You’re Doing it Wrong: 5 Ways to Enhance Your Travel Experience
Every year, millions of people flock to Europe for vacation with the typical tourist mindset. They go abroad with pre conceived notions and assumptions. They fall victim to the tourist mentality, believing that they HAVE to do certain things to check them off of a cheesy bucket list. Rather than take risks, they play it safe. I have fallen guilty to these convictions in the past myself. Hopefully after reading this, you can learn from my mistakes for the benefit of your own travels. Trust me, the most memorable experiences are the ones you won’t expect! You just need to have an open mind and be willing to take risks!
Put away the camera!
Pictures every now and then are great. It’s wonderful to have and share travel photos with friends and family. But with the advent of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, snapping photos has gotten completely out of hand… Are you traveling for your own enjoyment, or are you traveling to show off photos to make your friends jealous? Don’t experience your travels from behind a viewfinder. Its okay to take pictures, but put away the technology to live in the moment.
Forget your itinerary and get lost
Of all my experiences while studying abroad, from top-notch museums to beautiful beaches, my favorite memory was a complete accident. I was separated from my friends, I had no phone, and I was alone at night on the streets in London. I randomly decided to enter a pub I’d never heard of and ordered a drink. A young English gentleman invited me over to a table with him and his mates, all soldiers in the Royal Marines who had just returned from Afghanistan. I spent the next 4 hours chanting, cheering, and drinking with some of the best men I had ever met. That I can assure you was never on my itinerary! Most travelers arrive at a destination, spend a few measly days, and then are off to their next stop. After all the travel logistics are factored in, you get only a few hours total of actual sightseeing. Take it from me- embrace the unexpected experiences!
My advice to anyone visiting a city in Europe; take a jog through the city streets. You can experience your travel destination from a whole new perspective, all while burning off all the wine, cheese, and desserts you indulged in the night before. Leave your Fitbit behind and get lost in the city. Run across bridges, through side streets, and past the outdoor markets smelling of fresh produce. During my times abroad, nothing brought me closer to the heart of a city quite like a morning or evening jog.
Eat where locals eat & eat what locals eat
One of the best ways to absorb the essence of a culture is through their traditional cuisine. You visit their historical sites, engage with their people, why leave out their food? Eating great in Europe doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the best places I had ever eaten in my life were not fancy by any means- and yes I’m talking about the French café whose cook who was smoking a cigarette while preparing my food. Fortunately, the meal was FANTASTIC. Don’t eat food that you’re familiar with. You didn’t fly across the world to indulge in burgers and fries. It’s also important that you find the REAL traditional restaurants, places where the locals eat. Rule of thumb: restaurants with large menus written in multiple languages are generally going to be the most touristy, so try to avoid those.
Talk to strangers
If you’re like me, you were probably taught through your adolescence never to do this! Sorry, but you’re going to have to break this rule if you want to integrate into another culture. Your guide book is great, but it can really only reveal so much. The best guide book you can use while abroad is the locals. You don’t need to interrogate them, but politely asking for advice such as places to see or eat can hugely affect your travel experience. Occasionally, you may encounter a bad apple who wants no business with a tourist. But for the most part, if you are polite, they will point you to some hidden gems. It’s always worth a try.
Rather than simply observing on your travels, try to participate. Learn how other people live. Break out of your ethnocentric mindset, and soak up the beauty of living in another world. It can and will change your life. It certainly changed mine!
I chose to do this rather than book my own trip in Rome - I wanted to experience one organized/sight-seeing trip rather than a relaxing vacation like many of my others had been. Two friends and I signed up for WSA Rome and don't regret a thing. We met wonderful people, were led by an awesome tour guide Rhianne, and got to see everything I wanted to see in Rome. Plus eat all the best food. There is an optional dinner on the last night that we didn't do right away, but we ended up going to it, and it was SO worth the 20 euro. I made memories and friends, and got to see a beautiful, historic city thanks to WSA!!Mallory Dirks, Simpson College ~ University of Roehampton, London, Fall 2015
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