Beyond the Bubble: Three Lies and a Truth
Hello, dear Dartbeat readers! It’s your old pal Lauren, of “How to Lose a Formal Date in 10 Minutes” infamy. You’ll be glad to know that I followed my own advice, offended not one but two dates and have had to flee the country as a result. So I’m coming to you from beyond the bubble this term.
Just kidding, I’m doing the Spanish LSA in Barcelona (I’m not that ashamed of what I did last term—dates, please text me back). I haven’t actually made it to Barcelona yet, though I’ve spent the past several days traipsing around London, Paris and Florence for spring break. So until I have some actual LSA-specific experiences, I am making this column a game: three lies and a truth about traveling abroad in general. I promise you’ll still get something out of this column, at the very least, what not to do abroad.
LIE #1: Hostels are a fun lodging option!
While I clearly know myself, I think I fundamentally misunderstood the nature of hostels. I was told that hostels were a great opportunity to meet people my age from around the world, but no one mentioned the downside of living with them in a shared space: you literally cannot escape these people. They sleep next to you. They shower next to you. And you don’t know them well enough to punch them when they snore.
Those are just the basics, and don’t account for the fun personality quirks you’ll encounter, like the group of screaming twelve year olds in Florence, or the obnoxious Australian in London who will first ask you if you want to buy liquor and drink it in the park with him and then, later that night while significantly drunk, call your friend an ugly lesbian when she politely asks him to stop flirting with you, making him simultaneously homophobic, creepy, rude and delusional. You know, the really charming type of people who frequent budget hostels. (On the bright side, this morning in Florence I saw what looked to be a twelve-year-old girl, who clearly did not speak English, wearing a t-shirt that said “LET’S GET DANCE PARTY CLUB LOUD HIGH SHOPPING.” That was awesome and I want to cop that shirt for flair.)
To be fair, I did cut my lodging budget in half by picking hostels over hotels. And these experiences come from a very limited sample size. But I have since learned that the new move for cheap accommodations is AirBnB: similar prices, private spaces and the added bonus of getting to snoop in other people’s houses. As for me, my time in hostels can be summed up in what polite company calls, “an experience.” Not one I necessarily wish to replicate in the near future, but an interesting one nonetheless. Book hostels if you think that’s the best option for you, but proceed with caution.
LIE #2: Don't worry about money! Go abroad when you're young! Buy the plane ticket and figure it out when you get there!
And the spending doesn’t stop when you land: food, transportation within and between cities, food, emergency spending, food, museums, food and famous attractions are the reasons I have been hemorrhaging money over the past few days. For example, did you know climbing the 414 steps of the campanile in Florence in order to get that fantastic
Instagram that will get lots of likes view of the city costs 18 euros? You even have to pay to exercise. On multiple occasions, I have even found myself so desperate for directions or communication or seeing how many likes I’m getting on social media that I’ve paid to use internet in a public place. I know! I’m a filthy millennial with skewed priorities who is contributing to the fall of modern society!
The point is, though often well-intentioned, the advice to travel young is insensitive and not as easy as it sounds. And if you receive this advice and think that dropping everything to travel on a dime is a good idea, take careful account of your real-life budget and consider whether this kind of travel is reasonable. Of course it’s fantastic. Of course you’ll learn a lot. Of course you’ll make memories to last a lifetime. But as great as that all is, none of it is worth being stranded on the street in a foreign country with no way to get home because you ran out of money.
LIE #3: You need a solid group to stay safe/have the best time!
But the truth is, some of my favorite experiences have been solo. It’s relieving to have a break from coordinating plans — there’s no pressure to move at a certain pace, and if I want to eat three Parisian pastries in one day or just relax and read a book in the park, no one can stop me. I may not be on an “Eat Pray Love” type sojourn, but I’m thoroughly enjoying traveling on my own terms, even if it means awkwardly asking strangers to take pictures of me in front of famous monuments.
Amended advice: Be yourself, unless you're an idiot. Then be someone else.