Five Major Differences Between Long-Term and Short-Term Study Abroad Programs

The Round Tower - Copenhagen, Denmark

It sounds simple but if you’re like me, you probably view all study abroad programs as essentially the same, and you probably view most international students similarly as a result.  Hold your horses!  The two are actually vastly different.

I’ve participated in the two extremes of study abroad.  My first introduction was the summer after my Freshman year of College at Arizona State University.  I attended a six and a half week study abroad program through the Barrett Honors College which spent three weeks in London, ten days in Dublin and twelve days in Edinburgh. We traveled, we explored, we took two courses, and it was a great intro to international travel.  In the 7 years since I completed that program I used it, movies, and conversations as a general way of relating to all of the international students I met.  While it helped some, I now realize I made a lot of mistaken assumptions.

Just over three weeks ago I arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark where I’ll be spending the next two years pursuing a masters in Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen. An experience which I’ll be documenting here on VirtualWayfarer.  My formal studies start in less than three weeks and without even beginning the academic portion of the experience I’ve already realized that long-term study abroad and short-term study abroad are vastly different.

To clarify terminology – when I say short-term study abroad I’m talking about trips which last less than 7 months but longer than 5 days.  When I say long-term study abroad I’m including year long programs but mainly focusing on complete degree undergraduate and graduate programs.

Here are five of the key differences:

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

1. Commitment

As scary and challenging as short-term study abroad programs can be, you never truly have to commit to leaving.  The study abroad trip is an adventure, sometimes a relatively long one, but always experienced with a set perception of your native country as home.  You know that you’ll be going back at the end of that program and even if that program is 6 months long, you’ll always be in a social/passing through phase.  While you may become a participant in the local culture, you’ll never find yourself striving to become a truly active member or to go native.

In a long-term study abroad program you have to go all in.  You’ve committed to something more than just an extended visit and are literally moving to your destination country.  You operate on the realization that in the 1 to 6 years you’ll be gone that everything will change drastically, that you as an individual will be completely different, and that you are re-locating your home.  There is a realization that to not only enjoy, but to survive the experience you have to make an effort to go native.  That you will be changing far more than just where you sleep and study, but also how you eat, how you socialize, and perhaps even some of your core assumptions and values.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

2. Support

One of the best parts about a short-term study abroad program is that almost everything is taken care of for you by the partner schools, program coordinators and chaperones.  You’re told exactly what to do to engage in the process, where to be, and what to expect. Things like housing, transport, and course registration are handled, and most programs have you experience the trip as part of a group of people from your University or home country.  For my first trip this consisted of  two courses taught by faculty from my home University and our group was made almost entirely up of students from Arizona State’s Communication and Honors colleges.

While the experience may vary, I’ve found that long-term study abroad comes with significantly less support.  Especially for international students who are completing entire degree programs.  As a full program international student you’re not engaging in a study abroad program, so much as you are opting to study abroad.  The subtle difference is that while one is a program, the other is standard application and acceptance in a University that just happens to be international.  That means that virtually nothing is taken care of for you, though most Universities offer international programs offices which try and provide some guidance and limited help. At a basic level, however, consider all of the things that go into applying for College or Graduate school as a student attending an out of state school (housing, strange fees, long distance phone calls, different time zones, different banks, paperwork, transcripts, moving your possessions etc.) and then consider doing those internationally across thousands of miles.  Things like visa processing and paperwork, language barriers, international time zones, and vastly different education system structures all come together to create a very challenging and daunting experience.    Believe me, trying to complete the housing and visa process alone with minimal guidance or support is an incredible challenge and one that has left me with more than one sleepless night.

Candy and Scale - Copenhagen, Denmark

3. Different Educational Systems

While most people know this, I don’t think people truly internalize the fact that school systems around the world differ greatly. American educational systems are vastly different than European systems which are completely different than Asian systems.

I mentioned earlier that for my short-term study abroad experience we brought our own teachers with us.  You’ll find that in most short-term study abroad programs the academic coursework and structure remain largely the same as the country of origin.  This makes sense as switching back and forth for a few weeks/month-long program would be messy and confusing.  It also goes back to the experience as a visitor vs. participant/member.

Long-term study abroad programs, however, are done in the local educational system.  Remember – you’re just a regular student who happens to be from abroad.  As a participant this means figuring out and learning vastly different registration, course schedule, course load, teaching style and testing systems.  Even the little things like how course hours are credited can be vastly different.  For example while US schools operate on a credit hour basis, University of Copenhagen and most of Europe uses the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

Street Music - Copenhagen, Denmark

4. Social Restart

I mentioned earlier that short-term study abroad programs tend to set you up with, or travel in packs.  Even though you probably didn’t know most of the people before the trip began, you’re put with a group that automatically forms into a new peer group/group of friends. Some will become great friends, some you’ll tolerate because, hey, it’s only a few weeks or months, and one or two you’ll probably absolutely detest.  Ultimately though, this becomes your social network while traveling and fills in for your family and friends back home.

While there is some of this in long-term study abroad the nature of the program makes it significantly more difficult. There’s a huge sensation of loss as you realize that you’re not returning to your regular social group and good friends in a couple of weeks or months, but that it will likely be years. Years during which they may get married, move elsewhere, or change drastically as people.  As a long-term student you also have to effectively start over from ground zero.  One of the biggest frustrations I hear from people who did long-term study abroad programs and had negative experiences was that they never managed to meet new people or establish a new network.   It’s tough, and it takes an active willingness and investment in meeting, connecting, and generating friendships in a way most of us haven’t done actively in close to a decade.

There is no fall-back social group, or core-social group that you can always spend time with or call up to go grab a coffee, see a movie, or grab a beer. That sense of initial isolation is where I’m at right now, and while I feel very positive about the people I am meeting and my ability to build a new social network here in Denmark, it can be rough at times.  A lot of that will also change as the other international students starting my program arrive in town and courses start giving us an easy common thread to network through.  Still, that in and of itself poses another challenge as I know that if I’m going to be here for two years I need to do more than just hang out with other international students. That means going outside of my comfort zone and doing things that are far less comfortable for an international student – it means committing myself to the culture.

I’ve met some great people in the three weeks I’ve been here, and as orientation starts up I know I’ll meet a wealth of new ones. Despite that, it has definitely been a vastly different experience than traditional short-term study abroad.

Dad and I

5. Family

I always wondered how my international friends, roommates, and acquaintances dealt with being away from family. I come from a very close family where my parents, brother and I talk regularly, travel well together, and have an incredible relationship as peers.  For a long-time I wondered what long-term student’s relationships with their families were like that they were comfortable and able to leave their family for years at a time.  I think at a certain level, though I’m a bit ashamed of myself for it, I assumed that their relationships with their families must not have been incredibly close which made it easier to spend time away.  I’m happy to say I had no idea what I was talking about.  Leaving family behind and knowing that visiting and communicating will be much more challenging is easily one of the toughest things about long-term study abroad, but it in no way reflects the strength of the relationships between an international student and their siblings/parents.

As I write this I’m engaged in a two year program which may extend into a PhD and has the potential to lead just as easily to an expat scenario as a return stateside at the end of my two year program.  Two days before I flew over to Denmark my brother flew to Africa with the US Peace Corps for a two year deployment to Zambia.  Moving thousands of miles away, after spending most of our lives less than an hour away from our folks and each other was an incredibly difficult decision. But it was one that was made possible largely BECAUSE of how close our family is.  Their support, encouragement, and constant wisdom made the move a reality.  So, I encourage you all not to make the same mistake I did.

Are you thinking about studying abroad, or have you done a short or long-term program?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, observations and answer any questions you may have!

How To Pick A Travel Partner and Avoid Killing Them

Nate and I in Orkney
Orkney Isles with my brother in 09′ (that’s an ASU Trident)

You’re itching to take a trip.  You’ve got the money saved up, or at least you are ready to start saving for it, have a general idea where you really want to go, when you can go, and are almost all set. Yet, you’re stuck.  You’re missing one of the key pieces of the equation – someone to travel with.

While I’m a huge advocate of solo-travel and I encourage you all to explore it, this post isn’t about that. It’s designed for those whose trip revolves around finding a travel partner. My goal is to help you inadvertently avoid  ruining your adventure and quite possibly valuable friendships in the process.

Consider this…How many College roommate situations work out well? The answer…some…probably fewer than 60%. The good news is that when they do work out, they have the potential to cement friendships and craft them into lifelong relationships.  From the get-go I encourage you to think of traveling with a travel partner the same way. You’re going to live together for the duration of the trip, hang out together, eat together and be in a plethora of emotionally-charged situations.

The following are the 6 key things you need to be aware of when planning a joint trip.

1. Travel Experience

As a casual weekend hiker would you enter an Ironman contest with a Veteran Ironman contestant? Probably not.  Why?  Because your goals, experience, conditioning and approach are fundamentally different.  This is an important lesson when picking a travel partner. While not an exact science, travelers can be broken down into three easy categories:  Novice, Intermediate and Expert travelers.

When trying to find a travel partner it initially appears to make sense that novice travelers should seek out expert travelers as companions. It’s like having a guide, but better – right? Frankly, the answer is no, it’s a bad idea. It is not related to some sort of elitism, but rather because expert travelers tend to be at a very different place with their desired experiences and goals. Travel for a Novice traveler is flush with brand new experiences, even on the most basic levels.  These are the things that make travel terrifying but also add fantastic depth to it.  The Novice traveler is far more inclined to want (and need!) to see every museum, every major historical landmark, and to stop at major tourist destinations. For most, they’re at a stage that mirrors a child’s love and lust for discovery.

Now, consider pairing that individual with someone who has already gone through that phase.  They’ve not only seen many of the major cathedrals and architectural wonders but have probably done tens if not hundreds of museums… often including the main museums in England, France and Greece which house the lion’s share of the world’s wonders. For many of these experienced travelers the experience has shifted from observation to immersion.  They’re still setting a fast pace at times but their approach is usually more haphazard and they may not go out of their way for pure-novelty experiences.   They also typically travel slower, are on tighter budgets, and relate very differently to their environment.

The intermediate traveler?  A combination of the two – somewhere in the middle as they transition from wide-eyed novice to storied veteran.

2. Travel Style

While similar to #1, travel style is an essential factor when planning a trip. It’s important to keep in mind that travel style varies depending on country/destination and tends to evolve over time.  Take a few minutes to sit down and really think about what your travel style is (or might be). Do you enjoy well-organized trips or spontaneous wandering?  Do you prefer to be active in the mornings or the afternoons?  Camping, Couchsurfing, Hostels or Hotels?  What is more important: An afternoon spent exploring a niche museum or one spent sitting at a small cafe reading a book?

3. Budget

Money.  It ruins friendships, marriages, and can make or break a trip.  For most of us travel is a leisure expense. Something we have to save up for, which is optional, and tends to be a budgetary increase over our day-to-day budget.  Beyond that though, most of us have widely varied spending habits.  When preparing for a trip figuring out your budget and what classifies as an acceptable quality of life while on the road is an essential part of trip preparation.  Far less talked about, however, is the importance of making sure your budget and financial means line up with those of the person you’re looking at traveling with.  They seldom do.  Which is why setting a budget, which you both intend to stick to, is essential.

What happens if you miss a train or get stuck paying 2x what you budgeted for a hotel room? While it may be within what you can afford, can your travel partner?  Or, how do you plan to divide up your expenses?  You and your travel partner have both budgeted $100/day.  Great!  But, you’re not done – how much of that will go to accommodation, food, beer and/or entertainment costs? Do your budgets and values coincide?

4. Fresh Air

Agree before the trip starts to spend some time apart. When traveling it’s not uncommon to spend nearly every waking (and dreaming) moment together.  As time passes that becomes more and more of a challenge even for the best of friends and lets face it, your travel partner may not be your best friend.

Before you leave have a conversation about working in free days where you both split up and spend the day doing your own thing. I’d suggest working in one every week and a half or so but it will depend widely on how well you travel together.  What’s important is that you recognize when you need space and are able to take it without any hurt feelings.

5. Timing and Commitment

Two rules tend to shape the lead up to a trip.  People are flaky and life happens. You’ve planned a trip, started saving, found a travel partner, and then a month before the trip, you learn they either haven’t saved up the money they planned to, have made other plans, or chickened out. Now you’re without a travel partner, the prices of airfare have gone up, and you’re left high and dry.

Remember, actions speak louder than words. Don’t let your desperation to find a travel partner or eagerness to travel with someone cripple or kill your trip.  Set firm deadlines for ticket purchases and get your potential travel partner financially invested as quickly as possible.  The easiest way to make a trip “real” is to purchase your airline tickets. While this isn’t 100%, it will improve the follow-through rate and weed out people who are saying yes but would otherwise flake out later down the road.

If they can’t or won’t commit within a reasonable time period, it’s time to move on and find someone else.  At the end of the day this is your trip and you’re responsible for making it happen.  Set yourself up to succeed, not fail.

6. Numbers Games

Remember the old saying, The More the Merrier? When it comes to travel, it’s bullshit.  The larger the group, the more difficult and frustrating the trip will be.  That’s a simple fact. As a general rule of thumb more than 3 people should never travel together for more than a week (unless part of an organized tour).  Remember that even adding one person triples all 5 of the factors outlined in this post.

Have I seen groups do it with more?  You bet. Did they survive the trip in one piece and as one group?  Sometimes.  Did any make it through without significant frustration at some point or another?  No.

Make It Happen!

Now get out there and get your feet on the road! Hopefully this post has helped prepare you for your next adventure.  If you’d like a little extra help keep in mind my two resource sites: The Ultimate Packing List and The Travel Resource List.  Have a tip, question or suggestion of your own?  Maybe even a story to share?  Post it in a comment!

This Beautiful World: 30 of My Favorite Travel Photos

The following are 30 of my favorite travel photos.  Shots were taken on PowerShot G series cameras (G6, or G11).  All are my original photos.  Please do not re-produce them without my consent. You can view more of my photography on flickr.

Sunrise in Playa del Carmen

1. Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Canon G11

Highlands_Scotland_Lake

2. Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3388

3. Southern Crete, Greece – Canon G6

Glencoe_Valley_Highlands_Scotland_South

4. Glencoe Valley, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

5. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

The Bridge in Smoo Cave

6. Smoo Cave, Scotland – Canon G6

Dos Ojos, Mexico Cave Snorkeling

7. Dos Ojos, Mexico – Canon G11

Rob_Roy_Highland_Overlook

8. Rob Roy’s Grave, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

9. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Edinburgh_Castle_Scotland_Telephone

10. Edinburgh, Scotland – Canon G6

Breakfast Parrot

11. Flores, Guatemala – Canon G11

Coastal Village

12. North Western Coast, Scotland – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3039

13. San Marino, San Marino – Canon G6

Highland Road

14. Road to Orkney, Scotland – Canon G6

Tobacco Caye, Belize

15. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

Scottish Highlands

16. Small Village, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

17. Belize Barrier Reef, Belize – Canon G11

Germany: Bavaria - Neuschwanstein Castle

18. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

19. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Fijord Fronds

20. Northern Coast, Scotland – Canon G6

Germany: Bavaria - Oktoberfest

21. Oktoberfest, Germany – Canon G6

York, England

22. Cathedral, York, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

23. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Prague, Czech Republic

24. Prague, Czech Republic – Canon G6

Scottish Highlands

25. Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3234

26. Cathedral, Italy – Canon G6

Dubrovnik - Croatia

27. Dubrovnik, Croatia – Canon G6

Florence - Italy

28. Florence, Italy – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3335

29. Nafplio, Greece – Canon G6

Cinque Terra - Italy

30. Cinque Terre, Italy – Canon G6

Two New Must Visit Websites for Travelers

Wings_In_Trinity

Hello friends! It is my pleasure to officially announce the launch of two of my latest projects.  Many of you are no doubt aware that I currently run the UPL: http://ultimatepackinglist.com.  A website I created to serve as a sort of quick crash course/101 list for travelers.  The goal for the site was to create an easy to access, one page reference list that put all the core information an amateur/moderately experienced traveler would need in one spot. So far the site has filled the niche between quick 10 point travel tip blog posts, and more comprehensive resource sites/advice beautifully – receiving wonderful feedback and steady traffic.

Rob_Roy_Boot_Overlook_Scotland

The Travel Resource List

Today, I’m happy to announce that I’m at it again.  Sticking with the same theme (simple is better, less is more) I’m thrilled to share the Travel Resource List (TRL):  http://travelresourcelist.com with you. I’ve created a two page website.  The main and primary page is exactly what the domain suggests – A filtered list of the TOP Travel Resource websites sorted by category.  From Airfare to mobile travel apps, my goal is to generate a top level resource that highlights the tools and websites experienced travelers use and shares those resources/websites with the travel community as a whole.  The sites linked on TRL are only linked to based on their value.  Additionally, unlike a lot of general travel lists which indiscriminately share links – the links provided are all hand picked and reviewed for value/quality.   I’ll also be updating the list regularly, so please don’t hesitate to share your favorite resource with me if you feel that it belongs on the list and is missing.

The second page on TRL is dedicated to a comprehensive travel blog list.  There are a LOT of Travel blog lists out there. Most are either very limited in scope, poorly maintained, or buried deep within larger sites.  One of the other problems that plague travel blogs is their lack of longevity – it’s not uncommon for travelers to start a Travel Blog before their trip, add it to a bunch of lists, update it during the trip, and then abandon it.  In an effort to weed these types of dead blogs out, I’ve done something a bit unusual.  In order for a blog to be listed on the TRL, I require at least 5 months in existing blog archives.  The list is brand new and growing – if you meet the criteria, please don’t hesitate to submit your site.

Cliffs_Orkney_Isles_Scotland_Edge

The Travel Resource Network

As I continue to add stand alone travel resource sites – I i realized I needed a way to keep them connected and to help readers find their way from site to site (after all, if you find one useful – you’ll no doubt love the others!). Though far less exciting than the Travel Resource List, I’ve launched the Travel Resource Network (TRN): http://travelresourcenetwork.com to serve as an overall parent website for my various projects.  As part of the launch VirtualWayfarer, Ultimate Packing List, and Travel Resource List have all been rolled up under the Travel Resource Network umbrella.   The TRN portal will remain as is – a simple, straight forward landing page for those utilizing the member sites.  To be clear, I will NOT be changing the structure of the individual sites or rolling them in to a network page.  My goal is simplicity and my site’s target niche is the gray space between light blog post and comprehensive network site.

I look forward to your feedback and continued contributions, as I strive to provide quality resources that help improve travel knowledge and people’s overall travel experience.  Have a favorite site or blog I missed? Please don’t hesitate to post it here for consideration.  Love the sites and like the idea?  Make sure to book mark them, I’d also be in your debt for a stumble and/or tweet.

The roads will open up for you! Travel safe!

Backpacking Packing Tips & Basic Hostel Information

Today was a special day. It was the first day in over 2 1/2 months that I used a number of the heaviest items in my pack. Initially I was going to wait to make this post until I got home, but – there’s no time like the present. It’s no secret that people always over pack. Even the best travelers do it, it’s just human nature. That said, I also feel like I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. Those of you who know me well know that I can be a bit of a clean freak. At home it’s not unusual for me to take two showers a day and to only wear clothing once before I wash it.

When I left, the combined weight of my two bags was around 30 pounds. Not bad for 3 months right? Well, the truth is I over packed. Majorly. There may be a few things I’ve forgotten about but off the top of my head I packed the following:

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.
  • 2 Pairs of jeans. Both in the modern style with slight damage/darker coloration.
  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.
  • 2 $13 Polo shirts. One black, one Maroon.
  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.
  • 1 Pair special thick hiking socks, 3 pair normal black socks.
  • 2 Pairs of ExOfficio boxer briefs. These are lightweight, hygienic artificial material and dry in under 2 hours.
  • 1 Northface windscreen fleece vest.
  • 1 Marmot waterproof jacket w/ hood.
  • 1 Black wool sweater.
  • 1 Longsleeve silk underwear top.
  • 1 Canon G6 Digital Camera with 1 2gb memory stick and 1 512mb memory stick.
  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.
  • 2 Books to start me out. One fantasy, one business reading.
  • 1 Dopkit with toothbrush/toothpaste, razors, nail clippers & two small vitamin containers filled with a mixture of centrum multivitamin, crushed ginger root capsules, equinacia capsules and a bunch of super B/C vitamins (200-2,000% the normal recommended value depending on which vitamin).
  • 1 Country Gentleman old style hat. A great alternative to a baseball cap for going abroad and something that packs easily w/ a tiny bill on it.
  • 1 Pair of cheap plastic flipflops for the shower.
  • 1 MSR microfiber travel towel ($11 online).
  • 1 Inflatable neck pillow and eye mask.
  • 1 Portable extending umbrella.
  • 1 Plastic airtight soap container w/ bar of soap.
  • 1 Pair of sports/gym shorts.
  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.
  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).
  • 1 Large duffel like bag (for air travel to protect the backpack & it\’s straps)

There may have been one or two other items, but to be honest I can’t remember them right now. I shouldn’t have packed them either. My gear was divided into my main Osprey pack and a smaller school-esque day pack. When backpacking I simply strap the small pack over the large pack and carry it on my chest. Not the sexiest looking combo ever, but super effective. During my time on the road I’ve picked up the following items:

  • 1 Pair of black gloves.
  • 1 U.S. Airways plane blanket (I was flying Delta, the blanket they gave me had a US Airways tag & their service sucked and though I don\’t condone lifting it, the small, blue 100% polyester blanket has been my scarf for the last 2.5 months).
  • 2 Pair of cheap socks.
  • 2 Oktoberfest souvenir shirts.
  • 1 Bag of replacement razors.
  • 1 Tube of toothpaste.
  • 1 Combination lock.

Of all of the original things I packed, the following were unnecessary (with explanations as to why):

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.

I spent the bulk of my time hosteling. In most hostels you are either provided with the kitchen (less common) or placed in a room with 8 other people in which case there is no private space where you can secretly spirit off to cook your dinner. It’s possible in some locations you could cook outside, but it would still be iffy at best. If you are doing hotels however, these are a viable option.

  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.

I would have worn this more often if the shirt had been better. The shirt I packed wasn’t the best choice and I managed to get blood on it the one time I wore it. I stuck mostly to casual clubs, bar crawls and pubs. If your intent is to be a bit more flashy and or hit up higher ends nightclubs you might need a dress shirt. As it turns out, despite non-stop partying all trip I only wore mine once.

  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.

I packed these thinking i’d wear them while traveling and or might need them for the opera, ballet, major shows or big events. As it turned out I wore them once – in Venice for Halloween. I attended major musical performances and Opera in London, Prague and Vienna without any problem. I may not have looked incredible, but the jean-polo combo worked.

  • 1 Black wool sweater.

Between my vest, custom scarf and jacket I was almost never cold. While not a major American fashion item having a scarf makes a huge difference. Keep in mind however, that I also followed fall down. As I’m writing this, sitting in a computer cafe in Crete, Greece on the 29th of November I’m wearing the same basic outfit I wore in the Isle of Skye, Scotland September 15th.

  • 1 Long sleeve silk underwear top.

I’ve had one or two nights where I could have put it on, as well as a day or two where I almost wore it but I’ve yet to use it. I also typically sleep shirtless and pant less and wearing only my boxers. In short – most places I’ve been are not freezing.

  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.

While not necessarily unneeded, I’ve only worn the pair of Sketchers 4 or 5 times. Of those 3 were for night clubs where the ugly Keens wouldn’t fly, the other two were simply because I felt like airing out the Keens. A pair of waterproof hiking/walking shoes are a MUST. If i had to do it again, I’d probably leave the Sketchers at home just to dodge the weight. That said, I was only turned away from one club during the trip because of dress code and typically have an easier time than some people gaining access to nightclubs (possibly because of my height?)

  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.

I’ve worn the vest almost every day that I’ve been over here because of the weather. The vest has a Napoleanesque zipper pocket on the chest in which I store my mini calculator and passport. The only time I’ve actually used the carrier was in the airport.

  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).

Never wore them. If you end up at a Jacuzzi wear your boxers. If you end up in that rare hostel with group showers skip the shower or tuck your stuff & shower naked. Also, I was traveling during the Sept-Dec period in Europe, not exactly swimming weather.

You may have noticed I only started with 2 shirts, no shorts and 2 pairs of boxers. In regards to the shirts – I made it to Oktoberfest before picking up two Souvenir t-shirts which I have used to supplement my two polos, giving me a grand total of 4 t-shirts. I run the smell test on the shirts and make sure to wash them whenever I’ll be at a place long enough for them to dry. The two pairs of boxers are easy in that the artificial nature of the material makes them easy to wash and their fast drying qualities means I can wash them the night before and be in a clean pair the next morning. They also don’t hold scents or dirt so they do not need to be washed as often as normal boxer-briefs. For the 3 month period I’ve been traveling, shorts don’t make sense. Jeans are not much hotter in the sun (I’ll wear jeans in 115 Degree heat in the Valley and honestly believe they are not much hotter than shorts as they keep your legs shaded) and it’s simpler not to pack extra crap.

As far as pants – they are the hardest item to wash. This is the slightly nasty part. I’ve washed my jeans a whopping 2 times and worn 1 of the two pair a good 80% of the time. Jeans are a difficult thing to wash, because they take so long to dry. The good news is, a darker colored pair of “vintage” looking jeans is designed to look dirty. So, unless they smell, you have an unfortunate spill or you decide to go sit in a mud puddle you don’t need to wash them nearly as often as other clothing (just for the love of God, change your boxers often). The pair of Levi jeans I purchased before leaving now have a hole worn through them after nearly 2 months of constant wear. I made it 1 month the first time before washing them and switching to the second pair (I found I didn’t like to travel in the second pair as they had a looser fit which gave me less contact with my wallet in my front pocket — they were a bit too large) and despite what you might think, to look (or smell) me most people would have thought that the pants had only been worn 2 or 4 times max.

Worried about clothing diversity or people seeing you wearing the same thing over and over? Don’t be. 1) You’re traveling. 2) They’re traveling. 3) No one really cares, and if they do you probably have stayed in the same place too long or they don’t belong in a hostel.

General Hostel Notes:

  • All of the hostels I stayed at in Eastern and Western Europe provided sheets – on the rare occasion it was a few Euros extra.
  • I never camped. There was no need and it would have dirtied my stuff.
  • I had my own towel – the micro towel is incredible – but most also offer towels for rent/free.
  • I never had any need for a sleeping bag. Additionally, many of the better hostels forbid their use as it’s one of the main ways that bedbugs are spread.
  • If you are a light sleeper, get earplugs. Hostels are like college dorms.
  • In cases where the hostel provided a kitchen area, they also had an assortment of banged up pots and pans and usually offered some form of refrigeration/storage compartments.

Questions, curious about something? Ask it in a comment and I’ll let you know!