We’ve been situated with our host families for about 5 days now, and the directions are becoming a little easier. So, for those you of you planning to go abroad in the future, here are some tips to start getting familiar with your surroundings.
First of all, be prepared with maps. The more you have, the better. Every map is different, and some will tell you stores or restaurants, or better views of streets. Sure, you risk looking like a tourist, but if you’re in classes there is no time to get lost—especially if you don’t know the language. Florence isn’t a huge city, but if you’re elsewhere it might not be so easy to find your way around. Plus, it’s not like you need to unfold an entire map and stop dead in the middle of the street. Fold your map to the section you need, so you’re more discrete and it’ll help you get your bearings quicker. Then you can simply tuck it into your pocket or bag, and take it out when necessary. If you pay to have an iPhone or smart phone that works abroad, you have it even easier: Google Maps! But still, make sure you pay attention to where you are so you don’t have to rely on help your whole stay.
Another way to help learn your way around is traveling in groups. Of course, at night especially, it’s safer overall to travel with at least one other person. But even during the day, working with someone else to get to your destination will prove extremely beneficial. Together, you can figure out different routes and determine where you are going faster. Like they say, two heads are better than one. Also, this is a great way to go on an adventure and get off the beaten path a bit. Instead of using your map, just venture around and see what you find (trying to pay at least some attention to where you are so you can visit these places again sometime). One of the best ways to explore a new place is to just go out without any real destination in mind—and a nice way to possibly avoid some of the overcrowded touristy areas.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you speak the language, ask people on the streets for directions—I’ve done this without speaking Italian, too, since pointing and nodding can go a long way. Talk to your host family if you’re staying with one, or the professors/school employees. They’re there to help you and they won’t be rude about giving you directions if you need them. Also, school friends may have already found cool routes to go on, so pairing up or asking around can be very helpful.
I have the worst sense of direction in the world, and I’m doing just fine so I’m sure you can figure it out too. Good luck, and happy adventures!