Travel Planning – Nervous First-Timers Checklist for Europe…What did I forget?

First Timers Checklist for Traveling to Europe {Saving up for Disney}

Up until last year, I was a Southern California native who had been as far north as Nevada, as far east as Utah and as far south as Acapulco, Mexico. My longest plane flight had been 45 minutes to Las Vegas. I’d been on one cruise. I loved the idea of traveling and I desperately wanted to travel, but for the most part, time and money have eluded me. I’ve stayed put, happy enough to drive the 90 minutes north to Disneyland for a mini-vacay once in a while.

Then last year for my birthday we went to New York city (on a trip that I won through Pinterest from Armitron Watches). It was a whirlwind weekend and the travel bug bit me, I wanted more!

Shortly after I won the NY trip, I was awarded the grand prize in another Pinterest contest, this one from Skype for $5000 in travel vouchers from Intrepid Travel.

After much discussion, my husband and I decided to visit Europe.  I knew exactly what city I wanted to visit and we chose our tour based on that. When I was a teenager, I’d seen a photo of Vienna, Austria lit up at night with a huge full moon hanging over the city and from that point on, I knew that if I went to Europe, that was where I wanted to go!

So…that’s where we’re going! We’ve been planning for over a year and now the time has finally come. Our tour will include Munich, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Vienna and Budapest…4 countries in 9 days!

I’m a teensy-bit obsessed with planning *ahem* I have been scouring the internet for traveling tips. My Pinterest board is loaded with images of places we are going, hotels we are staying in, maps, restaurants we want to eat in and general tips for international travels. Given that neither of us have been to Europe and neither of us speak a foreign language, we are equal parts atwitter with excitement and nerves.

Because we are total newbies to international travel, we are soaking in all the help we can and grilling those we know who have traveled to Europe. Once we return I’ll have a better feel for what was good and helpful advice… and what exactly didn’t work for us. I can’t wait to tell you all about it but in the meantime, here is where we stand.

What I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Pack light. We are going to aim to keep our luggage around 25 lbs each (we have matching rolling suitcases) and expect that we’ll have some souvenirs to bring back.
  • Learn the language basics. At least enough so I can ask where the bathroom is! Languages are not my thing so this should be comical…I sense some major charades coming on this trip.
  • Do as the locals do. Drink what they drink, eat what they eat, wear what they wear and try not to whine when it’s “different” than what we’re used to. Of course it will be different, it’s a whole ‘nother country…that’s the adventure!
  • Avoid looking like a tourist (though I’ve heard they will probably still see you coming a mile away). I just read that most women in Europe don’t wear shorts. Guess I need to start rethinking the travel wardrobe.
  • Pack a money purse to wear under clothes. We’ve heard not-so-good stories about safe travel and keeping valuables away from pickpockets.

What we are doing for sure:

  • Instead of using our cell phones overseas, we’ll be purchasing international phone cards to keep in touch with family back home. Because we’ll be traveling to 4 countries, we’ll have to be careful not to purchase too much upfront because most cards are only valid in the country they were purchased in.
  • We’ll be keeping a watch set at US Pacific time. Don’t want to accidentally call my mom and kids at 2 am!
  • Avoid long lines at popular attractions by getting there early and buying tickets in advance. A few of the activities that we are doing are included with our tour but there is one attraction in Vienna I’d like to visit and I’ve heard that the line can take hours just to get tickets! Since we are going during peak season, we’ll get there early and I’m going to purchase the tickets before we leave home.
  • We’ll be carrying cash as well as debit/credit cards. I will be contacting my bank and credit card companies a week ahead to let them know we are traveling internationally. It was recommended to have cash in each location for restaurants and shops that don’t take cards. However, this will be tricky as we are traveling to 4 countries and 3 of them have different currencies so we don’t want to have excess before we take off for the next place.
  • Journalling as we travel. A friend recommended getting a small journal that my husband and I can take turns with, jotting down memorable things and drawing little pictures. She said that her husband and she did this on a trip to Italy and it’s one of their favorite souvenirs.
  • Taking some snacks from home. Not only for the long plane travel but also if the food isn’t appetizing, at least I’ll have a granola bar to eat. I am just not the most adventurous eater…but I will try! I’m comforted in the fact that I can always eat pastries.
  • We’re definitely not afraid of wandering, though I am a planner so I already have walking maps planned out based on our hotels.

What I’d LIKE to accomplish on this trip:

  • Starting in Munich, I want to eat in an authentic German restaurant, clink a beer stein and listen to oompha music. My grandma would be so proud! I also want to visit the English Garden and the Glockenspiel.
  • In Prague, I’d like to cross the Charles Bridge and visit Prague Castle. Taking a cruise on the Vltava River might be an option but I’ve heard that some river tours are not as good as others so we may consult our guide on this first.
  • Moving to Cesky Krumlov, which is also in the Czech Republic, our group is slated for a bicycle tour in the country side. We’re staying in a very old and rustic place, so I can’t wait to wander the streets and explore this beautiful city.
  • In Vienna, Schonbrunn Gardens is at the top of my list. And eating schnitzel. And listening to Mozart.
  • In Budapest, I’m not sure how much time we’ll have there to do much (we are only there overnight and leave early the next morning) but I’d love to visit the Fisherman’s Bastion and maybe relax in one of the thermal spas.

I’m reading every article on Rick Steves’ Europe website. What a wealth of information. I hope someday to be as carefree about traveling to other countries as he is. Right now, I’m a bit of a nervous wreck! There is just so much to remember and take care of before we leave. I know as soon as the plane takes off and we’re finally on our way, all that nervousness will dissipate into excitement of the days ahead. And I have a feeling, the travel bug is going to be really biting after this adventure!

Other Helpful Links:

Travel Zoo – 20 tips before traveling internationally

Independent Traveler – Travel Tips

U.S. Passports & International Travel – Traveler’s Checklist

Trip Resource – Travel Checklist

3 replies
  1. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    Very exciting! I was also going to recommend a money purse. My husband wore one during our cruise port stops. Rick Steeves also has a podcast, which is good to listen to during flights, train rides, etc. Have lucky that you won a trip! Have fun 🙂

  2. juliebigboy
    juliebigboy says:

    Thanks Mindy, we are counting down the days! I plan on taking lots of photos, eating lots of good food and soaking in all the beautiful places and things! Looking forward to sharing when I get back.

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