10 weeks ago I finished my 3-year degree. So what did I do? Well, I did what any sensible, unemployed nomad does. I used half of my savings and went interrailing for 4 weeks with my best friend.
Travelling is something I love doing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a number of countries already. But going away with my best friend (no parents or teachers), knowing everything I spent was my own money (from flights and food, to accommodation and activities), and picking any country I wanted to visit – that is something I’ve longed for. And I can honestly say it was the best thing I have ever done.
The trip has given me something that no textbook could ever teach me. It has given me a feeling of real achievement, self-accomplishment, and pure joy. I genuinely feel more knowledgeable about the world because of the different cultures I’ve experienced and the things I’ve seen. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, the food I’ve eaten – it’s hard to describe how much it all changes your general view on life.
There are so many things I’ve learnt from travelling, but I’ve managed to whittle it down to my top 5.
1. The planning part of a trip like this genuinely improves your organisation skills so much.
There were times when things went very wrong on my trip (like turning up at the train station in Florence 20 minutes before our train was due to leave, only to find that the train departed from the other station in Florence). However, we learnt from our mistakes and checked every detail for every plan after that.
We had to book trains weeks in advance to match the checkout times at hostels, and pick outfits (anticipating any weather) the night before due to the busy bathrooms and shared dormitories. We were paying for hostel rooms in Euros, and working out the individual bills when one person had paid the deposit in Sterling.
After interrailing I have become a listaholic (yes, that’s definitely a thing), I have an A5 Filofax and ‘fantastic organisation skills’ is definitely on my CV.
2. You learn that when one of your plans goes wrong it is not the end of the world.
When our train was delayed, the hostel room didn’t look anything like the photos, and an annoying lone traveller decided to tag along for part of the trip, we still managed to make the most of every day and have an amazing time. When you are counting the days you have left travelling, you realise that each day is precious, and one bad plan can’t just rule out the potential adventure and fun for the whole day.
If you don’t get that part-time job, your exam mark is a lot lower than you were expecting, or the promotion you were hoping for goes to somebody else, don’t give up! Apply for another part-time job, ask for feedback on the exam, and keep working hard in the office, because it will pay off.
3. You become a great judge of character.
Because you meet so many people when you’re travelling, you quickly learn what sort of person someone is within the first few minutes.
In your first year of university, there is a pattern that everyone follows when they meet new people. It goes something like this; What’s your name? Where are you from? What course are you studying? Which halls are you living in? When you’re travelling, there’s also a pattern that people follow. What’s your name? Where are you from? How long have you been travelling for? How long have you got left? Which countries have you been to? What’s your next stop?
It didn’t take my friend and I long to work out that generally people who were travelling on their own were a little strange (like the 30-year-old American guy who gave up his career in Computer Science, which he ‘adored’, to go travelling around Europe for 4 months and spend most of his days in coffee shops). We also learnt that ‘big’ groups (more than 5 people) that went travelling together meant arguments were inevitable. We got on best with people travelling in twos, like us.
We also realised that girls that spend 1 hour in the bathroom putting on makeup for the beach were not going to be fun to hang out with.
The most important thing to remember is not to commit yourself to anything too soon. The worst thing you can do is befriend somebody withing 5 minutes of meeting somebody and realise you’ve somehow signed up to spending the next day shopping when it’s your only chance to visit the gorgeous island that is a 10-minute boat ride away.
That advice can be transferred to university and work environments. You don’t want to become best friends with somebody so quickly that you don’t even have enough time to realise that they’re the student that skips 70% of the lectures or is considered the office slacker at work.
4. You learn to live simply.
Somehow, things such as social media, television and work tend to consume our everyday life. But when you’re exploring a city you’ve never heard of in a country you’ve never been to, the things that normally take up such a huge part of our lives suddenly seem so insignificant.
We must have walked for several miles every single day of our trip, and I never once thought, ‘I wish I could just stick the TV on and lie on the sofa today’. When I was walking around Lake Garda in Northern Italy I wasn’t checking my e-mails and thinking about which jobs I need to apply for. I let myself become completely be there and enjoy the moment.
5. You step out of your comfort zone… 1,000,000 times.
You have so many opportunities to try new things, like local foods and exciting activities. I am generally a risk-taker, and during my trip I tried to say ‘yes’ to any opportunities that were in front of me. The craziest thing we did whilst interrailing was probably changing the country for our final week. We were supposed to go to Austria, but 2 days before we changed our plans and decided to spend the week in Croatia (which included cancelling our original flights home and booking new ones)! We also went river rafting in the Soča River and then jumped in off a 2o foot bridge… So it’s a tough call to say which was more adventurous!