THE DANGERS OF STUDYING ABROAD

My mom cried. She thought I might die in a terrorist attack. I reiterated that I wanted to go to Europe, not the Middle East. In our current day reality, this may have been a threat that I would have put some legitimate thought into. However, my concern would have been fleeting and regardless, I still would have boarded that plane.

To back up a bit, I went to Florida State University (Go ‘Noles!). During freshman orientation, there are tons of break-out sessions that upcoming freshman can attend to find out how to maximize on their college years. I was eighteen, fresh-faced, naïve about the world, and had never traveled outside the country. Despite my mom’s comment that day as I peeled off to attend the informational session on the study abroad programs (“I’m not paying for that…I’ll go to another session), I went and listened to what the advisors had to say. Come Hell or high water, I was going to spend a semester overseas!

My mom was telling the truth. She didn’t pay for me to study abroad (which, of course, I did not initially believe since she was always willing to invest in anything academically focused). This is not to paint a negative picture about my mom at all, in fact quite the opposite. I learned more from her telling me “no,” than I ever would have if she had just agreed that my parents would foot the bill. Because my parents weren’t paying, I decided that I needed a loan. I didn’t know about terms, or interest rates, but I applied, I got approved, I signed my name on the dotted line, put my name in the hat for a summer in Italy, and got into the program.

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

So that was that. I was going to Italy! Now it was time to plan! I needed to get my passport, a student visa, luggage, books for classes, adaptors, and every other thing I was informed that I needed for the upcoming summer semester. Months, and a lot of checklists later, I rolled up to the American Airlines check-in counter with two HUGE suitcases, both weighing in at the maximum threshold. I looked like I was moving permanently, instead of just attending six weeks of classes.

I connected through Charlotte International Airport and met up with one of my best friends from my freshman dorm who had lived in Italy as a child while her dad was in the Navy (coincidentally, I ended up marrying he brother, so now she is my sister in-law and her father is my now father-in-law). We flew side-by-side across the ocean, and landed to find that our luggage didn’t make the trip. We ended up spending the first two days wearing our new classmates’ clothes, using their cosmetics, and not caring one bit. We were in ITALY!

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Upon initial arrival, we all checked into our apartments. Somehow, we had thirteen students in one tiny, lackluster, poorly plumbed, and incredibly perfect apartment. We decided to have a “roomie” dinner where we all ended up enjoying too much wine, making our 8 AM orientation less-enticing than it would have been if we had solely suffered from an overdose of jet lag. I remember walking around that morning and seeing the Baptistery the first time and knowing that something in me had changed on a molecular level.

I spent the next six weeks wandering the streets of Florence. Every moment that I wasn’t in class, I was perusing the shops, drinking wine in the piazzas, and exalting the artwork that decorated the streets. As an outsider, I couldn’t imagine that Florentines ever become numb to the rich beauty of their city. In walking to a restaurant, you pass multiple Renaissance art pieces, monuments, and landmarks. Florence has a wealth of history, and I was cashing in all my chips to see it all before I left in June.

Our weekends contained trips to Rome, the Tuscan countryside, the Amalfi coast, Milan, Venice, and a myriad of small towns that create the allure that Italy has to offer its residents and tourists. Every town, every meal, every breath abroad changed my perspective on life and my expectation of what it was to “travel.”

The dangers of studying abroad were not imminent, physical, terrorism-rated, nor did they appear to be obvious, at first. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was at risk of at any time during my semester in Italy. To clarify, nothing about my study abroad experience was actually dangerous or even slightly risky. However, the emotional danger was the fact that I was officially afflicted with a permanent case of wanderlust.

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

Travel in itself was not the problem. The conundrum was that anytime I was not traveling, I was either daydreaming about where I can visit next, or I found myself researching the next item to check off my bucket list. I have reason to believe that I am not alone in this. In fact, I now tend to see a lot of study abroad alums posting recent pictures of their excursions to Europe, further validating my perspective.

So here I am ten years later. I wish that everyone could have the pivotal experience that I was able to participate in during the summer of 2005, but I realize that is far from a reality. However, I can help others feel the same emotions that I had during those six weeks that I spent in Italy. This is exactly why Explorateur Travel exists. My goals include providing all aspects of experiential travel for those who want to “feel” the place that they are visiting. The focus is not merely to book travel, but to plan those small details that invoke an intense and permanent connection with the vacation destination.

IT’S NEVER TOO SOON FOR TULUM

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Ready to explore the town of Tulum!

Ready to explore the town of Tulum!

Most pictures that I have seen of Mexico tend to be around the main hotspots that we have all heard of: Cabo San LucasPlaya del Carmen, and Cancun. But one day, I was toying around onPinterest (Dangit, Pinterest…why do you have to be so addicting!), and came across a picture of lantern lit jungle tavern with a white sandy floor in a place picture referred to as “Tulum.” The next thing I found out about Tulum, was that it was a yogi’s haven. Now, I am not a yogi, but I am all for integrating wellness into a vacation. As I continued my Pinterest meandering, I saw images of bathing suit-clad travelers lounging on mattresses in the sand, while drinking something that I imagined to be cool, rum-filled, and delicious. I spiraled into an all-out vacation fantasy!

Tulum has apparently been a hideaway for travelers that want to avoid the chaos of the main resort towns, but want to experience the glory of local culture, no-fuss sunbathing, cenote swimming, and the pleasures of the many restaurants that are sprinkled along the main Tulum strip.

The idyllic Ahau Tulum eco-lodge Photo credit: Ahau Tulum

The idyllic Ahau Tulum eco-lodge
Photo credit: Ahau Tulum

Even getting to Tulum was enjoyable! Thanks to Delta, getting to Cancun from Florida was a breeze. However, fighting through the crowd of vendors in the airport who want your business, was not. Fortunately, I had reserved a shuttle with USA Transfers and they were perfectly prompt and professional. They even stopped at the 7-11 as we got on the highway so that we could enjoy a cold cerveza for the drive! So with Pacifico in hand, we settled in for our one and a half hour drive towards our beach hideaway.

By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were ready to see what this town had to offer us. As we walked up the sandy steps to the check in desk, we were greeted with champagne and a warm welcome. Customer service here was no joke. Honestly, Ahau Tulum’s staff was better than any I have ever experienced (and much more impressive than I expected from an eco-lodge).

Our dinner restaurant, Casa Banana Photo Credit: Casa Banana

Our dinner restaurant, Casa Banana
Photo Credit: Casa Banana

Even though our visit was in November (normally a dry month), we were met with unseasonably rainy weather. Because of this, the receptionist tempted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: an essential oil massage in a hut on the beach. I anxiously accepted, and I am so glad that I did. I waited for my masseuse with the world’s most magical tea in the lounge area, where other guest were reading and hanging out. Within a few minutes, it was my turn to be pampered. For two hours, I listened to the waves crash against the shore and the pitter patter of the rain on a palm frond roof, while experiencing the most cathartic massage that has ever happened to my body. I’m talking about wobbly legs, woozy feeling, and make-no-sense kind of talking after this massage. I was useless to the world- apparently this is just how Tulum likes its guests!

Luckily, this warm welcome was the tip of the iceberg for the town of Tulum. The rain did not slow us down, and actually added to the novelty of visiting an actual rain forest! We ended our first day with a drizzly walk down the canopied road to a fantastic dinner at Casa Banana. If you ever have the chance to diner here, I would absolutely suggest it. We waited for a table by the bar, while enjoying artisanal, fresh, and unique cocktails. My husband and I both enjoyed perfectly cooked steaks and grilled vegetables that were prepared over an open wood-fire grill.

To end the day, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tulum goes to bed quite early. This really is heaven! It was early to bed for me- after all, I had sun salutations with the hotel’s yogi early in the AM….Namaste.

PERUSING THE MARKETS OF PARIS

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Many people travel in a way that allows them to “put checks in the block.” By this, I mean that if they have a week in one location, each day is packed with museums to see, places to eat, and little time to meander and simply absorb the culture. Fortunately, it seems that the cultural focus of travel is becoming increasingly prevalent – particularly with millennial travelers.

While in Paris with a girlfriend, we were determined to spend our time outside of the typical itinerary of Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Louvre (don’t get me wrong, we did those too!) by wandering around the local markets. Navigating to and from these markets took us out of our comfort zone, and allowed us to enjoy the true culture of each neighborhood.

We started by taking the Metro to the Marche les Puces (which includes 15 markets!). Unless you are prepared and directionally aware, I would suggest considering taking an Uber or cab to this area since the metro exit isn’t necessarily in the best area of town.

I can assure you that if you are looking for something, they most likely have it! However, you may have to dedicate a day to finding it. The items at Marche Antica are incredibly diverse including: fabulous fashions from Hermes, Chanel, and Yves St. Laurent, chandeliers, old musical instruments, and restored furniture. It is easy to lose track of where you’ve been and frankly, we didn’t mind that!

When returning to the center of Paris, we decided to continue our shopping by strolling through the food market of Montorgueil. There are few things that smell better at the end of a tiring day than a pop-up stand making crepes! Of course, not all items are prepared to eat on site but a few are. Most items include fresh local produce, fish, crustaceans, and flowers (for color). Your senses will be overwhelmed, confused, and you will most likely leave hungry. Luckily, turn the corner to move onto Rue Petits Carreaux and almost any culinary request can be granted at the dozens of cafes and bistros lining the street.

I encourage visitors of Paris to immerse themselves in the culture by perusing the goods of the many markets. To find the markets that best suit your needs, use these resources:

http://www.timeout.com/paris/en/shopping/the-best-markets-in-paris
http://www.marcheauxpuces-saintouen.com/1.aspx
http://travel.cnn.com/paris-shopping-guide-061506

WE CAN ALL LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM ICE CUBE…

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

As the artist Ice Cube says, “take a step back and examine your actions because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate when deciding whether to opt. for more data while traveling. In our world of smart phones, we are heavily dependent on travel apps, maps, and Googling things. We have become so contingent on our phones, in fact, that we no longer plan where to go for restaurants but instead rely on an app with reviews to locate a restaurant for us.

The good news is that smart phones and tablets have airplane modes readily available for the preservation of data use. The bad news is that we can do almost nothing while in this mode. The confusion comes into play when we don’t know what to turn on or off and then we accidently turn one mode on that uses data unbeknownst to us. Suddenly… BOOM … you are stuck with a sizable bill that you were trying to avoid by relying on the Wi-Fi at your hotel.

Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. I was in Spain and kept my phone on airplane mode the entire trip except for when I was in the hotel. While at the hotel, I was updating a social media post using Wi-Fi when I realized I was almost late for dinner. I ran out of the door, forgetting to switch the settings, and the next thing I saw was a text from AT&T stating that I had exceeding $100 of extra data.

Luckily, AT&T sees this all the time and happily allowed me to retroact my data plan for the month, lowering my extra charges to around $25 (thank you, AT&T). International data plans start around $20 – a small price to pay when you never know what sort of emergency may occur. Go ahead and spring for the extra data for the month of your travel and don’t stress about having to use one of your apps to find that awesome restaurant you read about online. I promise you will be happy that you did.