Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Tuesday, 21st November 2017
We’ve all likely heard at least one travelling cliché, such as the following:
“It’s an opportunity to find yourself!”
“Your perspective of the world is forever widened.”
“There’s nothing like immersing yourself in another culture.”
While the above can certainly be true, I find ideas like these can romanticize the subject of travelling and possibly set expectations that may never be met. I thought I would share the more practical (and rather unanticipated) lessons that were presented to me when I travelled alone for the first time earlier this year, in the hopes of helping others taking the same plunge in the future. My trip included time in London, Edinburgh, Berlin, and Amsterdam.
Although I had been longing to go abroad for years, I am rather reserved when I’m in a new environment. However, when travelling, there’s not a lot of room for passiveness in many situations. Asking for directions, conversing with someone who speaks little of my language, and talking to fellow travellers were all things I ended up doing.
Though I advise people to approach strangers with caution, I can personally report that, overall, I had positive experiences doing so. Most people were happy to help, and the worst thing that happened was the person couldn’t answer my question and I had to ask someone else. The necessity of being assertive seemed to override any anxiety I had over it. This priceless skill is one I significantly improved upon while being abroad, and one I’ve brought back home with me. Without it, my time away wouldn’t have been the same (and, knowing me, the chances of boarding the wrong train would have been much, much greater).
To those who are more spontaneous than I, it should be known that planning can monumentally change the trajectory of your travels. Because I visited multiple places and my efforts towards organizing each varied, I inadvertently taught myself a valuable lesson.
Finding a balance when it came to planning was something I figured out over time while I was abroad. Over-planning had me worried if every single detail would go as expected, and this distracted me from being able to enjoy myself. Under-planning had me literally walking around aimlessly at one point. While this was fun, in retrospect, I didn’t take full advantage of where I was.
I suggest having a rough plan in order; and, if you can, give yourself wiggle room if you’re travelling from place to place, as it can be hard to predict how much you’ll like (or dislike) each one.
When planning a trip, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you’d like to do. I find many people feel the need to see every tourist attraction. While I’m not against this, I think it’s important to establish what you as an individual would like to see and do. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, and remind yourself that being able to travel abroad in of itself is exciting (and a privilege!), regardless of whether you get through everything you’d like to.
At one point during my travels, there was a block of time where I was doing a lot of running around. I was regularly walking great distances wherever I was visiting, on multiple trains and planes over just a couple of weeks, and sometimes getting very fragmented sleep. The exhaustion from it all eventually caught up with me.
During my visit in Amsterdam, my feet were so tired and sore I had to cut one of my days short to rest. Although I was frustrated at the time, it taught me to slow down and take better care of myself when travelling long distances. I was in a better mood and had the ability to do more when I was attending to my body’s needs. This is especially imperative if you’re travelling alone. Get enough sleep, remember to refuel your body well (just coffee and energy drinks doesn’t count!), and know that, while travelling can get your adrenaline pumping, your body will thank you if you remember to include it in your decision-making.
Throughout my recent voyage, there were instances where I did things I wouldn’t normally do. For example, when I was in London, I saw a friend of mine who was studying there. In a whimsical fashion, she invited me to a night out at a club to see a performer she admires. I’m not a fan of clubbing, but I ended up having a great time. It was a memorable event that I don’t regret in the slightest.
So, if you’re a planner, take a chance and set aside some time to saunter around and simply take in the energy of where you’re visiting. Who knows where you’ll end up! If you’re more laid-back, consider doing some research beforehand to get the most out of where you’re going. It may be the only time you’re there; step out of your comfort zone and dare to surprise yourself.
Near the end of my trip, I often gave myself the excuse of “Well, I’m travelling” or “I’m on vacation” if I was eating out more than I had budgeted for or did some impromptu shopping. I eventually learned that my money was better spent on experiences versus material things.
While I felt inclined to buy gifts for family and friends, what they seemed to appreciate more were the postcards I sent them every few weeks. Those cards cost me practically nothing compared to the other items I picked up. So, my advice to you is: be somewhat selfish yet efficient when spending your money. The times I remember most from being abroad didn’t involve material things, but rather, where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt. Souvenirs are nice, but memories don’t ever break or end up in storage.
(PS- You can collect free souvenirs anyway! I held on to used tickets, an empty bottle of a soda pop native to Berlin, and seashells from a Scottish beach)
These points are just some of many I’ve come to reflect on since returning home to Canada. I think I should also mention that I don’t feel there’s a “perfect” way to travel; that’s part of the experience! There’s always a chance to learn, grow, and push yourself, no matter how prepared you may be, as you could run into scenarios that are different from the ones you predicted.
Given all the lessons I’ve listed here, I think travelling on your own can be like taking a course in school. But one with less quizzes, more airports, and, by the end of it, you’ve somehow played the role of both student and teacher. To those interested in enrolling- it’s a course I highly recommend.
By WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Elle Cote
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