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!

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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.

 

 

 

5 Reasons Everyone Should Work at a Hostel

I can now officially add “working at a hostel” to my resumé!

As mentioned in my previous post here, I managed to land a reception job at a hostel through a nice little website called workaway.info.

I had no idea what to expect when my boss, Joram, picked me up from the train station on my first day back in January. Three months later, I can tell you this is one of the best experiences of my life.

Although I’m sure other hostel workers aren’t as fortunate as I am with my Stone family, there’s still plenty of reasons why everyone should work at a hostel at least once.

1. You meet the most interesting people while you’re at work.

Every hostel comes with a substantial amount of fascinating people. Whether these characters are my fellow co-workers, guests who stay for a night, guests who stay for a few weeks, or Andrew (who sort of lives there), the memories I have with these people are memories I’ll cherish forever.

When I first arrived in January, there was a man named Peter staying at the hostel. Every single day you could find Peter sitting in the common room, rolling cigarettes and playing a game on his iPad. Peter always had the best stories to share, and I often found myself slacking on the job from talking with him for 30 minutes about his time spent in the Arizona dessert.

Peter left the hostel suddenly, without much of a reason, but I hope I run into him again soon.

Andrew is another one of my favorite guests. Actually, he is my favorite guest.

Andrew is from Long Island, NY, but often prides himself on not having a New York accent. He can talk to you for hours about anything from spirituality to food, but you can’t be surprised if he realizes he has to be somewhere in the middle of your conversation and leaves without explanation.

I have so many great memories with Andrew it’s actually hard to pick just one, so I won’t even try.

He’s quirky, hilarious, smart and unpredictable most days, but that’s what makes him Andrew.

2. The hours are pretty flexible, giving you an ample amount of time to travel.

Each week I’m only required to work approximately 20 hours. Those 20 hours include two reception shifts and one cleaning shift.

That gives you four full days a week to travel!

Although I am also going to school part-time, it usually works out for me to have a few days off in a row. Because of this, I’ve been able to go on trips to Wales, England, Germany and Belgium. Plus I still have trips planned to Ireland and Croatia!

3. It’s the easiest job you could ever have.

I don’t think I’ll ever have another job that requires me to hangout with guests on the job, take them to the best places around town, or just always make sure I’m having a good time.

Of course there’s the real work, such as checking guests into their rooms, answering e-mails, and making sure the place is always tidy, but the fun times make up for all of that.

Most of my coworkers and I actually choose to hangout at the hostel while we’re not working, because you always have someone to talk to or hangout with.

4. The bosses are some of the best in the world.

Okay, so while I can’t guarantee that every hostel will have exceptional bosses, I have to brag about mine for a minute.

I know I’m speaking for all of my coworkers when I say this, but we truly do have some of the best bosses in the world.

Joram, Sharon and Wim are all great in their own way. They all care about the hostel and the business so much, which you can easily tell by all of the time and effort that has been put into making Stone the great hostel it is today.

Plus, they give all of us workers free food and rent in exchange for showing up three days a week! Who could hate that?

5. You never know what to expect, which always keeps things interesting.

There have been days that I showed up, did my job, and left without anything too exciting happening. Those days are rare.

Most of my shifts are so different, my weeks go by faster than I thought possible.

One shift, I could be singing along to the Spice Girls with my coworkers and guests while cooking a huge dinner, and on another shift I could end the night by taking a few Irish guests to all of my favorite spots in Utrecht!

You never know what kind of day you’ll have when you show up to work, but I can guarantee you that 99% of the time, it will be a day you won’t forget.

I’m so happy I took the chance on working in a business I had never even considered before. My entire experience at Stone has inspired me to never stop traveling, always stay in hostels, and take chances (even when they’re kind of scary).

Have you ever worked in a hostel? Or considered it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

 

Culture Shock: The Ugly Truth

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Photo was taken during my most recent weekend excursion at Castell Coch in Cardiff, Wales.

 

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m kind of bad at blogging. I forget to check my e-mail daily, so I’m having a hard time keeping up with this thing. Apologies.

Since my last post about Belgium I have traveled to The Hague, Germany, England, and Wales. I had so much fun in all of these cities/countries, and they each deserve their own blog post, but I have more important things to talk about.

I’ve started this post a handful of times, trying to figure out the best way to put my thoughts into words. I’m finding it hard to be honest with you all, but I started this blog to document my journey and it would be unfair if I didn’t paint the correct picture for you.

I’m dealing with serious culture shock.

While I briefly mentioned the culture shock I was feeling during my first few weeks in Utrecht in this post, the full effects didn’t sink in until two weeks ago.

If you have me on Facebook, you might have gotten the idea that I’m having the time of my life. And while that’s mostly true, I’ve also been dealing with the not so picturesque side of study abroad.

I was having a very hard time settling into my new home. I cannot read or speak in Dutch, most of the time I have no idea where I’m going, and people in the city can be less than pleasant on an average day (but that’s anywhere).

I also felt very trapped. Since I’m from America, the average one way ticket to go home would cost me approximately $700. It would also take a full day of traveling and a new time zone to get used to, so I wouldn’t be able to swing a weekend trip like most of my fellow European study-abroaders (new word, Webster?).

Two weeks ago, I was crying to my mom over the phone about how much I missed home. I didn’t think I could make until July in the Netherlands. I was googling cheap tickets home and panicking when I saw the prices. Thankfully, she convinced me to not be impulsive and to sleep on it before making any rash decisions. And I’m so happy she did, because staying is what’s best for me.

Throughout the past two months of this experience I have learned so much about myself:

I learned that it’s okay to be really uncomfortable in a new place. 

I went through a lot of changes by coming here and they all happened to me at once. From starting my job at the hostel to starting classes at Hogeschool, I was bound to feel extreme emotions of excitement, shock and anxiety. It’s okay to not always feel okay.

I learned that home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling.

I feel at home every time I talk to my mom on the phone. She tells me stories about her coworkers, my family members, and even the crazy Michigan weather. Talking to her reminds me that living in the Netherlands is only temporary and I cannot take this experience for granted.

I felt at home when I visited my friends Taylor and Jens in Kleve, Germany. Taylor was my roommate for six months when I was at Ferris last semester, so being around her always feels normal. It also helped that Jens’ mom made us dinner one night, because obviously a home cooked meal is comforting.

But I’m also learning to accept Utrecht as my home. I have three amazing roommates and a handful of coworkers that always bring a smile to my face. We often have karaoke and jam sessions in the living room, and they always make me the happiest. My apartment is surrounded by green grass, canals, tulips, and millions of Dutchies riding endless amounts of bikes – which is so great I almost take it for granted.

And lastly, I’m learning to try new things.

In the middle of writing this sentence, my roommate offered me to try Turkish pita bread topped with a “liver spread” and a funky smelling cheese. I loved it so much I am now eating it for dinner.

But on a more serious note, I work, live and interact with people from different cultures on a daily basis. When someone asks me to go somewhere with them, or even try a new food that’s unusual for me (raw herring thanks to Andrew), I have learned to always say yes. It could be the best raw herring in the world (it was), or it could have been the worst. But I never would have known if I didn’t try.

It has taken me so long to write this (much needed) blog post because I feared my readers would think I was crazy for not always enjoying myself during my study abroad. I don’t want you all to think I’m ungrateful for this experience, because I most certainly am not. I worked very hard to get to where I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I want you to all understand that there can be other sides to studying abroad that aren’t always noticeable through smiling photos on Facebook.

Below you can see a few pictures from the trips I’ve taken since Belgium!

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My First Week Abroad

Tomorrow will mark one week since I left the Mitten State and settled into a new life in The Netherlands.

After traveling for an entire day and landing in a foreign place, I made my way to the train station and realized how utterly alone I really was. – A pretty depressing start to this blog post, eh?

Once I finally retrieved my luggage from the dreadful baggage claim, I took the morning train from Amsterdam Schipol to Utrecht Centraal. As I hauled my luggage across both train stations, I looked around at the masses of people heading to work or starting their day, and I felt very small in this new city.

I cannot speak or read the Dutch language and I was naive to think I could easily navigate Utrecht after never having visited before. Public transportation is not common in the motor city and I can’t remember the last time I rode on a train or city bus. For the first time in my life, I experienced serious culture shock.

According to my best blogging friend, Wikipedia, culture shock is the feeling a person gets when they are in a new territory. I would say this feeling is hard to describe, but Wikipedia says individuals facing culture shock may have an overwhelming feeling of homesickness, experience a technology gap, and boredom. Wikipedia is correct in describing how I felt. Per usual.

Luckily for me, though, I wasn’t completely alone.

My new boss at the hostel met me at the train station and helped me get settled into my new home. I’m referring to this place as home, because after a few days of living at Stone Hostel, that’s exactly what this place is to me.

Maybe it’s because every person I have met here has worked in the hospitality business, or maybe my new coworkers and friends are just exceptionally awesome, but everyone has been so wonderful to me.

I experienced my first coffeeshop, went shopping at a European H&M, took a day trip to Amsterdam, and ate the all of the bitterballen I could get my hands on – all thanks to my new friends.

This past week has been crazy and exciting in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have had conversations with people from all over the world, put myself in uncomfortable situations, and in the process I have gained a new outlook on life. I feel more relaxed and happy with my decision to come to Utrecht.

If this was only week one, I can’t imagine what is yet to come.

A Letter to Everyone I Love

Twenty-four hours from now I will be boarding a plane destined to land in Amsterdam, where I will be living for the next six months.

While six months may sound like a lifetime, I know time will fly and this entire experience will all just seem like a crazy, unbelievable dream.

I’m sure you are all feeling different emotions with my departure; some of you are worried about the distance and my safety, and some of you are excited for all of my new adventures. Most of you are somewhere in between, as am I.

Although I cannot assure you I won’t get into some shenanigans (I will most definitely), I can promise you all I will do my best to return in one piece.

This trip will change my entire life in ways I cannot even imagine yet, and I feel confident that studying abroad in the Netherlands will be the best decision I’ve made during my college career.

I plan to keep you all up to date through this blog on a weekly basis, so make sure to check here to see all of the fun (illegal) stuff I’m doing!

And to answer the question on everyone’s mind: YES! I am so nervous about this trip. I’m afraid of experiencing culture shock, traveling alone, and getting lost on the public transportation system.

But 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.

Maybe this will change once July comes around, but I’m not so sure…

So in short, thank you to everyone who has supported me getting to this place. (And an extra shout out to you mom!) Whether you listened to me cry over the amount of paperwork I had to do, or gave me tips on traveling in Europe, all of your help has been appreciated.

I love you and I already miss you, but I’m excited to share this experience with you all.

 

How I Landed a Job as a Hostel Worker

For those of you who don’t know, while studying abroad I will be juggling a few classes and also a sweet gig at a hostel in the city center of Utrecht, Netherlands.

A hostel is similar to a hotel, but travelers can stay there cheaper because the rooms are set up “dorm style.” You will have your own locker for personal belongings, but share a large room with other travelers.

When I tell my coworkers and friends this, they always have two questions: How did you land a job like that? Have you seen the movie Hostel?!

For starters, I am not a scary movie fanatic, nor do I plan to be, so please don’t scare me out of working there!

And secondly, I came across this job through a website called workaway.info.

I was scrambling to find a place to stay for the semester because the student housing through my university was so expensive! Yes, I know I’m studying abroad and will need to splurge once in awhile, but I was also up for a unique experience so I began searching for alternative (cheap) housing. I looked into the possibility of a home stay, but couldn’t find anything close enough to the city, or anything that allowed me to have some free time to explore my new surroundings.

And then fate worked its magic and workaway.info fell right into my lap (metaphorically, of course).

Workaway.info is a website that allows travelers to work part time in the country that they’re traveling to, typically in exchange for a bed and some authentic cuisine. You can work in so many different countries for as little as a week, or as long as months on end.

You can even sign up as a single person or with your significant other! The only catch was paying a fee for creating your account, but the fee covers a membership for two years. ($29 for a single person or $38 for a couple)

After creating my profile that detailed my skills, interests and hobbies, plus a few pictures so interested hosts would know I’m not a robot, I was ready to reach out to possible hosts.

I searched for opportunities in Utrecht, Netherlands, where I will be staying, and found nine options. After reading each profile, I sent a message to three hosts, two of which were volunteer positions at hostels.

I didn’t hear back from any of the hosts for two weeks, and I almost lost hope. But if I’ve learned one thing from the process of studying abroad, it would be to never give up!

I received an email two weeks later from the owners of the hostel and they offered me a position!

In exchange for working 12-16 hours a week, I will be sharing an apartment with four other female workers and I will have my groceries paid for (basic ingredients to make breakfast, lunch and dinner).

I will primarily have reception duties, in addition to making sure the hostel is clean and up to the guests standards.

In no way will this be the typical study abroad experience, but I’ve always been open to new things and I’m excited to see what this opportunity will bring me.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be an advertisement or promotion for workaway.info. This is simply me sharing my experience through their website.