Round up

Ladies & gents, we made it. 

1 girl, 2 semesters, 2 (very fat & bulging) suitcases and a stamp-filled passport—my abroad adventure has reached its end. 

I guess I can press the "play" button for real life to start again...

But like any 21 year old college student that went abroad, I cannot just quietly return stateside and not tell you about all the European-y things I saw, ate, and experienced, right?

Well, here I am to entertain you with my year-abroad-in-a-nutshell of 10 things I learned—how's that for an introduction.

& without further ado, take a breath and blink your eyes one last time cause this post will be a doozy of a read:

1. Use your flight/train/bus/boat travel time wisely. Put those fingers to work and type, type, type. I've written essay introductions, important emails, MBL posts and so on all in notes on my phone or drafts on email. Even if you don't have wifi (at that moment) have it ready to go! You'll love yourself later. even write up or think up a rough schedule of what you want to do when you get to your destination. 

P.S. this entire post is brought to you via iPhone notes from a conglomeration of locations.

2. It's perfectly ok to go to a bar or restaurant alone. When traveling alone, embrace it, a girls gotta eat and drink. Chances are you'll get a wifi password or can just enjoy the people watching. 

3. When you have the chance, DO IT. Like use an ATM, get a coffee, use a bathroom, jump out of a plane, swim with sharks, anything, JUST DO IT. Or forever hold your peace. 

4. If something doesn't make sense, question it. From prices, to menus to tour deals—even standing in a long line that randomly formed. Don't be afraid to ask—no harm done. If you're paying for a service and not satisfied, it's acceptable to leave if it's not what you expected.  

5. If you're completely "I have no idea remotely where I am or what to do right now" lost, go into a bathroom or coffee bar—somewhere public. Standing on the street looking up, down, around, hoping to recognize something can make you appear vulnerable to the wrong kinda people. 

6. Don't be scared to lie. Ignore everything your mama told ya. Whether someone is being too nosy or there's information you don't want to disclose, it's okay to lie! You don't need to tell everyone you meet your true life story or what your travel plans are. 

7. Look up! The ground is the same in America, don't watch your feet, look ahead! Keep your chin up and stand tall, be confident that you know your bearings and exactly where you want to go. Even if that's not even close to true. And besides look around you! I promise it's more beautiful than the floor. 

8. Don't be afraid of being a tourist. There were plenty of times I was a little shy or apprehensive to take a tourist-y photo or take a tour group, even snap a selfie; But you know what, I grew out of it—sometimes I am a tourist! When I travel alone, I'll ask someone to take my photo for me—I traveled this far and I want proof one day to show my kids "look, mommy was there! I was a cool mom!" also, selfie stick or die.  

9. That also being said do what the locals do—don't be afraid to get off the beaten path. Most places have a "tourist designated area" I like to call it. Find it, circle it on a map and put a big X thru it. Either research ahead or ask bartenders/cafe workers what the local specialties are and be sure to try them! From soccer games to food & drinks to dances and such, get out there into the culture you're in. Ask them what their favorite thing to do in town is, chances are you're in for a good time with many other locals. 

10. But whenever you spot a little piece of home i.e. Starbucks, it's not illegal to pop in and note the differences or similarities—that's part of building the knowledge of traveling. When your abroad for longer than a vacation period sometimes all you want is to stroll thru a Target, sip your Starb, or run into a CVS. Maybe order some J.Crew to your doorstep. 

+ #11 and the most important: 

Collect something other than postcards, t-shirts, shot glasses and keychains. Come on people, you might as well burn your money. Even if it's a flower from a mountain you climbed, a distinct coaster from an old pub you went to or an old book with maps of the town, collect something that comes with a story to be told of where you got it. Not things that exclaim "look, look where I went, I went here!!"

All right, & there we have it, 10 (+ 1 extra), things I've learned this past year. 

It has been quite the ride. 

I've been happily converted to live a life sans-wifi and grown to love mineral water. I think the Italians are on to something with their pace of life over there & I'll gladly start my day with a cappuccino for the rest of my life. 

 

-Alex