During 18 whirlwind months of traveling Europe, we’ve made a lot of observations, done a lot of people watching, and came up with a lot of ways to improve our experiences. I’m not talking about packing more efficiently or better budgeting (though that is also important), I am talking about getting the MOST from your travel experience; digging more into a new culture, and balancing expectations with experience.
- Do your research. Before you head out on your next adventure, take time to make a list of “must see/do” items. Everyone’s bucket list is going to be different, but wouldn’t you hate to get home and realize that you missed something awesome? I favor TripAdvisor for reviews, Viator for activities, and Pinterest for bucket list brainstorming.
- Take at least one ride on public transportation. This is a great way to see first-hand how the locals live. Public transportation is a way of life in most European cities- you will see everyone from business people to children, to tourists such as yourself on public transportation. It’s perfect for people watching- just don’t miss your stop!
- Eat at a restaurant recommended by a local. Or at least, one without an English menu posted outside. Cuisine is an integral part of culture, and divinely diverse across regions! Look for authentic- not restaurants looking to make a quick buck off of you.
- 4. Learn a few basic words. As world travelers, we all have conducted our fair share of transaction with only hand gestures and facial expressions. Don’t be ashamed if you remember only two words from high school French class, a little bit goes a long way! Knowing just “hello” and “thank you” will get you brownie points with locals. My favorite word I’ve learned while traveling is “Děkuji“, which means thank you in Czech. I learn the proper pronounciations by watching videos on YouTube!
- Challenge yourself to try one new thing. Be it a foreign food or an outdoor activity. You’re already a little out of your comfort zone, you may as well jump all the way out! Besides, you’re in a foreign country and no one here knows you.
- Leave a little time to wander. I am 100% type-A and all for planning but sometimes, you have to plan a little time to “get lost”. Find a safe neighborhood and wander- people watch, grab food to go from a street vendor, and make note of the local attire, architecture, and tempo of life here. Before visiting Venice, I heard “make time to get lost”. Once we got there and saw the maze of cobble stone streets we figured, we are definitely going to get lost! We spent a few evenings slowly strolling back to our hotel, gelato (or bellini) in hand, taking time to observe the hustle and bustle of the beautiful Italian city.
- Find the balance. You can sleep when you’re dead… live it up now! But can I? If I am dog tired from hanging with the locals in a pub until 4am, will I be prepared to enjoy my day tomorrow? Probably not. If the kids were in a stuffy museum all day will they behave at a fancy dinner tonight? Probably not. Find the balance. Make the most of your time exploring, but also make time for proper nutrition and rest.
- Don’t be a slave to social media. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people while on a tours or in a spectacular museum, rushing through the motions just so they can snap, post, tweet, and share what they are doing in real time. In today’s social media mania, it’s easy to prioritize our “shares” and “snaps” over actually experiencing what’s right in front of us. Yes, it’s important to get great photos so we can remember these adventures in life, but take a moment for a mental picture, as well. Also, your data plan (and wallet) will thank you for waiting until you get back to the hotel wifi to post those pics.
- Abandon expectations. If you are working from someone else’s itinerary, you’re probably not going to be 110% satisfied with your trip. The person who wrote the itinerary you just got from a friend may favor art and the bar scene- but you don’t. Abandon all the things that you’re expected to do on this vacation, and create YOUR perfect trip!
- Be focused but flexible. Nothing will ever go exactly as planned, no matter how long you have poured over your itinerary. Weather. Railway strikes. Lost luggage! It could happen. Roll with the punches and don’t let it ruin your entire trip if there is a hiccup.
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