updated on February 16th, 2020
Unless you’ve got plenty of cash to burn, plan your first international trip carefully! You can still get high levels of enjoyment without going broke or having a miserable time. We’ve made plenty of mistakes (including the ones listed here) and made this list based on what we wished we knew when we booked that first plane ticket.
Here’s some common pitfalls to avoid, so you can enjoy your first adventures minus the headache.
While many of these points are not necessarily unique to Americans traveling to Europe, we’ve seen many first-time European visitors making these mistakes. So, to make it handy, we’ll use some Europe specifics as an example.
1. Do not overbook yourself.
It may be the first (and perhaps only) time you’ll see Paris! There are so many churches and museums to visit!
This is one of the biggest downfalls of first-time travelers. By the third day of Parisian culture and 8th art tour, your group might be ready to pitch a fit. Reaching a ‘cultural saturation’ point actually happens, where each new sight feels just like the last several you just saw. Before you visit, you might think this is impossible. We promise, it’s happened to us and several people we know.
Mix your vacation up with a few hours in a park, a boat ride, or a leisurely lunch while people-watching to give yourself a break. Some of our favorite travel memories happened when we took a break and watched the world go by. Don’t try to fit every attraction into a single day.
2. Do not buy the single-day attraction passes- sometimes!
Make a list of a maximum of three places to visit each day, and explore the areas near those locations. For example, if you’re visiting the Vatican, you might want to leave a few hours to wander nearby streets and have a picnic in a nearby park. This gives you more time to truly enjoy the local culture.
Avoid buying “tourist passes” that are only good for a day or two, and offer a huge amount of sights to visit. This might save a couple dollars, but will have you rushing from one destination to the next. As we mentioned in the first point, you’ll end up feeling overbooked and overwhelmed. Try to find a pass that offers a discount and won’t max out your itinerary, or just book individually.
3. Take some time finding opening hours, closures, and special events.
Instead of buying a big tourist pass that gets you into way too many sites in too short a time, pre-purchase tickets to big attractions. You might spend an extra dollar to book online, but you’ll be rewarded by avoiding a one or two hour wait to get inside.
The Vatican is a great example of this- waits are around two hours, and people who purchased ahead of time walk right in. Additionally, buying online will guarantee that you don’t arrive to find out that the attraction is closed. Look at the official tourist websites to find out what to expect. For example, the Louvre in Paris is closed on Tuesdays! We never would have guessed, until we arrived on a Tuesday and felt stupid for forgetting to check their website.
4. Heed travel warnings.
Do your research! An example- when reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor suggest not renting a car, don’t rent a car. Spain has lovely, wide, well-kept roads that are a pleasure to use. Sicily has tiny, crooked roads that can end up looking more like an alleyway. For your sanity in navigating unfamiliar terrain, sometimes opting for public transport (especially in Europe!) is the easier way to go.
If you constantly read about a health issue (cholera, anyone?) and don’t plan ahead, your entire international vacation could be ruined by an unforeseen illness.
Do your research before hopping on a plane. If you continually hear the same thing about a destination, it might be true.
5. Location, location, location.
Booking a place to stay without checking the location can mean you end up outside the main areas. Commuting an hour or more to visit popular attractions will put a damper on your trip. Keeping an eye on your lodging’s location, places you want to see, and spending a couple dollars more a night can get you nice and close. Balance cost, reviews, and location for the best value.
6. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is one of the most overlooked aspects of a trip.Your normal health insurance typically won’t cover international travel! Should the unforeseen happen and a member of your group get sick or injured, it can cost thousands to get medical care and fly home. Travel insurance also covers your trip should you need to cancel ahead of time and if something happens to your belongings along the way due to theft or loss. We never leave home without insurance and our favorite company is World Nomads. We’ve been lucky enough not to need them, but feel safe knowing they have our backs.
You have most likely saved up for your first international vacation and are using precious time off. A little preparation can make a world of difference!
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