If you’re anything like me, on the brink of traveling, you’ve probably spent countless hours sifting through the Instagram location option of your future home. And although even the most ghastly cities can look beautiful with the right edit, aesthetics are still an important component when deciding where you want to travel. Stunning places attract masses of humanity. Duh.
But you’ll learn rather quickly that some things aren’t showcased on TripAdvisor or Instagram. These are lessons you absorb along the way, which sometimes means you have to embarrass yourself first. These lessons are some of the greatest benefits of venturing far from home.
So here I am, not so much to provide a written highlight reel of my experiences but instead, to outline a few of the less glamorous aspects of being abroad. Here are some European travel tips for you that I learned the hard way.
1. Europeans have an entirely different sense of distance than Northern Americans.
A “short walk” to your Airbnb might very well be a mile uphill with three months worth of luggage. In many areas in Europe, walking is the mode of transportation. Try not to get frustrated when something like this happens to you. Wipe the sweat off your face and silently thank your host for the impromptu workout.
2. Try the local food, even if it has eyeballs and tentacles on it.
Each country in Europe is different from the next and incredibly rich in culture. Locals are proud of their background and food is one of the easiest (and most delicious) immersion techniques. If you’re an adventurous eater, humor the waiters and order something they recommend, because 9/10 times it’s something you’d never dream of ordering. You’ll never know if you don’t try!
3. Expect erratic cab drivers, and be pleasantly surprised when you get a cautious one.
Trust that they know how to swerve around potholes and avoid pedestrians while maintaining a low accident rate.
4. Sometimes it’s a journey to find the location of the toilet flusher.
I recommend scanning the area before you go, just in case you can’t figure it out. If after ten minutes you’re just as baffled as I was, sometimes you have to ask your host family for help after only being acquainted for an hour.
5. Baked potatoes are no longer the baked potatoes we know and love.
If you order a baked potato, make sure it is a “fluffed” potato, because instead your waiter will return with a bucket of pommes frites, and you will be very confused.
6. Fellow tourists can be very hit or miss.
In Croatia, we narrowly escaped being trampled to death by a family that was a bit overzealous to get onto the ferry. The same night, we spent four hours at a restaurant conversing with a couple we’d encountered from the Netherlands, who I’m actually planning on seeing again in two months. It’s important to remember, despite the amount of times you might get elbowed, photo-bombed and cut in line, you too are a tourist. Bless the variances in cultures and understand that, regardless of where people are from, humans are more alike than different anyways.
7. Commit to learning the basics of the native language.
Try to get a head start on this and studying beforehand. Northern Americans have a bad reputation for thinking the world revolves around them. The best way to quell this stereotype is to put forth the effort in being the exact opposite of how they might assume you are. Learning the basic language of the country you’ll soon inhabit is a good place to start.
8. Political talk is no longer taboo.
In my experience, Europeans are curious and inquisitive. Despite what your parents might have told you about never bringing up politics in conversation, consider being open to discussion. It’s interesting how much you’ll learn.
9. Write everyday, whether it be a sentence or a short novel.
Write down the full names of the other students in your program. Connect with them on Facebook. You won’t realize how much your days blend together until you’re home and racking your brain, trying to remember what happened on which day.
10. Ante up your fashion sense to fit in with the crowd.
Europeans are impeccably dressed from head to toe. This makes for a fun experience of attempting to meet their fashion standards. Accessories are welcomed, and locals rock stilettos even on cobblestone. However, walking in stilettos on cobblestone might be an inherited skill, and for your own safety, I’d recommend sticking with flats. But hey, at least they look great!