As a college student, I was able to spend two months studying abroad in Europe last summer. While we were based in Rome, Italy and León, Spain, my friends and I also traveled to Paris, Cinque Terre, Siena, Florence, Gijón, Barcelona, and London, making for one of the most memorable summers to date. While I surely don’t know everything, I believe these lessons learned from traveling to be very useful for any student or first-time traveler, who is perhaps not yet acclimated to life abroad. Furthermore, I hope that they inspire those contemplating an adventure of their own. Believe me, it’s worth it.
1. Take logical risks
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “do one thing each day that scares you,” and I wholeheartedly believe her words to be true. This does not mean that you have to go bungee jumping or swim with sharks everyday. Maybe you order your meal in a foreign language, or maybe you do go bungee jumping. Regardless of your comfort zone, I would urge you to take a step, or two, outside.
2. Your plans will change
A friend once told me to insert the word “probably” before every verb when traveling. “We’re [probably] taking a bus into town and [probably] going to the museum,” but sometimes buses don’t show up, sometimes museums are closed, and sometimes you find something much more interesting to do. Just know that everything is not going to go to plan, all of the time.
3. Always validate your train ticket
After confusing Melún with Milan, missing our first train, being scammed by ticket “insurance,” buying new tickets, and sitting uncomfortably on a train for 9 hours, I had to pay €40 to an overly aggressive Frenchman, who shoved my legally-purchased ticket in my face, simply because I didn’t have a stamp on it. I learned the hard way. Validate your train tickets.
4. Learn a foreign language
Knowing a foreign language not only allows you to communicate with other people, with other cultures, but it also makes traveling a whole lot easier. I’m not saying that if you didn’t major in Spanish and minor in Italian (here are 33 Exceptionally Useful Italian Phrases for anyone traveling to Italy), that you made a mistake. Learn a few basic phrases, and have the confidence to use them in a café or at a bar. Most of the time, an attempt to speak is well received by locals.
5. Be open-minded
When traveling, you’re going to come across things, actions or ways of thought that seem different, slightly uncomfortable or even wrong. Always stick to your morals, and if you do not feel comfortable with a situation, walk away from it. That being said, reasonable cultural norms are bound to be different from those back home. Be respectful, as you are a guest.