I never traveled out of the country as a child, and always figured I would do it as an adult. But as time went on, I just never did it. It wasn’t until a friend bought me a ticket that I finally took my first international trip — and I have been hooked ever since.
I was 33 years old. My first trip was a quick one, three days in London. Since then, I have been to Prague, as well as having driven around the rest of the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany. And every time I am changed completely.
There are some things I notice about international travel, as well as myself, each time I leave the safety of my home.
You need to pay attention to local cultures
It shows some respect to learn some important things about the culture, as well as some of the language, of the country you are planning to visit. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to learn how to say “yes”, “no”, and thank you” — if nothing else. Although service workers in many touristy areas of large cities seem to know English, it still shows you appreciate their culture enough to learn a few things in their language.
One thing I have learned about myself is the size of my “bubble” — as in, how much space I like to put between other people and myself.
It’s important to realize that many Americans have larger bubbles than other cultures, and there is nothing wrong with either. If you are in a city where you are told to watch your bag, it may be a little nerve-racking when someone gets close to you, but it’s not always out of malice.
I am American (no matter how much I want to connect to my heritage)
My dad’s family moved to the United State from Denmark, and my mother’s family came from Czechoslovakia. Both great-great grandfathers came over at the end of the 19th century, and both fought to be as American as possible. Because of this, I have very little connection to my heritage.
On a recent visit to Prague, a cousin looked into our genealogy to see if I could visit any place connected to us. But other than a name and profession, there was very little we could find about his life in Prague. While visiting the Prague Castle, and looking up at Coats of Arms of historic Czech families, I realized I felt no connection to this country of my ancestors.
It’s a sad realization, but maybe also a positive one: it is up to us to look to the future, to make a connection for our children to their heritage, and to never forget where we came from (but also where we are now).
Get ready to pay for the bathroom
Public restrooms in many other countries are not always free. That is not to say they are incredibly expensive (in Prague, it ranged from $.20 to $2.00), but it’s a good idea to make sure you have coins with you while out for the day.
You will probably have to climb stairs
In many older European buildings, get ready to climb some stairs. Because so much of the infrastructure is hundreds of years old, if you are staying at a kitschy or older hotel, there is a chance you will be taking multiple flights up to your room.
If you cannot take the stairs, keep that in mind when booking — and make sure to ask if there is an elevator up to your floor.
I am a terrible packer
On my trip to Prague, I tried to downsize as much as possible and bring as few pieces of clothing as possible. However, the day before leaving, I thought of at least four more items of clothing I wanted to bring, and I had to literally sit on my suitcase to get it to close.
This in itself wouldn’t the worst thing (besides the fact I probably took 16 days worth of clothing for a six-day trip). But it’s always important remember that you may be coming back with more than you left with. Whether it be presents for friends or loved ones, or just other trinkets you pick up during the trip, you should always leave some space in your suitcase on the way there.
Because of my terrible packing skills, I ended up having to buy an additional bag in Europe, and pay the extra bag fee on the way back.
There is nothing better than your own bed
No matter how glamorous the hotels or cities you stay in, there is nothing like your head hitting your own pillow after a long trip. There is something about traveling the world that can help you appreciate your own bed, or apartment, or town.
Traveling always helps me remember that people are people, and everyone is born somewhere. A city is a city, and although that doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring in terms of history and culture, but you will learn that many people might be just as awe-inspired by the city where you live.
You will never travel “someday” — you need to do it now
If it wasn’t for a friend’s persuading me into traveling for the first time, I never would have done it. I always said I would do it one day, but I never made the move to actually buy a ticket or plan a trip.
If you are waiting for something to give you that final push, don’t. Do it today, because it is worth it and will change your life and your view on the world.
Your life will never be the same
Even though “a city is a city” sometimes the things you learn about yourself are more important about the experiences themselves. You will learn both that the world is bigger than you realized, but also smaller than you realized.
You will learn about other cultures, you will learn how you fit into this world, but you will also learn that we are all people and you have a lot more in common with people across the world than you ever knew.
You will get home and look back nostalgically at the trip, and it will motivate you to begin planning your next trip right away — because there are endless places to go across the world.