It’s time for me to give some tips on how to travel abroad and do some language learning online. Let me start by telling you what I did to get to the Netherlands:
- Talk to people online! We live in a world where you have no excuse to not know tons of people from all over, especially if you engage in activities that are very global, like gaming or learning languages online! 😉 There are always tons of people to meet on sites with content you’re interested in. I run an IRC channel (Internet relay chat; basically multiplayer notepad with people from all over) filled with gamers and game makers, and this is where I met the friend I’ve stayed with for the longest in the Netherlands. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet! Remember, this is the Internet, so unless you have your address or information posted somewhere, people can’t harm you physically, and you won’t ever meet in person unless you fully control the amount of time you’ve known them, the location, and the number of people around, unlike meeting strangers in real life in dodgy places like bars! People nowadays are afraid of meeting people on the Internet and of anyone who uses a computer, as if these friends don’t exist because the chat is over a machine (then telephone conversations aren’t with real people either! ;)). Don’t be one of them! Look at where being social online has gotten me: two trips to Europe so far totaling 3 months in which I didn’t pay one cent of rent or hotel fees!
- To expand on the last bullet where I mentioned meeting people on sites with content you’re interested in, I’d like to suggest one of my absolute favorite ways of meeting people online, and the one that got me really into it: joining forums relating to stuff you like! Like languages? JoinBenny Lewis’s language forums. Enjoy playing games like Zelda? Join Zelda Universe forums. Like making games? Join the Game Maker Community. All three of these examples have people from all corners of the earth coming together for one common interest. The possibilities are endless, so get out there and join a forum; you may be like me and meet some lifelong friends doing so!
- Once you’re a member of a forum, search for threads and topics about international subjects, and keep an eye out for people who live in your target area. This is especially easy to do on a language forum like Benny’s because there are sections specific to different languages. Travel forums in general will make this very easy. On book, movie, gaming, etc. forums, you’ll usually have to go to someone’s profile to see where they’re from. Once you find someone, though, don’t hesitate to send them a message, even if it’s just to say hello! If they don’t respond, who cares? Move on and talk to someone else!
- And the worst-kept secret? CouchSurfing! I met a few people that I’ve stayed with in the Netherlands through CS. It’s like a social networking site for world travelers, where a large portion of the members will let you stay on their couch for free as you travel abroad in exchange for just being their friend. Some will even feed you for free! That’s right, once you’re in your chosen country, from then on out it’s basically free travel abroad! Isn’t that crazy cool? Only having to pay for things like food and transportation is NOTHING compared to having to pay for a hotel too! It’s no exaggeration, either; I’ve had no less than six CouchSurfing meetups (including general get-togethers and parties), and have enjoyed every one of them. One of the best parts of this approach is you can go see the areas a native would visit instead of getting locked in tourist traps and getting jipped; nobody else would know how to avoid these areas better than a native, after all! If you’re serious about traveling, then join CouchSurfing, the network that’s serious about connecting you with other travelers!
Learning and being interested in another’s language will get you very far in the online social networking aspect. Whether you wish to learn French for travel, German for conversation, or just be able to muster up some Spanish for navigating to a restaurant, meeting people who speak your target language is one of the best ways to practice that language. Travel to learn your target language faster, or travel from home by using forums and chats to meet people and practice with them! Who knows, you may even be able to stay with them when you’re in their country. 🙂
And let me let you in on a secret (not so secret anymore!): In all of my time in the Netherlands – both the one month in December and the two this summer – not including plane fare, I have spent a total of about $120. I am not kidding. My Dutch host family is generous and I am crazy happy to have taken the time to find them, but self-control is also essentially important for keeping your expenses down. For instance, I never buy sweets (even though European milk chocolate is aMAZing ;D), and I’ll only eat them when others buy them and want to share with me. This is because I refuse to buy extremely fattening things with my own money, since I see it as paying to get myself fatter, which doesn’t make much sense! The same goes for souvenirs; I’ll take things home that people have given me, but all I’ve bought is a Japanese language book in Dutch for €4 (about $5) for myself. Tame yourself and your bank account will heave a sigh of relief!