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:

Post Travel Blues

It’s been awhile since you last heard from me, but rest assured, I’m alive and well.

I returned home on July 31st and was thrown right back into my old, every day lifestyle. I bought a car, learned to drive in Detroit traffic again, went shopping at the over-sized American supermarkets, and began living in my old apartment again.

It was great seeing all of my friends and family members because I missed them so much, and I loved telling them about my trip, but I probably repeated my favorite stories five times a day and eventually it got old. For everyone.

After the initial excitement I felt upon returning home, I eventually started experiencing some post travel blues. I wanted to go back to my life in the Netherlands, where I could hop on a plane and fly anywhere in Europe, ride my bike along a canal, or even go back to Malta where the only thing on my daily agenda was sunbathing on a beach.

But instead of annoying people and sulking over my amazing experiences, I decided to take action and plan for my next one.

Don’t get me wrong, Michigan is great, but now that I’ve had a little taste of life across the Atlantic, I can’t wait to go back!

Since I’m scheduled to graduate this December, I began researching careers and volunteer opportunities abroad that I can begin applying for right now.

I considered joining the circus, working for a U.S. embassy, selling my car and traveling until I go broke, or applying for the Peace Corps.

All of the above are great options (joining the circus the most tempting all), but I decided the best one for me right now would be joining the Peace Corps.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a volunteer program for Americans who want to help communities abroad. It’s different from the other volunteer opportunities abroad because you don’t have to pay a high fee to join, and instead you actually get paid to be there. The volunteer opportunities range from teaching school children English (what I applied for), to health outreach, and even agriculture related positions.

If I were to be offered a volunteer position with the Peace Corps, I would be shipped overseas (I’m hoping for Mongolia) and live and work in a new country for 27 months! It may seem like a long time, but in the big scheme of things, it’s really not.

Plus, I would be working in a controlled environment near other volunteers and have access to adequate health care.

I think this would be the next big step for me, and I have already been contacted by a recruiter who thinks I have a pretty great shot.

Fingers crossed!

Welcome to America

I am currently writing this to you all from the airport in Boston while I wait for my flight to Detroit.

In 5 hours I will be landing in my home city where I will be met by my mom and Leona (the pug).

When I arrived at the airport in Boston, I was greeted by a TSA agent who gave me a high five and said “welcome back home!”

Initially, I felt so happy to be in America again, but after about five minutes his words felt like a slap in the face.

There was a point during my trip where I wanted nothing more than to return home and see familiar faces. I wanted to be in a place that felt like home to me.

Now that the day is here, I wish I was sitting on a canal in Utrecht or laying on a beach somewhere in Malta. Or basically anywhere outside of this airport.

I have extended this trip three different times and I would extend it longer if I could. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look up flights to other countries.

Luckily, my dwindling bank account talked me out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited to see everyone that I’ve missed, but I think a part of me will always want to go back.

Over the past seven months I have visited seven countries, seen the sunset 200 times, flown in 10 airplanes, drank at least 100 bottles of wine, met thousands of people, and made countless memories in the process.

I would not change a single thing.

This little chapter of my life has been so transforming and personal for me, and I feel that if I share more with my readers I would be giving away a part of myself.

So I will end with this:

If you are thinking about dropping everything and seeking out something greater for yourself, do it.

It took me way too long to get the nerve to travel on my own but I finally did it. And I will do it again, and again, and again.

See you soon, Michigan.

Until next time, Europe.

20 Reasons to Travel in Your 20’s

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Original photo taken by Gabi Zerafa.

Your 20’s can be some of the best years of your life. You may be approaching your final year of college and you’re clueless with what you want to do for the rest of your life (hello!), or you could just be an adrenaline junkie looking for your next fix. Either way, traveling is a great way to meet new people, make new memories and open yourself up to new ideas and possibilities.

Here’s a list of reasons why I think you should book your next plane ticket now:

1. You gain practical experience that will always be beneficial.

I learned how to live with people from all over the world, share my space and ask for help when I really needed it. I can say I have shared a one bedroom apartment with three other girls and survived! I learned how to communicate my needs effectively and also compromise when I needed to. All of the experiences I had while traveling have taught me something that I can take back with me when I finally return to my “normal” life.

2. Traveling helps you remember the history lessons you forgot about during your freshman year of college.

Like the fact that England colonized the entire planet.

3. THE FOOD.

Oh man, don’t even get me started about the food. I strongly despised pizza in America but that’s because I was sheltered from the pure cheesy goodness that is an Italian pizza. The day an Italian man in Malta whipped me up a traditional pizza my life was forever changed. I feel bad for my old self.

I also fell in love with Dutch fries dipped in mayonnaise and peanut sauce and the unforgettable deep fried gravy known as bitterballen. Sounds weird but don’t hate!

4. You will meet new people that will impact your life forever.

Although you’ll probably run into the occasional a-hole, you’re also guaranteed to meet a ton of great people. Whether they’re locals or fellow travelers, these people will impact your life in ways you couldn’t imagine.

5. You will challenge yourself.

6. You will learn how to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

I previously mentioned my episode of culture shock in this post, but I think it deserves to be brought up again. I was depressed, scared to be in unknown surroundings and I felt helpless. I wasn’t used to being so far away from home and I didn’t think I could manage the distance for such a long period of time (approximately 7 months). Luckily, with the help of my mom’s pep talk, I pulled through and learned how to enjoy myself. I learned how to handle the homesick feelings and I learned that it’s okay to not always feel okay.

7. You will gain confidence.

When my mom came to visit me in the Netherlands after I had been living there for three months I realized how much I knew about my new home, how well I could navigate the city, and all of the best places to see in Utrecht. It made me feel so great to be able to share all of that with her. I started to feel like a local and I gained so much confidence because of it.

8. You could learn a new hobby.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly learn a new hobby but I did learn that riding a bike wasn’t so bad. That still counts, right?

9. You’ll learn how to live out of a backpack/suitcase.

I was the idiot who arrived in the Netherlands with two suitcases, a backpack and a carry-on bag. Why? What could I possibly have brought with me that was so important? Nothing.

I left the Netherlands with one suitcase and my backpack but to be honest, I wish I could have left with less.

10. You’ll appreciate your hometown more.

Talking about Michigan and Detroit made me realize how great it truly is. I am fortunate enough to live in a state that is known for the Great Lakes, beautiful wildlife, the Motor City and Vernors.

Yeah, I had to mention Vernors because it’s the first thing I’m buying once I get home.

11. You’ll experience another culture.

Other cultures can look pretty weird from an outside perspective, but once you start living like a local you begin to understand the customs and traditions.

12. You might find out something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Bonus if it’s something really cool.

13. Traveling can open up new doors for you.

14. …it may also close a few.

Before leaving for the Netherlands, I never would have known that I was going to be spending my summer in Malta. Traveling sometimes does the unexpected and presents things in front of you that you would just be silly to not take advantage of.

Because I decided to spend six weeks in Malta, I had to cut back on my car budget for when I return back home. In the long run I’m pretty sure I’ll look back and know that I made the right decision.

15. You might learn a language.

I didn’t, but there’s no stopping you!

16. Cheap accommodation!

Hostels are a backpacker’s haven and really popular in Europe. Or if you’re really up for an adventure, there’s always CouchSurfing.

Okay, so this one isn’t just for people in their 20’s but both options are typically used by younger people.

17. Your Instagram will look ~fabulous.~

My iPhone currently houses over 2,000 pictures. That’s about 20 years worth of Instagram worthy footage.

18. You’ll feel freer than ever.

No bedtime, ice cream for dinner, no one to tell you what you should/shouldn’t be doing. What more can a 20 year old ask for?

19. There’s always a possibility for a new, exciting adventure that wouldn’t be available to you at home.

Buying my first plane ticket was one of the most terrifying, exciting things to happen in my life. It was the first time I was traveling on my own and I had no idea what to expect.

When I was in the Netherlands, I learned about a website called srprs.me. Although this website is only useful to people in the Netherlands, it sounds really freakin’ cool.

You basically decide on what your budget would be for a little vacation, decide if you want to take this little vacation with a friend or go solo, and choose your dates. Then, the website does the rest and they literally surprise you with a vacation. You have no idea where you’re going until you get to the airport. It has awesome reviews and I wish I would have done it.

There’s always next time.

20. Why not?

Why aren’t you traveling?

Are you waiting for the “perfect time?”

There will never be a “perfect time” because we always make excuses for ourselves. I mean, I did that for three years. Finally, I shut up and decided the time was now and it was.

Are you waiting to save up enough money?

Traveling on a budget has never been easier with all of the resources you have online. You can do a Workaway (like me!), CouchSurf, or even hitchhike. If you want it bad enough, $500 can be enough to get you somewhere.

Do you want to travel with another person but you kind of hate all of your friends?

Bad idea. Don’t rely on others because you’ll be waiting for years. Solo travel can be scary but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Do yourself a favor by visiting Skyscanner, typing in your local airport as the starting point, and “everywhere” as the destination.

You might be traveling sooner than you think.

21st Birthday Celebrations

I am so happy to say that my 21st birthday exceeded my expectations.

Although my birthday was last Friday, the celebrations began Tuesday evening when Gabi and I attended the Isle of MTV.

The Isle of MTV is a free concert held in Malta every year. There’s always a few big headliners and this year Jess Glynne, Wiz Khalifa and Steve Aoki were performing. I am familiar with most of their music, so I was pretty excited to go.

Tuesday morning Gabi received a text from her uncle, who works for the Malta Tourism Authority, and he offered us two VIP front stage passes.

We did a little happy dance around her kitchen before responding with YES PLEASE!!!

Not only were we going to attend such a huge concert for free, but we were also going to be front and center, provided with all of the beer we could handle.

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Gabi and I freaking out when we realized how close we were to the stage.

Gabi and I danced along to Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand,” sang along to Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild & Free” and got a lot of cake all over myself during Steve Aoki’s “Cake Face.”

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It was the best Tuesday night of my life.

On Thursday we headed back to Gozo after picking up Ciara’s dad from the airport.

That night, we celebrated Ciara’s dad arriving to Malta and my 21st birthday at midnight.

We all went out for drinks and pizza at one of the seaside bars in Marsalforn. After being there for about 10 minutes everyone realized it was my 21st birthday. I had free shots coming at me from every direction, free slices of pizza, and more drinks on top of that.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate.

The days following my birthday included spending hours at the beach snorkeling, spending the evening watching sunsets, having barbecues on the beach, and watching the Euro Cup.

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Note to self: Don’t try balancing a bottle of wine, glass of wine and yourself on the steepest rock next to the sea.

 

 

My First Week in Malta

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I made it to Malta!

My first week in Malta has been equal parts relaxing and crazy – or “mental” as Gabi and Ciara would say.

When I arrived to Malta with Sion and Jimena, I was greeted by Gabi, Russel, Zee, Aled and a warm breeze. We discussed dropping our belongings off at Aled’s house and going for a late night swim in the Mediterranean Sea. So that’s exactly what we did!

I was a little hesitant jumping into the sea after dark because I am not accustomed to swimming in seas and oceans. I think my first thought was something like, “how many sharks could be swimming in this water? I’ve seen too many scary movies for this sh*t.” Which is an understandable first thought to have when you grew up in a state known for The Great Lakes…with no sharks.

Luckily, the water was clear enough for me to see the bottom and Gabi assured me that the water is too warm for sharks. So we all jumped in!

I think we took turns jumping in and swimming in this spot for about 30 minutes before we realized we were in jellyfish infested waters…and then we got the hell out.

The next day, we took a walk to the beach and I realized all of my surroundings looked vaguely familiar.

To me, Malta looks similar to what I imagined the Middle East to look like from what I’ve seen in movies. Then I realized, that’s because the movies that take place in the Middle East were filmed in Malta!

Walking through the streets of Gzira, I felt like I was an extra in the movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – which is understandable since most of it was filmed here!

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Other movies/tv shows that were filmed in Malta include Captain Philips, World War Z, and Game of Thrones! I’m secretly hoping another Hollywood Blockbuster is filmed in Malta this summer so I can meet my future husband.

After spending two nights in Malta we headed for the ferry to take us to Gozo, where we would meet our second host, Ciara.

Ciara is Gabi’s best friend from Scotland, and she was generous enough to host six people in her apartment for over a week!

My days in Gozo have mostly been spent swimming in the sea, eating delicious pizza and seafood, drinking wine, visiting the Azure Window, shopping in Victoria and enjoying my summer.

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Most of my friends are leaving this week, so by next week Gabi and I are hoping to find our own apartment and get off Ciara’s couch. Although it is a pretty comfy couch. 😉

Stay tuned!

 

A Midnight Walk

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On a houseboat with Polina and Gabi.

I know I said that my previous blog post was my last post from the Netherlands, but I lied.

Something so amazing happened to me tonight and I had to share it with you all – even if that means writing this to you after a few glasses (or a bottle) of wine later, at 1 in the morning.

Let me set the scene.

My night started out at around 9 p.m. when my roommates and I decided to crack open a few beers and a bottle of wine to enjoy our last night together in Utrecht. Gabi, Zee, Polina and I sang a few songs in our garden (a tradition of ours) and decided to take one last walk along the canals together.

We packed a backpack with 6 beers and the rest of the bottle of Cabernet, and headed out for the closest canal to our apartment.

This canal happens to have a few bridges that are beautifully lit with Christmas lights and lined with houseboats.

In my previous blog post, A Tour of Utrecht, you may remember me mentioning Gabi’s plan to visit one of these spectacular houseboats.

Well folks, we finally did it!

As we were walking along this canal with the houseboats, we started hearing music in the distance. Since we just finished our karaoke session not too long ago, we figured we would follow the music. After all, we were still in a singing/dancing mood.

When we walked to the end of the canal, we pin-pointed the music to a houseboat and saw two people dancing in the living room.

We stood across the canal from this houseboat, dancing to the music and singing along with these strangers across from us. If you were around to witness this scene, you would have thought we looked crazy.

During a pause between songs, we shouted to the couple, “Hey! Do you mind if we join the party?” They invited us right in.

After running across the bridge and knocking on their door, we were greeted with open arms and loud music.

The two people who greeted us were a couple, Mieke and Herricke, in their late 40s. They reminded me of a young couple, carefree and in love.

We shared a dance, a few drinks, and Mieke shared some words of wisdom with all of us that I will never forget.

She said, “Go for [whatever you want out of life] totally. Don’t ever go for something half way.”

She also said a lot of other inspirational things, but my wine brain cannot remember them right now.

We shared an amazing 30 minutes together, sitting on their dock next to the lit up bridge, enjoying the beautiful view and each other’s company.

The four of us ended up leaving Mieke and Herricke’s houseboat after exchanging contact information and kind words. They were the sweetest Dutch people I have ever met and I will never forget this night.

A few months ago, when Gabi mentioned visiting a houseboat randomly with biscuits and tea, I kind of thought she was crazy. Yet here I was, with a six pack of beer and a bottle of wine, dancing on a houseboat with two strangers and my roommates, living life the way it was meant to be lived.

I love my crazy, beautiful life.

 

 

A Letter to Everyone I Love – Part 2

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Less than one week from now, I will be trading cobble stoned streets, canals and Dutch fries for sandy beaches, margaritas and the Maltese heat.

Although I cannot wait to arrive in Malta, I’m also feeling very bittersweet about my departure. I’ve fallen in love with Utrecht and can’t imagine leaving this beautiful city and all of the beautiful people I’ve met here.

Before leaving Michigan I wrote A Letter to Everyone I Love, and I figured I wouldn’t be able to leave the Netherlands without writing another.

The words from my first post, “I’m mostly afraid of how much I’ll want to return back to my second home. I haven’t even arrived, and yet I already don’t want to leave,” have never rang more true.

If I didn’t book a flight to Malta for Tuesday, I would be going home this Saturday. TWO DAYS AWAY! I just can’t comprehend that I almost threw away a European summer for a Michigan one – no offense to my fellow Michiganders! 😉

I may not want to leave Utrecht, but I am definitely ready to open new doors and see what waits for me behind them.

Although I am sad to leave behind all of the amazing people I have met here, I find comfort in knowing I will see these people again one day.

To Gabi, Zee, Polina, Andrew, Sion, Jimena, Jacob, Sharon, Joram, Wim, Lola, and the hundreds of guests I’ve met: I will remember all of you forever and cherish the countless memories we’ve made.

I believe these people were put into my life for a reason and have all taught me something very valuable. I have learned what it means to establish maintain a strong friendship with others, how to fully love myself, how to always search for the good in others, and how to live life to the fullest. After all, we only get one shot.

I am so thankful for my time in the Netherlands and I wouldn’t trade one second of it. This country hasn’t seen the last of me!

Until we meet again, Utrecht.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

On an Island in the Sun

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Original photo of Malta found here.

This has been a very exciting week for me!

Last Monday my mom and her friend Catherine arrived in the Netherlands to visit me for a week. We managed to get a lot in during the week, such as two canal boat rides, a day trip to Amsterdam, a weekend trip to Ireland, and more!

It was the best feeling ever to have some visitors from home with me. Especially my mom for mother’s day.

On the plane ride back from Dublin to Amsterdam, my mom asked me “do you think you’re ready to come home in a month?”

A month? 

Not a chance.

The question made me realize how in love I am with Utrecht and Europe in its entirety, and I realized there was no way I could go home in June.

But if I’ve learned one thing since I’ve been here, it’s that the universe always works the way it should –  usually in your favor.

After returning home from dropping my mom off at the airport, I discussed my disappointment returning home to Michigan with my roommate Gabi and a few of our friends. I said there must be a way I could stay in Europe, I just didn’t know how.

And then Gabi did what she always does best – she came up with a great solution.

She invited me to live in Malta with her for two months, and I’m going to!

Now you might be thinking to yourself, what? How is she going to afford that? What about her return flight home?

Well ladies and gentlemen, the beauty of being in Europe is that I can travel almost anywhere in Europe for under $100. My ticket to Malta just happened to be $25.

Yes, you read that right. I was just as shocked as you are.

I also found a return flight to Detroit in August for $350, so this trip is definitely going to be manageable.

And my return flight home in June? Losing out on that doesn’t even matter to me.

What matters to me is the fact that I get an extra 60 days to make more memories, try new things, live in a new country, and surround myself with the best people I’ve ever met in my life.

In 35 days, I’ll be drinking tequila on a secluded beach in Malta, soaking up the sun and living life the way it should be.