So before I started my lessons abroad, I spent six weeks backpacking around Europe. Below are a few lessons I’ve learnt.
To Thine Own Self Be True
Billy Shakespeare said it best in Hamlet. This advice applies to life and to traveling. If you’re like me and you dislike Van Gough, don’t go to the Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam no matter how many people tell you to.
Know what you want and make sure it happens in each city. That way if your trip ends sooner than you imagined, at least you’ve seen everything you care about. For example, in Paris I hit the ground running with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Opéra within the first few hours. Everything after that was just icing on the cake.
Studying? For My Vacation?
The one thing I was really glad I did, was to read up on traveling in Europe. The one thing I regret, was not reading enough on each of the cities I would be visiting. I know it’s information overload when you are first planning your trip, but if you research far enough ahead of time; it’ll really pay off.
Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Back Door helped me immensely. It doesn’t really matter which edition you get, I looked up all the time sensitive stuff online. It was more helpful in terms of getting me acquainted with the culture. Before reading his book, it hadn’t crossed my mind that there are many different types of toilets all over Europe, or that people usually refer to restrooms as toilets.
Take classes on world history, or on your specific region of interest, or on art history. It will make your trip so much more enjoyable if you have actually heard of the sites you are visiting or the paintings you are viewing. I was able to take this course at UT called Preparation for Studying Abroad in Europe (EUS 113) before I left and it was obviously very relevant. But if it’s too late for that, at least look at a world map. It is beyond embarrassing when you meet someone new and they tell you where they are from only to have you respond with a blank stare.
Brush up on foreign languages. Even if you just know “hello” “do you speak English?” and “thank you,” it’ll really help. I highly recommend downloading the “One Minute ____________” podcasts from the Radio Lingua network and listening to them years (or minutes) before you travel. They have everything from Spanish to Luxembourgish.
Horrible things happen. Don’t let it get you down. Your life can’t be that bad if you can afford the time and money to travel. Just pick yourself up and get on with it.
I thought I packed light but with my backpack on, I felt like Ron Weasley wearing Slytherin’s locket- unusually moody. You should try wearing your packed backpack on and walking up and down a block and up three flights of stairs before you leave. It’ll help you get an idea of what it’s like to walk from the train station to your nearby hostel and it’ll be hilarious for everyone around you.
Don’t Be Picky
Guess what? They eat different foods in different cultures. Shocking, I know.
Ask for Help in the Local Language
Guess what else? The locals usually know their city is better than you. Another shocker. They can also help you faster than you can read a map. It’s also thrilling to try speaking in foreign languages.
The Actual Trip
Hostels vs. Hotels- One Letter Makes All the Difference
During my travels, I’ve stayed in shady hostels, friends’ places, and four-star hotels. Obviously if you have a friend in the area, stay with them because it’s free and they have luxuries like a refrigerator stocked with food. If you’re not so lucky, stay in a HOSTEL. Do not, I repeat, do not pick a hotel over a hostel. Unless you are a loner or over 25, I would not stay in a hotel. Don’t get me wrong; hotels are usually my favorite part of any trip, but hostels are so much better. If you pick a good hostel (any hostel that is a part of the Europe’s Famous Hostels alliance) you will have the opportunity to meet awesome people, which will make the city for you. It’s also not that dangerous. I just brought my own lock along to use on the provided lockers and have never had my stuff stolen. So don’t let my previous blog entry scare you- hostels can be a very good experience.
Skip Stopover Cities
I have had horrible experiences in every city that I have stayed in for less than 24 hours. Marseille, Nuremberg, Frankfurt- what was the point in me staying in any of those cities? I didn’t get enough time to really do anything and it just ended up being a waste of money and a regret. I wish I just tacked on extra days to the cities I did like.
Facebook- Cultural Ambassador
Facebook is awesome. Everyone has one. If you don’t have one, you don’t really exist. You’re actually just a figment of the imagination until you create one. You know you’re really connecting with a person when they ask if you have a Facebook. It’s popular everywhere in the world and it helps you keep in touch with potential couches that you can crash on.
Don’t Just Befriend English Speakers
Australians, British, and Canadians are cool, but other people are cool too.
I have many more lessons, but I’ll cut it off there before your eyeballs start bleeding from staring at the computer screen for so long.