Alexandra Mezza is a student at Notre Dame of Maryland University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Rome, Italy.
Sometimes you’ve got to do what you got to do. Getting into the Roma vs. Real Madrid game wasn’t too hard. It was the getting back that was tricky. Let’s just say, I ended up marching four miles to get back to my apartment. Was it fun? Actually, a little bit. Was it terrifying? For a little while, yeah. But frankly, it was well worth it to sit directly behind the goalpost and have a perfect view of Ronaldo’s stunning goal.
Coming back for a second round of solo travel, I decided to spend my spring break gallivanting through France and Germany completely on my own. Once again, I was terrified, but, four days in, and I haven’t died once. I keep two mantras in my head: “You’re gonna be fine” and “Fake it till you make it.”
You’re Gonna Be Fine.
Have a game plan. Google maps will tell you how to get to where you need to go. If you don’t know where you’re going, ask. People who work at train stations or airports tend to know a little English. Especially while traveling in a country with a foreign language, you need to seize the opportunity of an English speaker when you find one.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Especially while in places of transport or in your hotel/hostel, ask questions. They’re there to help you.
Breathe. In the admirable words of Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic. Seriously, there was a point in my journey to Paris where I feared I would be stranded in Switzerland. Because clearly, being stranded in a snowy paradise for an afternoon would have been truly horrible. Go with the flow, you’ll get where you need to go.
Fake It Till You Make It.
Fake it with the local language. With a language barrier in a foreign city, faking it usually involves keeping your mouth shut and your eyes open. For example, the Parisian Metro. After two trips through it, I can’t say I understand fully, but I have gotten where I need to go. Sometimes, travel magic happens.
Use a map. And fake it till you make it. Or…until you get so desperately lost you can’t even begin to fake it. Then start asking if people speak English.
Follow the locals. Initially this may be difficult if only because you’re not sure who the locals are, but give it some time and you’ll begin to see who’s been around the block. I found a wonderful set of markets in Paris this way. Some people were going through a gate in the middle of a city block and I thought, “When in Paris” and followed them. I ended up finding a lot of nice restaurants and an international bookstore.
Solo journeys are intense. They can be scary and lonely, but, they’re also empowering and freeing. They allow you to indulge in that odd flight of fancy. So don’t be too afraid to go alone. The whole world’s waiting for you.
The world awaits…discover it.