• experiences backpacking europe

First time abroad… Blissfully Ignorant?

When I read my journal about my first time abroad in Europe I literally laugh out loud at how dumb I was. I am glad I have grown and learned from traveling. Reading my journal reminds me of just how much I was living in a bubble. Before I left the country, the biggest cities I had been to were Salt Lake City when I was 12 and D.C. with a school group. 

The journal I’m referring to is from five years ago, when I was 19.

 11 foreign ideas I couldn’t get over

1. I still remember listening to the English air stewardess in awe while flying from JFK to London. I wrote two pages about her accent and new words that I hadn’t heard before. Thank god my boyfriend has an English accent, because I love them. Although I don’t like that they always sound smarter, like, a 5 year old with an English accent sounds smarter than me. Damnnit.

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2. Every guy seemed charming just because he had ANY accent at all. “You’re from another country? Just knowing that makes me like you so much. You are so cultured and smart!”

3. My first metro ride. Getting around the London Tube was as hard as I’d imagine diffusing a bomb with a 10 second countdown is. Maybe I shouldn’t use London tube and bomb in the same sentence. Twice.

4. When I found out that Europeans put tobacco in their joints! What is this nonsense? Why can’t I stop coughing? I still to this day am shocked by how almost every European I’m friends with smokes tobacco and I don’t have a single friend I can think of right now in the states that does. I guess I can thank to the “Just Say No” campaign and DARE programs telling us we were going to get cancer and die.

5. Train reservations. I had already bought the Eurail pass, why were they charging me more? Why were there never any seats left on the cities I wanted to go to? It was pretty sad to find out this pass didn’t mean a free seat on any train I wanted.

First photo I took in Europe… I was a super tourist, but not the 2nd time around

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6. A man dressed as a Roman soldier outside the coliseum wanted a photo with me. Cool! “3 Euros”. What? He wants me to pay him? Why didn’t he tell me before we took the photo? I didn’t pay him because I thought he was lying, and as punishment I was called a “mean lesbian” but I learned my lesson: no more photos with people dressed up, or people handing me animals unless I’m prepared to give them money.

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travel abroad, england, europe, first time abroad, funny, adviceafter we learned the rules we happily gave this guy some cash!

7. Sitting at the base of the Eiffel tower at sunset, feeling pretty damn well travelled, having been out of the country 5 days. Why yes, I’m an American in Paris. No American has ever done this before me.

8. My first mysterious travel rash. Pretty sure that one was bed bugs but I put a ridiculous amount of time into writing about the other deadly possibilities. Young me would have never made it through India due to the numerous mysterious rashes this place has given me.

9. Being constantly kicked off private beaches in Italy. How can someone possibly own sand? What do you mean pay to use the ocean? Don’t be silly.

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10. Hanging my laundry out on the train to dry. Might as well have told the passengers, “I am American, I am entitled, and you are going to have to stare at my thongs for the next 4 hours.” Seriously… I can’t believe I did that.

11. WHY ARE THE PORTIONS SO SMALL!? Oh, you mean in America ours are too big? Parisian portions were sad but it was made up for in Italy (unless you were supposed to share the pizza in which case, whoops.) As for ice cream in Zurich: pathetic.

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About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. mon ika February 8, 2014 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Several times I laughed up during this post :-))
    Isn’t it nice to look back and recognize where did you learn something/anything? Life is full of experiences and (hopefully) to learn from those.. Cheers

    • Rachel Jones February 8, 2014 at 9:41 am - Reply

      There were even more silly things I thought/did but I couldn’t bring myself to write them! haha maybe another time.

  2. Alex @ ifs ands & butts February 8, 2014 at 8:09 am - Reply

    #4! I can’t get over that either! And they think Americans are insane for not doing it, blows my mind.

    • Rachel Jones February 8, 2014 at 9:44 am - Reply

      haha yeah, and they think a bowl is a crack pipe so they would never use one! crazy!

  3. Stef February 8, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

    haha great post, I had to laugh a lot :) Awesome that you wrote a diary from your first time abroad on, I unfortunately didn’t do it back then but I’m sure I would have written some ridiculous things as well. That’s an evidence that travelling is the best way to learn :)

    • Rachel Jones February 8, 2014 at 9:42 am - Reply

      When I’m doing a full-on backpacking trip I always keep a journal. I keep business cards, hotels I stay at and postcards- so it turns out half journal/half scrapbook & it helps me write my blog posts when I can’t get to it for a few weeks.

  4. Elora February 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    This was definitely amusing. I had a good laugh! Thanks for that. ;) Getting called a mean lesbian? I think I would have just walked away doubled over with laughter, and then he’d think I was a DRUNK mean lesbian to boot. Crazy dude. And just looking at the picture–doesn’t look like all his dogs are barking either.

    • Rachel Jones February 9, 2014 at 2:07 am - Reply

      He was a total nut! While he yelled at us he swung his sword around lol

  5. Colleen Brynn February 8, 2014 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    This was a delightful read… so true. Thank god we live and learn, right? And you are totally being watched now for using the London tube and bomb in the same sentence. haha..

    • Rachel Jones February 9, 2014 at 2:06 am - Reply

      haha just another watch list I’ve been added to ;)

  6. Emily February 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    When I look back at my first backpacking trip and some of the things I did I really cringe…I guess experience and more maturity helps as time goes on :)

  7. Sarah February 10, 2014 at 6:11 am - Reply

    That’s funny. That’s why we Europeans make fun of young Euro tripping Americans ;) However, we’re just as “dumb” when we travel to another continent for the first time! I’ve actually had some of the same comments as you, but in reverse: going to the States for a year was my first solo trip! “These portions are insane!” I said… ;)

    • Rachel Jones February 10, 2014 at 6:21 am - Reply

      I have hear Europeans are always shocked by how large our portions are in the states. I’ve been gone so long, when I go back we’ll see if I have any reverse culture-shock I guess!

  8. NZ Muse February 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    What I LOVE about NZ is the beaches are never too crowded, they’re all public and you sure don’t have lounge chairs out there that you have to pay to use.

    I don’t understand the tobacco in joints either. And I hate the prevalance of smoking in Europe and parts of Asia. Foul.

    Our first experience with a metro was in London too – pretty overwhelming!

    Luckily we visited the US last so we went from small portions to big – would have been hard to be the other way around. I still miss the amount we got for our money there … eating out just isn’t worth it in NZ.

    • Rachel Jones February 28, 2014 at 1:28 am - Reply

      Thankfully, India has public beaches too! I can’t stand to pay for the ocean.

  9. Erika August 21, 2014 at 8:00 am - Reply

    I hear ya on the doobie problem in Europe….. I don’t smoke tobacco! What the hell! Hahahaha

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