Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad: Pricing (Compared to the US)

Exciting news: a short post!

If you’ve been reading any of the other posts I have written about studying abroad you may be ready to pull your hair out with how long they are. BUT NOT THIS ONE! This one is perfectly short. There isn’t too much I think needs to be said about the pricing differences between the UK/Europe and the US that I haven’t already covered.

When I studied in England, the USD (US dollar) conversion to the pound was about 1 : 1.7. Meaning that every pound was worth about $1.70 in USD. Unfortunately for me, this meant that my money didn’t go quite as far when spending. Because of this, it was really important that I budgeted how much I wanted to spend and kept track of the expenditures as I progressed through my trip. The value of money is constantly changing so this is something to keep in mind also; still, it would definitely benefit you to prepare a budget in advance to make sure you stay within a realistic spending range.

For me it was more economical to eat as many meals as possible at my university since meals were included in the cost rather than dine out at pubs every night. A 12 pound pub dinner is about $20. That’s a lot of money if you’re spending it every night.

I also had the unexpected cost of clothing. I had not anticipated needing to purchase a new wardrobe (practically). Because the weather–primarily the heat–was so much more extreme than I had prepared for (it was the hottest summer England had seen in a long time, or so everyone said) I ended up having to buy several t-shirts, shorts, and summer dresses, and shoes just so I wouldn’t overheat. The sad part is that it was only in the 80 degree range. You see, that’s how hot Michigan gets in the summer. I’m more than used to it. I had plenty of clothes at home that would have sufficed. I just didn’t bring them because we were told to expect a max of mid-seventy degree weather. Oh well, now I have some very cute clothes from the UK that I still wear all the time. Primark was my best friend while I was over there!

As far as the pricing of goods and services, everything was about equal to what you would expect in the US if not cheaper, the pound just happens to be worth more. A typical pub dinner ranges from 10-12 pounds. For the clothing that I bought I found some good deals: t-shirts for 3 pounds, dresses for 5-12 pounds, and shoes (simple flats) for 5 pounds. Obviously the prices were higher for different things, but because I was on a budget (and only really needed casual clothing) I tried to keep my spending to a minimum. Coffee was pretty expensive, 3-5 pounds for a medium which is about $8. I don’t recommend buying a lot of these. Make your own if you can. Or buy tea at the grocery. Grocery shopping is a great way to go if you’re on a budget. Like I said before, prices are about what you would see in a US supermarket, but the pound is worth more so after including the exchange rate you will, as a result, be spending more.

Budget. Budget. Budget. And plan in advance. The longer you wait to make larger purchases (plane tickets, train tickets, hostels, hotels, etc.) the more expensive they will become. Keep in mind that the pricing and costs–if you’re traveling in the UK or Europe–will be in pounds or euros. The euro when I traveled was about 1.4 : 1 when compared to USD. So every euro was worth about $1.40. If the price of the hostel is 30 pounds/night then you are looking at a cost closer to $50/night. And the longer you wait the more expensive it will become.

OH!!!

Exchange any cash money you are bringing beforehand at your bank or credit union. You can “pre-order” cash from them, meaning that they will have pounds or euros sent to them and then exchange your money for you for free (or mostly free). By doing this you will save A LOT on exchange fees that run rampant at airport exchange counters and cash-exchange businesses abroad. If you plan to spend mostly with a credit card (though I suggest you definitely bring some cash with you for emergencies at least) check to see if your card has fees for purchases abroad and either calculate this into your budget or apply for a card that does not charge these fees.

And there it is: everything I have to say about pricing abroad in the UK and Europe. I told you it would be a short post, right? Yay :)

Annoying Travelers (and How Not to Be One)

Going on a trip with an annoying traveler is bad. Being the annoying traveler is even worse. This blog post is going to help you (hopefully, maybe) not be that person. Ever. Because no one likes that person. No one.

Let’s start very basic. As basic as it comes. When you travel you should definitely:

#1 KNOW HOW TO COUNT THE CHANGE. Yeah, this is a tip that I didn’t follow and it was downright humiliating. To be honest, it wasn’t even something I thought about before I left to study abroad. I guess in my mind I was just glad that I was going to an English-speaking country, so I figured if I had questions I would just ask and everything would be dandy. Come to find out, there are certain things you don’t want to ask a stranger. How to count the change is one of those things. Why?Because it’s extremely embarrassing, that’s why. The first meal I had in England the man at the cafe asked if I had exact change to which I had to respond “I don’t know” and ended up handing him a bunch of coins just so he could select which ones he needed and hand the rest back. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be this person. I’m not saying you need to know the money forwards, backwards, and sideways, but familiarize yourself with how much each paper/coin is worth. For example, in America coins for anything above 25 cents are rare. We do not have coins for the $2 amount. England has coins for both 1 pound and 2 pounds. Knowing the difference between them (and the rest of the coins) will be very beneficial!

Most people nowadays use credit cards for transactions. Even so, this is definitely something you are going to want to familiarize yourself with. Also, on the subject of credit cards, be aware that it is almost 100% necessary to have a credit card with a chip in it when you’re travelling in the UK and Europe. I found it very difficult to get around without one (I was able to make purchases but most people over there use chips so it was harder for me). If your card does not have an automatic pin set up with your chip then you are going to have to sign your receipt; make sure to let the cashier know this before you hand them your card.

#2 KEEP CALM AND KEEP QUIET. This sounds like a strange one but I think it’s a pretty important tip. England as a whole is a quiet country. By this, I mean that in public the people are typically much quieter than over here in the US. No, seriously. The loudest part of the underground is the train itself. Often in the US there are so many people talking that voices are bouncing off the walls and echoing throughout the subway. This isn’t to say that people don’t talk in England, that would be ridiculous, but they are definitely more considerate of keeping the decibel level low. This may or may not be the case in whatever country you are traveling to, so my advice would be to keep calm and keep quiet until you can judge this for yourself. You never want to be the overly-loud person who gets stared at. That’s bad for a lot of reasons. For starters, people won’t like you very much. Well, at the very least they will be annoyed with you. More critically, however, is that it can make you a target. A pickpocket will have a much easier time picking you out as a foreigner if you are being loud or not complying to the cultural norms around you.

This line, of course, gets fuzzy because there are certain places you will go where you will stand out no matter what (I’m extremely pale and 5’9 — there are certain places I just don’t fit. Literally, I can’t fit. Like climbing up the old stairs of clock towers throughout England. I was pretty sure I was going to have a hunchback by the end of it.) All I’m saying is: be conscious of your surroundings. Sticking out can be a good thing for getting a job and making friends, but it’s not so good when traveling. It is a well-known fact that tourists are easier to steal from than locals/people who are well-accustomed to their surroundings. This is a worldwide truth. Just something to keep in mind.

#3 DON’T DO ANYTHING YOU WOULDN’T DO AT HOME. AND MAYBE DON’T EVEN DO THAT. Mind your manners. It’s as simple as that. I posted about people I witnessed on public transportation abroad not following this guideline here. I think the tip itself is pretty self-explanatory. As a traveler abroad you are not only representing yourself but your country. This is something the organizers of my program drilled into us over and over. While you may not think so, to people of other countries you are a representative of your hometown, your university, your state/province, your country, your society. It seems strange to think about but it’s true. In fact, I think you could argue it’s one of the purveyors of discrimination throughout the world today. People look at a small group from a given culture and think it represents the society as a whole when this is not necessarily true. This is the reason for a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to the interaction of cultures. I’ve never studied it and I don’t claim to be an expert or anything of the sort, but this just goes to show how important it is that you keep in mind how others will perceive you while you are abroad. Take measures to make sure you are polite and respectful to everyone!

#4 WHEN TRAVELING WITH A GROUP PLAN ALL ACTIVITIES IN ADVANCE. This is something else I ran into trouble with when traveling in Paris. This is extremely important when traveling with groups so that you don’t start any fights. Fights while traveling are the absolute worst! When visiting cities it is a given that you are going to want to see as much as possible. Plan out (in advance–and definitely before you arrive at the city) what places/things you want to see and the most conducive way to see them. If you can find a map of the city, map it out! I had never been to Paris before so there were certain things that were on my must-see list. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were two that I, as a first-time visitor to France, definitely wanted to check out. However, (and this is a big however) one of the girls I was travelling with had already been in Paris for several days and decided that she didn’t want to do these things. She still wanted to tour Paris with us (I was with Rupee at the time) but she didn’t want to do or see any of the things that were on our list. This made it very difficult to get around and, in general, made the whole thing quite stressful. By solidifying a plan in advance you can hopefully avoid this, get to see everything on your list, and do it in a timely manner. If you are traveling alone: kudos to you, how much easier will that be?! JUST BE SAFE!

#5 DON’T BE A DICK. I’d say this is self-explanatory — easy enough to follow, right? You would think. It’s bizarre how many people don’t adhere to this basic life skill, especially when travelling. Don’t be this person. Never ever be this person. This person is universally hated.

Ta-da! My five annoying traveler do’s but mostly don’ts. I hope you found them humorous and helpful. Once again, I am willing to answer any questions you might have about studying abroad or traveling abroad in general. Don’t forget to check out my Stories from Abroad page where all of my tips and tricks have been compiled into one convenient list.

Dissonance REVEAL!

Hey lovely readers!

I told you a few days ago about a certain surprise I had up my sleeve and I’m really excited to share it with you. Y’all know how much I love secret surprises :) A fellow writer of mine, Mariella Hunt, has released the cover for her upcoming indie novel Dissonance, a YA novel coming out soon! I’m always game for helping other writers achieve their dreams, so I’m psyched to be able to share this with you today.

The novel: 

diss cover

Fifteen-year-old Allie Grant lives crippled by her illness. Though kept in isolation, she’s never alone: A spirit named Song lurks in the silence of her bedroom.

When Song reveals its dark nature on the night of her recital, the show ends in tragedy. Verging on death, Allie’s taken in by an uncle she’s never met.

Julian claims to be a Muse with power over music and answers that’ll heal her. The cure she needs is rare, requiring of him a difficult sacrifice. Allie soon suspects her uncle has a secret that’ll turn her world around.

But with days left to live, she might fade without learning the truth…like the finishing chord of a song.

About Mariella: 

Mariella Hunt is a writer with a strong love for coffee and guinea pigs. She likes using big words in everyday speech, and keeps journals of quotes from the greats.

Most days you’ll find her on a well-loved armchair, reading–or working on one of her many projects. As she cannot stick to an outline, she rewrites way too much.

You can also reach her on social media!

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mariellahuntauthor

Twitter – https://twitter.com/mariellahunt

Website – http://mariellahunt.com/

So go ahead, take a peek! This is definitely worth checking out if you love the Young Adult genre. And if you get the chance, always make sure to love and support your fellow writers. Lord knows it’s hard enough on our own, right?!

Love you lots,

Mel

Studying at Oxford

It has always been on my bucket list to study at the University of Oxford. It is something I have wanted to do since I first discovered that writing and literature was an actual option for a future career. It’s one that most people are skeptical of, sure, but it definitely beats me trying to half-ass some other major that I hate. So, when I found out that Oxford was happening–like, for real happening–I was over the moon. Shoot, I was over Pluto.

I am still amazed when I think about the fact that I could study there. That I did study there. Suffice it to say I knew I would have an amazing time.

I studied Medieval Literature at Brasenose College. William Golding, the author you may know from his novel Lord of the Flies, is an alumni of Brasenose. Whether you loved or hated Lord of the Flies (I happened to love it), you have to admit that’s pretty freaking cool, right?!

I lived within the walls of Brasenose College in one of the student “dorms.” I hesitate to call it a dorm because my room was absolutely massive. (Well, massive in comparison to my U.S. dorm.) It was tucked back into an alcove off of one of the three quads within the college. Living in one of Oxford’s colleges is especially unique due to the fact that none of the rooms are the same. Because the university was built hundreds of years ago, they have had to build the rooms to fit the college. You wouldn’t just tear down a two-hundred-year-old piece of beautiful architecture to put in a sink, right?

My room faced out of the college toward the alley between Brasenose college and University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The Radcliffe Camera was also visible from my room. I faced the quad outside of St. Mary’s and there were always people chatting over tea or having picnics; it was adorable. The day we arrived was Alice’s Day–based on Lewis Carroll’s famous novel (and one of my favorites) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland–so there were tons of people out picnicking and drinking tea, and the little kids all wore nice dresses with white bunny ears!

Now for the photos!

The entrance to the college:

door to brasenose

The entrance to my dorm (inside the college):

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Please excuse the mess in my room–

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The view:

In the first picture you can see St. Mary’s Church on the right. That plot of green is the quad where people picnic. Across the quad is All Soul’s College–the most prestigious of the Oxford colleges. It’s also very intimidating from the outside because it has these MASSIVE iron gates. The picture on the right is of the Radcliffe Camera from my room, one of the famous “study rooms” at Oxford, though it’s more of a small library. According to our professor, come time for finals it is nearly impossible to get a seat in there.

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The college has its own dining hall which you can see pictures of online. The wood-paneled walls are filled with portraits of alumni and benefactors, and at the head of the hall is the the college’s coat of arms. The animal on the left is a lion and on the right is a very excited unicorn…if you can catch, ehem, what I mean there. At one time the college felt they had to, uh, reign in this “excitement” so they removed it and kept it in a drawer in the attic of the library. It was years and years later when they found “it” again and re-attached it to the coat of arms. And that’s the story of the once castrated unicorn.

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My group also had the opportunity to utilize the Brasenose library for research purposes (so I was able to do research for my thesis as well). It was absolutely stunning. Like a dream. I love libraries. The bookshelves were 10+ feet tall; the kind you need a ladder to reach the top of!

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The staff at Brasenose were amazing. Many of them (primarily the wait staff who we interacted with most) were students of the college earning money over the summer. Because everyone was around the same age, we ended up hanging out with them quite often when they were not working. Our rooms were cleaned daily by a wonderful staff of very nice ladies. It honestly felt like being in a hotel. In America, you are responsible for the cleanliness of your room. It may be because we were from abroad that they did it–knowing we didn’t have cleaning supplies, etc.–but, hey, it’s Oxford. They are probably just that intense.

The staff at Brasenose were more than willing to help us with any problems we may have had; the maintenance staff were all nice, as was the organizer of housing who was more than willing to let someone have an extra pillow, comforter, fan–whatever it was they needed for their room.

They even threw a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to welcome all of the students studying there for the summer. All of the staff were dressed as characters and they served sparkling pink lemonade, tea, and tons of sweet treats. It was adorable!

mad hatter tea

There are so many fabulous things that I could tell you about Brasenose. The people were great and my time there was unbelievable, but I’m quickly running out of space and attention span. I am super grateful for the opportunity to study at Oxford, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. This was the most memorable thing I’ve done in my life, and for this reason I would suggest studying abroad to anyone and everyone. There is so much to learn and see outside of what you are used to, and I hope that if you have the opportunity to experience another country and another culture you go for it!

Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad: Things To Do & Night Life in Oxford

*Long post ahead*

While this post in particular will be mostly Oxford, England-focused, I will cover some of the more general information here in the “intro” of the post. As far as my tips for finding things to do, day and night, in foreign cities, there is really no better tip: ask. I stayed in hostels in England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, and did the same thing all four places: asked the front desk what they suggested as far as things to see.

Here’s why: for the most part, everyone who I came across working in the hostels was roughly my age. They were also local to the area they worked in (or were spending time there from a nearby country–in Ireland our hostel desk-worker was English, but she had been in Dublin for the entire summer prior to our visit at the end of July). In my experience, they are more than willing to provide suggestions for places to see and things to do. If your budget is a small one (like mine was) they can also point you in the direction of things to do for free. For example, in Edinburgh, Scotland, our hostel desk-worker told us about a set of city tours that were put on–completely free–by a local company, and the tour turned out to be super fun and memorable. As far as discovering “night life” I think this is the best advice I can give you. Asking employees and/or other people staying at your hostel is a great way to find out what fun things are happening in the city. Because people are constantly in and out of hostels there will always be someone who has been there longer than you and can tell you where to go (and people you might be able to go with since they just arrived too!)

Night Life in Oxford

I have to say, I don’t have much experience in this category. There is something that happens around 6 P.M. in England that surprised all of us when we first arrived. And, frankly, continued to surprise me every day I was there.

Everything closed down. Everything. With the exception of a pub or two and Tesco, every shop and restaurant closed its doors–even fast-food places.

Also, side note: there are way too many KFC restaurants in England. I know why they all disappeared from America now– they went abroad. And who would pick Kentucky Fried Chicken? Why not Taco Bell? The whole thing just thoroughly confuses me, but that’s not the point.

Clubs do open up around 10 P.M. and these can be fun. Between the various groups that were studying at our college, there were three clubs that people tended to go to. One was newer  and gave our group free champagne because we were able to wrangle over 25 people to come in our party. This club was really fun because it was spacious and air-conditioned, and unlike most clubs in America, it didn’t feel like you were smashed against the person next to you. People also, in my experience, tended to be much more polite when dancing compared to the U.S.–more respectful of the “personal bubble.”

We were told about this club through a student at our college who knew the owner–again, another reason to ask the locals. People (locals) can also advise you as to which clubs/late night pubs you might not want to go to. For example, there was one club that was much less clean (though it apparently had cheap drinks–so up to you) and one that had a high population of foreigners but had higher prices because of it. Asking around and befriending the local students made a big difference and we had more fun because of it!

Keep an eye out for food trucks that start to come out between 8-9 P.M. They are definitely, 100% worth it! Oxford has some awesome street vendor food that you can’t find during the day. The trucks come to the same spots in town every night (or every couple of nights each week) and if you get to know some of the workers they might throw in extra fries for free :)

Things To Do

Museums, art galleries, shopping, touring colleges, parks (football, rugby, cricket, walking, biking), high tea, theater, various city tours, etc.

There is so much to do in Oxford that I can’t even list it all. I guarantee you will never have a boring day if you put your mind to it. There are several free museums/art galleries that you can go to that are absolutely fascinating; filled with artifacts that are older than my country. I love that kind of thing, so I really enjoyed spending my time exploring the historical parts of the city.You can also tour the various colleges of Oxford, though I do believe most of these cost money. I know my program paid for us to attend a couple tours of various colleges, and I had friends studying at a different college so I was able to tour that one for free, but I highly recommend at least going to one if you can. Although the colleges are all part of the University of Oxford they are all very different on the inside and their histories are unique. It’s also interesting to find out about the rival colleges. Think of it like this: the University of Michigan and Michigan State University only 50 feet apart from one another–chaos.

However, the history stuff is not for everyone, I know that. Maybe shopping then? There are many places to go shopping in Oxford–places you can purchase trinkets and souvenirs for people back home–as well as stores like Primark (awesome and commonly found throughout the UK), Gap, Argos (like a Target), various department stores and other clothing stores, secondhand stores, boutiques etc. If you need something you should be able to find it. Boots (UK) is a store that carries similar merchandise to Ulta (US). There were stores that I recognized, stores that I didn’t, and those that I had only heard of. All of them were fun to explore. There is also a farmers market that sets up every… I want to say it’s every Thursday just outside of the bus station. This is something cool to see too!

If you prefer the outdoors and your college (like mine) isn’t set up with big lawns for sports or activities–not that you’re really allowed to walk on the lawns anyway–Oxford has a beautiful park that is open to the public. There are often teams playing cricket or football (soccer) and I know places exist where you can rent sporting equipment if you so choose. Just walking around the park is also really enjoyable (and great if you’re a runner!) because it stretches out for acres. It’s a cool way to separate yourself from the city if you want some quiet, not that Oxford was noisy–at least not compared to where I live.

Attending high tea and various theater productions are also extremely fun. Shakespeare’s Globe in London has a travelling performance group that comes to Oxford regularly to perform different plays and they are phenomenal. I had the chance to see them perform King Lear at the Bodleian Library and I would gladly see them perform again. High tea is also an event that is fun, though expensive. It’s a social activity, usually attended families or friends in groups of three to four, but it can be more than that too. Our group had about 12 people who went, though I think this was abnormally large. Like I said, it’s also pricey, so it would be more economical to go with, say, four people and get two types of tea between you, then split the cost four ways. This isn’t to say that you cannot go by yourself, but I believe high tea is much more fun if you go with others. Keep in mind that you do need to dress nicely if you are planning to go to high tea!

I think I have condensed as much as I can here. I may think of something else to add later, but this is all that came to me right now. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about things to do in Oxford! Obviously there is more to do than just what I listed here, but these are a few of the basics. And while these are Oxford-specific, I think that, in general, a lot of this may also apply to wherever you choose to study abroad: shopping, museums, parks, etc. Hopefully this can be of some help to at least one of you reading this!

Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad: Planes & Airports

*Warning* This post is LONG.

Welp! It’s time to talk about one of the more stressful (at least for me) aspects of studying abroad. It’s probably because you will find yourself forced to click “purchase” on perhaps the most expensive piece of your trip. All in one fell swoop.

1. The plane ticket. I believe I have mentioned this before, but the plane ticket is the most essential (as it is the foundation on which your plans will build) and often the most expensive single piece of studying abroad.

My plane ticket was between $1,600-$1,700 due to some delays in my program (there was a possibility of not having enough people so we had to wait several months for the go-ahead to purchase our tickets). Because of this, I ended up buying my ticket close to a month prior to leaving for England. DO NOT DO THIS!

From research I have done and discussions I have had with others, the best time to purchase international tickets is about four months in advance. In any case, the sooner the better. On average, had I not had to wait, the tickets could have been anywhere from $100-$500 cheaper. That’s a lot of money.

Plan ahead and buy early, this is the best tip I can give you about plane tickets!

2. Airports. I have to say, living where i do has its perks, including the Detroit Airport. It’s marvelous. I have been to numerous airports over the years and none are as nice, clean, navigable, updated, or filled with as many convenient stores/restaurants/food courts as my home airport. Of course, there are other nice airports out there that I have not been to, and people who don’t have as high of an opinion of the Detroit Airport as I do, but hey.

Look at it! It’s so pretty, and it has a really cool fountain. Reason #1 for visiting the Detroit airport–Delta terminal: cool fountain.

All of this to say: don’t expect grandeur at all of the airports you visit. In fact, don’t expect to know what you are doing 100% of the time. Airports in the United States tend to exhibit similar features (i.e. food in the terminals, bag drop-off/check-in directly in front of security, etc.) This is not always the case in the U.K. I took trains to France and Scotland, however I can tell you about a couple of the airports in England and Ireland.

Food: For starters, often there are not restaurants after security. We didn’t realize this and made the mistake of not eating prior to going through security on our way to Ireland and regretted it immensely. Check online about the airports you will be using and see if this is something you might need to address. Either eat before going to the airport or dine at one of the restaurants that are available prior to security. Also keep in mind that, aside from the always-present McDonald’s, most everything else (at least that I saw) is a restaurant. NO FAST FOOD. So if you are expecting a cheap, quick meal, this is probably not going to be the case. Pub style all the way.

Time management: In the U.S. you should be at the airport, on average, about two hours in advance to make sure you can get your bags checked and get through security on time– especially if you are traveling on Mondays or Fridays, the two busiest of the commuter days. We stuck to this rule while we were abroad, and it seemed to work well for us.

Outlets: You need somewhere to charge your phone? Well HA! So does everyone else. In the U.S. they often accommodate this by putting electrical outlets EVERYWHERE. This is not necessarily the case abroad. There is a much larger emphasis on energy conservation. And, in general, the airports are just smaller. Make sure everything with you is fully charged the day of travel. Also, keep this in mind (BECAUSE IT’S VERY IMPORTANT): all laptops/pieces of technology MUST be fully charged and capable of being turned on at an time during your travel. If security pulls your things aside and they cannot turn them on, they can–and most definitely will–confiscate them. Yes, they will take your laptop and not give it back. Luckily, this did not happen to me, but I was concerned due to the fact that my old laptop was a piece of shiz-nit and had a battery life of 15 minutes. It’s okay to have your things turned off, but they must be able to turn them back on–that is the key!

Baggage Check-In: This is not always right next to security. Make sure to ask one of the employees if you are not sure where to go! More than once I found myself standing, unsure, in the wrong line and felt like a total boob after. If you smile and talk nicely people will (typically) respond nicely. Just keep that in mind. No one wants to help an asshole. That’s universal.

Air-conditioning: Due to the mild weather in England and Ireland, air-conditioning is not typically used. Don’t expect it in the airport. It can be hot and muggy by the gates. Or cold. It just depends. Dress accordingly. But at the same time be grateful it’s 70 degrees and not 100 degrees. Ugh. Heat. It doesn’t go with my hair. Or my personality.

Security/Customs: I cannot tell you much about customs for people travelling who aren’t from the U.S. However, as far as documentation, I feel that most of this is pretty general, and something you should be aware of when traveling abroad. I’m going to break this down into two parts: your primary country, and secondary countries. This means the primary country you are visiting (so for me that was England, as it was where my university was located) and secondary countries would be Ireland, France, Scotland, etc.

Primary Country: Customs to get into England was not too bad. You are going to need different forms of identification. Of course your passport is most definitely required. You will also need (unless you have a visa which should have been taken care of prior to your day of travel) “proof of study.” There is probably a much better term for this, but right now my cold-medicine-addled brain cannot come up with it. This should be a formal letter from the university/place of study where you will be attending that has YOUR NAME ON IT, explaining what you will be doing in the country, how long your program will last, etc. If you are going to be staying longer (i.e. for travel) you must tell the customs worker when they ask. They will be asking other questions as well to make sure your visit is a legitimate one. Don’t be afraid of them, although they can be quite intimidating. Definitely don’t be rude–even if they are rude to you. Which sometimes does happen. (I totally get it, though. It would be like retail on steroids–telling people they can’t do something and having them bitch about it–but the thing you are telling them they can’t do is actually get into the country. Rough.) Just smile and say thank you. Easy-peasy. If you are concerned about what you will need, the organizers for your program should be able to answer your questions. Also, if you go out on the airport’s website, there is a list of acceptable forms of identification.

Secondary Countries: This gets a little trickier. I learned this the VERY hard way. As in I was almost not allowed back into England from France. (So, yes, this counts if you are travelling by train too!) Getting into the secondary country is not that hard (expect the same kinds of questions you would be asked going into your primary country–why are you visiting, how long will your stay be, where will you be staying–you should have all of this information!, etc.) Getting back into your primary country from the secondary country is more difficult. You will need to bring with you the plane ticket information for your departing plane from your primary country. For example, when leaving France to get back into England (two days before I was to leave England to come back to the U.S.) they wanted to see my plane ticket information that said when I would be leaving England. This is because my program had ended and they needed to know that I wasn’t going to be hanging around longer than what my visa was dated for. If you do not have this information–a PHYSICAL COPY of it–they may not let you back in. That’s a super-major-huge problem. Luckily, one of the girls I was traveling with had hers, and so they allowed us back through. Also, make sure even if your program has ended that you still have that letter (as mentioned above) that explains what you are/were doing in the country. Again, depending on your length of stay (mine was five weeks) and the type of program that you will be attending, this may vary. Check with the heads of your program to make sure you have everything you need. These people want to help you! Asking questions can only cushion you in the long run.

3. Planes. Planes are horrible, germy places with recycled air. Build up your immunity prior to your flight by taking lots of vitamins. (Vitamin packets like Airborne are particularly useful.) If you are already feeling ill, perhaps consider investing in some of those cheap face masks so that you keep your germs mostly to yourself. On international flights, and depending on the airline, you should receive both food, snacks, and drinks at least once or twice throughout your voyage. I flew to England on July 4th (which was splendidly ironic!) and because of this–and the possibility of storms–my flight was empty. So empty that just about everyone on the plane was able to spread out and claim a whole row to themselves. This also meant that there was a TON of leftover food. I think they fed us meals three times and snacks four or five times. This is definitely unusual. On my flight home we received, in this order, snack & soda, dinner, snack & soda, breakfast, snack. Again, depending on who you fly with, they also bring water around several times. I suggest drinking as much water as possible as the dryness of the plane can be dehydrating.

Now, I don’t know about many of you, but I cannot sleep on planes. At all. Not even a little bit. The fact that I could lay down horizontal helped slightly, but I still only had about 45 minutes of sleep. The night prior? Two hours. I was running on 2 hours and 45 minutes of sleep. It was horrible. Here is what I suggest if you are in the same boat: antihistamine. If you take one antihistamine (Benadryl perhaps) this may make sleepy enough to get some decent sleep. If you are old enough: order a whiskey from the steward(ess). Seriously, it helps. If you can’t do either of these things, there are herbal remedies that are supposed to help with sleep, motion sickness, and anxiety during travel. Sometimes you do have to order these off the internet or go to a specialty store. I know one brand that works (at least for me) is Rescue Remedy. This one is for anxiety not sleep. (It can also be used for pets with travel anxiety! Not to say any of you lovely readers are animals. You are not. Because, if you are still with me, it proves you can read! Yay for superior intellects!)

Also, if you are a paranoid pee-er (which I am) then make sure to use the restroom before boarding. Might not be the best idea to drink a Big Gulp before you get on either. Yes, airplanes do have bathrooms, but you cannot use them while the plane is taxiing, during take-off or landing, or until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. So if you are waiting to take-off for three hours, which sometimes happens due to technological malfunctions, back-ups, storms, etc. then you are going to have to pee REALLY BAD and your steward(ess) is going to tell you to sit your ass down. I once saw a steward tell a 5 year old child she could not use the restroom even though she was screaming and the plane was just sitting on the tarmac. The rules, while meant to keep everyone safe–which is a good thing–are heavily enforced. You will not get away with it. It is not easy to run in the little walkways of a plane.

Okay, honestly I can’t think of anything else at the moment that might be useful to know about this topic (or that I haven’t covered somewhere else…) I might make a miscellaneous post at the end of all of this with things I forget if I remember them. And feel free to ask me any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes!

You are probably thinking: Whoa, wait, did something change around here? Did you do something to your hair? 

No, no I have not. But I have gotten a new blog theme! I’m really excited about it. I will be making some changes around here, possibly even with the site’s title, seeing as how it’s been several years since I was a teenager and I don’t want to mislead anyone. I also want to be able to talk about whatever I want to, which might lead to some serious question marks if everyone thinks a teenager is writing all of this. You know, like if I want to talk about the new rum that I bought the other day in order to make mojito cupcakes (which I’m super psyched about, by the way, I’ll put pictures up after I make them!)

Have I mentioned on here before that I love to bake cupcakes? Only cupcakes, that’s it. But I love baking them. I find it to be very stress relieving. But then I have to find people to eat them, which is difficult since I would normally give them to my immediate family, but they’re always on some kind of “no sugar, no carb, no fun” diet. And then here I am over in the corner stuffing my face with cupcakes.

It’s kind of a thing.

Anyway–

I’ve been officially sick for a week now with a horrendous cold, so I thought I would get some of the work done that I have been putting off for way too long, including giving my lovely blog here a face lift. I am working on a new project of sorts that I can’t wait to share with all of you too!

Also, I have a friend releasing information about her new book on Tuesday the 19th, so keep an eye on my blog and I will be showering you with information about the upcoming release (sometime this summer!) I’m really excited for her and I think it’s going to be really cool.

Until next time!

Mel