“You’re only young once.”
“You’ll never be here again exactly as you are!”
“Would you rather look back on this night as one with a wild memory or one with a lot sleep?”
I’m sure you’ve heard a friend or a stranger, or even your own inner monologue, tell you these words as you uncertainly decide your next move during a weekend trip or your fall break. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re in a quiet mood, or maybe you’d rather meander than keep to a tight schedule. You came abroad to have the time of your life, so you might feel pressure, encouraging as it might be, to make every single moment especially fun and memorable all the time. However, when you pace your travel for back-to-back weekends from the start of the semester, it can become difficult to maintain the sleep schedule, the time, and the energy to be fully present in the classroom and in adventures away from school.
I speak from experience. I planned all of my weekend trips to be in the first half of the semester because I was excited to explore and to avoid cold conditions with November/December travel. I ventured to Milan, Paris, and Munich three weekends in a row. I took a week off and then spent my Fall Break in Rome, Amsterdam, and Paris again over a week’s time. I made amazing memories in each city, pushed my boundaries, and enjoyed seeing gorgeous art and architecture.
However, early mornings and late nights brought an on-and-off battle with a head cold. There was more work during the week with less of much needed rest and reprieve on the weekends. I also feel a less connected to my home city, having had less time to get to know the side streets and practice the language.
Now that Fall Break is coming to an end, I’ll look back fondly on my time spent broadening my mind to cultures beyond my new home in Florence. However, I have a strong motivation to better connect with the sites, people, and surprises in the city that I have the privilege to live in.
My advice for future travelers? Space your semester out and leave room for flexibility before cementing your social calendar. Giving yourself some space allows for spontaneity. Don’t neglect November and December weekends as well- I assure you that the travel bug won’t disappear when the temperature drops.
Most importantly, prioritize your relationship with your host city more than your relationship with a travel company. Time spent immersing yourself in your home city is invaluable, and your solo travels might be the next best thing.
Finally, listen to yourself even among a group. Travel where you want to travel, see what you want to see, and stay out just as late or as early as you want to. Don’t be afraid to break from the group for a few hours to follow your dream itinerary and link up later.
These memories belong to you, after all!
Sophia is a fall 2019 Florence student from the College of William & Mary.