There were a lot of expectations I had when I left on a European vacation with my sister this summer. I expected to get headaches from all the champagne in Champagne. I expected to gain five pounds from all the bread and cheese I was destined to consume. What I didn’t expect was to walk away with lessons that I could apply to my day job as a brand manager at R/West. Throughout my adventures, I learned a thing or two about people, planning, and quality control.

Manage Expectations

For the most part, my sister and I did a pretty good job planning our trip. We picked our destinations based on what we wanted to do and see. We went to Champagne to go wine tasting; we went to Normandy to tour the D-Day beaches; etc. The only part of our trip we didn’t plan were the two final days, which we spent in Paris. We figured we would just sort of wing it since you can’t really go wrong – the city has so much to offer. This was a mistake.

Day one in Paris arrived, and we decided to go to the Louvre – which is enormous.

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You could probably spend a good two weeks in there. And as it turns out, my sister wanted to. After about an hour of waiting in line and then another four hours battling crowds of tourists to see paintings and statues I had little interest in, I tapped out.

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I retired to the hotel with sore feet, disappointment, and the bitterness of my Louvre-loving sister hanging over my head. Overall, not a super successful day.

Moral of the story:

Make sure you’re on the same page with all involved. Knowing exactly what everyone is expecting from the beginning can save a lot of future headaches and wasted time.

Speak the Language (or at least try)

The first phase of our trip was spent in Holland with our cousins, who live there. We had the luxury of locals showing us around their country and communicating for us when we weren’t able to. Needless to say, our first week abroad was smooth sailing and required little effort on our part.

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Dani and I didn’t quite realize how spoiled we were in Holland until we made our way to Épernay (our first stop in France) and ran into a series of challenges and cold, unhelpful shoulders due to our inability to speak French.

After panicking a little and then spending a night in our hotel room studying basic phrases like “Do you speak English?” and “Help us, we have no idea what we’re doing,” we experienced a tad more success navigating our surroundings and interacting with people. Most likely, they took pity on us. But being pitied was definitely better than being ignored.

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Moral of the story:

Understand where the other person is coming from, and try to meet them half way. People are a lot more likely to be receptive to your needs and ideas if you show you’re open to theirs.

Take Your Time

Between Holland and France, Dani and I decided to make a pit stop in Brussels since it was on the way. My biggest regret of the trip was not spending more time there – we got in late in the afternoon and had to leave early in the morning. We had just enough time to eat dinner and sneak in a Belgian waffle for breakfast before boarding our train, which was a huge bummer. We were both itching to explore the city more. The worst part: we didn’t even hit up a chocolate shop to taste some real Belgian chocolate. A true tragedy. If we hadn’t had such a jam-packed schedule, we would’ve had the opportunity to get the full Brussels experience.

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Moral of the story:

You’re better off going for quality over quantity. If you try to do too much at once, things will fall through the cracks.

Our trip may have been a tad bumpy, but it was an exciting and valuable experience for me. I’ve always been one to challenge myself, because every time I do, I end up with a new perspective. So, even if you don’t have an overseas trip planned, you can still learn a lot from simply getting outside of your comfort zone.

Written by: Jessica Landre