So, you're ready for your first big trip overseas. You have your tickets ordered, the hotels booked, and all the arrangements are made. The only thing left? Well, you're going to have to pack. Now, before you start throwing stuff at your computer screen, let me tell you that packing doesn't have to be a nightmare affair. It just takes some simple planning, thought, and thinking. Here are a few ideas on what to pack, how to pack it, and general things you'll need to know when packing for your overseas trip.
First, don't start packing at the last second! I went on a 25 day trip and threw my bag together the night before. Yeah, I didn't have clothes clean, a good bag, and I ended up leaving a guidebook at home. Packing should be done a few nights before, so you can stand back and evaluate what you have and make sure you have everything.
Your bag. You're going to need at least two: A check in and a carry on. You'll want to put most of your clothing in the bottom of the plane, where it will sit until it reaches your destination. Your check on will stay with you on the plane, and will be accessible during the flight. Your *usually* allowed a backpack or purse as well. *See notice at the bottom*
Your check in- If you're going for 25 days, please, PLEASE don't pack 25 different suits of clothing. Or 10 pairs of shoes. Clothing gets really heavy, and your carrying that thing all over the airports, every time you change destinations, and to and from hotels. Unless you want to cause yourself back pain, only pack 4 or 5 suits of clothing and no more than 3 pairs of shoes (walking shoes, beach shoes, and maybe dress shoes). Although many hotels don't have washrooms in Europe, you can still find laundry mats on the street. Plan a day every few days to wash. You will also want to put most of your toiletries, guidebooks, and anything else you don't need in this bag. PLAN AHEAD FOR SOUVENIRS! It's best to leave half of your bag empty for all the goodies you'll get while overseas.
Your carry on- This is the bag that goes in the plane with you. You'll have to put it above your head, so make sure that it's not too big *see notice*. Here, you might want to bring a change of clothing (in case you drop your wine or coke in your lap), a toothbrush (in case you want to freshen up before you land), some books, music player, pad of paper/pen, and anything else that you like to be entertained with. You will be on this flight for 10-20 hours, depending on your destination. Make sure you have plenty to keep your mind busy. Although most planes now offer entertainment guides, you still want to have other stuff to do. Depending on what the flight allows, you might want to pack a few bottles of water and a snack, since you never know when food will be offered.
Your book bag- You'll want a book bag. No matter what. You'll want a place to hold stuff while walking through towns day by day. Now, you can fill it and use it as your hand bag *see bottom* or you can leave it empty and put it in your check-in. When packing, leave out all your important documents- Tickets, vouchers, passport, visa's, and anything else you will be needing in the next 24 hours. When I travel, I make a folder of all these important documents and put them in the front pocket of my main bag, so that I can always reach them.
Buy a lock for your bag! I've had stuff stolen from my bags before because it wasn't locked. Make sure that the lock you get is certified by the FAA, otherwise they'll have to cut it off if they need to search your bag.
Don't be stupid and put anything bad in any of your bags. You can usually check pocket knives and such in your check in. No guns, no pepper spray, razor blades, gasoline, bombs, gunpowder, or anything else. Use common sense. They WILL check your bags. Don't think you can get away with something.
Here is a general checklist of stuff that you might want to bring:
4-5 suits of clothing
Good walking shoes
Camera Batteries for camera
Memory chips/Rolls of film
Confirmations of hotels
Any meds you need
A blanket for the plane
Money (both US and the currency of where your going)
Anything else you could possibly need on a trip
PLEASE NOTE- Post 9/11, requirements for flights have been changing. Before you leave, you need to check with your airline and see what you're not allowed to bring on board, in your check in, how early you need to arrive, how heavy a bag can be, how big it can be, how many bags you can have, and even what countries aren't safe. YOU MUST RESEARCH THIS AT HOME OR RISK HAVING TO PAY FOR HEAVY BAGS OR HAVE YOUR STUFF THROWN AWAY AT CHECK POINTS. Well, thats about it. Pack light, have fun, and safe travels!
Here are some resources you might find useful:
U.S. Department of State--- This is a perfect website. It has info on getting your passport, visa's, rules on international law, what you can and can't bring... Check this site before you go.
It's blury, but its first class... Notice the few seats with leg room!
Now, you have arrived at your overseas destination. You're in a new city, where people might not speak English and there is plentiful stuff to see. First off, how long are you staying? Personally, I prefer to stay longer in a place, and possibly go to fewer countries. I know some tours that hop all around Europe, and they can be as fast paced as 8 countries in 20 days. While this might be fine for some people, I see it that I'm on vacation. I don't want to be running at break neck speeds to see everything in one day. In fact, I'm against the trip long tours all together. I think that you can gain much more from walking around and seeing what you want to see, and experiencing the culture on your own, instead of being tied to a group. Again, if you feel uncomfortable exploring on your own, or you want to see tons of stuff at once, than feel free.
So, you endured the flight, and you're there. Usually, if you're going to Europe, you will leave the US in the afternoon and arrive in Europe in the morning. If this is the case, then you won't be able to check into your hotel until the afternoon. The first thing I like to do is go find the hotel. Not only is this a good thing to do since you don't want to be wondering the streets that night trying to find the place, but a lot of hotels will hold your luggage for you until check in. That way, you don't have to carry everything with you while you explore. Also, while at the hotel, use the desk clerk to your advantage. They can point out metro stops, places to eat, and occasionally find you show tickets. Something that I ALWAYS do is have the hotel person write down the address of the hotel. This way, should I ever get lost and have no idea where I am, I can take a taxi and just hand them the address. I've had to rely on this before when I drifted too far from the metro and found myself totally lost.
Speaking of the metro, or the subway depending on where you are, it is the fastest way to get around a city. London's tube, the Paris Metro, and Rome's Metro are some of the best that I've ever been on. You will want to get a map of the metro right off, and figure out what stop your hotel is next to. Always make sure to buy the right ticket, and to validate the ticket right. I say this, because metro systems work differently all over the world, and you can be fined hundreds of dollars if you don't do the right thing. My best advice is to watch the locals and do what they do, and if worst comes to worst, just ask. A lot of metros will have undercover cops on them checking your tickets. Another benefit of the metro is that you really get to experience life with the locals. Most people ride, and you really get a feel for what daily life is like in the city you're in. Now, just like in any major city, the subway is a great place for pick pockets, since usually trains are packed and there are easy pickings. Use caution at all times, and always keep a hand on your wallet or purse. Also, women traveling alone should also be mindful, because subways can become creepy places at night. Finally, mind any cultural rules which might also apply on the subway. For example, in Cairo, the end cars are reserved just for women. The thing to always remember when traveling is that you need to be mindful of other cultures.
The outside of a Matro stop in Rome
Now, while I downplayed tour groups that take you on your whole trip, I do believe in tour guides for hotels or major attractions. I've taken paid tours through the Roman Forum, the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, the Pyramids in Giza, Auschwitz in Poland. Really, any major destination is a good time to get an in-depth description from someone who gives speeches daily. You have two options here: You can book a tour here at home, or you can go and find a guide once you're at your destination. I usually just wait and find a tour once I'm there, since you never know if it might rain on a day that you had a tour booked from 3 months ago. You can usually just walk up to the site and find a guide, or you could ask your hotel clerk for some ideas. Sure, walking around on your own is fun, but to really learn about the site, some additional information is needed. I'll never forget the stories I heard at the Colosseum in Rome about the life of a Gladiator and the Christian persecutions that took place. And Auschwitz wouldn't have meant everything it did without the details of life in the camps. Trust me. Fork out the money and get a tour guide. Or, if you are at an art gallery, an audio tour can be just as useful.
My tourguide in Athens.
Tour guide in Rome. Note the flag that shows she is a guide.
Speaking of guides, you can buy guides in book form. I usually like to buy a book on the destination that I'm going to about a month in advance, so that I can start planning out what I want to do while there. You can bring these with you, and they can be great tools. Some good ones are Fodor, Frommer, and Lonely Planet
Here are a few shorter tips that are important to remember:
-Take your first day slow. Take in the culture for the day. Eat some local food. Sit in a park and just watch and observe.
-Part of the beauty of overseas travel is observing how the locals live. Go to the local pub or bar, or even a park, and watch the locals. See if you can find an older individual who can tell you about their life in the city.
-Don't be afraid of local customs. Instead, embrace them. When I was in Cairo, I woke up every morning to one of the 5 calls to prayer that are broadcast all over the city. It was so weird to see people praying on their knees at the airport my first day there, but I came to really respect the people and their dedication to their religion.
-Go see some churches. Some of the most elegant structures through Europe and most of the world are churches/temples/masque. People always hold their religion first, so you will see elegant carvings, sculptures, and gold in churches.
A masque in Egypt... Beautiful!
An alter in an old church in Poland.
-Eat like the locals. And don't be afraid to try new things. I've had snails in Paris, horse in Switzerland, swordfish in Sicily, and sheep in Egypt. Now, that being said, eating the local specialty can be expensive, and most of us can't spend $100 a night on food. If you want to be with the teenagers and the businessman on the go, Mcdonalds is the cheap place to be. And they exist all over the world.
-Stay away from taxi's if all possible. In most countries, they cost an arm and a leg. Most airports have buses that you can take for much cheaper. Or, the metro.
-Mentally prepare yourself for the hotel rooms in Europe and other countries. 99% of the time, they look rundown and are about half the size of our American hotels. Really, it's just a place to lay your head at night, so try not to worry too much. However, I always try and make sure that I get a room with a private WC (bathroom) and AC. Hostels are good if you want to be really cheap, and aren't afraid to sleep in a room with others. Most turn out to be dirty and loud, but they are all over the place and a great option for people tight on money.
-Don't get taken by salespeople. In Egypt, there are some bazaars that you will end up walking away with $500 worth of stuff when you just wanted one statue. (Yes, that is a personal experience.) DON'T LET YOURSELF BE TAKEN! Have a price in mind, know what you want to spend, and don't allow yourself to walk away with more then you need/want/can afford.
Yes, I really lost $500 at one of these open markets.
-Don't rent a car unless you're very brave and positive that you know what you're doing. Driving laws can be crazy overseas. My suggestion is just don't do it.
The traffic you avoid by taking the metro in Paris
-Walk with the locals. In Cairo, crossing the road is a game of chicken, and you don't want to be the dead chicken. Just "walk like an Egyptianâ€ and play it safe until you learn the rules of the country.
-Watch the tv in your hotel if there is one. I love catching American shows in different languages. I also saw "Deal or no Dealâ€ in Switzerland before it even came to the US.
-Look for bars that all you have to do is buy a beer, and you can listen to the local band for the night. There are some great jazz clubs in Europe, as well.
A local spinning man--- Traditional dance in Egypt!
-Don't be frightened when you see cops carrying machine guns and shot guns. Yeah, just don't be surprised.
-Always carry your passport on you. Police can stop you at any time and ask to see your papers. Don't end up in jail because you left it in the hotel room.
-Always carry your camera with you. You never know when you will see something awesome. When I was in Luxor, I saw a parade kind of thing, and I grabbed my camera and started recording. I ended up seeing a wedding processional. It was pretty cool.
-Don't drink the water if it looks dirty or if you know it might make you sick. Go with bottled water.
-Be careful when buying things that can break. You don't want to end up home with vases and shot glasses that are in pieces. I like to wrap my breakables in shirts and my shot glasses in socks. As funny as it sounds, you want something to protect it.
Well, I think this about covers my "how toâ€ survive an overseas vacation. I hope you will enjoy your trip, take lots of pictures, and be safe!