I don’t claim to be the most seasoned traveler out there, but I’ve had the marvelous fortune of being able to travel sporadically throughout Spain and Europe during the last 8 months of living in this beautiful country. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned….some gems from fellow travelers or friends that’ve saved my skin; some learned on my own—more often than not, the hard way.
In no particular order (and my apologies for the utter randomness…also, some of these photos are related to the post below, others are just randomosity):
1. Umbrellas. You will never regret bringing one along. Maybe you can really rock the drenched-cat look, but as for me, it’s not a pretty picture.
2. A smile, a laugh, a small act of kindness—they transcend language and cultural barriers. We’re all people. Despite our differences, there are some things that most everyone understands.
3. Layers. You read this all the time, but it really is a tried-and-true travel “clothing” tip. Wear ’em, pack ’em, do whatever you need to do. My favorite trick is to bring a fleece jacket along in my backpack wherever I travel during the non-summer months, as it does triple duty: extra layer of warmth under a jacket or raincoat; pillow on the plane/bus/train; cozy hang-out wear in a chilly hostel or hotel at night. Also leggings. They might be my very best travel friend. Wear ’em as long underwear (under jeans), under a long shirt for bed, throw ’em in your purse for under your skirt or dress when the night turns cold. And they take up SO little backpack/suitcase space. (Obviously girl-tips on clothing topic. Sorry dudes. You get it easy in this area, so you don’t need my help).
4. On the packing train of thought….my mantra? Five words: pack light and be creative. Tanks, basic t’s (long-sleeved and short, fitted), one or two pairs of neutral pants, a dress/skirt, one or two scarves, one or two pairs of shoes and your outfit combos seem endless! Another favorite mix-and-match packing item is a short-ish black cotton skirt. I can wear it with nearly every top I bring and in nearly every weather. Scarves are fantastic, functional and can mix up any outfit. They also happen to be my favorite souvenir….and/or travel purchase addiction.
5. No matter what you hear about this city or that country, there are good and bad people everywhere. Just like in your city/country. You might get swindled, or you might just experience the most incredible hospitality/warmth/generosity you’ve ever known. Call me an idealist, an incurable optimist or just plain naive, but the good people are a lot more common. Just sayin’.
6. That said, it’s never good to be oblivious to your surroundings. Be smart. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and look confident in what you’re doing/where you’re going (even if you’re not). Don’t wave your map around in the air like a flag with your purse hanging open and your passport sticking out of your back pocket like a gibbering idiot. Then you’re just asking for it.
7. If you ever have the choice of eating at a restaurant or having a meal at someone’s home, ditch the restaurant. There will ALWAYS be restaurants. Never pass up the opportunity to receive the (offered) generosity/hospitality of another human being. You have the chance at getting to know another person(or getting to know him or her further); warm conversation; an insight to their lives/culture and an experience that is completely and utterly unique. Not to mention the food is most-likely going to be unbelievably good, and if you’re in another country, different than what you’ve ever tasted before. Some of the most wonderful memories I’ve had this year have been while enjoying a simple meal and good conversation with friends (old or new).
8. For those of you weekends-of-intense-spurts-of-traveling-at-a-time folks (like those of us on this program in Spain): It can be tempting to go long and hard every day you’ve got, trying to make the most of every moment in your exciting new location with the time you have. But sometimes you just need to sit down and have a coffee. Or sit in a nice square and enjoy the sun/shade. Or go back to the hostel and nap. You might feel like you’re wasting precious time at the moment (like I always seem to) but you’ll thank yourself later when you are fresh and ready to go later on (and happier/drier/with less-aching-feet/etc) and not crabby and wanting to collapse. Plus, you’ll get to thoroughly enjoy your city/location by night, which is nearly always as interesting/beautiful or moreso.
9. Don’t be THAT tourist. Don’t get me wrong: when you travel, you’re a tourist, no matter how well- traveled you are. But there are ways to be good ones, and certainly ways to be bad ones. The list of how to be the bad ones is endless, but one in particular stands out continuously to me—if you’re marveling at a church, temple, mosque, burial ground or other holy place…show some respect. It’s easy to get excited about the grandiose features, awe-inducing structure or what have you, but loud talking/shouting, flippant comments and otherwise disrespectful behavior are just plain rude. Come on, folks. You’re better than that.
10. Use the bathroom before you leave. You learned this when you were 5. It is even more important now. Finding (decent) restrooms while sightseeing but not having to buy a sandwich every time you use one=skill.
More (a lot more) to come as I think of them/discover them.
Much love to you all & safe travels!