How to Enjoy Spain Like You Live There: Best Outdoor Hiking

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It took me the better part of a year from first moving to Spain to actually venture outside of the city. After all, I was young and the city really had everything that I needed.

It had food, my friends, things to do, work, everything I needed. But, about the second year of moving to Madrid, one of my coworkers asked me if I enjoy the outdoors, and I said of course! Who doesn’t enjoy the great outdoors?

Little did I know, he was the real deal and much more serious that I was, but it turned out to be a good thing because I got to see a side of Spain that I never otherwise would have.

Hiking in Spain: A Survivor’s Guide

Just as if you were to go camping anywhere, there are a few essential items that you need to bring with you anytime you go hiking in Spain and around the Madrid area generally.

Here is a short list of items to include in your bug out bag for your hiking trip. You can read more here for a fuller list of items to bring, but these are the general basics.

The first essential item is clean drinking or some kind of filtration system that will allow you to drink water as you find it. Even if you do have some kind of hiking h20 filter, you will still want to bring some with because you always run the risk of not finding any water. If you only have a water filter but don’t find any water, the filter doesn’t exactly do a lot of good does it?

My suggestion is to get a water bottle that has a water filter inside of it. This is the best of both worlds and will help you in most smaller hiking trips. You can fill the water bottle up before you leave you house and drink as you go. Then, as you find water on the trip you can continue to fill it up. This save you space in your backpack, because you need to carry everything that you bring on a hiking trip.

The second essential item in a real survivalist bug out bag is some kind of food supply. Now, most people get carried away with the food that they bring and end up bringing way more than you really need.

You don’t need some expansive emergency food kit for a basic hiking trip. All you will need is a few granola bars or a package of trail mix. Actually trail mix is a great source of energy, it’s tasty, which most emergency survival food isn’t, and it’s pretty cheap.

If you go to the local convenience store and buy a package of trail mix, that should be all you need for a 20-mile hike. If you are going longer than 20-miles, or if you are going on a route that you have never been on before, then you might want to bring a little more food, just to be safe. If not, that should be all you need.

Again, packing light is the key because if you load up your backpack full of stuff you aren’t going to use or need, you are just losing energy faster than you otherwise would.

These are some of the tips my coworker showed me about hiking and surviving in the great outdoors in Madrid. I’ll go over my hiking trips in a future post.

How Europeans Drink Water: Purified and Sparkling

Best Water Softeners and Filters

I can remember one of the biggest cultural differences I experienced upon my arrival in Europe was how little they consume soda. In America, we love soda, and it’s a way of life in the South, with Coca-Cola and Pepsi both headquartered there.

But, in Europe, you don’t see too many people indulging in this largely American beverage, and if you do, it’s not Mountain Dew, Orange Soda, or and other wild flavors. It’s usually just a normal Coke or Pepsi.

Europeans Prefer Sparkling Water

Instead, it’s very common for Europeans to drink sparkling water or seltzer water with their meals or just out on the town.

What is seltzer water? It’s not uncommon for the average American that many might not even know what it is. The best way I can describe it to someone with showing them in a store is that it is just carbonated water with no flavorings.

If you pour it into a glass, it will look just like sprite or sierra mist, but there isn’t a lemon-lime taste to it. It’s just water with added carbonation, which is a foreign concept to many Americans.

Another way to describe it is as sparkling water, which is commonly added to mixed

In the first few weeks of moving to Europe I asked a few locals about it and how it was prepared, and just like other kinds of water, it is purified, generally with a reverse osmosis water filter system. This rids it of any impurities and removes the unnecessary iron that can be found in water.

This is an essential part to any water bottled process. No one likes the taste of hard water, so it’s important to have a quality filter that can remove those iron deposits.

Almost every house in Europe has a water softener of some kind to help keep their water as pure as possible.

Beer Consumption In Europe

Another reason why people drink less soda in Europe than in the States is that they drink more beer than we do. On average, Europeans drink a lot more beer than Americans—especially in countries like Germany, Austria, and the U.K.

Like I said in my last blog post, Germany is the motherland of all things beer in my opinion, so it only makes sense that such a place would drink more beer on average than America.

That and Europeans—especially Germans—have a much different attitude about beer and beer consumption than Americans. In America, beer is very much associated with partying and getting drunk. In Germany, however, it’s much more common to just have a beer with dinner, with no intention of getting drunk or partying afterwards.

Perhaps this is the reason why there isn’t as many cheap, watery beers that come of Germany as we do in the states like Natural Light or things of that sort.

These are all the wonderful cultural differences that you can see when you travel abroad and experience other people’s cultures, how they live, and how they interact with each other. It’s a great experience and I recommend it for everyone.

Brewing Beer in Germany, the Motherland of all Brews

It’s not everyday that an American gets to drink beer in what I consider the motherland of all beers in the world: Germany.

Germany has such a rich history of brewing beer; it’s steeped in the culture and fabric of society. I’m not just saying that either. People in Germany—and Europe generally—but Germany in particular have a very different outlook on beer than Americans do and I’m not exactly sure why.

Americans for the most part drink beer as a party accessory and don’t take the time to get to know the beer, its tastes, its flavors, and its history. Germans have a much deeper respect for the beer making process and the history and ingredients that go into each brew. It has way better beer than any you will find in a variety beer membership.

Home Brewing Beer in Germany

While Germany has a rich culture of large-scale beer production (it’s one of their main exports), they also have a vibrant home brewing culture in the cities, and these are the places that I like to frequent.

During my recent trip to Switzerland, I simply had to venture over to Germany to knock back a few brews and enjoy the fellowship of my German comrades, and I used my stay to visit a few of my favorite local brew pubs.

You see, the beer from Germany that makes it to America as an export is only but a fraction of the beer that is produced in the country. Just think about it, it’s the same anywhere. Bourbon that’s made in Kentucky is considered a rare delicacy in Europe, but in the United States it’s just known as Wild Turkey. It’s the same with beers.

Top Madrid Beer Clubs

So, in Germany you have this huge subculture of smaller breweries that either or they have graduated into their own local pub. This is the stuff that you will only get to taste in person. Many of these pubs don’t have much regional or national distribution—let alone international distribution, so I make it a point to only get beers that are unavailable to me in Spain or America when I visit.

The home brewing phenomenon is also much more developed in Germany than it is in the United States. It’s much older and the main great brew kits are much more readily available.

Only recently has this become popular in America, but it has been popular in Germany for almost one hundred years now.

For a bit of context on Germans and their beer consumption, they rank third in the world for beer consumption—just behind the Czech Republic and Austria. There are approximately 1,300 breweries in Germany alone and these brew companies manufacture over 5,000 brands of beer. This truly is the place to be if you are a beer drinker.

I will warn you, however, if you want the full German experience, go to Bavaria. Almost half of Germany’s breweries are located there, so that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

That’s the number one place on my travel list when I visit.

Swiss Made Gun Safes and Custom 1911 Grips

Best Gun SafesGrowing up in America, I obviously have very different views on firearms in civilian hands that do many of my European counterparts. But, now that I have been living in Madrid for almost 20 years, I have been accustomed to dealing with those who think there is no place for guns in the hands of anyone but the government and local law enforcement. Actually, many European cities’ police don’t even carry firearms.

Madrid is not particularly favorable to guns or gun owners, and the Spanish constitution has nothing comparable to the American Second Amendment. On a recent trip to Switzerland, however, I was able to visit a few friends who are gun enthusiasts and I went to their shooting range for a great afternoon of fun.

Swiss Craftsmanship in Firearms Still Strong

There are a lot of things that Switzerland is known for. There are historically a neutral country in military conflicts, they have been known to be a international hiding place for money, their craftsmanship if second to none, and they also happen to be very favorable to gun owners.

In this sense, Switzerland is a big anomaly to its European brothers and sisters. They have large gun manufacturers of both long gun and handguns. Handguns are especially controversial in Europe, making Switzerland even more unique.

But, what really struck me when I visited my two long-time Swiss friends was the craftsmanship of not just the guns we were shooting but the quality gun safes that they stored all of their guns in. Better yet, they have several different options for people without much money. You can find all kinds of quality cheap gun safes for sale from the Swiss.

These safes were incredibly ornate and beautiful pieces of art in and of themselves, but they were also fireproof, waterproof, etc., etc. I don’t know too much about large capacity Fort Knox gun safe technology, but these were pretty incredible.

Swiss Gun Safes vs. American Gun Safes

One of the most popular gun safe brands in America is the liberty line of gun safes. These safes are basically indestructible. I have even seen videos of the manufacture setting off explosives inside the safe just to show how durable they are.

Now, I’m sure if the Swiss safes can quite hold up to this kind of testing, but the aesthetics of them are quite different and it shows the differences in preferences for the American and Swiss markets.

The American audience wants something that is very durable, very industrial looking. This is what they view as quality and they want the function and durable this look offers.

The Swiss audience is after something a little different. They want more ornate and classic looking gun safes.

You can see this same difference when you compare custom style 1911 handgrips between the two countries.

Americans prefer their grips to more tactical looking, with a grimacing look to them. Perhaps this comes from Hollywood influence in American that isn’t quite as strong across the pond.

Swiss grips are much more detailed, often made of custom materials like ivory, or imported woods. No one grip is better than the other, they are just widely different tastes and aesthetics.

Traveling is always such an experience because it allows you see these types of cultural differences. I always end up coming back to Madrid, though. It’s home.

Experiencing New Foods When You Move

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You have to be a pretty adventurous person if you’re going to move all the way across the world to live, go to school, work, etc. But even the most adventuresome among us can have a hard time breaking out of our shell once we arrive at our new location.

Moving to a new country is a shock in many ways. It’s much different than moving across the country is. I hip-hopped across the United States for a number of years before finally settling down over here and let me tell you, moving to a new country is much different than just skipping throughout cities. Some of you might be thinking, well moving to a city like New York is pretty close to moving to a country. Trust me, it isn’t.

The beauty of America is that you can feel at home in just about all 50 states, no matter where you are. If you’re from Massachusetts, moving to California might feel a little strange, but you’ll still feel at home. The language is the same; the overarching culture is still the same, all of the news programs and movies, restaurants, etc., are the same. You still feel at home in a sense.

You don’t have any of these luxuries, however, when you move outside of a country. Now, don’t get me know. None of this is to scare you off from taking the incredible journey to move abroad. It’s just making you aware of the feeling you might encounter and I want to show you how you can overcome it.

While you may feel the urge to hide inside your shell when you land, you need to fight that urge. And I’m here to help you!

The best way that I found to get out there and experience this great new world that there is to offer you is to get out there and experience the food that awaits you. Everyone needs to eat! That is an undeniable fact, so when you are eating in a new place, you need to take advantage of everything that that place has to offer you. Try going to new restaurants, small mom-and-pop diners, or hole in the wall food stands. Some of those can be the best the city has to offer and they can really put you in touch with the culture of your new home.

This is exactly what I did when I first moved to Madrid. I was a little bit shy and I didn’t exactly know how to navigate throughout the city, but I did my best and I always tried a new place to eat. Every night. Every night I would go to a different restaurant, a different bar, a different food truck. It was amazing. And soon I exhausted all of the ones near my house, so I had to expand my area, which led me to meeting more people, seeing more of the city, and getting in touch with the local community.

It’s that easy! We don’t always need to make everything so hard. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us in the form of a daily nutritional necessity. We need to eat, so why not make the best of it?

Going Abroad to Teach English: Teaching in China

teaching esl english in china

Moving to another country to study is one of the best experiences a student can undertake. It’s a culturally enriching, breathtaking experience.

That’s why I did it.

But something that not many students who choose to study abroad think about doing is actually teaching abroad. There are countless schools all across the world that are looking for competent English teachers to teach students all the way from grade school to high school. There are so many schools, in fact, you basically have the pick of the litter when it comes to city, country, geographical region, climate, etc.

One of the most popular areas to teach English abroad currently in Mainland China. You might wonder, how to teach English in Baotou or another Chinese city, and the answer couldn’t be simpler.

There are lots of different recruiting companies that partner with local schools within a region to locate and place qualified teachers into a community. All of the leg work is done by the recruiting company. You just fill out their form and away you go. If you want to know how to teach English in Hangzhou, China just ask the recruiting company if they work with any schools in this city or the surrounding areas.

What to Expect When Applying to Teach Abroad

As I said above, schools aren’t just looking for anyone to teach English to their students. They are seeking qualified, professional applicants.

This isn’t a job that just anyone can get, as there are a number of standardized tests that must be taken in order to qualify. The tests seek to measure your knowledge of the language and measure your proficiency in English, which is to be expected after all. You’re applying to be an English teacher.

Another thing that many recruitment offices prefer is native English speakers. These applicants tend to have a more thorough grounding in the language and are better communicators than those who English is their second language.

Are These Positions Paid?

The best part about teaching abroad is—yes, you guessed it—you get paid to do it. While most study abroad programs require you to pay, teaching abroad programs actually pay you. How much better can that get? You get the experience of staying in a foreign country, experience new cultures, and you not only do you not have to pay a dime, but you actually get paid to do it!

When you look at it from this perspective, you really need to ask yourself, why am I not looking into how to teach English in Nanjing.

I definitely would not trade my time teaching abroad for anything.

My Advice and Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, teaching abroad is not for everyone. But then again, neither is studying abroad. I, personally, think it is something that everyone should do at least once in his or her lifetime, but I get it, some people just don’t have what it takes.

But before you go thinking that teaching sounds like too much work, just remember that you will also be working and studying if you study abroad. You will still be taking classes and doing work, so why not get paid for it?

Moving Abroad Part II

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In my last post, I talked about some of my initial observations from moving and living abroad. Well, it got me thinking and I have a few more things I’d like to share. But while the last post was mostly focused on things to consider when you’re moving abroad, this post is more about what I first noticed when I moved to Madrid.

One of the first things that I noticed when moving to Madrid was the sheer age of the city. The city and its surrounding areas are very old. They aren’t old in the sense that they are run down, they are just very old. They have been around for a while. Something that very few Americans think of before traveling abroad is just how old things in Europe and other countries really are. After all, there is a reason why they call the Americas “The New World.”

Madrid was founded in the 9th century. Now contrast that to America’s founding of 1776. Obviously there were English settlements in America before the founding of the United States, but even Jamestown was only founded in 1607, making it only 400 years old. This puts cities like Madrid a full 600 years older than the older British settlement in America, making it more than twice as old. Taking tours of Madrid’s finest building will have you looking at architecture that is sometimes a thousand years old. There is literally nothing in the United States that is this old, illustrating just how remarkable the experience is. The history is incredibly rich and ripe for exploration.

If you are at all a history buff, even the most passive of one, living abroad is an absolute delight. Europe obviously has been the center of much of the last 400-500 years of history. It has had two world wars, countless revolutions, and sprawling imperialistic conquests.

Madrid was the capital of the former Spanish empire throughout the middle ages and has so much to explore.

As you consider where you want to start your career and what exactly it is that you want to pursue, I strongly encourage anyone to take a trip abroad. You may end up loving it so much that you stay there just like me. And it’s not at all a bad experience. You end up meeting new people, people you would have never otherwise met. You gain an international perspective of the world and you get to live in Europe!

A way that I describe Europe to some of my friends stateside (although my European friends don’t like it when I say this, so don’t tell them ;]) is that Europe is basically like the United States except instead of having different states under the same federal government they are all independent countries. If you look at the entire continent of Europe it is 10 million square kilometers and the United States is 9.6 million square kilometers. It is also composed of 50 countries while the United States is composed of 50 states. The only difference is there are a lot more languages spoken in Europe than the United States, which can get really difficult to get used to and the American in me still finds somewhat inefficient.

Moving Abroad: Initial Thoughts and Observations

Study_Abroad-300x121As I have said time and time again, both on the blog and elsewhere, making the decision to move abroad and to relocate myself in Madrid was one of the best decisions I think I have ever made. It set my life on an entirely new trajectory that I would have never been able to reach otherwise. But with that said, there are a few caveats to relocating yourself across the globe and anyone looking to do so needs to seriously consider a number of important questions before making the journey. Today I want to go over some of these considerations to help anyone thinking of moving make the right decision.

The first and most important question that you need to ask yourself is, “Are you the type of person to move abroad?” Moving abroad is not a decision you make lightly. There are some serious shifts in culture and lifestyle that you need to take into consideration and you need to evaluate whether or not you are the kind of person who is okay with these kinds of changes. For example, moving abroad can be very uncertain. You will find yourself in an entirely new city, country, region, and getting in touch with a network of friends and activities can be difficult at first. If you are the person who values stability over the uncertainty of change, maybe moving abroad isn’t the right choice for you.

A second question that you need to ask yourself is, “Are you willing to invest the time and effort into moving abroad?” Beyond the obviously time involved in physically packing up your belongings and moving, there actually is quite a lot of effort involved in relocating yourself abroad. For instance, while many countries across the globe speak English as a secondary language, it is not the native tongue to many places around the world. In moving to a new country, you will need to also learn the language—or at least enough of it to pass through everyday interaction with people and your coworkers. I’m not saying that you will need to become the Hemingway of that language, but you will need to learn the basics of it and be able to communicate fluently.

The same thing goes for the culture in your new region. This was probably one of the biggest shocks when I moved to Madrid, the incredible culture shock from living in America. While some of my Spanish friends understood me being an American, as they had lived briefly in America, not all countries are so willing to understand where you come from. You will want to make sure you aren’t violating any cultural taboos while you express your Americanism in public. For example, in America everyone wears tennis shoes all the time. In Spain and many other European countries, people wear dress shoes even when going around casually. Now it isn’t considered taboo to wear tennis shoes in public or while going to the movies, but you can bet that you’ll be singled out as the only American around for doing so!