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Category: Tips & Tricks (Page 1 of 4)

Depth vs. Breadth Touring

Maybe it’s the looming exams, but the realization that my time at GTL is finite has hit with full force. I came with dreams of London, Vienna, and every quaint town between. Four months in Europe seems endless, but throw in the stress that is a Georgia Tech education and it becomes much more limiting.

Unable to avoid the tendencies instilled in me by my classes, I’ve been looking at the situation as an optimization problem. How does one have the ideal European trip? Like most problems in engineering, the system in overly complex without some simplification. Ignoring the fact that I have little idea what actually is available to do in most of the places I want to visit, not to mention those I haven’t even decided on yet, it is fairly easy to come up with two general approaches to being a tourist: depth and breadth.

GT students don’t like being conventional. Coming back from stellar weekend just to find out that everyone else planned the exact same itinerary as you dampens what felt like a personalized journey. So, in theory, I’d love to blend with the locals and eschew the tourist traps, but given that I have never been to the continent before, I can’t help but feeling like I am missing out if I don’t go to Paris and Rome. These approaches also apply to how to tour within a given destination. Do you skim and hop, exposing yourself to as much as possible, or slow down to discover the historical context and consequential significance of that statue in the corner?

There is no perfect strategy, but the cliché answer is that everyone needs to find their own approach. My best memories have been longer experiences, some of which I couldn’t plan if I wanted to. On the other hand, I feel like I can grasp the personality of a city better by hitting as many spots as possible. It’s best to do both. Even an individual trip can feel too rushed or as if I am missing out on the entire point of the city. To counteract this, I’ve adopted the strategy of moving quickly at first, to  calibrate to the new city. From there, I keep open to opportunities to stay if something grabs my attention, but try to learn to let go of the things I know are not as interesting to me.

Above all, I advise to put an emphasis on opportunity. The best stories can’t be planned. When in Paris, I missed out on almost everything the city has to offer, but I spent so long in the Louvre that I not only can navigate such a monstrous maze with ease (and my favorite part of these museums is always the building they are in) but I genuinely learned an insane amount about art and history in general. I’ve become a bit of a snob about the dynamics of subtly spiraling contrapposto sculpture. While in Germany, my mobility surprised me, and I ended up waking up
at 4 AM and walking so many miles as to cover the majority of Frankfurt in a day. This led to day trips in the area and a better understanding of Europe outside the major cities..

Starvation Sunday

Written by Aria.

Alternative title: how I was 72% under my food budget the first week.

As Tech students, we all go a little overboard with quantification, but in terms of budgeting I find it helpful. In this case, it instigated genuine concern for my own well-being. Had I really been eating, or do the French stay so thin by inducing some hallucination of consuming endless bread? I had come to France with the anticipation of hemorrhaging money, and my savings were prepared for it. Instead, I seem to be doing better than in Atlanta.

The outdoor market in Metz, with some of the best food around. Unfortunately, only on Saturday mornings.

The secrets to my success are quite simple. Intuitive, really.

  • Skip meals because you woke up too late, forgot to include eating in your
    itinerary, and/or are too tired to grab bread. (Let’s be honest. This has nothing to do with being in Europe. This is college.)
  • While in French cities, have your entire food allotment consist of pastries picked up every few hours, each from a different bakery. Take them to go and keep touring.
  • Your sit-down meals are now a baguette with brie in the park.
  • When you can’t remember the last time you had anything that wasn’t a carb, go to Crous and spend 3.5 EUR for a meal with such novelties as fruit and meat. Don’t forget your side of bread and choose another carb to make up the bulk of your meal.
  • Plan to do your grocery shopping on Sunday. You will soon learn that most
    businesses are closed on Sundays, and that all you have in your fridge is ice and juice. Luckily, the corporate spirit of America keeps even French McDonald’s open. On the walk there, stop from exhaustion (who knows when you last consumed a calorie) and realize the Paul a block from your dorm is also open. Buy a baguette.

Fresson: the best cakes in all of France. Bring cash, because unless you are planning on buying too many cakes even by my standards, you won’t meet the credit card minimum.

College students have adapted to the harsh conditions of their environment. In this culture, they use every part of the baguette. The pointed end is dipped in olive oil for an appetizer as the meaty body simmers in the remaining oil. After Caprese sandwiches are consumed, the meal is finished off with Nutella spread on the fleshy innards. Despite their large size, baguettes are best consumed the day of their acquisition. Those less skilled in the art often partner up to complete the task, as it is frowned upon, albeit possible, to order only a half baguette.

The happiest moment in my life. Then I dropped the chocolate square on the ground.

To embrace the French culture, I highly recommend a diet consisting entirely of pastries. Your wallet and taste buds will drown out the complaints of your heart. While touring, we tended to rack up at least 10 miles a day. Instead of stopping for any significant meal, we simply located the best bakery nearby and shared a few pastries. Most places in France are cheaper if you take the food to go, so this leads to fighting off the pigeons as you eat your cake on the street corner like the desperate wretch you are. This is worth it for the ability to buy more cakes later. Nothing has topped Metz’s own Fresson, which was once voted as having the best cakes in all of France. Their raspberry tart may be the highlight of my time here so far. For a quality shop, their prices aren’t bad either.

The French cuisine lives up to its reputation, making my limited menu tolerable. This is no excuse to survive only on bread, however, so I now am striving to diversity my sampling outside the comfortable bounds of carbs. That flaky spiraled pastry, named “escargot” isn’t quite the same story as the original dish.

Dealing with Homesickness: A Long and Arduous Adventure

First and foremost, I am not one to get homesick. Ever. Yes, usually I’m in Atlanta which is only 5 hours away from Charleston, but a few visits with the family throughout the semester is more than enough to sustain my emotional support/family bonding health points. My 2017 has been very different than normal, though: I was in Europe for both spring and fall semesters while also working in Atlanta over the summer, so the amount of days I’ve seen my family has been quite sparing. I could probably count them on two hands, actually (okay maybe two and a half hands). I myself am also pretty terrible at keeping up with people, and it’s taken some real mental training to fight against this lackadaisical view of reaching out to my loved ones.

I hadn’t been feeling very homesick all year until a few weeks ago when everyone was home for Thanksgiving. My friend sent me a Snapchat of his dog and his wacky grandparents playing in a bluegrass band (I know, too cool), and my stomach nearly fell out. I missed my mom and my grandparents so, so much in that moment. I miss my dog tearing through the house while my grandmother can only hope to catch and cocoon her in a Christmas dog sweater. I miss those late night talks with friends that only happen by chance but last hours into the morning. I’d been missing southern food the whole time, don’t get me wrong, but in that moment I REALLY could’ve gone for a pimento cheese sandwich.

So obviously, talking to your family helps. I will say, though, a Skype call is really at a higher level than a normal phone conversation: you can get distracted by what’s on your screen or by things around you, but on Skype it’s nearly a face-to-face interaction so your attention is naturally all on the other person.

Get you some photos! And don’t have your family send you the same photos that are everywhere in your house: ask to borrow some pictures that are tucked away in family albums from when your parents dressed you up in a Halloween costume for the first time, or just photos of you and your siblings covered in dirt in the backyard. These will remind you of old memories that haven’t crossed the skies of your mind in a while and will make you appreciate your upbringing. Nostalgia is a great thing.

Schoolwork can loom over you and feel like you must hyper-focus to get anything done, but you need breaks! Use those breaks to chill out, of course, but every few breaks use the time to email your grandma or maybe send your dad an article that you’ve seen recently. Don’t shut yourself out or homesickeness is bound to get worse.

Fall/Spring Break: Learn From My Mistakes

Hello! Recently we had a very long break – a whole ten days, in fact – and this is my reflection/how-to-not-be-like-me post. There are some things that I did right, but there are others that I didn’t do so right, and here they are for your enjoyment!

First of all (and this applies to any trip you take), do not expect Europeans to do American holidays! Yes, Halloween is a primarily American/Anglo-Saxon holiday, but all over France and Spain were signs and Halloween party fliers and decorations, and so I figured it would be a big thing! And it is…just not with costumes. European children will go out earlier in the night, and I’m not even sure if they actually go trick-or-treating (I think people just have square parties with candy) but they dress up! So I said okay, it’s Halloween, I’m in Southern Spain and I’m going to be a pirate for Halloween. I went to go play pool at a local restaurant that was TOTALLY COVERED in Halloween gear… and no one else is wearing a costume. Not a single human. Not even the waitresses or the bartender. We were even pointed at and laughed at a bit, so do not make our mistake! You can’t deny it though, we looked pretty legit.

If you want to do anything particularly wild or involved, book it way ahead of time! There were multiple times when we wanted to rent a moped and zoom around the city we were in, but they needed a full day to process our information before renting to us (and we were only ever in places for two days at a time). We kind of winged a part of our trip and thought we might want to hike the most dangerous (not anymore, but oh well) hike in the world in Malaga, Spain, but apparently that thing sells out months in advance. We ended up spending most of our time exploring the cities or doing our own hikes, which was fine, but just keep these facts in mind when you’re trying to have a trip full of adventure: you can’t be totally on the fly about it if it includes rentals.

If there’s anything you take from this post, dear reader, I hope it is this next point: Do. Not. Travel. Too. Much. Don’t do it. If you have a trip planned that involves hopping between 5 places, calculate the total travel time and see if it’s worth it. When it’s split up between an hour here two hours there it doesn’t seem so bad, but once you realize exactly how much precious time is being spent on a train just playing cards, you’re going to regret it.

A Look Into The Typical Week of a GTL Student

I understand not all of you reading this are current GTL students, so I’m just going to delve into the (slightly exaggerated) average week of a GTL student for those of you that may be wondering what it’s like.

Monday Morning: Welp, I’m still pretty exhausted from the weekend, but I’ll make it up later. All I have to do today is buy groceries (I really have to stop eating baguette sandwiches), get a head start on all the homework I have due this week, and maybe I’ll even have time to go to the gym or run at some point.

Monday Midday: Okay, so I may have been weak and bought another Fermie Chaud (curry baguette sandwich) for lunch from the sandwich place, but I swear I’ll go get groceries this evening, and I’ll cook everything else this week. Oh, you want to play ping pong? A few rounds can’t hurt – I have tons of time!

Monday Evening: Yes, I may have just played ping pong for two hours and foosball for one, but I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m cooking dinner! I’ll have a few hours to study afterwards and just do the rest tomorrow. Wait, how long does the lab homework take? Are you serious?? How is that even…okay, grocery store tomorrow, La Boite de Pizza tonight. It’s healthier than any pizza in the US probably. Maybe?

Tuesday Morning: Alright, today is the day! I’m going to catch up so hard from yesterday, and it’s going to be awesome. I still haven’t caught up on sleep because of that lab homework, but as long as the coffee machine works, then so can I! Or I’ll be like my dear friend Ben and bring a literal coffee maker to GTL. After class though.

Tuesday Midday: Only have one more class later, time to sit down and start on more homework. Wait…you didn’t book the hostel? I thought we agreed on that one with the nice rooftop…it’s totally booked? Are you serious? Okay, let’s figure it out – we only have two days before we leave and this homework can wait. I guess I’ll get another baguette for lunch.

*You can imagine how Wednesday went.*

Thursday: I’m exhausted, I’ve only eaten white bread this week and you’re telling me I’m leaving for London tonight when? In two hours?? Well, here we go.

And repeat.

How to Pack Light

Hello dear travelers, let me tell you all that I know about how to not crush yourself with 50 pounds of things you don’t need. I had to learn this the hard way. It was spring break 2017, I was super excited to make my merry way through Greece and Italy, and my backpack ruined everything. This is an over-exaggeration of course, I had a wonderful time, but it honestly would’ve been so much better if I hadn’t brought 10 days worth of clothes and my heavy computer with me. I ended up getting a big hiking backpack with hip straps, but that can only help so much. My shoulders could barely be called shoulders by the end of the trip and it actually took a few days for them to feel normal again. Granted, I am a small female that can’t handle an entirely full school backpack sometimes. Regardless of your size, here are some ways to ensure you don’t have my experience.

Realize you don’t need that many options. One going out outfit, one comfy outfit for trains, and a few normal day outfits will do. (That is, if you’re doing cities. Obviously you don’t need a clubbing outfit if you’re camping in the Dolomites… at least I don’t think so?) Choose carefully, and choose things that can dress up and dress down easily. Don’t bring something you would be iffy about wearing normally. Only bringing about 5 days worth of clothing got me this size Jansport backpack, which is incredible compared to what I had last break.

I mentioned bringing a few outfits, so how are you supposed to make them last the whole trip? You try your hardest to stay in AirBnB’s and hostels with washers. Most hostels have a laundromat either in them or close to them, just pop your clothes in while making breakfast and hang them to dry somewhere during the day.

If you’re positive you’ll be staying somewhere with no access to a washer, get a small thing of detergent and hand-wash your clothes in the sink. It’s a lot easier than you think.

Also – you’re not going to use your computer enough to make it worth bringing, so don’t make my mistake!

Night Trains: For the Long-Distance Traveler on a Budget

Basically, after all of the traveling I’ve done, I grew tired of the Franco-Germanic area and aspired to travel elsewhere, which either requires an 8-12+ hour train or an expensive flight. So, I found a nice solution: night trains! Night trains are awesome. Within France they’re very cheap: I went to Monaco for a 20 euro reservation, which is what you’d pay for an inexpensive hostel. From southern France, it’s just a quick train to Italy, and there are also night trains that go between countries as well. I have some friends that took one to Barcelona for 30-40 euros, and I’m positive the night train to Berlin is fairly inexpensive as well.

The trains have rooms that house 6 beds, and yes, they are super cramped. I’m talking Titanic movie cramped.

 

But, all you’re doing is sleeping, so instead of staying up late and doing homework or other irrelevant things, get a good night’s rest so you can explore all the next day! (I’m joking, although if you are thinking of doing homework on this train, then forget about it. There were no common areas to just hang out in (at least on mine), and don’t expect to be able to sit upright comfortably in your bed.

Also, If you’re tall you may end up like this:

These trains usually leave late at night (mine left at 10 pm) and you arrive at your destination in the morning.

One thing to consider is that unless you buy out an entire cabin of all six beds, you’ll probably be sharing them with other people. So, if you have a group of friends that are obsessed with a card game and are refusing to quit at even 1 am, just be courteous of the people you’re sharing the cabin with and try to move out into the hallway. That doesn’t sound fun but it’s better that than pissing off some French women who will 100% use the entirety of their vocabulary to make you shut up (totally not based on personal experience). Also, it’s always good to be conscious of your things, but that’s a bit hard to do when you’re asleep. I cannot sleep with one eye open, and I doubt you can either, so I suggest getting a money belt/something similar so you can keep your passport and phone close to you without fear of prying hands. Get out there and see some far away stuff!

Solo Travel: A How-To

As GTL students travel all over the continent, there may be times where someone wants to go somewhere or do something specific that absolutely no one else wants to do. If you’re one of those people, but you’re worried about traveling by yourself, have no fear! I’m here to tell you how to do it right (as I’ve come to experience) and safely.

One thing you have to keep in mind is how you appear to others. If you’re worried about getting pick-pocketed or being scammed, try not to look über-touristy. Save your fanny pack for another time and maybe zip your jacket up over your American flag t-shirt. If you’re lost, stop and find a map or look at your phone on a spot away from a street corner where you would stand out. Maybe try to go to less-touristy places instead. I mean, there’s so much to see in these incredible places you’re exploring, and especially being by yourself, you’re more likely to chat up a local in a neighborhood art gallery than in the London Eye.

I recently went to Stockholm by myself and got to enjoy a goblet of strawberries, the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had, and an overpriced – but refreshing – cucumber soda. If I had been there with anyone else I’m not sure I would’ve paid them any attention anyway.

This leads me to my next point: talk to people! Be open to it! That was very hard for me to figure out how to do, not being the most social butterfly of the bunch. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you then that’s fine, but most often people in a hostel or in a relaxed social setting will be open to conversation. Talking to other travelers is easiest, as you both might feel like outsiders, but I really urge you to try and speak with a local if you really want to get a feel for the culture you’re visiting. It’s so fascinating to me how Europeans perceive America and the contrasts between growing up in these two similar, but also incredibly different atmospheres – and without fail the young Europeans I’ve talked to feel the same.

By now you’ve probably heard earful after earful of “be wary of pick pocketing don’t put down your purse don’t stray from main roads at night,” and unfortunately I’m going to give you yet another earful, but hopefully a meaningful one. Simply be aware. That’s all. Don’t do anything that would put you in a weird situation, especially now since you can’t just call your friend over. Lie if you have to, and I mean this especially for my girls out there – if someone asks if you’re traveling alone, never ever say yes! It gives you a good escape plan with a fake call if it’s necessary, and if they end up being cool and you become lifelong friends, then they should understand your precautions.

I hope this has been helpful. I know there’s a decent number of people that I’ve overheard talking about solo travel, so if you have a friend in need then link them this tidbit right here!

All By Myself

Courtesy of powerofthemusic.com

I flew into France within the first couple days of the New Year, and that was the first time that I truly traveled solo. Landing in Paris was pretty scary for me: I was lumbering around with a huge suitcase and no idea where to go next. Without luck, I was walking around the airport, looking for the meeting point for the shuttle that was supposed to take me and some other students over to GTL. On top of an already stressful situation, I was made fully aware that I was in a country in which English was not the primary or even secondary language spoken. This not only made me feel extremely uncomfortable and out of place, but it just made my primary objective that much harder to complete. Finally, after the supposed last call for the shuttle to leave, I found them all and made it in the van just in time. That was one of the most nerve-wracking situations I’ve ever been in. I thought that I was going to be stranded at the airport, all by myself, without being able to communicate to others that I was definitely not supposed to be both at the airport or alone. I would have really been fine with just taking one of those two options.

That was back in January, and I just recently made another solo trip, but this time it was about three days long, and in the Czech Republic (where their official language is literally not spoken anywhere else). Now, I feel a lot more comfortable with being in new and unfamiliar situations. I’m able to ask questions to locals without the thought that they are going to see me as dumb looming over my head. I can now confidently say that living in another country really matured me in aspects of my life I never even considered as problematic. Even talking to my friends and others in English, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more confident in myself, and it’s a nice feeling to have!

In the past, I would too often get caught up in what others thought of me, and would always try to please them, even if it was at my expense. Many times, this would result in me missing out on activities or events I wanted to attend. This is what I’ve learned from living here: if you ever get a chance to do something, but no one will go with you, go by yourself! There is nothing wrong with it, and you will most likely regret not going at all more than going solo. You’ll also probably meet some interesting characters and have new material for stories to tell at dinner parties!

Although traveling solo can seem daunting, you’ll be amazed at how adaptable we, as humans, are. With time, you’ll be riding the metro and ordering your meals like a pro. Whenever I’m speaking to locals, I try to start off the conversation in French, and then if I can’t get my point across, I switch to English and hope they can understand me. Weirdly enough, even if neither of us can understand what the other is saying, I can usually decipher what they’re telling me using hand gestures and context. And while I highly recommend learning at least a little bit of French before coming to GTL, this way isn’t too bad!

5 Tips for Train Travel

From using the Eurail pass, I have learned a lot about traveling on trains. Especially when one doesn’t speak the language, going on trains can be a bit daunting. Trust me, I have taken my fair share of wrong trains, slept in a few very cold train stations, and been to many an information desk. This post is a ‘learn from my mistakes’ type deal so I hope everyone is ready!

1. Make sure you are in the right car.
I know, I know, this sounds like a no-brainer. However, a lot of the newer trains have the capability for cars to split off from one another and go to different places. Make sure that the car you get into is going to your destination, because there is no way to switch once you are en route.

2. Secure your valuables with your companions so you can all sleep.
It’s always a good idea to keep your personal items close to you. I keep my passport, Eurail pass, and money in a money belt, and put it under my clothes. However, sometimes I worry about my backpack. I want to sleep, but I don’t want to have to worry about my bag being stolen if everyone in my group falls asleep. So, I came up with a plan. Whenever we are planning on napping, my crew and I all buckle and tie our backpacks together. That way no one can grab our backpacks and quickly make off with one, but will have to struggle through the tangle of backpacks and thus become discovered. It makes me feel a lot safer.

3. Bring a scarf or neck pillow for sleeping.
One thing I learned about taking trains is that you will never know when or where you will be stranded. It is always a good idea to bring extra warm clothes in case you are stranded in a train station, because most of them are not heated. Also, most train stations don’t have places to lie down for sleeping, so having a pillow to rest your head on can come in really handy.

4. Leave enough time for transfers
Even though trains are usually on time, small delays or train strikes can lead to some close calls and missed trains. When planning your route, make sure that you can always get to the next platform for your transfer. I think 20 minutes is a safe bet. Every train station is different, and you need time to figure out where the train is and how to get there. Leave stress out of the equation and plan for decent transfer time.

5. Bring snacks!
Although many trains have dining cars, bringing snacks along for the ride is always an awesome idea. Train travel makes you sleepy, and a quick granola bar, apple, or other snack can be a great pick-me-up. Trust me, you will love yourself later.

Happy travels everyone!

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