Friday, September 4, 2015

Travel Tips & Planning

Make sure your passport is current and get out and explore!

For two and a half weeks this summer I was fortunate enough to travel around Europe. It was such a life enriching experience. I highly encourage anyone to get out and explore this vast world we live in. With the advice of a friend overseas, we planned our journey to tour diverse countries so each place offered something different. I'm so thankful for that advice because each country was in fact so diverse. The line-up was: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala, Amsterdam, Prague and London. This whole trip came about because my good friend, Ashley was invited to a wedding in Sweden. She mentioned she was going and planned on traveling for two weeks, hinting that I come along. Of course my obvious answer was YES! The summer months are crazy busy with work so I didn't entirely think it was possible to get away for that amount of time. Yet my boss was so encouraging when I asked. From that point on, the next five months were dedicated to travel research. I can't stress enough how important it is to do your research before hand. Read, read, read anything you can get your hands on. I still regret not reading more before I left. Researching beforehand helps tremendously with planning your days for what you want to do, see and most importantly eat!

Outlets for travel research:
  • Local Library - My library had a decent selection of up to date travel guides. Most libraries can transfer books within their branch so inquire if you don't see what you are looking for. 
  • Wikitravel - This site is awesome! They offer comprehensive guides including history, districts of the city (super helpful for deciding where to stay), climate, getting around (great tips for transferring to and from the airport), architecture, local cuisine, etc. 
  • YouTube - another great outlet to familiarize yourself with the city. It was also a nice break from reading.
  •  Pinterest - A great collection of articles from websites as well as travel and personal blogs.
  • Social Media - Put it out there that you are going on a trip. Ask for advice on what to see and eat during your travels. I received two amazing guides from a girl in London I follow on Instagram and someone who lives in Amsterdam. It's a great way to get a locals perspective. 
  • Hostels - I like my privacy and have to pee far too much to venture out into the halls at night. Hostels are not for me but I know so many people love them. They are great for the budget traveler and those who want to meet fellow visitors.
  • Hotels - Hotel stays are generally comfortable and familiar. (It's always smart to read reviews on Trip Advisor or Yelp.) Hotel rooms may be tiny, but they provide many amenities that "Americans" want when traveling. The front desk staff was always kind and helpful when we called down for more pillows or any questions we had. It's also a plus when breakfast is included in the room rate. When breakfast is available at an additional cost, I suggest grabbing a coffee and pastry from the local bakery or cafe.
  • Airbnb - This was my first experience using Airbnb. It's a great way to get a feel for what it's like to live in the city. Some apartments are smack in the city center while others are in more residential areas. This lends to a nice break from the bustle of the city. Having a kitchen allows you to cook meals yourself and save on the cost of food while traveling. We found that the local grocery stores offered a wide variety of foods at low prices. Overall, I found Airbnb's cheaper than a hotel stay, especially sharing the cost with your travel partner. They also offered more space than a tiny hotel room. 
    Our Airbnb in Amsterdam overlooked a canal.
  • *Tips for booking your first Airbnb or if you are wondering why you keep getting declined. Unless the host offers instant book it's always best to message them prior to sending a request to book. I was continually getting declined and didn't understand why. Even though the selected days show availability, they are sometimes not. I read somewhere online that it's best to send a message asking if their apartment/home is available for your travel dates. Once I did this I received messages back with either, yes, and a pre-approval to book or no, and declined. 
  • Friends or Family - Traveling is expensive and the cost of accommodations add up. If you have any friends or family where you will be traveling, politely ask if they have any extra room for you. Ashley's friend in Sweden was so thrilled we were traveling all that way to attend her wedding she arranged for us to stay in a family members apartment for a few nights while they were out of town.
 Book in advance
  • Unless you are going to wing it upon arrival at your destination, it's wise to book as soon as you know when you will be traveling. We used Google Flights to compare airline prices. 
  • Pre-book attractions you don't want to miss. What I thought was far enough in advance for the Anne Frank House (2 months) was not enough. All tickets were sold out. Luckily I found a walking tour through Get Your Guide. It was a 1.5 hour walking tour through Amsterdam with skip-the-line tickets to the House. Once we passed the mile long queue, I was so happy I purchased them in advance.
 Happy planning. Check back for more of my adventures through Europe this summer. I'll be posting guides for Stockholm/Uppsala, Amsterdam, and Prague.

Have any travel planning tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below. 

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