About the author: Diana Pilarski is the Traveler Support and Experience Manager with College Study Tours. She recently traveled with a group on the Holocaust in Europe program and is excited to share what she learned while traveling through Europe.
I recently received an amazing opportunity to travel on a Holocaust-focused program to Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Prague for ten days this summer with EF College Study Tours. As someone who lives in the city of Boston, I’ve always enjoyed walking, especially when I see the traffic jams that I would be sitting in otherwise.
What I quickly realized is that when I’m in Boston, I walk to get from point A to point B as quickly as I can—but that all changed when I arrived in Europe. I learned that walking is the best way to “do as the locals do” (some studies show that Europeans walk nearly five times more than Americans!) and to see the cities we visited authentically.
Now that I’m home, some of my best memories are the ones I made while on foot, whether it was stopping to hear the music being played throughout the streets of Berlin, being able to touch a piece of the original Jewish ghetto wall that still stands today as a memorial, or smelling the delicious authentic meals being cooked as I walked past street vendors in Warsaw.
So how does one master the art of walking your way through Europe? Here are 5 tips to make the most of every moment:
1. Know What’s Important to You. This is a must. Do a lot of research on the cities you’re visiting and keep a list of your “must sees” ranked by priority, and a map to know how to get there if you’ll be walking. Be sure to find out when you’ll have free time so that you can make it happen.
Below is a picture of the Fallen Leaves installation at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. I didn’t do my research the first time I visited a few years ago and I was disappointed when I ran out of time to see it. This time, I made sure it was first on my list. I left feeling fulfilled and like I made the trip my own.
2. Practice Makes Perfect. Purchase a pedometer, or download an app, and practice walking for a month before you leave. Expect to walk an average of six to eight miles per day on a College Study program, and possibly more during your free time. I had fun tracking the steps I took, especially since I was so absorbed in the sights we were seeing to notice until later. Pro-tip: pack two pairs of comfy walking shoes so that you can change them if it rains or if you just feel like switching up your look.
3. Be Prepared. From my own experience, there are two things you should prepare for if you’re planning to visit a city on foot: hunger and weather. No one likes to be “hangry”, so staying hydrated and packing snacks is the best way to make the most out of your days abroad. Check the weather ahead of time and bring light layers and sunscreen to protect you from the elements.
4. Break with a Purpose. Feeling tired is okay—it happens to everyone, especially when you’re traveling. Resist the urge to go back to your hotel to rest and instead take in the view from an outdoor café or kick up your feet at a local park. The best way to combat jet lag is to stay awake and explore your surroundings (you’ll thank yourself when you look back on all of your fun memories of the city)!
5. Be Flexible. Traveling is about leaving your comfort zone behind and experiencing a new way of life—and that also means you’ll inevitably get lost. When I’m walking through a city I don’t know, I make it my mantra to “stay flexible” so that I don’t let these moments frustrate me. I focus on enjoying my new path instead of worrying about my original plan. After all, the reason we travel is to experience what we normally don’t, so by staying flexible you’ll make sure you enjoy each moment to the fullest.
What city do you want to walk your way through? Check out our programs for some inspiration to get your started!