My 30 Favorite Things About Traveling Abroad

Traveling is my absolute favorite thing. Ever since the first time I went to Greece when I was 20, I haven’t been able to stop. That was the first time in my life I had left the country, traveled alone and was utterly independent. It was exhilarating doing exactly what I wished on my own while exploring places I’d always dreamt of seeing. From my trips, I’ve learned that there are so many things that can only be experienced when traveling abroad. It’s gotten to the point where I look forward to these things as much as the destinations themselves. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, I think you know what I’m talking about. If not, you should try it, but be forewarned that the act of traveling and the experiences unique to it are addicting. Here are the things that I have come to look forward to now each time I leave the land of the free.

1.) The extensive movie selection on international flights.

If you’ve ever flown internationally on practically any airline from the United States, you’ve seen the tv screen in the headrest in front of your seat and you have probably browsed the amazing selection of entertainment. This tv is great not solely for its ability to kill time, but it’s ability to do so with decent entertainment. All of the TV show episodes offered are current and the movies available are out of the theater, but not available on DVD yet. There are so many movies I’ve watched on my eight or ten-hour flights that now remind me Europe, and I will now and forever watch them only because they remind of me traveling. Some of them are genuinely awful, but the nostalgia they bring back is worth the viewing. My friend Sarah loved the movie choices on the last trip so much that instead of sleeping {which we needed to do because we going right out into Dublin once we arrived at 8 AM local time}, she couldn’t help but watch movies for the entirety of the flight. She was utterly exhausted the next day, but glad to have enjoyed her flight to the fullest.


2.) In-flight meals.

No, they don’t exist in American domestic flights anymore, but they’re alive everywhere else where  a flight is longer than two hours. I can’t explain why, but it’s fun eating on airplanes. Maybe because it means I don’t have to worry about buying expensive food in the airport or that I just get to try what that country deems a meal. Either way, I’ve had some interesting Irish, English, French and Greek meals as well as their attempts at American meals. And who doesn’t love the stewardesses offering tea and milk after every meal for a half hour? Meals just make flights more enjoyable, and I love that they still exist. Granted, it’s usually not the highest of quality, but it’s a free meal to go with your movie.


3.) A stamp in my passport.

There’s something magnificent about a stamp in your passport. It’s the one momento that you’re guaranteed to receive when you travel. I love looking at my passport and seeing all of the colorful stamps overlapping each other and remembering not only my trips, but my times in the airports as well. I remember those final moments in each where I desperately didn’t want it to end. I just wanted to soak it up as much as possible while plotting just how to return as soon as possible. It not only makes me remember all of the places I’ve been, but where I want to go back to.


4.) Shopping at grocery stores.

There are two things I must do in every country, and one of them is shopping in a grocery store. I love to see how everything differs from America. Depending on where you go, you may find variations of items seen America or discover completely new things. For instance, Honey Nut Cheerios were called Honey Loops in Dublin, and Lay’s chips were called Walker’s and usually came in odd flavors such as ‘prawn cocktail’.
I also found brand new items in several counties that eventually came America {such as Krave cereal and Magnum ice cream} and even more that I’ve only seen in specific countries. I miss the dirt cheap coffee yogurt and in Rome, the delicious juices in Greece and the wide selection of inexpensive gourmet cheeses and wine all over Parisian grocery stores. It’s just interesting to see how usual foods and food prices vary from country to country and grocery shopping has become one of my must-do pastimes. I also love to see how shopping is done, but I’ll save that discussion for my next list of my favorite things about returning home from traveling abroad.


5.) Watching TV.

This is the other thing I must do in every country. I have to say that there is a reason that the United States leads the world in entertainment. We know what we’re doing. I wasn’t aware of this disparity until I traveled. I have watched many TV shows in many countries and it usually turns into Science Mystery Theater 3000. These shows are ridiculous and I usually don’t know the language either, which makes it all the more fun to try to follow the story. If you’ve ever seen Largo Winch in France, you know what I’m talking about. I watched monks in the classic brown burlap robes fight on a rotating windmill. It was amazingly bad and I loved it. This is the caliber of entertainment I’ve come to expect, because after many hours of televison I’ve discovered it doesn’t get too much better than that. But, there’s also a lot of American entertainment available {many countries REALLY love Friends}. It’s just another way to see how people live their day to day lives in other countries, which I love to see.


6.) European music videos.

Going hand in hand with TV shows are music videos. I don’t watch MTV anymore really and haven’t seen a music on the channel in probably a decade. I love watching European music videos, though. The music usually isn’t that great {some sort of techno usually} and the premises are odd. Just look up Alexander Rybak {that’s the most innocent}. I discovered them during my first trip and my morning routine with a friend quickly became eating a breakfast consisting 0f frappes and waffles with Nutella while watching Europe’s finest music videos.


7.) Eating out.

This is universally one of the best things about travelling. Eating food that is native to that country is almost always amazing. I’ll never forget the best pizza I’ve ever had in a Rome train station or the best waffles I’ve ever had on the caldera in Santorini. Dining out is more than about the food, though. It’s the atmosphere around you that also makes it special.
our view while eating in the gardens of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
I’ll always remember sitting in the gardens of St. Patrick’s Cathedral eating fish and chips, listening to the bells chime as the sunset began in Santorini while we ate dolmades and loukanikos, having crepes and coffee on Ile de Cite, gyros at my favorite spot in Rhodes Town under the old fountain, loukomades under the stars in Delphi, gelato in Campo di Fiori, pasta at the Trevi Fountain, and more gelato at the Pantheon, frappes everywhere {esp on the beach} in Greece, moussaka overlooking the blue-domed churches and sea in Santorini, coffee and cake at Dublin’s oldest cafe, 50 cent dip cones in Soroni {the town which basically became a second home for me}, picking up delectable pastries at a bakery in Marais and heading to Chateau de Versailles, the best calamari I’ve ever had in Symi, group dinners of souvlaki with the other study abroad students at the panygiri, funny waiters in Paris and Athens, and much, much more. I had not realized how much stuff I had done so far in my life until I counted my meals. It’s such an odd way to count your experiences, but very telling.


8.) Walking up to a different view.

my view of the monasteries on top of spires in Meteora

I love waking up to a view that’s different from home. I’ve slept in some less than stellar areas places and woken up to dirty streets and/or loud noises that made me miss home {Athens airport was particularly bad}. When I wake up somewhere slightly special though, it’s breathtaking.
the view of Christ Church cathedral from my window
I loved waking up to the ChristChurch Cathedral right outside my window in Dublin, church bells in Athens, the monasteries in Meteora, old, vines climbing the romantic architecture outside my window in Paris, the Sea of Olives in Delphi and the sunrise on a ferry to Santorini. It’s something that can only occur when traveling, and it’s something you must see to fully appreciate.


9.) Sunsets.

Soroni, Rhodes, Greece

Going hand in hand with the beginning of the day is the end of the day. During my first trip studying abroad, the sunset was the time of day that everyone in the study abroad program gathered together just because we wanted to. We weren’t corralled together for class or dinner or a trip. We got together on our own. It was fun talking about what we did that day, what we were going to do that night, and everything in between as we watched the sun sink over Turkey from the apartment rooftop or the church steps that overlooked the town. I grew to love sunsets because of that trip and every time I’m in Europe {especially Rhodes}, I’m outside for every sunset. My favorites have been looking down each of the twelve streets on the Arc de Triomphe, from the top of the ruins of a Venetian castle in Pyrgos, Santorini, laying against the Palazzo Farnese in the Piazza Farnese exhausted after long days and of course from the beaches and various high spots in Rhodes.
Pyrgos, Santorini, Greece
They’re all different and I can’t help but compare all of them to the colorful cumulus-clouded sunsets I grew up with in Colorado, which I took for granted. But I now love watching the day end everywhere I go.


10.) After the blissful sunset, the night begins.

This was especially true for me during the study abroad trips, but it was also the case when I traveled on my own accord. I love that time of dusk between sunset and nightfall. That’s the best time of day to me no matter where I am. When travelling though, it’s a time where you both reflect on everything you did that day and plan what you’ll do that night. It’s just buzzing with absolute enjoyment of that moment of twilight and anticipation for the night to begin. You know that night is full of possibility and it will be completely different from your nights back home.


11.) Just taking a stroll is an adventure.

strolling in Dubin

Taking a walk where you live really isn’t exciting, but when it’s somewhere you aren’t familiar with, it’s thrilling. Just walking around Dublin was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. Everything looked quite different from America: people dressed differently, moved at a different pace, and we found something interesting every few feet. Getting lost wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather another possibility to find something cool as you find your way back. Just ambling around is essentially the best way to explore the place you came to see.


12.) Just being outside gets you an awesome tan.

me being tan

It’s been ridiculously easy for me to get a tan every place I’ve traveled to. Merely spending the day outside in various countries has gotten me tanner than I’ve ever been in America. With all honesty, regardless of how many days I spend outside at the beach or by the pool in LA, that tan will never match how absurdly tan I get just walking around in Europe. Laying on Greek beaches has made the tannest I’ve ever been. I miss that Mediterranean look.


13.) Good public transportation.

the metro in Paris

I think I appreciate this, because I live in a city with the worst excuse for public transportation and ungodly amounts of traffic. Therefore, I was truly grateful for the metro/RER train system in Paris. We could get anywhere in the city in just a matter of minutes. Trains came to every station in a matter of two to five minutes and you just have to use the very easy-to-read metro map to find out where to connect to other trains to get across the city with minimal effort. It was amazing and it made a car obsolete in the heart of the city. In Paris, it was not only easy for tourists to get around, it was how most citizens got around daily. The only problems were crowds, pickpockets and the all too frequent strikes Parisian public employees are known for. We also loved the trains systems around Athens and Rome {especially to and from the airport}. It all makes me wish Los Angeles had a decent train system going at least to LAX.


14.) Stone roads.

the stones in the roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe

Whether it be cobble stone or a mosaic design comprised of tiny pebbles, I love them all. Nearly every road in America is asphalt or dirt, so when you see something that was laid by hand, you appreciate it. And when you know that it’s hundreds or thousands of years old, you appreciate it even more. Walking down the street in Dublin was like stepping into another time with the old buildings and roads abounding. Hearing cars pass over the stone blocks in Paris was just awesome.
Feeling the tiny pebbles comprising the road below your feet in Rhodes is another reminder of where you are. Just standing in the road in Rome makes you think of how many people have walked down that very street since the stones were laid thousands of years ago. From emperors to apostles to artists to armies, it’s a wonder to think how much history has passed throughout the centuries right where you stand.


15.) Swimming in clean water.

Rhodes, Greece

Ocean water in Los Angeles is disgusting. Don’t believe the hype of the beaches, the water is filthy. Santa Monica Beach consistently receives “F” ratings for cleanliness, which is proven by the fact that every time it rains, the beaches are closed to the public, because the runoff going into the water is certain to make you extremely sick. As the locals say, you’ll grow an arm in you go into the water at Santa Monica Beach. You must go far north or south from Los Angeles to get a decently clean beach. This is not the case in Europe! I have yet to see a beach by any city that does not sparkle with pristinely blue waters and squeaky clean sand. I always love Tsampika Beach in Rhodes where the water is so clear and still that even 20 feet out, you can see straight to the bottom below you and the minnows swimming around. And cliff jumping from the small island with the church on it in Amoudi Bay isn’t scary,
the island used for cliff jumping in Amoudi Bay, Santorini, Greece
because you can clearly see everything in the water. I love that beaches of this caliber are prolific. The entire Mediterranean is beautiful and it’s become my favorite place in the world to swim. In Los Angeles, you can’t see one foot down and you have to be careful walking back to your towel, because there can be needles in the sand {not kidding}. Oh, and there are no diving boards {Rhodes Town} or areas to go cliff jumping {all over the Mediterranean}. I live for those days at the beach in Europe and have been spoiled to the point where I can barely go to beaches in Los Angeles, and I really can’t swim at any of them.


16.) Eating at McDonald’s.

Sarah eating McDonald’s

I know this sounds odd, but I love it. I don’t eat at McDonald’s at home or any other fast food. But when traveling, I must try it, because it is different in every country. The meat not only tastes differently {because of the spices in different countries}, but different items are offered on the menu varying with the country. The McFarm in Greece was one of my favorites. Not only is the name great, but the spiced meat was delicious. And, you just can’t beat eating fries with a tiny fork.


17.) Church bells.

St. Paul St Louis Church, Paris, France

Sadly, you just don’t hear church bells in America. Most churches don’t even have bells in America nowadays. But because the churches are so old in Europe, they not only have bells, they chime every hour {if not more often} and many have their own signature melodies. I love hearing the chimes to mark the hour. It is not only a pleasant way to mark the hour, but it also gives a sense of community in a way I can’t describe.
St. Suplice Church, Paris, France
The first night I ever spent in Europe was in a hotel on Voula Beach in Athens where I was woken up by the church bells at 8 AM calling everyone to service. I was mad to be woken up so early after traveling for 20 hours, but it just didn’t bother me because it was church bells. Church bells have become a sweet reminder of the fact that I’m in Europe and it makes me happy to see that church bells are alive, well and free to ring.


18.) Churches.

St Chapelle, Paris, France/Chapel in Chateau de Versailles, Versailles, France
Churches are obviously a huge draw in Europe, because they have been perfectly preserved in their beauty. Churches are magnificent to look at for their artistic features, but they serve more functions. They’re also the sites of many historical events. Notre Dame held the coronation of Napoleon, was the site where Abelard and Heloise met, along with countless other events. I’ve also visited the churches which house the remains of St. Valentine and St. Nicolas.
St Audeon’s Catholic Church, Dublin, Ireland/Dublin Castle Chapel, Dublin, Ireland
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France/St Paul St Louis Church, Paris, France
Many churches {esp in Italy} have connections not only to catacombs which hold fascinating history, but to ancient underground rooms and tunnels as well. There are so many things the churches are linked with throughout history that they can’t be missed. Most importantly and enduringly though, they are houses of God. One of my favorite sightings in all of Europe was a sign on Sacre Coeur declaring that prayer had never ceased for 125 years straight.
St Vincent St Asistasius Church, Rome, Italy/Unknown church near Piazza Farnese, Rome, Italy
Evangelismsos Church, Rhodes, Greece
That’s powerful and  makes me hope that these buildings aren’t just glamorous tourist site boasting marble and history, but places that serve God by providing sanctuary where people can pour their hearts out to their maker. Sadly I met far too many atrociously-behaved priests in Rome (I was thrown out of churches and judged constantly as if it were a sport), which I can only hope it limited to Rome.


19.) The old buildings.

This is one of the things that gets Americans. The old architecture that we are deprived of back home makes us yearn for history. We want the proof that our cities were built by our lineage and that they dwelt there just as we are. Our history goes back only about 300 years, and not too many buildings survive from then. Those that do can only be found on the east coast. In Europe, churches, universities, governing buildings, houses and pretty much everything found in a city can easily date back 500 years or even further.
In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to find places that are under 200 years old in many countries, which is why Paris is famous for it’s romantic architecture, and walking in Dublin is almost like visiting another century. And of course, in many places, you can run into ruins that are thousands of years old, which is just a usual occurrence to locals.


20.) History older than 300 years.

Pantheon, Rome, Italy

As you can in #19, finding anything older than 300 years old in America is a rarity and we absolutely swoon for it. Muskets from the Revolutionary War are gems to us {as they should be}, but some people in Europe have decor in their homes older than that. One of my friends when dating an Englishman sincerely wanted to take him to Maryland to see her church which was about 250 years old. He just looked at her bewildered and told her the church in his town was from the 11th century {and that there was nothing spectacular to him about that mundane fact}. And, in countries home to ancient civilizations, they are used to the extremely important ancient sites near their homes. After all, the Italians did use many ancient sites as quarries for marble when erecting new buildings.
amphitheater at Epidaurus
In fact, Mussolini sanctioned Romans to take the remaining marble from the ruins of the Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered, and now that the theater is completely gone, only the marble remnants can be found in nearby buildings. This marble and these sites are just ordinary to those who live around them, which is baffling to us Americans because we come from the New World. We left the oppression of monarchy behind, but with that, all of our history as well.


21.) Castles.

inside the Castle of the Knights of St John, Rhodes, Greece

Along with extensive history and old architecture, we Americans are also deprived of castles. And I absolutely love castles. I don’t think there’s a girl alive that doesn’t. I’ve only been to a handful, which is simply not enough, therefore I have some exploring to do in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Italy and only God knows where else.
inside the walls of the Castle of the Knights of St John
I’m weak for castles and find it almost impossible to leave them, which cements my belief that I am destined to live in one. No other option seems viable. So until that happens, I need to keep browsing until I find the one I know I will call home 🙂


22.) Haggling.

a boat/store in Rhodes, Greece

Haggling isn’t fun on a daily basis, but it is when traveling. When you know nothing is at a fixed price, souvenir shopping becomes a lot more fun. I’ve gotten some beautiful things for my family {and myself} at great prices just because I hung in there. And, if ever while shopping, you’ve said “there’s no way this is worth that much!”, then you’ll appreciate the fine art of haggling as well.


23.) Parks.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France

A slew of European countries have gorgeous parks that American parks can’t rival. Many days in Paris, we’d relax from scurrying here and there and just sit in the lovely gardens admiring the flowers, lakes, trees and the beautiful buildings that were sure to be there {but you usually weren’t even allowed to touch the grass}.
St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland
In Athens, we’d walk through the National gardens to unwind or kill some time before leaving on our flight {where we could sit in the grass}. In Dublin, St. Stephen’s Green and St. Patrick’s Cathedral gardens were always busy and beautiful {and you could sit anywhere. Paris seriously needs to clean up its act}. I love these parks, and hate knowing that they is nothing remotely near this in LA or pretty much any other US city. I guess I’ll have to stick to actual nature outside of the city. 
Athens National Gardens, Athens, Greece


24.) Meeting people.

Contrary to popular belief, most people are excited to meet Americans when traveling. In Europe, tourists are usually just from other European countries, so Americans are rather rare. And, many Americans that do travel do it by cruises, so they don’t get to see much of the places they visit {practically nothing outside of the major tourist attractions}. I have met people from all over the world and they’ve always been delighted to meet an American. In fact, in Santorini, one Swede just had to take a photo with me because she was so blown away by the fact that I lived in Los Angeles. It was like she thought I was famous just because I lived there.


25.) How things move slower everywhere else.

It’s well known that Americans works many more hours than the rest of the world and take shorter and fewer vacations than everyone else. Granted, we’ve built up the world’s best economy because of it, but it’s still cool to see how everyone else moves. I think I love it only because I don’t live in these places, but I do enjoy the more relaxed pace everywhere I go when I explore. It took me some time to understand ‘Greek time’ {esp when I needed to receive my lost luggage before my flight the next morning}, but when you’re not in a rush, it’s fun. It’s actually somewhat how I think of time anyway, so I could fit right in, although it is still a slightly crazy idea to operate that way daily. For instance, stores in the village I studied in would open around 8 AM, then close at noon, then open again at 2 pm, then close at 4 pm, then open again at 6 pm and then finally close for the day at 9 PM. Some restaurants would open at noon, then close at 2 pm, open again at 4 and close for the night at 6 pm. And, usually when the shops weren’t open, the people just sat around talking to each other. Every store/restaurant had a finicky schedule dependent solely on the whim of the owner, which made so many of us think ‘that’s no way to run a business’. But, since we were there for only a short time, we’d stroll around as they did going to beaches, restaurants and shops. In other cities where establishments had set hours, people still took their time with everything. In Athens and Rome, meals can take hours. In Paris, people sit in parks and on church steps just hanging out. In Dublin, you can sit around and get to know anyone in a pub. We appreciated the slowdown, because we were on our trip, but I still love my workhorse country our world renown work ethic.


26.) Taking photos.

sunset beginning at the Eiffel Tower

I never realized how much I love photography until I traveled. Granted, every photo you take in Greece makes you look like a professional, it’s become fun to try to capture something from the perfect angle everywhere else. And, it’s always great to look back at those photos and see those moments I just had to capture, so I’d never forget. When you look back at some of them, you can remember every detail – what you were thinking, who you were with, what was going on, and how you wish to go back.


27.) Seeing places you’ve only heard about.

Chateau de Versailles

Everyone knows this feeling. You hear about places, learn about them, and see photos of them throughout your entire life and say to yourself ‘I want to see that someday’. I heard about King Agamemnon’s palace in Mycenae, I saw photos of the Eiffel Tower, I watched  the Colosseum in movies, I learned about the Parthenon in history, and it’s awe-inspiring to know I’ve seen all of them.
I loved walking through the tunnel into the stadium in Nemea, standing in Place de la Concorde where King Louis was beheaded and Ramses’ obelisk still stands, seeing Thermopylae and standing in officers’ houses built by Mussolini for the Nazis in Rhodes. Seeing places you’ve dreamed of is usually the reason for traveling and these sites along with unexpected finds along the way have made it a pastime I can’t avoid.


28.) The islands.

Oia, Santorini, Greece

What can I say? I’ve spent plenty of time in Greece, primarily in the islands, and I’ve come to love them. They’re like a second home to me now. In fact, I find it hard to travel to Europe without stopping at an island. Right now, a friend and I are looking into traveling the Amalfi coast, and I’m almost more concerned about which islands are nearby than the coast itself.
Oia, Santorini, Greece


29.) My 21st birthday.

pirate ship slide at our hotel

My 21st birthday was awesome, because it was unique. We spent the weekend of the Fourth of July {my birthday is July 5th) in Kos at an all inclusive luxury resort as a treat from our program director. We spent the Fourth having fun in the resort and even more fun that night when we went out, especially when British guys were trying to hit on some of us girls and we just bragged about how our country won independence from theirs about 230 years ago. Eventually, they got tired of it and left us alone. I can truly say there’s no better way to celebrate American independence that bragging about it to  a Brit on July 4th. I also got the customary drink full of sparklers at midnight, and although it didn’t matter in Europe that I was 21, it was still great. We had fun in a way that you can’t in America, and it was one of the funnest nights of my life.


30.) Realizing what you love and don’t love about America.

Traveling to foreign lands makes you appreciate things in America while also making you realize things you wish were different. For instance, I’ve experienced Greek strikes in ways that aren’t reported in the US, and suffice it to say I am so happy that that type of behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in the US. The military would be called to intervene in events such as highways being closed off by unions stranding people for days, independent business owners receiving death threats for operating while unions were on strike, and public transportation/ferries/airports ceasing operation leaving tourists trapped. I love that my rights can’t be infringed upon by others. Also, customer service in America {you wouldn’t think so, but yes} especially in grocery stores is amazing compared to the rest of the world, and I love that customer service does affect success of a company in America {trust me, it’s far worse in Europe}. I like that police are present in America, but not too imposing, such as in Rome where different types of police and military line nearly every corner brandishing armor and toting automatic weapons in hand. I love the rules of the road in America {although I live in a city with atrocious drivers} because other countries {I’m looking at you, Italy} have terrifying and foolish drivers. I also love how people just hang out in open areas more freely in Europe in a way that people don’t really do anymore in America. I love that I can get anywhere in Paris on public transportation. I also love how people aren’t on their phones, in front of the computer or watching TV every second in Europe. I love how people move slower. I love the history is preserved in most places. I love how waffles are mysteriously more amazing in every European country than in America. Obviously, the good always outweighs the bad in America’s favor. Traveling just annunciates what you love and don’t love about America and makes you see your home and the world more clearly.

I’m sure there is much more that I missed and will only think of when I feel it again when I travel. What are you favorite things about traveling abroad? Let us know below!

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