Before I began my travel experience, I must have looked at dozens of websites with travel tips and advice. I read about everything from electrical adaptors to bus systems. But there are a few things specific to my program and experience that I wish I would have know…. so here they are for future travelers of similar programs.
1. Stay up late. Wake up early.
You will be tired. Your feet will hurt. But make the most of your time, particularly if it is a short-term experience like GCC. At night, get off your phone so you can get to sleep quickly. In the morning, drink coffee and eat a big breakfast– then get to going! We had a day-off, and the most satisfied people were the ones who resisted the urge to sleep in and were up at 6:30 to visit the Anne Frank Museum.
2. Alone time is ok if you need it.
Being with a group of 20 people literally every waking second can be an amazing experience. I got extremely close to my roommates (we shared a room on a boat hostel that was maybe 8 ft. by 8 ft.). I always had someone to share a meal with or someone to take a tram to an art museum. While I encourage you to be social and to take every opportunity to participate, it can be hard to process your emotions and thoughts if you never have quiet time. By the end of the trip, I had developed a nightly ritual of sitting with headphones in the hotel lounge and decompressing. Usually I would journal. I would also advise against using your alone time to text your home-friends. Certainly you should make time for these relationships, but make your alone time a time of silence and being truly alone with your self. Traveling can have the profound effect of making you more self-aware if you take the time to check in with yourself.
To this end of self- reflection, I recommend journaling often. My professor made our journals one of our grades for the class. This was helpful in encouraging me to journal, but sometimes I would be too tired at night, and I would fall asleep without journaling much at all. For this reason, I recommend journaling twice a day, no matter what. I would take a few minutes after lunch to write about my morning (little thing, big things– add it all!). And at night I wrote about my feelings, the rest of the day, and lingering questions I had. Make yourself write, even if you are tired, because the days really do blend together and you might forget something important.
3. Take the time to learn the language.
My trip didn’t require any knowledge of Dutch or German, and none of us could speak it. While English worked in most places and we were able to get around, there were so many times when I wanted to greet a store employee, order at a restaurant in German, or thank a community partner. I didn’t need to be fluent, but I should have put more time into learning phrases. Since we traveled as a group of 20, we spoke loudly at times, we took up a lot of room on the sidewalk — I think just being able to say “excuse me,” “thank you,” “please,” and the like would have removed some of the hesitation people had about this large group of foreigners entering their spaces.