International Traveling for First-Timers

qPfq3m9FXkWYUfVRCfqmrPksJxhbLxf2wOxHXAQBpzwpX92IBI just returned from my first big independent trip abroad and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like it. As an awkward girl, travelling to 3 countries (four if you count airports) was a big undertaking that I was very nervous about. No matter how much research I did, I knew things would go wrong (they did). But it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot of ways to get through the world as an awkward girl. I may go a little deeper into things we learned, but I’m going to start with my overall awkward girl traveling tips.

A partner helps.

Relaxing with my partner-in-travel and life on our terrace in Rome.

I took this trip with my husband and I can’t deny that having a travel buddy that leans toward extroversion was really helpful. You don’t have to have a romantic partner for this to work, however, a friend or family member  who knows you well can aid by stepping in when the awkward gets to be too much. There we times when walking into a restaurant seemed impossible or asking for help was really scary but my husband can usually tell when to pus me out of my comfort zone and took charge when I needed
to. Plus, two heads are better than one when it comes to problem-solving. And sharing experiences with someone you care about is all the more fun. Plenty of people enjoy traveling alone, but, for my unique brand of awkwardness prefers a partner.

Travelling light keeps you mobile.

This was my only luggage for our nearly 2 week trip.

When I first announced that I wanted to do the whole trip in carry-on bags, my husband basically looked at me like I had casually requested we detach our heads from our body. This decision, which I made after a lot of research, was probably the best one we made on the trip. We wanted to do a lot of our travel via public transportation and trains and we always had a decent commute to the places we stayed. With a carry on and a shoulder bag each, we could move around pretty easily. There were a couple of factors that made our light travel easier:

  •  travel cubes and rolling clothes
  • a decent-sized, expandable carry-on.
  • limited liquids (I switched to bar shampoo, stick foundation, etc to help with this).
  • laundry facilities or the willingness to re-wear clothes.

We had a washer at our final rental and set some time on a travel day for laundry and honestly, other than that, our light travelling was pretty easy. I also packed a small duffel for later in the trip so we could have a little more flexibility to check some bags on the way home.

Over-scheduling leads to anxiety.

Over-scheduling meant we had to rush through the Globe exhibit very quickly before closing, but at least we took some good pictures outside.

It’s no surprise that we overbooked our itinerary for this trip. Since this sort of trip had been the matter of our dreams for many years, there was so much we wanted to see and we didn’t want to waste our time. The thing that lead to the most consistent frustration was timing and exhaustion from packing our schedule full of too many items and not leaving enough time for lines, exploration and travel time. For this trip we struggled because we know it’s going to be a long while before we make it overseas again, and we wanted to see as much as we possibly can. But our ideas weren’t exactly realistic, which I think we knew secretly. The “sleep when the trip is over” mentality leads to a less pleasant trip with more bickering, in my experience.

You really should try new things…duh.. but really.

Despite my deep fear of heights, I greatly enjoyed the London Eye… not so much the Eiffel Tower.

When you’re a first time international traveler, the whole experience is new, so this advice can seem super simple. There will be opportunities, while on this journey, to push outside your boundaries in ways you hadn’t thought of yet. Order something you would never order. Have experiences you wouldn’t normally attempt. On this trip, our experimentation was usually in food and drinks. We drank spring mineral water in Bath and did a shot of espresso in Rome after a meal because, of course. My husband tried escargot. I’m terrified of heights but I had to do the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower.  We are by no means the most adventurous travelers the world has ever seen, but there were definitely times when we had choice between the comfortable and out-of-our-norm and we tried to choose the latter. It made the trip better. I did cry at the top of the Eiffel Tower, though.

Find some comfort measures to keep you grounded.

Our fearless English-speaking tour guide for Mont Saint Michel.

There were definitely days when we just felt overwhelmed by everything new. From not knowing the language or where we’re going, to the day my phone got stolen, there were days when we needed something familiar. In many cases ending the night a little early and going back to our place to stay was helpful (and it also helped with our general exhaustion). We also ate at American dining chains for dinner two nights, just so ordering and eating wouldn’t have to be an ordeal. It felt kind of like a failure at the time, but honestly it was nice to be able to chill out. Having a couple of tours booked in English also helped. We didn’t do a lot of guided tours but we did have two semi-guided tours which gave us a brief respite from feeling surrounded by unfamiliarity.

Have a back-up plan.

An amusing warning sign from the Vatican Museum’s spiral staircase.

Establishing some back-up plans give you something to turn to if something goes wrong. What would you do if your phone, wallet or passport was stolen? As I mentioned before, my phone was stolen in Rome, so having my tablet/e reader as a backup device helped a great deal for our last day of tourist-ing and our final travel day. It’s also good to have a back up plan for your day in case the weather changes or the museum you were planning on attending was unexpectedly closed.  You can’t possibly plan for all eventualities but you’ll feel a little bit more comfortable if you have some things in place.

International Traveling for First-Timers