Traveling abroad can be overwhelming – especially as a first-timer!
I took my first trip to Europe last year, and booked it with only three weeks to spare. That meant I had less time to be nervous about the trip, but I also had less time to research and prepare myself.
I learned a few valuable lessons on that trip, so now I’m risking embarrassment by sharing them with you! Here are the seven mistakes I made on my first trip abroad.
1. Failing to Research Exchange Rates & Foreign Currency
That’s right kids…you’re looking at the girl who just one short year ago exchanged money for British Pound at the [gasp] AIRPORT. I learned my lesson when I got slapped with ridiculous fees that I never should have had to pay. Here’s what I’ve learned since:
Never, ever exchange your money at the airport exchange counter. You’ll pay crazy rates and fees.
By far the best way to get money while abroad is from an ATM. You’ll pay the lowest exchange rates here.
If anyone asks whether you’d like to pay your bill in USD or local currency, always say local currency. Restaurants and hotels will sometimes present this option hoping that you’ll select USD out of familiarity and “convenience.” In reality, it’s just a way for them to add a few additional bucks to your bill disguised as an exchange fee.
2. Not Allowing Time for Jet Lag
I landed in London at 7:00 a.m., and met up with my tour group for orientation at 5:00 p.m. that same day. I had very little time to explore London (we departed for France the next morning), and ZERO time to deal with my jet lag.
Lesson learned. I would build at least 1-2 full days in at the beginning of any trip abroad, especially when taking a tour because the schedule you have to keep is so exhausting! This would help me adjust to the new time zone and rest up before the trip really begins.
“Of course I’m going to wear that super cute heavy coat during summer in Europe!” Sigh.
Looking back, I packed WAY too much clothing on this trip. I only wore half of it, and the rest stayed in my pack. Next time, I’ll lay out all of the clothes I want to take, and then cut the amount in half…TWICE. This should also keep me from having to buy an extra suitcase on the way back, just to accommodate my souvenirs…
4. Buying Junk Souvenirs, Instead of Something Special
It’s tempting to pick up little trinkets to remember your travels. Put down that plastic Eiffel Tower, and instead, focus your souvenir spending on one particular item that you’ll love and truly use in your daily life.
I should have ditched the trinkets, and instead purchased a leather jacket in Florence. Florence is famous for it’s leatherwork, and I was practically drooling over these jackets. I would have gotten much more use out of one jacket, instead of all the little items that I mostly ended up throwing out eventually.
5. Not Using My Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a beautiful thing. A standard policy will cover changes in itinerary, medical emergencies & transport, and lost or stolen luggage/property. I secured a travel insurance policy before embarking on my trip…and then proceeded to ignore it.
My phone was stolen in Paris, and I had to purchase a new one upon returning to the US. $175 down the drain. If you’re thinking, “Tami, that would have been a great time to use your travel insurance!” …well, you’re right! It would have been!
Unfortunately, I started a new job a few days after my trip and got so sidetracked that I didn’t even think about filing a claim with my insurance until the claim period had passed. It would have saved me $175 in the end. Fail.
6. I Didn’t Track My Spending
While I do believe that people should leave their daily worries behind while on vacation, there are still some things that need to be tended to. I made the mistake of going too hard in the direction of “I’m just going to have fun and not worry about anything!” As a result, I spent more than I would have liked on dining out and shopping.
Next time, I would log what I’m spending each day to keep myself on track.
7. …I Ate Too Much
Since I was on a tour, we all ate together for breakfast, then we would typically stop at a rest stop or coffee shop for a morning snack. Then came lunch, another snack, and full, multi-course dinners every night. This isn’t even counting all of the alcohol we drank. It was WAY more food than I eat in a day back home, but I thought, “When in Rome, right?”
Wrong. I came back from my trip 7lbs heavier and feeling like a slug.
I shouldn’t have changed my normal eating habits while abroad. Even if the group was sitting down to a hot breakfast, I could have had my usual coffee + fruit and not missed out on anything.
That said, one of the joys of being abroad is indulging in food from other cultures! I definitely, absolutely, 100% would still do that next time. I would just make sure that I was still making healthy choices throughout the day to compensate for moments of indulgence.
What mistakes have you made when traveling nationally or internationally? Let me know in the comments below!