Spend a Day in Boone

One thing I love to do at the end of a long semester is mellow out to cheesy rom-coms on the Hallmark channel. After watching just a few, I got hooked. Eventually, I started to wonder if cute, little towns like the ones on TV existed. I come from a small town, but I would definitely not compare it to what I have seen in the movies.

I am currently going to school in North Carolina and have not seen much of the state. Fall break was coming up and one of my friends told me that her co-worker recommended visiting a small town called Boone and a place called Blowing Rock. I was open to doing anything and was excited to hear that we would be going to a small town in the middle of the fall season. As soon as we pulled up to Boone, I could already tell from all the little shops and beautiful architecture that I would love this place.

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There are several cute, little shops that I would recommend visiting such as Boone Belles, Lucky Penny, and my favorite, Mast General Store (which I later found out is also in Winston-Salem). Some places even carry local products, which I thought was very cool.

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My friend found a restaurant on Yelp called “Proper” with great reviews. It was a little bit hidden, but still had a great view and nice atmosphere.

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The food was delicious! I tried southern fried chicken for the first time and would highly recommend it, as well as the restaurant’s special homefries. They gave a decent amount of food for the price, at least compared to the North. The best part was that everything we ate was homemade and not frozen!

While digesting, we took a walk around Appalachian State University. It will definitely give you a workout if you decide to roam the entire campus. At the time, students were on their fall break as well, so we didn’t see many people. However, taking a walk and seeing the colorful autumn scenery was spectacular. There was a lot of school spirit in this town as every store I went to had ASU merchandise.

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The last stop we made was to the Tanger Outlets in Blowing Rock. I like to look up things to do before going to a place, so that I know what to see, and some other blogs had recommended going to an ice cream shop called Kilwin’s. They sell a variety of chocolate-covered desserts, ice cream flavors, and fudge. As soon as you open the door and the smells seep out, you know you’re making a good choice. I ordered cake batter and chocolate caramel cashew ice cream, no regrets! Although I wanted to eat everything there, I knew that I couldn’t. There is good news though: there is a Kilwin’s in Winston-Salem, so I will be back!

Some people prefer bigger cities because they feel that there is more to do. Even so, if you are looking for a day trip, try these small, charming places. I know you will not be disappointed!

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When You Think You’ve Seen it All

Have you ever watched a movie that you just couldn’t get enough of? Maybe it was one of your favorite movies from childhood. Maybe you can think of a more recent movie that you would recommend to everyone you know. Either way, you have watched it at least five times and still haven’t gotten tired of it. In fact, even with all the familiarity of the story-line, you discover something new that you had missed all of the other times that you sat down to watch it. However, unlike watching a good movie again, living in the same small town for most of your life may not feel as exciting.

I had been dying to leave my hometown and set off on an adventure, exploring what the world had to offer; so I went to Europe for a year. I had grown accustomed to hopping on a train to the next country over and taking a bus or metro to my next destination. While familiarity can be nice, I felt like I was lacking adventure upon returning home. After having been in the same place for around nineteen years, I thought I had seen everything I possibly could. I would have even gone as far as to say that I had seen everything in both my town and the neighboring small city. I’m sure that I am not alone in thinking this.

Perhaps you are feeling like you have seen all there is to see in your small town, but I challenge you to dig a little deeper. I recently moved to North Carolina for grad school and one thing I did to calm my anxiousness before moving was looking up exciting things on pinterest to do in the city where I would be staying. While I enjoy new beginnings and fresh starts, I was already on the hunt for a good place to do some studying or just hang out for a while. When it comes to travel, the Internet is your friend and can be used to your advantage. Do a quick search of your hometown or the surrounding towns. It’s as simple as typing in the search box “Things to do in *inserttownorcitynamehere*”. You never know what you may find, or what others have already found that you may not have known about.

When I first arrived to North Carolina, I went to a dinner for students at a local church and asked everyone where their favorite places were to eat. By the time the list was complete, there were so many options that I can assure you that I will not make it to most of them. I would suggest making a list of places you haven’t been to in your hometown, whether it be restaurants, shops, a farmers’ market, or anywhere else you can think of. I guarantee you have passed by the same places for years and have never set foot in them or even noticed them. Be bold and try something new!

One last thing I would recommend doing is taking a joy ride and turning onto unfamiliar roads. They have always been there and you never know where they may lead you. The featured image for this blog post was taken on a trip to Francis Walter Dam. My family and I had been living in the same area for decades and didn’t realize that this place existed. It wasn’t until my dad was out in his new car and turned down a new road that he happened upon the dam. Now, this is one of our favorite places to go to take walks and photograph nature. I would highly recommend doing this, but just be careful that you don’t get too lost!

Whether you have lived in the same city or small town your whole life, there is always something new out there to explore. You don’t have to live in a place like New York City to enjoy yourself. Seek the unknown and, who knows, you may end up forming a new appreciation for your small town.

Surprises Happen When You Get Out There

When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. I didn’t like many foods, and I certainly wasn’t open to trying anything new. My parents literally had to sit on me to get me to try mashed potatoes. Since they had tried and enjoyed it many times, they knew what I was missing out on. However, I resisted mashed potatoes for many years, until I ended up trying them one day and loving them!

My aunt used to live in Ocean City, New Jersey. I have been blessed to grow up going there every summer until this year. She had sold her house in February without saying a word until the deed was done. My time there was like a necklace, with beads being added on for each memory I had. When the house was sold, I felt like the necklace was finished. It was bound to be finished eventually, and it is filled with beautiful memories. However, I can no longer add to them, at least not in the same way as previous years.

Usually, we house sat for her when she and my uncle were in Maine, in their other home. They had been trying to get us to go to Maine for years, and my family and I resisted. When we thought of Maine, we thought of a glorified Pennsylvania. We preferred the Jersey shore, going on rides on the boardwalk, and shopping in downtown OCNJ. We preferred familiarity and memories to a new and unknown experience.

It’s surprising how many people I have run into that have gone to Maine. Pretty much everybody I have talked to has been there at least once, and unanimously, they say how great it is. We were going to visit Maine with an open mind, but in the back of our heads (or at least mine), we were like my younger self not wanting to try mashed potatoes, even though I had no idea what I was missing out on.

Needless to say, we went on the trip and ended up having a great time! It was certainly different from what we were used to, but it was a new kind of vacation, and a nice one. We went on hikes, long walks, saw different attractions, ate at wonderful places, and saw many beautiful views. Most of all, we got to spend the week with our extended family. I can say that the vacation was unforgettable.

Has anyone ever told you that you absolutely need to visit a place, but you give every excuse not to? Try giving it a chance, even if you feel like it is way out of your realm of comfort. You may end up enjoying it!

Meeting People Abroad

When looking at websites that offered study abroad advice, I noticed that students who had studied overseas were presented with the question: What do you wish you had done that you didn’t do? The answers I read were surprisingly very similar and not at all what I had expected. Students didn’t say that they wished that they had traveled more, or that they wish they would have bought more souvenirs. The biggest regret I had read about was that many students wished that they would have had the courage to talk to people locally and make friends.

Life presents many opportunities to cross paths with others, sometimes in crazy ways. It’s what you choose to do in that moment that will determine what will become of that encounter. Having gone through this myself, here is my advice on where you can meet people:

First I would suggest looking up language exchanges in the area. If there aren’t any, advertise that you would be interested in doing one! I have met plenty of nice and welcoming people from doing language exchanges. At first, it might have been strange because I did not know anyone, but after meeting up a few times, we became friends.

Consider joining a fitness class. The program I attended let American students sign up for fitness classes at the local university. I met a number of people because of taking hip-hop and Zumba classes. The great thing about doing this is that you already have something in common with everyone in the room, a love for the class you signed up for.

Also consider taking a local university class. It may seem intimidating, especially if you are not confident in your language abilities, but you will meet people who are willing to help you. I will admit that this can be scary at first because everyone seems to already have their own group of friends, but just start with something simple like, “Can I see your notes from the other day?” or, “Can I borrow a pen?”

Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I would suggest trying to attending a church. Some of the most welcoming people were those that I met from weekly Bible studies and going to church every Sunday. These people were very nice and cared about how my friends and I were doing and how we were adjusting to being away from home. I even met one of my good friends after accidentally locking myself in the bathroom!

After spending an extended amount of time somewhere, you start to form a routine. My friends and I would frequent restaurants and cafes that we enjoyed. In doing that, we became friends with the owners, and even got to talk to other customers at times.

One last thing I would recommend is to pay attention to your surroundings in general. You never know if you will be handed a flyer for an event that you would be interested in or if you will see a poster for something you would be interested in. You can even look up online what is going on in your area to find out more.

The truth is, you can meet people anywhere. Sometimes you will meet them in the grocery store and sometimes you will meet them in your hostel. It is confidence that you will need to be able to form friendships with others. While I cannot give you that confidence, I can tell you where you are likely to meet people. The suggestions that I mentioned come from my personal experience studying in Europe but there are so many other ways to meet people and make friends. If you have traveled before, where have you met people?

Don’t Miss the Moment

So many people are living yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow that they miss the now. They’re thinking about going abroad or when they went abroad. They’re both wonderful things but don’t miss the here and now because what was got you to this moment and what is now will get you to that future moment that you’re dreaming about, so embrace the here and now and live it to its fullest.

Whenever people ask me if I miss being abroad, I tell them that I do, but only a little bit. The joy I receive from spending time with my loved ones and being in a familiar place outweighs that negative feeling of missing the life I lived a year ago. I looked forward to being abroad in anticipation of what was going to be. Now that I’ve done it, I have fantastic memories. However I also have my life at this moment (friends, classes). The life that you live is going on. Remember that the life you’re living now is preparation for what will be. Enjoy the moment, including the painful ones because they are lessons. 

While I was away, I missed home very much. I missed my family, my friends, my school, and especially my significant other. Homesickness is real and I don’t like when people try to make those who feel homesick bad for feeling that way. Despite feeling homesick, I did not let that paralyze me to the point of not having fun and making Skype calls home every day for hours on end. I counted myself as fortunate to be able to travel around Europe and live the dream I had been wanting to live for years. I took advantage of my opportunity. It was worth it and I would never take that experience back. What I normally tell people when they ask me how I feel is, “I was happy in Europe and I am happy at home. I am happy wherever I am.” The last thing I want people to think is that I was unhappy going abroad.

Be happy wherever you are. Live the life you want to live with what you have around you. Count the blessings in your life. If times are tough, remember that they are just lessons for you to learn and without them, you would not be the person you are today. Without the good and bad moments in life, you would not have gotten to this point. Most importantly, do not spend your life wishing away the present moment for something you are excited for in the future. Embrace now. Live now.

Learn From Others

Who are some of the people who have made a huge impact in your life? Were they your parents? A celebrity? A stranger? How about a teacher? From grades Kindergarten through senior year of high school, we have many teachers. The older we get, the less we remember. It is those who impact our lives that we remember the most. I have had some great teachers through the years. I have also had some teachers that I thought could not stand me, but ended up being very memorable. Sometimes it is the ones that challenge you to the point of frustration from whom you learn the most.

About eight months ago, I went on a weekend trip to Rome with my roommate. She is an experienced traveler. I looked to her, and others from my program, during trips to book tickets and lodging, read a map, and plan out our trip. I was very inexperienced. Going to Spain to study abroad was my first time out of the country. I did not know a lot about how to travel wisely and I was a terrible navigator. While I was in Rome, I took a back seat as my roommate navigated for the both of us. One afternoon, she handed me the map and told me to navigate to our next destination without her help. She was going to play my part and play the role of a follower. I took the map with reluctance and frustration. Those next few moments became an exercise in patience and understanding as I was both directionally and even linguistically challenged. My roommate offered no help even though I asked her for it.  I did not want to get us lost too lost. I ended up having to ask somebody for directions, but in the end we did get to our destination.

After being really stressed out, Chrissy, my roommate, ended up explaining to me why she did what she had done. She wanted to teach me to navigate on my own because we would not always be together on trips. I did not realize it during the midst of my frustration but I ended up being very thankful that she had done that. The next semester rolled around and next thing I knew, I was in France. The funny thing was, I ended up being the one with the most traveling experience and took the lead as my friends learned from me.

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Chrissy and I at the Colosseum.

Learning from others is so important. You do not have to be an official teacher for someone to learn from you. You can lead by example or you can actively teach someone, either way, I would highly recommend mentoring somebody. That way, they could look back and be thankful for what you did, even if they aren’t thankful at first.

OUIGO: A Cheaper Way to Travel in France

People spend years saving up money to travel whether it be for studying abroad or just traveling long-term.  Whenever I am going somewhere, I always look for the cheap or free things to do in the town or city I am traveling to.  Another thing I look at is low-budget traveling.  I would rather spend more money on what I am doing than how I get there.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to travel for a cheap price unless you book months in advance and even so, you are not always guaranteed a good price.  I have used low-budget airlines like Ryan Air and Easy Jet.  However, in France, there are different cheap alternatives to flying when traveling around the country.  When I first got to Nantes, I was told by my host family and some friends about OUIGO.

What is it?

Basically, it is a website where you can buy train or bus tickets for lower prices than what you would normally find online or in the SNCF store.  I have found round-trip tickets to Paris for 30 euros.  You have to pay attention to what station you will be going into if you decide to book a ticket to a city with multiple train stations.  If you are traveling to Nantes, for example, you only have one option.  However, if you are traveling to Paris, you can travel to train stations that are closer to the city center than other places.  As far as the bus goes, you could find even cheaper round-trip tickets than for the train.  Obviously, it would be a longer journey than taking a train, but if you are not pressed for time and you are looking to save money, taking the bus would be the better option.  I have only used OUIGO for trains so far but I like it.

Even though it is cheaper than booking tickets online using another website, I would still try to book early.  If you choose to book later, ticket prices go up and you may not get as good of a deal.  If you want cheaper then book further in advance.