There is certainly a plethora of travel tips on the Internet and at the library. This list is just the tip of the iceberg, but maybe a couple of things listed here might make your trip abroad more enjoyable.
Phone: Check with your provider about International Data Plans if you need to make or receive calls. Roaming charges can add up if you don't change your settings before leaving. Also, be aware that text messages can cost a fortune, so adjust those settings if you don't want an exhorbitant bill after you return home. Some hotels provide WiFi that will allow your to access the Internet and communicate with family back home.
Flying: My plan to avoid jet-lag, going and coming, is this: Start hydrating several days before flight. No alcohol. You heard me ! Exercise legs during long flights and walk the aisles to help with circulation. Going to your destination, try to sleep on the plane and then be on the current time schedule upon arrival. (One Benedryl usually knocks me out if I need help dozing off.) In other words, hit the ground running once you arrive so that your body adjusts to the time change quickly and don't sleep in the next day. On the flight home, try to stay awake as much as possible on the plane to adjust to the extra hours gained. I keep these items handy during the flights: eye mask, noise-reducing headphones, inflatible neck pillow, snacks, bottle of my own water, (I use a CamelBak water bottle with a carabiner and hook it onto seat pocket so it doesn't roll away), iPad loaded with movies. books, and music, freshen up bag with toothbrush/paste, hand wipes, lotion, slippers with leather soles or socks. Just imagine yourself sitting in a chair at home, not able to get out of it for 10 -12 hours. What would you want within your reach ?
Store bag under seat: It's a good idea to keep everything you might need handy. Place your smaller bag with these items under the seat, not in the overhead. When you need that bag above your head, the guy next to you will be sound asleep and it's not easy crawling out and over him to get what you need.
Water on the plane: It's nice to have water at your seat at all times. If you don't want to pay the high price for bottled water once through security, just fill your own water bottle 3/4 full and put it in the freezer the night before flying. TSA has no problem with this. In fact, it was one of their agents who suggested this. (HansMan has been doing it for years.) If you use a water bottle like a CamelBak, not such a good idea. It might take quite a while for the flight attendant to get water to you, so have yours handy.
Jewelry: Leave it at home. It's heavy ! Wear what you usually wear on your fingers and arms. Take a fake strand of pearls and small earrings. Besides, it draws attention to you as a target.
Converter/multi-outlet: Be sure to either take with you a device that converts 220 to 110 or plan to purchase one there...IMMEDIATELY ! Some hotels will provide one for you, but it's best to have one of your own. Also, if you have more than one device to charge at at time, take a multi-outlet adapter that's shown here. An extension cord also comes in handy. Many hotels now have one (1), I said ONE, 110 outlet, but don't count on it. If you want to cut down on weight, leave your hair dryer, curling iron, and flat iron at home. Most hotels provide a hair dryer. Just wear a hat or cap. You'll need one anyway if you're traveling during the summer. A couple of personal experiences: 1) My friend was using a converter with her curling iron and melted her hair with it in London. We made an emergency hair appointment at Harrod's for a new, short cut. 2) I burned up a hair dryer because the converter just wasn't converting correctly. Also, the hair dryer will shut down pretty quickly because of over-heating.
Small plastic bottles for shampoo/conditioner/etc.: Not all are of good quality. Some will pop open under pressure and you'll find the contents everywhere. Be sure to pack liquids in zip-lock bags. I prefer the screw on lids rather than the snap lock kind. If you buy snap lock, test them before buying. Just squeeze them and if they easily pop open, find another brand/kind.
Shoes/Socks: One of the most important things in your suitcase and on your feet is your shoes. Take two pair of walking shoes, preferably different styles. Buy them ahead of time and wear them 24/7 to break them in. The reason to take two pair is so that if one pair rubs a blister on your little toe, you'll have a different pair the next day to rub a blister in a different place. Alternate styles every-other-day. If you have a pair of shoes that you know are comfortable, then just take one pair. Remember: Comfort is much more important than style ! Bamboo socks are better than cotton socks for a couple of reasons: they dry more quickly and they dry softer than cotton. Just throw the pair in the shower with you at night, along with the clothes your wore than day, dump some detergent on top, and do your laundry. Rinse and hang on a clothes line. You might be surprised that you'll find a clothes line in your bathroom somewhere. Beware: Some showers have a string hanging down and before you pull on it, make sure it isn't for an emergency, or you'll have someone in the bathroom with you.
Laundry soap: Take some with you. Pack tops, shorts, and pants made from quick-dry fabric. Body Armor is awesome. Wash your clothes as you shower, rinse, and hang them to dry. This works if you aren't needing to pack them the next morning. If this is the case, wait until you are somewhere long enough to let them dry. Otherwise, you'll have moldy-mildewy clothes. You don't need a different outfit each day you are traveling. Notice that my hat has straps to tie under my chin. It would have blown away several times had I not had it securely fastened.
Journal: No need to write a 5-page entry every night, but at least jot down where you were and the highlights/lowlight of the day. If you are on a 2-week long trip, the days tend to run together and it's nice to keep them straight. Also, write down things to remind yourself of for your next trip.
Jacket: Pack a light-weight, water resistant jacket with a hood. This can be tied around your waist. The weather can change quickly, and some restaurants are cooler than others. Try to color-coordinate everything you pack.
Vest: I love my vest and if it's not too hot, I wear it everyday. This way everything I need is already stashed in a zippered pocket, eliminating the need for a bag/purse.
(Wish I had been wearing it that day in Pisa.)
Scarves: These serve many purposes. They can change the look of a basic outfit, be used for warmth, keep sun off arms and head. Some churches do not allow you inside if your arms aren't covered. (Most will provide you with a small scarf when you enter if you don't have one.) Wadded up, it can make a nice pillow. These can be tied somewhere on you or around a strap. Don't take your expensive cashmere pashima !
Cameras: I take two. My big Canon and my little Canon. It's just a habit, but I've never wished I didn't have them with me. Always charge the batteries each evening and keep extras with you along with extra memory cards. In fact, take I take enough memory cards so that I don't need to take my computer to dump photos onto every night to free up storage on the cards. If I had to leave my hotel room and take one thing two things with me, it would be my cameras. If you buy a new camera, don't wait until you arrive to learn how to use it.
Hand Sanitizer: No, I'm not a germaphobic, but I do believe in using hand sanitizer...regularly. The only kind I use is Young Living Thieves. (The reason: That's a 'wholenother' post.) Not only do I use it on my hands, when everyone around me is complaining about scratchy throats, sneezing, itchy eyes . . . cold and/or allergy symptoms, I spray my throat with it.
Research: Before leaving for your trip, research the places you plan to visit. Choose the most important sites of that area that you want to visit and learn a few facts about them. Visiting Rome can be overwhelming if you try to visit too many places in a short amount of time. For instance, we knew that the Pope made a public appearance on Wednesdays and followed the instructions on how to attain tickets to see him at St. Peter's Square. Here is a blog post from that day. Check out tours that are offered. We chose a tour while at the Colosseum for Palatine Hill. Well worth it ! Be sure to choose an English-speaking guide.
Once you arrive:
Water in Europe: Most of the upscale restaurants have good tap water but are more than happy to sell you a bottle of mineral water or water with gas. (Tip: Don't put water with gas in your CamelBak. I speak from experience. When you flip the spout, be ready for a refreshing, spritzer in the face.) Be very careful about drinking just any tap water.
Long lines: If you're wanting to see David in Florence or the inside of some basilica, research ahead of time how to avoid standing for hours in a line. Some places offer a package deal on city passes that will allow you to go to the front of the line. It's worth it !Trains: Riding the trains in Europe can either be a pleasant experience or the cause of several nervous breakdowns, depending on if you can read the schedule and know how to buy a ticket and can find the platform and can figure out which train to ride and know when to get off the train and where/how to validate your ticket and on and on. Remember, that you won't find the word "Naples" anywhere on that schedule. It's "Napoli." "Florence" is "Firenze." Some of the names of the towns resemble the English word, most don't. There are self-service kiosks to use and good luck figuring those out. If you plan to use them to avoid standing in a longer line to deal with a human, be prepared to ask for help. Remember that your destination might not be listed as the arrival place, but as a stop along the way. Also, consider writing down where and when you are going for the ticket agent rather than trying to tell him/her. (Personal experience: We were in Mestre needing to ride a regional train to Venice because a taxi ride would have been 100+ Euros. For once, Hans went to the ticket window to deal with a human rather than stand at the kiosk for 45 minutes trying to figure it out. We had been in the area almost a week, and he was feeling that he had mastered the language. Humppppfff. He said, "We need a ticket to Veneto," thinking he was asking for a ticket to Venice. The guy quizzically looked at him, and I said, "No, we need a ticket to Venice." Most employees dealing with the public speak English. The guys just laughed and handed us our tickets. (BTW: Veneto is a wine region in north-eastern Italy.) (Another personal experience: We needed to ride from Stuggart to Berlin. Hans bought the ticket and we got on the train. Unfortunately, it wasn't the train to the 'airport' in Berlin but to the city center of Berlin. ) Once you purchase a ticket, it must be validated. This can be done at a little machine (good luck finding it) or with a railway official. Some tickets are for general boarding and some are reserved seating. Sometimes your ticket is checked once the train leaves, sometimes it's not. If it is checked, be sure that it has been validated. Also, be sure you're on the right train. We've ridden the wrong train almost more times than not. Some officials are understanding and don't boot you off at the next stop and fine you. Others...not so much. The most important thing about riding the train is that you don't have a huge suitcase to load and unload. For one thing, you have to leave it just inside the boarding area which may not be within sight of your seat. This allows thieves to easily take your suitcase at one of the stops along the way and be off with it without you ever seeing this happen. Another thing is that dragging a heavy suitcase through train stations is a pain. Main tip: Ask if the train is going to your destination before getting on it. Don't ask, "Where is this train going because they will probably tell you its final destination and not ALL the stops along the way.) Clear as mud ?
Toilets: Have fun figuring all the places that the flush handle can be hidden. Water for sinks is sometimes activated by a handle at your feet. Always have one Euro coins on you because many toilets require payment before entering. Beware of those that are free. They are not as clean and you'll probably walk in and view a line of men at the urinal.
Languages: You might be surprised to know how many people speak English. There is no need to start a Rosetta Stone course a week before you leave to learn Italian. But, it is fun to learn some basic words and phrases. My experience has been that most people are thrilled and honored that you care enough to try to learn to speak at least a few words of their language.
If I had only one piece of advice to give it would be this:
Travel Lightly ! After you pack, upzip your suitcase and take out about 3/4's of what's there. If you've left something at home that you really, really need, believe me . . . you can find it once you arrive. It's ok to wear the same thing several times. No one will notice and for sure, no one cares !
There is this friend of mine who goes on two-week plus trips and takes a carry-on and her purse !
My war paint make-up fills up my carry-on !
Someday I plan to go watch her pack so that I don't keep making the same mistake:
TAKING TOO MUCH STUFF !
Before we get too far into this topic that I know nothing about, be aware that European airports do not have the same guidelines for sizes and weights of carry-on luggage that we have in the U.S.
For instance, Lufthansa allows only one carry-on such as a back pack or a much smaller version of the carry-on that is allowed in the U.S. (size wise and weight wise) When you arrive at the ticket counter to fly home, be prepared to check the carry-on that you left the States with if it's the maximum size allowed here. They will check it free, but it will be taken from you. Some airlines allow two carry-on items if you are flying first class or business class. BUT, they are strict about the size of those carry-on bags.
Be sure to have all your medications and any valuables in the smaller bag that you plan to take on the plane with you. Otherwise, you won't see them again until you arrive home...maybe.
Always have I.D. tags on the outside AND the inside of every bag that you have. It's a good idea to have two tags on the outside because all the airlines seem to employ an identification tag eating monster that will rid you of your tags.
So, check with the regulations of the airlines you are flying to know for sure what is and is not allowed to be carried onto the plane. (I think it's 9"x22"x14") Restrictions can vary from airport to airport, even on the SAME airlines.)
What I'm saying is: The bag that you were allowed to carry-on the plane in the U.S. will probably be too big to carry it on when you leave Europe.
Now back to the subject of packing. Whether you plan to rides planes, trains, and/or automobiles, you will learn very quickly that packing that suitcase to the maximum fifty pounds is a very, very bad idea.
First of all, save room to pack items that you buy along the way. Or, be prepared to buy a new suitcase and then pay extra to check it at the airport.
After you have packed, load all your bags into your car, drive downtown, unload your bags, and walk for at least 1/2 mile with them. Carry them up and down a flight of stairs. Drag them through the grocery store. Load them back into your car, drive home, and unpack about 3/4 of what's in them. I AM SERIOUS !
If you're running to hop on a train that's about to leave OR you need to get off that train in a hurry, and you have a backpack, a carry-on, and a regular sized suitcase, you will be looking for places to jettison half of what you brought the first day of your trip.
I know. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: If you ride the trains and you have a large piece of luggage that won't fit in the overhead or under your seat, you may never see it again. That's because you'll have to leave it by the door and it will probably be out of your sight. Believe me, the thieves ride the trains and they know who you are and which suitcase is yours and that you can't catch them if they grab it and get off at the first stop along the way ! Just sayin'.
OK, so one more piece of advice: READ THIS It might mean the difference in a positive or negative traveling experience.