Before I begin this discussion of international travel, I just want to recognize how incredible Nantes has been, and the immense amount of learning, growth, and adventure that is possible here. It has been such a privilege and a joy to be able to travel abroad to France, and while I had a great time exploring other European cities, I think there's a lot to be said for staying put and getting to know the place one is in, especially if trying to be cost-conscious. Every day, I discover something new about this city, get to know my host mom a little better (post gushing about her coming soon) and better able to communicate en français with those around me, and those are experiences from being here that you can't find while jetting off to another country.
With that being said, I did spend the last 10 days in Lisbon, Madrid, and Copenhagen visiting museums, friends, and adding to the sleep debt that accumulated over midterms week just before we left. Here's some advice from travelling:
1) Print your tickets: Ryanair is notoriously bad for charging people at the airport almost $60 to print tickets there, so make sure you have everything printed out before travelling and read the reviews of your airlines before booking. I had good luck with all the budget airlines I travelled on (Ryanair and Transavia) but I've heard stories of people who have had flights delayed, cancelled, or just miserable experiences travelling, so try to do your research before!
2) Talk to people: This sounds cheesy, but I know how hard it is to reach out to those around you when you're travelling with a big group. However, we learned so much from our Uber drivers about the history of Lisbon, including the reason why the rooster is such good luck, and I spoke to two men in the food car of an overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid and ended up getting lots of recommendations for plays to see in Paris. Within the boundaries of what is safe and comfortable for you, which can be very different in different situations, I am really a fan of reaching out to those around you, even if you already have a crew of people to go with.
3) Know your conversation rates: the best way to avoid buying a $17 salad in Copenhagen? Figure out how much local currency is worth in a system you know, and even download a conversation app for ease of access in busy lines (for reference: 1 US dollar = 6 Danish Kr)
4) Don't buy the '5 bus 100 euro FlixBus deal (or any budget deal)' to try to save 5 euros somewhere down the line: I can go into this further, but there are so many super great budget travel options (like OuiBus) that can get you where you need to go, and the FlixBus customer service is among the worst I've ever experienced. Is adding this item to this list part of my continued revenge for a miserable afternoon trying to find alternative last-minute transportation? Maybe. However, in my experience, every time I try to save 5 or 10 euros by going way out of my way, it ends up costing me in some other way as well, and by the end I've spent just as much money and am incredibly exhausted.
5) Keep track of your train tickets: Did you know you need your train ticket to EXIT the Paris metro stops? I didn't; in general, though, keeping train and subway tickets handy and organized is a necessity for getting around big cities.
6) Recharge: Another large part of the reason I ended up crying in the Paris metro station was that I was absolutely exhausted from a week of late nights and constant contact. Even though I saw some of my favourite people in the world, as someone who needs alone time and space I was desperate for a little bit of recharge time without large crowds and loud music. Even though you're on vacation, you won't be able to be as present, engaged, or in love with the spaces you visit and the people you see if you're not watching and listening to what you need in any given moment.
7) Explore new places...: Being a student in Europe has its perks, like the number of discounts or free entrances to museums, movies, and exhibits in cities all over Europe. In Madrid, I would highly recommend the Reina Sofia, which is free to all students and features Picasso's Guernica as well as a number of other exhibitions. When I went, there was one on Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, which featured literature and physical art paired together. In Lisbon, I wandered into the Museum of Aljube, also free to students, which remembers and documents the struggle against Portugal's dictatorship as well as the horrible realities of Portuguese colonization in Africa up until 1974. Most of our time in Copenhagen was spent in cafes, but we also visited the design museum of Denmark; very cool, lots of chairs.
8) ... but be ready to fall in love with Nantes all over again: When I got on the plane to Portugal after a week of midterms on Friday afternoon, I was ready to see old friends and new places. Coming back though has been like coming back to a place of comfort and familiarity. From the first night when my host mom made me a giant plate of carrots and chicken so good I actually cried (although this may have been residual tears from the Paris experience) to speaking franglais with friends who I didn't realize I had come to care about so deeply until we spent this week apart, this whole first day back has been simultaneously a step into a city I have come to know and a way to view my whole experience with fresh eyes. Leaving and coming back was a reminder, yet again, of how lucky I am to be here and how much I can learn, constantly, from where I am and the people around me.
From the perspective of this road-weary traveler, it is good to be back; off to go work on things I forgot I had to do until this morning, but hope all is well wherever you are and à bientôt!
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<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:23.95pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I am currently a junior at Tufts University studying Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Computer Science, and Food Systems and Nutrition. When not at Tufts, I am either at home in Vermont, hiking in the Adirondack mountains, or searching for a good gluten-free bagel. I also enjoy skiing, making smoothies out of pretty much anything, climbing, and reading in the back of used book stores.</span></p>