Going Abroad for the First Time Ever--What Do I Need?

Six weeks from today (no, I’m not at all excited, why do you ask?), I’ll be winging my way to Amsterdam for my first ever trip out of the U.S. I have a passport and a suitcase. What else do I need?

I’m aware I’m going to need some kind of adapter if I hope to use my computer or my hair dryer. But are traveler’s checks better than cash? Are the ATMs going to be at all useful to me? Should I change my money here or there? I’m sure there’s all sorts of helpful hints our more Worldly Dopers can impart to me. I am a blank slate. Help.

No, and I’ve never used them. Get euros out of an ATM when you arrive at the airport, and use a normal credit card for medium to large purchases

They should work, and and they are useful. Just check that you PIN will work in Europe. (I think 4 digit PINs are fine).

No. Use ATMs and credit cards, which should get you the best exchange rate and the lowest commission. The only money you should change should be the few euros that you have left over at the end, which you can change back into US dollars, unless you plan to visit Europe again.

Don’t go overboard and load yourself down with stuff. You can get anything you will need in Amsterdam. As long as your ATM is part of a network like Cirrus you will be able to use it. I do a lot of travel and I’ve never used travler checks.

You can get a good exchange rate at ATMs, avoid exchaning money at the hotel, it is usually a crappy rate. Have your phone numbers for your credit cards and their numbers written down somewhere seperate from your wallet, so if you lose them you can call and cancel them.

You should call your credit card company and bank to let them know you are going out of the country and will be using your cards abroad. I have known people who have had their cards shut off because they were being used in a foreign country and the cc company thought the card had been stolen. Let them know when you are going and when you return.

For your laptop, you’ll just need an adaptor. For your hair dryer, I think you would need a converter. It might be easier to just buy a cheap one there, or see if the hotel has one in the room.

You can find a cheap plug adaptor for just Europe in a lot of places, including the airport, but if you think you might do more traveling, you might want one of these: my favorite new toy

Have a great time.

I haven’t been to Amsterdam, but some general tips for Europe…

I’d go to the bank and get a few Euros before you leave, and then use the ATMs once you get there. I never found one that wasn’t linked to the same networks we have in the U.S., and they usually offer an exchange rate at least as good as you’ll get anywhere else.

Learn your PIN by number. The European ATMs don’t have the letters on the keys.

And credit card use is much rarer there. Of all the restaurants I went to, I don’t know if any of them even accepted credit cards.

Pretty much nothing. If your suitcase is looking full, pack an empty tote bag so you have room for all those wkacky souvenirs you’re sure to accumulate.

If you’re the paranoid type, scan your passport/credit cards/etc. and have them safely available online somewhere.

Do not exchange money at the airport. The worst rate ever. Do not exchange money at the hotel, the rate is worse than the airport.
Use an ATM to withdraw cash. Get a lot, as the per transaction fee is the same if you get $20 bucks or 200.
Use your CC for everything you can. The CC exchange rate is the best you will get.
My personal feeling is that AMEX is the best card for traveling, but that is MHO not anything I can back with facts.
Unless you are staying at a youth hostel, you can probably leave the hair dryer at home, hotels in Europe do have them.
Customs tells you that you should register your laptop before leaving the country. I have never done this, but it is a requirement.
Oh, one more thing. Have a great time.

AMEX is far from universally-accepted. Visa is your best bet, followed by Mastercard.

Be aware that Europe has started to adopt various chip-&-pin implementations for purchases on credit cards, not all of which work happily alongside one another. Theoretically, if your card is incompatible, it’ll still be swiped and you can sign for it, but don’t assume that every retailer understands this!

I’ve never had a problem with this in France or England. I actually prefer to use credit cards while travelling. I’ve heard that CC usually get better exchange rates and it’s a simple matter if they’re lost or stolen. (Never carry all of your cards in one place.)

A few tips:

–Whenever I travel, I always take along a selection of commonly-used OTC medications, like anti-diarhea meds and headahe meds. It’s not that they might not be available in the location, but that you might have trouble finding a drug store in a new city (and they might be a lot more expensive.) Plus, who wants to go shopping with a pounding headahce?

–Oh, and the old adage to have what you need to get by for three days in your carry-on is something that bears repeating. Put in a few changes of socks and underpants, a t-shirt and shorts for sleeping, and an extra shirt, along with about a week’s supply of all of your prescriptions. I once overheard a couple complaining that their luggage had been lost and they had nothing. They had to call their doctor for new prescriptions, buy new clothes, etc. If they’d thought ahead, they wouldn’t have been left empty-handed.

– If you don’t speak the language, it’s always smart to learn a few key phrases, just in case. “I don’t speak [langauge.]”/ “Where are the toilets?”/ “Please contact the American Embassy.” ( :wink: )". It’s also smart to learn how to explain if you have any serious medical conditions, like “I have a heart problem” or “I’m allergic to [this].”

–If you’re travelling with companions always have an emergency rally point and one alternate. For example, you could agree that if your group is seperated, you will wait in your current location for 15 minutes (if safe) and then return to the hotel. If for any reason, the hotel is not safe, you should meet at [landmark]. I know it sounds silly, but it really has been helpful for Hubby and I.

– Keep your passport on your person at all times, and guard it jealously. I have a special passport carrier which I hang around my neck. A lost or stolen passport is a pain in the ass and can make you miss your return flight.

–Take twice as much film/memory sticks as you think you’ll need. I’ve heard those glorious tulip fields bring the photo artist out in everyone.

–Decide which museums/attractions you want to see while you’re there in advance. Research them online, to know how the hours/how much you’ll need for admission, and whether you need special tickets.**

– Don’t plan to do too much while you’re there. Leave a good bit of time for just wandering around or reading in a cafe.

Have fun, and bring me back some wooden shoes.

*We once were seperated in a big city through a miscommunication. I waited the fifteen minutes in my present spot, and then headed back to the hotel. The rest of the group was panicked, thinking they’d never find me, but Hubby just calmly told them he was sure that I had returned to the hotel and not to worry. We met up there.

** One of the greatest dissapointments in my life was not getting to see the Queen’s House while in the Tower of London. I didn’t do my homework and didn’t know you needed seperate tickets to see it. By the time I learned of it, the last batch of tickets for the day had been sold, and I didn’t get to see it.

Don’t bother getting Euros before you go. There are ATMs in the Amsterdam airport. You will be able to find anything you need there, so don’t worry about getting a lot of stuff for the trip.

Oh! One last thing:

I usually prefer to stay in American chain hotels like Holiday Inn whenever possible. If you’re of an adventurous mind and don’t mind being without some of conveniences we have at home, you might enjoy it, but I’ve known quite a few people who suffered from culture shock in a bad way when they discovered they had to share a bathroom or somesuch. Me, I like exploring life in other countries, but I like to take a break from it now and then in a nice, comfy room which has all of the modern luxuries I’ve come to expect.

The chains are usually just like the hotels at home, though in a Holiday Inn in England, I had a hell of a time figuring out that you had to use your room key to turn on the power. (Never even* heard* of such a thing!) They can be pretty expensive, too.

There are a number of old threads of what to do and see in A-dam and hints and suggestions, BTW-- lots of good info for you buried here.

If you plan on carrying your passport and cash around on you at all times (a good suggestion, unless you have access to a safe that you can trust) it’s actually not recommended that you get an around-the-neck passport holder. These are easier to grab and rip off, if someone was so inclined. If it’s all you can find, then make sure to always wear it UNDER your shirts. Ideally, see if you can find a flat waist-pack holder. Again, wear it under your shirt. Keep a few euros in your pockets or an easier-to-reach wallet for what you think you need on a given day, but keep everything else as close to your body and as out of sight as possible.

Maximize space in your suitcases by rolling your clothes up. Pack things that don’t wrinkle too much, and roll them tight and you can get a LOT more into those things! Get a good, comfortable, preferably already broken in pair of walking shoes. You want to avoid blisters as much as possible.

And, of course, pack a small Canadian flag! (Is this still a recommended tactic for Americans travelling in Europe? I know the Dutch have very strong ties to Canada, so I imagine it could be helpful to pretend to be Canadian.)

a fuckin’ flak jacket.

I did a multi-country Euro-tour last year, and I never had trouble with my credit card. It was accepted everywhere but tiny restaurants and street merchants’ stalls. Just make sure you’re keeping track of your spending, because it would suck to run out of money before the end of your trip! Also, call the credit card company and the bank before you leave, to tell them you’ll be traveling, just in case they see the Amsterdam spending and assume your card has been stolen, and they freeze accounts.

Visa… it’s all you need. :slight_smile:

For Amsterdam, all I can really recommend are comfy shoes. Many of the streets are unpaved and uneven, and if you’re planning on doing a lot of walking, your shins will feel it very quickly.

Get a map of the city. Start with a tour book bought here, if you want, but it’s always good to find out where the tourist bureau is in the city you’re visiting and get a map there. They can also tell you what interesting things are going on that yo umay not have known about. Your hotel/hostel can also be helpful with maps and info.

Absolutely learn a few words, or at least get a mini phrasebook to help you with things like signs and menus. It could be helpful to know what sign means “exit” and which means “enter under penalty of death”, for example.

And for the paranoid: photocopy all your important documents. Passport, plane tickets, credit cards. Keep your passport and everything with you, and leave photocopies hidden in your luggage. I also left a copy of everything with my Mom at home, so if I’d lose everything I would at least have a copy somewhere with all my info to help get me back home.

On preview - you don’t have to pretend you’re Canadian. Don’t bring a huge American flag and chant “USA! USA!”, but you can be your regular self and not get in trouble for it. Unless your regular self is loud and arrogant, in which case the Canadian flag won’t help you anyway. :slight_smile:

Please don’t take this as encouraging ignorance - but that’s completely unnecessary when it comes to Amsterdam.

Everyone speaks English. And I do mean everyone.

Please note: I would never recommend against learning foreign words for any other place / country. Even if you were going to England, you need to learn what “lifts” and “skinny lattes” are. But not Amsterdam.

Plus, you’re just going to forget those pesky foreign words when you’re baked out of your gourd.

No, we got wise to it long ago.

Do real Canadians ever do that? When I see these patches my first association is a US American who has something to hide.

As a Canadian, I find this somewhat offensive. Please don’t do this.

Be yourself. Just don’t wave it in peoples’ faces. If you think you’ll run into problems when manifesting yourself as an American, show NO flags.

Besides, then you won’t need to search for an answer when someone asks you what part of Toronto you’re from. :smiley:

When I went to Europe, I had no flag patches. I figured the “Mountain Equipment Co-op” logo was enough of a giveaway that I was Canadian. :slight_smile:

A while ago, they did, but it seems they’ve stopped it now, for obvious reasons.

I can understand the initial Candian wish to make it clear that they’re Canadian. What I never can understand is why Americans think they need to pretend to not be American.