Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tips for The Novice International Traveler

I went to Europe in August on a business trip, and it was the first time I'd traveled internationally for work. The last time I'd been to Europe was on a family trip in middle school, and so I consider myself a pretty novice international traveler.

I jotted down some thoughts from while I was in Europe that I thought were helpful to know.

Tips for The Novice International Traveler | shirley shirley bo birley Blog

International Cell Service:
Although most of my trip to Milan and the UK was for work, I did take the opportunity to fly out a day early and stay a couple extra days. On work days when I was with co-workers and the days consisted mostly of going to work and back to the hotel, not having cell service wasn't a big deal.

On the days where I was on my own though, having the cell service made me feel better equipped to explore by myself, because I had more confidence that I'd always be able to find my way back to the hotel.

My Note 4 already worked internationally in Italy and the UK, so it was just a matter of getting the service turned on. On Verizon, there is a TravelPass option where, for $10/day, you can talk, text, and use data like on your existing plan at home. So in my case, if I were physically in the UK, I could call UK and US numbers. In Italy, I could call Italy and US numbers. I could also specify which days to opt-in (well, more like I asked Greg to do it on my behalf, heh).

Loose Agenda:
The last time I'd been to Europe, I went with my family the summer after 8th grade, and my parents signed up to go with a Chinese tour group. Although that option makes it less stressful in terms of coordinating logistics of travel (where to go, what to see, where to stay, etc.), Greg and I usually tend to favor looser agendas where we may have a things that we want to hit each day, but also leave room for stopping to do things that pique our interest. That's the approach I took when I was solo in Milan and London, and I saw what I saw at a leisurely pace. Both cities also had a pretty good subway network that allowed me to get to the majority of the sights I wanted to visit either via subway, walking, or combination of both.

Currency Exchange Costs:
In both the UK and Italy, I exchanged some currency at the airport because it was convenient and I didn't want to risk being without local currency while I was out. There's a premium for that convenience, though, in the form of high fees, not as favorable exchange rate, or a combination of the two. In talking to one of my co-workers, he mentioned that Citi lets you charge local currency and does the exchange to USD for you without the same high fees or not-as-good exchange rates, so I started to use my credit card where I could, though there were still instances where I needed to have cash on hand because credit cards weren't accepted (such as many cabs in the UK).

Italian Postage Stamps:
At one of the souvenir shops next to the Duomo in Milan, they sold international postcard postage, but from a private mail delivery company (not the Italian state postal service). I didn't realize this when I bought the stamps, but when I took a closer look at it, I went online to research it more. The stories about this scared me off of using the private company postage on the actual postcards I was mailing to Evelyn and Parker, but just to see how it compared, I mailed a couple of blank postcards back.

One of the biggest complaints I saw online about the private company postage was that the postcards took a very long time (i.e., months) to arrive at their destination. My experience wasn't bad. It took maybe a couple/few weeks, but not that much slower than the regular Italian postal service. In any case, it was probably safe to have the concierge at the hotel mail off the postcards using more legit postage.

Not having done a lot of Europe travel, I wasn't sure if tipping was expected or not. I did some Googling and came across a Tipping in Europe page by Rick Steves that was helpful, but I still felt very weird not tipping like in the US. More often than not, I still ended up leaving some tip.

Not being a very seasoned international traveler, these tips likely just scratch the surface. Here's to more opportunities for international travel, whether work or play!

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