Last month, I was offered a new position and had just two weeks before it started. The same day that I accepted the position, I booked a flight to Berlin, Germany, leaving three days later. It was really sporadic, and it all happened really fast, however, I found out that a last-minute trip out of the country is so doable!
At first, I looked at the confirmation screen and was like hot damn, did I really just do this? I felt all sorts of anxious while thinking about what I needed to pack and whether or not my passport was in the last place I had stored it. The last two times I left the country I had booked with Contiki, a company that pretty much handles all of your travel plans and accommodations for you, all you need to do is just show up ready to go. This time was a little different. My brother had been living there so I was going to stay with him for ten days and take advantage of a free stay! Now, when I prepared for my previous trips out of the country, the Contiki program had sent me checklists and tons of preparation emails that made me think I had thousands of things to do before leaving. So, I freaked out like a Jewish mom for a couple of minutes and then I was like, okay, it’s not that hard, you can do this.
What I’ve realized is that as nice as it was to have lists and information relevant to my travels, going abroad really isn’t that difficult. And I learned that as I put off packing until the night before. I literally gave myself three days to prepare and only used half of one of them. It’s more than doable folks. Okay, I’m not saying to do as I did and wait until the very last minute, because that was no fun, but hey, here I am talking about it. Truthfully there are only a few things you need to cover while planning for a last-minute trip abroad. You can search online for checklists and hurdles you might come across on your journey, however, if you just make sure you have the necessities from your closet and bathroom in a suitcase, you are pretty much set. The day before I left, I went to the bank to grab enough Euros to get me through at least the beginning of the trip and a couple of travel-sized toiletries at Target, and then I stuffed my suitcase with those and a variety of layer-able clothes. In addition to this, I packed my passport and a backpack filled with whatever I would want during the long flights, and that was it.
It felt almost too easy, as the last time I traveled I had gone through full-blown checklists and even bought a giant satchel that can’t be cut. For some reason, I suppose on the last trip I felt as though I was going to a place where I would have no one to communicate with and would be mugged constantly. This time around, I honestly sort of prepared in the same way I would for a trip within the country. Oddly, my previous travels made me think that this was not a suitable way to go about it. It fully was! I had STILL over-packed, and I had packed way lighter than what I was warned to pack during my prior travels. So my biggest bit of advice here is: Yeah you’re leaving the country, but you aren’t leaving the planet. You can really find anything you need where you are going, and should spend less time worrying about the stress that can come from packing.
As far as figuring out what to do once I arrived, I had kind of assumed my brother would be showing me around for the most part, but during his busier times I had to learn the hard way that I was capable of exploring a new city in a foreign country without a dedicated itinerary. It can be very scary to be out of the country on your own, especially when there is a language barrier. What’s great is that most countries learn English has their second language, so for the most part, you can usually run into people who speak English. My trips with Contiki had set everything up for me for the majority of my trip, so I had a truly different experience when I spent a handful of days with absolutely no plan. And the cliché is so true that sometimes having no plan is just so much better. I ended up enjoying the time I spent on my own figuring it out more than the rest of my time there. When they say “get lost and find yourself,” there is so much truth to it, because when you are at your most vulnerable and alone is when the truest you arrives front and center to handle situations. I learned so much about myself just being by myself in the midst of buzzing Berlin.
When you find yourself in a foreign city by yourself without a plan, there are so many ways to take advantage of such an opportunity.
Take a tour.
Most major cities will have tons of different companies to choose from, and you can find some typical hop-on, hop-off tours or even something extremely specific. In Berlin, I found a walking tour that was based on graffiti in Berlin, and the meaning behind the crazy graffiti scene that exists there. I also took a generic hop-on, hop-off tour, which was extremely touristy, but I was a tourist so it was cool to learn some historical facts and see sights I would have never heard of without it.
Rent a bike.
Getting lost on a bike makes it harder to venture around because you can’t rely on the GPS on your phone and you have to just trust the process of getting lost. I biked around Berlin for hours without a plan and ended up seeing the coolest locations and meeting some great people just by stopping wherever I noticed something interesting (mainly cool looking bars, let’s be honest).
Use social/dating apps.
I’m not even ashamed to say that I ran out of swipes on Tinder while I was there. Yeah going on dates to hear some sexy accents was great, but honestly, the people were surprisingly so helpful with showing me around and recommending me to great local spots that I probably would have never found without them. It was really easy to differentiate between who was actually being helpful and who was just being sleazy!
Do what you normally would at home.
Go for a run, find nearby venues for concerts, do some research on the best restaurants/bars or any other things that you enjoy. As I mentioned before, you left the country not the planet, whatever you enjoy doing will most likely occur somewhere near you!
Traveling is so great all around whether it’s for business or pleasure. Don’t let solo traveling or a time crunch get in your way. It may seem like a headache in the moments before you book a trip but it’s really not. There are so many ways to go about traveling, and you aren’t always going to have months to prepare or enough money to have somebody touring with you the whole time. Get scrappy and do what you can with the time and dollars that you have, and just go get lost!