How being drunk for 6 months in Sweden helped me get a degree

Chloe Barnes

Website: Camping in Heels

Chloe in typical pose on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Copyright © by Camping in Heels 2011.

Chloe in typical pose

Chloe is an Australian expat living in Scotland. She’s not quite sure why she’s there, but after years of experiencing seasons that include ‘rainy’, ‘uncomfortably warm’, ‘I think I might burst into flames’, and ‘can they even measure this in Celsius?!’ it’s a pleasant change. Just quietly, she’s also really uncomfortable writing about herself in the third person, and would very much like a hamster. They don’t have hamsters in Australia. If you enjoy passive-aggressive commentary on all things travel, check out Camping in Heels, because Chloe would love knowing that her readership extends beyond her mum (Hi, Mum!), and a certain anonymous Internet user from Bulgaria.


1.         How did you get involved in writing/blogging?

I’m quite narcissistic by nature, so starting a blog seemed like the ‘right’ thing to do when I found out I was off to Sweden on exchange. I didn’t expect anyone to read it, but it was a hell of a lot easier than writing mass emails and expecting to find the time to reply to them all, in amongst getting drunk and pretending to study.

2.         Describe your earliest remembered ‘adventure’.

This isn’t my earliest memory, but it’s certainly the most memorable. I was about 10 years old, and staying with some members of my family, who lived in a more rural area of South Australia. My cousin Aimee and I decided to go exploring down to the creek that ran past their property, and on our way back to the house, unknowingly trespassed on a neighbouring property. The ‘property’ was in fact acres and acres of land, with massive paddocks filled with hugely fat cows. The second they saw Aimee and me plodding our way through their paddock, they ran towards us. They probably thought we had food. We thought we were going to die. We bolted, screaming, through the paddock, and in the single most acrobatic move of my entire life, I grabbed a tree branch, and flew gracefully over the barbed wire fence, to the relative safety of my Uncle’s land. Aimee watched me land, and decided to climb the fence instead. She ended up sitting on the barbed fence, spikes firmly embedded in her butt, screaming and crying as the cows bounded joyously towards her. We didn’t go exploring again.

3.         Share you ‘guilty’ travel secret.

I really like in-flight meals. I can’t help it! There’s just something about it. All the little compartments, everything comes on that one little tray, and yet there’s a hot meal, a salad, a bread roll, a drink *and* dessert! I know, I know, I should be ashamed. I’ve never had a bad meal yet, though I’ve heard some shocking complaints about them. I guess I’m just not that fussy. Either that, or I’m a really sad person with low/no standards.

Lampost dancing in Stockholm on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Copyright © by Camping in Heels 2011.

Lampost dancing in Stockholm

4.         Rockstar blogger or bestselling author and why?

Oh god, WHY DO I HAVE TO CHOOSE?! Ok, fine: rockstar blogger, I suppose. At least you know you get regularly updated content J That being said, if I love a novel, I will read and reread it until people start asking “aren’t you sick of that damn thing yet?” No. No, I’m not.

5.         What is the best tip you have ever been given?

Pack everything you think you need, then remove half of it. I don’t take this advice – ever – but there’s a part of me that just knows it’s really, really smart. I’m sure it would be wonderful to travel the world with a light(ish) suitcase/backpack, but I also know I’ll never be that person who can walk with their luggage without looking like they’ve just run a marathon. I’ll keep overpacking until I can afford to pay someone to carry my luggage for me, thank you very much. That’s ambition, right there.

6.         Where would you be if you could be anywhere right now?

Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide, in Australia. It’s where my family and friends are, it’s where I grew up, and it’s wonderful J OOH! Or, New York City. I know nobody there, but it’s the greatest city in the world. Bold statement, I know.

7.         If you could travel with any three people, celebrity, fictional or historical who would be your companions?

Michael McIntyre – for the entertainment, Bear Grylls – in case we get stranded anywhere and need to eat plants (though I draw the line at drinking my own pee), and Ryan Reynolds – for visual enjoyment, and many, many hours of sexytime (I am of course assuming that because I could choose a fictional person to travel with, the normal rules of life don’t apply. Consent, for example.). Plus, with those biceps, he could carry my shopping. Win-win.

8.         What invention do you wish had been invented already?

A teleporter. Just think! No more Ryanair…ever.

How being drunk for 6 months helped me get a degree

I’m not an alcoholic. Thought I’d better clear that up.

However, I did get pretty damn close in the 6 months that I lived in Sweden, back in 2006.

I was 22. I was disheartened, disillusioned, and disappointed with what my life had become. I worked in a soulless job, was studying for a degree that didn’t interest me, with job prospects that I was even less interested in, and I was bored. I had reached a stage where dropping out was all I could think about. But the prospect of facing limitless possibilities didn’t excite me then, the way it does now. It terrified me.

The 'gang' in Goteborg on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Copyright © by Camping in Heels 2011.

The ‘gang’ in Goteborg

Good news

Just when I was ready to throw it all away, it arrived: a letter from my university;

“Congratulations! You have been awarded a scholarship to participate in a student exchange at Linköpings Universitet.”

I didn’t even know where that was (seriously, I had to Google it), and I couldn’t remember applying. Turns out I had applied one lazy Sunday, after a couple of glasses of wine (still NOT alcoholic – see above), and promptly forgot about it.

That letter changed everything.

After arranging a passport, visas, flights, accommodation, and study electives in what seemed like a flurry of paperwork and brain-melting frustration, I arrived in Sweden. There was snow. I’d never seen snow before. I pressed my face up against the windows and stared for what seemed like hours. It took all my willpower not to run outside and throw myself, face down, into the powdery hills lining the streets.

Serious Sweden

Walking through the airport to board my train to Linköping, I fought urges to grab perfect strangers and scream at them, “LOOK AT ME! I’M IN SWEDEN!!” It would have been weird, and not (from what I hear) a way to endear yourself to the locals.

I experienced my first real taste of independent travel, and sweet jebus was it yummy.

I reminded myself: I was there to study. To learn; then my advisor back home casually mentioned, “Oh, by the way – you don’t get graded while you’re away. You either pass, or you fail.” Wait, what? all I needed to do was pass, and it wouldn’t affect my GPA?

Alcohol and opportunities

I made the most of it, and took every opportunity that came my way. I felt the arctic winter burn my face as I rode a snowmobile at 90km/h across a frozen lake, listened to the excited howls of the huskies that pulled our dog sled through the forest in the Arctic Circle, and stood outside in nothing but a towel, -40 degrees Celsius, to see the Aurora Borealis weave her magic across the night sky.

Skiing at Salen on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Copyright © by Camping in Heels 2011.

Skiing at Salen

I made friends with an awesome group of people, and we dubbed ourselves “The B-Team” (we knew we weren’t quite A-Team standard, but we were happy with mediocrity). Our drinking abilities however, were second to none – and we trained hard, 6 nights a week; that’s dedication. We didn’t just drink though – we became masters of the art of drinking on a limited budget in Sweden where alcohol is abhorrently expensive.

I learnt to ski, and demonstrated my new skill by catapulting myself down a mountain (having vastly overestimated my abilities). As I cartwheeled down the slope, a crap-ton of fresh snow packed my nose, eyes and mouth, while 3 year olds carved gracefully past me (pausing their Olympic-standard snowboarding to giggle at the clumsy foreigner), and I thought about how glad I was to have accepted that scholarship. I had never felt more alive than during those 6 months of my life.

Going on that exchange revitalised me. It gave me the morale boost I needed in order to finish my degree, and get that damn piece of paper, after years of struggling my way through endless coursework. It also made me hungry for travel.

When I walked across that stage to accept my degree, I wasn’t thinking about the job I’d been offered, or the work I’d done, or the achievement I’d earned.

I was thinking about my next adventure.

Partying our favourite pastime on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Copyright © by Camping in Heels 2011.

Partying our favourite pastime


Comments 9

  1. Nicole

    Haha great post. *reminder: drink wine, apply for scholarship to far off location, drink a lot! 🙂
    (I secretly love airplane food too… unless it has peas. Blargh peas!)

  2. Zoe_Paige

    Chloe! I LOVE the meals you get on a plane too! They are amazing! I too, love the little compartments for the separate food and the mini spreads etc!! Once, on a morning flight, I only got the breakfast, and I was truly upset! Love your work x

    1. Post

      Thank you Zoe and Nicole for taking the time to comment, knew this post might prove popular, alcohol fuelled travel always likely to be a winner!

  3. Shaun

    (I am of course assuming that because I could choose a fictional person to travel with, the normal rules of life don’t apply. Consent, for example.

    Made me laugh out loud and look weird to others around me.

    1. Post

      Probably just looked eccentric Shaun, nothing wrong with that especially if mistaken for a millionaire by the ladies even if it is only for a night!

  4. John Meffen

    LOL, Chloe, doing Spanish, I was “made” to study at the Universidad de Cantabria for six months, but didn’t have to pass any tests, I barely remember a thing, but I did love doing it.

    1. Post

      I love the ‘made’ to comment as if you were forced at pain of death, barely remember a thing, must have been awesome then!

      1. John Meffen

        Thanks Iain, and god bless the EU for giving me extra funding to a country where the wine & beer was much, much cheaper, it does so much for further European integration 😉

  5. Locationcars

    I cried every time when I am doing the thing that I am not at all interested.My life is full of boring because I never accepted new challenges but when I moved to Texas my life is totally changed,now I am ready to accept new challenges ,a willingness to try something new.When I was reading your blog I got my old memories back thanks for sharing your experience .

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