By Maria Heberling
Although I spent months dreaming about and planning my “travel with strangers” trip, I still pulled several rookie tourists mistakes. My first trip to Europe was with a singles travel group on a cruise ship through the Mediterranean. Small errors in judgment, advice given that worked for other travelers, or the desire to do and see it all, presented a few challenges that could have been avoided. However, with a “now I know better” attitude, I am looking forward to my next trip.
1-Wait until you are there to change most of your money to local currency.
I did change some money at my bank ahead of time, but I did not bring enough Euros to last the first two days. Everyone accepts credit cards, was not good advice. I missed out on some small gift purchases my first day having spent my Euros on taxi fare. The only money change option I had was aboard the ship and at a higher exchange cost.
2-Take any white taxi (city regulated) to your hotel from the airport.
Take any white taxi with a visible meter and one that shows a proper license and driver ID. I ended up being held hostage by an unregulated driver who said he was part of the city taxis. I had to pay twice as much when he pulled over on the highway and wouldn’t budge until I agreed to his price.
3-Don’t plan on a quick dinner.
Prepare to spend at least two hours to eat dinner in Europe with a group of people. This was true on the ship and on my first night in Rome. The servers wait until everyone is done with one course before bringing the next course. Not everyone realized this, so we did a lot of waiting.
4-Get a SIM card once you are at your destination.
Get your phone and internet services squared away with your carrier ahead of time, I ended up off the grid for 10-days because I could not see the message my carrier had sent me saying, “We see you are in Europe, would you like to get a short term international plan?” I left an emergency contact before I left so I could be found anywhere in the middle of the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Balearic, or Ligurian Seas.
5-Don’t buy souvenirs at the closest shop to the historical site you visit.
Shop further away from the main tourist site to see and buy souvenirs. The vendors closest to the entrances and exits charge more than the same treasures not far away. I was lured in by a persuasive and handsome young man with a passion for his merchandise. I enjoyed bantering and bargaining as part of my experience.
6-Lighten a backpack by bringing a small water bottle.
Leave something else out and bring water wherever you go. The only water fountains I saw were classic ancient carved marble ones. I beelined to any McDonald’s I saw because their drinks included ice when asked for.
7-Don’t attend every group activity.
There were many planned group get-togethers, but I had paid for my unique European experience. Attending all events was tiresome, and it was my job to enjoy my vacation. I saved my energy to do what I found most valuable and memorable by moderating my activities. One night I found my most magical moment by not attending a show. I sat and glanced out the starboard window as the sun was setting and watched pods of dolphins jump in the reflection of the rippling glow of light.
So, meet those new people and socialize but make your trip special by looking for the experiences that increase your enjoyment factor.
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