Top Five General Tips for the Happy Traveler

by Shanna Saubert

Some people never take the time to get off the beaten path. They just go to the "safe" places or want to visit tourist landmarks that have been plastered all over magazine covers and used as background shots for various movies. Well, while it is admittedly worth seeing sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Seattle Space Needle, Buckingham Palace, and the Gateway Arch in St Louis (to name a few), the world is a much bigger place with so much to see and do.

Hyde Park in London, England

Hyde Park in London, England

So here's a list of the top five tips, tricks, and places to visit during your internship abroad, compiled from loving memories of traveling, running, and generally goofing around over the past decade or so. It's kind of a hodgepodge really, but so is life, so here it goes:

1. Go to a local park or green space.

No really. Eventually you will get tired of spending all your time in cities and shopping centers. Some fun recommendations include Hyde Park while interning in London, Galway Bay if you are interning in Ireland, and areas of the Black Forest for those interning in Germany. Seriously, you can wander for hours and just enjoy the beauty of trees and flowers and random features that the only expression that comes to mind may be the equivalent of this emoticon :-/

2. Always always pack comfortable shoes.

Wherever you go, you will probably wind up walking a lot more than you originally planned. Unless you have saved an inordinate amount of money to spend on taxis, you will be using self-propulsion quite often. Plus, it's actually better to get to know places on foot. You'll find that cute little café or tiny charity shop that is not on the main road but well worth the side trip. You can't take a car around some places, like Venice, but you can (contrary to what they might tell you) wander around enough to get beyond areas marked solely for tourists and then find your own way back again.

Guatemalan cuisine

Guatemalan cuisine

3. Don't be afraid to try new foods and drinks.

This is not a blanket statement to go all out on fast food and deep fried Mars bars when you're interning abroad. Don't do that, it won't work out well. And neither will eating at McDonalds and KFC no matter where in the world you go. Your stomach and your wallet will hate you. This is rather meant to say don't be afraid to try things that you don't have at home.

Haggis in Scotland, for instance, has a weird history and unsavory reputation but really just tastes kind of like a peppery meatloaf. If you don't know what something is on a menu, ask the waiter or bartender (depending on where you may be) for an explanation as well as their advice or recommendations.

4. If you are going somewhere you are not familiar with the local language, learn basic key phrases.

Phrases such as "Yes", "No", "Please", "Thank You", and "Excuse me, where is the bathroom?" will all be very useful. Honestly, not everyone speaks English and some will refuse to help you if you haven't at least made some effort to learn something relevant before you arrived. On the plus side, knowing these phrases helps A LOT! They may react like they're speaking with a small child that has lost their parents while out shopping but hey, polite patronization is a lot better than blatant condescension.

5. Embrace your inner nerd/geek or adrenaline junkie every once in a while.

Skydiving in New Zealand

Skydiving in New Zealand

Photo courtesy of Ashley Houston

When the weather is nice, spend loads of time outside. But if it's cold, rainy, or even unbearably hot, take advantage of indoor activities. If you like museums, go to places like the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago or the British Museum in London. If you're really into art, go to a local gallery or visit places like art schools or the Louvre. Some cities even have random artwork on buildings with graffiti such as is in Oxford in England and the Grimm Fairy Tale walk in Marburg, Germany. If you like military history, go to Edinburgh Castle or Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Aquariums are great if you like to see different types of fish, sharks, and other sea life like crustaceans and rays. Zoos are also good fun for lovers of mammals, reptiles, birds, and other wildlife that you would not see off a television screen. Some places even have sanctuaries such as the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana where you can see tigers, lions, panthers, and other big cats that have been rescued from tortuous environments.

Basically, do what YOU enjoy. If you are, or really want to be, active then go do random stuff wherever you may be. Run along the river in Salzburg, swim in the Gulf of Mexico, bike along a path on the west coast of France, learn how to wakeboard, try scuba diving or snorkeling, go horseback riding, take a lesson in how to snowboard, learn circus tricks, whatever floats your proverbial boat. Just don't be lazy. You may enjoy sleeping in but unless it's a long trip (like more than two weeks) or unless you're really ill (and even then, meh), you'll almost always want to fit more into a day than there are actual reasonable hours to do things.

You never know what you may see or who you may meet during your internship abroad.

Go alone, go in a group, go where you've never been. That's one of the greatest things about interning abroad, doing new things and learning more about the world through first-hand experience. So get out, broaden your view of the world, and make some memories. It's totally worth it!