I was 19 and I thought I knew everything. I definitely didn’t.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in a small town, so escaping to Europe for my gap year was a complete revelation. For three months, I backpacked through Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece, Serbia, and Turkey, and I would’ve stayed forever if I didn’t run out of money.[related_articles]60340,23056,8302[/related_articles]
Looking back I threw myself into travelling in a way that I can hardly believe. I was naive and fearless, which led to some amazing experiences and some stupid mistakes. Five years later I’m planning my second trip to Europe, and it’s got me pondering all the things I wish I knew as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 19 year old.
#1 Don’t arrive to a new place when it’s dark
This sounds like something your mum would say, but it’s true – especially if you’re by yourself and don’t have easy access to internet. Getting your bearings in a new city is much easier when you can see what’s around you. Just catch a late-night bus, and arrive just as the city is waking up. You’ll love it, I promise.
#2 Get rid of half the stuff in your backpack
You don’t need conditioner, fancy dresses or more than three pairs of shoes. Also, invest in some good quality boots for wandering the cobblestone streets (and the tramping through mud and rain that’ll inevitably occur).[related_articles]60286,41005[/related_articles]
#3 Don’t be afraid to talk to people in hostels
They’re probably wishing they had someone to share their experiences with just as much as you are. Any hostel worth its salt has a common room where, if you can hang out and look lonely for long enough, someone will take pity on you and ask where you’re from. Maybe they’ll be your new best friend, or maybe you’ll ditch them before dinner? Either way, you’ll feel less alone.
#4 Choose hostels based on location
Of course, reviews are important, but trust me, you want to be able to get to the city centre without having to navigate public transport instructions that are available only in Italian. It’s hard enough getting the bus to the beach in Sydney, let alone a city you just landed in.[related_articles]57653,48755[/related_articles]
#5 Learn the language
Or at least try to get the basics down so you don’t end up lost and alone in Belgrade at 2am, unable to read the street signs or ask anyone for help. Retracing your steps from last night’s messy pub crawl is not a fun time.
#6 Trust your instincts
If something seems dodgy, it probably is. On the flip side, if you feel like you should stay in Positano a few more days and order pizza, you should definitely do that.
#7 Don’t make yourself go to the gallery
Or the church, or the museum. In fact, don’t make yourself do anything touristy just because you think you should. The Louvre is huge, and you don’t have to spend one of your precious days in Paris there if you don’t care about seeing the Mona Lisa. Your first overseas trip will help you discover what you like and what you don’t like, and that’s OK.
#8 Wi-fi and maps are your friends
You don’t have to eat at fast food joints, just loiter outside and use the free Wi-Fi to load your maps. Or, if you’re feeling really confident, go wild and buy the paper version. You can draw all over it and keep it to remember all the times you got lost.[related_articles]31194,52883[/related_articles]
#9 Do as the locals do
The best way to avoid food poisoning is to order whatever the person at the table next to you is eating. Take cues from locals when it comes to grocery shopping, exploring new neighbourhoods, and visiting attractions. Basically, just follow the local crowd – often in the opposite direction from the selfie-stick fiends – and you’ll be set.
#10 You’ll be fine
Fear is natural, but travelling is the best way to learn and grow. Try new things, make yourself uncomfortable and revel in the aloneness. You’re smart, independent and capable, and you’ll figure it out.
(Lead image: Artem Bali / Unsplash)