Last summer, I had the opportunity to go to Europe for a month with a tour group called Top Deck. It was a 28-day excursion with 19 stops in 13 countries all over Europe. I went canyoning in Austria, climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and l’Arc de Triomphe, ate way too much pasta in Italy, and did what we called “doof doofing ‘till the sun came up” on my birthday. It was an incredible, fast-paced journey with some of the most amazing travellers I could have ever met (who doesn’t love Aussies and Kiwis?).
What I didn’t expect was the insight about myself and life lessons I would gain on this trip. Here are 6 things I learned in Europe on the most amazing tour I could have dreamed of.
1. I Could Handle Being On My Own
I’ll never forget how I felt as I departed from my family at the Vancouver airport. I cried that day because I was so nervous to be without my parents and sisters – we had never been apart for an entire month before! I was excited to go on my trip, but part of me really, really wanted to stay home.
When I arrived in Paris, I got lost on the way to my hostel and kind of freaked out. But in the end, I did get there. I even found good places to eat and I slept soundly that night! When I connected with my tour group the next day, I was relieved—at that point, I knew everything was going to be okay. I realized that I’d just spent two days alone and survived. I could surely survive the remaining 26 days.
2. It’s Good to Ask for Help
I’ve never been one to ask for help, but I knew I was going to have to suck it up and ask for directions when I couldn’t find my hostel. I had to ask tons of strangers for directions. And even after asking everyone I could find, I still got lost in the Gare du Nord area for about an hour until I realized that my hostel was only 3 minutes away from the train station. Uuuuugh.
Throughout my tour, I constantly had to ask others for help. Whether it was for directions, how to speak the local language, or where the bathroom was, I just asked. Not sure if it was my ego or my stubborn reliance on myself that prevented me from requesting help before, but I’m certainly not afraid of doing it now.
3. It’s Okay to Not Really Know What’s Going On
Although I printed out my itinerary an entire month before I left for my trip, most days I had no idea where we were heading or what the plan was for the day. As someone who likes to have a routine and a schedule, this was quite new for me. At first I wanted to know what we were doing 3 days in advance, but I learned to go with the flow instead. I realized it was okay if I didn’t know we were stopping in a town called Orvieto on the way to Rome, or that 3 days later we were going to be in Venice going on a gondola ride. It didn’t matter at all. I was just happy being with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
4. Overthinking Kills Happiness
Let’s admit it—we all overthink, whether it’s about a stressful final or a cute guy in biology class. Europe taught me the consequences of not overthinking. Beware, for they are scary and daunting:
I went canyoning for the first time and jumped off a 9m cliff into a waterfall in Austria.
I ate my birthday cake without using my hands. On a dare.
I was legitimately comfortable with my tour group.
Never did I consider the risks of jumping off of that cliff (although we were, of course, careful about it). I didn’t worry about how stupid I’d look eating my birthday cake with my face—I just did it and laughed at the resulting video afterwards. And not once did I try to get a certain image across to the people on my tour. I was simply myself.
This brings me to my last two points.
5. Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Met Yet
Looking back at the friends you have now, it’s crazy to think that they were once people you didn’t know. The bonding process usually takes time, though, and I usually need a year before I can call someone a true friend.
During my tour, this process was sped up… a lot. By the second week, we were insanely comfortable with one another. We did not have cliques. We’d have “family” dinners every night, even if the meal wasn’t included on the trip. We talked about what we did that day. We eventually agreed that we could use another 28 days together. At least.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, but our Facebook chat is still active. I still keep in contact with some of my friends on the tour and we still reminisce about the fun times we had.
And to think they were once all strangers.
6. Being Yourself Will Attract Others
My last point is probably my cheesiest, but it’s probably the most important thing one could possibly learn.
The first couple of days of my tour were scary. I was completely out of my comfort zone and, unlike some of my peers, I’d never met anyone in my tour group before. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in, but before I knew it, people were genuinely trying to get to know me. And I reciprocated.
We all became friends so fast that I didn’t have time to be anyone but myself. And as it turns out, the tour group was okay with that. They accepted me for who I was. I accepted them for who they were, too.
My point is that you actually can be yourself. And when you are, you’ll make friends that will last a lifetime. Sometimes it feels like people will judge you based on certain aspects of your personality, but if you wait long enough, you’ll draw the right people into your life.
Trust me—you’ll see how many genuine people you’ll meet when you’re honest with yourself. They’ll recognize how amazing you are.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.