How to Get The Most out of Airbnb during Your Free Catalyst Week

So you’ve booked your flight, and you’re ready to begin your adventure of a lifetime. But where are you going to stay during your free travel week during The Catalyst? Maybe you’ll want a break from living in a hostel during your free week. If so, you’re in luck! Because you are a modern traveler, you have a host of options regarding places to stay. In fact, one of the best budget-friendly options is staring you straight in the face:

Airbnb

Airbnb can be as inexpensive or as luxurious as you like. However, your wallet is probably already aching after your recent plane-ticket purchase. Here are five tips you’ll need to be aware of in order to get the most of out your Airbnb booking.

1. Save Your Cash, and Click “Private Room”

You don’t want to stay in a hostel, but you wouldn’t mind sleeping in your very own private room while sharing amenities such as a bathroom or a kitchen with other guests. If this description applies to you, click “private room” when searching through Airbnb’s vast website. By being flexible and willing to share with others, you can extend the length and quality of your trip using all the money that you saved on accommodations. However, if you want to keep your options open, click both “private room” and “entire place” to compare the prices between the two options. Sometimes booking an “entire place” can be cheaper than a private room. It never hurts to keep your eyes open for a hidden gem!

2. Pay Attention to Airbnb’s “The Neighborhood” Feature

Airbnb can be tricky if you’re not careful. I know people who booked the seemingly-perfect Airbnb only to find out later that their booking was located on the outskirts of or outside their destination. If you would be unhappy with such a situation, there is a simple way to avoid a trip-ruining mistake. When searching for your own Airbnb, pay close attention to the little, almost unnoticeable, map below the “Reviews” portion of the booking’s page. The Airbnb website will not give you the booking’s exact address until you book and pay for it. However, the site provides the Airbnb’s approximate location. “The Neighborhood” map features a small blue circle that represents the booking’s location. Therefore, users are able to view the neighborhood that they may be staying in. Before you book, do some research on the best neighborhoods in your intended city, and pay close attention to the map. You won’t regret it when you are just a stone’s throw away from all your favorite activities.

3. Book with Friends

On my last trip to Europe, I cut costs by splitting the price of my Airbnb with my travel buddies. As a result, I rented a private Paris Airbnb in a prime location for only $25 a night. In addition, sharing an Airbnb with friends means that you’ll have the ability to book a bigger, more centrally-located place. Airbnb now makes it easy to split payments as well, so you won’t have to Venmo your pals for every booking you make. Instead, you can send a payment link to your friends to avoid money-related mixups (never an ideal situation). A word of caution: when searching for your perfect Airbnb, be sure to enter the number of guests who will be staying in the accommodation under the “Guests” tab. The listed prices will change according to the number of guests you enter!

4. Beware of the Airbnb Host’s Extra Fees

I can’t count the number of times I thought I had found the ideal Airbnb only to be bombarded by “cleaning” and “service” fees. Airbnb allows hosts to charge guests fees for cleaning, cancellations, payment processing, etc. For instance, an apartment that Airbnb lists for $130 per night may look like a steal for your group. However, when you click “book,” you find that the cleaning fee is $108 and the service fee is $30. That’s more than the “per night” rate! Don’t freak out yet; not all Airbnb hosts charge fees like these. The moral of the story is to do your research and not to set your heart on an Airbnb before you research the fees associated with the booking.

5. Study the Reviews

This tip may seem like a no-brainer (everyone’s a Yelp expert, right?), but “review analysis” has become an essential step in booking on Airbnb. Observe the number of reviews for a listing. Are there only three reviews? The place may be unsafe or a scam, a rare situation, but one that any smart traveler should keep an eye out for. Are there hundreds of reviews? You may miss important information in a sea of reviews reading “Lovely host! Great location!” Although those reviews bode well for the booking, keep in mind that some Airbnb hosts solicit reviews from guests in-person or via text to increase booking levels. In addition, taking care to read reviews is essential because many reviewers provide crucial information regarding the quality of a booking’s location, amenities, and access to public transportation. In today’s world, reviews are often more important when a person makes a purchase than the information that comes directly from the seller.

Airbnb is a fantastic resource for budget travelers that offers higher levels of comfort and accessibility than say, a hostel might. Through using Airbnb’s services, you can save your hard-earned cash to use on experiences, not material things. Bare in mind the previously-listed tips for cheap, high-quality accommodation on your next backpacking trip!

Will The French Be Rude to Me in Paris?

Ah, France: the land of croissants, café au lait, and Chanel. It is a place of natural beauty, urban interest, historical significance, and well, apparently “French rudeness” to boot. You’d love to visit, but you’re worried about the impoliteness that you’ve heard referenced in TV shows and in the media. Why would you want to go to a place where the people are so standoffish?

Here’s the thing: the French aren’t rude: we are.

Now, give me a chance to explain my theory. After living in France for three months and being compelled on multiple occasions to travel back to the land of carbs and wine, I’ve found that many Americans are mistaken about the famous disagreeable French temperament.

The French are a people that value taking their time, and Americans are a people that value the notion of “time is money.” Neither way of life is inherently better than the other, but they sure are different. This ideological difference is why Americans hear of harmless interactions that become trip-ruiners for Americans visiting France, particularly in the commercial mecca of Paris.

Don’t make your judgment about the French too quickly, though. I’ll give you some context:

If someone came into your place of business and loudly demanded, in a foreign language, to use your restroom and WiFi password, would you be pleased or a bit put off by the interaction? I’d probably be annoyed by the rude customer who didn’t even bother saying “hello” before demanding my services. This situation is one that Parisians encounter every day.

In the United States, we are used to walking into a coffee shop, standing in line, and ordering our drink: “I’ll have a black coffee to go.” The cashier won’t think you’re rude when you waltz into the store without going out of your way to greet the employees, and you probably wouldn’t think to do so anyway. However, in France, it is considered rude to act like a time-pressed American, too busy to say even “Bonjour, Madame” when buying your morning jolt. Thus, the French will treat you as they believe you are treating them, ergo “French rudeness.”

Throughout my travels in France, I’ve learned a lot about French customs and culture. Thus, I’ve figured out a few ways to avoid negative interactions with the French. By being aware of my surroundings and the way that I’ve acted and spoken, I have had many wonderful, polite, and eye-opening interactions in France. Here are a few ways to avoid a run-in with “French rudeness.”

When entering a business or establishment, always say “bonjour.”

The French love a good greeting as it shows that the greeter is polite and friendly. If the shop owner or employee is a woman, say, “Bonjour, madame” in a welcoming tone. Likewise, for a man, offer, “Bonjour, monsieur.” Simply greeting the shop employees will garner you a pleasant experience, allowing you to avoid a negative reaction from the French workers. A little goes a long way.

When perusing in a shop, keep your vocal interactions demure.

This tip is small, but oh so essential to a positive French experience, particularly if you are an American visitor. When in a public, indoor place, keep your voice down. The French value respect and politeness, and keeping your voice down is a great way to avoid a nasty look and a scoff from a French shopkeeper. In addition, this tip is particularly pertinent to train rides in France. French public transport is often silent, and only hushed voices are generally to be heard.

Try using a tiny bit of French.

You are in a different country after all. The French love when they hear Americans attempting to use French. Your broken, often incorrect usages of French show them that you are accommodating and aware that you are visiting a country with a different language and culture than the United States. In my experience, the French often expect Americans to speak only English. They are pleasantly surprised when an American is culturally aware, and they show it with pleasant, polite interactions. After all, it is only courteous to learn at least a few phrases in the language of the country you are visiting.

The French are much more polite than many tourists give them credit for. If you want to visit France, I wholeheartedly recommend making the trip if not only for the magnificent museums and food, but also for the rich interactions you will have with the French people. Of course, every country has its bad eggs, but don’t make a negative judgment of a whole people based on one poor moment with an ill-mannered citizen.

This is Exactly How I Packed For The Catalyst

traveling luggage and passenger train at the train station, travel concept

Packing is always a daunting process when you’re traveling to a place that you’ve never been to before. Before leaving to study abroad, I fretted over what I should pack, how much I should pack, and if I should pack using a suitcase or a backpack. I didn’t know what the weather would be like or how much I would be walking. I wondered how to make every item of clothing I was going to bring match while maintaining functionality.

I have to say, I didn’t anticipate everything I would need to bring on my trip, but I definitely gained some valuable packing experience. Here are some tips for packing for The Catalyst’s five-week-long adventure throughout Europe.

Pack lighter than you think you need to. When I went on The Catalyst, I brought a carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. However, some people packed even lighter than I did. My backpack was definitely a lifesaver. I purchased it from Tortuga, but it doesn’t really matter if you buy an expensive or a budget backpack just as long as you have one. I bought my particular backpack because of the way that it opens up like a suitcase. Also, you’ll want to be sure that your backpack fits within airline carry-on dimensions. If a bag is too wide or too tall, airlines will make you pay to check it. If you want a visual, here’s a link to the backpack I used while on The Village (it fits the carry-on dimension requirements, and it’s super functional):

Setout Backpack

I also used the very same backpack for my month-long sojourn in May of 2018, and yes, I only brought a backpack. Packing light is doable, but it’s daunting. However, the rewards of packing light far exceed the annoyance of not bringing all your favorite clothes on your trip. When you’re walking through the narrow, uneven alleyways of Paris, London, or Prague, you’ll struggle to lug a large rolling suitcase around, and you’ll probably get a few apprehensive stares as well.

Packing light is important for security reasons. Although Europe is very safe and I’ve never been pickpocketed there, I know that it’s important not to stand out. I’ve known travelers who have been victims of pickpocketing because they were carrying too much gear and couldn’t keep a visual on all of their belongings. Europeans pack very lightly, and when potential thieves see a traveler toting around a bunch of luggage, they know they’ve found an easy (probably American) target.

Also, when you’re on the Paris or London undergrounds (and you’ll probably be on them a lot), you’ll want to make sure that you don’t have too much stuff. Quarters on public transportation can get very close during peak rush hours, so you’ll want to be able to put your backpack in front of you if you’re standing or between your legs if you’re sitting down. It’s a good idea to keeps eyes on your luggage at all times. Also, don’t leave anything in the side pockets of your backpack while you’re traveling. Those pockets are the easiest places for pickpockets to access, so you definitely don’t want to leave your phone or wallet there.

If you’re bringing a suitcase, don’t overpack it. If you have an overstuffed suitcase, these situations can get sticky. One of the best things you can do to make your life easier while traveling is to keep your luggage to a minimum.

Be conscious of the expected weather. When I studied abroad, I packed two pairs of shorts, some shirts, pajamas, a couple of dresses, a couple of skirts, and two pairs of shoes. Regarding weather (take this with a grain of salt; I’m from Florida), during May, the weather can be slightly cool, so bring a sweater or light jacket that you can stow away easily.

Also, for European spring weather, comfortable sandals and sneakers are a great choice.

These options were very comfortable, and I never got blisters, even when I walked thirteen miles on a trip to Versailles! I think that the key to bringing the right shoes on The Catalyst is to break them in before you go because you will walk a lot. I made sure to do a decent amount of walking in my shoes before I got on my plane to London, and I think that decision saved me a lot of pain in the long run. Also, if you’re blister-prone, blister band-aids are never a bad idea to bring on those long walks through the cobblestone Paris streets.

Rain Gear. I didn’t bring a rain jacket when I went on The Catalyst because I didn’t have enough space for one. However, I did end up bringing a small travel umbrella which took up a lot less space in my bag. It’s up to you if you want to bring one, but I don’t think it’s necessary to use up your limited space for an item you won’t wear on a daily basis. However, I have seen “weatherproof” jackets that don’t look like raincoats, so if you brought one of those, you might be able to pull double duty in the jacket department.

Make sure that all of your clothes match. When traveling, I find that it’s helpful for all of my clothes to match. Usually, I choose a warm or cool color scheme to make sure that all of my clothing goes together. When I went on The Catalyst, I didn’t match all of my stuff as well as I should have, and I wish that I had either chosen all brown (warm) or black (cool) accessories; instead, I had a pair of black and brown shoes which ended up limiting my options. After my time on The Catalyst, I learned exactly how important it is to match my clothes so that I can mix up my limited options to make different outfits. For The Catalyst, you can never go wrong with black accessories; you’ll see many European people wearing black during the Fall.

Towels. You’re going to be staying in hostels, so it might be wise to bring a camping towel. Camping towels are very thin, but they wick away moisture and dry very quickly. Some hostels provide towels, some offer them for rent, and others don’t have them at all. Unless you’re booking all of your hostels before you get to Europe, you won’t know whether your hostels will offer these amenities or not. I have a friend who loves to stay in hostels while she’s traveling, and she swears by this inexpensive towel that she purchased on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Camping-Towel-Wise-Owl-Outfitters/dp/B01EJ8RJ48

Bring a high-quality adapter. When I went on The Catalyst, I had a few interesting experiences with adapters. I brought one with me from the United States, but I found out that it didn’t work once I got to France. So, I ended up using my roommate’s extra one until her other adapter blew. Then, I had to wait for two weeks while my mom sent an Apple Kit to France. The Apple Kit was great, and I’ve been using it for four years without fail. The moral of the story is to not skimp on the necessities. Not being able to charge your electronics can make it difficult to write your paper or call your mom.

Only bring essential toiletries. When I studied abroad, I didn’t bring any hair tools. Now, that was just what I was comfortable with. European people do not do much with their hair in the way of styling tools, so I didn’t feel strange about letting my hair go au naturale. If you do end up bringing hot tools, make sure that they have the correct voltage for the outlets in Europe, or purchase a converter. However, it’s important to know that your straightener or curling iron could blow anyway, depending on which kind you have.

Regarding toiletries, Europe has shampoo, soap, razors, moisturizer, etc., so you don’t really need to lug all of that stuff to Europe if you don’t have space for them. In fact, you might even find that you like European brands better than American ones. Also, you can purchase things like Ibuprofen and other medications at pharmacies (French pharmacies are fantastic).

I hope that this packing overview helps out a little bit. Packing for a trip this long can be stressful, but the clothes you bring will become insignificant as you progress throughout your European adventure! Overall, always choose function over luxury when you’re traveling on a budget.

Essential Movies to Binge Watch before Catalyst ’19

Written by Dr. Andy Woolley

London

Howard’s End— Based on E.M. Forster’s novel, this film has powerful performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in its examination of England its class society.

Hope and Glory— Director John Boorman bases this film on his boyhood experiences during World War II and the London Blitz.

The Queen— A look at monarchy and changing British society during the days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Paris

Midnight in Paris—While not the best Woody Allen film, a charming look at Paris and its effects on several generations, especially those of the 1920s, such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the many other artists gathered in the city.

The 400 Blows—The first film in Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, a semi-autobiographical film of juvenile scrapes and adventures in Paris.

Amelie—A whimsical romp through Paris with the fanciful tale of Amelie and her search for love, with much of the film centered in Montmartre.

Berlin

The Lives of Others—A powerful film on Berlin during the period of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the changing political nature of East Berlin and the power of the Stasi, the secret police.

Downfall—Berlin during the last days of Hitler and the Third Reich.

Prague

Amadeus—This biography of Mozart is not about Prague per se, but much of the film was shot there because of the city’s remaining 18thcentury architecture.

Empties—A unhappy man searches for happiness in his life, and the film includes a balloon ride over Prague.