A Year in Reflection

A year ago from today my mother dropped me off at the Windsor airport.

I held back my tears on the drive there, but ultimately began sobbing once I hugged my mom goodbye. It was the first time we would be so far apart for so long. I was terrified.

Now, when I think back to everything that I experienced when I was away, I can’t believe I was so terrified.

I watched the sun set from seven different countries over the course of 200 days.

I ate Belgian waffles in Belgium, and I fell in love with Kasteel Rouge.

I drank a Guinness in Dublin, and I sat on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.

I saw the entirety of London from the London Eye, and posed for a typical tourist pic next to a red phone booth.

I toured the oldest castles in Wales, and watched the biggest rugby game of the year in a pub.

I tried banana beer in Germany, and walked the beautiful streets of Kleve.

I did my best to make zero eye-contact in the Red Light District, and I visited as many coffeeshops as possible in Amsterdam.

I went snorkeling every day in Malta, and I ate the best burgers from the Hot Shots burger van every night.

I cried tears of joy and tears of sadness when I landed in America.

After coming home, I finished my last semester at Ferris and I was a featured student at my commencement ceremony in December.

I spent my semester co-planning the Conversations on Race event on campus, and I tutored Umair, a Pakistani international student, in English. He passed his Michigan English test and I somehow managed to pass my exams.

I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted as a Secondary Education English teacher in Mongolia, my country of choice!

This past year has been the best year of my life – so far – but I know the years ahead will be great too.

Below, you can watch the short video I made composed of pictures and videos from my time in Europe:

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5 Ways to Cut Down on Money While Traveling

There are many ways you can travel or study abroad and not break the bank. By being in the Netherlands for 6 months, I am actually saving money.

I came here with a budget of $6,000 USD, or  ‎€5,300 after being converted from dollars to euros. Five months ago that didn’t seem like much and I was right. That budget would have left me with a little under a thousand per month to afford rent, food, travel and extra expenses for six months. Despite knowing this, I was determined to make it work.

Since arriving back in January, I have been able to afford traveling to England, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and soon to be added to the list: Malta.

I have also been able to treat myself to the occasional dinner out with friends, movie tickets, concerts and day trips around the Netherlands.

Even with all of these nice extras, I’m going home with money in my savings!

I couldn’t believe it either, and I wouldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for these money saving tips and tricks:

1. Workaway.info

I will forever be grateful for stumbling across workaway.info. More information about this useful website can be found in my previous blog post here, but this website has been my key to saving thousands of dollars.

In short, you pay approximately $30 for a two year membership on workaway.info, and with that membership comes endless opportunities around the world.

Whether you’re traveling for two weeks, two months, or two years, there’s a workaway position that’s perfect for you. Most of the volunteer options listed on the website are working in hostels (what I’m doing), working on a farm, or teaching English to a family and living in their home. While all of the positions vary slightly, they all promise free accommodation and food in exchange for your volunteer work!

Since room and board is the biggest expense in any trip, this website was a huge help and probably the only reason I was actually able to study abroad. Living in the Netherlands can be expensive!

2. Cheap airfare

Flying from the United States to anywhere in Europe is way overpriced.

Luckily for myself, being from Detroit means I’m really close to Canada, and flying from Canada to Europe means saving $500 on airfare. I wish I was kidding!

For a round trip ticket from Detroit to Amsterdam, I was looking at spending $1300 or more for the dates I was searching. When I purchased my ticket from Windsor to Amsterdam, I only paid $850. It’s still disgustingly expensive, but I’ve seen worse.

If you’re able to fly from Canada, seriously consider it.

If you’re flying from Europe to the U.S., consider flying into Boston and then to your final destination. For some reason Boston is really cheap and I’ve found tickets from Amsterdam to Boston for $250, depending on the dates. Although this means you won’t be flying direct, it can save you so much money in the long run.

One tip I wish I knew before arriving: do not book a return flight for such a long trip.

Plans change and I’m a walking example of that.

Instead of getting on my return flight June 11th, I am now getting on a flight to Malta instead!

Obviously when I booked my flights back in December, I had no idea I’d end up living in Malta. I would have saved myself some money by booking a one-way flight, but those things can’t be predicted and I was better safe than sorry.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t be booking my flight back to the U.S. until I’ve arrived in Malta. Who knows what I’ll want to do once I’m there?

Also, when you’re flying from country to country across Europe, your best bet for cheap airfare is Ryanair or Aerlingus, depending on your destination.

3. Pack basic clothes and don’t bring accessories!

Clothes in Europe can be expensive – so expensive it hurts not only my wallet, but my heart as well.

My first month here I made the mistake of buying all of these fancy European clothes because I wanted to “fit into” this new European culture I was exposed to.

Except here’s the thing: most of these people wear basic colors (black, white, brown) and make their outfits unique through accessories. And the accessories can be cheap!

The H&M accessory section has become my new best friend. Whether I’m looking for jewelry, a scarf, or some shoes, I know I can go to H&M and find something that will be in my budget. This has proved to be helpful on more than one occasion, but specifically when I wear the same black shirt five days in a row and try to make it look like a new outfit every time. Not kidding, wish I was!

4. Cook your own food

As a part of my workaway agreement, I am able to order practically everything from the supermarket, apart from meat, and it’s all covered by my employers. Even wine!

Because of this, there is almost no reason for me to eat at restaurants or order take-out (although sometimes I have to splurge).

Food at the restaurants in the Netherlands can get really expensive, really fast. A simple burger and fries for €16 can turn into a $20 meal after the exchange rate and fees. No thanks!

5. Do as many free or discounted activities as possible

 

If the local bar offers drink specials on a Tuesday, don’t go there on a Thursday and pay double the price. That’s just silly.

If it’s a nice sunny day, go for a walk, ride a bike, or have a picnic in the park. Some of my best memories in the Netherlands have been on days where I didn’t spend more than €5, and that money went toward having beers on the canal.

When you’re surrounded by good company, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great time. Sometimes all you need is each other.

Too cheesy? I think so.

 

 

 

The Belgian Boys

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Sorry for my two week hiatus! I’ve been keeping busy in Utrecht and planning my trips for the rest of the semester.

My first trip planned outside of the Netherlands was Gent, Belgium.

Gent was never on my radar, until two weeks ago when I answered the phone while working at the hostel. On the other end, I heard the Belgian Boys.

The Belgian Boys is not the name of an alternative band (it should be), but actually two dudes from Gent who decided to hitchhike to Utrecht two weeks ago.

They seemed really nice, so my coworkers and I decided to show them around Utrecht and we all had a blast. Within the week, they invited us to visit them in Gent, so we booked our bus tickets within the day.

After spending 3.5 hours on a bus, our first mission was to try some Belgian beer. I’m not typically a fan of beer, but the Kasteel Rouge was amazing. The taste was a perfect blend of cherry and malt. One half of the Belgian Boys gave me the suggestion, and I’m highly considering making that my new go-to drink.

I also tried at least 10 other brands of beers, but Kasteel Rouge was my favorite.

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My coworker and I drinking on the canal. 

We spent the day walking along the canals, admiring the castles, and visiting the churches. You could tell there’s so much history in Belgium, it was nothing like the cities I’ve visited in America.

We also made it a point to try Belgium waffles, fries and chocolate. The Belgian Boys took us to one of their favorite fry shops and it was amazing. I came to the conclusion that Belgium food is perfection. At least in Gent.

After filling up on an unhealthy amount of fries, we went to a bonfire party and drank even more beer.

The night was amazing, and I can’t thank the Belgian Boys enough for being our hosts. We’re so excited for you to come back to Utrecht in the next couple of weeks!

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The city center of Gent, Belgium.

Apart from my trip to Belgium, I have also planned a few others:

  • Germany within the next few weeks
  • Cardiff and London in March
  • Dublin in May
  • Figeac, France for the month of June

I’m sure the list will continue to grow, and I’ll make sure to keep you all updated on my next adventure.

Until next time!