Bring a Portable Phone Charger
Some of the mistakes that I made while abroad involve technology. First, it was a big mistake not bringing some sort of portable charger for my phone. Every day in Europe was a very busy day and thus involved taking a lot of pictures and constantly posting them on social media.
What would happen is that I would run down my charge so early in the day from using my phone so much that I would have to put it on airplane mode for the rest of the day so I could conserve charge and take more pictures. This was rather dangerous because, in the event of an emergency, I would not have received any messages. Even though this never happened, it was always in the back of my mind, and it made me nervous to think of what I would do if I was on my own and needed help.
I would often borrow one of my friend’s portable chargers. This was nice of them, but I wish I would have had my own. While they obviously can be purchased in Europe, this means an extra errand that you will have to run instead of going sightseeing, so it seemed like a waste of time.
Don’t Immediately Post to Social Media
Related to the idea of phones running out of charge is that of using social media while abroad. While it is fine to take lots of pictures, I do not recommend using Snapchat or Instagram to take the pictures while you are out. These tend to wear down a phone’s charge quickly (as mine did) and will force you to put your phone on airplane mode or just not use it. Just use your camera and then post the pictures on social media when you get to your hotel room at night (Besides, your friends back in the USA won’t even be up usually until your day is almost over so it makes sense to wait to post).
Don’t Be Afraid to See the Sights You Want
The next set of mistakes that I made have to do with sightseeing. I would say one thing I regret was trying to find a group that would want to go to the same places as me. While everyone wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it was hard for me to find a group that wanted to go to the Army Museum where Napoleon is buried. I am a huge history buff, and the group(s) I was hanging around were more interested in shopping (and looking for macaroons!) than going to museums or historical sites like I wanted to.
So, my piece of advice is to tell people where you are going, but not act like they coming with you is necessary. If you tell enough people, you might just find someone who will join you. If not, you can still go! It’s your time and money.
Use the Native Language When Possible
At the time I guess I was afraid to go anywhere on my own. But now that I know these cities much better and know how to navigate them via the subways, I will not make the same mistake again. With this, it is important to keep in mind that, at most tourist sites, everyone speaks at least some English, but it is not their first language. You are in their country, and their language must be treated with respect.
In fact, in some groups, when I saw a student ask someone (in English) if they spoke English, they would say no. But when I would go back and ask them politely (in French, Italian, German, etc.) if they spoke English, they would respond “a little bit”. What’s more, a little bit to them is practically fluent to us! It is not that Europeans do not like practicing their English; it’s that they only like using it when they feel respected (particularly in France!). It is not necessary to learn the language of the places to which you are traveling. But, my recommendation is to at least learn how to ask if someone speaks English but in their language. This is a sign of respect and will get you further than most Americans.