How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

So, you want to go teach English in Spain next year? You’re going to need a student visa for that!

You’ve filled out the application on Profex. You’ve gotten your regional placement (hopefully the one you really wanted!) and now you’ve gotten your city placement and school assignment.  You’re now at the stage where you will need to apply for your student visa to enter Spain and carry out the duties of your contract for the next 8-9 months.

Or maybe you’ve just begun the program application(s) and want to read up on the visa process.

Either way, you’ve come to the right place!

application for student visa form

Ready to begin your paperwork trail? The bureaucratic fun has only just begun!

 

**Disclaimer: I did apply for my student visa at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago back in August 2014 some details regarding my experience may not be relevant to how the Consulate handles student visa applications today. While much of the process is still the same, I still want to warn you in advance to use this post as a guideline and always confirm the exact information on the Consulate’s website (linked below).  And to clarify, I only applied for the student visa once and then renewed my student stay card (Tarjeta de Identificación del Extranjero or TIE) every other year I was participating in the Auxiliares de Conversacion program. More info on how to renew that card soon.**

 

What you’ll need:

  • National Visa application form
  • Original passport (and copy) and second ID (driver’s license, State ID, current student ID card or voter’s registration card (Note: make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the program’s end date. If it’s not, get more information on how to renew your passport first.)
  • One recent passport sized photo (2″x2″)
  • Copy (and original) of the Acceptance Letter (Carta de Nombramiento)
  • Police Background Check from either
          • State Department of Justice

         

         

     

     

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          • FBI Records

         

         

     

     

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  • Medical Certificate
  • Self-addressed Express Mail envelope from USPS (if you don’t live in or near the Chicago metropolitan area)

For more detailed information direct from the Chicago Consulate, read their informational sheet.

 

Step 1: Filling out the National Visa Application form

If you, too, are wondering why the form says “application form is free,” I wish I could tell you why they printed that on the form.

This is just the beginning of the confusing world that is Spanish bureaucracy but I’m here to be your guide through it. 🙂 

 

applying for student visa at Chicago Consulate (lobby)

Before you can set one foot in the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, you’ve got some documents to gather and forms to fill out.

Anyway, first, you will need to save and print off from the Consulate’s website. Print two copies and fill them both out so that you will have a completed copy of your own just in case there are any problems or confusion with your form. The default language for the student visa form is in (British) English so just bear with the Consulate and their translation or use of different terminology.

Here are some tips on filling out certain boxes you might be unsure of: 

Box 12: Check Ordinary Passport since your passport most likely doesn’t match any of the other types listed.

Box 13: It’s a little bit unnecessary to ask this but for “number of travel documents,” put 1.
Box 17: List both your mailing address and email address. It’s a small space but try and write neatly. (Could they give you a little more space, though?!)

Box 18: Unless you have residency in another country other than the USA (for example, Canada or Mexico), list the ID number for it and when it expires. It’s highly likely that you won’t need to do this, but this is just extra information.

Box 19: For “current profession,” I would suggest listing student or recent graduate if you’ve just graduated from college. Remember: this is not to say that someone with a particular profession will get approved for the visa and another will not. The program accepts anyone who meets the requirements and has a Bachelor’s degree for any type of major. I personally wrote self-employed because that was the most accurate profession for me at the time. 

filling out the student visa form

Box 20: Principle Purpose of Journey – Select Studies, as the auxiliar de conversacion program is viewed by the Spanish government as a continuing education program.

Box 21: I was told by the Consulate in 2014 that I could enter Spain up to 2-4 weeks before my visa kicked in. If I did, I would have to go to the nearest police station and get a stamp the day I arrive (especially if I connected through another European country) to mark the start date of my stay. Try to put an estimated 7-10 days before the latest date you’d like to arrive in Spain before the program starts. (Ex: my visa began September 1st and expired in mid-December. Though I believe I had initially put September 15th as the start date). 

Box 22: Number of entries requested  –  Check more than two.  Your printed visa will show “MULTI” in the box listed Number of Entries. The main reason you will request this type of visa is because your TIE (Foreigner’s Identity Card) won’t be ready by the time your first round of vacations come up. You will be covered on each entry and exit from Spain while your student stay card is being made and your visa form is still valid. (Normally up to December or January of the following year).

apartment renting in Spain: always best to rent while you're there, not before!

Featured here: one of the smallest apartments I’ve ever lived in. (Santiago de Compostela)

Box 23: Postal Address of Applicant in Spain – A lot of first-time student visa applicants are super confused by this line on the application form. Keep in mind that never, under any circumstances, is it OK (or recommended) to say yes to, wire a deposit for or sign a contract for an apartment when you have never looked at it or visited that city before! The simpler way to fill out this box is to put the address of your school. The Consulate won’t be contacting them directly to see if you can actually live there so don’t worry. Another thing other applicants have done is put the address of the AirBnb where they’re staying temporarily. I put the address of my elementary school and I had no issues, so I recommend doing this.

Skip Boxes 24-27. You won’t be issued a Foreign National Identity Number (NIE) until you have been granted the visa, so don’t worry about this box. In my experience, the NIE (as it shall now be known for you) is listed on the visa the Consulate affixes to your passport. So, just file this information away for the future.

Box 28: Data (Contact info) of educational establishment – Put the name and address of your school. It should start with CEIP (Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria), IES (Instituto de Educación Superior) or EOI (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas). I’ve listed the acronyms out just for your own information as I know these might look strange to you being a first-time applicant. For the Intended Start and Intended Finish dates, list the exact dates that are on your letter of appointment (carta de nombramiento). If you’re in Madrid and working for the Comunidad or Ministry, the start date should be the first Monday in October and the finish date, approximately June 30th. All other regions end on May 31st, unless otherwise specified on your letter. (Skip the remaining boxes that ask for more information if applying as a minor.)

Remember, this form is free, but you will have to print it out. 

Your paperwork stack is just going to get bigger after this…

**Personal note: For general reference, once you start filling out the National Visa form, go ahead and make your visa appointment at the Consulate about a month out. I started the student visa process in mid-July 2014 and secured an appointment in the morning in mid-August. I was placed in the region of Galicia so I received my placement in mid-May and my school placement in late May. If you are applying to work in Madrid your first year, I would recommend you schedule a visa appointment immediately after receiving your school placement (early-to-mid July) so that you can give yourself enough time to prepare the necessary documents for this visa.

Step 2: Make necessary copies of your passport, driver’s license or voter’s registration card and get your passport photos taken

making photocopies for your student visa application

Hopefully, your experience won’t be like this. (Side note, this is a stock photo, not me.)

This may have changed since I last did this process but I was able to make color copies of my passport and driver’s license in color. Over the past couple of years, I’ve done a couple of paperwork processes here in Spain and most copy shops aren’t allowing you to make color copies of your IDs. This may also be the case in the US but good news: black and white copies will save you a little extra money!

As I stated above in the initial list, you will need to take and submit two 2-inch by 2-inch passport sized photos for the Spanish student visa. These can be taken at any drug store or supermarket and it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I went just up the street from where I lived in Dayton, Ohio at the time to the nearest CVS Pharmacy and got my photos taken. I paid about $12 at the time but the price has since gone up to $14.99. Take a look at your options here on their website.

Cost: $14.99

Step 3: Apply for a State or Federal Background Check

applying for a background check for a student visa

This will be the document you’ll need to plan ahead for the most (besides the visa) so get started early!

A little bit of a back story on my situation: I am from Ohio but I moved to Florida to go to college and later to live there for a couple of years as a post-graduate. The Consulate webpage states that if you’ve lived in any other state in the last 5 years you must complete an FBI Background Check. In addition to this, if you’ve lived in another country besides the US (study abroad semesters don’t count – I checked), you will need to request a background check from the respective country. 

Since I haven’t done this process in quite a while, I retraced my steps in my Inbox (I save everything!) and found the email with the shipping information from my FBI Background check. Sometime between 2014 and now, the FBI Channeler I used changed their name but in this section, I will be providing an updated and accurate description of how to submit the application for an FBI Background check.

First of all, if you have a ton of time on your hands at this point, you can request it directly through the FBI website and pay considerably less for the report. In 2014, the estimated time to receive your criminal history report from the FBI was 12 weeks. In 2019, the website estimates it will take 14 to 16 weeks!

I would honestly skip doing the process through the FBI and use an FBI Channeler. 

missing information for student visas

The last thing you want is to have your report get lost in the mail, right?

I only had about a month before my visa appointment at the Consulate so I had to get this step checked off the list relatively fast. I chose to go with an FBI Channeler in California called My FBI Report (now known as National Background Information. They were very fast and efficient and I was able to download their forms and enter my debit card information on the form and send it off. 

I chose the 2 Day Priority Shipping option from the USPS and was notified by their customer service when my payment had been processed and then received a separate email with a tracking link for my package. I would’ve had a 100% stress-free experience with this Channeler had I not had a slight issue with the payment. The reason? I had closed my bank account in Florida (the branch wasn’t located in Ohio) but hadn’t switched over to a new bank yet so I put my pre-paid PayPal debit card on my form since I received my earnings via PayPal anyway. I didn’t double check to make sure I had enough money loaded onto the card in order to pay for the report processing fees and shipping. Nevertheless, they called me just after I sent it off in mid-July and we worked out the issue together.

All in all, the cost for this was as follows: 

FBI Criminal Report: $39.95

2-Day USPS Priority Shipping: $14.00

Cost: $43.95

If you’re really pressed for time, you can use FedEx overnight shipping for $40 and receive it the next day. 

I still had about 3 weeks before I had to go to my visa appointment at the Consulate so I didn’t need rush shipping. I will explain why I chose Priority shipping, however, in the next step.

Step 4: Request the Apostille of the Hague for your background check

Apostille of the Hague for student visa applications

Wouldn’t it be cool if official seals came back like this sweet Medieval style one?

Spoiler alert: This document was the main reason why I purchased Priority shipping for the FBI criminal record. I didn’t find the expediting services for apostilles affordable nor was I in THAT much of a rush so I opted for the regular shipping services for it. I only needed a specific number of days to complete, mail and receive the Apostille of the Hague in my hands before I traveled to Chicago for my appointment.

You may want to request an additional copy of your FBI Background check but keep in mind that the Chicago Consulate will most likely scan your original documents and hand them back to you. At least, this was my experience.

The Apostille of The Hague is a document which authenticates the signatures and seals on public documents (birth certificates, court orders, background checks, etc) and is recognized by the countries who are a part of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty. 

It’s like a cover letter that’s fastened to the front of the public document you will submit. Once the apostille is attached to the document, you won’t be able to separate the two. So, make a photocopy of your background check (just in case) before you send it off.

usps location for mailing applications

You’ll want to get this document mailed off ASAP.

At the time I applied for this in late July 2014, there were hardly any step-by-step guides on the Internet on how to apply for the apostille.

So how did I get this done? 

I went to the U.S. Department of State website to get more information. I learned that FBI Background checks cannot be apostilled by a state government office but need to be sent to the Office of Authentications in Washington D.C.

The website has a couple of twists and turns but detailed information about requesting apostilles can be found under Apostille Requirements (click on U.S. Department of State Apostille Requirements) and then the exact steps, fees and mailing address for the authentication office can be found in this side tab.

It was a fairly straightforward process for me and I had just enough time to complete this before my trip to Chicago and visa appointment.

But, as the website states, it can take up to 12 business days to process your request so plan wisely!

All I needed was to do was fill out the application form, get a money order from the USPS closest to my house and pay $8 as well as purchase a USPS pre-paid Priority envelope, which together cost about $15.

I sent the completed application form, money order, pre-paid and self-addressed USPS (Print both your address and the Office of Authentication’s Physical Address very clearly) off to the address below:

Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA  20166-1206

And I received it just a couple of days before I left for Chicago, which was early August.

Cost: $15

Step 5: Visit your general physician or health clinic to receive a medical certificate

doctor's check-up for visa requirements

Of all the steps on this list, this one was the trickiest for me. Maybe you can relate…

If you’re like me, chances are you don’t have (good) health insurance in the US and may not have easy access to a family practitioner.

By a small miracle, I was able to find a shortcut (and free option) for this step. I’ve read on the Facebook groups that other English teachers from the US have gone to CVS Minute Clinics or something similar in order to fulfill this requirement.

It was nearing my last available week to do last minute things for my visa appointment at the beginning of August (immediately after I was going on vacation within the US) and I was having a difficult time trying to find a clinic or an inexpensive doctor’s office who would sign the required form from the Spanish Consulate’s website. 

Why was it so complicated?

It’s because the Spanish Consulate in Chicago requires its applicants to submit a clean medical certificate with the following wording: 

“The applicant, First and Last Name, has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health
Regulation 2005.”

(Don’t bother clicking on the link to the PDF they have listed on the instructions sheet because the link is broken.)

Does anyone really enjoy going to the hospital?

Well, the main issue most doctors have with this statement is the part where it mentions free of contagious diseases. After calling a couple of health clinics where they charged upwards of $300 to test for all necessary contagious diseases, I didn’t let the fear of completing this step paralyze me and took to the Internet to search for alternatives.

I didn’t earn a very high full-time income as a freelancer that year so I thought I could perhaps use my low-income status to my advantage.

I searched for free medical clinics in the Dayton area and surrounding counties.

While I didn’t succeed in making an appointment in Greene County (the county where I resided at the time), I found available schedules and services at the clinic in the neighboring Montgomery County, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County

Since this part of the process was so foreign and difficult for me, I ended up going to this clinic the afternoon before I left on a bus to Chicago! 

I don’t recommend doing this because the clinic could turn you away especially if they have a high volume of patients and a shortage of staff but I took the risk anyway.

My brother accompanied me to this appointment and we both got to experience the services of a free county clinic. I explained to them how I missed the only day the Greene County clinic was open (Tuesday) and that I needed a physical and general blood work for a visa appointment I was going to out-of-state. 

Overall, I didn’t have to wait too long to be seen and had a very positive experience with the doctor. He understood that I wasn’t going to a third world country to live and teach and that they have updated medical facilities and modern medicine to treat me with, on the off chance I did get severely sick during my stay (which thankfully I did not).

I was fully checked out, did a blood analysis and received the following signed medical certificate on the clinic’s letterhead:

 

Cost: $0

Step 6: Get all your documents organized for your appointment!

You’re almost finished – keeping moving along!

Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel for this process?

So, you’ve gathered all of your documents and you have them in hand, almost ready to take off for Chicago.

This is the shortest section of all the steps because it’s just a matter of double checking your stuff.

Make sure you have a copy of every document you will turn in. Don’t staple any of your documents and copies together but do get a reliable file folder to store all of them in. Some people have merely arranged in order of what needs to be turned in at the Consulate (as per their list) and others have added Post-it notes on the side to easily shuffle through the stack of papers.

Whatever you do, take extra odds and ends like:

  • Tape
  • Mini-stapler
  • Paperclips
  • A back-up folder in case yours rips or falls apart
  • Extra blue or black pens

Also, print out a sample itinerary of your travel plans (show you plan to purchase a round trip ticket, but it’s not necessary) but DO NOT buy a flight until you have your visa in hand.

There is one last thing you will need to purchase before you leave for Chicago. It’s especially crucial you do this beforehand so you’re not standing in a gigantic line at some USPS location inside the mega-metropolis. It’s your pre-paid self-addressed USPS Express Envelope. 

I got this on my last day in Ohio for a couple of weeks at the local post office and it only cost $19.95 in 2014.

Cost (for 2019): $25.50

Step 7: Travel to Chicago and be early for your appointment

Spanish consulate in Chicago, IL

Consulate General of Spain Chicago’s location. Your big day has arrived!

At the time I left to submit this visa application, I lived in Dayton, Ohio (after having moved back there temporarily from Jacksonville, Florida, my college town), which is about a 7-hour drive away from downtown Chicago.

I moved back home for about 6 months to save up the money I needed to move abroad to Spain for a school year (which ended up turning into a much longer stay) and to pay for this visa application.

The easiest and most inexpensive way for me to travel to Chicago the weekend before my visa appointment was to use Megabus. Since Dayton wasn’t a city Megabus left from (and there was no way I was trying Greyhound again), I had to travel down to near downtown Cincinnati. 

Again, my faithful brother drove me to Cincy and took advantage of visiting one of his friends who lives down there permanently, so it turned into a fun mini-road trip. Cincinnati is about an hour’s drive from our house in Dayton so it was easy enough to manage.

The price I paid for my one-way bus ticket (since I was going to a different state after my appointment) was only $5! (plus, a service charge to use my debit card to pay). 

(Today it normally costs about $25 to book a one-way ticket from Cincinnati-Chicago.) 

I found cheap accommodation for just a couple of nights, used my Ventra transportation card again, explored the city and treated myself to a nice meal after my appointment.

It’s almost time for your appointment!

After exploring the city for a couple of days, it was finally Monday morning and time to get ready for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago at 11 a.m CST.

I had one last thing to do that morning after I left my accommodation and that was to pay for the fee for the student visa!

I left this step towards the very end because I didn’t want to risk dropping or misplacing the last and expensive money order I had to submit. The student visa (visado de estudiante) fee was $160 in 2014 and surprisingly it’s stayed the same up until 2019. If you are seeing this much later after this post has been published, check the updated list of fees.

So, early Monday morning I went to make one extra copy of my ID at the Chicago Public Library and then went to the nearest USPS office to buy the money order.

I made it to my appointment about a half hour early and waited for my turn, after taking a number.

The appointment is referred to as an interview but it only consists of you turning in your documents to a consulate officer and verifying you have everything you ask.

While I was a bit nervous for my appointment and wanting to just get it over with, my experience overall was uneventful. Minus the fact that the consulate worker I submitted my paperwork to nearly forgot to ask me for my medical certificate! But, just maintain a clear head and don’t lose track of the order in which you’re submitting the documents.

At this Consulate, you can speak to the staff in either Spanish or English. I started in Spanish but the lady switched to English perhaps because she was used to using and hearing it in their office (this is not the case in Miami, I’ve heard!)

I also met and chatted with one other auxiliar-to-be and she was simply requesting a new student visa for the upcoming school year. At this point, I was reassured about my acceptance into the program because she stated, “anyone with a heartbeat can get into this program.”

After a short appointment and taking a couple of photos in the main hallway before I left, I was finished.

It’s over!

Step 8: You’re finished – do something to celebrate and wait for your visa to arrive!

cheers to the finished product!

Congratulations! You’re going to teach English in Spain next school year. 🙂

You’ve finished all of the steps and now all you have to do is wait for your passport to be sent back to you!

Do something to celebrate your accomplishment however you see fit. 

I went to a Spanish restaurant in downtown Chicago and ordered a really delicious paella and drink. I got a sign (in my mind) my visa would get approved because the total for my meal was $23.09, which was ironically my application number for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program. Go figure! haha

The wait time?

Though the consulate officer will tell you that it could take 4-6 weeks for your visa to arrive, the Chicago Consulate was on the ball that year in 2014 and they processed, approved and sent visas back in record time.

Date of visa appointment (and submission): August 11th, 2014.

Date of returned passport: August 28th, 2014.

It only took 17 days for my visa to be approved and sent back to me! I could’ve checked the tracking link attached to my Express mailing envelope but I basically forgot about it and was just pleasantly surprised that afternoon I went to check the mail. 🙂

Don’t bank on the fact that this Consulate tends to process things quickly so be sure to give yourself up to 6 weeks for them to return it and before you need to leave for Spain.

Summer is the busiest time for foreign consulates as tens of thousands of study or teaching abroad students are applying for the same types of visas you are. But, if you would like to check the status of your visa, you can go to this website and stay up-to-date on it.

Your year abroad (or more) in Spain awaits you!

All that’s left is to prepare for your year abroad teaching English in Spain! 

Did I miss anything in these steps? Do you have any extra questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments!

 

8 Stories of International Love & Dating From My Travels

I’ve been a long time reader of the solo female travel blog Adventurous Kate who always strives to give you her real and honest opinion about a place or bring up a controversial topic that’s been floating around the travel or political spheres and confront it head-on. She’s also quite brave and passionate and when I re-read her post on international love stories about a year ago, I knew I wanted to one day write a similar type of post.

But in my case, this post has a different purpose.

You see, I’m getting married soon.

The main reason I want to get this type of post out into the world is to metaphorically close the door firmly shut on my past experiences in love and dating. I will still remember these moments for the rest of my life but the effect they’ve had on my heart has faded. And will continue to fade with time until they’re but a distant memory.

For a while love took its sweet time to walk into my life but I still clung to the hope it would finally arrive.

However, about two years ago, at age 28, I was nearly at the brink of giving up on the idea I would ever find someone with whom I could share my love and affection. All sorts of crazy thoughts ran through my mind constantly in the early part of 2017 but I still clung to the hope that one day it would happen. One day, I would meet the man God had saved just for me.

And I did, though I had no clue where this particular man fit into my life at the time. I had my nose pressed far too close to the big picture back then. (I reflect on the things I never thought I’d do in my twenties in this short piece.)

It was a seemingly endless and winding road to get to where I am today: engaged to the love of my life.

But I made it.

Before I ever dated anyone, I learned how to enjoy meals alone, take myself out and savor great wine! (Featured: a glass of Bordeaux)

It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey and I spent most of it single, not reaching the point where I went on my first official date until the age of 26 but it’s all been worth it. And each experience served a greater purpose.

Because if any one of those experiences hadn’t taken place, not only would I not be the person I am today, but I have reason to believe that I would not be with the man who I’m with today.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff (and perhaps the real reason why you clicked on this post in the first place).

If you would like to play along and go on my travel scavenger hunt, here’s how it works. This type of logic is called Adriadne’s Thread. The idea is for you to give someone a list of about 10 places within one city you’ve lived or spent a lot of time in and a story for each. The catch is that you don’t tell the traveler which place matches each story, but simply let them figure it out. Since I’ve followed suit and decided to share short love or dating stories and they all didn’t happen in the same city, I’m going to expand the scavenger hunt to all over the world…sort of. 😛

(Spoiler alert: none of these began in North America or anywhere else but all took place in quite a few different parts of Europe).

We had only known each other for a month in person but had been in contact virtually for a few years before we saw each other again.

It was by accident that I had even met you because we had no friends in common. We came from different countries and backgrounds. We weren’t even doing a semester exchange at the same university or living in the same part of the city.

It was purely coincidental that you met the traveling ex-Italian army officer turned musician who had heard and met my friends and I playing music and singing on the lawn of your university one afternoon.

But I suppose that’s destiny: you can’t truly comprehend it.

And then after exchanging long messages, handwritten letters and photos all in Spanish – which wasn’t even our native language – I visited your hometown and we met up for dinner.

You were a gentleman in every aspect of the word, even down to paying the bill at the restaurant for both of us. I found it odd that earlier in the night, you didn’t want to help me find an ATM before we went into the Indian restaurant we chose to dine in.

I never did care for your native language nor found it intriguing until I heard you speak it flawlessly in front of me in the restaurant and placed our orders. I guess that changes when you know and care about someone who has spent their whole life speaking it.

The conversation flowed naturally and we reminisced about our study abroad home, your recent visit there and my upcoming visit in the spring. We thought back to the people we were then and who was sitting before us. A lot had changed since then but our common interests and friendship hadn’t.

I had told someone in my shared hostel dorm that my dinner with you was a date but we never spoke about what it was. I don’t consider it a date, even though you graciously waved away my polite plea to pay for my half of the meal.

We both were no longer students and you had a good job at last. I was really proud and happy for you.

It was so good to see you but as we gave each other the traditional “dos besos” we knew so well, something deep within told me that I wouldn’t see you again.

We would message and stay in touch sporadically for a couple more years until our communication gently faded into silence. I didn’t foresee this happening immediately after I left your city but a lingering thought as I made my way to my next destination was the confirmation I needed.

With the last postcard I would ever send to you in hand, something deep inside of me told me that it was okay to let you go. We weren’t meant to be anything more than friends even though I had dreamed of so many different scenarios, so many different endings to our story. Distance, language barriers, cultural differences and fear of the unknown were too much for us.

The funny thing about our story is that I had to meet a Galician guy who was studying in my hometown in order to have been able to meet you.

But since the amount of evangelical Christians in our region was small, I probably would’ve met you one way or another.

Or perhaps not at all because you were and still are a med student.

The type of person my roommate warned me never to get involved in.

If I ever developed feelings for someone who was a med student or even worse a doctor, I should rip them out of me and stomp on them.

Or something like that. (She was in love with and dated a med student turned doctor for nearly decade and let’s just say it didn’t work out.)

You were so kind to me and helped me get settled into my new city. I still remember when we met for the first time in my friend’s church in a smaller, overlooked town and you told me the two of you grew up together.

Of all the people I met that Sunday with my travel buddy of a friend, I can’t explain why you and I had a stronger connection than anyone else.

It was from that first meeting and over the summer that we stayed in touch by message or email and you asked me all sorts of questions about the English language and culture while you spent part of a summer immersed in what’s now known as Robin Hood’s old stomping grounds.

As much as I enjoyed meeting up with you, going to church with you the times you didn’t go home to your village and our cultural and linguistic discussions, there were obvious things that wouldn’t work out and kept us as friends.

The biggest thing was age. I was four years older and I was farther into my career and working years. You wouldn’t jump into the working world until much, much later.

I had bigger and passionate dreams to chase then. Now.

I couldn’t put my life on hold.

And I can’t simply brush off the fact that someone tells me they would never live in either North or South America. I want to fully explore the latter continent but the former is my home. It may not be somewhere I will live again but I don’t want someone to close the door permanently on that idea without having ever experienced life there.

You were handsome, funny and quirky – just like me, but I realized later that year that you needed to have your own life experiences and follow the path set before you. I couldn’t wait for you to mature, become more experienced or to change.

I still wish you the best and thank you for being a Christian friend who encouraged me in my walk. I especially needed that encouragement and those prayers when I started to lose faith and hope in my journey the following months and year later.

This isn’t going to be a very long story but it’s memorable nonetheless.

You’re now nothing but a stranger and someone I once had breakfast with in a major city. If I were to see you in a crowd or bump shoulders with you, I wouldn’t recognize you.

However, your act of kindness will stick with me for a while longer.

You were the first person I met from a popular online dating site.

You were a native of the city where I was visiting and passed through multiple times before…but this visit was different.

I had never just happened to be in a city I didn’t live in and decided to go on a date with someone.

It was just the beginning of the number I would find myself brave enough to do and ever so slowly crack my introverted shell wide open.

Our conversation flowed quite nicely and you complimented me on my choice of breakfast that morning: pan con tomate y aceite de oliva. As a passing, yet flirty comment, you said I might be more Spanish than American after a couple years of living here.

Though I had a lovely time and it added to the good experiences I had in your city that week, there were obvious things and beliefs that wouldn’t between us.

If I remember correctly, you identified as an atheist. (So that’s a deal breaker for a second date.) We had a few main things in common (travel, languages, cultural fascinations, etc) but not enough to form even a casual relationship.

But, it was the reason you gave for wanting to pay for my breakfast was what I’ll always remember. It could’ve very well have been a flirty response but I felt it was sincere.

“Eres unainvitada en mi ciudad y sería un placer invitarte.”
[English: You’re a guest in my city and it would be a pleasure to treat you for breakfast.]

Thank you for your kindness. (And for being old school and suggesting we call each other to chat when I returned back to my old city, though we never spoke again.)


I’ll be honest, I couldn’t stop staring at you the entire (and only) night we met and went out for drinks and tapas.

I know he’s not young-looking anymore but you looked like the Spanish Mel Gibson.

You spoke an interesting mix of languages: French, German and Spanish (and another regional one). You had lived in Switzerland and traveled all over. You most oftentimes traveled to a location to race and cycle professionally.

I even remember you showing and explaining to me what the cross-country cycling competition in the US was like and how you wanted to enter. And happily pay $3,000 to do so.

I didn’t quite understand that but I admired your passion for your sport. I also, for the life of me, could not understand just a few moments later why I had to express what I was vehemently explaining to you with such wide hand movements.

If I had realized that our table at the first bar was so small and my glass of Albariño was so close to me, I would’ve controlled myself.

But I didn’t.

And, to my horror, my hand bumped the wine glass and it toppled over the side of the table near the wall, splashing my purse and tarnishing my “I’ve never broken dishware while on a date before” reputation.

It was that night that I learned how to laugh off embarrassment while on a date and embrace the silly moments.

You taught me an expression that went something like, “eres tan bueno que ni has roto un plato (you’re such a goody two shoes that you’ve never broken a plate) and I’ll never forget that moment.

Though age, location and similar interests (plus, you showed me photos of your new kitten!) were correctly aligned, you didn’t share my faith nor were things ever perfectly natural between us. I forced things too much.

But even still, I hope you always remember me as that one American girl who broke her wine glass while on a date.

Of all my travel love stories, this one by far was my saddest. And it was the most definitive of them all. This one pseudo relationship taught me so much in such a short period of time that it still blows my mind to this day.

How much I could learn about myself and seeing the true colors of someone else in just a six month time period was astounding.

But this guy, you as he will only be referred to in this post, was probably my biggest mistake and lesson of them all.

How you dropped into my life and how I was ultimately plucked from yours, I’ll never be able to explain.

But, knowing what I know now, I should’ve dropped you the first day you became unresponsive to one of my messages and chickened out on meeting me in person, going on the trip we had planned nearly a month before.

You always said all the right things but your follow through on anything besides a Skype call here and there sucked.

What sucked more was how I let myself give you chance after chance when I should’ve said enough. This guy doesn’t care about me.

I had such little experience in dating then that I let myself be used and emotionally abused by you.

But being hurt by you just made me stronger.

Though my anger has faded greatly with time, I’ll never forget the blaring warning bell that went off in my head the first moment I saw you standing by a familiar statue in a large, central square.

In the city I was set to move to for you in a couple of months.

I looked around to see if anyone else heard it but I was the only one. The weekend didn’t get off to a good start to say the least.

And what was worse was the following day, in 35°C+ (97°F basically) weather, you left me stranded in the biggest park in the city. Because I was a few minutes late.

You clearly had better things to do.

But the heartbreak and eventual blocking on WhatsApp that followed hurt. And so was the realization of how stupid I was to open myself up to the idea of love with the wrong person.

My friends consoled me upon my return to a much more refreshing part of the country. “Being in love makes us do silly things,” they said. “He didn’t deserve you. You’re better off without him.”

And I was.

More so, I was extremely glad I didn’t buy a dress for a stupid guy in order to look the way he wanted me to look.

We had met a few months before but we just happened to be visiting the same city at the same time. How often does that happen?

My friend and I met you at a traditional restaurant I suggested we all try. It was near the harbor and the main square but it was dark so we couldn’t go out to see the surrounding area.

I don’t know what we enjoyed most that night: swapping observations about the city or the burning smoked sausage tapa we tried. And what I remembered ordering my first time in that restaurant a few years prior.

It wasn’t my first time experiencing that city but it was my first time being there and understanding the language. It was unforgettable.

The only thing I would change about that night was how much time we spent with you. Part of us arriving late was my fault – but then again, when isn’t it my fault? haha

The thing you don’t know is that I was messaging the guy I was interested in at the time in my third language and I couldn’t get over how cool that was.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have even wasted my breath or third language knowledge on that immature adolescent “man.” I should’ve spent more time chatting with you and getting to know you better.

My travel buddy -and friend today- tried to dangle you in front of me as someone I should be consider being with. But then again, I don’t know what her true motive was. Maybe she was just giving a friendly suggestion.

Who knows.

If I could go back in time and passed by us in the street, I would’ve yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hey, your friend is right! Don’t waste your time on that stupid, immature English guy you’ve been texting for months.”

I will say that my over feeling and level of comfort with you never changed from the moment I met you. You were cool and laid back and you loved to travel.

Why couldn’t that be enough for me to want to get to know you better?

Well, I would have to let time run its course and hope our paths would cross again one day.

You were also one of the coincidental meetings in my travels that I can’t explain.

And you were almost a mistake I would’ve severely regretted but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

I can’t ever forget an important tip I learned from having met you and visiting your hometown, several hundred miles away from where I live now.

It’s funny to think how if I had changed my location on my online dating profile right after I had moved to my new city, you probably wouldn’t have ever found me and messaged me.

I suppose everyone crosses your path for a reason.

There were things about your character that I admired and respected at the time. You also showed me that not every British guy is a jerk and most are gentlemanly, provided they have matured first.

I’ll always be grateful for the high amount of respect you showed me during my visit and your hospitality. You were very kind and sweet but something was missing in our interactions.

Something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time because I had nothing to compare a kiss to back then.

Passion. That’s what was missing.

Though kissing you for the very first time next to a lighthouse and the seashore was amazing at the time (and helped me get over my shyness towards physical affection) our kisses lacked passion. Feeling.

I remember chuckling after our lips parted and you said, “See? Kissing doesn’t have to lead to anything else.”

Your eyes communicated something different but I didn’t confront it at the time.

Later on in the weekend, I did come to the realization of just how different our standards for a relationship weren’t equal. You didn’t share the same values that I upheld myself to.

You were perfect on paper but you weren’t right for me. We weren’t right for each other.

And most importantly, nothing in my life connected me to where you lived.

But I just want to thank you for indirectly showing me how important the setting of a first kiss is. That truly made a difference in my first (and last) serious relationship and how beautifully it began.

And still continues today.

Think you can guess the cities these love stories took place?

The full list coming on March 1st. Stay tuned…

1,000 Days Away From Home: A Complete Guide to Surviving Life Abroad [E-book Announcement]

Hola!

I’m Sarah, the owner of this website and a young, travel-loving American expat who lives abroad in Spain. I aspire to have more stamps in my passport than years on this Earth. I’m multi-lingual, curious about the world and currently have made my home base Madrid, the capital city of Spain. My main desire when I travel is to show my audience how other people in the world live through my experiences And my main goal when I travel is to encourage other Christian women to explore the world, even going to countries the media threatens to convince us are dangerous. As long as you do plenty of research and use common sense when you travel, no place in the world should be off-limits. 

That’s my background and travel philosophy but let’s get to the real reason why you’re here. 

The E-book!

I’ve compiled and answered a list of questions you might have as you decide whether or not you would like to support this new endeavor of mine and purchase this book. Let’s take a look:

  •  What will the book be about? 

This comprehensive guide will elaborate on what it’s like to live abroad on your own from the very first days and weeks to staying away for months and then years without returning home.

September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn't return to any US city until 2018!
September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn’t return to any US city until 2018!

How the idea was born: 

I initially planned to be away from home for 1 year (after a previous stint of 9 months abroad straight) but due to travel and work opportunities as well as travel restrictions when my visa was in renewal, until June 30th, 2018 I hadn’t been home for a total of 2 years and 10 months. I saw a few friends during that time period but I wasn’t able to see my parents, brother, family friends or college friends at all. After a year and a half of living abroad in Spain, I started writing down my thoughts and tips on what it’s like to stay abroad for long-term and how to survive key moments in the passing months and years you’ll be in your new country. 

Now, I would like to compile all of the information and research I’ve gathered and put it into an easy-to-read guide for anyone else who finds themselves living abroad for months or years at a time. It can also be useful for anyone who is considering living abroad for a long period of time but isn’t sure if it is something they would be able to handle. It’s for both experienced and inexperienced travelers who have spent or plan to spend a long time abroad without returning home for months to years at a time. Additionally, this book would be a good resource for missionaries or missionary trainees who desire to volunteer overseas but are unsure if they could thrive during an extended period of time abroad.

Living abroad isn't always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I'll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
Living abroad isn’t always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I’ll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
  • How long will it be and what topics will it cover?

The desired word count goal is around 20,000 words in a digital E-book format. It will be written from a female, American perspective living in a developed country that has a significantly lower salary and lower cost of living than the US. It will cover living abroad long-term in narrative form and broken down into stages (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, etc). 

It will cover initial culture shock and tips on how to overcome it by making conscious decisions to assimilate to the new culture in the first few weeks. It will also focus on routines and holidays traditions you should strive to maintain in order to remain connected to your home country. The content and tips can be applicable to people from multiple English speaking countries.

One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
  • What needs to be done in order to complete it?

I need to organize my initial research, edit and condense existing blog posts on sarahlaviajera.com and take a short break from my regular freelance work in order to finish this project fully on its own. I would also like to take my time with it (3 month deadline) in order to go at my own pace by diligently and accurately compiling all of the research. 

  • How will I reinvest the profits I earn back into my website?

What I receive from this campaign will cover the cost of writing and publishing the Ebook (in terms of my time) as well as the time it will take to finish researching the topic, editing and organizing existing material that will be used in the final product. It will also enable me to dedicate my time in perfecting and tweaking this collection of life experiences and advice to help my existing audience and reach others I’ve yet to help.

Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places... (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)
Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places… (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)

A portion of the proceeds will also go towards maintenance of my website and the ability to invest in resources that will further help my audience of Christian travel loving women.

Here’s a short list of products and services I plan to invest in:

 1. High quality, digital microphone for recording and developing a future podcast series (featuring Christian women who are traveling or residing in another part of the world) ($100)

2. A paid theme for my website to add e-commerce features in order to sell the e-Book directly from my page ($45-$70)

3. E-book writing and editing software (Scrivener) ($40)

4. Sell book via Gumroad ($10/month for the subscription; $120 for the first year)

There's whole world waiting out there for you to explore...what's stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
There’s whole world waiting out there for you to explore…what’s stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
  • Why should you support and purchase this book?

In the past 10 years, a considerable amount of young adults (ages 18-35) have been choosing a life of travel or living abroad instead of financial stability. An estimated 9 million non-military American citizens live abroad and in a survey just over 2,000 respondents, half of “millennials” currently residing in the US would prefer to live overseas. (See source: http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/americans-move-abroad/)

In an era where travel is easier today than it ever has been before and globalization and bilingualism are the norms, it’s imperative to provide more digital resources and books for expats who choose to live abroad for long periods of time.

I feel that there is a lack of resources in this particular genre (assimilating to a new culture for a long time period) written from firsthand experience. Not only would the sales of this book provide monetary support for me and allow me to be paid to write it, it would provide immense value and insight for my readers, both present and future, who may want to stay abroad for longer but aren’t sure what awaits them on the other side of their decision.

With this first project, I would like to use it as a stepping stone to becoming a leader in making the transition to living abroad, coping with initial homesickness, culture shock, and then later reverse culture shock (when you finally do go home after being away) and offering advice to those who wish to create a permanent home away from home, wherever they choose. 

I'll make sure you get from Point A to Point B - just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in Lalín (Ourense), Spain]
I’ll make sure you get from Point A to Point B – just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in Lalín (Ourense), Spain]
  • What benefits will readers like you receive receive from this book?

Experienced travelers/expats will benefit from:

  • Seeing what it’s like to stay away from home for varying periods of time and see if their experience was similar (and/or better or worse)
  • Learning valuable advice and insight on how to overcome culture shock, homesickness and reverse culture shock at various stages (what 6 months abroad looks like compared to 1-2 years or more looks like)

Inexperienced travelers and expats will benefit from:

  • Reading a firsthand account from someone from a developed country who didn’t go home at all for over 2 and half years and see what staying away from their culture for so long was really like.
  • Getting a “try before you buy” deal by reading what it’s like to live abroad for a long period of time before actually doing it themselves.

These are just a handful of the many benefits you will receive from investing in the creation of this book. The experiences and rewards I am offering will also offer immense help and insight, Whether it’s needing mentoring, making a decision to move abroad or getting to know a Spanish city I’ve spent a considerable amount of time by having a personalized chat with me, there is something for everyone.

I sincerely thank you for your time in reading about my passion project and any financial support you are able to give. Each dollar you give will be an investment into my career and in turn, an investment in men and women across the globe who wish to make a life for themselves in a country that is not their own.

Muchas gracias / Thank you so much / Muito obrigado / Grazie mille! 

Whatever you do, rain or shine, don't stop traveling! The world awaits you... (Photo: London, England)
Whatever you do, rain or shine, don’t stop traveling! The world awaits you… (Photo: London, England, 2017)

Winter in Spain: 12 Survival Tips

It’s January in Madrid and that means extremely chilly nights, shorter days and freezing temperatures. The past 6 weeks have been full of brilliant sunshine (like every single day, I’m not kidding) but today has been the first official, bitterly cold day of the year. So, it’s official, real winter in Spain has arrived and I’m here to tell you that it’s only going to get colder as we head into February in a couple of weeks.

At the first mention of “Spain”, you are probably imagining sun-soaked streets, sizzling golden sand beaches and endless tinto de veranos or sangria drank by lightly clothed sun seekers on an outdoor terrace.

Well, that only describes one part of Spain and only in the summer.

Winter in Spain is real.

Real cold.

And it can get bitterly cold (Madrid) or wet (Galicia or Pais Vasco) or blustery (Castilla y León).

If you live in or visit Andalucía, you’ll quickly realize that your apartment building may not be properly insulated for winter (read: it isn’t) and if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who has central heating, you may freeze. And the outside temperature will most likely be warmer than the iciness inside your own apartment.

You’re in luck, though. I’m on my sixth winter here in Spain (1 in Andalucía, 2 in Galicia and now my 3rd in Madrid) and I want to share with you all my tips and tricks to beating the cold.

So grab a blanket, warm up that cup of tea nearby that you forgot about and let’s talk about how you can stay warm(er) this winter in Spain.

1. Take a walk and soak up the sun!

Parque de Retiro (January 1, 2019)

Unless you live in the rainy North, most of Spain will be nice and sunny during the day. The only bad thing about it is that there are fewer hours of daylight. Only a little more than nine hours most days.

So, take advantage of the time you have, be it on a lunch break or before you go back to work or classes in the afternoon.

Get out there!

Go to the park. Go for a run. Lay on a park bench.  Do anything to force yourself outside to go absorb some of that liquid gold Spain is known for.

Not only will your body thank you but your mind will as well. Beat the winter blues and doldrums that might creep into your mind by giving yourself a necessary Vitamin D or endorphin boost.

The best hours of the day to be in the sun would be between 3-5 p.m here.

If it’s sunny right now while you’re reading this, bookmark this post and catch those rays.

2. Dress very warmly when you go outside.

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s your first time living in a European country. Or maybe it’s not. The main piece of advice I can give you here is to bundle up! I know there are tons of cute dresses and stylish coats or scarves on rebajas (winter sales) right now but don’t give in!

Save those for the summer.

Choose jeans or dress pants over a stylish dress or skirt with nylons. Wear boots instead of cute flats that show off your feet (save the skin showing for the summer!). Heed this warning: the less bundled up you are, the quicker you’ll get sick!

So, wrap up with the thickest scarf, a hat or cute headband (see photo) and wear your heaviest coat! And if you’re walking back from a fun night out, don’t let your hands go bare.

Wear gloves!

You’ll not only save them from further winter damage but you’ll stay toasty warm, too. 🙂

2. Add layers – especially underneath!

We women have the amazing ability to layer and color code an outfit with ease. So why would wearing an extra (usually thin) layer of leggings or tights be such a task?

Back to the choosing fashion over warmth dilemma: is the fashion worth it?

In the summer, I would argue yes…but in the winter?

No chance.

If you live somewhere quite flat like in Castilla y León or near Alicante and Valencia, the cold will chap your face and hands and the wind will cut through you like that sword you should’ve bought down in Toledo.

In Madrid here, the presence of the mountains alone-especially in the northern part of the city- affects the weather drastically.

To the northwest in beautiful yet rainy Galicia, the damp cold will sink into your bones and stay there until…well, June if the winter’s nice and long. (Sadly, I’m not joking here but speaking from experience.)

If you live in la capital or have quite a long commute to work or school, the downside to this is that wearing an extra warm layer will most likely make you sweat or overheat a bit.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make to stay warm once you go back out into the frigid cold.

And that’s when you’ll think back and thank me for this tip. 😛

3. Wear high-quality thermal leggings, socks or shirts.

As you just saw in the previous tip, layering in the winter in Spain is essential.

However, it’s important to note that the fabrics of the clothes you buy also play a huge role in keeping warm.

Though they’re not exactly breathable fabrics, thermal fabrics are the best things you can invest in.

Leggings, socks, spandex, breathable athletic shirts…

Whatever you like best, stock up on them and make sure you keep those at least until March (but please wash them, haha).

Thick wool socks are perfect to wear with boots or at night. If you mix and match between wearing thermal and wool items of clothing, you’ll definitely be able to stay a lot warmer this winter.

4. Layer up inside your home, too!

Whether you live in an apartment or an actual house, it’s always best to dress warmly inside, too.

You may be able to get away with walking out of the bathroom post-shower barefoot for a few seconds, but don’t risk spending any more time barefoot. Save that for the scorching hot summer which will be coming sooner than you can imagine.

Make sure you get a nice pair of thick, warm slippers, a nice wool sweater and a blanket or two just for afternoons you might spend on the sofa with Netflix or the odd variety of old movies on some of the Spanish channels.

I spend the majority of my time working for home so I want to not only feel warm but maintain a dress business casual look. (Not everyone is like me, I know, but I am totally against working in my pajamas *shudder*)

By wearing a wool blazer, I can accomplish both things and that makes me happy.

Wear whatever makes you happy inside but definitely pile on the layers, especially when it takes forever for the central heating system in your apartment building takes eons to turn on.

Pro-tip: Find an apartment in Spain with a central heating system and where the cost of heating is included in the price of your rent. **It took me 9 moves all around the country to find this so it’s not an easy feat – but totally worth it in the end!**

6. Drink copious amounts of warm beverages and cook lots of hot meals.

drinks of tea during winter in Spain

Cute kitty mugs sold separately.

For an American, I have a pretty ginormous tea collection. I have two reasons for this:

a) My dad’s grandparents were English

b) My Northern Irish fiancé practically spoon feeds me tea, haha

But, seriously.

I have a whole shelf worth’s of tea in a storage cabinet in my room. With nearly 60 different types of tea.

Yes, you read that right: 60!

So…needless to say, I drink a lot of tea pretty much year round but especially in the winter.

This is the time to drink all the coffee, hot chocolate or tea that you want. And cook up your mom’s traditional soup or chili recipes if you have any on hand.

Take advantage of the time you have to thoroughly enjoy these beverages and delicious meals while you can. Come summer all you’ll want to do is slurp down refreshingly cool gazpacho and lay on the floor to get cool.

That is you live or dare to spend the summer in Madrid….(more to come on that.)

7. Keep your blinds down at night or whenever you’re not at home.

The Spanish sun is a magical thing, as I mentioned earlier in this post. It has its pros and cons but one thing I think anyone who’s visited or lived here before can all agree on is that it’s strong.

However, Spanish homes and apartments are fully equipped to block it out when necessary. They do that through these thick, blackout blinds called persianas. This particular type of blind is located outside of the window (or between two sets of windows). And you roll it up or down via a wide strand of fabric attached to a pully system to block the sun’s harmful rays or trap the heat from your radiators or portable heater inside.

In the summer, these blinds are good for blocking out the sun and heating up the rooms in your home. In the winter, it can keep the blistering cold temperatures from getting inside.

What these blinds do all year round is can trick you into thinking it’s still dark outside but it’s not! Remember if you do pull these down overnight, don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t sleep the morning (and your responsibilities) away!

8. Find an apartment with a double set of windows or good insulation

I definitely recommend you try to find an apartment that comes with double sets of windows to keep extreme temperatures out.

Only one apartment where I lived in Galicia (Santiago) and my current apartment in Madrid had these heat and cold blocking windows.

They’re perfect for keeping your home better insulated, especially in areas like Galicia, Madrid, and Andalucía (or even the flatter parts of Castilla y León).

9. Use a hot water bottle during the day or before bed.

A few years ago, a friend of mine gifted me the hot water bottle she bought when she visited Dublin, Ireland. She didn’t have a use for it back in her home state and she knew I was staying in Spain at least for another year (funny how that works) and I’ve found them to be quite useful.

A rule of thumb – and common sense – is to not fill them with boiling water. The bottles are usually made of rubber with a plastic lid cover and boiling water would definitely melt the plastic part. You can fill one about halfway with room temperature or cold water and then heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

Use an insulated cover like the cute one I saw in a store (pictured above) to help the bottle maintain its warmth. I wouldn’t recommend applying it directly to your skin but at least under one layer of clothes is fine. Hug it to yourself or put it on your back to keep winter’s chill away.

10. Put up a dark-colored blackout curtain (also works for summer, too.)

Similar to the blackout blinds tip, a blackout curtain is also something you can use in both the winter and summer months.

The bottom line is the more heat you can trap inside and more cold you can block on the outside, the better off you and your roommates will be.

One of the most beautiful things about having opaque or blackout curtains during winter in Spain is that they absorb heat on both sides. I brought mine over from the US this past summer and with each season, I can notice a significant change in the temperature in my room.

So, if you’re currently living here or plan to move here in the next year and have one of these lying around – put it up! It doesn’t matter if it will go with the color of your walls – it probably won’t – but you will thank yourself later on.

The dark purple curtain you see above was actually purchased when I was a junior in college (nearly 10 years ago!) and I thought I’d never get any more use out of it…well, I was happily proven wrong. 🙂

11. Sleep underneath a mountain of blankets!

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it should be on this list regardless.

Don’t skimp on blankets especially if you’re spending the winter in Madrid or Castilla y León. There are several small mountain regions nearby these areas making the temperatures more prone to drop suddenly during the winter. If you’re living in a coastal area, you’ll be pleased to know that the sea will act as a natural regulator and do its best to keep frigid temperatures away, thankfully.

Pile on the blankets! Make sure you sleep with a mix of fabrics (mostly cotton is recommended) so you can still be comfortable at night. On my bed, I’ve got cotton sheets, a light blanket a wool-like blanket, a comforter (duvet) and a slightly heavier blanket that I also use for picnics in the park.

12. Cuddle with someone special

This is a just-for-fun tip but it’s still highly effective if you happen to be in a relationship during a Spanish winter. Save some euros on your electric bill by cuddling up with said special someone or have a personal hand warmer for the walk back from your metro or bus stop.

But while wintertime is the perfect time to have someone special nearby to cuddle with, I wouldn’t pair yourself up with just anyone.

The best types of relationships are the ones that aren’t forced and where you can be yourself. If you don’t believe me, read my unedited thoughts about dating relationships.

And that’s a wrap! Hope these tips help you stay roasty, toasty warm this year. 🙂

Is there anything I missed in regards to surviving and staying warm during the winter in Spain? Comment below and join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you!

A Love Letter to My Twenties, 2008-2018

There are few decades in life that allow you the time freedom, the exploration, and dream chasing that the twenties allow each and every one of us…if we’re lucky enough to reach them.
 
The painful start to this decade and all the tears I shed at just age 20 and 3 months later turned out to be water for the seeds I would sow and the harvest I began to reap the following year. At the time, I just couldn’t see past the pain of losing a friend who would never get to experience the joys and the struggles of this decade. The journey ended for her with a screeching halt and the teens were the last epoch she ever experienced.
 
And then several years later on, I would discover that with those same tears that had spilled down my cheeks time and time again, I had created a flourishing flower bed of friendships. And its grounds would stretch across the world, breaking both physical and linguistic barriers, and uniting me with so many beautiful souls.
 
As I look back to the beginning of this decade, I rejoice in the fact that I didn’t let what could have turned into crippling grief mar what would be the most definitive and formative time of my life.
 
A decade that was mine.
 
Full of adventures, scars, dirty hands and feet, amazing food, deep conversations, last minute plans, long, sleepless nights, overnight flights and buses in countries I wasn’t all too familiar with and thousands upon thousands of hours of listening, speaking, reading and writing a language I’ve been in love with for a good portion of my life. (Español)
 
And then towards the end of it, when I least expected it and with someone I was almost too blind to see along the way, love was waiting for me.
 
I had always hoped (and prayed) that, against society’s and my family’s norms, that I would meet someone who was completely out of my social circles. Someone who didn’t go to the same high school or college as me. Someone who didn’t work in the same field and didn’t quite speak the same language as me.
 
I thought I wanted (and planned as much as humanly possible) to have found my mate and be married by 25, I thought I would be ready emotionally, physically and spiritually speaking by then.
 
You know what? I wasn’t even close.
 
I hadn’t even been on an official date at that age yet! How on earth was I supposed to be ready to marry someone if I had virtually no experience as to how to be a good mate let alone find one?
 
I’ll let you in on a little secret. A lesson I’ve learned in these past 10 years….
 
Everything and everyone comes into your life at just the appropriate time. And as painful as it is in the moment, they also leave it at the appropriate time.
 
If you were supposed to meet the person you will marry in a sandbox in kindergarten and spend the rest of your lives growing up alongside each other, you will.
 
That’s your destiny.
 
But if you’re supposed to meet them later on in life, after high school, college and first jobs, and even in another country and time zone, you will.
 
Even if a million other things could’ve gone wrong or you could’ve been delayed in running into them by just a minute or two, fate will pull some strings and still allow you two to meet.
 
The best lesson I’ve ever learned this decade was this: you can’t screw up the right thing.
 
And believe me, I almost did in the last year but thankfully I came to my senses and stopped denying what I was feeling in my heart.
 
Looking back on the last 9 years, over 12 moves and 5 opportunities to redefine myself, I can only feel a deep sense of gratitude for this decade that God preserved mostly for me. For my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual growth, for cultivating my passions and dreams and becoming who I am as a child of God. A beloved daughter whom He has spared, rescued and loved through times of utter despair and also in times of pure joy.
 
I had no clue that I would be looking back at this decade in another country, with a different relationship status and with the knowledge of 3 more languages in addition to my native one.
 
Not every year of this past decade has been the best, but if I squeeze all the good out of all those years combined, they would warm my entire house for all winter and then some. The worst moments of this decade will be buried deep below the sand and washed away like waves crashing against the shore.
 
The best moments will always be at the forefront of my mind and heart, reminding me to not quit on myself or the dreams that are still to be fulfilled.
 
And last, but not least, it will be time to say goodbye to the one thing that holds the majority of my stories, hopes, dreams, trials, challenges and moments of utter bliss: my passport. With it, I saw and experienced 14 new countries in past 10 years. If it could talk, it would share the nitty-gritty of all the places we’ve been to.
 
I will always miss the person I was and became to be during this decade but I will always be grateful to her for taking so many leaps of faith and trusting that things would work out for the best, no matter what.
 
And, as I cross into a new, undiscovered decade, I will need her company. Her passport, her lessons, her memories. My memories and all the support I’ve had during this time to help carry me forward into an undefined period of my life.
 
Where I will experience many more changes and hopefully share a life and create a family of my own with the amor de mi vida. Mi media naranja.
 
And you know what? My wish did come true one very magical night on November 4th, 2018…
 
 
He asked…and I said yes! 

Here’s to a new decade and a fresh start. Show me what you’ve got 30s!

Confessions of a Late 20 Something: Body Image and Self-Esteem

Welcome to a new yet short series I wanted to do as a way to close out my twenties and pass on some valuable advice. I’ll talk about dating, body image and self-esteem and the working world from a female perspective.

This will be a 3-part series lasting only until the end of 2018. Why you might ask? Well,  in just a few short weeks, I will cross over into a new decade: my 30s.

Working-that-body-image

If I can end my 20 something years with a few more hand-painted tile discoveries, I will be one happy girl!

It’s a little bit scary to type that out on paper so to speak but they are literally just around the corner for me. My twenties have personally been hands down my best decade and they have largely been full of things I’ve wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go. It’s truly the decade where I not only found my voice but my home abroad, my purpose and passion in life.

But, before I embark on a new decade, I wanted to pass on some advice I’ve learned through my own life experiences to those who will still be going through the trenches and navigating these very formative years.

So, without further ado…these are my unedited thoughts on body image and self-esteem.

Basing self-esteem on how you feel vs. what you’ve had to do in order to get to where you are

A lot of people who interact with me have told me that I seem very comfortable in my own skin. I seem to be totally accepting of who I am (female), what I look like (skinny) and that I’m always encouraging and optimistic (indicating a high level of self-esteem).

I am very accepting of what I look like and I am very encouraging but…I’m also human. And we are our biggest critics, aren’t we?

I’ll let you in on a secret: though I’m mostly happy with my size…I haven’t (and still struggle with) always liked myself. I used to always get defensive after I received a compliment from someone or would swirl the comment around in my head wondering if I really was…cute, beautiful, intelligent, just to name a few.

You may be reading this and can relate to me.

Did you also have:

Acne?

Crooked or discolored teeth?

Unwanted facial or body hair?

Scars?

I’ve had (and still have) all of those.

Physically speaking, I’m far from perfect.

And I let that single thought stunt my emotional and personal growth for many years. During those ever so sensitive and fragile teenage years and up until my mid-twenties.

That was a big mistake I made but at the time my physical flaws and imperfections were hard to look past. After all, when you’re 15, looking the most fashionable or stylish may be one of your main concerns. Or getting straight A’s might be your only focus. I couldn’t control or compete with the first thing so I focused on the latter. If I couldn’t look like the most beautiful person in school or my city (though it was never my goal to be this), I could focus on having the most beautiful mind.

Whatever your talents or passions are…whatever it is you’re good at, do that. And don’t stop until you’re the best. Plain and simple.

From a physical standpoint here’s how all those things on that list above held me back:

Acne held me back from seeing my true beauty. It held me back from talking to a guy my age and dating in my teens or early 20-something years. (I wasn’t emotionally ready to date at those times in my life so I don’t regret letting some of those opportunities pass me by.) It made me self-conscious at interviews or when speaking in public or presenting a project for a class. It wasn’t until I started eating fresher foods and focused on truly nourishing my body that I started to see it disappear and my self-esteem go way up. (But as I write this at 29, I’m still struggling with it but in the form of hormonal imbalances.)

My less than straight and genetically discolored teeth have usually held me back from speaking up and letting my voice be heard. Which is why I began to love writing so much from my late teens until now. It let me use my voice without ever needing to open my mouth.  I still have never been able to afford braces or have consistent health insurance (until I moved to Spain) so I struggle with this one on a daily basis. But it’s not such a painful way as I did before. More on that later.

Unwanted facial (and body) hair has been something I’ve struggled with off and on for a number of years but it wasn’t until 2014 that I was able to find an almost permanent solution. It’s bad enough when women have hair in a place they don’t want but when your complexion is pale and your hair ranges from dark brown to jet black? Yeah…that’s a problem! This also held me back from realizing my true beauty and was the reason why I almost always refused to be seen in public in a bikini. Or go to a spa with my friends because that would require a lot of careful personal maintenance to even be able to go and enjoy it. To some, I have the perfect body and can wear or eat practically anything but that one minute (yet enormous) detail used to ruin the experience for me.

Behind a couple of physical scars are stories about two of the most painful times in my life. One was just physically painful but the other hurt me down to my soul. By having private health insurance and waiting until it was the right time, I had surgery to repair my torn earlobe and you can learn more about the procedure I underwent.

The lingering response I would always have for someone was (and still is at times)…if only you saw what I saw in the mirror.

But you know what? They don’t.

The majority of people that I know are real people. With acne scars, love handles, imperfect teeth or complexions…they’re a normal person.

However, their personality or sense of humor or passion for whatever it is they dedicate themselves to in life makes them the most perfect person in the world.

And the same goes for me.

The people who really love and care about me see the whole package: my personality, sense of humor, voice, passion, values, character and lastly, looks. 

If you focus only on looks you’re missing out big time. I wish I had learned this years ago but I’m glad the lesson finally stuck. And it will for you, too.

Think about the people closest to you and write down what it is you like or love about them.

Your whole perspective will change.

Hide only to heal your wounds, not to hide your beautiful self from others

I did this for a while and probably longer than I should have but I did it. 

I wouldn’t recommend it. 

But from the years 2013-2016 I stayed in on nights I should’ve gone out. Hid myself behind glasses, heavy fleeces, giving myself a curfew or blaming the public transportation or the weather as to why I couldn’t stay out later. 

Something you may not know about me is that I’ve never owned a car. And I’m from the biggest car dependent country in the world. 

Cause my country is ginormous. 

What’s more is that I decided to go study in the largest city by area in the country: Jacksonville, Florida. And I never owned a car during the 6 years I lived there.

But in early 2014, I moved out of there and made my way over to Spain once again. As much as I wanted to start over in a new region and ultimately meet someone special, I spent the first two years in Spain mostly hiding from the world.

Trying to heal from the damage having excess facial hair and the painful experiences I had with waxing it off.

But that was when I discovered laser hair removal and that made all the difference for me. The problems didn’t go away overnight but I was able to get back to feeling comfortable in my own skin. I describe this phase as like being in a cocoon and then when I finally left Galicia, I emerged as a butterfly, ready to spread her wings and fly once again.

Accepting your flaws and scars

This will probably be the shortest section of the entire post as there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You simply must accept the things you can’t change about yourself. And love who you are. Period.

I do love myself but there have been many times in my life -even still today- that I don’t care for myself. I treat myself really poorly and carelessly.

Nevertheless, there was a moment in my life a couple of years ago when I realized that I love who I am. And I didn’t feel that way because someone told me to reflect on all the things I love about myself or to try and treat myself better. It was the moment in which I really felt comfortable in my own skin. 

I was sitting alone in the Praza do Obradoiro 

Loving someone who has flaws and imperfections and healing yourself in the process

Love your body

Love heals all wounds. In whichever language you say it, it still rings true.

Confessions of a Late 20-Something: Dating in the 21st Century

Welcome to a new yet short series I wanted to do as a way to close out my twenties and pass on some valuable advice. I’ll talk about dating, body image and self-esteem and the working world from a female perspective.

This will be a 3-part series and will last only to the end of 2018. Why you might ask? Well,  in just 2 months, I will cross over into a new decade: my 30s.

Who says you really have to grow up?

It’s a little bit scary to type that out on paper so to speak but they are literally just around the corner for me. My twenties have been hands down the best decade for me personally and they have largely been full of things I’ve wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go. It’s truly the decade where I not only found my voice but my home abroad, my purpose and passion in life.

But, before I embark on a new decade, I wanted to pass on some advice I’ve learned through my own life experiences to those who will still be going through the trenches and navigating these very formative years.

So, without further ado…these are my unedited thoughts on love and dating in the 21st century – after years of trial and error and now one long-term relationship later.

Intro

The dress that helped me land a second date with the man of my dreams.

I’m a straight, white female, of average height and with average looks. In today’s world of plastic surgery, Photoshopping, liposuction, breast augmentations and perfectly polished social media feeds, it’s almost impossible to stand out and hold a guy’s attention in the world we live in today.

That is if you are under the impression that beauty is merely skin deep.

Millions have bought into the lie that appearance and sexual attraction are the two major factors when looking for a significant other. If you don’t feel that spark or there’s no initial attraction from the moment you meet them, then the short answer is that person isn’t the one for you.

Simple as that.

Or is it?

I won’t deny that yes, you need to be attracted to a person before you start dating or get into a relationship. However, I will say that how someone looks isn’t everything. A lot of times an intellectual mind or a vibrant personality can transform that person into the most attractive man or woman on the planet.

Go against the grain and look for that person who has outstanding character. Someone who can make you smile even when everything in your life is falling apart. Someone who you can go from being silly on a Sunday afternoon to sharing a tender, romantic embrace to discussing current events in the world.

Looks won’t last more than a couple of decades but a personality lasts a lifetime.

This type of person is going to be harder to find, yes, but it will be worth it. Trust me.

(If you’re losing hope in your own journey, keep believing. It can be rough at times but it’s worth it.)

How to get a guy’s attention in the 21st century

The funny thing is that when you’re single, a guy is most likely not going to pay as much attention to you as you will be to them. You’ll be out there walking down the street, looking at every eligible guy who passes by, sizing them up, analyzing their looks or their style. But from the guy’s perspective? It’s highly likely he’s looking at his phone, talking to someone else, listening to music or staring off into space, thinking about whatever he’s going to do next.

You might have to send a few dozen selfies before you meet the right guy.

I can safely say from the other side of the spectrum that when you’re in a relationship, you will receive a lot of attention and looks from the opposite gender. Maybe it’s because people in happy, healthy relationships are…happy? I’ve been told that nowadays I seem to glow which naturally attracts people. And who wouldn’t want to be around a happy, positive person?
It wasn’t actually until I broke the habit of trying to envision a future with every guy I passed on the street that I freed my mind from a prison I didn’t even know it was stuck in.
I set myself up for disappointment and rejection literally hundreds of times. And it was all totally unnecessary, now that I look back on my single -and slightly desperate- years.
What you don’t want is attention from a guy who doesn’t fit well into your life or has drastically different standards than you do.
The best advice I can give you here is to not be so focused on finding the most attractive person out there but to make sure you don’t miss out on an incredible person who may be wrapped up in a nationality that you weren’t expecting.

Meeting in person vs meeting online

In 2018, there are so many ways you can meet someone. Distance is no longer an obstacle when it comes to staying in touch with them or showing them how you live your daily life. And the number of ways you can contact someone has increased to nearly a dozen (or more)!

If you’ve ever seen the movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) you may remember Jennifer Aniston’s character saying,

“I had this guy leave me a voicemail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my Blackberry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control. And I miss the days when you had one phone number and one answering machine and that one answering machine has one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from a guy or it didn’t. And now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.” Quote from IMDB. Click for more.

Celebrities discussing dating and relationships

Dating relationships in movies and dating relationships in real life are not the same in the slightest a lot of times. (Photo taken from here)

The funny thing about that movie now is that almost all of those technologies aren’t even used to contact someone post-date. And that was only 9 years ago! (I do feel slightly old saying that but oh, well, haha).

Instead of listing out all the ways you can contact someone now, I’m just going to say that while it’s perfectly okay to meet someone online (and then later on in person), you should ideally strive to spend the least amount of time getting to know them online.

If you’re an introvert like me, you may not mind texting or messaging a guy you like first before you meet them in person. This mostly described the way I would go about things the first year and a half I spent casually dating or meeting guys from different parts of Spain (and the UK). My friends, who were in real, long-term relationships told me that nothing can quite replicate the way you feel or interact with someone in person.

Communication is key in dating

Seeing them with your own eyes (and not by way of a webcam). Listening to their accent or the way their voice changes when they talk about their life or tell you about their favorite things. Watching their face morph into dozens of expressions instead of just settling for an emoji to tell you how they feel. Brushing your hand against theirs either accidentally or on purpose. Locking eyes with them or catching them stare at you with a dazed look in their eyes while you’re unaware.

All of these things are key things that you must experience with someone in person before you can really know for sure if you’d like to go on a second or third date. Or to help you decide whether or not you like them.

And though I had gone on several in-person dates about 2-3 years ago in Northwestern Spain, I let myself get caught up with guys who knew how to write the right things but I let months go by (and distance was an issue) before I ever met them in person.

I didn’t know what I was missing out on.

But, after having the experiences I had, I hope you will take the advice I should’ve taken at that time in my life:

If you meet someone online, try to move as quickly as you possibly can to meeting them in person. Spend the least amount of time talking to them virtually and more time one on one.

 

Though I don’t highly recommend Tinder, I have used it and surprisingly met a good amount of interesting guys (even two PhD candidates) mostly in Santiago de Compostela in 2015-2016.

The funny thing about life is that sometimes it will throw you a curveball or put someone in your path whom you never saw coming.

What I mean by that is how I met my now boyfriend. We met in person through a mutual friend at a local café in the city where we both lived. For anyone that loves a sweet, wholesome story, the first time we ever met was at the Bible study he was asked (by said mutual friend) to lead. I wasn’t interested in native English speakers (let alone ones who spoke differently than I did) at the time so I first got to know him as a friend. I thought he was really cool but he soon moved away from Santiago de Compostela and I didn’t know if I would see him again but I became friends with him on Facebook to stay in touch.

It all started with a cup of tea…and the rest is (a rather long) history. [Lusco y Fusco Café/Bakery in Santiago makes amazing tea and baked goods by the way!]

And now three years later -and a wee bit more than one year together-, we are very much in love and live in the same city again but this time la capital – Madrid!

It’s funny how life can change so quickly in just a few short years.

But remember that the time will pass no matter if you say “yes” to a date with this guy or that guy. So do yourself a favor and disconnect from this technology-obsessed culture and have a cup of coffee (tea) with someone, face to face.

You’ll thank yourself later. 😉

Should a girl ever ask a guy out, even for an “informal date” (coffee, a walking tour, a drink, etc)?

Unlike the teachers at my Christian high school and most of my American Christian friends, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with men and women being friends. I grew up with an older brother and had lots of friends who were guys. I was friends with a few girls my age (and later made friends with more girls in college) but they were few and far between.

The main thing you need to keep in mind here is to set boundaries. Don’t open yourself up right away to every guy you meet, even if he seems like the nicest and kindest guy in the world. Just like you would with friends, don’t spurt out your whole life story to someone you’ve just met. Let the stories and experiences come out naturally and organically. Let it run its course and don’t feel like you need to rush to tell them this life story or that tragic experience.

Tea and latte dates with friends

A cup of tea is really the best way to start to get to know someone.

On the contrary, if you live abroad, it’s highly likely you’ll move past the more superficial getting to know you questions with someone a lot quicker. The depth of your conversations could be escalated due to a number of different factors: you’re both from the same country, you both actually speak the same language, you both went to the same college but different years, you both lived somewhere else in the world and loved it. The list of possible similarities could be up to a mile or two long!

Regardless of what commonality draws you and another person together, you also can’t forget to factor in culture. The culture and subculture you grew up in will affect you for the rest of your life. And where you currently live will affect how you interact with people daily and live your life. While you may have been able to wait for a guy to ask for your number or ask your friend to ask one of his friends if he likes you (side note: don’t ever do this, it’s childish) back home, you may not be able to do those things where you live now.

 

Find someone who will send you a greeting card just because. Those people are the best! 🙂

Let me give you some examples.

In Spain, men aren’t as proactive as American or British guys are. I’ve gone out with Spanish guys and while most of them were very nice and we held good conversations -or even met up another time-, they tended to be very passive when it came to taking the initiative to make plans or ask me personal questions in person. I had one guy text me after we had a drink and a tapa if I liked him. I ended up saying no -and still would’ve said no because our lifestyles were actually quite different- but I would’ve liked it if he had asked me that question in person.

One of the major things that turned me off from dating a Spanish guy was the lack of initiative and passivity towards relationships. Maybe I’ve only met shy, more introverted Spanish guys? I don’t know… I did learn from those dates that, while I’m a very headstrong and independent woman, I want a man to ask me out. I want to see that he will follow through on his word.

But in my relationship now, sometimes I plan or give a suggestion as to what we do on a date for that given day or weekend. It’s not called compromise, in this case, it’s called teamwork.

ice cream dates

Helado, xeado, gelato, ice cream…whatever word you use for it, this can be a simple yet fun date, too!

In North America, where I’m from, guys tend to put pressure on girls to be more physical with them early on in the dating phase. There are some British guys who are like this as well -I’ve met at least one- but it depends on what part of the British Isles they’re from. Even other regions of England are quite different from one another! (Things you don’t learn about at school in the US, haha).

In my experiences with crushing on American guys-I’ve never dated one-, I found a lot of them to be focused on staying one place. Graduating from college, getting a good job, moving up in the company or relocating to a new department and then….just living their life in the same place. I’ve met a few in different European countries who like to travel but most never really seem to want to stay living abroad. Or in Florida, I found that the guys I liked preferred to stay in Florida. The fact that I was from a different state (and the North) seemed to be an unspoken deal breaker. My mom has always told me, “the best things are the farthest away,” so I could never understand why distance could be a deal breaker for someone.

That is until I met three British guys who would all alter the course of my life to some degree or another. Looking back on those meetings,  I realize that I met them in three distinct years and at three distinct points in my life. And at three different ages, too. British (read: English) men are a lot more formal when you first meet them. They also don’t share intimate details of their lives with just anyone. You have to get to know them quite well before they will. And it may take several dates and endless amounts of chatting later to really move into the title of “close friend” or “girlfriend” for that matter. If you’re willing to invest the time into getting to know them and the feeling is mutual, it will be worth it.

What’s my point after all those twists and turns we just took navigating through other cultures?

Well, the answer to the question I asked earlier is that it depends on you. I have asked guys out before and it hasn’t always gone well. But, over the years, I found that while I don’t see a problem with a girl asking a guy out, I prefer a man takes more initiative with me. I was let down immensely by someone else a couple years ago and got emotionally invested in him way too soon and that taught me a big lesson. If a man liked me and wanted to date me, I needed to see that he was not only serious but that he would keep his word. That he wouldn’t let distance or time or work stop him from seeing me.

 

Churros con chocolate date

And if you’re a bit shy, you can go on a date with another couple. Having other people around might lighten the mood for you. 🙂

It was a hard lesson to learn at the time but if you learn to wait for this type of man, you’ll save yourself a lot of inner turmoil and heartache.

Learning to be patient with communication 
Why you shouldn't be dating any other type
It literally took me years to develop the patience I have now when it comes to waiting for a response from someone (even just from family members or friends), especially text messages. Don’t start thinking I’m an expert on patience because I haven’t had a huge amount of it for more than two years now. And it took a couple of decades to get to that point.
Here’s an example of my thought patterns not too long after I started dating regularly when a guy I liked didn’t reply back quickly (read: in 5 minutes or less):
Message sent.
A few seconds later…
Thought #1:
“I’m sure he’ll like the funny way I explained x, he’s surely bound to reply back pretty soon now.”
A minute or two goes by…
Thought #2:
“Or maybe I was *too* funny or not funny enough?”
Another minute later.
Thought #3:
“Or what if his phone is on low battery, meaning he can’t check his messages/WhatsApp yet?”
A couple more minutes go by…
Thought #4
“Wait…is he avoiding me? Or ignoring my messages but clicking on someone else’s? Could he be interested in someone else?”
Here’s what I would say to myself back then if I could:
No, Sarah. If a guy is ignoring you, he’ll take a week to respond to your message and then make it seem like he was so overwhelmed and preoccupied that you should feel sorry for him. So if it’s been 5 mins or heaven forbid, 10 minutes, and he hasn’t replied, just chill.
Go do something else.
Get on with the rest of your day.
(Unfortunately, this advice is based on a personal experience I had a couple years ago).
The most important thing I’ve learned about communication is to be patient and let people respond to you, in their own way and in their own time. 

Bustling Plaza Mayor in Salamanca at Night

Just like in the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca (or any square in the world), everyone’s got places to go and people to see. That’s life.

Now, whenever someone takes more time than I would like to respond to me, I remind myself that people have their own lives.
A guy or anyone else who’s taking his time to respond to you is living their own life. Working, commuting, driving, exercising, sleeping, etc. Heck, the guy you like could be calling his parents or grandma for a weekly check-in for all you know.
Just chill. The right (and mature) person will write you back and won’t ignore you. He’ll make time for you and make you a priority in his life. He’ll even spend (and maybe even enjoy spending) money on you or money to see you if you don’t live in the same city.
And if the person you’re currently interested in can’t (or won’t) do that, move on. Don’t settle for someone who only has you around as an option and hasn’t either committed to getting to know you better or committed to being in a monogamous relationship with you.
Because you’re worth it.

Date the girl who reads

Focus on being the person you were created to be. If this photo describes you, great. If not, be that girl. Just don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not.

Changing yourself to be who they want you to be or dressing up for a man

The above photo leads right into what my remaining thoughts on this

Don’t try to change your personality or physical appearance into something that’s not naturally you. If someone isn’t completely head-over-heels for who you are, then they’re not for you.

Remember earlier in the post when I mentioned the dress I wore that landed me a second date with the man of my dreams?

Well, I didn’t necessarily wear it because the guy I was going out on a date with loves the color blue. And I didn’t buy a new dress just for him.

I found it in a cute shop while I had a short layover in Sevilla after my train arrived (and before I caught a bus to where he lived) and I knew I would feel amazing in it. I also didn’t have a dress packed in my bag…so I had to find something. Luckily Spain is full of inexpensive clothing stores (and I wasn’t shopping in Madrid) which reassured me that I would find something before that Friday night.

Advertisements who like someone you used to date

An ad that would later haunt me for most of my first year in Madrid because I was trying to forget a similar looking guy I shouldn’t have been trying to impress in the first place.

The difference between that experience and another first date weekend I had was this:

I didn’t need to buy the dress in order to make the guy like me.

He already did and I liked him, too.

I bought that blue dress in 2017 because I wanted to put my best foot forward if/when our date weekend turned into something more serious.

So, my advice for you, if you’re a young, inexperienced woman who wants to date and meet guys is to always be the best version of yourself. Keep these things in mind when going on a date with a guy:

  • Arrive on time
  • Maintain good hygiene and dress sharply
  • Be attentive towards the other person (if it’s getting late or if they need to drive a long ways in bad weather, let them leave)
  • Relax, keep a good conversation going – and enjoy yourself!

Dating and being in a relationship means sacrifice

There’s no other way to describe this section other than to be blunt.

Relationships aren’t easy but the amount of effort you have to exert may not seem like such a task once you’ve found the right person. How can you tell? It will come naturally to you.

After all the dozens (or hundreds) of times telling your life’s narrative, what you’re looking for in a mate, your hobbies, what languages you speak, places you want to visit, dates and outings, splitting the check or not splitting the check, deciding whether or not to kiss their cheek or their lips, writing hundreds upon thousands of texts, waiting for phone calls/messages/FaceTimes, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice if the person you’re pursuing is pursuing you at the same time and at the same speed.

flowers on a Valentine's weekend date

Even if it means you have to wait until you’re 29 to receive your first bouquet of flowers.

Above all, I would urge you to not look for someone who gives you the most excitement or the most thrill but someone who gives you the most peace. Someone who helps you. Someone who calms your fears and worries and most of all, someone who pours gasoline on the passions in your life and sets them ablaze.

If the person you like or the person you’re dating right now, only brings more trouble into your life and you constantly have to beg them to remember to do things…cut them out of your life.

If I’ve learned anything in the eleven years I’ve spent living away from home it’s this: don’t keep someone around if all you are to them is an option.

A guy who is committed to and devoted having a healthy relationship with you will have you as his highest priority and he will still be able to balance everything else in life.

The verdict: is it worth it?

Find your forever taco date

It definitely is once you find the person who looks at you the way you look at tacos or (insert favorite food here).

Is there anything I missed? Anything you’d like to add? Join the discussion below. I’d love to hear your experiences of dating someone from your own country or any foreign ones.

Stay tuned for part two of the Confessions of a Late 20-Something series next month!

Blogging in 2018: A Beginner’s Guide on How to Get Started

Welcome to this beginner’s guide of blogging!

I’m still trying to get the hang of creating a professional looking blog and have been working behind the scenes on the ins-and-outs for months. So, this post is a result of months of research, in-person group meetings (more info below!) and my own personal experience in the blogging world.

Every so often, when I’m out networking or chatting with friends, I get asked how to start a blog or what I blog about specifically. I haven’t started earning any money from my website yet but I have big plans to do so and I plan to reinvest a good portion of the earnings back into my blog and my freelance business (which I hope to combine the two one day!)

So, let’s get started on my top 10 tips on starting a blog!

 

Cheers to the success of your future blog!

 

Scroll on down to get started creating your own blog or learning some tips on how to tweak your current one.

This post contains affiliate links to products and services. Sarah la Viajera will receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. It will contribute to keeping the costs of running this site down and allow me to provide more valuable content for you in the future.

 

1. Pick a Great name

Your name (or your brand) is everything these days. A name -good or bad- is something that sticks in someone’s mind long after the conversation is over or it floats out of it before you even finish a conversation.

The last thing anyone wants is to be forgotten or have a name that’s so overused that no one remembers it, right?

I was looking for a new name to use for my own blog domain for a couple years and it was right in front of me. My Instagram handle existed before this website since I was so well-known for being a travelaholic among my friends, they started calling me, “Sarah la viajera” every time I went on or planned a trip. By looking at the name, you wouldn’t guess that I’m all about travel but the name is memorable. It’s fun to say (because of the rhyme) if you speak Spanish or even if you don’t. The long story short is that I accidentally found the name for my brand/personality but it has since worked out.

However, if your niche is going to be travel, there are some names you’ll want to avoid these names in your brand or URL:

  • Nomad
  • Backpacker
  • Wanderer/Wanders
  • Adventurous/Adventures
  • Travel/Traveler/Travels, etc
  • Journey

The bad news is all of these names are already taken and the bloggers who have them made them popular and famous. If you’re starting a blog in 2018 -compared to 2010 or earlier, when travel blogging was a brand new concept- you’re going to have to work harder to stand out. The good news is that each blogger’s voice, writing style, and personality are all unique and you can stand out in this noisy online world.

Let your personality shine through in your name. And take advantage of working on it from wherever you want! (Cute cat mug sold separately)

However, if you one day want to go from budget travel to luxury travel, don’t put the words “budget” or “backpacker” anywhere near your name. Don’t trap yourself in a niche you don’t see yourself staying in for a long time.

Give yourself room to grow.

Secondly, while you’re figuring out your ideal niche and audience, keep this in mind too: don’t be country specific.

If you’re currently an ex-pat in one country but have plans to travel the world one day, don’t let your sole focus be on that one country. For example, I could say that I’m an expert on living, working and traveling in Spain but I’m also an expert on living in my home country, the United States. But I also want to travel to many, many more countries while I maintain this blog.

The way to get around this is to add drop-down menus or pages filled with all your expert content and tips on living in such and such country.

Lastly, make sure your URL looks good! Or rather, make sure your name looks readable, no repeating letters! -and not laughable- in an address bar.

Imagine if I had chosen this name instead:

myjourneysassarah

or

sarahsgoingglobal

(I’m cringing, too)

I think you get my point. A name is everything so choose wisely!

2. Self-host your website

The last thing you will want to worry about when you’re at the beach is your website crashing, right?

Confession: when I first started blogging I created this blog on Blogspot way back in 2010, previously called Life in Transition, as a way to document the direction my life took post-college years. In hindsight, I should’ve started off on WordPress dot com so that my content transfer to a real domain would’ve been a lot less painful. (I’m still editing old articles to this day).

So, I trudged on and stuck with my Blogspot domain (and analyzing the cool-to-me stats on my readers) for nearly 7 years! I’ve been enjoying having my own corner of the Internet for nearly 1.5 years now and I couldn’t be happier. It was a great decision professionally.

Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that no one will take your blog seriously unless it’s self-hosted. Personally, I have gotten more freelance work simply because I was able to showcase my writing samples on a dot com website compared to a dot Blogspot or dot WordPress linked one. When you upgrade to your own domain and a dot com (if that’s the best choice for you) site, companies, brands, clients and your peers will take you more seriously.

Remember, anyone can set up a blog but creating a blog that could later become a full-fledged business will cost money and lots of time and effort. I haven’t started earning any type of income from my blog yet but I do know that the $270 (~232€) I’ve spent so far to help create and design my little corner on the Internet will pay off soon.

There are a lot of hosting sites out there and you’ll see a lot of other bloggers promote BlueHost. It’s not a bad hosting service to use but I’ve heard of a number of complaints about their services and a few customers who are unhappy with them. So, I decided to skip the stress and pay a little bit more for higher quality service and support from SiteGround.

A few pros:

  • Fast loading times and the site never crashes
  • Excellent customer and IT support
  • Continual improvements to their services and site security

Here are 4 easy steps on how to sign up for hosting services through SiteGround:

STEP 1

Click on the orange “Learn More” button below to take a look at plans.

Web Hosting

STEP 2

Compare the plans and pick the best one for you!

If you’re a hobby blogger but want your own little space on the Internet, I would suggest getting the StartUp plan. It’s a very affordable price with plenty of storage, room for thousands of views, and extras. (This is the one that I have but I will be upgrading soon.)

However, if you’ve had a popular blog for a while and envision it growing past a few thousand views per month, get the GrowBig plan. You can even manage multiple websites on it and get a few more bonuses the StartUp plan doesn’t offer.

Now the big one: GoGeek. It’s ideally for someone who has an existing blog that’s wildly popular (send me tips on how you got there!) and getting thousands of visitors per day. Or it can be for a person who plans to be the next big fashion, travel or lifestyle blogger (or vlogger) and wants as much space as possible to grow their audience into an active and engaged community.

Not saying you can’t be a mix of these types of people in the blogging world but the most important thing is to give yourself room to grow.

STEP 3

Got your ideal plan all figured out? Great!

Now it’s time to choose that domain name you were supposed to come up with in Tip #1 (see above).

Check to see if your awesome domain name is available and then proceed with the next step. If it’s not, you’ll have to brainstorm another one! Remember to make it really memorable and something that will help you stand out in the years to come, both on and offline (ie: your audience).

If you’re switching over an existing domain, just choose “I already have a Domain” and type it into the box.

Easy, right?

STEP 4

Purchase Information

A screenshot of sample checkout page for hosting with Siteground. Your own cost will vary based on which plan you choose.

Now that you’ve chosen your own plan, created a new domain or added your existing one, it’s time to decide how long you want your blog to stick around.

Naturally, if you plan to go pro one day, you’ll want your website to be around forever. If that’s the case, choose the maximum amount of hosting time offered, 36 months (3 years). This will give your blog plenty of time to grow and develop through the years without having to worry about your monthly hosting rate going up any time soon.

It lists extra services and the ones that I would recommend are Domain Registration (one-time fee) and Domain Privacy. Spammers and hackers are out there and it’s Siteground‘s job to protect you. I’ve never had slow page loading times, a crashed website or hackers on my site.

Once you choose your hosting plan rate and extra services, enter your payment information and you’re done.

Your blog has been created! (And your card will be charged but remember, it’s an investment.)

I can’t say enough good things about this hosting site and that’s why I added them into my tips. It’s hard to keep quiet about a good thing, isn’t it?

**Pro tip: One mistake I made in May 2017 was not buying hosting services for a long enough time period. I only bought one year’s worth and guess what happened? The initial discount price went up to the full price! That’s right. It’s because Siteground (and other hosting sites) only gives you the discounted monthly rate on your first invoice. Translation: if you only buy hosting for one year -yet knowing you want to keep your blog up for as long as possible-, then once your renewal date rolls around, you will be charged the full price!

Buy the maximum amount of hosting (up to 3 years) at the cheapest price possible. You want your blog up forever, right? Of course! The money you invest in quality hosting services will pay off big time.**

3. Get WordPress

I can’t stress enough how important it is to start your blogging career off with WordPress. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons, learning WordPress is key to your blogging success. And it’s just more user-friendly, too!

Not tech savvy at all? Don’t worry! The tech gurus at Siteground installed WordPress on my site for me within a matter of hours so I didn’t have to do anything myself. It was one of the best things about choosing them as my hosting provider.

What I did have to do myself was migrate and transfer content from my existing blog on Blogspot but that was pretty painless, too.

The painful part was starting all over in terms of traffic to all my posts. Sad day but I’ve since recovered (thankfully).

The final post I made on my old blog. Look at how simple that theme was!

4. Decide on your theme and install some plug-ins

Themes, what? I am working on getting a better theme for my own website here but currently using a free theme from WordPress – there are tons of them out there!

I’m using Sela and I really like it, though I would prefer one that has drop-down menus and better-organized categories. Still playing around with what I like and focusing on creating high-quality content (keep scrolling to read more about that!).

I will eventually have to pay for some website upgrades as my audience and traffic grow but I’m saving that for a bit later (preferably when my savings increases).

Now, onto Plug-ins.

Adding a few of these will get your blogging career off to a great start!

This is one of the first topics that was discussed at the local Blogger Meet-Up that I attend monthly. (More information below) I was actually able to gather quite the list and add them to my own blog over time but here are the most basic, must-haves that you can add today:

  • Yoast SEO (the best one out there giving detailed analysis)
  • Akismet (to automatically block spam comments)
  • JetPack (for more in-depth stats and more)
  • SumoMe (to link all your social handles to each post and provide easier sharing)
  • Keysearch (I’m currently trying this one out for SEO enhancement and like it!)
  • Blogger 301 Redirect (only if you’re migrating an existing Blogspot account over to WordPress)

Pro-bloggers that I follow (from Make Traffic Happen) seem to almost unanimously recommend paying for an annual subscription with Keysearch and then only using the free version of Yoast SEO. I love the free version and that’s all I’ve stuck with for nearly a year and a half but I will update this with my thoughts on Keysearch once I subscribe to the full version.

For now, those plug-ins should get you started!

5. Set up Google Analytics

My overall stats from the past 2 months of using Google Analytics. Can’t wait to see it grow!

Not good at math or don’t like numbers?

Well, I can’t sympathize with you as, while I’m very much a creative with a huge imagination, I’m also a lover of numbers and statistics. I have a very analytical mind and ever since I heard about Google Analytics, I have been anxious to download it. (I even have the app version of it so I can check stats while I’m out! haha)

Don’t worry about trying to figure out all of the stats that Google Analytics before you begin, setting up an account and linking it to your domain is easy. Follow the steps on their website.

You will need to have an Analytics account in order to make a name for yourself in your industry, whether it’s in travel, fashion, lifestyle or fitness. It’s long since been the industry standard for measuring metrics such as country, language, pageviews, and referral links. Besides, aren’t you curious to find out who your audience is, what they’re searching for and if you’re targeting the right demographics (age, gender, etc)?

You can go on to track weekly, monthly and yearly stats and send those numbers (by taking a screenshot as I did above) to pitch your account/website to tourism boards or other brands with whom you want to work.

6. Grab your social media handles

Making your blog looking all nice and polished is just the first step of blogging. The second is publishing your content via WordPress. The third -and most important- is getting the word out about it. Everyone who’s anyone is on at least one social media channel, even if it’s just a placeholder or profile they don’t use often.

But, no one will know about your awesome blog if you don’t start talking and sharing about it! Personally, my Instagram account became popular among my friends and then among other language assistants around Spain. It was mainly because I was liking and commenting on other people’s accounts or using the group hashtag. (Social media marketing is a whole nother topic so I’ll stop there.) The point is I started sharing personal content, photos, and thoughts, which led to more sharing. I guess that’s how a person becomes popular?

Where I got my start as Sarah la viajera. Where will you get yours?

These are the main social media channels you should create soon after putting your brand new (or revamped) blog out into the world:

  • Facebook (business) Page (then later on a Facebook Group)
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Google +
  • YouTube or Vimeo

Play around with these and learn which ones work best for you. If you’re more focused on producing written content and not videos, focus on Facebook and Instagram. But maybe snag a YouTube channel for yourself in case you ever want to branch out. You never know how or when your interests will change!

However, the best channels to focus on now are Facebook Groups, Instagram and Pinterest. It now costs money to post from a Facebook Business Page and have your posts show up in someone’s newsfeed. Groups are the loophole and can help you create a more engaged community! Marketing and social posts are extremely visual these days so Instagram is pretty much what most people are on. Pinterest (statistically proven to be used by women more than men) is like a visual search engine. That means it’s the perfect tool for anyone who’s blogging about lifestyle tips, travel, baking, homemade recipes, interior design or decorating, fitness and so much more.

Figure out which ones are best for you and stay active! Or load a bunch of posts and content into an automated scheduler like Hootsuite, Buffer or Tailwind (that’s what I’m about to do).

Don’t forget to live your life off social media and go on adventures with your family and friends!

**Pro-tip: In today’s world, anyone can contact you at any time of the day or night on a number of apps. As someone who already works remotely and has started to receive a number of comments, emails, and messages about the posts I’ve written, my biggest piece of advice for new bloggers (or social media stars-to-be) would be to set limits. One of the ways you can protect your time in this “glued to my phone 24 hours a day” world, is to create a schedule for yourself. Only want to be available from 9am-5pm (not including weekends)? Not a problem. Don’t click on a message at 8 am or on any given Friday night at 9 pm. You will get messages or comments (hopefully not phone calls!) at midnight or 5:11 am in the morning (time zone problems) but DON’T answer them. 

Blogging is fun but your time is precious so protect it and make time for other people and things in your life.**

7. Join Nomadic Matt’s Super Star Blogging Course

This is my first post about the topic of blogging itself but it’s a hobby I’ve been taking seriously since 2017. And for those who are more serious about professional blogging, I would recommend you take a course in order to not make all the mistakes pro-bloggers did before courses like these existed.

One course in particular that I’m still going through is called Super Start Blogging by Nomadic Matt. In early 2018, it merged with Travel Blog Success, which was a popular travel community for bloggers of all levels. I had initially bought the course through a yearly project collaboration of digital products called The Paradise Pack (becomes available every May) so I lucked out on getting a whole host of useful blogging products at one time!

In this course, Matt reveals all the tips, tricks, and secrets to getting started as a travel blogger, seeing your blog as a business or how to become an expert travel writer or photographer.  He’s very transparent with both his successes and failures and his modules are very easy to follow.

Super Star Blogging

He even offers tech support and a private Facebook group for members. In it, you can ask questions and get amazing advice you won’t find anywhere else.  You can go at your own pace with the course and go as fast or slow as you want. I would recommend giving yourself about a month for the travel writing course and doing at least one or two modules a day to see progress.

Sneak peek: The Business of Blogging Modules by week!

A speak sneak peek: The Business of Blogging Course Syllabus. A breakdown of what you’ll learn week by week!

While I’m still going through his courses, I’m learning a ton and can safely say that I’ve never seen better courses that will help you learn both the basics and advanced blogging techniques to help transform your blog into a business.

The best thing about it is you can get all access to the course(s) for 30 days and get a refund if you didn’t find the information helpful or useful to you.  (I highly doubt that you won’t!)

Supertar Blogging Logo

8.  Give Your Blog a human touch

https://sarahlaviajera.com/

Behind each blog lies a person and your audience wants to see and get to know who you are! This is why I added a nice (nearly) full body photo on my home page so you can really see who I am.

Some bloggers miss this point entirely and make their websites the most informative as they can, cramming each page with tons of information but….they forget to add a human touch. Facts, figures, costs of living and stats are cool and all (at least to me, haha) but what your readers will really want to know is your best stories. Or personal reviews of products you’ve purchased and tried on your own. Or maybe they need advice and were once in your shoes, meaning that you will be the perfect person for them to listen to.

The best things you can do for your blog is to find your voice (and stick with it), let your personality shine through and remind your readers that you’re a normal human being just like them.

One of the most relatable travel bloggers I follow is Adventurous Kate. I found her blog nearly 6 years ago when I was in the contemplating and researching state of living abroad and I’ve been a loyal reader ever since. I may not agree with every issue or belief that she has but I can definitely relate to her on many levels with solo female travel, life abroad, sustainable tourism, and women’s rights in the workforce. She used to be active on Snapchat and I loved her updates on there but now I follow her Instagram stories. If you have ever watched any of her videos (or stories), she seems totally relatable and there’s no question that she’s a real person. Her personality shines through and it just naturally encourages her readers to stay up-to-date with her.

Blogging goals, right there.

9. Become a part of a blogging community and collaborate

You know the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”?

Well, it takes a whole lotta work to create and maintain a successful blog and you won’t get anywhere without a little help!

And maybe some wine? (Photo of a glass of Legaris, my favorite Ribera del Duero wine, and La Tita’s famous tortilla tapa in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

One of the best things that could’ve crossed my path was a feisty, passionate and self-starting woman named Cepee, who had a New Year’s Resolution down on paper and a burning desire to turn it into reality way back in January 2017.

Fast forward to September 2018 and we’ve got a thriving community of over 900 bloggers (connected through the Facebook Group) and about 60-70 people who come to the monthly meetings in person, here in Madrid. (Most people are based in and around Spain as we all tend to have a love for the country in common but it’s not to say that you can’t join, too.)

I have learned so much about blogging, copywriting, content creation, website maintenance, photography, SEO, pitching, branding and more in the past year and a half! And I’ve met pro bloggers such as the infamous Mr. Chorizo, Sally from Passports & Plates, and one of the founders of Las Morenas de España to name a few.

Can’t find a Meet Up or collaboration group in your city? Start one yourself!

Exchange services, collaborate on projects, learn from other bloggers with different niches and never stop growing. Also, don’t do anything for free. This is your dream -or your baby as some would say- so say no to projects, sponsored posts or trips that don’t fit well with your audience.

The more selective you are in the beginning, the more quality content and products you can present to your readers.

Madrid Blogger Network

Madrid, ES
215 Members

This group is for bloggers of all interests and all levels. Whether you’re new to blogging, experienced or have been thinking of starting a blog and don’t know where to start …

Next Meetup

How to Build and Grow an Engaged Facebook Group

Thursday, Oct 18, 2018, 7:30 PM
4 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

10.  Share and create amazing content!

This last one will be short and sweet.

Passion is what will drive you and keep you going for a long, long time in the blogging world. Motivation will come and go but passion will keep you posting, shooting photos and recording videos.

Experiment with the mediums you might want to showcase on your blog.

And don’t forget to eat! 😉

If you’re a writer, set a minimum word count goal for the day or week to help get more content out there. Share your stories and personal advice. You never know who might need it to hear them.

A budding photographer or videographer? Share your best and most unique photos. Create how to edit or how to take better photos articles. Give us your best (but not all!) tips on how to shoot better photos.

The most important thing is to find your voice and share it with the world. And share it regularly. Consistency is key but content is king. It may take a while before your new venture pays off but when it does, you’ll be so proud of all the hard work you’ve put into it.

Blogging is quite a popular hobby and full-time job these days but many newbies don’t stick with it, leaving a lot of room for those who do to grow and be successful.

That’s the encouragement that I’m holding onto.

And in the wise words of Daniel aka Mr. Chorizo, “you’re not gonna make money off the blog you’re gonna create.”

Get started sharing your content and voice now!

Web Hosting

 

Any questions or tips that you would add? Are you a blogger? Join the discussion below and tell me about your blog!

 

Surgery Abroad: How I Got My Ear Reconstructed for Free in Spain

I wasn’t nervous about my impending reconstructive surgery until the nurse walked into my room and swiftly attached a pole to the back of the hospital bed where I lay and it sprung and rolled to life. Next stop: the operating room.

Suddenly my world was gliding at a slow but steady speed backwards and the friend who was casually perched on the edge of the sofa next to my bed, began to fade from my sight. It helped slightly that I could only see a blurred outline of her silhouette in front of the window in my private room. I had long since taken off my glasses in order to mentally and physically prepare myself the rest of the way for this surgery. The fact that my surroundings were now fuzzy and out of focus didn’t impede my mind from entertaining anxious thoughts and letting them dance around inside my head. The day I had waited nearly 15 years for had finally come.

 

My room at Hospital La Luz. Can you just imagine how much this would cost per night in a US hospital?…

 

But how exactly did I end up here?

 

Background Info

Let’s back up a few years, shall we?

When I was 13 years old, my parents allowed me to get my ears pierced for the very first time. It was all I could think about when I was 12. The closer it got to my next birthday, the more I began to count down the days. It seemed like all of the other girls at school had already gotten theirs done years ago. Some even as babies. Nevertheless, my parents wanted me to wait until I got older as I needed longer to mature in some aspects of life than others. In hindsight, they were right. Yet even still, I should’ve waited a few more years before I had the piercing done. Why, do you ask? It’s an interesting yet cringe worthy story.

Several months after I got my ears pierced, I began to experiment with earrings, like any normal teenage girl would. I started trying out all sorts of earrings–all shapes, sizes and colors–though my modest allowance didn’t provide me with a lot of cash to spend on them. Besides, those multi-pack, inexpensive earrings from Claire’s at the mall would suffice.

Earrings or no earrings, I’m glad I don’t look like an awkward teenager anymore!

At the same time, I began to get a little lazy with the overall care of my ears and that extended to whether or not I took my earrings out at night.

I was old enough to know better to not sleep with them in but young enough to not comprehend the consequences if I did.

And now here comes one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life.

That summer my mom, brother and I were spending two weeks with my grandparents at their home in rural Nebraska. I was enjoying my time there and showed off my earrings with glee to all of the family members present. However, after five days of sleeping in dangly earrings in a row, I felt that something wasn’t right with my ear the morning of that muggy, mid-August day. I woke up and felt around my ear and quickly shot out of my bed and darted off to the bathroom across the hall. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and gasped in shock at the image before me. My eyes were fixated on the now droopy right ear. I was in disbelief that that was happening. With the state of my ear as it was and how it clearly was unable to support regular earrings after what I had done to it, I did the only thing I could think to do next: I pulled it out with a slight pop and let the earlobe rip.

What I didn’t realize at the time was simultaneously, a little tear also began to appear in my self-image and self-esteem that day. It was tiny and unnoticeable at first but over the years, I let it grow into something much bigger than the small tear in my ear. And that was just the start of what would become a long journey to restoration, both physically and emotionally speaking.

Nebraska: surprisingly diverse geographically but also the perfect place to spend my summers during childhood.

The sensation I felt at that moment in time over 16 years ago, and later on, the desire to repair that ear never went away.

My journey to restoring a part of me I hid for over a decade was an exhausting and frustrating one at times. I hadn’t had health insurance for the majority of my life. Just for a few years when I was a child and my dad was in the military and then later on in college when I was a student and having some coverage was mandatory to attend. And coming from the United States where almost all healthcare services are privatized, it wasn’t likely that I would be able to receive full coverage for a procedure that seemed to fall under the category of plastic surgery.

However, it wasn’t until many years later, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where I was teaching English in a primary school, that I became aware of how to repair my ear. After speaking with a receptionist at a local health clinic, just to inquire about the cost of plastic surgery for an ear, the friendly and informative lady told me that it didn’t qualify for that type of surgery. She went on to say that an ear nose and throat doctor would be the best person to see about it and proceeded to schedule an appointment for me.

 

I walked away from the clinic in disbelief and with a million thoughts swirling around in my head.

I would later have to miss a day of work in order to get the surgery done but that was a small sacrifice to make. (Photo: 3rd grade classroom at CEIP Padre Coloma in Madrid)

My private insurance plan provided for me by the Spanish government while I taught English as a language assistant in the public school system covered everything: from doctor’s visits to tests, x-rays…You name it, it was covered.

 

Could it possibly cover this entire surgical procedure?

 

I would soon find out that the answer was yes.

 

Yes, it would.

As much as I wanted to get the procedure done in Galicia, it was not meant to be. (Photo: a beautiful view of Playa de Riazor in A Coruña)

But, in the end, I wasn’t able to have the procedure performed in the north of Spain. The reason being that my insurance for that school year had already expired by the time my appointment rolled around.

Nevertheless, I had to wait a few months after my move to the capital city and revisit the idea of this surgery again. In Madrid, I found an excellent ear, nose and throat doctor at a private hospital just a short walk from my apartment in the north of the city. After a few weeks of consultations, a blood analysis and an EKG test, the surgery date was set for early April 2017.

 

That was just the first step in my journey to restoration but it was the most important one.

 

The night before my surgery, as my nerves began to gnaw at me, I indulged in a bit of earring shopping. It was something I hadn’t done enough of in my life. I wouldn’t need them until a few weeks later once my ear had time to heal and was ready for the earring to be inserted. I went to sleep that night with a sense of peace and knew that within 12 hours from that moment, physically speaking, I would never be the same again.

 

A part of me would be restored and my life would forever be better for it.

 

If you work hard enough, all your dreams can come true. Even in a big city 4,000 miles away from home.

 

The Procedure

 

Let me go back to the day of the surgery that I started to recount in the beginning of this post. I woke up early the next day on April 6th, 2017. It was a Thursday and normally a day I would have to work but I was able to get the day cleared by my very strict school principal at the time. I was within a 15 minute walk of the hospital, Hospital La Luz, but I caught the metro to get there a bit quicker.

 

The surgery wouldn’t be performed at the time in which I was scheduled (9 a.m.) due to some paperwork delays.

 

*Shakes head*

 

A couple weeks prior to the surgery, my doctor instructed me to call my insurance company, MAPFRE, so that they could authorize the procedure and select the correct code for it in the system. As far as I understood, I did this correctly when I called and spoke with an agent.

 

I did not. Oops.

I almost wanted to go watch a sunrise somewhere instead of being at the hospital so early and on an empty stomach… (Photo: Puerta de Alcala)


However, when I arrived at the hospital that morning and went to the section of the first floor lobby labeled, “Registrar” (Registration), the employees told me that I didn’t have the green light for the surgery. I sort of panicked at that time (as this particular doctor only did surgeries on Thursdays) but it was mainly hunger speaking as I had to fast for this procedure and the local anesthesia they would administer.

After a couple of attempts on my own dime (and a few euros later), I went back up to the registration desk and asked if the lady could help me with the authorization. The main issue I was having was that I didn’t know what type of surgery I was having medically speaking. The doctor had something recorded in his reports on file on his computer but he was in a different surgery at the time I was trying to call and the insurance agent was trying to find the correct code.

A frustrating situation to deal with on an empty stomach if you ask me.

I was really grateful for the company of a new friend who wanted to be with me during the time of my surgery. She was actually the only person I knew who had mornings free and that was a blessing to us both. We found we had a few more things in common than we thought and got to know each other better. All the while distracting my tired mind and growling stomach from the many tempting foods I could be snacking on.

After what seemed like an eternity, the lady at registration came over to our side of the large waiting room with good news and a smile on her lips. She told us she was able to reach the doctor and got the correct medical code for the surgery. Which meant the surgery was now authorized and I was all set! She did the rest of the paperwork for me and told me to go up to the second floor and its reception desk to receive more instructions.

We gathered up my stuff and paperwork and made our way over to the set of six elevators there on the main floor.

I later learned that there were a couple of elevators to the left of the front desk that would take us straight up to the second floor and its reception desk but it didn’t matter. (That shows that I had been inside that hospital one too many times but oh, well, haha. I used that tip for the follow-up appointment.)

Once we reached the correct floor and I checked in there (and was given an ID bracelet), they directed me to the room I was assigned for the surgery, that my insurance paid for. The fact that I was having surgery in just under an hour still didn’t officially hit me.

 

Not even after I had changed into the hospital gown in the adjoining bathroom. Or when my friend asked me if I was feeling nervous.

Though I only had the room for a few hours, I wished I could’ve used this shower! Pretty nice for a private hospital, huh?

Nope, I was still mostly focusing on how hungry I still was. (Distracted much? haha)

It wasn’t until the nurse who I was assigned latched a pole onto the back of my bed and said we needed to head up to the 11th floor. I looked at him quizzically and asked,

 

–Por qué tenemos que ir al piso once? (Why do we need to go to the 11th floor?)

 

He smiled.

 

–Allí está la sala de operación y donde le veremos al médico.

(The operating room is there and that’s where we’ll see the doctor.)

 

OK, then it got real! I was going to the operating room?! But why?

 

The doctor actually came into my room a couple moments later. He instructed the nurse to bring me up, after lightly scolding me that I should’ve planned ahead in order to get the surgery authorized on a day that wasn’t the day of the surgery. Oops. Well, other than that he was glad to see me and was ready to get the procedure on its way.

 

So, going back to the beginning of the story, the nurse then latched a pole onto the back of my bed, turned it and then rolled it across the room, down the hall and into the next available elevator.

At least I got to admire this view in Northern Madrid later on that day.

Another nurse or technician was already in the elevator and started to make small talk with us. Meanwhile, I tried to hold back a nervous smile during the elevator ride but it backfired. The nurse who was with me looked down at me at just that moment and inquired,

 

– Estás bien? Estás triste? (Are you OK? Are you sad?)

 

– No, solo es que estoy un poco nerviosa… (No, I’m just a little nervous is all.)

 

The real thoughts running through my mind: Why on earth am I going up to the operating room? This is practically one of the smallest surgeries in the world! Why do I need to go there?

 

Well, it was so I could be in a more sterile environment, I learned afterwards.

 

And once we got off the elevator at our stop, he took me and my bed on another trip, down another hall and whoosh..through the doors of said operating room in one full sweep.

 

The ride was over for now.

 

But the main event of the day was just about to begin.

 

A close-up of my torn right earlobe. It was soon going to be a thing of the past and something I no longer had to hide.

While a couple of nurses began to get things set up, the anesthesiologist asked me a couple of questions and prepped my arm for the administration of the local anesthesia and an antibiotic to help me with the pain. Carlos, my doctor, also asked me a couple of questions, calmed my anxious mind and said the procedure would be over quite quickly. All I had to do was relax. But he also urged me to tell him if I needed anything or if I was uncomfortable during the surgery.

Then, after covering my face with a sheet of polyester fabric and cutting out an ear sized hole in it, the surgery got underway.

I was so thankful for the numbing power of the anesthesia as I didn’t feel anything during the time he was stitching me up. However, I felt a bit of the needle towards the end (as I didn’t realize I could ask for more anesthesia, oops!) but I survived.

And then I had to keep my ear and its stitches wrapped up for a whole 24 hours. Funny thing was trying to keep it on for a couple days later as I was flying to Switzerland the very next morning. The only cost I incurred from the surgery was an antiseptic cream I bought in Italy and the cost per minute to call my insurance company.

 

The post-surgery stitches I had to keep in until April 27th, 2017. (Otherwise known as the first day I got to wear an earring in that ear as an adult!)

 

(Plus, the doctor said weeks before I would be okay if I traveled sooo….)

That was it. A surgery that lasted less than an hour but changed the rest of the course of my life. And freed me to tap back into a part of me I had pushed down for too many years.

I had quite a few years of earring shopping to make up for (and a whole collection to pick up from back home whenever I could make it there).

I bought the middle pair of earrings but the other two pairs were gifted to me by two special people in my life. 🙂

Reflections

It’s now been a full year since I finished the healing and recovery process from that surgery. I would have to go back and look at which day in particular I took the earring out and finally got to stop sleeping with them every night. I was so relieved that day.

But the most ironic thing about my whole experience from torn earlobe to restorative surgery later was that the very thing that hurt me, healed me. If I hadn’t slept in the dangly earrings in the first place, I wouldn’t have needed the surgery.

But, if I hadn’t slept in the earrings like the doctor instructed me to do (and spent four months without sleeping on either of my sides), it wouldn’t have healed and the hole wouldn’t have formed correctly.

Isn’t life funny sometimes?

All that I have left from that experience is a scar. That scar will be visible whenever I take an earring out of that ear and it’s a mark on my body that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still learning to accept and embrace. The good news is that the emotional scars have begun to fade ever since the first stitch was sewn that beautiful spring day. It’s amazing how much change and healing even the smallest surgeries can manifest. Even when you’re the only one who knows the aftereffects.

The most important lesson I learned from this whole experience was that you should embrace yourself, imperfections and all, as you never know if someone else around you is struggling to accept themselves. Your story might be the one that has enough impact to motivate them to overcome their insecurity. And that is what I hope my story can do for you.

 

After all the years of pain, self-shaming and hiding, a part of me was restored. And it took traveling all the way to Spain and building a life for myself here to finally get to that point. (Photo: Plaza de España, Sevilla – my favorite place in the whole world)

 

Have you ever gotten a surgery done abroad? Where were you (or where did you go) and how was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

5 Things I Never Thought I’d Do in My Twenties

“Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m in my twenties and I’m from the United States…”

This has usually been the first few words I rattle off to someone when I meet them for the first time.

When I was 20, saying the number out loud instead of some other number with “-teen” added to the end was very strange to me for a couple months.

I quickly got used to it.

And now I don’t exactly want to stop saying it.

But sadly, a decade doesn’t last forever…

Seasons come and go but we must remind ourselves to enjoy each one to their fullest.

Towards the end of this year I will be saying adiós to the best decade of my life (thus far) and for a while I haven’t been sure how I really felt about it. Last month I created this list and started reminiscing about all the adventures, mishaps, lessons, milestones, achievements, disappointments and losses I’ve experienced up until now in my life.

I’m now just shy of five months before I have to say goodbye to my twenties.

The decade where everyone says you learn, grow, change and live the most than any other time period in your life. It’s also a decade where you will never have as much freedom as you will at any other point in your life.

It’ll seem like you have all the time in the world to live, experience the world, find your passions, build a career, educate yourself and travel. The list of things we want to do while we’re young is endless but the unfortunate reality is that time is not. Time is limited and our energy and drive to accomplish our dreams goes one of two ways: up or down.

Our twenties are the years where we can go hard and fast after our dreams. In the last few years, more people between the ages of 20 to 29 travel the world, live overseas, get advanced professional degrees, start businesses and create new technologies. They are achieving these things more so now than at any other point in the history of mankind.

But it’s also the decade where you can meet the person you’ll marry, start a family and build a life together. As a young American woman who grew up in the Midwest and then later went to a university in the South, these three milestones in particular were hammered into me from a young age.

Nevertheless, what many people in my community lost sight of was this: it’s a possibility but it’s not a guarantee.

For a long time, I caught flights. Not feelings.  (Photo taken just before landing in Dublin, Ireland)

 

What I can guarantee is that you will learn a whole lot about yourself during this time period.

And the learning won’t stop as long as you keep embracing it. Craving it. Seeking it out.

If you know me (but as you will also see in this post), you know that my life took a different route during my twenties. It wasn’t a journey I ever expected to go on but I’m eternally grateful for it. And though I’m struggling a little bit with mixed feelings as I enjoy the final months of this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime time period, I’m happy my life has turned out this way.

But overall, I hope you find my story encouraging and inspiring, whether you’re a twenty-something on paper or at heart.

Each of these experiences have had a major impact on me so it was extremely hard to create the order for this list.

So, without further ado, I’ll get right to it.

 

5. Be able to discover who I am, what I’m passionate about and who God sees me As without distractions

 

Just like I told myself during my first few weeks living in Madrid…[On the weekends] I can go anywhere I want.

This one is exactly like the header describes. I’ve been blessed with the huge opportunity to get to learn who I really am and what I really love to do. I switched majors in college towards the middle of my time at Jacksonville University.

I tried nearly everything I could get my hands on. I joined the JU Rowing team, chatted with Spanish speakers at the weekly conversation table, signed up for a graded swimming class (and it took me until I was 12 to overcome my fear of water! haha), tried spinning classes at the crack of dawn, swam with manatees, met people from all around the country and world. And that was just college.

A couple of semesters in row, the study abroad coordinators urged me to consider studying abroad in Spanish speaking country for a whole semester instead of just a summer term. They saw my passion for the Spanish language as it was what many people noticed about me way back then. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a short 6-week immersion experience. I needed to go for a whole semester.

They were right. But after spending a couple of months in Sevilla, my long standing favorite Spanish city even to this day, I felt that they were wrong. A semester wasn’t enough time. I should’ve studied and lived there for a whole year!

I eventually did go back to Spain to live for that *long* amount of time but time flies when you’re having the time of your life and learning so much. A year of living there has now turned into almost four. It’s a part of the world that’s come to hold a special place in my heart.

 

Over the course of the past decade, I did always seem to find my way back to Spain and Sevilla in particular. I would learn the purpose behind all my trips a few years later, however…

 

I’ve still continued to enjoy this past decade doing and trying everything I possibly could. What I’ve kept in the forefront of my mind is that it’s better to experience something by yourself than miss out entirely. Lots of my friends had already found a life partner earlier in their lives and were starting their families. Naturally, I was happy for them but there were many times I felt lonely and left out. But very few times did I feel so sorry for myself that I skipped going somewhere or trying something new because someone couldn’t go with me. My mid-to-late twenties were full of these types of experiences.

It wasn’t until I hit my late twenties that I embraced several of my strengths and weaknesses. One major turning point for me (and my career) was when I identified as a writer. For a long while it was a hobby but it’s more than that. It’s a part of who I am and how I view the world. And by embracing this side of me, I found my purpose and what I believe the calling God has placed on my life. It’s also the underlining purpose of this blog: to inspire young Christian women to travel and discover the world.  Even if the media says differently or if you have to travel alone.

I don’t think I would’ve been able to cultivate many hidden talents and interests in my life if I hadn’t have had this time to do so.

 

4. Not spend most of this decade dating someone

Having a cappuccino in Milan on a Saturday morning in April 2017. I look like the perfect coffee date, don’t I?

This one is also a little bit self-explanatory.

I’ve kept my dating life quite private. But, if you’ve ever sat down and talked to me, you would know that meeting someone was at the top of my list. Alongside pursuing a career and personal interests. I’ve always been extremely ambitious and self motivated. It’s very rare for me to sit on the sidelines and not be actively making plans or searching for a solution.

However, I was quite shy when it came to meeting guys and being romantic with them. I had virtually no experience of my own and my parents weren’t exactly affectionate at home too often. I didn’t necessarily put this area of my life on the back burner. Instead, I focused on developing my social and domestic skills and my personality as a whole. Not to mention my faith in God deepened with each passing year.

I made a conscious decision to pour my heart and my dreams out to God instead of pouring myself into a handful of superficial dating relationships. I think a combination of this habit and developing my own personality were the main components of my success in both friendships and relationships.

During my early and mid-twenties, I met lots of people from all walks of life. Young guys who grew up in the same country I did but plenty of guys who did not. I didn’t officially start going on what I would consider dates until about age 26. And the learning just increased from there on. I do feel like when I was 27, I experienced a short-term period of exponential growth in terms of relationships. I was a bit impatient when it came to meeting that perfect guy. In reality, I only put pressure and a time limit on myself which meant that that could only end badly.

It did.

But, God redeemed my wasted time and I found a silver lining to the experience. I learned exactly what I wasn’t looking for in a man. And in the long run, I could’ve wasted more time than I did so I was fortunate enough to only waste the time that I did on that experience.

I did, however, write one of my most favorite pieces on my blog. Though I wrote it while dealing with a profound bout of sadness, it was still a beautiful post that I created. A girl I met in my hostel that weekend encouraged me to keep writing even if I felt sad. So I did.

The main reason why this topic made the list was to point out that I didn’t meet anyone worth my time and introducing to my family until much later in this decade. I also didn’t spend most of my twenties dating the same person and not being able to figure out who I was apart from the relationship.

I was blessed with the opportunity to develop my personality, character and passions on my own. And because I focused on developing a strong foundation of who I am and who God sees me , I could present a more complete person to a man, when the time came for our paths to cross.

 

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. A place where I would later realize how much of an impact it really had on me and my future.

 

3. Move abroad by myself and obtain a work visa

 

One of two letters that completely changed my life in late 2017.

 

In the past year, I have talked quite a bit about this particular achievement if you’ve seen my Instagram account or my contributing posts and comments on English teacher or Spain immigration groups on Facebook.

I’m spending some time at home right now while I finish this post and just yesterday I came across a slip of paper I tucked away inside the Bible I received after my high school graduation (I use a bilingual one in Spain). It said, “List 3 dreams you have for your life.”

One of them was “live in a Spanish speaking country,” and I can excitedly say that I’ve done that (and currently doing that!). I always did see myself living abroad but I figured it would be somewhere in South America. Well, God directed my steps to Spain and now Madrid in particular. I had no idea the difficulties of obtaining a work visa in another country but teaching abroad through the Auxiliar de Conversación program helped me get a peek at visa applications. And with each renewal of my visa-and personal interest- I built up my knowledge on the topic. Then, I put all that knowledge into practice and applied to modify my existing student visa to a work/freelancer visa. In fact, I spent the whole month of July last year working on it and gave up my chance to travel home for part of the summer.

It really pays to be extra detailed and to do your homework with anything you do. Whether it’s applying for that dream job of yours. Getting a promotion or applying for a grant or scholarship. The thing you always have to prove to someone is why they should choose you and not someone else.

If I have learned anything through my very unconventional career path, it’s to go above and beyond someone’s expectations for you (and your services) and to never give up on yourself. All of my failures have been turned into major life lessons and help catapult me to success. I may not see the reason or end result in the midst of the failure but I figure it out eventually.

And you will, too, when it comes to finding your passion and forging a career path for yourself.

 

2. Travel to two of the most romantic cities in the world as a single girl

 

I heard Paris was romantic, international and exotic. It sounded like the perfect city to fall in love with…so why not go?

Your twenties truly are for travel. Slow, fast, group tours, solo travel…However you travel, just do it.

I am a huge advocate for travel. I’ve been traveling to other states my whole life. But, after I got my first taste of it way back in 2006, I got hooked on international travel. Technically I only border hopped down to Mexico. But in reality, my high school mission team and I went all the way down to the most southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. A 50+ hour drive from the border of Tijuana and San Diego, California.

As a teenager, I experienced a number of emotions and new sights in just the span of a couple of weeks. I even came into contact with poverty for the first time in my life. Long before I was a twenty-something, I went on a life-changing trip.

My reason for adding this one to the list is simple. Don’t put off travel for later. Or for when you want to go with that special someone. Go anyway.

What if you will never have the chance to go to Paris with your significant other? Or what if you meet someone that can’t really stand long international flights?

Go while you have the time.

And, you know what?

Go back.

Go back to cities over and over again and rewrite your experiences there.

Did you have an awful time in a popular European city because it rained or you lost your phone? Go back and strive to have a better experience.

I didn’t ever plan on going to Paris, the city of love, by myself but I did. I read the year before that you could ice skate on top of the Eiffel Tower during Christmastime (which was also conveniently around the time of my birthday) so I researched it, bought my flight and accommodation, planned my trip and went solo. Despite being very surprised at the high cost of living and an awkward moment on top of the Eiffel Tower itself, I had a wonderful time. I even saw a friend from study abroad and got to hear him speak his native language (French) and get a personal tour of his favorite part of the city.

But, before my experience even began, on the train into the city, I met a couple of girls who were headed to London via the Gare du Nord train station. One of them said it was their third time in Paris. I confessed that it was my first visit and that I was alone.  The friendly, blonde haired lady smiled and said, “Paris isn’t meant to only be experienced once. You can go back again and again and have completely different experiences.”

I was very much encouraged after that short conversation. I did vow that I would go back  there with someone special one day but I focused on how this would be *my experience.*

And it was the most incredible first solo trip I did in another country. I even had a working understanding of French by the time I left – after only 5 days! (Thanks, Spanish, haha)

 

Venice, Italy. It was everything I had heard about and more. Rain or shine: day or night; I let this city romance me, too.

That conversation I had on that gray December day outside of Paris back in 2014 has stuck with me ever since. It was also what encouraged me to add Venice to my list when I was planning my first ever trip to Italy last April. A couple of my friends really wanted to go to Venice as well but when it didn’t work out, I still kept the city on my list.

I knew Venice was quite a bit more romantic than Paris -and more expensive too!- that I limited myself to only spending 24 hours there. I again vowed, a little more seriously this time, that I would return but only with a special someone in tow.

The best thing I could’ve ever done that trip was to let myself go and experience Venice.

From the train ride into the city to walking the streets underneath the glow of the moon, it completely romanced me. And it encouraged me during a time in my life when I was doubting the chance of ever meeting a guy who could fall in love with me. Being romanced and being enchanted by Venice was an amazing experience. I met a family from Greece who was lost and needed help getting back to the main drag (The Gran Canal). I bought a beautiful scarf from a street trader who was from the town and had a conversation with the owner of my B&B about Venetians and tourism.

Because I was open to conversations and traveling alone, I was able to have some one-of-a-kind conversations with other travelers and locals.

So, if you do happen to be single and the next time a trip to an incredibly romantic city presents itself.

Go.

These cities are romantic for a reason, mainly because their language, history or architecture heavily influences it. Let yourself be romanced by them and don’t wait for someone to go with you or take you there.

Go by yourself and then go back. Rewrite your experiences with romantic cities as many times as you can.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to you on what those cities are like with my special someone. 😉

 

  1.  Not get married or start having kids

This is the big one. It’s one I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and come to terms with as my 30th birthday approaches.

While I am happy to say that I’m now in a very loving and long-term relationship, getting married and having at least one child during my twenties was not in the cards for me.

I don’t know about you but I have been a planner for most of my life. I do indulge in last-minute travel planning quite a bit, however, long-term plans are always well-thought out and carefully planned. I even planned the free time my brother and I had on a trip to one of my parents’ conferences.  I listed the times we would do different activities and for how long.

I was about 8.

I had places to go and things to do, obviously…

And God listened to my plans.

He heard all of my prayers even though He didn’t answer them when I wanted Him to with the answers I wanted. He also forced me to wait. And learn how to use my time wisely during that wait.

He was working on the bigger picture and orchestrating each step I took. Each person I met. Each placed I ever set foot in. Even the languages I fell in love with or different English speakers I met.

Every experience was a signpost in the journey I was on to the person God had in mind for me. They were  stepping stones to new and bigger blessings He wanted to give me.

Now, at 29 years old, I think it’s safe to say I’m glad I didn’t get my wish of getting married by 25. I didn’t know exactly who I was then and I was still very immature when it came to love. I’m glad I was able to learn and stumble my way through each experience gracefully and become the person I am today.

The past couple years have been full of growth in all areas of my life. I’m glad to have worked on my own weaknesses, personal struggles and heartache on my own before God saw it fit for his and my path to come together.

I’ve worked hard to become Sarah. And you better believe I’ll keep working on becoming an even better version of her at 30 and beyond.

One step at a time.

Cheers to the decade to come. Things can only get better and brighter from here on out! (Photo taken atop the Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid)