel with my students, I get to see them experience things which are seemingly “normal” to me as something absolutely beautiful, new, and exciting.  Today, I spent two hours walking around the Prague Castle complex on the first tour of the semester for my new group of students, and while I was mainly focused on ensuring the tour was going well and photos were being taken, I was able to re-examine a place which I’ve now walked through dozens of times without really giving it a second glance.

After the tour was over, and my work was done, I took myself up to the top of the tower at St. Vitus Cathedral, which is the iconic neogothic structure in the center of the Prague Castle complex, and I am so glad that I did.  After realizing that I was incredibly unprepared for making the ascent to the top of the tower (you’d think all of this walking around Prague would mean something…), I finally reached the summit and sat down for a 5-minute breather.  Then, I looked at the view.

In the 20 seconds it took for me to take in the massive expanse of the Prague city skyline, I instantly realized why I live here, why I’m doing what I’m doing, and why I love traveling so much.  It’s that feeling you get when sitting at the highest point of any new and beautiful city, and I can think of countless places I’ve sat and thought how absolutely incredible it is that these cities all exist simultaneously and relatively independently of one another, but still exist in all of their beautiful glory.  But looking out at the orange and green Bohemian rooftops of Prague and its most famous architecture, I realized that this city is special.  At least, this city is special to me.  Usually I look out at cities from these viewpoints and I wonder what it’s like to live inside of those roofs, or what life might feel like in that place once you’re past the beautiful exterior.  Here, I understand.  I understand exactly what it’s like to live in an awesome neighborhood, what it’s like to work at the oldest university in the country, what it’s like to show a new group of people the magic of this place every four months.  I realized, upon looking out at the city, that I could identify all of the major landmarks I was seeing, the neighborhoods those landmarks were located in, and I could find my own apartment amongst the beautiful rooftops spread over the horizon.


Today, I got the urge to travel again to a new place in an effort to try to understand it.  I felt the desire to sit at the top of a hill in a city where I know no one and marvel at its beauty and mystery.  Today, I fell in love with Prague again.  I can’t wait until I get to fall in love with it again.

If you’re feeling lost in your own city, whether you live abroad, in a new city in your own country, or in the house you grew up in, I encourage you to go experience something new.  Go hiking in the nearby, unexplored forest.  Go try that restaurant that you’ve always said you’d like to visit, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  Go to a park you’ve walked through a million times, sit on a bench, and take in the surroundings.  No matter where you are, there is something magical to be found, whether it’s in the gorgeous rooftops, surrounding nature, or in the people that inhabit the place.  I’ve said it before, and I’m sure that I’ll say it again, I will no longer take this place or this opportunity for granted.  And I hope that you don’t either- every place you visit, everywhere you live, you will leave a part of your heart there, so you might as well get to know it well enough so that it leaves a part of its soul with you, too.

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Solo Traveling: To Tinder or Not to Tinder?

Solo Traveling: To Tinder or Not to Tinder?

When I travel, I make every effort to get my eyes off my phone in order to actually experience what’s around me.  What a concept, right?  But with increasingly accessible data and wifi around the globe, it can be tough to meet the people standing around you when everyone is too worried about checking their Instagram feeds or Snapchats.  When you’re traveling alone, this can be especially challenging, as meeting new people is often one of the best advantages to traveling alone, but can be quite difficult to manage.  Sigh.  There’s nothing we can do to change this in our current social media and selfie-obsessed culture, right?  Wrong!

On a recent trip to Visby, Sweden, I decided to try to give the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality a go.  I got myself on Tinder, and I started swiping in an effort to find someone that I could meet that didn’t massively creep me out.  I felt that Visby was a pretty great place to do this for a couple of reasons; the city/town of Visby is so tiny and it seems like everyone knows everyone, which is a pretty comforting feeling.  Visby is also an incredibly safe and cosy city, so the risk didn’t seem as great as it might be in other, bigger cities.

I ended up talking to someone via the chat function the first night I was there, and we agreed to meet for a drink the next day at a pub right off the the central town square.  Even before I met my Tinder friend in person, he was surprisingly helpful by giving me ideas of things to do in Gotland while I was there.  I actually received a lot of great tips from people I ended up not even meeting with, which goes to show the friendly and helpful nature of the beautiful people in that city, and how useful Tinder can be in other areas, as well.

Anyway, after an incredibly long day of site-seeing (I walked nearly 40 miles while I was in Gotland!), I met with Charles (Tinder friend) to try the local Visby beer at a small Irish pub.  We spent a few hours in the pub talking over some great beer- it was really a nice and unexpected experience.  We talked about politics, current events, Swedish/American/Czech/British/French cultures (there was a lot of experience to draw on from both sides), language, and about this beautiful town of Visby with which I’d already fallen in love.  This is exactly the kind of meeting I hope for every time I travel, and I’m not always so lucky to find it given that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet people.  I think that in those few hours I learned as much about Visby as I had while walking all over the city for hours over the course of three days.  I felt more connected to the people and the culture of this place as a result of this exchange with a local Visbian (if it wasn’t a thing, it is now).

After a couple of beers, we decided to take a walk around part of the old city, which was an equally interesting and engaging experience.  I had already walked down almost every passable street earlier in the day, and had spent an unimaginable amount of time staring at the beautiful architecture, but it was a very different experience walking around with a local in the evening.  We walked to one of the many ruined cathedrals in the town and stood admiring the architecture and view for quite a while.  I found it so interesting that Charles mentioned on multiple occasions that he hadn’t stopped to look at some of the things that I’d become so infatuated with in the city- I guess this may work both ways!  His comments to that effect also demonstrated to me how easy it is for me to do the same in my home environment.  While I recognize that I’m in an incredible unique and fortunate situation to have a view of Prague Castle from my office window, I can’t help but think how many times I blew through the beautiful country roads near my hometown in New York without admiring the natural beauty of the region.


I digress; walking through these streets in Visby for what seemed like the hundredth time that day was actually one of the best walks I had through the city that week.  Walking through a city, any city, and having the opportunity to look at it through someone else’s eyes is an incredible experience, and one that will likely teach you even more than you thought possible about your perceptions, as well as the city itself.

So, for the result of my experiment: I vote yes to Tinder While Traveling.  I think that it’s an interesting way to meet new people, especially local people, and can be a great cultural immersion tool.  With that being said, I think it’s incredibly important to “Tinder safely”, as it’s obviously necessary to be safe and smart while meeting any strangers while traveling.  Make sure that you only meet with someone in a very public place, and also be sure to tell someone else where you’ll be, even if they’re out of the city/country.  I think it’s also good to recognize that it’s absolutely fine to use Tinder for non-romantic purposes as I did in Visby!  Tinder can be a great resource for meeting new people while out traveling in this ever-increasingly digital atmosphere where it’s hard to even make eye contact with a real human.


Tinder and travel safely, my friends!



Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovery

Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovery

After months of having very little time or energy to give exploring the full attention it deserves, I decided to take a trip with my good friend, Ivana, to her hometown of Třeboň. Her hometown is actually a much smaller town next to Třeboň (which I’ll never be able to remember the name of), but we made our way around much of the region over the course of a delightful long weekend. Now that I’ve been living in Prague for nearly a year, I find myself too content to just sit in the city, or my apartment for that matter, instead of exploring all of the beautiful and historic places surrounding me. I guess that’s what having a full time job does for you, right? Well, no longer! My new Fall Resolution (which will henceforth be a thing) is to continuing exploring, trying new things, meeting new people, and truly taking advantage of all that this place in my life has to offer.  Because the Czech Republic is too incredible to ignore any longer.
Now that this grandiose statement has been made, the weekend:
On Friday, Ivana and I drove deep into Bohemia with two of our friends, Rita and Lukaš. Once we arrived at Ivana’s sister’s house, our homestay for the next few days, we all made our way to actual Třeboň to have dinner. We decided to treat ourselves to a wonderful meal at a restaurant whose name translates to “White Unicorn Restaurant”, and given that things are cheaper outside of Prague, it was a truly excellent meal without a terrifying sticker price. I even had a dessert, translated to “chocolate mass”, which was actually a chocolate blob with homemade ice cream- the best thing about going on holiday! Afterward, we grabbed a drink at a local bar where everyone seemed to know Ivana- it was really nice.
The next day, Ivana, Rita, and I made our way to a local castle, which was much different than I expected for whatever reason. The whole area around the castle was magical, it was so lovely to be out in the woods and park surrounded by incredibly beautiful architecture.
Afterwards, we wandered to České Budějovice to have a cup of coffee and grocery shop for our dinner. We grilled meat and veggies on a raclette grill and played Cards Against Humanity, aided by a few bottles of wine. Nights like these really make me feel like I’ve been able to make a life here- it all felt so normal and comfortable, and I realize how truly lucky I am to have these people in my life.
On Sunday, Rita and Lukaš left for Prague, so Ivana and I took the opportunity to explore Třeboň by daylight. I was so pleasantly surprised by this town! In the daylight, the colors of the buildings absolutely glow, and the atmosphere is just that of a small European village- people are friendly and there is just enough to see and do. We started our adventure by walking through the castle grounds, past the local brewery, to the lake. I’m sorry, pond. Well, you see, the definition of this body of water is up for debate because, as you can see from the photos, it’s a lake. Unless you ask Ivana. Anyway, we walked around the lake and enjoyed some autumn sunshine before stumbling upon a small winery which was selling the local delicacy of Burčak. This is a drink which can only be sold from August through November, and is the young form of local wines. It’s very sweet (as the sugar hasn’t had time to ferment yet), and very delicious.
We decided to forgo the mid-day wine festival (complete with an outdated and poorly translated Czech DJ), and continue walking around the lake. On our way, we noticed a tourist train coming around the bend on the dirt path along the water. This train is not an actual train, but one you might find at a zoo meant for moving people from one attraction to the next. We moved over to given the train room, and the next thing we know, we’ve been been hit full-force by the little engine that could. The only way I knew how I was one minute standing and the next minute sprawled across the dirt path was from the crunching sound I heart as the front end of the train hit both of our backs. The conductor said that he’d swerved to miss a child on a bike, and hit us instead. How sweet. Fortunately, aside from some sore muscles and bruised egos, it was a no harm no foul situation. Still hilarious, and still made me wonder how my life has not yet been turned into a sitcom. Anyway, after our near brush with death (or a chilly September swim), we continued along our way, a bit more slowly, as Ivana had been talking about a crypt that we could visit. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I don’t think it was this:
It felt like we’d stumbled across Snow White’s chapel in the middle of the forest along one of the most beautiful lakes I’d ever seen. Saying this is a crypt does the structure a huge disservice, because even if it really is a crypt, it’s also a magical little spot in the forest of Třeboň. We wandered inside and admired the chapel, and then made our way back to the town, careful to avoid any more rogue tourist trains.
Back in Třeboň, we grabbed a cup of coffee, wrote out some postcards, and then took a climb up a tower in the city center to get a view of the rooftops. The climb up was certainly worth it, as the rooftops and surrounding nature of this town were breathtaking. Or I was out of breath from the climb. Regardless, I loved every minute (shout out to Ivana who made the climb despite a sore back and fear of heights- this girl is the best, ladies and gentleman).
Once down from the tower, we made our way out of town, grabbed some dinner and a bottle of wine, and spent the evening drinking that wine while watching Eat, Pray, Love and painting our nails.
I had the best time this weekend, and I’m so glad that I decided to come despite how tired and grumpy I’ve been recently. Finding a work-life balance is tough, particularly when you’ve established your life around your work. And I love my work. I love my work so much, and I am so glad I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to international education. But I also need to practice what I preach, and this excursion into Bohemia was exactly that- a much needed and thoroughly enjoyable weekend with some of the best people I know.
Diaries of an Expat: What Does it Mean to Be American?

Diaries of an Expat: What Does it Mean to Be American?

By Katie Ford

As I sit in the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, I find myself surrounded by “American” cultural icons- a cowboy-themed bar, country music, multiple fast-food options, and a steakhouse.  But the thing is, I don’t really identify with any of these things in the way that many of the people around me seem to.  I actually feel like I often do when I’m traveling in other countries; I recognize the similarities between myself and those around me, but the difference are also glaringly obvious.

I’ve been traveling in the United States for various conferences and meetings over the past week and a half, and it has given me an interesting insight into my own culture, and that of different regions around the USA.  Probably the most valuable part of the time that I’ve spent back in the States is that I was visiting places I had never traveled to before, despite those places being located within the confines of my own country.  Furthermore, in New Orleans, the culture is significantly different than the culture in New York, my home state.  I felt as if I was visiting another country while I was there, and it was shocking to notice how little I fit in as a “typical American”.  So much of what I noticed people saying or doing seemed so foreign to me as I wandered through the streets of the Big Easy.  Is it possible that I’ve already lost fundamental components of my “American” culture?  Is it possible to actually lose culture?  At what point do you become a foreigner in your own country?

These are the questions I began asking myself.  It’s particularly interesting because when you live as an expat, you’re often defined by the place that you came from.  For instance, whenever I meet someone new in Prague, I’m always first asked where I’m from, as I am obviously not Czech.  As soon as I say, “the States”, “New York”, or any variation thereof, there is always an immediate judgement that you can practically see and feel.  I’ve never particularly minded that people tend to initially judge me based on my home town, state, or country, as those are certainly things that have played a large role in who I have developed into as an adult.  I also usually find that after I spend more time with those people, their judgements tend to shift as they realize that I don’t fit into most of the typical American stereotypes (thankfully).  Despite this, I have always been proud of being an American, of my home state and all that it offers, and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded because of those things.  On the other side of the coin, when I’m in the United States, and where I live somehow comes up in conversation, I am instantly judged as a foreigner.  An American who isn’t quite an American that lives a crazy and exotic life that seems essentially incomprehensible to many.  It’s hard for some people, especially those who haven’t traveled, to relate to me anymore, and it’s an interesting byproduct of becoming an expat.  You can’t relate to those who are native in your host country, as you’re obviously still foreign, but those at home also find you hard to relate to because you’ve made yourself somehow foreign.

The question of whether or not it’s possible to “lose” culture came up at one of the conference sessions I attended this week, and I thought it was a very interesting question.  There wasn’t really a general consensus in the room, although some of those in attendance had some very thought-provoking responses to the question.  I personally like the response from one woman working at a university in Barcelona.  At her university, they teach classes in Catalan, Spanish, and English in order to give all students, local and international, the opportunity to develop a wide array of language skills in order to better prepare them for the world.  The concept of culture is particularly poignant in Barcelona because of the ever-lasting Spanish versus Catalan culture contention.  She said that she doesn’t think her students lose anything in terms of culture when they take courses in a language outside of their own.  In fact, she said that she thinks that no matter where your cultural roots are, you will always have the ability to gather other cultural insights to incorporate them into your own, but that growth doesn’t negate your own culture, which will never change.  I feel like this fairly accurately describes how I have developed personally over the last 5 or so years since I first studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence.  Living abroad in three different countries has taught me how to learn from and truly appreciate other cultures while still maintaining my own identity.  The key thing, for me, is to recognize how my identity may be perceived by other people depending on what their previous exposure has been, and accepting that as something I can do nothing about.  The most important responsibility I have is to continue growing, developing, and learning about everything around me in an effort to become the most compassionate, well-rounded, and forward-thinking individual I can be.  Yes, I am an American.  I am also a global citizen, and part of this experience means reconciling the two.


Redefining the Role of the Traveler: Stereotypes and Traveling

Redefining the Role of the Traveler: Stereotypes and Traveling

By Katie Ford

Stereotypes are such a funny thing.  They occupy space in our minds as if they were a true representation of whatever that “thing” is, and it’s often difficult for us to reexamine our opinions once we’ve adopted a stereotype as truth.  When we travel, these stereotypes become all-important maps that determine how we interact with other people and other cultures.  When we experience another culture, country, or group of people through the attitude of a stereotype, we’re not really doing justice to the experience that’s before us, and often we’re left with an empty feeling about the thing we’ve experience, and we often leave a “bad taste” in the mouths of those we’ve interacted with.  So many times these experiences color the way in which we regard these countries, people, or cultures in the future, and how we relate them to friends and family at home, which only serves to perpetuate these stereotypes that we’ve unfairly established.

The example of French culture comes to mind when I consider the problem of stereotypes as they relate to traveling, although of course it isn’t the only example. Often those who haven’t experienced French culture have quite negative opinions of French culture and people before ever stepping foot in the country. The French are often viewed as cold, entitled, and unforgiving. All of these judgments do a great disservice to the French culture, but more importantly, to the French people.  Many Americans believe it will be impossible to travel in France without speaking French because of how nasty the French are to non-French speakers.  I’ve even been told by people that the French pretend not to speak English, even when they do, because they hate non-French speakers so much. I found this to be completely absurd, as my somewhat lengthy experiences with French people and culture reflect a completely opposite reaction to English speakers.  Even in the infamously intolerant city of Paris I’ve had excellent conversations with waiters and other Parisians in tourist areas, speaking in both English and French, many times in English because these conversations provided my conversation partner with an opportunity to practice English.  I’ve been told that the French are entitled because they expect that everyone who visits France to speak French.  My response?  Well, yes.  And they should.  When someone visits my home country, I typically expect that they at least make the effort to speak in English, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.  Why should the French be expected to speak my language in their country?

I appreciate that it is likely impossible for a traveler to learn the language of every country they visit- I certainly can’t.  It is, however, important to make an effort to greet people in their own language, and be polite, especially when communicating in your native language.  Appreciate that this person is making a sacrifice for your comfort while you’re visiting their home, and act accordingly.  You’ll be surprised how quickly those “French assholes” turn into kind and generous people once you actually attempt to adapt to their culture while in their country.  Presuming that natives of any country that you visit will be able to cater to your needs is inconsiderate at best and straight up rude in its extreme forms.  Stereotypes like these can be extremely harmful to cross-cultural understanding and acceptance of other cultures that you’ll encounter while traveling, and they’re totally unnecessary barriers.  If you are willing and able to approach a new culture with an open mind and open heart, you’re much more likely to have a fantastic experience, and you’re much more likely to learn about that culture as well as your own. Travelers are in a unique diplomatic position, as they’re on the cultural “front line”, and they serve as ambassadors of their own country and culture.  How will you take that responsibility and transform it into something beautiful?

And when you can’t figure out what the signs say, miming always works too 😉

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3 Ways to Survive the Holidays Abroad

3 Ways to Survive the Holidays Abroad

By Katie Ford

Most would agree that studying abroad is an incredible experience, and it is worth the school events, club activities, and parties that you might miss while you’re away.  I doubt that anyone would argue that studying abroad becomes much more difficult when you’re away from your family during the holidays.  There are ways to help lessen any homesickness you might be feeling, and that will allow you to enjoy the holidays, even when you’re abroad!  Here are some great ways to overcome homesickness while you’re away for the holidays:

  1. Celebrate anyway!  Especially with holidays like Thanksgiving, it’s super easy to have your own celebration with American friends who are also studying abroad.  You can gather everyone’s favorite recipe from their own family Thanksgiving so that everyone gets one dish that’s a comfort Thanksgiving food.  You can even make cooking a group activity to stave off the homesickness that holidays can bring.  Hosting an American holiday abroad is also a great way to share your culture with your new friends from your host culture!  Invite local friends to your Thanksgiving dinner so that they get to participate as well- trust me, they’ll appreciate it (especially with all that great food)!  You may also be able to find restaurants in your host city that prepare a traditional meal if you’re unwilling or unable to cook on your own.  Just spending time with friends from your home culture will help you feel more in touch with the holiday and your family at home.
  2. Skype.  One of my favorite things to do when I’m away for the holidays is to Skype home with my family during their celebration.  This usually means me staying up ridiculously late to be passed around on an iPad or laptop while everyone watches the football game, but it’s well worth the laughs that come from getting my grandma to understand the concept of Skype.  Skyping home to be involved with your family’s celebration is a great way to feel connected to the festivities.
  3. Travel.  Traveling during a holiday that you can’t be home for is a great way to take your mind off the fact that you’re not home with your family.  Last year I spent Christmas Eve (probably my favorite holiday) in a pub in Scotland, and I had the best time ever surrounded by two friends and a whole bunch of Scottish strangers.  If you go out to a bar or restaurant for a holiday abroad, especially a holiday that is celebrated internationally, you’re also likely to meet locals that are celebrating alone/with friends, and you might be able to join their group!  Plus, if you’re traveling to cities that are also celebrating the holiday, you’ll be exposed to different traditions from another culture- what a great way to learn something new about the holiday!

Being away from home during any holiday isn’t fun, but you can certainly still enjoy these holidays even while you’re abroad!  Take the time during the holidays to learn about holiday traditions in your host country, and perhaps even share some of your own customs with your host friends/family/community.  Sharing traditions, values, and insights is a huge part of why studying abroad is such a great tool for bridging gaps between countries and cultures all over the world.  Use your time abroad, especially times when you might be most homesick, to encourage understanding and acceptance of other cultures, and embrace new holiday traditions while sharing your own!

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Thanksgiving 2013 in Cardiff, Wales- 4 nationalities were represented!

Toiletry Hacks for Traveling

Toiletry Hacks for Traveling

By Katie Ford

How annoying is it to plan a big backpacking trip, pack up all of your necessary items into a carry-on backpack, and then realize that all of your toiletry items don’t fit into that tiny clear plastic bag?  Well, my friends, I’ve discovered the Holy Grail of travel-friendly toiletry items!  I spent some time visiting my local LUSH store in Nanuet, NY learning all about the amazing products they have available that are super travel-friendly.  All of these products are for use by men or women, and are all-natural as well as cruelty-free- I don’t think it gets much better!

Here are my favorites for my next backpacking adventure:

My first travel essential is always shampoo and conditioner.  I see no reason to let my hair hygiene habits go by the way-side when I’m out on the road.  LUSH has the perfect alternative to carrying around tiny travel-sized bottles of shampoo: the Shampoo Bar.

Each of these little round bars is shampoo that can be used for 60-100 washes!  That’s as much as a large bottle of shampoo that you’d buy at the grocery store, and it doesn’t count towards your liquid limit.  There are several different ones, and each adds something to your hair, so if you’re looking for something specific (e.g. to help with fine hair, curly hair, colored hair, etc.) then pop into a LUSH store to speak with an associate who can point you in the right direction.  Otherwise, this product is available on their website.

And what is a solid shampoo without a conditioning friend, right?  There are two choices for solid conditioner at LUSH, but I’ve tried (and love) the “Jungle” one.

This one feels much more like a “normal” conditioner in your hair, so it won’t be too different from your usual routine.  With both the solid shampoos and conditioner, you just need to rub the bar between wet hands while you’re in the shower to get some of the lather out of it, and then use as you usually would with shampoo/conditioner!  For additional travel-friendliness, you can stick these in a case (sold to fit the sizes in store) so that they can just be dropped in your bag.  I’ve also put them in their own plastic baggies, but if you do this while they’re wet, they stay soggy until you’re able to remove them and dry them out.

One of my least-favorite things while traveling is how dry my skin seems to get.  Carrying around decent lotion is not only a pain, but it’s kind of expensive!  LUSH has two solid options that can replace daily body moisturizers- Massage Bars and Body Butters.

Massage Bars are typically used right when you get out of the shower (so your body is still warm!)

You simply rub one of these bars in between your hands to get it warmed up, and then rub it all over.  It leaves your body moisturized and smelling wonderfully (and again, does not count towards your liquid limit in carry-on baggage).  There are also tins sold for these, although you can try sticking these in a plastic bag as well, just be careful not to put too many heavy things on top or it’ll break.

Body Butters are used while you’re still in the shower to give you a pre-moisturized body before you even dry off!

There are two options for these, “Buffy” (pictured above) or “King of Skin”.  I have tried “Buffy”, and I absolutely love it because it’s also an exfoliator (it contains ground almonds and rice), so it left my skin feeling incredibly soft.  ”King of Skin” has bananas as its main ingredient, and is only a moisturizer, although it too leaves skin feeling incredibly soft.

Both the Massage Bars and Body Butters are great for traveling, as they’re solids and are relatively small.  You really don’t need to use both to have moisturized skin, either, so choose your favorite to save space while you’re out and about!

The last product I found to be a travel break-through are the Toothy Tabs.  These little solid toothpaste tabs are a great alternative to carrying around liquid toothpaste bottles.

All you need to do is bite one of the little tabs between your front teeth, and then crush it up until it foams.  Once it’s foamy you can just brush as usual with a wet toothbrush- I’m also told that you can just chew it and swish it around if you’re in a pinch and don’t have a toothbrush available.  I’ve tried this one (“Dirty”), and I must say that it will take some getting used to, but to avoid another liquid in my bag it’s a good alternative!  The great thing is that these boxes are tiny, and can fit easily into a purse, makeup bag, or side pocket of a backpack, so they’ll take up almost no space.

The last couple of products that I use while I’m traveling aren’t LUSH, but they’re still great!  I hate the idea of bringing shaving cream around with me, so I always bring a Schick Intuition razor.

I love these because the razors last for quite a while, and I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cut myself shaving over the last several years that I’ve used this product.  There aren’t any “liquid” components to it, the soap bar around the razor serves as the shaving cream (and as a post-shave moisturizer all-in-one).  You’ll just need to bring the razor base and a couple of the razor refills if you’ll be away for a while, and you’ll be all set!  These can typically be purchased at any grocery or drug store in the razor section.  They’re also sold in certain countries abroad (like the UK), so you can refill on the road if you need to.

My last go-to favorite product is the Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes by Neutrogena.  Even when I’m traveling, I still try to take care of my face and skin, and removing my makeup at night is key for me to control breakouts.

These towelettes are super effective at removing all of my makeup (including waterproof mascara), and they’re liquid-free!  They’re sold in both soft packages and hard cases, so you can choose whichever is best for you (soft is typically better for backpacking, as they can be squished into a makeup bag without any damage).  These can typically be purchased in any drug store, Target, or Walmart in the make-up section.

After packing all of these liquid-free products, the only items that I would need to put into my clear plastic bag are face wash and hair mousse!  Of course, the products that you need/use will determine how many additional liquids you’ll have, but it’s sure to be fewer once you take shampoo/conditioner, moisturizers, and toothpaste out of the equation.  If you’re able to get by without any liquids, think of how much easier airport security will be!

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*A special thanks to Barry and Nikole at LUSH Nanuet for their help!*