Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blaming GPS and other invaluable lessons learned on the art of travel

During our trip to Europe, we learned a lot. We learned more about each other (more on that later) and we learned more about the art of traveling. Here are some of the top lessons we learned:
  1. Print and organize copies of all your confirmations for hotels, train tickets, plane tickets, attractions, etc. It is also helpful to print maps of where each hotel is located; this is a great quick reference for you and for a taxi driver.
  2. Try to fly in and out of the same airport
  3. At that airport, rent a car for touring that you can return to the same airport. Traveling from point A to B with trains, buses, subways... can add up fast. A car rental is helpful if you plan on doing a lot of day trips or moving between several cities.
  4. Car rentals in Europe from major airports are not very expensive per day. If you drop the car somewhere else, expect to pay A LOT! That was an expensive novice mistake.
  5. There is a fine balance between time and money. An occasional splurge to save time (the car rental, taking a taxi) is often worth it.
  6. Take plenty of cash. Budget well and write down purchases down to the last euro to answer the question "What happened to all our money?"
  7. Tipping is different in Europe. Service is usually included in your tab and 1-2 euros will suffice for a sit-down tab. If the service is exceptional and the restaurant is on the nicer end, a more generous tip may be appropriate.
  8. Sitting down at a restaurant or cafe will usually cost you. Especially at major landmarks and in outdoor areas. We avoided paying a hefty price for gelato by looking at the prices and not being afraid to get up and walk away.
  9. Don't be afraid to exercise your NO. Being nice or polite to pushy vendors or people following you will only encourage them to push more. Give a firm, clear NO and people will leave you alone. We had vendors nearly touching us and thrusting flowers in our faces, we became very good at saying NO.
  10. Take time to rest and eat. There's nothing worse than a cranky traveling companion.
  11. Try to keep a stash of snacks from the grocery store handy. Grocery stores are wonderful spots to get drinks and snacks for a fraction of the cost of those carts by the tourist attractions.
  12. Take water bottles to Europe. Fill them up at the hotel and you'll be set for some summer sightseeing. We brought water purification pills, but found our water to be drinkable at every hotel we stayed at.
  13. Bring your phone. You never know when you'll need to call a hotel or use wifi to confirm a reservation. Be sure to read your service provider's tips on traveling internationally. Turn off roaming, data, and 3G. If you receive data via mobile service (not wifi), you will be charged $19.98 per MB in most countries. Sign up for global calling and text messaging (this costed about $16 on one of our iphones).
  14. There's nothing like a good map. Even if you've been to the city before... *ahem* I have a tendency in being overconfident in cities I've visited before and contributed to a few of our longer exploratory walks/drives... We had many: Florence & Rome airport, London, Normandy, Paris...
  15. Speaking of navigation, if you rent a car, get GPS! This will save you time and frustration. That way instead of getting mad at each other, you can blame the maker of the navigation system for coming out with such a shoddy product to get you lost. :)
  16. For each destination, make a list with your fellow travelers of the must-see/must-do items and a secondary list. This helps with time prioritization and making sure that everyone is represented in planning daily itineraries.
  17. Get out early (there'll be time for naps later). You'll be able to get a jump on the queues and you're likely to see a different city as it wakes up as opposed to the heavily trafficked version.
  18. Gaining some familiarity with the language will take you far! People who speak English at popular destinations is very common, but if you are brave and graciously try to speak their language, most people will respect and appreciate the gesture. This is most valuable in France where the French are very proud of their language. At least master "hello", "thank you", and "please". Bonjour, Bon giorno, Gutentag Merci, Grazie, Danke S'il vous plait, Per favore, Bitte
  19. For a cheaper meal, search for a spot further away from the attractions without outdoor seating.
  20. Be sure to pack: sunscreen, bug spray, bandaids (blisters), clothing detergent, good walking shoes, outlet converter and wattage transformer
  21. I cannot stress having good walking shoes enough! If you are lucky to find some that are more subdued or stylish, good for you. Brand shoes scream American, but if your feet aren't aching it won't matter as much. My Rainbow flipflops declared mutiny on my feet and I missed my old Birkenstocks that didn't survive my move to WA.
  22. The most important thing: Be patient with the process and each other. In Rome a tour guide told us the rule of 70% in Europe. Things will work out 70% of the time. Accepting this will help you avoid some unnecessary stress. Even with hours and hours of planning, there will still be surprises. Stay on each other's team and work through it together. The more skilled you become at problem-solving together, traveling and, consequently living life, becomes more fun and beautiful.

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