My study abroad trip to Estonia was my first experience struggling with food and money while I travel.

In 2008, I had one more summer before my final year of college. Being a Geography major, I desperately wanted to study abroad before it was too late. I looked into a few programs and applied to one in Chile, but it didn’t work out. I can’t remember why now, but I do remember feeling like time was slipping away quickly and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to travel and study as a university student.

One day though, I saw a flyer for a Russian language course at the University of Tallinn, Estonia. I took this as a sign because I was also looking for another language of study for my minor degree and this was perfect. So I jumped at the chance! I was halfway through applying before I realized, “I should probably look up where Estonia is…” oops.

A small country half the size of Indiana in the north of Europe, across the Baltic Sea from Finland and bordering Latvia and Russia; Estonia boasts long summer days, medieval architecture and the birthplace of Skype.

I couldn’t wait to go!

So in July of that year, I left for Estonia to begin my three week study abroad trip; an adventure that would become my first real experience traveling alone. I was nervous, excited and overwhelmed 🙂

My first impression once on the ground was of how bright the world looked. At almost 60 degrees N latitude, the amount of daylight during the summer was shocking to me. I mean, the sun didn’t set till after 10pm! I had never seen anything like it before. (Afternoon naps were harder… but I managed. Like a boss!)

Dorm room

Dorm room

A short taxi ride after landing, I found myself standing outside a flat, grey building with my luggage and kinda bewildered. Dressed in my usual camouflage cargo shorts and fraternity t-shirt (my style was impeccable), I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. The building in front of me sure didn’t look like a University. There was no sign, no people and the air was dead quiet, but my driver assured me this was it. So, I hoisted my bags and walked in to find it was my dorm instead! “Oh, that worked out.”

I unpacked, met my new roommates and we stayed up late making sushi and drinking blueberry beer. Class started that Monday.

Tallinn Estonia is a beautiful city filled with warmth, color and a strong, vibrant feel. Click To Tweet

By the end of the first week, I had settled into a routine. I was always the first one to class, I made my homework a priority and read and studied constantly. (I think part of me saw this as an opportunity to show I *could* be smart and capable. Quite the contrast to back home where I scheduled my classes around happy hour.) Needless to say, I was ALL business!

Of course studying was only part of my experience. The real reason I went abroad was to explore, so every afternoon I set out for a walk around town.

Town square, Tallinn

Town square, Tallinn

Tallinn has industrialization along the outskirts of the city but displays strong ties to history and culture in the center. The many café’s lining the cobble-stone covered town square were always my favorite places to go. I passed old guard towers elegantly collecting ivy and made my way through back streets crammed with shops and restaurants. I loved strolling along in this fashion. I did however face my first obstacle in traveling alone. I forgot to budget money for food.

Old town, Tallinn

Old town, Tallinn

With 100% of my focus on travel, school and doing as much as possible, I didn’t set aside any money for extra things, including food. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was 22 and finally following my dreams; I just didn’t make time for eating or taking care of myself. I lost a lot of weight due to my constant walking and just not eating. I remember going grocery shopping and spending something like $15 on food for the week! Finding that line between saving money for adventure or eating dinner was hard for me. My heart so desperately wanted to see the world, at any expense.

I'll admit to splurging on a nice meal only once. And it was soooo goood.

I’ll admit to splurging on a nice meal only once. And it was soooo goood.

My struggle with food and money was a combination of things. My rational mind said things like, “I desperately wanted to lose weight anyway”, “I need to save money for travel”, and “This would make such a great story of how little I spent on food”. The point is, I barely ate anything during my entire trip.

Sunset over the city

Sunset over the city

I was hungry, stressed out about money and food and a little lonely but still excited to be abroad and living my dream of travel. Tallinn turned out to be a great place to study. After just one short week I was already learning so much, in the classroom and out. My classmates were fun and hospitable, my teacher was a gorgeous Russian woman named Tatyana and I was getting in shape from lots of walking. Things were going pretty good and I couldn’t wait till the following weekend there, because I booked a trip to Helsinki for two days!!

Could you point out Estonia on a map? Did you study abroad? Where did you go? Comment below 🙂

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