This post was made possible through a collaboration with TINZ. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.
If you’re about to embark on a stint of travelling, whether it be your first or fifth time, there are some things you simply need to know before you go. To make your trip a lot easier and more enjoyable for yourself, keep these 4 must-know tips in mind.
You’ll want to make sure you’re making the correct preparations before you even embark on your travels. Packing is just one thing to consider – and depending on where you’re going and how long for, it could be a challenge. If you’re planning on going away for the long-term, be sure to not overload yourself with too much.
Bring a few outfits you know will be comfortable and durable, as well as suitable for the climate you’re about to head into. Don’t bring your whole wardrobe – you won’t wear nearly as much as you may anticipate. And don’t fill your case or bag to the brim with gadgets and unnecessary extras, as you’re overestimating the amount of things you’ll need. Make it easy on yourself and bring just the bare essentials. Your phone and camera is more than enough.
Stay Vigilant and Careful
Regardless of where you’re going in the world, you need to be careful. Opportunists and potential danger can be found anywhere, and travellers can easily be a prime target should you not be taking precautions. Don’t, for example, flaunt your expensive valuables in areas that are particularly underdeveloped and risky – you never know who is watching, and incidents such as bag-snatching are becoming increasingly popular in areas such as Southeast Asia.
And be sure to look after your luggage, too – if it goes missing, making a claim for it can be tricky. It all depends on the circumstances, and if it was out of your power, you should be successful. Be negligent and fail to look after your things, though, and TINZ details how it may not work out in your favour.
Respect the Different Cultures
You’ll notice in certain areas of the world just how prevalent and important culture can be. Head to a country like Thailand, for example, and you’ll be potentially overcome by the many customs and norms that play a part in day-to-day to life – paying respect to the national anthem twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., is just one of them. That’s not to mention the taking off of shoes before entering certain buildings, too, as the feet are said to carry bad energy being at the bottom of the body. But Thailand isn’t the only place in the world where the culture is crucially important to understand and respect. The locals likely won’t be too upset should you slip up once or twice, but be sure to do your best to fit in and appreciate the many cultures you may experience.
Don’t Hold Back
Many travellers fail to make the most out of their experience because they’re too afraid to. Don’t be scared to dive in and embrace every opportunity that comes your way – travelling is something that requires you to not hold back, and instead live it to its fullest potential. Whether it be challenging yourself with an activity such as bungee jumping or trying some of the world’s weirdest food – anyone for a fried tarantula? – travelling opens doors that lead to unparalleled levels of self-discovery.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore. The world is quite literally your oyster.
In less than two weeks, I’m heading back to Spain for my second year as a language assistant.
After a summer at home during which I had ample time to reflect (mostly while working on my tan at the beach), there are a few things I’d like to share about my first year in Spain.
My experience teaching English and living abroad has, thus far, been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t be more excited to be heading back for round two. However, as is to be expected when you’re a human being living life, the year wasn’t without its challenges. Breaking news: life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
In the spirit of transparency, which is one of the things that first drew me to blogging, I’m putting it all out there and recapping the good, the bad and the lovely from my first year in Spain.
The day we signed on our apartment was one of relief and triumph. It would have been easy to settle for a property (in fact, we almost did), but we held out and found a place we now proudly call our home.
I love our apartment. Like seriously love it. Both our living room and bedroom have huge sliding glass doors that open up onto the cutest balconettes overlooking a park. We’ve got pretty parquet floors and a little breakfast bar that’s just perfect for two. Pictures of family and friends, stacks of books, our ever-growing magnet collection and a few potted plants give the apartment that personal touch.
It was a struggle, but we found our home away from home. After a long day, I feel so lucky to return to such a comfortable and cozy space.
I was attracted to the program because it was a surefire way for me to support myself and legally live in Spain. The job itself was irrelevant. I probably would have given garbage collecting a shot if it meant I could live in Madrid. A job is a job is a job. I figured I would put in my hours each week and be done with it. I expected not to like work (perhaps even hate it).
Imagine my surprise when a month into the school year I realized I was actually enjoying what I was doing. My friends and family couldn’t believe I, who have never been much of a “kid person,” liked working with children.
Teaching primary students, particularly first graders, is incredibly fulfilling. Really, they’re amazing little creatures. So hopeful and eager to learn. Even the hellish commute couldn’t get me too down because I knew I had two dozen smiling faces waiting for me at the end of it.
If that was too cheesy, I’m sorry, but it’s true! A year ago, I was slinging bras and panties at a department store. Today, I have the privilege of helping teach children language skills that will shape their future.
There’s a reason everyone loves Europe. My five-week backpacking trip after I graduated from college opened my eyes to all the wonders the continent holds. I’ve got a “must-visit” list in my Notes app, and it seems like every time I tick a place off, I add somewhere new.
This year, I visited:
Prague, Czech Republic
My favorite destination in Spain was Cordoba, which I visited with my family and Taylor over Christmas. I didn’t know much about the city going in and was impressed by its history. We took a fantastic guided tour that began in the city’s old Jewish quarter and finished in the spooky Alcázar which was used during the Spanish Inquisition. Cordoba, known for its whitewashed buildings adorned with colorful potted plants, is picture-perfect Andalusia. And of course, the La Mezquita, the city’s mosque-cathedral, is not to be missed.
My favorite destination outside of Spain was Budapest, Hungary. One of my college professors, who had spent some time teaching in a Hungarian university, peaked my interest in the city, and I’ve wanted to visit ever since. It didn’t disappoint. Why did I like it so much? Well, it’s hard to put my finger on it. The city is architecturally stunning. The people are friendly. The food (and wine) is delicious. The nightlife is the actual coolest. It’s all of those things, really. I just dug Budapest’s vibe. Sometimes a destination is exactly what you need exactly when you need it.
I did it! When I left Spain in the fall of 2014 after my three-month stint as an au pair, I promised myself that I would find a way to return. It wasn’t easy. The visa process was a headache, and the apartment hunting was a nightmare, but with everything I overcame, I gained a little more confidence. I’m not even 25 years old yet, and I’ve already realized one of my lifelong dreams: living abroad. I set my mind to something and made it happen. Woohoo, I’m a rockstar. If I can do this, what else is possible?
Turns out, the Madrid rental market is crazy competitive.
In our first few days, Taylor and I called nearly 100 places. I spent hours and hours scrolling through online listings. We’d walk up and down street after street in the afternoon heat craning our necks for “se alquila” signs. On three separate occasions, we had appointments to see a property, but upon arrival, we were told it was already taken.
It was incredibly frustrating to say the least especially after all the preparation I’d done. At my lowest point, I wondered if I’d made a mistake in coming to Spain. I cried myself to sleep that night because, if I couldn’t even find a damn apartment, how was I going to manage life abroad?!
Going into the program, I knew I would have to commute, so I was prepared for the 50 minutes to an hour it took me to get to school every Tuesday and Thursday. I used the commute time to read, listen to podcasts, check email, etc. In the morning, it was an opportunity to mentally prepare myself for the day. In the afternoon, it was a chance to decompress.
That actually sounds kind of nice, right?
On the other hand, my Wednesday and Friday commute was an absolute monster. Usually leaving the apartment around 7:20 a.m., I began my mornings with a frantic sprint around the corner to the bus stop. The bus took me to the metro station, and I rode the metro for 40 minutes. At 8:15 a.m., I was on another bus which dropped me off 40 minutes later about half a mile from my school. If everything ran smoothly, I’d walk into the classroom right around 9 a.m.
With so many moving parts though, my commute didn’t always go according to plan. The bus that took me to my school only ran once every hour. If I wasn’t on the bus at 8:15 a.m., which happened several times, I was SOL.
Getting home was a whole other nightmare. School ended at 2 p.m., but the bus didn’t come until 2:40 p.m. On a good day, it only took me 2 and a half hours to get home.
The Spanish are known for being extremely social, and after a year in Madrid, I definitely agree. It could be a random Tuesday in the dead of winter, and you’ll still find packed bars with Spaniards drinking copas until the wee hours of the morning.
However, Spaniards, in my experience, aren’t the type of people who will strike up a conversation with a stranger, especially a foreigner. To be honest, they’re a little cliquey. It can be intimidating to try and break in. Even when you do manage to break in, the Spanish are private people, which I relate to and respect. As it should be, friendship is a serious matter. While Spaniards are happy to make your acquaintance, a relationship with any depth takes significant time and effort to cultivate.
With our busy travel schedule, we didn’t leave ourselves a lot of free weekends to go out and meet people–Spanish or otherwise. When we did have time, there was often the language barrier to contend with. Making friends is tough and definitely not for the faint of heart.
Sharing every experience with Taylor
I put my own spin on the name of this post because, even on the worst days this year, nothing was ugly. Even when I was tired or homesick or actually sick, I was still waking up every morning in Spain. Even more than that, I was waking up next to my best friend and the love of my life.
Having someone to share your adventure with makes the good days even better and the bad days bearable. Taylor was my shoulder to cry on, my voice of reason and the best travel buddy anyone could ask for.
I thought we were close prior to moving to Spain, but this year brought us even closer. Separated from friends and family, we became each other’s everything. That’s a big test for a relationship, but I like to think we passed with flying colors. After this year, I know that no matter where I am in the world, I will feel at home as long as I’m with Taylor.
There you have it. The good, the bad and the lovely. What do you think? Should I do it all over again?
With the exception of a few trips around Spain, my backpack has mostly remained tucked away since moving to Madrid. Well, that’s certainly about to change.
That’s right. I’m preparing to hit the road again, and I’m excited to share my travel plans with you.
February: Porto, Portugal
Oh yes, Spain’s next door neighbor. It was difficult to choose between Porto and Lisbon (Portugal’s capital), but I went with the coastal city renowned for its Port wine production. One of the friends I’m traveling with works in the wine industry, and I’m–let’s just say–a wine enthusiast. Thus, our decision was an easy one. Lisbon will just have to wait for another time.
February: Granada, Spain
My boyfriend and I made a spontaneous day-trip to Granada when we were backpacking around Europe in 2014. Spontaneity, yay! Actually, not in this case. Due to the unexpectedness of our little venture, we missed out on Granada’s number one must-see: the Alhambra Palace. During peak season, tickets sell out months in advance, and we weren’t able to visit. Yes, it’s pretty embarrassing to tell people we’ve been to Granada and haven’t visited the Alhambra. This time around though, the trip has been thoroughly planned. Tickets? Check.
March: Dublin, Ireland
I’ll be missing St. Patty’s Day by a week. I’m not sure if that’s fortunate or unfortunate. Regardless, I’m pumped for some Guinness. This will be my first European destination where English is the primary language spoken. That should be an interesting experience in and of itself.
March: Barcelona, Spain
Yet another Spanish destination my 2014 backpacking trip didn’t do justice. I’m Barcelona-bound with an itinerary focused on Gaudi sightseeing. This trip, my plan is fewer clubs and more art.
March: Budapest, Hungary
I have a long-standing fascination with Budapest. Actually Eastern Europe in general. This spring break my dreams will be realized. Bring on the palinka (which is apparently some kind of Hungarian fruit brandy). If you’ve tried it, tell me: should I be scared?
March: Vienna, Austria
I’ll only be spending one night in Vienna, which a few people have said is a crime, but I figure it’s better than spending zero nights in the Austrian capital.
March: Prague, Czech Republic
I can’t think of a better city with which to conclude my winter/spring travels than this historic destination. To be honest, I don’t know much about Prague, so please send any and all travel tips my way! I know there’s a lot to see, and as always, I want to make the most of my time.
There you have it, folks. My 2016 winter/spring travel plans! That backpack is about to get some serious use. Five new cities. Five new countries. Seven destinations total. Let’s do this.
What do you think of my 2016 plans? If you’ve visited any of these destinations, I’d love to hear about your experience!