That night we slept on the beach…

That night we slept on the beach…

Free Camping out of season in Eristos, Tilos.

The main focus of our trip to the Dodecanese islands, as arranged by my friend Lisa, was to camp out in the Greek wilderness. So called ‘Free camping’ has become something of a craze recently, with Eristos (on the tiny island of Tilos) being hailed as one of the top spots to partake in this mysterious backlash to glamping.  But I never really knew what the adjective was supposed to add to the experience. Essentially  free camping means camping somewhere where you don’t have to pay, and you don’t have the comforts and facilities that basically defeat the object of camping. So it’s basically what normal, non-hipster people refer to as  camping (don’t even get me started on ‘free swimming’… )

 

Except Eristos doesn’t really conform to that definition; in the summer there is a bar, supermarket, toilets and showers. It’s basically a free campsite. Free camping for dummies. Despite my pedanticness I was actually quite looking forward to spending a few days in a hippy haven, picturing camp-fire sing alongs, skinny dipping and hungover sunrise yoga. However when we finally pulled up to the beach after a day of hiking to remote coves, Eristos seemed to pale by comparison. While it was undoubtedly beautiful, being the only real sandy beach on the island, its beauty lay in its desolation. The beach is vast, framed by trees to camp under, and engulfed by rocky hills on either side. Behind the trees is less poem-worthy. The shells of bars that had been closed all winter, teasing us with faded advertisements for mojitos and other treats. Shower and toilet blocks where you half expect to find someone tied to a chair.

 

While we had initially planned the whole trip around our stay on Eristos,  I was beginning to feel grateful that weather and other circumstances meant that we only actually made it for the last night.

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We could have been back in Wales…

As dusk began to fall my hippy bravado started to wear thin. While I can imagine the beach in full swing being atmospheric, the full moon rising over the abandoned toilet blocks and the odd empty hammock was slightly eerie. While there were traces of people, the only two we saw were the guys building a shelter on the opposite end of the beach, who drove slowly up and down the track before leaving. I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that we were two girls in the middle of nowhere, but not far enough out of the way for that to offer us any safety.

 

I started coming up with plan Bs and counter attacks. I decided that leaving the moped in plain sight when there was no one else around was basically an invitation to our potential rapist/murderer. I convinced Lisa that we should hide it, and we spent a good  15 minutes wrestling with the thing. Our initial plan to move the industrial bins into place to shield it was thwarted by our lack of physical strength, which only served as a further reminder of our vulnerability. We finally managed to push it into some bushes to the side of the toilet block, and returned to our spot to settle down for the night. Or so I thought.

 

I couldn’t help but keep looking over to where the bike was ‘hidden’. At this point  it seemed all the more blatant, except now, when (yes, we had progressed from if to when) our rapist/murderer arrived, we would be helpless, as he would obviously  be able to hack us down before we managed to wrestle the bike out of its hiding place. At this point I was in serious danger of giving up all pretence of being a happy go lucky traveler, and running for the hills/back to the nearest guesthouse. . I finally plucked up the courage to tell Lisa my fears, realising that rather than mocking me, she was also slowly getting infected by my paranoia.  I promised her that once I moved the bike,  that would be the last she heard of it. And I kept  to my word.

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Creepy but beautiful

A few hours passed, and while I was still slightly wary, the  warm buzz from the Raki and the magic of the full moon had me  cocooned in a safe place. Lisa went off for a wee and I was probably mulling over whatever big life question we had just been discussing , when she came rushing back and knelt down to whisper in my ear ‘Kiki! Don’t look now but I’m sure there’s someone over there!’

 

Two weeks worth of backpacker’s  constipation threatened to resolve themselves all over  my brand new sleeping bag. What. The. Fuck. ‘Where?? Are you sure’ ‘Yes! Over there, by those trees!’ I don’t know if I was more angry or relieved when I realised that our crouching rapist was none other than the moped that we had so painstakingly parked… That’s not to say that I was reassured by any means… Once I’d stopped laughing at her, I too decided to go for a pee in the bushes, this time taking my phone with me to check out any mysterious dark shapes. When Lisa went to sleep , I decided that I wasn’t going to be so easy a target. I resolved to play dead, so that as soon as I heard a sound in the bushes I would leap up with my empty Amstel bottle, and show them that they messed with the wrong girl.
After a while I started to console myself with the fact that if someone were to make a move, they would have made it by now, and the Raki addled side of my brain that had been absolutely seduced by the full moon was arguing that if this was my time to go, there are definitely worse places to exit the stage. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and only when I was aware that I’d seen the moon make its journey across the entire sky, and that the glow coming from behind the bins was the sunrise and not the headlights of a psychotic mass murderer did I allow myself to fall completely asleep. I’d like to say that I finally knew peace, but with the alcohol wearing off and the wind rising, my body now decided that it was time to be cold. I spent the next few hours in eager anticipation of the sun making it past the trees to bake me in my sleeping bag, but by the time it made it around I became aware of Lisa packing up her things and shaking out the map. she was well rested and ready to rock and roll.

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Definitely an improvement…

The verdict? While we didn’t exactly have the chilled out experience we were looking for, I wouldn’t write Eristos off completely. Accounts of the beach during the summer sound like the experience that I was hoping to get from Ko Pha Ngan’s Full Moon Party (don’t eeeven get me started on that) – a great place to meet likeminded people and dance barefoot in the moonlight. If I was in the area I’d definitely go back to see the place in full swing, but for travellers to Tilos in general, I’d say the island has far more to offer than Eristos….(Stay tuned!)

11 language learning hacks from a TEFL teacher

11 language learning hacks from a TEFL teacher

 

As I’m currently brushing up on my Spanish before heading to Colombia, I’m thinking a lot about the way that I learn languages in the hope that it will make me a better language teacher when I get there. People tend to be quite shocked when I tell them that it’s my fifth language (disclaimer: I definitely had a head-start growing up tri-lingual) But either way,  as language learning has been a big part of my life, from studying French and modern Greek BA to teaching English as a foreign language in France and Italy, I thought I’d share some of my study hacks that have helped me over the years…

 

  1. The most important thing is to immerse yourself. I know not everyone is lucky enough to study or work abroad for a stint, but try and surround yourself as much as you can with your target language. When I was in uni my study breaks consisted of  French movies and crappy Greek soaps, I listened to the radio and tried to pick out words I knew, watched cheesy youtube videos of pop songs with their lyrics and then looked up words I didn’t know. If you can learn to learn while you’re not officially studying you’ll progress so much quicker. And you no longer have to feel embarrassed about having Enrique Iglesias on repeat….enrique-dancing
  2. Redecorate your house/room. Posters explaining  the difference between ser/estar, post-its on random objects to remember their names, or just randomly placed words that you can’t quite get to stick.  The Greek word for journalist is ingrained in my mind after seeing it written on my friend’s fridge in second year.

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    Make it rain…
  3. Don’t rely on one method/source. Things like Duolingo are great, but even if you meet your daily targets you will not learn to speak a language this way. Same goes for any course book/ grammar guide/online videos. Instead, use a combination of methods and different websites so that you don’t get stuck in a rut. Sign up for blogs and online dictionaries that send you a word a day and  take online quizzes to keep you on your toes.

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    Not gonna cut it love…
  4. I’m sure I’m not the only one who studied French at GCSE and then realised that no one actually says ‘comme si comme ca’ irl. Read newspapers, blogs or whatever you can get your hands on so that you  learn the real language that people actually use.

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    We’ve all been there…
  5. Better still, find a native speaker to practise with. Most unis have an Erasmus society where you can sign up to be a buddy to a foreign student, or even just a language exchange system. If you’re not a student (I feel your pain) then try leaving an advert on local noticeboards/facebook pages.use-your-words
  6. Use a monolingual dictionary when looking up vocab, and accept that in most cases, there’s no such thing as a direct translation. I thought my teacher was crazy when she first suggested this, but it is one of the most helpful habits I’ve picked up. Although a bilingual dictionary may be quicker and easier to use, words have different nuances in different languages, and simply accepting that x=y is only going to set you back in the future, especially if you study translation. Learning the etymology  of a word also helps me remember it, as it helps me make associations. bart dictionary.gif
  7. Find out what works for you. For example I have to write things down several times to retain them. If I’m learning a new grammar rule I have to paraphrase it, write it down, possibly draw a diagram, and then colour code it. It’s all about finding ways to trick your mind into remembering things, draw pictures, make word associations… If you use the right techniques you should be able to visualise your notes when you’re trying to recall the information.hangover
  8. Make lists. And more lists. Carry a small notebook around with you and make a note of words you don’t know.  List new words you’ve learnt, or ones you had to look up whilst reading. Read over the list, and make a new list with the words you still don’t know. Then read over that list and make flashcards with the words you still don’t know. If there are some that you really struggle with then write them on post-its and stick them by your bed.  You know it’s working when they start popping up in your dreams.

    moist
    Repetition is the key.
  9. Get organised. If your class notes are chaotic (mine always were) take the time to copy them out neatly, re-arranging them if necessary and dividing them into topics. I always have a file or a notebook with 4 sections: 1. Grammar rules 2. Verb tables 3. New words 4.Mistakes. I also re-arrange them as part of revision so that I’m studying subject areas rather than random vocab.monica
  10. Learn from your mistakes. It’s a language teacher’s cliché, but mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Take snowboarding for example, a cautious border could make it straight down the mountain without falling over once, while his friend who is popping tricks off the side of the piste lands a 360 but is covered in bruises. Who is the best border? Ok we don’t know for sure, but we do know who made the most progress. I find that it helps to keep a list of the mistakes I’ve made, alongside their correction/ an explanation of how I went wrong. (We’re talking strictly language based btw, or I’d never leave the house) Read through them now and again, but make sure you memorise the correction and not the mistake itself!ross mistake.gif
  11. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. While it’s definitely a good idea to set realistic targets, it can also be difficult to measure your progress. Don’t freak out and try and overload your brain as that can be counter-productive (been there!) Frustration and feeling like you’re not learning quickly enough are totally natural, but just take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be fun, and you’re probably taking in way more than you realise. And if that doesn’t work, just  look at this lama!!!como se llama.gif
    Have I missed anything out? Please feel free to comment and share your study tips 🙂

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 2

Confessions of a Courchevel  housekeeper, Part 2

 

While I spent roughly a third of my time as a housekeeper asking myself what I was doing with my life, it was almost worth it for some of the stories that I’ve got from the season… In this sequel I focus on the more entertaining side of my time as a housekeeper…

 

1. C’est la MERDE

 You can tell a lot about someone by how they leave their room- especially knowing that a stranger is going to have to deal with it. It still baffles me how people can walk out of their room, look me in the eye and smile, knowing that I’m going to have to flush three times in between gags when I enter their putrid bathroom. Is the length of your log some kind of weird pride thing that I don’t know about? Like seriously, Snapchat it to your mate if you must, but I definitely do not need to see it.  It also astounds me how many people seem to be suffering from IBS, and I wonder whether I should start telling people not to drink the tap water, when about 80% of  toilets are pebble dashed every morning. On the other end of the spectrum it always makes me laugh when couples, clearly in the honeymoon period, spray copious amounts of perfume into the little unaired toilet cubicle. Admirable though their intentions may be, what happens when she realises that his shit doesn’t actually smell like Dior’s Homme Ideal??

2. C’est l’AMOUR

This is what you really want to hear about right? The dirty stuff.  All that grimy hotel sex. I have to admit that this was one of my greatest apprehensions on starting the job, but luckily for me, and somewhat depressingly for everyone else, there doesn’t seem to be much action happening between my carefully laid sheets. It makes me feel better about my practically celibate existence when I go into a young couple’s room and see that the duvet is barely crumpled and  still tucked in at the sides. Either some seriously lacklustre missionary is all that’s going  down or they’re all too tired from snowplowing all day…

While most of my guests are reasonably well behaved however, when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. I can almost tolerate the usual soggy sheets, sticky flavoured lubes and used condoms but nothing could have prepared me for the Dutch girl who (on a family holiday, no less…) had period sex almost every day. And I don’t mean that she put a towel down and left a bit of a smear, I mean it looked like a crime scene.  I’m not one to judge, but for everyone’s sake- just do it in the shower.

 

3.C’est le BORDEL

I always wondered why the French and the Greeks used the term ‘brothel’ to describe a mess/ a shitty situation. Until I had to clean up after Russian prostitutes. It turns out they really are messy puppies (and mean to boot.) Thankfully our modest establishment was a place for them to rest and recuperate during the day as opposed to an, ahem, place of work. Nevertheless, cleaning around all their vials and bottles, jewellery and accessories was no joke. Not to mention the facial syringes.  Cleaning up after them made me question my life choices even more than I usually would over the course of a room, playing my usual guessing game of where would I rank on a list of the world’s most overqualified cleaners. I don’t mean that in a snobby way, dusting around their designer bags I was almost in awe that they could make such a lucrative living from such a glamourous lifestyle- this is Courchevel after all, more sitting in clubs sipping Cristal than standing on street corners. Although they spent about three hours getting ready to go out (which made the rare glimpses of their unmade-up faces pretty frightening) as they tottered back up the stairs in their heels and furs as I served breakfast, I couldn’t help but think to myself rather bitterly that they probably come into contact with less bodily fluids than I do in a day….

 

4.C’est WANK

My eyes have also been opened to novel and creative ways of masturbating.  The phrase tickling the kipper has always made me giggle, but I never would have guessed that smoked salmon offered a route to self-gratification… Apparently if you’re from Marseille it does. I’d like to say that the sight of sticky salmon crumpled up in toilet paper put us off eating the unopened pack that the gentleman had left behind, but mountain prices are way too high for seasonnaires to pass up on such a tasty treat.

One of the most important things to remember when cleaning a room is to check that nothing has been left in any of the cupboards. I’m sure a guest would have been even  more shocked than my colleague was to have found a courgette and a cucumber in the bedside table of  a room that didn’t even have catering facilities….Not as creative as Mr. Salmon-Dance but still made us giggle.

 

C’est FINI!!!!

So while life as a housekeeper can be exhausting and demoralising there are also moments where it is just  hilarious. Next time you’re living it up on holiday, remember that  a) house-elves aren’t a thing and b) someone very real is silently judging you, probably cursing you, and then more than likely recounting the whole story to the bar later on!

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 1

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First confession: I didn’t actually clean in this…

For about five months of the year I like to take a break from my busy lifestyle of traveling the world /sponging off my mum to actually do some proper paid work in French ski resorts. This year, that mostly consisted of cleaning up after disgruntled Russians and unruly Brits in one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world. It also involved a lot of soul searching and some pretty big life revelations…

Ever wanted to know what’s going through you housekeepers mind? Ok, probably not, because I bet it’s never even occurred to you. Just in case you are curious, here are some of my confessions from my time as a housekeeper, which will hopefully remind you that your bed is made by a human, who is probably having a worse day than you…

 

  1. As someone who has stayed in a lot of hotels, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never really given much thought to the people who clean my room before. I mean obviously I tip in poorer countries, and at least try to keep it tidy, but it’s never occurred to me that the fallout from a night’s pre-lash can ruin someones day, whilst a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign can actually make it. If you want to do a good deed a day whilst traveling, pass up on housekeeping if you don’t really need it (I mean do you even notice beyond the folded toilet-paper end, seriously?)

    And please, for the love of God, don’t pee in the shower!

  2. Every day is a struggle. Cleaning is exhausting and let’s face it, demoralising work. (Four months on, and I still have shoulder issues from polishing…) But as a seasonnaire, I always had the mountain as motivation and a reason to stay.  This made me think of all the people who don’t have this luxury, people who work themselves to the bone in this degrading job to feed their families, unable to draw comfort from promising themselves as I did every day that I would leave if it got any worse. I could tolerate the feeling of powerlessness, knowing that come May I would be leaving, and my final pay package would fund my full recovery on a beach somewhere. However, this didn’t stop me thinking almost every day about my grandmother who worked as a housekeeper for thirty years, walking miles to work in the Greek sun, having already done a morning’s work in the fields at dawn,  all whilst raising four children. I bet she still didn’t complain about stingy tippers as much as I do…

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    Putting things into perspective…When the first run of the season makes up for the 72 hour week!
  3. Cleaning people’s rooms gives you a unique and often creepy insight into people’s lives. There’s something oddly intimate about it, as you tend to build up an image of a guest over the week, from the books left out on the side, to the products that they use and even where they leave their pyjamas. It’s always fun trying to match a guest with a room during breakfast/ bar shifts, but it get’s a bit creepy if you accidentally let certain information slip when you’re chatting to them in the bar after work…
  4. I’m definitely judging you, and your housekeeper probably is too. From the women with Chanel handbags but Primark pyjamas to the single men whose rooms smell of women’s perfume, I’m drawing allllll kinds of conclusions.  
  5. I sometimes try your perfume/hand cream/fur coats. Come on, I have to have a little bit of fun.
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    Not these though. Jeezus...

     

  6. I sometimes play God. When the lovely man in 209 told us that he needed his room cleaning thoroughly because his boyfriend was leaving and his unsuspecting wife was arriving, a receipt for an expensive dinner for two may have found its way from the bin onto the bedside table. She didn’t need to waste any more of her time with him.
  7. Tips are nice, but snacks are sooo much better. And free alcohol is the dream. Changover days have been saved by packets of Haribo and crates of beer left on the balcony. We’re basically scavengers, and even leftover toiletries mean more beer money at the end of the day.

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    We named him Dmitry
  8. I’m basically a pro at guessing where you’re from, without peeking at your reading material/ passport. And you guys really perpetuate stereotypes. Bulgarians invariably have a holy icon on one bedside table and a bottle of Vodka on the other, and almost every Asian family who stayed brought a rice cooker with them. Stereotypes aside, there were loads of quirky patterns that I never would have guessed. British people can’t seem to leave the country without a week’s supply of home comforts (fyi, leaving Dairy Milk on the bedside table =playing with fire) while French people’s rooms seem eerily tidy by comparison, with an extensive collection of medicines, balms and grooming tools. They make their beds to perfection but almost always leave skid-marks and a trail of pubes around the bathroom.  My favourite guests by far are the Norwegians though, as I often have to check the list to see if the room has already been cleaned and then look for signs of human activity.

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    Too much snow is NOT A THING!!!!
  9. While I have a pretty good reason to be miserable during housekeeping shifts (when powder days mean housekeeping takes twice as long because people stay in, as there is ‘too much snow’…) It shocks me that despite having hands that are raw from the chemicals, not to mention the aches and pains from carrying/bending/polishing,  I am rarely the most miserable person in the hotel. Guests who supposedly ‘have it all’ but can’t crack a smile over breakfast before a day’s skiing/shopping make me wonder when, or rather if, they will ever be happy.

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    This view actually makes waking up at sunrise to work bearable…
  10. Finally, If you don’t give a shit then I don’t give a shit. I know I’m supposed to clean every room to the same standard, but let’s face it, if you don’t respect yourself enough to flush the toilet after you’ve used it, or rinse blood/snot stains off the shower before they crust, then I can only assume that you don’t care about streaks on the glass or crumbs on the floor. On the other hand if you are a clean and tidy person then I will go the extra mile to make your room spotless, knowing that you will appreciate it, and all of my hard work won’t be undone by the morning.

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    All guests are equal…But some are more equal than others!

What to pack for your year abroad?

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So I’ve never been the best at packing, especially considering how much of my life I spend living out of a suitcase (clue: by the end of July this year I’d spent less than three weeks in the UK…) While I still spend an awful amount of time stressing about what’s going in the bag, I like to think that since my first run in with airline baggage Nazis when I moved to France nearly 7 years ago, I’ve learnt a few tricks.

I’m not claiming to get it right every time, but here are a few tips that have helped reduce my tantrums at the check in desk over the last few years…

1.Clothes

Yeah, the obvious one. You’re moving abroad for the year/semester and you tend to assume that everywhere on the continent is basically tropical/you’re going to be spending all your time on the beach. Then there’s the fact that you’re basically on a EU funded jolly, so you need a range of outfits to match your social calendar… Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but not so much.

 

While you are going to be meeting loads of people, and probably want to make a good impression/stand out/ whatever, year abroad is basically a time to embrace your inner hippy, and get to know the kind of people who don’t care about what you’re wearing (and try and adopt that mindset yourself) While my Erasmus circle was pretty dominated by Thai fishing pants (comfiest things ever) I realise that for most people this is the other end of the spectrum…All I’m saying is  try to keep it as casual as you can. And it’s a cliché, but pack light.

 

The main thing I’ve learnt when it comes to clothes is that you want everything you bring to be versatile. There’s no point bringing something that you’ll only wear once/ don’t feel 100% comfortable in (speaking from experience: leather trousers in Greece…) This is especially true for shorter trips/backpacking. It’s lame but I always make sure that pretty much everything in my bag can be mixed and matched, that way you never have to  really think about what to put on/ freak out if that top that goes with those shorts is dirty and you’ve just been invited out to tapas. I still spend way too long, but it is really worth thinking about each item and realistically how often you’re going to wear it. For example, rather than bringing different pairs of shorts for the beach/going out I rely on my trusty Levi cut offs for both, knowing that I can basically live in them and dress them up or down. I tend to bring one or two ‘special occasion’ outfits, a nice dress, or anything you feel fancy in  (definitely not something that needs ironing/dry cleaning though!) but rely on a funky necklace/ a bit of makeup to dress up my standard clothes for most nights.

 

For standard clothes, I realise this massively depends on the climate…I spent my YA in the south of France and northern Greece, which contrary to popular belief both get pretty chilly at times, so you want to bring a range of clothes while still keeping it simple.  

 

If I were to do it again this would be my list:

  • 2 pairs of jeans (1 smart 1 casual)
  • a pair of leggings
  • a pair of baggy cotton trousers
  • a pair of shorts (OK maybe 2)
  •  about 10 tops ranging from casual to smart (including a light blouse/shirt to keep you cool but covered for sightseeing)
  • a few dresses (one beach/day, one maxi, one lbd)
  • my leather jacket for evenings
  • one nice jumper and a hoody. (Even if you’re sure it will be too warm, sometimes it’s just comforting!)
  • bikini

 

It’s always a good idea to bring a lightweight raincoat/windproof coat, even if you’re not that outdoorsy, as chances are at some point over the year you’ll catch a few showers on a sightseeing day.

 

One of my essential items is a light scarf to cover up on chilly nights,  the kind that can also be used to cover your head and shoulders if you’re sightseeing, or that you can lie on in a beach/park.

 

One thing I don’t skimp on however is underwear…I know people who travel with like three pairs and wash them every night, but this is not me. As far as I’m concerned, the more underwear you bring, the longer you can survive before finding a launderette. I hit Matalan or Primark to stock up on multipacks before a long trip.

 

While you’re agonising over what to pack, it’s worth remembering that while you’re going abroad you’re not leaving civilisation, and chances are there will be a H and M (etc) within an hours radius of where you’re living. It actually works out cheaper to treat yourself to a few new outfits when you’re away if you’re struggling, rather than burn money on overweight baggage.

 

2.Footwear

I know there are a lot of princesses out there who aren’t going to want to hear this, but leave your heels at home. Going out is so much more chilled on the continent, and unless you’re going to fancy places (which like, no one does on Erasmus) then trainers are fine, even in most clubs. British girls actually stand out on nights out in their body-con dresses/heels/no jacket combo, and French girls in their jeans and converse actually stare you down. You’ll probably spend most of your time chilling on squares anyway, so when in doubt opt for comfort.

 

The dream is a pair of trainers that you can wear for working out/hiking but which also look reasonable (if slightly quirky) with jeans or a dress. If you really must have a bit of height then opt for ankle boots to be a bit smarter while still keeping it comfy and casual. Remember you’ll spend a lot of time exploring, and cobbles/ crumbling pavements are pretty common in Europe.  Depending on where you’re going and what you’re into you might need some proper walking boots/ snowboots, but again, try and multitask, and find a pair that you would also wear to the pub to save space (Sorel boots are amazing for this)

 

Personally I find flipflops lifesaving, especially if you plan on using certain hostel showers. They take up no space and are so much more practical than fancy strappy sandals for beach/sightseeing, and you can even use them as slippers  (for some reason Europeans seem to be offended by bare feet in the house)

 

I would take trainers, toms, flipflops and ankle boots. Four pairs seems excessive but it is such a struggle.

 

3.Tech

Extension lead- One travel hack which took me wayyyy too long to figure out was to bring an extension lead with multiple plugs, rather than loads of adapters (as lots of studios have only one or two plugs and adapters seem to disappear at the same rate as socks)

 

E-reader – It’s hardly groundbreaking any more but as someone who would carry at least 3 novels for a week’s beach holiday, my Kindle really saved my life on my year abroad. Whenever possible I opted for the E-book version of whatever was on my reading list, this meant lugging fewer heavy tomes in the heat, with the added bonus of being able to easily look up foreign words whilst reading.

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Lifechanging…

 

Dictaphone-You cool kids can probably use your phones for this, but back in 2012 I bought a dictaphone so that I could record lectures and listen back to try and figure out what the hell just happened. Turns out not really understanding what’s going on is pretty boring the first time around without haunting yourself with it at home as well, but this can be pretty useful when you’re freaking out around exam time.

 

Speaker- One of my travel essentials is a little bluetooth speaker. Especially if you’re in dorms and hosting  pre-drinking parties/ trying to drown out next door’s one.

 

Second phone- Second phones are not just for drug dealers, it’s well worth asking around if anyone has an old phone that you can take with you for your foreign sim. Lots of students especially in eastern countries don’t use smartphones as much as we do, so texting and even (gasp!) calling is still a thing. While you might be happy with your roaming charges (especially if you’re on three!) Lots of people won’t want to pay to contact you on your UK no, so it’s always best to have a local number.  ‘Free’ have some amazing rolling contracts in France, and Whatsup on Cosmote in Greece has good deals.

4.Travel essentials

 

A ‘day sack’ – while I still mock my soldier brother for this terminology, a lightweight backpack that you can take hiking or for a weekend away is a must; you don’t want to find yourself rolling a suitcase around a museum if you have a few hours in between trains. Also,  not super stylish but if you’ve got a long walk to uni in the heat, your back will thank you for taking this over a shoulder bag.

 

Microfiber towel- Actually my favourite invention ever. Takes up the fraction of the space of a normal towel, yet still dries you quicker. What is this, witchcraft?

 

Ear plugs/eye mask- Chances are your YA will involve hostels/dorms/lodging at some point (or even just a long journey) and these saviours mean you can go to sleep on your own terms.

 

Prescriptions/Medicines-This one is kind of obvious, if you need any medication long term (or even the pill) it’s easier to bring it with you/ at least research how easy it is to get over there. Turns out you can buy antidepressants over the counter in Greece, but Codeine is actually illegal… Bear in mind that even with the EHIC card you have to pay to see a doctor in most countries, (around 20 euros)  and then claim the money back (which I am always too lazy to do) so avoid if possible. If you have a preference for particular brands when you’re ill, i.e. Lemsips, then bring some with you, you can’t always find similar products when you’re abroad, and when you’re ill sometimes you just need home comforts.

 

Toiletries-I know people who fill their suitcases with beauty products..500ml bottles of shampoo, creams etc… And that’s what really weighs a ton. Unless you’re actually going to be living in a cave, I assure you, you can find anything you need out there. To make life easy when you arrive, maybe bring small bottles of shampoo etc so that you don’t have to rush out to buy things as soon as you get there. But don’t stress about missing your home brands, see it as an opportunity to discover exotic new products (and fall in love with anything Petit Marseillais) then brag to your friends back home that ‘this is what they use in Milan’ (jk, don’t be a dick)

 

I may be biased on this front as I’m not a particularly girly girl, but I’ve learnt to travel with bare minimum make-up wise. I decided to try and make more of an effort recently, but 9 times out of 10 I’m in a mad rush to get ready and only end up using 3 or 4 products max. When you’ve got a year long tan you don’t really need foundation, and there’s nothing less sexy than melting make-up…  

 

I also don’t bother with a hairdryer/straighteners etc. Mainly because I don’t often use them, especially in a hot climate. However if you really need them then there’s probably a girl in your house/dorm that has some anyway.

5. Other bits and bobs

 

Stationery- It probably says a lot about the kind of person I am if I’m telling you to ditch toiletries but have a good long think about your stationary… But I’m definitely not the only one who has had a mini breakdown about the lack of lined paper in France. Am I right? I don’t know what the deal is, but I cannot make notes on graph paper, and I certainly can’t revise with it. If you have any quirky learning aids, then bring them, chances are you’ll need them.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to carry a small notebook around for writing down new words/ reminders to look things up. This also becomes a great study aid, and is a great way to start learning all those random words that it takes a lifetime to accumulate.

 

Uni materials- On that note, let’s not forget that you are actually there to learn. As you’re probably studying a language it’s always handy to have your favourite grammar reference book at hand, or if you have detailed notes that make sense to you, bring them in case you need to get back to basics.

 

Documents- Don’t forget to scan/photocopy EVERYTHING before you go. A million copies of your learning agreement (you will change it so many times) Scans of your passport/ driver’s license, and a load of passport photos for ID cards etc.

 

Home comforts- I do this less these days, but if it’s the first time you’re moving to a different country by yourself, it’s a good idea to bring a few things that will help you feel at home. I took a stack of photos of friends and family to pin up on my first day, as I find personalising my room helps me settle in a lot quicker (and gives me something to do when I arrive to stop me stressing out!) I also bring a good supply of Earl Grey tea with me wherever I go, but anything that you associate with home and comfort when you’re feeling a bit homesick can help, like emergency chocolate buttons or custard creams. (Try and save these for real emergencies.) I also take my own (giant) mug, as a decent sized cuppa is basically impossible to find outside the UK.

 

So there you have it, my basic packing guide for your year abroad. If you have any questions or tips of your own to add, feel free to leave a comment 🙂

 

6 things I wish someone had told me before I went to Rome…

1. Book tickets for the Vatican and the Colosseum in advance

queue jumping boss
Queue jumping, like a Boss.
-Ok, so technically someone did tell me this, what they didn’t tell me was that the night before doesn’t actually qualify as ‘in advance’. While I was too much of a hungover mess to get my act together on my first trip to Rome, I did this on my second visit and felt like kicking my past self. It just makes so much sense. If you book on the official websites the ticket is the same price (don’t bother with skip the queue companies) and the sense of satisfaction you get while walking past the mile long queue to go straight in is priceless. You’ll be wondering what the catch is.

2. Don’t book a tour with the touts outside the attractions.

-We fell for this as 30€ seemed like a fair price to pay in order to not bake in the queue for the 3 hours that our hustler was threatening. However we were pretty dismayed to be handed a 12€ ticket, and given two five minute talks that didn’t even take us up to the second level of the Colosseum, before our guide tried to ferry us off to Paletine hill. Apparently we hadn’t been bent over enough at this point as we ended up falling for the same trick in the Vatican, paying almost 50€ for a skip the queue tour, where we ended up waiting a whole hour for the guide to organise our tickets. The worst part was missing out on nearly all the art galleries in the Vatican museum as we were herded through a few of the main rooms, and out of the side entrance of the Sistine Chapel- being warned that if we went back into the museum we wouldn’t be able to use the groups entrance to skip the queue into St. Peter’s Basilica. This is a myth, as no one actually checks if you’re part of a group or not.

3.Don’t stay at the Yellow Hostel. (Rome’s most famous hostel)

-Yes, it’s a great place to meet people. The bar is one of the best in Rome and popular with residents as well as backpackers. I actually had one of my favourite nights there, and their breakfasts in the morning are lifesaving. But you can still visit whilst staying on the same street for a fraction of the price, and not pay 40€ e a night for a bunk with questionable sheets and a piss-poor shower in a dingy room where the cleaners steal your stuff.

4. Explore the riverbanks after dark.

tiberisland
If you only have a couple of nights it can be tempting to stick around the main squares, (and that’s fine, they’re bloody lush) but you’re really missing out if you don’t at least take a quick stroll down the river. Starting from just south of the Cavour bridge, there is a Latin American festival, which is one of the few things that goes on until 5am in Rome. Further down has an almost Southbank vibe, with quirky cocktail bars, pop-up concerts and even an outdoor cinema on Tiber island. I was lucky enough to catch the full moon rising over the oldest bridge in Rome whilst enjoying cocktais on cushions at an adorable little Persian bar.

5.Rome is not a party town.

I was perpetually disappointed with Italy because I kept expecting it to be more like Greece (How can Italians NOT be able to make a decent freddo capuccino, for a start??) But the main disappointment was trying to go out around midnight, and finding that not many places were open. After exploring all day, napping, cooking and having a few drinks, by the time were ready to head out, the metro was closed and common consensus was that the only decent options in our area (Monti) were the Irish bar or the gay bar. Don’t get me wrong, great times were had in both – but I felt that we missed out on authentic Roman nightlife, even after asking Italian students where we could go…
fountain
Turns out the best place to party is on the street…
6. This point isn’t specific to Rome, more of a life lesson in general. If there is no corkscrew in your room/appartment, don’t try and open a bottle of red wine with a knife, in a spotless white kitchen.

15 Things I learnt this winter

15 Things I learnt this winter

Having just got back from working a winter season in Courchevel, I decided to reflect on some important (and not so important) things that I’ve learnt over the last few months…

  1. There is a dog whose job it is to find people after an avalanche. And he has special doggy goggles!avalanche dog.JPG
  2. You should never, ever, ever (I really can’t stress this enough) sit on the hill with your board in front of you. Especially not at the top of the DC park. Especially not when there’s a pro comp on…(Yes, I learnt the hard way) hit n run.JPG
  3. Snowflakes actually really look like snowflakes! Yeah…This not being my first season I probably should have cottoned on to this a bit sooner…But look how perfect they are!snowflakes.JPG
  4. Marsbar toasties are fucking amazing. Raclette is good and all that, but….This ❤toastie.JPG
  5. Seasonnaire fridges (aka the balcony) are a great idea until you get some hardcore frost. I guess this isn’t what people mean when they talk about freezing their eggs…frozen egg.JPG
  6. Chanel and Armani make snowboards…I didn’t learn who actually buys them, but if you find out- give them a slap from me.chanel board.JPG
  7. Sometimes when you’re out skiing, you just have to stop for some Dior…dior ski.JPG
  8. Some people bring Sainsbury’s croissants with them when they go on holiday to France…croissant.JPG
  9. Some people travel with more beauty products than I have ever owned in my life…makeup
  10. Snowboarding is even more fun in the dark.snowboarding in the dark
  11. The tunnels to Italy all close during the winter (except the Mont Blanc one) …I really wish I’d learnt this before driving all the way up to la Rosière…At least the views were nice though. And it’s not like I was hungover or anything. Oh wait…la rosiere.JPG
  12. Being single has its perks…I may cry myself to sleep at night but I ain’t waitin’ in no queue…single perks.JPG
  13. When in doubt, always opt for the café gourmand…cafe gourmand.JPG
  14. Chair- lift signs give the best advice, although this may be the saddest lesson I’ve learnt all season…be happy.JPG
  15. No matter how shit things get, a beer on the top of the mountain in the sun makes everything OK…heineken.JPG