Alright juniors: it's almost time to take the trip you've been waiting for all year. I know you still have finals to survive, but I'm guessing you're already trying to figure out what to bring and how to pack and if you really need to just pack in a carry on.
I'm no world traveler; Junior's Abroad was the longest time I've spent traveling and only the second time I've ever been outside of the US. Regardless, I think I have some tips for you to make the trip (especially the packing part) a whole lot easier.
You'd be surprised at how different a traveling experience can be if you don't pack well. Sure, most of your memories will be of the day trips, meals and cool sites, but every night you will still have to come back to your lodgings and have to deal with the mundane parts of life.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your travel experience, from the packing to the adventuring. You know yourself best, but I hope I can at least help you think past what you've learned in the class so far and really make the most of your trip.
1. Packing cubes. Did you hear me in the back? PACKING CUBES.
I can't talk about these things enough. I'm by no means a neat packer, and the last thing I want to do when I'm traveling is worry about my suitcase. These packing cubes make it so easy to keep track of things, make the most of your suitcase space, and really cut down on repacking time. While there are a wide range of price options on Amazon, you can invest $10-20 into these things and save yourself so much tim and inconvenience. I never take a trip without my packing cubes anymore!!
2. Pack for flexibility and variety.
Let's be real here: you probably won't wash your clothes more than once (maybe twice) on the trip. That means you either need to pack a TON of clothes, or bring clothes that are really versatile and will stay nice for several wears.
Before I packed anything, I laid out all the clothes I wanted to take on the floor. Then, I removed anything that couldn't be worn with at least one or two other things (i.e. pants that clashed with my shirt color, or sweaters that didn't layer with all my shirts). I took five shirts that could be worn alone or with a sweater, could work with my one skirt, and matched my two pairs of pants. That's right: for a three week trip I only took three bottoms and five tops. I also included one reliable dress, a raincoat, and a sweater. Oh, and two pairs of shoes.
Not every trip is conducive to this strategy. The weather in May varies greatly across the world, and you should look at predicted weather patterns before packing. Wherever you are going, take into account the culture there; think about the fact that bare shoulders/ knees for women or sport shorts and tennis shoes for men aren't universal norms. Also keep in mind that you'll be going for 8-10 hours and maybe walking 5-10 miles a day, so comfort will really help you enjoy the activities.
This is a side note, but don't forget that you can get travel sized items for almost anything you need. Things like microfiber camping towels or mini deodorant sticks save space and still get the job done.
3. Don't waste space things you don't really need.
Magical bags aside, you don't really have much extra room for a trip like this. Not to mention that you'll want to save room for souvenirs and gifts. While I could make a list of unnecessary items to take (more than one pleasure book, hair dryers/tools, that *nice* pair of shoes) you know yourself best. If you're taking something with the thought "I might want to have this at some point," you probably can leave it at home.
4. When you get free evenings, explore.
This sounds obvious, but I really encourage you to not do too much planning in your free time. The best memories I have of my Juniors Abroad trip are all of wandering around in Barcelona, Madrid or Lisbon with a group and just seeing what's there. While you should never go out alone (there's a reason its a no-exceptions rule for these trips), you learn about a city a lot faster by going out into it with no plan. This works a lot better if at least one person in your group is good at remembering directions ;) but keep a map with you as well, just in case.
5. Try to get off the tourist paths.
Look, we're all guilty of wanting to buy souvenir keychains or cheap scarves when we travel. This makes sense sometimes, but there are local artisans in every town who could really use the business and support. It's often hard to tell which stores are just catering to tourists and which are legit, but in general flashy stores with lots of variety/quantity in the merchandise are probably designed for tourists.
My favorite souvenir is art: often you will find artists near famous spots who have many hand-painted works, and are probably even painting while you walk by. They produce tons of art, but it is definitely their work. However you can also find many places that sell local ceramic ware or woven/ sewn items. Just don't bite at the first colorful stall you see.
6. Eat ALL the food.
This is not the time to start a new diet or try and lose weight (although you'd be amazed at how fast your body metabolizes food when you are active all day). Food is a core part of every culture, and boy am I glad for it.
Do your best to find local restaurants (usually easiest to find by wandering around the streets and getting out of touristy areas) and order things you haven't heard of. I always assumed I didn't like seafood, but paella and fresh rockfish completely changed my mind.
That said, don't be mad at yourself if you end up not enjoying local foods, or really just need something familiar. While I still encourage you to go out and try new things, three weeks is a long time to eat unfamiliar foods without break. If you need to go to a McDonald's once (or twice), that doesn't make you a failure!
7. Appreciate the scheduled events, too.
I know after a while the schedule group events (museum visits, day trips, historical sites) can start to feel exhausting and maybe even boring. But remember that your profs put a lot of time and thought into the itinerary, and probably know the country/area better than you do. While it's understandable that the fifth museum you go to will feel really similar to the first, don't let yourself become sullen or disconnected from the trip.
That might be why the journal you keep on the trip is valuable: it helps remind you that you won't be traveling forever; one day you be an old senior like me, remembering your trip and wishing you could go again even if it meant scheduled activities all day. Give yourself the gift of staying present and taking everything in!
8. Find a group that will have about the same interests as you.
You're going to spend a lot of time with your whole group, but in the evenings people usually break into smaller groups that go out and do different things. It can really make your trip more enjoyable if you establish a group that has roughly the same goals/interests so that you can explore together. Obviously there will be some change as the trip goes on, but you don't want to end up stuck alone at your hotel/hostel because your one friend is already out with a group.
Also, try to include others. This may seem like an obvious statement, but no one likes to be alone or left out. If you see someone in your group who seems uncomfortable or like they are unsure where to go, invite them to go with your crew.
You'll be talking about this trip for years, and be looking back at the pictures over and over (even if you're not nostalgic). Preparation is great, but no matter what remember that your attitude and perspective can make or break the trip! If you choose to have fun and see it as a learning experience, you will have plenty of great memories to choose from. Safe travels!!