March 28, 2012

TRAVEL TIPS: Less is More

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Before I left for Italy, everybody had their own two cents to offer me. “Appreciate every minute!” “Make sure you take advantage of where you are!” “It’ll fly by.” I took it all to heart.

I distinctly remember being restless on my flight to Madrid. Upon arrival, I had a friendly two to seven a.m. layover before landing in Rome. My mind was racing. It was during these hours in transit that I realized I had packed up my life in a few suitcases to move across the globe for five months. Slightly terrified and wildly excited, I anticipated arriving in Rome.

I made it to my apartment hours later than expected, after a slightly traumatizing debacle with a cab driver, who ever so kindly dropped me off on Via Berberini – a friendly 25 minute walk from Via Barbieri, where I needed to pick up keys. Here I was, in an apartment, alone, in the historic center of Rome. I felt physically and mentally spent, my brain couldn’t process any real thoughts. I did realize, however, that as always, I was hungry!

In search of some grub, I left my apartment and wandered into my foreign abyss. As I meandered the streets, I quickly realized I might never find my apartment again. While contemplating where I’d sleep outdoors, it finally dawned on me: I couldn’t communicate. With my Italian skills beginning at “panini” and ending at “grazie,” I was fundamentally screwed. All the while, the beauty of the cobblestone streets and bright Christmas lights consumed me.

From the very beginning, Rome has been a totally overwhelming experience in every way. With the Pantheon just a five-minute-walk away, I can’t help but feel the pressure to see everything all the time. It’s not just the historic monuments though. I wanted to find local cafes where I could enjoy casual cappuccinos, go grocery shopping at the farmers market, traverse Rome’s hidden gems, explore Italy’s varied landscapes, visit other friends abroad in their respective locations, make some Italian friends, discover my favorite bars and clubs, find a summer job and write in my journal. I wanted everything, always. In my first months here, I felt like I couldn’t be at rest. I saw naps as “wasting my time” and kicked myself for staying in, for fear that I’d miss out. I was nervous that I would go home unfulfilled by my experience, wishing that I had pushed myself more often.

This is the distinct pleasure and challenge of living in an incredible place for just a few months. You can’t do it all. This isn’t to say you should give up and stay in your pajamas all day. If I could give anyone advice on travel, I’d say that less is more. Take care of yourself. Sleep! Eat well. Take a nap. Spend time doing things that you do when you’re at home or at school: watch YouTube videos, talk to your friends, and waste some time. Your brain and your body need it. Perhaps plan to see fewer places and spend more time in each. Make your daily itinerary about enjoying yourself not about crossing off bullets on a to-do list.

Katerina Athanasiou is a junior in the college of Art, Architecture and Planning. She may be reached at kathanasiou@cornellsun.com.  Notes from Abroad: Travel Tips appears on Thursdays.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou