Your Honeymoon: The perfect excuse to go international

2580661428_f94161873e_zIt started when I walked in and saw the baggage check line, snaking its way lethargically back and forth and back and forth and back and forth in front of the American Airlines desk, and a foot-tapping, watch-checking, heavy-sighing lump of dread formed in my throat.  After what seemed like months of shuffling my way down the queue, I heard the announcement, “Flight 344 to Miami is delayed one hour.”  The dread lump shrunk slightly; maybe this way I wouldn’t miss my flight.

But the problem was, my layover in Miami was only 45 minutes.  After several uncomfortable hours staring at the one book I’d brought with me, my over-stuffed cabin baggage bulging out from under my seat, crowding my half-asleep feet, the head flight attendant read out a list of gates for various flight transfers.  Paris was not among them.  I asked a passing attendant about this, and she snorted and said, “Paris?  Yeah, you missed that.  It’s gone.  You’ll have to stay in Miami until tomorrow afternoon.”

When, days later, I arrived in Paris exhausted and nearly in tears, I took a taxi through rush hour traffic to my hotel.  The tears threatened to well over when the driver told me my fare.  A day later, on my way to the train station, my enormous rolling suitcase banged erratically down and up flight after flight of metro station stairs, full of fancy clothes and heels I would never actually wear at any point during my trip.  As my frazzled hair clung to my sweaty forehead, I sighed at the irony of trying so hard to look fashionable in Europe.

This, if you can believe it, is the story of my first trip to Europe.  Harrowing though it was, it was the beginning of a new, adventure-filled chapter in my life (in which I learned lots of things the hard way).  Perhaps you’re new to international travel, and though a nice easy jaunt to Hawaii has its merits, maybe the last couple posts have got you thinking.  Wondering if your honeymoon might be the perfect excuse to try something a little different?  You’re in luck– this is your chance to learn from my mistakes!  Keep reading for a few of my tips for international travel newbies.

Get Ready.

  • Passports take time.  If you don’t have one, apply early.  If you do have one, locate it several weeks before your trip (a renewal can take up to six).

  • Make sure your legal.  Americans are so used to having easy access to other countries, we sometimes forget that’s not always the case.  Check your destination country’s Consulate or Embassy website to find out if you need a visa, and check early since visa applications can sometimes take many weeks.

  • Cover yourself.  Travel medical insurance is cheap and can make you feel a lot safer while you’re thousands of miles away from your regular doctor.

  • Pack light.  Once you’ve laid everything out you think you need, take away half of it.  It’s easier to visit a laundromat once than to hulk around heavy luggage for weeks.  Those cute high heels?  You probably won’t need or want them when you’ve been sightseeing all day.  Pack one pair of neutral ballet flats instead.  That bulky daypack full of provisions?  If you’re going to be in a major city, chances are you can buy things locally if you really need them, so limit your toiletries and emergency supplies to essentials that would be tough to find away from home.

  • Arrive early.  Err on the side of caution and get to the airport at least two and half hours before your flight.  Lines will be shorter, and you’ll start your journey calmly.

  • Look for longer layovers.  As a rule, 45 minutes is only ever going to be enough for a plane change if absolutely everything falls right into place.  I always try to give myself at least two hours, more if I’m stopping in an exceptionally busy airport.

Travel Smart.

  • Watch that wallet.  Keep your wallet tucked away inside your clothes (an inside pocket of a zipped jacket, for example) or in a zippered bag clamped under your arm.  Don’t hang that purse on the back of your chair; put it in your lap instead.  Touristy places are loaded with skilled pickpockets, even in super safe cities.  It’s always a good idea to keep money in a couple different places, just in case one goes missing.

  • Use tourist information booths.  Many countries rely on tourism for their economic stability, and so TI stations will usually come with friendly, helpful people, eager to guide you to happiness (and cash registers).  Ask which areas are safe for tourists, and how to use the public transport.  Which leads me to…

  • Learn about and use public transport.  You’ll save money, and you’ll have a more authentic and colorful experience.  Raising a doubtful eyebrow?  The metro is my favorite thing about Paris!  It’s a twisty, turny labyrinth of tiled walls, street musicians, whooshing, rattling train cars, and lots of interesting-looking people.  And, it goes absolutely everywhere.

  • If you do take a taxi, ask how much it’s going to be.  Taxi drivers may try taking the scenic route to drive up the fare; before you get in, ask how much it’s going to cost, and they’ll be a lot more likely to stick to quickest route.

  • Have enough food.  Bring some snacks.  Hungry people stress easily and can often be snippy with their new spouses.

  • Carry some extra TP.  Especially in developing countries, toilet paper is not something to take for granted.  A pocket pack of tissues does nicely.

  • Plan for food allergies.  I’m severely allergic to peanuts, so I know a thing or two about this one.  Food allergies are not common in lots of countries, and so a waiter might not understand that using the same cutting board or pan for your meal could mean a serious reaction.  Get travel medical insurance, and bring your Epipen, and a few tabs of Benadryl as well.  Always, always ask before you eat, even if you think there is no way the food will contain it (I stumbled upon this blog, which gives a good example of what NOT to do).  If you’re not comfortable with the answer, eat somewhere else.  Go to a grocery store and pack a few safe snacks just in case you get stuck.  Don’t speak the language?  Carry a card with a translation, a picture of the food item, and a picture of someone having a serious attack.  It may sound dramatic, but it will help get the point across.

Enjoy yourself!

  • Do a little research.  Learn a little about the local culture.  A few small tips can make the difference between stressful interactions with locals and cheerful ones.  If you’re going to Europe, start with one of Rick Steves’ travel books, which have fabulous, streamlined sightseeing and accommodation suggestions, as well as lots of useful and and entertaining tips and tricks for being “a temporary local”.

  • Have a rough plan, but don’t be afraid to change it.  Pick the top two or three things you really want to see or do, and then roll with the punches on everything else.  The best adventures are always a little unpredictable, so keeping an open mind is key.

  • Don’t be afraid to get lost.  Arm yourself with a good map (for major cities, I love the Streetwise series for its compact size, spill-proof surface and readable layout), some basic safety tips, and then go wild.  You might just wander into the most unique and memorable part of your honeymoon.

  • Learn a couple local phrases.  No need to be fluent, but saying “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me” in the native tongue will often get you better service, and a lot more smiles, even if your pronunciation is horrible.

  • Remember, it’s an adventure.  It’s going to be different from home; expect that.  Expect to find yourself outside of your comfort zone at least once.  Have a sense of humor when you find yourself in a ridiculous situation; it will make a great story for your grandkids one day!

Let your friends and family help you get there by creating your very own honeymoon registry.  You can add anything you’d like, from big items like hotel stays and flights, to smaller things like cocktails at a swanky bar, ski lessons, or even a picnic on the beach.

There’s nothing quite like your first time!  Have an blast planning it, and stay tuned for more adventures next week!

(photo credit Thor under creative commons license)

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