Anyone who knows me really well will agree with me on the fact that my life has always been a bit upside down since the age of 17 (I’m 21 now). Studying for my A-Levels and planning on studying International Tourism Management at Lincoln University that same year, I went off on a girl’s holiday to Albufeira in Portugal and, well, I never really looked back. My wild week in the sun was enough to convince me that I should return in July and spend a summer season there, which I did. But, when September came and it was time for me to fly back to England and start my degree, silly me stayed in Portugal, and spent the whole winter there doing next to nothing, just waiting for the summer season to start again.
I understand now that it was an incredibly stupid thing to do – I deferred University for another year and stayed in a foreign country… for a guy. There’s your reason. It didn’t work out, of course (which relationships at that age do?), and I ended up returning back to England for good in January 2014 with next to nothing. It didn’t take me long to get a job and start my life again, though – I even travelled to Brazil for two weeks in May, which was amazeballs. I spent the summer travelling to various places around the UK like Manchester, York and London, and ended up moving to Dublin in February 2015, where I lived and worked for just over 7 months.
Now, I’m back living in the UK and doing a degree with The Open University, which I’m really enjoying. The majority of my friends have graduated from University, and seeing their photos on Facebook made me equally proud and happy for them, and a little bit regretful that it could’ve been me in the same position. Nevertheless, I know things happen for a reason and I know that travelling and living abroad at such a young age made me grow and develop in so many more ways than I could’ve done if I’d of stayed in the UK and done my degree like everyone else. Basically, I’m happy that I did it sooner rather than later. Here’s a few little ways in which travelling and being an 18-year-old British expat helped shape my future, in more ways than I realized before.
Benefits of Travelling While Young
I Learnt a Language
When I moved to Portugal, the only Portuguese I knew was “Como estas?”, and that was only because I’d taken Spanish as a GCSE, and it’s the same. I swear to God that I knew absolutely zero Portuguese when I first moved there to work, and I returned to England with almost full understanding of the language. I’ve never been to one Portuguese class, but working there and serving Portuguese customers day after day really did improve my knowledge of the language. Although I’ve never been all that confident speaking Portuguese, I can definitely understand it and read it quite well. The thing with European Portuguese is that it’s so much more complicated than Brazilian Portuguese. Sure, Brazilian Portuguese is filled with slang words, but the way it’s spoken is so much easier to understand than it is in Portugal. I learnt much more Portuguese before I went to Brazil, courtesy of Duolingo, and I even managed to change my spoken accent into a Brazilian one. I doubt I’d even know one Portuguese word if I’d stayed at home and gone to University like I planned.
I’m Familiar With Other Cultures
Living in Portugal taught me that I can’t be one of those annoying British tourists who just want everything to be English all the time. Full English breakfasts every morning, Sunday Roast on a Sunday, the “everyone should speak English” mentality – that had to go. Instead, I had to step out of my comfort zone and embrace another culture, because I wasn’t living in the UK any more. I began to dress differently, got used to Portuguese subtitles on the TV, and ate Portuguese food all the time, adjusting my usual dinner time of 5pm to 9, sometimes 10pm, because dinner is usually eaten much later in Latin countries. Now, every time I travel anywhere, I make it my aim to embrace the culture of that country as much as I possibly can. When I visited Paris, I spoke as much French as possible and tried traditional (and at times, rather gross) French cuisine. When I visited Brazil, I ate as much feijoada as I could and went about things the laid-back, South American way. And I think if I hadn’t travelled at a young age, I’d be so unfamiliar with other cultures, and I’d be the kind of British tourist that I now so passionately hate.
I’m a Pro at Booking Holidays
Before Portugal, I was the kind of person who would step into a Thomas Cook branch and pay thousands for an all-inclusive package holiday, having the travel agents sort out everything for me – because I didn’t know any better. Now, I must’ve stayed in about 20 different hotels and booked around 10 flights (or more), doing everything separately and completely by myself each time I’ve travelled anywhere. I know the best times to book flights, the best sites to grab them at a low price, and the best ways to stay in a luxury hotel at a discount. And that’s only because I have the experience.
I think moving abroad at 17 forces even the most immature person to grow up. When I look back at myself from then and compare me to now, I can hardly believe the difference. Travelling is such an amazing way of opening up your mind to bigger things, teaching you about other cultures and traditions, and broadening your horizons in every way possible. After all, if you stay in the same place for all your life, how can you grow as a person? Some people may not agree with me, and that’s okay! But I believe travelling at a young age is your absolute best bet if you want to change your mentality about life in general.