My partner, Max, and I spent our first two weeks of traveling Europe in Amsterdam. As of this writing we’re on a plane ride to Athens, Greece, where we plan to live for the next ~2 months thanks to our generous first week hosts, the founders of GrowthMentor.
While Max and I don’t have an end date in sight for our time in Europe, I’ve began learning and reflecting on our new journey. Hopefully, you’ll be able to learn from our path and draw inspiration to (re)ignite your own adventure.
Before we get “on the road” and dive into some learning, I’d like to first give a shout out to the big hairy F word that often gets in the way of finding adventure and joy in our lives.
This one single word is an underlying driver for each and every one of our lives.
Fear is embedded in our DNA, keeping us safe.
Will we go pet the grizzly bear? No, because fear is a constant reminder to stay safe and avoid petting furry animals with teeth that could rip us to shreds.
So, while fear is good because it keeps us safe and alive, we all have some form of uncensored and unnecessary fear that’s trying to keep us safe, even when we have no immediate threat. This fear is widespread in today’s society and can stem back to our childhood experiences and relationships, and exposure to traumatic situations.
Fear can manifest itself in many ways, but often, it comes down to our daily thoughts and perception of the world around us. Do we immediately assume the worst case scenario before experiencing joy from what’s in front of us?
It’s up to each of us to decide how we observe, manage, and react to fear.
I try my best to lean in to fear daily.
Maybe it stems back to having older brothers and living part of my childhood in fear. Will my brothers sneak into my room and wreak havoc? If so, I better have a plan for defense.
Nine times out of ten they wouldn’t try to sneak into my room. But for the one time they would try, you better believe I already installed a lock on my door.
I never lost fear, but instead I learned how to work with it to improve my sense of security.
So, what does Fear have to do with traveling?
We can’t start travel plans until we’ve started to address the F word.
I suppose we could, but I imagine we won’t find the surreal peace that comes with visiting a foreign land, if we have fear crippling our every thought and move.
There are many techniques to begin managing fear. Negative thought replacement, mindfulness, name it to tame it, journaling, daily gratitude, and yoga are just to name a few.
The more we understand ourselves, observe our emotions, let go of past trauma, and create space for ourselves, the more resilient we will become in terms of managing our own fear.
I’m thankful that I spent the year leading up to my travel learning and practicing these techniques. I leaned in to fear by learning everything I could about it, how it manifests, how to become aware of it, and how to manage it.
Long story short, fear is not going away, so learn how to manage it.
Use the proven techniques others have already developed, and if one doesn’t work, try another. Everyone is different and will respond to each technique differently.
Now, let’s dig into the few major takeaways from my first two weeks of travel in Amsterdam. Have more to add from your own experience? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Prepare for the walk through security & to the plane.
1. Prepare passport and passport copies months before departure.
It’s recommended a passport is valid 6 months after the expected return date.
My passport had a year and a half until expiration, so I decided to renew it as we plan to stay for at least a year. The expedited renewal process took about 3 weeks.
We made sure to sign our passports and photograph them in the event they get lost.
2. Review standards for carry-on and check bags for your specific airline.
International flights are much more particular about carry-on bags, so it’s important to check the flight’s carry-on weight limit and pack accordingly.
We didn’t pack accordingly and ended up shuffling a bunch of stuff around at the airport. Not the end of the world, but still something we could’ve and should’ve avoided.
Luckily, we brought an extra bag in the event we needed it and because of the weight issue, we ended up checking a third bag.
Which brings me to the next point.
3. Don’t overpack… at least try not to.
It took me less than an hour into our trip to realize I had overpacked.
We were always be able to, and sometimes wanted to, purchase items along our journey. Who knows how long the walk from the Airbnb in the villages to the next bus stop will be?
It’s not worth it to be weighed down by unnecessary baggage. One check bag and one back-pack is plenty.
4. Observe how others are going through security.
I’ve found that there are differences between airports. For example, in Amsterdam it’s the norm to keep shoes on and every bag needs to be placed on a tray. Different than JFK airport in New York.
Since we may not always know the language being spoke in the country we’re traveling through, we observe and learn from those going ahead to cut back on chances of spending extra time in security.
Practice mindfulness during the first week in a new country.
5. Mentally prepare for a feeling of isolation.
Prior to leaving the US, I was living in my hometown and had a solid community. Family and friends from high school, college, and yoga surrounded me on a daily basis.
Whether it’s small talk with friends at yoga or in-depth touchy feely conversations with my family, I was so used to having someone to turn to for understanding. I love a good conversation.
I expected loneliness during my travels because I know I’m high on the sociability scale, and I like being around and connecting to other people. Knowing this about myself helped me become aware of my thoughts and introduce positive self-talk like “this feeling is only temporary, keep your head up.”
6. Listen and observe intently.
Speaking is what makes me stand out (at least in Amsterdam). I had an expectation that the dutch would be open, and while they’re very open, they’re still very different from people in the U.S., and it can be obvious at times.
Instead of trying to fit in, I decided I would listen and observe, and then speak when necessary or the time was right. I learned a lot of small things through this conscious shift. Hanging on every word, person, and interaction while searching for a deeper meaning.
I also tried a few different ways to ask for dialogue in english and refined my strategy over time.
7. Be patient with jet lag.
The first week is a great time to observe because there will be some expected jet lag. Jet lag is weird. Expect one day of recovery for each hour changed.
So, instead of rushing to the next exhibit and trying to squeeze every tourist attraction into our visit, we sat back, took our time, and always found time for a latte or tea as we worked through our jet lag.
There will be so many differences and similarities to reflect upon anywhere, and its a rich experience to allow these to surface in their own time.
Make connections anywhere and everywhere.
8. Make a goal for yourself.
On day two of my trip, I decided to make a goal to have at least one conversation with a local per day. As I’m a social person, I know this makes me feel better and enhances my learning. Once I put this goal in place, I brainstormed a few ideas to reach it.
One idea was to find something I enjoy doing at home and try it there. I went to hot yoga classes up the street from our first Airbnb and made conversation with the ladies at the front desk every time I went to class.
While it wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it did give me a sense of belonging, something we all crave, specially abroad. I will never forget the woman in the locker room that turned to me, said “love” and left the room after we didn’t speak a word prior. You better believe I took that love with me.
9. Open up with a story.
While I don’t know much dutch, I do know how to tell a story, which is pretty universal. I told the woman who made my french toast at Voldaan about how my grandmother used to make me french toast and that hers was the closest anyone has ever come to beating my grandmother’s home cooked breakfast.
I called it my french toast from heaven. The woman, Edith, began telling me stories about the french toast, how an American had written about it in their blog and now business has picked up because of it. We chatted for a few minutes and before I knew it I had her number and an invite to visit her home.
A story can go a long way.
10. Find places off the beaten path.
We also started looking for places outside of the Amsterdam city center in an effort to conserve cash.
Max stumbled upon a fortification town, Naardan, and I was immediately intrigued. After taking public transportation, we made our way to a village with friendly faces, greeting us in passing.
We met some of the nicest people that, for once, asked us questions. Something we didn’t really experience in Amsterdam. While finding places on Yelp and other review sites can be convenient and appropriate at times, don’t forget to spend some time stumbling upon the next fortified town, goat farm, cafe, pub, or other destination.
Take time to reflect.
11. Turn inward and think.
Part of any growth process includes time for rest and reflection, and traveling shouldn’t be any different.
I’ve taken time to reflect on my environment as well as my self. I think about what I like, what I don’t like, what’s different, what’s the same, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.
I think about what emotions surface, what sparks joy, what fear has surfaced, what has surprised me, how I’ve grown, what I’m grateful for, and how past relationships, role models, and society norms have shaped me into who I am today.
12. Write to loved ones back home (or to your future self).
I find that a great way to reflect and stay connected with loved ones is to write.
The different timezones can make it challenging to speak on the phone with loved ones on a regular basis, but texting is an easy way to express my thoughts and share my experience with family and friends.
I’ve shared about how my taste buds have changed, how chicken egg cartons show the food the chickens ate, how thankful I am to have an amazing support system that shines bright across an ocean, and how lattes bring me joy.
13. Pack a small intention setter.
While I don’t recommend packing a lot, I do find it helpful to bring something from home that helps set a daily intention.
Traveling sends through ups and downs. When I have something that reminds me to live my life with purpose, it can mean a world of a difference in my mindset.
I brought a bracelet that my mom also has that reminds me to live with love and gratitude, and I have two laminated colorings that my grandmother colored while she was still alive that say “peace” and “be kind”. While they remind me to live with peace and kindness, they also remind me of the strength I carry simply by being her granddaughter (she was an extremely resilient woman).
14. Use books or documentaries to connect to new surroundings.
I’ve enjoyed reflecting by reading and connecting books to my experience.
For example, while I was struggling through my jet lag, I listened to the Anne Frank Diary. While I was reading about an amazingly strong character, Anne, I also had the opportunity to walk past the house where the Frank family hid in a secret annex.
What a surreal experience. I learned through Anne’s courage and hope and applied that to the discomfort that comes with adjusting to life abroad.
Find ways to be efficient & free up exploration time.
15. Reassess belongings.
After about a week into the trip, we reassessed what we brought with us. Is everything we packed working for our travel? Or can we downsize and lighten our load?
We brought a check bag, carry-on suitcase, and a back pack. After the first week we decided to sell our carry-on suitcase and donate the clothes that no longer served us or got destroyed.
16. Be careful with local laundry mats.
They can be difficult to understand and eat delicate clothes.
We were bouncing from location to location and recommend trying to occasionally find an Airbnb with a washer and dryer to do laundry. I think if we were staying somewhere longer term, as in more than a couple of weeks, then it may make sense to have our laundry dropped off at a cleaner or find a place with a washer.
17. Take advantage of times to charge devices.
My headphones, cell phone, and USB battery pack are items I ensure are charged every night and ready the next morning.
This way I don’t worry about running out of battery or have to stop somewhere to charge up. Plus, the outlets are different in Europe, so it’s not as easy as it is back home to charge on the go.
18. Lastly, wear comfy shoes.
I haven’t had a car for ~4 months and have gotten used to walking everywhere. I still take taxis and public transportation, but I can almost guarantee every day I’ll hit over 10,000 steps. This is no place for uncomfortable shoes.
I brought 3 pairs of shoes with me: hightop vans, black booties, and Asics running shoes. They each have a specific purpose and I’m happy with my decision to bring them. Remember, shoes can be bought at just about any destination.
Happy feet = longer and happier days. 🙂
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. Now, onto Greece and freddo cappuccinos. Opa!
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