…I’m about to take off for a five week trip to Europe, so I’ve had travel on the brain lately.
In general, I’m pretty content being settled in one place and having a normal routine, but I suspect that that contentment is the result of regularly satiating my natural desire for adventure and exploration. I’ve been really fortunate to see and do some amazing things in my life, and I’ve learned some things along the way. Before departing for this summer’s trip, I thought I’d share some of those things with you all.
Here we go:
“Budget” accommodations can be an experience in themselves (usually in a good, unsketchy way). So far, when funding my own adventures, I’ve always stayed in hostels. Not only is this option more financially and environmentally sustainable, but it’s a great way to make yourself present amongst strangers, and, if you choose wisely, sleep in potentially strange and cool places. My favorites to date have included an open-air hut in the jungle and a ski lodge in the Alps. This might not sound amazing to everyone, but I’ve come to appreciate and even prefer sleeping in places that are a little offbeat.
Eating well doesn’t need to break the bank. My rule of thumb when I travel is to do one “splurge” meal per city (give or take), because good food happens to be really important to me. But beyond that, there are plenty of options for eating well and authentically, even on a budget. Food trucks/carts, cafeterias, and cafes are all great options. If you want to go even cheaper, just like in the US, a lot of foreign grocery stores have takeaway meals that are ready to eat. And what’s more authentic than shopping in a neighborhood grocery store?
Getting from Point A to Point B is also part of the adventure. In our regular lives, the commute that gets us to work, friends, family, and home is a burdensome means to a much greater end. This needn’t be the case when traveling abroad. Sorry for the massive cliché, but yes, sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination (I mean this completely literally). So far, some of my favorite experiences abroad include playing road games with a Spanish-speaking driver on the Pan-American highway, and taking a roundabout train ride through Switzerland. (The latter was after making an initially frustrating planning mistake, which I’m so glad I made). Public transit in particular can give you insight on other cultures, not to mention some potentially stunning views.
Know yourself. The first time I traveled solo, there were several somewhat surprising things that I learned about myself. For example, how much my outlook on the world changes after a cup of coffee. Being out of your element forces you to be especially observant, of your surroundings but also of yourself and your needs. It’s important to respond to these things you learn about yourself, and do what your body tells you. Small things like an extra snack, catnap, or cup of coffee, can go a long way in making you more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Along these lines…
It’s okay to rest. When you’ve spent several hundred dollars on airfare, there’s pressure to be constantly on-the-go once you’ve landed. If that works for you, great! But I need my eight hours. On top of that, hanging out in a café or park for an hour or two each afternoon can be a great way to simultaneously recharge and soak in the local culture.
The big sights are great, but find out about the more obscure ones too. This is especially applicable if a particular artwork, historical/political/religious figure, neighborhood, etc. has academic or personal significance to you. For example, I did a long weekend in Rome several years ago, and while the Colosseum and Pantheon were cool, my favorite day was when we saw Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” since I had studied both the saint and the sculpture. Along these lines, if you’ll be doing a lot of museums and historical sites, it’s always a good idea to do your homework first. The classic, obligatory sites aren’t just something just to check off a global to-do list – they can be immensely meaningful when you understand why they’re classic and obligatory.
Local churches make great destinations. This might only apply to Christians, but some of my most meaningful travel experiences overlap with some of my most meaningful religious experiences. Here’s one example of that, and here’s another.
Put the camera down. (Unless you’re somewhere that’s very rarely visited, or an excellent photographer). At every major tourist destination, you’ll see two things: 1) a bunch of tourists bumping into each other trying to take pictures of it and 2) a guy selling 50-cent postcards of the same picture, but of professional quality. We have cameras in our hands so often that I think people sometimes forget that we have eyes, brains, and memories (and Google). This world’s a whole lot better looking when you’re not seeing it through a lens.
Hopefully this is helpful, and even inspires you to get out of your routine and go somewhere new. I should add that “travel” doesn’t require a passport or plane tickets – with enough research and willingness to break routine, there are plenty of adventures to be had at home too.
Anyway, you may or may not be hearing more from me about this over the next month. And if you feel like recommending cool things to do, eat, etc. in Paris, Gengenbach, Semur-en-Auxois, Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm, or Reykjavik, please do!