This is a bit of a warning but also a sturdy starter pack for those thinking of having a jaunt of their own. There are certain things that go without saying before you go away: what you should take with you; to always have all your travel documents together etc. But here I’m aiming to point out a few things that I wish somebody had told me before I went away…
Going travelling is pretty much second nature to students these days. Whether a stereotypical gap yah trekking through a rainforest or volunteering through a work-away scheme, travelling is all part and parcel of the millennial experience and beyond.
Personally, my own adventure took place nestled between my Erasmus year and my final year of university. Greedy I know. Hungry for something new and determined to get the most out of the dregs of my student loan, I decided on Spain. I’ve visited different countries before and been on countless city breaks but never done such a long stint of moving from place to place before. The pitfalls mainly surrounded my company and my naivety when it came to an ability to deal with spending so much time with just one person. So this is basically what I wish someone had sat down and said to me before I went away.
Bring as Many Clothes as You Can
Even if you’re not a clothes hoarder like me, with a wardrobe that looks like it belongs to several different people, this is still an important one. Most of the time, you won’t be staying in a nice hostel. In Spain there were, by and large, really decent places to stay, but even the best ones (even the one with a rooftop pool – go to Seville everyone) don’t offer dry cleaning or washing machines for free. If you’re on a tight budget, the idea of paying for having your washing done, and having to wait around or schedule a time to pick it up is a bit of an anathema to adventure.
I brought what I thought was a lot of clothes. I did not. I brought enough underwear. I brought enough socks. I brought enough tiny tops ideal for blistering heat. But I didn’t bring anything warm and I did bank on being able to wash my only top with sleeves. So, again, this totally depends on where you’re going. If you’re travelling around Scandinavia you’re not going to need millions of tiny tops. However, even if your bag is heavy and you want to bring the bear essentials, bring stuff to cover ALL types of weather. We wouldn’t be English travelers if we couldn’t complain about weather would we? It rained whilst I was in Salamanca and San Sebastian and I ended up having to buy a hat and a hoodie. Which on a limited budget is really annoying and quite possibly dipping into your food money for the day.
So even if it’s a pain, and you get home and kick yourself that you didn’t need that thermal long sleeved top (and not to sound too motherly) you really are better safe than sorry.
Take a Day, or Two, or Three to Yourself
When you’re travelling with a really close friend, even if you’re a bit of a lone wolf, it’s easy to feel like you should be spending as much time with your travel buddy. In my situation I was with my oldest and dearest friend who I had never travelled, or even been on holiday, with before. So I wanted it to be a really tight knit, exciting time for the two of us, having as much adventure together as possible. Wrong. Well not quite. But that thought was certainly flawed. Nobody, even the most dependent of people, can spend every minute of every day with someone without realizing they have an excruciatingly annoying habit (how had I not noticed that in eighteen years of friendship?!). To avoid falling out with your friend, or making the trip sour through winces and cringes towards each other, take as much time as you can to yourself. It doesn’t need to be a whole day, actually it works better doing a morning here and there. If you’re spending the whole day doing something cultural, have dinner by yourself, or take yourself for a lone coffee and a read. Not only is this going to be good for the health of the friendship whilst travelling, it also totally helps the enjoyment of the trip. The one time near the end that I did make time for myself, I sat outside a bar in Girona with a beer reading Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’. It was then that, that wonderful feeling of being a pseudo resident kicked in. That’s one of the greatest joys of travelling. When you forget you don’t live there and you’re just a visitor. So allow yourself space and time from one another. It’ll help you, the trip, and quite possibly save you from smothering one another with a pillow.
It’s Okay to Do Nothing
This was a really big one for me. It’s absolutely fine to have a day where you feel like a slug, sit in your hostel bed, nap on and off, and watch Netflix on your phone. The idea of this even as I write, knowing that I did it, makes me feel a bit nauseous but it is essential in the same way that space and time is. If you were at home, whether in Uni or your home town, you wouldn’t go to galleries, historical monuments and cool bars in the middle of nowhere every day for twenty days. It’s just not feasible. Nor is it a recipe for stability and sanity. By no means am I suggesting you spend more than a couple of days doing this. Hopefully you might only need half a day before you decide you’re just going to have dinner and drinks as the day’s activities (to be honest I’d be lying if that wasn’t the majority of my Spain trip anyway!) But if you’re away you’re going to get run down and you’re going to get tired. You need a bit of R & R if you’re going to truly enjoy yourself. There’s no point in wandering around the oldest Catholic cathedral in Europe anyway, if you’re not going to enjoy it. Have a nap if you need it. Cook in the hostel if you can’t be bothered going out. It’s okay to have a slob day because, let’s be honest, if you’re doing this in the middle or after your university degree, it’s almost a recipe for malfunctioning if you don’t.
Those are just a few of the things I wish someone had told me before I went away because when I realized they were important, I still had the niggling feeling that it meant I wasn’t being a proper traveller. That’s not true. Even my friends who are of the most seasoned variety, told me of course all of these things were true, when I got home (thanks for the warning guys). Among some other words of advice are: go away with someone you’re extremely comfortable with; travel with someone you’ve at least been on holiday once with before, so you know you can handle their holiday habits; choose someone who you don’t necessarily have absolutely everything in common with (this makes having days to yourselves a lot easier because there’s no ‘oh but I wanted to do that too!); and most of all, as much as I’ve made it sound like there are, there aren’t really travelling rules. These are things that worked for me, but it might turn out you do things completely differently. Don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you don’t come back able to write a book on the cultural poignancy of a place. The point of doing something like travelling a country rather than visiting it is so that you really get a feel for the place. If that means drinking every beer that country has to offer then that’s absolutely fine. Just remember alcohol is a truth drug, and if you haven’t had those days to yourself, those nights may just be the pillow smothering ones.
(All images credited to the author)
Jessie Florence Jones