While I’ve spent a lot of my life becoming quite familiar with Amtrak, traveling to many places in the United States, my first travel abroad experience was actually only a few years ago. In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Greece with my college’s choir and immediately caught the “travel bug.” This past summer I traveled with my choir once again, this time to Ireland, and am now eagerly awaiting and fervently planning my next trip abroad. Though I’ve only been out of the country twice, those two experiences were significant enough to have taught me many important lessons:
1) Effective communication with a variety of people
When you’re in a different country, you’ll undoubtedly come across a wide variety of people, some of whom might speak your language and some of whom will not. Even if you encounter a large number of people who do speak English fluently, communication is still key. When you’re visiting their country, it’s polite to communicate with people by trying to speak in their native language. Not only do you learn about another culture, you might even pick up some new phrases.
2) Ability to navigate an unknown territory
Now, of course, navigation of unknown land has become much easier with the existence of smart phones and GPS, but as it is unlikely you’ll be using 3G if you’re overseas, you’ll have to rely on “old-fashioned” means such as maps and, well, memory and intuition. Remember the old days when you’d ask someone for directions and they’d tell you to take two lefts, then a right at the second intersection (but not the one with the two stoplights, the one with three), then stop at the fourth mailbox, etc. and you’d actually have to rely on your brain to remember those directions if you wanted to get to your destination? Seems like an ancient method now, but a lot of the time that might be the most effective way to find where you want to go in a foreign city or town. The bonus is that you become acquainted both with maps/traditional navigation skills and boost your memory capacity! On a related note…
3) Ability to thrive without the constant use of technology (notably, a cell phone)
When I went on tour to Ireland with my choir, the majority of my classmates (me included) did not bother to get a cell phone plan to use for the 10 days we’d be overseas. This meant the only time our cell phones would do anything particularly useful was when we were connected to Wi-Fi. As we were on the move much of the time, we did not often have a Wi-Fi connection and thus felt okay just leaving our cell phones behind. I cannot even express how wonderfully refreshing it was to not be checking that small iPhone screen every few seconds to see if I had a new text or snapchat or what have you. The lack of screens meant we all spent much more time interacting with one another and our surroundings. We not only learned a lot more about Ireland, but we learned a lot about each other and bonded in a very significant and unforgettable way. Noticing this difference from our everyday technology-obsessed lifestyle was truly an eye-opener.
4) How to ask questions
Personally, I have a strong aversion to asking questions. I tend to fall in that category of people who believe they need to be able to do things on their own. While this is occasionally not the worst trait, it’s often not the best, either. There is nothing wrong with asking questions and honestly, without being inquisitive, you might be completely lost and confused in a foreign country. Sometimes you really won’t be able to figure out what a sign says or how a particular machine works unless you ask somebody. Asking people questions can become such a natural habit when you’re traveling that it could carry over to your home life, as well, and – guess what – when you ask someone about something, not only are you going to learn something new and potentially very valuable, you might also make a new friend!
When you’re traveling, you’re (probably) not going to find that novelty pizzeria that’s open until 4am, or take long hot showers with the perfect amount of water pressure, or do exactly what you want, when you want, at the price you’d ideally want to spend. When I went to Greece with my choir, our tour guide notified us of the “siesta” time – a short “nap time” during the day when most shops and restaurants would close for a couple hours. Maybe this meant we couldn’t eat our favorite gyro at 3pm or go souvenir shopping exactly when we wanted to, but that’s a part of their culture and something we needed to learn to adjust to. We could eat something else later or shop another day. The ability to adjust to these changes and accept not being able to do exactly what we wanted at the precise moment we wanted to do it taught us a valuable lesson in being flexible.
6) Teaches you the difference between desire and necessity
On a related note to flexibility, there are many things you need to learn to live without when you travel. This might mostly be due to the fact that you simply can’t pack everything you own when you’re going on a week-long trip overseas. You have to pick and choose the important things to bring. Similarly, purchasing items in a foreign country can pose difficulties for multiple reasons – high cost, lack of suitcase space in which to bring said items back home, etc. Once you’re in that foreign country only with the clothes and packed items you deemed necessary, you get used to those items being what you have to work with and, honestly, sort of stop missing the items you left behind. In fact, I legitimately completely forgot about half of the clothes I owned back home when I was overseas. Instead of feeling like I was missing things when I was abroad, I just felt like I had a surplus of things I didn’t need when I returned to my house in the US.
7) Appreciation for the smaller things in life
One wonderful thing about going to a new and exciting place is how curious and focused it’ll make you. When you’re walking through the busy streets of Paris, the natural inclination is to look at everything around you, from architecture to people and more. You look at these things in a way you typically forget to observe things when you’re at home, which often results in noticing the value in the “little things” in life. If you learned to look at things in everyday life the way you approached looking at things in a foreign country, you could discover an entirely new appreciation for the details that have always surrounded you but previously remained unnoticed.
Finally, patience. While travel might seem very glamorous, full of excursions to fancy estates and historic towns, it’s also full of downtime. After all, it does take time to get to your destination. Travel involves a good amount of time waiting in airport terminals, riding on buses, sitting on airplanes, and more. Once you accept that these are parts of the travel experience, you come up with ways to entertain yourself in your downtime. I can tell you that after having to find ways to entertain myself for almost 20 hours of both waiting and traveling from New York to Athens, and spending three days on a train from Chicago to San Francisco (and back), I’ll never be bored or impatient with nearly anything ever again.
Roni Hyman is a marketing intern for www.acis.com and our performance division, www.encoretours.com