I apologize for being M.I.A. recently, I’ve had a lot of coursework due in, my birthday, my dad visit and I’ve spent the last ten days traveling to Newquay and Edinburgh.

Thank you for bearing with me. You can read about my last two weeks or so in my updated Great Britain Exploring post.

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Once piece of advice that resonated with me before I left for my study abroad program was to not let a lack of a travel buddy keep you from exploring. Over the last eight months (can you believe it?), I’ve taken several solo trips, with the longest and most recent of them being my ten-day trip through Italy. With that, I’ve reflected a lot on the positives and negatives of taking such trips alone.

The biggest upside about traveling alone is that I can do what I want, when I want without consulting anyone else. It’s not every day you get to travel to another country and traveling with someone else usually means compromise. From daily activities to where you want to eat, asserting yourself can be awkward and difficult at times of indecision.When you travel alone, you’re also more open to meeting people who are (more often than not) also traveling alone, as well. I’ve met a lot of great people from all around the world as I tend to reach out more to people in my hostel or on tours when I’m traveling alone.

The biggest bummer about traveling alone is that you have nobody to share your thoughts with. When I travel with someone, we can talk about how we felt about a certain piece we saw in a museum, compare experiences abroad to personal experiences and more. Traveling with someone else really helps me better process what’s going on and take in the whole experience. Being with someone else can also help in sticky situations, after all, two heads are better than one. Not to mention, simply the companionship of another person never hurts.

I don’t mind traveling alone and I would never let it stop me from taking a trip, but more often than not, having the company of another person makes the experience better.

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Friday, 21 March: I arrived at my hostel in Venice in the early afternoon. For those who don’t know, the only way around Venice is either by foot or water bus; there are absolutely no place for vehicles bar the bus and car park immediately after the bridge. My hostel was on a island called Giudecca separate from the main cluster islands, so that left my options limited to the water bus. Although it’s slow and a bit pricey, riding the water bus is defiantly a neat experience. Once I got back to the main islands, I visited some main tourist locations like Piazza San Marco, bits of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, although it was disguised by scaffolding.

Saturday, 22 March: I took a walking tour in the morning. It was an interesting tour in that we didn’t hit the main attractions, but rather less known places with some history such as the smallest street, oldest bridge and several churches. After that, I took one final walk around the Grand Canal before heading out. That evening, I rented a car (thank goodness I know how to drive a manual transmission) and dove about forty minutes northwest to a venue in the middle of nowhere (hence the car rental) to see Enter Shikari. I saw them about a month ago in London with a crowd of about 10,000 people, but this venue had no more than 500 people. During the opening band, Modestep, the guitarist for Enter Shikari, Rory, was standing right behind me! A little later, the singer, Rou, and drummer, Rob, were hanging out at the merchandise booth. I got a few pictures and the two of them signed my ticket. Their set was amazing. Although it was the same songs they played last month, it was a totally different experience in a small venue. At one point, Rou brought an amplifier in the crowd and stood on it for a song while the crowd made a circle pit around him and during the last song, Rory came into the crowd and played and the crowd promptly lifted him up. Not to mention, they both were climbing on things throughout the set. After the set, I waited by the merchandise table, hoping to get the other two members to sign my ticket. The crowd was dying down and I assumed they went to bed, which I understand, it was a late show (it ended at about 12:30AM). On social media, Enter Shikari was running a contest: for everyday of the tour, they autographed a group photo (Polaroid) taken in front of the venue they were playing that night. Although I didn’t win, the winner didn’t show, so the merchandise manager gave me the Polaroid before I left. It was an amazing night, I’m thankful I got several signed items and got a chance to talk to Rou and Rob. After returning my car in the wee hours of the morning and waiting for the hourly night water bus, I was finally back at my hostel, at least for a few hours before I had to catch my train that morning.

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Whenever I say the word “hostel,” my family cringes and probably pictures me sleeping with twenty other people in a filthy basement. On the contrary, I love hostels and think they are a great alternative to hotels for travelers on a budget. I am here to your challenge preconceived notions about hostels and tell it how it really is: the good, the bad and the ugly (but mostly the good).

Although hostels aren’t as common in North America, some European destinations have over one hundred hostels in a single city. You can only choose one so with over a hundred options, how does one go about selection a hostel? That varies from person to person. Personally, here are the steps I take: first, I filter by price and rating using my choice of search engine, HostelWorld. I like to stay at hostels under $30 a night that also have at least an 85% rating. If I get too many hostels, I narrow it down to better ratings and cheaper prices, and likewise, if I don’t get enough hostels, I broaden my preferences to lower rated hostels, until I get about a dozen hostels. Then, I select what facilities I prefer, such as a kitchen, lockers, free WiFi, free breakfast and luggage storage. Of the remaining hostels, I compare locations (I prefer hostels close to a Metro station for easy public transit), types of rooms (I prefer four to six bedroom dorms with an en suite) and photographs to make my final choice.

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Welcome to another segment where I compare and contrast life in the United States and in the United Kingdom. After my exams, I compared the academic side of studying abroad by talking about my British university experience thus far (you can read about it here). Now, I will expand on life in the halls, at least at Arizona State and Sussex:

My first year of university, we were split up by our majors and put into dorms where almost everyone had a roommate. It is typical to share a bathroom with another pair of roommates of the same sex and have a co-ed floor. Most of the Arizona State residences didn’t have any sort of kitchen: my room came with a small fridge and microwave and in the common area, we had a larger fridge, microwave and washing up sink, but no way to make any proper meals. You were expected to get an on-campus meal plan, which consisted of a number of meals from eight a week to unlimited and an fixed allowance per semester for other restaurants on campus like Burger King, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Subway and Dominos. After your first year, you are expected to move off campus to a nearby apartment complex or house. There are at least half a dozen apartment complexes made especially for students within walking distance of campus and several dozen more within a few miles of campus, as well. In these apartments, you share a kitchen space with about one to four other people (almost always of your own sex) and have your own room and often your own bathroom (if not, you typically share it with one other person). If you can’t find a roommate, the apartment will give one to you and you don’t have to worry about paying for the extra room. The apartments are usually furnished and you can enjoy a wide range of remedies such as a computer room, game room, rooftop decks, balconies, a pool, a gym and more. The application process is easy, the down payments are minimal and people working for the apartment practically beg you to live there.

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