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What I Learned From Traveling Internationally For The First Time

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Virginia Tech chapter.

This past spring break, I went out of the United States for the first time and went to Copenhagen, Denmark with a few friends. I had no idea what to expect before I left the country — were all of those travel blogs steering me in the right direction or was I going to be completely blindsided?

When I was younger I called myself a traveler. Even though I never left the country, I knew it was something I desperately wanted to do for the rest of my life after seeing my dad go to various places around the world for his job. I didn’t have the time or money to ever travel anywhere exotic, or further than Chicago, but when I left home I always got this feeling of excitement and happiness for doing something new. I’ve driven to Chicago alone and navigated New York City by myself, but traveling with others, and to a foreign country was a new experience that I soon realized came with a learning curve.

The week before I left I started to freak. Even though I saved up money for months — from savings from my summer job to birthday and Christmas gifts — I was incessantly worried that it wouldn’t be enough for the trip and I would run out of funds in a foreign country. I worried about how much to pack — was there some unspoken rule about how much you’re supposed to bring abroad that I didn’t know about? I knew it was going to be freezing considering it was the beginning of March in Scandinavia, but choosing what to bring despite all of the research I did online was a challenge.

Eventually, I pushed these worries aside and drove the 5 hours to the Norfolk International Airport to get ready to board the first leg of the flight. At the start of the journey, problems arose when our connecting flights to Copenhagen were canceled and we had to quickly rebook new flights. Normally canceled flights and navigating airports are very stressful, but at the beginning of the trip, it felt more thrilling since we were looking forward to the rest of the week.

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The CW

From here on out, we were met with many mishaps as my friend and I’s luggage was delayed for 2 days and lost in the airport, and we initially struggled with navigating the Danish bus system and their ticketing process. But these mishaps aside, one thing I can say is that the trip was never boring.

As I stated earlier, I was fairly nervous about leaving the country for the first time, not out of homesickness, but because of the expenses, rules, regulations, and navigating traveling with other people. Throughout the week, there were waves of emotions that I felt due to these things. I was upset about my lost luggage and having no clothes but the one pair of sweats I wore on the plane. I was exhausted from getting up every morning and sightseeing constantly. But against all of this, I was so happy and thrilled to have an experience like this one.

During the first few days, the learning curve felt hard to overcome. Since many of the trips I’ve taken have been relatively relaxed with only some sightseeing in the U.S., I was not prepared for the hustle and bustle of constant activities that we had going on. If I go to D.C. or New York for a trip, I’m never that concerned about touristy activities because I’ve either done them intermittently in the past, or I know for a fact they’re not worth it. This isn’t the same case traveling abroad. I was following the itinerary my friends put together a month before the trip, so I was just going along for the ride and was not expecting how packed our schedule would be for the first few moments.

I had to quickly learn how to keep on going even after 26,000 step days — even an occasional 32,000 steps — through being fueled by croissants and vanilla lattes from grab-and-go bakeries. I love being busy when I’m at home, I pack my schedule almost to the brink every week, but at home, there’s a lot more leeway for resting when you need to versus being on spring break with a ticking clock before going back to school. I often felt overwhelmed at times which I didn’t necessarily expect, so I would have to find time to squeeze in a moment or two where I could take a breather and then get ready for the next thing.

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Cameron Smith / Her Campus

Among the packed schedule and the chaos from international flights and delays, there was a lot in between that made the trip worth it, reigniting my fire for wanting to travel wherever and whenever I can. We saw extravagant castles and worldly churches, drank wine and ate cheese in the afternoon, and roamed city streets, jumping out of the way for the frequent biker. Every moment was exciting in its own way, whether it was being out on the town or the mere seconds it took for us to fall asleep in our hostel.

Throughout the trip, I learned that traveling may be chaotic, but you have to lean into this chaos at times. I say this in hindsight but everything that happens is just another story to add to the collection. After the exhaustion and excitement of the week, I ended up being stuck in Copenhagen for another day, alone, when only my plane ticket home was canceled. Exhausting as it may have been, it was still exciting though I just stayed in a hotel a mile away from the airport and ventured out on my own to get kebabs for dinner.

I will say the travel blogs did not teach me everything. They didn’t tell me how to successfully navigate the transportation system without getting fined, or that scarves aren’t sold in stores anymore in March even though it’s 30 degrees and snowing, or that you probably shouldn’t climb the Church of our Savior if you’re afraid of heights. So I learned for myself, and I’m grateful for every second of it.

Now what I’m learning post-trip is how to keep saving up my money to keep on traveling forever, and where I should go next.

Sylvia Mack

Virginia Tech '24

Sylvia is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Communication with a double minor in Sociology and Event and Experience Management.