7 Life-Changing Lessons Learned from 2 Years of Traveling Europe
The end of another year is around the corner, and with it has come the inevitable summaries, ponderings and thoughts of, “What has this year brought me?” Among other things, this year has brought me home. I returned to the UK from traveling Europe late this year after almost two years spent living and studying abroad in three different countries: Czech Republic, Germany and Italy.
While it’s nice to be near family and friends and to eat my favorite foods, I know that fish and chips and bacon sandwiches aren’t enough to make me want to stay here for good. I’m missing life abroad terribly and know I will return back to it at some point.
Living abroad was tough, strange, confusing, fascinating, colorful, eye-opening and wonderful. And I recommend it to everyone. Here are several things I learned along the way:
7 Lessons Learned from 2 Years of Traveling Europe
1. It’s harder than it looks
This surprised me more than anything, and I think it’s important to acknowledge. Before I left, I expected to skip through life abroad on a stress-free road of glitz, glamour and smiles. But of course, like everything else worthwhile, it does have its challenges. There are times of culture shock, loneliness and language barriers, of missing trains, getting lost and falling ill. Quite simply, it’s life.
But don’t let this put you off. Be aware and have contingency plans; arrange Skype dates with family members and download your favourite TV shows for when you need a home fix. Carry a phrase book, get medical and travel insurance and always have a back-up plan. Trust me, the bad moments are often few and far between, and they always pass.
2. A little language goes a long way
Not only does this make the above point infinitely easier to manage, it will be much appreciated by everyone. I am not one of those people who pick up languages easily; I stumble and stutter and have possibly the worst German accent ever. But I kept trying, and soon noticed that any effort at all usually brought smiles, better service in restaurants and friendlier reception overall.
It will also give you such a buzz when people actually start to understand you–and they will. Practice makes perfect!
3. It will change you in ways you never expected
When I first moved abroad, I thought I’d end up “finding myself” like all the books say, and emerging as some new, calm, all-knowing and better version of myself. Truth be told, I ended up finding myself at different bakeries, stuffing my face with cake, exactly the same person as always (except maybe a few pounds heavier).
Travel gives you the chance to be free, and completely and utterly yourself– with the result that you change without even realizing it.
It was only when I came home that I realized how I’d changed, and it’s a subtle, yet important change. Things that used to bother me now just…don’t. I don’t worry as much as I did before. I feel more confident in my opinions. I’m generally quite happy with myself. Things I didn’t use to be.
Travel gives you the chance to be free, and completely and utterly yourself– with the result that you change without even realizing it. And when you’ve tried life in another country, life in your own–with the things you’re used to and the concerns you used to have–suddenly seems like a breeze.
4. The kindness of strangers makes a big difference
Other people can really make or break your experience abroad. It amazed me how kind and helpful people can be when you need help in another country. Expats and locals alike always seemed to have useful information about things I’d never even thought about: bills that I didn’t know existed, where the cheapest language lessons were, where to get the most delicious cake. And people were generally willing to help, no matter how little they knew me. It reassured me about the general niceness of most people!
It can be remarkably easy to make new friends abroad–perhaps because many of these people know what you’re going through. Researching expat groups, language meet-ups and different classes in your new cities definitely helps.
5. Make the most of every opportunity
Your time in your new country is usually limited. So enjoy it! Say yes to things you wouldn’t usually. Hop on a train to see a new place. Go to dinner with new people. Go skydiving, if that’s what you really want! Whereas my weekends at home were spent doing the same-old, same-old, my weekends abroad were spent exploring new cities and trying new things–because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do them again.
By trying every new opportunity here, I’m seeing my home town through different, better eyes.
The only things I regret from my time abroad were the things I wasn’t able to do; for example, I wasn’t able to go to Oktoberfest due to a financial mix-up. I’m still sad about it! I’m not saying blow all your credit cards on saying yes to every diamond-encrusted mojito night and exotic cruise you’re invited to. But if there are things you know you want to do, make sure you do them! Save up for them, make time for them, and don’t end up saying “what if?”
This has also made my current time at home much more fun. By trying every new opportunity here, I’m seeing my home town through different, better eyes.
6. Take more money
With this in mind (and if you also want to go to Oktoberfest but spent all your money on something much more important that you now can no longer remember), take more money! No matter what your budget is, try to take some more. Make sure you have back-up spends for emergencies, and save as much as you can. You’ll need it.
7. Have fun!
This has been the most important thing. Have a sense of humor, take things with a pinch of salt and remember why you’re here. Things may be infuriating at times, but they will always pass–and they will pass so much quicker when you’re laughing.
Meet as many people as you can, see as many things as possible, and do whatever you want. This is your experience.
Traveling Europe: 7 Lessons Learned from 2 Years of Traveling Europe
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Have you traveled to Europe? What were your impressions? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.
7 Lessons Learned from 2 Years of Traveling Europe photo credit: unsplash.com.