I have people asking me regularly (both friends and patients) what would I recommend to them in preparing for their first trip overseas. I am not an expert traveller and haven’t been to a lot of places. But I did do lots of research and talking to people in prep for my trip and I loved how it all turned out. Many of the recommendations given to us saved time and money. But there is always things you learn once you have actually experienced it. So I thought I write them down here to share with everyone.
1 – Failing to plan is planning to fail
I am an organizer and love making lists, so I was in heaven putting together a massive planner for our trip. I wanted everything in one place where we could see:
- what was booked for that day
- what wasn’t booked but we would like to do
- accommodation locations and contact details
- what we still need to pay for
- travel times and distances
- book confirmation prints out etc.
It sounds like a lot and yes it took a long time to put it together but we had so many places to go and things to see that we needed to be organised. There needs to be rough timings and travel distances, but remember you are on holidays, so you want and need to be flexible.
2 – Make sure you have down time
Don’t overbook yourself in one day – we made sure we had maximum of 2 booked activities per day. Most of the time we only had one booking, or if we needed two we made sure they were spread far apart to allow to allow life to still happen. We had to let some things go from our ‘ideal’ plan for certain days because nobody can plan for a punctured tire, or there being no replacements and needing to drive 50mph on a 70mph motorway to drop our car off. It’s those little unplanned adventures, that although stressful and disappointing at the time, will become fond memories.
3 – Get up early everyday
Anyone who knows me, knows this is not easy for me. I love my sleep and being on holidays means one thing to me… a sleep in. In Australia the roads are starting to get busy around 6am and most people start work between 8-9am. However in the UK and Europe, they start slowly with a lot of tourist attractions not opening until 9-10am, so we discovered three very strong advantages of getting up and on the road early.
1. Easy parking and sometimes even free parking – places like Durdle Door and White Cliffs of Dover we got there before parking started. You are able to get closer to the attraction and traffic is more manageable.
2. Free access – At some places we even scored free access because they hadn’t opened yet. At Lands End we were able to get photos with the iconic signpost before the little shops opened and you then had to pay to get photos (see below). Also at Eilean Donan Castle, we were able to walk over the bridge and out around the castle before they blocked it off for the day #score.
3. Avoid crowds – During peak times of the year all the tourist spots are crawling with people, all doing the same as us taking photos and exploring. We planned our holiday in spring so even though there were millions of tourists, we got some really nice quiet time and great photos at places because we were the only ones there early in the morning.
4 – How you will work your money?
Before you leave you need to work out your money. There are plenty of options from travel cards, bank specific travel cards, passport books and of course just using cash. Do your research on what is available and how it will best work in your travel country. For us, we knew that most places would take card and EFTPOS, however in some of the remote places they still only took cash. Of course researching the currency and being aware of exchange rates is important too.
My friend and I used our bank’s travel card, which was actually a near disaster. Everything about the card sounded great however the chip wasn’t recognized which meant we had to sign for everything (thankfully that still worked). However getting cash from ATMs or shops was impossible and in the end we needed to use our Australian EFTPOS debit cards in the ATM and put up with the exchange rate as well as an extra fee each time.
5 – Jump in front of the camera
As a very keen photographer I learnt this one a while ago (not exactly just from this trip… sorry). Sometimes you are so focused on capturing every adventure from behind the camera, that you forget to get in front of the lens from time to time. Even if you don’t think you are photogenic, trust me that the last thing you want to do is to look back on your holiday photos and not see yourself in the moment enjoying life. For me it meant asking my friends to take pictures or even sometimes people we had met in our tour groups. Don’t be afraid to ask them to take a particular type of photo if you want to try a smiling pose or candid picture.
6 – Work out your souvenir strategy
Yes I said strategy. Before I left I had a list of ideas of what to get people and things I would like to collect myself. The list for family and friends made sure I wouldn’t go overboard buying for them but also meant I had time to ask them what they might like. For example my sister requested an Oxford hoodie and a collection of tea towels, easy job! A friend of mine recommend to resist buying the tacky touristy objects that would just end up collecting dust. Rather look outside the box for ideas of things to buy, things that when you use or wear will remind you of your adventure.
For me I decided on scarves and jewellery, a dress if I could find one, a new handbag and my standard hat pin from every place I go (my sister and I started that in 2013 on our Sun Sand and Waves Roadtrip). Yes I bought the souvenir books and strangely enough stuffed toys, but it is my Chatsworth House watch, my Guinness scarf and Arc de Triomphe necklace that I use the most and are gentle reminders of my trip.
7 – Book a car to pick up/drop you off up from the airport
After my first long haul flight (7hrs, then 14hrs), the last thing I wanted to do was try to negotiate a taxi to take us to our accommodation. There were three of us and a stack of luggage, we had to make sure there was enough space! Another friend recommended organising a car service to pick us up. You book ahead and give them your address (this is a bonus if you are landing in a non-English speaking country) and pay in advance. This was great because it took the stress out of wondering how much it will cost, if the traffic will be terrible costing us more money, making sure you had cash or the correct cards to pay at the end. I would totally do this again and regret not organising one to pick us up from the ferry when we arrived in Dublin (that’s another adventure to tell another day).
8 – Sort your photos everyday
If you are anything like me, when I am traveling I can easily take up to 300-500 photos a day. Eek, multiply that by 30 days that is an awful lot of photos to sort through when you get home. And often with that amount of sorting and organizing, months go by before you even start looking at them. By then you have to try and remember where each photo was taken, which can get very tricky if you are taking lots of landscape photos.
The solution that works brilliantly for me is to make time each evening to copy the photos off your camera onto an external hard drive or laptop. This meant I was able to sort the photos into a folder for each day and even locations if you need. Now looking back I can easily find photos for a specific day or location without scrolling through 1000’s of photos. It does mean you need have have a little more hardware with you as you travel but it is also security for if, heaven forbid, you lose your camera.
9 – Get an international SIM card
I’m not sure if I could live without internet access these days and it is the easiest way to keep in contact with friends and family when you are overseas. We used FB messager, Skype, whatsapp, iMessage and even instagram direct messaging – which all rely on data usage. Because we were overseas for an extended period of time, rather than spend a fortune on roaming data charges we just decided to get a SIM card. Some people swear by the international SIM card that you can get from the post office but it is hard to know their prices for data usage. So I just did some research on pre-paid plans in the UK. In the airports we could connect to the public wifi to let people know we had arrived safe but then one of our jobs to do once we have landed in London was go and find our new SIM cards (as well as find food and buy toiletries). It wasn’t without a little hassle but overall was successful in giving us ‘all you can eat’ data and phone for only $60AUD for the 30days.
10 – Pack lighter than you think you need to
There is a very strong temptation to over pack for every possible situation when you are going overseas. But the last thing you want is to lug around 30kg of luggage the whole time. Not only is it very uncomfortable and awkward, it just isn’t necessarily. One massive piece of advice my family gave me was – you are going to a first world country, if you need that toothbrush or extra pair of socks you can always just buy them! And I did just that. One of my girlfriends and I decided to buy all of our toiletries once we were in the UK. Not only did it save us the stress of a potential exploding shampoo disaster but it saved space and let us try different brands and products that normally just don’t make it to Australia.
Make a list (told you I’m an organiser) of what you need and what you want to take. Look at the weather where you are going and work out combinations that are versatile. We went in early spring but it was still quite cool so layers was the go. Also allow time for washing in your itinerary planning and know that you can always hand wash small items and let them dry overnight. For us we knew that some of our Air BNB locations had a washing machine so we made sure we allowed time to wash there.
Essentially I just kept everything really simple because I knew I would need every inch of space for my shopping. My souvenir strategy played well to my packing as well because I knew some things I was going to buy and then use. In the end I only had 16kg checked in (out of 30kg) and 5kg (out of 7kg) for my carry on.
11 – Write a blog or journal everyday
I personally have written a daily blog for the last two big holidays that I have taken and I plan to continue doing it. Not only is it a great way to share photos with friends and family back home but it is an awesome outlet to tell stories or anecdotes from your day. I love looking back and remembering the little details which fade over time, whether it was the favourite song for the day or the description of the freshest croissant from a little patisserie in Paris. If you don’t like the idea of strangers being able to see where you are or what you are doing, I would still recommend writing a daily journal for the memories.
12 – Have some cash always on hand
Last but definitely not least – always have some cash on you. It doesn’t need to be a massive amount but we were always searching for coins to the bathroom (yeah you read that right – you have to pay to use the bathroom) or for parking. Unlike Australia where there is often the option for free parking somewhere, everywhere we went in the UK required paid parking. Normally it was just a few pounds but they only ever took cash. It is just a super small thing but definitely makes for a more enjoyable streamlined holiday.
Do you have any go to travel tips? What did you learn on your first overseas trip? Feel free to share them with me! I’m always looking to learn more about travelling, particularly overseas.