When I was 15 years old, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to China. I had taken Mandarin Chinese as my foreign language of choice in middle and high school, and my school offered the trip. I was able to experience the cities of Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai all in about one week! It was definitely the trip of a lifetime.
As it's been five years since I took this trip, I want to reflect and share three things I've learned about travel since then and wish I knew before taking this trip.
Disclaimer: I don't want to sound like this entire trip was for nothing. I loved every moment of it! This is just how I feel reflecting back on my younger self.
1. I wish I knew more of the language.
I had taken the base "Chinese 101" class at this point, so I could introduce myself, talk about my favorite color, sentences like that. However, I didn't know much practical language. I couldn't really ask, "Where is the bathroom?" or "How much does this cost?" Looking back, I feel like I could have had a richer experience with practicing my spoken language if I had taken maybe one or two more years of the class.
2. I wish I was more adventurous with trying new food.
I grew up as a very shy person, and this unfortunately translated to my trip. I was very anxious to try new foods, so I often didn't. I ended up losing a lot of weight due to not eating enough and constantly sightseeing in the hot sun. I did try some new foods that I don't regret but I often resorted to foods I could easily have eaten at home, like McDonald's or KFC. My next trip abroad, I plan to eat as much as I can of local or regional foods, with chain restaurants being reserved for foods I can only get in that country.
3. I wish I was more immersed.
Throughout my whole trip I kept thinking about my friends and family at home. I constantly tried to stay in touch with a partner at the time and would stress myself out over it. Looking back, I know I went too far with it and couldn't fully enjoy myself while I was away. I still kick myself when I think of a time I was in Shanghai, when I had the chance to explore a market, but instead I sat in front of a Starbucks trying to get Wi-Fi. At the end of the day, I would also try to get in contact with people at home instead of spending time in the city I flew so far for, taking in the culture. Moving forward, I try to keep in contact through posting on social media, and chatting with people during less hectic moments.
I would say my takeaway is that if you're planning to go to a foreign country, don't make the same mistakes I made. Of course, do what you are comfortable with and stay in touch with your loved ones, but don't forget you're the one on the trip; become immersed and you'll have incredible stories for the rest of your life.