Typically, the first couple days in one’s trip to Europe are the most difficult. Fatigue, lack of control, all the differences can make it a strain. For most, arrival comes after a long overnight flight. You are tired, on unfamiliar ground, trying to get your bearings. The food is different, customs are different, you can’t understand what people are saying. So it is not unusual to struggle at first. In the most general sense, the following will help:
- Relax, let go of trying to control everything, of being on top of it all.
- Trust that you will soon be comfortable with all that is so foreign at first.
- Be open. It is a different country, with different food, different ways.
- Embrace the country for what it is.
It is remarkable to me how, after a few short days, we quickly move from tired wayfarers to lighthearted, invigorated, enthralled participants in the life of the place. It is subtle, this transformation. But then, all of a sudden, there it is. You know your way around, you are navigating and enjoying the differences, reveling in what makes wherever you are special.
More specifically, the following may help.
Flying to Europe from the U.S. usually means an overnight flight and you will be understandably tired on arrival. Try to stay awake as much as possible that first day to get adjusted. A short nap will be hard to resist if you have to travel from the airport via train or bus into town or beyond. And a short nap after lunch is also hard to resist. The key, though, is to keep naps short. If you manage to do this and stay up until after dinner on arrival day, you will be amazed at how good you feel the second day.
Travel from the airport
Moving on from the arrival airport – be it just into town or a somewhat more distant destination – provides the first challenge/opportunity. You aren’t in control! You aren’t in your car making all the decisions. This is the first chance to do as best you can and then trust your instincts, your preparation, the inevitable help you will receive should you need it. If you mess up, it’s a good chance to relax and laugh! Understand that there will likely by times of waiting for the train, or bus, or taxi, or what ever is next. Going in knowing this, accepting it, makes a big difference.
Food is so often wonderful, but it is different! Generally, there is no rush around meals, particularly in southern Europe. Tired and wanting to be done with dinner so you can get to bed, slowness of service, ordering, getting the check can be frustrating. Relax and don’t be in a hurry. If you don’t expect fast and you get it, you’ll be happily surprised. If you don’t, you won’t be upset.
Food – its preparation, consumption and variety – is one large element of a culture. It is something to be embraced in all its differences from day one. There are definite differences. For instance, Italians rarely rush over food. Sitting down to eat is a meaningful affair for them. Consequently, meals are long. Essentially, once you sit down, the table is yours for the rest of lunch or dinner. They do not want to move you out for the next seating. So there is no hurry for them. Indeed they want you to savor and enjoy the food and the company. It can take time to put in your order, get your food, and receive your bill. When you are tired, this can be difficult, but use that first day as the chance to begin to get into the local rhythm.
They are inevitable. Things simply aren’t going to go exactly as you planned. While it can be frustrating, often times it is the surprise that ends up being the most memorable and enjoyable. Getting lost, or missing the train, or getting off at the wrong place – each of these so often leads to the impossible-to-plan-for element of the trip that will be your fondest.
Each of us travels for different reasons, and every reason is, of course, valid. In many ways, travel is like holding a mirror in front of yourself – you see yourself filtered through the ways of another culture. It helps us understand ourselves better because we see ourselves with new eyes. The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred is a great read for giving yourself some perspective on your trip, why you are making it, what you expect from it, what to bring home with you.
You travel to Europe to have experiences that you will remember forever. Let it happen, let it unfold. Relax, and enjoy!
[boilerplate plate = bsteiner]