Just before the official start of the summer, the wife and I embarked on our first international journey–a European hop to Italy and the Netherlands. Can you say epic? I checked off a few items on the ol’ bucket list, let me tell ya. We traveled to eight cities, averaging three days at each stop during our three-week stay. No rental car, either, just one intra-European plane trip (from Amsterdam to Venice), a lot of train rides, the occasional bus, and tennis shoes. We each had Osprey hiking bags packed to the hilt and strapped to our backs (mine specifically was the Osprey Waypoint 85. Highly recommended). Except for one missed train and extra fare, our first international excursion went extremely well, and I owe it all to prior planning between the two of us.
Okay, mostly her planning. When it comes to travel, the woman is a savant.
She made all the travel arrangements long before our departure–lodging, transportation, hiking trails, even entertainment and restaurants. Ever since she took her first European hop solo–yes, an I-can-do-this-by-my-damn-self trip for 11 days to Switzerland and the Netherlands–it lit a flame to return, this time with yours truly. Luckily, our wedding honey pot provided the necessary financial boosters to send us off.
Perfect timing, too, especially since we planned the trip around the end of my graduate school semester and to research settings for her soon-to-be-finished next novel The Space Between (her highly anticipated sequel to When Love Isn’t Enough), which is mostly based in Europe. Since I’m also an author, I dreamed of ways to plot a book somewhere in Europe, specifically in Amsterdam (an erotic murder-mystery within the Red Light District, maybe?).
Simply put: Best. Vacation. Ever. Yup, hands down. But how did we manage to survive a three-week trip in different foreign cities without any major glitches? Well, if you’re also planning a European summer adventure that includes no rental car, affordable lodging, hiking (or at least, lots of walking), and an extended stay (two weeks+), you might find these quick travel tips helpful:
Passport. Make sure it’s up to date. Hell, make sure you even have a passport. If not, it can take 6 weeks to get one.
Lodging locator. In addition to the usual suspects Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor, and/or Hotwire, check out Airbnb, a site with unique accommodations such as condos or villas. In Amsterdam, we stayed in a townhouse with a washer/dryer, kitchen, and hot tub!
Travel apps for phone. Whatever the travel need, more than likely you’ll find an phone or tablet app for it. We probably used Yelp and an Italian train station app the most.
Data roaming (for cell phone). This may not apply, but something to think about. You’ll need it to access your smart phone’s map program (unless you find an area with WIFI). Also, I have a friend in Amsterdam, but couldn’t text him. I didn’t have his email address, either, so I missed the opportunity to connect.
Important copies. What if your bank cards and IDs are stolen or lost? Hey, shhh happens. Make copies of all bank cards and IDs just in case.
Inform your banks of your trip. Many banks will suspend your account without notice if they suspect unusual activity. Transactions within foreign countries raise flags, so let your banks know your trip schedule in advance.
Take care of affairs at home (bills, cats, mail, etc). Common sense, but easy to forget, like what about the food in your fridge? Bills, pets, mail, and car storage are a few other common home “to-do’s” to worry about.
When to pack. I suggest at least a week beforehand, especially if you’re forgetful like me. Write a list of important items, too, then check them off as you pack them. It will help you avoid, “Damn, I forgot so-and-so!”
Travel bags. Although bags on wheels come in handy at the airport, we each enjoyed an ergonomic balance with our Osprey backpacks, despite the extra weight. You want to avoid musculoskeletal imbalances as much as possible. Dragging your bag on wheels everywhere may cause problems, since you’re torquing your shoulder to pull it.
Pack light. Pack only what you need. You don’t want to add unnecessary weight since you’ll have to lug all that poundage around (upstairs, downstairs, while running to catch trains, etc). For example, Italy has some freakin’ steep stairs, too.
Clothing. Instead of thick clothes that take up too much space, pack for layers (from tank tops to long sleeves) to adjust for weather changes and whatever the occasion (from night life clubbing to a day on the beach).
Use your clothes for extra storage. I saved space by piling small items in my shoes and pants pockets.
Walking shoes. Important! Yeah, some of us still want to look all cute when out and about, but comfort takes precedence here. We averaged at least five hours of humpin’ it a day. Invest in quality shoes.
Packing Items (you might not think about)
Wash cloths. Most of the hotels and hostels had hand towels for showers, not regular wash cloths. That may not be a big deal to you, though.
Converter. Italy and the Netherlands use 230v outlets, which is nearly twice that of the US of A (120v). I suggest a 230v converter with multiple 120v outlets for your electronic devises (phones, tablets, laptop, etc.).
Sunglasses case. Not a big deal, but you’ll definitely need sunglasses, so you’ll want to protect them. On travel, sunglasses are way too easy to break.
Portable smart phone charger. What if your phone runs out of juice in the middle of a 10-mile hike? A portable recharger solves that problem.
Creams/sprays. Although you’ll enjoy the elements, you’ll “battle” against them, too, especially sun rays. You’ll definitely need suntan lotion, but don’t forget mosquito bites, poison ivy, athlete’s foot, and the occasional cuts, scrapes, abrasions and blisters. Your shoes might reek, too, so some shoe freshener, maybe?
Language book/program. Unless you know the language of that country, of course. If not, you can find a ton of language apps for your phone, tablet, or laptop. Or a language dictionary for whatever country you visit works just fine, too. Luckily, we encountered enough English speakers.
Umbrella. It might be close to a hundred degrees in the late afternoon, but cold and pouring at night. We experienced tornado weather in Cinque Terre.
Hand wipes. No way around it, you’ll have sweaty, dirty hands all day. You can hand-wipe those bad boys after sloppy samples of gelato (we ate gelato almost everyday!).
Small flashlight. You never know when you’ll need one. When the sun sets, you may still be hiking the hills with little lighting.
Small bag of detergent. It’s easy to dirty up your last stash of clothes before finding a laundromat. You may have to go old school with your hands, too. I rub-a-dub-dubbed my underwear in a hotel bathroom sink!
Soap/body wash. A few of the places we stayed didn’t have soap, so you might want to bring that Axe body wash with ya. Or small bars of soap.
First AID kit. Those cuts, scrapes, and blisters I mentioned earlier? They’re bound to happen. If not a kit, at least band aids and creams/sprays for any skin damage (including bites).
More on Yelp. Yelp gives you the best idea of the good, bad, and ugly for a particular spot based on past experiences of other travelers. You learn the little things that can save money, too, like gondola rides in Venice are more expensive after 7pm.
Foreign transaction fees. Whenever you use your credit card overseas, you’ll incur a transaction fee. They add up, too.
And don’t forget…
You need to be aware of your surroundings. Europe has pick pocket rings, slick enough to separate you and your wallet or purse within seconds. So:
– Keep contact of all your belongings bags at all times. If on the floor, you can place the strap of your bag or purse around your legs.
– Try pockets with zippers for your pants or shorts. It’s easier to slip a hand in a loose pocket than one that’s on lock down.
– Turn your purse with the outside pockets toward you, even if zipped up. As a traveling tourist, it’s easy to get distracted admiring the views of the city. A thief may use your distraction to his advantage.
Hope these help. Now, last thing … HAVE A GREAT TRIP!