Getting out of your comfort zone can seem daunting, but you’ll never regret it.
I never thought that I’d be in Europe a few months ago. Being accepted to the SPICE (Summer Program in Communications Erfurt) has given me a unique opportunity. Erfurt lies in the heart of Germany, and Germany lies in the heart of Europe. I didn’t pass up the chance to hop around, especially not knowing whether I’ll be this lucky again.
It’s been a roller coaster.
I learned a few things here or there along the ride and wrote down the 7 most useful tips for future reference.
1. Climb on to the highest place
Be it a hill, a building, a bridge or a tower. Find a spot that will give you a sight of the whole place.
Being on the top is exciting. You’ll get a sense of what the place is all about. You’ll see its personality shining through. Medieval Erfurt, peaceful Grindelwald, resilient Luxembourg, exciting Berlin. You name it.
2. Stay low maintenance
This applies if you are doing a short trip, or traveling to multiple places in a short time period.
Here are the only things you’ll ever need: one or two extra t-shirts, a sweater or a jacket, preferably cash (so you’re kept on a fixed budget), your passport, your phone, your charger (maybe an adapter) and a toothbrush.
You don’t need to be too comfortable. It’s okay to be gross sometimes. I wore the same t-shirt two days in a row so I didn’t have to bring more than two extras.
Bringing too many things will reduce flexibility and prevent you from having fun. In Europe, switching between trains is a hassle. When my next train is only four minutes away, I wouldn’t want to deal with dragging a huge suitcase. It’s so much easier to get anywhere with a light backpack!
You’ll also be less likely to be robbed. My tiny backpack did not seem to draw a lot of attention. You’ll spend less time packing when moving to a different place.
Actually, don’t forget your socks. Especially if you are doing outdoor activities. I had to wrap my feet with a scarf when it got cold at night. Cold feet are the worst.
3. Treat yourself
At least once. Even if you are on a budget. Let yourself have a nice meal. Eat like a prince for one day.
You can always go back to eating fries the day after.
4. Be open to new things
Get out of your comfort zone. When in Rome, do what the Romans do. Imitate. Learn how things work. Learn the culture. Don’t just be in it, but immerse yourself.
Do new things. Taste new food. Even if they seem totally foreign to you. Let your neurons go wild.
You’ll love it.
I wander around a city until I get lost. I eat the weirdest shit.
I force myself to communicate in broken German (with lots of visual cues involved and typing in Google translate) until people give up on me and decide to pull in somebody who knows English.
It’s okay, I’m getting a little better. I guess.
5. Get to know somebody
They’ll tell you things. They’ll show you things. They’ll invite you to things. I got a new circle of local friends to go to places with after a college barbecue party in Germany.
I met a 19 year old who was backpacking around Europe while in Switzerland. It was fascinating to hear his stories. How he left his city, how he slept outside train stations, how he was picked up by total strangers and let fate decide where his next stop will be.
I met a software tester from England who just wanted to escape from her busy life for a while.
I met a young pianist at Brussels who couldn’t wait to officially be a piano teacher at the conservative once he gets to Berlin.
6. Step back a little.
You’ll see wonderful things.
If you’re just walking past the streets in Erfurt, you’ll see a nice old town. But you won’t see the old tree branches climbing on walls for centuries and be awed by their vitality.
New sights can be overwhelming. Take your time. Absorb the little things. Admire it.
Don’t forget to take a lot of photos too!
7. Question everything and anything
There are probably a lot of things you don’t know while being at a foreign place.
I write down anything that puzzles me on my smartphone, then google it when I have access to wifi.
You’ll be surprised by how much these little things will come in handy in the future.