It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since we got back from our trip. Sometimes now it feels like a dream, but a really great one. There are a few things I wish I had known before we went, so hopefully these can help someone planning their own first trip to Europe!
Tip #1: Don’t Worry About Money
It was so much easier than I expected to spend our money in Europe, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 🙂 I went back and forth about getting local currency before we left, and I’m glad I didn’t. The best thing we had was our credit card with no foreign transaction fees. I called them ahead of time to make sure there wouldn’t be any fees and to let them know we would be traveling so they wouldn’t put a fraud alert on my card. I also called to put a travel notice on my debit card just in case we needed it. Nearly everywhere we went accepted cards, and most of them accepted ApplePay, so all we needed were our phones. If you pay in dollars using your card rather than local currency, your bank will charge you the best available exchange rate. This was by far the best way to spend money and keep track of what we were spending, as well as have the option of disputing the charges if we really needed to (we never did). We used an ATM once in Dublin and once in Edinburgh. We got 100 euros in Dublin and 100 pounds in Edinburgh for emergency use. We wanted to take money out of an ATM as infrequently as possible because Chase charges a fee each time. We didn’t spend all of that before leaving Dublin or Edinburgh, but we were able to spend it by using our pounds again in London and euros again in Paris. We had to go buy lots of snacks to get rid of our last few pounds in London because it wasn’t enough to be worth exchanging it back. I did keep a pound coin with Queen Elizabeth on it just for a keepsake. #GodSavetheQueen
Tip #2: Be Prepared for No WiFi
The last time I was abroad was Argentina in 2012. Things have changed in the world since then. WiFi is so much more readily available, but I wasn’t sure how available it would be in all the places we were going. I’m really glad I planned ahead on finding things like train routes, because it was really spotty in some places. We put a travel plan on our phones before leaving. Verizon charges $10/day/line in Europe for phone service and using your data plan, but it doesn’t charge you for that day unless you use cellular data. We wanted the option in case of emergency, but were trying to keep it off as much as possible. In Dublin and Edinburgh, we were able to find Wi-fi nearly everywhere. It was available for free in the city centers, in our hotel in Dublin, and in nearly every restaurant or shop we went into. It was also pretty reliable and easy to connect to. In New York, WiFi is available in train stations and on trains, so I expected the same in London and Paris. We were shocked at how hard it was to find WiFi in London. Our connection in our AirBnb was spotty at best, it was not available in train stations or on trains, and it was hard to find networks you could connect to in shops and restaurants. In London, I was so glad I had researched everything ahead of time and it wasn’t really necessary for us to be able to look things up on our phones. We found the same thing in Paris. Again, we were really surprised how hard it was to find in a major city, although the WiFi in our hotel was much more reliable. The trains we were on between cities also offered WiFi, but it was also spotty. We were glad to have the option of using cellular data if we really needed it, and that we had figured so much out ahead of time. We also downloaded maps of the areas were visiting on our phones before we left so we could access those without WiFi or cellular data.
Tip #3: Use Public Transportation
Public transportation is so easy to use, and we saved so much money using it. We did try to walk whenever possible, because we like to walk and think that’s the best way to really get to know a place. Dublin and Edinburgh were small enough that we were able to walk nearly anywhere we wanted to go, but in London and Paris things are just too spread out. The rail system in Dublin looked very convenient and easy to use too, but we just didn’t need it. Riding the trains in London and Paris helped us to get to know the city better by traveling like the locals do and figuring out where things were in relation to each other. It’s also very fast and reliable. If you’re going to use the Tube in London, buy an Oyster card. In Paris we just bought packs of tickets, and it’s worth noting that sometimes you have to scan the same ticket more than once on a journey. A couple of times, we decided to take Ubers or taxis. Uber was available in most places, but not in Dublin. In Dublin we had to download the app MyTaxi to get a car. It worked the same way as Uber or Lyft and we had good experiences.
Tip #4: Pack Light
By pack light, I mean pack as light as you possibly can. We got everything into a carry on and backpack each, and I was thankful for it so many times throughout our trip. We stayed in one place that had an elevator, and everywhere we stayed was somewhere between the third and fifth floor of the building it was in. We spent a lot of time dragging our bags up and down stairs and around city streets. It was pretty chilly in Edinburgh and pretty warm in London, so we packed layers and things that would work in different climates. David has a jacket that is both waterproof and keeps him warm, but I had to pack three different jackets to meet the needs of our trip. I ended up wearing all three of them multiple times, but they took up quite a bit of room in my bag. I took duck boots that were really great for rainy Scotland, but they didn’t fit in my bag either and I had to wear them each time we were traveling. Since we knew all the activities we were doing, it was easy to make sure I had everything I needed while packing as little as possible. I wore the same two pairs of jeans the whole trip. We were able to do laundry while we were staying with Meagan in Edinburgh, but David also washed some of his clothes in our hotel rooms and that worked out just fine. We had laundry available to us at our AirBnb in London too, but never ended up using it. Look into all the places you’re staying and see if laundry is available at any of them. Sometimes hotels will do it for you.
Tip #5: Start Walking
This is David’s top tip from our trip. You will be walking. So much. If you aren’t used to walking a lot, start now. Get on a treadmill and work your way up to at least five miles every day with an incline. The smallest amount we walked any day of our trip was six miles, and some days were between ten-fifteen. In Edinburgh, everything was so hilly too. If you aren’t used to being on your feet all day, you could be pretty sore and it could affect your plans. It also helps to make sure you have shoes that are comfortable all day and broken in before your trip. If you can start walking in the shoes you’re bringing before you leave, so much the better. Having sore feet, hips, and calves can really detract from your enjoyment of all the beautiful and wonderful things you’re seeing and experiencing.
There they are, folks! If you’ve been to Europe, what tips would you add?