10 Unprofound Lessons I Learned from 5 Months in Europe

They say you learn a lot about yourself while traveling. While I wholeheartedly agree with that, after just having spent the last five months between 12 different countries in Europe, I’m inclined to say that you’ll learn almost as much about the world around you. That said, below are 10 mostly useless nuggets of knowledge that I picked up during my journey.

1. Maps are really hard to fold. OK, so this one may be specific to me. But I can’t be the only one, right? I realize I’m from a generation that never had to use physical maps much, but I say good riddance. Why do they have to be folded into so many different directions? It’s like handling a really lame piece of origami. Are they purposefully frustrating so that you force yourself to just remember the directions instead? Whatever the reason, thank god for GPS.

2. Sometimes you don’t need to look at a map; just look up. This one sounds pretty deep and metaphorical, and I guess it is. But it should also be taken at face value.

3. If you see a Hard Rock Cafe, run for the hills. This one may be obvious because most of us know that Hard Rock Cafes are the worst (see: any Hard Rock Cafe, ever), however, I’ve now realized they are also a bona fide marker of a tourist trap neighborhood. Having now seen one in every major city in Europe, I can confirm that Hard Rock Cafes absolutely always inhabit a city’s most commercial, culturally-depleted area. You know, in case their terrible food isn’t reason enough to steer clear.

4. “Salad” has a loose definition in Europe. This one is truly frustrating. How is it that America is the country with the reputation for eating heavy foods when it’s nearly impossible to find anything green on most traditional European menus? I realize that as a Californian who’s used to fresh fruits and veggies being available pretty much everywhere, I may have higher expectations than most. But when I order a salad from a nice French restaurant, I think it’s fair to expect something a bit more dynamic than a plate of iceberg lettuce with nothing but olive oil and salt on top.

5. Sampled sunscreen from the pharmacy protects just as well as the purchased kind, and it takes up none of the suitcase room. The only downside to this tactic is that when you’re as pale as I am, reapplying is necessary, which means more visits to (hopefully different) drug stores throughout the day. Pro tip: loudly proclaiming that you “just can’t decide on the SPF level” is a great way to simultaneously excuse and call attention to yourself while in the act.

6. Toilet seat covers are hard to find outside of California. This I kind of already knew, but my recent trip sure confirmed it. Why don’t people like to protect their butts in other states and countries? I know that some European countries have their precious bidets, but those aren’t really covering the cheek area. I mean I love DIY as much as the next girl, but I feel like I’m wasting precious time crafting seat covers one piece of TP at a time and I wish other establishments would get behind our behinds.

7. A good travel pillow and eye mask are worth the investment. This is really only partially new information. I did some research and purchased a neck pillow before my trip to Southeast Asia last year and it was truly godsend. What I didn’t realize is how much I could maximize my Zs by adding the proper eye mask into the mix, but thanks to a friend who gifted me with one before this trip, I’m now an expert plane snoozer. I may look like sleepy Zorro, but I’d say it’s worth it. Besides, anyone making fun of my plane style has to be awake to do that, so who’s the real loser here?

8. Kids on planes are straight up the worst. Before I get into this one, I’d like to mention that I honestly really like kids. I used to be a summer camp counselor and would spend all day with munchkins of all ages. I took them on field trips, let them climb all over me at the playground, and played red rover with them ’til the cows came home. But when I get on an airplane, all positive memories of the child population go out the window. Distraught or happy, kids in the air are loud AF, and so many parents seem to be totally cool with them screaming bloody murder until the flight attendant comes over and way too politely asks them to silence their little monsters. Now, I’m fairly certain this won’t be a popular idea among parents, but I’m still going to throw it out there: can we petition for some kind of soundproof kid corral in a whole separate area of the aircraft? It would be kind of like that Jodi Foster movie where she wakes up from a nap on her flight and can’t find her daughter, and everyone is trying to convince her that she didn’t bring her on board or that she actually doesn’t even have a daughter or something, then Jodi freaks out and looks all over the plane for the daughter whom she definitely remembers having/bringing, while also fighting off secret agents. Finally, JF finds her daughter, who is being kept in a whole separate area of the plane. Anyway, it could be like that, but less kidnapping-y and more like daycare. If this idea doesn’t pan out, parents, I beg of you: get your kid an iPad for the flight.

9. The female bar bathroom dynamic is the same across oceans. I want to start by saying that this claim is substantiated by a ton of first hand evidence. In the last few months, I have probably been to more bars than in all four years of college. In each of these bars, I estimate at least one trip to the bathroom. Based on this empirical research, I support the hypothesis that women are the friendliest, most supportive versions of themselves in bar bathrooms, and this transcends culture.

10. We’re all the same in that we all have our differences. Some people are nice, some people are mean; some people are religious, some aren’t; some people take cream in their coffee and some take sugar; more or less, all of these things transcend culture. That might sound cliche or perhaps too simplistic, but I think it’s comforting.