I have been so fortunate in my life to have had the opportunities to travel. And not only to travel, but to travel abroad.
If you ever get a chance to spread your wings out of your home country, I urge you to take it. There is truly nothing better for your soul than to immerse yourself in cultures that are unfamiliar to you. From the language to the food to the history to the public transportation, it really is just an eye-opening experience.
I recently came back from an amazing trip to Europe with my family and my fiancé. We started in Rome, Italy, where we spent one full day exploring the historical monuments like the Trevi Fountain and the Coliseum. From Rome we traveled to Sorrento, where we stayed for several days and explored the beautiful Amalfi Coast [and lucked out with the most amazing rooms overlooking the Mediterranean Sea]. Our next stop was Croatia – we spent a few days in the enchanting and medieval Dubrovnik, a couple days in Hvar, and one night in Split, where we caught a flight to Munich, Germany, to wrap up our trip at the Oktoberfest [absolutely a must if you plan on traveling to Germany in September!].
Prior to this trip, my last experience traveling overseas was 6 years ago. It’s funny the things that you either don’t notice, or forget, when you travel to other countries. Or maybe things just change over time [likely]. For instance, I don’t remember the water being so terrible. It’s not that the flavor is bad, per se, but it’s so.. mineral-y. It doesn’t quench your thirst! But, the plus side, and something that wasn’t the case the last time I traveled, all of the water in first world countries is safe to drink from the tap [and, often times, from fountains in the towns!], which is a huge relief on the wallet because water at restaurants in Europe is NOT FREE. In fact, beer can actually be cheaper than water sometimes..
During my recent travels, I started to compile a list of tips that I felt like I would want to know if I was about to take my first vacation abroad. If you ask people you know who have previously explored the places you plan to travel, they will give you tons of “things to do, things to see and places to go.” They will rarely, however, give you tips about packing or things that are cultural norms for a country that we aren’t accustomed to in our home country.
My tips for you:
Check “things to do” before you decide on the length of time you want to spend in certain cities/countries. Ask friends, family members, acquaintances or Facebook “friends” for suggestions. Figure out what is a must-see and what isn’t super high on your list. You don’t want to be spending too little or too much time in a place. My mom, unknowingly, decided that we needed two, almost three, full days in Dubrovnik, which was way too long. We really only needed one, as there wasn’t that much there to see. So, research before you book!
Keep an eye on the time of year and what the weather is like, and make a back-up plan in case there’s an intermittent rain storm. We got super lucky on our trip – it only rained in the middle of the night while we were in Sorrento. BUT, the days were cool and we couldn’t really hit the beach like we’d planned. So we explored the town, got some food from the market to have a “picnic” at the hotel, and just vegged for a day. If you don’t mind the rain, then bring a lightweight raincoat [you should bring one anyway, even if it’s not supposed to rain – you never know!] and brave the storms!
If you plan on seeing some major historical landmarks like the Coliseum or the Eiffel Tower, research tickets and tours ahead of time before you book. We were traveling during “off-season”, but the line to get into The Vatican on a Monday morning was already wrapped around The City by 10 am, and all tickets for the rest of the day had just sold out. My mom booked us a private tour which was so worth it because it turns out it was actually our ticket in!
If you’re hoping to do some guided tours while abroad, be sure to check the ratings and reviews of the companies you’re looking into. My family loves to do a bike tour of every major city we visit – it’s a great way to see the entire city, the highlights, and get an awesome history lesson in a small window of time [usually about 3 hours]. It’s great because it allows you to see snippets of everything, and then decide what you want to go back and do an actual tour of. We tried to do that this time, but the bike company we went through ended up being extremely unorganized and not the most amazing experience. We still saw a lot of cool things and learned some amazing historical facts, but it wasn’t the experience we were hoping for. Do your research!
Purchase phrasebooks/dictionaries for the countries you are traveling to. While most people will speak English, that is not always the case. We ran into a language barrier several times [even in Italy, where my fiancé speaks a bit of Italian], and the phrasebook we bought was very helpful the few times that we desperately needed it. And, I don’t know about you, but I love trying to learn another language! [***Rick Steves has some great phrasebooks and dictionaries – I got ours on Amazon! (click here for link)]
Don’t forget to buy power adapters! Wherever you’re going likely uses a different type of power plug, so adapters are a must if you want to charge your devices [or use curling irons and hair dryers like us females]. All of the ones online say you need a converter as well, but we didn’t run into any issues while we were abroad. All of our computers, iPads, iPhones, laptops and hot tools converted with the basic plugs we bought [I got this one on Amazon – it was awesome! not only is it a power strip, but it also came with international plugs – we can literally travel anywhere in the world now without having to purchase more plugs].
If you have the space to bring a soft pad or mat of some sort, do it! Oh my gosh, the beds in Europe are HARD AS ROCKS, and for someone who has a soft mattress at home, that was an extremely rough adjustment. If you don’t have room for that, just be prepared!
Craft beer lovers – if you’re craving an IPA, find the closest Irish pub! And no, I don’t mean you have to go to Ireland. There are Irish pubs everywhere! We found them in both Italy and Croatia, and they were pouring lots of yummy IPAs on draft. [We actually did find IPA in Munich, in an Italian restaurant where the non-English speaking staff didn’t even know they carried IPA haha].
Pack only the essentials! My mom likes to do lots of city- and country-hopping while traveling abroad, and I learned quickly that I packed way too much for this trip. If you’re planning on moving around a lot, pack only what you need. The last thing you’re going to want to do is lug a heavy, bulging suitcase all over Europe as you move from place to place. Add to it all the goodies you purchase, and any other shopping you may do [read: leather products in Italy].. Yeah, you get the gist. If you’re not sure what to pack, first check the weather of the place you’re traveling and then go from there. I actually did a little Pinterest research [lots of pins that tell you how to pack for one, two, three or more weeks in Europe, specific countries you’re going to, and time of year].
Figure out the tipping system prior to traveling. It’s so different from country-to-country. In America, people survive off of tips, and 20% is standard. In some countries, it’s considered rude to tip, in others it’s not necessary, but 10% is okay. Also be sure to have cash on you at all times for this reason [and make sure it’s the correct currency – most European countries use Euro now, but some still have their own].
If you plan on traveling sometime in the near future, hopefully these tips help to get you started! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about travel, places to go, things to see and do, or whatever!