There are so many details to consider when traveling: gifts for your host family; what to bring your students, your holiday schedule, what outfits to pack; the list goes on. Of course, if we knew everything we needed to know before we went, traveling wouldn’t be nearly as valuable. But does that mean that we can’t take a good page out of someone else’s book? Of course not! That’s why I’m going to share some advice based on what I wish I’d known before I went to Spain. Hopefully, I’ll make your life easier!
- Consider the candy. I say this because I wish I’d known what types of sweets the United States has that Spain doesn’t so that I could’ve brought something more exotic for both my host family and school to try. Though everyone appreciated what I brought, I realized it was all similar to what they have in Spain. If I had put in some research, I would’ve brought nerds, candy corn, cow-tails, and something with peanut butter in it, as these items don’t exist in Spain.
- Learn your holiday schedule before leaving the country. It’s super helpful to look up the dates of national holidays in your host country so that you can better plan your personal travel while abroad. The nature of this program doesn’t lend you many details long before departure, so I suggest trying to find your school’s calendar online before traveling. It’s helpful to have a heads-up on vacation-time so that it doesn’t sneak up on you.
- NEVER take all of your baggage on the metro if you can help it! Seriously though, dragging multiple heavy bags up and down stairs and on and off metros in Madrid before catching my flight back to the U.S. was TERRIBLE and left me pretty sore for several days afterwards. First off: pack light. Second off: take a cab if you can afford it! A cab is worth the extra money when it means you avoid navigating foreign public transportation with three months’ worth of living necessities and gifts. Really, even light luggage starts to feel heavy after a while!
- Pre-Plan Lessons. While you definitely don’t have to have everything laid out before you go, it’s helpful to brainstorm presentations, games, and activities and start prepping them before getting on that plane. I say this because I hadn’t realized how much freedom I’d have with my classes and wish I’d started preparing more lesson plans and presentations before I arrived so as to give me less work while abroad. Even something as simple as collecting all of the pictures I wanted to show the kids for each American holiday that I spent in Spain would’ve made my workload easier.
- Go home for the holidays. The fall short-term teach in Spain program ends right before Christmas, so you can return home for the holidays. However, CIEE also builds in travel time at the end of your program without needing a VISA. Since I’m not in Europe every day, I decided to travel, even over the holidays. While I definitely enjoyed my trip, I did feel a bit guilty not going home for Christmas, even with my mom’s approval. I also didn’t realize how home-sick and exhausted I’d feel by the end of the program, which made it even harder to miss the holidays back home. While I most certainly encourage using your travel time, I recommend traveling before the program start-date if it means going home for the holidays or vice-versa if the holiday falls before your program. You might have more energy to travel at the beginning of your program rather than the end anyway.
Overall, there is plenty that I wish I’d known before going to Spain. In hind-sight, I could’ve saved myself a decent amount of work, physical pain, and heart-ache had I done a few things differently. But we live and learn and I’m sure that I’ll continue to do things differently with each trip that I take. In the mean-time, I hope these tips will help you on your next adventure!