Shortly after arriving in Madrid, my fellow teaching assistants and I were scouring rental websites, competing for affordable rooms in the most desirable neighborhoods in Madrid. During this time I heard from a lot of people, somewhat vaguely, that they were looking to live “in the center.” Many of them did end up finding a place in the city center and living there definitely has its advantages: nightlife, reduced travel times, access to shopping and dining. I was initially also set on living in the center; however, when I had the opportunity to rent a recently renovated apartment just a five minute walk from my school for only 300€/month including utilities, I knew it was too good to give up. Unfortunately, this meant abandoning my plan of living right in the center.
I was a little worried that living outside of the center would be isolating and keep me from making friends, leaving the house, or being able to appreciate everything the city has to offer. Thankfully, that has not been the case at all. Living right next to my school gives me more free time in the mornings and evenings. Without a long commute, I am able to enjoy life in Madrid even more. Living in an area that feels more like a neighborhood with parks, schools, and families has also allowed me to explore a new area that I otherwise may have never seen. I also live in an apartment with a good amount of communal space, modern fixtures, and two terraces. These kinds of amenities are really difficult to find in the center unless you are willing to pay top dollar. I have many friends who live in small rooms with no windows in apartments with little to no communal space. They were willing to sacrifice these things for location. It’s really just about your priorities and what is important to you in a home.
If you’re planning on living outside the city center, however, I definitely suggest living near a metro line that can get you easily into town. I live right next to line 1. This has kept me from feeling isolated because I can just hop on the metro with my abono (unlimited rides for just 20€ a month) and be almost anywhere in 15-25 minutes. It also helps to live with or near a friend. This way, you can plan to do things together in your own neighborhood, share a cab after a night out, or hang out without having to brave the crowds of the city center.
I can confidently say that living slightly outside the center to be closer to my school, have a recently refurbished apartment and lower rent was the right decision for me. I love my neighborhood and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by living where I do. What I lost in location, I gained in time and money, and that is totally worth it for me. The housing hunt can be stressful and competitive, so don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity by limiting your apartment search. Things often seem to work out when you keep an open mind!
Navigating healthcare while abroad can be very daunting. Even when living in the U.S., working up the energy to make an appointment with a doctor can feel challenging. Though I don’t often get sick, moving to a new country and working among children put my immune system through the wringer. Among my friends and myself, we have had several experiences with the Spanish healthcare system and have learned a few things worth sharing about staying well abroad.
Unfortunately, I failed to properly prepare for my health before leaving the states. I would suggest getting your flu vaccine (or any other vaccines you need) before leaving the states. They’re not hard to get in Spain but you usually will have to pay or make an appointment, while many pharmacies in the U.S. offer free walk-in flu vaccinations. If you are on birth control, I would also suggest getting that sorted ahead of time so you have enough to get you through your time abroad. My insurance would not cover more than three months of birth control at a time, so I made an appointment in Spain to have my prescription renewed. Many of my friends were able to get long-term options for birth control like IUDs, an implant, or a shot before leaving for Spain, so that they would not have to worry about it while abroad. I have also been told that if you bring the packaging for your American birth control pill, and help the pharmacist translate the name to Spanish, they can give you refills of an equivalent medication without a prescription from a Spanish doctor.
My CIEE orientation leader said that his biggest advice for healthcare in Spain is “don’t get sick.” This might sound harsh but it’s definitely easier to put a little more time and effort into preventing illness than it is to constantly be headed to the doctor. Get your vaccinations, drink zumo de naranja, and make sleep a priority. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get sick between jet lag and working around children. So, exercise, drink fluids, and get some veggies into your diet– your body, your students, and your bank account will thank you.
If you do get sick, however, Spain thankfully has several options. Your first line of defense is the pharmacy. Pharmacists in Spain are well trained and can usually help you with less serious illnesses right there in the pharmacy. Medications are also much cheaper in Spain. I’ve never paid more than 4€ for medicine while here.
The company I teach abroad with, CIEE, also provides us with iNext travel insurance which we can use at private hospitals. A representative from HM Hospitales was present at the CIEE orientation to talk about their services available to English speakers, and I definitely suggest taking advantage of them. When you’re sick, the last thing you want to worry about is a language barrier. I and many of my friends have made doctor appointments through HM Hospitales’ service for expats. They were able to make same-day or next-day appointments and provided us with great service in English. The only downside is that you must pay upfront and then apply for reimbursement through your insurance company. Still, the prices should be cheaper than those in the states. These are great options for non-emergency situations but the Emergency Room should obviously be your first choice for emergencies and life-threatening situations.
My orientation leader also mentioned that Centro Sandoval offers free STD screenings. There may be a wait, as this is a free service, but it’s nice to not have to pay for something as important as sexual health.
Another point of anxiety when it comes to getting sick is missing work. The Language Assistant’s handbook says we are allowed four paid sick days with a doctor’s note. These rules seem pretty strict and that’s why the advice, “don’t get sick,” is so justified. If you do fall ill and have to miss school, be sure to reach out to a doctor’s office or hospital right away to get an appointment. Even if you think you will be okay without medication, make the appointment so that you can get a doctor’s note and then apply for reimbursement through your insurance. If you’re a little sick but think you can make it to school— go. If you seem too sick to be around kids, there’s a good chance your director will send you home early or even right away. Ultimately, the children’s safety and health are most important.
Hopefully these little pieces of advice from the experiences of myself and others will be helpful and alleviate some of the stress of navigating healthcare in a new country. It can be a daunting task, but with a little help from your local resources, it is definitely manageable. I always feel very empowered and accomplished after picking up my medication at the Spanish farmacia knowing that I am making my health a priority, even while in a foreign country.
Overpacking is a pretty universal problem and people are always surprised when I tell them I only travel with a backpack. When packing for weekend trips, I always limit myself to a backpack and a purse. This works well for most budget airlines in Europe, as they usually make you pay for anything more than one small bag. Even in the cold weather, snow, and rain I have been able to stick to these guidelines. I’d say I’m a rehabilitated overpacker. So, I’m going to share my secrets for packing light, even in the dead of winter.
My first secret to packing light is probably the most disappointing and it’s just about the last thing a traveler in the age of Instagram wants to hear: let go of your vanity. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that packing light is more about mindset than anything else. I am someone who loves clothes but I’ve discovered I love not having to lug around a big suitcase even more. I now pack with practicality at the forefront of my mind.
Invest in clothing items that are appropriate for a variety of activities: weatherproof black boots that are comfortable enough for a walking tour and cute enough for heading to the basr; a raincoat with a down insert that can be worn in rain or cold weather; long sleeve crop tops/blouses that can be worn as insulation under a chunky sweater during the day or as a going-out top at night.
Wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane. I always wear my heaviest coat, chunkiest sweater, and thickest pants on the plane. I dress in layers so that I can shed these warmer items if I get hot during the trip. Keeping these larger items from taking up room in your bag is definitely worth it.
Don’t fold—roll! This secret is as old as time, but it really works. If you want to save space, roll your clothes up like little burritos instead of folding them. This somehow magically makes all of your clothes smaller and helps save space in your bag.
Check the weather, make an itinerary, and plan your outfits accordingly ahead of time. One of the pitfalls we often run into when packing is focusing too much on the “what if” scenarios. What if it gets warm for one day? What if I go out for a fancy dinner? What if we decide to go swimming? The best way to avoid packing stuff you don’t need is by making a concrete plans. Know what the weather will be at your destination and know what activities you need to pack special items for. Traveling can always bring up the unexpected, but try to cut out those “what if” thoughts as much as you can while packing. And, if you end up going to a fancy dinner that you’re not appropriately dressed for, well…it’ll be a fun traveling story for later!
Finally, I’ll leave you with my packing list for winter weekend trips. Hopefully this will help you the next time you’re trying to avoid paying extra for checked luggage!
Toiletries & Makeup:
-100ml face wash
-100ml body wash
-100ml moisturizer w/ SPF
-Tinted brow gel
-Mini eyeshadow + brush
-Check to see if accommodations have hair dryer before packing travel hair dryer.
-1 pair of jeans
-3-4 pairs of socks
-4-5 pairs of underwear
-Lightweight pajama pants + top
-2 long sleeve crop tops
-Statement earrings (to dress up my outfit for an evening out)
I knew that moving abroad would be stressful and that I would have to deal with a lot of logistics. I knew that I would have to get a visa extension, a bank account, an apartment and a phone plan all in the first month. For someone who gets overwhelmed by going to the post office, this laundry list was daunting but it was something I was willing to deal with in order to realize my dream of moving to Spain.
What I didn’t account for was all the unexpected stressors and inconveniences that come with moving to a new country. For me these included: losing my American SIM card, my laptop completely breaking down two weeks into my move, having to get a new laptop shipped from the U.S. in order to have an English keyboard, and losing access to a lot of my apps and accounts due to my phone number change and new laptop. As you can probably tell, technology is not my friend.
This series of unfortunate events had me running around an unknown city, making multiple phone calls in an unfamiliar language, and spending money I had not originally budgeted for. However, while I endured some sleepless nights and a few emotional calls to my parents, I was able to get it all worked out. And that’s what I have to remind myself.
I’ve learned that my outlook and attitude have more power than any of these inconveniences. Sometimes, something as simple as losing your SIM card can seem like a huge disaster when piled on top of other stressors. Things can start to look pretty bleak and I am definitely guilty of overreacting at times when one small thing goes wrong, but I’m getting better.
The thing about travel or living abroad is that everything is augmented. The highs are higher, the lows are lower, and sometimes having to make a customer service phone call in Spanish seems like the most impossible task. But, we persevere, and we make it to the other side. Oftentimes, we emerge stronger and more empowered because we accomplished something that we never would have had we just stayed in our comfortable little bubble.
It’s such a cliche, but travel isn’t just about exploring new places, it’s about exploring the depths within ourselves and pushing past what is familiar. Though it can be uncomfortable at times we should all go somewhere, do something, meet someone new. It’s not always the beautiful scenic view of an ancient city. Sometimes it’s getting lost while trying to reach your visa appointment; but the lows make the highs that much more beautiful and that’s why I found myself on an plane one month ago moving to a new country in search of new adventures.
At the end of August, my boyfriend and I quit our jobs to move on to new opportunities. Myself in Spain, and him in Maine. We were lucky enough to have two weeks off after ending our jobs and before moving out of our apartment. We have done short camping trips in Michigan in the past, but have always wanted to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and take a longer trip. With our time off we were able to take a 6 day camping trip to two different locations in the Upper Peninsula and to Charlevoix and Nordhouse Dunes in the mitten. One of the most stressful parts about camping for me is not knowing what a site will be like before I get there. You can’t see a photo slideshow of the campsite online like you could with a hotel. I always want to know if there will be space available, how close my neighbors will be, and how far the site is from parking. Though we sometimes make missteps, this time we hit some pretty amazing locations and had a great camping experience with sites that were clean, private, and beautiful. So, here is my guide to camping in Michigan with a chronological sampling of three of my favorite camping destinations ever.
1. The Upper Peninsula – Munising
We spent our first night camping near Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Though the falls were stunning, the campsites we found were nothing special and we moved on after one night there. Our second day in the U.P., we drove to the lovely town of Munising that had a cute cafe with wifi, grocery stores, and camping supply stores. We camped about 30 minutes from town at Pete’s Lake. There were several drive-up sites available near the lake but we chose a walk-up site (really just a few steps from our car) that had a gorgeous view of the lake. Because it was a walk-up site, it was incredibly private and it was wonderful to wake up in the morning to a layer of dreamy mist settling on the surface of the lake.
The third day we ate breakfast a the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore in Munising. We enjoyed delicious food, caffeinated beverages, and some much needed wifi.
We decided to visit Miners Falls next. The falls were gorgeous, but the viewing point was gated off and I wished that we were able to get closer to the falls.
We then hiked to Miners Castle, a stunning, naturally occurring layered sandstone formation that is part of Pictured Rocks. Though they often say the best views of Pictured Rocks are from the water, we decided not to shell out the cash for a boat tour. I think the view that we had from Miners Castle was just as pretty as any you would get from a boat. We were able to see the rock formations clearly and snap some photos. The cliffs on the shoreline were so beautiful and we made our way down to the beach where we swam in Lake Superior. The water was cold, even in August, but it was incredibly clear and perfectly refreshing.
We spent a second night at Pete’s Lake because we loved the spot so much. We cooked dinner on the campfire and listened to an audiobook together while the sun set.
2. Hill Valley Farm Yurt – Charlevoix
We knew that we would need a little break in the middle of our trip to take a shower and give our backs a break from sleeping on the ground. I am a huge fan of Airbnb, but searching at the last minute for a place to stay in the U.P. yielded very few interesting results. I expanded my search to include the northern part of the mitten, and literally exclaimed out loud when I saw this listing: a gorgeous Yurt near Charlevoix, Michigan.
The Hill Valley Farm yurt was the ultimate glamping experience. We still got to be in the outdoors without running water or electricity but we got a warm cozy bed, a propane stove to cook on, a pump shower and faucet, and a cooler of drinking water. The whole yurt was beautifully decorated with homey touches and fresh flowers on the nightstand.
The amenities were wonderful. We were provided with fresh eggs and honey from the Hill Valley Farm for breakfast along with organic oatmeal, coffee, tea, and maple syrup. After camping for three days it was great to not have to worry about those things and to cook ourselves a big breakfast to get us through the next day.
This is absolutely my favorite place I’ve ever camped. We’ve been back here time and time again through the last three summers. I love how rustic this campsite is. The views are amazing, it’s secluded, and you can camp basically right on the beach.
This site is a little bit of a walk from the parking lot. Between our car and our tent was about a half mile hike, but we came prepared and, after bringing everything to the site, we didn’t have to walk back to the car for anything else. I have also heard that camping at the popular Sleeping Bear dunes is a longer hike and usually more crowded, which makes Nordhouse dunes a great alternative.
This year we decided to follow the hiking trails further into the dunes and discovered that the long trail is fairly popular for backpackers. We came across several groups and solo backpackers along the path. It was a great place to hike with clear trails and gorgeous views.
To me, the dunes feel like a little beach oasis just three hours from Detroit. One of the complaints that people often have about camping is that it doesn’t feel like a “proper” vacation because it requires physical labor and sleeping on the ground. However, camping on the beach at Nordhouse Dunes always feels like a proper relaxing vacation to me. We take walks on the beach, read books next to the shoreline all day, and light a fire under the stars at night. It’s the perfect place to disconnect and unwind.
If you live in Michigan and have ever thought of going camping, I definitely suggest you take advantage of the great destinations in your state! I never thought that I would enjoy camping. I’m afraid of the dark, creepy-crawlies, and bears; but my boyfriend, who grew up camping, taught me how fun it can be if I just open my mind and prepare properly. Traveling with an experienced camper also helps a lot too! I definitely think everyone should try camping at least once as an opportunity to connect with nature and push your boundaries. Maybe glamping is more within your comfort zone, and that’s okay too!
If you have any questions, or want to talk more about camping in Michigan, drop a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re in any of my close circles, this probably isn’t news to you. However, if we haven’t caught up in a while, or are strangers—first of all, thank you for reading! Say hi and let’s connect! Second of all, you probably don’t know that I’m finally taking the leap and moving to Spain in September.
This is something that I have wanted to do since I stepped off the plane after my semester abroad in college. I spend every day missing the sights, smells, flavors, and vibes of Spain. True story: I recently cried while watching the Lizzie McGuire Movie because I missed living among the European scenery so much. I applied to teach abroad programs for the past two years since graduation. However, neither year seemed like the best time. I was just getting my feet under me after college, I didn’t have the money saved up to travel, or I didn’t get placed in the region I wanted.
This year, I applied to a new program and was placed in Madrid. Everything seemed to align. I have some money saved, my boyfriend is moving to Maine around the same time, and I feel like I’m in a stable enough place to introduce some change and uncertainty into my life.
However, since I’ve been wanting to do it for so long, I forgot how much of a leap this move would be for me. As my departure date moves closer, I find myself becoming more and more anxious and uncertain. Every day a new worry pops into my mind. Will I be able to make friends? How do I find an apartment? Will I be homesick? Is this the right choice?
If you’ve looked at my Instagram lately, you’ll notice that all of my content and captions are overwhelmingly positive, even sappy. While this positivity isn’t disingenuous, it is still only part of the story. I have been using relentless optimism as a coping mechanism to avoid drowning in the terrifying ambiguity of these next few weeks.
This unwillingness to grasp the depth of my feelings about the move has bled into in my real life as well. Almost every conversation I have with someone about moving goes like this: “You’re moving to Spain? Wow, that’s so exciting!” “Yeah, I’m excited.” End of conversation. I’ve been keeping my anxiety about the move close to my chest because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the amazing opportunity to travel, or like I’m not looking forward to all of the adventure it will bring. That said, change always comes with uncomfortable feelings, they do not mean that the change is not positive.
Sometimes my emotions get the best of me, but I’m trying enjoy my last few weeks in the U.S. to the fullest extent. Spending time with my boyfriend and family, taking a trip, and enjoying some time off of work are all I need to focus on right now. I know that moving to Spain will come with its challenges, but worrying about them will only make the transition harder. I am lucky enough to have people and things in my life that make it hard to leave, and I’m even luckier to have their support during this new chapter.
This whole experience has reminded me the it’s never too late to make a change in your life. Often, you and your worries about the future are the only thing holding you back from doing things that will make you happy. Even if it’s just in a small way like trying a new food, or going to an event where you don’t know a single person, jumping into the unknown is what makes life exciting. So at the end of the day, yeah, I’m excited.
Welcome to Shea-ish! If you’ve been following me for a while now, you probably know that I used to have a fashion blog called “Sassafras and Honey,” that I started in high school. My blog was a place to engage my love of fashion, even in the isolation of suburban Ohio. I took most of my photos using Photo Booth on my MackBook and wrote posts about whatever was #trending for 16-year-olds at the time. As I grew through high school and college, my blog posts became more infrequent, as is expected when life becomes busier and fuller. However, when I did post, it was usually about thoughts pertaining to my life or current events, rather than outfits. My love of fashion persisted, but it was within the context of my life, rather than as the centerpiece of it. The decision to retire “Sassafras and Honey” was a result of lack of time to write due to a full time job, and a desire to grow past the box that “Sassafras and Honey” created for me. For the past two years I have taken a break from blogging and focused on Instagram as means to express myself creatively through images and a mini-blog in the captions.
So, why did I start Shea-ish, and why am I blogging again?
Though Instagram served as a low-maintenance home for my creative content for a while, I have found myself wishing for something a little more permanent that I have complete control over. Writing has always been a part of my life and the easiest way for me to work through the ambiguity of my thoughts and feelings. Lately, I’ve had a lot of things I want to write about, that just don’t fit well on a platform like Instagram.
When I changed my Instagram handle to Shea-ish, it was mostly a playful contraction of my first and last name, which is pronounced Ren-ish. The name started to grow on me more when I thought of the other meanings of “ish”: a suffix indicating vagueness, and a term used to replace “shit.” In essence, that’s what this blog will be; a collection of my shit, and an exploration of the vagueness and fluidity of being me.
Shea-ish will serve as a place for me to share my personal diary. I’ll still write about topics like fashion and beauty, but I am expanding this blog to include mental health, current events, travel, and just life in general. Shea-ish will be the permanent home for all of my creative content and hopefully a way for me to form deeper connections with the world via the internet.
Though I know I’m not perfect, I hope to stay consistent with posting on here. I ask you to hold me accountable as well. If there’s anything you would like to hear my thoughts on or would like me to write about, just shoot me an email or slide into my DMs. I want this to be as much a place for you as it is for me. I hope you find something here that resonates with you.