You’re standing at the foot of a church built in 1147 with colored glass windows like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The air smells like smoke and you can’t understand what anyone is saying. You bounce from restaurant to restaurant, indulging in the local faire, only to find out that “black pudding” isn’t really pudding after all. You never thought you could experience so much joy, terror and excitement all in the course of one day.
This is only one of the experiences I’ve had traveling; equal parts daunting and surreal. I’d had experience traveling in Europe before, just never on my own. But when I was invited to visit my stepbrother in Vienna, my friend and I packed our bags and never looked back.
Having been to eight European countries in the course of my life so far, I’ve embraced the concept of traveling. Not only do I long to see more of the world, but I’m starting to fully understand what travel can teach you. For all the hours we spend in the classroom, there is nothing quite as enlightening and growth promoting as leaving home for a few weeks.
In the time I spent abroad, I learned more about the countries I was in than I ever would have by reading a textbook. I got to witness a type of natural, idyllic beauty that I only could’ve pictured in a dream. In the same week, I took my first subway ride…with signs I couldn’t read, might I add.
Whether you’re journeying to Croatia or Cuba, you’re forced to experience a culture that is nothing like your own. You’ll struggle to communicate with the locals and learn to not fall into traditional tourist traps. You’ll meet people that’ll change you. And, most importantly, you’ll develop a patience and understanding for others that you may not have developed on your own.
As much as I love drinking from coffee cups the size of my head, I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to travel as much as I did. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to cut the cost of your trip. Eliminate hotel costs by using sites like airbnb or hostelworld. Staying at a hostel gives you the opportunity to meet other travelers, while staying at someone’s home gives you the chance to live like a local.
Another great way to travel is by volunteering or working abroad. What better way to experience another culture than by giving back to the community? Organizations like Volunteering Solutions provide inexpensive opportunities to lend a helping hand, while workaway has a list of hosts who need help with their businesses or routine tasks. Last but not least, check what kinds of study abroad programs your school offers. Many schools offer countless scholarship opportunities, making the trip more affordable than you think.
To this day, I think the most important aspect of traveling is the memories. The rolling hills of Wales, gothic architecture of Prague and wine country of Avignon are all still vivid pictures in my mind. It’s not about the photographs, but the feeling; the part of you that has changed and the part of you that yearns to go back.