A College Student Abroad: What to Do in Amsterdam

Theres more than weed in the city of canals.

Things I'm proud of from our trip to Amsterdam:

1. I stayed in my first hostel and only cried one and a half times
2. I had frites with mayonnaise (I replaced the mayonnaise part with hot cheese, but I think it still counts)
3. I was never struck by a bike**
4. I didn't caption an Instagram photo "AmsterDAMN"
5. I never fell in a canal or pushed anyone else into one (close calls on both accounts)
6. I figured out the tram system and only took one unintentional 45-minute detour
7. I did not enthusiastically approach and consequently frighten EVERY Dutch person with a dog in the basket of their bike (just most)
8. Despite their presence on the feet of every pretty Dutch woman, I did not buy heeled sneakers
9. I paid attention to each tour at least 40% of the time
10. I only poked one precious work of Dutch art

**This is due entirely to the prowess of Dutch bike riders. I was a hazard.

Walking Tours

The best way to see Amsterdam is on foot!

Amsterdam is beautiful and strange. We spent our first afternoon on walking tours. We had had the opportunity to wake up early one of the previous mornings to sign up for these groups. When a friend came and informed me of this on that morning, I answered something like "ITS 8 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING GET OUT OF MY ROOM I'LL KILL YOU IM SLEEPING GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT" and then rolled back over. So I ended up in a group of strangers. This turned out to be a blessing.

I found myself wandering a city that didn't know me, with people that didn't know me; I could have been any soul at all passing in and out of the shade along the canals on that sunny Friday. I could be anyone, and Amsterdam could be anything. It became a city of possibilities to me that day. I passed every race and creed of person and looked them in the face, trying to see who they were, where they've been and where they're going.

I got a lot of dirty looks.

Perhaps Amsterdam wasn't feeling as Romantic as I was, but it was lovely all the same.

The Rijks Museum

We explored the Rijks museum on Saturday. By "explored," I mean a friend and I supported each other's exhausted bodies until we could find a place to sit down. (The clubs in Amsterdam are VERY fun, and the 8:00 wake up time Saturday morning was CRUEL.) We explored for about 45 minutes, trying to inundate our aching heads with culture.

We found our heads uncooperative. Few people were interested in the "Early Medieval landscape sketch" wing (shocking I know), and we found an incredible bench.

I mean this bench was special.

About the size of a twin bed and as soft as a bed of roses, we curled up like the little hung-over kittens we were and drifted into a lovely, guilty, museum nap.

I awoke to the sound of shoes on the marble floor. A security guard passed. He didn't acknowledge our sad scene so I was unperturbed. He passed again.
And again. Each time he looked increasingly uncomfortable.
My friend snoozed on.
I pretended to be fascinated by a 3 by 5 sketch of a hill with one tree growing from the top.
He passed again.
Finally, our friend approached us with another, apparently more bold security guard.
I hit my friend. She snorted but didn't awake.
"Ma'am," the bold defender of Dutch culture said, clearly uncomfortable.
I smacked her again.
"You just…you just can't sleep in here."
Finally, my friend awoke and looked bleary-eyed at our new pals.
We were escorted from the medieval landscape sketch wing.

We saw some Rembrandt too. I was asked to please not poke "Night Watch," despite that everyone had made SUCH a big deal about Rembrandt's use of texture.

The Dutch are very strict about museum protocol it turns out.

Look Out for Bikes!

Next, we wandered around looking at the fairytale buildings and canals. The Dutch merchants who built the city spared no expense. I love the number of trees. That's something we've lost in our American concrete jungles. There's space in Amsterdam, you're aware of being in a city, certainly, but greenery is never entirely out of sight, and the cobblestone streets are wide and you can see the sky at all times.

Mostly what we did while taking this all in, was dodge bikes. There are more bikes in the Netherlands than people.
That's a fact.
There are more bikes in Amsterdam than there MOTHERF*CKING NEEDS TO BE. That's an observation.

Bikes are holy there. Bikers can go in the bike lane, on the sidewalk, on the road; frankly, I think a person would be allowed into the royal bathroom while the king was taking a shit if they were on a bike.

I imagine that a jungle full of snipers is similar to the streets of Amsterdam.

You are walking along, minding your own business, enjoying the day, when suddenly you hear, "ANN JE LINKERKANT!!" You dodge wildly, you hear the spinning of wheels, you smell the hair gel, you question your underwear choice because you aren't sure these are the pair you want to die in, and then they're past. You lived. Another bike went by. Your heartbeat begins to slow you start to relax again and then suddenly,


I think I aged 10 years in Amsterdam.

Coffee Shops

Amsterdam has been known since the 1700s as a city of acceptance. The Dutch are also notoriously shrewd businessmen. This combination eventually lead to the legalization and consequential distribution of products and services illegal in most of the world. John Green said, "Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin."(I'm sorry I quoted John Green like every other white nineteen-year-old girl in the world but that is a bomb quote okay?)

So, young and curious, we went out to explore what this freedom meant. Here are my observations on two of Amsterdam's biggest draws for a lot of people:

Coffee shops sell coffee and all kinds of bizarre juices and sodas. They also sell marijuana
i.e ganja, kush, dat loud, yay-yay, sticky-icky, the dankest broccoli in all of Nazo, wacky tobacky, hippie cabbage, jazz cigarettes, cosmic shrub, God's pubes, etc.

Coffee shops have a strange vibe. They were very, very, very quiet. All that could be heard was soft funky music occasionally punctuated by me excitedly announcing the newest clever name I had thought of for cannabis. It was dark and no one really talked to each other. The other thing I noticed was how few Dutch people were actually in the coffee shops. In fact, according to all the locals we spoke to, most Dutch people don't smoke pot at all. According to Rick Steve's travel blog "..most have never tried it or even set foot in a coffee shop." Summarily, coffee shops seemed like havens for tourists trying to feel a little wild. I had a really good latte at one, but beyond that, I found them underwhelming.

The Redlight District

With a large group of friends, I headed into the Redlight district around 1 a.m. (when Amsterdam starts to get going.) I was excited. The red light district is world famous for its glitz and scandal. I had started to love the idea that these women were sexually liberated goddesses, protected by the law and under no man's control. I was expecting to find a nighttime world of sparkling lights and bold beautiful women.

Honestly, it didn't live up to its reputation. Mostly, it was full of ogling tourists.

Maybe worth seeing, but also maybe worth skipping,

All in all, I adored Amsterdam, and its houses that glinted of wealth and a golden age who's splendor is hard to imagine. I loved the sidewalk café's along the canals, I loved the wide streets and the art and the music and the feeling of life.

If you have a chance to go to Amsterdam, go.

Go and introduce yourself to that strange smirking lady of canals, in figuring her out, you may just figure out a little about yourself.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker