Inside the Suitcase: How to Pack for Florence By Alycia Oliver

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Going on a trip is meant to bring relaxation and happiness into one’s life, however many can admit packing gives comes with anxiety. What am I going to forget? Did I pack too much? Will I have enough room to bring back a few things? To eliminate these packing anxieties here are a couple strategies I use myself when packing.

1)   Head-to-Toe.  Begin at your head and move down your body thinking of everything you need as you go. For example; hat, sunglasses, shirts, shorts, pants, shoes. Obviously this would be done in further detail, but you get the jist!

2)   Inside out. Another approach is starting with your under garments and then moving outwards. This strategy works well for clothing items but do not forget to make a mental note to include electronics, toiletries and for the girls make up and jewelry.

3)   Activity list. Thinking about what you do in a day from when you wake up until you go to bed can really speed up the packing process. As you do so think about everything you need and use while doing these activities.

If one inherited the forgetful gene (like myself) it is best to write a checklist on paper when using all the strategies above. When I arrived in Florence I wish I had read a couple blog posts on what to bring and what not to bring. First of all, each item you pack you must be sure you will wear atleast twice. 8-18-travel-list-1When you are traveling “the never wear the same outfit twice rule” NEVER applies. Ladies, your suitcase is only so big- you will have to outfit repeat, get used to it! In order to make sure you are bringing the right things to Florence, here is what I recommend:

-Sunglasses

-Sunscreen: the sun is a lot hotter then you can imagine, protect your skin!

-Long skirts: not only are these comfortable and in style, you will fit in perfectly.

-Maxi dresses

-Strappy sandals: don’t bother bringing flip flops, Italians always walk in style!

-One pair of walking shoes: all you do in Florence is walk, walk, and walk.

-Light pair of pants

-Mosquito repellant: It’s do or die over here, a constant war humans vs. mosquito’s!

-Only ONE pair of heels (preferably wedges): the cobble stone streets are hard to walk on and most people go out in dressy sandals or flats.

-Small side purse with good zipper: avoid those pick pocketer’s as much as you can.

In general, bring light clothing and in a diversity of options (shorts, pants and skirts). Florence is known to experience all seasons in one day. In the summer months you may experience a few storms, which I personally find quite amazing. Sitting back and watching the thunder and lightening can sometimes be relaxing if you are in the right place at the right time. What you need to know is that in Florence it will down pour very quickly and suddenly then usually it will pass. Bringing an umbrella would be a good idea! Hope this helps and takes some time off your packing. Happy Travels!

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Awareness in Florence: Top 10 Hints from an Insider

North American culture is quite different to the European culture in many ways. Although everyone is aware that culture varies depending on where you are in the world, travellers still seem to be shocked at the major differences between Florence and the United States. While I do believe spontaneity is key in Europe, you can never do too much research on the place awaiting your arrival. I am here to help you adjust to the everyday life in Florence by giving you a couple friendly warnings on obstacles you may encounter. The following is a list of a few things to be aware of before coming to Florence; this will save you time, money and a whole lot of stress!

1) Breakfast Food.  It is this simple- Italians want to fatten us up! Isn’t breakfast supposed to be an important, substantial and healthy meal of the day? In Florence it is next to impossible to find a café that serves eggs, fruit, toast, and/or bacon. Desert for breakfast anyone? 4.16.10-Pineapple-MojitoThere is a large array of fresh pastries lined up along shop windows each morning waiting to the devoured. Here’s my solution- get ahold of any fresh juice shops you can find to get your nutrients; there are a few around the city!

2) Crazy Traffic. Once you arrive in Florence your personal space does not exist. You must be careful in the crowded streets as people will walk in any and all directions, surely cutting you off. You must be extra cautious for the bikes, cars and buses motoring around the city. I often feel drivers are playing the mind game, “how many pedestrians can we scare today”. All in all, my story in Florence goes like this, Bus-1 Me-0. Don’t walk to close to the edge of the sidewalks or the side mirror will clip you!

3) A Late Start. This applies for many things such as store opening hours, dining hours and bar hours. If you arrive at a restaurant around 6 o’clock be prepared to be eating with the company of the people you are with and the staff. In Italy people are arriving for dinner at 9:30 to 10 o’clock. Do not make the mistake of going to a bar/club too early. You will most likely get there and leave before any Italians have even arrived! Between 1 and 2 is when bars begin to pick up.

4) No One-Stop-Shops. One girl came into the office looking for a Walmart. Although it is a funny question to ask in Europe, there is actually nothing similar to it! If you need to run errands allow yourself double the time you would in America. You will likely need to walk all around town and hit at least 3 to 4 shops.

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5) Waving down the Bus. Who knew there was a specific way to hail a bus, isn’t standing by the bus stop sign enough! Here is the trick- you must hold you hand down low and wave. If you hold your hand up high, there is a good chance the bus will pass you. I know this is very technical, but it is something one must be aware of!

6) Coffee. Italians drink their coffees very differently. First of all, the coffee is never scorching hot. With the very hot weather you would think that they would serve iced coffee but Italians have something against cold milk. You will also not find any flavored syrups to add to your coffee’s- that’s right no caramel or vanilla lattes! A final tip, if you order a large coffee you will get one espresso shot and a lot of milk. You must clarify you would like two espresso shots.

7) Expression and Hand Gestures. If you are travelling to Italy for only a short period of time you may not have the desire to learn the language. Thus you may try to survive off hand gestures and tone of voice to understand the direction of the conversation. This in fact will only confuse you more! Italians may seem angry with their arms flailing in the air, yet they are simply debating on a very insignificant point.

8) Hours of Operation. If you are anything like me and have a very irregular eating cycle you should keep in mind the hours of operation of all cafes and restaurants in Florence. For example, the well-known Gusta Pizza is closed from 3 to 7pm each day! To avoid being a disappointed and hungry traveller, use the Internet to research the restaurant before you go.

9) Water. This will seem insane to most Americans and Canadians but yes, it is true, you have to pay for water everywhere you go. In a restaurant they will serve you large glass bottles that you can self- serve from at a cost of around 2 to 3 euros each. Wine is almost cheaper then water, but don’t let yourself get dehydrated!

10) Tipping. At restaurants here there is a cover charge of about 2 euros and up. This serves as the tip for your bill so you do not need to leave any extra money. Some people actually find it offending if you tip more, and this I do not know the reason for. Finally, if you are travelling as a group of students be aware that you cannot split bills. I suggest to always have cash on you in case you are going with a large group of people.

Studying Abroad? Best Free Apps to Have Under Your Belt by Bobbie Watson

Entering a new city for a study abroad program can be a little daunting, but we have found the following apps to be quite helpful for navigating new cities. The best part – they are all completely free!

City Guides icon1. TripAdvisor’s City Guides

The best thing about this app – if you download the information for a city while connected to WiFi, you can use that information offline and without internet access! So, say you decide to go to Paris for the weekend, but you do not have an international data plan on your phone. If you search for Paris and download the city information before you go, you will have access to maps and lots of information while you are walking around Paris without internet connection! The app contains information on restaurants, hotels, top attractions, nightlife, shopping, and tours. There are even suggested itineraries you can follow to ensure you hit all of the main sites. These itineraries tell you background information about the sites, as well as business hours and costs associated with the attraction. For more information, click here.

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2. Skype

Skype is always a good choice when you are going to be away from your loved ones for an extended period of time. Skype allows you to make voice and video calls to other Skype users for free. This comes in handy when you are half way around the world and want to see your mother or the dogs you left behind. Skype does a great job of taking the edge off of homesickness. Not to mention it will save you a great deal of money on international calls. Sign up for a free Skype account here.

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3. Viber

Viber is another free way for you to keep in touch with those closer ones back home. Viber is like WhatsApp, only it allows you to make calls as well and it is free, unlike WhatsApp which costs $0.99 in the iTunes App Store. You can also send text messages to anyone who also has the app installed on their phone. It is hard to break the habit of texting when you move abroad, so avoid paying for international text messages by using viber. Viber is available on most operating systems including iPhone OS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, and Nokia. You can find more information here.

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4. Google Translate

If you are moving to a city where English is not the primary language, Google Translate is a great app to have. Although it is not perfect at translating whole sentences or paragraphs, it gets the job done when you are in the market trying to figure out what kind of milk to buy or if you’re trying to read the directions on your new shampoo. Try the web version to see how you like it. You can also try Interpret, which combines Google and Bing’s search engines.

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5. Snapchat

Snapchat is a free app that allows you to take pictures and short videos and send them to your friends who are also using Snapchat. The catch – your friend can only view the picture or video for a short amount of time (10 seconds or less). So, you can take silly pictures of yourself without worrying whether your friend will blackmail you with it later. For example, if you set the timer to only 3 seconds, once that picture is opened, your friend has exactly 3 seconds to look at it. Once the time has expired, the picture or video is gone forever. More information here.

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6. Google Maps

One great thing about the Google Maps app – you don’t have to have internet for it to find you. This means if you are lost in a city, you can pull up the app and find out exactly where you are without paying data roaming fees.

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7. Hostel World 

Thinking about traveling throughout Europe while you’re studying abroad? Hostel World is a good app to have! It gives you access to thousands of places to stay, as well as reviews, descriptions, and photos. Check out their website here.

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8. Converter Plus (Free)

Afraid you are going to make a fatal mistake by trying to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head? Converter Plus allows you to convert anything you need: currency, temperatures, distances, weight, and more. This is very helpful when you’ve just been given directions in kilometers and you have no idea how far you’re supposed to walk before making that right hand turn.

Check out our Facebook page for more helpful information for students studying abroad!

Did we miss one? Tell us what apps are best for you in the comments!