I love to travel. My favorite thing is to travel to a new place. Even better than that is if that new place is a country that offers me a fabulous new stamp on my passport. In the past year, I traveled to the Netherlands, Italy, the U.K., and China all for the first time. I loved exploring these new lands and indulging in the culture. In Amsterdam, I ate Dutch Pancakes and took a boat cruise along the canals. In Italy, I ate and I drank, then I ate and drank some more. In Manchester, I ate Sheppard’s Pie, Blood Pudding, and toured the city’s oldest pubs. In China, I ate noodles for every meal and I got to see the infamous Chinese Face Mask dancers. As much as I love to travel to new places, I equally enjoy the preparation and research I put in before each of these trips. On the eve of my next adventure to Paris, I wanted to share my tips of 5 things-to-do before you visit a new country.
Learn the Language, or At Least Try
I listed this as my first to-do because of all my tips learning the language takes the most time. I’m not suggesting you become fluent in these languages, but at least learn the basics:
- Thank You
- Do You Speak English
- Where is the Restroom?
- What do you recommend?
Knowing these phrases will make your travels so much easier. There’s more in importance to this in some countries than others. For example, when I booked my trip to Paris, the recommendation I got from everyone who’d been there before was at least try to speak French and you’ll have a much pleasanter experience with the locals. Luckily, I took two years of French in college, so all I’ve had to do is brush up on it. In the age of smartphones, there are several great apps to help you learn a new language. The two I recommend are Duolingo and Nemo. Thanks to these apps I can now say the most important phrase of all: A bottle of red wine, please. Une bouteille de vin rouge, s’il vous plaît.
Find the Right Place To Stay
It’s not easy to figure out where to stay in a new country. You’ll likely have it narrowed down to a city, but from there where do you go? You don’t want to end up in a sketchy neighborhood or have bad lodgings sour your experience. The easy solution is to stay in the tourist hot spots. The downside of that is 1. It’s the tourist hotspot and 2. The prices are going to be much higher. If you’re traveling on a budget and can’t afford a swanky hotel, here are my recommendations:
- Research the city and the different neighborhoods. Luckily, in the age of blogging, there are tons of articles out there breaking down the neighborhoods of each major city.
- If it’s important for you to be in the heart of the tourist section, consider a hostel. They typically have great locations and reasonable prices. There are pros and cons to staying in a hostel, which you can read more about here.
- My go-to is Airbnb. Granted, I’ve heard a few horror stories, but for the most part, my friends and I have stayed in Airbnb’s around the globe with great experiences. It’s more affordable than hotels. You also get the experience of living like a local, which is what I’m always looking for when I travel.
- How do you find the right Airbnb to avoid a bad experience? The best thing you can do is read the comment section on a listing. If the host has a lot of positive reviews, you should be fine as they’re all verified by Airbnb.
ALWAYS CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU TRAVEL. Not checking the weather is a rookie mistake, avoid it. From there, be smart about packing. Don’t overpack. Only pack what you need. When you’re traveling, you’re off for a day’s adventure. You’re not going back and forth to your room to change for each occasion, so don’t waste your time packing like you will. Why lug all the extra baggage around? My rule is one outfit per day and then one or two dresses in case I go out to a nice restaurant or dancing. I pack one pair of shoes that go with every outfit and that are comfortable enough to be walking around in for miles and then one pair of heels for the dresses. You really don’t need more than that. And roll your clothes, it saves so much space! As for beauty products, I take the basics and nothing more. A hotel or Airbnb will have a blow dryer. As for a straightener or curling iron, are you really going to waste time in a new country straightening your hair? Go natural. Believe it or not, you’re more beautiful that way anyhow. Lastly, remember to pack an adapter for your plugs that is suitable for the country you’re traveling in.
Research & Map Out Your Adventure
Research and determine what you want to see. For every trip, I create a Google Sheet. (if you download the app your sheet can be accessed offline) My sheet includes the following tabs:
- To-Do: Listing all of the places I want to visit. I also include the admission fee for each and any notes that might be useful to my scheduling. For Example, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
- Recommendations: Before each trip, I ask all of my friends and acquaintances who’ve visited the place before for their favorite spots. I then compile them into my sheet. I highly recommend going off recommendations, especially when it comes to food. Granted you should try some surprise spots, but it’s much easier to go off a recommendation from someone you trust.
- Travel & Lodgings: In this tab, I include all of my flight and lodging information. It’s convenient to have all of your flight confirmations, addresses, and phone numbers in one spot, especially one you can access offline.
- Resources: I also keep a resource tab for any articles or blog posts I’ve read that had great information and that I may want to revisit.
After I’ve completed my Google Sheet, I take my To-Do’s and create a customized Google Map. Here’s a great How-To on building a custom map. It’s easy! Putting all the places you want to visit into a Google Map allows you to see what places are close to one another, which makes creating a schedule much easier. I took it a step further and color-coded based on food, museums, bars, lodgings, and general tourist spots. The other great thing about Custom Google Maps is you can download it to your phone pre-trip and then you can access it offline in case you go the no data route.
Read Books & Watch Movies
My favorite part! Before my trips, I try to read several books about the places I’m visiting. I read a few non-fiction books to learn about the history or to see the area through another person’s personal experiences. Then I also read a few novels that take place in the area to see the country or city through an artists eyes, which commonly romanticize it and will only increase your excitement level.
Then, of course, I watch as many movies as I can that take place there. I also recommend watching movies from that country, not only does it give you a better sense of the artistic style and sense of humor but watching foreign films with subtitles is one of the best ways to learn a language.
I hope these tips help and happy travels!