Author: Ruthie Pollard
"Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport."
I adored spending time in Europe, and I'm already dreaming of my next visit! Being a first time traveler to Italy, I did a lot of research before starting my journey. Once I arrived there was so much more to learn! I kept a list of things to keep in mind, and I wanted to share them with you. Whether you're planning a trip abroad or it's on your bucket list, here are some helpful tips:
1. Find the Right Time to Go
There are ways to find cheap flights to Europe, the most obvious way is to go off-season. I traveled in the winter to Italy and Becky traveled in the early spring to Amsterdam on our recent ventures. Both flights were under 600! My AirBnB host told me that his apartment is always open in the winter but books solid through the summer. It might be a little chilly if you go in the colder seasons, but if you're use to the harsh New England winters then it will feel like spring. Also, when you travel this time of year there are less tourists, and you will have the opportunity to experience more of the authentic culture with the locals.
2. Exact Change is a Way of Life
In the United States, we get frustrated waiting for that person in line to count out their exact change for the cashier. Come on, just hand them a 20 already. However, in European countries you are causing frustration if you try to hand the casher a large denomination. I got the stink eye one too many times for not having exact euros for my purchases. One shop owner had to go to a store across the street to see if she could get me change, and when I tried to pay for chocolate with 20 euro at the airport it was declined. The moral of this tip is to collect as much change as you can and keep your bills small if you want good shopping relations.
3. Walking Shoes are a Must-Have
I was told by many well-traveled sources that comfortable walking shoes are a must in Europe. I took a trip to the mall per my hair stylists recommendation. She told me about store called, The Walking Company. I previously never knew about this store or any store for that matter that created stylish walking shoes. I took the recommendation and much to my surprise I found a very comfortable pair of booties by Rockport. When I arrived in Italy I was not disappointed with my purchase. The roads are beautiful and historic cobblestone, not smoothly paved like back home.
4. Bring Your Charger Everywhere You Go
"Why would bring my charger? My battery is 100% charged and ready for the day!" Nope. Your full charge cannot compensate for all the photos you take, the times you get lost and need google maps, or when you're scrolling through your phone on an hour long train ride to Rome. Many of the trains and cafes have outlets so charge when you can. I know this goes against the recent advice warning that charging in public ports is dangerous but, pics or it didn't happen.
5. But What Shall I Wear?
Glad you asked. The key to style for many Europeans is neutrals and they dress well, always. Everyone I walked past managed to get up and walk the streets on fleek. Black, white, beige, and gray are your best friends in the winter and a scarf almost year round. When the weather warms, you will see more pops of color, but you can never go wrong with a classic basic. I picked up some shirts from Madewell and a beige peacoat at Top Shop. If you want to look trendy, neutrals can do the trick. It's fun to blend in, but also good for safety as the sports sweatshirt wearing, fanny pack toting, sneaker enthusiasts of America are a target for pick pocketers. Along those lines, make sure to bring a purse that zips.
6. Research Your Transportation Options
When first arriving in Italy I had planned on taking the bus to our AirBnb and then using buses throughout the trip. I never actually ended up using a bus. After a long day of travel with heavy luggage, a taxi was the perfect hassle free choice from the airport. When we needed a taxi back to the airport the local service was only a Skype call away. Many of the cities are "walking cities" so when traveling locally take advantage of all the exercise. For a big day trip, European trains are the way to go. They are clean, well run, and fast in my experience. Generally you can buy tickets right at the station, but if you're traveling on a weekend it's best to check availability online. I used the site "Go Euro" to purchase tickets.
7. Purchase Tickets for Popular Sites and Destinations Ahead of Time
We went "off-season" so naturally one would assume that it would be easy to get into museums and hop on a train to a popular city. Although we were able to get into the Uffizi Museum and see the famous Statue of David, it involved waiting in line for two hours in the chill of the morning. Next time I will surely be a part of the line that already has tickets. On that note, the night before heading to Venice I went online to buy my train ticket and much to my dismay the morning trips were booked. The prices kept rising every time I refreshed the page, little did I know it was carnival time in the city. Lesson learned.
8. Experience all the Foods
This might not come as an utter shock, but Europeans eat much better than we do. The food is overall healthier and tastes better as they take great pride in food preparation. If a region has a unique food like "wild boar", give it a try! I must admit this was a regret of mine as I stuck to more traditional Italian foods aka: pizza and pasta. And lets not forget about the coffee, I'm sure it's similar all over Europe, but Italians make coffee 10x better than the average coffee in the states. They invented the cappuccino after all. However, the amount of caffeine was not enough to sustain my ability to function. Double expressio is the way to go.
9. Don't forget a Converter
This tip is more practical, if you plan on curling your hair and charging your phone, you'll need a converter for European power outlets. I bought the "All-In-One" converter from Best Buy. I was happy to see that our AirBnb had a hair dryer so we wouldn't have to worry about blowing a fuse. No one wants to be that person.
10. Be Spontaneous and Flexible
As much as you prepare and research, not everything will go as planned. Travel is about adventure and sometimes adventures develop in the moment! We never planned to drive up to the hillside of Tuscany with a stranger because there were no taxi's or stumble upon the Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset. There might be bumps in the road or little blessings along the way, but it will all lead to memories that last a lifetime. Happy Travels!
Please feel free to comment or share any tips you have from your journey abroad!