Traveling abroad for the first time as an adult is overwhelming. If you’re trying to plan the trip on your own, your experience can quickly turn sour if you don’t know what you’re doing. While people like myself think it’s a hoot to spend hours researching things, others find it daunting. I was technically an adult when I first went abroad, but very much an immature idiot at age twenty while on my month-long jaunt in western Europe. If I were to go now for the first time, I wouldn’t know where to start. That is why I’m going to give a few tips on what to know before your first trip to Europe. Specifically the more mature adult edition. And no, I don’t mean that in a perverted way. The list won’t be extensive, but you’ll hopefully have a better feel of how to prepare yourself. Let's dive in.
The Michelin Star Restaurant We Got to Reschedule to the Next Day
1. Don’t Plan Anything the Day You Arrive
Many flights arrive in the morning if you’re coming from the United States, which gives a false sense of security that you have “the whole day” to do things. You don’t, at least not always. Major international airports are often a good distance away from the city to which you are going. Your first trip to Europe will be sensory overload. People are speaking a different language, or at least a very different accent (I’m talking UK for those of us English speakers). The architecture is older than dirt. Fashion is more progressive and fascinating to see on locals. My advice to myself and to you is: don’t plan anything that first day. Anecdotally, I reserved a Michelin star restaurant
the evening we were arriving in Milan, and our flights were so delayed that we didn’t get there until after the reservation. They let us reschedule to the next day at lunch. But my clothes were located in my suitcase which was on another plane. Landing the next day. See where this is going? Don’t make any big plans the day you land. It’s too stressful.
How I Used Google Maps in Paris
2. Google Maps is Your Friend
This was game changing for me on trips. Before I leave my country of origin, I spend time saving anything and anywhere I want to go in the city to where I am going. You can use this feature offline (because you might not have or want wifi while you’re trying to relax in another country). When you pull up your Google maps you can see what you’ve pinned/saved. It’s helped me in so many ways. I have almost missed some big things that I wanted to experience while traveling, but thanks to the maps, I don’t. The overload gets real and instead of fretting about it, save it to Google maps and be done fretting. You can create lists for different cities and pin everything to that city. Trust me when I tell you: it’s worth the time to peruse museums, restaurants, parks, shops, and whatever your interests are. I can’t live without it now. I can, but life would be much less organized.
Grazie! Bonjour! Guten tag!
3. Learn a Few Key Phrases in the Language of the Country You Are Going
At the ripe age of 20 years old, traveling to Europe for the first time, I was the epitome of an arrogant American. I made absolutely no effort to learn a single word in any other language. Looking back, I am horrified at how we rolled through each country and city. That is all part of the process of growing up and maturing, I suppose. Nowadays, things are much different. Wherever I’m going, I try to learn “please” and “thank you,” as well as basic things like “toilet” or “how much is” because I know I need to know both of those. When someone is traveling to another country, I highly advise them to learn a couple of words to get by. With a little effort on your part, the natives of that country are so much more likely to help you, and they appreciate it more than you know. The last time I went to Paris, I learned a few more phrases than I had the time before. When they started speaking back in French I looked like a deer in headlights. But I loved that they gave me that boost of confidence!
You Probably Need More than $3 USD
It depends. What I never do is order cash beforehand in whatever currency I need. There are usually ATMs to access in the airport, and many times cabs take credit cards so it’s not a big problem to get cash sometime later. It’s important to read on what is customary in each place you go, but I’ve found that generally you can get away with pulling out cash when you get there with your regular bank card. As far as credit cards, I would definitely have a VISA or Mastercard when you travel, especially if you’re an American Express holder like I am. I recently decided to get the Chase Sapphire
, which I highly recommend, so now I have my VISA or my Amex to travel with. They both have perks, so I like them both. Pick your poison, and definitely take your bank card along. And tell your card holders and bank you’re leaving the country so they don’t shut your cards down and leave you stranded. Speaking from experience here.
Our Walking Tour in the Marias in Paris
Not something I always have done in the past, but I’ve started to book a walking tour if I am in a new city, and heck, sometimes if I’ve been there a bunch and want to learn something new. It’s such a great way to orient yourself. When I went back to Paris with my husband and two of his brothers, we did one in the Marais neighborhood in Paris
and it was wonderful. Minus the rain and cold weather, I would do it again. There is also the relief of having one less thing to plan. The guide takes care of it all. The walking tour will typically provide some historical knowledge, information about the areas where you walk, and, as I said, a solid activity to do in a day on your trip. What I love is going back to some things that I learned on the walkabout. When I went on my solo trip to Salem, MA
, I went on one and another lady on the tour and I ended up having dinner afterwards, and staying in touch to this day! When I tell you it’s high on my recommendation list for your first trip to Europe, I’m not lying.
A Delicious Cafe We Found Because We Had No Plan!
6. You Don’t Have to Schedule Every Activity Before you Take off
Yes, I just said to plan a walking tour. But don’t plan every second of everyday. It will ruin your trip. Use your Google maps trick to keep a tally of what you want to do while you’re in a certain area. I also like to make a list in my “Notes” section of my iPhone. Unfortunately I’m not familiar with Android phones, but I imagine there is something similar to use. One other tip inside this tip is to ask the folks at the front desk, or the concierge. They are oftentimes goldmines of information, so keeping a relatively open agenda will help you relax and enjoy that part of the journey as well. Travel is about easing into it. Waking up and going manic from day one to the end of the trip is nuts. When you need a vacation after your vacation, I would venture to say you may have done it wrong. Know that you can always go back, and if you can’t, then enjoy what you can while you’re there without driving yourself and your travel mates bonkers.
I Wish Merlin Was Also an AirTag
Stick an AirTag
in it. I’ve recently discovered that the airline’s tracker of my bag does not always prove accurate. The AirTags pair up with the iPhone, and you have peace of mind when you’re on your trip. I suppose it can also be the cause of anxiety if your bag doesn’t make it on your flight. At least you’ll know where it is if they are trying to tell you something otherwise. And yes, the airlines will occasionally do that. I mentioned this in tip #1 about my luggage not being where I was in Milan. Aside from the AirTag
, make sure to mark your bag clearly. Put some distinct sticker or ribbon around it so you can easily identify it when it’s coming around the loop at baggage claim. Away luggage
does a great job of making some really fun colors. Everything about their suitcases is fantastic, from the hard shell to the wheels. If you plan on this being your first trip to Europe but not your last, go buy one.
So Many Things to Think of Before Travel
I know this is scratching the surface of what to know before your first trip to Europe, but these are some big ones. This list is comprised from follies in my own travels, and discussions with people whose first trip to Europe hadn’t happened but was coming up. The more you know, the easier it is to prepare for a trip. I continue to learn things through my journeys, through other people’s, and through conversation. Sometimes I learn through unfortunate occurrences. Some things are out of your control, like flights being on time and airlines switching planes at the last minute and downgrading you (like on my trip to Paris). What you can control, though, you absolutely should take that ownership and accountability and make your life that much easier. Your future self will thank your present self for the efforts, and your first trip to Europe will be as successful as it can be. Happy travels, and enjoy Europe!
Some of the links go to my affiliate account. If you purchase from one, you're helping feed my stray cat colony. Meow!