How To Navigate Foreign Environments

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I could use some guidance. I’m preparing to travel abroad for the first time, thanks to my parents. They’re sending me to Europe at the end of the summer for two weeks, as a college graduation gift. According to my dad, “I shouldn’t enter the real world without having left the United States!”


I’ve already spent the past couple of weeks planning my itinerary and my trek is jam-packed with iconic things to see. Just last night did I begin to worry about the logistics of my trip, though. English is spoken in most of the countries in Europe, but I’d have to imagine that not everyone will be fluent enough to help me.


That’s why I was hoping for some basic tips when traveling abroad. For instance, what should I do about navigating foreign airports and train terminals? I’ll be relying on those forms of transportation during most of my journey. Any insight would be much appreciated.


Congratulations on your college graduation! That must have been a special day for your entire family. And what a fantastic gift to celebrate such an occasion. Most people with a first-hand experience consider their travels abroad life changing. They aren’t exaggerating, either. You might expect to see a wide variety of cultural differences while traveling abroad. Many are delightful to witness for yourself and some might even be surprising. The trick to enjoying everything you encounter is to avoid any unnecessary anxiety.


There’s quite a bit you should know when it comes to traveling abroad for the first time. While some might be tempted to compare domestic trips to international ones, that would be a big mistake. There could be some similarities, but most of them may not be sufficient enough to ensure the right outcome. That means you’ll have to do your research with care.

Consider getting started with the rote basics. For instance, Christy Woodrow described ten travel mistakes to avoid on the Ordinary Traveler.


That’s a great place to begin. Everything she highlights should serve you well. Things like overpacking and not keeping track of your reservation details are easy to avoid for a responsible traveler. Things like updating your credit card company, buying travelers insurance, and double-checking your cell phone plan can be overlooked. Having all of those things squared away will bring you one step closer to being prepared.


A great deal of information is already available about traveling across Europe. Chelsea Stuart at Jetsetter published an informative article that highlights another ten things you should know before traveling there. She begins by disclosing the fact that the US State Department already issued a travel advisory for Europe due to the recent increase in violent terrorist attacks. American citizens are encouraged to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which should make it easier for you to receive security updates in the event of an emergency. She also explains that Americans don’t need a visa unless they plan to travel across Europe for more than 90 days. Another key takeaway includes the fact that Brexit has made the UK much more affordable.


It’s important to realize, however, that none of those checklists will help you navigate around in the moment. Most of the above recommendations revolve around advanced preparation. When it comes to navigating a foreign environment, you’ll need to rely on situational awareness and visual cues (i.e., environmental graphics like signs and digital displays) made readily available. Many airports have now been designed or renovated to enable convenient navigation for travelers rather than impede them. Kay Rodriguez at Jet Farer already wrote a helpful piece about navigating public transportation abroad. She encourages everyone to learn a few phrases in the local language, rely on landmarks, and have a contingency plan.


Public airports and railroad terminals shouldn’t be all that difficult for you to navigate. According to Rick Steves, “nearly everything is translated into English at European airports, but you still need to pay careful attention,” because of nuances like acronyms and abbreviations. That’s why it’s so critical to know where you’re going beforehand. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask someone for guidance.


“A wise traveller never despises his own country.” – Carlo Goldoni