Three Weeks, One Country & Too Few Hours to Survive It

For a young and mostly independent woman like myself, nothing excites and frightens me more than travel.

I knew I needed to start traveling early in my life, so I signed up for one of my universities many study abroad programmes. (Oh, look! English spelling influences) I returned from my freshman year of college and immediately signed up for as many hours at work as my boss could allow. Working a lovely 20 hours a week, I saved over $1,100 for food, shopping & misc., and my parents (very x 100,000) generously paid for my room & board and assisted with my plane tickets.

My destination: University of Oxford in Oxford, England.

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Look at that view. Boomer Sooner in front of the Camera! (Note: The Camera I am referencing is actually the dome shaped building behind me)
Yes, that Oxford. Specifically the College of Brasenose of Oxford University. It’s as prestigious and beautiful and old as you imagine. Beautiful spires and church bells echoing in the cobblestones streets, and sunsets lighting the city, making a romantic atmosphere of the best National Geographic.

One of the benefits of this programme was the independence it allowed students. With the three-hour courses meeting Tuesdays through Thursday and no itineraries from the professors, students could make as many (or few) plans to travel anywhere they could afford. Many groups travelled to other parts of the U.K., including Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels in Belgium.

With all these opportunities to explore and the responsibilities of class still present, I learned many things about England, travel and most importantly, myself.

Too High Maintenance for Hostels

For those who do not know what hostels are (God knows I didn’t know before this trip), a hostel is an inexpensive version of a hotel that focus its services to students, backpackers and other low budget travelers.

I had never heard hostels, so when I was looking for a place to stay in London before my classes started, I was shocked to see the option for Dorm style accommodations. In my first hostel, the cheapest option was a Co-ed 20 person dorm room.

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My hostel: Gallery Hyde Park. Photo by me
I was meeting with a friend who had been staying in hostels for the better part of six weeks, so I felt I could handle living with 18 strangers in a relatively safe area.

Boy, was I wrong.

I am a notoriously light sleeper, and a paranoid one at that, so when I tried to sleep in my hostel, I was often disturbed by the entrance of Pub Crawl survivors and then kept tensely away by my fear that one of my male roommates would mistake my occupied bed for his. Looking back it seems silly, but I could not overcome my sleep deprivation and intense paranoia at any point on the trip.

Conclusion: hostels are great on a budget, but I need to spend the extra dollar on a private room if I want to a.) get sleep and b.) enjoy my travels.

Stress & Stress Management during Travel

A big portion of traveling for the unseasoned traveler is the ungodly amount of stress. The unfamiliar cities, possible dangers and, especially when abroad, being away from home all pile in your brains and cause a lot of worry.

I have problems with stress and managing it when I’m having to take care of myself. It can get to the point where it causes me to physically seize up. Other side effects I endure include lack of sleep and intense headaches.

Me with an old castle building in York, England
Me with an old castle building in York, England. This day was particularly stressful, though I am smiling in the picture.
My high maintenance self underwent many trying situations, including but not limited to attempting to navigate the London night bus without a working credit card or a general knowledge of public transportation, intense fear of rooming with strangers who are drunk and could possibly take your important items, and having to write a five-page essay until 3 a.m. (that last one was my fault.)

In attending this trip and undergoing these intense hours, I discovered many things about how I need to manage my stress:

  1. Sleep: One of the main issues that caused the most amounts of stress was the lack of sleep I was getting. Often I would be having 14-16 hour days running amok in the streets of England whilst running on only 2-5 hours of sleep. That kind of exhaustion drains you physically, mentally and emotionally. I did not enjoy my travels sometimes because I felt so tired all the time. So, while experiences and adventure are fun, sleep does take a priority, whether in the form of an entire day to myself or simply going to bed at a reasonable time.
  2. Plan: When thinking about this trip, I figured everyone would pretty much make up their plans as they go, with a few planned in advance. However, I arrived at Oxford with the least amount planned and no one to go with me anywhere. The last minute over night trips were fun, but the lack of places picked out and inability for most of us to communicate caused far too much stress than I should have experienced.
  3. Breathe: I sometimes get so emotional and tense that I break down. One point during this trip included me sitting down on the Brasenose Chapel steps and sobbing in pain for five minutes. The only thing that made me feel better, after about a half hour of more crying, was just lying in bed taking deep breaths and letting my mind and body relax in the comfort and privacy of my own room.

Everyone stresses differently, but I hope that sharing my experiences with travel stress will help some of you from having a few breakdowns.

Drinking (Legally)

I am an over-18-but-under-21 American. The legal drinking age in England is 18. You can bet all the pounds in your pocket I took advantage of that opportunity.

Before I continue, let me say that I hate being drunk. Drunk people annoy me to no end, but I don’t hate people who drink to get drunk. I personally do not enjoy the feeling of being out of control, being vulnerable and being handicapped. But there are people who do not feel that way when they are drunk, and they usually are responsible enough to know their limits. I respect their choices, and they (normally) respect mine.

So when I set out to the pub with my comrades abroad, I don’t buy more than one or two shots with a few sips from my friends drinks. (Never feel pressured to drink more than you want. It’s all about your comfort zone.)

All of us in my group enjoyed a nice pub called The Four Candles, a well known almost touristy pub in Oxford. This is where I learned my drink, and my comrades discovered that it was completely normal to have a proportional drink from a pitcher. 

My Favorite Drink

1-2 shot(s) of Smirnoff with Lemonade (Sprite in the US)

An Experience Every Day

Through the ups and downs, the painful hangovers and delicious meals, there is no moment I would change from this trip.

I have grown in many different ways during this trip and have made friends that I already dearly miss. I discovered new places, taken exhilarating chances and had many adventures.

I’ll always have the memories of an ancient and beautiful Oxford summer.

Feedback!

Now that my nostalgia is over, please tell me about your experiences! Have you travelled anywhere? What were somethings you learned about yourself from traveling that you wouldn’t have learned before? Comment below!

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