As a child, I traveled often with my parents between South Korea, Japan and the United States. We had many relatives on various coasts and my dad business often called for traveling abroad. At the time, traveling was easy; my mom helped our family pack appropriately and my dad made all the logistic arrangements. However, as I grew older and started making my own travel plans, I’ve learned that it takes much more time and research to actually make things happen.
I wanted to share the top five most important lessons and tips I’ve learned while preparing and traveling through Europe this year.
ONE | Saving Offline Maps via Google Maps
My friend and I did not opt for an international phone plan during our trip, so it was crucial for us to prepare as much offline information as we could before embarking on the 16-day adventure. Being able to save maps for offline use through Google Maps was a huge help as Internet was not always readily available. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t difficult to find a cafe or a shop that offered free wi-fi as a courtesy to their customers when we really needed connection.
Google Maps also has several other convenient features that show subway and metro stations around the big cities and a compass to guide you in the right direction. This eliminated the need for us to carry a huge map and quickly allowed us to navigate through a maze of alleyways!
TWO | Exchange Currency Through Your Bank
I didn’t realized that it could take up to a week for American banks to obtain foreign currency for exchange, this would have saved us from paying extra fees to exchange currency abroad. Also, it would be wise to check if your credit card has any foreign transaction fees for reference and call your bank to let them know that you’ll be traveling abroad. If you don’t, you can risk having your card disabled for fraudulent activities and may not be able to use it at all throughout your trip.
THREE | Pack Smart & Leave Room
I had imagined that traveling through multiple places within a short amount of time would quickly become a hassle so I tried to pack as lightly as possible with versatile and neutral pieces. The only regret I had was that I didn’t factor in the drastic weather change from London to Rome. I was pretty much stuck with a winter wardrobe in a mid-summer weather by the time we arrived in Italy. The key here is to pack items you can easily layer to prepare for a range of temperatures.
The zippered extension feature of my check-in luggage turned out to be my savior when I realized that I had bought a few more things than I had planned. It is always good to keep these factors in mind and leave a little space in your luggage to account for compulsive purchases and souvenirs.
FOUR | Keep Track Of Your Cash
Here’s a little story of how we lost 40 euros in a blink of an eye: we decided to take a cab to our Airbnb apartment when we arrived in Rome. The cab driver was super nice and helpful, giving us lots of information on places we should go and recommending great places to eat around town. When we got to our apartment, the fare came out to be 25 euros; my friend handed him an orange 50 euro bill, but I figured I could pay with a smaller bill to save her from breaking her 50. So we were frantically looking for smaller bills in our wallet and the cab driver chuckles and says “you only gave me a 10” and hands us the blue 10 euro bill. We were so flustered, we didn’t even catch that he had switched out the bills and gave him an extra 15 euros before jumping out of the cab.
It was too late when we realized what had happened but it was an important lesson learned about being firm with how much change we need back and keeping track of how much cash we have in our wallets at all times.
FIVE | Over-Plan Than Under-Plan
I don’t like wasting time, especially when I’m exploring through a new place. I always try to make the most of my time when I’m traveling by over-planning. This way, it gives me the option to choose what I want to do and gives a bit of wiggle room for our plans to change. Nothing is set in stone, as plans may change unexpectedly, but it gives me comfort knowing that we’re never running out of things to do. If you don’t get to do everything on your itinerary, don’t sweat! It only means you’ll have to come back to enjoy the rest of the city again soon :)