Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 1

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My daughter and her boyfriend went to Barcelona this week, and were surprised to find that their AirBnB rental had no air-conditioning. Even though they live in Miami and are used to the heat, they still had a hard time sleeping at night without the comfort of A/C or even a fan. That got me started thinking about surprises I’ve encountered and lessons I’ve learned while traveling. On my first trip to Europe, for example, I was flabbergasted to find that our bed and breakfast in England’s Lake District did not supply washcloths! When we asked for one, we were told that in Europe a washcloth is considered a personal item. Who knew?? I certainly hadn’t seen that information in any of the dozen guidebooks I had combed through before our trip. For me, discovering the differences between cultures and countries is part of the fun of traveling. Some of the lessons I’ve learned, however, have been about myself and what I need to make a trip enjoyable. And while I’m certainly getting better at it, I still learn something new on every trip! So without further ado, here is a random list of lessons I’ve learned during my years of travel; which has become such a long list that I’m going to split it into multiple parts. Check back over the next couple of weeks for the rest of the list…

An adapter and a voltage converter are NOT the same thing – A plug adapter only makes it possible to plug your electronic device into the wall socket; a voltage converter adapts the current from 110 (which the USA uses) to 220 (which Europe uses). Luckily, most phones, tablets and laptops are dual voltage these days, so if you’re only bringing these types of electronic items, chances are you won’t need to bring a voltage converter. If you are traveling with a single voltage electronic item, you will need BOTH a voltage converter and an adapter.

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Don’t bother bringing a single voltage blow dryer or curling wand/straightener – I read this advice online, but didn’t heed it, and learned firsthand how accurate it was when I fried my curling iron in London, even with a voltage converter. **how many of you are out there raising your hands right now in “fry the hair appliances” sisterhood?**  I have since invested in a dual voltage curling wand, one of my best travel-related purchases. I never bring a blow dryer from home, however, as most hotels supply them these days.  When I stay at a place without a blow dryer, I let my hair air dry and then just use the curling wand to fix any funky spots. I know many women just let their hair do whatever it wants while traveling, but my hair has just enough wave to get all frizzy and funky without a little help, and I do like to look pretty in my travel photos!

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Logistics are stressful – This, I think, is one of the major reasons people sign up for guided tours. Navigating your way around a country when you don’t speak the language is harder than I anticipated. I once spent a day on my own in Germany where ALL of my plans went awry due to the difficulties of figuring out logistics in a foreign language.  That day deserves its very own blog post, which is coming soon, but remember to allot extra time and patience when trying to figure out train schedules, subways, airports, ticket machines,etc. I never schedule any fixed activities on a day when I’m transitioning from one location to another anymore, as I’ve missed a few due to transportation delays. When all else fails, it is worth every minute you stand in line to get help from a real person!

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Do whatever it takes to get enough sleep – I am constantly reading statements like “you can sleep when you get home – you’re in Europe so make the most of every moment”.  I learned the hard way that this rule does NOT apply to me! If I don’t get the sleep I need, neither I nor my companions will enjoy the trip; just ask my husband! We once spent our last 24 hours in Germany not speaking to each other because we were so exhausted we had hit the wall and got in a huge fight over 5 euros. I cannot rise at dawn and spend an entire day sightseeing; I need to get a solid eight hours of sleep to be pleasant company and enjoy myself. I may see fewer sights each day, but I thoroughly enjoy the ones I do see. If you know you can’t function well without sleep, do whatever it takes to get the sleep you need, whether that means taking a 20 minute power nap on a metal folding chair in Westminster Abbey or going to an air-conditioned movie midday so you can rest (and nap, if you’re like me)! A well-rested you will enjoy the trip way more than an exhausted, cranky you!

Don’t pre-book too many activities – On my first trip to Europe, I had our entire itinerary planned out ahead of time. I laugh now when I look back, because we actually only saw about half what I had planned. Again, logistics came into play; it took longer to get from place to place on the tube than I had anticipated, and we were tired from navigating the city and being on our feet all day, so often didn’t have the energy for the night time activities on my schedule. On our last night in London, I had booked tickets to see The Gypsy Kings in concert at Hampstead Heath. The tube in London was not air conditioned, and we were tired and hot when we arrived back at our hotel after a full day of sightseeing. With only a 30 minute window to freshen up and change before getting back on the (non-airconditioned) tube for the 90 minute journey out to Hampstead Heath, we ended up staying in and having a picnic dinner on our bed, losing the money we spent on the tickets. Now, I choose carefully when pre-booking activities.  Some attractions, like the Vatican Museum or the Anne Frank House, are absolutely worth booking online ahead of time, as they have super long lines all the time. But I try not to book a night activity unless we’ve got a light day of sightseeing and can plan some rest time during the day

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This is just the beginning…I’ve got enough material for at least two more posts! How about you? What lessons have you learned through travel?  Do you have great stories from a time when something went wrong?? Leave a note in the comments section and I’ll include your tips in my next post!

An April goals update…

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Happy Saturday everyone!

Back in March, I wrote about my ideal day and my “feeling goals”, and said I would post an update in April.  I’m at a family wedding this weekend so am sharing this quick update today in lieu of a travel-related post.

If you remember, I described my ideal day as calm yet energetic, filled with fresh air and sunshine, something productive, something fun, something active, quality food to fuel my body, and a good night’s sleep. Using this scenario as a guideline, I chose the following Feeling goals: energetic, productive, happy, well-rested, and active.

How did I do?

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Doing one small task before my morning coffee – I accomplished this about half the time in the last few weeks, and definitely notice an improvement in how energetic I feel when I get one small (even tiny) task done upon first waking. Even something simple like drinking 16 ounces of water or making the bed makes a big difference! My goal for April is to create a list of simple tasks that I can tackle upon awakening (my brain can’t handle anything too complex before coffee lol) and then improve my percentages in May.

Blocking out time to work on my blog – I’m still struggling with time management and carving out time to work on the blog. I’ve recently been introduced to Google calendar by a friend, and I am currently playing around with the app to create reminders and goals. I’ve set a goal of working on my blog three times a week, for two hours at a stretch, in the afternoons. Google calendar looks through my events and finds a good time to squeeze it in, which is very helpful. Once it’s on my calendar, I can rearrange if needed, but I am much more likely to keep the time sacred once it’s blocked out.

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Trying three different coffee shops – I tried two coffee shops in March, and realized that I am not a fan of working at Starbucks, as the loud music doesn’t allow for the concentration I need when writing. I am currently researching independent coffee shops in Winston Salem for a blog post, so am making some good progress on this goal in April.

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Going to bed earlier and disconnecting from electronics by 8 PM – complete and utter fail! In the last five weeks, I have only been asleep before midnight 11 times, and asleep by 11:30 PM FIVE times! So I am really missing the boat on this one. I have done a bit better turning electronics off early, but it’s really more like 9 or 9:30 rather than 8 PM that they go off. I feel most energetic when I wake up between 8 and 8:30 am, so I’d like to be asleep by 11:30. I’d be very interested in hearing your tips on getting into good sleep patterns!

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Exercise – this is one goal where I’m doing great! My goal was 20 workouts in March, and I did 24. I checked off my “fresh air and sunshine” goal on 27 of the last 30 days as well, so I am rocking and rolling on the exercise front! My April and May goals are to do 20 workouts per month and one minute of planks five days each week. I find that when I do planks consistently, I feel stronger and it only takes a minute out of my day, so it’s a win-win.

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Breakfast – you are my downfall! After my morning latte, I’m not usually hungry, so I forget to eat until lunchtime, which is often when I end up having my fruit smoothie. I keep reading about the importance of fueling your body in the morning, so might try prepping “smoothie bags” on Sunday to make it easier for my morning brain – I could just dump the contents into the blender, add almond milk, and voila – breakfast! I’ll likely add a column to my chart for eating SOMETHING in the am, even if it’s just a banana or a hard-boiled egg. Look for my May update to see how I do!

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Something fun – While I only did one full day outing in March (my overnight to Macon, Georgia), I did go to the opera with my husband, meet friends for lunch, schedule coffee dates, and have lots of exercise dates with friends, so am definitely feeling happy with this category. I’ve also read several good books lately and traveled for family events (two weddings in April) which has been fun. I’ve got some fun trips planned in the next few weeks as well, so watch for some new posts in my Wednesday Wanderings series! And let me know if you’d like to hear what I’ve been reading.

**I’d really love to hear your tips for better sleep and time management! Leave a comment below if you have any advice!**