Are you ready to travel internationally, but aren’t sure what to expect? Have you traveled in the US but are ready to expand your horizons with some overseas adventure? Thanks to my free-spirited parents, I took my first trip to Asia when I was only 1 and since then have traveled to over 25 countries on 4 continents. Fair warning: once you start going overseas it may become an addiction! Here are some tips to help you as you plan your journey!
No matter how long your trip is, pack for ONE week at most and plan to do laundry (pack travel size laundry soap and you’ll be good to go!). Bringing too many pieces of luggage (or heavy luggage) is going to make you miserable and cost you extra money, not to mention not leave you any room for bringing back gifts. Also, pack a change of clothes/underwear in your carry on bag just on the off chance your checked luggage gets lost. We also like to use packing cubes to keep our clothes organized.
Book the nicest hotel of your trip for the first night you arrive. We love hostels and Airbnb, but when you’re tired from a long journey, it’s nice to have your own room and your own shower. Look for hotels that will allow early check-in or that will store your baggage, because with red-eye flights usually being the cheapest way to get you across the pond, you’ll often be arriving before the standard 2:00-3:00 pm check in time.
My husband can fall asleep anywhere, but if you’re like me and you can’t sleep on airplanes, you’ll be tempted to crash once you arrive at your destination. Don’t do it! Take a shower or a power nap but don’t go to sleep for long unless it’s bedtime at your destination. This and going outside to expose yourself to daylight will help your body acclimate to the new time zone more easily.
Download your entertainment of choice on your device, whether it be movies, podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows or games. Since many airlines no longer have seat back screens, this will help to keep you from going crazy on the plane if you’re not able to sleep. Some airlines like WOW will rent you iPads to watch movies on, but it’s always best to be prepared! Also make sure you have the proper adapters, headphones and USB cords packed. You can check out my Travel Essentials post to see the ones I use and love!
Public restrooms often don’t supply you with toilet paper, so it’s best to bring travel size tissue packs with you – they have saved me many times! For long flights, bring a washcloth in your purse or hand luggage. I like to run some warm water in the bathroom and use it to freshen up during the flight. My other recommendations are dry shampoo and/or a headband for times you won’t have access to a shower for a while.
- Avoid taxis. With some exceptions, most parts of Europe and Asia are well connected to public transport. Sometimes if you’re pressed for time, a taxi will be necessary, but for the rest of the journey, take the trains and buses! You’ll save so much money and also be able to experience life like a local instead of a tourist. We’ve found the public transportation to be efficient and easy to navigate in almost every country we’ve visited.
- Air travel in Europe is incredibly cheap and efficient (sometimes as low as $20 for a ticket!) From our experience, it’s going to be cheaper to fly between countries than to take the train, with a few exceptions. We loves using Rome2Rio to plan our itinerary – it shows you all possible modes of transportation with cost and timetables included.
Grab a map from your hotel or hostel to have as you explore each city. If you prefer digital, Maps.me is also a great app that doesn’t require an internet connection and will allow you to download the maps for cities you’ll be in. Most importantly: chances are you WILL get lost at some point. Don’t panic. This is just part of the adventure and you’ll find your way back eventually! Take note of your surroundings and commit landmarks to memory – this is often easier than trying to find street names (we found this out in Morocco).
Learn some basic phrases in the local language – “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “goodbye”, “check please” and “toilet” at a minimum. Though you’ll likely find plenty of people that speak English, it will be much easier connecting to locals and their culture if they see you’ve made an effort (even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect). Also, WC = water closet, aka the toilet. Get used to seeing this everywhere but the US 🙂
Look up local customs on tipping before you go. Many countries outside the US are not in the habit of tipping (or it may be automatically included in your bill), so it pays to know before you go. You may not need much local currency for many countries since credit cards are so universally accepted now, BUT it’s a good idea to have some coins on hand. Shocking as it may be, many places in Europe and Asia charge for the use of public toilets and many only accept coins! Spend your coins before you leave the country though, because currency exchange will only accept paper bills. There are also donation receptacles in most airports if you’d rather donate your coins that you don’t use.
- Try being adventurous and eating at restaurants off the beaten path. It’s a great way to escape the crowds and eat like a local. If you are dying to try a popular or highly rated restaurant like this one we hit in Helsinki, but can’t get a reservation for dinner, try going during lunch time. They are typically much less crowded, and the prices are generally cheaper too, so it’s a win-win!
- Be aware that you may not have the same style of service you’d expect back home. Meal time is seen as a longer relaxed social event in many countries (Europe especially), so the server may think that it is rude to offer to bring you the check until you specifically ask for it. Non-verbal cues and empty plates don’t get the point across. You have to actually ask.
Apparel and Accessories
When traveling, think about comfort and practicality before fashion. Heels are not your friend, ladies. You’ll be walking a lot more than you’re likely used to, and cobblestone streets are not forgiving. Comfortable shoes like these Merrells are my go-to for travel. Also, a purse with a long strap is useful to keep your hands free for carrying luggage and for taking pictures! I like the Travelon brand for purses that are functionally sound for travel and have RFID blocking capabilities.
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