Ever since I saw Mary Kate and Ashley in Paris back on VHS, I’ve had the travel bug like Dora the Explorer. This proved a difficult desire to fulfill, as my parents are both the ultimate homebodies that ironically love the travel channel. My parents’ idea of an island vacation is the tropical beach background on our family computer or my mom’s exotic salsa music ringtone. If I was going to travel to Europe, Mom and Dad were definitely gonna sit this one out.
So, growing up, I prepared. I started taking Spanish in the 6th grade and carried it all the way through Spanish 5 AP in my senior year of high school. I fell in love with European places beyond my imagination through books, movies and vicariously living through travel experiences of my friends.
One day at on campus, I walked by a Cal Poly in Spain poster near Campus Market that I had seen countless times before. It was a windy day, and all day long I was blinded by blondeness as my ratty hair violently flew into my face. Naturally, the sign had been knocked over, so I went to pick it up. I read and pondered it all day long.
I was a tad concerned about studying abroad at such a young age. Most people study abroad as juniors, and I was just finishing up my first year. I also have a fall birthday, so I would be only 18 years old during my time studying abroad.
I decided that the longer you wait for your future, the shorter it is, so I might as well YOLO it up and be brave. Life is short, and there was no use in putting off my dreams because I was 18. And hell, in Europe, 18 is all you need.
It turned out that there were two other incoming second-years on my trip, so I dubbed us the 2 crew (hence the various peace sign pictures). Even if you feel you are too young, GO, before life gets in the way and you wake up one day with three degenerate children and a mediocre day- job and life has passed you by.
So anyways, here are the dirty details about going abroad–the real deal.
1. Pop muchos vitamins before your flight.
If you’re as lucky as I am, you never fail to get the flu as a souvenir. However, I ended this curse by popping some mad vitamins before I hopped on that plane and was flyin’ first class up in the sky like my girl fergie-ferg (except it was coach).
2. Keep an emergency survival kit on you throughout your travels.
My sorority big made me a kit of things she wished she had brought when she studied abroad, and I ended up using every single item. The basics: small first aid kit, blister bandaids (you’ll be waddling all over the country), hand sanitizer, facial cleansing/make up removing wipes, batteries, cough drops, airbourne, hair ties, a small bottle of laundry detergent and chapstick.
3. Travel once you’re done with school.
I absolutely can’t stress this enough. Some my fellow Cal Politos and I packed our bags and headed to Barcelona for five incredible days I will never forget (but don’t entirely remember). Don’t be afraid to throw caution to wind and rent a bed in a hostel for 20 euro a night and just backpack (or suitcase) your way through this extraordinary world. Studying abroad is amazing, but you absolutely need more of the “abroad” part once the “study” part commences.
Together, my friend Alexis and I winged our way through Spain and France, sharing hostel rooms with 20 people from all over the world, exploring not just beautiful Barcelona but also Paris, Toulouse (“what have we got Toulouse?”), San Sebastian, and Madrid. Travelling abroad will give you stories legendary enough that you’ll want to brag about them to your grandkids one day….put you’ll probably never tell your parents.
4. Have a strategy for trains.
If you’re gonna use Eurail, it’s imperative that you know how to work the system. Make reservations ASAP, or you might as well accept the fact that you’re going to be stranded in a train station in Barcelona all day with only each other, sinus infections and neck pillows until you decide to be badass and sneak onto a train first class (hypothetically, of course).
Pro tip- when you’re arriving in one destination, I know you’re exhausted, but go to the ticket booth and book the Eurail tickets for the train from your current destination to your next one that you’ll take in a few days. (Us geniuses did not figure this out until the end of our European adventure). Trust me, most people are not lucky enough to show up to the train station a few hours before their desired train and expect seats to be free. Contrary to Eurail’s misleading website, having a Eurail pass does not guarantee you a seat and making reservations online requires money and time for the tickets to be mailed to you wherever you may be.
5. If you do not know the language for the country you’re visiting, look up the most basic words and phrases ahead of time.
Alexis and I did not know a lick of French before sortie-ing (leaving) for Paris, and it worked because we’re crazy. However, the first thing we did upon arrival was learn how to say “no” and “you’re welcome.” Knowing these basic phrases and the vital “where’s the bathroom?” can be life-saving. Also, you will always remember the funny-sounding words fondly.
6. Get Viber and WhatsApp.
Viber is the single greatest invention on this planet. When you have wifi (pronounced WEEE-FEEE in Europe) you can use the app to text or even CALL anyone for FREE. Yes, no strings attached. The other party needs to have viber as well for it to be free, so have your family and friends download this best-kept secret to keep in touch.
WhatsApp is also an option for free texting and it requires less memory than viber.
7. Use HostelWorld!
Hostels are the most fun you will ever have, and they are mad cheap. Hotels are boring and expensive. In hostels, you make friends from all over the world and get a multicultural experience in your own room, and they will teach you all the cool slang in their country and you will realize that “McDonald’s” pretty much has a different nickname in every country. Note: You WILL have at least one Australian roommate wherever you go, and they WILL be incredibly attractive. HostelWorld allows you to search for the best prices/reviews to assure a great and safe hostel experience with your ideal location (pro-tip: find a hostel close to a subway station!) Beware: hostelworld will continue to send you emails long after your EuroTrip, so be prepared for nostalgic push notifications to follow you and always make you want to hop on the next flight back to Spain.
8. Get a map and figure out the subway system!
If we can navigate the French subway system without knowing a word of french past “Bonjour,” you can too! All of your hostels will have maps with colored routes. Just jump on a subway, follow the signs and learn by doing! Taxis are expensive anyways and bus tickets are extremely cheap, and it does not cost extra to switch routes at your different stops. Someone will probably turnstyle jump you, but don’t worry, they’re just cheap and they’re not trying to hurt you. The Madrid subways are also cleaner than your car back home.
Fun fact: there are also loans/financial aid for study abroad!
So there you have it. Go be ambitious and see the world while you can. If you’re crazy enough to research a grocery store instead of going to expensive resturaunts, shamefully wash your clothes in the sink, sleep arguably anywhere and go on witch hunts for wifi (wee-feeeee), even a working college student like little old me can find themselves living in a MaryKate and Ashley movie.
To sneak a peak of our travel adventures, check out the hashtag #insaneinspain2k14 on instagram…or just ask me for some stories, and believe me, I’ve got some golden ones.