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Blonde Gone International #10: I call more than one place ‘Home’

I am a girl gone international because I call more than one place ‘Home’ – Girl GI

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When do you call a place home? Is it when it is the address on your ID? Is it when it is the place where you sleep most often? Or is it more conceptual than that? Is it a person? Is it a feeling?

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where mom is.

Home is where you’re wifi automatically connects.

Home is where I can run around with my eyes closed. 

There are a lot of such combinations around online. But the only thing what matters is what it means to you. I’m curious to know how many places you call home!

For me, it is quite complicated. I have lived in many places for varied periods of time: Mechelen, Paris, London, Barcelona, Bhubaneswar, New York… I wouldn’t call all these “places” home though.

Mechelen is where I grew up, where I went to school, where most of my family lives… I lived through highs and lows here, achieved milestones here, spent most of my time here. I have a deep connection with ‘my’ city. Of course this is a home to me. But within this city, I have three places I call home. My friends never know where I am when I say “I’m home”. Am I with mom? Am I with dad? Am I with grandma? It can get quite complicated, even for me!

I lived in a host family in Paris for two weeks. But it feels less like a home than London, where I also used to live for two weeks in a host family, to whom I have returned multiple times already and where I am always welcomed as a second daughter. Nevertheless, London still feels more like a place of discovery than a home.

Barcelona, on the other hand, is home to me. The city itself. I lived in one host family for a month for a language course and another 6 months when I did my Erasmus exchange. The smells, the atmosphere, the streets, the general views… Barcelona is home. Every trip I came back from, I was happy to step out of the plane, out of the bus, and smell the Barcelonean air. I knew I was, totally, home.

India is home. Although it is more complicated than that, again. I will never truly fit in in a country where I look too different, don’t speak the language, can’t handle the spiciness of the food, and will never completely understand the culture. But I sometimes say: it’s the people that make the place. And this is truly so for India. My friends have made a place that is often called hell-hole by people my age home. I reached milestones here, I changed, I learned, I fell in love, I was pushed out of my comfort zone so many times… I have family here now, too. India is definitely home. And yes, the fact that the arms, that so often held me, are still there is a big part of this feeling. (Gosh, now I’m gotta be careful not to get too emotional! Moving on!)

Lastly, New York. I easily found a routine here, but I wouldn’t call the Big Apple my home. NYC is like one big system. When you live here, you are just one of its many moving parts. I loved the vibe, the pace, the atmosphere that airs an everything is possible if you work hard enough and can keep up attitude. But because of this, it will never feel like home. It was too much like a movie. Surreal.

To me…

Home is where I can be myself. Home is where I lived, changed, where I made the most memorable memories. 

Where/Who/What do you call home? 

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Blonde Gone International #9: My FB feed is in 6 different languages

I am a girl gone international because my Facebook newsfeed is in 6 different languages – Girl GI

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Dutch, English, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili… These are the languages that most often adorn my Facebook feed.

When you travel, or meet foreigners in other ways, you add them on Facebook to keep in touch, right? So obviously, you’re feed will get a multicultural edge as well.

Honestly, I think this is what makes my feed interesting. Not the content itself – because really, people post a lot of bullshit online these days (and that is not excluding myself) – but the variety of people.

Having such a wide range of different kinds of people, from all over the world, talking in so many languages, sharing news from all over the globe and how they feel about it… Who needs to watch the news?!  When you can get it straight from the people who are affected by it…

Being someone who loves to learn new things, new languages also, I find my Facebook feed so incredibly interesting. Recently, I took up learning Hindi as a new language. To practice, I often scroll through comments of my Indian friends and try to pick up the words I know or try to pronounce their sentences out loud till I get it right. It is also a nice way to see when I need to refresh my Spanish.

I love watching pictures and videos from my fellow travelers. Besides this, Facebook is also a good way to find out if anyone you haven’t seen for months or even years is in town. So I can catch them and meet up.

Even though I may waste too much time scrolling through Facebook, it is such a handy medium in so many ways…

I’m curious! Which languages do you see while scrolling through your Facebook feed?

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Blonde Gone International #8: My friends come and go

I am a girl gone international because my friends come and goGirl GI

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In general, we can say people move in and out of our lives all the time. Friends come and go. But if you travel, this process seems to happen at a whole other rate.

Nomadic Matt recently wrote a recognizable blog post on this topic: Traveling and the Art of Losing Friends.

I haven’t lost friends because I was gone for too long, but I have noticed people like me less because many of my stories or replies start when “When I was in…”. I don’t do that to make people jealous or to brag or anything like that. It’s just that my stories abroad are sometimes usually the most interesting.

Never having had a lot of friends in terms of numbers – one of the perks of being an introvert – I have had a group of steady friends. All of them have gone to different universities after high school, but we still see each other every few months and it’s always like we saw each just the other week. These are my true friends and I can honestly say they will be for a long time to come. No matter where our lives are headed when we all graduate, move, start working… I don’t think our friendship will fade.

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However, long-term travelers do know the issue of coming home after a few weeks or months and noticing that their “friends” don’t feel like meeting up, don’t contact them… basically, you feel like you have to make every effort and it’s mostly all for nothing. It must be like Hello! I’m right here, people! and your “friends” just roll their eyes and move on. That idea is kind of frightening, isn’t it? No one likes to be truly alone.

Traveling makes you realize who your real friends are. They are the ones who care. They are happy to see you excited for your next adventures and will ask how’s it going while you’re away. When you return, they won’t let you down. They’ll help you settle back in and are just as happy to share with you what they’ve been up to and as they’ll gladly listen and ask questions about your (mis)adventures.

The point is: don’t let the possibility of losing “friends” stop you from living your dream.

Besides, who doesn’t want a friend who travels? They are so useful to have! Friends-who-travel can give you all the insider-tips on how to pack a carry-on, where to eat and what places to avoid.

Have a wanderful day!

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Blonde Gone International #7: I choose experiences over things

I am a girl gone international, because I choose experiences over thingsGirl GI

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While on Erasmus, my priorities gradually changed. I used to rather materialistic. I can be honest about this. This was intensified during primary school and most of secondary school, when I was bullied for my choice of clothing, the bags I carried, the brands of food I ate…

The things you owned defined you – that’s what I believed. Of course, it might be common for a teenage girl to think like this. But even when I started studying at the university, I still believed that I needed the best of the best in order not to be laughed at again.

While in Barcelona, however, my priorities shifted. Why pay €20 for a handbag when I could drive to Valencia for the same price? Why buy dresses and jewelry when I can use the same money to do city trips? And the more I traveled and visited new places, the stronger this new belief grew.

Suddenly, experiences became of more value to me than stuff. There’s this quote that I believe is absolutely true: “Traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” If you compare values and ROI’s – sorry, this is my academic side kicking in – you will see greater results from spending your money on traveling than on stuff.

Even more so, there is a positive correlation between traveling and buying behavior: the more you travel, the less stuff you need. Buying a new handbag while you have a perfectly good one seems so insignificant when every new place you visit, every person you meet there and all of the moments you experience will teach you so much more.

And these last few things – no one can take these away from you. These are the things that truly define you as a person. Clothes don’t change you. Experiences do. They enrich you.

Indeed, I’ll choose experiences over things almost any day of the week. I say almost because I’m a girl and I do still like to look good. I mean, duh.

Have a wanderful day!

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Do you feel like traveling has made you richer? Do you choose things over experiences?

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Blonde Gone International #6: I like to be able to pretend I am on holiday 365 days a year

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Spring has sprung. My first afternoon working outside on the terrace – with a big glass of ice tea on the rocks to cool me down – is already behind me and I’m finally getting back in the holiday-mood. Sort of.

I am someone who always wants to do things on her own terms – no matter what it is. What this means, is that I like to take it easy and pretend that I’m on vacation all year round – yeah, I am one of those people who can’t stop working even when on holiday, so that doesn’t change anything. During the winter months, though, pretending becomes slightly more difficult, so I’m happy that the sun is warming up my little, rainy Belgium again. (Or it was, until this week…)

This school year, traveling has been pretty much off the table for me. I went to Cologne in October and that was kind of the last time I really traveled anywhere. Traveling is a holiday for me – a time to relax – but it’s also hard work. Being away from routine, bad influences and “the real world” is the relaxing part. The “working” part is researching my destination, finding out how to get from point A to point B and how to visit as many sights as possible in the limited time I have. But most of all, meeting new people as an introvert is what drains me of most of my energy. Not to mention that I tend to take my actual work with me when traveling so as not to feel too guilty.

Following this trail of thought, my last trip would have been my two weeks in Spain during the Christmas holidays. I didn’t get to do much relaxing, since I was trying to study most of the time and the rest of it I was either entertaining guests or translating Dutch-English-Spanish construction vocab words.

No wonder I’m looking forward to a real holiday by now!

But like I said, when the sun shines on the red roofs of the Belgian houses, I can convince even myself to feel like I’m on holiday. It’s almost like a survival instinct or something. I move to my grandma’s terrace, pour myself a glass of ice tea, jump into a bikini and sit out in the sun with my study books. In all honesty, this is just the way I work best. What charges a battery better than solar energy anyway?

How do you pretend to be on holiday when you’re not actually on one? Or do you just not?

Blonde Gone International #5: I’d rather travel the world than be stuck in the office

I’m a girl gone international because I’d rather travel the world than be stuck in the office Girl GI

bgiYou know who I’m sometimes jealous of? Freelancers. I’ve noticed that, besides full-time blogging, travel bloggers usually do some freelance work on the side. I mean, you gotta pay for everything, right? From reading others’ posts on the subject, I have learned that blogging doesn’t make you rich. Even the best bloggers out there have to really think about what they spend. Good thing they’re open about this. I tend to get my head up in the clouds real quick, even though my intention never was – nor is it now – to make blogging my profession. This is my hobby and I’d hate for me to get bored with it because I have to do it.

Anyways, I’m not an office kind of person.

I am a total city girl, who absolutely did not like nature. I mean, when I had to be in it. Like for hikes and stuff. This changed a bit when I went to university. The first two years I had to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve at home for the first time ever instead of going to far away countries (or skiing in the Alps). I had to study for my exams in January. Depressed by not seeing the sun for so long, I devoured any ray of sun that glided over my grandparents terrace starting in March. That’s how I learned that I study best outside in the sun. Whether it’s the fresh air or the Vitamine D or both, I don’t know.

So, I still wouldn’t say I like nature – except when it’s 100% my own decision to go for a hike, like I did in the hills in Scotland last year – but I do love to be outdoors. And to choose my own hours to do all of my work. Basically, I don’t like to be told what to do and I’ve found that, when I do things because I want to do them, the result will be a lot better and I’ll feel satisfied. But maybe that’s just me.

I do wish the whole world could be my office though. I want to study with a view of the ocean in Bali one month and of the vineyards of California the next. Sort of speak. But what kind of freelancing would I do? Translating? Travel journalism? Certainly not web developing. I tried to learn CSS once and I didn’t get past making my text red or blue.

Anyways, I would love to have a job later that allows me to travel around the world – either for work or for pleasure. I’d make the most of what I’d got, especially because I’m still young. By the time I’m old, I’ll probably have to work until I’m 70, all wrinkled and suffering from artritis! I should enjoy the time to be young, and healthy, and strong to chase my dreams. And my dream is to work my way around the world.

Is it your dream to travel the world?

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Blonde Gone International #4: I Love Traveling Alone

I am a girl gone international, because I love traveling alone Girl GI

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I was almost not going to post this one (because of the spelling error), but then I decided this one was too important to let go. Plus, I like the picture. Now, let’s be real: this blog wouldn’t be here without my Erasmus experience. I wouldn’t be who I am today without my 5 months in Barcelona. And I’m pretty sure I would not love traveling alone if I hadn’t had the chance to do it while I was in Spain.

I went out to see the world for the first time by myself in September 2013. It was the right place, the right time and I had met the right people. Basically, the right things had happened and everything fell into place. It was now or never.

I was ready for a big change. And boy did I get one!

The (in)famous disease called wanderlust. O, who am I kidding? I don’t call wanderlust a disease. I call it a blessing.

I hadn’t heard of it before I actually started traveling. A lot of people want to see for themselves if they’ll get bitten, but I found the name for my virus a couple of months after I was “infected”.

Taking the step to travel alone has opened my eyes to a whole new world – literally and figuratively. I see a lot of things differently now. I’ve changed and – in my humble opinion – I think for the better. I’ve become more confident, I’ve learned about people and I know how to take care of myself (besides that I still can’t cook or wash my clothes, but I have survived until now, haven’t I?).

I have always been wary of people in general. I don’t trust people easily and, basically, I’m a total introvert. I’m not saying I’ve become an extrovert just because of traveling, but I don’t shun strangers as much as I used to. This is for a great part thanks to my student job as a promo girl in Belgium (a job in which you have to actively start talking to strangers). But trusting people was still incredible hard – unimaginable almost – to me.

But like I said, I met the right people that summer. They taught me about Couchsurfing (what it is and how to do it), but I also learned that they are the couchsurfers. And I liked these people, so who was to say that I wouldn’t like the others?

Can you imagine how big a step this was for me? To not just talk to strangers, but go live in a house with them for a couple of days, while I was all alone in a foreign country? It was hard, but I was lucky. I was lucky that my first experiences traveling alone and couchsurfing were as close to perfect as possible. This is when it happened: wanderlust.

I can’t get enough of traveling. I’ve fallen hard, I’m still falling – I love traveling alone.

How was your first time traveling alone? If you haven’t done it, would you ever?

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Blonde Gone International #3: I have more ex-cities than ex-boyfriends

I am a girl gone international because I have more ex-cities than ex-boyfriends – Girl GI

Blonde Gone International

The fact that I have more ex-cities (50? 60? 100?) than ex-boyfriends is probably a good thing. Don’t you think? I mean, if the amounts would level up (or be higher *swallow*) than I’d be called the S-word.

This statement by Girl GI is one that made me think of something else. Not having a boyfriend when you love to travel alone as a girl is both a blessing and unfortunate. I don’t know, because I’m not a guy, but I assume some of them may feel the same way as us, girls, about this. (I’m not going to push you to answer!)

I’ve been traveling all my life – at first always with my dad and brother, but since a little more than a year, I also travel by myself. From friend’s experiences mostly, I know that it is (or used to be) hard to leave your boyfriend behind when you had to go on a holiday with your parents or with your friends. Luckily, I’ve never had to experience this. However, I do know what it’s like to leave a guy you like behind to go on a holiday (with your family). Not knowing what might be going on while you’re away, knowing you can’t do anything about it if something does, it’s frustrating. You may think of the time you could be spending together at home or – and this is more likely I think – about the things you could be doing or places you could be discovering together at your destination. I can honestly say I have never traveled with a boyfriend, but, as a girl, it is something I dream about doing someday. Who doesn’t, even if it’s the other way around?

On the other hand, not having a boyfriend while you travel gives you a lot of freedom. When you don’t have to leave anyone behind, you don’t have to worry about making guy friends – pictures taken of you could make him jealous or could be wrongly interpreted. Or, who knows, you might meet someone on the road! Moreover, traveling with your boyfriend is often considered to be the perfect relationship test. When you’re not at home, you tend to behave differently – do you still like each other this way? Also, you can discover whether you are really as compatible as you think – do you have the same interests and ways of traveling? Can you work along even when you have different opinions?

Boyfriend or not, I am still looking for the perfect travel companion. I absolutely love to travel alone, but there are some places in the world that I’d like to discover with someone by my side. Defining the perfect travel companion is a hard – maybe even an impossible – thing to do and doing it will be something for another day.

Is your boyfriend/husband your perfect travel companion?

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Blonde Gone International #2: I never run out of stories to tell

I am girl gone international because… I never run out of stories to tell.Girl GI

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When somebody tells me a story, many of my replies more or less go by this formula: “I can totally relate. When I was in X, I experienced the same thing!

I have been blogging for a year before I started Blonde Gone Travel and I am still not done telling the world about my international experieces. Even more so, I don’t think I’ll run out of stories any time soon, because I’m not done looking for adventures yet.

Even though my bucketlist is twice as long as my list of achievements – and still expands gradually – there are still a lot of things I want to share with all of you. There are a few people (from bloggers to athletes, from engineers to celebrities or even friends and family) who inspire me and have challenged me to do things I’d never have done if it weren’t for them. I want to inspire people, give them valuable first-hand information, entertain them and simply be there for them when they need it. It’s a trial and error thing, but I learn from my mistakes. I am aware that these are very ambitious goals to set for myself.

The last two years, especially girls my age have come to me to ask how the hell I am able to 1) afford traveling and especially 2) to do it all by myself. I have told them stories about the good and bad experiences I’ve had. The good ones are meant to encourage them. The bad ones are a reality-check and keep them with their feet on the ground. I always end by saying that you have to decide for yourself what you want, what the minimum is you can live with and how you’re going to make it happen. It’s your choice, your life and your responsibility.

My blogs are meant to reach out to those people I can’t speak to in person. And, frankly, I also blog because, basically, I like to write and I like to share. Whether I’m doing it right – probably not. But I’m not sure if there is a right way to blog anyway?

By now, I have shared with you about 15 achievements – stories basically – from my bucketlist and I have made my Erasmus Diary public for you and for future Erasmus participants who want to see a different way to enjoy such an exchange. I didn’t participate in any ESN activity or events by similar organisations (note: I don’t have anything against such organisations; they’re just not for me). Instead, I discovered my host country and the neighboring nations. Even though Because I traveled by myself, I got to meet a lot of people, some of whom I still have contact with (long live Facebook!), and got to know the cities I visited from a local’s point of view.

What it all comes down to is this: traveling turns you into a free library with a lot of interesting stories worth telling. People can come to you, pick a book and decide which chapter they want to look at in detail (footnotes included).

Do you know what it’s like to never be able to shut up about your travel stories?

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Blonde Gone International #1: Even simple tasks become an adventure

I am a girl gone international because… even simple tasks become an adventure. Girl 

I am sure many of you will have experienced this at least once, haven’t you? When you travel, things that seem normal and are part of a daily routine suddenly become bothersome and you wonder if these tasks are even worth the trouble or the risk.

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Charging Electronic Devices

When I think of “simple tasks”, the first thing that comes into mind is to charge my electronic devices. This is a daily task, isn’t it? I usually have to charge my phone twice a day by now. Then there’s my laptop, my iPad and my Kobo e-reader. Finding enough power outlets at home can be a struggle! Let’s just say I am not the only gadget freak in the family. Can you imagine the trouble I have when I travel (or especially when I travel with my family)? Not only am I constantly searching for outlets, sometimes I even have to remind myself to bring an adapter (and may or may not forget to bring one) or I just didn’t take it with me when going out and about.

How come my battery dies so fast during the day? Well, because I use it for everything. My phone is like my pocketknife so to speak. It is simultaneously my alarm clock, calculator, music player, video and photo camera, GPS and connection with the world. Being used constantly, I’d get tired too.

Figure out Currencies

Before I had a smartphone, though, I had to calculate the difference between currencies without apps like ex currency. Besides that, trying to locate and determine the right coins when you’re at the cash register while there’s a really long line behind you can be stressful sometimes! I try to “practice” as much as possible at work (I work as a student in the international airport of Brussels).

Water, Food, Brands, Wi-Fi

There are so many other things that are straightforward and don’t need a special thought when you do them at home, but that become a worry when you’re abroad. For example, you have to check whether the water from the tap is drinkable or at least healthy enough to use after you’ve brushed your teeth. And also, what foods are edible (and by edible I mean spicy-but-not-Asian-standards-spicy, no dog meat and not poisonous)? What if I can’t find my regular brand of soda – do I keep on looking for it or do I try to find a reasonable equivalent? And honestly, who doesn’t still have trouble finding Wi-Fi in some places?

Dress code

As I am going to Morocco in a few weeks, I have been wondering – besides whether there will be enough Wi-Fi to suit my need for connectedness – what the dress code is. Usually, when I travel, I don’t really worry about ‘dress codes’. The only thing I take into account is that I’m comfortable and not too hot or too cold during the day. But then I wondered, can I wear shorts and skirts in a Muslim country or is it considered inappropriate there? I have never had to worry about this before and am browsing the Internet for answers…

Gibberish

As for the languages spoken in foreign countries, people find the simple task of saying their name – and potentially spelling it out – to become one of the hardest, most annoying things ever. My first name is quite universally known, I think – even though at a Starbucks in London they spelled it Clouddear instead of Claudia – but it is my last name which seems to be a difficult one. Nobody gets it right the first time. I have seen and heard the funniest versions!

Even though some of these things are a bore and even though you get used to some of the recurring ones, the difficulties you face on the road – however big or small – are part of the experience. Knowing how to deal with them without making it “a cure against the travel bug” is what makes you ‘a traveler’. You can’t let one little speck on a otherwise clean slate spoil your trip. It is an adventure and you’ll be wiser afterward.

Have you ever experienced any of these things before? Have some simple tasks seemed more difficult to you on the road?