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For this month’s American Expats series, our next stop is Spain. Cat Gaa, a Chicago native, moved to Seville, Spain, in 2007, and now lives in Madrid with her Spanish husband and young daughter. Here, she talks about churros, unique Spanish festivals, and walking the Camino.

Cat’s background:

Straight after college, I moved to Seville, Spain, to teach English. More than a decade later, I now live in Madrid and work in recruitment and admissions for a US university. And a year and a half ago, welcomed our first child. 

On culture shock: When I moved to Seville in 2007, it was a city still stuck in the past – siestas were respected, nothing was open on Sundays and the Virgin Mary was everyone’s best friend. In Seville, and in Spain in general, things have changed to a great extent. There are more English language services, better transportation links, and greater food options. It’s now a place where expats can move somewhat easily.

On learning Spanish: Before moving to Spain, I had also studied abroad here, so I had the basics and accent down, but I wasn’t ready for the local slang. Many times, there were tears, and, in my worst blunder, I told people at a wedding that my mom was a junkie. But I am now fluent in Spanish (maybe even bilingual?) and use it daily.

On Madrid’s weather: Madrid is actually the highest capital in Europe and because of the altitude, it’s drier. We also have four seasons and it snows on occasion.

On Spanish coffee: Would you believe I didn’t drink coffee before moving to Spain? Now coffee is my ritual and my zen moment as a working mom. I take a café con leche (coffee with milk) in the morning on my way to daycare and a cortado (espresso with a few drops of milk) after lunch.

On breakfast: Spaniards often have two breakfasts: something light at home before a larger, mid-morning breakfast. In the south, breakfast is usually pan con tomate: toast with olive oil, crushed tomatoes and salt, plus a slice of acorn-fed ham.

If you’re in Madrid or further north, churros are standard fare but you can also get baked goods, a slice of Spanish omelet or toast.

On healthcare: The healthcare system here is phenomenal — it cost me 90€ to have a baby. Yes, you’ll have wait times and doctors have little bedside manner, but your employer takes the cost burden and everyone is entitled to universal healthcare.

On raising a baby in Spain: Spain is pretty baby-friendly – my biggest challenge is often what to do with my stroller if I’m out having a coffee and have to use the bathroom (most bathrooms are in the basement in central Madrid!).

That being said, raising a child in a country that isn’t your own isn’t easy. But after 21 months in the motherhood journey, I think I’ve struck a balance with cultural norms, language learning, and the in-laws.

Caa with her son in Rome, Italy

On feeling safe: I’m pretty cautious when I’m out, but Madrid – and Spain in general – is far safer than many countries. I have gotten two bikes and a laptop stolen, though. The laptop was completely my jet-lagged brain’s fault!

On the best places to travel in Spain: I am a sucker for Asturias, a region wedged between the mountains and the sea along the northern coast. I also love the the Siglo de Oro towns in Extremadura, and of course, Andalusia.

On unique Spanish festivals: Oh man, Spain is RIFE with strange traditions! There’s a festival in northern Spain where family members carry coffins to give thanks to God for saving sick relatives, another where a goat is thrown off a bell tower near Zamora and a Granada-area water fight. Many of these odd festivals have been celebrated for centuries and are rooted in religious traditions.

My favorite is the Feria de Sevilla, where locals practically camp out in makeshift bars and dance, drink sherry and ride around in horse carriages.

On walking the Camino: I walked 326 kilometers (200 miles) on the Camino del Norte, the Northern route that snakes along the coast before dipping inland towards Santiago. I walked with a close friend during a time when I felt fulfilled in many aspects of my life, so it was a joy to meet other pilgrims and just put one foot in front of the other without thinking about all of the trivial parts of life. I can’t wait to walk it again.

On homesickness: I can cope with going long stretches without going to the US. I work for an American university and hear English all day long, have a Costco membership in Spain and there a number of American food stores and chains near me. 

Now that I’m a mom, I do have moments where I get the feeling I’m depriving my parents of the grandparent moments, and that my kid may not have a real American summer (you know, summer camp and bug bites and the ice cream truck and playing in the sprinkler). When we were considering the move to Madrid, my husband budgeted in a yearly trip to the US for four people, so here’s hoping we can make that happen! And my first stop back in Chicago is usually Portillo’s for a beef hot dog and strawberry milkshake.

¡Gracias, Cat!

P.S. What Living in the Czech Republic is Really Like and The Ultimate Camino de Santiago Packing List.

The post What Living in Madrid as an Expat is Really Like appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Browsing through my photos of Tbilisi, Georgia, was a slightly surreal experience. Was I really in Tbilisi last summer? Did I actually spend four days in the Republic of Georgia, a tiny country located on the other side of the world?

I wasn’t in Tbilisi long, but immediately, I was smitten. Georgia’s capital city is quirky, colorful, and full of street art — a place where you are as likely to stumble upon a trendy wine bar as you are to find a flea market full of dusty Soviet relics.

Also, if you aren’t already acquainted, please meet Khachapuri, the boat-shaped, cheese-filled dough ball you’ll see below. It’s a delicious dish native to Georgia that I fell in love with. And it’s probably the reason I gained five pounds on my trip to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia.

Here are some of my favorite photos of Tbilisi, and ones I hope will inspire you to visit someday:

Khachapuri! The lobby of Fabrika, the super cool hostel where I stayed at in Tbilisi. Highly recommended!

More Tbilisi recommendations to come soon!

Have you ever visited Tbilisi? What did you think of it?

P.S. 11 Super Unique Things to Do in Baku and 20 Photos That Will Inspire You to Visit Azerbaijan.

The post 20 Photos That Will Inspire You to Visit Tbilisi, Georgia appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Today, for my American Expats series, I’m chatting with Diane, a New Jersey native who has been living in France since 2012. Here, she shares about French style, cheek kisses, and the honest ups and downs of living in France as an expat.

I’ve followed Diane since 2012, and highly recommend her blog for advice on living in France and learning French. I especially recommend her article on what we can learn from Bradly Cooper about speaking French, ahem.

Without further ado…

Diane’s background:

Bonjour! I’m Diane, an American originally from New Jersey. I moved to France in 2012 shortly after marrying my French husband, Tom. We live in the Maine-et-Loire region, outside Angers, with our dog, Dagny. I work in marketing and communications and also have a blog and YouTube channel called Oui In France. It’s a living abroad lifestyle blog where I share about my experience living in France (and not in Paris!) 

On culture shock: Little things that have surprised me like long Sunday lunches with the family, seeing horse meat at the grocery store, stores closing for lunch and not being open on Sundays, etc. But I think it’s important to keep an open mind and to not view things as automatically wrong. Life abroad will be different but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

On learning French: I think it’s a necessity to learn French if you plan on living here, both out of respect for the French and to make your life easier. In a small town, it would be nearly impossible to get by without French. I had a low to intermediate level of French when I first arrived, and the hardest thing was understanding actual people speaking real-life French. It’s nothing like what we learn in school and hear in exercises or basic conversations. The speed, the slang, the vocab; it was so overwhelming at first.

But it got easier and now I can hold my own no problem. With mistakes, of course, since I’m always learning.

On the cost of living in France: Certain things in France are more expensive, like gas and tolls, but other things make up for it, such as affordable healthcare, bread, cheese, and wine. You can get a 1BR apartment, maybe 700 sq. ft., in a nice building where I live for 450 euros/month. But keep in mind I’m not in a big city.

On the weather: There are four distinct seasons where I live in western France. The summer temperatures are similar to New York City temperatures but it feels hotter in France because air conditioning isn’t as commonplace. The winter, though, tends to be warmer. There’s lots of rain and temperatures hover around the forties.

On cheek kisses: Instead of a hug or a “Hey!” with a wave, the French greet each other with a kiss on each side of the cheek, which is called the bise. The bise still doesn’t feel natural to me — it’s excessive! — but you just have to roll with it. I wear glasses so it’s always a pain when you encounter someone else with glasses. 

On French style: Overall, French women tend to be a little more dressy than Americans I’d say — tailored jeans, a button-down shirt, and dressy shoes instead of a tee, destroyed jeans and flip flops — but it really depends on the person. Anything goes. I find that French women seem to be confident in their style choices which is nice to see. I regularly see women over 50 in mini skirts and heels, just rocking their own style.

On healthcare: As a permanent resident of France, I get French healthcare like any citizen would, and a portion of my earnings go toward the universal system. Medical fees are very reasonable: visiting a General Practioner costs 25 euros or so, and then 70% is automatically reimbursed through French social security. Beyond that, you can opt for supplementary insurance called a “mutuelle” that will give you even more coverage.

Basically, French healthcare won’t bankrupt you in the event of an accident and it’s not tied to your job status. So if you or a family member has a serious health condition and you lose your job, you’ll still be insured. 

On feeling safe: I feel safe here, but I’m always vigilant and aware of my surroundings just like when I lived in New York City. There have been a few break-ins on my street over the past couple of years, and just recently, someone attempted to rob a few stores in my neighborhood with a knife.

On making friends: Making friends has been the hardest part of living abroad for me. I don’t really have a social network where I live — French or any other nationality — and I’ve kind of accepted that. It’s not for a lack of trying! I’m not religious but I’ve gone to church in hopes of meeting people and signed up on meet-up sites, but it’s difficult to make friends as an adult anywhere. It’s definitely not a France problem.

On the real France: I feel like foreigners have very romantic, idealized notions of France and the French. They seem to think that everyone is thin and beautiful and fashionable and they all just sit around at cafes drinking coffee and wine and eating baguettes. While France is beautiful and charming, it’s also a real place with real people and their problems. But all in all, France truly is gorgeous and I find the people to be generous and kind.

On living in France long-term: I could see myself moving back to the USA at some point and I know my husband would like to have that experience as well. But in the near future? I don’t think so. We’d lose a bit of money on our house and right now France is home.

There are a lot of positives to life here like the work/life balance (five weeks of paid vacation per year and healthcare that won’t bankrupt you). But sometimes you never know and life can change in an instant. I’ll never say that France is my forever home or that the US is either. We always have options and sometimes life takes an unexpected path.

Thank you so much, Diane!

P.S. 15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France and What I Miss (And Don’t Miss!) About Living in France

The post What Living in France as an Expat is Really Like appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Hey guys! Welcome to American Expats, a new series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up: Laura, a freelance writer and blogger who has been living in Mexico City for two and a half years. Here, she talks about celebrating the Day of the Dead, learning Spanish, and where to find the best street food in the city.

Laura’s background:

I’m Laura and I’m originally from New York. My boyfriend, Luke, and I have been living abroad since we graduated college in 2010. Mexico City is home number five after living in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and the UK.

I moved here two years ago to get serious about freelance writing (the cost of living is much lower than New York!). In that time I’ve managed to turn my blog into a full-time job and work with some amazing publications both online and in print.

On visas: I’m actually on the tourist waiver here in Mexico. Since I work for myself as a freelancer with mostly US companies, it made sense for me to keep my business registered in the US, keep my US bank account, and just pop out of the country every six months. Getting a visa as a freelancer is actually quite easy as long as you can prove you are earning over $1,200 a month.

I never thought I’d end up living in Mexico City for so long. I usually just tell myself six more months and here I am two and a half years later! The visa process is even easier if you secure a job here in Mexico before you arrive because you can do all of the paperwork in advance.

On making friends: When I moved here, I joined a few language groups and a running group on Meetup. But I found the best way to meet people was through Facebook groups.

I’ve also made new friends by reaching out to people through Instagram. Moving to a new city is SO hard and putting yourself out there to make friends can often feel like dating, but the alternative isn’t great either.

On the weather: Mexico City has two major seasons – wet and dry. It rains almost every day from about late-June until mid-October. During the dry season, it’s bright, sunny, and the temperature hovers around 75 degrees.

Before living in Mexico City, people described the weather as a perpetual spring and I think that’s pretty accurate. While it can get a little bit chilly during January and February, I haven’t seen snow in two years and for that, I’m so grateful.

On where to eat in Mexico City: There are SO many great restaurants in Mexico City. One of my favorites is Sud 777, which is run by chef Edgar Nuñez, who trained at elBulli. I also love Lorea, Fonda Fina, Pehua, and Meroma. Another favorite is SI MON Bar a Granel, a bar where they serve up small-batch mezcal and Mexican-made cured meats and cheeses.

For budget eats in Mexico City, I love Tacos Álvaro Obregón in Roma, Taquería El Greco in Condesa, El Huequito in the Centro Histórico, El Turix in Polanco and if you’re visiting for the first time you can’t miss churros at El Moro (they have locations in every neighborhood, but the one on Río Lerma is my personal fave).

For street food, I have a stall where I take all my visitors — it’s right outside of the Hidalgo metro station next to Parque Alameda. Look for the busiest stall which is run by three sisters. You can’t go wrong with their pambazos (tomato soaked tortas filled with potato and chorizo), gorditas, and quesadillas. Just remember that in Mexico City, if you want cheese in your quesadilla, you have to ask for it!
A pambazo – tomato-soaked tortas filled with potato and chorizo

On Mexican breakfasts: One of my favorite traditional Mexican breakfast foods is chilaquiles, a plate full of tortilla chips topped with spicy salsa, cream, cheese and your choice of eggs or meat. I usually opt for a few fried eggs on top. They go perfectly with a spicy salsa verde.

On the cost of living in Mexico City: Mexico City can be considerably more expensive than other parts of Mexico, especially to live here. If you want to live in a central and hip neighborhood like Condesa or Roma, you can expect to pay between $400 and $700 USD just for a studio or one bedroom. Like many cities, if you want a roommate or you choose slightly less expensive neighborhoods, you can pay much less.

On learning Spanish: Getting to a basic level of Spanish was pretty easy. After less than a year my restaurant Spanish was on-point. But getting beyond beginner definitely took some studying and perseverance. While Spanish is by no means a difficult language, it still requires some work and finding the time to study and the confidence to speak it when I knew I might get it wrong were two of the most difficult hurdles for me.

On traveling around Mexico: Traveling around Mexico from Mexico City is incredibly easy. There are four bus stations that connect you to cities and towns around the country, the airport is well serviced by Mexican airlines like VivaAerobús, Volaris, and Interjet which make it very cheap to hop around Mexico.

Some of my favorite places that I’ve visited outside of Mexico City are Mérida, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Tulum, and Puerto Escondido. All offer something completely different.

On Day of the Dead: There’s nothing quite like Day of the Dead in Mexico City, the day when people celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed. There are a lot of ways to celebrate the holiday in Mexico City as a tourist. There’s a parade that will run down the main street of the city, Paseo de la Reforma, for the third year in a row this year. There are displays set up in the Zócalo. You can eat Pan de Muerto, or death bread (don’t worry it won’t kill you!). It’s a sweet bread with a cross on top and is served absolutely everywhere leading up to November 1st.

On healthcare: Mexico has a public healthcare system that locals and permanent residents can access, however, the wait times are often months long for operations and unfortunately there just aren’t enough hospitals and doctors for the 20 million people that live in this city.

There are, however, a lot of private hospitals and doctors which cost significantly less to go to than they do in the US. I have emergency health insurance which will cover me for those just-in-case moments, but otherwise, I pay out of pocket to see the doctor (which sometimes costs as little as $1 if it’s just the common cold). Often you don’t even have to see the doctor for things like birth control pills or antibiotics – the pharmacist is able to prescribe those at no extra cost.

A friend of mine recently gave birth and paid out of pocket – it cost her $2,000 USD for everything from initial checkups to walking out of the hospital two days after giving birth.

On safety: I feel as safe living in Mexico City than I did in New York and other cities I’ve visited around the world. Sure, there are places you don’t want to go, just like there are probably places in your city that you avoid, especially at night.

I take Ubers after dark and I never walk alone anywhere at night. I’ve never, ever had a problem, but I think it’s just smart as a young woman traveling on her own in a big city to avoid putting yourself in those situations.

On the worst part about living in Mexico City: The traffic! Waiting in traffic feels like a right of passage, complaining about it to friends a local past time. It took me a long time and a really tough lesson in patience to learn to just accept that I need to give myself an hour or more to get somewhere. I listen to a lot of podcasts now.

On missing home: I always miss my family and friends. There are babies I’ve yet to meet and weddings that I have to miss. My parents aren’t getting any younger and my siblings are spread across the country. I try to call and text and email as often as I can, but I’m sure I can better.

If there’s one food I miss more than anything it’s a good New York bagel. I always get an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox when I’m back. No other place in the world (that I’ve been to at least) makes bagels quite like New York.

On living in Mexico long-term: I think Mexico City probably has a time limit for me. I’m 30 years old and I love the chaos of the city, I love music blaring at all hours of the night (most of the time at least), I love the food scene, I love the bars, I love how everything is open so late. But will I love that in five years time? In 10 years? I think eventually the traffic will finally break me.

Thank you so much, Laura!

P.S. 3 Days in Mexico City: The Perfect Itinerary and What Living as an Expat in Singapore is Really Like.

The post What Living in Mexico City as an Expat Is Really Like appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Hey guys! I hope you’re having a good 2019 so far. Today I wanted to share my top reading recommendations for this year.

2018 wasn’t my best reading year (I had so much reading to do in grad school), but I still managed to finish around 25 books.

Here are the ones I couldn’t put down:

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson. A fascinating history of the English language. Recommended for all language nerds and Bill Bryson fans.

On Writing by Stephen King. Part memoir, part writing guide. All in all a great read.

Calypso by David Sedaris. I always love David Sedaris’ short stories, and his latest collection didn’t disappoint. Funny, quirky, heartfelt.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. 1,500+ pages and three years later, I’ve finally finished the Neopolitan Novels! The Story of a Lost Child, the fourth and final book of the series, is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and ultimately satisfying end to the series.

Educated by Tara Westover. The memoir of a woman who grew up in a fundamentalist family in rural Idaho and went on to be educated at Harvard and Cambridge. A harrowing but beautiful read.

Places I Stopped on the Way Home by Meg Fee. A book of short stories about living in New York, surviving your twenties, and finding love (or not). Written by Meg Fee, one of my favorite bloggers. Super relatable and poetically written.

Am I There Yet? By Mari Andrew. An illustrated book on the journey to adulthood by Mari Andrew, one of my favorite illustrators on Instagram.

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. A novel about the course of a fictional marriage, from the meet-cute to old age. Very interesting perspective on how love changes over time.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. One woman’s harrowing experience of escaping North Korea. Couldn’t put it down.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. In this book, Bryson explains the history of biology, geology, physics, and more. It made me so much more interested in science, something I never thought I’d say.

So those are my recommendations! If you have any for me, leave them below in the comments. As always, I’d love to hear them.

Side note – am I the only person who didn’t love The Heart’s Invisible Furies? Some of the characters seemed so unrealistic (e.g. Cyril’s parents) and the humor was a little try-hard. Also, I enjoyed A Little Life but found some parts hard to stomach. Anyone else?

What about you? What’s on your reading list for 2019?

P.S. 8 Wonderful Books to Read in 2018 and The 16 Best Books I read in 2016.

(Photo by Glen Noble via Unsplash.)

The post 10 Excellent Books to Add to Your 2019 Reading List appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Hey guys! As we all know, 2019 is here. Personally, I couldn’t be happier. 2018 was a really tough year for me with lots of change and ambiguity (leaving Uganda, moving back to Michigan, starting grad school) so I’m not sad to see the back of it.

I’m feeling very hopeful about 2019, so I wanted to share my resolutions and goals.

I warn you, this year I may have the world’s most boring resolutions — is this part and parcel of being in your late twenties?

Case in point – I’m writing this while drinking my first oat milk latte (surprisingly delicious) because I’m doing dairy-free January. See what I mean?

1. Work out three times a week + meal prep every Sunday

Historically, I’ve been an all-or-nothing exerciser. I either work out six days a week or not at all. So this year, my goal is to exercise a reasonable three times a week. I’d also like to stick to workouts I already know and love, like reformer pilates, tennis, skiing, and spinning. No more Crossfit or strength training for me, thanks.

Finally, I’d like to meal prep at least two delicious, healthy meals every Sunday. I love having healthy food on hand, so this is something I intend to prioritize.

2. Buy books at local bookstores

Instead of buying my books from Amazon, this year I want to support local bookstores. Ann Arbor has so many quirky local bookstores, and I want to do my part in keeping them afloat.

3. Limit my fast fashion purchases

I love Topshop as much as the next girl, but after watching The True Cost on Netflix, this year I want to curb my fast fashion consumption. Instead of buying fast fashion garments that will soon disintegrate, I want to make an effort to buy pre-worn clothes from Poshmark or from sustainable brands like Reformation.

4. Travel Michigan (+ Finally See Australia and New Zealand!)

As I mentioned on Instagram, I was born and raised in Michigan but have still never seen the Upper Peninsula! The shame. This year I want to explore my home state and venture to new-to-me places in the Mitten.

Next winter, I will have a month off at the holidays (by the far the best part of grad school). So I FINALLY want to see Australia and New Zealand. If you have any Oz/NZ recommendations, please let me know!

5. Finish it anyway (i.e. write more)

In 2019, I simply want to write more. Due to imposter syndrome, I often start writing projects and abandon them at a later date. This year I want to write a lot more than usual and even if I feel the normal barrage of self-doubt, finish my writing projects anyway.

6. Get a 3.9 or higher

Last semester I got a 3.8 (probably the highest GPA in my academic career!), so this year I want to get a 3.9 or higher.

7. Get an internship in San Francisco

By far my biggest goal this year is to land a summer internship in San Francisco. Fingers crossed! (And if you know anyone in tech hiring for summer interns in the Bay Area, umm hi!)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Notes on blogging — as you may have noticed, none of my 2019 goals are blogging-related. This is because grad school is super hectic, and I don’t want to overload myself with one extra thing on my plate. That being said, I still love sharing about my life and travels with you guys, so I will probably post once or twice a month. I also plan on continuing my American Expats series, which I’ve really enjoyed doing.

P.S. Stay tuned for my 2019 book recommendations next week! :)

What about you? What are some of your resolutions for 2019?

The post 2019 Goals + Resolutions appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Hey guys! Happy New Year and welcome back to American Expats, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities and countries around the world. Next up we have Silvia, a Norwegian-American who is living in Norway. Silvia is one of my favorite bloggers so I can’t wait to share her story here.

Here, she discusses snowy winters, road-tripping around Norway, and choosing to live in Norway long-term.

Silvia’s background:

My name is Silvia and I grew up in Massachusetts but now am living in Norway, where I work as a travel blogger at Heart My Backpack.

On the local culture: Norwegians are quite reserved and laid-back. But I’ve come to embrace being more relaxed about getting stuff done and not stressing over long silences. (There are a lot of long silences over here!)

On making friends: I met pretty much all of my friends in Norway when I was working part-time at a supermarket during my first year here. Norwegians can be reserved at first, so it’s definitely easiest to make friends at work or through shared hobbies.  

On getting a Norwegian visa: I have dual US and Norwegian citizenship because my mother is Norwegian. But for foreigners looking to move to Norway, I’ve written an article detailing the different visa options for moving to Norway here.

On the weather: Norwegian winters are quite similar to those in Massachusetts. I actually love that Norwegian winters are so cold because it means we pretty much always have snow in the winter. And I feel like beautiful snowy days are so much easier to deal with than cold rainy ones!

I’m about to move to Northern Norway, where we’ll only have a couple of hours of sunlight in the winter, so that might be tough, but Norwegians are really good at making winters super cozy indoors, so I’m hoping it will be okay. Plus there will be Northern Lights!

On healthcare: Healthcare is free, we just pay a small administrative fee when we go to the doctor (I think if you go often enough you no longer have to pay that fee either).

On the best cities in Norways for expats: There are lots of expats in Oslo and Bergen, though personally, my favorite Norwegian city is Trondheim. But if you really want to integrate here I would actually recommend moving to a smaller town instead, where you won’t be tempted just to hang out with other foreigners.

On Norwegian food: I love Norwegian candy, especially the chocolate, and the fish here is really good. We eat a lot of fish and potatoes. Oh and the waffles here are amazing. There are also some really great beers here! Though alcohol is very expensive in Norway, so I drink way less here than I ever have anywhere else in the world.

On traditional Norwegian breakfasts: We usually eat bread with lots of different toppings like cheese, cold cuts, and tinned fish.

On the cost of living: The cost of living in Norway is quite high. Typical rent in a city will start at around $1200 for a tiny studio apartment, though in smaller towns you can get a spacious two bedroom apartment for the same amount. Eating out in Norway is incredibly expensive, as is both public transport and cars/fuel. But wages here are also quite high (I made between $20-$30 an hour working as a supermarket cashier when I first moved here) so if you have a job here the living costs won’t be a problem. Plus that will mean that pretty much everywhere else in the world will seem cheaper when you travel outside of Norway.

On feeling safe: I’ve lived in seven countries now, and I’ve by far felt the safest in Norway!

On learning Norwegian: Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. It’s a Germanic language, so a lot of the words are similar to English words, and the grammar is actually quite simple. The hardest thing about Norwegian is all the dialects, which can vary dramatically even from one village to the next, probably because of the mountains separating communities. I spoke some Norwegian when I moved here, but my boyfriend is English and didn’t know any Norwegian when we moved here three years ago, and now he’s basically fluent.

On being an American in Norway: Norwegians used to think it was so bizarre that I would choose to live in Norway over the US because they think the US is much more exciting, though now everyone assumes that I don’t want to live there for political reasons. I’ll also say that often people have treated me much better when they realize I’m from the US and not Eastern Europe, which is a real shame.

In general, Norwegians seem to think that Americans and British people are super cool and interesting, which I guess is nice for me though it also makes me feel guilty that I’m treated better than other foreigners for no valid reason at all.

On Norwegian fashion: I really love Norwegian fashion, though I’ll also say that sometimes people here go a little overboard with trends. Like each season most people will wear the exact same thing, it’s a little bizarre. But maybe it’s just like that in small countries?

On travel within Norway: Unfortunately, the public transport here isn’t great, partly because it’s such an enormous country with few people. The best way to get around is by car.

 I find driving in Norway really easy as most roads are quiet and there aren’t many big highways, so the views are always beautiful. I’ve traveled all around Norway now and I’d definitely say Northern Norway is my favorite! The landscape is more rugged up there, there are fewer people, plus you can see reindeer and the Northern Lights!

On what she craves when she’s homesick: Cheerios! And mac and cheese! Basically, I miss kid’s food, haha. There aren’t as many food options here as in American supermarkets, which can be frustrating when I’m missing certain foods or even trying to cook with American recipes. But then on the flip side now when I go back to the US I feel super overwhelmed by all the food choices!

On Easter: Norway is a largely secular country, yet it has the longest Easter break in the world. But instead of going to church, everyone is in the mountains skiing! It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around Easter being a ski holiday here, though it’s also a really fun way to celebrate the end of winter and start of spring.

On living in Norway long-term: I feel very lucky to be able to live in Norway, and after moving around so much for my entire adult life I really want to have a permanent home now.

Takk, Silvia! Your photos are gorgeous.

P.S. What Living in Stockholm Is Really Like and The Truth About Dating as an Expat.

The post What Living in Norway as an Expat is Really Like appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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I wrote this itinerary for a friend who will soon be spending 3 days in Mexico City. I thought you guys might find it useful as well, as many of you were interested in my Mexico City posts. Enjoy!

There is so much to do, see, and eat in Mexico City. The food is delicious on any budget, from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. It has gorgeous, leafy neighborhoods, with Art Nouveau architecture and hip breweries. And you can't visit Mexico City without seeing Teotihuacán, the sprawling Mesoamerican city just an hour outside of the capital.

Here is my itinerary for 3 days in Mexico City, the perfect place to spend a long weekend…

Day One: The Zócalo and Frida Kahlo Museum

Have an Uber pick you up at the airport – they're safer and cheaper than standard taxis in Mexico City.

Drop your bags at the hotel. I recommend staying at Gran Hotel Ciudad de México, a historic hotel located in the city center. Don't forget to look up at its Art Deco stained glass ceiling.

Have lunch at the hotel restaurant, Terraza, which has impressive views of the Zócalo, Mexico City's main square. After lunch, explore the Zócalo. Stop by the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is free to enter. Be sure to visit Templo Mayor, the main temple of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec empire.

In the afternoon, call an Uber to take you the Frida Kahlo Museum, otherwise known as the Casa Azul. Pro tip — buy your tickets online in advance to choose your time slot and skip the lines.

Have dinner at Azul Histórico. Azul Histórico is a restaurant located in the courtyard of a gorgeous Spanish-style mansion. The restaurants specializes in traditional Mexican food — the chilaquiles are incredible. It's popular, so be sure to make reservations in advance.

Day Two: Teotihuacán Pyramids + Food Tour

Wake up early to see the pyramids of Teotihuacán by hot air balloon. On the balloon ride, you will see three main ruins: the Moon Pyramid, Sun Pyramid and Temple of Quetzalcoatl. It's gorgeous so bring your camera! And be sure to enjoy the free champagne at the end of the ride.

A few tips – Arrive at the meeting point at 6 a.m. sharp. If you miss the scheduled meeting time, you'll have to find your own transport to the pyramids. Also – wear layers and dress warmly! Teotihuacán is at high elevation, so can be very chilly.

In the afternoon, go on a food tour in Roma, one of Mexico City's most beautiful neighborhoods. We visited two craft breweries, a Oaxacan restaurant, an artisanal coffee shop, and a mezcal distillery. All in all, it was the perfect way to experience Mexico City's food scene and visit one of its coolest neighborhoods.

Day Three: The National Museum of Anthropology + One Last Amazing Meal

You can't visit Mexico City without seeing The National Museum of Anthropology, which showcases artifacts from all of Mexico's pre-Colombian civilizations. Admission to National Museum of Anthropology costs $3.50 per person. There's a lot to see — allow for at least 4-5 hours.

On your last afternoon in Mexico City, you can spend your time in a variety of ways:

See the Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City's futuristic library…

Float down the canals at Xochimilco, a colorful neighborhood south of the city…

Check out Condesa, another wonderful Mexico City neighborhood.

Before leaving the city, have dinner at Pujol, which is listed as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. The restaurant offers a seven-course tasting menu for $90 a person. (Full disclosure — I didn't make it there, but have heard great things about it.)

The cost of 3 days in Mexico City

You can spend a lot of money in 3 days in Mexico City, but you can also easily visit on a budget. Overall, it's much less expensive than major American cities. I spent around $1100 in three days, excluding flights: $550 on accomodation, $300 on food and drinks, $250 on activities, and $30 on transportation. It was a splurge, but one that was very worth it.

Here are some of the specific expenses:

The Gran Hotel Ciudad de México cost $170 a night. For more hotels in Mexico City, check out current rates here.

Most Ubers in Mexico City cost us less than $3, so it's an inexpensive way to get around. I wouldn't recommend taking the subway, where you may be a target of pickpocketing (we almost were!)

Our private hot air balloon ride over the Teotihuacán pyramids was with Fly Volare and cost $180 per person. See my full review here. if you'd like to save more money, you can visit Teotihuacán and climb the pyramids.

Admission to National Museum of Anthropology costs $3.50 per person.

Our food tour was with Sabores México and cost $50 per person. See my full review here.

Safety in Mexico City

For the most part, we felt safe in Mexico City. if you exercise the same precautions you would in any city you should be fine.

As in most of Latin America, petty theft is relatively common in Mexico City. Case in point – my dad was almost pickpocketed while we were riding the subway. And like I mentioned, definitely take Ubers instead of taxis off the street.

Have you ever visited Mexico City? What would you recommend doing/seeing/eating there?

P.S. Newsflash: Mexico City is Totally Worth Visiting and Hot Air Ballooning Over Teotihuacán.

The post 3 Days in Mexico City: The Perfect Itinerary appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Hey guys! Welcome to American Expats, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up we have our first Germany-based expat — Jordan! Jordan has been living in Hamburg, Germany, for almost two years.

Here, she talks about local German beers, the hip warehouse district, and how everything is closed on Sundays.

Jordan's background: Moin! (That’s ‘hello' in northern German slang.) My name is Jordan and I live in Hamburg with my boyfriend. I work in advertising, helping major German companies launch their campaigns on the international market.

I ended up living in Hamburg due to my German boyfriend. We met at a ball in Heidelberg, Germany, while I was doing my Master's. After doing long-distance for almost eight months while I was living in Scotland, we decided that I would move back to Germany as the visa process would be easier for me than for him.

On Hamburg's modern vibe: Hamburg isn’t your traditional German city – there isn’t an old town because most of the city was bombed during WWII. One of my favorite areas is the Speicherstadt. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world, and it's filled with gentrified warehouses, narrow canals, and bridges.

Fun fact – Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined! We really are a water city. 

On learning German: I know quite a bit of German as I studied it in high school. The only problem is that get so nervous speaking and have such a confidence issue!

Learning German is difficult due to all the crazy German grammar rules. Most English speakers find German to be a hard language to learn — it requires a lot of work to become fluent.

On making friends: At first, it was somewhat difficult meeting people — Germans are known for being hard to get to know. However it helped that my boyfriend is German and a lot of his friends’ girlfriends reached out to me and tried to include me.

I also joined a bunch of expat groups on Facebook and started attending meet-ups — it’s really a great way to meet people.

On local beer: Famous Hamburg beers include Asta Alsterwasser, Ratsherrn, and Holsten. Other popular northern German beers from the region are Jever and Flensburger.

On white asparagus: Spargel (white asparagus) is the “it” food from April to June and Germans go crazy over it! They make ‘Spargel' everything – soup, salad, meals, etc. I initially hated Spargel but now am completely obsessed.

On the relaxed lifestyle: Compared to life in the U.S., I think life in Hamburg is really laid-back. In general, Germans value a healthy work-life balance and employers encourage everyone to use all their vacation days. I never feel overly stressed at work or stay at the office really late. It’s expected that once you leave the office, you’re done with work for the day!

On German cultural quirks: Germans are typically reserved, which used to bother me because I’ve very extroverted. In general, Germans don’t do small. I’ve actually grown to enjoy it because I can get everything done quickly and in peace.

Other local customs are hearty breakfasts (I love them now!) and recycling. I’m so obsessed with getting my 25 cents back for every plastic bottle that I carry bottles around on weekend trips so I can get the money back.

On Sundays: I always used to forget that NOTHING is open on Sundays in Germany. I scraped by on some Sundays with very little food after having forgotten to buy groceries on Saturday.

On personal safety: Even though Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, I feel 100% safe. The only crime you’ll see here is minor pick-pocketing instances. However, I’ve never had anything stolen and never feel unsafe as a woman walking alone.

On the cost of living in Hamburg: Hamburg is one of the most expensive cities in Germany – there's a lot of wealth here. However, it is still cheaper than living in the most major cities in the U.S..I’d compare the cost of living in Hamburg (especially rent prices) to those of a Midwestern city. 

On transportation: I usually get around by public transportation or by foot. We don’t have Uber here but we do have a taxi-like service that uses an app called “mytaxi.” My boyfriend has a car but we hardly ever use it – parking is horrible and expensive in Hamburg, and the public transportation is quick, efficient, and runs almost 24/7.

On great Hamburg neighborhoods for expats: I absolutely adore my neighborhood of Eimsbüttel – it’s mostly inhabited by young adults, couples, and families. The neighborhood is very central and easily connects to the rest of the city through public transportation. 

I love that I can go out to other parts of the city at night, have a great time, and then come home to my quiet neighborhood. It really is the best place to live!

Freiburg, Germany — a beautiful city in Southern Germany.

On traveling in Germany (and beyond): I love exploring my backyard. The long-distance train connections are amazing and I can get almost anywhere in Germany in under four or five hours.

As far as Europe goes, I think I’ve been to almost 40 European countries in less than five years. Gotta take advantage of all those cheap flights!

On living in Hamburg long-term: My boyfriend and I plan to start a family in a few years and maternity leave is a huge incentive to stay in Germany. I would get 14 weeks paid in full (six weeks before the birth and eight after), plus another 12 months at two-thirds of my salary. My boyfriend would also get two months of paternity leave at two-thirds of his salary. Considering the U.S. doesn’t have any paid maternity/paternity leave, it’s hard to be convinced to start a family in the U.S.

Additionally, I just love the pace of life here. Everyone and everything just seems a bit slower and more relaxed – there’s an emphasis on enjoying yourself and embracing your free time. I really like that and find that it’s not as common in the U.S.

Danke schön, Jordan!

P.S. 10 Surprising Things About Germany and The Real Truth About Dating as an Expat.

The post What Living in Hamburg, Germany is Really Like appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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Over the years, I've tested a lot of travel accessories. Honestly, I love buying travel gear — it's one of my guilty pleasures.

So I wanted to put together a post highlighting my all-time favorite travel accessories that cost less than $30.

I've owned all of these travel accessories for years, and recommend them highly. I can promise you that they're all good investments that will make your travels easier.

TravelWise packing cubes – $22

I know packing cubes may seem unnecessary, but I promise you — they're not. They organize your clothes, and dramatically speed up packing and unpacking. I'm obsessed with packing cubes, and try to foist them on every traveler I meet.

eBags hanging toiletry kit – $29

I only recently bought a hanging toiletry kit, and now I'm kicking myself for not buying one sooner. They organize your toiletries so well, and are a huge upgrade from the plastic bag I used in my early twenties. Plus, this one has a hook so you can hang it in the shower! It also packs flat, making it easy to store. Okay, okay, I'll stop.

Joto2 power strip – $21

This power strip will make you lots of friends if you're staying in a hostel. It has SO many ports: three USBs, one USB-c, and two regular outlets. It also has a really long extension cord, which comes in handy.

Jackery power bank – $17

A power bank is such a life safer. When I'm traveling, I carry one around in my backpack in case my phone dies. It gives me peace of mind and has saved me in many situations. Definitely worth packing!

Lewis N. Clark eye mask – $7

I'm obsessed with eye masks, especially this Lewis N. Clark one, which super soft and cozy. It may be the best $7 you'll ever spend.

Petzl headlamp – $19

If you're staying in hostels, having a headlamp is a must. They allow you to pack your bag in the early morning without disturbing anyone. The're also essential for camping.

Note – if you're going to buy a headlamp, just buy a Petzl. I've tried to use off-brand headlamps, but it's better invest in a quality one that will last.

Sun Bum sunscreen – $12

I'm a bit of a sunscreen nut – I wear it every day, rain or shine. Sun Bum makes my favorite sunscreen ever – it smells just like a piña colada.

For my face, I use Eltamd SPF 40. It's the only sunscreen I've ever found that doesn't smell like sunscreen — it goes on just like lotion.

Nalgene water bottle – $10

Want to be eco-friendly and budget-conscious? Pack a Nalgene water bottle – this one is my absolute favorite. It's lightweight, compact, and cute.

Maxah universal travel adapter – $11

I recently bought a cheap travel adapter, which started smoking after I plugged it into the wall. Learn from my mistake and invest in a high-quality adapter. I recommend buying a universal one, so you can use it in any country.

Reef flip flops – $20

When I'm traveling in tropical regions, I more or less live in flip flops. But flip flops are essential no matter where you are – hostel showers can be sketchy anywhere.

I've worn Reef flip flops since I was 14 and swear by them – they mold to your feet and are so comfy.

The Wet Brush

No joke, the Wet Brush has changed my life. At first I was skeptical – a brush that magically keeps tangles out of your hair? Yeah right. But seriously, the Wet Brush makes brushing my hair post-shower a task that takes 30 seconds, not ten minutes.

P.S. Don’t buy the mini one! It’s terrible.

GoToob refillable containers – $19

I use GoToob refillable containers to store my face wash, shampoo, and conditioner. They're three ounces, so you can pop them in your carry-on. Plus, they're so much more eco-friendly than buying travel-size toiletries.

What are some of your favorite travel accessories?

P.S. 12 Travel Accessories That Drastically Improve Long-term Travel and The Travel Gear Anti-Haul: What You DON'T Need to Buy.

This post was not sponsored by any of these companies – I just really love their products. Also, this post contains affiliate links. If you click through on affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for keeping Ashley Abroad afloat! 

The post Must-have Travel Accessories That Cost Less Than $30 appeared first on Ashley Abroad.

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