This Spring I was lucky enough to spend two weeks traveling in Europe. It was the trip of a lifetime and I came back a changed woman. You really learn a lot about yourself when you are thrown completely out of your element. The trip was fun, exhausting, exciting, and frustrating. Once you’re at your destination, everything is great. Getting there, well, that’s another story.
It’s so important to make a plan leading up to departure. Do your research, make lists and shop for anything you need. My body is very sensitive to change and I depend on a regular eating and exercise schedule so I had to be extra diligent in my planning. The first thing I had to do was compensate for the time change. London is five hours ahead so five days in advance, I started changing my body clock. Each day I would go to bed and get up an hour earlier. By departure day, I was in bed at 6:00 p.m. and up at 2:00 a.m. It really worked for me because I felt great the entire trip and didn’t have a hint of jet lag. I also brought a case of protein bars with me in case I needed a snack to keep my fuel levels up and I managed to run my regular three miles every day except for two in Paris where it was simply too crowded. In the end, my planning really paid off.
We also planned to get to airports and train stations about two hours early just in case. It really saved our bacon in Italy when we arrived for our flight to Barcelona and were informed that we were at the wrong airport. Luckily, the right airport was only a half-hour cab ride. We still needed the extra time to reorganize our luggage. Of course, we printed out all the rules for flying on the little planes that would transport us around Europe. Did we pay attention to them? Let’s just say we spent a half hour with our overweight bags open deciding what we could throw away and what we could move into our carry-ons. Lesson learned. Weigh your bags at home and remember to allow for extra items you will bring back. The per-pound penalty charges are outrageous!
Organize your paperwork. Have your passport, driver's license, credit cards and copies of them handy. Make sure you know the addresses of where you’ll be staying and have them with you as well. There are forms to be filled out and all that information is necessary. I forgot to fill in one line and was detained quite rudely at one of the borders. Be prepared to be patient at every border agent desk. I had a bad experience only to find out that it is quite common to be harassed at borders, so expect the unexpected. The address of your hotel is also very important when using a cab. Most of the time, drivers know your hotel, but if they don’t, at least you have the location. It happened to us and luckily, our itinerary was in my phone so we were able to find the address. It was a scary moment thinking you’ll be stranded in a strange place with no one to help you.
Calculate how much money you‘ll need long before departure. It’s wise to get your foreign currency well in advance in case your bank requires some lag time. You may use your credit cards for shopping, dining and big ticket items but you will need plenty of cash for tips and cabs at least. I used a lot more cash than I expected as it was handier more often than my credit card. I also managed to spend every last Euro on little gifts at the airport so I didn’t have to worry about exchanging it when I got home. The only American money I needed was at the airports in the U.S., so there’s no need to bring much of that with you. I know because I had too much to try and stash during the trip.
Those are some of the obvious things you should know but, believe it or not, the most useful items were the books we brought. I really appreciated having something to read during down times (practically non-existent though), including some foreign language phrase books and our travel books. We had one for each city and we constantly referred to them. We saw most of the top ten sites for the four cities thanks to those books and we were able to overcome the language barriers at least enough to get by. I can’t recommend those books strongly enough. They are perfect for planning and executing your sight-seeing tours and are an absolute must.
There you have it. Some things went well due to planning and some things were completely unexpected. I visited too many travel websites to list that were priceless. Do your research! In the end, every hassle was worth it and I’m so glad I was able to go. I dream about future trips and I know that if I ever travel again, I’ll be completely prepared.