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Cool 4 a.m. drizzle dotted our faces while we huddled on the quiet London sidewalk.  Neither of us wanted to say goodbye, nor could we figure out how.  An unexpected encounter at a silly tourist attraction had not only changed the course of the rest of our time in London, but in a way, the course of our lives as well.  “I don’t want to let go,” Willie says as he hugs me tighter.  I didn’t have to say anything back.  My grip on his waist said I felt the same.

My summer began with an excursion to one of the most romantic cities in the world – London. During my time there I expected to find history around every corner and on every cobblestone, as well as some fantastic fish and chips. But never did I expect to meet someone so special he would grow to be not only a love interest, but a great friend. That’s the power of a summer abroad.

What is it that makes summer so magical? The warm night air? The skies so clear you can see every twinkling star? Summertime in a foreign place is intoxicating. Engulfing. Ethereal. What better time than a summer abroad to find love – however temporary it may be.

As a seasoned traveler and lover of the biggest of big cities (American and otherwise), I’ve learned a few things along the way that I would love to go back and share with my younger self. If your post-graduation or simply post-final exam days are whisking you up, up and away (or even if you’re having a staycation in your own town), I encourage you to remember these few things while searching for your summer love.

I always say the key to an enjoyable travel experience is to achieve the ideal mix of cliché tourist traps and local haunts only residents frequent. However while abroad last summer, I had a revelation that changed the way I look at traveling and life in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a neighborhood pub or a fanny pack-ridden tourist attraction. The real key to enjoying your travel experience is connecting with the people of whatever culture you’re exploring. The people, after all, are what make up the culture, not the beer stained seats at a one of the countless watering holes.

Striking up conversation with people can be hard, even for the most extroverted of folks. While I find it to be a most rewarding fear to overcome, a simple solo stroll can be equally as delightful. We Americans are always in such a hurry. We speed around even when we’re not really late or have anywhere to be. If your summer takes you away, many other cultures run at a slower pace in order to enjoy all life has to offer.

Instead of taking the subway or bus to the famous library you want to see, spend an extra hour walking there instead. Enjoy the sights, smells and people-to-people interaction you’d be missing on a stuffy underground train where everyone pretends to be invisible. Walking somewhere alone (safely, of course) in a foreign place is one of the little things in life we often take for granted, but can be the most memorable. You are there with only your own thoughts and desires. If you see a pastry shop and you want to grab a croissant, nobody can stop you. Go alone, and you’ll go far.

Being in a new place is the best inspiration to try something new. Maybe at home you’re not a fan of espresso. But instead of ordering your usual cream with a side of coffee at a quaint European coffee shop, take the plunge and down a cup of the strong stuff. If you have the opportunity to try a crazy activity like a punting down the river, do it! Adventure breeds spontaneity, and spontaneity breeds enjoyment. What’s more attractive than people who can try new things and enjoy themselves?

I wish you, my lovely readers, the best, craziest and most memorable experiences possible this summer. Traveling has been a passion of mine that I’ve built into my character, which not only helps me make the most out of a trip, but inspires me to make the trip happen in the first place.

We are young. There is rarely a better time in life to do wild things and take risks than right now.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown – on a café menu or in person – stop you from taking a step forward. My London love, as well as all the others, was only possible because I took a risk – don’t be afraid to do the same.

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