Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

The time is getting close for everyone to move to Spain and everyone is stressing about not having an apartment. Yes, you do have fair enough reason to be stressing, you are moving across the ocean with all of your junk and you don’t have anywhere to keep it! However, just relax. It WILL work out. To be honest though, finding housing isn’t as easy as it was in college. You can’t just ask one of your friends for advice because everyone has a different school placement and different financial situations. In college, we just wanted to know where’s the best place to live off campus, closest to the bus line, nearest to the best bars (because we would all be walking home through knee deep snow) and which landlords are most likely to give back your security deposit in full. Friends could usually tell you all of this information and more! In Spain, we want to know the same things, it’s just ALOT more difficult. You have a lot of options, almost too many. Do I want to be an au pair or just rent a room? Do I want to search on a website? Do I want to go through a company? How much am I willing to pay? How far am I willing to commute? Let’s take a look!

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Thanksgiving at my apartment in Madrid! November 2013

Housing Options

Rent a room: One room. This is the ideal situation. It’s all you want and all you need. Bills in your name? Try not to. Sign a lease? If you don’t have to, don’t. Security deposit? One month only please.
Rent a piso (an entire apartment): Yes, people do this however, really really think about what you are committing to.This would mean that you would have to fill the other bedrooms and you would have to have all the bills (internet, water, gas, etc) in your name. If you don’t find a roommate, you are responsible. If the internet stops working, you are responsible. If the bill is really crazy one month, you are responsible to find out why. If there are cockroaches, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. Think about it…do you want to be THAT responsible?
Be an au pair: Live with a family, spend a couple hours a day teaching english to their kids and you can live for free and eat for free. Everyone I know who has been an au pair has had a different experience. Some liked it, some hated it. It really takes dedication. I tried it for a month, in the end I moved out. I didn’t want to spend 5 days a week giving private classes to three kids when I only have to work as an auxiliar 4 days a week. Maybe I am just lazy but I didn’t want to feel guilty when I wanted to take my 3 day weekends to myself. If I wanted to travel or lay in bed or do whatever I darn well please, I didn’t want to have to worry about a family needing me to pick kids up from school and then give them english classes on my day off.

How to Find Housing

Idealista: A housing website. The problem with housing websites is that many rooms get filled and the landlord doesn’t take the ad down. You could call 15 people and they could all say “Sorry, its already rented out”…Really irritating especially when you’re wasting minutes calling them!
EasyPiso: A housing website. I don’t like this one really but I know others use it.
SegundaMano: A housing website.
Auxiliar de conversación Facebook page: Often auxiliars are looking for roommates or renting out their own room. Also, Spanish people use the auxiliar page to contact people about open bedrooms in their flats or about being au pairs.
Ads on the street: As you walk around the neighborhood you want to live in, you will see ads posted on telephone poles or doors or anywhere really. Write down the phone number, give them a call and go see the apartment. (That’s how I found my first apartment!)

Paying Rent/Gastos (Bills)

Rent in Spain can be with gastos includos or gastos no incluidos. So, either your bills are included in your rent or they aren’t. If they aren’t, ask about how much they will cost monthly to figure out how much you will truly be spending on housing each month.

How much? It varies. In Madrid, I know people pay anywhere from €300 to €600 a month rent including what they pay for bulls. Paying €300 will get you a small bedroom in a shared apartment and €600 would be your own small studio apartment. The average from what I have heard is about €400 a month for a normal (for Madrid) bedroom. Friends of mine outside of Madrid paid €200 all included. Really you should try not to spend more than half of your salary on rent. In Madrid we make €1000 a month and everywhere else in Spain makes €700 a month.

Some advice about paying rent…make sure, make sure, MAKE SURE that you are not living with people who are stealing your money! It seems simple to say, but with the language barrier and lack of knowledge about how renting an apartment works in Spain, people get screwed over big time. The tenants and the landlords, to be honest. For every five housing stories with happy endings, there are 15 horror stories.

Make sure you read your lease, know what they will take out of your security deposit and make sure that you know what you are paying for. Also, make sure you are getting what you paid for. Most bedrooms will vary in price within each apartment, if you are in the smallest room and paying the most there is definitely a problem. Try not to open an internet account or any account in your name. The contracts are always at least one year and do you really want to pay for internet for 12 months when you will probably only live in your apartment for 9? Just a thought. Later on you will be posting on the auxiliar page saying “do I really need to pay this? I am going back to america anyways.”

Last but not least, when you pay rent each month, you need to pay your money directly into a bank account and make sure you know WHO the bank account belongs to and ALWAYS ALWAYS keep evidence of what you have paid. ALL of the receipts you get from the banks are the ONLY proof you have that you have paid. Try NOT to pay in cash, because if you pay in cash there is no proof that you ever actually paid it.

Leases (Contratos)

You don’t want a two-year lease. Simple as that. Honestly, you don’t want even a one-year lease. It’s a bitch to find a sublet. Sign a lease but make sure your lease has an out or even that your lease ends when you plan on leaving Spain. Most want at least a 6 month commitment, which is totally doable as an auxiliar!

If you didn’t sign a lease, DON’T PAY A SECURITY DEPOSIT. If it’s not written down, they don’t have to give it back, and trust me, they WON’T give it back.

If you didn’t sign a lease you can move out whenever you want OR they can kick you out whenever you want, it goes both ways my friends.

Social security number, official documents, etc. be CAREFUL as to who you are giving the information to. Yes, you’ll probably have to give a photocopy of an ID, most likely your passport, however, no one wants a random photocopy of their passport floating around in the hands of someone else. If they don’t ask for it, don’t give it.

Where to Live/Commuting

Take a look at the public transit information for your city. Does it look like gibberish? I imagine so. This gibberish will become your life. Madrid has a great metro system, cercanias (trains) and the busses aren’t bad either. All Spanish cities have really reliable public transport. To be honest, Madrid isn’t THAT big either. You should be able to find yourself an apartment that lets you have under an hour commute.

WOAH, an HOUR commute?! That was my thought too. Really, an hour on the metro isn’t bad, you can get lost in Game of Thrones, just don’t forget to get off at your stop! Some people even have a 5 minute walk to school. It all depends on your school and the size of your city! Honestly though, don’t set yourself up for failure, if you know you can’t make it on time living an hour away, move to a different part of your city. Living by school is an option too! However, if you are an hour from your friends it makes it a lot more difficult to meet up for dinner. Especially at night when public transport stops at 2am. Sucks to be the one to have to leave early to catch the metro…or sucks to have to taxi it home when you just missed the last metro by minutes! or you could just take the metro home at 6am when it opens back up!

Sunrise walking to the metro in the morning when it opened back up!
Sunrise from Gran Via at 6 in the morning on the way to the metro to go home from a party!
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The city center of Madrid as a ghost town as I walked to the Metro at 6am!

Metro: Locate your school, find which metro stop you are at and which line your school is on and plant yourself in an apartment in the center that’s within easy walking distance of the metro line your school is on. For example, your school is off the red line but super far north. Try finding an apartment by the red line closer to the center, so you can metro to work but walk a short distance to meet up with friends. Not having to transfer lines could save your sanity on early morning commutes!
Cercanias: The train, takes you to the suburbs of Madrid (Getafe, Alcala de Hernares, etc). If you have to take the cercanias, you should try to live with an easy commute to Atocha to make your life easier!
Bus: In Madrid, there are city busses that are red or blue that stay within the city limits. Then there are green busses that leave from Principe Pio or Moncloa or wherever that take you to the suburbs that there may not be a train or metro! If this is your situation, live near the bus station!
Walking: Then there’s the lucky ones. Those that have their schools in the city center and can live there and walk a few minutes to school. Lucky ducks.
Biking: Within Madrid, I wouldn’t bike to work, the bike paths aren’t great. However, in other cities throughout Spain, such as Sevilla, there are great bike paths that you can easily and safely bike to work.
Car: In some towns, teachers live in the center and drive to their school if there is no good bus system to the school. This takes place more often in very small towns. You can contact your school and ask the teachers their schedule and maybe there is a spot for you in someones car. You’ll have to pay them but you will have a direct route from your home to work! Seems pretty good to me!

Things that are easily Overlooked

In Spain, their idea of what is included in the apartment isn’t exactly the same idea as what we would have in America. If you need an oven, make sure that your apartment has an oven. Some may have ovens that don’t work (you have to directly ask if the oven works sometimes, not even joking). Is there a microwave? Is there heating? In my old apartment we had radiators in all of the rooms except mine. The reasoning was that my bedroom was an interior bedroom so the cold from the street couldn’t reach my room. I thought the cold air came in through my window…either way, they bought me a mini heater. If your apartment is big, make sure the WIFI reaches your bedroom. They sell “repitidores de WIFI” for about 60 euro (In english maybe it’s called a transmitter, it’s to make the signal reach further). Also, if your bed is really uncomfortable, before you move in, let them know that a mattress pad is something you want included (Yes, you can do that).

I do know people who have complained that they don’t have paintings on the wall. However, I would take a toaster over a poster any day. Some other things you might want to ask…when is the last time they sprayed for cockroaches. Have they got bug problems? Do the neighbors play the piano really loudly? Really anything you can think of. You should ask the questions to the roommates if you see other roommates around, it’s probably the only way you will get the truth.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! I will help as much as I can! If you think I left out anything important in selecting apartment, let me know and I will update my post! Good luck on your apartment hunt, I will be starting again in a couple weeks too!

Kate

 

Does everyone have their rubbers?

Does everyone have their rubbers?

I am not a professor or even, a teacher!

Ok, I admit it. I am not a professor or teacher (although my elementary school kids do call me “profe/teacher”). I am prancing around Europe pretending that I am a fancy schmancy English professor but it’s all lies. I work at a public bilingual elementary school in Madrid, Spain as an Auxiliar de Conversacion or a North American Language and Culture Assistant, they mean the same thing. They mean that I am an assistant to the teacher. I bring my “fancy schmancy” American English accent and my knowledge of the United States of America to work and that pretty much prepares me for what I have to do on a daily basis. I don’t write lesson plans unless it’s for a something special like a holiday (Halloween, Thanksgivng) and I don’t teach the class by myself. Alright, alright. So you aren’t preparing classes or in the class by yourself, you aren’t teaching alone and you aren’t in charge of any kids…

That has to be pretty easy then, right?

In comparison to other jobs, not gonna lie, you should be pretty jealous. However, one thing that I have learned about my job is that we are teaching British English to the kids. No, the kids don’t ask me if I want “a spot of tea” on a daily basis, but they do throw their “rubbish” in the “bin” instead of throwing their “garbage” in the “garbage can” and things of that nature. That being said, I have learned a lot in the last couple months.

Mostly, I have learned that I have been taught lies my whole life.

First of all I’ve learned the date. Today is: weekday, day of month, 2013.

It’s Tuesday, 12th of November, 2013. Not to be confused with Tuesday, November 12th, 2013. Also, you must add the word “of”, if not, you’re very much wrong because today can not be and never will be “Tuesday, 12, November, 2013”, nor will it be the “12st of November”, trust me, the options are endless with the combinations of these words. Don’t let them fool you. There is only one right answer and in Spain it’s not, Tuesday, November 12th, 2013.

It’s Autumn, not Fall.

If you ask one of my first graders what the season is, they will tell you, “The season is Autumn”, in the cutest british/american/spanish accent they can muster up and although you may hate that they don’t know the word Fall, you will appreciate that they understood the question.

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Also, the temperature outside is 48 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun is shining. For my first graders, that means it’s: sunny and COLD.

What? Since when is 48 degrees cold? is this because Madrid is the capital of the country and if Madrileños say 48 degrees is cold, then it must be cold, right? All I know is that these kids would be freezing if they were in the Midwest today, 19 degrees and snowing, now THAT’S cold!IMG_0691

So, these kids are learning all sorts of fun things (the weather, the date, etc), do they pay attention? What are Spanish kids like at school?

Pay attention? We’re talking about 6-year-old here. All I know is that they love their rubbers, their pencil sharpeners and really anything inside of their pencil cases.

I think one day, a girl spent an entire one hour class period sharpening all of her crayons. Another day a different girl spent a 45 minute class period erasing. Just…erasing. Why didn’t the teacher stop them? I don’t know. Sometimes things just happen, and if a kid is quiet and peaceful while sharpening all of her crayons, why not leave her to it? I think that must be the mentality at least.

Lets talk about the contents of pencil cases.If you have a pencil case, you are basically set to spend the whole day playing with your school supplies, why? Because it’s fun.

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First, there are no erasers in Spain. You must “rub it out” with your “rubber”. Yes, Teachers do tell kids to “rub it out”, it’s a British thing.

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Also, a hard days work may include sharpening all of your crayons and pencils.

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Oh no! The teacher caught a kid playing with school supplies. What happens? Do they get sent to the Principals office? Nope, no principal. They have to go stand by a green dot on the wall.IMG_0710

Or if they were talking, they may be sent to the corner with a mask…

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Later on, the kid may have to pee. They will ask,”May I go to the toilet please?”. They don’t mean to be rude by asking for the toilet, they would like the restroom, which just so happens to be where the toilet is located.

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So, the kids have talked about the date and the weather, they’ve played with their school supplies and then asked to go to the bathroom. Where does the learning come in?

Here, with Max and Susie! Max and Susie are two British characters that are full of all sorts of fun phrases and songs. Phrases include, “What’s this?”, “It’s a ball”, “These are pencils”, etc. Songs include, “I can sing a rainbow” or “Days of the Week”. My life pretty much revolves around Max and Susie while I am working. Our goal as auxiliares is to get all of our kids to remember and understand all of Max and Susie’s fun phrases and songs!

Is this Tiny Ted? Yes, it is! Phew, mystery solved.
This specific exercise is meant to focus on “Is this your____?” “Yes it is” or “No it isn’t”

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Now, what sort of grammatical things are taught to first graders? They are taught many things, but let me tell you about some things they are taught incorrectly.

They are taught to say, “My favorite toy is THE ______” instead of saying, “My favorite toy is A/AN _____” or “My favorite toy is MY _____”

The teachers are very tough about the kids using the word “THE” when stating their favorite toy. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert but if a kid said “my favorite toy is my bike”, I would be happy. Even if they said “My favorite toy is an iPad”, it makes sense. What doesn’t have the correct sound for me is when a child says, “My favorite toy is the car.” I suppose in a book somewhere (in England), it must say that’s correct, it just doesn’t sound right spoken!

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Another thing they are strict about, when there is an apostrophe (they call it a “stroke”), the letters that are separated CANNOT touch.

Please notice the minuscule space between the letters. This is real life. I definitely need to go and re-write everything I have ever hand written apparently, because I haven’t put a space between the letters that were divided by the apostrophe!

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What is your teaching experience like? Have many things surprised/confused/shocked you? Have you had the same experiences that I have had?

Kate

Em pa dro na mi en to. Do re mi fa so la ti do, so do?

Em pa dro na mi en to. Do re mi fa so la ti do, so do?

I live in Madrid, why do I have to prove it? and how?

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Yes, I live in Madrid. Yes, I work in Madrid. Now, I just have to prove it to the Ayuntamiento with some simple paperwork. If I am able to prove that I live here, I will get a certificate of empadronamiento! But wait, what is the Ayuntamiento anyways and why do they want me to have a certificate of empadronamiento? Why would I tell them that I live in Madrid if I don’t? this paperwork is seeming a little unnecessary. Well, the ayuntamiento is a part of the Spanish government of course, and I have read that it can be translated as town hall. The certificate of empadronamiento states that you are living here in Madrid, simply put, they are counting us. They don’t care if you are legal or not, they just want to know if you are living here.

Then you ask yourself, “wait, am I even empadronada (or whatever the equivalent would be) with my town hall in the states?”

The answer,”no idea, but, wait?! I have to go to a Spanish town hall? Where people want me to fill out paperwork in Spanish? and then later use this paperwork for something really important (my TIE) that I also don’t fully understand?” This is crazy! So, how do I prove to them that I really am living in my piso in Madrid? Well, you can prove it with qualifying paperwork! Perfect! You will get the Padrón Municipal (Alta por cambio de residencia desde otro municipal)Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 2.17.09 PM

Wait, I don’t have any of the qualifying paperwork.

In my particular situation I don’t have a rental contract, I don’t have fixed bills in my name, none of my roommates are empadronado in Madrid (they are from other parts of spain). Please note how this says “today persona que viva en España está obliged…”…I am not 100% fluent in Spanish but I am pretty sure that means that everyone is obligated to do this.  However, my Spanish roommates have not done this, and that’s a whole different issue. Anyways, you get the idea. I basically looked at all of the documentation that qualified and said, well, I guess that is the end to my time abroad, should just start packing now. I legitimately don’t have any of this qualifying paperwork.

Well, well, “qualifying” paperwork here in Spain is arbitrary my friend.

So you are telling me that this paperwork may or may not be necessary depending on the specific ayuntamiento I go to or the government worker that I talk to? Yes, yes I am. So, go through the list of documentación and check out what you need. You may or may not have it. Even if you don’t have all or any of the paperwork, make yourself an appointment.

Making an appointment

Make your appointment at any ayuntamiento online, here.
The ayuntamiento that you have the appointment at DOES NOT have to be in the same barrio that you will be empadronado in!
For example: I went to the ayuntamiento in Chamberí for the appointment but I am actually empadronada in Ciudad Lineal. Really, wherever you can find an open appointment is great. So, choose a location that has an available appointment on the day you want to go.

Here is a list of the documentation that you need to bring to your appointment:

English version from the AngloINFO Madrid page:

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Spanish from the Spanish governments website:
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I believe the most important part is the “documento que acredite el uso de la vivienda”…that is the “proof of address”, the rental contract, fixed bill, deed, copy of leaseholders DNI, etc. This is where my stress kicked in. Woahhhh, I don’t have any of those documents. When I went to the appointment, I didn’t actually bring in a “document” that would have been the “proof of address”, I didn’t have one. I just brought a friend. If you don’t have proof of address, you can just bring in whoever you live with or whoever you want. I think as long as the address on their DNI matches the address that you put on your solicitud de empadronamiento, it will be fine.

Here is a list of ALL the paperwork that I brought in to my appointment:

1. Tramite – Solicitud de Empadronamiento (the form!)
2. Passport + 1 copy
3. A Spanish boy who signed my solicitud de empadronamiento.

Wait, seriously? Yes.

How did that qualify you? No idea.

Either way, I am now empadronada in Madrid, and I will use this piece of paper for my NIE appointment! The address that I am empadronada at will be the same address that I use for my NIE paperwork, Also, if they ask you if you want two copies of your empadronamiento, say yes! Because you will give one of the copies up at your NIE appointment! It doesn’t hurt to have two originals!

Was it this easy for you to get your empadronamiento? Tell me about your experience!

Suerte,

Kate

Alternative Creative Youth Home: Ronda de la Universitat 17, Barcelona, España

Alternative Creative Youth Home: Ronda de la Universitat 17, Barcelona, España

You want to stay at a hostel while in Barcelona? I did!

Try the Alternative Creative Youth Home.

Yes, the name of the hostel almost made me a little bit nervous. Does it make you nervous too?

Let’s be honest, the words “alternative and creative” mixed with “youth home” makes me think of 17 and 18 year olds partying. Plus, my sister who has never stayed at a hostel before was pretty sure we were staying at a center for troubled adolescents. Apparently we don’t get out much.

However, the price was right so I went on and read the reviews on Hostel World.

The reviews were phenomenal and the hostel lived up to the reviews.Let me share with you some highlights of the hostel.

It is very easy to find

We took the Aerobus from the airport to Plaza Catalunya (The last stop on the Aerobus). The bus dropped us off at the plaza and the street “Ronda Universitat” across the plaza to the right. Basically if you could walk through the two fountains from the bus you would arrive to Ronda Universitat. If you find yourself in the center of the plaza (because hey, you just arrived to Barcelona and Plaza Catalunya looks like a perfect photo op), situate yourself facing the two big fountains, with El Corte Ingles on the right, take a picture of your friend in front of the fountains and then go to the left towards La Caixa and you’ll find Ronda Universitat. Walk all the way down Ronda Universitat. Number 17 is on the right (its a huge door, is NOT labeled as hostel, you press the gold button to ring to the hostel).

Go left when facing these fountains to get to Ronda Universitat!
Go left when facing these fountains to get to Ronda Universitat!

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It is in a great location, here are some very accessible things:

1. Plaza Catlunya which includes Metro Catalunya (L3). The green line that Catalunya is on can take you to the funicular (to have a view of Barcelona from the sky), barrio Poble Sec (for some great tapas) and to the Magic Fountain (to see the light show.

2. Metro Universitat (L2). The purple line that leads to the Sagrada Familia. After the Sagrada Familia you can walk to Park Güell…good luck…it’s up…and up some more.

3. The famous “La Rambla”, obviously for taking pictures, browsing the trinkets and looking at the people who are dressed up. La Rambla also leads to the beach!

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The beds were comfortable with good blankets

I have slept on many uncomfortable beds while living in Europe and these beds turned out to be relatively great. I was surprised that I got a decent nights sleep. On the reviews on hostel world a few people did complain about the beds, maybe those people who thought these beds were bad have had great luck with hostel beds in the past, for me, these beds were great!

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Great WIFI & Apple computers

The WIFI has great signal and there are three FAST computers for communal use! I never had to wait for a computer and the computers had fast internet connection and they were just plain fast. I love updated technology! In reference to the WIFI, it could be that this hostel is kind of small, so the WIFI reaches everywhere, but I was very happy that my phone never had to search for the WIFI and it didn’t lose the signal either! **I wasn’t in the hostel often and didn’t use WIFI for long periods of time, so I am not sure how great it would be for long periods of use**

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It has a kitchen and a fridge!

Cook yourself some food!

BIGGEST ASSET:
Fabulous staff

The staff were very friendly and helpful. They have advice for just about anything you need. Plus I think about a million brochures and maps in the hostel to give you even more help. If you need anything from them, just ask.

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Now, I know I can’t always be positive so let me share some downfalls of the hostel.

No breakfast included
Rooms are cramped with no sunlight (even during the day)!
Bathrooms aren’t the cleanest, but I have seen way worse!
Lockers are outside of the room…the room is too small to have lockers inside!

BIGGEST DOWNFALL (for me):

Give up passport as collateral for the locker key. Yikes! I don’t stay at many hostels but this is the only place I have had to do this. Made me very uneasy.

These downfalls are honestly not that bad. Just somethings that I noticed, they didn’t bother me too much but still noticeable. It would have been nice to have even a basic breakfast, some sunlight in the room during the day (or just some fresh air), and I wouldn’t have minded locking up my own passport instead of trusting it with the staff.

Hope this review helps you when you are in search of a hostel in Barcelona!

Safe Travels,

Kate

ALSA 101: Avenida de America (Madrid)

ALSA 101: Avenida de America (Madrid)

You want to leave Madrid by bus?

ALSA is a great bus company that gets you to a million random cities within Spain and even to random countries! I mean…not like I would ever want to take an ALSA bus to Italy from Madrid, but at least I have that option, right? The thing about busses is that in general, they suck. I mean, you have to get to the station, wait for the bus to arrive (usually on time though!), sit in a confined space with smelly people for extended periods of time. It’s always too hot or too cold. Not to mention, people like to leave their ringers on loud so you can hear EVERY time they receive a call/text/whatsapp…whatever it may be! That being said, I actually really like ALSA, minus the fact that they are a bus company, they are great! (ha. ha. ha) Anyways, I may seem like a hater and don’t get me wrong, I totally am but by that I mean, there’s nothing good about long distance travel in a bus. That being said, I definitely use ALSA and would recommend ALSA for reasonably priced, short distance travel. I like it because you can buy tickets at the last minute and they are reasonably priced (compared to AVE or a plane ticket or whatever other option you have).

Advantages:

Cheap
Last minute tickets usually available

Disadvantages:

Time consuming
Time consuming (seriously…)
Smelly

Now that you have heard what I like and dislike about bus travel, let me give you some advice as to the basics of using ALSA bus travel in Madrid. There are a few things you have to do (or things I recommend that you do) before physically getting on the bus. Also, I included some details as to how to physically get to the bus station in Avenida de America from the Metro (because seriously, how is the metro on level -3, that’s scary as fuck).

Little girl in the big city (It’s a work in progress)

So, before I go any further. I have to be honest. For the longest time I didn’t understand public transport whatsoever (Uhm, my car and GPS on my phone get me everywhere I need to be in the states, so don’t hate). Let me enlighten you as to some examples of my personal failed metro usage. In Barcelona in 2010, I thought we needed to go to Trinidad Nova (aka the end of the line). Wrong. We had to go in the DIRECTION of Trinidad Nova. Please, just get off at your stop. Then, summer 2011, I accidentally got my friends and I all the way to the Bronx in NYC, instead of to the 9/11 Memorial. So after those fiascos, I think I have officially learned how to use public transport! It is very sad that my friends from ISA are not here to see how far I have come! 
 
Anyways, I swear I made it to my dock at Avenida de America in Madrid all by myself (and very proudly) and if I can do it, so can you!

Things to do to get yourself out of Madrid on an ALSA bus: 

1. Get an ALSA BusPlus Card (NOT the credit card). Just the card that gives you points and after a certain amount of trips, you get a free ride! 

I don’t have an actual card, I got mine at the Avenida de America ALSA location and the worker said that mine is now connected to my passport so when I use my passport number it will also be using my BusPlus Card and giving me points. I’m kind of skeptical as to how it works that way but I guess I will find out in the future and its not like it hurts me to have it!
 
Side note: EVERYONE goes to ALSA around 6 p.m. during the week days. You have to take a number, I got my number and waited over an hour! I guess they are open until 2 in the morning. So really, I think anytime that isn’t considered “rush hour” would be a great time to go. I think between 5:00pm and 8:00pm you will have about an hour wait (unless you have an immediate problem then you can get in faster but not THAT fast). People were saying things like, “PERDONA, alguien puede cambiar números?!” And crying and being crazy. Anyways, youll see that people get a little desperate when they missed a bus or need to change a ticket at the last minute, so don’t be that person! If you are patient, you can spend as long as you want up there at the counter, it’s totally normal to spend like 20 minutes shooting the shit with the ALSA worker (out of the 50 people who were called before me at least 20 were up at the counter for a good 15 minutes). I am glad there were so many workers at the time! However, you have waited your turn so you deserve some time to shoot the shit, disfrutalo! The workers are very nice and helpful (at least mine was)!

2. Decide where you want to leave from and where you want to go! 

From Madrid: Avenida de America or Estacion sur. 
To: wherever! If its a journey over 6 hours try to get a night bus as to not waste time in the bus during the day…or take the AVE or an airplane! However, bus is more economical
 
*Keep in mind how far each station is from your home. For me Avenida de America is 30 minutes and Estacion sur is an hour. So, depending where I am going, my journey in the actual bus would be one hour shorter from Estacion Sur, I prefer to leave from Avenida de America because in the long run, it takes less time because I don’t have to get all the way to Estacion sur (I live in the north of Madrid). Also, I am not positive but I think all the busses will pass through both Madrid stations. Mine went from Avenida de America to Estacion Sur and then we left Madrid!

3. Buy your ticket. You have many choices as to where to make this purchase:

A. Internet: BUT it won’t take American credit cards (at least for me it wouldn’t)…I tried 2 different American credit cards and an American debit card. It said something about the bank won’t accept it…whatever ALSA!
B. ALSA ticket counter at Avenida de America (or any bus station)…be prepared for a line!
C. ALSA automated machines at Avenida de America (or any bus station)
D. Anywhere else that you know of that I don’t!

4. Figure out how to get to your bus station (Here are directions to Avenida de America).

It’s so easy! I promise. First figure out which metros can get you to Avenida de America. I started off at Barrio del Pilar which the number 9 (purple) metro line.
Barrio del Pilar Metro Entrance
Barrio del Pilar Metro Entrance
I took number 9 (purple) in the direction of Arganda del Rey. As you can see, Avenida de America will be one of the stops on this line and that is where I will get off. Metro lines 4 (brown), 6 (grey) and 7 (orange) also go straight to Avenida de America. One thing to note is that on this sign it doesn’t say anything about “Terminal Autobuses”, you’ll start seeing those signs once you arrive at Avenida de America.
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So, get off the metro when you arrive at Avenida de America and you will begin to see signs for “Salida, Terminal Autobuses”, follow the signs. If you can’t understand that Terminal Autobuses is the bus station then there is a nice picture of a bus to the right to ensure you are going the right way. FOLLOW THE BUSSES!
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I am already very much a rubita and obviously don’t belong in Spain, so no harm in being a weirdo who is taking pictures while walking from the metro to the bus station! Also, the picture below is where things start getting weird. So pay attention to where you are going!
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DON'T EXIT HERE! Go left before this exit to the docks!
DON’T EXIT HERE! This will take you to the street. Go left before this exit (to the docks)!

If you did it right, you have made it to the ALSA counters and not to the street!

ALSA counters
ALSA counters

Look left into the little room and see the schedule (tells you which dock to go to) as well as the little number stand (Feel free to take a number if you need something, it might be a while though!)

Find out what dock your bus will be at!
Find out what dock your bus will be at!
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Take a number and WAIT if you need anything!
Lastly, go find your dock!
Lastly, go find your dock!
Success!
Success!

To be honest, it’s not that complicated but right now there is some construction so it’s kind of weird under there. Follow the signs and you’ll do fine! Suerte!

Katelan

Turning $$$ into €€€

Turning $$$ into €€€

How do I turn my American money into…not American money?

As you all may know by now, I like to do my research. I like to try different ways of doing things to see which is the most effective. Before I have a paycheck that will be in Euros, I need to get Euros out of my American bank account, which really sucks because my American bank account (like all of your American bank accounts) does not technically have Euros in it. That means that I need to find out which method of taking money out gets me the most money…for my money. 

There are many different ways of converting money and I have not tried them all but here are some ways that I have tried so far. I will promise to update this with other ways of converting money too. What I did was take out 250€ in various different ways to see how much American money was taken out of the account. The hard part in telling which way is the most effective is that the exchange rate varies from day to day so taking out money is kind of a gamble. One day you could get a decent exchange rate and another day you could get an awful exchange rate. It’s like a game of chance, which is really great for those of us who have luck on our side…a.k.a. not me which means that I always pick the days with the worst exchange rates to get out money! Definitely not intentionally…the world hates me. I have come to terms though. Here are some options as to how you can turn your $$$ into €€€. Here is a graph as to what the exchange rates were from Aug 7, 2013 to Sept 5, 2013…US Dollar to Euro Exchange Rate Graph - Aug 7, 2013 to Sep 5, 2013

1. “Buy” Euros from your bank in the US

250€=$354.40 on August 25, 2013

Pros: easy and fast
Cons: you have to carry around a bunch of euros (depending on how much you get out)

The word buy is sort of strange because I mean, you are technically buying money…with other money. Strange concept. This is pretty simple. Go to your bank (assuming that there is money in the account) and tell them how many Euros you want. Like I stated earlier, I will be getting out 250€ each time so that I can see the differences in cost when it goes through on my american bank account, and so that I can cry a lot when I see that 250€ is ALOT OF AMERICAN DOLLARS! AHHHH!. Anyways, the bank will charge you whatever sort of fees they have at the bank, the nice bank lady or man will give you the details and you will want to cry again because exchange rates are not really exchange rates…they are more like starting rates and then wherever you exchange the money, they will add some extra fees just for fun and then you can come back in a few days to get your Euros. It’s like…expensive magic…voila…your american dollars just became euros!

2. US PayPal to Spanish PayPal (NOT INSTANT GRATIFICATION)
250
€=$339.47 on September 6, 2013

Pros: No money to carry around…it jumps from bank to bank (more magic)
Cons: Not that easy…not that fast

I think I had a better price because I had a better exchange rate this day.

Requirements to do this:
-US PayPal linked to a US bank account (Country must be US in order to link to US bank account)
-Spanish PayPal linked to a Spanish bank account (Country must be Spain in order to link to Spanish bank account)***
-Accounts MUST be linked to two separate e-mails
-The country is important because US banks are set up differently than Spanish banks (the routing numbers and such are different)

***Once you have your Spanish bank account, you may then and ONLY then set up your Spanish PayPal. You cannot set up a PayPal prior to having a bank account. Once your bank account is confirmed THEN you may do your PayPal transfer.

How to:

1. Log into your US PayPal and click “send money”, type in the e-mail of your Spanish PayPal account, the amount (SELECT EUROS!) and that you are sending to a friend. Either way you will pay a fee, so either your American PayPal can pay the sending fee or your Spanish PayPal can pay the receiving fee. I made my American self pay the fee. My fee was €1.25 because I am doing bank to bank. Then click “continue”.

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2. After clicking “continue” this is what you get…It tells you on your US PayPal how much it will cost you in USD to send to your Spanish PayPal. Click “send money”…Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.18.29 AM

3. Then it confirms that you have officially sent money to yourself! Congrats! Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.20.43 AM

4. Log into your Spanish PayPal just to double confirm…yup…pending transaction! Please feel free to admire your own handiwork because it really wasn’t easy to set up your Spanish bank account then Spanish PayPal.Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.21.01 AM

5. Give yourself a pat on the back, oh and check your e-mail…don’t forget to write yourself a cute note to go along with the money you are sending yourself (think of it as a note that your mom would write and put in your lunchbox)Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.21.34 AM

6. Once your money arrives to your paypal, TRANSFER it to your Spanish bank account (It takes a few days for the money to arrive to paypal and then transferring money to your Spanish bank account from your Spanish paypal also takes a couple days). Withdraw & transfer to bank account! 

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A quick thought:

All of the individual transactions can take a while…it took a little over 24 hours to get my Spanish bank account confirmed with PayPal (which were two deposits of less than 20 cents). Then it took another 48 hours to get the money confirmed into my PayPal account THEN another 24 hours to get the money confirmed in my Spanish bank account. 

HOWEVER, if you are transferring LARGE sums of money this will definitely be the way to do it!

Hope this helps,

Katelan

Si, quiero datos.

Si, quiero datos.

Choosing your choices for a Spanish cell

There are a few options for cell phone carriers here in Spain and being that I like lots of information about all the options I have for everything, I went to a few different companies to ask about what options they had for a SIM for an iPhone 5.

In the U.S., we all like to have UNLIMITED everything. So then you can just be on your phone constantly and social interactions are unnecessary. Who needs social interaction when you can browse Pinterest all hours of the day via their mobile app? NOBODY, that’s who!

So, being that my mom isn’t paying for my cell phone, I don’t want to spend 39€ + IVA each month for unlimited Spanish everything.

I chose to get a SIM prepago.

BECAUSE

I can cancel whenever
Not over 20€ a month (hey, 20€ is ALOT of American dollars)
An amount of calls/data/texting that I will not exceed (plus I am not allowed to)

Basics of Prepago

No signing a contract (great if you don’t know how long you are living in Spain)
Can be very cheap (especially if you don’t want a data plan)
You can create realistic expectations for cell phone usage for yourself
You cannot go over because you have to have “suelto” to pay for things that aren’t in your plan

Basics of Contracts

First things first, if you sign a contract, it is like giving up rights to your first born child, haha.
Most are 24 months, some are 18 (Expect to have to keep the contract for its entire duration)
Most require that you have at least 6 months with a Spanish bank account
Can potentially be the cheapest option if you do it right and if you don’t cancel in the middle of the plan
If you go over, they will let you (no “suelta”…it just adds up on your bill)

I may be a little off on some of my facts because I only know the basics. But think of it this way. Give yourself realistic expectations as to how much you will use your phone.

1 gigabite is sufficient
1,000 + SMS should be more than enough
100 minutes should also be more than enough (all incoming calls are free)

Personally, my SIM doesn’t have calls included. I have the Orange Ballena plan. I have 1,000 SMS and 1 gigabite of data. I cannot make calls unless I add suelto, and I am not going to add suelto because…It’s not like I can understand Spanish over the phone! hahaha…but seriously…everyone uses Whatsapp (which uses data) and in the states I really only talk on the phone when I am driving. Here I don’t drive. So I haven’t even thought of needing to make a call. Anyone I would need to call, I can just text or whatsapp.

KEEP IN MIND: THE FINE PRINT

There are many plans with “international calls” included BUT look at the fine print. There is a plan that has international calling included BUT the calls are only to landlines…I can’t think of anyone I would call in the states who still has a landline.

ALSO, if your calls aren’t included and you DO want to make calls. There is a CONNECTION fee + IVA + however much per minute. So if it says ,01 cent per minute. It really probably means 1,20 to “connect” then ,01 + IVA per minute which would end up being like ,20 cents a minute. So that can add up REALLY fast!

Again. If you are paying ,10 cents per text…send 50 texts and all the sudden you  just added 5 euro to your bill when you could probably get a plan for 5 euro more that includes unlimited texts or something.

LASTLY. All plans will say…9 euro/mes + IVA or 15 euro/mes + IVA. So basically add 3 or 4 euro for IVA and THAT is what your bill really be.

My bill is 12 euro/mes + IVA= 15 euro/mes! 

Orange Orange

Katelan

 

soggy feet are unpleasant feet

soggy feet are unpleasant feet

Oh, the joy of footwear

Have you ever tried to pack your stuff up into one suitcase and one carry-on to live away from home for a year? What is important? What isn’t? Do you really need to bring all the scarves Santa has brought you over the past few years? I still  do not know everything that is important and I always catch myself packing things that I know I won’t need, but who am I to argue with myself? Besides all of this, I found out the hard way that great footwear is not an option, it is ESSENTIAL to smart packing!

I am going to take a moment to reflect back on my trip to Paris during the semester I spent abroad. Throughout that semester, I did a lot of traveling, I made a lot of rookie mistakes and now, a few short years later I am back at it. I am hoping for less rookie mistakes and more…I don’t know what I want more of, I will tell you when I figure that out. The goal is to have less mistakes. At this moment I am going to discuss a trip where my rookie mistakes truly made an impact on my trip.

Rookie mistake #1: AWFUL FOOTWEAR

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Paris, France. Cold Feet. Oct 2010.

Please, take note of that lovely picture (on the right) of me in Paris in early October, 2010. Ah, what a happy tourist I seemingly am, “look I can touch the top of the Eiffel Tower”, so clever, so so clever. FALSE. FALSE. FALSE. I am not clever. No way. You did not look at my feet. If you didn’t, look now. Oh, cute black flats you say? More like flats that were born like an Orc in Lord of the Rings. These awful creatures still give me nightmares. Ladies and gentlemen, the center of France does NOT have the same climate as the South of Spain. This little naïve tourist was not prepared for the impending colder climate nor the rain. Oh, the rain. The rain that resulted in continuously soggy and cold feet for a long, long weekend. Reflecting back, I could have bought some different shoes or some socks. Again, I was a rookie, these things did not even cross my mind. Probably because I was flying Ryan Air and I didn’t want to make my bag any bigger than it was for fear that I would have to check it and then pay the extra fee! If I ever go to Paris again, I promise you, that my shoes will be comfy and I will be able to wear big warm socks with them. That brings me to my second mistake which goes hand in hand with the first.

Rookie mistake #2: Forgotten socks

Socks, didn’t even cross my mind when packing my bag to fit just right to Ryan Air standards. (It can’t be too big or you have to check it!) Somehow, we made it to the airport in Malaga, who even knows now how we got there, but anyways, we arrived at some random hour of the early morning and that meant that we had a few hours of nap time before take off. While napping in the freezing cold airport that is located in the lovely city of Malaga, Spain. I noticed the impending cold creeping up my body that began at my toes. I searched my bag, nothing, no socks, nothing really warm. Oh no!! This is where my friend lent me his hoodie and gave me his black socks. I think he intended that I borrow them. I gave back the hoodie but I ended up wearing the socks for four days (Blaack socks they never get dirty the longer you wear them the thicker they get…anyone?) Needless to say, he didn’t want his socks back and these socks were great but still did not help in the big scheme of things.

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Malaga Airport, Oct 2010.

The facts were that I still had crappy shoes and one pair of socks really doesn’t stay dry THAT long when wearing small flats while traipsing through puddles in search of Metros, tourist destinations and the lovely blue door that led to our sleeping quarters. (The bed was like heaven, this could be because the mattress that I slept on at my homestay was awful or because my feet were killing me and I just wanted to lay down, either way, it was amazing). We didn’t spend much time at the apartment though because we had four short days and lots of touristy things to do! Thus, my socks, even while on the heater while we were at the apartment, never truly dried. I was grumpy. Don’t get me wrong. I had an amazing time and I did a lot of fun things! However, no one wants to be grumpy with cold/soggy feet in Paris for a weekend, right?

So with every mistake comes…learning from your mistake…? Something like that.

Lesson learned: Happy feet are never out of fashion.

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It probably wasn’t obvious that we were tourists.
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Fondue dinner in Paris? Yes, please.

Happy feet=happy person=positive experiences. Now, reflecting back, I still had many positive experiences, even without proper footwear (It is even documented in the photos above!). However, I would have thrown away my black flats and brought with some boots and wool socks, had I known what to expect. Then what would I say to Paris in early October? I would say, BRING ON THE RAIN & COLD! Puddles? No problem. Cold feet? No way. I’ve got boots and warm socks. I am ready for anything! Except when it comes down to finding a bathroom. Why is it so hard to find a bathroom in Paris? That’s a whole different story.

Whats the moral of the story, you ask? 

Black socks truly never get dirty and comfy, broken-in shoes are never out of style.

I think I walked more in one semester living abroad than I ever had in my entire life. I imagine that living abroad for a year I will set new personal records, weather I want to or not! However,  this time I am prepared with comfortable shoes. Here are three pairs of shoes that I would never dream of leaving for Spain without.

  1. A pair of black leather boots: Franco Sarto, TJ Maxx: circa 2010. They have survived three midwestern winters, I get compliments on them ALL the time, I think because people can’t see how beat up they are! (I melted a little part of one side with a straightener). I still love these boots and they are perfectly broken in and oh-so comfy! I put a leather treatment on them each year at the beginning of the season and when I think they really need it (to make them last FOREVER! haha). Anyways, If they have gotten me this far, they will be perfect for a Spanish winter!
  2. A pair of brown leather boots: Ralph Lauren, Macy’s: Feb 2013 (Orig $200, bought for $60 #winning). These are perfect and practical. I broke them in this past Spring because we all know Spring in the Midwest might as well still be winter. Again, perfect and practical.
  3. Neutral flats: Nine West, Nine West Factory outlet: Spring 2013.  Nine west has really comfortable shoes. I wear these a lot! They are officially broken in and my feet LOVE them!

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Hope this helps when you are choosing what shoes you want to bring! Best of luck!

Katelan

I really can’t get THAT in Europe?

I really can’t get THAT in Europe?

things to stockpile to bring to Europe #hoardersanyone

Right now I am going to take a look things that I want or need to get in the USA to take with to Europe. After living there myself and discussing with others what they think is important, I took some time to compile this list. Some how it turns out that there are A LOT of different products that I use on an everyday basis that I need to bring with me (in excess!) for my long stay in Spain. This may be just because I have bad vision and great coupons for American products, but there are just some things that I wouldn’t want to spend the extra money on or that I just cannot get in Europe. I just recently began looking at all of my crap, and yes I will be honest, most of it is crap and realized that I am going to need a stockpile of certain things to bring with! I am all for leaving behind large bottles of shampoo and buying whatever I need when I arrive, however, there are some things that I simply cannot get once I arrive! Here is a list of things that I am going to bring with that I probably won’t be able to get in Europe (not very easily or not at decent prices).

1. Glasses/Contacts  

Can we talk about how Opti-Free (the big size) is 16 euros?! OMG. Anyways, I don’t know ANYTHING about how eye doctors work in Spain. All I know is that I have an annual appointment here in the states and that’s the way I want to keep it! Before leaving the states for a year, you should make sure that your glasses/contacts prescription is up to date and that you have enough contacts to last your whole stay! I have an assortment of daily and 2-week contacts to get me through my time in Europe. In addition, I am bringing a pair of good glasses and my old glasses as a spare.

2. Prescriptions

Again, this is something that I don’t even want to have to worry about while I am in Spain, so I am going to get a supply to last me the whole length of time that I am there. ADVICE: DON’T PAY FULL PRICE JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT A YEARS SUPPLY IN ADVANCE. Talk to your insurance company and the doctors office and they should work with you because you will be leaving the states for an extended period of time. I got an extra eleven sample packs of my prescription (FOR FREE!) from my doctor because I explained to them my situation and how I wouldn’t be in the states to get my prescription renewed, plus I will be gone next year at the time of my annual appointment, etc., etc. So with those sample packs basically my whole time I am gone will be covered by free meds #winning.

3. Cheap (relatively) Make-up

So, the VAT in Spain is 21%! Which means that make-up prices are out of this world in Spain, at least compared to the states. So, whatever you need to beautify yourself, that is something you definitely should try to bring over (and bring enough to last you for your whole stay!!).

4. Facial Cleanser/Moisturizer

I use Murad Redness Therapy facial cleanser and moisturizer from Sephora or I wake up looking like I spent the night in the Sahara Desert (Actually when I was in the Sahara, I looked as normal as I could without having showered and having to use the bathroom extensively…*cringe*) Okay, what I mean is my face gets pretty red and really dried out (I still can’t figure it out and I am 23…you’d think I would have control by now)…so, I need to use this cleanser/moisturizer combo to look normal because I have tried thousands upon thousands of combinations and I finally found what works for me! I won’t need a spare cleanser because that bottle lasts FOREVER, but my moisturizer will last about 7 months so I will bring an extra one of those! 

5. Deodorant

“AXE BODY SPRAY FOR EVERYONE!!!!!!” #saidnooneever…oh wait, some Spanish person must have said it. They do have some stick deodorant but hardly what I would consider a good selection.

6. Chargers/Converters

PUT THESE IN  YOUR CARRY-ON TO AND FROM EUROPE!! All I have to say is THANK-GOD I decided to bring my converter/chargers in my carry-on when I flew home from study abroad. I was stranded in Amsterdam for 27 hours!  I wouldn’t have been able to charge my computer to contact my family to keep them updated, not to mention, paying €20 for unlimited WIFI is the best way I think I ever spent €20. So, convenient chargers/converters means unlimited Skyping and Facebook. p.s. NEVER, EVER use a payphone in an airport in Europe…well you can, but it will cost you big bucks!

7. Peanut Butter

I am a peanut butter addict (I think everyone says that…) and I am sorry to announce that I have heard that no one besides Americans really gives a shit that PB&J’s are not a staple to every elementary school children’s diets outside of the U.S., this is an outrage! How can this be? What a versatile meal, have a PB&J on toast for breakfast, throw it in for lunch with some apples and even for dinner…just have two, what a great great thing and no one outside of the U.S. truly appreciates it. I am saddened. Actually, nah, it’s totally cool, really, I love bocadillos de jamón y queso and I suppose the amount of peanut butter I eat is probably unhealthy so getting away from it for a year won’t hurt…I guess…However, if you truly need some PB with your J then you better bring at least one family size Jif.

8. Hot Cheetos (Snacks we love)

An ENTIRE COUNTRY without hot cheetos. That’s not the point. Spain is missing some other great snacks, too. However, they do have salt & vinegar chips, lots of pipas & corn nuts, pringles, chucherias and aquarius. Not to mention jamón flavored Lays.  I suppose a girl can’t complain too much.

9. Baking supplies!

IMG_0353_finalIt was so difficult to get everything I needed to make scotch cookie bars for christmas when I was in Spain last year. Had to use Vanilla bean instead of extract, couldn’t find stick butter and had to use white sugar instead of brown. The results were really fluffy and not as tasty Christmas treats. Can’t forget, Thanksgiving is something I truly missed when I studied in Spain. So, anything to get you through the holiday time, might be of big help. However, a 15 pound turkey probably won’t fit into a Spanish oven, so don’t even try that.

10. Paperwork/Copies of paperwork

Okay, make your copies of everything you used to get your Spanish Visa. DO NOT forget your original FBI background check nor your medical statement both with Apostille’s of Hague! Plus your CARTA DE NOMBRAMIENTO. These are essential when applying for an NIE!

11. Comfy shoes (Click for my post about shoes!)

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Shoes. Is it possible to buy shoes that are already broken in? Europe has shoes. Cute shoes, comfy shoes, GREAT SHOES! But, can you truly buy a pair of shoes and wear them all day the first time you wear them? I think not. The first few days you will be traveling, you will be walking, a lot. More than you are used to. Yes, yes, I know you go to the gym 3 times a week and you enjoy running 5k’s in your free time. This is different, not to mention you won’t be wearing your nice running shoes while wandering your city to get acquainted with it. Extensive walking is something most people aren’t used to. Think of your American routine: wake up, get dressed, drive to work, at work, drive home from work, drive to gym, at gym, drive home from gym, watch Netflix. Let’s turn that into a European routine: wake up, get dressed (look normal, at least brush your hair), walk to work, at work, walk home from work, walk to gym, at gym, walk home from gym, cry (because there is no Netflix in Europe) So, please, your feet beg you to go with cute & practical shoes. Click here or the link above for some more reasons as to why I think good footwear is of great importance!

Thanks for reading and did I emphasize enough that these are things you should stockpile and bring with a million of each of these things? If not for yourself, then for the other Americans who left their venus razor refills behind. You are going to be so popular!

More about shipping things over when you simply can’t fit everything:

If you can’t fit everything, BRING LESS THINGS! There’s that time when many people think, “Oh, I really really need all of these things, so I will just have someone ship (insert item here) to me from the states so that I can save money”. *BEEEEEEEP* WRONG ANSWER! Depending on the size of the package, it will cost a decent amount for someone to ship a box to you from the states, THEN it will cost you money to get it from Correos, that is ASSUMING the package ever makes it to Spain! I had many friends who got things shipped to them when we studied abroad and I always heard stories of lost packages (Depending on the company, many items cannot be tracked after leaving the US.) or €50+ euro retrieval fee for a box containing items that didn’t even cost that much to begin with. If you really CANNOT fit your winter coat in your checked bag, just buy a new one in Europe, it will save your sanity plus your time, money and then you will have a new coat! Sometimes things have to be shipped (prescriptions that you cannot get in advance, etc. ) so, when there is no other option please be smart about it, save your euros my friends, the economy is awful!!

Thanks for reading and happy packing!

Katelan

what to do with your American cell phone

what to do with your American cell phone

The options are (practically) endless!

Part 1: What is your “plan” for your phone plan

Make the choice as to what YOU want to do about your American phone plan and then choosing a plan once you arrive in Europe!

Photo on 7-31-13 at 12.39 PMThis assumes that you have a two-year plan that  you have signed up for in the states. My two-year plan is Sept 2012-Sept 2014 (that’s a long time!). I will be gone from Oct 2013-June 2014 (roughly 9 months of my 24 month plan!). I am going to discuss some options that I have debated for my personal cell phone plan and the advantages and disadvantages of each option. This is an unbiased but TOTALLY biased post. I want YOU to be practical and try not to waste money on international calls, texting, data, etc. (you already have PLENTY of other expenses, HELLO student loans, traveling around Europe and shopping!). I am going to try to break this down for you by cost and effectiveness of each option.

Vocabulary to learn before reading on (I didn’t know what word to use!):
Ticking: signifying that your phone plan is still functioning and you (or your mom) will still be paying for your American phone plan. Also, if you went back to the states you will be able to use this particular phone as “normal”.
Assumptions before reading on: I am roughly estimating that the cost of my extra line on the family plan is $30/per month…(we have the unlimited everything data plan from Sprint and all smartphones require a data plan so I am going to assume most phones, no matter the company, are roughly the same if not more and $30 each month!)

What are my options for my American phone? For a smartphone (Pricing depend on your company):

  • Option 1: Leave your American plan ALONE!

    Advantages:
    No fee for breaking your contract!

    Your plan will still keep ticking.
    You can use your phone right away when you arrive back in the states.

    Disadvantages
    $30/per month for a phone line you aren’t using ($270 for the 9 months!)

  • Option 2: Get an International Plan (VERY EXPENSIVE OPTION)

    Advantages: 
    No fee for breaking your contract!

    Your plan will still keep ticking.
    You won’t have an extra 9 months added to your plan.

    You can use your 3G, 4G, LTE or whatever it is in the US and Europe
    You can text and call in the US and Europe
    Disadvantages:
    $30/per month for your line

    $20 more/per month for international capabilities
    Plus, you lose your “unlimited” plan or whatever you have and you pay per text, call and for each bit of data you use (oh my!)

  • Option 3: Activate a non-smartphone on your American plan (A phone that DOESNT REQUIRE INTERNET!)

    Advantages:
    No fee for breaking your contract!

    Your plan will still keep ticking.
    $10 less a month for your phone line (saves about $90)
    You will be able to make calls and send texts on your non-smartphone right away when returning to the US.
    Can activate your smartphone as soon as you want (or as soon as you are able)!
    Disadvantages
    You won’t have a smart phone right away when you arrive in the US
    You will have to unlock your phone (for some companies it’s difficult, click here for AT&T unlock request)

  • Option 4: Suspend your phone (Here is my bias…DO NOT MAKE THIS CHOICE!)

    Advantages
    No fee for breaking your contract!

    $0-10 a month for your phone line (depending on your phone company)
    You can reactivate your phone WHENEVER you want!
    Disadvantages
    Your phone will NOT keep ticking
    You will NOT be able to use it until you take it off of suspension
    Max $10 a month for the suspended months ($90 for the time your are one)
    Adds the months your phone is suspended onto your plan (Ex. Suspension for 9 months, your contract is now 2 years + 9 months)
    9 months more of your phone plan when you get home (9x$30=270)
    Some companies make you call back every 6 months to continue the suspension

  • Option 5: Cancel your American plan 100% (DON’T DO THIS EITHER…it’s not like you are leaving forever!)

    Advantages
    No worrying about having to pay any amount for an American phone that you aren’t using
    Disadvantages
    $$$$$$ break your two-year contract and it will cost you ($300+) *Update: I was told that if you are moving out of the country your fee for breaking your contract could potentially be waived*
    You won’t have quick access to am American cell phone when you arrive home
    You lose your American phone number! );

Part 2: Choose your choices and unlock your phone!
I chose option 3.

CALL YOUR PHONE COMPANY. CALL YOUR PHONE COMPANY! CALL. YOUR. PHONE. COMPANY! I promise they will help you with any difficulties you may have when trying to figure out your options when it comes to your american plan. I personally UNLOCKED my iPhone through Sprint super quick and easy!), later on I will ACTIVATE a non-smartphone and then get a SPANISH SIM CARD once I arrive in Europe. Take a look at your options, but I think I am taking one of the most practical routes! Also, a friend of mine unlocked her AT&T Phone, so here is her advice as to how to get an AT&T phone unlocked WHILE still keeping your contract and while not having to pay the fee! In addition, I have found that iPhone 5’s come unlocked! So, any 5S or 5C should come unlocked too!

In addition to planning on getting a Spanish SIM card, I also had an international plan on my phone for a couple of days so that when I arrived in the airport I would be able to send a couple quick texts or if something crazy happened then I would be able to make a call or something. The idea of arriving in an airport and having no contact to the outside world makes me so afraid. The problem with that was I didn’t have my settings right on my iPhone when I arrived in Europe. When I got to the terminal in Barajas, I connected to free 15 minutes of WIFI and whatsapped everyone and tell them that I hate the world because I can’t figure out why my phone won’t connect to Spanish networks! I called Sprint (with their toll free number) and I was told that I had my settings wrong. Make sure your settings are right! Then a new section under settings will pop up called “carrier” and you will receive a text from your company telling you the costs of your calls/texts/data usage. Good luck!

Phone Settings
1. Make sure Cellular Data is OFF and Roaming is VOICE ONLY
Vodafone ES
2. “Carrier” shows up out of nowhere to tell you which network you are on
Text from sprint
3. Get a text from your company saying you are going to get charged like crazy!

What “Options” did you choose? Anyone choose an option that I did not mention? Also, Did you unlock your phone for international use? Was it THAT easy for you too? Any typos? Anything? Let me know!

Katelan