Hi! I’m Alex. I am born and raised in Massachusetts to Albanian parents. The first time I flew on an airplane, I was 5 months old and I have been on the road ever since. I have picked up a few principles on my journeys and I am here to share them with you.
Be Spontaneous Oftentimes we do not book hotels ahead of time. Instead, we decide how long we want to stay in each city, and which cities to visit, while we are there. Some of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling came from taking a risk. When traveling, a detailed itinerary may not be the best way to go. Sure, tourist locations are a great starting point, but you will most likely find a more authentic or beautiful place by getting suggestions from locals or even travelers. Don’t have your mind set on one thing, one checklist, or one plan. Get ready to see new things.
Staying upset never helped anyone A couple of years ago, I had a flight that left midday for Europe. So when I arrived in Rome, it would be time for me to sleep. My family decided that would be the perfect day to explore the Vatican. In the interest of not losing a day to jet lag, I was forced to stay up. My thirteen year-old self complained the entire time. It was scorching hot, there was no access to clean water (there were many vendors selling dirty water on the side of the road), and we went on a tour which was a couple hours long. My brother and I stumbled through the Vatican whining. I did not take a single photo from that day and I wished I had thought of the bright side of things- I was in Italy! At the Vatican! Yes, the situation was a little uncomfortable, but being moody did not help anyone. Learn from my experience and smile. Also, bring water to the Vatican.
Step outside of your comfort zone I will never forget the time I powered through my fears and decided to literally plunge into the great unknown by snorkeling in Costa Rica. Sitting in the boat as we headed toward Isla Tortuga, I was terrified and refused to jump off the boat. I was petrified and kept telling my parents that I had a serious fear and would wait for them on the boat. My parents urged me to just give it a try and, after much anxious anticipation, I decided to do it. I jumped in, opened my eyes, and saw the most beautiful rainbow of life through my goggles - starfish clinging to rocks, a pufferfish swimming, a group of “nemo fish”, and so much more. Within an hour I was doing flips off the side of the boat into the crystal blue water. Moral of the story: unfamiliar does not mean bad, oftentimes it's very beautiful. Remember that you too have the capacity to change and evolve beyond your fears.
Respect and cherish the simple things There is beauty in the simple things. The way rain splatters onto a calm lake, clouds streaking across the morning sky, or street performers singing on the road. Whatever it is, cherish it. The best moments are not captured on camera, but through memories that come from living fully in the present.
Bad ideas make funny memories/good experiences On a hike to the La Fortuna waterfall, my parents once asked our tour guide if he knew any authentic places to eat. Rather than suggesting a restaurant, he sent us to his friend’s house in a farming village. The house was a simple, beautiful place made of 2 concrete walls and a tin roof. The tour guide and his friend took us horseback riding to a river while the rest of the family prepared an extravagant, traditional dinner for us. There was pasta, fish, and most memorably, traditional Casado. This is one of my greatest experiences while traveling. Maybe going to a stranger's house wouldn’t always be considered a “great idea,” but I believe we were sensible and smart about it, and I know for a fact it made for a great experience and story.
Make friends People are very relatable. Often they are outgoing and want to help in some sort of way. My family has gotten numbers from people all over the world. People from Germany, Spain, England, the Netherlands, and more! The world and its people are beautiful and are far more similar than different.
No regrets If you are afraid to do something, just ask yourself, in a year will you regret it? If so, think about what is specifically stopping you and try to work through it. Trust me, you won’t regret it :)
Collect things Collecting things from the countries you visit is a great way to gather physical memories. For example, I like to collect postcards. I remember most specifically, I was in Positano and picked up a postcard, and was mesmerized by it. It intrigued me that I was looking at a professional photo of the Amalfi Coast, but when I looked up I was actually there, in the same place that the photo was taken, and it was even more glamorous in person. It was a really simple moment, but at the same time very beautiful, and I will always associate the postcard with that memory. Some people collect magnets, spoons, or stamps. Pick your player!
Not Everything Is Black and White Be wary of prior judgements or opinions you might have about a place or person based on stereotypes or limited information. Certainly be conscious of your environment, but remember that good grows in “bad places” and vise-versa. For example, many people believe that Turkey is a strict, conservative country. I had no such experience. I felt that people were always looking to give a helping hand. There, we met a Turkish man who gave my family his extra passes to popular locations like the Blue Mosque which allowed us to enter and even skip the lines at some points, which was a very kind thing to do. We walked around at night and wore reasonably short shorts and tank tops, but I did not feel unsafe at any time.
Everything happens for a reason Maybe an event you wanted to attend was booked last minute or you realize that the Museum is closed on Sunday. It was supposed to be that way, don’t dwell on it, find something even more amazing to do.
Show kindness Smile when you pass someone on the street. Donate a meal to a homeless person. Hold a door open for somebody; it goes a long way.
Traveling does not need to be expensive There is no need to stay in a Ritz-Carlton or buy an airplane ticket for a couple thousand dollars. Air BnB’s are much more cost effective, and by booking a flight with the right airlines and at the right time, you can actually book it for a couple hundred dollars. This past summer, we booked airplane tickets for $353 per person, which is incredibly cost-effective for a flight to Madrid during its peak tourist season. Don’t be afraid to use international airlines, and book tickets on Tuesday night! Believe it or not, flight prices fluctuate depending on the time of week and by booking on a Tuesday night, chances are you will find a flight that won't hurt your pocket.
Eat the food Food is a huge part of a country’s culture. Whenever I travel, my parents do not allow my brother and I to eat American food so that we can better understand how locals live. Food abroad is really amazing, so give it a try; what’s the worst that could happen? Growing up I would never eat rabbit. I even got angry if my parents considered buying any type of dish that included rabbit. Many years later, I ended up eating it unknowingly in a Valenciano Paella, a traditional Spanish dish, and now I love it.
Learn Learn about the country you are visiting. Dive into its culture, traditions, and current events. Also, while you are there, pick up phrases in the native language. Post-dinner, my family went for a walk in an alley full of shops; night time in Italy is booming with life. My brother and I were running around a toy story and were scolded by an Italian shop owner. We got the gist of what he was saying- basically to stop goofing around and get out of his shop, but knowing not a single word of Italian, me and my brother just stood there. He continued to speak to us, probably infuriated by our silence. I just scurried away to find my dad and to get myself out of the situation. I will never forget the phrase, “Scusa, non parlo Italiano.”
YOLO- You only live once I’m fifteen, what else do you expect me to say? But in all seriousness, make the most out of life, especially if you are traveling!