11 Lessons I Learned from Studying Abroad on Semester at Sea

People are always asking me how I got into this crazy life of travel. As a kid, my family was fortunate enough to vacation when we could (I had two very hard working parents who I thank endlessly for prioritizing travel in my life from a young age), but it wasn’t until college that I truly discovered what it meant to travel, and not just vacation. In the Spring of 2010, I was admitted to the study abroad program Semester at Sea. That Spring, I boarded a ship with 500 students for four months of immersing ourselves in the cultures of Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana and Brazil. 12 countries in 4 months.

We took classes on our floating campus, but our main focus for that semester circumnavigating our big world wasn’t to learn in a classroom, it was to learn from the world – to travel. Not to see places, but to understand people, not to sightsee, but to explore, not to be tourists, but to be adventurers. We had about a week, sometimes more, in each port. We wouldn’t have classes while in port, so we were left to create our own travel plans.  If this sounds like a dream for a college student, it was. It was the most incredible experience a college student could ask for, but it was far from a booze cruise around the world – it was four months that completely shaped my path to where I am today as a person, and as a travel blogger.

In fact, it’s on Semester at Sea that I started my very first blog as a way to connect with friends and family back home.  Instagram wasn’t a thing yet, so I didn’t start my @JetsetChristina travel instagram until long after, but it was in those four months that I absolutely fell in love with blogging, and when the little pieces of what would become my full-time career started to put themselves into place.

I found out quickly how much I loved writing, and how much I loved being able to have a place to put all of my travel recommendations and stories from different destinations around the world, so that other people could find them and use them for their own travels. In that blog (fittingly titled ‘Christina Seas the World’), I wrote about everything I experienced in these very foreign countries over those four months. From the sights and the smells, to people and the cultures, to the mishaps and adventures.

There was such magic in writing about this trip around the world to everyone back home, being able to bring them with me in my own little way, that completely mesmerized me. I remember one day on the ship a girl running up to me and saying, “are you Christina Vidal? My mom follows your blog EVERY day and told me we should be friends!” The fact that my personal stories were touching people I had never met was incredible to me, and that they felt like they not only knew about the world from my blog, but that they knew me from my blog. Pure magic. I was hooked.

All in all, like any trip, coming home was the hardest part, and I brought with me some important life lessons from sailing around the world on Semester at Sea that I continue to try and impart on my daily life, so I wanted to share them with you all!

1. Never let your age get larger than the number of countries you have seen.

2. Meet people wherever you go.

Participate in their culture, learn their history. Be a traveler, not a tourist.

3. Trust the good in people.

Even in the most dangerous countries in the world, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good people are to you when you need them.

4.  Spend your money!

When you’re on vacation, buy everything you want to, eat everything you want to, drink (almost) everything you want to! This may be your only chance to get everything you possibly can from this new place, so make the most of it!

5. Learn the language.

Always learn phrases of the language if you’re going to a different country. Even if you’re bad at it, it’s always a conversation starter!

6. Get lost. And love it.

The most amazing times traveling come from when you have no idea where you’re going and you fully step outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to get lost.

7. Do things even when you’re tired–you won’t get another chance.

Be a yes person. A lot of times, “no” people will question themselves when faced with opportunities while traveling (‘what if I don’t like it?’, ‘what if I’m not good at it?’, ‘I’ve never done that before, that’s scary!’), as opposed to opening themselves up to incredible opportunities, be it meeting a new friend, trying a new food, taking advantage of a local’s offer to host them for dinner, or experiencing something new. When we say yes, both in traveling, and in life, we open ourselves up to possibilities we can’t even imagine. And isn’t that what traveling is all about?

8. Travel with great friends, or someone you love.

9. Keep your feet on the ground.

While it’s tempting to hop in a taxi as soon as you get to a new destination, keep your feet on the ground. Walk the city, jog through the streets in the morning, stroll until you find that perfect coffee shop, go out of your way to explore things off the beaten track. I promise you that you’ll see so much more than you would in a car or a taxi.

10. Smile. Always. It’s universal.

Plus, when you’re traveling, what is there not to smile about?

11. Be grateful.

Not everyone has the means to travel. It’s expensive, you have to take time away from the realities of everyday life, and it’s just not always possible. When you’re abroad, this gratitude comes at you like a ton of bricks, and it’s hard not to feel guilty for the luxury that is experiencing the world when most people in Southeast Asia have never seen the snow, and many people in Africa have never even seen the beach. Whether you’re able to travel somewhere fun for just the weekend, or take time off to travel internationally, it’s important to be incredibly grateful for every chance we have to see this beautiful world.

Me on Semester at Sea doing pretty much what I do now. (but with a way cooler laptop)


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Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.