I am a planner, a trait I inherited from my father without even being aware of it.
When I was in high school, my parents and I went on a two-week trip to London. Not a vacation, but an educational trip. My dad planned almost every hour of those two weeks. Over the course of 14 days, my parents and I visited the Tower of London, took a bus to Canterbury, toured the Houses of Parliament, visited the British Museum, the London Museum, and not to be left out, the Victoria and Albert Museum. We took in a play at the Globe Theatre, had afternoon tea at Kensington Palace (even though none of us were tea-drinkers), took a Beatles walking tour and tried to recreate the famous Abbey Road crossing photo, toured around on a double decker bus, watched the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and so much more.
It was exhausting to say the least.
But that trip to London planted the traveling bug in my head and made the history of a country I had only read about in books come alive.
I didn’t realize that I was also such an enthusiastic trip-planner until I studied abroad. Instead of flying home to the U.S. for Christmas, I chose to travel. After all, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity!
A couple of friends and I booked a flight to Vienna, Austria. I bought a traveler’s backpack (because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?), solicited advice on what to see and do, researched the heck out of Vienna and Munich (the other stop on my trip), and made a Word document with a list of museums along with links to their websites, open and closing times, ticket prices, and other pertinent information I had come across during my research.
Yes, there were hyperlinks.
This is exactly what my dad had done when he planned our trip to London, right down to the Word document with links.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was trying to squeeze in as many museums, tours, and activities as possible into our three short days in Vienna because I was so afraid I’d never have the chance to go back. I thought I had to do and see everything or else I wouldn’t really be making the most of my time abroad.
But the truth is – and this is something that’s easier to understand in hindsight – you will never go everywhere and you will never see everything; it’s just not possible. It’s not about how many places you go and how many sites you see; the joy of traveling is in discovering a new city or rediscovering a familiar city and the people, places, and things that make up that city. If you’re afraid that studying abroad is the only chance you will have to see the world, don’t be. If you’re determined enough, you’ll find your way back.
I’d like to say that I had an epiphany during my trip to Vienna and all of a sudden changed my traveling philosophy. No, it happened more organically than that.
During the second part of my trip I spent three days spent in Munich on my own before taking the train back up to Rostock. I said goodbye to my friends and we each headed off in separate directions. I was exhausted from the train rides and flights, walking all over Vienna, getting lost in Slovakia, missing my family at Christmas, and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed.
So in Munich, I decided to take it easy.
I slept late without feeling the pressure of getting an early start at the museums ditched my map and walked around the city center until I could orientate myself. I found a huge bookstore and browsed the shelves until I found the perfect book to read, then promptly devoured it while sitting at a café, alternating between reading and people watching.
I took a long walk through the Englischer Garten and roamed the corridors of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in search of the memorial to die Weiße Rose (the White Rose), a student-led resistance group in Nazi Germany. I listened to the audio guide and marveled at ceiling-high works by Rubens at the Alte Pinothek art museum (admission is only €1 on Sundays – I didn’t even research that in advance!).
At the end of those three days I met up with my friend to catch our overnight train back to Rostock. She told me about visiting her friend and his family, hiking in the Alps, and eating traditional, home-cooked meals. And when she asked what I had done, I laughed and tried to explain that I’d done a lot of nothing, but that it was the most fun I had the whole trip.
For me, it’s all about balance. I will always love museums and seeing the sights, but that isn’t the be-all, end-all of traveling. If there is one thing I can recommend, it’s to visit your friends and their families. You will learn more than you ever can from a guidebook and you will get an insider’s perspective on the country’s politics and culture.
The next big trip I took while studying abroad was a two-week visit to England with my best friend from study abroad. We traversed the Island from top to bottom; in Edinburgh we took a bus tour because it was raining and then happened upon a free concert in the Museum of Scotland. In Liverpool we went to the Beatles museum (to be expected) and in London we visited the Tate Modern art gallery.
But we also took long walks with no destination in mind (one of my favorite ways to explore a city), resting our legs in a café when they could walk no further. We enjoyed the more day-to-day aspects of life: home-cooked meals, going out on the town with friends, and helping out in his mom’s flower shop. I didn’t stress about how we would fill the days and I guarantee you these are the things I remember most fondly. And it couldn’t have been more enjoyable if we had planned it that way.
It’s not about what you see and what you do, it’s about who you see and do it with, even if that person is yourself.
|Emily Caskey is an intern here at Study Abroad Spotlight. She studied abroad in Rostock, Germany for 10 months and interned in Berlin for two summers. To learn more about her experiences abroad, check out her Spotlight!|