Tidying Up Loose Threads

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With the knowledge that I’ll be moving out at the end of the summer, I started to evaluate what I have lying around half finished. I’m very good at starting a project and either finishing in a day, or waiting a year.

The first place to start was with books. I tend to read most of my books through my library’s e-book lending service. It works wonderfully and I usually have all of my holds on a rotation, reading on my Kindle or my phone. But as I’ve increased my e-book consumption, my consumption of the books I physically own fell. I’ve been very good about not buying more physical books until I can finish those I have, but there’s still twenty or so books that I haven’t read or have accumulated through holidays or sharing with my father. Because I’m planning to move, I only want to take books with me that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But in order to preserve my back, I want that number of physical books I haven’t read to be on the smaller side. (Bonus – once I get the books I’ve already read down to a smaller number, I can finally justify buying more books!) I’ve recently read my physical copies of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and I’m part of the way into Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

The second place to go is to the TV – well, let’s be honest, it’s more like all my streaming platforms. Last year, I made a list of all the finished shows I’m halfway through. Again, I’m very good at finishing the first few seasons, but I get distracted and don’t always make it to the end. Because I need as few distractions as possible, I’m trying to make it through the shows available on streaming platforms I don’t use as frequently. I’ve managed to make it to the end of Teen Wolf, The Mentalist, and I’m on the last season of Criminal Minds. If I can knock off one or two before I head to law school, I’ll be happy to cancel my subscriptions for a few months and bring one or two back for the winter break.

The last loose thread includes genuine loose threads. I’ve taken up quilting over the last year and have started quite a few different projects. At the moment, I’m not planning to take any fabric or a sewing machine with me, so I need to wrap up as many of the half-started projects I’ve got as I can. I’ve got a finished top that I’m avoiding finishing because quilting it is daunting and I’ve got a top that I’m not sure how I want to proceed. Both of these quilts are unfinished out of anxiety about the next steps, but I’ve got about a month to get over that and get them done.

In addition to these half finished hobbies, I made myself a little bit of a summer to-do list. I know that I’ll be spending the next few years studying and working almost year round and I wanted to enjoy my last “free” summer while I could. The list includes a trip to the beach and the consumption of good watermelon, as well as meeting up with friends before I leave town. But like every year, the end of summer is fast approaching and my list is still long.

Just Down the Block

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I started the New Year off with a bit of chaos – I moved apartments. I am still in the DC area and I’m not going very far at all. I literally moved two blocks down. The move was a bit of a mess. There was miscommunication with my old apartment and of course it rained. I had assistance from All Star Movers (they’re actually saints and the quickest movers in the DMV) and my lovely parents (though one half was sidelined with injuries). Bits and bobs were moved over the week and my plants got special treatment in their transportation and will now enjoy a sunny spot in my window.

I find moving stressful. Partially because there are so many “what-ifs” and partially because its the end of an era. I’ve moved every year (if not twice a year) for the past six years. Mostly it has been from my parent’s house to college and back or into a suitcase to Australia and back. Things have been accumulated (mostly plants) and things have been tossed (r.i.p. the black leather chair that was older than my parent’s marriage). And I try to prepare, but can never quite get it right.

But I found a few things helpful in making the moving process slightly less anxiety-inducing.

One: start packing before the moving truck arrives. This seems logical and yet you’d be surprised. I started putting non-essentials away about two months before I was set to move out. Then I stopped buying food about two weeks before my move. The week of my move, everything went into bags or boxes, one night at a time. The few days before my move, I did a capsule wardrobe challenge, using only ten items of clothing and packing everything else. And the night before, my loving mother and I broke down my bed and pushed everything the movers would be lugging about into the living room for easy access. It worked. There’s not a whole lot that was left to be dealt with after the movers left and things are packed in a semi-organized fashion.

Two: give yourself wiggle room. It’s tempting to move out the last possible day of your lease, but having a day or two or a week overlap to move helped me stress less about getting everything done in that deadline. I could spend three days moving my plants and my last bits over, rather than three hours. When it started snow/raining, I didn’t have to power through.

Three: cry in advance. I knew that I would end up crying (and I did!) but I figured getting some of those stressful emotions out of the way before the movers arrived would be helpful for all involved. So the night before, I watched a movie I knew would make me cry and I let it out. And then in the morning after picking up my apartment keys, but before meeting with my parents, I cried again. And voila! No tears during the actual move.

Four: let the professionals do their job. Other than bits and bobs and plants, we let the professional movers handle the tough stuff. They figured out how to get things into and out of the two apartment buildings and they carried the heavy things.

Five: know when to quit. There’s a certain point in my day when I have to acknowledge I need to rest. As an introvert, I know that too much socialization will eventually mean hitting a wall of exhaustion that can only be fixed by time alone. After a stressful day of moving, I needed to acknowledge that everything wasn’t going to be put away right then and there. I could rest and handle what was left over the next few days (see tip two).

Can I just say I’m happy I don’t have to do this again until next year?

That First Blank Page

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I’ve recently started a new journal – the most exciting and daunting step. There’s something terrifying about a blank page. What if I misspell something on the first line? What if I start with pens that bleed through? Do I want to do the same things I need in my last journal? Do I want to try something new?

I use my journals for a variety of things. This wave of journaling started in college when I wanted a place to put all my cards and notes and photobooth pictures. I bought a cheap journal and taped in each piece so that they weren’t floating around my dorm room. I repeated this habit my sophomore year. I bought a notebook and started to do the same process when I studied abroad in Australia (those bits and bobs are still in a bag somewhere waiting for me to tape and glue them in). I was more successful with the journal I used in Sweden – I organized it in order, placing all of the ticket stubs and plane tickets from each weekend trip together. My senior year of college it was a nice memento from school and I happily taped everything in.

It wasn’t until I moved to London for grad school that I expanded my use of journals from travel mementos to an actual journal. (This was around the time of the bullet journal fad so it’s not surprising I wanted to get in on that.) This journal was filled with cards and ticket stubs, grocery lists and rants. Taped and glued and highlighted together, this journal went beyond that experience, blending that year with the one following it.

I recently filled the last page and started a new one. I’ve used it less frequently because it’s still so fresh. There’s no mistakes so far, no bend in the spine. It sits closed nicely and doesn’t have pieces of paper sticking out in weird directions. This new notebook doesn’t hold the same memories as the last. At least not yet.

And like the beginning of anything new and exciting, I find myself overthinking. But with a new decade, maybe it’s time to dive in.

So I wrote a to do list on the first page, copied over from the end of my last journal. I taped in a ticket from a show I saw. I marked a page with a highlighter.

And suddenly, it’s a lot less daunting…

Who Are You Reading?

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At the beginning of 2019, I started a Goodreads challenge to read a book for every month of the year. Thanks to my local library’s rentable e-books, I just found myself completing that challenge – which is crazy because last year I read half as many books. (All 12 books will be listed at the very end if you’re interested.)

I, like many others I’m sure, used to read constantly, but with an increase in reading for school, a busier extracurricular schedule, and the introduction of YouTube and Netflix, my reading time was down to next to nothing for a while there. I also felt pressure to only read books that were popular or cool, or to only read Classics, or to listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

But this year I found time to read and started to make the tiniest of tiny dents in the list of books I’ve been meaning to read when I get the chance. Some books took months to finally find the time to finish; other books were completed in a day. Some books had been on my list for years; other books were read immediately after my Goodreads account recommended them.

Many of them were not physical copies – instead, read on my phone in between appointments or on the metro to work. As a serious binge reader, this new approach to reading changed what stories I could follow and what books I had to set aside for reading on that vacation I might never take. I also gave myself permission to not finish a book if it wasn’t fulfilling my curiousity or if I just didn’t like the style.

Though my to-read pile is still rather large and LSAT prep could probably have taken some of those minutes spent reading, I’m really pleased with how much time I spent this year with my nose in a book (/on a phone).

And as I start to work on another set of books that might be read or might be delayed, I realized that every book I read this year was written by a woman.

There’s something powerful in visiting stories that don’t simplify the female characters to love interests or swift side mentions. Many of the stories I read had female main characters, but not all did. They explored dynamics from sisterhood to friendship and delved into mysteries and murder and high school drama. In each story, I could connect to characters who had stories to tell and whose stories were being told.

I don’t feel like I missed out on any superbly amazing reads this year because of my chosen list and if anything it’s expanded the number of authors I want to spend more time exploring. There’s definitely room in my pile for more stories by writers who are people of color or who aren’t American-born English speakers.

But that’s a challenge for next year. (The year isn’t over yet… maybe I’ll get another book or two complete before December 31…)

Who did you read this year? Or better yet, who are you excited to read next year?

 

Lily’s List of Books: (** designates my favorites of the year)

Starting Fresh

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It’s almost the new year and it’s almost a new decade. So it’s time to leave some baggage behind. I know everyone loves spring cleaning, but I find the end of the year to be an incredibly satisfying time of the year to kick anything that isn’t sparking joy to the curb.

First things first: emails. I hate having notifications for emails. So I’m clearing my inbox. Anything that needs responding to, gets a response. Any ads or coupon codes are get marked as read – if I need them, I can always search for the brand or store later. Anything that sends me hourly emails, unsubscribe. I will not start the year with a little red bubble next to my email app.

Then on to social media. Almost yearly, I go through my social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and clear out the people I just don’t care about. Maybe it’s someone who I was friendly with years and years ago or a comedian I followed and have regretted following ever since or a friend’s ex. Whoever it is, if I don’t love seeing their posts, they’re gone. If they aren’t sparking joy with their content, unfollowed. No more hate-liking or skipping through three hours worth of concert video posted to their stories. If I don’t know them, they’re gone. (And anyone I can’t avoid – i.e. coworkers, family members – gets muted. They don’t have to know.)

Next up, moving on to more physical things. My car becomes a dumping ground for bits and bobs. I’ll be starting the year off with no receipts waded up in my cup holders. Nothing in my trunk. And a full tank of gas. Because I’ll be moving in January, I’ll also be stealing my parents’ shop vac to clean up the evidence of many a fast food stop.

My apartment stays relatively uncluttered and will end up being cleaned and organized when I start packing, but I’ve got a couple of things that need sorting.

It’s so easy to fill a kitchen with half-eaten bits and bobs and then still have nothing to eat. So the last few meals of 2019 will be sourced from what I already have. That bag of chips from that party two months ago will be eaten (or tossed once I realize they’re stale). Anything in the fridge that’s past expiration date will be dealt with. The freezer will be explored and it will reveal whatever I’ve stuffed in there. Basically, I’ll have to come to terms with all my impulse Safeway purchases.

Like most proper adults, I receive mail. This mail usually relates to bills, information about my work benefits, catalogs I’ll never read, and cards from my mother that I never dealt with. Fortunately, I’ve only been adulting for about a year, so it hasn’t accumulated to an unreasonable pile. Yet. So I will be sitting down to sort through what can be recycled, what can be shredded, and what should be nicely filed. Because most of this paper lives on my bedside table, once it’s clear, I’ll actually be able to keep important things next to my bedside like my phone, my glasses, and a candle (or three!).

Speaking of candles, I’ve been burning candles for about a year now and I’ve gone through quite a few. At some point, I considered dealing with the empty candles, getting all the wax out, and reusing the containers. But I’m lazy and they’re in the way. So I will instead just be recycling the containers and moving on. Once those have been cleared of my shelf, I can justify my purchases of more candles!

If you’re like me, you went a little crazy during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and you bought new clothes. Unfortunately, my closet isn’t big enough (and currently has a hole in the ceiling from my upstairs neighbors’ water leak! Yay adulting!). So I’ll be downsizing. I’ve done this many times before but I’m excited to clear out the things that don’t fit or that I haven’t worn in a year or that just aren’t my faves anymore. Don’t worry – they’ll be donated (first to friends and then to a local charity shop).

Lastly, I’ll be clearing my head. (Yes, I went there.) It’s one thing to get rid of physical clutter (the piles of unread mail) or the electronic clutter (the unfriendly “friends”), but emotional clutter is draining too. Especially in the middle of the most exhausting time of the year. An hour or two of journaling. A yoga class or a run in nature. A mediation session surrounded by candles. A hike in the wilderness. A mental reminder to let it go.

It’s a new year, a new decade. Why carry shit with you that you can leave behind?

Dark and Dreary Days

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The first time I experienced some form of seasonal depression was when I moved to Indianapolis. I think the onset was from a series of factors: suddenly experiencing “real winters”, stresses from being far from home and on my own, and a lack of structure in my day to day life. Whatever the causes, it hit me hard.

So when I went to Sweden and lived through only a few hours of cloudy sunshine a day, I had to start finding small ways to elevate the symptoms of my seasonal depression. With the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer and my toes now being permenantly frozen, I’ve started to reintegrate some of those seasonal cures into my daily life.

First thing: getting up. The hardest thing for me when facing long dark cold days was getting out of bed. Wrapped up in my warm blankets, tucked away from the world, I was (and am) happy to wallow. Up and out of bed, and I have a better chance at a good day.

Next thing: comfy and cozy. If I’m planning to leave the house for the day, I make sure I’m wearing my comfy and coziest clothing. It’s hard to be happy when you’re freezing and you can’t feel your toes. It’s time for all the warm sweaters and tights and scarfs. If I don’t need to leave the house, I pull on my fuzzy socks and a nice sweatshirt and grab a nice blanket to wrap around myself. (I can also recommend a humidifier and plenty of moisturizer – dry skin is no fun.)

Let there be light. The bridge between comfy and cozy and this next step is hygge. Maybe you were part of the craze a few years ago when everyone jumped on the idea, but the general gist of the Danish hygge is you wrap yourself in the comfiest thing you’ve got and plant yourself next to some candles or the fireplace and it makes everyone better. The Scandanavians know what they’re doing. Light a couple candles, stick your toes near a fire, and light up your space.

If the sun can’t do its job, artificial light will just have to do. My mom gave me a Happy Light last winter and in using it every morning while I put on my makeup, not only am I able to actually see all the wrinkles and zits on my face, but it wakes me up and genuinely puts me in a better mood. Rather than sitting in a dark room staring at a computer or phone screen, I’ve now got multiple string lights and lamps throughout the space and have become fond of mixing my candle scents. Basically, anything I can do to bring light into my room during the dark and dreary months, I do.

Seek the sun. I’ll admit there’s few things like sitting inside of a library or an office and seeing a beautiful day outside. Maybe you don’t have the ability to skip work and soak up the sun all day, but I like to force myself outside on sunny days, regardless of the chill. I treat myself to a purchased lunch if it means I get a few blocks worth of sunshine at its peak. I’m also trying (and sometimes failing) to catch those last few rays on my way home. Rather than racing towards my bed, I go to the next metro stop over or I go grocery shopping right away – essentially holding on to the sun for as long as I can.

Force some friendships. One of the hardest parts about living in Sweden those first few months was saying goodnight to everyone at 3 p.m. and then sitting alone in the dark for hours. The winter is a great time to visit museums (I tell myself and yet we shall see) or encourage friends (and/or your mother) to do silly seasonal activities for the ‘gram. Anything I can do to get out of bed and see other faces means I’m spending less time alone in my own head.

And lastly, acceptance. It is okay to not be okay. Some days are good. Some days suck. It’s okay to accept that not every day will be amazing. But I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad summer is just around the corner, right?

(Disclaimer: I’m no doctor. Everyone is different and this is simply my approach. If you need help, talk to your doctor or call 1-800-662-4357.)

Homesick

Hometown, Travel

When I moved away for college, I didn’t have a whole lot of homesickness. Flying across the world didn’t spark constant sobbing sessions of wanting to return home.

I think there’s a couple reasons I avoid what for many can be a debilitating limitation to their exploration of the planet.

The first was that home, as in the physical location of my house, wasn’t that important to me. I love my bed and driving down the GW Parkway and I love my belongings, but I have very little attachment to my home of 20-something years.

Maybe I spent too much of my childhood driving to and from school or maybe location wasn’t as important as memories. Either way, it’s nice to go back but not something I crave.

Another reason I avoided homesickness was avoidance. If you’re too busy to be homesick, you won’t notice the time and distance from your home. From the second I arrived in Indy or Sydney or Stockholm or London, I was busy.

I had things to do and people to meet and bags to unpack. I had a couple of stress/frustration/fear/PMSing sobs, but never felt horribly homesick.

Yes, it was tough to go away – but I wanted to go. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to study abroad and I wanted to get my masters and I wanted to travel. Those plans and the excitement attached kept me going.

The third reason I avoided homesickness was that I digitally detached from home. Yes, I texted my mom to let her know I arrived at my destination and yes, I sent the occasional text to a high school joking about some song I heard playing, but I avoided phone calls and FaceTime sessions for the first six weeks. I also didn’t go home a week in. It gave me a distance that allowed me to skip the wallowing in leaving home and focus on the exciting part of being in new places and meeting new people and learning new things.

I love my home. And I love my family. And I love returning there (even if my nice bed is no longer there and I sometimes end up on the couch…). But I also love my new home and my found families and the experience of going far far away. It’s just as much an adventure to return home now as it was to leave. And when it’s time to leave again, the excitement returns all over again.

Winter Essentials

Travel

It’s getting chillier here and I’ve even considered putting on a scarf once or twice. (Disclaimer: it’s definitely still 70 degrees here on a regular basis.) But the cooler temps had me thinking about what I always pack when traveling in colder climates.

Maybe you’ve got a trip to Scandinavia planned or maybe you’re visiting family in Upstate New York. Either way, I hope my essentials might be helpful for your packing needs.

Like I mentioned before, I love a good scarf. My particular favorites have been a big red blanket scarf (R.I.P. – if anyone ever sees one on the DC Metro, let me know.) A good travel scarf should be thick enough to actually keep you warm, should be large enough to wrap around you like a blanket or to create a nice pillow for you. I also recommend getting one that’s somewhat colorful – every photo from my time abroad in Europe included my black winter coat and my bright red scarf. It added a pop of color to my otherwise all black ensembles.

I mentioned my black coat above – I highly recommend a light weight puffer jacket for winter travel. I believe mine is from REI but I’ve also heard good things about the Uniqlo versions. Essentially you want something that will keep you warm, will layer nicely over thicker sweaters, and that you can smush down into nothing when packing your suitcase. Some of these puffer jackets come with a little bag that they smush into. Can 10/10 recommend these for travel – especially if you’re going between temperatures.

I dream of thick sweatshirts and cozy sweaters, but unfortunately they’re quite heavy and unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle, they might be overkill. Instead I would recommend packing layers – lots of layers. The trick to layers is to start thin and work your way out. A thin turtleneck or a tighter tee shirt can be worn on their own or under another thin sweater. That next layer should be thin enough to layer under your coat but could also be worn on its own. I’m a big fan of a thin sweater over a dress with tights. And we all know you’ll be popping in and out of museums and restaurants, so you want to be able to take off layers as you’re reintroduced to the warmth.

I like tights under dresses (and under pants when it is particularly cold), but nothing beats a thick pair of socks. If you’re planning hikes or a walking tour, your toes might get chilly. Grab a thick pair of socks or two and throw them on. Your toes will be happy (and if they’re good quality- warm and dry) and you won’t feel the chill quite as much. I’ve got good pairs from REI in the past and they’re the best.

If you are planning on thick socks, make sure they will fit in your boots. Personally, I don’t think a pair of hiking boots is necessary to wander around Paris in the winter but you’ll want a nice pair of flat boots for your travels. I recommend a black pair that’ll make you look chic and European, while also going with everything you’re bringing for your trip. Top tip: wear them around the house or to work a few times to make sure they’re extra comfy before you go.

I bring a well-stocked purse with me in the winter – Chapstick is essential (this one’s my favorite), hand lotion is nice. A good moisturizer with SPF is key. (You can get sunburnt even in the winter!) Sunglasses are also helpful – especially on windy days. Hand sanitizer will keep you from getting sick, but just in case cough drops and emergency Day-Quil are also good to have around in the winter. I also try to take Vitamin D supplements because lack of sunshine really does on a number on me.

My last essential is my phone to double check hours – a lot of touristy spots have different hours in the winter. Double check before you go!

What are your winter essentials? Please let me live vicariously through your trips – where are you heading this chilly season?

Five Favorite Day Trips from DC

Five Favorites, Travel

Maybe you’re just in town for a few days or maybe you’re looking to avoid a tourist rush, but there’s plenty of quick trips worth taking that’ll get you outside the city. These are my five personal favorite day trips from DC:

Harpers Ferry

A friend recently visited from Indiana and wanted to cross West Virginia off her list of states unvisited. We initially planned a longer trip, but when we ran out of time, we looked a little closer to home. Harpers Ferry is a little town with history and nature galore. The town was home to John Brown’s rebellion but also has a great hike and plenty of tubing/rafting/kayaking opportunities. The hour and a half drive from the city was easy enough and parking was $15 for a spot through the National Park Service. We hiked the Maryland Heights Trail to the overlook and grabbed lunch in town.

Luray Caverns

If you’re looking to beat the heat, Luray Caverns is a fantastic option. To get there from the city is a beautiful drive through Virginia that’ll take you through Shenandoah. I’ve been in plenty of caves in my time (like four or five, okay? That’s a lot…) and Luray Caverns is amazing. Your guided walk through the caves is both scientifically fascinating and historically interesting. Plus the temperature inside always feels about 60 degrees.

Baltimore Aquarium

Maybe you’ve made one too many trips to the National Zoo and need to mix up your animal intake – take a drive up to Baltimore’s National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor has plenty of cool restaurants and the aquarium is amazing. I could stare at the jellyfish for hours, but there’s also other fish and critters to learn about. Bonus points: they’ve stopped their dolphin shows and are now focused even more on sustainability and the impact on local water systems.

Delaware Beaches

I’m not a huge beach person – too much sand, too many people, too high a chance for sunburn. But I love the sound of the ocean. Delaware has some lovely beaches within a 3 hour drive (if you’re lucky). Rehobeth and Bethany both have great beaches with plenty of food nearby. My personal favorite stop is Lewes Beach which is a little quieter and less busy but still just as cute. Another tip: visit off season – it won’t be a thousand degrees and packed in October or May but you’ll still get to hear the water.

Old Town Alexandria

Maybe you don’t have a car or maybe you only have a half day (or maybe you’re seriously inspired by my post about my favorite part of the Metro area), but Old Town Alexandria is worth the trip. Metro to the end of King Street and walk towards the water. After stopping in every cute shop and sampling ice cream, enjoy a wander along the water. You can either make the hike back to the Metro or hop on the free King Street Trolley.

What’s your favorite day trip from the city?

Five Favorite Things: Apps for Travel

Five Favorites, Travel

As a millennial, I am required to be glued to my phone at all times; it is the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I check before I sleep each night. So it’s only fair that I use it frequently throughout my travels. In keeping with my five favorite things lists, this one’s dedicated to my five favorite apps (specifically for travel, but also just in general).

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Pinterest

One of my favorite apps for planning a trip is the Pinterest App. I usually use Pinterest on my computer up until the trip starts then switch over to the app once I’m on the move. Pinterest is really nice for planning quick day trips, figuring out nice photo ops, or plotting the next stop. It helps to have a specific board created for the trip that will allow you to keep everything neatly in one spot rather than twenty tabs open on your web browser. You can then use the inspo you grab from Pinterest on your favorite mapping tool.

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Google Maps

I love my Google Maps app. I use it daily to check Metro times or to figure out what offices are in the building I’m passing. I hid the Apple Maps as it just wasn’t cutting it. One of my top tips for Google Maps is starring or marking every stop you want to hit on your trip. Once everything is marked you can see what’s clustered together or spread out. And if an adventure ends earlier than expected you can pop into one of your second tier activities. Another tip: download the map for that city so you can use the app off Wifi. Everyone loves a good map app.

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CityMapper

Another great map app is CityMapper. While Google Maps is good for walking directions and general orientation, I find it doesn’t always have the best transit recommendations. Insert CityMapper. CityMapper, while only available in a few cities, has the best recommendations for public transportation. And you can measure how far you’ve traveled by foot, bike, train, bus, you name it. It’s just another good one to have in your pocket.

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Instagram

I know I’ve talked about Instagram and travel before, but it’s actually a pretty good app for recommendations. Whether you’re inspired by a friend’s trip or want to see life through the eyes of a local in insert city here, it’s a good app to show you what’s out there to be seen. There’s a few different ways to use Instagram: you can follow your friends or your favorite celebrities or any of the thousands of travel inspiration accounts to see where you might be interested in going.

file7Another tip is to use the app’s search function to see either hashtags of your destination or to use the actual location tags. You can find music festivals or national celebrations or parades using their hashtags, especially now that every event has an official hashtag. Using the location tag gives you an insight to where something is, how people take photos, or even what the dress code is for the place you’re heading. (I recommend that any nervous about how people dress at their study abroad location check the hashtags and location for their university or town to see what people wear to class.) It’s a really versatile app and makes connecting with your friends so much easier both on your trip and when you return.

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Been

I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things is adding a new country to my list. I’m at 29 countries as of writing and always plotting how to add more. But somethings I struggle to remember where I’ve stopped before. Thankfully there’s a super simple app for that. It’s called Been and it creates a map of the countries you’ve visited (as well as the states visited in the US for those of us trying to hit all 50). It’s really easy to use, doesn’t require WiFi, and it’s fun to see what ‘percentage’ of Europe you’ve hit after your trip. Plus you can take a screenshot and send it to your friends to compare your journeys.

There’s a thousand apps out there (probably more) which you might find useful or a total waste of space – it’s up to you. Other favorites are Duolingo for learning basic phrases, Splitwise for splitting costs between friends, Facebook Messenger for messaging family and video calling on WiFi to both computers and phones, WhatsApp for texting, YouTube and Netflix for entertainment, 1010! for a quick and mindless game, and of course, the Camera app for snapping your memories.

One last tip: make sure you download as many apps before you leave the U.S. (or your home country) as some apps aren’t available to download or set up outside your country of origin.