Traveling to Amsterdam was never in my plans. Let alone by myself, lost and with a raging ear infection. I woke up at the end of the 2-hour flight just in time to catch the sunset over the coast of the North Sea- a sight for sore eyes after being land locked for months. At the airport, I somehow boarded the wrong train and found myself speeding away from civilization through the Netherlands countryside in late October. I befriended a young Italian who had also taken the wrong train, and with blind trust in his warm brown eyes as my only option, I followed him off the train, onto a platform, and back onto the correct train until we reached Amsterdam Centraal, parting with broken English and a look that longed to know me better.
It took me several wrong turns, two run-ins with bikers, and a lot of frustration to finally reach my dark dingy hostel on the outskirts of the Red Light District. I took a deep breath, stored my bag, grabbed my camera and set off to explore. Amsterdam is like being in a dream world where people look like friendly skiers, vibrant sunsets settle romantically over canals, and the air has layers of sugar, chocolate and fried food. The contrast of pleasantly chiming bicycle bells and questionable vendors created a Disney World of vices that continually amazed my sheltered mind. I woke up to soft rain making music on the cobblestones and dripping off the slanted buildings as I set off for the Anne Frank House.
I followed Anne’s life from room to room as the rain outside mirrored my silent tears. I felt powerless to save the innocent character from the tragic ending I knew all too well. When I reached the end and saw the original plaid book sitting alone in the center of the room, my heart broke to think that Anne would never again get to live outside these walls and the fading pages of her diary. The very streets she described as full of beautiful life in the same town where she was betrayed would become my own escape from reality, even if just for a few days. She wrote about she and her friend “looking out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls glinting with silver as they swooped through the air,” as the life she imagined for herself slipped farther and farther away, the life I was able to walk out and rejoin. Anne’s untapped potential and Amsterdam’s unexpected poetry changed me in a way that, months later, I can finally start to describe- appreciation for ethereal beauty in all things dead and alive.
Spring break 2013 allowed for plenty of time for browsing Pinterest and in celebration of people getting accepted to study abroad programs, this week’s Pin of the Week is “How to Travel in Europe for Three Weeks”. Although you may be traveling for more than three weeks in somewhere other than Europe, this blog post I repinned from fellow PRSSA blogger Katie Lofblad offers great tips for traveling on a tight budget.
Top Tips for Traveling:
Pack Light– Trade traditional suitcases for bigger backpacks designed to maximize space.
Pack Smart– Bring only things you can mix and match. You will go shopping!
Research– Sure traveling abroad is supposed to have some spontaneity, but you’ll definitely appreciate knowing where you need to go when you need to go there.
Spend Money Well– Do a little price hunting so you won’t feel like you have to skip out on any sites on your Bucket List. The experiences will be worth having one less croissant or another London snow globe.
Best Souvenir: photos– Save money and use your own photos to make postcards instead of buying them!
Embrace Culture– Know some basic phrases in the native language and make an effort to understand and appreciate the local culture. You’ll get so much more out of the trip!
Write Everything Down– Whether you make a blog or keep a private journal, take a little time every day or week to write down the places you go, people you meet, and new foods you try.
Give Yourself Free Time– Don’t forget that some of life’s greatest moments are the ones we don’t plan for. Don’t be afraid to give yourself the afternoon off and explore a new place or have a relaxing picnic people watching.
If that doesn’t get you even more excited to travel abroad I don’t know what will. As long as you stay open to new experiences and are willing to try new things and stick to some of these tips, I’m sure you’ll have the semester or vacation of a lifetime!
Don’t forget to check out other posts on Steph’s travels blog to learn more tips for traveling abroad.
What are some of your packing/ traveling tips? Let me know in the comments!
“With all the focus on apps, social media and smart phones (oh my!), don’t forget that using a traditional non-digital guide book (the kind written and published by travel experts as opposed to just user reviews) can be incredibly effective at planning and navigating any abroad adventure.
While of course using maps and smartphone apps are nearly essential to today’s traveler (I would probably still be wandering Amsterdam if it weren’t for the offline map app Stay), there are some benefits of using a traditional guidebook…”
“After spending a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain, I realized that there were several things I wish I had known before I departed the US. Part of the journey of going abroad is figuring out different things about yourself and the places you visit, but listed below are five major points to know before you go.”
“Everyone travels for different reasons, and everyone has something to share and something to teach, including you.”
“Studying abroad means embarking on a journey that will take you to new places and help you reach new heights, both literally and figuratively. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, starting a study abroad blog is a creative and expressive way to catalogue your experiences and share your adventures with the world. Read on for the top 5 reasons to blog while studying abroad…“
While I was studying abroad last fall in Madrid I did plenty of “research” about the best party spots and this is what I came up with:
“Madrid is one of the few places in the world that literally parties all night long. With several major clubs, hundreds of bars, and a passionate and social culture, it’s perfectly normal (and a common thing to do while studying abroad) to end your night on the town at the same time people are making the morning commute to work…”
“Spanish food is considered a Mediterranean diet – not Mexican. So while you might be expecting amazing amounts of salsa and refried beans when in Madrid, you’ll be in for a (hopefully pleasant!) surprise. You won’t find tacos and nachos on every menu– instead, you’ll be delving into little appetizers that make up a big meal – with a multitude of ingredients from shrimp, to eggs, to ham croquettes. Spanish food uses fresh, high quality local ingredients, and can vary depending on the particular region you’re in. Here’s a rundown of the top places to go to grab a bite while in Madrid…”