I’m going to start this off by saying that I am by no means an expert traveller. I spent two months traveling around Europe 1. as a workawayer (living with a family for free and doing chores to earn my room and board), 2. a solo traveler, and 3. with friends. I would say that those two months were the most I’ve ever grown in my entire life; I learned so much about the world around me. I did a lot of research, like reading posts like this, before leaving on my trip and I think that is what helped me so much. Here are a few other important lessons I learned (sometimes the hard way):
1. Forget any and all stereotypes you might have heard about other countries or cultures.
I cannot tell you how many people would find out that I came from the U.S. and would immediately assume that I loved Trump and ate McDonalds all the time. After feeling what it as like to be generalized, I decided that I would never again fall into the habit of assuming that all stereotypes about other countries and cultures are true. Holding onto these stereotypes puts people in boxes they don’t deserve to be in. Having people from Australia, Lebanon, Germany, and the US all sitting around one table is so rare and so beautiful. Revel in how truly amazing that is instead of trying to match everyone up with the corresponding stereotypes.
2. Do your research about the country’s culture and customs before actually arriving.
There is nothing worse than an ignorant tourist. The entire point of visiting another country is to see what life is like there: the people, the views, the activities, the atmosphere, and the food. It doesn’t make any sense to visit another country with a completely different culture and act exactly as you would at home. When in Rome do as the Romans do, you’ve heard it right? It is so important to be mindful while traveling especially because something as small as a hand gesture you use all the time at home might be really offensive in this new country.
3. Learn at least the very basics of the language you will soon be immersed in.
Okay I’m not asking you to become fluent in 10 different languages here, but take the time, even if its on the train ride over, to learn just the basics of the language. Even if English is a language that is taught in a lot of countries, NEVER ASSUME people speak English. At the very least, learn to say: hello, how much, ticket, bathroom…etc. In my experiences, people were never angry that they had to speak English with me when I tried to speak their language first. It is the principle of assuming that they speak English, and are ready to cater to your tourists needs that they get irritated. When I would do my best to ask questions in their language, they were nice enough to respond in English [if they spoke English — even if it was broken English]. Just try, it will go a long way.
4. Pack LIGHT.
Trust me on this, you don’t want to have to lug around a 50 pound suitcase everywhere you go. Imagine lifting that thing over your head into the overhead compartment on trains, pulling it behind you on cobblestone roads, or having to repack everything every time you go somewhere new. If you’re worried about wearing the same clothes all the time, no one around you is going to judge you for being an outfit repeater because I guarantee you, they’re doing the same thing. For girls, I’d say pack a lot of comfy rompers or dresses because they make an entire outfit in just one garment. Most, if not all, hostels have a washer and dryer onsite (and if not, laundromats are usually near) for you to do laundry as well. I’m not going to make an entire packing list for you, but all I’m saying is go minimalist on this one, even if the thought of that is daunting. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Go with the flow, but also have some structure.
The only thing that I was hellbent about having planned ahead was my hostel arrangements and my transportation. A lot of travelers will have different opinions on this, but I think these two factors are something you should have set in stone prior to your arrival. People who choose to just show up at hostels hoping for vacancies are probably operating off of the spontaneous mindset, but I am just not one of those people. 95% of the time, booking ahead will give you a much more affordable trip and a much less stressful one for sure. I am not saying that you need to have travel arrangements booked & planned out months in advance or even before you leave, but you should at least have the next 2 weeks of your life booked & planned to ensure that you will have a place to stay. Be spontaneous when you arrive in the places, but certainly plan the important things like transport & boarding.
6. Disconnect to connect.
This is something that is easier for some, but at first it was really hard for me. When I first arrived in Italy, I kept my watch from home on my nightstand so I always knew what time it was at home. It was really hard for me, especially when I was alone for so long, to be present and not wonder what all of my friends were doing at home. FOMO [fear of missing out] is so real, but I encourage you to not let it consume you. It is so nice to FaceTime with people back home and text them, but limit yourself if you need to. You are going to be in a place you could never see again and your friends will still be there when you get home. It’s actually crazy how much things DON’T change in a couple of months. Soon enough you’ll be back to your regular life experiencing some post-traveling-depression (dramatic but pretty true) and wish that you had put the phone down and walked around the streets more often.
7. Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to go out exploring every day.
Odds are if you’re reading this you’re going on a trip for longer that 3 days. Being in vacation mode for a week or more is actually exhausting because we think that we have to do and see all of the things. If you’ve ever gotten home from a vacation and felt like you needed to rest after getting back (a vacation from your vacation, as they say), you probably didn’t pace yourself. I understand if you are only traveling for 1-2 weeks and have a little amount of time to see a lot of things, but for anyone traveling for longer than this: LET YOURSELF REST! There is nothing, I repeat nothing, wrong with spending the entire day laying on the beach, laying in bed, or lounging around the hostel. For long trips it is actually super important to have “down” days so that you can sustain yourself for the many weeks to come. Even if you are traveling for a short amount of time, sleep in a day or two – that’s what vacation is for!
8. Learn to okay with being alone
This is pretty much directed to extroverts because all of my introverts out there see this and jump for joy. If you aren’t used to spending long periods of time completely by yourself, I would suggest practicing this by going out to eat alone, seeing a movie alone, shopping alone etc. This will be no comparison to what it’s like to spend days on end entirely by yourself, but I hope through this practice being alone starts to not feel so weird. This tip might sound a little weird, but I can’t tell you enough how many people I’ve talked to who had the hardest time having a fun time traveling just because they were alone. Even when I was traveling entirely by myself, I still managed to hang out with people every day. Even so, you can’t rely on the chance that you’ll meet someone cool enough to hang out with for multiple days. Learn to be okay with being alone!
There is so much more that I can say, but for now this is all I’ve got. Enjoy + safe travels!!!