Rome has been an interesting experience. Before I left for Italy, I felt very confident about getting around this country. I purchased Lonely Planet's Italian translator, map, and tour book application for my Apple IPod. I quickly found out this was a horrible application. When roaming through Rome, I found much difficulty using this application: due to the fact that it required a WiFi internet signal. So here I was navigating and asking questions to people who knew very little English. At first I was frustrated with this because I wanted the instant gratification of knowing my travel plan before touring the city or country. After talking with the locals through bits of English and much body language, I began to learn the importance of communication in a foreign country.
My first impression of Italians was the "stuck-up" stereotype. The culture is much different here than the United States. I have been accustomed to the various flamboyant lifestyles that I have been raised with. Although the Italians may sometimes dress in flamboyant outfits, I have observed that most keep to themselves and act much more reserve than American behavior: with the exception of Italian men eyeing women down like a "dog in a meat market." Having to rely less on my IPod and more through interaction with the locals, I began to change my opinion of the people. Sometimes when I had difficulty communicating where to go, how to find a place, or what time the bus/train departed; the people of Italy were patient and often repeated directions as much as necessary. I was grateful for their compassion and patience. Talking with the locals was a huge benefit in the sense of finding out travel niches and tips.
although not everyone was like this. I knew I had to avoid asking advice from anyone who profited from any tourist type of location. It almost seemed like they would take advantage of you in order to up sell or lure you into buying their products. I learned that if you went down half a block out of the tourist traps you could find similar products for less. Traveling is an education of its own. I was very glad to apply my "street smarts" and being resourceful.
My recommendations for traveling abroad are very simple. If you want to have a great time, you must do your homework before you go. I advise purchasing a hard copy of a tour guide such as Rick Steves', Lonely Planet, or Frommers'. Read them before you go, so you have an idea what to expect. I highly recommend Rick Steves' guide books of the three because it avoids a lot of the tourist trap sites and times when to avoid the crowds. Secondly, I would advise learning the language as much as possible. If you don't have the time to learn the language, I would recommend a good "phrase book." Of the three, I would also recommend Rick Steves' book. Many the other books failed to include simple yet important phrases like "Where do I purchase train/bus tickets?" Simple questions like these are necessary for the average foreign traveler. The last thing I would recommend is studying a map of the area before you head out. Google has done an outstanding job with their Google Maps and Google Earth applications. I can't imagine how people traveled without the use of Rick Steves' books and Google. It has been extremely helpful having these resources available; they really have put the time and effort for travelers like you and I to enjoy ourselves in a foreign country. It has been a privilege studying abroad and I recommend any willing student to study abroad. This has been an "eye opening" experience and I have learned more about myself traveling abroad than the many years I have spent in college. Thank you for reading along.
Donald J. Wiklund