While living in Paris, I took time to travel around some of Eastern and Central Europe during my first school holiday. This was my first time planning a trip like this on my own – the first part of the trip, I would be with my roommate, and the last part of the trip, I was visiting a friend in Poland, but in between I’d be hoping around and finding my way on my own.
As a review, my itinerary in those two weeks was this:
- A week in Istanbul
- 24 hours in Budapest
- Over night in Krakow
- 3 hours in Warsaw, on our way to
- A Weekend in Berlin, and then back to
- Magical Krakow, before returning to
Like any new experience – and even repeat ones – I picked up a few lessons along the way. I believe these lessons are useful whether you are going around the corner from your house, taking your first trip or taking your 101st trip. So in no particular order, here are my lessons from my first big girl trip:
1. For those who don’t know, American citizens (and it seems most everyone else), needs a visa to enter Turkey. The process is relatively simply, but they advise you to do it before you board the plane instead of at the airport. It really didn’t make a difference for us. There was a long line in front of passport control regardless of where you got your ticket. The ticket line for visas was two people long, and I think they were together. But who knows, it might be a different story another day. Besides, it’s cheaper to get it online, so you might as well.
2. Double Check the airport you are flying in and out of
3. Be on a budget, but make sure your budget has some wiggle room.
5. Everyone is a potential friend – until they’re not. Just use your head.
6. Take pictures. It’s ok to ask strangers to take a photo of you. If you have a DSL, try to look out for someone with a DSL as well and ask for their help. Explain what you want from the picture. Try not to take up TOO much of their time. If they ask, is it ok? And it’s not, you have two options. If it’s a good picture, just not quite the one you want, say so. “Oh this is great. Can we try one where I’m on this side of the frame and zoom out a little?” If it’s a terribly unfocused photo and you feel that explaining what you really want would just be a headache, say thank you, let them get a little farther away and ask someone else to take it. Gloria, from The Blog Abroad, covered more tips here.
7. Pack JUST enough. I’m still learning the meaning of this.
8. Have an idea of who you want souvenirs for.
9. If you are there for more than 3 days, don’t get souvenirs your first day. You need a little bit of time to realize what is memorable and important about the city. This is the difference between buying memorabilia and buying trinkets. Besides, a lot of things can be bought in multiple places. Giving yourself time to look before you buy allows you to know how much you really should be charged for something.
10. Insist on trying local food, otherwise people will just take you to places with food they THINK you want – aka, American food or whatever your own local cuisine is. Or make suggestions for things THEY like but aren’t necessarily indigenous to the culture. As often as you can, try local food. But it’s also quite interesting to try American food and see what it tastes like abroad – it’s usually better.
11. Fill your day with ideas of things to do, but don’t be distraught if some things end up getting dropped before the end of the day.
12. When traveling with a group, try to make sure everyone gets a chance to see their top sites or eat the dishes they most wanted to try.
13. If you are in a city for two days or less – do a guided walking tour or bus tour. Especially the bus tour. You see so much and get so much information. I would honestly suggest even doing it where you are living – you never know what you will learn.
14. There are also free self guided tours, if you’re not really the organized activity type – or there’s just other stuff you want to check out.
15. Leave reviews in places like TripAdvisor, Google, Airbnb, and other sites that helped you pick your travel options. The Hammam decision in Istanbul was made almost entirely because of its reviews and it was truly wonderful – like everyone said. But imagine if no one had said anything…we would have never known. Help your fellow travelers make great decisions – leave a review. For restaurants, it can even be something as simple as what they should try there.
Help your fellow travelers make great decisions – leave a review.
16. Creepy old men live around the world. It’s very uncomfortable. Don’t stare back. Usually for me, if someone is staring at me, I’ll stare right back at them til they look away. Lots of times, people don’t realize how rude what they are doing is. So doing it right back to them makes them realize how weird and awkward what they are doing is. The exception to this is when I don’t feel like staring back, and creepy old men. You can tell who they are by the stare that’s just a little too intense to be receiving from someone who is old enough to be your grandpa. Also, the creepy-ass smile is a dead giveaway. I am way too young for you to be looking that excited.
17. It’s ok to take one day to relax. Remember, you’re on vacation. Not adventure camp. You want to see a lot, but listen to your body. You don’t want to have to head back to work or school exhausted. Traveling should be fun and exciting, but if it’s your vacation, it should be relaxing as well. There are ways to relax without staying inside your airbnb or hotel all day. Just take it easy one or two days.
18. Get suggestions from friends that have been there – especially those that spent a long time there. And always free to shot me an email – chances are, I’ve been there or I have a friend there!
Even if you are going to a location to visit a friend, have some ideas for what you want to do and see.
19. Even if you are going to a location to visit a friend, have some ideas for what you want to do and see. Even if its just googling, Top Ten Things to do in __insert town/city here__. I was on it about looking that stuff up for Istanbul and Budapest and Warsaw a little, but I was very lazy about it for Krakow and Berlin. Your friend will most likely ask you “what do you want to do, what do you want to see?” and it would be nice for you to have a response. Or they might give you a list of a few different things, and you’ve got to pick. And of course they’ll tell you the best places to go and all that jaz, but it’s also nice for you to have an idea of what you’d like to see before you leave.
20. See the magic everywhere. We live in a beautiful world, and no matter where you are, I am sure you can find something awe-inspiring about what is around you. Connect with the local, take in the sites, breathe in the air. Don’t be so busy trying to take pictures of this and that, that you don’t take stock of what’s around you and really try to appreciate its essence.
So there you have it! My 20 top travel tips that I learned specifically on this trip. Most of these tips have funny stories behind them so feel free to ask about anyone you want an example for. I learned some of these the hard way, so I hope you don’t have to.
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What other travel tips do you have for checking out new places?