5 Travel Tips for New Adventurers

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Traveling through four countries (Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the USA) without showering is an experience to say the least. Despite the fact that it was only about 48 hours worth of layovers, this earns me some street cred among the travelers of the world.

While many cities of today have become very much international, Rome is a city that remains very much Italian through and through. Every minute (and every bite) was enjoyable, especially because you can take advantage of the close proximity to so many other fascinating places. Everyone should travel at some point if able; It can be a culturally educational experience, and more importantly, it provides stories that you can exaggerate to your friends for years to come.

With spring finally here (and summer right behind it) many have travel plans in the works and are enthusiastically preparing themselves for the adventures ahead. It’s important to read up on the countries you plan on visiting, as each country can differ in even the most mundane aspects. For example, did you know that Italians usually drink their coffee standing up at the counter? Sitting down costs more, and you don’t want to be that tourist who gets charged extra for taking a seat for merely five seconds. Here are my top five tips for the novice traveler:

1. Guide books were written for a reason. I would never have known that you can tell the difference between real homemade gelato, from the packaged variety simply by looking at the color of the banana flavor without my trusty guidebook. Is it bright yellow? Fake. Is it a subtle, almost brownish color? Excellent. Gelato is one of the most important aspects of Italian culture (in my own opinion) and ignorance would have been tragic. I took my guidebook, or pages from it, everywhere. I made notes in it, bookmarked it, and read it religiously on planes and trains to prepare myself. As a result, I never regretted missing some cultural icon because I hadn’t known it was there. This happened to a friend of mine in Milan, and in her case it was da Vinci’s Last Supper. Ouch. I also never made the mistake of eating something I found repulsive, like sheeps inards, aka haggis (Scotland, I’m looking at you.) Spend the money to get a good, reputable guidebook and study it like you would a textbook.

2. Don’t assume that the locals are as excited that you’re there as you are. Don’t treat them like sights to see, unless they’re street performers who invite the attention or have otherwise given permission. In Munich, I noticed a man wearing lederhosen at an outdoor market and hastily snapped a picture, only to be barked at repeatedly in German until I scuttled away. At the time I was a bit shocked, but when I imagine a stranger blatantly photographing me as I go about my day to day business, I’m surprised he didn’t threaten to break my camera. Or maybe he did and I had no idea, he was speaking German.

3. Extending greetings, asking for directions, and buying things will most definitely happen. Emergencies might as well, so know words that might help in those situations. There were countless times in which I had to shrug at people babbling at me in various languages and say “Io non parlo Italiano” or “no hablas espanol”, or even point to myself and say “AMERICAN” to get the point across, and this will likely happen at some point. However, knowing how to get by without people thinking you’re rude is as easy as extending an auf wiedersehen when you depart. The one place I let myself slack a little bit here was in Prague, but even the Czech are understanding of this. That’s a tough language.

4. Know how much things cost and the current exchange rate. Many people in my study abroad program made the mistake of never learning to think in euros, and would proclaim what a great deal something when it was not. When I was in Scotland and England, the pound was almost two to every dollar, and forgetting this meant spending as much as fourteen dollars on a sandwich (I didn’t eat much there). Also know that locals might take advantage and assume that your knowledge of the country’s currency is sparse, so don’t let yourself pay ten for what should go for five. Lastly, be wary of flattery. Street vendors are crafty and will throw the word beautiful around if they know it will make them some money.

5. Lastly, enjoy the culture. You’re only there for a finite amount of time, so let some inhibitions go and be adventurous. I don’t necessarily like being the center of attention, but when a troupe of Irish dancers asked for volunteers to come dance on stage with them when I was in Dublin, my hand shot up. I don’t usually eat meat, but many specialties like Tuscan wild boar or German bratwurst are worth the exception. Picky about lodging? Don’t be afraid to try a hostel, it’s quite a bargain. For some people, even packing lightly is nerveracking. I pride myself on my ability to fit my life into small spaces when abroad, and once you’ve done a trip with only the bare minimum, feeling less weighed down is liberating.

I’m not an expert, and I haven’t seen nearly all the places I intend. I have many more mistakes to make, cities to get lost in, and valuables to lose. These tips are meant to be guidelines, and even I need reminding of them every once in awhile (see tip #2.) With that in mind, take advantage of the coming months for the potential adventures they hold and travel safely!

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