Since arriving in Rome, I’ve done my best to take advantage of how easy it is to travel around Europe. So far I’ve been to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Munich, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, and Milan. Between trying to pack for three days in a tiny backpack, staying in hostels, learning how to navigate foreign metro systems, and struggling with language barriers, I’ve learned some things that I think would be valuable to any young traveler.
1. Travel with people who have open minds. They won’t hold you back from anything that you want to do, and they might introduce you to something you never knew you were interested in. When I was in Venice one of my friends who is an architecture major wanted to go to the Biennale, which is the architecture and design expo that happens every other year. My non-architecture friends and I agreed to go with her, not knowing a thing about it, and it actually ended up being a highlight of my whole trip.
2. Do a little research on the place you’re visiting beforehand so you don’t miss anything you would’ve really liked to see. Timeout.com or any Rick Stevens Travel Guides are great sources.
3. Don’t be afraid to wander without an agenda and get lost—that’s sometimes the best way to discover a city! When I was in Florence my friends and I just kept walking through these tiny, twisted side roads up a huge hill not knowing where the heck we were going, and we magically discovered a quaint, isolated outdoor cafe with amazing views of the whole city. That is definitely one of my favorite moments to date. Also, this tip can also be applied to exploring your own city too.
4. Chat with locals and go to non-touristy restaurants, cafes, and shops. It’ll really allow you to get a grip on the culture of a city without all the post card stands and menus written in five different languages.
5. Use public transportation: figuring out different metro systems is like solving fun/confusing/frustrating/cheap puzzles.
6. There are companies that organize trips and tours geared toward students, but it’s also really fun and liberating to sit down with your Lonely Planet book and Trip Advisor app and plan your own weekend getaway.
7. Buy a crazy souvenir, pack extra socks, and throw away all your perishable food before you leave. Just do it. You’ll thank me.
8. If you’re staying in a hostel, don’t forget shower shoes.
9. Overnight buses and trains are usually the cheapest form of transportation. Just don’t try to sleep in Starbucks at 5 am just after your bus gets in and you’re waiting for public transportation to start up, or the barista WILL yell you at (probably in a different language). This is a true, traumatizing story. To avoid this, invest in a neck pillow and some Zzzquil for the ride.
11. Take tons of pictures, but don’t let the camera keep you from actually seeing what’s on the other side of the lens.