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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How To Successfully Move Abroad (the lessons learned by someone who hasn't managed it so far)

I sit on the bed, gripping a mug tightly between my knuckles, my jaw partially open in shock as I stare at a hijab-ed lady, who gives me a quick hug and leaves my bedroom. She is (or was) my landlady; and she had given me three days notice to find a place and conned me out of 186 British pounds.

In an attempt to follow my dream of become an established travel journalist, I had applied for an internship with the award-winning travel publication Wanderlust (www.wanderlust.co.uk), and was actually accepted. So, less than a month after finishing my final university exams - and less than two weeks after handing in my final assignment - I set off to the UK to work in the office in Windsor. A whole lot of dragging my luggage about, two con artists, and a lot of money later - here I am in my third week of the internship, staying with some (absolutely lovely) people from work and looking for a place (again). Not the most pleasant experience ever, but I did learn some street-smarts - and I'm sharing with you what I've learned so far (so hopefully you'll avoid the mess that I went though).

1.) Trust people. But don't trust people.

When it sounds to good too be true, maybe it isn't. When I found a great place close to work for such a cheap price, I jumped head first for it - and straight into their trap. There are loads of kind, generous people out there, but then there's that occasional person that's just looking to take advantage of your situation. So always watch your luggage, keep your passport/cards in a safe place that's a bit unsual (so not your back pocket), and always ALWAYS ask for a receipt or some kind of proof when handing over money to someone. If an agreement was made on something, get it in black and white on paper - watch your own back.

2.) When looking for a place to rent, examine it with utmost scrutiny.

Wipe your finger along the top of shelves, remove part of the duvet on the bed to take a look at (and even try lying on) the mattress, ask about whether the shower does different temperatures and drains properly, if there are any current problems with the toilet/washing machine, etc. It might seem strange - but you'd rather not have any unexpected surprises after you've already paid a month's rent and deposit. Also, when looking at major renting websites (like www.spareroom.co.uk) triple check the rooms (as con artists always use the most well-known sites) as well as remain alert about your possible landlord-to-be - does he look unkept? Does he smell of cigarettes/alcohol? Did he come late? These little things can give you a good idea of what you get along with your rental contract.

3.) If all else fails - try the Couchsurfing website.

For those who don't know what Couchsurfing is, Google it. It's a great concept (though the site itself is terrible) and I've been an avid CS-er (as CouchSurfers are known) since 2012 (my profile's here: https://www.couchsurfing.org/profile.html?id=10NF0D7F). If you're close to a well-known place like London, Berlin, New York etc - there are usually groups or forums especially for last-minute couchsurfing requests. When I had nowhere to stay for the night, I posted in the West London group and had two offers to host me within the hour.

4.) If all goes well - still use the Couchsurfing website.

Moving to a new country alone can be quite daunting. So even if things go well - I'd always recommend the site to see what the CS-ers nearby are up to. In my second week in the UK I went for a drink with the West London CS group, as well as two a blues festival. CSers tend to be open-minded, friendly and from all walks of life - a really great way to make friends and meet new people who have the same interests as you. Love hiking? See if any CSers are organising one nearby. If not, you can always organise one yourself - you're sure to have at least 2 people if you plan it in advance. Other interests include wine bars, photography, and language exchange. Or start a new hobby - starting a salsa class means that I go out and meet people at least once a week, as moving to a country can be kind of lonely if you don't know anyone. Plus, it gives you the chance to try soemthing you always wanted to learn.

5.) Be extra-nice to your workmates.

Offer to make them a cup of tea. Buy biscuits to share. Inquire about their children or give them a compliment. If you are perceived as a friendly person, someone whose company other people enjoy - you're much more likely to be invited out for drinks after work, or to go watch a film. Or even to go watch a horse race - which is what people do in Windsor, apparently. You also never know when you might need something - people are much more likely to help someone they like - so give it a go and smile at someone (ideally not in a creepy way).

6.) Dress sensibly. Fit in.

Ladies, this one's especially for you. If everyone at the office wears jeans, don't where a blazer and pencil skirt (or vice-versa) - you might be perceived as either a snob or a slob, respectively. If you're in a Muslim neighbourhood during evening especially, wear a scarf around your head and pretend its a hijab. If you're alone mostly - you don't want to attract unwanted attention. As a foreigner, you already stick out like a sore thumb, most likely. Don't hit it with a hammer and make it swell up and glow red. Really. Trust me on this one.

7.) I promise you that it will not be easy. But it WILL be worth it.

Dealing with the hassle of finding a place to stay. commuting, finances, loneliness, homesickness, wondering if you did the right thing - moving abroad is never easy. There's so much to adapt to - you're completely taken out of your comfort zone, most times. Challenges will arise - but experience is the best teacher. The day will come when you'll buy your bread by speaking German, haggle and succeed on getting a good price for jewellery at an Indian stall, remember exactly where the cereal is in a supermarket nearly as big as your entire country - and you'll smile as you realise you're doing so easily what you struggled with months before. Street-smarts are earned, as are all the lessons of life. You will grow, learn more about yourself and the world than you ever did before, and you will be proud of what a strong, adaptable person who are - the kind to rise to the challenge and not be defeated by it - a great feeling, I can tell you!

8.) Keep smiling. You can do it.

This is perhaps the most important tip of all. It's a crucial survival attitude, the part of you which - as difficult as it may be - keeps you trusting others when you have been cheated, keeps loving when you have been severely hurt, that fills you with the strength to, no matter how tired, frustrated, and angry you are - you WILL keep going. As Neitzsche once said, if a man has a 'why' he can deal with almost any 'how' - I am doing this because I believe in following my dreams - so how I am going to do it is a lesser problem, because I WILL find a way. So don't get bogged down by feeling miserable,or self-pitying yourself. Cry, punch something, scream - get it out of you - then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue down the road whistling. Have faith - not only in yourself - but in the fact that the world works in odd ways that we don't understand, many times, and later on in life it hits you that sometimes the most gracious of blessings come amazingly well-disguised.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post y'all :) Just to close with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi/Dalai Lama:


Till next month's post... happy travels!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Ethical Traveller

As I landed on the Rock yesterday afternoon, I wondered what to write this month's blog post about. Wandering about the old city parts of Warsaw and Krakow tasting pierogi and unfiltered beer? Hiking up one of the peaks of the Tatras mountains at night? The search for the best of all Polish beers?

Inspired by all the amazing and hardworking people I met (see below) during the seminar in Warsaw; welcome to a blog post on sustainable consumption - a traveller's version, of course :)


Sustainable consumption is all about conserving stuff. Protecting the planet, and those who live on it, by buying stuff which is Fairtrade, ensuring that those who make what you buy get a fair wage for their work, as well as making an effort not to waste water, food, electricity, clothing or any other kind of resource. These kinds of practices recognise the limited potential of Earth to supply resources, as well as how what we eat, wear, and use on a daily basis is connected to the rest of the planet. Travelling ethically means that we reduce our usage of the world's supplies because we care about the world. Here are a few tips for the ethical traveller:

1. When in China, speak Chinese. Namely - when visiting a country, eat where the locals do and buy from where the locals buy. This not only enhances your experience of the culture that you visit, but supports the local economy. Also, buying locally means that your food/clothing/etc didn't travel halfway across the world to get to where you are.

2. Save water. This may sound obvious - but we tend to waste more resources when staying in hotels or hostels, since we aren't paying directly for them. There's really no need to get your linen/towels washed after just one use. Imagine the polar bears crying.

3. Book your flights off-season - this reduces the impact on the environment from flying, plus other bonus points, like cheaper hotel rooms and less tourists. Or don't use flights, and go by train/coach/carpool/ferry/canoe/horse/bike/foot instead.

4. Eat more veggies. Although this might sound like an irrelevant tip for travellers, the fact is that eating meat means animal agriculture. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation, according to www.un.org. The article I found also notes that:

Livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 per cent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

Save forests, reduce your carbon footprint, be healthier and sustainably savvy. Eat more veggies.

5. Check out green travel sites for more tips and info. Good sites are www.ethicaltraveler.org/ and www.greenglobaltravel.com.

Finally - why should we care about saving the planet????


BECAUSE...
Sunrise from the Tatras.




Because people are beautiful weirdos.


Finally - because Earth is the only planet that has beer. And good friends to drink it with :)


UNTIL next month's post! Happy (ethical) travels xx

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How I Got Free Flights to Poland (and other budget travel tips)

Greets, all! Those of you who have me on Facebook/Twitter might have seen my previous post a few days ago where I proclaimed my good fortune to the world - free flights to Poland - did I say accomodation included? How is this possible, you ask? No, I don't have a magic lamp with a genie inside - but I do have the following tips for y'all... so read on ;)

Basically, as a student (hence a budget traveller) and a travel addict, I'm always on the lookout for any opportunity to travel. So when I got an email the other day looking for people to go to a seminar regarding sustainable consumption, offering free flights and accomodation, I jumped at the chance and got accepted. The seminar will be two days long, 14th and 15th June, and then I booked a flight back a week later, so I can go visit my friends in Krakow :) Get the idea?



There are lots of opportunities offering seminars/workshops/youth exchanges and the like which are funded by the European Union - particularly for young people. DO your research. Facebook groups like 'EVS-vacancies' (European Voluntary Service) and the 'Do Great Things Network' (https://www.facebook.com/groups/DoGreatThingsNetwork/). Regularly check NGO websites - in my case, a fairtrade local NGO called Koperattiva Kummerċ Ġust (Malta) took care of the funding and organisation - big thanks to them (this is their website: http://www.l-arka.org/about/kkg. Just sign up for their newsletter and eventually you will find something.

There are also some awesome sites which list opportunties to be funded to seminars, voluntary work, research and many other things abroad. If you're a traveller who's simply curious about different places and cultures, and enjoy learning and doing new things, then like me, you won't mind not staying in a five-star hotel drinking champagne. TRAVEL (not tourism!) is what gives us the enriching experience of being in a world so different from what you are used to.

Top websites with travel opportunities:

1. https://www.salto-youth.net/

2. http://www.tdm2000malta.org/

3. http://findevs.com/evs-projects/

4. https://www.facebook.com/groups/rocksolidprojects/

5. This blog :P

Good luck with searching for sponsored trips! Let me know if you have any questions, and please leave a comment if you actually manage to go on a trip :) I'd love to know that this blog inspired someone :) Big thanks goes to Marthese Formosa for helping out with the info on this blog post - check out her vlog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkhTCXsPeYE

And to conclude... an awesome meme for you guys :D Bon voyage!




Monday, April 14, 2014

The Insider's Guide To Hostels (and Hostel Etiquette)

When Couchsurfing fails you, and your student bank account curses at the thought of paying for a hotel during your trip to London, rest assured that you will find a happy backup plan. Hostels are becoming more and more popular amongst people from all ages as a cheap alternative to hotels, where you basically don't really care about what beautiful chandelier there is in the reception, but rather just need a place to crash for a couple of nights.

Doing my research, I managed to find a hostel in Clapham. London (20mins by bus away from Central London/ Victoria coach station) for only 8 euro a night (plus 2e booking fee). This is the place: http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/england/london/79321/. The place is basically a cute little pub with stairs at the back leading to dorms. Upon check-in, you get two door code which you punch in the gain entry to the rooms.

Overall, the staff were really helpful and friendly, and we got there before the check-in time but were still allowed to dump our backpacks in the luggage room to pick up later, so that we could simply go off and enjoy London without lugging around unnecessary weight. A free breakfast of toast, peanut butter and jam, coffee, and cereal was served during 7-9am, and the surrounding area was really nice - in fact we took our last day there to explore it - it's clean, safe, less expensive than central London, and there are lots of quirky little shops where you can get vintage scarves from.

General warning though, the cheapest beds are those in a 12 or 18 bed mixed (both men and women) dorm, which basically accounts into very little privacy and having to brush your teeth next to a strange man in a towel; which can feel oddly intimate, but not unpleasant. I was grateful, however, that I had brought my ear-plugs to cut out the noise of cars coming in from the window, people moving around, the door opening. I would probably also recommend an eye mask too.

During your stay at a hostel, you soon begin to realise the incredibly diverse nature of the human spirit, as well its sheer knack for creativity. For example, I awoke one morning and went to the bathroom to find a pad stuck to one of the tiled walls of the cubicle. Creative, indeed. This inspired the following list of To-Do's and To-Don'ts when it comes to hostel etiquette:

1. Don't stick pads to the walls of bathrooms - please.
If you can't find a bin, wrap it in toilet paper and throw it away elsewhere.

2. Don't use your cellphone on full-brightness and full sound after 10pm in the dorm. Some travellers are very tired and it isn't fair to keep them awake simply because you're using Instagram to post a photo of a pad stuck to a wall.

3. Don't go round shining a torchlight into people's faces to see who's sleeping there (this actually happened, and although it wasn't done to me, the two French pricks did get a severe telling-off)

4. DO clean up after yourself. Pick up any hair left in the shower, chocolate wrappers in the dorm, and don't leave your clothes on the floor. This should be done out of courtesy to fellow travellers.

5. DO be nice. Smile and say 'good morning' to the staff and fellow travellers. This may seem unnecessary, but it does serve to create a generally positive environment around you - plus you'd be surprised at how much more willing people are to help you out, like if you've run out of toothpaste or just want some general advice on travelling round the city, sightseeing, etc. My sister and I got to see two versions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers (free of charge at the National Gallery) as well as get musical tickets for Billy Elliot at half price from a tip-off we got on where to buy the tickets.

Hope this blog came in helpful :) Any questions, please leave a comment - and happy travels!



My sister holding up her juicy burger from The Crown Hostel, Clapham.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES FTW!

Hello once again my dear readers! Its been indeed a long time since I've last posted, and my sincerest apologies for that. Now, however, there will be a regular monthly post now that I have finally settles back into life on the rock - dear old Malta, with her noise, her long sunny summer days, her beautiful cream-coloured limestone buildings - my beautiful home.

Anyways, as a present to all those who read my blog and commented, to all those who ask to hear my travel stories, who ask me for travel tips - below I am posting some great opportunities I found to travel for little money or next to nothing. Many opportunities have an age limit or an application deadline; so be sure to email the person in charge to check! These are opportunities to travel with EVS or Erasmus+, where by the European Union funds people who want to travel and do project work, voluntary work, or personal development. Below are just a few of the opportunities that I have found!

1. NETHERLANDS: Work in a live-in art gallery (www.richtereu.com). This gallery is more than a place for exhibitions alone, it is an atelier where artists not only exhibit but also can live and work. It’s also a place where young people come together to plan international projects. You will be working in the daily routine of the gallery BUT you will be also working on your own exhibition. During the period you stay in the town you also get the chance to show your art, whatever that may be. Besides this you get the chance to help out organizing an international theatre festival and youth exchange. send an e-mail to evsrichter@hotmail.com before 05 March 2014.

(also check this out - its in AMSTERDAM http://blogunmundoatuspies.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/evs-volunteer-mission-house-in-amsterdam-netherlands/)

2. TURKEY: 1-7th April, a free of charge (i think also flights are reinbursed) Grundtvig Workshop on the Personal Development method EQUILITRI™. This call is for professionals working with adults with literacy problems. The workshop introduces the learners to Professional Development for adults with literacy problems, providing the participants with the opportunity to both learn about and experience tools and skills to develop a career plan, to set career objectives and in tune with their personal and social objectives, to do a wide analysis of their current situation, or to identify their competitive advantage, in order to directly influence their short and especially long-term career objectives, to self-motivate and plan their own professional development.
Applicant Requirements:
- Age: 20+
- Education level: with or within higher education (university level or equivalent)
- Work Experience: not required. Priority will be given to participants that can multiply the results (for example, Career Services personnel or people planning to work in career/social/personal development)
- Language: very good conversational English required

HOW TO APPLY: Please send an email today to umuty21@hotmail.com / genclikvedegisim@gmail.com

3. INDIA: Voluntary work, anything from helping to build stuff, to working with children, teaching, etc. Deadline for application is 30th March, more info can be found here: http://www.youthnetworks.eu/ShowVacancy.aspx?Vacancy=erasmus-shortlong-term-volunteers-to-india the contact person is Ravi Sebastian, his email is: newbeginningsvja@gmail.com

4. SPAIN: Courses financed by the Erasmus+ Programme Summer 2014 Madrid. Different opportunities:
1.European Project Planning under Erasmus + Sessions: 21st- 25th July 2014.
2.English Language and Methodology for English Teachers.Sessions: 14th – 18th July 2014.
3.Coaching in Educational Contexts to reduce early school leaving.Sessions: 7th-18th July 2014.
4. Energy Psychology in the classroom to reduce early school leaving.Sessions: 7th-11th July 2014.
All our training can be funded by Key Action 1 of Erasmus +
The deadline for funding applications is the 17th March 2014.
Please Contact us info@cervantestraining.eu http://www.cervantestraining.eu/

5. ROMANIA: The Ciprian Marica Foundation, located in Bucharest, Romania, would like to invite you to partners for the Youth Exchange part of the KA1 Mobility Erasmus+. The main topic is promote a healthy lifestyle through sports.The exchange will be focused on creating a learning programme focused on practical actions to take at home for a impact in your lifestyle and be a Youth Exchange part of the KA1 Mobility Erasmus+..
We shall implement the project in 12-20 September 2014. For those interested about the topic, please send us an email to ciprianmaricafoundation@gmail.com with the subject: Change Life, until the 9th of March.

6. IRELAND: Volunteers and undergraduate students are invited to work with an animal shelter located on the edge of Dublin. Established in 1840 to prevent cruelty to animals, it is now Ireland's largest animal welfare organization. The new state of the art shelter was opened in 2003, caring for a wide variety of animals including (but not limited to) dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits, ferrets, gerbils, budgies, snakes, terripins and many kinds of farmyard fowl.Participants must be at least 18 years old or older at the time of their program. Visit the site at: www.internationalvolunteers.org or email them directly at info@internationalvolunteers.org.

If anyone applies for one of the above, I would appreciate a comment, or even if you have any questions - please let me know, I will be happy to help. Myself - I applied for India :)Anyways, enjoy dear readers! In the future will be posting MORE TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES, some GREAT tips for travelling cheaply, the insider's guide to Couchsurfing, and of course - more of the adventure tales of my travels!!

Take care <3




Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Giant Mushrooms in Malmö!

I am standing in front of several tall, imposing figures. Dressed in long, black garments, with thin white limbs and sewed canvas faces, they say much with their silence. They are not alive, they cannot hurt me, yet still I feel somewhat intimidated. It reminded me of a bunch of German 12-year olds I once observed whilst on a tram - they are so young, still a little smaller than me, yet there is something about their defiant attitude which makes me feel somewhat smaller than they. I walk behind the group of ghostly figures, only to watch a clip of two female puppets jumping on a man and squirting blood out of him. The clip plays over and over again, this nonsensical fun-fair music going round and round, as if itself is on a merry-go-round or carousel, and you feel yourself spinning around too, not knowing if it is because of the music or because of the loss of blood.

Definitely one of the best museums I've ever been to (http://www.modernamuseet.se/Malmo/). When I visited, they had a fascinating exhibition of surrealist work, including original pieces by Magritte, Giorgio deChirico, and my personal favourite, Dali. On that cold, rainy day, it was a great pleasure to spend a few hours going round the exhibits at leisure, absorbing in the sheer range of human creativity.... including a room with several 4 metre high red spotted mushrooms, which had the effect of making me feel like a Smurf as I walked beneath them. Don't know what Mina felt like. Maybe a baby Smurf?


Malmö had many other interesting things to see:

the Turning Torso, Sweden's tallest skyscraper at almost 200m high.


The old water tower in Pildammsparken, Malmö's largest park - we biked there as the sun set.. it was so beautiful!


Malmö Stadsbibliothek, the city library (http://www.malmo.stadsbibliotek.org/), which is basically half a castle and half a giant glass building. Originally built in 1890, the library has more than HALF A MILLION items of different media - not just books, but audiobooks, magazines, music and DVDS - and it was also the first library in Sweden to start lending videogames!! Plus point: they have a great selection of media in ENGLISH, too!




For those who don't know me that well - if you want to know my reaction to a library full of books, imagine Sarah Jessica Parker in a room full of Jimmy Choos. Or a German at a Wurst factory.


Until next time.



Monday, January 28, 2013

On Arriving in Sweden and a Pair of Fluffy Handcuffs

My face is completely scarlet as I stand at the security line at Standstedt Airport, just outside London. The contents of my bag sit on a counter in front of me, and the security card rips open a box that he finds, like a child eager to discover what his Christmas present is. He shakes his head, smiling, and calls out to his colleague;
"Ah, it's jus' a sex toy mate!"
He dumps the pair of fluffy handcuffs on top of the pile of my stuff, and leaves me to deal with the damage, as well as my red face. Ryanair, you could treat your regular clients with a little bit more dignity, please. I'm not a criminal, I just bought a present for a friend of mine which I thought was funny!

At least he didn't find the Sex Pasta ;-)

Arriving in Malmö, the first thing I had to do was buy a ticket for 'the rainbow bus'. No, it has nothing to do with gay pride. It is simply a bus which takes you to the Central Station. As I waited for this luxurious vehicle, I noticed that there stood nearby a tall, slim young woman wearing a mustard coat. I decided to ask her if she knew how long the bus would take. So I did, and we struck up conversation.

We sat together during the trip, and I got to know that she was British, from a town near Cambridge, and that she had come to visit a friend in Copenhagen. I sensed that there was something else behind this, but I decided not to ask. Sometimes it's just not the right time, no matter how curious you are or how many questions you might have.... Not all questions are meant to be answered.

Within minutes of arriving, saying goodbye to my new friend, and walking outside, I was literally attacked by a midget attempting to jump into a photo I was about to take. I gleefully squashed the midget with a giant hug - my dear friend Mina Tolu, as pictured above, and my host over the coming 6 days. I rejoiced to see a familiar face, and excitedly chattering, together we walked around the main streets of Malmö. I was surprised to find that it was snowing, and hoped that I wouldn't freeze.


An hour later, I was convinced that I had made the wrong choice for Erasmus. Malmö is so beautiful with its graceful, elegant architecture, its carefully planned bicycle infrastructure, quaint little cafés selling organic Fairtrade coffee everywhere - I was literally gobsmacked at how different this city looked compared to the one I was living in!

Once we arrived at the student residence, we planned out how we would spend my trip. A student party on Friday, as well as a visit to Copenhagen, were both on the to-do list, as well as seeing some of the main Malmö sights like the 'Turning Torso' and the Pildammsparken old water tower. In the meantime, after a long day (I had slept for only 2 hours on a warm spot near a heater on the floor of Stanstedt airport)I was grateful to have a hot shower and something to eat.

During that time, I got to meet some of Mina's friends; a bunch of Spanish, several Germans, a Polish and a Lithuanian thrown in just for good measure. We all got along from the start...and ended up having some fun together.

This photo illustrates the kind of people Mina likes to hang around with:


Until next time, dear readers :P

Coming up: What to do when you're in Sweden, and daytripping in Copenhagen!

STAY TUNED.

Love,
Tasha

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