How Study Abroad Changed My Life-10 Years Later

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A lot has changed in the last ten years; my physical location, my career, my age (ick), my friends, my hair color, but one thing has remained constant; my desire to travel.

It’s hard to imagine that ten years ago I was just a scared College student about to fly across the pond to a world of unknowns. For many who know me, you would agree that I am more the type of person to have a plan and a back-up plan, and then probably another back-up plan. But for whatever reason I didn’t when I left and it all worked out beautifully.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it felt arriving to campus majorly jet lagged and full of anxiety. I get almost choked up now thinking back to that day. I lugged my suitcases up the stairs ready to embark on what would become the journey of a lifetime.

Looking back over the four months I spent studying abroad in London, it isn’t necessarily the classes I remember so much of, it’s the people and the experiences.

At the time, I had no idea I would go through study abroad and come out a different person on the other side. I figured it would be fun, but I never expected it to shape who I became as an adult.

In the last ten years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to more place than I ever thought possible. None of which would have ever happened had I not gotten on that plane to London and experienced the world outside my familiar walls.

I made friends that semester that I will have until I die. We can spend days, months, or years apart, but it never matters, because when we are together we pick up right where we left off.

To me London is one of the most magical places in the world. My heart is there and probably always will be in some ways. I learned so much about traveling, myself, life. One could argue I grew up there.

It’s funny to think about milestones in a way, because they are often insignificant. If I hadn’t continued to travel, then maybe I wouldn’t feel the same way I do now about my time studying abroad. It ignited a fire in my soul and that is something I will be eternally grateful for.

I’m literally about to fly to Peru with some great friends, one of whom I met during my time in London and I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate.

If you’ve ever thought about studying abroad, I cannot encourage it enough. Just take a leap of faith and go. You won’t regret it.

Happy Ten Years Richmond STABS!

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Something Old and Something New

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The dawn of our last day in Delhi was bittersweet. We were excited to explore, but super sad that at the end of the day we had to leave. Plus we were without our friends and it just wasn’t the same.

Our tour in the morning was a student led subway tour of Old Delhi. We had no idea what to expect, but were excited to see the city like a local.

As it turned out, our guide Arun, had studied in the US and spent a good amount of time in the states. His English was great and he made us feel at ease. Walking into the subway station you would not know you were in India. It was seriously so nice. The only “different” thing was the sign asking people not to spit. Its cool I won’t, promise.

Arun bought our “tickets” for us after explaining how the zone map worked. The map had all these areas with big numbers in them. He explained that the numbers represented how many ruperts (as we so lovingly called the Rupee) it cost to ride. So if you were in a 5 zone, it was 5 ruperts or $0.07 dollars. Yes that math is correct. Or at least it was when this was written! They also don’t have tickets. They use these silly little chip coins. I’ve only ever seen the chip coin one other place in my life and it happens to be in a parking garage where I live. They are literally the dumbest things ever. Arun told us that if we were there longer than a few days, that a metro card would make sense. For this it did not. But you better hold on to that little coin because I’m pretty sure they’d never let you out if you lost it.

Once we made our way to the platform, Arun told us that the first two or three cars in each subway train were for women only. We thought that was really cool. You also had to go through security getting into the station. Again, totally okay with that.

Ascending the staircase into Old Delhi was almost like we had traveled back in time. No, that’s actually exactly what it was like. I don’t know what I thought we would see, but it wasn’t this.

So picture a narrow street lined with light poles or power poles. In a normal city these poles would mainly be for lights and you wouldn’t see any wires or anything attached to them. In Old Delhi, there were wires EVERYWHERE. To the extent that I thought if someone accidentally pushed on one of those poles hard enough, the whole web would come crashing down completely blacking out that part of the city. Like am I the only one seeing this? How is this even working?! The fact that anything has power in Old Delhi is extremely impressive. I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging wide open for at least the first five minutes we were there. Poor Arun, I have no idea what he was so passionately talking about.

We grabbed a rickshaw and the three of us climbed in. As we slowly made our way through the streets, we passed men getting haircuts, people arranging their produce to sell, shop owners setting up for the day, food being prepared, animals of all kinds, and people, lots of people. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and unbelievably fascinating. We couldn’t get enough.

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How is this working?!

Arun took us to three different temples that morning and each one was so totally different than the other. But one thing was the same. They were all playing super loud music and there were people everywhere. Some places you had to cover your hair, others you didn’t. It was a really cool experience.

We ended the morning with some lunch at a place that had a mixture of northern and southern Indian food and was very good.

That was the end of Old Delhi. Walking back to the subway I could have happily gotten lost in all of the streets and markets. By this time a few hours had passed and the number of people in the area had at least doubled. It was wall to wall. Old Delhi is seriously so captivating. And it’s a photographers dream. We will be back for you.

The last part of our day turned out to be a perfect ending to our trip. We went to Swaminarayan Akshardham, temple (I highly recommend clicking that link, especially since we couldn’t take pictures). So one interesting fact is that if you are Indian you can get into any of the heritage sites in the country for free. It’s really nice. And this one was actually free for us as well. Score!

Right, so this temple. First of all it’s HUGE. Second of all, you couldn’t bring anything in with you. No phone, camera, gum, jewelry, nothing. If you had those items with you, you had to check them. Not happening, I’ll just go with nothing. My friend carried our passports in a money belt and the last of the ruperts we had.

So as we were waiting in line to get in, it became very apparent that we were the ONLY white women around. Both of us realized at the same time that everyone was casually, or not so casually, staring at us. Thank goodness they couldn’t have cameras or we never would have made it. Finally after some more security we made it inside.

The temple itself was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But since there are no photos of it, or of me there, you’re just going to have to believe me on this.

There was still a lot of day left (well we assumed, not having a phone or watch) so we decided to check out the attractions. Yes there were attractions. The first one was a series of rooms with animatronics telling the story of the temples founder. It felt very Disney. The other “ride” we did was on a boat. You got on and it starting playing “It’s a Small World,” no it didn’t, but it may as well have.

The oddest part was at the end of the ride there was a room full of propaganda to stop eating meat. Like cutouts of animals with speech bubbles saying “we have feelings too” and things of that nature. It was pretty crazy. Not exactly something you’d see in America.

I will say snacks and drinks were silly cheap which was nice because it was about a million degrees out. We also got the most attention of the entire trip this day. It was Sunday, but there were tons of school groups. One group was staring at us (like mouths open, whispering and pointing) so intently that I waived at them. That was all it took for the group to run over to talk to us. They were so sweet and innocent, that it was cute. Again so glad they didn’t have cameras or phones.

After wandering around a little more we deemed it time to leave and headed to the airport. That was one quiet car ride. We were sad.

All Gold Everything

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Hello and welcome to the fifth post in my email series chronicling my time in Dubai. These are all emails that were sent in October of 2016. Catch up with the rest of them here!

Alright, I need to get real with you about this. My excitement about going to a SEVEN STAR hotel was palpable. That’s two whole stars better than five! WHAT?! Insanity. But to understand this experience properly,  you need to know what went into making it happen.

After deciding we were going to do the Burj Khalifa, we absolutely could not do another minimum spend meal at the Burj Al Arab. That was not happening, since we actually do need food to survive. Bummer. The problem was, it isn’t the type of place you can just wander to. You have to have a reservation of some kind to even access the property. Talk about exclusive!

For everyone who doesn’t know, this hotel sits out on a man made island. It took them three years to secure the island before they even started construction on the hotel. Just dropped some Big Bus knowledge on you. You’re welcome.

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There are a few restaurants and bars in the hotel, but they all had this pesky minimum spend, of easily over $100. Again, not an option. Then one glorious afternoon I actually found a bar that did not require a minimum spend, just a reservation. Ummmm, hello, sign me up!

I requested a reservation (through the bars app) right away. A few weeks later we were confirmed for Gold on 27. Yessssss.

The day we went to our reservation, we spent the morning on the bus tour of the marina and did a boat tour as well. We hadn’t washed our hair, knowing we’d be sweating a ton anyway, and had hardly gotten ready. Of course we were running late getting back to the room, and didn’t have time to wash our hair. Gross I know. But with the traffic here being so iffy, we wanted plenty of time to get there. And also to take photos like paparazzi.

On the ride over I was petrified that our reservation hadn’t gone through and they were going to turn us away. Even though I had the confirmation. Our driver wasn’t even sure Gold on 27 was a thing and we had to tell him the Burj Al Arab at least three times. In hindsight, it was probably because of our gross hair. Actually the bar is new, having just opened in the spring, so that’s gotta be why he wasn’t sure. Yeah, yeah, that’s it!

As we pulled up to the gate, a porter came out and asked for our information. He said okay (YAY!!!!) and we proceeded up the drive. This was actually happening. When our driver stopped, we were greeted by the bellman and I hopped right out and totally forgot to pay. Oops. Obviously I paid.

Now we were there, out front, with all of the Rolls Royce cars. They were all white also. Very pretty. We went inside and asked where to go. Upstairs, down the hall to security. After finding out the bar didn’t open until the time of our reservation, we took full advantage of taking pictures like true tourists.img_7115

I have to say this. The hotel is beautiful and all the paint that is gold has actual gold in it, but I was kind of surprised it wasn’t more over the top. Again, one of the coolest hotels I’ve seen, but dare I say, it almost had a cruise ship vibe.

Once we made it to the lounge, we were seated by the window and choose our drinks. My friend decided to cause a scene and break her glass, spilling her drink all over the place. It was pretty awkward, but they quickly cleaned up and made her a brand new cocktail.

After we had our drink (yay no minimum spend!) we went to the bathroom before we left.I only bring this up because I want to move into the bathroom. EVERYTHING was gold. And the most beautiful shade of gold. I was, and still am, OBSESSED. It’s also quite possible we had a bathroom photo shoot as well…no we totally did. No one even caught us, though I wouldn’t have even cared if they had. That bathroom was amazing.

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So you’re going to ask me which Burj I liked better? If I’m being honest, I liked the first one the best; Burj Khalifa. Bar on the 123rd floor. It was so cool. And the views were amazing. That being said, I’m extremely glad we did both. I would have felt cheated if we had only gone to one. Go us!

I’m also going to have to have a gold bathroom at some point. Seriously, obsessed.

Okay, enough fancy time, back to the real world…

I’m a woman and I’m going to Europe. Now what the heck should I pack for two weeks?! Part 2 of 2

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When I first had the idea for this series of posts I fully intended to complete the series before I left on my recent trip. However, things got busy and that never happened. But truth be told, I think that’s best because this post prior to my trip wouldn’t have been nearly as helpful.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you what I packed and then I’m going to tell you what I wished I had packed.

My suitcase for two weeks

My suitcase for two weeks

Originally I thought it was going to be cold while I was traveling this year.

So here is what I brought:

3 scarves
10 Pairs of socks and underwear
2 Shelf-bra tank tops (ladies I’m talking the amazing ones from Express)
4 T-shirts
3 3/4 length shirts
2 Long sleeve shirts
2 Heavier outer-layer zip-up hoodies
2 Pairs of jeans
1 Raincoat

This was also knowing I would do laundry halfway through my trip.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really cold at all. This was both nice and also somewhat annoying. Probably only annoying because I live in Florida and I was REALLY looking forward to colder weather. But it truly did change the way we functioned day-to-day. Instead of being able to walk around all day and not stop at our home base, we felt like we needed to go back in the afternoon and freshen up because we walked around sweating all day.

Since it was so warm (I SWEAR I checked and re-checked the weather) I wish I would have brought the following:

1 scarf
8 Pairs socks and underwear
3 Shelf-bra tank tops (ladies I’m talking the amazing ones from Express)
6 T-shirts
1 3/4 length shirt
1 Long sleeve shirt
2 Heavier outer-layer zip-up hoodies
2 Pairs of jeans
1 Raincoat

The heavier outer-layer hoodies worked out well, but I was very unequipped in the shirt department. I also felt like I brought far too many socks and underwear. In short, the main changes would have been to take out some scarves, add a tank top and a few t-shirts, take out some 3/4 length shirts, long sleeve shirts, and some socks and underwear. It seems insignificant but it would have made a huge difference.

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One of my heavier hoodies-a fleece from The North Face

Ultimately I made it work, but it was frustrating to sweat everyday, especially since that made it harder to re-wear clothes!

I also packed two dirndls for Oktoberfest, four pairs of shoes and a bathing suit. Four pairs of shoes sounds like a lot, and it is. But I had two pairs of walking/tennis shoes, one pair of TOMS for my dirndls and one pair of flip-flops for the baths in Budapest. And the bathing suit was for the baths as well. With a majority of these items being trip specific, they normally wouldn’t have ended up in my suitcase.

On the makeup front I paired down to the minimum. One set of eye shadow (Naked Pallet), one blush, one lipstick, etc. And as far as hair straighteners and curling irons, I brought both a straightener and a curling iron. I don’t think I would bring the curling iron again though since I only used it once.

I made due with a travel size hairspray (it lasted until my second to last day since it was an aerosol), travel size shampoo and conditioner and travel container full of my favorite hair serum instead of the two or three I generally use.

There are three things I brought this time that I hadn’t before, but would absolutely bring again. I got a travel duffle that folds up small and used it on the way home to hold souvenirs. It was great. I also ended up buying some travel dirty clothes bags at Target that were scented and they were perfect for dirty socks. Lastly I brought poo-pourri. With 8 people sharing bathrooms it was a life saver. It’s basically the best product ever and you should own it. Go to the store now and get some. I love it so much that this probably won’t be the last time you hear about it.

BEST Product EVER

BEST Product EVER

As you saw in the beginning, I pack in a backpack for two weeks. To accomplish this I utilize packing cubes. I most likely won’t be using my backpack again for a while just based on upcoming trips and personal preference, but I will always use the packing cubes since they are fantastic.

These are the best! And they come in tons of sizes

These are the best! And they come in tons of sizes

Overall, packing is tough, and there is no exact science but it does get easier the more you travel!

I’m a woman and I’m going to Europe. Now what the heck should I pack for two weeks?! Part 1 of 2

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Packing. This is most likely everyone’s least favorite part of traveling and yet it’s one of the more important things to consider. As a woman traveler it can be extremely overwhelming to think about spending two weeks without unlimited choices everyday, but it is an absolute necessity. Since I started traveling I’ve gone from “that girl,” who had a suitcase you couldn’t lift, with a large carry-on duffel (this was back before strict weight restrictions), to someone who backpacks and has a small carry-on. Through my experiences I’ve learned a thing or two, so I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help you prepare for your next adventure.

One of the first things I do when traveling is check the weather. I’m a bit of a weather freak and look at averages months in advance. Part of the reason I plan so far ahead is because living in Florida we do not have access to colder weather clothes as often, and it is important to find things you need when they are available. It’s also partly because I love weather. Anyway, Europe can be tricky depending on where you are and what month it is. Just because it’s July, doesn’t mean it will be hot and dry. So I recommend checking the weather averages in advance, then start stalking the 10 day forecasts once it gets close enough.

After I’ve checked the weather, I start to gather things in my closet I might need. This is where living in Florida can be an advantage. Since I travel mostly in the fall, a lot of the clothes I travel with I wouldn’t be wearing here until late Fall or Winter, so I am able to put them aside. I also do this well in advance because it gives me a chance to cut items out. I pack knowing that I will do laundry while I’m away, which is helpful. It is not necessary to bring 14 shirts for 14 days. Doing laundry abroad is not a big deal. It’s also a good idea (and somewhat necessary when packing light) to try and coordinate your clothes for layering. So I make sure all my tops mix and match with each other and the scarves I bring, that way I feel like I’ve brought more with me.

This leads me into my next point; make a list. And when I say make a list, I mean a list of everything. From taking out the trash, to setting your out of office, to how many pairs of socks you need. This helps ensure that you have all the loose ends tied up State-side while you are gallivanting around the world. It also helps you to relax knowing you have all of the vital essentials packed and ready to go. I am a firm believer in light packing, but if you don’t have a plan it is impossible. Once you know what the weather is and what activities you will be participating in, sit down and make a list of everything you will need. Trust me this is key!

Knowing what your itinerary is, is also super important. If you know you will be attending specific events (Oktoberfest), hiking, or going into ice caves, you need to be prepared.

Another big things us women struggle with is our hair and makeup. Believe it or not gentleman it takes a bit of work for us to look so beautiful all the time, and it can be really daunting to figure out how to accomplish this while abroad. Fist and foremost, do some research to find out what the voltage and plug type is where you are traveling. Once you know that, if you plan to bring any heat tools be sure the are DUAL voltage. I killed a chi straightener in Ireland because you cannot use them with a converter. Be sure to check and see if you will have access to a hairdryer as well, because they are a pain to travel with! If you are like me and you use products and specific shampoo, try and find them in travel size, or invest in some travel containers because you don’t want to be lugging around full size products.

On the makeup side of things, see what colors you use the most and do some practices to make the whole process as simple as possible. You really do not need all those lipsticks and eyeshadows, I promise!

Overall, my main tips are: know your itinerary, check the weather, pack early (then take items out), pack light, get travel sizes of your favorite products, check your voltage, and remember simple! LESS IS MORE! Good luck ladies, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it! Check back for a follow-up of what I’m actually bringing on my trip!

6 Reasons I look Forward to Traveling

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It’s hard to imagine that in six weeks I’ll be embarking on my next European adventure! With that said, I felt like it was time to share some of my favorite things about traveling. So here are six reasons I look forward to traveling:

1. The Challenge. This might seem odd, but I find that some of the most rewarding experiences often come from the challenge of it all. From booking international flights, to in-country transportation, to lodging, to tours and everything in-between, the challenge of figuring it all out is exhilarating to me. I also think you grow the most when you are challenged and you learn a lot about your own limits which is invaluable.

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2. Time Off. I’m a huge advocate of taking time off of work. As an HR professional I understand the value of detaching from your job and actually taking the time to relax and get away. You always come back refreshed and ultimately your work is better. I especially like traveling abroad with my time off because it also gives me a chance to un-plug. We are so hyper-connected these days that it is refreshing not to turn on a TV, or be attached to your phone 24/7 for a couple of weeks every year.

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3. Making Memories. I love the memories made with each new and different experience I have. In my mind, traveling makes the best memories. Both good and sometimes bad. Nothing brings people closer than shared travel memories. I try my hardest to document everything like the paparazzi and take pride in creating movies or photo books of my experiences, but the memory is something I know I’ll have forever and that means the world to me.

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Brooklyn Bridge

4. Passport Stamps. Yes, it’s shallow I understand that, but let me try and explain how much joy it brings me to go through customs or passport control…As I approach the somewhat scary passport agent, and they ask me all of the questions on their checklist, I stand in intense anticipation for that moment where they’ve decided to grant me access into their country. When they grab for the stamp and get ready place a new permanent fixture in my passport, my heart races and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Getting a stamp in my passport is like ripping the paper off that gift you’ve wanted all year long. In that moment I feel pure elation and what could be better than that?!?

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Passport

5. Exploring new Places. Don’t get me wrong, I have favorite destinations, but I LOVE the thrill and excitement of being somewhere new and unfamiliar. Somehow I feel more alive and awake, almost like I’m seeing everyday things for the first time. Maybe this relates back to being un-plugged, who knows. But whatever the reason, new cities and places inspire me!

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Castle Tour Outside Munich

6. Learning. Even if you don’t travel with the intention to learn, ultimately you will pick up a few things here and there. I enjoy learning simple things, but I also like to learn what the heartbeat of a place is and what makes the destination unique. If you don’t travel with an open mind you won’t learn and frankly you shouldn’t travel. But if you do have an open mind I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised what you’ll learn on your next trip!

Traveling fuels my soul and I have no doubt that I will continue to do it as long as I am able.

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Quote from KLM

5 Reasons Research is Important When Planning a Trip

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Now that you’ve gone through the 5 Tips for Picking a Perfect Itinerary, here are 5 reasons research is important.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Research is the single most important tool you can arm yourself with when traveling.

Because research is such a vital part of travel, and people often forget its value, here are five quick and simple reasons why research is so important.

1. Culture. When you travel abroad it is extremely critical to learn about the culture where you will be staying. Take Italy for instance. Many of the churches require you to cover your shoulders to enter, even in the dead of summer when it’s sweltering outside, while other countries have laws about words you can and can’t say. Learning about the culture of your destination will help you immensely. And respecting the culture of other countries is an important aspect of helping to maintain the integrity of traveling and also to make sure you don’t put yourself in an unwelcome situation.

2. Itinerary Activities. After you’ve planned your itinerary, how do you figure out what to do when you get there? Research! If you don’t research your destination you won’t know if there are any local festivals, holiday celebrations or must see attractions. How sad would it be if you left Rome without seeing the Vatican? Or you missed the Mona Lisa in Paris? And if you don’t do a little bit of research you may not know that Oktoberfest actually starts in September.

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3. Immunizations. When traveling abroad there are many foreign things you can encounter. An easy way to make sure nothing compromises your adventure is by arming yourself with proper vaccines. Just go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out what exactly is needed or recommended before traveling. Some vaccines are not carried at your regular general practitioner, but it is generally pretty easy to find a travel doctor in your area and it is well worth the time and potential expense!

4 & 5. Language and Currency. Knowing simple things like what language is spoken, or what currency is used where you will be traveling is also important. Some currencies are closed, meaning you can’t get them until you are physically in the country, while other places may accept multiple currencies. It is also helpful to know what the primary language is in each of your destinations. And it doesn’t hurt to learn a couple of quick phrases in that language. People are always more willing to help you if they hear their native tongue. Bonjour, Ciao, Hola and Guten Tag can go a long way.

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There are many, many, many more reasons it is important to research where you will be traveling, but these are just a few quick and simple reasons why I am so passionate about research. Even if you take 10 minutes to do some last minute googling in the airport, knowledge is power!

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks about how to plan your next adventure!