- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AIRBNB! We used Airbnb for every city we went to and had great luck with our hosts and accommodations. It really is a great way to experience the cities and the people who inhabit them - not to mention it is CHEAP. After the trip, I averaged out what we spent on Airbnbs (mind you we split every rate between the two of us) and we averaged $57/night per person - and that takes into account splurging for some more luxurious accommodations compared to cheaper options. The key to Airbnb is reading reviews, and especially reading between the lines. You develop a more personal relationship with your host, so you are hesitant to insult them or hurt their feelings - which means that words like "cozy" mean that the place is small. If the place does not have a lot of reviews, it might be best to not be one of the first people to stay there. Leave that for someone else. Super hosts have hosted hundreds of people and are the all-stars of Airbnb, keep an eye out for them as they are almost satisfaction guaranteed. We didn't stay anywhere under 4.5 stars. Because people are so generous with their reviews, I take it as a bad sign if the place is rated 4 stars or below.
- RESEARCH YOUR CITIES! Know which neighborhoods are seedy and which neighborhoods are safe. As a New Yorker, I don't like making assumptions about places before I go because I don't want to live in fear - everyone seems to think that cities are pits of crime and sin when they really aren't - but I do like to err on the side of caution, especially abroad. Look at travel sites and see what frequent travelers recommend. Every city is full of neighborhoods with different personalities, so you don't have to stay in the city center or Times Square of that location to be safe - in fact, I recommend staying in quieter, residential neighborhoods.
- PACK LIGHTLY! I took a carry-on bag that expands and I ended up checking it for each flight between countries. For a first adventure, I was definitely over prepared. In hindsight, I could have trimmed down on toiletries and shoes (even though I only brought 3 pairs) and made my bag work as a carry-on. Side note: Birkenstocks are the WAY TO GO. I only deviated from them when it rained in Edinburgh - which brings me to another side note: don't take lilac suede Pumas to the U.K.
- TAKE YOUR TIME. Everyone's travel style is different - I am type-A when it comes to organizing accommodations and preparing for public transportation and flights, but once we got to each city, I was perfectly happy to just explore and enjoy the place I was in. I'm lucky that my best friend, Gomez, is whimsical and carefree, because she really helped me to relax and just be present. On any trip - but especially a long one - you have to listen to your body and pay attention to what you need. If we wanted to turn in early and watch the Spongebob Movie, then we did. There comes a point where looking at landmarks and museums just isn't fun anymore, especially if you're tired. We chose 1-2 places/activities each day and then took our time going from place to place and exploring.
- DRESS COMFORTABLY. I admit that I went a little bit crazy ordering clothes on ASOS before this trip, but I'm happy to report that my thighs did NOT chafe and my feet did not hurt (too badly). I love dressing up (this is a style blog, after all), but I knew that I would be miserable if I did not wear comfy clothes. Dresses, jumpsuits, and Birkenstocks were the way to go (seriously do yourself a favor and buy Birkenstocks). Also, it goes without saying, layering. I lived in my denim jacket because you just never know if you'll catch a breeze or end up in a drafty restaurant.
- BRING AN UMBRELLA. We had absolutely gorgeous weather for the 14 days Gomez and I were together. It only rained once, and that was after we got into a museum and before we left. Then, as soon as I touched down in Scotland, that lucky trend broke. It poured. My rain coat did not fit over my denim jacket so I had to choose between being wet or warm. I chose wet.
On June 9th, I got back from a 17-day trip across Europe with my best friend, Gomez, that was planned, booked, and organized by yours truly. This was my first trip abroad that was not part of an organized group (in high school I went to France with my French teacher and forty 17-18 year olds - and boy was that a clusterfuck - but that's a story for another time). Before I share all of my cool photos and recommendations for each city I went to, I'm going to start this series by covering the do's and don'ts of conquering new cities and traveling on a budget.
- BOTHER WITH THE SIM CARD BULLSHIT. If you're researching for a trip abroad and wondering how you'll get in touch with friends/family, you've probably come across recommendations for buying SIM cards abroad. Not worth it. There is wifi everywhere, and if you turn location services on, you will be able to use Google Maps as a compass and map. DO THIS. Google Maps was my life blood (3 years later and it's still how I figure out the NYC subway system). The most basic thing you will need is a strong sense of direction, and Google Maps was there for me every time.
- SETTLE FOR THE FIRST THING YOU SEE. This applies to airfare, souvenirs, Airbnbs, anything. You will ALWAYS come across something cheaper. In hindsight, I definitely could have gotten cheaper airfare from NYC > Dublin and back, but I bought the plane tickets on a whim and overpaid. Book early and research earlier!
- BE PLAN-LESS. I know I sound like a broken record, but it's imperative that you come prepared. I took the time to find directions from the airport to my Airbnb in each city and HAND WROTE them (that's right!) in case anything happened to my cell phone along the way. That is the most basic preparation that you can take, and it paid off so well. At one point, I drew a map on a napkin so I would know my directions and even that came in handy.
- BE AFRAID OF PUBLIC TRANSIT. Europe has amazing transportation systems (MTA could learn a thing or two from them), and they are so inexpensive. I only took a taxi once because it was pouring down rain, and it hurt my soul to fork over those £15. If you can spend only €3 to get from Paris to Versailles, DO IT.
- PUT OTHERS BEFORE YOURSELF. "But I'm on vacation, why would I do that?" Trust me, I was overzealous in buying souvenirs for friends and family and NEVER AGAIN will I buy people stuff. Yes, they were grateful. Yes, it was fun picking things out for them. BUT, I ended up spending way more money on other people than myself. In retrospect, I wish I had saved that money and gotten myself a piece of jewelry or something that I could keep to remember my trip. I know I will be going abroad again sooner than later, so I won't sulk over it (it's not like I need more stuff anyway), but it's something to keep in mind.