I was really excited to go to Spain because, in my mind, it’s all red dresses and passionate people and midnight tangos. And, honestly, it’s still kind of like that in my dream world.
I went to Spain for all of 48 hours. It’s a quick flight from Paris, and Barcelona has been on my heart ever since Aqua, Galleria, Chanel, and Dorinda took it over in Cheetah Girls 2. Don’t judge me; we’ve all thought about this.
My trip to Barcelona was certainly not the gold standard of trips that you should follow, as we were strategizing on a budget and walking ourselves all over town. But it was, however, well researched. We covered almost everything that we wanted to, minus a mountain that neither of us felt like climbing at the end of the day. So, if you’re planning a trip to this fun city, I hope that our path through Barcelona will be helpful to you.
Have some tapas.
I didn’t have a bad meal in Spain. We stopped by an awesome tapas joint and drank red wine. Tip: Drink red wine with every meal. Spanish wine is spicy and inexpensive.
Check out Gaudí’s work.
Gaudí is one of Catalonia’s best-known artists, and his work is all over the city. We saw Casa Batllo, which is a topsy-turvy house in downtown; the Sagrada Família church, which is honestly the coolest church I’ve ever seen (minus the construction); and Park Guell, which is a whole park that Gaudí worked on designing for some wealthy businessmen back in the day that wasn’t finished – but it’s colorful and cool to explore. All of these things are free but you can buy tickets to Park Guell for some bonus access, which I thought was worth it.
Go down to the beach.
We stumbled on the beach by accident, but it ended up being my favorite part of Barcelona. There is a long pier, tons of boats, and a surprisingly clean stretch of beach with little cabana restaurants. You can even walk out onto some broken rocks at the end of the pier and just sit. The water is blotchy blue and teal. It’s beautiful. I’d also recommend a frozen lemonade at this point.
Watch a fútbol game.
Barcelona is known for having an incredible soccer team, with highly publicized players like Neymar. Camp Nou – the area where the athletic teams play – is a whole campus of training facilities and arenas. While watching the actual FC Barcelona team can be a little expensive (and, hard to get tickets!), the FC Barcelona B Team also plays at Camp Nou. This is a group of younger guys (maybe 18-20) who are scouted for the A team. They are fantastic players, and the stadium is small, inexpensive to get into, and a really cool experience. If you’re a soccer fan, this is totally worth the trip! There is also a fútsol team, which is closer to indoor soccer, that fans can support.
You may as well get some paella while you’re down in Spain, because that’s the best you’re ever going to get. If you’re not familiar, paella is a savory, spicy rice dish that usually contains chicken, shrimp, or seafood. It’s hearty and the ultimate Spanish comfort food. There are restaurants that advertise paella all over Barcelona, but be careful – you’ll start to see the exact same menu pictures at multiple spots. These places get their paella from one central company, so it won’t be as fresh. We ended up at one of these spots. And, it was good – but, I can imagine that a Mom-and-Pop Spanish restaurant could do it better. I’ve heard great things about Restaurante Arume and Gaudim Restaurant.
The locals are friendly if you try to speak in their language. Out of all the cities we traveled to, folks in Barcelona spoke the least English. Memorize a few key words before you go (hello, bye, please, thank you, can I have the bill?) and people will be nice.
We also heard before visiting that Barcelona is one of the least safe cities in terms of pickpocketing. While places like the Sagrada Família are totally packed with tourists, we never really felt unsafe in Spain, even at night. Make smart choices, and you’ll be fine.
Whenever someone brings up Italy, Rome isn’t usually far behind. It’s the city that most tourists associate traveling with, and I’d argue that a lot of people would consider it their dream trip. It was certainly mine.
Just north of Rome, however, is Florence – a second, smaller city that doesn’t get as much attention from tourists as Rome, but is buzzing nonetheless with many similar happenings.
When I brought up that I was visiting both regions, some people asked me which I was most excited for – or, why I was choosing to visit Florence instead of just going to Rome. And, honestly, I didn’t know very much about Florence. I didn’t even really realize that it is in the Tuscany region, as I’m a new red-wine lover. But, my good friend who was meeting me in Italy said that she had heard Florence was the place to be. So, we went for about a week. Then, after our trip, I headed down to Rome to meet a second friend for a week. It was a lot of pasta, folks. A lot.
So, if you only have a week to spend in Italy, what’s worth it? I’m not here to tell you which city is better, because you really have to make that judgment for yourself. But, I can tell you what I loved and what I didn’t like so much about both cities, and maybe it’ll help you out as you’re planning your next Italian vacation.
It’s very walkable
It’s in the Tuscany region which means you are crazy close to Cinque Terre (my favorite part of Italy, honestly) and wine tours in tiny vineyards in Chianti (totally worth it)
There are tons of small cobblestone roads that are straight out of a fairytale
The Uffizi is a huge art gallery that has tons of notable pieces, like Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus
There are sculptures everywhere, including replicas of Michaelangelo’s David
The food alone is worth the plane ticket
It feels pretty safe
People are generally very nice
Things are a little more expensive here
There is a lot of art, but there is less to see
You can explore Florence itself in about two full days
Almost every restaurant has a “table fee” where you pay 2-3 Euros per person to sit
There is so, so much to see. Almost everything is beautiful and historical
The gelato is seriously the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve now eaten a lot of gelato)
Food is a little cheaper because there are a million restaurants
There’s a sparkling water fountain by the Colosseum
Everything about the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
You can get free tickets to hear the Pope speak
All of the churches are literal works of art
People are so friendly, especially if you learn a few words in Italian
It’s a bigger city than Florence, so it’s not as easy to walk around. The metro and transportation was always super crowded, so that wasn’t a very appealing option
There are so many people and tourists everywhere
It doesn’t feel as safe as Florence because of all the people. You have to be extra-diligent in crowds and people are always trying to sell you things
Parts of Rome are pretty dirty, and the air kinda smells like New York City
There are always lines to wait in
If you like smaller cities (or maybe aren’t as into walking), I’d choose to go to Florence. It is smaller, but it’s Rome’s charming younger brother that doesn’t get as much attention (i.e., less lines). If you love history, you should go to Rome. It’s a beautiful city if you’re willing to walk it, and it has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Go have gelato at Frigidarium.
And, Italy’s Italy. You’ll never regret choosing either place.
When I came to Europe, Prague wasn’t even on my radar. I’d been looking at the map at spots that were kind of in proximity to Munich – where I’ve been spending a lot of time – and both Prague and Vienna popped up as four-five hour trips that could be cool.
I mentioned the possibility of Prague to a few travelers I know, and every one of them who’d been enthusiastically reassured me that Prague was one of their very favorite cities. I don’t speak Czech and I can’t count korunas, but why not?
My brother and I only spent about two full days in Prague, but this city has been in my top two ever since. It’s an underrated European gem, and everyone should visit. Here’s why:
1. It’s inexpensive.
One Euro is worth about 25 Czech korunas. This coupled into account with street food and vendors makes it pretty cheap to eat and shop your way around the city (although don’t use the term “cheap,” as it’s offensive to the locals). There’s an Indian buffet called “Dhaba Beas” that does a huge discount after 7PM on their food, and we ate there two nights in a row for about 2-3 Euros per person. It was incredible.
2. The architecture is amazing.
On one side of the river, in Old Prague, you have an ancient castle that overlooks the water. You can walk through the area without tickets (although if you want to tour, you will need to purchase admission) and you’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, a stunning piece of art that any building lover should witness. The Jewish Quarter is also beautiful, with lots of gilding on the archways, and “The Dancing House” is a famous work of architecture on the main drag that tourists love to take pictures of. If you walk a little father south in the city, you’ll come across a second castle, Vysehrad, that has a view to show off all of Prague. Plus, it’s much less crowded than the larger castle.
3. There is art everywhere.
And I’m not just talking about physical art. You should definitely keep an eye out for the hanging Sigmund Freud, Frank Kafka’s shimmering head, the arch at Charles Bridge, and sculptures everywhere – but we also stumbled across musicians, fire-breathers, watercolor painters, illusionists, and graffiti artists. There is something around every corner.
4. It’s a very diet-friendly city.
This was interesting to me because I wasn’t expecting it at all. Prague has a ton of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, much to the sheer joy of my plant-based brother. And, the food is good. You can find vegan gelatos at almost every ice cream shop, which was an excuse for me to try all of the exotic fruit flavors, like dragonfruit and passionfruit.
5. The markets are just really cool. Havelske Market is full of people with really cool products – i.e., souvenirs that are unlike anything else you’ve seen in Europe for very little money. You can buy everything in Prague, including bunches of fresh figs (which is honestly the most appealing thing I see in every foreign market). There are vendors set up along the castle to sell you Czech trinkets and trdelnik, a cone-shaped pastry that tastes like a cinnamon sugar pretzel. They can fill it with whipped cream, ice cream, Nutella, whatever you’d like.
6. It’s completely walkable.
Prague was one of the only cities where we didn’t need to figure out the public transportation system because it is so damn walkable. You can get anywhere you need to go in about 30 minutes, and you’ll find all sorts of cool nooks and crannies along the way. You don’t need trains or buses or metros, which also makes it a cheaper visit.
Prague is a new favorite for me. If you are into beautiful things (of all varieties), this Czech city is definitely worth a couple days. It is inexpensive, delicious, and very, very memorable.
Bonus tip: Get the Brie and apple croissant from BakeShop. It’s so good.
I knew I’d love Paris before our train even pulled into the station.
I’ve been speaking French since the sixth grade, when my family moved to New Brunswick, a bilingual province in Eastern Canada. French has been a love of mine since I started using it. I went to French camp; I minored in French in college. Outside of my educational experience (and, my siblings), I didn’t have a chance to actually use my French – ever – in the real world. All of my French professors would tell us that we had to get ourselves to France. I missed out on the Study Abroad opportunity in college, but Paris was always at the top of my list.
And, let me tell you – it did not disappoint. A few nay-sayers told me before my trip that Paris was dirty, overrated, and underwhelming. For someone who’s always loved the romantic idea of the Eiffel Tower, the accordion music, and the baguettes, this was a downer for me. If you take anything from this post, take this – form your own opinions. No one can tell you how your experience will be, because you shape it.
Paris doesn’t have to be an expensive place to visit. Like all the European cities I’ve visited so far, Paris can be as cheap or as pricey as you make it. If you’re hoping to stay in a gorgeous hotel in the center of Paris and eat at upscale restaurants every evening, yes – it’ll cost you a good chunk of change. But, if you’re willing to modify those plans a bit, Paris is actually pretty affordable. My brother and I stayed for about three full days, and our costs weren’t more than about 50 Euros a day (not including lodging). Here’s how we spent our time, and it ended up being an awesome, awesome experience:
Get yourself an Airbnb. We stayed in Alfortville, which was about a 30 minute commute on the Paris metro into the city every day. But, Alfortville is charming and residential, with so many authentic Parisians (because, the locals aren’t the ones affording the high rent of the inner city) and incredible food. It was honestly one of our best choices, and our Airbnb cost us about 70 Euros a night (35 each). We even took an evening to wander around just our little area, which happens to have a walking path down the Seine. Yes, really. If you end up in Alfortville, get some schwarma at Eli’s Lebanese Restaurant. He also has 1 Euro baklava.
Take the train into the Eiffel Tower.
Train tickets aren’t too expensive in Paris – you can get a “carnet” (car-nay) of ten tickets for about 14 Euros. This is the perfect amount for a three or four day visit (if you walk the majority of the time). Stop for a croissant.
Visit the Champs Elysée.
Stop at Ladurée for a world-famous macaron.
Visit the Trocadero.
Stop at the Parc Monceau. This is an adorable park with sculptures, a bridge with lily pads, and couples literally having picnics on the ground. It’s awesome. Walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg. This park is also worth it. There is a little pond where kids play with model boats and some beautiful flowers. Eat a baguette.
It’ll only cost you 1 dollar. Pop in a French bookstore.
There are a ton of old bookstores around Paris and they’re just really cool. They usually have a cart of books outside that are between 1 and 5 Euros, so that’s a neat souvenir to take home if you don’t want an Eiffel Tower keychain. Finish the day at the Jardin des Plantes.
There’s a cool maze here and a ton of flowers. It’s also free (yay!).
Time for more sightseeing! Start the day at thePlace de Concorde.
There are two palaces across the street and the Jardins of Champs Elysées are close.
If you want a good vegan restaurant recommendation, try Hank Burger for lunch.
I’m not a vegan, it’s just really good. Visit the Louvre! You do need a reservation in advance for the Louvre, where you choose a thirty-minute time slot to enter the museum. It’s a little pricey, but – in this writer’s opinion – the Louvre is totally worth it. It’s absolutely massive, with several very famous pieces and hundreds of other just really interesting works of art. If you have a student ID, you can also get a discount. Enjoy pain au chocolat, a palmier, a chocolate baguette, or a crêpe. Or all four. Stop at Notre Dame Cathedral.
It’s beautiful and it’s by the river.
Take a train to Versailles.
This famous spot takes about thirty minutes and a special train ticket to get to, but the gardens are incredible. If you want to go inside the actual palace, you should definitely reserve tickets in advance because lines are incredibly long. Plus, if you went to the Louvre the day before, you’ve probably already seen some of Marie Antoinette’s famous furniture so you may want to skip it. A ticket to the gardens alone is cheaper (about 8 Euros). When you get back into Paris, walk up to Montmartre. There is an iconic white basilica (Sacre Coeur) at the top of this hill that has an overlook of the whole city. The area is really artsy and cool, and it’s just a beautiful way to see the sun setting over Paris. This is a must see! Take a ride on the carousel. At the bottom of the hill near Montmartre there is a little park with a carousel. It costs 1 or 2 Euros to ride and it’s just fun to ride on a carousel in Paris. Visit the love wall.
Walk over to the love wall to see the words “I love you” written in just about every language on this tourist-loved photo opp. Finish off your trip to Paris with dinner at a French restaurant and some luscious red wine. Any house red is the best red you’ve ever had. You may also want to order the crème brûlée.
Cooking is cathartic for me, and – as I’ve been traveling a lot – my homesickness is not necessarily for my house, but for my kitchen. I love being able to experiment, especially in the fall, and roaming around from restaurant to restaurant isn’t cutting it for me. So when I finally made it back to my home-away-from-home in Germany, my first three hours were spent in the kitchen, making soup, applesauce, and lemon cheesecake bites. Not a bad welcome home party for myself, eh?
This Creamy Butternut Squash Soup was everything I was missing – fall ingredients and a warm, cozy dinner on chilly October evenings. Plus, it’s not half bad for you. It’s dairy and gluten-free, and could be made vegan if you opted for vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. If you aren’t following any sort of diet regimen and just want a damn good soup, add some crispy prosciutto and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve with homemade bread (or, in Germany, pretzel bread). Enjoy!
1 large butternut squash
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 peeled carrots
1 stalk celery
1 chopped onion
3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup coconut cream
5 cups chicken broth
(NOTE: Homemade chicken broth is SO good in this recipe. Use it if you have it!)
1 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
Salt to taste
Clean and quarter butternut squash. Place on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 350˚F/175˚C until squash is soft. In a food processor (or with an immersion blender), combine coconut cream and butternut squash.
In a large pot, heat up chicken broth until just simmering. Add in chopped carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes and cover. Cook until vegetables are completely tender. Use the immersion blender to puree all of the vegetables into the broth. Add in all spices.
Add in the squash mixture and blend with the broth mixture. Soup should be moderately thick. Simmer for 5-10 minutes so the flavors can meld, and salt to taste. Serve immediately (although, it’s pretty great the next day, too).
I’ve now gotten a lot of practice in mapping out a city and seeing exactly what I want to see in the amount of time I have to see it. We spent just one full day in Barcelona, Prague, and Vienna, and I’m about to head to a full day in Amsterdam.
With cities that have so much historical value and so many sights, one day might not seem feasible. But, if you’re willing to strategize, I promise you – you can fit it all in.
The first trick to conquering a new city in a short amount of time is be willing to walk. Thankfully, I’ve been with some fellow walkers along my trip, because let me tell you: you will begin to stumble upon things that you A) didn’t even know were in that city and B) were trying to eventually find but forgot you wanted them on the list. In Paris, we stumbled on so many landmarks just because we were trying to walk ourselves to another side of the city. Walking is totally worth it.
Next, Google Maps will be your best, best friend. Before each city (usually, the night before exploring), I look up the things in each city that are worth seeing. There are usually a couple of lists (at least for major cities) that’ll get you started on things that people have recommended taking a look at – and, things that other travelers have deemed as overrated or not worth the price of admission.
Make a list of those places that you want to go, and then set your Airbnb or hotel location as your “home.” Open directions in Google Maps, and set “home” as your starting and ending spots. On walking mode (once you hit directions, click the walking man next to the car and bus symbols) you can tap the three dots next to your location and “add stop.” Add in all of the places that you’ve listed as your top destinations. Then, you can drag and drop the places. Create a circle out of your list. This way, you’re not doubling back on any places that you’ve missed, and you’re creating an efficient walking path to see everything. It’s an awesome trick. You can also download an offline map of the city that you’re going to so that you aren’t using so much data while you’re mapping.
You also want to pay attention to the day of the week that you’re visiting the city. Sometimes, sights and locations are closed on Sundays or Mondays. You don’t want to walk a kilometer to a spot on your list only to find out that it’s not open to the public. Do a little research beforehand so that you can avoid any surprises (and cut out any unnecessary trudging) while you’re exploring.
But, as I mentioned, the absolute best part of walking around a city is finding the places that you didn’t even know you wanted to see. In Paris, this was an incredible botanical garden that was free to the public that we happened to find. Take a little time to explore these hidden gems, because the big stuff isn’t always where the best memories are made. If you see a church that looks interesting, stop. Go up the hill for a view of the city. Sit in the park for a few minutes. Absorbing the culture of a new place is much more authentic when you step aside for the smaller stuff.
When it comes to food, research any special dishes or treats that the area is famous for, and make that a priority. Although pasta in France is fun, it’s not pasta in Italy. And, although Germans love their bread, it doesn’t compare to a Parisian croissant. Stop for these special items when you find them or when you see them on a menu, and supplement any expensive meals with cheap (and delicious) street food, like döner (gyros).
It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, you don’t even have to use public transportation (we skipped it in Prague, Florence, and Rome). Just take thirty minutes to plan the day before, and maximize your time. I promise, it’ll be totally worth it as you’re hitting all the Colosseums and Eiffel Towers and ruins that you wanted to see and stumbling upon incredible murals along the way.
This may sound a little dark, but I’ve been sitting in a lot of cemeteries lately.
I’m fascinated by how people have chosen to commemorate themselves (and, often, how others have chosen to commemorate them). There are headstones that reach fifteen feet into the air, with marble columns and a clay bust of the deceased. There are mausoleums and gardens. And, there are old, broken headstones on which you can barely read the name and date.
The cemetery almost feels busy, like you’re standing in the middle of a big crowd of people. It also feels like you’re intruding, in a way, to very private moments of someone’s life and legacy.
In graveyards, I am continually reminded that no matter how huge or opulent the headstone, all of these people are gone. They’re dead. These people could have had all the money in the world, with their massive graves and bundles of fresh flowers, but – at the end of the day – they’re in the ground.
So, let my sitting on a bench in a cemetery in Vienna remind you that we only have one short life to live. And, every day is important to that short life.
I bet each and every one of the people behind these gravestones – and their families – wish they had another 24 hours to just be with each other.
So, be present with the people you’re around, and love everyone fully. Don’t waste time living to your happiest, fullest potential, because I imagine all the headstones in the cemetery would rush to tell you the same thing.
It’s fun to roam around and explore a new city, but it also can be the source of some anxiety. If you’re in an unfamiliar place and don’t know where things are (or, how to get there), it can be incredibly stressful to navigate. I’m speaking from personal experience, of course. It’s also difficult if you don’t speak the language; there’s a third obstacle to add to the list. So, when you get that wave of fear or a moment of loneliness, here are a few small things that I’ve noticed help keep me grounded.
Smiling at a stranger and having them smile back at you This tends to work best with middle-aged moms. Young people don’t have time for you and older people tend to frown back because, I think, they’re not used to having young people smile at them.
Finding food that reminds you of your childhood For me, this is a falafel joint or any kind of Mediterranean spot that serves hummus and/or baklava. Sometimes a little taste of something that spurs nostalgia can warm your heart if you’re feeling isolated.
Honestly, it’s just really comforting to stop and take a minute to appreciate what’s around you. Smelling flowers grounds me because A) it’s comforting to realize that these little guys can bloom in the place they’re at, so you can too and B) it brings self-awareness. I recognize the senses I’m using to smell the flowers and my focus is brought to the nature around me.
Finding a view that makes you forget how hard it was to get up there in the first place I know Miley was all about the climb, but sometimes that climb is tough and sweaty (physically and emotionally). It’s encouraging to get to the top of a hill or mountain and look out over the city or place you’re in. Then, you’re seeing how beautiful the view is, or how small everything looks, or how far the river runs – instead of focusing on fear.
Touching the bark of a really old tree
Similar to smelling flowers, this connection to nature is surprisingly relaxing. I like to stare up into old trees and run my hands along the rough bark, trying to think about how old the tree is or what it has seen. They’ve been standing peacefully for a long time with the earth under their feet.
Seeing a dog playing in the park
This may be more geared towards pet lovers, but nothing brings joy to my heart like seeing a pup loving their life. It makes me so happy to see them playing, or jumping, or licking their owners, or wagging their tails. We get to be responsible for some of these beautiful creatures. And, it also reminds me of my own sweet dog who loves unconditionally.
Stepping on a crunchy fall leaf
Nothing grounds me more than a physical reminder that all of life comes in seasons, both literally, with our four seasons, and metaphorically, with chapters in our own stories. Sometimes the moment it takes to bring your anxiety down is to feel and hear that sensation of autumn, reminding us that this, too, is just another season. And, you can manage it.
Watching people from a park bench I am a big fan of pausing and sitting, especially in some of the incredible green spaces that you’ll find in bigger cities. Watching people can be fun, but it is also grounding to remember that we as humans all want the same things, and our goals are similar. We want love, dignity, respect, and protection for ourselves and our families. It doesn’t matter who you are or what language you speak – these core values connect us to people wherever we are. It’s also encouraging to think about the goodness in these people; it has been proven to me time and time again while I’ve been traveling that people are willing to help. People are inherently good.
Doing something in your normal routine
Traveling is a whirlwind of new things, so sometimes the thing that helps out an anxious soul is to do something that you know. Go for a run, read your favorite book, have a cup of tea, or lay in the grass. You are not losing yourself in this moment of being lost or fearful; you have the capacity to do whatever you’d like to do.
Do you have something that you’d like to add to this list? I’d love to expand it to help fellow travelers. Tweet me @abbiwilt with your suggestions!
Never ask a celebrity anything other than the question that you are supposed to be asking them, because, chances are, you will forget who you are and ask them something incredibly weird just to impress them, and it will not work. Example (and this is hard to write): One time, Craig Campbell told me that his favorite artist of all time was Keith Whitley. I, for some reason, thought he said Glenn Frey – so I asked him if he was an Eagles fan. Stick to the script, Abbi, stick to the script. It’s also not appropriate to say things like “You smell like gingerbread!” to Reba McEntire.
Always accept free food. Food will not always be free, so make it count. If you don’t want to take it in front of your coworkers, you can stealthily grab a little bit later. But, honestly, everyone wants it, so just do what you want and take that croissant in the morning meeting.
Taco Bell does not count as a suitable lunch when the CEO of the company is walking by your desk. Suitable fast-food lunch options include Subway, Chick-fil-A, and anything that can’t be identified by the smell alone. I have never seen someone eating a hamburger at their desk (but, I’ve seen plenty of Jason’s Deli bags).
Bring something warm to wear. You will need layers. It will either be 50° in your office, or 85°. There is no in-between, and which temperature it will be is always a mystery. Some adopt a blanket as a permanent part of their outfit every day, so pick one you really like (because you’ll be in it 90% of the time). Here’s a meme I made about this very subject:
Attitudes do not work well in the office, especially when that attitude is #NotMyJob. This will never, ever work for you. Chances are that things will go poorly and you won’t succeed in what you’re trying to do. This is especially important when you’re in the beginning stages of your career and are trying to get a taste for what the company is like (or, what you want to do). If you take on new responsibilities and tasks to establish yourself, you may find that there’s a strength you’ve overlooked or a connection with a mentor that you’ve made. Yes, if your plate is full, you can say no – that’s not my point. You need to be open to either doing something you may not want to or directing someone to the right place to solve the problem. Yes, it IS your job.
Do not hold your ice-cold water cup in the same hand that you shake hands with. It will not go well when you go to greet someone. We had the CEO of the company come in one day from New York for a big presentation, and, at the wine-and-cheese reception following his speech, we lined up to meet him. Sure enough, because I tend to always make these situations a little awkward, I had a glass of ice water in my shaking hand. I realized it when he was only a few people ahead of me, and desperately tried to friction-up my hand. Now, I’m sure, he just think I am especially clammy. Save yourself from this situation and carry those glasses of iced tea in your opposite hand, folks.
It is better to be the person at the desk who always has forks and Tylenol then the person who doesn’t. I have at least one person per week that either comes to my desk for something that they could find in the chaos of my cube or is referred to my desk by someone else in the office. It doesn’t cost much to always have a few things that people need: Tylenol or Advil, a Tide-To-Go pen, plastic forks, or a lint roller. It’s a very easy way to make friends, and it’s a good reputation to have at the office. I had a colleague once who told me to not tell anyone you had forks, or everyone would be coming to your desk. On the contrary, I like having people stop by my desk for things. It keeps me from having days where I don’t speak to another human being until 11AM.
Do not bring the food for lunch that needs to be microwaved that will jeopardize the smell of the entire office. Fish is a definite no-no. Both tacos and chili smell good but will also waft through the entire office. Just be prepared to answer, “What smells so good?” a handful of times if you opt for these dishes. If you bring snacks, which, obviously I must, do not bring the ones that are so crunchy that every bite makes it sound like you are a T-Rex crushing bones at your desk. Everyone will be able to hear, especially if you’re in a quiet office.
If you have to do an important interview, step away from your open-space-cubicle floor plan. Everyone will be able to hear your interview, and any mistakes that you make. This doesn’t work out well when you’re interviewing one of your celebrity crushes. This happened once when I was on a call with Cole Swindell. The office was uncharacteristically quiet as I did the interview at my desk and then everyone CLAPPED when I hung up the phone. It was mortifying.
Going on a diet will not work for you, especially if you work in a place where free food lives all the time. There will be some sort of food to sabotage your diet every single day, and it may even be at every single meal. There was once a day when I was offered donuts, scones, muffins, pizza, Taziki’s leftovers, spiced pecans, chocolate-covered pretzels, and a slice of coconut cake, all before 4PM. The office is a difficult place to be on a diet. If these issues don’t affect your workplace, go for it kids!
Be sure to turn your ringer off before you go to your morning meeting. If that sucker goes off and you are over at the conference table with the rest of the group, you have to explain to them why Barefoot Blue Jean Night by Jake Owen is blasting at your desk. It will be the longest minute of your life.
The more people you help, the more people will want to help you. I know that some folks are against adding smiley faces to emails. But, honestly, if you’re working with someone for a while and it’s casual (and/or, you’re being helpful), throw one of those suckers in there. I like getting smiles from people. If you have the time to help someone out with something that makes their life easier, you should do it. Do everything you can to work towards that common goal. And, as you’d expect, people are much more likely to help you out when you’re in a pickle if you’ve been kind to them with favors.
Only print out handouts when they are absolutely necessary. I have wasted almost 2 packs of paper on handouts that could’ve been PDFs in an email. You’ll need to have a paper trail of these, anyways, so be conscientious of the environment and don’t print out more than you need to. And, make sure that the printer is working before you have to print out a large document. If that ends up in the printer queue and everyone is stuck behind you, you will not be the office favorite.
Drive slowly around the turns in the parking deck, because you do not want to get in an accident with one of your coworkers. That could and would be incredibly awkward. I actually have a friend who this happened to – she was hit by another coworker in the garage. Do you really want to exchange insurance information with the company’s creative director? And, news of this caliber would spread like wildfire.
The office is fueled by caffeine and craft beer. Note: Learn to like one of these things. People will look at you strangely as you gather with the staff at a local brewery and ask for the drink that tastes least like beer. Hard cider, por favor? And, as any social culture, you will be regarded as more open-minded if you talk about the number of coffees you’ve consumed or drink the wine or take a glass of champagne at the wine-and-cheese social. Now – as someone who does not drink much (see my Dear Sober Abbi blog posts), an appropriate swap for alcohol is sparkling water. Sparkling water gives you something to toast with and feels a little fancier than tap water.
If you are an amateur baker, do not bring a pie to a place where people are literally professional bakers. This tip is definitely specific to working at a women’s lifestyle magazine, but it happened to me so frequently that I thought it important to include. My work husband is a pastry chef, and even he knew better than to broadcast that he’d brought in a dessert for people to sample. It’s intimidating (and, most of it’s in your head!). But, you can always leave an anonymous dessert by the coffee machine for people to sample.
Double-check when you’re sending an email that it is actually going to the right person. I was trying to contact one specific marketing gal, and accidentally CC’d in the whole consumer marketing group with 100+ people. I got about 15 polite emails back saying, “Sorry, try again!”
It is not acceptable to take off your shoes and walk around in bare feet, unless everyone else is gone. Airplane rules apply to the office, if I may be so bold. If you’re choosing to wear high heels to work, you’d better make sure that you can hang out in those babies until 5:30PM, or that you’ve brought a pair of flats to change into in case of emergency. When there are constantly people walking through your office, you cannot walk barefoot to the photocopy machine (and, limping in heels doesn’t look so great, either). This was a tough one for me, because I love to take off my shoes. Keep that habit at home, folks.
Keep mints instead of gum at your desk, so that you are not smacking to the dismay of everyone around you. Mints are an easy and inexpensive way to get rid of that garlic breath after lunch, and won’t bring down your professionalism. Plus, you have the added bonus of being kind and offering mints to colleagues.
If you must trip and fall and heels, be sure to do it in the stairwell instead of in front of everyone coming back from a meeting. They will feel very badly for you, and you will think about how you probably should’ve worn flats today. I wish I could say that this hasn’t happened to me, but, in fact, it’s happened to me at least three times. Once, I was giving a tour to our new intern and completely tripped down a flight of stairs. I think I made her feel more comfortable about being in the office, but, man, that was embarrassing.
If you notice that your dress is unraveling as you’re getting ready for work, change. Do not wear that dress to work. It will become worse, and, by the end of the day, you will actually have a hole in your clothing. Not exactly flattering, especially in a professional setting. And, if you notice it in the privacy of your own home, it’ll certainly drive you crazy in the office, when you’re hyperaware of impressing your boss.
Do not come to work with chipped nail polish. This will inevitably be the day when you are asked to hand model (really!), and then you will have to go through the rigmarole of taking off your chipped black polish. It would have been easier if you had just taken off the polish like you originally planned before you binge-watched Reign on Netflix.
Bringing someone a Starbucks drink is a great way of helping them warm up to you. No pun intended. You’d be surprised at how a small gesture like picking up coffee for someone can change the tone of their entire day.
If you work in an office full of lots of skinny people, they may not appreciate your Christmas cookie haul as much as some other people would. Save the Christmas cookies for people who will appreciate them, and try bringing something a little healthier to the Christmas party, like fruit or orange juice.
Playing things out loud on your computer is incredibly taboo. It’s the equivalent of playing music or a podcast on full volume without headphones in a public place – not appreciated. Even if you are at just one volume mark on your laptop, assume everyone can hear it (because, some can). And, there will always be colleagues who do not take kindly to playing Christmas music out loud in the afternoons. They are Scrooges, but still wear headphones.
Rewrite an email if you think that there is even the slightest chance that someone might be offended by it. This is an important one! Either establish yourself as the person that gets right to the point in emails, or be a kind, flowery person that rewrites emails a few times until you get it right. You do not need to be passive aggressive. Don’t try to convey attitude in an email; take a deep breath, and remember that it’s only a job. Kind emails, people.
If you walk into the restroom with three other people, try and do the every other stall thing. Only sociopaths come into a restroom with one other person (and five-plus stalls) and pick the stall next to the original restroom-user. And, if that person is you and I recognize your shoes, I guarantee that I will hold that negative feeling of increased peeing anxiety against you for at least the rest of the workday.
Do not share your political believes in the office. You would think that this one would be a given, but, surprisingly, it is not. Please do not share who you are voting for or why you think so-and-so is a bad candidate. This is our workplace, man. I just want to come in, do my job, and not have to think about why you decided to vote for Donald Trump. This is a definite no-no.
If someone tells you something in confidence, do not share it. To create relationships, be a person of your word. No one wants to find out that you told someone something that you weren’t supposed to, because then you’re not only a bad colleague, you’re a bad friend. And that gets around.
If you have an urge to talk about someone else in your office, keep it to yourself. This is the last point for a reason. In any environment where you’re working with different personalities, corporate structures, and dynamics, things happen that will make you unhappy or frustrated. This is, unfortunately, inevitable. And, often times, there will be certain people at the root of these issues. If you have the chance to talk trash about one of your colleagues, turn it down. It only plants bad seeds. Instead, take every situation with a grain of salt and remind yourself that it’s only a job. Don’t talk badly about your colleagues. We all have better things to spend our time on.