End-of-Semester Wisdom from a (Slightly) Wizened European Traveler
The greatest thing I have gained from living abroad is the confidence to go to where I want. I am the master of my fate. It’s scary, but also wonderful to find that the world is well-connected.
The greatest thing I have gained from living abroad is the confidence to go to where I want. I am the master of my fate. It’s scary but also wonderful to find that the world is well-connected. What I’ve found is that people are people despite their cultural differences and can be just as friendly or as crabby as people you know at home. Yet, the cultural differences are the fuel that feed that burning, yearning desire I have to travel. There are so many benefits to studying abroad and traveling at this age. A lot of this experience depends on learning by doing, but after traveling Europe and living in Granada four months, I’ve picked up on a few things that I wish I had known before hand.
Be outgoing, even if it is against your nature. Sitting in a hostel lobby or café in Europe is veritably a smorgasbord of nationalities, language, and most importantly, fellow travelers. Whether you are meeting fellow study abroad students or are on a weekend trip in a foreign land, strike up a conversation. If you’re learning a new language, practice it with a local. Usually people are happy to practice their English and will undoubtedly help you out when you make a mistake in their native language. I have found that traveling makes you a kinder person, or at least more patient and outgoing. You’re really never all alone, because loneliness can easily be remedied with a simple hi, hey, hello, hola to a fellow traveler. If you’re traveling with friends, make new friends. I have had such a rich experience abroad by meeting new people within my program, within Granada and within all of Europe.
Sleep on buses and airplanes. If you travel at night, you won’t have to pay for a hostel and you maximize the amount of daytime you have during the trip. When I was little I was always urged to get a good nights sleep the night before a trip. But what I’ve found is that you need to be completely exhausted when you start bus, train, or plane travel. That way as soon as you sit in your bus, no matter how many children are singing Christmas carols or the fact that your seat only reclines from 90 degrees down to an astonishing 95 degree angle, you can still plug-in the iPod and fall into a troubled and delirious slumber. Also, a traveler’s best gear is probably a beanie because a) your hair will produce 8 times the amount of grease it normally does as soon as you step foot into an airplane—I think it may have something to do with the fake air and the delirious sleep—and b) you can stuff it with a scarf or a sweater and it can be used as a small neck pillow to ease the severity of which your head swivels during said delirious sleep. Honestly, it makes the journey feel much shorter. Plus there are night trains where beds can be booked.
Free wi-fi is a traveler’s new best friend. Sometimes the first thing I had to do when I landed in a strange new city was to find a McDonald’s, not for its food, but for the free wi-fi connection so I could get directions, search metro lines, find local activities, or book hostels, buses and flights. Before I came here by myself, I never could imagine traveling alone. I mean, how lonely! How intimidating! But now I understand that the world is easily navigated with the aid of buses, cheap flights, couch surfers, good books, an upbeat attitude and free wi-fi. The world is at your hand when you have maps, local suggestions, and Google. With that all said, it’s also incredibly nice to not have access to Internet all of the time. My time here has not been wasted on Facebook and StumbleUpon. Instead I have checked out some of the following helpful sites.
Skytrackers.com finds the cheapest deals on flights which can be as low as 10€ in Europe. Of course Ryanair.com usually has the cheapest flights, but every once in a while Aer Lingus or another company will have a connection that’s even cheaper. It’s a great engine to compare flights.
Couchsurfing.org is a site connecting travelers depending on good karma. With an online profile, you can request a free host while you’re traveling to a foreign town. The more good reviews you have from past experiences, the more likely people will host you in their home the next time you request housing. About 99% of the time, the people who host you are incredibly generous, kind, and certainly understand the tight budget that young travelers have. Bad experiences are hard to come by and negative reviews are extremely helpful in weeding out those unfavorable hosts.
Nectarandpulse.com is a website where you can have a hip local “soul mate” in a select European city you wish to visit. You buy a personalized guide for 6€ from the soul mate and it sent to you in the mail. Not only are they stylishly designed and organized personally by the soul mate, but also they have all the best-kept secrets of the city, places that travel guides wouldn’t have, and the gems that would take weeks of wandering to find.
SpottedbyLocals.com is similar, but all the tips are posted online, so they are less exclusive because the information is readily available online for free. The best places in a city are the hole in the wall bars, cafes, art galleries, scenic views, small plazas, off beat parks that are oozing with local flavor. That is where I have found that you find the soul of a city. Tourist spots are historical and culturally viable, but to really feel the city, you have to delve deeper than that!
Some of my favorite moments in Europe have been when I had no plan. The best thing to do is have a few places prioritized, but sticking to a strict schedule is exhausting and frustrating in an unfamiliar place. Having plenty of time is a luxury that study abroad students are strangers to. Weekend trips around Europe are incredible but limited for time. Make sure to always take a breather in between racing from monument to museum, lower the camera always from your face and just look around whatever city you’re in. Sometimes sitting on a bench and people-watching can much-needed and unique to wherever you are visiting.
I’ve always considered myself a capable person, but without first hand experience, the world feels too large and strange to wander. I wish I had known all that I know now when I first set out, but what kind of adventure would that be? Hopefully my travel tips will help you at a time when the wild adventure isn’t so fun anymore, and you need a quick solution to being lost. In the end, your experience is what you make it! Not all experiences are great, but learning from mistakes and taking advice from a weathered traveling veteran is what study abroad is all about. When in doubt, ask! Don’t be shy to approach people about local spots to hit up, when you need directions, or just to strike up conversation in a different language. The best part of traveling abroad is to soak up the local culture and meet new people. Get the most of your time and maximize the amount of culture you are exposed to! In the very least, take a walk around the block and appreciate whatever fabulous city around the world you are visiting.