Now that you’ve checked out our London and Paris adventures, let’s break down everything you need to know before you go: how to plan, what to pack, what to do with your phone … the works. You’ll see, with just a few tips and tricks, not to mention a few life lessons, traveling overseas is much easier than you think.
The planning phase is one of my favorite things about traveling. I’ve traveled to places like Thailand and Cambodia without booking a single hotel room before I arrived, but that doesn’t mean I hadn’t perused travel blogs (miaadventura.com, eatthispoem.com/city-guides/, petitepassport.com) and pored of copies of The Lonely Planet prior to getting on a plane. Research shows that the anticipation of taking a trip, then savoring the memories when we get back lasts far longer than the happiness we get from buying things. So don’t skimp on the planning phase.
Check your passport:
Did you know you might be denied access to some countries if your passport expires within 6 months? So if your trip is in January and your passport expires in May, you might not be allowed in the country or allowed to board a plane for your return flight. My friend almost learned this rule the hard way and had to get a same-day renewal before she headed to Paris. Your passport should also have two or more blank pages. Also check to see if you need any special visas, travel shots or documentations of the medicines you’re bringing on your trip. Here’s a handy checklist for traveling overseas. I like to take a picture of my passport and credit card information to keep on my phone. Password protected of course.
Flights and Accommodations:
I already shared my favorite tips for scoring deals on airfare and hotels here.
For this trip, I used Airbnb, and loved it. If you’re traveling overseas, do your research and find cool parts of the city you’d like to stay in, then search Airbnb for well-reviewed accommodations in those neighborhoods. (For our trips, we stayed in Chelsea and Le Marais and both of our flats were really cute and less than $100 a night.) One good thing to consider: staying somewhere centrally located, even if it’s a little more expensive, is worth it if it saves you money on transportation.
GET THESE! They’re amazing. They give you “free” entry to more than 60 top attractions in each city and come with hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus tours and Fast Track Entry. (I say “free” but really you paid for the pass so… Still, you get a considerable discount.) In all honesty, we didn’t use our London Pass to its full advantage. I only got it for two days and only used it for the Tate Modern (though it didn’t give us access to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit) and Westminster Abbey (where we skipped a long line, thanks to the Fast Track Entry) and Kensington Palace (where we missed the last tour by minutes.) I didn’t get a travel card because I downloaded our passes through the app instead of getting actual cards, so we didn’t use the hop-on-hop-off busses or ride the tube. So weigh your time in a country and what you plan to see versus the cost. (Many museums on the London Pass are free anyway.) In Paris, on the other hand, we used the heck out of our passes. We did get the travel card, and loved the hop-on-hop-off busses and loved using the Metro. The Pass let us bypass so many excruciating lines, including the Louvre, the D’Orsey and the Arc de Triomph. (Some peak times, however, don’t allow for Fast Track Entry and we encountered this at Versailles and Notre Dame.) All in all, however our passes where terrific and came with books filled with itineraries and tips for getting the most of our travel days. I definitely recommend.
There are so many handy travel apps out there that I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the cool ones. But here are some of my favorites:
This app searches any city, town, landmark, attraction or address across the globe and tells you the best way to get from A to B. So if you want to know how to get from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, it tells you how long it’ll take and the price you pay if you walk or take a bus, a taxi, an Uber or the Metro. Oh and it tells you your route, including the Metro stops. So handy.
Speaking of Uber, this really was a great way to travel in London and Paris. The drivers were so friendly and it’s so easy just to jump out when the ride is over because you’re paying through the app. (None of the cabs we took accepted credit cards and were much pricier.)
I used this one before I went but not so much overseas. I kind of forgot about it. But it’s a handy travel app with lots of realistic daily itineraries to popular attractions, allowing for travel times. You can easily download all maps and tools for use offline and if you have a gmail account, it’s easy to retrieve and store all your reservation information.
I’m terrified of using my phone when I’m traveling overseas, tbh. I’ve heard too many of my friends’ horror stories about outrageous phone bills. The easiest thing to do with your phone is to put it on airplane mode and only use it when you’re connected to WiFi. Free WiFi is readily available around both London and Paris (thanks, Starbucks!) and we had it at both our Airbnb apartments. However… I recommend at least one person in your party get an international calling plan. They’re not that expensive and you can cancel the very next month. My plan with AT&T gave me free access to WiFi hotspots, data without roaming charges when I couldn’t find a hotspot and kept me from smashing my phone to the pavement when my Uber driver called see which corner I was on. (This actually happened several times.) So yeah, an international calling plan lets you be a little more spontaneous (who thinks to download all their maps before leaving for the day?) and track down those hard to find macaron bakeries when you need to. Worth it.
Another phone tip: Free up as much storage as possible before you travel. That “storage almost full” message is trés annoying right before the Eiffel Tower is about to light up. Believe me.
In Paris and London, the exchange rate didn’t work in favor of the U.S. dollar. Rather than exchanging a bunch of cash I might not spend, I opted to put most of our charges on my credit card. (Because I’d prepaid for our accommodations, the London and Paris Pass and for our theatre tickets, plus we took Ubers, we only had to pay for meals, souvenirs and train tickets while traveling.) If you choose this option, check your card’s exchange rate (which is usually better than rates you get at banks or currency exchange offices), make sure you don’t get charged high transaction fees (which would cancel out that favorable exchange rate), and be careful about racking up finance charges if you don’t pay off your card every month. When traveling overseas, you might even consider carrying a pre-paid card, rather than your usual credit card to help you stick to your budget. Alert your credit card company that you’ll be traveling overseas and make sure you know how to cancel your card if it’s lost or stolen. Also carry some cash. You know you’re going to want ice cream from one of the street vendors near the Eiffel Tower.
Another tip: I paid for most of our trip with my cash back rewards from my Chase credit card. If your credit card isn’t offering perks, you’re missing out.
Two words: pack light. Sure, if forced to, your super cool auntie will carry your monstrous red suitcase up three flights of stairs for you. But a better plan would be to carry only the necessities and live by the rule: if you can’t confidently lift it into the overhead bin of a Paris-bound train, run with it through an airport, wheel it over cobblestone streets or drag t up three flights of stairs, it stays home. I always decide on my shoes first and plan outfits around them. This time, I chose white sneakers (and wore them on the plane because cold feet on an eight hour flight? Misery) and a pair of neutral flatform sandals. For outfits, I chose lightweight dresses and mix-and-match pieces that can be worn more than one way. I wear my warmest layers and bulkiest (but still comfy) shoes on the plane to save space in my luggage.
And instead of bringing duplicates, Morgan and I shared items whenever possible (toothpaste, my off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, which somehow became her off-the-shoulder-sweatshirt, sunscreen and a tube of L’Oreal Infallible Pro Last Lip Color in Everlasting Caramel.) Your clothing options are a matter of choice. But here’s a checklist of things you definitely should have if you’re traveling overseas:
Phone chargers – Lots of them. And carry one with you always in case you have to sleep on the airport floor like we did when Delta cancelled all flights the day we came back.
A portable cell phone power bank – For when you’re out all day, taking pictures and sending Snaps and your phone is dying but you still have to call an Uber.
Converters – Plugs in Europe are different from ours in America and the ones in London are different from the ones in France. You’ll need converters if you plan to plug in any hair appliances, phone chargers and battery chargers for your camera. I got mine at Target (here it is) but you may be able to borrow some from a friend. Mine are overseas right now.
Kind bars – Nobody likes a hangry tourist, so pack snacks. You’ll be able to hang out in museums longer, carbo load before climbing the 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and generally avoid causing an international incident.
Sunscreen – For those long lines at Versailles. An umbrella is a good idea too. Or brolly, as they call them in London.
Comfy shoes – Can’t say it enough. You’ll thank me on those cobblestone streets.
Selfie stick – For those Eiffel Tower shots.
Backpack – To hold your camera, selfie stick, Kind bars, sunscreen, brolly, travel guides, and phone charger and portable cell phone power bank while you’re out and about.
Leggings – For sleeping on planes and airport floors, for layering under dresses, you just can’t beat leggings.
So there you have it. Our favorite tips for traveling overseas. Did we miss anything? Or do you have any you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them.