Every student loves a break from school. Being blessed, my uni gave us over a week off for Fall Break. This week is supposed to be our ‘reading week’ and used to ‘prepare for midterm assignments and exams.’ Basically, everyone left campus and traveled the world.

And, surprise, I was one of those students.

I left for Barcelona before break even began (since I don’t have Friday modules – winning!). After staying in Barcelona for a few days, my friends and I were off to Lisbon for several days. We came back to Ireland for less than 24 hours until we were off to London for the weekend.

With all these travels in such a short period of time, I have learned so much and could not be more grateful.

I’ve learned to pack only what you need. I forced myself to only bring a backpack and small purse with me for all my adventures. Who cared if I wore the same jeans more than once? So what if I wore this t-shirt in Spain AND in Portugal? Did I need my entire make-up bag?  I didn’t. All I would need was enough socks and underwear to get me through the weekend. Travel sized toiletries and other items were a lifesaver! Especially if I could refill the bottles with shampoo or mouthwash.  My friends and I had skilled the art of packing light; our adviser was surprised by how little luggage we had for our weekend in London.

You don’t need to know the native language, but they’ll appreciate it. Most of the time if you go to a larger city, you’ll run into many English speakers. Even if they don’t know English very well, they know enough to help you out. I learned not to take advantage of this, but to appreciate it. During my journeys, I’ve seen native speakers struggle to tell us simple things such as where the closest bathroom was. Thankfully, during high school and freshman year of college I had taken Spanish and could remember simple phrases. For Portugal I learned the very basics during the flight – such as please and thank you. You don’t need to be fluent, but at least knowing how to be pleasant in their language will go a long way.

Maps are your best friend. As great as technology is, it’s sometimes a secret evil. We have relied on it so much, most of us can’t hold onto a paper map and navigate our way to our destination. International fees for data can be costly. And even if you have data, sometimes it isn’t strong enough to give you constant directions. In all three countries, I had to use an actual map to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. Not to brag, but I did pretty well.

Public transportation – your friend and enemy. Before Spain, I had NEVER EVER taken the subway. Growing up in the country, the subway was an utter mystery. I knew people took it everyday, so it could not be that hard to manage. Getting around large cities, I definitely recommend the subway (metro, underground, the tube, etc.). In every city, it was the cheapest and quickest option. Cheap and quick are a broke college kid’s favorite words after all. With that said, you do need to be cautious. They can become quite crowded at peak times and all sorts of people are on them. Always keep an eye on your things and never travel alone – especially if you are new to the whole thing!

Appreciate what you have. I think this is self-explanatory, but I mean it. Immersing myself into all of these different cultures, made me realize how blessed I am to have the life I do . I do not need to beg to get through each day. I am lucky enough to have my own car to come and go as I please. I do not need to wait on public transportation. I can go to a single store to purchase all of my groceries and more. I have safe drinking water from my own tap. I live in a house in the country side. I do not need to worry about the upstairs neighbors being noisy. I could go on and on with my list, but I think you get the point.

Traveling Europe with a group of friends and actually having to maneuver the cities myself, has taught me so much and forced me to grow up even more – which is not a bad thing. With college graduation coming up soon, I will be on my own to conquer new struggles – possibly those similar to what I went through while abroad.

And I will be ready. Or at least more prepared.