4 Spring Break Destinations Without the Crowds

If you aren’t thinking about where to go for spring break yet, you should be. It’s almost time to embark on a little post-winter, pre-spring getaway. Even I’m going somewhere this year! My trip will be a drive down to Missouri to visit family but it will still be a nice little escape from everyday life. Being someone who doesn’t particularly like crowds, I can understand why most people avoid spring break. There are drunk, obnoxious, college kids everywhere and what you’re looking for is much more relaxing. With that in mind, I’ve put together a couple of destinations so that you can get in a memorable spring break without the insanity of...well...spring break!

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7 Dream Winter Travel Destinations

The colder months are my favorite time of year. From fall through winter, we break out all the cozy sweaters, light up the fireplace and indulge in the best comfort foods. The nights are longer, which most people hate, but I happen to love because it motivates me to finish my day earlier. I get caught up in whatever book is on my nightstand, maybe watch a show or two, or simply spend time with friends or family. Believe it or not, I enjoy going out and meeting people for drinks or dinner more in the colder months than in the summertime. It sounds a little backwards but there’s something about crisp winter air and meeting people in warm, cozy restaurants when it’s already black outside by 6PM…

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5 Reasons to Visit Amboise, France

Have you ever been somewhere that makes you feel like you’re walking in a real life fairytale? That’s exactly how I felt as we pulled into Amboise, France, a small medieval town in the Loire Valley. The final home of Leonardo da Vinci and home to  Château Royal d’Amboise, it’s as if you’re walking in the real life version of Beauty & the Beast. The people are friendly, the food is outstanding and if the walls could talk...it would be a hard to top history lesson. About 140 miles outside of Paris, Amboise is one of many stops to make throughout the Loire Valley and believe me when I say - there are many. Known for the highest concentration of chateaus in the world, the Loire Valley is one of France’s largest wine producing regions, especially white wine and sparkling wine (not to be confused with Champagne which can only be made in the region of the same name). While Amboise is not the only town I suggest for a visit in the Loire Valley, it is one of my favorites. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are five reasons why you should visit Amboise....

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1 - The History. Amboise has seen much of history from being the home of kings and hosting notable historical figures to being the epicenter of religious turmoil. It’s been used as a place of celebration and a place of incarceration. It’s amazing to realize how much this town has been through over centuries - like I said, if the walls could talk I could only imagine what they’d say. Amboise also served as a fortress during its long life. Because of this, there are underground passageways which offer a unique look back into history. Lucky for us, these tunnels as well as the towers within the fortress are accessible through special tours. The town and château  especially was nearly destroyed during the French Revolution. After being returned to the heirs of Louis Philippe in the late 19th century, the  château went under a complete restoration only to be damaged once again during World War II during the German invasion. Restorations took place for the final time after the war and are now kept by a local organization. Today, Amboise still maintains its Renaissance charm which is what gives it such a fairy tale-like character that seems at times, unreal.

🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

2 - Château Royal d’Amboise is breathtaking inside and out. The château is smaller in size compared to many others but the quaint size is what makes it so charming. Amboise has seen its fair share of neglect but it’s always been rebuilt and today, it shares a window to the past so that we might understand what life was like throughout the centuries that came before us. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is much to see at Château Royal d’Amboise. For starters, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel which sits atop the castle gardens. For anyone who adores Renaissance art and the great minds from that generation, this is an absolute must. The rooms inside the chateau have been returned to their former glory when royalty made it their home. The gardens that sit on top of the château overlook the town and the valley for some of the best views you’ll find in the Loire.

View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

3 - Château du Clos Lucé was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. He lived here for the final three years of his life with a select few students and it is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Located just outside the town’s borders, Clos Lucé holds many of Leonardo's unfinished work as well as finished pieces and drawings of ideas and inventions he had not yet gotten to. Clos Lucé was originally built by the Amboise family who the town was named after in the 15th Century. It later became a summer home of the Kings of France which is how it came to be da Vinci’s final home. King Francis I admired da Vinci and asked him to be the “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” which obviously, he accepted. Clos Lucé pays tribute to more than just the famed artist. There are rooms dedicated to other periods of time and figures who also took up residence on the property, for example, Queen Anne of Brittany.

Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

4 - The Amboise Sunday Market is a favorite among visitors and locals within the entire Loire Valley. The market features vendors selling everything from food to clothing to furniture. Many people make a day of it and finish with a picnic by the river or tour one of the aforementioned châteaux. Because of the market’s popularity, it’s important to get there early to beat crowds. Grab all the produce you need for the week with freshly grown vegetables and fruits, purchase fresh meat butchered that very morning, and enjoy pre-made cuisine that proves French street food is as good as anywhere else. The market takes place in the Place du Marchée beside the Loire River. It’s quite large and busy but 100% worth experiencing at least once.

Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

5 - The town of Amboise is as charming as its château of the same name. Because Amboise has higher tourist traffic than similar small towns within the Loire Valley, it has novelties and conveniences that others might not. There are many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, shops and fun things to do and see. The gardens of the château provide unbeatable panoramic views of the Loire Valley. The streets of Amboise take you to a different place and time. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is simply fantastic. It’s hard to hate Amboise from its charming personality to welcoming nature to historical significance. The town and the château have had a rough life but that alone speaks to the people’s tenacity and strength. In fact, I fell in love with Amboise so much that it’s my #1 choice to settle down for a time when I manage to get back to Europee indefinitely. When a place leaves a mark on you that strong, you know it’s meant to be.

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5 Things You Must Do In Paris

It’s been awhile since I’ve written specifically about Paris. I reference it a lot and mention some of my experiences while traveling there but never focus on it. That’s a shame! It’s also changing today. Organizing all the information in my brain is a challenge in itself so I thought I’d start easy: 5 Things You Must Do In Paris. This list can expand and it can be edited. Everyone has different recommendations after visiting a particular city. However, if you’re visiting Paris for the very first time, I recommend these five things be at the top of your list.

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The best advice I ever received about Paris was to be realistic while planning. For example, the Louvre is enormous. If you think you’ll cover it in a day you’d be insane because you couldn’t cover it in a week. Don’t worry, I have a solution to this. Another great piece of advice, manage your expectations. For example, most people don’t realize that the Mona Lisa which is in the Louvre is about the size of a large textbook. So don’t expect a giant canvas. It’s not the Sistine Chapel you’re going to see. If you want large paintings, I have a recommendation for that as well (keep reading).

Paris is like any other city in the fact that you have to do your research before you get there. Don’t plan a trip to Paris and wing it. There are far too many things to do and see and there’s never enough time to do it all. There’s nothing wrong with having a flexible schedule. I encourage it. But don’t leave for Paris without a general itinerary of what you’d like to spend your time doing. It will be a colossal waste of funds and time. Paris is not the cheapest city to travel to so if you’re making the trip, take advantage of every second you’re there.

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#1: Tackle the obvious places. This would be spots like Le Tour de Eiffel and Le Louvre. Sure it might seem cliche to have these on this list. It’s obvious, right? Absolutely, which is why I’m taking it a step further. Le Tour de Eiffel has a few viewing spots and also a restaurant. I did not visit any of these and I’m 100% ok with that. Here’s why...the lines are excruciating unless you get there at opening. There is a law in Paris that no building can exceed 7 floors. You can get a great view of the city from a lot of spots including #5 below...Le Sacre Coeur. Instead, enjoy a leisurely lunch in the Champ de Mars. It’s much more French anyhow.

As for Le Louvre, be specific. This is a must visit even if you only walk along the grounds outside. It’s a magnificent space and the past home of French royalty. It began as a fortress to protect Paris before turning into a place of stay for royals who visited from the Loire Valley. It was in the 20th century that it became what is now known as one of, if not the, greatest art museums in the world. Le Louvre is home to too many exhibits and types of art to count. The best piece of advice anyone can give to those planning on visiting is map out your top priorities. If you want to see Renaissance art, focus on that. If you want to see sculptures, focus on those. Plan to visit a handful of exhibits but don’t expect to cover the entire space. That is unless you have an extended amount of time to spare.

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#2: Make a trip to Versailles. Located about 45-60 minutes outside of Paris, Versailles is the most famous chateau in France. This palace saw a lot of wealth, a lot of strife and was almost destroyed on the interior during the revolution. It’s actually quite sad if you look into its history. Greed and privilege built this historical space but anger and desperation near destroyed it. It’s since become a treasured piece of French history and has even been home to several monumental political moments like the Treaty of Versailles. Besides having a rich history, Versailles is stunning to visit. The Hall of Mirrors feels almost surreal as you walk through, the royal apartments are larger than my house, and the grounds alone are breathtaking. Let’s also not forget the the Petit Trianon which was designed and built especially for Marie Antoinette. Sorry, no cake included.

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#3: Drink plenty of great wine but don’t overindulge. Here’s a fun fact about France. You can get a great bottle of French wine for 2 or 3 Euros. I’m talking about quality French wine. Why? Because you’re in France and it comes without all the crazy importation fees! If you love wine and appreciate it, let yourself enjoy great French wine for a fraction of the cost. It is important to note that Parisians don't like drunks, especially loud American drunks. Becoming one will not only disrespect their culture and annoy them, it will make you an easy target for petty crimes like pickpockets and thieves. Drink responsibly. Visit wine bars, attend tastings, do what you will. But be smart about it.

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#4: Take a trip to MontMartre and visit Le Sacré-Cœur. Remember the part where I mentioned there are great views of Paris not in the Eiffel Tour? Well, here it is. MontMartre is a neighborhood on top of a hill in the 18th arrondissement. The Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur is at the peak and has some of the most mind blowing views of the city. Better yet, those views are free. Le Sacré-Cœur itself is a gorgeous Basilica inside and out. It translates to “The Sacred Heart” and has become a notable landmark in Paris.

MontMartre has an interesting history. It’s referenced in Moulin Rouge as being the home of La Vie Boheme, or, The Bohemian Life. They weren’t far off as this was a hot spot for artists in the late 19th century into the 20th century. Artists like Monet, Degas, Modigliani, Picasso and many others you’d be familiar with spent much of their time here. There’s actually an old cabaret spot still there called Au Lapin Agile that hosted many of said artists. You may even find a piece of their work or two along the well-decorated walls. It’s a unique experience, one I recommend, but it’s almost all in French if I remember correct. They’re still in service nearly 150 years later. If that’s not reason enough to go, I don’t know what is.

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#5: Take a walk through the Tuileries gardens. It might seem like a very simple request but it’s one I cannot leave off this list. The Tuileries are in the 1st arrondissement right off the the Louvre. The gardens are serene yet full of life. They hold beautiful statutes and one of my favorite museums of all time, L’Orangerie. L’Orangerie is where the lily pad paintings by Monet are displayed. The museum also has a few other pieces of art from artists like Picasso. If you’ve seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you get a great idea of what the lily pad paintings are like. They cover the walls from floor to ceiling and stretch across over dozens of feet. They provide such a peacefulness that you don’t want to leave. Silence is requested to respect other guests’ experience. So while you’re taking a morning stroll through the gardens, stop by L’Orangerie for a quick walk through as well.

There are so many more things you must do in Paris. Narrowing it down to five is near impossible but it makes for more fun posts that allow me to expand on tips and experiences that I had. These five particular recommendations might not seem like much but I can promise, once you’ve reached your destination and start to take in each experience and adventure, you’ll understand why I recommend them. What would your top five things to do in Paris be?

8 European Destinations For First-Time Solo Travelers

Traveling abroad for the first time is both exciting and nerve wrecking. Doing it on your own heightens both of those emotions ten fold. On the one hand, you’re heading to a new country! Those of us who travel alone have a passion for it and it’s something we look forward to and dream about. So the excitement is certainly unparalleled but the nervousness that can accompany it is also very real. Travel is an experience for the mind, the body and the soul and when you embark on that journey by yourself for the first time, you feel a lot of things and that's ok.

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The day I left for Paris, I remember talking to my Noni (my grandma) on the phone before they boarded us onto the plane. I was by myself, I had never been to another country let alone traveled by myself before. I could count the number of trips I’d taken in my life on one hand. It was surreal but overwhelming and as soon as I hung up the phone I started crying. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited, I was beyond ready for this experience and I worked really hard to get there. The immensity of it was an entire different situation. Knowing I’d be far away from my family for the first time, not knowing if I would even like France, and every other uncertainty weighed in my mind. But soon, they called my boarding group so I grabbed my plastic bag of homemade lemon cookies my Zia Tia made for me and put on my big girl pants. And you know what? I have never looked back.

The scariest part of traveling alone is leaving for your first trip. You know you were made for this because otherwise you wouldn’t consider doing it. Between the excitement and the apprehension and the uncertainty of it all, it’s a lot of feelings and thoughts flooding your brain. My best piece of advice...embrace it. Embrace all of it. Confront those fears and keep pushing forward because on the other side of that plane or train or car will be the first of many unforgettable and meaningful experiences on your journey.

Deciding the destination to visit for your first trip alone is incredibly personal to you. There are a lot of factors including language, location, and money. Do you want to travel somewhere that English is the main language? Do you want to travel somewhere that is more urban or more rural? Do you have a specific reason for traveling? France was a no-brainer for me and Paris was the easiest city to get to. It was also through a study abroad program so that was another factor. After a lot of research, feedback from fellow travelers, and my own personal experiences, I have come up with 8 European cities that are great for a first time solo trip. Tell me in the comments below if you have any other recommendations and if you’ve already made that first trip, where did you go and what was it like.

[Photo by   Kaci Baum   on   Unsplash  ]

[Photo by Kaci Baum on Unsplash]

Amsterdam, Netherlands
The #1 concern of many first time solo travelers is safety. According to an article citing The Economist, Amsterdam is the 6th safest city in the world based on a 2017 index. That alone should make anyone feel pretty great about Amsterdam. If you haven’t practiced another language, mostly everyone speaks English making it ideal for easy communication. Finally, Amsterdam is a city smaller in scale compared to other European cities like Paris, Rome, or London making it easier for adjusting and personally connecting with locals.

Besides the important factors, there are a lot of things Amsterdam offers. For starters, it has a very well preserved and rich history. You can find houses, buildings and monuments that date as far back as the 16th century and are still functioning today. Amsterdam has citizens from many different countries making it uniquely diverse in its cultural representation. This translates best to the food! You’ll find everything from pizza to pancakes and love every bite. For my fellow coffee addicts, Amsterdam is home to over 160 coffee shops many (or all) of which also serve weed (not that it’s personally for me..or you for that matter - no judgement! You do you). And let’s not forget the Canal Belt, the beautiful canal that flows through the city and offers more Instagram opportunities than anyone would ever need.

[Photo by   Libby Penner   on   Unsplash  ]

Bruges, Belgium
If you’re looking for a smaller yet still somewhat urban experience, Bruges is an ideal city and small enough to navigate on foot. It’s known for having a medieval feeling to it especially since it’s the most well preserved medieval city in Europe. Backpackers trek through Bruges to experience its rich history which makes it a fantastic city to connect with fellow travelers. Let’s not also forget that Bruges is in Belgium meaning an abundance of Belgian Beer and Chocolate right from the source. Bruges even has a chocolate walk! It’s certainly a city for both foodies and history buffs. In case you’re worried about communication, English is one of the three main languages spoken in this city.

[Photo by   Orlova Maria   on   Unsplash  ]

Copenhagen, Denmark
According to The Daily Meal, Copenhagen is listed as #21 in the top 50 safest cities in the world. It might not be #6 like Amsterdam and it seems these surveys get different results but it’s not a bad title to have. If that doesn’t sell you, Independent named Copenhagen as the #1 most livable city in the world. The home of literature icon Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is an ideal city to experience Denmark’s culture. Everyone speaks English so you don’t need to learn another language and they have an entire road system for bicycles. Denmark is also home of hygge so if you’re planning winter travel, this is the spot to go. The people of Copenhagen are supposedly the friendliest anywhere. There are gorgeous palaces to get lost in, much of the city has inspired fairy tales (*ahem* Andersen), and the world’s best restaurant is located here. What more do you need?

Dublin, Ireland
Dublin is one of those cities that is not only ideal for first-time solo travelers but also ideal for women in general. All of Ireland is pretty good for us ladies, to be honest. Ireland, Scotland and England are very high on my personal travel bucket list for a lot of reasons but mainly their beauty and their history. There are two main reasons Dublin (really, all Ireland) is a great place for solo travel: it’s affordable and they speak English. You may have to decode the Irish accents and slang but you’ll get by. Ireland has plenty of transportation to get from point a to point b, including in Dublin. The options are all affordable for the most part and will cover any ground you could consider. Eat Sleep Breathe Travel has a great article with more information on traveling to Ireland including tips to not make a fool of yourself.

Florence, Italy
I can’t have a travel list and not include Italy, my homeland. I chose Florence for this specific post because Rome might be too overwhelming for the first time traveler and Italians are their own breed of people. As far as I have been told (sadly, I have yet to make it to Italy), English isn’t spoken much or well in Italy. Having basic conversational skills in Italian will serve you well. According to The Curious Appetite, Florence has a surprisingly good English speaking community but it would be smart to do research before arrival on where to go and what to do.

Like the rest of Italy, Florence puts a lot of cred in style. Italians are known to dress to the nines at all times, even if it’s just to go to the corner market. If you want to fit in as a local, take on their common practices like dressing well. Besides the things to note (as there are many for Italy), Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. You will feel its influence everywhere. The Uffizi Gallery is located in Florence which also happens to be one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The architecture is one-of-a-kind and it has a somewhat urban feel but is still small. Florence is one of the best cities to introduce yourself to Italy and its culture. And I promise us Italians are worth it 100%.

Photo c/o @  ilanavaks

Photo c/o @ilanavaks

Madrid, Spain
According to the same article I sourced in Amsterdam, Madrid is the twelfth safest city in the world according to a study by The Economist making it another great option for safety. And that’s not to say that the other cities on this list are not safe. These lists just happen to specifically mention a select variety of cities. There could be many variables involved including that they just did not look into all the urban areas in each country.

Madrid is a great option for first time solo travelers because it’s much less concentrated than Barcelona. While Barcelona is on my personal bucket list and is a phenomenal city to visit, Madrid is like it’s more chill cousin. Madrid has year-round ideal weather, it has a very rich culture, there are endless outdoor markets, the nightlife scene is very active which means you’ll never feel isolated walking around at night, and there are tapas! Nothing gets me excited like tapas. Whether you love to shop, enjoy great food, embrace history or take in the arts, Madrid has it all without all the crazy tourism of Barcelona. While both cities offer great experiences, Madrid is an easier entry into Spanish culture and some say a more authentic one. I would suggest freshening up your Spanish before heading there.

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Paris, France
“We’ll always have Paris” is a phrase that means 10x more to me after having been there. As you read earlier, Paris was my first trip. It was my first time traveling out of the United States, it was my first journey on my own, it was my first everything when it came to travel and I feel so fortunate for that. France is a country that values its culture beyond anything else. Because of that, you can’t help but be immersed in it and it makes the experience that much more memorable.

There are a few reasons that Paris is a great city for solo travel, especially that first trip. You will find plenty of English speaking people. They might have really thick accents or they might be cranky about it, but you won’t struggle to find directions. That's not to say you should throw French out the window. I still suggest practicing conversational French to get by. Paris has a fantastic public transportation system making it not only easy to get around but also affordable. I would recommend against trying to drive because the roads are not made for non-Parisians. Finally, Paris is certainly French and very European but it doesn’t deliver a serious case of culture shock. It’s an urban environment where things will feel quite modern. It’s a great city for those of you who, like me, take a little extra time to adjust to change and big adventures.

Photo c/o @  ilanavaks

Photo c/o @ilanavaks

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is an easy city to navigate, it’s tourist-friendly (meaning you won’t feel uncomfortable on your own), and it has an affordable public transportation system. According to Independent, 2018 is the year to visit Prague so what are you waiting for?! Their reasons for visiting are included in any other basic “Why Visit Prague” list so I’m not quite sure why they chose this year in particular. Other reasons to put Prague in the running as your first European solo trip include: it’s affordable, it’s home to the largest “castle complex” in the world (Prague Castle, my dream home), it’s the beer capital of the world, it has some really old historical buildings and structures, plus more. From food to the history to the culture, it’s hard to find a reason not to visit Prague. They even speak English quite well.

Happy Travels!

Study Abroad Guide | Where To Go

Last week, we dove into why studying abroad is important. This week, it’s all about location, location, location. Most people know they want to study abroad but once on the path to do that, the big question becomes where. There are plenty of reasons why people study in a particular location: budget, family, study concentration. The bottom line is that you need to do what’s right for you. We’ve broken it down in a few categories to help you decide and included some tips from people who have been abroad themselves.

Location by Language
If you have no interest in learning a foreign language or acclimating to one, English-speaking countries are going to narrow it down for you (ie. England Australia, Ireland). If you are studying a specific language and want to focus on those studies, the same principle applies. Certain languages will offer more options. For example, if you’re studying Spanish you can go to Spain, Mexico, many countries in Southern American, Puerto Rico and more. French you can venture to France, Canada (Montreal), Belgium, several countries in Africa plus others. Italian will be mostly in Italy, same with Greek, German, Polish and other languages. So if language is a huge factor in your decision, we recommend researching countries that use the language you’re studying and narrow it down from there.

Location by Study Concentration
“I studied in London due to my love of English culture as well as literature, theatre, and archives/libraries,” says Dannie of Stile.Foto.Cibo. For Dannie, London was an ideal choice for her particular study concentration. If you are interested in or studying art history, Italy would be a fantastic option with Florence being the home of the Italian Renaissance. If you like to study wine, France is a place we'd recommend considering it’s one of the largest wine producers in the world. I took the History of Oenology in my Parisian program learning from a brilliant man I still quote to this day. So if you’re looking to further a concentration in your education, research program details. Some classes and themes are only offered in particular countries which will help in narrowing down your search.

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Location by Budget
Budgeting is something most college students have to grapple with. It’s the main reason a lot of students don’t study abroad because the investment can be too much. If you are dead set on studying abroad, there are more budget-friendly options. Many countries with a low exchange rate can often be great options for low budgets. Just make sure to do a good amount of research before committing. How much will what you’re able to spend be able to get you? If it’s cutting it close or not enough, don’t put yourself in a potentially bad situation. Immediately cross off your list anywhere with a high cost of living. Paris is not a cheap city to study in but you might look into Toulouse or Lyon which is home to universities you might be able to exchange at. Berlin, Vienna and Mexico City area also budget-friendly options. If you can’t afford a program, research exchange programs and scholarships. There are options out there, you just have to find them.

Location by Choice
For those who don’t need to adhere to any particular qualifications, think about what you like to do, where you like to eat. What do you enjoy in your daily life? Apply this to your study abroad research. Do you love to cook? Why not study abroad somewhere with a food program? Do you love theater? Like Dannie, look into England as their theater history is incomparable. Do you enjoy a particular historical era? Visit Italy for the Renaissance, France for the Revolution, Ireland for Gaelic history, Mexico City for the Aztecs. Take your personal interests and use them to narrow down your search when choosing a city. You’ll end up finding a city or country that you will no doubt love.

Amboise, Loire Valley - Weekend trip outside of Paris

Amboise, Loire Valley - Weekend trip outside of Paris

You’ve Chosen Your Destination...Now What?
“Immerse yourself!” says Dannie. “Don’t just be a tourist. Go to the places where the locals go. Experience that country or city the way a native would.” Leave your apartment or dorm as much as possible. The best part of studying abroad is that everything is new all the time. There are an infinite amount of things to explore and places to discover. Don’t waste your time or money by watching TV (if you’re lucky enough to have one) in your room. Meet people, talk to locals, get inside tips on where to grab a drink or where to experience the best pho. Just get out!

If you have the time and the budget, “take the time to travel outside of that country as well” says Dannie. I did not personally get to travel outside of France but I did have a chance to get out of Paris. We took a weekend trip to the Loire Valley where I found my future dream home, Amboise. Like Dannie mentioned, as wonderful and exciting as your new temporary home is, being able to expand your horizons and conquer more destinations will only enhance your experience. It’s something I wish I would have been able to do more and something others consider the most rewarding part of studying abroad.

Are you planning to study abroad soon or have you studied abroad before? Tell us in the comments below!

Tuileries Gardens

Tuileries Gardens

Study Abroad Guide: Why You Should Do It

Studying abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a college student. It’s an opportunity for self-discovery and exploration. Being thrown into a different culture is invigorating and terrifying all at the same time. It also provides an appreciation for other cultures people who haven’t been fortunate enough to study abroad experience. The world is a huge place. We learn a lot about ourselves in the four years we attend college. What better time to learn about another culture and foster greater growth in ourselves?

My personal study abroad story is an easy one. I wanted to go to Europe. Simple as that. Italy was my number one choice since I’m Italian and obsessed with the culture but France won in the end. Paris could not have been a better city to choose for myself. I dove into the language my second year in college which created a love-hate relationship. Did you know that speaking and writing French is practically two languages? It’s rough! With that being said, Paris was a city I knew I could manage. I would get a first-hand experience being thrown into the French, more importantly, Parisian culture and  I would have a chance to learn the language in its home country but also still be able to find English speakers.

Choosing a destination can sometimes be dictated by your major. Other times, it’s determined by a dream of visiting a certain destination. Some decisions are made strategically, financially, opportunistically, you name it. There are a million reasons why anyone chooses a specific destination to study abroad. For Sarah of Levine-Moore Photography, “I wanted the program I studied at to be in language since I was also getting a minor in German. That’s what decided my location between the two German programs offered by my university.” According to Dannie of Stile.Foto.Cibo, “I studied in London due to my love of English culture as well as literature, theatre, and archives/libraries.” When making a decision, Dannie says it best. “Research the destinations that appeal to your interests.” Let that guide your way into making the right decision for you.

Timing is everything when it comes to study abroad. I studied in Paris over the summer going into my senior year of college. I had planned to go the summer before but the plans fell through and I was heartbroken. Looking back, I realize that I was meant to embark on this journey with a specific group of people at a very crucial point in my life. I spent the better part of my college career too worried about getting a job after graduation to enjoy being in college. Another student in my program, Steve, taught me inadvertently through his own period of self-discovery, that sometimes you need to forget everything else and live. My identity was so rooted in being from Chicago, being on a career path, becoming successful. I was probably the most obnoxious person to ever come out of the Windy City!

Before I flew to Paris, I didn’t even know what my definition of success was. While I’d love to say I found all the answers in Paris, it wouldn’t be true. Instead, it forced me to self-reflect and reexamine what was important to me, what my goals in life were and who I wanted to be as a person. I knew so little about myself. I was so used to people telling me who I was. “She’s a go-getter,” “She’s dependable, confident and hard-working,” “She’s meant for success.” People told me what my talents were. People told me what the best path in life was: college, graduation, job, family. Not once until I traveled to Paris did I ever ask myself what I wanted, what my talents are, what I thought my life’s path should look like. That's when I realized that Chicago might not be my forever home. That's when I began to realize that I didn't want the career I was heading towards. That’s when I realized I knew I loved to travel but never how much. It’s when I decided that I wanted to share my experiences discovering other cultures and destinations with whoever would listen. It’s when I decided my path in life needed to change.

In a very old blog post, I talked about the moment Paris and I fell in love. It sounds corny but it was actually a simple, underrated moment and one that I will never forget. It was a moment of deep understanding and discovery. I will be the first to admit I am one hell of a stubborn human being so it’s only appropriate it took me most of the trip to get to this point. My mind felt like it had been opened to this whole other part of the world. The part where the possibilities are endless and the past meets the present.  Paris forced me out of my bubble which made me a much different but better person.

So why study abroad? I could just say why not. The reasons are endless. Dannie of Stile.Foto.Cibo says it beautifully, “Study abroad is so important and something any student who is able should do. On the most basic level, it expands your mind. It lets you see part of the world you might not otherwise see and exposes you to new cultures and ways of life.” If you ask me, the most important gift studying abroad gives you is the act of self-discovery. Learn about yourself. Learn about yourself while surrendering to a different culture. Learn about yourself away from all the people who claim to know you. Just take what it has to offer and learn.

5 International Spring Break Destinations

Spring break is by far the greatest holiday of the year. It occurs in the best season with the perfect weather, and in later years, is looked back upon and associated with the most fun and craziest memories. Maybe all this is only my opinion, but according to my family and friends, my opinion is usually factual.

With that in mind, here are 5 destinations for your Spring Break Bucket List.

1. PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO

Puerto Vallarta is the place I think of every time I close my eyes and wish I were somewhere else. It’s my happy place. Think: sandy beaches, sipping Piña Coladas in the pool bar, that warm, happy feeling of the sun on your skin, a great beach read… You’re drooling, aren’t you? Puerto Vallarta is the perfect R&R destination for spring break. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try zip lining in the mountains or taking an ATV through the villages.

2. VENICE, ITALY

Not only should you see The Floating City before it sinks into the ground, it’s also a great city for active spring breakers. You won’t see a car anywhere inside this city, only gondolas and bridges. This forces you to tour the city by (expensive) boats or by foot, leading you to the nooks and crannies of this beautiful city. Enjoy a bottle of champagne at a café outside St. Mark’s Basilica or treat yo’self to a gondola ride through the canals. A big perk: all that walking means all the pizza and pasta you can eat. Win.

3. MOROCCO, AFRICA

If you consider yourself a decent surfer and you’d like to ride the wave somewhere other than California or Hawaii, meander on over to Morocco where you’ll find countless surf camps all over the coast. Go all out with a morning yoga session, a hearty breakfast and a drive over to the beach to chill until the waves are surf-ready. Don’t fret if you’ve never touched a surfboard! This was my first time surfing and it was an absolute blast. While you’re there, get your hands on some Argan Oil. It’s good for your hair, skin, everything.

4. PARIS, FRANCE

Paris in the springtime. It’s the stuff of poems, and it’s all completely true. For the year I lived in Paris, I woke up everyday in the springtime absolutely loving life. The gloomy, gray skies have officially passed, and you realize what Audrey Hepburn said all those years ago still rings true: Paris is always a good idea. Enjoy an espresso on the busy streets of any arrondissement of your choosing, take a stroll through the Champ de Mars and see the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Head down the Champs-Elysees and see it from the Arc de Triomphe, but do some shopping along the way first. Visit one of Paris’ many famous museums—my favorite is Espace Dalí in Monmartre—and don’t forget to take time to sip, wine and nibble on cheese wherever you go. 

5. MYKONOS, GREECE

Mykonos was by far the best trip I’ve ever taken. My friends and I rented the most beautiful Airbnb overlooking the town and beach. We went when it was off-season for tourism in Mykonos, so it felt like we were the only ones on the island. Visit beaches and bars and explore stone pathways through Greece’s famous painted-blue-roofed buildings. Above all, take time to relax and have fun—that’s what spring break is for!