I had never left the continent when I set across to ocean to Prague for a four-month study abroad. And for someone who was really, really new to this whole travel thing… I was woefully unprepared.
I had barely researched the country, probably couldn’t even point to it on a map. It’s embarrassing to admit to it now, but a lot of my travel lessons were trial by fire.
So let’s explore them, shall we? Here are some of my worst moments that genuinely make me scratch my head and say, “I can’t believe I did that!”
My Biggest Study Abroad Mistakes
1. Waited 19 stops before asking for help
My last day in Budapest gave me just enough free time for me to think that I could get up and see all of Gellért Hill. I hopped on a bus and got far enough-ish to see the view. It really was something.
I couldn’t venture much further, so I had to turn around and figure out the bus route back to my hostel before my group left. And then… Google Maps stopped working and I realized I was in a less-traversed area of a city whose language I didn’t speak running low on time to spare.
So… I hopped in the first bus I saw and hoped things would start looking familiar. When they didn’t… I waited. And waited. And waited. Not smart for a gal short on time.
So finally, I turned to the gentleman next to me and asked he spoke any English, because I was very lost. It took a matter of seconds for me to be surrounded by people, all trying their best to help me get back to my hostel. It was so kind and it definitely helped lower my blood pressure.
Anyways, they determined I was on the right bus in the wrong direction. And I was nineteen stops off. Lesson learned; ask for help sooner.
I got back with enough time to stroll around the area and grab a pastry before saying farewell to Budapest. And left with a new appreciation for the kindness of strangers.
2. Forgetting my passport an hour before boarding
Have you ever gotten the feeling you were forgetting something but couldn’t quite think of what it was? Did you ever dismiss that feeling as you were, say, on your way to an airport? For a flight that took off in an hour? When you didn’t double check your luggage?
Nope? Just me? Cool.
I forgot my passport.
How? I’m still not sure. How I managed to forget the one thing needed to board any flight will baffle scientists for decades. It’s still baffling me.
But there I was. In an airport. With no passport.
As soon as I realized my mistake I hopped into the first cab I saw and proceeded to panic on the way to the dorm. Have you ever been in full panic mode in a cab on the highway while the Czech driver is trying his best to calm you down?
Nope? Just me? Cool.
This screw up’s got a happy ending; the flight was delayed, and I made it through security just as they were boarding passengers. I’m pretty sure I used up all of my karma for 2017, but I arrived to Copenhagen intact.
3. Staying in a bad Airbnb because I didn’t do my research
I admit, this sounded so good on paper. Take a cheap flight to Charleroi and stay the night. One hour train to Brussels city center, poke around for a bit, then bus to Amsterdam. Reverse the process to get back to Prague.
Oh, past Maggie. So young, so naive.
When we arrived to our Airbnb in Charleroi, we quickly realized there was a disconnect between the photos and the place itself. The advertised version portrayed a cute little room in a quiet area of the city.
What we got was probably a former hospital room. Or asylum room. Or murder house. Far removed from town. It scared the hell out of me. I spent most of the night convinced I was about to get slain or roped into some kind of horror movie-esque guest recruitment scenario. I didn’t sleep too well, if at all.
So now, should I ever return to Charleroi, I’ll just get a damn hotel.
4. Paying extra for bus transfer because I really, really didn’t do my research
Back to the ill-fated Brussels trip. The original plan was to take OuiBus to Amsterdam, and the same service to Brussels.
I try not to think ill of any company, but I can’t really recommend OuiBus based on my experiences with them. They were very, very late (I received emails notifying me). But we couldn’t find out when our bus was actually going to get here. Not to mention, we could not figure out who to call to find out.
My travel buddy is still convinced this company doesn’t actually exist. Fair.
What we did instead was last minute buy a Flixbus ticket that was leaving in 15 minutes. (I’ve more or less ridden with them exclusively since, and it’s been a much easier experience.) Once onboard, we tried to get a refund for our unused tickets, only to find out that Ouibus doesn’t do refunds. Flixbus, on the other hand, will give you a partial credit.
When all was said and done, I was pretty much done with Ouibus. Keep in mind though, this is just my own experience. For all I know, they’ve improved tenfold. But I won’t risk finding out any time soon.
5. Spending too much time in Dam Square
I like to think I did a pretty good job of avoiding tourist traps for someone so new to traveling. And whatever tourist trap nonsense I did willingly do, I seriously enjoyed (hi, Eiffel Tower!).
But Amsterdam was a bit of a misstep. While I love the city and think very highly of it, Dam Square is one big, fat tourist trap. I mean… look at it.
Not arguing that you couldn’t have fun here. Of course you could. But put a Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and a mini amusement park in one square… you’re basically getting the same experience you could get anywhere. Not what I like to do. There’s a McDonald’s and a KFC there, for crying out loud.
It’s fun to look around for a bit, but then you should probably bounce. Your time is better spent eating as many poffertjes as you can handle.
6. Getting sick and not bothering to treat it
If you ever really want to get to know a country foreign to you, take the bull by the horns and catch an illness.
I’m kidding, don’t actually do that.
Nonetheless, during my first week in Prague, I got hit with what I think might be best categorized as “traveler’s flu.” Was it an actual flu? Who knows. I sure don’t. WebMD can only tell you so much.
So there I was, missing class, vomiting and feeling like death. Even a trip down the stairs winded me. My house-mom offered to make a doctor’s appointment and I declined. I didn’t want the hassle.
Tldr; I’m an idiot who was sick for three more days before the illness passed. Would going to the doctor have done anything? Hard to say, but I really wish I had. Being sick in a foreign country is miserable enough. Actively denying help is just stupid.
Can you relate to any of my head-scratching moments? Or am I alone in my nonsense? Drop a comment and let me know!