I feel like a lot of the time this happens when people asked how your trip abroad was. When I got back from my study abroad program a few years ago, all I could really say was, "It was amazing," because it was amazing. It's difficult to describe it in more detail to someone who doesn't share that common ground.
But as the years have gone on and I've been able to travel a little more, I've been able to reflect on what I've learned so far.
1. People are very similar
Humans have the same basic needs: to be fed, to have shelter, to be loved. We want to surround ourselves with positive people, friends, and family. We want to better the lives of others. We want to learn and to grow.
People are very similar, even if their ways of eating, living, or loving are vastly different than your own. They don't do things in a "weird" way, they just do things differently. And that is okay.
2. The world isn't as scary as you think
It's important to keep your wits about you while you travel (just as you would in any city) and to research the cities you're visiting beforehand to be aware of tourist scams. However, most people are nice people, and the world isn't as scary as you think.
In Paris, I encountered girls asking me if I spoke English, thrusting their "petitions" (scams) into my face, but I simply ignored them. However, there were quite a few people I encountered as a solo female traveler that weekend showed nothing but kindness.
3. Your appearance doesn't define you
When you travel, you can wear what you want, put on makeup if you want, or do your hair if you want. You'll never see these people again, so what does it matter if you decide to not make your hair perfect or wear the same thing two days in a row?
4. ...But it is still smart to respect customs, especially in terms of dress
When you travel you're likely to come across religious locations. In Italy, you're required to cover your shoulders, knees, and toes in churches. In Turkey, females must wear a headscarf in mosques.
In general, knowing the cultural clothing customs will not only help you blend in, but show the locals you care enough about their culture while you're spending time in their country.
5. You can communicate with body language just as much with words
It's best to know at least a few phrases in the foreign language before you go and to attempt to use them. However, unless you're fluent, there will be parts of your conversation with others that sound entirely like gibberish. I've had a number of conversations where body language and/or the usage of hand signals were the majority of the conversation.
6. I'm better at directions than I thought (and other soft skills)
Navigation was never my strong suit. When I got my driver's license at age 16 I was constantly getting lost...in the city I grew up in. Traveling forced me to be aware of where I was going and to be able to find my way around. Slowly but surely, I became more confident with directions to the point where I was leading tours for my job in Europe to cities I hadn't been to before.
When you travel you learn so much that is applicable to everyday life. Independence, communication, and cultural understanding are a few soft skills one tends to pick up abroad.
7. You can learn more from the world than you can from a textbook
Going off of the above point - travel makes you wiser beyond your years. Going to school isn't something to be taken lightly, and even if you build off your education, there is so much to learn when you travel. You get life experience that you could never get by reading a book or watching a movie.
8. Material things aren't important
The more I travel, the more I realize I don't need a ton of material things. When you're traveling with just a small suitcase of possessions, it becomes clearer that you truly don't need a ton of stuff. Growing up on vacations I used to love to take home souvenirs. Now I'd rather spend it on experiences versus tacky trinkets.
I'll cherish the memories of the times I spent on a boat cruising through the Mediterranean or clinking beer steins with Germans at Oktoberfest more than snow globes that say "Cannes, France" or "Munich, Germany."
9. Give it a second chance
It's important to give things another shot, because not everything is perfect. I fell ill with a terrible stomach ache a couple days before my weekend in Switzerland - a country I was extremely excited to visit as it held a high spot on my bucket list. I also lost my debit card in Turkey the weekend prior and had to borrow cash from friends throughout the weekend. And to top it off, it was really foggy, so even if I had had money to go skydiving, the weather conditions weren't safe.
Needless to say, the weekend in Switzerland was my least favorite trip in Europe.
But it wasn't Switzerland's fault. There were just a number of factors and unfavorable coincidences that all happened at the same time. I'll be sure to give Switzerland another chance if the opportunity arises. You can't totally judge something entirely based on one experience.
10. Getting out of your comfort zone allows you to grow
One of my college professors once said something along the lines of, "When you look back at a past relationship, you have three periods: the comfort of being in the relationship, the break-up and grieving portion - which is undoubtedly the toughest part - and the part where you move on from it. Which part did you learn the most? After the breakup, when everything seems unfamiliar and tough and scary. You're out of your comfort zone. But after you've gone through it, you'll look back and realize that the point when you were out of your comfort zone was when you learned the most."
Moving to DC (a city I'd never been to) the summer after college for a job was out of my comfort zone. Moving to Italy at the end of that summer to work in Europe was even more out of my comfort zone. Leading a group of students by myself from the thermal baths through the Hungarian metro was, you guessed it, out of my comfort zone. But I did it. I pushed past the fear and got through it, and learned so much from doing so.
After all, facing your fears is the only way to get over them.