As some of you know, I had the opportunity to travel abroad this year for a couple of weeks. I went to Paris, France, Athens and Aegina, Greece and Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain. During that time, I met great friends, explored new places, went on awesome adventures and made incredible memories. I also gained perspective on the world around me and learned an incredible deal about my own self.
Here are a few things that I learned from my trip to Europe.
1. Flexibility - It's very important to remain flexible. Sometimes and it will always happen during vacation and in life, things will not always go according to plan. But instead of fussing and complaining about the outcome or situation, it's important to just go with it and go to plan B, C, D, or even E. Keep an open mind about things and you'll end up having a better time than originally planned. My travel buddy and I had initially planned to go to Hungary but due to flight costs, we opted for Greece instead at the very last minute. Of course, we wanted to visit the bath houses in Budapest but Greece is also a gorgeous country with the most delicious food!!
2. Compromise - Sometimes I wanted to go to a certain museum while my travel buddy would rather visit the shops. We were both there for a limited amount of time and we had to make good use of it but we also had to compromise on what we would do. We were both a lot better off when we met halfway even if that means splitting up for a few hours or making time for both activities on our itinerary.
3. Know your Travel Buddy - Before you embark on a trip with a friend, make sure you're on the same page about certain things. For example, what would you like to do during your trip, what major landmarks you want to visit, what rules you have about going out, etc. When you travel with someone, you're with that person 24-7 and while you may have different viewpoints on some things, you need to agree on some vital issues. For example, my travel buddy and I wanted to do a lot of sightseeing and also get to know locals and other tourists along the way. It worked out perfect for us!
4. Talk to people! - The sightseeing is great and all but I had the best memories from the people that I met. I met some very wonderful people during the trip. I had conversations about politics with another American and French boys. I learned that French, German and Spanish girls are a lot like me. I met a new friend from Mexico in Greece that offered his apartment for me to stay when I went back to Paris (he was studying abroad in Paris). We met an Argentinian and Australian that were moving to London after their trip to Barcelona (where we met). I met an Italian in Spain that was "on holiday" as they call it, like I was. I learned about the Euro crisis from the people that are actually living it right now and about the trails and tribulations of being an au pair in Italy. I learned about racism in France and all the awesome vacation time and health benefits that Europeans get and Americans lack. All this by just talking to people. Reading about it on the newspaper is a great way of learning but traveling and talking to people first hand about it is the best kind of education that you can receive.
5. YOLO - So I didn't know what YOLO meant until recently. I heard all the youngin's say it and well I guess I'm not that cool anymore because I went to the urban dictionary to find out. "You only live once." It made sense for me to think that we do have one life. Often times, especially in the U.S., we live in the future. We plan our summer activities during the spring and then during the summer, we prepare for fall. It's important and I learned this from traveling that we live in the present. We only have one life. Live it in the now. That doesn't mean making stupid mistakes or being irresponsible and inconsiderate. When I was in Greece, I started to think about Spain since that was our next destination but then I had to switch my way of thinking. It went something like this, "I am in Greece, very far away from home and I don't know when I'm returning to see the beautiful sights that I am witnessing or if I will ever see the people that I am meeting again. I have to live for the now, my time is limited." This allowed me to enjoy myself even more! You only live once so make the best of your experience.
6. Dream BIG! - I've always wanted to go to Paris. I think most of us have a romantized vision of Paris being the city of lights and love. I love to travel and when I travel, I like to go BIG! I know that sometimes I can't go to all the places that I want but I do set travel goals and if I see an opportunity pop up, I go for it. I also work hard and save money. That means sacrificing some luxuries in order to afford my trip. Don't ever settle for anything less than what you want. It might be scary to go somewhere that far but it is a lot easier than you think. Just keep an open mind to all the new experiences that you will be going through. A little culture shock never hurt anyone. : )
7. Make mistakes but learn from them. - It's inevitable, you'll make a mistake at some point along the road. The important thing though is to be aware of your mistake and learn from it. I made the mistake of booking a flight from Athens to Barcelona without double checking on the date. When I received a confirmation email, I realized that I had booked it on the WRONG date. I had to email them and ask if I could have my money back and also had to purchase the right flight on the right date last minute. I will be more careful on making sure that the date is correct for my flight. This mistake could have been very costly, thank goodness the company gave me a refund on my purchase.
8. Be careful! - There are a lot of pick pocketers around and especially being girls and women we are also vulnerable to being attacked or robbed. Make sure that you don't share too much information. Follow your intuition, if you don't feel comfortable with someone or a situation, then don't go through with it or get out of there. Keep your personal belongings close to you at all times and consider learning some self defense moves. On my first trip to Europe, I had my wallet stolen during a hike. I didn't keep my backpack close to me because I wanted to take a picture and while my backpack was still there, my wallet was not. It was a terrible but valuable learning experience. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing that doesn't tip people off as a unsuspecting tourist. In Greece, I learned that women should not wear shorts as it is not typical to do so unless you are a tourist so I avoid wearing any shorts in that country. In France, people tend to be more stylish so it's important to dress up a little bit more than usual.
9. Know your stuff - Talking to locals and other travelers, it's very important to know a bit about the country you're visiting. I was having a conversation with a French boy and he asked me if I knew who the French president was. I felt dumb when I said no and he scoffed when I asked if he knew who the American president was. In order to have a good conversation and not come off as ignorant, learn some basic things about the country you are visiting including the language. You have no idea how much better we were treated from other tourists when I would try to order food in French or when I would thank them in Greek (when I was in Athens).
10. Have fun! - Remember you're on vacation, on holiday. You're there to relax, break from the routine and enjoy your time away from home. Always make sure to have fun even if you're not on vacation!
“”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain