For someone who had not stepped out of Australia, living and travelling in Europe for the first time was adventurous to say the least. While I wouldn’t say that I’m a seasoned travelled just yet, my visits to over 10 countries in under a year have taught me a few things.
Usually, I’m quite good with organising my trips, I double check my itinerary, I plan how to get to my hostel from my airport, I save maps and screenshots on my phone for future use.
However, while alone on the metro in Barcelona, I realised that all my Google Map screenshots of my hostel magically deleted themselves (perhaps this was due to my inclination to drop my phone on every surface imaginable). With no access to internet or my travel buddy, I relied on a vague memory of the general direction I believed the hostel was situated to get me there. Having to wade through a street-long parade of FC Barcelona fans after a win of some sort (my knowledge of football is negligible), I learned my lesson. Bring maps/travel books, you are not invincible just because you have technology.
2. If you love yourself, stay away from touristy joints.
I’m not talking about the usual attractions in cities. I mean a trip to Paris without even visiting the Eiffel Tower? That’s a pretty big thing to miss. I’m referring to the usual tourist eateries, either a comfortable Maccas run for a good old reliable Big Mac or a restaurant within popular tourist areas, often with a a large menu stand with pictures of the food and a gentleman next to it who attempts to usher you in. No matter what he says (eg: “we have the best snails in Paris!”) ignore him. Try your best to venture out of these eateries and seek out authentic food of the country that you’re in.
My friend Catherine and I found this beauty after a couple of mediocre, convenient restaurants. We stumbled across Rouge Passion on a relatively quiet street when walking around in the rain trying to find another restaurant (which ended up being closed that day). Going out of our way for a good meal was definitely worth it, eating this dish was one of my favourite memories in Paris. (Is that a bit sad? I don’t believe so, visit Rouge Passion yourself and you’ll understand).
3. Concede when you are wrong about something.
Mainly regarding directions. I’ll admit this is hard for me, especially as I’m a stubborn person. Once you become familiar with an area, you may fall into a false sense of security, and think “I’m sure (insert location here) is in that general direction, I’ll just walk that way, I’ll come across it soon enough”. Sometimes, this works out for the better, and you might stumble into something cool along the way you otherwise would have overlooked. However, this can also go horribly wrong.
When solo-travelling in Brussels, I spotted this church at the end of a long road and decided to visit it. After 20 minute walk and a quick photo, I left the church and took an alternate way back to the city centre, an unintentionally scenic route through Sainte-Josse-ten-Noode, a borough in Brussels not traditionally visited by tourists, let alone a solo female Asian traveller with no Internet on her phone and no map. I wish this story ended with me finding my way through the borough to the city centre, but in reality, I caught the train back for one stop. In short, don’t kid yourself if you think you sort-of-kind-of-maybe know the way somewhere.
4. Buy travel insurance.
Doesn’t matter where you go, just do it. Even if you think you don’t need it, insurance not coming in handy is the best possible situation while travelling. I’ve heard too many horror stories about friends who’ve been mugged and almost experienced it myself. You never know what’s going to happen, but you’ll feel a bit more at ease travelling with insurance. (I mainly used Compare the Market while I was in Europe).
5. Take a breather.
Don’t cram your days with activities and sites to see. It’s not fun travelling as if you’re on a school excursion being ushered from one attraction to the next. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of tours like Contiki, you don’t really get to visit places at your own pace. I find having a vague plan of what I want to see and leaving room for café breaks to recharge works the best for me.
Some of the fondest memories of travelling I have are of the conversations I’ve had with friends over a coffee or cozing up with a good book in a corner of a café. Don’t mistake making the most of your holiday by seeing everything the city has to offer, enjoying yourself and doing what you feel like in the moment is important.