For the past month, together with 10 other students and 1 professor, I have traveled to 4 countries, 6 cities, 7 hotels and hostels, and 17 art galleries and museums, and I have walked more miles than I can count. This group is made up of some of the hardest working and generally wonderful people. This trip is called Book Arts in Europe because it's focused on the art of book-making. We have visited different studios in Switzerland, Italy, and now in Amsterdam. Being able to experience and work in these studios was inspiring, and being in these countries and different cities was even more so. After traveling for a month, here is some advice I have for new travelers:
1. Bring walking shoes.
This was one of the most needed and used pieces of clothing I could bring. Being in these cities meant we didn’t have access to cars, and buses weren’t the most accessible. We have walked EVERYWHERE in every city. Just yesterday we walked 12.4 miles around Amsterdam. Often times walking is faster than the public transportation. In Venice, for example, the Vaporretto (taxi boats) had so many stops, that if you knew were you were going, you could make it there in half the time walking.
2. Get Lost.
Exploring the different cites was one of the best parts about this whole trip, and 99% of the time I spent walking around, I was lost. Usually when we got lost, we would find the most wonderful things. One night we were walking back to our apartment, and we happened upon one of the oldest churches on the island. Without getting lost, we would have never seen it. Getting away from the crowds was a huge benefit as well. Stepping off a main street, you can find great shops. One night we found a small grocery store, and right around the corner was the BEST gelato place.
3. Live out of a backpack.
Packing light is the best way to travel. Think about things you would bring, put it in a pile, now take away half of it. Half of the things that I brought on this trip were not essentials. Carrying around your luggage is a pain enough. Bringing too many things weighs you down and makes walking through the busy city streets just that much harder. Living out of a backpack assures you that you won’t pack too much and it’s easier to maneuver around.
4. Be open to new experiences and cultures.
Always be ready to experience something new. Take a walk around the city, and you’ll be surprised as to what you find. One night while walking to get gelato as one does in Venice, my friend and I stumbled upon a park that held tango dances every Tuesday night. There was live music and couples were sashaying their way around the park. It was a magical scene to take in.
5. Eat out.
I know saving money is on every student’s mind, especially ours, but eating out at least 2-3 times in every city really gives you an appreciation for the local culture. In Italy, I think I said “this is the best pizza yet” maybe 10 times. Our group went to a small town in Italy called Cornuda. There, we spent 3 days working in a typesetting facility called Tipoteca. Connected to this building was a 5-star restaurant. We ate lunch there every day. I started writing down the food I had every day just because of this place. It was the best, most incredible food I have ever had, and probably will ever have. The cooks would decide what we would eat for our three courses that day, and the servers would have it all ready for us when we walked in. Eating out gave me such an appreciation for the food and the country.
6. Be prepared to get close with your travel companions.
You will be close with those you travel with. It’s just going to happen, whether you wanted it to or not.I did not know anyone before the trip, and now we have shared so many experiences, lived together, danced together, and we know so much about each other. I can now tell you what music they like, if they talk in their sleep, or how much coffee they can handle. It’s amazing how fast you can bond with a group of people. Go in without hesitation, and just let it happen.
7. Be flexible.
This might be the most important trait you can have. Planes leave without you, trains can be missed, and hotels can lose reservations. Roll with the punches and you’ll be just fine. Two girls were told the wrong gate, and they missed their flight into the first city, Florence. They stayed calm and eventually were put on another flight several hours later. You will make it to your destination, so you just need to stay calm and you’ll get there. The journey is all part of the fun of traveling.
8. Don’t think of it as a party.
This is especially important if you are studying abroad. Being too hungover is not fun or appropriate when you are trying to walk through museums and take in all the history of a city. Being in these countries is so much fun, but you must control yourself. It’s common to have a drink at dinner or maybe go out with your friends, but stay in control. It can also be dangerous to be drunk when you're abroad, as you're in an unfamiliar place and you don’t know your surrounding like in your hometown. Be safe and be smart.
9. Learn as much as you can.
Learning about each different city's culture was especially interesting to me. In Italy, the architecture was much older. The churches and almost every building had some sort of sculpture on it. In Basel, there was different standard of living compared to every other European country. In Germany, it was customary to go out and have a drink with your friends on Sunday because no one works. Amsterdam was so different from all the others. It was much more modern. In each country find the norm, and then try not to stick out like sore thumb.
Keeping a journal is the best way you can assure yourself that you will remember all the small details of the days you had. You will be surprised at how fast you can lose the little things. Thinking back on Italy, which was only two weeks ago for me, I can only remember the general things we did like visit museums and eat pizza; you know the usual things you do in a city. But looking back at my journal, I can laugh about the things my friends said or did. I would not remember most of it if it weren’t for the journal.
I hope these tips help you when you start your travels. Enjoy the journey because it will change your life and how you view yourself.