Traveling Tips — Revelations from my recent trip abroad

I recently completed a 2-month 10 country solo backpacking tour of central Europe. This trip was significant for 3 BIG reasons. (1) This was my first time in Europe. (2) This was my first time traveling abroad alone. And (3) this was my first time planning all my travels (plane tickets, busing, trains). But I was very eager to explore part of the world, make new friends (literally everyone I met was a new person to me!), and explore new cultures.

Visited the mysteries of Stonehenge in UK

While traveling to London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Munich, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo, Brussels, Amsterdam, and back to London, I documented my time on a small vlog that I put up right before leaving: www.madstud.io. I wanted to capture this experience for my family back home, but in all honesty, I wanted to be able to re-live those moments abroad in as much vivid detail as possible (video was the best medium).

All smiles and sunshine in Paris…in November!

Prior to leaving there was much I didn’t know about traveling. I had to really learn and learn fast if I was to survive! But if you know me, you know I enjoy hands-on and in-the-moment learning. So I embraced the challenges that came my way (and man were there challenges). I faced everything from loss of money to health scares abroad. But from these challenges came some important travel insights I wanted to share.

Palm Trees and Beaches in Barcelona

TIP #1: SHOW UP EARLY! 5 HOURS TO BE EXACT!

My first mistake was made right here in the USA…before I even got off the ground. I was staying at a friend’s in Manhattan and flying out of JFK, not accounting for NYC traffic, I left for the airport with 2 hours to spare thinking that was enough time for an international flight! BOY WAS I WRONG! Long story short I missed my initial $280 flight, had to buy another for $340, and wait 2 days to finally leave for the UK. This taught me the very VALUABLE lesson of showing up early for flights.

“early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!”

Eric Jerome Dickey

TIP #2: UTILIZE YOUR TERMINALS

For those of you without a really good debit and/or credit card, that waives foreign transaction fees (aka me), you’ll have to pleasure of incurring a (generally) 3% foreign transaction fee anytime you make purchases abroad. So what I did to minimize this fee was once I got to a new country (whether by plane or train) I’d find the nearest ATM/cash terminal and make a 1-time withdraw of around 400 euros (or what ever the currency was). This gives you enough cash for the week and you only incur the 3% fee on your 1 transaction, from there you become cash-only.

The Colosseum in Rome…unbelievable

TIP #3: DON’T BOOK THE CHEAPEST HOSTEL YOU FIND!

I know it seems intuitive now but trust me when you’re traveling on a budget you sometimes forget this IMPORTANT RULE! And I paid the price. While in Rome I booked a hostel with a 7.7 rating on Booking.com. It was cheap but I assumed it was a decent place based on the ratings. Additionally they offered a free pasta dinner to guests (watch out for free stuff!). After 3 days of being in this hostel I was plagued with bed bug bites all over my body. It was not a fun experience — I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But from this challenge came a bunch of learning!

A quick side note about booking bed bug free hostels: If you simply google the hostel name where you are considering staying and “bed bugs”, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.

TIP #4: GET RID OF BED BUGS

If you find yourself in a similar situation as describes above, here’s what you do. 1. Put ALL your clothes on a dryer and run the dryer on high heat for at least 30 mins — ideally closer to 45 mins. This will effectively kill the bed bugs that are trying to go home with you. 2. Purchase bed bug spray at a local grocery store in the bug spray aisle. Proceed to empty all your bags and find a place outside where you can hang them. Spray EVERY INCH of those bags but be sure not to inhale any of the chemicals as that stuff is very dangerous! Leave all bags to air out for several hours (3–5). If you want to be extra confident, toss those bags in the dryer after.

Glockenspiel in Munich

“Bed bugs are the modern day vampire — they suck your blood and the next day you transform into something unrecognizable.”

— Me

TIP #5: GETTING MEDICAL HELP ABROAD

With the bed bug bites, I looked like I had some dangerously contagious infection, so of course I wanted to see a doctor. But ‘how does healthcare work in Europe?’ I asked. Luckily my uncle in Denmark had a friend, whose sister was a doctor in Venice. After a quick chat with her I found out the answer. TAKE YOUR PASSPORT TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL ER. They will examine you and provide medical help, generally for free. In my case, the doctors examined me, determined it was bed bugs and prescribed me some antibiotics. The examination and antibiotics were ALL FREE!

Berlin Cathedral, Berlin

Hopefully, these tips help some other newbie interested in traveling. Regardless of the challenges I faced, I couldn’t recommend a more fulfilling endeavor than traveling. Whether alone or with some friends, get out there and see what this world has to offer. I promise, you will not be disappointed. Happy Travels.