Well guys, I’ve returned. But my dreams of meeting a perfectly tanned royal or a Greek shipping heir while away were long gone once I buckled up on my flight out of Venice. Even though I’m back without a nice ring on my finger, I did bring home some great pictures, memories, trinkets, and of course, a bit of sage wisdom.  I prepped you with some great tips to keep in mind before traveling, but now I’ve got a few more tidbits I’ve learned firsthand to share with you.

Book Travel Tours

Maybe you’ve read your Amsterdam guidebook from cover to cover at least three times and you’re confident with tackling the big city on your own. But for the rest of us who prefer The Hunger Games to Frommer’s, let someone else be your guide and book a tour in your destination. You’ll have to shell out some dough, but the insider information and little known fun facts these guides have are truly impressive. Another perk? You may be able to skip the ticket lines for places like basilicas, museums, and ancient ruins if the price of admission is included in the tour. Also, many major cities across Europe have the “Hop On-Hop Off” buses that stop at popular attractions if you’d prefer to mix a tour with a bit of DIY sightseeing.

“Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist”

My mom and I got this little gem from somebody we met during our journey. Just like you’ve got to be careful with your purse or wallet in any locale, we knew we’d have to be extra cautious in each busy city, as should you if you travel abroad. Be aware of your surroundings (especially in crowded places), walk confidently as if you’re a local, and keep a firm grasp on your belongings. While we were lucky to make it back without being pickpocketed, many people we met didn’t share the same fate. Just remember: if something or someone seems a little fishy, go with your gut.

Try the Local Grub

Guys, let me get real with you: the food you’ll encounter when traveling abroad is pretty droolworthy. I drooled without shame. Gelato. Panini. Turkish delights. There’s a lot more to list, but let’s face it, I’m hungry and I’d waste quite a few pages naming awesome European chow when I could just get to the point instead. Get a local’s recommendation on what stuff you’ve just got to try when you’re in town. I learned in Greece what a real Greek salad is, and tasted tzatziki sauce that’s nothing like the kind I’ve encountered in Detroit’s Greektown. I also came to love a salad that’s popular in Italy, and it’s loaded with fresh lettuce, artichokes, mozzarella, corn, and tuna. Just be prepared with lots of stretchy and elastic clothing.  

Learn Key Phrases

One of the things I found to be most eye-opening on the trip was that in every city from Barcelona to Istanbul, nearly everyone spoke English in addition to the native language. While we were easily able to communicate with shopkeepers and waiters since most are bilingual, we were surprised to hear from employees in multiple establishments (and multiple countries) that they truly appreciated our effort to converse with them in their language. Whether it’s a simple ‘where is…?’ or ‘thank you,’ you’ll feel like you’re fitting right in when talking with the locals in your destination. Besides, you’ll feel super sophisticated when you return and can impress all your friends with worldly and bella vernacular.

Balance Between Your Camera and Eyes

This idea didn’t hit me until we were standing inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I was taking so many pictures that I had forgotten to actually immerse myself in the surroundings! Silly me! While the pictures you take in your travels are certainly something you’ll treasure forever and they’ll be quite useful for making your friends jealous, the feeling of standing on marble that’s older than dirt at the Acropolis is something that can’t be conveyed in a photograph.  Soak it all in!

It was definitely a life-changing, eye-opening and fun experience traveling abroad, but I’ll have to admit that I was ready to get back to the D. While there aren’t Vespas lining the beautiful streets and sweet scents from patisseries on every corner, there’s just something I love about America. Any offers to pay my ticket to take a return vacation to Europe are, of course, kindly accepted.

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