Studying abroad in college was the hardest, but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It was my first time out of the country, the first major trip I had ever done without my parents, and absolutely everything went wrong. Hotels were overbooked, there was a language barrier, and I didn’t live as close to my classmates as I had expected.
However, the good and the bad all gave me an appreciation for traveling and seeing the world, and it left me with valuable lessons along the way that I will take with me for the rest of my life — and ones that will hopefully help you.
1. The first time is always the hardest
Doing anything for the first time can be overwhelming and scary, and traveling is no exception. If you are traveling alone, there is an added amount of fear and worry that comes along with the trip. Saying goodbye at the airport, the long and exhausting plane ride, the layovers, the lost luggage, it all happens to the best of us. Traveling doesn’t necessarily become easier the more you do it, you simply learn how to handle the stressful situations with ease. The things that go wrong feel like the end of the world when you’re new to traveling, but the experiences are well worth it.
2. Plan ahead
You definitely don’t have to have every detail of your daily itinerary planned out, but if you are planning on sightseeing, there is something to be said for buying tickets in advance. It’s good to have a general idea of what you will be doing each day, even if you plan a day of “relaxation” into your trip. Do your research! For example, the first time I traveled to New York, I waited to buy my tickets for the Statue of Liberty until I was there, and the tickets to go up in the crown were sold out. Luckily I was still able to get the general admission, but the second time I traveled to New York, I made sure to buy my tickets online in advance. Planning ahead and doing your research allows for a smoother trip, and more flexibility.
3. Don’t stress when things go wrong
Things will go wrong. It’s that simple. Traveling is hard and there are a lot of moving parts, but it’s important to keep a good attitude through it all. Don’t let missed transportation, that kid behind you kicking your seat, or hotel room complications get in the way of an amazing trip. Just take a deep breath and try to solve the problem in front of you. Try not to get overwhelmed by all of the possible things that could go wrong. In the midst of the chaos, it’s important to remind yourself to have fun. That’s something that can be easily forgotten.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
When I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy, I constantly wondered why I couldn’t be like the other students on the trip, who were enjoying every moment, and never wanted to leave. I kept asking myself if traveling was for me because I was clearly not adjusting like everyone else. It made me question myself in a way I’d never had to before. I had always wanted to travel, but my experience was so different from everyone else’s. It took me a while to realize that that was okay. I didn’t have to be like them. Traveling in a group allows you to experience a little bit of everything, which is nice, but going it alone really teaches you independence.
5. Enjoy the little moments
I still think back to that night on the steps of the Santa Croce church eating greasy pizza and laughing. I remember the moment I saw the Colosseum for the first time and the genuine awestruck feeling that came over me. I remember our gondola ride in Venice, and our boat ride to the Blue Grotto. I still laugh at how we almost fell in the water during the boat tour of Capri. I can still hear the Italian music that the street performers used to play as I walked to my apartment after class. Traveling can be stressful and overwhelming and scary at times, but the little moments are what makes traveling so magical.
6. Immerse yourself in the culture
This is true no matter where you go, weather they speak a different language or not. Something about being so far away from home and where you’re from changes you. It makes you see the world differently. So often we hear about places on T.V. but it’s so different when you actually travel there yourself. You see the way other people live their day to day lives, the way their government works, and even how you are supposed to act in a restaurant. The little things that you never would have known about a different culture suddenly become apart of you, and it’s the most amazing feeling.
7. Don’t be too much of a tourist
If you go to Paris, you are going to want to see the Eiffel Tower, if you go to Rome you will want to see the Colosseum, and if you go to London, you will want to take a picture of Big Ben. When I went to New York, I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. However, the amazing part of traveling also comes from feeling like a local. I can still remember walking down the streets in Florence, Italy, getting a pastry and a coffee at the local cafe before walking to class in that warn Italian classroom. Studying abroad gave me more time to act like a local, instead of just being a tourist. While you’re traveling, remind yourself to take time to act like a local, even if it’s just for little moments. It’s worth it.
8. Just do it.
Yes, traveling can be hard, and expensive, and scary, but do it anyways. You’ll realize how independent you can be, and how much you can figure out on your own. Overall, traveling gives you more confidence. It makes you a stronger person. Traveling is always one of those thing we say we’re going to do, but we let money, time, etc get in the way. There is so much out there in the world to see that’s not apart of our day to day bubble. Traveling changes you. It changes you for the better, it makes you grow as a person, it humbles you and reminds you not to take certain things for granted.
9. Traveling makes you appreciate home
It’s normal to miss your bed after staying in hotels and hostels for too long. It’s okay to miss home and the culture you are used to. Traveling has taught me to appreciate what I have. It gave me an opportunity to miss home instead of just taking it for granted all of the time. Everyone told me that after I studied abroad, I would come back different, and I guess I did. I believed in myself more. I wasn’t afraid of the world the way I was before. But I also feel like that Italian apartment, the one I called home for four weeks that summer, will always have a special place in my heart.