This summer, I spent two months studying abroad in Florence, Italy and just over two weeks backpacking throughout Europe. It was the first time I had ever left the country (not including the time my family visited the Canadian side of Niagara Falls).
Traveling exposed me to new countries, new friends, and new experiences. Here are some of the most important lessons I learned while traveling abroad:
Becoming independent is essential
When stepped on my first airplane, I knew that I would be traveling completely alone. I would not know a single person when I landed. This took the term “independence” to a whole new level. I had to maneuver through airports and train stations, get to my apartment or hostel, and decide what the day would hold, all by myself and in countries I had never been before.
How to pack
I was forced to fit three months’ worth of clothes, toiletries, and camera equipment into a travel backpack and normal-sized backpack. And every time I traveled, I had to pack and repack my backpacks. I had to learn that material items are not important, permanent, or always necessary.
People are the same
If you take away appearances, the language barrier, the different cultures, and everything in between, people essentially are the same. Everyone is looking to achieve happiness.
English is truly a universal language
I took Spanish in high school and Italian over the summer, and I considered myself talented enough to at least hold a basic conversation. However, I never had a single instance where the language barrier was a problem. The Italians, Germans, Austrians, Swiss, and Dutch all spoke English along with their native language, which was amazing to me.
It's okay to get lost
I cannot tell you how many times I was wandering around a city without WiFi, searching for street signs or landmarks to figure out where I was. I would wander through confusing and beautiful alleyways and discover statues, local shops, or other surprises. Getting lost is one of the best ways to genuinely see a city.
You can never take enough pictures
I will be the first person to tell you that I looked like the biggest tourist with my video camera, GoPro, and iPhone in my hands. Despite my roommates making fun of me, I have visual memories that will last forever.
How to be spontaneous
Although I had planned out my destination in advance, I left my day-to-day activities up to chance. Purchasing flights to London for the next weekend, deciding to go paragliding in Switzerland the day before, and canyoning in Croatia were all things I never expected to do. Allowing yourself to be spontaneous lets you enjoy life just a little bit more.
Traveling turns you into a storyteller
The quote goes “First, traveling leaves you speechless, then it turns you into a storyteller,” and I’ve never heard something more true. While I was overseas, I was in awe of the architecture, food, people, and monuments. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Venice and Amsterdam canals, Swiss Alps, Cinque Terre, and the list continues. I’ve written in a journal, I’ve talked people’s ears off, and I’ve made YouTube videos all about my travels. Traveling is something that allows me to bond with other people in a way I never could before.
The world is bigger than you think
This summer was the first time I had ever truly left the country. This experience truly opened my eyes to how massive our Earth really is and how much there is to explore. There are seven continents, 196 countries, and roughly 6,500 languages. It is so naive to think that America is the center of the world.
Traveling abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was able to check a few things off my bucket list, meet some amazing people, and visit unbelievable places, all in a matter of three months. My motto is always this: "Adventure is out there."