Some endeavors seem impossible until you do them.
Before I packed up my life and moved to Europe for four months, I read every book and blog about how to do so--but the process was still mystifying for me. People seemed to just KNOW how to buy plane tickets, book hostels, and navigate the public transportation in foreign countries.
No matter how much I researched, no one was giving me their secret. They were the cool, untouchable adventurers that seemed to have their life perfectly together and never questioned how to do anything. They were awesome, for sure, but unreachable. They wrote things about going abroad but never mentioned exactly HOW they did it.
Well, I figured it out, and I'm going to tell you.
If you've ever wanted to pick up your life and fly overseas for a week, a month, a year, but are feeling overwhelmed about where to start, follow my process and emulate it.
What I did to successfully have a European adventure
1.) I decided that I wanted to go and dedicated myself to it. This is the first step for many reasons, one being that you can't go anywhere if your heart isn't in it. Flying to another country is a big step, but not an impossible one. Know that it will take a little bit of work organizing yourself to go abroad, but that it's not the hardest thing in the world. Comfort yourself with the fact that others have done it before you, and they'll do it after you. You can do this, if you truly want to.
2.) I researched like a fiend. I read all the travel blogs, books, magazines, and talked to anyone and everyone who had traveled before. Not only will researching give you much-needed info, but it will provide you inspiration to keep going after your dream.
3.) Look up how to fly abroad, where to find cheap flights, facts about your country/countries of choice, expat (that's "ex-patriot," what we call an American who has relocated overseas) diaries,the location of hostels (cheap, fun backpacker hotels scattered throughout the globe), the routes you want to take, and tips from people who have done something similar before. Make sure to research throughout the entire process. Because the more you know, the more confident you'll feel.
4.) I then bought my plane ticket. I created a price alert for flights going to Dublin, Ireland, around the dates I wanted to go. I used Expedia. When the flight came up I wanted (or really, said "screw it" and bought it because I was tired of waiting and the plane prices didn't drop all that much), I went to Aer Lingus's website to buy the ticket directly.
I found it easier dealing straight with the airline, because there were no third-party any things that I had to worry about. (Btw, Aer Lingus is a fantastic airline, and I will shamelessly plug them.) Once I had my ticket (which was round-trip), I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Once you KNOW, for a fact, that you're going, you feel a sense of relieved freedom. All that's left is really just narrowing down your itinerary.
5.) I knew I was WWOOFing (working on an organic farm) in Ireland for a month, but I had looked at my budget beforehand (before I bought my plane ticket!) and decided to "backpack" around the country, seeing the sights, for two weeks as well. I decided on one week before my WWOOFing start date, and one week after it. From there, I knew I would then fly to Italy for three months tutoring a host family in English on Greenheart Travel's Homestay program, staying with the family the entire time. THEN I would fly back to Ireland and leave from Dublin to fly back to the US.
This is when I started loosely planning an itinerary that I would loosely stick to. I liked having the chance to be spontaneous and go places on a whim, so I only booked hostels the day of or the night before. I don't recommend this if you're staying in a popular place in the high season-- for example, I spent only one night in Dublin after I arrived, because the second day, a Friday night in early May, every hostel in the city was booked.
So I took a bus down to Cork City and commenced having a lovely two days there. I say plan a little bit (book your hostels and perhaps transportation and any tickets) ahead of time if it's the weekend or high season. But honestly, there's nothing wrong with deciding each morning what you want to do with the day and go from there. It gives you more freedom, perhaps a little more headache (stressing about finding a place, etc), but I found I liked spontaneous adventuring the best.
Apps can be a huge help when planning out your trek. I used JourneyPlanner for Ireland, Google Maps (a lifesaver, truly), HostelWorld (another lifesaver), and various Italian-language ones for Italy. If you have a need, there's probably an app for it. Even though my phone service was off (the expense of foreign service is killer!) I could use the apps on any wifi I came across.
6.) Once I sort-of knew what I was going to do, I fully prepared myself for going overseas. Meaning: I bought things I thought I'd need, like a money belt (not needed), a phone charger converted for Ireland and mainland Europe (highly needed), guidebooks, a giant backpack I named Ranger, and host family gifts.
I learned how to pack light. I told my bank I was going overseas and got a new credit card. I listened to Irish and Italian music and tried to contain my raging excitement.
And then the day came and I flew overseas, and the rest is history.
The thing is, you'll learn so much as you go. I prepared pretty well, but KNOWLEDGE pales in comparison to EXPERIENCE, at least with traveling. I learned plenty of things I'd never read in a book, like how to climb out a window if you're locked in a hostel bathroom; how to ask Italian people in a non-desperate way to use their cell phones to call your host family, as yours has no service and the wifi is nonexistent; and how to NEVER, EVER turn on your dating roaming overseas because just two minutes (two) will set you back $100 USD. Really.
Research all you can, prepare yourself, then strap in for the ride of your life. Going abroad broadened (ha) my mind so much. I truly feel like I've lived another lifetime and am having a Narnia-moment, coming back to my life.
My best piece of advice is TO DO IT. Go. Just go. You have the money. You have the determination. You have the deep-set lust for adventure. There is nothing stopping you other than your own mind.
Let me know if you have any questions or want any tips/more details. I'm happy to provide them! Everyone should experience what I did, so I want to help you do just that.
It changes your life.
Until next time, y'all!
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!