Travel agent or super adaptable/independent/confident traveler?

For the five weeks I studied in Rome, I loved getting to see Italy’s different regions, seeing the differences in culture, and trying amazing food. Every weekend was a different part of the boot, but the comfort of coming back home to apartment in Rome was always something I looked forward to.

Before leaving for study abroad, I knew that I wanted to take some time after to travel on my own. I did not know where or if I would do it with others or on my own, I just pushed back my flight a week. The closer I got to my summer session, the more nervous I was about this specific week. During my program, I knew I’d at least have a meal plan, a roof over my head, and all of the resources my program presented on the website. But after my program, I would be on my own…

Throughout my 5 main weeks, I became really good at traveling. I learned how to navigate the bus/tram/metro system. I learned how to schedule time in wisely. I understood the perfect balance between touring and exploring. I’m proud to say that I am now a professional at avoiding tourist-y places to eat. By the time I needed to travel on my own, I felt comfortable enough to follow through it.

My heart was set on going to Greece! I loved the Mediterranean, I grew up in the Greek Orthodox church, and Greece seemed to be one country that was always out of my reach to visit. Two of my roommates were staying for the second session in Rome, so they had downtime and decided to tag along. But before they would agree to anything, they wanted to know how much it would cost (because that’s pretty reasonable.) The only problem was, this trip was not a trip because I had nothing planned, had no idea where in Greece I wanted to go, how to get there, what we would do, where we would stay, etc., etc., etc.

I went to the Pinterest and started reading hundreds of blog posts. I asked peers at my international school where they would recommend going. I researched different tour groups and cruises to see example itineraries. I finally decided that we would visit the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, and the city of Athens, but what would we do? So, I went back to researching once again. Pinterest is SUPER helpful for seeing what the highlights of each place are. Airbnb/ are great websites for figuring out cheap housing accommodations. Transportation is tricky depending on what country you are going to, but we would have to at least fly into Greece, so any good discount flight website worked, we just planned our trip around the cheapest flights.

If I wrote about every detail of the best week of my life, this blog post would turn into a book. But the main takeaways that I gained from planning this kind of impromptu trip was that I felt completely independent. After planning every detail from how we are going to get to and from an airport/ferry dock, to where we are going to sleep at night, I feel like I can plan a trip anywhere in the world.

I also learned how to be adaptable. I wish I could say everything went smoothly, but that is not how the world works. We ran into some trouble at airports (future tip: make sure to put your exact name from your passport ***middle name too*** on your plane ticket, to avoid a hefty fine!) and sometimes you realize no one speaks English around you, and you don’t know Greek (future tip: download Google translate.) Normally, I would need about an hour to calm down in a situation like either of those, to clear my head and not panic. When you plan such an extensive trip, you feel adaptable enough to go with the flow, find another option, and really learn from the bumps in the road. Sometimes (all the time) the plan will change, and that’s okay!

Lastly, I felt really confident. To go from not riding the TARC in Louisville because no one had ever showed me to jumping on planes every other day, it really made me grow as a person! I accepted challenges, not running from them. I got wayyy out of my comfort zone, and did things that now make for awesome stories. I got to do things that I had always wanted to do in some of the coolest places in the world like riding ATV’s in Santorini, boating in the Swiss Alps, seeing the 1975 in Milan!!!

When you study abroad, find time to get to see one place you’ve had your heart set on. It may seem like a lot of work or additional expenses, but following through will teach you a lot about yourself and how cool some places in the world are.

Happy travels,

Elshadai Smith-Mensah

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