Now that my time here in Florence has come to a close, I want to share a few things that helped me make the most of my experience. Exploring is an important part of life, as it forces us to learn new things, step outside of our comfort zone, and grow as individuals. But you don’t have to travel across the world to explore a new city. Maybe the most important city for you to see through a new lens is the one you’ve lived in your entire life.
If you’re going abroad, I hope these travel tips help. If not, try applying them at home. You may be surprised by what you find.
1. Spend (the first) two weeks being a tourist.
It’s easy to say, “I have four months to do that: I’ll do it later.” But the time goes by quickly. I made the mistake of saving a few major things for the last minute, and with only a few days left, including finals, it’s going to be hard to get everything done. If you need some help getting started, we found the best guidebooks to be those by Rick Steves. His walking tours are genius, and he’ll help you get the most out of your time and money.
2. Take a cooking class and explore the local cuisine.
Every culture has a unique cuisine so be sure to learn a few tricks to take back with you! Local markets are a great resource for seeing how food is reflected in a culture, and they often have foods for you to try that you might not normally order.
3. Travel with a backpack when you go off on your weekend adventures.
It will force you to pack light (see Amanda Pouchot’s packing tips). Old cities with cobblestone streets are also not the best for wheeling around suitcases, and if you’re late for a train or your flight, you’ll be glad you can easily run to catch it.
4. Explore your city without a tour book.
This is how you find the hidden gems not overrun by tourists: talk to the locals, who know the good spots. These places will become some of your favorite, as you truly see a city when you get lost in it. I frequently returned to my spot in Florence.
5. Study the language before you go, and when you arrive, find a language partner.
Locals will appreciate your effort over perfection. If you’re applying these tips toward your hometown, sign up for a language partner through your local university. Who doesn’t want to be bilingual?
6. Hang with the locals.
You’ll get a real feel for the culture and may even become friends with a few people along the way. Language partners are a great resource for finding the right places.
7. If possible, live with a host family.
You’ll be immersed in the culture and see how families live, and you’ll see a huge improvement in your language skills. Warning: You will not be comfortable at all times, but that’s okay. You will leave with a much stronger appreciation for what you have back home, and new relationships you’ll forever value.
8. Find an internship or some activity to get involved with outside of school.
Internships not only provide great experience, but a lot of them are just plain cool. My tour of Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall here in Florence, was led by one of my fellow classmates. It was one of my favorite tours here in Italy, and I learned a lot during the process.
9. Keep a diary.
This may seem obvious, but it’s something that a lot of people plan on doing and only stick with for a week or two. If it’s not your thing, you don’t need to write a page about your daily life—although this can be therapeutic. Try starting small by keeping track of where you go, the restaurants you loved, anything you would want to recommend to someone else. Even in bullet point form, it will help when a friend asks you for recommendations.
10. Finally, look at every phase in life as the next big adventure.
I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice. She once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
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