Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What I Did Right & What I'd Do Different {Reflecting on My International Trip}

Before we left for our trip to France and Spain, I did lots of research. I wanted to know travel tips, clothing tips, packing tips... basically whatever tips I could find! I Googled, I Pinterested, I bought a few books, and I asked other people.

Having come and gone, I figured out what personally worked, (and didn't work), for me/us. I don't consider myself an expert now, but I hope this can help myself in the future, or even someone else looking for the same information I was!


What I Did Right
1) Use a regular purse that goes across your body
Knowing I'd be on my own much of the time for the first part of our trip, I wanted to make sure I could walk around without worrying about getting pickpocketed. Lucky for me, the town we were in has very low crime. {At least, it did while I was there. Plus, I'm pretty good about being aware of my surroundings.} Anyways, I took a purse to carry with me in town that went across my body, and it worked just fine! Plus, I always keep my hand on the zipper, which deters pickpockets as well. So don't worry about buying anything fancy to protect your belongings. I just took whatever money we decided ahead of time to spend that day, and nothing more. That way, the pickpockets wouldn't take all our money. Also, make a photocopy of anything you wouldn't want to get stolen, (like your passport), and keep the real thing in the safe of your hotel (if it has one). That way, the pickpockets don't have the real thing.

2) Get as many maps of the area as you can
This was more for me than anything. I knew we were only paying for an international plan on Phil's phone, so I couldn't use mine for maps or the internet. That being said, I made sure I had as many maps, (in English!), of the areas we would be in as I could. That way, I could have several ways of figuring out where I was, and where I needed to go. I started the day going over the general route I'd be taking using the hotel WIFI, but I used the physical maps more than anything. Also, make sure the are as up-to-date as you can get them!

3) Contact your cell phone provider, and make sure you have an international plan for talk, text, and data
As I mentioned earlier, we only spent the money for Phil's phone. I made sure my phone was on airplane mode as much as possible so I wouldn't be roaming internationally. It worked out pretty well, and even though it ended up being $90 when we had to pay our bill, it would have cost us twice that had we not gotten the plan.

4) Book hotels with WIFI, especially if you're going to Skype the kiddos back home every night
We knew we'd be Skyping with the kids as often as possible, and Phil isn't the type of guy to stay at a hotel without WIFI. Even without the international plan on my phone, I could be on the WIFI and it not cost us an arm and a leg! When booking your hotel, just double check, and it will be worth your while!

5) Take a smaller camera
We have a really nice Nikon camera, but I didn't want to lose or break it on this trip. I found a small point and shoot camera that also did videos at Target. Not only did I end up with a decent camera for what I needed it for, (it's obviously not the same quality as the Nikon, but still worked!), I ended up getting a model that was being clearanced. Instead of paying around $120, I got ours for $45! So keep an eye out in advance of your trip, and you might get lucky too!

6) Take an umbrella
Our only umbrella has been broken for awhile now. When I went to get a replacement, I decided to buy two small ones for the trip. It would have been nicer to be under one umbrella, but I was so glad we took them! It rained the entire time we were in Paris. We went just before summer officially started, and it was rainy and cold. Check what the weather is usually like, and pack for worst and best case scenario. Best case would require sunscreen, and worst case would require an umbrella and a jacket. We had both, and we had a good time :)

7) If pregnant, take any documents you might need PLUS whatever medicines you are taking, (including prenatal vitamins)
I had my medical records, a note from doctor saying I was allowed to travel, a list of medicines I could have, a list of foods to avoid, a copy of traveler's and medical insurance just in case, as well as my prenatal vitamins. I was completely prepared in case BB-3 ended up coming really early. I'm sure that sounds like such a pain, but it's much better to be safe than sorry in my opinion, especially when it comes to your pregnancy. You just never know what will happen! I'm sure I could have replaced the prenatals, but I had no idea how much they would cost, or if I'd like the taste, (and my taste buds are sensitive as is!)

8) Make an itinerary with addresses, but be flexible
I looked up several places to go, restaurants to try, and made sure I put their addresses down. However, not knowing how I'd feel being 29 weeks pregnant and all, we decided to try about be as flexible as possible. This worked out so well, because it kept us from trying to pack too much in the whole trip. Plus, had we not been flexible, we would have missed out on something of the things we did do/eat that we really enjoyed. So make a plan, but promise yourself you'll be flexible about it. Plus, if you miss something, it gives you an excuse to return!

9) Don't worry about how you look - you will be walking a ton
I read all this stuff about how Paris is so fashionable, and you need to blend in. Well, here's the thing: you can wear whatever you want. I saw bright shoes worn by locals. I saw all kinds of other fashion faux paus in the street that no one gave a crap about. And truly, if you're not a local, Parisians already know that. So wear a black dress with sneakers. Whatever you need to wear that is comfortable, that's what you should wear. I don't support fanny packs or a standard American tourist outfit, but don't worry too much about being fashionable.

10) Take only a few clothing items, and use them interchangeably
I read one blog that had a line like "I don't care if I wear the same outfit in Paris... Who would recognize me anyways? And if they did, will I see them again? Probably not." I thought that was brilliant! I don't think I'd pack all the scarves I did, but for the most part, I only had 2 dresses, 3 shirts, 1 skirt, and 1 pair of leggings. If I had to pack again, I wouldn't take 1 of the dresses, and leave the skirt at home as well. I would have brought another pair of leggings or pants because my legs got chaffed from all the walking we did. However, I figured out I could make 11 outfits with those items, and that's why I packed them. The more you can re-wear stuff, the better because that's less for you to pack!

11) Do not take more than 3 pairs of shoes
Honestly, I only wore 2 pair anyways. Any more than 3 pairs of shoes will just get in the way of other stuff you can fit into your bag.

12) Exchange money through your bank before the trip
We got a little cash from my folks before we got on the flight, which was very kind of them! However, the exchange rate was awful, and we were a little miffed by the fee they charged as well. Exchange as much as you can before you leave to avoid this!

13) Use guidebooks more than Google once you are there
I'm sure that made me such a big tourist, but it's much easier to navigate the city. Plus, I didn't have to worry about cell phone charges! Especially for our Barcelona portion of the trip, the guidebook I got ended up giving us some cool facts of things we never would have noticed otherwise. Plus, Google is not always correct, and you won't figure that out until it's taken you somewhere you don't wanna be.

14) Try to pack in a carry-on only
This worked really well for the trip over. I had everything I needed with some room to spare on a carry-on suitcase. It was less to worry about, and I didn't feel like those people who had HUGE bags. I couldn't imagine trying to cart one of those things around France and Spain. My little bag was rough enough at times! Not every area has escalators, and even if there's any elevator, they usually smell like vomit, urine, or both (if you're lucky!)

15) If you need to, pack a bag for souveniers for the trip home
I packed a separate bag to put on the plane with me so we could use my hardcase suitcase to check with the airline. Now, it didn't work in our favor this time, but I feel like it was a good plan. I would have just repacked so that it wasn't all souvenirs in the checked back.


What I'd Do Differently
1) Worrying about getting mugged
I'm usually pretty good about being aware of my surroundings. I have common sense and street smarts, but I was still nervous. Honestly, I didn't have much to fear. It really wasn't as bad as it sounded. I wish I would have been a little more trusting in my own ability to take care of myself.

2) Trying to sleep on the plane (especially on the way there)
I'm not a good flyer, so investing in an eye mask and earplugs was just a waste of money. Plus, when gaining time, it would have really messed up my internal clock had I been able to sleep. If you're not a good flyer, don't bother with things like that. You won't be sleeping anyways

3) A little more down time in Spain
I really wanted to see as much as we could. It was hard enough to pick what we did! However, it would have been nice to be a little more relaxed in Spain. That way, if we wanted to spend more time somewhere, (or even take a nap!), we would have felt like we could. This may not have been helped due to time constraints, but I that is something I'd try to fix if I had to do it over again.

4) A way to get to our hotel from the tram stop without having to summon taxis
The hardest part of being in France was trying to get a taxi. While we had no idea until we got there just how far and how hard it was to walk, (especially with me being pregnant), it was still tough to do every single day. The hotel was nice, but it would have been better if it were closer to the tram stop. Maybe it'll be better when we go back ;)

5) More snacks from home
We ran out of snacks pretty early on. If I had brought a little more, I would have liked that. Instead, I felt like I had to eat huge meals. This is mostly a pregnant problem, but I'm sure even if I wasn't pregnant, some snacks from home would have been nice to have.

6) Not lose our luggage
This obviously can't be helped, but I hated that it was my plan to check a bag just for souvenirs. Next time, I'd either pack differently, or maybe even figure out how to pack even lighter so I can only use one bag. I just love buying lots of souvenirs for people I care about. It's what I do!

7) Worry less about what to do/see/eat until I get there
I tried really hard to find restaurants and plan out our days before we left. While I think having a general idea is good, I would try to plan a little less. Mostly because, we found a few things along the way that ended up being more fun than what I originally planned. Plus, I was a little stressed before we left because I couldn't find much information about the small town we were in at the beginning of the trip. Less information = harder to make plans. Being even more flexible than we were would have made it a little more fun and adventurous :)

8) Enjoy myself more :)
I did enjoy myself, but I let some of the other tourists get to me sometimes. Just relax, and ignore!

Like I said, I'm not an expert or anything now, but those are just some of the things on my mind since being back. I'm not sure when Phil and I will travel abroad together again, (let alone just the two of us!), but I know being prepared will make the trip that much easier :)

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