My last trip across the pond was not my first and certainly will not be my last. Traveling, to me, is always fun and exciting especially when visiting another country. However, I realize that not everyone shares my sentiment, and at times traveling especially abroad can be less than fun, and downright stressful. Sometimes it can even be a nightmare for a variety of reasons. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if it’s your first time visiting a foreign country. Before we get started keep in mind that everyone’s experience will vary so be aware that these are more like guidelines rather than fact.
Everyone speaks English.
While this is more than likely the case there are a few things you should remember about the above statement. First, yes almost everywhere I have been there is always someone that speaks, at least, good enough English to communicate. With that being said, it is also important to remember to be respectful. Whatever country you are traveling to make sure to familiarize yourself with proper greeting and salutations in the countries language. In almost all countries is it rude not so say hello when entering a shop. I recommend that no matter where you are going you practice saying hello in the local language and of course asking the phrase “do you speak English” in the local language. Also, thank you and your welcome are also great to know in the local language. I think most cultures find it rude to walk into their shop or restaurant and assuming that everyone speaks English and demanding that they speak English so you can understand them. Remember that you are in their country and always just be respectful. Also, keep in mind that in the larger cities you will certainly find someone that speaks English, however when you get into the smaller towns and villages you may struggle to find individuals that speak English. But if the town is a major touris spot you should not have a problem.
Have and open mind.
I think this one goes without saying and should probably be first on the list. You are in a different country there are going to be some strange things going on, or rituals that you may not understand. In Italy after dinner they serve a Lemon flavored alcoholic drink (Lemoncello). I thought it was terrible but that did not stop me from drinking about 10 shots of it while conversing with a German couple we met. So you may find yourself a little out of your comfort zone, but just stay calm and enjoy the experience. Besides, what kind of a life is one that is never outside one’s comfort zone. That would be beyond boring, so embrace the strangeness and enjoy a different point of view for a change.
Familiarize yourself with the food
This one is more of a guideline than anything else. But if you do not like cabbage and potatoes Ireland is not going to be the place for you. If you are not a big pasta fan, you might want to think twice about Italy. I will say that I would never not visit a place just because of the food, although South East Asia scares the hell out of me because of what they eat! Still though I think I would probably go. Just make sure that you know what you are getting into food wise. Italians eat a ton of pasta and cured meats. They drink expressos and warm milk for breakfast, also I don’t think I saw a single ice cube in the country (this goes for most of Europe). That is their culture. I am not very picky when it comes to food, but just do your research and realize what you are getting into before you travel to another country. Again, though, if you are traveling to large cities you will certainly find a larger variety of food than in a small mountain town or village. I remember the first time I had Indian food was in London, go figure. So the smaller the town the more traditional cuisine you will get. This may not bother you but do not expect to travel to Tuscany in Italy and there be a burger place down on the corner.
Bringing Gifts or Souvenirs back Home.
For the most part anything you bring back to the US will be fine in terms of items. However, do not try to bring any food back. I repeat, do not try to bring any food back into the US. You may think well duh that is a no brainer. But in Italy we thought it would be nice to bring back some cured meats that were packaged and vacuum sealed. Again there are cured meats which are cooked and heavily salted, this was not raw meat. Every bit of it was taken at customs. The only meat you can bring back has to be in a can, at least that is what they told us. Bummer I know. Alcohol is fine but I think there are certain rules they must me be met. You can buy alcohol in duty free shops in the airport and they will put it in a special sealed bag for you. I think chocolates are fine and I have never had a problem bringing them back in the country. TSA and Customs are very particular about liquids. They made us throw out a bottle of truffle olive oil vinaigrette before getting on the plane in Rome. Then in the Duty Free shop we bought another bottle and put it in our bags. When we landed in the US Customs almost took that new bottle again! It really pissed me off. So we had to check one of our carry-ons with the bottle in it just to bring it home. So just know that trying to bring liquids in any form on a flight is near impossible. BUT if you are going to do it purchase it at the Duty Free shop and have them seal it in a special bag for you. This will cause less headaches when you land back home
Something else to keep I mind is that if your luggage gets lost. I would always pack at least one outfit in your carry one along with all your toiletries. This is more of a precaution than anything. A mix-up like this can certainly put a damper on your trip, and there is nothing like being in a foreign country and things not going according to plan. Which reminds me, you will certainly get lost at least once in your trip. And by lost I mean you will spend hours trying to find something that the map says is right next to you. Paris and Venice are the least friendly navigable cities I have ever been too. Venice was to be expected but Paris was somewhat frustrating, there are literally streets running every which way and a map is almost useless.
Speaking of maps, another point is to check with your cell phone provider and understand your international coverage. T-Mobile is great in Europe depending on your plan. But I think most services allow you to buy so many gigs of data and call coverage while in a foreign country. Just make sure you understand the rules. I have heard horror stories about people who have had phone bills in the thousands of dollars.
Lastly is foreign currency. Almost anywhere outside the US will have their own currency. This is something that is certainly hard to gauge and again something that you will have to do a little research on. If you are going to mostly major cities then you will probably be ok with using a credit card, just make sure your card has no foreign transaction fees. Otherwise you could be paying an additional 3% on the total every time you swipe. However, even in the larger cities there are quite a few restaurants or ice cream shops that only take cash. If you are going to smaller villages just assume that they will not take credit card. Also, most major attractions or sites, if they cost money, will usually take credit card. So really most of your cash will be spent on meals or perhaps any souvenirs you want to buy as some small mom and pop shops only take cash. You can exchange currency at most large banks for a small fee. Keep an eye on the exchange rate as well and right now if you are heading to Europe the Euro is about 1 to 1 with the US dollar. That is pretty awesome. In the past it has been much worse so it would cost quite a bit more to travel abroad.
Those are just some of the points that I have come across in my travels. I think the most important thing to remember is just to enjoy it no matter what happens. I think another good idea is to make an itinerary of what you want to see in each city. This will help maximize your time. You don’t want to spend a lot of hours just wondering aimlessly, unless of course that is you thing, then by all means knock yourself out. But an itinerary is a good way to maximize your time and see all the big stuff in a city.
Wherever you go just make sure to have fun and enjoy the experience. After all that is what life is all about, the experiences.