1. Make a list of things you love about home before you leave .
Chances are, coming back home is going to be tough. In order to make the flight home less tearful, make a list of reasons you will be happy to go back. Turn to this list every time it aches that life abroad is not actually real life.
2. Make a bucket list .
Before departing, spend a good two hours with Lonely Planet (or whatever source you prefer) and organize a list of places you want to go and things you want to see complete with reasons for going and addresses. Maybe that sounds like too much work, but honestly when you’re traveling you do not want to wait and think about what to do. Instead, you want to get out in the morning and come back at night with no time to sit and plan. Of course, this does not account for all the places you will learn of and where to go once you are abroad, but that’s OK because unpredictable adventures are another kind of wonderful.
3. Pack band T-shirts .
This is not as silly as it sounds. I make a lot of friends just by wearing my Beatles or Strokes T-shirts. Music has a powerful way of bringing people together, and even though no listening is involved, people like to come up and talk about how much they love the band on my shirt or their experience at the concert and so on. This is a lovely and easy way to spark short-lived conversations with pretty cool strangers. And if all things go well, you’ll make plans to a jazz bar that week and become best friends.
4. Be aware of current events .
It’s important to be read the news of the country you will be visiting, but I think it’s even more important to know about the political and social situation at home. You will meet a lot of people that are interested in your culture and society. I agree with Aristotle when he said that people are naturally political animals. We want to talk about each other’s lives to learn about and compare our differences through talking about politics and social affairs.
5. Be immersed .
Upon arrival, new places always feel like a poem you feel before you understand. And it takes time to interpret and understand major themes and to fully grasp concepts. Being immersed means letting things affect you even before you understand them. It means finding who you are in reaction to your new environment.
6. Try to meet old people .
Young folks are cool and all, but I heard the best stories from the older people that I met. These people experienced Soviet oppression, or their uncles combated the Nazi regime, or they themselves lit fireworks upon the abolishment of the Berlin Wall. I must share the best of the best stories I was told. An old lady apologized to me for her English being rather inadequate because she learned it by secretly listening to The Beatles on her illegal radio during a time when the communist regime censored all things that came in and out of the Czech Republic. It’s easy to not realize the extraordinary lives people live, and older people have so much more to say and they can be so humble.
7. Try not to take electronics .
Obviously, if you need to take your laptop for work or school, then go on ahead, but if you can help it, I implore you to leave your laptop and cell phone behind. It’s hard to explain the peace I’ve gotten from doing this. Not constantly being haunted by the need to see what the rest of the world is up to has cleared up mental space to think about other, more interesting things.
8. Document your thoughts and movements .
I’m not saying that you should sit down and write a diary entry every night—that’s far too time-consuming. (Unless you’re into that, in which case that’s perfectly OK.) I suggest jotting down your feelings throughout the day because traveling makes things feel magical. And once you get home, it’s the magic and the person you became in response to the magic that you’ll want to remember.
9. Don’t be worried about it ending .
The hardest part about traveling is knowing that the moments do not last forever. However, this time around, I learned to not worry so much about becoming weary after going back home. The most important part is to know that at some point in life for some period of time, a part of me walked across the Vlatava River looking along the colorful buildings of Prague on the way to school. Somewhere inside me, that moment will always resonate. I think that moments and experiences never leave you if you let them affect you.