Final Lessons

by Orielle Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence  

My journey is coming to a close and I can’t help but think back to the first day I got here. Every new little thing came with a mini heart attack and an adrenaline rush; whether it was searching for my apartment with my heavy bags, walking up my stairs with all the lights turned off, or seeing Florence’s Duomo for the first time. 

After the honeymoon period here in Florence, things became natural, even comfortable. I started to do the same things and went to the same cafes that I thought were the best everyday.

Now that the end of my experience is near, I realize that I learned a lot about traveling and living somewhere new as well as about myself.

I want to share my top 5 lessons to make the most of your time abroad. 

#1: Find the opportunity in your mistakes

Traveling can be stressful and there can be moments where you will make small mistakes, or even huge mistakes, but that’s the nature of traveling. Not everything will end up going your way, but sometimes those “mistakes moments” create great memories and an opportunity to take advantage of the adjusted adventure ahead. 

Many times when I missed my train or bus or things didn’t go as planned, I had the most fantastic time with my friends. These are the moments when I felt like I was really experiencing life to the fullest. On my way back from Cinque Terre, Italy, my friends and I got off at the wrong stop and ended up in a small town, where we met a lovely woman traveling alone. It was a small serene section of Cinque Terre and a wonderfully spontaneous stop on the way back to Florence. 

#2: Push yourself to walk far

Not everything will be at your convenience. Walking far will not only show you more of the city (the unfamiliar parts) and help you find small family owned shops, but it can really increase your mental health. Walking without being in any sort of rush will allow you to enjoy your time much more and to interact with the city or town on a much deeper level.  

The beginning of the semester was a huge period of transition, accompanied by a lot of hard times. These hard times actually made me push myself to go out of my comfort zone and to explore alone, to be more social, more happy and more exposed to European culture. Long walks made my transition abroad much easier and the extra bonus was, while I was being thrown into an entirely new environment, those walks improved my mental health.

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#3: It is perfectly okay to be alone

Sometimes while traveling, especially during a study abroad program, there is a lot of pressure to be social. However, the times that I enjoyed Florence the most, was when I was walking around alone. It is completely okay: In fact it is good for you to be alone when traveling. 

A good friend of mine took a nine-day solo backpacking trip through several countries. She claimed it was one of her best travel experiences abroad. She learned more about herself living and enjoying that experience, than she did when traveling with others. 

#4: Take time to relax

You can’t do everything, so decide what’s the most important. There is always pressure when visiting new cities to explore all the major attractions and to fit everything into your crowded day. I learned that the key for me was to choose what I wanted and the side trips that most interested me. I did not succumb to the pressure to see everything. Even though I lived in Florence, Italy for four months, I never once saw the inside of the Duomo. I know it’s crazy, but I thought the outside was pretty enough and I would rather admire its beauty from the outside. When you allow yourself to let go and do what’s important to you, you give yourself time to relax and truly enjoy being in the moment. Go to a beer garden, a park for a picnic, watch the sun set over the city, or just relax at a café, you’ll thank yourself later, I promise. 

#5: Always, always remember to practice self-care

Along with relaxation comes self-care. This is one of the most important aspects of traveling. Traveling can be overwhelming and it often feels like you have to get everything done in a short period of time. That’s when you forget to make sure you get enough sleep and do what makes you happy. 

I learned from personal experience that nights with only a couple hours of sleep, make a big difference for your next day of traveling. Do the things that keep you healthy and happy and allow yourself to deeply take in your experience. As my mom always tells me, everything you didn’t have time to do makes for a great reason to go back. 

So, my travels are over for now and no regrets to be had: I hope you take the nuggets of what I learned from this amazing experience, to ensure your travels are also easier and more fulfilling. On to the next adventure, stay tuned!