Almost everyone I know is going somewhere awesome this year! 2018 will hopefully be the year of experiences/memories – as I know of folks traveling to Costa Rica, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Japan, etc. I absolutely love that the travel bug is spreading almost as quickly as the flu, and it got me thinking…are there any tips that I could share with my friends/readers, and provide information that I wish someone may have told me when I first started to travel? Ummm…yes!!! So, no more intro – here are my top 6 tips that I wish someone would have told me the first time I traveled abroad:
1)Skip the currency exchange – If possible, open an account with a bank like TD that doesn’t charge foreign transaction or ATM fees. Aside from the obvious (did you read when I said no fees?), there’s another reason this is critical. Gone are the days where you need to stop off at the currency exchange upon landing, or make a visit to your local bank to exchange funds in advance of your trip. If you have any account which doesn’t charge you ATM fees for using an ATM not associated with your bank, then you can literally use any ATM in the country you’re visiting and extract local currency. You don’t have to worry about fees anymore or long lines at the teller – just take out money as you usually would back home, and head out to your next destination. We’ve been doing this solidly for about 4 years now, and I swear by this. Just be mindful that often the accounts that don’t charge ATM fees will require you to keep a certain $$ threshold in your account.
2)Always do a 5 min research session – you’d be surprised how American we all are, haha. What this means is, even in countries like the UK or Australia, where they speak English, their customs can differ drastically from what we’re used to. This includes everything from what we wear, to what we say, and what we eat. For example, in England, you won’t catch most folks wearing sweats and shopping – it’s a very American thing to do. Typically, citizens from other countries dress up more formally than we do here, so if you’re looking to fit in, you may want to include some nice tops to dress up your jeans. It’s also important to know some of the local lingo so you or the person you’re speaking to, doesn’t get unnecessarily offended. Do you know that “fag” means cigarette in London? Or that “entree” means appetizer in Australia? Just do 5 min, to ensure you don’t make a huge gaffe, and you’ll be thankful.
3)Bounce around – ok, this is merely a preference thing, but please don’t only visit Paris if you have a week to kill. Sure, large(r) cities like Munich, Paris, and Barcelona have become popular because they have a lot to offer, so it certainly makes sense to spend a great deal of time there, but all of your time? No… Often times some of the most beautiful, pristine, and natural parts of the country are just outside of the major city centers. These are the areas that experience less tourism, and thus you will often be rewarded with more authentic experiences. I am not saying that you won’t find a great beer in Munich, or croissant in Paris, but overall, you will find some of the best overall restaurants for a local feel and neighborhood folks in the countryside, or just lesser known cities (or even countries). I’ll give you an example – Luxembourg is not necessarily a hot spot for visitors – when I told friends I was going there last year, I got a lot of “deer in headlight” looks…but it was one of the highlights of my trip to Europe. The area had an extremely local feel because it wasn’t over-commercialized. I was also rewarded with the best madeleines and italian food that I have ever had…and I mean ever. Don’t only stick to what you see on Instagram – create your own journey…I promise you your memories will thank you.
4)You won’t be able to do everything – and it’s ok! Due to rain, crowds, unplanned strikes (very popular in Italy and France), or holidays that you may not have known about (this happened to us in Germany), certain sites, restaurants, or driving routes may be closed while you’re in town. Don’t get discouraged – this happens more than you’d think, esp if you start to stretch your boundaries a bit, and don’t take pre-selected vacations through your travel agent. When we were planning our road trip, we mapped it all via Google maps, then did a quick news search to see if there were any cities/towns we should avoid. Then, about a week before our trip, we looked up the weather to see if it was going to be too cold/cloudy/rainy to do some of the activities that we were planning. Sure enough, it was going to rain for a few days, so we simply altered our route so we could do indoor activities (ie: thermal baths) on a rainy day, and ski lifts on the more beautiful days. Unfortunately, we missed the fact that Germany closes down essentially, the day after Halloween, so a restaurant I was interested in trying was closed – but roll with the punches! We found a local tavern that sold great food/drinks and we were able to mingle with the non-English speaking local town people, and have an incredible time! You never know where your next amazing experience will come from, so have a wonderful time and go with whatever comes up next!
5)Don’t bank on “doing nothing” – Ok, I know some of my friends have kids, so I understand that “doing nothing” may be exactly what you want to do while on vacation, LOL! But for the rest of you…you may think, ok, I’ll get tix to the Bahamas and then do nothing for 5 days. From experience, I just want to say, I highly doubt this will happen. Most folks will get bored after just 1 day on the beach reading a book. Again, this is not for everyone…but on average, we need a bit more to entertain us. For this reason, I implore you to always book an activity (not through the hotel but directly through a tour operator), or have back up sites that you’d like to see in case the opportunity arises. I’ve even been on trips with other couples who originally just wanted to relax, and by day 2, they get antsy and start asking for suggestions – luckily I was prepared! So put aside any feelings of – I just want to read this book and drink margaritas. You very well may want to – but not for longer than 1 -2 days.
6)Souvenirs are usually a waste of money – Unless I have a friend that I know wants some cubicle decor, or is a collector of shot glasses, then don’t waste your money! When we first started traveling, we thought we’d get something authentic from every country we visited – and eventually we stopped. It was just too much. Again, nothing with me is absolute – when I travel to certain more exotic countries I may want to pick up a handmade item like a rug from Turkey or a mask from Kenya because they truly specialize in something that I can’t get back home. But a mug from Mexico or a t-shirt in the Bahamas? You’re better off getting these types of items off Amazon – you’ll pay less, and your friends will still be able to see that you’ve been to Nassau.