A couple of months ago, I went on an adventure of a lifetime. For 10 days one of my best girlfriends and I travelled to Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and France. This trip left me with a travel bug and as I plan my next European escape, I thought I would pass along some tips I picked up along the way.
- Do have a plan.
Finding yourself in a new place especially when that place is across an ocean can be very overwhelming. I found myself faced with a mixture of excitement and nerves and realized that there is so much to do and so little time. If not careful this overwhelming feeling can cause you to miss what’s right in front of you. It’s best to go in knowing what sights you have to see, what the best form of transportation is, how to access it, and how much time you have at each location. Part of that plan should include a budget; how much do I have to spend on this trip and where does that put me for each day? This plan does not have to be set in stone, but just having a general idea of your itinerary will relieve a lot of unnecessary stress that will allow you to fully enjoy all that this new place has to offer.
- Don’t over pack.
You do not need to bring a pair of heels with you or both your curling iron and flat iron. You won’t use them. Trust me. Pack for the trip you are taking. If you are just going with your friends, less is more. I limited myself to just one checked suitcase and one carry on bag. I also made sure to leave plenty of room to bring back souvenirs. If you’re traveling on a budget, you are going to have to rely on public transportation or walk and too many bags or an oversized one will make it miserable. Keep in mind too to how much your bag weighs, many planes will charge you insane fees if you go over a certain weight. It’s best to bring just the essentials. Remember you are there to make memories.
- Do your homework when it comes to hotels and planes.
Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you have to stay exclusively in hostels. There are plenty of budget hotels that are clean and offer many amenities. You can get great deals on great hotels if you book far enough in advance. I like to book directly through the hotel instead of 3rd parties, but sites like Priceline and Expedia are good places to look. Just know that if you book through a 3rd party and something goes wrong with your stay there will be little the hotel can do for you. Also 3rd parties are prepaid and often non-refundable. If you’re plans aren’t set in stone, I would be wary of 3rd parties, but that’s just me.
Also do your homework when it comes to airfare. Flying out of JFK in NYC gave us plenty of choices with airlines. We choose Aer Lingus, the main air carrier from the Republic of Ireland. They were comfortable, gave us a free meal, had on flight entertainment, and were about $500 cheaper than American or British Airways. The one catch was that we had to switch planes in Dublin, Ireland. A small price to pay when you are saving that much money.
- Don’t be afraid of walking.
You are in a new place and the best way to truly experience it is on foot. Expect to walk and walk a lot. If I had my choice I would walk everywhere at all times. Plus, if you spend your time in a taxi or underground subway system you will miss so much of the city. You’ll miss the architecture and the culture. So pack your best sneakers, and if you going to the UK an umbrella, and be prepared to walk. Besides think of the money this will save you and the exercise you will receive.
- Do get directions before you go.
I learned very quickly that I rely far too much on my phone. I had found myself in a place where I didn’t have any data and could only use my phone when connected to wifi. This meant I had no GPS or Google maps. I would recommend that before you leave you know where you are going or have a general idea of where you are going. Don’t expect car rental places to have GPSs for you and don’t just print out Google Map directions expecting that you will be able to follow that blue line. I would either ask the hotel or car rental people before you leave or bring a GPS from home that you know will speak English instead of Portuguese. It will make life a little easier.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Ok, so you got lost, now what? You have two choices you can let this ruin your whole day or you can chalk this up to being part of the adventure. The latter is the correct answer. Stuff happens, that’s life. Don’t be that person that shuts down and lets this small incident leave you in a bad mood. Smile there is nothing that you can’t fix. Remember you are in a new surrounding, you may not speak the language, and you definitely don’t know the area. These things are bound to happen. There was a day when we overslept and missed our train to Paris. Yes, that sucked, but it was not life ruining. We just talked to nice people at the ticket office and for a small fee they were able to book us on the next train. We even got upgraded to business class for free on the train ride back. All you have to do is be patient and relax.
7. Do put your phone down.
Not having data was one of the best things that could have happened. It forced me to be presence. I actually got to see and experience. I wasn’t constantly viewing life through a phone camera. Yes, I took lots of pictures but there were time where I just stopped and stared and tried not miss anything. I wasn’t constantly texting friends that weren’t there, I wasn’t updating Instagram every five minutes, I was just living.
- Don’t worry about looking like a tourist.
Newsflash, you are a tourist! Go ahead and do all the touristy stuff. Take a selfie in front of Buckingham Palace. Take a open roof bus tour. Dress up in funny hats at historical sites. It’s all part of the fun. Do what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to do something because you’re afraid of how you’ll look. Don’t waste your time trying to look and act like a local because you’ll never be one. This is your dream trip, so do what you have always dreamt of doing. If you don’t you will regret it in the end.
- GO GO GO!
Just do it, grab your best friend and start planning. Don’t worry about money or work, just start planning. Traveling is one of the most amazing experiences you can have. And there is no better time to do it than in your twenties. So my advice to you is to experience the world before life ties you down. Remember you are only young once!