This year, went so fast. I don't know how fast this year went for you, but I blinked and I was already jet setting across Canada to Europe, as I embarked on a new adventure of self discovery, and my new life abroad.
I remember my process back in January 2016 trying to plan everything, and realizing I wanted a big change for the new year. I wanted to be spontaneous and explore new places, with Europe calling my name, and wanted to really immerse myself in a completely different culture, but do it in an affordable way. I mean, i'm only 22 and I don't have everything all figured out, does anyone really do? So I made the choice to save up for a couple years from working two jobs, and planned to save money for something amazing in the future.
I noticed a lot of people were so excited for 2016 to be over, and online the year was listed as possibly one of the worst years ever. But for me, it was a year of exploration, freedom and personal growth. Taking a leap into the unknown, and making a year filled with new adventures.
Here are StylistNomad's | Top highlights for the year 2016
I was working hard at my current job, especially during the holiday season. I was focusing on friends, and family and also applied for my Spanish VISA application and planning to get things in order before February. I was rushing around to police stations to find where I needed to get my security check, and also consistently checking flights. I was working part time at Novella Magazine, and writing content online for StylistNomad. Highlights: Had an amazing New Years with friends at PlayBar nightclub and started it off right. Sent off my applications and crossed my fingers.
After a couple weeks of waiting, I finally received an email confirmation and my passport in the mail with acceptance for my Spanish VISA. All I needed todo with book my flight and pack my bags. Highlights: I booked my first one-way ticket to Europe, and partied hard for a week in Lisbon, Portugal.
I took a one-way flight from Lisbon to Valencia, where I met my host family I planned to stay with for the year. I made new friends in the city immediately, and I also joined a language exchange and was introduced to Erasmus, which is an international student program part of the university. Highlights: getting settled in a new city, making new friends and my excitement seeing the downtown, palm trees and the Spanish culture.
I took my first solo trip to Madrid, where I met my new friend Maria originally from the USA. We decided to plan a spontaneous trip for the following week to Tenerife, and she also showed me around the Spanish captial. I also had a nice host in the city named Miguel, and we explored around on bike. Maria and I met the following week with my friend Alaa, and we planned to meet on the island. We had a fantastic Airbnb stay over looking a volcanic beach and golf course, we also explored most of the island and went on hiking excursions.
Highlights: taking a bike and going on super busy roads across the city of Madrid, practically dogging cars, pedestrians and animals as we went through parks and major landmarks. I also really enjoyed going with Maria to the Plaza de Toros bull fighting ring, and it happened to be a super windy day with our hair blowing around for pictures. Finally, the trip to Tenerife was incredible, especially it housing the 3rd largest volcano in the world. We took a car up to the mountain, and I remember us looking out beyond the horizon above the clouds, unforgettable.
Another month of multiple trips, where this time I decided todo a couple spontaneous excursions to Morocco, Barcelona and host my Canadian friend Nasim in Valencia. When she arrived from Canada to Israel then to Valencia, we had one day to enjoy the city, and then take a BlaBla car to Barcelona. The car ride took 6 hours, but well worth it. I explained we were staying in a hostel which she never stayed in before, and this was also her first time traveling in Europe.
She never heard of such thing as a "hostel" more like a "brothel"..haha. I told her its a great place to meet like-minded travellers, who can be lasting friends. There were so many people there, its hard not to make friends. We stayed in a fantastic hostel called HelloBCN, right down the street from Las Ramblas. Luckily when our roomies arrived, they were all from El Salvador, full of energy and ready to have fun! Nasim really made the trip enjoyable with her hilarious humour, and upbeat personality and the diversity between all of our cultures.
Barcelona Highlights: Walking down Las Ramblas with seven guys from El Salvador behind Nasim and I, and going to a hidden bar downtown, with a huge beer tower to share.
This month was full of travel, and when I came back from Barcelona with Nasim, I showed her around the downtown, went shopping and enjoyed a Starbucks in the centre. When she left, a couple days later I realized my flight to Morocco was approaching sooner than I expected. I happened to be going with my friend Oscar, and we needed to take a BlaBla car to Madrid first, and then take a direct flight to Marrakech.
We stayed in a beautiful Ryad, with a beautiful Moroccan breakfast every morning with fresh orange juice, crepes, tea and biscuits. We walked around the Medina, met with some Moroccan local friends, took a camel ride in the desert and tried some traditional Moroccan dishes. Morocco Highlights were when we walked through the markets, with the most chaos I have ever experienced (donkeys, people yelling, carts rolling by and food out in the open). Also taking a 1.5 hour camel ride outside the Medina in a desert, and stopping to drink tea and biscuits at a Berbers house in the middle of nowhere (crazy).
When I got back from Morocco, I met with my friend Jonny, who came to visit me from the UK. We went to Umbrecle/Mya nightclub one night, and also lounged on day-beds at the pool bar, right beside the beach. I introduced him to some of my Spanish school friends, and we went to a language exchange. Later that month, it was nearing my departure to leave Spain, and I managed to find a new host family in Rome, Italy. I enjoyed the weeks left in Valencia with local friends and lived each day to the fullest. Highlights: meeting my new family in Rome Italy, and sailing on a boat in Sardinia for two weeks.
I celebrated my first Canada day on a 50-foot sail boat on the coast line of Sardinia, no complaints. I swam in the emerald coast, with the most fish and sea life I have ever experienced. I explored more than 10 islands and ate the most sea food ever. I loved lying in the sun on top of the boat, and feeling the fresh sea breeze in my face. Highlights: were the amazing Italian home-cooked meals I would eat each day with the family. Swimming in the sea with the most clearest water and white sand. Jumping into the water with the girls off the boat. Spending a night out in the Maddalena coast in France.
This month was amazing, because my best friend Alex from Canada came to see me in Italy, and we also celebrate my birthday together. We planned a massive trip first to Greece, but because it was the high season, it was also impossible to find a good flight-deal. We decided to stay in-land and explore more of Italy.
First we took a train to Milan. This was so exciting for me, of course it being the capital of Italian fashion and it has also been a dream of ours to see. The city is beautiful, and it's not "grey" or dirty, and there is lots todo in a couple of days. Check out my article about "How to look chic on the streets in Milan, without spending a fortune." http://www.stylistnomad.com/laurensblog/2016/8/25/how-to-look-chic-on-the-streets-in-milan-without-spending-a-fortune
After 2 days in Milan, we took a train to Verona for a day, the town of Romeo and Juliet, and then Venice. After 4 days in Venice, we took another train to Florence, where we celebrated my 22nd birthday. After we took a Flexbus to Rome for 10 euros and spent the rest of the trip in Rome, and then one day in Athens Greece. Highlights: when we stepped off the train in Venice, and were in complete "aw" of how amazing the city really is in person. We met three Italians in Florence, and partied hard for my birthday! It also happened to be one of the other guys birthdays as well that night. Making dinners in Rome was the best with Alex, also our last night eating and drinking wine and cheese, overlooking the Roman sunset panorama, of the city. Wow!
I decided to slow down a bit, especially after months back-to-back travelling. The only place I went during this month was to Tuscany for one week. I enjoyed tanning on the beach, playing with Carol my Italian host sister, and eating amazing Italian meals with the family. I went out to a club with Carols cousin one night and her friends, and also enjoyed a Tuscan dinner together in the mountains. Highlights: were playing with Carol in the sea and on the beach. I also enjoyed exploring Rome, and making new friends later in the month. Taking a bike-ride around the Tuscan streets in Viareggio.
This month was beautiful, with leaves turning colours and the warmest sunsets each night, but the days started becoming shorter and the nights longer. This month I decided to buckle down and find a couple of jobs. Being a fluent English speaker I thought finding an English teaching job would be easy, but It really wasn't. Also having a Spanish VISA and not an Italian one is a big deal and it narrows down your job availability because you need a fiscal code. I managed to land a number of interviews for schools in Rome. When finally one accepted me, and had me start immediately the next day. They arranged a contract and everything, and it all seemed good-to-go, but I didn't have the code, and later that became the problem.
I had two weeks of classes, with 7-10 students, and lesson planning experience. I had my own class room and the students and other teachers started liking my teaching methods. Unfortunately without the fiscal code, they couldn't continue to have me permanently, but I still gained a couple weeks of experience and I actually really enjoyed it.
I didn't give up after, and kept looking and later I managed to find a job in tourism. I started working at the Roman Colosseum a couple times a week for 2-3 hours, and I was paid in cash. This was legal and totally worth my while and time. Some days were not so good, because of less traffic, but sometimes it was more than any paying job out there, plus it was flexible with my hours. During that time, I made amazing international friends who I am still friends with to this day, and great contacts. I even made friends with tourists. I'm really happy I went for it, and it was always a great time. Highlights: working at the Roman Colosseum, and working as an English teacher.
This was my final full month living in the beautiful ancient city. I wanted to make the most out of my last few weeks, and enjoy everything to the fullest. I finally visited the Vatican, after six months living there, and even gave tours around the city. I met these amazing Brazilian friends working at the Colosseum, and we went to some events, karaoke clubs, and discos.
I said my farewells to my friends and family and departed onto my new adventure. I had to pack everything from the beginning of my trip into one suitcase, and I also had multiple bags. I reflected on everything that happened this past year, and I was in shock, at how much I really did and everything up until this final day.
The most crazy memory I had when I took my massive suitcase downstairs and struggled to take it to the cab driver. This thing weighed a ton! It was 4am in the morning and my flight departed at 6:30am. My friends in Rome told me it's important to arrive early for these international flights, and guess what... they were right.
When I arrived at the airport I paid the cab driver and headed inside to find my gate number. Thankfully there were no lines and I thought, "This will be a breeze". When I finally got to the front of the line and spoke to the TAP airline attendant, she told me my bag was too heavy and over the weight limit, and that I needed to pay a 90 euro fee. I thought that was a hefty amount and I wasn't prepared to spend that much... but I was tired and decided to consider paying the price. She explained I needed to go to a booth and pay for it on the other side. So I left my suitcase and searched upstairs and downstairs for this booth, soon finding out it was close to where I started...by then it was 5:15am.
I arrived at this booth and there was a man, talking on the phone. I requested that I needed to pay 90 euros for my extra weight. So he looked into it for me, and soon explained it was going to be 200 euros now...absolutely ridiculous. How does it go from 90 to 200? I felt that was a big scam, so I made the decision to dump some of my articles out, and remove most of the extra weight. I went over to a corner in the airport, so tired and felt kind of embarrassed opening up my bag in front of people, but I shrugged it off and quickly threw away items. I got rid of a paint set, wine, beer, pesto sauce, and hot coco. Wasted, but not worth paying 200 euros. I went back and had the lady weigh my bag. It was 22.5 kg instead of 28 kg. The weight restriction limit was 23 kg. So I finally was set and headed for customs. I must have carried 5 bags through customs, and nearly broke my back carrying all the weighted items. Ladies, try not to bring so many clothes and "shoes", I actually had 7 pairs in total...I know I am crazy.
Highlights: Finally arriving back in Canada, seeing my two good friends Marcos and Nissa, and of course my family. I was so jet lagged and glad to get rid of all my weighted luggage.
My Italian mom mentioned to me, she noticed a change since we first met, and It was a positive change. I really started to understand myself more as a person, really tune into my feelings and to really have control over my life. I learned to understand myself more as an individual, even during hardships throughout my year abroad. I felt happier in a place that was new, and being surrounding by such positive influences in my life, and I really connected well to the Italian culture in general and also with my Italian family.
I was so happy to have experienced this journey, being able to see the things I saw, the places, new people, incredible food and of course making lasting relationships that will always have a place in my heart. My Italian and Spanish journey isn't the end, for me it was only the beginning. I felt more at home at some moments, especially living such a comfortable and unique lifestyle, and being able to experience something new everyday. There really is so much opportunity for one to move abroad, and immerse yourself in a place that is completely foreign, but the challenge for some is to be able to adapt. I think that in itself is a great accomplishment. For me the journey will never end, and I am always ready for a new challenge, opportunity and continue to grow each year, with my fashion aspirations, travel adventures and self discovery following the new year 2017.
I am always looking for collaborations, and new opportunities to inspire others and to be inspired by individuals. I wish everyone a wonderful 2017 year, and to chase any dreams or goals you want to achieve. Go beyond limitations, and do what it takes to get to where you want to be.
xx~ Lauren Martin