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My Road Dog and I just got back from a two week, five city tour through various parts of Europe. It was exhausting and fun and silly and life-affirming. We didn’t fight one single time. We got to see awesome friends. And, we learned quite a bit on this trip.

Travel is important to us – it has given us a perspective I wouldn’t trade for anything. We’ve gotten to see how other people live all over the world. We’ve gotten to try new foods and meet amazing new people. We’ve made friends and connected our own family histories to amazing locations. I know myself in a completely different way when I’m standing in a place foreign to me. When I can’t understand the language. When I’m vulnerable to a setting that is not my own. And, then, I get to come home and rejoice in knowing I belong somewhere. So, here are some things I learned in our travels.

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If you treat people with kindness and respect, they will show you the same – even through a language barrier.

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However difficult it is to figure out public transportation and customs in another country, no country could be harder on visitors than the United States. How many times have I heard people complain about signs being written in Spanish in the U.S.? We relied heavily on the fact that English is considered an international language. We were so thankful for the signs written in English. Waitstaff at diners speak multiple languages, including English, in the countries we visited. I can’t imagine speaking Japanese or Russian and trying to fly out or into JFK or go through customs. It would be a nightmare. We heard customs officials using English and American slang and for foreigners to understand that? Impossible. So, as international travelers, Americans are amazingly lucky.

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See how helpful this sign is in Italy??

If you are in the Sablon area of Brussels, check out a little restaurant called Lola Brasserie Restaurant. They were so kind and helpful to us. And, the food was amazing.

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Belgium is well known for two kinds of food: waffles and french fries. The french fries, or pommes frites, are fine. I mean, french fries – don’t expect too much. But, the waffles? Hot shit. Find a waffle and top it with chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream. It will run you around 6 Euro. It might be worth 60. BUT, they like to serve them with tiny little forks with a serrated edge. I promise, you WILL break this fork. 100% of the time. Get yourself a back up fork because these suckers are not up to the task. Of course, you can just say screw it and shovel that waffle in with your hands. There is no shame in that. I won’t judge you.

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So, even if you are a well seasoned traveler, you might make a mistake. Like trying to plug in something that isn’t compatible with your international adapter. Don’t let it ruin your trip. Wash the fuse powder off your hands and give yourself a good laugh in the mirror. Because, you weren’t electrocuted and any day you don’t get electrocuted is a pretty good day.

Explaining, “I tripped a breaker in our room” to a French speaking Dutch front desk clerk is not super easy.

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I’ve had smarter moments.

Ok, this might be the most important tip I can give you: If you are in France and you want a large cup of coffee, prepare yourself for some disappointment. If you walk into a cafe and order a coffee, you will get an espresso. And, if you try to order one to share with your husband, you will get a lot of weird looks. Instead, to order a large coffee with milk in it, order a Grand Creme. Or, for the smaller version, order a Cafe Creme. But, why would you want a smaller one? That makes no sense. And, don’t be shy. Order the eclair, too. Or four of them. Whatever.

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We’d already eaten one…

If you are ever in Nice, France and someone says to you, “Hey, wanna go to the park?” they are really saying, “Hey, wanna go climb a shit ton of stairs?”

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I noticed a fashion trend in every single city and I find it completely baffling: Blocks of color (but not really ever the same shade). So, blue shoes, blue pants, blue shirt, blue scarf, blue purse….but all slightly different shades. If this trend gets popular in the US, I am out.

I don’t have a picture of this because I refuse to spread the image. 

You can learn a lot about a city through the street art.

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Don’t try to store a banana in your backpack and then forget about it. It will liquefy and leak down your back. Right, Christopher? Hahahaha.

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The smell of rotten banana is the WORST

Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. As a woman, I have a hard time showing any vulnerability because I always have an awareness of my own weaknesses. But, the thing is – they already know you are a tourist. They spotted it on you in a lot of different ways – the kinds of jeans you are wearing, your shoes, your open mouthed gape as you cross the street. They know it because of your camera and they know it because of your voice. So, be smart but, embrace it. Take your pictures and ask your questions. Ask a local if they speak English. Learn how to ask that in their language and they’ll appreciate the effort.

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Romance, y’all!

Taking great pictures is the single best souvenir you can bring home. Sharing a goofy picture in Prague with a friend you haven’t seen in almost two years? Priceless.

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Prepare for rain. Because it always comes at the least convenient time.

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Boys are weird.

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Ok, those last two aren’t strictly limited to travel. But should be considered standards.

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