International travel is always an education unto itself. Experiencing new food, language, lifestyles, habits, and an entirely different culture as a whole is one of the greatest learning adventures you can have.
Europe is particularly suited for this, as it consists of dozens of different cultures that have existed for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Switzerland alone has three primary languages depending on where you travel, and the food choices across the continent vary dramatically from the boot of Italy to the Russian steppe.
If you’re going to travel through Europe, here are a few of the most valuable lessons you can learn, especially if you go into the experience with an open and curious mindset.
Communicating in a Native Language is Key
While you can lean on English to get by during your travels, you’ll quickly learn that it isn’t ideal. Sure, you’ll need to lean on your native tongue for important conversations at times. However, if you go around with an English-speaking chip on your shoulder expecting local people to speak to you in your own language, you’ll only create distance and likely sour your travel experience.
Instead, strive to speak to people in their own language. You don’t need to be fluent. Just an attempt to communicate will immediately break down barriers and enhance the overall fun of your trip. Along with learning basic phrases in the local dialect, look for idiomatic phrases, try to use inclusive language, and download the Google Translate app so that you can genuinely communicate to people in a warm, friendly, and inviting manner.
Football Is a Universal Language
If you’re struggling to connect with people through the spoken word, that doesn’t have to stop you from having a good time with the local people. How? Through football.
Whether you’re kicking around a football or heading to a local pub to watch a match over a beer, sports — and especially football — are a universal language that can help you connect and make memories. From La Liga in Spain to Bundesliga in Germany or Series A in Italy, if you’re willing to participate in the local soccer fervour, you’ll be able to tap into a new level of connection with people that may not speak a lick of English.
Food Isn’t Just Sustenance; It’s an Experience
While in Europe, you can literally theme an entire trip simply around the concept of food. The number and variety of different European foods can make this an eye-opening adventure. It can also help you to expand your palette and appreciate the culinary accomplishments of other cultures.
In addition, food is a social tool that has been used for time out of mind to connect with other people. Much like sports, if you engage with an Italian, a Spaniard, a Frenchman, or anyone else over a dish of their culture’s favourite delicacy, it can provide a connecting point that transcends language and brings deep and genuine connections.
History Is Deep …And It’s Everywhere
If you come from the damp, northern European regions, you’re used to an area where mould and rot tend to decay everything over time. When this is the case, your idea of solid, factual history naturally peters out around the early Middle Ages with a few exceptions such as Stone Henge.
That isn’t the case for all of Europe, though. The further south you go, the more likely you are to run into genuinely old history. Italy, for instance, is crawling with ancient ruins that are thousands of years old. You can literally stand in a forum where Julius Caesar riled a crowd, hop on over to a church where Popes led the Christian world centuries later, and then head down the street to learn about how your contact lenses were inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s experiments during the Renaissance.
If you’re even remotely interested in history, take advantage of your European travels to further the intrigue.
Transportation and Packing
To end on a lighter, logistical note, you’re going to want to brace for a new method of transportation if you visit mainland Europe. First of all, every nation, and even each individual region, tends to put their own spin and emphasis on how to get from point A to point B, and you’ll need to bend to whatever the local preference is. If it’s a taxi, great, but it may also be a tram, bicycle, or even simply walking for long distances at a time.
And that brings up another important point: don’t over-pack. You don’t know how far you’ll have to walk at any given moment, and lugging large amounts of luggage behind you will get tiresome quickly. Instead, pack smart. Bring gadgets with multiple uses such as a combined pen and screwdriver, and use as many apps on your phone as possible to prevent the need for physical items like maps.
Keeping an Open Mind as You Travel
If you try to maintain a personal cultural bubble as you travel, you’re missing out on one of the key reasons to ever step foot outside of your home country. Embracing, experiencing, and learning from local cultures is one of the most important ways that you can grow as a person.
The lessons that come from seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting other cultures can help to develop your character. They expand your understanding, create a deep sense that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and create a more appreciative view of what humanity has accomplished as a whole.