Life Lessons Learned From Traveling

by Lauren Nelson

You have heard it all before: traveling will change your perspective. It's completely true, but it’s how you handle each situation that truly makes a travel experience memorable. From language mishaps to cultural blunders, here are a few examples of the hilarious situations that ensue while traveling abroad.  

*Disclaimer: While these stories are hilarious, they are a cautionary tale of a traveler without common sense. Please hold your laughter to a minimum.

Foreigner abroad
Always bring drinking water. You never know when you'll need it! Photo by Ian Delgado

Life Lesson #1: Read Signs

Claude Monet is a flower-painting genius and Paris’ Museum de l’Orangerie displays those water lilies proudly. Each painting stretches across an oval room, which allows the visitor to see the sheer continuity of the painting and truly, why these paintings are beloved. When viewing the paintings, avoid walking up the slight incline to see the painting up close. 

At the top of the incline, the painting is amazing, but instead of letting your focus rest on his magical use of light, you will be distracted by the neon red light flashing in your face and the French police hauling you out in handcuffs. Turns out that five-second climb up the incline includes a sign in French telling saying that they require visitors to stand ten feet away. Many unfortunate souls avoid museums after this brush with the law. It may be for the best. 

Life Lesson #2: You NEVER Know What Will Happen

It's 2013 and a young woman hops a cheap flight out of D.C. to Istanbul with a mission to have a sweet vacation while avoiding the inauguration craziness. Research leads to New York Times’ “36 Hours in Istanbul” article and a recommendation of a quaint bookstore café along the Istiklal Caddsi. While sipping wine, she looks out on a road filled with tourists, and locals milling around the local shops, bars, and restaurants. When the chicken course arrives and half the restaurant runs in the opposite direction, maybe just maybe this should have been an indication to move. 

That horrible, burning smell permeating the restaurant is not badly, burned chicken, but tear gas. Someone just tear gassed an NY Times recommendation! Turns out drinking water helps people get through tear gas. Not a fact many people want to try out, but good to know especially when the next stop is a 6-hour Bosporus cruise.

Life Lesson #3: Know the Difference Between Cold and COLD

It is the dead of January and an unsuspecting traveler has arrived in China. They have heard that it is cold” on the Great Wall, but fail to understand the true definition in this situation. 

Unsuspecting traveler packs some layers and heads to the airport. The day they plan to tour the Great Wall, it barely breaks 10 degrees. The solution? Throw on as many clothing items as possible until you are wearing nearly your entire suitcase. Who cares that you now look like a lifesize marshmallow vaguely shaped like a human. Waddle the wall with pride!

Pictures show the flat sections, but it turns out, there are steep, VERTICAL sections as well. Looking at one of the greatest landmarks ever built while a human marshmallow suddenly seems more difficult. A vertical mile later, clothes are flying off at every turn. They say leave nothing and take only memories, but there may be a few Great Wall workers today rocking out in a lady's  “OBX Rules” t-shirt. 

Life Lesson #4: Don't Be TOO Thoughtful

Greece is gorgeous and truly one of the best historical locations in the world. To be able to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon brings history to life and sheds light on all of those mythical tales. Greece is also struggling financially and some vendors are selling jewelry for extremely low prices. It can be a great place to stock up on jewelry for your two sisters, ten friends, and several cousins. It seems like a nice gesture until the Athens customs agents accuses you of being a smuggler. Could pay to not be so nice! 

*Note: A lengthy and rather embarrassing admission to a shopping addiction will pursuade the Athens Customs to let you go. 

Life Lesson #5: If You Fall, Embrace It. 

Milford Sound is a dream for kayakers. You can jump in the water and kayak around the sound while seeing thousands of waterfalls stream across the rocks. There is nothing else like it in the world. 

It is important to note that while kayaking around Milford Sound, the water is about 50 degrees at its highest temperature. Some kayakers, (ok many, many kayakers), find themselves IN this frigid water after a less than graceful kayak roll. Just fully embrace the fall and swim as fast as possible to land or right the kayak. Otherwise, you will end up clutching a rock with one of the equally cold waterfalls crashing down on you head. Still worth it!

Travel abroad and create your own memories now!