I ran through the house almost in tears when I found out I'd been chosen to travel to Europe to sing for three weeks. I instantly began to research packing tips and other travel pointers, given that we could only pack a carry-on size suitcase for three weeks abroad. I made dozens of lists, but if there is one thing I learned, it's that the best way to learn is to experience it for yourself.
That being said, I do think I have a few valuable tips to share with someone who is looking for some travel or even just life … let's call it … inspiration.
1) It actually is possible to pack light (yes, every site has told you this already, but it's so very true):
Looking between my tiny suitcase and my massive piles of clothes I wanted to take along, I was forced to decide on a select few pieces from my wardrobe. I paired outfits that could be switched to be worn more than once, and utilized jackets or sweaters to change things up.
Pack lightweight clothes and one jacket (two, only if you can't decide on your favorite). You can wear the same jacket every single day. You can't wear the same shirt or pair of pants every day (unless you're into that, I guess).
2) Friends don't make themselves (you have to do it):
I know, sounds scary. Unless you're a naturally extremely outgoing and bubbly person, this will drive you way outside of your comfort zone. I was put on a bus with 40 other kids that I did not know … MY BIGGEST FEAR. I had to make a conscious decision to put myself out there and make some friends the first day, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
A few seconds of "awkward" are necessary to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with new people, in new places.
3) Take pictures of the people with you, not just the monuments around you:
As soon as you get into a new environment and begin seeing things you've only seen in pictures, all you can think about is your camera, stuck in your bag, screaming at you to take pictures of every single rock, flower, and fence that you pass (I know this is true as I look back at the pictures I took on the first few days of the trip).
When you get home, you can look up pictures of Lake Geneva or the Eiffel Tower, but you can't look up pictures of the people you spent days with. Ask other people to take your picture, take selfies, and just plain take candid pictures of your group. You will be glad you did.
4) Don't buy pointless souvenirs (even if they're adorable):
A 20-dollar replica of a double-decker London bus may seem necessary, but I assure you, it is NOT. Buy things that you will see and use again. Things like T-shirts, candles, paintings, or cards actually can be of use to you. You will see them again and they will remind you of your trip. Your bus replica may be cute, but it's not cute when it's in a box in the garage.
I recommend buying Christmas tree ornaments or things like that. I use them every single year, and it is an amazing reminder of where I have been and what I have done.
5) Take care of yourself:
I know, it's obvious again, but seriously. Dehydration is a huge threat to almost anyone traveling, but think about all the other things that are easy to forget, like moisturizing your face or applying sunscreen in the morning. Don't find yourself paying the price for an easy fix.
6) Attitude is LITERALLY everything:
Okay, this goes for everything in life, but bear with me here. There were people with us who just couldn't wait to be home. Couldn't wait to be in Paris. Couldn't wait to get back to the hotel. Couldn't wait until we had wi-fi again. They seemed miserable. Now, there are times when you want to be on to the next thing, but take a second to stop and think about where you are and what you have. You are so blessed to have the opportunity to travel in the first place; don't spend it wishing you were elsewhere.
7) Eat the Food:
When you travel with a group, you are usually fed the same meal as everyone else, regardless of whether or not you like it. There were meals where I wouldn't eat the food because I "didn't like it." I would quickly start regretting that while we were on a five-mile hike around a lake. Yes, the foods in other countries are different, but you still need to eat.
If you have the luxury of eating out at restaurants, try some of the local foods. You may never get the chance to try authentic food from that country again. Even just stopping at the local grocery store allows the opportunity to buy some traditional snacks.
8) Keep a Journal (even if you're not a writer):
Before I left, my mom handed me a small notebook, designed for women who love to travel. It has journal paper and also places to write contact information and put photos and tickets. I wrote absolutely everything that happened in that thing. Reading back on the things that happened, I know there is no way I would have remembered it all on my own. I will treasure that journal forever.
You notebook doesn't have to be fancy; just pull out some paper and write things down. Write what you ate and what you saw. Write who you met, and things that people said. You will never regret the time spent writing.
These are just a few of the numerous lessons I learned while I traveled, but I hope they have some significance to you as you plan your next trip. Don't be afraid to be different.