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Top 10 ways to get the most out of a trip abroad

With winter break in the rearview mirror, prospects of travel rest on the shoulders of upcoming breaks … time to start daydreaming

<p>Make your way through various neighborhoods and notice the daily rhythm that surrounds you.&nbsp;</p>

Make your way through various neighborhoods and notice the daily rhythm that surrounds you. 

As the excitement of the spring semester emanates over our snow-covered Grounds, the sweet vacation memories of the holiday season still linger. This cold winter may have some thinking back to the more tropical — or at least more temperate — times of winter break. For all of you marinating on trips abroad this spring or summer, here are a few ways to soak up all you can in your next vacation outside of the United States.

1. Eat as the locals do

For many, a vacation abroad means trying new foods. However, vacationers will often search for munchies in touristy areas that lack real authenticity. To get a taste of the real deal, find at least one local market during your time abroad and grab a bite from a stand — or three. During my time in Barcelona, Spain this winter break, I weaved through countless vendor booths selling seafood, meat and baked goods. My favorite purchases were fresh bakery breads. Just by exploring local markets for a short while, I got to experience the slower flow of city life as locals placed their routine Friday morning orders.

2. Look up at the architecture

During time abroad, take in the unique architecture of the places you visit. Notice how building styles blend — or oppose — one another and admire the painted stucco, stone walls and elaborate terraces around you. I walked down balcony-lined streets adorned with clothes lines and Spanish flags while in Barcelona, each one giving me a fuller picture of Spanish life and culture. Juxtaposing these views were the exceptional works of famed architect Antoni Gaudí, such as La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and Casa Batlló.

3. Get some History 101 on

One of the great beauties of visiting places abroad is not only seeing them as they are today, but understanding what they once were. Cities and suburbs alike are filled with rich, and often very accessible, history — take advantage of it. Devote a little time to visiting historic museums and exploring once-inhabited quarters. I visited the Barcelona History Museum, which includes excavated Roman ruins dating back to the third century, giving me an incredible snapshot of the old city.

4. Try out your language skills

Depending on where you venture abroad, you may find that the local chatter is that of a different language. Though English is widely used abroad, trying your hand at a foreign language can help you forge connections and navigate the city. If the opportunity presents itself, try communicating in the native language of the place you're visiting and see where it takes you. It may just spark a great conversation, get you to where you need to go or help you find a hidden gem in town. During one lunch in Spain, I utilized my basic Spanish skills to communicate with a Spanish-speaking waiter to order patatas bravas for the table.

5. Take the road less traveled

It can be tempting to play adrenaline junkie by attraction-hopping while venturing abroad. However, I believe that culture is best experienced in boroughs embedded in foreign cities. Make your way through various neighborhoods and notice the daily rhythm that surrounds you. I enjoyed exploring the Gràcia district in Barcelona, a neighborhood with six different plazas, each with its own identity. I arrived at La Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia just in time to see a group of older women dancing in the square — an unexpected and authentic find.

6. Explore new cuisine

Though you will explore local markets abroad, you will likely have most of your meals in restaurants and cafés. While perusing menus, make sure to order some food staples of the country you’re in. If they’re known for it, you better believe they serve it right. If such food isn’t up your alley for an entrée, take some bold steps for some starters. Since I’m not much of a seafood person, I enjoyed smaller no-fish staples — like patatas bravas, tapas and churros — while in Spain.

7. Venture outside the city

While you will likely spend the majority of your time abroad in the city you’re staying in, taking a day trip to neighboring regions via train provides a change of scenery and a new perspective. Swapping one city for another or opting for the countryside gives you a greater understanding of local culture and landscapes. During my last full day in Spain, my family and I ventured to Girona by rail to explore their medieval quarters and the Eiffel Bridge.

8. Seek out the local low-down

Abroad, you’ll likely need a taxi or Uber to get around the city. Don’t be shy during these rides — though they may feel like an intermediary process, drivers are often locals who are eager to talk about the city and its culture. Strike up a conversation and gain insight on the local ways of life. During one particular cab ride in Spain, I learned about the variations in dialect throughout the country.

9. Explore the arts

Nearly all countries have their own musical genres and unique dance styles. Ditch the AirPods during the vacation and seek out local music and dance. Not only will you better understand the vibrant art culture of the country, but you may just find yourself in the groove. I enjoyed watching flamenco dancers accompanied by Spanish and flamenco music from a guitar trio in the historic Palau de la Música Catalana.

10. Visit local shops

After trekking around abroad for a while, breaking the time up by stopping into shops is a great way to check out the local artistic talent and get some much-needed air conditioning. Peel off the road and check out what boutiques and stores have to offer. I was excited to buy a bookmark that resembles the stained glass windows of La Sagrada Familia. The best purchases are those that will remind you of memories abroad.


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