I’ve dreamed about visiting Europe - Paris, Rome, and Florence, specifically - ever since I was a little kid - roaming the streets of Paris on foot, having a picnic while watching the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower, trying all the different gelato flavors in Rome while taking in all the historic sites, going leather shopping Florence, and eating all the pasta my body can take!
But planning for the trip wasn’t as fun as I expected. There’s so many things to learn, and know, and do, and research, and plan before a trip that sometimes it can get a tad bit overwhelming.
So you don’t get overwhelmed like I did, here are the key things you need to do to prepare yourself for a trip of a lifetime:
You can’t really know a city truly in just a few days, but knowing your “goals” or what you want out of the trip will help you prioritize. If you’re not a big fan of going to the touristy places, skip the major sites and head to a street that’ll give you a more intimate look at local culture. (We opted out of going up the Eiffel Tower and instead spent our day discovering the lovely neighborhood of Montmartre; we had a blast!) If you go to Rome to find the best gelato, then do that! There’s no one way or BEST way to discover a city, so you do you!
This can get more complicated when you’re travelling with other people because each person might want something different than you. So make sure you discuss with your travel buddies what you each want out of the trip and see where you can compromise.
If one person wants to learn more about the history of a place, someone else is there for the shopping, a third friend is there to take gorgeous photographs, and you want to try all the local delicacies, then find a way to include a little bit of each thing in the itinerary so you’re all happy!
I just started doing this for my last trip and we were so much happier because we both got to do the things we came to do. So hear each other out, compromise, and have a good time - you’re in Europe after all!
Researching about the famous sights, activities, and restaurants are a given. You’ll need all that of course to build your itinerary. However, what a lot of people don’t do is read up on local customs, traditions, and culture.
We want to get the most out of our trip, but we shouldn’t forget that we are just visitors to the country, “borrowing” their country for a short while before we return home. It would be respectful to know a few things before coming to visit someone else’s home.
The best thing for me is to read guidebooks. Not only do they have recommendations, but most of them give you a quick look into local culture. This could be about general etiquette, rules for tipping, proper attire (especially in holy places), safety tips, and other do’s and don’ts. They are also handy to keep in your pocket during the trip, and most of them come with a map in case you get lost. I also like to keep them after as a souvenir from our time abroad!
Again, since you’re just a visitor, you shouldn’t assume that people know the language you speak where you’re visiting. It’s best if you know a few common phrases in the local language. Even just knowing how to properly say hello, thank you, and please in their language is a show of respect to the locals.
And with all the tools we have, learning a language has never been easier! You can try learning through a course online, a language-learning app called Duolingo, reading a phrasebook, or even through Instagram! (Yes, there’s actually an Instagram account that teaches you a helpful new French phrase everyday!) For our trip to Paris, I got by with the few French classes I took in college, but seeing as I didn’t know an ounce of Italian, I got an Italian phrasebook to learn a few things before my trip.
If all else fails, have the Google Translate app (or any translation app) downloaded on your phone so you can type or dictate words you don’t know. The Google Translate app even allows you to take a picture of a word or hover over it with your camera and it will translate it in real-time. How cool!
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