My goal for this blog, now that I am home, is for it to be a guide for friends, family, and other students who are looking forward to a semester abroad. I was delighted to be able to share my experiences here and I want to share all that I have learned through my travels to better the journeys of those who have as much wanderlust as I do. With that said, here is a quick wrap up of the Do’s and Don’ts that I learned while traveling. Have some of you own? Please comment below!
City Visits: Do: Visit Barcelona. The eclectic, artsy, and antique beauty of the big city with a small city feel will have you wishing you could never leave. Be a tourist! Walk down Las Ramblas and visit the Gaudí buildings like La Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. Take a picnic to Parc Güell (also by Gaudí) and get lost in the Gothic Quarter with its small shops and winding streets.
- Do: The Fat Tire Bike Tour. A tip from my parents who recommend it to everyone they encounter. This bike tour is a casual seven mile, three hour tour of the city by a well informed and very funny tour guide. Also in London, Paris, and Berlin–if you do all four you get a free t-shirt! They said they were able to see parts of the city they never would have seen just walking (a lot that I missed!) and then they could decide what they wanted to go back and visit later. Any age can go and they enjoyed it so much they still talk about it! Here is the website for those traveling to one of the four host cities: http://www.fattirebiketours.com/
- Don’t: Go Uninformed. While I was good for the most part about studying up on the cities we planned on visiting, Barcelona was a bit last minute and thrown together. We definitely had enough to do, but one night found ourselves sitting and waiting for the Magic Fountains of Monjüic to start….for 45 minutes….before giving up, going home, and learning they didn’t start until April. So all in all, do your research! Check your facts, know the history of the points of interests you will be visiting! The trip will be much more worth it and memorable.
Food: Do: Try the local food and drink. Have a taste of sangría in Spain, a cappuccino in Italy, and a gyro in Greece! The region you’re visiting is famous for fried fish guts? Try it! You never know what you may like! I slurped snails out of their shells and ate a fish that was staring back at me. Even if you don’t like it, you can say you tried it! Check out the local market scene too–a great place to people watch and try a bunch of local items!
- *A note on sangría in Spain*: If you go during the fall/winter months, if you order a sangría, you will realize that it isn’t like you imagined. The winter drink is known as Tinto de Verano or Red Wine of Summer. It is a mix of red wine, sparkling lemonade, and brown sugar–and so tasty!
Don’t: Go to a restaurant tourist trap. Lining the top tourist destinations are handsome waiters trying to draw you into their mediocre, over priced restaurants. DO NOT BE FOOLED. The food is mealy, undercooked, and not authentic. Take a walk down a street two blocks off the main drag and the choices are MUCH better and you will have another great experience to remember.
Do: Stay somewhere economical when traveling on a budget. There is no need to pay for a city center, over the top, hostel if there is a great option a few miles out of the city. Check the difference on what you would pay for the hostel versus what you would pay for the metro or bus to take into the city in the morning, sometimes its cheaper!
Don’t: Settle for a terrible hostel even if it is cheap. It will damper your stay if you are dreading going back to your dirty, dingy hostel in a questionable area every night. For more stories on my rough hostel experience in London, click here! Do your research and set a standard for where you will spend the night. Also, understand you get what you pay for, which is exactly what happened to us…
Do: Try the language! Give a bonjour to the shop keeper or a gracías to your waiter, they will appreciate it! And don’t be surprised if someone wants to practice their English with you!
Don’t: Be embarrassed if you mess it up! At least you are still trying! For a week, every time a waiter asked my dad how the food was he accidentally said “Nice to meet you!” while in Madrid and Barcelona. No need to clam up or apologize, they understand how difficult it is, but appreciate the effort!
Do: Try and see as much as possible! The thing about Europe is, while it is expensive to get there, it is so cheap to travel! I flew to Italy for $45! Take advantage of the fantastic transportation throughout the continent and city hop! The places you will see are countless!
Don’t: Try and fit too much in. While Rome was not built in a day, we did see it in a day, and then my shoes fell apart shortly after. I finally realized that the constant movement and fear of missing out was absolutely exhausting. Your legs feel like jello, your heels will be bruised, and the thought of carrying your backpack through another security checkpoint feels daunting. Take some time to enjoy the places you’re in, and leave something to come back to!
For all of the other experienced travelers out there, where are your favorite places? What is your big tip you learned, or best experience you had? Please comment below!