Saturday, August 22, 2015

5 Tips for Americans Traveling Abroad

I leave for Spain next Friday and I'm literally counting down the minutes. Lex and I have been talking about studying abroad for so long and we both know that the next few months are going to be absolutely incredible. Admittedly, I'm a little nervous- my entire program is in Spanish and I'll be doing a home stay, so I've really got to dive right in. Luckily, both Lexi and I are pretty well-traveled so going abroad isn't completely terrifying. When traveling outside the country (especially in Europe), there are a few things to keep in mind. 




1. Leave your preconceptions in the airport terminal. 
The French aren't rude, the Italians aren't perverts, the Brits don't have terrible teeth, and you're not going to be pickpocketed by every man, woman and child. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be aware of your surroundings, but try to go into your trip open-minded about the cultures in which you'll be immersed. The only things stereotypes will do is isolate you from the natives. 

2. Get off the beaten path. 
You might visit to every tourist site in a city and never really see it. Instead, go where the natives go- stop for a cup of coffee in a corner cafe, wander through little boutiques, and visit lesser-known historical sites. Ask a waiter or store clerk to tell you about their favorite places in the city because you'll have a much better experience if you explore like a local.

3. Learn to blend in. 
Yes, a pair of clunky tennis shoes would probably be comfortable for walking around, but you might as well wear a giant sign around your neck that says 'tourist'. A lot of American tourists decide that they need to wear athletic clothes every day, clutch backpacks tightly to their chest, stop to look at maps in the middle of the street, and speak very loudly. At that point, you may as well march down the street waving a giant American flag and singing yankee doodle. You can wear clothes that are comfortable and chic that will help you blend in- after all, you're trying to look like the average local looks on a normal day, not like you're running a marathon. I've found that a lot of those pickpocketing horror stories come from people who were wearing cargo shorts with crew socks and looking around as though they were clearly lost. Ialk with a little confidence (even when you have no idea what you're doing) and try to observe the customs of wherever you are, people will leave you alone. 

4. Do your research, but don't be obsessive. 
It's probably a good idea to write down the phone number and address of the nearest U.S. consulate in case of emergency, so just get a little notebook and make yourself a little travel guide and diary. Follow some blogs based in the city you're visiting, see if the NY Times has a '36 hours in' guide, and revisit some movies or books that are set there. Divide your notebook up into 'restaurants', 'museums', 'historical sites', 'shopping', and 'other', then identify a few places in each category that you might like to visit. Write down their hours and admission prices so you can plan a loose itinerary while you're there based on what you feel like doing. This leads me to my next point....

5. Learn to roll with things. 
There's really no point in making a strict schedule before you leave because you have no idea if you'll be in the mood to go to a museum for 3 hours early the day after you arrive. Until you're there, you don't know how you'll handle jet lag, what the weather will be like, etc. Instead of freaking out when (and I am saying when intentionally) you get lost because it throws off your agenda, just let yourself wander the streets of a foreign city and see if you find something that interests you. One of my favorite memories is getting completely lost at 1 in the morning in Paris with a friend and getting stuck in the pouring rain. Just take a deep breath, tell yourself that it is what it is, and enjoy whatever comes your way. 

That's my best advice! Traveling abroad is an incredible experience so enjoy every minute of it.

xoxo,
Yasi "5 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes until I leave for Spain!!"