My Travel Experience:
I was sixteen when I traveled alone for the first time. By “alone” I mean without parents. I was with a group of students from school and we were on our way to Frankfurt to meet up with the two other high schools on our European Adventure tour. It was going to be a huge trip for me because I’d never traveled outside the United States before without family (I’d previously only been to Canada and the British Virgin Islands). It was both exciting and terrifying and offered a lot of new experiences like my first beer and the first time I sprinted through an airport so I wouldn’t miss my flight. Something I never want to go through again. I’m just not a runner.
As far as I know, most high schools won’t sponsor foreign travel as actual school programs. They just don’t want to be liable should something go wrong. So, my educational tour was sponsored by one teacher working with EF Educational Tours. We were given a tour guide and a tour bus that would take us from country to country. I love this company because it’s their goal to introduce students to different countries through history and culture. We’d have walking tours in every major city and dinner would alway be at a local restaurant. So, although my time in each country was limited, I feel like they did their best to show us the best of each location.
Our guide, Andreas, was a giant German man fluent in several languages and could somehow travel across the city of London in less than 40 minutes. (No, really. We got a ten minute head start to the Eye of London from Trafalgar Square, and Andreas was already waiting for us in line by the time we got there).
He worked hard to ensure we got the most out of our trip by explaining the cultural and historical significance of major landmarks. He was also open to experiencing parts of American culture completely unheard of in Europe. When my friends and I heard he’d never eaten a s’more before, we made it our goal to track down marshmallows and make one for him (we had access to graham crackers thanks to a picky eater). When we had all the ingredients, we gathered around the table at a Swiss hotel and roasted marshmallows over a candle.
My time in each location was limited, so I only got a surface glimpse of all the cities. It was great to get to see so much, but it also kind of sucked. Traveling should be about immersing yourself into a new place so you experience something you never could at home. It’s hard to do that when the longest time you have in a location is one-and-a-half days. In fact, we only spent an afternoon in Austria–enough time to see the Swarovski crystal shop and get some lunch. I also didn’t get to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or Pizza, for our more cultural followers) because a certain group traveling with us thought it would be a waste of time since there wasn’t much to do there. This simply meant there were no outdoor malls or bars just, you know, places of historical and cultural significance.
So because of that I hope to get to a point in my life where I can spend more time in these countries and get to know the locals and history.
I didn’t keep a journal. I had one with me, but I didn’t write anything in it. So, writing this post has been a bit difficult because I just don’t remember a lot from my first European adventure. It sucks even more because somehow none of the pictures I took made it on social media, and I can’t find the SD Card with my pictures. (The ones I’m using for this article were leveraged from my friend’s social media).
It should go without saying, but when you’re traveling, it’s important to write down your experiences. That way when you start a travel press six years later, you’ll have a reference guide to look to when you’re brainstorming content.
Or just so you’ll be able to remember all the details from your trips. And I’m not talking about starting a travel blog like I see a lot of people from my age bracket doing. The reality is that a lot of places around the globe won’t have very stable internet connections or internet at all, so your best bet is to buy a new journal and do some writing and reflections the old fashioned way (you could also take the opportunity to make a scrapbook, another thing I’ve been putting off for three years now).
The Importance of Educated Travel
When you really think about it, my European experience could have been a once in a lifetime kind of thing. In fact, I’m sure it was for a lot of the students on the trip. Visiting seven countries back-to-back is an amazing experience, and it shouldn’t be wasted. At least, that was how the Minnesotans and Virginians viewed the experience. The group from Texas had other ideas about how to enjoy their two weeks in Europe, away from parents. Their attitudes during the whole trip made me wonder why they even decided to come, and it’s something I think about a lot as we grow and develop Postcard Press.
While two of the schools went on the historical tours of the city, learning about the culture and history surrounding landmarks, the Texans would complain the whole time, annoyed they had to do this and that and eat at designated restaurants for dinner. They even refused to go on the walking tour of Florence because they were “hungry” and would rather get lunch.
The one thing that will probably stay with me forever was after the Texas students lost their drinking privileges in Rome (their girls disappeared for several hours and returned completely wasted after hanging out in a bar all night). We were talking to two of their group members who were upset that we were still allowed to drink because they were having a terrible time. I don’t think anything can better represent ignorant tourists than a group of teenagers using a European adventure as a way to get slizzard every night. What a waste.
As annoying as they were the whole trip, I do owe them some gratitude. If it weren’t for them I probably would have never made an effort to be a respectful traveler. When I get to visit someplace new whether it’s another city or another country, I know I want to treat the location with the same amount of respect as the locals.