I'll admit, planning any trip can feel like a daunting task. There are so many variables to consider, so much preparation, but the end result is so worth it (read: there are still bound to be f*ck ups). Europe was no different.
I wanted to go to London since I was a little girl watching the Olsen twins in the direct-to-video film Winning London. It had a lasting effect, similarly to the way Passport to Paris did. I was going to delay my travels until 2019, but ultimately decided why should I wait any longer? I can work anywhere, the nature of my life warrants flexibility, so I am finally free to move like the water I have always felt a special connection to. And so, I decided to start planning my long lusted after trip to London, England with plans to also stop in Paris.
Initially, I chose April, but after a death in the family inspired me to press pause for just a bit, reconnect to what I really want (hello, apartment), and second-guess traveling this year once again altogether, I was going to cancel. But luckily, my heart sang a different tune and I decided to sing to that instead - opted for October, paid the $308 fee to change my flight, and was London-bound for the fall.
And for those of you who might be feeling overwhelmed by the planning of it all, I've done some of the necessary work for you by gathering some of the tips that helped me plan my first European travel excursion. Check 'em out below:
Do All The Necessary Prep Work Ahead Of Time
Arriving at St. Pancras International in London
Photo Cred: Terrence Porter
Note that while there's no such thing as an "off-peak" season in Paris, you can find cheaper airline deals between September-December range (anytime after or before summer is best to avoid the heavy tourist crowd). Ensure that your passport is up to date, also read up the parameters of travel limitations for the place you plan to visit. You can read up on that via the Bureau of Consular Affairs for the given country's international travel information. Before you travel abroad, also be sure to make copies of your important travel and identity docs, i.e. your passport, license, and perhaps your social security card. In addition to your plane tickets, book any additional transportation plans, like a rental car, public transportation passes, or a train if necessary.
In our case, purchasing our train tickets for Eurostar ahead of time were a must too. It's advised to start booking your train from London to Paris at least three months in advance (find them here). We did our best to leave a couple of hours between our flights' arrival and our train's departure so that once we touched down in London, we'd take the train to Paris to pack our travel day as much as possible and do a one-shot to our next destination.
In reality, what actually happened was we missed our train by about five minutes and had to pay 44 euros for a new ticket for the next train to Paris. Some research on my part would have been helpful in figuring out how to map out the train departure in relation to our flight arrival, especially because London St. Pancras International ended up being kind of far from the airport (about 35-45 minutes to be exact). And if you do nothing else, get an International plan with your cell phone service because the data will be needed for Ubers and such. Trust. And because my friend and I had Airbnbs in both locations, WhatsApp and some data comes clutch for the check-in process. So again I say, TRUST.
Hotel Emile - it's located in Marais, relatively close to a metro station, and offers free breakfast with direct booking.
Airbnb - we stayed in this studio apartment. It was very quaint and located in a trendier complex in the North part of Paris. Close to laundry, cafes, food, grocery stores, and only a few miles away from big attractions.
The Pilgrm - it's located in Paddington, relatively close to the tube station, and is very stylish. If I didn't stay in an Airbnb, this was going to be the one.
Airbnb - Huma's Victorian townhome feels so authentically London, it was so dope to stay there for a few days. Definitely recommend.
See All The Must-See Attractions
Capturing moments at the Louvre
Photo Cred: Terrence Porter
It is impossible to see everything a city has to offer, especially in the span of three days. Think about it, there are people who call these cities home and still haven't seen everything it has to offer. On your first day, make a running list of attractions that you feel are the Must-See places and hit them up when the day breaks. See as much as possible, and do as much as possible, especially during your first day in a new place. This will give allow you to see all of the touristy spots, while also allowing the freedom of sticking a pin in some of your favorite sights to potentially go to again before your trip is over.
In London, everything was very centralized and the tube was really easy to navigate, so hitting up Big Ben, London Bridge, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and Kensington Palace was done pretty effortlessly. On our first day in Paris, we walked to Montmartre, the Arc du Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. Because we chose walking over public transportation, we saved the Louvre for the next evening and allowed ourselves to indulge a little with the next tip.
Tour The City Like A Local
Taking in the Seine River in Paris
Photo Cred: Terrence Porter
This is the day to get lost, to take your time, and really take in the beauty and the history, the sights and sounds of the city in a less strategical way. While in Europe, I noticed that people had places to go but I also noted how lax a lot of the locals were with spending time in a state of experiencing. In Paris, they'd bring espresso and crepes to talk and gaze at the Seine or drink beer alongside the Thames. I even saw a guy outside of the Gare du Nord train station with an espresso cup that he rested on a newspaper stand as he stood and people watched in the middle of the sidewalk. Or in London, where people took midday breaks at the pub with a draft beer and wrote in their moleskins as the city moved around them.
My point is, everyone seemed to take their time a bit more. So, as we got lost, it was important to me to take breaks and take in the city, take in the life, take in the quiet and just be still. It was a lesson in being present that I really enjoyed.
Sit Back & Relax Your Mind
A glimpse of our beautiful Airbnb
Photo Cred: Terrence Porter
Don't let the go-go-go mentality of travel stop you from relaxing in the moment and showing gratitude for the fact that you are there. Make sure you don't allow guilt to dictate the moves you make or don't make. If you want to relax and recoup from your 16-hour travel day, take your time. Rest up. Enjoy yourself. You've earned it. My travel buddy was an up and at 'em kind of traveler that wanted to be up by 7 am to explore until 11 or noon, and then we'd convene and spend the day and evening together until I was ready to wrap up the night (especially because this ninja had the motto of walking everywhere in Paris). I took my time though. I slept in. I did my morning routine. I read a book and highlighted passages. I updated emails and checked on my site. And when I rose to reemerge into the city for hours on end, I lived.
Europe was absolutely magical. 10/10, I definitely recommend. Click through the gallery below to see some of the things I saw and experienced while over there.
Paris Photo Diary
London Photo Diary
*Originally published on Postcards & 808s
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
I first moved to Spain in December 2018, bright-eyed and ready to dive into the culture. While I have loved every minute of my life abroad, I definitely received my share of culture shocks in Spain. Some were hilarious, some were surprising, and no matter how many times I was warned about others, they were still shocking!
When I first arrived in Spain, I was so used to the American mode of constant productivity. It almost caused me anxiety how relaxed most Spanish people are about everything.
In the United States, your career defines you; everything must be done correctly the first time and on time, and even your relaxation time should be productive. Spain is the opposite.
I learned to embrace it because if they’re not freaking out about it, why should I? It was an instant release. Spanish people place value on making time to relax, enjoying good company, and being outdoors in the sunshine. My mental health and ability to handle setbacks in stride improved a ton in Spain.
So as I near five years living abroad, here are the biggest lessons the Spanish taught me about chilling the fuck out.
Lesson Number 1: “No pasa nada”
My first day working as an English Language Assistant in Spain couldn’t have gone more wrong if I tried. The bus that took me to the town where I worked never showed up. When I finally got to the town, hours later, I couldn’t find the school. When I finally managed to make it to a class (after missing my first three of the day), the presentation I had prepared didn’t work.
I remember looking up from the computer screen to a class of eager students and my enthusiastic co-teacher (who also happened to be my boss). My heart sank into my stomach, “I can’t open the presentation, Mabel.”
“No pasa nada, just talk to the kids, let them ask you questions.” Just like that? The kids were so excited to meet someone from the USA that the questions just kept coming, and they thanked me for a fun class.
No pasa nada translates to something like no worries, or it’s not a big deal, and I must’ve heard it at least 10 times a day every day in Spain. If something ever goes wrong, “No pasa nada.”
You can’t control everything all the time. Is anyone bleeding, dying, or injured? No? Then it’s not worth losing your head over. Just come up with the best solution you can think of at the moment and roll with it.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 2: “Teacher, Did You Not Have Time for Breakfast?”
When I was working in the U.S., I often had all sorts of meals at my desk. Breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sit in front of a screen, clacking away on my keyboard while taking bites and sips in between thoughts.
One day, in Spain, I showed up to school with a thermos of coffee and was sipping away while I led the class. One student raised his hand, “Yes Miguel?” “Uh, teacher, did you not have time for breakfast?”
Count on children to call you out! I thought he was just being an 11-year-old until later that week, a teacher asked me to go get coffee in between classes. When I went up to the counter to ask for it to go, she looked at me like, “What are you doing?” I said I was just grabbing it to go so we could get back to work. She said, "Yeah, we don’t do that here." And in fact, they didn’t even have a way to give me this coffee to go.
She later explained to me that it’s not usual for Spanish people to drink or eat while they walk or work. “Certainly you have 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and relax.”
(ENJOY my coffee? Interesting concept. I was just going to consume it for energy.)
In another instance, a Spanish friend of mine saw someone walking while eating a sandwich and said, “How depressing that they don’t even have time to sit and eat a sandwich.”
And actually, if you think about it, that is sad, but it’s not out of the ordinary in the U.S. But our bodies need food, and when we don’t even take those 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee or actually chew a sandwich, we’re saying work is more important than caring for our bodies.
Even taking those 10 minutes to just focus on your coffee and be present can help you slow down and relax throughout the day.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 3: “Y la sobremesa?”
I learned over the years living in Spain that food and meal times are sacred. It’s not just about getting something in to carry you throughout the day. Meal times are a moment to pause, relax, and unwind, and it’s always at the table!
Meals are also a time to gather with family and friends and have rowdy conversations about any subject under the sun (except work, as they consider this stuffy conversation).
This tradition of chatting after a meal is so important, it even has a proper name 'sobremesa' (over table). Long after the plates are cleared, the sobremesa will continue over drinks, coffee, or dessert. It can last several hours! (I once had lunch for five hours, four of which were just the sobremesa.)
If you try to get up without it, someone might ask, “Y la sobremesa?” like “What about the after-meal conversation?”
There is so much emphasis on connection in Spain, whereas American culture is more individualistic. Now, while I’m not suggesting all Americans have 5-hour lunches or do everything in pairs, there is something therapeutic about prioritizing your meals, not rushing, and being in good company.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 4: Go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.
In my second year teaching English in Spain, I moved to a different city in Spain and had the strange luck that my new boss was the strictest Spanish person I have ever met to this day.
When I couldn’t get an appointment to renew my residency card in time, she told me if I didn’t have it sorted by January 1st, she wouldn’t be able to let me stay in the country.
I made an appointment in a nearby town, but when I showed up for the appointment, the police officer told me I had to do it in the town I lived in. I started bawling. As a child of people who had immigrated to the U.S., I was in panic mode.
He tried consoling me and begged me to calm down, but I only started shaking and crying more, “My boss won’t let me stay if I don’t have my card renewed.”
And I will never forget his next words, “It’s okay. It’s okay. This isn’t the U.S. We’re not going to come looking for you.” (In retrospect, it is kind of funny.)
“Why don’t you go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.” This did not feel like the time for this “no pasa nada” attitude, but I took his words of advice.
I had the sangria. I walked on the beach. And I went home to try again, and guess what? I did in fact find the appointment.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 5: Sundays are for soaking up the sun.
Everything in Spain closes on Sunday. Everything except restaurants. So you couldn’t even run errands if you wanted to. This is usually a day for family and friends to gather on the beach, in the park, at a restaurant, or out on the plazas underneath flowering trees.
Sunday is just about connecting with loved ones and enjoying the sunshine at your leisure. I’m sure you can notice a theme here, Spanish culture is all about letting things flow.
Something that struck me most about Spain was how much less they complained about their mental health. It feels like almost all of my friends in the U.S. are struggling with anxiety or depression, and not without good reason. American lifestyle can feel like a pressure cooker, but what I think we can learn from the Spanish is to slow down, take life as it comes, have moments throughout the day and throughout the week where we can just be, and always make time for good company.
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Featured image courtesy of Ambar Mejia