traveling abroad TIPS | december 25 - january 9
So there it is. All of the places we went, the things we did and things we enjoyed. Hopefully you got something out of this if you plan on traveling in the future.
Traveling is stressful and when you visit another country you have no idea what to expect and that is perfectly fine. Once you figure it out, it gets easier. However, it’s still never perfect and things will go wrong every now and then. You’ll live through it and the experience will still be one to remember, I promise.
After writing all of this out and putting it all together, I realized I kept coming across some of the same things in each post that I wanted to talk about (yes, this will be wordy and obviously, no you don’t have to read all of it).
*the super important tips
- Pack as light as possible
o Unless you are going to be studying or working abroad afterwards, there is no reason that all of your items couldn’t fit in a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. There’s laundry in most hostels and Airbnbs, so be smart and travel as light as possible. You don’t need a million different items and you’ll likely buy stuff too. Your back will thank me later.
- Get the Google Translate App
o Yes, I did say that most people will speak English, but not everything is written in English. With the app you can take a picture of the words and it will translate them for you. It’s super cool and helps with menus and at museums.
- Have a lot of money
o No brainer, but budget wisely and plan to have more than you think you’ll need. Eating out for most meals gets expensive and you’ll need extra cash for random things that pop up… like missing your train.
- Have lots of locks
o If you’re planning on using hostels and trains, bring a luggage lock for every bag you have and one gym lock too.
- Bring one body towel
o Likely, Airbnbs and Hotels have towels but hostels won’t or they’ll charge you for them. So bring one body towel and one little face towel from home. Preferably ones that you’re willing to throw out or leave behind. Personally, I liked having my own towel.
- Bring dry shampoo
o On the topic of showering – you might not want to at some hostels. Connor showered every day no matter where we were staying. For me, I didn’t want to every time. Instead, I used lots of dry shampoo and wore lots of hats. So if you get grossed out easily, be prepared to not want to use hostel bathrooms a lot.
- Know that bars are different
o A bar is typically open all day and has four things in common: coffee, baked goods, sandwiches and alcohol.
o Tip: if you order coffee then stand at the bar and it will only be one euro (cuz that’s a government law), but if you sit with it then they can increase the price. I stood at a bar and had two crossaints and a cappocino for 4 euros.
- Know the difference between real and fake (tips from my food tour) -- note: this doesn't mean that all tourist food is bad, but it's good to know if you want more authentic, Italian food.
o Clues that you’re in a tourist trap
§ Restaurants that already have salt and pepper on the tables
§ Restaurants located near tourist attractions
§ Restaurants with waiters outside trying to make you look at the menu and advertising what they’re eating
§ Restaurants that only have tourists in them
§ Restaurants open all day. Most authentic places are open from (approximately) 1-3 and 8-12. Italians have a big lunch break as it’s supposed to be the biggest meal of the day. Dinner is late at night and the smallest meal. So if a place is open all day, then they’re likely trying to attract tourists.
§ Gelato that is super colorful and has lots of texture. For example, banana flavor should be white and blueberry should be purple. If it’s neon yellow and blue, it’s not authentic. Gelato, when made correctly, also cannot be in huge mounds. So if it’s stacked high above the container it’s in, then it’s fake and uses chemicals to hold that texture and shape. Real gelato is tricky to find, but when you do it’s worth it because you can taste the difference.
MY FIRST THOUGHTS AS A TOURIST
In no particular order: the good, the bad and the ugly.
1) Try to not be a tourist, but also embrace being a tourist
I know that’s confusing, but let me try to explain.
Language: Yes, try to speak the native language and know some basics like: hello, yes, no, thank you, please and sorry/excuse me. You’ll use those phrases the most and can get by with smaller transactions like when you purchase one item at a shop or are walking through. However, when you’re trying to hold a conversation, ask for help or order something at a restaurant you’ll probably need to use English and various hand gestures. It’s fine though, the locals are not idiots and they can spot a tourist pretty easily. Your lack in the native language combined with wide and nervous eyes will let them know and most likely they’ll know some English or get someone else who knows English.
Pictures: Go ahead and take pictures! Don’t try to sneakily use your camera, just take the damn picture. People will probably already think you’re a tourist so might as well be one and take some pictures for the scrapbook or Facebook album or whatever you want. On the other hand, don’t take pictures of everything. You don’t need a picture of every street sign, building and edible item you eat. Just take a picture of the things that matter or pictures that locals might take pictures of too like landmarks, art or views. Trust me, it’s not worth snapping your camera constantly. First, it takes away from your own experience while you’re abroad. Second, do you really want to go through hundreds of pointless pictures that you’re never going to use or post?
2) You don’t need a money belt just don’t be stupid
Daily Basis: Watch your stuff. Know where everything is and keep it close. People will try to distract you and steal from you so just be aware of your items. Have a bag with a zipper and keep it in the front of you or tightly tucked under of arm.
Traveling: Be aware on any trains that you take. Luggage is either stored above you, behind your seat or on shelves that are at the beginning and end of each car. So sometimes you can see it easily and sometimes you can’t. STORYTIME:For instance, on my train to Lyon we kept our luggage behind us. Connor was asleep, but I was busy uploading some pictures. The train was coming to a stop and people began shuffling off. Luckily, I happened to turn around and see a man walking off with my suitcase. He set it near the exit while talking on the phone. I went out, grabbed it, glared into his eyes and then put my luggage back. He then got off the train. From that moment on, I’ve locked my suitcase to the train or to other heavy luggage so it’s impossible for someone to steal it unnoticed (TIP: bring a gym lock with you to use at hostels AND to lock your stuff to other stuff). So make sure you keep an eye out on your stuff if you’re not certain that it can’t be stolen and trade off with your friends to keep watch. Particularly on trains that have multiple stops where people could hop on and off with your belongings.
3) Get used to getting lost
When you have WiFi, load the directions and then leave. Even without WiFi, your phone will still track GPS and you can see where you’re going. However, if you take a wrong turn or can’t load directions, it’ll be okay too. You’ll get lost a few times but in the end you’ll find the way and you can always ask people around you for help.
4) The first hour/day/night might suck
STORYTIME: When I was catching up with one of my friends, she told me how on her first night of studying abroad she cried and began regretting her decision. There was more context to her story, but privacy you know. I remember thinking, yea that makes sense but I don’t think that will happen to me. Then it did. I got lost and frustrated and angry and confused and I walked through the streets of Florence trying to find my Airbnb and cried. Suddenly I began regretting the decision to travel and study abroad. I began doubting my capability to be here. I began thinking that I wasn’t cut out to do this. …but I found my Airbnb in the end and I was fine. Point is, you might have a moment of regret and maybe for you it’s later in your journey… or maybe you don’t have it at all. But if you do, then know that you’re going to be okay.
5) This is not America.
No shit, I know. But a lot of things will be different: the types of cars, the street signs (which are sometimes on the buildings FYI), and mainly the size. Overall everything seems a lot smaller. Seriously… The rooms are smaller, but then so are the appliances, the cars and the shops (most of the time). Unless you’re going to a tourist spot, most things are smaller. For instance, when I went to a grocery store for the first time in Florence it was probably the size of one of my standard college classrooms at the U. So everything is a little smaller, but you still have everything that you need to get by.
6) Walk everywhere.
Yes everywhere. When we traveled we carried ALL of my stuff (yup everything I packed for abroad) and walked with it. The biggest suitcase did take quite a beating, but it was worth it. When we went to museums or tourist spots, even if they seemed farther away, we walked or used a city bike. For one, we saved money from not constantly using taxis or ubers. Second, we found more shops and restaurants to try out that weren’t over priced and meant for tourists. If you are actually in a pickle, then go ahead and use public transportation or get an uber. Otherwise, suck it up and walk it out. You discover the coolest things when you wander.
7) Get used to people being annoyed of you
Have you ever been annoying with someone who doesn’t speak English at home? If so, get ready to switch spots. You will now be the underdog and people will look at you weirdly and talk about you when you’re right in front of them. Yep, that’s right. Be thankful and gracious when people are kind and understanding, and keep that in mind for when you go back home. Nothing is more frustrating then when you’re trying really hard to communicate and the other person doesn’t give two shits.
7) Have fun and enjoy the process
Trust that it will all work out in the end and enjoy the time you have wherever you are.
Woah. I can't believe it's already over and now I'm actually going to live in Florence for four months. That's insane to me.
Of course, I'm still going to document everything. So stay tuned for more.