Shared by: James Lai Sisheng, Nanyang Technological University, Year 3
Last year, I had the privilege of going to Amsterdam for an exchange semester. I managed to travel around Europe, some of which are touristy places and some rather off the track. It was indeed an eye opening experience, not because of the numerous countries I have ticked off my checklist but mainly because of the amazing people and places I have come across. Here are just some lessons I have learnt along my journey in Europe and would like to share.
1. Be a traveller, not a tourist
Try new things, eat local food and meet new people. Do something that scares you. It’s okay not to have that perfect shot of you in front of Eiffel Tower. It’s alright not to instagram every meal you had. Not having Wi-fi for a week will not kill you. I was guilty of eating McDonalds on a few occasions too. It’s not necessary to go to every tourist site that your guidebook recommends; sometimes the best way to enjoy a town could be just taking a slow walk around or having some beers with locals in an underground tavern.
2. Stay in hostels when possible
Hostels are not only perfect for the budget conscious but it is a melting pot of culture in itself. I had the chance to meet so many amazing people, learn about their stories that I would not have if I chose to stay in a hotel. Hostels usually have a common area which makes meeting and befriending new people so much easier. Couchsurfing is also an excellent idea as you get to meet people who know the city. My only couchsurfing experience in Riga was a great one as our friendly host really took care of us and showed us his city. In hindsight, I would have couchsurfed more if my travel schedule was more well-planned.
3. Meet locals and learn their language
Not everyone in Europe speaks English and in fact the majority don’t. That is not a bad thing actually as it makes for some interesting situations. I cringe whenever tourists get upset when servers in restaurants don’t speak English. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans. Learn a few basic phrases like “hello”, “thank you” and “cheers” and you will soon realise how friendly locals can be to foreigners. Some laughter is bound to ensue because of your funny accent! One important lesson I have learnt is most people have a friendly side to them, if we are genuine in getting to know them, they will be more than happy to open up to you.
To sum it all, for me the best way to enjoy travelling is always to step out of my comfort zone and embrace the unknown. The world is so big and each place is unique and special in its own way waiting for us to discover.
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