In the summer of 2007, I set out on a journey with over 40 students to explore places that I had dreamt of since childhood; Ireland, England, Wales, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. For all but a few of us, this would be our first European experience. 43 teenagers getting ready to leave home and fend for themselves in a new territory and ready to see everything that Europe had to hold for them. Nerves were running wild as we boarded what was, for most of us, our first international flight. I had traveled before with my family, but never this far and never without them. I was about to spend the next month with people that I had only met several times before and in a foreign country of all places! From the very beginning, it was sure to be a whirlwind adventure.
Our flight landed in Shannon, Ireland. Our first job was getting through customs. Surprising as it may sound, making our way through was really not as difficult as one would imagine. If I had to give advice to new travelers about customs, I would tell them to be patient and relaxed. As long as you answer all claims forms carefully and honestly, you should have no problems getting through the airport on either side of your trip.
From here, our fun began. Since I was traveling with a group, many of our activities were planned and arrangements made ahead of time. But despite all of the planning, there were bound to be snags. When traveling, it is important to be prepared for delays and mishaps, especially if you are in a new country. While in Europe, we encountered some pretty wild things; broken legs from a rappelling incident, getting lost in the London underground, losing important luggage, and so much more. Oh, and if you or someone that you are traveling with does get lost, make sure you have special place to meet up. Get there and stay there until you find your party. The best thing any of us did was to stay calm and not let it ruin the experience.
And speaking of experience, there is probably one thing that I would count as the most important of your trip to any city, state or country. No matter what you do, or where you go, immerse yourself in the culture. Let go of any preconceived notions and allow yourself to feel like a local. This was definitely my favorite part of the journey. During our free recreation times, for me, it was all about finding places where there were lots of locals and few tourists. When in a restaurant, I tried the things that I saw most of the locals eating, no matter how odd it sounded (I even tried snail and liked it! How crazy is that?!) Looking back, the best parts of my journey were the parts where I was away from the “schedule” and into the liveliness of all the countries I was in. Finding the places that the natives spent their free time was truly what made my trip unforgettable. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Follow the locals, do what they do and you will truly and absolutely experience whatever country you are in. Step outside your comfort zone and I promise that your trip will be an amazing one. Also, pictures are great, but take too many and you will miss what is happening around you! So click sparingly and get involved in your travel adventure. Bon Voyage!
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