Thirty lessons in travel... by thirty.
Thirty. Like sticking the tip of your big toe into a freezing pool of water and thinking, "that's terrible".. suddenly your older brother pushes you in, and within a few flaps of your arms you're thinking, "this isn't so bad"... that has been my week. Of course I first grappled with the acceptance of beginning my third decade in this world, but I realized.... damn, it's been a hell of a ride. Wine also helps.
By thirty years old, I have been to 19 countries. Many of that count was tallied during my first year living in Germany, while 29. Of course with that much travel time in one year, I really got to know myself on a deeper level; I am sure there's a quote about that somewhere but stay focused, I won't get too existential on you. Some lessons were learned through trial and error, and some were through observing the world around me. Without further ado, I give you thirty lessons that travel taught me... by the ripe age of 30.
PS- I am not going to mention things like "don't forget your passport!" or "keep a printed copy of your reservations"... you saw 30 in the title, right? That means big girl rules on the blog. But seriously, don't ever forget your passport.
1. Be open to new experiences// I think to fully take in the new experiences and sights around us, we need to first clear our minds of any judgments, prejudices, and be open. Be welcoming to new experiences and feelings that are inspired by immersing yourself in a different culture, or simply delight yourself in shaking up your usual "routine". Open heart, open mind, let the positive vibes flow.
2. Exercise practical packing// Constantly seeing photos of your favorite
insta-famous blogger in some gorgeous location, fully decked out in pounds of shiny accessories, 20 inch hair extensions, and stilettos? Me too. Let me keep it real, you literally cannot walk in most major European cities in stilettos. Anyone who knows me will understand this caused a major identity crisis for me when I moved to Europe. It's not a comfort thing, nor a question of if you're well seasoned at walking in heels, it's a matter of completely ruining your shoes and having to balance on the balls of your feet at all times. Beyond that, it's not considerate to slow down your fellow travel buddies because of your ensemble or footwear selections. So as for me, I will leave my Louboutins at home and rock my converse while out and about, even if its the "less cute" option.
3. Also exercise concise packing// You know what else doesn't mix with cobblestone? 50 pound roller bags. If you're planning on doing a fair share of walking to your lodging, take this into account. I rolled a bag about quarter a mile down a cobblestone street in Rome from our train to our apartment, 100 degrees of hot sun shining down on me, and highly considered tossing it into the street. If you need to travel with a large bag, spending an extra 5-10 euro for a quick cab will make all the difference in your mood!
4. Visit the origin of your favorite foods + drinks// Bottles of Bordeaux in Bordeaux. Start a champagne campaign in Champagne. Visiting the birthplace of certain delicacies really gives you an extra layer of appreciation. Bonus points if you can attend a local food tour, cooking class, or brewery/winery/distillery.
5. Language barriers are easier to overcome than you think// English is the language of tourism. Lucky us! I have found that starting an exchange with "hello" in the native language is the easiest and friendliest way to still get great customer service, despite the language differences. There are a multitude of smartphone apps and youtube videos to help you learn a few "hello", "please", and "thank you's". If all else fails, a smile is universal!
6. Don't be a slave to social media// I can't tell you how many times I have seen people on tours or in museums rushing through the motions just so they can snap, post, tweet, and share what they are doing in real time. It makes me sad that these people are not more engaged in the present, and are just living to show others what they are doing, thriving off the validation they receive in return.
Be present in the moment, friends.
7. Shop the specialty products// When you can, if luggage permits, of course. Pottery, crystal, leather goods, linens.. The best souvenirs are the ones you can cherish forever, and Europe has generations of gorgeous handcrafted products that are highly sought after. Check back soon for the dish on our quest for the perfect Italian pottery!
8. Build memories with buddies// Find some like-minded adventurers and hit the road! If there's anything as entertaining as people watching (and drinking) your way through Europe, it's gotta be doing it while you're rolling deep, right?
9. You aren't alone// Look around, the world is a big place. Whatever you are feeling or going through, chances are that there is someone else feeling the same way that you do.
10. Get active// It's the best way to take in scenery and burn off those beer calories, right? Our world is a beautiful place! Walking or bike tours have been our favorite way to see new cities.
11. Time is money// There are often many ways to get to one destination. At the beginning of your planning session, think about which you value more: saving time or saving money. Some people don't mind taking a flight then hopping on a bus and riding a few hours to save $100- if you're one of those people and have plenty of time to spare, take a moment to check out bus specials, railway options, and flying into surrounding airports.
12. It's OK to be a tourist sometimes// So many people I know are anti-tourist. By no means do I advocate for being the "ugly American" that shades tourism with a negative connotation, but I will not apologize for taking an extra moment to get a great photo, or mentally soaking in the scenery. I may never see this place again, and damn it, I'm going to remember it.
13. Do day trips// Day trips are the perfect way to explore neighboring areas or attractions, without dropping a ton of cash. No hotel, no flight, and it's too easy to plan ahead with snacks and drinks. You can also tack on a day trip when on your larger-scale vacays. Versailles is an easy journey from Paris. Stonehenge is a perfect mini excursion from London. Take advantage of railways systems, public buses, or a private tour company that provides transportation if you want to day trip without renting a car. Viator is our favorite resource to book day trips and tours!
14. Get outside of your comfort zone// This is the perfect time to try new things.. want to go salsa dancing in Spain? Sun bathe sans top like the Europeans? Sure! Even if you make an @$$ of yourself, you don't have to worry about ever seeing these people ever again- just don't end up on Youtube.
15. Be flexible// Nothing will ever go perfect, no matter how extensively you plan your trip. Weather. Railway strikes. It could happen! Roll with the punches and don't let it ruin your entire trip if there is a hiccup.
16. Sample the local flavor// Not just for foodies! What better way to get to know a region? I have loved full English breakfasts with never-ending tea, hearty Eastern European goulash soups, and all the macaroons in France, to name a few.
17. Happiness is a fluid concept// I have enjoyed people watching in different countries, and taking in what constitutes happiness in each culture. The recurring theme: love, acceptance, freedom to do what you love. To each their own.
18. Understand that everyone's vacation priorities are different// Your dream itinerary may not be the same as mine. Do you even history, bro?! Everyone has different interests: foodie, nightlife, places of historical value, adrenaline centered activities, cultural exploration, local architecture, and imagine this- some even travel simply for leisure! I love to ask others what their favorite locations and adventures have been, but it's important to remind myself that what works for them may be lack-luster for me. Consider a follow up question to ask WHY that location was great for them.
19. You will never see ALL the castles// And that's OK. Even if you're a total castle-holic don't be too hard on yourself, there are 20,000+ castles in Germany alone! Focus on the ones that most interest you, whether it be for their historical, architectural, or geographic value.
20. Make time for YOU, when you can// Travel can be tiresome! It's important to make time to recharge your batteries, or you'll end up getting burned out. Some of you are reading that and thinking, "You're delusional, you're lucky to travel so much..." True, I am fortunate to see the world. But that doesn't mean that it isn't taxing at times, especially if you factor in that I work full time, volunteer in a leadership capacity at the local American Red Cross, keep up with a gym schedule, pursue furthering my education, and rock the house with any and all wifey duties. Anyway, for me a few minutes of meditation, aromatherapy, or reading uplifting material really make a difference in my stress level. I'm hoping to balance my time better to incorporate these practices more frequently. Even if it's just dimming the lights and playing calming music during your shower, every little bit helps!
21. Getaway with the girls (or boys)// I have been fortunate to go on some great excursions with girlfriends over the years. It's a whole different vibe than traveling with your significant other or family. Before moving to Europe, my favorite girl's trip was to Miami and Key Largo in June 2013.
22. Build your bucket list// Dream big! Putting pen to paper (or virtually through Pinterest) is a great way to actualize your dreams and set goals to help you reach them. I like to organize my travel bucket list into a few categories for day trips, regional trips, and BIG ticket items. One of my dreams: see the Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle.
23. ...And keep it updated// Never stop dreaming or exploring- your new adventures will inspire future ones. Perhaps you'll tap into an interest that you didn't even know you had.
24. Come home to a clean slate// Anything I can do to make coming home from vacation and getting back to work an easier transition is a win for me. Leave for your travels with a tidy, inviting home... it will do wonders in helping you beat the post-vacay blues.
25. Fest is BEST// Europeans love fests to celebrate anything! Beyond beer and wine, there are holidays, flowers, historical events, and harvests to be commemorated. Fests are an awesome opportunity to mingle with the locals and in the case of foods or spirits, sample until your heart (or waistband) is content.
Kurbis (pumpkin) fest in Ludwigsburg, Germany
26. There's more to Volksfest than beer// Hear me out. Last year was my first experience at what Americans will refer to as "Oktoberfest". In our area of Germany, we go to the Cannstatter Volksfest. Second biggest in the country, and much more authentically German than it's big brother in Munich. Well, in true Brady "go big or go home" fashion we decided to pre-game and then stay at fest from open to close, in an attempt (and success) to "out-German the Germans". I was so excited to be in attendance and decked out in my dirndl and swinging a mass (1 liter) of beer- I'm not sure I was even able to take it all in. This fall, we have friends from America coming to visit and attend the chaos within the beer tent with us... I intend to make it through my first mass of Kristalweizen and see the sights and scenes before I get too toasted. #goals. Besides beer there is food, outfits, culture, a carnival, music, art, and German customs to immerse yourself in!
27. Vibe with the locals// Not only is this the best way to find the best local spots without Trip Advisor's help, but you also get a snap shot of "real" life in this location. Our favorite transient exchange was at a sports bar in Munich, where we met Dario, a seemingly-skeezy business man who was happy to give us his take on the difference between Europeans and Americans, in between propositioning myself AND Luke to join him for some "extracurricular" activities.
28. Get touristy in your town// There may be more than you expect to see, right around the corner from your home. While living in Atlanta, we went on dates to see all the "tourist" stops: World of Coke, CNN, Centennial Olympic Park, the Aquarium, and of course...the Varsity!
29. Look for opportunities// There are a world of different opportunities to pursue when it comes to traveling: professions that require constant travel, religious outreach, charitable works, or even travel with recreational groups. For all you Expat's out there, look into joining one of the networking groups for people like you in your region- many will organize trips and adventures. If you are associated with the Military, check out your local USO, MWR Outdoor Recreation, and BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Service Members) program for their agenda. Many Garrisons also have price reductions for trips and activities for certain ranks.
30. Give thanks// The greatest lesson I have learned is that of gratitude. You will find people who have far less than you, and are just as content, if not more so than you or I. Tangible items aren't everything, and how amazing is it that you have this opportunity to see the world?!
What's the best lesson you have learned from traveling? Feel free to share below. As for me, I'm off to plan my next adventure!
BON VOYAGE, BABES! xoxo