Traveling is awesome. It’s an escape from the our daily routines. From our monotonous lifestyles. Travel teaches us more about other cultures than any class ever will, and gives us the adventure our hearts crave. During the summer after my senior year of high school, I traveled to Europe with my friend Kelly. It was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience. That being said, there were definitely things I wish I knew before I stepped off that plane. I’m no travel guru, but here’s what I learned from three weeks across the pond.
1. Do: Sleep on the plane.
I can’t stress this enough. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not sleeping on my overnight flight to Frankfurt. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep in my own bed, so sleeping on the airplane seemed out of the question for me. I ended up spending the entire flight fidgeting with excitement, and stressing about making our connecting flight to Stockholm. Kelly, on the other slept on all three of our flights. To be fair, this girl could probably sleep in the overhead storage if she had to, but boy was she better off.
When we landed in Germany, I was exhausted. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve been more tired in my life. It definitely made my first day in Europe way more stressful than it needed to be. If there’s one way to start your trip off right, it’s sleeping on the plane. Don’t stress about connecting flights or lost luggage. There’s nothing you can do about it from 45,000 feet in the air, so just let it go, relax, and get some sleep. Your first day will be much more enjoyable.
2. Don’t: Fall asleep at 6pm on the day of your arrival.
If you weren’t able to sleep on the plane, the worst thing you can do is fall asleep early in the next day. You’ll make your jet lag worse and waste your vacation. When we arrived in Stockholm, I was sleep deprived and on the verge losing my marbles. I spent the first few hours of our trip following Kelly around in a daze. Eventually, I suggested we go back to the hotel room to “rest our eyes for a little while”. Unfortunately, a little while turned into seven hours. When we woke up, it was 1am. Whoops. If our sleep schedules weren’t completely out of whack when we got off the plane, they were now.
By some miracle, we ended up falling back asleep until 9am the next day (although it would have been just as easy to stay up all night). Looking back, I realized what a waste of time that was. We had almost an entire day to explore the city, but we spent it asleep instead. Here’s the bottom line: Jet lag is always going to kick your ass, but there are ways to soften the blow. Even though your body may be begging you to take a nap, resist it. Just for a little while. Stay up until at least 8 or 9pm, and then you can crash. In the meantime, get out and explore! Staying out in the sunlight will help adjust your internal clock.
3. Do: Stay with family and friends.
During our three week adventure, Kelly and I stayed with my family’s Swedish exchange student, and a relative in Switzerland. When traveling abroad (or anywhere really) stay with friends whenever you can. With prices upwards of $150 a night, hotels can be expensive, and staying with friends can be a savior to your wallet. In addition to cost cutting benefits, staying with friends can give you an insider’s view on life as a local. Staying with my exchange student in Sweden was awesome, and by far the best part of our trip. We got to experience Sweden in a way that most people don’t– Through the eyes of a local.
We visited his school, met his friends, and biked through the suburban neighborhoods. Even something as simple as visiting a grocery store was a unique experience. I don’t know many people who can say they’ve been to Linköping, Sweden, but I can say I have. When we ended our trip in Switzerland, it was the same deal. We stayed with my Swiss relatives for a few nights. Our experience was so much richer because we had our very own local tour guides, and were able to see a part of Switzerland most people miss out on.
4. Don’t: Follow questionable men into equally questionable “taxis”.
This one’s pretty self explanatory. Have some common sense. Don’t go anywhere with anyone who makes you feel at all uncomfortable, and never get in a taxi unless you’re 100% sure it’s legit. Kelly, and I made this mistake in Paris. After we got off our train, we were approached by two men who repeatedly asked us “Taxi? You need taxi?” Feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to navigate the confusing subway system, we agreed. We followed the men to a black van across the street. I immediately knew something wasn’t right when there were no signs anywhere identifying the van as a taxi.
When we sat down inside, the place was a dump. There were papers and garbage on the floor, and there was no GPS of any kind. I spent the entire ride gripping the door handle and mentally preparing my escape plan. Although we did end up paying a whopping $100 for a ten minute taxi ride, we made it to our hotel alive. I consider us lucky. Getting scammed was certainly better than getting kidnapped and brutally murdered.
5. Do: Step outside your comfort zone
Afraid of heights? Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Never ridden a bike before? Book a bike tour through Amsterdam. They say we never grow inside our comfort zones, so we need to leave them. And that’s what travel is all about–stepping outside our familiar bubble in order better ourselves. Travel should be about experiencing something totally new and different. It should be about broadening our horizons and learning about other places. When you’re travelling, don’t be afraid to dive into a new culture.
Immerse yourself in it, let it become a part of you. Do something that makes you quiver at the knees, and I guarantee you’ll come out a better person. The whole experience of traveling and being on my own was totally new to me. To be honest, I was terrified. But I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned during that experience. I never knew how much three weeks can change a person. I came home strong and independent, with a newfound sense of adventure, and a deep appreciation for other cultures. Travel truly is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.
6. Don’t: Sweat the small stuff
When we were in Amsterdam, we stayed at an apartment through airbnb. On our final day, we were supposed to take a 10am train to Paris. That morning we woke up hours before we had to leave. There was no way we were going to miss that train. We only had 36 hours in Paris, and wanted to make the most of it. When we left our apartment (with at least an hour to spare, I might add), Kelly realized that her wallet was locked inside. Needless to say, we did not end up on that train. We could have easily let this ruin our trip.
We lost a big chunk of our precious time in Paris after all! After an initial moment of panic (and calling my poor mother at 3am her time), we decided to let it go, and take things one at a time. We ended up having brunch at a lovely cafe and Kelly got her wallet back from the cleaning lady. Although we arrived later than expected, by midnight we were standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower looking at the lights of Paris. When you’re traveling, not everything is going to go as expected, but it’s all a part of the adventure. Don’t let the little hiccups stop you from having the time of your life. They may just make your journey a little more exciting.
7. Do: Make an effort to meet new people
Arguably one of the best parts of traveling is the new and interesting people we meet along the way. If they live in the area, they can give us insight into life as a local. If they’re fellow travelers, we can share stories of our adventures, and even partake in some together. I met so many people during my trip, and each left a unique impression on me. In the Netherlands, we went on a bike tour through the countryside with a couple from Australia. It was such a cool experience. When we stopped for lunch, we talked for at least 45 minutes over croquettes and Heineken. We exchanged stories and advice about traveling, and bonded over biking in the pouring rain. Even though I’ll never speak to them again, I’ll always remember that adventure and our Australian friends.
During our time in Sweden, we met tons of new people as well. We spent a few days at Emmabodafestivalen, a music festival in Emmaboda, Sweden. It was very odd (think tall blonde people in animal onesies), and essentially in the middle of nowhere. The fact that we had an American flag out drew quite a few people to our tent (because what American knows about bizarre festivals in the Swedish woodlands). Of those people, we met an eccentric group of communists, a drunk man named Timmy, and many, many attractive blondes. It’s those small encounters that really stick with you. It’s those anecdotes of a kind stranger, or of adventures with other travelers that make the best stories to tell back home. They make the experience feel real, and will stay in our hearts forever.
8. Don’t: Wear flip flops. Just don’t
I’ll admit it, I’m a flip flop addict. They’re comfy, easy to throw on, and a lazy girl’s favorite shoe. That being said, they certainly aren’t a traveler’s favorite. I made the not so intelligent choice of wearing flip flops to the music festival in Sweden. As you may have guessed, this did not go over very well. As a girl who’s probably not even five feet, being in a mosh pit full of tall, intoxicated Swedish people was difficult enough. There’s pushing and jumping, and chances are, someone’s going to land on your foot. If you’re wearing sneakers, you’ll probably be fine, but for the love of god please do not wear flip flops. I came back to our tent shoeless and covered in bruises. Most people probably don’t have obscure music festivals on their itinerary, but that doesn’t mean flip flops are a good idea. When you’re traveling, make sure you wear good shoes.
Sure flip flops are easy, but after a day of walking around a foreign city, your feet are going to hurt. Wear shoes with good support, especially during excursions involving a great deal of walking, hiking, or physical activity. Flip flops offer little protection, so you’re much more likely to get hurt, and who wants to spend their vacation with a broken toe? Lastly, cities are gross. When you wear flip flops, you expose your feet to the dirt and grime. Do your feet a favor and wear proper shoes.
9. Do: Take lots of pictures
If there’s one thing I regret about my trip to Europe, it’s not spending $100 on a single taxi ride, or losing my flip flops in a mosh pit. It’s not taking enough pictures. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and that’s so true when it comes to traveling. Telling stories of your adventures back home is great, but having pictures to go along with them makes your memories come alive. Your trip could likely be a once in a lifetime experience, so document it, record it, and bring as much of it home with you as you possibly can.
10. Don’t: Be glued to your phone
While it’s important to take pictures, and more often than not, you’ll need to use your phone to do so, it’s equally important to be in the moment. My phone died about a day into the music festival, and being the clueless person I am (hence the title of this article), I forgot to bring a charger. Even though I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked, I’m actually happy I forgot my charger. During the two days or so I spent without my phone, I was able to be fully present. I focused all my energy on what I was doing and the people I was with, not perfecting my selfie.
I was able to take everything in and have conversations without my mind totally elsewhere. Not having my phone made my experience so much richer, and that’s how vacation should be. When we’re traveling, we need to focus on traveling, not bragging on social media about our awesome vacation (although that can be done when we get home). See your vacation through your own eyes, not an Instagram filter. So put your phone down, get out there, and get adventuring. Happy Travels