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Traveling Abroad - Learning as I Go

by Hannah Wikum Monday, October 13, 2014

Since my study abroad program did not start until the end of September, I decided to take advantage of my extra time off of school by traveling through France and Italy for two weeks. After months of planning where to go and what to do, I finally got there and it was over before I knew it. Here are five things I learned from my first trip abroad:

1.  Bring really good walking shoes.
I took advantage of every free walking tour I could, which resulted in some serious mileage on my feet. My new shoes now have holes in them, but I’m so glad I brought a pair that was comfortable for walking on concrete and cobblestones for hours each day.

2. Put the phone down and pick up a map.
Although I use my cell phone more than I would like to admit at home, you can survive without Google Maps! The map skills that I learned in fourth grade definitely came in handy when I did not have Wi-Fi. The only time I got lost was before I picked up a paper map at my hostel.

3. Embrace the differences.
I love to eat and try new foods, but the meals at my first stop in France threw me off. Breakfast consisted of pain au chocolat and baguettes. Initially, eating only bread for breakfast made me feel sick, but it didn’t take long until I looked forward to the meal once I accepted that’s what people ate. I really miss the pastry and cappuccino breakfasts now!

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Breakfast at a hostel in Paris, France

4.     Bring change, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
The bathroom situation is a little different in Europe than at home. I discovered that not all toilets are free to use and it’s not mandatory that toilet paper and soap be provided. My advice: plan the times of your meals around when you need a decent bathroom!

5. Plan ahead as much as you can to make the most of your time.
Since you don’t know when you will have Internet, it is best to plan the major structure of your trip when you can research the best options. You will definitely save time and money by booking transportation and lodging before you leave. One of the coolest things I stumbled upon was a parade celebrating a dance festival in Lyon, and I was able to watch all of it because I already had my train tickets to Cinque Terre for the next morning.

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Performers at the Lyon Dance Biennial in Lyon, France