How to: Visit Venice on a student budget

Glamorous vacations are overrated. While you may look fabulous in that photo at your swanky hotel, nothing beats the feeling of knowing that you (and only you) are funding your own holiday. It may not be as luxurious as what you're used to when you're tagging along with mom and dad, but you'll learn to appreciate the little things that make a vacation so special.

But it isn't easy. While being a student (usually) gives you the freedom to take a long weekend week off to travel, it definitely doesn't afford you the money to do so without cringing a little bit once you look at your account balance. Trust me: been there, done that.

It is possible, though, to travel on a student budget. And even more surprisingly, it's entirely possible to travel on a student budget to a notoriously expensive city- like Venice.

When my boyfriend and I initially booked our flights to Venice, I don't think I realized just how expensive it would be. From Vaporetto tickets to pricey dinners, the romantic sentiment of a weekend in Venice quickly dissipated as we realized that we would have to be surviving on toast for the weeks following our trip.

But, with a few days of research, we found that we could actually get around this financial problem and ultimately enjoy our vacation. Here's how we did it:

Stay on the island of Lido // Your best bet with finding at least a reasonably priced hotel is to stay on the island of Lido, which is just a 15 minute ferry ride from St. Marks Square (the main tourist hub of Venice). While staying on the main island may have its perks, Lido provides a much-needed sanctuary away from the bustle of the city centre. Plus, it's a lot cheaper! We were able to book a hotel (yes, a hotel- not a hostel!) for just €11 per night each. Hotel Reiter provided us with just what we needed for our three nights in Venice- that is, a place to sleep and some peace and quiet. 

Another great aspect of the Lido? Well, since it's not as touristy as the main island of Venice,  it's the perfect place for some authentic Italian food. We both agreed that La Taverna made the best pizza ever and was our favorite restaurant of them all. You know it's going to be a good restaurant when the menu is in Italian and a litre of prosecco is only €11. Let's just say we went back a second time on our last night of the trip.   

Buy a multi-day Vaporetto pass // At first glance, traveling on the Vaparetto (a  network of public water ferries ) seems expensive. Like crazy expensive. But, it's a necessary evil- especially if you're planning on visiting one of the outlying islands or don't really fancy walking from one end of the Venice to the other. Luckily the good folks at ACTV, who run most of the Vaporetto, actually like students and young people and provide them with a substantial discount on tickets. My real advice here is not to buy individual tickets or pay as you go. By buying a multi-day pass (we got the three day for €28) you'll save time and energy, and get the most bang for your buck.  

Picnic on the canal // While I do love a good restaurant, the bright and sunny weather of Venice made picnicking on the canal the most pleasant (and most financially savvy) option. With such wonderful in-season produce at the grocery stores, you're truly missing out if you don't sample at least some of it. Some of our best meals in Venice were had with our feet dangling over the water, soaking up the sun, and munching on coppa, breadsticks, and oranges.

Another traditionally Venetian canal-side meal is called "cicchetti," which consists of various snacks and sandwiches with a bit of "spritz" to drink. For only 1.50 per piece, you can have a light meal of bruschetta topped with roasted vegetables, prosciutto, or tuna tartare. And for the same price you can be getting tipsy by the canal with a classic spritz: aperol, wine, orange and soda water. Or you can make a dinner of it and go on a bar crawl (I'd recommend the Cannaregio area for this- particularly near the Jewish Ghetto) trying the different cicchetti on offer and having a spritz or glass of wine at each bar.

Book a free walking tour // We booked onto this tour just a few days before we left, but I have to say that I'm so glad we did! This isn't your regular walking tour- that is, the tour guides don't take you around to the tourist sights such as St. Marks Basilica or the Rialto Bridge. In fact, each guide takes you on a unique tour of Venice which encourages sustainable tourism. The guides emphasized that while Venice is a tourist hub of the world, it is important to support the local economy rather than the touristic one. I thought that our guide, Elena, did a fantastic job showing us the hidden corners of Venice while also explaining the history of the city in a clear and engaging way. If you're looking for a way to fill up three hours of your day for free, this is definitely the tour for you!

Wander aimlessly // While having a guided tour is all well and good, there's something to be said for getting lost in a city you don't know too well. Venice is unique in that you can be in St. Marks Square surrounded by hundreds of people, and then take a sharp turn down a narrow alleyway and find yourself alone and in utter silence. But you have to be willing to get lost to have these moments of tranquility. The best part is, once you wander far enough off the beaten path, you're more likely to find that little gem of a restaurant or that extra special artisan shop that you wouldn't have found otherwise. Or you may just find yourself sat along the side of the canal with not a gondola in sight.

Venice is a truly magical city. It takes your breath away no matter how many times you've been before, and promises to surprise you every time. And despite the high prices that may cause you to hesitate to book your visit, it is entirely possible to enjoy this wonderful city on a student budget.

P.S. We made a cheesy little holiday video to share with family and friends, so I thought I would share it here as well!


No Heels Allowed: An American's experience learning how to reel

I am in no way shape or form a "dancer." While I can do the cotton eye joe like there's no tomorrow (major shoutout to learning this bar mitzvah classic in elementary school gym class), the last time I did the whip/nae-nae I broke my dress strap in front of my friends (#truestory). And while I love a good ceilidh, I would be totally lost without the head of the band calling out the dance steps.

So why did I pick up reeling this past September? Well, to be honest it was because the guy I was dating (now my boyfriend) invited me along to reeling practice one Tuesday night and I really wanted to impress him.

But now, I reel because I love it. I genuinely enjoy being spun around until I'm dizzy by complete strangers. I take pride in knowing how to do some of the dances without making any mistakes. Plus, I've made some amazingly good friends through reeling.

The beautiful venue of the White Tie Reeling Ball
Photo credit: Oliver Buchanan Photography

So what exactly is reeling? I've been asked this same question by Scottish, English, and American people alike. In short, it's just like ceilidh dancing but more formal and with a lot more spinning. And if you don't know what ceilidh dancing is, I'd say reeling is comparable to square dancing but faster paced and 100 times more fun.

Here's a bit of history for you: Reeling is a type of folk dancing that originated in Scotland, with the first record of the dance dating back to 1590. Reeling could very well be older than this, perhaps dating back to the Middle Ages. While Scotland can claim reeling as its own, the dance is also practiced in Ireland and England, and has a strong influence on American square dancing.

Okay, history lesson over. Onto the dancing. I think it's really hard to get an idea of what reeling is without doing it or seeing it. So I thought I'd show you guys with a professional video as well as a snippet from my snapchat story:

Just some pros- I'm not this good.

All the twirly dresses!

See? Lots of spinning. And clapping. And sometimes howling and shouting (note: this gets messier the more drunk everyone gets). One of my favorite parts of this whole reeling thing, though, is that it's not all just Scottish country dancing. We throw a little rock and roll/swing in there too. Just watch:

Kinda cringey but I never said I was a good dancer ;) 

All of this weekly practicing leads up to one major event: the white tie reeling ball. Everyone gets dressed up in the most formal attire and heads over to a beautiful venue (the Hub) for a night of dancing, drinking, and all around good fun. 

The men look dashing as ever in their tails, and the ladies get to wear long flowy gowns. But it's really all about practicality when it comes to what you wear-straps are an absolute must, as is a nicely tailored dress that doesn't drag on the floor. And the most important part? Wearing flats. You definitely don't want to be worrying about balancing on those stilletos when you really should be worrying about what the next step in the dance is. Trust me- I wore flats for the entire night and my feet still hurt. I can't imagine what it would have been like in heels.       

All dressed up.

Let me tell you, I was so nervous for this ball. I know it sounds kinda lame, but the thing is we had to know the dances by name and be able to just do them right then and there. Plus, you have to get your dance card all filled out with names of your partners before the dancing even starts. This was giving me major flashbacks to middle school events where you had to be "picked" to dance. Even though I did some of the asking this time, trying to pick out my friends from the crowd of hundreds of people was no easy feat.  

But in the end, it all turned out fine (of course). I had my dance card all filled out and managed to get through every dance without too many mistakes. Most importantly, I didn't fall on my face (thank you flat shoes) and had tons of fun! By 3 AM when the ball had finished, I was a tired, sweaty, but happy mess. It was a near miracle that my straightened hair managed to survive the night- even though my feet didn't.   

This all just goes to show that if you try something new, you might reel-y enjoy it! 

(Sorry, this post was just asking for a ridiculously cheesy pun)


I Am A Runner, No Matter How I Look: The food-related pressures of being a female runner.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an interesting article circulating around my newsfeed being shared by some of my current running mates. Titled "Hopeful, Hungry and Chasing a Lie," the piece highlights the food-related pressures that competitive female runners face that- at their worst- cause them to develop eating disorders. I found this to be an incredibly eye-opening piece that I really related to, so I thought I would share my own thoughts and experiences here on the blog. While I have never personally had an eating disorder, I have seen and felt the effects of the pressure to "look a certain way" as a runner.   

I don't look like a runner.

I don't have a flat stomach, a long and lean body, or the muscular limbs that other girls do.

I don't always "eat clean," plan my meals around my workouts, or bake "healthy" desserts.

But I am still a runner. And I have been for nine years of my life.

I still struggle every time I step foot on the starting line. I see the girls with the flat stomachs, the ones wearing crop tops and barely there shorts. I look at them knowing that I could never pull that look off because of my little belly pudge. And usually, these girls are fast. This makes me think that maybe if I looked that way, at least on the outside, that I would be as fast as them.

I've seen this all before; it's not anything new. Ever since high school, what I ate was always something I was self conscious about- particularly when it came to running competitively. Back then I was faster. I was on the girls varsity cross country team where the top 10 fastest girls were set to do different training than the rest of the team. We trained with one another, had exclusive movie nights together, and had hair dying sessions as a group.

We all wanted to fit in with one another, and even though our "varsity" status brought us together naturally, there was pressure to do what everyone else on the squad was doing. When one girl suggested that we completely cut sugar out of our diets for weeks before a major cross country race, she wasn't met with any protest. In fact, a lot of girls climbed on board with her idea. I didn't follow along- maybe that's because I knew better, but maybe it was because I just couldn't bear the thought of not having any sugar. I saw the girls who changed their diets drastically get weaker and slower, struggling to finish workouts.

At University, the story is somewhat similar. Our monthly all-girls potlucks are what I look forward to after a long race and an even longer week. But there's always "talk" about the food. We can't just enjoy it without discussing who's now a vegan, a vegetarian, or dairy-free. Specialized diets seem to be becoming the norm among my peers- of course, not all of them for "health" reasons (allergies and environmental issues justifiably come into play here too).

While I don't mean to sound accusatory of my fellow runners, I don't think girls realize how much pressure we're putting on each other by constantly chatting about the contents of our plates and trying to one-up each other in the health department. As runners, we are naturally competitive- and I think that definitely shows in how we talk about food. I can't deny the pressure I feel as a runner to get flat abs, to eat the "right" foods, and to Instagram that perfectly healthy brunch that doesn't contain gluten, sugar, or dairy.

And because I don't do these things, I ask myself: Am doing this whole "being a runner" thing right?

I'm not trying to skinny-shame girls who are thin or who choose to alter their diets. What I think is wrong is when girls restrict their diets to appear skinner and sacrifice their health for the sake of what probably will turn out to be just a few "faster" races. Even more so, I think it is wrong for girls to pressure one another, whether that is consciously or unconsciously.

I don't think what my teammates did in high school and what they do now in University are done with poor intentions (and, in all fairness, my current running mates and I will never say no to some post-race cake). However, I think we need to support one another in whatever our nutrition related decisions are while also encouraging each other to make healthy decisions- not restrictive ones.

We need to stop thinking that this heavily food-conscious mindset isn't a problem. Far too often we excuse it as being "just the way runners are." But giving in to these restrictive diets for the sake of looking a certain way isn't healthy, and it definitely isn't normal.

Food isn't the enemy, and I wish girls who run would stop acting like it is. The skinnier girl on the starting line is not the enemy either- you do not have to look like her to be faster.

I, for one, am proud of what my body can do far more than what it looks like. And I intend to keep it that way.


Financial Fitness: 5 tips to survive college on a budget

College students being financially savvy is like Kim Kardashian not being trending on Facebook. It just doesn't happen. And, if I'm honest, I personally haven't been the best when it comes to being in the know financially. But now that I've been receiving loans, managing rent, and paying bills I've realized how important being in control of your finances really is.

Being "financially fit" is not something that is taught in school- rather, it's something learned through experiences (both good and bad). So it's up to us as University students to take responsibility of our money and educate ourselves about how to make the best financial decisions- whether that's by having one less drink at the bar or setting up a credit card and learning how to manage it.

This week, I was introduced to Credit Card Insider- a valuable resource for students looking to up their financial fitness- to bring you 5 of my own tips on how to survive college on a budget. In this post I'll be talking about the "big things" you can do to better manage your finances, as well as the "little things" that'll help you save money.

Get informed // If you don't know how your finances work, then how can you start saving money? You can only ignore the sad but true fact that University is expensive for so long before it comes back to bite you. Talk to your parents or a financial representative at your University to figure out how much your tuition costs, how many loans you're taking on, and how much money your parents are contributing. Thinking about your future will really help put things into perspective so that you can start setting both large and small financial goals. Ignorance is bliss, but it isn't exactly productive!

Save your pennies // One of the small financial steps that I take in my everyday life is to keep a jar for my loose change. I mean, how often do you really use pennies? But they are worth something. Any coins that aren't of use to me (under .50) I empty out of my wallet and into the jar. It's surprising how quickly these small bits of change can add up. I haven't decided what I'm actually going to do with this extra money, but it's always helpful when I need change for the bus.

Set reasonable goals- and reward yourself! // Maybe you're not responsible for paying your own rent and loans, or maybe you are. Either way, you can set savings goals for yourself and use at least part of those savings for something fun! As young people, we don't have nearly as many financial responsibilities as "real" adults. By setting goals and rewarding yourself for them, you can practice managing your finances in a small way. One of my personal favorite "rewards" to save up for is a mini vacation! Wherever you're going doesn't have to be crazy expensive, but think about how your currency measures up to theirs. An expensive flight far away might actually get you more bang for your buck once you're there because accommodation and food aren't very expensive.

Be your own barista // It's no secret that college students count on caffeine for their mere survival. Whether it's Starbucks, Costa, or that hipster hole in the wall that only sells "artisan" coffee, everyone has their guilty pleasure. But these places will charge you a lot for something you could easily make at home. And don't even get me started on how much it irks me when people buy tea from one of these places- it's just a tea bag and hot water! Totally not worth the £2. For the best coffee maker out there, invest in a French Press, or my personal favorite a Bialleti to take your coffee making skills to the next level. At just around £20 (depending on size), a Bialleti will give you that pure coffee taste at the fraction of the price of a Keurig, or 10 trips to your local Starbys.

Consider a credit card // Not many students out their consider credit cards to be a valuable way of managing their finances, and most don't tend to get one until they're well into adulthood! However, if you know your options, and are well informed about how to build credit without going into debt, a credit card can be very useful in your everyday life. Learning about credit cards can be intimidating, but Credit Card Insider can help with their student information pages, tailored to the needs of college students looking to get a credit card. Whether or not you think a credit card is in your near future, it's really important to know how they work for when you eventually bite the bullet!
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