1. That I can survive without a local SIM/data pack and still tour about 7 countries
Yes, this one’s for real in case you thought I was kidding. Might sound stupid, but I DID survive without a data pack and local SIM on my phone. Despite the suggestions, advice and all prior research done on the local SIM cards available, portability etc. I ended up not getting one simply because the hostel and public wifis pretty much sufficed. This allowed me to pre-plan my routes, tourist spots and manage my coordinates beforehand (for open areas that did not have wifi). But it came with it cons too. Not having a connection meant not being able to coordinate with friends always. At other unfortunate times, it also meant getting on the Flixbus to Prague without the third friend on board, and thereby borrowing other passengers’ phone to make calls, and using payphones that didn’t work. Thankfully the friend got on another bus, re-united with us at the halt-over at Dresden and we all made it to Prague, together!! ‘Back to golden ages’, she rued.
So while I managed without one, for such reasons I wouldn’t entirely recommend it, particularly to someone who is travelling alone.
2. That the language of camaraderie is understood by all
My belief in human camaraderie was re-enforced with the umpteen interactions I had with strangers, mostly for helping me out with directions. Whether it was the encounters I had in Berlin with the two ladies who pulled every string, looking at the map in my hand so I could take the right trains (U-Bahns) to reach the concentration camp, or the old man in Paris, who reassured that we were on the right train. Our hosts at the Air Bnb accommodation particularly in Vienna and Venice were exceedingly sweet and chatty. Clearly identifying us as tourists, there were other encounters where the regular customers at the supermarket in Paris probed about our nationality to the local shopkeeper. The guesses were as wild as someone thinking that I was from Armenia (later translated to us). I am highly curious till date about what must have been the prolonged conversation in exotic tongue that ensued between the gentlemen at the supermarket.
3. It’s never too late to drop a word of compliment
He remarked with a spark in his eyes, that we all looked so beautiful. It wasn’t so much about the compliment but the genuineness and the wide-eyed smile with which he said it. It was so profound that I can never forget his face and the encounter. Takeaway: Be nice and kind, and never forget to flash a smile, sometimes even to a stranger.
4. That I can lose my way to find one back - all by myself
A secluded place by itself, I ended up being the last one out of the camp. With no buses around and a useless phone (without data) in hand, I asked every soul in the remote land for the way back to the train station. Panicky and frantic I heaved a sigh of relief once I reached the station, a few kilometres away from the camp. The map had become my good ol’ friend by now and there was no looking back. I’m glad I lost my way, at least once, no matter how horrific it was given my state of mind, freshly defined by the gory sights of the concentration camp. It almost felt like I was running away from being trapped there.
5. Hellos, thankyous and goodbyes never go out of sync/style
This big lesson came aboard the local train in Paris. Seated next to an old man, I confirmed the next station with him. He was quick to pass off a rather unkind statement – ‘What has the world come to!’ Seconds later I gauged that I forgot my hello, hence the nasty remark. Note to self: Get the hellos right before jumping into a conversation. The best and the worst goodbyes also came along this trip. The last day of summer school was particularly nostalgic – a final goodbye to people and places that had become home so soon.
6. That you can shop till you drop but there may never be an end to it
No matter the numerous errands to Primark in Alexander Platz, there was always this one thing you missed to pick up on the previous visit. Mall of Berlin, Postdamer Platz, flea markets, souvenir shops were all inspected and scrutinized for the best bargains but there always remained something you missed to pick up for someone new on list. Bottom-line: There is no end to shopping, pick what you like at the first instance and move on. You ought not to miss out a rainbow, a seething sunrise, a walk in the park for an extra hour gone mad shopping.
7. Make hay while the sun shines
There can never be anything truer than this saying. The friends I made in the summer school, and off it, the happy evenings in the biergartens and parks, the warm and fuzzy hotel stay, interactions with the profs there, living the rich German history, embracing the sights, smells, sounds and tastes through my senses pan countries– everything added up to magical. For that one month, I was like a sponge absorbing everything around me including the sun or the lack thereof in certain countries like Brussels and Amsterdam. But the sun - it always did shine!
8. There’s never really anything to beat a good meal, a fancy bath and a sound sleep
After all the sight-seeing, heavy travelling , sights and smells exploding, it always felt nice to be back home - the youth hostels/air bnbs while travelling / Citadines Apart’ Hotel while at Berlin. The comfy beds, warm-water guzzling baths, and the good food was the least that was needed to cast a smile on my face and fill my heart with content.
9. There’s a fine line of difference between Air BnB’s and youth hostels but both have their own charm
Youth hostels and Air Bnbs both have their own charm. Youth hostels allow interaction with fellow hostellers from different countries, some doing unconventional things, others living like a hippie; travelling from their savings. It also gives you a perspective on how people from other countries travel differently. Prague/Paris to me was certainly not the same as it was to my fellow roomies in the youth hostels I stayed in. The air bnb experience largely depends on your Air Bnb host. While our Air bnb hosts in Vienna and Venice were extremely sweet and helpful, our hosts in Rome were a little uptight and kept to themselves. Our host in Venice for instance was a localite and even offered us to take his boat for a ride through the Venetian waters all for 50 euros. We would have jumped at it only if we knew how to ride a boat! He later obliged us though with a glass each of the local spirit ‘aperol’ at a local bar and an unmatched Italian accent.
This is for keeps and I find myself returning to this one everlasting lesson in life. So while you are having the best moments of your life - laugh it off, gulp it down, make your days count ‘cause nothing lasts forever - not even your trip abroad.