I took my first international trip in April, spending 10 days gallivanting around London and Paris. I’ll share much more about my trip in the weeks ahead, but now that I’ve gone abroad, the travel bug has bitten – hard. I’m leaving for Scotland in a month for a “work” trip – can it really be considered work if Edinburgh Castle is your backdrop for two weeks? – and already working on what my next adventure will be.
Costa Rica in January sounds like a great idea…
Now that I have an international adventure under my belt, here are six things I learned while traveling abroad.
America is really young.
My visit to the Tower of London was a trip highlight for a myriad of reasons, but it was also one of many places that reminded me that the United States of America is an infant. William the Conqueror established the Tower in 1066 with construction on the White Tower beginning in the 1070s. It would be more than 500 years before the first settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607. As Americans, we’re often guilty of having a superiority complex – back-to-back World War Champs and all that – but really, we’ve only just begun. It’s humbling.
You’re in someone else’s every day life.
Wandering the streets of Bath on my third day in England, it hit me that I was the foreigner. As I meandered through the cobblestone streets, took in the architecture, and made it my personal mission to try every coffee shop around, I thought about the fact that I was in someone else’s ordinary day-to-day. People live there. They work there. They probably don’t pay much attention to how stunning their town is, because they see it each and every day. It made me more respectful of being in their space.
You don’t need the big suitcase.
I took six pairs of shoes to Europe. I wore two pair. I had three pairs of jeans. I wore one. I took my hair straightener. Never used it. I didn’t use my multi-voltage hair dryer bought especially for the trip either, come to think of it. I actually took less than I originally planned once I saw everything laid out on my bed, and still over-packed. Save yourself the hassle and leave the beauty appliances and the extra pair of boots at home. You won’t need them. Why waste time straightening your hair when you could be eating crepes at a sidewalk cafe overlooking the Seine?
America’s public transportation system is terrible.
Within my first hour of being in England, I had experienced planes, trains, and buses. Throughout my stay in both England and France, it was so easy to hop on the Tube or Metro and get virtually anywhere within 20 minutes. The Overground train took me to Bath, Windsor, and Leavesden quickly and comfortably. The Eurostar got me from London to Paris in two hours. Buses ran like clockwork and taxis were easy to flag down if needed. I live 1.8 miles from downtown Charlottesville and that’s “too far” for the bus system. Forget about trains. Plus, the public transportation is clean – the New York subway system could only hope to aspire to those levels of cleanliness.
People are just people.
Before I left, a lot of people gave me their unsolicited opinions on the English and French. Those who offered their opinions also happened to be those who had never been to those countries. “The English hate Americans” and “The French are rude” were two popular opinions. I found the English to be perfectly wonderful, especially when seated on stools at a local pub, and I didn’t meet a single rude Frenchman. Even the Nigerians who hocked plastic keychains and selfie sticks at major attractions were nice enough, if you told them “Non!” a strong tone when asked if you’d like to buy a grossly overpriced replicate of the Eiffel Tower. I believe in being kind, and found a little kindness – and an effort to respect their culture – goes a long way. My French is terrible, but merely greeting someone in French before revealing I how poorly I speak it resulted in smiles and kind conversation.
People are just people, no matter where you are. They shouldn’t intimidate you.
We live in a small square.
I work in educational student travel and heard it all the time: travel changes lives. Travel shows you how small of a space you occupy in our world. On some level, I understood that. Charlottesville, Virginia is but a dot on the map, after all. Not until I got on a plane a flew across an ocean did I truly get it. The world we live in is huge, and there is no way to see it all in a lifetime. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Experiencing new places and cultures teaches you so much about yourself. It also teaches acceptance and if there is one thing we need more of in this world, it’s acceptance of those who aren’t quite like us.
I have so much to share about my travels, but I wanted to start with what I learned while abroad. It’s scary to board a plane (or train…) and fly off to a foreign land, especially alone, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
What have you learned from traveling?