Studying abroad is an irreplaceable experience, my time in Paris now a cherished memory. I lived and I (most definitely) learned. These are the things that Google doesn't tell you before you go It’s important to research customs before traveling to a new country.
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I have just returned from Madrid, Spain and it was absolutely wild. I have never been to Europe so this was a very different change of pace for me compared to the U.S. The culture is so different, the people are nicer and happier. I wish people were like that in the U.S....happier.
In the U.S. it is all about pride instead of character, unlike Europe that values who you actually are not where you are from. Character should be valued more, but besides all of this, going to Spain made me realize how much I love America. This is a problem now.
I had a plan after graduation. I was going to live in Europe for a year and challenge myself with real independence, but now that seems like something I wouldn't even imagine myself doing. I am even debating studying abroad in London next year. I was only in Spain in 17 days but it was probably one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. I did not have my security blanket, American style aspects. Even though, I was with people from Endicott College, I had no idea who they were, maybe going with friends would have been better.
So if I am not going to follow my plan of living in Europe for a year, what am I going to do? Get a job, live in my parents basement, move out...I am trying to branch off from the norm. You need to challenge yourself and go somewhere that isn't like your security blanket. You need to branch off into a new world.
Spain is so different than America. The food is amazing and the culture, once again, is inspiring, Everyone is like a family. This was a mini-study abroad, I totally recommend doing this first rather than jumping right into a semester. This was a good first step outside of my comfort zone, I am starting to prepare myself for signing up to go study abroad in London.
If you stay in your comfort zone of your security blanket in America, are you really living? Step outside of your comfort zone, take a chance on life.
When I left my home state of California and backpacked through Europe for the first time in 2015, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I had traveled before, but it had always been more contained - family trips, group trips or stays with a host family. This time, my friend and I were just going, by ourselves, for two months.
Over the course of the next eight weeks, we visited nine countries and more than 30 cities, almost missed 8 flights/trains, actually missed zero flights/trains, and came back with countless stories.
Since then, I’ve been back twice, with a fourth trip planned later this month, at the time of writing. Read on for five specific pieces of advice that I wish I had known the first time I went.
1. Hostels aren’t scary.
It’s a common misconception that hostels are dirty and filled with weirdos who will bother you while you’re sleeping or take your stuff. However, more often than not, hostels are filled with other broke travelers your age. If you’re traveling by yourself, hostels are the best way to meet people. Some hostels are more social, and some are more laid-back. Research the hostel online beforehand to make sure it’s the kind of environment you want.
2. Bring a lock.
Although people in hostels will be chill most of the time, they’re still strangers, so it’s still a really good idea to put your valuables in a safe place. Most hostel rooms will provide a locker in the room for you. Bring a combination lock you can lock your stuff up with. Some hostels will also provide a lock with a deposit that you will get back if you don’t lose it.
3. Print out all your boarding passes and accommodation information before you leave (or have them downloaded and easily accessible on your phone).
Be prepared! I once showed up at a hostel 24 hours late because of the time difference, and there was a language barrier, so nobody understood what had happened until I showed them my printed out confirmation, and then we were able to sort it out. The first time I went to Europe, I printed out all my accommodations in a folder and carried it around with me in my backpack. Now I just download everything to my phone and save it.
4. Learn some words in the language of where you’re going.
Knowing a few keywords or phrases in the language of every country you go to helps a lot. I recommend learning how to say “I don’t speak (language) very well” in every language, to start your conversations off with, and other important phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” “how much does this cost,” and “where is the bathroom.” As long as you can say those things and smile and nod, you’ve basically got it covered. Use the app Duolingo or practice with a friend who speaks the language before you go.
5. Set a budget.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. No, really. If you have a job, with a lot of saving and a little effort and planning, you can travel, too. One very important factor in making this possible is setting a budget - and sticking to it. I recommend budgeting $40 a day for Europe (not including accommodation). If you are staying in a hostel, you should never pay more than $25 a night for your bed, maximum! Unless of course, you get a private room, in which case you might as well just stay at a hotel.
Keep track of everything you spend every day - train tickets, food, souvenirs, etc. Respect your budget and use it wisely. If you’ll be somewhere for more than a day, buy groceries to last you for the whole time you’ll be there to save you money on food and leave you more money for fun stuff.
Have you been to Europe? Do you have a favorite tip I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!