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

Yeah, but the tiny restaurants and street merchants’ stalls over there kick ass.

Maybe the credit-card/restaurant thing was just in Germany. The server would come to the table, add up the total on her pad, I’d pay, she’d make change out of a pouch she carried, and that was it. And these weren’t tiny restaurants either.

Which gets to the most important point; take your sense of adventure with you. Push yourself to venture off the tourist track and see what the place is really like.

Pack half of what you think you need.

See parts of countries that aren’t what you think everyone else is seeing – for example, everyone else is going to Amsterdam, visit Maastricht.

Some of the tourist stuff is that way for a reason, don’t avoid things just because they are touristy. Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are both well worth seeing, IMO, even though you’ll wait in line with lots of tourists.

Dress in layers. Europe is generally cooler than the USA, but when I was there for the WC (Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland were visited) it was hotter than all get out. Since A/C is not as common, you’ll have to plan for both hot and cool weather in the summer.

Back to museums, find out what days are late hours and try to visit on hours that are not normally available, the crowds will be lighter. I think the Louvre in Paris is open late on Wednesdays, for example.

Many/most European hotels and inns offer breakfast, often included in the price. Fill up on this and you can save some money on lunches and snacks.

You will walk a lot.

You may be on trains a lot, particularly if you are not staying in one place for a long time.

Stay in one place for a long time, or at least a while. Don’t move around too much. (I violate this one, personally, but I know Europe pretty well, so it’s not a big deal for me)

Check out www.hrs.de <-- I used this site to book rooms during the WC and got good rates throughout Germany in hotels that were affordable and nice, although not extravagant.

If you’re going outside of the Netherlands it’s probably good to learn a couple of words in the local language, like please and thank you and such. Always good to be polite. “Enter on pain of death” is probably NOT a useful phrase, though.

Pack light. Only pack half of what you think you need. Then take out half and leave it behind. Lugging stuff on a train or through a city is no fun. Figure out how to use local laundromats, and don’t be shy about wearing an outfit twice or six times before you launder it.

I’m not female but I imagine heals suck on cobblestones. Go with comfort over style if forced to choose.

Well worth the trip, but call ahead in case she’s busy.

The flag comment was a bit of a joke. When we used to live in Germany, whenever we’d travel we’d see people with Canadian flags on their packs, and we’d talk to them and find out they were from New York, or Chicago, or wherever. They always said it was advice that they’d received before traveling to Europe. Many of the Canadians we’d come across would generally be identified as such by their Canadian military license plates on their cars!

That said, we were always treated very nicely, and I have heard stories of people who were annoyed at hearing anti-American sentiments in Europe, and so simply pretended to be Canadian instead. It was more to avoid hassles than to get something, you know?

I do agree that just being yourself and not being loud and obnoxious and accepting that some things WILL be different over there (not that I think that’s how you’ll behave) will probably serve you just fine!

I was going to put some sort of smilie next to that comment, since it was both genuine advice and a bit of an inside joke, so glad to see it wasn’t lost. I believe that it was Maastricht that actually gave this advice, along the lines of don’t overlook the charms of her city for the obvious Amsterdam. But even she told me that if you only have a day in the Netherlands then Amsterdam is probably your best bet.

If you’re traveling with a spouse or SO, and you’re bringing 2 suitcases, pack half of each of your stuff in each suitcase, instead of all your stuff in one, all your SO’s stuff in the other. That way, if one suitcase is lost/delayed, you each have some stuff to get by on, instead of one of you living out of your carryon while the other has everything they need. Saved our butt on our honeymoon to Australia.

No matter what your plans are to get home from the airport at the end of your trip, stick $50 US in a side bag of your carryon before the trip begins and make sure you have it on hand when you return. That way regardless of delayed flights messing up rides/overdrawn frozen accts/ whatever, you’ll have cab fare home.

Thanks for the advice, everybody. There’s been lots of stuff I didn’t even think of.

Oooh, thank you. Hopefully, that would have occurred to me at some point without prompting, but my bank once cut me off for going to Maine, let alone Europe.

Something that I definitely wouldn’t have thought of. I’ve always been the “make sure the bag you have to carry the most is as light as it can possibly be” type of traveler. Extra underwear. Check.

This is why I have a friend coming with me–I’m paying for her trip, and it’s her job to babysit me. :smiley:

Um … you do realize that I’m a woman? :slight_smile: Half of what I think I need halved again will be a week’s worth of clothes. I am limiting myself to one suitcase, and I already know the clothes-rolly trick, so I should be okay, but I’m the kind of person that first makes a list of everything they’ll pack, then piles everything on the list in one place, then packs, then waits two days, unpacks everything, and repacks it all–usually with several changes. I like packing almost as much as I like going on vacation.

We’ve got just over a week, so I’m hoping to take day trips to other areas, but we don’t want to structure too much. Some days, you may have planned to go here and then there and then do this and watch that, but you really just want to go back to the hotel and take a nap. :slight_smile:

Yes, it often seems to be second-hand reports that encourages the maple leaf phenomenon.

It’s important to know and recognise the difference between an “anti-American sentiment”, a serious criticism of US foreign policy, a joke about Bush, and so on. Sure, you’ll encounter the odd cretin that thinks they’re the first person in the world to observe the irony of the ‘World Series’, but just deal with them in whatever way you deal with blithering idiots in your normal life.

Sorry for the multiple replies…

If it’s definitely included in the price, then fine. If it’s not, then it’s often a rip-off, and you’re better off heading for a local cafe instead.

Yes, Germany’s a bit of an exception when it comes to credit cards.

Are you staying in Amsterdam for a week? Do you have to? Amsterdam is, to me, fine in small doses, but pretty damned expensive and depending on where you stay not necessarily all that great.

General Suggestions:
Pack at least one tightly folded empty nylon gym-type bag in your suitcase. The stuff you buy doesn’t come with its own luggage and you’ll have to carry it back in something.
Lugging stuff through airports can be a drag; buying & shipping it home from the store might be useful with some purchases.
Know the wine/liquor amount allowed back by US Customs before you buy. Don’t forget that there’s a duty-free for many things in the airport out and liquids are generally heavy to carry.
If buying wine for the room, a better deal may usually be had away from your hotel. Cheese goes well with wine and you might just be surprised how much better it can be in Europe. Or not, personal taste/choice.
In summer, turn down your rooms AC significantly once the sun goes down unless you like your room really really cold.
Comfortable walking is key. Put new padded inserts in shoes if possible.
I don’t know what the exchange rate in Europe is now, but I remember that Switzerland was darned expensive last August. The hotel breakfasts are a great budget saver. Also, if you bring sandwich sized zip-locks, you can buy a loaf of bread there to keep in the room, stash some cold-cuts in the room fridge, and bring a sandwich in your backpack for lunch each day. Bring a fist-full of those single serving iced tea packs for your backpack, and all you need to buy for lunch is a bottle of water. But spoil yourself with dinners at different nice restaurants each night. I’ve never gone wrong trusting the ‘specials’. If you can dress for dinner, please do so. You may just find a noticeable difference / improvement in your dining experience.
Room-service is for the honey-mooners; if you are spending that much time in the room, you’re missing out. If you’re getting to know all the TV channels and when certain movies are on, you’re missing out. Just imagine your Mom’s voice yelling at you that it’s too nice to stay indoors today and to get the hell out of the house. (kidding)

You owe it to yourself to eat / get coffee in an out-door cafe at least once, weather permitting.

Leave your US cell phone home, unless yours is specifically designed to work in Europe. Ask your provider if it will work and even then expect them to lie / be wrong (a big f-u to Cingular).

Find out what the tipping rules/sales tax/etc are for Amsterdam before you go and follow them.

Don’t forget to write the office/the parents/whoever you need to a postcard before you go to sleep & to mail it at the front desk on your way out the next morning.

If at a casino, skip the slots completely and only do table-games. The Slots seem pay out as often as collection plates at church.
Oh, and the red light district doesn’t actually sell red lights. :wink:
These are only suggestions and your actual mileage may vary. If any of my advice makes you uncomfortable, then please just don’t take it. Have a fun trip!

Take an open mind. Figure out how things are done where you are, and embrace that approach, rather than bitch about how it’s not as good as it is at home. Find the stuff that is different and MUCH BETTER. (Bread for starters). Another respondant recommended american style hotels…ick! Pensions for me, thanks.

Pick-pockets CAN be a real threat in many places. Money belts or neck pouches for any significant cash (best not to have it at all) and your passport.

In a pinch, you can walk into any bank, plunk down a credit card and get a cash advance. (not cheap, so don’t make this plan A)

Break in a pair of good leather walking shoes before you go. European cities are dense and pedestrian friendly. You can probably walk there in the time it would take you to figure out how to avoid walking, and you’ll stumble across neat stuff on the walk. Athletic shoes will mark you to all as a north american.

So will talking loudly in public. So will holding your fork in your right hand. So will waiting for you tab instead of asking for it. So will leaving your utinsils paralell on your plate and then complaining when the waiter takes the food you weren’t finished with.

If you are going to be in a city a few days buy a good map as soon as you arrive and use it. Few European cities are layed out on anything remotely resembling a grid, and if it is overcast or near noon, it is pretty easy to get turned around.

There is lots of stuff that is only open “normal buisness hours” which are not like north american retail hours. Resteraunts are normally open extended hours, sundays, etc. Don’t waste the “good hours” sitting around in a cafe.

I MUCH prefer to travel with only what I can carry on my back. Gets you out the door much earlier in the morning and vastly simplifies almost every aspect of traveling.

Take a good book or two, but save them for times when you get stuck waiting.

I always wake up a 3AM starving (dinner time back home ) the first day or two, so have learned to cache some sort of snack before retiring.

This far north, even the sun’s position is often only a rough indication of direction by itself…however I’ve genuinely used the boy scout wristwatch-compass method on occassions: http://www.eduplace.com/act/direct1.html

Don’t forget your mountaineering boots…oh wait, forget I said that :slight_smile:

I have it on good authority that this is true so you don’t need any translation tools at all. As a matter of fact, if you have never been to Europe, you may be surprised at how many people can speak English fluently. It is practically required in the hospitality and travel industries. I have been to France and Italy a number of times. I don’t speak a word of either and I have never had single problem even during lengthy times alone. You may have heard that people in France are disgusted with people speaking English but they never showed that to me and generally all younger people speak English pretty well. This may take some of the exotic feel away from western European travel but it is true.

You’re very much on the mark, however I do find that just a little effort with common courtesy gets you a lot of good will - no need to order the food in the native tongue, but at least say hello and thankyou and goodbye correctly.

Oh yeah, that reminds me: The only time I wear a watch is when I’m traveling. In many places you can literally set your watch by the trains, and knowing when I needed to sprint that last 100 yards (One reason I like to pack light) has saved waits that varied from minutes to a day. Also if you don’t understand 24 hr. time formating, learn it, as nearly all transportation scheduals will use such.

You can get dual timezone watches pretty cheap, and that is handy for not calling home when your friends are in bed…Oh yeah, go to the post office to make those calls…NEVER from a hotel, where they usually rape you on the phone charges.

Yes, that’s a German thing.

As for the speaking English, in the Netherlands everyone (and I do mean everyone) speaks English. It’s not true for the rest of Europe, though. I had real trouble in Belgium finding even one English speaker, and in Germany McDonalds employees sometimes can’t even take an order in English.

I was just in the Netherlands a month ago. How long do you plan to stay there? I definitely recommend going outside of Amsterdam if you have the time. I spent four nights in Amsterdam and two in Rotterdam, and even though Amsterdam’s a great place, I was a little over it after about a day and a half. I took day trips out to Haarlem, Den Haag (The Hague) and Utrecht, all of which have wonderful things to see and are cool places to just relax. Holland is incredibly compact, apart from Maastricht - I really wanted to visit the city when I was there, but it’s something like 2.5-3 hours and 2-3 train changes from Amsterdam. Of course, in the big scheme of things that’s not too far away, but the previous Dutch cities I listed were all within an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam, and Haarlem was only about 10-15 minutes away. It really just depends on how much time you want to spend traveling versus how much time you want to spend actually exploring the area.

I will add the note that not everyone in the Netherlands speaks great English. This is not a problem in Amsterdam, especially due to the high amount of North American/British/Australian tourism, but I did encounter several incidents of the language barrier, including with a bus driver in Utrecht and a supermarket clerk in Haarlem. It’s still the most English-language-friendly non-English-speaking country I’ve been to, though. It might be good to pick up a phrasebook/dictionary for restaurants. If in a restaurant, you can ask the waitstaff to translate the menu for you, but it can be handy if you stop in a small takeaway or like to look at the outside menus before picking a place to eat.

It also may be a good idea to buy advance tickets to big attractions like the Anne Frank Huis, Reijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. The queues in Amsterdam are the worst I have encountered anywhere, and these let you zip past them. I think you can get these at tourist info centers but I’m not sure. I got mine from the hostel where I stayed (Stayokay Vondelpark) - they may even let nonresidents buy tickets there, I’m not sure. Have a wonderful time!