travel

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True

A much-needed gelato run on a hot summer day in Rome!

Exactly three years ago, I was having the time of my life in Europe. It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I had embarked on a short-term study abroad program focused on international events and festivals in London, Paris and Rome.

Rereading that paragraph, Post-Grad Val is incredibly jealous of College Val right now.

Studying abroad was an amazing experience, and my only regret was not doing it sooner and for a longer period of time. Once you graduate from college and begin working in the real world, finding time and funds for travel can be a lot more difficult, and you’ll find yourself wishing you followed your wanderlust when you still had the time and scholarships.

If you are currently in college and have a healthy thirst for adventure, you’ve probably already added studying abroad to your university bucket list. After all, it’s a great opportunity to travel the world and immerse yourself in a culture that may be different from your own!

For those considering studying abroad in college, check out my fifteen tips for choosing the right program and making the most of your experience.

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True1. Talk to friends and classmates who have already been there.
One great thing about college is that you’ll likely cross paths with people who are either: a) well-traveled, b) from another country, or c) all of the above. Because of this, if you’re interested in participating in a language immersion program in Spain this summer, it’s likely that you already know someone who has been to Spain or participated in this type of program. Talk to those people and ask them questions about what to expect and how their experiences were. Chances are, they can give you a lot of information that you won’t read in the program description or travel guide book. If you can, try to get as much information as possible from a peer’s point of view.

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2. Evaluate your needs.
Before signing on to a particular program, think about what you’re looking for. Can you commit to a semester-long program, or would you rather do something shorter term? Do you want to receive class credit? Do you need a program that will fulfill an internship requirement? Ask yourself these questions ahead of time to help pinpoint the right program for you.

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3. Consider the costs.
Your program description might include a set cost, but does that cost include airfare, lodging, travel within the country, or food? Is the program part of a university course? Will you be paying tuition as well? Factor in all of these possible expenses when deciding if the program fits your budget.

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True4. Look at other colleges and universities in your state for options.
If your university doesn’t offer a program that interests you, another one might. Check the study abroad websites for other colleges in your state to see what programs they have and if the credits can be easily transferred to your school.

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5. Seek out scholarships.
Many universities offer study abroad scholarships for those who seek them. The trouble is, many students don’t realize that these scholarships are out there! Through a little research on my own, I was able to secure a small study abroad scholarship through one of the departments on campus. All you have to do is apply… worst case, you’re no worse off than when you started!

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6. Consider a program that relates to your major or career goals.
Studying abroad is an awesome travel experience, but don’t forget that a key part of studying abroad is “studying.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck in a classroom all day, but keep in mind that the study abroad experience should be educational. For the amount of money you’ll be shelling out, you probably want to look into programs that will either be applicable to your degree program (or grad school goals) in some way or that will make you more marketable in the workforce.

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Tips for Studying Abroad7. Research the country and its culture ahead of time.
It’s important to have some knowledge of the history and culture of the place where you will be living for the next few weeks or months. Not only will this help you to determine whether or not this program is the right choice for you, but it will also be helpful information for you once you arrive. Have a basic awareness of the country’s current events, its famous dishes and its customs.

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8. Learn the language.
Do I expect you to become fluent in French by the time you arrive at the De Gaulle airport? No. However, it’s important to learn some of the basics — hello, goodbye, please and thank you are a great place to start. My French is atrocious (I’m much more fluent in Spanish, but my French accent is only passable if I mumble), but every day, I made sure to say a cheerful “Bon jour” and “Au revoir!” to the kind staff members at the hotel where we stayed in Paris. Attempting to use the country’s native language is a sign of respect, and it makes you more of a gracious guest. Of course, some programs do require proficiency in the country’s language, so be aware of that when you compare programs.

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9. Get to know your program administrator.
Contact the faculty person in charge of the program before signing up with any questions you may have. This person has likely been through the program before, and he or she will be able to help guide you through the process or help you determine if the program is right for you.

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Tips For Studying Abroad | So it Must Be True10. Figure out your mode of communication.
This was something I neglected to do prior to my study abroad program, and it was a major source of stress for me. (It was also before I had an iPhone, so I couldn’t rely on WiFi and iMessage like the rest of my friends.) Talk to your family and figure out how you’ll communicate overseas throughout the program. Through email? International SIM Card? Skype? Determine the best mode of communication for you and your family, and figure out how you’ll get in touch in case of an emergency.

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11. City dwellers: don’t forget about transportation!
During my study abroad trip, I had metro passes for each of the three major cities I visited, and this was a huge weight off my shoulders! This allowed me unlimited travel throughout those cities during a set period of time, and it was definitely worthwhile for me. If you’re staying in one city for long, consider investing in metro passes as well. It will make life a lot easier.

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12. Call your credit card company beforehand.
As a financial services professional, I’d be crazy not to mention this one. Make sure your credit card companies are aware of when you will be out of the country so that they don’t freeze your accounts while you’re away! I made the mistake of booking Versailles tickets online while I was still in the states, and found that my account was frozen almost immediately after for suspected credit card theft. Make sure your financial institutions are aware of your whereabouts to avoid any mishaps once you leave the country – it will be a lot harder to solve these problems away from home!

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True13. Have an open mind.
Study abroad is the perfect time to experience things for the first time. Order a meal you wouldn’t normally try, explore the city’s cultural centers and historical sites, and get out of your comfort zone! Immerse yourself in the culture. After all, when will you get another chance to do so?

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14. Document everything!
Whenever I travel, I cannot be found without my trusty digital camera. During my study abroad trip, as well as during a separate trip to Israel a few months prior, I took pictures of everything! At night, I used a notebook to keep track of what I had photographed, as well as to journal my experiences and feelings thus far. I also blogged a bit during my study abroad trip (see here, here and here). Remember to take tons of pictures, and feel free to blog about your experiences as well! Years later, I still enjoy looking back at those photos, journals and blog entries to relive those amazing trips.

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15. Believe in yourself.
I know this sounds cheesy, but bear with me! While I loved my study abroad experience, one of my biggest regrets in college was not taking a summer-long internship opportunity in London. The main reason I didn’t fully pursue that program was because I feared I wouldn’t be able to get around the city myself and I doubted my ability to navigate. When I finally did visit London for the first time, I learned how to use the metro very quickly, and immediately regretted my decision not to participate in an internship there. Whatever doubts are holding you back from a program, cast them aside and just go!

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What questions do you have about studying abroad? Any tips or resources? Share yours in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Post Valentine’s Day Bliss

Link LoveHope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful Valentine’s Day or, for many of us, Day-To-Eat-All-The-Things! I’ll admit that my Whole60 went off the rails around the holiday, with a few nights out to dinner and more chocolate temptation than I knew what to do with. Thankfully, my junk food honeymoon period is reaching its end, and I’m ready to start trying new healthy recipes again. How did everyone else celebrate the holiday?

As you recover from your own sugar comas, take a look at the latest and greatest in Link Love! :)

What are some of your favorite links throughout the week?

The Weekend Five: Travel Essentials for the New Year

Friday-Friendly-Funny-Dave-Blazek-Friendly-Planet-Travel-Airline-Seat2015 is here, which means it’s time to dust off those New Years Resolution travel goals and make our vacation dreams a reality! I was especially spoiled to take two trips out of the country during my junior year of college, visiting both the Middle East and Europe (see my posts on London, Paris and Rome!), but my love for travel has taken a backseat since I graduated from college almost two years ago. This year, I hope to go on a few more adventures to reawaken my wanderlust and explore something new!

As part of RelayRides‘ travel essentials campaign, I’ll be sharing five must-haves for your next trip. Keep these on your list as you plan out your own 2015 adventures, and keep RelayRides in mind for future airport car rentals, which you can access at airports all over the country! :)

The Weekend Five: Travel Essentials

camera_funny_never1. Camera.
I’ll never forget the joy I felt as a child when my parents bought me disposable cameras before we went on vacation. In fact, on one trip, I went through three disposable cameras throughout the course of a week, snapping photos all over New York City. Bringing your camera is an important (if not slightly obvious) way to capture each moment of your trip. Whenever I go on vacation, I always bring an extra memory card in case I get a little photo-crazy. Make sure you bring something you don’t mind carrying around!

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2. Lip balm and moisturizers.
Chances are, if you’re traveling anywhere that has even a slightly different climate from where you live, the new environment will have an impact on your skin. If you’re flying to your destination, your lips are sure to chap on the airplane, so make sure you pack your favorite lip balm (guys included) and a moisturizer for your face. After spending 10 days in the desert and then flying home, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked in the mirror in the airport bathroom. I will never again travel without sufficient moisturizer and a consistent regimen!

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travel essentials for the new year3. Itinerary.
I am a firm believer in the value of a good itinerary. Planning what you want to see and do ahead of your trip is essential for making the most out of your vacation! Allow room for spontaneity – you never know what you’ll stumble into along the way! – but have a basic schedule for where you want to go and what you want to see.

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4. Chargers.
Make sure you pack chargers for all devices that you plan to use on your trip. If your camera dies on Day 2 out of 5, you don’t want those photos to be your last! A phone charger is also important, especially if you’re traveling within the country and will be using your phone to regularly communicate. Pro tip: To avoid leaving your charger at the hotel, leave a note for yourself to remember your charger, and keep that note by the door. My dad, a pilot, taught me that before my first overnight trip without my family, and I will never forget it!

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travel must haves5. Journal.
On my past few trips, I decided to bring a journal for a few reasons. One: it allowed me to create a chronological list of the attractions I’d photographed throughout the trip (so I wouldn’t forget what they were a few days later when I returned home). Two: it was a great way for me to record my personal observations and experiences throughout the trip, in a way that was private but still meaningful. I kept my journals from my most recent trips to Israel and Europe, and two years later, I still enjoy reading them on occasion and remembering some of the nuances of the trips.

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What are your travel essentials? Share your must-haves in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

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Yup, you read that title correctly… today marks what may be the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare! This calls for some celebration in the form of clever sonnets and iambic pentameter. :) How will you be celebrating the Bard’s birthday?

Enjoy! Feel free to add your own links to the comments section below.

The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Wandering around a Kibbutz!

Wandering around a Kibbutz, 2011

As many of my readers know, I have always loved visiting new places. Whether I’m traveling across the Atlantic or simply a few miles to a local attraction I’ve never visited, I’m constantly looking for ways to broaden my horizons and see something new. Although I don’t foresee any far away trips in the near future, I do hope 2014 brings plenty of exciting adventures and opportunities to explore!

Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and many of the wonderful states right here in the U.S. During that time, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks for having a better travel experience. Let’s kick off this weekend with a few tips to help you plan your upcoming vacations. (Tweet this!) Bon voyage!

 The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Dinner in West London, 2012.

Dinner in West London, 2012.

1. Do your homework.
Research and planning are two of the most important things you can do prior to any trip! If you can, talk to people you know who have been to the place you’re about to visit, and get their advice for the best sights to see. For most popular destinations, you can find guidebooks at your local bookstore, where you can flip through and learn more about some of the hidden gems. (This also allows you to avoid showing up at a museum on a weekday when it is closed!) Browse travel blogs as well – you can find a lot of good information and photos from those who have already been! (You can check out my blog for some suggested destinations in London, Paris and Rome.) Plan out a basic itinerary or list of must-see attractions for your trip, but allow for changes along the way as you make your own discoveries!

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2. Find a hotel slightly outside of the city.
If you’re visiting a city with good public transportation, your best bet is to stay in a hotel near the metro but slightly outside of the city. These hotels tend to be less expensive but still very accessible. I picked up on this trick through some of the organized trips I’d gone on, once I saw that there were still some exciting things to do and that a trip to the more bustling tourist areas was only ten minutes or so by train. Buy a temporary metro pass if you can to avoid long lines and travel with ease throughout the city!

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Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

3. Keep your chargers handy.
My biggest regret when I went to Israel was not charging my camera enough. After spending the night in a Bedouin tent in the desert, we woke up at the break of dawn to climb a nearby mountain, and as the sun rose, the battery in my camera died. I was all set to take a beautiful sunrise photo at the top of the mountain, but because I hadn’t been charging my camera at the hotel in the days leading up to our desert trip, I had to settle for photo-bombing my friends’ pictures instead. Even if your camera dies, of course, you still have your memories – but the photos are definitely great to look back on once the trip has long since passed. Bring extra batteries just in case!

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4. Eat normally when possible.
For many people, food is one of the more exciting aspects of travel. However, when you’re adjusting to new time zones, it’s a good idea not to stray too far from your normal diet. In France, for example, many of my friends and I were tempted to start the day off with lots of pastries, but after a while, too much indulgence slowed everyone down. Because I eat a lot of scrambled or hard-boiled eggs when I’m at home, I tried to gear my breakfast toward those when possible, enjoying the occasional croissant here and there. Don’t be afraid to try new things and treat yourself every now and then, but don’t stray too much from your usual diet, either. You don’t want to let unhealthy food choices take away your energy to see the sights!

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Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

5. Be kind and respectful.
This may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how few people truly remember to say “please” and “thank you.” I’m always shocked to see how some people will behave in another country or when dealing with the staff at airports, hotels and attractions. Remember that you are in another person’s home state, country or city, and treat him or her with the same courtesy you would expect in return.

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Travelers, what are some of your tips? Where do you hope to visit in the new year?

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

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Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Bastille Day, 2012

First of all, for those who celebrated on Wednesday, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! :)

Because my father travels for a living, I learned the importance of flexibility around the holidays early on. If he was out of town for an important birthday or holiday, we simply celebrated on a different night and had just as wonderful of a time! As I grew older, I began to experience my own interesting travel adventures that overlapped with holidays, which gave me a few fun memories along the way.

This week, I’d like to share some of my holiday travel experiences with you. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

1. Flying to London on the Fourth of July.
What better way to celebrate America’s independence from Great Britain than to fly out to the very country we are commemorating our freedom from? In the summer of 2012, I left for a short-term study abroad program on Independence Day, and the irony was not lost on me. (Of course, I actually arrived in London on the 5th and was able to barbecue with my family a day early, but I still will never forget this very strange and unique 4th of July, which was mainly spent on a plane!)

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Selfie on the Champs de Mars

Selfie on the Champs de Mars, 2012

2. Celebrating Bastille Day by the Eiffel Tower.
On that same study abroad trip, I traveled to Paris for Bastille Day, which celebrates France’s freedom from the monarchy and the storming of the Bastille. My friends and I watched the parade from a hotel room with mimosas in hand, and were able to peek out the window to watch the jets fly by. Later in the day, after climbing the Eiffel Tower, we grabbed an early dinner and then camped out by the Eiffel Tower early so we could watch the fireworks that night. Music played and as people from all over the world sang along, I felt more connected to complete strangers than I would have ever expected. (I also witnessed more marriage proposals than I had ever seen in my life!) It was a beautiful experience, one that I would recommend to anyone traveling to France in the summertime. (I also wrote an article with tips for celebrating the holiday abroad.)

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Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

3. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel.
When I was a junior in college, I traveled to Israel for ten life-changing days. The trip, which took place in December, spanned across the entirety of Hanukkah, and so it was the first year that I didn’t spend any of the holiday with family. However, being able to spend Hanukkah in a country where a greater percentage of the people celebrate it, I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. One night, when my friends and I perused the night life in Jerusalem, we were approached by rabbis who gave us sufganyot (a Hanukkah food similar to a jelly donut) in celebration. Of course, in America, if a bearded stranger approaches me with free jelly donuts, I’m not as likely to accept so readily, but on that night, it seemed more than appropriate. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel gave me a unique perspective on a holiday that I had been celebrating for my whole life, and it is a memory that I have carried with me every year since.

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4. Spending Christmas in the Philadelphia International Airport.
My very exciting Hanukkah was followed by a very lonely Christmas Day. My group returned from Israel on December 25th, and because we came from different parts of the country, everyone had different flights to catch from Philly. My flight wasn’t until that evening, so I spent the day reading, walking around, calling family members and people-watching. I wound up celebrating Christmas with my family on Boxing Day that year, but the experience gave me even more of an appreciation for those who work on the holidays, especially in service-based professions.

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sophisticated-ignorance5. Falling asleep early on New Year’s Eve.
When I was fourteen, I went on a family trip to the Netherlands. The trip was a blast – and my first time ever in Europe – but I came down with a nasty cold that was worsened by the flight home (which took place on New Year’s Eve). Because of this, I ended my year in bed, surrounded by tissues and drifting off to sleep before the clock struck midnight.

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What interesting holiday experiences have you had, abroad or otherwise?

Blog Spotlight: Tales for Scout

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Copyright Megan Lierley, talesforscout.blogspot.com

Not long ago, I exchanged blogs with Julie Kesti, a Minnesotan ex-pat artist living in Shanghai. I am happy to say that the experience led to a blog swap with Megan Lierley of Tales for Scout, a blog I will now be reading regularly! Tales for Scout focuses on especially on Megan’s travel adventures in San Francisco, where she lives, but is also a fantastic read for twenty-somethings.

Here is a round-up of a few of Megan’s wonderful blog posts. Definitely check out her page, especially if you plan to visit San Francisco any time soon!

So what are you waiting for? Check out Tales for Scout and let her know what you think!

Interested in a blog swap? Email me at vmoses90@gmail.com and we can get started. :)

Link Love Wednesday: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

iphone-5-apple-generations-sympathy-ecards-someecardsWhat do you get when you take a very full work calendar, a birthday and a series of federal and religious holidays? A blogger who forgets to post Link Love for a few weeks! :) Hopefully today’s round-up of posts about topics ranging from Generation Y to jet lag won’t disappoint.

Read anything interesting lately?

International Adventures: Tips for Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris

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Sitting by the Eiffel Tower several hours before the fireworks went off! :)

Bon jour! For those of you of French descent/nationality, I wish you a happy early Bastille Day!

Last summer, I celebrated Bastille Day in the heart of Paris. Bastille Day, the French National Holiday that takes place on July 14, commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which symbolizes France’s freedom from its former monarchy. Because I had spent my Fourth of July on an airplane and missed out on all of the American traditions, I was excited to celebrate Bastille Day in France and become immersed in the French culture.

For those of you who made the trip out to Paris this summer, add Bastille Day to your itinerary. (Tweet this!) The city bursts to life with events and traditions that are enjoyable even if you aren’t French, but they can become a bit overwhelming for those who haven’t experienced the holiday before. Here are a few tips for how to appreciate all that Bastille Day has to offer without getting lost in the crowd.

Watch the parade on television.
This may sound counter-intuitive; after all, why would you watch a parade from your hotel room when you could watch it in person? Unfortunately, the Bastille Day Military Parade that takes place on the Champs-Elysses draws in such large crowds that it is nearly impossible to find a spot from which you can actually see the parade. Instead, open a bottle of champagne, turn on your television and stay by a window. If your hotel is near Bastille itself, you may even see the Patrouille de France jets fly by outside.

Paris226Spend your day in the city.
Once the parade is over, go outside and participate in all the revelry that Bastille Day has to offer. Take pictures with cadets from the military academies, climb the iconic Eiffel Tower (what better day to do it than on Bastille Day?) and eat an early dinner outside if weather permits. The excitement of Bastille Day in Paris is contagious, and by spending the holiday among the locals, you will feel like even more of a part of the experience. Be sure to watch your belongings, though – it is easy to lose track of your bags in these crowds.

View the fireworks from the Eiffel Tower.
The perfect place to view the Bastille Day fireworks from is the Champ de Mars, the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. Although the fireworks show doesn’t occur until late evening, arrive early with your camera, a few snacks and a towel or blanket to sit on. My friends and I selected our spots six hours before the show, giving us our fair share of seating. The fireworks are accompanied by music, so you will find yourself singing along among complete strangers from all over the world and having the time of your life.

Leave early.
Although the streets and subways are going to be inundated with people, you can still avoid a great deal of the crowds by leaving the fireworks show five minutes early. This will help you skip the big rush and get back to your hotel safely.

Enjoy your Bastille Day!

Original version published in Immersion World.

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

Remember that time I studied abroad in Europe, then posted blogs about my adventures in London and Paris? During that time, my group and I also enjoyed a brief Roman Holiday! (Saying that makes me feel so much like Audrey Hepburn.) The last few days of our trip took place in Rome, Italy, a city rich with history, culture and delicious food. Although we didn’t spend nearly as much time in Rome as we did in London and Paris, I still had some memorable experiences that I will share with you!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

1. The Colosseum.
I have my minor in Hospitality Management, so of course I’d look at the Colosseum as the ultimate event venue. (Yes, that’s me in the picture.) Although it was not my first time visiting the Colosseum, I had a newfound appreciation for this arena as I thought about all that took place there in ancient times. The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most recognizable icons, and definitely worth a visit for anyone making the trip to Rome. You can take a self-guided tour and admire the Colosseum from different vantage points.

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2. Roman Forum.
Walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum, the plaza where Romans met to exchange goods, deliver public speeches, and much more. The Forum is located near the Colosseum and is even home to Julius Caesar’s memorial site. As you enter the Forum, think about how it must have looked in its prime, and visualize yourself in this once-bustling city center! Because of the proximity of these two sites, I would suggest visiting one right after the other — preferably early in the day, before it gets too hot!

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3. Trevi Fountain.
Toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish! Legend has it that by throwing a coin into the water, you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Regardless of whether or not you do decide to come back someday, visiting the Trevi Fountain is definitely a worthwhile experience if not for its beautiful architecture alone. I have been to the Fountain twice — once in the evening, and once in the early afternoon, but after my second visit, I would suggest going early. However, no matter when you decide to go, be sure to watch closely over all of your belongings — my classmates and I had to be especially careful about pickpockets in areas like this. The Trevi Fountain is beautiful, but it can also be overwhelmingly crowded, so keep an eye out while you take pictures and hold on tight to your bags.

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4. Pantheon.
From the moment we arrived in Rome, the Pantheon was the number one place I wanted to visit. I had learned about this former temple to the Roman gods throughout my early education and even in my university’s art history class, and wanted to see it for myself. The Pantheon is located near the Spanish Steps (which my friends and I didn’t realize until after we wandered around nearly half of Rome looking for it! :) ) and is free for the public to visit. The area may be somewhat crowded, but you won’t have to wait to get inside and walk around. Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling and admire the dome above you! It’s interesting to see how the light enters the Pantheon from there. (Now that I’ve been here, I’m dying to go to Greece and see the Parthenon, built for the goddess Athena!)

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5. Gelateria della Palma.
I’d be lying if I said that the Italian cuisine wasn’t one of the trip’s highlights. Everyone raves about gelato when they visit Rome, so I thought I’d mention my favorite gelato place, Gelateria della Palma. (See here!) The place was filled to the brim with tourists, but it had more than 150 flavors to choose from, and was a great end to my trip. This gelato shop is located near the Pantheon, and is a wonderful way to cool down in the summer heat. My flavors of choice? A scoop of chocolate and a scoop of stracciatella (kind of like chocolate chip). My classmates and I definitely didn’t shy away from the gelato while we were here, but this shop was by far the best!

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Other notable visits included the Vatican, Piazza Navona, Vitti (a restaurant with the most delicious food, best service and cutest waiters throughout our entire time there), and the Spanish Steps.

To my readers: What do you want to do when you go to Rome? If you have already been, what sites do you suggest for visitors?