1.) I called my cell phone carrier and made sure my phone would work in Europe, had them activate it for international calling, bought a 10 day package to make international calls, and learned how to shut off international data roaming.
This was a good idea. I only wish that the instructions for enabling the international calls had been a little more thorough. I couldn't make calls for the first 3 days, because I couldn't figure out how to, and I had no way of calling anyone to ask. I ended up using Skype whenever I had access to wi-fi to call my husband...and my dogs.
This picture is here because it's cool. It doesn't have anything to do with this blog post, except I took it in Europe and there should be a picture here to break up all of these words and stuff.
2.) I exchanged my money here. Everyone told me to wait until I got to Europe, but here's the thing: I don't know what I'm getting into over there. I don't speak the language, I don't know where ATMs are, I don't want to spend valuable super-fun-Europe-time hunting down cash machines...I just want to get there and go. So I exchanged my money here.
This was also a good idea. There were exchanges everywhere and I couldn't tell which ones were legit, and which ones weren't and nearly every one that I saw seemed to charge a pretty high percentage to exchange money.
3.) I put travel notices on all of my credit cards, so they wouldn't think my overseas purchases were fraudulent.
This is a must, but I still ended up with a fraud alert and a freeze on my credit card when I used an ATM a few cities away from one of my planned destinations...when I was lost...in the Czech Republic...with no money (can't use Euros in the Czech Republic)...in a train station in the middle of nowhere...speaking English...in a city where no one understood anything I said...and my phrase book didn't cover Czech. By the way, 2,000 Czech koruna is equal to around $9.00 US and it will cost you $10.00 to withdraw that amount, and then you can use that money to buy a weird boiled egg sandwich. In case you were wondering.
4.) I booked hostels in different cities for our entire vacation, based entirely on reviews, and no real knowledge of the cities we're visiting. Adventure, you guys!
The Meininger Hostel/Hotel in Brussels. It was beautiful.
Again, this worked out really, really well. Every hostel we stayed in was a winner. I do wish I would have done a little more research into the destinations.
5.) I declined every offer of assistance getting around Europe. I appreciate that someone has an aunt in Brussels that would be willing to show me around, but I'm just not that keen on being on someone else's schedule. Like the whole ATM thing, I just want to get there and go, but at my own pace.
We ended up having a tour guide for one day in Prague, and it was pretty great. I still liked the days without a guide, but we lucked out in having someone show us around who was really personable and easy to get along with.
Thanksgiving in Prague, with our new friend Marketa! In Prague, Thanksgiving is known as...Thursday.
6.) I have a European phrasebook. I can't pronounce anything except "Ich Bien Ein Auslander" which means "I am a foreigner." I didn't learn this from my phrasebook. I learned this back in my days as a cage dancer in an industrial club...true story. It's a song and it's the only German I know, and I just keep saying it over and over again.
The European phrasebook was pretty useless. Mostly because it's really hard to memorize 4 languages in 10 days, and pointing at things works better than frantically trying to find how to say what you want in a book. However, I'd still take it again. Just in case.
7.) I printed out all of my emergency contact information for my husband and my traveling companions, clearly marked it "EMERGENCY CONTACTS" and put copies of it everywhere. If I fall into a canal, somebody will know who to call. Unless the paper gets wet. In which case, I hope the water isn't too deep. Or infested with sharks. And alligators.
I didn't die or get Taken or anything, so I don't know if this was a good idea. I assume it was. My husband wanted me to get Taken so that when the Taken-ers called him, he could tell them he had "a very particular set of skills" which is true - he does...except if I get taken I don't think being really good at restoring antique fans or photographing owls is going to save me. I mean...I don't think so. Maybe. Probably not.
8.) We're staying in hostels, so I brought an extra blanket and some toilet paper. I mean...I've never stayed in a hostel before, and I don't like to be cold and toilet paper...well...I'm probably going to pee at some point.
The blanket was a good call - one of our rooms was really cold. Everywhere we went had toilet paper, so that was unnecessary.
9.) I pre-posted scheduled facebook/twitter/blog posts for every business that I own and/or manage social media accounts for. Vacation should not mean disappearing. If all goes well, no one should even notice I'm gone. I mean...except for the fact that I just told you I'm not here. I mean, I'm here, I wrote this here, today, but when you see it, today will be yesterday and I'll be over there instead of here. Obviously.
This was also a good idea and ended up working perfectly. I was ahead while I was gone. Now that I'm back, I'm behind. Basically, I should plan like I'm going on vacation all of the time.
10.) I bailed out of everything I'm supposed to do the day I come back. I hope I don't have jet lag, but if I do, I want to be prepared.
I have hardcore jet lag. I didn't even realize what jet lag was until I had it, and just so you know, it sucks. My sleep schedule is ten different kinds of screwed up, and I can't seem to get it back in order.
Oh, hey, look, it's 4 am and I'm wide awake but exhausted, again, because jet lag.
When I go to Europe again - because I'm absolutely going again - here's what I'm going to do differently:
1.) Pack less. You just don't need that much stuff and it's a giant pain in the ass to cart around a gigantic suitcase. No blowdryer, no extra shoes, no dresses, smaller blanket.
2.) Research the food. I wanted to try regional food, but I had no idea what I was ordering, ever, and a couple of times that really went bad for me.
I ordered goulash and dumplings, you guys! Guess what? I hate goulash and dumplings!
3.) Duolingo - Knowing even ten phrases would have been helpful
4.) More time in each city. We did a new city every other day, which meant that we were on trains quite a bit and were very tired and sore when we arrived to our next destination.
5.) Sign up for street art/urban garden tours. The street art was amazing and there are tons of options for alternative tours throughout Europe. I found a bunch on my own - I would have loved to have seen more.
6.) Dramamine. Turns out I get train sick.
7.) Stay longer. 10 days was great, but if I could ever work it out, I'd like to do 15 - 30 days.
8.) Go in warmer weather. I didn't mind the cold too much at first, but when everything you want to see is outside, it can be a little brutal after several hours.
No big deal. Just freezing in Berlin.
9.) Look into the history of the cities I'm visiting. The Charles Bridge was amazing...but I still don't know anything about it, other than the fact that it's beautiful.
The upside to being wide awake at 4 am, is that you get the Charles Bridge pretty much to yourself.
10.) Buy a weird German sweater. Seriously. I saw about 10 that I wanted. I don't know why I didn't get one. They were so weirdly amazing.
In the absence of a weird German sweater, I would totally take this skyscraper sloth sweatshirt. For Christmas. Do you need my address? I'm a medium.
Coming up next - a city by city breakdown...the cost, the food, lodging, the best parts, the worst parts and the weird parts...