All By Myself

To be honest traveling alone was something I thought I would never do. Especially while I was abroad where nothing is familiar. I'd have no one else to rely on, I'd have to eat meals alone, interact with strangers, and ask other people to take pictures of me.... not something that seemed exciting to me. 

However. Since I found out I was going to be studying abroad I've had 2 must-see things on my list: The Harry Potter Studio Tour (which readers will know I already checked off) and The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales. I felt sure I could find a fellow Whovian to join me on this wondrous journey but sadly I found none. (To be fair I'm sure they are out there but I traveling with random people was even lower on my to do list than traveling alone.) That left me with just two possibilities, go alone or don't go at all. And, after a little convincing from my cousin, I went. And I happened to learn a few things as well. So here are my do's and don'ts for traveling alone.**

Do take walks around the city/town/wheverever you are. Walking is a great way to discover the city, its free and chances are you'll find some hidden gems. 

Don't be afraid to ask. People are generally helpful. If you need directions ask a bus driver, or go to the information desk at a train station or airport. If you want your picture taken ask someone; it's your memory and if a selfie just isn't good enough, there will be someone around to help. [Tip: ask a parent, they are already used to taking pictures of their kids so they won't mind taking one of you.] Its okay to look like a tourist every once in awhile.  

Do stay in a hostel. Now I know this isn't for everyone, and it's definitely important to make sure its safe and highly rated, but it's cheap and you will probably have some human interaction compared to being in a hotel room by yourself. With that being said... 

Don't say no when people ask you to play Monopoly. Try and make friends or at least meet some interesting people, so don't say no to something that will help you get to know others. 

Do give yourself plenty of mess-up time when you travel. I learned this from my mom and its true when traveling in a group but even more so when you are by yourself. Trains, planes, and buses are always getting delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. Make sure you have a back up plan incase something is delayed or you get stuck somewhere. 

Don't eat at chains (for every meal). I know it's comforting to eat somewhere you know when you are in an unfamiliar city but try a local place! All it takes is a quick Google to find out about some good ones. However, if there is a Pizza Express close to wherever you are that's a good option too ;) 

and finally.. 

Do it! You won't regret it. Don't let fear of doing something alone keep you from having that experience.

 ** Disclaimer: I am far away from being an expert on this, having only done it once and only for a night. These are just the few things I thought about my small little journey. 

So Much More Than A Bedtime Story

This past weekend I basically died and went to nerd heaven. I walked through the actual Hogwart's Great Hall, flew over the castle on a broom, bowed to Buckbeak, drank butterbeer, and stood outside Godricks Hollow. In short, I got to experience the actual sets, costumes, props, masks and monsters used in the Harry Potter films. Now I realize that not everyone will have as intense a response as me (i.e. tearing up as I walked through the doors to the Great Hall). However, it did make me realize how important the film industry can be. I remember getting lost in the world of the Harry Potter books when I was a kid - and lets be honest I still do today. But the movies made that world come to life. They gave us a place to go to experience the magic of Harry Potter outside of our imaginations and it wouldn't have been possible without the hundreds of cast and crew. 

Some people might go through the tour and feel as though the magic of the films has been ruined as you get to see the tips and tricks the film makers used to create the Potter world. To me it made everything even more tangible. It made me feel like I was actually part of that world (which is definitely the point of the whole tour). But most of all it made me feel extremely excited about the industry I want to be a part of. It's all about telling stories that people can connect to. It could be a global story like Harry Potter, but it doesn't have to be. It's a huge responsibility to take a story that so many people loved and do it justice, because everyone imagines it differently. There is so much detail in every scene; nothing is an accident. What they created and what others continue to create everyday is absolutely beautiful.

You learn so much about a person from the stories they tell you. Some of my favorite moments on this trip have been listening to people talk about their everyday experiences. They can produce the best conversations that make you think, laugh, and cry. There are thousands and thousands of untold stories and I can't imagine anything better than being a part of bringing those to life on screen. 

The gates to Hogwarts 

Fight or Flight

You know those photos of Presidents that show the before and after their first term and it looks like they've aged 10+ years? Well I'm convinced that's going to be me after going to so many airports this summer. In my first two weeks here in England, I've traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland and Lyon, France. Both of which were beautiful, filled with great food, and (mostly) nice people. And before that I was in Barcelona, Spain, which was also wonderful. What's really interesting though is how every single person's attitude changes when they step through the doors of an airport. To be fair the airport isn't the most stress-free place to be, but you would think its the end of days with the way most people act. 

At the airport we use in England the madness starts before you even get to security since the train arrives at one terminal and we usually take off from the other. There is a little tram that runs between the two terminals and for some reason people with the largest luggage feel the need to be the closest to the entrance doors, regardless of when they arrive on the platform. So after fighting your way through the jungle of luggage and squeezing yourself into the tiniest space possible, you then exit the train and proceed to escalators. The nice thing about international airports is that most of the signs have pictures, instead of words. So you would think a big sign with a picture of rolling luggage with a line through it would be easy to understand. You'd also think that people might stop to look at the sign when their luggage gets stuck between the bollards because its too big. However, as previously stated, this is not the case. 

Speaking of easy to read pictures, security has used these very well. In each of the airports I've gone through there are handy-dandy pictures telling you what to take out and what is okay. These signs are also placed conveniently close to each other, so about every two feet you pass another one. I'm the type of person that likes to get through security as quickly as possible, with as little hassle as possible. Therefore I'm constantly scanning for the signs. I have no desire to be stopped or padded down or have my things riffled through - especially when everything is perfect wedged in so my backpack will just zip. The amount of people I see that come through will full water bottles astounds me. You can always spot the expert travelers by which security line they pick. 

But the insanity stops after security right? Nope. Definitely not. It doesn't matter what airport or airline, once the announcement is made that boarding with begin (and sometimes even the announcement that boarding will be delayed), people race to get in line like kindergarteners for recess. As for me, I feel no rush to cram myself into a seat where even someone as short as me thinks the leg room is inadequate. The less time I spend next to Mr. I Deserve Both Arm Rests, the better. 

 

Pictures of things that made me happy, because this post was such a downer. 

Friends Are A Girl's Best Friend

I genuinely admire people who study abroad with no one else from their home university. They are so brave. It is absolutely a sink or swim situation. Either you make friends or you don't. I consider myself extremely lucky to have people from my home university here with me. Granted, I didn't know any of them well before I came, but we'd at least seen each other's faces once or twice before we left. And something about being thrown into a new country, a new city, a new school, and massive amounts of unknowns really bonds people. Who would have thought? But seriously, in less than a week we've had experiences that have bonded us in ways no other experience could, because being in another country and culture can be confusing. I'll just recount some of the things we've learned in the past 4 days. 

  • First of all the language barrier. Thankfully I've had plenty of practice with this, so I've become our designated translator. Most of the time my services aren't needed (as most of the other kids here are from California - because apparently no one in England goes to school in the summer), but learning the difference between chips and crisps, pants and trousers, a bill versus a check, queueing and a till... In a country that speaks English it's astounding at how much is different. I'll also add that they have no idea what a burrito means. 
  • Laundry is also different (and more expensive - $8 for one load!!!!). We discovered that if you pay for one dryer, and leave your clothes in another, for some reason they don't get dry. 
  • Now for those of you that don't know, the English drive on the wrong side of the road. This makes looking before you cross very difficult. In London they've done a really great thing for confused people. Painted on the road on crosswalks it tells you which way to look. And for some reason a small coastal town in England hasn't thought to spend tax payers money on directions for confused Americans. 
  • What they have figured out though, is that if you want college aged kids to get really excited about name tags, life-size Jenga, inflatable jousting and sumo wrestling, its best to include alcohol in the mix. 
  • I am very bad at math, and traveling to another country means you have to do math every day. As my mom reminded us "pounds are not dollars!" 
  • Here's another thing about England you might not know, none of the streets are laid out in a grid. There are offshoots, and alleyways, and curves and diagonals. So when you ask someone for directions and they say "keep going straight, then take a left and it should be on your right," that leaves you with about five different paths to choose from. 

It's been a learning experience, and I can't wait to learn more. But I can't imagine doing it without such a fun, and diverse group of friends. This is the only experience where you can have so many inside jokes within such a short amount of time and I love it! So remember everyone, "don't touch the bunnies!!" 

 

"Everyone look to the right and pretend you see something!"  Photo cred to Clippy and the selfie stick

"Everyone look to the right and pretend you see something!"

Photo cred to Clippy and the selfie stick


Look Up.

Some one told me once that humans rarely look up. And in my experience this is true. Perhaps it's because I'm so clumsy and I'm constantly afraid of falling down, but I feel as though I'm always watching my feet. At home this is rarely and issue, but here in Barcelona this silly habit deprives you of amazing views. Looking up while you walk the streets of Barcelona is like watching the fairies from Sleeping Beauty fight over the color of Aura's dress. Except instead of pink versus blue, it's the old versus the new. Probably the best example of this is La Segrada Familia. If you don't know it by name you've almost definitely seen pictures. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and never finished; it is still under construction today. But that does not mean it isn't an incredible sight to behold. It's magnitude is really indescribable, but to quote Douglas Adams "you just won't believe has vastly, mind-bogglingly, big it is." It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the color, and light, and structure surrounding you. But to me, the same can be said for all of Barcelona (possibly because I'm pretty sure Gaudi designed all of it). Every where we go there is more to be seen by looking up. And if you are into metaphors, I think this is a pretty good one. So some advice from abroad: when you've think you've seen all there is to see in life, change your vantage point and look up. I bet you'll find there's still more to see. 

Photo credit to Clippy  The View from Looking Up at La Segrada Familia 

Photo credit to Clippy

The View from Looking Up at La Segrada Familia 

An Idiot Abroad

Well, I have joined the masses. Both those who are traveling abroad, and those who have started blogs about it. And since I'm conforming, what better way to start this blog than with a numbered list - Buzzfeed style.  

In less than a week, I will be leaving for a 10 week journey abroad. Though I'll begin my adventure in Spain, the majority of my time abroad will be spent in Brighton, England! For those who are well versed in the ways of geography you'll notice that's NOT London. Obviously I couldn't be more excited for this opportunity and I'm itching to get going. But now that it's getting so close I can't help but feel nervous. So here are 9 ways I'm converting my nerves to excitement. 

9. The Pitch Perfect 2 Sound Track 

Not only was this movie international (the girls compete in the world competition) but singing along to a compilation of acapella songs, including a rendition of Insane In The Membrane with a German accent, could calm anyone down.   

8. Speaking with an English Accent

I do this a lot already, but there's just something calming about knowing that at any point I could switch from stupid American to silly Englishman. 

7. Pictures of Corgi's 

First and foremost, the Queen has corgi's. And as I'm constantly reminded by the Brit in my life, there is no one more BA than the Queen. Aside from that, their stubby, little legs just make me happy!

6. Captioning my Future Instagram Posts

As anyone with an Instagram knows, creating the perfect caption can be a struggle, especially for those of us not endowed with the quick wit gene. So why not let someone more eloquent say it? I've lined up lots of quotes for all the cliche and obligatory pictures I'm going to take. Now I just need a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and the "basicness" cycle will be complete. 

5. Replacing Fahrenheit with Celsius 

This one I was forced into. That silly Brit decided it would be a good idea to change my phone's weather settings, and it took me way longer than I'll admit to figure out how to change it back. 

4. Eating French Fries (aka chips) as a Snack

Because I obviously need to prepare myself for the mass amounts of chippy's in England... 

3. Sleeping in an Upright Position

Lets be honest, even in first class, sleeping on a plane is never a comfortable endeavor. So this week I thought why not sleep sitting up, with my neck at funny angles, surrounded by plastic tubs? That way when it comes time to board the plane it will feel just like home. 

2. Turning Everything into a Drinking Game 

Direct quote from my student handbook "Pub culture is a large part of English social life." So, even if I'm not drinking alcohol, this week everything from checking my watch to going swimming is now a drinking game. Though most people drink beer in pubs and I'm still not sure how to get myself excited for that... 

1. Bingeing on British Media 

This is the big one. If you asked my friends to describe me, most of them would probably include "obsessed with all things British" within the top three. Marathons of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Top Gear, An Idiot Abroad, Sherlock, and many more will be happening this week. As well as constant jam sessions to One Direction (I'm not ashamed), Don Broco, Enter Shikari, and others. If you've never heard of something on that list, check it out. You won't be sorry. 

 

I can't wait to begin my adventures abroad. Thank you for taking the time to indulge my nonsense and I hope you enjoyed! Although I am definitely going to use this as a way to document my time across the pond, hopefully, my rants and rambles will continue when I return home to the states. Who knows, I may hate it, but it's something I've always wanted to try. So here goes. 

 

 

Taylor Wingfield. taylor at littlewingnut dot com.