I was flipping through my travel journal this evening and found an unfinished entry on travel tips. I think they could be useful to someone, so I figured I’d finish them and post my thoughts here. What lessons did I learn during my 2015 European travels? Read on for more.
My Travel Tips
- If you’re a smartphone junkie like myself, you should do your research and consider how you’ll use your cell phone abroad. Maps, navigation, and travel apps are almost essential for modern travel, so you might want to invest in a way to use your smartphone’s data capabilities while traveling. I don’t know how I would have survived traveling by myself without the maps, restaurant/hotel reviews, and translation apps I used on my journey across Europe. Many (if not most) phones and smartphones support SIM cards, which essentially let you swap your mobile carrier on the fly. If you’ll be staying in just one country or region, see who the top carriers are and look into the cost of their prepaid plans, for which you can get a SIM card. If you’ll spend time in a lot of different countries/regions, look into prepaid plans for travelers. Your home carrier might offer some (because they partner with local carriers to connect their customers across the world), although that option will most definitely cost more than what local carriers offer. Don’t forget to check coverage maps too. The point is, if you want to use data abroad (because, honestly, looking for free/cheap WiFi while traveling is a pain in the ass), you should shop around for the best deal that will fit your needs. Bonus tip: the rest of the world seems to lag behind America when it comes to mobile data speed, so don’t be surprised when your phone chugs along on European 3G.
- Know the closing times of restaurants and attractions you want to visit! This seems like a no-brainer, but many things in Europe close at times Americans might find odd/early, and they may be closed on certain days (that are not necessarily weekends!).
- Have a good money plan. It’s a good idea to have a decent amount of the local currency on you at all times. If a place does accept credit cards, they might not accept your credit card (hint: get a Visa with a chip) and they probably wont accept your credit card for amounts less than $25. It’s also best to avoid currency exchanges and just get your cash from a local ATM if your bank will let you. Bear in mind there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and this goes for currency exchanges (even the ones that are “commission free!”) and almost everything else in Europe. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- If traveling on a budget, be thrifty but know when to splurge. Psychology research shows that we value experiences more than things, when considering happiness and satisfaction, so pick out something to spend extra on. It could be a nice hotel to take a break from the hostel scene or a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant. Just make sure you’re getting your money’s worth ahead of time—Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews help a lot with this.
- Whether traveling alone or with companions, know what you’re getting yourself into. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’ve experienced both. Traveling alone is cheaper, keeps you in control of what you do, and is great if you don’t like waiting on other people. However, meals for one usually aren’t fun, it’s easy to get lost in a crowd, and there’s no one to commiserate with you when things don’t go to plan. Traveling with others makes you less homesick and can make your experiences more memorable, but it’s hard to get others on your schedule and to herd your group to all the things you want to do. In addition, be prepared to have very little time away from your companion(s).
- When traveling for extended periods, have a laundry plan. It’s hard to pack a suitcase for more than ten days when you want to bring a comfortable amount of clothes. When I went to Europe, I had to dress for two climates. Mild/cold Scandinavia, and hot/warm southwestern Europe. Hostels and hotels might have a washer and dryer, but if there’s only one, you can count on it being in constant use by the other guests. Not to mention you might have to buy detergent and bring it around with you! Laundromats are much faster and cheaper than hotel laundry services. Just make sure you budget enough time to get to a laundromat and use it.
- Read everything you can. Signs are enormously helpful and I found myself trying to read each one I passed, because it pays to be observant. Even if you don’t speak the local language, you’ll still (hopefully) get the gist from the context. Fine print on tickets and boarding passes is helpful because there’s plenty of “gotcha” fees, rules, and conditions you will not be familiar with. Above all, absorb all the information given to you because it will likely come in handy at some point.
- Don’t fall for tourist traps. In any popular tourist destination (and sometimes at home before you go) people will be trying to take advantage of the uninformed traveler. Chances are, you don’t need that RFID-blocking wallet for your passport. Be wary of overpriced ticket resellers. Don’t eat at restaurants with pictures on the menu and expect fine dining and a good value.