Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Review of Traveling with EF College Break

Since traveling with EF College Break in May 2012, I've received many emails asking me about my experience with EF. I've decided to go ahead and share my opinion of the trip on here in an effort to answer questions for anyone who is considering a trip! I've tried to cover many of the things I've been asked, but if I've missed anything you'd like to know about, feel free to email me!

Apparently there are a number of negative reviews for EF College Break Tours floating around the internet. I really enjoyed my EF trip and I made some amazing friends! There were some negative aspects, so I'll share those as well, but I'll get to that at the end…

The customer service was fine, considering I didn't use it a whole lot. I got a deal through their Black Friday sale for 10% off the trip and made all my payments on time. I chose to do a 2 day stay ahead, and they were excellent with setting up my flights ahead of time and getting my trip information to me. My birthday was the second-to-last day of the trip, and apparently they provided that bit of info with our tour guide, Joel. When we all hopped on the bus that morning to head to Pompeii, he announced it to everyone and had everyone sing happy birthday to me. I thought it was pretty cool of them to make note of the fact that my birthday happened while I was traveling with them!

The hotels were pretty decent. Not particularly central to the action, but close enough that we could easily access central London/Paris/Rome by riding the Tube or metro and taking a short walk from the station. Rome was more of a pain than the others, since it required a cab ride... But the fair wasn't too bad when split among friends. The rooms are shared with 2-3 others, so if you aren't traveling with friends, I suggest you make some early on with similar sleep habits to your own. My first night in London with the tour group, I ended up getting roomed with a bunch of under-21's who were on the trip for clubbing and drinking. Being over 21 at the time and more of a traveler for the cultural experiences, I quickly made friends who were more suited to my schedule. Our rooms were comfortable and clean, and fairly sizable. Admittedly, we found a cockroach among our things one night in Rome, however I can't really hold it against an old hotel that they had a single bug that managed to outlive the dinosaurs. Generally the only problem we ran into was fighting for the bathroom, since the group I befriended and roomed with consisted of three females.

Oh, and pack light! There’s a rule of travel that once you’ve packed everything, put half of it back because you won’t end up needing it. This is an incredibly true statement. The last time I went to England, I survived for 9 days off of the contents of a backpack, and I’d even say I could have halved what I’d packed again and only taken a quarter of it! Many of the smaller independent hotels in Europe are old and don’t have elevators. I saw many people struggling up small staircases with large luggage. It’s a nightmare!

The food really ends up depending on you... Breakfast is often provided, and is a typical European continental breakfast with your choice of breads, cheeses, cold meats, fruits and cereals. The rest of the day, you're generally left to your own devices. Our tour guide was fantastic about pointing out places to eat, so if you don't know what's good, just ask! On our last night of the trip, our tour guide collected money from everyone interested and essentially bought out a restaurant in Rome so that we could have a huge family-style Italian dinner. It was incredibly fun and I strongly recommend you don't pass on those opportunities!

The flights were pretty standard... They keep the prices of the trip low by putting you on a cheaper airline. Don't expect British Airways-style complimentary alcohol and amenities on the flight. You do, however, get full meals on the flights, and most huge planes are now equipped with WiFi and/or a TV screen in the headrest, so you have entertainment. The flight over is the worst part, because you have to try to sleep to reset your internal clock. It's tough, seated with random people in a tight space and loud engines running all night. I suggest sound-proof headphones if you have them. You arrive overseas in the morning. Many people were inclined to take a mid-day nap because of the jet lag, but thankfully I was with a friend my first day over there and he wouldn't let me. When the tour group arrived 2 days later, I wouldn't let the three girls I'd befriended take a nap either. While everyone else was sleeping away their first day in London and struggling with jet lag for days, we all dropped into bed at the end of our first day and immediately set our internal clocks.

Travel between each city was fairly standard... We took the EuroStar train from London to Paris. It’s a quick trip, and most everyone slept on the ride because we were up at the crack of dawn. From Paris to Rome, we took a night train. Accounts of the trip varied for everyone. For the better part of the evening, we all hung out in our respective cabins. When we were ready to sleep, the seats folded and beds lowered from the wall. Many people complained they hardly slept because of the bumpy ride. I climbed into my rack, passed out, and slept like a rock, however the ride was very similar to being on a ship/boat and I was raised in a Navy household. My only complaint for the train ride was the bathroom, which was disgusting and after a certain point in the night, out of toilet paper. It made for a rough start when everyone awoke in the morning needing to pee! The excursions were bus trips, and consisted of your standard charter buses. Generally a tour guide sat up front and talked the whole way. Mostly people slept.

The sightseeing had its high and low points. If you can afford to, go on the excursions! My friends and I had some of our best times running around the gardens of Versailles and getting drenched in a downpour in Pompeii. The more obnoxious members of our tour group generally skipped the excursions, so you end up going on the road with some fun people who are as keen on taking in the sights as you are. On the flip side, group tours are at the mercy of the quality of the tour guide. We had a fellow driving us around Paris pointing out the sights who was so monotone and hard to understand that it really just ended up being a morning riding around in a bus. For the most part though, you are left to wander around on your own. We were dropped off one morning at the Louvre and told to meet back with the group at a certain time. We were then free to wander about the museum, or head off on our own around Paris.

There were really only two major downsides to the trip, in my opinion…

First, the large tour group. Sometimes you get stuck waiting on people, especially if you were all given a set time to meet somewhere to tour a museum or something. It becomes problematic when you then have to rush through the place because you were late for the tour. We were practically sprinting through Bath because some girls in our tour group decided to hang out in the Roman Baths for about an hour longer than they were supposed to. As a Jane Austen fan who wanted to see more of the beautiful city, it was irritating.

And second, I don't know if you're one of these people, so if you are, I apologize in advance... One of the things that annoyed me the most on the trip was the under-21's who were there to party. Generally those of us who were there for more cultural reasons avoided the younger people who were letting loose with the younger drinking age. There were, however, occasions where they couldn't be avoided and they made quite an embarrassing scene. For example, when we were in Paris we all went on a Seine River Cruise and then we went up in the Eiffel Tower. We were told to feel free to bring along some wine or snacks on the cruise, so everyone did. The younger folks, however, got trashed and then proceeded to become obnoxious. When we reached the Eiffel Tower, they were rip-roaring drunk and some of them were hardly able to stand. Security snagged them all and refused to let them go up in the Tower. This scenario happened on multiple occasions during the trip. Considering most of them were there on mom & dad's bill, I can only imagine them telling their parents they'd paid thousands of dollars for them to then be unable to participate in the activities they'd paid for.

It depends on the trip you plan to take and the amount of time spent in each place, but you won’t see everything. I’ve been back to London twice since my EF trip and I think I could go back ten more times and still not see everything I want to! I recommend you come up with some things you want to see/do in advance so that you make the best use of the time you have. Wandering aimlessly is fun and you make some awesome discoveries, but when you only have a few days in a city, it’s not the most efficient use of your time. I didn’t go with anyone I know, so it was a bit intimidating joining up with a huge tour group of strangers. I managed to make my friends early on because I heard one of them mention they wanted fish and chips, and I’d done some research in advance of places to eat. I then became the unofficial leader of our group because I was the one who had brought some travel books with maps and suggestions of places to see.

All in all, I recommend the EF trip. It’s affordable, hits all the high points each city, and I made some amazing friends who I still regularly chat and travel with. If you go on the EF trip (or any, really), I wish you the best of luck in your travels! Feel free to send me more questions and I’ll do my best to answer them! I hope this helps!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bzz! Schick Hydro Silk for Women!


As a BzzAgent, I was recently invited to participate in a BzzCampaign to try the new Schick Hydro Silk for Women Razor, and was curious to try something new. I've been a user of the Schick Quattro for Women for years, but was willing to check it out. Needless to say, I'll be going back to my Quattro. There are two reasons I say this:

First, the "Water-Activated Moisturizing Serum for Smooth, Silky Skin"- this serum does feel nice and smooth on your legs, however it only lasts a couple of uses. Since it's water activated, it depletes rather quickly when you put the razor under some water to rinse it out. You then just have a standard razor, albeit rather bulky.

And second, the "Oval Cartridge with Five Curve Sensing Blades for Close Shave"- They claim "designed specifically for the curves of a woman's body, the Schick Hydro Silk Razor features five independent curve sensing blades to follow your natural shape. The blades also feature skin guards that smooth skin to achieve a close shave while preventing skin irritation." In all the years I've used a Quattro, I've never gotten cut by my razor. In the month I've used the Hydro Silk, I've been cut three times. THREE!!! I don't know if it's the angle of the blades or what, but I keep nicking myself.

I really feel that there are better options out there if you're looking for a new razor!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bzz! Glade Expressions Oil Diffuser!

I was sent some coupons to get one of these to review from BzzAgent, and was eager to try out the new Glade Expressions Oil Diffuser. For starters, I was seriously frustrated trying to find these things anywhere... I searched every WalMart, Food Lion, and any other store I could think of to try and find these. I ended up finding a few at a WalMart across town, but the only smell available was the Pineapple Mangosteen scent.
The diffuser kit with its various parts
The diffuser on my bedroom dresser!
I'm not opposed to fruity smells, but I definitely don't like this one. It's almost sickly sweet. The only bright side was that the smell only truly lasted a few days. Perhaps I've just gotten used to it, but it's right next to my bedroom door and I originally could smell it every time I walked into my bedroom. Now I can't smell it at all and it's only been up for about a week! For something offering 30 days of fragrance, I'm underwhelmed by the result!

On the bright side, I really like the look of the diffuser. Although I don't like the Pineapple Mango scent, I like the appearance of the diffuser it came with the most out of the scents on the market. It's a sort of bamboo look, with a leafy/flowery design. It's really pretty! I'll definitely get a different smell to try in it next time though (if I can find something different). The diffuser is really easy to use- you just snap the little paper piece into place and the oil diffuses into it. Supposedly the container is spill-free, but I'm not willing to test that theory!

All in all, I don't feel like this thing is all that great. It offers nothing new and innovative to the gazillion air fresheners on the market, it's nigh impossible to find, and the tiny selection of scent options aren't that appealing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bzz! Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Inserts!

I had the awesome opportunity to give Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Inserts a try through a BzzAgent BzzCampaign! I can't tell you how well-timed the campaign was! My sneakers get a lot of use, and their insoles had been pounded completely flat!
The BzzKit! Info, some insoles, and some coupons for friends and family!
Dr. Scholl's says their insoles provide energizing support for tired, achy feet. I don't know about "energizing", but my feet certainly hurt less than they did on my old flat insoles. The Dual Wave Design, comprised of blue gel cushions that provide shock absorption and purple gel that provides support, makes for a very comfortable insole!

Dr. Scholl's provides insoles for men sizes 8-13 and women sizes 6-10, so there is an option for just about everyone! If you go to Wal-Mart, they even have one of those awesome machines that you stand on and it analyzes your feet to determine the best insoles for you! There are many different types:
  • Work Insoles for work boots/shoes and people who are on their feet a great deal. 
  • Sport Replacement Insoles for active feet, providing arch support and reduced stress on joints. 
  • Extra Support Insoles have arch support for big & tall men and large shoes, and keep feet cool.
My grimy shoes with the insoles
I put the insoles into my shoes and gave them a spin. The only real disadvantage I could find was that this BzzCampaign landed just as summer weather arrived- it's flip flop season now!

All in all, I like the insoles. It was a bit of an adjustment, having support under my feet again. I initially felt like I had something under my heel (ok, technically I did have something under my heel) but once my feet got used to it, I liked the support. I think the use of the term "massaging" is a stretch- my feet felt cushioned but not massaged. My greatest wish is that there was more support for the metatarsal heads. I've got a fallen transverse arch, and need something with a bit more support in that arch. Unfortunately, most shoe inserts only include arch supports, with a flat base across the transverse arch.

For a relatively low-cost, comfortable shoe insert, I'm pleased with the Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Inserts. For someone who is on their feet a great deal, it's a great option! I've read complaints from other reviewers that these didn't provide adequate comfort for their various ailments (Morton's Neuroma, recovering metatarsal fracture, etc) and I think they missed the point- these are shoe inserts you buy at the local grocery store for a bit of added comfort, not costly therapeutic orthotics for medical conditions. If you're looking to fix a medical problem, talk to your podiatrist. If you just want some cushion in your shoes, try these!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Interview time!

Approximately a year ago, I was preparing for my applicant interview for the Eastern Virginia Medical School PA Program. It was my second attempt- my interview the year before was a complete fiasco. I was a spaz. I could barely articulate a thought because my people skills were so bad. I spent a year forcing myself out of my shell and even went so far as to travel solo to Europe.

My second attempt was significantly better- I walked away from my interview thinking, "If I don't get in, I'll be amazed." A year later, I'm a member of the EVMS PA Class of 2014, and spend my days smashing as much medical info into my brain as I can possibly retain. I'm totally stoked, because in a few weeks, new interviewees will be here! When I did my interview, the PA students were in charge of guiding the interviewees around the campus and answering questions.

 This time, I'll get to walk around with a bunch of nervous wanna-be PAs and answer their questions! I'm so stoked!!! In case there are any prospective EVMS PA Program students out there preparing for their interview in a few weeks, I wish you the best of luck!!!